48 miles – 14 hours
Not finishing this race never even crossed my mind. After completing it twice, I was looking forward to revisiting this trail, its challenges, and training for the 100. But alas, every run is a new run.
It has become a point of humor for many to hear about what I do the 24 hours prior to a race. From my pre-race dinner choice, lack of sleep, or not resting, something always doesn’t follow normal. This race I tried to not disappoint.
The night before the race I went to a buddy’s birthday party with my family. There was a jumpy castle so how could I resist? Oh yeah, he slow cooked BBQ all day, so my pre-race dinner was 2 pulled pork sandwiches. And Guinness. Should I mention that I had dessert? Peanutbutter chocolate bars.
We all got home around 8p and by the time kids settled down in bed, I was asleep just after 10p.
Alarm clock went off at 2:15am. 4 hours later. Who needs more than 4 hours of sleep before running 50 miles at altitude?
For the most part it was a quiet 2 hour drive into the mountains. The 4 year old made the choice to not sleep, talk non-stop, then start complaining in a whiny voice. Not a far cry from what I would be doing by the end of the day.
What I was most excited about for the day was that my family was there. Wife and all 4 kids would be at miles 13, 25, and 37. The kids would get a small taste of what this mountain running was all about. Not just from me, but from the hundreds of others covering the spectrum of running. They will see people smiling, learn new words, and watch others vomit. Hopefully, they wouldn’t see all of those from me.
About 15 minutes prior to the start, we said our good lucks so they could climb the hill first. From there, I would get one more wave until they saw me a few hours later.
I chatted with Terry, friend met at last year’s Leadville 100, as we waited for the shotgun to be fired. Then 2 guys came up to me …
Guy 1: Do you remember me?
What a loaded question …
Me: Yeah you look really familiar.
Guy 1: We ran a few miles together at the Greenland Trail 50k race. You convinced us to register for this!
Me: Awesome! And sorry.
Running humor. It’s a little weird.
Was great to have a group of us just hanging out, chatting, talking about what was ahead, and excited to get going.
Soon enough, Josh (Race Director) fired the shotgun signaling the
run hike up Dutch Hill. The first guy and girl to make it to the top received a free entry into the Leadville 100. Seeing as I already had an entry, I decided to be gracious enough to let someone else sprint up this hill before running 50 miles. You’re welcome.
Getting to the top I looked up to left to find my family. They had huge smiles and big waves. I couldn’t stop smiling. For just climbing that hill, my breathing was all good. A bit surprising, but grateful.
Nothing too exciting the next 3 miles except that I kept running. As others were walking any kind of incline, I just took shorter steps and kept into a jog. Suffice to say, I was enjoying myself. Chatting with people, making jokes, and enjoying the views. Again, 3rd time in this race, so I was letting people know that just up and around 2 corners to the Black Cloud aid station at mile 7. In the past years, this was just a fluids aid station. To my surprise, they were in full supply … M&Ms, pretzels, and chips for me. Onward and upward.
There was a descent stream of water coming down the trail about half a mile from the first 12,000 feet peak. I started chatting with 2 people on the way up. We talked about how this was their first 50 mile race and they asked if it was okay to walk. Oh yeah, you’ll probably run 60% of this course if you’re having a great day.
Getting to the top, I took a moment to take in the view. The sun was now up and beaming, but it was just 5 miles downhill to my family.
Mile 13.5 Aid Station
Transferring to pavement, I power walked the hill. I said hello and thanked spectators on the side of the road. Took in yet another picturesque view and charged ahead. Coming over the hill and 100 feet from the aid station, I spotted my crew. They were all wearing blue t-shirts that read:
How to finish: Left Right Repeat
They were so excited! I drank half a bottle of Gatorade, looked for cookies, and gave high-fives. Tanya said I was right on with my time from last year. As a bonus, I had already eaten twice as many gels as the entire race last year.
Leaving the aid station, I stopped at the medical table. Not because I had a need, but to say hello to Stewart. I met Stewart at the packet pickup when I was a Colfax Ambassador. Super great guy! Always nice to unexpectedly see a friendly face on the course!
I knew the course and knew I had a 1 mile downhill run. When I say run, I actually mean run. Bouncing down the hill I was singing along with my music. Just happy to be trotting down in comfortable temps on a dry trail. Once I reached the bottom, Tanya and the kids were waiting for me. They had made an unexpected stop to give me an extra surprise boost. Very much loved that!
Up next was more uphill climbs. Dirt road for a mile then back into the woods along the trail. Up and up.
Mile 18 aid station – Rock Garden
I really do like this aid station. The volunteers and 360 degree postcard views are pretty amazing. No crowds as they suggest spectators not try to drive up here. Oh, and they have cookies. I do enjoy cookies on the run.
That climb into this aid station was tough. My energy level was dropping quickly and finding myself doing less running. Not because anything hurt, but just mentally no desire to step. Whatever, it will pass. Normal stuff.
From there, another mile descent. Did a little descending, but not really feeling like running downhill. Energy level just feeling zapped.
At the bottom of the hill, about mile 20, I met up with a guy with a red jacket.
Me: I am just energy zapped.
Guy: You know, I heard marijuana can help with that.
After he said that, I pictured Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Can’t say that he was full of energy.
Guy: I have some if you want to give it a try?
Me: Ummm … no, I think I’ll see if the energy just comes back.
While I mostly walked this, my breathing and body still felt better than expected. There was some calm internal discussions about moving forward … re-routing power, taking a lunch break, shutting down other bodily functions. Just move faster already!
Once at the top, again time to take in the view. Not for long as put gravity to use and head downhill. I leap frogged with another runner. In fact, she may have been chuckling when I was preaching to run like a ninja as I bounced side-to-side down the trail. Why? The trail was that steep of a decline. At this time, others were coming back up the mountain. I did my best to not think about how that would feel in less than an hour.
Mile 25 – You don’t look so good
I headed down the dirty road, said hello and high-fived to Andrea as she was on her way back up, and turned into the last half mile to the turnaround. Coming into the halfway point, I met the family right away. Before I actually got to the aid station, I had to do a quarter mile uphill loop.
Wife: How are you doing?
Me: (sign for gun to head)
Wife: Yeah you don’t look so good.
Brutal honesty is an important skill needed in a crew chief. In a spouse? Sometimes.
On the loop I put down a full bottle of Gatorade. It felt good and gave me a little kick of life. I stopped at the aid station table, grabbed some cookies and pretzels. I had a short chat with the kids and Tanya offered me some gum. That helped a lot. Something about chewing gum on the run gives me more energy. Maybe it has to do with my inability to just do one thing.
Mile 26 – Oh hail how you suck
Almost a mile out from the turnaround, I ran into Mitch on his way in. His spirits were low, as most everyone’s at this point. I asked him what the story was …
Mitch: Ball Mountain (pointing in its direction). F that thing, it can go to hell, and damn it!
Me: (inside voice) If you thought that sucked, wait until the second time you have to do it.
Me: (outside voice) I hear you! It sucks and you can’t breathe. Go get some cookies and energy!
My energy was still pretty low, but body still moving forward. Around mile 26 I looked up at a Ball Mountain and shared how I was feeling about the climb. They weren’t nice words. Some were probably outloud. Just like a protective parent, I’m pretty sure I heard:
Mother Nature: What did you call my mountain? Oh no you didn’t! (you’ll have to find me in-person for the full impression and finger snaps).
With that, bring on the wrath that is Mother Nature:
That was hail … which I would take over rain any day in the mountains. The guy I was running with at the time was bald and wearing a visor. Play the video again. Turn up the volume. Now imagine being pelted on your skin with that, while still having to move forward, for 15 minutes. Torture device patent pending.
Finally the hail stopped and drizzle rain began. Not the best idea to be soaked when heading up to 12,000 feet … again. Remember, this is the incline that was so steep I had to go side-to-side to come down. Just to give you a small idea of what I was climbing, here’s a photo from halfway up:
Notice how you still can’t see the top? Imagine being 28 miles in and making this climb.
Learned something new … M&Ms may not melt in your hand, but they do melt in your pocket during a rainstorm … and make a white iPod Shuffle into a rainbow.
Climbing up the mountain, I felt like I was doing better than last year. Afterall, I didn’t stop to dry heave nearly as much. The view from the top of Ball Mountain showed the storm I was running towards. Or really, the storm was coming for me.
Once at the top, I stopped to take a breath. It was a mile down, then a mile up to Rock Garden aid station. The steepest climb was over, so the rest should be downhill. How naive.
On the climb up, Trevor caught up with me. He was moving strong and I voiced how I was lacking energy. He handed me a little bottle that was condensed energy. Each ounce was 100 calories. Without even looking to see what flavor, I held the bottle over my mouth and squeezed. It tasted like vanilla pudding! I will be looking for this at the store!
Mile 30 – Rain, Rain, Go Away … and die
Coming into Rock Garden aid station, I just had no brain power left. The soaking rain wasn’t letting up and being exposed at 12,000 feet provides chilly wind. Bad combo.
I went up to the tent on search for sugar. Cookies and soda is what I was looking for. The volunteer was kind enough to move the box closer so I could fill my pockets with them. That meant I could stay under the shelter because, believe it or not, it had started to rain harder.
I sent a text to my wife:
Standing under a tent on top of a mountain in torrential rain. Craptastic.
This is where I first met Ryan. His twin brother was helping him get fuel out of his pack. We joked a bit and I listened to his crew help him out.
I made the decision to go. It was about a mile down to tree cover.Surely trees would help relieve the rain somewhat. As my body was shaking, I walked past 5 volunteers that stared at me with their mouths open and stepped out into the rain. I hobbled and then broke into a falling run.
To help me get down the steep hills, I listened to this song 28 times:
Not only did I listen to it, but I danced-ran to it. Again, you’ll have to find me in-person to demonstrate because I don’t think I’m ready for video of me doing that to be put out there.
Hitting the bottom of the hill and onto the dirt road, I decided to take a little walk in. The sun had come out and temperature climbed to 70 degrees. I was able to bend my fingers and feel warmth on my skin. It felt great! My temperature was rising quickly.
I met up with Ryan and we started chatting. Here’s a 19 year old that started training 4 months ago for his first ultramarathon. He certainly set the bar high for himself.
Mile 34.5 Aid Station
We climbed our way up to the Printer Boy aid station. My family was waiting for me and kids held my hand as I walked the trail to the opening. It felt normal and not like there was still a 3.5 mile climb up to 12,000 feet one more time ahead of me. They laughed and talked about how they may get ice cream after I leave this aid station. Damn, now I wanted ice cream. Really, I just wanted a nap.
Entering the aid station, I spotted a chair. I could see a volunteer eyeballing me as I took a seat. It’s generally a bad idea to sit down this far into a race. The chances of getting back up shrink quickly. A couple kid volunteers asked if they could get me anything. I replied that cookies are always nice. They came back 10 seconds later with a large bowl of cookies. I filled my pockets with them, drank some Coke, and was dosed in bug spray. It was warm out so I added some sunscreen to the back of my neck and shoulders. Who knew that would be the least of my worries in an hour.
Volunteer: We anticipate another storm coming in.
Me: I guarantee it.
Volunteer: Good. So when you start to feel a chill, put your jacket back on.
Volunteer: Okay, time for you to keep moving forward.
Love it. Glad you came by, but you gotta keep going in order to finish.
Ryan and I moved on, knowing that this would be a long climb. 3.5 miles up and 10 down is what they kept saying to finish the race. It sounds so easy. That 3.5 miles to over an hour to climb. There were moments we had to stop so we could breathe. Look at how small the runners look compared to the mountain:
Once we made it to the top, it was pouring rain. The dark clouds I had been watching since the top of Ball Mountain had arrived. Thunder echoed throughout the valley. The same valley that I had to run down. In the pouring rain. That meant the trail was long muddy river. We caught up with another guy, had a short chat, then kept on going. It wasn’t much of a jog, but it was faster than walking. A mile out from the last aid station, a spotter appeared saying if we ran faster we could make the cutoff time. Instinctively, I just started to haul ass.
Mile 40 – Last Aid Station
The aid station was a bit blurry from the heavy rain. My sunglasses ended up being used as goggles so I wasn’t blinded by the rain blowing into my face.
Sprinting into the aid station …
Volunteer: 8 minutes to spare!
Me: Damn it.
Volunteer: No, you beat the cutoff by 8 minutes.
Me: I know. That means I just bought 2 more hours of this cold wet fun.
I put my hands on my hips and headed over towards the food table. Then the Race Doctor got in my face.
Dr Todd: Hi I’m Doctor Todd. How are you feeling?
Dr. Todd: Are you cold? We are treating a lot of people for hypothermia.
Me: Of course I’m cold. Aren’t you?
I sidestepped him to avoid any further conversation … a.k.a. make sure I don’t get pulled for hypothermia.
Ryan came in a minute later with his Dad holding an umbrella over him. We met at the food table where I was eating more cookies and putting a few in my pocket. I said it was hard to hold cookies when I couldn’t feel my hands. A lady asked me if I wanted a pair of gloves and I jumped up and down with glee. It felt so good to put on those gloves.
I went over to check on Ryan. His family had drove in to this aid station, so I spent 15 minutes with them. We stood at the back of the truck while he put on dry clothes.
Ryan: Mom do you have gloves?
Mom: No I don’t have any.
Me: Here take my gloves.
Ryan: Dude I am not taking your gloves!
Me: Ryan, you are finishing your first damn ultramarathon today! I am guaranteeing it! Take my damn gloves and let’s go.
There was that 5 second moment of silence from everyone.
Dad: Hell yeah you’re going to finish!
Brother: Come on Ryan you can do it!
Me: Just focus on my feet and I’ll choose the path around the river running down the trail. Lean forward and let gravity finally be your friend today.
The rain had still not let up. Lightning flashes were happening more frequently. We kept it going for 2 miles pretty steady and caught up to 3 more runners. They were struggling with low energy and muscle pain. My pain was primarily chaffing. I was throwing everything out there to motivate Ryan:
If we run faster, we’ll be done sooner.
It doesn’t matter if you’re legs hurt, running is 90% mental and the rest is in your head.
He was moving and feeling great!
I on the otherhand, was fading fast. The pain from the chaffing was too painful to move. Even within the trees, there was nowhere to hide from the monsoon rain. I told Ryan to go on. He resisted and I said he had to finish his first ultramarathon. He said okay, but that he felt bad. I told him I would be right behind him. Complete lie.
Mile 43 – Hello Again Doc
After applying some grease to the impacted areas, I began to do a little jog. It still hurt, but felt good to warm up the body a bit. Behind me I heard a truck coming accompanied by 2 Search and Rescue ATVs. The truck pulled up next to me and the window rolled down …
Dr. Todd: Well hello again. Shall we do a math test?
Me: I’m alright, my hands are just numb from freezing.
Race Director: You want my gloves?
Me: That would be awesome!
Race Director: Here … just leave them at the medical cabin. Pretty sure you’ll be visiting there after you finish.
I can’t remember a time that I ever went into beast mode … until now. Those gloves were like a warmth of energy shooting through my body. I could move my hands now and being able to feel that provided me momentum. The truck and Search & Rescue pulled ahead of me. I viewed it as my own personal escort and started the charge. My elbows were swinging, I was dodging pool sized puddles, the pouring rain increased intensity, and thunder echoed louder.
For 2 miles I laid the hammer down. Sub-10 minute miles and cranking out as hard as I could. Some of the cold shaking started to subside. I came out of the trees under the powerlines and started the slight incline.
Waiting for me was Ken Chlouber, Leadville Race Series Founder. How the hell am I supposed to walk when he’s cheering me on?
Ken: Keep going! You have 2.5 miles and you can make it!
Me: Thank you Ken!
I made it up the powerlines incline and jogged on. Re-entering the forest again, I started to get disoriented. I wasn’t sure if I was on the course because the trail had turned into a lake from the rain. To continue, I was off the side of the trail going through trees. Finally I saw the pink course tags which was reassuring.
Less than a mile later, I heard a Search and Rescue ATV approaching. I slowed to a stop with my head hanging down.
S&R: Is that a stop to catch your breath?
Me: I don’t know.
Staring contest begins. The voices in my head were silent. Everyone had checked out.
S&R: How are you feeling?
Me: Honestly … can’t stop shaking, dizzy, and want to throw-up.
S&R: You know what that sounds like?
Me: Yes I do.
At this point, I had 2 miles to go and 20 minutes to get there. Looking down the trail, all I could see was water. After almost 14 hours climbing mountains, I chose to call it a day for safety. It was a solid day of pushing my body in elements and training.
They helped me onto the back of the ATV and off to the finish line for medical attention.
The door opened to the medic cabin and guess who the first person I saw was?
Dr. Todd: You!
Me: Ah damn let me explain.
Race Director: I thought for sure you were going to finish!
I looked to my left and there was my family. It was so cold at the finish line, that they moved the kids into the cabin to stay warm. My wife gave me a bag of dry clothes to change into. Once I dropped my soaked clothes into a pile, I was wrapped in sleeping bags and sat down on a cot. Two of my daughters climbed in with me, but I couldn’t stop shaking, so had to lay down. It is such a strange feeling to lose control of my body like that.
Laying on the cot, my son noticed that my involuntarily shaking was moving the entire bed. The doctor decided to move me to the Hazmat truck that was set at 91 degrees. That sounded nice.
My son came with me into the truck. I sat down and the doc brought me a Coke to drink.
Sitting right next to me was Ryan and his family. He thanked me again and showed me the 3rd place award for his age group he received. Not only did he finish his first ultramarathon with 4 minutes to spare, he received an age group award! Very cool!
Me: Hey Ryan, congratulations on becoming an ultramarathoner today. Nobody can ever take that away from you.
Ryan: Thanks for being out there and pulling me through.
Me: I provided encouragement, but it’s the action you choose to take that makes the difference.
My son and I talked for awhile about the last few miles. I mentioned the hail and he said they were driving during that storm. Sounds like the hail cracked our windshield. That’s about how I felt in it.
Ryan’s Dad came over to me …
His Dad: You are all certifiably insane.
Me: Well I do have 4 kids.
Dad: We have 5!
Me: Well than I have no excuse!
High—fives, laughing, and immediate bond.
Dad: Thank you for watching out for my son.
Me: Absolutely. He’s a smart kid that proved something incredible to himself today.
The Race Director and Race Doctor had a chat about me. Apparently they heard the story of Ryan and I.
Dr. Todd: So we talked and decided you earned this.
Handed me a Finisher’s coffee mug.
Dr. Todd: Not many people would have done that. You would have had an extra 15 minutes to finish if you hadn’t.
Wow … warmth and a smile washed over me. Even now I get a little emotional thinking about it. The race for me turned from finishing to getting Ryan to the finish line to survival mode. It was a day filled with epic weather elements and life-impacting decisions. No regrets and only feel stronger from the experience.