Red Light Therapy: Insights and Updates After Nine Months of Daily Use.

RED LIGHT THERAPY Follow Up

I have now been using my Red Light Therapy panels for nine months, so I wanted to share an update, answer some of the questions I’ve received, and share some stories from friends. Because I’ve gotten so many questions about my lights and how they’ve been performing long term, this post is going to be a little long, but I’ll break it up into sections based on the questions I regularly receive to make it less painful and easy to skip around.

What are you talking about, Rachel? I have no idea what Red Light Therapy Is.

 

The quick version: Red Light Therapy consists of using specific wavelengths of red and near-infrared light to heal your body. There have been many clinical studies proving their effectiveness at healing and strengthening the body at a cellular level (they have been shown to stimulate mitochondria), and they have been used in many types of medical clinics for quite a while. They have just now become affordable for individuals to own, and I believe in a few years they will be a typical component of households. For me, they replaced daily muscle relaxers, pain medicine, ibuprofen, heating pads, and twice weekly physical therapy within days.

To get the detailed version of my story (and believe me, I was skeptical), click here. I know it sounds weird and hokey, but it is by far the most objectively measurable health improvement I have ever experienced.

I bought my lights originally to help with recurrent and long term back and shoulder pain (after my physical therapist had been urging me to look into it for a year or more), and I experienced immediate relief to that pain within days. Within a month, I noticed that it didn’t hurt to run anymore, and I was able to run significantly faster.

For an expert’s explanation on how they work and what all they can help, read this – it was written by the same author whose book I bought and read before investing in my own lights.

Okay, so they took away your pain. Are you still using them? If so, why? What other changes have you noticed?

 

I am still using my lights on a daily basis. I have had to go without them a couple of times while traveling, and though I missed them, I didn’t experience an immediate back-sliding into symptoms. I did have an uptick in back and shoulder stiffness when I was in Macedonia for ten days, but it was manageable and quickly righted back to zero pain when I got back home to my red lights.

Besides the fact that the lights are relaxing and calming, they keep my back from becoming inflamed again. Also, now that I’ve been using the lights for nine months, I have noticed some more long-term benefits:

Objective Benefits:

– I had deep neck injuries from my car wreck in 2015. Although it didn’t hurt during the day, I hadn’t been able to comfortably sleep on my stomach or side since the wreck. (I was always a stomach sleeper before the wreck, but couldn’t even lay comfortably on my stomach for a minute after the wreck. I know, I know – stomach sleeping isn’t good for you anyway – but it makes me delightfully sleepy.) This May, five months into my light usage, I realized that I was sleeping on my stomach and side again, and my neck wasn’t hurting. I suspect that my neck problems were such deep injuries that it took longer for the light to heal them. But the red light certainly did heal them, as the pain had been present for over three years and I haven’t changed anything else that could have instigated the healing.

– My running is still showing improvement. I ran my fastest 5K this year. I ran it in 27:37, which is a pace of 8:55. Before using the red light and after the wreck (which slowed me down tremendously), I felt like I was doing good to be in an 11 minute pace. I also ran the Lake Martin 27.1 Ultra Trail Marathon this year, and my total time was 1 hour and 19 minutes faster than when I did the same race last year.

red light therapy Running pace improvement

– My ability to run without injury has been exceptional. Before getting my red light, I had never run a race that was 13 miles or longer without ending up with an injury of some sort that required me to go to physical therapy for a few weeks. (My body likes to break. Often.) Since I’ve been using the red light, I’ve run a half marathon and an ultra marathon without having any hint of injury. I have not been back to my Physical Therapist a single time since I got my red lights on December 1st. I have not gone this long without some sort of PT in five years.

– I’m still sleeping well and quickly. I haven’t had any periods of insomnia since I started using my lights.

– I have significantly less overall soreness after running.

– Chris and Ali also used my red lights before and after Lake Martin (Ali, my 12 year old, ran the 27.1 mile race with me, and Chris, my husband, ran the 100 mile race.) Both of them had significantly shortened recovery time. Ali woke up the next morning and said “Welp, my legs are healed!!” Chris bounced back from his epic adventure in just a few days. 

Subjective Benefits:

– Red Lights are supposed to help reverse some skin aging, wrinkles, and discoloration. I didn’t notice any results in my first couple of months. However, I do think I have less wrinkles around my eyes and mouth now. The results aren’t spectacular and I didn’t take before and after pictures, though, so I cannot say for sure. 

– I definitely have significantly less cellulite. Again, no before and after pictures. Nobody wants to see my thighs like that.

No Results:

– The Red Light Therapy has not helped with my tinnitus (ear ringing), though there weren’t any studies that showed it would. I was so hopeful, though.

– I still haven’t seen a significant change in my cognitive functions that were decimated by my dysautonomia. I’m holding out hope that I just have a thick skull and it’s going to take a little longer to repair my brain.

Sure, they worked for you. But has anyone else used these lights with success?

 

I have had eight other people come to my house to use my “spa”, and most of them have subsequently bought their own lights because they found it helpful and wanted daily access. Here are a couple of their stories:

Kris:

It’s a gross understatement to say I’ve tried everything in the last 20 years to alleviate the horrible joint and muscle pain, exhaustion and fog from Fibromyalgia. I was often bed-ridden and when I could walk it was with a painful limp. Becoming sugar, gluten and dairy free has helped immensely but this red light of mine has taken away ALL of the residual joint and muscle pain. It’s just incredible!

And even more miraculous, I just got my bone scan back to find that the osteopenia in my spine is IMPROVING! I HAVE MORE BONE MASS! The only change to my lifestyle has been a daily dose of my glorious red light.

Nikki:

I have chronic lower back pain, ranging from unpleasant to unbearable, and it has been a recurring issue for the past seven years. It very much escalated last year and resulted in numerous MRIs, doctors, chiropractors, and extensive physical therapy. I’m thankful for each of those options, and they all play a role in bringing my back to a better place. Nonetheless, it is a fact that my issues are here to stay, and there isn’t just a “fix” for them. We were, however, able to determine that inflammation is a huge part of my problem. When I have inflammation in my lower back, it greatly exacerbates the issue and leads to nerve pain as the inflammation pushes my spine into a nerve cluster.

Rachel encouraged me to try the red light therapy as a way to possibly combat the inflammation. I began using the light a few times a week at a friend’s house about 8 months ago. Initially, I was uncertain as to whether or not it was working. I wasn’t having any big flares, but I’d had good spells before. How could I know it was the light?

I became convinced when I had to go on an 8 hour road trip and stay in a hotel for three nights then drive back another 8 hours. I hadn’t been able to do more than 2 hours in the car without a flare for years, but I made this trip with nothing more than some minor discomfort in the car. The BIG test came when I decided to go on a trip to Macedonia. I had been convinced for years that an international flight was permanently off the table for me. There was no way I could sit in an airplane that long. To prep, I ramped up to using the red light everyday for a week and a half before the trip. I traveled over 24 hours both coming and going, slept on a not-so-hot mattress for ten nights, and had to ride on the worst van ride ever from the airport a couple of hours away. Afterwards, I was tired and miserable just like my travel companions. JUST LIKE THEM! I wasn’t having searing nerve pain shooting through my back and down my leg. I was just really stiff and tired like a normal person after a whole lot of travel. That’s when I was truly sold.

I saved up and bought my own light, and I use it every day now. It is not a magic cure all. I recently had a car wreck and have been experiencing lower back pain since then. It has not escalated though and is improving much quicker than a flare used to improve. I haven’t had any nerve pain whatsoever. The red light therapy has kept my inflammation at bay.

So, What lights do you have? And where do you buy these things?

 

NOT from Amazon. There are a lot of really cheap options out there that have no therapeutic benefit because they’re the wrong wavelengths.

I read a book (highly recommended) about red light therapy before purchasing any. The book is awesome because it takes the thousands of clinical studies and puts them into plain English. It’s also a great resource to look up specific ailments to see if the light helps them, as well as to help pick out an effective light. The author of the book had tried out dozens of different brands of lights and had tested their wavelength and output. He only recommended three or four brands.

I researched/stalked the brands he mentioned and landed on one company, Platinum LED Therapy Lights. After my extensive stalking, I felt they were the least expensive, most effective, least sketchy company out there (for instance, one of the other companies that was recommended in the book stated on their website that they had a 90 day return period on their lights. But when I read the fine print, it said the return period applied to regularly-priced items only. Yet they only had one product and that product was permanently on sale. Therefore, nothing was *actually* returnable.) I have been extremely impressed with Platinum LED – the lights are very high quality, obviously effective, and their customer service and responsiveness has been really spectacular. For example, one of my friends had a question about how to set the lights up for a clinical setting, and the president of the company gave him his direct number to discuss it and figure it out.

My original light purchases were two of Platinum LED’s BIO-600s, which makes my setup a little more more than body length. A few months after my original blog post, the company found my post, contacted me, and sent me a BIOMAX-900 before it was released to the public to try out and give them feedback. The BIOMAX series has more wavelengths to provide more benefits, and also has a system built in to where you can link the lights together for more seamless operating. The merging of five wavelengths makes the lights able to penetrate farther, including to and through bone (and the skull – so maybe my brain has hope after all.)

The previous line of lights had 660nm and 850nm wavelengths. The BIOMAX lights have those and add 630nm, 810nm, an d 830nm. 630nm is good for the skin layer, including wrinkles, psoriasis, hair regrowth, and acne. 810nm has shown benefits for brain injuries, wound healing, stroke recovery, and improvement in psychiatric conditions. 830nm offers the “feel good” endorphins, improved bone repair, and accelerated healing and reduced infection.

(You can read about the new BIOMAX series’ benefits here in more detail.)

So now I use a combination of one or both of my BIO-600s and the BIOMAX-900.

Having already been using the BIO lights for six months, I could tell an immediate difference to the heat output and penetration of the BIOMAX, and it definitely made me significantly happier feeling the first time I used it. I started noticing the facial wrinkle reductions after I got the BIOMAX, so that could be why that result took so long – I needed that 630nm wavelength. I also like how the red and near infrared lights are spaced in the BIOMAX – it makes a lot more sense and doesn’t give a whole strip of your body just red or near infrared light.

However, the BIO lights dropped in price by $100 after they came out with the BIOMAX lights, so if you’re looking for the least expensive option, the BIO lights are excellent.

The company also gave me a discount code to share on my blog, so the code “ObjectivityLight” gets you 5% off any purchase at Platinum LED Therapy Lights.

You don’t need three light panels to get the results I have had, but you want a light big enough so that getting red light to a large part of your body doesn’t take all day. If you want the least expensive but still practical option, I would go with one BIO-600 (make sure you get the dual light option.) If you want the most effective, most wavelengths, quickest option, I would go with either a combination of one BIOMAX-300 and one BIOMAX-600 or one  BIOMAX-900 and one BIOMAX-450.

Platinum LED Light Comparison

Tell me exactly what it looks like to use these red lights of yours. Like, do you lay on them or what??

 

I lay my lights end to end on their side and have a yoga mat next to them. I use an app on my iPhone called “Interval Timer” that will beep at me at the intervals I set up (“every x minutes.”) I lay on my back six inches away from the lights to get my right side lit, on my right side to get my back lit, on my left side to get my front lit, and then flip to the opposite end of my yoga mat (so that my feet are where my head was) and lay on my back again to get my left side lit. I usually give my back an extra rotation when I’m laying the opposite way so that both my shoulders get equal attention. I typically do 6 minute intervals (a total of 30 minutes), but if I’m in a hurry, I’ll do 4 or 5 minute intervals. 

190628-Red-Light-BioMAX-IMG_6676S

I read while I’m lighting, or play on my phone. It’s actually a lovely forced break somewhere during my day which I look forward to quite a bit. The light is warm and comforting and definitely makes me feel happier and calmer.

…And, you aren’t supposed to have clothing between you and the lights, so…. Yeah. We also keep Lysol antibacterial wipes next to our yoga mat to complete our spa health regulations.

What time of the day do you lay in front of these magical red lights of yours?

 

Whenever it fits in my schedule. I move my lighting time around quite a bit. I try not to do it right before bed, or if I do, I wear sunglasses or don’t face the light. A couple hours before bed and it makes me sleepy at bedtime. But right before bed it makes me feel awake and alert. Chris uses it every morning before work while he’s drinking his coffee, and he said it helps him start the work day off more calmly and positively.

Also I’ve noticed the best results for my runs is to light about two hours beforehand. It makes me more energized, prevents soreness or achiness while running and after, and makes me run faster. If I have a really long run, I’ll use my lights afterwards as well to speed up healing and prevent any soreness.

Are there any dangers of red light therapy?

 

Not that I can find, nor have I seen any studies that have shown negative side effects. I’ve read a lot of studies, and I’ve read the book that breaks down a lot of the scientific studies into normal language. The only thing I can find is that if you use the light too long, the benefits are negated. One of my friends felt achy and flulike the first couple days after she started using the lights, but that faded, and the lights really helped her quite a bit. I did find that when I went from one light to two lights, I felt kind of achy at first (double the power and all), so I backed my time down. Other than that, I have not experienced any negative side effects.

Is this a sponsored post? What is your relationship with Platinum LED?

 

I bought their lights (at full price) because in my research, they were the most effective, least expensive lights on the market. I have been extremely happy with them.

A few months AFTER writing my original post, Platinum LED contacted me because they’d been getting a number of link-throughs from my post. They offered to send me one of their new lights to try out since I had been so studiously documenting my results and could study the differences objectively. They also gave me the coupon code mentioned above, which does pay me a referral percentage. They did not pay me to write this post, nor did they have any part in the writing of it.

As my regular readers know, I typically do not promote things on my blog – I like my blog to be my personal space, that is only a reflection of my life and the things I love. These lights have been so life changing to me that they absolutely are a huge part of my life – I would never give anything 30 minutes of my day every day if it weren’t life changing. I’ve been thrilled to see how it’s helped my friends and other people who have contacted me from the internet, and I’ve had many people ask for a follow-up post.

All opinions are my own and will always continue to be.

What are some of the other things that the studies have shown that the red light therapy can help?

 

There are quite a number of things I haven’t mentioned yet. Click to this article for a more comprehensive list.  Some of the other things that studies have shown it helps includes:

  • Lose fat (nearly twice as with diet and exercise alone)
  • Rid the body of chronic inflammation
  • Fight the oxidative damage that leads to aging
  • Combat some autoimmune conditions and improve hormonal health
  • Overcome fatigue and improve energy levels
  • Combat other skin conditions like acne, keloids, vitiligo, burns, herpes virus sores, and psoriasis
  • Reduction of cellulite: one study found that when it is combined with massage, it created a 71% reduction in cellulite
  • Enhanced quality of life for fibromyalgia patients, including decreased pain, muscle spasms, and tender points.
  • The most amazing benefits I’ve read about were for for autoimmune hypothyroidism. A randomized, placebo-controlled study in hypothyroid patients demonstrated that in people who got near-infrared light therapy, thyroid function dramatically improved, and thyroid antibody levels were massively reduced. 47% of patients were able to stop medication completely. The researchers also followed up 9 months after treatment and found that they did not have to restart their medication even after ending their red light treatment.
  • Speed up bone healing
  • Decrease anxiety and depression
  • Potentially increase fertility

I know – it sounds way too good to be true. But I have experienced such inexplicably amazing results of my own that I do not doubt the results of these research projects.

How can I try a light out before buying?

 

If you are local and know me IRL, send me an email.

If not, some gyms, physical therapists, aestheticians, and other types of health clinics do have red lights. If your gym has one, it’s worth googling the brand to see if it’s a the right wavelengths or not before wasting your time on it (I’ve heard that some are not.) I bought my lights instead of trying them out elsewhere, fully intending on taking advantage of the return window (60 day window, minus a 20% restocking fee) if it didn’t work for me. I wanted the freedom to try it out in my own home, on my own time, every day to see if it really worked.

What do your neighbors think about the totally sketch “red room” in your house?

 

I haven’t asked them. Sometimes it’s best just to leave things up to the imagination.

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WHY IS THIS POST SO LONG, RACHEL?!!

 

Because I’ve gotten so many questions about these lights, and there is far too little public awareness about them. Forgive me? 

…But let me know if I didn’t address your particular question – I’ll be glad to email you back or answer in the comments!

It’s a Dream, Not a Race.

Guest Post by Chris the Husband

Lake Martin was my first 27 mile race in 2016.
My first 50 in 2017.
My first 27 with Rachel in 2018.
I wanted it to be my first trail 100.

I planned it for over a year. Before Rachel and I did the 27 together last year, I knew I wanted to go for 100 this year. That’s a lot of time to think and talk, to plan and train, to powwow with a handful of other like-minded people in Facebook groups, and to dream.

By the time we arrived at the lakeside rental cabin on the night before the race, “me” had turned into six people (me, Rachel, Christen, Kelly, Ashley, and Ali), four of them there for their first 27, including my 12-year-old daughter Ali (she wrote her race report here.) It’s fantastic that the magical community atmosphere and scenic adventure of this race is spreading to other people.

2019 Lake Martin IMG_1476 s(Photo Credit: MRuns)

The trails are all on private property of the Russell Forest Trail System. The basic race is a 25 mile loop, with 4 sections. The 27 Mile Fun Run = 1 loop plus a 1 mile out & back with a turn-around point at mile 26. The 50 = 2 loops. The 100 = 4 loops.

There are two aid stations full of fluids, food, people, love, help, smiles, and festivity. All you could want. More than you need. These people really care and will care for you.

The race is directed by David and Marye Jo Tosch, the owners of the Southeastern Trail Series. It starts around sunrise on Saturday, and ends on Sunday afternoon. The technical cutoff is 32 hours. The actual, real, final cutoff is clarified by the race manual. (Yes, there’s a manual.) The manual states that “You must be off of the trails before dark. This rule is enforced. The trails are patrolled. You may NOT be on the trails after dark on Sunday.”

Pre-Race Training & Prep:

I had not trained with long distance or speed, but with time on my feet. Morning runs were frequently followed by afternoon hikes with the family. I also did a lot of mental preparation, listening to podcasts, reading race reports, and reading books by ultrarunners to prepare me for the mental fight against quitting. My plan was to maintain a steady-state, focused on physical efficiency, conservation, recovery, and mental tranquility, knowing that the heart of finishing a 100 is in the unknown, in the ability to solve problems that arise that you don’t anticipate, when you are at your weakest and it’s hard to think clearly.

I also tried to improve my odds of survival by taking advantage of the medical knowledge around me. As training wound down, I had some plantar fasciitis in my right foot, and a friend, Kristen Zeanah, a PT who makes house calls as 10X Physiotherapy, gave me some helpful treatment and solid recommendations. House calls! The wisdom Rachel has acquired in her fight against dysautonomia has had ripple effects to helping many people, including me. Before the race, I got a vitamin-loaded IV bag, a month of red light therapy, and fancy electrolyte powders to drink.

Several people asked me before the race: Are you ready? Susan Donnelly, a guest with Suman Silwal on his MRuns podcast, gave my favorite answer: “A new distance, a new challenge, is always a leap of faith. You don’t know if your body can endure it, but you believe it and try.” Suman is a Birmingham running icon, and the only now 6-time finisher of the Lake Martin 100. Friday night we enjoyed the pre-race dinner and Suman’s traditional speech. This year the slogan was: “Give your body a chance to finish.” I hoped I had done enough to give my body that chance.

Race Day:

Saturday morning I was up at 3:30, having water, coffee, and my traditional brown sugar and cinnamon Pop Tart.

We arrived about 20 minutes before the race started, and I staked out my personal aid station with the Paloma Blancas, some friends who graciously invited me to join them for the weekend. I laid out my chair and box full of supplies in a corner of their tent near the start/finish line and cabin aid station to use for my numerous resupply stops, gear swaps, and wardrobe changes.

The first 26 miles was mostly spent with Rachel and Ali. It was a fun, festive, beautiful day, and I was happy to be with my family in a place I’ve grown to love.

I try to take care of my feet. (Remember in Forrest Gump in Vietnam where Lieutenant Dan tells them to keep their feet dry?) I put Bodyglide and diaper cream all over my feet. About four miles into the race, I slipped on a tiny log crossing, and planted both feet (kerplunk!) completely underwater. It took me a few silent minutes (other than the squishing of water in my toes) to settle down the fury in my head. This race generally does not require you to get your feet wet at all. The creek crossings are easy.

I had extra shoes, socks, and diaper cream in both of my drop bags, but the more I thought about it, the less I wanted to focus on maintaining perfect foot conditions. That was a good call, because I clumsily got my feet wet half a dozen times throughout the race (I didn’t try to cross that log again.) I went with “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” I wore the same socks/shoes untouched the whole race.

I hugged Ali at the out/back turn-around at mile 26 – it was such a proud dad moment. I was sorry I couldn’t be there to see her finish, and said goodbye to my wife and daughter. I’m so proud of Ali for finishing strong and happy and so thankful to Rachel for training, supporting, and pacing her.

2019 Lake Martin IMG_6349 s

I would be alone from mile 26 to 78+.

As good as the weather was, the hot afternoon was more of a struggle in the sun than I had hoped. But I felt strong, and moved conservatively and consistently, trying to focus and enjoy the moment, and not worry about the giant task ahead.

2019 Lake Martin IMG_9386 s

Then, after a beautiful sunset, the cold night became a much deeper struggle as the temperature felt much, much lower than the forecast 49. I have no idea what it was. My short sleeves were no match for the thick, damp cold that settled on my body and crept deeper and deeper into it. My breath was visibly thick in the light of my headlamp. My knees and sore legs ached in the chill, and stiffened, slowing my pace. It was frustrating. My legs just wouldn’t go as fast as I wanted.

I tried to get warm at the aid station heaters, drinking hot broth and potato/rice soup, but that only lasts for a few minutes. So the logic became: just keep moving until dawn.

The sun will be up in 8 hours. Keep moving.
The sun will be up in 6 hours. Keep moving.
4.
2.
1.

As the first light began to creep over the horizon, I began to have math problems. I wasn’t using my GPS watch to track my pace. I was running on perceived effort, aid station to aid station, watching the cutoff paces on a folded chart in my pocket, and trying to conserve my body and use all the time I was given.

But the cold night had slowed me too much.

At this pace, I couldn’t be finished before dark. In my foggy brain, I tried to add it up again and again, but coming into the Cabin Aid Station at mile 68 I faced the death of a dream. I’d continue on at least to 75, maybe 83 – I had all day, but I had to tell David and Marye Jo that I wasn’t going to make it. I tried to keep things in perspective – I have a lot of wonderful things in my life, but in that moment, tired and hurting, I was devastated.

I finished loop 3 section 3 (63-68), and found David and Marye Jo. The sun was wide awake, shining brightly. I told them my math, and tried to hide my sadness.

2019 Lake Martin IMG_1495 sFaking a smile for the camera at mile 68. (Photo Credit: Callie Cole)

But the Tosches were so encouraging!

“Yes, you technically have to be off the trails by dark, but “dark” is much later than sunset, and the last few parts of the course are on gravel roads and dirt roads, so you’re not technically on the trails at that point.”

They just quietly smiled at my stunned face.

Are you serious?? Okay then!!

A warm smile began to grow deep inside me. I refilled my bottles, and headed out for loop 3 section 4 (68-75).

I ran like I hadn’t planned or trained to do at all in this race. I flew through the woods, careening down hills and leaping rocks. I couldn’t believe I was capable of this effort level after the night before, but I was so invigorated by the possibility that I could still have my dream. This was at high risk of falling, getting injured, and blowing my energy reserves (see you later race plan!), but it sure was fun!

The fast running warmed and loosened my cold stiff legs and knees. I was back! I finished that section in 1.5 hours with a huge smile on my face, and left myself just enough time to reasonably do the 4th 25 mile loop before dark.

2019 Lake Martin IMG_1494 sGenuinely smiling for the camera at mile 75. (Photo Credit: Gordon Harvey)

I backed off my frantic pace but kept pushing myself as I felt I could, pushing hard up the climbs with my trekking poles and letting gravity scoot me down as fast as it liked.

Rachel paced most of section 1 (75-83) and all of section 2(83-88), and tolerated my groans and frequent stops to lean on my poles and get my breath. She kept me entertained with stories of their post-race celebrations and recovery from the night before.

I noticed on section 2 that I was really hot and my mouth was pasty dry. I had been drinking fancy electrolyte drinks, but I decided not near enough water. I was CRAVING ice water. I filled up my 1.5 liter bladder at Heaven Hill, and dumped ice in my hat.

By this point, I was last, and everyone knew it. The last two Heaven Hill aid station workers drove away right after I left for the last time, smiling and waving as they went. They were there just for me.

Kelly paced section 3 (88-94), and listened patiently to my teary devastation/rebirth story from the night before. I had another burst of energy for this “easier” section and powered through it quickly. I drained the first 1.5 liters of water and refilled it again before section 4.

Did I mention I was last? When I finished 94, David and Marye Jo needed to leave, so he gave me the buckle, we took pictures, I got a few congratulatory hugs from the last couple of folks there, and then, unwilling to let it out of my possession, I put the buckle in my pack and carried it the final 6.3 miles.

2019 Lake Martin IMG_1446 2 s

2019 Lake Martin IMG_1458 s(Photo Credits: MRuns)

David gave Rachel his cell number to let him know what time I finished, and off we went on the last section. I expected the finish line would need to be taken down by the time we came back.

Rachel paced section 4 (94-100) and quietly followed me as I started to fade, really fade. She was struggling herself at this point, having run 27 the day before and then pacing me almost 18 grindingly slow miles. This wasn’t her first time for end-of-100 pacing at great cost to her own body.

I had several Sunday afternoon hallucinations, mostly on red dirt roads:

  • A man on a bike (a tree branch),
  • A man in red shirt (a fence post),
  • An ice cream truck (just nothing there),
  • And the “nest”. 

I sat down on a log and thought I’d kicked over an old wasp nest or something similar. Rachel says there was literally nothing there. I still say it was there.

The waves of exhaustion started to wash over me and I struggled to will my body to keep moving. In my excitement of actually doing loop 4, I hadn’t taken in nearly enough calories, but I was soooo close. 

2019 Lake Martin IMG_6498 s

Rachel began regularly offering me a few spicy gummy bears and pretzel goldfish to try to get me there. She says the gummy bears weren’t spicy, but I know what I tasted! I was still struggling with the heat, and I felt a strange sensation. A bead of moisture on my left temple. After consuming 2.5 liters of ice water rather quickly, I started sweating.

Oops. I had no idea how long I had stopped sweating.

Kelly and Ali met us near the end at a lovely creek crossing with an inviting bench, appropriately named Rock Bottom. I passed up this last chance to rest, focused on the finish, and pushed toward the end. My ultramarathoner wife and new ultramarathoner daughter were beside me, while new ultramarathoner Kelly took the video and pictures.

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Finish Time: 6:53.
Sunset Time: 6:58.
Dark Time: Who cares? I was off the trail!

The finish line was not gone, but was still waiting patiently when I jogged up Tucker Road for the last time, just as I had imagined it. We had the finish line and the cabin all to ourselves. Me, Rachel, Ali, and Kelly. It was surreal, my tired crew alone there in the glorious sunset, like a dream. As if it was all there just for me.

Because it was.

They left it up for me. 

IMG_1505

And in decent weather, they would leave it up for you. Or anyone. Because these people are the kindest and best of humans.

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Epilogue:

I settled into a chair with a groan, and Rachel graciously took off my shoes and socks. I think she was curious about the carnage, but it wasn’t terrible. The sun was setting slowly behind the cabin porch. I thought to myself, as I hear many others say, “That was amazing. I will never do that again.”  A few days to reflect have softened my stance.

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My overall time was 36:00:05 – the second slowest on record, and I couldn’t be happier. Ali and Kelly presented me with special custom awards they made while they waited on me to finish.

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I know that doing 100 miles takes a toll on your body. I already knew I had a few blisters and some thigh chafing. I’m pretty sure I may lose a toenail or two. Of course everything from the waist down ached. That had been true for much of the race.

The nearly immediate impacts of stopping and resting for 15 minutes were chills, shivering, chattering teeth, and hiccups when I started trying to eat/drink. I showered and could barely eat anything before crawling into bed. (The ravenous hunger is known to come later.) I slept well, but not longer than a normal night. (The fatigue is also known to last for days, not cured by a single huge chunk of sleep.)

It’s been several days, and I feel good physically. I took five days off of exercise, and then went for an easy run. I’ll limit my effort level for a few weeks to make sure I give my body the chance to fully recover. Fun fact: I dreamed about being in an eternal race for several nights in a row after the non-eternal race.

I am so thankful to everyone involved. The race volunteers took wonderful care of me for two days. My friends sent tons of encouraging messages throughout the week and the race. Rachel went above and beyond as usual to keep me alive. Ali cheered and hugged me along on both days. Kelly was up for anything to help. And I still get a little misty when I think about the kindness and compassion of David and Marye Jo.

12, going on 27.1.

Guest Post by my daughter, Ali Callahan.

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So I decided to become an ultra marathoner.

An ultra marathon is anything over 26.2 miles. I don’t remember why I wanted to do it originally, but I have been training for a year. The first race I wanted to do was the Lake Martin 27.1 mile “fun run”, a trail race which my mom has done once and my dad has done a few times. So this year, Mom, a few of her friends, and I were signed up for the 27.1 mile fun run, and Dad was signed up for the 100 mile serious run. Nobody under 16 had ever done any of the distances at Lake Martin, and since I am 12, I was feeling kind of nervous about it (and a little impatient to get it over with,) until it got there and I felt -mostly- better. We were all staying together in a rental house on the night before the race and I went to bed really early.

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In the morning, we woke up at 5:30, filled our packs, tied our shoes, encouraged each other, and drove to the start/finish line. It was very cold so it was nice to find that the bathrooms were heated. We all got in a huddle in front of the start/finish line, then Mr. David, the race director, fired his gun in the air, and we all started running.

The race was divided into four sections, with an aid station between each one, and then a final 2 miles after the last aid station. It was easier to think about it as four separate trail runs than 27.1 miles as a whole.

First Eight Miles (0-8.2):

There were lots of water crossings and hills, and it was very fun because Dad, Mom, and I were together. However, there was a creek crossing and you had the choice of crossing on rocks or on a log. Mom wanted to cross on the rocks, but Dad and I wanted to go across the log. I stumbled and barely made it across and was about to tell Dad that he really shouldn’t do that because it would be worse if he fell in since he had like 95 miles left, but he was already halfway across. He stumbled in the same place I did, except his foot slipped, both his legs went into the water up to his calves, and he was okay but was frustrated at himself and went ahead for a bit – “to blow off steam”, according to him. At the first aid station I used the restroom, grabbed some pretzels and pickles, and we kept going.

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Next Five Miles (8.2-13.6):

I was happily skipping, singing, and talking to Mom and Dad. This was probably my favorite loop because we went through/over: a forest where there had been a controlled burn and had lots of burnt pinecones, a wide red road, a trail through tall reeds, and by a lake.

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When we came back around to the aid station and I did exactly what I did last time: used the restroom, grabbed some pickles and pretzels, oh! And stretched – it feels so good to do a backbend when you have been on your feet for four hours!

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Next Five Miles (13.6-19):

I was still very happy but tired. Dad was ahead of Mom and I now, because he left the aid station before us. There were way less water crossings. We didn’t think we would catch up to Dad, but we saw him at the top of a hill and I screamed “Dad!!”, and ran ahead until I caught up with him. When we got to the aid station, I got some Mountain Dew and a banana slice.

Next Six Miles (19-25.1):

The first couple miles were okay, but very hilly. Around mile 21, after an especially high hill, I got so tired that I was crying and I couldn’t think. It was so hard. So Mom pulled out her phone and played all my favorite songs, like “High Hopes”, “Hall of Fame”, and “Havana.”

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I barely made it back to the aid station where I got more Mountain Dew, the volunteers filled up my pack with water, and we left.

Last Two Miles (25.1-27.1):

I was better, but exhausted. It was more fun because Dad was with us again (he got ahead of us when I was crying, but we caught up to him at the aid station,) and the trail was super easy – it was just the first mile of the course again and back. At the one mile turnaround point, we had a group hug and we cheered and encouraged each other, and Dad kept going (since he was doing the 100), and Mom and I turned around.

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After one mile, we finished!

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We ate, drank, got our medals, and cheered our friends as they finished.

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The race took me eight hours, one minute, and 59 seconds. Afterwards, I was glad to be done, and sore. I was so tired the only thing that made sense to say was “ow.” It took a little while to feel satisfied – I had so many emotions I didn’t know what to feel.  The next day I felt better except for my shoulders, which felt like I had carried my cousin Andi for ten miles. But I was able to run/walk the last 1.5 miles with Dad Sunday evening as he finished his hundred miles.

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I think I’m glad I did it, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for other kids. However, I might do it again – if other kids did it with me.

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