Elle’s Run

For more background on how this all began, read this blog post. Or visit the donation page.

To say I was a little more amped than usual about this race would be an understatement. The response from everyone so far in the blitz fundraiser has been so positive and encouraging. And running for those who can’t run, really gets me fired up. On top of all that, I was running for baby Elle specifically.

The Details

So far in my limited experience of ultras and mountain trail marathons, I’ve started races extremely conservatively. But Saturday, I was excited and felt like pushing things a bit. I jockeyed for better position in the field at the starting line and during the first mile while we were on the road when passing was easier. However, within the first couple miles, I worried I was pushing it too hard. My breathing was just over the line from comfortable to labored. Being so early in a long race, this gave me concern. It’s always difficult to reign in the effects of adrenaline and slow down. But slowly over a few miles I let several runners pass me and settled into a rhythm of my own.

Sam Houston National Forest

The course consisted of one 6.7 mile loop and two 12.5 mile loops. There are two places on the course where there’s a short out and back section. These provide a convenient way to keep tabs on the runners just in front of and behind you. I may have sped up a little on the second loop, not sure. But I kept the pace in a “comfortable” zone. Either way, I was happy to start picking off some runners who passed me earlier.

Thankfully, I never felt completely horrible during the race, but I did have a low point. During the latter half of the first 12.5 mile loop, around the half-way point of the race, a handful of unpleasant challenges greeted me. First, I noticed some soreness on the bottom of my foot. Every now and then I would land on a tree root just right and it would complain. Occasionally it complained LOUDLY. I wondered if it would flare up and prevent me from finishing. It was also mentally challenging to run the big loop for the first time. The trail just keeps going and going. I wasn’t sure how much farther we had to go. On top of all this, my stomach became unsettled. Up to that point, I drank mostly Gatorade and stayed on top of my fueling. I successfully avoided getting hungry, a sign that tells you are already behind in the calories game. I think slightly over-fueling must be better than the alternative. A moderately quick visit to the port-a-let at the start/finish area before beginning the last loop was all it took to make my stomach happy again.

I opened things up on my last loop. I ran just above a comfortable pace at what I’ll call “fun pace.” It’s a lot of fun to run just a little faster on trails. I passed people pretty steadily the entire last loop. With eight miles left I picked up the pace more. It was still loads fun, but now it was more what I would call “working hard” pace. This was by far the most enjoyable part of the race for me. I ran sub 9 minute pace on the flats, dipped below 8’s on the downhill, and ran almost all the uphill without hiking. I was ecstatic to be around marathon mileage and yet feel so strong. I had fun spotting runners in the distance, reeling them in, and passing. I was unsure I could keep up the pace to the finish. At the last aid station I asked how far to the finish and was disappointed to hear 2.7 miles remained. Fortunately I didn’t crash, but my kick fizzled. No one caught me, but I didn’t pass anyone else.

Reflections

Strangely it was during my 24-29 mile “kick” that I began focusing on the lesson of the day. My brain should have had the least amount of blood to work with at that point. Although, as you’ll see, I’m not so sure my brain was the source of insight. Life is such a beautiful thing. I believe in created life. And so it becomes problematic to understand why some babies are created differently. Throughout the week my brother and I emailed, texted, and spoke frequently. One thing he said to me was racing through my mind. “You will get to be the one who puts on the meekness of Elle but experience the magnitude of joy she brings.” As I reflect more on that statement now, it’s difficult to fully understand.

I'm giving my bib and medal to baby Elle.

I’m not sure why, maybe it was because I felt so strong in that moment. And yet my heart still felt so incapable of understanding the kind of love and joy these kids have. That’s when I stumbled upon the following realization. It’s not the strong who teach us joy and love, but the weak.

Ultra-running paradoxically is about strength and weakness. Everyone who finishes an ultra-marathon is strong. But to run your best race you must completely empty yourself, beyond what your physical body tells you is possible. In order to run your best race you have to run through your body telling your brain: if you continue, then you will die. It’s a sickeningly, beautiful thing. I haven’t yet experienced this phenomenon to its fullest. But, when I approach exhaustion, when I empty myself of my strength, that’s when I feel most open to grow. I’m more thankful. In my emptiness and weakness I’m filled with an uncommon joy; a joy that’s not from within me.

It’s a gift filled with joy to run faster than you’ve ever run (setting personal records – PRs). But I was blessed with an even more rewarding experience last week: helping others set PRs at the White Rock Marathon. To state it more simply, running, by itself, is a gift filled with joy. And yet, there are some filled with even more joy and love. A pure and simple love. A joy that’s unexplainable. And they can’t run at all. Saturday, with strength, I ran for Elle. But every day of their lives, those that are created differently teach us greater joy and deeper love.

Some Numbers
  • 31 miles
  • 16th place
  • 5 hours 21 minutes
  • 10:22 minutes/mile
  • 3 Gu’s
  • 1.5 Christmas cookies
  • ??? animal crackers, potato chips, potato wedges, dried fruit
  • 6 pepperoni pizza slices post-race
  • Beat by 5 women (chick’d)
  • 3 number 1’s
  • 1 number 2 (TMI)
  • 2 trips
  • 0 falls
  • 0 blisters
  • 1 sore spot on the bottom of my foot

For more background on how this all began, read this blog post. Or visit the donation page.

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  • Kelly Garman

    Wow. AMAZING recap, Matt. I’m not even sure what to say beyond that…but you got me thinking…and it is a recap that runners, and non-runners, need to read. Well done.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks, Kelly. I’m thrilled you like it. Your kind words mean a lot.

  • Peter Brunone

    Fantastic. Thank you for putting this together for the rest of us. Something about strength being perfected in weakness comes to mind…

    On a more personal note, thank you for being so encouraging to those of us still in baby-step mode.

  • Anonymous

    We were all beginners once upon a time. I hope you will find as I have, the running community is a very encouraging place.

  • Anonymous

    “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

  • Peter Brunone

    You have to love Paul. The guy was living the American Dream — power, prestige, intellect — until he got smacked off his high horse by grace and a frightening new perspective. He was what we all imagine ourselves to be, and became what we all need to realize we are.