June 11, 2007

Giving Every Last Effort at the 1st Ultra For A Cure

On Saturday, June 9, at 5:45 A.M., I started running, and the first ever Ultra For A Cure began. I was supported by my Dad and grandpa (Opa). Having already received phenomenal support from so many great people who contributed to the cause of finding a cure for cancer, our own quest to run 75 miles started.

After leaving the little town of Stinson Beach, the first few miles of the route traveled on the edge of a picturesque lagoon. It was good to be running, finally, after having not run for a very antsy three days in preparation for the quest. I let the relief of moving my limbs through nature carry me through the first miles, and it worked well. Generally in the first few miles of super long ultramarathons you have to turn your brain off, because thinking thoughts such as, "Well, great, I just ran 2 miles, and I've got 73 to go." would be fatal to your motivational levels. But no such thoughts came today, and I soaked in the scenery and vibrancy of running instead.

(Cruising through the early miles)

Opa, Dad, and I decided that it would be good if they moved ahead in the car every 3 miles or so. I was moving at a comfortable pace of around 10 or 11 minutes per mile, so we met about every half-hour. They gave me food, drink, and encouragement, and took pictures. They would do this all day, and later both would join me for parts of the run. It was, truly, a team effort.

(Refueling early on)

At mile 14, we passed through the small town of Olema. Meaning "coyote" in the native Miwok language, and probably having fewer than 100 inhabitants, Olema isn't much. But passing through a town on long runs always gives a motivational boost. A few miles further, we arrived at another town, Point Reyes Station. Opa and Dad met me there, to make sure I took the correct turn at a confusing intersection, and then drove ahead. I, too, went ahead, feeling good. There was very little road shoulder on this part of the route, but fortunately there wasn't much traffic either.

(Another pit stop)

At mile 26 we met in Marshall, population 400. The main industry of Marshall is oysters and clams, which was obvious running through it. Stopping there to refuel, I noticed that the first signs of soreness had manifested in my legs. That wasn't good. But then we opened a big bag of chips, and I ate about half the bag. Having gotten plenty of salt back in my body, I felt a lot better as I continued down the road.

The scenery, which began to yield nice views of Tomales Bay, became really nice after Marshall. I decided to focus on getting from town to town, and made my main goal getting to Tomales, mile 33. It worked well; I was in a good rhythm. Then at mile 31 or so, my Aunt Jill came to run with me. She had helped greatly with the Ultra For A Cure project, and we had been emailing each other almost every day prior to the run working together to make plans. I was grateful to have company. The course began to meander inland, and fortunately, the road shoulder widened as well. We soon came to Tomales. I made myself go to the bathroom, and then mowed down a mini pizza with some water before heading down the road again. We passed the cafes, restaurants, and the old city hall before climbing a hill and descending back into fields of grass and rolling hills which extended to the horizon and out of sight.
It was midday, and a little warm, so Opa and Dad now drove ahead every 2 miles so we could stay hydrated. Aunt Jill and I talked as we traveled down the road, which was nice and made the miles go by. Within an hour we came to the intersection of Highway 1 and Valley Ford Road, mile 37.5, which marked the halfway point. Getting to halfway on super long runs never fails to give you a boost, and it didn't fail here either. It was great knowing the miles to run were now less than the miles run.

(Aunt Jill and I pass the halfway point)

At mile 40 we came to Valley Ford, another tiny settlement, which had a gas station, a few restaurants, and a huge flagpole which had an American flag, and, for some reason, a Portuguese flag below it. I was feeling okay, but after the town came a new challenge-hills. They weren't so bad at the part we were on now, going towards Bodega Bay, but I couldn't help thinking they would be a lot harder on the way back. In addition to the hills, there began to be a lot more traffic, and a strong headwind. I did my best to be patient and simply concentrate on whittling away the miles.

Aunt Jill left at around mile 44, having run somewhere between 14-16 miles with me. Opa and Dad took her back to her car, and I focused on closing in on Bodega Bay. I got to the city limits sign sooner than I expected, and began looking for Kent Avenue, the turnaround point. Opa and Dad arrived just before I got there, and they drove ahead a half-mile to meet me there. Although not feeling hungry, I ate some chocolate covered raisins and other high-calorie foods to keep my energy levels up. It was mile 48.4. There was 26.6 miles to go. I was beginning to slow down. I told myself that I was at the starting line of the Bodega Bay to Petaluma Marathon. A marathon was no problem, right?
But the miles were beginning to take their toll on my mind as well. I'd been going for almost 10 hours, and it just seemed like it was going to take all day! Running ultramarathons takes an immense amount of mental strength and patience. You can't do it unless you really love it and have a strong desire to go as far as you possibly can. Many veterans of the sport like this aspect of ultramarathon running because it keeps the sport "pure". Unlike highly publicized sports which make the headlines, all the participants of ultrarunning do it because they love it, rather than for any illusions of fame or fortune.
I sure loved to run, but right now, things were beginning to deteriorate. My stride was shorter, my legs weaker, and my pace slower. Things might not have been good for me psychologically, but fortunately, at mile 50, my relatives Erika and Nick, and their three children Ben, Jo, and Lillian drove by, honking their horn and cheering from the car window. It helped a lot to see such great support. They would join Opa and Dad at the "pit stops", and encouraged me as I refueled. I was thankful for their support. In addition, Opa then joined me on the run. They kept up their support for the next few stops before returning to their home in Sebastopol. By that time, I was feeling a lot better. But there were still plently of miles to go, and then came Round 2 of the hills.

(Opa and I in the later stages of the run)

They sure seemed a lot bigger this time around, I thought, as I made my way up the largest section of the "roller coaster." But I did have Opa with me to get up them, and eventually we got them behind us. We talked a little, but I was fairly tired and didn't talk quite as much as before. Mainly, I directed my efforts to being patient and counting down the miles. We got to Valley Ford. We got to the intersection, mile 58.4, and took Valley Ford Road towards Petaluma. There was a larger road shoulder now, and the sun was going down. I watched our shadows grow longer and longer as we shuffled down the road, which stretched through pastures and passed haybales and sheep.

(Haybales and grassland)

Then my Uncle Andres drove by in his truck, which helped my motivation. I'd been battling to keep positive. In this stage of the game, it was more crucial than ever to stay positive and keep moving, because now every step was painful and slower than the last. It was good to see him, and he drove ahead to where Dad was to join me in the final stages of the run. When Opa and I got to that point, Uncle Andres joined me and Opa went with Dad, having run about 13 miles. He's also 66 years old! That never fails to impress me when we run that far together.
It was almost dark, so we put reflective stickers on our shirts. I wore a headlamp and Uncle Andres carried a flashlight. He encouraged me and asked about my progress. I did my best to remain spirited, but underneath was an intense concentration on continuing to put one foot in front of the other. Dad drove ahead to the finish line and then drove back to where we were in order to measure the miles left. When he reached us, he informed us that there were 11 miles left. After that, he and Opa drove ahead 1 mile each time. I was now probably at about more than 15 minutes a mile, about the pace of walking, but I didn't let myself stop at each mile fearing that if I did, I wouldn't be able to get going again. But I made myself drink lots of water and Gatorade, as well as other electrolyte-filled drinks, because at this point I wasn't able to get any food down. This is an interesting phenomenon-at the end of super long runs, when your body needs the calories most, you have no desire for food. It's not as though you feel full or that your going to vomit, but there simply isn't any signal to your brain coming from your stomach.
I took it mile to mile at this point, but my legs burned in agony. I'd finally gotten to that point, the true test which took every fiber of my being to keep going when I wanted to stop more than anything else in the world. With 10 miles to go, Dad joined me-he and Uncle Andres were going to trade off every couple of miles. Most of the time, however, he was walking rather than running because I had slowed so much. My legs tightened with every step, burning, thousands of muscle cells feeling like they were being ripped apart in a blender. At 9 miles to go, we passed 66 miles, the furthest I had ever run previously. It was a success which carried me down the road as Opa and Uncle Andres drove ahead. Being extremely stiff, I took short, shuffling steps which barely covered any distance for every step. I may have had strong legs, but what kept me going now was simply bull-headed stubbornness not to quit, to keep moving forward. It was truly an epic, all-out struggle to go as far as possible, one of the most exciting and most painful I had ever experienced. We saw the cars ahead in the distance. Suddenly, with a few hundred meters to go before the next pit stop, my legs just stopped, even though I didn't think about stopping. Pain seared through my entire body, and I groaned. It took every last ounce of energy just to walk the final few hundred feet to the car. I was utterly spent, completely used up. There was nothing left.
"I think this is the end of the road for us today," I managed to grunt after arriving at the cars. Opa, Dad, and Uncle Andres knew I was done, and expressed how proud they were and how impressive the endeavor was. We had exerted every last effort and used up every last bit of energy to cover a total of 67.7 miles. It was truly a powerful moment. Unable to move anymore, I was helped into the car. After saying goodbye to Uncle Andres, I lay down in the backseat, utterly exhausted but happy and fulfilled, knowing that we had succeeded in the effort because we gave it everything we had.

(With Opa and Uncle Andres at the end)


Ultra For A Cure was a success and an amazing experience to be a part of. It was truly an honor to play a small part in helping find the cure for cancer. We raised a total of $2,328. My thanks goes out to all who donated to the cause and helped us come closer to finding a cure. In addition, much thanks goes out to Opa and Dad for taking the entire day just to help some lunatic shuffle down the road, and to my Aunt Jill and Uncle Andres, who worked hard to help organize the event in addition to busy schedules and for coming out and lending their support on race day as well. We will have many more Ultra For A Cure events in the future, and information will be posted when the time comes. Will we be going further than 67.7 miles? Of course. I want to see how far we can go, see some cool places along the way, and if I can engage in some small act of service in doing it, that would be wonderful.
"His IQ drops 50 points every time he laces up a pair of running shoes."- Unknown

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