“Stars shining bright above you
Night breezes seem to whisper ‘I love you’
Birds singing in the sycamore tree
Dream a little dream of me”
“Basically you are OK. Get some sleep, stop vomiting and you’ll be alright. Hey, I hope we see you at Colleen’s dinner party in January!”
--Paramedic at covered bridge 4:30am
Mohican is the only day all year long that my urine really gets the attention that is deserves. Its color, volume, and frequency are as spellbinding to me as an “Ice Road Truckers” marathon. I hate to brag. I really do. But so far my urine had been the type of stuff that could inspire poetry. Hemingway would have described it as “Dependable pee. Strong and true. The kind of ‘number one’ a man could live with”! It really was kinda beautiful there, all silhouetted against my headlight as I stopped on the climb to Hickory Ridge. There just didn’t seem to be nearly as much of it as there was before but that’s OK right? Sure it was. Besides there really wasn’t any time or need to worry. I was walking behind Dick Canterbury and he was looking as good as I felt. My pacer Kevin had my back and we were coming up on 68 miles and the bright lights of the Hickory Ridge aid station. That meant that we were entering the realm of the Mansfield Running Club. These folks are fun, and knowledgeable, and dependable. If the people at the Rock Point aid station were the type that you would choose if you were looking to do a little homesteading then the attractive and fun bunch at Hickory Ridge would be your admissions department if you were going to start a college…a fun college. They had cute women who thought that it was interesting and acceptable that a man was lacking, say, skin on his feet, or a stomach lining. They knew how to treat these maladies and also had smiles and tomato juice and salted potatoes. I hated to leave but the Mill beckoned. I promised to join them on one of their famous Tuesday night runs in the future and boogied out into the night.
The only unpleasantness at all, in fact, at Hickory Ridge was that when I asked how their team-mate Michelle Bichsel was doing they looked a bit glum. “She’s kinda sick” said a cute one. “Yeah but she’s gonna finish up just fine because she’s tough” said a fun one. Then everyone smiled.
At about this time Michelle was at the Mill arguing with Rob Powell. Rob was testing his recent surgical scar tissue just a bit by crewing for Michelle, who had been suffering gastrointestinal distress all day. Michelle wanted to drop out; Rob was having none of it. In fact Rob had taken the identification strip off of Michelle’s race bib so the she COULD NOT legally drop out. Backing Rob up was Don Baun who had decided to leave his best effort for a better day and then, in true Mohican fashion, eschewed a warm bed for an all-night crew position. Michelle argued the point but her friends were most likely only presaging what her own mind would have told her given a moment of silence. She wasn’t going to float this time but she wasn’t going to sink either.
Kevin and I passed a sign that told us that we had only 4 more miles of bike trail left. That means that we were three miles from Hickory Ridge which means we had gone…..ummmm…68 plus 3 equals….about 70 or something like that. Yeah seventy. “Hey Kevin guess what? We only have like 33 more miles to go! I feel great”. Five steps later I was bent at the waist heaving loud enough to stir birds from their nests. “Whoa. That was weird” Said I. “Let’s get out of these woods. We’ll just go nice and easy and it’ll all be BLEEEHHHHH!”
At this point in the race Wyatt Hornsby must have been running a bit scared. Wyatt had just done something that he must have envisioned on a hundred training runs over the past year. It was bold and it was ballsy and it was unlikely. He had run well back from the frontrunners all day long; keeping them just within range. This was a wise strategy. But just a while ago his patience, alertness, and knowledge of the course allowed him to take over the lead from Mark Tanaka of San Francisco and he was now irrevocably committed to pulling off his goal of winning the Mohican Trail 100 Mile Run. This was the work of a believer. Wyatt was a good runner. In fact he had finished in the top five in a local 50K race on this very course a few months ago. But this was Tanaka’s race and everyone knew it. Well, almost everyone. Tanaka was the genuine deal. He was a member of the famous La Sportiva Mountain Running Team. Wyatt was running ruthlessly. He refused to walk on even some of the steepest climbs and increased his effort time and again over the final miles. Think of Rocky climbing off the canvas for a knockout. Wyatt crossed the line to the delight of all skinny-low-heart-rated Ohioans, in first place in 19:52.
[Quick editorial note here: By all accounts Mark Tanaka is a genuinely wonderful person and a terrific athlete. In no way do I mean to paint him into the "bad guy" role here...I just love an upset/local-boy-makes-good story : ). Nothing but all-around respect intended. In his blog Wyatt spoke in the highest terms of the talent and courage displayed by both Tanaka and Matt Aro. All three runners gave ultra fans one of the best races seen at Mohican in many years. Maybe ever.]
I stumbled down the final mile of the bike path and into the campground parking lot. I lay right down on my face and went to sleep. Kevin woke me up saying “Its only one mile to the Mill, pull your shit together”. “Tough titty Miss Kitty” said I. I lay there while the inconsiderate bastards in the truck parked nearby kept asking me over and over again if I was alright and did I need any help at all? Wasn’t there something they could please do? “I’m fine!”
I guess I wasn’t portraying “Fine” as well as I thought I was.
About an hour earlier Nick the Brewer, Nick the Philosopher, Nick the runner-at heart who lives in kid-like joy at his ability to run long distances had set a P.R. Nick arrived at the Covered Bridge aid station at 64 miles after battling muscle cramps for the last 43 miles, blistered feet for the past 10 hours, low blood sodium all day long and, straight from the “Insult to injury” file, a headlamp that picked the treacherous green loop to wink out…then on again…then out...then kinda on…in the pitch black darkness of the toughest stretch of woods in the toughest 100 miler in the Midwest, since nightfall. The problem with the light (and this story tells its own tale about being a mammal in lousy weather conditions) was that it was shorting out because Nick was sweating into the battery compartment. He stopped to drain it and continued. No belt buckle but, on the bright side, no self-administered electro-shock therapy either. Nick’s road to the finish line at Mohican will continue into 2010 and on this road lies the Javelina 100 this fall, and many miles and many good stories and a few finely crafted homebrews as well perhaps.
“No worries man. There is absolutely no way that I am dropping out. My kids have gone through way worse than this and I’m just going to have to suffer. I don’t need to eat. I can do the whole thing on body fat if I need to. I did last year.” I explained to Ron Ross. Ron has finished more Mohicans than nearly anyone and he is just about the fittest and nicest human being anywhere. “That’s great Mark.” He said using “great” as convincingly as I had used “fine” 1 mile (and 45 minutes) earlier. “You can do it” he said. And this part I am convinced he meant. Man it was good to see Ron. Kevin meanwhile had gotten me half a cup of some sort of soup and strained everything solid out of it. I was sitting UNDER a picnic table at the Mill, had gotten 5 minutes of sleep and was wearing the fleece vest that I bought at Salvation Army 2 days ago for three dollars. I think of EVERYTHING. Yep. Things were better. Then I walked a quarter of a mile and threw up half a gallon of broth.
I often find it odd that when I go to remote but beautiful places, such as Mohican, for training runs that there aren’t more local runners out on the trails. In fact there seem to be none at all. I asked a college team-mate, Mitch Bentley about this once. Mitch was from the town of Plymouth in the Hocking Hills region and won the state cross country championship in High School. Mitch explained it by telling me that there are, after all, an awful lot of trails and odds of seeing anyone aren’t great. Yes, I argued, but I NEVER see ANYONE. Mitch then let out a loving ‘You just don’t get it’ sigh and told me. “Some of these folks have real world problems and don’t give a shit about us or our jogging programs. Keep that in mind”. The Mohican area is not as remote or economically depressed as the Hocking Hills region but I still have wondered “Why no local Mohican runners?” All of that was about to change. Late in the race Terry Lemke, who lived three miles from the course and had decided to enter the race just weeks before was running strong 10 minutes behind the leader. Mohican has been a family affair for the Lemke’s. They have worked an aid station as a family in past years and now Mom was in the mix in the middle of the night being paced by her son. Terry went on to finish as the second place female in just over 24 hours…and she may or may not give a shit about my jogging program. One can never be sure.
I stood and wavered from foot to foot and stared at the hill in front of me. Mohican has 11,000 feet of elevation gain but this 5 foot pitch was straight up and involved me grabbing onto one tree and climbing under another. This was trouble. I made it up and over the North Rim Trail but that involved legs which, despite having no access to quick burning energy, were holding up pretty good. I hoisted myself up. Sat at the top for a moment and stared down the other side. It was an equally steep 5 feet back down to the river and if I didn’t grab that sapling at the bottom I was going right into the river. I barely hooked the sapling and slung myself to the ground. Face down. Asleep for the fourth time in 2 miles.
I will spare you the horridness of this stretch. Suffice to say that it involved horrendous nausea, weakness, and flu-like symptoms that I have not experienced before. Over and over I told myself that my kids would never quit. I pictured myself walking in the front door and handing them my buckle and telling them to always remember that Carroll’s are tough. Kevin told me I was weaving, staggering, tripping, and talking nonsense. When we got to the bridge he called in the medics. It turns out that they knew me from past years. That has to be some sort of warning sign—having a personal relationship with medical personnel at your favorite race—but I’m not going to think about it now.
Kevin drove me back and I climbed into the back seat of my car, covered with the feces of different species, Vaseline, mud, Gatorade, vomit, dead bugs, sunscreen, and layer after layer of dust. I had no emotion. I let out one huge sob. Then sleep took me.
Twenty-nine hours, fifty-six minutes and twenty-nine seconds after the start of the race 36 year old Jennifer Broton crossed the finish line. She will return to Pennsylvania with the final belt buckle of 2009 and the title “Last of the Mohicans”. With Jennifer’s crossing, Mohican-world returns to torpor for another year. The water will continue to fall over Big Lyons falls every moment of the next twelve months and if I awake at, let us say, 2:17 am on a midwinter’s night I can be sure that Hickory Ridge is still there. I can roll over, and go back to sleep. But Mohican won’t exist again until next year, no matter how many blogs and training runs and photo albums are devoted to it. It won’t exist because we are not there. The truth is Mohican needs us to breathe life into it as much as we need Mohican, for thirty hours each year, to turn you, and him, and her and me, into us.
Its one week later and I am in the stands at the Ohio Special Olympics Summer Games. For three days, each June, thousands of Special Olympics athletes from every county in the state monopolize Ohio State University’s gigantic campus, filling many of its dorms and requiring the support of thousands of volunteers as they compete in 19 separate sports spread across thousands of acres connected by an intricate system of shuttle buses. On this evening Jesse Owens Stadium is filled to beyond-capacity with nearly 20,000 athletes, coaches, volunteers, friends, family members, and press corps. The evening climaxes as the Olympic torch, which has traveled the state of Ohio for an entire week (beginning at the approximate time that I was passing Hickory Ridge for the first time last Saturday) is escorted into the stadium. The torch is guarded by a dozen State Highway Patrol motorcycles, sirens blaring, and escorted by 100 highway patrol cadets, a military color-guard, and dozens of high-level politicians. As the torch circles the track the roar of the crowd crescendos, turning physical; shaking the foundations of the stands. As the Olympic flame is ignited a chopper buzzes the stadium but it, as well as the announcer’s voice, are unheard, overwhelmed by the shouts of joy as so many individuals, too often marginalized in daily life, announce that for this time they are the center of the universe.
The Special Olympics Oath is:
“Let me win.
But if I cannot win,
Let me be brave in the attempt.”
Maybe that’s the whole point. Maybe the thing connecting the strands that comprise Mohican isn’t a belt buckle. Maybe the only thing that Wyatt and Jennifer, Luc and Scott and Casey, Dave and Michelle and Terry and Nick and Ron and Rob and Don have in common with me and Dick Canterbury and Mike McCune and the ultra-punks and the other Mohicans is that we all did, in our own way and according to our own circumstances and abilities, try.