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.

Finish (6:57:28)

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.

This past week was my Dad’s birthday.  Statistically this could be one of his last five birthdays since the five year survival rate for esophageal cancer is somewhere around 20%.  This is just a statistic, of course, and each member of a statistic population has the opportunity to be an outlier — an opportunity to be that person who goes on to live 10 or 20 years or more past the disease.  That is the hope and struggle of every cancer patient — hoping they can become the outlier but knowing the math is not in their favor.

That is what today’s race and this challenge (http://goo.gl/i5bD6M) is all about.  These 50 kilometers are about working hard to become a statistical outlier and doing something I should never have been able to do.  Today is proving that things don’t necessarily happen because of random chance or blind luck and about affirming that the struggles to get here matter — the things we do matter.  Today is about beating the math and providing hope to a father to encourage him to continue to fight hard.

Happy Birthday, Dad.  Yeah — it is still easier than chemo, but these 50 kilometers are for you.

Still Easier Than Chemo teammate Brian Lamprecht reflects on lessons learned in preparation for his first ultra-marathon:

In October 2013 I decided to start running. After run/walking a 5k here and there I realized weekend running wasn’t going to cut it so I decided to actually become a runner. On December 8, I downloaded an app and started a training program.

At the time I wouldn’t have called myself a runner, but looking back now I guess I kind-of was — I just didn’t know it yet. Before then, I never had even the slightest inclination to do any type of running. In fact, I played goalkeeper in soccer just so I could avoid running.

What changed for me was after a couple years of allergy treatments I found my asthma under control enough to give running a go. With my cleared out sinuses and a newfound lung capacity I decided I was going to go completely crazy and attempt an ultra-marathon within a year. Well, that day is fast approaching. On December 7 I will line up to give the New Guana River 50k Trail Run a go.

Looking back over my first year as a runner here are 13.1 things I learned (or re-learned) along the way. Hopefully it is stuff you already know, too — but sometimes, things just bear repeating.

1.  Sometimes tripping over the starting line is the best thing that can happen to you. This one comes courtesy of my eight-year-old son. While I was not there to see this by all accounts he took the most impressive swan dive over the starting line of a 5k race. He slid across the pavement badly scraping both his knees. He could have easily walked off the course at that point and said, “Next time.” Instead, he got up, took off like a shot, and in the process he set a personal record and placed fifth overall! I don’t know if it was that sudden jolt of adrenaline or a strong desire to quickly get away from an embarrassing situation that spurred him on so quickly, but in either case it shows that stumbling at the start doesn’t have to be fatal to exceeding your expectations.

2.  Some of the greatest inspiration comes from those in the trenches. They say the war is won in the trenches for a reason. My inspiration this year has come from the ones doing it in the trenches. I have been inspired by other late-in-life runners, by some just finding the strength and the courage to begin undertaking difficult challenges, and by others still who have been given no choice in the battles they face. When you need to dig deep you don’t have to look that far to find real inspiration.

3.  There is not a one-size fits all plan. When I began putting a long-run training plan together I started with a marathon training plan for beginners that I got off the internet. That plan didn’t take into account that I had a life so I was constantly forced to re-evaluate and modify the plan. It would have been easy to just take a long run off for the weekend here or there because of this kid’s activity or that work trip. If I had done that then I would never have been ready. At two points during training I had leg injuries that required me to modify the plan to duration based pool running instead of distance running to make sure I was still putting in the same amount of effort. Don’t treat a plan like a prescription if it doesn’t work for you. Create your plan but re-evaluate it constantly.

4.  There is a fine line between committed and crazy — just make sure you are not so crazy it gets you committed. Maybe the biggest things you will ever do should just seem plain crazy at first. For me this goal certainly qualified. It would have been easy to say I have no business trying an ultra-marathon and leave it at that. As an overweight, asthmatic ex-smoker with allergies to just about every form of pollen out there, I honestly don’t know what I was thinking. All I can say is getting my allergies under control suddenly opened me up to new possibilities, and I wasn’t going to accept any limits. What I knew was that maybe I would make it and maybe I wouldn’t and I was OK with settling for just completing a marathon if I failed. Aiming for the impossible helps you achieve the improbable.

5.  An unshared goal is an uncommitted goal. When I told the first few people what I was planning on doing I had created accountability. Now I knew I had to put the work in. Then the more I worked, the better I felt that I could achieve my goal.  This led me to talk about it with more people, which made me want to continue to work harder.  It created a virtuous cycle.  If I hadn’t told anyone about my goal I could have easily let adversity convince me to set the goal aside or not to work as hard. Who would know? The first step to making your goals real is sharing them with others

6.  In a 100-person race there is only one first place, but there are 100 winners. Up until now I resisted even calling myself a runner. I was a guy trying to accomplish a running feat. Looking at last year there’s probably a 25% chance of me coming in last place in the ultra — or not even finishing. Every runner has his or her own motivation or context for what is an accomplishment. For some (myself included), finishing in last place is a stretch goal. Just having the perseverance to be in the race is what makes you a winner.

7.  If you really want to get something done, find a group of runners. I never really “got” running before this year but I do now, and I have to say it is infectious. I have really grown to love the running culture. I wish everything we do could be like running. In the end the people I want on my team are a bunch of goal-oriented individuals who aren’t finished just because the race is over and are constantly encouraging others across the finish line. (Of course you don’t have to be an actual runner to have this attitude). Culture is as important to success as drive and talent.

8.  A marathon is nothing more than 13 two-mile jogs. When I started running last December the goals were simpler (and easier) although they didn’t seem so easy at the time. First, it was two minutes of continuous running, then seven minutes of continuous running, then a 5k, then a 10k, then a half-marathon, then a marathon, and finally a ultra-marathon. It is hard to focus when a goal seems so distant, so breaking it down into small ones keeps you on target. Similarly, since the Richmond Marathon had water stations every two miles, I wasn’t going 26.2 miles — I was going two miles 13 times. It is hard to focus when a goal seems so distant, so breaking it down into small ones keeps you on target.

9.  Too much of a good thing isn’t a great thing. I was so excited when I finally got to the point where I could run 3 miles without stopping to walk that I wanted to run every day (and did so for more than a month). Well, it turns out that isn’t such a great idea; I developed an overuse injury in my knee that nearly knocked me out of my first 10k. Everyone needs some time for rest and reflection.

10.  Find something to work hard at in order to become completely average. My best 5k time comes in at an age adjusted score of 51.0%. That’s right, I have run more than 1000 miles this year in order to become completely average at something. It is very humbling to put so much work into something and then watch others, either through natural talent or through years of practice, make something that takes you so much effort seem so effortless. It is easy to work hard at something you are great at; it is rewarding to work hard at something you will never be great at.

11.  Put yourself at risk. This is probably a variation of #5, but I am specifically thinking about the November giveaway I put together for my Still Easier Than Chemo Challenge. When I publicly announced I would have items to give away for those who donated to the Massey Cancer Center, I didn’t actually yet have a single committed item. I was 100 percent at risk of having to fund something myself. Boy did that get me moving! Within a week I was able to find over $1,000 worth of donated items to give away. If you have an idea that you can do something and it’s worthwhile, then put yourself at risk. It is a great motivator.

12.  Sometimes you can lead from the front, sometimes you can lead from the back and sometimes you just don’t have a choice. This is another one courtesy of my son. When he asked to run his first 5k this past summer I already had six months of near daily running under my belt, and I was feeling good because I had already shaved more than five minutes off my initial 5k runs. Having been in several races watching kids burn themselves out at the start I naively thought I would be able to outrun my son at least a few times until he had built up the stamina to go that distance without stopping to walk. I couldn’t have been more wrong. He just turned out to have a God-given ability, a natural notion of pace and a flow beating me by a full two minutes. When you lead those more talented than you, it is about teaching them what’s secondary to the talent. As a leader it is important to help them find the right motivation and the proper attitude, to identify the resources to help them excel and to put up guardrails to make sure they maintain the right path.

13.  Knowing your limitations is not the same as accepting limits. I knew when planning for this ultra it was not going to be fast or pretty. I had only been running for a year, I had asthma and it would be winter before I was ready. That meant I had to find a race with limits I was capable of working within. In this case I started my search to find a run down south where temperature would not be an issue. I also focused my search on trail runs rather than road races because road races usually have time limits because they eventually have to re-open the roads. Eventually I found an ultra in Jacksonville, Florida that fit the bill: not only is it a flat trail run but you run four 8-mile loops, meaning I could have a supply bag at the beginning of the loop in case of disaster. I found a race that was workable within my limitations. Now I just hope I don’t get too embarrassed getting outrun by the armadillos (yes, Florida has armadillos too). Being successful is about figuring out ways to meet your objectives in spite of the obstacles.

13.1  Make sure you have great support. It is much tougher to do something alone. I couldn’t have made it this far without the support of my wife and my family first and foremost. They have suffered through being dragged out to fun-runs in the rain, having me disappear for weekend long runs (which are extremely long when you are as slow as I am), not to mention full days of moaning and groaning around the house. I am 100% sure none of us really knew what I was signing us up for when I started down this path but my wife Ruth, as always, has been a rock. Along the way it was good to find the Colonial Road Runners, the Greater Williamsburg Distance Running Club, Point 2 Running Company, Briana Kirby, Brian Burk, and others who have already been where I am going and have been extremely supportive.  Goals can be grander and achievements can be greater when you have the support of others.

If you have read this far I hope that something above has inspired you or encouraged you or given you cause to think. I ask now for you to think about those whose challenges are graver, those who don’t have an option to choose which challenge they face. A small $10 donation here will help many and 100% of your donation goes directly to fund cancer research.

Even if you aren’t a runner (yet?), I hope you join the race in the fight against cancer.


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