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.