30,000 ft. (over 50 Miles) for 30 Laps Around the Sun

March 5, 2021

Excerpt From Ty's Training Log, May 4, 2020.

Sparknotes: 80.5km (50 miles) w/ 4657m gain (15,300 ft) gain (30,000+ total gain/loss).

04:05: Happy birthday, me. The end of my twenties and start of my 30s. Sheesh that makes me feel old to write.

I woke up at 03:00 after managing to fall asleep before 10pm (despite being on a very late night/morning schedule these past few weeks). Matt and Sarah had taped up happy birthday balloons in the living room which was a thoughtful and lovely surprise to groggily stumble upon. Talked to my folks a bit as I was getting ready to go (for whom it was already after 6am on the east coast) and did 25 Sun Salutation (A)s -- saving the last 5 to do w/ the gang later in the day.

Matt had set up the table in the garage so all my fuel, water, and clothes were laid out there. It was cool and a bit breezy to start, but I wore just comp shorts and a thin long-sleeve. I didn’t wear my vest as I didn’t feel very thirsty at the start and figured I could just swing into the garage and grab my bottle if I wanted to drink in the first hour or so. It was dark with great stars but the moon was still up.

The idea was to run up and down Hang-glider Hill, a large hill or small mountain in our backyard. I’d done a 35km long run the weekend earlier (similarly just running up and down this one hill) and had mapped out a route that was short and steep on the way up, rising over 200m in just over 1km, and then more gradual on the way back down (about 2.5km) for about 3.3km per “lap”. All of this was super arbitrary but I figured it would be nice to run at least 30 miles. And if I still felt okay, shoot for 30,000 ft of combined elevation gain/loss (about 4600m of gain). This would require about 24 laps or about 50 miles total. So, I figured that was a good big goal: 50 miles.

But honestly this one was 100% for myself. I didn’t post about it beforehand online; pretty much only Matt and Sarah and my parents even knew I was doing it. It didn’t seem like wasn’t anyone else was awake on our quiet street at 4:05am when I started. But, I’d thought back to the days that had been the most memorable and positive in these extremely challenging months - the days where the spiders were mostly still, where the dark thoughts were kept mostly subdued - and I kept returning to those big physical days: at Cotopaxi, Quilotoa, various days from Nepal. And so that’s what I hoped to recreate.

I ran the first 2 laps in silence, just me and the dark night. As usual, I didn’t feel great and the thought of running 20-some more laps seemed totally impossible, but I tried to just relax, take them one at a time, etc. The giant golden moon was just setting and lighting up the ocean w/ its reflection. I saw a lot of small rodents, beetles and spiders, and one very large hare.

It was extremely windy up on the top 50m or so over the hill and I thought pretty seriously about getting my windbreaker just for that piece but never did. Really hoped it would die down as the sun came up (which it did).

The light of pre-dawn started adding some color to the sky pretty early, shortly after 05:00. I hadn’t eaten anything in the first hour but at that point I started going on the 30 min (more or less) timer and eating 100-150 cal each half hour.

I listened to all of the movie Meru -- I’ve seen it enough times that just the audio did the trick to refresh my brain before this week’s Chaski staff film club. I think I listened to This American Life after that.

I stopped for the first time around the 3 hour mark (after 8 laps), at which point I put the vest on and drank for the first time and took a caffeinated gel. My plan was to take a caffeinated gel (32mg) every hour from then. I was also drinking caffeinated nuun as needed (which I don’t think is a ton more).

I’d been running a bit slower than I expected, especially at first as the darkness forced me to go a bit more cautiously on the descents, so each lap was in the 22-23 minute range (I’d put 22’00 as the upper limit for what I thought they should take). Still, I’d stopped looking at the lap times and was just going by feel and trying to enjoy myself at that point.

I ran a couple more laps and remember starting to really feel quite good around what must have been lap 12 before running into Jeff, a local runner who’d volunteered to come keep me company for a bit. It was nice to have a fellow runner to chat with after 5 hours of solitary grinding, and I slowed myself down a bit to keep up some conversation and try to keep us together, mostly on the downhills.

Matt also joined in for 2 laps around this time, so in general these early-middle laps were pretty fun and felt good. I was stopping for a minute or probably less every 1 or 2 laps at the garage mostly just to drink (it didn’t seem worth carrying a bottle for twenty minutes) but also to grab some fuel, etc.

By the time that Matt was finishing up his second lap (and Jeff had stopped), we were passed 50km, I think 54km. I was still feeling decent enough and told Matt I’d almost certainly get to 40 miles (64km) which would only be 3 more laps. 50M still felt like a very long way away and now the sun was out in full force and my left achilles (which had been bugging me on and off for a while) was really making noise. I didn’t want to do any permanent/long-term damage, but at the same time, I didn’t want to quit just because it felt hard. It’s a tricky line to walk.

At that point, each lap felt harder, but I was still covering the route in about the same amount of time (21-23 minutes). I was dilly-dallying a bit more in the garage, which, in retrospect, just made it that much harder to get back out, and there were a few times, especially around 60km, where I almost threw in the towel.

I got to 40 miles and just remember thinking that there was no way I’d get to 50M. My achilles was really just not feeling good at all, the descents were really tough and felt awkward, and the ascents were going slower too.

I told myself that if I “just didn’t want to”, that wasn’t a good enough reason. If I really thought I was doing damage to my achilles, I’d stop, but each time I’d get out and get moving it wouldn’t feel any worse and I’d just power through another lap.

Still, 10 miles - 5 more loops - felt like so many. It was going to take over 2 hours. But then I realized that I was gaining more per lap than I’d planned and I was actually only 2 or 3 laps away from hitting my 30,000-ft-of-elevation-change goal, so I decided to focus on that. I was pretty sure I could do 2 or 3 more laps.

And so I did that. I got to like 72km and had like 300m of vert to go (about 1.5 laps) and then at 75km+ had only 100m more so I just ran up halfway and back down. I was done with the vert.

But now, I was at like 77.5km or something and it seemed downright silly not to run another 3km and hit 50 miles. I mean, how many times do you get to 77.5km in a run? (Well, don’t ask Pete Kostelnick… It was pretty rarefied air to me.

So I asked Matt if he’d finish up on the flat loop down the road from our house and we jogged down there and ran those last 3K. I was surprised to be running like 4’40-50s/km pace. I had barely been able to run up and down the steep hillside anymore, but the flatter, paved road was a nice change and I felt much smoother than expected.

We finished with the last 300m or so running to the beach, hitting 50 miles on the nose just at the top of the steps leading down to the sand.

I kicked off my shoes - I’d run in the HOKA Challenger ATR - and hobbled down the two-dozen stone steps and across the immense low-tide beach to soak legs in the frigid Pacific.

It had been a long morning. I finally stopped my watch at 9 hours 44 minutes (including all that time procrastinating in the garage).

But the time didn’t mean anything to me. This was a gift to myself.

I remember asking my friend David what he wanted for his 30th birthday a few months ago, and he replied that he wanted to feel something like hope. And while this run physically hurt (and still does as of this writing 24 hours later) and though I really felt sorry for myself a couple times out there, it somehow did make me feel hopeful.

It reminded me that, if nothing else, I am pretty darn good at getting myself through difficult situations. Like this run, I’ve had times this past year or so where I simply didn’t see a way forward to the other side. Getting through the pain seemed impossible.

But, as Robert Frost, said, “the only way out is through.”

The real and most important gift I gave myself for my birthday was a reminder that I’m a tough and hard-headed motherfucker and I’ve had some serious shit thrown my way recently but I’m still here, still putting my head down and fucking grinding my way through; and if I can stare up that hill after 70 kilometers, the buzzards circling overhead, and still take that first step, I know I’ll be able to stare down whatever the next decade throws my way.

— Tyler Andrews

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