Tag Archives: ultramarathon

Antelope Canyon 55K 2016

My friend, Norb, handed me Becoming Odyssa: Adventures on The Appalachian Trail by Jennifer Pharr Davis the night before we were running the Antelope Canyon 55K in Page, AZ. I immediately stretched out on my bed and opened it up.

While reading the Introduction by Warren Doyle, a quote grabbed my attention. After letting it soak in, I read it aloud to Norb because I thought it was fitting to ultras and to what was to come the next morning.

“Don’t fight the Trail. You have to flow with it.”

This sparked an insightful discussion and Norb made the comment that the quote not only pertained to ultras, but to life as well.

This has been what I have been trying to acknowledge and welcome into my life. And as we flow with our experiences, it’s our attitude toward those moments that decide whether life has been positive and fulfilling or negative and frustrating.

I knew that this race was going to be a mental test because of the amount of sand that we were going to run through. The kind of sand that’s deep, loose and that makes you feel like you are losing ground, not gaining, the effort you put in.

It would be extremely easy to get lost and caught up in your goals if you didn’t go into this race with an open mind.

That’s why I had no goals for this race. In addition, it was my first race of the year and first since getting over knee pain at the end of last year. All I wanted was the pure enjoyment of running and flowing with the course.

It didn’t take more than a minute into the race that I could feel sand in one of my shoes. But I expected that and I didn’t want to worry on it so much that it would take away from the experience.

The course was a figure 8 design taking us around Horseshoe Bend, down into Waterholes Canyon and all the way around the Page Rim Trail that overlooks Lake Powell.

For me, it seemed like everything happened beautifully.

We reached Horseshoe Bend as the sun was rising, the slick rock burned red from the fresh rays and painted a reflection of vibrant orange on the Colorado River far below. I wanted to drink the moment longer, but a few glances at a time were all I could afford without risking a fall.

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From there, I found myself in rhythm with another runner as we wound our way along the cliff’s edge, trying our best to spot and follow the course flags.

We arrived to the Waterholes aid station together, but left separately.

Dropping down into the Waterholes slot canyon I was all alone and in complete awe with the geological features. I ran with my finger tips gliding over the smooth and cool rocks to both of my sides. It felt unreal, yet tangible at the same time to sense the passage of time in one moment. Even though I was in a race with hundreds of people, being alone gave off the feeling of this being my very own adventure.

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Climbing out of the canyon the course featured a long desolate stretch with nothing but more sand under foot. I was aware of the build up of sand in my shoes but I didn’t want to stop to dump them just yet. I didn’t feel any issues yet but I knew I should do something soon. So I decided I would dump them after I finished the first loop of the figure 8.

I heard the course was mostly dirt trail on the last loop. I figured it would be perfect and only necessary to have to clean out my shoes only once.

At the mile 21 aid station, I took both shoes off and took both inserts out. I poured out the sand and slapped the inserts on my legs to get as much sand out as possible. I slipped the inserts back in and both shoes back on and was on my way…but I noticed no difference.

I realized that the sand that was bothering me was in my socks. It was enough packed in, that it made it feel like I was running in shoes a few sizes too small. I did my best to push this away from my mind.

Beginning the last loop I was joined by another runner and his presence was just what I needed.

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I knew around mile 26, that my feet were destroyed and that they were only going to get worse. Both of my big toes felt like they were on fire at that point. But sand aside, I was having an awesome time.

We kept together the last 11 miles and were feeding off each others consistent and steady movement. This allowed for the last stretch to be easier than it should have been. Not that it was by any means easy at the end, it was a grind and a battle to keep convincing myself to keep running.

On the last quarter of a mile, I felt that he deserved the better placing of the two of us. When he picked up his pace, I happily watched him cross the finish line from behind.

I was 12th place in 5:37.

After taking my shoes and socks off, I immediately went to the first aid tent. One big toe had a few normal sized blisters and the other had one that was caked with sand and covered the entire inside area and a little bit under the nail.

Overall, this has been the most content with a race I have ever been. Other than a few parts climbing over rocks and one small steep sandy hill, I ran the whole thing. Which was all I asked from my body.

Reflecting back on my race and the others that placed before me, I wondered why people race or run ultras. Each person will have their own reasoning. But thinking on myself, I’ve realized that I do these to go against myself.

Me vs. Me

To see if I can overcome mental and physical obstacles. To see if I have grown and progressed. To see if I have learned from the past. To see if I can kill my old self and transform into my new self.

Obviously I want to improve my times and placing the more I do these races. But comparing myself to others is not how I define my success and accomplishments. I only want to compare myself before the race and after the race. The in between, how I adapt to the elements and persevere during mental and physical low points, is how I measure my personal endeavors.

And as I further to develop myself inwardly and outwardly through running, my hopes are that what I learn will spread to all other aspects of my life allowing me to flow with life, not fight it.

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*Photo credit: Norb Lyle

The Road to Bryce 100

My next 100 miler is set in stone and will be the Bryce 100 that is run in the middle of June in Bryce Canyon National Park.

It’s an out and back course with over 18,000 feet of gain and loss. Most of that being in the 8,000 ft to 9,000 ft of elevation. The scenery looks amazing for this one. Check out the video below.

I’m super pumped about this one!

As everyone knows, I shot for the stars with last year’s Bighorn 100 and fell way short of my goal. But my greatest success of last year was failing at that race. The lessons I took from that experience have been ingrained in me and have provided, what I feel, a solid stepping stone and foundation to what is to come with future goals.

How I prepare for this race will be an astronomical improvement over one year ago. I feel like I am on the right path to finding out what needs to get done to possibly come out on top for a mountain 100 miler.

I have this intense feeling deep down about the potentiality of this race for me and it only inspires me to run and train to be the best me I can be.

I’m ready and can’t wait for this one.

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Lean Horse 100

It was not a pretty sight. I was walking next to my pacer in pain. My right calf was rock hard and mobility was limited. My left knee felt like it was about to rip open from compensating so much from my calf. I was wearing layers and layers of clothes as if it were the middle of January, not the middle of August. And I had one hand down my pants switching between holding one of my ass cheeks to the side or holding my balls away from my rubbing thighs to relieve myself from the brutal chaffing going on down there.

That was one of the benefits of it being pitch black outside; that my pacer couldn’t see what I was doing. The other was that every star was visible in the sky and the milky way stretched across the sky giving me tiny moments of joy given my circumstances.

It was just past 3 a.m. and I knew the finish had to be close, but it never seemed to show any signs of being near because of the geography.

Once we rounded a bend, the track lights of Custer High School glowed. Maybe a quarter mile back were two headlamps that I had been constantly checking on but I had, up until that point, zero desire to get a move on even though they were closing the gap on me.

But once the track was fully in sight, I took a few running steps and within a couple of seconds all of my discomforts dissolved away and my only want was to finish the damn thing…

6 a.m. the morning before, the race started on the high school track in Custer. We had to run about 3/4 of a lap before exiting onto the parking lot, then onto the Mickelson Trail that carves through the Black Hills in South Dakota.

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The Mickelson is a rails to trails path that has an average of 2% grades up and down. All of these ups and downs were long and gradual.

It was in the mid 50s with a heavy wind in the morning. The sky was heavy with a dirty grey haze from all of the forest fires in the northwest region of the country.

Temperature wise is was a normal morning but the high for the day was only around 60. Which is cool for this time of year. Even though I had spent the last two months training and preparing in hot summer weather, I viewed the forecast as a blessing in disguise because the weekend before it was in the mid 90s.

I had three people who would be crewing and pacing me for this race. There was Norb, an ultra runner himself who is 21 ultras into his goal of reaching 100 before he turns 100, his lovely wife Lori, who you will be seeing her screenplays come to life in the coming years, and their talented daughter Della, who graciously came out to help given that she was moving to Montana the next day.

Norb picked me up from my apartment early Friday morning to drive to the race and Lori and Della came later in the evening. So we had two cars for crewing.

The girls wanted to sleep in a bit so Norb had the responsibility of meeting me at the first two aid station stops.

My plan was to carry 1-2 GUs and 1 Clif Bar on me. I was also using the VP2 by Orange Mud which gave me room to carry those plus have 2 water bottles. One bottle was for water, the other I used the Clif Shot Electrolyte Mix.

Let me back track a tad before I continue on… On my long training runs I have found that taking in nutrition every 30 minutes works best for me. On those training runs, I check my watch until every 30 minutes have come by and I completely stop and take a GU or eat half a Clif Bar.

One thing I have learned from my ultra experience is that if you are constantly checking your watch, you are making it more of a drag fest for yourself and you are taking yourself out of the present moment with the worry of the time. That’s a main reason why I don’t have a GPS watch. A basic Timex is all one needs.

Anyways, I made a very last minute decision that I would start the chronological timer on my watch just as an overall reference, but I set my timer to go off every 30 minutes. That way I would have no reason to check my watch, I could just focus on running and making sure I was feeling great and I would just need to listen for the beeper to go off. Once it would go off, I would walk as I took in nutrition as opposed to standing still like in a training run.

This would give me about a 1 minute walking break for every 30 minutes as well.

So, the race starts and I start both functions on my watch. I take it extremely slow and make sure everything is feeling great as I move along.

I do a constant check. Relax the shoulders, Relax the hands, easy breathing, light with the footsteps. I do that over and over and over again. It gets to the point where my mind finds a beautiful rhythm and I can reach somewhat of a meditative state quickly.

As focused on myself as I was, I also reminded myself to soak in my surroundings. Just a few miles from the start a side view of the Crazy Horse Monument was visible in the distant, that along with a new morning sun trying to pierce the smoke haze gave us a pleasurable start to the day.

Early in the race, when everyone is close together, you get the chance to meet everyone and find out where they’re from and what other races they have done. A few laughs are always shared in each short-lived conversation before your paces become too distinct and you wish each other a great race.

But you always see them soon as you play leap frog with them when you stop to take a piss break or they get to an aid station first but you leave before them.

The course featured long gradual ups and downs to the 50 mile turn around point. The first 5 miles were a gentle climb and just before the course went on a long downhill, the first aid station welcomed the runners.

And it’s always the first aid station that is the most packed and lively because later in the day the runners will be even more spread out.

I got to the first one and was treated with a lot of cheers from race volunteers and the crews of other runners. Norb was there and he refilled my bottles. Then I was off to the next.

After that, we had about a 10 mile downhill. The trail paralleled next to the highway. Cars honked at us and drivers waved. I really wanted to take this part slow and not to get caught up in the moment and go down it too fast.

I got to the 2nd aid station around mile 10 just as I had planned, at a very slow and easy pace. Same thing here, met up with Norb. He filled my bottles and restocked my nutrition in my pack and I was off.

About halfway between the 2nd and 3rd aid station, Lori and Della drove by honking the car horn and I lifted a hand in recognition. Things were beginning to thin out among the runners here and I was trying to get a gauge on who was in my race. There was a 50K, 50 miler and 100 relay going on as well. But I also told myself just to focus on my race, not theirs.

Coming into the 3rd stop was welcoming since it was the first time in the race that Lori and Della would be there with Norb. Della was the first one I heard cheering me on and it was nice to see all three of them. As I did at previous stops, I kept it simple and quick. I didn’t want to waste time. Bottles were refilled and made sure I was covered in the nutrition department until the next stop.

“Any thoughts so far?” Lori asked me before I left.

“Umm, no. Feeling good.” I was feeling good and I wasn’t really in a chatty mood. I was starting to get in my focused zone.

I left this stop with another guy and we kept together for a few miles. We talked about the smoke haze and how or if it was effecting us. I made the comment that I had not really noticed it until then. We were in Hill City, SD. A tiny town but a town none the less, which may have caused it to be more noticeable then. But leaving Hill City we would be going more and more remote and away from the highway.

After a few miles, that guy said he had to walk because of the smoke and I kept on my pace.

Not too much further was when I saw my first dead tree fall to the ground. It was well away from the trail but my awareness of them was heightened from that point on. The winds were high and I was a little worried that trees could fall on the path.

After Hill City, the next stretch was mainly flat until we reached the next aid station. In and out of the station again and was back running.

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This was around mile 20. After I left this stop, the fast 50 milers were already coming back and I gave the ones I passed a high five. I was running about the same pace as the lead women of the 50 mile race. I had a few off into the distance from me and I slowly made my way to them.

From there we had about 5 miles of gradual up hill to the next stop. I was feeling great. But I think the anticipation to reach the next stop made this stretch one of the longest of the day for me.

The haze started to clear and the sun was finally getting its freedom.

Oddly around this time was the first time I felt a sweat drop. It was so windy that I guess my sweat was evaporating immediately. So it wasn’t that I was not sweating it was probably just the first time it had time to collect into a drop. But I was also keeping a very close eye on my fingers because of that. My main focus was to stay hydrated but I didn’t want to over hydrate. I have heard that if your fingers are really thin then that means you are dehydrated. And if you fingers are chubby then you are over hydrating and/or that you’ve been taking in too much sodium.

But at that point my fingers were in good shape.

I got to the next station around mile 25, feeling great. A quick refill on everything and I was off again.

“a quarter of the way there!” Norb said as I left this aid station.

Because more people do the shorter races than the 100, I was completely alone for the first time.

From that point, there was about 5 miles of easy downhill. And the beauty of the course got even more beautiful as the trail winded down into the valleys of the Black Hills.

Going through old train tunnels and over wooden bridges high above mountain creeks. This was the first time in the race I felt connected to the earth and its movements. I felt free in the warm sun and happy in this area that was new to me.

It was easy to smile then.

I remember coming into the next aid station around mile 30 or so. Della was looking off into the distance. Norb and Lori were sitting down on a blanket with their dog, Shady.

“Wake up fuckers!” I yelled to get their attention as I ran towards them.

Norb and Lori shot up.

“Didn’t expect you so soon!” They said.

I restocked everything and I grabbed my phone. I planned on using it for music for miles 30-50. I figured that would feel like a long stretch so I felt music would be my best company if pain began to take hold of me. I made a playlist of some heavy music to jam out to to help with the grind.

I took back off down the trail and started the playlist on The Ghost Inside’s “Dark Horse.” It kind of was my theme song as I was getting ready for the race. And I thought the similarity in names made it somewhat fitting.

I also checked my watch on my overall time for the first time. 4:40 for the first 50K.

The race continued downhill for a few more miles before I had a long climb all the way to the turnaround point. With music blasting, I felt a new feeling of freshness and exhilaration. And this was the first time I fancied the idea of possibly being in first place because I was all alone and couldn’t see anyone ahead.

Running alone in the wilderness can make you feel completely insignificant but yet completely connected at the same time. You realize that the moment you are running doesn’t even pale in comparison to the years it took to mold and create what you are running through. It could seem daunting if you reflect deeply on that fact or that fact could bring on feelings of awe and a need for celebration of living.

During this stretch I felt my most original self as natural as the world around me. I’m sure if anyone saw me at this time, they would have laughed their ass off. I wasn’t just running at this point. I was singing at the top of my lungs with heartfelt lyrics and had the occasional air drum and air guitar session.

Almost like the trail was my stage just to be me.

After a few downhill miles the climb began. This was also the time when I first had the thought that I should get some Vaseline because I had a few potential hot spots that could make for an uncomfortably long day.

Also as the climb started, the tree coverage began to thin out. Leaving me more and more exposed to the wind as I went on.

I got to the next aid around mile 35 with no problems. Seeing my crew from this point on gave me the psychological boost I needed. As wonderful it feels to be alone, wild and free, it feels equally if not better to have a human connection. Even for the briefest of moments.

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I remember leaving this station with a slight dread, mainly because the next stretch was around 6 miles and all uphill. And because I fully expected to start to tire on this stretch.

And I completely forgot to get Vaseline. Damn, next stop I’ll get some.

But I had my music to help with the grind.

A few minutes later I remember Norb driving by and honking and Lori and Della doing the same. Just after they passed, I watched another dead tree crash down as close to the road as it could get. I could only imagine what hell it would have caused if it did cover the road and no crews could pass that point until it was cleaned up. But thankfully it didn’t make it to the road.

Now the course was as exposed as it was going to get. Winds rocked my ass. I had to hunch my head over and gut it out. I knew for a few steps that the wind was just making me expend unnecessary energy running when I could have walked as fast but I didn’t want to give in to it.

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Luckily it wasn’t constant, only intense gusts of winds.

Without the trees lining the course as well, you could start to see further into the distance. Which can play with your spirits if you let it. Looking two miles into the distance can ruin a race but I did my best not to do so.

I would look around to appreciate what I was running by but mostly I would just tuck my head for the long hill. If you look towards the top, you will feel like you haven’t made progress. But if you keep your head down and every once in a while look up you will realize that you have made tremendous progress.

Making it to the next aid stop put me around 42-ish miles. I thought I remembered from the race website that there was a small stretch of about 2.7 miles. I was really looking forward to it and was wondering why I haven’t had it yet, feeling like I should have done it already.

“When’s that 2.7 mile stretch coming up?” I asked.

“That’s not in the race anymore.” Norb said.

“What the fuck!”

“But the good news is that you have a little over 6 miles to go until the last aid station.” Lori told me.

I guess that was music to my ears.

“Oh yeah, can I get some Vaseline?”

I took a huge wad of it and went to town…

I went on and continued my battle with the wind. I was planning on joking with everyone that Hurricane Andrew decided to show up today, but I completely forgot every time I saw them.

The miles clicked by and for the first time since the 50 milers turned around, I could see someone way up a head. Either they were in the relay race or I wasn’t in first place after all. No point in worrying about others because once you do your race will fall apart. I stayed focused on myself and chugged along.   

He was running at a decent clip and I realized it would probably be around the last aid station when I would meet up with him.

About 2 miles to go from the aid station, another guy and his pacer blew past me going back the other way. (At 50 miles, 100 mile runners could pick up pacers for the rest of the race.)

They looked like they were running hard and the runner looked pretty strong. But it maybe looked like he was running too hard.

As I continued with the climb and neared the aid station, I was even closer to the guy ahead of me. He got to the aid station just before I did. So that put the guy that blew past me in 1st, the guy I was at the stop with in 2nd, me in 3rd.

From this stop we had to run .7 of a mile down the trail and back. In this small section, a lady comes out of nowhere and runs past me.

We get back to the aid station and there are 3 of us restocking water and nutrition for the second half of the race.

I checked my watch for a time reference. 50 miles in, I was at 8:35.

Norb is ready to join me. I told them to plan on pacing me for the entire 50 miles back and that I didn’t care who paced when. Just someone be ready when I get there. And Norb it was for the first pacing duties.

This was my first time in a race using a pacer. I know from experience that I have ran better late in a race when I was with someone. Usually if I’m alone and exhausted, I have myself a pussy fit and walk more than I want to.

Misery loves company.

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That’s why I wanted pacers in this one. Norb and I took off and just like the music was refreshing, having someone to talk to was welcoming. Not long after we left, the lady sped past us as if we were standing still.

Within a few minutes she was just about out of sight.

And I never saw her again.

Having Norb there was great because the conversation was one sided. I just kept my pace on cruise control while he shared race stories with me and kept me entertained and my mind off of the pain that was beginning to settle in.

My one minute walk breaks were starting to get harder to get back to running. But after a few tough steps I found my groove again.

I continued checking my fingers and I did notice they were beginning to puff up.

The big positive about going the other way now, was the wind became a tailwind periodically. When it did pick up, I felt lifted and that I was as close to levitation as possible.

In addition to having Norb with me, it was great to see the other runners. I almost felt bad for them though because they were all hunched over digging through the headwind, while I was enjoying the tailwind. But we all went through the same shit.

At the next aid station, Norb switched spots with Della. And also the guy that was just a head of me was there as well. I learned his name was Kyle (now I don’t need to call him “that guy”).

We left before Kyle and settled in quickly. Not only was it wonderful that she wanted to pace me a day before she was moving but she also was coming off a stress fracture in her foot. She shared her own stories and it was once again more of a one sided conversation as I didn’t want to talk much and waste energy.

Probably my favorite part about running with her was when we quoted Chris Pratt’s character in Parks and Recreation a few times.

Kyle passed us up and so our little battle began.

Getting to the next aid station, Kyle was there. He didn’t have a crew so he was relying more on the aid station food and I was able to have my crew do all the work for me. I could get in and out quickly. I was able to leave before Kyle but within a mile or two he would pass me up again.

At this point, Lori joined me and she stayed with me for two sections. I don’t know why or what it was about her but out of all three of them I felt most comfortable with her. Not sure if it was her pace or if it was our conversation or what.

“I have to apologize in advance, but I might fart a bunch. I feel like I’m getting gassy.” I confessed.

“Joey, you don’t ever have to apologize about that! It’s pretty normal in our family.”

With Norb I just farted without saying anything. All guys do. With Della, I just didn’t say anything. But with Lori, I felt I needed to warn her. Maybe this brought on the level of comfort I felt.

And I don’t know if it was the same for her, but because it was now a tailwind, every time I did fart I got a nice whiff of it and damn did I stink.

We met up with Kyle again at the next aid station. Same story. I left first, he passed me a mile down the trail.

Lori and I kept things going until I heard another tree falling but this time is was too close for comfort.

“Watch out!” I yelled.

And she did that thing all girls do when you are going through a haunted house. Screamed and grabbed my arm.

It didn’t land on the trail but it was the closest I had seen to it all day and it was only about 20 feet in front of us. Made me wonder if other runners we seeing the same things as me or was I just close to being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I would say within a minute or two, we heard another tree fall but on the other side of the trail and other side of the dirt road that the trail was parallel to.

About halfway through this second part with her, we were getting back to the tree coverage. The sun was beginning to set and the temperature was starting to drop. And a lot of this stretch we were next to a stream which I believe gave off a cooler feel to the air as well.

Checking on my fingers, they didn’t appear to be going back to normal so I decided to cut back on my S-Caps.

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When we got to the next stop, I made the decision to put on my arm sleeves. I felt a little bad because that means I had to cover up a temporary Hello Kitty tattoo that I put on before the race. I did this to give myself a reason to laugh and smile throughout the day every time I looked at my arm.

But the added layer felt great.

This was the first time in a few stops that Kyle had already left before I got there. Norb joined back up with me and from here we had a long climb of around 10 miles. About a mile into this section we caught up with Kyle, who was walking.

As we reached him, I said “join us!” And he did, picking up his walk to a run.

This was the first time I got to know him better other than a few words here and there as we kept passing each other earlier. Being with someone who has done all of what you’ve done adds to the camaraderie.

This long uphill was putting a beating on me but I was still holding strong. To be honest though, Kyle looked like he was struggling though. We kept together for a while.

About a mile from the next stop he told us that he needed a good walk break and said “I need to save my legs for the flats and downhills.”

Norb and I made it to the aid station and he decided he was going to stay with me until the next one. As we were here I kept looking back for Kyle, but no signs of him.

I added gloves to my kit as the temperature kept dropping.

We left, and I considered my battle with Kyle to be done. Which left me in third place at the moment.

The sun had set and the sky had the perfect transition from pink to blue. And slowly the colors darkened to deep purple. An odd and yet eloquent contrast to the black hills.   

I kept telling Norb, “the sky is just amazing right now.”

By the time we reached the next aid station, about mile 80, it was close to being dark. As we got there, and I had already forgotten about him, Kyle showed up just after me. He asked to use our Vaseline and after he got some, I re-upped myself. And as I am typing this I realize how fucking gross that is now.

Della was back with me now and soon after we left, Kyle passed me again. He definitely was saving his legs for the flats and downhills. The next few sections were just that and before long he was pulling away.

So we just passed 80 miles, and given the circumstances I am feeling great. I didn’t feel as if I had ran that far. It was almost if I was only 20 miles into the race. I mean, yes, I was hurting a good bit, but far less than I had expected. And my simple nutrition plan was holding us exactly how I had hoped.

And surprisingly I had only peed a bunch. But I was feeling a little uneasy in the stomach. As we neared the stop at 85 miles, I felt more and more like I had to shit my brains out. And the more I thought about it, the more I really needed to.

I wasn’t gonna make it to the aid station.

“I’m not gonna make it to the aid station. Give me a minute.”

“Do you need a light?” Della asked.

“Don’t shine that over here and don’t look!”

I was barely squatting and barely had my shorts down before the shit storm dropped. But it was quick. I grabbed a few handfuls of grass to wipe and I was ready to get a move on.

“The bathrooms at the stop are nice.”

“Thank god.” I said.

Just before entering the aid area, Kyle was already on his way out.

I checked my watch and I was 16:30 into the race at mile 85.

After cleaning myself up better in the restroom. I reloaded my nutrition and hydration. I was about to take off when I remember to get more Vaseline. Then Della and I took off and almost immediately I told her I was cold. She made the suggestion to turn around and get a long sleeve or something.

We turned around and I put on a technical long sleeve shirt over my singlet and arm sleeves. It felt so good to put that on but before long I was cold again.

From here there would be about a 10 mile uphill then about 5 miles of downhill to the finish.

As Della and I made our way up, things started there way down for me. My one minute walk breaks were getting longer for the first time in the race. I was getting colder as a result from that. And it was harder for me to get running again.

After a few walk breaks, we started on a run again. But this time it was so slow and the real true pain of ultra running was finally in my legs. That feeling like you’ve taken a few good hammer swings to the legs feeling.

Our walk was just as fast as the run.

85-90 was a bad stretch.

All I wanted was to be at the next aid station. All I wanted was to be done with the race. All I wanted was warm food and a warm bed.

My mind was becoming my worst enemy.

We walked our way into the mile 90 aid station. I told Della that I was craving a cup of broth and that I needed my running jacket.

Della went to to aid station volunteer to retrieve me a cup, Lori took off for the car to find my running jacket and Norb was standing right in front of me.

I felt woozy and tingly. A feeling I know all too well.

I put a hand on Norb’s shoulder.

“I’m gonna pass out.” I told him.

I felt my head drop.

Then blackness.

I don’t remember any details at all but I remember I was just entering some fantasy world. I felt euphoric and pure happiness. It was a place I really wanted to be in.

Then I remember hearing…

“Joey, you have to get up!” Lori said in a stern voice.

My eyes open. I am laying on my side on the ground and I see a lot of feet around me. I was picked up and carried to a bench close by in front of a fire.

I was fucking out of it. My mind was zoned out and gone.

I was offered Coke, Mountain Dew, a spoonful of peanut butter, pretzels with peanut butter. I tried all of it. Even a S-Cap. Which was the first one I took since “cutting back.”

I just stared into the fire.

Norb had his arm around me, keeping me warm.

“I need a blanket.”

A blanket was wrapped around me but I remember it didn’t feel like it made a difference.

I was shivering bad.

When I first got to the aid station it was just me and my crew. When I woke up a relay team was there waiting for their next runner to come in. They told me she was a nurse.

When she came in, she took my pulse and said that it was normal and pretty calm.

Lori kept telling me that I needed to get up and move around. I didn’t want to.

My first attempt ended quickly. I felt like I was gonna pass out again, so I was back down sitting on the bench.

For a moment, I thought I was gonna barf and shit myself at the same time.

My right calf started to throb and I knew that it was gonna lock up any second. That was my only motivation to get up. I told Norb about it and he rubbed it out for me. But it was in such pain that he barely, and I mean barely, moved his thumb across my calf before it as almost too painful.

I remember Lori sitting next to Norb and she wispered to him, “you’ve gotta get him up.”

I don’t know how long I was out for and how long I was sitting there, but I eventually got up. I was in excruciating pain and was limping at best.

Della at that time, was waiting in one of the cars getting ready to leave.

Lori came up with the idea for me to sit in the car with the heat on and with a heated seat to warm up.

I need it.

It brought me out of the mental daze I was in and back to life.

“Should we set a time for you to leave here.” Lori asked.

“I guess so…”

“Alright, then 5 minutes, at 11:51, you’re going to get back out there and finish this thing.”

Those 5 minutes went by way too fast. I knew the last 10 miles were going to be the worst. I didn’t want to go back out there.

Getting out of the car, Norb put a pair of insulated down pants on me and helped me to my feet.  

From there, Norb took over the “pacing” for the team.

My right calf was rock hard and my range of motion with it was minimal. And quickly my left knee began to feel like a knife was dug into it from compensation. The only relief I had found for that was taking smaller walking steps.

Mentally my mind wasn’t in the right frame to be in this thing anymore. I tried to view the final segment as a hike in the woods.

I had no intentions of running.

I was actually debating telling Norb that I was gonna lay down for a quick nap on the trail. But I knew he wasn’t gonna let me.

My chaffing situation went from not very great to “holy shit, I don’t want to imagine what showering will be like.” I needed more Vaseline but that was the last thing on my mind when went left the aid station.

But it was all I thought about then.

I think it took us about an hour and a half to walk the 5 miles to the last and final aid station. I asked for Vaseline and took the biggest handful I could and reapplied.

I sat on a cooler and munched down a bunch of chips.

Even walking the last 5 miles no one passed me. But as I was sitting there. A runner came in.

“What can I get you?” The aid station volunteer asked her.

“A full frontal lobotomy.”

It gave everyone a good laugh.

“No really, I’m in so much pain right now. I need one.” she said.

Lori had the final leg with me and I just wanted to get this over with.

After we left the aid station, the lady passed me which still had me in 5th place overall. But to be honest I could give a shit at that point. Finish line was all I wanted.

We death marched on through the cold. I say I didn’t care about place but I kept looking back for headlamps at that point.

We trudged on. I was doing my best to temporarily ease the chaffing situation but there was only so much I could do.

I was also looking for any sign of the high school track lights for some sign of hope. But I wasn’t seeing anything. The area was hilly, so maybe it was around the next bend. Or the next one.

It just never seemed to come.

I knew we had to be within a mile of it. I figured we would see a golden glow off in the distance.

Nope.

Looking back I could see people approaching. I didn’t care if they passed me.

I was done for.

Out of nowhere, the track lights appeared and the end was in my reach. I just had to cross the parking lot and circle back around the track. And no fucking way was I gonna let someone pass me then.

All of my problems seemed to go away as I went around the track. A 100 miles later, almost an entire day gone by, and for some reason it didn’t feel like I had done all of that. It already felt so distant in the past.

I finished in 21 hours and 10 minutes. 5th place overall. 3rd male.

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The lady who passed me up just after the halfway point, ended up winning in 18:13. Kyle took 2nd place in 18:55. The guy who zoomed passed me around mile 48, ended up 3rd in 19:10.

The lady who passed me with a few mils to go ended missing the turn to the track because he corneas were wind burnt. There were reports of winds of 60+mph winds that day.

I had such an amazing day out there until just after mile 85. Then everything came undone for me.

For some reason I was pretty indifferent to what I had done for a little bit. It wasn’t until the awards ceremony when I started to feel extremely proud and even amazed at what I had done.

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I was 3 hours faster than my first 100 miler, which was only last year. I DNFed at my second attempt 2 months earlier. And now I feel that I crushed the first 85 miles.

Progress is the most important thing when working hard at anything. Even if it is incremental. Progress is progress and it is only in the right direction.

And in progress, I do believe that is where you find happiness. Because part of being happy is achieving a closer sense of your full potential. It’s when life is stagnant that unhappiness grows.

So even though I crashed and burned, I am happy with the way things unfolded for me and turned out. Many more lessons will be learned from this race and training block and I will use this as a stepping stone towards the next accomplishment in my life. Whether that is running related or not.

The day before the race, I was talking with Norb as we were driving the course about how I believe that when you go through a training schedule and do an ultra, you become more mature as a runner and kind of grow up a little more. Making you a little better and a little smarter. And I added that even though I didn’t complete the Bighorn 100, I feel that I went through that maturing process and was able to carry that with me into this race and into the short training block I had for it.

It might be hard to explain to people who haven’t done a 100 but it almost feels like you left for a really long time. And when you returned, nothing has changed and no one has changed. Except yourself. Kind of like spending a whole summer abroad.

You feel completely reborn but at the same time, older and wiser for having gone through and enduring such a long race experience. It’s almost like you rolled up an entire lifetime into one day.

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I feel like I am just getting started…

The road to another 100 will continue.      

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Video of the start:

Around mile 25:

Part 1 of the finish:

Part 2 of the finish:

Bighorn 100- DNF

We all have our good days and our bad days. We have no idea which days those will be, which is what makes life interesting and unique. An adventure.

It’s how we are able to appreciate great things when they come because you need the good with the bad. And it’s in your personal perspective of how you handle the bad that allows for growth and development.

Bighorn was my first DNF.

From the very start, I wasn’t feeling great. The start was at 11 in the morning on Friday on a dirt road leading into a canyon. Clear skies left the sun all alone in the sky to beat down on us. I don’t know the official temperature at the start but I would say it was about 80 degrees.

After the gun went off, everyone took off down this road for about a mile before hitting a single track trail that lead us up the canyon. My strategy for this race was patience, patience and patience.

I knew the first part of the race was going to be grueling and I felt that if I could take it easy early, that I would be able to slowly pick off the group of people that went ahead of me from the start and ultimately have a solid race.

Within the first mile, I was raining sweat down my face. I knew the first few hours of the race were going to be hot so I decided to pop a salt pill earlier than my typical plan.

Once we hit the trail, it rolled for about a mile or mile and a half. On this small stretch I had a weird feeling that I needed to throw up. I just thought it was just pre-race nerves still lingering inside that just needed a few miles to get out of me.

Once we were a few miles in, the course took us on a massive un-runnable climb. About a six mile stretch of hiking with about 3,000 feet of elevation gain. If you looked up the trail, you could see a long line of runners marching up with their heads down and hands on their knees. And looking down was the same imagine of soldiers.

Some were trying to pass people here impatiently, maybe not knowing that this was going to take awhile to get up. All of this with the sun beating down had my shirt and shorts dripping with sweat and from water that I poured on my head from my water bottles. I could have wrung out my clothes they were so wet.

Even though we weren’t running, it was still a hard hike. The feeling of needing to throw up left me as we hiked on. I expected this intense climb but I was ready to get it over with to get back to running.

It took me and the group of people I was around about 1.5 hours to do this ascent. From there we had about a mile to get to the next aid station. By the time I got there, both of my water bottles were just about out. I refilled them and finished off my first Clif bar.

Leaving that station I felt good for about a mile before both of my hamstrings were beginning to twinge…I was only 9 miles into the race. I knew I was sweating a bunch but I didn’t think much of it. And even though I took my first salt pill earlier than normal I also didn’t think to up the doseage. I thought maybe it was the long climb that had my legs feeling off.

I kept to my own easy pace. People were starting to pass me and I began to notice my easy pace was getting slower and slower. Nothing was feeling good at this point and that weird feeling in my stomach was back.

On the other side though, I was right on pace and sticking to my patience plan. At mile 13 was the first major aid station and also the first crew stop of the race. Because of the remoteness of the course there were only 3 crew points from the start to the turn around point and a crew wouldn’t be able to go to all three becuase of how long it takes to just drive to each spot. So it was either your crew hits the first and third or just the second.

Luckily for me I had two crews. My parents drove all the way out from Georgia for the race and they were stationed at the second spot. I had recruited a friend, his wife and daughter to help with crewing me at the other spots.

I came into this first major aid station right on the money of when I said I would be there, 3 hours. I handed my bottles to my crew to be refilled and as they were doing this I told them I felt like shit and that nothing was feeling good. I popped 2 salt pills, took a few sips of chicken broth and a few sips of a sports drink. I grabbed a few GUs, Clif bar and a PB&J.

After I left them, I had to actually run into the aid station so the electronic sensors would record my time. Right when I turned back around to get back running, my calf cramped up and put me on the ground. A friend that was volunteering as medical aid at this stop was only a few feet away. She got down and offered to massage the cramp away. Gladly accepting the offer from her, my friend who was crewing ran over with The Stick and I rolled it out for a minute.

Once the cramp went away I jumped up and took off running. There was a nice long downhill and the next chunk of miles were looking to be runnable with minimal hiking.

I got about a mile away from the aid station and remembered that I needed to eat something. I grabbed the ziplock baggie with my sandwich and pulled it out. Before it even touched my mouth I was gagging. I held onto in for a minute longer and decided to put it back in my pack. I forced down a GU instead. That has hard to get down and probably within a minute my first dry heaving fit came. It was like a cough that faded into that sound of throwing up, only nothing came up. Seemed like this happened about every fine minutes all the way until the next aid station at mile 19ish. Sometimes these fits had me hunched over with my hands on my knees and saliva spitting out.

I debated making myself throw up to see if I would feel better.

When I got to the next station I felt like rest was much much needed. I grabbed a cup of sports drink and sat in the grass under a tent.

There, another runner who I had met last summer at a race, was sitting in a chair with a bowl of potato chips.

“How are you doing?” I asked him.

“Not too good. My stomach feels like crap and I feel like I need to throw up.”

“I’m having the same problems.”

“And I’ve felt like this the entire race so far” Nick said.

“Me too man! I wanted to throw up about a mile into the race. I think this heat is getting to me.”

An aid station volunteer came up and offered me watermelon with salt on it and I ate it up. Then another runner came and sat with us. He said he was experiencing the exact same things.

I’m not sure which one of us brought it up, but the idea of forcing ourselves to throw up came up.

The guy that came in after me stood up, went for a patch of bushes and stuck his finger down his throat.

When he came back he said he felt better. We all sat for a few more minutes. Throw up guy took off first and then Nick and I got moving again together. Maybe a minute after leaving, throw up guy was walking back, shaking his head and said “nope” as we went by. Not sure if he was calling it a day or not, but I never saw him again.

When Nick and I left, we were joined by about 4 ladies. We fell into a solid rhythm of running the flats and downs and hiking up the inclines. One of the ladies offered some nausea medicine. I declined it but Nick took it.

Not long after that, he was feeling better and ended up leaving us behind. I held up the caboose of this small pack.

I wasn’t having any dry heaves since getting to the last aid station, which was a great sign but I had a constant side cramp. I also remember around this point, a guy was close behind me and dry heaving himself. It sounded so disgusting and I felt for him too.

Slowly I began to fade from this group of women and my legs were threatening to cramp again on every little incline.

The next stop wasn’t really a stop. There was a pipe coming out of the ground with spring water gushing out of it and everyone was taking this chance to refill on water.

I pulled one bottle from my pack and refilled it. I took a big gulp and immediately began heaving again. I chilled out for about a minute before moving on again. From the pipe, we had about 3 miles to the next aid station.

This was around when I started to feel faint. I just pushed away the temptation to sit off to the side of the trail.

This was also when I would drink some water and keeping that down was hard. When I started gagging on water, I began to think I was in trouble.

No doubt I was death marching now.

Finally getting to the next aid station, I completely laid out. Another runner was already laying down too.

I imagined I had this dazed look on my face as a few volunteers looked at me with concerned faces.

Laying there I had my first thoughts of DNFing. I was thinking about where I was in the race, only about 27 miles in and how much further I had to go. I wasn’t feeling better, my body was starting to reject even water and I honestly was having zero fun.

I felt miserable.

I think I was laying for about 10 or 15 minutes before I decided to get up. Before leaving I thought the beef jerky on the table spread looked awesome, so I grabbed a handful.

Surprisingly it tasted great and went down well….for about a minute. Then it about came back up.

From here, the trail steeply declined and even had stretches with thick mud, about ankle deep in spots.  All of this was not mixing well with how I was already feeling.

Everything together just destroyed me mentally and physically.

Somewhere along this stretch, I officially made my mind up to call it a day. The next stop was at mile 30, which was where my parents would be. I had never felt this bad before in a race. And I didn’t have it in me to endure another 70 miles of it, especially if I was going to fell this way.

I always expect to feel that shitty late in a race, but to feel that way so early on I felt that the day was just not my day.

As I came into my last aid station, I said to my parents “I’m done.” That’s all and I sat down in the chair they had. My Dad asked if I was sure.

I was.

No one could have convinced me to keep going and nothing anyone would have said would have changed my mind.

When I made made my mind up about DNFing, I kept asking myself if I was sure and if I would regret the decision. The answers were always yes that I was sure and no I would not.

When I told the volunteer who was working the timing, she asked for my bib and I handed it over feeling good about my decision. As I was walking back towards my parents a guy came up to me asked if my number was 356. I said it was and he said that he was the medical guy for this station and that the last stop had radioed him to check on me when I came in.

I told him I’d be fine and that I have finished for the day.

It just wasn’t in the cards for me that day. And I had no problem accepting that mentally.

The day after a friend of mine posted this on my Facebook:

“One piece of advice from my assistant coach in college that I’ve never forgotten: ‘You have days where you don’t feel good running. Sometimes it’s an easy morning run. Sometimes it’s the Olympic finals.’ Running is a cruel mistress.”

Having reassurance felt great but it also reminded me of how I put runners down for giving up on race day. I’ve never understood when someone says that they just didn’t feel great that day. I definitely never understood it when an elite runner would say that. In hindsight, it’s easy to sit behind a computer screen and judge someone for giving in. In this sport, you almost need to have a finish or die mentality. But the only person that can justify a DNF is the runner. Sometimes the best thing a person can do is know when to push through or to call it a day.

I think the hardest part about this was disappointing my parents and the friends that were my other crew. It was hard to say sorry for failing. And I felt like I let all of them down.

But I know that the only way to think of this as a failure, would be if I didn’t learn anything from it. I am willing to say that since I dropped from the race, that I have learned more about myself, life and running than any 4 year degree could have given me. I feel enriched and that this a valuable experience I will never forget and something I will only grow from.

There will be tons of races to come for me and one race won’t bring me down, stop me or define me.

Running, for me and many others, can be a lifestyle that takes over your life. But running isn’t everything to life. And my first DNF brought me to that realization.

The day after, I went back to the finish area to cheer people on. There were other races going on including a 50 miler, 50k and 30k as well, so there were tons of people finishing up. I ended up running a friend in the last two miles of his first 50k and made sure to pump him with motivation and words of encouragement to get him across his finish line.

I met a bunch of amazing people and seeing everyone finish their race was inspirational. Getting back out was probably the best thing for me because I know I would have sat at home and let my thoughts eat me up.

It does suck that the race I was training for 6-7 months didn’t unfold how I expected. Now I am left with the wonder of what I should do next with the fitness I still have…

Thank you everyone for all of the support and encouragement along the way! The journey to get to this point has been nothing but amazing and reading every comment over the months has helped me continue on. Your words keep me going as much as I hope I am inspiring others to chase your dreams.

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)

Why 100 miles?

This morning Competitor.com posted a video asking the simple question, why run 100 miles, to a handful of ultrarunners.

Watch it here

My name is not recognizable and I don’t have a stout ultra résumé as the ones in the video, but I thought I would take a stab at the question.

Once I found my form and got into shape, experiencing the euphoric sensations and peace of mind that came during longer runs that were long enough to allow for these feelings to arise, I felt the desire to want to run all day. If running were easy and the pains weren’t part of the process, I would run for hours each day. It sounds a little romanticized, but I found something that I wish I could do all day.

To piggyback on what some of the runners said in the video, and I can only speak from only doing one 100 miler, but it boils life down to the most simple form. I think of myself as a minimalist and this goes hand in hand with my lifestyle. Late in a 100 mile race, all you think about is forward motion. Getting to the next point, drinking water and eating enough to get to the next point. For me, the moments I let my mind wonder, I fell apart and lost touch with what I was doing.

And it’s also about pushing my body to it’s limits. And this is a relative statement. A 5K to someone who has never exercised, is 100 miles to them. It pushes them to their limits that they never thought was possible. 100 miles is so physically and mentally taxing, for me, that I didn’t know if I could go any further at certain points and at other times felt on top of the world. It is such a roller coaster of human emotions in 24 hours, give or take a few hours depending on who you are.

I think life is about finding your passion and going all out with it. Running is my passion and I believe it taps deep into my core being. It brings out the best in me and it takes me to my potential, physically and mentally. Running gives my life purpose and pushing myself to run 100 miles is how I find my true capabilities and my true self.

I Can

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Whatever your dreams are, go for them with all of your heart. Completely dive in and go full force. Don’t let fear and doubt slow you down, those will be natural human emotions that you’ll need to push through. Decide on what you really want and go for it. Write it down and never look back. You’ll be a new person just by putting all of your effort into the dream you so deeply desire.

I just wrote my next huge goal down. The odds of me achieving it will be slim. But the first step is believing in yourself, and I do. Odds are I will feel embarrassed for my goal if it’s not achieved. But I’ll know that by going for my goal, I will be at my absolute maximum potential to achieve it. Odds are I will fall flat on my face. But the odds are I will be a completely different person than I am now. And I know by announcing my goal, I come off as a arrogant.

If I do come up short…
At least I will know I am going to give it my all. I will know that there will be nothing else I could of done come race day. I will know that I will be the best me I can be.

My goal…

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