by "Sherpa" John Lacroix
When MOST folks hear the term
"Ultra-marathon," they automatically think of RUNNING. In fact most
think an ultra-marathon is all running. Over the last 7 months I have been able
to learn much about this particular sport and can attest to the sheer fact..
that and Ultra-marathon is JUST as much "speed hiking" as it is
running. This past Saturday, I competed in my first ever official
Ultra-Marathon, the Damn Wakely Dam Ultra-Marathon. It was suggested I run this
race by Tim Seaver himself, in part of training for my big Wild Whites Adventure
planned for next year. It was also just another step in the ladder for my
fundraising efforts that I thank all of you for being a part of.
Friday I left work early and Sarah and I loaded up the car and headed for New York State. Neither one of us had ever been in the ADK's before, so it was an added treat as we would be camping at Little Sand Point on Piseco Lake. We arrived after 5 1/2 hours of driving, set up camp and enjoyed a quick swim before dinner. Dinner was your typical pre race meal of Pasta and lots of bread for carbo loading. We headed to be at 9:30 as 4:30am would be arriving quickly.
The alarm went off at 4:30 and we were treated to one of the most spectacular sunrises I had ever seen in my life, 23 years old as it may be. After a few quick pictures that came out blurry (go figure), we hoped in the car and drive the 20 minutes to the starting line, trail-head, just up the road. When we got there a few racers had spent the night in their car. We got out of our car and enjoyed bowls of cereal. My pack was organized the night before with everything I would need, I would find out afterward that i had too much.
The ultra was to start at 6 and by 5:35 no one else was there aside from me and one other runner. So I gave Sarah a kiss and told her I would see her at the finish line. She left and drove back to camp to go back to bed. I now felt all alone, nervous and started to shiver. I was wearing my tiny red shorts and red short sleeve "sherpa john" shirt. I decided to go to the trailhead to see if the others were there. Nope... no one but me, a trail sign and a few deer flies that were all ready foaming at the mouth. I killed the flies, took a deep breath and headed back for the parking area.
As soon as I got to the parking area I notched a few more cars had arrived. One of which was carrying VFTT's Mtn.Goat. I spoke with his parents before he came and introduced himself. I had no clue who they were at first. What a nice family. No soon as we finish the introduction a large noise was coming from over the hill down the road. As if from a scene in the movie "Meatballs," a big blue bus came bounding over the hill. Now my nerves were running high as I was about to see the others whom I would be in the woods with today. And as I suspected.. they were some of the top ultra-marathoners in the region. Each one of them came off the bus one by one, chiseled legs with veins popping along each muscle in their calf and quads. Tiny packs filled with just the essentials for the day and a whole lot of confidence and feeling of how this would be a piece of cake for them.. me.. I looked like the youngest, felt like the youngest and hell.. I felt rather small as I was truly standing in the land of giants and was about to compete on their turf.
The race director came up to me and introduced himself. RD JIM as we referred to him as. He felt my pack and asked if I thought it may be too heavy for the day. I said, "I always come prepared, I'll be fine." he chuckled and walked away. In my pack I had a banana, orange, 2 PB & J's, GU, 2 Cliff Bars, 3L of water, a nalgene of Gatorade and some supplements which contained all organic grasses. I also had a water filter and solar blanket and bug spray.
While training in the whites, when I mention the term "speed" the name CAVE DOG always seems to pop up. I always feel bad when I hear it because Tim Seaver bested Cave Dogs mark a year after. When I arrived at Wakely, I anticipated the talk of the town would be Tim Seaver.. but the most he got was a "is Seaver coming?" Unfortunately.. I felt bad for Tim because the only speedy person I heard talk of was the immaculate Sue Johnston. So.. to try and bolster respect, though to not take away from Sue's accomplishments.. I talked about BOTH of them but more so about how Tim holds the Wakely Dam course record at 32.6 miles in 5 hours 5 minutes. The reason he no showed the event this year is because he is resting for his 2nd attempt at the NPT speed record. Sue Johnston... yeah.. I met her.. and she is every bit of woman I'll NEVER be as a man. You can talk about her as if she were a piece of folklore... a legend... certainly both of them are. (end tangent)
We all gathered for the pre-race photo then headed for the trailhead. At the trailhead the director told us a story about a man who drove up from Florida to do the event, but as he set up camp a few days ago, a crazed man came out of the woods yelling "DEMONS!!" and whacked him with a stick breaking his wrist. Our instruction was to beware of crazed mountain men and those apposed to trail-running events. As soon as that was done... the RD said start your watches.... ...... NOW. And we were off with 32.6 miles of trail before us.
As the field of athletes panned out, I found myself running in the 6th position. I heard footsteps quickly approach behind me and I stepped aside to let him pass. I was now in 7th. For a good chunk of time I ran through the woods alone in a land a knew nothing about. The tree's were much bigger here and the forest definitely more grown in, thick and dark. I guess this is one of the most wild places in The ADK's.. I would agree. The trail was rather muddy. in the whites, we walk around mud bogs, there was no evidence of this in New York. Strangely enough.. In NH we go OVER or UNDER blowdowns, in NY.. they go around them. ::scratches head::
At Mile 9 I let 3 more people pass me, one was the female front runner who was running UP all the hills the entire way. Most of the other competitors including myself, "speed hiked" all the up hills. Just as they ran out of sight, I was stung my a mud wasp in my left hamstring. The hamstring immediately swelled, I placed mud on it and tried stretching the leg to keep the swelling from allowing it to strain. At Mile 10.3 I had arrived at Spruce Lake after running and hiking for a mere 1:24.
At the 16.4 Mile mark I had been passed by a few runners near my age. one being Mtn. Goat whose shoes had been sucked off a few times y the mud. Another was a female runner from Atkinson, NH (nest town over) who at 19 years old was an incredible athlete. I followed her for quite a while at her pace, while tying my shoe, I looked up and she was gone and I would never catch her again though would hear her voice. I had made it to mile 16.4 in 2 hours 26 minutes.
As I crossed the rickety bridges of West and Mud Lakes, I thought of how great it would be to jump in. My face was covered in gritty salt, I was hot and slowing down. As I gazed into the water as I paused.. I reared over to dunk my hat when a LEACH came swimming towards the edge. It was at least 6" long and made me gag. I immediately stood up and carried on.
As we took into the deep woods of the area I grew increasingly more tired and began to Bonk Hard. I had done the hard days in the whites, but nothing like this. When speed hiking I was giving it my all going as fast uphill as I could. While running.. much of the same. There was no pace, no slow down or speed up.. it had been all fast. And before I knew it.. I was crashing hard. Every muscle in my body had been working together in perfect unison trying to keep me going along the heavily wooded trails. They were now shutting down.
The trail for quite a ways was terribly grown in with high grasses, thorns and weeds. At times it became hard to tell if you were even on a trail or if when you came out of this thicket.. you would remain on a trail. I was getting angry and cranky as I felt I was moving too slow. My concentration was now muffled as equilibrium was off.. my brain not properly functioning. I hit my shin on a down spruce tree... I bent down in pain and rubbed it until I regained feeling in my leg. I stood up and started running again, 10 paces down trail, I banged my knee on the same leg on another downed spruce I could not see from the over growth. I kept going and soon caught my leg on a down branch and fell flat on my face and elbow. I was hurt, dazed and confused... but I knew enough to stop and eat. I had a PB & J.. some GU and Gatorade. When I felt good enough to continue I got up and moved along.
For the first time in my life I could feel every single muscle in my legs pushing me along. Each one, most of which I never knew existed, played their part. I hurried down the trail, no knowledge of what my time was, no knowledge of how many miles remained.. I felt lost and very alone. Soon.. a white tunnel vision took over me and I was losing ground fast. I again stopped for drinks and stopped for a longer period of time... to truly make sure that I was ok to continue. I had lost count of how many were in front of me nor did I even care. At this point.. I just wanted to finish this true test of endurance.
I gathered myself as best I could and carried on to the next trail sign, of which there were few. I assumed I had 6 miles to go.. I would find out that I had 10. At first, a feeling of defeat but I thought of some comments I received from folks this week. I thought of the guy who gave me a red square which said, "This isn't the Sherpa John Show," the other that said "Brag brag Brag." I then thought of the guy who said he doesn't give me a stone's throw chance to best Seaver's mark in the Whites... I was getting very angry. I took off my pack and threw it to the ground. Its contents spread about on the trail and I screamed on the top of my lungs. And then.. at that moment... came some soothing voices of those who have helped me along. Artex.. Brian.. Bob and Geri..Jim Lombard.. Panama Jack.. Sarah waiting for me at the end.. and then.. Albee. During the pemi-Loop.. Albee recited a saying I used to encourage myself during the Vermont City Marathon.. "They said No, I say Yes." I took his words and put them in my head. I meditated.. and said to myself "I can, I will... I am."
I gathered my belongings put them on my back.. and after wasting a half hour in the wilderness of an area I knew nothing of.. I had gathered every ounce of courage in my body. Its true that this type of sport drains every bit of everything in your mind body and soul. All of your pains sink to your lower back, your equilibrium is thrown off and your emotions take control over your every move.. none of this you can control... but I DID. I started singing to myself "You've gotta set a pace, you've gotta set a pace.." and I began to move once again. The miles were now slowly going behind me, I felt nausea's but knew I was going to finish this thing. "I CAN finish it.. I WILL.. I AM finishing it." I kept chanting and singing. More competitors passed me and I got angrier... but who was I kidding.. this was their turf.. their sport.. I'm the new comer and rookie.
I ran into a ranger and he told me I was only 5.7 miles from the finish. I figured about 9 hour has gone by and I was in close to last place. I thanked him for this stats and continued down the trail. At mile 29 I made it to a grassy service road.. which reminded me of home and the Wilderness trail. It was all road from here on out. The elevation gain chart shows the road as down hill... it had more gradual up hills than anything. My legs had completely failed and walking was excruciating. My feet burned, a blister on my heel and my big toes severely bruised. I would walk as fast as I could with a grimace, gathering enough energy to muster in a 100 yard trot/jog down the road. Soon those 100 yds turned to 50 and eventually not at all.
I heard a dog barking.. The grass road turned to stone and the RD who was competing himself ran past me. Soon a few other runners who I though had paced me once.. passed me again.. MY GOD I WAS BEING LAPPED!
Then.. there it was.. the cabins that
marked the campground where the damn was. And as I ran down the road, Mtn. Goats
family stood up and cheered me on as did others parked on this tiny hill. The
hill was on a circle where you could drive around the hill or over it. I went to
run left and they all yelled "NO JOHN.. THIS WAY." I went to run
right.. "NO JOHN.. STRAIGHT!" My word.. where was the DAMN DAM! I ran
straight over the hill and there it was.. 32.6 miles later.. I used every last
.. VERY LAST drop of energy and ran across the dam. On the other side, the race
team took pictures which will be posted on their website within the next few
days.. then I saw Sarah.. sitting in the chair reading "A Fine Kind of
Madness".. a Fine Kind of Madness indeed.
The pemi loop was by far tougher than this, but I think it has ebocme the 2nd hardest thing I have EVER done in my life. I competed against the best in a spectacular event through the wilds of New York. Proud? Yeah.. I stand tall today.. well.. as tall as I can because EVERY muscle in my is sore.. and I am walking everywhere with my trophy for finishing. A year ago I had no clue all of this existed. Here I was... gathering up all my courage.. and doing it with men and women who have done it many times Over. Was I scared... hell yes.. in the end.. I was in disbelief.
Of 45 competitors.. I finished 26th. The winner finished in 5:15:?? I finished in 7:57:48. It was an hour slower than my predicted finish time and goal I had set for myself.. but I didn't care. Because in the end I overcame my fears, I overcame myself, my mind, my body and my soul. I was beat up, battered bruised.. and a defeated man.. who was able to resurrect myself to carry on. This is something I'll do time and time again in the future.. because my goals are clear... prove them wrong.. prove MYSELF wrong.. and raise a whole load of cash.
Specs: 32.6 MILES 3,903' Elevation Gain 3,478' Elevation Descent
26 of 45 in 7 Hours 57 Minutes and 48 Seconds
Next Up: THE FITCH 46!/48 In 4 1/2 Days.. don't EVER count Sherpa John out. Believe In Me instead! See ya then August 6-10!!