I am a two time USATF 100 Mile National Champion and three time selected member of the USA National Team that competes in the World Long Distance Mountain Running & IAU World Trail Championships. I have run a lot but I realized as I ran with Team RWB’s Eric B along Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland I was going to be the one learning.
Liza Howard, Jason Bryant, Allison Bryant, and Joe Pursuits invited me to Camp Eagle in Texas last Veteran’s Day weekend to help mentor a trail running camp. I was recovering from plantar fasaciatis, fighting to try and save a marriage that was crumbling, and cramming for midterms in medical school. Typical to my personality with so much on my plate at the time I immediately accepted another obligation not knowing how Team RWB was about to change my life.
I met Eric B at that camp along with almost 100 other veterans. It was an amazingly humbling experience to get to share my passion and love of trail running with the group while trying to impart on them some ideas and skills for their own training and path to recovery from various issues like PTSD and depression.
Eric struck me as incredibly resilient as he completed the obstacle course that Sunday afternoon in 2012. I will never forget his work ethic and passion on that course. You see Eric only has one leg now. A below the knee amputee from an accident while he was serving his country in 2006. Eric has defied the odds and on that Saturday evening in Ireland I was honored to accompany him on the final section of Team RWB’s win in the Lost Worlds Racing’s Causeway Crossing 100K relay win.
Months earlier I had introduced Lost Worlds Racing’s Tim Holstrom to Team RWB’s founder Mike Erwin and was pleasantly excited that they had reached a deal to allow Team RWB to send over a relay team to the Causeway Crossing of which Eric and his teammates: Jessica, James, and Tony would be a part. All four were alumni of the Team RWB Trail Running Camp I volunteered at so I was excited to reconnect.
I had run the 37 mile version of the first 50K of the 100K earlier in the morning when Eric asked if I wanted to join him to see the rest of the course. My back was tight and my leg was hurting and 37 miles on about 40 ounces of water even on a cool day did not put me in a happy mood especially when I had to run the last 18 miles with no water or calories. Pound cake is awesome but when it is the only offering of calories or electrolytes in a race I get skeptical.
A freak snow storm that had killed livestock and left the bogs in the early stages an almost impassable mess had forced a race morning reroute of the course onto tarmac. I had attended the race briefing the night before laughing at the almost comical disorganization the organizers portrayed in trying to let racers know the actual start times and locations and shuttle schedules. The technical director had advised trail shoes and mentioned deep, muddy, bogs. I was familiar with ” Irish Trails” from my race for Team USA at the 2011 IAU World Trail Championships so I decided to go with the bulkier INOV8 Trail Roc 245s we debuted last summer at Trans Rockies Run when I ran for INOV8. A great trail shoe but after a opening mile of soft trails chasing a local fast guy we hit paved road that would become the theme of the first 37 miles of the 50k 😉
I smiled for a few photos for Tim and Talk Ultra’s Ian Corless and ate some poundcake. I was using this race as a long run in preparation for Sky Running‘s Ultra Series’ Rhonda del Cims in Andora’s Pyrenees mountains so fast road running was not high on my training plan that day. The local, Johnny S. kicked my butt early as he floated away. I had partook of a few too many pints the evening before at the pub thinking I might sleep in for the 1pm 50K start but when the 4am alarm went off I saw a sleep deprived long run with a massive hangover as a character building opportunity for Andorra so I got on the bus for the 100K 6am start.
With no water or bathroom facilities at the start I almost missed the beginning of the race searching for a tree. I only had a few sips of water left in my Ultimate Direction bottle so I was already in the hole as my liver’s ADH enzymes were working overtime to process the Guinness in my blood.
At the 15 mile aid station at 15K (notice the theme here) I got some pound cake but skipped water as a spectator had just given me a small plastic bottle. A few miles later I was pleasantly surprised to jog along to find more pound cake and water not knowing that would be the last feed station for eighteen miles. The course had beautiful sections through forests, unfortunately we didn’t get to run very many. My favorite part of the starting section was the snow covered bog I got to maneuver across. I would never catch Johnny as he had a full crew supporting him with a little more race appropriate nutrition. He would run an incredibly impressive 8:37 for his debut 100K. Race organizers did a good job realizing the mistake in the length so they shortened the second half for the 100K runners.
After I laughed with Tim and Erik and the irony of the first 38 miles I bundled up, feasted on…. Wait….. You guessed it…. Pound cake… and went to see the physio to work on my left leg. I have limited range of motion in my left leg when it gets cold due to sciatica and the bright sunny morning had given way to a windy chilly mess of a day.
I don’t say no to running with a hero. Eric and the Team RWB crew are inspirational to me to I took some vitamin “I” and caught the shuttle with him to the 25K start line. We didn’t get to start at 1530 with the others as we had to wait for Tony’s third leg to finish. Jessica’s first 25K had been long and James’ second leg was slow due to bog crossings and a chill he caught when the weather changed.
When Eric and I stepped off at 1730 we had 25K and a goal of finishing before dark. Eric ran strong from the start. A week earlier he wasn’t even able to walk in his prosthetic so a realistic finishing time of seven hours was our actual goal time.
Eric was happy to get to see Giant’s Causeway and tourists were cheering him on. It was a touching scene. He maneuvered down the paved bus road well, stopped to do a handstand in front of the volcanic remains, and worked hard to get back up the steep stairs to the rim trail. The guy was on a mission.
Eric had to stop a few times to adjust his leg. I kept encouraging him to keep warm as the wind was strong. We could see sheep grazing the steep slopes below as we made our way along the cliffs. Half Moon Bay was amazing to see from above, and the waterfalls into the North Channel were spectacular! Eric took photos with Tony’s camera and we made great time to the feed station and where told we had six miles to go. Eric ate and drank but was getting tired as he was entering a new distance for him. He told me Ian, the local technical race director and course designer said he was the first amputee to attempt any of his races.
I got nervous when Eric’s legs started to cramp encouraging him to keep moving to stay warm. We hit a section of very rocky slippery shoreline which Eric negotiated well. The deep sandy beach was tough for him although he moved well on the hard packed sand. The tide was rolling in and it was getting darker. We hit a section of seaweed where Eric’s Team RWB teammate James was waiting to accompany him in. it got dark and we got Eric’s headlight fired up.
Eric’s prosthetic was becoming to rub his leg raw and cause a massive blister. He had to stop a few times to relieve the pain and pressure. It took all I had not to offer him help beyond my encouragement and some medical words of wisdom on pain being a temporary electrochemical impulse carried up our Spinothalamic Tract’s militated neurons.
Ian met us as we made it to the paved section after the beach. James and him walked ahead for a bit as Eric made his final climb to the grass pasture. In the pasture Eric was tired and mentioned phantom pain in his missing limb. He asked me to take his pack so he could try to run. One foot in front of the other he carried on telling me of his degree and research in engineering, an internship he had secure for the summer, and why this 25K was so important to him and his teammates.
Eric ran in the last part of the 100K covering his 25K which for him was the longest distance he had covered at the time. Eric wasn’t at Team RWB Trail Running Camp this past weekend as he allowed other veterans to participate and learn about trails. Eric and I keep in touch via Facebook. He has been a guest on Ian Corless’ Talk Ultra program and is active in lifting and Crossfit. To be a small part of his teams success was in incredible experience. To get to experience the beauty of the Causeway Coast and Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland was magical. Lost Worlds Racing does an excellent job providing its participants with a mix of local culture and race experience throughout Europe and in the future the entire world.