Many things go through your mind when you’re 45K into a 50K and your running partner hits a wall. And by hits a wall we mean, your running partner is on his hands and knees puking so hard you half expect a kidney to come out. First, is he going to be okay? Second, can he finish this race? Third, where’s my camera?
We’ve all hit the wall in a race before, maybe not puked, but had your legs lock up or gotten cramps that feel like sniper fire. If you haven’t, you’re either the best trainer in the world, or you’ve never pushed yourself to the edge. Well, it SUCKS!
My good friend Andreas and I agreed to run the Leona Divide 50K / 50 Miler together. (Here’s the goodr Leona Divide 50/50 Recap if you’re so inclined). When you make the agreement to run a race together the whole way…that’s what you do. You start together and you end together, no matter what. This was Andreas’ first ultra and the plan was to run an easy race. We ran the first 22 miles with a smart-but-tough philosophy, we hiked the hard steep uphills, trotted the medium terrain, and ran the mild trails.
At the top of a pass around mile 22, I start doing the math in my head, “Okay if we average nine-minute miles coming in, we’ll finish under 6 hours 30 minutes,” and I looked back at Andreas to tell him the plan. But something was off…I looked at my partner and immediately reset my expectations from hitting a time goal to finishing in one piece.
As luck would have it, the next aid station wasn’t for seven miles (lucky number seven!), and it felt like we were standing on the surface of the fucking sun. We were embarking on the “dog days” of the race in less than optimal shape. At that moment I knew the next seven miles where going to be a war zone. So, what do you do in this situation? Smile and put one foot in front of the other.
At this point I’m trying to do anything to pass the time and try to help distract Andreas to get his mind off the pain. I’m digging deep into my archive of conversation topics and it becomes very clear that Andreas has no desire…scratch that…no ability, to talk. As other runners pass by I make sure to say hi to everyone and tell them “good job.” Andreas also made sure to cheer them on, with a barely intelligible ”gerbeaww.” Even pain-drunk Andreas noted that he couldn’t form words when he tried to project his voice, which was pretty amusing.
Next I move to just telling stories. Typically on a run where both partners can speak, this is a fun activity in which you have to up the ante with each story – it gets very personal and sometimes just downright filthy. So, I just did the game with myself, raising the stakes for Andreas’ amusement as part of my efforts to do everything I can to get him through. I was supportive but firm, reading his body language to determine how easy/hard we can walk or run. I found myself giving him hope every chance I can…”I think the aid station’s around the next corner” ….a mile goes by… “I think the aid station is around this corner.”
Finally after what feels like an eternity, we make it to the aid station. I sit Andreas down to give him some water and electrolytes. All we have is about three miles left to the finish, I’m thinking we’ll rest for a bit, get hydrated and finish this race off. Ten minutes go by and just looking at Andreas, it’s clear he’s not okay. He stands up to go, I put his hydropack on him like a worried mother, he walks three steps and starts violently puking.
A nearby medic comes over to check on the guy who’s puking, and like the scumbag I am (but also knowing the scumbag Andreas is and that he would want this documented), I rip off some photos! I hear two medics discussing whether they should pull him. The medics, to their credit, were very reasonable people and looking out for the best interest of the runners, but this is where mama bear (me) shows up….”He’s fine, there’s less than three miles left, we can walk if we have to, there’s not a chance he’s going to DNF (did not finish) on his first ultra this close to the finish.”
At that moment Andreas stands up looking great! “Nice to see you, It’s been awhile since you’ve had life in your eyes. How you feeling?” Andreas’ reply, “GREAT!” . We gutted out the last three miles and have the medals to prove it.
Now, I’d like you to examine this photo and guess who hit the wall and who didn’t:
So, what do you do when your running partner hits a wall? Clearly, I have no idea – you just fucking deal with it.