Running Is Stupid

Running is stupid. That’s probably the last thing you’d expect me to say. But let’s be real for a minute-it really is. So, what exactly makes running stupid? There are almost too many reasons to list! 
Running hurts. Plain and simple. Anyone that tells you otherwise is either lying or not trying hard enough. When you start running regularly (4 days per week or more), your whole body hurts. As I write this, I’m sitting barefoot at my desk, rolling my feet on a golf ball to break up the stress they feel. If you are doing a hill workout, your legs will hurt as you progress through it. Hell, they’ll hurt even more the next day if you don’t do a proper recovery! Doing a race? If you are like me, you’ll finish with a sore midsection and sore neck/shoulders (from tension). Running in the heat? It’ll feel like you’re pulling a corpse behind you (and if it’s hot enough, people will actually tell you that you smell like a corpse!). And speaking of smelling like a corpse-I can’t even begin to describe the laundry situation. There are several days per week when Annie and I are both doing 2 workouts per day. That’s 4 sets of workout clothes per day, festering in the bottom of the laundry basket. Sometimes when I’m doing laundry, I’ll reach in and pull out a tank top that’s still wet, 6 days later. The smell is indescribable. It’s like getting hit in the face with a shovel. A damp, stinky shovel. How about running in the cold? Your lungs will burn from the cold, dry air, and you’ll get to feel the magic sensation of peeling dried/frozen snot, sweat, and drool from your face afterwards.


The physical pain is just the beginning though. The mental pain of running is so much worse. If you are running fast, your brain is going to be constantly sending you messages that you are overexerting yourself and that death is imminent. These signals manifest themselves in many different ways-stomach trouble, a sudden jolt of pain or cramp, etc. but the ultimate goal of the brain is to trick you into slowing down. When most runners receive these signals, they obey them and slow down. Sure enough, shortly after slowing down, the brain says, “oops! My bad! I guess we weren’t about to die. Go ahead and start running again!”. Except by that point, you’ve slowed to the point that your goal of the race or workout is blown, which brings a different type of mental pain: regret. “Gah, why couldn’t I push through that?? I missed my time by 45 seconds! Why couldn’t I ignore millions of years of evolution of my brain and shout that voice down!?”. We’ve all been there, and trust me, it hurts far worse to slow down than it does to press through the initial pain. It’s my belief that most elite runners hurt just as badly, and sometimes more than, us “normal people” do. What makes them elite is the ability to harness that pain and negative energy and refocus it. Those of you who know Annie know that she often will run faster as races progress. She gets sick of the pain and mental battle and wants to be done…so she moves faster. That’s part of what makes her special. Most people don’t have that skill and end up walking or quitting altogether. The next time you go to a marathon, check out how many people are running strong at mile 8. Then jump ahead to mile 20 and take a look. That’s all the evidence needed to demonstrate how people shut down. How about training for a race for MONTHS…being meticulous in your prep and doing everything right. You are in the perfect position to win or set a PR or whatever the goal is. And on race morning, it’s 84 degrees with 91% humidity at 7am. Or it’s raining sideways with a 40 mph wind. I did a small marathon in IL two years ago that was interrupted by a thunderstorm. 3 miles of the course had ankle deep water to run through, on the street.  No PRs that day!

“Running is a great hobby! All you need is a pair of running shoes and you’re ready to go!”. That’s another dirty lie that runners tell people to trick them into thinking running is great. First of all, a pair of running shoes isn’t enough. Most running shoes have a life of 300-400 miles. For people running 80 mile weeks, that’s a new pair every 5 weeks (at most). I’d make a bet that anyone running 80 mile weeks isn’t running in $12 shoes from Target. $100 is the absolute low end of good running shoes unless you find some miracle sale somewhere. So plan on $1000 a year for shoes, again AT A MINIMUM. Currently in our closet, there are about 18 pairs of shoes between us. Because you need your road shoes, your trail shoes, your other trail shoes for when the trail is too muddy, your road shoes that have 400 miles on them so you can’t run in them anymore but they still look brand new because they are only 5 weeks old so you wear them to the grocery store shoes, and your other road shoes that you wear when it’s rainy. Oh, and maybe your treadmill shoes. But the shoes are just the beginning of the expenses. Would you like to do a race sometime and get one of those sweet medals? That’ll cost you. We’ve both paid well over $100 for races (now, there are a LOT of local races here in the Milwaukee area that cost far less, but many of the “big races” will set you back quite a bit), not to mention any costs of traveling to the race, other gear you might need, etc. Perhaps the biggest shock to me though was the grocery bill. Runners, on the whole, eat nonstop. I consume 3500-4000 calories per day. That’s a LOT of groceries. So when someone tells you that running is cheap, laugh in their face and call them a dirty liar!

I could literally go on for pages talking about all of the things that make running stupid. How many baseball players do you know that hit the field with toilet paper in their pockets, “just in case”? How many tennis players do you know that have fallen asleep standing up while (theoretically) still shuffling around the court? Hell, I have a friend who has, on two separate occasions, dealt with varying levels of BLINDNESS DURING A RACE. You read that correctly-a combination of long runs and high altitude led to occular malfunction for this guy. And after it happened once, he didn’t worry or panic, and he was equipped to handle it when it happened to him a second time. Things like this would be ridiculous in any other sport…but in running we celebrate them and chalk it up as “having a good time”! 

So why do I do it? Why am I out there six days a week, usually before 4am, making myself uncomfortable? Why do I and millions of other people willingly subject ourselves to it? This isn’t a career for me. I’ll never be an elite runner, getting paid to endorse products. I can say that for all the pain, sadness, frustration, and general shittiness that I feel most of the time when actually running, there is nothing that makes me feel better. I look at where I was three years ago, barely able to do a 5k without walking a good chunk of it. Now I’m doing 60+ miles per week, and feeling good about it. The pain that happens during the run doesn’t last, I don’t have injuries or things that linger. It allows me to clear my head. There is a saying in the running world-if you can’t solve your problems on a 10 mile run, you’ll never solve them. And it’s true. It’s time to think, or go blank. Listen to your breath, nature, or music. Running has taken me many places-from running down the strip in Las Vegas, to Monument Valley, to running up a mountain in the Japanese countryside, and everywhere in between. It’s who I am. It hurts like hell, but it’s a pain that I wouldn’t trade for anything on this Earth.


On Climate

Forgive me if this comes off as scattered or perhaps reactionary. I’ll be the first to admit, I’m both of those things. But I’m especially scattered and reactionary because of the decision to leave the Paris Accords today. So, here we goooooo!

I shouldn’t be surprised. President Trump has been talking about this since day 1. Since before he was elected. He pushed an isolationist, America-first agenda that spoke loudly to a lot of people. Why should we care about others when the government doesn’t even care about me? It’s a sentiment that was the difference maker in November. On some levels, I get it. When the housing market tanked ten years ago, I sold my house and had to pay $30k out of pocket at the closing. I didn’t run crying for a handout. I took responsibility for my poor decision (namely buying an overpriced house from a crooked lender without knowing what I was doing). I was extremely fortunate that I had the means to make that payment in the first place. So I get it when people see others taking advantage of the system, while they scrape by. 

The Paris Accords were a different animal though. This wasn’t the US sending billions of dollars to other countries while our citizens starve. This was a set of NONBINDING targets over the next 30 years to reduce carbon emissions and the impact that humans have on the planet. I capitalized nonbinding for a reason. There was no enforcement of the Accords. There was no environmental police coming to check each factory. It was a designed as a way to globally sit together and say, we can all do better. Every single nation can take steps to make a difference and make the world a better place. In the process, it afforded funding of new technologies and research to help reduce fossil fuel usage. 

 We want to make America great again, right? Doesn’t that mean that we, perched atop the global economy as a world power, have a responsibility to do the right thing? It’s already being reported that one of the bigger impacts of our departure from these Accords will be the other countries who follow our lead. “If the US isn’t doing it, with all their resources, why should we?” This will be the refrain around the globe. With great power comes great responsibility, is the old saying. We have great power. And our responsibility is to look beyond the next day, the next dollar, the next headline. Set an example and make the world a better place. 

Clare Gallagher is a professional runner and an avid environmental supporter. She wrote a blog today, basically asking why should she continue to pursue something that some deem as trivial (running) when the world is turning into such a shitty place? I have felt the same thing over the last six months as this dystopian nightmare has unfolded in front of me. Today, however, it dawned on me. This isn’t the time to give up. In fact, people like Clare need to push even harder into doing what they do best. Her success gives her a platform to spread a message. It’s up to all of us who care about more than corporate profits and money to find our own platforms. Find what you are good at, and do it. Do it better than you’ve ever done it. Put every ounce of your being into what you love. Use that passion to spread knowledge and enlightenment. If your message hits ONE person and opens their eyes, it is worth it. 


So….Now What? – Day 10 and Beyond

(📸: Long Nguyen)

I struggled quite a bit with how to write this post. At this point, everyone who has followed along on this journey knows what has happened. Do I need to rehash it? Is there enough to write about? As I sit here, a few days removed from our stopping point, I think it’s time to provide some detail and color to what has transpired. 

Let’s start with Day 10. Wednesday of week 2. Day 9 had ended with a mixed bag. Annie had covered more than 40 miles, and there was a local TV reporter there to interview her when she finished. But physically, things were not good. It had been two full days where she was doing far more hiking than running. All of the aches and pains that had flared up over the previous nine days had come and gone. Her body had adapted beautifully, just as it was supposed to. Everything that is, except her ankles. No amount of ice and elevation could get the swelling down, or control the bruising and discoloration. The swelling was preventing her from tying her shoes properly, and made wearing socks uncomfortable. But Annie is the toughest person I’ve ever met. She’s been through a lifetime of pain and torment, both physical and emotional, and she has always risen above it. So part of me expected Day 10 to be more of the same. A slow grind filled with a fair amount of tears, and consoling hugs, reassurances that whatever pace she was keeping was “fast enough”. 

I dropped her off at the trail head on the morning of Day 10. She had the 10 mile Kettlebowl segment, followed by a 25 mile road segment. She had started to really look forward to the road segments. She could move faster due to the smoother terrain, and it required a lot less mental focus so she could give her brain a rest. 

Less than a half mile in, I got a text from her. “I can’t go on” is all it said. I immediately turned around to get back to the trail head. Can’t is a word than almost never comes out of her mouth, so when it did, I was immediately concerned. As the person who has crewed all of her runs for the last 2.5 years, I still struggle with how hard she pushes herself and how much pain she is in when she’s competing. As such, we made a pact before her attempt started: I wouldn’t be concerned with her physical state on the trails, but she had to tell me if she had something that was an actual injury. When I got back to the trailhead, she was hobbling more severely than I had seen to this point. “We need a hospital” is all she could get out before she was overcome with a wave of emotion. 

We drove straight to the ER in Antigo, where a doctor examined her and ordered X-rays of the ankle. It seemed apparent to him that there was no fracture, but he could tell by the look on Annie’s face that something wasn’t right. The images confirmed what he thought, no evidence of a fracture. The doctor was pretty sincere in his statement that she needed some time off. The damage done could turn permanent if she kept pushing. He said something that made us both stop and think: “remember, you aren’t getting paid to do this. It’s not worth a permanent injury. Just rest”. Solid advice from the doc, but still not easy to swallow. 

We drove back to the hotel to reassess. Annie spoke with her coach, who offered some of his ever-present wisdom. Rest, hit the hot tub to loosen it up, and see how it felt. Within five minutes of that call ending, Annie was asleep. I let her sleep while I tried to line up a physical therapist for her. Several people had graciously offered to see her after my call to arms on Facebook, so it was a matter of seeing who could get her in asap. There was one who was about an hour away who could see her, so I woke her up and off we went to Shawano. 

Ron Thomas was able to get her in and examine the ankle. He did a ton of massage and showed me how to tape it for compression going forward. The massage had loosened her ankle up, so that with the tape job injected some fresh excitement into the day. Unfortunately by this time it was after 2pm, so any mileage she could get in would be a win, but it wouldn’t be a lot. Off we drove, back to Kettlebowl to try again. This time, I would park 2 miles down the trail and see how she did. When I saw her come around the corner, my fears were confirmed. Still hiking. I could tell right away from her expression, this was going to be the end of her Ice Age FKT attempt. She spoke to her sister on the phone, and indeed confirmed that this was it. Her goal wasn’t to through-hike the trail. She wanted to break that record, and lessen the gap between male and female. Back to the hotel to rest. 

She fell asleep early while I fielded a lot of texts and calls from people who wanted to know what was happening. One such text was from Carrie, who was filming the attempt. She wanted to know if she could meet us the next morning for more footage. Carrie and her husband Tim had been amazing to work with from day 1, so I definitely wanted them to be around the next morning. 

Thursday started off with me seeing a story on the news about Annie’s attempt. Since they had produced it all the previous night, they hadn’t been updated that it was over. Crushing to see. Carrie and Tim showed up and got Annie talking about what had happened. I think that was therapeutic for Annie, to be able to express the anger and sadness and disappointment she felt so strongly. We drove back out to Kettlebowl for a little more footage and then started back to Milwaukee. It was a bitter drive home. It was too soon, with too much left to accomplish. But it wasn’t nearly as bitter as a permanent injury would be. I had to remind both of us of this, multiple times. 

So….now what? Where do we go from here? Annie was seen by her primary doctor on Friday who said part of the problem with her ankles was a bacterial infection, most likely a combination of open cuts and excessive bog water. Her coach affectionately started calling her SwampLeg, which I found hilarious! Laughter is the best medicine, they say. So she’s working on getting that cleared up and trying to regain mobility in her ankle. She will take at least another week off from running, and then (assuming it’s healed), slowly ease back into it. The next thing on her calendar is the Leadville 100 mile race. For those that aren’t familiar, it’s done in the mountains outside of Denver, with altitudes ranging from 10000-14000 feet and LOTS of climbing. So the workouts will become focused on hills, hills, and more hills. She also will start using her hypoxia machine, which helps acclimate the body to the lower oxygen levels at altitude. 

After that, Ice Age FKT 2.0 will be the focus. Right now we are looking at the fall for another attempt. We will take the knowledge from this attempt and not make the same mistakes again. What we pack, where we stay, how we attack each day will all be drastically different. When doing an attempt like this, you have to be prepared to take what the trail gives you. Some days, 60 miles won’t be in the cards. And that’s ok. She’s prepared for that now. 

That’s where we stand right now. I’ll continue to post updates about her and her progress and training. Leadville may not be 1200 miles, but it’s damn interesting in its own right. I’m sure many people would enjoy hearing about her training for that race: “On Saturday, find the steepest hill you can, and run up and down it. Continuously, for FOUR HOURS”. Things like that. 

Thank you again for following along on this journey so far. It’s not over; in fact, it’s only beginning!


Keep Pushing – Day 9

Tuesday started out with high hopes. Annie was set to finish the Parrish Hills segment, followed by a 5 mile road run and several segments after that. The last five miles of Day 8 had been on less than stellar trails, so she had old shoes and a determined heart to start the day. A determined heart will get you so far, but sometimes things happen that stop you in your tracks. 

In this case, bear tracks stopped her in her tracks. 

Here’s the thing. We know there are bears and wolves and coyotes and lots of other things up here. We’ve seen tracks as we’ve moved across the state. But when you see a couple of sets of prints, specifically a mother and two sets of cub prints, and they are fresh in the mud, your hair stands up on end! Annie is a smart girl. She knows deep down, bears don’t want to mess with her any more than she wants to mess with bears. But the addition of the cub prints made her nervous. You throw that in with some crisscrossing trails and some foggy, eerily quiet woods, and her pulse was definitely racing. Other than running the rest of the day with a stick in her hand (her bear-club, if you will), there was no encounter. 

All in all, she was making good time. The temps were cool and the sky was overcast, which is ideal running weather for Annie. It was the kind of day that made me wish she had fresh legs, as she probably could have ripped about 70-80 miles! But given how hard she’s worked since May 1st, the fact that she could still walk (not to mention run) was amazing! 

She decided to stop for lunch around 1pm. While she was eating, I could tell the stress of this was still eating at her. The physical stress, slowing her normal Trail pace down to (at least to her) a snail’s pace. Shooting pain up both legs with every step, running or walking. Her ankles swelling more and more each day, to the point that shoes and socks began feeling uncomfortable. But there is more than physical pain. The mental stress is just as bad. Boredom sets in. You start to imagine things (like bears). You start to think about all of the people watching and cheering you on. Wanting to keep going to prove what you set out to prove-that anyone can do these things. Any human body is capable of accomplishing greatness. And that’s an amazing, positive message. But what happens if your own body breaks? Are you a hypocrite? Will you let people down? Do people care about Annie as a person, or is it only about this run? These are the thoughts that you struggle with when you have that much time to think. Those thoughts begin to feel like a 5000 pound weight sitting on your back. 

She assured me she was ok and continued on after lunch. However at the next segment I could tell she was still upset. It’s always obvious when someone has been crying. I did the only thing I could-I grabbed her and hugged her and told her I loved her. Unconditionally, win or lose. At this point, she had 6 miles left for the day to finish up the Lumbercamp segment. Once that was done, Channel 12 from Rhinelander was waiting at the trailhead to interview her. She started down the trail with a very nasty limp, and I drove to the other side of the trail. 

Knowing she might be struggling by the end, I ran a couple miles from the other trailhead to meet her in the middle. These two miles I ran were extremely intense. Lots of hills, rocks, and just generally difficult running conditions. When I met up with her, I let her know it’d be slow going on the way back. Luckily (?) for her, she was in so much pain that anything faster than a very slow walk was unbearable. We made our way up and down (and up and down) back to the trailhead. She had completed the segment and was 100% spent. 

On the day, two important mental milestones were crossed. She finished with 43 miles, putting her over 400 for the total. She also had reached the point where the trail stops going due east and starts moving back west and then south. There are a lot of road segments going south (which she’s ok with) and each mile puts us closer to the many many people who have expressed interest in being a part of this journey. She did a great trailside video with Channel 12 and we headed back to the room. 

Her ankles and feet continued to be swollen. It was excruciating to remove her socks. She sat looking forlornly at her now softball-sized ankles. I reminded her that there are literally a handful of people on this earth that have logged the mileage that she has. And all of them are world famous, professional runners. People who have sponsors, book deals, and endorsements. Oh, and all of them are men to boot. If the challenge ended today, she’d be in some incredibly talented company. Of course, none of that meant anything to her. She is hyper focused on the goal and will continue to push after it until she succeeds or until she completely collapses and can’t go on. 

She drifted off to another night of restless sleep, while I got caught up on all of the behind the scenes things that help make this run smoothly. With a 10 mile trail run followed by 25 on the roads the next day, I was hopeful that she’d run strong and happy and knock this segment out for good. 

If history is any indication, the days I have the highest expectations of her performance, something inevitably goes wrong outside of her control and makes the day worse than usual. Hopefully, that strong would be broken on Day 10!


R-E-L-A-X – Day 8


Day 8. The start of week 2. There’s always a lot of talk about “Motivation Monday”, never miss a Monday, things like that. Little one-liners that are meant to energize and add some positivity to Monday. They are great little things to tell yourself when you are feeling like death on a Monday morning.

Unless you ran 325 miles in the previous seven days. Then your Monday can “motivate” itself.

Sunday had been hard on Annie. Physically the slower pace was absolutely important. But mentally, it wasn’t good. She came in with a goal of 60 miles a day. Each day that wasn’t 60 made the deficit grow wider and wider. To make matters worse, the day started out with an out and back trail. For those that don’t know what that is, it’s a trail that runs in one direction for a particular distance, then you turn around and run back to where you started. Why on Earth a 2 mile (one way) out and back is included on a through-trail, I’ll never know. But I can tell you, it’s incredibly demoralizing to run the same trail twice when you are doing what Annie is. As usual though, she did it and moved on.

Following that segment, she had 12 miles on the road. She’s started to look forward to the road segments, because she can move a bit faster and also not have to worry about climbing over trees or wading through bogs. So I did what I have been doing-driving ahead about halfway, running back until I see her, running with her until we reach the car, then drive ahead again. It helps me get my miles in, and helps her mentally break up the segments also. It was at one point during this segment that she said something I’ve been waiting to hear since she started. She admitted that even if she doesn’t finish in 19 days or if she doesn’t break Jason’s record at all, the run will still be a success. I reinforced that and reminded her that people are interested in what she’s doing not just to see a record fall. People are interested because, well, it’s interesting. When she said it out loud, it was like a weight was lifted from her already achy back.

Suddenly the ankles and hips and kneecaps that have been searing pain into every step became a little looser. Her demeanor and expressions softened. She laughed and cracked a joke. Positivity was making a comeback! She finished her road segment and then started on the Harrison Hills segment of the trail. I should mention that this segment was beautiful, well-marked, and extremely runnable. It was definitely one of the best segments we’ve seen so far.

To add to the positive energy, we were also joined by Annie’s cousin Louie, as well as another local runner named Dewey. These two are great fun to be around, and they helped the day go by quickly! They wanted to spend more time running with Annie, so I was by myself to drive ahead, park, run in and meet them. I didn’t have headphones so I just played my music saved in my phone to pass the time. Turns out, I learned a few things about my iTunes music collection. First, I never went back and deleted that “awesome” U2 album that came preloaded for everyone. Also, I have a LOT of Taylor Swift in there. I’m gonna go ahead and blame that on my daughter….you all believe me right? When we stopped for lunch, they jokingly offered Annie a beer. Little did they know that the previous night, Annie’s coach had suggested she try a beer in the afternoon of her run! It’s a carb source, and one beer would have enough alcohol to dull the pain without making her loopy. So, that became part of lunch! While it’s funny, it also was indicative that she was loosening up and ready to enjoy the journey.

Louie and Dewey stuck with us until about 4pm, then they had to take off. Annie wanted to tackle one more segment, so we said our goodbyes and she trotted down the trail. Apparently they were our Trail good luck charms, because the next segment was immediately back to bogs and mud! But Annie fought through like she always does and finished the day with a very strong 43 miles. She wanted to keep going as it was barely 530pm, but I reminded her that the two extra hours of recovery time would be far more beneficial than five more miles.

She hates it when I’m right. And she hates it even more when I blog about it. So here we are!

She got ice on her feet and cleaned herself up and we actually went to a restaurant that wasn’t fast food which was a nice change. I embarrassed myself because I asked the waitress if everyone in this town was on meth (I swear it looked that way) and Annie made me apologize but then she also made a faux pas when she forgot we were in public and let loose with an extremely un-ladylike burp as we ate. However since she was in the corner of the booth, no one could see her and they all assumed it was me, forcing me to apologize once again. After dinner Annie drifted in and out of a restless sleep while I tried to figure out if we could get a PT or masseuse to do some work on her ankles.

Here’s hoping that Day 9 is just as positive and upbeat!


How Bad Do You Want It? – Day 7

First of all, I’ve stolen the title of this update from a great book by Matt Fitzgerald. The book talks about how we must overcome our own mental demons in the face of stress to perform at our peak. It’s such a good book I continue to overlook the obvious grammatical error in the title (what editor was ok with that??). But it’s a fitting title for Day 7 of Annie’s journey. 

The alarm rang at 415 as it usually does. One thing you should all know about me and Annie. 415 alarms are not new. In fact for me, it’s sleeping in. We are up on a daily basis between 3-4am, depending on our workouts and work schedules for the day. And neither of us are “snoozers”. Alarm goes off, we get up and get started. Obnoxious, right? So when the alarm went off and Annie muttered she wanted more time, my heart sank. It’s an indication she’s not looking forward to the day. Her heart isn’t in it. 

After a couple of snoozes, she was ready to get moving. We had a full house: the two of us, as well as Casey (who had joined in the afternoon of Day 6 and wanted to run today as well) and Keith (who wasn’t running because he had to go home). After the morning routine of reloading the car, getting Annie squared away with supplies, we headed out to that day’s starting point. It had rained overnight just to add a fresh layer of water over everything, and the temps were in the low 30s. 

Annie started out the day and right away was limping. I’ve grown accustomed to her limping by the end of the day, but the fact that it was starting at 640am was concerning. I tossed her some hiking poles to help with stability and balance and she headed down the trail. Casey and I drove to the next meeting spot and parked, where we both promptly passed out in our respective vehicles. After a short rest, Casey decided to hike in and I started writing the previous day’s recap. Casey and Annie emerged a short time later. Annie was still hobbling pretty severely, and she mentioned she had hiked the entire time. Based on the mileage covered and the time, I had assumed as much. I continued to remind her that the number is irrelevant. Just get done what you can get done and keep moving forward. She and Casey set off for the next segment. 

As I waited for them on the other side, off in the distance I saw a flash of neon green running down the gravel road where I was parked. As the brightness drew closer, I realized that it our good friend Jose (who runs at Lapham, designed the shirts and logo that Annie has created for this event, and is an all around good guy). He was excited to spend the day with Annie, and I was relieved to have him joining us as Casey had to leave after she finished the segment they were on. In my eyes, Jose was the exact guy that was needed today. He can talk about anything, and he’s unfailingly positive. He had parked at another spot on the trail and told himself he’d run the opposite direction until he reached Annie. After a brief story about how he had earlier been scoped out by a coyote, he was off and running again. 

The three of them emerged from the woods. Casey said her goodbyes, and Jose’s information that the next segment featured a river crossing that was thigh deep, and about 30 feet across, confirmed for her it was time to leave us! Jose was ready and willing to get through the water and the bogs though (mostly because he had to get back to his car one way or another). 

It was around this time that Annie admitted that hiking was about all she could muster for the day. Her legs just couldn’t go any faster. She talked to her coach while she ate lunch, and he confirmed that based on the severe ankle pain she was feeling, it might be smarter to hike for awhile and shut it down early. Sometimes you know the right thing to do, but you need someone else to confirm it for you. He reminded her that pressing forward, believe it or not, was the easy choice. When your goal is to complete 1200 miles, regardless of the time it takes, the easy choice is to keep slowly moving forward. Courage comes when you say I need to shut it down today and care for my body. And that’s what she did. 

The remainder of the day was spent hiking, the three of us together. We experienced a large dam on the Wisconsin River (which I learned from a cleverly placed sign on the trail that, at 85 feet, this was the largest waterfall on the Wisconsin River), and the resulting rapids on the river made some soothing background noise as we hiked along the banks. 

We got back to Jose’s car and Annie said she was done for the day. She had completed 25 miles, all hiking. For most people, walking 25 miles in a day on flat pavement is enough to call for a wheelchair. But Annie wasn’t happy with her output, although she accepted that she needed to cut back that day and rest. 

With her leg elevated and ice on her ankle, she fell asleep for what seemed to be the first time in a week. I finished up laundry (all those bogs made for some interesting socks, both from a visual and olfactory sense), showered, and savored the fact that we were staying two nights in this particular hotel, so not everything needed to be repacked immediately. 

I savored it, until I laid down and noticed that Annie had two pillows elevating her leg, two under her head, and one that she seemed to be using as some sort of armrest. Given what she’s been through, I laid my head down on a balled-up shirt and hoped like hell I could think of something to pull her out of her funk as we started week 2. 


The Battle Continues – Day 6

After the tough ending of Day 5, Annie was looking for a nice rebound on Day 6. She had a trail segment of about 7 miles to start, followed by 5 miles of road. The 7 miles gave me time to drive Keith out to the projected ending point for that day, drop his truck off, and head back. Or so we thought. 

For those of you that aren’t familiar with ultrarunning or trail running, you should know that generally when someone is running 10 miles on the trail, there are usually enough roads in the vicinity to leave a vehicle and never be more than a few miles from it. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case for us. If Annie ran 50 miles on Day 6, I had to drive Keith nearly 50 miles on the roads to get to the end of the trail. That took FOREVER. So long, in fact, that we had to detour back to a town to fill up with gas. I knew we’d be cutting it close to meet her for the start of the road segment, and sure enough my fears were confirmed when she text wondering where we were, because she had finished her trail portion. 

I raced back to her and caught up about a mile into the road section. I pulled over and she immediately came to me in tears. The trail segment she had just finished was again underwater, she had fallen on a wooden bridge that was slippery, and she was exhausted. The amount of pain she’s experiencing right now is severely limiting her sleep. So after 12-14 hours per day of running, the 3-4 hours of restless sleep per night are wearing her down even more. After we embraced and I got her to eat, she and Keith continued down the road segment. 

Along with Keith, we were also joined by Julio and Long from Defeat the Stigma out of Minneapolis. Long was filming and taking photos, while Julio joined in for some parts of the run. We had turned into a mini traveling circus! But Long got some excellent pictures and we are looking forward to seeing his video clips!

Much of the morning and early afternoon continued in this manner. Annie was doing her best. Her hip flexor which had caused her to be nearly immobile the previous day was feeling looser today, but the pain was replaced by extremely swollen ankles and lower leg pain. 

After lunch, Annie and Keith headed back out. I drove ahead to meet them, and along the way I saw something that was a little concerning. At one of the parking areas, I drove up to see a man putting his pants on. Now, I don’t want to assume anything-I’ve changed in and near my car many times. But all I’m saying is that I didn’t see any running shoes around, and he got the hell out of there when I pulled up! That wouldn’t be the last creepy thing I saw that day though. 

While I waited for them to arrive, I was joined by another friend, Casey Hushon. A runner from Milwaukee, she drove up to join Annie for some mileage. Always great to see a friendly face, and now Annie had three of them to help her through the afternoon! Annie and Keith continued to plow ahead, while Casey and I would drive ahead and then run back towards them, meeting somewhere near the middle and then all four of us ran out together. Annie really enjoyed this, and it kept her spirits up. 

The last segment we did for the day was one of the most ridiculous pieces of trail I’ve seen to this point. After about 1.5 miles of swampy bog running, the trail opened into the creepiest, most deserted section of woods I’ve ever seen. There’s an 85% chance that someone has been murdered in these woods. Along with isolation, it also appeared someone had been using the woods for chainsaw practice. Normally when we’ve seen section of the trail that have been logged, everything is nice and neat. In this portion, it’s like someone was walking around hacking branches (or people) at random and just letting everything fall. At last check, loggers don’t make any money until they actually collect the wood and sell it, but maybe the industry has changed and now they are paid in chainsaw-hours. 

The four of us trudged out of the Brothers Grimm woods and all that separated Annie from 300 cumulative miles was a 1.9 mile walk on a gravel road. Never in my life have I seen someone give so much effort and fight through so much pain. This is dedication and determination that is beyond description. Her ankle had swollen to the point that she couldn’t bend her toes or flex her foot. Again, it’s heartbreaking to watch. Every fiber of my being wants to tell her to quit, to end her pain and heal her wounds. But that’s not who she is. She’s gotten this far by fighting. And she’s going to continue fighting until she wins or until she physically can’t walk upright anymore. 

It ended up being a late night with all of the logistics, meaning Sunday’s alarm would be even less welcome than usual. But with each new day, there’s a new chance to keep fighting!