Thursday, September 20, 2012

Steamboat Run Rabbit Run 113+ Race Report

The Inaugural Steamboat 100 was the most spectacularly absurd thing I've ever witnessed.
And I can't believe I was lucky enough to have a front row seat.

Going into the event, I was unsure about how well my stitched-up leg and bruised body would hold up.

Well, it turns out that my body held up better than expected.  But it turns out this wasn't the major challenge of the day; instead, it was a mental and physical challenge against uncertainty and unpredictability, more than any other race I've done.  The distance, of at least 113 miles, also happened to more than I've ever done.  And in the end, I only made it not just by being aided by friends and family, but literally willed to the finish line by their efforts, spirit, and generosity, at a level I still can't fathom deserving.

So let's start back at the beginning...

The Steamboat Run Rabbit Run 100 was a brand-new 100-mile event.  New events always have risks -- even 5k's sometimes take a year to get things dialed in.  But this event had some promising reasons to give hope that it would immediately be a top-notch event: the event is run by the same race directors as the perennial Run Rabbit Run 50-miler, which is an immensely popular event that sells out every year.  Like the 50M, the event is part of the Montrail Ultra Cup, providing Western States spots to the top finishers, and the 100M also gained an unprecedented first-year credential as a Hardrock 100 qualifier.  But that wasn't the biggest buzz surrounding the race: the Run Rabbit Run 100 was also promoted as a high-dollar, competitive draw, by providing $40,000 in cash to the leaders, 5-deep.  It was shaping it to be a Big Deal.

The Steamboat course actually seemed quite attractive to me because it runs directly through town several times.  This mean that crewing and spectating would be comparatively "easy" -- if I may use that word humbly and ironically.  Seriously, while nothing will relieve crews of interminable and uncertain waits at aid stations, at least they can do it with less driving and the ability to hang out and enjoy the town of Steamboat.  So, the race lent itself well to a fun family and friends weekend getaway.

Another twist in the Steamboat 100 is the division of runners into "Tortoise" and "Hare" groups.  Because of the large prize purse theoretically inducing a fair share of "elite" ultrarunners into the event, the idea of the split race is that Hares start the race later in the day (5 hours later) and the Tortoises can thus see the Hare competition developing later into the race.  Additionally, the Hares are limited by further arbitrary restrictions, such as not being able to use poles or pacers (surely, pacers with poles -- fuhgeddaboutit!), yet being eligible of course for the big prize money while subject to stricter time limits due to starting later.

I'm not a fan of the split start and separate rules, because I find it more divisive than I do exciting, but I'll acquiesce to the majority if it's truly a preferred system, but I think it will be more enjoyable with a much larger field.  I'll write more about that separately.  Mostly, I think pacers have an important place in past, present, and future ultrarunning...and I'll write a separate post about that, too.  

As it stood, I was somewhat torn between which group to run with, because I'm sort of a B-level "bubble" runner that expected to run slower than most Hares, and faster than most Tortoises, on a good day.  But what sealed the deal was the pacer thing -- I'd have the ability to run for hours with one of my great buds, Alex May, if I signed up as a Tortoise.  Done.

So as a Tortoise, I had the advantage of starting earlier in the day on a beautiful morning.  With the typical non-fanfare of these things, we were off like a herd of turtles.

Start to Mt. Werner
Our first task?  Climbing 3500 feet straight up Mt. Werner.  Although we began on ski service roads, we'd ultimately be following flags straight up some ski runs in order to reach the top.  I had started in the middle of the pack, kept my pace in check, but moved steadily up until we were off trail.

Now was the first test for the stitches.  I was hiking purposefully and well up the mountain, and soon enough I was in a group of 5 guys, and then 3.  And I felt great -- I guess I've been humping up and down unmarked mountain trails as much as anything all year -- so I tucked my bottle into my shorts, put hands on knees, and Euro-hiked one flag at a time.  Yeah, I was pushing the heart and lungs here, but usually my cardiovascular system is utterly untapped and bored in these races as my legs give out instead, so I went with it.  Soon enough, I was ahead and in charge of finding and pointing out flags, first in the shade, and then with the sun in our eyes.  And I was still gaining.

Bryon Powell floats above in the irunfar balloon

Finally, we reached a road juncture, at a bench just above the gondola, and nobody else was in sight.  I knew we had to go climber's-left here, so I headed left, despite lack of flags in either direction.   More ski runs appeared to my right, and since the race directions talked extensively about heading straight up the hill, I thought that might be the direction.  But, tried as I might by scanning the amber brush for yellow(!) flags, I didn't see any, so I kept going.  Now, having remembered something about seeing a flag every quarter mile, and suspecting my sight line down the road was over that, I was getting nervous, so I looped back to the ski run and headed up, hunting for flags.  Soon enough, 3 other guys came by and said we should indeed go straight down the road, so I jumped back down with them.  It was nice to be in a group again, no big deal....

Mt. Werner, more popular in Winter

Until the next road intersection.  Up there, we clearly saw a yellow flag at the junction, and another to the climber's right.  This did not jive with our expectation of the course, which should head over to Storm Peak lift to the left (yes, you're best off augmenting your own maps with ski hill maps...and I had actually done this, suspecting confusion on this part of the course), but the marking was clearly to the right.  And, we couldn't see anything to the we followed the flag.  

We continued down for maybe close to a half-mile, before a few of us started getting nervous.  Oh, here I should mention, 2 of the other 3 guys had pre-run the course, and they were both confused and slightly annoyed.  We knew that the service road would still climb to the same point, but with more distance (and technically being off-route).  We cut our losses and headed back, determined to look the other way for a flag, and assuming/hoping that others had found it by now.

Whoops: as we headed back, the cavalry was coming: a group of a dozen or more had come this way as well, including Aaron Marx -- it was great to see him again, and he was wondering why we were seeing each other again!  One guy actually had the stack of race directions with him (did I mention it's an impractical tome of about 8 maps and extensive narrative?) -- he read the part about Storm Peak, and the small group of us continued on our way.  The bulk of the group continued the incorrect way behind us.

Sure enough, down the trail, we saw another yellow flag, and went with it.
Eventually we got to the final pitch of steep hiking.  2 of the guys that had started with us, then kept going the wrong way, saw us through the trees (fortunately for them) and bushwhacked down to us, so we had a group of 5 again.

I'm sure we lost at least 10 minutes here, but pretty much everyone did.  Hopefully this information would be useful to the Hares who would be starting later, as we now felt more like Guinea Pigs than Tortoises.  
I led the charge up the hill again, and with slight separation again, I was the first up the hill.  This means nothing in the grand scheme of the race, but I thought it would be fun for the folks back home -- it turns out it was even more amusing than I thought, given what happened in the next couple hours.

Race Position, by Mile

After filling up (I had one bottle at this point) and grabbing some Stinger Waffles, it was time to run some trail!  My plan in general was to push the uphills as needed in the beginning, but take the downhill super easy, so I watched as one of the other 2 guys got ahead.  I stayed with and chatted a bit with Rick, but encouraged him to head on as well as I was content to take it easy.  

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the crew had a pleasant breakfast, and began toiling through race descriptions.

Let me talk a bit more about the Crew.

The Crew
The Crew was again a dream team led by J, Nora, and Debby, with more advice from experienced runner and The Pacer, Alex May.  This time, they were also joined by Nora's sister, Jill, who ended up spending most of her vacation from Oregon by joining in on this nonsense.

We were very fortunate to stay in a big, beautiful vacation condo right at the base of the mountain.  This was a fun and relaxing place to hang out, and later we'd be joined by the rest of our family in Colorado, making for a fun weekend overall.

Anyway, the pacing plan was to have Alex run with me presumably through the night, starting at mile 67.  Additionally, J would be able to pace the sections through town (advertised as under a mile, but actually closer to 1.5 each time).  I could have a pacer from 40M to 67M, but had not planned on having one.  Otherwise, I know that other groups have various planning methods, but I feel so silly about the whole thing anyway, that I generally try to keep it simple, letting the crew know the basics about the course and things I might expect to need.  But, the script usually goes out the window, so mostly I'm proud of how great they are at solving problems.  It turns out, their ability to not just solve problems, but anticipating problems, ended up being the crux of the race.

As a treat for them, though, they got to see I was in first they hurried to get ready!  This was going to be serious business, it seemed!

Mt. Werner to Long Lake
The route continued to roll along very pleasant, buff, high mountain singletrack, and there was a gap in front of and behind me so that I was running all alone.  Fun times up high.  Soon enough, I neared the first trail junction.  An infamous trail junction, as it turned out.

I knew my goal was Long Lake.  I knew it should be near, probably within 10 minutes or so.  I wasn't expecting any sharp turns, but there it was: the trail junction was very clearly marked with a yellow ribbon.  Coming down the trail, it was easy to spot, because I was staring right at it.  Below the trail junction was a race sign, solidly affixed to the post, was a laminated RRR sign.  It would have looked exactly like this, in ASCII:

100 Miles

Indeed, it was the very first sign encountered during the race.  Because of the 50M race the next day, we were told to be aware of divergences from the 50M course.  I knew that the 50M race headed generally East, and because of the specific 100M course, I thought this might be an important divergence from the course.  I glanced upward and saw a pink ribbon (50M course), so I ran in the direction of the sign until I encountered a yellow ribbon.

Cool, I must be on course.

I ran another 10 minutes, than 15, than 20.  I was expecting to hit the aid station soon, in a high, falt area, and maintain elevation, but I was descending slightly.  I saw more clearings ahead as the trail flattened out again, and thought that the aid station might be near, so I continued.  Nope, more marshes and open terrain.  25 minutes.

This was not feeling good...but the arrow pointed this way, and I was following yellow ribbons, so what other option would there have been?  Up ahead, the terrain became thicker with aspen, and the surrounding terrain was funneling into more of a canyon.  That seemed more like the terrain that would define what I imagined Fish Creek Falls to be.  Crap.   I planned to stop and turn around or wait for other runners at half an hour.
Then, I saw some hikers come up.  "Congratulations!" they said. 
"Thanks...uh, have you seen other runners?"
"No, you're in first place!"

That's about the worst news I could get.

I asked them if they knew if this was the trail to Long Lake.  "Yes," they replied "we started at the trailhead, it said 5 or 6 miles to the Lake!"

I shook my head and told them, "Thanks...I'm going to have to turn around."

Ouch, that was disappointing.  I started running back, at the same or maybe a tick faster than I was, before I could stop and think too much about it.  Within minutes, first and second came by -- now an hour ahead of me (again, they had pre-run this part).  I confirmed my fears.  Both were upset, for me.  Rick said, "I told them they needed to mark that" and "Check with the next runners that they went the right way."  About 10 minutes later, I saw Hessek and Boots.  They said they went about a quarter mile down the wrong way before making the correction.  I checked with subsequent runners, and the ones I talked to had made it to Long Lake, often after having gone the wrong way for a bit, or stopping at the intersection, or being shouted at and corrected by runners behind them.

I still hadn't thought about the implications yet.  I could have had knowledge from the maps and course description, and I take responsibility for that, as I had a notion that the correct direction was indeed the other way.  I do not, however, agree that races are sufficiently fun or interesting if they require extensive orienteering: course design is a comprehensive combination of maps, description, and marking, and all of them have both importance and limitations in conveying important information (e.g., maps don't always have sufficient resolution for course ambiguities).  I'll get more into that as a separate topic.

Why didn't I turn around earlier?  A few factors compounded to make the decision more difficult.  First, the ambiguous and blatantly incorrect marking earlier in the race had shaken my confidence.  Second, the explicit sign directed me to go in that direction -- without a sign, I would have checked out both trail options, and naturally wouldn't have made the sharper turn.  Not intended to be excuses as much as information, which could have been simplified to help 150 people.

So, I came back to the junction about 65 minutes later, I figured 5.5-6M out of my way.  The sign was still there, and I headed up the correct direction. Indeed, there was a yellow flag on a yellow tree in the shade up there as well.  Within just a few minutes, I could see the lake -- Wow, I blew over an hour by being just a few minutes below sight of the lake.

I got to Long Lake aid station, and was calm and pleasant to the volunteers, thanking them for everything.  But I tried explaining the importance of the course marking, and was now more concerned about a large chunk of the Hare Race blowing through it.  They were well-aware of other complaints, and said they had sent somebody down to "fix" it.  I was confused, but went with it.

Shortly down the trail, I saw what they had done to "fix" it -- put another sign at a junction that wasn't important until much later in the race.  There was also a sign that said "Steamboat Aid" and "Long Lake Aid" with arrows in the correct directions.  So the problem was, all of these signs were placed well-after the confusing turn.

Long Lake to Steamboat High via Fish Creek Falls Tr.
Well, now I was back on track.  I was annoyed but didn't lose my cool.  The worst parts ended up being running an extra hour which put me later into the warmer part of the day, still with one bottle...and I had dug myself a hole on water and calories already.  I drank extra at the aid station, but finished my bottle well before finishing Fish Creek Falls trail.

Otherwise, the trail was nice, and had just a few miles of the only really technical section of the whole course.  Slow and easy, at least I had fun passing some people here.  Mentally, as soon as I thought "I'd be down the trail by now" I put it quickly out of my mind.

Finally, I was done with the trail, with a few miles on the road left, and well out of water.  I was going to make it to the aid station, and am a stickler for the rules, but I recalled Fred saying, "Don't drive next to your runner all the way up the road, but if want your family to meet you at the Fish Creek Falls TH and give you a bottle or something, they can do that."  We hadn't planned on that (possibly with them heading up later at night), but someone else did and was waiting for their runner, and offered me water, which I accepted.  I drained that bottle in the few short miles down the road, and finally rolled around to the High School, embarrassed at being late.

I started telling them the stories, but word gets around, and my crafty crew was already in the know.  They'd been hearing tales of course marking issues from many of the runners, and then another runner specifically told Alex about me having gone significantly down the wrong way.  I was disappointed but it was "only" 20M into the race, despite having already run a marathon, but seeing them charged me up again to keep going.  I grabbed a 2nd bottle here.

Now the race crosses right through town, and for safety reasons, everyone is allowed a pacer as we go across town.  This was pretty cool because, for the first time in the middle of a race, I was able to have my wife as a pacer!  It was great to run with her and she kept me right on course, with a positive attitude and energy.  

I checked in and out of Olympian Hall, and began the second ski-hill assault up Emerald Mountain.  I told a guy at the bottom that I'd catch the 2 people already up the hill -- that was my goal, and I did.

There were a few more runners up here, I ran with some and then headed up ahead, as we looked for flags.  We hit another ambiguous spot, so 2 of us scouted each direction to find the correct one.  I think they were actually more annoyed than I was about another marking issue.  But now we were confidently on track and kept heading up the hill.

No pacers, no pictures, but it was a bit hotter and more exposed being early afternoon.  At least the flags were easier to see in the sun!  The rest of the climb was straightforward and well-marked, and a guy on a bike told us to follow along the ridgeline to the right.  That was scenic and enjoyable, and now we were ready for a long, hot descent down to Cow Creek.

Again, I took it easy, had some occasional conversation, and the trail was in good shape with some nice views. But, it was hot.  Near the bottom of the descent, I caught up with Aaron Marx.  It was great to see him running, and he was both happy and concerned to see me again.  Unfortunately -- and I suspect it was the heat -- his stomach wasn't treating him well. I enjoyed meeting //fixme who was running his first 100, very well, and was also a research professor at CU Boulder in //fixme, so we enjoyed knowing the same circle of people and topics.  

At the bottom, I was happy to see Trimboli.  I camel-ed up on fluids (so I thought) and grabbed some food for the long climb up the //fixme B trail.   It began with a steady 2-mile grade on a hot, dirt road, which was runnable although hot, and I was looking forward to the shaded climb.  The turn to the left was well-marked, and we began our climb.

This was probably my energetic low-point of the race, as I grinded up the hill.  It was a nice buff track that had runnable flat parts and generally runnable uphill as well, but somehow I was already running low on water, and I hadn't grabbed enough food.  I hadn't really "fixed" the deficit I made before.  I leapfrogged a couple guys but otherwise wasn't normally the conversationalist I would be this early in the race (we were only at mile 30-something!)  Finally, we were near the top, and I drained the rest of my water.

As we hit the ridge and rolled, I kept it easy on the quads, but was having legitimate pain in my knee, and some in my back where I had bruised it.  I could barely run downhill at all (it started a little bit earlier but I had a big break on the climb), which sucked.  It felt like I was compensating for pain in my back and leg, and that my leg was swollen a bit and then pulling my ITB against my knee.  As it continued, it felt like the sort of chronic thing that would be a bad thing to continue running on for 60 Miles.  Besides, I thought, there will likely be more surprises in terms of course markings or issues, or my injury will get why not stop now and enjoy the rest of the weekend? 

For the first time in one of these, I thought about dropping. 

Along the ridge, now, we saw some of the Hares for the first time.  I said "Buen trabajo" to the shy Raramuri runners, but had other-back-and-forth with the next runners.  One of them looked fine, I said "Great job man," he looked and had no reply.  I remarked to a nearby runner that it annoyed me when runners didn't return a simple hello.  "You gotta understand it's different with these elite guys," he said, "they're running pretty seriously and focused."
Whatever dude, plenty of fast guys are still friendly.  Next female had a big smile, next guy said "Nice job" before I did, and then, 


It was fun timing after having just remarked on runner friendliness, as we were both happy to see each other, than came to a dead stop to start chatting.  I started walking back uphill with Pete (so as not to slow him down...but so we could keep talking!) but he didn't care.  He was alright but feeling it, and I told him of my thoughts to drop.  He told me to make the right decision but think about it or something.  Well, seeing him was nice encouragement, but I still was hobbling downhill.  Back in the hot part of the dirt road now, I finally saw PG.  He looked remarkably well...for having puked moments before.  He was still doing great and now felt better, but said he had quite a rough patch.  Again, seeing him charged me up a bit.  I only had a few miles left before the aid station, and thought about my options.  I was in pain and also very tired: obvious, but not usually something that happens in the first half.  I figured I could lie down in the grass and give my back a rest, maybe take a nap, and contemplate life, telling my crew I was open to any option and I didn't want to inconvenience them further.

Heck, I could be done soon, so I just hurried a bit and ran more.  My legs started loosening up a bit.  Huh.  At the bottom of the service road, before the steep final pitch, I saw Brownie.  I told him I wasn't feeling well, and he asked if I had a pacer.  Aaron was done, unfortunately, so Brownie wa available.  Well, that would certainly help things out a bit... I thought, but 
I really felt like an uncertain liability at that point.  I told him thanks, I was going to hang out with my crew and thought about dropping -- he definitely encouraged me to take a rest before making that decision, which is certainly good advice.  I wasn't thinking clearly enough about his pacer offer, not wanting to put him through a miserable trudge that might not end well, but I figured if I took a long break, he could easily make it down to the HS and check us out if he was still up for it.

Well, the last pitch was the same steep scramble we had getting up.  Although it was short, I watched people stumble and slip gingerly.  But I've played this game so many times bushwhacking through the stupid woods, so I let it go and just ran down the damn thing.

iPhoto's auto-enhance made this look like a painting almost.  Cool.

My awesome wife was waiting for me, again ready to escort me across town.  It was a good long day, but I was ready to tell her my plans. 

I didn't get the chance.

"So, Jill's going to pace you now.  It's been decided."
"You really want me to keep running?  I don't even think I want to keep running.  My knee has been killing me."
"She's all ready and wants to do this and it's going to be fine.  Just keep going."
Um, OK.  J thought I was concerned about Jill's ability, when I was concerned about my ability.

In moments, my decision was made for me.  It probably sounds Drama Queen-ish when typed, but I was seriously unmotivated to keep running in a way that I've never felt before.  Too many strikes were against me already, with much uncertainty ahead.  Heck, at WS, I lost a bit of time, but even at mile 40 I just had confidence that I would still finish.  Now, my top focus was still making sure my crew was having fun, and it still seemed, inconceivably, that their top focus of "fun" was keeping me going.

We got back to the HS, and I was very pleased to see Cat and Mary helping out, as well as Katie.
I told them I was in no hurry but wanted to be smart at the aid station.  I grabbed a new, dry shirt and light, some extra clothes.  I thought about what I could do for my knee, and decided to switch shoes, to the bulkier Cascadias -- perhaps with more heel cushioning, my leg/knee would be less stressed and stretched out.  (Answer: yes).

And, I was craving salt.  They all get a kick out of the pickle juice, for some reason.  ('Cept for Alex, noted pickle-hater).

Feeling somewhat refreshed, and knowing a sustained climb was ahead (thus, my knee would get a break), Jill and I headed off away from the sunset.

Pacer Jill

Here's how ridiculous this plan was on the surface: Jill was roped into this whole thing during her vacation, as I mentioned.  She just came into town the previous night from sea level in Portland. She's never run a marathon, so this would be her farthest "run."  At night, toward an aid station that was ravaged the previous night by bears, on a first-year course with notable course marking issues.  We had met briefly when she had visited the previous Thanksgiving, but otherwise why put this much work into something for someone you don't know that well?  And, what if I started doing typical ultrarun stuff, like puking or falling asleep or whining?

I was totally amazed and inspired by her willingness to do this.  Nora had already told me months before that her sister is a strong hiker especially, and I could tell that Jill was up for the adventure portion of it.  We weren't going to be moving that fast.

Still, the whole thing flipped a switch for me: first, she was totally willing to do this, and my crew was really in support of the whole thing as well.  Having just seen them and FCTR friends at the aid station, I learned that some folks had dropped, but Marie was still Out There, and Pedatella took the same wrong turn I did.   So the other thing that inspired me was how absurd everything was.  Instead of fighting it and getting upset -- I didn't have the chance to race my best and see how well I could do because of several factors -- I began to embrace the absurdity of everything.
And, somehow, getting off the script and expectations completely was the relief I needed to keep going.

So we headed up the road, and then the rocky parts of Fish Creek Falls trail.

Alex and Nora had advised Jill on what to do during pacing...whatever it was, it worked perfectly!  The advantage of not knowing each other the way Alex and I do was just having easy, new topics of conversation.

So here's the real truth:  Jill has biked and hiked a lot, including a 40M mountain circuit in 24 hours.  Her parents are distance cyclists and have through-hiked the AT. She's climbed Mt. Rainier.  Five times.  By five different routes.  She ran XC in High School...against Krissy Moehl.  Successfully.  Oh, she's been a ranger as well, and while talking about that, she jokingly and humbly asked, "Guess what other somewhat-famous person I know?"  I came up with the most awesome answer I could, based on context.  Indeed, she was talking about Andy Anderson!  There were no worries at all about her mountain credentials.

So I really enjoyed the conversation with Jill, and it really helped the time move by quickly.  If I had thought about pace or amount of time remaining, I might have lost my mind, but instead it was just a great hike.  And we passed a few people here and there.  Under the new moon, it was pitch black, with the Milky Way visible, but our aid station should be coming up soon.  I realized she'd never had that experience before, and she appreciated the surrealness of a campfire and aid station in the dark of the night in the middle of nowhere, as we made another visit to Long Lake.

The aid station folks were great and it was a pleasant place to be, despite bad memories from missing it hours earlier.  Now we were on a new part of the course again as we headed out to Summit Lake.

This part was a rolling incline, I should have run more but just kept it steady.  We still maintained or gained position a little bit here, until some headlamps behind us moved just a bit faster.


He was looking good and I congratulated him, but he remarked that "Karl is right on my ass!"  Karl came by minutes later, running steadily a tick faster than Dylan (but very patiently, as it turns out he would still take an hour or two to pass him), and then Tim Olson.  All 3 responded kindly to encouragement, that was the best part.  Otherwise, the whole spectating aspect of Hare group lasted for about 30-40 seconds per runner.

We made Summit Lake, and our directions were now down Buffalo Pass Road to Dry Lake Aid Station.  Straightforward and easy directions with no chance to get lost.  The "downhill" starts with some rollers at the time before actually descending, and on noticeable descents and flats, my knee was really tight again.  I did get passed here as I was unable to make great progress downhill, but eventually we made it to Dry Lake aid station.  And, the place was rockin'.

My crew was there in the freezing cold, and Alex was getting his last bits of sleep:

There were also lots of other friendly, helpful, and drunk faces: Brownie, Eric, Aaron, Kircher, and Stefanovic.  This picked me right up, and these pictures of us having that much fun at night really makes me smile.

That was the last aid station for Jill, now just a downhill down the buff Spring Creek Trail.  Being charged up from seeing everyone, and from mashed potatoes, I was able to start running again.  Running down this trail at night ended up being a blast.

Alex is in charge of math and pace calculations, and they were surprised at our arrival.  It was perfect timing to grab another layer of warmth:

It was well into the middle of the night, and I was "only" 2/3rds done, but having reached the point of having Alex pace me, it felt like the final hurdle to the finish line.  All we had to do was make it to sunrise, and then surely the new day would inspire us to the finish.  That was the hope, anyway.

Pacer Alex
(Both) regular readers should already know enough about Alex: I'm lucky to count Mr. May as a great friend of mine.  He's a long-time, experienced, and enthusiastic runner, a critical part of the FCTR group.  We've had some quite long runs and adventures together, and he's already paced me earlier this year at Western States.  I am so much chomping at the bit to return the favour some day that I couldn't stand the excitement of his Leadville finish last mile and ran out to see him and Nora in the last mile.  Yet, he agreed to pace me once again.  My promise was to be a happier runner this time -- a simple proposition on its face, but both words are important.  I didn't want us to trudge through dark places through the night at a slow pace like we did in WS (although we still had tons of fun)...and I really wanted to be running the final miles.

Everybody's in a happier place though, now, because WS is where Alex and Nora really first met, and started a perfect match and beautiful relationship together.

*Two* of my favourite peeps!

Reversal of Direction
Now it was time to head back up Spring Creek, and then back up Buffalo Pass -- a long sustained slog in the night.  The good part was, I guess, that we'd get to use all the daylight for flat and downhill miles, and it was easy non-technical stuff remaining at night.  We had enough clothes for the cool evening, but just had to make it up.  

First we had to get there, though, and we, like many others, had trouble getting through city streets and finding the correct way.  We were led through a 4-way only by distant shouting by somebody standing out on their deck at a neighbouring house.

We made it up Spring Creek OK, and then began the slog up Buffalo Pass.  Sleepiness was hitting me, and though I was moving, I was doggin' it.

The worst part is, I felt a bit dizzy by staying awake, and the dizziness made me feel nauseous.  Without permission or warning, I told Alex I was going to nap for 90 seconds.  I wasn't foolish enough to deviate from vertical:

I counted, too, and didn't take much more than a minute.  Before I closed my eyes, I could see the tree branch next to me fluttering...but after I closed my eyes, I could still see it, clear as day.  It was a strange and new sensation that I could see everything around me with my eyes closed...but I was convinced that's how it worked.

I hadn't had to deal with this before, and it wasn't comfortable, but I thought about how bleary and red-eyed NMP's eyes were the second morning of Hardrock.  This is the sort of absurdity I need to embrace to have a chance to finish a race like that.

Anyway, that one minute or so was exactly what I needed.  We kept moving, as we got more sunlight.  At Summit Lake, mash potatoes again gave me more energy.  Eventually, I was able to trot.  And then run.  I enjoyed new views on the buff Wyoming Trail, and I was rolling.

I passed a few guys, and then I saw Kircher pacing along the way.  They were doing great, and he made a crack about being a road runner because of my Boston jacket.  I charged down the trail and put some time on them -- 2 hours as it turns out.  Man, I've never been able to do this in a trail 100.  (Guess going slow all night was kind of like a fresh start).

Alex said we'd finish under 29 hours, and I said "No way."  29 was special because it was the Hare cutoff time, something I expected I should have been able to hit.  30 was still a magic number, too...and both are ridiculously large numbers, but let's just keep going with the running and see what happens.

We made it back to Long Lake for the final time.  Since I had my one and only drop bag here, it was a convenient place to get rid of extra layers.

And we kept moving.  One more aid station!  Beautiful views on great singletrack.  The sun and the pace was making us warmer.

It was awesome.

Alex thought they may have moved the aid station to the saddle instead of the summit (for the 50M and return trip for us), but indeed we had the final trudge to the summit remaining.  Hands on knees for me, Alex was starting to run to keep up.

I was certain I had already gone 100 miles.  (Final course estimates are between 108-115+ miles when run correctly.  With my detour, I'm sure I ran 100 miles plus another half marathon at least).  We still had a 10k to go, all downhill.

Free miles?  Depends on if you've saved your quads!  At WS and Leadville, nope, mine were completely shot.  I was saving my quads all day for this.  My knee still felt fine.

Down we went.  It was a blast.

The trees had changed noticeably since I started the race.

So had I.

Anyone was welcome to hike up or ride the gondola and finish with a runner during the last 4 miles.  The girls had agreed to this, and we made it easy on them by coming down late morning instead of in the dark, you know.

They weren't at the 4 mile mark, or the 3.5  We were moving, though, and ahead of schedule.   Finally, 2.5-3 miles out, we saw each other.

We made a pack, and again, my wife was right by my side.

We were running downhill harder and faster than we usually do when we jog around the neighbourhood.  After 100 miles.  And here was my wife coming right along with me.

And my friends as well.

You know what this is like?  It was like we were 9 or 10 years old, just kids, just running around for fun.  This memory is going to stick with me for the rest of my life.  Think about back to when you were a kid, and the feelings it gives you, and how it's somewhat different than those adult memories you have.  Somehow, we were able to cross over into that domain


  1. Congrats on sticking it out even when things went south early. That was obviously something I wasn't prepared/willing to do...

    And yes, that sign looked just like your ASCII representation!

  2. I dunno' quite what to say.

    In my time, I've read a thousand ride/run reports, but -- generally -- they're so esoteric and technical that ... nobody outside the cadre has ANY clue what you're talking about.

    But you bring a certain "I'm next to you, and along for the ride" quality to it -- even when speaking about third parties.

    How you even remember/fabricate it ... is beyond me. In my day, it was more about "I dunno, but ... somehow ... I finished."

    Your clear-headed running has been an asset, even when logistics have threatened to phuque you up. I know....

    Your achievement was pretty amazing. I'm breathing a sigh of relief that -- after the LH -- navigational errors are probably NOT entirely MY fault ;-)

    You were well prepared, WELL supported, and -- despite a pretty grievous injury -- did phenomenally well.

    I haven't watched your running in a while, but ... am living, vicariously through your writing, and -- truth be told -- it's nearly as fun.

    Well done, my friend, and ... great job on picking your crew. To them ... much homage is owed !!!

    And ... apropos of nothing ... can you, now, be "Stitch" to your counterpart, Slush ??

  3. Excellent write up. Great report. Love, love, love it. And ditto to what nmp sez ... way to grind that out.

  4. Great write up Mike. I have a special respect for you, and I really enjoyed seeing you, it certainly helped boost my spirits. Again, incredible job toughing that one out!

  5. This is why I love 100-milers. No, I mean I hate them. No, I love them. Ask me again about a week from now. Well done "Stitch"!

  6. Thanks guys...I'm going to propose to Slush that we start a radio program called "Stitch 'n Slush." He's in a band and has a great voice, I've been told that I have a great face for radio.

  7. Truly epic. You somehow manage to refocus your attention after the craziest luck befalls you, once again. Very few folks would have the cojones to stick it out with so many bonus miles and drama, but it's no surprise you pulled it off.


  8. Thanks Kieran, there are certainly things I can do to minimize my chances of crazy "luck," such as not falling off a rock the week before and studying race maps even more (although I had the whole rest of the course clear in my mind). I'd still like to run a solid trail 100 closer to my expectations but I'm pleasantly surprised that I still had so much fun without hitting time goals. But being out there longer and dealing with the unexpected makes me even more fired up about wanting to run Hardrock.