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They also asked, “how do you train for something like that? Is that possible? What is trail running?Trail running is similar to road running, but you run on a single track dirt trail. Most trail races can be anywhere from a 5K to upwards of 100 miles, sometimes even more. Most major trail races are ultras—any distance greater than a marathon.
I never imagined that I could endure a race of this scale — something so far-fetched you just had to be a little crazy to even consider it. I jumped in with both feet and accepted the possibility that I could run farther than I thought humanly possible. I’ve always prided myself into setting goals and achieving them. This was more than that—the training was a journey itself.
First thing you have to do is commit by signing up for a race. After, some remorse and panic will set in: You think to yourself, “what have I done?! Can I really do this? Do I have enough time to train?”
Next, comes the long months of arduous training. Months of giving up Friday wine night with friends, staying up late, drinking water almost excessively, and sacrificing time. Training becomes a part time job. You accumulate high volume mileage and do strength training and yoga to keep yourself injury free. And speaking of time…..
Time is something so precious to every human being and putting in the hours to train for something like this was the hardest. I had to account for time before or after work to get the right mileage in. Time to prepare nutrition, water, and gear for every run. Time for rest and recovery. Time to spend with family so it didn’t look like I was obsessed (which, no matter my efforts—people thought I was anyway.)
Once training is complete and you begin the taper, all of your training and hard work come into play the days prior. All of those hours spent preparing and mulling over every detail finally play out. Race day is the day where you may have a restless night of sleep, early morning coffee, and eat the best pre-race meal to help with the anxious feeling you have. It’s the day where your toes meet the starting line and the count down begins.
Before I crossed the start line, I hugged my husband, cried a little and thanked him for all the time he dedicated to me in preparation for this race. I even had the luck of having my wise father in-law join in as support crew on this crazy ride.
I took off in the pitch black darkness of the early morning with a bright headlamp, a hydration vest stuffed full of salty snacks, gatorade and water. I started off all smiles, strong and full of adrenaline. Several runners were ahead and behind me; I felt safe running in the dark with fellow trail junkies. We talked about the night sky (which by the way, stars in Big Bend are unparalleled to anything you’ve ever seen before). The most commonly asked question between runners: “Is this your first time here?”
This went on for 15 miles and then BAM! We went up a steep mountain full of strange-looking cacti and even stranger looking trees. Neon pink ribbons carefully tied onto the trees lead the way. Finally, you reach an aid station with park rangers and volunteers and will ask you how you’re feeling and suggest eating the salted potatoes and refilling your water pack. Every stop, someone would inform you about the trail up ahead and how far the next aid station was, giving you hope for the next set of smiling, cheering faces with goodies and water.
We rounded the bend of the last trail and saw pulsing red and blue lights coming from what should be a road, which was still not visible to us. We ran the last half mile excited, but exhausted. We could see the lights growing and we finally came to the trailhead. Park rangers were cheering us on and told us we are literally on the home stretch. I reached the asphalt road and it felt like a high school track compared to the 50 rocky miles I just overcame. I ran slowly, taking my last steps of this crazy ride. Tears were streaming down my face, and I took in the last seconds of the sunset and the mountains as the sun was going down. I couldn’t believe that I had made it. I ran across the finish line where cheering medics and volunteers crowned me with the hardest earned medal of my life. The medal had a small accoutrement attached to it. The number ‘3’ and I asked the official what the significance was: He told me I placed 3rd in my age group.Since this incredible ride, I’ve gained a few pounds (it’s ok to have an ‘extended recovery’ after a race like this) happily drank my share of wine (and it’s ok to celebrate a year after a race like this) and sign up the “short” road races throughout the year just to appreciate the distance I achieved. Running for fun and training for my yearly half reminded me how much I love my DRG family, the motivation, the cheers, the “did you know she ran 50 miles!?” Haha, that’s my favorite. I may not ever run another long distance race, but for as long as a live I can say I was crazy enough to try, run and finish, just once.
Editors note: Belinda Colombo began running some with Downtown Run Group in 2015. Most of the times she ran with us, she was pushing her daughter in a stroller – and outrunning probably 85% of us. Her running story should inspire folks to have a dream, never give up, and keep going. In her own words …..
“I grew up mainly in San Antonio and graduated from John Jay HS in 1993, then Baptist School of Professional Nursing in 1997. I have been an RN for 19 years now. I worked for the Baptist System for many years and now work for Amerigroup. I work from home telephonically. It’s not your usual nursing but I love that I can be home for my job. I’m 41 years old and married to Brian Colombo for 3 years. I have 2 children: Francesca (age 12) and Evangeline (age 2).”
Q: How did you find DRG and how long have you been running?
“I’ve been running for 8 years. I heard of DRG here and there. A couple of good friends of mine told me about what a nice group of people they were so I thought I would give it a try. I circulate around different running groups so right now I aim to run with DRG at least once a month or so.”
Q: What’s your favorite running memory, story or race?
“I have so many great running memories. I guess the best one is the first marathon and the last few. My first full marathon was in 2008 and I had come from about a year or so of consistent running. I was a slow runner. I finished in 6:49 but I was so proud of myself. Throughout the next several years I just kept running and running. I already had my daughter Francesca, and was a single mom and running became a way to manage my stress and keep me focused on a goal. I later married Brian and he kept encouraging me to try to run faster and follow my dream! I gave myself little tiny goals. “Make it to 5 (hrs) for a full!”….”make it to 4:30″ and so on. This last past year (2 years after I had my second daughter Evangeline) I decided to try to lose a little weight because no matter how much I ran, I couldn’t break a 25 min 5K. So I changed my diet to include more healthy options and continued my 100 miles a month. I lost 20 pounds and boy did my speed crew with such little effort! I ran San Antonio Rock and Roll 2015 in 3:59, Houston Marathon in 2016, just about a month later in 3:55, and my 20th full marathon, Austin in 2016 in 3:59 (hilly). I now have dreams to try to hit a Boston Qualifying time of 3:45 hopefully this fall or winter.”
Q: Advice for someone new to running?
“Don’t worry about how slow you are or competition. You are only competing against yourself. Keep goals small. Run whenever you can. Try to keep a balance between work and family because sometimes running can consume you. Relax and enjoy the ride.”
Q: What makes you “run inspired”?
“Every time I race. I feel I worked all this time to train and now it’s time to shine!”
You know a newcomer must have a great story when you ask him for his email address and it includes the phrase “demon legs”. Sure enough, Robert Cacic, who joined Downtown Run Group in 2016, has a story that will make you “Run Inspired”. Here is his story in his own words–
It was October 17, 1991. I was four years old. I did not know that was the day that would drastically alter my life. I was helping bring in the fall harvest on the family farm- not unusual for children in Marquette County, WI at that time. I wandered away from my job of keeping the corn from missing the escalator, most likely to go kick over some dandelions or harass a toad. A few cobs had missed the escalator. I had to get back to do my job. I stepped over the power takeoff shaft and it bit me.
That’s what it felt like initially, you know, like a large dog nipping at your pant leg. First the grip, then the tug, then you lose your balance. That was followed by what felt like taking an upper cut on the front of the chin- the jaw slams shut and the nose gets pushed upward uncomfortably. Then everything was spinning and I was airborne. Thud. I was conscious and sat up to see what happened only to catch a glimpse of the damage I had sustained.
Relatives were shouting. This was before 911 or fire numbers. Calling the ambulance meant looking up the fire department number and conveying a location using a route number and mailbox number. Fortunately, the airstrip on the property was a local landmark and they arrived as fast as a volunteer service could be expected. I was told to lay down and was covered with a blanket to keep me comfortable. I was rolled onto a clean sheet and lifted onto the litter- no time for placing braces or extensive assessments the problems were obvious and untreatable with available resources.
Twenty-five minutes later I arrived at the local emergency room only to be stuck full of needles, placed back in the ambulance, and sent on to the level I trauma center in Madison- another 50 minutes or so. After all of the needles the pain was very dull. I was able to talk to my aunt and the EMT who was keeping me company. This was 1991- well before cellular service in my region. I was concerned with why and how could there be a phone in the ambulance. It seemed silly because it would have to be plugged in to work. Another concern was the siren which was ear-piercingly loud. I begged for them to stop the siren- which they did when able.
I arrived in Madison, where my mom met us at the door. She was a nurse and had been at work at the hospital there when the accident happened. She looked incredibly sad. I figured it was my fault and said, “I’m sorry, mommy” then things went fuzzy.
I’d been scalped by the ground, had severe soft-tissue traumas, and broken many bones. My legs were most severely impacted. After the first surgery to stabilize my condition the doctors informed my mother they were surprised I even made it but that I would eventually lose both legs- one above the knee and one below. Somehow, Shriners’ Hospitals (a charity) was able to locate a specialist at Gillette Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis and establish a closed circuit TV communication in the surgical suite to aid the next five operations and reconstruct my legs. This was the first time this was performed at either hospital to the doctor’s knowledge.
Ten weeks and six operations later I was discharged in casts. We were told I likely would never walk again, that long-term damage wouldn’t be known for years, and that I’d have to have MRIs every 6 months to assess status.
In the small community where I lived everybody knew what had happened. The whole church knew I’d be there on Christmas Eve and were eager to gauge my recovery after the accident. Many had lost loved ones on farms. The church was always packed for midnight mass so the priest would have the children sit at the altar- it may have been a ploy to get us to behave. When he called the children forward, I insisted on going. I walked to the altar despite casts, on crutches with the help of many hands. Many tears were shed by those who celebrated my early recovery triumph.
Two years later and the news was in. My growth plate was irreversibly damaged and the right leg was growing at a severe outward angle. The angle was corrected by further altering the growth plate. I’d never reach my full height, my hips would be uneven, and my spine was going to be under great stress- probably not growing to its full potential either. This was incomprehensible. I was a normal six year old who always wore pants and had debilitating arthritis at times but otherwise played like all the other kids- running, jumping, everything. I was forbidden from impact and contact sports. So I swam, tried piano, read books, and boy scouted instead of playing tee-ball and flag football.
High school approached and the doctors decided it was time. The final corrections had to be made. Almost exactly ten years from the date of my accident I began a modified Ilizarov procedure- placing an external fixator on a freshly broken leg with a bolt I would turn three times per day to “grow” the leg. This would occur during my freshman year of high school in a brand new school system. We had moved that summer. After daily doses of Percoset, Vicodin, and valium for 7 months to manage the pain and wreck my aptitude the fixator came off in May. I was fortunate to have tremendously invested family and teachers to get me through with a C- average. I was free. The doctor completing the procedure cleared me for whatever I could tolerate. I continued swimming and started playing Ultimate Frisbee.
During the summer I worked at a resident scout camp. I worked on the beach and kids were always staring at and asking about my scarred legs. I had no escape- reliving my accident every time I told the story or the arthritis hit. Getting over being struck twice by lightning, evading tornadoes, and being incredibly high energy for 14 hours per day was simple in comparison. I took up running the trails to sort my mind out and rebel against the arthritic reminder. Cub Scout camps used themes to keep the campers more involved. During a Pirate theme I became Commodore Demonlegs complete with a homemade crutch and wool trench coat (in the middle of summer) who “fights like a demon but his legs don’t work.” I escaped the questions about my legs for a week and gained a nickname to help cope with the near constant reminders.
I wanted to be better at Ultimate so I joined Cross Country and Track & Field my senior year. The coaches asked me why, in my senior year, I would decide to start new sports and I told him, “Because I can.” By late-September I’d improved my times sufficiently to compete Varsity. Coach told me to prove it in a race and gave me a sub-20 goal for the 5k. I hit the halfway marker at 09:15 and was ahead of pace. Then, snap.
My leg had broken. Against coach’s recommendation but knowing it would be my last race, I finished. My time was 24:31. I walked into the doctor’s office that Wednesday and he confirmed my leg was broken. He surmised my ‘shin splints’ was likely a stress fracture that gave way. He told me he’d have to cast it. I had a dance to take a girl to that Friday then a state Frisbee championship tournament on Saturday. Casting it was not an option so I thanked him for seeing me, promised him I’d take it easy, and told him I was going to walk out. He told me I couldn’t and I rebelliously replied, “Watch me!” We won state in Frisbee and the girl married me, vindicating my decision.
In college I took up triathlons in the summer and water polo in the winter. Water polo required an egg-beater kick, another thing I was told I’d never do successfully after the reconstruction– another ‘because I can’ triumph. I’ve found nothing else as mentally therapeutic in addressing residual challenges from my accident. Running, solely because I can when so many told me I couldn’t, provides a momentary triumph over my accident and my reality. I’ve competed in three national tournaments for water polo, numerous Sprint (1:19) and Olympic (2:31) triathlons, a half-ironman (6:02), many 10k’s (39:56), a half (1:37) and two full marathons (3:38). While not professional times (I’m still planning to improve), I’ve come a long ways from that four years old who surprisingly survived and wasn’t supposed to walk again.
All this, because I can!
By demonlegs AKA Robert Cacic
“Because I can” is inspiring! We asked what advice he would give someone who was thinking of running. “Do it for fun,” Robert said. “Make sure it is always fun. Don’t force yourself into anything. Use it to get away from your job, don’t make it your job.”
We are so glad to have Robert, his wife Kelsey, and Mimi in Downtown Run Group.