Friday, April 14, 2017

Potawatomi 100:The Circles of Life and Death

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"I am speechless, I am without speech." These are the words that came out of Elaine Benis's mouth when she was shocked to discover something ridiculous in the sitcom, Seinfeld. These same words came out of my mouth when I discovered the weather that I would have in Pekin, Illinois the first weekend in April. Because I am from the Midwest, I know that typically that time of year consists of rain that would make even a fish drown. However, the reason for the lack of speech was because I was going to have 70 degree weather. Unbelievable! I manage to travel to Utah and Colorado and get buckets and buckets of rain and I come to the Midwest in April and get absolute perfection (and yes, the parents use this to bribe me to come back to Ohio).

Let's just say that I wasn't going to complain. When I planned this trip I had anything but a brain. First off, I decided 2 months before the start of the race that I would go ahead and give it a go. Usually most people like to invest an adequate amount of time for something like this to ensure they are properly trained and ready to go. However, that wasn't me. The reason I decided to take on the Potawatomi 100 is because my good friend, Callie, informed me that she had connections in the town. I ultimately took her up on the offer and registered for the race. I also managed to book a red eye flight from Seattle to Chicago Thursday night, I landed Friday morning at 6 am CT, and then the race started Saturday AM CT. Basically I was running an ultra sleep deprived.

Another friend from Ohio, Kyle, did the 150 mile run out here a few years ago and warned me that it is a tough race for the middle of Illinois. He was right. The course gains 1600 feet of elevation per loop. Each loop is 10 miles for a grand total of 100 miles and 16,000 feet of climbing. Comparatively, this one is probably ranked in the middle as far as difficulty to others that I ran. It certainly was no Ouray or HURT. I'd classify it more along the lines of Mohican and Pinhoti.

Training leading up to Potawatomi was anything but vigorous, minus one specific workout up Mailbox Peak. I ran about an hour everyday after work and then did a 3-6 hour run on Saturdays. As with most 100's that I have run, I didn't feel that I was adequately ready for this. It was probably my workout two weeks before Potawatomi that saved the race for me. I went up and down the Old Trail at Mailbox Peak. Each time up and down is 4,000 feet of climbing and 4,000 feet of descent in a 5 mile distance. This times 4=a very, very sore Nick. Of course I was well rested by the time this race came around.

The night before the race we made it to the race location at 7 PM. I got to meet one of the race Directors, Rich. We got there and perhaps it was the sleep deprivation (I'm definitely blaming it on this), I asked where/who I should make the cash donation to. The lady serving the food said the guy in the orange shirt. Although he was sitting right beside me I walked over to the guy in the green shirt. I could hear muttering and when I passed the money to the guy in the green shirt I came back and David, Callie, and Rich were all wondering what I was doing. It suddenly struck me what he had said...they then started joking and said what I was on. Thankfully my Kopp out was that I had taken a redeye from Seattle. At that point the Race Director was elated. I come to find out that his son is moving out next month to a suburb of Seattle. From that point on I was known as "The Seattle Man." After eating dinner we made it to the host family's house. They welcomed us with otherworldly hospitality and kindess-thanks Seth and Angie!

Fast forward to 6 AM the Saturday of the race. I was huddled around my crew, Callie and David, and we were discussing my strategy and plan for the day. I knew that I was aiming for 20 hours on the trail. This means that I would have to complete each loop in 2 hours or less. Although I'm not a huge fan of loop courses, especially going around 10 times, I must confess that this made the drop bag incredibly easy as well as figuring out where I was at time wise. This of course comes with a double-edged sword. Because I always knew where I was at and how long it took, I easily could have gotten psyched out easily. Thankfully this rationale didn't fully apply to me this day.



Displaying 44100.jpegCallie and David were planning to crew me throughout the day and provide me with the support that I likely needed after going around the loop 10 times. Once the race was about to start I went to the bathroom one final time and then we were off. My one qualm I suppose was that the 100 mile runners were starting with the 50 mile racers. We didn't have separate bibs so it was difficult to tell who I would be racing against. Unlike most races that I've run I found myself at the front of the start. Most of all races that I've done most people are so eager to get out to the front and take the lead. This wasn't the case here. It was like everyone was afraid to do that. I started about 15 feet from the start of the line but by default I was at the front. It was like I was a lion and everyone was cowarding behind me! Although a bit unorthodox for most races I've done and a bit out of character for how I usually race, I decided to go ahead and take the lead. One reason I didn't really want to do this is I wanted to get an idea of how a loop felt and not find myself getting carried away trying to race the 50 milers.

Once we were off I started talking to two guys named Dean and David. They both had run this before. They were registered for the 50 miler. They told me that their best times were around 9 hours for a 50. In full disclosure, they seemed like good people to follow. I knew that they had to get to a concert by 6 pm in a town 1.5 hours away so following them for a while seemed like an intelligent move. As we started to move along the first mile I found was very flat. I heard that miles 2-4 are when the climbing begin. This was most definitely true. By mile 4 David was sweating rather profusely. The thing with this trail is that it is either all flat or you're going to be going straight up.

Image result for mcnaughton park streamsWe came to the first river crossing. I knew that I would have to cross a couple of streams for this race, I just thought that I'd be able to get through without getting wet. The first one, there was no way that was possible. I kind of looked at it. I felt like a rich person who left their high maintenance lifestyle and had to stay in a shack. Very quickly someone from behind just ran through it. Hopefully Laz doesn't find out that I don't want to get wet (he's the Director of the infamous Barkley Marathons). I suppose that I had to follow suit as well. I ran through and my entire lower body was saturated below my knees. Right away I knew that this was going to be potentially a long day. As we continued onward, I found myself leaving both Dean and David. I got to the next aid station and took the wrong route. At this aid station you're supposed to make a right hand turn, run a 1.5 mile loop and get back to the aid station and then go left at the fork. I went left right away.


I continued onward and got to the second stream. This one too was unavoidable. Right when my feet were getting somewhat dry, I had to emerge them in the water again. Thankfully this one wasn't as bad as the first one. I continued onward and got to the start line. Rich was shocked to see me there, and so was I. I got there in 1:24. I knew that something was wrong. Although running 10 miles in that timeframe is doable for me, I was nervous that I messed something up. I was moving WAY too fast that early on. I knew that I had taken a wrong turn somewhere. Rich clarified that I was running the 100 and not the 50. I gave him the  validation and started lap 2.

Then came lap two. I was still feeling pretty good. Prior to this race I was battling some painful sciatica about 3 weeks before. I was noticing that my my hamstring was twitching a bit. Probably not a good thing for only being 15ish miles into the race. I did the river crossing again and did the mandatory baptizing. Onward I went. I could definitely tell that after this second river is when most of the climbing was. I kept on and Callie and David surprised me with a visit at a random parking lot. They both were smiling emphatically which put me in a better mood right away. I continued past them and got to the aid station. To my fear, I was right. I had missed the loop. I went back and reported to the aid station workers what had happened. I asked if I could do two loops on this. They said that that should be fine. I quickly did the two loops and got back to the start. I quickly confessed my mistake to the Rich and he said that I was about the 5th person to do that. He said that as long as I made it up, I should be good to go. Cheating in running is the last thing that I will tolerate.

Lap 3 I continued onward. It was at this point that I was getting a bit familiar with the trail. This would be my first "real loop"with all of the proper turns. Although the course was well marked, I just didn't pay attention as I should have. However, this loop everything was done right. Usually by mile 30 I have a low, this didn't really happen. I got back to the start and Rich was super elated to see me again. "What are you doing here? Get outta here!" I followed the general's orders. I continued onward. Laps 4 and 5 were basically the same-nothing too major happened. It was towards the end of 5 that gave me a good chuckle. There was one 50 miler ahead of me who kept looking back. He then took off and when I got to the end of lap 5 he was on the ground, collapsed. He had won the 50 in 8:12. I came in the loop around 8:16, a very solid first 50 miles. I grabbed my water and took off. It was at mile 55 that I picked David up.

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He thankfully ran with me for 15 miles and we made small conversation. He had nice, white shoes on. Hopefully he wasn't too sad when we got to the river crossings and he had to get them wet...Regardless, he was a good trooper and powered through the water as well. At this point, I felt like a Nascar Driver. I think I passed more 100, 150, and 200 mile runners than I ever have. I guess there has to be some form of entertainment when you're going in circles. There were even a couple of crashes on the course too that I got to witness (myself included). One guy slipped on the rock and ate the mud shortly after the river crossing. Although I probably should have been a bit  more sympathetic, I laughed and asked if he was ok. I ate it shortly thereafter.

Loops 6-8 were the worst. Although I always had food in my hands I didn't always eat it...I wasn't bonking terribly but I was certainly slowing down. My diet of Gu and ProBars was no longer going to work. I needed to supplement it with something else. I must say that the cantaloupe did the trick! Potato Chips were also a regular part of the diet all throughout the day. When I finished lap 7 or 8, I was told that I was right on pace with Karl Meltzer's course record (he currently holds the Appalachian Trail Course record from Georgia to Maine). I was flabbergasted. I had no idea that I was moving that well. Sub 20 was definitely going to happen.

Displaying 44101.jpegLoop 9 I had a huge second wind. It was at this point that I felt like I was flying. I had some broth and this certainly picked the pace up! I think I'm learning that real food later in the race is key for me. Sugar no longer works well, especially as my stomach is not able to settle that level of artificial sugars. Broth on the other hand is high in calories and a liquid that tends to go down very easily (when it isn't burning your mouth). I then came into loop 10 and the race director was equally emphatic as before. He encouraged me to take off again. Although I was likely no longer in contention with the course record, I still had high hopes of finishing sub 18 hours. Other than Meltzers 17:40, there were only 3 other people who have gotten sub 20 at this event in the 12 years of its existence. I was determined to break 18. With a little mental push and fortitude, I powered on. The first aid station workers were so happy. "Seattle Man! You're flying out here!" I wasn't going to argue too much. I knew that I was having a good day with very little going wrong. I quickly left. I was following this lady and her pacer. I noticed that her back was super red-likely from all of the sun. "You're fried!" I yelled at her. She then responded, "yeah, I like fries." I started to laugh uncontrollably. Here we were at 11:10 at night running circles like rats in a maze testing drugs. Everything suddenly became more hilarious. I told  her what I actually said and all 3 of us started dying laughing.

From here, I got to the last aid station, did the final right hand loop and then powered to the end. I just started complementing all of the other runners on random things. I passed another female couple. One of them was wearing a too too. I told her I was digging it and that I should have told her that all day. Nothing like hitting on someone at 11:45 at night in the middle of the woods. I'm pretty sure they both looked at each other like I was some schmuck. Or, they wanted to caress my sweat infested, mud dunked body.

Other than feeling like a rat in a maze and Nascar driver, I think I can sum up the course in the following format:
Loops 1-3: I became acquainted and familiar with the course
Loops 4-8: I became intimate with the course, knowing every rock, root, stream, and muddy spot
Loops 9-10: The course and I were one and the same creature

I finally came to the final hill and made my way to the finish in 17:56, just 16 minutes shy of the course record and 2nd fastest time overall. Callie and David were emphatic but I thought that Rich was going to collapse with excitement. I think he was more emphatic than all 3 of us combined. He quickly congratulated and shook my hand about 10 times in a 3 minute time frame. He motioned that we go over for a picture. He explained that he was impressed with my endeavor of trying to run a 100 in every US State. I was happy to have finished my 9th 100 and still no DNF's. The best part is it come with a very convincing victory. I believe second finished around 25 or 26 hours. Although not a competitive race, the time would have done well in most competitions, so I was very pleased with the results.



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Huge thanks to both Callie and David for assisting with the logistics, Seth and Angie for giving us all a place to sleep, and of course Orange Mud for a product that allowed me to press on throughout the entire day with minimal gear issues.

Thanks to all who have read this. Hopefully this proved to be amusing to some degree.

Cheers,

Nick


Thursday, November 17, 2016

Pinhoti 100: Getting Served Humble Pie

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If you had asked me which races I was planning to run at the beginning of this year, I'm not sure that Pinhoti 100 would have made the list. However, timing for this classic fall race aligned well with other races that I had done this year and shooting for a 3rd 100 mile run this year was certainly on the to-do list. That, combined with the fact that I needed a race in Alabama in my pursuit of a 100 miler in every US State. Lastly, my good friends Jen and Shawn were already registered so logistics aligned well, too.

Despite its obscure location in Alabama, this race attracts strong talent. A quick gander at the fastest times shows the types of athletes that have completed this point-to-point course from Helfin, Alabama to Sylacauga, Alabama via the Pinhoti trail in Talladega National Forest. Karl Melzer, the then course record holder, ran a 16:44. This is the same man who has the current record for the fastest traverse of the Appalachian Trail. Not surprisingly, this year wouldn't disappoint with the talent levels. David Riddle from Ohio was registered. This is a man who has run several sub 6 hour 50 milers and rarely loses. I suppose my one claim to fame was my win against him at the Mohican 50 earlier this year ( in fact his only non 1st place finish in 3 years). I noticed that he registered for the race after I did. In my brain I told myself he was seeking revenge. Although that was a completely different race, one will find that he and I never really had a race. He ran away with the win and an eventual course record of 16:24.

Weather for this year was the best that I had all year. Earlier I had run Zion 100 in Utah and Ouray 100 in Colorado. Although two states that are typically labeled as "sunny," I of course brought the Seattle rain. I was glad that this wasn't a repeat of those experiences. We had mid 70's for the day and upper 40's for the night. It was my first race that I had great weather! The start was as usual, very fidgety. There were over 200 runners registered for this race. Going into it, I was quite sure that there were 8-10 that could easily win it-it would depend on who had the best day. 

Once we got started promptly at 7 am in Heflin, it was a sprint to single track. I was warned by my friend Jen that it turns single track early on, it just caught me off guard. I noticed that I was probably in 15th during the start. Not surprisingly, Riddle took off (and in fact I never saw him the rest of the race). I remember conversing with a guy named Anthony who had run some 50ks and 50 milers, but never a 100. He was a bit nervous but I assured him to put just one foot in front of the other. Not that I'm a super seasoned ultrarunner, but I certainly won't forget my first 100. I wanted to quit so bad. However, getting a talking to, I was quickly reminded that I registered for the torture and it was up to me to get to the end. Hopefully that advice served Anthony to some degree on his endeavor that day. I hung out with him for a few miles before I found my target. 

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I found Caleb. Caleb had a strong, thick Southern accent but was by no means a joke. The 24 year old had run Orcas Island in Washington earlier this year (a very mountainy 100 miler in WA State). In fact, he was good friends with the Race Director at Pinhoti and was dating his daughter. We talked about our careers and goals for the day. We ran into the first aid station together. His crew had his bottles ready so he blew right past through. I spent about a minute refilling my water bottles. I know how important it is to eat and drink early on. Both Caleb and I agreed that the race really doesn't start until mile 50. Riddle and others that took off, I was convinced that I was going to catch up to. 

A different part of this race for me is that I was already we were in 4th and 5th, respectively. I think this is still the hardest challenge for me. I'm not sure if I should have gone out that aggressive or go out more steady and maintain during the day. The results of this race likely indicate that I need to run my own race. Too often I get caught up with what everyone else is doing and I lose my own rhythm. After going through the 2nd aid station, I quickly became acquainted with the ground. I remember following Caleb through this dirt section and somehow fell. There were no rocks or roots. I literally just fell down. Caleb turned around and asked if I was good. I laughed and said that I was but was a bit confused how I managed to fall on nothing. Thank to the fall, I managed to get a nice skid mark too, similar to carpet burn. It's odd how I can run courses that have boulder and root after root and manage not to fall, but then eat it on flat dirt. Regardless, I got up and continued moving. 

This is when the course started to climb a little. The first 40ish miles are incredibly deceiving. There is very little climbing and tons of rolling, undulating hills. This too is a terrain that I'm figuring out if it is a strong suit of mine or not. I'm thinking that I prefer the medium length ups and downs. For this race, I was running too many hills too early on. I certainly paid for this later on. As I was following Caleb I noticed the terrain was a bit like running on ice. The course is covered in pine needles that make climbing seem like you're climbing on ice. This really wore on me as the race went on. Every step forward I took a half step back.

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After about 15ish miles with Caleb, we split paths. I moved in front of him and was by myself for a while. Really I was feeling good at this point. This is eventually when I caught up with Adam Tekacs. Adam is a Canadian runner who hails from Toronto. He's had a rough year with injuries and was focusing on just a finish. Not only would Adam finish, but he would put over an hour on me. With that said, we became very well acquainted throughout the race. I'm not sure I've ever played leap frog with someone so much. We came into mile 27 together and we left that section. I remember seeing a sign that said "one marathon down, 3 to go." Those signs are in fact very demotivating to me. Mile 30ish is usually when I get my first wave of depression. It is the reality check that I'm not even a 3rd of the way there. This sign was certainly not a kind reminder of that. With that said, Adam and me were in 2nd and 3rd. The only one in front of us was Dave Riddle. 

We continued for several miles together. I remember the next section we both were running out of water and wondering where the next stop was. When we came to it, we both refilled and headed back out in the woods. It was at this moment that the hip flexors were not happy. it was about mile 33 and they were already agitated. In retrospect, I think that it was caused by the running of the smaller hills and the pine needles. They were being forced to work harder on the climbs as every step we fell back a tad. Unfortunately for me, this is a problem that persisted for the other 77 miles. Certainly there were some moments better and worse than others but mentally it was already freaking me out. I entered this race wanting to finish top 5 but always have higher expectations, despite not being mentioned (perhaps superstitious thing?).

It was here that we were climbing up Mt. Cheaha, the highest point in the State of Alabama. I remember the climb not being as bad as others that were about to come. This certainly had tons of boulders. As Adam and I were summitting, we saw tons of tourists enjoying the 70 degree day. They were all waving. They knew that we were running from Heflin to Sylacauga and still had a LONG ways to go. Shortly after was the aid station. I quickly got what I needed and headed out. I think what my hip flexors lacked in the day, my efficiency at the aid station gave me a consistent lead over Adam throughout the day. My one minute that I spent was being compared to his 5-10 minutes at the aid stations. The next section was perhaps my favorite. After Cheaha, we headed down the largest boulder field of the course and then all roads. I remember making tremendous progress here. This is also when gastro problems started to arise. My timing for this was impeccable. There was a porta pot on the road. I quickly stopped and moved on. 

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After checking in this aid station, I remember the next being the 2nd worst section. It was back in the woods but on a really long section. I believe this was the 8 mile section. The problem is that Adam stayed at the previous aid station longer and I didn't have anyone near me. Consequently, I became very lazy. My hiking was getting worse and the hip flexors were wanting nothing to do with climbing anymore. This was a very sad reality, not only that I train in Seattle, but that there was much more climbing in the second half of the race. After finally getting to this aid station, I collected my gear and finished the short 3 mile section that was next. It was here that I collected my headlamp for the night section. It was about mile 55. Many roads were to come. After about 10 minutes on this section, I saw Adam coming up from behind. He was looking really strong. When it came to the roads, I didn't have a chance. I'll just accredit this to Adam's training in Toronto and probably having tons of exposure to roads. It was here too that I learned that he is actually part of the Canadian 100k world team that is competing next month. After he caught up we ran a little bit and then he took off. This is basically when I never saw him again.

He took off and shortly thereafter, it was time for the headlamps. It was a depressing concept that we would need headlamps for practically half of the race...night sections are not my favorite and this course was tough with all of the pine needles and leaves covering the boulders. Shortly after turning the headlamp on I quickly ate it again. There were a couple of choice words released and then I felt better. Basically the only part I remember from this section was that I eventually got to a sign that said "hill ahead :)" Something told me that I won't be smiling here soon...typically the climbing is a strong point, but not this race and not this day. My hip flexors were convulsing and refusing to cooperate. I could hear music from the aid station which was located at the top of the hill, but all I remember is a tons of switchbacks that seemed to go on forever. However, after probably the 20th switchback, I was at the top. 

I drank some coke and other salty foods. My diet for the day had been power bars, similar to gummy bears. My stomach was getting a tad sick of all of the sugars and demanded foods that were a bit more real. From this section I remember that we continued climbing. This was another low moment for me. I wasn't climbing a ton but I couldn't run. It was covered in tons of boulders and leaves. Then there were the hip flexors. Every step was a reminder that I couldn't move quickly. After practically walking this entire section I made it to mile 79. I'll call this Liar Aid Station. The adults told me that it was all down hill. In fact, they promised me that. Very quickly a teenager of probably 15 years quickly informed me that I would be going uphill on more roads. The adults quickly shut him up. Too bad for these adults, I know how aid station people work sometimes. The teenager was absolutely right. It wasn't downhill, it was more uphill on a gravel road. 

After laughing to myself about the aid station workers I know that they were just wanting to be helpful. It was back on single track. It was at this point that I saw two headlamps behind me. My initial thought was that there were 2 people going to pass me. Although true, it was only one racer with their pacer. The person happened to be the eventual women's winner, Jacqueline Merritt. I was about to get served a huge dose of humble pie. I have no qualms losing to women, but it certainly isn't a morality boost. I've been "chicked" 3 times in 100's. The first was in my first 100 (doesn't count, right?), the second was to the Amy Sproston, the women's 100k world champion, and now to Jacqueline. With that said, Jacqueline is a solid runner. So solid in fact, she crushed the women's record by 20 minutes. Needless to say it looked like she had just started. She passed and was like "you feeling ok?" I actually thought that I was moving somewhat ok but it looked like Jacqueline had just woken up and started running. I never would have guessed she had 85 miles under her belt.

After letting her by, it was about another 15 minutes until the next aid station. The next section was the worst of the entire course. The temps dropped by about 20 degrees in this section and it was all on road. It sounds really pleasant, however, the hip flexors were again just giving up. Not to mention it is about 8 miles all by yourself on this road. There is a water drop about halfway. Not sure why, but the song "Running with the Devil" came into my brain. This was probably because this was the longest road section ever and I started to get incredibly drowsy. So drowsy in fact that I couldn't walk in a straight line. I was wobbling side to side on this road. I was in desperate need of some caffeine. Not sure why, but I get tired very easily. It was about 1 am at this point. I finally made it to the the last aid station and they informed that it was only 5 miles to the end. I got some updates and moved on.

This was another section that seemed to take a while. It takes you past this swamp and then dumps you on this road for 4 miles. The race ends at Sylacauga High School but getting to the high school felt like an eternity too. The last two miles I got "attacked" by about 3 dogs. The first was the worst. His teeth were showing and you could tell that he wanted nothing to do with a person at 2:45 in the morning. Go figure, I finish 98 miles and then get pulverized by a huge dog. Thankfully, with my dog charming skills he just growled and barked. There were two other dogs that did the same but they were thankfully not as bad as the first. As laziness fully kicked in, I was walking tons of this section, being sure to look back for lights in case another racer were to come. However, I was in the clear. I could see the lights of the track stadium and knew that my suffering was over. I pressed forward and was greeted by the race director and others at the finish. They congratulated me for my 4th overall finish and 3rd overall male. I was very happy that this one was over. Official finish was 20:04:00.

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In retrospect, I learned a lot from this race. First, it is important to keep my own pace. Second, I think I underestimated the course. The boulders, pine needles, and the leaves made this course incredibly challenging. I'm also beginning to conclude that I do better on courses that have a bit longer climbs. Although there was nothing I could do about the hip flexors, I do question if I should have trained a bit more. I have been taking 2 days off a week and only getting about 50-80 miles a week. Some of my best results in 100's have been in 6 days of training. This certainly is something I will continue to experiment in. The good news with Pinhoti is that I managed a top 5 finish and successfully completed my 8th 100 miler in 8 states. Just 42 to go....!

Lastly, just want to give a huge thanks to Orange Mud and their VP2.  Once again, it served me well and provided all of the hydration needs that I needed. Congrats to Jacqeline on her course record and Dave Riddle on his. Also, thanks to Shawn and Jen Merchant for figuring the logistics out and Ellen for the ride to the start. Finally, I want to thank everyone who continue to read about these adventures. Hopefully these continue to be enjoyable.

Cheers,
NK

Friday, August 12, 2016

At the Crest of Everest and Half a Time

"They're so beautiful!" These were the words that I sent via text to my good ultrarunning friend, Jen Edwards, in regards to the San Juan Mountains in Southwest Colorado. Shortly thereafter I received a message back stating, "we have to go there!"

These were words that were shared about 4 months ago as I was trying to figure out which 100 I was going to run this summer. The San Juan Mountains hosts an incredibly historic event known as the Hardrock 100. My only qualm with this race is that unless you are incredibly lucky, your odds of getting in are minimal, as the lottery system places a heavy emphasis on veterans who had already completed the race. Don't get me wrong, it is a beautiful course with lots of history and difficulty in completing, but I knew that I wanted to try something a little different. That is when I decided to check in on Ouray 100. It is a race that is the equivalent on the beauty factor, but arguably even more difficult. The race boasts close to 42,000 feet of climbing and 42,000 feet of descending. A total of about 84,000 feet of elevation gain-A LOT! This would be the equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest from sea level one and a half times. Then you have to consider that the lowest elevation of the entire race is at 7600 feet. At one point, it gets over 13,300...Unfortunately in Washington, I just don't get that type of elevation training. The climbing is a lot, but the elevation is a completely different story.

To be quite honest, this intimidated me a little bit. Had Jen not pushed me into it and a free race entry from Josh and Orange Mud, I probably wouldn't have signed up. However, sometimes the beauty of nature and a kind push from friends to do rad things make me a bit of a pushover and susceptible to making irrational decisions. I'm surprised I never got into drugs...

Next thing I knew I was registered and I had my crew member, Jen, going along with me. This undoubtedly would be the most difficult race I had done up to this point. HURT 100 in Hawaii was probably the hardest to date, but total climbing there was about 25,000. This would only be about 17,000 feet more and at a much higher elevation...

As soon as the tickets were purchased, I checked the weather for the week of the race. It was rain for a week straight...of course it would be! Sunny Colorado turns into Stormy Colorado whenever I signed up for this. Jen and I joke that anything we plan to go to together turns into a hot mess, weather wise. Last year I paced Jen at Fat Dog 120 and the weather was hailing and raining for her entire 40 hour race. It was just so much fun seeing nothing but dark clouds and freezing to death on the peaks. I literally couldn't wait to get blown off a mountain from hurricane like winds and freeze to death on the peaks for my race this year...it was like living a dream that was about to come back-except this time she would get to stay warm and I would be in the Hunger Games, trying to survive.

At the start of the race, only 31 people showed up. We each were given our trackers and were ready to go. Similar to the Hunger Games, it was so the Race Directors could keep track of where everyone was at and pick people up who selected the "pick up" button. Really the only difference between this race and the Hunger Games is that there were no cannons going off when people died or quit. The rest is quite comparable.

At the start, the weather wasn't terrible. The sun was shining and everything looked hopeful. I knew better. I had checked the weather before it started and knew that as the day progressed, the chance of thunderstorms and rain was almost inevitable. I toed the line with the other runners at 8 AM Friday morning and knew that I would be out here for an incredibly long time. This wasn't really a race as much as a hike in the mountains. I had that mindset going in and believe that that helped me throughout the entire course of the race.

Once we were all lined up, the Race Director let us go. The first couple of miles were essentially all jeep trails. I followed these and intentionally didn't run any hills. I'd get my fair share of climbing and needed to conserve my legs as much as possible. As we started off, there were a couple of guys who were doing just that, running all of the hills. I kept my cool and went at my own pace, making sure that I was being strategic about this race. Most people probably wouldn't finish, and 100 miles is a long way to begin with, not to mention the elevation profile. The pic below is the views that we had at the beginning, about 3 miles into the race.




When I hit the first aid station, we then started to head to our first climb.This is when I would learn very quickly what I had registered for. The ascent started to get a bit vertical. Like a lot vertical. My heart-lung machine was pumping blood harder than it otherwise would. It kinda felt like I was an obese person who was forced to hit the treadmill for the first time. My love for the idea of doing something epic was quickly beginning to change. Training leading up to this race, I had done extensive training at Mt. Rainier, running Camp Muir repeats from Paradise to train for the elevation as well as the climbing. Certainly this helped me out, but I was running against some mountain goats in this race (the winner I found out lives at 10,000 feet in Colorado). There were a couple of guys who got up that first climb like they were Sherpa's. I was a lost, confused wanderer who wasn't sure what I was getting into...

With that said, it was the first climb and it wasn't as dramatic as I'm making it sound; however, it did take the breath away from me. As with all mountain races, there typically is a big reward for those willing to do the work. I shouldn't have been surprised with the views rewarded:



From here, I grabbed the hole punch and punched my bib to prove that I was following the course. Now it was time to go down, down, down. I was moving pretty quickly on this downhill as it wasn't super technical, but not too fast as to blow my quads up too early. There were many more downhills to run and needed to be sure that I was conserving my body as much as possible. I sometimes like to think of myself as a controlled runner-not going out too fast and not going out too slow. Typically it is in the later stages of races where I make my move on other runners. The adrenaline in the beginning is hard to let go but you have to think perspective and constantly remind yourself that it will be a long time. After I got back to that initial aid station, I then started to head to Richmond Aid Station. It was here that I noticed the sky was beginning to blacken.

The next point from here was Chicago Tunnel. This is when things started to get bad. The climb to Chicago Tunnel is difficult to start, and then the rain started. Great! As if this course wasn't hard enough, the rain would be my worst enemy. Thankfully I had planned that things would get bad, and that is why I put my secret weapon in my Orange Mud pack-a trash bag. My high tech trash bag likely saved this entire race for me. Chicago Tunnel certainly felt like Chicago to me in the winter. It was blowing horribly and the rain started to pelt down on us. I was questioning if it was going to start sleeting here soon. The problem with the exposed Rockies is that there is no protection from the rain. We were above tree coverage and I didn't have the nice foliage of the trees like Washington to protect me from getting pelted in the face. The trail also started to get much more technical. It was scree, lose rock, that every step I took I took about a half step back. It was HORRIBLE. We have this scree in Washington, but here is seemed to be 2 feet deep. Between trying to climb at elevation, fighting the loose rock, and getting pelted in the face by gale force winds and raindrops, I was having the vacation of my life. I just couldn't think of anything else I'd rather be doing. After finally making it to the top of Chicago Tunnel, I punched the hole bib. I attempted to take a picture, but my camera was fogging up. This is the best that I could conjure:


From here, I started to head over to Peabody Fort, the highest point of the race and probably my lowest moment overall. First off, there were tons of jeeps that were on this road as they were heading up to the fort. Shockingly they were all incredibly kind, but that probably was more out of pity. They were witnessing a person in shorts, a trash bag, and the face of someone who looks like someone was punching them in the face as I couldn't see a thing on the climb. Truly this climb felt like an eternity. It was like I was a slug trying to get to the top of a building-I just wasn't going to get there! More jeep drivers continued waving and even stopping for me as the road was only big enough for one of us to get by. I'm sure too that they were thinking we were all psychopaths for being out here.

The rain continued falling down and the winds were getting really, really bad. It blew my hat off a couple of times and I had to backtrack to retrieve it. It was also this point that I started to bonk. I hadn't been eating because I didn't want to take my gloves off. I desperately paid for this. By the time I was getting closer to the top, I was bonking and my hands were too cold to open my pack of jelly beans. It was at this point that the leaders were heading back down. Their faces were incredibly red. It sort of looked like someone took a pan of boiling water and poured it on their face. Of course, it was from the wind hitting their face. They were at least going the opposite direction of the wind and I was heading straight into the thick of it. They gave me a look like "good luck" and I'm sure I gave them one back of "when am I getting off this thing!" About 20ish minutes later the bonking continued to get worse. It got so bad that I waived a jeep down. I felt like a kid who really wanted a piece of candy but mommy and daddy had to open it as the kid was either too dumb or weak to do so. This jeep saved me. I asked if they could open it as my hands were too cold and the lady inside said, "oh, please come inside, it's warm." I quickly rejected but appreciated it and the guy driving passed the beans back over. I was back in business!

I shoved the jelly beans in my mouth and finished my climb to Fort Peabody at 13,365'. I was struggling getting my bib punched as my hands were freezing and my bib was blowing in the wind, but I finally got it to work. I quickly turned around and headed back down. I laughed to myself as there were probably amazing views here and I didn't see a single one. Typical! I hit the aid station again and started to head towards Ironton. 

The rain let up again and the climbing began again. More technical climbing here too. Eventually the trail turned off the road and went into a prairie. There were tons of wildflowers all over but I couldn't see the trail markers. However, it was clear that the runners weren't supposed to follow the road. I searched for the orange markers and found them hidden in the flowers. I began to follow them and was back on course. The view here was out of this world:


I continued to follow this trail and shortly after the iron in the Ironton Mountains (so I call them) quickly came into view as well. I was at a complete loss of words:


The wildflowers here and the views of the mountains is something that can't be expressed into words. They are a view that I could only dream about. Certainly the weather could have cooperated a bit more, but all of the struggles and pains that I had gone through to get to this point were completely worth it. There were no other people up here but me. It was like I was given the gift of the world and I was the only person there to enjoy it. It was both an amazing feeling and also one that made me wish that other loved ones I know could have seen this with me. Nature has a way of gripping the strings of the soul and this view expressed something that can't be articulated into words. That is essentially what was happening to me at this point. However, the reality check quickly came back in that it was indeed cold up here too. I was marveling in the views but also knew that I needed to progress. I started to head down this mountain and it was incredibly vertical. There was tons of descending in such a short time frame. Good for me this go around, but bad as I also knew I would have to climb this, likely in the dark. I pressed on and got to the highway. From here, I followed this and was heading to the Ironton Aid Station, the primary aid station of the race. It was here that I would see the CEO of Orange Mud, Josh, and my crew member, Jen. 

Jen and I had planned that I would get here around 5:00 pm. I got here closer to I believe 3:30, which was a great thing. This has happened before at Oil Creek in PA when my parents expected me to get to the aid station at a certain time and I got there much earlier. However, there was nothing urgent that I needed and knew that I would run around this road again and could meet Jen then. I met Josh for the first time and he greeted me. I quickly accepted aid from him and headed back on the road. This section was another low moment in an odd way. It wasn't super technical, but you definitely weren't going to run this. It went up, up, and up. Again, I was getting some odd looks from the jeep drivers but in a way I think they understood what I was doing. Here the rain started to pick up again and just make my life so much better. However, it did clear up again and I did get some reward with more views:


I got to the top and quickly started my descent down. Again, it was a very technical descent but knew that I had to keep going. I got into the aid station here and saw Jen this time. She felt horrible for missing me the first time as she had my music, but I think it was good that I procrastinated the music this go around. I also dropped my phone off as well. We both decided that I wouldn't need my light for this go-around as I likely would be back before nightfall. It was a strategic decision in the sense that if I got caught in the dark, I would have to wait for someone with a light. However, I was quite confident that I would be OK and used it as motivation to keep moving when I would become lazy. I continued up the ascent that I just descended and quickly began to despise that mountain much more. There were some guys at the top who waved at me and gave me a look of awe, yet complete confusion and satisfaction that it was me suffering and panting for air and not them. Nonetheless, I happily took their look of confusion and pressed on. I summitted the top again and started working my way back down. I was passing tons of other 100 milers who were heading for the aid station on the first loop. They were hours behind and I knew that I was sitting at 3rd in the moment. I kept on and saw Jen again at the Ironton Aid Station. At this point I knew that I needed my headlamp. I took it from her and started to head back to the Richmond Aid Station. It was the climb that I was resenting the most. This had been the steepest of them it seemed, and although at one point it offered amazing views, this time I knew it would be a different story. I was right. Dissimilar to the wolf who huffed and puffed and blew the house down, I was huffing and puffing but collapsing uphill and praying for the top. However, with most things, every step forward gets you there. I was at the top and started to head through the prairie field of flowers. It was actually easier at night finding the markers as they had reflectors-rather than trying to find orange flags in a field of orange, yellow, and red flowers. I avoided more technical terrain and to Richmond Aid Station I went.

When I got there the workers informed me that it was 4.5 miles to the next one, mostly downhill. They were actually right. Sometimes I think aid station workers are programmed to lie and tell you what you want to hear rather than what is actually true. These were honest aid station workers. It was all down hill and I believe I made great headway on this section. Got to the next aid station and they informed me that the leader has been out there for 1.5 hours and hasn't come back. Probably not a good sign...I left and started to climb. Of all the sections, this was one of my least favorite. It was a complete car wash. It was raining harder and harder the higher I went and the plants were beyond saturated. I think I would have had more pleasure getting licked by a whale. I arguably would have been drier... It was at this point that I saw a headlamp. The leader! He was heading back. That was a good sight. I continued onward and was zigzagging up this mountain. It was like the eternal zigzags. No views, complete soaking, and incessant climbing. Love that. Eventually I saw the second placer. He was much behind the leader. I continued on for about 10 minutes and found the coveted hole punch! I quickly punched my bib and turned around. I was moving down and continuing to get completely soaked. This is when I saw 2 other headlamps. It was the eventual champion with his pacer. He was moving very well. 

I got to the aid station and they informed me that the 2nd placer had dropped out. He apparently didn't have the leg strength to move forward. Not shocking. We had already climbed close to 23,000 feet already. I moved on and this was another least favorite section. Not sure if this was because it was nighttime or because it was another swimming pool that I couldn't even swim in. I continued climbing up, up, and up again and then got off course. I couldn't see the markers and decided that I was off course. After about 10 minutes of looking around, I finally found the course and began moving in the right direction. From here, I kept moving towards Silver Lake. It was a giant prairie up here. I could tell because the wind was smacking me in the face again and I was again completely exposed. I pressed on and not long after I saw the two headlamps coming from behind. It was Avery and his pacer. This guy was moving so well downhill that I looked like I was frozen. I let him by and pressed on to the aid station. We both were there and I saw Jen. I had my headlamp changed and prayed for a miracle with the bonking. She handed me my common banana and half avocado and I took off with Avery. This was my slowest section yet. Climbing back up the mountain I just came down was incredibly demoralizing. Then I saw Avery and his pacer disappear. The sun was beginning to come back up as I was over the top and heading back to Fellin Park.

I was beyond excited. The sun is like an extra energy boost. I finally turned the headlamp off and my sleepiness was beginning to go away a bit. Pulling all-nighters is not my cup of tea but the sun has a way of tricking your body into thinking that you actually slept. Although I didn't have my camera at this point, this was a pic of some Aspens that were similar to this part of the course that I did see:


From here I continued on and took the wrong turn on the road back to Fellin Park. I was heading the direction that we started the morning before and realized that I was going the wrong way....I waved a car down and asked if this was the direction of Fellin Park, knowing full well that it wasn't. They said no and felt horrible for me. They asked if I wanted a ride. I politely (I think politely) declined and turned around and ran additional mileage. This mistake cost me about 30 minutes total. I got to the aid station and was delighted to see Jen. She gave me some noodles and I had told her that I was bonking terribly. I had tried to eat jelly beans that night knowing full well that my stomach wouldn't take them. I puked them right up along with the avocado and banana I could keep down. This was likely why the bonking was even worse. However, in desperate measures, anything was better than bonking and thought that I should give it a try. Apparently the human body can only handle so much sugar. I knew that jelly beans and the quick sugars would no longer be a part of my diet.

From here was the nicest part of the trail. It was up to Twin Peaks. It is incredibly steep with no protection if you fall. It was the perfect section for after pulling an all nighter. However, the reason I approved is because I made great progress on catching the leaders. Avery and Rob (the guy who had been leading the entire race) were slowing down a lot. I saw them towards the top. The sun was actually out at this part and I was stunned at the views. I was mad at myself for not having my phone with me. I then started to head towards Silver Basin. From here I saw that Avery was coming back and had passed Rob. I knew that Rob was likely hurting. I continued on and came to the Silver Basin Aid Station. To my surprise, I saw Josh and Jen here. I was informed that Josh, the CEO of Orange Mud, would pace me. I was ecstatic! It was about mile 80. I was actually getting hot for the first time in the race and took my trash bag and jacket off. Jen asked if I wanted to change my shirt and Josh just got to the root of the problem. "You smell!" Those were essentially the first words he told me. I laughed, completely out of it from the no sleep. I told him that it wouldn't matter and apologized that he would have to smell me for 10 miles. 

We basically hiked this section and we talked about the company and just lots of things. He probably thought that I was a crazy person and couldn't hold a conversation, but I am beyond appreciative to have had someone to talk to me. Anything to get my mind off of the 20 miles in front of me.



We continued on and he told me about adventures that he had had in the past. My feet were also suffering terribly by this point. I had many hot spots earlier but it was to a whole new degree. It felt with every step that daggers were being thrown at my feet. The technical trail had obliterated my feet and I had developed trench foot from all of the car washes and rain. Josh and I passed Rob and moved into second. We saw Jen at Fellin Park again and quickly snapped a pic:


We then headed to the Perimeter Trail. From here, we moved on again and I attempted to run the downhills. The switchbacks here seemed to be eternal. We asked one person how many more and they said about 7 more switchbacks. Great. Just what I wanted to hear! However, we pressed on and got to cross another stream. I hopped over and moved a little more until we got to the hole punch. Josh seemed happy to do some reading on Chief Ouray, a building at the top, but I cared far more about getting the small hole on my bib as another signature that this road was coming to a close. We moved on and I attempted to run the downhill. My feet really were not having this section. I had to put the trash bag on again as the rain started and back to Fellin Park we went. After we got here, there was just one climb left: The Bridge to Heaven. I was 92 miles in and had about 10.5 to go. Finishing was no longer a question. It was just if I would get there before the second nightfall. 

I didn't take my headlamp as it was only 3:30 in the afternoon. I thought that it would be motivation to move quicker. I set out with my standard banana and avocado and left Josh behind. Jen walked with me for part of this and we were moving our way up this section. It was another scree field. I'm not sure that I have been in so much scree in my life. The Bridge of Heaven was going to be the Bridge of Hell for me. The rain was starting to come again and I had to put my trash bag on one final time. 

To say that I was slow as a turtle on this section would be a complete insult to a turtle. I looked like someone who had gotten hit by 3 buses, ran over by 4 trains, and hit by 5 cars and was hardly moving. That is what this section felt like to me. Not to mention there were so many pins and needles in my feet that the only thing that I could focus on was the pain. In an odd way this was probably a good thing as I haven't slept in a really long time. Focusing on the pain diverted my attention to that rather than the fact that I could pass out really easily. However, the sleep eventually won in the end...

It was here that I saw Avery and his, I think, 3rd pacer coming down the mountain to the finish. I congratulated him and he warned me that it was further than what they had advertised. Nothing really surprised me at this point. I just kept my survival pace and saw a huge mountain in the distance. "I'm glad I don't have to climb that" I thought to myself. Little did I know that the joke would be on me. Every time I got to a summit, the markers just kept going...I was beginning to get a bit pissed and annoyed at this point. Eventually the course got to the green mountain....I literally laughed out loud. I was so angry. The Bridge of Heaven of course was going to be at the top of this green mountain. I did the zigzags and the exposed area allowed the rain to pelt me in the face again. It kept raining harder and harder. I looked around and saw that no other mountain was raining. It was literally just the one that I was on. I laughed a satanic laugh and continued pressing onwards. I got around the corner and actually saw the hold punch!! I grabbed it and started my descent. By the 3rd switchback down, I spotted Rob. He looked equally terrible. He asked if I had some salt. This perhaps was one of the greatest bonding moments in both of our lives. I checked my pockets and had about 8 Dorito Chips. No longer was this about "racing" as much as surviving. I could tell that his level of appreciation was outside of this world. 

With that said, I wasn't about to get second at this point. I pressed on downhill with the pins and needles in my feet. This is when the hallucination hit full force. I saw logs that I could have sworn were bear cubs or mama bears. One log about halfway down the mountain I was so convinced was a guy with a camera that I stared for about 20 seconds at the log. It was a log. Shortly thereafter was my last episode of hallucination. This was my favorite. Soon the loose rock and scree turned into data shards. I thought that I was in a software program running through data. The rocks and shards were data, and it was my job to dodge them and get to the end of the software program. In my brain I told myself that these couldn't hurt me but in reality, they would cause some major damage. I moved on and pushed hard until I hit the last road section. Only 3 tenths of a mile to the end. I pressed on and saw Jen and the others at the finish. A big smile came to my face and tears were coming as well. Jen was essentially sobbing and after 35.5 hours of pure grit and perseverance, my eyes couldn't take it. I had soft teardrops come out and we embraced as I took my seat at the end. 

To say that this was was tough would be an understatement. It was an emotional train ride filled with an adventure that can't be articulated into words. How do I explain to someone what climbing 42,000 feet and all at elevation feels like? How does not sitting for close to 36 hours and no sleep feel? I wish that there was an explanation as to how difficult this was and a way to put that explanation into a sentence. There just isn't. Why do I do this to myself? I don't know. I wish that I did. There isn't a reason behind these things. All I know is that I think we were made for adventure and pushing limitations that we didn't think were humanly possible. Some people do things for the bragging rights. Most ultrarunners I know are far from that. They do these things for reasons they can't even explain. I guess I'm in that odd group of people...

Can't begin to thank enough people for the support. First off, thanks Jen for coming out and crewing me. Certainly this wouldn't have been possible without your help! Josh, you're the man. Couldn't be more grateful for the surprise pacer and the ability to have that company. Lastly, thanks to my family and friends all over the US who continue to amaze me with their interest in this sport. Certainly no regrets for finishing second in this race. Beyond appreciative for the experience of this race and the support of the Race Director. So appreciative for an event like this and hope that it stays low-key, yet in existence. With the exception of the Barkley Marathon, I'm not sure what would be more difficult than this. Also the belt buckle is kinda cool...

Hope you enjoy this read! 

Cheers,

NK