Battle at Bryce Canyon

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The countdown reached 1 and just like that 400 or so runners were underway at the Bryce Canyon 50k.

I was excited; I had heard a lot about this race and was eager to see some of the sights of Bryce Canyon along the way. I’ve had a lot of fun with racing so far this year: 1st place at Red Mountain 30k, 1st place at Zions trail half marathon, 1st place at Ogden trail festival, 2nd place at Big Cottonwood Vigor half marathon, 39th place at mountain running national championships. For the most part, I’ve had some performances that I’m happy with and was hoping to do well here at Bryce.

As the race began, I jumped to the front and started leading with about an 8:00 minute mile pace. I stayed in that position for the first 12 miles of the race and then took a wrong turn. After losing about 2 minutes before finding the path again, 2 people had gotten ahead of me and another person was right behind me as I got back on track. I got to know this 3rd person as we both cruised along for a while. His name was Dwight and he was from New Mexico. Dwight and I ran together for the next 6 miles or so. We passed the guy in 2nd place and could see the runner in 1st place in the distance.

At about mile 18 Dwight was having a bit of a harder time and dropped the pace a bit. I was still feeling good and picked it up, hoping to close the gap between myself and 1st place. I was on pace to go under 5 hours total; a time I would have been happy with.

At mile 21 I started to notice a bit of cramping. Uh oh, cramping was my old enemy that caused me to pull out of the Wasatch 100 last year. The last aid station was close and upon reaching it, I asked for some salt. Luckily, they had some and I chewed down a couple of tablets: which was gross, because they’re the kind you typically let dissolve in water.

As I left the aid station I noticed the day was getting hot. Really hot. Temperatures started reaching up to about 95 degrees. I kept chugging along, drinking as much as I could to stay hydrated, but it wasn’t enough. I had refilled my water bottles at the aid station at mile 21, but by mile 24 I was already almost out of water.

I entered a beautiful red canyon and took a moment to enjoy the scene, then started making my way up the trail. It was in that canyon, between mile 24 and 25 that I started falling apart.

The cramping came back: charlie horses began taking over my legs and my calf muscles started seizing up into weird positions. I tried to stretch them, lay down, or just find a position where the muscle spasms would stop.

When I had that somewhat under control I kept going, but the heat was getting to me bad. My stomach was feeling nauseous and I pulled over to start throwing up. I was vomiting for all I was worth, until I could feel my stomach touching my spine as my bowels got rid of everything.

My body started to feel really tingly and I began to get light-headed and dizzy, but I kept making my way along. I made it a little farther up the canyon before feeling especially dizzy, and I lay down by the side of the trail. I guess I passed out.

A lady and her daughter who were doing the half marathon found me. They said they were going up the canyon and found me passed out on the side of the trail. After waking me they tried to get me to take some nuun water and a clif bar, but my stomach wasn’t cooperating and I couldn’t take anything.

Fortunately, the girl was training to be an EMT, and was able to offer some knowledge. She said I was possibly suffering from a heat stroke. I was able to get in a bit of water and we kept going along the trail at a slow pace. I could only go so long before I had to lay in the shade and regain my strength. I was breathing rapidly and my heart rate wouldn’t go down, even when I was lying in the shade. Every once and a while runners would pass, whether they were doing the half marathon, 50k, 50 mile, or 100 mile. One runner who saw my condition stopped to help. He looked to be about my age.

That lady and the EMT girl and that guy gave up their races and stayed with me for the next 5 hours until I could get to an ambulance. They told me their names but the only one I remember was the guy: Ross from Colorado. I want to say the lady’s name was Pam but I’m not entirely sure.

I just remember Ross would say “yeeaaah, boy!” all the time. When I managed to take a swig of water: “yeeaaah, boy!” When I covered a lot of ground before having to take a break: “yeeaah, boy!” When I would throw up: “yeeaaah, boy!”

The lady had a phone and called the race director, telling him they needed to send someone to get me. They responded by saying they couldn’t send anyone and I would have to get to the finish line, where the closest access to a road was. The finish line was about 5 miles away. On a good day, I can go out the door and run 5 miles in a half hour. In the condition I was in, it took me 5.5 hours to cover that distance.

“We need to cool his core temperature.” The EMT girl was saying. “We need to get a bag of ice on his crotch.”

Wait…what?

“I don’t have a bag,” Ross said, “but we could use my bandanna.” He started to unravel the bandanna from his head.

“I’ve got some ice in my pack.” EMT girl began getting it out.

I might’ve protested, but I was in a pretty groggy state and was just kind of out of it altogether. They wrapped the ice in the bandanna. “Hey, man.” Ross said. “This might be weird but I’ve got to put some ice on your junk!” He stuck the pack of ice into my shorts. “You can keep the bandanna! It’s all yours.” He laughed.

We kept going, but I couldn’t go very far before having to take a break. It was miserable. My brain was mush, my body ached and I would throw up every so often. I guess I passed out two more times and they would wake me up each time.

“Forget the race organizers, let’s just call 911.” The lady said. “He needs to get to a hospital.”

“What we need is a life flight.” EMT girl responded.

“No helicopter.” I said. I was coherent enough to make sure that they wouldn’t be sending a chopper. I can’t pay for that!

On we went like this; Ross and EMT girl and the lady would stop runners and ask if they had any extra water they could splash on me, or any extra ice. This way, they kept my temperature down. Eventually a sweeper for the half marathon came across us. He saw my condition and said he would run to the finish and try and get them to send some emergency respondents. He passed the task of picking up the half marathon flags to Ross and took off down the trail. We were probably at about mile 28 at that point.

A while later I was lying the shade with my 3 new friends when an Asian lady passed us on the trail. She was a character. “Oh!” She said when she saw me. “Let’s keep moving! Come on, you will feel better!” Without any questions asked she came over and hauled me to my feet and started pushing me along the trail. “This happens to runners, but we must keep going. I will make you feel better!” She began to press her fingers into my hand between the thumb and fingers, and tell me to relax my arms. She then proceeded to massage my shoulders and back and press into my kidneys and my butt. “The same thing happened to my friend at Machu Picchu.” She started telling me about her trip in Peru.

She kept making me take sips of water, but after a few sips, I had had enough, knowing I would just throw it up.

“Take a sip!” She said.

“No!” I was stubborn.

“Do it!” She was more stubborn. She pressed the nozzle of the camelbak into my mouth and wasn’t satisfied until I would gulp down some water.

Then she started telling me about how a similar thing happened to her at Everest.

Machu Picchu, Everest, was this lady some kind of world traveler? After staying with me for a short time, she went on her way towards the finish.

I kept on going with Ross, EMT girl, and the lady, and I was starting to feel somewhat better. I hadn’t thrown up or passed out for a while. “Do you want us to get you a walking stick or something?” The lady asked.

Walking sticks… yes! I remembered during the Wasatch 100 I had pretty much been saved by two branches I had used as walking sticks.

“Yes!” I probably showed more enthusiasm than I had for a long while. “I need two walking sticks!” They found me a couple of branches and I used those to support my walk of death along the trails.

On and on we went, until making it to mile 30. That’s when the sweeper reappeared with an EMS group. I had made it! They could take care of me from there. I said goodbye to Ross, EMT girl, and the lady. I don’t know if I’ll see them again and I don’t even know all their names but they were a huge blessing for me. You can’t help but bond a bit with random strangers in a predicament like that. The occasion called for dropping formalities and getting down to the nitty gritty. The whole thing opened up a new element that you just don’t experience in your daily human interaction.

The EMS group stuck me with an IV and started pumping fluids back into me. They did a few other things like test my blood sugar and whatnot. They had brought a stretcher to carry me out on, but then they got a call saying there was another runner farther up the trail who was suffering from heat exhaustion, so they took it to him instead.

I walked out the last mile where they had an ambulance waiting at the finish. After loading me up they started pumping more fluids into me and began driving to another point along the race, saying there was someone else who had also suffered a heat stroke, and a few others with heat exhaustion that they needed to pick up, then we would go to the hospital.

“I don’t need to go to the hospital, I’m fine.” I told them. I was hoping to keep the bill as small as possible.

“Well, you need to go to the hospital, but  we can’t force you.” The lady in the ambulance responded.

I knew I was in good enough condition that I’d be fine at that point, so I signed a few waivers and when they stopped at a campground to pick up another runner, I got out, and luckily there was a kind soul at that site who offered me a ride back to my car.

After getting back to my car, I went and ate a huge pizza, then found a hotel for the night.

So, all in all, it wasn’t what I was expecting or hoping for from Bryce Canyon, but trail running is always full of little surprises and you can’t predict what’s going to happen. I learned that I need to stay hydrated better, I need to practice being on my feet for longer periods of time, and I learned that there are good people out there that will come to your aid if you’re in need.

Until next time!

 

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Starting off 2017 racing in Southern Utah

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It has been a while since I stepped up to a starting line of a race. Wasatch 100 was the last instance, actually. I guess that experience rattled me enough that I haven’t attempted the racing scene for almost half a year.

I’ve got my race schedule set out for 2017, however, and the first event on the list was Red Mountain Run in Southern Utah near St. George. My bro-in-law Andrew found the race and it seemed like it fit in well with what we were training for.

I’ve been living back in Ogden for the last month or two and it’s been good for me to be around Weber’s cross country team and have motivated people to run with once again. There’s some awesome trail running around Ogden and Andrew and I have been hitting the mountain paths even if they are still covered in snow.

I’ve always found Southern Utah to be beautiful and unique and this trip reinforced that perception. We went down the day before the race and stayed with my grandparents who live in Sand Hollow, close to St. George. It’s always good seeing them and they took good care of us over the weekend.

The next morning we went to the start line and met up with some old friends from the Weber State Team. Braden Perry and Amber Henry Schultz joined Andrew and I as we waited in the cold, dark morning for the race to start. Braden and Amber were doing the half marathon and Andrew and I were doing the 30k. Hayden Hawks, an old competitor from college days from SUU was also there doing his long run in the 55k. He’s been doing well on the trail racing scene.

The race started and we all took off together. Right off the bat I felt that old spark that comes with racing that gets me all excited. I’m like a dog when it come to racing, and I just get all charged up when I get to be in the racing atmosphere. It was an interesting start because for the first 7.7 miles everybody ran together so we didn’t know who was doing the half marathon, 30k, 55k or what.

A group of five of us kind of pulled away from everyone else, including Braden and Andrew. We talked a while to the other two guys and got to know them a little more; they were both doing the 30k. It was rather casual as we covered the first seven miles, going a pretty quick pace over the trails, but not too much that we couldn’t have a conversation.

Then we got to the aid station and Braden went a different route that the half marathoners followed. At that point I was sitting pretty close behind the 30k leader, who I think was Hayden’s brother, and Andrew was not far behind me. Being close to half way through the race, I was feeling good and kind of got more into the racing mindset as I took the lead, pushing the pace a little more.

I had a ton of fun over the next six miles weaving through the trails. The scenery was beautiful and it was fun running on trails with not a ton of vertical. That made it so I could settle into a comfortable rhythm and keep a consistent pace.

I was wearing a new pair of trail racing shoes that I had gotten the day before: The Brooks Mazamas. This race was their test run; which it’s not a good idea to do an 18 mile race in a pair of shoes that are fresh out of the box but they felt comfortable and the only other trail shoes I had with me were a pair of Adidas Ravens which I didn’t know if I trusted as much. It turned out the Brooks Mazamas were fine and I only experienced a little bit of rubbing where the toe box just wasn’t quite big enough for my left foot. Other than that they had a great forefoot plate that worked well for my stride and I was thankful for their light weight.

I was having the time of my life on the trails, and passed right by the last aid station without stopping, which was a mistake. Sixteen miles into the race is where it hit me and I entered the pain cave. Suddenly this running thing wasn’t as euphoric anymore and I was really just waiting for the finish line to show up. I should’ve taken a gel at the last aid station but it was too late now.

I trudged along, waiting to hear the crowds of the finish line. Soon I began to hear noise like yelling and cheering coming from around the next corner! I picked up the pace, thinking it was the finish line. When I turned the corner, however, I saw it was just a small farm with roosters and sheep, and their bleats and crows sounded like people cheering to me. I muttered some names at them and soldiered on.

Finally I could see the finish line and started striding in. There was my sister and my grandparents cheering me on. It always makes these events so much more fun when family and friends join me for them.

I crossed the finish line in 2 hours and 9 minutes. 6:57 pace over trails for 18 miles. 1st place. I was pretty happy with it. Some people said I broke the course record, but I’m not sure. I looked up past results and it said that in 2010 someone ran it faster, but I’m not sure if the course was different or something.

Anyway, Andrew came in 2nd place not long after! It was good to see our weeks of training paying off. Andrew also wore a pair of sandals for the race; I’m not sure why, but he seemed to do well enough with them.

Braden and Amber won the Men’s and Women’s Half Marathon, and Hayden took the 55k, so everyone got some success.

It was a great morning and we spent the rest of the day exploring, hiking, climbing, swimming and barbecuing. The St. George area is stunning! Thanks to my Grandma and Grandpa Rollingson for having us!

Overall it was a great season opener and reminded me of how much I love racing on the trails. I’m looking forward to more races to come!

The Wasatch 100

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Waiting for the race to start…

This was it: the Wasatch 100. The race I had been preparing for since early summer. I’m going to start by fast forwarding 20 hours into the race…

There I was, mile 64. It was about 1:30 in the morning and pitch black except for the light coming from mine and Andrew’s (my pacer) head lamps. I was at 9,500 ft elevation, and the only thought in my head was getting off that dang mountain. The back of my right knee was swollen, and my knee would hardly bend at all. I had a stick in each hand that I used as crutches to keep me moving forward. My body was so sick of Gels and Water with Nuun that I didn’t think it would be possible to stomach another. I wasn’t very coherent. I had gone through the same motion for hours upon end. Thud.. plant my sticks in the ground, hobble forward a bit. Repeat. I wondered if this was similar to what it felt like for pioneers coming across the plains. This wasn’t what I had been expecting.

Now let’s take it back many years to when I was instilled with a fascination for ultra running. Back to when I was still fresh in High School. I was a pacer for my High School coach Ty Draney while he did the Bear 100 miler. I started pacing him after mile 80 and would bring him through to the finish. It was one of the more memorable experiences I had from my childhood. I remember how cool and raw it felt. We were tackling mountains in the dead of night. The sun came up just as we began to descend the last slope toward the finish. It was awesome. At least… it was for me. I was a pacer and only had to go less than 20 miles. I should have paid more attention to Ty’s condition as he neared finishing 100 miles. It’s rough.

So now, over a decade later, here I was at the starting line for my first 100 mile race. The race started at 5:00am Friday morning and I waited there with my parents, who would be crewing me. The mood was light. I was still able to smile. We had prepared everything: drop bags, my camel pack, socks and shoes. I didn’t know what to expect of myself going in but if you could finish the race in under 24 hours you were given “Cheetah” status. So that’s what I aimed for.

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With my parents at the starting line of the race

They did the count down and we were off. Everyone was talking and conversing. I found a buddy that had signed up for the race with me and we chatted for a while. Everything was good. The pack thinned out a bit as we came to the base of the mountain and we began climbing. We would climb 5,000 ft in about 5 miles, straight up the mountain.

I made it to the top right as the sun was rising and it was cool to look back and see the valley being lit up and the endless line of headlamps bobbing up the mountainside. I turned and began running along the ridge. ‘This is great’ I thought. This was exactly the kind of stuff I loved to do. I think I was in about 15th place overall for the first 20 or so miles of the race.

My High School coach Ty had told me to take it very easy at the beginning and practice patience. But I felt like I was already running at a snail’s pace and I couldn’t imagine me going any slower. We had a long downhill section so I clicked off some faster miles. 7:30, 7:14, 6:59. The pace was super comfortable and I didn’t see any benefit in going slower. This was great! This was everything I had imagined. I spent less than a minute at all the aid stations and just kept moving. I would take a gel every 45 minutes and keep up with the water and electrolytes.

I started running into trouble after mile 20. My legs began cramping a bit and I had to take it down a notch. I walked all the uphills and focused on taking in a lot of salt. People started passing me but I didn’t think too much of it.

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Coming into the aid station at mile 31

I met my parents at mile 31. I was still hurting from the cramping but it wasn’t terrible. It was good to see them and I took a little longer at that aid station. They gave me more salt and made me eat more food. It was starting to get hot so I took another water bottle and went on my way. I didn’t know at the time that when I would see my parents next I would be in such a miserable condition.

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Changing socks at the Aid Station  

So I kept clicking through the miles. There isn’t much to say about miles 31-45 except that I just kept a pretty constant pace. The cramping wasn’t really going away but I could deal with it.

I rolled into mile 45 where I was met by my brother-in-law Andrew. He would pace me for the next 22 miles. I was walking a little more gingerly than the other runners at the aid station, but still I didn’t think much of it. I took some more salt, drank some more Pepsi (which tastes so good during an ultra run), and I was on my way with Andrew right beside me.

We passed through the 50 mile mark in good time. I completed the first 50 miles in under 12 hours which was still on pace for what I wanted.

It was right after the 50 mile mark that everything started to fall apart.

It started with me bonking. We were making our way through some switchbacks and my skin started to feel tingly and my head started to get hot. I was getting light headed. We were moving along and suddenly I couldn’t take one more step. I stopped, the edges of my vision began to turn black, and I just kind of slumped over and lay on the side of the trail.

I didn’t know how I was going to go on. I couldn’t get going. All I could do was lay there. I was totally out of it as I just kind of stared into space. Andrew tried to get me to take more gels and I eventually did so.

I decided I would try and just get to the next aid station. When I had somewhat recovered we kept moving. The trail dumped us off on the road that would take us to the next aid station. It was there that we ran into the Eastern Washington University Coach. He passed us and saw that both him and I were wearing the same shirt. A Big Sky Conference sleeveless top. He asked who I ran for and I said I used to run for Weber State. We had a good chat with him and talked about the conference and we explained how I had bonked and was having a hard time. He said “our brain is a sugar monster and we have to feed it!” He assured me I would come back from the bonk and gave me some of his water with some sort of electrolyte concoction.

He was right. I did come back from the bonk. A mile or so later I got my wits back and my energy levels were up again. Unfortunately my legs weren’t coming back. They continued to get tighter and tighter.

We made our way to Big Water Aid Station, while quoting Lord of The Rings. There are so many appropriate LOTR quotes you can whip out during an ultra race. The most accurate one is probably when Frodo and Sam are struggling to make it up Mount Doom: “Do you remember the taste of strawberries, Mr. Frodo?”

50 miles in, everyday comforts seemed like such a foreign and far-off thing. A warm bath and just relaxing on a bed seemed like it was something that was too good to be true.

We got to Big water Aid Station and realized it had taken us almost 4 hours to go just 8 miles. 2 miles per hour… Maybe it was best if I pulled out of the race there. Things weren’t getting better, and on top of that, it was starting to get dark and I didn’t have any cold weather gear. My jacket and gloves were in a drop bag at the next aid station. We hadn’t planned on me getting into Big Water this late.

While we were thinking about how and if we were going to go on without cold-weather gear, a lady came by and dropped off some hoodies, saying we could drape them over our legs to keep warm. Andrew and I looked at each other… then put on the hoodies and booked it out of there! Well, I say booked it, but more like I hobbled out of there as fast as I could. I bet I just looked like an old man who really had to pee. We told ourselves we would return the hoodies at a later station, and started making our way towards Brighton, where my family would be waiting.

The next 14 miles were one of the most miserable times I’ve had in a very long time…

I definitely couldn’t run anymore. The cramping had only gotten worse and now my leg started to swell and I was losing flexibility in my knee. Night fell upon us and we turned on our dim little head lamps to be able to see. I could only go one speed, and it wasn’t fast.

All hopes of finishing the race were dashed at this point. My legs couldn’t move and I didn’t want to risk any chance of a longer-term injury. My goal had gone from: finishing in the top 15, to finishing under 24 hours, to just finishing… and now my only goal was to get off the mountain.

When my legs got really bad Andrew went into the woods to try and find some sticks to break off for me to use as hiking poles. A couple of runners passed by and saw Andrew in the woods breaking branches. I’m sure they were pretty confused. “What are you doing!?” They asked him.

“I’m breaking sticks!” Andrew responded as if it was the most obvious answer in the world. The runners probably thought he was a runner who had snapped and gone crazy. They shrugged their shoulders and continued on their way.

The sticks actually helped a lot. I could take the weight off my legs and use my arm strength instead. We were able to go a little faster.

Still, hours would go by and we would only cover a few miles. Andrew was good at sticking salt tablets, gels, and Nuun water in my hand to make sure I kept taking them. I would mutter obscenities under my breath at him though. Here I was hobbling along like a 100-year old hermit, while he was prancing around, enjoying the trails and making me eat pills and gels.

Somehow we made it to Desolation Lake Aid Station. There was a big fire going and I limped in as they brought me warm soup. I was a wreck. That’s where I met ‘my shoulder devil’. He was an aid station worker and he got right in my face. “How are you doing, champ!?”

I muttered “not good” as I clung to my cup of soup.

“What’s your name!?”

“Trevor”

“Trevor,” my ‘shoulder devil’ put his hand on my shoulder. “You are going to make it through this race. You got this man! You can do this!”

I wanted to punch him in the face.

“Here, take this.” He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a vial of a weird salt/water mixture. He squeezed several drops into my mouth. “This will help with the cramping. It’s my special recipe. Just keep eating and drinking and you got this!”

He was a very motivating person, but in my state I just wasn’t having it and I just wanted to be out of there and be on my way to Brighton. Brighton… where I could finally let all this go and be done.

“You got this!” My shoulder devil yelled again as I shuffled out of Desolation Lake. Andrew and I started climbing some switch backs. It was about 8-9 miles to Brighton. I continued the all-too familiar process of planting my sticks, hobbling a few steps, repeat.I was glad to put that Aid Station behind me, and I could just focus on…

“Trevor! You can do this man!” Out of nowhere suddenly my shoulder devil was there again! I was a quarter mile from Desolation Lake and there he was on the side of the trail, cheering me on! “You can do it! You’re a champion!” How did he get there? Who is this guy?

I still wonder if that guy was really real.

On we went, covering ground little by little. Brighton was visible now, at the bottom of the mountain. We could see the bright lights.That’s where I could finally stop…

We made it to the last Aid Station before Brighton. We huddled around a heater inside a tent while they brought me ramen noodle soup. Another ultra runner was in the corner, curled up in the fetal position while his pacer was trying to keep him from falling asleep.

“How many miles until Brighton?”

“5 miles. 3 of those miles are on trail, then you make it to the road where it’s another 2 miles to Brighton.”

I looked at Andrew and told him to run ahead. Get to Brighton and find my family. Tell them to take the car and drive to the trailhead where the trail meets the road. That’s where I would meet them and finally be done. He asked if I was totally sure I wanted to DNF (Did Not Finish). Yes, I didn’t think twice about it.

So Andrew sprinted ahead. I gathered my two sticks and started crutching my way down the mountain. The process was still slow and miserable. At one point and older runner lady probably in her 40’s or 50’s passed me and said: “Oh, you’re doing great honey, keep going!”

I looked over at her with the wrath of a thousand bee stings, and I just wanted to exclaim “I’m a nationally ranked runner!” But it was no use at this point, I already looked pretty pathetic. She passed on by and continued down the mountain while I continued my crippled pace.

I realize there are a few levels I draw from when I’m racing. The 1st level is my training and fitness. If my training has been going well and I’m fit, then I’m confident. 2nd level is my athleticism. Even if training hasn’t been going well, I’m naturally pretty athletic and can do well for myself. 3rd level is being mentally strong. Even if I’m hurting I can be mentally strong, be positive, and know I can make it through this.

63 miles into this ultra race I found out there’s a 4th level I had to dig down to. At this point, everything else had failed me. My training and fitness? I hadn’t done enough coming into this race. I wasn’t prepared. My athleticism? My knee wouldn’t bend. My athleticism wasn’t helping me now. My mental strength? The only thought in my head was to get to Brighton. I wasn’t being mentally strong. So the only thing keeping me going and and getting me through that stretch was the 4th level I found. And I call it the Human Spirit. When everything else fails you, there’s still the will to keep going that will push you forward. You do it because you must.

It took me a full hour to cover that last mile but I made it to the road. My family met me by the trailhead, and in the words of my sister, I looked like: “that one monster from The Dark Crystal.”

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Hobbling into Brighton…

I’ve never been so relieved to be done racing. I slid into the car and we went back to Brighton where I filled out the DNF papers. My friend Mike Hardy was there, too. He was supposed to pace me from Brighton to the finish. Part of me is glad he didn’t have to put up with me for that stretch but it still would have been fun to have him as a pacer. He had to wait a long time at Brighton Aid Station where he described the atmosphere as “a base camp for Mt. Everest.”

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Eating up at Brighton with pacer Andrew

Overall it was a pretty extreme and emotional night. I wasn’t expecting the race to be like this. It was a humbling and learning experience. Once again I rediscovered the thrill and raw experience of ultra running that I had felt long ago, but it was different now that I was doing it for myself. It hurt… a lot. But it’s rewarding, and it takes you to limits you don’t normally have to confront, and that’s good.

There’s no one else I would rather have done it with than my family. Having them there made the trek that much more meaningful and I’m glad they shared in a bit of the agony with me. It was something that I could learn and grow from, and possibly tackle again some day in the future.

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Posing with my walking sticks the day after the race

 

 

 

 

 

 

First Ultra a Success!

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I started the year with the Olympic Trials in mind. That’s got to be every track and field athlete’s dream. My last year of running in college didn’t end quite how I wanted it to and I was hoping I still had something to show on the track. I raced the steeplechase at Stanford and at BYU and unfortunately my times just weren’t where they needed to be. It could be due to me not having a coach, not doing as much strength work, or the lack of motivation from not running for a team anymore. I think one of the biggest factors, however, was that I was looking beyond the Olympic Trials at the opportunity to get into long distance trail running. It sounds weird, I know. The Olympic Trials is typically a once in a life time opportunity, and something that you’d give your all for, but I think I was kind of burnt out on the track and it didn’t hold the same appeal for me as it had for so long.

So I switched from speed work to long runs in the mountains, preparing for my 100 mile race in September. That transition breathed life back into my running as I found joy in exploring new trails and tackling peaks. Trail running has long been a favorite past time of mine. It makes me feel alive and I love being able to explore God’s creations by running through fields and mountains and canyons.

My first ultra race was the Capitol Reef 50k last weekend. I chose it mainly because it fit well in my schedule and it was relatively close to home.   I lucked out because it was a well organized race with a beautiful landscape.

I drove down to the registration location the night before the race and was able to meet a few Tarahumara runners there. If there was one book that was most commonly read among runners it would have to be “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall. The book highlights a tribe of runners called the Tarahumara from the Copper Canyons of Mexico with different yet excellent running capacities. It was awesome to meet them in person and I had to buy a pair of the sandals they ran in.

After a surprisingly good night’s rest in a nearby motel I caught a shuttle to the race start. While driving up there I was looking around and wondering how we were at 9,000 ft of elevation. Usually when I’m at that altitude I’m on top of a mountain or something. But I had to keep in mind that Capitol Reef is one of the highest plateaus in America.

I checked the course record and saw that it was 5 hours and 5 minutes. I got it in my head before I started that I wanted to beat the course record and get under 5 hours.

We gathered to start the race. There wasn’t a ton of people, and no one I really recognized. I chatted with a few runners and got to know a couple other people before the race got underway. Then the count down began and just like that we were off on a 31 mile adventure. I guess I’m used to a tense feeling of toeing the line, anticipating the gun going off, and then fighting for a good position on the track. The start of this race was 10 times more chill as everyone started strolling forward casually.

So I felt a little awkward taking off at a faster pace and forming a pretty big gap right from the start. There was one other runner who went with me, however. His name was Holden and he was in a similar boat as me. He just graduated from Oregon State where he was on the track and field team and now he was getting into ultrarunning. We ran together for a while. The first 4 miles of the race climbed over 2,000 ft to put us up high on the plateau at about 11,000 ft. The altitude didn’t seem to get to me much, nor did the elevation gain. I hope my days of climbing peaks and steep uphills attributed to that.

One of the things that I was most worried about for the race was eating. I’ve never really taken anything while racing and I wondered how my stomach would handle it. About 5 miles in I took my first Gu. I took enough so that it felt like it would sustain me but not so much that it felt like I wanted to throw it up.

I was feeling good and rolling through the miles. I put about a 6 minute gap on Holden and the rest of the field. There were many spots where there was no trail, just open fields and pink flags to show you where to go. I thought that was a very fun section of the race.

It was at about mile 14 where I biffed it on a rock and ate dirt, blowing a big hole in my shoe. I wasn’t too hurt but after that I concentrated on the trail in front of me more. I was so focused on my footing that I missed a turn and instead of heading North I began circling around a lake. It was about 4 minutes later that I noticed I hadn’t seen a pink  flag for a while. I knew I was losing valuable time but I had no idea where I was supposed to go. Luckily there was a fisherman at the lake. I asked him if he knew where Donkey Point was (that was the next aid station). He pulled up a map and pointed me in the right direction. I thanked him and made my way back.

I found the trail again just in time to meet up with Holden. I lost about 6 or 7 minutes overall I would guess. Not a huge deal, plus I had someone to run with for the next several miles. Halfway through the race I was just under pace for breaking 5 hours.

At mile 17 I finally stopped at an Aid Station. I was out of water and there was a can of Pepsi there that, at that point in time, tasted like nectar from Heaven. The volunteers at the station were very helpful and got me through pretty quick. Holden came into the Aid Station just as I was taking off. I downed another Gu and was hoping I could open up and roll through the next few miles.

That was not the case, however. The next section was very overgrown and the trail was hardly visible. Instead of opening up with a good pace I played: “find the pink flags” instead. My focus was just on making sure I didn’t get lost again.

After taking 3 Gu’s the texture of the Gu gel tasted terrible to me so I ate an Epic bar instead, which seemed to do the trick. It was starting to get kind of hot and I splashed water on my head and shoulders whenever I came to a stream.

Mile 26. I came to the last Aid Station. I had a very large lead on everyone else and was still feeling good. My water supply was thin due to the heat so I refilled before the last stretch.

“If you can average 8 minute mile pace for these last 5 miles you can get the record.” Someone at the aid station told me. 8 minute miles… I can do that.

Luckily the last stretch was an open dirt road and slightly downhill so it made it that much easier to open up. I turned off my brain and went into cruise control, clocking off an average of 7:25 minute miles.

I crossed the finish line at about 4 hours 56 minutes. It was done. I did what I came to do. My body was not used to that kind of racing and I couldn’t sit down or my legs would tighten up. So for the next half hour I shuffled around, just letting my legs cool down until I was back to normal.

Overall it was a very rewarding and encouraging first Ultra race. I still wonder how I’m going to do that distance three times over for my 100 mile race but somehow it will come together. I feel very blessed and fortunate to be able to do this thing that I love and am very thankful for family and friends who support me.

http://ultrasignup.com/results_event.aspx?did=35104

 

Back on Track at Stanford

 

Stanford has always been one of my favorite places to compete for a number of reasons. The level of competition is steep and it is way fun to witness the races and just be a part of it all, and see some of the best runners in the nation come together to battle it out. The campus is stunning, and the warm up and cool down goes by too fast as we run through the arches and towers at Stanford’s campus. I also have many good memories attached to that track. It is where I qualified for First Round of Nationals and Junior Nationals my Freshman Year. It is also where I first broke 9:00 minutes in the steeplechase and won my first competitive heat.

So I decided to make a trip out to Stanford to get back in the mix and take a jab at the steeplechase again. I’m not part of a team anymore, but I’m still having a hard time giving up racing. My flight to California was early Friday morning. I made some not so smart decisions with bus travel to get to the airport the night before, and found myself in Salt Lake City 9 miles away from the airport at 11:30 at night with no car and with the bus system shut down for the night. So I started the long walk to the airport with my luggage and a couple of hours later I arrived and spent the next few hours trying to catch some sleep on a bench at the airport while waiting for my flight.

I was a little blurry-eyed and tired on the flight over and as we checked into the hotel. I was making the trip with former teammate Mike Hardy and his wife Kristal. Mike has been finding a lot of success in the steeplechase in recent years and is keeping that ball rolling. Our race was later that day as we arrived at the hotel. I crashed on the couch and took a glorious nap!

Too soon race time came and I found myself on the line waiting for the gun to go off. I hadn’t felt those butterflies for a long time that come with racing on that level. The race got underway and I spent the first couple laps up around 3rd or 4th place where I planned on staying, knowing these guys would take me through each lap at about 71’s. Unfortunately as the race went on people kept passing me and I could not get the wheels turning. The motions were all there, my hurdle form seemed fine, but I was not being competitive.

I finished the race towards the back of the pack at 9:07. I haven’t clocked in that slow for a long time. Overall, it was discouraging. I had told myself before the race if I could run about 8:55 or faster, then I would keep going with this steeplechase thing, otherwise I would switch over and start training for my 100 mile race.

I decided maybe my days on the track were coming to a close and it was time to hang up the track spikes and don the trail running shoes. As I talked to friends, however, I concluded that maybe I would keep going with the steeplechase a little longer, mostly because I know I can get a better race out of this season.

The rest of the trip was a blast, however, as we got to see some of the sights around the area like the Golden Gate Bridge and Redwood Forests. It didn’t leave me much time to dwell on my bad race. Mike had a good race, running 8:44. Anyway, I’m looking forward to giving the steeplechase another shot in a few weeks!

 

A Run Down Memory Lane

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Ty and I

 

I’m not posting about a race or an awesome, cool place that I ran at.  I’m posting about some thoughts I had today, rather.  My High School team (Star Valley, WY) was passing through Provo on their way to California to go to an esteemed national cross country race.  They were stopping in Provo to do a shakeout run to mix up the long ride.  I thought it would be fun to run with them and chat with Ty Draney, my High School Coach.

We met up near BYU and ran along the river trail.  They were only running for about a half hour but that was enough time for me to go back down memory lane and remember when I was one of those kids, running just because, and not really knowing what was ahead.  Those kids were good at running, many of them are better than I was when I was in High School.  But I could tell many were running because they had to.  If nobody was pushing them to run or to try and be better, then they might not do it on their own.  I was no different, of course, when I was that age.  But now, many years later, I am grateful for the opportunity that I have to be able to run and to live near great running trails.  Running is so much more fulfilling for me now than when I was at their stage of life.

I talked with Ty for the duration of the run and then the team was on their way to Cali. I clicked the start button on my ol’ Timex running watch, and took off down the street to finish up my hour run.  I started reflecting while I was running alone (as I often do) and started thinking about things like how funny it was that even though my High School running days are far in the past, I can still pick up with Ty and talk about it as if it were yesterday, and even though a million things have happened in between then and now, there’s still some things that never change.

Looking back, I realize the people I have connected the best with have been other runners.  You could say maybe that’s because we have running in common, so we have something to talk about.  You could also say I grew up in a family of runners, I’ve been on a running team for the last ten years, and now I work at a running store, so the only people I associate with are runners.  Maybe those are right.  But I also kind of think that the people I have connected the best with have a very similar outlook on life, and have found running, or something similar to it, as a means of tackling life.  It’s a mentality sort of thing.

Ty and I also talked about the future: about the Olympic trials and ultra-running.  It helped me remember that life is what you make it.  That lesson has been thrown at me a lot in the past few years.  You can’t passively let life happen and hope that something amazing is going to come out of it, you have to make those changes and go after what you want.  You have to take the wheel.

Anyway, those are the thoughts I had swimming around my head for the rest of my run.  Afterwards, I hopped in my car and drove around until I found a Taco Bell.  For some reason, I was craving a Cheesy Gordita Crunch.  Mmmmm

 

Just Like Old Times

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1st Brett 2nd Mike 3rd Me

Well of course we’re going to celebrate Halloween by running a half marathon! The second annual Provo Haunted Half Marathon was about to go down and I was gearing up for a good race.  The only half marathons I’ve run before were at my home town of Star Valley, and that is at 6000 ft and the course is pretty flat. This haunted half course followed the river down Provo Canyon, so it was a lot of downhill and the elevation was a lot less. I was excited for a fast time! I was sure I could break my PR of 1:13.

I got talking to some old Weber State teammates Brett Hales and Mike Hardy and we decided we would all do this half marathon. We hadn’t all run a race together for a long time and we decided it was about time we laced up and raced.  I didn’t know if I was happy or sad about this.  It would be way fun to run with these guys again, but… they’re both All-American runners! They would be hard to beat! And I’m not saying it’s all about the money, but an extra few hundred bucks for first place doesn’t sound too bad!

We signed up and hung out a bit the night before the race, grabbing some dinner, driving around and talking about good times.  It was good to catch up and reminisce.  And of course they got on me for still being single.  Brett crashed at my apartment and we had some good pillow talk.

I didn’t sleep well, but neither did Brett, I bet.  The air mattress I gave him deflated during the night.  Bwahaha! Anything to slow him down.  He has won most of the half marathons in Utah this year.

We drove to the finish area of the race and shuttled up to the start.  After warming up, we found our way in front of the crowd and the race started.  We took off at a decent pace.  There wasn’t much conversation, things were serious now! Or something like that, maybe its just that no one liked to talk while running fast. The only words spoken was when Taylor Farnsworth (BYU alumni) would read off our mile splits. Something like  5:01, 5:08, 5:02, 4;53.  After about 4 miles Brett, Mike, Taylor and I were breaking away from the big pack.

This was my home turf! I ran the Provo River trail a lot.  The only advantage I really had was that I had a good idea of how far we were from the finish at all times. But my advantage was squashed because the mile markers were very clearly marked.

Brett pulled ahead, and Farnsworth dropped off a bit and left Mike and I to run side by side.  Mike and I were always fairly close to each other in training and racing throughout college.  We would beat each other off and on but Mike definitely has more wins over me than I do over him.  It was good to run with him again.  That lasted until about mile 10 when Mike picked up the pace and I couldn’t hang anymore.

Brett had kept a solid 10 second gap on us for the first 10 miles of the race.  In the last 5k was when all the movement really happened.  Mike went after Brett, I maintained, and Brett picked it up to hang onto his lead position.  Right when I started hurting, around mile 11, was when the half marathoners merged in with the 5k runners that were finishing.  Suddenly I was surrounded by  loads of joggers and walkers in costumes going about 8:00 minute mile pace while I’m trying to maintain a 5:10 pace. Needless to say it was very frustrating.  It made it hard to maintain my rhythm and I might have “gently” pushed a couple runners out of the way so I could get through.

I finished 3rd overall with a 1:07:53, averaging 5:11 per mile. I was pleased with it; it was a big PR. Brett won, about a minute ahead of me, and Mike was second, about 25 seconds ahead of me. And they had pizza at the finish line!  What more could I ask for?

Overall, it was great to run with the guys again, and I look forward to racing with them again in the future.  The Haunted Half was organized well! hmmm, except for maybe getting the drop off bags back to the runners, that was a little sketchy, and I was worried they had lost my bag, with my keys and wallet in it.  But they did eventually find it!  Other than that it was put together well; it had a lot to offer and seeing all the costumes was fun!

Results:

http://utahruntiming.com/haunted-half-and-5k-provo/

Wrong Turn cost me a Birthday Present

So there is a series of trail races that take place around the Provo area called the Cascadia Trail Series.  The last race was Trial @ Trail 51 last Saturday (10/10) and was held at the Southern point of Big Baldy in Orem.  It was a 15k that wove around the intertwining trails, starting near the mouth of Dry Canyon.

I had raced an 8k trail race as part of the series about a month earlier and the winning prize was a pair of Brooks Cascadia trail shoes.  Not a bad prize! I’ve enjoyed those shoes on the trails ever since.  The first place prize for this race was also a pair of Brooks Cascadia Trail shoes.  Now I wouldn’t normally be motivated to win another pair of the same shoes I already have, however, we were celebrating my sister Hailey’s 21st birthday later that very day, and I needed a birthday present for her.  It just so happens that she is also a runner.  She is currently running for Weber State and is doing very well for the team, recently earning Big sky Conference Athlete of the Week honors.  I thought a pair of nice trail shoes would be the perfect gift.

So I showed up to the race, excited; the last Cascadia Trail Series race definitely didn’t let me down, so I was pumped for this one.  I’ve also really gotten into trail running since I graduated and I wanted to put my trail training to the test.  And, of course, I had the goal in mind to win those shoes for my sister.

The race started and we were off.  It  was a downhill start so there was somewhat of a mad scramble down the gravel road until we filed onto a single trail.  I let gravity take me down the hill and I hit the single file trail ahead of everyone else.  I kept a pretty honest pace for a while until about miles 2 to 4 where we went up the canyon and there was a lot of climb.  Uphill is not my thing.  I didn’t have to walk, thankfully, but my pace was not anything to brag about.  I battled away at the hill for a couple miles until it finally leveled out.  My calves were thanking me as I was able to get into a good rhythm.

The reward of uphill running is that you get a nice view when you get to the top, and I fought the urges to take a break and enjoy the view of the spread of Orem/Provo and the Utah Lake.  I was locked into a pretty aggressive pace.  Trail running is so much more interesting than road running, and I was focused on stepping in the right places and going as fast as I needed without rolling an ankle or biffing it.  There were a lot of forks in the paths but it was well marked with orange tape which was the right path.  I didn’t want anything to slow my pace.  I hit the downhill and started turning it over even quicker.  I really just let go on the downhill and didn’t try to break myself.

About 50 minutes into the race I knew I was coming close to the finish.  Former team mate Jace Nye had set the course record here the year before at 56:09.  I knew I could be somewhere around that.  I felt I was taking the trails well so I sped up, wanting to break the course record.  When I reached the top of a small hill I looked back to see how much of a lead I had on second place.  I could see the trail winding down and I saw the second place runner about 3 or 4 minutes behind me.

Then I came to a fork in the path where I din’t see orange tape on either side.  I wasn’t sure which path was the right one, but I didn’t want to slow my pace so I took off on the path that seemed more official.  After running on that trail for about 30 seconds I still wasn’t seeing the orange tape that I had gotten used to looking for and I second-guessed myself.  I backtracked to the fork in the path and took a look at the other trail, but I wasn’t seeing orange tape there either.  I knew I was losing valuable time so I stuck with my gut and took off on the trail I had chosen first, trying to quicken my pace to make up for the time I had lost.

I would later learn that there were sticks on the ground at that intersection showing you where to go.

After running on that trail for about 3 minutes I realized I had taken the wrong path.  The trail started to go right back up the mountain and I knew the finish line was at the bottom of the mountain.  I realized I was off-track and I wouldn’t be able to catch the lead again.  It would take me another 3 minutes to get back to the intersection, and in total I would have lost about 7 minutes with the time I had spent earlier trying to  make a decision.  I knew the second place guy would be quite a ways ahead of me by the time I made it back to the path.

Realizing that I wasn’t going to break any records or win any pairs of shoes for my sister, I gloomily just continued on the wrong path I had chosen.  I had gone the wrong way, and instead of finishing, I decided I would just turn this into a long mileage run instead.  I took off my bib number, feeling a little silly with it on, and slowed to a normal jogging pace. I followed that trail for a while, then bushwhacked down the mountain a little ways when it wasn’t going the direction I wanted.  I found another trail and followed that one until I made it back to the race camp, running about 75 minutes total.

I chatted with some of the runners, had some chocolate milk and then went on my way, more than a little disappointed that I had gotten off-course.  I probably should have taken more time to figure out which path was the right one; I just didn’t want to lose valuable time.

I still had a good time spending time with my sister and friends later that day and she forgave me for not winning her a pair of Cascadia shoes.  Though I bet inside she was thinking I was pretty dumb for taking the wrong turn, haha.

nice pic

XTerra National Championships in my backyard!

Hey, so this is my first post, and what better than to make it about my recent experience at XTerra National Championships half marathon! It just so happened that it was held at Snow Basin Resort just a short 15 minute drive from Ogden, Utah where I spent 4 years doing school and whatever else there was to do.  Me and the team (Weber State Cross Country Team) would go to Snow Basin a lot to do trail runs, so I thought I would know the course well enough. It turns out that the course followed a trail that I had never run before, and I found out why: it included about 2000 feet of climb!

I’ve never been to an XTerra event and I found I’ve been missing out. They do a great job of making it exciting and involving and the whole atmosphere is awesome! I grabbed my bib and started warming up. I was expecting to run into some runners I knew since I was well acquainted with a lot of runners around the Ogden area, but I wasn’t recognizing anyone. I was thinking I’d to run into former team mate Brett Hales, who won the event last year, but he didn’t show up, I think it was because he had another race the day before. I don’t know if that was  a good thing or bad thing.  I did run into Bret Ferrier, who was also a Weber runner Alumni, although he was a bit before my time.  We talked a bit before the race started, and then before I knew it they fired a cannon (very loud) and we were off through a cloud of smoke.

I didn’t know what to expect from this race, but after a mile I could tell there were competitive athletes involved.  The pace wasn’t easy, and I was sitting in about 6th place for the first few miles.  I wanted to fight for that 5th place spot since that’s where the money was along with an entry into World Championships in Hawaii! There was a group of three of us fighting for that 5th spot for a few miles.  Me and Nathan Peters and David Dickshinski, both from Salt Lake.  We would switch the lead every so often until about mile 5 when the heavy uphill started.  That’s when Nathan took off uphill; it was as if he didn’t even notice that the grade of the trail changed to super steep!  Regardless, I never saw him again.  It was agonizing uphill for miles after that and I only caught glimpses of David (who was putting a big gap between us) when I had a long view ahead of me, other than that, I was stuck in 7th place.

It stayed that way until about mile 10 when it was finally going downhill again.  That’s when Bret Ferrier caught me. I didn’t know he was so close, but he passed me on a corner and I determined to stick on him.  It was good because he woke me up out of a lull of running comfortably and I glued myself to his heels, which might have annoyed him, haha.  We cruised down the switch backs descending Sardine Peak.  We passed a spot that was familiar to me (me and bud Mike Hardy had fished there a month or so earlier) and I knew there was only about a mile left until the finish line.  I had somehow caught some wind and thought I’d push the last mile.  I passed Bret, feeling a little bad that I had drafted off of him for that long, and tried to keep a faster pace.  It was going well until about 1000 meters out and my quads were burning up.

Finally I caught a glimpse of the finish line and I was hoping to coast in.  But Bret wasn’t going to let me have it so easily! I heard the crowd yelling louder and soon Bret was ripping past me.  I knew Bret was fast, but he is a long distance trail runner and I just graduated college where I’ve been working on speed on the track for months.  I tried to summon that legspeed and turn the gears; I had just enough to kick back into the lead and solidify my 7th place finish.  My time was 1:24:21, probably just a quarter of a second ahead of Bret. I was pretty pleased with it, but I was still a good 10 minutes behind Patrick Smyth who won the race. No shame in that though! I talked a bit with Nathan Peters, who had killed the uphill.  He said he knew the course and it sounded like he knew he was going to excel there.

Overall it was an awesome race and the recap video is pretty intense, it’s worth a watch! I’m very impressed with XTerra: https://vimeo.com/channels/xterra/139877810

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Photo Cred: XTerra