Seriously though… I had a little score to settle with Run Rabbit Run after last year’s race where I was handed my first legit DNF in my two decades in endurance sports. Furthermore, I had yet another score to settle with this DNF’ing business at Bighhorn 100 back in June. Ergh! At RRR ’16 I came in over-trained and then went out too hot, chasing splits from the previous year. “Yeah, great idea.” By mile 50, at 10,000′, I was mildly hypothermic and vomiting. Things had really gone to sh*t. At Bighorn, I thought I was ready for any weather conditions buuuuuut… Mother Nature threw cold rain in the mix overnight and despite all my efforts to run a brilliant race, I blew a 30min lead running too fast trying to stay warm, using fuel that wasn’t quite working the way I needed it too. Thus, at mile 78, I ended up curled up in a space blanket, on the side of the trail, in the mud and rain, at 2am, until runners/pacers started coming by concerned about my well being, suggesting—as my best option at the moment—I hike the 2mi back to the previous aid-station to get warm. That dark, slippery, shivering walk-of-shame was pretty sh*tty, to say the least. But, I did finally get my cold, wet clothes off and into a nice, warm pair of Carhartt’s, which I would remain in for about 6hrs until the race would eventually poop me out, back at the finish line around 9am. Ugh! Suffice it to say, these were not my finest moments in our illustrious sport, though they did produce a lot of great—and funny!—memories, which I’m happy to never (that is, ever) repeat, thank you very much).
Here at RRR 2017, temps were lookin’ mild (though I didn’t trust ’em!), the skies looked generally clear once the sun started to set, and with every time we line up, comes new opportunity to do things differently, to execute better, in an attempt to evolve as both a runner… and maybe even as a human being. As Brad Stulberg, one of the authors of Peak Performance, says, “Strip away ego, awards, and stupid forums—and endurance sports are the stuff of spiritual growth.” Without further ado, here’s 10 of my favorite things about this year’s journey to the RRR finish line, and 3 things I’d do differently (but probably wouldn’t) if I could have a a do-over.
I. “Headspace” a.k.a… “meditation for dummies.” I have this working theory that as I get older I can maintain my edge as a competitive runner by evolving my mental game, and that will somehow offset some (all) physical degradation. I never would of thought a phone app would’ve had such a dramatic and positive impact on my life but Headspace has proven a powerful tool for personal growth this year. After doing the initial trial and using it with some athletes I coach, I invested in a year subscription. During the summer, off from teaching, I had the luxury of doing 20min daily meditation sessions. Now, with school back in, I do 10min sessions as soon as I boot the kids out for lunch; legs-up-a-wall, then get some walking in after, as well as my veggies and plenty of water. For the race I did Headspace’s 10-day “Competition” package, which helped get my head in the right place for race day. During the race I continuously re-centered my mind on the present moment, relaxed, and maintained a “soft focus” on negotiating the section of trail on which I found myself. “Let go” and “Patience is everything” were mantras that were both bouncing around my head for the first 70-80mi.
II. Watchless. This aspect of my running continues to evolve as well. In racing, I find that there’s not much of a downside to running sans watch. Though, the last two times I’ve raced, I’ve forgotten to ask time-of-day at the aid-station I wanted to, late in the going, in order to get a sense of my overall pace relative to my target finish time. Each time I forgot though, and just said “screw it” and ran on, blissfully unaware of my cumulative speed. I simply don’t miss the watch in racing, since there’s so much else to focus on, namely my P.E.D.S—pacing (by feel), eating, drinking, and smiling!
Balance in all things, right? So I still greatly enjoy using my GPS watch in training and stacking up some big weeks of running volume/elevation on Strava. Thus, my annual numbers do not include my races (oh, and quite a few training runs, especially during down periods and tapers). I dig not being a slave to the tech! The tech works for me. You do it your way. I’ll do it mine. But you should really try racing without a watch sometime. It’s liberating!
IV. The Revenant. Daniel Barnes came to me many months back with a dream—to finish his first 100mi run at Run Rabbit. He’d done some Ironmans, including the double-ironman at Ultraman, so I knew he had the head and heart required to train for and race Run Rabbit. Living in the heat-n-humidity of Louisiana, Daniel made some long weekend trips up to Arkansas to find some mountains on which to prepare. We even got him out to California in July to do a long, hot, hilly Santa Barbara 100k, where his legs and mind got a little more seasoned to the demands of MUT running.
A couple weeks out from RRR, I watched Leonardo Dicaprio in The Revenant (again). Next time Daniel and I got on the phone we chatted about it. Quickly, it became a central theme of our upcoming adventure in Steamboat Springs. Memes and gifs were texted back-n-forth, Facebook posts referencing the Dicaprio’s grizzled character, Hugh Glass, were exchanged at an obnoxious rate. Daniel’s twin brother, Derek, jumped in the game on Thursday’s pre-race meeting and gave Daniel and I bear-claw necklaces, which we wore on race-day. Inspiration’s everywhere!
V. The male hare masters race. Prize money at Run Rabbit Run goes seven places deep for the men and women. This year, the top male and female overall each received $12,500. There’s an extra $1000 on the line for the top male and female master’s runner (40-49). This year it looked like I’d be duking it out with “Speedgoat” Karl Meltzer, and perennial Western States Top-10er, Jesse Haynes, for top master honors. By Cow Creek at around 50k in, I’d reeled in Jesse and together with another guy, we knocked out the 10mi section back up to Olympian Hall at mile 42. When Jesse and I ran out of Olympian we picked up Speedgoat, ran through downtown Steamboat, and back up to the Fish Creek Falls trailhead. Running with these guys was a big highlight of my day (and year). It was way better running this section with them than running it alone as I’d done in years past.
Once at the FCF trailhead, I let those guys go, while I took the time to put on a base-layer and some arm-warmers. Recall, the reason I dropped from RRR and Bighorn was because I couldn’t keep myself warm. Temps were looking pretty mild but I didn’t want to take any chances! All the way back up Fish Creek Falls, I was pulling back tortoises—who had a four hour head start on us, while amazed I wasn’t catching back up to Jesse and Karl. Once back up to Long Lake aid, I found Jesse, filled up my bottles and noted the seat at the fire where I’d planted myself the previous year, ultimately dropping out after several hours of shivering and vomiting. I felt fantastic this year, here at 10,000′, but we weren’t really even half way yet! I spied Jesse across the aid-station and took off, thinking maybe I could get out of sight, then… out of mind. As I motored outta there, I had to poop. And as I’m squatting 15yds off the trail, a few lights bounced by in the darkness.
Once I caught back up with Jesse, he informed me that Karl put some 8min into him on the climb up Fish Creek Falls, showing that, even at 49, he’s not called “The Speedgoat” for nothing. Jesse and I pressed on for hours and hours, always within about 10min of each other. About the time the sun was coming up, well after 80 miles in, I caught Jesse and eventually Karl, moving into first place for the “old guys.” My sense of it at the time was Karl was probably not coming back since he’d put in such a valiant surge earlier, moving all the way up into 5th place overall, then sliding back a few places. Jesse, on the other hand, I knew was surely tired but likely had preserved himself for a race at the end! Not to mention he has the confidence—and fitness–from just earning another top-10 performance at Western States. He’d been very steady and when I ran by him, he tried to give me the sense that my pass was for good, though I sensed he was setting himself up for the win, waiting patiently for the final 4mi descent from the top of Mt. Werner.
The guys knew my quads were not doing well on this day. My downhill running was basically sucking, which made sense since I didn’t make it a priority in training, choosing instead to focus on strengthening my climbing, fast running on the straightaways, overall muscular endurance, and the mental game. I wanted to avoid another stress related injury in my left leg, my left ankle, or my left knee, all of which have been in some state of suck over the last 3 years or so. Given the amount of climb and descent I’d amassed in training I was quite surprised that my quads starting hurting at mile 40 though. At that time, I was wondering how-in-the-hell I was gonna run over 100 kilometers farther. Well, you just do. Would Hugh Glass bitch about some sore quads?! Are you kidding me?! No, he’d suck it up and press the hell on! So, this was the moment. I needed to put some time into Jesse whilst we were still in the high country.
It’s about 6ish miles from Summit Lake to Long Lake aid-station and about the same distance from Long Lake aid over to Werner aid at mile 102. Jesse later reported that Long Lake told him I’d gained 6min since Summit. I’d been knockin’ back Toasted Marshmallow GUs, chasing them with—-fittingly—-“Summit Tea” flavored GU Roctane, and ran that section really strong.
Jesse only had that 6-7mi over to Werner to shut me down, otherwise there was a chance I could stay in front of him on the final, long descent to the finish. I, of course, was completely oblivious to where I was relative to him so I just pressed on, concentrating on my PEDS, especially the eating! I’d been taking some cups of chicken broth at aid-stations for hours. Holding it together. Relaxed. Focused. In the flow. It seems slamming a lot of water, pacing conservatively early, and throwing in a few salt tabs here and there kept my quads happy enough, as they seemed to be one twitch away from total seizure for hours upon hours. Gotta work on that.
Yeah, so late in a 100-miler may not the optimal time to try and gap Jesse Haynes. He’s strongest at the end, and with the indomitable will of say, Hugh Glass, he ran me down and sat on me as we neared the Mt. Werner aid-station. I finally puked from pushing so hard up high. Epic racing. I knew then I’d been bested by one of the best in the biz. My quads were toast, so as Jesse jetted off down the fire-road to the finish line four miles away, I filled up my bottles one last time, re-centered my mind for the ten-thousandth time of the race, smiled, and seized the moment—“Chase Jesse (’cause a race isn’t over ’til it’s over) and I was now likely in about 7th place overall—still in the money—but had no idea where Karl was and now, running downhill, I was most vulnerable to being caught. If I got pushed back to 8th in the hare division, I’d be out of the money. Furthermore, I wanted to ensure I finished well within the top-10. It’s not done ’til it’s done.
VI. In the light of day. Getting to see more of the course in the light was a big delight from my race. The obvious sign I was significantly slower than my race in 2015 was that the sun came up quite a bit earlier, casting radiant energy on me and illuminating sections of the course I ran through in darkness two years ago. So, not only was I immersed in the racing from Summit all the way to Werner, but I was also basking in some of the sweetest trails I’ve ever run on. And they were a lot drier than they were during the 2015 race to boot. No shoe-sucking mud!
VII. Mild temps up top. As it turns out, most of the sh*t I carried from Olympian at mile 42 to the finish at 106, I never needed. But it served its purpose: it provided peace of mind. Once I had my sleeveless base layer and arm-warmers on, I was set for the night. Gloves had been put on and taken off a few times but the hand-warmers, beanie, puffy jacket, tights, as well as all the warm gear stowed in gallon Ziplocs inside my drop-bags, went totally unused. But, like they say, “better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.”
VIII. Reaching a hundo finish line. Upon finishing I never took notice of my finishing time, only interested in confirming I was 7th in the men’s hare division. I pushed so hard racing Jesse up high I really felt like death warmed over at the finish. I knew I’d run slower than 2015 but I figured it was only by about an hour. A day later when I woke up to an email from Ultra Signup with the results, I realized I’d run almost two hours slower than my run in ’15. WTF?! It’s not hard determining where that time went considering how conservative I was running in the early going, how much more time/care I was taking in the aid-stations, and the fact that it was fairly hot running in the afternoon on Friday.
There is no failure except in no longer trying. I’d redeemed myself from DNF’ing last year. That’s a BFD for me. After that blemish on my record last year, I started looking at things a little differently. I feel like I’ve made some good growth as both a runner and in other areas of my life. My word for 2017 continues to be “courage.” I’ve tried to weave that into the fabric of this year’s season. Simply finding the courage to train hard, say “f*ck it” and just believe in my abilities, put myself in the high-stakes arenas whilst I still have a little youth left in these legs, and simply execute as brilliantly as I can on the race-day. In this journey, I sense I’m on to something, and am excited to keep doing the inner work necessary to keep myself where I want to be—up high. There are never any guarantees of success. At mile 70 of Bighorn, I thought there was a good chance I’d run away with the win. We were at course-record pace at the half, even with the horrendous conditions. Yet, those conditions would go on to crush me.
Confidence in the 100mi is hard-earned. It’s taken a fare share of courage to keep lining up at these mountain races when you’re just another working masters runner who lives at sea level. Man, I love racing on these courses though! With this finish at RRR, I now have some good momentum to roll into 2018. Karl Meltzer ran an astounding 18:30 here at RRR when he was 45 years old. I’d really like to shoot for something similar to that next year. It’ll come at a price though…
IX. Friends. I read somewhere the other day it’s not the races we’ll remember in old age, but the people. It’s always a grand ol’ time getting to hang with my tribe at these events, even if some of them are taking pictures of me in the low moments and sending them to my wife to post on Instagram. All the highs that training for and racing this event produced made the post-event lows totally worthwhile, or at least more tolerable. So many great memories…
X. Attitude of Gratitude. Due to solid prep for this year’s run and running a smart race, I didn’t really have any significant lows all day. I really had my head on straight for this one. Even projectile vomiting at the end wasn’t much of a low; quite the opposite—it was thrilling! The Hoka One One Speedgoat 2 was clearly the ideal shoe for the course and running in Speedgoats with The Speedgoat was quite the treat! Nutrition has really come together, having been inspired by Magda Boulet’s consumption of 18 bottles of GU Roctane, Summit Tea, at Western States back this year. I think I put down about 16 bottles here at Run Rabbit, along with quite a few Toasted Marshmallow, S’mores, and Tutti Frutti GUs, and even a few GU Stroopwaffles. Boo-YAH! The Roctane worked so well I never felt the need to take supplemental caffeine or Coke at any point in the race. GU products are the boss applesauce (maybe that can be a new flavor name…). I’m grateful the weather held out too, the forest fires and smoke didn’t ruin our day, the awesome race direction headed up by Fred Abramowitz and Paul Sachs, the amazing volunteers, led by Brady Barnett Worster, the 7000 pics snapped by the official race photographer, Paul Nelson, and the awesome field this race always draws, which pushes me to be the best I can be out there.
Stepping out of life for 5 days to do Run Rabbit Run is no small task. I’m grateful to Amanda for holding down the fort, though I was bummed to not having her there to see me rock the course this year after witnessing my craptastic DNF last year. I’m grateful for Point Positive Coaching and all the athletes I have the privilege of working with. Without you I’d be traveling to race nowhere this year. I’m grateful I had the same strong sub for my classes while I was out Wed-Fri of race-week. I’m also grateful Back-to-School Night was not held during race-week as it was last year; I hated missing that. I’m grateful for the race format of Run Rabbit Run, that the Hares are not permitted pacers or poles, and that there’s money on the line, including $1000 for the masters. I’m grateful it’s a high stakes race that, given my reality, I can make happen with a little hustle. I’m grateful I can just sign up and show up for RRR. And no, before you ask, my performance at Run Rabbit Run does not get me into Western States.
Run Rabbit Run 100 – In the rear-view: 3 things I might have done differently:
i. Too conservative for too long. After his record breaking run at Lake Sonoma 50 a couple o’ years ago, Alex Varner blogged something to the effect, “Whether I go out easy or I go out hard, it still hurts like hell at the end.” Thus there’s a good case to be made to going out a little harder, taking some measured risks, and seeing where the chips fall late in the game. Much of one’s fortune, I believe, is tied to the age-old notion: “Know thyself.” I suspect I could’ve ratcheted up the pace a bit earlier but who knows how that would’ve panned out. Maybe 21-ish hours was all I had in me on the day, especially given how my downhill legs were feeling…
ii. Quads. I was #66 again this year and that number symbolized the number of miles I managed my exploding quads. Next time, assuming my knees are cooperating, I’ll be sure to prep the quads with some carefully placed, long, fast, downhill training sessions.
iii. Carrying too much sh*t. It’s not like it weighed a ton, but the pack I picked up at Olympian at mile 42 was a little weighty. Because of my struggles to keep warm in recent 100s, I just needed to have stuff with me on this run. I think I’ll be more comfortable next time just using my drop-bags effectively and staging warm, dry stuff all over the course. And if there’s any chance of rain, I’ll be sure to have an actual rain-proof jacket with me.
A heartfelt note of appreciation to my beautiful and highly supportive wife/agent Amanda. I love you! | Thanks to all the athletes I coach who inspire me with their passion and dedication to this crazy sport. | Thank you to Hoka One One for producing the best trail shoes out there—#speedgoat2 #timetofly | Thanks Healdsburg Running Company for the cheers from afar and always sending out the kick-ass vibes! | Thanks Inside Trail Racing for hosting so many great events in the Bay Area and beyond. | Cheers of gratitude to new sponsors BUFF USA, Drymax Sports, and Squirrel Nut Butter. | GU… You’re killing it! My nutrition’s never been more effective (or tasty!) #summit_tea #toasted_marshmallow #stroopwaffle | Thanks to Dave Townsend at Santa Rosa Physical Therapy for helping me manage all of my old man issues and keeping me moving down the trail! >>> 🙂