There is a Seal song which goes, “no we’re never gonna survive unless we get a little crazy.” That is exactly how one makes it through the HURT 100.
In case you are not up on the HURT 100 course, let me break it down for you. It is 5 laps of 20 miles each. Now before you go thinking these laps are 20 mile loops, stop. The course is run WHITE — GREEN — ORANGE, repeat. The course starts at the Nature Center, climbs up Hog’s back, and then descends a portion of trail you run 10 times, in the same direction. The white route continues to climb with a few downshill portions before it gets flat. The flat section is the popular “web of roots” photo associated with HURT. Then you descend down for what seems an eternity, past the Manoa Falls and eventually arrive at the Paradise Park AS. Turn that beat around and go right back up to the web of roots, turning right this time to run an open ridge with a touch of climbing before descending down to something reminiscent of PNW trails. Cross a river on the stones and you have made it to the second AS, Nu’uanu. Turn around and go straight back up to the ridge, the “web of roots” and climb to the first of 2 pig gates. The trail really opens up for some running after the second pig gate then you are at the “10 x section” before descending back into the Nature Center.
I had been preparing for HURT with laser precision. I was one of the few non-Oahu residents with a supreme advantage — I get to train on the North Shore of Vancouver, notorious for its trails to gnarnia. I had been working on both the physical and mental attacks that makes HURT…well…hurt. I felt more confident and comfortable than I have ever been going in to a race. My goals were few: (1) Don’t quit and (2) Finish. Yes, I had some time goals where I knew my abilities should put me but I had heard and read numerous reports that many people do not finish HURT on the first go; now I know why. Thankfully I had received some of the best advice available before entering the lions den (I think it was the final thread keeping me from insanity). Run the course like the days of the week with each meal being at the aid stations. For example, Lap 1 is Monday and you would eat breakfast at Paradise Park AS. Then treat Lap 5 as a victory lap; say your last goodbyes to every tree, stone, root, and pig gate.
Lap 1 // Monday // All Systems Go // 4:40
Everyone piled on the little bridge awaiting the final countdown. I ended up about mid-way back on the bridge with Nicola and Alicia. I knew this section from my scouting a few days prior and that it is steep but short lived. I moved on and crested Hog’s back in 15 minutes. I made my way on past the cliffs and the roots to the descent. Dang. It just kept going. I mentally prepared for a long descent but I was worried how this would feel in a couple laps. When I got to Paradise Park in under 1:30 I knew I needed to slow down. I refilled some water, grabbed some hand-made granola bars and took off to go back up what I just came down…with taking it easy in the forefront of my mind. The sun was barely up and I was completely wet with sweat. The tape I had put on to help prevent some chaffing was already coming off. HURT holds a family quality in that you see people as you descend then ascend to each AS. You bond with excited high fives and eventually zombied grunts. Lunch
I tried walking slower than I wanted to and when a less steep section appeared I would run. The ridge line was gorgeous. It looked straight down to Waikiki beach. There is a grassy knoll with a bench just before one of the more crazier descents of the course. I could see where a lot of the technicality and rocks would turn against me when they got wet. Thankfully my shoes were giving me more confidence with each footfall. Nearing the river, I thought I was back on the North Shore, surrounded by pine trees some of which were decorated for Christmas. I saw Nicola pass back by who I thought was behind me and we got super pumped. The river crossing is done over about a dozen rocks with a rope set up beside for a handrail. Just one more steep rooted ascent to pop into Nu’uanu. I grabbed some food while the volunteers refilled my water and back out I went.
The ascent out of Nu’uanu came and went really fast and before I knew it I was climbing up the crazy steep “5 minute hill” towards that bench. My clothes and entire being were just drenched. I longed for dry clothes but I knew when I got back to the Nature Centre it wouldn’t matter. In minutes I would be just as soaked again. I rolled up to the pig gate and for the first time heard “that sound” everyone talks about. Again I tried to make sure I was taking it easy but the trail opened to some fun runnable stuff. I met up with some other runners and stayed with them as we made way back to the Nature Center. I was using my watch only to monitor water and calorie intake but I started to calculate how long the lap was taking. I realized I should be done in about 5:30 hours which was about what I wanted. My new trail buddies corrected me that we would actually be around 4:30. Oh right. My watch was not only still on Vancouver time, but I didn’t “fall back” so I was 3 hours ahead, not 2. I refueled quickly and made way back out for another round. I wanted to take this one a little more chill since I now had time to spare and the heat would be cranking up.
Lap 2 // Tuesday // It’s Over // 5:41
The heat was starting to roll in and the humidity sat heavy. I ran a while with some other runners and before I knew it I was back at Paradise, not too much slower than lap 1. Matt and Alexa were there to help me get replenished. We decided to take my socks and shoes off to see how wet my feet were and I could tell by the look on Matt’s face that it was not good. He made the call that I sit for at least 20 minutes at this aid station and the next before we could fully take care of them back at the Nature Center. I did not want to waste this much time just sitting but I knew he was right. If I did not take the time now, I would not finish later.
My mind started to wear me down on the leg out to Nu’uanu. All the thoughts of having to drop were flooding my mind and I was having problems getting them out. The earbuds on my yurbuds had popped off so I also had no music to drown out my own voice in my head. I finally got to the AS and did as Matt has instructed. I sat there…waiting. I asked for a piece of cardboard or something to fan them and one of the volunteer brought me a towel. After I had dried my feet, she said “I wish there was a way to get your socks dry…oh..I know.” She rolls my socks in the towel and proceeds to wring them out with her bare hands. Oh she was gorgeous too.
I kept trying not to think about an eventual drop out as I made my way back to the Nature Center. The leg went faster than I had remembered and before I knew it I was sitting in the chair surrounded by Matt, Alexa, Gary, Linda, and Lori. Linda had a beautiful blue parrot named Ocean perched on her shoulder eating a cracker. When Matt asked me what I felt like eating I said with wide eyes as I looked up at Ocean, “I want what the bird’s eating.”
With some incredible Matt ingenuity we got my feet drying out. I was torn between which shoes I wanted to switch to. One had great grip but no cushion, the other good stability and cushion but zero grip. I decided with night approaching and things getting wetter that I would go with my trailrocs. This proved to be a big mistake for this course.
Lap 3 // Wednesday // Send the Pain Below // 8:54
The HURT aid stations are dangerous. The food is so delicious and everyone is so helpful. You could stay way longer than intended or eat more than you should. As I started going up Hogsback for the 3rd time I realized I had eaten way too much right before such a big climb and I started getting nauseous. I knew this would go away as soon as the food settled so after running the next downhill section I sat for a little bit.
I was still not able to relax mentally given my feet. They were starting to hurt a little bit and all the nagging thoughts of having to drop kept flooding back. I realized that my feet were getting destroyed by this course in these next-to-no cushion shoes. I saw the girl who had wrung my socks out at Paradise. She brought me food, told me corny jokes, and offered to pace me if her runner dropped. This gave me a little more incentive to keep going.
I passed Alicia on some of the out and backs who had completely revitalized and was moving well. She gave me a big hug and told me to just keep moving. My feet just kept hurting on a deep deep level. I decided here that I would try to finish. Not for any reason other than I never wanted to run this course again. I could either tough out a couple more laps or have to come back and start all over for another 5.
The climb out of Nu’uanu was eventful. I somehow smacked my head on a hanging log, hard. Not a minute later I see Lori, who gave me encouraging words. I found out the next day that she too hit her head on the same log!
Lap 4 // Thursday // Loony Loopy Lost It // 7:37
“Your feet look incredible!” Matt said as he assessed the situation. I responded, “yeah but they are beyond trashed.” Here we go, time to put on those pearls that I cursed so much during Fat Dog for slipping all over the place. I really couldn’t imagine how bad they would be on the HURT course, nor did I want to. I wanted to quit. I was already at the start/finish. It would be so easy to just quit right here, right now. But Matt got me fed, refueled and back out. He wouldn’t let me leave until I smiled. The course starts to blur after a while. The bamboo starts talking to you. The slippery rocks taunt you.
“I bet green gets sad” I said as I climbed up towards the flats. “No, really. Green must be sad because it always has to share the course. White has its own section. Orange does too. But green is always paired off. All it wants is a little….limelight.”
At Nu’uanu, I began doing tired math. Never do tired math because it always ends in incorrect disappointments. I was positive I would not make it back to finish the final lap. Then a little old Hawaiian lady came up to me with a warm scented wet towel. She washed my face and said an endurance blessing over me as my eyes began to tear up. Then she washed my legs and told me I must go. Of course all my friends I told this story to said the same thing…”there was no old Hawaiian lady.”
“I can’t tell them I’m going to quit. But I can’t do this again. I’m going to quit.”
“We’re going to pace you!!” Linda was so excited to get out and run the first leg of my victory lap with me. Then Alexa was going to run the last 2. Great, so there goes my plan to quit.
Lap 5 // Friday // A Little Help from my Friends // 7:00
Linda kept me company, telling me stories from the day, updates on Ocean and pointing out the ginger on the trail that I swear I had smelled but given my mental state was not trusting anything. The company was much needed and unexpected. I don’t think I could have made myself go back around for another lap. Linda helped me say my final goodbyes to each tree, root, and rock we passed. We hopped down in to Paradise and I was back to feeling really good, minus the pain in my feet.
Alexa had not been on the rest of the course. I had already seen it 4 times. I would tell her what was coming up probably ad nauseam, but she played along. It was starting to get hot, really hot. I was moving well but grunting a lot. I apologized a lot to Alexa for the noises I was making. We saw Matt and Linda at Nu’uanu and that girl.
On the way out of Nu’uanu, I made sure to punch the log that both Lori and I had hit our heads on.
I knew there was only a little bit left and I was ready to hear that pig gate slam for the last time. It sounded so so good. I was picking up speed and ahead I could see that girl who had ended up picking up someone else in dire need of a pacer. I was ready to make the move to pass them but when she turned around and looked at me, I tripped and fell hard. Thankfully a big rock kept me from flying off the cliff. I picked myself up and made another, successful passing attempt. Alexa was thrilled at how well I was moving for the end of the race. I was just happy that I was within an hour of being done.
We made it to the final descent into the Nature Centre. This was it. I was actually going to finish a race that only a few hours in I thought I had no chance. I was sad that it did not go as planned but happy beyond belief that I was able to kiss that sign and never have to come run it again.
And that is just the race. Y’all. I don’t think I can put in to words just how incredible the HURT 100 experience is. The Hawaiian word for family is ohana, which is exactly how everyone is treated. While I may have vowed to never run this race again (I’m in good company on that vow, although everyone seems to recant after about 4 years) I want to continue to be a part of HURT for many years to come. This is definitely an event I will not soon forget and am so thankful to have been a part of. In fact, as I write this a week after finishing, there is still some aching going on. 🙂
Thank you to the RD’s, all the volunteers, Cindy, my amazing friend Audrey and my crew (Matt, Alexa, Linda, and Gary) — I could not have finished without y’alls support.
- Matt is the best crew person out there and I call dibs
- I finally nailed hydration and cooling on a hot course
- Make sure shoes drain or stop sweating so much
- HURT has the best AS food and volunteers
- Draining every ounce of my mental toughness is hard to recover from
I frequently mention how training for and running ultras challenge the way I approach life and prepare my mind to tackle those unexpected lows and bumps in the road. During a 100-mile race, my mind is constantly assessing, constantly questioning and anticipating what challenge might surface next, all while attempting to soak in the present moment and enjoy it to the fullest. Geoff Roes is quoted as saying that ultras, like life, are about enjoying the highs and managing the lows.
What if that dirt starts to blister my feet? What if the next step is the one when my leg starts to cramp? What if this is the last gel my body will accept? What if my headlamp batteries are not as charged as I thought? Should I stubbornly keep moving forward or actually sit, rest, and try to let everything calm down and soak in?
What if my job suddenly comes to a screeching halt? What if I have to be exiled in Canada? What if I have to move out of my apartment and live out of storage? Should I stubbornly keep moving toward a career in the sciences or actually sit, rest, and try to let everything calm down and soak in where my passions could lead?
What if all this was true?
Adaptability. Running 100 milers has given me the opportunity to train my mind. In the heat of an unexpected situation, I have developed and nurtured an ability to breathe deeply, step back and assess what is going on and suss out my available options for remedy. Resourcefulness is the key to a successful ultra. You go in with a plan, a backup plan, and backup for your backup plan. And might as well have a backup for that. Then you realize planning does not really help all that much and you throw it out the window to be able to constantly adjust as needs arise. This isn’t to say planning is bad, but you must not hold on to it too tightly, everything will try to rip from your hands.
Toughness. Endurance creates space for opportunities unthinkable to appear. I do not know what life will look like in the coming months, but I am approaching this season with an open mind and a willing heart. To press on into the unknown and uncertainty is not a light load. These moments, these movements evoke a certain humbleness and excitement. You can drop out of an ultra. You can’t drop out of life. There is no flagged course; no set finish line.
Provision. I recently was able to go on two amazing adventures. Days after receiving the news that my job would be ending, I got away with some close friends to explore the Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park. I took this opportunity to let nature give solace. The scenery and mountainous terrain was a welcome surprise. I had no idea this type of terrain and views existed so close to Vancouver, BC. On the first day, we had a general idea of the peaks we wanted to summit but we were able to make our own way around once we made it to the ridge. We got to run across the remnants of a snowfield, drink the water flowing straight from it, and then eat as many blueberries as we wanted on the ascent to the next peak. The next day we went to another area of the park. The blueberries were out in full force and were bursting with flavor.
Returning from Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park, I had peace of mind in the midst of the storm. I had no idea what would come next for me but somehow I knew it would all work out. I didn’t know when or how, but I was ready to accept the next chapter in my journey. Before heading off to the second adventure, I went to run around Black Tusk just north of Vancouver.
The next adventure has been on my bucket list for years, and if it’s not on yours yet it should be. The Wonderland Trail circumnavigates Mount Rainier with 93 miles of relentless trail covering every type of terrain imaginable and 24,000 ft of ascent. I was fortunate enough to go along with a crew of now great friends. We took on the trail over 3 days which allowed us to soak in every ounce of scenery and the Wonderland Trail overloads you with scenery by the ton. The days were split to be 34 miles, 26.4 miles, and 31 miles. The first day was by far the hardest, gaining about 10,000 ft of elevation in just over 50km. I bottomed out massively towards the end of the first day but continually got stronger in the next days. I fell even more in love with the simplicity of trail running. My daily needs were few. On the last day, as the alpine views took my breath away, the sun began to heat up. The trail crosses many flowing streams straight from glaciers and I was able to continually drink and cool down as I humbly passed through.
Those people and conversations gave me hope that life is full of opportunities when I was doubting everything and fighting off depression. These adventures let me know that somehow, I would be taken care of.
Community. It started with Twitter. I posed the question of where to acquire free moving boxes. With Vancouver being one of the most expensive cities in the world to live, I recognized I could not afford to live in my apartment and needed to begin making preparations to move my belongings into storage. I had no idea that post would leave me with a multitude of house sitting options and offers to have spare rooms. My Canadian work permit extension was approved, so I get to stay in Vancouver at least for a little bit longer. Everything can eventually come around if you stay actively patient.
I still don’t know what is next for me professionally but I am beyond grateful to be given the chance to sit, rest, and soak in where my passions could lead. Life, like a 100 miler, is not a solo endeavor.
Open your eyes, your sea is changing.
“Don’t reserve your joy for the perfect outcome. Be grateful for the journey and appreciate the scenery.”
If I could distill my Fat Dog 120 experience down to a single word, it would be laughter. I went in to Fat Dog physically prepared thanks to my coaches and mentally ready to tackle the demons these distances unearth thanks to some creative steps ensuring the ability to maintain positivity. I am not sure I can accurately portray how amazing a time I had during this race in this blog post, but suffice it to say that this was the most fun I have ever had running. Ever.
There were of course multiple doubts before Fat Dog. Was I really prepared for conquering my longest distance yet? Was I mentally ready to truly hold on loosely to my goals and allow them to shift as the day developed? I definitely was not prepared to laugh as much as I did. Upon registering for Fat Dog back in January, my immediate thoughts for the next few weeks were “what have I gotten myself into?” “how do I even train for something as daunting as 120 miles when I don’t even feel confident in my ability to train to a 100 miler?” Thus began my long search for a coach. I knew I needed someone to not only help me develop a good training regime, but also keep me from overtraining out of fear of the distance.
I approached race day feeling confident in my training and experimentation and with not many expectations. As I previously posted, I got to have the time of my life exploring the Fat Dog course a couple weeks prior. On race day, I get to share it with the amazing ultrarunning community. The energy was different this year. I was surrounded by friends with whom I have shared many miles and stories; life. I had my family literally behind me. The specialness of having my parents and dear family friend Rosanne helping me with my biggest challenge yet was indescribable.
“Perseverance is not a long race it is many short races one after another.”
As soon as the gun (read as bear banger) went off, I found myself with my best friends Matt and Dave of Project Talaria. We quickly realized how amazing it was that we were finally running the same race together and not sitting at a computer constantly hitting refresh throughout the night. There were a lot of jokes made in those first few moments, and that set the tone for the rest of my race.
I expected to be running a major chunk of this race alone and in less than an hour I was by myself. The first climb of the race is unending, pacing through scenes from an enchanted forest working towards a dramatic summit.
The descent finally started and it was a bit more technical than I had anticipated so I just tried not to slip and fall on the wet ground and cambered trail. I rolled in to the Ashnola aid station slightly ahead of schedule and was greeted by my best friends from North Van volunteering and taking photos. I knew the aid stations would be stocked with food, but I was not anticipating avocado!
I have been training on a high fat diet for a while and avocados are one of my favorite sources of fuel but are not that great to leave in drop bags. I made my way out to my family to get my pack restocked and began the climb to Calcite. This section was stunning! The forest was burnt out so all the trees were charred black which made the lush greens and vibrant purple flowers visually overwhelm me with beauty. I knew at the end of this second mountain, a river crossing awaited and then I could see my family and Ms. Rosanne again. Crossing the river was every bit as refreshing as I dreamt it to be. It was thigh-deep in places but as soon as I made it to the other end of the rope I sat down for a while and let the cool water energize me. Then it was just a quick couple miles on the highway to get to Bonnivier, my crew, and fresh clothes and shoes. As soon as I popped out on the road, AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” came on and I began to hammer which felt great after the seemingly endless descent to get there.
If there was a low point for me during this race, it was here. I took my time at the aid station changing clothes, refueling, and preparing for a long night alone until I got to Cascade (mile 78) where my best bud Peter would be jump in to start pacing me. I had grabbed a grilled cheese to go from the aid station but I just did not want to eat. After an hour of carrying it, I made myself sit down on a log, drink a lot of water and eat. Almost immediately I felt better, knowing I’d made the right decision to take time to get more calories in. The ascent up to Heather is full on. I got back in my groove, jamming to music and just ticked away until I could hear a dog barking in the distance. I knew I was close to the aid station and then the lights began to come in to view from the thick fog. I was munching on the amazing quesadilla and drinking some Guinness, joking with the volunteers when suddenly I hear a voice on my shoulder asking me if I wanted a pacer. It was Nicola and I gladly accepted!! I had paced Nicola on this exact section last year. We immediately got to chatting and she entertained me with numerous stories from her and her boyfriends time on the PCT this summer. The trail was muddier than I anticipated and my shoes, while great for running support and dry non-technical, the brand of my shoes became my new cuss word every time I would slide. “PEARL!!!!!”
What seemed like a short time had passed and we were at Nicomen Lake aid station which was led by one of my best friends Matt. I ate some fresh cooked bacon, refilled my pack, got a big hug and started the long descent to Cayuse. My quad was really starting to become a legitimate issue. A few years ago I injured my left ankle pretty badly and upon returning to running starting favoring my right leg on descents subconsciously to protect my left ankle. That means that after 60+ plus of my right leg taking the brute force of the downhills was taking a toll. I became fixated on “the road” which would signify about 4km until the Cayuse Flats aid station. Thankfully Nicola did not get TOO annoyed at my incessant questioning about where the dang road was. The mood was kept light with singing songs and laughing.
I managed to hold it together to get in to Cascade but was really starting to wonder if I would have to walk the rest of the entire course given the progression (or digression) of my quad. I was only a little more than 1.5 hours off my fast goal time at this point. At Cascade, Nicola graciously worked on a blister and taping my feet up. Peter had the biggest smile. I’d never seen anyone so excited and that energy was definitely making stoked. We started with jokes and laughter within steps of leaving the aid station. It was only a couple miles until the next aid station and it was all on the highway. I told Peter my concerns about my quad as we got into Sumallo Grove he got to work on loosening it up which helped for a while but along the way my quad pain came back stronger than before. This section of the course was a surprise beauty. All I had heard about it was “mosquitoes.” The trail was the softest of the day, hugging a meandering blue-green river topped with early morning fog and surrounded by towering trees. Peter, who was running his furthest distance ever and first time ever pacing, did a phenomenal job. He would get me running when I just wanted to walk and kept me smiling and laughing with story after story.
The downhills were brutalizing me. I would hobble down then start to run the flats and the uphills. Rolling in to Shawatum (mile 90) aid station was a relief. Another pacer change and ‘only’ 30 more miles to go. Just before the turnoff for the aid station, I thought we surely had missed it and I got Peter to run back to make sure we had not missed a turn somewhere. Tara was waiting for me at Shawatum, all smiles and ready to see the stellar views of the Skyline ridge. The next 9 miles were a jungle adventure — swarms of mosquitoes and lots of prickly overbrush. Tara was incredible at motivating me to get to the next aid station. Once there she quickly got me a beer and bacon. I took some pain meds for my quad and off we went. I normally never take anything during a run but my quad hurt so badly.
I was now entering into the unknown with regards to distance. I had that feeling Samwise does in Lord of the Rings “If I take one more step, it will be the furthest I’ve ever gone.” The climb to Sklyine ridge is a beast. I began laughing at just how ridiculous it was but I knew what was coming so I just put my hands on my quads and powered up. Eventually, we reached familiar territory and my quad pain was gone. GONE! I turned back to Tara, smiled, and said “let’s run.” I guess from the miles and hours I’d spent having to walk my energy levels just increased because I felt unstoppable. Tara kept commenting on how good my gate looked and how fast we were motoring. These last 20 miles of the course are the hardest (and not just because it starts at mile 100), but also have rewarding views.
I got to the Skyline Junction aid station and was informed that I was in 10th place. I had not entered Fat Dog with any placement in mind but I decided right then that I would try to see if I could catch 9th and most definitely not get passed again. I could not believe how good I felt on the ‘pumps.’ These climbs are ridiculous and you can see then next one from the one you’re on. I could see people on the next summit and worked hard to pass them before they had descended. Sadly no one I passed was in the 120 mile version of Fat Dog. I knew what to expect and chugged along until we reached the burnt out forest which is the moment you know it’s 5.5 miles of nothing but downhill to the finish. I do not know what pace I was running towards the finish, all I know is Tara kept throwing down the compliments and telling me I was running a 50km race pace, not a 120 mile.
As you reach Lightning Lake you can see the finish line across the lake, and those at the finish line can see you. I could hear the cheering and dug deeper. My dad told me they had been informed from Skyline (99 mile) aid station to expect me to come in hobbling but he recognized Tara’s cape and it was sticking straight out behind her. I was in disbelief that I felt this good, was running this fast, and that my Fat Dog 120 experience was almost over. I did not want it to end. I came around the end of the lake and saw someone had made a wrong turn so I sprinted to pass them (another 30 mile runner). I had such a blast on the course that it only seemed fitting to come rolling across the finish line doing the Gangnam style dance. I wanted everyone to be laughing as much as I had. I ended up crossing in 32:03:09 which was good enough for 10th overall.
I am beyond grateful to have my parents supporting me all along the way. They had a great time, fell in love with the ultrarunning community, and kept me focused. I could not have done this without them. I have some amazing friends who will come out to the middle of nowhere and run in the mountains just to keep me moving and laughing. Nicola, Peter, and Tara, I am so happy to have y’all alongside and will cherish the memories and stories for years to come. Heather Macdonald, Peter Watson, and the multitude of volunteers put on a world class event; congrats and thank you. Thanks to Distance Runwear for all the support and Nuun for keeping me hydrated.
After receiving my colorful belt buckle and eating some food we made our way to a hotel where I passed out and woke up in the middle of the night not too dissimilar from this:
Congrats to all my amazing friends and everyone else who took on and did great in one of the 9 toughest ultras in the world.
- Have a nutrition plan and stick to it, I finally never bottomed out
- Laugh well and often
- I love my family and glad they got to see me doing what I love
- I have amazing friends and hope to one day give back to them the way they did for me
- The ultrarunning community is by far the best ever
“All the faces and lives now lost to time but remaining as a reminder, not just that we may one day die, but that we may live now, live fully, and love freely.”
I realize it has been quite some time since I have updated on here. I was laser-focused on my goal race for the year, which just took place this past weekend and will now try to catch up on the events that led into Fat Dog.
This was my first Sky Running event and I must say, I quite enjoyed it. Maybe it was finally being surrounded by clouds and rain. Or the Wasatch-esque climbs and descents. Or that I had next to no goals for the day outside of really taking my time and last nutrition experiments before Fat Dog.
Even though I was not particularly satisfied with having to slow down every time I felt like letting loose, finishing with very little fatigue in my legs and energy to spare was worth it all. It was a great weekend with friends old and new, in an area completely new to me. I’m glad my 2014 plan to explore more of the area where I live is panning out nicely.
The race itself was quite well organized being in its first year. After a few items get ironed out, Trailstoke will be a new classic.
Wild but not Free
“It is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves.”
I finally got to live my dream. I set up my mini-SUV as an ultrarunning mobile home and made my way off to the mountains. Back in January when I registered for the Fat Dog 120 mile race, I knew that anything could happen on race day but these moments, these days of living wildly would mean more to me than race day itself. As much as I have come to love my community in Vancouver, my heart dances when thoughts of spending time alone running in the mountains for days on end begin to play.
Passion. It is a song heard by few and different for every person. But when you hear this song, you have no choice but to move and be moved. I am blessed and cursed to hear this piece constantly.
I set out, plans in place of which parts of the Fat Dog course held highest preview priority. Equipped with all my gear and the dearest of friends planning on joining me for a couple days, I was excited beyond what I dreamt this moment to be.
Each day held that joy and anticipation you felt as a kid finally released from school or chores and told to go play outside. The deep simplicity was fully satisfying to my soul. The adventure stoked the fire to explore more of the natural beauty in this world. Even getting tracked by a cougar could not dampen my spirits, although exhilarating and scary as hell.
So how does one return to the so-called normal life after finally dancing to the song that has been playing for years? I cannot be the only one left trapped by a desire for wildness. Thoreau has a famous quote “all good things are wild and free.” I do not see how ‘wild and free’ can coexist. To be wild leaves me with no freedom in my ‘other’ life. The mountains are always trying to acquire my attention, gnawing at my thoughts, making the ‘career’ seem as small as a darting sparrow through the trees of the forrest.
I will continue to hold these moments close to my heart in hopes to spread the joy and happiness it gave me to those around me. Or as Howard Thurman put it:
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
Keep dancing to your song.
“If we knew what we were doing, it would not be called research.” — Albert Einstein
Even though I really wanted some solid redemption (which was ultimately achieved) from last year’s battle, this year I was there to conduct a little research, collect some data, and figure out what modifications I need to make as I progress my training for Fat Dog 120. Even my taper was experimental. Sure, I had some lofty goals that I figured I could hit if I had a great day but this day my major focus was the journey not the destination. I knew it was going to be a hot day and I came prepared with all the tricks I had picked up from Western States last year.
The race started and the plan was to lay low for the first hour or so then start slowly kicking in to gear. On top of trying to save my legs for later I was also trying to take in more calories than I ever have before during a race (or a training run for that matter). I had my doubts about how I would be able to stomach them (hah!) when the heat turned on. I was relaxed and slowly ramping up my efforts when I began the long gravel road climb to the halfway aid station. This is where the cool light breeze that was helping me all morning disappeared and was replaced with the morning sigh of Satan. Whisps of heat would surround me for moments then I would run through the quick respite of a shadow from a tree. I love those trees. I have pinpointed this moment as to what caused me problems later on. Because I was focusing on keeping a solid pace in the ever increasing heat, my calorie intake began to dwindle. When I begin to heat up, I find it really difficult to eat or drink. I thought I was getting really close to the aid station so I decided to hold off on taking a gel at the risk of having it come immediately back up. Unfortunately, I underestimated how much further I had to go and every time I told myself it was time to eat, I brushed it aside that I was so close to getting water thrown on me to cool down and then I would eat.
I made it to the AS and the volunteer dumped the entire jug of water on me as I began to down gels and shots of cola. I knew the next section was going to be hotter but also had some fun downhills. At this point a lot of the 50km runners were starting to show up. I got lost in the fun of descending and realized I was passing a lot of people; that is, until the trail turned and went up another steep hot climb. I went back to my chug-a-long pace and was greeted with many compliments on my downhill speed and fluidity from some 50km racers charging up the hill.
I kept a steady pace and made my way up the hot climb to the Sun Mountain Lodge. Again, the heat pressed down on me and taking in calories was tough. At the top I saw Julie, who had taken me out on my very first trail run back in 2009 with our mutual friend, Ruari. After a quick catch-up and a hug I was off in search of the water station. It was just a drinking fountain beside a tennis court, BUT it had a spout off the side for filling dog bowls, attaching a hose, etc. I sat underneath it and turned the handle. The cold water immediately started working its magic on me.
Heading down to the last AS, the heat overtook the chill from the water at the tennis courts and brought me to a halt. I did not want to be walking any of this but I had zero energy left. The caloric deficit was finally sinking in and I knew what I had to do. I immediately ate a couple gels and some nut butter and continued walking a little bit more to wash it all down and make sure it stayed put. Once I finally made it to the AS I had to sit in the shade, pour more water over me and devour some watermelon.
The final climb was not that bad, but my full stomach in the heat was not a fun combination to try to push uphill. Once on the ridge, clouds came. Sweet, fluffy, glorious clouds. And wind. The chill in the air wrapped itself around me like a hug from an old friend. I was back. Revitalized. Jonathan and Darnelle were at the turnaround, gave me some gummies and told me that the total run time was 7:45. Knowing I had missed my lofty goal of 7:30, I decided I would try my hardest to finish in under 8:30.
I took off, aided by my iPod (on random) playing the best possible songs to hammer out a finish.
Outkast – “Rosa Parks”
Woodkid – “Run Boy Run”
Muse – “Supremacy”
The Human Abstract – “Faust”
Crossing the finish line, I gave RD James Varner a hug and was greeted by many familiar faces; my trail running family.
I was able to finish in 8:14:36, a PR for a 50 miler and a PB on the Sun Mountain course. The experiments went well. I did not trash my legs. I did not have to suffer or knock on the door of the dark place.
It was not a perfect race. I made mistakes, but that’s what I went there to do.
Awesome jobs and wise decisions were made by all my friends.
If you have ever run an ultra, especially those of us who have journeyed into the 100 mile distance, you probably know where this is going. Everyone always talks about having to go to ‘that dark place’ sometimes in a race but few divulge much more. One of my favorite bands, Anberlin, has an album titled “Dark is the way, Light is a place.” It accurately describes the process we go through when we have to pretty much dissociate to make it past a difficult time. We mentally prepare for it by coming up with mantras, relying on specific memories, or having a friend along to pull us back out and keep us moving forward and stay grounded. It has been my experience that the deeper I have had to sink into the darkness to push through, the brighter a light is found. I think most of us have stories and images conjure up that would probably have not crossed out minds otherwise.
My parents recently made the decision to come up from Louisiana to support me at Fat Dog 120 miler this August. I am so excited to be able to share this aspect of my life with them. They were the ones that instilled in me a sense of adventure and appreciation for being rooted in nature. Louisiana is a wild place. Your personal space is constantly invaded by nature be it Spanish moss tickling your face, bugs and snakes seeking solace from the suffocating heat, close encounters with a variety of curious beasts, or the unbridled power of a storm. You learn quickly that scary or uncomfortable situations can be thrown at you in a moments notice leaving you with two choices: fear or acceptance.
Throughout most of my longer races, my mind has utilized many different memories to keep my body going. I will share two of them.
I like all ultras, but I feel that the 100 mile distance is the true ultra. It is an unfathomable distance to run for most everyone not in our community and generally requires running through the night. The cumulative factors of not being able to stop moving coupled with the sometimes disorientation that comes along with the night portion give these events a mysterious and attractive persona. One of my favorite times during a 100-miler is seeing the first rays of sunshine after running through the night, quickly followed by getting to remove my headlamp. Those last few hours of having to continue through the dark always make me think of my dad. He loves to go fishing. Many a weekend morning we would wake up before the sun had risen to be putting the boat in the water as the sun was rising. There was a calmness. The smell of my dad’s coffee. The cool, crisp air at the first light of morning. The gentle stirring of all the bayou creatures waking. Admittedly I did not always want to go or to be there, especially on the hot days. However, I always hold fond memories.
If you have never been to the deep south in the summer, you do not understand the term “oppressive heat.” The availability to escape into air-conditioned areas for exercise is fairly low, forcing people to do walks around the mall. Not a fan of the crowds, my mom would always go walking at the local university’s coliseum. It was not massive so longer walks would go by in a dizzying fashion. As a kid though, those were times to chat and hold my mom’s hand as we walked around and around and around. Many-a-time in my 100’s, something has forced me to a walking pace. The circumstances making me walk can be anything from dehydration, hot hot heat, or hitting a caloric low. Whatever the reason, my mind always jets back to Louisiana, holding my mom’s hand as we circle the air-conditioned hallway of that coliseum.
Now that training and crew plans are solidifying for Fat Dog, I cannot express how much it will mean to have my parents with me. Fat Dog will undoubtedly push me beyond my limits. I am already dreaming of watching that sunrise with my dad at an aid station, drinking some coffee and breathing in the early morning mountain air. And of holding my mom’s hand as she walks me out of an aid station to the next section of the race.
(1) How to succeed in suffering and solitude.
(2) What not to do in shorter races.
(3) Carry inspiration with you.
(4) Let it be. Blame it on the boogie.
“If you are going through hell, keep going.” – Churchill.
To say I was disappointed with a seemingly good result at this year’s Diez Vista is valid. I was not able to capitalize on what I know my current level of fitness is capable of doing. Now that I have had some time to step back and begin to learn lessons from the deep dark pits I visited, I am no longer upset that one of my two “A” races for the year was a bit of a wash. I went in with a very specific time goal and no idea/care where that time would put me placing-wise given the incredible field this year.
I was chomping at the bits to get going on race day. I adore early season Pacific Northwest races. You are almost guaranteed rain and for certain overcast — my favorite weather conditions for both running and life — which allows an opportunity for those of us prone to wear a lot of black and not melt (ahem, 2013 Western States and your insane heat). I came in to Diez fully rested and with a solid race plan. Little did I know that the elusive perfect race we all seek would not be found. I did know going in that I was there to push myself harder and further than I had in a race before. Coming off of almost 6 months of varying degrees of injuries (receiving treatments for nagging issues as late as mid-Feb), I was unsure if my body could even handle what I wanted to do to it. When I know I’ll be heading for a good day of pain, I like to keep perspective. I think it’s important for me to remember that I choose this sport; I have the good fortune of getting that choice. One piece (and the only non-black item on me for the day) was a blue piece of tape around my thumb. I wanted to remember my sister’s newly acquired nephews. These twin boys are the some of the most inspiring kids/people you will meet. Luke and Ben. Ben was born with cerebral paulsy and loves to run. In fact, he won his age group in a race last year (he’s 5 by the way)! He’s recently had surgery and is able to walk up a storm now.
I was off and running comfortably for first chunk of the course. I ran with Chris (who ended up placing second) for the descent off the ridge then tucked back in to my steady pace for the west side of Buntzen lake, letting him and Jason (3rd place) go ahead. I rolled in to the halfway point aid station feeling incredible. My watch died a few days before the race so I was running blind on time points and heart rate. I also barely ran with anyone for almost the entirety of the race so I know my pace was all over the place (wow there’s a lot of rhyming going on there). I felt like I had not really started working yet. The volunteers at the aid station told me I was less than 2 minutes behind Chris and Jason. This fit perfectly in my plan to blast the east portion of the lake trail. It was hunting time and this dog caught a scent. I made it quite a ways before I could barely hear the next round of cheers from the previous aid station. I knew I had a good lead on whoever was behind me and with the speed I was throwing down, I was positive I would put even more of a gap.
And then, it hit.
My core cramped up. At first I could not take a deep breath. This was not a side pain or my stomach failing me. This was my abs deciding they did not want to play anymore. Immediately my 100-mile mind went to “oh cramps? I need to eat.” So I threw back a couple gels and most of a packet of chews, not remembering that (a) all of my long run training to this point was done with almost only water and (b) I was NOT in a 100-miler where the body has enough blood/time to properly digest. My quick-fix plus an inability to give up on the hunt gave me some pretty incredible nausea that never went away the rest of the race. I was gutted. I knew at that point I would not be able to achieve my time goal and had to make the unfortunate mental switch from “yay party on the trails” to “ok how quickly can I get this done so I can sit or vomit or both.”
Here are the big take-aways:
- I finished. 5:04 for 8th overall and 3rd male 30-39. That is 5 minutes faster than last year. So given the day I had, I am pleased to have improved, even though I do not feel I had the opportunity to push my current level of fitness.
- Not a single injury I have dealt with resurfaced. That alone is better than hitting any time goal.
- I made some rad new friends and am excited to hit the trails with them soon, sans cramping.
- I somehow convinced a co-worker to sign up for Diez as his first ever ultra. He not only demolished it but is ready to do more!
- I apparently am horrendous at faking that I am not in the pain cave. I am so grateful to all the other runners and volunteers who were cheerful and smiled when I could not. Sorry for just grunting. But hey, at least I didn’t throw up on you.
- I got a super sweet 2014 DV50 beer stein that was taken out to my local watering hole that night. We also received electric orange arm warmers which are totally rad.