Archive for September, 2012

“Regrets collect, like old friends                                                                                          
here to relive our darkest moments                                                                                     
I can see no way, I can see no way                                                                                           
all of the ghouls come out to play…”                                                                                        
– Florence and The Machine

On August 18th, 2012, I dnf’d at the Leadville 100, after running 63 miles.  I wrote a report, I did my best to process it, and move on.  I think I did a reasonable job, but some of that had to do with the fact that I decided to run the annual Run Rabbit Run 50 miler in Steamboat Springs.  I felt like I needed to feel grounded, like all the training I did in the lead up to Leadville was worth something, I needed to feel successful.  I needed something, and I was sure that this race would give it to me.   

I put myself on the wait list, and I told myself that this would be a good idea.  Sure, it was very close to Leadville, but I convinced myself that getting cut 100k in meant that I really should be fine to recover and be ready to run this race in a little less than a month. 

I took a week to ‘recover’, and then turned the running back up to 50+ mile weeks for a couple of weeks, than restarted taper.  I made myself a pace sheet.  I would go for a 10:30 finish on the course, which was ambitious, but if I was going to do this, I was going for a PR.  I knew it was ambitious on a course that I knew to be a difficult one from every report I had ever read, but I have never been one to shy away from a challenge.  Besides, every race since Rocky Raccoon in February had been sacrificed on the alter of Leadville, in terms of how hard I was willing to push.  I wanted to go out and really run it hard and see what I could do. 

I didn’t really bother to consult with anyone that would have enough information to tell me anything other than what I would want to hear. 

Jenn agreed to go up to Steamboat with me, and Elizabeth, my friend I was running the race with had a place up there we were all going to crash at.  Everything seemed pretty perfect.  With the exception of the frantic drive to Steamboat after work on Friday (which is the ONLY complaint I have about the structure of this race, they need Saturday morning packet pick-up.  Its almost impossible to get from any of the metro areas in Colorado on Friday, without taking the whole or most of the day off).  Happily, they let Elizabeth pick up my packet for me, so by the time I got to the little mountain town a couple of minutes past 7pm, things were pretty ok. 

I got everything together, was ready to run, and went to sleep with every intent of proving Leadville wrong.  I was strong.  I could do anything I put my mind to.  I could finish a hard mountain ultra, and I could do it strong, and I could do it after having had run 100k at their race.  Or at least that’s where my head was.  Was this healthy, probably not.  Does it change that it was where my mind was.  No. 

The Race

Elizabeth and I were at the base of the resort, where the race would start with

The last climb to the top of Mt. Werner in the morning

plenty of time to take care of all those last minute adjustments.  The runners congregated with all the same nervous energy of any and all races in the bar near the gondola, giving us a chance to maintain some warmth, and a reprieve from the early morning chill of the Colorado rocky mountains in mid September.   Finally a race volunteer announced that it was time for people to move to the start line, and the group moved anxiously out to the point of the walking path that the race had designated as the start line. 

I looked up into the darkness in the direction I knew we would be headed, the race director spoke loudly, letting us know it was about time, and started the count down; 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… and we were off. 

The course starts upwards immediately, but we knew if I was going to make my 10:30 time goal I was going to have to push harder than I ever had, so we ran the first mile of the course, despite conventional wisdom stating that you walk steep hills.  I made sure my heart rate stayed low enough, but we pushed harder than I had in any races up that point this year… I was exactly where I wanted to be in my head. 

We continued to push hard up the 3600ft climb to the top of Mt.Werner.  Despite pushing so hard, I felt confident.  I had read the descriptions, and I know the next section had 1200 ft of loss.  I had beat my split to the top of the mountain by 15 minutes, and had killed the worst climb of the day. 

Elizabeth was still tired, but she was staying with me.  The course up to this point

We ran through the trees to Long Lake, which was not far from where I pulled out my camera and took this photo as I ran

had been a climb up a wide dirt road that the ski resort uses to access the lifts in the summer, and in the winter.  It was time for us to move to single track, and I could not have been happier.  I was surprised, I expected the course to be more down over the 6.8 miles to LongLake, instead it was a broad mix.  There was lots of trail that was almost flat, a lot of up, and realized quickly that the 10 min/mile pace I had slated for this section was not going to happen, but that does not mean I didn’t try.  We ran the vast majority of it, including most of the uphill sections, still storing the 10:30 plan in my head.  If I just kept pushing, I could regain the time. 

We made it into the Long Lake Aid station, where I was hoping I could resolve the stomach issues that had cropped up during my last push in a porta-potty, but no luck.  They did, however, have mashed potatoes, which made me very happy.  Elizabeth and I made out way out.  I hit the woods, telling her I would catch up; after all, I would need to make up the time I would lose in the woods.  I pushed hard to catch up, running a lot of hills, after 2 miles I caught her, but I was feeling it.  I was having a lot of fun with this course.  The amazing single track was much like DeerCreekCanyon in terms of runability, but deceptive with how much actual uphill there was in the rolling terrain.  By 17 miles in, I was really starting to feel fatigue set in.  

An open area between Long Lake and Base Camp

I was also not eating enough, but was at least hydrating correctly this go around.  I told myself, all I had to do was make it to the top of Rabbit Ears, and it would be smooth sailing back.  Jenn would be at Dumont with some encouragement, a beautiful face, and some of my bonus liquid nutrition.  But there were still miles to go, this race was a long way from over, and I kept pushing.  Elizabeth was rebounding, and we were running all the downs, all the flats, and all the subtle ups, saving power hiking for only the obvious ups, but we were slowing down.  Unlike every other mountain race I had run this year, the ups and downs were rarely longer than a quarter mile in length, so you could never settle in, and all the early uphill running was beginning to take its toll.  When I had looked at the course profile on my computer, I was wondering where all the gain and loss was.  Now that I was running the course, I figured out where it was; it was all over the place.  

We arrived at Base Camp aid station a couple minutes before we were supposed to be at Dumont per my split chart. We kept pushing, but we were in the sun more than the shade now, it was warming up to what would be a Saturday of record highs in the mountains, and the long hard push was catching up.  We made it into Dumont well behind my split.  To boot, my time at the aid station was not well spent at all.   I was in a bad place mentally and didn’t use the aid station the way I needed to.  I pretty much refused to eat anything that would begin to catch me up to where I should have been nutritionally.  I was not even all that nice to the folks at the aid station.  I just wanted the last big climb to be over, I wanted to see a smiling face, I wanted a lot of things I was not going to get and it was weighing down on me. 

After eating a handful of grapes, a cup of soda, and a handful of Frito’s that Elizabeth convinced me to take, we headed out for the climb up Rabbit Ears. 

The climb up to the feature was nothing like I had expected.  For some reason I

Elizabeth running ahead of me on the last mile into Dumont outbound.

had convinced myself it would be single track through trees up to the top, but instead it was a long 4-wheel drive road that was almost completely exposed to the sun.  This was no doubt my least favourite part of the course, and the upper portion of the trail was so steep and loose that I was difficult to run on the return.  When we got to the top, the volunteers wrote down our bib numbers before we turned around and headed back.

I had hoped that the run down would go much better than it did, but I really struggled.  My legs felt like the were filled with Lead, the sun was really starting to get to me, and I couldn’t get outside of my own head.  Elizabeth got out ahead of me, and at this point I was good with that.  I just wanted to be done at this point, but knew I had a long road still.  At least I knew what the course looked like on the way out, so I knew what I should expect, but that meant I knew it wasn’t a cruiser on the way back either.  Something I had banked on when I did my split chart.  Aside from that, I didn’t want Elizabeth held up waiting for me. 

I came into Dumont for the second time hurting, feeling like all of my energy had been sapped out of me, and way behind schedule.  I knew I had gone out way too fast and I had underestimated the course in a huge way, and had over-estimated how recovered I was from Leadville.  My negativity was starting to poison my mind, and I wasn’t seeing that yet.

Jenn met me at Dumont on the way back in and I could not have been happier to see her.  She gave me my muscle milk, made sure I ate food, drank liquids and gave me one hell of a pep talk, which I really needed.  I spent way too much time there, almost 15 minutes, but I needed that time to get my head in the game.  I was tired, and I was worried.  I knew the course on the way back was not exactly a piece of cake, and I knew this would be a hard 22 miles back to Steamboat.  She told me not to limp it in, to run, and that she knew I had it in me.  I could tell that how worn down I was had been painted all over me in the 5 mile trip up and down Rabbit Ears. 

As I headed out, I felt somewhat rejuvenated, but somewhere on that trip up and down the ears, my brain had left the game.  Another runner that I started referring to as “green”, made a comment about being glad she had her flashlight for the return trip, and my head suddenly went somewhere even darker.  I had not expected that I would be out in the dark on the way back at all.  As a result, I had taken the option of dropping my headlamp halfway up Mt.Werner early in the race, and there was no way I could take that back now. 

I convinced myself that I could not get caught out in the dark, I had to make it back before then, but with how I felt, I was having my doubts.  This did, however, prompt me to start running.  I was hell bent on pushing myself as hard as possible to get in before dark, because if I made it to Mt.Werner, or LongLake with the risk of running in the dark, I would have to drop.  There was no way I could run all that single track safely in the night with no moon, so it was finish in the light, or not at all.  The cut-off for the race was 15 hours, but mine just effectively moved up.  I had to be in by 7:30. 

The initial effect of this realization was a drive to get moving faster.  I had to beat the sunset.  The trip back to the Basecamp aid station was mostly uphill and I did my best to push hard, creating distance between myself and the runners behind me, and attempting to maintain it.  Playing little games like this helps me when I am running these races, so I was determined to put my head there. 

Despite that, the lingering fear that I would be caught out in the wilderness at night with minimal clothes and no headlamp really started to get into my head.  I started to really notice my body aches, and cramps that had started to spread across my upper body.  I felt like my race was falling apart, and that it had spiralled out of my control.  Negativity was starting to set in, and it was becoming toxic.  The internal battle that I had experienced at Dirty 30 was cropping back up, and I was struggling to win.  Before I left the Basecamp Aid Station, I mentioned that I was without a headlamp, and I was worried about getting caught in the dark.  The staff sympathetically let me know they didn’t have one laying around, so I took a baggy with chips ahoy cookies and left after lingering there for way too long. 

I managed to run most of the first 2 miles out of Basecamp, but my GPS died, so I had no way of tracking my forward progress aside from my recollection of the course going the other way, and the cramps started overwhelming my thinking.  I dropped to a consistent walk about 2 miles from the Long Lake Aid Station, and felt utterly defeated.  I was ready to throw in the towel.  I didn’t see how it was possible for me to get in before dark with the cramping issue, and I wasn’t ready to risk injury to finish the race. 

I forced myself to run the last half mile into Long Lake, but went into that aid station with every intention of dropping out.  I asked the cheery volunteers if I could sit down in a chair, and they said yes, as they offered to refill my Camelback.  I decided I would give it a minute before I told someone I was out.  I wandered about, creating excuses in my head, I even pulled out my iphone and thought about calling someone to help convince me that it was ok to drop.  When I pulled out my phone, I saw e-mails, which I decided to read, and there were messages from my friends telling me they were rooting for me, and cheering me on.  Then I thought of Jenn, and her words to me “don’t limp this in, you have it in you to run it and finish strong”…

I put my phone back in my pack, thinking, “maybe I can do this, but I have to beat the dark and its getting late”.  I looked around, and said to one of the volunteers that I was worried because I didn’t have a headlamp.  He looked at me, and removed my last excuse… “I think we have one around here that you can use”.  He went digging for it, and my heart raced a bit.  When he brought it back, I knew if I was going to make it I would have to leave now. 

It was late, and I still wanted to be to Mt. Werner Aid Station before dark.  I pulled my pack on, hesitating as one of the volunteers started pushing me out, I was still thinking about dropping, I still had hesitations.  Then a song came on the stereo… the words caught my attention immediately “regrets collect, like old friends, here to relive our darkest moments…” it was the Florence and the Machine song I had used quotes from after my Leadville dnf.  It struck me, this was my moment to pull myself out of the haze.  Things might hurt, but what the hell did I expect?  This is a 50+ mile race through the Rocky Mountains, this wasn’t supposed to be easy.  This is supposed to be hard.  I knew that, but I needed the reminder. 

I flashed in my mind that this race couldn’t be about my DNF at Leadville, or proving anyone wrong.  This race had to be about leaving that behind, and letting those regrets fall away.  With renewed resolve, I started moving again.  I pulled out my ipod, and came up on a 100 mile runner, still out many hours later, struggling on.  I thought to myself “who am I to whine?” I was only 37 miles into this thing, he was 87, probably more and he was still moving. 

I talked to him for a bit, and offered to help him keep moving faster, I would pace him in, but after a very short time he sent me on, telling me he couldn’t keep up, and that he didn’t want to hold me back.  I realized that I still needed to run my own race, and picked up the pace.  My entire mindset had changed.  This section was going to have 1200ft of elevation gain, so I would have to focus on what didn’t hurt, I knew what worked, and listening to the parts of my body that hurt has never worked for me.  I started inventorying the things that felt good, I was still hydrated, which means I was drinking enough, my legs were sore, but I was still running without my legs screaming, so my form was still pretty good, my feet didn’t hurt at all (a huge win for me), so I had made the right shoe choice (how it takes so many races to realize not changing out of the shoes that work, in this case my Mizuno Ascends, I don’t quite know), and there was no chafing anywhere ect.  I focused purely on the positive.  When my chest cramps would resurface, I simply shut off my willingness to listen to that part of my brain. 

Before I knew it, I was passing people again.  I made a point of being positive with each person I passed, which helped fuel my ability to stay positive.  With each hill I made it up, and each mental landmark I passed, I had more reason to be happy, and to push harder.  My PR was long gone, but I knew I could still finish running hard, and I wasn’t passing on that. 

I could not have been happier to make it to the Mt. Werner Aid Station.  This was

I took this as I ran down Mt. Werner, the sunset was amazing, this does not do it justice

the last high point, from here it was all down hill.  A lot of downhill, but I knew I could pound this out.  There was no reason to save my quads, so after I loaded up on soda, got a camelback refill I took off.  I had kept my music on, knowing it would help drown out any pain, and I had no intent of letting anything slow me down.  Besides, if I pushed, I might make it down before dark completely set in.  I fell into a groove, and even though the chest cramps were still present, they were drowned out by the joy of running, and pushing myself to run.

I rounded a corner and the setting sun cast its red glow across the red and yellow aspens covering the mountainside, and made me feel like the universe was giving me a smile, that I just needed to keep moving.  I still managed to pull out my iphone and capture a couple of shots as I ran down the hill. 

Another runner I had been playing leapfrog with for a long time came up on me, and passed me as we both plowed ahead, so I decided I would keep him in my sights.  We ran together, but apart, as the darkness set in slowly.  But enough light remained to see without a headlamp, that was my goal now, down without having to use that headlamp.  I kept feeling stronger and stronger the closer I got, and a half mile from the finish, I was catching the other runner.  I really didn’t want to pass him, he had been running just as fast as me, so as I caught up I told him not to let me pass him.  He told me he didn’t care, that he was cramping, and to go ahead.  Instead, I challenged him to push harder, after all, how much further did we have, a quarter mile now?  So, we agreed, to cross the finish together, I refused to pass him, and instead we pushed each other so when we crossed that finish, we were coming in hot.  Night had overtaken us fully in that last half mile, but the lights from the ski resort lighted the way. 

Elizabeth had finished a long way ahead of me, so both she and Jenn were waiting

Looking out into the valley Steamboat Spings lays in as, I took this as I ran down Mt. Werner headed in

at the finish.  The best part of the whole day was sitting by the fire next to the finish line, eating pizza, and drinking beer out of the giant glass that the finishers received while cheering the other runners on as they came across the finish. 

I think I have lost the ability to run one of these races without the belief that I will always learn something about myself, about my ability to dig into myself when it seems like all is lost, as well as the positive impact we can have on each other as human beings. 

The volunteers at Long Lake created a situation where I had no excuses not to finish, Jenn gave me the support and the encouragement I needed to stay strong, and not ‘limp it in’, and my friends near and far unknowingly gave me a huge boost when I needed it the most.  I started this race report with the same quote I used in my race report for the Leadville 100, because that was where my head was coming into this race.  Ending, I think I have to use a totally different quote, the lessons this race taught me are maybe too many to count.  But in short, it reminded me that it’s the little things that count, they add up, one at a time in the negative and in the positive.  When everything is balanced, the larger pile tends to affect us the most.  In this case, 20 nasty dark, venomous little things seemed to build up to become an insurmountable wall.  But in the end, all the bright little spots made that wall less daunting.  All the positive words sent by my friends, the gentle smile, and firm words of encouragement from Jenn, the amazing support provided by every volunteer on the course; all of these things put me in a place where I could get across that finish line.  Thank you all!  

 “I feel so extraordinary
Something’s got a hold on me
I get this feeling I’m in motion
A sudden sense of liberty
I don’t care ’cause I’m not there
And I don’t care if I’m here tomorrow”

– New Order