10-Mar-2013 07:44:20 AM [(GMT-06:00) Central Time(US & Canada)]
Hello everyone. Thanks so much for sticking with me this entire week. You've been on my mind and in my heart the entire way... I pretty much cry each time I read your comments on the blog. This is my final posting, so I thought I'd share my immediate reaction and thoughts about the race as I sit in the Santiago airport lounge awaiting my flight home. If you have yet to read my "STAGE 5&6" blog, you may want to check it out before reading this. It highlights my 20 hour long march through the desert night, and is posted below.
As for the final stage 7, I made it... At that point, If it took me all day, there was nothing that would stop me from completing the last 15k of the total 250k. It was mostly uneventful, until the final 500 yards, when a Japanese competitor came out of nowhere, tapped my shoulder and simply said "Go"... He either meant "Let's go and cross the finish line together my friend" or "Hey hobbling American boy, you want to go"... Of course the New Yorker in me interpreted the ladder, and so we were off... After all, this was really my only chance to compete the entire race... But no way he beats me. So I busted into this strange looking limp-sprint (yes there is such a thing) and dusted the dude... I was told afterwards by the medical staff that it was a real sight, and they cringed watching it, but nonetheless, to the sound of the cheering crowd, I received my medal and chugged the greatest Coca Cola in the history of the world, as we celebrated in the streets until the last competitor crossed.
On so many levels, this race lived up to my every expectation and beyond... "Life changing" is an understatement. While I can best explain in person, here are some thoughts for the blog.
In the months leading up to the race, I sent several emails outlining the race itself, the cause, and the charitable reasons behind me signing up. Right or wrong, I chose the toughest footrace in the world mainly because I felt it would justify, in a way, my requests for donations for the Children's Homes in Costa Rica. I must admit however, that while I have been moving towards greater overall balance and moderation in my life, this race was undoubtedly as extreme as it gets. The one condition I absolutely swore to myself, was not to sacrifice family and work as a result of training for this race. I had to prove I could do it without causing any carnage and collateral damage in my personal and professional life as a result of training hours... I succeeded, but the trade-off turned out to be me grossly underestimating the massive physical demands of the race. With all my research and outstanding programming by my coach Sam Nix, there was no way to properly train each day living at sea level, and in the paved streets of Dallas Texas. Considering the Atacama desert's constant repeating accents and descents, varying slopes, crazy terrain angles... and uncertain footing, from soft sand dunes one minute, to coral-like crusty ground the next minute... mix in water, extreme heat and 10,000 ft elevation, along with 20lbs slicing into my shoulder blades, and you can see why after Stage 1 my body was in a state of shock. When you planted your next foot, you never knew whether it would strike solid ground or sink through a deceptively crusty surface, assuring a nasty fall or a broken ankle. Despite its difficulty, the terrain was truly visibly spectacular. For my 190lb frame, I spent most of the race introducing my body to completely new movements and landings underfoot. Using Crossfit as the foundation of my training may have been the only way my body had the strength and quick muscle memory to adapt to the conditions and persevere.
In addition to the unique and fabulous terrain, the other major lesson I learned involved nutrition. Hydration was easy... Drink insane amounts of electrolyte-infused water and take salt pills to retain the water, like I was Robert Downey Jr popping valium. The challenge was consuming the planned 3,200 calories daily. I never ate more than at most, 1,200 calories. Even had I stuck to the plan, we calculated I would have needed to eat 16 large pizzas per day to keep up with the constant calorie burn. Impossible... but it made my performance, and even getting up each day very difficult. Even worse news is that although I lost 12 lbs, it wasn't all fat loss. In fact, most of it was muscle mass... In these ultra-endurance races the body burns muscle before fat reserve... so instead of coming home with chiseled six-pack abs, my body is noticeably smaller and mushier than before.... Crazy, right? The muscle just eats itself to create energy in the body throughout the race. In my defense, the thought of eating freeze dried lasagna in a bag in 120 degree heat having just gone 28 miles is not exactly appetizing. But that's where pre-race food choices could have been much better. Noodle soups, salty chips and beef jerky were like gold in the Atacama desert... Some of the lead competitors lived on couscous, olive oil and a brick of parmesan, all of which are lightweight, calorie dense, and can survive the extreme heat. If all you eat at home is fresh food, 20 hours through the desert on strawberry Gu gels is not exactly a winning formula... more like a daily shock to my system.
Those were the biggest race specific factors that impacted me. I was injured during Stage 2, but even without the achilles injury, it would have been hard for me to finish in the top 50, with the terrain and nutrition struggles I described above. But my goal was to finish the race... and with all the "headwinds" I faced, I still topped more than 40% of the competitors.
Beyond the race conditions, the multi-cultural living environment was the most eye-opening and inspiring experience. Spending a full week, 24/7, eating and sleeping inches from other competitors from around the world was an amazing study. We really learned how the various cultures integrate, communicate, celebrate, handle conflict, and view the world. It confirmed for me that love and compassion are truly universal gifts, and without geographical boundaries. Something small like a Korean competitor noticing me struggle, offering to split his last bag of peanuts... to a British woman who's legs and spirit were nearly broken and at the brink of quitting with only 9 miles to go, a Spaniard reached down, picked her up and carried her 20lb pack, despite knowing he'd be penalized, just so she could stay in the race. All around camp, there were constant acts of kindness taking place, forming lifelong bonds between us. I will personally maintain contact with at least 20 competitors from 12 different countries.
On to a few fun little take-aways:
1. Do not, I repeat do not, snort Afrin nasal spray while running in the driest desert on earth. My nostrils turned into fiberglass as I writhed in pain looking like I ate a dozen raw onions.
2. Do not pretend you can choke down an 800 calorie bag of freeze dried chile con carne in the middle of the Atacama, even on a dare... trust me...
3. Do not look at photos on the race website and think to yourself "Oh, what a cute little race... looks like everyone is having so much fun out there." It was fun indeed, but one step inside the medical tent was all you needed to witness a full-on scene out of the movie "Platoon".
4. Never underestimate the value of ice. I would have paid $10k for just a few cubes.... But then I would have to decide whether to eat them or rub them all over my legs.
5. The Scottish are the toughest and grittiest people on the planet. Yes, we all saw "Braveheart", and yes, it's just like that... On numerous occasions, my Scottish tent-mates grabbed me and said things like "Get up and box young lad..." or "Chew up your fear and spit it out...".
6. When I don't bathe for a week, I look terrible and smell like crap... When all 150 of us don't bathe for a week, we look fabulous and smell like roses. Helps not to have mirrors...
During the 7-day race, I tested my physical and mental limits in countless ways. I tapped into my spiritual self far more than any other time in my life. While asking for God's help and guidance daily, even hourly, there were too many awesome occurrences that happened to me and all around me, to be anything less than divine work. It was truly epic in that way.
The interest, donations and support you have given me throughout these months will do wonders for the Children's Homes and stay with me forever. You made this whole experience possible for me and I will love and cherish all that came as a result. Thank you for guiding me through this spectacular race and I look forward to sharing great times with you soon.
All my best,
09-Mar-2013 05:35:59 AM [(GMT-06:00) Central Time(US & Canada)]
Hello everyone... I made it through the long march... 76k... it took 20 hours, through the night... at 4am when I finally crossed the stage finish line, I was totally delirious, but it was a truly epic feeling I can barely describe... When I located my tent, I borrowed a phone from a competitor from Singapore who somehow had a signal, texted Melissa, then collapsed on top of my sleeping bag. But let me tell you how the day started... Again I woke at 5am, too dizzy to eat anything of substance, and headed directly to the medical tent to get my daily achilles check from the doctors on staff... Good news, still in tact, however the doc took one look at my feet and said "wow... we need to drill those big toes. Drilling my toenails with a large needle relieves pressure from blisters underneath the toe nails. I would lose the nails but this procedure, as gross as it sounds, would help in a big way... The big issue now, was the damage I was doing to all the stabilizing ligaments and muscles in my calves, which were working overtime to compensate for my achilles. I refused to properly push off my toes and risk rupture, so instead I would plod along kind of flat footed, concentrating on flexing my gluts to do the work. Anyway, I set of for the long march which began with a mile trek through an icy lake in knee high freezing water. This was actually great for my achilles but the wet shoes, combined with ensuing mud, meant feet that felt like heavy boulders every step I took... The good news is that with the next 20 miles of sand dunes ahead, the mud mixed with water crusted over the tops of my shoes and created a natural gator which kept out the sand for the first time all week. My plan was to take it checkpoint by checkpoint, as there were 6 in total... I was okay by the first checkpoint but at #2 I felt dizzy and lightheaded. I had managed to stay hydrated all week so it must have been a food issue. I wasn't taking in nearly enough calories each day (1,200 vs planned 3,200) for a variety of reasons. I periodically dumped food because I couldn't handle he weight on my back. Also, I ate all my bars and nuts because it was all I could stomach the first 2 days. So I relied primarily on salt pills and electrolyte tablets throughout the race days, then bartered for meals that looked appetizing with other competitors at dinner time. So at checkpoint 2, another competitor grabbed my hand, opened it, at poured a half bag of peanuts into it. I felt instantly better and after a quick check of the achilles, set off for and 11 mile stage through crusted salt flats that looked like frozen icicles sticking straight up from the ground. Even if I could run, which I could not, I had to watch every step not to break an ankle or worse, fall to the sharp ground. All good, but at checkpoint 3, the 125 degree heat set in, and despite the kind Iranian who doused me with SPF 130 sunscreen, the blazing sun was cutting through my skin. I grabbed my face stick and started feverishly scraping it all over my legs to try and shield the heat for a while. At the checkpoint, I picked up an awesome race companion, tent-mate Frasier Brown, a Brit living in Singapore. We kept each other company, helped each other tackle massive sand dunes, and planned to trek through the upcoming desert night together. Neither of us wanted to be alone in the pitch black cold desert with only a headlamp beam to see. So we plowed through the night, agreeing not to stop, with a plan to reach base camp by 3am. All was good. My achilles held up and we power-walked out way until 2am, when all of a sudden, my right calf gave way. It had been supporting my achilles for 3 days and it locked up completely. Every step was excruciatingly painful. I would limp for 2 minutes, then stop and double over. Again and again... this crushed our pace, but Frasier stayed with me. At the final checkpoint I asked the doc if I should rest a while and he said if I stop, I might not be able to continue. So I mounted up... and Frasier and I finally crossed the Stage 5&6 long march at 4am. We were full on delusional the last couple hours. I found out that there's something about no food, total body fatigue and staring at a head beam for 7 hours, brings out some crazy things in people... Tomorrow is the final stage... a short 15k "sprint" into the center of San Pedro town. Even if I have to crawl, I will finish. The race company that sponsors us is terrific, but many of the pictures and stories they post don't tell the real picture. The pain and suffering, the glory, and truly inspiring stories. After all, they are promoting the race and showing you a medical tent that resembles the show "M.A.S.H." would not inspire people to sign up. After the race, I will post a final blog with reflections, lessons learned and amazing experiences. So until then, I love you guys. Thanks so much for all the comments and support. I will save them forever and I weep like a baby every time I read them... Melissa, kiss my boys... I love you with all my heart. JZK
06-Mar-2013 03:56:48 AM [(GMT-06:00) Central Time(US & Canada)]
Hello everyone. Thanks so much for all the words of encouragement. I made it through stage 4... I woke up this moring and again could barely walk. I used a trekking pole from the lost and found for support to get around camp. The doctors again felt my achilles was in tact, though swelling and fluid behind both of them meant major continued pain if I continued... I decided to try it. My trekking pole snapped 50 ft from the starting line, so the day didn't start well... But 28 miles later, through 120 degree heat, over ground that resembled broken glass, I limped my way across the finish line with a time of 10.5 hours. The pain was absolutely brutal in both legs all day, and never let up for a second, but I knew if I could stay ahead of the cutoff times at each checkpoint I'd make it. I shouted "man up" to myself a dozen times but I'm okay and will rest a few hours tonight before attempting the beast... 45 miles straight through the night... I'm exhausted and semi delusional so I'll sighn off. I miss you guys... Melissa, hug the boys, I love you so much... JZK
05-Mar-2013 02:36:04 AM [(GMT-06:00) Central Time(US & Canada)]
Today was the toughest day of my life. I can't possibly describe what I went through today physically and mentally... and ultimately spiritually... I woke this morning and couldnt put my hoes on due to massive pain in my achilles tendon... After a consult with the medical staff, they cleared me with serious tendonitis and possible micro tears. After more than 9 hours I made it, but not before nearly dropping out at least three times... The last of which I sat on the side of the road and cried... Not so much because of the pain, which was unbelievable, like a knife cutting through the back of my ankle every step... I felt i could push through that... It was the thought of dropping out after 75 miles... with all the donations and support, I was very sad about that possibility... But I had to weigh that against putting my wife and kids through a second Achilles rupture... sounds like an excuse, but I swear that's what ran through my mind over and over again... I made it... and a quick ultrasound showed no rupture... So with the doctors pseudo blessing I'm going to try and stay with it.. 27.4 miles... It's late and they are about to close the media tent so I can't check the blog but thank you very much if you wrote something and I'll readit tomorrow... I promise to give it everything I have... Please forgive me if I can't finish... The thought makes me cry (for the 5th time today), but know that I'm thinking of all of you and it"s why I'm going to getup in a few hours and go for it... If this blog is sloppy I apologize... It's late' I'm dehydrated and it was a very emotional day... I love you Melissa with all my heart. I miss you so much.
04-Mar-2013 04:10:10 AM [(GMT-06:00) Central Time(US & Canada)]
Hello all... Well, the best way I can describe today was totally amazing and absolutely brutal at the same time.Let me start with the amazing part... The first 2 hours were through a georgous canyon crossing rivers in waist high water. Normally I'd mind struggling to stay on my feet through the rapids but it was the only cold water we've had so I loved it. Equally epic was running a half mile down a towering sand dune. Your feet just go on their own as you pick up speed all the way down. I have never experienced anything like that... Check out the pictures they post from Stage 2, they should be awesome... As for the brutality, it started at 5am when I was so sore, I could barely get out of my tent. That may have attributed to the 9 hours it took me to cross the finish line.I was shuffling along nicely until the wheels came off at the 30k checkpoint. Two toenails are mashed, and I couldn't decide which hurt worse, my shoulders or my legs. I utilzed every resource I had, and thankfully I my running mate today was a Scottish dude named Peter. He's a triathlon freak and had a solution for everything from how to tape my feet to when to eat and pop salt tablets. Nothing he could do about the 20lb back-breaking pack we each carried... And yes, Turkey Jerky holds up at 10,000 feet elevation and 112 degrees which was today's lovely conditons... I'm back at base camp, pounding water and anything my stomach will handle, which is not the freeze dried turkey and mashed potatoes I brought along. The Brits have these awesome jellies (like swedish fish and gummy bears combined) and I nearly wrestled a Canadian for a bag of cheetos on the premise that it's an American snack... Most of the people here are really amazing hard core athletes and competitors. I'm learning so much about the true meaning of human endurance. Thanks so much to everyone who commented on my blog. You can't imagine how much I cherish reading them. Melissa, kiss my little monkeys... I needed them today... And I really miss you and love you so much. (Sorry everyone... this is the only way I can communcate with my bride...) Tomorrow we take on the famous salt flats. I'll be back to you then. Love to all. JZK
03-Mar-2013 04:26:58 AM [(GMT-06:00) Central Time(US & Canada)]
Stage 1 done... Wow is all I can say... The first 20k was great. I ran most of the way... Then the 100 degree heat set in at the same time I approached a massive mountain, only I had no idea how long I would be ascending... It felt like it never ended... fortunately I buddied up with a canadian dude and we paced each other until I started halucinating and he ran ahead. Next was two south africans... They were pure comedy which kept my mind off the heat and body fatigue... I hobbled across the finish line at around the 5 hour mark. Pretty good and we'll see how I feel tomorrow... I have virtually no appetite but gulped down a noodle soup and a protein bar. We are like sardines in my tent but the Scots and Brits keep the mood light for all of us. I miss you all and rely on your support to press onward... Hi Hudson, Boden and Baron... I love you so much... Daddy will be home soon... And Melissa, you are my world... I love you sooo much. I"ll be back manana. JZK
01-Mar-2013 01:28:09 AM [(GMT-06:00) Central Time(US & Canada)]
Hello from San Pedro de Atacama. The weather is beautiful and the people are awesome. I arrived safe and sound and already met dozens of competitors, doctors and staff. This part of the Chile looks like Colorado and New Mexico on steroids... Mountains, sand, streams and a stray llama or two... Today I will go for a light run to keep the body loose and see more of the town. I'll also spend a couple hours ditching items from my racepack, as I can already tell I've way overpacked... Love to all... I'll post an update after stage 1 on Sunday sfternoon.