Author’s Note: This report is late due to the ongoing dialog with major motion picture companies on the eventual film rights to this story. As those negotiations seem to have broken down on a number of fronts, I’ve felt it important to release the story and worry about whether or not Matthew McConaughey could or couldn’t actually run this far for another day.
Running in sandals gives you a feeling unlike any I’ve ever experienced. No material to rub your toes raw, the wind freely blows through the hairs on your toes and with the one’s I was wearing (Luna Mono’s- I have no financial interest in mentioning them, but I do know someone that works there and I did spend the better part of the Fuego y Agua getting to know and like him. He did also teach me how to add another strap to make them conform to my feet, so that may bias my thoughts towards these sandals versus others. Void where prohibited, etc.) there was enough padding to keep me going through the 31 paved miles of paths of Nashville and set a PR of 5:23. But that’s only part of it.
The real story is of a guy named Jason from Nashville, who ran the full 50 mile version of this race in his Luna’s as his first attempt at 50 miles in only his second ultra. Not only that, his ingenious use of a safety pin from his race bib kept him from dropping out of the race 22 miles in. Jason started, like the majority of the other 184 runners, at 7:00 am on a bright, but slightly chilly, November the 5th. I briefly saw him at the start, noticing that he, like I, was clad in Luna’s. A few early stops to take some pictures and adjust my straps (still trying to figure out the “best” fit) put me behind him, but as I ran and chatted with different people (like just about every ultra I’ve been in, the runners all have great stories and challenges and it helps the miles fly by), I started to catch up. I saw him again as we neared the end of the first 16 mile loop (the hilly one).
We were flying by my standards (sub 10 minute miles) and once I found out he was running the 50 mile, it was his first, and he was way ahead of his goal pace, we agreed to stay together, making sure we stayed quick without blowing up. He had an earlier, thinner version of the sandals on that he had been running in for almost a year, and we swapped stories and advice (both experienced and read) as the miles rolled past. We ran past the finish line to start the second loop and into the more isolated section of the course. Staying mostly on the paved path, we soon veered off into a grassy section at mile 18 and dodged roots and logs for about 2 ½ miles. Pace had slowed at this point to just over 10 minutes, but we both still felt good. We caught a few people, and then came back out onto the pavement. I can’t remember if it was a speed bump or just a foot drag, but at about mile 22, the front of Jason’s sandal caught and he pulled the toe strap right out of the bottom of the sandal.
Over the next few minutes we tried everything- tying a knot in the strap (not enough leather), running with the strap as it was (no dice), running ½ and ½ (one foot barefoot, again a non-starter). Jason finally got the strap to go through the hole in the bottom and sit there, but we knew it wasn’t a long term fix. Luckily, the next aid station was only about a mile away, so we slowly shuffled there, trying to think of a fix. Of course, if I had all my survival implements from the previous race with me, we could have come up with a complicated solution that would have involved me cutting off a toe, but unfortunately, I didn’t bring them. As we came into the aid station, we started to think about alternatives, and the idea of using one of the safety pins on Jason’s bib surfaced. After only a few more minutes, we had the solution and motored out of the aid station!
My turn around point was only another half mile up the road, but after testing it, Jason declared himself ready to go and kept on. Meanwhile, I turned around, and continued my race for the last 6 or so miles with the usual paranoia that sets in late in the race while running alone. Is that someone catching me? What was that noise? I only went how far since the last time I looked at my watch?? Where is the bridge? My GPS must be messed up, I know it’s not this far! Luckily, although I saw a group, and they did nearly catch me, I was able to gut it out and finish 4th in my age group and 12th overall. The real question was, what happened to Jason?
I got a text from him later that day that he finished in 12:43 after bonking around mile 35, he rallied and clicked his way to the finish line. There are a lot of inspiring stories in the ultra world on overcoming adversity. The distance and the time combine to throw a lot of reasons to quit at you. A first attempt at 50 miles is daunting. Having your shoe fall apart would seem to most to be reason to quit. Having a safety pin as the only thing holding it together for 8+ hours had to be a constant mind game and I draw inspiration from Jason’s perseverance. My hat is off to him- look for the film in the 2015 summer releases!