Posts Tagged ‘trail run’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race Day: aka The Counting Song

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

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

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

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

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

Samantha, Katie and myself right before the race.

Samantha, Katie and myself right before the race.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A photo of Lake Raven the day before the race.

A photo of Lake Raven the day before the race.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Last Lap: 20 Miles of Something More…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

my pacers Jenn and Jessica with me as I finish

my pacers Jenn and Jessica with me as I finish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

This race has been the badboy I have been looking forward to, and training for all summer, actually more like for the past 10 months.  All of my races since Rocky Raccoon, have been sacrifices on the alter of the Leadville 100, each one planned specifically getting me to the goal of crossing the finishing line at the Race Across the Sky in Leadville, Colorado.  The second 100 official modern 100 mile race in the United States, this race has been around for 30 years, and crosses the mountainous area surrounding the highest incorporated city in Colorado.  It passes a 11,000ft pass twice, and a 12,600ft pass twice.  In short, this race is not a joke, and I did my best to train with the respect this race deserves.

Since my finish at Silver Rush 50, I had been on a modified training plan, fewer miles, but high quality ones.  I got in another crossing of Sugarloaf Pass, and Hope Pass (for a total of 3 crossings, and 2 double crossings), while moving out of, and getting my house sold.  I had spent the afternoon of the 15th closing on my house, the last vestige of the marriage that officially ended in June.

For me, this race was my doorway into my new life.  I felt like I needed something more from this race than just a waltz across the finish line (which I was not at risk for regardless).  I needed the experience of running this race, of pushing myself beyond what may seem sane, and into the surreal, meditative land that comes when you push your body past your own belief, and fall into a type of bliss that I had only found in ultra running.  But, as I found in February, at RR100, this is heightened to a whole new level in 100 mile races.  I was looking forward to this.  Its addicting, and I needed it.

As I parked my car on the Summit of Fremont Pass to get some extra sleep at altitude on Wednesday August 15th, just 2.5 days from go time, I felt confident.  My crew would be coming up on Friday, and I would spend the next couple of days volunteering at packet pick up handing out free posters on Thursday, organizing my gear in the bins my friend Lisa had loaned me, and acclimate a bit more.

My running buddy Elizabeth, and her friend/crew chief, Tammy, showed up on Thursday, as did Jessica with her fiancé.  It was neat getting to spend some time ‘relaxing’ with friends who had a sense of the challenge we were facing.  Haze sat over the mountains, and the smoke that had plagued the mountains this year from fires all over the country came up in conversation.  I dismissed it as just haze.  I couldn’t let myself think about fire haze, those particulates, I knew would wreak havoc on my asthma, the one thing I only had so much control over.  I made a mental note that my inhalers would need to be my constant companions on this run, and dismissed it, while gazing into the haze that obscured the mountains not 5-10 miles from Leadville almost completely.

Friday morning came, and I woke up on Fremont Pass feeling happy and rested.  I went down into town, cruised through the expo, running into my Runners Roost friends, Marissa was pacing, and a couple Roost Team Runners were there ready to run.  I was happy to know that I would have familiar faces out there with me.

I met up with the other runners at the place Elizabeth rented off 6th and Pine, and we wandered over to the pre-race meeting.  Lisa, one of my crew, and the runner who I had paced the year before met us there, and we listened to the instructions, the warnings, and the course changes (there would be extra miles added due to a trail change coming into Winfield).  We all chanted with the long time race staff, and new, “I commit, I wont quit”.  This is how the meeting ends every year.  Each runner is asked to commit to not give up.  I left ready to run.

I spent the night in a spare room at the place Elizabeth rented, and woke with Jenn next to me, she had arrived late Friday night and found me asleep already.  In the darkness of 230am, everyone crawled out of bed, and prepared themselves.  I pulled my Mizuno kicks on my feet, tied them tight, and at 3:40am, wandered out the front door to find out place in the starting chute.

The Race  – Start to Powerine

“This is a gift,
it comes with a price,
Who is the lamb?  Who is the knife?
Midas is King, and he holds me so tight,
And turns me to gold in the sunlight
This is a gift”
– Florence and the Machine

The plan was for Elizabeth, Samantha, and myself to stay together as long as possible, helping to keep each other on track.  This strategy had worked amazingly well at Rocky Raccoon 100, and while this was a totally different race, I hoped it would help us all get

Left to Right: Jessica, me, Elizabeth and Samantha

through the early portions of the race.   The gun went off and so were we.

We did a great job staying together as we ran the first 6 miles, dropping off to use the restroom in the woods, catching up to each other, and maintaining an almost perfect pace.  When we arrived at Matchless Boat Ramp, right after hitting the Turquoise Lake Trail, the ladies dropped off to hit the restroom.  We had agreed we wouldn’t stop and wait for each other in these circumstances, so I kept running.    I also felt lucky, because there was no conga line I was stuck behind.  Everyone I was near was running where we needed to run and hiking where we needed to hike.

I thought the ladies would catch up to me quickly like they had before, but that wasn’t to be.  I cruised along the trail, making it into Mayqueen only 5-6 minutes behind my planned split.  In my mind, this was perfect.  Better to be a little bit slow, than a little bit fast at this stage of the game.  I was happy to see my crew all set up, everything went perfectly and I was out in no time.  Only 2 minutes lost there.  The crew said they heard Elizabeth’s number called as I was ready to leave, but I wasn’t wasting time waiting, we had agreed, we were running our own races, together as much as possible, but I had no idea how far back they actually were, and I couldn’t risk losing time hanging out, so I headed.

The trail was exactly as I remembered from Training runs, and was able to get easily around the slower runner without any issue on the flats and downs.  I found more folk to talk to and run with, and before I knew it was running down Powerline.  I felt pretty good at this point, but made an effort to reel it in, no reason to

Almost to MayQueen!

blow the quads at this point in the race.  I was close to perfectly on my splits, a couple off so I wasn’t all that worried.  Just before the last real down hill, we came up on a gentleman with a cooler, handing out coke and water, telling runners just not to die on his property.  I told him he was an angel on the mountain as I cruised by, snagging a coke along the way… no reason to say no to free calories!

I got to the bottom of Powerline feeling strong.  I swapped out my gear and headed to hatchery.

Powerline to Twin Lakes

I left Powerline ready to tackle the long section of road.  I came into hatchery with porta-potty business to tend to, but was not feeling the best overall.  As I left, Samanthas husband let me know that she had just come through.  I thought this meant that she had come in and left in the minutes I was taking care of business, so I booked out, hoping to catch a running partner.  I planned on running most, if not all of the road headed into Treeline, but quickly started to understand why that section of the race is dreaded.  It is completely exposed to the sun, and I started to heat up.  With the sun directly on me, I started to struggle with getting calories in.  I settled into a solid run walk pattern, but knew I was losing time.   Samantha, it turned out, had been behind me, and caught up to me at a run.  She was moving strong, and at that point I wasn’t able to keep up. I had built in a two hour buffer and really didn’t understand how much of that I was going to lose in this section.  After Treeline, the course is mostly uphill, and I couldn’t get my body into a good pattern.  I was hungry, but struggled getting calories in.  I felt myself cramping, and just forced myself to keep going.  I got passed by a few people, but everyone seemed to be struggling here.  The trail was more uphill than I had remembered in training, and the heat was taking a toll.

Halfpipe came out of no where, and I did my best not to lose any time, but again, the going felt harder.  I knew something was wrong,

but nothing that would normally fix it, was fixing it.  Drinking more out of my camelback?  Nope.  Eating?  Nope.  I was confused, but

Running down into Twin Lakes

there was nothing to do but keep moving, and I did.  When I made the Mt. Elbert fluid only aid station, I knew it was all down into Twin Lakes, and I did my best to run all of it, but the cramping in my sides slowed my run.  When I dropped into Twin Lakes, I was hurting, and ready to figure out how to make things better.

My crew had things ready when I came in, I chowed on potatoes, but continued to feel fatigued.  I felt like waiting wasn’t the answer, so it was time to move on.  I made my way through the aid station, where I saw Coach David from Runners Edge.  He came over and asked how I was doing.  I told him, and he instructed me to drink more, to focus on water.  I then saw Ben, who gave the same instructions.  Water, focus on hydration…

It was time to face the beast.

Hope Pass to Hopeless Aid Station…

“Regrets collect like old friends,
here to relive your darkest moments
I can see no way, I can see no way
And all of the ghouls come out to play,
And every demon wants his pound of flesh,
But I like to keep some things to myself,
I like to keep my issues drawn,
It’s always darkest before the dawn”
– Florence and the Machine

I left to cross the field to the base of Hope Pass, and as I neared the water crossing a thought hit me… the GU Brew!  It has way more salt than I am used to, and I switched to it more recently.  I had worried about this, so my crew had dropped to one tab per camelback periodically, but that may have still been too much.  Oversalting would add up to what was happening, but now my options were limited.  I had a pack full of the GU Brew, but there was no way around drinking it to Hopeless.  I pulled out my poles, and started up.  No stopping.  Constant pace.  I knew how to do this, but I felt myself draining, as I became more and more off balance.  I was also feeling my lungs tighten.  I needed to get to Hopeless, I needed fresh water, I needed electrolytes without so much salt.

I talked to others, giving them encouragement too, it helped me to feel like I was helping someone else get up this thing, but I was fading

Crossing the River, outbound. I was happy to stick my head in the water as I crossed, it felt really great!

fast.

Jessica and Elizabeth passed me as I felt I was slowing to a crawl, I wasn’t about to alarm them, so I just let them go ahead, knowing how close to Hopeless I was.  We needed to run our own races, and I was not about to make them feel like they needed to stop or slow for me.  I couldn’t live with that, so I focused on moving, one foot, then the other moving up the hill.  Through the last of the trees…  as I came into the station, I was worn down, and in need of real water, like Coach David had said back in Twin Lakes.  I asked the volunteers to dump what was in my pack and refill it with water, but my lungs were still tightening, and I was out of it.

I felt myself wavering a bit when I stood, I knew this feeling well.  Dehydration was setting in, and I needed to stomp it down.  Fixing that would help fix everything else, but what else could I do?  I wracked my brain, what was my body telling me?  It was telling me food, it was telling me water, and my lungs were telling me air, with what felt like endless cramps low in my chest.  Time to take care of business.

A volunteer asked me what I needed and I asked for my inhaler out of my pack, hoping to not even take it off.  They pulled it out, looking concerned, and as soon as they saw me use it, asked me to sit down, which I did.  I was upset with myself.  I had made huge mistakes with switching my hydration nutrition 2 weeks before the race, and now my lungs were revolting.  This should fix it, but I had a moment, feeling stupid, feeling like I put my race at risk not thinking through things.  I knew what worked for me, and I should have stuck with it.  I broke the rules, and I was paying for it, but I knew I would recover.  I felt better than I had at Greenland 50k a year and a half before, when I had bounced back like a ping pong ball from hell, so I could bounce back from this if I did what I knew I needed.

As I was processing this in my head, the volunteer got an EMT to come over to look at me, and they moved me to a chair, rather than the log I was sitting on.  They took one look at me and offered me electrolytes.  Yes, that’s step 1, thank you!  I told them about the salt, and they agreed, I was oversalted, so they gave me water as well, and cheese sticks for food.  I was ready to sit for 5 minutes, to let things settle, but I had every intent of leaving.  I could not stay here.  I needed time for some of the electrolytes to settle in, but movement was an absolute necessity, I couldn’t stay here.  As I sat, I became cold, I could feel the electrolytes helping, but not enough yet, I drank more.  I pulled on my jacket, and they gave me a sleeping bag for my legs as I shivered.  I wasn’t fighting their help, I knew every bit would get me closer to leaving.  I was still upset, and panicked, but I knew I had it in me to finish; this race was not over for me yet.  I wasn’t about to give in.  Not to this, not to my asthma, not to by mistakes, everything passes in these races, I knew that in my heart, and needed this too to pass.

After 15 minutes, I felt like I was as ready to go as I was going to be, so I pulled off the sleeping bag to go.  A volunteer came over, and told me they were thinking I needed to go back to Twin Lakes, to which I disagreed, so they asked if I would talk to one of the Doctors.  Minutes ticked.  I heard the GPS beeping, indicating the minutes slipping away.  I felt ready to go, I knew I was ready to go, I was pacing.  The Doctor told me to sit back down, and told me he needed me to eat more and sit in the sleeping bag more, that he thought I needed to go down but would talk if I gave it more time.  I had a mini break down.  The aid station volunteer asked me what was wrong, and I told her I wasn’t quitting.  The doctor had said I was going back down, but I wasn’t having it.  I wasn’t quitting.  I had come too far, run too hard for my asthma to be the reason they sent me down.  The aid station volunteer sent a text to my crew in Winfield, letting them know medical was holding me, but I knew they wouldn’t get it until after they left.  In my head, all I could think was “I am not quitting, I am not a quitter, and you can’t make me, I’ll show you I can finish this”.  But I felt helpless too.  This was an area I couldn’t be the Punk Rock Rabbit, I had to do as I was told.  If I disobeyed, I would be DQ’d for sure, and possibly banned from future events.  I had to play inside the flexible, and ever changing rules medicine had, but how could I help the people now in charge of making the rules for me understand?

The doctor came over, and I told him, I wasn’t quitting, what did I have to do?  “Walk around the aid station, maybe do some running.  Drink more water”, and they may let me go, so I did, but the minutes ticked by.  I wasn’t going down.  They kept holding me.  I felt like I was in hell, the aid station name could not have held more significance for me in that moment.  I felt so trapped.  I felt so desperate.  A volunteer told me I still looked out of it, but I knew I wasn’t, I was thinking clearly, I was over come with panic.  I had to go.  An the minutes ticked by.  Beep, Beep, Beep…

I went back, a few more minutes, a few more minutes, 15 more minutes they told me…. I jogged around, I walked, I needed to go if I was going to finish.  I needed to go!   But before I could leave I needed the Doctor’s blessing, and it wasn’t forthcoming.  I went back, knowing it was getting too late to make the Winfield cutoff, one last time to ask to go.  I knew, if the doctor delayed me again, my chances would be completely gone, if he said yes, I might have a fighting chance.

I went over, I explained again, I had been jogging, I had drank, I had run, I felt fine, I needed to go.  He looked at me, and told me I could go ahead and go!  Not wanting anyone to have a chance to change their minds, I went to my pack, picked my things up and went.  It was well into the 4pm hour, I didn’t know if I could make it to Winfield, but I wasn’t about to quit.  There was no room, for anything, nothing but movement.  I felt like I had escaped the spiders web, and it was time to run now.

Hopeless to Winfield (aka fighting to stay alive)

“Shake it out, shake it out,
and its hard to dance with the devil on your back,
so shake him off
and I’m done with my graceless heart,
so tonight I’m gonna cut it out and then restart,
cause I like to keep my issues drawn
Its always darkest before the dawn
Shake it out”
– Florence and the Machine

I was intent on keeping good form going up the remainder of the pass, and moved up the hill without too much trouble.  I passed others, and I maintained a strong pace.  As I crossed the timing mat up top, I collapsed my poles, convinced that I could run faster without them, and started down the hill.  I struggled with managing the loose rocks for the first quarter mile, and was worried about my ability to make it down with the speed I needed, without rolling an ankle, if I didn’t use my poles, so I pulled them back out.  It had been over a year since I had used the poles for downhill running, but quickly got back into the groove.  Using them to stabilize my steps, I picked up speed rapidly.

I came up on another runner using poles, but moving so slowly, and asked her if she knew how to use them.  She was the first I had seen

trying as hard as me to make it down.  I wanted to help her.  I had tried to encourage others to run as I went by, but she was the first that didn’t look defeated.  She looked like a fighter.  She said no, so I showed her as I ran, and before I knew it I had a companion coming down Hope Pass.  I asked her what her name was, and she said Jane.  We talked about how fast we would have to move at Winfield in order to make it through, but I was convinced we would both make it, if what the race organizers had said about the new trail were true.  Near the bottom of the pass, I rolled my ankle, and she saw it, but just as I had done for her, encouraging her to use her poles to keep a faster pace, she encouraged me to keep it moving.  I knew she was right; there was no room for pain here.  Only running.

When we made the turn onto the new trail, the course marshal’s told us we had another 4-5 miles to go… What the F***?!?!?  4-5 more miles?  I felt my heart sink,  the task was now far more daunting.  It was 530pm, we had a long way to go on an unknown trail that is now well over a mile farther than I thought it would be.  I shouted back to Jane that we would still make it we just needed to run!  No negativity, only running, there was no room for anything else.

It was at this moment, the race morphed into something entirely different for me.  This was no longer about finishing; this was about

Trevor and Jenn running into Winfield

proving that I wasn’t the type to quit.  I wasn’t the type to give up to circumstance, or other people’s fears for or about me ad my health issues.  Yeah, I have asthma, so what?  Sure I had heart surgery when I was 26.  So what?  That was a part of me, and one that had stolen so much from me as a kid.  These are things, things that have no place here.  They had no room here.  There was no space in me for those poisonous thoughts, only me and this trail, and running like I was free, and like my life depended on it.  I knew I had something more in me, and now was the time to find that, and make this happen.  If I were going to miss the cut off at Winfield, it wouldn’t be because I ever gave less than my all.  I would make the aid station staff see that I pushed myself to the bitter end.  I wasn’t about to go out without a fight.

With this determination I called back to my friend, who I realized I had dropped, and forced myself along this new section of trail I had never seen before.  With my GPS dead, I had no way of knowing how far I had come, or even what time it was.

Driven by the need to make the cutoff at Winfield, I ran on, power hiking a few uphill sections, but I was not giving up.  Anything that wasn’t a steep up, I ran.  I tried to get others to run with me, I didn’t want to be alone in making this fight, I wanted us to all fight tooth and nail to get in.  So what if we fought and still ended up missing the cut, at least we went down fighting.

I felt like an hour had been stolen from me, that I was set up to not make it, but the Doctors had let me go, giving me even the slightest chance, and I wasn’t going down without a wicked fight.  Tooth, nail, bone and blood.  Nothing was stopping me from putting it all out there.  If I was going to get cut, I may be the only person to know it, but I would no I hadn’t quit, that I had fought every second to stay in the race, and finish.

I saw Coach David, and the Roost Team, I saw Samantha, Jessica and Elizabeth.  I shouted back I had been held by medical as I ran by so they wouldn’t worry.  They were all in the game, I was making time, but this would be close.  Coach yelled to me not to quit, so keep going.  I saw Winfield far below me, the trail kept going up, this was a sick joke!  But I wasn’t quitting, I ran on. With no warning, I saw the trailhead sign, but was told a half-mile left!  A half-mile and little time to do it, the cut off was on us, but I could hear the screaming at Winfield below.  I ran.  I ran hard.  There was no time to rest, the time to rest would come when I finished this, but it wasn’t now.  I saw several people standing on the road, yelling at us to run!  All I could think was “I’m running as hard as I can!” so they ran with the 3 of us coming down the road, turning, shouting “run!”

I was 100% tunnel vision now, but I saw Jenn pop out of nowhere, screaming at me to run, telling me I was awesome, but to run, and I ran.  I heard, my name getting yelled below me, my crew was down, the road, shouting me to come down the road.   I made the turn, and saw the timing mats, and was directed over them, to the scale.  I stopped to wait for one, but was directed by race staff to another, which I stood on, and held my breath… I couldn’t get cut now, not because of weight… the numbers popped up, 193lbs!  I had gained 4 pounds, which confirmed I had oversalted, but that was fine now.  I just needed to get out an run.  I stepped back over the mat, and was ready to get Becky and go.  I saw my blue inhaler, and told the crew to put it in Becky’s pack, I would se it and run, but I had a second, so I used it while my pack was prepped.  I told the crew, no more GU Brew, water only.  They pulled my pack on me, handed me my muscle milk, which I drank half of, and walked with my potatoes, eating them and walking quickly up the road, as Heather strapped my new GPS on my wrist.  There was no time to waste, I thanked them, and was off, following my pacer, Becky, up the road.  I let her know I needed to power hike this up to recover, and filled her in on the last leg of the race, but that my new goal was to catch Elizabeth and Jessica.

Winfield to Twin Lakes

“Run fast for your mother,
run fast for your father,
run for your children, for your sisters and your brothers
leave all your love and your longing behind
you cant carry it with you if you want to survive”
– Florence and the Machine

I was still in this thing, I had fought to make it this far, and the fight wasn’t over, not by a long shot, but it was time to push more.  This well of determination felt endless, and now I had a friend to help me keep drawing from it.

I knew I was a long shot, but I needed something to push me.  We agreed that I could not stop for any breaks on Hope Pass, and we

Headed back up to the Hope Pass Trail, on the new trail section with my pacer behind

didn’t.  We made out way up the mountain, Becky singing to me, telling me stories of her recent trip to South America, and cracking jokes when possible.   My crew had made me hummus on a tortilla, which Becky used to lure me up that mountain. Becky would let me know when we passed a previous minute per mile average, and kept going onwards, and upwards.  We passed runner, after runner.

Our headlamps were pulled out shy of the summit, but I didn’t care, now, I wasn’t going out without a fight.  We would make those cut offs, I would see those Dr’s again, and show them how strong I was, that they were right to let me go, and then go to Twin Lakes, and make that cut off too.

Becky and I came up with a game plan as we crossed over the summit of Hope Pass, trying to recruit other runners to commit to running all the way down the mountain to make the cut off, but few would even respond to that.  We would divide and conquer Hopeless Aid Station, she would refill my camelback while I got food, and we would go.  No time to waste.  And we didn’t, but I did go to the EMT, and Doctors to show them I was alive and kicking, they were amazed how well I was going, and I even gave them hugs for letting me leave, then booked, there was just no time to waste on anything, but I learned long ago, grace goes a long way to keeping myself moving and happy.  They had just done their job, they did what they thought was right, and I owed them my thanks for that.

A half mile out of Hopeless, I realized my headlamp was on the low setting, so I switched it to high, and ran found myself able to pick up the pace again.  As I heard Becky falling behind as she tried to raise the crew to let them know what I would need, I told her if I dropped her, to catch up on the flats, and then let it all out.  I ran that pass like it was daylight, I ran that pass like I was on fresh legs and like it was a training run.

I realized I had dropped Becky but shouted back and she could still hear me so I asked her to get my jacket and I took it off and dropped it on the ground for her to grab, and ran.  Without the heat, I felt even faster, and before I knew it was at the bottom, I let out a yell of defiance at the pass as I ran on.

I felt good, no I felt great.  I felt the best I had all day, I was in my element, this was my world.  Sometimes, on training runs on Bergen Peak, or in Deer Creek Canyon, I would fall into a trance, almost, as I ran.  It would become me and the trail.  It’s like everything in that moment exists in slow motion, every step is intentional, but my focus would hone in so tightly that that step was the only thing in the universe that mattered at that moment, then the next, and the next.  This is where I was.  I have come to run for this feeling, its so freeing, and I was there.  60 miles in, and as I ran down the pass, I felt like my soul was raised up to the universe, bared out, briefly pure in this movement.

I felt graceful, like I was in a dance with the mountain, and I had found my home again.  I felt this in SR50, RR100, and CP25.  This was where I needed to be.  This was how things needed to be for me right at this moment.   I had come into the race seeking this feeling, and even in the moment, I didn’t feel like I had achieved, it, because I was so absorbed by the purity of movement.

I broke free of the pass, and let whoop and a shout into the sky, “I made it down!”  I could see Twin Lakes in the distance, but the time to rest was still a long way away.  I still had to prove that I could make this cut off, and then each after that.  It was time to keep running.

Becky caught me shortly after the river crossing.  We could hear the people in Twin Lakes yelling.  Becky was on the radio and heard they were still letting runners through, so we ran, Becky had no mercy, and I didn’t want it, running was the only thing there was to do so I ran.

We crossed into the parking lot, the guy in grey was there from Winfield and he yelled at me to go, saying he remembered me from Winfield and I could do it again, but I had to run, so I did.  Jenn and Heather caught me crossing the parking lot, and as I ran up the road, handed my poles to someone, and cranked it out, I had to run!  I had to make it.  I heard my crew telling me things, telling me I had to look good, I had to look strong to get through, but all I knew was I had to run.  No niceties, I didn’t have room for that.  If they were going to let me through, the determination in my soul would shine through.  As we came up to the Aid station, a staff directed us to the timing mat, and then the lady with the scissors stepped out in front of my path.  I knew her.  She was the cut lady.  I had begged her to let Lisa through at MayQueen a year before.  I knew her word was final.   It was her job to be stoic.  It was her job to enforce these rules.

She said no more runners were coming through, that it was done… my legs gave out, and I fell on the ground.  I started crying; I don’t think I have cried that hard in a long time.  All I could think was how hard I ran for so long, how I tried, how I hadn’t lost time because I quit, but because of my asthma, and how I had fought, but it wasn’t good enough… Honestly, in that moment, I was crushed.  My crew reminded me that being held for over an hour at Hopeless wasn’t my fault, but at that second, it was little consolation.  My race was over, and I was nowhere near ready for it to be over.  I was utterly overwhelmed by emotion, and really didn’t give a crap who saw it.

After… well, actually I have no idea, I pulled it together, stood up, and my crew offered me assistance, which I refused.  I had run all the way in, I was not about to do anything other than walk with my head held high.  I was not happy with how things turned out, but I knew I never quit.  I knew that I ran stronger in that last 15 miles than I had run in any ultra, or any race, ever.  There had been no quit in my brain, only running.  I had done what I actually set out to do, and I walked away feeling undefeated.

My crew stayed with me, offering me food, and telling me how proud of me they were, and I absolutely believe them.  They are my friends, my supporters, they may not be related to me by blood, but they are part of my family.

I may not have gotten that buckle, but I ran without ever letting myself give in, and it would have been so easy to, so many times after I got to Hopeless the first time.  Does this make not finishing any easier?  Not really.  I have something to prove now.  So many people helped me get to Leadville, so many people helped me get to mile 63 in Twin Lakes.   There are too many people to let down.  So I will be going back next year.  I will be getting that buckle, not just for me, but for all the people who sacrificed along with me.  So they can know their sacrifices, their time, and their faith in me were worth it.

“I commit, I won’t quit”.  I meant it when I chanted it with the rest of the runners in the pre-race meeting.  I still haven’t given up, I still haven’t quit..  Even though the race in 2012 ended with me walking away without crossing that finish line, I never quit, and won’t until I cross that finish line, with my head held high.

“and I’m damned if I do, and I’m damned if I don’t
so here’s to drinks in the dark at the end of my road,
and I’m ready to suffer, and I’m ready to hope…
shake it out shake it out,
and its hard to dance with the Devil on your back,
so shake him off”
– Florence and the Machine

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…

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

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

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

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

The Race

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

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

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

just then a tiny little dot caught my eye

it was just about too small to see

but I watched it way too long,

It was pulling my down

I was up above it,

I was down in it”  – Nine Inch Nails

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

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

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

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

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

Black Bear Trail (difficult to run!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Runners at the top of one of the tougher sections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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