Thursday, September 14, 2017

Run Rabbit Run

Photo: Paul Nelson Photography
"For Everything that comes next, Ego is the enemy"    -Ryan Holiday

"I don't care what Karl Meltzer says, 100 miles is a long way" Fred Abramowitz exclaimed in the pre race briefing, "You can do more than you think you can do, but it's gonna hurt a lot more than you think it's gonna hurt" He exclaims make a slight tweak to Ken Chlouber, the founder of the Leadville 100s famous moto.  100 Miles is an intimidating distance, there's a level of uncertainty of whether or not you're even going to make it to the finish that lies underneath that just isn't found at other distances, I guess that's what makes it so alluring.

After missing the start line in 2012 at RRR due to a stress fracture in the 3rd metatarsal of my left foot acquired during Trans Rockies which required a permanent titanium plate put in place and a scar that reminds me daily to not be stupid, and a disappointing drop from the race at mile 60 in 2014 due to being unprepared for the cold, this was the year of redemption.  Originally targeting Leadville 100, a sprained ankle at the beginning of July sidelined my training, after waffling back and forth for a couple weeks my coach John Fitzgerald and I decided it would be best to bag Leadville and refocus the efforts towards RRR 3 weeks later.  After making the decision I realized that I was actually a lot more fired up to get back to RRR for another shot anyway.  The ankle slowly came around, training went as planned, and I was stoked to make it to the start line feeling fresh, fired up, and injury free after having missed 2 start lines for the season at Leadville and Chuckanut in March due to a hip injury.  The field was stacked, the energy was high, it was gonna be a great race whatever happened, I was really just excited to get after it.

The day started off on the cooler side but as the clouds broke about an hour before the start the temps climbed up and remained in the low 80 for the first 30 miles of the race.  The race is broken up into a tortoise division which starts at 8am and a hare division that starts at 12pm, which you must enter if you want to compete for the prize purse which happens to be the largest of any ultra trail run in the world.  I felt like I was on vacation lounging around in the condo after watching the tortoise's start  for several hours waiting for 12pm to come.  The first part of the race goes from the base of the mountain, switch backs for a bit and then heads directly up a steep black run under the base of the gondola called Heavenly Daze.  The trail seems to be rerouted pretty much annually due to construction and trail maintenance, having run it several times already this summer I unintentionally and rather uncomfortably ended up in the front guiding the lead pack up the mountain.  After making it about half way up Heavenly Daze others who's hiking prowess is much stronger than mine started to make their move ahead and I fell into a much more comfortable position a little ways back as we started to head up the road to the top of Mt Werner which sits 3500 vert feet above the base of the mountain in a short 4 mile approach. After hitting the summit I topped off my water bottles at the aid station cause I knew I needed to stay ahead of the curve with the warmer temps for the day and a higher sweat rate from a summer of training in 80-90 degree temps.  I Found myself running in a group with Karl Meltzer, Jessey Haynes, and Marco Sturm as we rolled down the Mountain View trail which rolls up and down towards the Long Lake aid station.  My stomach felt a bit off already and my calf was
Getting a bit more technical down Fish Creek Falls Trail
Photo: Paul Nelson Photography
already starting to a bit crampy but I just tried to relax and not worry about it too much.  Heading to the Long Lake aid is a short out and back and the leaders were only a few minutes ahead as we began the descent down the beautiful fish creek falls trail. The top section of the trail is pretty smooth, meandering through meadows and crossing across a couple streams, I began to put some space on the group I was with until we hit the middle to bottom section which starts to get bit more technical where I caught Mario Macias but Darren Thomas, Marco, and "The Speedgoat" Karl Meltzer, blew past both of us ease.  We reached the bottom of the trail at the base of the Fish Creek falls and had a short climb up to the 4 mile section of gradual downhill road leading into downtown Steamboat and the Olympia aid station at the Base of Howelson Hill.  I was able to real the group back in on the descent down the road and we all rolled into Olympia in a pretty tight pack.  I was excited to see my crew which consisted of my good friend Drew who I've known since running cross country in high school and my biggest fans my Mom and Dad :) My aid station strategy was to have a preloaded vest, identical to the one I started with that Drew would hand off to me to minimize stopping time.  As I swapped vests Drew asked me how I was feeling to which I replied "meh, not really too great my stomach is a bit off" the next day he told me once he heard that he thought to himself... yes it's gonna be a good race, guess he had a lot better intuition than I had at the time.

Beautiful Meadows at top part of Fish Creek Falls Trail
Photo: Paul Nelson Photography
The climb up the fire road on Emerald Mountain was hot and exposed and people started falling back, still chugging along with Karl we passed by Brian Condon and 3rd place finisher Charlie Ware on the way to the top of Emerald.  I couldn't believe how fast Karl was able to hike, I was running and moving at the same pace as he was hiking.  As we hit the steep "Lane of Pain" leading up to the top of the mountain Karl quickly gapped me as we hiked to the top of the mountain.  After traversing the rolling ridgeline and making our way onto the winding singletrack to the Cow Creek aid station at mile 31 my stomach was cramping up almost to the point where I had to stop to walk.  I had to change something so I decided to ditch the rice balls which I had been using and decided to switch coke for an hour once I reached the aid station to try and reset the stomach.  The Cow Creek aid station was definitely my biggest junk show, I failed to communicate about my leaking water bottle at Olympia aid station, nothing was sounding good for food in the pack I had to switch out, my pack was tangled up and twisted after putting it on and removing it several times.  I finally filled 1 bottle up with Skratch drink, 1 bottle up with coke, and 1 bottle with water and had a few gels for the 2 hour trip back over Emerald Mountain back to Olympia.  Coming out of the aid station down the road my goal was to reset, rest everything, reset the stomach, reset the mind, reset the rhythm, just reset.  After getting the Skratch down the energy slowly bumped back up, and I continued to slowly sip on the coke in my bottle.  After a couple miles on the trail you branch off onto a single track trail which winds through one of my favorite sections of the course, with beautiful wooded sections rolling out into open aspen stands all with a lush fern understory.  Some clouds started to move in, the temperature cooled off and suddenly my legs, stomach and overall energy began to come back around.  I was able to run pretty much the entirety of the climb back up to the top of Emerald and was getting back on my calorie intake targets.  As I hit the ridge I had put seemingly a large amount of space on the previous group that I was running with and as I made my way down the ridgeline I was energized by encouragement from tortoises that I was looking much stronger than the couple runners in front of me.  Coming down the descent back down the fire road into Olympia Hall the sun was setting, I looked out over at the smoke column from the Deep Creek Fire to the northwest and over the town of Steamboat and was struck by an immense sense of calm as I made my way down into the grass fields at the base of the ski jump at Howelson Hill.  The crowd was energizing, my friend Rob and his girlfriend Allison had joined my small crew of 3, I was pumped, I was back, I had a plan and was ready to roll.  Drew came running alongside me with my night gear and shoe swap, I grabbed my shoes from him and my TAP t-shirt to swap into, handed my empty bottles to my dad to fill up with coke, water, and Skratch, and told Drew no more rice balls, I just need a bunch of gels.  Swapped shoes which was probably the best plan I had all day cause it felt amazing switch from the Hoka Challengers to the Speedgoats, threw on my t-shirt, double checked that my vest had all the night essentials I needed, and headed out up the long climb back up Fish Creek Falls.

A lot of people don't like running the 4 mile section up and down Fish Creek Falls road to the trail head, I do probably about 1/3 of my training on a treadmill at work and at home during my sons naptime so a gradual road at sunset surrounded by aspens and fresh air in the mountains is a win every time for me, I love this road and have memories of slogging up this road in the snow during our short stent living in Steamboat back in the day.  I was settling in for the 3+ hour climb up Fish Creek Rd to Fish Creek Trail to Buff Pass Rd eventually peaking out near the Summit Lake aid station.  I kept reminding myself to be conservative on the climb up Fish Creek trail, I knew that when I reached Buff Pass Rd where the temperature drops significantly that I wanted to be running not hiking.  This is another one of my favorite parts of the course when the sun has just set and you're going into headlamp mode up Fish Creek Falls trail, scaling rocks, crossing bridges, passing waterfalls, it just feels epic.  After reaching the Long Lake aid, the temp sure enough had dropped quite a bit so I threw on my TAP windbreaker jacket and started making my way up Buff Pass Rd.  It's not a steep grade, but the long steady climb had gradually tightened up all the muscles in my legs and hips, a short hiking break felt so good but felt like I was trying to re-stir a pale of drying cement when I tried to start running again.  Finally catching up to a couple tortoises one asked me "is that Alex", referring to Alex Nichols, the favorite to win the race.  No it's Jim I said moving past him not realizing that Alex had dropped back at Olympia Hall on the first go around due to a lingering leg injury.  Shortly later coming into Summit Lake aid the photographer Paul Nelson on the side of the road says "get ready for a flash" and shortly after asks "is that Cody" referring to Cody Reed, another one of the race favorites.  Nope, I's Jim to which he exclaimed that Mark was 16 min ahead.  I knew he was referring to Mark Hammond but was a bit suprised that he hadn't mentioned anyone else in front of me, I thought that for sure I was sitting in 5th or 6th place at that time.  Coming into Summit Aid I downed a small cup of ramen, the only "real food" I would eat since the rice balls went south and for the remainder of the race and  resumed my strategy of switching from a flask of coke one hour to a few gels the next which seemed to be working well keeping my energy up and my stomach in check.  The Summit Lake aid station was so inviting and warm, stocked with a ton of food, well lit, and well heated, it felt like I had just walked into a luxurious space capsule after walking off the moon at night, there's no place for this kind of comfort so I made my way out as quick as possible back out onto Buff Pass Rd for the gradual 8 mile descent to Dry Lake aid station.

Night Ops down Buff Pass Rd.
Photo: Paul Nelson Photography 

The legs loosened up pretty quickly once starting to descent and was running really smoothly pretty much all the way down to Dry Lake aid.  Reaching Dry Lake at mile 65 Drew somehow knew that it was me emerging out of the dark and was there with a vest swap, a quick bottle fill, and a update that Mark was 16 min ahead.  I rolled out of the aid station and down the Spring Creek Trail towards the Spring Creek aid station at the bottom.  The legs started to feel great, I felt like I had just started running, it was an amazing feeling just cruising down the trail effortlessly in the dark approaching mile 70 of the race which was my plan, get to mile 70 ready to rock.  I couldn't really tell who was a Tortoise and who was a Hare coming up out of Spring Creek Aid but once I got to the aid station my dad was there and the race director Fred was there and said that Mark was 11 min ahead.  Fred asked how I was feeling and I said "better than I did 20 miles into the race" to which he replied "that's what you want!".  I charged out of the aid station fired up and ready to race. The return trip up Spring Creek was really fun and I was just trying to temper myself to stay in a sustainable groove that I could maintain for the 3 hour climb ahead back up to the Summit aid station.  Coming into the Dry Lake aid I swapped back to my vest with my warm gear, topped off and was told that Mark was 11 min ahead so I knew that he knew I was chasing and that he wasn't gonna be easy to catch.

The climb back up Buff Pass was long and seemingly never ending, my confident steady run was turning into a run/ hike and my goal time of a 2:40am arrival at summit was slowly slipping away.  My caffeine pills were keeping me alert but I could definitely tell that underneath the artificial stimulant I was getting tired.  It was a relief when close to 2 hours after leaving Dry Lake aid the light of the Summit Lake aid station appeared at mile 81.5 appeared like a beacon in the night.  This time going in I wasn't quite as with it as the first time I had been through, I was staggering a bit, I was a bit disoriented.  I always feel bad when I get to this point but I know the aid station volunteers understand that I didn't really want to talk to anyone I just wanted to fill my bottles and get back on the trail.  Heading out of Summit aid onto the 8.5 mile stretch down the Wyoming trail to the Long Lake aid was probably the lowest point of the race for me.  I felt like I had lost a lot of time and I didn't know how far ahead Mark was and I thought that for sure whoever was behind me had closed a large part of the 30 min gap that I had estimated at Dry Lake.   The vision in my left eye was beginning to become obscured, I thought I might have gotten something in it but rubbing it and flushing it with water did nothing to help.  The trail winds through pretty dense woods rolling up and down, the canopy of the trees blocks out most light from the moon so it was really dark, I could really only see out of one eye, and I hadn't seen any sign up another person for close to an hour and a half.  I had pretty much resided to just try and continue moving conservatively to hopefully not get caught by 3rd place and not risk injuring myself and blowing the whole race when all of a sudden a light appeared ahead.  I thought that for sure it must be a runner from the tortoise division but as I approached the runner asked "who's that!"  I said it's Jim and realized that it was Mark!  I told him good job and as much as I wanted to run with him and have some company for a bit I knew it was my chance the take this thing so I told him "good job" and took off towards the Long Lake aid at mile 90.  Mark came into the aid station about 1 min behind me and I quickly topped off my bottles, grabbed a couple gummies and took off down the road to the Mountain View trail which heads back up to Mt Werner aid station at the top of Steamboat Mountain.

I think I must have gotten a bit of an adrenaline bump 'cause my energy surged and I was running up the Mountain View trail at what felt like a strong steady state effort trying to create as much of a gap as I could from Mark coming inches from getting quilled by a porcupine on the side of the trail along the way.  About an hour and twenty minutes later I reached the Mt. Werner aid station at the summit my stomach was starting to turn again so I just filled up my water bottle and decided forgo any food the rest of the 6 miles down to the base of the mountain.  I still didn't know how much of a gap I had put on Mark so I continued to run as hard as I could down the road.  I had always dreaded this point of the race and just couldn't fathom descending 3500 vertical feet from the top of Steamboat Mountain after having already run close to 100 miles.  Even though I was pretty destroyed and my vision still wasn't very good, it was starting to get light out and I was surprised at how well my legs were taking the beating of the descent.  Once I got close to the top of the gondola I started to see other runners coming up the road which I was really confused about for a second until I realized that they were the runners that had just started the 50 mile race.  Their cheers and congratulations almost brought tears to my eyes as I realized that I was actually going to win this thing.  As I came around the corner in sight of the finish line, Drew yelled "it's Jim!" and everyone started cheering as I came down the final stretch to my first 100 mile finish crossing the finish line at 6:44am.   Fred (the designated hugger) gave me a hug and I gave hugs to my friends and family who were there with a bit of a stagger and catching myself from falling over backwards a couple times, really just an amazing experience. A little under 10 minutes later Mark crossed the line, we gave each other congratulations took a few pictures and went inside to try and warm up a bit.  We were both hammered, we had both given it everything we had.

People always ask why you would run 100 miles or any ultra marathon for that, a kid at the bus stop in Steamboat even commented what a waste of time it was as I ran by.  It's hard to find such powerful moments in the comfort of our everyday lives, there aren't many things that strip you down like these races do.  Your emotions come forth, your doubts come through, no matter how confident you are you can quickly be put in your place.  Michael Gervais always says that in order to grow you have to step outside of your comfort zone.  When you do you might just surprise yourself and come out the other side a little bit stronger and have something to look back on and say "Wow! I can't believe I did that, that was really amazing!"

2nd Place Mark Hammond and Myself at the finish after a crusher of a Race!
Photo: Paul Nelson Photography

Congrats to all the runners that finished such a difficult course and those that didn't but had to guts to even toe the line.  Also congrats to all the top men and women finishers, it's a really cool feeling to be surrounded by such amazing athlete's and the energy that it creates is really just impossible to describe.

Thanks to Fred, Paul and Brady for putting on such an amazing event for such a great cause and to all the volunteers who looked just about as tired as a lot of the runners did come Saturday night.  Thanks to Paul Nelson Photography for all the awesome photos.  The Adrenalin Project for being such a rad supportive team of guys and gals to be a part of.  To Lifetime Fitness, Skratch Labs, Champion Systems, Stance Socks, and Ciel Athletics.  Thanks to my coach John Fitzgerald with CTS for being a game changer for me with his training approach, support, and belief in me.  Thanks to my parents and Aunt Helen for helping with daycare so I could get off the treadmill and out on the trails, and GG and Grandpa Ski for watching my son so I could come run the race and letting me crash at their condo.  My friend Drew and dad who crewed for me through the long night and helped get me out of the aid stations rocket fast, and of course my wife who puts up with more BS than anyone when it all comes down to it ;)  Thanks for taking the time to follow along! See you on the trails!

Pretty Much Sums up My Feeling for the day
Photo: Paul Nelson Photography

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