Man have the last 8 months have been amazing! My life is so awesome I cannot stand it. Seriously. This post is going to be about my experience at the Black Canyon Ultras 100k. But, if you follow me, you know I am a talker. I am wordy and nerdy. So, before I share the 100k race details, I want to talk a little bit about the awesomeness in my life leading up to this race. Stick with me. It’s a cool story.
You already know how stoked I am to be a CTS athlete. I feel like a member of an amazing tribe of athletes dedicated to training to the best of their ability to be the best version of an ultra-marathoner I can be. Regardless of my mid-pack status, I am treated like I am important, valued, and successful. It’s evident in my relationship with my coach, AJW, and was even more evident during and after the race, as I’ll explain in a bit. Thank you, CTS, from the top of my heart.
Training and life have been amazing. Since completing my own, tough, homegrown 50-miler in November, my confidence has grown, and as one who runs, I finally feel like I am at a level of fitness to tackle some bigger races. The body is responding well, I am recovering faster, and finally feel like I am making sustainable progress. I read somewhere not long ago, that it is important not to define myself in the realm as ultra-runner. It’s not ME, it’s something I do, and something I aspire to get better at. I want to carry this with me as I get older, and especially, if I have more time off or something keeps me from continuing in the sport. It keeps me grounded. So, for now, I am doing awesome.
In December, three amazing things happened to me. Yes THREE. First, and most important, I married the love of my life. Jeana and I eloped and exchanged vows in a private ceremony at Mount Princeton Hot Springs, in an area of Colorado very near and dear to our hearts. A place we want to settle in eventually. Second, on a whim, I bought some raffle tickets for a drawing at the Western States Lottery, and to my extreme surprise, my name was drawn and I am guaranteed entry in 2020 as long as I qualify(ied)?! Boom! #seeyouinsquaw! Finally, I left my great job at Harris Corporation to accept a position with the U.S. Forest Service. Talk about aligning with my life and dreams. I should play the real lottery!
In the weeks leading up to the race, I was able to enjoy some time off due to the federal furlough. My training was on point, and to make things even better, I heard from Jason Koop and AJW that Koop would be present to support at the race because two amazing CTS athletes would be running, Kaci Licktieg and Dakota Jones! Rockstar status. Jeana was excited because she would be crewing and potentially pacing me for the first time at a real event, and was going to have expert advice on hand with Koop.
A few days before the race, I was also honored to get an email from Brock Cannon accepting my ambassador status for Prevail Botanicals (see link on side), an amazing pain-relieving salve that is CBD-based, with other healing ingredients. Thanks so much my man! This awesome company and team of athletes of all ranges is wonderful. When I got my news about WS100, I vowed right then and there to remain humble, positive, and grateful for the fantastic gifts in my life. Prevail holds me accountable by requiring us to be just that! I love it, and it gives me daily motivation to be the best version of myself that I can be. Do your research and figure out the wonderful benefits that come from CBD. It’s changed my life.
Happiness in a salve!
ONTO THE RACE!
Training has been tough! Not every day is sunshine and gravy. Some days hurt. Sometimes I am not motivated. Sometimes you pass out at a book signing for Scott Jurek a few days out from a key 30-mile training run due to dehydration and not eating enough JJ Seriously! All in all, though, I have never felt more prepared for a race than I did last weekend. A few days before, AJW and I shared a call and went over all the details. He confirmed my readiness, gave the words of wisdom, kept me honest, and encouraged me. Thank you, coach. You are awesome!
A couple days before the race, I learned that my friend Shannon’s wife, Megan, had been diagnosed with cancer. It was a shock to me. I’ve only met Megan a handful of times, but cancer plus Megan does NOT compute in my brain. This is a fit woman without any of the warning signs you see when you think of this crummy disease. It hit me hard because cancer has been so prevalent in my life (lost my father and grandmother, and a good friend). I met Shannon in Fort Collins out on the trails through a mutual friend back in my grad school days (Hey you’re Wheaties Boy, right?!? Hahaha), and have always admired him and appreciated his friendship. He was personally responsible for nudging me to apply as a Pearl Izumi Champion back in 2015.
I audibly cried upon hearing the news of Megan, but then was extremely motivated at the whole Price-Settle family’s approach to throat-punching cancer’s stupid ass in the face with lightheartedness, determination, and HOPE. I messaged Shannon and asked him if it would be okay to run in Megan’s honor and use their story to fuel my fire when I hit some lows. They were honored and I tried to humbly post a quiet message on Facebook about my plan. Shannon wasn’t having that and publicly praised me for the effort. I was honored to join in this venture, and NOW I was really determined and motivated to give all I had.
For YOU Megan
Jeana and I boarded a plane and were off to Phoenix on Valentine’s Day. After a Whole Foods trip for clean food, we headed to the Creekside Preserve near the start line for a little mini vacay before the race. I do not travel well, so having an extra day to recoup was nice. We woke up the next morning and took our time. We checked out the start at Arcosanti, and headed to the race expo that afternoon.
What a great group Aravaipa is! Great swag and a good expo. I was able to meet some heroes (Zach Bitter, Eric Senseman), and was able to meet Kaci Licktieg. Let me tell you: Kaci is the nicest, sweetest, most approachable, badass trail-crushing woman I have ever had the honor to meet. Jeana and I adored her. Thanks for chatting, sharing, and making me feel special Kaci. Congrats on an amazing win and strong race! I also met up with a local stud I met out on the trails here in CO Springs, Adam Doe (20thoverall!) and we talked for a bit and wished each other well. I also met Howie Stern, who would be capturing the race on camera with his amazing talent. Finally, I met up with an awesome guy I met last year at Sangre De Cristo, Joe Von Bokern, who was running his first 100k. We chatted for a while, and then went our separate ways, excited that our wives could support each other while supporting us. After waiting to meet up with some Prevail teammates to wish each other well, Jeana and I headed back to the hotel to eat and rest.
Chatting with Zach Bitter
I slept well, and woke up to find that the rainstorm from the day before had forced a reroute of what I expected to be my first ever point to point course. The Agua Fria river was too dangerous to cross on the back half of the course, so we had to add a loop at Black Canyon City, and then backtrack on the course for 11 miles, then turn around to come back to finish. Oh well! So be it. Blah blah blah. I wasn’t letting it hurt me. Stuff happens. Let’s DO this! We let fellow CTS athlete Bruce Holbert know that we were bagging the prospect of Jeana pacing me, and that his wife did not have to help us get her to Table Mesa now, and then we headed to the cold, rainy start.
Arcosanti was a muddy mess when we arrived. The race crew had warming tents and fires going, which was nice. It was a little chaotic, and Jeana and I were so thankful we had done packet pickup at the expo. Huge line to get settled in for others. Chatted with random folks, texted Joe to check in, and then headed outside to the start. I was able to meet Dakota Jones at the beginning and tell him I was rooting for him. Jeana moved off to the side and I lined up somewhere in the middle. It was raining hard, windy, muddy, and cold.
Thankfully, I was prepared with the gear I needed to keep me comfortable. It was hard to hear the announcement from the race director, but I just started moving when the herd took off. The race starts at around 4000 feet of elevation, which is low for me, so I needed to reign myself in. My theme all day was “I have more lungs than legs!” AJW and others warned me that many go too fast because of the net downhill of the course. I found myself early on ensuring that I eased off. I spent a lot of time just chatting with folks I met and learning of their race plans for the year and their history.
After the dirt road and paved section, a couple miles in, the mud began and there was a crossing of Big Bug Creek to tackle. Water was moving fast and I was thankful to cross easily, however, I was also assured that the reroute was probably a good idea. After that the mud was not too bad, but it was sticky. I kept think to myself “How annoying will this be if my left heel keeps sticking in the mud all day?” But, I pushed that thought away. It would remain for about 15 miles to my recollection. The time clicked, it warmed up, and I hit the first 8-mile aid station quickly. I ensure that I was eating, drinking, and doing my systems check from the get go. I passed through fast after topping fluids. Enroute to the second aid station, I met up with a guy who informed me that he had run the entire original course the evening prior, and was now on his way to doing a double on race day. Kudos man! I was impressed. Even more so because he was moving fast.
After the second aid, there was a gorgeous single-track section that just felt so good to run. I eased the pace, but also glided along feeling really good. During this section I was able to chat with some folks I met at the start from Boulder, CO and my home state of IL who were funny and made me laugh. Their names were Elizabeth and Ethan. Good peeps. Time passed nicely and the next thing I knew, I was at Bumble Bee aid station where Jeana and Koop would be waiting. I was approximately 20 miles in, and feeling pretty decent, with the exception of my knees, most notably from the continuous running I am not really used to and the net downhill. Also, my feet were feeling tender and I debated about changing shoes, but decided not to for time’s sake.
I hit the 20-mile mark in almost 4 hours, right where I wanted to be. Seeing Jeana and Koop made me feel like royalty. CTS was all setup with a tent and chairs. I have zero issues with sitting, so I did just that. All my needs were taken care of, topped off, and prepped. Jeana was so encouraging about how well I was moving. I looked at Koop and said “Intervals!” and just laughed. I also put on a healthy dose of Prevail on quads and knees. I told Jeana to put every bit of food and drink mix in my pack as I had eaten all I carried from the start. A nice sign. Things were looking good. I asked about Joe and was told he was behind me, which surprised me. I was hoping all was well and that I would see him. I thanked everyone and rolled out.
Jeana and I at Bumble Bee
Crewed By Koop
The next section was blurry and felt easy. I just took my time hiking it out of Bumble Bee and chatting with more people. The heat never got up and it was perfectly comfortable outside. I spent quite a bit of time moving back and forth with another gal I met, Natalie, who was from IL, and it was cool to be able to chat and have a reference for pacing and motivation. Sometimes leap-frogging is effective to provide that extra push both ways. We would continue to see each other almost all day. I hit Gloriana Mine aid station and made a mental note that this would be the final turn around at the end of the day, so I paid careful attention to the course over the next section. I was informed it was 7 miles and net downhill to the next aid station. Hmmmm…
The first cool aspect of the course reroute happened around the marathon mark. It was so neat to be able to see the front runners on their way into mile 51 of the race. Still mind blowing. I cheered them all on and many were just determined and giving it all they had. I saw Jared Hazen and joked with him, but he looked rough and didn’t have anything to say. At this point there was probably the first tough-looking climb that I “affectionately” referred to as mother-f’er hill for the remainder of the day. Natalie and I were not going to let the challenge of that one mess us up mentally. I thought to myself, especially on the way back in… And then found inspiration as Kaci was killing it on the way up. Around the 50k mark I made another mental note that I had hit the distance around 7 hours, so this was a personal best for me in a long while and also midpoint in a huge race. F yes! Also, now was when I hit a low point, right after the Soap Creek aid station and a short section of pavement to Black Canyon City because of the reroute.
I am not the biggest fan of concrete. Also, I was doing so well all day that I was not too happy about slowing a bit, but all was well. I looked at my bib and used Megan for inspiration. Time to show cancer that it can go suck it! At this point, Senseman passed by looking determined. Not even a few mins later Mocko came running by. Awesome sauce. They would place 2ndand 3rd. There was a slight uphill on the road, then some easy single-track back on trails into Black Canyon City aid station. This was also now the finish line for the 60k. When I arrived, there were tons of cheers but also chaos. Probably my only complaint of the day. No one’s fault because things had to be done but I was confused and not sure where to go. Also, Jeana was surprised when I showed up because she couldn’t tell who was coming or going. I was also 30 mins faster than expected J
Chug, Chug, Chug
There was a small loop that had to be tackled before heading back to Gloriana Mine, so I pushed to get through the aid station quick. Koop gave me Kudos for having a voracious appetite, which was awesome, then I decided to change from the Altra Lone Peak 4.0 to the Timp 1.5. I am going to interject here that I was disappointed in how fast my fairly new Lone Peak 4.0’s ran out of life. I’d say about less than 200 miles on them. Also, for the first time I was having a pinky toe issue because the insoles slide around when the shoes get wet. The Timps buff out the rocks and technical better, but overall still not ideal for me having now run a marathon after a 60k and recent 50k wearing them. So, I will be looking at shoe options to transition to now. Sad face. For the love of God, can I just my Pearl Izumi N2’s back? J All suggestions welcome, but I am leaning towards Hoka or Adidas. Since, the race I’ve already contacted Kaci Licktieg and Joe Gray, and have tried on, and purchased the Hoka Torrent (feels very Pearl Izumi-esque…).
Anyway, while I was changing my shoes, Joe ran up looking solid. He was not feeling great early on in the day, but had worked things out and was ready to finish. We set off together for the loop. The loop was uphill, then had a decent climb up and down in the middle. We also saw Dave, another Human Potential guy, on his way back in and crushing it! In badass fashion, Natalie was ahead of us and crushing the uphill. The turnaround and checkpoint was on the river and we shuffled through. We moved well together, and just decided to stay with each other for a while. It was nice to get to know each other more. And together we made progress and were very evenly paced. We got back to the BCC aid station, and grabbed our final things for the push back out. I said “22 miles to go!” Koop said “One mile at a time.” Wisdom. Jeana congratulated me, encouraged me, kissed me, and we set off back towards soap creek.
Let's Finish This
Somewhere on the road back, Joe said he had hit a low point. Even though it was unmentioned, we just kind of melded into encouraging one another and staying together. It was awesome. We did cone counting on the road for run sections, hiked when we needed to, and then hit Soap Creek quickly. There were some good hills coming from earlier (M-f’er Hill remember?). It was definitely tougher (and longer) moving in the other direction, and also, there is the bigger climb going in. Joe was a champ and motivated me on the uphill. At the top, it was finally dark, so we got on warm clothes and threw on the headlamps. Back on single-track was tough. Two-way traffic and darkness made for rough going. I always get a second wind when night falls and I weirdly enjoy running technical trails by headlamp. It was narrow though, and unavoidable to sometimes stop and let others pass. This was my time to shine and get Joe moving through this section, as his confidence and training were waning on this section.
My only audible, negative, comment of the day from me came a few miles from Gloriana. There was a guy and his pacer on the side of a steep, technical section who was looking rough. Another guy was running towards us and had to go around the dude having trouble. He audibly said “WTF man!” as he passed, clearly angry about the guy blocking a part of the trail. The troubled guy’s pacer, who really didn’t understand what happened asked, “what was that?” My response to her as the guy was going past me was, “Nothing, just some entitled guy acting like a little bitch!” I hoped he heard me. Then I let it go and kept running.
Gloriana appeared, and looked glorious! Zach Bitter was there filling up bottles. Ramen soup and ginger ale were flowing. I was pumped. My legs were also sooooore. Mostly quads and knees. I pulled out my Prevail and used it up on both legs/quads/knees to get me back home. Joe and I didn’t waste time and we left running. 51 miles in and running. Take that, sore legs. We got through the single-track section well, and took M’fer Hill back up and down like champs. Despite my unhappy knees. More encouragement for each other all night long. Somewhere on the way back, I told Joe that he was such an amazing running partner that I couldn’t even imagine not having him with me next year to pace at Western States. I knew I was there because we were easily going to finish near the 15:30 mark. 1.5 hours less than qualifying time. Joe was like “What?!?!” and he said he was honored and that we would talk over the next year and figure things out.
The last aid station appeared, and there was more soup and ginger ale. I came in and said, “Hello beautiful!” A young guy sitting assisting with who appeared to be our teenage 100k runner, (yes, a kid in his TEENS was running the race), said, “Who, me?” I said, “YEAH YOU J” and we all joked and laughed. Joe and I left quickly and joyously ran the road back into town. The last bit was rough because it seemed like eternity before we hit the turn off to the finish, but we got there and eased it in, crossing the finish line side by side in 15:36 and some change.
Jeana, Alex, and Koop were waiting at the finish line to congratulate us! I was stoked! I profusely thanked Koop for staying until the end, and his response, was “Are you KIDDING me?” I guess sometimes, I just think I don’t deserve the attention because I am not in the same league as the front runners. I was the last CTS athlete to cross the line. Koop and CTS proved this wrong and showed me that I matter and that I deserve this kind of treatment. I made some joke about wishing I was faster and that I had work to do, knowing that, in all honesty, I could have been an hour faster, I just wanted to ensure I did not blow up and that I hit my goal of qualifying for WS100. Not to mention, it was far more enjoyable to run with Joe. Koop questioned me about this, and I mentioned that it was my best performance ever. He laughed and just said “Enjoy it and feel proud that you feel great after running 100k!” No B.S., common sense advice. I’ve learned a lot from that man, his book, and super-solid coaching under AJW. I’m so happy I found them.
We ordered our finish line pizza, posed for buckle photos, and said goodbye to Joe and Alex so we could go rest. Natalie crossed the finish line and I introduced her to Jeana. My wife was amazing and drove us to our already checked-in new hotel. It was glorious. I slept fitfully, and dealt with sore legs all night, but all-in-all, I have recovered quickly from this event in just a week’s time. I am going to take things easily for 4-6 weeks because I have had some trouble with my left hamstring/adductor muscle, but then it’s on to train and crush goals for the remainder of the year. Jeana told me that I was not accepted in the lottery for Cascade Crest at the finish line, so my new plan is to run Grindstone 100 as a Hardrock qualifier and just stay near AJW in Oct. Despite my declaration that I would not race any other things this year (yeah right), I already put in for Waldo 100k lottery and will run Quad Rock 25 with Jeana for her first big trail event in May. I also have pacer duty, and potentially helping out at WS100, Leadville, and HR100, etc. So, it looks to be a good year!
As always, these things don’t happen without a team of people making it so. Thank you to all of my friends and family for posting on Facebook and checking up on me while encouraging me during the race! Thank you to Aravaipa and the amazing aid stations and support crew for pulling off an amazing race, especially with last minute changes. The course was almost on par with the original with 5k of climbing and about 6.4k of descent. Our amazing friend Caty watched our doggo and hung out with Anya all weekend. Thank YOU, Caty, you are the best. And for Megan and Shannon for allowing me to join in their cancer battle and for being with me in spirit over 62-ish miles of this gorgeous course.
Team Effort Right Here
I realized that I did not stop or take a single picture along the course. So, I borrowed this one off of Travis McWhorter’s Facebook Page, because it sums up the views all day! Photo Cred: Travis.
Once again: #SEEYOUINSQUAW