A Year of Lessons

The other night I grabbed an issue of Trail Runner Magazine from my desk to read in bed. I flipped through the pages and read a blurb about Anna Frost, and then I found an insiders guide to UTMB – The World’s Greatest Trail Race, the article was dubbed. Then I hit a few pages displaying the photo contest winners for 2015. 2015? I looked at the cover and it was the January 2016 issue. Look at that, a nice glimpse of the sport from a couple years ago. Then I thought… shit, that’s been sitting on my desk for two years. Get it together, man.

Time goes fast, and if you don’t stop and clear off your desk every once in while, stuff piles up and gets forgotten. I haven’t written in this blog in almost a year. A lot has happened in that time—a lot learned. The last time I wrote I came off a bad DNF that made me re-evaluate my relationship to running, among other life stuff. I found myself lying down on the side of the trail near the end of the race, giving up.   It sucked, but it was a wake-up call.

I took time off from running, and time off from everything, really. I took care of some life shit. But this isn’t a blog about life shit, or the overly-dramatic existential crisis I found myself in after that DNF. It’s about running. It’s time to go through and sort out what I’ve gathered over the last year so it doesn’t fall by the wayside, or end up forgotten in a clutter on my desk.

I’m not giving advice. There are plenty of people offering advice on running, good advice, and I’m not nearly as qualified to do so. I’ve had some decent results at some competitive ultras, but I have a long way to go. I’m sharing some of the lessons I’ve gathered since that DNF that seem to be working for me, so I don’t forget. I will say this about my running though; I love this sport more than the next guy. I feckin’ love it.

  • Study the course, especially the course profile. I used to go into races blind to the course profile, thinking that if I didn’t know how long the climb lasts, then I wont think about what’s ahead. Dumb. Knowing exactly when each climb and descent is going to hit, how big it is, and how many miles allows me to mentally prepare for it, as well as get dialed in on nutrition. I’ll slam multiple gels before big climbs and go with higher caffeinated ones.
  • Eat and drink A LOT early in the race. This wouldn’t work for everyone, but I’ve found that taking in more calories than I used to early in the race helps me maintain a harder pace, much longer. I’ve heard and read various studies that say your body can only absorb a range of 150-250 calories an hour in endurance activity. That’s B.S. I bet those studies weren’t conducted on someone running a hard pace for hours upon hours on end. I drink much more water, too. At Run Rabbit my legs cramped up really bad at mile 23. I peed and it was brown. I stopped, stretched, and drank two full bottles of water as I went from 6th place to 14th. After a mile of shuffling to let the water absorb, I started cruising and never cramped again, showing me the cramps I often struggle with are very much related to hydration.
  • Wear what’s comfortable. Courtney Dauwalter’s shorts. That.
  • Don’t look at the other guys training. Strava is a good tool, but it’s a double-edged sword. I stopped posting my training (except for races) and stopped looking at others. I don’t want to see the 100, 120 mile training weeks the other guys have stacked up that I’ll be running against. It does me no good to compare my training, which is often far less, to theirs. Come race day, all that matters is who throws down.
  • Quality > Quantity training. We’re in an era of high mileage ultra training. Strava  fuels it. There is nothing wrong with consistent 90, or 100+ mile weeks. If you can rock that, power to ya, that’s awesome. I can’t. Maybe someday I will, but I break down if I do too much mileage. To make up for it, I make sure to nail crucial workouts. For instance, I came off a nasty bout with the flu before a condensed one-month training block for Sean O’Brien. During my peak training week, still fatigued from the flu, I took two days off so I would be fresh for a hard effort, long run. I needed to nail that run to feel confident going into SOB. Had I gone into it fatigued, it would have been a slog and had me worried for the race. Instead, I was peppy, well-rested and nailed it. Less = More.
  • Simplify everything. Minimize gear, clothing, food and drink options. Minimize drop bags and what’s inside them. I study what’s offered at the aid stations, use them for resupply if possible and know exactly what I need going into each one. Minimize/eliminate crew. It’s just more logistics and planning I can do without. Ultras tend to suck for crews anyway. I’d prefer they drink beer at the finish line and have a good time instead of driving all day on dirt roads and waiting around for me. Simplify travel plans. Pack a light suitcase. Don’t forget the water bottle. Less = More
  • Time off after big races. This one took a couple times of sticking to it, and not getting back into training after a couple days, to realize the benefit.  I won’t start training again until I feel completely recovered and, more importantly, I really miss it.  At least a couple of weeks off.  I’ll still exercise a bit, but no running. Opens up time and energy to do some other things too, like make a fool of myself at Ronika’s dance-workout class. I 100% do not know how to move my hips.
  • Sharpen mental fitness. After that DNF I spent time thinking about how to deal with the dark place and overcome the wall when it hits late in a race. Confronting it again at Run Rabbit, I used a new tactic. I asked for more. “Is that all the pain you got? Is that it? I want more.” I said to the wall, over and over again. It helped. It weakened its hold on me. At a certain point around mile 82, up at 10,500’ outside Steamboat Springs, somewhere around 3 or 4 in the morning, if you were in the right place on the course, you’d see a guy chasing a little white light in front of him, grumbling out loud through the night forest, “Is that all you got, motherfucker? Is that all you got…”
  • Race specific training. The last few races I’ve studied the splits of the runners who’ve completed the race in a time I’m shooting for. I study their pace on all the climbs and descents and then train to match it. For Run Rabbit I did a ton of weight-vest power hiking. For SOB all the climbs and descents are around 500’ per mile. I knew on one particular descent I’d be pushing a sub-6 minute pace. So I found the only couple spots in Tucson that have runnable 500’/mile grade, and practiced running hard efforts up, and sub-6 down.
  • Always bring my “A” game, even if it’s a “B” race. When I DNF’d, it was a “B” race, and I didn’t do much mental or physical preparation for the race. I thought I’d wing it. That didn’t go well. Since then, I raced a 15K “B” race leading into Transrockies, and a 50K “B” race leading into SOB.   I went in dialed, knew exactly the pace I wanted to hit, and executed it like it was a goal race. I’ll never bring my “B” game to a race again.

Finally, I’ve been learning how to be the runner I want to be. If you’ve read this blog you’ve noticed that it’s written from the perspective of someone who is looking up to the best guys and gals in the sport in awe. Well, I still look at them in awe, but now I look to the side, not up. At a certain point I had to convince myself that they aren’t all better than me, at a level I’ll never reach. I had to trick myself into thinking that I can meet them at their level. Pam Reed helped me with that. I was stretching in the hot tub at the gym when she stepped in the tub. We got to talking about running, naturally. She never said who she was, but I knew she was the legendary Pam Reed who has won the Badwater 135 miler, outright, a couple of times and I’ve watched her interview on Letterman. I told her about all the really fast guys in the sport these days.  I talked about the fierce competition and how I don’t think I’ll ever compete with the best of um. I won’t forget her response.

“Don’t give them anything! Don’t give them shit! As soon as you give them that in your mind, they have that over you. You need go out there and know you can win. Don’t let them have anything over you.” She reiterated. “Don’t give them anything!”

I’d imagine she didn’t give anything to ultra-star Dean Karnazes when he came in 2nd place to her, the 42-year-old mother of five, at the ’03 Badwater.  She passed him at mile 111.

I unwrapped my second golden ticket to Western States. I’m looking forward to the upcoming training block and all the stuff I have yet to learn. And there’s one last thing I have to keep reminding myself along the way…

Don’t take it too seriously, it’s just running.

 Teammate Catlow Shipek and I, Transrockies Run.   Photo:Transrockies RunTransRockies Finish   Photo: TransRockies Run   Run Rabbit Run 100    Photo: Paul NelsonSean O-Brien 100K   Photo: Billy Yang


From the Depths of the Slump

“Many hands began to scan/around for the next plateau
Some said it was Greenland/and some say Mexico
Others decided it was nowhere/except for where they stood
But those were all just guesses/Wouldn’t help you if they could”

–  Nirvana, Plateau

Sometimes you gotta’ walk across the street, sit on your neighbor’s porch and look at your house.  If you’re not friends with your neighbor, then do it when they aren’t home. It looks different from over there. I’m not sure if it’s simply the change in perspective. I suppose that’s part of it. Looking at my house, those adolescent Palo Verde trees that I planted a couple of years ago don’t look so young—they look tall, distinguished and proud. And our faded, off-color pink house, built in the 1940’s, and once probably a vibrant splash of color in the neighborhood, doesn’t look so dull anymore. It looks pretty darn chic silhouetting those green Palo Verde trees.

It’s fresh to see the house differently from my neighbor’s porch, but that’s not all I see, and that’s not where the feeling generates–that airy feeling in the gut, kind of like getting butterflies before a big presentation, or the first time walking up to the rim of the Grand Canyon.  A mood brews from seeing it over there. I begin to perceive the house, and my life, from someone else’s home and life. I see it from a stranger’s vantage, looking in. And then it’s not mine anymore and I’m the stranger. I look through those half-open blinds behind the large living-room window and try to imagine what goes on inside, like Ebenezer Scrooge catching a glimpse of the past, present, and future, all at once. I squint my eyes to sharpen my sight, and I see me. And I’m obliged to look at my life, my whole goddamn life, in that little faded pink house with those handsome Palo Verde trees out front. I get all this from a quick jaunt across the street to the neighbor’s porch. I recommend you bring a cocktail over there; you may want to stay awhile, and shit gets deep.

I see a guy in a slump. His job is unfulfilling and it’s sucking the life from him. I see the best salesman in the city, he could sell ice to an Eskimo, but he can’t seem to sell himself on being a salesman. He’s reached a plateau, and the real quandary is, it’s a nice plateau with a great view. He’s got a good income at a flexible gig that allows him to do pretty much whatever he wants (run), whenever he wants (everyday). And this guy, this poor bastard, he can’t seem to find satisfaction in it. He has a loving, caring and beautiful wife, who does everything she can to help him along, but he remains perpetually discontent. Maybe it’s a curse, or maybe he’s just a jackass. He should have a bubble cloud that surrounds him at all times which reads, “First World Problems –> This Guy.”

I accept that. Truth is, I am grateful for my life, everyday. I have absolutely nothing to complain about. But… But there’s this unfulfilling thing. This pesky little fly that keeps landing on my face and no matter how many times I swat it away, it keeps buggin’ me. This thing that was once just a small slice of the “I’m a happy person pie” has cooked into a much bigger slice. A slice that’s gotten so big it’s taking over the whole goddamn happy-person pie. Perhaps it’s getting older, everything was working fine through the 20’s. All was good as long as I was running and making money and paying bills and hanging out with my lady and going out to eat and seeing friends and planning a trip to my next race.

That does seem nice, huh? Ah, but how distracting this is from the harsh reality that I’m plunging deeper into my 30’s with no direction at all, no idea where to go, only wandering (and running) around and around in circles on my comfortable little plateau, slowly getting closer to the edge and peeking out, but unable to find a way off. Stuck.

That’s where I was at mile 41 of the Whiskey Basin 88k. Stuck. I ran comfortably and enjoyed the first 35 miles with my good friend, Catlow Shipek, which was great. He went on to win-–very proud of my buddy. But I started to fade, and I got tired. And then I started walking. And then, at mile 41, I didn’t want to walk anymore. I grew so weak, it was a feat to pick my leg up off the ground and move it in front of the other leg. So I laid down on the side of the trail, and took a nap.

You hear about the “dark place” and “the wall” all the time from runners.  Too much really, and I’m no exception. I’m over hearing about it, but I will relinquish one last insight on the matter. We pull through these hard times and we live to tell about it. And to get through them, we rely on mental fitness above the physical. Tap the reservoir of willpower, conquer doubts, and propel forward. The head must be fit in order to do this. When I decided to lay down at 41, the wall was so big I couldn’t see over it, I couldn’t even see the top.  The reservoir had been running on fumes since the race began. Physically, I had all I needed to finish.  But there was something else required at that point and it wasn’t available, or if it was, I couldn’t find it. And this is the test we seek in ultrarunning, there’s the heart of the sport.

Life and running rely on each other. Some runners, like Kaci Licktieg, run with joy filling their tank, wearing a smile. Other runners, like Rob Krar, have openly shared how they find their reservoir filled from the other end of the spectrum, battling issues such as depression. In each case, they refine this fuel and use it to blaze through the hard points in a race like warriors. But I’ll tell ya this, the last place you want to be caught when the great dark wall approaches you late in a race, is stuck high up on Plateau Purgatory, with nothin’ in the tank.

Pink Floyd The Wall – The Trail.  Fan Art by: iam16bits  iam16bits.deviantart.com

Showers and Flower Powers: BC100k, MC50k

Here’s a salute to the courses. To those twisty turvy single-track trails that plunge headfirst past the asphalt edges of the city and deep into the shrewd, unspoiled peaks that lurk over us on the horizon, laughing down on us busy fools. Here’s to the races that send us to those mountains – giving us reason to take the plunge. And here’s to finding adventure among the elements on an otherwise boring day.

At Black Canyon 100k this year I was fortunate enough to battle the rain, cold, and mud. Living in Arizona, an opportunity like this comes few and way far between. For a storm to fall on a race day – spectacular.   And so it went. It was difficult and it was awesome. The mud hit hard. It felt like my feet were landing in some stubborn asshole-glue that kept trying to steal my damn shoes off me. Sort of like those dreams when you’re running as hard as you can, but are going incredibly slow and it feels paralyzing.  That kind of mud. But there’s no resentment here. I felt like Frodo Baggins on my 61 mile journey and the mud was just another obstacle, another scene written in the script. And that wizard Gandalf? Well he’s the damn mountains that kept laughing at us idiots for running around all day in the muck for no apparent reason.

Photo: Diane Manzini (and photo below)

My buddy Lucas Tyler emerging from the mist en route to his first 100k finish

SweetM Images

One month later was Mesquite Canyon 50k. Know what happens to the mountains in March after they get a bunch of February rain? They blow up in a dazzling display of desert wildflowers. It was unreal. I guess the desert had a “super bloom” this year. I was straight up prancing and frolicking my way through a Georgia O’Keeffe painting. And yeah, I went with prancing and frolicking here because, well, what do you do among ten zillion blotches of yellow, red, blue and green? You prance, that’s what you do. And you frolic. The fact that it was record-setting heat that day (high 97) was another element, and another welcomed hurdle. Because on every long climb as I began to sweat profusely, and as my heart rate started to fire, and as I found myself getting more and more irritated and defeated by the heat, I took a moment to look up and see what was around me. You can’t be pissed in a super bloom. Ya just can’t.

Photo: Jon Christley

SweetM Images (Both Photos)

Aravaipa Running put me on their racing team this year and I have to say thank you for putting these races together, and giving me some adventures. Kudos to all the race directors out there who find awesome routes in remarkable places to get us out there, if only for one day.

Michael Carson of Aravaipa took some great footage from the races, check it out if you want a glimpse into the adventure. Don’t get distracted by the guy running though, the real show is what’s around him.


Ford Canyon is a technical section from miles 26-28 of the MC50K course

Videographer: Michael Carson / Aravaipa Running  (I ran this at a decent clip holding a water bottle. He ran with me while holding a stick with a nice camera on the end and managed to film the entire canyon without a hitch.  He deserves an award.)




Confessions of a Steam Room Junkie

6d7b17c666ef6194fcf9f0f01c765d12The Rat Pack

“Ultra-runners are like cockroaches… They always find a way to survive.                                    –Dr. Craig Smith PT DPT

They are out to get me. My right heel is throbbing and sore to the touch from developing a Haglund’s deformity.   Haglund’s a jerk. There’s a small bump under my left knee on my tibia that screams post-run. This isn’t to be confused with the other two large lumps under both knees – inconsiderate leftovers from a nasty case of Osgood Schlatter’s disease when I was a teen. Osgood’s a real chump too. I have two fallen metatarsals on each foot that take a constant beating from my mid-forefoot strike. I’ve got a Morton’s nueroma the size of a small marble in my right foot that comes and goes with the sensation of a fillet-knife being jammed into the top of my third toe. Morton, you turd. I have another strange swelling behind my left knee that is unidentifiable, even by ultrasound. I’ve got bow-legs, weak hips, no butt, and over-pronate. My hammies, quads, and adductor’s are so tight I haven’t been able to sit Indian-style since 8th grade. And, my back hurts from driving too much.

Forget the past, these are the bastard enemies that assault me as we speak. And this is only the physical attack; I’ll spare you the broad list of mental deformities that flank me from my blind side. So, what does one do to keep going in the face of such cruel adversaries? I’ll tell you the first step of the resistance – get free podiatry by marrying into the practice. Step one complete. Thank you Ronika and Dr. Hutch.

Step two – new-age, alternative-medicine homeopathic hippy-shit. Oh yes, I’m all about it. Perhaps a visit to my Chinese medicine practitioner who sticks me full of needles and sends electronic pulses through the pins, making my muscles bounce around like a furious twitch. Or he’ll put suction cups on my back (cupping), leaving me with large, round hickeys that look as though I’ve been abducted by kinky aliens who’ve performed odd and malicious experiments on me. Or he’ll do some deep tissue massage – so goddamn deep that I have to bite down on a towel and scream from his sadistic attempts to “drudge out” those stubborn hammies.

Perhaps I’ll take it easier and make a visit to the float tank, or “sensory deprivation tank.” Basically they fill a large tub with room temperature water and pack it so full of Epson salt that you float on top of the water like a dead fish. A happy, dead fish.   With all sound and light removed, you’re left weightless and senseless as you simply lay there… and float. I like to go in for an hour and a half. Have you ever just floated in complete silence and darkness for an hour and a half? Sure, it’s a little weird. But hey, so is running 100 miles – let’s get weird. Not only do you leave with a cleared out headspace, but it’s like taking an Epson salt bath on steroids – great for the sore body.

Or maybe a trip to Tucson Community Acupuncture. On a sliding scale of $15-$35 you can go in and get fired up with needles. Then you zonk out in, hands down, the best mid-day napping scene Tucson has to offer – a dimly lit room with about 15 cozy recliner-chairs equipped with blankets and accompanied by relaxing, sleepy mood-music to drift off to. It’s like visiting an opium den. Except healthy. At least that’s what they tell me. To be honest, I’m not convinced it actually does anything. It’s a great nap though… big fan of the nap.

Or maybe I’ll just fill myself with some over-priced health food and alternative beverages. Kombucha, get in my belly and deliver your magical mysterious probiotic whatnot! WholeFoods salad bar, you sneaky bastard, you got me again. Damn this delicious $15 pile of vegetables! They don’t account for ultra-runners requiring at least 1.5 lbs in that box. It’s a love/hate relationship.

Oh and one of my favorites… foot massage. Now my wife does a great job at this, she really does (and I return the favor, I swear), but sometimes I need the real deal. I call in the pros. Ever drive by one of those places in strip malls that say “Reflexology” or simply “Foot Massage?” Ever wonder who frequents those establishments? This guy. For $25 you get a half hour of pure bliss as they give those beat-up, howlin’ dogs the best rubdown life has to offer.   And they sure need it – those who’ve had the misfortune of seeing my feet are met with a plea not to call the authorities and report this grotesque case of abused pups.  I wonder what the masseuse thinks of them… a challenge, I suppose.  But I wouldn’t know, there’s no English spoken here, so no need for small-talk.  Nope… just close the eyes, lay back and treat yo’self.

How do I pay for all this nonsense? I have a secret. You see, I have direct-deposit from work and a shared bank account with Ronika. So I can’t use the card… it can be traced back to me. But I’ve found a loophole in the system. Every month I get a gas reimbursement check for all the driving around that’s made out to cash. Fun money. Treat yo’self money. Or, in more practical terms, it’s preventative health-care money, honey.

I don’t always act in cahoots.  I launch my own strategic retaliation against the enemies. Stretching, yoga, foam rolling, core work, plyometric work, resistance band work – all in the arsenal. I pad my shoes in all sorts of different ways for the foot stuff. I sleep with toes spacers on for the neuroma. Ice. Heat. Compression. It’s all in the tool kit. And finally and most importantly, I’ve found the one true, revitalizing cure-all – the steam room.

I was introduced to the steam room in college, and I’ve been hooked since. The hot tub is the gateway drug. The dry sauna is on par, and often preferable in wet climates, but in the desert it’s all about the steam room. Now, a lot of guys will chat it up in there. I think some of the world’s most perplexing problems were talked out and resolved over a steam session. But that’s not my style. I bring eucalyptus essential oil spray in, fire it up, spray the steamer, and let the sweat lodge begin.  This is serious business.

I steam long and I steam hard. I sweat out all the nasty stuff going on in my body. All the aches and pains, worries and frustrations – steam it away. There’s a reason Native Americans have used steam in their sweat lodge purification ceremonies for thousands of years. They’re on to something.  And the best hangover cure known to man? Steam. Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack were known for playing evening shows, partying all night, sleeping all day, steam-room session at 5PM, and doing it all over again. I dig their style. I have a gym membership for the sole purpose of the steam room. I don’t like weights, I go for the Executive Workout. I’ll leave you with the Urban Dictionary definition of such. Now get out there for some real cross-training and treat yo’ self.

Executive Workout

It is way to groove your body all three times a day in one workout. This workout conditions your cardio, core and endurance. Step 1 dry sauna for no less than 15 minutes, must not have any water or a towel. This portion of the workout will get your blood flowing like a race horse. Step 2 Jacuzzi for 15 minutes, the scorching hot water goes directly into pores which strengthens your core. Have you had enough yet? The final leg of the workout brings us back into the locker room for the Eucalyptus Steam Room. Test your endurance to see how long you can make it. Any less than 15 minutes you have failed. If you can accomplish this workout, you are a true Executive. If not you will be stuck in middle management for the rest of your life. Good Luck.

Guest Post: Thank You

Guest Author: Doug Loveday

So I’m driving around Tucson for work today and I start smiling from cheek to cheek, and then laughing inside, and then laughing out loud. I had been looking at the Southwest corner of the Catalinas thinking about the pureness and hardiness of ultra-running which led me to contemplating on the Grand-Daddy of them all: Western States. That in itself is not so funny, in fact it is pretty daunting even to the most seasoned ultra-runner. So why was I laughing like a fool on the surface streets of the Old Pueblo on a Tuesday? To answer that we have to go back to last October…

Javalina Jundred 2015. I talked myself onto the job (there were very few applicants) of pacing the “in-house” author of this blog Charlie Ware for his first successful 100 mile run. Joining him after 62 miles I was partnering with a young man going into the unknown after a punishing full day out on the trail. We were both first timers: me as a pacer and him running over 62 miles. What then transpired was an exhibition of fortitude and commitment that I will never forget as Charlie proceeded to gracefully (yeah he runs smoothly even after pounding the dirt and rocks >10 hrs) knock out a 16:30 hundy. After a brief recovery we: Charlie, his wife Ronika and myself were all giddy with what had just happened…significantly happened. I’m not talking about someone posting a pic of a double scoop ice cream cone on facebook under the heading: “This just happened.” What Charlie did finishing only a few minutes behind Karl Meltzer as a hundy virgin was momentous…still gives me chills.

By February 2016 Charlie had carried his Javalina fitness and momentum to produce an ~8:42 100K at Black Canyon, behind only another legend in Sage Canaday. In doing so he won himself a Western States Golden Ticket.

So now this is getting real…from two respective rookies and Ronika at Javalina to a convoy converging on Lake Tahoe. Real cool, and real intimidating. Charlie has already written in detail about what a great group we had there…and how the race played out. But what stuck out to me and elicited laughter even so many months after was what happened right after what was probably the lowest point for Charlie. After joining up for pacing duties at Forest Hill (mi 62) and after much coaxing on our (Catlow, Lisa, Ronika and Charlie’s parents) part, and much panting and a little delirium on Charlie’s part we started walking on course. I suggested we walk for 3 minutes and then try a slow jog. We passed the inflatable sponsor arc and timing pad for the official Forest Hill check point and continued down the main town drag. We slowly began our negotiated jog. Granted, we were going slow, but Charlie, shirtless, tanned and rippling with muscles that don’t always appear to serve a useful purpose other than to shamelessly exist, was getting a few hoots and hollers from the side street cafes. We then passed in front of another such establishment with outdoor seating with a table of onlookers enjoying their late afternoon drinks. A woman simply purveyed the runner in front of her, and instead of seeing a broken athlete who was distraught at that moment, she paid Charlie the simplest of compliments that we all hear daily: “Thank you.” It was spoken to Charlie with the intonation that inferred this was not for any service rendered other than being there, at that moment, living life strongly with courage, gracefully and perhaps while providing an appeasing view. That “Thank you” stuck with me the next 38 miles, and most likely with Charlie too as he rebounded and laid down a 20 hr. first time Western States despite some setbacks.

So I text Charlie today, some 5 months later: “Do you remember that lady after the Forest Hill aid station……that said “Thank you?” That was awesome!”

Thanks for reading : )

p.s. and he did!


Studying up pre-Western.

Guest Post: My First Ultra

Guest Author: Mike Fitzgerald

As the plane circles Tucson, I begin wondering how I got myself into this. It’s my first ultra-marathon, and the only thing I can see from my window are huge mountains that surround the entire city. Before the plane lands, I feel the anxiousness start at the pit of my stomach and work its way through my extremities: is my foot going to be alright? What about the elevation change? I’ve never hit the 30 mile mark before. My Achilles have been brutal the last few months. Did I train enough? The list continues. 

 All these things sink in for roughly 30 seconds before I snap out of it; I didn’t come all this way for a participation trophy. I came to finish a 34 mile race. An obnoxious voice in the back of my head repeats, “If you ain’t first you’re last. C’mon Ricky Bobby!” I think about that beautiful thing back home who patiently watched me train, and all my family and friends who have wished me luck going into this. The plane hasn’t even landed yet, so I tell myself to quit all that self-deprecating nonsense, and trust the training won’t wind up with a DNF.

I get scooped up from the airport by my buds and we have a few pre-race beers. The following morning, the 4 am alarm sounds, we inhale some of my buddy’s wife’s amazing oatmeal, and drive 45 minutes outside of town. We get out of the car and I am overcome by the black shadow line of the mountains against the horizon. It’s like a large creature is lifting itself up against the stars waiting for us to traipse across its belly and race into the desert. I begin to clam up as I start to outline a plan in my head. Like most large endeavors, I refer back to one of my favorite riddles of all time: “How do you eat a horse?” In other words, how do you tackle such an immense undertaking without getting overwhelmed? The answer is, “One bite at a time.” There are 6 segments with 5 aid stations so have a game plan for each one, breaking the course up into little pieces and developing a strategy for each.  I remember my sister-in-law’s text from the night before, “stay ahead of hydration” which I repeat 100 times over the next 7 hours. Before I know it, I hear the National Anthem and we get going.

Out of the gate I want to take it slow and find a group with a comfortable pace while I get used to the climb. As a pack, we come over the hill and down into a dried up river bed. Ahead I see slow movers and wobbling knees. We begin running through sand. I am shocked. Sand. Really? For some reason this was completely unexpected. I hear that voice in the back of my head, this time nagging, “Hey fella. You’re in the desert. What did you expect?” I follow the group into aid station 1 and begin to feel more comfortable.

The second leg starts the climb from 3100′ up to 4200′. I keep it steady and pass a few folks. Most of my technique revolves around good old gravity: climb slow and let my body weight carry me down the slopes. After the second aid station I feel the turnaround approaching, but I didn’t want to get ahead of myself.  I remember to walk the rough climbs, shuffle up the hills, and focus on getting to the next station. I pass a few friends and we holler at each other going by. I cruise into the mile 17 aid station feeling confident.

At the turnaround, I refuel with some hardened peanut butter sandwiches, Oreos, and an over salted boiled potato. The legs and feet feel good following the climb, and now I just need to make it back down to the start. As I leave the gate, I run down the hills and pass a few more runners. Everything seems to be going well and I stay conservative, knowing there are roughly 12 more miles after the next aid station.

The second to last stage takes its toll on me. The course is wide open and I’ve been out there for more than 5 hours at this point. Someone creeps up from behind and passes me as I head into what I call the Abyss. This is my overly dramatic term for when I approach distances I have never reached before. For me, anything after 26.2 is the Abyss, the Unknown. Everything seems to be holding together until I fall somewhere around mile 28. I get up, dust off my hands, legs, ego, and focus on enjoying the scenery as I pull into the last aid station. Here I refuel and fill up my pack for the last time. The impeccable outhouses are a sight for sore eyes and the supportive volunteers are cheering everyone on. I leave the last aid station feeling like this. (The reality is I probably looked something more like this. ) The final stage feels similar to the last: slow, hot, and the soreness starting to set in. I climb up and down, pass through my beloved sand, and hear someone coming up behind me; there’s no way this person behind me is going to pass. I make it to the top of a ridge and circle around to the north side of the hill somewhere around mile 32. Something clicks and I pick up the pace. The shade and downward slope push me along, until I reach the dried up river bed right before the start line. I climb up the hill, pass through the starting arch, and see everyone cheering and hollering. I run through the finish line and jump up onto the “gallows”, raising my arms and feeling like the Bills just won the Super Bowl.

I high-five one of my buds and the race director approaches. “Congratulations, etc., etc. Here is your finishing rock!” In the back of my head I say, “I spent the last 7 hours avoiding these you son-of-a-b*%$!. My feet are killing me and you want to hand me a rock?” I subdue my sarcasm, take a breath and begin to feel a great sense of gratitude to all these crazy folks who come out and host ultras like the CV 50/50. They’re all over the course giving us water, food, fuel, and the occasional, “Smile, you paid to do this!”

If you’re wondering what it feels like to cross the finish line at an ultra-marathon, imagine this: you ascend into heaven and someone hands you a beer, chocolate milk, and a plate of Greek food. At the finish, there’s no cell reception, no huge medical team, not even a proper bathroom- just a row of outhouses. I see my buds sitting in the shade cheering on the runners and enjoying the 100 person post-race. The atmosphere is more camaraderie than celebration, and I start to see why other people do this.

On the way home we stop for some beers and talk about the race. I did this race with guys I’ve known since elementary school, and the three of us are all at various stages of running. Charlie has been doing hundred milers and winning races (when not writing/hosting blog posts) which is pretty incredible. Jon has always been a hell of an athlete wherever he put his talents. We have kept in touch via weddings, social media, texts, but nothing too consistent. When we found out we could make this happen, it was a no brainer.

All weekend we talk over beers, food, and a deep soreness in our legs. The conversation spanned everything from politics and the election to a not-so-border line McConaughey man crush. I don’t think we actually agreed on anything, but sitting and listening was pretty gratifying to hear the perspectives. Between the two of them, they have lived a thousand lives and worked every job imaginable, from a blogging cage fighter to a roaming farm hand in Europe. After knowing these guys for so long, I recognize the difference between the resume and the man. It usually follows drinking a few diet pops, absorbing what they have to say, and ignoring conventional wisdom.  

My first glimpse into ultra-running exposed what type of folks do this and who they are. I’ll close with why I wanted to take this on. When people ask about running an ultra, the underlying tone is usually, “Oh so you’re a sociopath? You want to run for 7 hours straight?” After considering the question myself, I’ve come to two conclusions. The first: running is a you versus yourself, versus yourself, versus yourself activity. Your ambitions can be as brutal or as gentle as you’d like. There is always room for improvement and there are always new trails and landscapes to explore. The second is a little more of that “find yourself” stuff you hear all the time. Whenever I go out for a run, I can excavate all the stress, expectations, and obligations sitting inside of my stomach, and let them dissolve into the ground. It usually takes several miles to get the brain and body churning together for that excavation process, but eventually it’ll happen (or maybe that just sweat and 5,000 calories leaving your body). Whatever it is, it’ll keep you coming back. 

The CV 50/50 allowed me to exercise those ideas, reconnect with some buds and experience some incredible scenery. If I can wrap all these things up in a 3 day weekend, I’ll keep signing up for these damn things. See you folks on the trails…

Big shout out to my bud Charlie for hosting us and having me give a write up. Great fun.


Buddies from way back in the day – Jon Pritchard, Mike Fitzgerald (author), me.


UROC 100K ~ Chasing the Herron

“Never underestimate how much assistance, how much satisfaction, how much         comfort, how much soul and transcendence there might be in a well-made taco and a cold bottle of beer.”
― Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume

It’s around mile 56 when I realize who is wearing the pants in this relationship. I’m running a strong race – podium contention. Her race is stronger. Ah yes, her race. Now, this aint my first rodeo running an entire race with the lead female runner. (See: A Marathon Tale) Call me a ladies man, what can I say? Fact is, I’ve worked hard for years and I’m finally running with the top-tier of athletes – female athletes.

Camille Herron (2015 IAU 100K and 50K champ) and I play leapfrog all day throughout the race at the UROC 100K. At one point around mile 22 she misses a turn that wasn’t well marked and I catch up to her as she runs toward me in a puzzled backtrack. We pick a trail that we assume must be the way to go and run up a very steep two-mile climb, hoping with each step that we are heading in the right direction as we go on over 20 minutes without seeing a course marker. There is no quicker way to change the attitude of running against someone, to running with someone, than to be in the top five of a race and not know if you’re on course. And, if you are not, then each step you commit to the direction you’ve chosen is one more step into fucking up your race.

We get lucky and gasp our relief upon seeing an aid station. We are on course. The leapfrogging continues. I pull ahead a bit on the uphill, she breezes back by on the flats – looking effortless and ambitious. This lasts until around mile 48 when I’m cramping up a bit and start loosing ground. She soars ahead.

And then, unexpectedly, as I run into the 52 aid I see her sitting on the tailgate of her crews’ truck. What happened?  Goddamn, she looks like a train-wreck.  A serious train wreck – we are talking complete derailment. I’m not sure how someone can look this rough and continue on with the race.  Wish I knew what was going on with her,  she’ll win $5,000 if she can just finish out these last ten miles!  I fuel up and she attempts to follow me out of the station. It looks as though she’s commencing on an early morning, disheveled walk of shame after a fierce night of hard libations.   Doesn’t sound too good either – I hear the groan of a dying horse behind me as I pull away, feeling sorry for her epic blow up, yet optimistic that even if this horse in agony can hobble to the finish, the woman’s podium is still waiting for her with the large lead she has accrued.  Well shit, what did I know.

I pull into mile 56 aid to hear a bunch of cheering.   It’s not for me. Camille is coming in behind me with a huge smile on her face as she heads to her crew. I don’t stop for long and take off. Within minutes she is running right next to me.

“Woah, I thought you were cooked! What happened?” I ask excitedly.

“I slammed two beers!” She exclaims.

“Are you serious?” I shout back, in disbelief.

“Yeeahhh. I don’t know what happened. My stomach was shot and I thought I was done, so I drank a beer. It settled my stomach down, so I had another!”

There is no more dying horse in her voice, for now I am running next to Julia Childs. An excited and buzzed and somewhat delirious Julia Childs is in the kitchen, and I’m gettin’ served.

“That’s fuckin’ crazy! Well looks like your feeling good now!”

“I feel so comfortably nuuummbbbb” she wails out, leaving the Pink Floyd song echoing in my ears as I watch her slingshot past me, farther and farther away until she’s out of sight.

Well, that just happened.

My legs are starting to cramp harder and more often now as I’m crossing No Hands Bridge just before the mile 59 aid station. I was on this bridge three months ago at the end of Western States. It feels so good to be back. I have to stop and stretch my calves which are seizing up, so I use the railing on the bridge to press against and push.   I glance over to the aid station 30 yards away and behold? Camille is standing there, head tilted back, guzzling the last sips of another cold one! Unbelievable, I think to myself.  She slams the bottle down and bolts away.  There goes my hero, I watch her as she goes.  I make it over to the aid station to see the bottle she just downed – Rogue Dead Guy Ale. Man she isn’t messing around. This is no Bud Light beer-flavored water. This is the real deal. I get drunk off three of these beers after a steak dinner and a loaf of bread. She is half my size, eight hours into an ultra, in sunshine and 90-degree heat. This is classic.

I finish off the race looking like a young Forest Gump with leg braces on as I waddle to the finish, leg muscles seizing and cramping til the end. I finish 4th overall, and 3rd male. Camille put 10 minutes on me in the last three miles and won her 5 large. Afterwards I pour a beer for myself and walk over to talk with Camille and her husband. We chat about what I thought was the story of the day, although I have a feeling she might not remember it.

Video Courtesy of UROC

Video Courtesy of UROC


Photo: UROC

Western States 100

“We are what we pretend to be,                                                                                                                         so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”   – Vonnegut

“Charlie, what do you do?” I’m not comfortable with this question, and am envious of those that are. It’s not that I don’t like what I do; in fact it’s quite pleasant. It’s just, ya know, I’m no doctor or venture capitalist. I have rarely stuck to anything, nor held a job too long before boredom or curiosity got the best of me and I moved on. Being defined by what we do is a hard label to avoid, and I am Pac-man dodging those pesky ghosts when the subject arises. That is, until recently.

The Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run is the oldest (since 1974), most prestigious and competitive ultra-marathon event in the country, and arguably the world. It starts on the edge of Lake Tahoe and ends 100 miles later in Auburn, CA.  Runners climb 18,000’ and descend 23,000’ as they make their way through the striking Sierra Nevada mountains along mostly single-track trail. Athletes can spend years trying to get into the race via a lottery system. This year over 3,500 people entered the lottery (after running a qualifying race) in hopes of being selecting among the mere 276 spots available. The remaining 100 or so spots are reserved for elite athletes returning from last year, sponsored athletes, special consideration, and those who “ran” their way in by winning a ticket in one of six “Golden Ticket” races the previous year. I snuck my way in with a golden ticket.

I have a crew with me – Ronika (wifey), friends Catlow and his wife Lisa, Doug (pacer extraordinaire) and Mom and Dad. I didn’t ask any of them to be here, they all volunteered to travel to the race and help me out. This, in itself, is a small victory.

The mandatory pre-race meeting, a Western States tradition, is held the day before the race. As I look around the hot, overstuffed room I see the guys and gals and families and crews and pacers that make up our senseless, mad sport. I see Jim Walmsley, Kaci Lickteig, Sage Canaday, Magdelina Boulet, Ian Sharmin and dozens of other runners. I see “ultra” celebrities that I have only heard of.  I’ve read and looked at pictures of them in various niche and eclectic magazines, websites, and podcasts – put out by fanatical freaks of the sport to geek out on with other zealous ultra-junkies like myself.   I am home. These are my people.

The morning of the race is quiet and mellow until arriving at the start line and breakfast area around 4am. The large room is packed and bustling with last-minute wardrobe adjustments, extra calorie and fluid intakes, tense bathroom lines for those desperate to release the excess baggage before the long haul, and boatloads of pre-race jitters bouncing off the walls.  It’s contagious.   The runners are ready for battle.

At 5am the gun blasts and up the 4 mile, 2500’ climb we go to the highest point we will be at all day. I am running with the best runners in the world. As the sun pops up over Lake Tahoe behind us, I feel blissful and I feel gratitude.   And then, I feel like shit.

Okay, I’m not feeling that bad, I just feel tired.   Precursor: Ronika and I came up to Northern California 5 days before the race and made a trip to Yosemite. To make a long story short, we drove hours on end and due to poor accommodations (my fault) we didn’t sleep much, at all. This continued into our arrival at Squaw Valley. Maybe those pre-race jitters got the best of me, but we found ourselves up most all of every night before the race. I am beat.

I know within the first few miles this will be an issue, but I’ve often not slept before races and after an hour or two, it all goes away and the body starts to feel alert and revived. This doesn’t happen today. Perhaps I’ve convinced myself that I am too tired and my mind won’t allow my body to snap out of it. Either way, I know I am in for a long, cruel and harrowing 100-mile race.   And this is exactly how it goes.

The Forresthill aid station at mile 62 is the first time I see my entire crew, together. Prior to this they were split into two crew teams. I walk it in, and I’m wrecked. I ask for a chair and sit down.   The six miraculous people surround me, and look at a guy in the midst of a mental and physical battle that he is surely loosing. My breaths are short and I am panting. Everyone is quiet. Well guys, this is awkward…

There comes a time in a race when you either have to give up or rearrange your goals. Had I been there alone, I most likely would have thrown in the towel. But looking around at my Mom, Dad, wife and friends who travelled from all over the country to be there, I had no choice. New goal: get the coveted Western States silver belt buckle awarded to those who finish in under 24 hours. Doug Loveday, who previously paced me and pulled me out of a real funky funk in my last 100-miler was ready to take the reins and pace me to the finish. “Well Doug, you’ve got your work cut out for you again.” I force out with a bit of a smile.

And goddamn, wouldn’t you know it, that amazing son-of-a-bitch does it again.   I’m telling you, this guy should charge for his pacing services.  I don’t know what fairy dust he sprinkled on me, but within a few miles of Forresthill we are flying sub-6 minute pace down a hill and I am screaming like Tarzan. I’m having fun now, as it should be.

From here on out I know I’ll finish, and I know I’ll go sub-24. I still have some ups and downs, but for the most part, we run it in strong and have a decent time doing it. It’s a comforting thought when you are sure you will finish, and 30 miles is no longer  intimidating, it’s just a matter of time.

Arriving to the finish line track (a track at the local high school) in Auburn, a little after 1 am is surreal. There is no more excitement to be had here. The winners and top finishers all ready came in.  The interviews were conducted.  The crowds all went home and will be back in the morning to cheer on the last of the runners. It’s a desolate, stark affair to run the track in the middle of the night, but it is fitting and it’s peaceful.  On seeing the arch, solace is poured all over me and saturates my exhausted body.  I finish the WS100 and earn the silver buckle.  My crew is there awaiting me, their day just as long as mine. We all went to battle and came out on the other end, alive.

The next day at the awards ceremony I see a field of tried and tested warriors. I see men and woman – broken and beat up, limping around and tending wounds. I see smiles and laughs, and I see discomfort and disappointment. I see so many stories. There’s Jim Walmsley, who by all accounts, floated through the race well below course record pace for 92 miles before missing a crucial turn and blowing the spectacle by running two miles off course. There isn’t one person who saw him running that day that didn’t see a man who has been to the crossroads, and came away with a pair of running legs that operate at a level far beyond any other runner out there. I see Kaci Lickteig, who on her third attempt at the race, smiled her way through the course to win with the fourth fastest woman’s time ever.   There’s Jeff Browning, who has tried for the last 12 years since his first attempt to get back in the race, and at age 42, got himself onto the podium. There’s Andrew Miller, who at 20 years old is the youngest man to win the race, ever.  And that’s Gunhild Swanson, who at age 70 last year, finished the race with only seconds to spare before the 30-hour limit making her the oldest woman to ever finish the race.

With all of us underneath the overcrowded tent, continuing to suffer in 100-degree heat but not giving two shits, I see a crowd that I belong in.  We all found something we love, something we are so passionate about that we’ve made it a part of our every day existence.   We live for this stuff!  How many people can say that have that?

Ronika smiles and asks me, “So, what do you do?”

“Ugh, I sell stuff, I don’t know.” I respond as my eyes gaze down to the grass.

“Yes you do.” She replies. “What do you do?”

I see her looking out to Mom, Dad, Catlow, Lisa, and Doug who are sitting around me, then she looks out to everyone – all the running misfits and renegades, and then she looks back at me.

“What do you do, Char?”

“I’m an ultra-runner!” …and I’m all in.

Finish line video (Courtesy of WSER)

before Pre-race meetingcatlow Walking it in to Foresthill with Catlow, don’t be deceived by the smile, I feel like death.pacer

Rucky Chucky River Crossing at mile 78 with Doug, this was fun!


My Crew! Lisa, Ronika, Mom, (Dad’s legs), Doug and Catlow at the awards ceremony. And yes, Ronika remains concerned at this point… Thanks Crew!!!


Black Canyon 100K ~ The Golden Ticket

In high desert land and I’m ready to run.
I got home court advantage under Arizona sun.
And much to my luck it’s a very hot day,
For all those elites where it’s winter away.

And this time I’m backed
With a marvelous crew.
I got my wife and my friend
And his girlfriend too!

The horn goes off and away we go,
And within a minute I’m finding my flow.
And as I forecast, the pack right away
Goes out too fast, with Sage Canaday.

Now I could hold back, and run my own race.
Or, try to keep up with this precarious pace.
But I’ve learned from the past, so I go with the former.
I bid adieu to the pack, and stick near Hal Korner.

My aid station time is cut right in half,
From having a team to fill up my gas.
Like the pit crew on a NASCAR track,
They fill up my bottle and ice up my back.

Now a major breakthrough at mile 23,
Running down a steep canyon and I gotta’ pee!
I went once already, early on in the race,
I don’t want to stop again at a 6:30 pace!

So I take a deep breath and just let it fly
If only you could see the look in my eye.
It feels a bit strange, and I can’t help but giggle.
Hey, no need to stop, and no need to jiggle!

Now just up ahead I spot the first guy
Who went out strong and is starting to fry.
When we pass a small creek, he comes to a halt.
And thus begins, my strategic assault.

One by one, they watch me run past,
As I desperately hope that my pace will last.
Until I see Second sprawled out in a stream,
A perfect position for my tactical scheme.

I offer a greeting, but no time for talk.
And no time for resting, or even a walk.
I push on ahead with a focused intent.
Conserve on the uphill and crush the descent.

I start to smile and try to relax,
As I ponder the harrowing question they ask.
“How bad do you want it?”  Well, I’ll tell ya this,
I ain’t in that stream, and I’m covered in piss.

At mile 52 there’s a 20-minute lead
Between myself and whoever’s in three.
And Sage up ahead is nowhere in sight
If I can hold on, I’ll be happy tonight.

A Western States ticket just 10 miles away,
Man, this could be an incredible day.
One mile further, I think it’s all in the bag,
When my leg cramps up and my toe hits a snag.

Now I’m rolling in dirt and seizing in pain.
I’m screaming and shouting. I must look insane.
So I grasp my bottle and unleash on the muscle,
And smash out my legs to get out of this tussle.

I finally stand up and this comes as a shock,
Cause I felt every second that flew off the clock.
The ticket is there, it’s right there to win it.
But mile 53 takes me 17 minutes.

Now I’m running again, although a bit slower,
And I’m dragging a bit, and my heads hangin’ lower.
And I keep looking back, as if on a chase.
But I ain’t the chaser, for now I’m the bait.

Somehow it seems, there’s only one mile left.
And no one caught up for a Western spot theft.
I cross the finish to see the whole crew.
I got me the ticket for runner number 2.

A remarkable feeling and nothing could spoil it,
Not even the bonding I then share with the toilet.
And in four short months we’ll be heading to Cali,
For little ole race that starts in Squaw Valley!

64615404-20160212-MG2A0507SweetM Images

64615402-20160213-MG2A1633SweetM ImagesBCT100K_7378_CE-M

Ron Ceton64615403-20160213-MG2A1630SweetM Images


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Aravaipa Running

Starting Line Video – and a little video from Aravaipa from the beginning of the race!




The Hundo – Ode to the Pacer

“…people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” –Maya Angelou

 She’s right Doug, I’ll never forget how I felt the day I finished my first 100 mile race.

You said all the right stuff and knew when to say nothing at all, but I’ve all ready forgotten your words. You ran next to me, behind me, and in front of me – stumbling over the rough side of the trail while giving me the smooth side as you sacrificed your weekend to be out in the desert with this bum. Apologetically, these details are fading from my memory. I won’t forget the feeling though – that insatiable, indescribable something that crept over me when you joined at mile 60 and propelled me to the end with some strange degree of ease. You had one hand on the iron as it was pulled from the fire and bore witness to my slow branding over the course of the next 40 miles until  dazedly crossing the finish line adorning the requisite scar of ultra-running proficiency – the hundo.

After a big DNF on the first 100-mile crack at Run Rabbit Run (dropping at mile 46), I was primed, pissed, and ready throw down at the Javalina Jundred. This course is remarkably different then the last attempt. The obvious disparity is far less climbing and descending. Run Rabbit has over 20K feet of climbing while Javalina totals around 6K. This means a much faster race, as the entire course is runnable. It’s a 15-mile loop run washing-machine style on a trail in the middle of the low, fully exposed desert outside of Phoenix. “Washing-machine” means that we run 6.7 loops, switching direction each time we arrive back at the Start/Finish area.   This has its benefits and drawbacks. Benefit – you get to see where you stand amongst the competition after each loop and the general camaraderie amid high fives while repeatedly passing the 600+ runners out there is a big assist. The drawback, well, running the same loop over…and over…and over… and over again for 100 miles has been known to cultivate and nourish a small dark seed known in common running circles as the mind-fuck.   Better watch out for that.

My wife, Ronika, and I slept the night before the race in the back of her Hyundai Tucson at the start/finish area, which miraculously and unknowingly to us, fit a blow-up twin mattress. Sounds nice, but the thrill of having a soft surface to rest on quickly dissipates into the eve as we accept that sleep is a far-fetched idea for our set-up. If you’d like to understand why, I encourage you to sleep two in the back of a small SUV on a twin Coleman blowup mattress. You’ll understand.

Coffee. Oatmeal. And, we’re off. The first loop is tie-dyed by a beautiful sunrise, which serves as the genuine start gun for the race. Ah, that sun – you insidious, desert-scorching bastard. I’ll tip my hat to you as you make your grand entrance, but you’ll soon be hidden by the rim of my visor all day. I’ll rage against your stealthy assault on my vigor, and I pray I’ll see you again as you dip your radiant chin below my visor in 12 or so hours giving me one last wink before you fall behind the silhouette of distant mountains assuring me that I survived you, and, I’m almost there.

The first 30 are a breeze. I go out at a conservative pace and am not getting caught up in the competition. I’m here to finish a hundred for me, not to compete against them. I distract myself from the thoughts of a ga-jillion miles to go by breaking the race down into small sections and goals. This is easy as each loop the objective is to make it back to Ronika. (Ahhh, a soft-beautiful-lady-goddess who bears goodies and treats to replenish my famished soul. Now isn’t that a great thought to run to?) She is having an endurance test of her own, hanging out at the start/finish aid station all day long with brief interjections of her crazy husband bitching at her for not having pickle juice or protein powder in hand. Yep. Well hey babe, where’s my goddamn pickle juice?

45 aid and I’m still feeling decent but the heat and the miles are getting to me. I see Doug Loveday, a good friend of mine who has come up to pace me from mile 60 on. I let him know I’m looking forward to having some company and I’ll see him soon. I eat my words. Miles 50 – 60 I start to break down.   My legs are heavy, my body is weak and simply put, I feel tired. I arrive in dire state to the aid station located halfway trough the loop. The volunteers guardedly ask if I’m OK, as I must appear to be on the verge of passing out or projectile vomiting in their face.  I have never run beyond 50 miles, and am now entering foreign and unknown territory. I take a short break and muster up a small amount strength to get back to Ronika. This 7 mile stretch is one of the worst I’ve experienced. I feel defeated. Maybe I am not cut out for the 100 mile stuff or being an ultra-runner. How am I going to run another 40? How embarrassing to DNF two times in a row, and not even get to run with my pacer. I feel fear for the first time in the race. Fear not for my health, or for what lies ahead, but of failure.   Fear does a lot of things when it creeps in. Most significantly, fear is the great destroyer of ambition.

At the 60-mile aid I sit down. Knowing something is wrong but trying to stay positive Ronika asks in a cheerful tone, “How you feeling?”

“I’m fucked up” is all I can begrudgingly mumble.

I sit and think about Doug, a former professional cyclist who recently transferred his copious athletic ability and grit to trail running. He eagerly volunteered to come pace me for the last 40 miles; I didn’t even ask him to. I must try to complete another loop, even if walking is my misfortune. I’d feel terrible if he came out for nothing but to see his buddy DNF and sulk in self-loathing. I explain to him it won’t be pretty and we might have to walk a bunch, but he is game – just happy to be there supporting me.

We venture off into 61 and begin to explore miles that just months ago seemed naive.

Coach Henry Kimsey-House once said, “When someone is walking beside us, we have more courage to walk into the unknown and to risk the dark and messy places in our journey.” I don’t know what happens after mile 61, I really don’t. But I do know this – the fear has vanished.

We start coasting. It takes me by surprise as much as Doug. I start to smile. What happened? I didn’t eat or drink anything special. I didn’t have a grand stroke of mental profoundness. I’m not running to chase down a podium award. I just… snap out of it. I stop thinking. All my trivial thoughts and emotions are stripped from me (even of my goddess lady), and like the Grinch taking every last crumb from my messy mind; I’m left with nothing. My body feels strong and alive. I feel like I see the finish line as clear as glass in front of my eyes, albeit 38 miles away. It’s an extraordinary liberation. All that exists are Doug, myself, the air going in and out of our lungs, and the orchestra playing in the pit underneath our feet – crunching a harmonious melody on the coarse trail, serenading us into the dusk. I turn my head and look west for a brief perfect moment to see that crazy sun winking at me. You merciless son-of-a-bitch… cheers.

We arrive at the 75 aid and Ronika sees a new man as I am filled with excitement and clarity. I own the next 25 miles. Is this reality? I just ran 75 miles and the next 25 are just a hop, skip and a jump? This is one of the best moments I’ve ever experienced and it’s contagious as Ronika’s joy radiates as well. I’ll never forget this. I try to affirm Doug that he must posses some sort of magical fairy dust that brought me to back to life, but he is too busy at the aid station table sorting through any food or salt that he thinks would be good for me…

I’d like to write more about the last 25 miles but nothing changes from here on out. I feel as fluid as water flowing up and down the trail riding this endless wave with my friend Doug by my side. These are the most enjoyable miles I’ve ever run. On the last, shortened loop, Doug takes me out two miles and then heads back to the finish line so he can see me cross.   I reflect a bit on the race over the last few miles, completely alone under the luminous rising moon. Sporting a grin, I come back to that clear, empty, and awesome space with just my breath and my steps and I let it sink in.

I finish in 7th place in 16 hours and 32 minutes. I am sandwiched between two ultra-running legends. Just three minutes ahead of me is Karl Meltzer of Utah, nicknamed “The Speedgoat,” who has a world record, 35, 100-mile race wins in his career. Behind me is Jon Olson who, just two years ago, had the North American 100-mile record time in 11 hours and 59 minutes.

What was it that brought me back to life when Doug joined me? I don’t know. Maybe it was his good words. Maybe it was his good vibes, or maybe his good company. But as I attempt to de-clutter my mind and relive that feeling when I was crystal-clear focused during the latter miles of the race I think I can put my finger on it.  It was simple – I could hear the crunching of a friend’s footsteps running next to mine.