Some wise man, most probably one of the eminent fellows I should remember from my history books, said that anything of value never comes easy. Well, that being true, I must have gained riches over the weekend by doing the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run.
Hard, it was. Hard enough to prevent about half of the field of 425 starters from finishing (I was 163rd of the 222 to complete it); hard through the snow of the mountains to the icy river crossings, to the umpteen vertical spiraling and rocky climbs, to the even worse quad-busting downhills that would follow each, through the plus-100 degree heat of the canyons that made the lovely weather on Cape Cod truly appreciated. Hard enough to make me want to quit this absurd quest over and over. I grew angry at the ridiculously sadistic difficulty of the course, and I take no pride in admitting I enjoyed seeing some of my peers bent over sick in their desperation at some of the aid stations, if only to prove to me that, like myself, they were human, and they hurt, too. Geez, I wanted to quit. Boy, did I hurt. Please look elsewhere for your heroes. But lucky for me, I had a couple of angels on my side. Running sounds like an individual sport, and maybe the score is kept on that basis, but endurance runs in the wilderness over prodigious distances are team efforts, and I had Jane Hattemer (my girl friend) and one stranger, Alex Kahl on my side. For 28 hours and 55 minutes Jane stayed awake, appearing at aid stations with the necessary supplies (shoe changes, aspirin, food, etc.) and more importantly, the emotional support you need to get you through the night. I would finally emerge out of the dark to another circle of light, and there’d she be, smiling her beatific smile and stating, “Honey, you can do it. You are doing it!” Then there was Alex, a guy I had never met, but a 20 year old college runner who had volunteered to accompany me over the last 38 miles, where you are allowed to have a pacer. He was perfect for the job. Tough, yet compassionate, a physical guy with the soul of a poet. Best of all, Alex somehow instinctively knew when to raise the bar or lower the bar as we trudged through the pain. He would entertain no thoughts of failure. And when darkness finally turned to morning light, and miles turned to the final single digits, I knew he was right. Jane joined us at 99 for that last single mile, and as we entered the stadium, it no longer was a stupid, unrealistic notion, but a dream coming true. Jane ran by my side — Alex always a step back, insisting that this was our show. We were a team, alright, and this team was crying with happiness and accomplishment. Just as we should be. Shows you what you can do together, and not alone.