Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Getting ready for a New Year!

Did you have a good year in 2010?  Are you sorry to see it go...or are you happy to put it behind you and move on?  For me, I'm ready for a fresh start.  2010 was a tough year, but I also had some very good memories to reflect upon.

In 2010, I went on a great backcountry ski trip to British Columbia, paced Bruce G. at Western States, and paced the Goat in his first 100 miler in Vermont.  I watched my daughter graduate college, and watched my Granddaugher turn 1.  I met Charlotte in June, and we have been very lucky to share the last 6 months together. 

There has been stress and turmoil along the way with work and family, but who doesn't have something to fret about?  Since the accident, I have had my share of down moments, but I think I dwell less on the little stuff.  There was a panic on Christmas Eve when my Secret Santa gift could not be located.  It did not bother me in the least.  I said, "After you survive a 100 foot fall, a missing Secret Santa gift just doesn't seem that important."

I've been very fortunate to have the better part of two weeks off to end the year, and have tried to make the most of it in terms of the rehab.  I have made it to the gym nearly everyday and am routinely riding an hour on the bike and doing some upper body and core work.  Stretching feels great and my range of motion continues to improve.  Today, I managed to put in 17.4 miles on the bike in one hour which is a new record for me. Woohoo!  It really feels good to be on the road to recovery.  Sure, I used to run that distance routinely, but it's a new game now. 

Tim Ferriss, the author of the 4 Hour Work Week, released his new book, The 4 Hour Body (capitalizing on his first success I suppose).  Anyway, he sent me two free copies for volunteering to help with his book.  He didn't need me since he had the likes of Dean K. and Scott Jurek to lean on, but getting two complimentary copies of this voluminous work was very cool.  I think the book is over 400 pages and chock full of interesting insights and tips.  It just hit #1 on the NY Times bestseller list, so Tim is a happy camper.  Anyway, it has me stoked about getting my diet back on track and getting my body back in motion.  It's worth a look for anyone since he covers such a wide range of topics...check it out.

My old climbing partner, Alex, called today.  After exchanging holiday updates, he said he wanted to climb with me again and mentioned a trip being organized for Red Rocks.  I was psyched!  I'm not sure I'll be ready in time for that trip, but it felt good to fantasize about it for a few minutes.  Sure seems a lot more doable now than 4, 8, or 12 weeks ago.  I will be back before too long.

After talking to Alex, I was so excited that I decided to do some push-ups.  Go figure!  It may seem simple, but I haven't kneeled since the accident.  Frankly, it was terrifying, but I managed to kneel down, stretch my quads, and then crank out about 20 push-ups....not bad.  Getting up was interesting, but I managed OK.

While I'm improving almost daily, it is frustrating not being able to walk without crutches.  Goat and Charlotte took turns clearing my driveway due to the storm.  The snow kept drifting into the driveway, so it required multiple efforts.  I am grateful and humbled.  I just wish I could do it myself.  I understand why older folks fear losing their independence.  I'm glad it won't be snowing again for at least a week.  I hope to be off these crutches within 30 days.

Each day brings a new adventure.  It's a great time to be alive.  If things are stressing you out, don't sweat it.  If there's an adventure you have been putting off, go for it.  Life is too short. 

Happy New Year!  May 2011 be a great year for all of us!


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Non-unions and re-unification

They have a special term for it....when your bone refuses to grow back together.  It is called a "non-union". There are a few other things that could use this term as well.  Instead of a divorce, it could be called a "non-union".  Sounds better, eh?  Anyway, my x-rays were looking very "non-union-esque", so I went to see the "non-union" specialist.  Can you believe there is a specialty in "non-unions"?

The Doc looked at the x-ray, took a measurement, and said, "It's OK."  OK, what do you mean by OK?, I asked.  OK, like good or OK, it could be better?  Basically, my bones are put together at a 10 degree angle from my hip to my knee, and it should be in a straight line.  He said, It should be zero, but 10 degrees is OK.

OK, Great.  I have a rod and two screws holding me together, two bones that refuse to grow together, and the bones happen to be offset at a 10 degree angle.  What do we do know?  The Doc said my strength and range of motion were very good and I could start riding the bike and swimming, but no more than 50% weight on the leg until it heals further.  He indicated that something happens around 13 weeks and good healing should result.

OK, I told him I wanted to run another 100 miler and he didn't say anything.  Nice!  I guess we don't have data for how one performs with a 10 degree offset in a 100 mile run.  Looks like I'm in unchartered waters....a somewhat familiar feeling.

He told me not to bother with Physical Therapy because my fitness level is where it needs to be and I know how to get myself working again.  I think he gave me a little too much credit, but I figured I could start off on my own and see how it went...

After a few days of walking with 25-50% weight on the leg, I was ready to hit the gym.  The walking had helped improve the blood flow, so the swelling and color improved.   I was hopeful that the gym workouts would speed up recovery even more.  I sat on a recumbent bike and tried turning the crank.  At first it was stiff as you might imagine The knee was the big issue.  I felt no pain in the fracture zone.   Encouraged, I pedaled for 30 minutes...gradually increasing the resistance to level 5 (very little resistance).  I felt good afterwards with very little pain.  Good first data point.  The workout was not much from a cardio standpoint, but it was  something  for the leg.  The horse is out of the gate...

The next day I wanted to see how far I could go... I wanted to see if I could do 1 hour.  30 minutes seemed like child's play and I needed to get in a decent workout.  I also wanted to sit on a real bike...not the recumbent.  It was tough getting on the bike seat, but I was fine once my feet were on the pedals.  I rode for 1 hour with minimal pain and broke a slight sweat.  I did some stretching and light strength training afterwards.  All systems seemed fine...Data point number 2.

On Monday and Tuesday, I did 45 minutes on the bike before work and made slight improvements on the resistance level each time.  My leg felt good, and I was becoming a regular at the gym.  My crutches brought a lot of attention and I had to explain my story to enquiring minds.

This morning I was determined to get the endorphines flowing.  I wanted to get the stress buster workout  I needed so much.  My goal was to do another hour on the bike, stretch, and do some core and upper body work.  I talked with my new friend who reads the Wall Street Journal while pedaling away and chatting to anyone within earshot.  I cranked as hard as I dared and put down the equivalent of 16 miles in an hour...not bad considering the circumstances.  I actually got a decent sweat going toward the end, so I was pleased.  Both knees were a little tender, so I need to keep an eye on it.  The good news was no significant pain in the fracture area.

My range of motion is improving and the knee seems to be improving everyday.  I'm even wondering if I may be able to avoid surgery on the knee.  We'll find out soon enough.

I remember running last winter and thinking how I could not live without running.  I couldn't imagine how I could cope without it.  I have been running regularly since the age of 12, and the thought of not running is not one that I care to hold close to me.  It feels good to be working on my fitness again, and I desperately want to get rid of these crutches.  I've gained weight and know the cycling is not enough.  It's a start though and I need to keep it all in perspective.  I've made daily progress for the past 12 weeks, and just need to be patient.

It feels like I could walk without crutches.   On several occasions, I have messed up with the crutches and essentially put full weight on the leg.  I haven't felt any pain as a result, so I find it encouraging.  If this continues and the knee does not require surgery, I could be back to running in the near future.  I know I need to be patient and not get ahead of myself, but it sure is nice to be moving in the right direction.

It's been tough for nearly 3 months, but life is slowly getting back to normal.  The daily gains are small, but it's also amazing to see the progress over the past 12 weeks.

I am very grateful to be getting another chance.

Hope you all have a safe, warm, and loving holiday!



Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Waiting Game

I haven't blogged in almost 4 weeks.  My apologies for those of you who enjoy the posts and thank you for the kind and generous comments.  It's been a bit of a struggle...this waiting game.

I went to my Ortho after 6 weeks fully expecting to get the green light for rehab and weighting the leg.  After all, I do everything on or ahead of schedule, so I was not prepared for his news.  When he said, "Mr. Nelson, please come take a look at your x-ray", I could tell from his voice that the news was not good.  When I looked at the x-ray, I nearly passed out.  My head started spinning when I saw the uneven break with the rod going through it.  "How the heck is that going to heal?", I thought.  "Now I know why I have a bump on my thigh,  and look at the size of the screws!  No wonder I can't sleep on my left side!  I am put together like Frankenstein!"  The doctor kept talking and showing me how the bone had to grow back together, but it was information and sensory overload.  I did not understand how this could be possible.  I thought the two pieces of bone would fit together like 2 puzzle pieces and the parting line would eventually go away.  The fall would just be an interesting story to tell at my next race or trip to the crag.  Reality started to set in as he told me, "4 more weeks with no weight".  He may as well have punched me in the gut.  I was definitely in more shock than when the accident occurred.

I begged him to let me spin on a bike.  He said, "Maybe you could try swimming, but be really careful getting in and out of the pool."  Great!  I'm not a great swimmer with two good legs.  The thought of trying it with a broken leg terrifies me even now.  I have yet to try it.  I'm afraid of slipping at poolside and taking a bad fall.

I left that office in a blur.  I am Ultra Steve...King of the World and Master of the Universe!  How could this happen?  Didn't my bones get the memo?  We believe in miracles...we bounce back from anything...we leap tall buildings in a single bound....and we survive 10 story falls without any permanent damage.  I talked to my leg, "Get with the program, dammit!  This was not part of the plan."  The Doctor was supposed to say, "Wow, I've never seen anyone heal this fast.  You can hardly tell there was a break"."

"OK, Chief, let's re-group!", I said as I sat in the Milkwagon (my newish Honda Element).   "You can do this...4 weeks is nothing in the grand scheme of things.  Now that you know what it looks like, you can visualize the bone filling in like a bead of weld."  Yeah, that's the ticket!  ... I drove off in a daze.

It's been a tough 9 weeks (3 weeks since the dreaded news).  December 2 was the two month anniversary of my fall.  I'm back to work full-time.  I'm sleeping better and my mobility and strength have improved.  My foot still swells up everyday and it gets ice cold from the lack of circulation.  I've gained weight and I eat like a horse.  My home is nearly back to normal.  I cut off my cable TV for fear I might get addicted to crap.  I miss the sports, but am more productive without it.  I'm grateful for all the help from family and friends.  It truly is humbling.

In 6 days I will go back to the Dr. for another set of x-rays.  I'm praying for the green light to start full rehab and put some weight on the leg.  I'm terrified of the idea of using crutches in the snow.  I've tried to fill my free time productively, but I want my life back.

I appreciate any thoughts, prayers, or energy you can send in my direction.  I'm doing OK, and I know it will come in time, but every little bit helps.

I will run and climb again...it's just a matter of when...

All the best to all of you!  Be safe while you prepare for the holidays!  Steve

P.S. - Here's a shout out to my buddy, EuroMan.  He leaves for Haiti today.  He will be jumping (parachuting) into a remote village with medical supplies and assistance.  It is a dangerous jump with a very small landing zone.  He will be there for 2 weeks providing assistance and trying to build an airstrip for a plane to land.  This is his second trip to Haiti since the disaster.  It will be his most challenging mission, and we will not have contact with him until his mission is complete.  Please keep him in your thoughts and prayers.  He is a true superhero!


Tuesday, November 9, 2010


I went to a wedding this past weekend for one of my cousins.  It's always a good time when our extended family celebrates together.  It was fun seeing everyone!  Of course, I was bombarded with questions about the accident followed by "Thank God you are still with us" type comments.  I don't mind talking about it, but it's hard to convey the details amidst short attention spans and music blasting in the background.  Nevertheless, it was great to receive so many well wishes, and I was even able to pull off a few dances with Charlotte.  I received a few complements on the blog and encouragement to keep it up, so here I am...

How do you keep a running, climbing, adventure sport blog going when you are sitting on your butt rehabing your broken body.  What is there to talk about?  I guess the real intent of this blog has not only been to document and share my adventures, but to also serve as a source of inspiration.  So, how to inspire from the couch?  People have been amazed at my progress and say I am an inspiration.  I am humbled as I haven't done anything yet.   OK, I danced a bit on one leg :-)

I go back to the Dr. on Friday.  I expect that the x-rays will show the bone healing properly, and he will tell me to start putting  some weight on the leg.  This would be the best news possible.  Then, I can start moving forward with physical therapy and an evaluation of the knee before Christmas.

The last time I broke a bone in my body was when I was 5 years old.  We were on vacation in Florida.  My cousin decided to practice Judo on me and broke my collar bone.  His sisters were at the wedding and we reminisced about it.

I've set a goal of walking normally by Christmas.  I know that may be a stretch, but...that's me!  Another goal is to run the Reach the Beach Relay with my team, the Red Eye Runners, in September.  This may be a bit of a stretch as well depending on the knee, the hardware inside me, and the heels.  Nevertheless, I'd like to be with my team that weekend.  I watched the DVD from this year's run, and am so happy to have been a part of it for the past 6 years.

I want to climb again in 2011, and would like to rope up for another classic route.

I want to do an ultramarathon in 2012 and eventually run another 100 miler.

Awhile ago I told Goat that I wanted another Top 10 finish at Vermont 100 when I turned 50 which is 3.5 years from now.  It didn't seem like an outlandish goal at the time.  A bit challenging, but not outlandish.  Now, it seems like a bit of a stretch to say the least...

It's nice to have goals and dreams.  I don't know how important any of these are to me.  Frankly, I'm more concerned about my family than anything right now.  I know, though, that I need to be physically healthy and mentally strong to help myself and others, and running and climbing are a means to that end.  Even if I can't meet the goals outlined above, a nice weekend run will be great.  Making fresh tracks on some steep powder will be awesome.  Dancing the tango until dawn or sailing in the tropics would make my day.  Building a playscape for my Grandchildren would be cool too!

Now, there's something to think about...

Have a great week everyone!  Here's to some good news on Friday!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Progress: Man's distinctive mark alone

It's been a month and two days since the accident.  I still have 8 more days until I see the Doc again and anxiously await the x-ray results.  If the bone is healing according to plan, I can start putting weight on the leg.  Wooohooo!  It's the little things in life...or is it the big things I once took for granted?

When I look back over the past month, I'm amazed at my progress.  It's hard to see on a daily basis sometimes, but I've noticed some major steps recently.

You may think of some of these as TMI (too much information), but it's my blog... so read on at your own risk...

When I first came home from the hospital, I was relieved to see the handicapped accessory for the toilet.  There was no way I could consider sitting down without it.  Even with the handrails, it was extremely painful to put any pressure on my left thigh and buttocks.  Over the past couple days, I haven't needed the handicap accessory.  Progress is a beautiful thing!

The first 4 weeks, I slept on a twin bed in my dining room to avoid the stairs to the second floor.  I could barely move around with a walker and often needed a wheelchair.  Now, I boogie around on crutches and can go up and down a full flight of stairs with them.  A couple weeks ago, I was psyched to go up the stairs on my butt...progress is a beautiful thing.

People thought I was crazy to consider driving, but I am doing it routinely now.  My "new" Honda Element has been great, and I look forward to having some fun with it once I can use 2 legs.

Most of the scabs from my scrapes and cuts are gone, and my knee is almost down to normal size.  I can bend my knee a bit past 90 degrees.  It gets better each day...

Sleeping has been a challenge.  At first, I could only sleep on my back with my knee slightly bent.  Now, I can sleep some on my right side, and this morning I even spent a few moments on my left side (still very scary though).  One of these days, I will sleep through the night...

I've gone to the mailbox and ventured to the basement to do laundry.  I've figured out how to carry things from room to room with crutches, and feel more independent each day.

My energy and comfort levels have improved.

My mental state has fluctuated up and down.  The lack of an endorphin fix on a regular basis probably has something to do with it.  In addition, I feel a bit out of the loop in many ways.  I'm starting to phase back into the working world, so this should help some.  With the physical progress, I know the mental will come along as well.

I've had time to contemplate the future and have not experienced an epiphany of any sort.  I've tried to work on a "bucket list", but no major breakthroughs there.  I've been fortunate to experience more than most individuals have in a lifetime, so will be content to share adventures with my family and friends going forward.

I guess I feel less inhibition now.  I say what I want to say regardless of what others think.

At our regular pizza gathering  last night, I read a poem that I wrote for a friend a couple years ago.  He had turned 70 at the time, and he loves poetry.  It was, more or less, a ballad about his life.  It was filled with adventure as well as examples of leading a good life (or should I say leading a good life by example).  As the words were leaving my mouth, I wondered if I have lead a good life.  I've certainly accomplished a lot, but have I lead a life of integrity, love, laughter, and generosity?   Something to think about and always an opportunity for progress.

I guess my "bucket" list isn't really about doing "things" and visiting places, but more about progressing and leaving my mark as part of the community.  These are the things I think about...

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Comeback begins...

All things considered, I am a very lucky guy!  How many people survive a 100 foot ground fall with no major permanent injuries.  My prognosis looks pretty good for a full recovery.  It's been 3 weeks since the accident, and I have already made incredible progress.  Everyday gets better and I am so grateful for all the support from friends and family!  The comeback is in full swing, but it hasn't been all fun and games along the way...

It all started with them rolling me back from surgery, plopping me in bed, and sticking a morphine pump in my hand.  "You can press this once every 10 minutes, and it will help with the pain", the nurse said.  "OK, whatever", I thought, "...but why is my left foot looking pidgeon-toed now?"  Great!  My right foot has always been tipped to the right, so now they are both pointing in that direction.  I joked that I will need to start running around the track in the opposite direction.

The reality of the situation was taking hold.  I had a cathader stuck inside me, my left thigh was about the size of my waist, and I felt like I had been hit by a truck.  My energy level and mobility was so poor, I had to drink water with a bent straw since I could not lift my head.  Visitors were streaming in and out and I did the best I could to put on a happy face.  I was amazed that so many of my climbing friends took the time to stop by the hospital or call.  Climbers climb....they don't go to social functions unless at night or weather is bad.  I guess it's different when it is one of your own though.  I was touched and humbled.

I didn't sleep much at night.  It was a waiting game until morning.  The techs came in every 2-4 hours to check my vitals and the noises in the hallway kept me awake most of the night.  On Monday morning, the Physical Therapy team showed up and started inflicting pain.  Actually, they helped me get some mobility back in my leg and over the course of 3 days, I made great progress.  Nevertheless, it felt like torture at times.

The big issue for me was my low hemoglobin level.  I had lost so much blood that they thought I might need a transfusion.  Yikes!  They put me on iron supplements to try to get me back to normal.  My hemoglobin level was around 8.  I think 14 is the low end of normal.  Lance Armstrong was around a 7 when he was going through his cancer treatments and Herman Maier (The Herminator), Austrian Pro Skier, was around 6 after he broke his leg in a motorcycle accident.  It feels like you have no energy, and any activity feels like miles 70 to 90 of a 100 mile trail race.  Moving from the bathroom to the bed required a nap afterwards.  When you are trying to get out of the hospital, it can be frustrating.  I kept trying to push to get better, and I seemed to go backwards each step of the way.

To compound my concerns, I was coughing up bloody mucus every few hours.  This freaked me out even though I was continually assured that it was OK and would eventually stop.  Additonal tests were run, and everything looked fine.  I still worried for a week until it eventually stopped.

There were cuts and bruises everywhere, going to the bathroom was like summiting Everest, and I just felt pretty miserable overall.  At the same time, I kept reminding myself of how lucky I am to be alive and to have so much love and support.

The therapists taught me how to go up steps backwards with the walker, so I could get into my house, and after 5 days in the hospital, I was psyched to go home.  Charlotte and Tara were a tag team in getting me to the car and home.  It was a huge relief when I was able to get myself into the house with the walker, and I was so happy to be in my own home.

It would be nice if I could say everything got better from that point, but the next few days were some of the toughest of my life.

On Friday, I went to see my local Ortho specialist, Dr. Veltri, and it was an epic just getting into the office and exam room.  He twisted my knee in ways that seemed like torture and informed me that my ACL was likely toast.  He said 6 weeks with no weight on the leg, gave me a set of 4 exercises to do on my own, and sent me home.  Goat got me home and in bed, and I was wiped out for the day.

We had a surprise 21st birthday party for my daughter, Jamie, on Saturday, and I was OK for about the first hour.  Then, my energy level tanked and my pain level was beyond uncomfortable.  I went into the next room and crawled into bed.  I felt horrible for not socializing more, but I was miserable.   I felt like a doll on display as my bed is in the dining room (since I can't go up stairs) and there is no privacy at all.  On top of it all, I was wicked constipated from the pain killers.  I never have this type of problem and I feel sorry for all the folks that have to deal with it on an ongoing basis.  After the party, I was determined to get that part of me fixed ASAP!

Without going into gory detail, I threw the kitchen sink at the problem and won.  The flood gates opened at around 1:30AM on Sunday morning, and life was getting better.  On Sunday, the stress of taking care of their Dad started getting to my girls, and things got a little crazy.  I was miserable and hated being dependent on others.  I a desperate move to get my head clear, I decided to stop taking the pain killers.  I hoped it would clear up my head as well as possibly bring an end to the bloody mucus and other issues.

On Monday, I had some time to rest, and my head started clearing up after dumping the painkillers.  Things were starting to look up.  As I look back, this was the point at which things started to get better.  My energy level started improving, and the bloody mucus started to disappear.  I felt like things were a little more defined in terms of the road ahead, and I could get my arms around the challenge.  Friends and family were coming out of the woodwork, and I could feel things coming together.

Several folks have generously indicated that I'm a fighter, etc.  One friend hinted that I probably relish the challenge of making this "comeback".  At this point, I'm just trying to take one day at a time.  Each week gets better.  The last week was definitely better than the first 2, but I still have 3 more weeks before I can even put weight on my leg.  It seems like forever at times.  It's frustrating to not be able to take out your own garbage or go grocery shopping.  It's tough to try to hold a conversation while watching to make sure no one bumps into your leg.  It's an epic adventure to hop to the end of the driveway to get the mail.  It's heaven when you can crawl up the stairs on your butt and take a long overdue shower.  It's spectacular when you can walk outside and breath in fresh air.

One day at a time.  Each day gets better.

Thanks to all of you for your love and support.  I appreciate every one of you.  Thanks,


Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Angels were watching over me: Surviving a 100 foot ground fall

This post is dedicated to all the people who helped put Humpty Dumpty back together.  I'd like to thank all the folks who helped on scene and kept me calm while we waited for the rangers to arrive, many thanks to Ranger Bob and his team from the Mohonk Preserve, the Town of Gardiner Emergency Medical Team, the helicopter team, and all the folks at St. Francis Hospital.  I especially want to thank all the people who helped carry me down to the carriage road inch by inch.  It was a painful journey, but I appreciate the effort.  I've been on the carrying side a few times, but this was my first trip in the litter.  Many thanks to all the friends and family who have provided love, support, gifts, cards, and most of all - prayers.  Most of all I want to thank Charlotte, Kevin (a.k.a. - The Goat), and my girls, Tara and Jamie.  You all pulled through when I needed it most.  I pride myself on being self-sufficient, and I am now humbled by the support you have each provided.  It's been a tough 2 weeks, and everyone of you provided me strength.  I am so lucky and so blessed to have you in my life.

OK, on to the long awaited story...

It was supposed to be a fun, easy weekend climbing in the Gunks (short for Shawangunk Mountains) with my girlfriend, Charlotte, her son, Chris, and my friends from the CT Climbers and Mountaineers (CCM).  It started off that way anyway...

I grew up near the Gunks and started climbing here over 30 years ago before I knew about sticky rubber or how to tie a figure eight knot.  We'd ride our bikes up the hill, climb (free solo) whatever we dared, go swimming at Lake Minnewaska, and lay in the sun thinking of the future.  I consider it home and feel my attitude improve every time I come back and drive past the hairpin turn.

As a founding member of the CCM, I volunteered to host a Gunks Fall weekend several years ago.  The event was very popular and became one of our keystone activities.  At one point, we rented the Ulster County Fairgrounds and had over 100 people attend.  It was a blast!  Organizing the event became too much for me a few years ago, so I passed it on to others.  The event has shrunk in size as has the CCM, but  the core group remains.  The event this year was planned for Oct. 2-4, and I was really looking forward to getting out on the rock.

Work, running, and other activities have taken priority over climbing this year, and I had only climbed a handful of times all year.  Ultrarunning and climbing are my two passions.  My best friend, the Goat, was planning to run the Vermont 100 this year, and I agreed to pace him.  This required a considerable amount of time for both of us, so climbing took a backseat until after the race in July.

I've climbed a lot and with many different partners.  I believe I am a very safe and experienced climber.  I tend to be a bold leader, but always feel that I protect a route well and climb within my ability.  I've climbed rock and ice and done some mountaineering.  For anyone who reads this blog regularly, you've read about ascents of classic climbs such as the Northeast Face of Pingora and Warbonnet in the Wind Rivers, Le Petit Gripon and other classics in Rocky Mountain National Park,  Ice climbing in the DAKS and Whites, ski mountaineering in B.C. and other remote places, and even an ascent of Pico de Orizaba in Mexico.  I have led 5.10 during big climbing years and consider an on-site alpine ascent to be the ultimate in climbing purity.  I'm not the best or most experienced climber, but I've been around enough to know how to play the game in good form.

On this weekend, it wasn't about MY climbing.  It was about introducing my girlfriend and her son to the sport.  They had each tried it a couple times.  Charlotte climbed a couple routes with me in the Gunks a few weeks earlier and was anxious for more.  Chris had never been to the Gunks and was cautious yet excited.  The Goat was along for the ride.  He recently went through a significant life transition, and he needed some company.  Although Charlotte was capable of belaying me, I felt more confident with the Goat along in case we got into a difficult situation.

We started on Jackie, a classic beginner route.  I led the first pitch and set up a toprope.  The others had fun, but it was a bit much for Chris.  I ran into some friends, Scotty, Maria, and Scotty's daughter Nicky. I saw some of our CCM crew, and it felt like a homecoming of sorts.  Life was good!

After another climb Chris was done for the day, so I looked for something that Charlotte and Goat might enjoy and was pleasantly surprised to see Middle Earth free.  The first pitch is rated 5.5 easy and fun!  I racked up and started leading the pith while Goat belayed and chatted with Charlotte and Chris.  The climbing was easy and I was having a ball.  I thought about how much I missed being on the rock, and how we needed to plan more of these weekends.  I made a few nice moves, placed good gear, and set up a toprope anchor on the big tree at the top.  Unfortunately, I had only brought up 1 cordalette for the anchor and really wanted to add another for security.  I yelled down to the Goat that he would climb second and to make sure to bring something to add to the anchor.  I figured he would cruise the route, but Charlotte might have trouble with it, so wanted the extra protection for her.

This is where everything went very wrong!  Having said that to Goat, I checked the anchor one more time and then leaned back to lower saying "OK, On you" to Goat.  Within a millisecond, I started to fall quickly and wondered why Goat wasn't taking in the slack.  I saw the rope whizzing by and realized I was no longer on belay.  My first instinct was to figure out how to survive the fall.  I thought about Lynn Hill surviving a similar fall and quickly threw out my arms and legs in an attempt to hit anything possible to slow my fall.  While I was doing this, I screamed...I always wondered if I would scream in that type of situation.  It happens all the time in my dreams and it was the same in real life.  I had to really force the scream and did it in an attempt to alert those on the ground.  It wasn't a scream of fear.  In fact, I wasn't even sure anyone could hear it.  Nevertheless, I did my best, "Ayyyyyyy!!!! and hoped it would somehow help.

All of this is happening in microseconds.  Now that my survival plan is in action though, I took a millisecond to think how unfair this was that Charlotte and I had only met 3 months earlier, and how I had so much living left to do.  I always wondered if your life really flashes before your eyes, and I am here to say that it did not happen for me.  No instant replay, no major regrets, etc.  Just the feeling that I had so much living left to do...

At this point, I hit a tree branch and skipped off a ledge and realized the ground was near.  I was in the process of righting myself when I hit Mother Earth.  Insert your favorite sound effect, but I don't think there was any loud impact sound.  More like a thud.  I landed in almost a sitting position , but with my left leg wrapped underneath me.

Once I hit, I did a quick inventory and realized I was alive and intact for the most part.  No damage to head, neck, or back.  Not paralyzed as far as I could tell...Charlotte put her arms around me and I implored her, "Please don't let me die!"  I was terrified of the potential for internal bleeding, etc.  While she held me in her arms, I quickly realized my left femur was fractured and the bone was nearly sticking through my thigh.  The leg was twisted badly.  I quickly asked people to call 911 and asked Kevin to call my parents.  Within seconds, a crowd gathered and everyone started doing what they could to provide comfort and support.  My left side ribs and both ankles and heels were very painful and I assumed there were some breaks involved there as well.

Ranger Bob came up to assess the situation and asked how far I had fallen.  I said, "The first pitch".  He incredulously replied, "The WHOLE first pitch?" to which I almost proudly said, "Yes!"  It was quite amazing to me that I had survived and I was, indeed, grateful, humbled, and blessed to be laying there talking about it.  The pain in the left leg was intense and Charlotte worked with me to "Turn down the volume on the pain dial" while the rangers did their work.

The carryout was the most painful and extended part of the rescue (at least in my mind).  I kept my eyes closed for most of it and tightly gripped an offered hand from some kind soul.  I have no idea who this man is or what he looks like, but we were connected for the journey down the talus slope.  Thank you Sir!  He kept saying, "Hang in there Steve".  Thank you!

While this story is in many ways a tragedy, I prefer to think of it otherwise.  The feeling of intense human spirit and love during this rescue was nothing like I had ever experienced in my life.  There were people there giving from their hearts to a complete stranger with nothing expected in return.  They took care of me and I could feel the love in every word and gesture.

The ride out on the carriage road was painful, slow, and bumpy, and the ambulance was waiting at Camp Slime across the metal bridge when we arrived.  I've been there in the past to load people in the ambulance and now it was my turn.  Never thought this day would come.  They lifted me from the backboard to place me on the stretcher, and I screamed, "Stop!!!!"  They had left one of the straps across my mid-section connected and my ribs were screaming in pain.  Second attempt was a success.  They cut off my pants and shirt, and proceeded to try to straighten my leg.  The pain was intense and there was no progress.  Someone realized my quad muscles were fiercely clenched and told me to relax.  This seemed to help some and they seemed satisfied with the results.

Into the ambulance and around the corner to the helicopter.  There was some discussion about which hospital: Poughkeepsie or Westchester.  My brain thought, "If it's only the leg, go for Westchester", but I did not feel like I was in a position to make the call.  I trusted in the people there and God to take good care of me.

Into the hospital and straight to Catscan, then into the ER trauma area to wait for the results.  I lay there in pain with my family by my side waiting.  They could not give me any painkillers until we knew the complete damage report.

After a short while, the trauma Dr. told my parents that I had remarkably survived the fall with only a broken femur and that they would turn me over to the Orthopedic doctors.  Good news!

Morphine was administered while I waited for a surgeon to be located.

The next morning, a rod and screws were inserted to re-marry my bisected femur, and my foot looked like it was generally pointing in the right direction (although at a slightly different angle).  The epic was thought to be over, but the healing was only beginning.

I'm going to end this entry here in the interest of taking this in bite size chunks.

The one thing I want to point out to all involved is that this accident was no one's fault except mine.  In the end, I am responsible for my personal safety.  It was my choice to weight the rope, and I should have checked to ensure I was on belay and my belayer was prepared to lower me.  I thought about this for a long time.  I understand why my belayer may have misinterpreted my instructions, and I committed to lower based on my trust in a standard language and protocol.  I told my partner and friend that it takes 2 to tango, we miscommunicated, and I should have checked before committing my weight to the rope.

I have so much more to say about the steps in my recovery over the past 2 weeks, but will end it here for now.  Once again, I want to thank everyone involved in the rescue.  My faith in human kindness has been reinforced, and I feel blessed to be here to embrace it.  THANK YOU ALL!!!!



Sunday, August 22, 2010

A rainy day run

Thanks to everyone for the kind words and positive feedback on the last two blog posts.....very much appreciated.  Today, I was finally inspired to write again and actually have a little down time for once.  It was either type something or clean the bathroom, so I'm picking the blog (vs. the bathroom blaaagh).

So, the Goat's been out of commission with a torn calf muscle from the VT100, so I've been flying solo lately.  It's been fine, but harder to get myself out the door at times.  This morning was no exception.  I lay in bed listening to the rain on the roof and felt to drive to get up.  I knew I needed a good run, but where to run was the question.  I had planned to do a loop at the reservoir, but there's a spot with chest high growth that gets me soaked in these conditions.  I did not want to run on a treadmill...anything but the dreaded treadmill.  So, I decided to head for the reservoir and avoid the wet, tall growth along the dyke.  :-)

So, I start at the usual spot and decide to head off on the original Traprock course.  I popped a piece of gum in my mouth as an experiment since I noticed Mark B. deliberately chewing 3 pieces of gum continuously during the Vermont 100.  He switched out for fresh pieces at the aid stations and I thought, "Hmm, never really had a reason to chew gum while running...perhaps it is something worth trying".  So, today was an experiment.  Within a few strides I quickly realized that I cannot run and chew gum at the same time...ha!   The gum resided in the side of my cheek for the duration. 

Nearly a mile into the run, I started up the powerlines on single track and quickly realized I would get soaked by high growth along the single track.  Darn, just what I was trying to avoid...oh well!

At the top of the powerlines I decided to follow the Traprock route rather than head for the top, so I could get in some extra mileage.  I needed to cover a short paved section on the 5K loop and was not looking forward to it, but was pleasantly surprised.  As I hit the pavement, I quickly caught up to a good runner.  He looked like a road runner or triathlete, and I said, "Hi" as I passed him.  He asked how far I was going and I mentioned perhaps 10 miles or so.  He said he was doing 20 and was planning to run the Montreal marathon in 2 weeks.  I laughed and asked him if he did not believe in tapering.  He said he was doing it as a training run as he also planned to run Hartford in October and then NY in November.  OK, sounds serious, I thought.  So, what's your fastest marathon?  He had run a 2:50 back in his twenties and now would like to run a 2:55 at nearly 40 years old.  Cool.  He also said he was an ultrarunner, so I mentioned Traprock 50K.   He was a nice gent, but seemed more like a roadrunner, so we parted ways when I could get back on the trail.  I wished him luck in Montreal.  I would have enjoyed chatting more, but I'll take the trail over 5K paved loops anyday.

The rail was just a sputter at this point, so the running was rather pleasant.  The rock was wet and the scenery was beautiful.  For some unknown reason, a memory from 4th or 5th grade popped into my head.  One of my first real hikes was with a 5th grade teacher named Ms. Mazzafarro.  It was in the 70's and women's lib was the rage.  She was the first person I knew to insist on being called "Ms." and I thought it rather odd.  Nevertheless, she decided to take some of us hiking one day.  As it turned out, I think only one other student showed up other than me.  We were told that we could bring a cup to drink from a stream along the way.  I have to laugh thinking that today you would need to sign a waiver and have a filter kit or iodine drops with you to allow students to drink from a stream.  Nevertheless, my Mom gave me a cool 1970's type collapsable drinking cup.  It telescoped out to be quite the tumbler.  Anyway, seeing Ms. M. in jeans for the first time (she always wore dresses) and drinking from a stream in a cool orange, collapsable cup was the coolest thing in the world as far as I was concerned.  It was a great day!

So, I ran on and contemplated life.  I made good time and pondered and took in the views.  By the time I got back on the double track, it really started raining steadily and I dreaded hitting the tall growth along the dyke.  My original plan was to avoid it and cut through the woods.  I opted to suck it up because I wanted to get in the extra mileage.  My pace was good as I approached the horrible weeds and then I burst out with laughter.  The grass was cut down to the ground!  The haying had occurred and I was saved.  I was still soaked, but at least I didn't have to fight through the mess of the tall stuff.  I picked up my pace and smiled at my good fortune.  I thought how this was a great analogy for life.  Quite often we dread things that never materialize.  If we just move forward and enjoy the moment rather than worrying about the future, life can be much more pleasant.  

I chugged up the hill to some tunes on the MP3 player talking about persevering..one step in front of the other...and thought how appropriate.

The last mile was uneventful.  I enjoyed the incredible beauty of the area and felt lucky to be able to run. I clicked off almost 11 miles in a little under 1:28 and felt good about it.  The terrain was fairly moderate, but it was a good time on that course.  My fitness seems to be decent and life is good right now.  Nothing is ever perfect and I have my share of challenges, but I'm very fortunate and grateful for my life and everyone in it.

Have a great week everyone!



Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Mighty Goat and the Vermont 100

It's taken me a few days to gather my thoughts on this one.  How do you write a story about your bestest buddy's struggle through a 100 mile race?   It didn't quite unfold the way we scripted it, but maybe that fact makes it all the better.  Perhaps it unfolded just the way it was meant to be...

The Mighty Goat announced his intentions to run the Vermont 100 this past winter.  My first thoughts were that this was bold and audacious, but I also believed he would finish.  "Why "audacious"?", you might ask.  Well, you see, the Goat had never run a marathon.  Road racing was not interesting to him.  He had ostensibly completed one serious race in his life prior to announcing his intention to run the Vermont 100.  He completed the Stonecat 50 miler two years ago and had completed no other races other than being a substitute runner on our Reach the Beach Relay Team and doing the Manchester Road Race many years ago.

He ran Stonecat after pacing me in the Vermont 100 twice, so his announcement to run the Vermont 100 was not exactly a complete shock....but geez, most people do a few races before attempting 100 miles!  I mean I ran for more than 20 years before attempting my first 100 miler.  The Goat was going from 0 to 60mph in 2 seconds flat!  Nevertheless, he is the Goat!  He is the man!  He is the man-Goat!

So, the Goat asked me to put together a training plan for him, and I knew this was going to take some dedication for both of us.  It turned out to be a blessing for me because it forced me to get out and run on days when I was consumed by work.  It helped me stay sane when things were coming down around me, and the Goat was there to listen.  It gave us time to plan a race, the Traprock 50K, which will likely be a part of New England ultra running for years to come.  It helped us learn a lot about ourselves and our friendship in the process.

There were times when we both wanted to quit.  I mapped out a plan for us to run hills every Tuesday night throughout the winter.  There were nights when I wasn't sure we could get it done, but we persevered and learned something in the process.

Along the way we recited lines from a poem that was passed down from his Grandfather to his Mom, and then to him.  He memorized the poem and recited it at his Mom's memorial service a couple years ago.  The poem is Rudyard Kipling's, "If".  It's a definite keeper and has helped me more than once.

It starts out with, "IF you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you and make allowances for their doubting too, If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, or be lied to, don't deal in lies, or being hated, don't give way to hating, Don't look too good nor talk too wise...."

Throughout the training, I watched Goat lose weight and gain strength and endurance.  I saw his enthusiasm for running grow, and watched his weekly mileage soar.  He studied the ultrarunning scene and constantly peppered me with questions.  It was interesting to witness this transformation from someone who could barely run 4 miles with me 4 years ago.   I had my doubts when I asked him to pace me at Vermont in 2006, and now he was preparing to attempt it himself.

It goes on, "IF you can dream but not make dreams your master, Or think and not make thoughts your aim, If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same.

We dreamt of hosting an ultra in CT and thought it would be a huge success if we got 20 runners.  We turned it into 3 races and hosted 52 runners.  The Traprock 50K was reported in the most recent issue of Ultrarunner Magazine.   We'll be going for 100 runners next year!

"IF you can watch the truth you've spoken twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, Or watch the things you gave your life to broken and stoop and build 'em up with worn out tools."

For some reason, this section rings true for me.  Goat and I bothed survived divorces and then some.  He has dealt with his fair share of challenges, and I've watched him pull through with flying colors.

The week before the race, the Goat was like a caged animal.  He was fiery and edgy...I'd never seen him like this... but knew he was stressed about the race.  Perhaps the audacity of the situation was even getting to him?

"IF you can make one heap of all your winnings and risk it all on one turn of pitch and toss and lose and start at your beginnings and never breath a word about your loss."

The race started at 4AM on Saturday and the Goat was anxious to get going.  My biggest concern was that he not go out too fast.  I encouraged the Goat to do a few races prior to this one to teach him the art of pacing.  He ran the Northern Nipmuck trail race and ran a good race, but then went out too fast at the Traprock 50K.  I was concerned, and constantly coached him to "keep the bit in his mouth".

It was great to see so many people at the race.  My ultramentor, Jim Campiformio, was there and ready to run.  Kinda wish I was running with him.  Our friends and Traprock Alumni were there including Marty, Mark Buongiorno, Scott Turco, and many others.   It was great to see so many familiar faces.  Dawn was pacing Marty and Bruce G. was crewing for Mark and Scott.  The Mayor was pacing Mark and it was cool to meet some new folks.  Oddly enough, Jack Pilla, last year's winner was crewing and making pancakes...go figure!

Goat wore his Garmin GPS and ran to a prescribed plan for a 22 hour finish.  I figured he had a reasonable shot at 22 hours and if that didn't happen, he had a good cushion for a 24 hour finish.  I helped crew for him for the first 30 miles, and he executed the plan to perfection.  I saw AJW come through in the lead, and saw some of my old foes/friends, Ron Farkesh and Daniel Larsen come through looking strong as well as many new faces.  I even saw, Cherie Baby, in her pink skirt, looking strong in her pink compression socks come cruising by...and then there was that guy from Western States in the pink tutu.  Word was that he had just completed Badwater as well.  Damn, the guy is older than me and I'm whining about getting old?

After seeing Goat running so strong for the first 3rd of the race, I figured I should get some sleep to be ready to pace him through the night, so went back to the hotel for some zzz's.

After a good rest, I was back at Camp 10 Bear awaiting Goat's arrival at the 70 mile mark.  I chatted with many folks..even saw Michelle Roy and got a big hug from her while she waited for her runner to come through.  I was bummed to hear from Bruce that Scott had dropped while we waited for Mark and Goat.

Mark B. came in on pace for a 20-22 hour finish.  He looked good and was in or near the Top 20.  I thought he had a decent shot at a good time, but time would tell.  I think the real race happens between 10 Bear and the finish.  In fact, after pacing Bruce at WS100, I think the last 30 at Vermont is tougher than the last 38 at WS100, and my body agrees.

Goat came in and looked pretty exhausted.  I fed him a lot of watermelon and filled his bottles while Dagmar and company tended to his other needs.  He was excited to know that his weight was fine after having a scare the first time through Camp 10 Bear (Mile 48).  After Goat regrouped, we headed down the road together as we have so many times before...we were 30 minutes off his 22 hour pace..not bad at all.

Goat really struggled up the first big hill outside 10 Bear.  It is a monster climb up a technical trail.  It was much drier this year, but that didn't help Goat.  He was struggling and had to stop a few times.  Wow!  This is not the way things looked at mile 30...and I was hoping for some easy pacing duties.

Goat really had to work to get to Mile 77, but it is one of the toughest sections of the race.  He was 45 minutes off his pace which seemed to worry no one except me.   No one realized that losing 15 minutes in a 7 mile stretch is the equivalent of 2 hours over 30 miles.  His energy level was very low and his quads were killing him.   I knew this was going to be a battle and it would take everything he had to break 24 hours.

We hit another big hill and Goat struggled, but then we made very good time on the gravel roads.   At one point, he puked big time...welcome to the 100 mile scene Mr. Goat...and then he said he felt better.

I was tracking us against a 24 hour finish and was hoping to get him in with under 15-18 minute miles.  He made it to Bill's (Mile 89), his favorite aid station, with approx. 3 hours to go.  The crew thought he had it in the bag, but I was concerned.  While Goat rested, Cherie Baby, came cruising in.  She was running well and had good energy.  Cool!  I whispered to her that she needed to break 24 hours, and she teased me about my penchant for watermelon in ultras.  Then, the Goat and I were off....

Goat ran well through the next downhill section, but the uphills were taking the life out of him.   Soon enough, he couldn't run much at all, and we struggled to get to the next aid station.  I begged him not to sit down at the 92 mile mark, but he insisted.  We pressed on to mile 95.5 where we would see the crew for the last time before the finish.

"IF you can force your heart and nerve and sinew to serve your turn long after they are gone, and so hold on when there is nothing in you except the will to which says to them "Hold on!""

Hold on Goat!  Please Buddy!  Runners trying to beat the 24 hour mark were coming by now and I felt the time slipping away.

We reached the 95.5 mile mark (Pinky's) and Goat needed to regroup.  I fed him PB&J while Dagmar applied anti-inflammatory cream to his quads.  I think everyone knew that it was going to be close.  He had about 1 hour and 15 minutes (if I recall) to do the last 4.5 miles.  "Oh Boy, hear we go again!", I thought.  Let's do this...

Goat could not run at all, so we hiked it.  We made it to the first big hill and we were doing OK.  I started telling Goat that I thought he was going to break 24, when he let out a scream.  Damn!  He said his right calf had a shooting pain.  We guessed that it was a cramp, and he could hardly walk at all.  We had 3-3.5 miles to go.  Oh man, this is not good.  At this point, he wasn't even sure he could finish.  I told him he had to keep moving so it would not tighten up and I tried to massage it a bit.  He took some salt pills and then we walked on.

We talked about how finishing was the main thing and that not breaking 24 was not the end of the world.  We pressed on and his leg seemed to loosen up a bit.  We were doing OK and thought maybe...just maybe...there was a chance.  Maybe he could run if we were within a mile.

...but then the time slipped away on us and 4AM came and went.  Dagmar met us at the top of the hill with about 0.75 mile left.  We explained the situation, and she walked in with us while we picked up the rest of the crew.  Goat was so relieved to finish and his time was 24 hours, 20 min, and 59 seconds.

You go Goat!  Goat was a hurtin' unit, and we got him some medical support right away.  We then trucked him back to the hotel, and we all got some sleep before breakfast.  It was nearly 5AM!

"IF can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch, If neither foe nor loving friend can hurt you, If all men count with you, but none too much."

Goat was up before me and ready to start the day.  Wow!  I'm impressed.  His leg was still hurting though.  We ate breakfast and Goat decided to skip the award ceremony.  Dawn decided to head up to say good bye to Marty and Deb.  I decided to go up to see some friends and pick up Goat's plaque for him.  I chatted with a few folks, grabbed the award, said good bye to Marty, Deb, and Dawn and then headed off down the road.

On the ride home, I thought about how Goat, the Mighty, had the guts to sign up for a 100 mile race run on the hills of Vermont in the middle of July having run only one serious race in his life.  I thought about the commitment to sign up in January without knowing what lay ahead.  I thought about how he could hardly run 4 miles with me 5 years ago and now he just completed 100 miles (with a torn calf muscle we later learned).

I thought about all the fun we had along the way, all the memories we have shared, and all the miles we have logged together....

"IF you can fill the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run, yours is the earth  and everything that's in it - and which is more - you'll be a man my son."

Congratulations to my friend, the Mighty Goat!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

WOW! Western States 100!!!

Up-front disclaimer:  This is a report about a great adventure.  It's about my trip to the Western States 100 to pace a friend, Bruce Giguere, in the oldest and arguably greatest 100 mile trail race in the country.  This is not a short race report nor is it intended to be.  As a writer, I realize the importance of "get in, deliver your message, and get out".  People have limited attention spans and limited time, etc.  But, but, but....this report is as much for me as anyone because it holds a special place in my heart.  It's also for Bruce and his wonderful family.  Anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows that I have had some amazing adventures.  This one is near the top of the charts, and best of all...it's not about me.  It's about helping someone achieve a dream.  So, I intend to capture every memory and every thought here.  Skip to the race section if you must, but know that there are some golden nuggets throughout...so go back to them later.  Peace!  Steve


My quest to run in the race started around 1980 when my Dad and I first saw it on ABC's Wide World of Sports.  I was running High School Cross-Country at the time.  My Dad said we should do it...he says a lot of things like that...but this time I thought to myself...I think I could do that...

It is the oldest 100 mile trail race in the country.  It was established in 1977.  I won't go into the full history as you can check their website or google that info.  It starts at Squaw Valley in the Sierras and heads west to Auburn, CA.  It's got something like 22,000 feet of elevation gain, goes through snow covered peaks, and canyons with temps over 100 degrees F.  You cross a river by boat (this year) or fording it with a guide line.  The aid station names are legendary as are the long list of alums that come back year after year.   I told someone at work, "It's like going to a Major League All-Star game except you get to play in the game and hang out with the all-stars afterwards!"

So, why haven't I done it yet?  I certainly could have applied for entry for the past 8 years and performed pretty well.  It's just one of those things that are so special, you want to make sure you can really appreciate it, do your best, and savor every ounce of it.  I guess pacing Bruce is part of my attempt to learn more about this race.  And boy, did I ever...

At Forest Hill, I asked an old-timer sitting next to me whether he was pacing.  He said he was originally planning to hang glow sticks on the trail for the night time runners, but he was injured.  So, I asked him what he was doing there.  He said, "Son, anyone that has anything to do with ultrarunning in the state of California is here today.  It doesn't matter what is going on in your life...you get in your car and come here on this weekend."  Enough said?  It's true, the list of people I saw or talked during the race read like a "Who's who in the sport of ultrarunning?"  It was amazing.  Now it was our turn to share in the adventure and add to the legacy!  Let the story begin...

Getting there (a.k.a. a night in Charlotte):

Seems simple enough.  You buy a plane ticket and expect everything to happen according to plan.  Anyone who has done their fair share of traveling knows this is not how things happen.  Flights get delayed, canceled, etc.  My story, unfortunately, twists a similar tale, but I decided to go along with the adventure for once without getting crazy about it.

I had a 5:00 PM flight from Hartford to Charlotte and then an 8:00 connection to Sacramento.  It seemed easy enough until weather got involved.  We sat on the runway in Hartford for a long time and then they decided to go back to the gate to add more fuel so they could re-route us, and, I later learned...hold us hostage in the sky for eons.  I knew I would miss my connection and needed to decide whether to go home and start over in the morning or spend the night in Charlotte with hopes of getting to CA sooner in the AM.  After many trials and tribulations with US Air, I elected to jump back on the plane just before they shut the door because I stood a better chance of getting to CA at a reasonable time.   I wanted to make sure I had a chance to spend a little time with Bruce before he had to get to bed on Friday.  Getting in at 9pm (from Hartford) was not an option since I had a 2 hour drive to Squaw Valley. As I was getting back on board, I saw a man yelling at the gate agents trying to bully them into fixing things.  At that point, I decided that I would make the best of this trip and would not be rude to anyone along the way...it sure made a big difference in my enjoyment of this trip.  When I sat back down in my seat, I noticed that I had left a book that my daughter, Tara, gave me for Father's Day on the plane.  She wrote an irreplaceable note in it, so I knew getting back on the plane was the right answer.

As I implied, the flight to Charlotte took forever, but I got to know the 2 people next to me and we had a great time chatting.  I met a great young guy from the Adirondacks.  His Mom is 65 years old and is an ironman triathlete and has completed more than 35 marathons.  So, we pulled into Charlotte around 10:30 PM (not bad for a flight that was supposed to arrive around 7), and I quickly got on phone to cancel my hotel in CA.  Thankfully, they did not charge me for the night.  Unfortunately, this took a long time to confirm and I realized there was no food concessions open when my stomach told me I had missed dinner.  Luckily, I had a couple energy bars and an apple to hold me over 'til morning.  While I thought I had fixed my flights for morning while in Hartford, I decided to confirm them and get updated tickets before they locked up for the night.  There was a long line of unhappy customers, so I hung out until they were all gone.  Then, I approached an extremely tired gate agent for help.  She was the gate agent from heaven as far as I am concerned.  She confirmed that the outsourced phone help had no clue and totally screwed up my reservation, and she took the time to fix it all.  She even booked me in the last seat to Sacramento from Phoenix even though it was first class.

At that point, it was around midnight, I had a discount hotel voucher but everyone said the hotels were full due to the weather issues.  I had my thermarest and sleeping bag, so decided to try to sleep right there in the airport.  This will be a shock for many of you who know me as Pretty Boy because I really do enjoy some creature comforts like a bed and shower in the AM.  Nevertheless, my climbing bum experiences have prepared me well, and I curled up on the floor for the night.  This would have worked better had I remembered my earplugs.  First, the supervisor for the cleaning crew decides to sit right next to me to lecture one of his employees for an hour.  Dear God man, it's a huge airport!  Why do it next to me?  I thought perhaps he didn't notice the body in the bag as I am kinda small, so I popped my head up after awhile to make my presence known.  He said, "Good evening Sir".  I asked somewhat sarcastically if he knew where I could find a quiet spot to sleep.  He indicated that he did not and that the police would be by in awhile to kick me out.  Great, I thought, but I only half believed him.

I moved my bag, chatted with another die hard traveler from Bangalore, and tried to get more sleep to the beautiful hum of vacuum cleaners in the distance.  This worked well until they decided to start testing the alarm systems around 3AM.  Holy shnikes!  Talk about a wake up call!  After awhile, I fell asleep for a bit until passengers started rolling in at 4:30AM.  Who gets to an airport at 4:30AM?  I felt like they were invading my bedroom for Pete's sake.

OK rabbit.  Re-group...we are going with the flow...remember?  I packed up my stuff and went into the bathroom to clean up.  After a shave, and the usual things you do in a bathroom, I wandered the stores for food and some reading material.  Then, my luck started changing.  I found a book that a new person in my life recommended and sat down with it while I ate some breakfast.  To my surprise, I had a nice exit row seat on the flight to Phoenix (thanks Angel), and slept nearly the whole trip).  I ate some lunch, then picked up my flight to CA.

While enjoying my first class seat, I chatted with my new friend, Armondo, who is the director of baseball operations for Arizona State University.  As luck would have it, he ran Western States in 1991 with a finishing time of 26 hours.  While I missed the pre-race briefing, I was getting it all first hand from Armondo.  He had run the trail many times in training and as a pacer, and he gave me the low down on everything.  What a nice guy!  I asked him to take a picture with me and then we chatted about sports all the way to the car rental place.  He said he was envious aboout my weekend plans.

The first thing I did when I picked up the SUV was check to see if I could sleep in it.  The Ford Edge seats fold down flat and it is perfect for sleeping.  Things were getting better.

Traffic wasn't too bad and Bruce had ordered pizza for dinner.  I just needed to get there.  After a couple hours, I arrived in Squaw Valley.  It was around 7PM Friday night.  Wow!  What an adventure just in getting there.  Bruce showed me all his pre-race SWAG, then we walked over to the infamous starting line.  The countdown timer said 9 hours and 25 minutes until the start.

Cool!  We snapped some pics and checked out the scene.  There is a commemorative plaque on a rock to mark the start of the race.

After going over some race plans and meeting Bruce's family, I was ready for bed.  I could tell Bruce was ansy to get some sleep as well, so I said goodnight to daughers Lora, Catherine, and Emma, and his wife Amy, and crawled up into my sleeping bag for the night.  Incidently, for you ultra junkies, I was parked in front of Anton Krupicka's truck.  Anton broke the old course record in finishing 2nd the next day.  I was pulling for him to win it all, but let's not get too far ahead.

Race Day:

I awoke at 4:30AM and walked over to the starting line wondering how I would find Bruce.  It was packed!  While wandering, I saw a film crew interviewing a beautiful runner, and I wondered if she was last year's winner.  As I got closer, I realized it was Michelle Roy from Mass.  Wow!  Then, I saw Bruce and Amy being photographed at the start line.  I told them to stand there for one more pic and got a great shot of them.  Bruce, of course, was wearing his Shenipsit Striders shirt.

After Michelle's interview, I said "Hi" and introduced her to Bruce and Amy.  It reminded her that I still have her jacket from Traprock, and she mentioned that Ultrarunner magazine had given out over 400 free copies of the latest edition containing the Traprock 50K results.  We joked that we might have some runners from as far as CA next year. Bruce and Michelle compared notes on their race plans, and then it was time for the start.  Amy and I watched while I recorded some video footage.  Gordy Ainsleigh, the one who started it all, said something like "You are about to enter the holy grail of ultrarunning" and then they were off.

Amy and I decided to depart Squaw at 6:30AM as she had to get the girls up, so I tried to catch a few more winks in the car.

We stopped at the supermarket and picked up some food for the day, then headed to Auburn and then toward Forest Hill.  At Forest Hill, we topped off with fuel, and ran into some guys filming the race for Montrail (the main sponsor).  They indicated they were heading to Dusty Corners (38 mile mark).  Amy had mentioned that she did not want to go to that aid station because the road was steep and windy.  Of course, this was all I needed to hear.  I was on that one like sweat on a pig.  I decided to hit Dusty Corners while Amy and the gals went to Robinson Flats.  This would give Bruce maximum coverage as Amy would then go to Michigan Bluff (55 mile mark), and I would meet him at Forest Hill (62 mile mark).

When I arrived at Dusty Corners after a hairy ride, I realized that I did not know Bruce's number.  I had no cell coverage, and it was hot in the sun.  Hmmm..what to do?  It was a long walk to the aid station, so I decided to grab my thermarest, a book, and some food and drink.  I had no idea what Bruce might want and had little to offer other than encouragement, but the aid stations were fully stocked.

I saw Andy Jones Wilkins come barreling through around 8th place.  He had to stop to get a rock out of his shoe and worked quickly as he had a few runners on his tail.  Then, they started trickling in one by one.  Most were in good spirits.  A few looked like they might not make it much further.

After awhile, I found a nice spot in the shade on the downhill leading into the aid station.  Perfect!  I chatted with a few crew members who happened to be crewing for Scott Livingston's long lost twin brother.  I swear this guy reminded me so much of Scott.  He was built like Scott, had the shaved head, and had a very positive, confident attitude about him. Anyway, he was shooting for sub 20 hours, but I don't think he got it.  I'm guessing 22 hours as he wasn't that far ahead of Bruce.  He still looked strong at Forest Hill, but seemed perplexed about his time.

I listened to a guy tell some stories about the race as he cheered on almost every person that went by.  I soon recognized the face as the publisher of Ultrarunning magazine, John Medinger.  I walked over and introduced myself as the RD of the Traprock 50K and thanked him for squeezing us into the mag.  We chatted for awhile and then I decided to try to rest a bit.

Although I had no signal, somehow I got a text message from Amy indicating that he came through Robinson Flat at 11:20 and was having a tight quadracep issue.  Bruce had given me a tiny laminated sheet with his expected split times for a 24 hour race based on previous finishers experiences.  I checked the sheet and noticed he was about 20 minutes off pace...not good so early into it.

I tried to read, but could not focus.  I was too caught up in all the energy.  So, this is what it's like to crew.

Finally, Bruce came through and it took him a second to recognize me.  We ran down the hill together and I asked him if he needed anything.  He told me to stock up on Vitamin I (ibuprofen) as it seemed to help his quad issue.  He was in very good spirits and said, "Steve, you have got to run this race!"  I was stunned as all I could think about was the events of the moment.   I just said, "OK Bruce, I will, let's get you through it first".  The people at the aid station took good care of him, and then we parted ways.  I drove back to Forest Hill while Bruce prepared to enter the dreaded canyons where temps can reach 110 deg F.  I wondered how he would manage...

I had no directions back to Forest Hill and didn't trust the GPS for beans as it tried to send me on all kinds of logging roads.  I just knew it was a couple miles up the road from our gas station stop.  I wanted to find a good parking spot there, since we would be leaving my car there overnight.

For a spectator, Forest Hill is a great place to watch the race.  The runners come down the road right past you.  I was able to see a couple of the front runners go by as well as catch a glimpse of AJW again and the top 3 women including Nicki Kimball.  Unfortunately, I still did not have a cell signal, but knew that Bruce expected to come in at 7PM based on our little cheat sheet.  BTW, the cheat sheet print was so small that I had to hold it as far away as possible for these aging eyes to read.  This made for interesting times (no pun intended) on the trail at night.

So to kill some time I shaved at the local municipality, ate some food, and tried to take a nap.  Some woman next to me locked her keys in her car and tried to use a coat hangar to unlock it.  Note to everyone - this only works on really old cars.  I tried to help her for awhile in the 100 degree heat and then advised her to call the police.  For some reason, she did not want the police involved and proceeded to take her entire sunroof apart. Hmmm...

Anyway, I decided to sleep.  After dozing a bit, my BB indicated their was a voicemail at 5:10PM.  I could not get the message, but suspected it might be Amy indicating that Bruce was through Michigan Bluff.  This would put him about 20-25 minutes ahead of schedule.  I thought it was possible and started to get ready for my pacing duties.  After checking in at Pace Central, I soon learned that they can tell you where your runner is on the course.  We checked on Bruce and it seemed he was actually 20-25 minutes behind his pace and would not arrive until 7:25 or so.  Bummer!

In the meantime, the runners kept funneling through.  At one point, this hardcore woman in a leapord skin one piece skirt thing ran from the pit area to the bathroom with her crew (they looked concerned - I'm thinking female stuff).  Anyway, after they re-emerge, she sits right next to me and starts tearing off her shoes.  She was totally ripped and frankly intimidated the heck out of me.  I retreated to save myself and gave her some room to operate.  More on this later...

After seeing just about every tattoo imaginable, watching a guy in a pink tutu go by, and seeing body parts on people that should remain covered up, I was getting a bit tired of waiting.  Then, it happened.  I heard the announcer say, "Here comes a runner in the family fun run category".  Gullible me is thinking..."I didn't know there was a family fun run category"...then Bruce comes around the corner with Amy and the girls in tow.  What a sight for sore eyes!

Bruce seemed to be feeling OK, but had some hot spots on his feet.  While he applied some vaseline, I gave Amy my car keys.  She told me his knee was hurting, but he still really wanted to break 24 hours.  She seemed to know his chances were slipping away based on his time (he was nearly 30 minutes off pace at this point).  I told her not to worry and that I would get him there.  As it was coming out of my mouth I was thinking, "How can you tell her that?"  She seemed relieved by my confidence, and now I had a major challenge.  How do you make something happen when most if it is out of your control?  It's something we deal with as managers every day.  I had little control in this situation, but if Bruce had it in him, I was going to get it out of him.  It was his race, his legs and his heart, but it was going to take both are heads, experience, and wills to get him there in under 24 hours.  I squeezed a sponge of water over Bruce's head, and then we were off....

As we left Forest Hill, Bruce's original pacer, Scott, (he had to sit this one out due to injury) ran along side us and wished him luck.  It seemed odd to me.  I wondered if he should have just picked up another pacer from the pot luck group as there seemed to be plenty to go around.  I wondered if having a good pacer made that much of a difference and whether I should be there.  Maybe a local CA person would be able to help him more, maybe they knew the course better, etc.  Why am I here I thought?  Bruce can do this without me.  Nevertheless, I would do my best to help.

We chatted about the race and Bruce got me up to speed on his condition.  He had tied an arm warmer around his knee to help with the pain.  He seemed to be in quite a bit of pain on the downhills, but his energy level seemed to be very good considering he just came through the canyons.  The sun was setting and the temps were cooling.  He was in good spirits and I thought this was the perfect place to make up some time before it became dark on the trails.  We chatted about everything under the sun, the views were amazing, and the trail was very runnable.  Life was good.  We started passing a lot of runners.  I set a good pace and we made up 8 minutes in very short order.  Unfortunately, we would lose it again once we hit the next steep downhill.  Bruce was in incredible pain and could hardly walk the big downhills.  "How the heck are we gonna do this if he can't run downhill?", I thought.  I was sure we could get him to the finish, but 24 hours seemed a stretch at that point.  I gave Bruce 2 ibuprofen and we hobbled down the hill.

After a short time, the Vitamin-I kicked in and we were off the steep downhill.  We started moving well again on the flats, the uphills, and gradual downhills, but any steep downhill was murder for him.  Bruce did some quick mental math and decided we could run a hair more than 15 minute miles and still break 24 hours.  We still had about 7 hours of running to do, but it gave us hope.  Although the pace chart said we were 20 minutes behind schedule and Bruce could hardly move downhill, we still had hope.  Four miles per hour gave us a 1 mile buffer as we had 27 to go.  It completely seemed doable on paper.  It seemed nearly impossible when I saw him try to go downhill...it was painful just watching.

We pressed on.  We had a good cadence going at the aid stations.  I'd grab Bruce's water bottles and give them to the aid station volunteers with instructions.  Bruce would get some food while I tended to my bottles.  I would stick his bottles back in his pouches as he started moving down the trail, then I would grab some food for myself.  Most times I would try to get him to eat more as we headed on down the trail.  We moved very quickly through each aid station.  I think Bruce was at each aid station for less than a minute (which is great).  We caught and passed a lot of people on these transitions.

After awhile Bruce started getting dry heaves.  This would probably freak out some people, but I have experienced this first hand and then some.  Stomach issues are the main problem for most ultrarunners as we try to get the right calorie intake and electrolyte balance.  Bruce was consuming a lot of salt to try to keep his electrolytes balanced, and I thought he may be overloading on salt.  He cut back on the salt and  started hydrating as we had indications (via urine color) that he needed it.   Unfortunately, the dry heaves continued and seemed to get worse and more frequent as the race progressed.  We tried different things...Eventually, I had him start drinking water each time the heaves started and it seemed to clear things up.

The Rucky Chucky River crossing was a major highlight for us.  It is at the 78 mile mark in the race.  Bruce hobbled down the steps to the raft and we jumped in for the ride across.  Most years, the runners ford the river, but the water was too high this year.  In retrospect, this was a blessing as it would have taken Bruce too long to cross given the knee pain.  As the boat took off, I nearly fell out as I had PB sandwiches in my hand and was desperate for some food.  I was so concerned with making sure Bruce ate enough that I was not getting enough calories in me.

On the other side of the river, Bruce downed an Ensure on ice and joked with the aid stations folks about the taste.  As bad as he felt, I knew he still had some energy in him.  We walked up a long, long hill to Green Gate.  I finally saw someone in the dark and asked her how far it was to the next aid station.  She yelled, "Bruce?" and we were surprised to realize it was Amy.  She was so happy to see Bruce (and me :-), and ran with us to the aid station around the corner.  I took care of the transition while Bruce and Amy chatted a bit.  After we left the aid station, Bruce seemed uplifted and more determined to break the 24 hour mark.  He said, "Let's do this....I'm going to do it!"  His pace picked up and we were on a roll.

We were starting to make good time, and things were falling into place.  By the time we reached the 90 mile aid station, we were convinced that we had 24 hours in the bag.  We had a 10 minute buffer finally, and were moving well. The folks at the aid station were psyched and got us all pumped up.  It was 3.5 miles to the next aid station (down, flat, and then 1 mile uphill).  No problem...until we hit the downhill.  Uh oh!  Bruce locked up like the transmission on my old pick up.  It was not a pretty sight.  He screamed in pain, and it was all he could do to keep it together.  He used my shoulder as a crutch just so he could pick his way through the rocks, and I watched the minutes slip by...at one point, Bruce said,"I'm not sure this is gonna happen", and I told him we weren't going there.  I tried to keep everything positive and motivational, but at the same time I knew our chances were slipping away.

By the time we reached the 93.5 mile mark, our 10 minute buffer was gone and we were 5-10 minutes off the pace again.   Damn!  I thought we had this thing under wraps, and now we may not even get it done.  Yet, we still kept working as hard as possible.  I kept pushing Bruce and he kept giving it everything he could give.

As the minutes slipped by, we came upon  a set of lights that looked like a runway down below.  I told Bruce and he immediately said, "The No Hands Bridge".  Yee haa!  Maybe we still have a chance, I thought.  Bruce winced in pain as I begged him to move down to the bridge as fast as possible.  We were about 5-10 minutes off pace, but still had about 40 minutes to do the last 3 miles.  As Bruce hobbled into the aid station, I said to the attendants, "Only 3 miles right?"  They said, "Yeah, but you better get him moving..." in a very somber, foreboding tone.

Going across the bridge was a thrill and I tried to get Bruce to enjoy it.  He seemed like he was in a lot of pain.  I said, "Bruce, you can do this, but you have to give everything you've got".  He responded and we ran up the gradual slope.  Bruce knew, and I suspected, that a big hill was somewhere between us and the finish, and I wanted to make as much time as possible on the easy section.  I pulled one of his water bottles and poured it on his head and neck to lighten his load and cool him off.  We were going for broke.  I figured we clicked off the better part of a mile before it got bad again.  A short, steep downhill was super painful  for Bruce and then it was the long slog uphill.  I kept reinforcing what a great job he was doing as Bruce walked up the hill.

I figure if we hit the 1 mile mark with 10 minutes to go, he might be able to do a 10 minute mile on the pavement.  I just wasn't sure whether they included the track distance in that last mile calculation.  We agreed not to stop at the last aid station and the people there tried to get Bruce going to break 24.  They said, "0.3 miles uphill, and then 1 mile flat/downhill".  Good.  We all cheered for Bruce.

After what seemed like an eternity, Bruce made it to the top of the hill with about 12 minutes to go.  I begged him to start running and to give me one 10 minute mile.  He said, "I'm going to do it", but he still kept walking.  I pleaded.  He was exhausted.  The old-timers rang the gong at the top of the hill marking the 1 mile mark, but we ignored it.  Bruce finally started shuffling forward and we were moving again.  Thank God!  Then, around the corner was another uphill.  "WTF", I thought.  "Bruce, you have to run up this hill, I know you can do it...It's short, just turns left at the top".  Please don't walk,  I thought.  Bruce somehow got to the top, and then we turned the corner to see his family waiting.  They were so excited and we all started running down the hill together.  I implored Bruce to push hard.  According to my watch, we had it in the bag, but stranger things have happened.   As we entered the track at Placer HS, I heard the timer say we had 3.5 minutes, but I still wanted to be sure.  I wanted to see the clock before letting him ease up.   We rounded the final turn and his family peeled off to the infield.  Bruce gave me a fist bump, and then I watched him cross the finish line.  He jumped up and touched the clock at 23:57: 11 (I think) and then Tim Tweitmeyer put the finishers medal around his neck saying "Another east coaster does it!"  Bruce was interviewed on camera while Amy and I watched.  We were both in tears and I could hardly talk.  She thanked me over and over while we watched the medical folks check out Bruce.   Bruce was the 123rd and last person to break 24 hours on this day.  I was damn proud to be there and watch Bruce put in the effort to get his buckle.  I was also proud of the effort I put in to get him there.  The run could have easily turned into a 25-26 hour run, but we never took our eye off the ball.  We both had doubts at times, but we never let it get the best of us.  We pressed on regardless of the time and obstacles, and somehow the running gods allowed for an unbelievable finish.  He did it!

It was a great day with a storybook ending.  While we sat in the medical tent, I saw Michelle Roy get carried in and it did not look good.  The medical team was working on her, so I didn't want to get in the way.  I heard her pacer talking about the effort she put in.  I hope she will bounce back.

Post Race:

After Bruce showered and got in bed, Amy drove me back to my car in Foresthill, and I followed her back to the hotel.  After a long awaited shower (Note to Pretty Boy fans - it had been 3 days!!!), I felt like a new man.  For having run 38 miles and having minimal sleep for 3 days, I felt pretty good.  Amy took the girls to the pool while Bruce and I chatted, dozed, and watched World Cup soccer.   Mark B. called to wish Bruce congrats, but we were fairly comatose at the time.

After awhile, we went to the award ceremony which we thought started at 11.  Unfortunately, we sat in the infield for 2 hours in 100 deg heat as it didn't start until about 12:40.  The girls drew pictures for me (which I still have) as the crowd shuffled in.  We saw the Top 10 get their awards.  Bruce was wiped out and sore, and couldn't wait any longer.  Amy managed to pry his buckle from the administrators and we headed back to the hotel to rest while Amy went for Chinese take-out.

While waiting in the hallway, the legendary Connie Gardner asked me how the race went.  I explained that I helped pace Bruce to a great finish, and then she quizzed me on my ultra resume.  I felt pretty good about my standing until she mentioned running VT100 in 17:30 and that she did WS100 as a training run for Badwater in 2 weeks.  Turns out Connie was the woman in the leopard skin garb who sat next to me on the bench at Foresthill.   She is less intimidating off the race course, but equally intense.  She lives in Ohio, so I don't understand how she trains for these mountains.  She asked me my upcoming race plans, and I didn't have a good answer. Apparently, being a professional pacer doesn't cut it in her book.  Oh well, I'm just having fun for now.  Good luck at Badwater Connie!

After some food, we snapped a couple pics and I bid the Family Giguere farewell and headed back to Sacramento.  The trip home was uneventful as I slept most of the way.  Seems fitting that the trip there was epic, but was uneventful after the race was complete.

Final thoughts:

At one point during the run when Bruce was struggling he said, "I'm sorry about this...I wanted it to be an exciting run for you."  There he was in extreme pain, and was worried about whether I'm having a good time!  I told Bruce I was having a great time and I was sincere about it.  As long as we got him across the finish line, I figured it was a successful mission.  I knew he wanted 24 hours, and I was there to support him in the effort.  I was going to do everything in my power to get him there, but it wasn't a disaster if we didn't make it.  We were still building a great friendship, and we were experiencing the greatest of all ultras together.

As things turned out, we couldn't have scripted a better finish.  Bruce achieved his dream, and I had a hand in helping him realize it.  Bruce, "No apologies necessary brother!"  Thank YOU!  The trip was worth every penny and every mile!  Congratulations on an amazing race!