Monday, May 14, 2012

Barefoot 24

Since "meeting" so many of my crazy ass ultra runner friends I've wanted to help crew one of their silly races.   (And, I kid.  Nothing silly about these races.) I was lucky enough to have such an opportunity when Debbie asked me to come on board for her attempt to run 100 miles barefoot in 24 hours.  Yes please.

I know Debbie through another Daily Mile friend.  Weird the friendships we build over the computer can bring us together to do some really amazing things.  We all tend to help each other out somehow.  Some way.  With running.  With life. 

A twelve hour train ride from Chicago to outside Kansas City brought me to Debbie.  

A unicorn looks over the loop
We chatted a bit.  Had some wine.  Went to bed.  Tomorrow would be a big day.  A bit of an   understatement.  Debbie and the kids were up early.  I couldn't get going.  I sat in bed and texted with a mutual friend of ours who asked a bit about the run.  I giggled hearing the girls pounding on the piano.  Badly.  Giggled even harder when I heard Debbie say cheerfully, "It's so great to be awake isn't it?"  I took that as a sign I needed to get up.  I sauntered downstairs to be greet by the three most beautiful girls.  Who seconds before were chatting loudly out of control.  Sitting there, mouths open.  Staring at me.  I tried to start conversation with them.  I was clearly still in a probationary period with them.  Silence.  That didn't last too long.  Within 10 minutes we were all giggling girls.

Debbie's morning was busy with kids.  Work from home.  I tried to keep her three beautiful girls a bit occupied with teaching them new yoga moves so they would stay out of her hair a bit.  We chatted a bit about Debbie's run.  The girls didn't know quite exactly what she was doing.  But, we did talk a bit about it.  They had some interesting deep thoughts.  So much so, we decided to write them down as mottos for the weekend.

* Life is not about the ice cream.
* It is about breathing.  And everything in between.
* It's a no-death weekend.
* No dying.

The girls went to school just after lunch.  Debbie asked me to braid her hair.  And, then, boom, like that she was up and ready to go.

What?  She's starting NOW?  Wait, what, I'm not ready!  Not sure what I was needing to be ready for.  But, I wasn't sure.  She walked out the door, a smile, and she was off.  

It had begun. 

Debbie started Friday at 12:26 p.m., skipping out the door in her 3 Non Joggers tee.  It was warm out there   Full sun.  But, she was cruising along.  Perhaps a bit too fast as we look back on it.  But, she was a woman on a mission.  Who am I to stop this?

This routine became quite funny
 as the night went on. 
I didn't know quite what I was doing.  I let her come in and give me orders.  Quickly, I figured out the routine.  She pees.  Liquids.  Food. Cold towel around her neck. I clean her feet.  I check her feet.  Lotion them.  Massage them.  (Debbie thinks I could make serious cash on my foot massages.  Ha.) Massage the calfs.  Assess the situation.  Her physical state.  Her mental state. Reapply sunscreen. Then try to get her out the door as soon as possible. 

After a few loops it became quite routine.  Almost like Indy cars in pit row.  But, with less speed and precision. 

She would do several mile loops. Late in the day, just under 20 miles complete,  nausea started to set in.  I got an urgent text to come get her.  To be honest I freaked a bit.  I wasn't sure what that meant.  She said she felt sick.  I threw on my running shoes, grabbed a fresh bottle of Nuun and ran out the door to find her. 

Mind you, I'm not running so much.  Foot hurts.  But, I didn't care what I needed to do to get her back in.  I only had to run around the block to meet up with her.  Got her home. We checked any symptoms she had to gauge her electrolyte levels.   Our very unprofessional opinion was that she needed more electrolytes.  And, more frequent food intake. We also determined we needed to keep a steady eye on her weight. I had actually typed up a chart to keep track of things.  But, in the rush of the start, I forgot about it.  I pulled it out and we started to keep track of the what and whens and at what mile.   

The picture does not capture
how big this hill really was.
Skibba arrived just after this "incident".  I immediately passed off my duties to her.  She headed out the door with Debbie to keep moving and walk a bit to get going again.  I had a snack, walked the dogs, and took a little breather.  When they returned I  rejoined Debbie to pick up a bike that was graciously being loaned to me for the night.  I sped walked as fast as I could.  My whole leg was hurting me.  Foot too.  Oh well. I tried to really push my pace to keep her moving along.  Having legs almost as tall as her (and I kid.  Kind of) helped push her.  I needed to keep her moving as fast as I could.  My legs are way longer than hers, so I was pushing her as she walked.  Good.   I was happy to get on that bike and off my feet though.  That would change as the night went on.
There were areas that were too rocky or
wet.  So, Debbie did off road running. 

She ran the rest of the loop and I rode the bike.  It was a mountain bike.  What I'm used to.  However, it was too small for me.  No big deal.  Well, not at first anyway.  This would change too. 

Somewhere in the mid 20's
mileage.  Still look good! 
She was now more than a quarter way to her goal.  I passed her off again to Skibba to accompany her on a bike for a few more loops.  I continued my triage duties each time Debbie came inside.  Feet. Foot.  Fuel.  Feet were still looking really good.  Did finally see a blister between two toes.  Moleskinned that up and it was never a problem again.  

Skibba is a morning person (stoopid triathletes) and I'm a night person. So it was easily decided she would get some sleep soon and I would stay up all night with Debbie.

Chain was jammed in the
lower left corner. I could loosen
the rest of the chain. But, not this.
Until I did.  Finally. 
However, disaster struck just before midnight when they came back way too early from a loop. I panicked a bit when the door opened.  Oh, no.  What was wrong with Debbie?  But, it wasn't Debbie.  It was the bike.  A broken/jammed bike chain.  Jammed so tight I have NO idea how it got in there.  No idea how we would get it out.  Without the bike we couldn't continue. Debbie could not be out there alone in the night.  We could not run with her.  It was a bit tense. 

I had already fixed a chain earlier in the day on one of Debbie's daughter's bikes.  I did it extremely quickly, to the point that I impressed Debbie with my ability.  Apparently this takes her forever to do.  So, with the confidence of fixing a little girls bike behind me I would surely be able to do this.  Right?  Ha.  (By the way, I've never fixed a bike chain before) 

Oh, dear.  This chain was SO jammed.  Part of the chain was stuck between the frame and the chain ring. It looked like the laws of physics were against us.  I couldn't see how we could get the chain from point A to point B.  Was just not happening.  No matter how hard I tried.  How hard I pulled.  Pushed.  I felt a sense of panic.  We had to get this fixed  HAD to.  Skibba and I were sharing concerned glances.  Debbie was still moving.  She took the dogs out in the neighborhood as Skibba and I tried to figure this out.  I flipped the bike in every direction I could to get better leverage.  Or see a better option.   In one turn my leg got a bit caught.  Um.  Ouch. Blood. 
'Tis but a scratch. 

We tweeted out SOS cries for help for any cyclists/triathletes we thought A - would still be up B - could tell us HOW to get this chain un-jammed.  We got nothing.  So, Skibba jumped on her road bike (which was a bit hard to ride along with Deb due to the hills, speed we were going and times we were riding in the grass) and they headed back out.  I sat outside with that bike determined to get it working again.

I tugged and pulled and swore.  Nothing.  I did it again and again and again  and again.  Covered in grease.  Still bleeding from my leg.  I got the chain loose several times.  But, still couldn't get it threaded correctly due the original position of the jam.  Tried several times.  And, then pushed REALLY hard.  Pulled REALLY hard. Bike went flying.  I went flying.  My finger got caught in something.  It hurt. But, I heard a click.  I am  pretty sure I yelled "Namaste Muthufuckers"   Bike fixed.  

It was midnight. 

Renewed energy.  "Second Wind Baby, Second Wind!!!!"  Debbie and Skibba returned.   12 hours done.  50.1 miles done.  Debbie's fastest 50 miles ever.  Sweet!  This was an exciting moment.  Debbie had a few emotional moments to reflect on this.  We were happy for her.  But, it was not over.  By any means. 

Skibba hit the bed.  Debbie and I headed out for a long night.  First few loops were good.  Some nausea here and there.  But, otherwise, strong.  Then the feet started to hurt.  Some chaffing issues too.  She did some walking.  I walked with the bike alongside her.  This killed my leg.  But, I couldn't ride this slowly.  I had to keep her moving.  I walked faster then her.  Told her to keep up.   These were some quiet times.  I wasn't really sure I should talk to her.  I didn't want to bug her.  But, I also didn't want to have her fade off mentally.  So, I gave her a mix of quiet.  Falling back a bit behind her to let her go.  Mixed with some random conversations as I rode next to her.

It was here that I feel that I failed Debbie most.  I knew mentally she had it in her.  But, I also knew that sometimes the physical weakness can play havoc with even a strong head.  I didn't have the right words to tell her.  Yes, I'm a cheerleader.  But, I'm the Whooo-Hoo!!!!  Wheeeeee!!!!!!  Go! GO! Go! kind.  At 3 am you really cannot scream those sentiments.  Telling her she was doing awesome just didn't seem like that meant anything at mile 57ish. 

Then, she started to get REALLY sleepy.  She fell asleep while I cleaned her feet.  She fell asleep on the toilet.  I knew she couldn't go on  like this.   She had warned us not to let her stay still for too long.  She told us she would probably argue with us at some point.  But, she couldn't stand.  Hell, I could barely stand.  I was tired.  My legs were sore.  And, I wasn't doing anything.  So, I made an executive decision at 4 a.m. to let her sleep.  For 15 minutes.  I really wanted to sleep too.  But, I was scared we both wouldn't wake up.  So, I lay on my back on the floor and watched her sleep.  My back was aching me from the short bike.  It felt great to lie down.   I felt horrible waking her up.  But, up she went.  I gave her a small sandwich some broth with protein, and, out the door.

Debbie warned us that there would be dark moments.  That should would not be so nice perhaps.  We had hit the dark.  But, we never hit the mean.  Our plan was to get whatever little we could get out of her.  If she planned a 3 mile loop , we tried for 3.25  As we started this new loop I was prepared to ask for some running.  Just a little bit.  But, before I could even ask, she started running. Of course she did.  Why I even questioned it I have no idea.  She ran the entire loop.  Wow. She got to the usual midway point of the loop, started to turn.  I said, "No, let's go to the end of the street."  She paused for a second.  Turned around and headed for the end of the street.  When we got there she turned, looked at me and said, "You happy?"  I giggled.  Said "Yes"  Kissed her forehead.  Off she went.  This was to be the last loop with me.  Sunrise was coming.  

My graveyard shift was over.  62.53 miles done.  5:18 a.m. 

Time to pass her off to Skibba.  I was near the end of my limit.  I was a bit sad to leave Debbie.  But, I was SO tired.  I hate even saying this because, come on,  I think Debbie was a wee bit more tired than me.  But, I am not Debbie.  This was VERY clear to me.  I went to Skibba in bed and told her she was on.   We had a quick debriefing of the events of the night.  What was working. What wasn't working.  What our strategy was to keep Debbie going.  We agreed to keep asking for little increments from her.  Build miles through inches if we had to.  I distinctly recall Skibba asking me to tell her what to do.  That she had no clue what to do.  I giggled. Girl, I had no idea what I was doing either!  If I looked like I knew, it was only because my cluelessness became a clueless routine after so many loops.  Ha! 

I was to go to bed.  Orders given.  I knew I wouldn't. I washed dishes.  Organized some things that got disorganized throughout the night.  I also got yelled at by both of them that I needed to worry a bit about me too.  I needed food.  I needed electrolytes.  Pfffft.  Whatever.  I was hungry so I did sneak in a sandwich (breakfast of champions).  I was up when they were back in the door  about 30 minutes later.  They were back so soon it scared me.  A 5k at 65 miles at 30 minutes or so?  Really, Debbie? REALLY? Whoa.

I needed to get the dogs out so decided to do it barefoot.  And, surprisingly I suddenly had this weird energy.  So, I ran the dogs.  Barefoot.  It felt a wee bit awesome.  I was in no pain.  Weird.  I ran into Debbie on my way back, as she was heading out again. 

I finally gave in to my intense desire to sleep.  I changed into comfy clothes and dove into bed.  No sooner than I did this and the dogs started barking madly.  I knew it wasn't Debbie.  I knew it was Michael .  A barefoot runner friend of Debbie's who was coming to witness her run and run a few miles with her.  I got up.  Let him in.  Gave him the update on the run.  When Debbie came in I went right back to my duties.   For the very first time I really noticed a difference in her feet.  Honestly over the entire time, there was little change.  This time her feet looked a bit raw.  The color was more pinkish.  There were a few punctures.  I needed a bit more moleskin to protect a few spots.  

But, Debbie seemed a bit energized to see Michael.  He asked more detailed questions.  He took pictures of her feet.  Made some video record of what was going on.  Then headed out to run a loop with Debbie.  

This time it was no joke.  I had to get to bed.  It was now 7:30 am.  I don't even remember falling asleep.  Next thing it was 10:30 am and I heard people.  I didn't want to miss the final loop, so I ran downstairs to see what was up.  

Debbie's feet were hurting.  Badly.  She was moving around the house.  It was agreed one last small loop would be made to finish it up.  She had aimed for 100 miles.  But, she was happy with the result.  She should be.  It was quite impressive.  All three of us headed out for that final short loop walk.  At this point we were all giddy and overtired.  We had silly conversation.  Giggled.  It was nice.  There was a good energy knowing Debbie was near her finish.  As we neared the house, Skibba and I let Debbie do the final distance alone.  We stood back and watched.  In awe. 

Debbie finished up her 24 hour barefoot run with 76.62 amazing miles. To witness such strength and determination, even when things got tough and dark, was really an amazing experience.  No matter how bad it got, deep down she was going to keep on keeping on.  And, she did.

It is thought that she holds the record for the longest distance run barefoot by a female.  

I feel so honored to have been a very small part of this achievement.  It was an amazing experience.