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Mines of Spain, part 2


(part of an ongoing series from Pastor Carl about activities during his sabbatical)

If you missed my post last week, I explained how this is not about my trip to Spain but a run in Dubuque, IA in a state recreational area known as the Mines of Spain. In this post I want to share a little bit of my experience of running 100 miles (yes, 100 miles; again, if you haven’t read the previous post you may want to go and do that).


Christine, Ana, Axel, and I traveled to Dubuque on Thursday to check in for the race. Picking up my race bib, I felt ready to run. I have been training since the beginning of the year. During the travels of my sabbatical I was not able to keep up on the running but I felt ready. After packet pick up we returned to the place where we were staying in Galena, IL - just a little over 25 minutes away.

I spent the rest of the evening going over my race plan and making sure I had my gear and nutrition all ready to go.

We were all thankful that the race had an 8am start so we didn’t have to get going too early. I have done other races that start at 6am and that extra 2 hours sure made a difference. We got to the course about 7am so I could check in my drop bags. Many ultramarathons allow drop bags which which may be a small backpack, bin, or duffel that are placed at designated locations along the route. Runners put extra items they might want/need during the race. In mine I had some extra shoes, socks, and clothes for if the weather changed or I got wet. I also had headlamps for the nighttime portion of the run as well as some of the food and hydration supplements I would need for the run.


We lined up at about 7:45 and after some final instructions from the Race Director, we were off. I put myself near the back of the starting group because I wanted to begin slowly; it’s often easy to take off too fast at the beginning and that makes the later stages so much harder. The course started off down a steep paved bike path for about a 1/2 mile which was a rough way to start the day. We then turned onto a road and up a long gradual hill. That was about the only place on the course that was paved.

The course itself was a 20.2 mile loop with several sections of out and back. At times we were running through the woods and other times through large fields. Although there weren’t any extremely large hills we did go up and down quite a bit, with the race having nearly 14,000 feet of elevation gain over the 101 miles. The ups and downs included not only trails on hills but often times stairs - whether made from rock or railroad ties on the path. I had never run a course with stairs and so that provided is own unique challenge.

The weather was wonderful, in the mid 50s to lower 60s all day long with the sun out and shining on the beautiful fall colors. Enjoying the scenery is one of my favorite things about trail running. Whether it was bluffs along the Mississippi, a field of grain, or the fall foliage, there was no shortage of God’s creation to enjoy. To be sure, I certainly missed some because my eyes were on the trail to keep from tripping. I am proud of myself, I only fell once during the run. It’s a very different feeling than pounding the pavement at a road race.

Another great part of trail running is the community. I have noticed this before and during a conversation with some other runners on the trail they said the same thing. During trail runs, people are far more likely to strike up a conversation, stop to help someone, provide encouragement, or even share some supplies. On several occasions I found myself running with someone and we would chat about why we were running or where we were from. And nearly every time I passed or was passed by someone they would offer a word of encouragement like “good work” or “way to go.”  

At times, my cynical self would hear that and think it was like when people tell you they are fine when they are not. But, then I would remind myself of something I have been trying to work - believing the best about others. And then I would receive (and return) those greetings with thankfulness. After all, we were all in this together and for many it was those words that kept them going. I know for myself, that when things got harder, a word of encouragement like that helped me keep putting one foot in front of the other.

In that way, it’s not unlike the church, as our Covenant for Christian Community, where we are called to “encouraging one another to grow in our walk with Jesus.”  Certainly, that encouragement needs more than just a “good work” but there are times when a simple word can mean a lot. This is particularly true when we know the others are in it with us.

I finished the second loop almost right on the timetable I had put together with a goal of finishing in about 26 hours. I was feeling strong. Then about 45 miles in I started feeling some pain in the sciatic nerve on my left leg, something that had been plaguing me for the last 6 weeks but I thought I had dealt with it. But, that was not the case. I continued on but the pain caused the rest of my gait to be thrown off. After some time, I was moving much more slowly and knew that I would not meet my time goal.

A big part of ultrarunning is dealing with unexpected obstacles and adversity. When you run for 20+ hours, there is no way to know how your body is going to respond. Some people experience blisters they have never had before, or issues with hydration, or nutrition. The runner’s job then is to assess the situation and make adjustments and figure out how to deal with the challenge. For me, I tried some stretches and found some relief but realized that about all I could do was to continue and remind myself that  a body in motion stays in motion.

And so I kept running. I reminded myself that I had trained. I reminded myself of the kids in Congo that needed clean water that I was running for. I remembered that I have done hard things in the past. And I kept on moving (to call it running would be generous.)

Running through the night was long and was something I had never done. I was thankful that the skies were clear which meant it was a little brighter. Christine asked me later if I had seen the meteor showers. No, I told her, I didn’t look up a whole lot. It was eyes on the trail and one foot in front of the other - momentum, keep going.

Again, I was thankful for the other runners on the course and their words of encouragement. The course layout meant I seldom went long without seeing someone. And there were aid stations along the course - a place to refill water bottles, and get something to eat. They had a variety of foods from standards like pretzels, chips, bananas and also hot foods like quesadillas, grilled cheese, and chicken broth. One even had bacon. I always like bacon but this tasted even better than normal. The aid stations were another source of encouragement as they cheered us on, and helped us fuel for the trail.

The sun came up and I kept on going, setting off on lap 5 a little after 9am.

The day wore on and a little before 4pm I came to that hike up the bike trail that we started on. I had been down it 5 times and back up 4 times; this was the final climb. After that climb I crossed the street, turned the corner and saw Ana and Axel waving at me along with my in-laws (who had come over from Des Moines). I summoned up a little strength to run the last 100 yards and entered the chute to cross the finish line and get a fist bump from the Race Director and a hug from Christine.

I had done it. 100 miles. There is certainly more I could say, and more stories to tell but those are some of the highlights.

I don’t have any immediate plans to do a 100 miler again but I think I will probably do another at some point in the future. It was a great and challenging experience and I am glad I did it.

I am so thankful to my family who supported me by coming to the race and enduring my many hours of being gone on training runs.

I am also thankful to the many others who have offered words of encouragement along the way as well as those who have supported my fundraising with Team World Vision to bring clean water for kids in Congo. Thank you to the many of you who have given.  I have a few more days try and reach my goal of $10,000 (clean water for 200 people). If you would like to donate you can click on the button below.  

Thanks for being with me on the journey,


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