While this was a phase to prep for Lilyan’s Run, I am going to go into more depth about the amazing people I met this weekend and how they accomplish what they do.
A Race For The Ages was billed as a chance to rub elbows with the best from the past and the present and we went down not knowing what to expect. Would I be able to perform well or would I suffer the same fate as at Bristol? What about the living legends of the sport? I had already found that Ultrarunners were a very tight but friendly group in general but this would be different, this would be the ones that had put this sport on the map! How would they accept someone so inexperienced, someone they had never met before?
We pulled into Manchester about 20 minutes before the start and still had to get camp up and ready, check in and change clothes. We hurriedly started camp and I had to leave most of it to Ladonna and Sophia as I rushed off, late for the start.
This event had an unusual set up with runners over 48 getting an hour added to their start time for every year past 48. In other words while my start time was 12 noon there were others that had started earlier, those that were 49 had started at 11 while a 72 year old had started at noon the day before and so on. When I hit the course I hadn’t seen it and hadn’t talked to anyone so I was feeling it out as I went.
The course itself was concrete and pavement. It used part of an existing greenbelt before turning onto a roadway/parking lot and wandering past tennis courts and ball fields, up a hill and down a steep hill past the start/finish line. There was pretty good shade for the first 1/4 or 1/3 of it but the rest was going to be out in the sun during the day time. They had ample lights along the way for when it turned dark. There was a building at the start line with food tables, bathrooms and an open sleeping area marked off that was first come first serve by age. About halfway through the loop there was another building with bathrooms. Wherever there was shade along the course there were canopies and tents set up.
These guys and gals here were machines. Some were moving fairly fast, some fairly slow but they were moving and moving and moving… without stopping. In previous ultra races there were a few elite runners and then some closer to me and then some that were just there. This race wasn’t like that at all, unless you include me as the just there crew. It became clear within the first couple of hours that these people meant business as the discussion among them all was getting past 100 miles.
As I moved around I found myself in different groups and started to learn about the history of this strange sport I found myself in. The first thing is Gary Cantrell or “Lazarus Lake” as he is known is revered by the other runners. Before this weekend all I knew about him was what I had seen in the Barkley Marathons movie. I heard story after story about him and never a negative thing was uttered. I heard about how he had raced “about everywhere”, organized events and ran through all 95 counties in Tennessee. He has inspired so many to push themselves and his 4 year old (I think his grand daughter) Burrito even out sprinted me to the start finish line one lap, determined not to be beaten.
There were so many stories that I could write for the next couple of years and barely scratch the surface. Instead I will pick out a couple that really went out of their way to offer advice and support. The first was Al , a young man of 70 from New York who had multiple marathons, ultras and events up to 6 and 10 days under his belt. I’m pretty sure he must have had a degree in philosophy too. He let me know how hard it truly was to reach the 100 mark. He told me about his near misses at marathons, then ultras and how many times he missed the reaching the hundo before he made it. He explained to me that you had to harden your body and your mind to become able to achieve more. Some people are born to run, they go out their first try without training and excel. For most of us it’s not that way we have to work at it and work hard. To reach our goal we have to be masochist of sorts, willing our bodies to do more than we thought they could. He assured me that I was right were I should be.
The other person that offered so much support was Mark from Indiana. Mark had started at 3 A.M. and like most of the others there he was a machine. We spent about 10 or 11 laps together and he shared his stories. He had only been running about 10 years and last year he had broken into the hundo club. He told me about the steps he had taken to get there and assured me that no matter what I did during the race I was still there, still learning, still challenging myself. As long as I was still trying then the effort wasn’t wasted.
Food. I have said in the past how surprised I have been at the types of food eaten at ultra events but these guys really took it to new levels. There was an assortment of fruits and a limited amount of candy provided by the race. But what there was in huge portions was hearty, heavy foods. Swiss steak, meatloaf, chicken dumplings, baked potatoes, hash browns, country ham, pancakes, butter, cheese and macaroni. Every 6 hours new food was rolled out and about half of the racers stopped for 15 minutes of rest and fellowship. The other half walked in, filled their plates and went back out, walking as they ate so they didn’t lose time. My app told me that I burned about 14,000 calories during the weekend and that heavy food was not only good but needed. Still, I may never look at Cracker Barrel the same.
Fluff time. As I said above these people were machines, they just kept moving at whatever speed they could. They said that down time was fluff time and had to be limited to the least amount possible. How did they reach their goals? That was it, they simply didn’t stop. Why stop to eat when you could walk and still get mileage? Bathroom breaks needed to be incorporated with stopping to fill your water bottles or change shoes. Blisters? Stop, sit, pop, tape and go on. Sleep was something that only happened when absolutely necessary and only for the least amount of time to be able to function again. Most simply crawled into a tent, a car or a chair with the alarm set for 30 minutes or an hour or two.
As I told everyone about Lilyan’s Run to a person they said that a journey run as I learned this was called was different than a timed event. In a timed event everything was about not stopping, in a journey run with scheduled start times and distances it is about making the best use of time not moving. Refueling with food, fluid and rest are the important parts. Since this was an endurance feat and not a race taking time to attend to small things like cramps, blisters and soreness when you stop are paramount to success.
As a whole they invited me into their world. So many commented about my family being there and the birthday balloons they had placed around our camp site and wished me happy birthday. They talked and joked and encouraged me just like they did all the others. The 6 A.M. breakfast was my favorite, everyone stopping and drinking coffee and just enjoying each other. One man who I simply cannot remember his name would call out to me when we passed on switch backs “get it, you better lap me!” There was such a wealth of knowledge that I may not ever process it all. They talked about other events that I should join them at and talked about looking forward to us all getting together again next year. They also threatened me if I didn’t get keep training so I could get my hundred next year.
Even at the awards banquet, long after the “Bobbsey Twins” were announced to have broken the event record and all of the buckles (it is custom for buckles to be given for those breaking 200, 150 and 100 miles at ultras) had been awarded they were still there when my name was called and I received my trophy. I didn’t mind that Laz didn’t know my last name. He knew that I was the last entry and that I had driven down on a whim to challenge myself and fellowship with the legends. I went with the thought of getting my first 50 miler in and ended up at 72, more than double anything I had done before.
If anyone is reading this that ever wants to try an ultra or try your fiftieth mark your calendar and travel to Manchester. No matter if you run 10 miles or 200 you will be glad you came and spent sometime with these wonderful, gracious phenomenal athletes.