Frigid Loops
Boston Prep 16 Miler x2
Derry, NH
16 Miles x2
Lap 1: 2:37:13
Lap 2: 2:50:22
Run Time: 5:27:35

The Boston Prep x2 is a tradition I started in 2008 and hope to continue in the years to come as one of my winter training runs. I posted on a few running websites and looked like I had a decent group ready to run with me this year. But as quickly as numbers came, they went.. going from a group of 7 to a group of what looked like 4. As I drove to the morning meeting place for our 6:30 meeting time, I noticed one of the bank thermometers read -10 degrees. I wondered how big our group was actually going to be. Upon arriving at the Derry Village School, the number was a tiny 3 of us. Bob Ayers had driven down from Burlington, VT to join me on both loops and Steve VanOrden from Newmarket had agreed to come out for the first loop only. Their company was greatly appreciated on what would turn out to be a frigid New Hampshire morning, an a great day for a run.

I arrived fashionably late in what is best known as “Sherpa Time” and quickly laced everything up and got ready to run. It was damn cold, and there are only a few times in my life that I’ve actually been out to run in temps this cold or colder. As we started to head up the hill to the official starting line of the race, the cold air was piercing through my fleece lined gloves and my hands were experiencing sharp and frigid pains of freezing. It was so cold and dry that the skin on my right thumb cracked open and I was soon bleeding. Not a great way to start a long day of running in these conditions but I have work to do.. it’s time to get back on track.

Our small group quickly sunk into your typical telling of various ultra and life tales. At a time in my life where it is impossible to predict where my brain is bound to travel , the conversation was nice as it really started to help bring things back into a perspective I’ve been missing. As we carried on down the frigid roads of Derry we passed over Green spray painted lines in the road, and before we knew it, a nd a few hills later.. we were all ready halfway done the loop. Amazing how much good conversation can help make the time pass. I didn’t wear a watch today, so I had no idea how much time had passed. I just knew that the goal of loop one was to take it easy, run when I could, walk the hills and just enjoy the company. This is exactly what was accomplished. I was covered from head to toe in a thin frost that was caused by the condesation of fluids from my body. My hat, my gloves, my fleece neck warmer.. everything had a thin layer of frost on it and Bob joked that I looked like Frosty The Snowman.

As we made our way up “The Hill” at Mile 11-13, Bob supplied me with many quips; one in particular sticks in my mind. “Not bad today… better tomorrow.” This would become the focus of my thoughts for the remainder of the day as I would begin to struggle and look for that finish line. As we moved over the crest of the courses biggest hill and began our descent for the finish, my legs and brain started to tire. It was so cold that the fluids in my handhelds were a concoction of frozen protein slush. Eating and drinking on this run was becomming a serious chore and things were unfolding just as I had expected they would. Steve was starting to tired and getting a bit quiet… so was I… I was wondering how a second loop was going to go.. I’ve done this long enough to know. I needed to really lace it up now if I’m going to complete the day.

Loop 2: Miles 16.5-33
In returning to the school, I stopped off at my car to get my check book and head inside to register quickly for the race itself. Over 600 runners were lining up in this years edition of the Boston Prep 16 Miler and the small group of us joked if we thought we were “ready for Boston.” I doubted it… not sure I’ll ever be ready or even really care about Boston. WHATEVER. Ha! After getting my bib number and pinning it to my fleece pants I joined Bob out in the hallway as we said our goodbyes to Steve. I was starting to shiver from the cold sweaty clothes I was wearing and knew I needed to return to my car for a quick change. Bob’s girlfreind had brought us many ultra-goodies and I stopped here first to enjoy half a banana, a cookie and refilled my water bottles before heading out to the car. At my car, I stripped frozen layers off, put new warm layers on and then quickly rushed out of the school parking lot with the rest of the crowd. Bob and I ran to the starting line where once we got there, I knelt down and tightened up my shoe laces. It was time to dig deep and really give it hell.

There was no gun shot, I didn’t even hear a go. All I experienced was a wave of people all moving forward in unison and just like that, the second loop was on. The temp was probably around 10 degrees now which of course felt more like 30. The mass of runners head down the road, bottle necking one another as we stretched from snowbank to snowbank. The pace was comfy, but I could tell Bob was wanting and ready to run a bit faster than I. I was in the middle of a tough spot and was hoping to snap out of it. We giggled and rolled our eyes as we collectively listenned to the various conversations happening around us. Then we started looking at what people were wearing as many were dressed for arctic mountaineering expeditions rather then your 16 mile run. As I glanced over and noticed a guy in what looked like rain gear, running with a hiking pack on.. We chuckled as I looked closer… and i said, “Hey, that looks like Bogie D.” Surely it was, and Bogie and I broke out into sarcastic and fun conversation. Bogie is an area Ultra RD and ultrarunner, just out for the race.

Around Mile 3.5 I stopped to relieve myself in the woods as Bob took off. I’m kind of glad that he did as it was obvious he was interested in running a different pace then I was for the second loop. Bob is in much better shape than I and I know he was really enjoying the day. After coming out of the woods, he was no where to be found and I was no struck with a sense of urgency as I was about to take on the final 12 miles alone. But I suppose this wasn’t a bad thing because I was finally being given some time to challenge my mind in ways different than that in which I have implored as of late. I put my head down and started to struggle… what mile is it? Oh yeah… 20.. and that wall was right in front of me.

My bottles are completely frozen now haven been out in the cold for well over 4 hours. My gels are hard as a rock and I’m sure that I’m not squeezing out all of the gel that rests inside. I’m really struggling now. My legs are tired and so is my brain. I’ve been thinking for miles now. How did I ever run across New Hampshire? In a phone call post run Nate reminded me that currently I am dealing with depression, lack of motivation, recovery from a surgery that I haven’t yet been cleared to run after yet and a severe lack of training. It’s funny because I was thinking about all of the above factors around Mile 10 of Loop 2 (Mile 26) and thinking about quitting the run. Quitting the run… are you KIDDING ME?! I had just run a marathon, 10 more miles than all of these people will run today and I’m thinking about quitting. I stop and walk and manage to crack a bottle open to slurp down some slush. I’m hungry, my stomach is gurgling and I just want to be done. I’m sore. I haven’t run an ultra distance since running across New Hampshire in the middle of October 3 months ago. “I can do this…. I can do this,… one step at a time John… one step at a time.”

Yes… ultra running really is like life. One step at a time. Horrible now but maybe better later. I kept running when I could and for stretches shorter than I would have liked. I was like a wobbling ship on the verge of sinking in rough seas. From left to right, speed up, slow down. It must have been a gruesome sight to see. Where is everybody? Wouldn’t someone come out to cheer me on? Anyone? No.. too damn cold… I’m all alone.. and just simply running. I wanted to quit, and then I started thinking, Well how did I make it across New Hampshire 3 months ago? Oh Yeah! I ran the flats when I could, and I walked all the hills… and I just enjoyed the journey. And so it was as well on this frigid day in January, that I churned my gears when I could, and walked more than I would have liked. When I ran I pushed at levels I should only exude in 5 and 10K’s… I was on a mission to finish. There is no quitting.. there is no DNF… this is a tradition. Relentless Forward Progression.

As I crested that big hill one last time, and started to run the stretches for home, my calves began to cramp. One of the race staples is warm gatorade. I cooled it off by dumping a bit of cold water into the cups, and sucked down a few S! Caps to curve the cramps. I could barely run now, it was more like a shuffle. I could feel the chaff burning between my thighs and in my groin. I’m in rough shape now… I need this to be over with. I started playing “phone pole.” I…walk…I…run….I…walk…I…run… etc. Anything to get to the finish line. This was at one point a race. I was trying to keep up with people in my general vicinity. I was trying to stop being passed, but with 2-3 miles to go, I could care less if anyone else was running at all. I just ran, with purpose when I could, and am determined to get this ship back on track. Mentally, physically and spiritually. I’m going to get there.

I rounded the turn and sprinted up the final incline to the finish line, finishing the actual race with a time of 2:50:22 my worst time here EVER. I placed 596th out of 655 finishers (803 Starters). Not the best results ever but I’m more than glad I got out there. After crossing the finish line I received my “finishers award” a hand towel from the 2007 Boston marathon… Left-overs. I went into the gym to get some food and drink… plenty to drink but all of the food was all ready gone. But that was ok.. I hopped right into my car, went to my mothers house and loaded myself up with some of her home made chicken noodle soup. That always cheers and warms you up. Thanks Mom.


3 thoughts

  1. Like you said, with all you have been going through, this race is a story of courage and fortitude – impossible is not in your vocabulary.The past few days I thought to myself, how is Sherpa John going to finish 32 miles when he hasn’t been running very much? Somehow you did it, and with grace and good humor – you have a magic spirit and an iron will!


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