Desert R.A.T.S. 2010 Edition.
The t-shirt says, 6 days, 5 stages, 148 miles, one goal: Survive. Pretty simple I guess when it is broken down into basic terms…yep that is it. Run, Eat, Sleep…do it again the next day. How come it is so very hard to explain it to anyone outside of those few who you shared the time, space, and suffering with? I have tried many, many times to explain why I subject myself to the miles, sun, hills and all the beauty and pain the desert can dish out. I get that usual look that I call the RCA look. It is one of the little dog looking at the phonograph with his tilted head not quite understanding the sound that is coming out. It totally cracks me up every time. I have tried to explain the feeling of doing something that is just out of your grasp. I have explained that the pain is a process that once you break through you become stronger. I have tried to explain the joy of coming together with strangers that have endured the same sacrifices’ you have to reach a dream. I tell them the race is only a part of the journey and once you choose that path many wonderful people and events will become additions to the fabric of your life. I scream that through self discovery your life can be lived with focus, purpose and meaning…yet I get the look and I smile. Oh, and the responses are priceless. You must be crazy. I wouldn’t want to drive that far. What the hell is wrong with you? I know a guy who runs 10 miles a day. You will wear your knees out.
After completion of last year’s Desert RATS I had wasn’t sure I would do the race in consecutive years but as I often do during my endurance induced amnesia I forgot how painful the race was and before Shelley and I got home we were in for the 2010 addition. Great, now what were we supposed to do? The plan would be to get Shelley healthy, train more with our packs on, train hills, and train walking, for me to lose 10 pounds and a load of other things. As the year went on Shelley’s injuries were manageable and getting much better. She was closing in on her old form and with a win at the Free State Trail marathon she was ready to go…I was training well, as many of you know I would rather race bikes than eat so this year I said I was going to race crits and hope I didn’t crash. I figured, hey what is the worst that could happen? Well I am not going to say it was the worst that could happen but in many ways it is all the same. On April 20th about 5:45 pm during the Twilight Crit Series here in Tulsa I was second wheel going into a corner hot. My friend Scott Haus in front, he and I stretching the field, he touches a pedal, goes for an asphalt slide and I go over the top of him. I land shoulder first head second…not only could I feel the bone break I could hear it in my head. Then slam, the head hits next. I am lying on the floor and at that very second I resign myself that I am not going to make the starting line at the 2010 Desert RATS. It was a fact and nothing I could do to change it. I was depressed but that is part of the game so I found peace quickly. OH and man was I in pain. That crap hurts.
So, after some quick research on local orthopedic guys here in Tulsa I find Dr. Paul Stafford. He and his staff are awesome and put up with some serious manic behavior from me. I would have let it rest but right before he went all Black and Decker on me he gave me some hope that I might actually get to race. I could not believe it and to make a very long story short, we limped my shoulder, training and recovery through the next 6 weeks and I was able to get to the starting line. Not sure how and I am not sure it was the best way to go about it but there I was once again…On the Line with 12 screws and a plate holding it all together.
Before, I get into the details of my race I have to give credit to the crew at Gemini Adventures. What an amazing group of people dedicated to putting on great events. Their organization and attention to detail left us wanting nothing. Huge thanks to Reid and the gang without you guys none of this would be possible.
Here are the details; I don’t know that they really mean much. As I have said, the race is much more than the miles under our feet. They cannot describe the joys, pain and heartbreak each stage has but for those of you who want to know here you go. If not…skip to the closing.
Stage 1, 20 miles:
In 2009 this stage set the tone for my week. It kicked my ass so bad mentally I struggled the whole week. This year was different. With the modifications I had to make to training after my surgery I spent a lot of time walking up steep inclines either on the treadmill or out in the Osage hills. I knew I could go up hill much better than last year and that confidence pulled me through. I thoroughly enjoyed this stage this time around got to run with my mate from Scotland Joel which was awesome. The scenery is amazing and looking towards the mountains I was at home on the trail and all was right in my world. I cruised in around 50 minutes faster than last year and I was in good shape in my head.
Stage 2, 40 miles:
What a difference a day makes, from the gun I was totally exhausted. I knew in the first few miles that this day was not going to be a good one. I don’t know if it was the heat or what but there was a going to be a lot of suffering. I thought if I could just cruise to the only climb of the day I might get on top of the canyon and feel better…nope…I thought just get to the aid station I would feel better…nope…I thought if I could just die I would feel better…nope no such luck…so I walked and then walked some more. I would run a couple steps then walk a couple steps. My right shoulder was hanging about 6 inches lower than my left. I was worried about making the cutoff and honestly didn’t think I would…Reid was out and he said I was in good shape for the cutoff he stretched it a bit like a good friend would do…but I keep moving…there were times I really thought about calling for a ride but I just could not bring myself to do it for some reason. Instinctively I keep moving…finish in over 11 hours and was blown mentally and physically. I had no intention of continuing the next day. Inga the massage queen did some magic on my legs that night.
Stage 3, 9.5 Miles:
But I did… Still feeling like a tire with no air I decided to roll with on since it was only a short day and I didn’t want to sit around all day watching runners. SO, I started down the road and felt like I could complete the day. No cutoff so I just tried to hydrate and recover and keep moving. Then finish came pretty quick and I was glad to get off my feet. The blisters on my both my heals really started to bother me and some serious blister maintenance was in order. Oh, and Inga hand goddess made life a little less miserable.
Stage 4, 52 Miles, 8800 feet of climbing:
So we get shuttled to the start of the expedition stage my mind was toast. Michael Cowart and I were sharing the same place in hell so we decided to stick together. I have to say that without him I would not have completed the stage. He pulled me through some really shitty spots. We worked our way to the 27 mile aid station…saw a bunch of the walking wounded…Jeff was looking bad but man what a comeback. It was Amazing. I felt awesome leaving 27 but as we started our second big climb my feet were in full ass kick mode. The blisters were brutal, my legs dead, yet forged on…ran some with Joel before he took off. I tried not to look up at all. I knew if I did I would just put myself further into the mental hole. I knew I would scan the ridge lines knowing that I had to go around them even though it looked like a straight shot over the top. Ah the mind games we play. As the sun was setting Susan caught us and we all kind of moved in the same direction to the last Aid. The bad thing was I knew what was coming…6 miles of downhill in the dark on asphalt to our camp ground. My legs and feet were killing me…Michael and I laughed about the midnight cutoff time at Ironman…I didn’t want to tell him if we ran we could beat the midnight bell…we missed it by 3 minutes LOL Screw you Cowart! LOL I was so glad to get off my feet. Today the most important piece of ground was five feet in front of me. I just had to cover that 5 feet.
REST DAY! Spent the day having Inga work on my legs and standing in the Colorado river…awesome
Stage 5, 26.7 miles:
Just a marathon. Reid sounds that god awful horn for the last time and my boy Jason RAILS off the front like a madman. I freaking crack up. Classic move…so 6 miles up to start the day. My left calf is cramping every step from jump. That causes me to put more pressure on my forefoot which causes a huge blister to develop under my foot pad…so I try to limp on my right with starts the blister from the 52 mile day to hurt…all this time I can’t carry my shoulder level…the joys of combined abuse for a 120 miles. I made it to the top somehow and to my surprise I felt awesome. I was running down hill and somehow I didn’t feel bad at all…well for awhile anyway…it started to heat up and my legs started to complain and the big blister that had formed under by left foot was killing me…then at mile 15 it popped on it’s own…causing blister water to run from my shoe. That was pretty cool but the relief was short lived as we headed up Porcupine Rim Trail. I was stoked to see Shelley and she was having a great day…but that trail killed me last year and did again this year. John came out and ran with me a little to the turn around to pick up my numbered rock…some of my smartass friends thought it would be funny to put my number on a huge boulder. It was funny…later J So down the road I went to the finish…I was cooked. I walk ran hobbled down to the finish…there was Ashley and Jeremy who drove over from Carbondale just to make sure I had a cold beer at the finish. Awesome friends even though they were the ones who did the big rock trick.
…and I was done. I had made it. Slower than last year but I finished. I was so happy to do so it had been a rough year. Now the only question was…where is Lisa? It was going to be close and I would have been so heartbroken for her to survive the previous stages to miss the cutoff on the last day. Jason and Marc went to find her. It started to look like she wouldn’t make it…then she came around the corner and with about 4 minutes to spare she crossed the line. Awesome.
So those are the stages. No matter what I write it doesn’t tell the whole story. I truly believe to understand this race you have to do it. No words can describe the whole thing…the crew, your fellow racers, the bond that develops, the pain, the joys, and the beauty, the feeling of accomplishment is something that has to be experienced.
There are many many many details I left out. I think it is on purpose actually as this experience is something that was shared by those of us on the trail that week. Thanks you guys I am richer from the experience.
2011…LOL wonder what if?