Back in December I wrote a profile of ultra runner Brooks Williams for Trail Runner magazine. Williams has cystic fibrosis. His lungs and digestive system are compromised by the disease, yet he runs harder, longer and with more guts than most.
In the course of writing and editing the article, the entire TR crew and I became big fans of Williams, so we’ve been keeping track of him. On Feb. 4, 2012, he ran the Rocky Raccoon 100 miler and placed 4th overall with a time of 14:58:37, putting his average pace at just under 9 min/mile. Post race, TR and I whipped together a quick Q&A with Brooks and posted it in the magazine’s monthly newsletter, Inside Dirt. Click on the link for the published piece. Below, is the unedited version, which we had to cut for length before publishing.
In December 2011, Trail Runner profiled Colorado ultra runner Brooks Williams, for its “Faces” department. Williams lives with cystic fibrosis (CF), a chronic, an often debilitating, respiratory and digestive disease that frequently leaves him bent at the waist as his lungs struggle to bring in air. Fifty years ago, the majority of CF patients did not survive childhood. Today Williams is 28-years-old and celebrating a fourth place finish at the Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile held in Huntsville, TX. We took advantage of his recovery days to ask Williams a few questions about Rocky and the season ahead.
AB: The weather at Rocky this year was something else. How did it affect your race?
BW: The crazy rain and mud slowed everyone down, I’m sure, but for me it meant 3 sock changes and some extremely slow sections of running through the mud bogs. I’d say these factors equated to about 20-30 minutes of lost time.
AB: Any storm related mishaps or challenges?
BW: Less than 3 miles into the race I was trying navigate around the first major water hazard, but instead caught my foot on a submerged obstacle and went face down into 6” of water. After that, I didn’t really have to worry about avoiding wet socks anymore, since every square inch of my body was now saturated… Liza Howard and a couple others were right behind me when it happened and I know it gave everyone a good laugh! Going underwater also broke my watch and caused my headlamp to go on the fritz, so I had to run the next 97 miles with no idea of my time and the threat of darkness.
AB: You beat your own prediction to finish in the top fen and cracked the top five with a strong fourth place finish. Do you think you overestimated the field, or was this a race where everything lined up for you?
BW: Having never had a top-10 at the 100-mile distance, I think I primarily underestimated my own ability to go fast. Everyone knows how fast Hal, Ian, Karl, and company are, but since I’d never done anything that impressive at a hundred, I mostly think everything finally clicked for me. I still think those other top guys are inhuman!
AB: Health-wise how has the winter treated you? How are the lungs and digestive system holding up? Any issues during the race?
BW: I’ve been relatively healthy this off-season, with nothing more than a minor cold all winter. My lungs were at 90% in December, which is stellar for me, and I’ve had no digestive issues to speak of. During the race, my stomach did pretty good – I only had to run into the bushes twice over the first 90+ miles. Then at mile 93 I crapped myself. At that point I really didn’t care though, because I just wanted it to be OVER!
AB: Tell me about the mind games you played with yourself during the race, and your interactions with other racers, especially with fifth place finisher Josh Katzman.
BW: I had to give myself little mini-goals throughout the race to break up the monotony, distract me from the pain, and motivate me to keep me pushing. After 40 miles, I made my next goal to get to mile 50 without walking, I also decided I wanted to set a new 50 mile PR (which I think I did… hard to tell with no watch). Having never run every step of a 50-mile race before, I then kept challenging myself to go a little further without a walk break. “Okay, Brooks, if you can make it to 60 without walking you’ll have a 100 mile PR in the bag and then you can walk to reward yourself.” 60 came and went, and since I felt surprisingly better than expected – based on my 2010 experience – I just kept running. Then 80, then 90, and finally 100… I kept offering myself a walk break as a reward but never ended up taking it, event thought I REALLY wanted to. Eventually I realized that if I started walking, I would probably never start running again, so I just kept pushing.
Josh and I were somewhat separated for longer periods of time, but somehow we kept arriving at the turnaround point at almost identical times. Until G.I. issues took him out on lap 5, we weren’t more than 4-5 minutes apart from the beginning on. Having never been so evenly matched with someone for such a long period of time, it brought out a competitive side of me I’d rarely seen in past races. Despite the misery I was in while running side-by-side with him at mile 75, I had no problem lying and telling him I felt great, when asked. He must have seen right through it, because when I asked him the same, I got the identical response! Neither of us wanted to show weakness, and deep down, I’m sure we were both hoping the other would break so we could back off the pace a little. In the end, I’m sure we both ran faster times because of it.
AB: How important were your pacers and crew in this race? Did they bring anything unique to the plate?
BW: This was the 4th ultra that my girlfriend, Holly, helped me with, and the 3rd race that my buddy and crew-chief Eric, was at. Now that they know how cranky I get, and what to expect when they see me, the aid station transitions were seamless. This helped tremendously as there was no wasted time at the turnarounds. It also helped that Holly – jokingly, I hope – said she would break up with me if I didn’t get top-10!
Regarding a pacer: I had gone into the race not expecting to have one, but things changed in a hurry when Ian was forced to drop. One of his pacers from last year, Meredith Terranova, had volunteered to help me if he couldn’t continue, and it ended up being a blessing in disguise. She helped me for about 17 miles total, and was vital in pushing me HARD over the last several miles when I was falling apart the worst. I hated her so much for forcing me to not give in to the pain, run harder than I wanted to go, and not letting me know what time it was until I rounded the final bend, but once I saw 14:xx on the clock, I immediately forgave her and sprinted in!
AB: Did you go into Rocky with a plan, or racing tactics? How did you manage running, walking, aid stations, etc?
BW: I was on the ‘non-plan’ plan, especially after my watch broke! For aid stations and fueling, I simply listened to my body and gave it what it needed, when it needed it. For me this meant drinking when I was thirsty, eating when I didn’t want to, and eating things I normally don’t, i.e. bananas, if I felt they had a nutrient I was needing (potassium). If anything, I fueled MORE than I needed, but that is always better than the alternative. I took a little more ibuprofen than I would have liked to – 2 every 20 miles – but I was well hydrated and peeing regularly, so I wasn’t too concerned about causing any damage. For running, my strategy was to run until I couldn’t anymore, which just happened to be 100 miles for the first time!
AB: Any memorable moments, hallucinations, epiphanies from the race?
BW: Unlike 2010, where I swore I heard and saw alligators all around me, I remained surprisingly lucid for this one. Instead of getting bitter and angry when the pain got bad, I just became supremely grateful for everyone who was there supporting me and helping me through the adventure!
AB: What’s next?
BW: Ask me that question when my exercise-induced cankles are gone, and I’m walking normal again! In all honesty, I think my next big races will be San Juan Solstice in June, and Leadville in August. Other than that, I have a lot of ‘tentatives’ on my calendar, but nothing set in stone at this point.