Monday, August 19, 2013

The Race Across the Sky-- Well, half of the sky for me... this year anyway...

There really are not too many ways to say it. I got a beat down in Leadville this weekend. No excuses. I don't make 'em. I just didn't have it. I'm not used to setting a goal and falling short, so it certainly was a little tough to take. That being said, I don't feel like my race was a failure. A wise man once told me that as long as you learn from something it's not a mistake. And, I believe that about falling short of a goal. Sure, I'd much rather be telling the story of how I ate some doughnuts Sunday morning using my giant, baller, Pbville sub-25 finisher's buckle as a plate. Hell yeah I would. But, I'm not. The Reaper got me at Hopeless. I didn't make the time cut- got sent home. Well, sent back down the mountain to Twin Lakes, actually. But, I learned from it. I loved it. I reveled in the suffering and the satisfaction of knowing I laid myself bare on that course. I smiled at the beating I took. I'm pretty sure my brothers would be proud of how I represented them out there. I know Ginger, Lois, and the rest of my friends there saw that I gave everything I had, and they were awesome in supporting me. So, here's the story of the day. 

I started off with some excellent words of motivation in my head. Ginger put together a little book for me, much like the one Star made for Darris before Badwater, filled with messages from my friends. Little things, like a reminder to Harden the Fuck Up from Paul Gilman (a little taste of my own medicine there), a solid #chooseyourfriendsbetter from Kramer, and some very thoughtful advice from Brian O'Neill. O'Neill is my firefighter, Marine, literary genius, all around bad ass buddy from the Always Brothers family. He gave me a battle cry of sorts to carry with me for the day: Molon Labe, which basically means Come and Take. This was, reportedly, the reply King Leonidas gave to the Persians when they demanded the Spartans surrender their weapons at the Battle of Thermopylae. As we left the hotel at 3:30 am Saturday morning, I grabbed a sharpie and scrawled this mantra on my hand. 

The scene at the starting line was wild. 800 or so folks lined up and ready to attempt the feat of racing across the sky. At 4 am the gun (literally- no sissy starter pistol) went off and we began shuffling down 6th street towards Turquoise Lake. The first 13 miles ticked off uneventfully. I felt pretty good and made sure I didn't go out too fast. I was still unsure of how starting a race at 10,200 feet was going to feel. When we hit the single track around the lake, I settled in with a group moving a little slower than my planned pace. I was OK with that. I had figured out by mile 7 that going sub 25 was not really a realistic goal for me this year. I just couldn't maintain that pace without my heart rate going too high. No worries, though. I felt good at a slightly slower pace and wanted to make sure I followed the advice I'd been given: Be patient. The second half of the race can't happen if the first half kills you. I made it to May Queen (mile 13.2) feeling pretty good and was happy to see Ginger and Lois, who had everything I needed and quickly got me moving again. 

The climb away from May Queen up Hagerman Pass was much burlier than I had anticipated. The elevation was hurting me more than I thought it would. I felt slow and out of shape. But, I told the mountains to Come and Take and chatted with my fellow runners with a smile on my face. Silently suffering. The views were unreal. We climbed a thousand feet or so and looked back down that lake. All I could think was, "Damn, this place is gorgeous!"I really do love Leadville. The mountains are surreal. 

After the climb to the top of the pass, I careened my way down the Powerline to the aid station at Outward Bound (mile 23ish). Feeling a little rough from the climb, I was a little shaken by the fact that I was so far behind my goal pace and only an hour ahead of the cut off. I was going as fast as I could without blowing up. But, I just kept pushing. I reminded myself to enjoy the day- to enjoy the view. I wanted to take in the scene and remember that this was, as my "sister" Star said, "My Leadville Day" when she alluded to the St. Crispin's day speech from Henry V. I knew it didn't matter what pace I held. The only thing that mattered was that I held the best pace I could. So I did. Through the blazing sun I shuffled along. 

I can't say I really enjoyed the section between Outward Bound and HalfPipe. It was mostly road, and mostly exposed. I'm a trail runner. The scenery was nice, but were WAY too many cars on the road and it was HOT. But, I reminded myself that this was an Ultra and not a day on the beach. If it was easy, everyone would be here. If it was easy, my friends would not fly across the country to crew/pace me. It was easy, my friends would not wax poetic about St. Crispin or King Leonidas. If it was easy, I wouldn't be here because I wouldn't like it. I am a Marine, and I don't like things to be easy. So, I shuffled on. Telling myself to HTFU, drink water, and telling the damn course: Molon Labe. 

I rolled into  the Treeline crew station feeling very bad. I was hot, dizzy, and worried. I had been doing a run/walk combo for a few miles now. I was trying to follow the advice of not going out too fast, and I was losing way too much time. I was less than 45 minutes ahead of the cutoff. "WTF?! How is the happening," I asked myself. I trained my ass off for this, and couldn't understand why I was so slow. But, I perked up a bit when I saw Ginger and Lois. They gave me some much needed fluid, food, and sunscreen. I continued on towards Halfpipe feeling better. 

I got back into a running rhythm for a while, rolled through Halfpipe and started the climb towards the Mt. Elbert water station. Then, the wheels came off. I ate a Cheer Pack and promptly puked. "Shit," I thought, "these things ALWAYS work." Not this time. I was at mile 31 and life was NOT good. I walked for a while, got my stomach settled and distracted myself by talking to my fellow pilgrims on the road to pay homage at Hope Pass. The climb was rough. It seemed to last forever, but I finally hit the water station and began the decent to Twin Lakes. 

And, here the Persian Army of the Pbville course, took a little piece of me. It took the piece that mattered most for my race. I could not run the decent. Even though it was downhill, I would puke every time I tried to run. I couldn't understand it. I was hydrated. I had been eating well for the first 25 miles. I had settled my stomach after the mile 31 incident, but now at mile 37 or so, I was puking every time I tried to run. I needed to make up time. I'm usually a fast descender. I can make up time on a downhill without getting out of control. Not today. To make matters worse, walking down the hill was making my left knee feel like a knife was stuck in it. Not good. I wanted to quit. It's hard to admit that. But, I did want that more than anything-- for a minute. But, I knew that wasn't what I really wanted. What I really wanted was to fight these metaphorical Persians to the end. So I did. I kept pushing on, and I kept trying to have fun in the process. I chatted with folks who were also suffering on the decent and even scored a cold Coors as I approached Twin Lakes from a nice couple who'd come out to watch the carnage. 

"A Coors?! How can you drink a beer in the middle of a 100 miler?!" you ask- with a disapproving look. Yes, A Coors. I don't know why, but it made perfect sense to me. I wanted a beer. I was in a dark place and a beer seemed like a good flashlight. It was. I only drank half of it, and I started feeling better. I wish you could see the looks people were giving me as I rolled into the aid station at Twin Lakes with a water bottle in one hand and a beer in the other. Priceless. 

I was feeling better, but I knew time was not on my side. I told Ginger I was in trouble. I was only 15 minutes ahead of the cutoff entering Twin Lakes. I told her my knee was hurting and I thought I was done. She reminded me that I still had 15 minutes, and I might start feeling better soon. So, I changed my shoes, grabbed my coat in case weather came while I was on the Pass, and headed towards the climb at Mt Hope. 

I did feel better. I started running and the nausea was gone. My knee pain- gone. Wow, Coors is the wonder drug! The river crossing was refreshing and I was buoyed by the fact that I'd made it out of Twin Lakes before the leaders passed me on their way back to town. "Hell," I thought, "they are only 19 miles ahead of me. That ain't bad, really." And it isn't. I have no illusions about how these races go. I'm not there racing anyone else. I race myself and the course. And that race was going great again. 

Until the climb began. Mt. Hope punched me square in the jaw. Check out the elevation profile of the course here (remember the starting point is 10,152 feet): 

The last spike, that's the climb to Hope Pass. And this is where the taking happened. I promised myself I would tackle the trouble that came my way with a cheerful and resolute heart. I promised myself I'd wear the blackened eyes the course would give me with a smile and bounce higher every time I got knocked down. I did the best I could. The climb punched, and I absorbed. I could hardly breathe and each step seemed oddly difficult. The grade seemed way steeper than it really was. I knew the clock was ticking, but I soldiered on. I kept thinking, "If I can get to the Pass in time, I can make it to Winfield before the 6 pm cut no problem. It'll be downhill and I can run without puking now. But, it wasn't to be. I made it a half mile from the Hopeless Aid Station, and at mile 43.5 I was told by a course volunteer to turn back. I had missed the 4:15 cut off for Hopeless. My race was over. Well, I still had to descend the pass. I still had to go 4.5 miles to get back to Twin Lakes. 

It was brutal. I honestly don't remember the last time I set a goal and didn't make it like this. I mean, I've run races slower that I'd hoped, I'd had articles rejected at work, but I have never been cut from a race. I'd never let the metaphorical Persians Come and Take. I had a couple of hours to think about this as I slowly trudged back to Twin Lakes. And here's what I decided. 

They can still Molon Labe. Those bastards didn't really take anything from me. While I went to Leadville with the goal of a sub 25 finish (or at least a finish), I didn't fail. Sure, I didn't reach my race goal. But, that isn't the real reason I run. I run because it love it. I run because it lets me challenge myself- let's me find the ragged edge and look over it without any real danger. It also lets me honor my fallen brothers. Mostly importantly, it lets me see new places, and share them with people I love. Well, I did every bit of that at Leadville. I fought until the clock said I could fight no more, and I loved it all. 

Thanks to Ginger, Lois, Reeve, and Kramer for coming to support me. Thanks to all of my friends and family who sent me good vibes and words of encouragement. Now it's time to get on a place (if we don't miss this one), and go home. I miss my Yellow Buddy and Mookie. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

And once more into the breach we go...

So, here it is. About six months ago today, as I was recovering from the Rocky Raccoon 100, I pulled the trigger on Leadville. I've enjoyed every second of my training for this run-- even the seconds that sometimes felt like work-- especially the seconds that forced me to reach deep inside to keep moving forward. All the hay is officially in the barn. Ginger and I did nice 5 miles in Frisco, Colorado this morning  (9,100 feet), and I felt great! The legs are ready and the lungs are willing.

And now, it's time for the payoff. The prize. Race day. I'm am ready. I have put the time in. I have put the miles in, and I'm ready to enjoy some time on the mountain. It'll be hard. I will go to a dark place, but I will revel in the ability to challenge myself. To feel that rush of excitement when you know you are doing something difficult. And when it gets hard, I'll have lots to help me find my way out of the pain cave. First, I'll remember all the support and understanding that Ginger has given me. She has been great about indulging my love of going on long runs. She has always made me feel good about going out for a run. Second, I'll have the support of the rest of my family and friends who encouraged me and continue to encourage me. Reeve and Kramer are coming halfway across the country to pace me. I gotta put on a show! Third, I'll have the support of my brothers. My Always Brothers family who motivate me to push myself. Most notably, I'll have the memory of my boy Mike Boelk turning himself inside out last weekend as he ran 100 Miles in Seattle for Always Brothers. He and Chris Pratt ran all 100 miles in a little over 27 hours, and it was a thing of beauty. I have never seen someone willing to suffer as hard as Mike did. I have also never seen a group of men and women come together to support a goal like I did last weekend. I watched Dan push himself to unspeakable places to honor our cause. Countless people (I'm looking at you Tami and Barbara) ran more than twice their PR distances. Dan, Paul, Allen, Jim, Tami, Bob, and so many others (many of whom we'd never met) were there every step of the way to support Mike, Chris, and all the runners as we made out way to the finish. My Always Brothers family will be with me this weekend. I'll also be running for Tyler, Dustin and all of his Lima Co brothers, and all those who can't. So, yes, Leadville is for me, but it is also my way of honoring those who make it possible for us to seek out challenges like Leadville.

So with apologies to Edmund Vance Cooke, I allude to and borrow some of his fine words that Brian O'Neill shared with us in Ohio. I look forward to Saturday morning when I head out to tackle that trouble that I've brought my way. When it beats me to the earth, I vow to come up with a smile on my face until I reach the end. I will battle my best and be proud of any blackened eye that the mountains deal me. I will play my part in the world and give everything I have. Then, I will find some more to give.