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.......