‘This race is little more than a slow motion train wreck…. a slow motion train wreck…’ That was the overriding thought that stayed in my brain for much of the first 20 miles of the 2012 Steamboat Run Rabbit Run 100. So much for positive thinking. In fact, you could say I was down-right negative. Mentally, I had no business being out there. I felt horrible and was wondering what in the heck I was doing in a race like this. I am not certain why my race started out so poorly, but in retrospect I am shocked that my ‘train wreck of a race’ turned into a runaway train of energy and ‘beast-mode’ running. It felt like I went from hobby jogger to serious competitor with a snap of the fingers. What turned this race around for me? Not sure, but it all started with Marty Wacker.
Marty and I have known each other for a few years now as we have raced many of the same races throughout Colorado. I don’t have the stats in front of me, but I have been fortunate enough to get the best of Marty on a few occasions and I know he has beaten me to the finish line more than once. Largely I have known Marty as ‘the-really-nice-dude-who-can-get-into-a-groove-and-beat-you’. During the Run Rabbit Run 100 (RRR 100) I caught up to Marty about half way down the first major descent coming down the Fish Creek Falls Trail and he and I ran together for the final 3+ miles to the high school at mile 23. We chatted about the course, the weather, camping, what the winning time was going to be, etc. We also traded a few stories about getting lost in previous races. The part of the talk I remember the most though was about raising children. Marty has two teenagers and I pestered him for advice about raising a daughter. He gave me a few positive gems of info, we shared a good laugh, and as we neared the high school aid station, I think we parted ways with a solid fist-bump and swapping lines like: “Good to chat with you brotha’, and I hope to see more of you throughout the race.”
And with that 3 mile conversational exchange with Marty, positivity once again ruled my brain for the remainder of the race. Amazing how that works. It also helped that a mere one mile beyond the high school aid station I was going to see Annie and Jordan! This was tremendously exciting, and I came into Howelsen Hill (mile 24) ready for a bit of aid and to soak up more energy from Annie, Jordan, and our friends Dan and Becky. They were all there as I sat, ate some food, drank a bit, and reloaded for the next 20 mile stretch on Emerald Mountain. I left this aid station in good spirits, rolled up Howelsen Hill and the ‘Lane of Pain’ to the top of Emerald Mountain which led to a fantastic single track section at about 7800′. The sunset was beautiful, my energy was high, and I was beginning to pick off some people. I had initially been somewhere in the upper teens through the first two aid stations but had crept into 11th place at the Howelsen Hill aid station at mile 24. As I came back to the base of Howelsen Hill at what was supposed to be mile 40, I had moved into 9th place and was feeling good heading into the full darkness of night. One disconcerting note here was that my GPS was reading about 46 miles at what was supposed to be the mile 40 aid station. Yikes. This would be a trend that everyone was experiencing.
I sat for a few minutes as Annie provided me with the best aid in the world… new bottles filled with EFS from First Endurance, a few cups of coke, and a tremendous concoction of sweet-potatoes and deli-turkey. I gave Jordan a kiss as she was held and cared for by another Annie, (thanks!) and then grabbed my UltrAspire Spry vest, an iPod, as well as a handful of potato chips, and rallied to the high school and beyond. My mind had completely made the shift from running to racing and as I began the long climb back up the Fish Creek Falls Trail I began to move steadily faster, with a bit more effort, purpose, resolve, and bounce. My legs felt great and my range of motion, which had been limited all race so far, began to open up. I was feeling good as I embraced the loud music, sipped more EFS, and hammered up the Fish Creek Falls Trail and back to the Long Lake Aid Station. Once there I found out that in fact I was in 6th place overall. Whoa… really!? I know I had passed Mike Wolfe, but where did the others go? (Turns out many folks had taken the wrong drainage back up out of town and had wandered off course, added on too much distance, or dropped out).
I powered on along a smooth dirt road at approximately 10,000′ and cruised into the Summit Lake Aid Station, which was supposed to be mile 55, but my GPS was reading over 62 by this point! After a bit more aid consisting of mashed potatoes, I ran extremely hard down Buff Pass to the Dry Lake Aid Station where I found out that Dave James and Lizzy Hawker had just left. This was approximately 70 miles into what appeared to be a 110 mile race and I had a decision to make. Should I keep on running steady but remain conservative, or should I risk blowing up, push the pace, and see what would happen? I decided to hammer and found myself careening down the Spring Creek Trail back to the high school aid station at mile 75. I was running as hard as I could, pushing the envelope, and feeling amazing doing it. During this quick 5.5 mile stretch I passed both Dave and Lizzy and moved into 4th place overall, about 1 hour back from Timothy Olsen who was in command of third place. Karl and Dylan were out in front and I knew I was not going to catch those guys, but somehow I convinced myself that I could make up the 55 minutes on Tim over the final 35 miles of the race. I hammered up the Spring Creek Trail and back to Dry Lake as hard as I could. One wonderful thing about running in the dark is that you can look ridiculous and no one notices. I was frothing at the mouth, breathing hard, grunting, singing along to some of my tunes, and basically looking silly. No one knew though… and this brought a big smile to my face. Also keeping the positive vibes going was knowing that a good friend was sitting at home watching iRunFar’s coverage of the race online throughout the night. I knew he must’ve been psyched to see me move up from 18th… to 15th… to 11th… to 9th… to 8th… to 6th, and now into 4th place overall.
I rolled into Dry Lake, grabbed some more food and coke and headed back up Buff Pass and back to Summit Lake Aid Station. I was running hard, hiking fast where I needed to, and generally holding it together. Just before reaching the top of the climb I began to feel a bit sleepy, and I could tell I was in need of that sunrise! At the Summit Lake Aid, I ate more wonderful mashed potatoes, washed it down with a bit of coke, and moved on. Here the course differed from the initial segment that we had been on. We took the Wyoming Trail from Summit Lake Aid back to Long Lake Aid which would add another two miles onto the day. I was slightly grumpy about having to do this… mostly because this all but guaranteed a 110+ mile race, but once I was actually on this buff double-track section I was stoked. The world was gathering light with the growing sunrise, my brain was rejuvenated with the calories, and I was stoked to be moving so fast this late in the game. At this point, cruising in 4th place, on the hunt for Timothy Olsen, and positive that my energy would last, I turned the tunes (Dave Matthews Band) up one more notch, put my head down and resolved to pulverize my legs the rest of the way.
Perhaps I lost focus, but after passing a few other folks on course (people running the Tortoise race which had started 5 hours earlier than the Hares race) I blazed through a 4-way intersection of trails and continued on what I thought was the 100 mile race course. The two people I had just passed (Jason Koop and his wife!) saw me go the wrong way and shouted for all it was worth to get me to turn around. Two problems though… I was running really fast through this section and was quite a distance down the trail already, and I was listening to my music with something approaching ‘ear-damage-level’ volume. Jason shouted exceptionally loud, but I never heard him and instead kept my head down while I cranked down the trail. I had pushed straight on to the 50 mile race course. (the 50 mile race was happening at the same time that morning!) The 100 mile course had been using a mix of pink and yellow markers, but the 50 mile course was only using the pink color markers. I failed to notice. Had I slowed down for just 1 second at the 4 way intersection and looked to my right, I would have seen the yellow markings for the 100 mile course and I would’ve been good as gold. Instead, I ended up 50 minutes down trail on the wrong course before coming to an aid station that was being set up. I asked: “Where am I?” and made the statement: “I’m really confused.” The guys took one look at me and knew that I was in the 100 mile race. They felt so bad for me, offered me a coke, and pointed me back the several miles to the 100 mile course where I had made my error. Sure enough, after another 50 minutes. (50 minutes!) of running, I came across the intersection, went the proper direction, and within minutes was at the Long Lake Aid Station. (A 1 hour 40 minute detour!) (At least 8 miles, probably closer to 10 miles of extra running) (GPS died during this section)
I couldn’t believe it. I was furious, yet remained composed. I had completely blown it and somehow I thought the only way to atone for it was to try to literally destroy my legs. I ran so hard back to the aid station, grabbed some food and hammered out of there. Every step was forceful, purposeful, and designed to get me back to the finish line. I was convinced I was in 10th place, out of the money, and a loser… but I kept hammering. I made it back to the top of Mt Werner and the final aid station before finally getting word that I had only lost 1 place on the overall leader board. (Lizzy Hawker passed me to take over 4th place overall) Still, I was livid… and ran the final 6.4 miles in about 45 minutes to finish in 5th place with a time of 22 hours and 36 minutes. (22:36). I was mad at myself for making a boneheaded error but that was somewhat tempered at the finish line knowing that despite running an extra 8 to 10 miles, I only lost 1 place and ended up fifth overall. The real ‘tragedy’ (if I can be dramatic for 1 second here) is that I don’t have ‘in-the-zone’ efforts like this very often and to waste one by simply taking a wrong turn… well… that is a killer.
The overwhelming ‘take-home’ though? I ran 120 miles in 22 hours and 36 minutes and largely felt invincible for the last 80 miles. I guess I can’t complain too much. I am deeply thankful for the solid effort, the great aid stations, the fantastic prize money, and the support from many people out on course. I am humbled by how much my wife supports my whacky endeavors, both on course and in life. Thanks babe. I am grateful for great friends like Dan and Becky who came out to watch, cheer, help out in many ways and show their support. Thanks you guys. I am grateful for strangers who help at the aid stations throughout the entire night! I am deeply appreciative of other strangers who help out by assisting at aid stations, watching our child, and showing support. (Thank you Annie Murphy (I think that’s your last name)). As for Marty? He crushed it and finished in 6th place. Nice work Marty… thanks for the early-race chat. Congratulations to Karl for taking home the big victory and the hefty check. Same to Lizzy… nice work. Dylan Bowman and Timothy Olsen ran super strong as well. Nice job guys. Fantastic efforts by everyone who finished this tough race. Congrats all.
Here’s to ‘owning’ our mistakes and moving forward to new challenges. Up next? The StumpJump 50km in Chattanooga, TN in just under 3 weeks. Really looking forward to racing in a state I’ve never been to. Keep on recovering. Live well. Train well. Focus well. DC