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
I envision this magical moment in the kingdom of Ida Grove where a woman suddenly awoke with a revelation…
Yes! I see the challenge. I understand the goal. There must be a way to achieve 1000 feet of elevation gain in a single loop at a trail race in Iowa. Ida Grove must be the location. This must happen!
And so…I see sleepless nights of hand drawn maps, course outlines, and endless days of Strava information of one weaving through the maze of Moorehead Pioneer Park.
Thus, after time of toiling, sweat, and blisters; like all good mythological beings the Mazathon and the Trail of the Dragon was born.
Pan would have been proud of this devilish delight…
Somewhere along US 59 highway between Des Moines, Iowa and Sioux City, Iowa is the sleepy town of Ida Grove. With a few thousand people, it is mostly noted for its unique architecture. The town is made up of castles.
This is no joke.
Someone with too much time and money decided to build facades of castles throughout the city. Factories? In the castle. Housing? In the castle. Dentist office? In the castle. Knights Inn? No, not in the castle, in fact there isn’t even a Knights Inn in Ida Grove.
Just to the west of this special, little community is a small, historic park. Old buildings, graves, and a strange wanna-be ski lift, litter the lush area. This is home to two of the newer trail races in the flyover world.
The Mazathon and the Trail of the Dragon.
Now, to add an element of confusion, the two races are ran at the same time and on the same trail (more or less). There is a delectable flavor of distances for you to choose from. Embracing her inner Baskin Robins, race director Susan Knop offers a fun filled day of the following:
Originally, knowing of this event, I was going solely to support and crew “The Legend” on her ’50-mile-it-is-a-warm-up-for-the-next-50-mile-race-in-one-month-because-I-am-a-super-strong-runner-race’. However, as I began to look at my own training spreadsheet I noted that this day also called for 18 miles for myself.
The exact distance of the 2/3 Mazathon.
So, with some leftover change and plenty of room for poor choices, I paid the fee and signed up for the race. The concept would be simple; I would run my race two hours after seeing “The Legend” leave for her 50 mile. I would finish in a few hours, and then I would assist her as crew for her final two laps. My wife would be there the entire time, and this would be a flawless race for everyone.
After spending the evening in a hotel in Denison, Iowa that would have made Cheech blush*, my wife and I traveled to the start line of the race early Saturday morning. “The Legend” was wound for sound with her running buddy Angel. They were representing the entire state of Missouri on the 50 mile race.
There was no gun, no horn, no whistle, no lit cigarette, just a “Get going!” from the race director, and the runners were off. Myself? Pulling a High Lonesome, I jumped back into my car and went back to sleep for 90 minutes.
At 8:00 AM I began my adventure. The course was advertised as having a few climbs,
plenty of elevation, and being very pretty. With “the mist”-like fog rolling around in the trees, our group also took off into the woods for a delight romp in the wilderness.
Usually, I have something tragic to say that would foreshadow impending doom during a race, but truthfully this course was so well marked with perfect weather that there really was no room for problems on this beautiful day. I flew down the root-wrapped hills, enjoyed some single track, and finally started to approach the meadows.
You run through meadows.
Meadows equals mowed grass.
Mowed grass in meadows is equivalent to Satan, himself.
Soaked shoes on a bank of grass that mimicked only turn four at Daytona greeted me, and slowly but surely my body started to give out. It started with a few needles of pain in my feet, a slight cramp in my hips, and eight…count them…eight miles into my race I was absolutely wrecked. This is unfortunate because the course was so beautiful. Winding, like a maze, through the woods you see everyone countless times (and they offer you salt because you look hurt countless times as well**), you climb a hill to a cemetery from the 1860’s, and you get to listen to manic runners from Omaha scream about clowns being up at the top of the hill.
After meeting the only aid station on course, I hobbled through the final miles of my first loop.
Like any other good looped race that involves my wife meeting me at the start/finish, she smiled, talked a little bit, then proceeded to kick me back out on my second loop. By five miles in my feet were starting to ache. They were starting to ache in a way that I had not really noticed before. I was moving at a staggering 25:00.00 minute per mile pace, and deep down I wanted to just be done.
I wanted to be done. I was terrified of The Hawk 50 coming up because of the pain, how slow I was moving, and how much I struggling to just complete 18 miles. I got upset about how I looked, how I was moving, how I wasn’t ‘growing’ like other runners, and how I was fearful of injury, stress fractures, pushing too hard, messing something up, letting others down, letting myself down…I was out in the woods and I was not having fun.
Yet, through the stillness of the August air, I heard it…it came sharp. It came swiftly. It came up right behind me, and nearly scared me to death.
Low and behold, in my darkest hour, here comes the knight to save the day. “The Legend” caught me on her third lap. To no surprise there was laughter, smiling, and all sorts of randomness that followed. I did not want to be alone, I wanted to be with someone, so I figured I would risk the injury and follow her out to the aid station.
Holy mother she was fast! The faster I moved, the harder I breathed, but also the better my body felt. My feet still hurt, but my body was feeling looser with each step I was taking at a quicker pace. We rolled into the aid station together, and I did the only thing I knew how to do…
Brandy, what do you need? Give me your bottles.
Knowing that my movement was a joke, Brandy had informed me that she was in first place female for the 50 mile. Reminiscing on the last time she was leading a race, I realized getting her out was more important than myself trying to ‘be fast’. After all, technically this was just a ‘training run’*** for me.
By the time “The Legend” left the station, in comes the second place female, Angel. Instead of taking off, it was talking to her, filling bottles, grabbing food, and seeing her off also.
Finally, being out of excuses to stay, I left for my final three miles.
They turned into a walk.
A painful walk.
A walk full of tears.
I’ve done pain. I’ve done stupid. I have never done stupid pain like my feet experienced towards the end of that 18 miles. It hurt to walk, it hurt to apply pressure, just unreal pain through all of the bottom of my feet. Both. Feet.
I hobbled through the finish line, ripped my shoes off, and just sat at the table near the start/finish. I suppose overall I felt fine, much better after the beer, but I could not get over the pain/fear of what had happened to my feet.
Sitting at the table I was able to take in the entire event, while trying to put my feet fears to rest. This race is incredibly relaxed. The race staff all knows one another, the local cross country teams help out, and along the main building is a list of sponsors that helped make this race happen.
While moving down the list of sponsors I saw it.
I saw my answer.
I saw the reasoning for all my problems.
That same, darn organization that has tried to kill me at “Kaci’s Training Course” and…A GRAVEL ROAD IN THE MIDDLE OF NOTHING…had been supporting this race also. It all made sense! The curse of GOATz found its way to me in Ida Grove, Iowa.
Laughing in a style that only my wife would understand, I danced in my head for finding my answer to all my problems. I ate another cheeseburger, and just like Free State, where legends were made, I began the wait for “The Legend” to return.
When she came in to start her final loop; I saw something very interesting in the makeup of the 50 mile women’s race. She was still in first place. However, Angel and the 3rd place runner came in ten minutes behind her. Meaning, in the ultra world, the women’s race was going to be close. Personally, remembering the race in April, I selfishly wanted her to win. She earned it. Deserved it. People needed to see what I saw; they needed to see how Hulk-strong this runner really was.
My wife and I waited
…and waved at a drunk wedding party…
…and fought off locals who were trying to eat the aid station food…
“The Legend” finished her Trail of the Dragon 50 mile in under 13 hours. She placed first female, and fourth overall. Angel, the other runner from Kansas City, placed second female, and fifth overall.
Even though I felt beaten to pieces; seeing those two finish was so motivating. It gave me the ‘like Mike’ sensation of “I want to be like them when I grow up”. As for my award? I am proud to embrace the acknowledgement of receive my first DFL award.
Curious about my feet? I did some research, talked to the owner of the shoe store, went to my physical therapist, and then I also looked back at all my data from the miles I had logged.
450 miles on the same pair of shoes. My feet issue came from the fact that I had worn my shoes into nothing inside. Knowing this I switched out shoes, and wouldn’t you know it, I haven’t had any issues since.
If you are looking for a fun, challenging, chilled race you have to check out Ida Grove, Iowa. The race fees are low, the environment is great, and I have never seen a course so well marked in all the places I have visited.
It wasn’t necessarily my best race, but of man, I got to see a legend return and show no mercy on a course.
And it was epic.
*I now know what that smell was in Colorado…
**I made it to mile 6 before someone asked if I needed salt…new PR
***18 mile training run…I hate my life…
My car, a Mazda3, is currently moving at approximately two miles per hour. I have been on the same county road for just under twenty minutes. The temperature is 44 degrees, it is pouring rain, and I have not slept in 20 hours. I ask myself, “Is a volunteer for a race going to become its only casualty?”
Several weeks ago my wife and I had an amazing idea. We rarely go on vacations, like I don’t think we actually have ever gone on vacation. This year we settled on a fun adventure. A friend of ours, the one who is solely responsible for the majority of the expeditions into trail running for both of us, had signed up for a race in Colorado. How cool would it be to surprise her at the finish line? We checked with her coach, everything sounded good, so we started planning our trip.
A week into the planning we learned that my wife and her new coffee shop would be opening a week earlier than planned. Meaning, the vacation was a no-go. However, that still left me with a car full of gas, a beard that was being called back to the mountains, and a strange desire to serve chicken broth at 11,000 feet. I contacted the race director and filled out a form to volunteer for the race. He approved, and the email exchanges began. At one point I was to serve at one aid station, later I was moved to another, and in the end the simple question was asked, “Why not do all of them?”
The stage was set. I was heading to Colorado for the inaugural High Lonesome 100 as a volunteer. I would work the aid stations for 24 hours; collecting information, sharing stories, and serving fried eggs to a very hungry runner at 2:00 AM.
So eerily similar to every trail race I have ever been a part of; I truly had no idea what I was getting myself into.
To fully understand the trip, allow me to give you a few little pieces about High Lonesome. It takes place in the Sawatch Range of Colorado near Salida and Buena Vista. The entire course is a single 100 mile loop, with a 12 mile out and back journey at St. Elmo.
Climbers Runners will reach as high as 13,200 feet as they cross several peaks stretching through the continental divide. Cutoff for this race is 36 hours, and the fun begins at 6:00 AM Friday morning. 12 aid stations, seven of them being accessed by crew.
Heading in as a volunteer I had multiple sets of clothes to change into, a cup for coffee, some snacks, more weapons than necessary (bears, you know), and a handy rain jacket that had been delivered to my house an hour prior to leaving for this journey.
Going into High Lonesome I had assumed that it would be wise to apply all volunteer knowledge to practice; runners need everything; food, water, vaseline, sleeping bags, beer, and hugs…lots of hugs. Upon arrival my day had been set with three primary aid stations and a fourth one “just for fun”.
Aid Stations #1: St. Elmo
Elevation: 10,000 ft
St. Elmo, Colorado
Theme: Bears and Chipmunks
Time: Friday 8:00 AM MST to 4:00 PM MST
The first challenge is getting to St. Elmo. Like all mountain areas of Colorado, St. Elmo is not real. It is a ghost town, a figment of our imagination that is adorably haunted by chipmunks who rule the area with their tiny, cute fists. There is a convenient store that is open “9ish-6ish”, and the entire plot of land is privately owned. Because St. Elmo is a tourist destination (15 MILES OFF OF ANY NORMAL ROAD GOING TO WHO KNOWS WHERE IN THE MOUNTAINS), parking was crucial. St. Elmo allowed access to crew members, so I was placed with the daunting responsibility of dividing up three types of drivers heading into town. Crews for the runners, town visitors for the chipmunks, and ATV/Jeep/Motocross/Tanks/Optimus Prime for all the ‘Colorado roads’ to explore.
Thank goodness humanity decided to be kind on this day because aside from nearly being ran over by the local heating and cooling guy that deemed my life less important than a 9/16 pipe wrench, everyone was amazing. All visitors were encouraged to feed the chipmunks, but not to feed the runners. They would eat all the visitors food, I knew it. The crew would park their vehicles along the side of the dirt road/cliff/river, and begin the mile hike to the actual aid station. What did end up becoming fascinating for the day was the amount of visitors and crew members of other runners that would stand along the road and cheer in the runners as they arrived into town.
Nearing noon the sky began to cloud up, the lightning began, and the rain started to fall. The runners, humorously, seemed to enjoy the light shower as they came into town. I, thankfully, had my trusty rain jacket that I had put on at roughly 11:00 AM (this is an important detail). At 1:00 PM I was starting to become hungry, and with the aid station a mile away, I decided to just chill and drink coffee at St. Elmo.
The face of hunger, like a pitiful child, must have been across my skin because a woman, far more athletic than I will ever be, was kind enough to offer some food out of her vehicle. This is when I discovered the joy of fried rice. Out of a ball of aluminum foil came the joy of sticky Jasmine rice with quinoa, red peppers, scrambled eggs, bacon, and a bit of cheese. She went on to explain how this balanced food item was great for fueling, along with cooking instructions. I had no clue that I would learn about what to eat while watching people punish themselves along the mountains.
What I didn’t also consider was the realization of eggs, cheese, bacon, and other goodies mixed with coffee in my digestive track would begin a brew that would push the limits of life, liberty, and the cleanliness of my pants.
At 4:00 PM, while it was raining, I was relieved from my post and informed that the Hancock aid station was only 5 miles away from St. Elmo. I packed up my soaked lawn chair, my coffee, and said farewell to rodents and rocky mount riders alike and began my ascent to Hancock.
Aid Station #2: Hancock
Elevation 11,000 ft
Time: Friday 5:00 PM MST to 12:00 AM MST
The first amazing challenge of this aid station, as a volunteer, was just getting to the darn place. Hancock doesn’t exist, it’s a relative of St. Elmo. Like a washed up high school quarterback, it was a has been and is no more type of railroad town with an attempt at cabin building. How do I know? Because the remnants of said cabins are slowly sliding down the mountainside to the only road to the actual location of Hancock, or in my case, the aid station.
I had asked one of the race officials if my Mazda3 could make it to Hancock. The response…
Drive slow. Watch out for the potholes. You’ll be fine.
Trusting a Colorado native on road advice is like trusting a Texan on neutrality of state pride…it is very ill-advised. Hancock was a 1000 foot climb from St. Elmo on a rain soaked gravel “road”. You can watch for potholes all you want, but the reality is they make up 96% of the road. The other 4% is left to collapsing cabins. It was 5 miles…5…miles…to Hancock on that road. It took me a total of one hour to get to my destination. While I’m putting around with my 4 cylinder gas sipper, four wheel drive monstrosities straight out of Jurassic Park are flying the opposite direction (had to be velociraptors…I’m convinced). Naturally, like all good things involved with rules of the road, this required me to hug the right side of the road a little bit. And by a little bit, I mean another two inches would have resulted in my car tumbling down the mountain and revisiting the St. Elmo ghost town (likely as a permanent resident).
Finally through the light sprinkles of the sky, I arrived at Hancock. I was greeted by two mustache wearing ladies who showed me where to park.
My first job? Parking.
This is about the time the night started to turn entertaining. Crew members were rather perplexed as to why they saw another red jacketed ogre directing traffic where to park. This came with laughter amongst the rain increasing. It was while standing in the rain that I met John. John was also volunteering and somehow had grown up in Kansas City,
small world. We shot the breeze, talked about our love of trail running, spoke to Canadians (first time I ever met Canadians in real life), and tried to keep warm. I started to notice that as 8:00 PM MST arrived I was starting to get cold. The temperature was dropping along with the rain at 11,000 feet in the air. After adding another layer of clothes I walked up to the actual aid station, roughly 400 meters away, to spend the rest of my time at Hancock.
Upon my arrival to the actual station I witnessed possibly one of the most amazing acts of sportsmanship out of the whole race. From the photographer…
A runner came in well before his crew. He needed his rain shell jacket before leaving, but it was 400 meters in the opposite direction of where he would be traveling. I witnessed, mark my words, the lead photographer from Mile 90 Photography offer his rain shell to the runner. Naturally, the runner politely declined and still grabbed his own rain shell. That moment though; that captured what trail running is all about. The photographer, someone without a horse even in the race, was willing to give his own rain shell to a random runner he has never met until that one moment.
This was a very busy station. There were so many things going on all at once. Hancock was full service, plus drop bags, plus runners could grab their first pacer, plus crew access, plus…and this is a good one…a mandatory gear check prior to leaving the station.
Remember that line from Enemy at the Gates where the Russian official is yelling out orders about the first man grabbing the gun, second the ammunition, when the first is killed the second grabs the gun? Alright, Hancock had nothing to do with rifles, but the dialogue within the aid station in the late hours were just as intense.
The rain was pouring down in buckets, the temperatures was now in the 40’s and still dropping. NOAA has put at a weather bulletin for the area that we were sharing with crew and pacers…
A chance of 40-50 mph winds. 1/2″ hail. Frequent cloud to ground lightning.
It was not a scare tactic, but it was a reality for the runners leaving. After Hancock they would be in the dark going up the mountain side to a 12,500 foot ridge. The weather is extremely unpredictable, and the models were throwing out alerts left and right. Somehow, someway at 10:30 PM MST I wound up with the gear list/pacer/time in/time out sheet checking with runners and pacers for a brief spell. I could barely hear the
runners over the rain. The aid station was churning through broth and coffee at an alarming rate, and the medics were doing an amazing job keeping the runners warm. Not to overdramatize the event, but there were a few moments where Hancock was much more reflective of trench warfare of WWI instead of an ultra marathon. The difference? We weren’t dealing with artillery shells from the enemy, we were having to fight with mother nature. This is the first aid station where I think I did a little bit of everything. At one point I was checking pacers, another I was trying to talk a runner through their options of dropping, running, or waiting for their crew, and another moment I was standing in the pouring rain with my headlamp like a lighthouse just trying to spot runners coming up the boulder path to our station.
It. Was. Intense.
At 11:45 PM MST I had received my next set of orders. I was to leave at midnight and travel to Monarch Pass. There I would find some rest, warmth, and time to recover a bit. However, that also meant that the only way I could get out of Hancock was back down the same road I came in on. The same road that had been dealing with non-stop rain for over six hours. Pitifully I looked at John and asked if he was leaving at any specific time. Realizing that my poker face is pathetic, he said he would leave around midnight. I asked him, this is a true story, if I could follow him out because I was that afraid of the road.
Of course John was ready to rock, and I had placed my faith in him. Surely, a Colorado man of his stature would whip through the road quickly in a stylish, tall, AWD vehicle. Ensuring that I would be taken to safety.
He showed up in a Honda Odyssey.
Nothing against the van, it is a great vehicle, but my faith in humanity (and my own life) slipped slightly at that moment. However, John was not playing around. We cleared that road in less than 20 minutes.
Knowing that I was free from the clenches of death, I started my journey to Monarch Pass.
Aid Station #3: Monarch Pass
Theme: The Devil
Time: Saturday 1:00 AM MST to 7:00 AM MST
The good news about Monarch Pass is the reality that it is directly off of US 50; there is no Colorado road to fight. The bad news? It is an hour drive on the highway from Hancock to the pass. It is a trip. Halfway through the journey, it hit…the eggs, bacon, coffee, and other colorful items that I had ingested. Naturally, I am terrified of porty-potty’s (I know all the runners are laughing at me now, it’s alright, I ate lunch alone in school), and I sure as heck am not taking the gamble of leaving my own choices 6 inches in the ground, while realizing I could be tracking in a bear to my untimely demise.
Between the cramping and the stench of the car; I saw it like a beacon of hope. Some small town 24/7 gas station with restrooms on the outside of the building. I hopped out of the car at 1:00 AM MST and marched up to the guys side.
SOMEHOW IN THE MIDDLE OF NOTHING THE MEN’S RESTROOM IN ONE STOP GAS STATION WAS BEING OCCUPIED AT 1:00 AM MST!
A polite woman and I used sign language to figure out what was going because our language barrier at that time of night was not going to achieve anything. Being panicked, feeling the doomsday clock ticking inside me, and replaying that image of the inmate exploding in The Dark Night caused me to fly into the women’s restroom at the horror of the kind lady in the van watching.
After coming back to life with my second wind (hehe) I finished my journey to Monarach Pass. St. Elmo was special, Hancock was rough, but Monarch Pass had an element of fear and creep that only Steven King could whip up. On top of Monarch Pass sat this aid station in a parking lot in the middle of nothing. There was no traffic, there was no movement, just the slow creeping of the fog, and the local aid station workers wearing devil horns*.
Remember learning about coal mines? Remember that image from October Sky or The Hunger Games in which the miners would come up the elevator. All you could see was their headlamp? They looked like worn corpses just trying to find eternal rest?
Welcome to Monarch Pass.
Even after Bryce Canyon I have never seen so many half-dead runners in my life. From the aid station, if you looked across the highway, you could see the runners coming down the ridge. The bouncing lights would take another twenty minutes to find the actual station. When they crossed the road, mixed with the fog, all you could see was their headlamp searching for sanctuary from the elements. The tap, tap, tapping of their trekking poles for many of them were their only ways of expressing life.
This is where aid stations become hugging stations.
I’m so cold.
That was a lot.
Do you have something warm?
I got lost in the fog. I could not find a #@^! thing.
That was hard.
Every runner came in with a different thought as the early morning pressed on. At 2:00 AM MST the aid station was cooking up fried “Waffle House” eggs for one runner. At 3:00 AM MST another runner came in convinced that the race director had lost his golf clubs on the ridge behind us. The crews were wearing down, the aid station was calm, the runners were cold…realistically…we all needed daylight. At 4:00 AM MST after eating a wonderful scotcharoo that painfully reminded me of my ex-girlfriend from college, I sat down in my chair. That is when I started to notice the shaking. It would come and go, and eventually it just came to stay. My legs were shaking, my upper body was shaking, the world was shaking. Without causing alarm of my own internal earthquake I walked over to my Mazda3. I turned the car on, cranked the heat up to 90 degrees, and grabbed my pillow.
The exact thought in my head…
I’m just a volunteer. I should not feel like this. I should be helping. I have to warm up. I am so embarrassed.
At 6:00 AM MST I woke up to the strangest, borderline hallucination I have ever witnessed. Standing in front of my car was Leia. Leia was the runner from Kansas City, Leia was the one that got me into all of this a year ago; Leia is unstoppable.
Why the hell is Leia in front of my car?
Forgetting that I was at an aid station at the summit of a mountain in Colorado, I scrambled to get out of the car. Smacked my head on the doorframe, lost a glove, cut my forehead, and tried to get to Leia.
I timed out at Middlefork.
I did not know what to do. I was speechless. I wasn’t sure to say, “I’m sorry”, or “you’re awesome”, or “I’m amazed” because I was scared that anything was going to result in crying…by either one of us. I just listened as her crew grabbed her, got her into a warm vehicle, and took off.
That one moment summed up the entire experience. When you volunteer you become so emotionally involved with the people actually running, whether you mean to or not, that when they find heartache. You find it also. It is nowhere close to what they had experienced, but you can still find the lump in your throat. Somehow, someway you want to cheer for everyone. It is not about the person who comes in first, though that is awesome, it is about the survival of the whole field.
At 6:30 AM MST, after witnessing that brief event, I apologized for sleeping in my car and at that moment I saw Chris enter the parking lot, while the rain continued to pour.
Chris and I met at Hancock. Her shoes were soaked, so she slept in our aid station for nearly an hour waiting for dry shoes. We talked about her plan of action, especially since she was doing the course without a pacer. Eventually after some rest, some broth, and some dry shoes she left Hancock. She reminded me of “The Legend” back home. So much mental, but physically so strong.
Seeing Chris at Monarch Pass made my own experience. She came into Monarch smiling. She grabbed some coffee, got some bacon, and I walked with her back out onto the course. Witnessing the energy levels that she had made me so happy. Chris was my ‘feel good’ story of the race. There was a lot, including my ginger-beard brother, my Cleveland twin with the same name, and the crazy Canadian, and so many more.
After Chris left, feeling my age coming before me, I realized that my journey had come to an end. It was time to leave, but I had one last place I needed to travel to…
Aid Stations #4: Start/Finish
Time: Saturday 8:00 AM MST to 10:00 AM MST
I never had met the race director. All I knew was that his name was Caleb and he ‘had legs of a road runner’. The intent was to travel to the start/finish line, say thank you, and head back to my hotel for some rest. Upon arrival what I saw was another aid station. I saw a few runners, already finished, resting at the finish line. However, runners were coming in with cold core temperatures. So, myself and three other people started to build a quick aid station with camp stoves and JetBoil** contraptions. The biggest request was just broth. Maybe I’m thinking too much about this experience, but volunteers should try to make an attempt to visit the finish line when they are done serving. Why? Because that is when you get to witness the most incredible reward. It is not the hat, the shirt, the whiskey, etc…it is seeing people that you’ve been around for split seconds through the darkest parts of the night come across the finish line. Children running with fathers, runners limping into the finish; the laughter, the crying, the cramping, the kissing, anyone who understands what is going on will cry at the finish line. I enjoyed boiling the broth, but I loved seeing the finish of the runners. It was inspiring, but it was also fulfilling. It made me believe that my time out in Colorado was well spent, and that somehow, someway I was able to assist those runners achieve the impossible.
I also burned my hand on the pot and realized that my lack of sleep was catching up with me.
At 10:00 AM MST I took my rain jacket off for the first time in nearly 24 hours***, I shook hands with Caleb (without making any leg comments that some at the aid station volunteers had told me to), and slowly walked along the side of the finish line ‘funnel’. I walked along the road with two recreational hikers enjoying the morning, got into my Mazda3 that smelled like wet dog, took a deep breath, and started my journey to some well needed rest.
It is hard to still be a ‘new runner’ and watch events like this unfold. You are both equally intimidated by being around such high caliber runners that you’ll likely never be like, and at the same time your heart longs to accomplish a similar journey. It is an internal paradox that I have not found an answer for.
That was one of the most exciting, adventurous, exhausting, taxing, rewarding journeys I have ever had the blessing to be a part of in the trail running community.
…and I was just volunteering.
If you find a High Lonesome runner around you; give them a hug.
Don’t ask questions, just trust me on this one.
*Mile 66.6, get it? Devil, 666, Hell’s Hill, etc…I thought it was clever.
**I have now seen enough JetBoil devices to successfully send at least one man into space by one of these aid stations. Probably Monarch Pass.
***Best $14 I have ever spent! Thank you Trail and Ultra Runner Facebook page for the lead! Retail was $130, I’m still proud of myself.
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:
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:
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…
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