Early in the Pumpkin Holler Hunnerd. Photo credit: mile90.com
I am a failure. I have failed so many times, but through those failures I have learned, grown, and found ways to push forward. While I am proud of my achievements, I am not here to talk about them. I am putting myself out there in hopes that I may reach others with similar challenges and inspire them to push forward. I am also including a bit of a race report on my first 100-mile ultramarathon completion.
A Little History
I am 6’3” and have weighed between 250 and 276 pounds my entire adult life, with brief periods at 235 and 286 pounds. I never thought I was obese and considered any physical limitation a side effect of being a “big guy” or a body type restriction. I have always been fairly active with sports, such as basketball and snowboarding, and I have inconsistently lifted weights over the years yielding little results.
My Introduction and Failures in Ultra Trail Running
In 2015, my friend Barrett, completed The Bear, a 100-mile ultramarathon. This amazed me. I had never heard of anything like a 100-mile race. I was immediately interested and was convinced this is what I wanted to do. I had never run more than 3 miles in a day at that point.
Over the next few years, I trained inconsistently, never gaining much of an improvement. I toed startline after startline hoping I could overcome the odds and complete my goal distance. In four failed attempts to complete a 100-mile ultramarathon between 2016 and 2018, my weight fluctuated between 260 to 278 pounds. In 2019, I suffered my second stress fracture in my femur, caused by overuse and the stresses put on my body as I ramped up miles. I knew this path was not sustainable and something had to change.
My biggest challenges were consistent training and conditioning. In late 2019, I started trying plant-based meals. This helped prepare me for the changes I knew I needed but took time to implement. On January 1, 2020, I decided the waiting was over. This was not a new year’s resolution or a short-term diet. This was a lifestyle change. I committed fully to a plant-based diet and started training regularly.
Training started slow since the stress fracture I endured in 2019 halted my training. In general, I lifted weights four days per week and ran 3 to 5 days per week. Every week I got a little stronger and ran a little farther.
In April 2020 my weight was down to 255 pounds. I had always considered 235 my goal weight but I could not drop below 250 and maintain it. My two main concerns were the ability to lose weight and to ensure I was getting all the nutrients I needed with my plant-based diet led me to look for a way to track my food. I downloaded the Cronometer app with the intention of tracking for one week and evaluating my needs. This app really changed things for me. Within the first week, I identified so many holes in my diet. I track everything now and the app makes it so easy. I know tracking is not for everyone, but I highly recommend it.
With my increased training and a new understanding of what my body needs, I dropped 50 lbs in 5 months!!! I never thought it was possible for me to weigh less than 230 and be healthy. With my new understanding of my nutrient needs and steadily increasing training, I maintained 205 pounds.
Front before and after.
Side before and after.
The Race – Pumpkin Holler Hunnerd
I signed up for a fall race in Oklahoma, Pumpkin Holler Hunnerd. I felt more confident than I ever have before. My biggest challenge was going to be making the distance as I had never made it more than 54 miles. Even in better shape, the challenges before me were unknown and a little intimidating. About a week before the race I even considered cancelling.
The Pumpkin Holler Hunnerd consists of 3 loops on county dirt roads, 4×4 roads, and a little pavement. The area is very beautiful and the weather in October is perfect for running.
On October 17, 2020, at 8:00 am I started the race. I made the decision to not look at my watch so I could run what felt right and not try to achieve some arbitrary pace goal. I felt great and noticed I was in the front of the pack, something I had not experienced in the past. At mile 15 I think I was in the top five. As I approached mile 20 I noticed my legs were sore. This was alarming as I had several training runs where I held a 10:00 pace for 25 to 30 miles without much issue. I looked at my watch and realized I had been running an average pace around 8:50. I immediately slowed down but the damage was done. My quads felt completely blown by mile 31. I then realized I had set a personal record for nearly every distance from half marathon to 50k, but paid the price with a sodium deficiency and blown legs.
I pushed on. Miles 40 through 48 were extremely painful as my legs cramped and locked up several times, leaving me as stiff as a board swaying side to side. I started eating spoonfuls of salt, drinking more water and increased my electrolyte consumption. This helped prevent more cramping, but my legs were so sore I could barely handle moving them. I pushed on, grinding through the pain.
Barrett, the one that introduced me to ultrarunning, was waiting for me at mile 60 and intended to pace me for the last 30 miles. As I approached mile 60 I knew I was done. I just wanted to make it to the aid station and have him drive me to the hotel. Luckily, Barrett offered to start pacing early, increasing his distance from 30 to 40 miles. This gave me a little more comfort and I decided to keep moving forward.
What followed was the most painful night of my life. My legs were so tight that I often screamed and screeched in pain. I could not sit or stand on my own. I often considered quitting, but I did not form the words to say I wanted to. At times we risked not making cutoffs as my pace was so slow and my legs were constantly in pain. The threat of failing at this point pissed me off. We pushed through the last 14 miles, ignoring the pain and exhaustion and finishing in 26 hours and 51 minutes. As much as I would like to have finished with a quicker time, especially after that start, I couldn’t be happier with overcoming the challenges before and during this race.
Fighting through the pain. Photo credit: mile90.com
Pain and emotion. Yes, that is a bugger. Photo credit: mile90.com
Done. Get that buckle! Photo credit: mile90.com
I am looking forward to continuing to challenge myself and seeing what I can do next. Nutritional education and consistent training are the best things I have done. Fad diets and pills won’t do the trick. A lifestyle built around healthy choices has brought me a long way in a short amount of time and I am excited about the future. I hope others can find a way to push themselves to new limits and tear down the mental walls they have created for themselves.