Indulge me. These first four or so paragraphs are not even going to get to the point of this post. Those of you who know me, know I can talk. Often times WAY too much and I can ramble in a lot of different directions and go off topic. It is hard to follow me sometimes. This is likely going to happen right here, right now. That being said… if you are taking time to read this, I have a story to tell. Stick with it. It is more of a recent gathering of my thoughts and feelings on life, and health, and about what matters. I am sitting in a Starbucks supporting my beautiful girlfriend as she attempts to run the Pueblo Half Marathon and qualify for the Pikes Peak Ascent. So here goes:
Backstory. About five weeks ago I decided to make some changes in my fitness life. This year, with much hesitation, I decided to walk away from the Brewer’s Cup. I’ve made some amazing friends through it all. Heck, I met the love of my life through it! Thanks Vanessa, and Alan, and Watson J Two people and Carolyn’s dog who are inadvertently responsible for me meeting Jeana. I owe you much. At the same time, I had a deep-seated fear of losing connection with a great group of people that I admire and respect. Good friends and some of my running heroes that I am honored to spend time with. But I needed to step away. Jeana joined the team in my place because I had decided that I needed to lose the pressure of commitment to the events surrounding it and focus on ME. I needed freedom from the weekend/weeknight races and events and venues so far removed from my beloved, secluded, long trail runs in the mountains. The place I feel most at home. Plus, I figured I would leave on a high note as Smiling Toad had placed 2nd my first year, and we won it all last year (with very little contribution from me BTW) as my performance and participation were mediocre at best.
I have been plagued with injury since 2012 when I decided to move from my rather sedentary life (yes even as an active duty Army officer) and start running crazy long-distance trail runs. I had my second foot surgery in 2016 a few months after a very successful year of ultra-distance races. I achieved so many life goals culminating in a 100-mile finish at Run Rabbit Run in 2015. I finished just shy of gold buckle time in a VERY tough mountain ultra. Nothing mind blowing. But a race that hurts the bodies and egos of some of the toughest elites in the sport.
What followed was another foot surgery, huge life changes (military retirement, full-time parenting, a failed relationship, etc.). I gained weight, became busy, let myself go a lot, and struggled through the fitness events of my life. A Ragnar, pacing some very close friends to successful 100-mile finishes, etc. I put on a relationship gut. Please understand that the past year with Jeana is the happiest I have ever been in my life. But we enjoyed ourselves and I indulged too much. Time to keep all of the positive aspects of sharing my life with a wonderful woman but cut out my bad eating, rest, and exercise habits.
Although I decided to leave Brewer’s Cup, I did sign up for some of the races. I was running the Winter Series one race, a measly 8 miles with little elevation gain and I felt bad. I was slow, I was winded, my foot hurt. I was fed up. My training was inconsistent and I reached out to my friends to run with me and help motivate me. Thanks to Lynne, Sabine, Roland, and most of all, Jay. Thanks for joining me on these runs and helping me get over the first few difficult weeks of returning back to where I need to be. For whatever reason, I couldn’t bring myself to run the final fourth race of the Winter Series. I needed a bigger challenge. On a whim, I messaged Megan Finnesy about letting me sign up for the Silverton Ultra, despite not having qualified in the last two years. She agreed! Then I looked at other events to prepare.
I saw a post from John LaCroix of Human Potential about the Stories Ultra a few weeks ago. I almost signed up. There were 6, 15, and 30 hour loops at Cheyenne Mountain State Park where you ponder a question during your run, then tell your story after. What an AWESOME idea. My only problem was the monotony of running a race in a place where I have run a ton. A place where I am a little burned out. So, I did not sign up. I decided to go for 6 hours and a lot more elevation gain in Cheyenne Canon on the same day at my favorite running trail and backyard here in Colorado Springs. The night before, Jeana and I had an argument. Without airing out too many private details, the gist of it was me being selfish, and struggling with some insecure personal feelings that I strained to communicate or help her fully understand. We apologized and went to bed happy and supporting one other. Like, real, grown-up relationship awesomeness J
NOW BACK TO THE STORY. I am in love with the concept of the Stories Ultra. I woke up, geared up, and decided to modify the rules of John’s race on my own. I am a Black Sheep, and that is what I do. I came up with my own question(s) to ponder and spent the next 6ish hours pondering the answer and reflecting on my life. My multi-part question was this: Who am I, and why do I keep pushing the limits of my physical endurance? I really believe that these two questions are intertwined and complement the other. One cannot be answered without first answering the other one. Here’s what I came up with:
I left my front door on foot and headed the very short distance to Bear Creek Regional Park. On this small section leading about 4 miles into Red Rocks Canyon Open Space I was feeling a little down. I was upset at myself for arguing with and hurting my amazing girlfriend. I thought about who I really was. NEWSFLASH: I am not who you really think I am. I am also not that different from anybody else navigating this crazy life. What you may see when you first meet me? Confident? A little arrogant? Up-front and in-your-face? A jokester? Decent/good looking? Fit? These are some things people have used to describe me. Guess what? I’m insecure. Yes, I am blunt and up-front. Looks/fitness? I see a lot of flaws. I am 42 years old. My hair is thinning on top. I do not have that “runner’s build.” I use jokes and laughter to overcome my internal fears of being accepted and making friends. I have a ton of anxiety. I’m talking about a medically proven diagnosis that the federal government will be compensating me for until I leave this world. But I manage.
I get to Red Rocks and a beautiful overlook and look at an encouraging text from Jay. Then I get one from Jeana in reply to my “I’m doing well so far, but the real climbing has not begun” text. It says, “you can do it love and just do the best you can. You are getting out there and I am so proud of you.” Support. Love. Encouragement. Beautiful words from an amazing woman. Then I ponder some more. My natural inclination is to lean towards negative. In recent years I have made a ton of improvement in my outlook in life. Mostly due to therapy.
What crosses my mind? I want more freedom. I am not in love with my job. I am a failure as a father. Why is my son struggling with becoming an adult? Why is my daughter insecure? Why do I occasionally doubt the love and support I am receiving from a woman who says she wants to spend the rest of her life with me? I want to be a better friend. I need more time to spend with my best friends. I want to contact my loved ones more. Be a better dad. Be a better uncle. A better partner. Better son. Better employee. I want to quit everything and move to Costa Rica J I do not want to be a part of the corporate world. I only want to eat clean food. Run mountains. Laugh and love and enjoy life to the fullest.
I get through Red Rocks easily on the trails that Jay showed me. I start climbing up Section 16. It’s cold. It’s snowy. The trail is slippery. I don’t have traction. I power hike up. I run some of it! I get to the top. I am 7 miles in and two hours have elapsed. I think I am slow. But I also told Jeana that 3.5 miles an hour is not bad. Especially in these conditions. Especially when my left foot hurts from plantar fasciitis ALL the time. I am carrying all this extra weight. But I am out here. I am doing it. I am right where I was (maybe a little slower) eighteen months ago. I remember this ultra-thing. I am eating food every hour. Drinking just enough water. Damn it is cold. I text Jeana. I tell her that I am checking in because I do not want to slip down the snow in the ravine again (yes, AGAIN). I did this a few years ago. Not fun. She tells me to be careful. She tells me she is glad I am feeling good and that she loves me.
I start running downhill towards high drive. I think about all of the struggle in this world. The school shootings. The gun debates. Mental health. How ugly and selfish and sad and angry people can be. I compare some aspects of these things to myself. I think about my son. I think about my experiences in combat. I feel happy that I am retired and free from that life. I wonder why we cannot just focus on joy and peace and happiness and love? I get to the bottom. Incident free. I start heading up high drive towards Bear Creek Trail. I am 11 miles in. I feel good. I start thinking I can head all the way up and then head down Seven Bridges. It is colder. The snow is deeper. I tell Jeana where I am and what my plan is. She tells me I am amazing.
I start up Bear Creek Trail. It feels steep but I am running. I feel good. My mind shifts to thinking about when I came across Zach Miller out here and how effortless he makes running mountains look. I think about High Drive Challenge. I think about Peter Maksimow, Alex Nichols, Timothy Olson. I want to be like these guys. Actually I am. Just a little slower. My mind shifts again. I get some reception. I stop for food in a sunny spot. I see a Feed Your Crazy Facebook post. I think about my friend Bard. He paced me to the end of my first 100 miler. I’m not sure if he knows he changed my life for the better by being my friend. I start thinking about how bad I am at communicating with my friends again. I start thinking I should apply to be an Ambassador of Crazy this year. I need a new Feed Your Crazy sticker for my new car… J
I realize I should be close to the waterfall section. The snow is deep. It’s really cold. I stop. I see a trail intersection sign that should not be there. It is trail 666. I always cringe when I see this number. It says “dead end.” They are rerouting for the trout initiative. My plan has changed. Should I turn around and run down and then figure out a new route. Crap. This is not what I want. I look at the new trail. I have never gone this way before. Where does it lead? Man, the snow is deep and there is only one really old set of tracks going that way that have obviously been covered by more new snow. Screw it. Time to embrace being uncomfortable. I slip and slide my way up the slope. It is SO cold. Why has the wind become so horrible? Where on earth does this trail lead? A half mile later I am at Captain Jacks intersection at the top of Buckhorn Loop. Okay, now I know where I am! This is kind of cool. But I am running out of time on my six hours. I am afraid to take Captain Jacks all the way to the top. Jeana can pick me up at the bottom, but I want to play it safe and be smart. I head down Buckhorn.
I get to the bottom. The trail has minimal snow. It is actually feeling warm. I look at my watch. 14 miles. Three hours and forty-five minutes has elapsed. I think AGAIN. I am SO slow. I want to be faster. I want my foot to feel better. My left hip is sore again. Physical therapy has REALLY been helping. But I want to be better. I will head up the trail until 4 hours and 15 minutes hits and then I will turn around. I will head up to the top of high drive from the Seven Bridges parking lot, and then run home to my front door. I can do this. No reception. Jeana is probably wondering where I am. She does not know that my route has changed. I get to the turnaround point. I am over my 4000’ foot of vertical goal. I head back. I see two guys who are clearly Army hiking. I say “stick to the plan!” to them. They look at me like I am some weird A-hole. Or is that just my perception? I keep running. Two guys with dogs have not moved from their spot. They tell me “wow you didn’t get very far…”. Yes Jeana, I cannot make this stuff up. I choose not to mention that I have been running for 4.5 hours.
This interaction reminds me of an altercation I had a few months ago with an angry guy with a gun whose dogs knocked me over while I was out running for a while. He called me a pussy when I told him his puppies hurt me and were biting me. I was angry, but I walked away because he had a gun on his hip. Sigh. I am getting close to the parking lot and my final climb up high drive on the back side. I have my answer:
Conclusion. These negative thoughts are not who I am. I am a man who is very blessed in life. I have finally found true and unconditional love. I have a woman who will spend the rest of her life with me who knows all of my flaws and deep dark places and chooses to stay. I am not hurting for money and I have a good job. My health is excellent. I am still doing what I love. I can do anything I want. I just have to take the chance. I have a beautiful home. I have two children who will be okay. One way or another they will be okay. They chose to live with me! In a world where most kids live alone with mom after the parents’ divorce. I have the sweetest puppy on the planet. I have amazing friends. Despite the fact that my busy life keeps me from spending the kind of time I would like with them. My family is fantastic. I am a good, decent, kind, fun person. I can choose to be positive in a world where things seem bleak.
I get to the top of high drive. It is freezing cold. Even though it has warmed to a balmy 35 degrees. Ha! I have a final bit of food. I text Jeana. 16.2 miles elapsed with 4300’ of climbing. 5 hours. She says “I am awesome and kicking ass out there!” The wind is blowing really hard. I start running down high drive. My hip is really tight and messing up my form. It has been bothering me lately because my PT is finally getting that muscle to fire. The downhill hurts. I keep running. I get back to the Bear Creek intersection after my figure eight. I do some math. I ask Jeana to pick me up at the bottom of high drive near the trail offshoot that would take me three more miles to get home. I could complete 22 miles in just over 6 hours if I did it. My old way would be to suffer through it. I decide the miles will be junk. She agrees and leaves and says she will meet me.
My next revelation hits me. Why do I do this? I do this because it reminds me that I am alive. I still cannot explain why I am drawn to suffer slightly. And I do mean slightly. These adventures are not as hard as they seem. I love the mountains. It reminds me that there is something out there that is raw, undefined, wild, and free. Running these crazy trails makes me a better person. A healthier person. Especially in a world increasingly becoming so sedentary and digitized. These events help me to realize that I can accomplish anything. Even though I am not skinny or fast or winning races, I can accomplish these things. Life is all about setbacks and comebacks. My muscle memory kicks in and reminds me that I can push further and faster than my mind tells me I can. It reminds me that good things are earned. You have to work your ass off to achieve anything of real meaning in this life. I do this to inspire my children. To encourage others to do anything in their power to fight obesity, cancer, sluggish feelings, self-doubt. It helps me sleep better. I treat others better. The list goes on. But I will continue to persevere. Until I cannot. Even though I do not see how "until I cannot" is really a possibility. I will keep offering my friends, new and old, to go out and accomplish epic things. And maybe, just maybe, Jeana will try a 50k or something one day J
I get to the bottom. I run past Jeana’s car as she is slowing to get me. I hit 19 miles. Something I do not normally do because I like to challenge myself not to deal in absolute even numbers, time, or mileage on my runs, something I learned from Nick Clark. She turns around and pulls up. I take off my stuff and get in the car. I am 15 minutes shy of 6 hours. It is okay. I’m done. I tell her that I love her. I tell her that she was my motivation and inspiration out there. I see my adorable puppy in the back. I go home, have a beer, and rest until the next time…
By the way, she did it. My lady is running the Pikes Peak Ascent this year! 2:15ish for her half on very little training with a sore knee. I'm SO proud of her.