Diez Vista 100K

Diez Vista 100K April 8, 2017

Pain is temporary. Quitting last forever.
— Lance Armstrong

It’s 5:30am; the sky is pitch black and rain pitter patters on the roof of my van.  Using a headlamp I start to lace up my sandals.  For some reason my right one will not tighten.  I take it off and discover that the slot where the strap slides through is broken.  Crap!   I need a solution and I need one fast.  Internally, I am freaking out, but there is nothing I can do about it.

I step outside and run to the tent where I have placed my drop bag, which contains some food, spare clothing, and my other pair—my new pair—of sandals.  I have used these sandals four times and each run was under 10K; today I will be running 100…or at least I hope I will.

As I stand at the start line I feel happy.  My only goal today is to finish the race; anything under the fifteen and half hour cutoff is a bonus.   

At 6am the race starts and 44 runners take off for an epic journey.  I wave goodbye to my mom and sister and join the pack of runners.

I relax and settle into an easy rhythm as the course winds its way around Sasamat Lake.  The trail is wet and I do my best to dodge the puddles, but I know that my feet will eventually get soaked.      

After a short decline I run across a walkway that spans Sasamat Lake.  There is a platform that protrudes from the walkway where people often fish.  In the darkness it feels like I am running on water.  The bouncing of the rain on the lake is harmonious to the soft footfalls of the runners.  I look to my left and see a dense rain cloud that shrouds the mountains that I will soon be running up.   

At 15K I enter the second aid station.  The Circle of Life is playing on a portable stereo.  I laugh as I unsling my running vest.  I quickly fill my hydration pack and start walking with my vest still in my hands.  I grab my waterproof jacket from a zippered section; it is still raining and it appears that it will not be stopping.  Jacket on, vest on, I head for the Diez Vista ridge.  

The trail goes up sharply in a winding maze of branches, rocks and puddles.  It is a “running” race, however, this section will certainly be walked.  At times I use my hands and arms as much as my legs.  I am all too aware that I will be returning over this ridge at the end of the day.  I shutter to think how hard it will be in the dark, and after 90K of running.  

The ridge is single track and I forsake any chance of dry feet.  I splash in the puddles, some so deep that my ankles are submerged.  Every time I place my foot in the black, murky depths I hope for even footing at the bottom.  

Up ahead I see another runner.  “What do you think?”  I say.

“I would like to take a rain-check,” says the young lady.  

I laugh and we keep running—well running, walking and hoping.  Perhaps if one were a billy goat then one could run the Diez Vista ridge!  

I start to make my way off the ridge.  Going downhill is less physically demanding in a sense, but it is not necessarily easier.  The trail is still littered with slippery tree roots and rocks.  Safety is paramount.   

At the quarter way point I notice some fatigue in my left quad.  Odd.  Normally I can run 40K or so without any issues or soreness.  Fear and doubt wash over me like the cloud that has been soaking me all day.  I still have so far to go, and things are likely to get worse—much, much worse.  I do not know if I can make it to the finish.  

At 31K I reach aid station three where my mom and sister have set up my prearranged gear and food.  Both of my quads are starting to hurt.  I duck into the gazebo to greet them and I am anything but friendly.  I tersely fill up on water and swap my empty soft flasks for full ones.  I lament to my mom about my legs.  I grab some potato salad and start walking.  

 I just can not wrap my brain around running another 69K—let alone 69K on sore legs!  My furthest race, and training run, is 42K.  Now I am attempting to double it, and then some.  

I also worry about the time cutoff.  To finish I need to travel 6.45K an hour to finish inside fifteen and half hours.  At the 31K mark I was well ahead of schedule, but I need the extra time for coming back over the Diez Vista ridge.  It will be close.  I also worry that my legs may give out and that I may have to pull out of the race.  Then I tell myself that I will stop moving when I reach the finish, or when someone pulls me off the course.  I zero out my stopwatch and start to run as best as I can. 

Quitting is not an option, but failure is.
— Alastair Humphreys

After an hour I reach aid station four at 39K.  I slow to stuff a banana into my mouth and then toss the black peel to my sister.  From here I head into the woods.  

After a long two kilometres in a wet, damp forest I emerge under a power line and start to run downhill on a service road.  The tree roots are gone, but instead there are large rocks that roll when run upon.  Mentally I am feeling better.  I am not tired—besides my quads—everything feels great.  I am running the flats, walking the hills, and am doing my best to move smoothly on the downhills.  What I am doing is sustainable.  If I stay persistent, I can make it.  

The trail returns to the forest and soon I am walking up and over rocks and stumps.  My quads have reached a point where they do not seem to be getting any worse.  Although it hurts to run, I can still walk quickly.  

At 59K I finish lap one and return to the start-finish, where my mom has once again set up with my gear.  I am happy to see her.  With half of the race done I am feeling much more optimistic.  I am hurting, but I am still in the game and I am still moving.  This is all that matters to me.

“It’s so wet!”  I repeatedly say to my mom as if to emphasize just how soaked the course actually is.  I remove my wet layers and someone comes up to me and takes a photo of my feet in their sandals.   I feel a small moment of pride that I have traveled so far in sandals.  My eyes are bulging out of their sockets at the sheer audacity of what I am doing.  For the first time I realize that running 100K is lunacy!   

I start walking and head out for lap two.  41K to go on tired legs.  I think back to my Ironman race where I ran 42.2K on tired legs.  I can, and will do it again.

The day has been long and my mind circulates around the same few topics.

Always in mind is the cutoff.  I am constantly doing math to see how far I have to travel and how many hours I have remaining.                

Eating and drinking is always in my head.  Every time I think about drinking I take a sip of water.  My shorts and sandals are so wet that I do not even bother to stop to answer natures calling.  Multi-tasking indeed.

Tiny decisions like whether to switch to running shoes or to stay in my sandals demand my attention.  I am focusing on the task at hand and small decisions seem impossible to answer.  I am absolutely in new territory, where the simplest of decisions can have dramatic ramifications.      

Finally, I ask myself, why I am doing this.  To this I actually have an answer.  I think about crossing the finish line and seeing my mom and sister; tears gather in my eyes.  I am running to learn more about myself and to experience and feel more.  More feelings, more life.      

Ultra’s are like a life in day.

At 73K I once again see my mom and sister.  This is the final chance to see them before the finish.  Shivering, I approach the aid station.  I grab my gear and remove my vest.  Under my waterproof layer I put on an insulated jacket.  I decide to try my new shoes—which I have worn once.  As my mom is tying up my shoes the aid station captain asks me if I have my headlamp, and if I am warm while running.  Even with the thick jacket on I am still shivering, but I answer “yes” to both questions.  Apparently many racers have withdrawn due to hypothermia. 

I start to hobble, as I get a feel for the new shoes.  I start listening to The Rich Roll Podcast, I zone out while listening to Rich and Darin Olien talk about superfoods.  My mind is tiring of its own thoughts and I welcome the break.  

On route to the final aid station at 87K I meet Birgitte who is also worrying about the time cutoff.  I tell her that we are going to make it, and that we have worked too hard not to finish.  We will see this to the end.  Feeling inspired, I turn the podcast off and focus my attention on the finish.  

After a final fill up on water I head back to the Diez Vista ridge.  This is it.  This is the big show down.   

I start to climb and my body feels surprisingly good.  My quads hurt, but they are sustaining.  At 7:30pm I put on my headlamp; the day is waning, and I welcome the extra light.  

The puddles are even deeper and colder than earlier in the day.  I give them little heed as I stride, stomp and splash through the forest.  At the lookout I stop for a brief moment to take in the feelings of the day.  I feel ecstatic and let out a yelp of joy.

The ridge goes on and on as I precariously navigate the treacherous trail.  I am moving slow and the Diez Vista ridge is proving to be much harder coming back.  I yearn for the end of the ridge and the chance to run to the finish.  After an eternity I reach the switchbacks that take me down off the ridge.  I am so relieved.   

I visualize the last four kilometres of the race: two descents, one short climb, and a flat finish along Sasamat Lake.  My mind is all about finishing.  Just before I reach Sasamat Lake a volunteer tells me that I have 1.3K to go.  1.3K!  I got this!  I tell myself.  

Running along the lake is eery.   I peer at the marble-like stillness of the lake and reflect upon the day.

The day has not gone as well as I had hoped.  My legs simply did not have it.  But when given the choice between quitting or running 75K on unhappy legs, I chose the latter.  As I run to the finish I feel happy with the perseverance I displayed to myself on this day.  Knowing that I can go toe to toe with the doubts and demons in my head and come out smiling is a wonderful feeling.  This realization—at this moment—means more to me than anything else in the world.  I ran today to bring my self to the surface, and I am happy with who I am seeing.   

I power hike a staircase and see the finishing arch.  I smile deeper when I see my mom and sister.  I cross the finish and give the race director a huge hug.  I am so happy, and I do not want the hug to end.  Eventually I stand back and look him in the eyes and say, “thank you.”  The thank you implies far more than it says, and he understands.      

Ultra races are more than just a race; they are a tool for self recovery.  My soul need  not be discovered as my soul has always been and always will be.  Sometimes my soul gets buried, but ultra’s bring that soul back to the surface.  I recover my soul when I run long and endure.

I hug my sister and mom.  Finally back at my van I sit down on the bumper and cover my face and cry.  The race had been so hard.  Mentally and physically it was one of the hardest things I have ever done.  Even five days later as I write, I still can not fathom that I ran 100K.  It tested me to a new level.  For the first time I truly understand that sports are won in the head, and not in the body.    

Tears of joy continue to pour down my face as the rain pitter patters on the roof of my van. 

Jason ManningComment