Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Hitchcock Experience -- 2017

The Hitchcock Experience


In 2017, I decided to tackle another 100-miler.  And, as usual, I chose one I thought more difficult than the last.  And, as usual, I failed to complete the race.  It started a self-inflicted "pity party" where I was beginning to think that 100-mile races weren't my "thing".

Then, in September, I woke up one morning to my wife telling me she had signed up for the Hitchcock Experience half-marathon the night before as I was sleeping (race registration opened up at midnight).  My friend & pacer, Jody, had tried to sign up at 5AM and he was wait-listed.  It's a popular trail half marathon in the Loess hills East of Omaha.  So, hearing that Angela had signed up gave me a little bit of jealousy.  I wanted to run, too!  But, the half marathon was already full. :-(

Some people might remember, but last December, I attempted the 100-mile race at Hitchcock.  The course took a mean toll on me both physically and mentally.  I opted to quit at mile 75 with a fairly swollen knee tendon(s).  I didn't even make a blog post about it because it was kinda second second failure.

Well, in late October, I decided I would run the Hitchcock Experience half marathon.....eight times.  So, I signed up for the 100-mile race again.  (Hey, I've said in past blogs that I'm not a very smart man!)


Hitchcock is a mean course.  You might think Iowa is just another flat state, but Hitchcock can prove otherwise in a matter of minutes.  The course is a 12.5-mile loop with 2,464' of elevation gain and descent.  The 100-mile course is 'just' 8 loops....with a total of 20,000' of elevation gain.  Each mile contains anywhere from 70-400' of elevation gain.  The hills are just.....RELENTLESS.  And, they aren't the kind of hills you just jog up....they reduce you to walking immediately.  They are so steep you can reach out and touch the ground in front of you as you walk/climb up them.

Hitchcock Nature Center -- What a gem of trail running!

For some reference, my Garmin has a goal of 25 flights of stairs per day for me.  When I run in Excelsior Springs, it takes about 2-5 miles to get that goal.  Within the first three-quarters of mile #1 at Hitchcock, my watched buzzed alerting me to my accomplished goal!

To add to the 'flavor' of the course, the trails take you up onto ridge lines with beautiful views of Omaha's skyline.....and gusty, bone-chilling, Northwesterly December winds.

(Running) The Hills

I, generally, enjoy running hills.  Yeah, they are work to climb, but the reward is the descent.  I absolutely love to bomb down hills.  And that is exactly what I did in last year's attempt at Hitchcock.  And, about 60-70 miles into the race, the constant pounding of my 175lb frame on my knees took it's toll and I quit with a fairly swollen patellar tendon in my right knee.  This year, I knew I had to go easier.  As insurance, I brought along cheap knee braces for both knees.  I told myself at the slightest inkling of pain in my knees those braces would go on and not come off.

If I was going to go easier on the downhills, I knew I had to make up that time somewhere else.  Anyone who runs with me knows I can climb the hills with the best of them.  So, that's exactly where I placed that extra energy.  I didn't run the very steepest hills, but I pushed up them.  Like I tell Jody all the time......"walk with purpose".  I walked, without stopping, every hill until probably about mile 80.  In fact, I took extra brownies from each aid station and put them in my hydration vest.  I told myself, "Walk with purpose to the top of this hill and you can have a brownie".  It was like baiting a child to do something, and it worked beautifully.  I don't have enough fingers and toes to count all the people I passed going up the hills each lap.

Slow It Down?

Everyone tells me I have to slow down.  When we look back on my past failures, people first point to "you did your first lap too fast" or "you ran the first half too hard".

So, how did my first lap at Hitchcock go?  I just fell in line with the other 100 mile runners and ran a comfortable pace......which turned out to be 2:15.  That would have been good enough for 8th overall in the half marathon.  That was 18-hr pace!  I grabbed some soup, refilled my water bottle, took a picture of my Garmin and posted on Facebook for Angie & Jody to see.  Then, figuring I had beaten both my wife and pacer(Jody) back and there was no reason to wait, I headed out onto lap #2.

Lap #1 - Too fast or just right?
I continued my comfortable pace, my hill attack strategy, and my downhill conservation efforts.....and I pulled into lap #2 around 2:30.  I started to tell myself that if I could just keep the laps under 3hrs, I'd be banking time for later laps when I'm hurting and still maybe even touch that sub-24hr finish.  As I rolled into the aid station, I was almost immediately chided by Angie for 'going too fast' that first lap.  I didn't need much, so I just grabbed more soup/ramen and refilled my water bottle and left.

Lap #3 brought more of the same.  My plan was working.  My body, amazingly, was working like clockwork.  This was a bit of a surprise because I went into this 100-miler more banged up than ever before.  Two months earlier, on a training run, I had rolled an ankle pretty badly.  Less than two weeks later, I rolled and popped that ankle again.  For the next six weeks, I would drop my weekly mileage in hopes of finding an equilibrium between resting a bad ankle and getting my miles in.

Weekly mileage just tanking due to injury...
The weekly mileage kept dropping because the ankle just wasn't healing.  Then, during the week of Thanksgiving, I told myself I needed some good miles.  I put on 70+ miles that week and the world seemed right again.

The ankle injury wasn't my only injury.  I was dealing with plantar fasciitis in both feet, but particularly the left foot (the one with the ankle sprain).  And, I had developed tennis elbow in my right arm, which I use exclusively for carrying my handheld water bottle.  My body was falling apart on me.

Nevertheless, loop #3 only took me 2:35 and I was still feeling good.  I rolled into the aid station, changed some socks, refilled my water bottle, gulped down soup/ramen and coke, and headed out again.

37.5 miles and still cruisin'

Lap #4 brought me to the halfway point and I had finished the first 50 miles of Hitchcock with no falls, no sprains, no muscle spasms, feeling pretty good, and in 10:45.  Still sub-24 pace and still moving along very efficiently.  I was, however, telling my crew that my legs just felt dead.  Not exhausted, per se, but dead.  When I'd ask them to pick the pace up or climb harder, there just wasn't any "giddyup" in them.  But, we were still moving forward, and doing it at a pretty good clip, so I wasn't about to change what I was doing.
50 miles complete! Ramen & Coke please!!
I want to break here and say this is where I decided that everyone is wrong when they tell me to slow it down.  My body isn't built for slow.  It hates slow.  I think I even told Jody at the aid station, "Instead of slowing down....let's just feed the hungry dog, ya?"  Meaning, I was tired of everyone telling me to slow it down because that kind of effort or strategy doesn't work for them or for most people.  Well, I'm not most people.  I like to go fast.  Like Scott & Stacey would say to me, "Shake and Bake!"  So, you know what?  SCREW THAT SLOWING DOWN CRAP.  I'm gonna run what my body tells me is comfortable and effortless.  And, if that pace looks like suicide pace to the rest of the be it.  Let's just keep my body fed and hydrated!

Did that just happen??!!

The next 50 miles...

I've been very adept at getting thru 50 miles and 100k and this year's Hitchcock was no different.  I knew the next 50 miles would get worse.  But, as my friend, LeeJae tells me, "Get your shit together, Carol!".  I just had to keep my shit together.

Jody was ready to go out on lap #5 with me but I told him 'no'.  I wanted him to take me to 75 miles, which was basically my personal best (82.2), and get me started on the next lap.  If I could get out onto lap #7 I would finish this race.

So, I headed out onto lap #5 alone but feeling very accomplished.  There was nothing particularly eventful on that lap.  I finished in just under 3hours.  Still knocking on the door of a really, really good race and respectable time.
Eyes starting to get a bit glossy.  Ramen and coke again!

Jody was ready to go, and after 62.5 miles alone, I was ready for company.  Jody always tells me I'm a 'social person' and I most certainly am.  We started off on the lap and we talked about how the half marathon went for him and Angie.  I was pointing out every root, rock, turn and climb.  Jody asked if I had a 'photographic memory'.  I do, but my recollection of the Hitchcock course, at this point in my life, is coming from experience (this was about to be my 12th lap all-time here).

Around mile 65, I told Jody that my right foot hurt and we needed to stop and look.  If I've learned one thing, it's that when you feel something rubbing, you stop and correct it before it explodes on you.  We stopped in the middle of the night, in the middle of a field full of cow patties, and I sat down to remove clothes.  I peeled away my three layers of socks to reveal a pretty big blister on my right pinky toe and another blister underneath the first.  There was nothing I could do, but the aid station was about 1.5 miles away.  So, I geared back up and we continued.

At the aid station, I took a seat in their heated tent and asked if they could pop my blister.  The aid station worker accepted and went to work.  He popped and drained my blisters and put a band aid on it.  After several minutes, I managed to get my socks back on.  I had my usual ramen & coke and we headed out.  The pain was pretty intense.  Jody and I both agreed that it would eventually dull itself.  I knew my left foot was in the same predicament, but I didn't want to look at it.  I had seen both my toes after lap #2 and they were bleeding.....I didn't want to see or think about it until I was done.

Fixing a flat!

Jody and I traversed the hills for another nine miles.  We relentlessly attacked the hills and managed a 3:30 lap.  My pace was still fantastic.  Jody had ran 25 miles of Hitchcock's hills and I could tell he was done.  If I would have asked him to do another lap, he would have because he's that type of guy.  But, I knew the rest of the race was gonna be on me.

Unfortunately, at this point, the hills and the injuries were starting to drain my energy at an exceedingly quicker rate.  I sat in the main aid station at mile 75 for atleast 15 minutes just shaking my head and wondering how I was gonna do another marathon.  Eventually, I sprawled out on the floor and told my crew that if I fall asleep, wake me up in 30minutes.  And, that is exactly what happened.  Suddenly, I lifted my head and they told me my time was up.

Just a quick nap!

ANOTHER marathon?

I grudgingly changed some clothes, layered up, and headed out onto lap #7.  I knew I would be freezing from spending so long in the nature center only to exit into 25-degree weather.  But, one of the positives of Hitchcock is that within a mile, you are climbing a massive hill and your heart rate will jump and your body will warm up.

My mission on lap #7 was to eclipse my personal-best of 82.2 miles.  I continued to chug along, but my pace had slowed due to the blistered feet.  I never stopped climbing the hills.  I never lingered at aid stations.  I just kept plugging away.  The pain from the blisters, sore Achilles and now sore knees were all piling up on me, but my legs were still just moving fine.

I managed lap #7 in 4 hours.  It was now 23 hours into the race.  There would be no sub-24 hour finish today.  But, that was never really a goal.  The goal was always....JUST FINISH.  I was pretty down and out after 87.5 miles.  I sat in the main aid station too long.  I kept telling Angie that maybe my body just wasn't built to go 100 miles.  That the pain was greater than last year.  She wasn't having any of it.

And, after a while, she put on her clothes and offered to start the final lap with me.  This would put her mileage past anything she'd ever done.  But, she didn't care....and out the door we went.

I'm dead....she's like "this jackass is finishing this one"

As we left the nature center, it was becoming more apparent that my miles of running were behind me and we would be walking a LOT of the course.  And, we did just that.  There was a few moments of running, but it would only last 30 seconds and then back to walking/hiking.  After five miles, the trail comes very near to the start/finish line.  After five miles, Angie had had enough of my whiny attitude.  She was asking if I wanted my hiking poles and suggested she could quickly grab them and bring them back to me.  Eventually, I just told her to forget it and go back to the start/finish....I would do the last 7.5 miles on my own.

I don't know what it was, but almost immediately after leaving Angie, I did some running.  I think the course is pretty easy at that point and I took advantage.  It would only take a few minutes to reach a point where I was back to forced walking.

I plodded my way thru the course until mile 97.  There's a big hill at approximately mile 10 each lap.  The other side of that hill is the last aid station and then 2.5 miles of rolling hills to the finish.  I ran that hill.  I could smell the blood in the water.  It was starting to hit me that I was really gonna pull this off.


Immediately after leaving the final aid station, I ran into Jennifer B.  She was a fellow Kansas Citian.  She was an accomplished ultra runner.  She was finishing up her seventh lap.  I slowed down my hike a bit and chatted with her.  I don't know if she welcomed it or not, but I continued to walk in front of her only a few yards and just talk.  We chatted about our races, our kids and the course.  It passed the time.  And, at that point in my race, time was of no concern.  Finally, we came to the final hill that would lead to the finish.  I wished her the best and said I had to finish this my way.  I picked up my pace.  I tackled the hill relentlessly.  I could hear the people cheering at the finish and from the tower.  One of the screams I heard was Jody!  I could hear another person saying "Run!".....which is kinda funny because the finish of each lap (and the race) is probably a 400' climb over a half mile.  And the last 80 feet of the trail climb about 20' up.  So, I mustered up what energy was left within me and I finished a 100-mile race the way I've always wanted to.......running.

I did it.  I tackled the hardest course I've ever been on.  I took revenge on a course that took it from me a year earlier.  I battled back from a pretty low spot and thru some nasty injuries.  I had finally done it.  I finished in 28:22:53.  It wasn't a great time, but it wasn't a DNF.  I was 12th overall.  The drop rate was pretty high, and of the 50+ that started the 100-miler, only 22 finished.  I was finally on the right side of the drop rate.


I immediately hugged Jody.  Besides Angie and myself, I'm not sure this finish meant so much to anyone as it did to Jody.  I'm so glad he was there to see it through with me!

The race swag.
To quite a lot of people, this is just a 'crazy guy doing a crazy race'.  But, to those who know me those who run with me.......this was 2 years of blood, sweat, tears and failures.  I didn't let it stop me and I'm so glad I have the support of my family and friends that keep me going for more.

It will take weeks for this euphoria to wear off.  I still keep the buckle with me as I tackle my daily life.  The meaning behind it is so much more than just a reward for completing a race.

Earned, not given.


There is no one who deserves more credit than my wife, Angela.  From the moment I crossed the finish line, I kept saying "we did it".  And, I meant that.  Yeah, I did the running part, but Angela did everything else.  She watched kids while I did weekend back-to-back long runs.  She bought my running gear and kept me well geared.  She encouraged my running.  And, she took me out on the course to start that final lap.  I can't do these races without her support.  I love you, Angela!

I already made a Facebook post about Jody, so here it is verbatim:
Jody is my hero!

During our run last night he was calling me ‘Superman’, but the whole time I couldn’t help think about how selfless he has been for me.

Jody has traveled from Colorado to Michigan to Omaha to watch me chase a crazy dream of running 100 miles. He does it without question and without thought.

True friends are hard to find. But, friends who will strap on a headlamp and traverse a sadistic course of punishing hills in sub-freezing temperatures after already running a half marathon on those same hills without so much as a peep of complaint are immensely harder to find.

His advice and companionship during some of the lowest moments in my life cannot be understated.
I was so glad to see him at the finish line today...he was the first person I had to hug! I honestly could not have accomplished today’s feat without you, Jody!!
I can't wait to answer the call when Jody decides to tackle a big race.  I will be there!

A 'Thank You' to Jennifer B. is deserved, too.  I know she probably didn't think much of it, but our talk for 2.5 miles was fun.  It kept my mind off the pains.  It was fun to listen to her stories.  She was really the only runner who I spent any time talking to.  I was happy to see the post later in the day confirming that she had finished.

My running friends, who are too numerous to list individually, deserve my thanks as well.  They get up at 3AM to run with me.  They run in the cold, heat, rain, snow, etc.  We run in the dark.  We pound the pavement.  We tear up trails.  We give each other hell about our failures AND our successes.  Running has brought us all together.  Running doesn't define me, but every mile, especially with these wonderful people, adds to the person I want to be.

In the end, it wasn't the physical aspect that I had yet to conquer, it was the mental one.  And, this time around, I held it together for most of the race.  I still have work to do, but I now know what it takes.

I'm ready for the next challenge.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

High Lonesome 100

Thank you, Sir.  May I have another?

 I am in LOVE with trail running.  I constantly look ahead to races.  Almost daily, I think I 'like' another race's Facebook page, just to follow for updates and perhaps one day run that race.  Early in 2016, I spotted a *sponsored* post on Facebook for a new race in the mountains of Colorado.

Now, since I was a kid, I've been in love with the mountains.  But, usually, it was for the chance to ski in the winter.  But, sometime during my childhood, my family took a summer vacation to Colorado and I got the chance to appreciate the summer side to the mountains.  Ever since, I've wanted to find a way to play in the mountains.

So, it didn't take long for that *sponsored* post to become a page I regularly visited for updates.  Then, in early 2017, I took the dive and registered for the High Lonesome 100.  A portion of the race's description:
"Your lungs will burn at 13,150 feet above sea level.  Your quads will get trashed while climbing over 24,500 feet of vert.  But most importantly, this course will make sure your spirit of adventure and desire to conquer new challenges are always fully nourished."
Sounds like fun, right?  This was a first-year race and I'm always a little hesitant because you just don't know what you are going to get.  Eventually, I saw that the Race Director (RD) had employed Mile 90 Photography, our local trail running photography favorites, to shoot the race and that about sealed the deal for me.....these people were setting up a serious race.  I cleared it with my wife, Angela, for yet another round of 100-miler training.

Course Description

Everyone who knows anything about me knows that I've failed to finish not one, but two, 100-mile races....ending each one around mile #77.  I've told people I'm content with how those races turned out, but deep down inside me, I'm a competitor.  I understand my reasons for DNF (Did Not Finish), but that doesn't mean I have to be content about it.  Everyone who knows me also understands that I'm just not a very smart man.  A smart man would have signed up for an "easy" 100-miler, like Rocky Raccoon, Burning River, Umstead, etc.  But, it has to be said....there is NOTHING "easy" about 100-miles, no matter how you slice it.  So, I signed up for High Lonesome.  I knew it would be the hardest thing I've ever done.  I knew it was unlikely I would finish.  I don't care what the 100 miles throws at me, I want to be able to say I conquered everything thrown at me.  If it was easy, everyone would do it.

"The mountains are calling, and I must go." -- John Muir
Now, one reason I am in love with trail running has nothing to do with the trails.  The community of people is astounding.  No other races will you see community like you do in trail running.  A runner will literally give the shoes off their own feet to a fellow competitor, if it meant getting them to the finish line.  So, I fired off a message to seven of my closest running friends asking who would like to be a part of my 'crew' for this adventure.  Two of them were doing Ironman competitions the very same weekend and the following weekend, so they declined.  BUT....the other five immediately said 'Yes!'.  They didn't even know what they'd be doing.  They could be pacers.  They could be changing my nasty socks, in the pouring rain, 70 miles into the day.  They could be missing days of sleep just to do what I ask.  It didn't matter, they were all in.  Secretly, I think it was the word, "Colorado", that triggered their immediate acceptances.

So, I had my race.  I had my team.  Now, it was all up to me.  I was already trained up after my first two attempts in late 2016.  I, once again, grabbed my handy Hal Koerner training plans and began the 50-mile training plan.

............but, Russell, you signed up for a 100-mile race?

Yeah.  Yeah, I did.  That's how serious I was going to take this.  I was using a 50-mile training plan to train for my 100-mile plan.  At the gym, I made sure to grab heavier weights; to do extra reps; to push thru the pain; to push past the whistle; etc.  Like prior attempts, I wasn't going to let my body dictate my race results.  I knew my prior weaknesses and injuries and I strengthened everything.

I plowed thru the training plan uninjured.  I dropped weight due to the addition of muscle.  I tried to eat better.  I tried to drink better.  I did extra efforts (like push mowing the yard for four hours after a long run).  When race day came, I was gonna be ready.

The Wait Is Over...

Finally, the morning of July 25th, we made our way to Colorado.  My wife, crew and I made our way to Salida, Colorado on the afternoon of July 26th.  We rented a cabin that would serve as our "basecamp" for the next 5 days.
We all enjoyed a couple days of acclimation, hiking and race prep.  It was great to just hang out with like-minded people all with a common mission: get this idiot thru this.  We stocked up on bananas, packaged up electrolyte mixes, etc.

The biggest part of our days prior to race day were spent planning logistics.  That sounds crazy, but this race was a single, 100-mile loop.  My crew would have to meet me at various mileages/aid stations.  Those aid stations would be 5-30 miles apart.  Since this was a mountain race, the access to those aid stations was usually via old mining roads, dirt roads, or ATV trails.  An all-wheel drive vehicle, at the very least, was required.  On the day before the race, I took the rental vehicle (2017 GMC Terrain) out and about to explore several aid stations.  Each one was nearly an hour from our rental cabin because of the terrain.

Since my degree is in Geography, this gave me a chance to make a map that might be useful to my crew.  So, I plotted the race course, the aid stations, the roads, and some pertinent information about each aid station.

Logistics map

Race Day

All the planning, running, traveling, etc was finally over with on the morning of July 28th.  We meet in an inconspicuous field at 5 AM, at the base of the Sawatch mountain range, near an elevation of 8500'.  The race was set to start at 6AM, but this race carried with it something I hadn't really had to endure before: required gear.  TONS of required gear:
  • Whistle
  • Emergency blanket
  • Minimum 2L water capacity
  • Emergency light source
  • Waterproof jacket
  • Collapsible cup
  • CORSAR card (see below)
  • Two primary light sources
  • Gloves
  • Beanie/Buff
  • Extra layer
 So, the first thing that might jump out at you: the CORSAR card.  What is a CORSAR card, you ask?  The CORSAR card would insure that if an extraction were necessary, I would not be liable for the costs incurred by Colorado Search and Rescue.  The next question was: where to pack all this crap?  My Camelbak would do the job, but it would weigh in around 10-15lbs when full of water.


Yeah, that's the same reaction from my pacers/crew.  It doesn't stop there, though.....rule #6 (yeah, there were 20 rules in the 21-page race handbook) was:

That's right...NO DYING.  My crew/pacers were officially laughing at my audacity to run such a race, but I think their laughter was just a cover for the "Oh, shit, what have I signed up for?" thought running thru their heads.

Regardless, on the morning of July 28th, seven "flatlanders" from Missouri stepped to the start line of the High Lonesome 100.
L->R: Andy, Kymie, Don, Me, Linda, Angela, Jody

Always by my side thru the crazy.
Exactly at 6AM, in the foothills of Mt. Princeton, the gun fired and we were off.  The first three miles were descending around 500' to the base of Mt. Antero (14,275') along roads.  Somewhere after mile #3, the gravel road ended and we continued into the forest along the famed Colorado Trail.  Our immediate task was to climb that 500' we lost along the roads and then make our way to Aid Station #1, Raspberry Gulch (mile 7.4).  This was a beautiful section of single-track trail amongst the pines with the sun rising to our left.  In less than 80 minutes, I reached Raspberry Gulch.  This was a conservative pace, taking little effort, just as I had planned.  Plenty of race was still ahead of me.

Just getting warmed up...

Colorado Trail single track heaven.
I barely remember the Raspberry Gulch stop.  I snagged a handful of chips, a couple pickles and a slice of watermelon and left ... twenty seconds in-and-out.

From Raspberry Gulch, the High Lonesome began in earnest.  For the next 9.5 miles we would climb Little Brown's Creek up the Eastern slope of Mt. Antero, gaining 5,000' of elevation.  In the pre-race meeting the night before, the RD had told the entire crowd that this climb was "runnable" and the audience of ultrarunners laughed and scoffed at the idea.  Immediately, it was evident that the RD was right....this wasn't a bad climb at all.  The temptation was heavy to run.  But, my plan was to power hike the hills and I was steadfast in my resolve.  I met several nice fellow runners along this route and we had great conversations as we all climbed.
Little Brown's Creek with Mt. White in the distance.

Mt. White (left) and Mt. Antero (right)
Two hours later, we crested the saddle between Mt. White and Mt. Antero.  This was our first glimpse of the Sawatch mountains we'd be navigating and it was everything I'd hoped.  There really is nothing like standing on top of a mountain that you've managed to climb with your own two legs.  Eventhough we were only at about 13,500', it felt like standing on top of the world.  I soaked in the accomplishment probably longer than I should have, but this was EXACTLY what I had signed up for.  I had managed the first 14 miles with ease.

There is nothing like standing alone atop a mountain.
Here, at mile 14, I would get my first let down of the race, and it hit me harder than I had expected.  We began to descend old mining roads down the Western slope of Mt. Antero.  The roads were HEAVILY occupied by ATVs, motorcycles and SUVs.  On top of that, they weren't gravel roads, they were rocky roads.  Not just little rocks, but softball to basketball sized stones.....the kinds of rocks that will roll an ankle in a heartbeat.  I managed to run, but it wasn't the downhill descent that I had anticipated and it broke my heart a little.  To finish it off, you had to be really cognizant of the ATVs/motorcycles, as they showed little regard for runners.

Two miles later, I reached the Mt. Antero aid station (Mile 16.7) and it was another quick stop.  I refilled my hydration pack & water bottle, ate some watermelon, chips, and grabbed some PB&J tortillas to go.  Boy, the PB&J tortillas were a mistake.  Not that they didn't taste good or provide nutrients, but the jelly and peanut butter dripped everywhere and a mile later I was sticky.  I made a quick stop at a stream and washed it all off.

For the next six miles, we would descend along the roads and give back that 5000' we just climbed.  It was slower than I hoped, but not taxing, so I went with it.  Better to make it down slow than to twist an ankle so early on.  We would cross several streams on the descent that required either stepping stones or logs.  I love these crossings because it adds to the fun of trail running.

The next four miles would bring relatively flat gravel roads, which allowed for some steady running for once in the race.  I managed several 7:30-8:30/min miles along this portion.  Unfortunately, this is where the rain started.  It wasn't pouring, but it was chilly.  July is monsoon season in Colorado, but the storms generally pass after an hour or two.  This wasn't the case today......

I ran into St. Elmo, a ghost town, to the aid station at mile 25.  You couldn't tell it was a ghost town, as every parking space was crammed full of pickups with ATV trailers.  The town itself had hundreds of people wandering the street.  Several people offered encouragement and it was a great atmosphere to run through.  It was a muddy mess, but I continued to run until I finally caught a glimpse of the aid station and my first meeting with my pacers/crew.

The stop in St. Elmo last 5-10 minutes mostly due to food intake.  The next section of the race was a 12-mile out-and-back to Cottonwood Campground.  But, it included a 2,000' climb.....twice.  It was time to fuel up, grab my trekking poles for the first time, and plug away at some pretty steep climbs.

I left St. Elmo in pretty good spirits and relatively full of energy.  The climb over Cottonwood pass started almost immediately.  It slowed me to a power hike with my poles (13:00-15:00min/mile).  I climbed in earnest without every really stopping.  Near the saddle, I was greeted by Rick Mayo of Mile 90 Photography.  It was great to see a familiar face.  We briefly chatted as I continued to move.  Like always, he snapped a great picture:

Plugging away at the miles and the elevation gains
As I approached the saddle, I was greeted with a grove of trees near the treeline (11,000') that were all split and blackened by what seemed to be lightning strikes.  It was a pretty stark reminder of the dangers above the treeline, but it didn't slow or deter me.

The run down to Cottonwood Campground was rough, rocky, and water-filled.  But, the reward was the wonderful volunteers at Cottonwood Aid Station (Mile 31.4).  They refilled my water, filled my soup, and cooked me bacon.  I stayed maybe 5-10 minutes.  I knew I had to get back over Cottonwood pass before the storms intensified and lightning showed up.  I wasn't going to end up a split and blackened tree.

The climb back up was steeper than the other side.  But, I kept my head down and plugged away.  At the top, I met fellow Trail Nerd from the Kansas City area, Leia.  We chatted briefly and wished each other luck.  I glanced at my watch and was scared she wouldn't make the cutoff back at St. Elmo.  I really wanted both of us Trail Nerds to finish this monstrous race.  I silently hoped she'd find some new life and make it.  I would later find out she DID make the cutoff and continued on.

I landed back in St. Elmo a few hours later.  I had traversed 3 mountain passes, gaining 10,000'+, covering 37+ miles and I was still feeling pretty good.  I once again met my crew/pacers and we did my first sock change.  It was 11 hours into the race, but it was still on pace.  Looking back, I had probably taken the first 3 climbs too conservatively, but I just didn't want to burn out.  I could tackle the elevation changes if I just kept an easy pace.

The next 11.5 miles were very uneventful.  I found myself where I usually fall during most races....alone.  It is here that the race's namesake, 'High Lonesome', hit me.  I was climbing again.  I was all alone in Tunnel Pass.  I was above 11,000'.  I could see for miles, and all I could see was mountain peaks.  The rain was coming down a bit harder and darkness was creeping up on me faster than expected.  With about 5 miles to go, I finally broke out my headlamp and put it on its lowest setting.  I was able to run the final 5-6 miles.  I would look to my right and see walls of granite.  I would look to my left and my headlamp's light would fade into the darkness.  I was certainly alongside a cliff and I didn't want to see where it led.  The task at hand was to avoid the rushing water down the trail and try to keep my feet/socks/shoes relatively dry.

Around 10PM, I rolled into Hancock aid station (Mile 48.8).  It was a wondrous relief to see my pacers/crew.  But more importantly, this is where my first pacer, Andy, would be able to join me.  FINALLY!!!  Someone to talk to.  Someone to suffer with.  Someone else for the bears to chew on.

50 to go!

Andy and I left Hancock after another sock change, more soup, more pickles, more chips, a coke and a nice sit.  The rain was really coming down now.  Our next section was an uphill climb (of course) through an area of the race where the endangered Boreal toad was located.  The day prior, we had to put our shoes thru a chemical bath to aid in the protection of the toads.  We were also told the mud would be deep, but we were not to stray from the path due to the toads.

We complied with all the RD's request and we trudged thru some pretty thick mud, crossing streams and climbing another pass.  We both broke out our extra layers and our rain shells as the rain was relentless in its pursuit to thoroughly soak us.  Andy was steadfast and full of energy.  We made good time to Middle Fork aid station (although, our GPS watches showed it SIGNIFICANTLY farther than the race's description).  At Middle Fork, Andy found a pair of scissors and we clipped a set of shoe inserts that we'd been saving for late in the race.  We were 55.6 miles in, past the muddiest part, and it was time to gain some comfort for my poor, soaked feet.  We refilled our waters and stocked up on food because the next section was the crux of the race.  The climb over Monarch mountain, around Monarch Ski Resort and down to Monarch Pass.

Nighttime gear
The task ahead of us another 2,000'+ climb.  To add to the fun, the night was dark (it was nearly a new moon).  The temps were falling into the low 40s, very quickly.  The rocks were slick from the rain.  Oh...the rain....yeah, it was sleet.

Andy and I passed the time telling "Dad jokes".  We talked about running and life.  We kept moving, but my pace was slowing.  The elevation was finally putting the screws to me.  When we finally reached the actual climb, it was STEEP.  So steep that at some point, we switched to 20 steps and a break.  The break was usually 2-3 deep breaths from me, so it wasn't long.  If it was a 'flatter' section, it was 30 steps and a breath.  It wasn't pretty but it was forward progress.  Andy would later compliment me on keeping those breaks to just several breaths.  I feel like we really tackled that climb in earnest and just got it done.

At one point, we climbed a fairly steep ridge and finally reached the crest.  We spent only a few meters on the ridge before it dived back down about 50 meters to a bridge.  We crossed the bridge and it turned to go straight back up the ridge.  Andy and I both laughed at what we thought was the RD's masochistic sense of humor.  Why not just stay on the ridge?  When we reached the top, we looked back along the ridge and were greeted with a chasm about 40' wide and 40' deep where the river was rushing below us!

From there, we completed the hike up Monarch mountain.  At this point, it was probably 4AM.  The sleet/rain was coming in sideways.  A dense fog had set in and you couldn't see 10' in front of you.  The top of Monarch mountain is a boulder field.  There's a little man-made rock temple/structure and a fellow racer was sitting there.  He asked if we knew where the trail was and we exclaimed that we thought we were on it.  But, as you looked around, it was NOT evident where you were.....or where the trail was.  But, damn.....was it cold.

Andy stopped to add another layer and I plugged along what I thought was the trail.  That fellow racer followed me.  This was the only point where we had thoughts of actually being lost.  There was nowhere to hide from the storm up here.  There was no way to contact people.  This was trekking into some unknown territory.

Glimpses of snow

A few hundred meters later, I caught a glimpse of the reflective course markings and we were on course.  What a relief!

We spent the next few hours traversing boulder fields and snow fields.  My headlamp died and I was forced to switch to a backup.  I was out of water in my hydration pack.  I was out of food.  The fog and rain fought the sun, but it managed to finally rise.  We traversed the ridge of Monarch Ski Resort to the very edge before finally descending to Highway 50 and the Monarch Pass aid station.  In total, that 18+ mile stretch took us 10 hours to navigate in some pretty awful conditions.

Andy, always smiling!
At Monarch Pass, we had some work to do.  I was soaked.  I did a full clothes change.  My crew filled me with soup and bars.  Andy rolled potato wedges in salt and I choked them down.  It was here that we really became aware of the time cutoffs.  I was still on pace for a sub-36-hour finish.  However, the cutoff 15 miles later at Blank's Cabin was faster than 36-hour pace.

I picked up my next pacer, Don, and we headed out.  Our first task was a short 500' climb and we tackled it with ease.  But, the rains had turned this section of the course into "Satan's Slide".  Footing was tricky.  It was downhill, but it was slower than expected.  My body wasn't responding to 'run' anymore.  Regardless, we knocked out the next 5.5 miles to reach Foose's Creek (Mile 71.7) well before the cutoff.

After a quick bowl of soup and a water refill, we headed out for a 10-mile stretch that would really define my race.  The rains had finally slowed or at least went intermittent.  We knew we had 3 hours to do it.  So, some quick math, and we had to manage 18-minute miles.  Mile #1 was 15:06.  Mile #2 was 16:40.  It was not fast, but it was forward and under the time.

It was here, after crossing Highway 50 again and joining the Colorado Trail, that I erred.  Right after joining the Colorado Trail, which was supposed to be "rolling hills", we were greeted with a 600'+ climb that slowed Mile #3 down to 23:xx min.  At the top, the climbs seemed to keep coming and my pace lessened to 18:00+ min/mile.

Don remained optimistic, but my body wasn't having it.  With 5 miles to go, we recalculated that we'd need 16:00min miles to reach the cutoff.  Mile #1 was 18-something.  Mile #2 was slower.  It was over.  I couldn't muster the leg speed to run it in.  My only hope was that the aid station would see I was still on sub-36-hour pace and let me go.

My AMAZING crew came to meet me with about 1.5-2 miles to go before Blank's Cabin.  They were trying their damnedest to get me to move, but you could see it in their eyes that it was over.  Jody yelled at me.  Angie hugged me.  We all trudged along telling jokes, laughing at yet ANOTHER hill to climb.  Most of that walk, I felt pretty silent.  I was rethinking what had gone wrong and I really couldn't point to it.  I was talking to myself about how I had done what I came here to do and I was ready to finish this thing.  My body wasn't injured.  My mental faculties were with me.  I just wasn't moving fast enough.  I was stopping every 1/4 mile to grasp for oxygen.

Defeated, but not broken

A smile mustered.

At 1:15PM, after 31hours and 15minutes, 85.58 miles by my Garmin, 19,000' of ascent and 17,500' of descent, I reached Blank's Cabin.  The aid station captain approached me and asked for my bib.  I could continue on, but I would not be allowed to finish.  I wasn't here for moral victories ... my day was done.

Wrap it up already.....

So, my third attempt at 100 miles and my third DNF.  But, this one wasn't because of injury.  In the end, I guess I was just too conservative with my approach to the course.  I'm not really sure where it fell apart on me:
  • Did I not run the boulder fields fast enough?  They were slick and a spill would have meant an injury.
  • Did I not tackle the downhills fast enough?  I was trying to save my quads.
  • Should I have ran the Mt. Antero section?  Would that kind of effort have burned me up?
  • Should I have spent less time at aid stations?  Yeah, I killed time here, but it was time well spent keeping me fresh, uninjured and refilled.
  • That 10 hours spent navigating the 18 miles between Hancock and Monarch could have been done faster, right?  Right?  Right?....
In the end, I'm pretty happy with my effort.  I paced myself, kept myself upright, never fell, and just knocked the miles away.  I climbed 5 alpine passes, spent a majority of my day above the treeline (11,000'), climbed several mountains and found views that only a select few hardy souls ever get to see.

As always, I would do this race again in a heartbeat.  It's breath-taking.  It's challenging.  It's an adventure.  It's a true Colorado mountain race.

Consolation prize, I suppose.


 None of this trip would have been possible without several individuals.

First, and foremost, my amazing wife, Angela.  Once again, she stood behind me and allowed me to reach for my dreams.  The time spent training was taxing on her and the kids.  The crewing job she did was amazing.  She was up every single minute I was up.  She's the best thing for me at every aid station.  There really is no one like her.

Next, my running buddy, Andy Smola.  Ironman Triathlete.  Ultramarathon runner.  Amazing guy.  He was 'lucky' enough to get the Hancock to Monarch section (18 miles).  It was pouring rain.  It changed to sleet.  It was windy.  It was cold.  It was slow.  It was massive climbs.  And, he came out of it smiling.  He camped in a tent next to our cabin.  He drove 14 hours.

Next, another running friend, Don Ledford.  Don's task was to drag my nearly exhausted self thru 15.5 miles.  He wouldn't get to do any 'running' and that was unfortunate.  It wasn't pretty, but I never once heard a complaint.  Don tried, relentlessly, to get me to run.

Next, another running friend, Kymie Trout.  She'd never experienced the ultrarunning community quite like this before, but she was ready and willing.  I finally saw her at Blank's Cabin, with hydration pack on and ready to roll.  Unfortunately, she wouldn't get that chance.  She was with Angie every step of the way, offering help.  Always with a smile on her face and an unmatched enthusiasm.

Finally, Jody & Linda Pasalich.  Three times now, this couple has come along with me.  From Michigan to Colorado, they have followed me.  This time, they weren't there to run, but to help Angela.  From driving, to getting food, to changing clothes, they were there.  You just can't measure their efforts.  The enthusiasm and push that Jody provides has been essential.  I hope someday they get to see me cross that finish line.

This was one helluva crew.  I wouldn't have wanted it any other way.  A collection of experienced runners and people who know me and share my dreams/goals.  I can't wait until our next adventure!

--Camelbak Ultra 10 vest
--Altra Lone Peak 3.0 shoes
--Garmin Fenix 3 watch
--Shaklee Performance Hydration drink/mix provided by Carol Adams
--Sony HDRAS20/B action camera
--Copious amounts of Bodyglide, Squirrel's Nut Butter and diaper creme.
--Ridiculous amount of ramen noodles & coke.

Friday, July 7, 2017


Learn to conquer yourself first!!

Since I was a kid, I've always had a fascination with mountains.  One mountain, in particular, to be exact........Mt. Everest.  I could always tell you how high it was to the exact foot.  As I've grown older, I've come to realize that I don't enjoy heights that much.  Particularly, heights from which I can fall and die from.  So, mountaineering hasn't become my thing.  But, my love for the mountains has maintained.

So, in a weird twist of fate, I have planted myself and my family squarely in the middle of what is basically the flattest part of the country.  But, this just means that every vacation we take can be to the mountains!  And, we can just go to run, hike, ski & play.  The mountains are my version of a playground....winter or summer.

Failure is part of who I am, but it doesn't define me.

Last September, I took the plunge and attempted my first 100-miler.  I trained.  I trained hard.  And, on race day, things didn't go my way and I was thru at Mile 77.  I still wonder if that was the right decision to stop, and I'm just not sure.

So, I immediately signed up for an even harder 100-miler (as if there's an "easy" 100-miler).  In December.  In Omaha.  With 25,000' of elevation gain and loss.  Hey....I never said I was a smart man!  And, in December, I tackled those Loess hills pretty ferociously.  But, at Mile 76, my knee and my day were done.  I know this was the right decision, but that doesn't mean I have to be happy about it.  I still haven't brought myself to write a blog post about that race because it hurts the pride to be 0-for-2.

Fear is normal.
So, several of my friends have since ribbed me by saying I am "0-for-200".  And....they aren't wrong.  But, I refuse to let those past failures define me.  I bounced back from the Hitchcock attempt in December and had a pretty good January of running (200+ miles).  So, I again took my stubbornness to the internet and registered for a race that I've been stalking for a while now....the High Lonesome 100.  But this time, I've picked out a mountain race because that's where I the mountains.

The High Lonesome 100 is a true Colorado mountain race.  It's average elevation is 10,600'.  For reference, the 'tree line', you know.....the spot where trees stop growing because there's not enough 11,000'.  It's high point is one of Colorado's 14-ers (Mt. Antero).  It's lowest elevation is 8,500'.....1.5miles above my home in Missouri.  It has 24,500' of elevation gain, and 24,500' of elevation loss.  Like I said....I may not be a very smart man.

So, today is exactly three weeks out from race day.  Tomorrow is the longest run of the training plan.  It's hot. It's humid.  It will be a long, lonely "sufferfest" tomorrow.  But, the running is the easy part.  Fighting thru the day will only make me come out stronger.  Someone once said, and it's completely true..... "If you feel good in an ultra, just wait.".  But, I heard it said this past week that the reverse is also true...."If you feel bad in an ultra, just wait.".  Both of my previous two attempts, I've felt great up until the point where each race took a bad turn and I let it take me to the dreaded DNF.

This round will be different.  I know it'll be soul-draining.  I know it'll be lung-crushing.  I know it'll be muscle-depleting.  I know that finishing the High Lonesome 100 will come at GREAT cost to me physically.  But, I'm ready to bear that pain.  I'm ready to suffer.  I've assembled some of my best running friends to help me thru it.  They all understand that quitting just isn't an option this time around (Plus, my wife might not let me keep trying these crazy races if I don't finish them!).  They all understand that this time around, I need to drag my ass thru the bad and low points and just keep moving.

My favorite part of ultras is the uncertainty of even finishing the race.  So much can--and will-- go wrong in 100 miles.  So, just like before my first 100-miler attempt, I sit here today kinda scared.  I hate doesn't suite me.  But, I feel like my preparation has been pretty steadfast.  I'm going to spend these final few weeks really focusing in on the task at hand, mentally.  So, forgive me if I seem misplaced or drifting if you see me, but my target is in sight and my focus is narrowing.  I'm no elite athlete and this is going to take everything that I have....but I'm willing to give it all.

Vince Lombardi once said, "The man on top of the mountain didn't fall there."  I want to be that man on top of the mountain.  In three weeks, I'm going to get my chance and I'm going to leave everything in those mountains.......

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Run Woodstock -- Hallucination 100-Mile

"If you start to feel good during an ultra,

                        don't worry, you'll get over it."

                                                          --Gene Thibeault


After completing the Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Runs 50-miler last summer and then running across the Grand Canyon in October, I had decided that it was time to make the leap and tackle a 100-mile run.  The sport of ultra-running is growing rapidly and there's a plethora of races to choose from.  You can run mountains, you can run deserts, you can run trails, you can run roads, you can run loops, you can run point-to-point, etc.  In December, Angie and I started looking for a fun race, in an interesting location, and perhaps something easier than climbing Mt. Everest for my first 100-miler.  It's not quite as simple as signing up for your local 5K fun run.  Most of these races aren't near me.  Most of them would require travel, child care, special gear, etc.

I made a list of what I wanted:
  1. A Western States qualifier.  If I finish this 100-mile adventure, I want to throw my hat in for the most famous race of the ultra-running community.
  2. I wanted my friend and fellow ultra-runner, Mark, to be my pacer.  I know he's willing to travel, but I wanted to limit his expenses.
  3. I wanted something relatively flat.  I say relatively, because let's all be honest...100 miles of hills or 100 miles of still........100 MILES.
  4. I wanted a cool belt buckle, finisher's medal and swag.  Seriously.....we all run races for vanity reasons.  Why can't an ultra be done for the same reason?
  5. A race with easy access for my wife/crew to get me what I needed throughout the race.
  6. I wanted a race known for it's planning and community.
It didn't take long for the Run Woodstock weekend to emerge from the above list.  Run Woodstock is a 3-day weekend of live music, running, and freeing your 'sole' via activities like yoga, hula hooping, hikes, tie dye, etc. in central Michigan.  Run Woodstock offers a 5K, 10K, Half marathon, Marathon, 50K, 100K and 100M races throughout the weekend, highlighted by the Hallucination 100.  Several hundred dollars later, Angie and I had a race registration and a campsite.

I still have never been one for following training plans.  I just really like to run.  But, for last year's 50-miler, I followed Hal Koerner's plan and when I got to the start line, I was well prepared.  When I finished, I wasn't a broken man.  I knew 100 miles would take more and I immediately went back to my Hal Koerner book and printed off the 100-mile training plan:

Hal Koerner's 100-mile training plan
It was January and I had 4 months before I needed to start the 100-mile training plan.  But, the first week of the training plan was 56 miles!  As my running friend, Don, joked, "You need a training plan to get ready for your training plan."  Don was right.  I had to put plenty of miles in during the winter so that I'd come out in the spring roaring to go.  In addition to the running plan, I still participated in high-intensity interval training (HIIT) at the gym three times a week for an hour.  I decided those HIIT classes would be awesome for me because I could wear myself down for an hour and then go outside and run tired.....something that would have to be overcome on race day.


I'd be lying if I said I followed Hal's plan to a 'T'.  Life gets in the way.  Family always comes first.  The important point of the plan is to get in the weekend back-to-back long runs.  I would say I got 90% of those runs in.  I never let the weather stop me from getting my runs in.

I would say that training went exceptional for me:
  1. Week #5 -- Instead of the weekend 15/15, I raced a 50K relay by myself (10 loops, 5K/loop).  I placed 2nd to a very well-known ultra-runner, beat all the relay teams, and had my personal best time (4:49:45).
  2. Week #13 -- Instead of a 30-mile run, I ran 15miles on sand roads in the sandhills of Nebraska followed by racing a 5K (placed 4th).
  3. Week #16 -- I flew up to Michigan to meet Mark and we ran 100 miles over the course of 3-4 days on the bluffs along Lake Michigan.
Late July and August brought along the all too familiar Midwestern humidity.  Of all the forces of nature to contend with when running, humidity is the bane of my existence.  Several of my runs I struggled thru.  Cramps came at unexpected times.  Running was miserable.  But, each spell of humidity would be broken by one or two days of nice weather and when I'd go run on those mornings, I was just flying.  It told me to keep pushing thru the humidity and I'd come out a better, stronger, faster man for it.

Titan 50K Relay finished in 4:49:45 PR.

One weekend, my pacer, Jody and I ran what was supposed to be a 17-mile run on an early Saturday morning.  We started out well enough, but the sun came up and we both were sweating and dying.  I told Jody if we made it to mile 7, we could turn around and get 14 miles and feel good about the day.  Well, when we got there, I forced Jody to go 1.5 miles further before turning around.  We got our 17 miles that day.  We walked and we struggled, but we did it.  I didn't know if Jody hated me for it, but I felt like we conquered something that Saturday morning.


The summer flew by and we found ourselves driving 12 hours to Hell Creek Campground in Hell, Michigan before we knew it.  When I say 'we', I mean my wife, youngest daughter, and I.  But, I also mean Jody & his wife Linda.  It was a total surprise but early in the summer, they told us they would join us for Run Woodstock.  This meant we had familiar faces joining us for a road trip and that I would have a pacer!  I'll have more to say on Jody & Linda later.

We arrived to the start of a pretty dreary weekend.  The forecast shifted by the hour, but one thing seemed the original Woodstock......we were going to get rained on.  We quickly put up our tent in a prime location and moved our gear out of the rain.

Over the course of the next day, we would see floods of runners with tents & campers fill Hell Creek Ranch Campground.  The vibe continued to grow.  Tie dye everywhere!  Music at all hours!  Smiles on everyone's faces.  The energy from the running community was astounding.  Random people would just introduce themselves.  We would talk incessantly about our past ultra experiences -- good and bad.
Can't wait to cross this line....
Jimmy from the Mad Dog Run Club

Woodstock without a VW Bus?  I think not.


Most ultras start at incredibly early hours (usually pre-6AM).  Hallucination 100 was different.  Race start time was 4PM.  We would run 6 loops of 16.7 miles per loop.  We signed our final waiver at noon.  Anxiety caused me to get dressed by 2PM and then just sit and wait.

Mark is always smiling!
Occupying Brooklyn

Mandatory pre-race briefing at 3PM was short and sweet.  Finally, at 3:50, Lemon James performed a rendition of Jimi Hendrix's Star Spangled Banner and it was awesome.  Twelve weeks of pre-training, twenty weeks of training, countless hours of planning and packing and we were finally here....the START LINE.

Mark and I are off!
Myself, Mark and Nazar

We settled in nicely as the race started and we just talked.  It was warm and humid, but nothing oppressive.  Our pace was gentle but efficient.  The course was soft dirt and sand under the cover of the trees.  Approximately five miles of each loop would be on crushed limestone trails and/or gravel roads.  We marched our way to Grace (Aid Station #1, 4 mile point of each loop).  I had been warned by my wife/crew chief that I needed to stay up on my hydration and caloric intake.  I wanted to drink my 22oz bottle of water/electrolyte mix down every 4 miles (each aid station).  At Grace, I grabbed a water refill, a PB&J sandwich and a slice of watermelon.  Like someone pointed out later...."Russell...always eating..":

Grace Aid station, Loop 1

Mark had to use the restroom and we both had the understanding that this race was for ourselves.  We weren't going to run together unless by happenstance.  I was ready and I left Grace.  I would not see Mark again for 12+ hours.  After Grace, we hit the gravel road for about 2 miles and I was determined to keep my pace on the flat roads and limestone trails at a good clip to offset the bad miles.  We turned from the road onto single-track trails once again and headed into the forest to find our farthest aid station, Rickie.

Two miles later, we reached Rickie.  Another PB&J, another slice of watermelon and another water refill and I was out.  I was determined to not waste any time at aid stations.  The next stop would be a loop back to Grace....another 4 miles.  Again, it was about 2 miles of trail and 2miles of road.  There was nothing unusual about it or even particularly hard.  I plugged away and put the miles behind me.

A 2nd stop at Grace with yet another PB&J, another slice of watermelon and another water refill and off I went.  I had never seen this course before, so I wasn't sure what to expect.  To this point (12miles) it was easy and flat...maybe even downhill?  That question was quickly answered.  The next 4 miles would be climbing back to the start finish.  I remember my watch beeping to let me know we'd clicked another mile off and I looked down to see that it was mile #13.  I thought to myself, "Huh, we just ran a half marathon.  I'm not even remotely close to tired."  I think that was the first time it hit me that I could do this.  If 13 miles was so incredibly easy.....then 100 should be obtainable, right?

I had two goals for this race:
  1. Finish under 24 hours.  This is somewhat a benchmark for 100 miles ultras.  According to the year prior's results, this would land me in the top 25%.  Ambitious goal?  Sure.  Doable?  Absolutely.
  2. Finish the damn thing.
People asked me why I ordered my goals like that....should "finish" be first?  If you stop and think about it, going under 24 hours would mean finishing, no?  Killing two birds with one stone.  So, quick math.......finish under 24 hours........six loops.......four hours per loop.

I climbed the rolling hills up and out of the forest to the sounds of hippie music and people cheering.  I picked up the pace just slightly and cruised thru loop #1 at 3:15.  This was slightly shocking because I thought it might have been too fast, but I felt AMAZING.  And, it banked me 45 minutes on my goal time.

Loop #1 done!
The aid station at the start/finish was fully stocked and guess what I went for?  Yeah, you guessed it...water refill, slice of watermelon, and PB&J.  Earlier in the week, I had been given some advice that I'd heard before, from my friend, Andy, about drinking pickle juice to stave off cramps.  If you know anything about my prior ultras, I tend to get cramps very, very easily...especially in heat.  I also added four pickles and the juice to my appetite at this aid station.

I visited my crew at our tent.  Loop #2 would start in the sunlight but quickly give way to the darkness for the following 12 hours.  I refilled my electrolyte mix, replenished my pack with granola bars, and grabbed my headlamps.  I hurriedly left the start/finish feeling great about my first 17 miles.

I made the return to Grace without using my headlamp.  Another PB&J, watermelon slice, and water refill and I headed down the gravel road.  This was the first place I put my headlamp on.  I had it charged full and I set it on it's very lowest setting so as to conserve battery.

I made the 4-mile trek to Rickie with no problems but darkness had finally fallen in its entirety.  There was a quarter moon, so we weren't going to get any light from it and besides, it was buried beneath the clouds.  PB&J, watermelon & water and I was out of Rickie.

After leaving Rickie, it became obvious just how dark it was.  IT. WAS. DARK.  My headlamp provided just enough light to see my next footfall.  This was somewhat a blessing because 100% of my attention was on the trail in front of me and not on any aches or pains that might be arising.  It was constant focus.  A quick stop at Grace, the same refills of food/water, and off I headed to climb back to the start/finish.

The loop flew by and I crossed the start/finish at 7 hours even for my 34-mile split.  This was wonderful news!  I had banked an hour now on my goal time and I was still fresh.  I grabbed the usual PB&J, watermelon, pickles and water refill and visited my crew.

I changed shorts after loop #2 because I'm a sweaty bastard and it had to be done.  We refilled my snacks and electrolytes.  I was feeling wonderful and expressing that to my crew.  I had told them that I could do 50 miles on my own and I wouldn't need Jody's pacing assistance until Loop #4 and possibly #6.

Refilling electrolytes in the dark
 It was now 11PM and my crew informed me that sometime around 1AM we were about to experience the storms.  I left the start/finish area and started into loop #3.

I reached Grace and followed my refill routine.  I stepped away from Grace and onto the gravel road and the first sprinkle of rain appeared in my headlamp.  Frogs jumped across the road and trail so frequently that by the end of the race, the amount of roadkill/carnage from runners meeting frogs was astounding.  By the time I reached the trail, just 2 miles later, the downpour began.  It poured.  And it poured.  And it poured.  It was still warm out, so the rain was a relief to the senses. Except that now, it was even harder to see with my headlamp on low.

The rest of loop #3 was fairly uneventful.  The rain didn't stop.  It didn't even lighten up.  I cruised thru the start/finish at 11hours for 51 miles.  This is a PR for me!  I know I can go faster for 50 miles, but sometimes the course or the goal at hand dictates your time/pace.

Loop #4 is where Jody would join me.  Jody had never paced an ultra before, but I was sure of his ability to navigate 17 miles of trail.  His company was what I wanted more than anything.  By this point of the race, people were dropping due to the rain and we were getting spread apart from each other.  It was a lot of lonely miles.  I had prepared Jody for this with a set of guidelines for pacing with me, so we were both on the same page.  Feel free to read them at your leisure, but the important part is Jody was instructed to keep me moving and not let me give up:

Pacing...more than you think

Jody and I ... ready for loop #4
Jody and I left the start/finish area and began loop #4.  This was uncharted territory for me, but I was in a zone.  We splished and splashed our way thru the mud puddles and back to Grace.  I distinctly remember the couple miles prior to Grace because it was the crushed limestone trail and our pace was right about 9:50/mile.  Yeah, that's not fast...but that's 53 miles into a race.  I remember hearing Jody huffing a bit.  He didn't say it aloud, but I think his mind said "How the hell is this kid still running this fast and how am I going to keep up?"  Jody changed at that point, and he might not admit it, but he bucked up and pushed me from then forward.  His constant and relentless pushing was exactly what I needed to keep going.

This is where I need to break and thank Jody & Linda.  Jody trudged thru 17 awful miles of rain, mud, downpour, bugs, etc with me and didn't complain one bit.  We tripped, I swore.  We both got drenched in the middle of a forest half a day from home where the only respite would be a wet tent.  I knew Jody could go two laps with me that night and I was looking forward to taking him out for loop #6 with me.  I cannot ever repay his effort.  I'm so proud of Jody.  And Linda, she didn't even get to run.  Instead, she got to stay up all night awaiting the return of some idiot who thought it'd be a good idea to try to run 100 miles thru the pouring rain in the middle of a forest just so she could watch him change socks, stink up the joint and leave again.  Angie could not have done the crewing job she did without Linda's help.  From little things like refilling food, to bigger things like words of encouragement, it was great to have her along.  The running community is amazing because of people like Jody & Linda.  My unwavering appreciation for their efforts will last an eternity.

Jody and I finished loop #4 almost right at 15 hours for 68 miles.  I had a goal of getting thru 4 loops during the darkness and we had accomplished that.  Unfortunately, the final couple miles of loop #4 is when I think things began to unravel.  The chaffing on my inner thighs was painful.  I had tripped 3-4 times during the night.  I didn't fall, but each trip brought me to a walk cursing my feet and shaking off some pain of stubbing something.

At the start/finish, we took extra time on this stop.  I was still a full hour ahead of my goal pace and there were problems to be taken care of.  I changed shorts and shirt.....AGAIN.  Not that it did much good because the rain was still pouring down upon us.  We applied more bodyglide and Vaseline to the chaffed areas.  My main concern was my feet.  They were so water logged that they were white, wrinkly and felt like they were about to split.  Angie took the lead and removed my shoes & socks.  She dried my feet with a towel.  She re-socked me.  I knew it would get tougher from here and we put extra soups and pickles in me.  Amazingly, my legs still felt very fresh.  I was tired, but I certainly wasn't exhausted.  The Navy seals have a rule of 40%.  When you think you are done, and totally exhausted, your body is actually only 40% done.  This is what I kept remembering.  I still had plenty in the tank.....even though my looks might speak differently:

I headed out onto loop #5 by myself.  With hindsight, this was probably not a good idea.  A 2nd pacer would have gone a long ways.  I got onto the trail and had to pee.

So, this is a story I wasn't sure I'd tell too many people, but when I do, they think it's funny, so I'm sharing it here.  It's NSFW (Not Safe For Work) and probably not safe for children.


So, one of my problems in ultras is my penis rubs on the insides of my shorts.  It doesn't chafe, but after hours of rubbing it feels like I have to pee.  ALL. THE. TIME.  After one race, I sat on the toilet for two hours but produced nothing because it FELT like I had to pee, but nothing comes of it.  This time around, we looked up some answer to this problem on ultra-running websites and several people mentioned just putting a piece of medical tape over the tip.  So, at the beginning of loop #4, with Linda looking away, I put a piece of athletic tape over the tip.  Yeah, you might have caught the problem already....athletic tape != medical tape.  So, 1/4-mile into loop #5, I stop to pee.  I attempt to pull back the athletic tape and it's stuck.  I mean....STUCK.  I pull it halfway, just enough to pee, and I'm crying in pain.  I pee.  But, I'm sure as hell not putting this back on!  But, it has to come off!  So, I begin to peel.  OH. EM. GEE.  Does that hurt.  I stop.  There I am, in the pouring rain, alongside a trail in the middle of nowhere, yanking athletic tape off my penis and crying while other runners pass me by.  It was not a proud moment to say the very least.  I decide to man up and just jerk it off.  1...2...3...JERK!  It comes about halfway off.  OUUUUUCCHH!!!!  From there, I slowly peel it off, cursing everything under the sun.  Some lessons are learned the hard way, and this one was learned the very, very hard way.  I will find an answer to this very unique problem of mine, but until then, I definitely will NOT be using athletic tape anywhere near my man parts.


So, with my bathroom break aside, I begin to run and realize I just can't.  My right ankle is in pain and the chaffing is incredible.  I have no hair left on the insides of my legs and it's red...very red.  I grab my cell phone from my bag and call Angie.  I'm crying.  I tell her I'm done.  She tells me to get to Grace and Jody will meet me with more Vaseline and/or baby diaper cream.

I walk the next 2.5miles into Grace.  I plop onto the chair and I'm crying with my head buried.  I had trained so hard.  My legs still felt great!  But, my ankle....oh, my ankle.  And that goddamn chaffing.  Jody arrived and I told him that I was done.  He handed me the cream, got me to eat a few things, and told me I wasn't stopping.  I left Grace and walked about 40ft before I sat down on the side of the road and the tears really, really began to flow.  I told Jody I was done....repeatedly.  Jody did exactly as I had asked and told me that no I wasn't and I wasn't allowed to stop.  We sat for probably 20-30minutes.  Finally, I wasn't getting anywhere with quitting, so I started to trudge.  Jody walked alongside me.  I only remember looking down and seeing his sandals.  He was going to walk with me in sandals if he had to.  I finally found the strength to say "meet me at Rickie".

Jody went back to his car and I trudged/walked the next four miles to Rickie.  I tried to run a bit during those miles, I really did.  And, my pace was good...11-12 min/mile.  But, dammit if my ankle didn't have a striking pain with every single step and draw me right back to a walk.  My walk pace slowed terribly to nearly 20-25min/mile.

I walked into Rickie and immediately asked for the lady in charge.  I quit.


Twenty-three miles short of my goal, I quit.  Seventy-seven miles ... three MARATHONS..... and twenty hours into the biggest athletic event of my life, I quit.

To her credit, she asked if I was sure, and the last four miles had solidified my answer.  I quit.  She recorded my dreaded 'DNF' (Did Not Finish) and I walked out of the aid station back to the road where Jody would meet me and take me back to the start/finish.

I'd like to sound tough because I don't know when the ankle rolled, but Jody thinks (and I agree) it was probably one of those trip-ups around mile 65 that did it and I managed another half marathon on a bum ankle, but the fact is...I quit.  Maybe it was the episode with the tape and private parts that finally broke the emotional barrier of pain I'd been holding back?

I was bummed because my legs were still fine.  Seventy-seven miles into my day and my legs were still FINE.  I have so much faith in my training now because I could have gone another 77 miles on those legs that day....but not on that grapefruit sized ankle.


I didn't complete what I started, but I do have a few positive takeaways:
  1. My 50-mile PR.
  2. My 100K PR.
  3. A strengthened friendship with Jody & Linda.
  4. A new appreciation for the lengths to which my wife will go for me and my dreams.
  5. I'm in the very best shape of my life at age 37, and there's something to be said for that in today's day and age.
  6. I have friends in Michigan and across the country who will go the distance with me if I just ask.

I did get to see my friend, Mark, complete his first 100-mile run in 24:15:00.  I could not be more proud.  I am in awe of Mark and his accomplishments.  There's a reason everyone loves Mark and you know it from the moment you first talk to him.

Marks 100-Mile FINISH
The Hobby Joggas running club in Muskegon, Michigan is a GREAT group of people!  Jason amazingly crewed Mark thru the entire race.  If you have any question about the efforts involved in crewing, here is Jason post-race: (he didn't even get plugged in before falling asleep)


Even on the long drive back home, Angie and I were already talking about when I can do my next 100-mile attempt.  I love this sport because the chance for failure is so high, but the rewards of finishing are so much higher.  As I finish this race report up nearly 4 days later, I know I made the right decision in quitting to avoid further injury, but that doesn't mean it still doesn't hurt.  I can patch pride up, though.  I came away knowing that my legs can handle the 100-mile distance.  This is not the end.....not by a LONG shot.  This is just another stepping stone, life lesson and adventure.  And, one helluva good time!

My crew

Two mottos come to mind from Hallucination 100:

"Someone once told me not to bite off more than I could chew.  I said I'd rather choke on greatness than nibble on mediocrity."

"Life isn't defined by how many times you get knocked down.  It's defined by how many times you get back up."

I'm getting back up....starting right now today .....right after one last Candy Corn Oreo .....

--Camelbak Mini-MULE 1.5L Hydration pack(this is actually a kids hydration pack, but I can stuff so much into it!)
--Altra Lone Peak 3.0 shoes
--Garmin Fenix 3 watch
--Shaklee Performance Hydration drink/mix provided by Carol Adams
--Outdoor Research Sun Runner cap
--Sony HDRAS20/B action camera
--Copious amounts of Bodyglide
--Ridiculous number of PB&Js