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, December 8, 2015

2015 Cajun Coyote 100: Louisiana Swamp Stompin'

It's been about 6 weeks since I've done this blog thing, so let's see how it goes.

2015 has been a tumultuous running season. I've ranted a bit about how awful things have been, and that's not really fair. In fact, it's mostly just me being a big crybaby. The fact is, it's been a great year. I've traveled to a lot of amazing locations where I was able to run, and in a few cases, vomit and become delirious. Brazil comes to mind right away.

I won more races and set more course records this year than any other year. And I've also dropped from a record number of races. Those two facts may have a lot to do with each other. And as humans, we all tend to remember the bad times far longer than the good times. Thus...the general sense that it's been a terrible season.

The truth is, I have a lot to be very thankful for.

As the year winds down, I was eager to return to Ville Platte, Louisiana, to run the Cajun Coyote 100. I've run this race before and I love all the great people associated with it.

More than anything, I wanted to have a good run. A good race would also be nice, but I was far more focused on having a solid run that would help me build my confidence after a few tough races. I removed all the peripheral annoyances that tend to add stress to my running leading up to this race and I just focused on keeping things fun and easy. Not always as easy as it sounds.

This race is made up from five, 20 mile loops through the Chicot State Park. Some people hate loops, but I usually enjoy them. They say course knowledge makes a big difference in a race. After seeing the same 20 mile loop a few times, it's hard to become any more knowledgeable.

The weather was perfect! Mid 30's for the low and mid 60's for the high. Humidity would be tolerable. I was ready to go. 

Pre-Race Briefing

At 6:35 AM. we were off.

My plan was pretty simple. I was going to hang back in the pack, somewhere around 5th place, and coast through the first 20 miles. So obviously, I locked onto the heels of the leader and immediately abandoned my plan.

Ed Melancon was leading and he looked fit. Ed won the race in 2014 and I figured he would lead a lot of the race, if not all of it. I wasn't in perfect 100 mile condition, so chasing Ed was mostly for entertainment.

After the first mile, I let a runner pass me, dropping to 3rd place. I followed the two men up front and watched the early miles of the race play out. I felt like Ed was already being protective of the lead. I dropped back 50 yards behind them and kept an eye of things, wondering if they would make it a fight to the death. Because honestly, for me to advance, one of them was going to need to die. I didn't feel like running any harder than I already was.

After a few miles, I ran back to the front and chatted with the leaders for a few minutes before telling them I was going to drop to 5th place. Which is exactly what I did. For about 3 minutes. The pace felt wrong so I went back up to 3rd.

After several more miles, I had lost sight of the leaders, and the noise of runners from behind had faded.

I didn't know it at the time, but I would be running alone like this until I picked up my pacer at mile 60. The only people I saw were race volunteers.

Coming to Aid at Mile 16

My beautiful bride was working the aid station at mile 16. I handed her my pack, and headed out to finish the last 4 miles of my first lap. Jo took my pack to the next aid station, where she would have it replenished and ready to go for the next 20 mile loop.

This was repeated for almost all of the race, as Jo worked both aid stations the entire time I ran the 100 miles. She's tireless.

Coasting in at 20 Miles

When people think of Louisiana trail running, they assume it's dead flat. They would be wrong. This isn't a mountain race, but it has a ton of steep hills to navigate, especially in the first half of the loop. I was already dreading the thought of starting the next loop, but I headed right back out without wasting any time at the aid station.

Running all by myself on the second loop made it hard to keep focus. My mind kept drifting off, like it often does in long races, and I would suddenly find myself trotting along at a 12 minute pace, thinking about something mundane like lily pads. Seriously though...I don't understand them.

Coming Into Mile 36

Again, Jo took my pack and we went our own, separate routes back to the start/finish line.

Mile 40

When I finished my second loop, my pacer, Burke Jones, was waiting to see me. I had to finish my 3rd loop before he could join in on the fun, but I took a few minutes to update him on the first 40 miles.

Burke paced me to my first 100 mile win and we get along well on the trail. He knows how to handle me as well as any pacer I've ever had, and I was looking forward to running with him.

Giving Burke a Status Update

Taking Instruction From a Damn Good Crew

In previous years, we were allowed to run the 3rd loop in reverse, but this year, we had to maintain the same direction for all 5 loops. It may sound silly, but switching directions really makes a big difference and keeps things interesting. Begrudgingly, I headed out for my 3rd loop, which incidentally, looked exactly like the first two. 

My left knee had begun to act up. It felt swollen and painful, but I kept running and tried to ignore it. I had taken a bad fall while running in Florida a few weeks earlier and it became evident that my knee hadn't completely healed.

By the way...I'm still all by myself out there. And it was getting dark. Where the hell was everybody?!?!

Coming in at Mile 56

When I got to the aid station at mile 56, I remarked about how quickly the sun was setting. It was only around 5:00 PM and I expected another hour of daylight. I didn't have a headlamp with me, but I only had 4 miles to go before I could get my night running gear. I figured if it got dark before I got there, I could use the flashlight on my iPhone to make my way into the mile 60 aid station.

I handed Jo my pack and then hurried off down the trail.

Just Making Out With a Hottie Real Quick

Within a half mile, it was dark. That's when I realized I had just handed my iPhone to my wife...because it was in my pack. LOVELY!

I spent the next 3 miles, stumbling through the dark.

Interesting Fact: The swamp gets pretty lively when the sun sets. That's all I have to say about that.

I eventually made it to the Mile 60 aid station, which was never a sure thing. I grabbed my fresh pack, a headlamp and a light jacket before heading out with Burke.

I gave Burke another update. It went like this:

1. My left knee is killing me
2. We'll be walking a lot of the hilliest front section
3. I'm pretty sure swamp monsters are real

Burke and I made every reasonable effort to run with deliberation. We mostly failed. Every time we got a good pace going, one of us would kick a root and nearly kill ourselves. But it was mostly me and almost always with the big toe on my left foot. It was funny the first 10 or 12 times, but it started to get old after that. And very painful.

Somewhere around mile 67 and again at mile 70, we were jumped by wild and random armadillos. After a few tense moments, we were able to stare them down, which is really our only defense against armadillos. I really, really dislike armadillos. They have no place in this modern world.

At mile 72, Burke was attacked by a bird, which is strange on so many levels. It evidently dropped from the night sky and bit him. For real. I was there to witness his terror.

By the time we finished the 4th loop, we were battle worn and ready to get this thing over with.

My left knee was really killing me and my left quad was swollen and screaming.

Taking Some Meds For Pain

The last loop was going to suck.

As expected, the final loop was fairly miserable. Burke and I had developed a new rule. We only ran on trail surfaces that we completely trusted. We were both battered from tripping and I was pretty sure my big toe was just rattling around in my shoe at this point, totally detached.

We were still running in 3rd place, as I had been since mile 3, and I kinda thought it would be a nice place to finish. I passively started to monitor the trail behind us, looking for oncoming headlamps. Not like I was paranoid or anything, I was playing it cool. I just didn't really want to be passed at mile 99 and suddenly slip off the podium after holding my spot all day.

The 5th loop was a stark contrast from the 4th. Nothing attacked us at all. Aside from a couple of maniacal deer, we didn't see anything.

We were moving ridiculously slow, but I really didn't care. I felt pretty secure in 3rd place and finishing 20 minutes earlier wasn't going to make any sort of difference.

Burke and I crossed the finish line in 21:55, and I think it's fair to say that we were pretty happy to be done.
Super Tired, and More Than a Little Worried About my Toe

I was very pleased with how well my fueling went. I relied almost exclusively on Hammer Gels and Endurolyte Fizz Tabs for the entire race and they never failed me!

I also got a chance to put my new Topo Athletic MT-2's to a real test. I loved the older version and it looks like the new model will be a huge success too. Aside from ripping my toe off, my feet came out looking great.

I'm pretty sure I'm not done racing for the year, but if my next race doesn't go well, I'm not going to write about it. I'll just pretend my year ended on this high note.

Thanks for reading! I hope to see many of you very soon, out on the trails!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Lemming Loop 24 Hour Trail Race: Turning Circles on the Prairie

I got into endurance sports through some experimentation with triathlons and quickly realized that I was never going to fit into that scene. Then I moved onto road marathons, which I found to be equally bland and riddled with an unnecessary sense of competition and elitism.

Then I stumbled across trail running, which led to ultra running, which lead to mountain running. And this new passion is what inspired our move to Utah.

Unlike my brief stint in triathlon and marathon running, I've been reluctant to let go of mountain running and I probably never will. But I'll never be a great mountain runner. I'm a "good" mountain runner...maybe even solid, but I'll never be great. And that's OK.

But I can turn circles for hours...even days, and find some success. I know, it's not the sexiest version of ultra running, but it can be a lot of fun if you give it a chance.

I have a connection with Manitoba, Canada and have been trying to insert myself into their trail running scene this year. The Lemming Loop 24 Hour Trail Race was the perfect race at the perfect time of year, so off to Canada we go!

Lemming Loop is one of the trail races put on by Trail Run Manitoba. A great group of people and an amazing RD with a dedicated staff of awesome volunteers. This race is held near downtown Winnipeg on a 2.05 mile trail loop, consisting of native prairie and hardwood forest. It's a great little trail and I had a blast turning circles on it.

In My "Business Attire" Before the Start

To add a level of difficulty, the 24 hour race started on Friday, at 5:00 PM. Late day starts add waking hours to an already LONG event, so exhaustion can become a bigger issue later in the race. Which it did.
Waiting to Start

My strategy was to take the lead right away, create a gap between me and the rest of the field, then focus on maintaining that gap for the rest of the race. Or something reasonably similar...either way, winning was always the plan.

Up Front at the Start

I felt great from the beginning and ran by feel, letting my legs fly. My breathing was steady and my heart rate was low, so I pushed a speedy pace through that first lap, finishing with a pretty sizable gap.

By the second lap, I was passing the back of the field.

By the fifth lap, I had passed the entire field. I was digging deep to keep building my gap.

While I was being deliberately competitive and extremely aggressive, I was having a blast. The trail is a tight single track in most places, and it makes tight turns and winds quickly through the hardwoods. This makes for a slow course for a timed race, but it's exciting to fly through the woods on those trails. I was pushing a burly pace and smiling like an idiot the whole way.

I had to believe that a lot of the other runners expected me to crash and burn early, and I would be lying if that same thought hadn't crossed my mind. But my body was taking all I gave it, so I kept pushing that pace, waiting for signs to back off.

It would be a long while before that happened.

I've written this before, but Canadians, especially from that part of Canada, are some of the nicest people in the world. In the US, trail runners are very kind and generous during races, but it's taken to the next level with this bunch. Supportive and positive comments were flying around that course much faster than I was. It was hard not to feel great while running with these people.

As the only American in the race, I was a little worried that I wouldn't be well received, but those thoughts were quickly banished as soon as the race started. I felt very welcomed and that feeling grew as the laps ticked by.

I kept my fueling simple. I was grabbing a Hammer gel every 2 or 3 laps, while watching my electrolytes. If something looked appealing on the aid station table, I ate it and pushed on.

Hammering Down My Favorite Gel

The weather was PERFECT for running. It was too cold to stand around in shorts and a t-shirt, but just cold enough for a brisk running pace. As night started to settle in, a stiff, cold wind from the south got to be a bit tough to handle and I started adding layers.

Before the sun set, I was beginning to fade a bit, but running at night has always been a strong suit for me, so I was eager for the sun to go down.

I do about 90% of my training runs in the dark, even in the summer, and this gives me a tremendous amount of confidence in the dark. I assume most trail runners will slow a little bit at night, while I'll maintain my pace.

Ready for Night Running

I kept hammering my pace through the night and my gap continued to grow. When I was 20 miles ahead of 2nd place, I was finally at spot where I felt very optimistic about my chances to win. But I remained focused and kept churning out the laps.

While the trail isn't technical, it does demand that you watch your footing. There are potholes, drop-offs, rocks, and roots to contend with. Specifically, there are 4 little pointy, nearly invisible roots that I managed to kick on almost every lap. Even now, they haunt me...

There came a point in the night that the field seemed to thin out. I felt like I was nearly alone on the trail. As it turned out, several runners had pulled the plug and some were napping. But the runners I was competing with were still out there, pounding out the miles. The real race had started and the positions were well defined now.

Jo left for the hotel at 1:00 AM for a nap, with a promise to return at 6:00 in the morning. In her absence, I was overwhelmed by the volunteers that stepped up to crew for me. I was nearly smothered with help every time I came back through the aid station to click off another lap.

Once again, these are just great people.

When Jo returned at 6:00, I was nearly 80 miles into the run and leading by 26 miles. She fed me a hot Egg McMuffin. I was a happy man.

Even with a big lead, I wasn't comfortable with my chances of winning. We still had a lot of hours to go, and I was getting tired. Anything could happen.

My reluctance to find confidence reminded me of my first 100 mile race win. From mile 90, my pacer kept telling me that we had it sewn up. We were going to win! I kept telling him to shut up! Every mile or so, he was whispering that sweet song into my ear and I kept shooting him down. About 1/4 mile from the finish, I turned to him and said, "I'm ready to entertain the possibility that we might win this thing."

Winning a race is something a runner should never take for granted. Shit happens. I know this better than most.

As the sun came up, I was fading pretty quick, but I was maintaining my gap. That was always the plan. I expected to give some of those miles back before the end, but not yet. The miles weren't coming as easily, but they were still coming.

I hit the 100 mile mark at 16:49, which is a long way from a PR, but on that course, I think it's a great time. I took a few minutes to rest and made the decision to back off the pace and focus on managing the rest of the race in a manner to save my body, but still hit my goals.

100 Miles Down...More to Go

As I slowed my pace, my body began to stiffen up and running became even more difficult. As if my legs realized we had hit 100 miles and expected us to be done. Pain really began to set in at 106 miles. And it never got better.

I eventually broke the course record, so I took it as an excuse to be lazy for a while. I plopped on the ground and celebrated with a cold beer.

Not my Normal Beer

At 116 miles in, my stomach began to cramp and I started to feel sick. I walked a few more miles and then conferred with my crew about how to handle the situation. I had wanted to get to 200k before pulling the plug and I was just a couple laps away from it. But my stomach wasn't happy and the slower I moved, the more my body wanted to seize up.

After a long discussion, I decided I had gone far enough at 118.9 miles and I called it a day. I stopped my race at 21:30, securing the win and setting the new course record.

In all honesty, when I started to think about it, any additional miles would have been for vanity. I wasn't going to accomplish anything more than I already had, so it was really pointless to go on. I hung around to cheer for the other runners for a while, then I walked to the car and passed out.

Celebrating with Another Finisher

My 2015 race season has been an absolute roller coaster. I have 4 wins, but I also have 3 DNF's. Even with my level of experience, I have a lot to learn still, and I feel like my time is quickly dwindling.

The most important lesson I can take away from my race season is that I need to fall back a bit and take stock in why I even bother with it. I started doing this for fun, so that's what I want to focus on. I think I might have a few more wins, even if I don't take things too seriously. And if I don't win...I'm OK with that, too.

I still have plenty of racing to do this year, and my only goal is to enjoy the trails and the people I share them with. We'll see how that strategy works out.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

2015 Wasatch Front 100: Going Down Fighting

Looking back on my Grand Slam effort over the summer, I've tried to find some depth to the experience that would incite strong emotions now that it's over. Especially because I failed to complete it. But it's not there. I feel bad...for not feeling bad. Kinda. But not really.

I've tried to determine the root of my indifference to what happened, but I keep coming up empty. At the end of the day, I end up at the same place.

It's just running.

Me and My Best Friend at the Wasatch Start

I had run the Wasatch 100 last year, so I knew the course and was comfortable with the terrain. I'm well conditioned for running at altitude, and I've been fit all summer. The variable that concerned me was the weather. This year, more than any other, I've been suffering in the heat and the forecast for race day suggested that I was going to struggle in this final race of the Slam.

My plan was simple. I wanted to start deep in the pack so I would be forced to move slow, jumbled in the conga line all the way to the top of Chinscraper. Then I just had to maintain a slow, methodic pace all the way to the finish. I had no regard for a decent finish time. I just wanted to get through the slam and be done with the pressure of it all.

My plan worked. Mostly.

I was moving so slowly in the first few miles that I could hardly stand it. But I knew it was the right move. Making my way up the first enormous climb, I refused to pass anybody unless they stepped off the trail to let me by. I was finding patience that I didn't know I was capable of possessing.

Topping out on Chinscraper
Photo Courtesy of Lane Bird

When we dropped over the top of the ridge, I felt great. I tucked in behind some runners and plowed along at this newly discovered patient pace.

I was in and out of the first aid station as fast as they could get my hydration pack loaded with ice and water. The sun was high in the sky and I knew the hard part of my race was about to begin.

The climb into the Bountiful B aid station was moderately taxing, but I climbed well, chatting with runners the entire way. When I came into the aid station, I reloaded my pack again while eating fresh fruit from the table and while chatting with the volunteers.

So far, things were good. Not great, but much better than last year and I felt like I was finally showing some maturity in my race management style. My competitive, impatient attitude has claimed a few DNF's in the past, so I was hopeful that this agonizingly patient approach would pay off. It better, because it's super annoying...

I was eager to get to the Sessions Liftoff aid station because I had a lot of friends volunteering there and I was excited to see everybody.

The sun was beginning to wear on my body, while my race strategy wore on my mind.

I began to hate myself a little bit because of my new found weakness for running in the heat. I don't know how I developed it, but it's a problem that requires a solution.

I was uncomfortably warm but tried to keep a positive attitude.

I stayed at Sessions Liftoff aid station a little longer than necessary because I wanted to chat with friends and suck up some of their positive energy. I didn't know it then, but this would turn out to be the highlight of my 2015 Wasatch experience.

Leaving Sessions
Photo courtesy of Kimberly Hunt

The trek into Swallow Rocks aid station was when I sincerely began to worry about my race. The course provides no cover and the sun was really beginning to bother me. I went from casual and chatty, to focused and determined. I put my head down and tried to run smart.

I was fueling well and my hydration seemed to be perfect. I was draining my 50 ounce hydration bladder between every aid station and I was very cognizant of my electrolytes. I was confident that my body was being taken care of.

But I could feel it slowly slipping away under the heat of the day.

At Swallow Rocks, I sat for a few minutes and savored a couple of delicious Popsicles while I chatted with the aid station volunteers. Before I could get too comfortable, I was back on my feet, headed down the trail.

The entire section between Swallow Rocks and the Big Mountain aid station is totally exposed and full of rolling hills and rocky trail. This is definitely my least favorite part of the course and I muddled through it under the blazing sun.

I began to have doubts.

I was certain that if I could make it to Lambs Canyon, I would definitely finish this race. By then, I could meet up with my pacer, the sun would be fading, and we would head off into the mountains to wrap this thing up.

Just get to Lambs! I repeated this in my head thousands of times.

A couple of miles before reaching Big Mountain, I started to feel nauseated as I ran. I walked intermittently to let my stomach settle, but it would eventually fire back up again.

Just get to Lambs!

Dropping into Big Mountain Aid Station

The Big Mountain aid station is at mile 39 and is the first time I get to see my crew. In that 39 miles, I had gone from light footed and jovial, to desperate.

I sat in a chair, under the first bit of shade I'd seen in hours. I asked for ice water and a moment of rest so I could cool my body down. Jo had a fresh pack waiting for me and like always, she was ready to push me down the trail. I just needed a minute.

Because I wasn't feeling well, I made a last minute decision to take a pacer. My good friend, Jason Howland, was helping Jo crew, but he came prepared to run. I headed down the trail while he got geared up. It didn't take him long to catch me.

The climb out of Big Mountain was slow. We tucked in behind a train of guys that seemed friendly enough, so we hung with them and allowed them to meter my pace. They all chatted away. Jason and I were quiet.

Jason has paced me more than any other person. I'm extremely picky about pacers and will usually forgo their use unless I can get one of the trusted few that I can count on. Jason knows my style. He gets me. I knew he could see the reality of what I was dealing with.

We remained silent.

Photo Courtesy of Jason Howland

When we made it to the Alexander Ridge aid station, I took a seat in the shade while Jason brought me some ice water and a few pieces of fruit. I nibbled and drank while Jason hovered over me. After a minute, I looked up and told him I was going to have to puke. He pulled the tarp away from the back of the tent and I slipped out back to take care of what needed to be done.

I sat in the grass and emptied my stomach for several minutes, surprised by the massive volume of its contents. It was clear that my body wasn't using any of the fluids or nutrition that I had been taking in. It was just sitting there, on the ground...mocking me.

Being a Type A personality, I throw myself into everything I do. Even puking. When I hurl, it's a pretty spectacular event. Every muscle in my body gets into it, leaving me depleted and shaking.

After my vomiting subsided, I rested for a while before pulling myself off the ground. I couldn't stomach the though of food, so I sipped a little water, put my pack back on and hit the trail with Jason in tow.

The climb out of Alexander Ridge is gradual and rolling, but it was more than I could handle at any decent shuffle. I stopped a few times to rest and catch my breath. After a couple of miles, I plopped to the side of the trail and sucked on a gel, hoping to gain a bit more strength and to slow my steady rate of physical decline. It took five minutes to get the entire gel down.

Meanwhile, I was being passed by runners, many of them friends that could see the pain in my eyes and the desperation of where I was. I felt for them, because I know they were feeling for me. But nothing is ever said.

Coming Out of Alexander Ridge
Photo Courtesy of Jason Howland

I was shocked to see that we wouldn't make it to Lambs Canyon before the sun set. To add insult to injury, I dug my iPhone out of my pack and used my flashlight app to lead us through the dark to the aid station.

What the Lambs Canyon Aid Station Would Look Like in the Daytime

When Jason and I got to Lambs, we were greeted by Jo and my next pacer, Jen Richards. They got me in a chair and we discussed my situation. My entire team was determined to get me patched up and back on the trail, but I needed calories and my body wasn't processing anything.

I nibbled on some fruit, drank some water and sat long enough to let it settle.

And then I puked it all up.

Again, the volume of my stomach contents proved that my body wasn't processing anything that I was taking in. I was surviving on reserves that had already been tapped out.

We spent the next two hours trying to coax some fuel into my body, but it wasn't working. I watched the minutes tick by, knowing that things were getting desperate. If I couldn't pull myself together soon, it would be too late.

There came a point when it was obvious that my race was over. Wasatch and the Grand Slam were no longer in my grasp and all the planning and focus that had been invested in this endeavor would be for nothing.

I called it. I made the decision that I wasn't going to try to recover and carry on. I was a hopeless mess and the remedy for my situation was beyond my ability to manage.

And I'm OK with that.

I have anguished over DNF's in the past, but not this one. I knew I had done everything within my power to solve the problem and I was fighting physically and mentally to get back on the trail. It just wasn't going to happen. I had nothing to regret because I had met the challenge head on. I failed, but I failed fighting. I can live with that.

I was a little surprised by how easily I shrugged it off, and I think others were too. I suspect they thought I was putting on a front, trying to act indifferent, but it wasn't an act at all. It really didn't bother me. It still doesn't.

And in the days since then, I've had time to consider a lot of things, but the thing I think about the most is my future. I have a lot of things planned that I am excited about. Deeply excited. And now that the Slam has passed, I can focus my attention to the things that I've had to push out of my mind all summer. I realize I'm relieved to be beyond the grasp of these races and all the expectations surrounding it.

I just want to run and be happy. I wasn't happy running the Grand Slam. Maybe someday I'll find the spark that will drive passion into running the Slam, but this wasn't the year for it.

The day after Wasatch ended, I hiked my battered body up to the top of Mt. Timpanogos with Jason. Our new home in the mountains provides a spectacular view of this mountain and I've looked at it all summer, wishing to be on top of it. But I couldn't do it for fear of risking my conditioning while running the Slam.

But I could do it now and it was the best thing I did all summer. And I really needed that, because those are the things that make me happiest.

Top of Timp

I'm more content now than I've been all summer and I'm excited to finish out my 2015 race year doing events that bring a smile to my face. Because that's why I started all of this in the first place. I just needed an opportunity to regain that perspective.

As always, thanks to all my sponsors, supporters and my awesome wife for making all of these adventures possible. And thanks to everybody that reached out to me after Wasatch. I hope to share trails with all of you again soon.

Happy Trails!