Day 4 – my favorite day of this entire journey. It was still another lonesome day on my own, but the trails were much better and I had the next longest connecting road section ahead of me – 45 miles. As much as I LOVE trail running, for the first time in my life, I welcomed the straightaway road sections. It was so refreshing to look ahead of me rather than at my toes. I started on the trails running around a conservatory area – it was beautiful. Probably my most favorite part of the IAT in the north woods. It was stunning and so runnable – I was in heaven. I got through the 15 miles of trails with no issue. I was a new person. The connecting road spanned from Cornell to Gilman, a long, rolling hill on interstate 64. And then it kept going and going…like I said, 45 miles.
We got a text that night, sometime around 1am I believe, that Keith (a talented runner from KC) had finally arrived and was sleeping in his truck until morning. When I woke up at 5am, he was standing at the door needing a coffee fix and I was SO happy to see him – it’s been since Leadville in August 2016 that we ran together. Big hugs to both Brian and I. He planned to run through the weekend with me which meant a lot. So many people ask what I think about for so many hours out there….everything. But after ~230 miles I was losing interest in what my mind had to say, and way more interested in listening to Keith’s life stories. He talks at me when we run and I just have to listen. I love it. He got me through Hope Pass, so I knew this would be a cake walk for us both. Everything learned in hindsight…
Keith and I got started that Friday morning on May 5th. It was around this time that my ankles were starting to swell and appear discolored, but I assumed that was just more body adaptation taking place. The first few days were really an adjustment period for my body. I was used to high mileage, but of course, with something like this, the body needs to get used to the stress. All major muscle groups had seemed to adapt by this point, with subtle aches and pains here and there. During the first stretch of the day, which typically was done alone (I will add…Keith was enjoying breakfast and a coffee with Brian…) I was constantly going up and down. At some point, and I can’t remember exactly where on that first stretch, my hip flexor pulled and each muscle fiber was crying in pain from that point on until the end of the night. With every step, my entire left leg felt like a bag of bricks that I was dragging behind me. It was dead weight. Keith joined me after the first stop and we carried on running trails and roads and of course everything in between. I honestly don’t think he knew what he was in for that day, or even weekend. Brian would join us at times which was awesome because I love listening to their bromance conversations – what’s said on the trail stays on the trail, right?! Both of them were really great about slowing down in order for me to keep a trot going with the pain in my hip flexor. All I could think about was the next day and day after that. I was so worried. That futuristic thinking may have been my poison for day 5.
I spoke with Rivers around lunchtime again and he gave me some really great ideas for how to curb the hip flexor pain, adjust my running form, and just focus on other things. It’s amazing how pain goes away instantly when you change your focus to something totally different, and even off the wall. It helped. As so many people witnessed, I finished my lunch of mountain dew, pizza, tuna and oil sandwich, and a variety of other things before heading off to the next section with Keith. We were amidst the forest it seemed. The tall pine trees and overgrowth made it seem like we were lost forever. So many of those tall, massive pines had fallen on the trail. At times the fallen trees were easy to hop over – perhaps only the trunk of the tree was exposed, but most times, it was the entire pine waiting patiently to be climbed. Pine needles hurt – bad. Keith being so tall could go over all the trees, but me, I mostly had to army crawl under them tearing clothing, getting cut up, and being covered in ticks – I pulled off about a dozen a day. But, we carried on with one goal in mind, to finish for the day and get as many miles in as my legs would allow.
With high land trails full of fallen trees and overgrowth, moving up and down the rolling hills, we hit low land. Naturally, it was underwater. And likely hadn’t seen life for days if not weeks. The long haired algae and green film covered the top of so much of the standing water. It was like the everglades at times – beautiful, but more as a still photo and something to not stand in repeatedly. As pace slowed, we became prey to the small gnat flies. Thousands of them swarmed our faces and luckily Keith had his sunglasses, hat, and buff with him during our first encounter. I, on the other hand, was slowly moving along watching the trail through a haze of flies. When I was able, I grabbed a buff and sunglasses – I couldn’t take it anymore. They were everywhere and no matter what type of bug spray we obtained, it didn’t work. Even for the ticks. Day 5 was getting slower and slower and more and more frustrating. We ended day 5 at a large camp site along a beautiful lake. We ran on the west side which was high in the trees overlooking the lake. I assumed I would be amongst the trees at the start of day 6…wrong again.
I didn’t cover the number of miles I wanted to on day 5. It was becoming more and more concerning to me and ultimately become my kryptonite. That concern beat me to pieces. In my head, I was 3 for 5 on 60 mile days…it just wasn’t good enough. In hindsight, I really was doing incredible and can see that now, sadly. I woke up on day 6 really trying to center myself. I isolated from my crew early that morning and started to do a body scan – what hurts…what doesn’t…where’s my mind right now…? My hip flexor was feeling great – not a problem ever again during my journey. Swelling in my ankles was increasing but still not horribly concerning. If Rivs isn’t concerned, I’m not concerned. That became my motto around lunchtime each day. It helped. But my mind kept thinking that I needed to have another day 4. If today can be like that, then I will be back on track. And as much as that is true, each day is so incredibly different – sometimes more trails than roads or roads than trails, trail conditions, weather, beaver dams, flooding, reroutes, bugs, and the list goes on…Comparing my performance day to day was useless. I wish I would have believed Brian when he told me that each day. Silly girl.
I needed space that morning and I think my crew recognized that. I was stretching and doing some meditation in my room. It was 5am when Julio (DTS) and Long, a photographer there to take photos to post (knowledge to me that morning!) came into my room ready to go – talking and breaking my much needed silence. My mind started to wonder listening to his conversation but I desperately needed to focus on the day. I was quiet, maybe even too quiet. Brian and Keith finished packing and we all hopped into the cars for our caravan ride back to the trail. It was a foggy morning – a bit on the beautifully eerie side actually. I started to eat breakfast and take a few minutes to get my mind ready to go. I was resting my eyes thinking when Julio opened my car door. It was Julio. He started to give me a pep talk about how great it is that I am doing this. I expressed gratitude and said, “I think anyone can do anything.” He strongly then replied, “No. Not everyone can do this.” His doubt in others really hit me hard. One of my main goals of this entire journey and everything leading up to it is to show that anyone can achieve any dream. That dreams are possible, goals are achievable. I had to get out of the car – my mind was swirling now with even more thoughts of defeat, and questioning my purpose.
I started that morning on my own – I needed space and time to process what’s ahead of me today. I had a 5 mile trail stretch first followed by some time on the road. I was looking forward to both! I had 1-2 miles in the first 5 of great running and then the tears hit. It was underwater, at times to my waste – sinking into muddy water, climbing fallen trees in the water – it was another stretch of swamp. I needed to keep it together and what that meant was just crying. I needed to breakdown. I saw someone in the distance – it was Julio…and a gopro. I couldn’t breakdown nor cry, and I couldn’t even muster up a hello. I didn’t want to be filmed from the get go, I didn’t know what was being created, and I really didn’t want anyone running in front, behind, and criss cross in my path as I tried effortlessly to get through such awful trail. I texted Brian – I typed, “I need to cry.” He let me know that Keith and him wouldn’t be at the road segment in time but to keep going down the road. I got there and as much as I thought he was just joking, they weren’t there. I carried on very slowly. After a ¼ mile they pulled up alongside me and Brian just let me breakdown. No one said a word. Finally, tears hit.
I’ve known Keith since August 2015 when we both ran in Colorado at Tim Olson’s camp. We both were in the lead pack, but at the tail end. We spent much of the runs together and at camp, he was the first ever person to teach me how to tight walk on a seatbelt strap. It was pretty cool and I still have pictures of him doing this said sport. When I got into Leadville the next year, I knew Keith would be the guy I could rely on to help pace. He graciously offered to assist the Hope Pass and Powerline sections of Leadville – the two hardest areas on course. You really open up on a run like Leadville and true colors really come out….as well as having to go to the bathroom 5 feet from your pacer, finding excuses to walk, arguing, sharing everything, spitting, and so much weird running stuff – it’s hard to describe (or I’ve just tried to bury all the crazy things I made that guy go through on the trail during the night!!). He knows me though. He knows me upset, angry, happy; he knows what silence means, he knows what excuses I’m going to pull out of my butt to stop running, he knows not to run in front of me (race mode kicks in!!); he knows what every friend and pacer should know. He knew in that moment I needed a hug and to reset my emotions.
After Brian and I finished a long embrace, Keith nodded and smiled. I ate some breakfast (it was my 2nd of the day) and of course, it was pizza. I was describing what happened in the first 5 miles and both could tell I was really upset. We carried on. It felt good to be on dry land. At this point, rolling hills were the best thing ever comparing to swamps. One foot in front of the other with constant forward progression – that was the goal of the day. It ended at a really beautiful trail head which I could tell would cover higher ground – YES! I was able to go to rest again, eat, and drink some Tart Cherry Juice – actually a whole container of it. Long was still taking some pretty AWESOME photos at this point and it was a great pleasure to have him around. He’s a great runner (with Solomon) and he was welcome to run with me on the trails – I think he’s a bit fast though for me by this point!!
By noon I was to the next trail section and enjoying some lunch. Julio and Long decided to head out. I didn’t get to say goodbye – they seemed to have snuck off. I needed to stay focused though and reminded myself of what a wise runner, and friend (Kris), had told me before starting this journey…”focus on you; never worry about other people, and Brian shouldn’t either.” It’s true – I needed to gear all my attention on getting through each moment of each day.
Brian was planned to run in the afternoon hours with Keith and I, and my friend Casey would be arriving about 4pm. I was really excited to see her. She is so great to run with and so positive – another breath of fresh air for the weekend. Sometime out in the abyss of the trail, we had to cross 2 square wood logs with only one side having hand support. Ahhh what?! I felt so unsteady and the drop was really huge! Or so my mind believed it was. It was beautiful, but after 300+ miles and a long day of emotion, everything probably seemed worse than it really was. What really made things great though was the conversation between the four of us that afternoon. It was ridiculous and so great to hear them talk so I could just giggle. I needed that. We finally made it to the end of the trail with about a mile left on a gravel road to Casey and Keith’s cars. That was the longest mile of the day. My legs were not having it and I was in great pain. I can’t describe the exact type of pain, but I do know it was nothing like the day after my first marathon, Leadville, or weight lifting for the first time in months – it was considerably worse. I think it’s kind of like when you’re going to break at every single joint in your body – the pain was like that. I was relieved to get there though. The day was over. Miles were not too far off but physically and emotionally I was done.
Casey and I headed back to the hotel. My feet were soaking in freezing ice water in a cooler in her front seat. It just fit!! We chatted and she got my mind off this journey. That was really nice – talking about anything but running felt so good. I honestly, since starting, was living in a run. I woke up to running, all day was running, all night was planning for running – running, running, running. I didn’t speak of this much on social media, but it was even consuming my nights. When I could sleep, which was for maybe 2-3 hours a night, I was having nightmares about the trail. I would suddenly awaken, shaking and sweating. I was constantly reliving each segment during the night. I hated it and it wouldn’t stop. Even after stopping my journey, the nightmares continued for weeks. It’s now nearly mid-June and they have stopped.
We were in Merrill. Casey and Keith were staying with us that night and when Casey and I arrived at the hotel, I immediately in my clothes went into the hot tub. The boys were getting dinner. I have been ice bathing each day, but more importantly, I was soaking in a hot tub regularly. It gets the blood flowing. It was nearly 9pm when we started to eat dinner in bed and everyone just crashed. There was even snoring coming from the guy in the sleeping bag!
Blog author: Annie Weiss, MS RD; ultra-endurance athlete and dietitian living and training in Milwaukee, WI. She is a sponsored athlete/ambassador for lululemon, Swiftwick Socks, AltraRunning, The OrangeMud, and Fluid Nutrition. Follow her training/racing on Twitter & Instagram: ani_weiss and Facebook: Ani Weiss.