Archive for June, 2012

I should be up front, I had not even considered running this race until my friend Elizabeth mentioned it to me.  I had heard about how rough of a race it was, and had heard mixed reviews.  Elizabeth was excited, and I figured its just a 50k, albeit a very difficult one, and would be a great training run for the Leadville 100.

As I did more research, I learned that this isn’t just a tough 50k, but a VERY tough 50k.  This would normally get me excited, but it didn’t.  In the lead up, I never really got excited about the race, just nervous.  Don’t get me wrong, I was happy to go do a beautiful run in the mountains, but I couldn’t get myself excited.  So much so, I really didn’t take my taper all that seriously.  I ran an 11 mile Bergen Peak loop on Monday, and even my more shorter runs in the days leading up were run very hard.  I prepped like crap, even knowing full well this would be a brutal race, which was just stupid on my part.

As though that wasn’t enough, on all but the Bergen Peak run, I had huge issues with my asthma after 2 of the runs I had done since the Sunday before the race.  I had needed my rescue inhaler after my runs on the 27th, and 30th, and I was fighting a cough for most of the week, so I had enormous levels of trepidation that I wasn’t sharing with anyone other than my own head, knowing full well that people would just worry about me.   With all of this, I couldn’t get my heart in it like I had in every other ultra I have run.  Honestly, the thing I looked forward to most was seeing my friends and having a day in the mountains.

On my way home the night before the race, I decided I would get myself excited by doing my hair in a Mohawk in the morning, and I knew I would see lots of friends, which was cool, but even when we got to the race, my head and heart still wasn’t in it.  And when I mean it wasn’t in it, I mean when I started I was consciously thinking this, but my heart wasn’t even set of finishing.  For anyone who has run an ultra, you know how dangerous of a mindset this is to start a race with.

The Race

“Kinda like a cloud I was up way up in the sky,

and I was feeling some feelings you wouldn’t believe,

sometimes I don’t believe in myself so I decided I was never coming down,

just then a tiny little dot caught my eye

it was just about too small to see

but I watched it way too long,

It was pulling my down

I was up above it,

I was down in it”  – Nine Inch Nails

(left to right) Elizabeth, Samantha and I at the start line

Elizabeth, Samantha and I started out feeling pretty good, but when the 300 runners hit the single track trail, the pace slowed to a crawl.  I am not sure when we got separated from Samantha, but it was pretty early in.  Once we were moving a bit faster, I joked a lot with Elizabeth, and even joked about the quote I used above, and how much it is like running ultra’s.   I was still in a really good space at this point. Much of the trail initially was either too rocky to run, or was fine to run, albeit uphill, but we would get trapped behind other runners walking.   We managed it, and around mile 3, the first big hill came up and became what I referred to as “the great divider”.  This first steep hill helped thin out the field.  We ran into the first aid station at 5 miles and felt good after a long downhill approaching it.  I grabbed very little food and headed out.  The trail almost immediately went back uphill, and I suddenly felt like I had no energy.  I had taken an electrolyte capsule at the aid station, but had already sweated a bucket load, and had eaten very little.  One thing I know about myself, which I was ignoring, is I need to take a good number of calories in on these runs, I have a pretty high metabolism when exercising, and I was not keeping up.

At the top of the first big hill out of Aid 1, we went through a camp ground, and the smoke from the fires almost immediately hit my lungs, and I felt it, but didn’t want to use my rescue inhaler if I could avoid it, besides, I wasn’t wheezing, but felt my lungs tightening up.   The light smoke would continue for the next several miles, and I continued to not eat.  Finally, at about mile 8, I took a fall going uphill because my energy was so low I wasn’t lifting my feet high enough to clear even dead wood.  This was where I had a moment of clarity, I needed to get calories in, and quick.

I started slowly, but methodically, getting a gel in and a honey stinger wafer, but those take time, and really just got me up a little.  I had dropped back, and happily let Elizabeth lose me, so she could run her own race without worrying about me,  so I was able to try and get back on track.  Right as we hit an aspen grove with some downhill, and I started running, I heard a runner coming up fast behind me, and as I moved over Desi was suddenly there, saying hi in her own way, which really brought my spirits up.  Another friendly face on the course, even if just for a second, was very welcome!   I ran well for a bit, but blew through my calories I was putting in fast, and I was way behind the curve.

I was able to get some really good running in, and I made it to Aid Station 2, where I went straight to calories.  I did my best to get food in, even got a small slice of PB&J down, and a couple pieces of watermelon, and headed out.  Elizabeths family was there, and had missed her, so I said hi and headed out.  The next climb was a killer, with the first scrambling near the top, but it gave my body a chance to process some calories, and by the time I started climbing the rock to the top of that hill, was ready to do some strong technical running down through the valley, and ran strong.  I even started working to get in front of my calories, and decided I needed some music, and the dose of “Substance D” I got rolling as an audio elixir, really seemed to help for a bit.  We were a long way from the smoke, and my lungs were opening back up, so for the first time in 10 miles, I felt really good running, but my poor attitude was about to catch up to me.

Black Bear Trail (difficult to run!)

We started up Black Bear trail, which was almost completely indistinguishable from the rest of the steep mountainside with the exception of the trail markers.  As if that were not making the upward progress difficult enough, we came up on scrambling, hands on rock climbing, to move along the trail, which slowed us down even more.  Still several miles from the Aid Station, I hoped this wouldn’t last long, and while we were able to get past the scrambling after about a quarter of a mile, the trail after that was so technical that no one was able to run it at that point in the race, and we were going steeply downhill.  For the first time in the race my poor attitude started to come to the surface.  I actually started thinking about dropping at aid station # 3, after all, the focus of this race was training, right?  And what the point if I cant even run?   When I was running, I even thought of all the different reasons I could drop.  Maybe if I saw a snake I could say it was too dangerous for a training run, or something along those lines.  My attitude was BAD and I really didn’t want to be out there anymore.   When I came into Aid Station # 3 I just wanted to be done.  I struggled with getting my camelback to close, and lost 10 minutes messing with that, because my focus was lost, and I was in a bad mood.  I had spilled a bunch of water on my ipod shuffle so I shut that off and put it away, so no music.  To boot, I only took a single piece of watermelon, and ate nothing else.  I forced myself to leave the aid station, after taking my sleeves and jacket out of my pack and placing them into my drop bag.  It was getting really hot, and I wanted any weight I had on my body off.  I would pay for this decision later.

The trail out of the third aid station was uphill for quite a while.  About 2 miles out of that Aid Station, I saw the clouds had built up, and there were a large number of thunderheads over us and they were producing thunder.  I thought to myself, maybe if the storms came in, the Race Director would end the race early, and I would just be done with this.  Then a runner I had done a lot of talking with caught back up to me.  We started running downhill, when we got a chance, and I had wicked side stitches, so she ran ahead.  I heard thunder ahead, and said to another runner, “that’s a bad omen, maybe the race will end early”.

The second I said it, I heard it for what it was.  I was failing terribly at the first rule of Ultra running, never get negative.  I had been for

difficult trail conditions to run on, very technical on the Black Bear Trail

that past 15 miles, but now I caught it.  I took my pack off, ate more gels, and a gel, and a wafer.  I decided this negativity was done.  No more.  That was my problem; I figured it out!  This run wasn’t just training for Leadville in regards to my physical abilities, but my mental as well.  I could not have this type of attitude and ever be successful at Leadville.  It was time to grow up, and run this race.

I started running, and since I was alone, I actually started singing out loud “I am up above it”, announcing to myself that I was going to turn this thing around.  As I passed mile 20, I told myself, you will finish, no matter what!  No matter what these clouds do, no matter how much they throw at me, if someone doesn’t tell me to stop, I will finish, and I will run hard to beat anyone from being able to make the decision to close the course before I get there.

I caught some runners, and they would be my partners in decrying the clouds, announcing that we had gone too far to be turned back now!  We all agreed, we would finish this thing, no matter what.  That was everything I needed.  My entire race turned around.  I made sure my time at Aid Station 4 was time spent re-fueling, and getting ready for the climb up windy peak, even taking some fig newtons with me in the plastic bag the wonderful AS staff were offering runners as “to go bags”.  I cruised to the beginning of the Windy Peak Loop, moving strong, and as I turned the corner I heard my name, it was Ben Reeves!  He told me how strong I looked, I told him I had some bad miles, but that was over, and headed out.  I had made it past the last junction, and while there was still thunder, I knew I would make Windy Peak now!  I got focused, and passed at least 8 other runners, I was all efficiency now, even running some uphill.  When I saw the lightening start coming down in the area around me, I decided it was the universe reminding me this was a race, and I needed to keep moving. The rain started halfway up, but I wasn’t stopping.

Runners at the top of one of the tougher sections

There was one more junction to head up to the top of Windy Peak, and I knew I had to go up that to get my bib marked so I could finish.  I saw a pair of bright pink socks running a parallel trail above me, and called out to Elizabeth.  She saw me as I passed the Course Marshall, and told me it was bad up top, it was lightening up there and they were turning people back!  I looked at the Course Marshall who said he hadn’t heard he was supposed to stop sending people up yet, reached for his radio to ask, and I looked at him, said I was going.  He didn’t protest, so I went before he could get on the radio.  Lots of people were coming down, all saying they were turning people back, but I was hell bent.  The storm really was bad, what I was doing probably was stupid, but I didn’t care, I was going to finish.  I knew I had this now, I had overcome my nutrition issues, my attitude issues, and I was getting this.

I made the turn to go up the last little bit, and was met by 2 course marshalls who stopped me.  They informed me that it was very dangerous up top, and they couldn’t let me go.  I was 2 tenths of a mile from the top, I wanted to finish this, but was not willing to get DQ’d for disobeying the course marshalls.  I told them it was tearing me up, and that I wanted to do it, to which they responded that 60 people had been turned back at the same spot at that point, and that we were all still getting our bibs marked, and we would have an official finish.  Knowing this was best, I reluctantly, turned back after thanking them for volunteering for us, and headed down.

The trip down was… interesting.  Lots of thunder, lots of reasons to keep running.  I saw Ben

even going back down was rough to navigate on the Black Bear trail

one more time, and he hollered after me to finish strong!  I picked my pace up, and with the wind coming through the valley, and the storm building up again, was encouraged to run as hard as I could and was greeted by my friend Becky volunteering at the finish.  My time, it was awful.  I came in at 7 hours 57 minutes, roughly (as of this moment I don’t have an official finish time), but I don’t care.  I finished.  I never let myself throw in the towel, and I was close, really close a couple of times.    Best part, the Mohawk survived the entire race, even through the storms.  Samantha finished strong as well, a bit behind me.  Desi finished ahead of all 3 of us because she’s a badass that way.

Now that I have had a couple of hours to really think about what I learned from this race, I think I have determined that the #1 priority is to make sure that before I step up to the start queue of any race, especially and Ultra, make sure I know why I am there, and why a finish is important, and infinitely possible.  In this race, I didn’t take care of my nutrition, because I didn’t have the belief that finishing was important.  Once I was able to adjust my attitude, not only was I able to keep myself positive, but nutrition became my priority again.  Second, is to respect the tapper.  And last, is that it really is the little things.  Each time I saw a buddy, or a friend, I was cheered up, and was able to overcome that negativity when that’s where I still was, and once I was in a good mental space again, it propelled me forward.  Knowing I had friends out there with me did help me keep moving on, even at my lowest points in this race.  Because I was able to figure all of these things this race was a success.  The fact I finished,

Chris took this photo of me at the finish, it was still raining but was worth getting a shot!

means this race was a success.  Thanks to everyone that was out there with me, both friends, and runners I spent time on the trail with, as well as all the wonderful volunteers!  You guys made this an amazing day!