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Rocky Mountain 50K

Sitting at Sweet Melissa’s in downtown Laramie, an excellent vegetarian restaurant that was recommended to me by the guy in the bike shop a few doors down, I was reading an article online about how to race in high altitude, while I was shoveling the best sweet potato and black bean burrito I have ever had into my mouth.

One thing that popped out to me while reading it was that it said to lower your expectations, especailly if you haven’t been training at the altitude of the race.

I live just under 5,000 ft in Buffalo, WY and I run anywhere between that and 7,500 ft.

The race in Laramie began at 8,800 ft. and went to 8,000 ft by the time of the turn around point of the out and back race.

My fingers were crossed that I wasn’t gonna have any issues with the elevation but I had a feeling it would effect me.

Another thing that was in my mind about the race was the overall course profile. On paper it didn’t look too challenging. Since the entire race stayed within 800 ft from the start to turn around point it appeared to just be “small” rolling hills. I even read a runner’s race report from last year’s race and he talked about the same things that I had on my mind. The elevation made it a little hard to breathe and the course profile was harder than it looked on a chart.

Race morning everyone gathered around the start decked out in warm articles to shield from the crisp cold air. After a short speech from the race owner and race director, we set off down the dirt road.

We had about a 2 mile downhill before it leveled out for a mile. I made sure to take it easy right away because I didn’t want the hill to set a faster pace for myself than what I wanted and what I would be capable to maintain throughtout the race.

Just a couple of minutes into the race a guy next to me asked the typical question everyone asks in the first mile, “Where you from?”

“I’m from Georgia but I’ve been living in Buffalo Wyoming for most of the last year.” Then I returned the question.

“I’m from Denver.”

I took a deep breathe, feeling winded already and said “actually I’m not gonna be able to talk because I’m not use to this altitude.”

He said, “me too.” And that was the end of that conversation.

I was running downhill and at very easy clip and I was already feeling like I was out of breath. From that point on I knew I would need to take it a little easier than I had planned.

By the time we got to the flat stretch, I was feeling more settled.

I ended up talked for a few minutes with a few other runners. And come to find out they both are doing the Bighorn 50 miler. But after a few minutes, we each took to our own pace.

After the luxurious flat section, it was really a rollercoast of hills all the way to the halfway point.

The race was on a dirt road with a few miles on a paved road.

Within a few miles of the start, it began to warm up, quickly. I wasn’t expecting any nice weather because my weather app said it would be cool with chances of rain throughout the day.

It ended up being sunny with clear blue skies.

My headband was the first thing to go, followed by the gloves and arm sleeves.

I stuck with my typical nutrition plan. 1 GU 30 minutes into an hour and half a Clif bar with a few S-caps at the end of the hour.

As the course rolled on, I noticed even the slightest incline had me sucking in air. I had to shorten my stride considerably and kept my focus on keeping my breathing steady and not let it get out of control.

I could get my GUs down no problem, but because I had to chew the Clif bars it was taking a lot of precious energy of breathing right. There were times when I would take a sip of water and would be out of breath just from the split second it took to take a mouthfull of water.

So by the time I ate my second half Clif bar, I decided to just stick with GU because it was taking too much energy to chomped away. And with getting that second half down, I felt full enough to be able to finish without feeling calorie deprived or feeling starving.

Runners were pretty well spaced out during the race so it was mostly running by yourself.

I wasn’t expecting a very scenic race but it ended up quite beautiful. Off in the distance was a range of snow capped mountains, which I believe were far enough away to be in Colorado. And in my immediate surrounding area were tons of rock formations that made me feel like I was in the Flintstones.

Not much excitement as far as the running was going. Just seemed like a typical long training run.

As I neared the turn around point, the leader passed me followed by three more runners.

When I got to the checkpoint for the 50Kers, a guy was changing out of his warm clothes and the lead female was leaving.

I let the volunteer mark my bib and then I headed back for the finish. Passing the guy still at the aid station and right away I passed the girl, put me in 5th place. And judging by the time I passed the people in front of me til the point I did pass them, they had a huge gap on me. I knew if I were to pass any of them that meant one of them completely fell apart.

Since the course began at a high elevation than the midpoint, the second half would be more uphill.

The first hill coming out of the turn around, I decided to power hiked for a good minute or two. My lungs just weren’t capable of running up such an incline and maintaining a steady breath. I made sure to keep my pace up as much as possible while hiking, hands of knees and still driving forward as to not lose too much time compared to just easy walking.

And suprisingly I never had trouble getting back into a running groove after hiking. I thought mentally and physically it would be a struggle but I guess my training has been paying off.

Slowly I began passing people that were doing the marathon and also the people doing the 50K still on their first part. We always swapped “good job”s and “keep it up”s.

I think that is why out and backs are my favorite, because you get to see more people than if you were doing a loop or point to point race. Breaks up the monotony.

Almost like the first half, nothing exciting to note happened on the second half. It became I little bit of a mental challenge but I just kept digging and kept grinding.

It was a great relief to make it to the flat stretch towards the end but at the same time I knew I had about a 2 mile up hill to get up to cross the finish line.

I had maintained my place for the entire second half. But just as about I was to start the uphill climb I slowed to a walk to gulped down my last GU. As I was doing that, the guy that was changing at the turn around aid station passed me.

I didn’t let that bother me. I kind of welcomed him in front so I would have motivation to keep running.

He kept pulling further and further away but I still kept chugging along.

I ended up having to take one power hike break up this last stretch lasting for about a minute before running into the finish.

I crossed the line in 4:40 and placed 6th.

My initial reaction was that the high altitude was no joke. In reality, the hills were not significant hills but throw in, or take away some oxygen, and it becomes more of a difficult race.

My goal going into the race was to run around a 4:30. Add a few long piss breaks and the higher altitude and I came out doing the best I could do.

But for some reason I was frustrated. I was frustrated because I feel that I put so much effort into training that I should be placing higher up. It’s frustrating and discouraging a little to not place where I feel I should place considering I train like it’s my job.

As I had four hours to think things over on my car ride home, I realized how stupid it is to feel and think that way. What if I ran the same time but ended up getting third place or even winning, would I feel happier about myself? And I guess the answer would have been yes, in that particular moment.

But that is a bad way to think about things. Placement is just a comparisson to others. Which is a great recipe down a road of unhappiness if you let it bother you.

Running is about being your absolute best possible self in a given moment, not about how you stack up against others. If you constantly compare yourself to others, you will never be good enough for yourself. There will always be someone better or someone with more than you.

My reason for running is the sense of accomplishment and purpose it gives me every day. Not to be better than anyone else.

And the funny thing is that no one cares how fast you did a race other than your own ego. The people that matter in your life are proud of your accomplisment and could care a less about what your time was. But for some reason runners are hard wired to immediately dissect their race seconds after finishing wondering where they could have made up time.

I had to remind myself that this race was just a training run for Bighorn 100. And that I should swim in the achievement of having completed 50K of running.

I actually had one of the most fun times at this race but it wasn’t until a few hours later or the next day that I realized that, unfortunately. I met some awesome people and ran in a wonderful part of the country. What more could I want?

When I got home, I was too lazy to go grocery shopping to cook dinner so I opted for take out Chinese.

My fortune said “Be content with your lot. One cannot be first in everything.”

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Home Sweet Home

A few weeks ago I made a quick trip back home to Georgia to visit friends and family. It was nice to get back home for the first time since early November to see familiar faces and familiar places.

I was looking forward to this trip for a few months now and was really excited to get out of Wyoming for a bit.

Living in such a small town right now, compared to where I am from, you quickly realize that you give up a lot to gain certain things. It doesn’t take long to start to miss good restaurants and a variety of restaurants to choose from. You miss big grocery stores with quality produce. You miss entertainment options like concerts, trivia nights and giant movie theatres.

But you do gain more peace of mind. Life is stress free and more relaxed. You have more of the natural world at your fingertips.

You find yourself in complete solitude on single-track trails compared to traffic jams.

Which is what I prefer and what I first noticed when I arrived back in Atlanta. After getting off the plane and then getting off the city’s train system, I emerged onto the streets of midtown Atlanta I was immediately taken back by all the traffic.

Horns were blaring and I saw a guy open his sunroof just to flick someone off.

The next day, I was with a friend and we were driving to his house from his work. It took us a little over an hour to get back. Traffic was insane and he does that daily. Twice. I’ve done that before and I hope to never return to that type of lifestyle.

Fuck that. Already I was wondering why people would even want to live like that? Crammed cities with traffic all throughout the day.

A few times during my trip, I often had thoughts like that. Is the availability and convenience worth the extra stress? Do people not realize all the stress factors that surround us? If life is short and meant to be lived, why do people subject themselves to unnecessary bullshit every day?

I think my mind was overwhelmed and flooded at the beginning of the trip.

But all of this paints a bad picture of my trip, that I actually wished lasted longer.

My time in Atlanta was very short. I did get to spend about 24 hours there with great friends. I enjoyed a few runs around town with my running buddies and one with the running group that my running store puts on every week.

From there I made my way to Charlotte, NC for a music festival with a group of friends and had the time of my life. Probably one of the greatest life gifts is to be able to see your favorite bands and sing their songs at the top of your lungs along with thousands of others. All weekend long it was band after band after band, that I was anxious to see live.

By the end of the weekend my voice was straight shot and it took a good 3 to 4 days for it to fully come back.

From Charlotte I went back to Georgia, then my parents drove a few hours to pick me up to take me to their new house in the mountains of north Georgia.

I was happy to get there and was even more happy that they moved out of the suburbs.

I knew as my plane was landing in Atlanta and I was looking at all of the traffic on the web of interstates from above, that I would much rather visit them now than if they lived a lot closer to the city.

It was great to see my parents and to finally have some southern food that I have been craving for so long! Boiled peanuts during the day and shrimp and grits for dinner. Can’t beat that for a homecoming.

Another sweet part about where they live is that I could run about a mile on a dirt road and I would be on a sweet trail that connects to the AT. Basically a few thousand miles of trails from the front door.

Unfortunately, everything went by quick. It seemed like I was going from one thing to the next and never getting a moment to chill.

But I think because of that and that I didn’t get to see all of my friends, I am hoping to return very soon.

As I did go running on my trip, it was a relief not to really think about running. It was a great break from the mental side of things. But that made it hard to get back into it when I returned.

A few days before I left for the east, we had perfect weather in Wyoming. Then the amazing weather continued on the trip. When I got off the plane back in Wyoming it was in the 30s, snowing with 30+mph winds.

Not something I wanting to come back to and made me wish I was still back home. It seemed to sap my running motivation for a few days.

I ended up cutting runs short the first few days just because I wasn’t in the mood to force myself to run.

I figured it would be more important to get rest than to be on the verge of over training and losing my overall mental focus. It took a few days but I got back into training hardcore and I’m feeling better than ever now.

I am now in the final countdown until Bighorn. Less than a month to go!

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The Voice

The masters of life know the way, for they listen to the voice within them, the voice of wisdom and simplicity, the voice that reasons beyond cleverness and knows beyond knowledge. That voice is not just the power and property of a few, but has been given to everyone. Those who pay attention to it are too often treated as exceptions to a rule, rather than as examples of the rule in operation, a rule that can apply to anyone who makes use of it. -Benjamin Hoff The Tao of Pooh

Each person has their own path in life to follow which is guided by your heart and that inner voice that speaks to you every day.

What does your voice call for you to do?

Desert Rats 50K

It was either raining or snowing on my 8 hour drive down to Colorado the day before the race. Which sapped and diminished my excitement for the race. I was looking forward to the desert warmth but the forecast for the race showed a cold, rainy day.

The race organizers assured everyone through email and their Facebook page that the race would go on regardless of the weather. They received some backlash from people fearing that the race would destroy the trails and many were begging them to even cancel the race.

I was excited to race but wasn’t looking forward to feeling miserable for hours. I knew I had to change my mindset before going to bed if I was planning on having a great race, like I was expecting to.

I went ahead and put myself visually in the race while I did my pre-race stretching the night before. I imagined trudging through thick and long stretches of mud with wet and freezing cold clothes while my hands, ears and nose were numb from the chill. I went ahead and embraced the suck. I expected and planned for the worst.

Another thing I did was that I threw out my time goal, since I figured the conditions would slow me down, and I think this was the best decision I made prior to the race. Something I have learned from running ultras is that you can come to a race with a plan. But the only thing you can count on is that plan not going as planned.

I decided I was going to do the best I could do with what I would be given during the race.

It was in the low 30s at the start of the race. Cold enough to leave me feeling reluctant to get out of my warm car and peel off my jacket 10 minutes before the start. But I was ready to roll.

There was a course change due to some conditions on the trails and they put together a new course that they felt like would preserve the areas that were in most potential to being damaged.

So instead of doing one giant loop, they designed a 10.4 mile lollipop that the 50Kers would do 3 times. Simple, right?

Waiting around the starting line with the other runners, it was mostly silent. A lot of sizing up was going on it felt like. Then a few minutes before the start, the mood seemed to chipper as people started to joke about who was going to get to the first aid station first. Whoever did, was getting a $100 bill handed to them.

The race began as the marathoners, 50kers and 52 milers took off down the dirt road together.

Right away it was messy. Everyone was trying to find the driest parts to run on but not much to work with. Within a few minutes I had a pound of mud clumped to the bottoms of each shoe.

“Feels like I have weights on my shoes,” I said to another runner that I ran with for the first few miles.

Honestly it was already making my legs feel tired.

This dirt road rolled for a little over 3 miles, then we ran up a minor hill then down to the first aid station. I stopped for just a few seconds to trash my first GU that I just gulped down and took a swig of water.

About a minute after this stop is where it got tricky. We were still on the road and the first trailhead opened up to our right. There were blue flags marking this trail but there were also the same markers on another trail just a few steps further down the road.

As we passed the first trail, a runner next to me made the comment “aren’t we supposed to follow the blue flags?”

“I don’t know…think so…” was what I came up with not really caring too much.

But everyone ahead of us went to the second trail. As we were hopping on the second trail, a runner came running down the first trail and said “I took the wrong trail” as he joined us and the line of other runners.

Almost right away we were treated to our first exposure of the view that we would be running with during the day. As we ran on red rocks and dirt close to the edge of the cliffs, the Colorado River flowed well below. I felt I had just been placed in the Grand Canyon.

Immediately a wave of gratitude washed over me with my initial awe I took in.

At this point everyone was settling into their paces. I held tight with a few guys and we ran single file at the same clip with not much chatter happening.

Right at an hour into it, we popped back out onto the road where the race director was standing telling us that ran the wrong route and that we should have taken the first trail.

Getting on correct trail, we were greeted with our first hill that was super rocky bringing everyone’s stride to more of a tiptoe.

A few runners that I was with were pretty frustrated by the mistake we did. I just shrugged it off.

Surprisingly it didn’t phase me one bit. Maybe because there was no point in dwelling in the past or maybe because I was just so focus on the task at hand and keeping my mind in the moment, that it didn’t get to me.

From this point on, we were basically running the cliff edges for a while. Some people that went out too ambitious started to lag behind.  But mostly everyone held their ground pretty steady.

After that first hill, I hit my groove and was feeling great. I was keeping it easy and sticking to my nutrition and hydration plans.

And the weather ended up being favorable. It was overcast. No rain and the temperature was minimally climbing. After expecting the worst, I was very comfortable and realized that the cloudy day was more of a blessing in disguise than anything.

And after we got off the road section, there was never a problem with mud on the trails.

Arriving to the second aid station was a relief. With the added section we did, it felt like forever until we got there. I stopped for just a few seconds to get in some water and was back running.

From here though, we had to do another climb. This was the worst part of the race. It wasn’t a long hill but the mud came back and was thick. The type of mud that sucked at your shoes and made that weird suction sound with every lift off.

Once at the top, we barreled down and hit the road again going back to the start/finish area. I guess the course was more like a giant P, instead of a lollipop because when we got on the dirt road we were closer to the start/finish area.

I have done one other race similar to this style and love it because you get to see the runners ahead of you going back out.

I got to the end of my first loop and refilled both of my water bottles. The race director was back at this point and apologized about the course confusion to everyone coming in.

At this point, a guy I was running near was wearing a GPS watch that said we were 15 miles into the race. Which made the extra loop that we did, close to 4.5 miles. I think I came into the start/finish area in a time of 2:05.

Heading back out I was keeping my steady easy pace. The runners had definitely thinned and spaced out more this go around.

I got to the first aid station in about the same time it took me the first time.

Though I was keeping it easy this is about where the pain began to settle in for me. And historically in pretty much all of my ultras, this is about where I start to cave mentally. But this is my first 50K that I was getting to use my nutrition plan that I came up with right before doing my 100 miler in May, which is what I believe to be the main reason why I would crash mentally. I wasn’t putting enough calories in my body. So now, my new plan, I was rotating between GU and Clif Bars. Getting about 250 calories per hour in me.

I embraced the pain and kept pushing on, reminding myself to never give in and to never give up.

I was starting to move up in the field as I ran on. I was also finding out that running seemed easier when I was with someone, even if we weren’t talking. Once I found a new groove, I aimed to slowly reach the next runner ahead and run with them for some time.

A hard part of this race was actually knowing what place you were in regards to the race you were running. Because the start wasn’t staggered, I couldn’t tell who was doing which race. But there was a guy I had my eye on.

The whole second loop he kept the exact same distance ahead of me. Every time I came around a bend his pace and distance from me were the exact same.

At the second aid station I decided to up my salt intake and increased to taking 2 pills per hour to hopefully avoid any cramps later on.

Leaving this station the mud on this climb just got worse from all of the foot traffic. There was more slipping and sliding on this go around making it even more difficult to get up and over this hill.

Getting back to the dirt road this time I made it more of a conscious effort to look at people’s bibs that were coming the opposite way to gauge where I was place wise.

I remember passing the lead guys of the 50 miler, exchanged a few “good job man”-s. And I knew that they were the ones that lead from the get-go. I don’t remember seeing anyone with a 50K bib in this stretch.

When I got to the start/finish area, I asked “how many are ahead of me in my race.”

The guy I asked, who was marking bibs after each completed lap, said “no idea. I’ve already lost track. Maybe 6 or 7.”

“Shit” was my response.

“Reel them in man!” He said.

There was no way that there were that many people ahead of me I thought.

Don’t give up and don’t give in, I kept repeating to myself.

I noticed my pace was slowing a little bit but I was still plugging away.

I got to the first aid station a few minutes slower than the previous laps and I didn’t pass anyone on the road. I asked them if they knew what place I was in. They told me maybe second or third. That was more like it and closer to what I thought!

I began picking people off, not knowing which race they were doing, and not because I was upping my pace but because others were bogging down.

Towards the middle of this last lap, I had to begin my mental fight. It wasn’t like it was in the past where a switch would be flipped in my mind and all of the sudden I didn’t to and wouldn’t run anymore.

It was the urge and drive to dip deep within.

“This is it man. You won’t get this moment ever again. Keep pushing. Don’t give up and don’t give in” was basically the dialogue going on in my head.

The runner I was chasing on the second lap was not letting up. At one point I saw him in the middle of a climb off in the distance and still running strong.

I caught up to a runner doing the 50 miler and held onto his pace.

It was really hurting for me at this point but I was determined to not given in.

At this point we were probably at or even beyond 31 miles, about 4:30 into the race. Which was my original time goal.

I followed a step behind him for a few miles and into the last aid station. We both stopped and took in some more salt pills and we quickly got out of there. I was glad he left with me even though I was only a couple of miles to the finish.

Every step with someone was one less step alone in my head. Leaving this aid station you could see the mud hill before hitting the road to the finish. The guy I was chasing was walking it but still in the distance from me.

“This is your moment” I told myself.

Hitting the mud hill, my right hamstring gave me an honest threat of cramping.

We pushed up the hill despite the mud clawing and attempting to rip the shoes off me.

Getting to the top we pounded the short down hill and reached the road. The guy I was chasing was within a very reasonable reach now.

“You going for it?” The guy I was with asked.

“Yeah!”

I took my final charge and surged to the finish which was a little over a mile away now.

I was thinking that I may be in third and was working on passing the second place guy. And the thought of being in second about to pass the first place guy got me even more excited and amped.

I pushed the rollers of this dirt road. The hamstring made a few more threats but it never materialized into anything, thankfully on this final stretch.

I caught and passed the guy I had been watching for most of the race.

We exchanged good jobs and I continued my kick.

Never letting up I crossed the line in 5:11.

I asked for my place, but still didn’t get a definite answer.

“I think 3rd” was one answer.

“No idea” was another.

Oh well. Right away I went over the race in my head and realized that I just had my best race ever.

Everything, from my nutrition and hydration were on point. My mental game was the best it has ever been and never did I have a negative thought. I stayed focused, in the moment and only had a few times where I had to give myself a pep talk.

And physically my body held strong the whole time. Yeah it hurt, but I think I have started to develop the experience to know that that is part of the game. Embrace the pain or let it embrace you.

I think what I am most proud of is that I never walked. I never gave in and never had to do the death march. I think that was rooted in my determination and my passion to keep running.

I hung around to cheer people on and met a bunch of people as I soaked in the experience and accomplishment.

I few people that had GPS said we ran about 35.7 miles. Converting my time to 31 miles, my time would have been a few minutes over 4:30, right at what I was aiming to do for the day.

Time wise, I came and did what I wanted to do. The placing was secondary.

The results were posted and I came in 4th place.

I am not sure if the three guys ahead of me ran the extra miles in the beginning or not. I never saw them on the out and back section on the dirt road which makes me believe that it is very likely that they didn’t. I didn’t let the placing bring me down though.

I feel that I put down a solid performance. I have nothing but positives to take from the race and I hope I can build on them.

This was my first ultra in 11 months and I’m extremely proud on how much I have developed and that I was able to learn from past mistakes. I finally feel I am coming into my own and I feel that things are actually and finally clicking for me as an ultra runner.

But anything can happen on a race day. I’m thankful everything came together so well for me this race.

I have two months until Bighorn now! Time to hunker down even more and dedicate my attention to that.

Oh and the funny thing about the guy I passed at the very end, he was doing the 50 miler. I hung out until he finished and we laughed our asses off about me thinking he was in my race.

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4th Place!

Yesterday’s race was hands down my best race I have ever had. Even though I missed a turn with a group of runners and added about 4.5 miles to the 50k race, I have so many positives to take from this one.

My official time was 5:11 for roughly 35.7ish miles.

I wanted to post a quick update on how the race went since it might be a few days until I sit down to write out a longer report. Just feel like relaxing and kicking back with my feet up now.

Thanks for the support everyone!

desmetroad

Back to Racing: 50K This Weekend

I’m anxious and excited to run my first ultra in 11 months this weekend.

I can’t believe it has almost been a full year since my first 100 mile race and that I have gone so long without racing! And this weekend will mark two months until the Bighorn 100.

I’ll be running the 50K of the Desert Rats Running Festival in Fruita, CO. The course looks beautiful, stunning and yet difficult at the same time. Looks like there will be a decent amount of climbing to test my current fitness level. The elevation is identical to where I am living now, so I don’t view that as a hurdle but it will be a lot warmer than what I have been use to.

This will also be my first 50K that I am doing since I have discovered that I need solid food and that it works well for me on long endurance events. I technically haven’t had a great 50K yet, so I think my nutrition plan will be a key factor for me having a great race.

As long as I stay smart and patient early on, I can put together a solid race. Mainly though, I am looking forward to exploring a new part of the country on foot I have never been to before.

Now, it’s just time to zen out and calm the nerves and excitement.

(Photo is from my steady state run yesterday along a long dirt road that goes to just about nowhere)