A Hard Day’s Night – 05.17.2013


May 25, 2013 by trailcats

(by Harley)

Is this the hardest thing you’ve ever done? On a 55-mile trail race (run/hike/limp) with ~19,000 feet of vertical gain, lasting 19.5 hours, including a rainy night on a primitive trail…it’s fair to have that conversation.

It wasn’t the distance…this came a couple of months after our first 50-mile trail race at Lake Martin–~10 hours to finish (8.5 for Holly) including walking the last few cranky miles. It wasn’t the wet shoes…the last few 50k trail races (Cheaha and SweetH2O) had river crossings and wet trails for most of the 30+ miles. I was getting cocky about being able to run in wet shoes without incident. But somehow on the Cruel Jewel what seemed manageable became miserable.

There were the normal challenges of a long run (and hike and then trudge), and both Holly and I weren’t bothered by some of the chronic aches we’d been recovering from. Holly had even rested for about 10 days before the run to let her possible stress fracture calm down. My IT never even chirped, though I did fight off a calf cramp at mile 17. After stretching it out I was fine, if not worried for the next 35+ miles.

My problem was foot agony. Steep descents make for sensitive toenails, including several that will turn black and fall off in the next week or so. All-night rain led to wet soggy feet and some major blisters. A cool blister I sometimes get is in a crevice down the middle of my feet as my wide feet bunch up in too-narrow shoes. In hindsight, I realize better preparation could prevent the foot agony (ie change shoes at drop bag, double socks), but the last 20 miles were extremely painful. Each step hurt, and stopping to rest was pointless since the pain wasn’t going anywhere.

Gnarly Harley feet (photo by a stunned wife)

Gnarly Harley feet (photo by a stunned wife)

Holly was right there with me in agony. She was willing to quit at some of the earlier aid stations, but the friendly volunteers gently nudged her back out onto the trail. We were falling apart, and moving really slow. The night went much faster than I expected, since it took longer and longer to cover ground to the next aid stations. Holly pointed out that at 19 hours it would be twice as long as she’s ever been moving at one time.

We’ve each been in more pain, and pushed ourselves hard before, but something about a slow, agonizing trudge makes it feel like the hardest thing we’ve ever done, in terms of the most sustained perseverance to overcome physical challenges at one time.

With this definition, it was an easy call for Holly as the hardest thing she’s ever done. I had to think about a couple of similar trials. My 50-mile rim-to-rim-to-rim Grand Canyon trudge had similar foot agony and took 20 hours, too. Last summer I had to carry a friend’s overweight backpack in addition to my overweight backpack when he got altitude sickness in the High Sierras and we had to scramble down the mountain to the car.

These painful trudges make me think of the Bataan Death March, or the forced marches from the Nazi concentration camps. This overnight trudge was painful but insignificant compared to what many others endure. My suffering was a voluntary weekend getaway, with the finish line reward of a pizza buffet, cold brews by the fire pit, and no alarm to wake us up when we finally passed out.

And after all that, I still think the hardest thing I’ve ever done is not wetting myself looking for a public restroom after an afternoon of imbibing at the town square in Sienna, Italy. Are there really no bathrooms in the entire town?

What is the hardest thing you’ve done? What do you do to avoid blisters?

7 thoughts on “A Hard Day’s Night – 05.17.2013

  1. Matt K. says:

    i think that picture could be used to cure anyone who has a foot fetish.

  2. frankcueballadams says:

    Fascinating well-written study in masochism.
    the hardest thing I’ve done? that could be the time I fought off a pack of hungry wolverines and an angry mama porcupine in a hail storm with both feet clamped in a bear trap and my right arm pinned behind my back by a snarling wildebeest, and feeling naked in a town without pity.

  3. Jim B says:

    Harley, that foot photo is rough! Each challenge is different, eh? I remember coming out of the canyon after a long day doing R2R2R thinking getting up bright Angel was the hardest thing I’d ever done. But time fades the pain and now it doesn’t seem so hard! Same will happen with the Jewel. You will be dying to go back to the DRT before you know it!

    • trailcats says:

      You’re right, Jim. We’re 3 weeks past Cruel Jewel, and did the DC 50k last week. Still not dying to go back to the DRT, but the pain has faded…but still vivid memories of garlic grilled cheese sandwiches.

  4. Warren Spradlin says:

    Hey Harley. It was great to ultra jog through the night with you and Holly. You guys were great company and I do not think I would have gotten through the night without you guys. I very likely would have gotten lost on those couple of clear areas we passed through on the DRT around 3am to 4am, where we couldn’t see the trail markers across the clearing. Thank you for going through all that with me and for putting up with my bitching at 4 am when all I wanted to do was cuss at Willy. You two are super patient and I appreciate your kindness. I was amazed at how my negative thoughts just lifted once daylight came and I could see to actually run again and not just trudge along.

    So, was the CJ55 painful? For me, it was probably more mentally painful than physically painful. I didn’t have as much physical pain as instances of fatigue, where some muscles were just giving up, like my calf muscles on those extreme uphills. I found myself going sideways like a crab on those at the end LOL. The most painful thing for me was the mental anguish in the dark, fog, rain and dropping temperatures when we could see the trail to make real time, and having that go on for between 6 to 8 hours straight. My body and instinct was saying run, but my mind was constantly saying be careful and hold back so you don’t break your fool leg and get stranded and be in real trouble. I could kick my own ass for not having that tiny, folded up space blanket in my utility belt cause if I had been alone that could have been exactly what I needed in a bad situation. Or kick my ass for forgetting my jacket at the drop bag cause I still felt warm then. I was not thinking straight at the drop bag.

    I have had very painful instances in life, especially when I had my left elbow bent backwards in high school wrestling. Anytime something is physically painful I think back to that and shrug it off. Little in life is more painful than having a main joint bent backwards, and I have bit through my lip when i collided with a guy while running base during softball, and passed a kidney stone a couple years ago that felt like some minor back pain and having to pee all the time. So the CJ 55 was not as physically painful as it was physically and mentally demanding for me.

    I didn’t have any toe or foot damage, not one toenail bent or bruised or any blisters, and I attribute that to the Masochists being a perfect fit for me. I also tie them so tight that my foot does not slide around in them at all, keeping the heel all the way seated in the back of the shoe. Neither did I have any chafed areas, and that has taken some trial and error on fitting the clothes. I have found that tight, proper fitting, smooth tech fabric clothes to be keep on that, and eliminate extra loose fabric if possible. You pack or belt should not moved either, and fit tight to prevent chafing.

    I have gone on too long. I hope I get to run with you and Holly soon. You two are great, wonderful people.


    Warren Spradlin

    • trailcats says:

      I just posted about the 50k Holly and I did last week in DC. I remember us talking all night about how fun it would be to do a runnable 50k while we were slogging through the Cruel Jewel. Well, we got our wish–it felt pretty nice to finish the race running last week after our slog.

      Can’t wait to hear about your next exploits.

  5. always i used to read smaller articles or reviews which
    also clear their motive, and that is also happening with this piece of writing which I am reading here.

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Holly & Harley

A couple of trail running lovebirds who have their minds set on going the distance!




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