Thoughts About Our Shared Crisis, Part Three

It’s Friday, March 27th, 2020. And I have this sense that we’re all just starting to get weary of this bullshit.

Personally, I miss Qdoba, Mod Pizza, playing guitar at church, running with my friends, and liberally shaking hands and hugging people all willy-nilly like.

But…it’s about to get a lot harder. A lot of people are about to get sick. The reality is, we’re really just getting into the meat of this thing.

And here’s where another lesson from my experiences with ultra-running just might come in handy. At least I hope it does.

There’s an old adage in ultra-running, a saying that goes back to before my time in the sport…it’s short, simple, and stoutly true:

It never always gets worse.

Sometimes it does, indeed, get worse. Like at mile 62 of the 2014 Leadville 100, when I (foolishly) ate some ramen noodles shortly after eating a couple of little chocolate eclairs, creating hours of nausea the likes of which I’d never experienced. That mistake took me from feeling surprisingly great to astoundingly awful in a short period of time.

Or the time my knee kind of stopped working going downhill at mile 75-ish of the West Highland Way Race. I thought I was done. I’d never felt physical pain like that in a race before.

But, both times…it never always got worse. I finished both races. They were hard, really hard. Brutally so, really.

But, it never always got worse.

Ponder that for a bit…there’s a great deal of wisdom packed in that enigmatic turn of phrase..

Roll it around in your mind.

We might need this wisdom, even more than we think in the coming days.

There will be good news out of this. People will do heroic things. Moments of levity will surface when we least expect it.

It never always gets worse.

Be safe out there.

Love,
G

Feeling awful. But getting it done.

 

Thoughts About Our Shared Crisis, Part Two

“AHH, F@&K BEN! JEEZ! I’M TRYING TO EAT! I’M EATING!”

It was somewhere around mile 75 or so of the 2018 Run Rabbit Run 100 around Steamboat Springs, CO. My dear, long-time friend Ben Dicke was pacing me through to the finish, and he was continually urging me to eat more. I “thought” I was eating enough (I wasn’t) and I finally blew up at him in response to his cajoling to keep shoving food in my face.

Gently, he replied, ”When you eat, you’re happy and it’s all good. When you don’t, you get mad at me.”

He was right (dammit) and I knew it. We rolled into an aid station and I ate a bunch and suddenly, I was, indeed, happier and I sheepishly apologized for my outburst. All was forgiven, I continued to eat more, and with his pacing and encouragement, I finished that race incredibly well…knocking several minutes of my 2015 finish on a harder course, in tougher conditions. It was absolutely amazing.

And it primarily came down to food…or, as we say in ultra-running, fueling. Ben kept me fueling and we kept rolling.

For ultra-marathons, there is nothing more important than consistent fueling (and hydration…but for the purposes of this blurb, I’m essentially combining these two things together).

Let me say it again…there is nothing more important to your success in ultra-running than consistent fueling. Nothing.

If you fuel well, you do well. You finish races, and you finish them well.

If you don’t fuel well, you feel terrible, negative thoughts and emotions creep in, and the likelihood of a DNF (Did Not Finish) skyrockets.

So, what does it look like to bring this experience from the ultra-marathon world into our shared COVID-19 crisis? What does it mean to fuel well through this season?

I’d like to offer two thoughts…one literal and one figurative.

First, LITERAL FUELING

In a time of self-quarantine and social distancing, there’s going to be a strong pull to eat too much, to eat poorly, and to eat on a bad schedule. I’d just caution us all to be careful with our food and drink during this time. One of the main things I’ve learned about fueling from ultras is how directly it impacts our thoughts and emotions.

Please do not underestimate how directly your thoughts and feelings are connected to what you’re eating and drinking.

And back to what I shared in part one, this is absolutely a way we can control the controllable. When you’re stocking up on food (NOT HOARDING!!) be sure to get good, balanced, nutrient rich food.

If we eat and drink well, this season will be much more tolerable.

Second, FIGURATIVE FUELING

Beyond the literal fueling of our physical beings with food and drink, our spiritual and emotional lives are fueled by the information we take in, and by what we consume with the rest of our senses.

And it strikes me that this figurative form of fueling might be the most important aspect of how we navigate the coming weeks.

How well we fuel determines how well we get to the finish line.

I know we’re all hungry for news and information about what’s going on. But, I am convinced that there is a real danger in the fact that we have a 24 hour news cycle that is clamoring for our attention…for our clicks, for our eyeballs, for our attention. And too much of this news can drive us to anxiety, stress, and despair.

I don’t know that I have a ton of answers on how best to navigate this, but I do have a lot of questions I’m asking myself…

How can I be careful of where I get my information?

How can I keep from “over fueling” on news and info?

Perhaps I should step away from my devices and read a book, or some scriptures, or some poetry? Maybe I should play my guitar and sing more?

Is there deeply meaningful media, other than current news, that can inspire me?

A quote from Herb Elliot, an Australian middle distance runner who at one time held the world record in the mile, is applicable here, I think:

“Poetry, music, forests, oceans, solitude—they were what developed enormous spiritual strength. I came to realize that spirit, as much or more than physical conditioning, had to be stored up before a race.”

Elliot knew that internal fortitude was just as important as physical conditioning for enduring well. And I think we want to endure well, too.

What develops “enormous spiritual strength” for you? How can you dig into that more during this season?

What is good, and true, and beautiful, and hopeful, and how can you get more of that into your heart, and mind, and soul?

I’m convinced that if we fuel ourselves well, both literally and figuratively, we just might come through this time a bit stronger and wiser.

Coming up, I have some thoughts to share on the importance of having a good crew.

Much Love and Grace and Peace,
G

Ben and I nearing the finish of the 2018 Run Rabbit Run 100. He’s probably telling me to eat another gel.

Ben and I hugging after the race. We still love one another. 🙂

Stuffing food in my face at mile 32-ish of the 2015 Run Rabbit Run 100. To be honest, though… I think I threw that turkey roll into the bushes about 5 minutes after this pic was taken…

My buddy Joey and I mugging at mile 90-ish of the 2015 Run Rabbit Run 100…another race where Joey’s encouragement to fuel well pushed me to a strong, strong finish.

 

Thoughts About Our Shared Crisis, Part One

If you follow my social media, you’re likely aware that over the last several years I’ve fallen in love with trail & ultra-marathon running. The experiences I’ve had in these endeavors are like nothing else I’ve ever known.

Through ultras, I’ve learned so much about myself, my friends, and about how we as humans can navigate our way through very tough situations.

And so, it has occurred to me that with the spread of COVID-19, we find ourselves in a shared ultra-marathon, or sorts.

We didn’t choose it. We may not like it. And there are vast differences of opinions on the various talking points about what’s happening.

But, to be sure, we are in for a rough season, and it’s going to take significant time for this all to unfold. Some of us will get very sick. We will watch others suffer. And it is going to get worse before it gets better. It’s a scary time.

In light of all of this, over the coming days, I plan to share a handful of thoughts from my ultra experiences that may help encourage you through this time.

I’ll start with two thoughts…

First, BE A GOOD, MUTUALLY SUPPORTIVE HUMAN.

One of the things I love about the trail/ultra community is the way people look out for one another. These are long, grueling races and by and large the people participating in them are NOT racing against one another, but against themselves, against the course, against the elements, or even against many unseen, unspoken things like their pasts, their pain, their heartaches, or their “demons”.

And that creates an incredibly supportive, mutually encouraging environment, where we are all aware of how hard everyone else is working, and how difficult it is to make it to the finish line.

When we’re out there on a 20+ hour effort, we know viscerally how hard it is, and that gives us an empathy for one another.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been encouraged and even physically/practically helped by other runners. And conversely, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done the same.

In November, at the Dead Horse Ultra 50 miler, around the 40 mile mark I came upon another runner just retching her guts out. She was struggling mightily with the cumulative effect of the miles and effort. I was in a relatively good spot and had a whole stash of Tums antacids that I just handed over to her, because she needed them way more than me.

Or there was the time at the North Fork 50k when Marianna Inslee (who first encouraged me way back in my first 50 miler) gave me some electrolyte tablets late in the race to help me with my badly cramping legs, and that kindness allowed me to finish strong.

Or ask Ben Dicke about the time he helped another runner down the mountain in the dark when they both had forgotten their headlamps.

So, in this COVID-19 season, recognize this is NOT A COMPETITION AGAINST ONE ANOTHER. Have a look around and really SEE how hard people are working to get through this. If you have something you can do to help them, do it. If you have a way to encourage someone, do it. Our shared kindness and empathy will go a long way towards getting us all to this finish line.

Second, CONTROL THE CONTROLLABLE.

In the days and weeks leading up to a big race, I put in the work to control what only I can control. I train for the specifics of the trail/ environment. I make a plan for food/fueling (MUCH more on this later), I test my gear in training, I plan for clothing, for travel, for resting before the race, etc, etc.

Ultra-marathons are long and hard enough, in and of themselves, and there are a wide range of variables. I can’t control the weather. I can’t control whether or not the race provides exactly the food or drink I might want at an aid station, or if they run out of said food/drink. I can’t control what other racers do or don’t do.

So, it only makes sense for me to take responsibility for my race and figure out what I CAN CONTROL, and do the work to take care of that. (Side note: this DOES NOT MEAN HOARDING SUPPLIES. Remember that bit above about being a good human…there’s a vast difference between getting what you need and controlling what you can control, and hoarding.)

And beyond that, I simply have to let all that other shit go and focus on running the race before me on the day.

Hope this helps in some small way. More later…

Love and Grace and Peace,

G

Marianna Inslee and I at finish of North Fork 50k, after she’d given me some electrolyte tablets that helped me finish strong.

Emily Luhrs and I finishing the Leadville Marathon together, after she’d been a trail angel to a struggling runner that day.

Ben Dicke pacing me at Run Rabbit Run 2018. More on pacing later…

Prep and planning for the 2013 UROC 100k

2018 West Highland Way Race Report

It was dark and quiet, except for the distant sound of rushing water.

And my sobbing.

I was doubled over, hands on knees wailing again and again, “I don’t want to quit! I don’t want to quit! I don’t want to quit!”

It was somewhere around 2:00 in the morning and I was a couple miles out of Kinlochleven (mile 81) but my right knee had gone wonky about an hour before. Every downhill step had become tortuous, and I was certain I was destroying my knee. I’d never had a pain like this and I was confident this meant that Kinlochleven would be the end of my West Highland Way adventure.

But despite my mid-race fantasies about stopping, I really, really didn’t want to quit.


24+ hours earlier, the race had begun well, passing the early miles quietly through the countryside just out of Milngavie (a suburb of Glasgow), and beginning the climb up Conic Hill as light began to spread over Loch Lommond and the Trossachs National Park. This kind of climbing is what I do nearly every day of my training, so this lift in topography was a welcome change from those flat first miles.

I was dutifully eating my gels and chews every 20 minutes or so, but already the constant flow of sugar was turning nasty in my stomach at scarcely 15 miles into the race. I shot a quick text to my crew to have noodle soup ready, along with the oatmeal and coffee I’d requested before the race.

Speaking of my crew. Wow.

My niece Bethany and my sister Carolyn agreed to fly over to help me and they were simply fab. They showed up huge even though they’d never crewed an ultra, let alone one that is “self-supporting” (supplying your own food/ drink), and one that is in a foreign country where they drive on the “wrong” side of the road! It was definitely trial by fire for them, and they were amazing. I’m eternally grateful.

My amazing crew…so grateful.

So, I rolled into Balmaha (mile 19) with a queasy stomach and I abandoned my gels and chews. For the remainder of the day Cup o’ Soup noodles, instant rice, Pringles, bread, fruit and Tailwind would see me through. Along with some magical ginger chews prepared by my friend Christy Hires of Superior Earth Essentials. More on those later…

The Balmaha checkpoint was buzzing with people AND midgies, Scotland’s infamous and relentlessly irksome flying insect that seeks out any exposed flesh to feast on your blood with a painful bite. We’d heard the tales of misery about them, and in Balmaha they were out and about in force. They’re so relentless and so tiny that they were working their way THROUGH the little holes in some of Carolyn and Bethany’s netting they’d purchased ahead of the race. Since I was continuously moving, they weren’t too much of an issue for me, but I felt terrible for the girls. It would be a long day for them doing battle with the little monsters.

Balmaha was a quick exchange and I was on my way again to see them in about 8 miles in Rowardennan. This stretch of trail was really engaging…a little wider here, a little narrower there, punchy uphills followed by flowing downs. And it weaved in and out of the trees coming right up to the shore of Loch Lommond on many occasions. It was beautiful and this section passed quickly with some great conversation with other runners.

Coming into Rowerdennan (mile 27), the change in fuel sources had begun settling my stomach and I was feeling quite well, apart from a big blister on the second toe on my right foot. Thankfully, Liza Howard had recently posted an amazingly helpful article on blister management on iRunFar.com and following her recommended fix meant that it wouldn’t be a problem for the rest of the race! If you’re a runner, check that article out. Amazing.

Also, the midgies at Rowerdennan were brutal, making for a fairly miserable pit stop. Again, though, the girls performed wondrously and I was on my way quickly enough. I was on point for my hoped for times and was, as they say over there, chuffed!

Which leads to a confession. I had high hopes for my overall time.

Understanding that the race was a little shorter than my previous 100’s, and understanding that it was at sea level, and understanding that the elevation profile was relatively tame compared to my previous 100’s, I was hoping to be somewhere in the 24 to 26 hour range, but figuring that would likely turn into 26-28 hours. Now, I’m always, always, always figuring a finish is the A goal of a long ultra, but I confess I had hopes for something faster.

Hopes that were about to be dashed on the gnarliest section of trail I’ve ever encountered in a race.

Looking at the race elevation profile, one barely notices the mileage from 30-40. But, as I was about to learn, the elevation profile is only part of the story.

The first couple of miles out of Rowerdennan were much the same as the miles before, but somewhere the nature of the trail along the bonnie banks of Loch Lommond turns vicious. There are roots and rocks. There are awkward little ups and downs where you have to use your hands to pull yourself up or guide yourself down. It’s narrow. It’s tricky. It’s demoralizing.

This is the “trail” above Rowerdennan. Oof.

And it’s S-L-O-W.

I trained on NOTHING like this trail in getting ready for the race. In fact, I’m not exactly even sure HOW one would train for that section? By taking up parkour?

 

Whatever the case, it shredded me and I came into the Beinglas Farm (mile 41) checkpoint quite broken. I was behind on calories and in need of a bit of time to collect myself.

Gloriously, though, Bethany had bought me a ginger beer and I headed out again committed to getting all of that into my system.

After Beinglas Farm, the West Highland Way begins to get into the Highlands in earnest, with a couple miles of continuous, gradual climbing up, up and up. The views also open up as we left the forest behind for a while. It’s absolutely stunning.

That smile is a LIE.

But the continuous climb also meant that this section was slow, and despite a brief section of ambitious jogging, I was really beginning to feel the cumulative effects of the race…the 1:00 a.m. start, the time on feet, the beating from the gnar. I made my way into Auchtertyre (mile 51) feeling low.

Before the race, I’d told my crew that they’d need to really steel themselves against my suffering, that there’d be no quitting. They really took this to heart, as I sat in the chair, head in hands, complaining that I just wanted to stop. Their response…”Well, tough. Get back out there.”

So, with fresh fuel and a big banana in my hand, I headed out. And that banana worked miracles. Ultras are actually very simple. Keep eating and you can keep moving. Stop eating and you want to quit. So I set about to eating more as I headed out of Auchtertyre.

And soon enough, I felt absolutely amazing. I was running. I was playing. I was having fun. I was listening to music, playing air drums and singing out loud:

My body tells me ‘no’
But I won’t quit, ‘cause I want more, ‘cause I want more
My body tells me ‘no’
But I won’t quit, ‘cause I want more, ‘cause I want more
(“My Body” by Young the Giant)

And this song:

It’s, not, how you start, it’s how you finish,
And it’s, not, where you’re from, it’s where you’re at
Everybody gets knocked down, Everybody gets knocked down,
How quick are you gonna’ get up? How quick are you gonna’ get up?
Everybody gets knocked down, Everybody gets knocked down,
How quick are you gonna’ get up?
Just how are you gonna’ get up?
(“Ali in the Jungle” by The Hours)

(I had no idea how prophetic those words would be…)

A quick word about my “intention” for the race. As I lay in bed hours before the start, resting and reflecting, I prayerfully set 3 intentions for the race: to run with gratitude, joy and praise/wonder. So, throughout the day, I would take moments to consider what I was grateful for, what was bringing joy and offer praise/wonder to God for the sights, sounds and experiences I was having. I’ve never done exactly this in a race and it was a beautiful, empowering practice. I’ll definitely be doing it again.

Gratitude. Joy. Praise/wonder.

I came into Bridge of Orchy (mile 59) feeling fantastic. My crew was more than a little surprised to see me, because I was well ahead of the time they were expecting me. I ate well and hustled out of there as quick as I could.

There’s quite a decent climb out of Bridge of Orchy, affectionately called “Jelly Baby Hill” for reasons I’m not quite sure I understand. But, that climb passed well, and I hustled down the other side and began the long, slow ascent up through Rannoch Moor on an ancient military road. Here the land is sweeping, vast, wide open and wild. The moor is one of the last truly wild spaces in all of Europe and it’s breathtaking.

I continued to eat and move well, but as the grade trends very much upward, there was no running here. Just grinding out miles as quick as you can after 20 hours and 65+ miles.

About a mile and a half from the next checkpoint, the Way crests a hill and begins a long descent into the Glencoe Ski Resort. Typically, I LOVE running downhill, even late in a race, but something was wrong…I couldn’t run downhill. I couldn’t run much at all. I don’t know if it was the pounding my legs took from miles 30-40, or if it was a deficit in my training or what, but I simply couldn’t run any longer. And so, it would be a strong hike to finish.

Overall, though, I was clear headed, with good energy and a stable stomach, which is about as much as one can ask for late in a race!

The Glencoe Ski Resort checkpoint (mile 71) sits at the base of steep, serious mountains. There can be no doubt that Way is now truly in the mountainous highlands here. Since it would finally be getting dark soon (we were around 10:00 p.m. now…Scotland is really far north!), we took the time to get my gear and clothing right to head into the cold and dark.

In this picture below, the thing I’m most proud of is the empty thermos and mostly empty can of Coke…I crushed that stuff and headed out to finally attack the infamous “Devil’s Staircase.”

A quirk of the West Highland Way is that the biggest climbs are all in the last 20 miles of the trail, and the Devil’s Staircase is the penultimate “big” climb of the race.

But, this is the kind of training I do all of the time, so I was ready for it. Near the top, there are a couple of little downs before you reach the real descent into the Kinlochleven.

And here is where the troubles began. I was just behind Wilson Dornan (and his support runner), who I’d been close to all day, and as we started one of the little downs, I grunted and groaned.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“Man, my knee…I don’t know what’s wrong.” I replied.

Any downhill was just sending sharp, searing pain into the inside of my knee. Uphills were okay, flats weren’t great, but anything trending downwards hurt. Bad.

I kept moving. Often, things like this come and go during a race. I waited for it to go.

It didn’t.

In fact, it got worse. And now I had several steep downhill miles into the next checkpoint.

I kept moving slowly as doubt crept in quickly.

I was realizing that I might be doing permanent damage to my knee. And if that was the case…my race was over.

7 years of dreaming about this race. Months of training and planning. My sister and niece flying in to help…all of it could be ending here 14+ miles from the finish.

Frustration and sorrow overwhelmed me. I stopped and sobbed and sobbed. Through snot and spit and tears, I wailed to no one, “I don’t want to quit! I don’t want to quit! I don’t want to quit…”

I got moving, again, the brief break causing my knee to complain even more robustly. When I got to cell service range, I texted my dear friends following closely back home that I thought it was over. I called my dear wife Melanie and cried to her that I thought it was over.

It had been ages since I’d seen a West Highland Way signpost, so I wasn’t even sure where I was anymore. Finally, I came to a sign. I called my sister at the checkpoint to tell her I thought it was over.

Turns out I was less than a mile from the checkpoint, so the race officials sent some people up to find me and walk me into Kinlochleven (mile 81).

My sister and niece were clearly concerned. Even before I’d called, they knew something was wrong because I had slowed down so much, I was way past the time they expected me.

So, I sat with the doctor. I described what was going on.

Very, very surprisingly, she was nonplussed. She was sure I wouldn’t do permanent damage if I continued.

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of that…it hurt so bad. I told her that it felt like the muscle was going to pop off the attachment.

She responded quite evenly, “If it ‘pops off’ I’ll eat my hat.”

And if I’m honest, it was kind of a nasty, homemade, knitted cap that had definitely seen some time. So, if she’s willing to bet eating that hat, I was more than willing to keep moving.

She taped it up. We iced it. I took a couple of Tylenol. I rested for a while and ate and drank a bit. We put two braces on it, and as the light of another day began spreading over the hills I began making my way out of Kinlochleven, overwhelmingly grateful for the chance to continue.

A couple of days previous, in our last crew meeting before the race, I told Carolyn and Bethany that Kinlochleven would be the crux of the race, because it was the last checkpoint before the last big climb, etc, etc.

I had no idea how true that statement would be.

Thanks to the Tylenol and braces, I actually pushed the steep climb out of Kinlochleven quite well. A new day had dawned and it was beautiful (again).

A new day dawning above Kinlochleven…

At the top of the climb begins another section of remote, wild trail. The trail winds on before you and at many points you can see ahead a significant ways…I could see that there were 8-10 runners, with their support runners, ahead of me and strangely I could tell that I was making up time on them.

The knee was holding up and I was, once again and weirdly, moving well.

Just before the last timing checkpoint at Lundavra (mile 88), I passed several of those runners and began the final push for the last 7 miles. Annoyingly though, just past Lundavra, there are several short, steep climbs and descents before beginning the final steep 3 mile downhill into Fort William. Those little climbs were demoralizing, but I kept moving.

And unfortunately, the good feelings (or the Tylenol) ran out. The pain in my knee was back and my pace slowed.  At this point I had been moving for 30 hours, and the cumulative fatigue was wearing me thin. All I wanted was to be done.

Eventually I came to the forest road that marked the beginning of the final steep descent into Fort William. My knee was killing me. I had a momentary fantasy of just running anyway and getting it done. A couple of attempted steps of running shut that idea down immediately.  There would be no victorious run to the finish. This was going to be a grind to the finish. I had plenty of time. It was just going to hurt.

The only way to give my knee any relief was to avoid bending it at all, and so I began an awkward step with the left leg followed by swinging the right leg around straight.

Step, swing. Step, swing. Step, swing.

Occasionally, I’d stumble and have to catch myself with my right leg, sending a jolt of pain through my system and swears out of my mouth.

Step, swing. Step, swing. Step, swing.

The sun was up and it was getting warm, but I didn’t have the energy to stop and strip off extra layers. I didn’t have the energy for anything other than moving forward.

I strained my eyes forward, longing for evidence that I was nearing the finish. I hallucinated that clumps of grass or bushes were signs pointing us towards the finish.

It all got very dark…not in a despairing way, but in the sense that I had to dig into a place I’ve never really had to dig into before.

Step, swing. Step, swing. Step, swing.

Finally, I reached the edge of town. Kind souls looking for their own runners encouraged and cheered me on. One guy, I think his name was Chris, walked with me for quite a ways and I never had the chance to thank him.

Step, swing. Step, swing.

Step, swing and around the roundabout and there was the finish at Lochaber Leisure Centre. There was my dear sister, who’d cared for me as a baby, who’s loved me well my whole life. There was my niece, who I watched grow up, who’s wedding I’d just performed a few weeks previous. I am so very, very grateful for their support. Ultras like this are definitely a team sport and I was so glad to have them in my corner.

Step, swing and we’d done it. 95+ miles. 32+ hours.

The 2018 West Highland Way Race is not nearly my fastest ultra finish, but the more I reflect on it, the more I realize…I’m prouder of this race than any other.


Miscellaneous Big Thanks:

  • Nicola Dunn and her family for the sunscreen and cheering me on like I was one of their own
  • George Lupton, Ian Rae, Wilson Dornan, Norma Bone (and other runners who’ve names I’ve lost) for sharing a bit of time and encouragement with me
  • Jamie Aarons (2nd place woman!!) and her parther Andy for being such a fabulous hosts in the time leading up to the race.

Team Lemmanionhalt basking in the glow of not racing.

No belt buckles here. This baby is pure crystal!

Fitness & Frailty

3:54 p.m. Saturday, September 19, 2015.

That’s the last time I crossed a “big” ultra marathon finish line at the Run Rabbit Run 100(+) miler.

It’s been a litany of issues over the last 1004 days.

A work change and home remodeling project led to persistent low back issues, which hindered training for a 50k in 2016, which led to an injury right after the race, which led to biking, which led to a bad accident and concussion and a DNS for the Never Summer 100k. Then I tried to get healthy for the Javelina Jundred, but that fell apart. Oh, also there was a heart health scare somewhere in 2016, too.

In 2017, I began training again, but more nagging, niggling injury issues caused inconsistent training so I eventually DNS’d the Cascade Crest 100 and bailed on a fun trail FKT adventure I’d been planning.

Finally, though, I began working back towards consistent training in late 2017. But then my guts/ lower GI rebelled and I struggled with getting enough calories into my body to support my training. I lost a lot of weight that I couldn’t necessarily afford to lose. It’s one of the toughest things I’ve ever faced. It’s been emotionally very, very difficult.

But, hoping against hope, I entered the lottery for the West Highland Way Race in Scotland, and was awarded a place on the start line.

Slowly, though…and surely, I found myself getting in the miles. Training became consistent and stable. I found foods that I could eat without causing too much disruption to my system. Medications helped. Tests are ongoing and hopefully answers are forthcoming.

In February, I finished the 37 mile Mount Mitchell Challenge, which was a massive boost of confidence, being the first ultra finish of any kind in nearly 2 years.

After recovering from that race, I began increasing my training intensity. My fitness came around to the point that I honestly feel as strong as I’ve ever felt.

And yet, there are still moments where my guts flare up and I am reduced to laying on the couch, or in bed, clutching my side and never straying too far from the bathroom.

I am as fit as I’ve ever been, and yet I am also as frail as I’ve ever been.

Fitness and frailty side by side in one body.

It’s a bizarre juxtaposition.

But the strange truth is that is the reality we as humans have always lived. We are far stronger than we ever really know, capable of feats of endurance, strength and resilience that boggle the imagination.

And at the exact same moment we are a split-second away from decimation by an accident, an injury, a drunk or texting driver, an infection or contagion, or even some awful diagnosis.

Ultimately, I’m trying to see this all as a gift, because this fitness and frailty have simply exposed me to the reality I was already always living all along. It’s keeping me a bit more present. A bit more aware of the simple grace that comes from feeling well being grateful when it does. And a bit more honest about how fleeting it can all be, too.

And so, here I am, fit and frail, at the airport, on my way to Scotland, to the start line of the West Highland Way Race…a 95 mile adventure from Glasgow to Fort William. Here’s to being present to the journey.

To anyone who feels like they are too _________________…

All smiles before the race!

Even though it’d been a busy, stressful and low sleep week, and even though I’m more than a little behind on my training due to a strained peroneal tendon, I was hopeful that I’d have a good day with dear friends at the Leadville Heavy Half a couple of weeks ago.

Weirdly, though, someone hitched a caboose to my ass and I found myself slipping way behind Joey and Sara.  Only a mile and a half into the race I knew it was going to be a slog.

And it was.

At about mile 4-ish of the course begins a long, arduous climb up Mosquito Pass, which tops out over 13,000′.  The first section is pretty gradual, then the middle section gets steep, and the final switchbacks are just eternal.  There’s no oxygen up there and movement was tough.

After the first section, the wind picked up and it became really quite cold.  I stopped at the aid station, donned my jacket, choked down some sort of nutrition and continued slowly plodding my way up the hill.

Just out of the aid station, a kid, couldn’t have been more than 10 or so, passed me with his dad, easy breezy.  And as I went I began to realize that literally every possibly type of person was going by me… either passing me from behind, or meeting me on their way back down towards the start.

And I thought again of what Melanie has said… that at a race you watch every possible excuse run by…

Too big.

Too little.

Too young.

Too old.

Too fat.

Too skinny.

Too light.

Too dark.

Too busy.

Too stressed.

Too worried.

Too hurting.

Too grieving.

Too sad.

Too depressed.

Too handicapped.

Too scared.

Every single excuse you could conjure went by me that day.  It’s incredible to behold.

And so I say to you, you’re not TOO anything.  You can do it.  Whatever it might be.

Get up. Get out. Get going.

Inspire us.

2015 Run Rabbit Run 100 Miler – To the Finish (At Last!)

It’s been more than a year since I finished the Run Rabbit Run 100 miler and in fact another Run Rabbit Run 100 miler has transpired since then… And yet I’ve not finished this story.

There are a lot of reasons for that, some deeply personal, but mainly it’s just been busy-ness, though.

But, I’ve found a little window of time to write and it’s high time I wrap this up… So here we go!

(See the end of Part 5 here to catch up!)

Dawn had come, and it is impossible to overstate the power of dawn in an ultramarathon.  Sunrise is so incredibly life-giving.  Sara had helped get me back on track with my eating, so that was another way I was beginning to feel better.  Melanie helped freshen up my clothes, gave me a full pack that would carry me on to the finish.

One of the quirks of this race is that Dry Lake aid station (mile 74-ish) is the last chance to get a pacer until just 3 or so miles from the finish line.  So, you need to have a pacer who can go the distance, who’s ready to put in a long, slogging 50k. And there’s no one better for this job than one Joseph Bearss.

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Joey and I in the bromance running summer of 2014, after our “win” in the duo division of the Happy Jack Endurance Run 24 hour race. There were no other duo teams…

Joey is an incredibly accomplished runner in his own right.  In 2014, we did several races together, including the Leadville 100 (which you could read about here if you’re completely devoid of anything else productive to do with your life…).  He’s also well on his way towards doing at least a marathon in all 50 states, with many of those being ultras.  In fact, in training for Leadville 2014, he ran 6 marathons, in 6 states, in 7 days.  Ugh.

Furthermore, he’s an experienced pacer, having helped get several other friends over the line in 100 mile races… He’s fun, funny, talkative when he needs to be and willing to be quiet when appropriate.  He understands the pain a 100 miler runner is feeling.  He knows what a runner needs to keep going (food) and he’s patient, encouraging and pretty much one of the best guys ever.  I was so lucky to have him for this last leg!

We started the grind up the last 7 or so miles up to Summit Lake aid station.  The course follows a forest service road that winds its way up above the Yampa valley and occasionally the view opens up to reveal expansive views of mountains brushed with the brilliant colors of changing aspens.  Run Rabbit Run offers views for days.

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Just one of the amazing views of the Yampa valley…

Also, since it is a forest service road, there are campers super close to the road almost the whole way to Summit Lake.  And with the early hour, it was a bit like sneaking through someone’s bedroom for 7 miles.

We were pretty alone through this stretch, if I remember correctly.  We were hiking strong and with purpose.  I was able to muster a shuffling jog on a couple of the super slight downhills, but overall we were just hiking hard uphill.  We were only passed once, I believe, by a German runner.

I had done this stretch in training, so I knew when we were getting close to Summit Lake.  The 13+ miles of climbing were over.  And we were still very far from the finish line, but the toughest climb of the race was now over.  I was moving and eating well.  Things had really turned around.

Approaching Summit Lake aid from this direction, there’s actually a privy (rustic bathroom) maybe an 1/8 of a mile out from where the aid station sits, and I had a need, a deep, deep need to make good use of that privy.  I handed my hydration pack to Joey, so he could rush ahead to the aid and refill my water and get my drop bag and supplies, and I headed into the privy.

And I just say, this parts a little gross.  A little TMI… but that’s the nature of ultras.  Things get raw.

After my business was done, I realized first that there were no supplies in the privy.  And second, I realized that my supplies, for JUST SUCH an occasion, which I had so studiously and steadfastly and carefully packed ahead of time, were in the pack that I had sent on with Joey.

I was in need and empty handed…

Except for my gloves, which I realized I no longer needed because the morning was warming rapidly.

So, I made do with what I had and cleaned up the best I could.  And when I got up to the aid station, I sealed up my defiled gloves into a sturdy plastic bag, cleaned up with some wet wipes and found Joey with my pack ready to go.  I took off some layers of clothing that I’d had on through the cold of the night, stuffed everything into my drop bag.  I think I freshened up my feet a bit, too.

And I ate French Toast.  The fine volunteers had made FRENCH TOAST and I have never been so happy to see it.  Oh my gosh.

Joey crushed breakfast burritos and orange Fanta like a champ.  The calories and carbs were a serious boost to energy and morale and with happy stomachs we headed out of Summit Lake back towards Long Lake, about 8 miles away.

This stretch of trail was new to me, and it’s gorgeous.  Winding single track rolling through high mountain meadows. More fall colors in the leaves of the brush and bushes.  Evidence of how low the temps dipped overnight was seen in the layers of ice on the occasional puddle on the trail, and in the thick frost in the low lying areas.  But it was now all melting quickly in the sun, rising in a brilliant cobalt blue sky.

We came upon a runner and her pacer from Lake City where she’s a teacher.  I can’t for the life of me remember their names but we they were hilarious and shared great stories of their experience of the race so far.  But Joey and I were moving just a bit quicker and we soon moved on.

And so began something pretty freaking amazing… we found that we were moving a bit quicker than just about everyone.  By this point in the race, runners were very spread out, but we began picking people off.  Only once or twice were we passed by runners with a “Hare” bib, but it really seemed that we were flying compared to other racers.  And that’s an amazing feeling 80+ miles and 24 hours into the race.

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Crushing watermelon at Long Lake, mile 90-something…

And soon enough, we rolled into Long Lake aid station, which for me was the third time coming through.  We refilled packs, had another brief, but hilarious, conversation with Jenn Shelton (who was slightly more sober than when Luke and I had seen her 12 hours previous), grabbed a bunch of watermelon and kept rolling.  We were hauling ass and the finish line was a half-marathon away.

Out of Long Lake, there’s really the last climb of the race, but it’s not even that much of a climb… we made short work of it and kept rolling… picking off other runners as we went.

We came upon Matt Scrudato again, who I’d run with earlier in the race, and who was really hurting with some bad blisters, but he was determinedly moving along.

We came upon the loogie hocking guy, who talked way too much, and found that he’d latched onto a couple of other runners and was yak, yak, yakking away, still.

We came upon some guys partaking of some recreational marijuana…  Hey, you know… whatever.  It’s legal here.

We passed them all.  Hiking hard, shuffling into a jog now and again, running downhills. My stomach was rock solid and I was eating well every time Joey asked me to.

Mostly through this section we were silent though.  Just working hard, moving well… rolling.

Turns out, Joey was doing the math on how far we had to go and trying to figure out if we could get to the finish line in under 32 hours.  Now… there’s nothing magical about that time, per se… the “big buckle” cutoff for RRR is 30 hours, and the final cutoff is 36 hours, but Joey has a magical way of helping you set a goal and figuring out how to help you get there.  Picking a goal like that is incredibly motivating.

Joey also texted Melanie and Sara, letting them know we were drawing close. They were planning on taking the gondola up the mountain to cheer us on where we would have just about 3 or so miles to go.  After they had seen Joey and I out of Dry Lake, they’d all headed back to the condo to get some sleep, knowing that there were hours and hours to go.  And when we left Dry Lake, I was more than 2 hours behind my predicted pace and not moving very quickly.

So, when Joey texted, informing them that I was less than 10 miles out, they were absolutely shocked and had to spring into action, because I’d made up all of that time, and was now back on my original scheduled plan…

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At the top of Mt. Werner, just 6-ish downhill miles to go!

The stretch from Long Lake back to Mt. Werner, which sits at the top of the Steamboat ski area, is another gorgeous stretch of rolling single track, with the occasional little grunt of a climb.  We continued to fly, me clicking away with my poles, Joey behind me encouraging and guiding.

We came into Mt. Werner, excited to see Becki, who was working the race for the timing company. We gobbled up some watermelon and busted out of there quickly.  I could smell the barn.

Running hard.

Running hard.

We knew that the last 6-ish miles were straight downhill.  Joey asked if I could run, because if we were going to make it under 32 hours, we’d have to move… and he knows that I love running downhill.  And sure enough, I found that I COULD run!  We started flying downhill.  I’ve never, ever felt so good at the end of an ultramarathon of any distance.  We were hammering downhill.  Other 100 milers were so shocked to see us pushing so hard.  The 50-mile race was also finishing at the same time, so there were a couple of 50 milers who ran past us, but other than that, no one was moving half as fast as we were.

Initially, for some weird reason, I had it in my mind that I would change shoes when I saw Melanie with 3 miles to go, and so I’d told Joey to text Melanie to bring my shoes.  But, now that we were moving soooo fast, he texted again that we’d only have time to “Kiss and Go!”

Just before the "Kiss and Go"!

Just before the “Kiss and Go”!

And so, as we wound down the gravel road toward the finish, we came around the corner to see Melanie and Sara and they were cheering hard.  And there was a quick kiss and then off we went, running, running, running with occasional walk breaks rest the legs.

About a mile and a half from the finish, the course drops off the gravel road onto some single track and Joey kept encouraging me onward.  We weren’t exactly sure how far we had to go, but we knew we were getting close.  It was looking like we were going to make it under 32 hours, but we kept the hammer down.

Joey took off ahead, to let everyone know we were coming, and so I had the last half mile or so alone.  It felt soooooo GOOD to be running so hard after 100+ miles.  I mean, EVERYTHING hurt, but not bad enough to NOT run.  About a quarter mile out, I passed one last runner and came around the corner and could see the finish line area.

And then I could hear Joey, and Sara.  Then there’s just a few yards to go.

And then it was done.  107 miles.*  31 hours. 54 minutes. 7 seconds. 50th out of 108 finishers in the Tortoise race.

(*The race officials say it’s 103.  Some GPS tracks say it’s up to 110.  I took an average of several Strava records of the race and came up with 107…)

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At the end of the Leadville 100 a year before, we basically walked it in, which was appropriate for those moments, but this feeling… of being able to push so hard at the end… it was something else altogether.  Running through to the end like this made Run Rabbit an incredibly deep and satisfying experience.

20150919_155511Melanie was there for me at the finish line and I hugged her and released much emotion.  Hugs from my mother in law.  Hugs with Sara and Joey. Luke and Anne had to head back to Denver after their pacing duties… or else I’d have hugged them, too!

I am so grateful that such tremendous people would so selflessly give so very much to me.  It’s a bit overwhelming to be the recipient of such grace and blessing.

Finally, to have worked so hard, for so long… to have those extreme lows and then to feel so good at the end… I simply cannot imagine more deeply fulfilling finish.

But I can’t wait to try again! 🙂

Mom’s finish line video:

https://youtu.be/B84hiBdVcHY

Sara’s emotional finish video can be found here:
https://www.facebook.com/225189/videos/10101892817914523/

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And a HUGE "Thanks!" to Mom and Doug for their support and the condo hook-ups for the weekend!! Couldn't have done it without you!

And a HUGE “Thanks!” to Mom and Doug for their support and the condo hook-ups for the weekend!! Couldn’t have done it without you!

The day after the race, Doug wanted to try one of my GU's. He was underwhelmed. :-)

The day after the race, Doug wanted to try one of my GU’s. He was underwhelmed. 🙂

2015 Run Rabbit Run 100 – Part 5

Quick reminder of where we find ourselves in the race… it’s somewhere after 4:00 in the morning nearing mile 70, on the Spring Creek Trail. Sara is pacing…

100(+) miles is just a freaking really, really long way. And there’s no way to even begin to think about it all at once as a racer. If you do, you’re doomed. You’ll crumple under the weight of all that vast, giant, gaping space between those miles. You must break things up. You have to come up with ways to trick yourself, motivate yourself and move yourself through little goals and milestones.

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Sara and I on an ill-fated training run earlier in the year.

There are 15 bridges in the 5 miles of trail between the Dry Lake and Spring Creek Ponds aid stations. I ran this section in training, knowing that these were going to be dark, slow going times for me in the race. Just understanding where they’re positioned and the distance they represented and the time I would be moving through, it was inevitable that this was going to be a tough section.

So, I came up with a weird little plan to “jog” across all of the bridges, in both directions. Here in the safety and comfort of a home office, feeling well rested with a full belly, it really doesn’t seem like much of a goal. But, in the deep darkness of a cold mountain night when you’ve got 70 miles of mountain movement on your body, it’s kind of a big deal. It’s weird how 30 little moments of picking up the pace and moving with a bit more intention brings some clarity and focus. Also, the bridges are numbered, so there’s a very gratifying countdown aspect of moving through this section.

I had shared this plan with Sara, who was now pacing me, and she was all about it and got me going.

Also, Sara is a high school teacher, so she has this really incredible way to be firm and disciplined while also being gentle and affirming. It’s really a powerful combination, and exactly the kind of thing an ultra-runner needs. She was firm about keeping me eating. She was disciplined about pushing my pace a little. But, she was also gentle and affirming, understanding the shape I was in. But, overall, I was feeling a bit better. The warm food I’d had and extra clothes I’d donned, coupled with a long descent were helping me tremendously.

We made our way down, down, down the trail to the Spring Creek Ponds aid station at supposedly mile 70. I say “supposedly” because everyone knows this course is long, so I’m guessing it was probably more like 73-75. But, really, that’s kind of irrelevant because regardless of the distance, there’s still got a long, long way to go.

Joey, waiting to pace me at Dry Lake aid station...

Joey, waiting to pace me at Dry Lake aid station…

Rolling into aid, my most pressing need was to attend once again to the massive blister consuming my entire left heel. While I tried to doctor myself, Sara rounded up a grilled cheese and some broth for me. I think she felt bad because she had eaten ALL OF THE GRILLED CHEESE at Dry Lake, leaving me grilled cheese-less. But, this real food, that was warm and salty and sustaining, felt so good.

Ultras are weird in the way that they make you so greatly appreciate the tiniest luxuries and simplest graces. I ate maybe 1/3 of a grilled cheese sandwich (if that?) and drank 4 ounces of broth (maybe?) but it was such an exceedingly great “meal.”

It was a good stop with generous, helpful volunteers and we headed back out as quickly as we could.

And now we’d come to it, at last… the section of the course that had consumed my thoughts since nearly the moment I’d registered… From Spring Creek Ponds to Summit Lake Aid station there were 13+ miles of continuous ascent. Sometimes steeper, sometimes more gradual but relentlessly up, up, up and up for more than a half marathon.

There was no way around it… had to be done, so we set to doing it.

Since this section is an out and back, and since it’s mostly singletrack trail, we were face to face with many runners and pacers still making their way down to Spring Creek Ponds… and it was getting late enough that it began to run through my mind that many of these people were not going to make it. They weren’t going to finish, and that’s a difficult thing to see. But the effort, the gumption of all of them is so heroic. It’s also inspirational. So, we kept moving.

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With the rock formation that looks like a face. Do you see it?

Sara kept me jogging across the bridges, even though the climbing was tough. When there was the odd, short section of somewhat downhill, she tried to get me jogging those, mostly successfully, I think? It’s all pretty blurry.

I was also back on track and eating at very regular intervals again, systematically getting those carbs and calories down, and as a result I was feeling better and better. It occurs to me that ultras are beautiful in their generosity and graciousness of time. If you can be patient, keep moving and keep getting down what you can, there’s enough time for things to turn around.

And something else began to happen about halfway back up to Dry Lake… light began to spread, ever so slowly across the sky. I cannot begin to express to you how amazing it is to begin to experience the light after a long, cold, dark, difficult night. It quietly and simply imbues, imparts and fills you with a spreading hope.

A closer look at the face formation...

A closer look at the face formation…

But, despite these positives, the last mile and a half up to Dry Lake is steep and tough. I asked Sara if she saw that the rock formation in front of us looked like a face. I thought I might be hallucinating in the early half-light of morning. But, she actually agreed. It really DID look like a face. Good, good… keep moving, keep grinding.

Finally, with light continuing to fill the sky, we made the last push to Dry Lake 2, mile 74-ish. Melanie was waiting with Joey, who would now pace me the rest of the way to the finish. Sara had gotten me the rest of the way through the night. I was so very tired.

Coming into Dry Lake...

Coming into Dry Lake… I love how much of the story this picture conveys.

I shuffled into the aid station and into a big Bearss hug (get it!?) from Joey, who’d been waiting in the cold. As we embraced he spoke into my ear, “I’m so proud of you…” and I nearly lost it with emotion. Hugs from Sara and more deep, deep emotion… So grateful and so filled with love and appreciation.

We were still behind schedule. I still had another 7+ miles of climbing up to Summit Lake, and 32 or so miles left before the finish. But I had another great and dear friend to join me. And we had made it through the night. Dawn had come. It was time to push on to the finish.

A final pic with the faithful Sara! So grateful...

A final pic with the faithful Sara! So grateful…

On Changes

“Everybody has to change or they expire. Everybody has to leave. Everybody has to leave their home and come back so they can love it again for all new reasons. I want to keep my soul fertile for the changes so things keep getting born in me, so things keep dying when it is time for things to die. I want to keep walking away from the person I was a moment ago, because a mind was made to figure things out, not to read the same page recurrently. Only the good stories have the characters different at the end than they were at the beginning…” – Donald Miller, Through Painted Deserts

On Friday January 29th, after five fruitful, challenging, fun-filled and growth-instigating years, I am leaving Greystone Technology.

Life is funny and strange and beautiful. And it has a mysterious symmetry at times, too.

Five years ago, in coming back to Greystone (because I’d left there once before…which is a whole other story…), I left a full-time position at a church where I played guitar, sang, led music and organized worship gatherings.

Door to my new office!

Door to my new office!

And this past Sunday I was warmly welcomed as Modern Music Coordinator for Christ Church Denver, where I’ll play guitar, sing lead music and assist in organizing worship gatherings.   I am so thrilled to be stepping back into a role where I can utilize gifts and abilities that have lain dormant for some time. It feels very, very good to be stretching those muscles once again.

But, this mysterious symmetry of life runs another layer deeper, as I am also exploring even longer dormant skills, too. You see, from my late teens to my mid 20’s, I had an entire career as a baker/ pastry chef.

This position at Christ Church is only a part-time position. And so, I’ll be using it as sort of a platform to launch another endeavor, Simple Sweets Kitchen!

In the earliest days of baking at Edgewick's Catering.

In the earliest days of baking at Edgewick’s Catering.

Over the last couple of years, as Melanie and I have wrestled with sugar addictions, and as my eating habits have changed due to my trail and ultramarathon running, I have been slowly dusting off old recipes from my pastry chef-ing days and adapting them to natural sweeteners, like coconut sugar, honey, molasses, maple syrup and others.

I’ve been making pies, ice creams, cookies, mousses, cakes and muffins… and frankly, they’re amazing. By leaving the overwhelming sweetness of refined white sugars behind, a richness and depth and complexity of flavors emerge that are spectacular. I made a pecan pie a couple of weeks ago that was mind-blowing when topped with a simple vanilla ice cream… so freaking good! And then there’s the maple ice cream with candied pecans… or the peanut butter ice cream… or the chocolate cake with Swiss buttercream…

Chocolate cake with Swiss buttercream

Chocolate cake with Swiss buttercream

Anyway. It goes on and on and it’s all very good and I can’t wait to share these things with you all! My logo and branding are being finalized. Tastings are being planned. The “full” site will be live in early February and it’d be awesome if you could visit there quickly and sign up for Simple Sweet’s newsletter to stay up to date on all that’ll be happening!

(Furthermore, I am also going to be launching yet another endeavor later in 2016, but THAT announcement will have to wait for another time.)

All of this is very new and exciting and terrifying, mixed with some genuine sadness and wistfulness and leaving Greystone.

From a Greystone leadership photo shoot...

From a Greystone leadership photo shoot…

I am forever grateful that Peter and Jesse (Melby and Armstrong, Greystone’s President and CEO) welcomed me into the Greystone community and culture. My working there came along at exactly the right time for Melanie and I. I don’t believe in coincidences and I needed them at just the time they needed me and it has been an honor and privilege to work with them, and all of the team, these many years. The experiences I’ve had there have set me up so well for this next phase of life and their leadership and culture are an inspiration to me as I launch into this new (and some how old?) work of mine. It’s time for new leaders to emerge at Greystone and I know they will, as I’ve watched it happen time and again.

Here’s to changing and keeping our souls fertile for the changes.

2015 Run Rabbit Run 100 – Part 4

I was so cold. I’ve never been so cold. It was a cold so thorough that it seemed I could feel my thoughts slowing down. And my slowed thoughts were dark, insipid thoughts… speaking words like “stop” and “quit” “why go on?” to me. I felt myself slipping into that darkness.

It must have been was sometime around midnight or 1:00 am. I was 52 miles into the race and the previous 10+ miles, all climbing up, up and up to the Long Lake Aid Station, had been a slog.

Luke and I heading out of Fish Creek Falls trailhead

Luke and I heading out of Fish Creek Falls trailhead

Coming out of Olympian Hall with Anne, I’d gotten behind on calories, which made me feel bad, which made me not want to put any calories in, which made me feel worse. And my time with Luke above Fish Creek Falls Trailhead became a kind of a reprise of my climb up the backside of Hope Pass with him the year before at Leadville. My breathing was escalated to the point that I couldn’t really eat and walk at the same time. So I’d stop and try to choke down something… a chew or two? Part of a goo? Anything. It was tough going and I was just so tired with a kind of sleepwalking, barely noticeable forward momentum. I don’t know if it’s bad luck or bad timing, but I swear to decency that I really need to have Luke pace me for a section of an ultra where I actually feel good… he’s had some rough duty with me…

But, one of the most meaning moments of the race had happened just a short while previous. I have a vivid memory of standing with my hands on my knees, alongside the edge of the trail somewhere around upper Fish Creek Falls, all silent and despairing. And my friend Luke very simply and quietly just came next to me and gave me a reassuring side-hug squeeze. No words, just a simple act of being present with me. That moment together stands out so beautifully and so brilliantly to me and I’m so grateful. That kind of support will carry you far.

And so, we’d made it to Long Lake, and one of the worst sections of the race was behind me. But, the temperature was dropping and I needed some food and as it turns out I wasn’t even half way finished. As you may recall, I began this series of posts with the beginnings of a description of my time at this aid station. It was cold and I was slipping.

As it turns out, there’s actually video footage of this aid station at this exact time… Joel Wolpert aka The Wolpertinger, made a film about Jenn Shelton that came out this winter (It’s called “Outside Voices” and you can find it here: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/outsidevoices). I remember seeing Joel and Jenn when I passed through Long Lake earlier that morning, but at the time I didn’t know he was making a movie, let alone it being about her. Anyway, Joel captures this clip of a runner just shivering so hard with this crazy look on his face… I felt like this and more…

The fire wasn’t helping. I could feel the pull of the darkness, of stopping, of quitting and calling it a day.

And then a flicker began to flash in my mind… or maybe deeper down in my heart, in my guts. It was a much different voice that said, “I have to get out of here. Right now. I have to go. I HAVE TO LEAVE RIGHT NOW! I HAVE TO GO!”

I got up out of the chair, still shivering violently and I made my way over to Luke and said in what seemed to me to be a crazed voice, “I have to go. I have to get out of here. I have to leave right now.”

He was kind of weirded out. “Umm, okay… go ahead and I’ll catch up.” We futzed around with some gear stuff for a moment. I can’t remember if I put my pack on, or if we agreed for him to bring it with him as he caught up to me… but, this moment where we were futzing around was also caught on video. Jenn was trying to talk some runner into taking a shot, or a nip of mescal. And I looked over and said something to her that made her cackle with laughter… I have no recollection of this happening, let alone of what I said, but I’m pretty sure it was something along the lines of “That sounds like a terrible idea.” Whether it was my statement, or something the other runner murmured to her, she was amused.

It’s kind of strange to see that video, because I think I seem relatively normal, but internally I was freaking. I just had to get out of there.

I knew, somewhere inside of me, that several things were true there at Long Lake at 1:00 in the morning… One, I wasn’t going to get any warmer sitting around there, my only hope of getting warm was to get moving. Two, Long Lake sits at, or just over, 10,000 feet and at that elevation, you’re just not going to feel great after 50+ miles of exertion. And three, the “real” me didn’t want to quit… not really. All of these realizations made me feel fierce and angry and motivated. I had to go.

I started hiking out of the aid station as fast as I could, all stiff and shivering and wobbly. I yelled back at Luke to grab my extra fleece out of the drop bag to bring with him. I knew it was going to get colder still and I wanted another layer just in case.

I kept hiking, as fast as I could. The shivering started to subside and that flickering in my guts had fanned into flame. I screamed an expletive to the sky to break free of that darkness that had conspired against me. I was moving again. There was a slight bit of downhill and for the first time in hours I broke into a jog. I was running away from the darkness. I was running to finish.

Luke caught me after some time and had to ask what had happened, why I had bolted out of there. It was hard to explain at the moment. I just said that I was afraid of quitting. He said that he wouldn’t have let me, and I knew that intellectually… but I had glimpsed some kind of darkness there and I just had to get out.

My brief jogging had slowed back down to a fast walk, but I had warmed back up enough to keep moving. I had continued to try and get calories down and was felling a bit better. At some point, we caught up to the loogie hocking, way overly-talkative guy referenced in the previous post, and he’d latched onto a couple of people… but we weren’t having any of that so we passed them.

That stretch of trail/ jeep road is a high expanse of open land, sitting at over 10,000 feet on a perfectly clear night and the cold was settling in deep. I heard some people say that it got down to single digits, but I’d reckon more in the low 20’s. And at times there was a breeze blowing across the trail. But with layers and movement we were fine.

Soon enough we rolled into Summit Lake Aid Station at mile 58 or so. It must have been 2:30 or later by now. I could tell that the entire outsole of my left heel had turned into one vast blister and it burned and hurt. It needed some attention, so Luke helped gather my drop bag and I grabbed some warm food.

Now, my selection here completely grossed Luke out… they had mashed potatoes that looked good, but too thick. And they had beef broth, all steam and hot. So, I took some mashed potatoes and ladled some broth on them to thin them down and I absolutely exulted with joy. Never had salty carbs tasted so good.

Also, this aid station had more coverage around the sides and with the heater roaring, it was quite warm. Warm enough to be able to attend to my foot without shivering violently. My heel was a mess of sweat, blister and gravely dirty dusty nastiness. I cleaned it a bit, lanced the blister as best I could, slapped a band aid and a bunch of duct tape on there and we headed out. The fist quarter of a mile were agonizing as every step sent fire through my heel. Eventually, though, my body accepted that we weren’t stopping and it became tolerable.

From Summit Lake Aid, there’s a 13+ mile descent down to the edge of Steamboat Springs again, to the Spring Creek Aid Station. But, just a little over half way down, there’s the Dry Lake Aid Station and there we would see the crew once again. So, we had 7 miles to go to get to crew and for Luke to drop off and for me to pick up Sara.

In my prerace planning and training on this part of the course, I had figured I’d be able to jog a good part of this section, but mostly we shuffled and walked and occasionally jogged a little.

What was awesome, though, was that we began to run into faster runners who had made it all the way down and were now on their way back up again. It’s always encouraging to share well wishes with others in the race and it was encouraging, even if it wasn’t speeding me up.

We did run into one runner coming back up the trail who was alone, with no pacer, which meant he was one of the elite “Hares” of the race. Luke and I had stopped for something, I think to mess with headlamps, because mine had died (Which is somewhat rage inducing and a long story of its own…). I knew we were close to seeing crew again, so I asked if that solo runner needed anything. He was barely dressed, having clearly misjudged how cold it would get, or how quickly he would be moving at this point, or both. I gave him one of my pullovers because we were getting warmer as we went down and I knew he would get colder as he continued up the trail back to Summit Lake.   I found out later that he unfortunately dropped… but we tried to help.

Just a little bit more and we dipped down and back up a quarter mile or so and there was Dry Lake Aid Station. Melanie and Sara were there waiting with hugs and love and well wishes and hot chicken noodle soup and my “famous” coffee/ hot chocolate concoction. I was so happy and a bit over-emotional to see them. As we tended to needs and packs and food and clothing, I could barely make out Luke’s briefing Sara on my condition… “He’s not moving very well… we were walking stuff we should have been jogging…”

It was 4:00 am and I was nearly 2 hours behind my predicted schedule. It was slow going. But, it seemed that my stomach had turned a bit. Calories and carbs were going in just a little easier. The long downhill was helping, even if we hadn’t been moving too quickly.

After a long and grateful embrace with Luke, who had paced me like a champion once again, Sara and I headed out to finish the descent to Spring Creek Aid, and then to turn around and begin the crux of the race… the 13+ mile ascent, back up to Dry Lake where I would pick up Joey as my pacer and then on up to Summit Lake… and maybe to the finish.