My Introduction to Ultra- Marathoning… The Insanity Fest: 350 miles, 1 Van, 9 Kids and One Very Pregnant Wife!

It was 2012, I had just rediscovered fitness, and was pretty new to the triathlon scene, having just completed my first World Championship in Kona.  It was off season and I had not yet found the enlightened path of Veganism.  My appetite was still in hyperdrive, but my training was taking a hiatus. I was starting to pack on the winter fat to keep me warm through the long, dark, ski season. (I have nothing against skiing, as a matter of fact, I enjoy it very much and used to be pretty good) I was looking for something to give me some cold weather motivation.

Enter Jason.

             Jason taking the cat 5 win at the Baker City Cycling Classic

I had met Jason a year earlier as a Life Guard at the local pool. He just graduated from college and had recently completed a crossing of the great United States by bicycle. I was impressed, intrigued, and a bit jealous.  This had been on my bucket list for sometime, but I just hadn’t put forth the time and effort to make it happen.  He had never done a triathlon, but had just signed up for the Ironman St. George (Go big or go home) and knew that I had just competed in my first 70.3 World Championships in Las Vegas.  I wasn’t sure if I wanted to take my game to the next endurance level, and my wife was sure she didn’t want to go there! (a few years later she knocked out her first Ironman in Maryland!)  To make a long story short, Jason talked me into signing on, and subsequently squeezing out my first roll-down spot to Kona!  I have been hooked ever since!

      My First Ironman, St. George 2012, The WindFest

Jason is always the one to come up with big, moderately crazy ideas.  I am one who can sometimes be influenced by big, moderately crazy ideas.

“Hey Mike, lets get your family together and run the Oregon Coast!”  “Heck no!!” I replied.  Truthfully, it never even crossed my mind or entered the radar screen.  I am a cyclist, who has found triathlon as a convenient way to express the biking bug.  Sure, I had run 4 marathons in my life, but at this time the last one was 13 years ago before my “lost decade”, and my first 2 were completed before my 13th birthday.  To say I was a running enthusiast would be a big fat lie. Running is something I did because some fool put the finish line 13.1 miles away from the obvious and intended location, where you were forced to rack your bike.  It also occurred to me that the Oregon Coast is significantly longer than Philippides’ trek to Athens to report the defeat of the Persian Army on the Plains of Marathon, and he died as he crossed the finish line!

Enter Kristen.

It was all her fault!!

Kristen is my wife, and certainly not a runner. (At least at this early moment in our relationship, I hadn’t figured out how good of a runner she really was!)  She was 3 months pregnant with our 10th and presumably last child, Zarah.  No she really was not a runner, but if having babies is an ultra-endurance sport, (and it is arguably the ultimate endurance activity)  my wife would be considered for the Hall of Fame.  Although not an enthusiast of prolonged pain and discomfort that doesn’t provide a bundle of joy at the end, she is a huge proponent of family time!!  “I’ve never done the whole Oregon Coast, it sounds like fun!” says she.  “That’s because you’re not running!”,  I retort.  “But we’ll be together as a family”, she exclaims.  “At my funeral”, I respond, realizing where this dialogue was going and trying to figure out why my wife was trying to cash out my life insurance policy early. Pregnant women sometimes engage in some bizarre cravings and behaviors, and so I figured it would pass. 4 months later on March 20 2013, I have my Wife and 9 children crammed into the “Magic Bus” heading to Astoria, OR to begin our leisurely Spring Break of exploring the Oregon Coast, by foot!!!

We had laid out a couple of basic rules.  1)  I was not allowed to run alone.  This was supposed to be a family vacation, and playing on the beach, whale-watching (no we didn’t actually see one), and walking the quaint coastal communities while Dad was suffering silently and alone didn’t qualify.  I had to have at least one child in tow, start to finish!  My oldest was 16, and my youngest was 2!  Most of the kids set daily goals for their Spring Break, and would get excited every time they would set a new personal best or surpass the distance of one of their siblings!  “I just ran 7.36 miles without stopping, and you haven’t done more than 6 yet!”, was representative of the playful banter I would hear from the van.  Of course, I was in a sort of haze through much of the trip and could rarely focus on more than putting one foot in front of the other!  But, I always had someone encouraging me every step of the way!  My 2 older girls, Rebekah and Eliza, had set a goal to do at least 10 miles a day, which is pretty impressive considering neither one had ever ran 10 miles, let alone every day for a week and a half! Both girls accomplished their goal, 10 days in a row, logging more than 100 miles!  (How many kids do you think did that for Spring Break!?) When it was all said and done, we covered 350 miles in 10 days, averaging nearly 40 on days 2 through 9!!!

Everybody took a turn!!

 

2) I had to run.  No forward progress can or will be made by walking, strolling, or any other means of conveyance that did not illicit a painful response by the participant.  I could complain about the rule, obviously designed to maximize my suffering,  but I made it.  I reasoned if I was going to say “I ran the Oregon Coast!”….I had better RUN the Oregon Coast!  Sure I could take naps, eat lunch, go enjoy fun activities with the kids; but when it was time to move forward…I was running. (Although by the end, I am not sure most people would recognize that is what I was trying to do!)  And lastly,

 

We eventually learned that Love Monkeys are anti-war and anti-roadside trash.  I have 5 Love Monkeys of my own!

3) I had to travel by daylight.  We followed this rule with the exception of day one where we took off after work on a Wednesday to drive 400 miles to start this insanity by dipping my hand in the Colombia River at 9:00 PM in the heart of Astoria. I ran 16.5 miles that night in the dark, in a pair of Chuck Taylors, (11 people, 1 van, and nobody could find my running shoes) in rain and snow, to Seaside for our first reservation at the luxury accommodations along the way!  I had budgeted 10 full days to make the trip, but I really was not sure I could do this, so, I figured I would make every hour count!  Heck, now I only had 333 and a half miles to go!!  We had brought camping gear and figured we could sing songs and roast marshmallows a few times along the way, but it didn’t take long to realize that I would need a good bed and a hot shower, because this was much harder than I imagined!  Each night we would find a cheap hotel on the internet for the following night….We couldn’t plan too far ahead because I never knew when my last step would be my last step, and my progress would cease as I sat weeping under a cold, wet conifer.  Instead of looking at the hotels as 1 or 2 stars , I looked at them as a 5 star tent with running water, bed, and restroom facilities…once we even had a hot tub….and other than the sting from all the chaffing, boy, did it feel good!!  All the kids loved it!, with the exception of my 16 year-old daughter, who had to be institutionalized for a few weeks upon return. (Just kidding!!)

Did you know that bears purrrr when they are happy!!??

The West Coast Safari Park was really cool!!!

While I ran with someone, the rest of the family would do all sorts of fun activities, and then drive to catch up, or go ahead and let us do the catching!!  In Seaside, for instance they went to the aquarium, while Eliza and I ran to Canon Beach, and just checked out the shops until the rest of the crew showed up!  We stopped at the West Coast Safari Park  south of Bandon, it was so cool, that I had to go in with the family for an hour or so.  If it was an attraction that had an admission fee, they usually gave us a discount because we were literally “just passing through”, I always had someone with me and so my maximum range was not much over 10 miles without needing to swap out for a kid with fresh legs!!  Most generally there is enough free stuff to see along the Oregon Coast, that it wasn’t all that expensive!  One of the Highlights for me was going to the Tillamook Cheese Factory…remember this is pre-vegan enlightenment, and I was calorie deficient! I must have eaten 2 pounds of cheese before I resumed my journey, sweating out cholesterol along the way.  I still have a beach towel that looks like a 5 pound brick of Tillamook Cheddar!  (and feel guilty if I am caught using it during my morning swims) I know the kids hit the Tillamook Air Museum as well!

2 year-old Kevin wins the fierce sword dual while waiting for Dad roadside!

And of course there wasn’t a viewpoint, beach, or waterfall that wasn’t explored along the 350 mile route!  Although I live in Oregon, I had never seen the whole Oregon Coast!  Given, my hometown in 400 miles from the coast and not exactly around the corner, it is still worth exploring!   It really is beautiful and diverse.  Even running, the scenery would change often and magically.  There were the expected incredible vistas of the ocean, beach, and thick evergreen forests.  What I didn’t expect was the dunes, barns, cliffs, bays, rivers, inlets, bridges, wildlife, fields, farmland, lighthouses, and a myriad other distractions that kept my legs moving mile after mile after mile! I don’t think I could have picked a better place to become an “ultramarathoner”!

So many places I didn’t see while I was running…Although Adam, Hon, and Seth left no stone unturned!

Zion, at the beach

Did I mention how beautiful the Oregon Coast is??

I sometimes refer to this adventure as the “Oregon Coast Diet”, all you have to do is dip your hand in the Columbia River, run to California, and Presto you are 20 pounds lighter!  I literally couldn’t keep up on calories.  There simply are not very many cities along the coast and anytime we could find a buffet I stopped and destroyed everything edible in line, I should probably have left a bigger tip!  I didn’t have any specific diet, I wasn’t vegan so pizza, granola bars, sandwiches, and whatever else would travel easily in the van was the standard fare.  Some of my kids won’t touch granola bars after too much of this type of family fun, although none of them have sworn off pizza, the vegan leaners will even pick off the cheese!

I probably should make it very clear that this was not easy!  Reading about it, or looking back at it makes it seem idyllic, it wasn’t. My knees and ankles were swollen like I have never seen before or after, I was icing and elevating every chance I had.

Krissy was 8 months pregnant with Zarah. When she would get out of the van and run with me I couldn’t keep up!!  It was so embarrassing!  That is ice on both ankles and my left knee.

At night I was so tired I couldn’t stay awake, and was so sore that I couldn’t sleep.  I would scream out because I moved in bed!  The kids couldn’t sleep between me moaning from lactic acid and my wife having contractions, or the baby turning in her tummy!  We were both feeling very empathic for one another!  When I was hurting everywhere I turned to my wife for support…She just laughed and said, “Welcome to Pregnancy!”  Maybe that is why we stopped at 10!  Fortunately, we spend much more time pondering and fondly remembering these adventures than we do living them.  10 days of pain have given me years of enjoyment and silent musings on the lessons learned, and relationships built along the way!  I never really had a chance to analyze my oldest girls quite like I did during this trip!  Their personalities were soooo different, one was happy and light, always playing word games with the signs or talking about fanciful future fantasies. (I silently wished she could run 30 miles instead of just 10)  While the other was analytical, always wanting to discuss the finer points of each decision she was considering over the next 5 years!!  This was difficult for my feeble, malnourished brain to work through, occasionally, I would have to tell her to lighten it up or get back in the van!!  Yes, we were all a little tired and cranky after a week and a half in a van or hotel room, but I wouldn’t have traded a moment of it.  I also learned that my 15 year-old was near-sighted, she was an avid reader and very intelligent (maybe too much so)  but when I would point out a beautiful tree or home far up the next hill, I was met with a blank stare!  Now that she has contacts, I keep thinking we should do the whole thing over again!

Poor blind Eliza…

This adventure changed my families life! (Thanks Jason)  My 3 older girls have done trail marathons and even knocked out 26.2 miles on the sand! (search Bruneau Beast for information on the toughest marathon on the planet!) My second daughter has done a 70.3  and my wife has ran along with them and thrown in an Ironman just to one-up her daughters!  (Following this pattern, she wouldn’t train for her Ironman, unless, she had at least one of the kids with her!!) They are planning their first 50k for this spring in Monument Valley, AZ!

Since this adventure 13 year-old  Charity has become a 2 time trail marathon finisher, who is going to do her first 50k this spring!

                       Anybody up for 26.2 up and down sand dunes….?!!!  Check out bruneaubeast.com

I have found that including my family in these adventures have made it possible for me to be an endurance athlete and a father, while creating a strong relationship with my kids.  They all are not in love with the sport or dream about an eventual victory on the Big Island, but they all participate to be part of the family! I just want them to be happy and functional and learn that they can do anything if they set their mind to it!  And although they may grumble a bit in the days leading up to the adventure, they justly brag and are proud of the amazing things they have accomplished!  You don’t have to run the Oregon Coast to build family ties, but including them in your life, and being interested in theirs will reap benefits that will last through the eternities!!!

We walked the last few yards in honor of Jason who started a few days later, and dropped out at mile 218 with a blown quad…It is still a pretty impressive feat!!

We are all super-heroes!

#family #ultrarunning  #running #oregoncoast #pregnantwife #chaos

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6 thoughts on “My Introduction to Ultra- Marathoning… The Insanity Fest: 350 miles, 1 Van, 9 Kids and One Very Pregnant Wife!

  1. You were a pretty good skier? Ha Ha Ha! Dr. Mike my brother, I am so jealous of you and your family achievements. I sincerely enjoyed this detailed description of a few weeks of your life with your children surrounding you and your beautiful wife. Envy is something that we are taught not to possess, dude I just can’t help it. What an incredible spring break that your children will never forget. When Todd told me that you had done that incredible vacation, I thought to myself is he absolutely nuts? And then I thought back… nope he’s just Mike The Astounding. A goal oriented record maker from the very beginning. I don’t mean a record maker I mean a record demolisher! To hear you recount the event in your own words from your own perspective (which has always been a bit tweaked) was an absolute joy to behold. The life that you and your clan participate in are the stories that books are written for. Keri read it already… LoL you didn’t mention in this story that you and your life and Eternity companion homeschool your children. Simply incomprehensible. Please don’t stop living your dreams. I love you and your family and I’m proud to say that I know you

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