You would think that after the fascinating run that was Bryce Canyon, that reality would have sobered up my punch-drunk drive of insanity in the woods. However, deaf to my own friends, family, and household cat telling me to stop, I swore to the world I could hear the mountains calling me…
…and I had to go.
In May of this year a friend from Colorado came to visit, and run an awesome 5K with myself, my wife, and several of our friends. He had moved from flyover land to the land of the Rockies the summer prior. He had experience with marathons, 5K’s, and all the other road running events. However, in May he informed me that he wanted to try his luck at his first trail race. It was a local event called the Barr Trail Mountain Race in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Mind you, this was before I cheated death at Bryce Canyon. Looking up the information with him sitting next to me, I laughed, passed, and moved about my life.
There was no way in all that is good and holy on this planet, streaming with death and agony, that I would sign up for a race that was 6.2 miles up Pike’s Peak and 6.2 miles back down Pike’s Peak. That is categorized as insane, stupid, and…well…
…I signed up the night after I arrived home from Bryce Canyon a month later.
Feeling like I was winning with the $55 entry fee, I called up my friend, informed him that I would be ‘joining’ him on his journey, and planned out my adventure to the alpine version of my abundant poor life choices.
Some truths about the Barr Trail Mountain Race:
- 100% of race fees are donations to local cross country teams, search and rescue programs, etc…
- The course is a 3000 foot ascent, followed by a 3000 foot descent
- 95% of the course is wide single track along the legendary Barr Trail
- You will peak just over the 10,000 foot mark
- Over 350 entries in 2017
- 3:30:00 hard cutoff
If I could have rolled a Yatzee on ensuring that I made every mistake possible prior, during, and after a race; I was the big winner at the Barr Trail Mountain Race. To start this concept, my wife and I are surprisingly busy during the summer. Because of this, we decided that we would leave at 3:00 AM CDT Saturday morning, drive across
insanity Kansas, arrive in Colorado around 12:00 PM MDT, run the race at 7:00 AM MDT Sunday morning, and drive back home that night because I had to be at school the next day.
Please prepare yourself for the most amazing, mind-numbing 44 hour bender that your running brain will ever grasp.
We left our home at 3:00 AM Saturday morning as planned, by 4:00 AM we were sitting on the side of the highway with an out of state sheriff informing us about speeding down a hill, and that our light was burnt out on our license plate cover. By 8:00 AM we were eating McGriddles along I-70 in Hays, Kansas, and at 12:00 PM MDT we rolled* into Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Mistake 1: Not getting enough rest. Cramming into a Mazda3 and driving across three states the day before a race.
Mistake 2: No matter how you spin it…McDonald’s
Arriving in Colorado Springs you are blessed with the view of the local mountain range; including a brief glimpse at Pike’s Peak. Embracing my new found courage from Utah, I stared down the mountain from within our microcar…and proceeded to whimper while my wife laughed at me. At 3:00 PM MDT I found myself sitting at a local burger joint with our friends eating a late lunch. Lunch? Try a 1/4 pound beef patty, half of Japan’s mushroom stock, all of Wisconsin’s cheese reserve, and two buns. By 4:00 PM MDT I was secretly, discretely running to the bathroom while my intestines decided to mimic The Purge.
Mistake 3: Greasy, delicious meal the night before the race leads to emptying of bowels and more importantly…dehydration sets in.
Afterwards, nearing 5:00 PM MDT we are caught in a freak rainstorm, there is flash flood warnings throughout the city, goats are fleeing for higher ground, and mud is running through the streets**. The temperature drops to nearly 50 degrees in July. How do we recover from this? Easy. My friend, the sadistic, loving person he is, decides to take me to Manitou Springs. This fun, eclectic, buzzed town would be the starting point for the next day’s race. He was kind enough to even show me the Manitou incline going up Pike.
Manitou Incline: Stairs. Stairs for a single mile, straight up, passed the point of oxygen, meeting Jesus, only to have Him kick you back down the stairs in one shot. Visiting? See if you can achieve it all under 45 minutes.
I asked if that was part of the course, my friend laughed and simply said, “No. We’ll be using switchbacks to get to our turnaround. After all, the Manitou Incline is a mile in length to the top, we were to be traveling 6.2 miles instead. Naturally, logically we had to achieve going from the bottom to the top in the longest possible way.
After returning to their home, we enjoyed a dinner of milk shakes, I played Shopkins Bingo*** with their children (you have no idea how frustrating it is to need to roll a “G green apple” and to miss it on three rolls), and prepared for bed. This was only after one last run to the store for my pre-race meal; donuts.
While preparing to sleep, I opened up my packet pickup bag. In it, as a trail runner, I found some things that were perplexing:
- GU Gummies
- GU Salt Tablets
- GU Electrolyte Drink Tablets
- A bib that could not be folded
All of my trail runner senses started to tingle as I began to contemplate what these clues could have meant in light of my upcoming destiny with God on the mountain top. I continued to ponder these things as I filled my water bottle, climbed into bed, and drifted into my final sleep.
Mistake 4: Not bringing warm clothes in the event the temperature dropped
Mistake 5: Milk Shakes…****
Mistake 6: I love donuts, but let’s be honest. “The Legend” is right, I need to make better life and pre-race meal choices.
Mistake 7: That was the first time the entire day that I had filled my water bottle to drink.
At 5:30 AM MDT I awoke to a chill in the air, and in my soul. Something permeated within my body, allowing me to realize that I was about to do something very, very dumb. At 6:00 AM MDT I was in an F-150 with my friend (Aaron), and his neighbors who were ‘running this for fun’, one of which had a torn ACL (Julie), and one who “doesn’t run much” (Rob). 6:30 AM MDT my stomach is doing backflips (very impressive), we’re getting out of the truck to begin our mile hike to the top of Manitou Springs, so that we could get to the start line. Rob and Julie take off ‘jogging’ to warm up. I realized how doomed I really was.
6:55 AM I am surrounded by Colorado locals, all of which have the physic of gods and goddesses. Some local runner named Joe Gray is mingling about the front of the start line, I am positioning myself where I belong in order to be successful as well…the back. I had one handheld with me, no vest, and yes, my salt tablets were back at the house.
Mistake 8: Forgot the salt.
Mistake 9: Did not bring the vest.
Mistake 10: Forgot everything in regards to trail running necessities…
7:00 AM the race begins with not a horn, not a whistle, not a shotgun…no…with a didgeridoo. The group started off in a fast hustle, along the pavement, with a 13% grade. Yes, the locals were running up a 13% grade without breathing heavy. Realization; I was likely to die from heart complications.
I tried to charge up the hill. I successfully pulled a Custer. I failed miserably. By the first half mile, along the exposed, red switchbacks I was pouring sweat, breathing like a labored cow, and listening to the local runners talk about what they did last weekend…
Yeah. I just signed up for a fun. I covered a few 14ers last weekend. I figured this would be a good warmup for the actual Pike’s Peak race. Excuse us, we’re on your left…
Thankfully, praise God for the man in front of me listening to dubstep through his drawstring back while he hiked his way up for the mountain side. The base drops were in perfect rhythm with my failing heart beat. As for Aaron, Julie, Rob? They were all long gone. Personally, I had staged out in my head how I wanted this race to pan out. If I could keep a 5K pace for the first two hours, I would have 90 minutes to get down the mountain. Realistically I thought that the downhill would be a bigger challenge compared to going up. This would get me back down within the 3:30:00 window and I would receive the prized race shirt.
One of the really nice things about Barr Trail is the aid stations; there are seven of them! My head had made perfect logic out of this, if there are seven aid stops then I did not need my vest. The stations would have all the things for me, and I could mooch off of them up the mountain side.
At mile 1.5 I rolled into the first aid station…
The GU products the day prior gave me a hint, and the first aid station confirmed my fears. I had signed up, unknowingly, for a road race! It just happened to be that it was a road race on a dirt path.
I continued to climb. The first mile had slowed me down due to the line of hikers, but I thought I could make the time up. It had put me behind schedule by 15 minutes. If I improved the downhill I would be able to still get in on time. The second aid station came up around mile 3; wax paper cups of water and Gatorade. I smiled at El Paseo County Search & Rescue as I passed by, almost as a non-verbal command that I would see them sooner than later. The climbing, to no surprise, continued. It was covered in trees, the temperatures were cool, and I was rocking out to the altitude as I continued to climb. That guy named Joe Gray passed me around this time, going downhill, but I was having the time of my life. I started to play games, seeing how many people passing me the other way I could cheer for as they flew by. Practically speaking I was in a race and also being like a volunteer and cheering the people that actually belonged there.
Finally, the third aid station greeted me with…water and Gatorade. Five miles up Pike’s Peak and I had no salt in my system, no food minus the donut prior in the morning, and a wax paper cup of Gatorade every 1.5 miles. Physically, I smiled and sang as I moved up the mountain, mentally I was beginning to panic of what 12 miles in the mountains without anything would actually do to me.
Julie was the first to pass me, you know, the one with the torn ACL. Rob was behind her, gave me a pat on my back, Aaron followed suit. The last half mile up the mountain creeped by. I tried to run, but my legs felt like lead. Finally, almost in a last gasp, I found the 6.2 mile aid station. I drank another cup of Gatorade, and made my first attempt on a GU gel; Sea Salt Chocolate. I even asked the high school students manning that aid station:
Me: Which one would be best to throw back up?
Student: Sea Salt for sure! And if you are going to throw up, do it on that kid over there. He’s been a jerk all day and deserves it!
With half the gel back in my mouth, chasing it with my handheld, I began the descent down the mountainside. I was 15 minutes off pace, and needed to speed up. I started hopping over the rocks down the path, and not even half a mile from the 6.2 aid station, I landed on my left foot and I felt the *POP!* right at the top of my left leg. I hobbled to the side, but did not stop, took a mental inventory on exactly what I had done, and decided to just land on my right foot for the rest of the six miles. Eventually I started to learn that all my stupid mistakes were to catch up to me. No sooner that I was hopping on my right foot down the trail, that the cramping started. The knots began in my hamstrings; like I had a rock stuck in the strands of each. Afterwards I began to get tight, tingly sensations in both of my calves, finally the sides of my hips began to tighten up. Five miles from the finish and I was down to a fast walk, and my entire lower body going through spasms and cramps. Though I will never be fast enough to ever earn a free pair of shoes from them, if I had not had been wearing my Saucony Peregrines, I would have not been made it down the mountain in one piece. The rear traction on the shoes saved my…wait for it…sole!
My journey suddenly became a very sad real life version of the movie Speed. If at any point I stopped moving down the mountainside, my body would explode from the potential cramping I was experiencing. Each aid station I grabbed a cup of Gatorade, trying to get something into my system. A lady passing me asked if I was alright, and followed that up by her talking about her dislocated hip. She asked if I needed salt, because what is a race recap without at least one person asking me if I needed salt. Sadly, I cannot run and drink at the same time, and snorted Gatorade like a strung out crack dealer. The burning couldn’t even compare to the horrific feeling of my legs. With two miles left I made the worst mistake out of the whole race; I looked at my watch just in time for it to turn…
I still had two miles left in this labyrinth of doom. I wanted to be done. I wanted to fix my body. I wanted my blankey. I continued to churn through each painful step, dodging hikers and bikers along the way. After a while I looked down at my watch, and it was past 12.4 miles. This told me on tragic truth: I was off course.
Mistake 11: I got lost.
I spent another, extra half mile trying to get to the finish line. Finally, my limp, half-alive corpse dropped out of the trail near the parking lot at the race, but nowhere near the beginning. Aaron was waiting for me.
There was no finish line. There was no cowbell. There was no people.
A year into trail running and I had officially done it; I recorded my first DNF. I did not finish the Barr Trail Mountain Race. Beaten, defeated, and slightly frustrated; I walked another mile back to the Manitou Springs for the awards assembly. There I watched this Joe Gray guy get first place and a new course record. Julie, Aaron’s neighbor with the torn ACL, took second place in her age group. Aaron finished his first ever trail race right around the three hour mark; even after falling around mile 7.
The day ended with a cold, long shower. Still, without taking any salt, I got back into our Mazda3 and embarked on the journey to home. At 8:00 PM CST my wife and I were four hours from our house, eating McDonald’s double cheeseburgers, when I started to think of a fascinating realization. In 2017 I have ran three half marathon races; each being a challenge in themselves. I did not find success at the Barr Trail Mountain Race, at least not in the sense of the actual finish line, but…
- April 2017: Free State Half Marathon (5:35)
- June 2017: Bryce Canyon Ultras Half Marathon (4:40)
- July 2017: Barr Trail Mountain Race (3:56)
Mistake 12: I forgot that I did not fail; I just did not finish
Mistake 13: McDonald’s….
*Seriously. Manitou Springs you are amazing, but good grief you smell like a “skunk”
**Only one of those three things were not real
***I was defeated by children ages 7 and younger…hence why the game is designed for that age…I was outsmarted