Last night Amy and I watched the movie Unbreakable: The Western States 100. Our friends Pam and Mark Solon gave it to us. It was awesome, powerful, riveting, and inspirational. If you are a long distance runner, or athlete of any kind, you will love it. More after the trailer below.
While my experience with marathons is now extensive (22 to date), my experience with ultras is limited to one – the American River 50. I learned an enormous amount from my ultra – mostly about myself – and wrote about it twice – two weeks after the race in a post titled The Physiological And Emotional Fallout Of My 50 Mile Race and then six weeks later in a post titled I’m Finally Recovered From My 50 Mile Run.
While I’d love to try another 50 and even do a 100 miler, I’ve decided that it’s just not realistic or healthy (emotionally) for me given my current work and travel dynamics. I’m comfortable with that decision and have doubled down on the marathon running while tossing in some road biking (today’s ride will be 35 miles, the longest to date) for variety and mostly to amuse my partner Seth.
It was extremely powerful and motivating to watch this movie. The Western States 100 is the original ultramarathon that was first run by Gordy Ainsleigh in 1974 (he’s in the movie – and he is awesome.) There are four main characters in the race that the movie follows.
Four amazing ultra runners (two undefeated) going after the win and a world record from the very beginning of the race. The movie does a great job of mixing drama with personality with footage of the race. While I don’t know any of the runners, I’ve been passed by Krupicka running in the mountains in Boulder (he’s easy to recognize) and I related to different parts of each of their stories.
As I look out my window in Keystone this morning I see a beautiful blue sky with a layer of fog in the meadow behind my house. The mountains are in the background. While I’ll be on a bike today getting ready for a week long bike trip (my first) the love that these four guys have for running will echo in my mind. When people ask me why I run marathons, it’s easy – I love to run. So do they. Watch the movie and be inspired.
On my run this morning along the Charles River, I decided I was finally recovered from my 50 mile run on 4/7/12. The end of my run brought me by the Hatch Shell and I smiled, even though it was muggy, cloudy, and there were too many people around.
I’m now sitting in the Ritz Bar (they now call it the Taj, but that doesn’t work for me) a few hours later with Amy doing some writing while she reads. I took a break and decided to write up how the last seven weeks have been for me emotionally.
Basically, they’ve sucked. I wrote The Physiological And Emotional Fallout Of My 50 Mile Race two weeks after the race. I was tired, struggling with depression, but feeling like I had turned a corner. It was a nice fantasy – after a month I was still having wild mood swings, feeling very tired most of the time, totally uninterested in running, and generally feeling overwhelmed by my travel, work, and all the people around me.
I’d been through this before in my mid-20’s when I was very depressed for several years while running my first company. This was different – I haven’t felt depressed, but it was just over the horizon. Instead, I had a steady low grade anxiety all the time which would spike up for a few hours before dissipating. I’d feel ok and then suddenly be exhausted and want to take a nap. Or I’d just feel like canceling all my meetings and going home. I knew the feelings would pass, so I just rolled with them when they came up, but I didn’t deny their existence.
Other than sleeping a lot, Amy tells me that I’ve been fine the past seven weeks. Low energy, but not noticeably in distress, crabby, or difficult. I haven’t done a survey of the people I interact with on a regular basis, but I’ve been open about how I’ve been feeling and I assume the people close to me have been giving me some space. I’ve been keeping up my typical work pace with one exception – I’ve been sleeping in many mornings as I just haven’t been able to drag myself out of bed at 5am.
I felt something noticeably shift two weeks ago. Amy and I had a couple of wonderful days together in Chicago and then I flew on Sunday to New York. I spent the afternoon with a close friend whose wife is very ill, just sitting, talking, and enjoying being together. I went out to dinner with two CEOs we’ve funded and then had a good night sleep. I woke up Monday morning feeling a little flat, but by mid-day I felt normal and attributed it to being sad for my friend and his wife. I felt fine during the rest of my NY trip, I flew to SF for an extremely enjoyable dinner, and then spent the past 10 days in Boulder.
While it has been very busy and there is a lot of pressure coming from different directions, I’ve felt very normal the past two weeks. I’ve had a few anxious moments, but they are all tied to specific events and easy for me to process. My normal temperament is very stable and mellow, even when the shit is flying everywhere, and I’ve felt generally back in that zone. I’m running again and enjoying it and I haven’t felt like curling up in a ball in the corner of the room in at least two weeks.
As I’ve written before, running the 50 mile race was an amazing experience. But I’ve decided not to do it again while I’m working at the level and intensity that I work at. The training was too much but more importantly the recovery has just been way beyond what I feel like I want to process again anytime soon. So – it’s back to marathons for me, which I know makes Amy smile.
Two weeks ago I was at about mile 40 of the American River 50 Mile Endurance race.
Today I went for my first run in two weeks.
Physically, I was ready to go running four days after the race. By 4/11 my legs felt fine. I consciously decided not run for the first week so on Saturday 4/14, while at LindzonPalooza 5 with my dad, I contemplated doing an easy three miles on the beach. As I was changing my clothes, I laid down in bed. I woke up three hours late. No run.
Every day last week I thought about running before I went to bed. When my alarm went off at 5am each morning, I set it again for 7am (or 8am if I could get away with it) and slept in. This morning, I woke up after almost 11 hours of sleep and was still tired. And no, those 18 minutes to fall asleep wasn’t sex, I was just restless as I have been almost every night since my race. Apparently I had to pee at about 12:30, 3:30, and 4:30.
Today I decided it was time to get started running again. So I did. And it felt really good.
While my legs have felt fine, I’ve been completely exhausted for the past two weeks. It probably didn’t help that I spent the first week on the road (San Francisco, Los Angeles, and then San Diego) but I was home all last week in Boulder. I usually sleep 6 – 7 hours a night during the week and then binge sleep on the weekend (10 – 14 hours) but I’ve been sleeping 10+ hours a night for two weeks. And I’m still tired. As I type this, I could easily go take a nap.
As I expected, I’ve had lots of emotional ups and downs. The day after the marathon I usually feel really flat, followed by a really dark, pseudo-depressed day on day two after the marathon. By day three I feel ok and I’m back to normal on day four. While I know that pattern well, I didn’t know what to expect this time around after a 50 mile run.
On Sunday after the run, I was wildly depressed. I was alone – I’m sure that contributed to it – had brunch at Mel’s Diner in Sacramento, and then took a car to San Francisco. I got a massage at the hotel, got a veggie burger and a shake and then went to Hunger Games to try to disconnect from reality. It was Easter Sunday and downtown San Francisco was quiet, the Westfields Mall was closed except for the movie theater, and while Hunger Games was good, when I walked back to the hotel I was very lonely.
Monday was more of the same. I slept a lot, felt sore but wandered around a little, hung out at Fitbit, and had dinner with some Stanford students. But I was emotionally flat.
I went to LA on Tuesday and had three super busy days in LA where I hung out at Oblong, LaunchPad LA, MuckerLabs, and gave a talk in Valencia. I’ll put this time frame in the category of “manic” – I was tired the whole time, physically felt better, had plenty of up moments, but then at around 3pm every day just wanted to lay down wherever I was and go to sleep. At this point, I felt a dark depression looming – the activity with people probably kept it at bay, but it was lurking right beyond the horizon. Each night I tossed and turned for a while, which is unusual for me as I usually fall asleep right away, but when I slept I was out. Deeply deeply out. When I woke up, I was down, tired, and disoriented, but once I was around people I got back in the groove.
By Friday I was in San Diego with my dad. I was feeling a lot better emotionally, but the fatigue was still heavy. I took a three hour nap in the afternoon each day – not your quiet nap, but the toss and turn, sweat like crazy, wake up and have to take a shower nap. Hanging out with my dad was safe feeling and I had a great time at LindzonPalooza with a bunch of friends and a some people I didn’t know, but the heaviness lingered.
I was back home Sunday. I hadn’t seen Amy in ten days and we had a tough first 12 hours of re-entry. I was disoriented, cranky, and probably emotionally distant. That’s never a good way to be, especially when you haven’t seen your beloved for ten days. We had a tough night Sunday, woke up fine Monday morning, and tried again Monday night where we had a lot of fun together. She then left on Tuesday morning for Boston for the week so I was again alone.
My three P1s this week were (1) the Foundry Group annual meeting, (2) close a financing in a new company, and (3) rest and recover. As I reflect on the week, I accomplished all three (the financing will close first thing Monday morning). So that’s good.
I’m still a little tired feeling, but the kind of tired I have after working a long week. I have some anxiety floating around – not bordering on going to a bad place, but atypical levels for me. But underneath it all I have a deep stillness as I consolidate all of the physical, emotional, and psychological changes and experiences as a result of this run.
This has been a really powerful experience for me. The physical act of running 50 miles was about twice as difficult as a marathon. But the emotional act was at least four times as hard. And I’m still not sure I’ve really processed it. It’s taken me two weeks to feel like I’m back on balance with all the things coming at me every day and I know that I’m still tired. But now that I’ve got two weeks behind me, I’m contemplating a few deeper concepts that have been rolling around in my mind that were stimulated by this run.
Most of all, I want to thank everyone out there who has been supportive of this endeavor. A few people had a profound impact on the experience, but many people I know have contributed support, emotional energy, encouragement, and suggestions. Thank you.
Wow. That was an amazing experience. I ran the American River 50 Mile Endurance Run on Saturday and finished in an official time of 11:57:37, just under my goal of 12 hours. My un-official mile by mile splits are up on RunKeeper which served me well with my iPhone 4S and Mophie Juice Pack until the very last few minutes when my battery finally died on my phone. Before I get into the story of the race, thanks for everyone out there who supported me in any way – it was awesome to scan through the twitter stream and comments post race.
Today’s post is the blow by blow of the race. I’m going to spend a few more days and process the emotional dynamic before I write about it. I’m still in the middle of it – yesterday was emotionally really hard; today feels more normal, but I expect to have lots more ups and downs this week as my thoughts, and my brain chemistry, sorts itself out. So I’ll consolidate the deeper emotional reflection into one post some time in the future. For now, here’s what I remember of the experience.
The idea started some time last year when Katherine McIntyre, my partner Ryan’s wife who is an excellent marathoner and triathlete, said “do you want to do a 50?” She summarizes the windup in her post Crazytown – the short version is I said “sure – why not.” The picture above is of us moments after we finished – Katherine the studette turned in an 11:33:21.
The race started at 6am so I woke up at 4:30. I had a bagel, some peanut butter, and coffee with the hope that the coffee would do its magic trick. Amy called promptly at 5:30 to wish me good luck (she usually is with me but stayed home this time because of her broken wrist) and I hustled out the door with all my gear to meet Katherine, Ryan, their son, and my assistant Kelly in the lobby at 5:35 (the time specifically prescribed by Katherine after a minute long negotiation with me the previous night for between 5:40 and 5:30.) We did the last minute good morning do you have everything drill in the lobby of the hotel and got ready to hop in the car for the mile long drive to the start (no fucking way I was going to go an extra mile today.)
At that moment I had crisis #1. I run with two water bottles that are exactly the same. I’ve been training with them for months and they are extensions of my hands at this point. As I grabbed everything off the table, there was only one water bottle. I looked around frantically but there was still only one. “Fuck – where’s my other water bottle?” Everyone (including the eight year old with us) looked startled. “Fuck fuck fuck – those other runners must have accidentally grabbed it.” After a minute of this it was time to go – the night manager gave me a bottle of water (very different than a “water bottle”) so at least I’d have two and off we went. I took a deep breath and calmed down as best as I could.
The start of the race was uneventful. It was dark and cold so I was happy I dressed with two shirts (including a long sleeve shirt) and gloves. There were around 1000 people at the start (I think there were 800 runners) and everyone smelled like “eau de early morning start of race.” Within minutes we were running on the American River trail, our friend for 47 of the next 50 miles.
For the first two miles all I thought about was my fucking water bottle. I hated my bottle of water – it didn’t have a strap. After the second mile I decided to toss it to the side of the road, where I proceeded to obsess for another mile over my missing water bottle. At around mile three I noticed a water fountain on the trail, refilled my bottle, and decided that if my friend Andy Sack could go through life with one testicle, I could handle the race with one water bottle. That was the last time I thought about my water bottle until after the race.
I had decided to break the race up into five segments of 10 miles each. The run from my house in Eldorado Springs to my office is right at 10 miles so I figured it was five laps from Eldo to the office. I know the mile markers well since I’ve done that run a hundred times so whenever I found myself at 4.4, 14.4, 24.4, 34.4, and 44.4 I thought “ok – I’m at the Eldo Market now” and at 7, 17, 27, 37, and 47 I was at Table Mesa.
The first 10 miles were easy. I used an 8:2 run:walk pace and held myself back. My coach Gary had told me numerous times to take it easy on the marathon segment. While my last marathon was 4:28 and I felt in better shape, I decided I would try to do the marathon in 5:30. Whenever I felt myself picking it up, I reigned myself in and took it easy. The sun came up, it started to warm up, and I enjoyed myself.
The next 10 miles were also easy. The only annoying part in this segment were the bikers. 80% of them were fine, 10% were super nice, and 10% were abusive assholes. “Get out of the way – bike coming through”, “Runners are supposed to stay on the left”, and “Get the fuck out of my way” were some of the things I remembered. I almost got hit head on by a guy going 20+ mph swerving in and out of runners. It was a curvy path which made it even harder – the “runner drift” settled in a little around mile 15 (where it’s impossible to stay focused on a straight line) and I remember looking up a few times and being startled by a bike heading right at me. I found out later that there have been a lot of battles about this in the past – apparently it’s a “bike path” and bikes are “superior” to runners. You’d think for one day a year they could close the path to bikes, but someone on the run mentioned there’s even been a court case about it. So for 10 miles the 10% of the bikers who were assholes spoiled the runner / biker relationship for everyone.
Before I knew it I’d gone through the marathon point right at around 5:30. I still felt fine – kept it slow – and had plenty of water. The aid stations were awesome – better manned than many of the marathons I’ve been part of, so my fueling strategy was working fine. I took a Gu gel every 30 minutes with water and a salt tablet every hour. At the aid stations I refilled my water, grabbed a few more Gu’s, and ate some pretzels, boiled potatoes and salt, and a dixie cup of coke (yum). There was a huge aid station at mile 27 (Beal’s Point) where I saw Ryan and his son and heard the best line of the day “this is a race, not a birthday party.” The line was wrong – it was a party – and a good one.
By mile 29 it hit me that I’d now run the furthest distance in my life. I went through mile 30 with the thought of “only 20 miles to go.” And this is when it started getting really hard. The segment between 30 and 40 was physically and mentally tough. It was a technical trail run – not the hardest I’d been on, but there were some gnarly parts. I’m an ok trail runner but hadn’t trained much on trails during the winter in Boulder so I was extra careful, which took even more mental energy. By the mid-30’s my pace had slowed from 12 minute miles to 18 – 20 minute miles, which became depressing. I only had one really dark mile where I started feeling sorry for myself, but during this mile I got a hilarious txt message from my friend Andy which jolted me out of my dark spot. There were a few horses on the trail – I’m terrified of horses so these spots were emotionally bizarre moments for me – but the horse people were super nice.
At mile 41 I met up with my assistant Kelly at an aid station where she joined me for the last nine miles. Ryan and his son was there again and after a fuel refill and an exploding fist bump we were on our way. At this point I only had one more trip to the office from Eldo and I knew I’d get it done. I was physically tired but had a nice pick up emotionally as I entered hour #10 of the run.
Somewhere around mile 43 or 44 I started having trouble getting my feet to go where I wanted them to go. Up to this point I hadn’t had much real difficultly on the trail, but now I was stumbling all over the place. After a few minutes of this I took two salt tabs hoping that would help. It did – 15 minutes later I was back to normal, whatever that meant. I have no idea if this was physiological or psychological, but by 45 I was motoring along pretty well. Every now and then Kelly would say something to jolt me out of my stupor – one that I remember was “Do you want to talk about cap tables for a little while?”
At mile 47 we started a long uphill climb to the finish. At the base of the hill was some eye candy – for the women. The aid station was called Last Gasp and the guys manning it were all shirtless ultra runners who ran to us, grabbed our water bottles, and had them refilled by the time we got to the aid station. These guys each had that crazy v-shaped abdominal muscle – I think it’s the inguinal ligament – with insane definition pointing suggestively – well – you get the idea. “I used to look like that – except for the muscle part” I told Kelly as we finally got out of range of the Adonises.
The last three miles is 1000 ft uphill. Everyone walked. There was a short downhill stretch – I took off running with a loud manic scream at the top of my lungs. As we went through mile 48 I realized I might break 12 hours. At 49.25 it flattened out and I sprinted for the finish and came in two minutes and change under my goal.
Katherine, Ryan, and their son were at the finish line waiting for me. Katherine looked great – she’d had a lot of knee pain during the trail part after falling once, but she had good color and a great attitude. After a few minutes of congratulations and hanging out, Kelly and I piled into our car and went to Chevy’s for my first non-Gu meal in 12 hours while Katherine and crew drove back to San Francisco to have some “excellent pizza” that they could only find in San Francisco. I called Amy and had a celebratory talk – she had done an awesome job of keeping track of things during the race (due to RunKeeper live) and being my communications director for the day. I dropped my coach Gary a note of thanks and then ate and ate and drank a beer and ate some more.
When I got back to my room, I discovered a very lonely second water bottle sitting just where I had left it 14 hours earlier. For the first time all day I had tears in my eyes, but of laughter – at myself. Staring at the water bottle that had bedeviled me during the first part of the run it finally hit home that I had just run 50 miles.