This post is not about me - it is about one of the most amazing people I know...my son. Nearly two years ago, in January of 2007, my son Cotton started running. He started like most runners - slowly, carefully, a block at a time. It wasn't long before he was running a mile, then two, then more. He came in one April day and told us that he had signed up for a half marathon. Not just any half marathon mind you, the Tahoe half. We were excited for him, and proud of him for making that commitment, and the more we talked about it the more we felt someone should go with him, so his dad took some vacation and in September of last year they were both off to Tahoe for 5 days. Cotton did really well, he ran a 2:06 time in only his second race.
After that race he came back even more excited about running. He also began biking - first with a mountain bike, then with a road bike. He kept working on speed and endurance in both arenas. One evening he came in and said he had decided he really wanted to challenge himself and try the Ultra Marathon in Tahoe. 72 miles all the way around the lake. We all discussed it and he said he would need to get a crew to go with him. Why not us? So all three of us made reservations for air and hotel and we got a van for the race. He biked the MS150 early in the year and then was ready to start concentrating on training for the Ultra. The classes he was taking in school were much more time consuming than he had first anticipated, so in March he sent an email to move down to just the marathon. School and work were simply taking up too much of his training time. In August the restaurant he was working at shut the doors with no warning, that meant he had to get a new job - now he had longer hours which cut into his training time even more. He thought he'd just pay the fee and move on down to the half marathon again when we got to Tahoe.
We flew into Tahoe on Thursday and met his grandparents there. We had such a great evening visiting. Got up before sunrise on Friday and went out for a short (3 - 4 mile) run, then out to Emerald Bay to take pictures and hike for a bit. Then we went up to Heavenly in the cable cars and hiked the green trail. We came back a little early so Cotton could ride the zip line from the top of the mountain. A 550 ft. drop!!! He had a blast.
On Saturday Rick and I got up early and went back out to Emerald Bay to get some sunrise pictures and hike some more. Cotton stayed at the hotel so he could go to the expo and rest his legs for the race. He had decided that whatever they had him signed up for he would give it a shot. As we were returning to the hotel we got a phone call from Cotton. They had lost his bib - he had a handmade bib, and the race was not going to be chipped timed. He was so upset. When we got back we talked to him and then we all got ready to meet Grandma and Grandpa for lunch and shopping. While we were there Cotton got a text message saying they had his bib. HE WAS STILL SIGNED UP FOR THE ULTRA MARATHON, NOT THE MARATHON!! OK...he decided he would go for it. Even though the longest distance he had run up to this point was 24 miles he would give it a shot. He went to the safety meeting with his Dad and then we were off and running picking up supplies for the midnight start of the race.
At midnight (after about 2-3 hours of rest) Cotton took off. We would drive ahead of him for about 3 miles and park and wait for him to catch up with us. We had mapped out the first three spots, but beyond that was anybody's guess! When he reached us the first few times he didn't even stop. We knew what he wanted so we would have it ready to hand to him. He was going for about a 13 minute mile pace and was doing pretty well sticking to it. He figured if he did 24 40 minute 5Ks he would finish within the allotted time. He was slightly ahead of pace after the 3rd stop. Once we passed that stop we were out of Tahoe and just on the highway. Let me tell you - it is DARK out there! When Rick and I were sitting in the car we couldn't even see each other! But if you stepped outside there were so many more stars than you could EVER imagine! It was simply amazing.
At about 3:00 AM Cotton stopped at stop 6 (17.8 miles). We didn't know it at the time, but once he started back up it was going to be a bit of a climb. HA! I can say a bit of a climb now because we didn't know what he was in for - running for 3 miles uphill at a 7% incline. It was like the hill that would never end! We were able to let him know at this point however that a lot of the other runners ahead of him had been walking a little more. He kept going and at stop number 10 we congratulated him. He had completed 26.2 miles - his first full marathon! It was 5:04 AM and he was still ready to run some more.
After stop number 11 we ran into just a little trouble. At the meeting, I guess Rick had to step out to go pick up some bus tickets or something, so he missed the information about a couple of the turns that needed to be made. We missed the turn. After 15 minutes with no runners passing us we backtracked to the turn, found the director and made sure we were where we needed to be. We caught up with Cotton (who, thank heavens, had NOT missed the turn) and gave him some Gatorade and orange slices. We were also fortunate that I was running with him when his phone rang so he was able to get some encouraging words from one of his friends.
As we waited at stop number 17, about 8:00 AM we could see Cotton walking toward us. It appeared like he had really hit a wall! He had completed about 37.4 miles so we could understand how exhausted he was. He was very emotional as he told us he would just like to try for 40 miles. He was so close. I asked if I could run with him a little bit and he must have REALLY been tired because he said yes. Off we went...oops, I quickly realized I had forgotten to take off a couple of layers! You heat up pretty quickly when you are running as opposed to just sitting outside a car waiting! I stuck with it though and when we stopped we were at the 39.5 mile mark. I told him, "You can do this!" I left my fleece jacket and sweater in the van and off we went for another 2 miles. At 41.7 miles I guess the Red Bull had given him wings because he was leaving me in the dust. He was up to 9:30 minute miles or faster - going uphill! When we reached the van we decided it was Dad's turn to run a little. Off went my boys. After stop 20 (46.1 miles at 9:22 AM) Rick told me that Cotton wanted to see if he could finish the 50 miles in under the qualifying time of 11 hours. I thought "cool", even though I didn't have a clue what he was trying to qualify for! At the next stop (48.2 miles) Rick told me - he wants to qualify for the Western States 100! I got back in the van and drove just a few 10ths of a mile down the road and there were the vehicles. The race director was there cheering runners on. She asked the name of my runner...I told her Cotton, that he was still going strong and was hoping to make it in the qualifying time. She just grinned and said that at this point he could probably crawl and make it! It was so beautiful to see him come up over the rise - he passed the mark at 10:18!!! Over 40 minuted UNDER the time needed. He blew past me like I was standing still...Oh yeah, I WAS standing still! Rick caught up and we both got in the van to drive to the next spot up the road. At just over 10:30 and 51 miled Cotton decided to pull the plug. Both legs were nothing but knotted muscles, and he felt like his knee was going so he called it a day.
Some might think that this was a failure since he didn't finish the entire 72 miles. I don't. I look at someone who overcame so much to get there - he had prepared for a totally different race, but when push came to shove he gave it his all. He more than doubled his best distance, ran through pitch blackness - ALONE, conquered a few demons, blew through several "walls", and qualified for one of the most prestigious Ultra races there is! I was amazed at his courage and perseverance. When I grow up I want to be just like him!