“If you just don’t quit, your darkest hour, is often, just before dawn, and things just get better”
– Gordy Ainsleigh
June 21st. The Friday before Captain Karls Ultra Night Run. A 60k night run through the Texas Hill country, hosted by Joe Pistorious and tejastrails.com. It’s not my first Tejas Trail run, but it was going to be my 2nd (pace type) of run and my 1st night time race.
I told several runners of our club, The Houston Area Trail Runners, that if they wanted to do their first 30k trail run, that I would run with them. I had no interest in attempting the 60k run at all, simply because my last two races ended with a DNF, due to severe foot pains and then my next race was Hells Hills, which I completed, but had severe stomach issues compounded the foot pain I had from the DNF 2 weeks before.
Several weeks before the run I decided to sign up for the 60k only because I seem to have a deep admiration for being some sort of affection for masochism. I promised several members of the group, (Reyna, Laura & Marie; all of which have done a marathon or ½ marathon, but never a Joe-athon) that I would be there for them. I figured if I can just run with them for the first loop and pace them properly, I’d be able to put myself through another loop of 18.6miles and maybe, just maybe, I would be able to chase down my buddy Rob, and by chase down, I mean finish less than an hour or two behind him. Boy o’ boy, was I in for a roller coaster.
Friday is coming to a close and as usual, I still didn’t have my bags packed, nor did I have fuel for the race or my handhelds. I was supposed to have dinner with Rob & Jeremy that evening and then sleep in early so we could get some rest for the next day. Those plans were shot and I didn’t have dinner with them. Instead, I ate at the house and packed my bags. I got to Rob’s late. We chatted, laughed and tested some lights from Petzl, one of which, I used on this race.(Write up coming soon) Now, It’s bedtime.
We get up early and get out on the road. Tents & banners packed, we are out on the road and it’s our usual road trip to these events. A stop at Buckee’s, plenty of music and vulgar jokes/thoughts, and strategy talk about the race before us.
We pull into Johnson City, a small town on the outside of Austin,TX. We got in a little early so we could go to the race site and meet with the organizer. We setup camp and go see the trails. It was at this point that, any apprehension I had going into the race, was completely flushed out by overwhelming excitement. Now begins the experience of racing. “Here we go baby!!!”
We finish setting up our gear and check in to the hotel. We all sit down, relax, and try to calm our nerves. Jeremy had intentions of pacing someone that had never run an Ultra before and Rob and I somehow managed to convince Jeremy that he should give the 60k a shot…….and so, he did, at package pick up(sucker!).
I put on a movie for us to watch….“Unbreakable-Western States 100”. A 2hr documentary on the Western States 100 & the birth of Ultra Running, as well as a profile of the 4 of the best and undefeated Ultra Runners at that time( Geoff Roes, Anton Krupicka, Kilian Jornet, and Hal Koerner ). If you haven’t had a chance to see this film, as an Ultra Runner/Runner, it should be on your watch list.
It’s a little after 4pm now and we are fired up to run. We head out the door and to the race site.
The environment is awesome as always. A bunch of like-minded individuals, are all talking and laughing amongst one another and sharing stories of life and races. I check in with Marie and Laura and they are both in high spirits, but hating the heat. The 3rd lady of the group Reyna (My Wife) was in a car accident just prior to the race, so under advisement she did not run. She still came out to support us all.
It’s race time-
7pm rolls around and the 60k folks head out of the gate. I wish the runners luck and hug Rob and tell him the usual….”I love you kiddo, Nothing stops you, go get what you came for”. As the runners take off, I get setup for the run. I do my pre warm up, check out the trails, and with 2 minutes to show time, I do my ritual Maori Haka and then say a quick hello to the man above.
Waiting for the countdown, Jeremy, Daniel, Laura and Marie find me in the cattle herd.
The crowds energy is buzzing, everyone is anxious, family & friends watching us are all getting excited, and then the clock whines down and every starts the countdown 4!!!!……3!!!!!!!…..2!!!!!….1……..and we’re off!
We get out and on to the single trail which leads down to the river loop, just about .55 mile in. We run down some rough terrain and onto an amazing view of the river floor. We enjoy this for about 10 minutes and then it was up a rocky climb to the fence line. Marie had decided to run up ahead with Daniel and Laura stayed tucked behind me, matching step for step through the first 4.97 miles to the aid station. At about mile 3, we had caught up with Marie who looked to be having a hard time with the terrain. Marie is a very strong marathon runner (in my book) but these damn joe-a-thons have a way of kicking you in the stomach. Marie mentioned the sand was bothering her hip, but she put her head down and kept chugging along. We get to the first aid station to fuel up, eat some Pringles, bananas and dirt. Get back out and I tell them, “Okay ladies, that’s one down, we have 3.55 to the next and we’ll keep chopping them down”. We kept a moderate pace and had some conversation, I noticed Marie was now falling back a bit which concerned me. We pulled into the Windmill aid station and began fueling up. As I watched Marie come into the aid station I noticed she didn’t look good. I looked over to Daniel and Laura and told them to take off and that we would catch up to them. Laura didn’t want to take off but I told her that she would be alright and Daniel would take care of her.
I got Marie fueled up and back on the trail. I had a feeling that the next 4 miles were going to be rough for her. As we started to run, the hills were really taking a toll on Marie and our pace had slowed down gradually. When we got about a mile away from the next Aid station, Marie told me to just go ahead because she was going to walk the next two aid stations. It really bothered me to hear that because I promised her I’d run with her to the finish. I still had a 12hr cut off and she was hitting a wall. I tell me Marie she is awesome and I’ll see her at the finish. I run up to the next aid station and figured she’s not far behind. I thought, she’ll get some fuel and be okay.
I get to the aid station and stuff my face while also noticing Marie isn’t behind me. Time is ticking so it’s time to try and catch Daniel and Laura. I head off onto the trail and begin to cut some decent times. I’m running 10:20-30’s and I’m feeling really good. At this point, I’m running all by myself in the moon lit night and I’m having a really good run. I feel good, fueled up, no cramps of any kind……….and then…….My light shines on a creature. One, that I have only had one encounter with, and in that encounter, left me in fear of my life. I’m looking down and see this, thing, this death bringer AND it looks to be the size of one of the creatures from the 1981 Film Clash of the Titans……a scorpion! Now, I’m known for telling hyperbolic stories and YES, the size of this scorpion is greatly exaggerated but, don’t judge me.
I’m highly afraid of scorpions and a more accurate size comparison would be that of a nickel. Yes, the currency nickel, as in five cents. I’m sure a strong gust of wind would knock them over but I don’t care. I’m afraid of them. So, I see this mystical beast and yell in a soprano tone and leap for my life. As a cruel joke on myself, my leap over the scorpion didn’t do well for my hip. When I landed on my left foot a sharp pain hit my left hip. It caused me so much pain I could barely stand in place. I immediately thought to myself, “you just had to jump didn’t you?”
I begin to walk and I think to myself..hmmm… I’m okay, it was just a flash pain. I go through this all the time. It wasn’t until the first rolling hill out by the fence line that I realize I can’t run or walk up hill. Going downhill was an accident waiting to happen and any lateral movement was out of the window. “Now how am I supposed to finish up the next 5.8 miles and do this again? “I don’t know” I say, and I keep trucking. The next several miles were okay to an extent. I pull into the main aid station and my left hip is on fire.
About a mile back before the main aid station, I noticed my lower back was now tensing up. To compensate for the pain in my hip, I was leaning on my right side which was now causing cramps in my right calf and hamstring. I had to sit down. My sister grabbed me food and my wife grabbed my bottles to fill them with ice water. First question I ask….
“How far is Rob? How long ago did he come through?”
“About an hour?” someone says. I think, “Dammit, if I was feeling good, I could keep that hour in between us and not fall too far behind, uuggh but I’m in so much pain….”
GET UP….GET UP AND GO…GET UP NOW…my sister yells out. I barely had time to kick off my Salomon Ultras and switch over to the Cascadias. I didn’t get a chance to change my shirt, get my music or get some Vaseline on some areas that were chafing.
I look at her and say to myself, “why did I invite her or coach her how to get me through these?” my sister got me off the chair and told me “NO WALKING!!! JUST RUN….LETS GO!!!” As I swallowed a banana, I did a slow jog to the portys and hoped the porty would fall on me so I didn’t have to do one more loop of this race! I got a chance to talk to Laura and Daniel briefly. They told me that they came in just under 4 hours and I was extremely happy and proud of both of them. They asked about Marie and I told them that she was having a really hard time but she was going to tough it out and finish…and she did, like the awesome bad ass she is!
The fight within…
I get out onto the trail once again and I’m trying to keep a decent pace and deal with the pain in my hip. The descend into the river felt like pure agony. Once I got down to the rocky terrain, it was one painful step at a time. Every time I came to rock where I had to lift a leg up, I yelled in pain. I get to the hill after the river bed and the climb becomes comical. I had caught up with several of the folks doing the 60k and they quickly got past me on the climb up. I started to think to myself, “Are you really about to try and hobble for several hours and possibly not make the cut off? No, I’m going to run AND hobble and possibly make the cut off”.
I get to the fence line and pass a guy while running and then some hills which become a crawl. The guy passes me again! This goes on for maybe a mile, and then I give up on running and start hiking with Richard. Richard tells me about his previous experiences and what he’s training for. He asked why I was out here as and I asked him: Do you think we’ll hit the cut off at this pace? He replies, “Yeah, even if we don’t run, we’ll get there probably around 6-6:30am”
I think to myself, there’s no way, on God’s green earth, that you’re going to hobble for 6hrs and be in this much pain. It’s time to shut it down before you really get hurt.
We get to a sharp left turn, which is a quick out & back to the first aid station. I get to the aid station, I see the Ice cooler & I sit down, and, I quit.
In my mind and body, I quit at this aid station. As I walked up, I looked for someone that was manning the station and hoped they had a car to take me back. I felt awful. I was so disappointed in myself at this moment. Here I am, at another race, and I was quitting, again.
Richard fuels up and tells me good luck as he takes off again. I knew I would probably never see him again.
I sat on the cooler and took off my chip and my shoes. I sat with my head in my hands and lamented in thought. I met another guy that was having stomach issues & was thinking of dropping out of the race. Oh, and did I forget to mention, this station was not a manned aid station so there was no one there to quit to. You either had to take the 10k trail back to the main aid station or hope a car driving by the trail would pick you up.
I sat there and watched several people stumble into the aid station and back out on the trail. I talked with Michael about dropping and not continuing for probably 20-30 minutes. It wasn’t until another runner came through and asked us how we felt that we began our sob stories of hurting and wanting to drop out. This runners name was Ken. Ken said “well fellas, the next aid station is just about 3miles, see if you can make it” and Michael said, “Yeah, but it’s going to take me over an hour to get there and I’m not doing that”, so Ken took off and I sat on the cooler and thought to myself…..”Get up”.
Michael and I talk about the races we completed in the past and Mike said something to me that triggered a feeling of anger in my heart. He said “Dude, I’ve done a lot of these, it’s okay to drop, you’ll have another one to do, there is always more”
And then…I thought, well what if there isn’t anymore? What if I get hit by a car tomorrow and this was the last thing I did? I quit? What if life was giving me this one opportunity to do something great and instead of getting up and doing something, you sat on this cooler, and quit.
“F…THIS….” I got up, put on my shoes and chip, put water in my water bottles…”Mike, it’s a little over 3miles, are you coming?…..nah man, I’m going to look for a route back”
I get back on the trail, I’m hobbling up and down some rolling hills, just counting the miles down to the next aid station. My hip is in an extreme amount of pain and my right leg is giving up on holding all the weight that my left leg couldn’t handle. I’m not tripping on EVERYTHING. I roll my ankle and I can feel the bones turn in places it shouldn’t and I say it to myself again “dude, stop it, you’re going to really hurt yourself, it’s time you stop at the next aid station and call it a night”. I quit again.
Through this next portion of turns and trails I see a brightly colored snake in the trail and I had no energy to jump nor the ability to fight a snake or snake bight, so I just stood there and sprinkled water on it and hoped it wouldn’t come after me. The snake slowly slithered off into the night, as to say “if you want to keep going, go ahead”.
My watch had stopped recording my mileage(Memory Full) so I had no idea how far the next aid station was but I knew it was almost 3 miles. I kept telling myself, just get there and you will be done. I hobbled some more and began to see some lights and reflectors. I knew I was at the windmill aid station and I sighed in relief, I didn’t have to put myself through any more pain. That wonderful thought was quickly squashed when I noticed Ken filling up his back pack and no one else was in sight. Another unmanned aid station???
I yell to Ken, “dude, is this another unmanned F’n aid station? Are you MF kidding me???? Where the F is everyone???? And Ken looks at me and just says “How’s the hip?”
I immediately get angry. I’m absolutely helpless right now, I want to quit, I can’t go on, I’m in so much MF pain and I can’t do Sh* about it, WTF am I supposed to do now??????
I remember feeling so powerless over my situation at the moment. I couldn’t just go home, I couldn’t just jump in a car and be on my way to a comfortable bed and warm shower, no, instead, I’m here with some guy, stuck on a trail.
Ken looks at me and says “well man, if you really want to drop, we are going to pass the next aid station in about .5mile and you can drop there…..”IF” you want to. I get angry again, I toss around some cookies, I throw some empty pringles bottles across the table and then, I fill my water bottles and tell him, “the only GD reason I’m at this aid station, was to F’n quit, LETS…GO”…
We begin hiking out the aid station with a quick pace, probably about a 14min pace, and we begin to walk to the next aid station. The station is about 4 miles of an out and back loop. I look over to the aid station we have to pass but don’t stop because Joe likes to torture you, and Ken says, ”Hey dude, if you really want a ride back, you can go there, OR, it’s downhill….you can see how you do”
I look over at the corner of my eye and I can hear the people at the aid station clapping and rooting us on, I keep looking at it out of the corner of my eye and the thoughts of “What if…”, “what if you can?” began to run through my head, I roll my eyes up to the trail and I put my head down and tell Ken, “Let’s keep going”.
It was at this point, I knew if I could get through the next 4 miles to that aid station, that the next aid station was 3.5 miles away, then 2.38miles to the finish.
Ken starts to run the downhills and, I somehow begin to run behind him. I managed to delete all the history on my watch so that I can monitor the mileage. As we started running the down hills, I look down at my watch and notice that we are going at a 9:00-9:20 pace at mile 28 into this race. I’ve only been running for about 8 months, and, for me to have this pace at almost 30 miles into a race that I’ve now quit, twice, was nothing short of a miracle.
I thought “where are you getting this from?, how are you doing this right now? Well, who gives a sh* how you’re finding this”
Can you take another step?
Can you get to the next aid station? NO, that’s ridiculous?
Can you keep this pace? No, well, what can you do? Well, I can take another step, then take another step, then just keep up with Ken, just see how far you can make it”
Ken and I ran for maybe 1.5-2 miles and then my frigg’n head lamp died and Ken’s light is going dark. I’m tripping. I roll my ankle again and Ken is making sure that I’m just taking one step after another. We were using the dim light from his light as well as the moonlight. We begin to start climbing the hills again, which meant, we were now crawling back up to Pipe aid station. I tell Ken that I’m going to probably just stuff my face with food and water and for him to catch me because I don’t know if I can keep this pace.
We get to the aid station and the crew there is awesome. They tell us to sit down and rest and they’ll get what we need. The guys give me food and water and a guy at the aid station (Brian) loaned me a flash light to use to get through the rest of the race. They ask me how I’m feeling and I tell them I’ve been trying to quit for the last 12 miles but Ken wouldn’t let me. They laugh and tell me, well, you’re less than 6 miles to the finish, and it’s way too late to quit now.
Ken takes off without me and I began the quick climb out of the aid station and catch up to Ken. We hike for maybe 20 minutes and Ken says “okay dude, it’s down hill, let’s run for a little bit” and again, I say…”let’s go”. We start running.
I look down at my watch and see we are doing 10:00-10:20’s minute pace and I cannot believe that I’m able to keep this pace or that I’m able to continue. The wave of emotions began to hit me. Ken slows down to hike and I tell him “hey man, I’m going to see how long I can keep this” and he says “yeah dude, go for it” and I did.
I started to run. I came to sections of the course that just a few hours ago, I was barely able to crawl down and I was jumping down them now! I was keeping really good pace. I started getting really emotional at this point because, just several hours ago, I quit on myself. I hit a rough patch, wall of pain and I said to myself, no more, you can’t do anymore, yet, here I am, with a couple of encouraging words from a guy I didn’t know, I’m able to keep going, I’m able to keep pushing and I’m doing so, better than I could have ever expected.
I’m breathing well, I’m keeping a good pace and I’m thinking if I can just keep this up, I’m going to finish and I’m going to finish strong. I come to a switch back and see some reflectors up ahead. HEY!, I know those reflectors, It’s Rich, the guy that was pulling me back at the very beginning of the 2nd loop. I tell him thank you for the encouraging words and fly past him, he yells “Man you’re looking good now!!!” and I smile and I keep chugging away. I passed another gentleman and told him he was an inspiration. I’ve seen this guy at Cactus Rose and several other Ultras and he just keeps on trucking.
I look down at my watch, 3.30miles, the aid station is coming up…holy sh*, you made it. I get to the aid station and drink and eat some pringles. I sit down for a few minutes because my feet were in so much pain and I just needed to rest them up a second so I could stomp out the next 2miles. I hear some rumbling in the bushes and it’s my boy Ken, and I say, “Just 2 more and a skip” and he says “Dude, you’re flying!” and he takes off.
I put my shoes back on and get back on the trail to catch up with Ken. Ken had a really good hiking/running pace and I was fighting just to keep up. At one point, I basically gassed out and couldn’t muster the energy to keep running, but I was going to keep up the fast pace. Then I heard someone coming up behind me, a woman, Darlene. She was super cheery and so happy to almost be done with the trail and her vibe just sucked me in, and, here we go again, I’m running once more. I could care less about our pace, I just knew we were running at a good clip. I could hear the people at the finish line rooting on finishers and talking to one another. I knew these switch backs looked all too familiar to me. I knew then, it was probably 200 yards to the finish.
Darlene and I share a quick laugh as I told her I couldn’t believe I’m finishing this race after quitting on myself twice, she said, “Quitting wasn’t for you today and I’m proud of you”…
We crossed the finish line in 10 Hours 4 Minutes.
One of the first people I saw at the finish line was Rob and he came over to give me a hug and I couldn’t help but let it all out. I started to cry because I just couldn’t believe what I just accomplished. I immediately told everyone what happened. I told them that I quit on myself, and that I tried so hard to give up but something didn’t let me. Something pushed me to keep going. Then Rob said something to me, that quickly reminded me why we were friends….”Well Jose, you suck at quitting”
I get asked by a lot of friends and strangers, “Why?” “Why would anyone run for so long?”
I can never really answer this question. I just know running Ultras, are the greatest testament to life. It teaches you a lesson.
In every aspect of life, we run into obstacles or run into areas where you just want to give up or quit or say to yourself, maybe, another day. It’s in these moments where if you just dig a little deeper, and grab that extra bit of life out of you, to push you out of the darkness, you’ll find a whole new you that you never knew existed. It’s only then, you’ll realize that if you can apply this resounding resolve into everything you do daily, you’ll be that much better.
Life does give you only one opportunity, and it’s to define your purpose, to define what you will do with this one opportunity, life, are you going to sit on the cooler and quit, or get your ass up, and accomplish something amazing?
I’d like to thank all of my friends and family for their support & to all of the other crazies that make me look normal.
A very, very special thank you to Kenneth Jantzen, a stranger that gave me more inspiration in myself, then he could ever imagine.