Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Comeback 50 Mile: My first crack at a distance over 50k in 3 years.

This past weekend I achieved an ultra-distance run greater than 50k after over two years of recovery and attempting to build my body back up from injury and surgery.  I have been hesitant to share a ton of my training or endeavors since I started coaching with Carmichael Training Systems back in July. I’ve had a series of races this year and last, along with my first ever “Did not start” (DNS) at the Silverton Ultra 100k where I just did not perform at the level I wanted to all year.  It’s been a humbling experience mixed with a lot of learning and life adjusting.  On Saturday I really needed a “win” and I finally snagged one.  Smart training, diet, and planned recovery periods paid off.  My body is at a point where I can endure and enjoy long days in the mountains again and still feel good afterwards 😊.

I began my coaching journey with Andy Jones Wilkins at the helm a few months ago.  He laid out an attainable, yet tough training plan, and I did the hard work.  This was a needed distance before I tackle Black Canyon 100k in Feb 2019 and attempt to qualify for the Western States Lottery early next year.  Jeana and I have had a lot of good and bad life events and travel lately, so I asked to do one on my own to take off the pressure of an actual race along with stressful travel, and AJW agreed.

Could I have done this on my own with minimal support?  I believe so. Would it have been as enjoyable or easy without the selfless volunteering from my friends and loved ones? Not even close.  If you skip the rest of this blog and can only read one more section, read this next part about the amazing people who helped me.  It’s a description of the people who encouraged, supported, motivated, and ensured that I had a great day last Saturday.  I owe them everything and I don’t even feel adequately deserving of their support.  I am beyond thankful for them and will do anything asked of me in the future to support a life goal of theirs:

The whole crew minus Desiree and Lynne


Daniel Padilla:  I met Daniel at a Trail Ragnar with Team RWB last year.  All around great guy, fellow Army vet (soon to be retired), ever-positive.  What sticks out most to me about Daniel is his love and devotion to his wife and children, his faith, and love for country.  Always encouraging, and publicly spreading joy, happiness, love for others, and values.  His values and effort are evident in the amazing brains and athletic talent I’ve witnessed in his son!  You’re awesome man.  I’m honored to know you.

Desiree Ritchie:  I met Desiree at the Cheyenne Mountain Run last year on a tough climb.  She had just moved to the Springs with her Army husband.  I continued to see her crush runs at local events and HPRS ultras. Eternally positive, super strong and fit CrossFit athlete and runner.  What sticks out most to me about Desiree is her devotion to family and her extremely cute daughter, encouragement for others, strength and endurance.  Thanks for sacrificing part of your day and cheering us on!

Robbie Comstock:  I met Robbie through our local Brewer’s Cup events a few years ago with his hilarious wife, Shae.  Robbie has not been running long, but he is super talented.  Robbie is the epitome transformation when it comes to health and fitness.  What sticks out to me most about Robbie is his mechanical talent, hard work, endurance, and ability to tackle some tough runs in smoking fast times.  Thanks for joining us for 20 miles my man.

Carolyn Atwood:  Carolyn and I met through the Brewer’s Cup as Smiling Toad teammates.  We were pretty evenly matched running paces until I watched her get faster and leave me in the dust.  Carolyn and her dog Watson get all the credit for solidifying my first date with Jeana two years ago!  What sticks out to me most about Carolyn is her ability to go after whatever she sets her mind to and endure, as well as her loyalty, and encouragement.

Lynne Day:  I met Lynne through the Brewer’s Cup as well a few years ago through mutual friends and have shared many races with her.  What sticks out to me most about Lynne is her never-ending pursuit of self-improvement.  I’ve watched her grow into an ultra-runner and witnessed so many accomplishments in a short period of time.  Thanks for choosing to share some cold, icy miles with us on your last big run before Dead Horse 50.  You rock lady.  Thanks for some awesome pics!

Jay Watts:  I first met Jay through the Brewer’s Cup runs (see a pattern here) and mutual friends a few years ago.  We’ve solidified into running partners (when he feels like slowing down) and become closest of friends.  What sticks out to me most about Jay is his endless endurance, speed, and hugely giving heart.  I don’t know too many guys who would give you all that they had, but Jay is one of them. Thanks for the continuous encouragement, shared miles, friendship, listening-ear, and support.  Jay, you are my brother from another mother.  You ran half of this run with me and still had enough in the tank to crush Fall Series 4 the next day.

Caty Rozema:  I first met Caty the same day I met Jeana after a Brewer’s Cup event at Fossil Brewing company when they were roommates.  Caty is an amazing friend, hard worker, and Ember’s favorite babysitter nearly every time we need to leave town.  Earlier this year, Caty crushed her first 50K at Stumptown and blazed by me around mile 20.  What sticks out to me most about Caty is her relentless devotion to work, life, and others.  I am not sure I’ve ever witnessed a more giving or caring person who truly cares. Thank you for supporting and crewing all day, for miles shared, your love and support of Jeana, and care for our little family.  You are SO great.

Michelle Whetherhult:  I met Michelle earlier this year at a Brewer’s Cup Winter Series Race.  I discovered that she was getting ready to run the Never Summer 100k and we talked often of getting in some training runs.  We had not had an opportunity to run together until seeing each other at the Sangre De Cristo ultras (where she ran 100k), and then this weekend where she volunteered to run all 50 miles with me after I asked her to run a “couple” pacing miles with me two weeks ago.  What sticks out most to me about Michelle is her constant smile, positivity, endless strength and endurance, and embodiment of what it means to be a part of this ultra community.  Thanks for setting the pace and sharing those miles with me.  We are now close friends.  I see more epic adventures coming.  The next morning, Michelle did the incline, and then ran 7.8 miles at FS4. I can’t even… wow.

Jeana:  This woman does not need an introduction.  All I can say Is the love, support, encouragement, devotion, and overwhelming dedication this woman gives me is completely undeserved. My future wife, my soulmate, life partner, hot running partner, and best friend.  She sacrifices so much of herself to allow me the time and effort to develop myself and follow my training plan each day.  I could not do this without her.  She sees me at my worst.  Endures and listens to my struggles.  Loves me unconditionally.  Thank you for the all-day support, words of encouragement, crewing, and running the last 8 hard miles with me by headlamp to make this a (finally) successful endurance event.  I love you babe.  More than anything.


Back to the run.  Thankfully I was able to use Strava and my knowledge of our local trails to design a run that would be very tough, yet attainable. I spent a lot of time trying to design one that would help me at Black Canyon.  I decided to move the elevation gain from 11k+ to about 9k.  Black Canyon is a net downhill and has 7k of climbing with 9k of descent.  It’s also point to point and at a lower elevation than where I live.

My first course was essentially an out and back, but fast incoming winter weather and some time on the questionable higher elevation trails forced me to go back to the drawing board and design one where I would have less chance of encountering the slick ice that I encountered last weekend after heavy snowfall.  I’m glad I did.  We had amazing weather before I winter storm hit the next day.  I feel very lucky.

Course profile


Robbie and Michelle met me at my house and we set out around 6 am.  I let them know that for once, I was starting out conservatively and we took the short neighborhood roads to Bear Creek and met Jay about two miles in.  The four of us ran easily through Bear Creek Regional, up to Red Rocks and down to meet Daniel at about 6.5 miles.  They all ensured that I was not moving too slow, even though I felt like I was.  We talked (me mostly because I am chatty Kathy) and everything clicked off quick. Daniel was bundled up (still 25 degrees out) and waving our Flag and a Team RWB flag!  That was so cool!  He pumped me up.  We snapped some shots and finished up the pretty, rolling miles of Red Rocks.

Daniel Padilla and Team RWB!

As we neared Intemann trail, Carolyn met us with Watson and followed us over to the Crystal Park intersection. Jeana and Caty were there and hooting and hollering like an actual aid station at a race.  It was awesome.  I’m sure some of the local were wondering what the heck we were doing, but it was fun. We all joked and topped off our packs, then set off for some of the first real climbing.  We headed up Iron Mountain, then down and back up a steep Red Mountain climb.  Michelle sped up to try and beat her Red Mountain time from earlier in the week. So impressive.  This was the first part of the day where I was feeling like there was a hard effort.  Good stuff about 16 miles in.

I had a small headache, but we made it over to the end of Intemann where everyone was waiting for us.  More cheers and support.  Some ginger ale, quick fluid top-off, and we were on our way back.  The miles back to Crystal Park were good, with some uphill running mixed in. Robbie finished his 20, and I thanked him for coming with.  He would also be racing tomorrow with the rest of my support crew.  We filled up some more stuff and set off for the first BIG climbing effort with Carolyn joining us for a few more miles.

Carolyn left us to head home at the middle and Jay and Michelle and I set up the steep descent bypassing the waterfall all the way to the top of Section 16.  That was a tough part for me, but it passed relatively quickly to the top, and then the miles were easy for the downhill to High Drive.  The middle waterfall cut had some slick ice and we had to slow down a lot to avoid falling.  About ¾ of the way down I passed my good buddy Jin and his wife Lorine. I told them I could not stop and said, “love you guys!” and kept running to the intersection.  

On the way down section 16.

When I arrived, my daughter Anya was there to encourage me and so was Ember, our cute pup.  Everyone said we looked great, and Jay said his goodbyes. He ran about ½ the distance with me. What a guy!  Jin and Lorine caught up to us and we snapped some photos before getting ready to take off.  I fist bumped Caty and thanked her for filling all my stuff up.

Jeana and I before heading out.  Anya drew a heart.


Lynne was waiting for us there at about mile 25.5 and ready to support the hardest section of the day!  She set a solid hiking pace uphill on High Drive with Michelle while I lagged a little behind on the way up.  I made a mental note of the snow and ice for later in the day and Michelle reminded to stay in the mile I was in.  Good advice.  We trekked up and High Drive miles went quick.  I took a quick breather at the top and we headed up Captain Jacks.  Once there, about 28 miles in, I started to have a small low point.  Nothing horrible, but my stomach was starting to feel a little queasy, and sugary food wasn’t great anymore.

Heading down Seven Bridges.  We live in an amazing place!

As we hit the new cut through from the old Bear Creek trail, the shade, and slippery ice slowed us to a crawl. Michelle handed me some tums and we kept it going.  I was disappointed in the extreme slowness, but it also helped revive me a bit.  I was eating, drinking, and functioning as I should, and when we hit the top I was very happy.  We were just about at the 50k mark.  Slow, but steady.  Running downhill on 7 bridges felt great until we had to slow to our turtle walk again because of the treacherous ice.  There was a lot of slipping and all we could do was just laugh at ourselves because it was out of our control.  😊

Gotta stretch sometimes!

Once on Gold Camp, there was still slick snow, but not as bad for running.  We turned the corner and hit the aid station where Desiree, her adorable daughter, and Jeana and Caty were waiting.  I drank some broth and filled up on some more calories.  We took some time there and I noticed the cold front moving in.  It was very cold sitting there.  We decided to don our cold gear as it would be night when we returned.  I did not want my dear ones or adorable little Stella to freeze, so I asked everyone to head to the 7 bridges parking lot only a mile further down around the corner because we needed to shorten the Gold Camp out and back because we had gained a few GPS miles more than my calculated route.

Doesn't even come close to showing how slick some parts were.

Better parts of Gold Camp w/ Lynne and Michelle

We set up over the St. Mary’s Falls trail and Gold Camp was a welcome addition.  I call it “sneaky climbing” because it’s steady and hard to determine why it feels challenging even though it appears flatter.  We had a nice cadence of jogging and hiking up, then turned around about 2.7 miles in and had an enjoyable run down.  I was so happy to be actually running around 37 miles in. We crossed the little hump and met everyone at the parking lot.  It was just getting dark and we were feeling good.


Lynne ran some parking lot laps to get her 14 miles in and Stella showed me her new friend hanging around which was a fox in the parking lot who probably had too much human food because he was way too comfortable around us.  I named him Chester and we snapped some photos.  I hugged and thanked Desiree and she gave Lynne a ride back to her car.  Michelle and I switched on our headlamp and set down the blacktop (ouch) road to Columbine Trail.  Those miles went so well, and we ran some of the uphill.  We caught some gorgeous views of the city lights on that section. We hit Gold Camp again, went through the tunnel and before we knew it we were back at the parking lot for the final short climb at 42 miles.

We ate some soup, had some Coke, and Jeana was ready to pace us home.  We started jogging a bit uphill on High Drive, but quickly slowed to a fast hike. We hit the top in no time and the brunt of the climbing was done!  9k+ of climbing.  A quick calf and hamstring stretch at the top and Michelle started off downhill to where Caty would be at the final rendezvous before the home stretch. Michelle disappeared, and I was impressed at how well she was running downhill!  Jeana and I kept going, took our time on the icy spots, and met Michelle and Caty at the car.  My quads hurt at this point and I felt a small tinge in my right knee.  All new stuff for me.  But I felt pretty good.  Caty snapped an awesome shot of just Jeana’s and my own headlamp coming. I thought it was the coolest photo of the day.  Quick ginger ale sip, a bite of food, and we were off.

Awesome headlamp shot!  Thanks Caty.

The miles through Bear Creek were easy with just a few little bumps along the way.  I love the way our city looks at night in the park.  We got into lower Bear Creek and realized we would be about ½ mile short.  So, we took the long loop around to my house and added a bit at the bottom and finished at my front door!  When we walked in the fireplace was going, Caty, Anya, and Ember were cheering, and Caty had pizza ready for us!  Caty took a final photo of Jeana, Michelle, and I, and then I collapsed by the fireplace and basked in the accomplishment while quickly replacing calories.  We all sat and talked and joked for a bit and I sent a final group text thanking everyone for helping me.  What an amazing day. We finished a little over 14 hours and I am confident that we could have shaved and hour or more off without the ice and snow conditions. 

Back at the house!  50 miles done.

I want to thank everyone who helped me on this and I want you all to know that I gained my confidence back. I’m ready to go beat Black Canyon and hopefully get into my dream race at Western States.  I’m looking forward to helping everyone achieve their own dreams next year if I can.

Thanks for reading!

(P.S.)  I was a little sore and tired the next day but not horrible. Here it is on Monday, two days later, and I feel amazing.  This was my ultimate goal for CTS and AJW.  Feel good after!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Today Is The First Day Of My New Running Life

Rebirth, Awakening, Revival.  These are the words that jumped out at me when I did an online thesaurus search for “renewal.”  Yes, I am THAT nerdy.  I was trying to analyze a new chapter in my life, a huge move forward, and a decision to change my mindset on the one thing outside of my life with Jeana and relationships with my loved ones that brings me peace and joy.  And that’s where I am at.  It’s time to be reborn into the best athlete I can be.  Awaken from this dreary cloud I have been stuck under.  Experience a revival in my running and newfound enjoyment of moving quickly on my own two feet in the outside world and nature where I feel most at home.

With much regret and personal feelings of fear and dissatisfaction, I decided that I am not going to start the Silverton Ultra Marathon next month.  Sure, I could show up and trudge my way through it, finish, and feel like garbage at the end.  That’s not for me anymore.  I’m done.  I realized this last Saturday as I slugged my way to finish up a mediocre 18 miles where I felt tired, weak, dehydrated, and under prepared around the 15 mile point.  If I suffer through this short training run, how will I complete 60+ miles in Silverton?  I am finished with haphazard training.  Sure, I am experienced in running ultra-distances.  My philosophy in 2015 where I felt much success was basic:  More miles, more vertical.  That’s it.  Sure, I was able to finish these races, but not at a level where I felt truly prepared or particularly decent when I finished.  I’m struggling with running up hills and I’m developing injuries with repetitive runs on the same terrain without anything to break it up.  Cross training?  I’ve slipped.

Terminology and activities such as “tempo run,” “recovery run,” “heart rate monitoring,” “threshold,” and “VO2 max,” etc., did not exist in my vocabulary.  Flat runs?  Road runs?  “No way!” Those things were not for me.  I knew better and would enjoy myself and my training if I just went out without a schedule and did my own thing.  No monitoring and measurement of my improvement or progress other than how I feel.  How’s that been working out for you Josh?  Answer:  Not well at all.

Last year, I helped my friend Gabe finish her first 100 miler at Run Rabbit.  My first 100 miler.  We ran a painfully tough 30+ something miles together.  Neither of us felt good at all.  And I hadn’t just run 70-something miles like Gabe had either, but we suffered together and she got to the finish line under the cutoff.  As a gift for helping, she gave me Jason Koop’s “Training Essentials for Ultra Running” book, which looked awesome, and I knew would be a fantastic read.  However, I never picked it up until a few weeks ago.  After having some hard conversations with some elite and talented runners I know and leafing through the first 15 pages or so, I was convinced that I needed help.  I know of Koop.  I’ve been exposed to his influence with elites and local athletes alike.  Hell, in 2015, Koop’s wife blazed past me in the last mile of the Never Summer 100k.  She also happened to be my daughter’s Freshman English Teacher.  I’m lucky to have Koop and his organization in my hometown.

So… apprehensively I started perusing the website for Carmichael Training Systems (https://trainright.com/and the ultrarunning coaching program.  They have a lot of awesome things from nutrition consults, to lab work and fitness testing.  To my surprise I found out that one of their coaches is none other than Andy Jones-Wilkins (AJW).  A man that I have admired from afar ever since hearing him speak on Ultra Runner Podcast many years ago.  I gentleman who has run Western States 10 times!  A man who understands injuries and aging.  I called, spoke to Dominic, and then the next day AJW and I engaged in a 20-minute consult (which turned into an hour).  We got off the phone, and called Dominic back immediately telling him of the instant connection I felt and signed up.  I am super excited to be working with AJW and partner in success.

So here we go.  I’m starting over and rebuilding myself into the maximum potential version of myself I can be.  My goal is to qualify for Western States.  It’s been a dream of mine since first reading about Dean Karnazes and watching “Unbreakable.”  I qualified once, and lost it after the time off due to my injuries.  No more.  I am picking strategic goal races where I can maintain that qualification until the lottery lets me in.  I am not 100% sure of what is in store for me, but I know with the right help and newfound motivation I’ll get there.

Today, I will begin with an endurance run at a steady pace on flatter terrain as the first step of a ten-day intro program for the first phase, then begin to plan the future.  I’ll keep you posted.  I’m excited!


Sunday, February 25, 2018

Set Backs and Come Backs

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.