Coming into Dry Lake...

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…

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

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.

Luke and I heading out of Fish Creek Falls trailhead

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.

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2015 Run Rabbit Run 100 – Part 3

From a "daily practice" run early in the season.

From a “daily practice” run early in the season.

For a brief period of time, I practiced yoga, and the entertainment value of seeing all 6’4” of my intractable body trying to stretch and flex and bend must have been insanely high. Those who “do yoga” refer to it as a “practice,” and I very much like this designation. The implication is that there’s always more to learn and more ways to grow in one’s experience of yoga. It’s not a competition. You can never really say “I have completed yoga!” or, “I totally won at yoga last night.” There aren’t really, to my knowledge, “test pieces” for yoga. You simply practice and practice and practice and it’s the practicing itself that changes you.

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Another early season “practice” run, with Sara. More about her in an upcoming post.

To a degree, I would find it easy to think of my running in this way, except that with running we do gather around very significant test pieces, like the 100+ mile Run Rabbit Run race. But it’s the practice of running… the daily and weekly rhythms of running and training and resting that imbue these events with such depth of meaning for me. I absolutely love the practice of running in preparation for a 100. The training schedule brings order out of chaos. The positive benefits physically and emotionally manifest themselves in a variety of ways. And this happens over months and months of time.

And all of this is absolutely essential because here’s the thing… You simply cannot fake a 100-mile foot race.

Fully immersing yourself in the practice of running in preparation for a 100 is the only way you stand a chance of finishing, and even then there’s a lot that can go very, very wrong. But the beauty of a 100-mile footrace is that the sheer distance and time it takes to complete are in and of themselves a form of grace. What I mean is that even though things can go very wrong, there’s also a lot of time and distance to get things back on track and turned around, as long as you can keep moving forward.

Racing this distance is such a beautiful mystery.

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Being well cared for…

But I wasn’t really thinking directly about any of this as Anne and I rolled into Olympian Hall (mile 21-22ish). It was just before 2:00 pm. I was slightly ahead of schedule and feeling pretty good. In basically every ultra I’ve every run, I’ve always had a little low patch around mile 20 and the same held true that day, too. I’d pushed quite a bit coming down Fish Creek Falls and at the bottom, as I rolled into the parking lot to meet Anne, it was hot and I was just feeling a bit wonky. But by the time we got to Olympian, I had rebounded a bit. Mom and Doug were there along with Melanie and we got busy with the exchanging of packs, gathering of food and such.

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My long-suffering wife. I love her so much.

At this aid stop, I experienced an absolute first (for me) for an ultra-marathon… I had a bathroom break actually INSIDE a building, with running water and plumbing and everything. Ooooohhhh! Aaaaaahhhh! I washed my hands and my face and everything!

It’s hard to state what an incredible luxury this is in the midst of a trail ultra, but let’s just call it “glorious.”

I loaded up on watermelon (a race day fave) and some other foods and rolled out. It was a long-ish stop, but I planned on it being long, so I wasn’t too stressed about it.

Rolling out of Olympian Hall 1

Rolling out of Olympian Hall 1

From Olympian Hall the course is kind of a lollipop… you head out, complete a big circle around Emerald Mountain and then come back down to Olympian Hall again. I’d explored this bit of trail in training and just loved it. It’s a gorgeous mix of primarily aspen forests with areas of scrub oaks and yuccas, and several spots where everything open up to reveal views for miles.

With the boost of seeing loved ones, a fresh pack, clean shoes and socks and a bunch of calories down my gullet, I started making my way up the “stick” of the lollipop section that also happens to be the second big climb of the race, gaining 2500’ or so in probably 3.5 miles. It’s not ridiculously steep, or technical, but it is definitely enough to make you feel it. I grooved into my powerhike with my trekking poles clicking away and I passed this section uneventfully keeping up on food and water along the way.

Since I’d done this bit in training, I knew that once I got to the top there was a long, lilting, flowing buttery smooth section of single-track, called the Ridge Trail, all the way down to Cow Creek Aid Station at mile 30-ish.   So, moments after getting to the top, I secured my poles to my pack so I could cut loose and fly downhill for a while. I adore running downhill. Love it. I mean, I really, really love running downhill. I don’t know exactly what it is but I’m confident in it and I just love it.

Another view from up on Ridge Trail.

Another view from up on Ridge Trail.

So, I started to open up the throttle a bit, gained some speed and began to feel the flow and then WHAM!

I found myself tumbling ass over teakettle, as my momma used to say.

What I failed to mention about that buttery smooth single-track is that every so often, a scrub oak root nubbin will peek out into the trail just enough to catch the unsuspecting runner’s toe just enough to significantly harsh a mellow.

Looking from the course down into Cow Creek Aid Station, mile 30-ish.

Looking from the course down into Cow Creek Aid Station, mile 30-ish.

I did a full roll and a half I think before catching myself, and upon realizing no damage was done, I laughed it off. I was just sorry that no one was around to see the spectacle of my 6’4” intractable body tumbling along the trail.

I brushed off as best I could and quickly resumed my flow and floated down the trail. I wondered to myself if I was running too fast or too hard for this early in the race, but I figured this is what I trained for and I felt like my effort was reasonable. So I let it rip and it was awesome.

Fueling up and telling stories.

Fueling up and telling stories.

The result was that I came rolling into Cow Creek (mile 30-ish, 4:00 pm) way ahead of schedule and I felt great. Melanie, Anne, Mom and Doug were there to receive me and as we were swapping packs, Melanie asked what had happened because I was apparently very dirty and dusty from the fall. I’d been in the zone for a while and had kind of forgotten about it and so I recounted the tale of my tumble and everyone was highly amused.

Heading out of Cow Creek, you have a couple of miles of flat dirt road and it was pretty blah. I had done a good job all day of keeping the calories and carbs and hydration flowing (thanks Tailwind Nutrition!) so I was doing fine that way, it’s just that I was now 30+ miles into the race and the time and distance were beginning to wear on me.

Two-fisting the fuel and a kiss before I head out...

Two-fisting the fuel and a kiss before I head out…

I was hiking/ jogging at very nearly the exact same pace as another runner, and we kind of passed each other back and forth a couple of times.

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Pronounced “bell.”

Passing in an ultramarathon is excruciating and sometimes it’s wildly annoying, like at that moment. I was just kind of down and in my own headspace and I wasn’t talking and neither was he but he was always just a few feet away. Ugh.   And since neither of us had the gas to do anything about it, we stayed close by one another. Eventually, we started up the very gradual 3rd climb of the day, back up the Beall Trail and I put just a tiny bit of space between us.

And then he started hacking and hocking and it was disgusting.

Now lest you think me insensitive and unkind, he was physically fine… but he must have had something stuck in his sinuses or throat because it sounded like he was hocking the biggest, nastiest loogies one could imagine.

I couldn’t handle it. I put in a bit of effort and got out of earshot of him.

And that began a few miles of increasing internal darkness… It’s inevitable in an ultra that one will have some dark patches. It wasn’t super horrible, but I was just tired and realizing I had hours upon hours to go and I was tired and lonely and just kind of sad.

Did I mention I was tired?

I came up on another couple of runners, a guy and a girl, and spent quite a bit of time right behind them, none of us talking. Just grinding it out up the long gradual climb. Run Rabbit Run will boil you like the proverbial frog with these climbs.

Finally, as the guy and I passed the girl I said in jest, “I wish you two would shut up!” just to break the ice and get out of my own head. And I immediately felt better.

I introduced myself to Matt Scrudato, and he and I stuck together for the next few miles and it was astounding to me how great it was just to pass the time in some conversation with a stranger.   Matt’s from Georgia and was back at Run Rabbit Run for a second attempt after having DNF’d last year. This year he was absolutely committed to finishing. I could hear it in his tone.

And it was somewhere around here that we began to be caught up by the elite Hares. Jason Schlarb (eventual winner) and Jared Hazen blew by us like we were standing still. It was pretty incredible.

It was also somewhere around here that we were caught up by the loogie hocking guy and a couple of other runners. And I found that his former silence with me was not indicative of his actual persona. He talked. A lot. Like, a LOT, a lot.

But, soon we were all back at the top of the hill and while we all were basically hiking the same speed, our pace varied tremendously on the downhill, so our little group broke apart. I was a bit sad to leave Matt behind at the time, but it was great to run downhill again!

Rolling back into Olympian, with Doug just in the background...

Rolling back into Olympian, with Doug just in the background…

Also of note on this downhill section was having the chance to chat with ultra-running legend Nick Clark, as he passed me. He was dirty and dusty, too, and we traded stories of our tumbles.

As I neared Olympian Hall for the second time, dusk was settling in… Doug had walked a ways up the trail and greeted me joyfully as I rolled back in… we hustled over to the crew and it was time to prepare for the long, dark night ahead. Anne was ready to get me back across town to Fish Creek Falls Trailhead, where Luke was waiting to take me into the backcountry, into the darkness, into the cold.

Heading into the race, I knew from my experiences of ultras, and from daily “practice” of running and training that I would get back to Fish Creek Falls. What would transpire from there was a mystery. I was about to face extremes in climbing, descending, cold and distance that were well beyond anything I’ve known…

Discussion about the darkness ahead

Discussion about the darkness ahead

Melanie briefing Luke before his pacing duties. Notice the card in his hand... I got SUPER nerdy and self-laminated a pace chart.

Melanie briefing Luke before his pacing duties. Notice the card in his hand… I got SUPER nerdy and self-laminated a pace chart. Yep. Sure did.

Mom snapped this pic as I crossed the bridge... They were JUST TOURISTS here that day! NOT CREW! :-)

2015 Run Rabbit Run – Part 2

Running downhill, on single track trails, through brilliant, glowing light shimmering through a canopy of golden Aspens, set against that particularly Colorado cobalt blue, on a clear and crisp fall morning…

Skies clearing less than an hour into the race.

Skies clearing less than an hour into the race.

That’s just about as good as it gets.

Particularly when feeling light and fast and free, which I was at mile 13 or so. After months of solid, consistent training followed by a couple of weeks of tapering down to race day, it’s easy to feel invincible in the early miles. It’s too early to hurt. Food still tastes amazing. Drink is refreshing. It’s awesome.

There were several of us working down the Fish Creek Falls trail together and the day had become spectacular, in contrast to its dawning.

As we (Mom, Doug, Melanie and I) stepped out of the condo (thanks Scully Family!!!) to head to the start, it was damp and drizzling and quite cool. But, the glowering clouds hanging loose on the mountain lent an air of drama to the initial climb up straight up the face of the resort. And by “straight up” I mean, “march up a black diamond ski run.” The fist couple of miles of the race zip straight up the mountain underneath the gondola. And as we chug, chug, chugged our way uphill, soon there were clouds below, above and all around us, not so much as to obscure the view, but enhance it with wonder and mystery.

I'm tall.

I’m tall.

But truth be told, there wasn’t much zipping (yet) for me. I don’t know much, but I do know that kind of climb (4000’ in 4 or 5 miles) that early can crush the foolhardy runner who goes out too hard and too fast. As we racers made our way into the starting chute, and as I made my way to the back of the pack, I joked with the other runners that the plan was to go out easy and then slow down.

It’s good for a laugh, but it’s not bad advice for a 100-mile mountain footrace. No matter how you slice it, it’s going to be a long day.

Just below the gondola, with Lynn Hall directly in front of me.

Just below the gondola, with Lynn Hall directly in front of me.

Mom, Doug and Melanie hopped onto the Gondola to meet me part of the way up the hill, and even though it had only been 45 minutes or so, it’s always great to see loved ones. Hugs and kisses and well wishes, along with some fresh fluids (because why carry any more weight than necessary up that initial climb?) and I was off into the backcountry for quite a long stretch (20+ miles) before seeing them again.

At the top of the resort, we left the gravel/ packed dirt access roads for the Mountain View trail (FS 1032) which was turning into a loose, pudding-like slop as the previous night’s snow melted away.   Thankfully, the mud wasn’t super deep, but it was just thick enough to make footing feel unsteady. In hindsight, this probably caused me to keep the throttle back a bit for those 8 or so miles, which again isn’t a bad thing early in a 100.DSC00196

Even with the caution, I did completely bite it once through here… I’d taken my gloves off, as it was warming well, but going into the trees through this section I was still a little cold, so I’d put them back on. And then FWAP! I went down, catching myself with my hands and soaking the thin gloves with the goo and rendering them ineffective. Whoops. But, it was a minimal incident and I felt great coming into Long Lake Aid Station (12-ish miles?) for the first time.

Fish Creek Falls

Fish Creek Falls

The way the RRR100 course is laid out, runners hit Long Lake 3 times… mile 12-ish, 52-ish and 90-ish. And since it’s remote, and there’s no crew access, runners are allowed to have “drop bags.” Drop bags are basically a bag of your own choosing that you fill with whatever you might want to access at mile 12-ish, 52-ish or 90-ish: food, drink, clothing, supplies, anything that’ll fit in an appropriately sized bag that you drop off for them before the race for them to haul up there for you. It’s a little slice of home. So, I grabbed some fresh fuel (thanks Tailwind Nutrition for being a crucial part of my race!), a couple bites of PB&J, some watermelon and I was out again, headed to the Fish Creek Falls trail (FS 1102) for the descent back down to town.

And so, I found myself with those other runners cranking our way down to the falls. The day was warming and glorious, the mud had solidified and we were moving. Along with the pure GLORY of the day, my main memory of this stretch was running behind an older guy, clearly a veteran of the ultra scene, who bounded down the rocks and hills like a cross between Gollum and Radagast the Brown using a unique and bizarre looking system of one-trekking pole, one free arm and two gyrating legs. It was something to behold and kept me entertained for a few miles.

Mom snapped this pic as I crossed the bridge... They were JUST TOURISTS here that day! NOT CREW! :-)

Mom snapped this pic as I crossed the bridge… They were JUST TOURISTS here that day! NOT CREW! :-)

Another thing I think about when I think of these early miles are the people I met… There was Randle, my pacer Luke’s friend, who I ‘d met the previous year at mile 75 at Leadville. I ran a bit early on with Fred Abramowitz, one of the race directors who was giving his own race a go. I met Mandy, a ski patroller from Utah, who was just cruising and doing so great. And I met Lynn, who told me she’d finished DFL (Dead F—ing Last) at the inaugural Never Summer 100k race earlier in the summer, and I knew then she had the grit and guts to finish this race, and you can read her amazing story (or stories) here.

Mom snapped this as they scared the crap out of us!

Mom snapped this as they scared the crap out of us!

That’s what’s amazing about these races… the people. The people you meet, and the people who support you and help you and believe you and believe INTO you. I love it so much; or rather I love THEM so much.

And so, I dropped down past the falls and saw two more of those people, Mom and Doug who were checking out the area like tourists for the morning and who shouted and cheered. And then up and into the parking lot where my old pal Anne was waiting to join me for the stretch down through town to Olympian Hall, where Melanie was waiting for me at mile 21-ish.

And so, I amend my earlier statement…

Running downhill, on single track trails, through brilliant, glowing light shimmering through a canopy of golden Aspens, set against that particularly Colorado cobalt blue, on a clear and crisp fall morning… with the care and support of so many lovely people.

THAT is just about as good as it gets.

These people. I couldn’t do it without them.


 

For a couple of “pro” pics, check these out!

http://www.comerphotos.com/Running/2015-Run-Rabbit-Run/100M-Tortoise-Start/i-mD2WGhQ/A

https://paulnelson.smugmug.com/2015-Run-Rabbit-Run-100/i-B53c56H/A (with the aforementioned Mandy)

2015 Run Rabbit Run 100 – Part 1

Luke Giltner and I heading out from the Fish Creek Falls Trailhead, mile 46-ish.

Luke put a cup of warm potato soup in my hands, but I was shivering so hard against the mounting cold that I could barely drink it. What I got down though was perhaps the best thing, in terms of food, that’s ever happened to me…. the kind of blissful taste sensation one can only experience when you’ve been primarily consuming gels and chews and sports drinks for the previous 15 hours.

He took off to grab my drop bag and to begin to attend to our needs. We had agreed that I needed to take the time to get some solid food down. I’d been nauseous for a long, long time and I absolutely had to get my caloric intake back up.

I continued to shiver more and more intensely. I somehow managed to wrangle an extra layer of merino wool out of my pack and onto my person, but that fumbling and bumbling effort produced no noticeable change.

Luke was back now, asking me to help him screw the lids on my flasks, but my shaking hands just couldn’t quite do it. Seeing I was of no use, he somehow made it work. I’m still not sure how…

I watched across the fire and noticed that elite runner Timmy Olson was wrapped in a blanket, his face glowed with all of the relief of one who was ending his evening early. And there was Jenn Shelton (of Born to Run fame), dressed for camping, talking loud and telling stories. While she was wearing a parka, she also seemed to have been warmed enough by the Sombra Mezcal in her veins that she had become impervious to the cold.

My shivering moved from “intense” to “violent” as my head grew foggy and I thought I was going to puke from all of the shaking. I tried to sip some more potato soup, but it had already cooled off too much to be palatable.  I sipped a bit more anyway… Need. More. Calories.

An ATV had pulled up to take those who were dropping out back down the mountain, and Timmy left an empty chair close by the fire… I made my way over to it to try and warm up, but it wasn’t working. Even the fire seemed powerless against this clear, cold night.

I looked around at the other runners huddling around the fire, all cold and exhausted and miserable. Many (most?) were clearly not going on. I didn’t want to go on.

I’ve never been so cold. I’ve never shivered and shaken so horribly.

I could just end it now. Take that ATV back down the mountain when it returned…

IMG_2172

Veterans Day Reflections – Running with Chris Scott – Part 2

Part 1 of this story is here, and is essential to understanding what follows…

Back in 2012, when Chris came out for the Leadville Heavy Half Marathon/ Copper Mountain Half Marathon double race weekend, I was in quite good shape and was in high spirits for the races.  But, come that first race morning in Leadville I found that my stomach wasn’t great and I felt terrible.  And that was too bad, because secretly, on the inside, my competitive nature had risen up and I was looking forward to showing my flat-lander friend how we do things here in the mountains.

From 2012

From 2012

Instead, I got to experience Chris’s encouragement, as we trudged up the first hill, me sucking wind and feeling nauseous while he hiked up the hill in front of me.  Backwards.

So, that was awesome.

I eventually shooed him off away from me and I ended up finishing quite a ways behind him in that race, having never turned it around and feeling terrible all day.

Then, the next day at Copper Mountain, I almost caught him, but he saw me on a little out and back section of the course and I told him I was coming for him, but I couldn’t run him down. Dammit.

Chris has this capacity for pain tolerance, coupled with this strange, inner rage monster that just makes him go nuts when the starting gun is fired or a game is started.  I guess that’s part of what his friends love about him.  Or something.

Anyway.

While he was away in Afghanistan, as I’d shared, things would go silent and worry would creep in.  But, eventually, he’d text or send a Facebook message, and we continued our dreaming about the Leadville Marathon and the Trail 100.

image1Which was why we found ourselves texting back and forth on New Years Eve 2013. As 2014 rang in, we rung up our credit cards with Leadville race registration fees as soon as entries were accepted.

Chris had made it back to the states in the fall of 2013 safely.  But even still, those who come home safely still carry heavy emotional and spiritual loads, so it was incredibly encouraging to be scheming on epic adventures together again.

Training for me went well, except for a bit knee wonkiness.  Chris was progressing well, too, until Uncle Sam called for another extended stay in the desert.  At least this time it was only for maneuvers in the US Southwest.  Even still, the heat and exhaustion and the long, long hours took their toll and when I picked Chris up at the airport a few days before the Leadville marathon, it was clear he was weary.

IMG_2172

Chris, on top of Green Mountain. Answered prayer.

His weariness became even more apparent as we went out for a quick jaunt around Green Mountain as our last run before the marathon.  I was excited to show him “my” mountain, and the cairns where I had carried so many prayers for he and his men.  As we made our way up the hill we talked some, but I could tell it was taxing him a bit.  Normally, I have trouble keeping up with him, but now it was reversed.   On top, we stopped for pics and to have a look around at the expansive views of Denver and the foothills.  It was such a simple, profound moment… to have my friend home, safe and there on the hill with me.  A living, breathing answer to prayer.

We headed up to Leadville that night, to spend a couple of days acclimatizing and hanging and catching up.  Melanie and a whole host of other friends who were running either the marathon or the heavy half made their way up the hill and then race morning dawned glorious.

Pre-race. Photo by timdenison.com

Pre-race. Photo by timdenison.com

We all agreed to go at our own paces that day, and we spread out a bit, early on.  But, in a quirk, I found myself with Chris and Joey (Bearss, my running bromance for the summer of 2014) as we began making our way up the second long climb of the day around mile 3 or so.  As we went, Chris unfolded the tale of a long and harrowing battle that he and his men experienced almost exactly one year previous.  It was absolutely staggering to hear such a tale.  Of course, you know that soldiers face danger, but to hear it so directly, from someone so close… It’s sobering and it is awful.

But, in hindsight, it seems like it was good for him to share, like in some small way the telling of the tale helped spread the weight of the experience out, even if just the tiniest bit.  And so we barely replied, we just listened as he spoke of bullets striking at his feet and whistling near his head.

After wrapping up his story, it was clear that Chris’s weariness was holding him back a bit, so with his blessing I went on ahead.  I saw him again near the top of Mosquito Pass.  I had made the turn and was headed back down, and he was still on his way up, battling all 13,186 feet of the pass.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter the race, as we all sat together, shivering against the cold wind, drinking beer and eating great Mexican food, Chris began telling another story…

The story of why this race had meant so much to him that day.

He spoke of the arrangements that have to be made when a soldier heads off to war.

He told how had left instructions with his brother, that if he were killed, he wanted me to get his ashes.

That he wanted me to bring those ashes up to Mosquito Pass and spread them there, where we had shared such simple, glorious adventures.

And yet, here he was.  Through battles and dangers and heat and turmoil in war and mountains half a world away, he’d made it.

Today was his day to climb that hill, himself.

3 years previous, we had joked and laughed that the mountain was trying to kill us, that we’d prevailed and that we were “Not Dead Yet.”

But there on that day, and from now on, “Not Dead Yet” means something so much more…

 

Chris's post from the top of Mosquito...

Chris’s post from the top of Mosquito…

Here's to living, friend...

Here’s to living, friend… Happy Veterans Day!

Chris and I moments before Leadville Marathon, 2011

Veterans Day Reflections – Running with Chris Scott – Part 1

I’ve known Chris Scott since he was a skinny, little 98 pound freshman in high school.  He was squirrel-y, hyper and just a wee bit nerdy.  Let’s just say that I remember watching Star Trek: The Next Generation with him and Dan Hansen, while they had (at least one) model of the Enterprise NC1701-D nearby…

Now, i won’t say they were “playing” with those toy models as freshmen in high school, but those models were definitely close by all during the show…

Chris as a slightly less nerdy junior or senior in high school...

Chris as a slightly less nerdy junior or senior in high school…

A few years later, it was great to reconnect, more as peers, as he became a passionate, intense and spiritually sensitive young man.  He lived with Melanie and I during a couple summers of interning with our youth ministry in Wichita and he and I bonded even more deeply over faith, Little Debbies, basketball, softball and the NBA Finals.

After that, we saw each other a couple of times here and there, and for one slightly longer stint when he lived at the infamous 35 S. Clarkson, here in Denver for a couple of months.

And then, as often happens, we lost track of one another for a number of years.

A lot of life happened to both of us over that time.  There were great times, but also a lot of loss, sorrow, tragedy and difficulty.   Life had weathered us both.

Somewhere along the way, I turned 40 and decided that I wanted to run a marathon to commemorate that milestone.  And for Chris, he joined the Army, despite Ben Fold’s admonitions.

The thing about Chris is that he has always been a little, shall we say, unhinged. 

He’s loud and hilarious and a tremendous story-teller.  There’s generally a lot of shouting and yelling when he’s with friends.  He throws his body around with little regard for pain or consequences, which made him an excellent rugby player.  He’s just not exactly put together “right,” if you know what I mean.   

And, he absolutely cannot back down from a challenge.

So, when I decided to run the 2011 Leadville Trail Marathon for my second marathon experience, and threw down the gauntlet for him to join me, he was defenseless.  It began like this…

Picture 1

That race was so hard.  It was my first mountain race.  And I found out from Chris later on that the longest he’d ever run before that was like 12 miles or something.  He did it on guts and grit and a lot of step-ups in the gym.  He pulled me up the 3000’ climb to Mosquito Pass, and I dragged him back down to Leadville.  We stayed together all-day.  It was an epic experience.

Chris and I moments before Leadville Marathon, 2011

Chris and I moments before Leadville Marathon, 2011

Chris coined a phrase, heading up the mountain that day, and we laughed about it on top of Mosquito Pass… NDY – Not Dead Yet.  We laughed and laughed at the thought that the mountain was trying to kill us… but that in some small way we won.  We were Not Dead Yet…

Finishing

Finishing

Chris kissing the finish line...

Chris kissing the finish line…

Post Race 2011

Post Race 2011

Then in 2012, we ran the Leadville Heavy-Half Marathon on Saturday and then the Copper Mountain Half Marathon on Sunday to create yet another epic weekend.  Mosquito Pass took another chunk out of our hides, but still, we were Not Dead Yet.

Post Leadville Heavy Half 2012

Post Leadville Heavy Half, with Luke Giltner, too, 2012

IMG_0067

Post Copper Mountain Half, 2012

A back-to-back race weekend done...

A back-to-back race weekend done…

Then, Chris came back to Colorado that August, just a month and a half after the Leadville/ Copper combo weekend, to run the Aspen Backcountry Marathon with me.  

Sure, it was partially to chase a cute girl (oh, Chelsea from Aspen…) but it was also to have one last experience together before he shipped out to Afghanistan for a year or more.

Chris was headed off to war.

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Pre Aspen Backcountry Marathon

While the weekend was a blast, with many more memories made and stories forged, there was a soberness to that time, too.  We knew that he was going into a very, very dangerous situation.  It was entirely possible that he could be killed in action.  And knowing Chris the way that I do, I knew that if things got really intense, that crazy son of a bitch would be the first one in and the last one out.  It’s just the way he’s wired.  And so, our embrace at that finish line was just a bit longer and a little tighter than usual.

Post Aspen Embrace

Post Aspen Embrace

Post Aspen, including Dave Stokes, who also raced that weekend

Post Aspen, including Dave Stokes, who also raced that weekend

While he was in Afghanistan, we were able to connect via iMessage and Facebook sporadically, but there were often long gaps in time where things would go silent.  In those times, it was so hard to not let worry creep in and whisper the worst.

As I continued to run and train, moving into trail ultra-marathons, I inevitably thought of my friend often.  I’ve read that the Hopi Indians view running itself as a form of prayer. And so as I ran, I often offered my effort and struggle as prayers for the safety of him and his men.  As I crossed and crisscrossed Green Mountain, I would pick up two rocks, one for Chris and one for his men, and I would carry them up the hill as physical symbols of those prayers and drop them on the cairns at the top.

Eventually, he’d break his radio silence and we’d connect again.  And we began to speak of running the Leadville 100 together, with another go-round at the Leadville Marathon as part of our training.

But, then things would go silent again… (To Be Continued)

The cairns on top of Green Mountain in Lakewood

The cairns on top of Green Mountain in Lakewood

The Scream.  Another angle of this picture was what Lifetime Fitness (who owns the Leadville Race Series) used for their Instagram feed for a while!

The 2014 Leadville Trail 100, Part 7

(This is Part 7 of my Leadville Trail 100 race story.  Part 1 is here and Part 2 is here and Part 3 is here and Part 4 is here  and Part 5 is here and Part 6 is here if you want to catch up! Also, I’m verbose. Thank you so much for sticking with the story so far!!)

Also, there are a LOT of pictures in this post…

Mayqueen (87) to Tabor Boat Ramp (94), or “Why Melanie Owed Paul a Case of Beer!”

When I recruited Paul to pace me for Leadville, the original plan was for him to bring me to Mayqueen and then for Melanie to take me the rest of the way home to Leadville.

But, after Melanie experienced a couple of bad falls on technical trails during her training, and since the first several miles out of Mayqueen towards Leadville are still a bit tech-y, we decided to ask Paul if he’d be willing to continue on to Tabor Boat Ramp with me.  He gamely agreed, as I assured him that geriatrics with walkers move faster that I would be moving at that point…

As we came into Mayqueen, we quickly browsed for more saltines and potato chips, as they were still the only things that I could eat, we grabbed a few handfuls of food and quickly moved on.

Almost immediately upon leaving the aid area, I saw a familiar figure up ahead… IT WAS JOEY! And, his lovely wife Shannan had just joined him, even though I thought it was still Sara with him, from a distance.

I yelled, he waved and we caught up with them soon enough… because his left knee had sort of locked up and gone wonky on him.  He could no longer manage a jog without immense pain, but he was walking quickly.

We chatted about the state of our bodies, the extreme difficulties of the race and we began, just ever so slightly, to let it sink in that we were going to finish this freaking thing, even though we still had a half-marathon to go…

I was miraculously feeling great, and by “great” I mean that everything hurt badly, but my spirits were high and I felt like moving, so with Joey’s blessings and assurances he was finishing, Paul and I pulled ahead just a bit.

We fell in with quite a long conga line of runners and pacers, and together we began snaking our way around the northern edge of Turquoise Lake.  The sun was rising, casting a beautiful hue on the landscape and the water.  It was pretty magical.

Mostly, we were hiking fast, with occasional jogs and hops down the little hills we were encountering.  There’s a lot of up and down around the lake in that section, but nothing too high or tedious at all, really.  It’s pretty rocky, and a little tech-y there, but not terribly so.  We were all moving well, and no one really had the energy to pull away from anyone else.

And with a quick bathroom stop, Joey and Shannan caught right back up to us, so he was still moving very, very well, too!  I believe we yo-yoed like this a couple of times?  But, it’s becoming a bit fuzzy…

I do remember being in that conga line of people and someone who really WAS moving quite fast came up on us, and they were immediately behind Paul and I… it was clear they wanted to pass, but there just wasn’t a good spot for them to do so, and they were content to bide their time for a while.  Which was super unfortunate, because the runner kept making hacking sounds EXACTLY LIKE GOLLUM.  It was pretty gross, and shockingly regular.  He just kept doing it… gives me the heebie-jeebies thinking about it.   Soon enough, though, the trail opened up a bit and they passed all of us, with our glad consent.

The other thing I remember about this section is that it was ETERNAL!  We initially believed Tabor Boat Ramp was only 4 miles away from Mayqueen.  I don’t know why we believed that because it’s a LIE.  It was so far.  In thinking back to when I paced Ben through this section two years ago, I remember it feeling very, very long then, too.  It just seems to stretch on and on and on… and we were in a little conga line then, too… with another couple runners and pacers.  Ben really didn’t want to eat anything more at that time.  He was pretty quiet and just so very tired.  And so very tired of people asking him to eat things.  That annoyed me at the time, because my job as a pacer was to help him eat and keep going.

And now, I know why Ben was so tired of people asking him to eat!  Because I WAS SO DONE with eating and people asking me to eat and of watching the clock around eating and blah, blah, blah.

I mean, I knew I needed it, but I REALLY didn’t want to eat anything else.  But, the reality was, I still had double-digit miles to go and there was still plenty of opportunity for the wheels to fall off the wagon.  And so, I’d nibble on chips and crackers dutifully when asked.

Eventually, Paul and I passed the rest of that conga line, I believe.  And we began to hear sounds of people yelling and cheering!  Tabor Boat Ramp was near.

It was far more than the 4 extra miles that Paul had bargained for, and Paul and I had kept saying that Melanie owed him a case of beer for this one… Paul had only trained up for a half marathon and by the time we finished he’d done 17 or 18 heroic miles.

Rolling into Tabor Boat Ramp

Rolling into Tabor Boat Ramp

We came up on the boat ramp and had one last little crew exchange.  Melanie had fully readied herself to take me home.  Paul handed some things over.  I changed out of my warm, overnight clothes and we emptied my pack of almost everything except some water, and Melanie kept some chips and crackers to keep feeding me.

And as we were getting ready to head out, along came Joey and Shannan again, the hitch in his giddy-up as pronounced as ever.  But he was still moving!

Joey and Shannan catching up to us!

Joey and Shannan catching up to us!

Melanie ready to pace!

Melanie ready to pace!

Sara displaying the coveted "Pacer Bib"

Sara displaying the coveted “Pacer Bib”

Getting ready for the last leg

Getting ready for the last leg

Note the chips...

Note the chips…

To the finish!!

To the finish!!

Tabor Boat Ramp (94) to Finish (100)

As Melanie and I got started, we passed them again almost immediately.  I was ready to jog a tiny bit and felt as good as I could have…

But, because there was a great deal of conjecture around exactly how far we were from the finish line (some said 6 or 7, and because of pre-race calculations we wondered if it might not even still be close to 9 miles), and because the time was beginning to become an issue, I was a bit concerned that Joey wasn’t going to make it…

In downtown Leadville, at the Start/ Finish line, a crowd gathers on Sunday morning to cheer the final runners home.  And as the clock strikes 30 hours, they fire that big ol’ shotgun once again to signal the end of the race.

Over and over again this summer, as Joey and I raced and trained and talked together looking forward to this day, we talked about how abjectly awful it would be to be on the home stretch, with the finish line in sight, and then to hear that shotgun go off… it was our greatest fear.

And so, Melanie and I couldn’t go without Joey and Shannan.  We reasoned out how fast we had to go over the next hour to make sure we all got there in time, and that lit a fire in Joey.  We decided that in a mile or so, when we got to the smooth gravel road they call “Broadway” we’d jog a minute and walk a minute, jog a minute, walk a minute to make up time.

"Broadway" at about mile 97

“Broadway” at about mile 95

We finished hustling the trail around Turquoise Lake, dropped down the last steep pitch of the day away from the lake and onto Broadway.  We jogged a bit and then we’d walk.  And this was an absolutely heroic thing for Joey to do because I know he was in so much pain.  But, he wasn’t about to miss that finish line cutoff.

A little jogging around mile 95.

A little jogging around mile 95.

Once again, we came up on some of the #WCE who’d driven ahead and found a spot to cheer us on again.

And then we got some more confirmation about how far we were from the finish… and we knew that we’d be able to walk it in and make the cutoff, just fine.

We had nothing left to prove.

And so began one of my favorite parts of the whole day… just having a good long time to share the road/ trail with my wife and with Joey and Shannan.  We told stories.  We wondered aloud how badly the finish line announcer would butcher our names.  We reminisced over the day.  We reminisced over the summer of racing and preparation and training.

Me and Joey and Shannan, somewhere around mile 96?

Me and Joey and Shannan, somewhere around mile 96?

We were simply “together” in this amazing, ridiculous experience.

We were so exhausted. We were beginning to get hungry and to fantasize about what we might eat.  We hurt… so, so much.  But, that finish line was getting closer.

The last several miles of this race are, cruelly, uphill, and we continued along, grumbling about the relentlessly obnoxious, but not terribly awful, slow and steady climb up to Leadville.

It was well into the 29th hour when we finally made the little jog to the left, and then back again to the right at the corner of 6th and McWethy.  We were on pavement again, on the famous 6th avenue.

Just a little uphill, and then you see it… the finish line.  It’s still ¾ of a mile away, but there it is…

Joey, with the finish line coming into view...

Joey, with the finish line coming into view…

Checking the time, as the finish line comes into view...

Checking the time, as the finish line comes into view…

And you begin to be encouraged by townsfolk and other spectators who are there simply to watch and to encourage and to celebrate the runners who’ve been out there for so long… it’s pretty incredible to experience these heartfelt congratulations from complete strangers.

Mugging up a bit before the finish line

Mugging up a bit before the finish line

So symbolic...

So symbolic…

At long, long last, you’re within a quarter mile of the finish.

It is a bit of a blur to me now… Joey wanted me to go ahead of him, so we could each have our own finish line experience and photo. We shared a hug before the finish.  Then, his daughter Riley ran out to him, so incredible.

Joey and Riley Mo Bizzle...

Joey and Riley Mo Bizzle…

Joey and I share a hug before the finish...

Joey and I share a hug before the finish… in the back of the picture, on the right :-)

The last few feet...

The last few feet…

Melanie let me go, as the pacers typically veer off to let the runner finish.

A bit of hesitation and shuffling with other runners… the announcer calls your name…

And then… That’s it.

Finished.

100 miles… of work and sweat and cold and heat and suffering and joy and glory and misery and darkness and light and love and on and on and on…

I threw both fists in the air and screamed.  And I could feel that scream reaching deep, just ever so slightly beginning to tap into deep, deep reservoirs of emotion that had been built up by this experience, along with all of the training and preparation.  And I wanted to keep on screaming and screaming and screaming…

The Scream.  Another angle of this picture was what Lifetime Fitness (who owns the Leadville Race Series) used for their Instagram feed for a while!

The Scream. Another angle of this picture was what Lifetime Fitness (who owns the Leadville Race Series) used for their Instagram feed!

But, then it’s time to hug Marilee (the race’s co-founder who has stood at every finish line and hugged every Leadville finisher, ever…) and it’s time to get weighed and checked and it all becomes somewhat confusing and I felt like a dog with too many people calling its name.

But then, I was just so happy.  I hugged everyone in the #WCE.   And there was Ryan (Chelsey’s fiancé!)!  And there was Kimiko and Kalena and Annie (Paul’s wife and family)!

And I hugged Luke and Paul so deep and so long.  I knew it then, but as I’ve continued to reflect over and over, there is absolutely no way I would have made it without them.  No way.  All of Luke’s nudging over Hope and through the night, and then Paul’s slowly, surely ratcheting up the pace… I wouldn’t have made it without them.  No way.

And Melanie… my long-suffering wife, who crew-chiefed like a champ all day and night and then who brought me the rest of the way home.

Melanie and I...

Melanie and I…

And I embraced Joey.  So many memories from this long season of training and racing and shared struggles, and here we were… 100 mile finishers.

Then, Emily put her phone in my hand and it was Ben!  He’d just watched Joey and I finish over the online streaming feed!  It killed him to not be able to be there, where two of his best friends were finally joining him in an experience he knows so intimately well.  His encouragement and example and insights have been so incredibly valuable to both Joey and me.  It was so good to share the moment with him, too, even from far away.  What a great, great friend.

Finally, we sat down and there were pictures and stories and then, more tears.

The fact that my efforts mean so much to so many of my friends… that they’re willing to give up their time and sleep and comfort to help me accomplish such things…

It is overwhelming; the magnitude of it all… and it’s nearly impossible to communicate my gratitude.

And it is also nearly impossible to communicate the scope and the scale of the experience… it’s just so vast.  And still, after 7 parts and so many thousands of words, I feel like I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface…

Thank you so much for reading.

(More pics… You can click on one and then use the “previous” and “next” links on top right to scroll through big versions…)

 

 

 

The inflatable alien looked something like this... and NO, I was not hallucinating... Even though hallucinations are a part of ultra running lore...

The 2014 Leadville Trail 100, Part 6

(This is Part 6 of my Leadville Trail 100 race story.  Part 1 is here and Part 2 is here and Part 3 is here and Part 4 is here  and Part 5 is here if you want to catch up! Also, I’m verbose. Thank you so much for sticking with the story so far!!)

Outward Bound (76) to Mayqueen (87)

Leaving Outward Bound

Leaving Outward Bound

Amen…

Amen.

I don’t remember exactly what Paul prayed for us, but it was perfect.  Just exactly what was needed in that moment…

I was slipping into a pretty quiet, reflective space… the rush of being with everyone at the aid station was ebbing away.  The reality that we had a long way to go, and a (relatively) short time to get there was sinking in… and I wasn’t at all sure we were going to make it.

It was all turning over and over in my mind.  I’d keep going, no matter how long it took, but it was pretty overwhelming to consider that after all of this… after 22+ hours today, and months and months of focus and preparation and training and struggle, I was going to miss the last cutoff.  I was quite sure of it…

But, Paul (who used to have the nickname “Sulu” on our fishing trips, because he’d use his GPS to guide us to our destination like the good Lieutenant did on Star Trek) had worked out the pace we needed to maintain to get to Mayqueen ahead of the cutoff.  And he was tracking that pace with his iPhone, feeding me results ever half mile or so. It was clear he was going to do everything he could to get me there…

For a mile or so out of Outward Bound, we climbed a gentle incline up Lake County road 300, past the Leadville Fish Hatchery and then there was a downward slope for most of the way to the base of Powerline.  We managed to jog a bit, here and there, and soon enough we found ourselves at the base of the climb.  There would be no jogging for quite some time.

Took this image of the Powerline climb from a mountain biker's page. Now, imagine it in the dark...

Took this image of the Powerline climb from a mountain biker’s page. Now, imagine it in the dark…

As I’ve shared previously, the really devious thing about the Leadville course is that, on the return trip, on the way back, all of the climbs are steeper than they were on the way out.  And here we were facing this last Beast. Number Six.  Steep and rutted.  Long and painful.  There’s nothing to do but keep going…

Paul began a rhythm of keeping just ahead of me, calling out a good path to follow up the hill.  I think I might have asked him to do that, or maybe he did anyway, but he was great at it… just leading the way up the hill, picking the best line through the ruts and channels and rocks.

He was so encouraging.  Letting me know when it was going to be time for a feeding, which at this point was nothing more than half a saltine or so… SOOOO far removed from the 20-30 grams of carbs that I should have been consuming.  But, somehow, someway, I was still moving. He’d tell me “good job” when we’d push a little bit, talking and he’d talk and tell stories, but not obnoxiously so.  I knew from our conversations before the race that he was nervous about pacing, but he handled it like an old pro.  He was perfect.

But, back to this “push a little bit” thing… it was a little annoying that he kept stinking passing people!  We’d come on a runner and their pacer and he’d every so slightly ratchet up the pace to get around them, and so I’d follow, a bit dolefully, but I didn’t have the energy or gumption to complain.  So, we kept going.

The Powerline climb as seen from the road...

The Powerline climb as seen from the road…

Afterwards, Paul confessed to me that he kept doing that as an experiment to see if I would follow, if I could do it, and when I could, he kept on doing it.  Deviously perfect pacing.  Getting a bit more out of me than I thought I could do…

Then the hill would level off, then climb again, the level off again, and then climb again.  We were caught in Powerline’s spell and it was discouraging… I’d heard from others that there were 5 false summits.  We counted what we thought was 5, then 6, then 7, and then we stopped trying to count.  It was interminable.  I kept being sure I knew where I was from coming that way 20+ hours earlier and then it would pitch back upwards once again.  And with the darkness, there’s just no way to tell where we were…

Paul maintained his encouragements, and I was so grateful, even if all I could muster in return was a quiet “Thanks.”

Suddenly, we heard sounds… music, shouting, cheering… But, there’s no aid station at the top of the Powerline climb… Then we saw lights.  There was definitely something happening.

Some group, some merry band of well-wishers who I believe had called themselves the “Space Camp” had driven up the back side of the pass and set up a party spot, with lights, music, dancing with inflatable space aliens and a big banner stretched across the trail that said (pardon the language, I’m just reporting here) “Nice Fucking Work!”  I should also add that the distinct smell of a certain legalized herb filled the air, too.  They were having a blast and celebrating our efforts and it was quite a boost to pass through their joyous throng!

The inflatable alien looked something like this... and NO, I was not hallucinating... Even though hallucinations are a part of ultra running lore...

The inflatable alien looked something like this… and NO, I was not hallucinating… Even though hallucinations are a part of ultra running lore…

And with that, we’d passed over the top of the Powerline Climb.  The Sixth Beast was finished.  Six climbs. Thousands of feet.  Done.

That did not mean it was all downhill from there on out, but there was definitely nothing left that had that degree of difficulty.

And once again, it was very ordinary.  No celebratory whoops or hollers.  Just movement.  Forward progress.  We were somewhere around the 80 mile mark, and Paul’s iPhone died shortly thereafter.  We weren’t exactly sure how far we had to go, and we were no longer sure of our pace.

The barely passable 4×4 road of the climb gave way to a more gentle and buffed out surface as we began making our way down Hagerman Pass road.  And we began attempting some jogging, too.  Picking out a marker a hundred yards or so down the way, then jogging our way there, then walking for a bit, then jogging for a bit.  I really wanted to be going faster, but there was just nothing there…

Elevation Profile - The Beasts

Elevation Profile – The Beasts

For some reason, I remember passing a runner through here that was on the verge of completely loosing their shizz, like getting ready to come unhinged… I don’t know if Paul noticed, but I could tell they were on the brink…  It’s a bit fuzzy now.  I sort of wondered if we should have stopped.

It also occurs to me that as we were coming over the top of the climb, I looked back down the hill and could see many, many headlights streaming up the hill and it made me so sad to realize that so many of those people were absolutely not going to make it ahead of the cutoff.  They were so far behind us and I was still unsure of our making it…

But there was nothing at all to do for them, and we had to keep moving.

After several switchbacks, the course rejoined the single-track of the Colorado Trail, which we’d follow until joining the pavement at the Mayqueen campground.  By now, the darkest of the night was over and the sky was lightening in the east.  It was still very dark in the forest, but morning was coming.  Light was gathering.

We’d gone past the 24-hour mark and were now deep into the 25th hour.  We were jogging and hopping and walking down the hill as quick as we could.  Everything hurt.  Like, seriously, everything.  Every. Single. Thing.

And I’d had a thought at points in training for Leadville, that if everything is going to hurt anyway, you might as well move as fast as you can… I may have even said something like that to Paul, as we hopped and jogged and stumbled and walked our way down the trail.

It was getting to be very near light enough to see without our headlamps when we crossed a couple of bridges that I knew were very, very close to the Mayqueen aid station.  And sure enough, we popped out of the forest and onto the paved road that weaves around Turquoise lake, and that would take us to Mayqueen.

Just before the aid station, we almost passed the #WCE without them recognizing us.  They weren’t yet looking for us, and they were startled to see us…

Because it was 5:55 am.

What I had planned on taking 4:45 had only taken us 3:30.

We had done it.  Well, really, Paul had done it.

He’d gotten me to Mayqueen half an hour ahead of the cutoff.

With flash, makes it look darker than it was. Note Melanie's blanket, because it was so freaking cold.

With flash, makes it look darker than it was. Note Melanie’s blanket, because it was so freaking cold.

Without flash, but blurry.

Without flash, but blurry. Note that Paul is managing my pack, along with what he was carrying for himself.  He’s such a trooper…