SolarWorld's running man: Powered by perseverance
Posted 6/25/2012 by : Brian Janecek, SolarWorld Senior Recruiter
Being a goal-oriented person who prides himself on pushing beyond pain and discomfort in order to achieve goals, it was a tough reality for me to face having to drop out short of the finish line in my first attempt at completing a 100-mile foot race. It was dark and nearly moonless and I was alone ascending the third of four big climbs in the race when the deep cough I’d been fighting for the last three days was first accompanied by a metallic taste. I kept running, hoping that it was just another obstacle to overcome, but the taste kept getting stronger with each successive hack and a quarter-mile later I coughed into my hand and hesitantly took a look with my flashlight. I wasn’t surprised at the bright-red blood that was smeared across my palm, but the amount was a lot more than I expected.
Brian on the Bonneville Salt Flats course
My first emotion was anger mixed with a lot of frustration. I had trained hard for months in order to get my legs and my lungs strengthened to the point that they could handle the rigors of a 100-mile race that would start on the famed Bonneville Salt Flats of Utah and then head into the rocky and sun-baked hills that rose above. I had a nutrition and hydration strategy that was dialed in and I was giddy with excitement to prove to myself that I could take on a challenge that would have sounded as foreign, and absurd, to me as flapping my arms and flying to the Moon just three years earlier when I was 75 pounds heavier and would have struggled to run a downhill mile.
I was angry that just three days before the race I was sitting at my desk at work and could feel an illness coming on. I hadn’t been sick in more than a year and right when I needed my health the most I could feel it failing me. It turned into a nasty chest and sinus infection accompanied by a splitting headache. I could have dealt with a stomach flu or something of that nature, but having my lungs taken away from me before running 100 miles just wasn’t fair.
Just after the gun sounded. Brian is following the lead runner who will eventually go on to win the race.
I decided to go forward with the 12-hour drive to Wendover, Nevada with my support team (my parents) and the hope that I was just experiencing a passing cold that wouldn’t develop into anything too detrimental. Unfortunately, the cold kept getting worse and worse and the headache was incapacitating. I spent the day before the race lying on my bed in a casino hotel room trying to think positive thoughts. When my alarm went off at 5:30 the morning of the race, I thought I felt a little better and decided that I would start the race and give it my best shot.
At 7am the gun sounded and we were off. The first ten miles was spent crossing the Bonneville Salt Flats, where world land speed records were routinely set (none of those were in jeopardy on this day), before heading up into the mountains. The landscape was harsh and barren, but had its own sort of beauty and I was enjoying running in an environment that was so different from my home in the lush Pacific Northwest. I felt better than expected at the start, but this probably had a lot to do with the adrenaline and excitement of starting a race and the fact that I was on one of the flattest surfaces on Earth.
Breathing was difficult for the first ten hours, but my legs were strong and I was in the top third of the field, which made me think that I not only had a shot of finishing this thing, but that I may even turn in a respectable time despite being handicapped by my lungs. After about 50 miles I started feeling a lot of pain deep in my lungs, like something was tearing. This progressed until reaching the 70-mile mark and the first sign of blood.
50 miles in and the first sign of trouble
By mile 71 it was obvious to me that pushing on for the last marathon of the course was going to be an unwise decision and I knew that I was going to have to pull out at the next aid station at mile 74.5. It was an easy decision to make; I had read about people doing permanent damage to their bodies by pushing farther than they should and one race wasn’t worth long-term damage, but my legs still felt good and I really wanted to feel the elation of crossing the finish line after 100 miles. About two miles after making the decision to withdraw, the trail intersected a dirt road that it followed to the next aid station. Just up this road I saw a pair of familiar headlights coming at me; it was my parents driving the road to see how I was doing. My race was over after 14 hours and 52 minutes; I had covered 73 miles.
It wasn't meant to be on this day, but there's no looking back next time!
After reflecting on the experience I can look back at it and truly say it was positive. I learned a lot and came away with the confidence that even the absurd can be possible if the effort and desire are there. I planned on returning next year to finish what I started and I still intend to, but the prospect of waiting another year to complete a 100-mile race wasn’t appealing to me so I went ahead and signed up for the Pony Express 100, which will take place in October. I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that my kids don’t bring any more of their cooties home from school.