Sunday, November 26, 2017

Racing the Planet Patagonia stage race

It was an honor and privilege to be able to take part in this race.  I am forever grateful for all the donations and for the guidance from Runwell (Linda Quirk and Kim Pawelek) and from coach Lisa Smith-Batchen.  Thanks to my super awesome wife Alejandra Hernandez for putting up with me and my training, and allowing me to do this.  Thanks to my great Runwell teammates Ashley and Brian Carr, we are friends for life.  4 Deserts and Racing the Planet put on a well organized event.  Everything was top notch, from the organizers, to the volunteers, the doctors, and the local staff. 

Basically all we did was run, recover, eat, camp and hang out for 7 days, and take care of our bodies.  There's a few details in between which I will try and get into here, and describe the best I can what transpired in Patagonia.  The first 4 stages were slated for 25 miles each stage, the long march was 50 miles, and the final stage was to be 4 miles.
I lived off Generation Ucan Bars and coffee for breakfast, Ramen noodles for lunch and dinner, Swell Balls as fuel while running, and had a bunch of snacks for treats when needed, including a freeze dried ice cream sandwich, Starbursts.  I had 3 camp meals that I ate when I was super hungry.
I used 99% of my mandatory gear and alllll my clothes.  I am happy with my gear selections. I needed to have gear and clothing that was practical, light, and did not take up space!  My training and nutrition was spot on.  I would not change a thing for next time.  Maybe I would have done just a little more steep climbing, though I did a lot.

I arrived after traveling for 37 hours, I assume this was mental training for what was in store for me!  It was great to be there even though I was braindead tired.  I got checked in and slept well.  The next morning we had breakfast and a briefing, and after that was our mandatory equipment check-in.  I had everything but was unsure about being my first time doing one of these races.  I was good to go, just needed to figure out how to get everything in to my backpack.  We needed to carry all mandatory equipment and 14,000 calories minimum for the week in our packs.  Any items that you did not bring, you would be penalized or not allowed to run.  Anything more than that, you carry more weight!  My pack was around 25 pounds.  Yikes, that is 1/6 of my body weight.  I had to run 155 miles with this thing attached to my shoulders and back! I certainly put the time in running with the pack and there was no turning back now.  After that we all got in the vehicles and were driven to camp. 

We arrived and quickly discovered that the athletes who were there already were putting on life jackets and were getting into rafts.  We had to cross rapids to get to camp!  It was off to an adventurous start!  We arrived and a lot of people were a bundle of nerves including me.  Not about running but how the hell I was going to fit everything into my backpack!  We ate, and hung out during the day and night and met some really cool people.  We were all in this thing together.  I got some broken sleep and then it was time to get up and pee, eat, and get ready for day one of running and day one of shoving everything in the backpack.  Thank God for Ashley Carr.  She was my awesome teammate and the voice of reason who helped keep me calm and get everything into my backpack!  We had a race briefing at 7:30 and were told that we would be running up a dirt road then scrambling up a hill where we would see some beautiful rock formations.  23 miles total.  That was true but before we scrambled we climbed a relentless climb!  The views were stunning and well worth the work.  As we made our way down fighting through rough brush I saw wild horses running freely.  We hopped on to a dirt path and I saw an armadillo for the first time ever.  This really made me feel happy and propelled me towards the finish line of day 1.  Back to camp to recouperate by stretching, eating and hanging out with athletes in the cold river.  Then it was eat again, stretch, hang out by the fire until bedtime.  I slept well but it was really cold at night.  Next morning it was pretty much the same deal, get up and get ready for stage 2.  We were told that it was going to be shorter than stage 1, and flatter.  This was true, but not true!  There were certainly some hills and we ran 18 miles.  What's the difference between 23 and 19, not much!  We crossed pampas and forests and yeah, it was a little less grueling than stage 1.  I felt great during this stage, and finished with some confirmation that I have got this.  The pack was slightly lighter each day as we were eating some of the things inside.  

The next 2 stages are kind of a blur.  I do recall that the weather started to change as we experienced the winds of Patagonia through out the day and while at camp.  I have significant wind burn on my face and lips to the point of them bleeding on and off for 5 days.  The rains chilled me to the bone as well.  Nothing really I haven't ran in before, but had not in a long time as we moved to the desert!  Sleeping in the cold was not ideal, but no other options of accommodations.
Fast forward to stage 5, the long march.  This was slated for 55 miles, but due to the rain causing the snow on the mountains to melt, it was reduced to 46 miles.  The rivers that we were supposed to cross became too deep and fast and were impassable. I saved something in the tank for this one.  At least I thought I did!  We had to climb over 6000 meters on this day, and a significant part of the climbing came early.  It was raining, cold and windy which turns dirt in to mud! It was slippery as well.  The rivers we crossed were frigid, and a few were rapid and up to the bottom of my shorts.  I thought the climbing would never end.  When the initial climb was over, I had tired legs, and could barely pick up my feet.  I must have kicked every tree root and rock, and fell 5 times.  My feet were destroyed at this point and I was in a considerable amount of pain.  The 2 things I really needed to get me to the finish line were very angry at me.  Negativity set in, and I was miserable.  I wanted this to be over, and my thoughts of finishing this stage in less than 12 hours in the daylight seemed bleak at best. The only 2 things that kept me going was that I knew that there were 25 million Americans out there suffering more than I was from addiction, and that 9 years ago to the day I was too weak to go to the liquor store for more booze, too weak to shower, and thought I was dying from alcohol.  I was dying, I wanted to die.  I had little fight left in me.  It was the last day I ever touched alcohol. I got through that day, I am recovering from addiction, I can do anything.  On this long march day I was stronger than I was that day, much stronger.  I could get through this, just not sure how.  The fight was on.  It was the single most challenging runs for me, but I was not going to give up.  I was going to finish this and finish strong.

 I finally arrived at an aid station and rumor had it that there was hot chocolate!  That put a huge smile on my face.  In fact, this was the game changer, this was what I needed to get me out of my own head.  It changed my mood, and changed my day.  ALL OF A SUDDEN, I AM NOW ABLE TO RUN AGAIN, AND RUN HARD!  This hot chocolate was a gift from God.  It was not the caffeine, it was not the warmth, it was simply something that helped me forget the misery.  My feet still hurt and I knew the pain was not going away, but I was no longer dwelling on it.  There were more hills and more rivers, but for the most part it was full speed ahead.  The driving rain and wind was still there, my face was still bleeding but the finish line was drawing nearer.  I saw Ashley Carr my awesome teammate at the next aid station which was also a huge boost. We discovered we had less than 20k left and that meant finishing well before darkness. I now had even more bounce in my step.  We more or less ran together for the rest of this stage.  In fact, we would finish together.  Amazing day that I will never forget.  I thought I was done, I thought at a minimum I would finish around 20 hours, and ended up finishing 11 hours 8 minutes.  I was frozen, confused as to what transpired but knew it was over. Thank you Ashley for helping me.

The next morning I wound up in the medical tent with hypothermia.  I could not get warm.  Everything happens for a reason.  I was there to witness Michelle finish her day/night somewhere around the 26 hour mark.  She walked through the night as the rivers rose, the winds got stronger, and the temps dropped.  She was frozen but overcome with gratitude and self accomplishment. I gave her  my blanket.  She told me she was a breast cancer survivor and if she could conquer that, she could do anything.  I was so happy for her.  I shared my story with her, the abridged version.  I told her I was super proud of her for finding a way to get it done.  She, is a warrior.

I found my way to the medical tent again, this time to have my feet taken care of again.  I had been doing so myself, this time I needed help. I had stubbed my toes one too many times, and had blisters under the nails.  The doctor had to drill 4 nails to get the fluid out. The is to relieve the pressure. It was difficult to walk.  The sun came out, and it was a day of resting by the fire, and drying out everything I had.  Everything was soaked from the long march.  We did not have to run today, and tomorrow was only 4 miles.

Saturday morning we were told we would start running at 5:30am.  We were up and ready.  4 miles to the finish line, that was it.  I decided that I would savor the last miles, the last moments and recollect this past week.  What an incredible week it was.  It was challenging, peaceful, fun, and beautiful.  I thought of all those who made donations, I thought of how much has changed since I registered for this race in March 2016. I thought of my broken fibula in June, and how lucky I was to still be able to recover from that and be in the race.  As I approached the finish line, I heard there was pizza and empanadas, so I sprinted to the end.  I must have had 10 of each!  We took some photos by the glacier at the end, and enjoyed the food and drinks then we took a 2 hour bus ride back to the hotel. 

It was over, but well worth all the training, planning, fundraising.  We crossed over 30 rivers, there were 50 countries representing over 300 athletes.  I met some of the most amazing athletes, and humans. 

Race Statistics

  • 289 competitors were at the start line of Patagonia 2017
  • 273 competitors completed the race; the withdrawal rate was a record low 5.5%!
  • 58% of participants had competed in one other 4 Deserts Race, including 34 members of the 4 Deserts Club - 42% were taking part in the first race!
  • A total of 108 staff and volunteers helped to make the race happen 
  • We passed through 145 gates! 
  • Tents were put up a total of 499 times during this race!

It took 32 hours to travel back, and went back to work the next day.  My feet ballooned up, and spent the next 3 days dealing with and taking care of them.  The show must go on at work we needed to prepare 4,000 turkey dinners! I will rest over the weekend start training for Coldwater Rumble 100 miler in January.  It is only 20 miles away, at least there will not be any ultratraveling!

Finally a flight to Bariloche after spending 7 hours in Buenos Aires airport.

25 pounds to be carried by me.
The usual suspects.

Ashley and Brian Car, my awesome teammates.

Wild horses.

Glorious trails I wil never forget.

Women's winner Sarah Sawyer approaching a cow that was on the trail!

Solid finish for Asjhley!

Brian Car enjoying a hot beverage.

Bloodied from the wind and rain, bled for 5 days on and off...

On the trail, coming through!

Gaucho doing his thing.

Water for camp, and sheep paid a visit!

Me, Ashley, Peter, Brian. Tentmates!

Allllll done, I was destroyed.  This was pre hot chocolate.  I was hurting like I never had before.

Typical climb.

Mas Gauchos!

Cold and wet, stil

Camping was epic!

I had 4 toenails drilled to relieve pressure.


Me, Nicola and Michelle!

Need new fet..

Glacier at the finish.

My feet blew up at LAX.  Sneakers would not fit.

Yikes.  Flashbacks to Boston Quad!

Recovery hike with Seabass!!!!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Treadmillathon, The Road to Patagonia 2017

One year ago today (February 12th 2016) was the 2nd time ever on a treadmill. The first time was yesterday.  I much rather be running outside.  I was sitting in the Best Fitness parking lot waiting for it to open, and saw a post from my friend Chad Moye, He had introduced me to Runwell in November and was about to be running his 1st marathon.  I asked my wife if I could run virtually to support​ him.  She said it was OK, but how are you going to do that.  I said, " on a treadmill.".

Doors opened, I pick a treadmill, and started walking. I put on some Slayer or something , and the walking turned into running.  I thought to myself how the f am I going to do this.

1st dibs on a treadmill.

Here's some of the thoughts that went through my mind in the 1st few miles.  This sucks, I hate this never doing this again, this is boring.  I started looking for aches and pains, more or less excuses to quit.  I really had no reason to quit.  I commited to do this.  I had to do it. But how?

I got to 2 miles, and found some swedish fish in my gym bag.  I ate a few.  This made me feel happy, and my thought process became more positive.  Something changed.  I decided that I would reward myself with a few fish every 2 miles.  Every 2 miles was like an aid station.  I had to break this run down into 2 mile increments.  Next thing I knew I was at mile 12.  It's all in the head!

I did start to get pretty bored, I have to admit.  I had seen the highlights from Sportscenter four times by now. I was scrolling through my phone and noticed the founder of Runwell Linda Quirk, Walter Bortman and Patrick  Bowles were starting stage 1 of Sri Lanka stage race and they were running 23 miles on day 1.  Perfect, I only have to run 23 miles on this stupid thing, I'll do that!  I will virtually run stage 1 of Sri Lanka!

Well, I couldn't only run stage 1.  It's ALL or nothing.  I thought to myself, I can do this, I will do it ALL on the treadmill.  I took a look at the other stages, and wasn't sure I could find the time, but committed to giving it a shot.

Setting myself up .

I ended up sucking it up, and  before I knew, 7 days later....Complete!  ALL on the treadmill.

This experience changed me as a person.  You can do almost anything if you put your mind to it.  Breaking it down to smaller increments helped.  I definitely pushed through some mental barriers, but I believe it made me a stronger person in the end.  I built up more mental endurance.

This Sri Lanka virtual run planted many seeds. One, being the 12 hour treadmillathon, and another was to run the 4 Deserts 2017 Roving Race, which the location was announced as Patagonia.  This race is in November 2017.  I decided that I was not going to register for that many races this upcoming year, only a few larger ones.  Guess what, I registered for Patagonia.

My 12 hour treadmillathon is part of the road to Patagonia.  I am also running the Boston quad April 1st which is the Boston Marathon course 4 times.  These are both fundraisers for Patagonia.

I am running for Runwell helping people who are suffering from addiction get the help they need by getting them into treatment program and get them into running.  Changing lives one footstep at a time.

Please consider making a donation to Runwell.

You will never win treadmill!

I am running in my Luna Monos.

I will be thinking outside the box, and doing more of these fundraising events on the road to Patagonia.

I ran the Hyannis Marathon a week after the Sri Lanka Virtual Run.  This year I am running Hyannis Marathon a week after my 12 Hour Treadmillathon!

April 1sr I will be running the Boston Marathon Quad, Boston Marathon course 4 times.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Javelina Jundred 2016

First and foremost, this was just an unbelievable and amazing experience.  I doubt that I can describe how great this truly was.  Despite the blazing heat, I really loved every minute of it.  Araivapa Running did an outstanding job organizing, marking, designing the course itself.  This was not just a race, it was an experience and an event that has changed my life for the better.  I will never be the same.

This being my first 100 miler, I really did my homework.  I am truly grateful for the sound advice I received from veteran ultrarunners, and from my coach Lisa Smith Batchen.  I used probably half the stuff I brought, but if you do not bring it, you would probably need it!  The gear I did bring was spot on and worked well.  I should have, and I knew it would because I made sure I used it all first.  Race day is obviously not the best time to try something for the first time.

We arrived to Arizona on Wednesday, three days prior to JJ100.  I figured I should probably get acclimated somewhat, because Boston was 35 degrees when we left.  Besides, who would not want to spend as MUCH time as possible in The Valley of the Sun?  We got settled in to our hotel Wednesday, and I got to organize my gear a bit.

102 day of JJ100

Speed up to Thursday....  Sebastian, Alejandra and your´s truly drove up to Sedona.  If you have not been here, you are missing one of the single most beautiful places on earth.  This is Red Rock Country.  It's very peaceful and serene, and people often go here specifically for spiritual healing. I personally have never ran here, ever.  I have been here close to 20 times but those visits were during   the period of my life I drank like a fish and had not even given running a single thought.  This would be my last run before JJ.  I left town, and found the Broken Arrow Trail. Scored big time!  This is trail porn to say the least.  Single track dope, the most beautiful trails surrounded by red friggin rock.


 I ran and took photos for an hour, went back to town and ate lunch, grabbed Sebastian, and drove back to Broken Arrow!  We certainly had a blast.  His favorite thing was the dirt!

Thursday night we went home and stained the shower with red dirt, I mean, took a shower at the hotel.  We went to a friend's house for stuffed shells, one of my favorites. It was very tasty and right up my alley.  Let the carb loading commence!  Thanks Sam!

Friday  afternoon, Sebastian and I did the expo and bib pickup thing. I met some new friends, and finally met in person some  friends, David Clark,  and Walter Bortman.  It was cool to hang out there and soak up the good vibes.  After that, I ate and went back to the hotel early to get as much rest as possible.  Alarm is set for 4:00 am, race starts at 6:00am.

Up and at em´, I depart by 4;20!  It took 40 minutes to get there, which was fine. It gave me enough time to drink my coffee, and digest my Generation UCAN bars.  I parked, and found where I was supposed to be, Jeadquarters!

Ace of Spades - I can powerwalk more than most humans!

Runwell teammate Walter
West´s Best, East´s Beast Teammate Sandra!

It is time to line up in starting corral.  6am and here we go, holy shit, we are off!  Well, we did not start off like a bat out of hell, in fact we started off by literally walking the first mile due to too many people on single track. I was definitely OK with this because it kept my pace in check.  Everyone I talked to, and everything I read about this RACE said not to start tooooo fast.   I was able to start passing people after the first mile or so, but consciously aware of my pace.  I was averaging about 9.5-10 minutes per mile, in fact that is what I did for 40+ miles.  I felt great, strong, hydrated.  Everything was working well, all systems go. Zero issues.  I used salt capsules and plenty of ice to cool my core, which was key to getting my to where I was in the race.

The trails are not too grueling and everything is runnable.  There are rocky technical areas that were tricky in the dark with tired eyes and tired feet.  All the hills were not too bad.  The terrain is desert dirt!  I ran in Nike Free 5.0s which are street shoes.  I feel like I was fine with these, something heavier would have slowed me down.  I had no plans for a pacer, or a crew.    I did send out a few messages to see if anyone wanted to stop by the race, and my buddy Cliff and his sister Carrie came by!  It was starting to get really hot, and this was a nice boost to see them. I really appreciated them coming, but right after I saw them, I started having awful stomach cramps.  And at the same time, the heat of the day started to get to me.  I had ice in a buff that I kept putting on my face, neck, and body, ice under my hat, and all my heat gear on.  My core just started to get too hot, and my stomach cramps were wearing me down.  I knew I couldn't run through it.  When I ran, it hurt more. Soooooo, I walked...

I  Walked 10 miles to Jackass Junction.  I just kept moving forward.  I was using less energy, and not as hot anymore.  I had to be smart and listen to my body, not my brain. Brain said run through it, body said walk you Jackass!  I had to improvise.  Plan A was not going to work anymore.  My Ace of Spades up my sleeve apparently was having the mental capacity and ability to power walk, and for a looooong time.  At this point, I had met up with Tonja. She is someone I actually interviewed with about a job, small world!  She said that I needed to work on my breathing, and work the acid out.  So that's exactly what I did, I ended up walking mostly from Jackass back to Jeadquartersworking on belly breathing.  Then around 5:00, the angry sun was going down behind the mountains, and it was time to run again!!! Thanks again Tonja!

Another thing a lot of veterans said was to make sure to eat.  I ate plenty of watermelon and used Tailwind as part of my nutrition.  I had to start putting something more solid into my system because I was getting low on energy.  They had a large variety of food and snacks at the aid stations, but nothing sounded appealing.  I had to eat, or I was screwed.  They had Ramen noodles in vegetable broth, so I figured it was safe.  It surely was, I ate the shit out of it for the remainder of the race! With the sun gone, I felt much better.  My stomach was fine. No muscle pain at all, truly amazing, as I had surpassed 60 miles (Now in uncharted waters, personal best for distance).  I ran on and off when I could, and started resting for a few minutes at the aid stations while I had my soup, which gave my feet a well deserved rest.  I started to have low energy again, so I tapped in to caffeinated Tailwind.  Nothing.  No lift. Life had to go on.  I didn't feel like running, but knew I needed to keep moving forward.  Soooooo, back to the Ace of spades, more power walking. I knew I would finish, but knew it would be taking me much longer than projected. I probably powerwalked  30 of the last 40 miles!  I could walk faster than run!  Problem was that it is a long time between aid stations.  They seem to never be getting closer.  Each time I arrived, it was a boost, more soup, and another milestone closer to finishing this thing.

Of the course of the race, I saw one runner black out while running, others unconscious at aid stations, and many with severe cramping. Temperature reaches 102 degrees in the day.  It was not Badwater, but it was no joke either.  250 100 mile runners did not finish.  Runners who did not protect themselves from the elements simply did not make it.  One idiot was boasting and bragging at the aid station that he had already drank 22 beers, and was planning on drinking 50 beers during the race,  He did not make.

I got to see the sunrise for the second time during the race on mile 92.  The end was near, but I was not there yet!

Hallucanation, I think not.

Add caption

At Jackass Junction aid station

There it was, I could hear the music too, Jeadquarters and the finish line!  25 hours, 17 minutes and 6 seconds later, my first hundred miler is in the books. I felt GREAT!  Mentally exhausted, physically fine, just some tired feet!  

I saw some spiders, a rattlesnake that I lost sight of, some little badger things that may have been cute Gremlins, and heard a lot of coyotes howling when the sun went down.  I only saw one, who was friendly and probably would make a great pet.  

I would not call it hallucinations like something you might see on shrooms or acid, but Holy shit , everything is so freaking trippy, especially at night.  Everything looks like Willy Wonka or Super Mario Brothers.  When my flashlight or headlight came across some of the cactus, bushes, and other things I stopped a bunch of times just to make sure what the hell I was actually looking at!  Two different times I heard runners mention the full moon.  There was no full moon, it was the globe domed lights as you were approaching Headquarters. It was funny to see some of the costumes at night; I was trying to figure what the F was coming towards me!  At least during the night it was hard to see men who obviously were trying to win The Best Ass contest.  I got stuck behind some G-string food for waaaaaay too long during the day.  Glad he didn't stop short.

So again, absolutely amazing experience, would do it again in a heartbeat.  100 miles is a long time to run, walk,nor just be in my own head.  194,850 steps were taken by me.  That's a lot of steps.  It literally is like running, walking from Waltham, MA to Dennis,MA, or Waltham, past Hartford, CT!  
People cannot understand why I or someone would want to do this.  I feel we all owe it to ourselves to see what our own bodies are capable of. Time is too short to sit back and not do crazy shit. 

What's next you might ask?  YMCA 5k on Saturday!  After that, I am plotting more madness, more than likely just some long ass fun runs!