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2016-12-17 - Devil Dog 100 Miler DNF

~42 miles @ ~18 min/mi + ~20 miles @ ~24 min/mi

In freezing rain, the start of the Devil Dog 100 - Stephanie Fonda in orange jacket, ^z following in white windbreaker - photo by David Potts"Mark, will you come with me?" quietly asks Stephanie, standing by me in the dark.

It's 0540 on Sunday morning. She's at mile 81.5 of a 101 mile race. Her legs are worn out from slipping on sheets of ice and layers of mud, clambering over roots and rocks, falling down and standing up again, tip-toeing across streams, scrambling up hills and descending into valleys. She's racing the clock and has just made the crucial 24-hour cutoff — but only by 30 minutes. No sleep since 3am the day before. Tummy trouble from chugging energy drinks to stay awake. Dashing through Aid Station checkpoints, constantly pushing the pace. No time to waste if she's going to finish within the final 32 hour limit.

"Of course!" I reply. "Give me five minutes to get ready. And — thank you for asking."

Saturday evening I drop out of the race after taking ~12.5 hours to cover 42 miles, the first two laps of five. I hang around to help at an aid station, applaud runners as they head out, and commiserate with those who, like me, DNF (Did Not Finish). At ~1am on Sunday I give ultra-buddy John Hord a ride homeward, and return at ~3am to nap in front of the fire for a few fitful hours. Dr Stephanie arrives at 0530, speedily changes into dry gear, refills bottles, and prepares to head out.

"Let's go!"

The "Devil Dog Ultras" include 100k and 100M runs on the trails of Prince William Forest Park. It all turns out ok, in spite of crazy-wild weather. As King Lear says, "Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow! ... Smite flat the thick rotundity o' the world!" The elements do their best, but nonetheless ~70% of the 100k runners and ~40% of the 100 milers finish.

In a midnight conversation Race Director Toni Aurelio explains the title "Devil Dog" (her husband is a Marine — "Not a retired Marine", I correct her — "he's always a Marine!") and the Aid Station names: "Toofy" is the nickname of her family's "Teufel Hund" ("Devil Dog" in German), "Gunny" is Toofy's brother (and the nickname of every Marine gunnery sergeant), and "Remi" was the mother of both, who sadly died a year ago. Oh, and there are "Devil Dog" creme-filled devils-food cakes at the aid stations. Yummy!

How did we get here? The evening before, Stephanie's daughter teaches me how to make an omelette, and Stephanie teaches me how to tape my feet to prevent blisters. At ~4am on race morning ultra-buddy John Hord meets us. We load gear into Stephanie's van. During the hour-long drive to the race, I take a Vow of Silence. It lasts for only 5 minutes, but my companions find it strangely disturbing. Hmmmmm ... must try this again!

Trying not to slip on the ice, ^z coming into the Aid Station at mile 16 - photo by Hai Nguyen
Stephanie Fonda, proud finisher, Devil Dog 100 Miler, 17-18 Dec 2016Initiate ^z Lockdown Mode! Stephanie's orders: for me to have a chance to finish a 100 miler, it's got to be all business. No chasing Pokémon in the woods. No lollygagging at Aid Stations. No selfies by the stream. No stopping to chat with tourists.

"You've got One Job!" Stephanie admonishes. And perhaps I'll finish that job another year. The ice storm that begins before dawn slows everybody down. Some are strong and brave enough to keep moving fast enough to make the cutoffs. Many are not. Trails are slick; falls and injuries abound. Park roads become sheets of black ice. Runners get down on all fours to crawl across. Cars can't get in to set up at least one aid station.

"Like a billion jewels on all the twigs!" The sun comes out mid-afternoon and glitters off the forest canopy. Ice melts from the trees and drips onto runners. Narrow trails turn to slippery mud.

Speed-walking together, Stephanie and I talk. A lot. A pacer becomes a metaphor for a life-friend, a helper-guide and fellow-traveler, a Buddha-Buddy on the quest for awakening. The silly Magical Unicorn Oracle card drawn a day before the event, as weather forecasts become increasingly grim, gives the not-so-silly advice, "Wait Until Morning". The random card picked for the race itself reads simply: "Love".


Happy ending: Stephanie finishes the inaugural Devil Dog Ultra, all 101 miles of it, in less than 31 hours. Brava! It is my deep honor and joy to accompany her for a part of that awesome journey.

Splits (Lap 1 = 22.5 miles, Laps 2-5 = 19.5 miles each):

Lap SF Time SF Pace ^z Time ^z Pace Comments
15.9 hours 15.7 min/mi 6.5 hours 17.3 min/mi mostly ice
25.1 hours 15.7 min/mi 6.0 hours 18.5 min/mi mostly mud
35.9 hours 18.2 min/mi --darkness
46.3 hours 19.4 min/mi --darkness
57.7 hours 23.7 min/mi 7.7 hours 23.7 min/mi together

At Mile 22.5 ultra-friend Janet Choi records a two-minute video interview with me. The transcript:

JC - How's it going? I want to do an interview!
^z - OK, but don't take a picture of me without my shirt on!
JC - Oh, I already did.
^z - Ah!
JC - No, wait. From the neck up! There you go.
^z - Ha, ha, ha!
JC - So, you just did 23. How was it? Icy out there!
^z - All is well!
JC - Did you fall?
^z - A few times, but not horribly.
JC - And you're feeling good?
^z - Bruised, but unbroken!
JC - So you're going to come through here every 23 miles or so?
^z - 19 and a half, actually.
JC - OK.
^z - Are you filming?
JC - I am; it's an interview!
^z - Wow!
JC - You know, I only do this for the elite athletes.
^z - Well, I haven't signed a model release so you're going to have to negotiate with my agent.
JC - Did your beard freeze?
^z - My beard? Yes, there were icicles on it, but they've melted.
JC - You're feeling good? Your feet are good?
^z - Feet are 90% ok, a little rub on the left foot. I've gotta get outta here!
JC - Can I help you with anything?
^z - Thank you so much. If you wouldn't mind, seal up this bag.
JC - I can do that, I can do that.
^z - Now windbreaker, get my gloves, put the pack on, fill the pockets, and I'm outta here!
JC - All right! I'll seal that.
^z - Thank you, thank you, thank you!
JC - You're going good!
^z - May not need the windbreaker, but it might get chilly. Is the wind supposed to pick up?
JC - I don't think so, but it's going to get warmer.
^z - Warmer is good, but, well ...
JC - It was sheets of ice this morning! I don't know how you guys even ran on that.
^z - A lot of people fell; a lot of people went slow. But we're OK.
JC - All right!
^z - Thank you for being here, Janet. And you ... Jeff?
JC - No, it's Sean.
^z - Sean, Sean, Sean. I'm so bad with names, so horrible.
JC - No, you've got a lot going on.
^z - Thank you!
JC - OK, good job! Woo-hoo! Go, Mark!
^z - Bye! <waves>

(for other 100 miler DNFs see 2010-05-15 - Half Massanutten Mountain Trails, 2012-04-07 - Philly 100 Endurance Run, 2013-04-27 - C-and-O Canal 100 DNF, 2013-10-12 - Tesla-Hertz Run - 100 Miler DNF, 2014-04-26 - CO Canal 100 Miler DNF, 2015-03-28 - Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run (75 mile DNF), ...) - ^z - 2017-01-10