Tuesday, July 19, 2016 I attempted to establish a "Fastest Known Time" (FKT) for doing the full length of the Wabash Trace on foot, self-supported. Rather than go into the details of the rules, etc., you can read it here if you'd like. If you think what I did was crazy, you should look at what Scott Jurek did establishing an FKT for the Appalacian Trail last year.
Thank you especially to my wife Lisa for being my "support crew" on this attempt, to Scott Schumacher for getting me started on this running craziness, and to Larry Kelley for showing me that we really can do this ridiculously stupid stuff.
People have asked if I attempted this for some cause. I did not, but if you feel inclined to donate to a great cause, three of my running friends recently completed some incredible runs for a great cause, the MS Run The US Relay. You can read their stories and donate at these links.
This is going to be a long one, so I'll start with the very basics, so you can skip the long-winded stuff if you want.
|Before. 5:58 a.m.|
|After. 11:43 p.m.|
Route Attempted: Full length of Wabash Trace Nature Trail from Council Bluffs to Blanchard, Iowa. 62.3 miles.
Route Completed: Council Bluffs to 220th Street, between Shenandoah and Coin, Iowa. 50.5 miles according to Mapquest (Garmin battery died--with side excursions for food, etc., mileage would have been slightly higher).
Start: 5;58 a.m., July 19, 2016
End: 11;43 p.m., July 19, 2016
Truths revealed, reinforced, learned, discovered:
- My family, friends and community are awesome
- There's no better place than southwest Iowa
- I am a quitter.
- "Your mind will quit before your body does."
- "Be prepared"
- "You can't outrun a bad diet"
- "Respect the distance"
- "If you chase two rabbits, both will escape."
- Water flows downhill. If the route starts next to North America's longest river, there's going to be some climbing.
- Tacos are yummy.
- 6ish pounds of water is a lot to carry, especially when also carrying an extra 20 pounds of fat.
- July weather in Iowa is unpredictable. Just like every other month in Iowa.
- Roasted beets don't taste very good after sitting in the back seat of my truck from Sunday morning until Monday night in the July heat.
- I hike at a faster pace if I sing. Even though I've never been into recreational pharmaceutical use, singing Hank Williams III's version of "Pills I Took" is the best I've found so far
- I need good sleep to perform well.
- My Garmin on current settings has a dead battery at 48.25 miles and 15:52:02
- The point at which I want/need to put in headphones and listen to music during a trail run is somewhere past 50 miles
- The point at which my uterus will fall out is also somewhere past 50 miles.
- Running at night is harder mentally than in the daylight
- It's easier to quit when not running for a cause.
- After 18 plus hours and 50ish miles in the same shoes and socks on a hot and humid July day, my feet are slightly funky
- My singing keeps me from getting eaten by mountain lions
What I wore:
- 3 Donut Stop glazed donuts and 24 ounce "Kona" coffee from Casey's (pre-run)
- 1 can mustard packed sardines
- Sunbelt Bakery Golden Almond chewy granola bar and Southern Grove dried mango slices
- 2 softshell tacos, waffle fries, lots of mustard, barbecue brisket sandwich and pint of Fat Tire Amber Ale at Classic Cafe in Malvern
- Clif Bar Cool Mint Chocolate with caffeine
- Pint of Leinenkugel Summer Shandy, 3 bottles Busch Light, 2 Dirty Sanchez at Emerald Isle in Imogene
- another Clif Bar Cool Mint Chocolate with caffeine
- 2 cotton bandanas
- Tifosi Pave sunglasses with interchangeable lenses in hard case
- Merrell Buff (Sycamore 8 swag)
- Bike MS crew length socks
- size 10 water socks
- 2 additional Sunbelt Bakery Golden Almond chewy granola bars
- 7 Band-aids of various sizes
- 5 Wet-Nap anti-bacterial wipes
- Sawyer Mini water filter with backflushing syringe, straw, and collapsible squeeze bottle
- orange paracord, approximately 12 feet
- Sony Walkman radio
- Yurbuds earphones
- khaki hat from The Gap
- lip balm that I think was in a swag bag from some race
- Gerber multi-tool
- my keys to truck and house
- Iowa driver license
- Trail Toes sample size and moleskin
- about 6 convenience store napkins
- 3 spare Energizer batteries for headlamp (in Princeton Tec case)
- lensmatic compass
- D-ring attached to pack strap for no reason
- one thick rubber band
- Citizen chronograph watch
- silver emergency blanket
- 8 ounce squeeze bottle of Our Family brand yellow mustard (purchased at Mulholland Grocery in Malvern)
- a magically disappearing baggie containing 12 Tums tablets, 5 stick pack of Extra spearmint gum and 8 yellow mustard packets
- Princeton Tec Remix headlamp in hard case
- Samsung Galaxy 4 cellular phone (Verizon service)
- Sharpie fine point black permanent marker
- Body Glide
- US Bank Credit card
- blank deposit slip on which I wrote the distance between towns and total mileage
- Approximately $60.00 cash of which I spent about $20
I plopped down at a table off to the side since I wasn't sure if I'd be able to climb up on a bar stool. Even though I usually follow the "man rule" of "don't fruit the beer", a Summer Shandy sounded tasty. When I ordered one, I was also told that the table I had chosen was reserved for 5:00, as were all the other tables. After finishing my first beer, I was recovered enough to stagger over to the bar just as the people who had reserved the table arrived. I spent over an hour at the bar consuming three bottles of Busch Light and two Dirty Sanchezes and cooling down.
It was more time than I had planned, but I wanted to recover enough to start running again, especially knowing that a lot of the trail from there to Shenandoah was downhill. I chatted briefly with Becca, one of the owners who knew what I was attempting, telling her I didn't really want to go back out, but I was going to anyway. On the way out I had a brief conversation with my 8th grade math teacher, Mr. Brownlee, and his wife, and then saw Uncle Curtis coming in for dinner just as i was going back on the trail. He was just one of about twenty people I saw on the trail heading to Imogene for Taco Tuesday. After seeing no one between Malvern and Imogene, seeing others out there gave me a big mental boost.
I texted my wife at 6:03 that I was going back on the trail, that at my prior pace it would take me about 3 hours to reach Shenandoah, but I thought I could pick it up a little. I was right. I did that 10ish mile stretch in 2:50. I ran very little, but kept up a pretty good power hiking pace. I felt like I could have run some, but I wanted to save some energy so I could maybe run at the end. In addition to the boost from seeing others, it helped me a lot mentally that I was in my "home stretch", both because I was more than halfway done and I was in the part of the trail that I knew best. I hunted much of that stretch as a kid when it was still railroad tracks. I have ridden my bike and run on that section more than any other part, and the second half of the only Marathon I've ever run was on that section of trail. Our family farm is just off the trail north of Shenandoah, and for many years I have deer hunted land right along the Trace, including the time about which I wrote this essay.
As I came in to Shenandoah's Sportsman's Park, one of my fears was confirmed. Leading up to my attempt, I had planned to get some ice cream and other food and drink at the swimming pool concession stand since there were no stores in the last 18 miles, and had considered possibly taking a dip to cool down and refresh. However, the swimming pool was closed. I wasn't sure if it was because of the rain earlier, or if they don't stay open until 9 p.m. like they did when I was a kid, but it didn't really matter. My options were to run to Casey's a half mile away (one mile round trip), or hope I got to the bar in Coin (12.5 miles away) before they closed, or get by with what I was packing if I didn't get there in time, I've done quite a bit of training while fasting, training by body to burn fat for fuel, so I felt pretty comfortable with my choice to skip Casey's. I filled my Camelbak bladder to its full 3 liter capacity and lay down on the "porch" of the Rose Garden and elevated my feet for five minutes, just as the sun was setting. I ate another Clif Bar and texted my wife what was happening. She texted back that she was just a few blocks away, outside the public library using the wi-fi to watch a movie on her I-pad.
I then made a major mistake. I started thinking about quitting. Up until that point, whenever I was hot, tired, and/or hurting, I kept telling myself, "I don't quit when I'm tired; I quit when I'm done". I texted her that it was, "very tempting to say 'fuck it'. But I'm not going to." She replied, "But you've gone this far. You can do it!!!" That was at 9:06. I got up, put on and turned on my headlamp, and started hiking. I didn't need the light to see yet, but wanted to be visible to anyone driving since I had a short section to do on the side of the road rather than trail. I was moving and telling myself I would muddle through, but the "quit" thought was still in my brain. My lack of sleep the night before was catching up with me too.
By the time I went by the cemetery and was back on the crushed limestone trail, there was no more light from the sun, but the full moon was up. I could see the trail just fine, so I kept my headlamp on the lowest setting, not realizing this was another mistake. The mistake was that without being able to see details like individual leaves, a certain tree branch, or a bridge up ahead, I was no longer breaking it down into small, manageable chunks in my head. When it was light, I was picking out things a short distance ahead, reaching the goal, and then setting a new goal. Although they were small successes, I was having many successes. Leaving the cemetery, I knew that I would have an uphill grade until the trail crossed under Highway 2 a few miles ahead (I was thinking it was about two miles). I told myself that I would hike hard to that point, and then would have another mile to hike until there was a bench by another crossroads that looked over a field of grape vines, just a little ways past the old Izaak Walton League. I would reward myself with a nice rest there looking over that scene in the moonlight.
I started singing, "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" both to get in a rhythm and to scare away mountain lions. It brought back memories of a few years before where I had been running this same section on a similar night where, as I was running, I realized I was in the same area that several dogs had been eaten by one or more mountain lions in recent years. I figured between my bad singing and bad smell, I was pretty safe.
Somewhere in this section my Garmin battery died, which was another obstacle. For the prior 40some miles, whenever I thought I might be going too slow, I would check my pace on the Garmin and concentrate on going faster if needed. I no longer had this crutch to accurately judge my "speed". Combined with not being able to see much, I really didn't know how fast or slow I was going.
Unfortunately, I was wrong about the distance to Highway 2. It's actually about four miles from the cemetery to Highway 2, and almost another mile to the bench I was going to rest on, but I didn't know that at the time. I kept trudging along, feeling like I was barely moving. It was taking much more time than I knew it should to complete the "two miles" to Highway 2, and I kept having more and more negative thoughts. I kept seeing things ahead that I thought HAD to be the Highway 2 bridge over the trail, and every time I got there and realized it wasn't Highway 2, I was more and more disappointed.. Because it was taking so long to complete that "two miles" I kept pushing myself harder. I did finally get to Highway 2 and kept myself going by telling myself that in another mile that I would sit for a bit on that bench.
I finally reached the next crossroads and saw the grapes, but was devastated that there was no bench to sit on. I almost cried at this point. I still don't know if I went past the bench in the dark, that there had never been a bench there and I incorrectly "remembered" seeing it on my earlier scouting trip, or if the bench had been removed. Regardless, I was crushed that I couldn't sit on it to enjoy the view.
Things are a little blurry after that. I kept hiking, thinking that maybe the bench was on the other side of the road. I kept going for awhile and eventually found a bench dedicated to Larry Franzen. I plopped down, turned my headlamp off, and closed my eyes for a few minutes. I woke up hearing some animal scurrying around nearby and turned my headlamp back on to find a family of about 6 or 8 raccoons staring at me from a tree just to my left. I'm not scared of raccoons, but I hate them (I still haven't forgiven the entire species for stealing the fried chicken from my cooler 20 or so years ago), so I spat some obscenities at them and got moving again.
A little further down the trail I came up on a "porch swing" on the side of the trail. At least I think I did. Maybe it was before the Larry Franzen bench. As I said, things were pretty blurry at this point. I sat down and think I fell asleep again. I either dreamed (pretty sure it was a dream) or hallucinated that there was a guy sitting next to me on the swing. He had some bits of paper with some percentages written on them that he was trying to explain to me, but I couldn't comprehend what he was talking about. He also offered me some granola bars or candy or something to eat. I explained to him that I couldn't accept them, because that would disqualify me from this being a self-supported FKT.
I got up from the swing knowing that I was now on "quitters road", that my attempt was over. Even without the sleep deprivation, at the pace I was moving and not moving, it would take me way too long to finish. My will to push on was gone, especially knowing that I wouldn't make it to the bar in Coin in time to replenish any supplies, and that it might take until noon the next day to get it done. My mind quit, even though my body was still capable of forward motion. I just wanted to get to the next crossroads so I could text my wife to come get me. I "knew" that the next crossroads was right next to another place that I've deer hunted for years and I could direct her right to where I she could pick me up. Rather than disappointment, my biggest emotion was relief. I was happy to know it would be over, even if I didn't finish.
When I reached the crossroads, I found out I was wrong again. I was still short of my deer hunting spot. Instead of it being gravel, I had reached a dirt road that I didn't want her driving down because of the rain earlier in the day. I was so tired it took me four or five attempts to get my phone password right so I could even text her, which I did at 11:43 p.m. I hiked about 1/4 mile up the dirt road until it intersected with some gravel and texted her that I was at the intersection of 120th and E. Thankfully she figured out that I had mis-typed that and came to my actual location, which was 220th and E. While waiting, I took one last photo of my beaten self.