One of the inaugural North Texas Team Dirt and Vert members completed his first 100 mile ultra at Rocky Raccoon on February 7-8, 2021
We asked Erik a few questions about the event and his takeaways.
Congratulations to Erik and we look forward to seeing you cover many miles leading up to your next ultra.
Tell us all about your first 100M race. Was it what you expected?
I lucked out with excellent weather, perfect trail conditions and pacers that were beyond seasoned and skilled. I knew going in that it would start out as a running love fest and devolve into misery, nailed that prediction.. The first loop I probably went out a bit too fast and couldn’t shut up, wanted to chat with everybody… THAT eventually ceased to be the case..Waves of emotion would ease over me out of nowhere and then subside, I’d like to avoid the rollercoaster analogy but… What I didn’t expect is that I felt relatively mentally alert the entire time, I had expected to be out of my head towards the end.
What was your longest race distance prior and what made you choose this race?
Crazy Desert 100k was my longest race prior to Rocky which I ran last March. Rocky has had a special place in my heart for a long time, I paced a good buddy “guess who” there 9 years ago at his first 100 miler and have returned to crew for another good buddy “guess who” a number of times. I had no doubts where I wanted to earn my first big buckle.
How did you train and how did the pandemic impact your training or race preparation?
I try to “stay ready to get ready” year round but started training in earnest 16 weeks out. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by strong knowledgeable runners that I can turn to for advice and guidance, no reaching out to the faceless Twitterverse here. Early in the training I maintained what some would consider conservation mileage 40-45 a week and towards the end ramped up to 60-65 mile weeks averaging 30 miles during the week with one day focused on hill work and back to back long trail runs on the weekends. The monotony of my weekday solo runs really made me appreciate the company of my Dirt and Vert brethren on the weekends as well as an occasional after work jaunt at one of their organized runs. The PANDI honestly didn’t effect my training much, I run super early during the week and would run with the same small and trusted circle on the weekends.. Mainly it just gave me anxiety about race cancellation.
In hindsight, what would you have done differently in training or race execution?
My race went really well and I’m honestly pleased with the quality of work I put in. I’ve crossed a lot of finish lines but there are few races that I feel I did well and honestly this was my best effort. I asked for advice from those with experience, I listened, implemented and was consistent. I’m chaos incarnate and thesis NOT typical for me. Execution wise I was uncharacteristically organized leading up to it and stuck to my plan regarding not burning time at aid stations and the start finish each time. I probably should have grazed a little more when I did pass through just to break up the monotony of eating the same thing mile after mile after mile. Towards the end I just didn’t want to eat and I’m sure I was low on calories.
Any advice or words of wisdom for runners considering their first 100M?
My advice to anyone considering tackling a hundred would be to seek the sage council of those who are experienced and be consistent in your training. Listen to your body, adjust activities as needed and know that rest and recovery are extremely important. During the race if something is irritating / bothering you, make adjustments immediately.. That rock in your shoe or the hotspot on you naughty bits isn’t going to fix itself. Lastly, don’t go in it thinking you can just “wing it”…
Now that you’ve completed your first 100M, what’s next for 2021.
I haven’t picked the “next” yet, for now I’m just enjoying running because I want to and looking forward to cycling season but I KNOW there will be next… I’m of course going to throw my hat in the ring for that loooooong shot chance for a Western States slot which because it scares the hell out of me it could actually happen…. Plus I hear it would drive a certain someone absolutely INSANE “guess who” if I got in with my first ticket.
It’s been two weeks and last week alone felt like a month so it may be almost 6 weeks since my last blog post about training for Cocodona 250? It’s hard to keep track these days, especially with everything going on outside of the ultra / trail world. I hope this blog post helps you get away from the anxiety and stress of COVID and the Presidential election and aftermath.
If you want to get caught up then you can click the links for Volumes 1, 2, 3
Let’s Get Into What Has Transpired In The Last Two Weeks
I had another idea of what I was going to write in this space but then I received an interview request that was asking about setting goals. A day after that I listened to The Trail Life podcast Episode 8 and the conversation was about goals and going after them. Finally, while listening to the podcast The Social Run Episode 31, I knew that I wanted to tell the world my goal for Cocodona 250.
Let me preface this by saying that I had an idea, a few months ago, about this goal and shared it with Greg and Jen. I laughed at myself, so they didn’t have to, because it just seemed so absurd. Without knowing anything about the course or about training for this event, the goal was just kinda slapped onto a text message.
Here is the thing about me and goals. Once I’ve established it in my mind then I can’t let it go. It just sits there and gnaws at me as I train, as I sleep, as I eat and even as I execute on race day. I’m not afraid of going after what some would deem as ridiculous when it comes to goals because failure is not the end. For me, failure is the beginning of the process to getting to that goal. If I succeed on the first try, then the goal was too easy and I will need to go back after it.
Here are some examples of me setting goals and where I’ve fallen on them:
Going under 20 hours at Rocky Raccoon in my first attempt on that course in 2015. Finish Time: 19:22
Going under 19 hours at Rocky Raccoon in each attempt since then:
Going under 11 hours at an Ironman after an 11:00:50 at Ironman Chattanooga in 2014. Results of each attempt since then:
2018: Ironman Chattanooga – 10:31:00 (No Swim and probably would have been near 11:30)
2019: Ironman Wisconsin – DNF
Western States 2019 Goal: Sub-24. Actual Time: 26:36:53
Black Canyon 100k 2020 Goal: Sub-12. Actual Time: 11:57:27
Putting myself out there isn’t new, failing isn’t new, and these just out of reach goals allow me to be a better athlete during training and especially during racing as I chase those numbers.
With that being said, I updated my Training Peaks account with Cocodona 250 as a race and with a goal. What’s that goal? 80 Hours.
My original text message to Greg and Jen said that I think we can finish this in 72 hours. 100 miles in 24 hours + 4 hour nap + 100 miles in 28 hours + 4 hour nap + 50 miles in 12 hours = 72 Hours. After seeing the winning finishing times at Moab of 61 and 63 hours I decided to check on the elevation profiles of each. Cocodona has about 10,000 more feet of climbing than Moab and is 10 miles longer so I pushed my 72 hours to 80 hours. Can this happen? No Fucking Clue, but you can put every dollar you own on the fact that I’ll go #AllGas #NoBrakes chasing that time during the event.
Now That We Know Your Goal, What Has Training Looked Like?
The first official week went very well. As you can see from the image below, I was spot on when it comes to time spent training as well as hitting the TSS score I had planned. The combination of bike work, hill repeats, trail running, speed work and swimming was awesome. I will add in that I also took naps on Saturday and Sunday which helped facilitate my recovery for this upcoming week.
The upcoming week looks very similar in terms of the plan, but I am adding in a weight vest hike post bike ride as well as bringing back the Man-Maker. This workout is a beast and when you are done, the idea of curling up in a ball and crying then napping is welcomed!!!
Last week I was able to solidify the team that will help me across the finish line (or at least not die!) and that has been a huge relief. These last two weeks have given me the opportunity to set a goal and develop the plan that is going to get me there. With November 1/3rd over, I can say that I feel like I am in a good spot. Our Team Dirt and Crew will be heading to Huntsville State Park for some Rocky Raccoon training, and there is another opportunity (in a couple of weeks) for me to test fitness and gauge how the plan is progressing.
I am also starting to get more serious about registering and booking accommodations for races in early 2021 as a setup for Cocodona.
So, until the next time I post……Thank you for reading and please do not hesitate to ask me questions because they will help me formulate my plan.
Two weeks or so ago, I posted Volume 2 of Meandering…Purposely Toward The Finish Line and a few things have happened in those two weeks that it felt like the right time to post Volume 3. Before you get started on Volume 3, and want to read Volume 1 and 2, click the link and then come back. For those of you that are just finding this blog series, the backstory is that Greg and I are running/racing Cocodona 250 in May of 2021 and this is a way to track my progress toward that finish line.
Thanks For The Links To Vol 1 & 2, Now Give Me New Info
Maria will be my crew chief for this race and we have a long history together. Maria and I go back to 2012 when she coached me for my third Ironman at Ironman Texas in 2013. Since those days, Maria has remained a great friend of mine and somebody that I always look to for inspiration, laughter, motivation and insight. The reason that I had Maria as my number 1 draft prospect for this event is her experience at Tahoe 200 and how invaluable it will be to me during the lead up and in the moment of the event. I was also sold on our ability to work together in the toughest of times when I paced her at Rocky Raccoon earlier in 2020. We spent nearly 7 hours on the trail that night and we laughed the entire time. When things get tough, and they will, you will want to have people around you that will cheer you up but also smack you into reality and get you going again. Maria will be that person for me.
You may have seen Ashley’s name pop up in association with Team Dirt and Vert on this site as well as on social media. Ashley is our Group Lead in Phoenix Arizona and will be leading runs out there on Wednesday and Saturday. I was following Ashley on Instagram and all of her photos are of the White Tank Mountains or of Skyline Regional Park and they are always just so gorgeous. Over time, I’ve seen her ability to run and climb in the type of terrain that Cocodona will be run on and it just made sense for me to ask her to be a part of this adventure. Having somebody with experience and understanding of where I’ll be running will prove to be invaluable.
If you can have somebody who lives in Idaho and has an ultra-running resume like she does, why wouldn’t you ask her to be a part of your team? Courtney lives in the mountains and runs up and down them (with her good dog Rush!!) and has an immense amount of experience that I will lean on during race week. Her knowledge of wind and different types of weather at the top of a mountain versus in the canyon will be helpful and her joy will be welcome when the moment comes, and it will come, when I am overly tired, overly hungry, snarky and just ready to tell everybody to fuck right on off.
Where do I begin? I met Michelle back in 2012 when we trained together for Ironman Arizona. 2 years later we trained for and raced Ironman Chattanooga. From those days in 2012 to now I have always looked to Michelle for inspiration and motivation as she goes from Ironman to Ultra Trail Runner to Mountain Biker. She moves through these sports with grace and with a passion for success. Michelle is also one of the most organized persons I know and that is going to be valuable as we make our way from Black Canyon City to Flagstaff. Having shared many laughs with Michelle over the years, I know that when the going is horrible she will get me to smile and laugh.
To the four of you, Thank You. You do not know what a relief it is to have this part of the race complete. It may not seem like much, but asking people to give up a week (or more) of their life to join me on an adventure through Arizona was stressful. This isn’t asking somebody to pace you for 5-7 hours on a trail and then get home within a day. This is asking somebody to give up time with family, friends, work and wait on you hand and foot (literally!) I cannot be more excited about this team as each brings with them a different perspective and experience that will prove to be invaluable during race week.
How Is Training Going?
Glad you asked. It is unofficially starting this week, and officially starting next week. October 1st was to be the day I started but I didn’t and then last week I had a lot of stress about life and I decided starting a training plan under those circumstances didn’t make sense. I wrote my first official week out and put it into Training Peaks with a November 1st start date. On Monday October 26th, I woke up with a green whoop recovery score, following three straight days of red, and that was very uplifting. I decided that I can start an unofficial plan during this week and allow that to flow into next week. In addition to that, Team Dirt and Vert is hosting a Halloween Night Run at Erwin Park and that’ll be a great way to kickstart this training plan.
Training Ideas? Have You Formulated Those Yet?
Yes, my goal is to be the strongest version of me when we start on May 3rd. This means that in addition to running, there will be a lot of hill repeats with different focuses. One day will be running uphill and not crushing myself downhill while others will be easy on the uphills and smashing myself on the downhills. I will be adding in running/hiking with my pack on to simulate those days out on the course when that pack will feel like it weighs 100 lbs. The Man-Maker on the treadmill will make a come back as will weight vest hikes on the treadmill followed by swims.
What I will not be doing is sleep deprivation training. I have not done that in any of the 100 mile training cycles I have done and find it hard to wrap my mind around. I am a big believer in consistency in training and recovery. Interrupting sleep patterns and causing inconsistencies in training doesn’t make much sense to me. Since I’ll be having a rolling aid station and pacers the need to train while sleep deprived and increasing my ability to get injured doesn’t make much sense
Racing Lake Sonoma 50 (potentially adding the 100k on the Sunday after – make-up for cancellation due to COVID)
Anything Else You Want To Share With Us?
In my last post, I mentioned getting another Inside Tracker test done. The results have come back and I have a few tweaks I need to make to my diet, and have already begun that process. I have increased my consumption of soy along with a bigger breakfast to get Iron, Vitamin B and Vitamin D into my system. I have also ordered AltRed as beets were a suggested food that I eat to help with my biomarkers. My morning and afternoon smoothies now incorporate beet juice, tart cherry juice. I’ll use AltRed on big training days.
I listened to my boy Hector Rodriguez on The Trail Life Podcast and it got me fired up for Coco250. Hector recently completed the Moab 240 and is in the lottery for Tahoe 200. Listening to him speak with excitement about racing, and the grind to the finish line and insight into racing this distance was awesome. I’ll be bookmarking this episode and listening over and over again because it’s down to earth with insight from a person who is not sugar coating the truth of the adventure and accomplishment.
This adventure is starting to take shape and I am excited for what is going to happen over the course of the next few months. There will be lots of thrills and excitement as well as downs and fuck this, I don’t want to train anymore. It’s all in a training cycle and especially for something like this where I have no idea where I’m headed but I’m certainly going to get there.
So, until the next time I post……Thank you for reading and please do not hesitate to ask me questions because they will help me formulate my plan.
It’s been nearly two weeks since I posted Volume 1 of the Meandering…Purposely Toward The Finish Line and this felt like the right time to write another blog post as I meander my way to the finish line of Cocodona 250 in May 2021. With 8 months to go before race day things are still very much up in the air with regards to training plans and crew/pacer plans but things are also starting to formulate in my mind about who/what/when/where/how. You may have just said: What about why? The why was decided way back when I pressed register so that question has been answered.
That’s Great, But Did You Tell Us Your Why?
I did not tell you my why when I wrote the first blog post so now is as good a time as any to tell you my why. The first and simplest answer is: Why Not? Why not run 250 miles across the heart of Arizona? Why not test my limits and see how well I do? Why not seek the euphoria of crossing the finish line? Why not seek the despair and brink of failure, for there is where I’ll find my next success?
It’s all of those things and more. I remember when I signed up for my first 50 mile race and thinking: Not a fucking chance I’ll race a 100. I remember registering for my first 100 and finishing that race and thinking: Not a fucking chance I’ll ever do that again. I remember seeing Maria Simone of No Limits Endurance Coaching and my former coach go around Lake Tahoe during Tahoe 200 and thinking: Not a fucking chance I’ll ever race a 200. I remember seeing Sean Nakamura tackle the Grand Slam of 200’s and thinking: Not a fucking chance I’ll ever do that.
Then the competitor in me started saying: Why not you? And I pressed register on the 100 mile race then the next 100 mile race and 8 belt buckles later I am registered for the 250 mile adventure.
It’s competition with myself about finding what’s next. It’s competition with myself about finding the edge of my ability. It’s competition with myself to say: Failure is a possibility, but I won’t fail.
What Are Your Next Steps In This Meandering Plan Of Yours?
My next step is on deciding what the pace/crew team is going to look like. I’ve got a few names that I’ve written down and will be reaching out in the next week or so. Pacing and crewing a 100 race is a huge ask but that is typically a 1-2 day request. This could be upwards of 5 days of work plus a few days before and after for recreation. This is going to be the biggest request I make and I want to make sure that the team is compatible with me during the down times because hanging out and laughing with me will be easy during the good times. It’s when I want to take a dirt nap, when I want to tell the world to fuck off, when I want to sleep for more than 4 hours that this crew is going to need to know how to manipulate me into getting my ass going again.
If your phone rings and my name shows up, just know that I am asking you because I think you’re the PERFECT fit for me and this adventure but don’t feel obligated to answer right away or having to say yes.
Training Ideas? Have You Formulated Those Yet?
Not completely. Yesterday, during the Team Dirt and Vert StruggleBus Sunday run I decided that I was going to chase a PR on the TD&V New Big Loop Strava segment. I think I decided to do this as a baseline test for my fitness heading into an official training plan. After the run while Jen and Greg and I were chatting we figured that now is the time to include Trail Fartleks into our Sunday run. Jen will be heading to Bandera in January and with the flat and very runable segments there she’ll be working on speed and since I don’t do track workouts this will also be my speed workout for the week.
I am still swimming my way across Lake Tahoe in the #AmazeRaceSwim that I am hosting on Instagram. This is helping me keep my goal of 6,000 yards per week and aid in recovery. I am also still riding my bike and have decided that even when the weather gets cold I’ll put the bike on the trainer and keep that component going as well. Riding my bike will also be a huge benefit for recovery from the runs and addition of strength training to the plan.
Anything Else You Want To Share With Us?
Yes, as a matter of fact there are two things that I want to share with you.
1- I am going to get another Inside Tracker test done. I participated in the study when I went to Western States in 2019 and it was a benefit. It showed me that despite my consumption of mushrooms and spending hours upon hours in the sun that my Vitamin D was still low as well as my iron levels. I have taken a more conscious approach to getting Vitamin D and Iron supplements into my diet, but I am also interested in the other biomarkers since it’s been a year and a whole lot can change.
2- I have become and ambassador for Rbar Energy. I was introduced to the product by Ashley and was invited to join the team. After tasting the first couple of samples I knew that this was the direction I wanted to go in because the taste was fantastic. The ingredient list is minimal (think 3-7 ingredients) and they are plant-based. This weekend, instead of the usual bowl of granola 2 hours before a long day of riding and running, I went with Rbar. On Saturday, I tested out the Cranberry Cashew and on Sunday, I went with Chocolate Peanut Butter. Both were excellent tasting and I was satisfied with my performance on both days. Best part, is that I have a 20% discount code for you to use. Go shopping and use code: JBAHA and save 20%.
This plan is still a work in progress but little pieces are coming together. Like anything else in life, it’s the little things that amount to big things. Right now, my stress and anxiety is about the pacing/crewing component of this process and I have a solid idea of how I want this to unfold and soon that will be behind me and the focus can turn to the core, balance, stretching, strength, run, ride, swim planning and executing.
So, until the next time I post……Thank you for reading and please do not hesitate to ask me questions because they will help me formulate my plan.
The Yeti 50 Mile Challenge has been happening since July and a few of the Team Dirt and Vert crew are going to tackle the challenge (they did the 50k Challenge earlier this year) on Friday September 18th.
What is the Yeti 50 Mile Challenge?
Run /Walk 8.35 Miles at the start of every 4 hours for 24 hours. Thats a total of 6 Runs/Walks
You cant accumulate mileage and must have fun !!!
You can complete this outside, inside, on your back deck or around the living room. Be creative have fun and enjoy yourself
Our team will be starting at 7pm but you can start whenever you like, but we encourage you to join them as we will be TRYING to update our social pages as each segment passes and you’ll want to have the support of those around you and us, especially as the hours and miles begin to pile on.
This Black Canyon 100k race report is about 6 months too late but hey, what else have you got going on right now? Plus, with the 2021 version coming up sooner than you might expect this is the perfect time to read this race report.
In December 2018, my name was pulled out of the Western States lottery barrel and I was going to race WSER in 2019. Knowing that I would have the lottery ticket for the 2020 WSER lottery from the 2019 finish I decided that I was not going to race Rocky Raccoon 100. I had raced that even 5 times and was looking for something else to race that had a bit more elevation (or more challenging elevation) and so the search for the 2020 qualifying event was on.
A bunch of athletes from DFW settled on Black Canyon 100k and then the strategizing and training started.
Training and Goal Setting:
After looking at the elevation map and seeing that the total elevation climbing was approximately 6,000 feet I went to my race results for Bandera 100k to compare the elevation in that race. As it turns out the elevation profiles are very similar. In 2015, I finished Bandera in 12:52 but that year was a muddy mess and I figured that with better nutrition / hydration practices and experience running trails that I could break 12 hours on the course.
I chatted with Greg about this goal and we agreed it was doable. We set the goal, then built our training plans to achieve that goal.
Race Day Execution:
Greg and I tend to be trail running nerds and want to know what we need to do to accomplish our time goals. We will have splits for getting to the various aid stations and different outcomes but for this race, we went with the laminated card that only showed what we needed to do to get to 12 hours.
Of course, when the split chart came out and the pace for the first 20 miles was 8:50/mi to keep us on pace I got nervous. Despite the course showing that it was flat to downhill for those first 20 miles, keeping that sub-9 pace for 20 miles on trails wasn’t going to be easy.
If you don’t know about Black Canyon, understand that it starts with a loop around the track before heading out toward the trail. If you don’t execute this well, you can end up blowing up later in the race and/or be stuck in a traffic jam once it gets to single track.
Greg and I decided to start together and as is our customary plan for racing together, if somebody isn’t feeling it the other person is not obligated to stay behind. We took our loop around the track and hit the road toward the trail. We saw friends along the way and smiled and laughed and were given a lot of positive support.
After about 4 miles, Greg had to stop to use the ‘restroom’ and I just kept going along. I didn’t expect us to be separated so early but we had our goals that we needed to achieve. I love racing and running in Arizona and the landscape and trail did not disappoint. The sun was rising and the crisp air felt great. The pace I need to keep, felt really easy. I made sure to stay on top of nutrition and hydration from the get go. I planned on drinking 2-3 flasks (40-60oz per hour) and taking in 1 Spring Energy per hour. I also had Skratch Labs chews on me in case I needed a calorie boost.
The race execution was going great. I was feeling good and was looking forward to seeing familiar faces at the Bumble Bee Ranch aid station which is at mile 19.4. The few miles prior to that were awesome as I was running with 4-5 other athletes and we were cruising through the course. When I ambled into the aid station I saw Amy Clark who was part of our posse at the race. I asked her where Karen was and she didn’t know so I got the necessities out of my drop bag and moved on ready to keep the progress that had been established.
The next 5 mile stretch to Gloriana Mine at me up as my pace dropped by nearly 2 minutes per mile. It was uphill but it just felt harder than it should have and I had the thought that I did go out to hard. I took a bit of time at this aid station to refill, drink, and refill again before heading on to the Soap Creek aid station at mile 31.2. The benefit of this stretch was that it was 7 miles and mostly downhill which I felt could help get me back on track.
Getting to this aid station was harder than the thoughts in my head allowed me to believe it would be. I remember looking at my watch at the marathon distance and reflecting on Ali’s words that she ran a 4 hour marathon here a few years prior and then blew up. I had hit the marathon distance faster than she ran it and the doubt started creeping in.
I started to leave Soap Creek and decided to take a moment to drink the entire flask and refill before heading out toward Black Canyon City. As I turned to head back, I saw Greg coming in and before I knew it he was heading out and I thought: Oh, we are going to race that way!!! Reality is that we both know the rules for racing together and I was happy to see him running strong.
Black Canyon City aid station comes up next and I felt good heading in. I was so surprised to see Michelle because she had previously told us she wouldn’t be able to make it. Seeing her smiling face and then Karen’s was a huge uplifting moment.
I asked how Greg was doing and they said he was doing ok. In the next breathe they said that Greg’s direction to me was: Hurry up and catch up. I made my way through that aid station as quickly as possible and headed out to see if catching Greg could actually be done. I felt really strong leaving that aid station despite the climbing immediately out of the aid station and then a couple of miles later.
I finally saw Greg during one of the switchback sections at around mile 42. At that point we looked at the pace chart and how we were moving and felt very good about breaking 12 hours. The weather was still cooperating with us and neither felt exhausted. Having a partner to tackle the last 20-ish miles together made a big difference. I would rattle off the mile splits to Greg and he would rattle off if we were on target or not. We strategized our hiking versus running and the miles seemed to click off rather quickly.
We were moving but not over-exerting ourselves. We pulled into Table Mesa (Mile 50.9) together and saw Karen and Amy again. Taking our drop bags, refilling, chatting, laughing and before we knew it we were off and running to get the last 10 miles in and break 12 hours.
I was starting to feel a bit sluggish and added pickle juice to one of my flasks. The extra sodium would help get me to the finish line, or so I thought. I drank about half of it before we reached Doe Spring aid station. There was only 4 miles to go at that point but I was tired of the pickle juice and poured it out and then added coke to my flask. Pickle Coke is a real deal helper.
Leaving Doe Spring we felt like we had the sub-12 hour goal in the bag but the course is flat at this point and we decided to run and run we did. We went from running 12-13 min/mi to 10-11 min/mi. We were getting close and the sun started to go down and Greg, who was in front, asked: Are you being stubborn like me and not turning on your headlamp? I originally thought yes, but then responded to him and told him I was turning it on. Being this close to breaking 12 hours, I did not want to risk a turned ankle or going off course to derail us.
As you are finishing you can see the lights of Emory Henderson and it seems pretty far off but with every step the lights shine brighter and the sounds of the finish line grow stronger. I remember feeling ecstatic and my legs decided that we couldn’t just skip in but had to run in. We went below 10:00/mi at that point and I yelled: We Fucking Did It! We broke 12 hours.
Setting the goal, Training for the goal, setting the strategy, executing the strategy and coming out ahead was awesome.
The smiles on our faces said it all. The pizza being shoved down our face holes said even more. We reminisced about the race, and waited on the rest of the DFW crew to finish. It was a job well done BUT it also sets the stage for 2021. The goal is to be across the finish line before sunset so we need to get across the finish line between 11 and 11.5 hours. VERY DOABLE.
Since the onset of the pandemic, I have often joked about ultra runners being more prepared than the normal American. The funny thing about jokes is that there is always a morsel of truth hidden in them. Now seems like a good time to elaborate.
Ultra runners have been holding dress rehearsal for social distancing and lock downs our entire ultra careers. Most of us prefer to run alone, as far away from people as we can get. Those of us that enjoy running with others are still OK going solo. You’ll find us on a trail as deep into nature as we can get. Some of us have complained about not having races to run. Most of us have found other ways to stay active and motivated in the mean time. All of us are sad that we can’t race, because races are the ONE place we enjoy being around other people!
In order to be successful in ultra marathons, we must become comfortable being uncomfortable. A good part of a successful ultra marathoner’s training is spent on developing mental toughness – training our minds to will ourselves to continue when we otherwise feel that we can’t. We have experienced the highs and lows of the ultra marathon and understand that pain now doesn’t mean pain forever. The flip side of that coin is that we know that things can be going great and go South VERY quickly. The mental training we have done and our experience in racing ultras has prepared us to deal with the discomfort that a pandemic causes with it’s complete disruption of our lives.
Ultra marathoners understand that anything worthwhile takes time and effort. Ultra marathons DO NOT fit in with our society of instant gratification. We don’t wake up one day and say, “I think I’ll run a 100 miler this weekend.” We train for months – many of us working toward longer distances for years – knowing that spending time and effort in preparation will get us to the finish line. We understand that this pandemic is like a 100 miler. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. It’s going to hurt like hell. We will ride a roller coaster of highs and lows, but with every low there will be another high. We won’t give up. We can’t give up. We will keep working toward the goal of things being back to “normal” again.
We accept things as they are, not as we want them to be – the ultra marathon gives you no other choice. When you find yourself at mile 80 on top of a mountain with shredded quads – NO ONE IS COMING TO RESCUE YOU. We know that we have to get ourselves down the mountain on our own two feet, and no amount of whining and throwing tantrums will change that fact. Personally, I accepted in March that this would be at least an 18 month – 2 year ordeal (HOPEFULLY!!). Accepting that reality has helped me deal with ongoing anxiety about what may or may not happen. We just have to hang in there, put our heads down and grind this out….like a long mountain climb.
(Edited after original post) Thanks to Edie for pointing this one out: Ultra runners are masters at pivoting when things aren’t going to plan. Nothing goes as planned in an ultra….ever. If you can’t adjust on the fly without total emotional upheaval, then you won’t finish. Even worse, you could be setting yourself up for serious trouble.
Alright ultra runners – how else are we better prepared for a pandemic?? Let me know what I failed to include!!
“Surround yourself with people who have dreams, desire and ambition; they’ll help you push for and realize your own.”
Friday evening just before 7PM, I left New Boston hoping to finish the 130ish mile trek to Farmersville sooner, rather than later. Greg was in to crew the duration. Kelley was crewing through Saturday afternoon and Bryan McKenney accepted my invitation to pace Friday night. I felt I needed a someone with me during the night hours – safety in numbers.
I experienced A LOT of anxiety and doubt the 10 days going into this event. I mean, I basically decided to do this a month out and that didn’t provide an optimal time frame for proper training build up. I felt under trained. I knew the trail was gnarly in spots and I wasn’t sure if I could persevere. I didn’t sleep well the entire week before. I worried about starting at 7PM and having to run through two nights. I genuinely doubted my ability to pull it off. I didn’t start this adventure in the right mindset at all.
The first miles were deceptively easy trail, yet they still wore me down quickly. Running on flat land is just HARD. I wasn’t prepared for the difficulty of navigating the obstacles of the meat of this course. The conditions alternated between lakes covering the trail, mud bogs or sections of THICK thigh-high grass/thorny plants/poison ivy and, just for fun, sprinkled in here and there were completely downed or sketch bridges (I CRAWLED over two of them). Every once in a while, the NeTT would give us a peace offering of some runnable terrain.
Bryan hopped in between New Boston and DeKalb and off we went. The trail basically parallelled the road through this stretch. Pretty straightforward. After we left Avery, the trail veered off from the road, so it finally felt like we were on an actual trail. Be careful what you wish for. We navigated mud and water covering the trail, which, of course, took more time than we wanted to give. We fell behind schedule then missed a turn to workaround a downed bridge East of Annona, causing us to backtrack. I was already secretly contemplating dropping. My stomach was off, fatigue was already wearing on me and I wasn’t in a good head space. But we marched on. Between Annona and Clarksville, we trudged through the thickest overgrowth one could imagine. We tried to run but it was futile, so we ended up hiking. I had not put on my pants yet and after this section, my legs were trashed from endless cuts from thorny plants. Bryan and I rolled into Clarksville just after the sun came up. He got me through the night and headed home for some much needed rest. I could tell how miserable he felt and I wondered if he would ever speak to me again for getting him into this mess!
I ran solo from Clarksville to Bagwell. Honestly, I don’t remember much about this section but I’m sure it alternated between tall grass and mud and trail lakes. Greg hopped in to pace from Bagwell to Detroit. Kelly Whitley left a nice, firey treat for me in that stretch and it was a welcomed pick-me-up. I was on my own again from Detroit to Blossom, but the Whitley’s were waiting to cheer me on as I left Detroit. When people take time out of their day to cheer you on, it means SO MUCH. Even with the treats and the visits, the trail was wearing me down and I could overcome the urge to throw in the towel. I admitted to Greg and Kelley in Blossom that I didn’t think I could make it, but they weren’t having ANY talk like that. Deep down, I knew I couldn’t quit, but I longed for the ability to sit as long as I wanted and SLEEP. So far, the Mother Nature had been kind to me, but the rain had moved in and was getting stronger. Greg paced me from Blossom to Reno but since it was time for Kelley to leave, he sent me on my way and put his crew hat back on.
I was starting to come around. Running was decent, the stomach was OK, I had a long, easy section of trail, and, most importantly, I was beginning to take back control of my mind. The urge to quit was replaced with the urge to finish. I was running for my crew and pacers now more than I was for myself. I couldn’t let them down. Bryan had already given up a night of his life for this, Greg and Kelley had given up a night and half of a day and I had Brent on deck to pace the second night. I could not let their sacrifices go to waste.
Bobby was waiting for me with Greg when I got to Paris and I was so happy to see him! It was quite literally a monsoon at this point and I needed to see him at that point. The immediate goal now was to make it to Roxton so that I could pick Brent up for the night hours.
I can’t remember why I had to hop off the trail and take roads out of Paris to get back on the trail, but that’s what Greg said and he always knows. On the way out of Paris, a trail angel named Alice was waiting on me, IN THE POURING RAIN, to cheer me on and take pics and video. Heart of gold. Her visit was a pick me up, for sure!!
Bobby and Greg were waiting on me just outside of Paris to guide me to where I would get back on the trail. We turned down a county road to head to the trail but there had been so much rain that a low-lying bridge flooding. Bobby wanted me to hop on his truck to get across, but I couldn’t do that! I did hold on to the tailgate just in case I lost footing. I was a bit apprehensive about the upcoming trail conditions and hoped that I wouldn’t have any serious water crossings. This was quite literally a flash flood situation.
The trail was definitely WET but luckily had bridges over all the creeks that needed to be crossed. The trail crossed over county roads about every mile through this part and Bobby was waiting there each time to see me onto the other side. I made it to Ambia, which was halfway between Paris and Roxton. Fi, Cathy and Chris were waiting cheer me on and they and brought soup and coffee. It was raining harder than ever now and again the warm kindness of my friends was keeping me in this fight. I was over half-way there and I would be picking up Brent at the next stop in Roxton. I started believing that I might actually pull this thing off!
I made it to Roxton and another kind stranger was waiting to cheer me on, Dan Lake. After my little aid station stop, Brent and I took off for Ben Franklin. This section had a workaround so there was quite a bit on road. Then between Ben Franklin and Pecan Gap, we took the Sulphur River Bridge workaround because we both felt conditions were not favorable to cross. On the workaround, we added a runner to our group….a dog that was so excited to discover people running by his house at 2AM. He got on the trail and ran with us all the way to Pecan Gap. Greg occupied the dog with food while Brent and I took off for Ladonia. I really hope he made it home OK!
By the time we got to Ladonia, the sun was coming up. That’s always a boost because you made it through the night. The rains were long gone and the skies were clear. I had the best 5 minute nap of my life in the car and we were on our way to Wolfe City. The only real issue in this stretch was a not-normal skunk that wouldn’t get out of our way and a sketch bridge or two. Bobby and Alli met us in Wolfe City and brought pancakes! It totally hit the spot. And we only had 21 miles to go!!
Wolfe City to Celeste was a bit hairy. The sun was out and the grass was drying, which made some slithery friends want to come out and get some sun on the trail. We saw at least 5 cottonmouths in a VERY short stretch. I don’t usually get spooked about snakes, but even I was getting a little anxious. A couple of bridges were also pretty sketch in this section, so we didn’t move as quickly as we wanted. (I’m sure you’ve noticed a recurring theme: we NEVER moved as quickly as we wanted.)
In Celeste, Greg announced that we had 13 miles to go and I HAD NO IDEA I WAS THAT CLOSE! I was seriously in THE BEST MOOD. Ran a couple solid miles then we hit the stupid black land mud bogs. That mud literally SUCKED OUT MY SOUL. I didn’t even think I would be able to make it to Merit, much less the final leg to Farmersville. I couldn’t believe how quickly I went from being on top of the world to feeling like I couldn’t walk another step. Brent wasn’t doing much better than me. But we finally made it to Merit and SIX MILES were all that stood between me and that finish. Bryan and Shellene had come to see the finish and were waiting in Merit….and he was actually speaking to me! When we left for Farmersville, they even ran with us a bit. I looked up, and there was Pam! She had run from Farmersville to Merit and was going to accompany me to the finish. Brent decided to stay behind since Pam had showed up and off we went.
SIX MILES. It seemed like such a short distance yet at the same time it seemed impossible. Pam’s bubbly personality and willingness to talk about anything kept my mind occupied for the first few miles. But the closer we got, the more I wanted to be DONE and I couldn’t keep my mind distracted from that. Bryan and Shellene met us at points where roads intersected the trail and he was letting me know how much farther. The great thing about this section is that it was completely maintained with pea gravel and concrete closer to Farmersville. NO MORE MUD. NO MORE GRASS. NO MORE TRAIL LAKES. That six miles felt like forever but it also went by very quickly.
As I approached the finish, there was a crowd of my friends cheering me on. I can’t even describe how touching it was for all of them to come out and support me in this way. I feel incredibly blessed to have such amazing people in my life.
The FKT was certified and so it is OFFICIAL! My time was 46:51, much slower than I had hoped, but the trail was much more rugged and brutal than I anticipated. This was by far the most difficult thing that I have ever done and I could not have finished it without the help of my friends and family. Thank you doesn’t even scratch the surface, but to all of you who had ANY part in this journey – I appreciate you more than you know!