Baby Steps, But I’m Back!

It’s been quite a while since I took my last steps at a “more than walking” pace. In fact, my last run was Double Dipsea, which could not have been more perfect. Beautiful place, charming people, and followed by an entire night of working at the Western States Endurance Run.

 

For anyone with an urge to flip through their calendar, that was on June 29th, exactly four months ago today. A couple weeks after that I finally succumbed to my better (smarter) half’s insistence that I go to the doctor to get my “muscle tear” looked at. As I suspected, the mere act of entering the hospital elevated the injury to catastrophic status and I was benched for months with a femoral stress fracture. Nothing good happens in hospitals.

 

The frustrating thing about the recovery timeline is that while most stress fractures heal up quickly and cleanly, allowing the athlete to quickly return to their previous training, mine was in a very bad location.

Being at the interior side of the femoral neck, it was at a weak place structurally. Even when it should have had enough time to patch itself up, I still had to stay on crutches for quite a while to avoid refracturing it. I decided early on that this injury would not be an excuse to give up and let life pass by in a haze of self pity (although it was tempting at first, if I’m to be completely honest). I decided that it would serve as an opportunity to build mental strength. I learned to focus my restless energy into other pursuits and find fulfillment in areas of my life that had been somewhat neglected during all those 50-70 mile weeks.

 

I also changed quite a few things about the way I viewed food. Instead of a hunger to be satiated, eating became a chance to nourish the machine which was being slowly repaired. Like putting premium quality fuel into a classic car you’ve spent hours restoring, I researched what I needed to consume to accelerate bone growth and cut out everything which inhibits the absorption of those nutrients. A few key changes to my diet and I was feeling good and noticing a slow but steady improvement in how my hip felt. I found a supplement comprised of all of vitamins and minerals in the correct ratio and quantity for “therapeutic” use and took it religiously.

 

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The gym became a much more frequent presence in my life than before the injury, mainly because weight lifting was all I could do. It was sometimes tough to muster up the will to drive there and crutch from machine to machine, but it gave me a much needed outlet and a means to get a few trickling endorphins into my system.

 

The week of the West Virginia Trilogy is when I stopped using crutches, partly because I wanted to and partly because I simply couldn’t use them in the muddy campground. I was worried that it was too soon as I noticed some dull aching, especially when I rested at night.

 

You may have noticed that I am using the past tense to describe this whole experience. Well, my friends, that is because it’s OVER!

I got a call about my MRI the other day and my ortho specialist was surprised to report that the break is, well…

 

“It’s… GONE! No swelling, no edema, it’s just… completely healed. I honestly didn’t expect to see this. You’ll have to slowly build back up to carrying heavy loads, but for the most part you’re good to go!”

 

I’m not out of the woods just yet; I still have to take my time building back up to the level of exercise I was accustomed to, but I’m cleared to do just about everything but trail running right now. The plan is to take about a year to build mileage to what I was doing before, and I intend to enjoy all the distances between with gratitude and appreciation.

 

Last night I hopped onto our treadmill for a quick test. 1/2 mile. It was awkward. It was clunky. It was tiring.

 

It was wonderful.

 

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West Virginia Trilogy 2013 Camp & Crew Report : Day Three

“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible. ”
– Walt Disney

 

Day three rolled around and we were almost used to waking up to numerous tent puddles. The four of us popped awake and enthusiastically greeted the day, and by “popped awake and enthusiastically greeted the day” I mean groaned and cursed the notion of movement.

We snagged some breakfast and as the girls got ready, I could sense a curious mix of weariness and giddiness. Their legs were pummeled, bruised, swollen, and cut from all the miles behind, but they only had a few more to go!

33 13.1 MS Laura pre race cuddle

 

The great thing about the third day was that there were a ton of friends running the half marathon. Laura, Megan, Lisa, Dana, Vanessa, and Bobby B were all ready to knock out those 13.1 miles. Thankfully, it started at 9 so we all had a chance to sleep in a bit and shake off the night. The crowd really began to swell as the 5K runners arrived. All races started at the same time. Soon it was time to goooooooooooo!

34 13.1 start

 

I’d like to highlight this particular part of the start picture, wherein Megan is clearly running with elbows interlocked with her new prospective boyfriends. We’ll call them HD and Jortsman.

13.1 start cropped

 

From all accounts the race went well and everyone stayed more or less together the whole time. Jen and I began breaking down our campsite and Brian and Missy took totally broke down their camp. I wanted the girls to have a place to regroup after the run and would drop the tent later.

Someone has a fantastic video of everyone from the Loop finishing at once, but again I was there to catch my baby and finish out my crew duties by ensuring the 95 milers were ok. My eyes welled up as I was overcome with happiness when my wife crossed the line after three days of grueling trail miles. I tried to express how proud I was, but all I could really do was lock eyes and say, “You did it.”

That was enough, she understood.

She crumpled in my arms as the emotional weight of the last three days culminated in one instant. Her tenacious refusal to surrender had brought her to a place of triumph.

That third day Laura’s running proved to be too much for her shoes to handle. They flipped off the boss, packed up their $h!t and quit for good.

35 Peregrine hole

 

Lisa had the presence of mind to get a picture of the gang at the end of the race. Thank you Lisa, this photo represents the mood of the weekend perfectly.

36 Lisa's loop pic

 

When everyone had had a chance to get cleaned up and hoover copious calories, there was an awards ceremony, where we learned that out of the 42 runners who began the three day quest, only 23 had finished. There were many who ran one or two of the races, but I feel like these are the faces of people who understand an experience foreign to most of us. They dug into their souls to complete this series and emerged victorious. It was an honor to get to know many of them and to help Laura and Megan along the way. It always seems to be the toughest women who smile the widest.

37 Trilogy finishers

 

Just like when we arrived, we had many hands helping to load our gear out and soon we were on the road. The next 7 hours went by in a string of games, laughs, “power” songs, and stories. We got lost in West Virgina, Jen and Laura almost got shot in a laundromat somewhere in Virginia, we pulled a harrowing mid-highway U-turn to catch a pic with Mo’s longtime boyfriend, and Hot-N-Ready pizza carried our spirits back to North Carolina.

38 Pizza road trip

 

Now it is a few days later and I am still feeling fuzzy about the whole weekend. The camping, the support, the laughs, the bonds, the adventures, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Here’s to living life, my friends. Put some color in your landscape, put some wind in your sails. Try crazy things because the real visceral experiences lie outside of your comfort zone.

I’ve met the most amazing people since entering the running world, and for that I am grateful.

 

Kynan

 

 

 

West Virginia Trilogy 2013 Camp & Crew Report : Day Two

“I do believe that when we face challenges in life that are far beyond our own power, it’s an opportunity to build on our faith, inner strength, and courage. I’ve learned that how we face challenges plays a big role in the outcome of them.”
– Sasha Azevedo

 

The 50 mile story actually began Friday night. After the runners had logged their 50K, showered, and filled their hungry bellies, there was a pre-race meeting. These are not too common for road races, but fairly standard for long events 50 miles and above. They went over course markings, what to expect from aid stations, some notable warnings (such as barbed wire), and basically explained how they had marked the course. Anyone with grey matter was excited for the race ahead.

18 50 Mile meeting

 

Again, we woke up to a few puddles and the sound of rain outside the tent. We all headed to the warm yurt and filled our bellies, wiping sleep from our eyes.

Soon all were packed up and ready to go. It was dark and everyone had a long day ahead, and I was surprised by the lack of nerves around the start line.

20 50M Start

21 50 Mile start runners

 

 

Of course it’s possible that people were just too cold to be nervous. Here are two especially bubbly runners cuddling to keep warm in the pre-dawn drizzle. I love this photo because it represents how these two lived the entire three days, weathering the storm of adversity together.

22 50M pre race cuddle

 

After the racers took off, a few of us hiked over to the first vague turn to direct sleepy runners as they approached in the darkness. It was the perfect way to start the day, hanging out with friends and waiting for more to fly by in the stream of bobbing headlamps.

A good crew prepares for post race as much as for mid race, so I spent the morning drying clothes, pillows and blankets for after the race. The girls would be soaked for every minute of daylight, and I wanted to have some comfort waiting for them when they had finished the day’s work. I also inventoried the food and each runners’ drop bags to make sure we’d have everything they’d need. Sitting, playing guitar, and eating chili were also on the agenda.

When the time came, Jenster, Linnea, the giant goldfish carrying goldfish, and myself hopped into the Prius of Hazard and drove several winding unmarked country back roads to find the mile 25 aid station. When we got there the scene was completely relaxed. We pulled right up into the clearing, popped the trunk, and spread out our runner supplies and clothes.

23 25m scenery

 

As I had suspected, Jenster was a quicker draw than Billy the Kid with an arsenal of cowbells. As you can tell by this maniacal expression, she intended to employ them with ruthless tenacity and reckless abandon. You can’t beat a good festive jingle!

30 Jenster cowbells

 

The girls came through a short time later, bounding happily through the bright colors of the forest. At this point they both seemed astonishingly fresh! They looked as if they had just started, cheerfully gobbling their Ensures and cheese sticks. I was thrilled to find them in such good shape; there was a distinct possibility that the previous day’s miles could have made the current race a sufferfest!

 

That was a fun warmup marathon. Wanna pick it up a little for this next one? Yeah? Good, let’s hit it. Have you noticed how thoughtful and attractive our crew is? Me too, they’re the cats pajamas. Here we go! Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!

24 25 snack time

 

When Nermal and Megatron shot off into the woods, we quickly packed up and raced to mile 33.7, the next aid station (they were all 8-9 miles apart).

In a stroke of good fortune, the newly repatriated Colonel Cannon had generously volunteered to join the dynamic duo for their last 17 miles of mud skating and stream hopping. My only regret is that he didn’t wear something more visible.

(I am insanely jealous of those shoes; I’ve always wanted a pair)

25 colonel pacer

 

Pretty soon some familiar faces began appearing, the few runners we had seen at the last station. This guy’s family had walked up the trail so he could carry his adorable daughter for a bit, something I imagine was the biggest spirit booster he could have had. The family vibe throughout the entire event really was remarkable.

26 33.6 family man

 

This was the best aid station experience I had all weekend by far. Once we were situated and had the gear ready, Sass, Missy, Dana and Lisa pulled up and filled out the cheering section. The fact that they had lots of cold beer was also a significant plus.

It wasn’t long before the Turbo Twins rounded the corner with guns blazing, charging into the clearing.

27 MS finger gun

 

Colonel was bringing up the rear, no doubt covering them from enemy stick fire.

28 Laura running in

 

The girls looked a tad more tired, and I could tell they were both starting to run on fumes. The legs were working, but the exertion of having logged 64 miles was wearing on their minds. I was glad Mike was going with them, as I expected the next 17 miles to be much more enjoyable with a fresh friend in the mix. Both girls may have been getting slightly punchy, but they never lost their look of fierce determination and there was never a doubt they would make it through the race and back to camp that night.

29 scenic drive

 

All in all, I had a blast crewing Saturday. These two women are wonderful company if you’re winding through miles of wilderness and have no idea where you are!

31 Crew

 

When we got back to camp, the sun was beginning to set and the fog was settling in, which made for a spooky atmosphere. The anticipation rose with every runner who came in, as we heard about more and more drops. Runners were dropping like flies, so the few who made it to the final stretch were rewarded with an enthusiastic reception. The Loop contingent was strong, and were leading the charge in finish line cheering. I overheard one race director say to the other, “What is happening? This is so cool!”

32 50M creepy finish line

 

The Trail Trio soon appeared, and as Mike broke off and the girls sprinted the last 1/4 mile, the sound of emotional cheers was deafening. I’m glad others were videotaping or snapping photos, because I was only concerned with one thing: giving my girl a huge hug and making sure she and Meg were ok. Those women had battled through a collective 82 miles (1 bonus detour mile) and were charging through the finish arch. The Loop family enveloped them, I wrapped Laura up in an embrace of pride and concern, and someone passed the moonshine.

In this life, I’ve been fortunate enough to collect a few memories I would call “perfect moments.”

This one left them all behind.

 

 

 

West Virginia Trilogy 2013 Camp & Crew Report : Day One

This last weekend Laura and I embarked on what promised to be a fun-filled weekend. After a brief stopover in Vegas, we hopped aboard another winged flight tube to hurdle the rest of the way across the continent, completely unprepared for the barrage of human teargas which awaited us.

 

1 Plane ride

 

Fortunately the flight yielded a minimal number of suffocation fatalities, and soon we were greeted by a very nice Asian woman, who’s hugs were accompanied by a jingle not unlike a cowbell. Or twelve. I am convinced she carries several on her person at all times.

We settled into Hotel Jenster Wednesday night, and I eventually became accustomed to the unsettlingly silent gentleman who kept a watchful eye on the place. Audibly he said nothing, although his demeanor clearly said, “Hey you, stay cool or I will Penguin slap you so hard you’ll drop that watermelon.”

We talked, laughed, and took down the first of numerous bowls of chili that weekend.

In the morning another soul joined our road trip party fresh from an invigorating redeye adventure, during which she undoubtedly exchanged phone numbers with a hefty number of airport employees.

Soon we packed the Prius like Rick Ross in skinny jeans and hit the highway for West Virginia!

Little did we know, time actually progresses at a different rate once you cross over the WV border, so what we had mapped as a 5 1/2 hour drive took more like 9 hours, causing us to marvel at Jenster’s driving prowess in blindfold-level fog on unmarked backwoods roads at night. When we arrived there was a warm welcoming group of friends waiting to help us set up camp. They are extremely good friends, and by that I mean they are both close friends and good people.

 

2 Tent city

 

I had never seen anything like it. Everyone just camped out along both sides of the course itself! As each day passed, it became a more pleasant experience to gaze around from our camp site and see others who were putting their efforts into the same momentous task. Whether you were a runner, crew, or spectator, you were family by the end of those three days.

By the way, this is the most interesting restroom I’ve ever seen. And there were HOT SHOWERS!

3 bathroom

We awoke Saturday morning to the same drizzle which had plagued us all night. The backcountry seemed to be derisively spitting on everyone’s hopes for a smooth race, ensuring that it would be a long, messy affair for all runners insane enough to say, “F@c% it, bring it on.”

4 50K rainy morning

 

 

The air was so humid with the constant drizzle that there was a steady dripping of condensation showering us every night in the tent. Sleep was difficult at times, and I worried about the runners with 31 miles behind and 63 to go. We arose at 5am and made our way up to the yurt to grab some breakfast. Robert greeted us as we sat and nonchalantly said, “Hey, Krupicka’s over there.”

He happened to be in WV for a screening of his documentary and was traveling with a friend who’s a regular at the Mountain Institute. He just came out to see what this unique event was about! We chatted for a little bit, including some light ribbing, and went our separate ways.

krupicka pic

 

After the 50K started and the runners bolted off into the hills, I found myself standing by the start line. I turned and there was Tony and his buddy, not six feet away. I got to chat with them for a while about the surrounding mountains, awkward double seated port-o-johns, and injuries, since he’s had his own share of leg break related woes. They were both super relaxed and friendly, and it was a neat way to usher in the day. They were heading out in a while, so I wished them a good run and gathered my crew supplies. Missy (Brian’s sweet gal) and I drove out to the 11.3m aid station with supplies and the willingness to patch up any bruises and cuts our runner mob may have incurred.

5 50K aid station scenery

As we waited and chatted, I couldn’t help but marvel at the unfettered and relentless beauty surrounding us. The forest was alive with violent bursts of gold and crimson, rebelling against the oppressively grey skies overhead. I was uplifted and inspired in the way only being small in the presence of something magnificent can cause.

6 50K aid station

 

Soon our people began racing through. Here is Keith, demonstrating how a regimen of copious steroid-riddled squatfests can prepare one’s legs to power through an ultra. Seriously, those quads are just silly.

7 50K Keith

 

Laura had evidently decided that hovering over the ground at a safe height was much easier than actually putting feet to ground. I am sure that whatever witchcraft she was employing would not work without an unabashedly beaming smile.

8 50K Laura

 

Megan also came through with Laura, but due to her recent disastrous fall and possible brain injury, I was much more concerned with making sure she was coherent enough to continue than with catching her likeness in a pic. She was.

While the other runners made haste in their efforts to resupply and attack the next climb, Brian was kind enough to take the time to show us his “big tasty bag of nuts.”

Haste is not necessarily a bad thing.

9 50K Brian

 

Linnea would not be spotted without a smile all day. It really was quite impressive.

10 50K Linnea

 

Butch had accidentally severed his leg trying to cartwheel across one of the stream crossings. He was able to duct tape it back into place, but the incident dashed his dreams of becoming a champion kickboxer.

11 50K Butch

 

Bobby also came through smiling, despite the punishment the trail was dishing out.

12 50K Bobby

 

Jenster and Vanessa arrived a short time later, lighting up the forest as they ran. I challenge any and all rational people to talk to either of these two and not end up happier.

13 50K Jen Vanessa

 

 

Everyone came down the final stretch to smiles, cheers, and big hugs. The RDs had begun to get to know everyone so they would announce the runner’s names as they approached and joined us in cheering them in. The loop contingent turned in a respectable performance, handling the slick and rocky trails to get the job done. First timers Robert and Vanessa earned their stripes alongside more seasoned dirt jockeys and when the day was done, all were happy and pleasantly exhausted.

14 50K finish jen vanessa

 

On top of everything else that had happened that day, this guy showed up in the middle of nowhere, freshly home from Kuwait! With foreign brews, no less! Having an exquisite beer with Mike while surrounded by gorgeous scenery and cheers was one of the highlights of my weekend.

15 Colonel Beer

 

His generosity did not stop there. Once all runners were showered and warm in the yurt, out came the cupcakes. He may have dosed them with opiates, as they seemed to melt away aches and elicit giddy smiles as we joked and basked in the warmth of the company of close friends.

16 post 50K cupcake

 

This is the best group of people I could imagine spending a rainy weekend in the country with.

17 post 50K yurt mob

 

Run happy and healthy, friends!

Kynan