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.
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.
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.
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 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!!