Part I: Matt in Run Rabbit land
Run Rabbit Run 100 was such a bizarre and otherworldly experience that I have no idea how to even describe it! So much so that even writing a race report sounds exhausting. Here is my first attempt at a race report where I tried to take a little bit more of a creative approach. Part II of my race report will be more standard or familiar, so wait for that if you refuse to indulge this convoluted attempt.
Chapter I- Down the Rabbit Hole
So, there I was sitting on a picnic bench at the bottom of the course at Spring Creek Ponds. Something like 70 miles on my legs, my feet, and my soul. I had gone way too far to quit, so the thought never really occurred to me. I remember being really upset that I had made it so far into the race so quitting wasn’t an option. I know the turnaround point at Spring Creek Ponds wasn’t my lowest point on the course, but I was crushed.
I had already made it straight up a blue ski run named Heavenly Daze that was overgrown with foliage and full of loose dirt; no switchbacks. I cascaded down beautiful Fish Creek Falls along rocky, technical terrain. I slogged out to Cow Creek in the heat of the day (thank god for a little cloud cover) and then completed the endless 12 mile loop back. Then, back up Fish Creek Falls with darkness descending upon us. Moonlight shimmered on Long Lake as I gazed up at the stars. Not even the brightest stars were granting wishes though. I knew it was beautiful and amazing, but I just couldn’t enjoy any of it anymore.
***It got dark and I was frustrated as hell, so I stopped taking pictures for a while***
A fresh pair of socks and shoes calmed me down a little bit, but my day was clearly heading downhill. More spectacular alpine meadows on the road to Summit Lake tormented my mind as I just couldn’t run anymore. Then there was a nice eight mile downhill stretch crashing down into Dry Lake at mile 65.3. I’m pretty much just listing the names of the aid stations here, because the next aid station was all I had left for most of this race. The race was far too difficult for my mind to make it through, the individual miles were far too short to provide any semblance of accomplishment.
The 4.5 mile downhill stretch into Spring Creek Ponds started to revitalize my legs ever so slightly, but it didn’t even matter anymore. The prior couple paragraphs of the course didn’t matter. I was all the way down the Run Rabbit hole and there was no looking back. I had made it so far, but it wasn’t good enough; it wasn’t even close.
Chapter VII- A Mad Tea-Party
So, I drifted further into abstraction and realized I had become the Hatter. Time was eternally frozen just before two o’clock and I all I could do was manically drink tea (Tailwind and water). Alice was right, this was the stupidest tea party! I started to break down mentally and told my final pacer Allen the race was way too hard. The misery of knowing I’d finish the race was almost unbearable. It felt like we were days away from the top of Mt. Werner. I felt like I had been climbing straight uphill since the bottom of Spring Creek Ponds, but there was always a next hill to climb.
The stretch to the top of Mt. Werner from Spring Creek Ponds was almost a marathon in distance, but I really have nothing to say about it. It was immensely difficult and destroyed me.
Chapter VI- Humpty Dumpty
We’re through the looking glass people! I was beyond repair and was waiting for my inevitable fall to the finish line. Finally reaching the top of Mt. Werner was a great relief, but a slow gaze down the hill shattered that relief just as soon. All I wanted was to go to downhill for the past eight hours (who knows how long it actually was?)! Now that the downhill was before me, I only dreamed about it being flat. Then we would come upon a flatter stretch and I only dreamed about it being winter time so I could ski down the hill. My mind started to think about skiing and I only dreamed that my knee and feet didn’t hurt so damn much. At least if I was skiing and too weak, I could tumble down the hill or slide without having to stand up anymore.
Alas, this was late Summer! The sun continued to evaporate what little willpower I had left. As we turned the corner, Allen and I spotted Elizabeth and DJ, who had come to help reel us into the finish line. Well, Go Fish! I wasn’t biting on the line. I just wanted to stop and give Elizabeth a huge hug and quit. I got a side hug from her and was sort of angry because I wanted the real kind. I didn’t ask for it though because I knew I was going to lose it if I did. Deep down, I know it was a nice mental boost to see them, but I just couldn’t change anything about how slow I was moving.
To say the final six miles down the hill were painfully slow would be a grotesque understatement. What is beyond pain? Excruciating. It almost wasn’t even about the pain anymore either. It wasn’t about how long it took me or how slow I was going. I just didn’t understand why all of this was still happening. Why did I begin this pursuit? Why had I kept moving? There were only rhetorical questions in my mind as I was too tired to talk to any of pacing trio.
I flashed back to pacing my friend Allen to the finish the year before. I remembered how amazing it was and being baffled at how slow we were walking down the hill to the finish. It was difficult to see him in so much pain and it was sort of a dead march to the finish. I thought I remotely understood what Allen was going through last year, but now I know that I had absolutely no clue. I understand now!
I kept thinking about how amazing it was to see Allen reanimate to run the final stretch once the course got down lower toward the finish last year. It was incredible to see him summon that response after the long plummet down the hill. I started to fantasize about being able to run the final stretch. I wanted to look like a runner for the finish at least. I was feeling pathetic. Run Rabbit Run 100 had ceased being a race about 30 miles or 12 hours ago, so I felt no urgency. Luckily, I had plenty of time until the cut-off, so my demise still held some vague purpose. “99 problems, but finishing ain’t one!” was a slogan we came up with on the way down.
At some point on the way down we ran into my friend Pat, who was hiking up the road to meet our friend Kelly who would be finishing the 50 mile race soon! I wasn’t really able to say much of anything, so he probably got one of my half-assed and bitter thumbs up. At some point talking to him, the fact that I had gone over the 100 mile mark came up. I know I was supposed to be excited about this, but I only begrudgingly said, “And…it still isn’t enough.”
My friends challenged me to run and I told them they were the worst jokingly (and very seriously). I was pissed off that my dawdling was no longer good enough for them. With a mile and a half to go, they asked me if I wanted to run. I told them that sounded really far and I wanted to make it to the end, so we compromised on 1min run, 1min walk. The idea of running across the finish line was important to me. I wanted to finish the race and not just have it end.
But…my lower back was killing me! Then my left knee, then my left ankle, and then we were walking again. Nothing worked correctly. I knew I didn’t have another 1min run in me, but my friends tried to prep me for another run attempt. I asked them if I was going to miss cut-off or why they were asking me all of the sudden. They pretty much just told me that I was going to be in pain until the end and it didn’t matter anymore. Easy for them to say (I thought angrily at the time), but they were right and I needed to get the hell off the mountain and my feet.
So, we tried to run again and I pushed a stone hard into my lower back with both hands behind my back. I was carrying a small black stone in my back pocket that said ‘Strength’ on it which belonged to my Grandma (who passed away in May, back when I was supposed to be amping up my training. I might talk about it more later, but losing her hit me very hard and I almost quit training several times. Simple things like running were worthless). Grandma wasn’t a quitter though and battled through so much toward the end of her life that the least I could do was keep moving just a little bit longer. No, Grandma was not an ultrarunner and she probably wouldn’t have had any clue why the hell I was doing the race, but you can be damn sure that she would’ve wanted me to be happy and to finish! With pain and sadness intertwined, we started to achieve a more respectable pace down the hill.
At one point, I recall hearing a voice along my side and I panicked slightly as my head twisted around and I gasped out a futile “wah…uhh?” It turned out that Elizabeth was just telling me that I was doing great. After hours on end of issues, I was paranoid that something was wrong. My mind was drifting and had finished the race partially many, many miles earlier. My body wasn’t feeling any worse as my friends predicted or maybe my brain just couldn’t process the pain at this faster speed.
A “short” time later my friends Bekah and Kari were running up the hill to join us to the finish. I probably didn’t express any excitement to see them, but it was crazy having the wave of people cheer me on build. Bekah’s watch indicated that it was something like 2/3 of mile to the finish. .666miles on the road out of hell!
At that point, I think we were actually running (not the penguin shuffle that I tried to pass off before). My concept of time did not adjust to this new development though. I heard someone yell “Only .5 left!” This update made me very angry (and confused). It was the longest .16 miles imaginable and I couldn’t handle it. I just needed to be done. All of the encouraging comments were irritating and I was frustrated that I could accept them like a normal person…I was broken and I needed to cross the finish line before I could experience any true joy. Next, I heard someone say that it was .35 miles to the finish just underneath the lift ahead.
We were very close to the lift, so I put my head down and fairly loudly said “Fuck This!”. I started to sprint; or, at least what qualified as a sprint at that point. I stuck out my middle fingers and pointed them downwards at my feet and legs, which had failed me for the past god knows how many hours and miles. My friends cheered loudly and legitimately for the first time in forever. It was no longer courtesy encouragement. I felt like I actually deserved to be cheered for. The intense angry and frustration quickly transitioned into focus. My hardly open eyes narrowed as I tried to block out feeling anything. I remember thinking even at the time that I must have looked like a maniac. Here I was accomplishing something incredible and my facial expression looked like I wanted to kill someone. I did want to kill someone though! I wanted to kill the person that lived in my head for the past day telling me the race was too hard or too painful to get through. I was close to drifting into joy, but I was reserving that for a few more minutes.
Chapter Twelve- Which dreamed it?
I was astonished that I had that level of energy left and it made me think about how much harder I could have pushed early. I let go of that thought very quickly as I sat down on the stairs with Elizabeth and celebrated with friends. I finished. Nothing else mattered. I could finally shut down my body. The impact of the shutdown was almost immediate. An intense cold came over me and I started to shiver. My meniscuses disappeared, leaving only ground down bone. With help, I was freed from my shoes. I closed my eyes and savored the texture of the metal grates beneath my feet. The diamond-shaped grid’s tiny gaps relieved just enough pressure underneath them to remind me what nothingness felt like.
The finish was so jumbled and crazy…I was promptly handed a chocolate milk carton. I told the volunteer I didn’t know how to open it and asked for help. I was simply beatdown and even opening a small paper carton of milk was too much to handle. I stared at the carton and instantly determined that even thinking about the process of opening it was too much to deal with. Then, I remember another volunteer urgently telling me that there was beer and food up the stairs as I was handed a white mug. So, I had now had a white box containing a belt buckle, a mug, and a chocolate milk.
I was dazed and confused, but I remember another volunteer repeating the information with increased enthusiasm that there was food and beer up the stairs. For a split second, I thought the race wasn’t over. They already had a “rule” posted on their website about not being finished until hugging the designated hugger. I remember a slight twinge of panic as I started saying “So, the race isn’t over until we chug a beer!” Partway through my sentence, I realized my mind was making a joke and that the race was still over!
A few days later and that is still about where the story of the race ends. I have no idea how I felt at the finish. I know it was an incredible feeling, but there really isn’t anything I can compare it to. I would say I was profoundly happy and very relieved, but I don’t even know that I was yet. It was over and the prior 34+ hours disappeared. I was too tired to fully replace the removal of the race from my mind with anything else. I just remember hugging Elizabeth, receiving some congrats and high fives/more hugs from other friends and strangers.
I guess I was utterly delirious. About four hours earlier (around 2pm), I almost broke down as I clutched my Grandma’s “Strength” stone in my pocket. I had started to think about collapsing on the other side of the finish line on my knees and crying uncontrollably. However, when I reached the finish line, I wasn’t sad anymore. The fight was over and I was left with love. We made it Grandma; you can rest now. I know you’ll always be there supporting me from above. Thank you for everything, I love you!