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Behind the Book


Q&A with Marsh


photos, videos, music, history


From the Foreword
by Chris McDougall

From Heather’s Journals
Excerpt 1 | Excerpt 2 | Excerpt 3


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Excerpt 3. “Marshall's A**hole”         

Day 23 ... I was very concerned that Marshall had decided to stop and rest and ice his foot, especially for such a long time, so early in the morning. I just knew something was not right. Our friend Debbie wanted to talk. To really know how I was feeling, how I was doing. [Marshall's sister] Lonna also asked me how I was at one time during this break, when I went outside of the RV for a break from being by Marshall, as I couldn’t stand to see him suffering but didn’t want him to know how worried I was.

I started to cry and had to just walk away. It wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate them asking. It was very kind of them to be concerned and want to help. I just couldn’t let it out. If I did, I might not ever stop.

During this time, I think, Elaine told Taylor and me about one of her college professors, someone people really didn’t care for that much. He was the head of a department, even, and at one point someone on the staff asked the president *why* he had this guy, who he described as an a**hole, as a department head.

I just couldn’t let it out.
If I did, I might not ever stop.

The president said, “He may be an a**hole, but he's *my* a**hole,” meaning that the guy was loyal to the president and would do whatever needed to be done.

After she told me that story, Elaine dubbed me “Marshall's a**hole.” It wasn’t a title I liked, but it was probably a title I deserved. And Elaine meant it in the best way possible. She had been glad to see that I bought additional safety lighting in Fort Collins, for example, as both of us worried about Marshall being out there at night on the road, especially as we were moving further east into more populated areas, meaning more traffic. She had also seen how I moved everyone away from the crew vehicles the day before, to ensure safety. I was glad to see that someone appreciated the thankless job that I had to do out there.

Marshall finally decided to go back out at 1:25 (having taken a break since 11:45, or over an hour and a half). I wanted the kids to have time with their dad, and they were keen to help (to say the least—it was a really nice thing to see!), so Taylor joined Elaine and Ali, and they took off crewing for Marshall as he departed. It was the Marshall Kid Crew, or the MKC, as Elaine dubbed them. It was wonderful that they were all out there with their dad! It was also good to see all of them in the same vehicle, hopefully all getting along.

Dr. Paul was getting in one of the production vehicles to go ahead to the hotel in Sterling when I stopped him and asked if he would ride with me in Elaine’s rental car, as I was concerned about Marshall and would really appreciate it if he would stay around to keep an eye on him. He gathered his stuff from the other vehicle and joined me; I was very grateful for this.

We drove forward and checked on Marshall at about 2:00. I let Paul go, alone, to talk to Marshall, as I didn’t want my emotions to get in the way. I could tell that Marshall was really hurting, and he expressed this to Paul. I think Paul knew that something bad was going on, as Paul told him to go ahead and keep moving and to let him know when he had had enough. I knew it didn’t bode well for Marshall.

At 2:22 Dr. Paul and I stopped again to check on Marshall, just short of the crew van at the junction of Hwy 14 and CR 17. Marshall had had enough. There wasn’t any drama, just a sad resignation that he couldn’t move forward any more. As he got into the vehicle, in the back seat, with Paul again in the passenger seat, I asked where we were going, though I knew all too well what the answer would be: to the hospital.

Marshall had had enough.

We drove past the crew van, as I didn’t want the kids to see their dad in this position: one of extreme pain and temporary defeat. I called Elaine on the phone as we went by and told them that everything was okay, or that nothing was seriously wrong, but that Dr. Paul and I were taking their dad to the ER just to get checked out. I told them to go to the hotel in Sterling. Since they were from this general area, and they are very competent and capable people, I knew they could find it. I didn’t want to exclude them/keep them from their dad, but I knew that he would NOT want to make this a big deal. He wouldn’t want a lot of concerned people around, not even his kids, his sister, or his niece. This needed to be as un-dramatic as possible. That was just Marshall’s way, and I had to respect that.

We got to the ER, and so did the film crew. They had to be there, as this was a significant part of the story. They were very respectful to Marshall and his privacy and, for that, I was (again) thankful. We got Marshall checked in and taken back to an actual ER bed. The cameras weren’t allowed back there, so it was just me, Marshall, and Dr. Paul. When the ER doc came in and examined Marshall’s right foot, it was clear that he would need an MRI in order to accurately assess what was going on, as they couldn't tell if it was soft tissue damage or a stress fracture (just as Dr. Paul already knew but hadn’t said). Unfortunately, it was a Sunday and the hospital did not do MRIs on the weekend.

Marsh said that since he couldn’t get the MRI today he might as well go back out there and get a few more miles in today and come in tomorrow for the MRI. Holy shit, a terrible short-term memory *is* the most important quality for an ultrarunner—or real athlete—I guess.

Less than a couple of hours ago he was in so much pain that he agreed to be put in a car and driven to the ER. He was told he needed an MRI to see what was going on. And, now, he wanted to go back out there. Dr. Paul just kind of nodded and said, “Okay, you can give it try if you want to,” or something like that. I was shocked. But, then, Dr. Paul is a runner, too. I guess being a runner, and understanding (at least on some level) Marshall’s drive and commitment to this project, made him as fuzzy-headed as Marshall? Or, at least, that was my opinion.

Dr. Paul went out to tell the film crew what was going on, leaving just Marshall, sitting on the ER bed with the green curtain pulled around, with that hospital smell in the air, and me standing there, wondering what might be next.

Marshall said, “Well ... if it’s a stress fracture, I’ll just get a walking cast and will have to finish this thing with that. It will just take me longer.”

I wanted to kill him. Yep, right then and there. I wanted to yell, and scream, and shake him senseless. No, I wanted to shake some sense INTO him. I couldn’t even imagine him walking in a cast the over 1,700 miles that were left. We weren’t even halfway, and he thought he could do the rest in a walking cast? I knew, then and there, that I would not LET him do such a thing. Wait: could I have stopped him? I couldn’t stop him from STARTING this damn thing; how could I get him to stop? My mind raced, and I thought that with the help of his kids, his sister, and Dr. Paul, maybe, just maybe, we could get him to stop if it was a fracture.

I couldn’t even imagine him walking in a cast the over 1,700 miles we had left.

All of that went through my head quickly, without a word of it coming out of my mouth. I knew I couldn’t say anything. Not now. It would do no good, especially since we didn’t even know yet what was actually wrong. To him, I just nodded my head, and said something like, “Okay.”

Everything was scheduled for the morning because the doc had kindly understood the situation and insisted on an MRI at the earliest possible time. So we walked out of the ER into the waiting area. I called the MKC, and told them to get the crew van ready, load up, and drive back out to the course, as their dad wanted to go out and try to get a few more miles in today.

Then, we walked out of the hospital and into the Colorado sunshine. Surprisingly, Marshall’s long-time friend from Fort Morgan, Gary Kliewer, was there! He had gone out to what he had thought the course was going to be (Hwy 34) and couldn’t find him, as we had been rerouted to Hwy 14 and then 6. What was really amazing is that Gary was on the phone with our friend, Dr. Murray Griffin, in ENGLAND, who was directing him straight to Marshall’s location! So, Marshall got to see Gary and talk to Murray on the phone. It was a real treat, and good timing for a couple of reasons. It was a fun thing for Marshall, and it gave me a couple of minutes to talk to Dr. Paul.

While Marshall was on the phone, and being filmed by the production crew, I pulled Dr. Paul aside, as I didn’t want our conversation filmed. I asked him if he would back me up on something. He looked at me a bit quizzically, but began to understand as I explained my plan.

I asked him, “What if it is a stress fracture?” and he confirmed that Marshall could not continue; that, medically as the race doc, he would not allow it. He said that it was the difference between Marshall finishing this run (only) or, “if he ever wants to climb mountains again.” In other words, the permanent damage would be so severe, in his opinion, that it would cripple Marshall for the rest of his life. Okay. I understood that. And certainly I agreed.

Then I said, “What if it’s a soft tissue injury? Wouldn’t the best thing be for him to stop and rest, elevate, and ice it?” This was what Dr. Paul had prescribed back in Delta. Didn’t it make sense to do the same thing now, especially since this pain was different? Maybe worse? And more likely to *possibly* be a stress fracture.

“If it’s a stress fracture, he’ll have to stop and going out today will just make it worse. If it’s a soft tissue injury, the best thing is to rest it. So, will you back me up if I suggest to Marshall that he go to the hotel, not back out onto the course today?” I was so glad when he agreed!!! I thought that maybe if both of us said this was the best plan of action—resting rather than going back out on the course—he might listen. Dr. Paul also agreed that we would wait until we got Marshall into the car to discuss this, as I didn’t want it filmed. Once again, less drama. Drama wasn’t something we needed. We just needed calm, logical, and reasonable decision making.

So, off we went: Marshall, Dr. Paul and me to Elaine’s rental vehicle. We got in, I started the car up, and we headed out of the parking lot. Back out to the course, or so Marshall thought. It was then that I started in with my plan, explaining why it made sense to go to the hotel instead of back out to the course. When Marshall asked Dr. Paul what he thought, he said he agreed. I was shocked—truly shocked!—when Marshall said okay. Reasonable logic, presented in the right way, with Dr. Paul’s endorsement, had actually won out against Marshall’s drive to keep going ...

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