More on the race later. But for those interested, this is what I posted over several days on the Pinhoti 100 Facebook page about my race and DNF.
I posted this in August in a search for a new and pacers:
In early November on the Friday before the 2020 edition of Pinhoti 100, I ran a solid 20 miles on the Pinhoti Trail. I was scheduled to photograph the race and wanted to get my long run over with before the weekend. I felt good. It was a solid run. That weekend, I took race photos and celebrated this crazy thing we adore called ultra. The following Monday, November 9, inspired by the ultra runners I photographed over the weekend, I headed to the track to do a little speedwork in preparation to run the Blood Rock 50 in December. After a short 4 miles on the track, I felt wasted. Sure, track work is not the ultra runner’s favorite thing, but I shouldn’t feel like THIS. I chalked it up to a lack of sleep over the weekend, and went about my day. As I drove to work, my truck acted weird, so I dropped it off at the shop and walked 4 miles back home with a full work backpack. That was hard. Harder than it should’ve been. Again, I was tired from the weekend, I thought. The next morning, November 10, 2020, I went out for an easy early morning run. Strangely, I had the worst case of heartburn during the run. I thought nothing of it, really. I’m at the age where my dad developed his struggle with heartburn. That dude ate antacids and drank milk BEFORE meals just to prep his stomach! I got home, took a shower, then rode my bike the 4 miles back to the shop to get my truck. By the time I arrived, I was covered in sweat and couldn’t stand without leaning on something. As I drove away from the shop, I called my friend Megan, who is training to be a nurse, and asked her what she thought. “How close is the ER?” She asked. Not very. I went instead to the local fire station to get an EKG from the paramedics. A young paramedic helped me that day because the rest of the fire house was playing with a new army surplus hum-vee that they had received. The kid ran me through the EKG and said that it looked like something might have happened but I was fine now and told me to make an appointment to see my doctor in a couple of weeks. Chalking it all up to heart burn, I went and bought a LOT of pepto bismal, Gaviscon, etc. Nothing was working. The fire kid had thrown my EKG strips in the trash, and for some reason as I left, I retrieved them and put them in my pocket. I went home, crawled in bed and waited for the heartburn to pass. The boys were off at college and Marie was in Florida caring for her parents. I was alone in the house. Megan texted and asked if I sent the EKG strips to my doctor. No, I hadn’t. “I think you should.” An hour later, my doc called and told me to “get to the ER NOW, you’re having a cardiac event and don’t drive yourself!” My friend Paul took me to the ER. Three hours later I had three stents in my heart. My heartburn was, in fact, a mild heart attack. My LAD artery was more than 90% blocked. The LAD is called “the widowmaker” because when it’s blocked, you die. The incident was relatively mild. I didn’t suffer the extreme chest pressure or the dramatic movie-like chest clutching that has shaped our common perception of what a heart attack “looks” like. Ultrarunning literally had saved my life. It had strengthened my heart such that I was able to withstand the blockage and get to the hospital. Had I been a normal sedentary southern male, I would be dead. For the last decade, I’ve run and lost a lot of weight (I’m 5’9” and I weighed 262 in 2007) and eaten better than ever. But the first 44 years of my life were a study in junk food, laziness, sugar, and obesity. That and the stress from my job over the past three years created the perfect conditions for a heart attack. Ten years of active health couldn’t undo 44 of unhealthy living. I’ve since removed a lot of stress in my life. I stepped down from a department chair position that I held for 14 years and returned to the faculty to teach and write. I feel happier about my job than anytime in the last decade. I forgot how much I love being a Professor, just teaching and writing. I slowly returned to running under the watchful eye of cardiac rehab. In June, I passed my 6 month stress test with flying colors and got clearance from my cardiologist to think big once again. Facing mortality reminded me that we need to live the lives we want to live. Do the things we keep putting off. Chase happiness rather than a larger paycheck. We have such a finite time on this planet. Seek happiness and adventure. Running and I haven’t gotten along these past three years. Anxiety, depression, stress pushed me away from it. I lost the love. I forgot my “why.” Running out of obligation is depressing—it feels like a job. But something clicked in late spring as I felt more enthusiastic about running. By late June, I had returned to the weekday volume that I enjoyed in the mid-2010s. I actually looked forward to running. I no longer found excuses to cut runs short or sleep in. I found myself running a little extra. I remembered what falling in love with running felt like. And I decided to shoot for something big.My heart attack was on November 10, 2020. The 2021 Pinhoti 100 will take place on November 6, 2021. I want to finish this 100 mile race 361 days after suffering a heart attack. I PLAN to finish this race. I WILL finish this race. When I asked my cardiologist if I could do Pinhoti, he replied in his French-Canadian accent “Gordon, let’s run 100 miles!”But I need help. I need a crew. I have one volunteer (thanks Pam!) but I need a couple of more people to help me get there—to keep me going in the overnight hours, to suffer the inevitable low points with me, to force feed me PBJ and fig newtons and Gu, to sing Johnny Cash songs in the wee hours of the morning, to join me on a journey. To Never let me stop. To remind me that second chances in life are precious and must be earned. Most of us are familiar with the centuries-old symbol “Memento Mori.” Symbolized by images of skulls and dancing skeletons on gravestones, the phrase is Latin for “remember that you will die.” Memento mori remind us of our finite time here on Earth. Memento Mori also reminds us to “memento vivere:” “remember to live!” They were reminders that we should live our lives well. For me, this means removing the things that bring me stress or unhappiness and to seek the challenging things that caution might otherwise convince me to put off to later days. So, I choose Pinhoti 100 as my big thing. (This will be my second 100 mile race.) Why? Because I’m alive. Because why the hell not?! Because life is short and there’s nothing like the feeling of crossing the finish of a 100 mile race. Because in suffering there is joy. As Dylan Bowman said recently, “suffering is a gift.” The 100 miler is a transcendent experience. It moves you beyond your self-defined limits and suffering threshold and into another level of sentience. It is life in a day. Joy, struggle, pain, sadness, seeking, loneliness, fellowship, euphoria, and introspection. It is, as David and Megan Roche call it, a “big, scary, impossible goal.” And when you reach the finish line the tears are sweet and the euphoria like a drug. Anyone up for an adventure with me?
What I posted on race eve:
On Nov 9, 2020, the Monday after I photographed Pinhoti 100, I had a heart attack and had stents placed in my widowmaker artery. The fitness from ultrarunning saved my life. Tomorrow I will run Pinhoti 100–almost a year to the day since having that heart attack. I will finish. I have a second chance at living a great life. Pinhoti is a victory lap. If you see me out there, do not let me stop. If I can survive a heart attack, I can go 100 miles! Remind me how lucky we are to do this. My goal tomorrow: smile, be mindful of each and every mile, and grab that damned buckle on Sunday morning.
What I Posted after the DNF (This is what we were discussing on the Trailrunner Nation Podcast):
I didn’t cross the finish line today. I didn’t hold my buckle in pride as my crew congratulated me. I didn’t sleep the sleep of a 100-miler. My night ended at mile 52. A sour stomach left me unable to eat for a good part of the day, I found myself growing weaker by the hour, and depleted and broken by the time I hobbled into the Hubbard Creek aid station. A narrow cutoff and a broken body ended my hopes and dreams of calling myself a Pinhoti finisher. Race day is a crapshoot. But it doesn’t reflect on who you are or the joy of ultra. Ironically, this was the best race I’ve had in a long time. I really invested in serious training more so than in the past few years. I was excited to train. I haven’t looked forward to that in a while. I rediscovered my love of trail running. I was running this race exactly the way I wanted to. Strong on climbs. Running flats with a steady and even pace. Spent very little time in aid stations. I was smiling. I was happy. I felt joy. It was a great day in the woods. This is the first race in years that I could visualize myself moving strong along the trail, cruising through the night, rolling from aid station to aid station, smiling and talking, and finally crossing the line and weeping as I held the buckle. I could see it like it had already happened. I knew this day would be mine. I wanted so badly to hold that buckle today. I wanted to celebrate survival and rebirth. I wanted to hold my second buckle as proof that I was back; that my first buckle wasn’t a fluke. But I realized the buckle doesn’t prove anything. It is what I feel inside that means the most. I love this sport. I love the people I have met and the lives we have shared. I love the feeling of race day, the thrill of the event, the feeling of excitement as runners move through the night toward the finish. Dedicated volunteers waiting at aid stations. Friends who devote their time to get a runner through the race. I love the incredible soreness and zombie walk after a race that says “you did something hard and worthy!”I am not one who easily accepts kindness or generosity. I resist it because I fear I’ll let the giverdown. I am humbled by my crew. Four of the nicest and most encouraging people you’ll ever meet. ( Lori LyonsTony FioreLaurie Nichols WilbanksPamela Sanford Costenaro)They set aside their time to help me. They made me feel like an all-star. They put their faith in me and I wanted so much to see them as I crossed the line. I fantasized about a group picture with OUR buckle. I am most disappointed that i couldn’t do this for them. They’ll never know how much it means to me that they were there for me. Anytime, anyplace, if these wonderful people called me for anything, I’d be there for them. I wanted that buckle for all the aid station volunteers who invest as much emotionally in our successas we do. They spend hours making us eat, moving us along, and sending us off with encouragement and cheer. I wanted to do it for Jamie and Todd, who make us feel like part of a family. I wanted to do this for people who think heart disease means an end to adventure. I wanted this for our trail friends who encourage us, run with us, and live and die with our adventures. I wanted to do this for myself to show that I can still run 100 miles, that I can be stronger after a heart attack than I was before. To all of you, I am sorry that I let you down. It takes special people to live in the world of ultra. Equal parts crazy, devoted, and selfless. Ultra truly is life in a day. All your hopes and fears. Sadness, joy, determination, frustration. Lows and highs. Anxiety and confidence. Ultra is never not teaching us a lesson. What did it teach me yesterday? That the journey is the most important thing. Finish or not, if you cant enjoy the journey, then you aren’t doing it right. Your friends will blow you away with generosity and kindness such that as you write words like these, the tears make it hard to see the keyboard. That to try is to win. The courage to hang yourself out there with a ballsy goal is more important than anything. That’s why I wrote what I did on Friday. I needed to hang out myself out there. To let everyone know I wasn’t stopping until Sylacauga. Ultra will break your heart. You can give it all your love and devotion, but it will take your heart and stomp on it like a cold and feckless lover. But those of us who love ultra knew going in that this is a one-way love affair. Whatever love you get from ultra must be earned with sweat, tears, work, and devotion. And even then, ultra will say to you “not today.” The great days and race finishes make the heartbreak worth it. And those of us who love ultra know that every race has one of two endings: heartbreak or triumph. Without the physical and emotional pain, the struggle and sadness, or the potential for incredible triumph, then it isn’t worth toeing the line. The important thing is what we take out of each race whether it was a glorious finish or a tragically quick end. I toed the line. Had the courage to start. And while all that is true, it still hurts like hell. But I still love you ultrarunning. And I’ll be back
What I posted a few days later:
When i DNFd Pinhoti last week, I thought to myself that perhaps I should give up on This race. Two Pinhotis, 2 DNFd. But as the week went along, and I had some sleep and recovery time, I decided that I’m not stopping until I get that buckle. The hard things are worth trying, and possibly failing. But the trying is what makes us alive. So. Pinhoti 2022. Here I come. #unfinishedbusiness“Great moments are born from great opportunity.”