Archive for the ‘Ultra Running’ Category

“When I walk beside her
I am the better man
When I look to leave her
I always stagger back again

Once I built an ivory tower
So I could worship from above
When I climb down to be set free
She took me in again

There’s a big

A big hard sun
Beating on the big people
In a big hard world” – Eddie Vedder ‘Hard Sun’

I have not made any secret over the last year that running is, for me, something much more than just running.  It’s a spiritual experience, but in my obsessive quest to get a buckle at Leadville, I think I started to lose sight of that when I would step to the line at races.

All of the money that would spend to get there, all of the people on the course competing, the reliance on manufactured aid, and strict courses and cut offs would get into my head. I would get caught up in the need to compete with the runners around me, and lose my ability to stay connected to what I was seeking when I started running ultras.  Then I walked up to the starting line at the mouth of Canyon de Chelly and everything changed.

I ran through the Canyon with its towering walls surrounding me, teeming with life, and joy, listening to the shouts of other runners echoing throughout, pushing myself to go further not because I wanted to get a time, or a buckle, or a shiny new medal, but because I was on the trail to experience the journey.  I remembered that this feeling is what I am running towards when I go out for a run.  I remembered that my destination is not supposed to be a finish line, but the realization that I am part of something bigger, and that I am the only person who places limits on where the journey takes me and how far. It reminded me of the mantra from Jeremy Wolf put out into the universe in a yoga class I have quoted so often, “My mind is empty, and my body is as vast and as expansive as the sky”.  I know this mantra is true, but how do I really make it real?

Since the race I have thought a lot about what all of this means.  I do love races, the environment, the cheering volunteers at Aid Stations, having logistics taken care of, and the comradery of running on a course with my fellow Runners Roost Teammates, having my friends and beautiful girlfriend out cheering… all of that is something I will never get tired of.  That being said, I have struggled to figure out how I keep this feeling of freedom I experienced in Canyon de Chelly alive.

Yesterday, while I was driving to work, listening to the “Into the Wild” Soundtrack by Eddie Vedder, the answer struck me and it was simple.  I do this by doing something that pushes me into that place where you only have yourself to rely on while facing a monumental task.  I could do this by running 100 miles, unsupported in the Colorado Rockies.  To do this, I would need to leave behind my attachment to the frills of a race, the comfort of aid stations, the surety that course markings and pacers provide.

I had the thought that maybe, just maybe, some of those external rewards and trappings of races have diverted our attention away from what many ultra-runners are trying to find in their experiences.  The buckle at the end, the shirts, the bibs, the status of finishing a given race takes our attention off of the journey.  And even if we try our best to maintain our focus on the journey, inevitably our attachment to the external rewards will take over at some point and contaminate the experience.  If that’s true, or even possible, then to really understand I would have to do away with all of those things, and head out onto the trail without them, or the hope of those frills as a way to keep me going.

So, I now have the goal of finishing a 100 mile unsupported run through the Colorado Rockies.  After putting up a post stating this goal on Facebook, one of my friends and Runner’s Roost Teammates Ben Reeves chimed in saying he has wanted to do this for some time and even has a route.  It would run trail from Denver to Breckenridge.  It would be epic.  And it will be a goal of mine to make this happen before the end of 2014.  There may some others who join me for this journey, but the purpose will remain the same; to maintain purity in running through the wilds of Colorado.  I am not walking away from races, but this is definitly a primary goal for me now.  More to come!

I hadn’t been planning on signing up for it for a long time before I found myself on Ultrasignup.com entering my information to get onto the waitlist.  A good friend of mine, Samantha, whom I have run lots

the runners gathered around the fire before the race as a traditional Navajo blessing was given for our run ahead

the runners gathered around the fire before the race as a traditional Navajo blessing was given for our run ahead

of great miles with, had mentioned it a couple of weeks before while on a recovery run after Rocky Raccoon.  It sounded cool then, but I had no idea how cool it could be.  I happened to see she when she had signed up through an early morning Facebook post after registration for the race opened.  Genuinely curious, I looked at the website, and immediately knew this was a race I had to run.

The site talked about this run as being one the would focus on the spiritual aspects of running, specifically

through the eyes of the Navajo people, and it would take place in a Canyon that is rarely seen from the Canyon floor by individuals who are not Navajo.  I looked at the number of people signed up and it was at about 50, halfway full… I figured I would have time to get to work and sign up right?  Nope.  In the 20 minutes it took me to get to work, the race filled, but I managed to get in on the waitlist, number 2.  That was March 22nd.  As the months passed, I held my breath, waiting.  It wasn’t until August 12th that I got

headed into the Canyon

headed into the Canyon

the email letting me know I was in.  I could not have been more excited.  Of all the races I had planned on, or had run, this had been sitting as my #1 to run since I first looked at the site.

Once I was in, I prepared myself like I do for any race, and honestly felt like I would be perfectly prepared.  From what I could tell from the GPS track, and Movescount data posted, it would be uphill on the way out, with maybe 300 ft of gain, until one big 1200ish ft climb between mile 16 and 17, then turn around and head back.  There was mention of sand for the first several miles, but how bad could that really be?  After a summer full of races like Leadville Marathon, Silver Rush, Jemez 50k and the miles I completed at Leadville 100, how bad could this be with a total of around 1600ft of gain?  I kept running and training, but definitely didn’t push much specific types of training. As much as anything, I was just excited to get to see this amazing place, and be a part of all the history in the Canyon.

The drive was beautiful with lots of new sites for me, and warm ups for what I might see on the run (or thats what I thought). I had never driven through Utah, so going through Moab was incredible, and by the

The sun hit the ruins in the cliff right as me, and a group of runners rounded a corner and this came into view.

The sun hit the ruins in the cliff right as me, and a group of runners rounded a corner and this came into view.

time we got to the town of Chinle, Arizona, I was ready to go!  We hit packet pickup and grabbed a campsite before heading back for the best pre-race meeting I have ever been in.  There were no slogans, no dramatic large scale productions, but the information was brilliant and kept my attention completely, which says a lot given my very unmedicated ADHD!  The Race Director, Shaun Martin, gave a heartfelt and moving explanation of why he wanted this race to happen in the first place, followed by some heads up in regards to the significant technical nature of the trail in Bat Canyon (an arm of the main Canyon) and some mention of our feet getting wet…  Again, I wasn’t too worried…

This was followed by a full cultural explanation from a park ranger who talked about the history of the canyon and its importance to history and the Navajo People,.  He talked about the 5000 year history of the Canyon, and its inhabitants spanning from the Anasazi (the ancient Pueblo) to the Pueblo as well as what it means to the Navajo Nation today.  This was followed by a more detailed discussion of the meaning and importance of running in Navajo Culture by a very wise and funny gentleman named William Yazzie. By the end of the meeting, every person in the audience seemed to by buzzing with into the lightanticipation for the experience they would be running into in the morning.  We would be running in the way of the Navajo, we would be running into this ancient Canyon that had experienced 5000 years of life and human history as the Navajo had for so many years.  On top of that, we would have the rare experience of being able to be on the Canyon floor, unguided and alone surrounded by this history.

Waking up to the cold morning air was easy when I could feel what was coming.  We had shared a campsite with Jennifer Johnson and her friend Rhiannon so we headed over to the start together where there was a bonfire, coffee, tea, and traditional blue corn mush.  In the glow of the bonfire, William Yazzie sang a traditional Navajo song, which was followed by an opening prayer as first light spread across the horizon to the East.

We all lined up on the start line, and were reminded that as we run through the canyon, to yell out our joywater and walls sepia as we go through which would cleanse our spirit for the day ahead, but our race would start with a shout to announce ourselves to the Canyon.  So, with yells, we headed out through the wash towards the mouth of the Canyon where the walls started lifting upwards.  The recent water had caused the sand to turn to mud, which stuck to the bottom of our shoes adding weight, but the beauty of the canyon over whelmed the weight on our feet.  Within a mile we were in the walls of the canyon, and echos of runners yelping bounced throughout.  We made our way through the now thick, beach like sand up the track.  As the sun presented itself by spreading light across the red rocks of the rim, runners yelped even louder.

The runners I found myself with were completely enthralled with the beauty we were surrounded by.  It seemed that my pace and placement in the race was putting me exactly where I needed to be.  As we turned corners the sun would reveal a new sight.  We crossed the river over and over again, but I barely even noticed, splashing through joyously early in the race.  A large group of runners stayed together

this was my first view of Spider Rock, which you can see pointing upwards between the Canyon Walls

this was my first view of Spider Rock, which you can see pointing upwards between the Canyon Walls

through the White House Aid Station, where the Race Director had set up a bin for us to drop our warm weather clothes.  I realized I was still in my long sleeve shirt, and it was going to be time for that to go soon, so I ditched that and my sleeves thanked him for what he had already given us, and I was out.

I was making great time, but had already decided a PR was not my priority here.  The course was too beautiful, the opportunity too rare, and honestly, the Canyon had a feel to it, I cant explain it, but it was too much not to enjoy.  The 2nd Aid Station ended up being only a little more than 2 miles from the first because of the mud at one of the many creek crossings.  The vehicle was very stuck, but the volunteers still had huge smiles on their faces, greeting us, letting us know it would be around 9 miles before we hit the turn around, so despite having just gone through an aid station, I refilled and headed out with another runner.

His name was Flint, and we chatted about the depth and beauty of this place we were, the depth and the spider rock and the sunbeauty of running, and wound our way through the experience.  He was definitely one of those people who felt like a kindred spirit in running and I was a little sad when I dropped back to tend to business briefly, and after that was completely alone in the Canyon.  No one that I could see ahead or behind me.

I kept a good pace, the trail, with the exception of the frequent creek crossings was very runnable.  We were out of the sand, so now it was just me and the Canyon.  This was when things got cool.  It seemed like the Canyon was in sync with itself in a way that American culture refuses to allow.  When I caught sight of Spider Rock for the first time, reaching up, visible only briefly, but perfectly between the winding walls, I stopped dead in my tracks. I heard a horse whinny loudly.  It was close by, in the trees to my left, and I felt a surge of energy run through me.  I know it may not seem like such a big deal, but you would have had to be there.  It felt like the horse was trying to tell me something.  There are things in this world I do not try to explain.  This was one of those moments, and I just let it be.  I smiled and started running again (after getting a couple of quick photos).

another runner took this shot of me at the turn around with the Canyon below and behind

another runner took this shot of me at the turn around with the Canyon below and behind

I kept up the pace, but was feeling my feet.  I had worn an older pair of orthotics coming into the race, and they were clearly feeling the impact of all the water crossings.  I kept focused, but came to a screeching halt when I got to the bottom of the Bat Canyon climb to the turn around.  I have run some technical stuff, but this was not getting run.  The trail was about as technical as you can imagine.  I have never been on anything rockier, and that includes at races like Jemez and Dirty 30.  This was a 1200ft climb from the Canyon floor to the rim, and a seldom seen overlook.  For the last couple hundred feet it was all out scrambling to the top.  Still having fun I worked my way up and managed to catch up to Samantha for the first time in the race.    We chatted for a moment.  I dug through my drop bag, hoping for some Tylenol, as my feet were now fairly upset at me, and I knew they would take a beating on the descent.  I couldn’t find any, so I chilled for a minute, asking others if they had any with no luck so I went to refill my Camelback before heading out.  After filling it I could hear a leak.  Yup, it was leaking.  Not much I could do, and happily the leak was on one of the top seems so I took a deep breath and headed out.

stone wallsI caught Samantha again as I headed down, and we got to chat for a while.  I was actually feeling great, and we cruised for a couple of solid miles, but as we started crossing the rivers again, my feet started screaming.  It got to a point where I told Samantha not to hang back.  I was a little sad I wouldn’t be running with my friend any longer but I needed to focus on keeping moving, and didn’t want to feel like I was holding a friend back.  A couple of folks passed me in the next 6 miles between there and Bubble Man Aid Station, but I otherwise had the Canyon to myself.  No other people in sight, nothing but myself, and the world around me.

Even with my feet hurting about as badly as I have ever experienced in a race, and my worries about running out of water, I was able to stay pretty Zen about the situation.  The place I was in was amazing.  I could hear birds around me, saw more wild horses (one I could have sworn was the same white one I had seen earlier), and just did my best to enjoy where I was.  Unfortunately I was hiking a lot more than I wanted and was eking out 14 minute miles which frustrated me because my legs felt fine, it was my feet that just couldn’t take it in those moments.

Jenn was at the White House Aid Station, which is the only publicly accessible area in the Canyon.  I was happy to see her, let her know what was up with my feet and that the last 5-ish miles might take me a while, but that I would see her soon.

I got going, and managed to eventually catch sight of the two runners who had passed me earlier.  I felt

Jenn took this of me finishing

Jenn took this of me finishing

like it would be a nice goal to see if I could catch them by the end, but was still struggling to run with my feet hurting as badly as they did, and now I was back in the sand.  I didn’t notice I was limping some to compensate for my left foot hurting so much more than the right, and starting feeling the pain elsewhere as well.  My brain went to the ‘I guess you may have to walk it in’ place ever so briefly before I thought to myself that self-pity is not why I was here. I was here to experience where I was at.  Sure, my shoes and feet were water logged and hurt, but a pity party wouldn’t help.  I thought of where the referral pain from liming was happening, and thought of a yoga pose that would open that area again.  I stopped dead in my tracks and proceeded to get into reverse dancer pose in the middle of the canyon.  As I held it I could feel my muscles releasing and energy surge back into my spirit.

I decided right then and there to listen to what I had been told by a brilliant woman before Leadville when I was worried about my ankle, ‘No Limping!’.  I also realized that I had been happiest on this run when I was running.  My legs were fine, it was just my feet so I could run, though it may hurt.  I resolved myself to run as much of the remaining 2.5-ish miles as possible, and did.  I only stopped once more as I exited the canyon.  I became overwhelmed by the need to thank the Canyon for letting me run there.  Despite my feet, I had an amazing day, full of beautiful experiences as I ran through, many of which I will keep in my heart rather than in a blog post, so I turned, and with my hands to heart center gave the Canyon the most heart felt Namaste and thanks I could.  As I stood straight I felt another surge of energy, and I headed toward the finish a half mile or so down the wash.

I had to stop a few times to walk over the clumped mud as those sections were like hammers on my now very tender feet but otherwise ran it the rest of the way in.

Jenn and I after finishing

Jenn and I after finishing

The turquoise necklace we were given as we crossed means as much to me as any of the buckles I have. We learned that in Navajo culture, Turquoise is a representation of the union between Father Sky and Changing Woman (Mother Earth).  We also learned that this is also how the culture views running as well.  Father Sky fills you with energy and life as Changing Woman carries you across her.  This was how I felt during this race.  Even when it was hard I felt like the Canyon and the sky above me gave me everything I needed.  When something material like my shoes, or my pack put up barriers, the Canyon reminded me of why I was actually there.  This race was an experience I never anticipate being able to repeat.  It wasn’t fast, but I never planned on it being really fast.  It wasn’t the easiest course, and I didn’t feel the best the whole time.  But all of that being said; the experience and the Canyon touched my soul, and that is honestly why I run these races.

I feel like I walked away more awake than when I started.  I also have an even deeper respect for the culture of the Navajo than I did before (understanding I had a huge amount of respect to begin with).  It reminded me that running is a blessing we are given everyday.  It is a blessing that gives us health, it gives us clarity of spirit, empathy, and strength of will and character that nothing can ever take away once it lives in our hearts.  Running in the Canyon… no that’s not how I want to say it.  Running with the Canyon and all of the inhabitants is something that will live with me, and in my soul forever.

Thank you to Shaun Martin, the Race Director, his family, and all the people and volunteers who made this possible.  You gave us all a gift that will live with us and in our hearts and souls forever.

“But if you close your eyes,does it almost feel like nothing changed at all, and if you close your eyes, does it almost feel like you’ve been here before how am I gonna be an optimist about this?”  – Pompeii by Bastille

As I sat at the Sheep’s Gulch Trailhead at 650pm, in the quiet gravel parking lot next to my friends car, sitting for the first time in 49 miles, I couldn’t help but think back on how I got there.  It had not seemed like such a long day, and I felt good, but my race was over too soon again.  Why?

I had arrived in Leadville on Wednesday night, slept in my car on Fremont Pass, and spent Thursday wandering Leadville.  I even had an opportunity to go up to Independence Pass and hike/jog 3 miles at 12,000ft and felt really good.

On Friday, I went to the pre-race meeting, which had been moved to the Middle School from the 6th Street Gym.  Given the increase in field

A pano from my hie/run on independence pass the Thursday before the race

A pano from my hie/run on independence pass the Thursday before the race

this was probably a smart decision.  It was also eye opening in regards to how many people would be out on the course.  1200 people were registered, a record number, and it was a hot topic around town.  Jason, Lindsey and Jenn had arrived during the meeting and couldn’t get through to the floor space I had saved for them so I met up with them right after, and we went over crew stuff, then we went for a field trip to the aid stations and crew areas they had not been to before, and I was in bed by 7pm.  I felt like I had set myself up pretty well despite the rocky 3 weeks leading to the race with my asthma acting up to the point I had to go on a prednisone treatment and a minor sprain a week before.

I fell asleep quickly, but the alarm at 2am seemed to come so quickly.  I woke up; crawled out of the tent I had put up in the back yard of the Runner’s Roost/New Balance House, and wandered inside to get ready.  I was wide awake but it was nice when Corky, who was also camped out back, came in so I had someone else to chat with.  The house slowly woke up things seemed to be filled with positive energy.  Ed said he would give us a ride to the start line, so we piled into the Roost Mobile and cruised into downtown.  The energy was fantastic, there were lots of people I knew, and as almost 1000 runners packed into the starting shoot it felt more and more real.  But it also felt different than all the other hundreds I have run, so many people, so much light, so much music, so much production, it didn’t feel like the home grown ultras I was used to, but all this stuff comes with always having other people to talk to on the trails I guess.  I was excited to get going, and was chilly standing around in my singlet so when I saw the silhouette of Ken Choubler on the other side of the start line with his shotgun pointed up I was excited to get going.  The boom of the gun sent us running and I warmed right up!

Me and Kirt before the race - photo by David Manthey

Me and Kirt before the race – photo by David Manthey

This race starts so much faster than most hundreds, or mountain ultras in general.  It starts dominantly downhill, with a few ups in the first 4 miles before climbing a steep rocky hill to Turquoise Lake. I kept a good pace on this section and felt good as I kept up on calories by eating EFS Liquid Shot.  We made it onto the Turquoise Lake Trail, and my fears of the conga line quickly disappeared.  It seemed by going out a little bit faster I was able to avoid the slower part of it.  That didn’t stop me from buying some real estate 3 miles around the lake.  Thankfully the runners behind me were not trailing me too close and I was far enough from the runner in front that no one else got taken out, and someone even helped me up.  The only good part of taking a fall on a technical trail early in a race like this is the jolt it gives you, reminding you of where you are!

I came into Mayqueen dead on what I was hoping for as a best-case scenario, 2:30 into the race.   My crew gave me my gear for the next section, and I didn’t waste time getting back on the trail.  Heading out of Mayqueen was where I could see the crowds of runners.  We were everywhere, and as we funneled onto the Colorado Trail, I could see where the conga line would be.  I was able to do some passing, but it was limited, and I was able to catch up to my friend Samantha and then Erik, whom I have run with at Rocky Raccoon for two years now as we popped out onto Hagerman Road.

We talked as we made our way up the road with sunrise behind us.  I put myself on a one minute on, one minute off cycle to moderate pace.  It worked well, and I pulled out my poles as I started up the Jeep Road to the top of the Powerline Right of Way.  They were not worth it in this section.  I topped out feeling good for having just made that climb, and started down.  The poles were very much in my way so I ended up having to stop for a minute to put them away, but the run down went well.  Samantha and I ran together for a bit again, reminiscing on the time we ran this section on a training run in the rain a year before and had a rainbow come out as we worked our way over the top of the last hump before dropping down to the road.  It was a fun part of the race running with my friend and getting to chat as we ran.

My stomach was acting up as I came down the last bit, but was better when I came up the trail onto the paved road that leads to Outward Bound.  I was surprised to see my crew there, but happy.  My legs were tired so having that extra bit with smiling faces couldn’t hurt.  I told them I would need them at Outward Bound too, because they had the wet wipes and body glide so I could hit the porta potty there and I didn’t want to risk lingering when that occurred.  They agreed, cheered me on and I headed out.  I had promised myself that the paved section of the course would not eat me alive again.  I also knew that keeping myself centered in the moment was the best way to keep myself moving, so I put myself back on a firm one minute on/off cycle for anything uphill and running all of the downs, so I made great time to Outward Bound.  I have found that when I put everything in manageable pieces I do far better mentally, and that would also ensure that I would run over half of the road, since I was also running the entirety of all of the downs.

When I came into Outward Bound Aid Station there were so many people everywhere it was hard to tell which way was which.  My stomach

a photo David Manthey took of me coming through Mayqueen

a photo David Manthey took of me coming through Mayqueen

had gotten better, so I opted to keep going knowing it wouldn’t wait past Treeline.  Erik and I had been playing hopscotch this whole time, and this was  no exception.  The road between Powerline and Treeline had eaten me alive the year before, and I ended up walking way too much of it, so I kept myself on a strong 1 min on/off cycle here as well, and set my Garmin Fenix to buzz and beep every minute, which again put everything into manageable bits, and it was keeping me cruising.  I started calling the minute run my ‘one minute grind’ in a joking way.  I also focused on centering myself.  Part of the minute off/on routine was intended to keep me in the moment, centered in the present and focused on always pushing hard forward.

I made up time in this section without being stupid, was staying positive, and before I knew it was at Treeline, but now my GI track was talking to me loudly.  When I came in I thought I saw Jenns red hair at the far end of the crew area so I called her name and waved at her then headed to the porta potties.  My stomach was angry and I lost about 6 minutes here.  I had hoped my crew had seen me but when they didn’t come down, I had to get my pack from outside the porta potty grab my emergency body glide to make sure things stayed lubed up and when I was done I was ready to roll again.  I headed to the end of the area and the crew wasn’t there!  I felt panic surge through me.  I had only packed enough food for the section between Outward Bound and Treeline, and that was long gone.  Half Pipe Aid Station was 2 miles away, and this would put me behind calories but I knew if I pushed on, it might be my best bet.  I had a drop bag there, and I knew I had another EFS Liquid Shot there that would hopefully get me through to Twin Lakes.  I pulled out my phone as I kept moving, I couldn’t stay any longer, I had already lingered 10 mins total and they said they were on their way but were stuck in traffic and I was still ahead of my split.  I wasn’t going backwards on the course, so we talked briefly on the phone, and I pushed onwards.  I kept my cycle going all the way to Half Pipe, and was happy to see it when I came in.

A volunteer outside of the Aid Station asked if I needed my drop bag, I said yes, she took my number, and I went to take care of what I could while they grabbed my bag, something that has always happened when volunteers ask those questions.  I made use of the medical section to get Vaseline.  I looked over to where the drop bags that had been requested were being set, and mine wasn’t there, so I went to ask, and no one had gotten it.  As the volunteers went to get it, I made my way to the aid station tent, which had less than I was used to for food, so I got some soda, a handful of chips, and went back to the drop bag area.  My bag was still not there, but there was a flurry of activity by the building the volunteer had run to, and a minute or two later someone appeared with my bag in their hand.

Excited to finally get it, but getting panicked with the time I was losing, I reached in, grabbed the handheld, the EFS, mixed up the EFS with water as quickly as possible and took off.   So far I had lost 20 minutes to aid stations in the last 4 miles, which was too much.  I put myself back on track with my run walk cycle, and made time.  I was passing people, running moderate ups I remembered walking the year before, and was optimistic until I ran out of the EFS.

With 5 miles to go to Twin Lakes, I was out of salt, electrolytes and food.  So I stayed positive instead.  I pushed myself onwards but since I had a deficit coming into Half Pipe, the calories provided by the Liquid Shot did not go far.  I felt myself bonking as I headed up the Colorado Trail, climbing steadily, still passing people, but not at the rate I had been.   When I topped out I was getting nauseous, I almost threw up drinking water a couple of times, but pushed myself onwards.  By the Mt. Elbert Water Drop I was starving, my stomach was growling (at least I was hungry!), and the volunteers had a giant bag of tortilla chips on the table.  I asked, and got a curt reply that they were for volunteers only and that it was only 3 miles to Twin Lakes.

I have to be honest, this was like a kick in the gut.  I had volunteered at Aid Stations before, including course marshaled and one thing I had learned a long time before was never put anything in eyeshot of runners at an Ultra that you are not willing to share.  I know that is a water only stop, and they are doing their best as volunteers, and this is not intended as a knock to them.  Right at that moment though, seeing that food made my body scream for calories even louder, which was not their fault or issue, it just was what it was.  My muscles were now stiffening, and hurting quite a bit.  My legs were tired enough from pushing through despite the lack of calories that running downhill on the steep trail became difficult at best.  I walked much more of that trail than I wanted to, and lost tons of time.  When I came into Twin Lakes at 125pm, a mere 35 minutes before the cut off, I was in a bad head space.

Jenn was waiting at the bottom of the hill and I immediately broke down as we walked to the crew area.  As we passed the Runners Roost tent it was a boost to have them ask if I needed anything as well.  I sat down, changed shoes, lubed up with Tri-Slide and ate as much as I could.  I have to say that my crew had made a little bit of everything I could possibly want to make sure I ate, which was awesome. They really were fantastic!

I headed out, but with my legs still feeling blown, and the calories not hitting my blood stream yet, I walked more of the flats than I should have.  When I hit the bottom of the pass, I still felt horrible.  I looked at my watch, and began to question my ability to make the time I needed to in order to get up to Hopeless before the cut.  I paused a couple of times on the trail, and even took a couple of steps backwards at one point.  I really felt like I was in an impossible situation.  What do I do?  Keep going just to be cut?  I knew I would have to come down on foot regardless.  The whole time I was moving forward, but it seemed grudgingly.

While still low on the pass I decided I was going to push on as hard as I could, like the year before, no matter what, things got better.  I started making time, and after the last switchbacks that put the trail above the headwall, I started cruising.  I realized that I was doing ok, I could easily make the cut with 15 minutes or so to spare at my pace, and I would make up time on the South side descent and bounce back from this.

The positive thoughts, and calories that were now catching up in my system were doing wonders and I felt great.  I saw the last little switchback before the long straight away to the aid station about ¾ of a mile away and got excited, this was going to happen!  I was making this happen!  I saw a runner standing on the switchback as I approached, and wondered what was going on, and then I saw her.

There was a runner, looking bad sitting on the side of the trail.  I asked the other runner if they needed help, hoping the answer would be no, but I was wrong.  He explained she had been there a long time, 30-40 minutes, couldn’t walk on her own, and wouldn’t go anywhere.  There was only one choice I could see in front of me.  No buckle would be worth leaving this runner here, with another person who couldn’t get her moving on his own.  My brain screamed for me to just go, to get the cutoff, I could just let the aid station know, but who knew what was wrong, and if I left, and something happened to her, I couldn’t live with it, so I sat next to her, and asked what was wrong.  She explained (and I am not going into details about her issues because that is for her to share with people if she wants, not me), and we eventually convinced her to let us help her stand.

Once she was up, the other runner (who I would later find out was a pacer for another runner that had volunteered to take supplies to

A photo I took of runners coming up Hope Pass as I headed down

A photo I took of runners coming up Hope Pass as I headed down

Hopeless since his runner had dropped) took her pack, and I had her put her arm over my shoulder and proceeded to give her walking assist most of the way to Hopeless.  As we slowly worked our way up the trail, the runner made a comment to me that she knew I was sacrificing making the cuts right at that moment.  I smiled, and told both her and the other person helping that I didn’t care, but I felt my stomach tighten a bit.  Somewhere in me I needed this finish, badly.  But the reality was, it was gone, and I reminded myself that making sure she was safe was way more important than any buckle.  I was doing my best to detach from the need to finish, and did a pretty good job.  I needed this to feel like it was ok, like it would be ok, and I did a good job of it.  As we neared the aid station another volunteer came running down he trail, and took over for me.  Shortly thereafter I asked if I could head up ahead of them.  Part of me wanted to come into the aid station strong, even though I knew I was at the cut.

I came into Hopeless about 3 minutes after the cut.  The volunteer took my medical wristband, and my race was done.  I shrugged, and walked up to the aid station.  Two of my friends, Karen and Sean (both amazing runners) came flying into the aid station on the return as I wandered into the aid station.  It was strange, because I felt somewhat detached as I explained, a little numb.  They headed out, and I found another of my friends at the aid station chilling out.  I old her very matter-of-factly what happened, looked off towards the runners coming down hope and suddenly felt the emotions well up.  Right then I told myself I would not have a repeat of the year before.  This was all under my control at this point, I needed to get down, and I needed to be strong.  I knew my teammates would be coming through and there was no way I was going to mess up their races by being anything other than positive.  My emotions were something I could control at this point so I did.

It was strange, I pretty much completely detached from the race, it suddenly felt like I wasn’t even a runner, like the previous 45.5 miles were nothing but dust in the wind.  A volunteer came trotting down the trail from the summit of the pass, and when he saw my green hair told me some of my friends were up on the pass, and that they had been cheering for runners up there.  I headed up after checking with the Aid Station Staff first and getting the ok to go over the pass to Windfield.  The captain told me they had no way to communicate with Winfield anyway, so my crew would probably be over there waiting, and my friends, I knew would have a car down below as well.

I met my friends who had been cheering all day long on the pass, enjoyed a moment looking out across the Sawatch Range from the top of Hope Pass.  I turned and looked across the horizon to the North, and pointed out to Jason, Jesse, Lindsey and Jessica where I started at 4am, far across the valley, the town of Leadville tiny in comparison to the vast mountain landscape below.  It struck me for a minute, I may be done with this race, and I wished I could finish, but I had come a really long way.  It felt good, but there was still a bit of an empty feeling in my stomach.

I was able to be really positive for the first half of the descent cheering on runners because I was able to focus on helping another runner.  As it sank in a bit more, ran ahead of my friends and finished the descent running except to step off the trail periodically.

I had planned to get a ride to Winfield with my friends anyway, but when I came up to the turn on the trail to Winfield I found out that the race was starting to push runners down to Sheep’s Gulch so I continued down.  I got there well ahead of anyone else, and when I got to the bottom took an opportunity to have moment of real silence alone until my friends caught up.

It had been a full day, with lots to think through, and honestly, even after my friends met me and I got back to the campsite I hadn’t totally worked through everything.

Now, a full week later, I think I am settled in my shoes regarding this race.  It never feels good to DNF, but at the end of the day I know a couple of very important things.  First, everything that happened was within my control on some level.  Last year, I felt like the race had been stolen from me, this year I don’t.  Second, I was able to have some good come out of a bad situation because even though it was the final blow to my race, my race ended with a good deed.  I want to be clear about a couple of things though.

First, I was well behind my splits when I came up on the hurt runner.  I put myself in a position when I could be cut in the first place.  I know that, and at the end of the day, my DNF was principally because of that.  Secondly, I see helping the runner as something that simply had to happen and she was not the reason I DNF’d.  Had I been far enough ahead of the cuts, I could have helped and still made the cuts.  I do not want anyone thinking I failed to finish because I helped the runner, I failed to finish because I failed to stay on the splits I should have kept.   If she was there 30-40 minutes, I could have helped her 40 minutes earlier and still made the cuts.

Finally, and most importantly, I have come to realize that these races, ultra’s are amazing ways to test ourselves in supported conditions.  However, at the end of the day, its another day on the trails.  Sometimes we have good days, and sometimes we have bad.  The weeks leading up to this race were not good weeks for me, and my body was not where it needed to be for this outing.  I spent 3 weeks prior to this race hoping that my lungs would recover from some serious issues, and protecting my ankle from a sprain I stupidly acquired the week before.   I did not come into this race with my body healed completely from those things, that was an issue.  My body was still coughing when I started, and I am sure that did not help.

All of that being said I went out ran hard and pushed myself.  I learned more about myself, and how to stay centered.  I grew mentally, physically and spiritually, and in that I know I walked away a better person than when I started.   Everyone who knows me, knows this is why I run these races, not for the buckle, not for bragging rights, but for the journey the growth I experience along the way.  In that sense, I was more successful than I could have ever hoped.  I kept my principles, and my ideals regarding how I would like to always treat myself and others when put in a position where I could have easily left her and kept running, chasing a goal.  I acted in the way I always hoped I would, and that’s important to me.  So, I am ending this race report with a quote in response to end of the quote I started with; “How am I gonna be an optimist about this”.

“And with dust in throat I crave only knowledge will I save to the game you stay a slave; roamer, wanderer, nomad, vagabond call me what you will.

But I’ll take my time anywhere, free to speak my mind anywhere and I’ll redefine anywhere, anywhere I roam, where I lay my head is home”

– Where Ever I May Roam by Metallica

It’s always amazing to me how quickly time goes by.  As I excitedly get my gear ready for the race this year, it doesn’t seem like it was a year ago that I was preparing to go up to Leadville for my first go at the Leadville 100.  Its strange, because the race last year impacted me so much, and in the end so positively, but of course it always takes time for the positive impact to be felt.

As people reading this might have noticed has been spent chasing the Leadville 100 this year.  Last year, going in, I was so confident I would finish that when I didn’t get that buckle a type of self-doubt I had never had before in regards to running crept into my mind.  That doubt caused me to be much more critical of my training, my pace, everything.  This self-defeating thought pattern was reinforced by 1-1:30 min/mile slower paces at races, and training runs.  It was also reinforced by the romanticizing of my training runs in 2012.  As I walked to the start line at Silver Rush 50 this year, that same thought pattern sat firmly entrenched in my mind, and it really destroyed the first half of my race.

After the race, I was determined to figure out what was going on.  So I started pondering this idea, and it started to click on a rainy Sunday

training run on Hope Pass.  I had gone out for what was supposed to be a double crossing of the Pass, but after climbing in cold rain all the way

a Flower and the Rainbow that emerged from the downpour I was expecting as I started my run at Deer Creek Canyon

a Flower and the Rainbow that emerged from the downpour I was expecting as I started my run at Deer Creek Canyon

up to 12,100, we decided it would be smartest to turn back.  Jim is an incredibly talented runner, and he is fast.  After we turned around and were running the new Winfield Trail, I decided that I did not want to hold Jim back, so I started diligently looking for ways to make it so I could go faster.  I started to focus on the moment I was running in, and it felt good, I was almost keeping up, then we found the new trail cutoff the race is using this year.  It is a well graded, super soft, pine bed trail, perfect for running with little restraint.  Jim opened it up, and went cruising down.  I wanted to keep up, so I intentionally shut my brain off and let loose, and kept up.

The next day, as I was getting ready for what I thought was going to be another rainy run at Deer Creek Canyon on my own, I started to think back on my run with Jim the day before.  What had happened?  I decided I would go out today, and set my intention on figuring this out.  As I got out of the car, there was a huge rainbow, and the sun came out, I was energized, and I just ran.  As I worked my way up the switchbacks, I started to think to myself “don’t let your heart rate go too high, conserve for later”, and then stopped myself.  What the hell was I doing?  My mind was looking for an excuse to go slower.  That moment was the key that unlocked a huge realization for me.

The best runners are not out there looking for reasons to slow down; they are looking for ways to go faster.  Even when they power hike, it’s a question of how fast to power hike, not a question of slowing down.  So why was I doing this?  I contemplated this as I ran and realized that last year I had nothing to judge myself against while training for a mountain 100.  I just went out and ran.  I ran with all my heart.  When it was tough, I pushed on, and didn’t think about how hard it could be, or should be, I just ran. This whole past year, because of the doubt that last years DNF put in my mind, I was convinced that if my runs were not at least as good as last years in regards to time, and how I felt, I was going to fail at Leadville.  What I didn’t realize is that was setting me up to fail.  There is no such thing as an ‘easy’ mountain run, they are all tough, they all feel hard, but because last year I had nothing to judge it against, it all ‘felt good’ so I expected the same this year.  When I would go out and it felt hard my desire to chase my perception of the prior years runs would feed the self-doubt and I would start thinking about how much farther I had to go, then I would start finding reasons to slow down.  It was a mental trap that was literally the equivalent of pouring led into my legs.

At that run in Deer Creek Canyon, as I spiraled up and around Plymouth Mountain, I found myself running in the moment again.  For the first time in a year I was able to truly let go of the doubt that had plagued me because I understood where it came from, and how to beat it.  I was able to stop chasing the ghost of the runner I had been, and focus on being the runner I am.  I focused on reasons to go as fast as possible, and as I focused on being the best runner I could be in that moment, I found myself flying up and down the trails with a feeling of utter freedom.  I was seeing the beauty of the trails again in a way that exceeded anything I had ever experienced before.  As I looked down at my watch when I got back to the trailhead, feeling energized, fantastic, and like I could run another 100 miles, I also saw that I had run that route faster than I had ever run it before.

There is a quote from the Buddha that I really love, and feel applies to this situation perfectly:

“Do not pursue the past. Do not lose yourself in the future. The past no longer is. The future is yet to come. Look deeply at life as it is in the very here and now, dwelling in stability and freedom.”

As I walk up to the starting line this Saturday at 4am, I will take this with me.  This year I know that the ghost of the race last year is just that, a specter that lives in the past, behind me.  I have already passed him long ago, and I do not have to worry about surpassing him, I already did that.  I will also walk up to that line knowing that no matter what happens, I will be the best runner I can be, I will be the best runner I have ever been.  When I am running through the beautiful Colorado Mountains, as long as I stay focused on every beautiful second, I will have the most amazing race I could ever hope for.

“My mind is empty, and my body is as vast, and as expansive as the sky”

That was a mantra that was given to me during a yoga class on the first week back to training.  I guess I should rephrase that; my first week rebuilding.  I had taken a full month off from hard running, keeping my miles to 4 or less during the week and 8 or less on the weekends.  I was ready to fall in love with running again, I was excited to get back to one of my biggest passions, running.

When the yoga instructor, Jeremy Wolf, guided us through our intention that night, he told

Taken on a beautiful April Trail run going up the Dakota Ridge Trail

Taken on a beautiful April Trail run going up the Dakota Ridge Trail

us that we would be focusing on finding form by being formless.  Rather than focusing our minds on holding the asana (or the pose), we were to focus on our breath, and on the mantra I lead this post with.  Why?  Well, what I distilled from it was that if you focus on the task, on the idea that you will be holding Triangle Pose, or Warrior 3, or Horse ect for a minute or more when you are already tired, then your mind will become overwhelmed by that idea and your form, and your ability to hold the pose will suffer.  If instead you focus on your breath, and the fact that your body is capable of anything, as long as your mind doesn’t get in the way, then you can hold the pose, correctly, for much longer periods of time, thus truly gaining the benefits that the pose has.

I walked out of that class feeling lifted up, and truly excited about the miles I had in front of me.  In fact, my run home was one of the best runs I had done in a long time.  If I could incorporate this idea into my running as often as possible, how would that help?  What would that do for me?  As I push my miles ever upward, as I move towards the larger goal this summer of finishing the Leadville 100, how much more powerful will the experience be if I can successfully shut off my mind.  What if rather than focusing on how many more miles I have left, or what time will I finish in, I focus on letting my mind empty of these distractions?  What if I do this and I am able to discover (I mean really discover) that my body, and what it is capable of, is truly as vast and as expansive as the sky?

Running across the snow covered hills of South Valley Park the afternoon after a snow storm

Running across the snow covered hills of South Valley Park the afternoon after a snow storm

As I have worked to rebuild my miles in the month since that class it has been my mantra.  When I have focused on that idea, I have been able to push forward.  When it slips from my sight, so does my progress.  This year, it will be all about destroying the mental barriers that slow me down, that bring me down.

So, as I prepare myself for my first trail race of this season, and as I pull on my Runners Roost singlet, and approach the start line at Deer Creek Canyon Park in two weeks, I will plant that mantra firmly in my head.  It will be my guide, and will open my body up to its possibilities, as opposed to the limits my brain puts in place and no matter what the outcome I will have an amazing race; which is, after all, the point.

The time I have spent recovering from RR100 race has really been a turning point for me, how I look at myself, how and running fits in my world.  Prior to that, I had never actually quit in a race.  At the Greenland 50k 2011, I seriously considered it, but not like this.  I had never actually verbalized, ‘I Quit’.  At mile 83, I sat down and refused to keep going.  In my head it made complete sense at that moment.  I had no chance of making my time goal, or, probably even a PR.  I was experiencing physical sensations that were outside of anything I had felt at a race up to that point, and I had run completely out of the two things I had in all of my previous races; Hope, and Determination.  Why did this happen?  Moreover, what drove me to eventually stand back up, and start moving again?  After the race ended, and I had the buckle in my hand, I knew that if I could figure that out, I would have a serious leg up in future races…

So, lets start with what lead me to what I will simply refer to as “The Moment” at mile 83.  It actually started on the day I finished my previous 100 mile race, in Fountain Hills, Az.  I had promised myself a month long recovery period between JJ100 and RR100, the night after the race it hit me, that couldn’t happen.  RR100 was only 3 months away and The Houston Marathon, only 2.5 months off.  After running a total of 6 ultra’s and 2 marathon distance races in 9 month’s I was suddenly overwhelmed.  There would be no time for a real recovery this time around.  I had been counting on that to keep me going through my JJ100 training, and that realization in many ways crushed me.  I then carried that into training.

I am not going to rehash what happened once I crossed that start line and mile 83 since I think I covered that thoroughly in my race report.  That being said, things did not improve mentally.  Ironically, I was doing better with nutrition than I had at JJ100, or RR100 the year before.   My crew was there for me without fail, and with a level of enthusiasm that was incredible.  So, if my mind wasn’t in the game, but I was doing everything else really well, why did I fall apart?  Why couldn’t my body force me to keep moving as I approached Mile 83?  Bigger, what changed in the time I was at NatureCenter?  This was not my first rodeo, I was physically capable of finishing the race, and I knew that.

This gets us to the “How”.  The mental game of the race, of the distance, of what has to happen to overcome that Ft.Knox style solid steel, guarded by 1000 fully automatic weapon, body armored soldier wall I encountered at mile 83.  I know I am not the only person who hit that particularly high wall at this race, or at any ultra for that matter.  It’s actually a fairly common occurrence.  So, how does it happen and what got me, at least, past it this time?

In short: it was all in my head… and while I knew that on a certain level, what I didn’t know was that maybe the mind body connection here was even stronger than I had realized at first.  Ever since my first successful ultra finish in 2011, I have known this was a mind game.  But I never connected that may go significantly farther than just being able to ignore pain signals, but maybe even the pain signals themselves were a product of my brain itself, rather than the muscles that were experiencing the ‘pain’.

I am differentiating the ‘mind’ and the ‘brain’ for purposes of this discussion.  For the purposes of this post, the brain is the organic structure that is pure programming, and is subject to involuntary reflexes and impulses, whereas the mind is the ability to over-ride and control our basic instincts and impulses.  In other words, the voluntary aspects of cognition are the realm of the ‘mind’ (ok, ok, I know all of this happens within the organic structure of the brain, but humor me for a second here so I can keep my nonsensical rambling going) 

Since the race, I have spent a lot of time focused on how I control my mind, and what get’s in the way.  I have gone to quite a few yoga classes, I have done a lot of introspection, and talking to friends, and my girlfriend, and then one of my friends, Becky Williams (no relation) posted a link to a National Public Radio story about limits both physical, and mental.  It was great, and presented a lot of interesting ideas for me to mull over.  If you want to listen to it here is (wordpress won’t let me embed it because its not from one of the ‘white listed sites’:

http://www.radiolab.org/2010/apr/05/limits-of-the-body/?utm_source=sharedUrl&utm_media=metatag&utm_campaign=sharedUrl

If you don’t have at least 30 minutes to get through the part where they are talking about the idea of physical limits, here is the basic idea.  We all have a process in our brains that is called the “Central Governor”.  If this is accurate, it acts like a regulator, which tells us that we cannot, and should not continue.  Mainly, this looks like extreme fatigue, and different types of pain.  So, in theory, all you have to do is fix how this is working, and you can keep going… but how do you fix it?

If the theory, and the research the story cites is accurate, than you can trick that nasty, bitter and angry process in your brain by providing it with sugar that will make it think there is more energy incoming (I am also going to toss in that if this were a man, it would be a very short, squat, and ugly old man with hair shooting out of his nose and ears while sporting a a hunchback and a cane).  Doing this, allegedly causes the Central Governon to release energy it otherwise hides from us.  But outside of that, maybe a big part of what you are doing with your mind, is overcoming that particular process, all on your own, without the external stimuli.  As they talk about in the story, you can possibly create a situation where you trick it; hence what our pacers do, what we do to ourselves with music, or self talk (I know more than once in races I have started singing out loud to my music or I will start telling myself that whatever hurts is not real).  I did none of this at Rocky Raccoon this year prior to The Moment.  Why?

The reality was, by the time I started the race, I put my body in a position where it went to that place of exhaustion right away.  The angry old man was screaming at me and sometimes hitting me in the face with his cane on nearly every training run.  Then, because I had run the race before, and didn’t particularly feel like I had anything to prove, I just didn’t have the drive that I needed to not just fight those sensations, especially with the added difficulty of a 24 hour time.  Regardless, I think the moral of the story is, there is such a thing as too much racing, at least for me.  When a full time job, girlfriend, and friends all enter the mix, without some down time its just not possible to let your body build back up its reserves without REALLY recovering after an ultra.  If you do this your angry bitter old man goes to sleep and leaves you alone.  If you don’t, he will doze off periodically, but anytime you really push, he wakes back up and starts beating you in the face again, and again, and again…

Once I sat down at mile 83, the angry old man living in my brain had all but beaten me into submission.  So why would I be able to stand back up and go again, finishing that last 17 miles?  Well, my best guess is, sitting down, being given food that my body recognized as good stuff that it wanted was a big part.  Aside from that, my crew, pacer, and the volunteer of the year, Bob, had time to trick my brain into believing that whether I wanted to go or not, I had no other choice.

The key thought that was going through my mind as I approached “The Moment” was my fixation on the 6 mile loop on the far end of the park.  They addressed that, convincing me it wasn’t going to be so terrible.  Then once I was going, my mind was eventually able to survive by refusing to even think about how long I had to keep going.  It was able to focus on the impermanence of the pain I was experiencing and my pacer was even able to help me frame this all as not just irrelevant to my situation, but actually as a beneficial experience.

The only times I struggled once I was able to do this with the help of my pacer was once the finish was in my face, and my brain and mind knew finishing was imminent.  So, it seems to me that at the end of the day, after we have trained our bodies to where they need to be, or can be, it really does come down to what’s in our minds.  Because, if that’s strong enough, our mind can beat the grumpy old man living in our brain’s down with a spiked mace and leave him dead in a gutter somewhere along the course…

What are other people’s thoughts on this?  I know there are opposing theories on how and why this happens…

*note: no old men where hurt in the writing of this post, and the author does not, in any way condone elderly abuse, unless it’s the old guy living in your brain…*

As I drove my mom’s car with my girlfriend Jenn and friend Heather from Houston to Hunstville State Park on February 1st, I couldn’t help but think about how different this year felt.  In some ways it didn’t feel like it had been a year since I made the same drive with Lisa and Becky to pick up the packet for what would be my first successful 100 mile race.  It in fact was just under a year, which is also part of why it felt like I was a different person as I arrived at the park.

Last year, with the rain and the questionable forecast, I had a sense of wonderment and fear, anxiety and pride.  This year, I felt happiness to be back, but also felt weary.  This would be my 4th go at a 100 mile race inside this 365 day cycle, with the last only 3 months earlier.  I was worried about my training, and how it had to be trimmed back to accommodate from my inability to fully recover from anything I had run since June, and I worried about being able to achieve the 24 hour time I had set as a goal for myself.

At packet pick up I felt like I knew so many friendly faces from the previous years races, and that really made relax a bit.  I was also able to meet up with Samantha and my new team mate from the Runner’s Roost Team, Katie.  Everyone listened to the trail brief respectfully, and followed up with the researchers who would be conducting a Perceived Effort Study on the trail.  They would be asking us to give them a ‘one-liner’ as we passed along with a number 1-20 that would reflect our perception of our effort at that moment.  Oh, the one liners I can come with!  I was excited to have fun with this!  And they would be about 16 miles into each loop, talk about asking for some interesting responses!

With the distinct lack of rain I even got to hang out with my family for a while, taking pictures by the lake,

Jenn and I before packet pick up - photo by Heather Coffman

Jenn and I before packet pick up – photo by Heather Coffman

and enjoying the beauty of the park with Jenn and Heather.  We talked about race plans, and Elizabeth, who had come down to hang out for the weekend and help out as a volunteer or pacer for someone had started thinking about signing up for the 50 mile race.  The overall energy was great and everyone was so happy!  What better way to start a race.

We packed it up and headed to the Hotel in Huntsville after eating some of my mom’s fantastic vegetarian baked Ziti.  I made a point to organize my race gear for the morning, get out my new Runner’s Roost shirt that I could not have been happier for the chance to wear, and get to bed early for a 3:30am wake up call…

Race Day: aka The Counting Song

“I took a walk around the world to ease my troubled mind
I left my body lying somewhere in the sands of time
I felt the world float to the dark side of the moon
I feel there’s nothing I can do”
-3 Doors Down ‘Kryptonite’

Jenn and I arrived at the park a little bit before 5am, and as we pulled up to the shelter some lights at campsites were beginning to pop on.  I did my best to focus on anything other than the task at hand as the clock ticked down.  15 minutes to the start, we all walked over.  My family wearing the Team Blue Rabbit shirts my mom had made for the race to show their support of my running, and my bright blue Mohawk…

I gave Jenn a kiss, told her I loved her, and meandered through the crowd until I found my friend Samantha, then Eric (who I had run with for almost 40 miles the year before) as well as Katie.  Elizabeth and Jessica came over to wish us luck, and Elizabeth let us know she has gotten signed up for the 50 mile distance.  Then before we knew it the crowd was rolling forward.  We were off again.

Samantha and I ran together as we found our way through the slow line moving along the trail.  I knew this would open up after a mile, so we were patient, and sure enough at the Prairie Branch Trail, the field opened up nicely.  I warned Samantha about the small roots, and to watch closely for them since those are what caused me multiple face plants the year before, in hopes that she wouldn’t have to figure that out of her own.  A well known, and somewhat defining feature of the course is that it is covered in roots.  Most are large, easy to spot, and what everyone goes on and on about.  When I ran the course in 2012, I found the big ones are easy to miss, it’s the little ones, sticking an inch or 3 out of the ground straight into the air that were problematic because they are easy to miss.  Knowing this, I made a point of scanning the trail the entire first loop for those little ones, so I could avoid them the rest of the race.

I had made a strategic choice to go out with a race belt and handheld the first loop to minimize weight and

Samantha, Katie and myself right before the race.

Samantha, Katie and myself right before the race.

move faster since I was shooting for a 12 minute per mile average pace.  This also meant it would be easy for me to blow through the first aid station, Nature Center, without lingering, instead relying on the chews I had stashed in my running belt.  Samantha and I stayed together until just before the Dam Service Road, when I decided I needed to dial back the pace a bit for my race.  It was hard to let my friend go ahead, but I knew it would be the best possible choice for both of us.  I knew we had different strategies, and we needed to run out own races.

At DamNation, I pulled my second handheld out of my drop bag, filled it, grabbed a handful of food and left.  Being on my own this early in a 100 mile race was a bit new to me.  I did my best to connect with the runners around me while continuing my own forward progress, and while managing my pace.  I met lots of runners from all over the country, runners from all over the country with amazing experiences they got to talk ever so briefly about as we spent our moments together.

The Damnation loop went by much faster than I expected, and before I knew it the 50 mile course merged with the 100 mile course again, and I was on the levy when out of nowhere, I hear Elizabeth!  She had come up behind me and was willing to run with me for a bit, which made me very happy.  Anytime I can run with a friend I don’t pass it up!

At Damnation I dropped my second handheld in my bag, drank some protein and left.  A quarter mile out I realized I had stashed my Saltstik tabs in that handheld, but happily Elizabeth gave me a couple to get me to Park Road where my crew would have more.

Having a friend made the next 3.4 miles go by super fast!  At this point I was feeling pretty ok, and seeing my crew at Park Road, blue hair and all made it even better.  Colleen, one of Coach Davids friends I ran with at JJ100 was at Park Road waiting for her runners too, so I got lots of smiles to get me rolling.  We came up on the Perceived Effort Study folk hanging out at the top of a hill, so after a smart ass comment about putting themselves on a hill and dropping 10.5 as a number, I made my way onwards.

As we made our way onto the Prairie Branch Loop, my feet started to hurt.  All I could think to myself was ‘what the hell?  It’s too early for this!’.  I kept my pace, and ran into Dogwood, arriving right at 4 hours, which meant I was perfectly on time.  I asked for a change of shoes, ate some food, and headed out without spending too much time.  This wasn’t the time to play with time at Aid Stations, so when Elizabeth and I headed back out, I was happy to be so close to on time.  This next loop would be slower, which made me feel good, but within a mile my feet were hurting again.

Elizabeth had some Tylenol with her that she gave me, but at this point my morale was declining fast.  I actually started verbalizing that I didn’t care if I finished the race, and we were only 23 miles in.  I knew I would need to at least finish this loop, but my head was in the wrong place.  Elizabeth went out ahead, and I kept plugging along, maintaining a pace just slower than what I had planned initially.

As the heat and humidity set in, my mood sank, and I did very little to revive it; I can’t say why, I just couldn’t see the point.  Going into the Damnation loop I added duct tape to my heel as I felt a hot spot on my heel.  On the damnation loop, I had to pull out my inhaler, early, to clear my lungs.  Food tasted horrible and when I hit Damnation for the 2nd time on the 2nd loop, and talked about how down I was.  The volunteers there were not hearing it!  They gave me a pep talk, made sure I took food, and off I went.  My feet were actually feeling better, I was doing well in many ways, was still in the range of a 24 hour time if I kept moving and when I saw my family and Heather at Park Road again, I couldn’t help but smile and keep cruising.  I decided to keep my self doubt to myself, no one else needed to know.  In my head, I was playing odds against me finishing, and no one else needed to know that.

When I came into Dogwood, things started to spiral for me.  A visit to the porta-potty revealed that some

A photo of Lake Raven the day before the race.

A photo of Lake Raven the day before the race.

issues with intestinal bleeding that I had been battling the last couple of months were cropping up again and with where my head was already

I was ready to throw in the towel.  My mom and brother in law were waiting for me, and Jenn came running up.  I started crying and told them not to push me (note, she hadn’t done anything to push me yet), and had a mini melt down and we were only 40 miles in… still, I didn’t tell my crew what was in my head.  I kept all of the struggles to myself.  Even now, I am not sure why.  I should know better, but

I was keeping my issues drawn.  My crew were all so excited.  They were so happy to help, so enthusiastic and so loving, I listened to them, and went back out again.  I wanted to believe, and by now they were hanging at Nature Center cheering me on, which was a huge boost for me.

Going into the DamNation Loop for the third time I had a new found determination.  I wanted to be back at DamNation by dark.  I was going to power through this.  I had my headlamp, was ready just in case, but wanted to try to get through it before I needed that.  I was able to keep this headspace for most of that back loop.  I had to use my rescue inhaler again, but was really moving at this point.  I kept my head focused, and came close to making it out before dark, but wasn’t able to pull it off.  I hadn’t eaten as much as I should have leaving for that loop, hadn’t eaten enough on that loop, and was feeling gassed.  I ate some chews, which tasted terrible, and as I rolled into DamNation was, again, feeling utterly defeated.

This time the volunteers at DamNation were more direct.  I was refusing to eat, and they pushed me to eat, making sure I had food with me before I walked away telling me ‘you cant do this without calories!”  I made it a tenth of a mile from the aid station and texted Heather to tell her I was dropping at Park Road, I then pouted and ran the 3.4 miles into Park Road Aid Station, talking to another runner about just not feeling like I needed this race anymore.  As I talked with that runner, I actually ran a lot more, and as I made the turn towards Park Road, was actually feeling ok, but hoped my crew wouldn’t fight me or say anything other than letting me drop.   No such luck.  They asked what I needed, gave me what they could based on what little information I was giving them.  Heather asked me what I could eat; they fed me, asked what I might want at Dogwood and sent me off with promises of a pacer at the next loop.

I forced myself onward, and when I got to the Park Road realized I wanted a grilled cheese, so I texted Heather, and low and behold one was there, cooked over a camp fire by my brother Joey.  It was the best grilled cheese in the history of grilled cheese.  Feeling excited to have a pacer, I figured I would give another loop a go, and then decide if I wanted to run the last.

Again, I was still not sharing any of this with my crew.  I had not told them about any of my doubts, and still thought I was bent on a 24 hour buckle, which I had long ago forsaken in favor of a reasonably fast moving pity party.

Jessica started out pushing hard, she said we could still get the 24 hour buckle if I could do this loop at 12:30’s.  I knew there was just no way.  I told her I was willing to push hard, but that I didn’t think a 24 hour time was going to happen this time around.  It was time to look at just shooting for a PR, and be happy with that.  I was still not saying a word about wanting to quit.  I was storing that in the back of my head, but as we ran on, things seemed to be going so well, for the first time since mile 23 I really thought finishing this might be worth while.  Jessica kept me pretty upbeat, and we came up with a solid plan for what things would look like coming in and out of DamNation.  I needed to have the G2 dumped from my pack, it was time to switch to water, so she would do that while I started the loop, and she would catch up.  We made eye contact, and I headed out.

I kept the pattern she had established with me since Dogwood, but apparently I was too effective.  When I passed the 50 mile cutoff, Jessica still hadn’t caught up with me.  I started to wonder if something had gone wrong.  I was getting thirsty, and I didn’t have anything with me, no water, no food, not even a jacket.  Just what I was wearing, but I knew if I kept moving I would stay warm, so I kept plowing on, looking back to see if she was coming up.  I started asking the faster runners passing if they had seen my pacer, and I kept getting ‘no’s’.  Then finally a couple of guys coming up behind me asked if I was Trevor.  I said yes, and they told me my pacer had been unable to catch me, and rather than risk missing me in the dark had headed back to DamNation, where she would meet me.

Luckily, they were really cool, and gave me some water, which made a huge difference.  They offered me Gel’s, but I knew those were like ipecac for me, and not wanting to risk throwing up I said no, but thanked them profusely and kept going. I was even more determined to finish that loop as quickly as possible.  I had never done this loop in the dark without a pacer, and was nervous.  I had no music to distract me from the noises in the dark, or to pull me out of my head.  I wasn’t seeing many people, and it felt disorienting as the trail wound back and forth.  Sometimes I couldn’t help but think that maybe I had turned around and was going backwards, but then I would tell myself I would be coming up on runners if that was the case.  I eventually came up on another runner and pacer that again offered me some water and gels, again I just took the water, worried about the impact Gels would have on my already sensitive stomach, and kept moving.  Part of me kept hoping I would see a headlamp coming towards me, and it would be Jessica coming the opposite way to meet up with me, but no luck.

When I popped up onto the levy, I felt somewhat freed.  I knew I was close, but I was feeling hungry and worn down but was happy that I had made it through that without ever once thinking about dropping from the race.  Maybe things were mentally turning around?  Maybe things were moving forward and I was getting a real rebound?

When I made the turn back onto the CCC trail, I saw a headlamp and a pink shirt, and realized it was Jessica!  She gave me a hug and told me what had happened as we made our way back into DamNation.  Apparently I was moving faster than I thought, and when she had gone a mile and a half without catching me, she became worried that I had gotten sick and stepped off the trail, or had stepped off the trail to use the restroom and had missed me, so she backtracked.  At some point it became clear that the only way to make sure I met back up with her, had I gotten turned around, would be to go back to DamNation and wait there, since I would have to come back through that point.  I was just happy to have my friend and pacer back with me on the trail.  I got mashed potatoes at DamNation, and we kept going.  There is nothing to make a runner appreciate their pacer like not having one for a while!

We kept a solid pace all the way back up to Park Road, when my left foot started to hurt significantly more than it had been.  We had used duct tape to cover the hot spots that had shown up early in the race, but the heel of my shoe seemed to be rubbing now.  Since I was in a substantially better mental space, I told Jessica, and when we got into Park Road, we swapped socks, and I’m not certain what else to be honest.  My focus was starting to fade a bit.  Jessica and I headed out, but I noticed a stiffness that had developed during the stop that was new.

I wanted to give it a bit to shake it out, but this seemed to be different.  The farther we went the stiffer I got.  I was moving slower, and slower, but was still able to run the downs.  My mental state was sinking again, and as we headed up the last hill before Dogwood I broke down in tears.  My muscles were cramping badly, and I couldn’t imagine making it another 20 miles like this.  Jessica did a fantastic job with me.  She told me to focus on my yoga poses in my mind.  The hill was like Downward Dog, and I just needed to think about maintaining my breath.  This got me into Dogwood, but I was ready to be done.

The Last Lap: 20 Miles of Something More…

Jenn who was there to pace me walked with Jessica and I down to the turn around where I told them that I needed to keep going.  I wasn’t stopping.  In my head, I was only going as far as Nature Center, I wanted to get a run in with Jenn.  Just 3 more miles.  I asked if they would dump the Gatorade out of my pack and just give me water, so my crew gave me bottled water to get me the 3 miles.  This worked great in my head, since I was ready to be done anyway.  The plan for this lap was for Jenn to pace me to Nature Center, Angie to pace from Nature Center to Park Road, then for Jenn to take me in, and Jenn was in pacer mode.  What she didn’t know was that she had a fight on her hands because what I could run was very limited.

My muscles were freezing up, and between my feet and my legs, even walking was becoming overwhelmingly painful.  I told her a mile in that I was dropping at Nature Center.  She said that wasn’t happening, and we kept moving.  She tried to get me to move faster, and I re-iterated I was quitting at Nature Center, she said no, and we kept moving.    Apparently when she attempted small talk she asked me what animals were out in the woods, and each time she pushed me, I came up with another awful creature with terrible, attributed, like armadillos that carry leprosy, opossums that carry rabies, alligators, snakes of all sorts, and topped it off with panthers… I was getting dramatic.

By the time we got to Nature Center I was in tears, and I sat down at the first tree I saw just outside of the aid station and proceeded to have a total melt down.  All I really knew was how badly I didn’t want to keep going, and my pacer was doing her job, and wasn’t entertaining that.  At that point, I don’t even know everything I was thinking, but I can say it was a mash of how much pain I was feeling, being overwhelmed by the remaining 17 miles, and feeling like I was letting a lot of people down.  I literally panicked.  What if they wouldn’t let me quit?  How was I going to do this with how cooked I felt?  In all the races I had done before I had never felt like this for this long.  Once I let go of all the emotion, all the self doubt, all the worries about time, all the struggles I had been storing up for the last 22 hours came exploding out 20 feet from Nature Center.

Before I knew it and aid station volunteer was there, talking to me, asking me to breath slowly (apparently I was hyperventilating), and gently talking to me.  I can say with a huge amount of honesty that I don’t remember a ton of what happened for the next hour.  I know they gave me warm nutrition, I remember my mom being there, and Jenn helping me change into dry clothes in the bathroom.  I remember the volunteer, Bob, being a really cool guy that kept telling me that I had plenty of time, that I could finish, and that I couldn’t quit here.

Eventually, I don’t know why, but I stood up and was ready to go again.  It was like all the pain just drained out of my mind.  Don’t get me wrong, it was still there, but it was like I just couldn’t let it define the situation anymore.  I had been terrified of the amount of time, and pain that would come with the last 17 miles based on how I had been feeling.  Bob had said something about the things we think becoming our realities.  I think that hit me, so I just agreed to go.  After an hour of being in a total mental shut down, I stood up to go.  Bob agreed to walk out to the road with my pacer.

“I will hold on hope,
and I wont let you choke
on the noose around your neck,
and I’ll find strength in pain,
and I will change my way’s,
I’ll know my name as it’s called again” – The Cave by Mumford and Sons

Those lyrics were living in my head for most of what remained.  I can’t explain exactly why, but I was feeling better.  My muscles were still unbelievably stiff and sore, running was close to unthinkable, but I could certainly powerhike, and that’s exactly what we did.  Angie and I talked about all sorts of things, we made the best of the DamNation loop, and before the sun was up fully, we were crossing the Dam Levy.  Fog floated gently on the still water, and everything seemed so damn peaceful and, well, just ok.

We decided that it would be best to just drop my pack in my drop bag at DamNation, and finish with a handheld.  There would only be 8 miles left, so carrying the weight of the pack was just not necessary.

We were passing some people at our fast walk, but as my muscles continued to stiffen, I was slowing down.  But we were still moving.  Angie and I passed my friend Eric, who had hurt his ankle, so I asked Angie if she would pace him from the Park Road Aid Station in to make sure he made it.  I would have Jenn, and Angie is the type of pacer who can get anyone in, no matter what shape they are in, and I really wanted to know Eric finished.  For some reason my cognitive processes were changing.

At every other 100 mile race I had done, by that point I was ready to be done, and was focused on the “when will his be done” thought pattern.  That was slipping away from me.  I was actually starting to just not care anymore.

Pain, it was becoming irrelevant.  Focusing on it wasn’t going to be of use, it wouldn’t make the time pass

my left foot after being cleaned up.  This was probably the biggest reason running had become so intensely painful that last 20 miles...

my left foot after being cleaned up. This was probably the biggest reason running had become so intensely painful that last 20 miles…

by faster.  Wishing for it to be over wouldn’t make it be over any faster.  Dreaming of better finishing times, well that wasn’t going to help either.  So I just let it all go, and it was liberating.  It felt like I had thrown all of the pain, all of the suffering, all of the things that had been weighing me down this whole race in the fire.  By the time Angie passed me off to Jenn, all I could think of were the beautiful things around me.

I thought of the things I could be grateful for in the moments I had.  Looking into sky as my crew helped

me change my gear out and seeing the endless stars during the night, seeing the fog floating on the lake after sunrise, having the opportunity to make sure Eric had a friend to finish with, getting to stop and thank the DamNation volunteers, enjoying my sisters company in the woods, the time I got to run with one of my closest running friends Jessica, and once I was passed to Jenn, a 4 mile long trek with the woman I love in this beautiful morning in the Huntsville woods.

Don’t get me wrong, it was still hard, but when I would feel my muscles freezing up, and would feel the pain come back in the forefront, I would go back to the hugeness of the world, and the grace I was given by being able to travel 100 miles through this amazing landscape.  Apparently I was also talking about this with Jenn as we walked, I am not even sure what I said, but she told me that I was spouting some reasonably profound stuff, all I know is I legitimately found a place of peace I had never been before, and part of me didn’t want to leave.

By the time we hit the dogwood trail, my legs and my left foot were screaming with every step and we were

my pacers Jenn and Jessica with me as I finish

my pacers Jenn and Jessica with me as I finish

slowing down, but as we approached the last hill Jenn let me know my friends were up on top of the hill.  I remember them talking to me, but don’t remember much else.  My focus stayed on maintaining that place I had found, where things felt so ok, but it was getting hard.  I could hear the finish line, and I knew what had become a journey that had ended up challenging me and pushing me beyond so many limits was almost over.  When we turned the last corner I forced myself into a run.  I saw and heard my Mom and step dad David at the road, there was still a crowd at the finish, and I focused on what seemed to be an enormous Texas Flag waving at the finish.  Suddenly I was done…  I had another buckle, but all that really is for me now is a representation of all I learned about myself, about how much my friends and family care about me, and about the genuine kindness of strangers.  This may sound trite, but part of me is glad I didn’t get that 24 hour buckle this time.  I don’t know that I would have had the understanding to appreciate it that I have now.  I set my goals high, and didn’t hit the goal I intended, instead I achieved the type peace that I have dreamed of my whole life.

Since July I have been using the name “Rabbit” on my bib’s when I can put a nickname there.  It was my great grandfathers baseball nickname, and he was the person who put my grandfather on the path to become the hero of my childhood.  They were great men that I have always hoped to grow to be more like.  I feel like maybe, the way I was able to stand back up and keep going would have made them proud.  Maybe I earned more than my buckle; maybe I earned a smile from them from where ever they are now.

So, at the end of each yoga class, all of the participants bow their heads in respect to each other and the

Me, Heather, Jenn and Jessica right after the race with the buckle that belongs to us all

Me, Heather, Jenn and Jessica right after the race with the buckle that belongs to us all

practice, in deference to each yogi’s experience and the divine that lives within each of us.  The word “Namaste” is used, to express this mutual respect for each person that you shared that practice with.  I feel that way about this race.  It was more than a run in the woods for a very long time.  It was a journey through myself.

So to each runner, volunteer, friend, family member, I close my eyes, and bow my head to you.  Namaste.