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The Mystical Experience—An Editorial

Andrish, Jack T., MD

Sports Medicine and Arthroscopy Review: March 2019 - Volume 27 - Issue 1 - p 1–2
doi: 10.1097/JSA.0000000000000210

Department for Orthopaedic Surgery, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, OH

The author declare no conflict of interest.

Reprints: Jack T. Andrish, MD, Department for Orthopaedic Surgery, Desk A 41, Cleveland Clinic, 9500 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio, 44195.

There is one word that defines athletes who pursue ultra endurance sport events and that is “passion.” The participants themselves are not defined by age, sex, morphology, or even talent. Ultra endurance sporting events attract and welcome all measures of human abilities and performance. What does unite these individuals is the passion for the experience and the determination to accomplish what may be thought of as an insurmountable goal. The papers included within this issue of Sports Medicine and Arthroscopy Review are scholarly reviews of the various medical aspects of a category of sport that has exploded in popularity and participation over the past decade. For anyone interested in ultra endurance events, either as a participant or involved in the medical care of these athletes, the papers included within this issue will be a valuable resource of information. Enjoy. And for those not personally familiar with the “experience” of ultra running in particular, let me relate a piece of my journey as an example. But I must also emphasize that we should be aware that each and every runner has his or her own unique experiences to share that can be mystical and epic. This is but one example.

The Western States 100,

June 26/27, 2004

Life in a Parallel Universe

(on the way to the Rucky Chucky river crossing)

Well, it has taken me a lot longer this time to muster up my thoughts and impressions of my latest attempt at the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run. In years past, I have been in a state of emotion so extreme that the words just flowed while at 35,000 feet on my way home. Not this time. I would say a state of mellowness would more aptly have applied to my ride home in 2004. But now, one week to the day later, I seem to have regained my emotional state of labiality and am ready to relate.

This quest, to complete the WS 100, has been a 5-year journey. It began when I came upon an issue of Marathon and Beyond from the late 1990s, which was devoted to the history and personalities of the WS. I was fascinated; captured; and inspired. I am no veteran ultra marathoner and at that time was just learning about the sport from my son Sean. He had taken me on my first trail run while he was living in Tucson and I still have the “prickly pear” needles embedded in my right knee to prove it! But one thing led to another and soon not only me, but my wife Sue Ellen and my daughter Shannon were also on the trails of ultras from Arizona to Maryland. I suppose our family has a record of extrapolating success at one level into assumptions of success at other, much higher levels “Sure, since we have mastered the five mile climbs of the Allegany State Park on our bicycles, of course we can cycle ourselves and 8 of your high school friends across 1500 miles of western outback from Montana to Kansas!” So the fact that my modest successes of a 50K in Arizona led to my determination to complete the “Boston” of ultra marathoning through the Sierra Nevada mountains from Squaw Valley to Auburn, California, was no surprise to me or anyone in my family. Boy was I naïve!

I remember a quotation (from: G. K. Chesterton) that could be aptly applied to my trail running experience. “A man must love a thing very much if he not only practices it without any hope of fame and money, but even practices it without any hope of doing it well.”

And so, my attempt at the WS in 2001, which ended at Deep Canyon, 37 miles into the run, and my “success” of completing the Rucky Chucky river crossing at mile 78 in 2002, only to be pulled off the course 2 miles later at Green Gate (79+ miles); my blistered ending last year after 83 miles of the Wasatch Front 100 mile endurance run gave hope, but no guarantee for my third attempt at WS in 2004. But that said, it was great to be here in 2004! I had the best Spring training for me, ever. Sue Ellen had given me a Father’s Day gift of attending the Memorial Weekend training runs on the WS course and my support crew for the race was great. Sean would help crew the first 55 to 62 miles and then pace me the rest of the way (to the finish). And so on the morning of June 26, 2004, I and about 400 of my “best friends” took off from Squaw Valley at 5 AM and made the climb to and over Emigrant Pass and into the “high country” portion of the Western States Trail. I fell early and skinned a knee, but my sturdy if not tank-like New Balance 1100’s protected my previously broken big toe and the fall served as a wake-up call for me to pick up my feet! The first 30+ miles of the course are truly beautiful with many vistas overlooking spectacular deep canyons and endless forest. Sue Ellen had been preaching to me (repeatedly!) over the Spring that I could not be content with keeping within the 30-hour pace, but I had to maintain a pace at least 1 hour below the 30-hour pace. Of course she was not only right, but prophetic. I was able to maintain “check point” times that were 45 to 60 minutes ahead of 30-hour pace through the first 62 miles! I even avoided crashing at my nemesis, Devil’s Thumb, and moved through the canyons ahead of schedule and into Forest Hill, where Sean was waiting to make the transition of Jack Andrish, solo runner, to the Jack and Sean team that would hopefully traverse the next 38 miles into the Placer County High School track and stadium finish. But the best laid plans of mice and men….or whatever….sort of fell apart at Forest Hill. The very efficient aid station visits that I had been having succumbed to stumbling and bumbling at Forest Hill. It was now dark and after finally successfully completing a change of shirts and reattaching of all of my paraphernalia (camel-back, fanny pack, water bottles, etc) Sean and I took off down California Street to reenter the WS trail and move on to the 17-mile stretch of mostly downhill (with the exception of 4 modest climbs) to the Rucky Chucky crossing of the American River. We were not on the trail for 100 yards and my stomach upset became an urge for #2! Sean told me to take the time now to “go” and it would more than be rewarded afterward. And so I made a detour off to the side of the trail and “prepared to go.” I got out my Kleenex; took off my “paraphernalia”; and proceeded to “squat.” The problem was, I could not squat! After 62+ miles of climbs and downhills, my quads would not permit it. So now I have a dilemma that I had not prepared for; what to do? I tried to “go” standing up; ever try it? Not easy and I at least had no success. Then I spotted a tree stump (and oh yes, it was pitch dark at this point and only my flashlight could give me a clue of where I was). I had the inspiration to sort of back into the tree and then lower myself down against it, like the “wall squats” that I used to practice with my friend Gordon Bell while waiting for our patients to return from having x-rays. Well, it worked for a millisecond and then I found myself lying on my side; with my pants down; in the dark; with my fanny amidst leaves and critters; and I gave up. So be it. If I were to have diarrhea, I would have it while in the up-right position; while running; and on the trail to Rucky Chucky! After redressing I rejoined Sean on the trail and spent the next few miles picking sticks and who knows what else out of my pants while traversing, slowly, down the trail. And so it should have been no surprise that when we got to an aid station check-in point, we were told that we were only 15 minutes under the 30-hour pace! “A man must love a thing very much if he not only practices it without any hope of fame and money, but even practices it without any hope of doing it well.” OK. I had lived those words long enough now! The warning that we received at the Cal 2 aid station scared me! A 15-minute cushion was not enough to get me through the next 30+ miles.

And this is where the parallel universe enters. As Sean and I left Cal 2, he gave me his headlamp, which was working much better than mine. I could see the trail. I started to run. I kept running, even on the uphill sections. I ran the downhill; I ran the traverses; and I ran the uphills. I started passing groups of runners and their pacers. And they did not catch up! I had no pain. It was mystical.

Sean and I arrived at the Rucky Chucky river crossing at 3 AM; now fully 1.5 hours under the 30-hour pace. In the last 7 miles we had gained an hour and 15 minutes of “cushion.” We thought that it was a mistake; a misprint of sorts; an aberration! To this moment, I do not know how we did it. It was mystical.

For the next 5 miles, we maintained the pace and led a pack of obviously superior runners (to me). We passed and were not passed. But then came a section, still in the dark, that entered a series of switchbacks uphill. With heads down and determined pacing we kept ahead of the pack; the trouble was that after about 20 minutes of serious climbing, Sean recognized that it was “too quiet.” I was in denial and swore I had seen a yellow ribbon just a few feet back, about 30 feet above us in a tree (I wonder how they tied it there?). I even saw a small black bear just ahead of us in the trail and scared him away with my flashlight (only to find out from Sean that it was no bear; it was a skunk!). And so we slowly reversed ourselves back downhill and sadly found out that we had missed a trail cut-off and had gone about 30 minutes out of our way (uphill, no less) and all of the “superior runners” we had been leading were far, far away. I think this was more of a psychological than a physical let down for me, but then at that point it is hard to separate the two. But we trudged on and Sean now was invaluable in maintaining my spirits and my pace. Night became day and downhills became uphills. We made it to No Hands Bridge with a 45-minute “cushion” for the last 3+ miles and I let myself believe that this time I just might make it all the way. “A man must love a thing very much if he not only practices it without any hope of fame and money, but even practices it without any hope of doing it well.”

After the last climb on the trail to get us out of the river valley and into the town of Auburn, we celebrated the last mile into the Placer High School stadium. I admit to having trouble seeing everything and everyone as I broke through the entry onto the track. Tears have a way of doing that. Five years; more than a few DNFs; many hours of hill repeats in the Metro Parks of Cleveland; and now I had only 300 yards to go. With Sean by my side and what seemed like “thousands” of Virginia Happy Trails Running Club runners and crew yelling encouragement, 300 yards soon became 100 yards, then 100 feet; and then it was over. Twenty-nine hours, 26 minutes, and 26 seconds and I had finished. I was now Jack Andrish, 60 years old, and a FINISHER of the Western States 100.

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