A battle plan is excellent until the first shot is fired

November 22, 2007|by DAVE ELLIOTT

The Lamaze method is overrated. The breathing, the relaxation, the timing. My wife and I attended Lamaze classes religiously prior to the birth of our first child. All was well and good ... until about the fifth minute of labor. Then it was, "Doc, please wheel in the drug cart, if you would." Only with more emphasis ... and adjectives. Lamaze was forever more out the window.

So it was for me at around the 18-mile mark of Saturday's JFK 50 Mile ultramarathon. I was on the C&O Canal towpath, some four hours into the race, and dying. My game plan - run a short distance, walk a short distance - was a distant memory. My year's worth of training - highlighted by a stress fracture of the leg and a rather embarrassing shoulder injury - was out the window.

Like Lamaze, my training had made perfect sense, all the way up to the moment I truly needed it. There I was, a little more than a third of the way through an event I had physically and mentally been preparing for since January, and it was crashing down before me, each step an agonizing reminder of how far - and rugged - this course truly was.


I had hoped the course's brutal beginning, up the mountain and then some 13 miles over the Appalachian Trail - largely in the dark for us 5 a.m. starters - wouldn't take too much of a toll. But it clearly had.

I couldn't believe it was ending this way.

My story began in 1974. Though the plaque on my folks' basement wall is long gone, the memories of my father battling his way to the finish line of the JFK - on what very well might have been the worst weather day of that calendar year - live on.

The event was held in the spring back then, though the conditions that day might have had a lot to do with switching it to the fall the following year. With a thermometer that never neared 40 and a freezing, wind-driven rain falling throughout the day, it was truly miserable (only 17 percent of that year's 1,355 starters made it to the finish).

Let me tell you, my dad's done a lot of things in his life that have left an impact on me, and what he was able to do that day certainly has a place on the long list.

And so it was that a seed was planted. A seed that, while there all along, remained dormant over the years, while I grew into adulthood, began working at The Herald-Mail, got married, had three kids of my own, etc., etc.

The spark that seed needed to come to life didn't happen until Nov. 18 of last year. That day, Dad, my brother Zach and a couple of my kids attended a Hershey Bears hockey game. It was the day of the 2006 JFK - a gorgeous day, by the way - and we were sitting around a restaurant in Hershey, Pa., prior to the game.

The conversation, as I remember it, went something like this:

Me: "Hey, did you guys realize today was the JFK?"

Dad: "Well, they sure had a great day for it."

Me: "Zach, you and I should get in that next year."

Zach: "Sounds great to me ... I'm down."

At this point, Dad was saying nothing, but undoubtedly rolling his eyes, especially considering I'd probably never run a continuous mile in my life.

I saw Zach later that next week. A former cross country runner for Chambersburg High, now raising a young family and pursuing his residency at Hershey Medical Center, Zach had been overcome with a case of common sense in the days following our last conversation.

Zach: "Dave, as much as I'd love to, I just can't carve out the time to properly train for an event like that."

And, as quickly as it had begun, the duo was back to being a solo act. Zach's always been the wiser of the two.

I was determined to have a go at it, and began training around the holidays. With the support of co-workers Andy Mason (ninth overall on Saturday, by the way) and Joel Huffer, I began logging the miles, starting on a treadmill at the Y and eventually gravitating to the open road.

I was set back for a couple of months after developing a stress facture in my left knee in early February, so I had to replace the running with time on a stationary bike. Nonetheless, I was getting myself in better shape and dropping some significant weight.

When I got back to running in April, it was relatively pain-free, though for fear of reaggravating the injury, I was only putting in 25 to 30 miles per week, and never running on consecutive days.

Come race day, I was apprehensive, but ready. Prepared with all the necessary tools of the trade (change of shoes, extra clothes and socks, food, Gatorade, etc.), Dad and I made our way to Boonsboro High School for the 4:20 a.m. prerace meeting. He'd be lending a hand all day, meeting me at a handful of designated spots and providing food, clothes and moral support.

From the time the gun went off at 5 a.m., and for the next 3 1/2 hours, I couldn't have asked for more. Making my way up Alternate 40 to the South Mountain Inn - through the brisk, dark morning - and then over the hilly, rock-strewn Appalachian Trail, I was making great time and didn't feel I was taxing myself too greatly.

The Herald-Mail Articles