On Sunday, Team Still Easier Than Chemo runner and advocate Brian Lamprecht finished his first ultra-marathon. To learn more about his motivation to put cancer on the run or make a contribution in support of his monthly challenges, click here. Without further ado, Brian’s recap of the New Guana River 50k Trail Run:
Approaching the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve I was more frightened than I remembered being about anything in at least the last 10 years. I was about to try the longest distance I had ever run on a day that was threatening rain and on a course I had never seen and really didn’t know much about other than it was four eight-mile loops through a swamp.
On top of that, I hadn’t really run since the Richmond Marathon because I had wrenched my knee around the mid-point of that race and have had to limit myself to the elliptical work in the gym in the three weeks since. I was able to do a mile on the treadmill without pain on two different days the week before the race. It felt fine, but I didn’t know how it would hold up. So here I was, a goal a year in the making, and I could feel my heart pounding in my chest.
Ten minutes before the start the race director drops two more bombs that add to my trepidation. First announcement: Don’t stray from the path as there are already hunters in the woods this morning. Great – I’d already heard about the snakes and the alligators and the armadillos and the wild boars but hunters crouching in the brush too? Yikes. Second, there was an eight-hour time limit for the race. That had never been in my calculus and now I had another pressure I wasn’t counting on. Two-hour laps should be doable but I am unsure about the difficulty of the course. Time limit or not, now was not time to change the plan. I would still fast-walk the first kilometer or so and get stretched out, let everyone get in front of me, and then work my own pace. My goal was simply to finish, place wasn’t on my mind.
The first couple kilometers of the trail were loose and sandy. When I finally worked up to a jog the pack was already out of sight in front of me. Looking over my shoulder there was no one behind me. No cell signal on the phone. I was suddenly alone, but I would have to banish that thought from my head quickly. I couldn’t carry that for another 30 miles.
What would turn out to be my three biggest enemies found me early in the race –Torment, Self-Doubt, and Despair. Navigating the sandy trails I don’t notice a tree root and jam my toe hard and wrenched my sore knee – Torment would be present the entire race. I stop to collect myself. I had planned for this so I pulled out a knee strap I was carrying and cinched it around my leg. I look up to see Self-Doubt staring me in the face. I knew that bench would get larger and look more comfortable with each lap but I had to press on. My knee throbbed as I pushed forward and it was not much farther down the path that I would find Despair – one of two standing pools of water that covered the width of the trail. I had seen this in some race pictures, so I had planned for this too. I had dry socks and back-up shoes at the trailhead. Falling into despair this early on the trail, however, would mean running five miles with soggy wet feet. I would have to tread carefully – I managed to squeeze by both pools without getting my feet wet.
Approaching the halfway point of the first loop my knee feels a little better but continues to argue with me as I navigate through Torment. Suddenly a loud boom echoes in the air from close by. My heart skips two beats and I duck fast! I hear a loud revving sound from over the water and notice a boat that must have backfired as it was starting up. Relieved its not hunters I push on.
As I approached the last unattended aid station around mile 6 of the loop I realize it had been miles since I had seen anyone. I keep checking my watch and GPS and the worry continues to grow that if I complete the first loop right at the two-hour mark I wasn’t going to have any room on the subsequent laps to account for fatigue.
Around each corner I expect to see signs of the approaching trailhead but each turn taunts me. The thoughts of how utterly lost and alone I was kept creeping back into my head. To dispel that notion I imagine a nearby tree is my wife, Ruth, cheering me on, two strong trees are my parents, and a shrub on the right is Briana. Their cheering pushes my forward.
I finally get back to a road so I know the trailhead must be close. I turn the corner, and I finally see it! I made the first split in one hour 38 minutes. I was elated. The cheers of the half-dozen or so people at the start lifted my spirit. Knowing I had picked up 20 minutes of breathing room energized me. I’d also met my first goal of not getting lapped by any of the other runners on the first loop.
I ran through the checkpoint and rushed over to my pack and grabbed some Advil for my knee and then turned back to the course. I would know what to expect this time, and I felt better for it. Three more laps to go.
Lap 2 (1:38)
I sped past Self-Doubt easily this time. When I do, I see I am actually catching up to someone. A conversation would be welcome. I talk for a few minutes with Terri, a 71-year-old running this race for the fourth time. She informs me that she has never finished this race in the eight-hour time limit. Yet, here she was again. Amazing! They let her have an early start this year, which is why I was only catching her now. I prayed that she would be able to make it this time (she did) but I had to push on.
Approaching Despair for the second time I noticed the puddle had widened to consume almost the entire width of the trail (presumably due to high tide). I somehow manage to hop across some tree roots on the far right without dousing my feet. Despair would not get me this time either, but I couldn’t help wonder just how much bigger would Despair get?
I catch-up to another 50k runner around mile 12 on the back half of the trail; we chat a bit. The sun is starting to shine, and I press on. Not much farther ahead I pass another couple of runners. This time an 82-year old gentleman (also given an early start) accompanied by his daughter. Inspired again, I push on.
Approaching mile 13 the frontrunners are starting to pass me. Seven or eight lapped me on this loop each with words of encouragement: “Good work”, “Good running”, “Keep it up.”
Nearing the end of the first loop, Torment pulls me down hard. I barely get my hands in front of my face before hitting the ground. I hop up quickly – can’t stay down. Having seen the fall, the last of the runners who would pass me on this lap check to make sure I am okay before moving on. My pride is bruised but no cuts or scratches. I was fortunate. Torment disappears around a corner and I am alone once again.
It is not too long before I pass Ruth, Briana, Mom and Dad once again. This time I conjure more help, finding a throng of friends cheering me on. The fan palms get several high-fives as I approach the bridge alerting me I am approaching the end of the second loop.
When I finally reach the trailhead I can’t believe my eyes. The clock shows I actually had a negative split on the second loop: I was one minute faster the second time around. I was now halfway in and had banked another twenty minutes. One more loop until the final loop. My goal this time was simply not to surrender any of those forty minutes on the third loop so I have them on the last one. I grab some more Advil and I am on my way.
Lap 3 (3:15)
Before I was a mile into the third loop Torment took its toll once more and I face planted into the sand as I approached Self-Doubt. I am sure it was probably the same stupid root. I got up quickly again and kept going. I add a second goal for this loop — DO NOT HIT THE GROUND AGAIN.
My legs burn as I continue through the sandy part of the trail. My muscles ache and the outside of my knee twitched. I was begging to find Despair. I knew if I could just get past Despair I would be on better footing again. Fortunately Despair hadn’t gotten any wider, but I still needed to be cautious. I would only have to face Despair one more time.
I navigated Torment very carefully on the back half of the third loop and the next set of runners to pass me would stream by.
I was nearing the end of the loop. There goes Ruth, Mom and Dad, and Briana. More high-fives from friends as I approach the bridge. I read a sign I hadn’t really paid attention to the first two times around. I doubt I will be passing anyone, but it gives me a little bit of swagger.
As I hit the final corner the timer at the trailhead comes into sight in the distance. I can’t believe it; the timer reads 5:01. I now have three hours to complete the last loop. As I near the line there are lots of finishers cheering loudly — “Great job, you are almost done!” As I turn to head back into the last lap there is a brief gasp from those that had been cheering as they realize I had to continue on. The cheering resumes again in seconds and they see me off with pomp and circumstance.
Lap 4 (5:01)
This would be the last lonely lap. No one would be passing me, no more runners streaming by to offer encouragement. This lap was likely to be completely and utterly alone. I was only a couple of miles from marathon distance and had to trudge through that cursed sand one more time. I wasn’t going down again on this lap.
When I hit the 26.2 mile split I checked my watch. Somehow I’d managed to beat my Richmond Marathon time by about ten minutes despite the more difficult terrain. I was excited — from this point on I was an ultra-marathoner. I passed Self-Doubt easily — I knew I just needed to take my time, not take another fall, and not plunge into Despair.
My legs were shaky as I navigated Despair slowly and deliberately one last time. I rejoiced as I crossed — I would not have to face Self-Doubt or Despair again. Torment, on the other hand, would continue to be with me for the rest of the journey. I still needed to tread carefully.
On the back half of the second loop I do catch up to a 63-year-old named Jean who was running the 12k. We talk a little bit. She had only started running in the last decade herself. My legs are just moving themselves at this point so I push ahead.
I arrive at the last aid station for the final time but there is no more water. A minute later it starts to drizzle. I look on the bright side. The rain will cool me off and hide the tears.
I soon find Ruth, Mom and Dad, Briana, and all of my friends again. Everyone gets high-fives one last time. I look down at my watch and notice I have a real shot at finishing in less than seven hours if I pick up the pace. I don’t know where it comes from but somehow I manage to push hard for the last five minutes and make my way across the finish line.
As I walked away from the finish I couldn’t help but think about others who don’t know where their finish line might be. Could I have continued on for a fifth lap, a sixth treatment or a seventh treatment not knowing when it would end? I can’t tell you anything for sure. What I can tell you is that no matter how many times I had to go around what made the Self-Doubt, Despair and Torment bearable was the fact that I knew I was never truly alone.