Thursday, December 28, 2017

Return to the Scene of the Toast

The fact the first race of my 2018 running season actually occurs in December of 2017 means nothing to me. I haven't raced since September and what I did then was more trying to survive rather than race. I've been over my disappointments from last year numerous times and I will try not to go too much into that again. It is difficult for me to move on from that and the best way to do that is to just focus on the next race. That race will be the Tuscobia 80 mile.
Last year at Tuscobia I completed the 160 mile version on foot after failing to do so the year before. The experience could be described as near to a religious, spiritual experience as I have ever had. It was frightening, liberating, and perhaps even life changing. I don't think any of this is hyperbole. My perception of myself and life in general has been different since spending those 63 hours and change out in sub zero temperatures, mostly alone. There were periods where deja vu left me very confused yet comforted. I had moments were I felt completely separated from my physical body. I had revelations about what it took to move myself 160 miles across space and time. My whole perception of reality was challenged. It was amazing. I wanted to go back but I decided to do the 80 miles as I am not sure I am ready to experience all these things again just yet.
I felt like maybe I was afraid of trying the 160 again, since that was a word I used when thinking about it. Maybe it is more that I gained respect for it after finishing it in the second attempt. I respect it enough to know that I shouldn't try it at a time when I don't have the will to give the necessary effort to finish again. At some point, however, I will definitely try again.
Since taking a few weeks off after St. Pat's I have been back to regular running. As a bonus I have been very consistent about going to the gym and working on overall and core strength. It has helped me feel much better. The running mileage has slowly built up and doing long runs of 20 miles or more are not miserable struggles that they were over the summer. The training groove is back and I feel good about it.
The days leading up to Tuscobia have been getting colder and colder. It looks like it won't be as cold as last time but it will still be below 0 F for much of the race. I've not worried about it too much. I know the gear I have will get me through these temperatures without an issue. I have experience and confidence on my side. I also know that I only have to get through one night instead of two and into a third. Hopefully I'm not taking it too lightly. It is strange how the perspective has changed.
So this post will be a short one as I still have to pack up my gear. Results and recap next time.

Monday, December 4, 2017

2017: Up and Down


This year began with very high hopes and lofty goals. If you've been following along then you know how it went. I put together an ambitious schedule hoping for the best. There were successes, failures, mistakes, triumphs, huge disappointments and lessons learned. Mostly there were amazing people and unforgettable experiences.

A return to Tuscobia started the year. I had failed to finish there the year before but felt I had learned what it takes to complete the full 160 miles. I somehow did it and had the most intense spiritual (for lack of a better term) experience in the final few miles.

Less than three weeks later I was facing the Arrowhead monster. Much more remote and tougher terrain than Tuscobia, I was more afraid of this race than any other I had done. Again, I finished and somehow in better shape than Tuscobia. I was on a high. I felt like I could do anything.

Actif Epica is where I was finally broken and finished only through sheer will and the support of my fellow Hrimthurs. The trail conditions were difficult and the toll of the two previous races left nothing in the tank.

That tank remained close to empty for the remainder of the year unfortunately. I had the Grand Slam approaching and 4 months to prepare. What I ultimately needed was a break but I tried to get back into training for Western States. The training I did do was inadequate. Physically I felt slow and sluggish. Mentally I had no ability to push myself to even run a 2 or 3 miles at times. This is no way to prepare for a series of 4 premier 100 mile races. My quest for the Grand Slam ended quickly when I missed the cutoff at Western States mile 62 by 5 minutes.

At Vermont I was able to rally a bit and force myself to finish the race though I hated nearly every minute of it. With little motivation I still decided to carry on with the series but missed a cutoff at Leadville and straight up quit at Wasatch.
There was plenty of disappointment about failing at these races. I do regret missing my chance at the Grand Slam, combine that with the Order of Hrimthurs and do something remarkable. However, I realize that it really doesn't matter. My goals only matter to me and most people are focused on their lives. Whether I accomplish some arbitrary goal doesn't affect anyone else's life. I will look for new challenges and maybe someday try all this again. Maybe not. Either way, I think the point of all this is to line up and do the best I can each day, accept the results, and try to learn and appreciate the moments.


It is that time of year in the ultrarunning world when the final few races take place and we all start filling our calendars with events for the next year. The lotteries for Western States and Hardrock are over. After the last two years and the lackluster results of late, I decided to cut back on races next year. Then the silly season comes upon us. I add a race here and another there and boom. I have quite the schedule again. The list of races I want to run one day keeps growing and new ones appear every year. Friends run them, talk about them and then I want to try them. Someone even mentions a race and I am looking up all the info online and suddenly I want to run that one too.
So to cut the crap and get to the list, here it is:

December 29, 2017  Tuscobia 80  Rice Lake, Wisconsin
January 29  Arrowhead 135  International Falls, Minnesota
April 22  Glass City Marathon   Toledo Ohio
May 5  Grayson Highlands 50K  Mouth of Wilson, Virginia
July 6  Ronda Del Cims  Ordino, Andorra
August 10 Bigfoot 200  Mount Saint Helens, Washington
September 28  Yeti 100  Abingdon, Virginia

First, I know Tuscobia is technically this year but it is close enough. I'm "only" doing the 80 mile version this time which which will likely mean less hallucinations. I'm mentally not ready to go the full distance there again. It was brutal last year and I'm afraid of going to that mental/emotional place again so soon.
I was lucky enough to be allowed back to race at Arrowhead again and I'm really looking forward to it. I am going to attempt the unsupported option this year, meaning I get no aid, no entry inside at checkpoints to warm up, and all food and water has to carried. The post race buffet at the casino will be even sweeter.
The Glass City Marathon will by my first road marathon in over 3 years. I've got the crazy idea to try to qualify for Boston now that I have moved to a slightly easier age category. It will still mean going 20 minutes faster than my PR which will require some real running training instead of piling junk miles up.
Grayson Highlands has been quietly sitting on my to do list for some time. I finally have a space in my schedule to fit it in. There are a couple reasons I have want to do it. One, the race director also puts on the Georgia Death Race, which I loved. The most important reason, however, wild mini ponies!!
Grayson Highlands Mini Ponies
photo credit: runbum tours

Ronda del cims? What language is that? Where is it? The language is Catalan and the place is the Principality of Andorra, wedged in in the Pyrenees Mountains between Spain and France. It is a 100+ mile race that loops around the entire country and has over 40,000 feet of climbing and just as much descent. It is a Hardrock qualifier and looks amazing from the videos and pictures. I blame Scott from Ten Junk Miles Podcast for this one.

The Bigfoot 200 mile in August is my main goal race of the year. I have become more and more interested in these 200 milers since they popped up a few years ago. Finishing Tuscobia and Arrowhead last year made it seem more attainable. Also, seeing a few running friends do them made me want to join in the fun.

Finally, I was drawn to the Yeti 100 after meeting the RD, Jason, at Leadville and then seeing the design for the sub 24 hour buckle. It is a chance for a fast 100 miler and a perfect way to end the season.
How can you not want this? 

I'm sure there may be a random race or two mixed in there somewhere. I'm still trying to not overdo it. I'm positive I will be back at St. Pat's 24 Hour in October but that is strictly for fun, food and people. It is all approching very quickly and I look forward to seeing how it all turns out. I'd love to hear what you all are doing!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Recovery, Recharging & the St. Pat's 24 Hour

After a pitiful attempt at the Wasatch 100, I took the remainder of September off from running. Running was not fun or enjoyable. It was a chore I felt I was forcing myself to do. The break was a long time coming. The hope was to step away briefly and then return to running with renewed focus and energy.
I wasn't idle during that time though. I returned to the gym to work on the strength that had been lost over the past two years of running. Trying to climb the mountains had exposed a huge weakness. Lifting weights again for the first time in a while was hard but fun. It is a very different kind of hard then running for an extend period of time. There was some frustration. Back when I was young and played football it was all about putting up as much weight as possible and that is not what I need to be doing to improve my running. That old mentality is still ingrained but I have come to realize that as a middle aged man I don't really care if I look silly lifting small weights. Working on core strength is also an area I have neglected immensely and will be working hard to keep that a regular part of my routine.
In order to at least maintain some endurance, I would use the elliptical. This was very boring but it was zero impact and I hoped would allow my toe, which I banged up at Leadville, to heal. Once I started running again at the beginning of October there was still some pain so I am concerned that it is not going to improve without significant time off and I'm not prepared to do that right now.
Getting back to running felt good again. I'm still slow but will try not to worry about that. I'm feeling better about my running now. I have upcoming goals that I will get to towards the end of the year. Finally being able to focus on proper training is good both physically and mentally.
An opportunity to assess my current status was the St. Pat's 24 Hour in South Bend, Indiana. I first ran St. Pat's last year. I put it on the calendar again because it was relaxed and extremely fun. The race has you running a flat 3.1 mile loop through a wooded park as many times as you can within the time limit. The course is very flat with one small hill to climb towards the end of the loop.
The beauty of a timed race is that you can do whatever you want. If you want to bang out lap after lap, you can. You can walk a lap. You can set a high mileage goal and try to reach that or set a lower goal, get to that casually and then hang out.
I came into this year's run with no real goal in mind. I suppose I wanted to get around 50 miles but mostly wanted to see how I felt. After spending the night in the barn at the Start/Finish I felt ready to go. The weather for the weekend was perfect. Highs in the mid 70s and lows in the low 60s. A blanket of leaves softened the trail. Everything was aligned for great weekend.
On my first two laps I felt very good but kept telling myself not to get too excited about that. The lap times were consistent and passing by quickly. I would occasionally think to myself that if I kept this up I could get my first sub 24 hour 100 miles. That would be really nice to do but I also believe it would be too much at this point, set training back and require significant recovery time. So after getting to 31 miles at the 6 hour mark, I backed off and walk/jogged a couple laps. It was around this time I decided that getting to a 100k (62.2 miles) would be about right. That way I could get good miles in and still get a chance to socialize.
Smiles all day
photo credit: Barry Adams

I spent the next 18 hours putting a lap or two in and then hanging out and eating. The food at this event is fantastic. I may have burned many calories running more than 60 miles but I am almost positive I ended up breaking even with all the delicious treats they offered all day and night. The people were great too. Nearly every lap there was some time spent talking with someone, hearing funny stories or about interesting races. Many of the same people return year after year so it becomes a type of reunion. I think I will be going back as often as possible.
St. Pat's raises money for ALS research, which is a great cause. The organization of the race is excellent. Jeanne and Sarah who put on the race do a great job organizing the event as well as being there the entire time encouraging the runners. They know everyone by name and are the friendliest race directors around, and that is saying a lot.
Now the training continues. The winter racing season is nearly here. A few days prior to St. Pat's, the official Arrowhead 135 roster came out and I will be out there again this January but we will get to all that in due time.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Wasatch: Another Lesson in Humility and Altitude

From the beginning I said the plan was audacious. The Order of the Hrimthurs followed by the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning. All of this just a few short months after completing the Super Midwest Slam. After my finish at Arrowhead I felt that anything was possible. I could finish any race I put my mind to and then Western States slapped me down. It was a hot day with difficult conditions in the high country. So the Slam was out but I carried on and suffered through a finish at Vermont. Then came Leadville where I felt so good until the climb at Hope Pass which cost me too much time and got me cut off. So be it. In the immediate aftermath I considered not even going to Utah to give Wasatch a try. But I did go and this is what happened.

The Wasatch 100 is one of the oldest 100s in the country, this being the 38th running. This year would be special due to the possibility of smoke filled air from the many forest fires out west and possibly the highest temperatures the race had seen. Again I would be facing my big three weaknesses: Heat, altitude and relentless climbing.

Wasatch does not play around when it comes to getting the steep ascents going. After a short bus ride from downtown Salt Lake City to the start, we set off  down the trail meandered along a ridge looking down at the suburbs of Salt Lake. Before the sun had even had a chance of rising, we made a sudden turn to the left and there was a trail that looked like it went straight through the trees into the sky. This was the beginning of a nearly 5000 foot climb  over 5 miles. It was slow going and very steep in most places. Eventually, the trail left the trees and I could see where the climb likely ended, and it was so far away. The tiny figures of those ahead of me showed where the trail snaked up the slope.

After 2 hours I reached the top and began a steady descent down a dirt road that skirted next to 2 radar domes, which I assume were for the airport. I expected the climb to be long and hard. I felt good since I was able to stay relaxed and not strain myself going up since this was so early in the race.  The descent was long and I expected the first water station to be coming any time. A first sign of trouble was that I was being passed regularly by other runners on this portion. I wasn't moving as quickly as I probably needed to.

I reached the water station after what seemed way too long and after I had emptied my 2 liter bladder pack. Arriving at the table, one of the volunteers calmly stated, "We're out of water. They are bringing some  if you want to wait or it's 5 miles to the next station if you think you can make it." To say I was furious would be an understatement. How a race of this stature runs out of water at the very first stop is beyond comprehension but there I was. I felt I didn't have the time to spare waiting so I put my pack back on headed off, cursing.

The next 5 miles had ups and down as we went in and out of canyons. Maybe due to the lack of expected water or, more likely, due to my declining motivation over the past months, I began to slip into a negative place. I realized that this wasn't going to happen based on my pace, my attitude and the throbbing pain in my left big toe that had kicked a rock firmly at mile 6 of Leadville 3 weeks before.

This next aid station was uneventful. I got my water refilled, ate and quickly moved on. There was still a chance but it was not looking good. It was only 17 miles and I was feeling like mile 70 already. Not good. By the time I rolled into the station at 26 miles, I decided I was done. There was no point in struggling to a finish that wasn't going to happen. I could end it early and get a good start over on my training for next year. However, when I tried to quit at this station they told me it would be hours before I could be driven out and it was 4.4 miles to the next stop. Then he pointed to a peak off in the distance and said you get there and then descend into the next station. I didn't want to but I set off.

This next section ended up being the easiest of any so far and began to have me questioning my decision. I was almost an hour ahead of the cutoff but over 11 hours to do 31 miles means I would have to go at a faster pace in the next 69 miles. That was not going to happen. Another massive defeat at the hands of a western mountain ultra.

Now what? There is a slight feeling of humiliation since I boldly put this attempt at the Grand Slam out there publicly and have failed in 3 out of 4 of the races. Not a very good showing at all. A major dose of humility is what I got and that can (and I hope will) be a motivator going into the future. Like I said above, after Arrowhead I felt I could finish any race I started. Confidence is a good thing but I have learned it can also lead to complacency. This led to allowing myself to slack in training with the belief that since I had been successful in the past that I would be so in the future. This may work for a brief time but I eventually had to pay the price.

Success, however, is arbitrary. I gave myself a goal and fell short. Perhaps the true success was in the attempt. I suppose if I had finished every race I would be satisfied but I do savor the opportunity to return to each of these races and finish them, which I believe will make the finish even more satisfying. I failed in my first attempt at Tuscobia but in that failure I learned what I needed to know to get it done. When I returned this year I applied that and succeeded. In getting over the previous obstacle, I found new ones that were even more difficult but I was prepared. So when I return to each of these races, I will be ready because I feel I now know what it is I needed to know to succeed.

Ultrarunning is extremely humbling. This is one thing I love about it. There is no faking a 100 mile finish. There are no easy 100 milers, only ones that are more difficult than others. These races break you down and give you a glimpse of your true self. Often, I don't like what I find but then I have the opportunity to make changes and improve myself. I believe when we do this we also make life better for those around us.

In the end of it all, none of these things mean much of anything. All we do falls into the past and will eventually be lost and forgotten by everyone we know. The past is gone and the future is not here so finding meaning and joy in the present is all we have. I'm not going to dwell on my failures, which are many, and I'm not going to worry about the future. Next year's plans are set for the most part but all I can do is try to enjoy the work I do today.

I can reset now both physically and mentally. My body needs a bit of a rest and my mind needs to return to the place where it needs to be to get through 100 miles or more. I have had a very good 18 months of racing, even if it didn't end quite the way I wanted it to. There were many positives and, most importantly, many special experiences. This little hobby has led me to places I never would have seen and to meet beautiful people I never would have known. For all of that I am thankful, regardless of the outcome of a race.

Enough rambling for now. I have decided I will be taking a break from running for the rest of September. I plan on having a "fun run" at the St. Pat's 24 Hour Run in Indiana in October. No goal and no pressure. I have 24 hours to run as much or as little as I want. The rest of the year will be focused on working on my weaknesses prior to the 2018 schedule which will be revealed at a later date.

My Wasatch pictures:

Monday, August 28, 2017

Leadville, Too Damn High

While reflecting on what I would post for this race report, another blog post came out that you may want to read first because it captures much of what I was already thinking.

As my previous post covered, I have been dealing with some (minor) issues that have been making running not that fun to me lately. Over the last 18 months I have run many long races and, for the most part, have been successful. I failed to finish Western States which was disappointing but I accepted it in the immediate aftermath. As time has gone by, I have been questioning what could have been in that race. I "succeeded" at Vermont but found very little joy in running a race on a course that, in retrospect, was idyllic and beautiful. This was how the table was set going into my attempt at the iconic Leadville 100.

If you've read Born to Run, and if you run you probably have, then you would be somewhat familiar with Leadville. The course is roughly 50 miles out to the turn around at Winfield and then 50 miles back to Leadville. The elevation at the start is just over 10,000 feet. Thin air to be sure. There are a few ups and downs before the big climb just after 40 miles. This is the climb up to the high point of the race at Hope Pass, around 12,600 feet above sea level. You then drop down into Winfield, turn around and go back.

I flew into Denver on Thursday and drove down to my hotel in Frisco. From there I met up with Scott from Ten Junk Miles Podcast who had offered to crew and pace and we headed down to Leadville for the annual Leadville Beer Mile. This was my first beer mile and was bit more difficult than I thought it would be. It was, however, a great time. I even earned a finisher's award.
Four beers. One mile. No puke. 

I picked up my race packet and relaxed on Friday. Unlike my last few races, I had a fitful night of sleep, waking up around 2 AM. I had plenty of time to dress and have some breakfast before the 4 AM start. I felt a little sleepy but not bad as the excitement of the race gave me some early energy.

Ready to go

The start line was packed with runners with their friends and families. The temperatures were perfect for running. The countdown began, a shotgun blast and we were off. The first aid station at May Queen was 13.5 miles away. The loose cut off time was listed as 7:15 AM so I wanted to run easy but still get there without worrying about cutting it too close. I tried to get over early race excitement and settle into a relaxed pace.

It was around 3 miles in that we finally reached some single track trail and the conga line effect set in. This can be frustrating when I am stuck behind someone going too slow but it also can be good by keeping me from going too fast early in the race. A little after the 6 mile mark I tried passing one of these slower runners and suddenly slammed my big toe into either a root or rock. I caught myself on my other foot and both hands and began running again. That one kind of hurt.

We followed the trail along Turquoise Lake as the sun came up. Around 6:30 I rolled into the campground at May Queen ahead of what I expected. Things were looking good. As I ran in I saw my brothers and sister in law standing just ahead of the station. I gave them all a hug as it was a special treat to see them all. I grabbed some food in the station and move the far side and sat to take a look at my toe, which was still throbbing from the incident earlier.

Leaving May Queen we immediately started to climb. The slope was not too bad but slowed everyone to a hike. We switched back and forth and could look back over the lake and look down on the campground we had just left. I felt very good and was moving well. I enjoyed the views and took a moment or two to take them in. I wanted to just stand and look at the scenery but there was still along way to go.

Climbing up out of May Queen

Reaching to top of this long climb was not so bad. I was hiking well on the climbs and running the flats. A little over 20 miles we reached the Powerline/Sugarloaf section which in this direction is a long descent into the second aid station called Outward Bound (formerly Fish Hatchery). This section was a little steep in places but not too bad. I ran down trying to gain some time but also trying not to wear out my quads taking it too fast. It seemed to go on for a while and I was thinking that it would be quite the climb on the way back.

I arrived at the station a little after 9 AM which put me nearly an hour ahead of cut off. My crew was there which gave me a little bit of a boost. I was in and out very quickly not wanting to waste time. I was a quarter of the way through the race and felt great. I was feeling like this was going to happen and not be a problem.

The next section followed some roads and I was quickly in touch with my crew again after just a few miles at an alternate crewing location prior to the next aid station which wasn't for another 4 miles or so.  I rolled along talking to other runners here and there, just letting the miles go by. The Half Pipe station was uneventful and again I was quickly in and out.

The next nine miles to Twin Lakes consisted of a long gradual climb and then a gradual decent into the station. I was getting a little tired but still able to run most of the flats with short walking breaks mixed in. You could see the aid station almost 2 miles before getting there as we wound down and around the trails waiting for the turn that would send us towards it.

I arrived at Twin Lakes at 1 PM, which is 40 miles in 9 hours, better than 4 miles per hour and plenty fast enough to finish in time, at least to this point. My crew was waiting along with my brothers. This gave me another boost. I lubed up some hot spots on my feet, which were holding up nicely, and grabbed my trekking poles for the climb up to Hope Pass that was just ahead. Again, I was in and out quickly. I had 5 hours to get up and over the pass to Winfield, just 10 miles away. Sure, it was a long climb at altitude but then I would be descending and would make up some time. 2 miles per hour to make the cut off seemed easy to do.

It was a couple miles across some open valley plains before reaching the climb. I could see the pass off in the distance and kept looking to get the climb started and over with. The open fields ended and there in front of me was a path going what looked like straight up forever. Here it was. All I had to do was get over it, head back and shuffle through to the finish.

I was moving well at first but then the same thing that happened at Western States started to happen here. My heart rate would spike and I couldn't catch my breath. I would try to slow my pace but nothing would slow my heart down so I would feel a slight panic and stop to try to breathe. This repeated itself over and over. After what seemed like an eternity, I felt I must be getting close to the top, I saw a sign that said, "Hope Pass 2.5 miles". I was crushed. There was no way it could be that far after how long I had been going. I trudged on slowly and finally came to another sign that said the pass was 2 miles away. I sank further.

I looked at my watch. I told myself that if I made it to the pass at 4 PM I would have 2 hours to get down the 5 miles into Winfield. Plenty of time with a descent. I hit the Hope Pass aid station and saw that there was still a 600 foot climb to the top of the pass. Crushed again, but I still had time to make my 4 PM goal at the top, which I did eventually make on the nose.

On the descent I started to feel better. There was traffic coming both ways regularly now as runners were making the return trip back up the pass. I figured I would make it to Winfield with a good half hour to spare which was not ideal but at least I would make the cut off. Time ticked away at it seemed I never got any closer to the station. After an hour I passed some volunteers guiding us at a turn and they told me it was about 3 miles to the station. I ran for another half hour and started asking runners how much further. 2.5 miles. There was no way. How could it be that far still? Time ticked down and I began to realize I wasn't going to make it. How was this section so long?

I ended up running into the station about 5 minutes after the cut off and immediately sat in the chair my crew had for me. I spent a few minutes letting it sink in that it was over before walking over to the station. A line of large men stood across the road with a little lady in front of them. This was the dreaded Cutoff Queen. She held the scissors in her hand that cut off the wristband showing that I was participant in the race. She told me I did great and gave me hug. It was only halfway but my race was over.

Good bye friend

This was another failure but this one was different. I failed at Western States and was ok with it but still questioned whether or not I could have done something different. I still do. Vermont was a "success" but I did not find any joy in the race. I was miserable the entire way and finishing, while helping show I could still do this thing, was unsatisfying.

What made Leadville different was that I had fun. The views were beautiful and the people I met and spent time with were wonderful. I appreciate the time I spent in the mountains with friends, family and with myself. As the post I referenced at the beginning discussed, I just didn't have what it took this day but I know I learned something. 

Given another chance at it I truly believe that I can do much better with what I have learned. Nearly two years ago I failed halfway through the Tuscobia 160. That failure taught me a very valuable lesson. Thinking about what it takes to complete these races is often much different than what you actually encounter. At Tuscobia I learned what happens after 80 miles of bitter cold and wrecked feet. I learned what to do to take the next step and a year later I finished that race. In failing I was given the knowledge needed to succeed later. It was only a matter of time and doing.

So I learned a few things in Leadville. First, I need to be in much better shape. I've race too much and not trained the way I should. That is easily fixable. Being in better shape would also help me not have to carry so much weight over Hope Pass next time. Mentally I need a reset too. I'm cutting back on races next year to give myself time to physically train properly and time to mentally recover properly. I learned that getting over the pass requires a mental toughness I didn't have this time. Of course, next time I think I would arrive earlier and try to acclimate better to the altitude. I am now certain that altitude is a weakness for me that I will be working to improve on.

The good thing is I also had some lesson in what went right. I think I have finally found the right socks to prevent (most) blisters. I have reduced my aid station time immensely which means more moving time and finishing faster. I've improved my hydration and nutrition intake as well which helps keep me running later in the race.

It was strange to wake up the days after the race to feel like I barely did anything. I had one day of mild soreness and that was it. The toe that kicked the rock has been another story. It was hurting enough that I went to the doctor fearing it was broken but X-rays showed it was not. I tried running on it but stopped due to the pain and wanting to let it heal as much as possible before Wasatch in September.

I'd like to thank Scott, Julio and Angela for taking the time to crew me. I looked forward to seeing you all at each station and your support was very helpful and appreciated. I owe each of you a great debt, so if you ever need anything, just ask. I only wish I could have given you the chance to pace me on the way back. 

Thanks also to my brothers, Matt and David and sister in law, Karen for coming out. It is always a treat to see you and especially out on the trail. It would have been great to celebrate a finish this time but we'll get there. I love you all and appreciate you coming out. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Mashed Potatoes and a Leadville Preview

This is a post I was planning on getting to at some point. If you came for a purely running blog post then this isn't the one for you. It may be oversharing but it is what it is. Read at your own discretion.

Ultrarunning has been a stabilizing factor in my life. The pursuit of goals and the regular structure of training has given me some needed purpose and a method of dealing with life's problems. The small progress and even occasional setbacks of each day's workout, builds up to a race where all the work and discipline is put to the test. The race appears to be the goal but I have learned that the daily pursuit is the true source of joy and self discovery. Training for and running a 100 miles or more teaches you that any plan you have will need to be adjusted or just scrapped for a new one on the fly. Problem solving and flexibility will be the best tools to have. Accepting the current conditions for what they are and not trying to control what you can't control will keep you from wasting energy worrying and getting angry about things you can't change. All of these can be applied to life overall. Often easier said than done but there is also the lesson that perfection is an impossible goal. In fact imperfection is what makes life interesting.

This being said, running has not been fun for me recently. My best guess (and hope) is that this is simply burnout from running too many races over the past 18 months. By my count I have finished 9 races of 100 miles or more in that time, DNF'd another 2, and run several 50 milers. There has not been any real recovery time or a good few months of training build up. All this led to the DNF at Western States and the race in Vermont where I finished but did not enjoy any of it. It has led to me struggling to get myself out to run in an effort to stay fit enough to make it through the next race. If I do manage to get myself out, I just want it to be over and don't get the satisfaction from it I once did. This led me to start thinking about the mashed potatoes analogy.

What is that?

I saw this post going around a year or two ago with a screenshot of this:

This made complete sense to me and maybe it will to some of you as well. It made sense to me because I have been through it, probably most severely in 2009, due to and likely greatly contributing to a doomed marriage. It was a very difficult time in my life but I eventually came out of it and it led me to the very good place I am in today.

Through running I found my way out of a very low time. I found a coping mechanism. Lately, however, running and some other activities in life have started to taste like mashed potatoes. Only a little bit though so while I am concerned, I can still use the lessons I've learned from running to problem solve and adjust. Running long distance teaches you to become very aware of everything that is going on in your body and mind. I've learned to recognize the signs of depression in myself and feel it is time to take some steps to work on this.

Now I'm not sure if how I'm feeling is related to simply being burned out. The more I learn about concussions and CTE with the potential behavioral and mood altering effects associated with them, the more I worry about the price to be paid for playing football. Getting hit in the head several thousand times over nine years cannot be a good thing. However, my current state could be due to any number of things. Whatever it is will eventually be sorted out.

I hesitated to even post this but my motivation in sharing is twofold. First (and least) is to adhere to the spirit I started the blog, to be candid and document for myself this running journey and attempt at the the Order and the Grand Slam. Second and most importantly, is to show others that it is OK to discuss these issues and, hopefully, this will lead to those affected getting the help they need. We still live in a society where just bringing up mental health issues makes people uncomfortable. Mental health is somehow not treated in the same way as "physical" health. I do believe it is improving but there is still work to do and I hope I can do my small part to help that.

And to just finish up on this topic for now, I'm fine. No need for concern. It's just a health thing that requires some attention but I appreciate your understanding and support. The response I get from people who have been reading the blog has been motivating for me. Thank you so much.

We are now a week away from Leadville. I rested for a week after Vermont and, as I implied above, my running in the meantime has not been the best. I keep telling myself that I just ran 100 miles a month ago so I should be fine. Leadville, however, is a race at altitude, starting in the city of Leadville at around 10,000 feet above sea level. From there it drops a small amount but eventually crosses over Hope Pass, the high point of the race, at 12,600 feet.

40 to 60 miles looks fun!

There are only 11 aid stations, so they is a good distance between each one, meaning I will have to carry plenty of water and calories with me. The time cutoffs will be tight for a big slow guy like me. I will need to push to get out to the 50 mile turn around in a good time to give myself a chance at finishing. I am lucky to have some friends offer to crew and pace which will be new and helpful to me as I have only had a crew at my first 100 and never had a pacer. My brother and his wife will be out spectating and, hopefully, we will be celebrating together at the finish line. That is a big motivator to get there.
Considering my current physical and mental state combined with this course and the inherent difficulty of running 100 miles, I have my work cut out for me. I am looking forward to the challenge and a chance to be around ultrarunners, who are inspiring, good people. I am hoping to have a good time even when it is miserable and difficult.

Check out the folks over at Defeat The Stigma Project for the great work they do raising awareness of mental health issues. Like them on Facebook at

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Nausea and Resentment in Vermont

There are times where it is necessary to evaluate what you are doing and determine if the reasons you think you are doing it are honest and worthy. I reached this point in the middle of the night in hills of Vermont this past weekend.

Coming off of a DNF at Western States, I wanted to do well at Vermont. I had decided that even if the Slam was over I would still finish out the races I had committed to. Vermont was the "easiest" of the four races so I could get over my previous failure with a solid finish there.

I made the drive out to Vermont with a overnight stop in Albany on Thursday. I checked in about as early as possible on Friday morning and had the rest of the day to relax, which I did by napping in my car despite having a tent set up. After the pre-race meeting and meal I went to the tent to read and ended up falling asleep very early. This was fine since the race started at 4 AM.

I had an alarm set but was awakened by other runners getting up and moving about. I threw my running clothes on, ate couple Cliff bars and made my way to the start line. There was, of course, the stop at the porta potty on the way.

In the three weeks since Western States, I had run some and felt decent. I felt this was due to the fact that I had only gone 62 miles instead of the full 100. So physically I was definitely up to Vermont. Mentally was another story. I was disappointed in the DNF for sure but at the same time I knew that I had done what I could. Unfortunately, some of the "what if" thoughts had started creeping. What if I had pushed harder to get to Foresthill in time? What if I hadn't missed the turn? Could I have pushed to make the rest of the cutoffs and come in gloriously in the final minutes. Maybe. Possibly.

No. These thoughts were ridiculous. I would push them away but this just presented another set of problems. Maybe I'm just not good enough to continue doing this. I'm a faker who has only gotten lucky to finish what I have finished. I mean, look at how many of these races I have just scraped by. You can't keep that up for long without being found out and Western States was just the beginning.

As you can see, I wasn't in a very positive state of mind when I reached the start line that morning in rural Vermont. But there I was and it was time to go, so I went, hoping things would turn around, I would finish, and everything would be ok,

From what I had researched, Vermont is known to be a warm and humid race but the forecast appeared to be looking good on race day. It was in the low 60s at the start with a slight chance of rain during the day. The high was expected to be in the high 70s which would be manageable.

The sun came up and revealed misty green hills. Before long the horses and riders started passing which was a fun diversion early on. I was moving well and feeling not great but ok. Early on the downhills I started feeling some pain in my right shin which was concerning but in the past I know these types of pains go away. Eventually it did.

One piece of my 100 mile gear is a pace chart showing the aid stations, the distance between them and the pace needed for certain time goals. I had one made for this race but ended up forgetting to bring it. This freed me in a way to just run without worrying too much about pace. I could just run what I felt was comfortable.

The aching muscles began somewhere around 20 miles, which is typical. I was soaking wet since it was too humid for my sweat to evaporate. I closely monitored my fluid intake but kind of slacked on the food since the aid stations were only about an hour apart. Regardless of how I worked to keep my pace comfortable and my hydration and nutrition up, I felt like I was sinking and getting nowhere.

It was around 30 miles I had a mini breakdown. The fact that it occurred so early only made it worse. I felt desperate and incapable of going on. I felt like there was no way I could go another 70 miles and I was just lying to myself and everyone else about being an ultrarunner. In retrospect I don't know what caused this, especially since the difficult parts of the race were still coming. My pace was good and even if it fell off I could make a decent time. Still it seemed everyone else was moving so much better and I should be too. I started thinking about quitting. My heart was not in it at all.

I kept moving but a bit slower. It was all about just getting to the next aid station now. I knew it was a low and that things would get better but at that moment my trust in that was next to nothing. My stomach started tightening up. At each aid station I would look over the food choices and want none of it. This is not normal for me but I would try to grab a couple things and get them down, which became harder and harder to do.

 Finally reaching Camp 10 Bear station (mile 47) in 11 hours was a milestone for me. It was the first time I allowed myself to sit down. It was a chance to get my drop bag and change socks. This small act and knowing I was so close to the halfway point gave me some new life. Then I stood up and saw Hal Koerner, 2 time winner of Western States and a winner at Hardrock. He was on the opposite side of the station, the side used at the 70 mile mark. The man was 23 miles ahead of me. Amazing.

The second half began and I continued to slow more. The climbs seemed to become longer. My quads were burning more with each downhill. The ball of my right foot would burn in these sections as I could feel the blister forming. With each climb I would try to power through and just get it over with. At the same time I was saying to myself that this whole thing was idiotic. What was I doing? There was no enjoyment. No sense of accomplishing anything. All I was doing was climbing up and down hills in some random place in the middle of the night. Is this really what I do and why? Why?

The miles slowly melted away. Aid station to aid station. I would sit briefly and try to get some food down. My stomach felt terrible. I thought throwing up would make me finally feel better. A couple times I would run and keep running in an effort make myself throw up. It wouldn't happen.

To add to the nausea and aching body, around 10 PM (which I think was around 70 miles), the sleepiness started to hit me hard. I began to stagger like a drunk person. I hoped runner coming up from behind me wouldn't see. There was at least 7 hours until the sun would come up and it would start to get better. This was so long. Too long. I kept moving on to the next station.

It went on like this until the sun did come up. Even then it took a good hour before I could move without feeling like I was going to fall asleep on my feet. As the sun rose, I could tell that this day was going to be hotter than the previous one. Thankfully the sun occasionally moved behind some clouds.

Finally I hit the last aid station 5 miles from the finish. I was going to make it. I trudged along over a few more hills. I could hear the cheers for finisher when I was still a good 10 minutes away. And then it was my turn. I ran the last couple hundred yards and that was that.

I met my goal of finishing. I proved to myself I could still do it. The problem was that I did not have fun or enjoy this race at all. It is unfortunate because the course was so interesting and beautiful. Rolling green hills and idyllic farms throughout. Horses and cows in the pastures. I spent much of the day in a very negative place. I tried to turn in around because negativity in an ultra only drains you further.

I spent a large portion of the day reconsidering my decision to run these races or even continue running ultras. I seriously thought about giving this hobby up. I felt it was meaningless. In the end what does it mean? What is good does it do?

What it does is show me that even when I feel my worst, believe in myself the least, I can still somehow work my way though it. I understand now that I would have felt awful today if I had given up on that race. I would have added exponentially to that doubt from Western States. Finishing Vermont doesn't fix everything. I know I likely need a break from racing to fully recover and train properly. I have Leadville and Wasatch that I committed to and I will be at both. I will do my very best and then work on getting stronger for whatever is next.    

Monday, July 10, 2017

Vermont 100 Preview

You would think that one of the oldest 100 mile races, part of the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning, would be well known in the ultra world.  Western States and Leadville have storied histories. The aid station names are known. The winners are celebrated. The Vermont 100 is a mystery. You can't even find a course map. 
So how do I preview this race that I know next to nothing about? I do know is that it started as a horse race like Western States. In fact, unlike Western, the horses still race at the same time as the runners. Other than that, I have heard that this race can be hot and humid, which does not bode well for me. There is about 14k feet of climbing with no ridiculously long climbs but constant smaller ones. And that is about all I know. 
I took a solid week off following the last race. When I finally got back to running, I felt good but only after a couple miles. The following week was spent in Montreal with my wife, where I got a couple runs in. I also got a bunch of beers in along with just about every food Montreal had to offer. Three weeks between races leaves no time for any real training so I decided to just enjoy myself. 

I suspect this was actually a sharing portion of poutine.

It feels like Western States was both a long time ago and just yesterday. It has only been just over two weeks. In that time I have not been doing much in the way of preparing for Vermont. I've seen some of the post race recaps and videos but find them hard to watch. I said I was OK with my DNF. That is still mostly true. I am convinced that there was really nothing more I could have done that day. It wasn't my day, the circumstances didn't cooperate and I wasn't prepared enough. All that being said, I am still disappointed and regret that I have to wait, possibly a long time, to get another chance.
I have found it typical to go into a sort of depressive state after a race, successful or not. This appears to be a normal thing as I have heard other runners talk about it. Even after finishing a race well, I come down off the emotional high and sink into a week or two of lows. I don't know the true cause but after going through it multiple times, I come to expect it and know that it will pass once I get back to a regular running routine. 
This time around I have been left questioning whether I am able to still do this and if it is even worth doing. I haven't been dwelling on this or considering it seriously but, nevertheless, the questions have been popping up in my head. Part of the appeal of ultrarunning to me is getting to a low a point and then somehow working through it, coming out the other side and accomplishing the ultimate goal. Western States may have been a low point. It also may only be the beginning of a downward slide, since there is no guarantee of a finish at Vermont or any race coming up. The lesson learned from this silly hobby is that when things do go wrong, you keep working and, eventually it gets better, even if it doesn't happen as soon as you'd like. 
So I got knocked down but I am getting back up and giving it another go. I'm not sure I'm ready for another 100. That doesn't matter because the time is here. It is very possible I could fail again. I would rather do that than not even try. 

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Big Year Interrupted: A Western States DNF Story

I said before this race that I would be very disappointed if I didn't finish. I suppose that is true if you leave out the modifier "very". Of course I am disappointed. This is a prestigious race. My goal was not only this one but the following 3 races to complete the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning. All of that is out the window, at least for this year. It may be years before I get another opportunity. I'm fine with that. At the same time, however, I am reflecting on what happened and will be working to correct my mistakes and learn from my failures.

As always, I began watching the weather forecast going into race week. The temperatures in Squaw Valley and Auburn were hovering around 100 degrees F. This was my main concern, especially since I had repeatedly heard how the canyons section of the course would be hotter due to the stagnant air in the canyons. When I arrived in Sacramento, the rental car thermometer read 109 degrees at one point. This had my attention.

Friday morning I went out for a a brief run to try to relax and loosen up after a long day of travel. I then headed out to the race check in. The second I stepped out of the car, I already saw someone I knew. Over and over during the morning I would see and talk to people I had run with or met at other races. This made me feel at home even though I was far away and made me realize how small our community really is.

This guy has no idea what is coming

I had my picture taken with my bib number. Nikki Kimball, female ultrarunning bad ass, put on my wristband and then I received my bag filled with Western States swag. The pre-race meeting was filled to capacity with runners and crews, the room heated by all the bodies and excitement. I still couldn't really believe I was there. None of it seemed real. I went back to my room and tried to relax but could not sit still.
When they cut this off, you are out of the race.

I ate dinner early and got into bed around 7 with the intention of trying to get around 7 hours of sleep. It was difficult to relax but eventually I slept, though it was fitful. I still woke up before the alarm and surprisingly did not feel tired. For the first time ever, I had all my gear completely arranged the night before. All I had to do was get dressed and head to the start line. This is one of the first times my race mornings felt completely stress free.

I arrived at the start with plenty of time for some breakfast and to try to get myself into the proper frame of mind. The time on the clock over the start ticked down. The time passed quickly. I was excited but not overly so. I knew I had a long day ahead but felt good and confident that I would get it done. The crowd of runners counted down the final seconds, a shotgun blast went off, and we all headed across the start line, up the Escarpment and onto one of the most courses in ultrarunning.

The race starts at the Squaw Valley Resort. Directly from the start the course climbs around 2500 feet in 3.5 miles. I figured this was a good way to start since the climb would force me to take my time and not go out too fast. The sun had fully risen by the time I reached the top. The rest of this section to the first aid station at 10 miles was difficult and very slow due to poor footing on the deep snow that had not yet melted away. Where there wasn't snow, it was muddy. The mud was very deep in places and a couple times I nearly lost my shoe in it. Many of the runners around me were extremely tentative crossing the snow which slowed me down even more. I must have picked the right shoes because I could cross the fairly easily without much concern about slipping on the sloped snow.

My arrival time at the first two aid stations was a good hour later than I expected due to these course conditions. I already felt far behind where I wanted to be but was not too worried. I considered that taking it slow early would pay off later. In the meantime I tried to enjoy the scenery which was wonderful. When I wasn't looking to keep my footing I would gaze off at the snowy mountains in the distance. I had never heard much talk about this aspect of the race before and it was an excellent experience.

The next section has us descending into Duncan Canyon and then climbing out and that is when the heat started to affect me, even though I never did feel too hot. The climb out was exposed to the sun but I had stopped at a couple creeks and doused myself well with cold mountain stream water. I was already a bit off on my eating plan but didn't really feel hungry. I was not too thirsty either but I feel like I kept up well with drinking. By the time I reached Robinson Flat, 30 miles in, it was already early afternoon. I took a few minutes to take care of a couple hot spots on my feet, which felt remarkably good compared to my races over the last year. Again I wasn't there in a time I wanted to be but I still felt very confident about having plenty of time to finish.

Climbing out of Duncan Canyon

The canyons section of the Western States is known for the heat. What I really wasn't prepared for was how steep and relentless the climbs up Devil's Thumb and Michigan Bluff would be. The combination of the heat and the climb took everything out of me. The descent into the first canyon was steep and I tried to not fly down in order to save my quads for later. I doused in the stream at the bottom and looked up to see a steep canyon wall. The climb was steep and my heart rate shot up. I tried to keep moving, even if it was slow but had to stop to try to catch my breath and get the heart rate down but it wouldn't.

I somehow got through this climb and was face with doing the same thing again going into Michigan Bluff. Again the descent wasn't too bad and the climb wasn't quite as steep but it just went on forever. I was beginning to fall dangerously close to the cutoffs. Prior to this climb I had paired up with a lady who had her headlamp at Michigan Bluff and asked if she could share my light. It did help to run with someone for a bit though both of us seemed to alternate in who was suffering from the heat.

Pulling into Michigan Bluff, I had around 20 minutes until the cutoff. I decided I would take 10 minutes and move on to Forest Hill. On the way in to the station I met up with Quinitn who was crewing and waiting for his runner to come in. He walked me in a gave me a bit of a pep talk. I really needed this and ended up only taking 5 minutes at the station before moving on, determined to make up some time on the cutoff at the next station.

The headlamp I had with me was my back up as I had my good primary one at Forest Hill. I had originally expected to get there around sundown but now I was way behind. At Michigan Bluff I had put new batteries in my backup lamp but it was still dim as I left. I tried sticking with it as long as possible, even asking several runners who passed me if they had batteries, which they didn't. I ended up pulling out my phone and using the flashlight app as a light source.

From Michigan Bluff to Forest Hill is 6.3 miles. I had 2 hours and 15 minutes to make the cutoff, which didn't seem too bad. I tried running here and there but was loosing my will. I still had hope that it would turn around at some point. I wasn't going to quit but I started to think that missing the cutoff was very likely. Most of this section followed a gravel road and at one point I realized I had not seen a course marker. I kept going for several more minutes looked back and didn't see any lights behind me. Had I missed a turn off onto the trail? I went back the way I came and about 10 minutes later saw the turn off I had missed. I had easily lost around 15 or 20 minutes. I pretty much knew at that point it was over. I would still try to keep going and make the cutoff but I knew. You may expect that I would be devastated at a mistake like this costing my race, but I also knew that even if I made the cut off at Forest Hill, it was still a very outside shot at finishing.

The Forest Hill station never seemed like it would come. As the cutoff time ticked down, I heard cheering up ahead, and it was too far away. They were cheering as the station closed. It was over. 11:45 PM. I was surprisingly OK with. There were no tears or overwhelming disappointment. It just was. I had done the best I could do this day and this was how it turned out. About 5 minutes after the cutoff I walked up to the school where the volunteers were furiously packing up.

No one took any notice of me for a minute or two. This was more upsetting to me then the actual end of my race. Eventually, someone walked up and asked if I was a runner and led me to the medical room where I lay in a cot and immediately cramped up painfully. After an hour or so I was driven to the finish line where I would spend the next 10 hours watching runner finish. It was inspiring to see people finish but it also stung a little bit. It was super inspiring to see fellow Arrowhead finisher Lourdes cross the line with about 15 minutes to spare.

So that was that. It was over that quickly. The Grand Slam was gone. My Western States lottery win was wasted. I was surprisingly fine with all of this and, in general, I have been in the days since. The only disappointment is in not knowing when I will get a chance to try again.

I have been replaying the race over and over since it ended. There is no place, other than the missed turn, that I honestly feel I could have done anything to get a different outcome. I did let me nutrition and hydration lapse slightly but overall I thought I did that fairly well. My pacing and effort level were good. My feet were in the best shape of any race over the last year. When I see the elite runner times and hear how they struggled, I am left wondering if I even had a chance. At the same time, others finished so, why couldn't I? The reasons I have come up with are in no way excuses and I think there are important lessons to learn. The reasons I have come up with are in no way excuses and I think there are important lessons to learn.

First, the conditions were a huge factor and those are, for the most part, out of my control. I should have worked in some more heat training but I feel that would have only given marginal improvement but, perhaps it would have been enough to get me over the hump.

Second, my schedule this year did not give me an opportunity to get the proper training build up. It was well into April before I started to feel "normal" again after the Hrimthurs. This resulted in not getting in the miles and/or training time necessary. I was worried about this and thought that maybe I could just be stubborn and tough my way through it. That is a dangerous game to play and sooner or later you lose. I did this time.

Third, I keep intending to do more strength and speed work. I did very little prior to this race, due once again to fatigue after the winter races. I don't think I need to do too much but I do feel that the climbs exposed my weakness here and I need to fix that.

Fourth, my weight going into the race was a good 10 pounds over where I thought I should be. Again, combined with strength training this would help in the climbs but should also help mitigate some of the effects of the heat.

Lastly, I don't think I respected the course as much as I should have. Maybe I have grown complacent, assuming I could just show up and finish any 100 miler because I have so many times before. The climbs were much harder than I thought they would be. The heat was much hotter. Western States is no easy, runable race for someone of my skill level. It was extremely humbling and I very much needed that.

I have to admit I over committed this year. I knew this but I went for it anyway. I'm still glad I tried. I have had a good streak of completing races. There is some creeping doubt now and I wonder if now I am just a fraud. Will I ever be able to finish another? This is probably foolish but the seed is there now.

So now what? In less than 3 weeks I will be headed to attempt 100 miles again in Vermont. I suppose I could have thrown out the remainder of the schedule since the Slam is over, but that would be giving up. It would be giving up on my commitment to these race. It would be giving up on an opportunity to learn from my mistakes. It would be giving up on a chance to run 3 other iconic ultras. It would have been giving up on myself and all the good I have done for myself by trying these crazy things. I'm not going to do that. I'm going to show up in Vermont at 4 AM on the 15th of July and do my best to finish that race.