Monday, September 28, 2015

100 Miles Really Isn’t That Far: My Experience at the Run Rabbit Run 100-Mile Endurance Race

Running 100 miles has been a goal and dream of mine since I was first intrigued and inspired by the world of ultra running after I read “Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-night Runner” by Dean Karnazes back in 2010.  It’s been a long road, but this year, after some relentless training and some key preparatory races, I completed my dream and finished the Run Rabbit Run 100-Mile Endurance Race on September 18-19, 2015.

Preparations:  Timing was perfect for this race as I had some vacation time to burn.  I am so fortunate that my senior leadership at work supports this crazy hobby of mine.  They blessed off on my leave and promised to track me via the online mechanism.  I took the few days off before the race to pack and get ready, then headed to Fort Collins to spend the night with my kiddos since they wouldn’t be able to join me for this one due to school.  I woke up early on Thursday and headed up gorgeous Poudre Canyon towards Steamboat.  The fall colors were amazing despite some crummy weather moving in, but as I drove past Cameron pass, I drew strength from the familiar mountains and terrain from my Never Summer 100k adventure just eight weeks ago.  I arrived in town, and received a nice surprise:  Tom Lindsay was there and he took me out to lunch so we could link up prior to packet pickup and feed off each other’s energy.  He looked fit, and ready to go.  We signed up for this together in January, so I was very glad that we were finally here.

After lunch, I met Monique and Lisa at the resort to coordinate support for the early parts of the race when Bard and Ricki would be traveling to crew and pace me.  Lisa works with me at the hospital and I’ve been lucky to call her and her husband Tom friends.  In fact, my whole department offered me encouraging words for this endeavor.  I love everyone I work with!  You guys are the best.  So, I headed over to packet pickup with the ladies, met Tom, dropped off aid station drop bags, and bumped into Siobhan from the PI team.  She looked ready to crush the course, and I knew that if I could keep her in my sights, I would finish well.

It was nice arriving early for bib numbers and “bunny ears” pictures because the tent filled quickly.  Afterwards, we sat down and waited for the mandatory race briefing.  Jared Hazen sat down close by and I chatted with him for a few minutes.  I also met one of Monique’s friends, Lisa Mansfield, who I would share some miles with during the next day.  After a long wait, Fred came out and gave the pre-race briefing.  It was loooong.  Fred would be running his own race this year!  Fred had some funny commentary about one’s ability to “enjoy” a 100-mile race, as well as how daunting the distance really can be, quoting Karl Meltzer (hence the title of this blog).  He also warned us first timers about setting time goals… oops!  But he had a quote I will not forget:  “You are capable of doing more than you think you can, but also, running this race will be harder than you think it will be.”  He then warned us about just how cold the temperature would get down to.  I was happy that I had packed enough cold weather gear in my drop bags.  Right before we headed out, I saw Mark Thomas in the back of the room and he encouraged me by saying that this was the last time he’d see the front of me until the race was over.  Mark is awesome.

Obligatory Rabbit Ears Photo at Packet Pickup!

I headed back to the hotel; laid everything out, donned my Feed Your Crazy tattoo, the very cool elevation profile tattoo, ate dinner, and headed to bed.  Right before I drifted off, I received a super motivational Facebook message from my niece Ashley.  It was a video of her and the Willowbrook High School Cross Country Team (same high school I went to) wishing me luck!  It made my night.

Elevation profile and aid stations.

I slept fitfully, and my eyes popped open at 1:30 am.  Then again at 2:00… you get the idea.  I was just too excited and nervous.  I woke up, had coffee, a little food, then met Lisa and Monique to head to the race start check-in.  It was cold and it started raining.  I only had a lightweight t-shirt and arm warmers on and my waterproof/wind jacket was in my Olympian Hall drop bag ready for the cold night!  Fortunately, my car was close and parked for Bard and Ricki to use as the crew vehicle, so Lisa was kind enough to run back to grab my shell.  That was a lifesaver!  As other runners started filing in, I saw Alan Flolo, wished him well, and then the mob was led over to the start.  I chatted a bit with Ron Dean, Tom, and Siobhan.

Talking with Ron and Monique before the start

Monique and I ready to race.  It was cold at the start.

The Race:  At 8:00 am, the gun went off and we crossed the start line for an epic adventure in the beautiful Steamboat Springs landscape.  The first ¼ mile or so was on a groomed path with an easy grade, but it very quickly ascended straight up the rough terrain on the super steep ski slope right next to/under the gondola.  I knew the first four or so miles were supposed to be steep, but this terrain gave Diamond Peak a run for its money.  If you ran Never Summer, you know what I’m talking about!  Lisa’s efforts to get my rain shell turned out to be somewhat of a failure because I stripped that thermal retention device off within 20 minutes!  While I was fumbling with gear, another runner offered to help me stow my jacket.  This is what I love about the spirit of this sport.  It’s all about the people who do it and support it!

The start line just before the gun.

And....We're off!

As I approached the top of the climb and the Mount Werner aid station, Lisa was already there waiting for Monique, then she snapped some pictures of me and cheered me on.  I headed off on the additional climbing up to the Long Lake Aid Station and first official chip check-in.  I was trying to keep Ron and Siobhan in my sights during this section, but I couldn’t hang.  I swapped out food quickly and moved out towards the first real downhill section at Fish Creek Falls.  On my way out I saw Tom and Monique and we exchanged words of motivation with one another.  I was a little nervous about the next stretch as it was rumored to be the most technical section, and there was a 4.5-mile stretch through town and traffic to the 20ish mile point of the course at Olympian Hall.  Pavement is my enemy.

Looking back down at the resort.  The start was steep!

If I stay with Ron, I'm good!

I went down the really technical sections like a timid mouse because I was very gun shy about my rolled ankle a few weeks ago.  There was also a lot of family and friends hiking the area, which made it difficult to navigate.  I made it through Fish Creek Falls, and then high-tailed it into town on the rough pavement.  I was a tad nervous, because my legs were already heavy with only about 20% of the course complete.  Olympian Hall had tons of music, a cheering crowd, and I saw Lisa there, who gave me a time update and offered crew support.  At this point, I realized that I needed to slow down because I was just 30 minutes later than a 24-hour pace.  I was moving way too fast for a first 100-mile race.  I thanked the volunteers, and with food topped off, and more liquid, I was on my way up another big climb.

Heading out of Olympian Hall still feeling well!

I was really excited to be heading towards my awesome crew and pacers Bard and Ricki at Cow Creek Aid Station, but the next few miles of climbing were brutal.  The incredibly steep top miles of this section before the downhill were literally named “The Lane of Pain.”  It sure felt like it.  I topped out at the highest point of this section, and was ready for some downhill.  At this point in the race, I was starting to feel a little pull on my right Achilles tendon.  Nothing crazy yet, but it was enough to nag at me.  I pushed some good downhill miles into Cow Creek and hit the 50k mark at just around 7:15 hours elapsed.  I took a chair, ate some watermelon, ginger ale, broth, and ran into Patrick Nguyen, another PI teammate, who encouraged me and snapped a photo.  Lisa was there, gave me potato chips and encouragement, and snapped more photos.  I also met Sherpa John from the Human Potential Running Series and promised to join up.  I pulled out my phone and saw a text from Bard who informed me that he was on his way to Cow Creek.  I asked him to stay at Olympian since I was heading out.

It was warm coming into Cow Creek.  I'm happier than I appear.

Chatting with Sherpa John before heading out.

I was a bit worried about doing another uphill section, but it was actually mild all in all.  The next 12 or so miles consisted of much nicer single track and more tree cover than the hot dusty miles down to Cow Creek.  About ½ way up I caught up to Ron on the side of the trail.  He did not look good and should have been way ahead of me.  He informed me that he had fallen and hit his head at Fish Creek Falls.  It was hard to see him nauseous and moving slowly.  He informed me that he would probably drop at Olympian.  I was still impressed that he could pump out 20 miles after a fall in that treacherous area.  I stuck with him for a few, but he pushed me to move on.  At the top of the climb and back to the “Lane of Pain” Lisa Mansfield caught up to me and we talked for a bit.  I encouraged her because she told me the day before that she was going to be in the back.  Fat chance Lisa!  She was rocking it.  She pushed the next downhill miles well and I slowed down because I was noticing a small pain in my right knee.  I headed into Olympian for the second time and Bard, Ricki, and their kids were there to pamper me.  I had everything brought to me.  I changed into my long sleeve shirt because the sun was going down, changed socks, rolled my right leg out with the “stick” and headed back out onto the dreaded pavement back to the Fish Creek Falls trailhead where I would get to pickup Ricki as a pacer!  42 miles down.

I ran through town feeling really solid and started the huge uphill section towards Fish Creek and Long Lake 2.  About ½ way up Jason Schlarb (the eventual Hare winner) passed by solidly with Jared Hazen right on is heels.  Jared greeted me with a “Good job Josh” and my faulty brain mustered up a “Good looking Jared.”  Yep, I mixed up my words.  I just decided to let that one slide.  Ha!   Bard and Ricki drove by and shouted some words of encouragement as I was heading up.  I arrived at the Fish Creek Falls water stop at about 47 miles and Ricki was ready to go.  I topped off water, we donned headlamps and gloves, and then we set off!  You all need to understand something:  Ricki is awesome.  Bard will always proudly exclaim, “He married up.”  She’s a fitness instructor, PI teammate, and quite a talented runner.  We went over some quick expectations and started moving up the trail at a good pace.  About a mile up, one of the Hare front-runners passed by and made a wrong turn.  We were able to yell out and steer him back in the right direction.  Good karma.

On the way to Long Lake it turned cold fast.  Ricki deduced that it was because of the stream and I agreed.  The long miles and fatigue were setting in.  I was shivering and my hands simply did not want to work.  Ricki traded gloves with me because hers were thicker, and we kept pushing along.  She was great.  If something looked runnable, I was prodded to run it.  She kept me moving much faster than I may have gone on my own.  The first elite woman runner passed by and then Nick Clark came barreling by too.  We cheered them both on.  It was a tough climb, but we made it up.  We talked about a ton and the miles passed easily.  We also stopped a few times because of the view.  I simply cannot describe how gorgeous the stars and milky way look when you are out in the middle of the night in nature with no intrusive city light to take away from that beauty.  It is just stunning!  When we arrived at Long Lake (54 miles in), there was a fire going, and it looked like a party.  I sat down and a volunteer offered to warm up my gloves for me.

I didn’t have to do anything!  Ricki knew what I wanted and had it ready for me.  I asked for broth with potatoes, and a minute later someone asked, “Where’s Josh?”  “I have your soup.”  I looked up and it was none other than Jenn Shelton of “Born to Run” fame (although she’s much more than portrayed in that book).  I said, “Hey you’re Jenn Shelton.”  I felt like I should have been giving her soup.  The party was in full force because some runners were taking whiskey shots.  I wasn’t that brave.  Ricki and I were concerned about how to warm up our frozen hands, and then I had a brilliant idea.  We pulled out my spare Smartwool socks and put them over our gloves as mittens.  This would save our hands for the rest of the cold night.  After warming up and fueling up, we set off for Summit Lake Aid and the highest point of the race, approximately 10,500’.

The miles went pretty well to Summit Lake.  Ricki kept reminding me to eat and drink, and we ran a good deal of that trail.  It was a net gain in altitude overall, but the miles felt relatively flat.  Summit Lake was a welcome sight because I knew the next 12-13 miles were mostly downhill and at 58 miles I was making a good dent into well over the ½-way point.  When we arrived, the volunteer congratulated us for being the first ones through on Saturday.  I looked down at my watch and it was 12:01 am.  I had been running for 16 hours.  Ha!  They had a warming tent setup and while it was welcome at first, it started to feel like a sauna.  It was also a little depressing.  This aid station seemed like a focal point for many who dropped.  So many people were freezing or had stomach problems they couldn’t resolve.  I looked over in the chair next to me and Michelle Yates was wrapped in a blanket.  I said “Hi,” and she said she wasn’t doing well.  I ate some bacon feeling the need for protein, loaded up on Honey Stinger waffles, and Ricki pushed me out of there.  When we left, I noticed just how cold it felt after “wussing out” in the heat tent.  The cool light show they had setup took my mind off of it, and we ran out, feeling good.

On the downhill to Dry Lake, my right hip was feeling sore and I noticed more pulling under my right knee.  Ricki urged to me do some stretches, and they seemed to help.  We ran the downhills and flats, and hiked sections with inclines.  About ½ way down, we saw someone moving up at a quick pace.  I said “Whoa, who’s that?”  I got the response “Schlarb” and the way he said he it had Ricki and I rolling (he pronounced it Shulaaaaarb).  I was still in awe at how fast that man was moving.  As we moved closer to the next aid, there were a few more runners coming up and we exchanged “Good jobs!” and “Way to GO’s!”  Ricki announced that she was overheating and went down to just her Feed Your Crazy jersey.  I looked down at my watch and noticed that we had crossed over 65 miles, the longest I had ever run.  I had covered it in about 17.5 hours, just about 1:45 less than my Never Summer time less than two months earlier.  A little bit later we arrived at the freezing cold Dry Lake Aid Station where Bard was waiting to take care of us.  I was covered in a blanket, and once again had all my needs met.  I declined to have my hip and knee massaged by the therapist up there and sort of wish I would have now.  That little break may have paid dividends at the end.  I had eggs and bacon here, and we changed headlamp batteries just to be safe.  As we were ready to move out, a woman asked me how the heck I could allow Ricki to run in a tank top, and then I realized it was Katie Robinson.  I smiled, apologized for being slow on the uptake, and said “Hey, it’s her job to keep me out of trouble, not the other way around.”

Happy faces at Dry Lake, then OMG we're cold faces!

The next section down to Spring Creek Ponds went well.  My knee behaved, and we were able to push a decent pace.  We talked about how excited Bard was to be able to finally crew and pace at a 100-miler, despite having already run three.  Seeing people on the way up while I was on my way down helped me know we were making progress, because it was the darkest part of the night.  I kept telling Ricki how much I was looking forward to daylight.  We arrived to the aid station and they cheered us in.  I looked down at my watch and said “Woohoo!  Only a marathon and a 10k left!”  The aid station volunteers laughed and most of the other runners gave me dirty looks!  But I was determined to keep my attitude positive.  I had my usual fare, and moved over to the warming tent while Ricki took advantage of actual bathroom facilities.  A few minutes later, Ricki came in and said, “Josh, let’s go!”  We rolled out, and headed back up.  We actually covered the uphill miles about as fast as we covered them downhill.  On the way up, I saw Tom heading down, and I was ecstatic that he was still moving strong.  I’m sure Monique and I passed each other, but I don’t remember seeing her.  As we neared Dry Lake for the second time, Fred, the race director was heading down.  I said, “Fred, I’m having FUN!”  He replied with, “Liar!,” then we entered the aid station.  77 miles down, and Ricki had run a 50k+ with me (33.5 miles by my calculation) for her longest distance run yet!  Awesome pacing and running Ricki!

Still running almost 80 miles in!

Bard was about ½ frozen when he geared up to take me home.  We prepped ourselves for the huge climb, took some selfies with Ricki, and then headed back to Summit Lake.  Bard is an awesome climber, and we set off like animals up that hill with the morning starting to break.  It was nice to have him fresh and talkative, as I was starting to feel a little fatigued.  He was really excited to be able to perform his first 100-miler pace duty.  We talked about everything and he motivated me about the endeavor I was on, and helped me visualize that finish line.  We continued to power hike and push the hills, then jog any flat sections.  We passed quite a few runners on the way back up.  When we arrived, we refueled relatively quickly, and then headed out on the section following the Continental Divide Trail back to Long Lake.

Fatigue is setting in!

My watch said we had completed nearly 84 miles at this point!  The section was more up than down, and this is about where my right knee started acting up when I ran any downhill.  Bard continued to encourage me on my small running pushes and we talked a lot about the Feed Your Crazy movement on this stretch.  Fortunately, Bard had seen this section before as he has run the 50-miler here.  As we approached Long Lake for the final time, we saw some 50-mile racers and it was awesome to give and receive words of praise and motivation.  At one point during this stretch, my watch ticked off mile 90.  It was really beginning to sink in!  Finally, we arrived at Long Lake for the last time, where I changed socks, ate more food, put on a t-shirt, and got rid of the majority of the extra gear I was carrying.  Bard took care of me as usual, and mentioned that there was only one aid station left to go!  We pressed on.

Even though I was really motivated and cheerful, the next section back to Mount Werner was tough.  Not so much due to the climbing or technical aspects of the trail, but due to the fact that I was finally slipping a bit mentally.  I was letting my knee bother me, and the bottoms of my feet were starting to ache (as if somehow I expected anything different).  Somewhere in here I told Bard that I had to finish because a bunch of high school girls were counting on me.  Thanks Ashley!  About ¾ of the way to Mount Werner, a couple of older looking gents passed by and Bard made me smile when he said, “That’s going to be us one day!”  Damn right!  A few minutes later are when the hallucinations finally hit me.  They were much more subtle than I thought.  First, I kept on looking behind me because I thought I heard footsteps.  Then, as my mind was really searching for the trail intersection at Mount Werner, a blue bird flew back and forth a few times, but my mind saw a mountain biker going back and forth and I said to Bard, “I see the trail!”  Nope, I was wrong.  Finally, the aid station came into view, my watch flipped over to triple digits, and I thought, man, I’m already here at 100 miles and I have so much more to go for a final punishing downhill.  At the aid station, I took some time to loosen my shoes, and check on my right knee and Achilles.  Bard said either way things were going to hurt, so we may as well run!  Agreed.

This didn't last too long!

My poor right knee hurt so bad...

6.5 miles to go!  I couldn’t complain at this point, as I had a solid stomach all day/night/day, and I had yet to really hit any low points.  So if I had a low section, this was it.  We began running and I could see victory and the finish line off in the distance, but my right hip and knee were trashed.  We continued to shuffle along at small spurts, and then I would stop, lie down, cry (seriously), and stretch a little.  About ½ way down I started walking backwards.  I was pathetic.  I did whatever I could do to keep making forward progress.  I lied down on the ground to stretch my hip again, and Bard snapped a photo saying it was payback for my candid shots when I paced him last year at Ouray J.  Right around the intersection leading to the final path home, the crowds were lining both sides of the trail and many people were out looking for their runner.  Even though I could barely handle it, I had it in my mind that I couldn’t stop running anymore and that I would finish strong.  I saw Lisa and told her I felt like I was dying, but kept running.  She was heading up to meet Monique at Mount Werner.

This happened frequently for about 4 miles.

Raw emotion:  I could see the finish, but I was crying.

The Steamboat resort was in sight.  I turned the corner and there was the finish line!  I saw more crowds, heard more cheers and congratulations, and more cowbells than I have ever heard in my life.  I was transformed, I was a different person, and it finally sunk in that I was finishing!  Bard peeled off to film my finish, and Ricki was on the other side getting the front angle.  I heard my name being announced, and I crossed the finish line at 106.5 miles, 20,000+ feet in elevation gain and loss, in 30 hours and 44 minutes, a little less than an hour off my planned sub-30 hour finish.  I did not care about my time anymore, I was just happy to celebrate my victory.  I melted into the “designated hugger” bawling like a baby, and received my buckle.  Ron was there, and he congratulated me and hugged me too.  What an indescribable feeling!

Finish videos!

I made my way over to the blanket laid out for me and thanked Bard, Ricki, and their kids.  Chris Swedenborg was there waiting on his wife to finish the 50 and he gave me a hearty congratulations.  I took off my shoes, got some food, texted friends and family, and proceeded to pass out immediately.  About an hour later, Bard woke me up, and helped me check into my room at the hotel.  I showered quickly, then walked like a zombie over to the finish line to cheer others in.  I checked the online results and saw that Tom and Monique had checked into Mount Werner.  Shortly thereafter, Tom crossed with Monique in tow.  I was so proud of my friends for their success!  Alan was there with his huge contingent and so was Lisa.  I was able to meet a lot of new friends at the finish.  There were some jokes about how I had “enough time to sleep and shower” but it was all in good fun.  Next, I saw Mark cross the line and I was so happy to just be present in the moment sharing this event with like-minded, awesome people.  Colorado Springs represented well in this race.

I did not last long after I finished.

I think the thought of never running a 100 again crossed my mind two or three times on the road down from Mount Werner, but not less than a few hours later and I was ready to do another one.  Run Rabbit Run is a qualifier for some awesome races, so I am ready to enter some lotteries.  I am definitely putting my name in for Western States, but I may wait for more experience before attempting entering Hardrock.  This is such an amazing journey and I do not want it to end.  I will keep at it until I can no longer do it.  I will keep searching for and Feeding My Crazy.

Cold water therapy for Monique and I after the race!

THANK YOU:  First and foremost, I need to thank Bard and Ricki Parnell for their unwavering support.  I am beyond words and heartfelt thanks for two people I’ve only known for a few short years, who would sacrifice their weekend for me, crew me most of the day and night, and run a combined total of 63 miles with me!  Thank you guys for inspiring me through Feed Your Crazy and allowing me to spread the word and a be a part of the movement.  Anytime, anyplace, anywhere, I am there for you two.  Never doubt that.  I want to send a huge thanks to Lisa Dinwoodie for providing support to me in the early 30+ miles of this race.  You were out there to support Monique, but you offered me aid for the sections where I was alone and it was helpful beyond belief.  Thank you to Fred Abramowitz for putting on this event and to all the volunteers and sponsors.  You are true heroes to me.  These were the best aid stations I have EVER seen in a race.  Every time I arrived my drop bag was placed in my crew’s hands or mine.  You guys were on point!  I am forever grateful.  Thank you Pearl Izumi for allowing me to be on the 2015 Champion Team, for the camaraderie and community I get to be a part of, promoting your awesome products, and for a pair of Trail N2 V2’s that were fantastic throughout the entire race.  Thanks to all the Warriors who toed the line determined to run this race, both Hares and Tortoises, finishers, and non-finishers.  Each and every one of you inspires me!  Finally, I want to thank all my family, friends, and coworkers who provided words of encouragement and support before, during, and after this event.  Much love to all!

Odds and Ends:  Many people want to know what I eat during these events.  For once, I had zero stomach issues.  I attribute this to two things:  First, I ensured that my Ultimate Direction vest was not too tight (thanks for the tip Ricki), and second, I ate regularly and ensured that I hydrated enough, but not too much.  A third guess would be that I wasn’t running like the wind as most of the elites were.  My food staples that I carried were Justin’s Nut Butters (Chocolate Hazelnut, Maple, and Vanilla) for fat and protein.  Skratch chews, vFuel and Honey Stinger waffles for carbs.  Skratch drink mix for electrolytes in one of my bottles.  I also used two salt tablets at each aid station, and chewed on Tums when my stomach felt too full.  At night, I ate chicken broth with potatoes, and even mixed in some bacon and eggs.  I also had ginger ale at each aid station.  Occasionally, I took Tylenol as a precaution for pain and swelling towards the late miles.  That’s about it.

 Shoes, buckle, and bib.



Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Never Summer 100K

I feel like it’s about time that I brought new life to my blog, as I haven’t posted a thing here since early 2014 after another season of injuries.  I’m going to avoid baring my inner soul and the mundane details of what has happened in my life over the last year and a half, but in summary, life is good.  Colorado Springs feels like home now, and I’ve had the best training year since I decided to dabble in the world of ultra running.

This year I was accepted to be a part of the Pearl Izumi Champion team representing this awesome company in local races and events.  I promote the product and get some cool perks and team camaraderie in the process.  Being a part of the team has motivated me to pursue my dreams and go after my longest distances yet.  I have some awesome teammates who inspire me and support me during this quest.

I only missed one race this year (Run Through Time Marathon in Salida, CO), based on what I believe was a smart decision when my foot started acting up after some hard training.  I raced a bunch of small, local 5K’s and 10K’s as well as the Xterra 24K right down the street from my house in Cheyenne Mountain State Park.  Afterwards I used the Cheyenne Mountain 50K and the Dirty 30 50K in Golden, CO as two big training events before attempting the 100K distance.  All races went as well as I think they could have despite slower finishing times than I expected.  I learned a ton about my endurance, my body, and myself during those events.

My culminating event this year is the Run Rabbit Run 100 in Steamboat Springs, CO in about 8 weeks.  I’ve wanted to tackle the 100-mile distance for about 3 years now and I finally feel like I am ready to toe the line and prove to myself that I can do this!  My final training event was this past weekend at the inaugural Never Summer 100K.  This is the longest run I have ever attempted put on by a couple of the best race directors and runners I’ve had the opportunity to be friends with:  Nick Clark and Pete Stevenson.  This experience was so amazing, I feel like I need to show my friends and family what it was like through writing about my experience.  Maybe you all can get into my mind a little bit and see why I do this, or at least see why I love this sport and the people who do it with me.  Here goes:

I picked my buddy Tom up at the Denver Airport Friday morning, dropped my kiddos off at their mom’s house, packed up the car, and headed up to Gould, CO.  We were actually the first ones to packet pickup, so we helped out Nick and Pete by peeling labels off of the very cool top finisher and age group awards.  Then we chatted with some of the Fort Collins crew and headed to Walden to eat, finalize, and rest.

We met another runner named Robert at the hotel who asked to carpool with us in the morning so his wife and very cute baby didn’t have to wake up too early to get him to the start.  I actually almost ended my run right there as I got out of the car and proceeded to trip over the concrete parking marker!  Tom and I went inside the room, packed our drop bags, laid out our stuff, ate, and called it an early night.

We woke up early at around 3:00, ate our pre-race meals, drank (way too much) coffee, and loaded up the car.  We met Robert, jumped in my car, and drove to the start.  We arrived, placed our drop bags at the respective aid stations drop-offs, picked up our bibs, and mingled with other runners to let the nervous energy subside.  It was awesome to see some familiar Fort Collins faces at the start.  I was able to chat with Cat Speights, bumped into Kristel Liddle and Rob Erskine, and saw my motivational rock from Cheyenne Mountain, Rick Hessek (an awesome local Co Springs ultra runner).  Rick wouldn’t let me quit when I was completely out of calories/liquid and hitting the wall at my first big distance race of the year.

It was a cold morning, but I erred on the side of a t-shirt with arm warmers and gloves knowing that I would warm up fast.  Tom and I settled towards the middle-rear of the pack at the starting line.  I was determined to keep a very slow and easy pace for at least the first half of the course!  Nick gave the race guidelines and tips, counted down, and we were off on a fantastic adventure!

Tom and I at the start

It was slow going around the starting flat miles, but the pack thinned out relatively quickly.  Many of the runners seemed non-talkative and focused, but I chatted with a really nice (cute) woman named Gabe before starting the first steep climb towards 7 Utes Mountain.  I met a really cool Fort Collins local named Phil around 3.5 miles in and we stayed together and chatted until the 7 Utes Summit, then he pushed ahead of me.  We took a selfie first, and I posted my first Facebook update right after taking advantage of a phone signal.  The miles really went quick during our talk.  Near the top of 7 Utes, I heard a woman say, “Is that Josh?”  It turned out to be a really good friend from my residency at UCHealth, Shay Bright.  Her and her husband were running that day too.  It was cool catching up briefly.

Phil and I at the top of 7 Utes

The backside of 7 Utes is one of the most memorable parts of the course for me.  I saw so many beautiful wildflowers, leftover patches of snow, and when I rounded the corner towards the saddle before Lake Agnes, I was stunned by the early sun and thin trail meandering across the top of the ridge.  It was simply breathtaking!

The ridge past 7 Utes

Next, I rounded the corner downhill and was able to travel along a familiar part of the course, the very overgrown logging roads I visited during my 4th of July scouting adventure.  I traveled up the path towards Lake Agnes, rounded the corner and had a good descent towards the back of the Crags and the American Lakes.

Beautiful Lake Agnes

About half way around the corner to Crags, a woman was stopped, and a group of about five of us runners had to wait while a mini rockslide did its thing.  I ran with a couple guys whose names escape me (actually one of the guys was near me for most of the day until about mile 40 and I feel bad that I can’t remember his name), and another front pack woman runner named Kathy stayed with us for a while too.  I talked with her and we pushed ahead a little on the downhill all the way to Diamond Aid Station at mile 18.  When I arrived, Pete was hanging out and one of my PI teammates, Katie Robinson was dressed as a moose!  Kathy pushed ahead quickly through Diamond and I didn’t see her again until I was half way up Clear Lake.  I took a little bit of time refilling food, and getting rid of morning cold weather gear.  Then I headed up the dreaded climb to Diamond Peak.

I power hiked most of the climb up to Diamond until the really steep summit section which felt like traveling backwards.  The pack was really building up, as this was probably the toughest climb and most mentally difficult parts of the race for me.  I really had my feelings hurt on this one.  A few hundred feet from the summit, a guy in a kilt and beating a drum made me smile and I pushed for the top.  When I reached it, I tagged the summit pole, and Erin Bibeau was up top snapping photos.  I decided to purchase all her photos because they really captured the way I was feeling.  Tired, but completely in my element.  Unfortunately, my phone died at the top.  I really wanted more photos.  I headed across the ridge towards Montgomery Pass for another one of the most memorable parts of the race.  It was just so awesome to look across the ridge and see the Rawah Wilderness and awesome expanse of course I had left to run.

#suffersmile at the top of Diamond

Tagging the summit of Diamond

Looking across the ridge towards the rest of the race

Around the marathon point, I was once again having my usual stomach issues where I felt a little sick and tight in my obliques.  It wasn’t too terrible, but slowed me down a little.  At the Montgomery Aid Station I ran into another PI teammate, Colleen Timothy who was working the aid station like a champ.  She encouraged me, and gave me some ice for my water.  It was awesome and motivating.  I was told that it was mostly downhill to the approximate halfway point at Ruby Jewel.  The final section towards Ruby Jewel left me in the lead while a bunch of other runners told me that I was navigating well and they were going to follow me through the rough, cross-country, and very difficult terrain, despite being relatively flat.

There was a huge crowd at Ruby Jewel Aid Station near mile 30, and I was pleasantly surprised to find Dana Clark leading the station.  Dana obviously has a ton of experience crewing her awesome husband and she gave me the star treatment.  She gave me a chair, while I changed my socks for the first time, and I got rid of all solid food, which was not working for me anymore.  Dana introduced me to my magical race saver:  Chicken broth and ginger ale!   For the rest of the race I would subsist on only Tailwind and Skratch for electrolyte fluids, two S-Caps at each aid station, and then the broth and ginger ale to settle my stomach (with a couple other twists at the end).  My other bottle contained only ice water.  It just worked.  I thanked Dana for saving me, and headed off to the other familiar section I checked out a few weeks earlier.

As I started up the next huge hill towards Ruby Jewel, I shared some time with a woman who teaches math at Tristan’s high school named Susan.  She was running with her husband who was still at the aid station not feeling well.  We talked about life for a bunch of miles until just after the Kelly Lake split when I was well enough to push the downhill miles at a good pace.  Her husband Steve caught back up and rejoined his wife for the remainder of her race.

The next section was in hidden valley heading towards Kelly Lake and it was another beautiful section.  I started catching my second wind here, but still held back determined to be conservative until Clear Lake.  I was pleasantly surprised to find a water stop before the downhill to Clear Lake Aid Station.  I took more water, and pressed on to Clear Lake. On that section, I ran into Alan Smith from VFuel (my favorite gel).  Alan was running this race just two weeks after finishing Hardrock, one of the toughest, if not THE toughest 100 milers in the country!  I was super impressed and it was nice to talk with him and run with him for a while.

At Clear Lake they had a race food staple that I’ve honestly never tried before:  Boiled potatoes with salt for dipping.  Since I have been eating predominantly Paleo and gluten-free, I was all in.  I threw some down, had more ginger ale, and then pressed on for (what I thought) was the final huge climb of the day towards Clear Lake.  On the climb up, I was feeling really well and beginning to really stabilize.  On the way up I saw Rick barreling down who said hello and encouraged me.  Next I ran into PI teammate Chris Swedenborg looking super solid.  We said hello briefly, and I continued to climb.  A few minutes later I bumped into Kathy looking solid and holding one of the front female slots (I think she finished 5th female).

The final push towards Clear Lake was brutal, but I made it to the turn around and saw another Fort Collins friendly face:  Jessie Wilburn.  I received my “proof of summit sticker” and turned around to bump into another familiar face.  I do not remember his name, but he was a Japanese guy who I met when I was crewing and pacing Bard at Ouray last year.  He remembered that I gave him a blanket and a pillow at mile 50 when he was feeling down.  It was cool to bump into him.  He urged me to push on, as he was feeling sick.  On the way down I ran into Rob again and he was pushing forward since Kristel was with a pacer now.  I ran into Kristel and a few other friendly faces from earlier on the way back down who all encouraged me and said I was looking great.  I hit Clear Lake Aid again and was ready to go for the remainder of my race.  45 miles down.

At Clear Lake again, I took my time.  I sat in a chair, ate potatoes in broth, had more ginger ale, changed socks, and grabbed my nighttime gear (headlamp, and gloves).  Shay arrived at the aid station and told me she was quitting.  I tried to encourage her, but she was resolute.  I told her she did great and was proud of her for making 40 miles on a super tough course.  Just then Rob (of course, he’s a beast), passed by and he advised that I not sit too long.  As I was getting ready to leave, I bumped into Gabe again, still smiling pretty with nothing but encouragement and motivation.  I told her she was heading towards the final tough climb, wished her luck, and I set off for the next leg.

I was on my own for a while.  Something magical happened, though.  I starting feeling great!  The trail was not super tough or steep on the way to Canadian Yurt Aid Station, but there was a lot of cows and cow "leavings" all over the place.  I kept praying for Tom’s success, as I had not seen him all day, and simultaneously thanked God for my success of the day.  I did not let it get to my head, but I kept a mental note of the approximately 15 runners I passed on the way to Canadian Yurt.  I felt great when I arrived and received encouragement from all I passed.  When I arrived, Rob was in a chair and told me I must have moved very well because he felt like he was flying on the way there.  He was starting to get low on calories too.  I had more broth and ginger ale, changed into a long sleeve shirt, donned my headlamp (it was just getting pretty dark), and moved out running!

Maybe a quarter mile around the corner, there was a stream crossing, and I was in complete darkness.  At this point I was following the (well marked) course markers through a tough, faint trail into the woods.  There was so much mud and muck that I pretty much walked the whole uphill section towards Bockman.  The only confusion about possibly getting lost came at the top of the climb back towards the intersection on Ruby Jewel where we had to turn the opposite direction early on near the halfway point.  I chose correctly, and ran the rest of the downhill miles solidly to Bockman Aid Station at mile 56.  I was feeling fatigued when I arrived and sadly missed meeting another PI teammate, Alexandra Ameen because my mental faculties were starting to go (hehe).  I had ramen, bacon!, and more ginger ale, then cracked a joke about “When is this 10K going to end?”

I could smell success and the finish, so I took off for the final push relatively quickly.  I caught up to another female runner and she nicely stopped to help me change my batteries in my headlamp using the light from hers.  Her name was Annie, and we walked together for a while on a slight climb.  Towards Grass Creek I was severely disappointed to find another grueling climb towards the top.  I pushed it like an animal and passed another couple groups of runners.  One pair told me they were impressed that I was alone and moving so well.

At the top of the climb and on the final downhill towards Ranger Lakes at mile 62, I passed a few more runners.  I drank a quick swig of ginger ale and said “Why am I staying here,” thanked the volunteers, and busted out Tristan’s joke from a few days earlier:  “I’ve got 99 problems, but this race ain’t one.”  Jay Z references are always funny.  My bib was number 99.  The last two miles to the finish were on a flat, slightly downhill, groomed trail.  For some reason, running flats made me feel like I was in slow motion all day.  I passed a few more runners, but was surprised when I was passed by a woman in the last quarter mile.  I told her she was a super star and tried to keep up until the finish.  When I rounded the corner and saw the lights of the finish, I started crying.  I realized that this was my longest race ever and knew I was ready for Run Rabbit Run 100.  Pete and Nick congratulated me, and I was cheered in by other runners and their families.  I have never felt more accomplished.  Garmins are never perfect, but mine said I accomplished 65.4 miles and 14,500 feet of elevation gain.  Check out this profile:


Legs at the end of the race = muddy!

My bib number and the coolest finishing medal I've ever received!

I want to thank Nick and Pete for putting on such a fantastic race.  Thank you guys for the opportunity to truly challenge myself and see what I am really made of.  That course was truly rugged and wild!  We are so much more capable as human beings to accomplish seemingly impossible goals and dreams.  Thank you Pearl Izumi for allowing me to be a part of the team and to promote your awesome brand.  I want to thank Timothy Olson for taking the time to speak with me at the Dirty 30 50K about diet and fueling.  It has truly changed how my body responds and recovers to training and racing.  Thank you to my great friend Tom Lindsay for signing up to for this race with me, traveling with me, supporting me, and being a positive influence in my life, especially when I was at my worst.  I’ll see you at Run Rabbit brother. 

I have so many positive influences and friends in this community who support me and encourage me.  You all motivate me and inspire me with your passion for running and your accomplishments.  I have learned so much from all of you.  Thank you Bard and Ricki Parnell, Chris Swedenborg, Shannon Price, Donna Pittman, Joanne Witmer-Harms, Eddie McNealy, Brian Ricketts, Dorothy Galloway, Tim Smith, Amanda Alvarado, John Sharp, Rob Erskine, Kristel Liddle, Dominic Grossman, Charles Johnston, Nate Pennington, Doug Ammann, Liza Howard, Patrick Hayes, Rolando Vasquez, Jim Callahan, and anyone I forgot (please forgive me).  A want to give a special thanks to Alene Nitzky for her coaching, friendship, and teaching me the basics of survival in this sport.  I also want to thank Josh Lippincott for training with me in the Springs.  Looking forward to more runs my man.

I’m throwing out a huge thanks to Dana Clark, my PI teammates, and all of the volunteers who sacrificed their day to support us runners on this course.  You are wonderful, and can never be repaid for your dedicated support.  Thank you to my mother, my sister, and all my family who encourage and support me in these endeavors.  It means so much.  Finally, I want to thank my children.  Tristan and Anya only get to spend limited time with me, and they have been wonderful all year as I’ve sacrificed some time with them, gotten up early and gone out late to train, and for being proud of and encouraging their dad when they get to go to my races.  It was so wonderful to have you guys there at Dirty Thirty in May.

September 18-19 cannot get here fast enough.  I’m finally going to achieve my dream of running 100 miles!

Thanks for reading.