I’ve run 100 miles four times in the last 12 months. The primary reason that number is four and not three is that none of the first three races were Western States qualifiers (despite the fact that Mogollon 100 is a qualifier for the much more difficult Hardrock 100). That’s mostly why I ran Javelina Jundred a few weeks ago. I finished, got my Western States qualifier, and entered the lottery.
Last Saturday was lottery day for both Western States and Hardrock. While out for a run with Will (who is training for Across the Years again), I got a message:
Then some more:
I strongly suspected something to do with a race lottery, given these messages where all coming from my running friends. It wasn’t until the 5th message that someone actually mentioned Western States.
And that’s how I found out. I had about a 3% chance of getting picked in the lottery, so this did come as a surprise (a welcome one). Unsurprisingly, I didn’t get into Hardrock (where I had less than 1% chance).
On top of that, this week I finally feel like I’m recovered from Javelina, and I’m ready to start getting back into shape. June is a long time from now. Between now and then: lots of training (and a little racing).
I already ran two 100 mile races in 2018, but for reasons I don’t understand neither of those races was a qualifier for Western States. Six weeks after Mogollon Monster 100 came one of the final Western States qualifying race of the year, Javelina Jundred. I struggled a bit with injury during those six weeks, so I only felt confident enough to register a few days before Javelina.
Normally I look forward to October races for the cool temperatures, but Javelina takes place in the desert just outside Phoenix, and the predicted high was 90˚F. We had already had snow in northern Colorado. I often struggle in hot weather, so that was definitely the big question looming over this event for me, even more so than my injury.
I arrived on my 40th birthday, the day before the race, and did an easy 3 mile run on the course in the middle of the day. This. Isn’t. That. Bad. At least, that’s what I tried very hard to convince myself. The desert air was so dry I had no sweat on me. I spent most of the afternoon preparing my gear for the race, and hydrating as much as possible. Then I watched part of a movie and went to bed early.
I woke up 2 hours before the 6AM race start to get some breakfast, and since all my stuff was still ready from the night before, I went back to bed for a while. I lined up at the start line in the first wave (for people trying to run under 24 hours) and patiently awaited the race to begin. The course is a roughly 20 mile loop that we cover 5 times, alternating directions each loop.
This is a huge race with hundreds of runners, and after about a quarter mile the trail gets narrow. Once we got going I was pleasantly surprised to find myself in exactly the right position. The people in front of me were moving fast enough that I didn’t get frustrated. The people behind me weren’t too anxious to get past me. We had a nice pleasant run on a dark trail for a couple miles before it started to get light out.
The trail was fairly smooth and relatively flat for the first 4 miles. Then we hit a couple miles of rockier trail, and a gradual uphill that lasted several miles. The rocky trail wasn’t that bad, at least not on the first loop. The uphill, while slight, was a little longer than I was expecting. We weren’t going up a big mountain, and the climb was so gradual I barely noticed at times. It was easy on the first loop, but I was already beginning to dread the later loops.
As this wasn’t a mountain we never really reached a summit, the terrain just changed from entirely uphill to rolling up and down. At the mile 10 aid station I put ice cubes in a tube sock and tied it around my neck to cool down. It wasn’t hot yet, I was just getting a head start. After this aid station came a very long downhill. I had been holding back, but on the downhill I let gravity take over and I opened it up a little, leaving behind most of the people who started near me and passing dozens of people.
By the end of the first loop the temperature was heating up. I picked up a small carton of chocolate soy milk from my drop back and drank it as I walked around to the start/finish line and let it settle a bit while I walked back to my drop bag. I would repeat this process at the end of every loop (except the finish). I loaded up on ice again and headed back out the way I came.
Loop 2 was great. I felt great. I was eating and drinking well. Copious quantities of ice kept me from overheating. I felt good running up the long hill. I saw Melissa’s friend Christina for the first time, who was running the 100K race that started an hour after my 100 mile race. I kept thinking, “this is too easy.”
My morning wasn’t perfect, though. I had considerable soreness in my legs earlier in the race than I was expecting. It was uncomfortable, but there was no need to panic yet. I could keep moving at a good pace for quite a while.
Loop 3 was really, really hot. The ice did it’s job. The temperature slowed me down, but it didn’t destroy me the way I had feared it might. Need more ice. My legs were sore and it started to slow me down a bit. I had been walking up short, steep inclines, but now I was taking short walk breaks every mile or two with the hope my legs would come back to life.
After loop 3 I picked up my headlamp, ditched my ice sock, and walked for two miles continuously. I could tell by the way I felt after 100K that this wouldn’t be my fastest 100 mile run ever. Fortunately, I never expected it to be. I had a short recovery period after my last race, and this weather didn’t suit me at all. All I needed to do was finish under 30 hours to qualify for Western States. So that’s all I planned to do at that point.
Just finish. Time doesn’t matter.
I snapped out of my funk just after dark while running up the long hill. My legs had recovered a bit. Just then I started experiencing a weird pain in my foot. This sort of pain usually doesn’t last long, so I trudged onward. Not only did the foot pain persist, it got worse and worse. I finally started walking because it hurt so bad. The problem was, it hurt just as bad when I walked. This made running down the long hill pretty horrible.
By the end of loop 4 I had covered ~15 miles with horrible foot pain and I was facing the prospect of 20 more miles. Walking didn’t help. I might as well run to get this over with sooner then. So I mostly ran, with a few walk breaks sprinkled in there. I walked up most of the hill, then ran/walked the rolling parts at the top of the hill.
With 10 miles to go I noticed I had a chance to finish under 21 hours. All I had to do was run 15 minute miles. I ran a 12 minute mile, then a couple 11 minute miles, then some 10 minute miles. I could smell the barn, and I kept speeding up down the hill. I only spent a few seconds at the last aid station. Just 4 flat miles to go. Every step was agony on my foot, but the end was coming so fast.
I crossed the finish line in 20h23m, which was surprisingly my 2nd fastest 100 mile run, even after all the unpleasantness. I immediately caught a chill and hobbled into the medical tent to warm up. My foot hurt too bad to walk over to get my drop bag, so a volunteer was kind enough to get it for me. I changed into dry clothes before making the painful walk back to my van.
My legs recovered very quickly from this race, perhaps quicker than ever before. However, nearly two weeks later, I’m still having lingering foot pain. The swelling is gone, and I can now walk without a limp, but every step still hurts, at least a little. This is the longest I’ve gone without running for a long, long time and I feel like I’m getting some well deserved rest. I’ll probably see a PT or doctor soon to work out this foot thing.
I first heard about the Mogollon Monster 100 earlier this year from a couple friends who were considering running it. It’s a Hardrock 100 qualifier (so it has lots of vert), it’s on ridiculously technical trail, and it’s in Arizona (so it could be hot Hot HOT). In other words, this is not my kind of race, or at least, not the kind of race where I historically excel. I do well at races in Illinois in October where cool temperatures and smooth, flat terrain make for fast times. Nevertheless, I’m always up for a good challenge, and I’d really like to run Hardrock someday, so I should get my name into the lottery as soon as possible. And since I typically wait until the last minute to sign up for races, Mogollon was one of few options I had for this fall.
The course travels from the bottom to the top of the Mogollon Rim (and back down) four times. The bottom of the rim is just above 5,000 ft, while the top is just under 8,000 ft. As if four big climbs weren’t enough of a challenge, the rest of the course is rolling. There’s really no flat part on the course, it’s always going up or down. Oh, and it’s very, very rocky. Oh, and large swaths of the course are overgrown and difficult to navigate.
Drop bags filled with chocolate soy milk and pickles.
Rob getting ready. Photo by Stephen Pretak.
This would surely be my slowest 100 mile run to date, almost certainly the first time it would take me longer than 24 hours. I was confident I could make the 36 hour cutoff, but I really didn’t put much more thought into my finish time. 24 hours? Probably not. 36 hours? Most likely. 30 hours? Sure, why not. All I need is a finish.
Rob & Elijah at the start. Photo by Stephen Pretak.
The race started immediately onto single track. I mean immediately, like within 10 feet of the starting line. I’ve never seen anything like it. This necessarily spread the field out. My friend Elijah also ran the race and he took the lead heading up the first climb. I took a much more conservative approach and allowed 20–30 people ahead of me. The first big climb was rather comfortable for me, at an all-day pace, and after taking in some beautiful golden hour views all the way up, I was at the top of the climb approaching the first aid station.
We immediately descended back to the bottom on a very loose, gnarly trail. I made a few passes along the way, and after a bit of route-finding confusion, I was back at the bottom of the rim where I reached the 11 mile aid station where crew access was allowed. My friend Stephen was there for me (along with our friend Kris, who was crewing for Elijah) and I was in and out in no time.
Reaching the mile 11 aid station. Photo by Stephen Pretak.
The Mogollon Rim from the Arizona Trail.
It was still cool at this point, but it would begin to heat up over the next 10 miles. By the time I reached the 21 mile aid station (where our crew would wait for the next 14 hours, since we’d come back here two more times) I was a bit dehydrated and ready for ice on my neck.
Photo by Kris Tyson.
Photo by Kris Tyson.
Next came another big climb, including some laughably technical trail (which we would later descend two times). We spent nearly 20 miles up on top of the rim during the hottest time of the day, which was good because the temperature was a bit cooler at the higher elevation and there was more shade up there in the pine forest.
I was feeling good at this point in the race. There were a few miles on gravel road, before a long (like 6 mile) gradual downhill. I was moving well. This part of the trail was heavily trafficked by backpackers and day hikers. They didn’t slow me down at all, but it was good to know I wasn’t completely alone in a very remote location.
At the mile 35 aid station I made my first real blunder of the race when I left my trekking poles at the aid station. I realized this 1–2 minutes after I left. I quickly weighed the option of leaving them there (I would return to this aid station at mile 67), but that would leave me without them for plenty of uphill where I would really want them. In the end I went back to get them. It was a few lost minutes (and some extra time on my feet), but it was totally worth it.
The next 6–7 miles were gradually uphill and this is where my day started to go into steady decline. It was hot. I wasn’t drinking enough. I’ve been going uphill for a long time. My calves are cramping. My toes are cramping. And when I get done with this I have a nasty, steep, loose descent back down to a lower, hotter elevation.
Photo by Stephen Pretak.
I picked up my headlamp at the mile 43 aid station, where Stephen and Kris told me I had about three hours of daylight left. But what that really meant was that I had three more hours of heat. This next section was my low point of the race. I didn’t count, but between 10–20 people must have passed me. I walked most of the way to the next aid station. Once there I drank a bunch of Gatorade (which I normally stay away from during races) which, along with S-CAPS, salted potatoes, etc. helped get my electrolytes back to a reasonable state.
The third climb to the top of the rim was nasty. Most of it was off trail (there had once been a trail there, but it hasn’t been used in years) and it was difficult to navigate. The diminishing sunlight exacerbated the navigation problems. I thought I could make it to the top before turning on my headlamp, but I ran out of daylight about 10 minutes from the top. It was good to finish that climb, and even better to be on an easy-to-navigate gravel road for the next few miles, and even better to have decent running weather.
View from the top of the third climb up the Mogollon rim just after sunset.
This is the part of the race where I began to come back to life. I got in and out of the mile 58 aid station and walked a few minutes to allow my stomach to settle from the aid station food & drink. Then I ran slowly. Then I ran faster. Then faster. Within a few miles I was running fast. I was passing people. I would see headlamps off in the distance and within a few minutes they’d be right in front of me, and then within a few more minutes they’d be far enough behind me I could no longer see them.
At the mile 67 aid station I made sure not to leave my trekking poles behind as I made my way out. The next section of course was a long gradual uphill. I was too tired to run this, even though it wasn’t very steep. So I hiked as fast as I could hike. I made good time. Then I was back on the gravel road and running 10 minute miles.
The nasty descent down to the mile 80 aid station was even nastier in the dark, but I got it done. As I reached the aid station I was shocked to see my friend Elijah just leaving. I hadn’t seen him all day, with his aggressive start and my more conservative start, but I had nearly caught up.
Changing into a dry shirt around midnight. Photo by Stephen Pretak.
The next 10 miles kind of killed my momentum a bit. The terrain was rolling, but it was just a little too rocky and technical to really run more than a few steps at a time. So I did a lot of fast hiking, and a very tiny bit of running. As I approached the mile 90 aid station a runner caught up to me, and, SURPRISE! it was Elijah. He had taken a wrong turn and I had passed him without knowing it. But now he caught up. He was moving well again. I was feeling good. We reached the aid station at roughly the same time and left together. Our friends informed us we were third and fourth place. This came as a big surprise to me, as this was the first I had heard of my place all day, and so many people had passed me at various points.
Just 10-ish miles to go. Photo by Kris Tyson.
So we began our way up the final (and steepest) climb. Elijah went a bit quicker than me. I saw him at the top, just a couple minutes ahead of me, so I made chase to try to catch him (and also keep from getting caught by another runner whose headlamp I saw a few minutes behind me on the climb). But no matter how fast I ran in the final 5 miles, Elijah just went even faster. I finished in 24h56m24s, about 7 minutes after Elijah. He was third, I was fourth.
Photo by Kris Tyson.
It was a darn good result, far better than I was expecting. I did have a rough patch, but most of the race went really well for me. The second half of my race was only about 30 minutes slower than the first half (rather than my typical 3–6 hours slower). As a bonus on top of a good race, now I can enter the Hardrock lottery.
I prefer to post chronologically, but at this point I’m over a year behind with writing race reports, and I wanted to do this while it was still fresh in my mind.
Ten miles into the Buffalo Run 100 I was running behind a group of three people who knew each other (everyone at the race besides me seemed to know each other) and I overheard them talking about a strategy that sounded vaguely familiar to me, though I had never heard it stated quite so succinctly.
Sacrifice minutes now in order to save hours later.
The gist of this statement is that things which start as small problems early in the race can turn into big problems later in the race. If you take a little bit of time to deal with them while they’re still small problems they hopefully won’t ever turn into big problems. If they don’t ever turn into big problems you won’t lose massive time dealing with them later.
In my three previous 100 mile runs I feel like I’ve underperformed. Running 100 miles has been a tough nut for me to crack. I have routinely ignored small problems early in these races because I was so concerned about keeping a respectable pace for as long as possible. Inevitably there came a time when these problems compounded so much that I was simply not able to run. I would end up walking miles and miles at a stretch before recovering a bit and resuming running. My stubbornness early in the race had always cost me massive time later in the race.
The weather forecast for the Buffalo Run was cold and rainy/snowy, but this mostly didn’t materialize. It did rain prior to the race, which left the course a tad muddy in places, but we stayed dry while running.
This was the first 100 mile race I’ve done with a midday start rather than an early morning start. This meant everyone would be running through the night. The eventual overnight low wasn’t as cold as I had feared, and I ended up a bit overdressed during the night. The other difficulty with a midday start is meal planning. I have my pre-race food dialed in for an early morning start, but a noon start presented some challenges (what to eat, when to eat, how much to eat, etc.).
I wore my GPS watch to record my data for later analysis, but I was very adamant that I wasn’t going to look at my pace/time/distance during the race (at least not during the first half of the race). I would keep an eye on my heart rate just as a sanity check, but I planned to pace myself by how I felt. I’ve gotten into trouble in the past by arbitrarily deciding what pace I was going to run and then continuing to run that pace even when it should have been obvious I was going too fast (or too slow).
Running by feel worked so well for me at the 2017 Never Summer 100K last July, I wanted to do anything I could to try to replicate that kind of performance. Not looking at my pace/time/distance the entire race meant that I was free to focus all of my attention on the process of running rather than the outcome of the race. Focusing on the process made all the difference, and the best possible outcome was the result.
The course is a 50 mile circuit, run twice. Each circuit consists of a 19 mile loop followed by a 31 mile out-and-back. The race starts with two miles of gradual climbing. Once over the top I formed a small pack with a handful of other runners. We would run near each other and occasionally leapfrog each other for the next 10–20 miles. At the first out-and-back section of the course it was impossible for me not to notice I was in 7th place. I didn’t want or need to know that information. Let go of the outcome, focus on the process.
Another gradual two mile climb came about 11 miles into the race. I ran the whole way up. I knew I wouldn’t be running up that hill on the second 50 mile circuit of the race, but at this point my heart rate confirmed I wasn’t working too hard, so I just continued to do what felt right.
Midway through the 19 mile loop I started having some mild gastrointestinal discomfort. I didn’t feel the need to vomit, and I didn’t need to rush to the bathroom, but the food I had been eating no longer seemed appetizing and I had to improvise a bit with food from the aid stations. It was early to throw my Nutrition Plan A out the window, but you have to take what the day gives you. Sacrifice minutes now to save hours later.
I pulled a bit ahead of my pack-mates at an aid station and enjoyed a pleasant jaunt back down to the start/finish area at mile 19. I did have to take a short detour around some bison who were blocking the trail, but before long I saw Melissa and Will at the aid station. I ate some food, filled up on water, and headed back out on course for the very long out-and-back. Around mile 22 or so I noticed I was having more soreness in my quads than I would have liked. I still felt comfortable at my current pace, but I’d have to adjust if things got any worse. This whole time the temperature was rising and I was shedding clothes as necessary. Sacrifice minutes now to save hours later.
Before long I saw the leader, Jeff Browning, coming towards me. He had a sizable lead on the 2nd place runner, who frankly looked to be having a rough time. Then I saw the 3rd place runner and immediately afterwords I hit the turn around. So I was in 4th place, not far behind 3rd, not that much farther behind 2nd, who frankly looked to be having a rough time. Dammit, focus on the process, not the outcome. At mile 33 there’s still a lot of race left to go.
I still had GI discomfort and quad pain, but neither had gotten any worse. I guess this was the new normal. After 6–7 miles I caught up to and passed the 3rd place runner, and I could now see the 2nd place runner in the distance. I closed that gap too and caught up to him and passed him around mile 46. After about a half mile in 2nd place a different runner (someone from my early pack) passed me and I was back in 3rd. It doens’t matter, focus on the process.
The sun set just before I finished the first 50 mile circuit. At the halfway point I took an extra long stop at the start/finish aid station. After the sunset the temperature had dropped rapidly and I was wearing sweaty clothes. I completely changed into dry clothes, including pants, long sleeves, a jacket, gloves, and warm hat. The 3rd place runner passed me in the aid station. There’s still a lot of race left to go, and while I don’t feel spectacular, I do feel about as good as I’ve ever felt at mile 50 of 100.
I took a gamble by eating some ramen before I left. I didn’t know whether this would help my stomach or make things worse, but I was ready to try anything. I also took a little carton of chocolate soymilk with me just in case that sounded good at some point. The next two miles were uphill, and while I ran them easily on the first lap, I was pretty sure I was going to walk the entire climb on the second lap. Now in warm clothes, my only real problem was my gut. If I could get that under control I might be able to finish this race reasonably strong. The lead woman passed my on the climb and I was now in 5th place. But I don’t care because I’m focused on the process, not the outcome.
Over the top of the hill I started shuffling a bit. Then I picked it up to a jog. Before long I was running. My stomach was not great, but it was better. My legs felt good. For the first time I took inventory of my elapsed time and distance, and the situation looked fabulous. If things got really bad (which frankly was probable), I only had to maintain 14 minute miles to finish in 20 hours, which would be a new personal best. I can do this.
I had a minor scare when some chaffing on my thighs began to heat up. But I was carrying skin lubricant with me. I stopped, slathered it all over my undercarriage, and the problem was solved as soon as it had cropped up. Sacrifice minutes now to save hours later.
This part of the course wasn’t fast. It was dark and there were lots of rocks. Still, it wasn’t a problem to stay below 14 minute miles. As I began the second two mile long climb I took another big gamble and drank the chocolate soymilk. I planned to sip it over the nearly half hour it would take me to get up this climb, but it tasted so good to me I had finished it in less than a minute. And just like that I knew things were going to be okay. The biggest unknown at that point was whether I was going to get enough calories into my stomach without getting sick, and I had just found a magic potion of sorts.
I ran all the way to the next aid station, then all the way to the aid station after that. At mile 69 Melissa was waiting with more chocolate soymilk for me to take on the final 31 mile out-and-back section. This part of the course was flatter and smoother (though not flat and smooth) than the previous 19 mile loop. I sped up, then sped up again. I took stock of my elapsed time and distance again and realized I could finish in 19 hours if I maintained 12 minute miles (including stops). I was running 10:30 miles.
I caught up to and passed the lead woman to move back into 4th place. The three remaining people in front of me had seemingly insurmountable leads at this point. I was still moving quickly, but stops at aid stations were making things tight. I kept moving with a purpose, though, to try to finish in 19 hours. With 6 miles to go I was still on pace, but I remembered there were a couple of really rocky miles near the end of the course and I would have to bank some time before then.
My stomach was empty and I was barely ingesting enough calories to keep moving. During the last 50K I really only consumed two cartons of chocolate soymilk and maybe five orange slices, but I was able to keep moving.
I hit the rocky section of the course. The sun was starting to rise. After 97 miles of running, lifting my legs up over some of these boulders was agony, but I kept moving with a purpose. Before I knew it I was running through the campground toward the finish line. As I turned the final corner my watch beeped. It had measured 100 miles. My elapsed time was 18:59:46. It took me another two minutes to reach the finish line, which I crossed with nobody but Melissa watching. I wandered into the heated tent and found a race official who recorded my finish in a time of 19:03:23, 4th place.
This time was over 90 minutes faster than I’ve ever run 100 miles (and nearly five hours faster than my run at Across the Years 12 weeks ago). For the first time ever I was able to run throughout the entire 100 mile race. Aside from a handful of forced (i.e. uphill) walk breaks, I didn’t really have any unforced walk breaks. Unforced walk breaks are where the time really adds up. Fewer things went wrong during this race than similar past races. I attribute this mostly to focusing on the process rather than the outcome, and as a part of that, sacrificing minutes to save hours.
My first ski mountaineering race was almost over before it began.
I just found out about the race the day before and decided to do it on a whim. The only problem was it was early December and I hadn’t been skiing yet that season. Ski mountaineering is a lot like mountain biking for me–a lot of fun, I’m actually reasonably strong going uphill, and I’m quite shaky (relative to competition) going downhill.
I went a few hours early to Eldora ski area to do a couple of downhill runs before the race to refamiliarize myself to the process. Those runs went well. Then it was time for the race. It starts at the bottom of the hill. You hike to the top (with a special attachment on your skis to as to not slide backward down the hill) then ski down. The beginner race I did consisted of two laps, while the more competitive race was four laps.
Me in blue jacket and orange boots at far right of frame. Photo by Thomas Woodson.
I lined up near the back since this was my first race and I didn’t want to get into everyone’s way, but not too far back because, as I said, I’m much better at going uphill than downhill relative to the competition. When the race began a funny thing happened. As I started to walk one of my boots came detached from my ski. I had to stop and fix it. Then a few steps later it happened again. Then again. And again.
At this point I was in dead last place, only a few feet in front of the starting line as the rest of the race was well on their way up the hill. Frustrated, and rather embarrassed to be fumbling like this right in front of the all the spectators, I nearly turned around and walked back to my car to drive home. Then I figured out the problem. There’s one latch on the ski bindings that’s only used when going uphill that I forgot to lock into place. I locked it and my boots stopped coming out of the bindings. It was a really basic thing that I absolutely would have remembered to do if this race had not been the first time I skied uphill this season. Lesson learned.
Now with a lot of ground to make up I started to, well, make up ground. I’m relatively good at going uphill. I caught up to the back of the pack about 1/3 of the way up the hill. I worked my way through that group and continued to move forward. Once at the top of the hill I tried to quickly take the skins off my skis and plunge down the hill. I was a bit timid. A handful people passed me (rather quickly). But these were all people I had caught up to and passed on the way up. I should be able to do the same on the second lap.
The second lap started with a gradual hike uphill, but took a different route than the first lap. There was a section so steep it couldn’t be hiked on the skis. Everyone had to take their skis off, strap them onto their backpack, and hike up on boots. This is a fairly standard feature in any ski mountaineering race, but I had never done it before. Hiking in ski boots is super awkward, but it was a short section, and it was over soon enough. Skis back on for the last bit of uphill and the final (for me) descent.
Again a few people passed me on the descent, but not as many as the first lap. I apparently finished in 9th place out of 29 in the beginner race. At the rate I was going (passing ~15 people each uphill and being passed by ~5 people each downhill) I maybe could have won the beginner race if it ended after one more uphill. But it didn’t. And it likely never will end at the top, so I need to get better at going downhill.
I love playing the card game Hearts. Four players take turns playing cards, following suit when possible, highest card wins. Each card in the suit of hearts is worth a point and the queen of spades is worth 13 points. You don’t want points. Points are bad. Unless you score all 26 points in a given hand. In that unlikely event all the other players get 26 points instead of you.
This is called shooting the moon. It’s hard to do, particularly if your opponents are skilled players. It requires luck to draw just the right set of cards. Then it takes a fair bit of skill to prevent your opponents from stopping you. You need to bluff at first. Then, when the cards remaining in your hand are strong enough, you need to commit. And when you commit, you need to commit fully. The worst possible outcome would be to take the first 25 points only to fail to take the final point.
Des Plaines River Trail 50
October 15, 2016
While running with some friends leading up to this race one of them asked me what my goal was, and I blurted it out: sub-7 hours. Saying it out loud made it more real. To my relief, this stronger runner than me agreed that it should be possible.
A couple weeks later another friend, also a stronger runner, asked the same question. When I repeated my answer of sub-7 hours this friend responded, “Don’t you think you’re sandbagging a little?” Meaning, he thought I could run faster than that. I don’t know, 7 hours would already be a significant PR. My fastest 50 miler was 7:24. Could I have been underestimating myself? This was not the time for me to question everything.
By race day my mind had calmed a bit and I changed my plan. Rather than average 8:24/mile I would try to run 8:00/mile for as long as I could, and slow down as necessary from there. The weather was nearly perfect: 55˚F, overcast, a slight breeze, lots of shade. I was the only shirtless person at the starting line. I love running in Illinois in October.
This race is essentially a 25 mile out-and-back on a flat crushed rock and dirt recreation path in the northwest Chicago suburbs. 8:01, 7:59, 7:57 for the opening miles of the race, right on target. I settled into about 10th place or so. I knew this was a fast course and the winning times are always screaming, but I honestly didn’t expect this many people to be ahead of me, given I was probably starting too fast.
With focus I could pay attention to my watch and I could hit my 8:00/mile splits. When I didn’t focus my pace sped up. I fought to hold back, but I was averaging closer to 7:50/mile than 8:00/mile. There was a small downhill in mile 12 and I accidentally ran a 7:38 mile. My heart rate was 123. What was going on? It seemed like the mental effort of holding back was taking a greater toll on me than just running at a faster, more comfortable pace. Either way, my heart rate was ridiculously low. I had plenty of headroom to speed up at that moment, but did I have the guts to do it?
I continued to pass the fast starters one by one. My pace gradually increased a bit here and there. By mile 20, still running easy, I said to hell with it, and I sped up. I’ve never run so fast so effortlessly. This was uncharted territory. I was fully committed. I had a strong hand, and I was attempting to shoot the moon.
7:35 for mile 20.
7:15 for mile 25.
6:48 for mile 28!
It was so scary to be moving at what should have been an unsustainable pace, but I felt so good I couldn’t help myself. Approaching the 25 mile turn around I discovered only two runners remained ahead of me. The leader was moving at a good clip, but the 2nd place runner had slowed a lot. I passed him shortly after the turn around.
I passed the 50K mark in 3:56, a new 50K PR. Only 19 miles to go.
I caught up with the leader around mile 32, held back for a moment, then passed convincingly to move into the lead. He briefly tried to go with me, but I was still running 7:00/mile pace. Over the last 18 miles I would gain 2 minutes per mile on him.
At mile 37 I found myself in the middle of a high school girls cross country meet. A couple hundred meters of their 5K course was on the Des Plaines River Trail. I certainly wasn’t going to stop, so I just joined in, passing the mid-pack runners as I tried to stay out of their way.
By mile 40 I was feeling the effort. My pace was back up to 7:30/mile, and I knew my fastest miles were behind me. I only need to hang on for 10 more miles, a distance I ran 5-6 times per week. I was only looking at my pace. I didn’t know what my elapsed time was. Every mile I had run at that point was faster than 8:24, so I was certainly ahead of 7 hour pace. I even had a pretty good chance at winning the race. Just 10 more miles. Stay on target.
8:00/mile. My legs were burning. The (warning: graphic photos) bloodblisters that had formed on my big toes were becoming more and more unbearable with each step. My calculated, slightly lower than necessary intake of fluids and calories was starting to catch up to me. The wheels began to fall off the last four miles. I was still moving, but now a minute per mile slower than my average.
And then it was over. I was the winner. My time was 6:19:15. Nobody was more shocked than me. How did this happen? I just ran a PR of over an hour. I just exceeded my ambitious goal by 41 minutes. I just averaged 7:35/mile for 50 miles. I just ran negative splits in a 50 mile race (3:12, 3:07). After 250+ races I just ran what was unquestionably the best race of my life. I just made a bold gambit that paid off in a big way.
After a disappointing 50 miles at Howl at the Moon in August 2016 I spent a few bitter weeks feeling sorry for myself before finally resolving to make another serious attempt at the distance, ASAP. I believed I had a sub–7 hour 50 miler in me, regardless of what happened in Illinois that August. I picked a race in October and trained hard, running both longer and faster.
To test the fitness I was building I decided to run a 5K that some friends of mine were directing. Though, not wanting to throw away a whole training weekend, I, well, went into this race in an unconventional manner.
Saturday night I ran 16 miles.
Sunday morning I woke up early, drove across town to the race venue, then ran a 10 mile warmup with my friend Stephen.
Correct, in the 15 hours preceding the start of the race I ran 26 miles. I wanted to experience how it felt to run all out on very tired legs. Interestingly, my legs actually weren’t that tired, which I suppose is a good sign.
The race went like most 5Ks go. I started a little too fast and gradually faded each mile. But it was still respectable. My 17:47 finish was good enough for 3rd place, while my friend Stephen finished in 1st. It wasn’t my fastest 5K in Colorado, but it was close enough that I was rather pleased. My fitness seemed to be in a really good place heading into October.
When we first briefly visited Telluride during the 2016 Hardrock Endurance Run race we knew we would want to come back and spend more a bit more time there, but not when it was super busy. Telluride is a festival town. There are many, many festivals throughout the year. With no plans for Labor Day weekend 2016 I checked some online Telluride festival calendar and it clearly indicated no festivals that weekend. Great, let’s take a road trip.
Kenosha Pass/Colorado Trail
We camped the first night at Kenosha Pass and did some light recon of the Colorado Trail. Melissa became very interested in the CT around this time and would go on in the summer of 2017 to run 44 miles on the CT to raise money for the Children’s Speech and Reading Center of Northern Colorado.
We arrived in Telluride and it was absolutely packed. There was some kind of film festival going on (thanks festival calendar). We drove through town to Bridal Veil Falls for a quick run.
We found a free dispersed camping site about 10 miles outside of town. Melissa claimed it was the best spot we’ve ever camped.
The next day I ran the Sneffels Highline Trail while Melissa and Will explored the town.
Our next campsite (the Montrose Walmart) was not the best spot we’ve ever camped. It was right on the strip where the kids cruised, each trying to one-up everyone else in car loudness.
We passed through Colorado National Monument on the way home.