Posts Tagged ‘100 mile race’

“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

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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.