Tuesday, June 14, 2016

MitoTreadmill part TWO

Neil Zeller photography

It was 4:00 am and I had just set a new Guinness World Record for furthest distance run in 12 hours on a treadmill, I should be happy right? Instead I catch myself yawning and hardly able to keep my heavy eyelids open. The men's and women's teams to my right are meticulously hammering away at their treadmills proving the pack mentality reigns supreme and creating a certainty that both their records
Neil Zeller photography
will be obliterated by the end of the day. Daniel Bowie, our emcee had the music pumping and from the start created an energy that lifted the spirits of everyone within speaker distance. Even with all the excitement and stimulus my eyes drooped, my head bobbed and I started fearing that with 12 hours left to run and 120 kilometers to go before eclipsing the record I may run out of gas before reaching the destination. That was the risk of starting the event at 4pm. I knew that 24 hour races were hard enough to power through but starting so late in the day meant I'd be awake all the day before the 4pm start and finish well into the next day fighting a truck load of sleep monsters. The reason for the 4pm start was to maximize on spectator exposure in order to send our message about mitochondrial disease.

Neil Zeller photography
At 4:30 am I decided to drink a Red Bull. Ten minutes after drinking the Red Bull and not feeling any effects I made another terrible error and took three caffeine pills. Within minutes I clutched my left eye feeling like I was being stabbed upon every stride. That headache was vicious! I reached for my sunglasses, put in earplugs, swallowed an Aleve, and asked Daniel to turn down the music volume. The pain was drowning and all I wanted to do was get off this damn treadmill and go huddle in a dark room. Thirty minutes later the headache disappeared and as I looked back at the potential disaster I felt relief that my body recovered and I settled back in a groove. Fuelling to this point had been seamless with eating half fructose and half glucose, up to 350 calories per hour drinking half RE7, half water and a half Nuun tablet. At 6:05 am I passed the 100 mile mark. I had hoped to stay on pace crossing that mark at 6:15 am, so needless to say I was very pleased with pacing to this point. At 7:00 am a young, spunky Arielle Fitzgerald pounced on the treadmill next to me and started her day attempting to break the fastest 50K and 100K runs on a treadmill. She was dialed in listening to music and I didn't want to disturb her groove. Blaine Penny arrived shortly thereafter where we spoke briefly about pacing strategy. Sharon, Misti Sayani, and my 10 year old daughter Julia continued to crew me tirelessly. Simply put, an organized and stress free runner is a fast runner.


Neil Zeller photography
At 8:00 am the workers of the expo arrived to work and see us still hammering away on our treadmills. This really bothered me. The problem is when you are running these long distances there is an importance in zoning out and getting into a flow state. Alternating running on two side by side treadmills for 24 hours you look straight ahead, tilt your head slightly and look down at the ground roughly 20 meters in front of you -  that is your line. Your line becomes your home, it's your zen place where all things become okay. The previous day when the expo was open the same two or three employees kept walking and dancing directly into the middle of my line and stood there. Nine out of every 10 minutes they occupied my line. I tried to stare right through them trying to convince myself that they were not there but I think these employees thought I was looking at them and would start dancing, giving me thumbs ups, engaging me in conversation, telling me to keep going while they pumped their arms like they were running as well. Now I'm certain these people were lovely people with only the very best intentions but this is when I started to mentally lose it. Truth is for the past 16 hours and for the following 8 hours I was unable to enter a flow state. The key to success in ultramarathoning is mental management and the primary key is the ability to enter a flow state where perception of effort lessens and one can run for miles while eliminating himself from the task at hand. This revelation scared the shit out of me as the feeling of self doubt started to flood in but then I asked myself what I enjoyed the most about this sport. My answer was simple - the ability to adapt. The human body shouldn't be able to do these things but it does. The ability of the body and mind to adapt has a ridiculous potential that even science cannot grasp. If I were to run 258K that day I would have to adapt. I gave myself 10 minutes to bitch and complain about my present environment and then create solutions to transform my thought process.

Neil Zeller photography
The next 6 hours went as expected. My pace stayed constant but my effort increased hour by hour. The crowds grew around MitoCanada's treadmills and the energy was building. Right before 11:00 am Arielle broke her 50K Guinness World Record. The energy grew. Next Adam Campbell on the men's team ran 20 km/hr and sailed passed the men's record. The energy grew more. The women were next making it look easy as they drove right past their magic number. At that point the crowd was shoulder to shoulder and produced an atmosphere that one could taste. We had broken 5 out of 7 world records with just me and Arielle to go. I glanced over at Arielle and after digging her way out of a hole her pace and confidence spelled certainty.

Neil Zeller photography
With two hours remaining the wheels started coming off. My fuelling in the last 4 hours went from bad to worse and at this point all I could stomach was Coke. Coca-Cola was something in the past that has worked for me at the end of races but not for as lengthy of a time as 6 hours to go. My lower intestinal tract was becoming a bigger issue and the strength that drove me to that point was now being widdled away piece by piece. My colour changed, my stride shortened and I started now wincing in pain. With an hour and a half left to run I was still on pace to break the record and I decided to take one last bathroom break in hopes to alleviate the pain that was seeping into every cell on my broken
Sam giving his Dad encouragement
body. I'll spare you the details but trying to go to the bathroom made things much worse. A minute later I arrived back on the treadmill only to be  overwhelmed by the pain. It took everything I had to get the treadmill up to a walking pace. That was the first time in the past 23 hours I walked and running seemed impossible. After two minutes of walking I told Sharon I needed to get back to the bathroom to remedy this problem. I remember telling her that unless this problem gets turned around I can't see myself going on. I got back into the bathroom moaning in pain. Once again there was no improvement. While in there Sharon gave me a pep talk and told me to "man up", she told me that unless I got back up on that treadmill in the next 45 seconds and run well for the next 75 minutes this entire event would be a failure. She was right. I arrived back on the treadmill with an entire room chanting my name. I pressed start and with every painful step I got back into a slow trot but I knew this pace wasn't fast enough but it was all I had left. Sharon asked me what I needed. I answered "Tell Blaine I need him".

Neil Zeller photography
Blaine arrived at my side seconds later saying "Dave what do need?"

He later told me that when I looked at him I basically looked right through him and that he never in his life had seen someone suffer from running like that before. I told Blaine that I was in a lot of trouble and that I needed him to tell me a story, a story that would make this pain okay.

Neil Zeller photography
Now for a bit of a back story. Blaine's son Evan has mitochondrial disease and five years ago my son Sam was tested for mitochondrial disease. Thankfully Sam doesn't have it but from that moment on I befriended Blaine and to this day he represents everything that I want to be as a father, husband, friend and athlete. Simply put, it's impossible to respect another person as much as I respect him.

Neil Zeller photography
So Blaine started his story by telling me that the last 6 months with Evan having numerous surgeries and complications almost resulting in losing him have been the hardest 6 months of his life. He went on explaining that the creation of this event and it's development gave him and Sarah much strength in the hospital while dealing with the many challenges that lay before them. He thanked me for thinking up such a wild idea and said that I never will understand how much my friendship has meant to them. He thanked me for this gift. He went on to talking about the importance of why we do these things. He started pointing at pictures of my son Sam propped up on my treadmill and discussed the strength we get by running for those that matter most to us; how both he and I understand one another as we are both fathers of special needs boys and desperately desire hope. He again thanked me for being there for him the past year, then he paused, "Now Dave, finish what you started. I'll be running the last 30 minutes for the men's team. If you are struggling look over and I'll be right over there running with you".

Neil Zeller photography
Neil Zeller photography
During this conversation my colour came back, my posture strengthened and I started pressing the increase speed button finding myself running the same pace that I started only 23 hours before. At that point I knew there was no way I wasn't going to succeed. The pain never went away nor did it diminish but Blaine reminded me the real reason why I was doing this. I was running for those who can't. I stared straight ahead at Sam's photos and a hand written note saying "RUN GRATEFUL :)" and with one hour to go and a new perspective a little smile glowed inside me.

Neil Zeller photography
Neil Zeller photography
At 3:30 pm Arielle glided into the record books making it a near perfect 6/7 Guinness World Records for MitoCanada. Daniel Bowie announced that I only had 3 km before I broke MitoCanada's 7th and final Guinness World Record. I knew this was a certainty. I spent the next 15 minutes inviting my wife, kids, mother and father, brother and sister-in-law, and best friends up so I can tell them how much I love them and how much they mean to me. All this time whenever I looked over at Blaine he would always look back at me. We would point at one another acknowledging the
Neil Zeller photography
bond between us and the friendship we share. At 3:46 pm the horn sounded announcing I had eclipsed the previous world record of 257.88km! I pumped my fists in the air and the enormous crowd went nuts. My best friend John approached me and told me that he went over the numbers many times and he was 99.99% certain that I've just broken the world record but he reminds me that he is a dentist not an accountant and that given any discrepancy I should keep my pedal to the metal. The next 14 minutes were ugly but I took this time to thank and give
Neil Zeller photography
praise to all the spectators that I'm sure were all losing their voices. Still I looked over at Blaine and he looked back at me.

Neil Zeller photography
At 4:00 pm rather than hitting pause I pressed stop. After running 260.4 km and having gone nowhere, I collapsed on the console of my Precor treadmill thanking it for it's hard work. I turned and embraced Sharon, within seconds Blaine arrived sandwiching me and Sharon. We ran for those who can't and we ran a hell of a long way, now everyone knows what MitoCanada is all about.

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