Category Archives: general posting

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. 🙂

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.

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 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…

 

The 2014 Leadville Trail 100, Part 5

(This is Part 5 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 if you want to catch up! Also, I’m verbose. I hope I don’t lose those of you who’ve read these so far!)

The Darkness

The Darkness

Twin Lakes (60) to Treeline (71) to Outward Bound (76)

They altered course and made for this land, mostly by oar, for the wind would not serve them to sail northeast.  When evening fell they were still a long way from it and rowed all night.  Next morning the weather was fair but a flat calm.  The dark mass lay ahead, much nearer and larger, but still very dim, so that some thought it was still a long way off and others though they were running into a mist.

About nine that morning, very suddenly, it was so close that they could see that it was not land at all, nor even, in an ordinary sense, a mist.  It was a Darkness.  It is rather hard to describe, but you will see what it was like if you imagine yourself looking into the mouth of a railway tunnel – a tunnel either so long or so twisty that you cannot see the light at the far end.  And you know what it would be like.  For a few feet you would see the rails and sleepers and gravel in broad daylight; then there would come a place where they were in twilight; and then, pretty suddenly, but of course without a sharp dividing line, they would vanish altogether into smooth, solid blackness.  It was just so here.  For a few feet in front of their bows they could see the swell of the bright greenish-blue water.  Beyond that, they could see the water looking pale and gray as it would look late in the evening.  But beyond that again, utter blackness as if they had come to the edge of moonless and starless night.

Caspian shouted to the boatswain to keep her back, and all except the rowers rushed forward and gazed from the bows.  But there was nothing to be seen by gazing.  Behind them was the sea and the sun, before them the Darkness.

“Do we go into this?” asked Caspian at length.

“Not by my advice,” said Drinian.

“The Captain’s right,” said several sailors.

“I almost think he is,” said Edmund.

Lucy and Eustace didn’t speak but they felt very glad inside at the turn things seemed to be taking.  But all at once the clear voice of Reepicheep broke in upon the silence.

“And why not?” he said. “Will someone explain to me why not.”

No one was anxious to explain, so Reepicheep continued: “If I were addressing peasants or slaves,” he said, “I might suppose that this suggestion proceeded from cowardice.  But I hope it will never be told in Narnia that a company of noble and royal persons in the flowers of their age turned tail because they were afraid of the dark.”

“But what manner of use would it be plowing through that blackness?” asked Drinian.

“Use?” replied Reepicheep. “Use, Captain?  If by use you mean filling our bellies or our purses, I confess it will be no use at all.  So far as I know we did not set sail to look for things useful but to seek honor and adventure.  And here is as great an adventure as ever I heard of, and here, if we turn back, no little impeachment of all our honors.”

Ben and I at UROC last year.

Ben and I at UROC last year.

In the weeks leading up to Leadville, I’d thought of this passage, from C.S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader, often.  Last year, I’d done a 100k race that was, by many estimations, much longer than the 62 miles that comprise a typical 100k.  Some said it was maybe even 66 or 69 miles.

Whatever the case, it was the farthest I’ve ever gone, and the reason I thought so often about this passage from “Dawn Treader” was that at some point, between Twin Lakes and Treeline, I was going to go further and enter a form of the Darkness; the unknown, a realm of mileage and experience that I knew not.

Out there in that cold, dark mountain air I was going to step beyond the bounds of anything I’d ever done before.

I imagined it somewhat romantically, dramatically… of approaching a place of extreme pain and difficulty, stopping, maybe even stumbling to the ground… And then rising up again, puffing up my chest and bravely resolving to continue on into the Darkness in spite of my suffering… to seek honor and adventure.

The reality, as usual, was much more, well… real.

Somewhere, out in that cold, dark mountain air, I did actually pass from a measure of mileage that I had done, and into a distance I’d never covered… and I didn’t even notice.

Mostly, I was thinking about puking.

There was no soldiering bravely on.  No heroic chest puffing… just the all-consuming sensations of waves of nausea and of thinking about how much I hate puking (I’m viscerally afraid of it for some reason) and how much I didn’t want to puke, but that maybe it was, indeed, time to puke…

Leaving Twin Lakes at mile 60, I felt freaking great, all things considered.  I was warmed up physically by a change of clothes and emotionally by seeing my friends and loved ones again.  I was amped to have dispatched with Hope Pass for the day.  I was excited to have eaten quite a bit.

And as Luke and I made our way up that long, slow climb out of Twin Lakes, things began to burble and gurgle in my stomach.  The mix of chocolate covered éclairs and chicken flavored ramen noodles turned to funk in my stomach and I felt absolutely awful.

Bad equation.

Bad equation.

The steepness and length of the climb (1500’ or so over 2.5-3 miles) were not helping (note for aspiring Leadville runners… ALL of the climbs on the way back to Leadville are much steeper than they were on the way out to Winfield.  All of them.  Steeper.  I knew this mentally, but the physical, actual reality was a bit much to take…) and my breathing was better than it had been up on top of Hope, but it still wasn’t great, which meant my climbing was S L O W, slow, slow.  Luke continued to occasionally ask me about heart attack symptoms, of which nausea is one, but I knew it was that rotten mix of foods in my stomach that was doing me in… just slightly sloshing about, causing the back of my throat to be on constant high alert.

Luke tried to get me to eat through here, as I was now spectacularly off schedule for my 20-minute feedings, and I could hear the concern in his voice, and I was concerned, too.  But I just couldn’t do it. I could not put anything else in my body.  It’s the strangest thing.

I also knew that this stretch of trail was crucial for NOT loosing too much time.  Once we got to the top of the hill (finishing off number five of six great beasts for the day), it was all gradual downhill for another 7 miles or so… We’d heard it from the experts.  We’d seen the reality of this from Ben and Becki’s running of Leadville the previous years.  And I knew it, too.  You can make up time here.  Or, you can loose time here… and I had planned on running/ jogging much of this stretch.

Plans.  Hilarious.  The distance and effort and altitude mock our plans.

So, we hobbled along.  Luke was so great.  Encouraging, challenging… But, I just didn’t have much energy in the tank… Thankfully, my hiking/ walking pace is still pretty fast, and Luke is as big as I am, so we were passing miles pretty quickly, all things considered… but, it was not fast.

Finally, I’d had enough.  “I think I’m going to do it, man… I’m just going to make myself puke.”

Because of my weird, complicated history of vomiting, just saying those words out loud to Luke was so incredibly hard.  But, I’d heard stories of how that can sometimes help reset the system…

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, brother,” was Luke’s reply. “You gotta keep something in there.”  He knew that I was so far behind on my nutrition that to lose what little I had left in there could be disastrous.  And in hindsight, I think he was right. “We’ll get you broth and some crackers or something at the next aid station. And you’ll be alright.”

I was getting loopy.  I wasn’t thinking clearly and I was barely talking.  It was probably also beginning to show in the sounds of my footsteps, getting more and more sloppy.  I was deep inside my own head space and I could vaguely understand and hear the concern in Luke’s voice.

The Half Pipe aid station sits at miles 31 and 69, between Outward Bound and Twin Lakes as an official race aid station, but because there’s also the unofficial crew access point at Treeline, it sits awfully close to where we’d see the #WCE again.  I’d barely stopped on my way out, but now… it held out the only hope of getting something in my system to keep me going.

We finally came upon the aid station and grabbed the broth and the saltines to go.  It’s a bit fuzzy now.  I remember lots of people there, runners and pacers.  Too many sitting down, it seems to me.  It’s dangerous to sit too much that late in a race…

I was making it a point to loudly thank all of the volunteers at every stop, and I think/ hope I did so once again.  That people give themselves to make these events possible for us is so, so amazing…

Race saver.

Race saver.

I tried the broth and found that I could do it; I could actually sip it without it immediately activating the gag reflex.  And I could nibble a bit on the saltines, too.  Glory.

The effect was very nearly instantaneous and profound.  I began to move quicker.  I became much more talkative.  We may have even shuffled a few steps here and there.  Soon, we’d rounded the corner and were coming upon the Treeline crew access area.

It was now 1:20 am.  I was nearly 2 hours behind schedule…

We didn’t immediately find the #WCE, and I backtracked a ways to make use of the port-a-potty.  I had begun to feel the presence of the Big Brown Bear once again and had to clear the system.  I don’t think I was able to go much at all, but once I got out of the potty I found that Luke had found the crew.  We gave them back Joey’s bib, since we had most definitely NOT caught up to them on that last stretch.

And lo and behold, Paul was here!  Paul Egy was on the scene, getting ready to pace me from Outward Bound, in just a few miles, and he’d come up early to help out!  It was a great boost to see him.

Paul and soup at Treeline. Both warming my soul.

Paul and soup at Treeline. Both warming my soul.

Melanie and Chelsey had, in the time since Twin Lakes, gone back to Becki’s place in Leadville to make some coffee and heat up some soup, as that had been part of the plan (and a great evidence of their love for me).  I wasn’t able to sip the coffee, but the soup sounded good, so I was able to get a bit of that down, with some more bread and crackers.

Soon enough, we were on our way again.  Luke needed a bit of a pit stop, so I continued on.  Having a few minutes alone, I began to feel like this was really coming together.  I was eating, at least a little, again and I was moving well… I had the though that I might just actually be able to finish this thing!  I got a little emotional thinking about it.

Luke caught up again and we made our way out to the road section and struggled a bit to find where the gate opened up to the treacherous cow pasture across the land owned by Outward Bound, where we could see the Outward Bound aid station off in the distance.

As we made our way across the field (and I almost snapped my ankle twice before really focusing in and following Luke closely) Luke recognized a friend, and I can’t remember if it was a runner or a pacer… whatever the case, I slipped deep into my own world again…

And then we were at the Outward Bound aid station.  76 miles done.  Further than I’d ever gone before.  We’d crossed that threshold into the Darkness.

Post port-a-potty at Outward Bound

Post port-a-potty at Outward Bound. Don’t I look good?

Once again, though, I needed to slip into the port-a-potty while Luke made the handoff of pack and provisions to Paul, briefing him on my care and feeding.  I wrapped up my experience in the port-a-potty and came back to the crew to some difficult news.

It was now 2:30 am and we had to head into battle the Sixth Beast, that last monster of the day.  It goes by many names, but most know it as the Powerline Climb.  It’s a deceitful, treacherous bastard, with multiple false summits and God-awful, horrible rutted-out footing, with lots of loose rocks, big boulders and roots.

Luke and Paul making the handoff

Luke and Paul making the handoff

But, I knew, and had known, that’s what we were facing… the difficult news was that I was now 2 hours behind schedule, and we only had 4 hours to make it to the Mayqueen aid station before the cutoff at 6:30 am.  In my pre-race planning, I’d given myself 4:45 to get there, and now I had 45 minutes LESS than that…

And, knowing how slow my climbing had been, and how little fuel I’d been able to get down, I had the slow, spreading realization that I wasn’t going to make it.

There was just no way.

I didn’t let on about my thoughts, though, I don’t think.

I hugged and thanked Luke.  He’d gotten me through 27 very, very difficult miles with patient encouragement.  I am so, so, incredibly grateful.

Paul and I heading out of Outward Bound. Just 4 hours to make it ahead of cutoff...

Paul and I heading out of Outward Bound. Just 4 hours to make it ahead of cutoff…

Then, we said goodbye to the rest of the crew as Paul and I headed out.  He was upbeat and positive and ready to go.  We were walking quickly.

But, inside myself, I knew that we weren’t going to make it.  There was just no way.  We were going miss the cutoff.

As we began to get into a rhythm, about a half-mile from the aid station, Paul began to pray…

The 2014 Leadville Trail 100, Part 4

(This is Part 4 of my Leadville Trail 100 race story.  Part 1 is here and Part 2 is here and Part 3 is here, if you want to catch up! Also, I’m verbose. I hope I don’t lose those of you who’ve read these so far!)

Part 4: On Top of Hope Pass (45) to Winfield (50)

Do you know that feeling when your car just starts kind of running rough… it’s not too dramatic, but something just doesn’t seem right?

That’s sort of how I felt as I came over the top of Hope Pass.  I believe the time was already after 4:00 pm, which meant there was no way I was going to be able to make it down to Winfield at my hoped for (get it?) 4:30 pm.

I’d not felt super great coming up the front side of Hope, but then again, I chalked it up to the fact I’d done more than 40 mountain miles and that I was climbing to the highest point on the course.

But, I figured I’d make good time down the backside of Hope and into Winfield, so I started making my way down.  Almost immediately, I came upon Becki, who was absolutely crushing it!  She was cruising uphill, very near the top and was about to bomb back to Twin Lakes, hours ahead of me! We said a super quick hello, without stopping because we were both super focused, but it was a boost to see a familiar face!

I started running/ hopping/ jogging my way down, but there is something to note about the backside of Hope Pass… it’s freaking steep.  And, the further down you get, the steeper it gets… steep enough that solid running became somewhat impossible… especially with the steady stream of runners making their way back up the trail on their way towards Leadville again.

Backside of Hope, Trees section. Taken a few weeks after race...

Backside of Hope, Trees section. Taken a few weeks after race…

But, I made good time.  One runner, who made it plain to everyone in earshot that she’d run this race many, many times, shared that she thinks of the backside of Hope in 3 sections: the switchbacks, the rocks and the trees.  This is actually a pretty helpful understanding.  After you crest the top of the pass, the trail meanders back and forth and back and forth in a series of switchbacks, and it’s quite runnable.  Then, the trail enters a series of very, very technical rocky areas with some scree and some large boulders.  Finally, the trail enters a gorgeous aspen forest, and begins to tilt precipitously down.  And along with the tilt, the constitution of the trail switches from rocks to deep, dark, rooty earth.  The beauty of the forest belies the treacherousness of the trail.

If you’re not careful, you can easily catch a toe and fall.  Exactly like I did!

I had not fallen since much earlier in the morning with my mishap on the road, but this was a different sort of fall.  The first time, I’d lurched forward.  This time, because the hill was so steep, and because I keep my weight shifted back when going downhill, the effect was to drop me onto my butt, so it didn’t hurt at all.

But, because my fatigued left leg had instinctively shot out to catch me, my left calf seized into a giant knot, a massive Charlie-horse, locking my lower leg up completely.

The kind souls in front asked if I was okay, and I was…

Mostly…

Sort of…

I was just waiting to see if my left calf was going to release itself.

I actually wondered if this was it.  If this was how it was going to end, with me miles from an aid station with a locked up lower leg giving me a clubfoot.

But, with a few wiggles of the toes and some massaging, it loosened up enough for me to stand and get walking.  And with a little walking, I jogged a bit.  It loosened all the way up and I was good to go!

Phew.

Shortly after this, we came to what I thought was the bottom of the trail, where we turned right to make our way to Winfield, at last.

You see… the only time I’d gone up and down this section of trail was a couple of years previous, and the course had changed since I’d scoped it out in planning for Ben’s running of Leadville.  And this little spur over to Winfield was completely new to me.

And so, I kept moving to get there.

With the excitement of the fall fading, and with the reality that I (thought I) was at the bottom, I began to notice the “rough running engine” a bit more.  My chest had been tight and my breathing had been shallow, but again I had chalked that up to being up higher.   And here I was down lower and it wasn’t getting better.

But, I was still moving well, and I was still eating and drinking okay, so I kept on.

I found myself in another “conga line” with a bunch of runners.  And it was clear none of us had ever done this section of trail before.  The girl who was in the lead of the line, just a couple of runners ahead, kept asking the runners coming towards us how much further to Winfield. “Just a mile or so…”

Great! I’ll pick up Luke, and we’ll get back up and over Hope again…

Luke and Chris waiting in Winfield

Luke and Chris waiting in Winfield

But, quite a bit of time went by and runners kept answering, over and over again, “Just a mile or so…” or, “about a mile, not much further,” or “your so close!”

And more and more time went by and the answer didn’t freaking change!  And since none of us had been on that section of trail, it became infuriating.

And something subtle happened, and in hindsight, it’s very clear to me, but at the time, I didn’t pick up on it… Negativity started seeping in.

The girl out in front of the line began complaining loudly about how much further we had to go.  And I didn’t have the energy to pass her.  Others around chimed in with some negativity.  I felt that negativity.

And I began to feel crappier, and crappier.  My chest hurt more.  My breathing was shallower.  I was struggling.  Hard.  I began to have those thoughts that I mentioned way back in Part 1 of this series… that I just wanted to be done.  I just wanted to be finished.  Maybe I DID have HAPE and I was about to die?

And still people kept freaking answering, “Just a mile or so more!” so cheerfully… but by now we knew it was all LIES!

Winfield would never come.  And if it did, maybe I could just be done because I had a life threatening medical condition.

Oh, the histrionics of an ultra.

(Side Note: I’m absolutely astonished at the massive power of negativity to derail and distract.  It’s crazy how low I got in such a short time.  I attribute much of how terrible I felt to just swimming in negativity for a while…)

Eventually, we’d made it… the trail markers turned left and we dropped off the trail, down onto the road into Winfield.  Well, we’d sort of made it… it was still another quarter mile down the road to get to the aid station/ turn around point.  Grrrr.

Although this pic is from earlier in the day, this is me and my friend Deanna!

Although this pic is from earlier in the day, this is me and my friend Deanna, in the pink top!

I found Luke, and my aforementioned seminary friend Deanna and they were ecstatic to see me.  I also saw Chris Doucet, who was there with Luke and Deanna, waiting to pace Joey back up and over… he stayed along the road to keep an eye out for Joey.

I was, as I’ve shared, in a bit of a dark place. So, we got my numbers checked in the med tent (see Part 1 for the full story), and once I was cleared medically, there was no doubt, no hesitation… it was time to get going again!  We just had to keep an eye on things to make sure I wasn’t having a heart attack.  No big deal.

Luke and Deanna helped me repack my pack with some of the stuff that Luke had carried with him when Sara dropped he and Chris off earlier.  A few sips of this, a nibble of that and we were out and on our way once again, with encouragement from Deanna and Chris.

 

Winfield (50) to Twin Lakes (60)

Luke freaking Giltner.  Luke is awesome.  While I was still in a pretty negative headspace, Luke was great.  Encouraging and pushing, but not too hard…

We got back up on the trail spur towards the base of Hope and started making pretty good time.  My chest was tight, but it was manageable.  Luke kept asking about the symptoms of a heart attack that the medical personnel had shared: “Are you just short of breath, or is your left arm getting numb?”

Halfway up the Backside of Hope, looking back towards Winfield. Photo by Luke. He had all kinds of time, waiting for my slow ass...

Halfway up the Backside of Hope, looking back towards Winfield. Photo by Luke. He had all kinds of time, waiting for my slow ass…

Just a ways above Winfield, we finally ran into Joey, who looked just a little rough… or maybe it was concerned?  The time had to have been close to 5:30 (and WAY past my anticipated time for getting out of Winfield), and the cutoff for the Winfield aid station was 6:00.   We didn’t really think about it at the time, but in later conversations, Joey said that working hard to stay ahead of that cutoff was one of the hardest things he’d ever done.

And as Luke and I kept going, it was extremely sobering to realize that many of the people who were still streaming downhill towards Winfield were not going to make it.  They were done for the day.

Luke and I did great until we got to the left turn where the climb up Hope starts in earnest.  I’d still be moving well and I’d still be eating okay, too, but once we hit that wall of a climb, everything slowed to a crawl.  It was like there was a limiter on my breathing.  My heart rate was staying pretty pegged.  And I just couldn’t go uphill very quickly at all!

Waves of people were passing us.  When I tried to eat a gel, I had to stop because there wasn’t the breathing capacity for eating and moving at the same time.  And still, Luke was awesome… “Hey buddy, ummmm… can you do that while you’re walking?”  He patiently goaded me into keeping moving.

Looking up the trail in the "Rocks" section of the backside of Hope.

Looking up the trail in the “Rocks” section of the backside of Hope.

But, my caloric intake began to drop off… Gels were becoming harder and harder to choke down.

Luke kept trying to get me to eat, but I just felt like I could. Not. Do. It.

Our movement was barely perceptible as forward progress.  More and more passing us…

It was just so very hard.

We inched our way up through the trees section, and finally came to the rocks section.

One foot.

In front of the other.

Slow or stop to eat part of a gel.  Stare off into space.

There wasn’t thought of stopping or quitting here.  It was just so hard to keep moving.

Luke titled this picture "Grinding" on Facebook. Apropos. Also, note I'm not wearing my pack because Luke is carrying it.  He's awesome.

Luke titled this picture “Grinding” on Facebook. Apropos. Also, note I’m not wearing my pack because Luke is carrying it, and taking the picture. He’s awesome.

At one point I’d stopped to eat a gel and Joey and Chris had finally caught back up to us.  It was great to see them, but I could barely register that thought or emotion.  I heard from Joey later that was deeply, deeply concerned.  He thought I was a goner.

Seeing them got me moving again, though.  Step by step.  Inch by inch. Foot by foot.  Yard by yard.

We made it to the switchbacks section.  I remember a pacer singing loudly, so very, very loudly, a song from “The Sound of Music” through here… it was kind of funny.  But, I wasn’t entirely amused.

Luke, gently encouraging… “Come on buddy.  You’re doing great.”

I asked him to count the switchbacks for me, so I could have a countdown to the top.  He said there were five.

Step by step… 4.

Inch by inch… 3.

Moving forward… 2… but… that was it!  We were on the last smooth slope to the top!  I could see the prayer flags streaming out in the glowing, evening light!

And then, it was done!  I’d made it back to the top of Hope Pass for the second time!  The fourth great beast… the biggest, gnarliest beast was finished!

We crested the hill and began the descent.  And I was transformed!  I was ready to run again!

Luke very, very wisely had me slow my roll a bit, just to get my legs and muscles used to the change in motion.  So, we held on for a bit, but we were moving downhill again!

Soon, though, we were really running.  55+ miles into this thing and we were running.  That felt so, so good.  We came up on the Hopeless aid station once again, and Luke got me some soup and noodles while I filled a bit of water.

Back from the dead... Running again!

Back from the dead… Running again at the top of Hope Pass!

A quick stop and we were cruising again.  After eating a bit, I felt better once again and we started flying.  Passing people, picking them off a few at a time.

And suddenly, there was Joey and Chris again!  We had a good bit of chatting with them for a few minutes, and then we were off.  Running downhill, as I’ve shared, really is one of my favorite things, and with the fading light, we wanted to take advantage as much as we could.

As we entered the trees, night fell fully and we donned our headlamps.  We were still moving better than most others we were encountering, so we were carefully passing people when the trail allowed.  There are sections that are simply too technical and rocky to move very quickly, though, so we chose our passes well.

Meanwhile, back at Twin Lakes, Sara is ready for action!

Meanwhile, back at Twin Lakes, Sara is ready for action!

The change from just one hour before was astounding.  There’s an old saying in ultras: “It never always gets worse.”  And it hadn’t.  I had come back from the brink.

Soon enough we were down to the base of the climb, and we were onto the flat field (which had become a swamp) where the only water crossing that had turned into seven water crossings was to be found.  I gave Luke my pack and sent him ahead to run into the aid station to let them know I was close and to begin repacking things for the next stage of the race.

With night fully set in, and the air temperature dropping, that water felt twice as cold now as it had hours earlier in the heat of the afternoon.  And upon exiting the second crossing I had to pee sooooo bad… amazing how cold, cold water does that!  And I also believe there were some Seinfeld jokes with other runners about shrinkage.

After making our way through the water, and then through the stinky muck, I jogged/ walked my way through the last mile back into Twin Lakes… to a hug and kiss from my wife and into the helping, loving care of the #WCE.

Attempting to touch my own feet.

Attempting to touch my own feet.

 

Failing to touch my own feet, resolving to let Melanie and Trenton help...

Failing to touch my own feet, resolving to let Melanie and Trenton help…

We had planned for this to be the longest stop of the race, where I would clean up from the water crossings, change shoes and socks and get geared up for the long night ahead.  I sat in a chair to tend to my feet, and oddity of oddities, when I tried to actually touch my feet, my leg just went kind of crazy and started locking up on me!

I was trying to deal with a massive, massive blisters on my left heel, but I just couldn’t get to my own leg.  And here, I was introduced to the brand newest member of the #WCE, Trenton Kennedy aka Dolphin.  Trenton is an “ultra-curious” friend of Luke’s who wanted to come out and see what this was all about and suddenly, he’s helping me pop a blister and apply super glue to my disgusting, beat to hell after 60 mile stanky feet.

(Also, Joey and Chris came in very quickly after Luke and I arrived and then they were out ahead of us!  Amazing!)

A thousand words...

A thousand words…

Sara was closely watching the clock.  We were now approaching 9:30, a full hour later than my anticipated 8:30, and dangerously close to the 9:45 cutoff time.

I changed clothes, added layers, got fresh batteries, stocked up on food and water and we were about to leave.  Someone asked if I wanted any éclairs, which are a favorite of mine during an ultra, and so I said “YES!” because I was so glad to be able to eat something.

And with Sara’s strong encouragement and reminders of the time, we were done with this aid stop.

We made our way out of the #WCE camp, across the highway and into the actual aid station, where someone asked if I wanted noodles… and again, I said “YES!” because I was so glad to be able to eat something, to actually want to eat something.

This seemingly simple little innocuous would turn out to be not so innocuous.

Suddenly, Sara appeared again with Joey’s bib.  We took it figuring we’d catch up to them shortly… and so we made our way up the short, steep hill out of Twin Lakes and on to meet the fifth beast of the day… the climb out of Twin Lakes…

Elevation Profile - The Beasts

Elevation Profile – The Beasts

The 2014 Leadville Trail 100, Part 1

It’s not exactly hot, but the sun is unrelenting at 10,000 feet, so it ain’t cool.

It’s somewhere around 5:00 pm and the medical professional staffing the med tent is asking me about the tightness in my chest… which is a little bit funny, because who’s chest wouldn’t be tight after 50 mountain miles topping out at 12,600’ in elevation?

But, I’m in the med tent because even though I’ve been eating and drinking well and still moving along at a good clip, I felt like hell, and I was a wee bit worried.

I explain that the tightness had gotten more significant over the last hour or so, causing my breathing to be a bit shallow, and I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t dealing with HAPE.

The very top of Hope Pass at 12,600', right before it drops precipitously down, down, down (and then up a bit) into Winfield

The very top of Hope Pass at 12,600′, right before it drops precipitously down, down, down (and then up a bit) into Winfield

HAPE, or High Altitude Pulmonary Edema, is a potentially serious/ deadly accumulation of fluid in the lungs, afflicting people dumb enough to spend extended time at altitude.  The symptoms for HAPE are, unfortunately, also the exact symptoms of hauling oneself around the mountains as quickly as one can… shortness and shallowness of breath, high pulse rate, weakness or decreased performance, nausea, lack of appetite, thirst… general malaise.

And I must confess that I stepped into the med tent here at Winfield, (the mining ghost town that represents the 50 mile turn around of the Leadville 100 Trail Run) essentially hoping that I DID, in fact, have HAPE, so I could have a justifiable, honorable reason for ending this suffering.  If I had HAPE, no one would question my stopping here.  I would be pulled from the race with a serious medical condition and I’d still be applauded and congratulated robustly for my effort, my resolve, my blah, blah, blah…

Whatever.  I just wanted to be done.

So, they slapped a pulse oximeter on me, to quickly and easily report the amount of oxygen my blood was carrying.  I was hoping for a low number… like a golf score, indicating HAPE. They also started taking my blood pressure.

Luke Giltner, my ultra-friend that Ben and I met exactly 3 years previous and planned pacer for the next 27+ miles, and Deanna Adami, my friend from seminary and former LeadWoman, watched on in concern.  I’d told them how I was feeling as I came shuffling into Winfield.  They said I looked good, which just a little annoying.

BING. The test was done. (I don’t actually know if the pulse ox device made that sound, but it’s nice for effect…)

The device read 96%, which is perfectly and amazingly healthy, and my blood pressure was also spot on.

The (tremendous, kind, generous, helpful, sensitive, concerned and awesome) medical professionals explained that it was probably some sort of exercise induced asthma, exacerbated by breathing trail dust, etc, etc.  They debated for a moment about having me do some sort of an inhaler, and then decided against it.

Ultimately, the reality was that I was free to go.

Son of a… That meant that I’d have to keep moving.

The thing is… up until the last hour or so, things had gone incredibly well…

(To be continued…)

At mile 25.5, when it was going well...

At mile 25.5, when it was going well…

bear chase race 50 miler thoughts: part 1

on saturday, before the race, my lovely wife melanie and i took a drive through the mountains to see the fall colors with my amazing sister, carolyn.  carolyn had flown in to visit, to run the baby bear 10k with melanie, and to be awesome and supportive for me during my race.

while we were out there, in those glorious mountains, carolyn said something about how they’re just sooo big.  i responded that pictures always, always fail to capture the scale.  and it’s true, you know…  pictures just can’t capture it all. like this one:

and so, yesterday was the race. i completed 50 miles in 11:21:46.

melanie asked me this morning how i was doing, not physically, but how i was feeling about it all.  and i responded that it just kind of doesn’t seem real, like it didn’t really happen… and today, i’ve struggled to put together thoughts about it all.  i sort of had a private moment or two in my office today where i nearly wept…

i intend to write an actual “race report” kind of post soon, but for now it just feels so big, like those mountains. it feels as if the scale of such an experience just can’t quite be captured in a post, or pictures, or stories.  it’s just something that someone has to experience.  that’s the only way to really know.

 

obsessive weather checking

my ultra-runner friend ben dicke has described ultra-running as “an eating and drinking competition with some running mixed in.”

there’s a great deal of truth in that statement.  if you don’t figure out a way to fuel yourself, you’ll bonk and fail.

for me, my ability to consume fuel during long runs is directly related to the weather.  two weeks ago, during a long run on the bear chase race course, it turned hot and my stomach rebelled. hard.

and so, i’ve begun to obsessively check weather forecasts for sunday.

there had been a forecast out there that was predicting a high in the mid-80’s and brilliantly sunny.

ugh… oh dear LORD, no…

i’m choosing/ hoping/ trusting in weather.com for now… 71, partly cloudy w/ 20% chance of rain.

related… things that are approximately the same distance apart as the length of my race:

  • pueblo and colorado springs, colorado
  • provo and salt lake city, utah
  • cheyenne and laramie, wyoming
  • wichita and hutchinson, kansas
  • “reality” and “reality tv”
  • the NFL and NFL fans

but, i digress.

gotta go, gotta rest.

thanks for reading

gma

p.s.
the forecast is still the same for sunday…