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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!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

2015 Western States 100: My Back of the Pack Experience


In all the years that I lost myself in dramatic fantasies about finally running the Western States Endurance Run, I never fathomed it would turn out the way it did.

I imagined flying down the trail with a broad smile spread across my face as I sailed through the shaded woods, bouncing over ridgelines and leaping across mountain streams. I imagined an audience of forest creatures, in awe of my athletic prowess, stuck in their tracks as I whisked past them on my way to Auburn.

When it was finally my time, those fantasies hurtled toward reality and collided in a mass of destruction that I simply cannot reconcile yet.

But...more on that later.

In addition to Western States, I was also lining up for the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning. This is a four race series, beginning with Western States, then moving on to the Vermont 100, Leadville 100 and culminating with the Wasatch Front 100. All of this spanning over about 10 weeks.

Always eager to up the ante, I accepted the challenge of running the Royal Grand Slam. This is a new event, sanctioned by the International Beer Mile Association, and it ties a beer mile to each of the Grand Slam events. Truly EPIC!

So first things, first. The Western States Beer Mile!


Badass Beer Milers

The Western States Beer Mile is a downhill race that starts 1 mile up the WSER course and finishes at the WSER start line. You think running downhill, at altitude, while drinking four beers in a mile sounds easy? Not so much.

I was first off the line after slamming my first beer.

Photo Credit: Myke Hermsmeyer

Heading for beer #2
Photo Credit: Myke Hermsmeyer

Kind of Enjoying Beer #2
Photo credit: Myke Hermsmeyer

My 100 mile pacer, Travis McWhorter was also running the beer mile and he was applying some pressure. He's a beer mile rookie, and I could see he was going a bit fast for a guy that doesn't know what it's like to have to run at full speed with 4 beers sloshing around in his belly.

Travis Struggling with Beer #3
Photo Credit: Myke Hermsmeyer

I could see that Travis was having a TOUGH time. I was leading the race, but he was still a threat.

Me and Travis at Beer #4
Photo Credit: Myke Hermsmeyer

As I finished my last beer, I sprinted toward the finish, expecting to hear footsteps pounding the course behind me. Travis is a faster sprinter than I am and I didn't have a comfortable lead. I heard nothing.
Winning the Western States Beer Mile!!
Photo Credit: Myke Hermsmeyer

After finishing, I looked back up the hill to see how far back Travis was, and he was nowhere to be found. I waited, then began to worry that I had inadvertently killed my pacer. I was deeply worried, because at this late stage, it would be hard to find a new pacer.

Eventually, Travis and the others began to filter across the finish line, each one of them with a unique story about the horrors of the beer mile.

So far, the weekend was off to a very promising start!

Friday was packet pickup and the "MANDATORY" race briefing. The term "race briefing" was a bit misleading because they spent an hour talking, but didn't really say much about the race. We did however, get some last minute heat acclimation training, as the room they stuffed us in was about 140 degrees, had no airflow and smelled like armpits. So we had that going for us.

"Race Briefing"

I made a point of getting to bed early, giving myself extra time to toss and turn all night, before getting up at 3:00 AM to get ready for the race.


Me and Jo at the Start

Squaw Valley, Before the Start

When I lined up, I was calm and confident. I've run more than 30 races at this distance, so the nervousness of these events has long since faded, replaced by a sense of comfortable familiarity.

After a short countdown, we were on our way to Auburn!


The first few miles of the course are all uphill, and with the exception of a few very skilled mountain runners, it's a hike. The group of runners were eerily quiet as we made our way to the escarpment, where we would eventually drop over the backside of Squaw Valley.

Heading UP!

And UP!

It was beginning to warm up already, by the time we left the gravel road and hit a steep section of singletrack for the final push over the top.
Photo Credit: Myke Hermsmeyer

The scenery was amazing as we dropped onto some very runnable trail and made our way into the valley. Runners were loosening up and some chatter began to bounce around us as we ran along the shady side of the mountain. For the first time since we started, I was having a great time.


We hit our first aid station at Lyons Ridge at 10.5 miles, but none of us lingered. I tossed some ice in my pack and pushed on.

It was already getting hot out and there was no escaping the direct sunlight. The entire course is very exposed and if shade can be found, it marks a great time to slow your pace a bit to take some temporary reprieve from the sun.

There are trees covering the entire 100 mile course, but they've taken a useless position, as most that weren't cut down have burned down or been blown down. The lucky few that remain, seem to lack interest in picking up the slack from their fallen brethren.

Cooling off Every Chance We Got

By the time I reached the Duncan aid station at mile 24, I was in rough shape and I still had 6 miles to go before I saw my crew.

I suffer better than (more than) most people in the heat. It's my greatest weakness and it was now fully exposed. I spent plenty of time at Duncan to refuel and hydrate before heading onto Robinson Flat, where I would meet my crew and set things straight. Hopefully.


I continued to deteriorate on my way to Robinson Flat, aided by a long climb into the aid station. By the time I met Jo, I was ready to DNF. The heat had taken a bite out of me it seemed unlikely that I would make it all day like this.


Coming to Robinson Flat

Dropping from the race had been on my mind since the 20 mile mark. I was having trouble eating already and my reduced level of nutrition was killing me. Figuratively for now.

Unlike a lot of races, I had a lot of reasons to grind this out. I wasn't sure if I would ever have another chance to run this course and claim my buckle. I also wanted to finish the Grand Slam and check that off my list. I also knew that this race would haunt me forever if I didn't give 100% of myself, and it was too early to say that I had. So I put my head down and continued the grind.

Things took another tragic turn at the Last Chance aid station. Aptly named because it's your last chance to drop before entering the Canyons.

I asked the kid at the aid station to make sure I had ice in my bladder. I never mentioned water, so I didn't get any. I was unaware of this until I was halfway down the descent into the first canyon, and I wasn't about to climb back out at that point. I continued the grind.

I could only get water from my bladder as fast as the ice would melt, which wasn't nearly fast enough. I would take a short suck on the tube, only to tease my tongue with the sweetness of ice cold water. Then it was dry until a few more drops would melt. I tried to be patient in hopes of getting an entire mouthful of cold water, but it was nearly impossible in the intense heat of the canyons.

On the climb up Devils Thumb, I finally collapsed on the side of the trail, opened the bladder on my hydration pack and started eating handfuls of ice. I was burning up, dehydrated and beginning to worry about my health.

Finally, I made it to the aid station at El Dorado Creek at mile 53 and parked myself in a chair. I stayed for 15 minutes while I sucked down ice water and tried to eat salty food. The food wouldn't go down, but the water did.

By now, I was WAY behind schedule and I knew there was no chance to salvage a sub 24 hour finish. Dejected, I pulled myself up and headed up the canyon toward Michigan Bluff. I had a short distance, but another daunting climb between me and my crew. I continued to grind it out...


I had planned to pick up my pacer at mile 62, but the race rules allowed me to have a pacer at mile 55, assuming it was 8:00 PM or later. By the time I got to Michigan Bluff, it was nearly that late, so I asked my pacer to suit up while I took care of a few things.

Pacers Are Always Ready to GO!

Again, I tried to eat and drink as much as possible, but it just wasn't working. I did the best I could and we headed out for the last 45 miles. It seemed like such a short distance at the time...


Having Travis with me did make me feel a bit better. Now I at least had somebody to keep me company so I didn't keep drifting off into bad places. And to be honest, it helps to have somebody around just to help keep my temper in check. I'm less likely to make an ass out of myself in front of people I know.

Foresthill was the next aid station and we would be seeing Jo there. It was only 7 miles away, so it was a treat to have crew access points so close together. My spirits lifted for a moment…but faded pretty quick. I was in a bad place.

Foresthill aid station was a bit of a treat because the crew activity and number of volunteers were overwhelming. That aid station was sensory overload and it came at a time when I needed that kind of distraction. I tried to eat, but nothing was going down. Gels weren't happening, solids were impossible, and nothing sounded good. I took a small cup of Coke and a little swallow of broth, and we headed into the night. 38 miles to go.

By now, I knew I would finish, but I knew it would be ugly.

I set my sights on the river crossing at Rucky Chucky, 16 miles away, where we would see Jo again, and the iconic WSER river crossing. I always dreamed about doing it during the day, but that ship had sailed. Head down, we headed down the trail.

Travis was encouraging and patient as I picked my way up and down the trail, slowing on the ascents and the descents, alike. Because I couldn't eat, I had no energy and my body wasn't keeping up with the pace in my mind. We chatted at length, then had long spans of total silence. Just the way I like it. Let the pacer keep me moving, but I'll dictate that pace of conversation.

We made it to the river crossing at mile 78 and had a short pitstop, filling bottles and bladders before heading across the river. The freezing water was almost unbearable at first, but it quickly helped to soothe the muscles in my legs. I wanted to linger but I knew I couldn't spare the time. We exited the river and started the two mile climb out of the valley.

For a downhill course, there's way too much climbing.

Somewhere around mile 85, the sun came up, headlamps were switched off, and it was a new day. I've only seen the sunrise beat me to the finish line a couple of times and it's always been when I was in physical trouble. The sunrise energizes some runners, but it sends me into a depression because I knew I should have been done by now and we still have a long way to go. There's nothing energizing about that reality.

We saw Jo for a final time at the Hwy 49 aid station at 93.5. I swapped the burden of my pack for a couple of handheld bottles, bitched about my situation and aimed my feet toward Auburn, less than 7 miles away.

We crossed No Hands Bridge at mile 96.8 and I thought we were home free! While we only had a few miles to go, they were almost entirely uphill. Every turn exposed another hill and every mile felt like 5. I was SO close to the finish but felt like I would never get there. Serious thoughts of dropping returned at mile 98, but they were quickly shaken away. There's just no good way to tell that story without looking like an idiot.

We broke out onto the pavement that leads to the track and the finish line, and I knew we had made it. We were only moments away!!! Then I saw "1 Mile To Go" painted on the road and I nearly lost my mind!! I turned to Travis and shouted, "Christ!!! Really?!?! Another damn mile?!?! OH!!! Good thing it's ALL UPHILL!!".


I sheepishly passed all the cheering spectators, almost in an apologetic way, as if I wanted to say I was sorry for such a terrible performance. I was sad, angry and desperate to finish.

We finally found the entrance to the track and made our way to the finish line.


29:00:45

By far, my slowest finish at the 100 mile distance, and certainly my worst performance. But I finished, and I was able to take some level of comfort in that. Especially knowing that so many weren't able to make their way to the track in Auburn.


HUGE Weight Loss

Physically and mentally, I know I've never been in a worse place during an ultra. Even though I've dropped from a few, this was still significantly more difficult to cope with. The finish did provide some reason to be happy, but it was difficult to see in that moment.

Even now, a few days after the race, it's difficult for me to process exactly how I feel about my experience. I know I'm happy to have finished, but that's all I know for sure. I hope I'm fortunate enough to take another crack at Western States someday, but if I'm not, I won't miss it.

I need to thank Jo for always taking my shit when I'm in a bad spot, and still being willing to give me 100% of herself in my selfish pursuits. It takes a rare woman to deal with men like us. I also want to thank Travis for all his help getting me to Auburn. Without him, I still may be wandering through the California high country right now. And as always, I thank all my amazing sponsors for their relentless support.

Now…on to Vermont to kick ass in the beer mile!


Monday, June 8, 2015

Bryce Canyon 50k: Classic Ultra Tourism


If you're a trail runner AND you live anywhere in Utah...congratulations! You're living a charmed existence!
 
The epic trails, diverse landscapes and the general trail running community is what brought Jo and I to Utah a few years ago. While living on the other side of the country, we came out to Southern Utah to run the Zion 100 in its inaugural year and loved it so much that we decided to make Utah our home.
 
So it seems fitting, and quite timely, that the Zion 100 would be the catalyst for growth and expansion with the Grand Circle Trail Series, as Ultra Adventures added other amazing destination races, like Monument Valley, The Grand Canyon, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon and others.
 
On tap for this weekend? The Bryce Canyon 50k.
 
Yes, I said 50k. I feel compelled to clarify that, only because of the tremendous number of people that seemed to be surprised to hear I was "only" running the 50k. While the facts do clearly illustrate that I have run FAR more 100 milers than I have 50k's, this fact alone does not preclude me from running the shorter distance if I choose to. Which I rarely do. But I did. So...let's move on.
 
Bryce Canyon is a beautiful and rugged place filled with timbered forests, red rock formations, hoodoos that stretch for miles, and a bounty of steep, technical terrain. Bryce Canyon has a unique look and feel that can't be replicated or compared to any other place on earth. A perfect place for a trail race.
 
Utah has been plagued with violent and unpredictable weather all year and this weekend was no exception. The forecast was a mix of heavy rain, thunderstorms, scattered showers, hail, wind, heat and perhaps a few snowflakes. And we saw all of that.
 

Arriving at the Canyon Right After a Bout of Heavy Rain

Without too much concern for the weather, Jo and I decided to camp near the finish line for the weekend. We found a peaceful spot in the woods, backed our trailer in, and set up our campsite.

The Agnew Compound: Bryce Canyon Branch
 
The 50k began on Saturday morning at 8:00 AM at the Tropic Resevoir, a short drive from our campsite. We gathered at the boat launch, listened to a few words from the Race Director, and headed into the woods.
 


Into the Woods!

Right off the bat, my race instincts took over and surged to the front to join the lead pack. This is truly an involuntary reflex and I'm trying to learn how to control it. I almost immediately realized my mistake and allowed myself to fade into the top 25% of the field.

There are three reasons for this:

1) This is a training run for Western States, so I'm demanding a 100 mile pace effort.
2) The first 5 miles are all uphill, topping out at 9000'.
3) I'm a terrible 50k runner.

I caught up to Pam Reed and spent a couple of miles chatting with her. In 2002, Pam became the first woman to be the overall winner at Badwater, then came back the following year to do it again. She continues to hold a lot of ultra running records and has been an icon in the sport for a long time. I always make a point to spend a mile or two with her when the opportunity arises.

The initial climb was relentless and I ran it in a very measured manner, trying not to burn myself up in the early miles. When we topped out at 9,000', we were literally in the clouds.

The descent provided a welcomed relief. I ran the downhills with the same amount of restraint as I ran the uphill. I coasted at an easy pace and enjoyed the ride to the bottom.


We hit the Blue Fly aid station at 8.5 miles, and even though I didn't need anything, I stopped in for a brief social call anyway. Before heading back out, I saw Curtis Thompson, a good friend from Ogden. I waited on him for a moment and we rolled out together and chatted our way through the next 8 miles.


After Blue Fly, we continued to descend for another 500' before briefly hitting the valley floor, where we immediately started another long climb. The weather was still cooperating, providing a nice breeze, a few rain drops and the occasional cameo by the sun. We were rolling along, soaking up the miles and enjoying the beautiful landscape.

Chasing Curtis Thompson

UP and more UP!

At mile 12, we top out at 8500' and meet up with the 50 and 100 mile course. We promptly begin a two mile downhill run toward the Proctor Canyon aid station. The descent was fun and we powered through a few sections, but I kept it leisurely for the most part. We passed a few lingering 100 mile runners that had now been on the course for about 28 or 29 hours and still had 18 miles to cover. I could almost feel their pain as we sailed on by.


And here's where I almost ruined everything...

When we came into the Proctor Canyon aid station, it was still cool and cloudy. I had all the Hammer gels I needed and my hydration pack seemed to be fairly well loaded, so I didn't use anything from the aid station. I was feeling great and ready get back on the trail.

The next aid station is 8.5 miles away, separated by a lot of steep climbs and sharp descents. We begin the first climb almost immediately, and as we do, the sun comes out and stays out. I begin to really sweat heavily and I start to drink steadily from my hydration pack. I was out of water in that first mile.

The weather conditions had turned so quickly that I was caught unprepared. I contemplated turning around so I could head back to the aid station and fill up, but I decided against it, hoping the sun would be overcome by a steady cycle of rain clouds. That never happened.

Within another mile, I was feeling symptoms of dehydration. This is something I am now able to recognize in myself very early on, which has saved my ass on more than one occasion. Thankfully, I've made so many mistakes as a runner, I pretty much know how to handle almost any dire situation.

At the top of the next steep  climb, I let Curtis pull away so I could get myself fixed up. My only choice was to slow my pace and conserve my body fluids for the next 6 miles of sweltering, hilly and totally exposed single track. My only focus was to prevent myself from sweating too much, so I let my body dictate my pace.


I managed to survive the trek to the Thunder Mountain aid station. This is the third and final aid station on the course and it leaves me with 9.5 miles of brutal climbing before the finish. I took my time to get situated before leaving.

My good friend Courtney Foley was working the aid station and she hopped right to it when I rolled in. She went as far as to dig the remaining shards of ice out of her beer cooler so I could have cold water for the last 9.5 miles. I got hydrated, fueled and headed out.

Leaving the aid station starts by climbing a long, steep jeep road before hopping back onto the trail and making a descent. On this downhill run, I began to bounce back. I was feeling good and enjoying the run again. This would be somewhat short lived and intermittent.


Somewhere around mile 24, the race gets hard.

I began the long, twisting, frustrating climb out of the canyon. At every turn, I was certain that I had topped out. It was clear that I was already well above all the nearby peaks, this has to be the top! Nope! This climb is riddled with false summits. Soul crushing, villainous, deceitful, false summits.


If the scenery wasn't so spectacular, it probably woulda sucked a lot.

I powered along at my well metered, 100 mile pace. It was in these miles that I remembered my amply supplied beer cooler at the finish line, which lifted my spirits and quickened my step.


As I got closer to the finish line, I was passed by the 50 mile race leaders. Their race had started a couple hours ahead of ours, further down the course. I always enjoy watching competitive runners do their thing.


Although I had lost faith that it would ever happen, I did eventually reach the top of the climb. But this wasn't the end of climbing, because the remaining miles are a series of relentless ups and downs as we traverse through a long series of finger canyons. A steady stream of predictable descents and immediate climbs. That never seemed to end.


At the top of every ridge, I totally and completely expected to see the finish line at the bottom of the canyon. But it continued to allude me.

As I was making my 976th descent into another canyon without a finish line, a woman on the course remarked that I was "Very, VERY close to the finish". I thanked her and pushed on.

Five canyon crossings later, I determined that this woman has an entirely different definition of the phrase "Very, VERY close" than I do.

By now, the sun had faded and was replaced by a series of dark thunder clouds. The rain started, followed by rain, then hail. As if that wasn't enough, lightning began to pound the surrounding hills and the thunder was ringing my ears.

I lost all interest in maintaining my 100 mile pace strategy and focused on getting my butt off that mountain in the most expeditious manner possible.

Finishing!

As soon as I crossed the finish line, I handed my pack to my wife, mumbled something about "Time to GO!" and made a dash right to my awaiting pickup. No celebration, no fanfare, let's just go get a beer and some dry clothes in a place that's NOT currently being struck by lightning.

Back at Camp, Drying Off and Relaxing
 
 
As 50k's go, Bryce offers a very tough course, buffered by beautiful scenery and an amazing race management team. Ultra Adventures has cornered the market on challenging destination races and this is one of the best.
 
The race worked out perfectly for me. I logged a stout training run and finished feeling very strong and never got sore in the days after. I feel like I managed my pace properly and got a little more practice at digging myself out of yet another hole of my own making. Those experiences are priceless!
 
Now I'm left with three weeks of focused, specific training leading up to the Western States 100. I've never felt more prepared.
 
Thanks for reading! 


Monday, May 18, 2015

Grand Canyon 50k: Injury? What Injury?


The week leading up to this race, I wasn't sure if I was heading to the Grand Canyon to run a 50k, or if I would be making the drive to work the race as a volunteer.

The previous weekend, I was forced to drop from the Spruce Woods 100 due to an excruciating injury to my hip flexor. It was a devastating turn of events that cast a dark shadow over the balance of my race season. When I returned home, I walked and monitored the hip, but there was nothing to suggest that I would be running any time soon.

Finally, 2 days before the race, I was able to trot down the trail a little bit without any serious pain. The following day it felt even better. So I decided to see how a 50k would feel.

Off to the Grand Canyon we went!

As most people know, the weather in Utah, Colorado and northern Arizona has been rough this spring. Winter has been reluctant to release it's grip on our region and we've had chilly, wet weather for the last month. But I didn't expect actual WINTER weather in Arizona. In May.

Tent Campers at the Start Line

On race morning, we woke up to 6 inches of fresh powder and freezing temperatures. In May.

Because I was nursing a questionable hip, I was actually happy about the weather. It crushed any remnants of pressure that I might have felt to run a fast race. This course wasn't going to be fast. It allowed me to get into the right mindset for what I was trying to do. I needed to go easy, enjoy the day, and stay healthy. Pretty simple objectives.

Walking to the Start Line

My race was a point-to-point course. We were supposed to be shuttled out to our starting point, then dropped off so we could run back. Because of the weather and the poor road conditions, Matt Gunn (the Race Director), decided to change the course to an out-and-back format. I totally loved the idea because it makes for a more social environment, and one of my primary goals was to have fun.

Matt Gunn Giving me Grief for Racing on a Bad Hip

A quick side note: It's worth mentioning that Matt Gunn puts on some of the most amazing races in the country. Part of his success is due to the rugged, scenic and remote locations that he has us run. Places like Bryce Canyon, Monument Valley, Zion, and the Grand Canyon. This comes at a price, because remote courses are prone to bad weather, poor communication, and a host of other characteristics that make it difficult to produce a trouble free event. The weather threw a kink in Matt's plans, but I think he did an amazing job of pulling it all together. Happy runners is the only thing that Matt cares about. He's an incredible Race Director.

Starting Line

Our race was set to start at 8:00 AM. After a quick race briefing, we were off to play in the snow.


The race starts with a steep climb that goes on for a little more than a mile. Because I was there to run a casual, leisurely pace, I decided to run the entire hill. Seems like something I would do.

By the time I reached the top, my heart was about to burst through my chest cavity and my lungs were on fire. We're running near 9000 feet above sea level. That adds a bit of difficulty to these long ascents.

After hitting the top of the hill, we have about 14 miles of downhill running. Not steep downhill running. Just slightly downhill running. The kind that still requires a bit of effort to build speed.

Mile 4, Outbound

We would be dropping about 2000 feet of elevation on the way to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Slowly, we worked our way to a warmer environment. The snow began to fade a bit, replaced by wet, muddy trails.

We hit the first aid station at 5.5 miles. I ducked into the tent and started chatting with the volunteers. I run all of Matt's races, so as a side benefit, I know almost all of the repeat volunteers. Aside from wanting to exchange pleasantries, I also wanted to force myself to take my time. Chatting away at aid stations helped achieve both goals.


As I headed out to the next aid station, I caught up with some runners and chatted as we cruised down the trail. I kept monitoring my hip, but there was no sign of pain. I was cautiously optimistic, but a bit of worry was still floating around in my brain.

As we dropped elevation, the snow continued to fade.


The Squaw Aid Station was at mile 9. When I got there, I saw my truck, covered in mud, parked next to the tent. I wasn't expecting Jo to be there, so it was a pleasant surprise. As it turns out, Matt had put Jo (and my truck) to work, shuttling supplies around the course. We just happened to be at Squaw at the same time.

Coming into Squaw

I messed around at the aid station for a bit, once again, chatting with the volunteers and giving Jo an update on how I felt. After a few minutes, I pushed on down the trail.
 
Getting Better and Better with Every Mile

Before reaching the Stina Aid Station, we hit a steep incline. I wasn't expecting that at all, but then again, I had neglected to look at the course details before I started the race. I made a mental note to be better prepared next time.

I knuckled down and hiked to the top of this relentless hill. Once I topped out, I was greeted by the Stina Aid Station. This would be the last aid station before the Rim. I walked into the tent, found an empty chair and sat down.

I spent a ridiculous amount of time hanging out and chatting with the volunteers. Runners were coming and going, but I was happy to be relaxing.

For the first time in quite a while, I was just enjoying the experience. There was no pressure and I was just having fun. I realized that this is why I fell in love with trail running to begin with. I'm sure there's a lesson in there somewhere.


From Stina, we head toward the Rim on some exceptional single track. It was warm out, the ground was dry and the sky was blue. It was a beautiful day to be running in the woods along the Canyon.

By now, returning runners were heading back toward me on their way to the finish. We greeted each other the way trail runners do, passing along encouragement and compliments. I even stopped a few times to chat with friends as we met on the trail.

Competitive Kelly would have been counting running as they went by. I caught myself when I got to 4, and reminded myself that I wasn't racing, I was just running.

A Runner Seeing the Grand Canyon for the First Time in Her Life

Sharing A Clark Griswold Moment with Keena DeLay

I eventually found the turnaround point where I marked my bib with a big blue "X" to prove that I had made it. I took a few minutes to enjoy the Canyon, then turned and headed back.

I had enjoyed the downhill run getting to the Rim, but now I had to pay the price for all that "easy" running. I started my long uphill push to the finish.

Getting back to Stina seemed to take forever. Part of that is probably because I stopped so many times to talk to friends as I encountered them along the way, but that's always time well spent.

Getting Back to Stina Aid Station

Jo just happened to be dropping off supplies at Stina when I got there. I was excited to see my bride again, so I lingered for a while, giving her a thorough update on my race and my condition.

Here's the abbreviated update: I was having fun, I felt great and I love this course.

Hanging at Stina with Jo and Cherri

After screwing off in the aid station for way too long, I was practically kicked out. It was probably time to head out anyway.

I left Stina and started my way down that steep hill that I had just climbed a few hours earlier. It felt much better this time.

Leaving Stina

As I made the climb back toward the finish line, the trail deteriorated. Where there was once snow, there was now mud. Lot's of it. And water running down the trail like an endless gutter. Footing was a bit tricky, my feet were saturated, and I was having a blast.

I made it back to the Squaw Aid Station pretty fast. I hopped inside and pulled up a chair. I remembered that Jo and Cherri had stashed a PBR in there for me. When I sat down, one of the aid station workers walked over and put it in my hand. How can you beat that kind of service?!?!

Seems Like an Appropriate Time for a Beer

After the PBR was polished off, I thanked the volunteers and hit the trail. There was only one aid station between me and the finish and I wanted to get headed that way. 

Jo Just Kept Popping Up Everywhere!!!

The trails kept getting worse as I made my way higher, pushing away from the Rim. It had warmed up, well above freezing and the snowmelt was wreaking havoc on the trails. Finding runnable ground was nearly impossible.


I made it to the final aid station and hung out for 4 or 5 minutes before heading off. I thanked the volunteers and hopped back on the mucky trail for the last 5 miles.


By now, it ALMOST sucked a little bit. I was moving SO slow because of the mud and my feet were getting cold from running in icy water for so long. But despite that, I was still having a lot of fun. I couldn't conjure up a foul mood, no matter how hard I tried.


After a LONG uphill slog, I finally made it to the top of the hill that we had run up earlier this morning. I knew the finish line was a little more than a mile away. All downhill. I aimed my feet that way and bombed downward.

DONE!!!

I crossed the line in 8th place overall. I was uninjured and happier than I had been at a finish line in a long time!

I learned a lot from this experience, but the most important thing I took away from that day was a reminder that I do this because it makes me happy. It's easy to lose sight of that when the need to compete clouds my judgment and steers my goals. I enjoyed every step of that race and had a big dumb smile on my face all day. That's a lesson I want to hold on to.

The course turned out to be 36 miles long, a bit of a stretch for a 50k, but that's alright. It just gave me more miles to enjoy. And it gives me confidence that I can run again, without too much concern about re-injuring myself. I needed that boost going into the rest of my race season.

I want to thank Hammer Nutrition for fueling me, Topo Athletic for putting great shoes on my feet and my wife for being so damn awesome. And thanks to Matt Gunn for putting on the best trail races in the West.

On to Bryce Canyon in three weeks. I hope to see you there!