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RacingThePlanet: Madagascar 2014 Blogs

Finish Line
12-Sep-2014 12:13:38 PM [(GMT-05:00) Eastern Time(US & Canada)]

I felt it was important to put an ending on these blogs (a coda of sorts) and by extension maybe some closure on this adventure.  Thus, I am going to do two more posts: the first focused on the last day and the finish line; finally, some last reflections on the experience from start to end.  So let me return with a quick sense of things after my post 50mile entry: that blog was constructed in camp the day after the long haul.  We crossed the finish line at 9ish and when I finally ‘got normal again’ – I was pretty messed up that night, some degree of hypernatremia was the working theory – it was around midnight.  I slept hard.  The next day I was in camp resting as folks trickled in from the previous night.  Cutoff was noon of that day off.  I wrote my blog about the long day, tried to keep my feet in the air, and my body temperature down when the sun did what it does in Madagascar.  The final 10K would begin the following morning.  Starting was in three waves: 7am for folks towards the back of the field, 8 for those in the middle, and 8:30 for the runners up front- the idea being everyone would finish around the same time.  My start with Steve (and Mike and Nick) was 8:00am.

 

Last day:

-We are the walking wounded.  We are also giddy.  The end is soon, oh so soon.   I sit on a stool outside my tent and watch the 7am group begin their final 10K.  Forget 10 kilometers, an outsider might wonder how this bruised and battered throng could cover ten feet.  But those of us who have been in the race throughout the week know it will get done- one step at a time, bit by little bit.

-Five minutes before our 8am start we meet Nick and Mike at the start.  The discussion is rather brief.  No one feels good but everyone will run this final section.  It is a tacit agreement: honor the trail with this last bit of work.

-We start the last 10k.  Steve and I settle into 8-9min mile pace and see if the legs might just loosen up one last time.  My achilles, a problem since the last half of the 50, barks and my baby toes howl as my feet have swollen past the edge of my shoes.  We are on dusty track again but the blinding kick-up seems more minor today.  In truth it is probably as bad as days past but somehow easier to endure with the end near.

-It is just the two of us, Steve and me, and we climb on hard packed jeep trails that remind me of the New Mexico cross-country paths of my youth.  Oddly, an 8-minute mile feels doable.  Steve checks his watch and mentions we are fast.  I settle and we clip along at around an 8:30 pace.

-The dirt track runs down to the final town and at the bottom of the hill we turn left on asphalt.  We hear the towns people gathered along the road.  Like horses drawn to an internal sense of a yet to be seen barn we shift the pace and quicken.  The moderate speed (comparatively) feels good.  We run close to a 7-minute mile and the familiar aches bleed away.  Everything quiets.

-The final half-mile is a collage: I adjusted my foot placement as I don’t want to fully blow out my achilles in the final moments of the race.  We pass smiling competitors and joke.  Steve sprints ahead with Joseph from Iceland, a mock sprint to the end.  Two hundred meters before the official line the time checker ‘pings’ our electronic time chip for the last time.  Then, flanked by what feels like the whole town, many playing drums, we finish the race.                

 

Three moments from the finish line:

In France, at the airport on the way to Madagascar, I met two friends from Lebanon.  Both are middle-aged fathers with full eyes, big grins, paws that gripped my own with paternal enthusiasm.  The older of the two (wish I could their remember names) – he is maybe late fifties – and has done three or four of these before Madagascar.  His friend is a newbie like me.  Even in the airport, the encounter brief, their kindness was a visible attribute like a well-worn shirt or fresh shave.  Throughout the week we offered encouraging words to each other, passed sideways man-hugs when leap forging on the course.  The older father brought his wife and daughter with him for this race (I also met them at the airport).  The plan: he would run and they would meet him on the final day at the finish line.  His daughter is a functioning but high needs mentally delayed teenager.  Nonetheless, she seemed aware of the context of her father’s big race, perhaps even proud.  Fast-forward.  I see my Lebanese friend run up the final hill but before he crosses the line he finds his daughter, puts the pack he’s carried all week on her, and, hand-in-hand they run together through the finish.  The noise of the day remains unchanged but when I see them the volume in my own head mutes.  Let these two be just as they are, I think, together, yet separate from the rest.

 

Then there is Martin.  I find Martin – from Singapore, mid 60s, competed in many these ultras before – walking silently amidst the celebratory drums, beers, high-fives, all the cacophonous cheer.  I offer a congratulatory hug.  He opens his arms emotionally, he is crying a bit, and while we embrace he says to me ‘it is so good to do the hard thing.’  And I know exactly what he means

 

Marcel, a fellow countryman of our South African friends, covers the last 50 meters with a Charlie Chaplin like skip, a dance of internal amusement.  When he is done, he finds our group of four (Mike, Nick, and Steve) and promptly chugs half of everyone’s beer and says ‘thanks boys I needed that.’  This. Is. Awesome.  What a way to finish.     

 

Initially, memories like these glow with the high intensity of a campfire’s inner heat.  But, we all know, eventually such images cool.  What once was bright and vibrant becomes a charcoal gray, or disappears completely.  There is nothing new or profound in stating this; it is merely part of life.  If I must lose the collected vignettes from this run to the erasure of temporality let me pause and put forward this wish: let these three memories keep their shape and feel.  With time, instead of fading, I would like them to crystallize.  Forever caught in amber I hope they remain impenetrable.  Then, in the future, I could return to them just as they were in the now in which they were experienced.   And when I do retrieve these finish line moments moving forward I bet any callousness or cynicism will thaw.  They will be a fresh reminder of how good a good day can be.    

 

Stage 5 in the bag.
05-Sep-2014 07:45:09 AM [(GMT-05:00) Eastern Time(US & Canada)]

48 plus miles. 13:15ish. 65th place ish.

-night before long day and my heart is a car engine in my chest. When I get anxious at night I try to breathe and be present, who knows what’s tomorrow. -2 hours sleep and rip my toe on the tent post 10 minutes before race. This could be a very long and bad day. Upside: steve is in top form after the rough one the day before. I decide I will lean on others today. -I decided last night whenever I went into the pain cave or doubted the outcome of the long haul I would quietly say to myself “serenity” and “grace.” It will be my pivot on the course…something to come back to when my mind wanders. -We find nick and mike the start line. Mike slept awful and nick feels good. So steve and nick up front and Matt and Mike sweeping. -Begin. -Steve pushes the first 10k, everyone knows you have to get trail behind you before the sun hits high intensity. -First 2 check points are dust and sand (again). I feel rocks in my shoes. I put the bandana over my mouth and work the system: electrolyte from pack bladder, small sip, every two minutes; salt pill at the 50min mark; timer to beep for pill. After first pill I realize I did not reset timer. I am low in head juice…focus needed. -First 20k is a blur. Feet in sand, sand to dust, dust to a coating of mud in shoes, and a thin layer on all our skin. Villagers clap. Steve pushes a heavier pace. The rest of us joke. The sky opens up and the day arrives in force. -11am: 3 hours slogging and my mind is going dark. I think about everywhere but the trail: I wonder if I am doing anything productive with my life. I wonder if I bring a net good into the world. I wonder about vanity and ego. I wonder if this is a selfish act by a selfish underdeveloped man-boy. -Serenity. Grace. -We are nearing half way and I know this is going to be a low point (hoping only one of the day). I tell the boys I am going to put on some music (Nick asks if I am in the “house of pain”…”big time brother”) -Toe hurts, ripped section is filling sand, feet hurt, not even half way, light headed, beginning to feel it slip. -I pick up my head and see these amazing trees we are running through (mid day we do 1 min run 3 walk…steve is pushing it however, he will admit later, we all respond that we knew). I take a moment and try to see the sky. -Serenity. Grace. -I feel on the horizon the other side of this hurt. I can feel the darkness receding. I get emotional. I say a blessing to the trail. -Back half: We make it to check point 5 (the over night check point for anyone who needs to sleep for a few hours before the end of the 80k) and sit for some quick food. We did the first 24.5 miles in about 7 hours with 10min stops at each check point. We guess it will be a 16hr day. -I feel ready ...to my left are these canyons that become shot through with purple when the light hits. Between the rock wall and us rice paddies and sun kissed locals finishing the day. It is the hour of calm. -Serenity. Grace. -We begin the final section…Nick and Steve push and Mike and I talk. I ask him if this is all some caveman bullshit about who is the strongest. He says: “reckon so…but it is good to be someone who sets big goals and does them.” I like this. -Twilight…time to push I say. We up the pace. -Headlamps on and we go down the rabbit hole. The villages we move through blur, noise is an auditory hallucination, the ground beneath me begins to bend at the edges and tunnel. I know the night run, been here…actually like it. -Serenity. Grace. -We push. -With 18k left Steve and I are done, mike and nick tell us to go on. -Steve and I push off…2min run, 2 walk- and every other set is running until someone calls uncle. -I wonder if I am a good brother, son, cousin, partner. I wonder if love is a construct or real. I wonder if this pain will ever stop. I wonder about my swollen feet. I wonder if I will clip a rock and this will all be taken back. -Last check point. Serenity. Grace. -We push off knowing camp is next, just up that hill, around that corner, around the turn, soon, soon, soon… -My stomach goes with about a ¼ mile…quick vomit…tell steve to keep running. -Done. -We negative the back half and finish off the day. The next 30mins was a bit messy…but all is well that ends well.

Thorn: the day Rose: the day

Tis all good here. I am happy and healthy. Tomorrow we walk a 10k and finish this odyssey. Thanks for all the love and support- comments keep me going. Next you hear from me all be off course. Warmth to all unfolding in all the wild ways life unfolds.

Stage 4
03-Sep-2014 03:04:50 AM [(GMT-05:00) Eastern Time(US & Canada)]

Stage 4 in the bag. 25 miles. 6:15 overall time. 70th place (ish)…not that it matters for us, they just tell you at the end.

-First, I got comments today and it honestly moved me to hear from everyone, thank you so very much. Keep it coming, please J
-Stage update:
-Long, flat, and we know the 8am start time means we have 2 hours before the sun kills us.
-Head down, fall into pace, charge and get through first 10k, 1:22 at check point one.
-Mike and Nick (south Africans) have been with us for three days. Operation matt at back checking pace and sweeping the road as we go and Steve pushing up front continues. Have to hand it to Steve he is pushing us with such strong up front energy. Much needed.
-Dust coats my mouth, hole in the wall banana up over mouth, now more heat and the feeling of being water boarded by my own sweat, but better than the dust.
-Check point two is 8k and we make quick time with 2 min run, 3 min walk.
-I look up whenever I can and see another planet from my known world. Even the hard breathing plants (see the many comments about heat) seem somehow fully alive in this full full landscape; all is robust and blooming, wilting, and growing again. Just soo much life in this place.
-Towns people wave and send awed energy our way…they seem totally happy and thrown by our presence all at once.
-Check point 2 to 3 nick goes into the ‘pain cave’ and steve is feeling the heat. Silence as we bark down our own demons.
-Check point 3 to camp is running on pavement, we charge. Lets get off our feet and get home.
-Finish feeling better today than end of day one. Good, right?

Tomorrow we have our 50miler- we will dip down into this wild darkness with a sense of gratitude and a full heart… hard to be anything but joyful with so very many gifts everywhere. The paint brush hues of sunrise and sunset, that alone, merits my fullest attention and thanks. I am reminded of the scene from American Beauty: sometimes I fill up with so much beauty I feel I might burst. Or maybe I am a bit emotional because just covered 100 miles in four days.

Thorn: Drained my big toe again, will lose most of my nails post-race it seems, and it being a hard day for my crew… but not a big thorn (personally) because body is better than most

Rose: I think I said in a past blog post I brought some race poems to steady my mind. Every night I read two to the tent (call it story time)…well today on the course met someone struggling hard with, well this whole beast of a race, and she said our surrounding tents dig on story time and it was helping her get through to tonight. Really nice to have others love on you for what you love…and fyi she made it.

Tis all good here. I am happy, healthy, and well. Thanks for support- my love to all running races of their own…let’s all keep-on-keepin on

Tomorrow the race starts
Stage 3 done. 7:15ish. 70th place ish. Good day.
02-Sep-2014 02:14:12 AM [(GMT-05:00) Eastern Time(US & Canada)]

-Another day with the South Africans. We seem to be falling into a solid routine. We hear race briefing, discuss hitting a 7 hr per 25 miles, and then decide the running sections from there. -My fluid plan is working- including evenings I would guess I am doing about 12 liters of fluids and a salt pill every 45mins. -Knees ok, ankle not bad (all things considered), heat oppressive but somehow it’s fun to lose your mind out there and get supper loopy. -toes better than most (drilled a hole in left big nail to drain it, two blisters, one will be rough tomorrow). -random abe muscle cramps from holding center pose with pack and hand cramps at night. -no chafing, huge!

Today’s course… -Started with some more brutal sand. -Took us on to the beach after check point 1, sand was firm so not bad, plan became run 2 mins walk 4. -Came out in these amazing canyons (think they are called tngsy, spelling?) and found ourselves flanked by these walls of blood red sand. Surreal. -Wound are way up a rough upgrade to crest the top and run the canyon wall. Run 2, walk 4. -Steve seems to naturally glide into position 1 and push us on (he also has the gps watch), I “street sweep” and mike and nick (our south African friends) chat it up in the middle. One topic of conversation today: how old school nasa dudes were studs but not over the top about it. -From canyon wall to river beds, through villages, the everywhere sky is ocean blue, look up, remember where I am, enjoy the breeze when it comes (may not return),head down, think about the next step, think about the next rep of 2 mins running, and nothing else. -we had a river crossing 2k from camp and took pack off to soak. Worms be dammed (steve will get us meds when home). -arrive at camp bit late but considering the climb and river joy we are pleased. -real race starts in two days with the 50.

Thorn: heat and lame sauce blisters (again I have it better than most) Rose: the moment in the middle of the day when I ran through the red red canyons and felt no pack, no bit of the previous stages, felt at home on the other side of the world.

All is well here. I am taking care of myself (feel better today than end of stage 1). My love to everyone dancing their own dance wherever that may be.

Stage 2 done
01-Sep-2014 02:15:16 AM [(GMT-05:00) Eastern Time(US & Canada)]

29ish miles in 8:30. Rumour has it we were about 60th place (hmmm…not the goal, too close to the front but ok). -start of day was along the beach and then over volcanic rock, slip there and that’s the ball game. -we left the beach very sick of sand. -things opened up and we (today was an amazing group day with Steve, two south Africans we have a brewing bromance with, and a very nice woman named kara who is a beast on the course) decided to start a steady clip of 2 mins on and 3 mins off, we were way off time but walking was only option early. -running and walking became the steady hum of the day. -and we cruised, cruised, and cruised. -1.5 litters of electrolytes, 18 ozs of perpetuium, and a salt pill every hour, per pit stop. Super hot day but it worked. Peed twice on course, apparently a big deal. -rice paddies, river crossings, villages, smiling little ones (again), sand but not as bad as yesterday, wet feet not so fun, hot spots turning into blisters (not complaining, seen way worse), lower back feels like it may have cracked from pack, quick tape job from med tent, pack higher on shoulders (god bless crossfit and the less bit of upper body strengthen), shoulders go, tape there, find the right placement for pack, keep cruising. -we keep to the rep scheme (2 by 3)…and we remember to look up, and we take some pics. -arrive not having bottomed out -arrive feeling very cautiously hopeful about the stages to come.

Thorn: this back thing, feet, having a long day like this before the long day.

Rose: the blessing of being here, awesome five person team, Steve and the military precision of our race plan.

Final thought: race has not even started yet (stage five is the whole deal, next two days are just prep for that). I am healthy. I am happy. All is good here. It seems the blog comments are on a day lag (I read tonight what people responded from my blog before the race began. Regardless, please keep them coming- very heartening to read. My love to everyone oh so far away.

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MATT LEWIS
RacingThePlanet: Madagascar 2014

Hometown
Santa Fe, NM

Profession
Obscure humanities PhD candidate

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MATT LEWIS
RacingThePlanet: Madagascar 2014 competitor

Bio

Academia by way of nonprofit work by way of selling scripts and books in the entertainment industry.

Hometown
Santa Fe, NM

Profession
Obscure humanities PhD candidate

Why are you competing?
reminder that joy and fun are not always the same
thing. The former often requires everything you
have - pain, sweat, training, effort upon effort -
while the latter a tv-couch-evening-after-work.
Both have there place and time. Good to know
difference.

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