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!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

2017 Hideaway 50k: Making My Way Back

I've been really struggling with my running since finishing Hardrock last year. The struggle is both physical and mental, but the mental aspect has prevented me from caring enough to do anything about my physical problem. 

When I DNF'd at Leadville a few weeks ago, I was forced into a period of unwanted, but much needed, introspection. I was forced to try and figure out how I got to this point. There's no doubt that I ran too many miles, I raced WAY too frequently, but worst of all, I took the gift for granted. The years of abuse had hammered my body and the pace I was keeping led to total burnout. 

Running had become a joyless experience. I still ran every day, but it was out of routine. Total muscle memory. I wasn't getting anything out of it and I slowly began to resent it entirely. 

After that crushing DNF, I realized I needed to pick a path forward, I needed to retire from the sport, or I needed to find a way to reignite the passion that I had lost. After a lengthy, and very private internal debate, I decided I needed to find a way to make running fun again. I committed to reengineering my entire running program and rethinking what I wanted out of the sport. 

And this why I went to Winter Park to run the Hideaway 50k.

Tyler Tomasello, the Race Director, is the living spirit of everything I want out of my time in ultra running, and his race is the embodiment of that spirit. Hideaway is about friendship, nature, love, support and the amazing sense of freedom that we feel when we run in the mountains. Those are all things that brought me into the sport, and they're also all the things that seem to be escaping me these days. I went to Winter Park hoping to regain what I had lost.

The pre-race atmosphere at Hideaway is like a family reunion, but without the fighting and the weird drunk uncle. It's a gathering of longtime friends and an opportunity to make new connections that will undoubtedly grow into a closeness that only comes from these amazing shared experiences. Hideaway is all about hugs, high fives, and smiles for miles. It's all about awesome people doing epic shit. It's definitely the scene that I need in my life right now.

The day before the race, Tyler gives every runner a "Milagro", which is a Mexican folk charm that is intended to serve as protection during the run. It's believed that the charm should represent the part of the of the body that needs protection, so in our case, it's our legs. I'm not somebody that typically subscribes to ritual superstition, but considering how things have been going, I'm willing to try anything.

"Mi Milagro"

Tyler starts the race at the ungodly hour of 5:00 AM, promising a 90 minute run in the dark to start the day. I generally enjoy running under my headlamp and I'm usually pretty good at it because 90% of my miles are logged before the sun comes up. I stress that I am USUALLY pretty good at it.

I was determined to have fun, which means I intended to run an easy pace and let the day come together naturally. I lined up in the middle of pack and Tyler sent us off into the woods.

Somehow, I found myself running alone, almost immediately. The lead pack was way up front, and the rest of the field had fallen way behind me. At first, I was a little bummed to not have company, but it was also nice to just set the cruise control and let my mind wander while my legs did their thing.

Cruise control was probably a bad idea.

Somewhere before mile two (MILE TWO!!), my left foot grabbed a seemingly invisible root and violently pitched my body into a tree. Due to my massive amount of experience with such things, I immediately knew I had a broken rib. This realization came even before I came crashing down to the trail, ripping my right knee open.

I was sprawled out in the middle of trail, flat on my back, looking up at the sky. My comeback run wasn't going the way I had hoped.

I laid there for a while contemplating my next move. I was kinda hoping a runner would come by and grace me with a bit of sympathy, but when I popped my head up, there were no headlamps bobbing my way. I decided I should stop feeling pathetic, get up and assess the damage. I could feel the rib popping around when I pushed myself up. Painful, but tolerable. I brushed myself off, cursing my defective Milagro. Battered and bloody, I took a few easy steps down the trail. Everything was in working order, so I began to run.

Running still felt good, so it didn't take long for my anger and self pity to fade, and by mile 4, I was in good spirits again.

I rolled into the first aid station and found Jo. She hadn't notice the blood running into my sock, and disappointed to not get pity from her as well, I promptly pointed it out and explained what happened.

She didn't seem impressed.

With nothing else to do, I got a quick kiss and headed down the trail.

Shortly after leaving the first aid station, I caught up to David Clark. David and I have been friends for several years and have shared a lot of great experiences together. It was nice to catch up and we dropped into easy conversation as we cruised down the trail.

Fate definitely played a role in putting David and I together. He's been having some of the same mental struggles as I have lately and having him there to share my feelings with was ideal at the time.

David and I eventually caught up with Eliot Lee and absorbed him into our little group run.

The miles were coming easy as the three of us chatted and ran through the woods. I realized that I was running the course much better than I had the previous year, and I'm sure it had a lot to do with the company I was in. For the first time in over a year, I was enjoying my run.

I don't want to make fun of David, but I'm going to anyway.

David has an unnatural fear of aid stations. I noticed, early on, that he wouldn't stay at the aid station for more than a few seconds. Initially, I thought it was strategy, but then I noticed he'd stop about 200 feet away and wait for me to wrap up and head out to catch up to him. That's not strategy. 

David confirmed the fear after the third aid station, citing his concern that he may get too comfortable and never want to leave. Tyler has some nice aid stations, but I wouldn't call any of them comfortable.

Arriving at the Trestle Aid Station meant that the real climb was about to start. Up to that point, the uphill is pretty runnable, but that was about to change. It's not a "hands-on-knees" climb, but it's rocky, steep in some sections, and the air is getting pretty thin over 11,000'.

We hiked, jogged and kicked rocks toward the top. Halfway up, the lead runners started passing us on their way back down. We greeted them with high fives and encouraging words. Every single runner was smiling.

The course above tree line is stunning, and unveils how vast those mountain ranges are. It's an endless series of ridges and peaks, like enormous waves that go on forever.

The three of us made it to the turnaround and took a few moments to soak up the scenery. We noted the time and discussed the likelihood of a negative split, which is pretty achievable on this course if you don't break yourself on the way up. I was a little broken, but I was still optimistic.

We turned, and started making our way off the mountain, and toward the finish line, greeting all the runners still heading up.

We were running well on the descent, and without knowing it, we lost Eliot on the way down. I kept expecting him to catch up, but we never saw him again until the finish, at which time David and I received a scolding for leaving a man behind.

I Have No Idea What David is Doing Here

By the time we reached the final aid station, it was getting hot. Hot feels even hotter at high altitude, and I knew I was going to struggle. 

As David fearfully scurried away from the aid station, I got a beer from Julie, the aid station captain, and took my time enjoying it. This evidently became a spectacle, because I can't even count the number of pictures that were taken of me while I drank that beer. Satisfied, I left and caught up with David, who was standing down the road, eyeing the aid station with great suspicion. 

Julie and John Run the BEST Aid Station

I caught up to David and laid out the rest of the course for him, explaining that we had one more big climb, which he didn't want to hear about, then we're on rolling single track the rest of the way. The worst part would be the exposure on the rest of the course, which would ensure that we're thoroughly baked in those last 7 miles.

I managed to hold it together for the first 5 miles, then the wheels came off.

The heat was giving me stomach problems and I was forced to walk a while so I could get the contents of my gut to stay where they belonged. Once that was achieved, we'd run more, until vomit began to tickle the top of my esophagus again.

I eventually told David to go on ahead, but he wouldn't leave. (Sorry Eliot).

We finally got off the mountain and ran together into the park and across the finish line.

Being Greeted by Tyler at the Finish

Running Hideaway is exactly what I needed at that point in my life, and the experience was made better by being able to share so many miles with David and Eliot. The entire experience served as a reminder that running can, and should be fun.

I realize I need to shift my focus, reset priorities and make the effort to enjoy the sport that I've loved for so long. I need to run FUN events and surround myself with good people. Worry less about overall performance. Worry less about everything. The pressure I feel is entirely self imposed and I need to take it easy on myself. Both physically and mentally.

I don't know if I've turned a corner, or really solved anything, but I think I've progressed. I can live with that for now.

Eliot, Me and David

Here's a short video that Jo and I made from the race. Enjoy!!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

2017 BLU 48 Hour Trail Race: I think I'm Getting Too Old For This

Running for 48 hours is really kinda dumb. I hadn't attempted it for a couple of years, but I somehow managed to convince myself that it must have been fun the last time I did it, because it was without hesitation that I set out to do it again at the BLU 48 Hour Trail Race at Pathfinder Ranch in Southern California. 

BLU hosts races at every standard ultra distance from 50k to 72 hours, with a variety of start times. We started Friday morning at 9:00 AM, which meant that I was awake at 2:30 AM, unable to sleep. So I ended up working the aid station for the 72 hour runners until it was my time to suit up and do my thing. 

PC: Ken Rubeli

BLU is unique because the race provides cabins, right on the race course, for all the runners in the longer distance events. This is excellent because it allows race crews and runners to rest as often as needed, in a warm bed, without having to drive to a hotel. Which is also an added race expense. It's a feature that would come in handy for me later. 

Sunrise, Race Morning

National Anthem
 PC: Tyler Tomasello

My strategy for running 48 hours is to run easy, and conserve as much energy as possible. I have TWO FULL DAYS to work through a myriad of problems that are bound to surface, so there's no point in trying to get to that point any sooner than I have to.

I swear that was my plan. But right before the race started, Ken Rubeli, the Race Director, screwed that all up.

Ken, hoping that Brent Jackson would race me for the entire 48 hours, promised to give Brent $50 if he could beat me around the 2 mile course on the first loop. WTH?!?!

Intentional or not, Ken was preying on my competitive nature and for some REALLY stupid reason, I suddenly felt obligated to race right from the start.

In hindsight, I'm sure Ken was quite amused by all of this.

We're OFF!!
 PC: Tyler Tomasello

Suddenly suckered into abandoning my race strategy, we were flying around the course, which is not inherently fast to begin with.

I could hear Brent's foot strikes behind me, fading then surging, but I refused to look behind me. I didn't want him to think I was ever worried. But I was worried.

Brent, In His Pink Calf Sleeves, Right on My Butt
 PC: Tyler Tomasello

One mile into the loop, I began to realize that there was NOTHING in this for me and because I felt a little duped, I considered letting Brent pass me so Ken would lose his $50.

But you know…pride and whatnot. Which I'm sure Ken was counting on.

Sand…Not a Fast Running Surface

With burning legs, I finished that 2 mile loop in about 15 minutes, not far at all in front of Brent. We had a quick laugh about it, and I had hoped we could run the race at a reasonable pace now that that was over, but Brent was having none of that, and we were off again!

 More Sand…UGH...

I decided I'd had enough of that, and let Brent take the lead, and I settled into my own race. He stayed out front for the next three hours before I took it back. And kept it.

It's hard to really settle into a 48 hour race, knowing that the intention is to run, really run, as much of it as possible. I always feel like I'm moving too fast, and walking makes me feel like I've given up. It took several hours before I began to feel like I had my pace, and the course, figured out.

Avocado on Saltines? Don't Mind if I Do!
 PC: Tyler Tomasello

The other side of the coin is what Jo goes through while crewing me for a 48 hour run. Unlike my mountain 100's, she's not driving from place to place all day and night to meet me at some remote aid station. She just sits in one place as I turn circles, waiting for me to fly into the aid station so I can grumpily demand whatever it is I've been thinking about since she saw me last. Which in her mind, is probably all too often.

Just Waiting...
 PC: Tyler Tomasello

For most runners, the weather was pretty ideal. For me, it was too hot. Utah hasn't yet shaken itself free from its prolonged winter, so anything over 60 degrees this time of year feels a bit oppressive. Salt was getting caked to my skin, and I kept my bottle of Endurolytes close by at all times.

As I said earlier, I felt like the BLU course was very slow, despite being almost completely flat. The course surface varies from loose sand to a short section of paved road, and has almost everything in between. Ruts, rocks, roots and the occasional random chicken to navigate around.

After twelve hours, I had a 6 mile lead over second place. Yeah…Brent was still back there stalking me. I kept a constant, wary eye out for the man in pink calf sleeves. Not that I was paranoid or anything...

For those that haven't run a 48 hour race, let me preemptively answer the question I always get: Yes! It can, and almost always will, get super boring at some point. But it's the kind of boredom that can sometimes be lifted after a two minute conversation with an alpaca.

The sun began to drop and the weather cooled off. I run 90% of my training miles in the dark, and as a result, I run well at night and always look forward to it. It's not that I speed up, but I don't tend to fall off as rapidly as a lot of other runners. I mostly credit that to my level of comfort running with a headlamp. Night was coming, so I hoped to build my lead by sunrise.

Nightfall #1

I ran comfortably through the night. The field thinned out as most of the 72 hour runners took the opportunity to get some sleep. It also appeared that some of the 48 hour people did as well.

More evidence of a slow course, I hit the 100 mile mark in the middle of the night, in just under 21 hours, which for a timed event, is a personal worst for me.

By sunrise, I had extended my lead to 20 miles.

At 24 hours, I was just over 114 miles.

Race Directing is Hard...
PC: Tyler Tomasello

I won't lie, by the second day, I was getting pretty tired. I fought fatigue by finding opportunities to chat with other runners, and of course, the alpacas. They were always down for a few quick words. But it started to become obvious that I wouldn't make it through another night without sleep.

PC: Tyler Tomasello

During the night, Brent had some work done on his feet due to blisters, but that dude was tough, and he was hanging on.

I came to hold Brent in very high regard on day two, especially as I had more opportunities to share miles with him. It was clear that he was hurting, but he maintained a great attitude and was smiling the entire time. He had some goals in mind, and he wasn't going to let anything keep him from achieving them.

PC: Tyler Tomasello

 Sometime in the middle of the second day, I surpassed the course record. The media was not in attendance.

Day two was much cooler than our first day, and the weather experts were predicting a cold night. I knew this was going to suck pretty bad, because we'd all be moving really slow by then, so we wouldn't have much body heat available to fight off the weather.

I could now clearly see a nap in my future.

But even with a big lead, I worry about sleeping. It's a dangerous thing to do for a lot of reasons, which is why I had never entertained the possibility before now.

Even before the sun fully set, it was brutally cold out. I was heavily layered and still struggling to fight off the weather. By this point, my pace was floating between 13 and 15 minute miles. Too slow to build body heat. 

Nightfall #2

At 12:30 AM, I had seen enough. I was freezing, despite wearing every piece of running gear I had brought. And I was beyond exhausted.

I had a 32 mile lead and it was time to take a nap.

I woke again at 2:00, and feeling a bit worried about the mileage I gave back, I rolled out of bed and out to the course. I logged 6 more miles on a nearly empty course and began plotting my options.

I was extremely fatigued, but more worrisome was the cold. It had fallen to 21 degrees and I wasn't equipped for it. 

I started running splits in my head to try to calculate how long I could sleep without worrying about losing my lead. I spoke to Ken about it, because I was self aware enough to realize that math wasn't going to be my strength after being awake for so long. After Ken got done making fun of me, we decided I could sleep until 6:30 without anything to worry about. 

So I slept. Hard.

When I got back on the course at 6:30, I was still leading by 24 miles. I found Brent and took a couple of loops with him, then grabbed another runner for two more. Then I quit, knowing my lead was secure.

I ended up winning by 18 miles, with a total of 168. The lowest number I'd ever put up in 48 hours, but also on the hardest course I've ever run in a timed event. I wasn't disappointed at all.

After a well earned shower, I came back down to watch the rest of the finishers wrap up their races. Jo and I cheered for them all. I'm always happy to be reminded how much inspiration I find in watching others achieve their goals. 

Congratulatory Hug From Ken
PC: Tyler Tomasello

 Ken and Stephanie Rubeli. Some of My Favorite People
PC: Tyler Tomasello

Brent Jackson had a great race, finishing 150 miles, a distance PR for him of 28 miles. I'm excited to see Brent do a lot of great things in the future. He definitely has the drive, talent and attitude to achieve his goals.

Me and Brent

I knew I was going to enjoy BLU, because Ken told me I would and I think he knows me well enough to be able to make that kind of statement. But it turned out to be far more than I had hoped for.

The volunteers, many of them staying up for nearly three days, did an amazing job. Ken and Stephanie worked hard to meet every need of every runner, and their commitment to putting on amazing races is evident in everything they do. I can say without hesitation that I will run their races until I'm too old and broken to do so. So for another year or two anyway.

Another win and course record can go a long ways towards healing all those little wounds, physical and mental, that have popped up during my ultra running career. As I age, they'll become far more rare, so I want to be sure to relish them whenever they do come along. This one just feels good.

PC: Tyler Tomasello