I still remember the day we made the pact. It was last June 3rd at dinner the night before the Forge Hells Hills race in Ruston. Kristin and I said that we’d run the 2012 Rouge Orleans together as a 2-person team. I don’t think either of us realized what we were in for.
126.2 miles. A marathon plus a hundred miles. On paper, it sounds absolutely crazy. Saying it aloud doesn’t make it sound any better. But we made a pact. The two of us were going to cover that distance on the Mississippi River levee from downtown Baton Rouge to Audubon Park in New Orleans, somehow. We said we would try to do it in 24 hours. But in reality, we had no idea how we’d feel and how long it would take us. There was no official training plan. It just consisted of running a lot. Long runs on back to back days. Trail runs on hilly terrain. Crazy running streaks. All the miles running were our training plans.
Finally, the moment of truth came. All the talk, all the preparation came to a head on Saturday morning. We had a car full of supplies, food and gear and a willing driver, Kristin’s boyfriend, Devin, who was at least as crazy as we were for attempting it. The cold front had come through. It was cloudy, windy, and cold to start. I say it was cold and windy, but we would learn what cold and windy REALLY was later on.
Our plan was that Kristin would start and take the odd numbered legs, and I’d run the even numbered legs. At 8 AM, the USS Kidd fired its cannon, and Kristin took off. It was a bit anticlimactic for me, since it would be a couple of hours before I was going to start my run. So we hopped in the car and drove. We got to the exchange around 9:15, and my wife and girls met me there to see me off. I waited in the warm vehicle, pondering what I’d gotten myself into. Soon enough, I saw Kristin rounding the bend, and I hopped out of the car to get ready to run. A few goodbye hugs and kisses from my family, and Kristin was there to hand off the all-important and all powerful pink sequined slap bracelet, courtesy of my youngest daughter.
I wore my New Balance Minimus shoes for this leg, because I knew there was a 2-mile section that I’d have to run on the sidehill part of the levee in the grass. Those shoes would keep me closer to the ground and ultimately be more stable. The rocks on that section weren’t very bad either, so they were a good choice. I ran the first few miles faster than I should have with a runner from a 3-man team, at about an 8:30 pace, but slowed down after he made an exchange with his teammate. From there, I was just over 9 minute miles, finishing the 14.9 mile leg right at a 9:00 pace. The sun was out, which helped counteract the cold and wind for this leg. A quick slap bracelet exchange and Kristin was off, while I would refuel and change clothes.
Devin and I would be unable to follow Kristin on her second leg since it went through Carville and River Road doesn’t follow the levee there. I planned to go eat some pecans, but this sign had me questioning that.
We got word from another team that she was starting to struggle with some IT band issues. But thanks to Justin Andrews, crew member for Merideth Dolhare’s solo effort, for getting her all fixed up between her second and third legs. My second leg was supposed to be 14.5 miles. I hit a bad spot mentally about six miles in, with the enormity of the task at hand started to hit me. But I was able to push those thoughts away and get back to the present. I came across several horse riders who gave me words of encouragement. A 3 minute walk break at the 9.5 mile mark paid dividends and I was able to run strong to the 14.5 mile mark where the next checkpoint was. Only, nobody was there. Only thing to do was keep running. It was a mental challenge as I had been telling myself only a few more minutes. And with no checkpoint in sight, I could only push ahead. Finally, I rounded a bend to see an aid station and a group of vans. It was an extra 1.25 miles, so that leg was 15.75 miles. I had already run nearly a 50K, and still had 3 legs left. The New Balance 110’s were perfect on the levee here, because they were light, yet protective with the rock plate.
I finished that leg a bit after 5:00, so darkness was approaching. Kristin was feeling much better and took off on her leg while I again changed and refueled with pita and hummus. Devin and I found a restaurant/lounge called Hymel’s, so what better way to refuel than with a pint of Abita Amber. I avoided the temptation of fried seafood, though it smelled delicious. We made our way to the next checkpoint, waited a bit, then decided to drive backwards to see if we could spot her. And we spotted her quickly, as she was only a mile from the checkpoint. I had to quickly get ready, we made the exchange and I was off again.
I started this leg with a long sleeve tech shirt and a windproof running jacket, thinking that with the darkness and the wind, it would get cold quickly. Two miles later, I was shedding the jacket because I was sweating. I made it through 4 miles without much difficulty, and then walked a bit. From that point forward, I struggled to run even a mile at a time without having to stop. My right hip was hurting, and I started to cramp a bit. At mile 9, the wind took its toll, and I had to put the wind jacket back on, this time for good. After a good bit of on again, off again running, I determined that my form was getting sloppy. My right leg was swinging out during my stride and I wasn’t picking my foot up. Once I concentrated on my form, my hip pain went away, and I was able to finish the last 2 miles of the leg strong. Again, this leg was 0.4 miles long and my total was 13.5 miles, but it was great to see a friendly face at Mark Wieneke’s aid station. He made me a fantastic grilled cheese sandwich and I had a little ginger ale. I was beginning to feel the effects of running so much, and getting down the levee to the car was a struggle. This was by far my most challenging leg, and I really struggled. Total mileage after this leg stood at 44.16.
Kristin ran her fourth leg very well. I refueled with some more pita and hummus, and then about 30 minutes before I was to start running again I had a can of V8 juice, hoping its sodium and potassium levels would keep the cramps at bay. Unfortunately, my stomach couldn’t handle it, and I was throwing it right back up. It was not a good omen to start the fourth leg. I was glad I had a ginger chew with me to keep the nausea away, and I was OK after taking that. It was unbelievably cold out at this point, so I put on a fleece half zip over my long sleeve shirt, then the wind jacket on top.
I started that fourth leg on some hard packed dirt, which will be the site of a paved section in the near future. It was easy running there, and then I hit a paved section for a while. Eventually, I got back on the gravel and dirt, much to my legs’ relief. I was taking things slowly, trying to avoid a repeat of the hip issues that derailed my third leg. I got to the Bonnet Carre spillway, and got to run alongside the bays that 9 months ago were opened to let water from the Mississippi gush into Lake Ponchartrain. It was also a brief respite from the wind, as it was not on the levee. Finally, I was back on the levee and a short time later made it to my checkpoint. My Garmin had long since died, so I believe this leg was 10.1 miles and I ran it right at two hours. Total mileage at this point was 54.26.
I felt better after finishing this leg. We followed Kristin down the levee on her final leg to make sure she was faring OK. Her fingers were frozen to the point that two pair of gloves and hand warmers in each hand did little to help. But she continued to run a steady pace, stopping only briefly to walk and drink water. I was doing a little math in my head when she started at 2:20 AM, knowing that we had roughly 25 miles to go and that 5:40 would get us in under 24 hours. As she progressed and finished her final leg at 4:30, I knew we would do it, barring catastrophe on my final leg.
The vehicle was going to be away from me on the levee until the next checkpoint, 6.5 miles later. The remainder of the race was all paved, and I was moving. I hit that 6.5 mile mark in about 50 minutes, which was the fastest section I ran the entire race. I eventually hit a wall of wind that slowed me up considerably. I was finally starting to feel the effects of it all, so I slowed up a little. It seemed to take forever for the sun to rise, and I was even wondering if we would end up finishing in the dark. I finally got off the levee and crossed the railroad tracks to head towards Audubon Park and the finish. Kristin met me for the final loop around Audubon Park and the uneven running over roots was pounding my tired legs. We approached the oak alley that marked the final stretch, where Devin and our biker, Jeff Crow met us to run through the finish. I turned the video camera on my phone on to document the finish. We crossed the finish line in 22 hours and 47 minutes, give or take a few seconds.
As much as we wanted to hang around at the finish, it was just so cold, we had to get to some warmth. It was a blessing that Kristin’s parents had stayed in a bed and breakfast just blocks from the finish, so we were able to take a lukewarm shower (hey, it was better than no shower) and get into some clean clothes. It was funny to see us all passed out crossways on the bed, taking a brief nap as well. But I think all of us woke up at the same time, starving for a hot meal. We hit Camelia Grill for some well-deserved grub, then made it back to the finish festival to see other teams come in and hang around for the awards ceremony. And come to find out, we were the first place 2-person team. So we set a course record. Yeah, it’s only year 2 of the Rouge Orleans, but we still have the fastest 2-person team in the history of this race. So that’s a pretty cool thought.
I can’t begin to describe the feeling of accomplishment. This run was over twice as long as any run I had previously done, even though it was broken up. I ran a total of 68.65 miles from 10:00 Saturday morning until 6:45 Sunday morning. Kristin and I had set a goal of 24 hours, but knowing that the 2011 2-person team winning time was over 25 hours, it seemed unlikely. But not only did we beat our goal time, we shattered it by over an hour. Neither of us knew what we’d be capable of running, or even if we’d be capable of running, with tired legs and zero sleep. But it was surprisingly easy to keep going. I hate to minimalize it, but it was easier to run 68 miles than it sounded on paper.
What’s even more surprising is my recovery. My quads were hurting on Sunday afternoon. Getting out of the car after the ride home was difficult. I hobbled straight to the sofa and plopped down. But I eventually got up and moving and didn’t feel too badly, save for being sleepy. I fell asleep at about 8:45 that night and slept straight through until 6:30 Monday morning. My first steps out of bed were creaky, but not as bad as I feared. At work, I made sure to get up and walk around a good bit. Going down stairs was painful, but no more so than after last month’s Louisiana Marathon. My feet and ankles are a bit swollen, and it took them a while to loosen up on Monday night’s recovery run. But yes, I did run about 1.3 miles Monday night. And today, my legs feel great. They feel almost back to normal. I’ll get another short run in on Tuesday, then try to slowly work my way back up to longer runs. The next 2 ½ weeks will be a combination of recovery and taper, because I’ve got the Mississippi 50 miler on March 3rd.
I’m so incredibly proud of both of us for finishing such an awesome journey. A huge thanks to Devin Kahn for driving the support vehicle and keeping us going. Jeff Beck did an amazing job putting this entire race together, and for that I’m so thankful. And a big thanks to Kristin McKinley for running this thing with me. I know we both had our doubts about it since that day in June, but we both pushed each other and did what we didn’t know was possible. And I’m happy to say I was a part of her best birthday ever. And one more big thank you to my wife, Teresa, who puts up with my crazy race schedule, long training runs, and missed soccer games so I can do this. I couldn’t do it without your love and understanding.