David LaBonte

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Day 4

Competition is Universal.

My best comes out when I feel someone believes in me. I’ve had this feeling in the typical relationships: coach, boss, teacher parent, but never from another runner.

We start out the day with a change in plans and a delayed start. Because of this I wanted to remain positive and show Viv and Christina that I appreciated them believing in me when they brought me on to the RAH team. I also wanted to get my hardest efforts out of the way before the sun came up, and with the delayed start that wouldn’t be that long today.

So I take off at a 9:30/mile pace, a little quicker than I have been starting. I’m running alone, until Lucson pulls up next to me and we first bump as neither speaks the others language.

Immediately I’m thinking this is kind of him to say hi, as he’s about twice the the runner I am and I’ve barely seen him the last 3 days, since he’s always so far ahead.

But to my surprise he hangs with me, we are stride for stride, arms swinging in unison. We hit a ‘message delivering only’ aid station at 5K and I start to get the crazy idea that I’m going to push it as far as I can with Lucson before I have to tell him to drop me. But we pick up speed and finish the first 10K with a couple of 8:30/miles. Which for me is quick especially on the first 6 of a 34 mile day. And as we are leaving the 6-mile aid, he motions me to get out with him again. I’m feeling good, legs are strong, so I oblige and feel quite honored. We are cooking now, running 8-min miles, which is inline with my day plan but far from the strategy I came in with (start slow and feel it out as the day goes along).

I’m thinking to myself, this is cool that he thinks I can hold my own with him and keeps getting my attention to head out with him at the aid stations. We tick off the stations at mile 9, 12, and 15 all around an 8-min pace. At this point I’m feeling good but I can sense I’m about to drop.

HOWEVER, our next three miles is through the craziest market I’ve seen. At one point I was scared my legs would catch a burn from the moto exhaust pipes, we were so close. So any thoughts I had of falling off during this time are out the window. I’m zoned in, following every hand direction Lucson was giving me in this maze of motor vehicles, as if my life—well, at least legs—were on the line. He’s taking my arm to slow me down, pointing to a crevice to sneak through, having me hold his back as we straddle the center line and weave our way through. It finally breaks and we hit the 18-mile aid, I give him a hug I’m so grateful for his guidance. I’m hunched over at this point and telling him to drop me and stay with Timé (another talented Haitian runner joining us this year) who has just dropped us after the market, but without a translator my message isn’t really coming across. I do what I do best and talk with my hands. He gets that I need to slow a bit.

So we cruise out to the mile 21 aid station doing 9:30’s. And my plan, as I know a translator is there, is to tell him to drop me so I don’t hold him back. He replies back through Benoit (translator) “I’m not leaving him”. Got real chilly (as in, I got chills from him saying that) at that moment. I give him a warning that I’m slowing down a bit, but doesn’t bother him.

A mile and a half after the aid, we begin to crest a hill and see Timé and Patrice (the other talented Haitian runner). I need to mention we’ve said nearly 10 words this entire 22.5 miles but have really enjoyed each other’s company. Lucson pipes up with a big smile, so much so it startles me, and points ahead, “Timé and Petrus! #1!!”. I look at him, and just to make sure I got it, I say, “You want first today?”, pointing to him then holding one finger up. He nods. Who am I, to deny him of that!

So we start cruising the downhill, toward the out and back (due to the course change), and end up catching them by the 24-mile aid. But because I need to change socks and I am so slow, Timé and Petrus are nowhere to be seen after I replenish and look up, but Lucson is right with me.

I’m feeling awful at this point physically and mentally as I feel I’ve let him down and that we have no chance now of catching them. But also I feel I can’t walk because 1) there’s 0 percent chance he needs to and 2) he’s proven he’s sticking to his word of not leaving me. So I grind it out back up to the mile 27 aid. And I mean grind. Granted it’s uphill, but we are doing 11:00/miles now.

I get my bottles filled (with Liquid I.V. and water) and head out. I’m feeling a bit better, and also know if I stop, it’s still going to hurt. We are now 1.5 miles out from the last aid and still no sight of Timé and Petrus, so I suppose I’m just doing this for pride and because I don’t want to be the guy that goes out hard then completely collapses. We start to pass our other teammates coming in and on them and Cam—hi Cam—hollers across the street “Petrus and Timé are 1/4 of a mile up, catch ‘em and make it a game.” Ahh what?!? I zone in.

The only tasks on my mind is form, ankles to hips, chin slightly over chest, 3/2 breathing, and hydrate!

We aren’t flying but I’m not shuffling anymore. And on the next bend, we see them! And another jolting “Timé and Petrus!” from Lucson. Okay, game time!

I’m pushing all the plays I know, chanting out loud, “Come on, come on, come on!!!” And boom! We catch them.

As we pass, Lucson is laughing and giving them a hard time, and honestly, it was glorious. I should mention that Petrus and Lucson are pro-runners and Petrus coaches Lucson. Timé and Lucson are good friends who have been battling all week in a friendly competition of who won the stage.

The kicker though, is we still have to hit the 30/31-mile aid and get to the finish at 33 miles. And I’m dying, a blister has finally kicked in on my right foot, and my left knee is aching. But I keep pushing convincing myself the next bend will be our Work trucks. Nope. Nope. Yep!

I’ve stopped telling him to go ahead at this point and load up as fast as I can at the aid, knowing we are nearing the finish. We break the aid and are on the home stretch. I manage to get an “mmhmm” out of him when I say, “If we see Timé and Petrus coming, you go!”

And it’s so clear he has so much left in the tank. He’d be 5 strides ahead, not realizing I’m lumbering and then slow down. He’d then break into that stride that’s super choppy, nearly running in place to stay with me. It never came to him to drop me as we hit the finish in plenty of time and got him the Top Haitian Runner spot for Day 4! Ironically he did break from me about 10 steps to the finish so we weren’t able to cross together, but I understand, I mean, a man has his limits.

I knew I was going off-script today and I’d probably pay for this move later, which I am—in the way of a decent sized blister. The funny thing though, is if I had the chance to choose, I’d pick my moves today 100/100 times.

It didn’t matter that we didn’t speak the same language. We both understood competition and when I saw the excitement he got from getting in distance of those guys, I had to pay back his belief in me. Because of him I put up one of my best times ever for 30+ miles (and I promise those other times weren’t after 65 miles the 3 days prior), proved I could push the pace for 5 hours, and made a lifelong memory with a stand-up dude.

Day 4 is said to make or break the run, instead we broke my idea of the possible, which is even better in my eyes.


Day 1

We start the run at 4:27 AM, it’s pitch black so you’re only able to make out shadowy figures, but you know the area is different than you’re used to based off the noises, the smells, and the garbage you’re dodging that lines the streets. The lack of detail can be a bit nerve wracking; what is this place all about, are these people happy to see me running here, and what are all these buildings? On top of being unfamiliar with where you’re at, you have this monster of a challenge in front of you, 200 miles across a country that’s hot and hilly, which also induces a bit of anxiety and doubt. So you run through all the questions, should I have tapered as long and laid-back as I did, will that ache at mile 2 continue to get worse, and what exactly was my fueling planning again. What I found through answering all the questions in my head, was they were completely and utterly insufficient, you have to just see it, do it, live it in order to be at your best.

Day 1 of RAH completely lived up to the hype and accounts I heard from other runners. The motorists were as aggressive as we were warned. The entire run you would see them navigate the potholes and contours of the roads, which tipped you off that this wasn’t their first time taking the route. They knew the line they needed to take and were so matter of fact about it that there was no time for you to take offense you just moved over and appreciated their skill on being able to maneuver a motorcycle with 3 sometimes 4 passengers on the back!

The roads they traveled were lined for miles with buildings of all sorts, stray dogs, leashed pigs, and people waiting for rides. You’d be running through a country side and then pop out into a busy little market. Regardless of where you were there was always people hustling and bustling about their day; taking a machete to some tree branches, fixing a broken bike, carrying fruit on their head, or families cooking on an open flame in their front yard. What caught me by surprise, as I was taking this all in during the 32 miles today, was the sense of community and ownership each section exhibited. You could always hear people talking to each other, always see kids running about, and always feel the inquisitive stares.

Observing all of this pushed any thoughts about aches or pains right into the background, plus our amazing crew kept me going with their supplies and generosity. By the midpoint I was waving to and bonjouring anyone I passed, which was in stark contrast to how I started the day, in my own head. And in receiving smiles back from all ages and getting high fives from kids, I came to understand a little bit more the purpose of this run. My takeaway after this day was Haiti doesn’t need to be changed or fixed (maybe a little garbage management - which Thread is working on!), their people own every aspect of their way of life, they immerse themselves in it and do what needs to be done. Our work is best aimed at helping them build resilience to the unexpected and durability for the future ahead. They got the day to day down - which is a beauty to see and even more incredible to be a part of!