Brian Seegert picked me up at 3:20am, and we met at his sister’s house down in Glendale. There we met Julie Treder, Jeff Mallach, Angela Barbera, and Deb Vomhoff. We loaded up in her Trailblazer, and stowed all of our gear in the “Rocket Box” I would learn later how important this piece of equipment, mounted to the top of her truck would be.
We left right at around 4:30 with myself taking the first turn driving the 15 or so hours it would take to get to our destination of Lynchburg Virginia. Angela brought her GPS along with for us to navigate, and would soon learn after a short time, that it actually had a name. “Millie”. For the most part, it was a nice ride. It was not until we got through W.V. and off the highway, that Millie really took us for a trip. I like to think of this last section as the trip from hell. At this point, Angela was in control of the vehicle….and our lives. Tight turns, and lots of crazy hills. At one point, we actually went airborne! Angela for a moment had a “Daisy Duke” moment, and life went by in milliseconds. I swear I heard Jeff in the back yell out “HEEEEEEEEEEEEHAWWWWWWWW!” Kind of like when you watched the “Dukes of Hazard” and they did that jump over the river. Yes, it was a jump. Well maybe it wasn’t that extreme, but we sure all laughed about it!
As I had stated in my opening to this story, I was to learn more about this race at a later time. The trip there was an entertaining event, many stories about “Buck Mountain”, and the “loop”. Something about “Rocky” music too. At this point I wasn’t sure if I could offer to crew or not, but I kept quiet……There was also a lot of talk from the “Hammer man” Brian, and giving our brains a good soaking on nutrition, and methods to use to complete a race “puke free”. There were brochures, and articles passed around, and Brian, I think I can say that we all appreciated it immensely, we all took time to read each one……J We discussed strategy, and what will come for race day, I mostly listened and prayed for the best to happen.
I also enjoyed getting to know everyone a little better. We played musical chairs on the way down as we moved from seat to seat, each stop we made, and each turn at the wheel.
Once there of course, we checked in at the Kirkley, and got our rooms squared away. We then went to dinner at the “Texan” (I think that’s what it was called” As we ate, we had a chance to stretch out the legs from the endurance drive that we had. Continued conversations of the race to come. This is where it got a little crazy though. I am not sure exactly how we got on the conversation but we started to talk about techniques in….well… how do I put it, poop in the woods! I think that a few of us came up with some ways. The two huge mugs of beer I had leading up to this really hit me, so I will only speak for myself. I did a brief demonstration, on what happened to me during Glacial a year back, and think that I found myself on the floor, and then had the waitress say, (with a southern accent) I’ve been working here for 15 years and never seen anyone do that before!! Well anyhow, I had to explain it!
So we laughed and talked some more, then decided that we had enough, and a long day caught up with us. Headed back, and hit the rack. Deciding to meet at 8:30am for a warm-up run.
I had a sleepless night. (Day 2 with three or less hours of sleep) I think everyone else slept good. Jeff had a dilemma though, he could not figure out what to wear. Something not too tight, and not to loose he said to me. And at one point, he mentioned something about the lift that a certain garment gave him, but I acted as if I didn’t hear him. I promised Jeff I wouldn’t say anything… We met outside the rooms, walked to the front of the hotel, and tried to figure out what course to run. We elected to go down a road that eventually led to a dead end, and sign saying “Private property” as I recall. We looked for a trail to cross over the railroad tracks but found none, so we elected to take a road along side the tracks, which also eventually led to no-where. Yes, we were breaking the law, and thought about what might happen if we get caught, or if a train comes along as we carefully hobble down the tracks. We had to go for some time, as the sides were so steep, but eventually came to a point where we could get out and on to the road. We did eventually finish the run, and ran for about 40-45 minutes. Felt great when we were done, and I think that we all had that same opinion. Took it easy the rest of the day, and later went out to drive the town, and see what Lynchburg has to offer. Stopped in at…ummmmm…..what the heck was that running store called now…anyway, it was a darn nice store. Had a lot of nice stuff, and I think a few of us even bought a few items. I was looking for tighter fitting products but they had nothing in my color. We did have a huge dilemma, and Brian wanted to buy a new water bottle carrier, but the problem we had was what color! Well we helped out, and eventually settled on the pretty green color, not the pretty pink one!
We ended up grabbing a bite to eat afterwards, and just as we sat down to fatten up, Jeff had gotten a call from work, and had to take a time out. After we ate, and after a few of us stuffed down some tempting ice-cream, with whip cream on top……….Lets see who had this, well lets just say I was jealous, I had enough ice-cream packed in already, and did not need any additional weight for Race day. Looked damn good though. Well after much more discussion, and you will have to forgive me here as at this time my mind wanders a bit from soaking in the experience, so I can not re-call what exactly was talked about, but I do re-call pictures being passed around from a certain race, and one that seems to stick out in my mind, and darn it, “wipe the image from my face, wipe the image from my face” It is a picture of 2 peoples butts.(with cloths on, lets keep this clean) Brian, lets just say that if you had shaved your legs, I swear you would have been Angela’s sister. Anyhow, Jeff eventually came back to us after we thought that he had driven off and discovered Lynchburg without us. But he did not, and we were soon off discovering this amazing city, that has its unique twists and turns that Millie navigated us through so nicely!
We got back to the hotel, and had a short time prior to the pre-race dinner, prepared the race gear and opted to try and relax a bit. We eventually met outside the rooms, and proceeded downstairs to the conference room where the dinner and briefing were to take place.
This was quite the experience in itself. It was my first introduction to Horton, and the RD, Clark Zealand. This was a pre-race briefing, as I had never had before. I had the feeling that it’s probably a good idea not to get recognized for anything sort of thing. Like being pregnant, from another country, someone who cannot finish a race more than like 5 or 6 times, or too old. If you are an RD for any race, that can be stressful as well. Jeff withstood the pressure of answering a question from Horton about who the RD was that help create the Ice Age 50 mile/50K. You tend to stand out in the crowd after he gets finished with you. But it was really neat to see some very talented runners, and all of the awards that are set aside if you have the ability to achieve one. We concluded, and went back to the rooms for a sleepless night, anticipating the race to come. I think I might have had a nightmare, and woke Jeff a time or two yelling “Mountains!” ”Massochist!”
BEEP, BEEP BEEP!!! The alarm went of at a ridiculous time, like 2:30am….Got dressed double-checked the gear, and Jeff and I rolled out the room and met everyone there. So smiley, and alive. Our photographer/nutritionist Brian had the get the “pre-race” photo. So we were able to ask some fine folk out in the hallway undergoing the same thing, and snapped to picture. It sure looked good to. A group of friends undertaking a massive challenge, together. The thought came to my mind as it has at different moments in my life. When I am in the last days of this life, this is a memory, I will cherish…
Loaded up on bus #1, which was warm, promptly at 3:50. (It was a measly 24 degrees). Not soon after, (4am) the buses started the 45 minute drive to the start line. The drive had its moments that’s for sure. But I recall someone on the way down saying “it’s the drive back that is the worst”. I would find that out some 13-14 hours later. We arrived at the starting area. 1st order of business was to get rid of some pre-race nerves, and the lines were not bad. Got back on the bus and it was basically hurry up and wait. Last minute checks, and talk to get rid of more nerves. I told everyone that I was so happy that they got me to this point. Deb was right there with her shoulder for support. Of course, we got a little chuckle out of it. For me, it was a mask for my fear that in just a few moments, I was to embark in one of the biggest challenges I have yet faced in an ultra-endurance event. Brian was kind enough to remind us about the importance of taking a gel in, and “topping off the tank” Not just any gel though….”HAMMER GEL!” Thanks Brian you Hammer guy you!
I had at this point started to reminisce I think and told everyone about back in the day when I was in the 82nd Airborne division on the pre-jump nerves that we had, and how this kind of felt like that. The jump master would go through his commands, and when he did you knew that in just a short amount of time your were going to launch yourself out of a perfectly good airplane, at night, no lights, at 130 or so knots with 200+ #’s of gear. (Did I mention this?) Anyway I know that I had thought about it because not too long after a guy came on the bus…”LET’S GO!)….AGHHHHH SHIT!
We all lined up the rear, well more mid-pack actually, and said our good luck’s, and so on. We realized that we had one person in our group was not present…”JULIE TREDER!!! WHERE IS JULIE TREDER!!!!” And all of a sudden we heard ”GO!”
A brisk pace to start out. I kept with Brian, and not too long, we found Julie. I really did not have a plan. If anything, it was to be flexible, and react to whatever the race might throw at me. So at this point, I just opted to stick with Brian, and Julie. As we motored along, I noted on my Garmin that we were cruising at about an 8:00 per mile…….Brian, accelerated, and I refrained from going with him as a little voice inside my head told me that to go any faster would not be good. I was able to stay with Julie but I would soon even fade from her, as at about mile 4 she picked it up, and I made the decision to stay in my own dimension, and race my race. At this point, I looked around, and did not recognize anyone accept for those two, which by now were well ahead of me. I took in the initial scenery and came to grips that this rolling road section was really not that bad.
Got to the trailhead, and was actually thankful to be there, as the pace was pretty fast on the road. Up we went, and up, and up, and up. I suddenly had a very bad thought enter my mind. Was this the worst? How many more hill like this would there be? I noted people around me. Some were running up this hill, and some were walking. I opted to walk/run this one, and made a decision to do this on every hill that I encountered. Figured that if it is as bad as my team said it is, and if I am to make in the 12 hours, it’s best to have some kind of plan. I stuck with it until about mile 40 or so.
After settling into a rhythm, I really started to take in the scenery. I was not dis-appointed. Stunning landscapes, and as the sun rose higher, and higher, the mountains took on a bluish tone to them. The valleys below were filled with rivers, and roadways that seemed like something built for ants. I listened around me and heard a few state the same that it was incredible. This would go on for hours longer as I really enjoyed the views, and new “racing” on turf not ever experienced before.
As I went along, my thoughts drifted to my wife, and looked at my Garmin to note the time of day. As we are an hour ahead, I was thinking of the last words that my wife and I exchanged, as we do before just about every race that I do. She told me how much she loves me, and also says, “Run your butt off!” I also thought about what it takes for her to deal with the training, and time away… She is very special to me. I also thought about the “team”. How were each of them doing? I WONDER IF Brian was sticking with his nutrition plan. Was Julie also? Water and animal crackers? I was thinking who else was ahead of me. Jeff, Angela, and Deb. After we had started, I had not seen them in the runners ahead. Were they were behind me? If they were, the last thing that I wanted was to have them catch me, and look like a fool for going out too hard. And I think a little friendly competition, and strategy that developed as the race went on. So when I felt the pace drop too much, or walked for too long, I picked it up. If they were going to get me, I was not going down with out a fight.
My thoughts kept going in and out about staying on my nutrition plan, and for the first half of the race I surely did just that. In the back of my mind however, I had one nagging thing that started to bother more and more. It was not anything that I thought would ever amount to any kind of problem. As I neared the drop bag point, I was relieved, as at the time, I was sure that there would be a porta-potty somewhere. DARN IT! Where is it! I asked, first thing….”There isn’t one here” a guy told me. Bad news I said to my self. I shed any of the unnecessary, and re-fueled, and was off to the races. My focus then went to where is a good spot? Behind that rock? That tree? Darn it, I DONT EVEN HAVE ANYTHING ACCESSORIES! (TP). Well I just kept going anyhow, and put it out of my head. Besides, I had other concerns looming ahead, like pacing myself, staying ahead on the nutrition, etc.
Time went on, and I from time to time I would meet and greet people on the course. The aid stations that came and went were great. I mad a few observations that brought back to my mind my still nagging problem. A girl here and there, doing the business that us men have an easier time with, and they made no real attempt to conceal themselves, and of course guys too. But I soon came to the reality that I would have to one way or the other take care of it. Before too long I made the decision, and made peace.
Approx. 10 minutes later, I emerge from my hike deep enough in the woods, around a corner, and below a rock. Pop out on the trail, surprising a few runners at the time. I wondered how much this might have put me behind, but I had a “new” feeling, and felt like a new man….or …runner!
Who convinced me to do this blessed race? Why did I sign up? I wasted vacation for this? I thought about how I could keep my mind from wondering too much. I thought about the drive down, how I got to know Deb, Angela, and Jeff more, and how nice it was to gain more friends. That only lasted so long, and before I knew it I started to hear “Rocky” music, I knew that this was a key moment in the race, and listened to it the whole way up the mountain! Inspiring! As I neared the top the music climaxed, and visioned in my mind when Rocky was climbing the steps, very strange but it was this point that I was pulling into the aide station. This feeling was short lived however, and I began to have problems in my feet, mainly toes as I went down hill. My wife always says, “Suck it up” to get me through these things, and even though she is not here for this one, those words still set deep in my mind. I got through this next section, on guts, and rolled into the “loop” This as it turned out was to be in my opinion the toughest section. The climbs, and boulders were relentless, and on going. I felt pride in passing a few people regardless of how I felt, and though I felt like I was moving at a turtle’s pace, at least I wasn’t stopping to take a break at different points. My thoughts turned to the pain that was more and more present in my toes. It did not help in the fact that I kept banging them into rocks, as I was climbing, or even descending. I just kept the wheels turning. And before I knew it, I was back at the aide station. No time to waste as I was growing impatient with my splits, and wanted to stay ahead. They said I was 30 minutes up, and figured at this time that I had dropped 10 minutes since the start of the loop, so for the time, the pain was going to have to become my ally some how.
As it started to get cooler, and the sun got lower, I knew that I had to be nearing that last aide station soon. I still had issues trying to motor down hill. But soon, I was coming to the last aid station. I asked how I was doing, figuring that I had lost time, and to my surprise, I actually gained time! I think that they said 3 miles left…. 3 miles I said to myself, is that a true 3 miles, or a Horton 3 miles. My thoughts went back to the briefing that we were given the night before, references made about distances between aid stations, and that the race actually says 50 + miles. My Garmin shows that I had gone 46.? (Cant remember) I also remember that a few times I lost signal. A short time later, the battery ran out as well, so now I was unable to rely on any data to keep me up to speed as to how fast/slow I was going. I was not out of the woods yet. Simple math was telling me that If I was about 35-40 minutes up, it would be about 11:30 finish time. All it would take for failure at this point would be too have to walk it the rest of time, or make too many stops. Pain would have to remain my friend for a little while longer. To keep my mind off it, I thought about the rest of the team, and how they were doing. I was thinking of Deb and Angela, and hoped that they were doing great on time, and how bad they wanted to come back from last year, and being so close. Speaking of close, they had to have either finished by now, or are right behind me.
Going down hill again, I am moving as quickly as possible, and in doing so, I had a few people pass me with some really good speed. The normal head nod, and “lookin good” were the words exchanged, and then at this moment, one said something that really lifted my spirits. “Once you see the power lines, (and I saw them) you are almost there!” That gave me a little energy, and soon found the pain dissolve, and came out to a road. That’s it, I am on the last stretch, and someone walking, said around the corner, and you will see the store! YESSS!
I motored at a steady pace, and looked behind me to see if there was anyone close on my heels, there was no one. Soon, I heard noise, and the Store! At this time the pain went away, and then heard my name being yelled out “GOOOOO TIM!” My god, it’s my friends I said to myself. Yes, Brian, Julie, and Jeff. I picked up the pace, and sprinted the best I could, and had to put on the “look” of no pain. I received a congrats from Clark Zealand, and from Horton. I then proceeded to walk over to them and we all exchanged a brief few words as I made an observation that they had been finished for some time……Darn it!
Not too long after Angela came through, and we screamed a huge cheer for her you could tell by the look on her face that she was excited! Then Deb came through. She put her bottle between her teeth, and flexed the “Claw” with both hands (I have no way to describe otherwise) She came through, and also was elated at the finish. We made our way over to the finish, and each of us did our congratulations and hugs (gingerly). I know that at one point I had looked over at the bench press that was set up. Men had too do 135 lbs., and women 75 lbs. I think Brian asked if I was going to. There was no way. In fact, as far as I can recall, no one had the ambition. Although as we walked by, there was a gal that was pumping iron like there was no tomorrow. I think this was the same gal that passed me as if I was standing still.
We gathered ourselves together, and got on the next bus that was heading out. I now came full circle, with the reality that this was “The” dreaded bus ride back that I had heard so much about. We got to our seats, and Angela asked if I would be able to move, in the event that she got sick, and had to lie down. I had no problem with that, and said sure. So we got under way, and noted that not too many people were talking, pretty quite, and more coughing than anything else. I made a few more observations, and as the drive became ever more windy, and bouncy, more heads went down, including mine. I really did not pay any attention to the smell from all of the people that were on the bus, and then Angela asked to move into my seat. It was good timing as I soon felt sick as well, and went to the back of the bus to lie down. There were a few points where I really thought to myself is it possible that they really gave this guy a license to drive a bus? What’s his problem anyway? I suppose having a bus filled with tired, smelly runners at this time on a Saturday night wasn’t helping either. After what amounted to about an hour of this pain and misery, that almost, rivaled parts during the race, we arrived back at the hotel…..”HALEULUEYA!”
We exited the bus, and made a zombie walk to the hotel and back to the room. The first thing that I did was to call my wife, and I think Jeff did the same thing. I was so happy to hear her voice, it was like a new birth or something. Not sure what you call it, but was just happy to be back, and talking with her.
Jeff gave me first dibs on the shower. Thanks Jeff! That was a good thing because I could not even stand myself. Now rather than go through details of the first post-race shower. Let’s just say that most would think that it would be a relief to get clean. No doubt, it is, but here lies a little more pain as though you did not get enough. I call it the runners chafe. You almost have to muffle your scream so as not to sound like a sissy. I don’t think Jeff heard me, or any one else in the hotel for that matter. I refuse to go any further with my shower, the rest is….rather a matter I will keep to myself.
We all elected to make our way back over to the “Texan” Yes, the same place that we ate the first night that we arrived here. Had all to do to walk over there. Everyone else looked good, I mean, after doing this race, and compared to what I FELT like anyhow. Sat down, and we soon ordered drinks, and food. I know we all ordered based upon how we felt, and to be honest, I really did not care my self at this point, so I had a few drinks. Not the best post-race recovery fuel, but they sure tasted damn good. Brian stuck with water at this point but I believe everyone else had either beer, or other types of drinks. Food was plentiful and they came with basket upon basket of fresh warm buns. The food came and we scarfed it down. Well at least I did anyhow. I do believe that I was the first one done. I think we had talked a bit about the race, and I know that if anyone felt the best, I nominate Angela. She had said that she had little to no soreness. That’s just plain nuts… Brian talked about the guy that had to take care of business. So bad, in fact that he just stopped on the trail, and dropped his shorts…wow. And then there was the mysterious dribble…dribble….splash on the trail every so often. Could not figure that one out, and thought someone is just running with a leaky bottle. Well as it turns out, Brian and Julie caught up with like one or two guys that, even though they were not in any contention for a placing, they would not take the moment or two, to pull off and make the pit stop. THEY JUST KEPT GOING, AS THEY WERE GOING! Oh man, I never saw that coming. Well, before too long we got the bill, and proceeded to walk back to the hotel across the street, and decided that we would sleep in a little bit.
We awoke and got the last minute things packed. Proceeded down to check out, and loaded up in the Trailblazer. This is where the “Rocket Box” came to be so important. Rather than have 6-7 bags of down right stinky nasty clothes inside the vehicle with us, they got to sit outside. Better to let those that will drive behind us wonder what happened than us smell each other’s smells. Well we stuffed it full, and we thought, about when we get home, who the poor guy will be to have to open that thing up!
The trip back wasn’t too bad I guess. The same, only backwards right? Ya, OK legs cramping, hips contorting, trying to find that perfect position. Oh the misery. But we made the most of it. We already reminisced on the race, and detailed more about different sights and sounds as we each went through the journey. We stopped as much as we could to get out. And also for food Cracker Barrel, and Culvers. YES! Food, food, food. Food was a hot topic, and Jeff broke out a snack mix that his wife had made. Wow, that stuff was awesome! We tried to sleep. At a petrol station, Jeff, or someone brought some sour apples that were pretty old, and I think, the Funyans that were brought had the fat and calorie content of a whopper with cheese or something. Ahh, screw it, for a day in fact!
At some point, we had talked about the JM Funk Road 50K! And we talked about how that was going to go, and the people that had signed up for it. The picture of Jeff’s t-shirt came in the conversation too.
You know, at some point, we talked about running and Julie, or Brian said something, or I did about a Sasquatch encounter that I had one time. I explained the story to everyone, and even mad the noise “WHHHOOOOOOAAAAAAPPPP, WHHHOOOOOOAAAAAAPPPP!” Ya that’s the Sasquatch sound that Todd and I had heard that early Saturday morning last year.
I took over the helm, and at some point, we started to get close to Chicago, and the great time we were making went down hill quick from the construction. I think it delayed us by like an n hour or so, but we got north, and soon we had Wisconsin in our sights.
We entered Milwaukee, and we could not have been happier. Or sad? As we got close, it seemed a silence came upon us, and soon we were making that last few turns, and suddenly we were at the very spot, where it all started.
Unloaded the Trailblazer, and I reluctantly volunteered myself to unlock, and unload the “Rocket Box” I stepped up, and paused for a moment or two, and held my breath. I got it open, and swore I heard some kind of a suction noise, but it could have been my mind playing tricks with me. I think I can safely say that we were pretty tired, and just wanted to make the final leg home. We departed, and Brian and I set on our last leg, or at least my last leg to my place in West Bend. We had our final few talks in the short drive, and before I knew it, we were pulling into the driveway.
I walked in the door. HOME AT LAST! M y wife was there waiting for me, as well as my best, four-legged friend, Fwank.
Home at last…
It is amazing what one goes through, in their journey of “Life” Everyone has their up and down moments. I often think of how my journey is unfolding, and what is on the road ahead of me. What is around the next corner, what about the hill? Road Blocks? If you surround yourself with good people. Friends, family, co-workers, I am certain that anything is achievable. Years ago, I never would have imagined that I would be living the life that I have. I am blessed, and feel humbled. At times, I wish that everyone in the world could have this feeling. I also recognize that my mother, who has been gone now for almost 6 years, looks down on me, and looks out for me as well.
When the day comes along, and I am in my last days on earth, I will know that I will be able to think back to these moments in life, that I walked amongst giants.
Tim Luft 11:36:47, Angela Barbera 11:40:09, Brian Seegert 10:06:28, Deb Vomhoff 11:41:52, Jeff Mallach 10:41:40, Julie Treder 10:06:28