The Emotional and Mental side of the Daytona 100: Finding my next step.

It’s still surreal.

That screen gab above. That’s my name. 396. That’s my bib number. 76. That’s my finish ranking (the last official finisher; and yes I’m proud to be the very last one).  I am 45 years old.  I am male.  I am from Arizona, representing the US.  29 hours, 47 minutes, and 45 seconds. That’s my official time for completing the Daytona 100 Mile Ultra-marathon.

But that’s not the story. That’s not even a synopsis. Those are just facts.  Hell, here is the pace chart and more analytics from my Garmin Connect account!

Still you don't know shit about what really happened by simply looking the raw hard data.

You know something happened. You know the time it happened. You know measures about how my heart performed throughout (amazingly averaged 116 bpm with a peak of 166 bpm in the early morning trying to keep my ass warm). But you don't know the most important piece, "how" it happened.

There’s a internet meme that goes, “If you want to run, run a mile, if you want to experience a different life, run a marathon. If you want to talk to God, run an ultra."

I don’t know about God, gods, or deities, but I did find something. I did see something. I did experience something like I’ve never experienced before, nor have I determined if I want to go there ever again. 

It sounds harsh, but I found myself at a place where the charity I was fundraising for didn’t matter. The kids associated with that charity, despite being in need and in a far isolated and desolate place than I ever wanted to be, didn’t matter. 

I sat in the car. Time stood still. I had to confront the realities of self. My life. My future life. I had to search the cavities of my soul and all the shit I’ve stuffed away afraid to confront and find the very one thing that so often gets pushed aside in the distractions of this social media constantly connected data metrics performance driven world. 

See my splits didn’t matter. My time didn’t matter. Nothing mattered while I sat in front of that 7/11 Store holding my leg close to my chest while massaging my feet, holding back the thought that I was done at mile 87. 

Despite all of the encouragement, or the kindness of the store clerk with love in her eyes who proclaimed, “You’re almost there. Just a little further” as I left the store. 

You go into these endurance runs knowing that you’re going to feel pain. You never know how the pain is going to come, or what type of pain it is going to be, but you know you are going to feel pain.

You know it’s not a walk in the park. You know it’s going to suck. It gets beyond masochism. It get’s beyond the front of the gates of hell and torment. 

Everything will be stripped away from you. Your gear ain’t going to do shit for you when you reach that point. Your ego ain’t gonna do a gawt damned thing for you other than get you killed.

I remember the feeling crossing mile 73, shivering, cold as a naked north pole elf swimming in an river of nitrogen, with ice cubes rammed up it’s rear just for fun, thinking “I’m in unfamiliar territory and I have a marathon to go. We can do this.” 

Wasn’t too convincing even to myself, because my mind shifted to how my body was feeling and doing a quick analysis of knowing how devastating a marathon is on the body. I remember smirking to myself at the thought that I had already completed over TWO freaking marathons. 

It wasn’t much later in distance where I thought I had pushed beyond that point at mile 81, when I had to deal with some issues which began around mile 76. I had no clue that I had not gotten to the bottom of what was going to be thrown at me on this journey.

Here’s a quick recap of how things had really been going so far. The day started off with rain and a nice low 40’s, the winds shifted from the northeast to the east; constantly, there was the bone chilling waist high soaking in the great Atlantic at mile 28, the developing blisters at mile 32, the emotional low point at mile 36 or so, the dropping temperature throughout the day, the flask failure at who give a damned mile outside of Palm Coast, the continuing growing coldness of the approaching night, the constant repeated never ended beating of pounding the pavement….

Greater distances always get you to the point where your body is fucked. And you have to get beyond that feeling where every neuron within your being is screaming to “STOP!” Even sound hurts.

Now here I am. I have a little over 10 miles left. 

There’s nothing left in the tank. My body is destroyed and I did it to myself. The pain is beyond tolerable. You exist in this weird dance with pain you know isn’t going to stop when the music is over (or the race ends), so you can either byotch about it or just shut up and give into pain’s kiss upon your lips.

You no longer know what to do. What you want. What you need. You’re scared. I’m scared. My world falls away. 

I had to go to that place. I found myself looking at myself within myself. All of me. All the excuses. All the ugliness. All the things that make me hate who I am and everything that makes me love who I have become. 

Just thinking about being at that spot, have my eyes tearing up as I write this.

So no. The fundraiser didn’t matter. The kids didn’t matter. Facebook words of encouragement didn’t matter. No mantra, nor hype song mattered. Nothing mattered other than now that I’m here, What do I do NOW?

I spoke out loud.
...I didn’t come here to stop."
...But I want to be able to walk when I’m 70….” (mental check confirmed that I wasn’t injured; just in pain)
…I’m okay, just in pain."
…It doesn’t matter about the time anymore.
I came here for the distance."
Let’s just get as far as I can go."
Shoes back on. Back on my feet as the pain shoots back up through my legs and up my back. 

Now let’s just focus on each step. 

Before long I was back to jogging every few yards. The pain got worse but I moved forward. 

I was told later my physical appearance had changed. Didn't help my caloric intake had been suffering due to the intenisty of the pain I was feeling only made me want to throw up when I ate since around mile 78 (but the ramen noodles at mile 81 was heavenly; despite the pain). Only if they knew what was going on inside my tormented mind and aching soul. 

Another runner passed me around mile 93 and I focused on them until they ventured out of my view near mile 95.  

At mile 95 I had become a shell of myself. I was focused on the check in mat. An aid station worker, who would later give hand me the coveted buckle, ran up to me asking “What did I need”?

I replied, “I just want to cross that mat.” - He understood.

Don’t remember how I ended up sitting again, or consuming watermelon. I don’t remember anyone leaving me or coming back. I just remember some key words that came from my watcher’s mouth; ….”blah, blah, blah, blah, Keep him moving."

Something snapped within with that proclamation. A quick glance at the clock and something inside knew I could still make it before the 30 hour cut off. 

I instantly got up and got to moving again. I wasn’t going to give in so close. Everything is going to be left on the course. Everything!

I pushed through the next 3 miles, playing the “maybe if I can jog to that tree, light pole, or sign a few yards away” as often as possible. 

I had found hope again, after having it all stripped away. A small glimmer of hope had presented itself and lead me like a pixie fairy on a children bedtime story adventure. 

Yes, the pain was there and somehow still growing. But hope. 

Mile 98.2: back on the sand for the final stretch. -shaking my head as I write this-

If you invest everything outside of yourself, you will have nothing left when you need it most. That includes hope. 

Insanity is repeating a behavior expecting different results. Some may consider a ultra-marathon insanity, but it’s not. It’s about self discovery. 

Mile 98.2 would strip my hope away and cause the fight within to well up in the form of anger, frustration, determination, and sheer motherfucking grit! 

I began to laugh audibly. “Really!” Seriously!?” After everything I’ve been through!? This is what you got?  This is bullshit!"

I was met with 35 miles per hour head winds...

Let that soak in for a moment. Less than two miles to go, and I’m hit with headwinds on the beach. 

I knew I could still do this. At some point after struggling for a spell I checked the time and there was 37 minutes left. I was a little over a 2/3 of a mile or so out. Yet it could have still been a world away.

I remember seeing familiar faces as I got within a quarter of a mile. Which quickly became an 1/8 of a mile. There was no swelling of joy, happiness, or pride within. Just sheer focus on the next step and the finish mat. 

Sure it became easier to fight through the pain from within as my quick forward leaning walk turned into a jog into the wind. Garmin is testament to how hard fought this last 1.8 miles was as I dropped to 15 minute miles during this stretch. 

I remember identifying the gentleman from the aid station at mile 95 standing near the finish with his arms the air, jumping up and down in celebration. I remember seeing the smiles. Still there were no feelings within, just focusing on the next step and that damned timing mat.

I remember glancing over seeing 29:47:something on the official clock… 

I remember seeing the red and black fold up chair just a couple of yards beyond the finishing mat and focusing in on that chair with intent. 

I remember sitting there after the run was all over. Silent.

No sound from the ocean. Nothing.

I don’t remember anything anyone said up to that point as I crossed the finish.

There was no pain. 

I was in shock. I starred into the distance beyond everything and everyone. 

Then it happened. 

The buckle was placed in front of me and I heard “Congratulations. You did it.” 
I reached out and as I touched the buckle, everything simply fell apart. A sense of relief.  The tears began. I hugged whomever and told them “Thank you, thank you, thank you."

They responded; “No, this is all you. You did this. I remember seeing you at mile 95. This was a very inpirational finish. …blah, blah, blah….”

He sat there for a while as I continued to just let it all go.  The other runner, Timothy from New York, who passed me before mile 95  runner came over to congratulate me.

The tears continued for a spell. They still sneak up on me. I haven’t touched the buckle much since then. It’s still surreal. 

I could sit here and get all philosophical as to why pushing beyond one’s limits through sports is a must. Nope. I could sit here and provide you with some biblical verse or religious saying to make this all come together. But I will be lying to you and myself.

That self ugliness I spoke about earlier. That’s what this is about for me. It’s my journey to deal with my angels and my demons. To heal my soul through all of the “me” moments of life I’ve had to endure. 

I keep a positive face on the outside. I am sometimes brutally honest, which isn’t bad nor is it good. I’m not so trusting of others. I’m friendly, yet distant, which comes across as cold to many. I am who I am, yet I like to hide from myself. And I shouldn’t.  But isn’t that most of us?

Can everyone run 100 miles? No. And you shouldn’t believe going out to do some crazy endurance activity is going to change your life or your circumstances. It won't

…but you can take that next footstep in your life’s journey; regardless of what obstacles are thrown your way by life. And it’s okay to take time to reassess, fall apart, tend to your needs, to feel pain, and put aside everyone and everything else. Just find that next step.
Photo provided by my make shift crew

Postscript:  I would be remiss to not take the time to thank everyone! My co-workers who allowed me the opportunity to clear my mind and take on a huge task and responsibilities in my absence.  My last minute make shift watcher and crew that checked on my throughout the night, other runner's crews, the race director, the volunteers that went waaaay out of their way and beyond to look after all of us, the other runners who motivated each other through all the cold and darkness.

The kindness of strangers whom I will never see again. The lady in the seven eleven. The guy on the bike around mile 94. The elderly gentleman that spoke to me briefly at mile 97. The couple who smiled and cheered me on around mile 98. The police officer that check on me as I was in agonizing pain on the side of the road at mile 84. The folks at the bar at mile 78. The random smiles and claps from visitors within the city of St. Augustine. Yes, I remember it all.

The kind people on the beach which told me with glee "the north turn is just up there where the truck is" around mile 99.25.

My family and close friends who provided advice and input over the months leading up to this. I may not have said it, but I was listening and I took quite a bit advice from many of you. Even the couple of calls in the early night to cheer me on. Thanks.

Thanks to all of you for taking the time to read this long journal from my heart.

This may have been my journey, but I wasn't alone.  And neither are you on yours. Keep finding that next step.  

And if you donated to the Make-A-Wish AZ Foundation and helped me reach my goal, ON BEHALF OF THE KIDS, THE MAKE-A-WISH AZ FOUNDATION, AND MYSELF; THANK YOU!

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