Dallas, inspiration, people with true grit, ultra

Ultrarunning: Dallas’s Nicole Studer and Shaheen Sattar are rising stars

Photo of Shaheen Sattar and Nicole Studer by Rasy Ran for Advocate magazines
Photo of Shaheen Sattar and Nicole Studer by Rasy Ran for Advocate magazines

That someone from Dallas’ flatland would dominate a sport that involves running insane distances across rugged terrain tens of thousands of feet above sea level seems unlikely. But two White Rock-area women are doing just that — claiming records, breaching usual gender barriers and winning races that cover mileage most of us find wearisome to drive.

Nicole Studer, a 33-year-old attorney, recently clocked the fastest time ever recorded by a female in a 100-mile trail race.

Shaheen Sattar, a 30-year-old Bryan Adams High School graduate, two years ago was the second female finisher at the Leadville 100, a race through the Colorado mountains made famous by the 2009 bestseller “Born to Run” (Matthew McConaughey recently was cast as the lead in the movie version).

“They are doing amazing things and helping raise the bar of excellence for all runners. They are both badasses on the trail with huge hearts.”

In 2014 Shaheen placed among the top 10 women at Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run. Few humans ever even meet the standards to enter Western States (entrants must first place among the top finishers at an approved qualifying 100-mile or 100k race, one “of significant difficulty”; others can secure a place via the Western States lottery). It is the race to which the world’s best ultrarunners flock. Both Nicole and Shaheen will toe the line there this month.

They will start running before dawn June 27 in Squaw Valley, Calif., climb more than 18,000 feet, descend 23,000 feet, cross a cold and rushing waist-deep river and, after 20-something hours on their feet, finish on a high school track in Auburn.

Nicole and Shaheen are friendly rivals who admire one another. They sometimes run together; at a Western States training camp they logged 30 miles side-by-side one day and really got to know each other.

But on June 27, it will be every woman for herself.

Each is close lipped about her specific goals. Shaheen says she hopes to beat her time from last year. Above all, she races against the clock and her own past performances, she says. Her bib number is F9, indicating to all that she placed ninth last year, so she knows they’ll be gunning for her.

Nicole qualified for last year’s Western States, but an injury prevented her from competing. However, as the 100-mile record holder, she too has a target on her back.

Nicole and Shaheen are so good that they frequently rival the sport’s best men.

Take, for example, last April’s Possum Kingdom Trail Run, which included both a 56-kilometer and 52-mile event.

Typically, the winner of an ultramarathon is a sinewy, bearded male. But at this event, Shaheen was the first to emerge from the woods; her dark ponytail bounced as she waved at her sister, Shama Sattar, who cheered at the finish.

“I did not know she was leading. She had been running with a pack of guys. When I saw her, I was so excited,” says Shama, who also is a runner.

Later that day, Nicole won the longer race, beating the first-place male by more than 18 minutes and the second place female by three and a half hours.

David Hanenburg, who directs the Possum Kingdom trail races and other ultrarunning events, says it is unusual for a female to win outright over all males. But these women regularly defy the odds.

“They are doing amazing things and helping raise the bar of excellence for all runners,” he says. “They are both badasses on the trail with huge hearts.”

So how is it that these two women from our sea level neighborhood are killing it on the trail-running scene?

Both are crazy tough and competitive with a freakish immunity to the typical effects of fatigue, averse weather conditions and high altitude.

Both will go mad if they can’t run at least 80 miles a week. Both, like the sport itself, seem on the cusp of being discovered by the more-mainstream athletic world. But how they arrived at this point, for each, is different.

Nicole picked up running in middle school after the basketball coach denied her a spot on the team and introduced her to cross-country.

The young Chicago native was fast enough to earn a scholarship to Northwestern University, but she was no Olympian, and once she graduated, she did not expect to continue her athletic career.

“I figured that I was retiring from running when I finished school,” she says.

Shaheen only tried it while working the early shift at White Rock Athletic Club (now Gold’s).

“You know that inside track? It takes like 11 laps to make a mile. That’s where I started running.” She says a group of senior citizens eventually persuaded her to run with them outside.

Nicole finished law school at Baylor, where she met husband Eric Studer, joined the consulting firm Towers Watson and adopted a dog, Stella. “My running changed a lot when we got Stella. She was so hyper, so we ran all the time.”

To satisfy her competitive streak, Nicole entered races. Without considerable effort (she had tossed the watch, the training log and the pressure that went along with competitive running) she qualified for the Boston Marathon, won the Fort Worth Cowtown Marathon and broke the elusive three-hour barrier at the Houston Marathon.

Shaheen entered races too, her performances a bit more pedestrian.

She was thrilled to finish the Chicago Marathon in just over four hours. When she ran the White Rock Marathon in 3 hours 41 minutes, someone told her she was a minute from qualifying for Boston. “That was the first point where I thought about a qualifying time,” she says. After that she focused on speeding up.

Almost every serious runner suffers setbacks and injuries, but Shaheen’s was more harrowing than most.

On an early morning run, a car struck her, hurling her over a 6-foot fence.

“I was running on the sidewalk. I could see it coming. It just hit me head-on and knocked me into someone’s backyard.”

She was hospitalized with a punctured lung, broken ribs and a fractured fibula.

She ran the White Rock half marathon three weeks later.

“The doctor said it would be painful but that I couldn’t further injure myself. I was already registered and the race was sold out, so I went.” By that time she had proved capable of running a half marathon in 1 hour 26 minutes. It took her 2 hours 6 minutes to run one with a broken calf bone and ribs.

Both Nicole and Shaheen arguably could improve at traditional distances (5ks to marathons), but neither is interested in the type of training that would take (intense speed intervals on a track, weight training, regimented mileage — something similar to the rigorous schedule of collegiate athletes, Nicole explains).

Both embrace and thrive in the looser atmosphere of trail and ultrarunning, where instead of trying to get necessarily faster, you go farther.

Nicole’s 5:30 a.m. runs grew longer.

“It got to be 10, 11 a.m., and she still would be gone,” her husband Eric says.

Shaheen started rising at 3:45 a.m. to fit in her daily run.

Because ultramarathoners run 14, 24, 30 hours at a stretch, they sometimes rely on a crew to assist them during competition with food, drink and clothing changes.

In the past few years, Eric has learned — from trial, error and the advice of trail veterans — how to support his wife.

“My job is to be at the aid station when she comes through. I have a kit (bandages, clean socks, water bottles), but she is low maintenance. Sometimes I am just there to tell her to keep going. Tell her if someone is gaining on her.”

Shaheen and Nicole both raced the Leadville 100 in 2013 — that’s when Shaheen placed second. Nicole, having a “bad day,” placed ninth.

Eric admired Shaheen’s support crew at Leadville — which included Shama, her mom Sian, brother Shahid and boyfriend/runner Steve Henderson. “They were like a well-oiled machine,” he says. “And I have to hand it to Steve — he knows what he’s doing.”

In order to train for alpine races like Leadville and Western States, Nicole and Shaheen seek out the hilliest parts of our neighborhood. Lakewood’s Loving hill is a good one, Nicole says. Eric cringes and says he remembers trying to follow her up Loving on his bike. Shaheen says the streets of Lake Highlands, north of Flag Pole Hill, offer surprisingly challenging hills. She adds that northerners don’t benefit from Texans’ heat training.

The real secret might be our area’s running community. “Dallas has some of the best people to run with anywhere,” says Nicole, who is a member of the White Rock Running Co-op (a club open to runners of all levels — see thewrrc.com). “My training partners are so great and such nice people. It makes it fun.” (Stella the dog isn’t so enthusiastic about running during the summer months.)

“The win is a small part of this sport — community and encouragement are the more predominant themes.”

Shaheen does much of her training solo, but she also has formed relationships rooted in running, like the one with aforementioned Steve Henderson, which began a few years ago when she accepted an invitation to join a co-ed relay racing team. Today they are totally in love and live together in a house on White Rock Lake.

And if you ask most any ultrarunning aficionado — race organizer David Hanenburg, for instance — it is that romance, those friendships and camaraderie, that shared experience on the trail, rather than the qualifications, records, times and trophies, that define the sport.

To him and other ultrarunning diehards, it’s about more than just trying to prove you can complete some “deranged distance.”

“The win is a small part of this sport — community and encouragement are the more predominant themes,” says Hanenburg (who blogs about ultrarunning at endurancebuzzadventures.com).

On the trails you will see frontrunners cheering on the back of packers, he says. He has witnessed Nicole and Shaheen doing so — in fact, he says, they have cheered him on, even in races that they finished far ahead of him. It is their hearts that make them good at ultrarunning, he says, and it is ultrarunning that makes them (and him, and other runners, too) better humans.

See results from the Western States Endurance Run at wser.org

This article first appeared in the June 2015 issue of Dallas’s Advocate Magazine, written by me, Christina Hughes Babb

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Comrades, inspiration, marathon, people with true grit, running, trail running, ultra, Uncategorized

Dallas runner finishes famous Comrades Marathon

White Rock Running Co-op team member Hari Garimella ran the 2014 Comrades ultramarathon: Photo courtesy Garimella
White Rock Running Co-op team member Hari Garimella ran the 2014 Comrades ultramarathon: Photo courtesy Garimella

Hari Garimella accompanied by his wife and young son, just returned to the White Rock area after successfully trekking the mountainous 56-mile Comrades Marathon in South Africa. A version of this article was first published on Advocatemag.com.

A few years ago I read a piece in Runner’s World magazine about editor and former professional runner Bart Yasso’s experience running the Comrades Marathon in South Africa.

Even here in The States, among the running community, Comrades is notorious. In Africa, beginning in 1921, it has reached Super Bowl — or World Cup, even — levels of acclaim.

The race involves running about 56 miles through the mountains of South Africa in under 12 hours.

It is more popular, say the editors at RW, than the Boston Marathon, with as many runners, from as many various nations; the entire country — anyone who isn’t racing or spectating — watches the 12-plus hour television broadcast, they marvel.

After first reading about the event, I too was enthralled. Unlike our usually precise American races, the 56 miles is an estimate. “They change the course every year and no one minds,” RW editor Amby Burfoot says. There seems less a spirit of competition than a spirit of community. A group of physically disabled students sing for the runners. Most participants, aside from some elites, aim not for a particularly fast time, but to strategically pace themselves to finish before the 12-hour cutoff. At 12:00:01 a course marshal fires a shot. Anyone who has not crossed the finish line at that point did not run (according to the official results, anyway).

Students from the Ethembeni school for disabled children performed for Comrades runners: Photo courtesy Hari Garimella
Students from the Ethembeni school for disabled children welcomed Comrades runners with singing and dancing: Photo courtesy of Hari Garimella

At that point, runners stop where they stand and fall to the ground, often wailing, moaning and weeping from exhaustion and disappointment, one former participant tells RW.

To finish before that dreaded gunshot was the goal of 39-year-old White Rock Running Co-op member and Texas Instruments employee Hari Garimella, who just returned to the neighborhood after racing the 2014 Comrades ultra-marathon.

“During the course of my training and previous experiences of running a few ultra-marathons, which included tasting my first ever DNF (did not finish) on a 50-mile race at Palo Duro Canyon, I realized that I was going to have to get very disciplined on my training, as the Comrades run was going to be my longest-ever race,” Garimella notes in his race report that you can read in full here.

Garimella says he trained near White Rock on Saturdays, with his running club. The rest of the week he ran with his dog, Dunbar or his friend Viresh Modi, who also was training for Comrades.

His preparations began with a New Year’s Eve marathon followed by six months of daily runs, which included several long training runs of 21, 31 and 35 miles, and one day of rest per week.

When he arrived in South Africa last week with his wife and son, he says his appreciation for the historic event grew, following a trip to the Comrades museum and meeting a few renowned Comrades competitors. (Former Olympic runner Zola Budd — famous in the 80s for her bare feet and for becoming tangled with American runner Mary Decker during a disastrous 3,000 meter Olympic race in 1984 — was one of the top female competitors).

Garimella’s strategy, he says, involved walking some on the uphill sections and running nonstop on the downhills. Despite temps in the near 90s and more hills than he ever could have imagined, he stuck to it. Mostly. With just 5k to go, fatigue forced him to walk, but a fellow runner motivated him to finish the last of the 89 kilometers fast.

“I felt this motivation come out of nowhere. I thanked my new friend, and all of sudden ran the remaining one-kilometer, and ran it strong. I got to the Kingsmeade Sahara stadium and could hear the entire stadium cheering for the runners,” he says.

Garimella family in South Africa: Photo courtesy of Garimella
Garimella family in South Africa: Photo courtesy of Garimella

“I saw my wife and son on the sidelines and waved to them. I kept running strong and in a few seconds I crossed the finish line. I was done and had succeeded in finishing my first Comrades marathon in 11:13:12.”

He says his wife, Nirisha, and son, Jay, are his biggest cheerleaders. “My son is going to be a better runner than me soon.”

Garimella is home and intends to take a couple of weeks rest before resuming training. His plan? The 2015 Comrades, which will run the opposite direction (with more uphill than down) of this year’s race. He says he will continue regular uber-long runs, which he thinks contributed vastly to his healthy condition at Comrades, and he will run more on hills and add weight training to strengthen his quads. Read more from Hari here.

Sidenote: Zola Budd reportedly has been stripped of her age group win at Comrades for failing to properly pin on her runner identification information.

Boston, Dallas, inspiration, marathon, people with true grit, running, training, White Rock, White Rock Marathon

For Dallas runners, circling White Rock Lake is a rite of passage

This is part of a full-feature story in the March Advocate magazine about the many wonders of East Dallas’ White Rock Lake:

Full circle

Completing the full circumference of White Rock Lake trail, on foot, is a rite of passage

 

 What a wonderful White Rock Lake world

Dave Dozier Photo by Can Türkyilmaz

Drive to the end of Winstead, a winding road west of White Rock Lake, any Saturday morning at about 5:30 and Dave Dozier will flag you down. He assumes you are there to join him for a run. On a dewy winter morning he dons a black tracksuit with reflective stripes and he invites early morning guests, runners and walkers, jovial folks he calls friends, into his home of 50 years — cozy quarters whose décor includes display cases full of medals from White Rock, St. George and Boston marathons, to name a few, hundreds, dating back as far as the 1970s, and collages containing magazine clippings and racing bibs.

An inconspicuous manila folder contains what we came for: certificates for completing, on foot, a full 9.2-mile loop of White Rock Lake.

In his early running days, Dozier says, running all the way around White Rock Lake was something only the most serious runners did.

“Once you ran the loop,” he says, “you were somebody.”

In the 1970s a gang of diehard runners including White Rock Marathon founder Tal Morrison challenged Dave to run all the way around, rather than the couple-mile out-and-back jaunts they had seen him performing at the lake. When he eventually took them up on it, the guys gave him a certificate of completion. It is a tradition Dozier continued, mostly under the radar, long after Morrison and the other old timers stopped running. Recently a local fitness magazine publicized the practice and Dozier got an unprecedented amount of takers. But he doesn’t give these certificates away to just anyone. “You really have to do it. I have to see you. I will run with you,” he says. “And you can’t have done it before.” The certificates are reserved for those running the loop and the distance for the first time ever.

And while the certificate is a neat token of achievement, it really isn’t about the paper. It’s about the camaraderie as runners gather at the starting point. Those who meet at Dozier’s place vary in pace — taking anywhere from 70 minutes to three hours to circle the pond. The wee moments before the jog are for catching up and laughing while Dozier tells everyone to “shut up. My wife is asleep.”

Voices fill the erstwhile silent neighborhood with stories of marathons past. Dozier’s friend Julie Stauble recalls a time Dozier stumbled at the finish line, knocking out his front teeth. Dozier teases the group’s fastest runner, a psychiatrist named Joe Gaspari who is preoccupied with qualifying for the Boston Marathon. “He’s always looking at that watch. Doesn’t he know we are here to have fun?”

It’s about the other lake goers. When Dozier ran the first of his 9,000-some lake loops, he says, there were about eight guys regularly running the lake. On a Saturday morning these days, there are hundreds, maybe a thousand. “I stop and talk a lot. I know everyone out there,” Dozier says.

It’s about the commitment and motivation one feels after hitting that 9.2-mile milestone, says Stauble, who ran a marathon after meeting Dozier and joining his informal running group. She says it changed her life.

“A lot of lives have changed out here,” Dozier says. “And we’ve had people that didn’t fit in in the world, fit in with us.”

It’s about the sense of completion. The circle represents wholeness, unity and infinite possibility, right? But Dozier scoffs at all that philosophical stuff. “It’s just fun. I love this. Running is my way of life.”

If you are interested in meeting Dozier for a run around the lake and, if you make it, a certificate, emaileditor@advocatemag.com.

 
Dallas, inspiration, marathon, people with true grit, running, Uncategorized, White Rock, White Rock Marathon

Our buddy, Bob

When I started running with the Dallas Running Club in 2009, it broadened my world. Long distance running made my mind, body and spirit feel better. It has taken me to places I might never have seen — the streets of Oklahoma City, San Diego, New York, Philly, Boston and the hidden pockets of my own city.

But far more impressively, it has brought a whole new world of people, friends, into my life.

I met Bob Philpot during my second season. We trained together for the Oklahoma City Marathon. Bob was a steady source of entertainment and companionship.

While many of us bitched about the weather or our injuries and pains, I never heard Bob say a negative word. He had what seemed like an eternal smile on his face. The marathon at the end of that season was bad — hot temperatures, gale-force wind.

Everyone in our group was trained for a three hour forty minute marathon, but it took most of us more than four hours to finish. We rode a bus home together; I was totally devastated. I felt like my athletic dreams, my chance for qualifying to run Boston, had been squashed. Bob, having years of experience on his side, knew better. As we rode the bus home and I pouted, Bob joked and laughed and those of us around him couldn’t help but lighten up too.

I did get faster, and as did many of us in that training group, moved on.

Bob, who was pushing 60, became a pace leader for the Dallas Running Club training program and continued trying to qualify for Boston.

There was hardly anyone in the Dallas running community who had come up through the DRC who didn’t know Bob.

Last year, he finally reached his goal. He booked a room. He was headed to the Boston Marathon in the spring. But then he got sick.

When I heard Bob had cancer, I wanted badly to ignore it. I wanted to believe that it wasn’t a big deal. That he would get some treatment and come back and we would celebrate with a BBQ or a night at the bar. I honestly, purposely, selfishly, didn’t think much more about it.

I was running a few months ago with Chris Stratton, White Rock Running Co-op founder and also the leader of that 2010 DRC Oklahoma Marathon pace group. He had mentioned weeks before that Bob was not well. I asked Chris that day how his friend Bob was. He gave me a strange look. My friend? He’s your friend too, Chris said. That’s weird. Chris never has hesitated to let me know I have said something stupid. Looking back, I think I subconsciously distanced myself out of fear of emotional pain. Fear can make us act like jerks and I am obviously not immune. Tough realization.

Yep, Bob was my friend. And I listened as Chris told me how hard it was seeing him this way.  It takes a brave person to keep close to his heart someone who is dying.

Fortunately, Chris wouldn’t let me or any of us forget Bob. Through the Dallas Running Club and White Rock Running Co-op, respectively, Chris Stratton and Vishal Patel, among others, kept us posted on Bob’s condition. They hosted a fundraiser to collect money to help his family with medical expenses. Bob’s running buddies contributed thousands of dollars.

The last time I saw Bob, he was volunteering at a race. I walked right by him, looked at him, grinned impersonally and started to turn away when his familiar voice yelled, Christina!

Bob! I didn’t recognize him. He was skinny and his cheeks were sunken and he had no hair. But as soon as he spoke, and smiled, he was familiar Bob again. We laughed about old times and joked about the use of medical marijuana and soon other members from that old group such as Danny Hardeman, Chris and Vishal had gathered around. It was a sunny and warm and a beautiful day for running at our lake. Bob seemed happy just to be there.

Bob died on Thanksgiving. At his funeral today, his daughter spoke of how much her dad loved running, how young runners admitted to her that it ate ’em up that this old timer could keep up with them, and how they said there was no word to describe Bob,  but that if you had to pick one, it would be Honorable.

His brother-in-law told us how, in his younger years, Bob was stressed with life and work and took up golf.  How Bob was so terrible at golf that his companions suggested he take up jogging.

So Bob started running marathons.

“A week ago,” said Bob’s brother-in-law, “I asked Bob, if he could have one more good day, how would he spend it?”

Bob told him he would put on his running shoes, grab his wife Elaine, and go for a run around White Rock Lake.

When I picked my daughter up from school today, I told her about the service and about how Bob wished for one more chance to run. She remained silent for a minute, which is eerie for this teenager, and then she said that I should dedicate my marathon to him.

I said I would and smiled. In fact, I don’t think anyone who has run with Bob who runs the Dallas Marathon next week, especially as they take that stretch along our glassy, shimmering, breezy White Rock Lake, will be able to resist remembering  Bob, and running for him.

Bob is second from the left on the top row. This is the 2010 OKC training group, taken at our tune-up race, the Rock To Victory Half Marathon.
inspiration, marathon, people with true grit, probably a bad idea, racing, running

Unable to walk just weeks ago, this guy will toe the line Sunday in Chicago

Paris Sunio will attempt to run the Bank of America Chicago Marathon Sunday.

He is not the only runner from Dallas headed up to Chi-town, but his is a special story.

Less than three months ago, Sunio—member of the White Rock Running Co-op and father of a 9-month-old girl—nearly died from severe staphylococcus aureus, commonly known as staph infection.

It started with an excruciating pain in the groin following his morning training and led to days in the hospital with mind-blowing stabbing pain, confused doctors and a 106-degree fever accompanied by shakes and delirium before medical staff finally figured out what was wrong.

Staph infections can range from relatively benign to fatal. Doctors told Sunio his was life threatening.

First walk back, at NorthPark, with Elise.

Following several days of hospitalization, Sunio returned home with a tube in his arm through which he administered daily doses of intravenous antibiotics.

He couldn’t walk a step.

Naturally, he was deeply depressed about his condition and the interruption of his plan to participate in one of the world’s premiere running events.

But only briefly.

Paris, his PICC line (that’s a peripherally inserted central catheter) and his baby take on the Katy Trail. Next stop: Chicago.

Sunio is one of those people with a near-unwavering optimism. He hardly ever stops smiling and never loses his sense of humor.

Within a few days, he was able to scoot around his house using a metal walker.

“The way I walked was like a pregnant lady waddling, only way slower,” he says. “My 9-month old can stand up from a laying down position 10 times faster than me.”

That little improvement gave way to a great motivation to recover.

Though they think he’s batsh*t crazy, his friends from the White Rock Running Co-op love him, and hope that he doesn’t kill himself in Chi-town.

Despite the fact that Sunio couldn’t stand without a walker, and that he would have an IV dangling from his arm for the next two months, he decided to follow through with his plan to run in Chicago October 7.

Most of his running friends called him crazy. Some kindly (or not so kindly) tried to talk him out of it.

“I know they are just worried that I might get hurt,” he says.

Over the next several weeks, Sunio walked at NorthPark mall, pushed his daughter Elise along the Katy Trail, did some jogging at Lake Highlands High School’s track, got the cursed IV removed from his arm and eventually ran the 9-plus miles around White Rock Lake.

He and his wife Grace left Wednesday for Chicago.

Sunio plans to run, slowly, the first half of the race and then walk as far as he can.

He is not hell-bent on finishing, he says, but he is hell-bent on giving it a shot.

Check out the November 2012 Advocate magazine for my story about Paris and find out how his Chicago trip turned out.

El Scorcho 50k, people with true grit, probably a bad idea, running, ultra

El Scorcho 50k: mucho suffering, good amigos, stories magnifico!

As I ran — make that shuffled — toward the finish line of my first 50k, I begged my stomach to accept, without a fight, the water I’d just given it.

It was about the time I saw the members of the Dallas Running Club on the final stretch — the winning female who had lapped me twice and was now resting comfortably included — that it all came back up.

For 50 yards or so I ran, unloading what seemed like buckets of undigested H20 in my path. I crossed the finish line and stumbled toward the sideline, puke continuing. A friend, Jose — not before taking a picture (these are how running friends are, folks) — helped me to a chair, where I sat with my head dangling between my knees.

A girl handed me a towel. A medic-type grabbed my arm.

Jose stepped away a minute and returned to tell me I hadn’t crossed the finish line.

“What the fu*k?” I say.

“Yeah, your tag (on the shoe) needs to cross the mat. You didn’t go over the mat.”

“Ah shit,” I muster.

I get up and stumble over to the mat and wave my right foot across it. There. It is done. 5:35. I told my husband I expected to finish in “a little over four hours – probably four and a half.” One of several stupid misconceptions I had concerning El Scorcho, the 10-times 5k-loop, in July, at midnight in Fort Worth Texas.

“Paul looks like death and Christina is on the death bed.” —Jose Vega

I was all set to start slow, at slower than nine minute per mile pace, but a storm came through Saturday night and the weather cooled to about 75 and I said to Paul, who would run with me, “Since it’s cool, we can run faster than planned. I mean, we can do 8:30-8:40s in our sleep, right?”

Paul — who I once considered a smart guy — agreed to this ridiculousness, which was in no way what we had practiced for.

It took about 12 miles (four El Scorcho laps) to recognize that that “pace-we-could-run-forever-pace”, was not a pace I could run forever. In about another three miles, my stomach was very queasy. As we embarked on the fifth lap, just halfway through, I threw up for the first time.

As we started the sixth loop, Paul began talking to me about my breathing and “toughness” and “hanging in there” among other bullshit. I started talking about quitting. “Plenty of good runners have dropped out of this race before,” I told him.

“You’re not dropping out,” he told me. He talked me through most of the seventh loop — stopping and walking through each water stop with me — “Just make it to the next light, he’d say. “We are going to do this in little sections,” he’d say  — though he could have kept running at a good clip at that point.

But by mile 21-22, after I had lost the ability to keep down any fluid, Paul was telling me I should probably call it a night. I was scaring him. Each time we passed the start/finish point, I leaned down over my bag, guarded all night by Jose, to grab a towel or piece of ice, but I was really hoping that by leaning over I would lose consciousness whereby, through no choice of my own, I would be forced to lie down.

But I kept standing back up.

So I would start walking and next thing you know I’d be jogging again. Jogging-walking through water stops-jogging … by the last six miles, I was able to continuously jog slog.

I simply stopped drinking anything so I stopped barfing for a while. Paul — who already had been suffering a bad case of plantar fasciitis — was barely able to walk now. I think if he’d not stopped with me, he’d probably have finished and would have been fine — this is a guy with a 4-hour-flat 50k under his belt. He told me to go ahead and in my extreme delirium and desperation to finish, I did. (I know. I am a jerkface and I am sorry, Paul.)

I knew I was too sick to stay out there any longer than necessary. At that point, I honestly believed there was a chance I could die. I saw my husband at the start/finish area and he’s all, “you did it” and I just walked over hugged him and said, “sorry, I still have about three miles to go.”

It was about a mile from the final finish that I could no longer resist the water. I was dying of thirst. So at that last aid station, knowing better, I slammed a full cup.

The result: the scene described at the front-end of this story.

After I got my damned foot over the finish line, I was hauled off to the medical truck where a nice guy stuck a tube in my arm and “bypassed my stomach”, giving me some essential fluid.

At one point when things were bad, Paul said to me, “I think you just get in these situations so that you have something interesting to blog about.”

Maybe it’s true.

No one wants to hear the braggadocios ramblings of a runner for whom things constantly go well (no offense ladies and gents, because I have friends and contemporaries for whom things seem to usually go well and I am actually very proud of them and I will surely write of them at another, better time); we don’t need to hear lengthy descriptions about how all went perfectly. Screw that.

My audience (Hey, Dad and my 4-6 friends!) wants the struggles, the pain, the violence, the dramatic horrifying puke-filled finishes. (Uh … right guys?)

I remember reading a book called, “Diary” by Chuck Palahniuk in which, if I remember correctly, an entire town collaborates to make the life of a young artist as miserable as possible, because “suffering is necessary to create art.” Do I believe that? Is that why I subject myself to such suffering? So I can someday write a masterpiece?

Hilarious. No, seriously. It sounds good, though. No, really, I just can’t get my shit together.

Nevertheless, one of these days, when I do have a perfect race, you will only need look back on this (or this) and you will understand that I paid my dues.

inspiration, people with true grit, running, trail running, ultra

Dallasite does Western States 100

First published on Advocatemag.com, the website of the Lake Highlands Advocate magazine June 25.

Lake Highlands runner Nick Polito at mile 30 of Western States, just before getting his second wind.

Lake Highlands runner Nick Polito this past weekend completed the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run in 28 hours 47 minutes. Yeah, so the guy seriously ran for almost 29 hours straight. Well, he would correct me there—he says he walked up the steepest hills (about 18,090 feet of climbing overall) and ran/walked the final 20 miles.

Before entering Western States, which began at 5 a.m. last Saturday at the base of the Squaw Valley ski resort and finished Sunday at a high school track in Auburn, California, Polito had to qualify by completing another endurance run in a certain amount of time.

Polito—who lives in Lake Highlands with his wife Sunny and sons Christopher, 14, and Luke and Campbell, 7-year-old twins—took up running several years ago and showed promise.

I met him through the Dallas Running Club way back when he was working to qualify for the Boston Marathon. He indeed ran the Boston Marathon and a year later ran it again in under 3 hours, which is a feat for anyone, but especially impressive for a guy in his 40s.

So, I guess he just needed more of a challenge. For Western States, he says he trained about 13 hours a week or 80 miles per week in the three months leading up to Western State. That’s a time-consuming hobby for a father of three who also works full time, so support from the family was essential, he says.

“They are supportive and very proud. They do just about anything I need to accomplish my goals. They know that running is my passion and in many situations my social outlet,” he says. “They give me the time and on race day they love to come out and support. For a 100 miler this means 24-30 hours of running around in the rain to only see me for three minutes at a time.” Christopher served on Nick’s Western States support crew.

During the race, Polito says he felt bad 30 miles in. “At the top of an 8700-foot climb, it started to hail, with gale-force winds,” he says. By mile 30 he thought he might stop, “but I told myself I would not quit. They would have to pull me off the course and I didn’t see anyone big enough to do that. After my climb up Devil’s Thumb, mile 48, I had my strength back.”

Today he feels a “little tired” but mostly high from the experience. “A lot of that has to do with all the support I get from friends and family.”

For better or worse, he’ll need to return to regular life for a bit now. “The reality is I am back to being dad and life with the family and work gets started right back up. I look forward to a couple of weeks of rest and no running.”

He has another race, a mere 50-miler, planned for October.