Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Confession of a Quitter

Hellgate handed me my first "DNF" (did not finish).  I ran according to plan, with a conservative start that brought me to the first cut-off with 10 minutes to spare -- 12:20, 25 miles, Headforemost Mountain.  Staying upright had proved to be difficult.  By then, I was ahead of Dave Moore, my running partner, in falls, 2 to 1.  In the darkness, headlamps sometimes changed rocks into leaves and leaves into rocks, and snow on top of both completed the disguise.  My first trip was slow, gentle and leafy.  My second was not, but I bounced into forward progress and urged everything to return where it belonged.

The weather was almost perfect, other than the evidence left by its past.  The midnight start, at 23 degrees (F), felt comfortable in the midst of 130 bodies.  Even at the high elevations, the air was relatively still.  Fingers that stiffened on downhills quickly warmed when we headed up.  The inevitably wet feet from "Hellgate Creek" (the race nickname; its actual name is Elk Creek, the same creek that borders our farm) never felt cold, although whoever said "they'll quickly dry" was wrong.

"So why did you quit?" says Virginia.

I missed the second cut-off is the easy answer.  I arrived at aid station 7, Bearwallow Gap, mile 46, after 12:30 p.m.  My third fall had taken its toll.  I hit my right shin pretty hard.  I rested for thirty seconds or so, then rose and resumed running.  Forget the details.  How much is weak mind over matter is anyone's guess.  I'm sure someone like David Horton, race director, or David Goggins, top ultraman-plus who ran and finished the race 3 months after heart surgery (see, might say it's no guess; it's clearly mind over matter.  I might protest in a high, whiny voice, pointing at the swelling in my right leg.  In a way they would be right -- I probably could have finished, maybe not by the 18-hour deadline.  My wimpy wish had been to beat the second cut-off by an hour or so and walk, if I had to, the rest of the way, maybe even enjoying the scenery.  With that wish ditched, so went my motivation.

I like to think that at age 57 I'm finally man enough to figure out and admit when I've had enough.  In 1992, at mile 24 in Chicago, I found myself "cruising" to a sub-3 marathon.  Then I hit the proverbial wall.  I was very disappointed and Karen, having seen me giving a thumbs up shortly before the wall, worried like crazy until I finally finished in 3:09.  The year before, in Toledo, less than six miles into the Glass City Marathon, my stomach wouldn't cooperate.  I finished the race by running until I felt like throwing up, walking until I didn't, repeating, ad nauseam.  As it turned out, I had the flu.  This time Karen didn't have to worry.  I had a cellphone and it worked.

Hey, 46 miles still looks pretty good in my running log.  I suppose it even counts as a marathon (almost two of them).


  1. You are still my hero--- or one of them. I want to hear about running through the night in the winter in the woods-----when you are ready. Congratulations!

  2. James! As you said, you were in this for the enjoyment of the event, not for the "finish vs quit" of it. Think of the event if it had been a May or June night. So glad you stopped when you did, though just before any of the last few falls would have been better. Maybe you could take up precognition in the future - it's one of the few things you haven't tried and conquered, I believe! 47 miles is, as you say, no small achievement! Hope the price wasn't too steep. Hope you've not suffered too much lingering damage to that brave body. Thinking of you and Karen, and grateful for cell phones! Linda & Dave

  3. You still rock!!!! It's not even something I would consider, and can't imagine where the strength comes from for those of you who do. Hope you're healing quickly!


  4. mary pannabecker steinerDecember 17, 2010 at 9:51 AM

    I like to think that Dad was smiling at you when you decided you'd had enough. He knew when it was time to give in gracefully. Doesn't mean you're a quitter. Not at all. As we call it here at stopped out. There's always room for returning.