I thought we were on a long run, among a pile of long runs.
“How long is it?”
I didn’t respond. I don’t usually cuss. Much. At least not out loud. Or, as it turns out, until sometime around Day 5.
I already wasn’t looking forward to squeezing 10 solo miles into my long weekend plans. I had put that Friday as off on the work calendar over a month before, planning a romantic getaway without any kids or, consequently, running partners. Then came the 10×10. 10 miles a day for 10 days in a row. I honestly don’t remember if that idea came before or after I agreed to train for a 35 miler. The last month is kind of a blur that way.
March was my first month in almost 2-1/2 years to hit over 100 running miles. I was ready for a challenge. I’d been waiting for an opportunity to do a 10×10. My coach, Shannon, had already done it 5 times. Several others from the running group had done a few as well. We decided to start the 10×10 on the day of a half-marathon that several of us were running. 3 of the 6 of us who started the 10×10 together were pacing, either officially or or as support for a friend. It was a really great high-note to start on.
Day 2 (Sunday) was classified mostly by the dread of having to get up at 3 to squeeze 10 miles into everyone’s schedules, especially those of us who would be going to church. Staying awake through a church service after that with 4 kids was a special kind of sanctification.
Day 3. Oh, day 3. Usually when I check the weather before a run there is a moment of decision. Am I going to run in this or not? That moment doesn’t exist in a 10×10, especially when you have partners who are counting on you. We’re in this together. Fortunately it was a warmish rain. The lightning was a bit close for comfort at times, but that’s when you run behind the tall guy. We got so very soaked. If I had been running by myself I would have given up right then. But I wasn’t. I was running with a great group of people who were dedicated and fun. They turned what would have been a miserable run into one of the most memorable, enjoyable runs of all time.
Day 4. The early mornings were becoming routine. I had figured out that I needed to go to bed earlier in order to cope with life like a rational human being through the rest of the day. We ran 5 miles and then met the rest of our running group at the normal time of 4:45 for the regularly scheduled 5 miles. My normal partners sped ahead at a healthy pace, while I stayed back at my 4th-long-run-in-a-row pace with the other 10x10ers. Dealing with the lack of sleep was my biggest challenge throughout the day. I would vacillate between being wholeheartedly high on life and complete brain dead.
Day 5. Did I mention the 35 miler? Beth is turning 35 on the same day as a nearby marathon in May, so the obvious thing to do is to run it and add on 9 more miles. It is for fun. You’ll understand when you’re older. Maybe. I had been wanting to do something “Ultra” this year, but hadn’t decided on what. I didn’t have any real goals for the year except to increase miles. I jumped on board, not realizing that it would mean having to schedule an 18 mile long run in the middle of a 10×10. The training plan hadn’t been discussed in detail up to that point. Eventually it was decided that everyone was doing their 18 on Saturday. I was taking a long weekend, so I would squeeze my extra 8 into Friday’s run before going out of town.
The run itself was awesome. We ended up running out and back along the two-lane between our little town and the nearby city. It was a hilly run. I remember descending a hill on the way back feeling like I was flying. Everything was clicking. It was a thing of beauty.
Day 6. By this time we had settled into the routine. We were fortunate enough to be a group of people who got along well. Megan was new to our running group before the 10×10, and fit right in. Everyday was an adventure simply because we could all laugh and enjoy the moments together.
Day 7. I was kind of dreading day 7. I had the day off work and was going to run the 10 with the group and then finish up with 8 solo. Since passing out in Colorado almost 3 years ago I have never run long solo except in a race. On top of that I’ve been keying in my diet, eliminating a lot of things, and I hadn’t been needing to fuel on anything shorter than a half marathon. I would need to fuel. The night before I made coconut fudge with peanut butter, cocoa powder, and stevia. I threw that and some dried apricots in my Camelbak and showed up looking like I was prepared to go hit Badwater. I was over prepared.
We knocked out the first 10. It was probably one of the easiest 10 of the whole endeavor. Derek, a local ultra runner, joined us for the run. When we got back to our cars Derek offered to join me for a few of my remaining miles. I was thrilled. I respect the hell out of Derek, he’s a great guy and a great runner. Shortly after we took off Megan caught back up with us and decided to go long as well. So there I was sloshing along with my reservoir and buffet on my back and they pulled 18 out of their pocket with their handheld bottles and whatever fuel they may have happened to have in their car. We had a great 8 miles. Derek regaled us with stories and tips on running long. My favorite line was when he said, “There comes a point where it just doesn’t hurt any worse.” Sounds awful, right? I was getting excited for running ultras. We ended the run strong. I’ve never had an 18 miler where I felt that strong at the end.
Day 8 was a different beast entirely. My wife, Natalie, and I had been planning a one-night getaway for weeks. Or planning on planning it. Except for asking for the time off, the whole thing only came together by the skin of our teeth. We left the kids in the capable hands of Grandma and an aunt and took off. We got to have an awesome dinner thanks to Megan’s boyfriend managing an amazing restaurant in Branson. We stayed at a resort called Thousand Hills. It was not a joke. I set out Saturday morning as the sun came up, to run those hills. I resigned myself to a long, slow run. I focused more on keeping my heart rate down than on pace. Branson is a show town so it was pretty quiet before the sun came up. The sunrise was incredible, coming up over the hills and trees. As I wrapped up I started to see people slowly wandering out to look for breakfast. I was very glad at the end that I had booked the jacuzzi suite. A good stretch and a nice soak and I was a new man.
By day 9 we everyone was tired and ready to be done. We were in good spirits, but the group was much more quiet than usual. There was a lot less cussing and joking. It was a very matter of fact run. We snapped a pic at the end, holding up 9 fingers to signify the day, and Megan told us about #flash9, where you flash nine fingers when you do something adventurous to honor a friend of hers who died mountain climbing, and the foundation started to honor him. www.getbusylivin.org Check it out, it’s pretty cool.
The final day had finally arrived. Day 10. I had picked a route with just the right amount of hills to get most of the group to 3000 feet of elevation climb by the end of the 10 days. I ended up with 3,500 feet of climb overall (see day 8). Going into it I was nervous about nutrition, but I was careful and it went well. It took a few days to adjust my schedule and get enough sleep. I faked my way through work for a day or two. I fell asleep reading to the kids at bed time and Natalie had to drag me to bed. Some days I ran on heavy legs. Some days they were surprisingly fresh. I could see almost immediate benefits from the miles and consistency. My heart rate was 7-8 beats per minute slower at easy paces than when we had begun.
We made sacrifices to make it work, but we didn’t make excuses. We asked our families to make sacrifices, and they did. In ten days my group had run 113 miles, told countless stories, and made many memories.Tears were shed, laughs shared. Friendships were made and deepened. That was the best part. The community and the friendship. The shared difficulty and triumph of doing something that was not easy. Despite exhaustion or bad weather. We dug deep and made it happen. It made us better runners and better friends.
If you’re interested in performing a 10×10, check out www.facebook.com/tentimesten.