Infinitus 888 km — I Found My Thrill on Blueberry Hill

Since finishing Infinitus, I’ve received much more attention than I’m used to, with the implicit expectation being that I have something profound to say about my experience. Welp, I’m not sure that I do, but I put together an absurdly long race report anyways because people seemed interested. Also, it’s my diary and I’ll write what I want to, write what I want to.

Backing up to this time last year, I threw in a 200 miler in the Vermont mountains while working toward running a 100 miler every month. There, I met Andy Weinberg, the race director with a certain je ne sais quoi about him. Simultaneously, there was a 500 mile race going on and I got to see those nutters in the flesh.

Then the fall came and I came across a book on the fascinating, yet entirely forgotten, history of Pedestrianism. I read the thing in one day. I even met and crewed its author in his first 24 hour race. Hopefully, I did not give off too much of a Mercy vibe. Ultra runners are told the lore of the Western States 100 miler, but ultra running history is so much richer than that. I encourage you to read about Pedestrianism, or just wait for the inevitable Hollywood blockbuster.

Precisely at this time in the fall emerged a mysterious new race organization, called the Endurance Society, fronted by cult leader, Andy Weinberg. I did a Kool-Aid keg stand and signed up for the Infinitus 888 km, advertised by only this cryptic video.

After the 200 miler last year in response to the question, “Would you ever consider returning to run the 500 mile event?” I allegedly said, “No, I don’t think so.”

Okay, look. At that time, I thought running 500 miles was stupid. That’s because running 500 miles is stupid. That fact aside, there just aren’t many events out there (but see the Silverton Challenge) that merge trail running with Pedestrianism, which was the birth and heyday of ultra running. When I saw Infinitus, I was tickled by the idea that nobody would really know what the hell they were doing, completely analogous to the early days of trail 100 milers. I felt like this might be the start of something new in ultra running, while also bringing it back to its roots. It probably will never catch on, but I wanted to be a part of it. Perhaps surprisingly, I didn’t feel terribly intimidated by the 500+ mile distance. It was just a big number that was hard to internalize, so it didn’t really mean anything.

Suffice it to say that there was a massive amount of planning that went into preparing for Infinitus. All the boring stuff like that is relegated to the Appendix1.

1. Who writes a race report with an appendix?2
2. Who writes a race report with a footnote on a footnote?3
3. It’s turtles all the way down…

My dad and I drove from Massachusetts to the Blueberry Hill Ski Center in Nowhere, Vermont in a rented RV that would be his home and my aid station for the next 10 days. The night before the start, my dad and I slept soundly in our luxurious digs, while everyone else crashed in the communal sleeping area of the ski lodge. Like always, I took my pre-race shower in the morning and then made my way to the race start. To my knowledge, the only non-crew person or race official to trek out there to witness the start was Jane Coffey, who ranks highly in Andy’s cult.

The cast of characters.  Standing from left to right are myself, Doug, Joel, Rebecca, Mark, Will, Jess, and Kale.  Kneeling are Jordan and John.

The cast of characters. Standing from left to right are myself, Doug, Joel, Rebecca, Mark, Will, Jess, and Kale. Kneeling are Jordan and John.

We all lined up, everyone being reluctant to step to the front of the line. On May 21, 2015 at Bob o’clock (8:08 am), Andy said, “Go!” and we said, “How far?” A pack of us ran together at a painfully slow pace for the first two miles, but we soon thinned out. I think I was third to come in after that top loop and Andy was right there to ask, “What distance did you get?” I told him my watch said the loop was 9.3 miles, which was a real disappointment for him because he was expecting it to be 10 miles. Starting a routine that would last for days, I went into the ski lodge to mark my loop on the board, then I headed over to the RV.

Marking this board with a little circle after each loop was hugely satisfying and helped me to visualize my (slow) progress.

Marking this board with a little circle after each loop was hugely satisfying and helped me to visualize my (slow) progress.

Right away inside the RV, I adopted a system that I would strictly follow for the entire race. In short, I bossed my dad around to refill my pack and make me something to eat while I dealt with my feet (boring details in the Appendix). I told him that the top loop wasn’t so bad, consisting of one big climb, followed by a gnarly descent on overgrown trail, and then a very nice stretch of dirt roads, trails, even a damn pretty dam where people were fishing and enjoying themselves on a small beach. On to the bottom loop!

Andy and Jack (the other race director), those loveable bastards, they changed the course on us two days before the race per request of the park rangers, who were concerned about an ornery moose with a botfly taking over its brain. What was supposed to be a 13 mile loop was now a 16 mile loop to complete the figure 8 course.

This bottom loop was a lollipop, with the out-and-back stem being a three mile stretch through snotty muck with a knee deep river crossing and mosquitoes galore. Immediately, I understood the implications that these horrible trail conditions would have for my feet. I spent the rest of the loop wondering how I was going to deal with this problem. Returning to the RV, my feet were already super pruney. Strapping on a dry pair of socks and shoes, I headed out for the happy top loop, still very concerned about the 40 more times I would have to march through the Swamp of Despair.

Elevation profile for one full figure 8 loop of the Infinitus 888 km course.  The top loop was 9.3 miles with 1400 feet of gain and the bottom loop was 16.0 miles with 2000 feet of gain.

Elevation profile for one full figure 8 loop of the Infinitus 888 km course. The top loop was 9.3 miles with 1400 feet of gain and the bottom loop was 16.0 miles with 2000 feet of gain.

The Infinitus 888 km elevation profile consisted of 21 figure 8 loops and 71,400 feet of gain, which is the same amount of climbing as summiting Mount Everest 2.5 times starting from sea level.  Turns out the course was probably about a score short of 551 miles.

The Infinitus 888 km elevation profile consisted of 21 figure 8 loops and 71,400 feet of gain, which is the same amount of climbing as summiting Mount Everest 2.5 times starting from sea level. Turns out the course was probably about a score short of the intended 551 miles.

When I came back to the bottom loop, I decided to give all of my focus to finding a solution that allowed my feet to stay dry. Avoiding the mud by bushwhacking alongside the trail and carefully hopping on rocks to stay out of the river, I kept my feet completely dry at the expense of continuous mosquito torture. This achievement was a huge triumph for me and perhaps the highlight of my race. Returning to the Swamp of Despair, I proved to myself that my first successful crossing was not a fluke. I had now mastered the Infinitus course, well, until I got lost a few times here and there for about six miles total. Meh, no big deal.

I intentionally did not formulate an overly detailed plan, figuring I’d have to problem solve on the fly (see Appendix). My original sleep plan, which my dad was quite vocally opposed to, was to sleep twice a day, but only at night, in two hour increments, supplemented with 20 minute naps as needed. I slept about two hours the first night and got back out there, racking up around 80 miles in the first 24 hours.

For the most part, day two came and went. I remember Andy saying to just wait for day three because that’s when he thought the real sufferfest would begin. As I was finishing up the bottom loop on that second night, the temperature plummeted into the upper 20 degrees F and the freezing rain began. Luckily, I was only stuck in this disaster for a few miles and was glad to be going to bed. I took a quick shower in the RV, set my flip phone alarm for four hours later, and laid down in a cozy bed. I woke up six hours later with no memory of my alarm ever going off. Oops.

And now the exact order of operations gets a little hazy for me. Lots of things happened. My mom arrived and left and arrived again with a homemade pumpkin pie that I ate in one day. I got to see Cassie a few times (Skype), even though she was all the way in France! My aunt, Karen, flew out from Texas just to crew me over the holiday weekend — she’s crewed me at five 100+ mile races now and is a pro. My aunt, Beth, drove out from Connecticut to check out the race for an afternoon. My dad, wearing his jeans, paced Jordan for a 13 mile low stretch she was having, causing his legs to turn Smurf blue.

I met loads of people and was met with encouragement and positivity each time I rolled into the Blueberry Hill race headquarters. I felt hugely supported, but also profoundly lonely. Out of the first 500 miles, I ran fewer than 10 miles with someone else.

My parents spent a  combined 16 days (!) of their lives supporting me at Infinitus.  Guess I'll have to return the favor when they're old and drooling.

My parents spent a combined 16 days (!) of their lives supporting me at Infinitus. Guess I’ll have to return the favor when they’re old and drooling.

I want to emphasize that lonely is not synonymous with bored. By focusing on my physical surroundings and thinking positively, I embraced the loneliness and had an enjoyable experience. Let me elaborate a bit.

There were loads of distractions out on the course if one bothered to look.

It took a few days for me to really learn the entire course and more-or-less commit it to memory. Around day three or four (I think), mysterious octo-objects began appearing everywhere. This provided amusing landmarks by which to remember the course by. For instance, ducking under the eight dangling pairs of tighty whities denoted the halfway point of the bottom loop, while the clown hanging from a tree marked the summit of Mt. Romance on the top loop. At some point, the clown moved to a different tree and when I mentioned this to Jack (co-RD), he responded with a perplexed look, “What clown?”

Jordan and the clown, who marked the summit of Mt. Romance.

Jordan and the clown, who marked the summit of Mt. Romance.

I was keenly aware of how things on the trail changed throughout the week. Consider the pleasant top loop. At the same point on the dirt road descent, I saw a bear and later a moose! The same fisherman came to the Goshen Dam day after day and was good for a friendly wave off in the distance. Hopping on a rock to get over a wet section of the course right before the dam seemed to get progressively harder as the days went on. Arriving back at the Blueberry Hill Inn after completing the top loop, the eight little gnomes neatly arranged like bowling pins would often get their asses handed to them by tired feet.

Now consider the miserable bottom loop. A little rain was enough to pack down the leaves on the Chandler Ridge trail such that they no longer obscured the rocks strewn about like land mines, making this section occasionally runnable for me. Although I never saw a mountain biker on this section, sometimes leaves would be raked away to clear a path for them. I’m no doctor, but I saw a porcupine who likely had an undiagnosed case of scoliosis. The most violent thunderstorm I’ve ever been caught in caused the river to rise to waist level, hiding the rocks I normally used to hop across. The density of mosquitoes at any given time through the Swamp of Despair was a suitable replacement for a thermometer. The two dozen or so downed trees on the bottom loop were chainsawed down to a dozen one day, which reportedly made Andy a little grumpy that the course was now easier.

On to the mind games I played with myself.

At the surface level of mental tricks, I was constantly thinking about my current physical condition, taking care of little problems before they became big problems, calculating splits, formulating my goals for the day, and anticipating how the rest of the race might play out. Around day six or so, the thought occurred to me that I could finish in under 8.88 days. I imagined myself nearing the end of the race, hiding out in the brush twirling my mustache mischievously, where I would wait until exactly 8.88 days when I would run my 888th kilometer and look around while everyone pondered this curious “coincidence.” However, after not shaving for 10 days straight, I came to the disappointing realization that I can’t grow a menacing mustache. This threw a serious wrench in my aforementioned plan.

For whatever reason, I never listen to music while running. However, I found it was a nice nighttime pick-me-up during the Pickled Feet 48 hour race, so I figured I’d give it a try here, too. I used my ancient iPod nano for maybe 12 hours total. I couldn’t get into the Serial podcast, but listened to the first 10 episodes anyways. I also rocked out to music from The Flaming Lips, Girl Talk, The Beatles, and Rage Against The Machine. I’ll probably bring the tunes along for the next multi-day because I imagine they could be helpful during low points. Weirdly, and nobody seems to believe me, I never hit a real low point during Infinitus.

All jokes aside, I took my attempt at Infinitus very seriously, which helped me to stay focused throughout. Nearly 100% of my time was spent doing something productive, whether that meant running, eating, sleeping, foot care, hygiene etc. I eventually entered a sort of autopilot mode and running all day felt like no big deal. I consciously chose to think positively and consequently I was all smiles and enjoying the infrequent interactions I had with people on the trail or at the main aid station. Admittedly, there were a few brief moments where I was a little short with my mom or dad in the RV. Nothing too dramatic, but maybe they would beg to differ.

I didn’t reflect on my life or think about work stuff.

What did creep into my head was that running 500 miles is not at all a human experience. Stay with me here. Something like 108 billion people have ever been born. Of these 108 billion, how many have traveled 500 miles by foot in under 10 days? I’d conservatively guess probably fewer than 1000. How privileged we are today that we can do stupid stuff like this that redefines the experience of being human! Flying in (or jumping out of) an airplane is now a mundane annoyance experienced by perhaps 1% of all people who ever existed. One in 200 million people ever born have been in space, while 1 in 9 billion have putzed around on the Moon. Will space travel one day become a mundane annoyance? Of all the people to ever live, 6% are alive today and you’re one of them. Even reading this drivel on a computer is a brand new human experience and it’s easy to forget that. So get out there and do something cool that pushes the limits of what it means to be a person.

I also got to thinking that the history of humans is tiny relative to the history of the Earth. Here I was seeing significant changes to the trails over the course of a week or so. That’s peanuts to how dynamic the Earth has been in its 4.5 billion year lifetime. Mountains come and go. Hell, there were at least six supercontinents before Pangea. Wouldn’t it be something to have a 4.5 billion year memory? Again, these are just big numbers that don’t mean anything anyways.

551 mile radius centered on Boulder, Colorado.  I'd like to think I'd keep running to avoid being stuck in Missouri.  (Credit: Phil Armitage)

551 mile radius centered on Boulder, Colorado. I’d like to think I’d keep running to avoid being stuck in Missouri. (Credit: Phil Armitage)

Despite the isolation, I found myself heavily invested in how everyone else was doing in the race. This report is already too long, but I talked about this in an interview and on a podcast if you’re interested.

With 500 miles down and 50 to go (two figure 8 loops), I would be accompanied by unplanned pacers for the remainder of the race. My friend, Ben, was there to support his girlfriend, Jordan, who had other pacers on duty at the moment. Sure, Ben did a 48 hour adventure race a few days earlier, was covered in dried blood and bruises from a bike crash, and misplaced his only pair of running shorts, but he got off his ass without any advanced notice to pace me on the start of my penultimate figure 8. We power hiked up Mt. Romance and I told him that I wasn’t going to talk for that stretch in favor of breathing. However, I couldn’t help but being a chatterbox after all of that alone time. We got to the dirt road, which I always looked forward to because I could run it fast. I asked Ben if he could walk as fast as I was running. He turned on the hip swagger and to both of our embarrassments, he out-walked my all-out run. I clumsily kicked a rock, Ben threw it off the trail, and I cried out, “No! What have you done to Gary?!” Gary was a special rock, whom I grew quite fond of over the days of isolation.

Ben agreed to pace me for the last full figure 8 loop, so the plan was that I would set out solo on the bottom loop while he got things together in preparation for being out on the trail all night. In the RV doing my thing, my mom asked if I wanted a pacer for the bottom loop. I balked at her offer, trying to think of a way to tell her nicely that I loved her a lot, but I didn’t think she’d be able to hang. Before I could answer, she went on to explain that an accomplished long-distance speed skater friend of Andy’s was there hoping to pace someone. Ahh, I misunderstood. Get this ice runner on my team pronto!

Bird's-eye view of the Blueberry Hill race venue.  Can you spot the RV?

Bird’s-eye view of the Blueberry Hill race venue. Can you spot the RV?

In a flash, Brett was there and we were off. Only once before (2015 HURT 100) have I had a stranger pace me and I’ve hit the jackpot both times now. We got through the simple get to know you stuff by the end of the Swamp of Despair and then we got to really talking. I learned all about competitive skating and how huge of a deal it is in the Netherlands. The Western States of skating is the Elfstedentocht, held only when the ice gets thick enough, which could be once every 20 years!

Running with Brett is when it first occurred to me that other people, strangers, were interested in what I was doing. This was a really odd feeling. I had run the first 500 miles completely alone, relying on my dad to always be there to solve problems as they arose and to get me in and out of the RV quickly. Hoping to run the best race possible, I intentionally chose to isolate myself from the ski lodge, which allowed me to get in and out swiftly at the expense of missing out on socializing and commiserating with my fellow racers. Internet connectivity was spotty, so I wasn’t checking my e-mail or social media. Suddenly, here’s Brett telling me how all of these people I don’t know are rooting for me and following along on my progress. It was an overwhelming realization and I didn’t know how I should respond to the attention. I still don’t really. I’ve done some interviews and lots of people reached out to me. It’s been really nice.

Time flew on the bottom loop with Brett and we were back to where we started. As planned, Ben was ready to escort me on my final figure 8 and Joel, another racer in the 888 km, hopped on the train as well. As in all loop courses, I felt satisfied to know that with every step I’d never have to see that segment of trail behind me again. I got to hear the first hand account of Joel’s race (e.g., the toothpaste incident) and he filled me in on how things had been going for everyone else. Basically, the consensus was that a crew was vital (Joel was solo) and attention to foot care was more important than anyone realized at the start. Glancing at the carnage of gnomes as we approached the Blueberry Hill Inn, we completed the top loop and I felt confident of a strong finish knowing that my one man wolf pack grew by two.

My mom lit a sparkler for each of the three of us and we ran off into the darkness determined to crush my final bottom loop. Then the moment we turned the corner out of everyone’s sight, we all stopped to pee. Running was still no problem, even some of the mild uphills. On the climb up the ridge, we passed 48 hour racer Jane Coffey — Joel swore she was riding a mountain bike…he was pretty tired — and exchanged big hugs. We passed another group coming down the ridge and one of them joined us for a ways. Then all that was left was to contend with the wiles of the Swamp of Despair one last time. Now, one who is naive to ultra running may think this final stretch was an epic undertaking of pure grit and guts. Those who know better will understand that we spent our time cracking jokes that my middle school self would be proud of and we took an absurd number of pee breaks together. Sometimes I think Ben and Joel just pretended to pee in solidarity. Anyways, nothing too profound went down on that last loop, but we had a lot of fun nonetheless.

Finished ~888 km in ~8.88 days.  Showing off my hard-earned maple syrup.

Finished ~888 km in ~8.88 days. Showing off my hard-earned maple syrup.

I finished the thing on Saturday, May 30 at 2:55 am (a few hours shy of 8.88 days) and gave my mom and dad a big hug. Jack woke Andy up so they could both present me with my spoils: Vermont maple syrup, a certificate, and a belt buckle. I sat in the ski lodge long enough to drink two beers with about a dozen other people who were still awake. I think I just left unannounced and headed over to the RV. I showered, brushed my teeth, shaved my face (probably unnecessary), and went to bed.

Back in the Ski Lodge by the board.  Two post-race beers were enough to knock me off my ass.

Back in the Ski Lodge by the board. Two post-race beers were enough to knock me off my ass.

I woke up about three hours later to check out the start of the 88 km and 8 km races, which was a real spectacle. For Andy and Jack, a starting gun is insufficient, so they acquired a homemade cannon. My parents and I spent the morning and early afternoon catching up with the other 888 km racers, most of whom were enjoying the atmosphere at Blueberry Hill and going out on a loop occasionally. I was ready to call it a week, so I insisted that we pack up and get home a day earlier than originally planned. I tried to say goodbye and dole out hugs to everyone as we were leaving, but I’m sure I missed a few.

My parents would later say they were confused by my blasé reaction at the finish. Being my parents, they want me to feel satisfied with my experience, which I absolutely am. So why was my finish so anticlimactic? Why wasn’t I in pArTaY mode hooting and hollering? Well, the finish just wasn’t such a big deal for me. Don’t get me wrong. Despite being a baby eating atheist, I’m not a sociopath without feelings. I teared up while alone twice during the race without any apparent trigger, thought that was a little weird, and then moved on. I was totally thrilled to accomplish what I set out to do. There wasn’t a precise moment when my mentality shifted from self-doubt to self-confidence, but with that transition came a wonderful feeling. Now some weeks after the race, that feeling resurfaces every now and then and I hope it lasts for awhile. Otherwise, I’ll have to go do something stupid like this again real soon to get my fix.

Of course, I owe a lot to my support crew (Mom, Dad, Cassie, Karen). I think sometimes people are exaggerating when they say, after a 100 miler for instance, that none of it would have been possible without their crew. But I sincerely mean this. A 500+ mile trail race, while probably not impossible to do solo, becomes so much more doable and enjoyable when a solid crew has your back. I think most all of the other 888 km racers deeply appreciate this and would agree.

Also, the Infinitus race directors, Jack and Andy, deserve a big nod here. They’re crazy enough to break the mold of ultra running and offer something unique. Surely, they are making no money at this, devoting 10 full days of their lives to 10 runners who paid $500 a piece (meets the $1 per mile rule!) to be there. Putting on this 888 km race is something they do for the love of the community and the growth of the sport and its participants. Thanks, guys!

I’ve been told that I may not know it yet, but this event just changed my life. I don’t know if I want it to change my life and so far I don’t feel like it has. Something I came to appreciate a few years ago now is that it’s worth it to do something with your time other than feeling obligated to work all the time. There are other things to do with yourself than to just do what’s expected of you by everyone else. I, too, struggle with feeling guilty for taking time off to do something I really want to do, but I think I’m a more interesting and happy person for it.

So, I suppose the lesson is that if there’s something you think you really want to do, you should really do that thing. Look, I understand that not everyone can disappear at any moment to just do whatever it is that they may be passionate about. That said, I think many people put up a wall of excuses that convinces them it’s impossible to go for what excites them. They’re wrong. You can take a break from your routine every now and then to do something, who cares what it is, that you really want to do. If your job doesn’t allow this, then you’ve got a lousy job. If your partner doesn’t allow this, then perhaps you’re with the wrong person. It’s your life, so be a little selfish. When you take a stab at something that you care about, I think you’ll surprise yourself. I hope that’s as preachy as I’ll ever get.

Appendix

I have lots of running friends with whom we can discuss how we tie our shoes for 30 minutes and not get bored. This bit is mostly meant for those kind of people. I’ll keep it as brief as I can because both of my typing fingers are callusing over at this point.

I’ve never had any structured running or even attempted to execute a focused training plan before. I used to run about three or four days a week, never pushing it too hard. I figured that if I was going to spend 10 days of my life running, I might as well give it my best shot, so I decided to try working with a coach. I chose to work with Ann Trason because she obviously has a lot of experience and in an interview, she said, “I hate calling them clients because they become friends.” This turns out to be true. Ann is personally invested in the success of the people she coaches and is a joy to work with. Leading up to Infinitus, I ran three consecutive 100 mile weeks and felt stronger than ever.

At first, the planning for Infinitus really excited me. I booked a flight and my dad insisted on crewing me for the entire race from a rented RV. I roped my friend, Jordan, into registering for the race and we met for beers a few times to talk strategy. However, there came a point where I was sick of preparing and wanted to be running already. There are lots of little things to worry about that you don’t consider in a 100 miler. While I was packing up to leave Colorado, Cassie was racing in Australia. I worried a little bit that she’d get home, look around, and think I had moved out. I’ll boil down the rest of what I want to say to food, clothes, gear, and problem solving.

Food

I needed food for 10 days, where I’d be taking in 8000 calories per day and trying to eat every 15 minutes, consuming 300-400 calories an hour. I was bound to get tired of certain foods, so variety was important and everything needed to be quick and easy to prepare. The day before we drove to Vermont, I dropped $300 at the grocery store and came back to a Masshole’s welcome note on my mom’s minivan, “Learn to park, asshole!”

Every time I came into the aid station, I would eat something substantial. Typically, that would be a veggie burger, PB & J, yogurt parfait, or soup. When it was hot, I’d always leave with a big popsicle. I was never moving very fast and my stomach cooperated the whole time, which is unusual for me!

Despite having all this food, my parents still had to make grocery runs and my mom brought a homemade pumpkin pie, among many other meals for myself and my crew.

Despite having all this food, my parents still had to make grocery runs and my mom brought a homemade pumpkin pie, among many other meals for myself and my crew.

Clothes

I packed every piece of running clothing that I own. I was short on shorts and unfortunately they don’t make the ones I like anymore. I ordered 15 pairs of brand new socks. My plan was to run all or most of the race in the Altra Olympus, which I have a love/hate relationship with. I bought the new model a full size bigger than I usually wear and put maybe 30 miles on them before the race. Anticipating that my feet might swell, I found the old model heavily discounted and ordered four pairs, each being a different size from 11 to 12.5. My parents did laundry at least twice during the race for myself and other runners, so I always had clean running clothes. While the temperature did fluctuate, I never needed more than shorts and a light long sleeve.

Tons of clothes, brand new socks, and shoes a few sizes too large.  My parents did laundry for me and other runners at least twice during the race.

Tons of clothes, brand new socks, and shoes a few sizes too large. My parents did laundry for me and other runners at least twice during the race.

Gear

Just like the clothes, I packed up all of the running gear that I own. I organized everything into tupperware bins and gallon size ziplock bags and emphasized that my crew keep things organized throughout the event. Categories included: electronics, hydration, foot care, nighttime gear, cold weather gear, rain gear, first aid. It was nice to have everything I could possibly need in one location, but was a big pain to organize compared to putting drop bags together. My mind felt at ease knowing that there would be no chance of DNF-ing due to forgetting a critical piece of running gear.

Loads of gear.  Yes, I actually went through all of that Body Glide.

Loads of gear. Yes, I actually went through all of that Body Glide.

Problem Solving

Unforeseen problems arose almost immediately, but I was either prepared or dumped the problems on my dad’s shoulders.

The most frustrating issue was that my brand new size 11.5 Altra Olympus shoes fell apart right away. My sweaty feet were enough to dislodge the insoles to the point that they were poking out of the heels. Sure, the shoes were a size too big, but the insoles shouldn’t be moving around like that. Anticipating shoe malfunctions, I brought Shoe Goo with me and had my dad carefully glue down the insoles. This would happen to every pair of Altras I used, ugh. Not long after that, the padding in the heel shredded apart…great. And then, the cloth on the insoles separated and bunched up. This would lead to guaranteed blisters, so I had my dad super glue the cloth back down to the insole. However, the glue seeped through the cloth just enough to be irritating. With about 100 total lifetime miles on this $140 new model of the Altra Olympus, I put a hex on them and left them for dead in a corner of the RV.

I switched into the old model of the Altra Olympus size 12. The only big problem with these was the insoles sliding around, but my dad glued them down. They’re also complete shit on anything remotely steep or muddy. Furthermore, the stability is terrible and I felt certain I was going to break my ankle any moment if I was trying to run fast. However, I wasn’t running fast at all, so the complete lack of stability and traction weren’t a huge issue. The things that these shoes really have going for them are that they are light, very cushioned, and roomy in the toes. I think the Altra Olympus would be a great shoe for a flat multi-day race or for someone doing a long-distance trail race at a slow pace. I did run the entire race in this shoe, so they worked, and I came away with hardly any blisters and no foot bruising or swelling. There are still numerous kinks I would like to see worked out and I think the new model is a downgrade from the old model.

My super bright cheap-o Chinese knock-off headlamp that I rave about broke on the very first night! Luckily, my dad had the foresight to snag a 1000 lumen flashlight, which he was overly eager for me to use. Frankly, I think he might have sabotaged my headlamp to force me to use this damn flashlight. Admittedly, the flashlight was amazing and outshone my backup headlamp to the point of making it useless. So, I did every night section with this flashlight, although I would have preferred a headlamp so that I could have a free hand.

Somehow, I ran out of my running foods (i.e., Honey Stinger chews and waffles) within only four days. Making a few grocery trips, my parents loaded me up with Snickers bars, granola bars, and fruit snacks, which were a fine replacement. I also used a lot of the Clif Shot Bloks available at the aid station. I’d run out of other foods, too, and my parents restocked these for me.

Foot care was perhaps the most important component of my success. Here was my routine. Every time I completed a loop, without exception, I sat down in the RV and took off my shoes and socks. I wiped my feet down with baby wipes and dried them with a washcloth. If I had a blister, I sterilized a safety pin with a lighter, poked holes in the sucker, and drained it completely onto a paper towel. I then covered the area with Compound Tincture of Benzoin. Using scissors, I cut a piece of paper tape as a base bandage layer. I then cut a piece of Leukotape to use as the main bandage, being very careful not to have any creases or folds. I treated hot spots identically to blisters, only without the draining with a needle step, of course. Next, I’d slather my feet in Body Glide, using my thumb nail to scrape off large chunks from the stick, trying to use a lot of it on my forefoot, heel, and toes. The Body Glide should also be applied liberally on top of the taped layers. Taking a clean pair of socks, I gave a generous squirt of Squeaky Cheeks power into each sock and shook it into the fabric. You want just enough powder such that it works into the sock fibers, otherwise it will clump with the Body Glide. Finally, I slapped on another pair of shoes that my dad dried out using newspaper. This whole process could take me up to 15 minutes sometimes!

The mosquitoes were horrendous. I didn’t anticipate that they would be so bad and the bug spray we originally brought was useless. So, my dad picked up some DEET a few days into the race and I spent a full week covered in potent poison from head to toe.

The final noteworthy thing was my sleep. Twice I overslept and my dad let me, knowing full well that I would wake up a little ticked off by this. I probably needed the sleep, so it’s fine, but I think I’d have to be even more restrictive in my sleep schedule if I wanted to have a strong performance at a six day race. Without fail, I would wake up covered in sweat and could not sleep soundly for more than an hour or two. I’m not sure why this was happening, but I slept with a towel next to me and an extra blanket so I could switch it out with the one I soaked through. I slept with my feet up on a stack of pillows, allowing them to air out and recover from the pounding of the day. I also would wake up to pee frequently, which was frustrating. Despite all of this, I never felt sleep deprived during the race and my mental focus was sharp throughout.

Having completed the Infinituss 888 km, I think running was 50% of the challenge and all of this other stuff I just went through comprised the remaining 50%. If you’re someone who enjoys the problem solving aspects of ultra running, then I think a multi-day is the event for you!

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One thought on “Infinitus 888 km — I Found My Thrill on Blueberry Hill

  1. Pingback: The Ultrarunning Infinite Loop | Running is fun...at least for a little while.

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