Posts Tagged ‘ultra running’

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

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

There’s a big

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

headed into the Canyon

headed into the Canyon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jenn took this of me finishing

Jenn took this of me finishing

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

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

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

Jenn and I after finishing

Jenn and I after finishing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me and Kirt before the race - photo by David Manthey

Me and Kirt before the race – photo by David Manthey

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

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

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

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

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

a photo David Manthey took of me coming through Mayqueen

a photo David Manthey took of me coming through Mayqueen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Where Ever I May Roam by Metallica

“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…*

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Race

“When I walk beside her, I am the better man
When I look to leave her, I always stagger back again
Once I built an ivory tower so I could worship from above
When I climbed down to be set free, she took me in again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

coming across the finish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As far as things I learned:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Race  – Start to Powerine

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

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

Left to Right: Jessica, me, Elizabeth and Samantha

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

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

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

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

Almost to MayQueen!

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

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

Powerline to Twin Lakes

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

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

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

Running down into Twin Lakes

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

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

It was time to face the beast.

Hope Pass to Hopeless Aid Station…

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

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

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

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

fast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hopeless to Winfield (aka fighting to stay alive)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trevor and Jenn running into Winfield

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winfield to Twin Lakes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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