It was 5 AM on Saturday, March 24th. I was more than 125 miles into my race at the 2018 Pulse Endurance Runs. My chest felt heavy and my head was trying to go to sleep. Legs were shot, and I didn’t know how to continue on.
I went into this race with high expectations and major goals. The most important aspect was my fundraiser for Buddy Benches, to be used by the Nampa School District. I had lofty, but albeit achievable goals: to run 170 miles, and to win the race outright.
The race started Thursday evening at 6 PM. After work that day, I quickly headed over to Eagle Island State Park to get set up. I got all my gear squared away, and even got a 25 minute nap. I woke up, feeling refreshed. I had an interview with KTVB, and did my best to relax. This would be a key emphasis for the 1st day of the race. RD Holly Finch gave us a pre-race brief, I provided an anthem, and the race, -10 runners strong- was off.
Gus Hood and I ran together for many of the early miles of the race. I slowly let him take the lead, as it was a bit fast for me, and I was trying to be extra cautious. We had an intense squall at 7:30 PM, pelting me and my face with stinging hail, but it was over quickly. We were rewarded with a truly stunning sunset, which was a great send-off for the long nighttime portion. I got my headlamp on, and nighttime began around 9 PM. I would leave the light off for much of the 2.78 mile loop, preferring to run with natural ambient lighting from the local community and the bit of moonlight we did have that night. Overall, the first night went extremely well, and I did not feel very tired at all. My goal was to run 60 miles in the first 12 hours, but ended up with only 55. I was not to concerned though, as I was only a quarter of the way through the race.
Early morning on the course was quite chilly. The fog set in, and I found myself having a hard time keeping my glasses clear. Once the fog lifted, however, I was concerned to discover my right eye was very fogged over. Good friend Frank Morris was patrolling the race course, and mentioned it might be night blindness, and to get some sugar and try to wait it off. By noon, it was not much better, so a medical volunteer did a saline rinse, which helped a little bit. By this point of the race, the high/low mood swings were in effect. At mile 80, I found myself feeling extremely good, and thought the rest of the day would go smoothly. By mile 82, I crashed and burned. Heidi, the kids, and my in-law were there to support. I kicked back in a chair and relaxed, and ended up passing out for about an hour. When I awoke, they had taken off, which was a big surprise. I got back on the course, on par to finish the first 100 miles in about 24 hours. I set goals for the rest of the race, hoping to achieve the following:
- 100 miles in 24:30
- 110 miles by 9 PM
- short sleep break at 9 PM-10:30 PM
- 120 miles by 3 AM
- 130 miles by 6 AM
- 140 miles by 9 AM
- 150 miles by 12 PM
- 170 by race finish
During a race this long. it’s important to set achievable goals that are difficult. Knowing my limitations, I knew that keeping my effort level to a minimum while running as much as possible would require a fine balance.
I had additional support from my parents during this race as well. My dad cooked up fried rice and wontons for me, which really hit the spot Friday afternoon. I worked hard, and achieved 100 miles in about 24:40.
I barely stopped for a break at 100, knowing full well that I only had 2 good hours of daylight left. I continued running, and enjoyed the company of Paul Lind and one of his athletes, Emily. 9 PM rolled around, and I rolled out a blanket on the ground in the aid station tent, and got a fitful snooze in. I fell asleep around 9:45 or so and woke up around 11:15. After getting my warm gear back on, I got started on the race course again. As interesting as it sounds, I was disappointed to see 2nd place (Gus Hood) had not gained any mileage on me. When I went to bed, I had an 8 mile lead on him, and maintained that while I snoozed. Staying competitive and trying to achieve my mileage goal on my own was not easy. Having a competitive spirit really lends itself well to doing your best, and knowing that I was the carrot to a rabbit for whoever was behind me is usually a good way to stay motivated.
Nighttime portion two was as I expected. This is usually the time of the race we would be most eager to use “expressive language” with. I continued to run, albeit quite slowly. I generally felt horrible, but thought about how important it is to stay moving. Mark Wheeler showed up around 6 AM, and did some loops with me. This really helped. I was up to nearly 130 miles. A bit off schedule, but not bad. Jeff Hall, a friend from church, came and did some miles with me too. Around 10 AM my close friend Mark Johnson, co-workers Bill & DeannaBrock, and Randy Thorn came for some miles. I had a small entourage, which really lifted my spirits. With the warm sun out, I regained energy, and sped up, helping reach the 150 mile mark just before 42 hours.
I will not lie. Beyond 150, the race was awful. I had built a 25 mile lead over 2nd place, which I wasn’t convinced could beat me, even if I stopped now. It was all a matter of my personal excellence driving me to the finish, of completing the full 48. My feet were getting huge, and my mom cut big holes in an old pair of shoes for me to wear so my feet could continue expanding. I felt a little tendonitis developing in my left ankle, so I got it wrapped and took some ibuprofen.
I love the ultra community. While I was out on the course, I passed several runners with whom I had started the race with. Stephanie Heimberg, who was the only female in the 48, did a legitimate job of hanging in there for the course of the whole event, despite some definite struggles early in the race. Gus Hood, Sam Collier, Eric Campbell, and Larry Meadors all lasted into the last 6 hours of the race as well. As I was still “running” decently, I tried to offer great encouragement to them, as I could tell they were all suffering quite a bit, and I would pass them from time to time. The nice part of the last afternoon was how quickly the hours seemed to pass by. But by the time I finished a loop between 4 and 5 PM, I was really getting sick and tired of the “big loop,” and couldn’t find the motivation to try and do it again before we switched to the smaller loop. By this time, I was up to 164 miles. My family was there, and I asked them to go get dinner, and then come back to join me on the small loop for the final hour. I hoped that I could rest for a bit, then push hard for the last 6 miles to get 170 before the race was over.
It happened. I’m not always able to pull a “Ben Blessing” finish, but it pumps me up when I do. Many of you may wonder how I pull it off, because I know it is a peculiarity. It makes sense to me that when you maintain a 15:00 mile for so long, it allows your muscles to recharge, and to build a store of glucose while you are in fat-burning mode. In this respect, it doesn’t surprise me that I can maintain an 8 minute mile for approximately 5-7 miles at the end of a big race. So I did. I worked extremely hard, flying around the short loop, hoping to rack up enough mileage that I could break 170 miles, with enough time to walk the last loop with my wife and kids. I managed to get to 169.8 with about 10 minutes to spare, and had a fun last lap, carrying my daughter Abigail on my shoulders and running short bouts with Ethan. My whole family crossed the finish line with me, just a couple minutes short of the 48. My official distance was 170.18 miles, good enough to make my goal distance. After being in the sport for over 10 years, this also marks my very first win. A good race indeed.
I’d really like to thank Recreation Today for graciously donating two more buddy benches to my cause and the scores of wonderful people who donated to my fundraiser as well. It is because of you I was able to maintain such a steadfast ethic to excellence during this race, and do some incredible good for our local community. Holly Finch & Beth Ahrend with The Pulse Running & Fitness Shop did an incredible job putting this race on too!!
2.5 hours of sleep
Injinji Toe Socks
Brooks Cascadia shoes