Saturday, July 25, 2009

2009 Survivor Outback 5k

2009 Survivor Outback 5k
Sheffield, AL
July 25, 2009

Official Results

The question of the day is 'How bad do you want it?' Today I refused to settle for a certain position and when the hurt had long since set in, I pushed even harder.

In our annual assault on the 5k road racing scene, Joey Butler and I made the trip over to Sheffield, AL from Huntsville this morning in chase of the infamous boomerang that comes with a top spot in the Survivor Outback 5k. Last year I was out lasted at the end by Jason Reneau by a mere 3 seconds. Jason was off running the San Francisco Marathon today, so I knew that he would not be there, but that there were plenty of fast Shoals runners to make this a competitive event.

After our warm up, Joey and I spotted Dennis Eaton, Heath White and Hirbo Hirbo from the Shoals and Lucas Sieb from Scottsboro. On any day, these guys were all capable of winning this race and running sub 17. The Survivor course features an out and back around a cone, then drops down toward the river in the fastest first mile and a half of any 5k around. Then after running through a church parking lot, the course loops back on itself and climbs back up to the Outback Steakhouse.

From the gun, Lucas and Hirbo were off very fast. They were followed by Dennis Eaton and then me and Heath. I had no intention of holding back in this race so the fact that the first 1/2 mile went by in 2:33 (5:06 pace) did not scare me. I could not stay with the top two but if I could hold a fast pace down the hill, I'd have a fighting chance to out climb the rest of the field.

Dennis stayed ahead of me through the mile split (5:15) but as we ran down the hill, he was either coming back to me or I was closing the gap on him. Heath was very close as I could hear him breathing right behind me. We eased back a little to just under 5:30 pace by the base of the hill before the short, but very steep climb up into the church parking lot. It felt like we were crawling up this hill to make the loop around the aid station. As we were making the loop, Hirbo, followed by Lucas, came back out and headed back. They were running together so like the rest of us, the hill climb would be the deciding factor. I grabbed some water for a quick sip and splash on my head that really ended up not hitting my head at all.

As we started the climb, what I thought would be be strength, turned out to be my weakness. I don't think that he surged at all, but as I slowed, Heath passed me by and quickly put 10 meters on me. I stayed with him though to not let the gap get too big.

It was just then that out of no where, Dennis slowed to a walk and grabbed his side. I am not sure what happened, but I can only imagine that it was a side cramp. Like a miracle, I had gone from 5th into 4th overall. That was just the lift that I needed, mentally. We rolled through the 2 mile mark at just under 11 minutes.

I decided that instead of settling for 4th place I was going to dig hard and try to go for 3rd. What I decided to do was to throw in calculated surges to close the gap. From 2 miles to 2.5 miles I would push hard for 20 right strides and then back down to my starting pace for 20 strides. The point would be to close the gap, leaving enough time to pull ahead at the top of the hill. I was already running as hard as I could, so the 20 hard strides really was exhausting, but just as planned, I pulled even as we crested the hill.

From there, I decided that since we were running into a head wind, that I would tuck in head Heath and let him do the work for awhile. I employed the same strategy the week before at Twilight and I was able to save enough energy to pull ahead at the the end, so I tried it here. I stayed stride for stride behind him until we were at the 2.75 mile mark. At this point I knew that it was now or never. I slide out, and gave a 40 stride push and created a gap. I rested slightly into the 3 mile mark, but then pushed again for 20 more strides to the last turn around corner. I glanced back for the first time and saw that these last two pushes were enough to seal the deal on 3rd place.

I made the turn and coasted into the finish at 17:27 and 7 seconds ahead of Heath for 3rd place overall.

I refused to settle for 4th and I was willing to hurt in order to make the top 3. I ran smarter in the last mile than I did in any other race in quite some time, knowing my competition and with calculated surges, was able to pull even and then safely ahead at the end.

So the answer to the question of 'How bad do you want it?' is that I wanted it and I was willing to hurt to get it; but I wouldn't have been able to do it, had I not felt that kind of hurt in training before. Do today what the other guy won't, so that you can do later, what the other guy can't - that's my motto.

Hirbo held Lucas off in the end for the overall win. I commend those two and Heath for the great competition on this day.

Fleet Feet Racing Huntsville took 3rd OA (Eric), 5th OA & 1st M35-39 (Shane) and 20th OA & 3rd M40-44 (Joey).

# Name Age Time
1 Hirbo Hirbo, 23 16:10
2 Lucas Sieb, 16 16:22
3 Eric Charette, 33 17:27
4 Heath White, 26 17:34
5 Shane O'Neill, 37 18:14

Monday, July 6, 2009

Run Across Alabama

4 Days of Pain that will fade and 10 kilometers I will never forget

There will always be many fond memories of the 4 days that I spent running across the state of Alabama with Eric Schotz and Jon Elmore as part of Team Elliott to raise awareness for Tay Sachs, but it was the last 10 kilometers that I will never forget.

What started as a small idea by Eric and Jon, had blossomed into an enormous event that pulled together people from all walks of life, many of whom had never met each other. From the people who drove the support vehicles to the people holding signs on the side of the road, to people who handed over their hard earned money just because they were so moved but what was going on, Run Across Alabama had become more than any of us ever expected.

Each day we faced grueling miles of rolling hills and long straight-aways amidst beautiful Alabama back country. Together we pushed ahead on very little sleep and every morning we woke with more pain than the day before. What we left out there on those country roads was every ounce of effort, will and determination that we had. Three guys, who had never run this type of distance in a week, let alone in four days, gave it everything they had to show that if you believe, anything is possible. Together we shared immense highs and bottomless lows. We endured through the hurt, baked in the summer heat and in the end, we covered 183 miles from Mentone, AL to Red Bay, AL.

The pictures that were taken will help to preserve the memories and to bring this event alive for people who were not lucky enough to be there. The stories that we will tell in the future to our friends and family will help us to relive the physical and mental fatigue that we went through, all for one little boy that has a battle in front of him more difficult that any of us will ever know. There are things that happened we would like to forget and things that we would rather keep amongst the three of us; thoughts, emotions and sacred memories that belong to us. Yet I want to share with you the most vivid and moving memory that I have from Run Across Alabama. One that, even days later, brings tears to my eyes because of how powerful it is.

The final day of Run Across Alabama was a short 29 mile stretch, which when compared to the three previous days of around 50 miles each day, seemed relatively easy. Very early in the morning, a small pack of runners had fallen behind the larger pack, which was lead by Jon Elmore. Over the first three days we tried our best to stay together, but it was clear that today it wasn’t meant to be. Personally I had dropped out after hobbling through the first two miles on ankles that I could barely put any weight on, let alone run. Just a few miles later, Eric Schotz rolled into the 3rd crew stop with Linda Scavarda, several minutes behind the rest of the pack and they were walking. Eric had developed severe pain in his left quadriceps that was very similar to a strain that he suffered a few years ago. Eric wrapped the leg and tried to run, but made it no more than a few steps before he was grimacing in pain. Despite being in tremendous pain myself, I knew Eric's determination to finish would lead him to walk the rest of the distance if he had to. I grabbed my visor and immediately started walking with him.

We were joined in our walking by Linda, Joey Butler and John Nevels. These three had also run the day before for significant distances and were equally as fatigued. Together we set out at a relatively fast paced walk. Over the next 8 to 10 miles, we would occasionally try to run again, but each time we would make it no more than 4 or 5 steps before stumbling back to a walk. Despite the pain, we had very high spirits as we shared sausage biscuits from a gas station and continually dared John to run ahead to catch the lead pack and then back to us in under a certain amount of time for our entertainment. For the first time in days, we were taking in all of the landscapes and the scenery that surrounded us. We were eventually joined by Eliza (Eric’s wife), Elliott and Fiona (Eric and Liza’s children) and the rest of their families. Eric had another opportunity to push Elliott in the jog stroller for a mile or so, which was pure magic for our spirits. It was this very action that helped to ignite the Run Across Alabama. Eric has said that many times when Elliott is fussy, that he will put him in the jog stroller and go out for a run and this has a calming effect. Though Elliott will never be able to say the words, I am sure that he loves the time they spend together.

In the next few miles, Eric was developing some strength again and together with Joey and Linda, they began to run at a very slow pace. I joined in sporadically for a mile here and there, but could not maintain any consistency with the pain in my legs from the pounding on Alabama roads over the previous few days. We began to cut off portions of the course that took us onto side roads and ran more of the main highway, which provided a direct route to the state line. We were no longer concerned with hitting exactly 183 miles, but just with getting to the border and completing our Run Across Alabama.

We continued to alternate walking and running until around mile 21. We finally had hit a little groove and were running steady, albeit at a 12-13 minute pace and with pain in each step. Expansion of Highway 24 from two to four lanes meant that there was half of the roadway still under construction and provided a soft gravel bed. This was much preferred over the hard blacktop and concrete of the last 176 miles.

Along the way, I had been carrying my phone so that I could send Twitter status updates to the website. My phone was also acting as our GPS to provide our real time position to a map on the website for people to track our progress. I also had some music on the memory card that I downloaded each night before running, meant to help us when we needed motivation. Over the previous three days I had played a few songs for Jon and Eric; songs that had specific meaning to our trip, including 'Fortunate Son', 'Staying Alive' and 'Tubthumping' by Chumbawumba. At the top of a hill in which we had run every step on the way up, Eric asked me to play 'Tubthumping.' This song had several meanings, including references to the number of times that Jon had to use the bathroom during the night, after his unfortunate dehydration issue on Day 1, and also featured lyrics that read, 'I get knocked down and I get up again.'

I turned this song on and it was as if something came over us. The crescendo of the song builds up slowly and as it did, our pace began to pick up. Once the song was in full swing, we had started running harder than we had in days. As we made our way down the gravel hill and as the song continued on, Eric and I continually picked up the pace until we were running what seemed like all out. I did not look back, but Joey and Linda had realized what was going on and they backed off a little. We did not speak at all during these few minutes but I am certain that we could read each other’s minds. The lyrics were so perfect for our situation; we had been knocked down, numerous times and somehow we did not let it get us down. We had gotten back up and were staring adversity directly in the face and would not let it beat us.

As the song faded, I changed it to the next song. This time it was U2, 'Where the Streets Have No Name.' Our stride length had increased and we were now running at top speed as Bono belted out the lyrics; ‘I wanna run, I want to hide. I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside.’ My phone was reading 'low battery' but I have to believe that some higher power continued to fuel it, which helped to pace us along. Running just off my shoulder was a dog that we picked up at the top of the hill. He continued to run with us as the distance between us and his home grew steadily.

We passed up aid the first time and the second time we tossed our bottles to Liza's dad, only to pick them up a mile later. I think that I grabbed Joey's bottle, but I knew that he wouldn't care and neither did I. Eric and I were running our hearts out and we could not afford to stop. My legs had become completely numb. The lactic acid had built up and I could not tell if it was the adrenaline flowing or the acid, but I had cold shivers up and down my legs. Two guys, who could barely walk a few hours earlier, were now running like the wind and were immune to the pain. I can't even begin to explain how we were making it happen, nor do I even want to.

After 20 minutes of running at a stifling pace, Eric did start to fade slightly. I ran in front of him by a few meters for another 10 minutes, but when it looked like he was going to start walking, I told him to 'dig deep' and that Elliott was waiting for us at the end. This energized him again and he pulled even as we made our way toward Red Bay.

When we entered the city limits, our pace had slowed slightly but we were still running hard. I have to believe that it was more than just training and hard work that gave us the ability to do what we were doing. We had each logged week’s worth of miles in the previous few days and should have been walking or crawling and not running along like we had just started. It was only two or so miles from this point to the city limits and less than a mile to the rest of the pack who had been waiting for us ahead, so we could finish together.

Running alone with Eric for the better part of 45 minutes is something that I will never forget. Still, it was the last mile that stands out in my mind even more so. As we navigated through the small town, the others had started running back toward us. Eventually we were joined by Dink Taylor, Blake Thompson, David Coon, John Nevels and Jon Elmore, who had been waiting patiently in Red Bay for our arrival. This also reunited the core team of Eric, Eric and Jon. The jubilation of the final mile was almost too much to handle as the three of us were overwhelmed with emotion. I told Eric that it was my honor to share in the pain of the last four days and in this experience with him. Jon mentioned that there was no place that he would rather be. Eric put his hand on my shoulder for a few seconds, as he had done two days earlier when I was sitting in the crew vehicle and temporarily sidelined with pain, but this time, it was to convey his thanks.

Together the three of us ran side by side toward the finish. The rest of the group had backed off just a few steps to allow for us to come through first. What had started 4 days earlier and 183 miles away, had come to a ceremonious finish as we crossed over the change in pavement on the road and stepped into Mississippi. We were cheered on by all of our family and friends and given a near hero's welcome of applause and encouraging signs.

I will say without a doubt that it was nothing short of a miracle that allowed us to run like gazelles again in that last 10k and leave our pain and agony behind us. Then it was a gift from our friends that allowed the three of us to finish together. The emotion of the moment overtook most of us but when it was combined with glory of our efforts, it put smiles on our faces. This proves to me that there is no such thing as "can't". We each had heart and the will to take step after step and the drive to finish. We proved that nothing is impossible. Unknowingly, we became inspiration for others through our effort, even though we were just out to raise awareness for Elliott and the illness that he faces.

The pain that I had during the first days will quickly fade, but I will forever remember the last hour on that 4th of July. I will never forget the kind people who took me by the hand and with tears in their eyes, thanked me for what I was doing for the Schotz family. I will never forget the sacrifices made by our friends, families and our crew that supported us along the way. I will never forget the joy in Eric's eyes when he got to push Elliott in the jog stroller. I will never forget the dozens of people waiting for us at the finish with signs and cheers. I will never forget how through something as simple as running, we brought hope to other people’s lives. I will never forget taking that first step into Mississippi with my good friends all in honor of Elliot Schotz.

There are too many people to mention, that made all of this possible, but I'd like to name a few. Eric's mom Louise was a great crew all 4 days. Kelly Elmore coordinated several meals for us and Madelyn and Chip Patton had dinner for us at Elliott Branch Campground on Friday night. Dink and Suzanne Taylor from Fleet Feet were generous shirt sponsors and Rusty Nevels made a great complement to our crew for the last two days. The Fagerman's and the 3M team helped to pace us on days 2 and 3. We were also joined on the run by Dink, Blake Thomson, Paige Dorr, David and Heather Coon, Megan Morris and Glen King.

And by the way, the dog that ran with us was named Buddy. We gave him a ride back home after the run when we showed up at McDonalds with us. We found his rightful owner and he thanked us for the ride!