Editor’s Note: In case you don’t already know him, meet Niko Viglione, Eagle Rock’s Human Performance Center Public Allies Fellow who hails from Purdy N.Y. Niko taught physical education at Rippowam Cisqua School in Bedford, N.Y., where he worked as a track coach as well as with project-based adventure after-school programs.
Niko is a runner with a passion for going that extra mile — actually, a hundred miles in this case. He says life is too short to waste on living in comfort. People ask him all the time why he smiles during races, and he says he can’t help it. What this avid runner needs is a bumper sticker on the back of his athletic shirt that reads “Pain is good and extreme pain is extremely good.”
So let’s allow Niko to describe those pains — and his personal gains — during the second annual Run Rabbit Run 100-mile endurance race in Steamboat Springs, Colo., this past September. Here’s his story:
While there are many 100-mile courses out there, Run Rabbit Run offers the opportunity to race against the best ultra-marathoners (runners who race more than 26.2 miles) in the country and to do so in an absolutely stunning setting.
My six months of training for the 2014 event in Steamboat Springs, Colo., included many weekends of running 10 hours over the course of two days. I raced the 50-kilometer distance four times, the 50-mile distance twice, a 43-mile race, and a vertical kilometer race — which is the shortest race possible, gaining 3,200 feet in a kilometer. In all, I ran a total of 1,600 miles in over 200 hours.
The course itself totaled 107 miles, with more than 23,000 feet of climbing (and the same for descending), while spending most of the time at an average elevation of over 9,000 feet. My strategy was to not hold back like many first timers do. My best thinking was to run with a do or die mentality. I didn’t want to simply finish, but instead, to race, to run with the best in the country for as long as I could, and to see if maybe, just maybe, I could be the last one standing when the dust cleared.
The first 50 miles went according to plan, running well and moving up steadily through the field, on pace for a sub-20 hour finish with the legs feeling strong and spirits mostly high.
The highs and lows during an ultra however, are staggering to experience. You reach the lowest points — falling to the darkest depths and certain you can’t take another step and that to do so would be the utter end of you and that finish line is an utter impossibility. Then, as if a switch was flipped, the pendulum swings and you are reborn, legs refreshed and spirit renewed, as if a great weight has been lifted from your shoulders.
Hitting A Wall Named Hypothermia
Some things are not meant to be however, and poor planning on my part resulted in one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. I arrived at an aid-station (where volunteers provide food, water and medical services) at around Mile 60, feeling strangely foggy and incoherent. The medical staff immediately evaluated my condition and diagnosed me with hypothermia (a dangerously low body temperature). For nearly a half hour, they attempted to raise my body temperature. They layered blanket after blanket on me, pushed me closer to the fire and poured hot soup down my throat. Yet I continued to shake and shiver, face pale and fingers and toes bereft of all sensation.
Eventually, I ceded to their demands and was pulled from the race, disqualified with a “did not finish” next to my name because medical officials insisted I not continue. I found out later that temperatures had dipped into the low teens, with high winds at the 11,500-foot mark.
The disappointment was immense in the days that followed, but as time has passed, I have come to look on the race as the learning experience it was. And I hunger for another chance to prove myself. I dug deeper than I ever had in my life to make it as far as I did, and I experienced some of the wildest emotions and the most intense feelings that I had ever encountered.
I will certainly attempt another one in the near future, and this time I will be better prepared, wiser (maybe), and luckier (hopefully). I’m not sure of what race I will be taking on, but let’s face it. I’ve got unfinished business in Steamboat Springs.
Since the race, many people have asked about the pain and suffering, and why I would want to put myself through it. What they don’t understand that it is that pain and suffering that drives me. It’s that constant inner struggle the participant must wage during these races, fighting against all instincts to persevere and persist.
I find that it is during these intense moments that an unyielding inner strength can be uncovered — even in the face of a seemingly impossible task.