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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!

Monday, November 17, 2014

The World Needs More Traci Falbo



Like a lot of us, Traci Falbo used running as a tool to lose, and later, manage weight. After losing 80 pounds, she set her sights on running her first marathon.

Since that time, Traci has gone on to win 19 marathons, finish the Grand Slam of Ultra Running, run for the US 24 Hour Team, break the 48 Hour Indoor Track World Record, and most recently, she broke the women's American 100 mile trail record by finishing the Tunnel Hill 100 in 14:45:26.



She did all of this after taking up running in her mid 30's, and didn't start running ultras until her 40's.

So maybe Traci isn't like a lot of us after all.

Traci Falbo is an emerging force in the sport of ultra running and she's an athlete that I admire and respect for many reasons. Most of which, is for her ability to illustrate to the world what a working Mother can do when she sets goals, remains focused and is willing to fearlessly follow her dreams and aspirations.

In a world where our young women are looking up to Kim Kardashian and Miley Cyrus, I find myself grateful, that as a community, we can turn to women like Traci Falbo as a true example of what a powerful woman really is.

And this is why I wanted to interview her. The world needs more Traci.

What attracted you to ultra running?

I started running to lose weight and had always wanted to run a marathon (bucket list). So, I lost 80 pounds and ran my first marathon. Gradually, marathons led me to the 50 States Club, the 50 Sub 4:00, 50 and DC, and the Marathon Maniacs groups. I started doing a lot of races in a year and started doing back to back marathons (Saturday/Sunday). Eventually, frequent marathon racing led to ultras. I ran my second 100 miler at Umstead in 17:02 and won. That's when I realized I was good at running far. I had never really been considered a good runner. After that, I caught the ultra bug.



You're crushing long standing records in timed events AND on the trails. Which type of racing do you prefer?

I like fixed distance events better. Timed events are so mentally challenging because no matter what you do, the race ends at some point. You can go take a nap, go out to eat, see a movie, and then come back to the timed event...well, nobody does that, but you could, so it's a lot more tempting to take breaks. A fixed distance forces you to run until you get to the finish, so it's more concrete and less tempting to be wimpy. I'm better on less technical surfaces. I can do technical, I just fall frequently.

It's unusual for an ultra runner to excel in both types of events the way you do. Do you train differently for timed races versus trail races?

I really train mostly on road and just run a certain volume per week. If I feel good that day, I just run harder. I know I should do speed work and hill work, but I don't like it, so I rarely do. When I train for something specific (the Slam), I make sure I get more trails and more hills, but I don't do them regularly.



When you race, what motivates you?

Goals. I set goals for just about every race. I set multiple goals and rarely hit every one, but I always go for it.

What attracts you to certain races?

I really do what looks fun to me. For my 50 states goal, I picked races that were in a cool place, scenic, and even a couple of times because I thought the medals were cool. I want to run Spartathon and Comrades, and redeem myself at Western States. I want to run in Italy for the US 24 Hour Team.



Do you maintain any special diet to enhance your endurance running?

No. I just carb load before big events.

You have a full time career, you're raising children, and you still have time to train and race at this high level. How do you manage all that?

It's a juggle! Thankfully, my family is very supportive. I can't run as many miles as many of the people I compete with because I simply don't have the time.

Considering your adaptability in this sport, is there any type of race that intimidates you?

Mountain Courses. I don't have terrain near me that's good for training, so I'm not good at climbing.

Who are the runners that have inspired you the most?

Ann Trason, Meghan Arbogast, Pam Smith, Connie Gardner and Ellie Greenwood to name just a few.



What's your most memorable moment from running or racing?

At 6 Days in the Dome, when I broke the American Record, they announced it on the microphone and most people stopped running and applauded me as I crossed the timing mat. I started to cry because I had just accomplished my dream goal of an AR. It was the only time I've been truly choked up while running. I had to push back the tears so I could keep running.

What advice would you give somebody just getting into ultra running?

You have to BELIEVE that you can do it! Ultras require stubbornness. You sometimes hit lows and have to will yourself through it. If you can mentally stay strong, you can do anything.



You own some of the most significant records in ultra running. Do you have your eye on other goals?

Wow. I don't think that, but I still want to break 3 hours in a marathon. I'm pretty sure I can do it, but I need to stop racing and do some speed work. I'm just not motivated to try it right now. Ultras are my passion.

What's coming up next?

I'm going to Desert Solstice to do 24 hours. I'm afraid if I don't, I won't be on the US 24 Hour Team this year. Three talented ladies have run a bunch of miles in the last two weekends, so I'm going there to increase my mileage number. Also, at the end of January, I'm running across the island of Puerto Rico with Joe Fejas, Valmir Nunes, and Charlie Engle. It's called Puerto Rico 150 (actually 180 miles) and will be for a charity, The San Jorge Children's Foundation. The race is open to everybody and also has a 50k and 50 mile race. If you want to donate, heres a link:

http://www.razoo.com/story/Puerto-Rico-150-Ultramarathon-Run-For-San-Jorge-Traci-Falbo?referral_code=share

And you can follow Traci here:

http://tracifalbo.blogspot.com/



The achievements of female ultra runners are frequently overshadowed by those of their male counterparts. As a running community, we need to celebrate the accomplishments of these women and serve them up as role models for the young, aspiring female (and male) athletes around the world.

Congratulations, Traci! You inspire me and many others. Keep up the great work!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

2014 Moab Trail Marathon: Third Time's a Charm


This is my third year running the Moab Trail Marathon, and after each of those years, I vowed to never return. This vow didn't originate from some deep hatred for the race or dissatisfaction with the event. I didn't want to return because marathon running is painful! Especially this one!

Marathons tend to breed a sense of urgency that I can't quite get comfortable with. The pain comes fast and stays to the end.

Ultras allow the runner to ease into the pain and ride the ups and downs over a prolonged period of time. That's the kind of discomfort I can really get behind!

My previous experiences with this race have been unnecessarily miserable, because this race falls on the weekend after the Javelina Jundred, which has been a mainstay on my race calendar for the last few years. I wasn't able to run Javelina this year, so this would be my first attempt at this race with "reasonably" fresh legs. I had high expectations for a comfortable day on the trail. Or, at least as comfortable as this nasty course would allow.



I wasn't fit enough to be competitive, so I opted to fall back into the 2nd wave of runners so I wouldn't be in the way of people that wanted to compete. As I watched the 1st wave leave, I instantly regretted not being on the trails with those guys. I watched all my running buddies file off into the desert as I got settled into the 2nd wave.

I looked around and knew...nobody.


I eased off the starting line and made my way into the desert. I was immediately being passed on all sides. There was some nudging and darting that I wasn't really accustomed to in trail races. I ignored the perceived urgency and plodded along at an easy pace through the wash as we started the long and gradual ascent.


From running this race in the past, I knew that we were beginning a 4 mile climb and I behaved accordingly. I made a wild, and highly accurate assumption that most of these other runners didn't know we were beginning a climb that long and relentless.

If they DID know, they were far better runners than I am. If they DIDN'T know, they were in for a big surprise!


By mile 2, I had slipped well back... DEEP into my starting wave.

By mile 3, I was beginning to pick runners off, that were now walkers, making my way back toward the front of our wave.

This race has a snag that most people don't accurately predict. The race starts with temps in the 30's, but warms into the 70's in the middle of the race. It's totally exposed and feels like the 90's. It was warmer at the start this year than it had been in the previous years I had run it, and I expected that to translate into VERY warm temps later on. As predicted, it was getting hot and a lot of people didn't expect that extreme transition.

The trail was becoming littered with layers of clothes. That was a new sight for me at a trail race.


We finished the initial climb and enjoyed a quick drop into the valley below. The footing is tricky here, so I took my time, making well calculated foot placement decisions.

I almost fell 4 times. I need to work on making "well calculated" foot placement decisions!


We came to the first aid station at 5.6 miles into the run, and I kept moving right on through without stopping. I was carrying 50 ounces of fluids in my pack and ample Hammer gels to get me to the finish. I didn't plan to make any stops today.


I was running well and feeling good. There's something about running in Moab that's very special to me and I always enjoy it.

I'm usually pretty talkative in the middle miles of a race, but I found myself lost in thought as the miles ticked off. I just ran and enjoyed the desert around me.



Somewhere around mile 8, I was pulled from my introversion by a conversation happening up in front of me between two men that I had been reeling in for the last mile. I found it to be entertaining:

Man 1: Have you run this race before?
Man 2: Nope! This is my first time.
Man 1: It must get easier now that we're on top of the mesa.
Man 2: I'm sure you're right.

I was tempted to destroy their assumptions, but decided to sail on by with nothing more than a polite "hello". They hadn't seen any of the hard stuff yet.



By now, I had passed most of the people in my wave and was working through the runners from the wave in front of me. It was getting hot and people were fading badly.
 


Near mile 9, we began to work our way along the most technical part of the course. This is where trail experience becomes obvious.

Yeah...This is a Trail
 

The final drop into the aid station at mile 9(ish) is a beast! Some sections amount to little more than a boulder scramble and the "trail" leaves a lot to be desired, in terms of a running surface. Despite this, I always enjoy picking my way down this stupid thing.

The best part of the descent is the frequent profane statement hurled into the atmosphere as frustration mounts with the runners. It really is a bitch!

I came through the aid station and slowed momentarily. I remember somebody having a beer for me at this spot last year. I scanned the crowd, saw no beer and pressed on. I was a little disappointed that the beer angel wasn't there for me, but it just reinforced my urgency to get finished so I could attack my own beer cooler at the finish line!

After the aid station, we have some easy running before starting the biggest climb of the race. As I started making my way up the hill, I paused to wonder where Man 1 and Man 2 were. I was certain they would be disappointed to see this climb and to learn that the hard part wasn't behind them.
 


After finishing the climb, we land in a sandy wash before getting to the slick rock maze.

I've mentioned this many times, but it's worth repeating. I get lost REALLY easy. I once got lost in a 5k road race and never found my way back to the finish. It's a real problem for me.

Running the twisting "trail" through the slick rock requires a massive amount of my attention. I'm constantly scanning for little flags, and because the ground is so open, it seems like all I see are millions of little flags going in every direction!

I hunkered down and drew on all my mental powers to make my way through this mess.

Side note: I ran another race on this mesa once and got off course 3 times, losing more than an hour. I had reason to be concerned!


The La Sals! I love them!

After the billionth tiny turn, I realized I was actually going to get off the mesa without getting lost. I started to make my way toward the river.

This is a mixed blessing because this trail isn't a nice, downhill jaunt either. This is a tricky bit of trail that requires a lot of attention. If you get comfortable, or try to run beyond your ability, this section of trail will take a toll, paid in skin and blood.


From here, you can see the finish line. But don't get too excited! There still an ample amount of punishment before the finish.

Rather than being directed to the finish line, we run past the crowd and are greeted by a special kind of hell.


I refer to the remaining miles as "Chutes and Ladders". We run up ladders (twice), through culverts (twice) and have some rope assisted sections that are manned by spotters.

It's not flat and fast.

Fortunately, I was expecting this and managed to keep my annoyance at bay, while trying to have fun. And to my surprise, I enjoyed it far more than in previous years. Probably because I was able to find some humor in the misery of others.

We draw inspiration where we can.

The last section of the race, as we circle back to the finish, is flat and pretty fast. I was still feeling great and was managing to run it pretty well, especially knowing the end was near.

As I was motoring along, I felt a sharp pain in my foot, then again with every step. I stopped, bent over and dug around in my shoe to remove the worlds largest, needle laden, foot penetrating thingy I've ever seen.

As I was doing this, I heard my name called. I looked up and saw John Fitzgerald walking my way. We stopped and chatted for a couple of minutes before I remembered I was still running a race. Off I went.

As soon as I parted ways with John, I saw my wife up ahead, taking pictures of me. My big brain drew the immediate conclusion that, if she's down here, she won't be at the finish line waiting to take pictures of me. Nor will there be a cold beer waiting for me.

Both realities hit me pretty hard.

As it turns out, she was heading to truck at that moment to retrieve some frosty beverages. I was running ahead of schedule, so this is obviously my fault.

How very inconsiderate of me.

This look means, "Why are you down here?"

 
 
Jo and I spoke for another minute or two, updating each other on how our days have been going up to this point. Once again, it occurred to me that I was still in a race, so we parted ways as I pushed on to the finish.
 
I made a mental note to NOT stop and talk to anybody else until AFTER I finished the race.
 
It was my fastest finish at this race so far, which I largely attribute to the fact that I didn't run a 100 miler the weekend before. Which is exactly what I had done in the previous years.
 
There might really be some truth to this "rest" and "recovery" thing that everybody talks about.
 
As expected, I had a lot of fun during my third outing on this course. It's easy to do when you're running in Moab.
 
This race isn't easy, but that shouldn't stop anybody from lining up and taking it on. It's a great bucket list race for everybody.
 


I was really excited to get my hands on an early release of the new gel from Hammer Nutrition, just in time for this race. Nocciola is a mixture of chocolate and hazelnut and is as delicious as it sounds. It's not overly sweet and has a great texture. It's definitely worth checking out!

This is my one and only race for November. I know...I can't believe it either! But, there's still a lot to do in 2014. Thanks for taking the time to read my report!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

White Rim Trail Unsupported FKT: Alone in the Desert


"You gain strength, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do." -Eleanor Roosevelt

I won't hesitate to acknowledge my fears, nor will I avoid ownership of my failures. Both of which are numerous. Attempting a 100 mile, unsupported FKT was a fear that held great promise to become a failure. But in my chosen sport, and the way that I choose to compete in it, accepting failure has become an inevitable reality. Accepting the high likelihood of failure serves to abate the fear, which opens the doors to all kinds of ridiculous opportunities.

In March of this year, I ran the White Rim Trail and set a new record for the supported FKT. You can read that post herehttp://www.slippingslowlyintopain.blogspot.com/2014/03/white-rim-trail-fkt.html

The White Rim Trail favors my running style and it's the type of course that I can find a lot of success with. Even during that initial run, I was plotting a return visit to attempt the unsupported FKT. The current record was 27 hours and was held by John Stamstad. John set the record by pushing a modified baby jogger filled with his essentials. After running the White Rim, I couldn't fathom pushing a jogger over that terrain for 100 miles. I started planning...

The White Rim Trail is a big destination for mountain bikers and the majority of the online information is geared toward that sport. Because who would run a 100 mile mountain bike trail? Here's an excerpt from one of the websites:

"Most riders spend 3 or 4 days to ride this trail, spending the night at campgrounds. (Two days = Monster. One day = Lunatic.)"

So...riding this trail in 24 hours is lunacy...
The big concern is water because the course doesn't come equipped with any sources for replenishing my supply. This means I have to carry every ounce with me. In consideration of that, I began to track my water consumption during all my long runs and races, accounting for weather, terrain and effort. I used those numbers to determine my required volume and ultimately, the weight that would burden my effort. 

Next, I had to figure out how to carry all my essentials. The solution came in the Osprey Rev 12 hydration pack. I already run with two of their smaller packs, so I was comfortable with the product. The Rev 12 provided enough storage for my water, nutrition, extra gear and all the emergency supplies I would need for running 100 miles through the desert. Assuming the weight didn't crush me in the process.



My Fully Loaded Pack Weighed 22.6 Pounds

Here's a list of the contents:
- 285 ounces of water (3 bladders and 4 bottles)
- 30 Hammer Nutrition Gels
- 4 Hammer Bars
- Flashlight
- Batteries
- Light jacket
- Gloves
- Headlamp
- iPod

My success was completely dependent on my ability to run with all that weight on my back. I spent time working with my gear and finding ways to get comfortable with the weight, well in advance of the run. The pack rode well and gave me the confidence I needed to go after the record.

I planned to begin my run on Friday afternoon, late enough in the day that I wouldn't be exposed to the sun for long. My hope was to do my most meaningful, and fastest running at night when my burden was greatest. By sunrise, I wanted to be deep into the 100 mile trail and carrying a much lighter load.

This Sign Marks the Beginning

Fully Loaded and Ready to Go!

Ready...Set...

GO!!!

As a 100 mile loop, I can start my run anywhere I want, and over the years, different FKT's have started and finished in several locations. I chose to start in the same spot I had used when I set the supported record back in March. I did this because it was familiar, but also because it gets the worst climb out of the way in the first few miles.

The First Climb

Running up the ascent was futile with the load I was carrying. I power hiked (a term ultra runners use to make "walking" sound more epic) my way to the top. Once I got back on flat ground, I was able to run well and I was making good time.

My route took me out of Canyonlands National Park and down the paved road to Mineral Bottom Road. This is a wide dirt road with a few rollers and a fair amount of vehicle and ATV traffic. I ate more dust than I care to have in my diet.

Mineral Bottom Road ends with a wild descent on tight switchback. The weight of the pack pushed through my body and showed itself in my burning quads.

At the bottom of the switchbacks, I jump on the White Rim Trail and re-enter Canyonlands National Park.

It was dark by now and the weather was comfortable for running, but it was a bit warmer than I had hoped for. I was sipping water from my bladder, being mindful of rationing. I made a point to adjust clothing and pace to minimize sweating. I needed to find a balance between too fast and too slow in order to make good time without running out of water and calories. It was a steady, mental battle.

Even though I had only run this trail once before, I fell right into a rhythm, recognizing landmarks and different characteristics of the trail. It was comfortable and I was running with a broad smile and I was feeling great.

I was fueling exclusively on Hammer Nutrition gels. I didn't have a strategy for timing my intake, I just gobbled one down whenever it felt right. I had considered incorporating HEED or Perpetuem into my fueling regimen, but they both need to be mixed with water during the run and I didn't want to take the time, nor did I want to run the risk of spilling water in the process. I had prior luck with gels over this distance, so I had confidence in the decision.

Around midnight, I ran past a couple as they were setting up camp alongside the road. Here's how that conversation went:

Man: Going for a little nighttime run?
Me: YUP!
Woman: How far?
Me: About 100 miles.
Them: (silence)
Woman to Man: Did he say 100 miles?
Man to Woman: I'm sure he was kidding.

Shortly after passing the camp, my headlamp caught glowing eyes right off the trail in front of me. As I got closer, I could see the eyes were tracking me and the animal wasn't moving. It was just laying low in the brush right next to the trail. When I got closer, I could clearly see it was a Bobcat crouched down, believing itself to be invisible. I stopped on the trail, 10 feet from the cat and stared. The cat stared back, turning its body toward me. I went on my way, glancing back a few times, watching the glowing eyes as they tracked my progress. That cat was a creepy little bastard.

About 50 miles into the run, I became very drowsy. I had been up since 3:30 AM, worked a full day and travelled to Moab for this run. My head was foggy, and the hallucinations started.

For me, hallucinations aren't terribly uncommon, but they're usually very mild. During this run, it was a nonstop barrage of insane images and sounds. There were animals darting across the trail that weren't there. Bushes and trees were leaping from the edge of the trail, trying to trip me. Loud, ringing cowbells nearby, despite the lack of cows...and supporters. People talking loudly nearby and the occasional 1940's radio show playing in the distance. It was maddening and I couldn't shake it.

Late into the night, my lower back began to hurt a bit, so I stopped, pulled my pack off and laid down in the middle of the trail to stretch myself out. Some time later, my snoring woke me up. I had fallen asleep as soon as I laid down! I jumped up in a panic, wondering how long I had been there. I strapped my pack on and ran down the trail. When my watch buzzed as I finished another mile, I glanced down to check my split time. It was 10 minutes slower than what I had been running, so I assume that was how long I was out. I could spare 10 minutes and I felt alive again, refreshed and ready to go!

I eventually made it to Murphy's Hogback, a dreaded climb with an even worse descent on the backside. I knuckled down and powered to the top. The wind was blowing and it was cold, but I had to stop and make some adjustments. My main bladder was dry and I needed to make the swap. My bladders have quick connect couplers, so I just unhooked the tube and connected to a full bladder. I was on my way in a few seconds, slipping and tumbling off the mesa.

The sun began to make its regularly scheduled appearance around mile 70. As the sky lit up, I could see there was a lot of cloud cover, which is what I was hoping to find. Without it, the day would have been unbearable as I tried to make the last 30 miles without shade or cover of any kind. I definitely got lucky!

Good Morning Canyonlands!

At this point, I still had one 50 ounce bladder and two 24 ounce bottles, along with plenty of gels to get me to the finish. I had survived the night and was well ahead of schedule for the record. I took the time to enjoy my run and revel in the experience.

The last several miles are mostly flat, if not, a gradual descent headed toward my finish. It was easy running, but despite that, I chose to walk on several occasions just to have a chance to settle down and relax. I had plenty of time, so I took advantage of it.


In my last FKT on the White Rim, I started just before sunrise, and this run began just before sunset. As a result, I was able to run in daylight, through the areas that had been dark on my last visit. It was cool to see the scenery I had missed during my first visit.


Around mile 85, it became abundantly clear that I was going to beat the existing record. I had been harboring a hidden goal from the onset, but I consider it bad luck to share this type of information. My real hope was to finish in under 24 hours, and now, that goal seemed well within my grasp.

I Even Had Time for a Hammer Promo Shot!

And a Selfie!!

I was clearly dehydrated, so I started drinking my remaining water as I got closer to the finish. I took my list sip of water at mile 98. All three bladders and all four bottles were dry!

The last mile is a rolling descent to the bottom of the Schaffer Trail, where I had started the previous day. I could see my truck parked at the bottom, along with my awaiting bride. Armed with a fresh smile, I pushed the pace to the end.

Finishing in 21:52:12!

With my added burden, my time was 4 hours and 5 minutes slower than my supported FKT. My secret calculations suggested 5 hours, so I was pretty pleased!



Prompt Rehydration is Critical!!

This will most likely end my relationship with the White Rim Trail, and I'm at peace with that. After two successful runs on this trail, it makes sense to end on a high note. Until one of my records is broken, but we'll cross that bridge when it's time.

This effort marks the first time I have ever run an ultra distance without my wife crewing for me and caring for my every need. She has been a mainstay in everything I have ever done in this sport, but she had to sit this one out. That was tough for both of us, especially because there's so little cell service on the route. I know she dreaded watching me run into the desert alone for 100 miles and her concern weighed on me through the night. It was great to be successfully reunited at the end.

Aside from thanking my wife for her patience and understanding, I need to also thank Hammer Nutrition for being such an amazing sponsor. They always step up for me and care about my success. They're a great company with a great product.

I also want to thank Osprey Packs. They're always right in line when I want to do something idiotic, and this run was no different. I definitely had the right gear to get this done and I owe that to them.

And, thanks to all of you that follow and support me. It means more than you'll ever know. Thanks for reading about my adventure!



Sunday, September 28, 2014

2014 Bear 100: The Anatomy of a DNF

Less than four years ago, my greatest athletic aspiration was to finish my first marathon. This was well before I knew anything of substance about trail running and I knew even less about ultra running. I perceived the marathon to be the pinnacle of athletic achievement and having a shiny finishers medal became an obsession for me.

On October 16th, 2010, I finished the Baltimore Marathon and got my medal. Largely in part to running with an injury, my finish time was 5:51:01. I was happy because I was officially a MARATHON RUNNER! Being really slow and a little pathetic was just fine.

All I wanted was the finish.

Killing Myself for a 5:51 Road Marathon Finish

A lot of things have changed in those 4 years, and the value of the finish is one of the biggest differences.

BTW...If you stumbled across this blog, searching for a step-by-step account of the Bear 100, follow the link below. It tells a story of a much better day for me.

http://www.slippingslowlyintopain.blogspot.com/2013/09/2013-bear-100-happy-to-be-member-of.html

I had run the Bear 100 the previous year and I loved everything about this race. The scenery is as beautiful as the course is brutal. It's a legit, high altitude mountain race that leaves you with an undeniable sense of accomplishment when you finish it. I had performed well at the Bear in 2013 and was looking for another great run in 2014, despite having run the Wasatch 100 three weeks prior, and the Leadville 100 three weeks prior to that. None of this is really new to me because I'm a "Bend it till it breaks" kinda guy.

3 Minutes Before the Start of The Bear

I felt good leading up to the race, but I knew my real physical weaknesses wouldn't be exploited until my body was really challenged on some of the major climbs. My summer mountain races had taken a heavy toll on my climbing legs, so I was entering into the unknown.

Or to put it differently...I was planning to do my last long training run for the Bear, while I was running the Bear.

I ran and climbed well on the first ascent, which comes immediately after the start. My legs felt tired but I pushed through it and climbed hard. Near the top, I began to feel a subtle burn in my left hamstring. I ignored it, but made note of it as I made my way up the mountain.



The first downhill felt great and I was on the same pace as I had run the previous year, which was really the best I could hope for.

As we ran the next ascent, the nagging in my hamstring returned, and was a bit more pronounced.

This is where I would normally write, "But the pain was outweighed by the beauty of the course and the intensity of the endeavor"...or something similar. But that's not true. My leg hurt and I felt it. The beauty was of no use in subduing it and the intensity of the endeavor was causing it.

Beauty...intensity...whatevs...

I began to get a little worried about my leg after the first aid station at mile 10 because the situation was deteriorating. It's not unusual for me to have some kind of pain early in a race, only to see it fade as my body warmed up and got into the rhythm of the run. Not the case this time.


I ran several miles with different friends and shared with them that I was having an issue. As expected, they all brushed it off and encouraged me to work it out and focus on the finish. This is what we always tell each other and we do it for all the right reasons. We want to help each other and see each other succeed. The support we give each other in this sport is one of the things that makes it special and it's something that I genuinely appreciate.

When I came into the Leatham Hollow aid station at mile 19.6, I would see my wife for the first time. As soon as I saw her, I expressed my concerns, but I was still hopeful this would be something I could work out. She helped me through the aid station and I was headed back down the trail trying to sort things out, both physically and mentally.

Coming into Leatham Hollow

Leaving Leatham Hollow was a tricky decision because I knew I would have another 10 miles of hard climbing and running before I had crew access again. If I had a legitimate injury, getting out of the mountains was going to be a real problem.

Side note: Have you ever had one of those moments in a race when you begin to ponder the actual cost of a rescue helicopter? Where you say to yourself, "If things go south way up here, this is going to cost me about $35,000 to get my dumb ass out of here."

Coming into Cowley Aid Station at Mile 29.9

I came into the Cowley Aid Station with a sense of desperation. I explained to Jo that things needed to improve DRASTICALLY if I was going to go another 70 miles. I fueled up and was getting ready to head out when I told her that my decision to continue would be made before the next aid station. If things stayed the same, I would drop from the race.

And this is the beginning of the big debate...

Deciding to DNF, regardless of distance or terrain, is a very personal decision and every runner processes this differently. After a few years, and 90 finishes at the marathon distance or beyond, I've decided to employ a tiny bit of logic when calculating the benefit of continuing on a bad day.

The decision to DNF is directly proportionate to the level of importance we place on the race. That may seem obvious, but in the moment, I think that sentiment is sometimes lost.

When I finished my first marathon, injured and slow, I only did so because the finish was more important than any potential damage or serious injury. If asked at that moment, I probably would have forfeited my ability to walk again, just to have a chance to cross the finish line.

And that's just a marathon! Throw a BUCKLE into the picture and the deep desire to push on is intensified by 372%...according to recent scientific studies. I wouldn't make that up. You can google it.

Additionally, there's a tremendous amount of pressure on ultra runners to NEVER drop. We're supposed to be tough and push through the pain without concern for consequences. Some people see a DNF as a sign of weakness rather than a calculated decision. That's a dangerous and irresponsible attitude. Another fact, fully supported by science.

Who Hasn't Heard an Ultra Runner Say This?

If you cut through all the crap, it boils down to your priorities. Here's a list of things that inspire fear in people when they ponder a DNF:

1. I really, REALLY want that buckle!
2. My friends will pretend it's ok...but deep down inside, they'll think I'm a douche nozzle.
3. Literally, every runner here that finishes...will beat me. How embarrassing.
4. They have blueberry pancakes at the mile 84 aid station. I love blueberry pancakes.
5. I'll never get that deal with Altra if I drop because they're the ZERO DROP SHOE!! Damn!
6. People will keep telling me that I made the right choice. Until I punch one of them. Then it'll stop.
7. Did I mention how badly I want THAT buckle?!
8. I won't be able to write an EPIC blog post!
9. It'll be an entire YEAR before I can redeem myself.
10. I'll never be able to wear the race shirt in public.
11. I'll have 12 months of people asking me, "Hey, you gonna take another shot at the Bear?"

Fortunately for me, none of these things were a concern.

I had run this race before, and I ran it pretty well. I had nothing to fear and nothing to prove. I have a long track record of finishing 100 mile trail races and I even have a few wins.

Why in the hell would I subject myself to a miserable time, slugging it out all the way to the finish of a race that I have already defeated?

The answer to that question is...PRIDE. While pride has a place in this sport, I suggest you use it sparingly.

While kicking all of this around in my brain, it came down to one final question that I kept asking myself:

"Are you having fun?"

"No. No I am not having fun."

Thus...These are my final strides at the 2014 Bear 100

I run long distance trail races for two reasons:

1. To have fun in beautiful places with awesome people.
2. To prepare for the zombie apocalypse.

Another eye opening, scientific fact for you:

So, let's face it. If I'm not having fun and I'm just going to die at the hands of the undead anyway, then calling it quits seems entirely reasonable. 

My logic works for me because I run a lot. Dropping from a 100 mile race, even a race as incredible as the Bear, becomes easier after having completed so many great races. And it becomes even easier when I consider all of the cool things I'll be doing in the coming months. It's not a pressing issue when it becomes a fairly normal activity.

The opposite is also true. Dropping from your first 100 miler, or one of the very few that you've attempted, becomes a menacing, if not terrifying thought. That fear pushes people to different places. Sometimes it's good and other times it's disastrous. 

My only advice is to know where your priorities lie, and what your values are, before making that irreversible decision. There's never a rush to decide your own fate on race day, so take the time to truly analyze your thoughts, your physical condition and your options for saving the day. Then balance that against the things that truly matter to you and your decision will be obvious. That's what I did in this case and it led me to the best answer. 

It's soothing to live your life large and to feel the comfort of no regrets. 

Jo and I have a lot of big things coming up in the next few months and that's where my attention lies now. Thanks for reading my sad story from the Bear. If the mood strikes me, I might go after another buckle from that race. If not, I can move on...with no regrets.