Sunday, April 06, 2008

MDS: From the Eyes of Jeff Arricale

(Photo: Jeff and one of his many admirers)

Greetings from a soft bed in Ouarzazate!! This will be the longest and final entry. I do plan to post some pictures eventually to put faces with the names I have been describing. Tomorrow we turn in our flares and have closing ceremonies. Most of us will begin the long trip home at about 3 a.m. Monday morning.

For me, the news from home continues to be more dramatic than the events in Morocco, which I will detail in a bit. Good news: Gracie came home from the hospital Friday morning. She is, however, on oxygen 24/7 right now until she gets healthy. We have her isolated on one side of the house and will likely have a full time nurse at the house for a while as she needs to be monitored and cared for and kept away from the other kids. I have no doubt that Gracie will grow strong like her brother Jake who, at 6 years old, really wants to "do good on his sleep study" so he can come off of oxygen completely. Jake had his first baseball practice ever the other day and is a natural (Dad missed the big day obviously--sigh-- but MVP neighbor Glenn Thomas pinch hit for Jessie and I). Jake also started up lacross (second season) and continues to get stronger and stronger. I think Gracie will be just like him in due time.

Bad news (again): as Jessie was driving Gracie home from hospital, our third child, Sami (2 years old) was splitting her face open on a piece of bluestone on the side of the house. Ambulance came and took her to hospital. Jessie and our God-sent friend Charlene Lowry took Sami to two emergency rooms, ending up at Johns Hopkins where Sami had plastic surgery at 5 this morning to close up her forehead. The cut was not jagged and should heal very well. She is home now and doing fine. I spoke to her hours ago and she said "I go outside, I fall down, I get boo-boo Daddy...!"

So, it seems that this past week Jessie has run her own Marathon des Sables at home and I admire her for it. She is more tired than I am right now and I have been running for seven days. I had the joy of my once-in-a-lifetime experience at the finish line today to pick me up and all Jessie gets is a much needed good night’s sleep in her own bed tonight so she can gear up to interview some nurse candidates for Gracie on Monday. Just as Jessie can't imagine running 152 miles in the desert with a backpack, I can't imagine sitting in hospital rooms all day, every day for weeks at a time and, when not in the hospital, driving from one doctor appointment to the next before stopping at the pharmacy before administering tons of meds to two kids and getting everybody ready for bed. Jessie has an amazing ability to sit patiently at the hospital for loooong stretches--I do not. I could, I am sure, if our kids were in immediate danger. But with chronic conditions where we are on a long road with a good prognosis, I leave Jessie or our wonderful nanny Victoria to endure while I keep moving-- holding down the fort at work and at home and hanging out with the kids. I am lucky Jessie is so very talented at and committed to running the "marathon des hospital". I could never finish this race. Well done Jessie!!!

Back to the was the final stage. 11 miles over relatively easy terrain. I finished in 2 hours 40 minutes. Overall I think I finished in 580 something place out of 802. As promised, I beat the 72 year old great grandmother from Japan. I had also hoped to finish in the second quartile (200-400th place), but the race, the desert, and the stronger competitors humbled me quickly and crossing the finish line is more than fine now that I know first hand how hard the race is and how tough the other competitors are. I will never, ever do this race again because its way to hard with way too many variables that can send you home prematurely (feet, stomach, ankles, rashes, infections, temperature, wind storms, virus' that spread through camp very easily).

A few thoughts:

I have figured out that the majority of Australian males are well over 6ft tall, have washboard abs, and did their first Ironman competition before they learned to read. I think the late Steve Irwin of crocodile hunter fame is really British. Way more of the 250 Brits in this race resemble the paunchy Steve Irwin than the super-fit Aussies and would, on the surface, appear more comfortable ordering a blooming onion and about 6 beers from Outback Steakhouse than ordering up a blister sandwich and an IV from the medical tent after the first 100 or so miles at the MDS.

Moreover, "Higgins", the British house man from the 1980s show "Magnum PI" may as well have been living in the tent across from us as he talked from 5 a.m. till noon on our rest day after the long stage. Nobody in his tent was even answering him, but Higgins kept on going, finishing the marathon of the mouth stage after about 7 hours. Jay in our tent put ear plugs in after 2 hours.

In the end though, the British were amazing--waving the flag, having a great time, suffering with dignity, helping out fellow runners from around the world, and doing their country proud. It can't be easy training for MDS in the UK--especially London-- and these men and women struck me as a very well prepared and adventurous bunch. One of my favorites is a 28 year veteran police detective with two girls in college and a taste for American heavy metal music. We shared hours together on endless salt flats during the marathon stage and he helped get me through that day. Scotland Yard #1!

I had the pleasure of having one British guy in my tent--Toby, a builder from London and now a good friend. Toby has now done four MDS and I think each one puts him one step closer to the grave. He is 50 years old and by stage 4 he looked about 80. Maybe 90.

Toby was suffering from a flare up of his ruptured Achilles that exploded on him last April. He also had a high fever that made his cheeks redder than an Irishman's when St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Saturday. He also had swollen glands and could not swallow, and developed an ear infection on the long stage. His face looked like an inflatable pillow. I thought he would have to drop out. Out of a deep concern for myself, I kept spritzing Toby with Purell while he slept. I also told him at least once a day that he looked like shit and smelled like he was keeping his only shirt tucked up his ass at night for safe keeping. I think I forced some of my deodorant on him when he was weakest.

Toby, like the vast majority of the competitors, demonstrated an amazing ability to recover after a setback with a little food, a few drugs, some shade, and some rest. He finished the marathon stage and final stage strong. After a shower and a meal back in town, it looks like he has been on a relaxing vacation. Wow. I'll be seeing Toby on my next work trip to London and can't wait to meet his family. Toby was one tent mate. But there were 8 of us all together. The dynamic in the tent was the highlight the trip and the most difficult to articulate in way that a reader can get a feel for--8 of us (2 girls and 6 boys) jammed into this crap tent that collapsed twice.

Turn to your left--boobs. Turn to your right--balls.

Look out on the horizon and you probably see somebody going #2 in the wide open.

Please pass me my dinner that has been "cooking" in the dust on a few rocks.

Did you still need my butt cream for the rash between your thighs that is bleeding again? No problem....

Not one single argument or hint of tension over eight nights in the tent/sardine can despite dirt, heat, and everyone hitting their low points at different times. There was a non-stop stream of jokes, selfless sharing of scarce resources (food, foot repair gear, water, personal hygiene stuff), and tons of patience and mentoring demonstrated by race veterans for the benefit of rookies like me. Jay, Ed, Toby, and Terry taught me much and helped me in too many ways to name.

Ed and Terry, both from Chicago, make a 30-something year old like me look forward to turning 50 and are surely two of best guys you could hope to meet. They took such good care of me when I struggled. I think they both can tear a phone book in half with their hands. Ed likes to play hockey year round back home with college level players and has been the oldest player in his league for the past 100 years. He shakes off the occasional shoulder surgery and picks up his skates again. I hope his kids are proud of him--what a rock of a man. Terry is a deceptively fast ultra runner and has quite a few age group victories in his future in my opinion. Each day these two guys ran the race about 50% faster than I did and spent their free time helping everybody else in the group rather than resting their feet. I hope I can repay them some day.

Aaron, the other first timer to MDS and a friend of mine from the Dreamchaser Death Valley Running Camp, is a 40-year old trauma doctor in Canada and is known back home for his prowess in the Ironman. Specifically, Aaron, using any means necessary, finished the Canada Ironman ahead of Sister Madonna Buder, the 75 year-old Canadian nun who does triathlons in spandex. Way to go Aaron! Aaron and I spent quality hours making fun of people and sorting out the 50 mile stage wrapped in emergency blankets and hallucinating. After the race I got to meet his excellent wife, Rhonda, a fine surgeon with decidedly poor navigation skills (she took Aaron and I on a 10k power walk through town on Sunday trying to find a hospital...felt good after sitting around all week.)

And what about the two girls in the tent? The girls, Kay and Laurie, kicked ass. Kay did this for her 50th birthday, knew the fewest people in the tent, never complained, and looked like she just had a pedicure and facial pretty much all the time as she cranked out good day after good day with poise and impressive times. Then she was ready to socialize while guys like me were strewn about groaning in pain.

Laurie, who came over celebrating her 40th, never stopped showing her beautiful smile and proceeded to crush virtually every other woman (and most men) in the race with her amazing skill and power. She finished ridiculously high (10th or 12th) among the women along with a couple another amazing girls in our group (but not my tent) Chloe and Michele.

Chloe (ran with her husband Jeff and invited me to fish at their home in Montana thank you very much), and Michele (West Point grad, won several ultras, has never had as much as a pimple in her life I suspect) weigh about 180lbs between them, placed very high in the race (easily top 15 I think), made most of the average guys like me look like buffoons, proved they are elite athletes and pulled it all off with a genuine sense of modesty and ease.

Did I mention Leigh? Leigh is 40 something with 4 teenagers and is as beautiful on the inside as out. I have run with Leigh at a couple camps/races and marvel at her kindness and understated determination. She was nearly killed in a car wreck with severe head injuries. Now she has done MDS (with ease by the looks of it) and a host of other 50 and hundred milers and I was so happy when she said she was proud of little me!!

I could go on and on. I’ll end with George. George is in his 50s and has done lots of ultras. I have also seen George a number of times and admire him more and more each time we speak. He is also one of the kindest souls you will meet. As George and I talked about how nice it would be to have a shower, he shared with me some of his time in Vietnam--like when he went 58 days without a shower in Cambodia, got shot and got hit with a grenade. George shuffles along with a severe limp. That's what happens when somebody almost blows your leg off I guess.

So, I’ll stop there. If one is ever interested in seeing the triumph of the human spirit played out so many times you just can't process it any more, do the MDS as a participant or a volunteer. It will probably change your life!!

For her 50th Birthday

Congrats Kay!

Go Michele and girls are Rock Stars! Read more about them and their positive spirits on the daraboud website


Anonymous said...

That photo of Kay is all we needed to see and it sure says something about this race. She looks clean and fresh, how is this possible?
Beautiful gift she gave herslef for her 50th Birthday.
Hope to meet her one day.


Anonymous said...

Now if I could look as good as Kay crossing the finish line I might think about doing this race. Is this the first day or the last day?

Steve L.

Dusty said...

Happy Birthday Laurie and Kay!

Congratulations to all of the Dreamchasers! I'm unbelievably impressed by each and every one of you. You're an inspiration to anyone who wants to run long distances.


Lisa Smith-Batchen said...

The photos of all 3 girls is after the race..Kay was just crossing the finish line! Trust me she had not had a shower in a week but you are right..she looks fresh as a daisy!
Happy 40th to Laurie and Happy 50th to Kay! What a great birthday to give yourself:)

Anonymous said...

Jeff: What an amazing talent you are to have come out the other side of MdS with such wonderful humour. I actual am sitting at my computer laughing out loud at your blog entry . And what an amazing tribute to your wife. It sounds like it cannot have been easy with you away and she sounds like an incredible woman and mom. I am sure your children will have been blessed with the strength that you both clearly have and they will continue to grow stronger.

We are currently living in London and I was Toby, Jay and Terrys tent mate last year. I had to laugh and smile at your description of the three of them. Toby really does clean up pretty well though doesn’t he? And Terry is a true gentleman and the greatest of supporters. Jay, whilst mostly on the receiving end of selfless sharing of scarce resources as we would tease him., held us all together last year when we each and everyone had our lows.

Well.., I would love to hear in about 6 months or so how you feel about never going back .., it drove the rest of us from last years tent 61 absolutely crazy to not be a part of it this year. We were glued to the computers awaiting results. It truly is an experience of a lifetime and those people will be in your hearts forever.

Congratulations on such an amazing finish given all that you knew was going on at home. You are a champion.

Best regards

Patrice Clapacs

Lisa Smith-Batchen said... your going back we heard through the grapevine????