I have learned of a few sayings in the trail running community over the span of the past two years:
The mountains are calling, I must go
Not all who wander, are lost
I am pleased to share that after studying each saying, reflecting on them with
granola crunchy hipsters trail runners, and dreaming of the cliche world of tattoos with these sayings on my wrist, back, foot, and heart…that I have come to a solid conclusion:
Both of these sayings are just traps set by higher powers in order to snare humans into despair, misery, and quite possibly death…or worse…all three.
Our story begins within the confinements of Arc’teryx. No, this is not a French statue, nor is it alphabet soup. Instead it represents some weird, dead bird-animal-thing that would make Jurassic Park blush if they knew how evil it truly was. In 2018 the dead bird-animal-thing has taken on an even scarier presence for people like myself; an outdoor clothing store. It was here, within the center of Denver, Colorado that I ran into two people that should have immediately been my indicator that I was in the mix of bad company, and eventual poor choices:
While chowing down on a burger** after hearing Adam speak about his endeavors and remarkable recovery, with Caleb, Kelsey, the manager of Arc’teryx, the winner of the 2017 High Lonesome 100 (Anthony Lee), my wife, and other random people throughout the region, I began to wonder if we’re all connected through bad ideas, good beer, and uplifting stories of perseverance.
Translation: I was near several insane people at the same time that can easily give way to an awesome opportunities to make some really stupid choices.
Welcome to 2018; my first race of the new year, and one thing really still hasn’t changed…
I’ll still find ways to harm myself in the middle of the woods surrounded by darkness, death, and poor choices. Why change what works?
Prior to adventures in the mountains and summer heat; I…being ‘all-knowing’ decided to “warm up” by traveling to the Potawatomi Trail Runs (aka: “The Pot”) in Pekin, Illinois. That’s next to North Pekin, South Pekin, East Peoria, and Peoria. Practically speaking; throw a compass out on your dash, drive to the middle of complete hopeless isolation, leave Chicago, find the other spot of hopeless isolation and you have found Pekin, Illinois.
Driving into the region is quite phenomenal. Understand that Potawatomi takes joy in their elevation claim through each loop (1600 feet). However, if you take any route into the area all you see if flat, corn, flat, corn, Casey’s Convenient Store, flat, and corn.
Do not let your guard down.
Do not feel better about your choice.
Do not go gently into that good night.
You. Will. Suffer.
It. Is. A. Lie.
“The Pot” is an older race within the midwest region. Having existed for well over 10 years. Translated into ultra-years that is quite a duration of pain and suffering. It is a strange race. There are several distance choices; the 200, 150, 100, 50, 30, and 10 mile options for all runners. The course is a
simp…unique 10 mile loop through almost all single track and a few water crossings. 200 and 150 runners start Thursday, 10 mile runners at night on Friday, 100 and 50 Saturday morning, and 30 Saturday night. The only rule? Be done by 4:00 PM Sunday. That’s it. That’s all you have to do.
Originally, I was slated to run the 50 mile race. However, with a random string of random injuries I made my first smart choice of my running career, and dropped to the 30 mile race. That meant that I would be starting in the dark, running through the night, and whimpering into the morning hours. The race, being in April, should have been moderate weather for the time of year. However, Mother Nature couldn’t just get over herself for one split second, and so it snowed at “The Pot”.
By the time my time came to start, the air was cold, the sky was clear, and we were moving between 20 and 15 degrees. Please note those water crossings that were still in this realm of hell.
The beginning of the race is a lie, much like the hope that you have in your soul, you start flat. Really flat. In fact, so flat that I’m proud to report that my first mile was under 10:00 minutes (any experienced distance runner knows what that means for later…). I was cooking under the stars. The beginning is an open, flat prairie priming you for the rest of the night. At mile two, next to a power line, I saw my first omen; a fried, dead woodpecker. That was all it took for me to realize that the night was just getting started.
After witnessing the crispy rendition of Woody, the trail began to show its real teeth. Like a bad roller coaster, I was soon plunged into the eternal darkness, this time without that attractive girl sitting next to me, that I waited all through middle school for that one moment, at that one drop, so that I could place my hand in hers…and cry like a little baby for the next thirty seconds, and remain dateless through the rest of your school years. No? Just me. Continuing on…
The course turned into a single track that weaved through the night, like an elegant, borderline murderous prose from Poe. I was stepping through and dropping down the best I could. One slip, and the flash backs of Bryce Canyon came flooding back,
If I fall right here. I’ll be impaled and then my neck will be snapped by the rocks 200 feet below. This is really scary at 10:30 at night…
I had been warned, via Facebook, that there was a rope on the course to assist you up a hill. Now, even at home we have a rope for a hill, and it is used when the course is muddy, but it isn’t…that bad. Knowing that, in the back of my mind, I continued my trot through the woods of darkness, and eventually my trail ended.
Literally. Just stopped. There was no place to go, I thought I got lost, and then while pondering my next move I heard it. That noise that can be distinguished over all other noises in the woods: profanity. I heard the “F#*@!” above me, and looked up. Just like the scene from Men In Black where the guy sees the other guy plastered to the ceiling by bug juice, I looked up and found where the trail had gone.
In the middle of the night the trail goes up, and it isn’t an incline…it’s a real wall. That rope? It wasn’t a guiding rope. It was that rope that you failed to climb during gym class through elementary and middle school. That’s all there was, and you had to figure out how to get up the evil thing. People were positioned, like drunk mountain goats, along the wall, cursing, crying, and Facetiming their loved ones, knowing it would be their last moment on this planet. I eyeballed the rope, eyeballed my waistline (while inserting a disappointed “sigh”), and realized it wasn’t going to work for me. Instead, I used the trail to its advantage. In northern Illinois there are no rocks on the trails. It is merely dirt and tree roots; that’s all. The roots are really annoying, unless you have the ability to convert them into a ladder.
Yes, at mile 4, I used the roots as ladder to drag my sorry self up that trail in the middle of the night. After catching my breath, thanking God above, I began on the next leg of the journey.
Unfortunately, what goes up, must go down and in “The Pot” that means it goes down at the same rate of angle as it does up. I thought my toes were going to bust through my shoes, my knees were going to crack, and really my ankles felt like T-1000* felt when he was trying to walk after being frozen by the Terminator with liquid nitrogen. That, was the downhill.
The process repeated itself throughout the course. The water crossings were…well…cold, and there were even reports of people getting slush in their shoes while crossing. It was that cold**.
Now, one of the highlights of this unique race is if you are a short distance runner, you get to enjoy running next to the amazing 150 and 200 mile runners. Granted, you’ll be tempted to pat them on the back. However, you won’t for two reasons:
It was not worth the risk.
By mile 7, I had started to realize that this course was quiteawful, my nightmares were flooding my soul, and the screams in the woods were intoxicating to the fear within me. Make no mistake; it was a hard, hard route. You could get lost, you could drown (maybe), you could freeze to death…in fact…there were so many random pieces to it, it felt like I may have taken a wrong turn and wound up at a random, secluded, race in the mountains of Tennessee.
It was at the moment that I thought that ridiculous notion, that I came across an intersection, and sure enough, to my right, was it. Through the paltry light of my headlamp, almost as an attempt to add insult to my evening, was a locked…yellow…gate. Similar to cooked woodpecker, its omen was one of reminding me what I was doing, why I was doing it, and what I needed to do to get out.
Past another creek crossing, through the labyrinth of dirt, I made my way to the disk golf course. Less than half a mile from the finish line I am proud to say that I finally got lost in a race, for approximately one hundred feet. Past that, it was just a short, hobbled stretch into the start finish line.
One lap: Completed.***
Upon passing the start/finish line. I walked over to my wife, laughed a bit, and proceeded to drop from the race.
Yes, you read that correctly, I dropped after 10 miles, just one loop. Why? Because my foot hurt and this was not my goal race. I have had physical therapy, more needles than I can count, A.R.T, and x-rays over the past four months. It has been frustrating, but thankfully it has been progressive. If I had gone out for two more laps (20 miles) there was a high likelihood that I could have messed up my foot with a real injury, and sidelined myself from a 50K in June. It was not worth the risk. Mike, the race director, was humored enough that he took a plaque and with a Sharpee wrote, “10 Mile” and handed it to me. I laughed at the aid station walking out, and I cried in the car heading to our hotel. Dropping is hard, and the regret afterwards is even worse.
Granted, even with dropping, that just justifies my excuse to cut classes and go run this race again (highly, highly recommended).
*Truly, he was the real victim
**Shoutout to the ladies who pulled trash bags over their shoes prior to hopping into the creek, you are the real MVP
***For the math pros out there; that would mean you would run that same course 20 times for the 200 mile race
Someday’s it is best to be cliche.
Looking through the last week of 2017, and the first week of 2018, I noted the people who braved that rabid society of judgement and departure, and posted their goals in the running/health world for the upcoming year.
Make no mistake; I am not a fan of resolutions just because January 1, 2018. Nothing exploded. No one died(ish). Computers still work (s/o to my Y2K peeps). However, I would venture to believe that resolution versus goal could be a fair argument. We make goals. I make goals daily; one day it is only one cookie, one day the goal is twelve. My goal this weekend was to run for hours in the cold, my secondary goal was to eat McDonald’s driving home after said first goal. We are goal driven creatures. We scream the word (in multiple languages) for fun and excitement, it is an embodiment of society. We have to create goals, otherwise the world of Wall-E is closer then any of us care to confess.
With that rant said, all robots aside, I would love to divulge into my goals for the 2018 race season. My self-esteem tends to run between 0-1%, so most judgement is treated like the fur of an otter (they are so cute!), so enjoy these goals while I type (and enjoy my 10% Southern Tier Choklat Stout).
Goal #1: Less is More
I ran a total of 10 different trail races in 2017, that does not include the three suicide missions (AKA: pacing) deep into the night in sketchy places throughout the Midwest. The truth is, much like a drooling, peeing puppy, I got excited about this whole ‘trail thing’, and tried to load up on everything I could find like an American at a buffet.
However, similar to the reality of the soft-serve machine, more isn’t always better. Killing the vanilla ice cream with a pound of gummy bears just because you can doesn’t make the dish any better. Many times, especially with licorice, it makes it worse. I am grateful that I made it through 2017 without injury. Truly, that is a blessing that should be highlighted. I should have been injured, and I should have had several DNF’s. Thankfully, it wasn’t necessarily the case by years end, but something to reflect on.
For 2018, I have three races (and one poor choice) highlighted for my race season:
While I would love to sign up for everything out there, I think it is wiser to have focused training sessions and seasons. Doing so, along with doing it right, can build up to a more successful race. I’ve survived my first year, now I would like to thrive in my second year.
Goal #2: Harass More Runners
More pacing. More volunteering. More Fireball.
There is a belief within the trail running community that volunteering for a race is, in many ways, more rewarding than actually running the race. In many ways I 100% agree. It is fun to disconnect from society, hang out with the other rejects, tell horror stories, and after that runner is done puking; encouraging them to keep moving along the trail. Those are memories, people!
I still loved the medic from High Lonesome 100 that explained for each race she signed up to run, she would also sign up to volunteer at another race. While it is (surprisingly) easy to get addicted to the trails, it is also only because of people, that we are able to enjoy them.
One addition I would add to this goal it to spend more time with our local trail building community; Urban Trail Co. Throughout the year they have maintenance and building days; because I live so close to one of our circuits, there is no excuse why I can’t grab and shovel and pitch in.
Goal #3: Century Mark
It is reckless, I 100% recognize that it is reckless. This year I would like to complete my first 100 mile race. I have a site picked out, a race I know of, and a training schedule to go along with it. I’m not years into the trail running community, but it is something that I definitely want to complete this year.
It is not for the sticker, the buckle, the Instagram likes, or even the blog (though it should be absolutely, mind-blowing stupid with humor). Selfishly, I just want to do it for me. I want to run 100 miles in the woods free of this world. I just want to explore every aspect of my soul; from the highest points to the lowest, and back again. Most of the time I do things because I want a funny, stupid story out of it. This one time though, this one race, I want to see something new about myself that I didn’t know existed.
…and then days later I’ll write a stupid story.
Goal #4: Focus
Anyone who has ever had to work with me in the gym or a yoga studio or at home or at work or at…well…anyways, focusing sucks. I hate it. I hate having a single track direction for anything. I would rather splinter out into a million ideas. However, when it comes to these races and these goals for this year, I can only find success if I focus week in and week out. That means not necessarily getting caught up in fun games with friends, not taking extended vacations, and not binge watching AKB0048 (again). Focus breaks down into training, rest, and diet. I am blessed that my wife has decided to eat grass for the rest of her life (AKA: vegan), so that has absolutely adjusted my diet within our house. I have an insane amount of support within the running community, the health community, and the nutrition community. Focus means relying on others for help when I don’t have the answer, and from this only-child’s perspective, that’s a hard thing to do. Additionally, focusing for nine months is not an easy task (shoutout to all the mothers out there).
There you go. A quick compilation of ideas and goals heading into the 2018 season. Summed up; so much revolves around quality over quantity. It feels strange saying that, but in the end that is a lesson learned from 2017. I have had fun surviving, but now I want to become faster and stronger. I want to wear those ideals better than Kanye (and half as good as Daft Punk).
Happy 2018 from one sucker to another!
…hehe…I’m getting crafty with my titles…
True story; I delayed on writing this race recap simply because I am an extremely conceited individual. Translation; I read last year’s race recap for The Back 40 trail race, and I laughed so much reading it that I convinced myself I couldn’t do any better. Vanity truly is my middle name*.
The Back 40, as alluded to last season on “stupid runners”, is a beautiful 20 mile loop in northern Arkansas. The race is held in December so that all can enjoy the reality of winter in the Ozark region as I did as a young, broke college student who had recently been dumped.
Cold. Windy. Grey. Death.
There was no ‘heat wave’ to speak of this random weekend of December, no, it was just cold and windy. The race started at a balmy, tear jerking 21 degrees**. Like all other smart runners I stayed in the tent near the start/finish until the race director politely guided us to the starting point to give his announcements…
Hey! Y’all are fart’n near the open flame heaters I’m not talk’n to y’all in here, otherwise I may die. Get outside!
Welcome back to The Back 40.
Mentally, I came into this race in search of a break. I finally was able to admit it within my own mind. I was tired, worn out from running, and winter sucks. I wanted to relax, do yoga, eat cheeseburgers, and stay away from being in places where the air hurts my face. In my own warped reality; The Back 40 was my ‘swan song’ to a year of traumatic, near death experiences.
All I had to do was survive.
I started in the field where I should have (dead last), and had all the necessary equipment on me. I chose my small UltrAspire device because I only wanted water, Tailwind was for ‘last ditch efforts’, my dear Honey Stinger gels, and I wanted a spot to hold my peppermints. Those same peppermints that I had my wife go grab fifteen minutes prior to start because I forgot mine in Kansas City. The irony is while I hate winter, I do enjoy winter’s kiss in the form of Starlight mints while crying in the woods. There is something soothing of remembering being picked on with candy canes in elementary school from my classmates each time I eat a peppermint…a reminder that somehow, something could be worse compared to dying at mile 15.
There was no gun, no timer, no beep, just our beloved RD yelling, “get go’in” to flush us down the tube of immortality. The twenty mile was the event that I had signed up for. Initially, pre “The Hawk“, I thought I wanted to do the 40 mile option this year. Of course, I realized that, that was a horrifically stupid idea and only wanted twenty out of The Natural State.
Within the first quarter mile I made two very quick realizations:
I learned that I could run a race in the event that one of my arms was immobilized (because I could see myself dislocating my shoulder in a mountain race and going on to win it…har-har-har) due to my wardrobe malfunction. I am already shunned in my ‘real life’ outside of the running world, so naturally I was mortified of dropping my drawers to expose my pasty self to all those good souls out for this December stroll. At the same time, I was trying to warm up and get moving, so walking wasn’t necessarily an option either. Embracing my inner-Kílian I continued running, swinging one arm like a mad pirate singing a Disney song, and kept the other snuggly attached to the waistline of my pants.
This went on for a half mile. Finally, when the single track started to remind me of ‘good ole times’ I stopped to adjust my pants. After ensuring that no blood would circulate below my waist, assuring all passing runners that I did not already need a salt tablet, I took off for the rest of my 19.5 mile adventure.
Realistically, a lot has changed personally since running this race a year ago, over the rocks, the hills, and the overall terrain nothing really bothered me. I say this half joking, but by mile 5 I was so thankful that I had decided to attempt races in the mountains. That time helped me mentally understand that I truly wasn’t going to die in Arkansas, and that indeed things could be much, much worse.
At mile six I departed from the two that I had tracked for the majority of the race.
What that really meant; I stopped at the aid station and they were fast. This slow pace would pay off in the later mileage as I would learn that one of our runners was indeed struck by a deer running through the course. People, I cannot make this stuff up.
At mile ten I had started to figure out the system of the trail that we were on. The trail is actually labeled every .25 miles. This can either be a great thing for those of you who are curious about your location, or a death sentence for those of you wondering, “Will this ever end?” Important note: The race and the course do not match. There is a two mile difference from what you see on the course and what your actual mileage is. Meaning, because God (and the RD) enjoy toying with humans, the tree may read 10 miles, but the truth is during The Back 40 you would have only traveled 8. This translated to me doing elementary math the entire time that I was out on the course. I cannot express to you how much of a struggle that can be for some of us.
Finally, I decided that I would look at my watch when I had accomplished thirteen of the
twenty miles. After two aid stations and some time alone in the woods (a lot) I looked at my screen and sent a text to my wife letting her know where I was mileage-wise.
The elementary math came flooding up when I looked at the 13 mile mark.
3 hours and 5 minutes…
It was at that moment, between a man with a chainsaw up the hill and the creepy red balloon near the drainpipe, that realization had dawned on me. I had just set a half marathon personal record by 35 minutes.
…and that’s where I lost it…
Between the broken oven and two water heaters in the ditch along the trail I had snot and tears running down my face; while trying to also ingest a honey based gel. In so many aspects I was one ugly ginger running around in the woods of Arkansas (something tells me I will not be the last). While this year had been triumphant in the sake that I escaped with no injuries and only one DNF; personally I was seeking just one example, one moment that demonstrated that I had grown. GOATz was close, but I chose to drop the 50K, so in my head…it did not count. This though, along the rugged moguls (not to be mistaken with muggles) and razor rocks, this was real, this was proof, this was
evidence that I was doing something, anything right.
Through the mental celebration of growth I missed the part about seven miles remaining in my journey, and through that blissful ignorance, one stumble across a rock and it hit.
Since “The Hawk” I have had a rather annoying cramping issue. It isn’t in my back, calves, quads, hamstrings, etc…I get the same cramp at nearly the exact same part of any long run. Imagine, someone taking a golf ball made of metal, heating it to approximately 212 degrees, and then pressing it along the inside of your thighs, just below your waist.
That is my cramp.
I’ve looked up the causes and adjustments needed to prevent these cramps. In the running community I have found absolutely nothing, but inside the biking community I’ve found that it can be very common. I can tell you that it is debilitating and a silent killer. The bigger issue is knowing that these areas of my legs cramp up only when going uphill. Well guess what…
ALL OF ARKANSAS IS NOTHING BUT AN UPHILL, BOTH WAY JOURNEY TO DANTE’S NINTH LEVEL OF HELL
The last four miles turned into a painful, dragging, slow eternity of torment. Similar to when you get stuck in one of those passive aggressive business meetings after a potluck dinner in a small town church. No? Just me?
Nearing each half mile I was having to stop and stretch out my legs to break up the cramping. I attempted to be productive; I drank the Tailwind, ate the salt caps, licked the salt lick, and about everything else thinking that would diminish the cramping. Nothing.
The fight stayed with me for the duration of the rest of the race. Finally, hopping off of trail onto the paved path that nearly resulted in me going pantless in the beginning, I slowly trotted into the finish line.
I finished The Back 40, 20 Mile race one hour faster*** than I had completed it in 2016. This was the feel-good ending I had wanted for the 2017 year. I’m not Kaci, Kristen, Leia, or any other fast soul. I know this and accept this, but that does not mean I don’t want to see growth in myself like anyone else.
Naturally, while bathing in my accomplishment, the RD laughed and said I had time to start my second loop…
…I’m still slightly apologetic for giving him that “one” good reason why I wouldn’t be heading back out for another lap.
2017, peace out.
**Nope. I hate the winter. I hate the cold. You are not going to be able to convince me otherwise. The end.
***Learning that my first mile, nearing the completion of the moon cycle, was 10:46 helps that PR
Back in the hellish days of July, with a balmy temperature of 114 degrees (in the shade), I desired to run the Psycho Psummer 10 Mile race in Kansas City, Kansas. The purpose? Simple; new photos from Mile 90 Photography, and just as important, I wanted to see if I had improved at all over one year of trail running.
However, due to the ingenious idea of cruising along the Barr Trail in Colorado Springs, Colorado completely undertrained and out of my mind, I made one smart decision in not signing up for Psycho Psummer.
My time of repeating a race would come later.
In fact, it would come much later. Out in Nebraska, along with the runner killers referred to as GOATz. The same people that tried to massacre me in the grass, hide my corpse along the gravel, and destroy whatever was left of my feet out in Iowa would ensure that I would get to experience my first repeat race.
In the most colorful way possible.
Heading into Omaha, Nebraska late Saturday night my wife and I met up with “The Legend” and a few others at a local Greek restaurant (that is a thing). I had absolutely no idea what I ordered, but it involved rice and potatoes so I figured that would be something my body would need in the coming hours as I would peer over the shoreline of the prestigious, gorgeous, deadly Lake Cunningham. Halfway through enjoying meat with white sauce at the table, I started to consider the reality that I was facing the next day. Originally, I had signed up for the 50K race in Nebraska. It turns out though, after running for 50 miles in the middle of Kansas (because God enjoys watching you make stupid decision, while laughing along with Michael), that it takes time to get over that experience. Time…time…time…TIME! I thought that it would take a week to recover from
praying playing in the woods that long….
Try six weeks and at least three dozen buffalo wings before ‘normal’ came back into my world of running. After listening to wise words of wisdom of people far faster than myself, I made a mental note that I would likely drop from the 50K to the 21 mile in Omaha. After all, in one year I had already ran my first ultra, I had ran my first mountain race, I had ran my first 50 mile race; frankly, in 2017 I didn’t think there was much left in my soul to give to show that I did “that thing” out in the woods.
You can run a race just to…well…you know…run a race.
So after a night of
absolutely amazing of sleep snoring endured, tortured evening of kinks in my neck, and nightmares of grading papers, I awoke at 7:00 AM Sunday morning for the Greater Omaha Area Trail runnerz Trail Runs 50K (or some weird title like that). I decided, compared to last year, that I would attempt to run this race with a handheld. No vest, no gels, no breakfast (hehe), just a handheld, mixed with water and Tailwind. I knew the aid stations would have HoneyStinger gels that I could keep down, and I would reward myself for eating a beehive during the race by eating raw fish after the race (looking back, and seeing that typed out, I truly am a stupid human). There were a few guarantees as I walked up to the start/finish line of this random 10 mile loop course:
The 50K runners started at 8:00 AM with the rest of the runners (21/10.5/5) starting at 8:15 AM. The horn started and I did what any smart person would do; I walked my
carcass straight across the start line for a fun day in the woods. I walked for the first half mile because the conga line of a death march was moving so slow that running was futile. It was only when I saw a photographer that I attempted to move (photo evidence notes that I failed at that) with passion along the course. Eventually, we came to our first hill. Instead of going up the hill though, we went straight past it on the broken asphalt section. Last year that broken section was the route coming back to the start/finish line.
Maybe we were running the course backwards this year?
Note: I was in the very back of the 50K pack at the time that the entire group realized that we had taken the wrong direction. Again, the field went the wrong way.
Due to my slowness in life I was able to live out the reality of “The Walking Dead”, as my colleagues, all these amazing runners slowed to a stop, turned their bodies towards me, and with the face of fear, frustration, and death came running right at me. Meaning, a half mile into the race I did what any smart person would.
I took off sprinting.
I sprinted up that hill in record time. Why? Because the amazement sat in that I was going to do something that was quite impossible…
I WAS GOING TO BE IN THE TOP 10 OF AN ULTRA RACE! SAUCONY SIGN ME! MOTHER I’VE MADE IT! PRIDE, CHECKS, FOOD, HATS…SHOES!
…it was the most euphoric 500 feet in my life.
Of course, natural selection worked itself out just fine, and before I knew it I was back in the end of the field once again. Though, between the weather and just being in the woods, I did not have much to complain about.
I was not running a race to see if I could survive (for a change of pace), I was just running because I wanted to. I ran along the pine trees, I ran along the fields, I ran along the gravel alongside the lake, and I ran through the aid station. I ate my gel, I carried forward, and I just embraced the day. The reality was this; aside from the beginning, it was a beautiful moment to soar.
After the first ten miles I came into the start/finish line, and…well…I felt fine. It is still weird typing that out, because I remember last year when I finished the first loop at this race. My wife had to walk away from me to ensure that I went back out on the course. Make no mistake, she was there to greet me with Body Glide upon my arrival. However, like all good memories, the moment I turned to talk to her. She was already wishing me luck from her picnic table across the grass from the course. Meaning, some things never change, and my wife hates watching me waste time.
The second loop I got to do something special, at least in my own special world, I actually ran with another person for an entire loop. Back at The Hawk 50 in September, there was shuffling behind me from mile 26 to mile 30. The shuffling was that of a Michelle, a notoriously elusive creature that tends to wander the woods on their own. They are sneaky, cunning, and if you find them in the right part of the day, they are a great partner to trample through grass with. Michelle and I have a similar pace (that is a lie, she is faster in pace, but I did not want to be lonely). She is also from Omaha, so seeing her at the race on the second lap meant that I had someone to work with through miles eleven to twenty one.
Because the weather was unlike The Hawk, meaning it was actually normal for a change of pace, we were able to talk and run.
People; did you read that last though?
Go back and reread it.
…we were able to talk and run.
For like the first time ever I carried on a conversation with someone while I was still moving at an appropriate pace. Dearest reader! I was doing the thing! The time together
was wonderful, when you’re both not miserable, the miles really do cruise by…as does Kaci and Kaci’s twin…nope…never mind…rather certain that was her mother…they look so similar.
As we embarked on the final few miles of lap two I had made up my mind about starting the third lap for the 50K; Michelle was still on the fence while we ran along the fence, and the ruts…my goodness, this course reminded me how much I really missed running on rocks versus dirt and grass.
Crossing the line after the second loop I politely walked over to the tent and asked to drop to 21 miles instead of the 50K.
Are you sure? You’re not dropping.
What I have learned about traveling along different trail routes with different tribes, is eventually you cross paths with people that remember you from doing other stupid things. Sadly, the man running the timer, counter, etc…remembered me from another race, and swore that I was out of my mind for dropping my distance. We haggled back and fourth for thirty seconds over my soul and my life before my true skills of years past** came up with the victory.
I dropped to the 21 mile. It was the first time that I have ever dropped a distance since starting trail running. Did I feel alright? For the most part; yes. Could I have made the cutoff? I make no promises. Could I have completed the distance? Yes, but in the process I would have had significantly beaten my body to a hard point of recovery.
The decision fell on 21 because my body was still getting over The Hawk. My mind was still getting over work (teacher). My heart was there, but my mind wanted me to be smart for a change. There was nothing monumental for me to accomplish, and I was/am completely ok with that.
After thanking Michelle for the time, she went back out for her 50K finish. I fell right back into the exact same routine as last year following the same race. Grab my chair, grab a cup of chili, and wait behind the same two people from last year (seriously!) to be treated and stretched. Afterwards, I enjoyed the weather, my wife, and watching our friends finish their own adventures.
Following a night of sushi with my wife, friends, and “The Legend”, we embarked on our three hour journey home. Monday morning brought with it some aches and pains, but compared to what once was, I could at least get to my classroom without the elevator that day.
Weeks later, texting with an amazing runner, they made note of my choice to drop down, read my thought process, and made a comment that stuck with me…
You’re getting stronger.
At least in my head; that comment was not in relation to my physical strength.
Humorously, after all was said and done, I only set a personal record on the GOATz course by 22 minutes compared to the previous year. The notable thing is understanding that I could have kept going, I did not feel like death, and unlike last year, possibly most importantly…I had fun.
*Seriously…40 some odd degrees is absolutely stupid…
**Debate. My only athletic advantage in life was debate…try to process that thought…
Has anyone else purchased a pretzel only to wonder what being a pretzel is all about?
Neither have I.
However, I did grow up in a world that was bent on ensuring that I never spent anytime around those long haired, hipster, Fair Trade Coffee sipping, granola crunchy yoga people.
Since my adventures began in the world of trail running I have transitioned to growing my hair out to embrace what is left of my youth, and to look like those cool guys that wink at the camera while running up 9000 feet along a mountainside surely spelling (spilling?) out their inevitable doom. I’ve adjusted my diet significantly, and I enjoy wearing my trucker hats on any given day. Factor in the reality that my wife causes me to drowned in a world of fair trade coffee (aka: Starbucks as an employer), and one of our runners owns their own coffee shop, it is merely fate that aligned itself in this post-apocalyptic time that caused me to mumble under my breath in this early week of fall…
The truth is after The Hawk 50 was completed I had already made a few plans/goals of what I wanted to do with my life, if indeed it still existed after that race; I wanted to increase strength training, run a little less, and increase flexibility. Meaning, I was curious about this whole yoga thing that my childhood church tried to convince of its origins being of the devil (along with Pokemon cards for some reason) was all about.
Inevitably, through a few clicks on my phone, and a quick drive downtown I found myself in front of the place that already causes so much ‘good pain’ in my life; Phys. Ed. KC. As it turns out, not only can they push you to the level of dry-heaves, but during their downtime they can also craft you into the newest pieces of modern art through their yoga classes.
Feeling extremely insecure about myself I signed up for the “yoga for athletes” class. I felt guilty doing so due to the reality of not considering myself an athlete, but every other class offered was for those with some experience, and it would be a sin against the mighty yoga people if I had signed up for one of those.
Tuesday evening, after wrangling 100 pubescent students (and getting paid for it) for the day, I walked into the yoga studio; of which from now until the end of this piece I will refer solely to as “the tomb”.
The tomb was a white room; walls, ceiling, floor, stage…stage? Everything was white. The smell was of something you would truly only find in a yoga studio; sage? Sandalwood? Tuberose? Frankincense? It smelled like a Yankee Candle store had burned down inside the tomb…in the best way possible! The scent of the room was enough to calm the mind, prior to the stretching experiments.
Naturally, like any good thing that may be associated with ancient medicines of Asia (I completely made that up), one must remove their shoes and socks upon entering the tomb. Sit crosslegged along your yoga mat (Subway sandwich), take a few deep breaths, and eventually we were led into our first pose: rest.
I kid you not; I found myself on my stomach, resting my head on my hands, closing my eyes, and listening to the latest sounds of Enya. The instructor informed us that she would be coming around and adjusting us. Meaning, like what a cat does to your favorite blanket, she is going to kneed you into comfort. For 90% of the world out there, that is completely fine. For the 10% of us it is a dying fear. Not because of touch (massage win!), but because of the fear of knowing that the instructor is pushing on your organs, you’re on your stomach, you ate a fast snack prior to coming in, and bless her soul she is uncomfortably close to your export port…
I have been in tornados, floods, and hurricanes…I have never prayed as hard I did in that one moment…
Please. Don’t let me fart.
After the most fearful/relaxing process was done. It was time to get busy in the world of yoga. I was ready for the crane, the praying mantis, the salutation of the sun, but the instructor…in such sweet sounding tones…simply said…
Alright. Let’s go into plank position.
Sweet mother of all that is good and evil. I paid to be stretched, and instead I’m getting a previous of the same class that already kills me on a weekly basis. However, I managed to get into plank. From plank we moved one foot close to our face (haha!), and slowly moved up the body. Eventually I was sitting in a chair, focusing on breathing, listening to one voice, not talking to myself unlike when I am in the woods, and noticing the profuse amount of sweat I was already losing.
I did yoga, and I needed Tailwind as a recovery. This is my life.
After moving from rest, to plank, to cobra, to foot by face, to chair, to praise hands, to…I can’t remember all of them; I was feeling alright. I was hot, sweaty, experiencing my own world of ‘hot yoga, and feeling ok with my choices.
Until I heard…
Now, we’re going to go through that three more times.
WARNING: THERE ARE REPS IN YOGA! I REPEAT, REPS IN YOGA! It’s a lie, it is all a lie. It isn’t granola crunchy’s running the show, it’s real athletes and they will kill you!
Through the screaming in my head the minutes continued to tick by. I became a Sphynx at one moment, another I was a table, this thing was like a mashup of charades and what happened to the castle people from the curse in Beauty and the Beast.
Yet, even through the shaking of the planks, the cramping during the table, and the excitement of the sun salutation; there came one consistent theme: peace.
Even through the humor of the entire experience, the truth is that for a change of pace, I was extremely calm. My mind was clear, I was not bouncing off the walls, I was in a moment where life finally caught up to me and it was refreshing.
Granted, this moment came towards the end, while us puppets were laying on our backs, eyes closed in the tomb, and the music had mixed in to the sounds you hear at the funeral home when your great aunt Agnus finally died in that town of 500 people. Truly, in the strangest metaphor possible, I felt as if I had been buried. Between being in the tomb, the tones of peace (and grief), and the smell of things I’m certain were also used to bury Jesus; I too felt lifeless.
fun… good…unique experience though; this session to came to an end. I did get to say the signature word “Namaste” at the end. I bent over to roll up my mat, and without even thinking twice I noticed something:
I could bend over and grab the mat. In fact, even though I was somewhat sore from the planks, my body felt so incredibly loose. It felt so loose that a day later I was able to make appropriate lunges during the weekly strength class I attend.
I have come to appreciate my strength classes while trying to become a stronger runner. However, there is a different place of appreciation in my heart for that yoga session. I have a super, super hard time paying attention, focusing, and sleeping at night. Those are three things that I personally struggle with on a daily basis (so much so that once at strength class the ‘step up box’ got taken away because I was not paying attention). I can confess that after a session in the tomb, my focus was better, I paid attention to other people, and most incredibly…I slept remarkably well that night.
To no surprise, as I continue to try new things inside and around the world of trail running, the more I am learning about myself and my body. Perhaps there is a deeper meaning to gliding through the woods in search of mileage…perhaps I am search of something more…
Not really, I am looking for an excuse to eat buffalo wings, but yoga is fun too!
09/23/2017 UPDATE: For clarity purposes there needs to be an adjustment to this story. I believe that I have not been faithful with the full essence of this race. Locally there have been a few questions that have floated around in terms of my final six miles of the race, and for the sake of a weighing conscience, and for the transparency being known in the community the adjustment is near the bottom of the story in bold. I apologize to the trail running community for delaying in the transparency during the The Hawk…
God allowed others to compete in a relay race with my life…
Somehow, I came out the winner…
It has taken me days to find ways to unhinge my metaphorical jaws in ways to make sense, make light, make fun of the events that transpired over the past weekend. Against all things that should exist in life, I managed to finish my first 50 mile trail race. I went back to where so many of my adventures started a year ago; The Hawk at Clinton Lake, Kansas.
Reflecting back on the adventure that started Saturday I almost chuckle and laugh out loud at the vicious, voracious cycle my life has taken since I started to ‘play in the dirt’. A year ago I wound up volunteering in an event in which I knew one person. I did not know who I was volunteering with, I did not know who was running around in the middle of the night, I just knew that I was supposed to serve and watch as my one friend completed her first 100 mile race.
I know jokingly I had talked about one day being on the same course also doing something similarly stupid.
I had absolutely no idea it would come so soon, and emotionally it would wind up meaning so much to me.
I apologize in advance if this lacks humor. Just go warm up some leftover spaghetti, and let my brain attempt to crank away at this race recap, in the format of one of the craziest, symbolic relay races you’ll ever read about.
The week leading up to The Hawk started in possibly one of the worst ways. It started with a sneeze, a student who refused to use a tissue, and by Wednesday I was shaking with a throbbing headache. The week leading into the biggest race of my life, and somehow I managed to pull the straw of becoming sick with a seasonal cold. Naturally, I contacted Kristen, who has kept me from dying on multiple occasions over the past year, and her response was exactly what I feared…
Running will help clear up your head a bit.
I was not getting out of this race. Realizing that my attempt was futile I settled for second best; I called into school that night and took my first ever sick day the Thursday before The Hawk. Between old school anime seasons and wadded up tissues in the corner, I laid in my bed, heaped in blankets and sweat; cursing in my mind that this was going to be hard. The first hurdle had been set, and I had managed to do my best in trying to clear it…I smashed right through the thing, fell face first, licked the rubber with my tongue, cried in my heart, and knew my life was soon going to be over.
When Friday rolled around I left school immediately, snagged my wife and camper, and took off for our campsite. It had been decided that with a 6:00 AM start an hour away from our house, camping may be a solid option. We pulled in, swallowed approximately 500 gnats, and made our way to packet pickup.
Packet pickup looked like a mix between Woodstock and a Sunday morning Garfield cartoon strip. People with long hair, no hair, pants, short shorts, tank tops, throwback shirts to a 100 they ran 5 years ago, and lasagna permeated the air. The race directors gave us a quick preview of the exciting race that was coming in less than twelve hours and stepped away for us
prisoners runners to enjoy our last meal. The veterans were laughing, the rookies were shaking, and overall the atmosphere had the makings of a Normandy invasion.
Deep down everyone was secretly scared to death.
After talking and crying to “The Legend”, I slumped into my camper, listened to my wife’s fear, swallowed nearly another gallon of water, two NyQuil, and set my alarm for 4:30 AM.
At 2:00 AM I awoke in a NyQuil fog to silence, minus my wife’s calming, soothing, methodical snoring. The world was still, I world had paused, the world knew that the end was coming for me and it was offering up all of what little time it had left.
I STAYED AWAKE FOR ANOTHER TWO HOURS IN MY BED SNIVELING WITH THE REALIZATION THAT I COULD NOT ESCAPE MY OWN DESTINY.
By 4:30 AM I stepped into the bathroom to brush my teeth one last time, and prayed that last night’s lasagna would shift through my bowels. In almost comedic fashion, while brushing my teeth, the door kicked open and a man who I can only assume eats pre-workout for breakfast busted in the restroom.
WOO! It’s go time! You ready man! Let’s do this!
He didn’t even brush his teeth, he just yelled and stepped back out of the restroom into the starry night.
Shaking from fear of such neighbors I swallowed some toothpaste, rinsed my face, tried to punch the mirror, and started to get my running gear on.
Execution day was here.
First moment of excitement; wearing a speedo with actual pant legs. Being as how I
refuse to go into a single race without breaking at least one unspoken rule; I chose trail running rule #32 to ignore; do not try new gear on race day. I had just received a pair of experimental compression shorts that swore by their ability to not chafe*, and also had no seams. Sucking in my gut, praying to God, I hoisted these leggings onto my torso. Adjusting into my best impression of Michael Phelps I threw my singlet on, grabbed my pre-packed…pack, and headed to the start/finish line.
The moment I stepped near the start/finish line was the minute God handed off the baton to the first competitor; Rick. Rick, photographer with Mile 90, who has seen me way too much this year, pulled me aside to grab a quick photo. It has almost become tradition to somehow get a photo with him no matter what race or state I am currently in. Rick looks
like an American assassin whose glare would make a bullet to the brain seem more desirable. He is terrifying…and then he talks. You listen to him, see him smile, listen to him laugh, and even though he’s a photographer there is something about him that just puts your mind at ease.
Rick had an effortless handoff to Misty at the sound of the horn. For the first 13 miles Misty, one of the first people to hang out with me in the dirt last year…EVER!…stayed with me through the woods. We nailed our aid station, stayed for 30 seconds, grabbed our food, and were out. Misty and others who I had spent countless Saturday mornings with, kept me moving at a perfect clip in the early morning hours. I managed to achieve a personal record in time on the first 13 miles.
At the second aid station, West Park Road, Misty flipped the baton to Ben. Ben came through Psycho Psummer earlier this year, and exclaimed to me (volunteering at the time)…
Stop doing that crazy mountain s*#!
He pulled up next to me along the highest climb of the race, and we just moved in the
same motion. Make no mistake, Ben is 500% faster than I am. He is an ultra runner, but he chose to stay with me for a few miles. We talked about our love for the mountains, love for running, and how great the trail running community really is. I was feeling on top of the world; I was keeping a comfortable pace with a real runner! I was finally doing it. We were running and talking together, coming back up on another group of runners, when Ben said something that caught my ear.
Oh yeah. It was just a small heart procedure.
Why was I running so well with Ben? Because he had just had a ‘minor’ heart operation! Here I am trying to keep pace with this guy, and he’s just grateful his ticker is still ticking. Humble pie truly tastes so, so bitter at times.
After Ben and company moved forward I was able to hang out in the woods with myself while keeping my eyes on three ladies in front of me, as strange as that sounds. Ben, unknowingly, handed off to a trio from the local Trail Hawk organization that I had spent time running with, time volunteering with, and just time listening to them share their stories. They are the definition of ‘love for running’. They run and do crazy things because they just love to move in the woods. They are not extremist, they do not hang out in the mountains, they just run for the beauty of it. They kept my soul calm and occupied for a solid six miles heading into Land’s End aid station. They may never know it, but just knowing they were in front of me and laughing, that kept me moving one step at a time.
At Land’s End I sat down for the first time; 20 miles into the race. The aid station crew, including a crazy man I had once watched run into an aid station like an airplane on his 100 mile race, grabbed my pack and like a pit crew worked on my bladder because it had managed to get stuck shut. I enjoyed the ability to catch my breath, refocus, and just take in the moment. It is a strange sensation when you’re the runner and you’ve been so used to being the volunteer. You almost feel guilty, until you try to open your pack and realize your fingers are covered in so much sweat that you can’t get anything open. Volunteers are the angels runners don’t always deserve, but definitely need in order to survive.
From the trio of ladies, to Gary at Land’s End, the handoff found its way into one of the stranger hands of the day; Dan. Dan was a man from St. Louis that I found in the final two miles of the first loop. We both hiked it back into the start area. What was strange about Dan was the fact that Dan knew of me. He had volunteered at Shawnee Hills 100 a few weeks prior at an aid station along the course. While pacing a random runner, I went through his aid station twice. Somehow, through poor choice, we both wound up on the same trail together in the middle of Kansas. We were both grateful for the opportunity, and also understanding that what we were trying to accomplish was not an easy task, and potentially very stupid.
From Dan at the start line, the baton finally found its way into the hands of one of the most prolific, monumental people in my life; Leia. I found her at start/finish manning the aid station. I could have cried. The temperature was getting a lot warmer than many of us had predicted, runners were struggling, and I was extremely nauseous; something I had never experienced in a race. The only food I could have kept down at that point was gels from Honey Stinger…even the mandarin flavored ones. Even Tailwind was making me sick; resulting in just Ginger Ale in my UltrAspire flask like a hungover frat member. I looked at her, and I am sure I looked absolutely pathetic, and…trying not to sob…said…
My stomach hurts. I can’t cool down. I’m really struggling and I don’t know what to do.
Part of me was so relieved to tell her, because Leia would know exactly what to do in this situation. Part of me was devastated to tell her because I was struggling, and I was failing my mission to run 50 miles. Leia, if I am being brutally honest, is on a very short list of people that I so desperately want to impress. She is the runner I want to be like, the human I want to mimic, the goal that I want to strive for. Partly because I saw her run her first 100 the year prior (to the date), and partly because she has been a huge part of my running success. The baton of this relay race was in good hands. After a cheese and bread sandwich, some ‘junk ice’, and my pack refilled with water and food; Leia was sure to kick me out and send me back for my second loop.
The world needs more Leia’s.
From the start line back to Land’s End the heat finally got me. The rocks around me were spinning, I could not get my eyes to focus like a busted iPhone camera, and I was severely hurting. On top of that there were these footsteps that I kept hearing right behind me that were driving me absolutely insane. The heat does that. In the first opening I stepped to the side to allow the crazed runner to pass, and what do I find?
I found Michelle.
Michelle had been hiking behind me since the start line on our second lap. I knew Michelle from another hellacious run; the GOATz Gravel Classic. Michelle was a GOATz runner, and had come down to hang around in the woods for a few fun filled hours. Michelle talking about her life, children, job with AAA, and moving to Omaha years ago kept me sober enough to make it back to Land’s End. Upon reaching our destination Michelle continued her trek of greatness.
I saw Gary at Land’s End and I sat down.
I still do not know how he knew it. But Gary Henry knew immediately that I did not have enough calories in my system. My bottles got filled, and then the next thing I knew there was a bowl of boiled potatoes in my lap. I started to slowly eat them, thinking of how many of my students would be laughing at the Irish guy eating potatoes**, and I started to feel better. I must have crashed on my calorie plan because food, while sounding terrible, continued to wake me up, wake me up, and wake me up with each aid station. Upon sitting at the station and watching runners come in, I saw the next person to step up to God’s relay with my life.
The same soul that got me to Texas, fixed my feet, and filmed me finishing my first ever ultramarathon in February of this year at Rocky Raccoon 50K, wound up next to me at the same aid station along the shoreline of Clinton Lake. I had this sudden realization that Megan is strong and kind enough that she’d keep me moving if I got out of the chair. I asked her if I could go with her, and she said that I should go ahead and start and she’d catch up.
I ran my fastest two miles of my second lap after that aid station. However, miles into the stretch Megan was nowhere to be found. I blame long legs. I turned on the music on my phone, and just enjoyed running God’s relay by myself for a while. My stomach was calm, my legs were fresh, and the breeze was blowing. I wasn’t fast, but I was moving. Megan caught up with 13 miles left in the race.
With 5.5 miles left before our final aid station; Megan and I trekked through the dark woods, hoping that it would start to cool off. It never did. My black shorts were now two tones of white from the amount of salt that I had lost. In five miles I had managed to eat two cheese quesadillas, learn about the band M83, and listen to a runner belch in a way that middle school boys would clap…yell..and blush in awkwardness. Megan brought joy to my life, and got me six miles from the finish line.
Then, in the stillness of the night, sitting at Land’s End, the anchor of this mindless, eternal, 50 mile relay showed their face.
The lady I saw crush a 50 mile race three weeks prior, the lady that I nearly died on gravel with in the early summer, the same runner that I almost drowned with as her pacer…as a complete stranger…in April, was there for me. God could not have picked a better anchor out of the entire bunch.
I didn’t have the energy to hug her, but I wanted to. Brandy, who had already completed
her 50 miles, found me at Land’s End with ginger cola (thank you Pepsi). She looked exhausted, but she smiled, was so kind, and gave me what I needed to journey through the hardest six miles of my life. Additionally, Brandy laced up and in one way or another ‘carried me’ for the final six miles of the course. I am thankful that my wife had trumped my level of intelligence and had checked with the race director on allowing this to take place, as this would be something outside the guidelines of the race rules, and I had failed to take the appropriate steps prior to the race to ensure that this would be allowed. If it had not been for my wife thinking clearly (after running her first marathon previously in the day) myself and Brandy could have been facing disqualification because I had not followed the race rules. Graciously the race directed permitted “The Legend” to join me for the final miles of the race. At mile 46 I started dry-heaving; another first, Brandy reminded me that we were not starting the ‘vomiting game’ this close to the finish line. At mile 48 I was doubled over, trying to catch my breath, and hearing my heart nearly explode in my right ear. “The Legend”, although being completely exhausted, never walked away. She found ways to find laughter, find dancing, and find ways to compare which of us were more stubborn in the September evening heat.
At mile 49.9 “The Legend” broke away from me at this point
of this of the relay and yelled, “Runner coming!”, as I started to painfully jog my way into the finish line. At mile 50 Rick yelled, “SMILE!”, as he snapped a final shot of me ending this race. The night was old, the day was gone, and my first 50 mile race was in the books.
Upon reflection; there is no way I could have ran this race by myself. Ironically, this is the first race that I have spent the majority of the mileage with at least one other person. That has never happened before. Realistically, I don’t deserve the community that I’ve been given. I don’t deserve the legs that I have, and I definitely don’t deserve to be able to have these kind of adventures to share with other people.
I thought, going into The Hawk 50, that this race would destroy me in a way that would cause me to want to stop for a prolonged period of time. In a way, that was the plan. Moving from a 10 mile race in July of 2016 to a 50 mile race in September of 2017 is reckless. How I managed to walk away (barely) from The Hawk with zero blisters, very little chafing, and no serious injuries is completely beyond my understanding. Furthermore, what is even more baffling, is the fact that I still want to go further and I want to go faster. It isn’t necessarily because I have something to prove, it truly is because I have found a niche within my own culture that is so much to fun to be a part of.
It would also be noted that towards the final months leading up to The Hawk I changed my training pretty significantly. I tried to focus more on strength development then necessarily getting mile after mile after mile. I am convinced that if I had not had the guidance of strength training I likely would not have finished The Hawk this year.
This race truly showed me how we are all connected, and for some of us, we really cannot be successful unless we allow ourselves to rely on others to give us strength.
*Chafing began at mile 40, only after being soaked with junk ice
**Currently my students are learning about immigration, stereotypes, and the Irish potato famine