Posts Tagged ‘running’

“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!

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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.

*I know I am posting this late, but better late than never!*

As Jenn and I drove out of the Rio Grande Gorge in New Mexico, I looked at my dash to see where the next turn was and caught a glimpse of the temperature outside the car, 89 degrees.  I looked at it dumbfounded for a moment, and then watched it steadily climb to 92 degrees as we travelled down the road.

Jemez 50k Race Gear

I had been looking forward to this race for quite a while now.  It would be my first ultra since RR100 in February, and after running Fea

r the Deer Half Marathon in Denver two weeks earlier, I was feeling really good about this one.  The Jemez Mountain Trail Races have a special reputation of being the training ground for aspiring Hard Rock 100 runners.

With roughly 7000ft of total elevation gain and loss, as well as steep, unrelenting and very technical trails, this 50k was not one to be at all underestimated, and the heat would only add to the challenge.  My girlfriend, Jenn, would also be running the half marathon, along with our good friend Heather, and realizing how hot it was going to probably be prompted us to begin planning for the worst case heat scenario.  Since Jenn is reasonably new to trail running, I felt some responsibility for her being out in what looked like it might end up a repeat of the conditions we had for JJ100, only with super technical trails.

For a good part of the remainder of the night we talked strategy, and packed I made sure she had enough Saltstik Caps, which we had luckily stocked up on at Runner’s Roost in Colorado the day before we headed out.

The prerace pasta dinner (which was happily included in our race fees), was nice, and was an opportunity to get one last update on the course, as well as meet up with Heather, her husband Darrin and their kids.  After the long drive, my brain was not really functional, and I did my best to get myself focused for the race ahead so after a quick shopping trip we hit the hotel room, and I went into my normal pre-race routine.

Since Jenn was worried about her race, I gave her the smaller mala bead bracelet I wear, and pulled out the larger set of beads I keep in my messenger bag.  I decided I really, more than anything, needed to have something I could look at throughout the race to remind me of the mantra that I swore I would use in hard races to keep myself going (and went into at length in a previous entry), “My mind is empty and my body is as vast and as expansive as the sky”.  Then as I prepped, my mind also went to another mantra that a man Jenn and I had met at Mt. Everest Imports in Downtown Denver gave me to use when races got hard. I had used this in my meditation practice, and yoga, so I knew it would be an easy mantra to bring my mind back to focus mid race and remind me of why I was out there in the first place so I pulled out a bright red Sharpe and proceeded to draw the Sanskrit syllable Om on the inside of my right arm, as this would remind me of the two mantra’s, as well as bring my back to the purpose of these races for me.

Roost runners at Jemez before the race

Roost runners at Jemez before the race

I went to sleep ready to run, ready to give this race my all, and to have fun along the way.

When I woke in the morning, I quietly got my things together since Jenn had wisely decided to take advantage of a couple extra hours of precious sleep before her race.  I pulled my stuff together and headed out.

I got a great parking spot near the Posse Shack at the race start/finish.  Everything was very well organized, checking in and dropping off drop bags was super straightforward, and the race even set up porta-potties that were gender specific which made the lines go really fast.

I found my fellow Roost teammates, we took a photo and before we knew it we were off.

The Race

I honestly had few expectations in regards to the course other than it would be hard.  Running through stables certainly made the first quarter mile, well, fragrant… but before we knew it the course made a hard left, and was headed down into the canyon on really nice trails that had some technical moments that would foreshadow what was to come.

I was excited, and feeling good until a mile in when I felt my left quad start to throb.  In my head I told myself this was probably nothing, and that it was not worth letting this get in my head.  Dan Archuletta and I ran together briefly, but we were both running our own races and we parted ways about 3 miles in.  Despite the first section between the start and Mitchell Aid Station at mile 4-ish having 900 ft of elevation gain, I kept a solid pace and felt pretty good.  I was also doing a good job with keeping my mind off my quad, which was not getting any better, but I kept plugging away.

the start of the race with Dan A. right in front of me

the start of the race with Dan A. right in front of me

Right after the first aid station I found some other runners to chat with as we descended into and climbed back out of canyon’s as we worked our way around the base of the mountain.  As we climbed out of the last steep gorge, I decided it was time to think carefully about hills before I tried running up them and since I had rolled my right ankle heading down into it, I really wanted to my head on what I was doing.  I paid less attention to whether other runners were pulling ahead or not and stayed focused on my race.

I found another runner, who I would start referring to as “Golden” (since she said she was from Golden, Colorado) right before the second aid station.  When we came into Camp May Aid Station I could not have been happier.  I knew that the second worst section of climbing was done.  Between the Mitchell Aid Station and Camp May was 1500ft of climbing, which meant we were ready for the big climb up Pajarito Mountain ski area.  This meant only one BIG climb was left, and I was actually feeling jazzed, as I was not feeling too bad.  I had managed to pull my focus away from the soreness in my left quad, and my right ankle

The Camp May aid station was fantastic, well stocked, and they even had a portable shower that they had set up to let runners dump water on their heads before heading out.

This was a huge bonus that I made certain to use before heading out as the heat was settling in.

It was time to settle into the long climb.  Myself and Golden hung together for a large portion of the climb, which started out as a subtle uphill.  Initially, I wandered what the hype of this section was as we worked our way up towards the base of the ski lift.  Then the real climbing began.  After a few switchbacks we connected to a mountain bike trail that, with pretty minimal switchbacks went straight up the hill.

I quickly regretted not carrying my trekking poles, and knew they would have made a huge difference here.  A runner ahead of me (soon to be called Florida), had picked up a stick, which I quickly mimicked, and made a huge difference in balancing the exertion on my hamstrings and quads, which I wanted to save for the long descent in my hopefully not too distant future.  I was also running low on water and hoping the aid station wasn’t too far away as I started rationing.  As I climbed higher and higher, I reminded myself of the mantra.  Now that I had a stick in my hand, and my eyes were down, they fell squarely on my forearm where I had drawn the symbol ‘Om’, I started chanting mantra quietly to myself.  As we topped out near the ski patrol hut, I saw Prayer Flags and I suddenly had a centered hippy moment!  The initial gentle downhill was a great section to run, then it turned down the black diamond ski run.  Straight down…

Looking Over Los Alamos, where we started, and the climbing isnt half over yet!

Looking Over Los Alamos, where we started, and the climbing isnt half over yet!

I really underestimated this section and ran straight down it.  Near the bottom that left quad that had been talking to me the whole race, it started screaming.  I was also out of water and with the heat, was getting very thirsty.  The single track trail we turned onto would have normally been a blast for me, but with my quad, I just couldn’t get my left leg up high enough without real pain to feel confident in my ability to dodge the many rocks and obstacles on the trail.    I reminded myself that aid would be coming up soon, I would get water, and things would get better.

As we came out of the trees, and saw the Ski Lodge ahead, my heart soared.  I needed water pretty badly, and the biggest bonus, Rachael and Heather were still there.  They helped me get some coke, my stuff from my drop bag, gave me huge smiles and I was off!  Having them there was fantastic,  and the boost was immeasurable.  They kept me from spending way too much time there, and having smiling faces you know at any aid station is always a boost.

I headed out on another uphill, which would normally be runnable, but my quad was now really not cooperating.  The section between Ski Lodge and Pipeline was mostly up, and the down was the first notice that this quad issue was not going away.  Despite this, I was determined to stay positive.  At the last major uphill for a long time  (described as a couple bumps by Aid Station Staff, which was a beautiful was to minimize to keep runners positive), I pulled out my ipod, and focused.  Once I got to the top, I thought to myself how much downhill I had to go.  I was, for the first time in my trail running career, dreading the long technical down I knew I had ahead, but centered myself and went.

The trail was rocky, and I had not tightened my shoes, which led to me pounding my toes into the front of my toebox for the first quarter mile, then, in my sloppiness, my left foot missed a rock, my left big toe jammed into the front of my shoe and I could feel my toenail lift.  I pulled the pain back inside, stopped and tightened my shoes.  I wanted to take it off to assess the damage, but knew better, and kept going.  At one point, Florida passed me along with one of her friends, and was nice enough to give me a Tylenol, which I had forgotten at home.  Thanks Florida!

I called this 'the wastelands' after a while, the heat was brutal as we continued across to the canyon before 'Last Chance Aid Station

I called this ‘the wastelands’ after a while, the heat was brutal as we continued across to the canyon before ‘Last Chance Aid Station

The remaining run between that point and the Last Chance Aid Station was dusty, very hot, and technical.  I was now also feeling very timid about doing anymore damage, so I was running this technical trail very slowly.  I was averaging 12-13 minuet miles on this downhill, which for me on this type of terrain is very slow.  This is normally where I feel at home, but I was focused on keeping moving.

As we dropped into the canyon leading to the last chance aid station, the heat settled in a whole new way since it was blocking all of the breeze, but the signs the aid station staff put out were not only funny, but encouraging.

When I got there, I found that the rumors of beer were not only true, but they had homebrew one of the volunteers made.  Not only was it good home brew, it was amazing home brew, and I made sure to drink enough to mellow the soreness.  I was now determined to pass anyone I saw.  I knew we had some uphills left, but this type of friendly competition always keeps me going in hard races.  I started bringing runners into sight, and reeled them in, running as many ups as possible to do so.

Eventually I caught up to Florida and her friend, and we had a fun back and forth for the remaining mile and a half.  We were now on the trail we had gone out on, so the fun rocky gully up to the end was not really a surprise, and made me chuckle as I thought to myself this must be the Race Directors opportunity to remind us of what we had done already at the very end.  My friend Darrin was at the top taking some photos, and cheering me on.  Happily, we did not have to go back through the stables, and before I knew it, I was done.

the last climb out of the canyon right before the finish - Photo by Darrin Coffman

the last climb out of the canyon right before the finish – Photo by Darrin Coffman

I have to admit, this was a really tough race, for a lot of reasons.  That being said, it was an incredibly well run race, with fantastic volunteers and great aid stations.  This is a race I would do again, and think I would do better knowing what to expect.  The best part, I achieved my goal of running this very tough race without ever letting myself go down the road of negativity.  That was an important goal at this race for me. Ironically, this race, though tough, at least as tough as Dirty 30 in Colorado, really was the most confidence building race I have had this year.  After some of my struggles early in the year at Houston Marathon and Rocky Raccoon, I needed to remember why I love running ultra’s so much and this race did that!  I should also say that Jenn and Heather did amazing in their half marathons.  This was their first real mountain trail race and they kicked butt!

The drive back was a beautiful tour through Southern Colorado and New Mexico, and I have to say if I run this race again, I will drive again.  Jenn and I hit the Great Sand Dunes National Park ad the Stupa in Crestone, Colorado then got to drive through the Colorado Mountains all the way back home.  Life is good.

I want to put out one last thank you to my friends who were out there cheering me, and the other runners on, especially Darrin at the end and Rachael and Heather at Ski Lodge.  It was totally unexpected, and was the biggest boost in the world.  Thank you so much!!!

Jenn and Heather after kicking butt in the Half Marathon

Jenn and Heather after kicking butt in the Half Marathon

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.

 

 

The Javelina Jundred (correctly pronounced Havalina Hundred with the J’s pronounced as H’s like in Spanish) is a 101.4 mile ultra marathon that takes place in the Arizona Desert outside of the Scottsdale suburb of Fountain Hills.

Back in May, Coach David successfully talked me into signing up for this race, as well as

one of my friends Lisa (who also wrote a report for this race that can be found here: http://avalon42.wordpress.com/2012/11/02/javelina-jundred-2012/).  We, in turn convinced another friend, Elizabeth to run it.  The plan was to make this the most fun race of the year.  Initially, I wanted to run it as a no time goal run after LT100.  Well, since I DNF’d at Leadville I figured I was in a better position to go for a personal record… hell and if all the stars aligned than maybe even a sub-24 hour time.

The course consists of six 15.4 mile loops, washing machine style followed by a 9 mile ‘half ‘ loop.  The course runs through the Desert of McDowell Mountain Park.  The key to that, is the word ‘Desert’.  When I signed up, I had planned on heat, but with no time goal, it wasn’t such a big deal.  Now, if I wanted a PR, I would have to either be able to deal with the heat more effectively than in previous races or have a cool day.  If I wanted a 24 hour time, the heat would have to be lower, and I would have to manage the warmth.

I had my pacers lined up, and they would be helping crew as well.  When I got on the plane leaving Denver in a snow storm, I felt like I had done everything I could in my power to be successful.  When we got off the plane in the heat, I got a little bit worried…  Somewhere in my head all I could think was “oh f**k… this really is the desert…”

As friends showed up, we met and chilled out by a pool, went to packet pick up and prepared mentally for Saturday morning.  And as a side note, the race SWAG we got at packet pick up was pretty sweet for this one.

The Race

“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 climbed down to be set free, she took me in again

There’s a big, a big hard sun
Beating on the big people
In the big hard world” – Eddie Vedder

I had been given the option of sleeping at the host hotel with one of my pacers, Heather. 

left to right: Me, Elizabeth, David and Lisa right before the race started

This meant I got to wake up, get my Mohawk up in a warm room and get out the door feeling a bit more prepared than I do sometimes when I camp.  We met Elizabeth and Jessica in the lobby and headed to the park.

The race staff did an amazing job getting things together.  Jessica left us at runner drop off, which was right at the start finish and we quickly found Lisa and David.  We talked strategy for a minute, which really consisted of going out slow, took some photos, and lined up for the start.  With the horizon starting to lighten and all the headlamps around me, I opted to pull my headlamp off.  The count down started, and we were off.

With all the runners I worried about the trail getting too crowded, and having Leadville Style conga lines, but that issue never manifested.  The trail gently rolled out towards the mountains in the distance on great trail.  Before we knew it we were running past Coyote Camp Aid station 2 miles in, no one stopped.  It was too early, 2 miles in.  In fact, part of me wondered ‘why the is this here, so close to the start finish?’.  We moved on, after Coyote Camp, the trail got rockier, but this early in the race, I wasn’t noticing.  We ran, talking as the sun rose above the horizon.  I got to know one of Davids running friends, a coach out of Kansas City with bright purple hair, which is always cool.

Once we came up to the top of the hill after Coyote Camp, the trail became a series of rollers.    Short, 20-30 foot ups, followed by down hills, shorter on the way down.  While it was getting fun, and the trail getting more exciting, the heat was also starting to kick in.

We rolled into Jackass Junction feeling good.  I stopped to go to the restroom, grabbed some food and headed out.  David and Colleen made it out of the Aid Station the fastest, so we fell behind, but kept plugging along.  When I left the start line in the morning, my goal had been to finish the first lap between 3 hours at the fastest, and 3:18 at the slowest.  I had been warned by a friend who had run this race before that after Jackass Junction it would be easy to pick up speed and cruise into Javelina Jeadquarters (the start/finish of each loop) way too fast, so we made sure to take our time coming down the hill, though it would have been easy to tear that section up.

I finished lap 1 just past 3 hours.  Elizabeth had gone out ahead of me and was getting her

almost done with my second lap, Coach David captioned this on facebook “Ultra Smurf”… he has a point 🙂 – Photo by David Manthey

feet taped, so I hit the restrooms and took care of some necessary issues after visiting my wonderful crew.  I left the Aid Station at 3:15, I had spent a lot of time there, but it was all important stuff, so I felt good with where I was at as I headed out for lap 2 on my own.

There was a solid breeze on the way back to the Rattlesnake Ranch Aid Station, and was just enough to help cut the heat of the sun, which was now coming down in earnest.  It was also here that I noticed the hill we had run down on the way to Javelina Jeadquarters.  It was pretty consistent for almost 6 miles, between the road and Jackass Junction.  I walked a good portion of it, but after Rattlesnake Ranch, the breeze became considerably less consistent.  Once I left Jackass Junction the lack of wind became even more pronounced.  Often the breeze was blocked entirely, and I realized how hot it was actually going to get.

By the time I got back to Javelina Jeadquarters, I felt like I was in an easy bake oven set to broil.  I knew full well this would only get worse, so when I got to my crew and saw that they had my hat out and soaking in ice water, I was ecstatic.  Jenn, who was unsure if I had a bandana had actually cut up one of her shirts and had that soaking as well so that I would have a bandana, and she had given Elizabeth half as well when she went through.  Even though I had one, it meant that I not only had the had that I could put ice in to cool my head, but an ice cold bandana around my neck and one around a wrist.

Lisa came in as I was getting ready to leave, and since both of us anted company for the 3rd loop, I used a couple of minutes to get more food in and cool down a bit more and it helped her keep moving through the aid station.

I was not looking forward to this loop.  I had gone into this race knowing that the 3rdloop

One of the many Cacti all over the park. These things are huge by the way!

was likely to be the hottest, and it did not disappoint.  This time out, I could not have been happier to see Coyote Junction 2 miles in and now fully understood why this Aid Station was placed where it was.  The ice in my hat was already gone, and the bandanas were actually warming up.  We refilled and left after getting a misting of water by the wonderful aid station staff.  The back half of the loop was the hottest last time, and there was a bad feeling that it would be the same this time.   Again, it didn’t disappoint.  As we made it back to the hill leading to the Tonto Tank water drop, I was already heating up badly.

I run hot, and am way too easily impacted by high temps, it has always been a weakness of mine at these races.  Fruita 50, and the Bear Chase 50 had both handed it to me because of the heat, I wasn’t about to let it drain me so much this race.

At Tonto Tank, I rewet my hat, my bandanas and went back out.  The water was warm, but it would help cool me off.  I was cooking, but the sweat was evaporating so quickly I couldn’t even tell.  The wind was nearly completely blocked, and as I went on I could feel myself overheating.  The uphills that seemed runable, were tricking me into overheating myself.  By the time I was a mile from Tonto Tank, I was overheating dangerously.

Lisa was hanging back for me, so I asked her to go on.  I knew what I needed to do, I

needed to run within myself.  That was the advice Coach David had given me on Tuesday

we passed this tree over and over again on the race course. I thought it was really cool so I went back the next day to take a photo of it.

at Speed Training, and I have learned that its always better to listen to what Coach has told me.  That meant walking every up this time, and gently running the downs, so that’s what I did while I reminded myself that all I had to do was get through the last of the day and it would be doable from there.  This lap would be the worst, but one aid station at a time.

As I felt myself heat up, I started getting desperate for the Aid Station and ice.  The desert heat was slowly wasting me.  As two of the front runners came up, I asked how far Jackass Junction was.  I couldn’t have looked too good because they asked if I was ok, and what I needed.  I said I just needed to get to the Aid Station to get ice to cool my core down.  The lady, the female leader, stopped, and gave me ice water.  When I asked she said her name was Tracy I think.  The level of class she showed was incredible.  It did help.  It was at that point where anything that cooled me down, even for 2 minutes was a blessing.

When I caught sight of Jackass Junction, my joy could barely be contained.  Lisa hadn’t gotten there too far ahead of me, and I went straight for ice, liquid and then got some food in me.  This time, I didn’t just wrap a wet bandana around my neck.  This time I rolled ice into it and wrapped it around my neck.  The effect was dramatic.  Within minutes my mood, my ability to run smoothly, my sense of humor was bouncing back.  As I bounced back, Lisa struggled with her stomach, and I stayed with her for the remainder of the loop.  The sun was dropping, but it was still hot and felt like staying with my friend as long as I needed it, then ditching her as soon as I felt better when she had stayed with me when I was struggling was bad juju.  The positive side effect was I kept it reasonable through the end of that lap.  By the end I had started calling the sun the “Unholy Hell Disk”, and it was dropping behind the mountains fast.  I came into the end of loop 3 ready to roll, feeling like the worst was over.

When I came in the crew let me know that about 50% of the runners had dropped already…

I took food in, ate potatoes, made sure I had my headlamp, and headed out.  The run wasn’t over yet!  In 5 miles I would be half way through.  I was feeling better and better every minute.  Lisa and I moved quickly while maintaining a strong run/power hike pattern up the long hill to Jackass Junction, picking up a few runners along the way.

At Jackass Junction Lisa sent me out ahead, and I was off running in what I had wanted to

be my favorite area.  As I started across the rolling rocky trail between Jackass Junction and Tonto Tank by headlamp, I felt alive.  I picked up the pace in a huge way.  A half mile out of Jackass, I put my headphones in and cruised, stopping or slowing only to check in with the runner I saw sitting on the side of the trail.  I gave him a stinger waffle and kept moving.  I knew now was the time to make some deposits of time in the bank.  I was pretty sure a 24 hour finish was out of the question, but a PR was still in the cards if I could turn it on.

I ran it in strong, even shutting my headlamp off for bit after Coyote Camp, able to see so well in the moonlight that I felt like the headlamp was overkill until I came up on the road just shy of Javalina Jeadquarters at the end of the loop and at mile 62.

I didn’t stay long, I felt strong and wanted to capitalize on it.  I picked up my pacer,

Jenn and Heather, my faithful crew that stayed up the whole 26 hours in the desert with me and 2 of my pacers! I wish I had a photo of me running with Andy!

Heather, crammed food in and left.  Heather and I kept the pace strong.  We made the same time up but I was starting to get hungry, and the hungry wasn’t getting resolved by the chews or waffles anymore.  As we came into Jackass Junction Heather asked me what I wanted to eat, what the one thing would be if I could have it.  Grilled Cheese popped in my head, and it sounded fantastic!  But I had seen the cooking utensils the outer aid stations had, and knew they were not going to be equipped to make one, so Heather promised if I ran hard into Javalina Jeadquarters, there would be a grilled cheese waiting for me.  There was quite a bit of motivation in this for me.  When we got to Rattlesnake Ranch, I heard her calling back to Jenn, asking her to see if the aid station could make a grilled cheese… the prospect spurred me on!  I ran several 11 minute miles coming into Javelina Jeadquarters, at mile 86, and even saw some Coyote eyes glowing in the dark as we ran the path between the main park road and the start finish area.  It felt good to move so strong!

Aside from that, when I came into the aid station, Samantha had corralled a grilled cheese sandwich for me, and it was in fact the most wonderful thing in the world!  Combined with some potatoes and muscle milk, I was ready to roll with Andy.  The swapped my pack out and I was ready to go.  Andy kept me rolling strong until just after Tonto Tank, when the hunger monster returned with vengeance, but this time, the wheels fell off with it.

I was out of fuel, the hunger was telling me I just had not eaten enough, and I hadn’t been

This is a particularly nasty breed of cactus… apparently 4 runners went headlong into one of these during the race… ouch!

able to stay ahead of it.  As a consequence, we went from passing people right and left, to maintaining our place.  This was not where I wanted to be.  To boot, I had not re-lubed up to this point, and chaffing was setting in, making running painful.  When we got to Coyote Camp, there just wasn’t anything of substance that I saw, and wanted, so I ate some of the things they had and rolled on, chugging slowly along.  Andy came up with a game plan for coming into the aid station.  We had still made reasonable time, but I needed to remedy issues before I could have a successful last lap.  I would come in, get some calories in me, re-lube and go.  He sun would be up soon and the issue of warmth wouldn’t be there, though I was dreading running in the sun again…

As soon as we got in, Andy and the crew got some food in me, and I was ravenous.  I ate potatoes, and a muscle milk.  I started shivering fairly quickly, so I didn’t linger as Jenn pulled her pack on while her and Heather walked me to the porta potty so I could go re-lube.  When I went in the porta-potty, I took care of the chaffing issues, and had a little break down.  I knew 24 hours was gone, the clock passed that point while I was at the aid station, and with 9 miles left to go, I was worried tht even a PR was out the window if I couldn’t get it together.

I pulled it together and headed out with Jenn.  She, unfortunately, got a little bit of a revolt.  When she tried to get me to run anything that even resembled an uphill, I flat refused.  I was being a bit of a brat, but my stomach still hurt, and now needed to use the restroom again.  I was not so happy.  As we came into Coyote Camp I asked her if she could check and see what type of Ramen they were using, if it was chicken, then I might be willing to violate my vegetarianism just this once, but anything else was too big a risk since I am allergic to pork and red meat had not been any part of my diet in 15 years.

I took care of business in the porta potty and when I came out discovered there was beef based ramen.  The wonderful aid station staff problem solved with me and made vegi broth with some of the boiled potatoes in it.  Brilliant!!!  Why hadn’t I thought of this much earlier?  It was wonderful.  We headed out, soup in hand, power hiking up the hill to Tonto Tank.

Jenn had substantially more success in getting me to run as we approached the Tonto Tank turn off, but couldn’t get me to run up the steeper hills that were presenting themselves.  As we came up  on Tonto Tank I realized that the Gatorade in my pack just wasn’t doing it anymore.  It was time to switch to water.  Jenn took my pack and started changing the water while I pushed myself back up to a run.  From here, I honestly had no idea how far it was back, I hadn’t read that in the previous reports, and my brain wasn’t capable of doing the rest of the math.  Jenn caught up to me and told me that she had talked the volunteer manning the Water Drop, and we only had a mile and a half left.  My brain immediately went to a certain level of indignant irritation, there was just no way!  I knew it was something like 5.5 miles out to the Tonto Tank turn, and this was a 9 mile loop… or maybe I was wrong about the distance out.  While I was playing with the numbers in my head, trying to figure out all the reasons I shouldn’t have to run the whole remaining distance in as hard as I could, we got passed, twice…

Jenn kept prodding… run harder, come on, its not that far, its only a mile and a half…

So I started pushing harder.  I was running harder, I had some fuel left to burn, not much,

coming across the finish

but it was time to burn it.  I let myself start believing what my beautiful girlfriend/pacer was telling me in regards to how far I had left to run (which were a boatload of lies for the record) and I ran.  We managed to pass one of the groups who had passed us, and I was spurned on.  I couldn’t get passed again.  Aside from that, if I could run hard repeats at speed work, I could run this.  After all, it was just a mile and a half left (more like 3.5 a this point… but I was willing to believe the fabulous lies my dedicated pacer was spoon feeding me).  I pushed as hard as I could.

When we made the turn onto the Pemberton Trail, I knew there were uphills left but I had made the decision that I was running this in.  There was no more power hiking.  I had run the whole Tonto Tank Trail, this was a matter of pride.  Jenn pushed me in the way I needed to be at that moment, and I pushed hard to the end.  When I looked up and saw the time on the clock (time of day not race time) I was worried that I had missed my PR as well, but when I crossed and heard 26:47:02, I was a little numb.  I asked Jenn what time they had said.  When she repeated it, I realized that not only had I managed a PR of 57 minutes in a race where over half the field dnf’d off the 100 mile distance.  Coach David, Jessica, Steve and his wife were there to congratulate me, as were my three fantastic pacers that I really owe my race to, Andy, Heather and Jenn.

I got led to a chair, where a beer was waiting, but I honestly just wanted to go over to the

Jenn with me right after I crossed the finish line. Photo by David Manthey

cot that the crew had been using.  I peeled my shoes off, laid down, and promptly passed out.  Jenn woke me up when Lisa came in for her finish so we could all cheer her in.  It turned out that Samantha had volunteered to pace Lisa for the last 9 miles so that she would have someone to bring her in too.

This race was an amazing experience in every way.  With so many fantastic friends out there running together, pacing and crewing each other, and generally supporting each other, I walked away from this race feeling like everyone had been a huge part of each runners finish.  We all had the most amazing crew and pacers out there.  I cannot begin to say thank you enough to everyone.  However, in no particular order; Jessica P., Heather C., Samantha W., Andy H., Steve and Mitzi K., and my super fantastic girlfriend Jenn, THANK YOU ALL!  You all came out and selflessly gave your time and energy to the four Runner’s Edge Runner’s that were out there for the race, and words cannot express how grateful I am to all of you!

In the end, what I learned from this race is that when you have friends around you that support you, anything is possible regardless of the obstacles out there!

As far as things I learned:

1) I finally figured out the shoe thing!  I stayed with what I knew was comforatable for my feet, and made that my priority.  My Mizuno Ascends worked wonderfully.  I should have stayed in the 7’s the whole time, I have loved my 6’s to death at this point, but no foot issues the entire race that were shoe related.

2) I got my nutrition 90% right this time.  Next time though, I will place real food in my drop bags, so that when I come into aid stations where I can access my drop bag, there is always food that I know is Trevor friendly.  Even though the race did a fantastic job with Veggie friendly food, they started running out of some items that were veggie friendly staples and it would have made a huge difference in keeping myself completely fueled.

3) If I run within myself (as my sage coach David Manthey so eloquently preaches), and make time goals secondary to listening to my body, and running as strong as is safe and healthy, then in the end I am capable of oercoming obsticles that have nearly ended races for me in the past with minimal discomfort.

As a total side note: Jenn, Lisa and I all went back to the park after the race because I

This is what happens after running 101.4 miles… falling asleep with my arm around my new buckle and one of my favoirte beers within reach! – Photo by Heather Coffman

really wanted to get some photos of the Cactus and trees we saw out on the course.  We visited the visitor center and learned tons about this amazing ecosystem, and is totally worht the $6 it cost.  The park staff was so friendly and was excited to tell us all about the unique trees, cacti and wildlife.  Once we were done, we went wandering and as we drove through, we did actually see a group of Javelina wandering near the road.  Unfortunatly thefurry little creatures are pretty skittish so we couldnt get photos before they ran off, but given one was eating a cactus, my guess is they are tough buggers!  Maybe it was better we didnt have any encounters during the race!!!

“When she comes to greet me, she is mercy at my feet
When I see her bitter charm, she just throws it back again
Once I dug an early grave to find a better land
She just smiled and laughed at me and took her blues back again

There’s a big, a big hard sun
Beating on the big people
In the big hard world” – Eddie Vedder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Race

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An open area between Long Lake and Base Camp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– New Order

The day after this amazing race experience, I am honestly struggling to process it a bit.  It was an incredible experience, and I think that may be part of the problem.  I was able to really find my center on this run, experience substantially more happiness than difficulties, and finish strongly despite an awful lot of ups and downs in my life outside of running.  I kind of feel like processing this experience is like chasing the will o’ the wisp through the woods; some things may be better left to ones own internal machinations as opposed to trying to regurgitate and risk spoiling the joy in the process.

Regardless, there are not a ton of Race Reports for the Silver Rush 50 that detail the course, so I am going to try to write this in a way that expresses the joy I experienced as well as course details for anyone headed out next year…

The Lead Up

 I am happy to say that over the last month and a half, I have met, and started dating an amazing woman who supports my running in every imaginable way.  I mention this because having her support impacted me and my ability to train enormously.  This allowed me to get up to Leadville and run at elevation nearly every weekend in June after Dirty 30.  During the week I focused my training on difficult single track trails in the Front Range and Evergreen, making a weekly Tuesday after work pilgrimage to BergenPeak, and running with Runners Edge for Trail Runs every chance I had.  Going in I felt strong, despite not knowing the course and set my sites on achieving a PR for the 50 mile distance. 

 My previous PR was set on a much flatter course in Denver, and stood at 11:31:56.  I wanted to

a photo I took of Jenn doing Yoga on Indpendence Pass the day before th race, it was cool just chilling out acclimating

come in at 11 hours flat if possible. I knew it might be a tall order, as I was going out to run this as a training race, so no killing myself to make this happen.  I would have to complete this task with energy to spare.  I built a split chart, shared it with my friends from Runner’s Edge of the Rockies that I would be out on the course with and began the process of mental preparation.  I was able to pick up everything I needed pre-race from my favorite running store, Runner’s Roost, on Thursday, so I had all the honey stinger waffles and chews I needed.  I felt like I was good to go!   

 Jenn (my wonderful girlfriend) and I drove up Friday night after preparing and packing what I refer to as my bucket of pasta, and made the 2 hour drive to Leadville.  We located a spot to set up camp at the informal camping area next to Clear Creek Reservoir just south of Granite, Colorado, had a beer (I was carb loading after all!), then hit the sack as early as possible. 

 I can’t sleep much past sunrise when I am camping, so we were up by 7am on Saturday morning.  I made us some coffee, and decided I would spend the morning showing Jenn some of he beauty this part of the world has to offer.  We drove up to independencePass, where she did some Yoga at 12k feet and I soaked up the acclimation before heading back down to Leadville for packet pickup.  On the drive in we could see dark clouds over the area the course was in and saw lightening pop periodically.  I made a mental note of the time.  The race day forecast was identical, so having that info in my back pocket was important to me.  I wanted to be back to Rock Garden from Stumptown before those clouds gathered during the race and having an idea of when the storms may build was invaluable to me.    

I picked up my packet and timing chip, and waited to meet up with my friends.  Lisa showed up first and mentioned that she didn’t remember the finish looking the way it did now the previous year, but assumed that was the result of being tired the last time she was out there.  The Mountain Bike version of the race was underway, and while we stood by my car, we heard the announcer bring in the 1st place cyclist who set a course record.  As the announcer was regaling the accomplishment he mentioned an important tidbit; the course was a mile-ish longer than previous years.  A well known fact about this race is that it is shy of 50 miles.  Previous estimates placed it at around 47 miles, however given the difficulty of the terrain, no one has ever complained much.  LifeTime Fitness purchased the race series on 2011, and it seemed they were doing their best to get that number closer to 50.  The issue was, no one knew where those changes were made off hand.  And did I hear that right?  A mile?  Really?  Hmmmmmm, that might effect my spilts…

 The rest of the day was spent hanging out with Jenn and my other friends who would be out running the race before hitting the sack around 7pm.   I was a bit worried, as the other folks in the campground were stoking fires, and I hoped that it wouldn’t prove to be an issue with my asthma.  Luckily, the haze wasn’t too bad, and we fell asleep with no problem. 

Race Day

 I woke up at 330am, and after a wet, chilly night I didn’t spend much time twiddling my thumbs. 

Left to right: Samantha, Me, Dean, Lisa, Front: Elizabeth and Jessica. All with Dutch Henri Hill in the background. Photo by Jenn

Jenn and I got dressed and were on the road to Leadville in no time.  We arrived at the start/finish area at 450am with plenty of time to drop off bags, take care of business at the porta potty and meet up with the group.  We got some group photos, and lined up, ready to go.  The race started promptly at 6:01am. 

Start to Black Cloud

 The course starts at the bottom of a steep hill, and runners have to reach the top to cross the timing mat that starts your race. Not wanting to waste energy just to get to the start, I hiked the hill along with 90% of the rest of the field.  I was able to gain a good position as I hit the runable trail on the other side, and seemed to be with people of a similar pace. 

 The course follows a double track trail for the first half mile, where there seemed to be a real problem with bottle necks, even on downhills.  Elizabeth caught me pretty quickly, and we bypassed a slow train moving down a steep hill on the right side, before hitting the first of many wide dirt roads. 

 I knew Elizabeth was a faster uphill runner than I, so I opted to not try and stay with her.  As

Jessica hiking up one of the Hills a little more that 3/4 of the way to Black Cloud Aid Station. This was where the hills started to show up.

soon as Elizabeth passed out of view, Jessica and Samantha caught up.  We enjoyed the moderately graded course, as it left Leadville and worked its way to Iowa Gulch.  The mantra I repeated every time I started pushing harder than I knew I should for this race was “remember this is a training race”.  My goal was to behave the way I knew I would need to during the Leadville 100 to maintain the entire race, and this section made it hard to judge what my pace needed to be, and did I ever feel good!  This was not a bad problem to have.

 Overall, the biggest difficulty of the section leading to Black Cloud Aid Station is not the steepness, but the lack of difficult steepness for much of it.  In comparison to the trails I had been running this was substantially more moderate.  While there were some hills that are obvious “power hike me” hills, most is completely runnable, and a on a normal training run I wouldn’t think twice about running.  The result was me asking myself more than I should have “should I be running right now?”.  98% of these trails are on dirt roads, and I was reminded of ColligatePeaks.

 We arrived at Black Cloud Aid Station feeling solid, but excited to make our first psychological check point.  This aid station is listed as a “Fluid Only” Aid Station outbound, so I expected to be able to down some water and go.  What was not advertised was that this was also a cup free aid station.  I checked my camelback, it was fine to get me to Printer Boy, so we headed out.  Apparently, shortly after I passed through the Aid Station ran out of water… Apparently this is the second year this has happened…

Black Cloud to Printer Boy

 From this point you can see the course up above on a road that parallels the track you are

Looking ahead just above Treeline, the road you end up on is on the side of the mountain to the left, its hard to see in this photo but its there.

running on.  Jessica Samantha and I maintained a strong pace, while the route continued to go up at a moderate angle.  Nothing terrible, but enough to wake you up and say “hey dummy, you are only 7, 8, 9 miles in, don’t push it”.  Jessica and I decided to stick with the pace we were maintaining at this point and not pass anyone, it was too early and there was plenty of running ahead.  The views of Iowa Gulch, with DyerPeak over head with the sun low on the morning horizon was breath taking, literally.  The lack of trees, and the sweeping views of the gulch reminded us we were nearing 12,000ft, and the oxygen is not a thick here.  Despite the lack of O2, we maintained a talking pace, and chatted as we discussed the fact that these moments are why we do this.  Absorbing the beauty, we pushed onwards and upwards.

 The switchback that signals the fist of 2 points above 12k is visible for a couple of miles, but the trail rather abruptly curves left and tops out at about 12,000ft onto a well graded dirt road.  As we crossed onto the road, Dean caught up and let out a whoop of triumph, we had just topped out at 12k for the first time of the day, and respect had to be paid!  With that, we all

What you get to look at headed up into Iowa Gulch

started running down the road towards the next mental check point. I took stock of this, and the fact that I would be going up this later, but enjoyed the 3 mile run back down to treeline. 

 At a little over 13 miles in, the dirt road becomes paved road, and follows this up to the Printer Boy Aid Station.  I felt incredibly good coming into the aid station, which was stocked with everything imaginable, and was filled with clanking cowbells, and cheering crowds.  My watch read 2:55, 1 minute off my predicted split.  Bonus!  This is always invigorating, and leads a person to linger too long, which was a mistake we did not make but still ended up there for almost 4 minutes because I

Jessica took this as we headed up into Iowa Gulch outbound

struggled to get my Camelback bladder to close properly.  We headed out, crossing the timing mat 3 hours into the race.  We were doing awesome!

Printer Boy to Rock Garden

 Jessica, Samantha, Dean and I all left Printer Boy Aid Station, food in hand, running down the forested single track trail.

Rock Garden in the distance.

  Again, I was taking stock of all this down hill, it would be a piper that would have to be repaid later, however I wasn’t going to let that ruin my fun now.  We talked about the joys of running, coming close to nailing our splits, and spending time running with your friends through the ColoradoMountains.  I think we all knew that this moment would not last forward and that the time we would start to break apart would be coming soon, so we enjoyed it while it was there.  After a good bit of down, we crossed a paved road and started up again.  From here the trail moved up consistently along wide roads and ATV trails.

 Some of the trails once you start heading back up are less than scenic, and I was starting to miss Iowa Gulch.  After the downhill double track right after leaving Printer Boy, the trail dumps out onto a dirt road, which then dumps onto an ATV track.  These hills were much steeper than before, and there was no question about whether to run or power hike.  This was the land of the power hiker.  I found myself tempted to dive down the road of negativity, but as Dean caught up to me he immediately took to chatting about the happier things in life, like the fact we were not so far away from seeing the people we care about at Stumptown. 

 About 17 miles in, we turned briefly on, then off a road, and found ourselves hiking up to treeline quickly.  As the sun shone over head, and wide open vistas came back into view, the song “Stairway to Heaven” popped into my head.  I misquoted it to another runner badly, but didn’t care.  Seeing the wide open Colorado sky seemed to call to my soul.  Before I knew it we rounded a corner and we were at Rock Garden.  The aid station volunteers were amazing, and had water in jugs waiting for runners to arrive.  One of them helped me deal with getting my G2 packets into my water bladder and refilled it for me.  I hit the Coke pretty hard, drinking 4 cups of pure sugary goodness, snagged some PB&J and was on my way. 

Rock Garden to Stumptown and Back to Rock Garden

 We headed out of Rock Garden as a group, but this wouldn’t last.  Samantha, Dean and I got out ahead on the uphill right

Samantha starting the first downhill after Rock Garden

out of the Aid Station, and as we turned right, heading back downhill into the trees I started to feel my body.  The upper teens are normally my hardest miles, and the sudden, steep and rocky downhill made me feel a little more stiff then I wanted.  I had gotten a little bit behind on my salt, but overall was doing well, just running this downhill less gracefully than I would have liked. 

 Samantha caught me quickly on the downhill, and passed me, but Dean and I caught her as the slope flattened out a bit and the next major climb came into view.  The leaders were now coming the other direction, looking like the badasses they are.  I focused on moving strongly upward as we made our way to the top of the 2nd Highpoint.  This part of the trail was definitely steep, and reminded me of some of the steepest sections of the BergenPeak trail, except without trees.  When we got to the top we felt like the worst of the outbound trip was over, even though Samantha let us know we would have one more decent climb coming into Stumptown, which we could see from halfway down the pass.  There were hardly any clouds in the sky, but the ones we could see were obviously clouds to be reckoned with if they grew up too fast. 

 Dean and I were out front, with Samantha just behind as we worked our way into Stumptown.  We saw Coach David about a half mile before the turn, and he sent us with promises of popsicles upon our return.  Dean and I were spurned on by the thought that more friendly faces would be waiting, but we were still ahead of our splits. 

 About a Quarter mile from Stumptown we saw Elizabeth coming the other direction looking incredibly strong, we pushed in.  I looked hard for Jenn, but as we worked our way up and around hill after hill, I couldn’t see her.  Dean and I were starting to wonder where the hell the aid station was, as the course seriously routed us up and down what started to feel like every available little hill before a volunteer let us know we had a short downhill jaunt into the aid station.  We found out later that this is one of the areas distance was added in.   

 When I got there, nothing looked good to eat.  I drank a couple of cokes, and dug through my drop bag to get more G2

This popsicle was like mana from heaven!

packets, but nothing looked good at all.  A volunteer helped me with my water and even opened my G2 packets for me, which I cannot state how grateful I was for, but I was slipping a bit.  I wanted to see Jenn so badly, it had kept me moving, but we had gotten there too early and she wasn’t there.  I pulled a muscle milk out, and tried to drink it, but it was nasty. At Rocky Raccoon I had used Chocolate, and the Late flavor was just too bitter and acidic for my stomach. Nothing seemed to be working in that moment.  Samantha convinced me to just get moving, that maybe Jenn had gotten there while we were at the Aid Station, so I headed out.

 As we left, a truck started backing out, and it was John Hill.  I was so excited to see another friendly face, and he was encouraging, which got me going a bit, but I really wanted nothing more than to see Jenn, but went ahead and resigned myself to the fact that I had come in too early, and missed her.  I still had a race to run. 

 Samantha and I picked it up and as I asked Samantha if she saw a trash can for my muscle milk.  I was not about to carry it the 6ish miles back to Rock Garden. I started scanning ahead for a trashcan or someone who looked like they would be friendly enough to toss it for me and saw red hair.  Wait, that’s Jenn’s red hair!  I couldn’t have been happier.  I gave her a huge hug.  This was worth so much to my morale!  I was halfway through, and I got to see this wonderful woman who I knew wanted to see me succeed.  Elizabeth’s husband and kids looked so sad that they missed her, but I let them know she was running really strong, and was tearing up the course.  I only spent a minute there, but when I left I felt so much better. 

 By the time I saw Coach David again, I was stoked and ready to tackle the 3 big hills to get back to Rock Garden.  I took advantage of a popsicle, which turned out to be the best popsicle in the history of mankind.  I saw Samantha out ahead, and was happy that I had almost caught back up.  To boot, I saw Lisa coming down the hill.  She came into this race after fighting an ITB issue that almost kept her from starting.  I was so happy to see her looking so strong!  Samantha and I powered up the first major hill out of Stumptown, which was a long dirt road.  I had expected it to feel much worse on the way up than it did.  I started down the hill, and the balls of my feet started screaming.  There was no way I was letting this drag me down, so when I reached the bottom of the hill and the stream crossing I totally ignored the small bridge in favor of a direct stream crossing.  The cold water felt so good on my feet that I was actually excited for the up, and the second crossing of what I was now calling ‘Hope Pass Jr”. 

 Clouds were building in, providing periodic shade from the sun, but were not threatening yet.  I knew making it back to Rock Garden wouldn’t be a problem at all, but felt like I was going to be getting wet at some point. 

 It felt good to pass people as I worked my way up, but started to struggle with breathing.  I felt my lungs tightening up, and half way to the top had used my albuterol inhaler.  It helped clear out my lungs a bit, but the side effect of speeding up my heart rate, nearing the top of the pass, was not what I was looking for.  Again, I put my head down and reminded myself that this is heaven we are in, and the solution to all of my problems here live in my head.   I celebrated where I was at and how I am here because I love being here and kept moving.

 I was happy to be on the far side, but was also ready to get the final hill between Stumptown and Rock Garden.  I had gotten ahead of Samantha on the way up the pass, but she caught me again on the down, I was feeling clumsy on the downs and wasn’t moving as fast as I could.  I was just… off.  I pushed myself to stay with Samantha on the up to Rock Garden and we rolled in with Dean right on our heels. 

Again, these aid station volunteers rocked.  I forced myself to eat some watermelon and had 6 cups of soda.  They put tons of ice in my camelback bladder and I felt 90% ready to go, but something was holding me back. 

Rock Garden to Painter Boy (Inbound)

 I pulled my ipod out as I left Rock Garden, feeling like it was time for a pick me up.  I was dragging still and a half mile

Jenn took this photo of me coming back into Printer Boy Aid Station inbound

out and I figured it out… my GI track was angry.  I remembered seeing a porta potty out there in the trees, and low and behold, there is was.  I prayed it wouldn’t be locked, and it wasn’t.  I pulled off without saying a word to Samantha and Dean, I didn’t want them to be thrown off or worry about me at all.  I was worried I would have to have this moment in the woods, and I dodged it!  I lost 5-6 minutes to the G.I. issue, but I discovered what had me feeling so upside down.  I headed out, feeling more alive then I had in a while, I turned my ipod on as I started running again and the song “Hi Friend” by Deadmou5 popped on.  I was feeling good running again, feeling alive and much less clumsy.  I knew I had a lot of downhill ahead, and I had time to make up now.  All I needed to get me going was a friend to go with the song, low an behold I saw Jessica out ahead.  I picked it up to catch her and happily pulled the headphones off to run with a friend. 

 We made our way down the hill, and before I knew it we were ready to start back up the last hill to Painter Boy.  I saw

Oza, (someone I had volunteered with at Greenland 50k and had seen with her husband at every race I had run this year) out ahead and decided I would try and keep up with her.  Normally, I am a talker while I climb with people, but she encouraged me to focus on the climb, and keep each other motivated by trying to push each other without wasting energy talking.

 There was truth to this, I put one headphone is and focused on moving.  Before I knew it, the trail started to flatten and I could hear the cowbells.  We rounded a corner, and there was Jenn again!  She cheered me on, and Elizabeth’s kids had come up with a cheer that was really cute. 

Jenn took this photo of me slamming soda instead of solid food at Painter Boy inbound. It was just easier.

 Seeing Jenn there was great!  I decided not to refill my camelback here, but hit more coke.  I was finding that liquid calories really were going down the best, and were keeping me as fueled as possible.  Jenn walked with me over to Coach David and… more popcicles!  Yup, at this point 80% of my calories were Popcicles and Cola.  I left the Aid Station ignoring my splits entirely.  I knew I was doing ok, and could still make 11 hours if I pushed hard. 

Painter Boy to Black Cloud (inbound)

 Leaving the Aid Station I was feeling good, but the bottom of my feet were really starting to hurt.  I was regretting not switching to the Wave Ascends like I had planned on at Stumptown.  I think those would have accommodated the swelling in my feet a bit better than what I ended up wearing.  I knew I was hydrated, so I took a couple Tylenol to cut off the edge, and kept the tunes pumping.  Before I knew it I was out ahead of Dean and Samantha and started focusing on reeling in other runners ahead of me, rather than how my feet felt. 

 I had one last climb over 3 miles to 12,000ft, and knew it was 90% down from there so I would set my sights on a runner out ahead, and push myself to catch and pass them, then another and another.  Each time was a bit of a boost, and took my mind off the long uphill climb.  Even though this is not a steep climb, the length, and the altitude definitely have an impact.  The clouds were sparse now, and the sun was making this exposed uphill section toastier than I had hoped, but it was worth it to not have to worry about lightening. 

 Dean caught back up to me a half mile before toping out, and making the turn onto the 3 mile track down to Black Cloud.  As we turned, you could see storms sitting on the SawatchPeaks to the West, and I knew that it would not be long before those storms hit us and was very glad that I would be safely below treeline when they did. 

 Heading down this trail was much more painful than it should have been.  The balls of my feet were really starting to hurt, and it was slowing me down on this rocky trail.  I had the strength to go faster, but my feet felt like someone was pounding them.  I was not about to walk any of this I didn’t have to, and started focusing on my music, my footing, and nothing else.  I knew I had slowed down, as a couple of people passed me, but I was hell bent on coming in as close to 11 hours as possible, and this still felt completely doable if I could just ignore the issues with my feet for another 10 miles.  I knew I can do anything for 10 miles.  I kept moving on an intensely painful IT Band issue for almost 25 miles at Rocky Raccoon, this was nothing to that.

 I took to singing out loud to my music when I didn’t think anyone was too close by, and before I knew it was at Black Cloud Aid Station.  More Popsicles from the wonderful Coach David, a refill on my Camelback, a bunch of Cola and I was out.

Black Cloud to the Finish (gimme some excitement!)

 Leaving the Black Cloud Aid Station, the skies were starting to mimic the Aid Station name.  The storms were on us.  There was no way we were dodging them, it was just a matter of time but I really didn’t care.  I was worried about time, but the softer dirt of the trail on this section was making my feet hurt less to run on.  I was starting to have some GI issues again, and was passed a couple times as I let cramps pass, but I wasn’t stopping for anything now except to pee once.  Relentless Forward Motion. 

 Once the storms hit us, people started to stop to put jackets on, but I was having none of that.  I figured that with only 5 miles left all a jacket would actually serve to do was trap heat and humidity on my body, and knew I would quickly sweat it out.  If this was the 100, I would have done something to cover up, but not here.  I was looking to this to bring my core temp down a bit, and hell, it felt good to experience running through the rain like I did at Dirty 30. 

 I was power hiking the few uphills, and periodically had to drop to a walk to let the pain in my feet pass but overall, I was moving.  I passed several people, and eventually had one last group in my sights.  With 3 miles left, I was determined to finish ahead of them.  There is nothing to win or lose at this point in the race for me, but it provided me with the motivation I needed to keep going strong, so I did my best to catch the group of guys, all of which looked like they were in my age group, bonus!  I could move up a tiny bit in my division rank!  I passed them running around 2.5 from the finish, I looked at my watch, 10:45, there was little chance of me making the 11 hour mark, but I could still beat these guys in, I knew that.  As I passed them I determined I wouldn’t show that my feet were hurting at all, no weakness, this was going to be a fun game for me.  .

 Shortly after I passed them, the group picked up pace and passed me then promptly dropped to a walk… hmmm… I passed them again, and they repeated passing me again in the same manner as before.  This was a game now, and I was all in for some chess with 2 miles left in a 50 mile race. 

 I decided to stay behind them for now, keep up a strong walking hiking pace, and when they slowed down, picked it up enough to get them to push harder to stay out ahead.  They kept looking back at me, so I got the sense they were watching me, and my strategy was working.  With the exception of my feet, I actually felt really good.  My GI issues were completely manageable for the remainder, and this was entertaining me to no end. 

 As we pushed up the last long hill, I came up close, could have passed, but decided to bide my time, and to demonstrate weakness.  We were on top of 11 hours and about a mile left, so 11 hours was gone, but I could still win this game.  I played up my feet hurting, and hung back a bit waiting to see the clearing that would signal the top of the hill we had climbed at the start.  I knew from the day before that I would have about a quarter mile from there to wrap around the top of the hill, go down and cross the finish.  I cut back the distance between us, and as soon as I saw the timing mat that marked the top of Dutch Henri Hill, I turned on my run.  I wanted to put distance between me and them and knew if I started running at an out and out sprint to pass them, then maintained an up tempo run down to the finish it would be hard for them to catch me.  As I passed them one of them actually complimented my turning up the pace, and I could hear them behind me, so I knew that they had picked it up as well. 

 When I hit the top of the hill I unzipped it, and pushed it in like I was doing speed work with

me crossing the finish… I actually paid for a realy copy of this without the crap lettering but the digital copy for $10 hasnt come yet…

Runner Edge, playing Coach David’s metronome in my head.  After 50 miles, this may not have looked quite like it would in Speed Work, but I was definitely moving.  I kept it up across the finish line and was ecstatic!  As I crossed the line I saw Jenn, Dean and Elizabeth all waiting.  Its so awesome to have friends out there when you are finishing a difficult race, but finishing as strong as I did made it even better.

 We all hung out and waited for the entire crew to finish, a couple had to leave a bit early but were there in spirit as every one of my friends finished the race.    

 I missed my time goal by 8 minutes, about the time I lost to GI issues after Rock Garden, but I think trimming about 22 minutes off my previous Personal Record for the 50 miles on a course like this is pretty good.  As far as the guys I passed at the end, I have no idea if they were actually trying to stay ahead of me or not, but I have to say their presence made that last couple of mile an awful lot of fun.  One of the biggest things for me is finishing these races strong, and they helped motivate me to do that.  In fact, this may be the strongest I have finished an Ultra up to this point.  So I have to throw a thank you out there to them.    

 I was very interested in getting my shoes off, and as soon as they were, the pain went away, so I am pretty certain it was swelling that impacted my feet, and the pain I was having.  I should have switched to my Mizuno’s at the turn around, but just didn’t have the motivation.  This is something having a crew for will help with at LT100. 

Also, I have to put a huge thank you out there to the Race Staff and Volunteers.  Even though Black Cloud outbound was lacking a bit, every volunteer was incredible, the timing was super cool (they actually pulled off live updates that friends and family could watch at half marathon intervals) and the professional race staff was kind, and endlessly helpful in helping my locate the drop bag I forgot to grab as I left. They helped make this race an incredible experience. 

Now for Leadville 100 on August 18th… let the count down begin…