Posts Tagged ‘trail running’

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

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

There’s a big

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

headed into the Canyon

headed into the Canyon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jenn took this of me finishing

Jenn took this of me finishing

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

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

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

Jenn and I after finishing

Jenn and I after finishing

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

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

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

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

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

Jemez 50k Race Gear

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roost runners at Jemez before the race

Roost runners at Jemez before the race

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

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

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

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

The Race

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jenn and Heather after kicking butt in the Half Marathon

Jenn and Heather after kicking butt in the Half Marathon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…