Thanks for visiting my blog. This is where I document and share all of my running adventures with my friends and fellow runners. The good, the bad, and the unquestionably painful. All for your entertainment! Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

2016 Across the Years 24 Hour Race: It Rains in the Desert?

Immediately following my Hardrock 100 finish, back in July, I found myself spiraling into some kind of running funk. Initially, I thought it was a result of total exhaustion and I figured it would fade quickly. It didn't. I lost all desire to get out and run. I muddled my way through Leadville in August and I farted around at a few trail races, not finishing most of them. And more importantly, not caring that I wasn't finishing.

In October, I pulled myself together for a 24 hour win up in Canada. But it was a joyless win in a lot of ways, and I returned home to find the funk still firmly in place.

My passion was lost, so my performances and my training suffered heavily. In November, I flew all the way to Alabama for the Pinhoti 100 and I dropped out at the first aid station, less than 7 miles into the race. That's when I knew I had a very serious problem.

I decided to return to the basics in the hope of finding whatever was missing. I started running with the dogs more because they make me happy. I focused more on a proper diet, more cross training and more sleep. And through this process, I realized I had slowly taken my strength, health and endurance for granted. I slowly found my path back. I'm still nowhere near 100% but I'm finding my way back.

While all of this soul searching was happening, ATY was looming and I felt a lot of pressure to perform because I had always run very well there. It's pressure that is self imposed, totally unnecessary and probably damaging, but it's also very real.

On every training run, I walked through the ATY course in my mind and did everything I could do to become mentally prepared for the race. I also spent a lot of time trying to convince myself that it's OK to lose, or even fail completely. I wasn't very good at convincing myself of anything remotely similar to that.

Across the Years is a multi-day race, which allows runners to choose the day their races starts, depending on which race you enter. Aside from the 6-day race, all runners must be finished by January 1st to be eligible for awards. Because I was running the 24 Hour event, I wanted to start my race on December 31st and finish on the last day. This gives me an opportunity to see how many miles were logged by other runners that had started earlier in the week. When I know that mileage, I have a goal.

I was feeling better than I had in months when I lined up for the race start. But my fitness and overall endurance were definitely in question. We had 24 hours for the story to tell itself.

I lept to the front right from the start, digging just deep enough to discourage too many pursuers. Or so I had hoped. This usually works pretty well for me, but today would be different.

The ATY course is 1.05 miles long. It's mostly dirt, a little asphalt and a tiny bit of concrete. With the rain from the previous night, the course was muddy and slick. I ran the first loop as quickly and as safely as I could, but I never heard the footsteps fade behind me. I was being chased.

As I came in to finish the first lap, Jo said. "Don't stop, don't slow down, you've got three guys right on your ass!". Good to know...

With a quick glance, I caught two of them in my periphery. Dammit! They looked fast!

I thought about running my guts out, but I knew it was futile. I eased my pace and started working on strategy.

By the end of the second lap, I had fallen to 4th place among the starters for that day.

At the end of the third lap, I stopped for a Hammer gel and some water. Jo rushed over to help me and I turned to her and said, "I can't beat these guys with speed, they're too fast. I need to manage my race and try to beat them with endurance."

And with that, my plan was born.

I was going to run smarter, fuel better, and be the last man running hard. It was my only hope to find a spot on the podium.

I stalked the others, watching them and feeling them out. Meanwhile I was staying hyper focused on my own physical condition, making sure to follow the plan. I didn't need to be the fastest runner at mile 10, I needed to be the fastest runner at mile 90.

After 20 miles I had pulled myself into 3rd place, passing Tony Roush, who wanted to make it an early day. We shared a few miles before he packed it in and I was super impressed with how well he ran. Those may have been the most enjoyable miles of my race.

30 miles into the day, my hip flexors started to act up and my feet were getting hot spots from running in the water for so long. I stretched, adjusted my shoe laces, and pushed on. Both issues began to fade. Or maybe they were just replaced with more painful issues.

At mile 40, I saw the 2nd place runner walking. My heart actually skipped a little bit. He was still two or three miles ahead of me, but it looked like he was fading. After another hour, I never saw him again.

Jo Made me Pose After a Wardrobe Change

Ten hours into the race, I hit the 100k mark and I still felt pretty strong. My lap times were consistent, and aside from stopping to fuel, talk to Jo or use a restroom, I was running every step of the race.

Shortly after hitting the 100k mark, I rolled up on the leader as he was walking the course.

I won't lie…I sorta made a production of passing him. I shot around him with long strides and a huge, pain free smile on my face. I really wasn't trying to be a dick, I just wanted to set an impression in his mind that I can do this all day and night. And with any luck, he'd relent completely and I could walk the rest of the race. Of course, that didn't happen.

But I now had some hope and a renewed sense of possibility. That would probably be just enough to keep me rolling.

An hour later, I was in the lead.

But now I need to backtrack…

I was leading the runners of the race that started THAT day! To lead the entire race and take 1st Male Overall, I still had to reach 112 miles. And even WORSE…to be the true overall winner, I had to reach 120 miles because there was a female leading the overall standings from two days earlier.

My work was far from complete.

Logging Another Lap in the Final Minutes of 2016

At midnight, I stopped running to celebrate the new year with the best crew chief in the business. After a few cheers, a quick toast and kiss, I went back out to log more miles.

Happy New Year!!!

As I was out turning circles, Patrick Sweeney was prepping the course for the ATY Underwear Beer Mile. I declined to join, which seems almost unfathomable, but seriously, I would have puked for sure, and I have a Beer Mile reputation to uphold.

Beer Mile Start

Despite missing out on the Beer Mile as a participant, I still got to enjoy the show as they blasted by me in their unmentionables, trying to choke down 4 beers over the course of a mile. It really was quite the thing to watch and kept me entertained for a couple of laps.

Beer Mile Finishers!!! 

And right after the Beer Mile wrapped up, a new storm rolled in and started dumping rain.

Every ultra runner has been to that place when they're depleted, they hurt, they're sleep deprived and flooded with exhaustion. Add a damn torrential downpour to the mix and you're literally in the inner circle of hell.

Camelback River

After several hours of slogging through the freezing rain, I finally hit the 100 mile mark at 17:52. Using all my available brain power, I began running the math through my head to determine what a reasonable goal should be for the remaining 6 hours. 130 miles seemed like a stretch because it required an average 12:00 pace, and I wasn't really feeling that ambitious. I was in more of a 13:30 mood at this point.

With absolutely no fanfare, or even mild recognition of the fact, I rolled through 112 miles and took the 1st Male position, overall. Yay me!!

With a few hours left on the clock, I went back out to grind my way through some more miles.

The rain began to fade as the sun rose higher in the sky, and the course began to drain away. I say that like it was a pleasant morning, but it still sucked pretty bad.

But they DID have pancakes and french toast for breakfast. In all seriousness, the food at ATY is worth the cost of admission. You can run 200 miles here and still gain weight. I've seen it happen...

I rolled through 120 miles and sealed the deal on the overall lead. The 2nd place runner was far enough back that I didn't need to worry about losing my lead. This is the time in most of these races when I really begin to screw off.

When I came through the timing mat at 122 miles, I saw the 2nd place runner in front of me. Up to this point, we hadn't exchanged a single word during the entire race, which is unusual for this format. Seeing an opportunity, I ran up and caught him, introducing myself, and I walked the next lap with him.

That was the first full lap that I walked in the race.

We chatted our way through the loop, and he peeled off to take care of something, so I decided to run the next loop.

That didn't happen.

I tried to run, but my body had cooled off during our walk and started to seize up. I made an effort to perform something that looked similar to run, but far more foolish, in an effort to loosen back up. Didn't work. I was done running.

After finishing that painful lap, I pulled the plug and called it a day with 124.93 miles in 23:40. Far short of what I wanted, but good enough for the overall win.

Does That NOT Look Awkward AND Painful???

Through the course of my 24 hour race, I spent time with, and witnessed many great athletes, doing amazing things. We talked to each other, encouraged each other and did everything we could to keep things fun, despite the terrible conditions. It's the type of experience that's difficult to articulate. You need to live it, and I hope you all do someday.

A world of praise goes to my awesome wife, who cares for my every need while I'm racing. And a special thanks to Hammer Nutrition and Topo Athletic for signing me for another year and always supporting me.

Jo and I are heading to Brazil for a 10 day running adventure, to include the Brazil 135. We're super stoked for what lies ahead!!

Thanks for reading!

Friday, October 7, 2016

2016 Lemming Loop 24 Hour Trail Race: Part Deux

I spent my entire summer getting my butt kicked, running in the mountains, and not accomplishing a whole lot. But that entire time, I'd been planning to fly back to Canada and run the Lemming Loop 24 Hour Trail Race. It was never too far from my mind, even while dragging my battered body over mountain passes in high altitude mountain races. I kept reminding myself how valuable it would prove to be when I got back to Winnipeg to run a flat trail loop at 790 feet above sea level. 

I had run this race last year, winning the race and breaking the course record, but I wasn't happy with how I had run. It had proved to be the toughest 24 hour race I'd ever ran and my disappointment was nagging at me. I was looking forward to getting back to Canada to take another crack at the Lemming Loop.

The race had originated at the Beaudry Provincial Park, just outside Winnipeg, but due to flooding, the race had to be moved to the Living Prairie Museum, which is where I ran last year. The race returned to Beaudry this year, so the course would be entirely new to me. I had no intel on the new course, other than it's a 5.7 km loop, roughly 3.5 miles, and it's dead flat. Pretty much ideal for me.

I have a wide range of Topo Athletic running shoes to choose from, but because the terrain was nontechnical and the footing was good, I opted to wear my favorite light-weight road shoes, the Topo Fli-Lytes. A light, comfortable shoe would prove to make a big difference, once again. 

I was also excited to return to Canada because I really enjoy the local running community in Winnipeg. The trail runners I've met up there are like a big, supportive family that carries a true passion for the sport, and for each other. I've always felt very welcomed and supported by these people and it's a pleasure to share the trail with them.

And for those that have never visited Canada, I would like to clear this up. Canadians DO NOT actually look like this! 

Now, here's the pisser about this race. It starts at 5:00 PM on Friday. This means, even if I force myself to sleep in, I'm going to be awake for a LONG time. But I can't whine too much because we're all in the same boat.

At the start of the race, I recognized a lot of familiar faces and I was eager to get going. I had no idea who might be fast, or who may have goals similar to mine, but I had 24 hours to let this all play out and I hoped for the best.

When the race started, I shot to the lead, determined to run a fast first loop. Partially to warm up, but also to create a gap between me and the rest of the field. My plan was to run the first 20 miles at marathon pace, then slow to something more comfortable for the rest of the race. I figured that would put me well in front, and I could manage my race from that advantageous position.

The first loop was also my "recon loop". I paid particular attention to the trail conditions and any hazards that might pose a problem at night, which would come soon. In loop races like this, I try to find the fastest way around the course because every little tangent can make a big difference after 24 hours of running.

I also try to break the course up into sections by using landmarks, the same way I break up 100 mile trail races by using aid stations. Creating smaller segments seems to help pass the time and give a sense of progress, which can be pretty uplifting when the mind begins to bend.

This river crossing sign was my first landmark. The river crossing wasn't a part of our course, but I was amused by this sign the first 14 times I saw it.

My next landmark was this warming hut that gets used by nordic skiers in the winter. It's just past the halfway mark on the loop.

My final landmark was the dreaded prairie. This is a half mile section at the end of the loop, and over time, I grew to hate it because I could see way too far ahead of me. Late in the race, it seemed like a daunting task to make the crossing.

I finished the first loop in a little over 20 minutes and didn't stop when I passed through the aid station. The entire trail proved to be fast, and with the cool temperatures and low altitude, I was able to comfortably run fast.

After heading out for my second loop, I heard footsteps behind me and glanced back to see a runner about 80 yards back.

Odd...I couldn't decide if this dude was real competition or if he was just messing with me. I pressed on, but didn't speed up. It was way too early to fall into somebody else's race.

As I entered the prairie section, he pulled up and flew right by me. I thought about chasing, but relented and just watched him sail away. I was dumbfounded! I began to calculate his pace and realized he was running a 13 hour, 100 mile pace. This just didn't add up at all.

I made a quick stop at the aid station and Jo said the runner in front of me didn't stop (again). This meant he'd be at least 10.5 miles without fueling or hydrating at all. Like me, he wasn't carrying anything, so the aid station would be the only source of fuel.

I pressed on, but it was driving me mad that I couldn't figure out what was happening in front of me. Was this guy for real? I couldn't fathom maintaining that pace, especially if he wasn't stopping at the aid station. I tried to shove it out of my mind and focus on running a smart race.

As I came through the prairie and into the aid station after my 4th loop (14 miles), I saw the leader walking toward his car, carrying some shoes and clothes.

A smile stretched across my face.

When I got to the aid station, Jo said he'd stopped to change clothes. Based on that, and from what I saw, I knew he wouldn't retake the lead again. And I was right. I was back in front and still running strong.

The sun dipped below the horizon around 7:30, so I grabbed a lamp and pushed on through the night. By the time I had hit the 50k mark, I had strong lead and I slowed my pace to something more reasonable for the distance.

The trail was so familiar by now, I could almost run it blindfolded. Every root, rock and turn was memorized.

In an effort to test my mental acuity, the timing people got in the habit of yelling out my total kilometers at the completion of each loop. Initially, I could quickly convert their numbers to mileage, but as the race wore on, I found myself halfway through the next loop arguing with myself about the correct conversion. My frustration would just begin to fade when I'd finish another lap and get slapped with a whole new math problem to sort out.

I had asked Jo to go back to the hotel at midnight so she could get some sleep. There was no need for her to stay awake all night to watch me turn circles. After she had left, things began to fall into an almost robotic rhythm. I love running at night and I was feeling good, passing runners, making momentary small talk, hitting the aid station...repeat.

As I was cutting through the prairie section about an hour before sunrise. It was pitch black, with no visible moon and heavy cloud cover to obscure the stars. My headlamp was set to a very dim setting in an effort to conserve the battery. I was deep in thought, my mind somewhere other than the race, when I heard something off to my right. As I turned my dim light in the direction of the noise, a large whitetail buck had squared off with me and let out a loud, angry snort that nearly stopped my heart. Not that I'm usually scared of deer, but what the hell was that?! I never heard a deer snort at me. Shortly after, he spun off and dashed away, leaving me rattled and confused. Canadian deer are weird.

I was happy to see the sun come up and even happier to see Jo back at the race. She brought me an Egg McMuffin for breakfast. After removing the ham, I inhaled the sandwich, gave her a kiss and went back out to log more miles.

I realized I was closing in on the 100 mile mark and began calculating my splits so I could figure out when I'd hit that critical distance. The Race Director said the race staff had money on whether I could hit 100 miles in under 16 hours. I checked my watch and said "Definitely". I did it in 15:53.

Side Note: When I say "watch", I'm referring to a $19 digital watch, not a $500 GPS device. Those things are counterproductive to me because they get in my head and have the tendency to dictate pace, or otherwise frustrate me.

After reaching 100 miles, I began to take stock of the overall situation. I had a 21 mile lead over 2nd place, my body was beginning to hurt, I was ridiculously tired, and I kinda wanted to go home.

I was still running fairly well, but I had began to walk more, and not with much deliberation.

When I hit 107 miles, I broke the old course record. But I was determined to break the course record I had set on the old course, so I still had work to do.

After breaking the course record, two things happened:

1. I realized how badly I hurt and I wasn't having fun anymore.
2. I quickly began to lose interest in continuing.

People often poke fun at me for being too lazy to actually do all 24 hours of a 24 hour race, but they're kinda right. If I hit all my goals, I'm inclined to slow way down and I almost always stop early. This was no exception. I was failing to find the motivation to run hard. It's not like I was going to qualify for the Canadian 24 Hour Team. No matter how well I do, I'm still an American. I was searching for motivation and not finding any.

At 124.5 miles, all my goals were met. I was 22 hours into the race and I had the win sealed up. Jo had walked the final lap with me because I wanted her to see the course before the race ended. After walking that loop, my legs had cooled off and began to seize up. Running was almost impossible after that.

So I found a spot in the grass and watched the race.

After an hour of sitting around doing nothing, the little loop opened up. It's a 1 kilometer loop that prevents runners from being caught on the big loop when the race ends. Not being happy with 124.5 miles, I headed out with Caroline Wiebe, a local Winnipeg runner and friend, for another kilometer so I could round it up to 125 miles.

Beer in hand, we headed out for a leisurely stroll that would mark the end of my race.

Since the race, I'm reminded how destructive flat, fast miles are on my body. Recovery is lengthy and the subsequent pain and discomfort are far more severe than what I experience when I run tough mountain races. But like with all painful, but rewarding experiences, the memories of pain will fade and I'll once again be surprised by it when I tackle my next flat ultra.

I want to thank the Race Director, Dwayne Sandall, and all the volunteers for putting on such an awesome race. And a special thanks to Hammer Nutrition and Topo Athletic for all the support.

We're already looking forward to getting back to Canada.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

2016 Hardrock 100: Savage Beauty in the San Juans

I don't yet know how I feel about Hardrock. But I know I still hurt. A lot. And that's something.

If you're reading this report, you probably already know a thing or two about this race, its history, and the long road to gaining entry, so I won't bother with too much of that detail. But I will say this...it took me 5 years of running qualifiers and entering the lottery before I got the bad news that I had secured a spot in the 2016 race.

I almost vomited when I found out.

For me, gaining entry into the race meant that I had to totally change my approach to running for the year, because I race A LOT. If I had any hope of finishing Hardrock, I would need to (for the first time in my life) focus on actually training. And NOT finishing Hardrock wasn't going to be an option. So I cleared my calendar from April until race day, and focused on running long and climbing high.

Hardrock changes directions each year, but always starts and finishes in Silverton, Colorado, at 9400' above sea level. 2016 is a clockwise year, which is supposed to be the "faster" of the two directions. So I had that going for me.

The race starts at 6:00 AM, just as it becomes light enough to see without the aid of a headlamp. Because the race has a very small field (about 150 runners), the start is a pretty low key event, but still full of nervous energy, anxiety, and more than a little whimpering.

The course takes us uphill (big surprise), out of Silverton for about 2 miles, before dropping us into the valley for our first, of many, water crossings. This is a popular spot for spectators to gather and cheer for the runners as the field has started to thin out.

Heading into the River

Shortly after the river crossing, we begin our first major climb up Putnam. This climb reaches around 12,600'. A 3000' climb over about 4.5 miles.

About 2 miles into the climb, it really began to sink in that I was actually running the Hardrock Hundred. And the people around me must have began to dwell on that fact as well, because the line of runners became eerily quiet as everybody began praying to whatever deity they were relying on for help.

I think this is an appropriate time to point out that for most of us, there's not much running in this race. Even some of the best runners on the course will advise against running the flats. Focus on strong climbing, fast walking on the flats, and running the downhills. But as I learned, even running the downhills can be hard in the San Juans. So if your dream of running Hardrock includes thoughts of flying over mountain passes and dashing down steep, scenic valleys, you may be somewhat disappointed in the face of reality. They call this the Hardwalk Hundred for a reason.

After reaching the top of Putnam, we traversed the ridge line for a bit before tipping downward for a nice jog into the KT aid station at mile 11.5.

I was feeling strong as I left the KT aid station and started the ascent to Grant Swamp Pass. I was climbing without the use of poles, because I'm stupid like that sometimes. 

As I got closer to the pass, I began to encounter a growing number of day hikers and race spectators on their way up and down the trail. They all stepped off the trail for me, even though I would have happily taken a break to let them by. The climb to Grant Swamp Pass, got steeper with every step.

The top of the pass was almost crowded with people because it's an awesome spot to catch photos of runners. I heard a few people calling my name, which meant I had to pretend the climb wasn't kicking my ass.

Photo by Myke Hermsmeyer

Photo by Chris Gerber

I was greeted at the top of the pass by my friend, Chris Gerber, who had made the climb to support the runners. I tried to act cool as he greeted me, as if the climb hadn't wrecked me, but it clearly had.

Chris followed me along a short traverse, then pointed me toward the beginning of the descent. I seriously thought he was kidding. I looked back at him, hoping to see a sly grin that would confirm the joke, but he was serious.

The descent is a near vertical drop in loose rock and scree. I started to slowly pick my way down before deciding the best course of action was to slide to the bottom and hope I didn't kill myself in the process. I dug my right foot in and rode it to the bottom like a size 9 toboggan.

The rest of the descent was only slightly less perilous, and I cruised into the Chapman Gulch aid station at mile 18 without doing any serious damage to my body.

Coming into Chapman

My crew was waiting for me and they jumped into action, getting me ready for the next climb. Leon Lutz had flown out to help me with the race and this was my first time seeing him since he got into Colorado. He was a welcome sight. Leon is often the voice of reason when he crews and paces me, and I've learned to pay close attention to what he says. So when he suggested I take my poles with me before leaving the aid station, I took it to heart. Thank god for Leon.

Game Face

The climb to Oscar Pass starts out moderately, but gets steeper as you gain altitude, before topping out at 13,100'. I was feeling really good on the climb and was in a great mood.

I didn't know it at the time, but this would be the last time I felt good in the race.

I ran into Justin Ricks and his family as they were making their way off the mountain after working on race coverage of the leaders. Justin is giving me advice on conserving energy for the flat section in the back half of the course. I don't think I'll ever be able to trust Justin again.

Photo by Denise Ricks

I had an amazing climb to the pass and quickly dropped over the other side for a long downhill run into Telluride.

I was fueling well and was feeling great all the way down the mountain. The views were amazing and I was having fun. Fun wasn't an expectation I had when I showed up at Hardrock, but I was happy to take it.

When I rolled into Telluride, I was in high spirits. When Leon rushed up to me at the aid station, I looked at him with a grim face and said, "Dude….I'm almost embarrassed". Looking worried, he asked why, then I gave him a huge grin and blurted out, "FOR THE SHAMELESS ASS WHOOPING I JUST PUT ON THAT MOUNTAIN! HAHAHAHA!!!".

We both laughed without knowing that would be the last time.

The climb out of Telluride, up Virginia's Pass, is a monster, so I took some time at the aid station to get prepared. I updated my crew, and for the time being, we were all happy and optimistic.

Leon Showing me the Way

One mile outside of Telluride, my race turned. Instantly.

I was struggling with the climb and started to fall into a funk. My mood turned bad and everything appropriately followed. I was having to slow my pace, and even then, I was stopping to rest my legs and catch my breath.

The weather had promised to provide a hot day, and it was delivering. Much of the climb is exposed and I was boiling over. Heat has always been my greatest enemy in a race, and it winning a very one sided battle.

I was desperate to reach Kroger's Canteen, the aid station that is famously perched on the narrow ledge at the mountain pass. After an eternity of climbing, I could see the pass just above me, but not the aid station.

When I got to the top of the pass, there was no aid station. "YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!!!"

Seems as if I need to make another descent before climbing back up to Kroger's. Well if that isn't a pleasant surprise...

After wiping a few tears of frustration, I made my way down, then back up into the warm embrace of Kroger's Canteen. I took a few minutes to pout and fuel up before pushing on.

BTW…you know it's a serious mountain run when the aid station staff has to wear mountain climbing protective gear just to stay safe.

Leaving the aid station requires a rope assisted descent through a vertical snow field before hitting some really terrible single track. I wasn't amused.

After a short piece of trail, I had a 10 mile downhill run on old mining roads that would lead me to Ouray and my crew. A 5500' descent. Over 10 miles. On a road.

Just shoot me.

By the time I made it to Ouray, I had decided to DNF.

I felt sick, my entire body hurt and I just didn't care anymore. Night had fallen, and a cold beer, warm bed, and 18 hours of sleep sounded WAY better than climbing another mountain. Or five. I had five more mountains to climb.

When I met my crew, the whining started immediately. Did anybody REALLY expect me to finish this race? I sure didn't.

But when I looked at my crew, with concern in their eyes, but a slight annoyance on their face, I decided to press on. These people had sacrificed a lot to be here to help me and I owed them my best possible effort. I didn't need to quit. I needed to stop being a whiny little bitch.

I grabbed Jennilyn Eaton, my first pacer, and we headed up the mountain.

We had a 10 mile climb up Engineer, back to 13,000'. We slowly picked our way up the mountain while we chatted. I was struggling, but we were still moving ahead. One painful footstep at a time.

We made a brief stop at the Engineer aid station before moving over the top of the pass, making our descent into Grouse Gulch.

Jennilyn did a great job keeping me focused and somewhat amused with her "Girl Power Music". I couldn't have made it to Grouse without her.

When we got to Grouse, I sat to fuel and rest, and ended up staying for over an hour. I tried to take a quick nap, but sleep wasn't coming. I swapped Jennilyn for Leon, and we started another climb.

We headed off into the dark, making our way to the high point on the course. Handies Peak, at 14,058'.

Allow me to put this in perspective for you…

Climbing Colorado 14'ers is never easy. At Hardrock, you run 60 miles, climbing about 20,000 feet along the way, then bag a 14'er before running another 40 miles with 13,000 feet of climbing. That pretty much sums up Hardrock for me.

Before hitting the summit, the sun had come up and exposed the dramatic beauty around us. It was meaningful to share this time with Leon because we both have a profound love for the mountains, and he's one of the greatest friends I've ever had. At that low point, I was happy to have him there with me.

We didn't linger at the summit. The wind was howling and we had someplace to be. We immediately started down the other side of the peak, picking our way through brittle shale, trying to stay upright. Not an easy task.

And this is when I lost my mind.

I didn't want to alarm Leon, so I didn't really mention it. I just told him I was "sleepy". But in reality, I was freaking out. For the first time in my life, I was hallucinating in the daylight. I couldn't trust anything my eyes showed me. It was mostly subtle stuff, like large homes along the trail, vehicles in places they couldn't possibly be, people riding animals that would never allow themselves to be ridden…stuff like that. You know the drill.

We made a stop at the Burrows Park aid station at mile 67 and I found a seat. Leon rustled up an egg and cheese sandwich and a couple of Mt. Dew's. My head began to clear and I started to feel better.

We pushed on toward the Sherman aid station, 4 miles down a gravel road.

We walked the entire way, just talking. I was happy to be feeling better and I was even happier to be there with Leon.

I started to think I might actually finish this race. But I didn't share that with anybody. I wanted to keep them guessing.

Coming into Sherman

At the Sherman aid station, I would lose Leon in exchange for Traci Falbo, who would stay with me for the next 20 miles. Before leaving the aid station, I fueled up and rested while updating the rest of my crew on my condition.

I didn't tell them I had lost my mind several hours earlier. I didn't want to needlessly worry them.

World Best Crew Chief 

The climb out of Sherman, toward Pole Creek, was the most gradual I had encountered on the course. Which means it was only "very difficult", versus what we'd previously experienced. It was a pleasant change.

Traci was fresh and eager, and I tried my best to keep moving at a reasonable pace so she wouldn't get too bored. We climbed up through Cataract Lake before making a rolling descent into Pole Creek aid station.

Pole Creek is so isolated that the aid station supplies are brought in by donkeys. Which meant it would have a limited variety of supplies. All I needed was ice for my pack, and of course, that wasn't available. The sun was high in the sky, and bearing down on me again. Ice would have been nice to have.

Things got far more intense after Pole Creek. The climb toward Maggie Gulch was steep. And annoying. My mood had severely soured again and dark thoughts began to creep back into what was left of my mind. I was slowly becoming detached from the race and from myself. I had never been this exhausted.

We made a quick stop at Maggie Gulch aid station, where Traci was trying to force me to eat while I sat with my arms folded like an infant and kept saying no. We were both glaring at each other a little bit, her trying to be patient while I was trying to be stubborn for the sake of being stubborn.

She had yet to learn that I had gone completely insane during the descent from Handies. I was amused by my little secret.

The climb out of Maggie Gulch was pure brutality for me. I was moving uphill at a snails pace, on steep, rugged terrain. There were several very steep climbs, with equally steep descent, all of which I thought would be the last before dropping down toward the final aid station at Cunningham.

Every time I topped out on a peak, I was greeted by another peak in the distance, where I could see runners struggling to climb up and over. I must have said "REALLY?!?!?!" and "SERIOUSLY?!?!?!" about a thousand times.

My spirit was completely broken by this point and I was only moving forward because I really didn't seem to have much of a choice. Who drops out at Hardrock, 90 miles in? Maybe me...

We finally found the last climb and began the descent into Cunningham. I was having intense hallucinations all the way down the mountain, which wasn't great timing because it's a pretty gnarly descent with a fair bit of exposure.

At times, I was simply forgetting what I was doing and would suddenly remember I was running Hardrock. Then I'd drift back off into a fog of confusion, much like how I imagine full time crazy people live.

We made it safely off the mountain and into Cunningham aid station where we were met by Leon and Jo. Traci was done with her babysitting duties and Leon was slated to take me the rest of the way.

In the aid station, Traci was trying to force me to eat again and my sanity returned just in time to prevent me from blurting out. "HA HA, you're not my pacer anymore so I don't have to listen to you!". Dodged a bullet right there!

Leon and I, Leaving Cunningham

We only had 9 miles left, but they were nine savage miles. Leaving Cunningham launched us right into an ascent up Little Giant. Dumb name, because there's nothing little about it. It's a 2500' climb, over 1.8 miles. Steep, exposed and brutal.

But there was nowhere to go, except to the finish.

The sun was setting, once again, and as we gained altitude, it started to get cold. As night began to settle in, my insanity worsened. During the entire ascent, I was sure Leon and I had made this exact climb together at least twice before. Maybe a training run? Then I would remember this was my first trip to the San Juan Mountains and force the thought away. But not for long.

And once again, I forgot where I was and what we were doing. After finishing the steepest part of the climb, but before hitting the pass, I sat down in the basin and struck up THIS conversation with Leon:

Me- Where is everybody?
Leon- What?
Me- The people. I don't see people.
Leon- What people?
Me- Shouldn't there be people down there? Coming up here?
Leon- (vacant stare)
Me- (now frustrated) Is this a race course we're on?
Leon- It is!
Me- We should probably go now.

Sitting in the Dark, Being Crazy

After the final scramble, we found the pass and dropped over onto a very narrow piece of rocky trail that led the way down. We had a few other people with us now, so we formed a train as we made our way toward Silverton.

After about 100 yards, the trail seemed to disappear, then Leon pointed straight down the mountain to what appeared to be a small rock slide, and said we had to go down that to pick the trail below us.

It was time for me to come clean with Leon about my mental state. If he was expecting a mentally incapacitated person to fling their body OFF this mountain and slide down a nearly vertical chute, while effecting a perfect gymnast landing on that tiny patch of trail, he needed to know I had doubts.

In the end, I did fling my body off the mountain. While my technique was less than gymnast caliber, I didn't fall to my death.

The rest of the runners dropped in behind me as we picked our way off the mountain, kicking rocks and cussing the entire way. After an eternity, the trail dumped us onto an awful mine road, where we continued to follow it down toward Silverton.

At this point, I decided to start calculating an estimated finish time. I had never possessed a goal for this race, because I had absolutely no way of determining how I would perform in this type of terrain. But two miles out, I felt confident in assembling a good guess. I decided we should finish before midnight, and I made that our goal. And we had plenty of time to do that.

With ample time, I felt no pressure to rush. I wanted to walk because the ground was heavily strewn with rocks and I didn't trust my brain and my feet to work well together at this point. They hadn't been getting a long for a while. So we hiked toward Silverton.

The road led us to a dark, swampy trail, and for whatever reason, I held firm to the belief that we'd be at the finish line in a matter of minutes. So me and my addled brain just plodded along behind Leon like a dog that had been kicked in the head by a mule.

After several minutes, I began to worry we were lost. But we continued to find trail markers…so we must be close. Then that worry would return…then another trail marker. Glancing at my watch, I realized we were growing very near my last minute and very arbitrary deadline, and I began to panic. Genuine, crazy person panic.

My panic began to boil over, so I told Leon to run ahead to find if this trail ever actually dumps into Silverton. He ran. I walked and kicked rocks.

Leon returned with confirmation that Silverton was, in fact, a reality. And we were close. I picked up the pace.

The trail led to a parking lot and the town became clear. I glanced at my watch and realized I only had 4 minutes remaining if I wanted to meet my self imposed deadline. I did. I ran.

I ran through Silverton with every last ounce of energy remaining. Like a crazy person.

I rounded the corner and the finish line was there. Waiting for me. The clock mocked me, counting it's way to midnight far to quickly.

I crossed the finish line at 11:59:59, for a finish time of 41:59:59.

And with all the reverence and humility required of the task, I knelt and kissed the rock.

I was in complete disbelief.

Hardrock had proved to be the most challenging thing I had ever done. I had pushed my body beyond anything it had ever experienced. I suffered severely in the heat, struggled in the altitude, was ravaged by the climbs, then crushed by the descents. But I finished.

I have never experienced the depth of the low places I found myself in, and I had never suffered from such mental exhaustion and incapacitation.

I found a new limit in the San Juan Mountains.

My Crew and Friends

Special thanks to my amazing wife for helping me get through this. My pacers were top notch professionals and put up with a lot to get me back to Silverton. If I was any of them, I probably would have left me for dead.

And thanks to Hammer Nutrition, Topo Athletic, and Osprey Packs for supporting me and providing me with the gear and fuel to get me through the 2016 Hardrock Hundred.