Tundra to the Tropics- Running the HURT 100

It was a frigid eight below as I continued my trek up the mountain. My headlamp reflecting a white blur as blinding snow was coming in hard and rocking sideways. I’d been hiking straight uphill for over an hour and still had not reached the halfway point. Each step made harder as a I broke trail in a foot of snow, further hampered by my heavy pack. I crested the top just prior to daybreak, hopes running high that maybe today would be the one.

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It didn’t take long until daybreak threatened to light up the mountains and illuminate the elusive elk I’d been chasing all month. However, as darkness began to fade, it was obvious that I wouldn’t be glassing up elk anytime soon as the snow was still falling hard and visibility was a mere 100 yards.

I was pondering my next move when I started to shiver uncontrollably. Although adrenaline from elk hunting can sometimes cause me to shake, I knew most of this shiver was early onset hypothermia. In my hurried approach to reach the top and the extra effort from the deep snow, I failed to respect the cardinal rule and broke a sweat on the way in. Now subzero temperatures were freezing sweat on my skin and I was getting in a bad way fast.

Luckily, I was prepared. I swapped my wet shirt for a dry one and donned an extra jacket before descending in the trees to start a fire. It worked, and in no time, I was feeling much better. Sitting on a log, I soaked up the fires warmth and waited out the storm.

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Around noon, the snow finally stopped and gave way to a beautiful sun-filled sky. I wasted no time and hightailed it back to my perch on the mountain top and almost immediately spied a group of elk. They were heading towards an open hillside about a mile across the canyon from me. Game on!

I took off running, or more accurately slipping and sliding through the trees in a controlled fall all the way down to the bottom of the very steep canyon. I was moving fast and tried to block out the fact that no matter what happened, I’d have to claw my way back up this beast later today. For now, that didn’t matter at all. I was a man on a mission and had to make it to that hillside before the elk did. I jumped the frozen creek at the bottom and started my ascent, being mindful to pace and not break a sweat as I already spent my insurance policy.

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Frozen stairway to heaven

One post hole step at a time my excitement climbed as I neared the opening. Staying hidden in the trees, I carefully combed the area with my binoculars but failed to spot a single hide, only spotting fresh tracks in the snow. It appeared I was too slow, they already made it through the clearing and were likely now in the next basin over. I think I was already on plan G or H at that point, so I figured I might as well keep hiking in further.

I ended up following those tracks another 2 miles until I reluctantly decided that I better give in and turn around. I was deep in that wilderness, alone as usual, and the snow had returned with vengeance. Once the decision was made I turned an about face, put one foot in front of the other and started the long retreat to my truck. My stomach growled, my face was frozen, and I was exhausted. Despite all this, I managed to maintain a little smirk all the way out as I was in my ‘special place’ pushing through limits and loving every minute.

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I wasn’t having any luck stocking the freezer, but I was gaining incredible endurance and fitness in addition to sharpening my mental edge. I knew these attributes would ultimately provide me with the best possible chance at success on this hunt. I was also hoping they would help carry me to a finish in my upcoming HURT 100mile ultramarathon in Hawaii.

Living in the frozen paradise of Montana forced me to be creative in developing my training for a long distance run through the Hawaiian jungle in January. This hunt was the headliner of my plan. For the past several years Ive reaped the benefits of my early spring/summer ultra training during hunting season and I figured why not reverse course? Instead of training to hunt, why not hunt to train? If my plan went perfectly, I’d also collect some amazing wild protein that could be used as my fuel.  

This may have sounded like a great idea, but this hunt was beating me down. As November neared the end, I decided that I was going to quit. This traditional muzzleloader hunt was just too hard, too extreme. I wimped out and threw in the towel. After hiking off the mountain, I drove home and went back to work, even though I had the day off. While back, Lori, one of my colleagues, asked to see a picture of my bull. When I told her I was unsuccessful and had no plans to return, she shook her head in disbelief. She knew my larger plans and mumbled something like “hmmm, I never knew you to be a quitter” and left. This was the first time I’ve ever heard my name associated with the word quitter and I didn’t like it, not one bit.

I stewed on that all day and by the afternoon I talked myself into giving it another go. I still had one more day left in the hunt and decided to throw it all out there one last time. Almost instantly upon reaching that decision, all my negative thoughts transformed into positive visions of success, my tired legs miraculously felt fresh and I was excited and ready to tackle another marathon hunt.

I wasn’t a quitter. In fact, I didn’t even sleep that night, opting instead to leave in the middle of the night so I could hike under moonlight to the exact place I watched a bull in my binos a few days prior, way back. I guess you could say when the morning finally arrived that, well,I got lucky’. I was simply in the right place at the right time😊. After giving many thanks and experiencing an awesome and grueling pack out (Thanks Kascht man!) this training block was now complete!

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My next training block also capitalized on another non-running sport, downhill skiing. My family loves to ski, so every weekend in December, and every day of Christmas break, we would be shredding at Bridger Bowl. Only now, I’d also follow with a run on tired legs. As my training peaked I even expand this to include daily doubles. Skiing all day Saturday, then running 20 miles at night, go to bed exhausted for a few before running another 20 in the predawn, before skiing all day again on Sunday. It was punishing, and kind of fun. Just as my body was adapting it was January and time to taper.

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One week prior to the race, I left the tundra of Montana and landed on the tropical paradise of Hawaii with my wife (Melissa), both kids (Madison and Mason), my mom (Darlene) and step father (Kit). It was beautiful, sunny and warm. The best ‘taper’ week and family vacation ever. Although honestly, it’s hard to call it a true taper with all the swimming, snorkeling, boogie boarding and ‘shake out’ runs along the beaches. I gorged myself each day on fresh mangos, papayas and pineapples and consumed too many avocados to count.The week was mentally relaxing, I didn’t even think about the race until Friday when I flew from the Big Island to Oahu.

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Once we landed, the gravity of the situation began to surface and my mind began messing with me. The bottom of my foot was now bothering me, my shoulder was hurting something awful and now I was worried that I suddenly developed a cavity. I know from experience that these were mind tricks played in deep taper, but it didn’t make it feel any less real. I honestly thought it was a real possibility that I wouldn’t even make it around the first 20 mile loop in the sorry shape I was in. Melissa was outstanding, she just rubbed my feet while we chilled next to the ocean and reassured me that I was going to be just fine.

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It was soon time to meet my new friends and pacers Justin and Christina (Many thanks to Nikki and Alyssa for hooking me up with these rock stars). Justin had completed the race last year (Heck ya brother) and Christina was a seasoned marathoner, but this would be her trail running debut (talk about jumping in with both feet). They both seemed like great people and I was stoked to have the chance to run with them. First tough, I had to make it to mile 60.

I awoke fresh at 4am, grabbed my gear and snuck out of our hotel room to avoid waking the kids. They were on the official race ‘crew’ and would have to get all the sleep they could now. Melissa and my mom swung by McDonalds on the way to pick up a breakfast burrito before hitting the start line. Unfortunately, my mind was so fixated on my hurting foot that right before the race began I realized I forgot to eat it. Oh well, freak not right? Next thing I knew we were off.

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I’ve learned by now that a 100 mile event is really an 80 mile warm up followed by a 20 mile race. My strategy was simple and the same as always as I’d start slow and then taper from there. I jockeyed for last position as we began our first climb up this amazing mountain.

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Photo by: Augusto Decastro

The trail started dry and dusty, with an abundance of rocks and roots that seemingly grew horizontally from the trees. Each step carefully placed to avoid rolling an ankle. And the grade, it’s straight the heck up, for miles. It’s dark, but daybreak isn’t far off. I hear roosters, or ‘junglefowl’ as the locals call them, beginning to crow. It’s the coolest part of the day, and I’m already sweating profusely. The heat and humidity is for real and is the exact opposite of what I’m used to. Oh, my foot, shoulder and tooth? It’s funny, they’re all better now. I’m in my zone and loving it!

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As night gives way to light, this eerie world transforms into a most stunning scenery imaginable. Seriously, you should think Jurassic park. The trails are totally insane, pig trails, that now double as a race course. The overgrown roots are one prominent feature, the other is the sheer drop offs your constantly running alongside. A slip or fall could mean real consequences, so your mental focus has to stay sharp. The smells of the tropics are also extreme, and every sensor of your body is engaged. I figured out early that it’s costing me additional energy and remind myself to stay on the nutrition.

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After reaching the first summit, I find myself cruising a technical downhill into the Paradise Park, the first aid station. Although tempting to bomb this section, as I love to do that, I’m measured and reserved and instead focus on draining each of my water bottles before I arrive. Because of the heat and humidity, Im carrying 3, 16 ounce bottles and hoping to stay hydrated. In addition to the incredible course, I’m also enjoying meeting all the people from other counties. It was so cool to run with people that were in the special forces, fire fighters, and professional athletes. Everyone was super positive and a total bad ass.

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The aid stations and volunteers at HURT are legendary. I was excited to experience the pirates first hand and I can attest they did not disappoint! These incredible people go way above the call of duty and will do practically anything simply to help YOU succeed. It’s the definition of selflessness and I was so appreciative. I was feeling fabulous actually (good thing as I only traveled about 7 miles so far), filled my bottles, grabbed some chow and headed back out. As I said goodbye I remembered that I’d actually get to say that to them another 4 times before I was done. I was in 116th place out of 135.

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I resist the urge to run the slight uphill out of the aid station. My plan from the beginning was to hike all the ups, and run the flats and downs. I needed to maintain discipline. Instead of running here, I took the time to really look around and see the amazing trees, the hanging vines, the massive waterfalls. I even spotted a parakeet in a tree, not something you see in Montana everyday. I was in a trance, when I slipped and fell. My elbow smacking into a rock hard. It hurt, but it wasn’t broken. That was my early wake up call, don’t let your guard down. My eyes fixated back on the trail and I continued my ascent.

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After the summit, the next section was plain awesome and had some great downhill running. It was crazy how many micro climates there were on this trail, where the soil, vegetation and weather would all change dramatically. Although there were places in the trail that were muddy, it was mostly dry and I was thankful for that (probably should have knocked on wood after I thought that). Passed a few runners but tried to maintain a slow and even pace as I approached Nu’uannu, the second aid station. I loved the rocking music and greeters that met you as you forded the creek to enter the site. More amazing volunteers, another quick refuel and I was back on the trail. Next stop would be the nature center, which was also the start/finish where my ‘crew’ awaited me.

I really don’t remember running downhill for this long. That was the thought running on loop in my head as I scaled the mountain I had just run down. This climb was a beast and I would have to do it 4 more times… yikes. It was my very first lap and it already sucked. Eventually I reached the top and was treated to the best single track downhill of the entire course. It ran along a fairly intimidating cliff, but was far less technical than the rest. I kind of let loose here a bit, but managed to slow myself as I started to pass folks. Pace, pace, pace.

Before long I was coasting back to the nature center. I was so excited to see my family and they were prepared, like a well-oiled pit crew. Mason would grab me food, mom and Madison would fill my bottles, Melissa would help change my socks and fill my ice bandana, while Kit would help grab me drinks. We were in and out in a matter of minutes and I was feeling great!

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The second time around the course proved a bit more difficult as the temps were rising and the miles accumulating. The ice bandana was helping as did the fact that I made myself drink all 3 water bottles between each station. I was hydrated, eating well and maintaining a sustainable pace. Each time I saw my family, the volunteers, or the HURT patrol (studs that wandered the course giving positive energy to those in need) I was uplifted and recharged. All things considered, Lap 2 was pretty darn good to me, 40 miles down, 69th place!

As I began loop 3 it was still light but night fall was coming fast. The closed canopy of the rainforest greatly limited the amount of light and visibility was tough. I left prepared with several high quality lights at the ready. It didn’t take long before I was burning the halogens and noticing how the trail was changing with the shadows. It was a totally different course and I’d say concentration had to increase 2 fold. It was also kind of eerie out there by yourself as you expected a T Rex or something similar at any point. As I began my big decent in the darkness, I heard this amazing sound. It sounded like a beautiful wind chime. Turns out, I was running through a forest of bamboo and they were swaying and hitting one another, in the wind. I maintained a perma-grin as I floated through this crazy land.

Although the wind made for beautiful sounds, it also brought in a torrential downpour. They measure rain here in units of inches per hour, a little different than our inches per year back home. The relatively dry trails we were blessed to run on for the first half were instantly transformed into a muddy and slick mess. I couldn’t stop laughing as it seems every ultra I’ve done recently has ended in a mud fest. I just embraced it, at least it wasn’t eight below!

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For the most part I enjoyed my solo night time run during loop 3 and was still feeling strong and positive. Although I did fall a few times, I was really pleased with the shape I was in after finishing marathon number 2. I was slowly working my up in the field and was now in 58th place. My only real problem was the growing blisters on my feet from the constant wet and slippery terrain. and the fact that I was just plaingetting tired.

I was overjoyed when I pulled into the nature center to see that my kids were still up and going strong. It was the middle of the night and they were out there supporting me. What studs! I also realized that I only had one more loop left in my warm up and that was going to run with my new buddy Justin! He was hard to miss, all dressed up for the occasion and sporting a nice little tutu. He told me that he’d provide a skirt for me to chase all night… and to ‘catch me if you can. He was crazy, I would laugh for hours.

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He was an awesome pacer. Telling quirky jokes, playing tour guide while identifying the vegetation we were running though as well as the local bird songs as they began to awaken. I listened intently as it was working to take my mind off the immense pain I was starting to experience. I remember telling him about elk and how much I loved hunting them back home. We chatted for hours, slowly made forward progress and moved into position 55. Although this loop was by far my hardest, I took solstice when he explained how this lap was also his hardest and that loop 5 would so much better.

It was well into Sunday morning when we arrived back at the start to meet up with Christiana. I was firmly trapped inside my pain cave and was wondering if I could go on. My stomach and hydration were spot on, but my feet were a total wreck. I was nervous to remove my shoes, but I had no choice.

I sat in the chair while my family once again provided me with first rate pit crew services. My kids were running fast to grab dad coffee, food, water, or whatever else I asked for. I consumed the calories and tried to get control of my mind, I made the mistake and looked down to catch the look on my mom’s face as she removed my socks. Next thing I knew a medic was there lancing and wrapping them back up. I tried to find my happy place and stuffed my poor swollen, water logged and blistered feet back into my wet and muddy shoes. I made eye contact with Christina and asked if she was ready. Without hesitation she said,‘heck ya’ and we were off… our victory lap had begun.

It didn’t take long into our first climb that Christina transferred her positive energy directly to me. I was feeling better and was looking forward to saying goodbye to every part of the trail we passed. Justin was right, I was catching another wind and was having a ball. I soaked up all the stories she shared with me and felt no pain. Honestly, I felt like I was flying. My biggest worry in fact was that my family would never have time to get to the next aid station before we would as we were moving so fast. I chuckle now to envision the look on Christiana’s face when I kept saying that. She reaffirmed that we were moving great but that I shouldn’t worry about Melissa. I learned later that they had been waiting for more than an hour for our arrival.

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The day was as beautiful as it gets. All sunshine, no rain. The trails were still plenty muddy but at least we were no longer getting soaked. We laughed and joked all the way to the next aid station as I pointed out all the places I had fallen through the night. We were both feeling it and flashed big smiles as the music blared and we cruised into Nu’Uanu at mile 93 for one last time. I remember tasting the best smoothies of my life here and they just kept em coming. We didn’t stay long though. Madison stuffed a special i-pod in my pack that was loaded with handpicked surprise tunes for the last few downhill miles. Mason fist bumped me and gave me what was left of elk jerky. Yep, this was indeed jerky I made and carried all the way here from Montana for this very occasion. That monarch bull had been providing my protein this entire journey!

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We were pumped as we rolled out of that station for the last time, dead set on finishing strong. Well, it didn’t take too long for the euphoria to die as we slowly climbed that freakin mountain that never ends. Honestly, at this point I was over it, and ready to be done. I had seen the sun rise two different times during this race and I was beyond tired. Thank God for Christina. She was relentless and just kept pushing me. Constantly telling me how tough I was, reminding me that pain in just weakness leaving the body and how we were nearing our last 10k of the race. Heck, we eat those before breakfast Griffiths, let’s go!

I reached back in my memory and took hold of the mental image of my recent elk hunt, specifically remembering a shot of that frozen staircase to heaven. I vividly remembered how hard I pushed to keep going, and how sweet it was at the end. I could do this. One step at a time, together, we climbed that dang mountain, and said good bye.

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I’m really not sure what wind we were experiencing at this point, but we riding an unbelievable high. We fist bumped at the top, I slipped in my earbuds and hit play on that special ipod. We bolted down the hill like two kids running through a playground and I laughed as I rocked out to tunes like Me Too and No Excuses. It was an ‘out of body like’ awesome experience, specially reserved for those willing to run 96 miles! All was right in the world… until suddenly it wasn’t.

We were less than a half a mile from the finish when I just kind of lost it. Not sure what exactly happened but I was in so much pain, I just wanted to stop right there and be done. Every step was excruciating. I felt my victory lap slipping. Christina, like a seasoned pro, pushed me harder, told me to suck it up and get it together. My kids were waiting and we needed to finish strong for them. I strained hard and somehow managed to regain control of my mind and once again blocked the pain.

Although we continued to make steady forward progress, my mind was working overtime to convince my body to ignore the pain. It was a weird place I’ve never been before. I was so focused on keeping pain at bay that I didn’t even notice as I passed my kids.  They were staked out a hundred yards from the finish and were now running behind me to bring me home. It was almost a dream.

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After 34 hours and 37 minutes of running 100 miles, I was standing just feet front of the finish line. The ‘line’ was actually a sign in the grass that read, ‘AOLE MAKOU E HO’OHIKIWALE KELA. Translation… We wouldn’t want it to be easy! They sure nailed that one I thought to myself as I reached down and kissed that glorious sign before teaming with my kids to ring the final bell. I was both exhausted and elated.

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My amazing team and I had done it, together we joined the special HURT OHANA (extended family)!

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Photo by: Augusto Decastro

Many thanks to everyone who chipped in and helped make this ‘bucket list’ adventure a reality. I could never have made it without each of your assistance. For that, I’m forever grateful

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Photo by: Augusto Decastro

In perhaps the most spot on symboly possible, my good friend and mentor Nikki Kimball created me the coolest price of artwork ever. It’s a beautiful bull elk with a tag in his antlers that reads, “Camp HURT 100”. Mahalo.

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HURT by the numbers-

Total elevation climbed in race (24,500). This is equivalent to running straight up 4.64 miles.
Total water carried and consumed between aid stations (5.625 Gallons). This means that I also carried 46.9 pounds of water with me.
Total calories burned (21,000). This is equivalent to 10.5 days’ worth of the daily recommended 2,000 calorie diet.
Pairs of Hoka trail shoes destroyed (2). Trust me, they are completely trashed.

 

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Great Weather Makes Terrible Stories Bighorn 100: 2018

2017 was truly one for the record books in terms of extreme conditions at the Bighorn 100-mile trail race. Every surviving soul will attest to the horrific conditions that transformed an already difficult race into an almost impossible one. In fact, the race website proudly displays a pair of mud caked legs on its home page with a caption that reads, “2017- The Year of the Mud”. I was there and did battle with that mountain for more than 32 hours. Trust me when I say that conditions were really, That Bad! Unrelenting rain, mud, snow, wind and freezing overnight temps all contributed to force over half of all participants to earn a DNF. Although it wasn’t pretty, I was fortune enough to be one of the few that crossed the finish line.

Perhaps it speaks to my limited short-term memory of how hard or painful that run was, but as summer and fall wore on I began to contemplate a rematch with Bighorn. Although I had finished the race, for the second year on a row, I just felt like I could do so much better. I longed for ‘normal’ conditions to run it and find out what my true potential was. After waiting till the very last minute to sign up, I logged in, closed my eyes and pulled the trigger. My re-match was set!

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I began seriously training in early December, determined to show up in 2018 in the shape of my life. My training regime was kind of crazy and shifted with the seasons to take advantage of mother nature and varying opportunities. This meant I was running lots of sub-zero Montana nights with headlamps burning after work. I skied the powder hard every weekend and typically followed those workouts with trots on tired legs. I even incorporated frozen Bridger M laps to my training in mid-winter, where micro spikes allowed me to bomb the steep decent on nothing more than a sheet of ice. Many of my runs were solo, but I also hooked up as often as I could with my buddies. This is a great group of folks that are always ready to create an adventure, help push each other to be better and providing constant motivation. I thoroughly enjoyed all the winter and spring training blocks and am very proud of the fact that that not a single mile as ever logged indoors or on a treadmill.

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For my last long effort, I joined my friends Gibb, Nikki and Becky down in Colorado for a race called the Quad Rock 50. This was supposed to be a killer race, with tons of vertical climbs (11,000 feet), and would provide a perfect peak training for Bighorn. My goal was to simulate the last 50 miles of a 100 mile run, meaning I had to show up at the start line already trashed and tired. I started the week with M laps, followed those with a hard speed workout, and then ran 10 mountain miles with Gibb through Rocky Mountain Park the day prior. It worked, and I was tired while standing on the starting line. I was also wet as it was pouring rain. The rain never quit, and the beautiful course was turned into a mud pit that stretched for 50 miles. I could hear many runners complaining about how bad these conditions were. I quietly smirked as I thought about how bad is a relative term, for this was nothing compared to Bighorn in 17. I also had this running in the mud thing somewhat figured out and looked at it as a huge advantage. I executed my race plan perfectly, starting slow and in the back and then steadily moved my way up through the field all day. It felt great and I ended up running a great race for me. With this in my rear view I couldn’t wait to see what I could do on a dry Bighorn course only a month away!

Time went by, albeit it slowly, and soon I was entering my BH taper. In 3 weeks I would go from running an 80-mile week, down to a 40, then a 20, and then a mere 8 the week of the race. This taper period sucks as your body goes through significant changes that greatly impacts your mind. Now’s also a good time I should apologize to my lovely wife and everyone else that I had contact with in those final weeks for all my ‘taper tantrums’. Sorry.  The craziest part is the final week, where all the many months of real work have been done and the only job you have is to not get injured. Wouldn’t you know it, but somehow I managed to slip on the floor in my house and was thoroughly convinced that I just pulled a hip flexor and was doomed. The next day (Tuesday of race day) I made an ‘emergency’ trip for PT and after careful examination I learned that I was 100 percent healthy and the ‘injury’ was simply an imagination in my head. After this diagnosis when I returned home, I never felt the pain again. That night however I dreamed that I had somehow forgotten how to run. I woke up in a panic, threw on my shoes and headlamp and proceeded to pound out 5 miles around town. Not only had I remembered how to run, but those 5 miles were absolutely pain free and I was flying! Thank goodness my taper was coming to an end, I needed my sanity back!

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Finally race day was here and it was picture-perfect in every respect. The weather was beautiful, overcast, cool and dry.  I was feeling fabulous and was pre-fueled with delicious elk burgers from the night before and my standard bacon, eggs and avocado breakfast. I also had the most amazing team to share the journey with. This year I was again blessed to have Melissa, my son Mason and my buddy Blaise on the crew as well as our friends Jenna, Dave and Lori. It was also really cool to have my mom and Kit there to experience their first 100 miler. And believe me, nobody needs to tell me just how lucky I am to have world class ultramarathoner Nikki Kimball and the super tough Anne Riche there to run alongside me for much of the race! You simply couldn’t get a better team in your corner. Being totally honest here, my biggest fear was that my pacers would end up dropping me. As we walked to the start line I checked my phone one last time and chucked when I saw a text from my daughter Madison who was in Utah at a swim camp. It read, “Dad, I hope you have the best race of your life! Listen to your body (not really) and go kick some asteroids!”. That was just what I needed. Then we were off.

99915E5D-8CC2-4E93-A1F1-4FD436F924BAApproximately 350 excited and nervous individuals toed that starting line and immediately began to develop a long string of runners along the first mile of course. There were several that took off really fast like it was a 10K with many others slightly slower in their wake. And then there was me, neatly tucked away near the very back of the pack slowly making forward progress as efficiently as possible. I knew this course well and the first 8 mile climb was a monster. You could easily blow your whole race here if you went out to fast. I learned the hard way how essential proper pacing was from the first mile to the last and as the road gave way to single track I was on my perfect pace, switching instinctively from my jog to a hike as the trail tipped skyward. I was still feeling wonderful and conditions remained perfect. Only 98 more miles to go.

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I continued to maintain a low HR for the entire climb and ended up passing a few runners along the way, each transferring a bit of their energy to me. I was soaking it up and thinking about anything but how far I had to run that day, and the next. In fact, I was only focused on my first ‘race’ which was actually only a half marathon or so. This was the first major aid station Dryfork. All I really planned to do here was show up super fresh, fill my water, grab some gels and be off again. If only 100-mile races ever went as planned. I was about 10 miles in and I realized that my socks were rubbing my ankles badly and would surely cause problems down the road. Full disclosure, I had never worn these socks before as I had just bought them the day before because I accidentally packed my ‘race socks’ in my drop bags and had turned them in already. I felt like an absolute idiot to make such a rookie move but as soon as I rolled into Dryfork I informed my crew and they wasted no time helping change them out. In a few short minutes I had my ‘comfort’ socks on, was refueled and charging down the next hill. Next time I would see them would be Footbridge at mile 30.

I can move along pretty fast going downhills while still maintaining optimum heart rate and since this section was a net downhill, I planned to pick up the pace a bit. As I did I began to catch people, and each time I would slow and monitor my HR and when when confident I was still running conservatively, I’d go ahead and pass. The very first pair of runners I caught up with were 2 nice ladies and they were chatting it up. I laughed when I overheard their conversation as they were talking about how cool that was that they just saw Nikki Kimball at the last aid station and how she cheered them on. I smiled as I passed them without saying a word.

I was riding a wave of great energy at this point, cruising along effortlessly, when the first whiff of the infamous ‘bacon aid station’ signaled I was close to cow camp. I love this section of the course and I knew that after I pounded some bacon here, all I had was one more station between me and Footbridge. Side note: I still kind of feel bad about how many pieces of bacon I took at this station. It was incredible fuel and I stuffed a little extra in my vest for an inevitable low I knew was sure to encounter.

Not long after leaving Cow Camp, the temperature dropped and I had to put on my light (not waterproof) windbreaker. The weather was changing rapidly and in a matter of minutes the sky was very dark and electricity filled the air! Holy cow, the thunder hit so hard and carried with it huge and torrential raindrops that turned our beautiful dry trails into a nasty, sticky muddy mess. All this happened before I even reached Bear Camp, hours before the rains started in 2017. I tried to stay positive, but as mud started to cake up on my shoes and I began to slip around I was getting a little frustrated. I flew, or slid rather, through Bear Camp and was beginning the 4 mile decent down the Wall into Footbridge. The trail was a total disaster, but somehow I was still running and running fairly well. Most of the runners ahead of me were struggling with the muddy decent and I began to pass a lot of them. The combination of my tunes rocking, running like a crazy kid down the muddy slopes, passing runners all while getting pelted with huge balls of hail somehow picked my attitude up and made me smile again. Adrenaline had me going a bit hot here and I had to slow before Footbridge. I was picking up Nikki here and had to be fresh after my 30-mile warm up!

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When I pulled into Footbridge it was absolutely pouring rain. Everyone was huddled under blue tarps that had rivers flowing from them. I was soaked to the core and my crew told me I needed to take a few minutes and have a full change of clothes. While I sipped warm broth, these amazing teammates somehow helped me refuel my vest, change into a dry long-sleeve shirt, put on insulated tights, swap my glasses and hat for a beanie, headlamp and gloves and then put on a teal color waterproof jacket that I’d never seen before over the whole works (Thank You AnneJ). My mom had this twinkle in her eyes and was so fired up! Unbeknownst to her, I borrowed that energy as well. Now I was warm, feeling great and ready to start my next ‘race’, an 18-mile uphill trek to see Blaise at Jaws! Oh… and I was running this race with none other than Nikki Kimball. I can’t tell you how relieved I was that I was feeling so good at this point. I knew she was going to push me to my limits and I wanted so bad to be able to leave it all on the field.

Our plan for this section was the same as before, run every flat and down while hiking the ups, all while maintaining my target HR. Only this time, I put my watch in my vest to charge and would be making adjustments based on feel. She stayed right on my heels and let me dictate the pace, and while telling  me story after story of the amazing races she’s run, the places she’s been and the people she’s met. It was incredible. I was able to keep moving well while my mind rested and drifted to faraway places and adventures. I honestly forgot that we were in the midst of a 100-mile journey and even failed to notice that the rain had suddenly stopped. We were right on schedule, flying through the aid stations and even passed a couple runners along the way. I was on top of my hydration and nutrition and things were good. As nightfall neared, we met the race leaders as they had already made it to Jaws and were on their way back. Nikki made a very unique greeting and cheering sound to each one as they approached, and it seems that she knew them all as they each greeted her by name as they passed. We turned on our headlamps shortly before making it to Jaws (48 miles in), right on pace!

Jaws is a major milestone in this race. It’s really the ½ way point where you get to turn around and run towards the finish line instead of away from it It’s also the high point in elevation, but also represents the low point and drop point for many folks. Last year this was where Gibb and I almost succumbed to hypothermia and the amazing volunteers and Blaise revived us. This year was much different. We were still wet and muddy, but not freezing cold. I was slightly tired but more Ok than in years prior. The only nagging thing I had was a sharp pain in the front of my left leg at the lower part of my shin. We tucked in the tent with Blaise to check it out, chug some broth and get started on the downhill. Nikki determined my pain actually stemmed from a pissed off tendon that was irritated and inflamed but was not something that was serious or would cause long term damage. She predicted that the flats and ups were going to hurt but it should loosen up on the downhills. I just finished drinking the big cup of broth when this guy came in, sat right by me and proceeded to empty the contents of his stomach right then and there, even splattering some on my legs. This was bad and I feared that this experience was going to come back to haunt me.

We quickly left and began to jog/walk up the road. My leg was fairly painful and I was kind of worrying about it when all of a sudden I stepped right into a pile of fresh vomit. Yuck! Although up until this point my stomach was fine, this one two punch changed everything and I reactively threw up everything I had just consumed. After 3 or 4 more tries, my stomach was void of anything at all. Nikki just played it cool and asked me, rather matter of fact like, if I was all done and ready to run. I was so freaked out, I had never thrown up like that before and I know how important the hydration and nutrition is. Was I doomed? She told me to calm down and explained that this is exactly the reason I’ve been on a high fat low carb diet for the past few months. My body would get the fuel it needs from my own stored fat and she instructed me to simply suck on a jolly rancher, buck up and run this thing. I popped a Jolly Rancher in my mouth, put in my ear buds, turned up the tunes and started to jog down the hill.

Just as she predicted, my leg loosened up, my stomach felt fine and I began to run confidently and pain free again. The rain had started back up, but I was handling the mud just fine. In fact, I was really starting to pick off racers and each time I did, I’d get a little bolt of juice and use it to go even faster.  Since all I ate were Jolly Ranchers, the aid station stops were very minimal, and we were flying. At one point I was in my zone, music rocking, rain pounding when I noticed it was dark behind me. Oh no… where’s Nikki? It didn’t take too long but soon she came around the corner and caught up to me covered in mud. She had lost traction in the mud and fallen. She said something like, “you gapped me?” Now let me be perfectly clear here. I’ve ran with Nikki many, many times and never once have I ever “gapped her” on any course or run EVER so this was a brand-new experience for me. And at mile 55 or so in a 100-mile race, I fed off it like pure unfiltered adrenaline. I didn’t care if it was simply because she had the wrong shoes for the conditions and I had the perfect ones, but if I could gap Nikki on each of the downhills, this was going to be a very fast 18 miles for me! And it was- I was on an 18-mile high as we entered Footbridge just before 4am, a full 2 hours ahead of my personal best to date.

My mom and Kit were anxiously awaiting our arrival here. Again, there was an energy transfer and since we didn’t really need much, we were in and out in pretty good time. One thing I did grab here was my poles for the 4-mile trek up the muddy wall. My leg didn’t hurt at all, Jolly ranchers were still my only ‘food’ and we began our ascent in the rainy dark. This is where the run started to suck. Every step up resulted in 3-4 inches slid back and to make matters worse my tendon was getting super mad at me which caused massive pain. I had my earbuds out again and tried to listen to more of Nikki’s jokes and stories but found myself fixating on the pain. Dang it this hurt. As we neared the top it began to get light and I was so ready to be done. As we cruised into Bear Camp at the top of the climb I smiled as I noticed a very fresh pile of bear scat in the trail. I may have secretly wished that he would attack me, but not kill me, and make this run come to an end.

When we arrived at the aid station the nice lady asked if we needed anything. I instinctively filled my water and then turned and asked Nikki if it was ok if I had a High Chew candy? I had only eaten the Jolly Ranchers since mile 48 and was so scared I would throw up again if I ate the wrong thing. Well the lady didn’t know any of the backstory and started laughing hysterically. She said to Nikki, ‘did he really just ask you if it was ok if he had some food’? Without missing a beat Nikki fired back, ‘he sure did, his wife has him trained up really good’. As we left Nikki kept laughing telling me how excited she was to tell Melissa about that exchange. I wasn’t firing on all cylinders at this point and failed to see the humor. I was now officially in my own personal pain cave.

Once on top, the course has several miles of ‘rollers’ that have kicked my butt every time. Although my stomach was feeling great and I had plenty of energy, despite fueling solely on Jolly Ranchers and a couple High Chews, every hill would cause my tendon to seize up and just when I’d get it loosened up on the downhill and start running well again, the grade would switch back to up and it was hurt again. Stopping really caused me to seize and Nikki realized all of this and had we walk through each station and never stop. She also encouraged me to grab another handful of bacon as we came through Cow Camp as it would likely sit well with me. I did everything she instructed and then politely let her know how much I appreciated all her great coaching and pacing and that this would be my very last run, a grand finale of sorts. She just laughed. I was dead serious. I couldn’t wait to be done.

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Finally, the Dryfork aid station came into view and in a few short (or not so short) miles, we would be at Nikki’s drop off point and I’d hit mile 82.5 of the race. Nikki kept telling me how excited Anne was to ‘run’ with me and how she really needed a good workout today for her training. She explained how I could put on dry socks while she taped up my leg and then mentioned something about a 5-minute nap. Well, that’s the only part I remember fixating on and that was my sole motivation for moving forward to the aid station. We ended up getting passed for the very first time in the entire race by a pair of 100 milers on the final climb to the aid station. This was my lowest point of the race.

I remember seeing Anne as we pulled into Dry Fork. She had a million-dollar smile as she greeted us but was also all about business. She quickly led us to the back tent where they had a massage table set up that I was supposed to lay down on as Nikki fixed up my leg while Anne helped me swap out the gear so we could pound out the last 18 miles together. She also brought me some broth and after receiving the go ahead from Nikki J,  I went ahead and drank it down. In what seemed like no time, they were done and I was so excited to take my 5 minute nap. I started to lay back on the table and shut my eyes when Nikki informed me that it was time for me to leave and the nap would have to wait until I it the grass at the finish line in Dayton. I kind of lost it. I started to cry, called her a liar, and told her she tricked me. She helped me up, told me to get my butt out there and that she’d see us at the finish line. Oh and to have fun!

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Not 2 minutes later, I’m hiking up the road with Anne, smiling, laughing it up and having a great time. It really felt like a brand-new race and I was jacked! Nikki had told me it was like getting a huge energy boost with every new pacer and boy was she right. As we hiked that first hill Anne told me that the 18-mile race had started 30 minutes prior. She thought we could catch some of them and encouraged me to try. Together we devised a plan to maximize speed for this 18-mile race we were now late for. Our plan was extremely simple. We would hike this first hill, then slowly jog the gentle downhill grade and stretch out my tendon until we hit the last uphill at the mini-wall. Here we would power hike it up and then once on top we would run as hard as I could until Tounge River road where we’d jog/walk the last 5 miles to the park. She would keep track of anyone we passed and keep telling me our current number.

They say a 100-mile race is really much more like an 80-mile warm up for a 20-mile run. I couldn’t agree more. This last section has seriously kicked my butt in years past. In 2016, this last 18 miles took me 8 hours to traverse, in 2017 I ‘improved’ that to a dismal 6. I really needed to dig deep and figured if everything went perfect for me today, I maybe could do it in just under 5. Before long we crested the top of the grade and began our slow jog to stretch things out. Anne was chatting it up and I was enjoying her stories as I focused solely on running form and stretching the tendon. Although Anne didn’t know it yet, I had secretly stashed the energy she provided and was going to let it all out once we reached the top of the mini-wall. With each passing mile, my leg felt better and I was getting excited about the big decent. Out of nowhere there appeared a couple 18-mile runners in the trail ahead. I was so excited to catch them and pass them that I automatically picked up the pace a bit. After passing each one Anne would tell me our revised number and I’d smile a bit more. By the time we reached the next aid station we had passed something like 15!

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Now I was feeling pretty spry and even grazed on some fresh fruit as we cruised through the aid station without really stopping. We continued our trot until reaching the base of the mini-wall. I was a bit concerned my shin would again seize up on the climb but instead of fixating on it, I just listed to Anne and her constant chatter. It was nice to think about anything but being at mile 89 or so in a race. In crazy fast time we were at the top, my leg didn’t hurt too bad and I was almost giddy to bomb the decent. I chuckled as I put in my earbuds, gave a fist bump to Anne and said, “let’s do this… and please keep the trail ahead of me clear and keep the count”!

I turned the volume up and we took off. I could see the next runners way down the hill but knew we’d be seeing them up close in no time. We kept picking up steam and soon enough were hunting down the next pack. It was awesome and I could hear Anne yelling over my music, “runner coming though, runner coming through” and people consistently cleared the path so we could pass by. I only wish that I could have been able to see Anne’s face to get her reaction as to how fast we were moving this late in the race. As the muddy trail continued to steepen it’s decent, the faster we went and the more people we caught. It was in this group that I spotted the guy Nikki and I dubbed ‘the blue guy’, he and his buddy were the ones that past us going into Dry Fork. Now it was my turn to return the favor and I could not wait. We flew by blue man like nothing and this incredible high continued all the way to the Tounge River road. Our final count, 98 runners passed, including seven 100-milersJ

Anne was such a great pacer and just took control of every situation. When we hit the road, which is typically another really tough spot, she explained that we were going to now implement a walk/run system. We would walk for a minute, then jog for 3 and I’d just follow her lead. She said we could also hike the 2 small hills, more like mountains to me, but once we hit the pavement we’d pick up the pace and run it all the way in. My high was coming down at this point and I just followed Anne’s direction. Although still feeling pretty good, I was again getting ready to be done. As we jogged, Anne kept telling me how good I was doing and then reminded me that Melissa was in the 18-mile race. She wondered out loud if we were close to catching her. The thought and possibility intrigued me. I increased my pace as much as I could.

After a mile or so we rounded a corner and I was so surprised to see Mason and my mom waiting on their bikes. I think they were as excited and surprised to see us as we were to see them. My mom was especially excited as kept telling me how strong I still looked and that Melissa was ‘just up the road’. In hindsight I believe that Anne and my mom were in cahoots to make me run faster. Either way, I ran as hard as I could and felt like I was killing it. I didn’t have a watch and remember asking Anne how we were doing, averaging maybe 10-minute miles?  She just smiled and said I was doing great. Once I pressed her she informed me it was more like 12.5-minute miles. A few people passed us here, but not too many. And you know what, I was actually running it in. The only other time I’d ever done that was in my sleep in a phenomenal dream. I was beyond stoked.

Our pace quickened as gravel gave way to blacktop and I knew the finish was now less than ½ mile away. It was so strange to run on this surface as my tens of thousands of steps prior were all on mud or gravel. Although on one hand I wanted nothing more than for this run to come to an end, on the other I was extremely saddened as this incredible journey was now nearing its final minutes. I had truly loved every minute of it, from the frozen M laps in the Bridger’s, to the all-night training runs under laps, to the one time in my life where I would ever ‘gap’ Nikki to the awesome downhill I had shared with Anne. I would miss seeing that twinkle in my mom’s eye, the look on Mason’s face as he saw me on that road, the special text from my daughter at the start, the good luck kiss from my wife as I left. All these things would be coming to an end soon and I already missed them.

When we crossed the bridge and headed for the bronzed elk, my eyes teared up as I saw the cheering squad. There were so many great friends I knew and loved and they were all there lined up to cheer me home. One particular face I will never forget is that of Fred Abramowitz, the race director for Run Rabbit Run. I had just met him last month at Quadrock 50 in Colorado and can attest that he is one impressive human being. He was thrusting his first saying something like, “you’re a beast brother, you’re such a beast, so proud”. I just soaked it all up and like so many others before, I borrowed a bit of his energy, lined up with Nikki, Anne and Mason and sprinted the last ¼ mile in as fast as we could. As we clasped our hands under the banner I could almost feel the electricity flowing from everyone. We were charged up and it was truly awesome! I gave my wife, who had finished her race some time before I arrived, the biggest hug ever when it was done, congratulated her on her race and told her how much I loved her.  It was so great to see her again.

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As I soaked up the cold Tongue River water on my tired legs, and almost as an afterthought, I asked Melissa about my time. After thinking about this time goal for so many months it was almost comical that I had absolutely no idea what time it was or how long that run took me. Truth is, it truly didn’t matter at all. I was so pleased with everything and so happy with the results. When she told me my time, I was completely surprised. She informed me that in spite of the conditions, I actually met my previously stated (dry condition) goal and finished in 28 hours and 28 minutes. This was a full 4 hours and 16 minutes better than last year. Oh, and Anne and I pounded out the last 18 miles this year in under 4 hours!

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To make this perfect day even better was the fact that Melissa also PR’d, Jenna successfully completed her first 18 miler, and Dave Kascht finished his first 52 mile run at the young age of 63. My friends are all super studs! There is absolutely no way I could have accomplished what I did and exceeded my goals if it weren’t for all my phenomenal friends and family that sacrificed so much to help me out. I love you all and can’t thank you enough. Well, I better go now as it’s getting late and I gotta get my next run in. Sorry Nikki. You tricked me into thinking I would get a nap and I tricked you into thinking that was my last run.

Until the next Epic adventure!

 

Never Again? Bighorn 100 mile trail run

I hurt so badly, and in places I didn’t even know I could feel, as I slowly rounded the corner near the bronzed elk in Dayton, Wyoming. My feet an absolute wreck, my left ankle swollen so badly it was hard to discern. The date was the 18th of June, 2016. At that point I’d been running, or at least making some sort of forward progress, for the past 32 hours in hopes of completing the infamous 100 mile ‘wild and scenic’ Bighorn Mountain Trail Run.  My goal was simple, I wanted to see if I could actually run that far, you know, kind of test my body’s limits. And, with a steady stream of encouragement, I limped my way to ‘victory’ and promptly collapsed after crossing the finish line. My crew gently laid me on a cot, covered me in a blanket and let me moan the night away. The only thing I remember with extreme clarity was my insistent repeating of the words… Never Again!

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Fast forward a couple months to the end of August. It was opening day for archery elk in Idaho and I had made a last minute decision to head there solo and chase elk for a few days before Montana opened. My life long obsession is bow hunting elk and if I could swing a double header, I was all in. I hiked into the backcountry at dark, climbed the highest peak and waited anxiously for first light. Soon after I looked and saw two nice 6 point bulls walking up a trail towards a saddle. If I could drop in the backside of the canyon, run really fast, perhaps I could be anchored at full draw at the moment they crested the top. I dropped in, ran, slid into the tree and quickly pulled my bow back with mere seconds to spare. As the view in my peep came into focus, I realized the first bull was now standing broadside a mere 20 yards away. And just like that, I had my first opening morning bull in 30 years!

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After a short blood trail, I had a beautiful bull and a years’ worth of wild protein laying before me on the ground. I gave thanks for the harvest and quickly got to work processing the many hundreds of pounds of meat, carefully removing it from the bone, bagging it and hanging it in trees to cool. It was going to be hot day and I knew I needed to work really fast to make sure nothing went to waste. I loaded a front quarter on my already full and heavy pack and made the trek back down the mountain. It was a little over 3 miles one way. After emptying my pack and hanging the quarter in a nice cool draw, I jogged back up to mountain, grabbed another load and returned back to the truck. I repeated this sequence for a total of 5 round trips and ended up headed for home just as the sun was beginning to set on the first day of bow season. As I was driving home reflecting on the day and my good fortune, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I hadn’t just harvested and elk today, I also just completed a 50K (30 mile) ultra-marathon as well… and half was under heavy load! How was I still functioning at this point? This was amazing to me, and it was right then and there that I reneged on my Never Again pledge and decided that I was going to run the 100 mile Bighorn again in 2017!

I had a month to think about my decision before registration opened and I spent much of it spending that hard earned fitness on incredible elk hunts. It was surreal and I was loving every minute of it. As September gave way to October, the registration opened up and I immediately pulled the trigger. My wife and I had a heart to heart discussion as she knew just how hard I had trained and how bad I hurt for several weeks after last year’s event. She was very supportive but much more practical and suggested that I seek the help of a professional coach to train properly for such an extreme event.

We are fortunate to live in Bozeman, MT where world renowned ultrarunner and fitness guru Nikki Kimball lives and trains. I figured it was a long shot, but sent her a message anyway asking if there was any way she would consider helping coach me for the 2017 Big Horn 100 mile event. My finger hit send just before I took off on my flight to Denver and when I touched down I was so surprised to see I had a message back that said- Absolutely… and your training starts tomorrow! I then quickly sent texts to my good buddies Blaise Allen, Dave Kascht and Joe Fidel, and asked if they would be also willing to help crew/pace again and within 30 minutes I had affirmatives in the positive from all of them. This was incredible, now the only thing to do was meet with my new coach, get a training plan, order several more pairs of shoes and get to work.

After my first meeting with Nikki, I realized just how little I actually knew about extreme endurance training, conditioning, and running in general. She carefully listened to my goals, understood my somewhat crazy and unpredictable work schedule and devised a customized plan to get me started. The type of training looked intimidating, seemed kind of ‘hard core’ and to be honest, kind of scared me… and that was just the first 3 week block! I tried to focus only on the present day and after a week or two, I realized that in a twisted kind of way, I was going to dig the extreme mental and physical challenge. I remember one time happily mentioning that I was so excited for my workout the next day because I felt I was making so much progress and the last time I did it, I wasn’t even that sore. Well, that night I got a note informing me that my workout tomorrow had just been revised! In addition to running I was also focusing a lot of time on core and other cross-training activities. It was truly great and instead of training being a burden to my regular life’s routine, it became an integrated part of it for the past 6 months!

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As my final taper arrived, I couldn’t be more excited for the big event. I was feeling really good physically, and mentally I could envision success through the entire event. To make it even sweeter was the fact that I had the world’s best team by my side! First off, I had my awesome wife there for day 1 as she wouldn’t be running until the next day when she did the 32 mile run, my 8 year old son mason was coming to cheer and would be waiting to ‘pace’ me in the last few miles.

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Nikki Kimball along with her boyfriend Carlos would help coach and crew me, my good friends and training partners Gibb Kentz and Dave Kascht were going to pace me and Blaise Allen and his newly engaged fiancée Emma where going to help crew up the Jaws and Dry Fork stations. HOW GREAT A TEAM IS THAT? We had a nice camp that night across from the finish and even surprised Gibb with a ‘pre’-birthday cake as he would be celebrating his birthday in the middle of the next night on our trot.

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The weather for this year had been looking perfect (cool and dry) up until the forecast started to deteriorate a day prior. If you were to believe it, the current prediction called for scattered showers, somewhat cooler temps, and significant wind. I thought ‘whatever’ as I had trained in far worse, or so I thought. Melissa made the team a final breakfast and we all headed to the start line.

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I really had no butterflies or second guesses, just ready to get this race started. My good friend and colleague Martin Lowenfish from DC was also in town to run the event and we decided to stick together for the first 8 or so miles and ensure that neither of us went out too fast as we climbed from 4000 feet to the first summit at 7500 feet (note- This race climbs more than 21,500 feet and descends another 22,000). The gun finally went off and we enjoyed a picture perfect start to the day. The scenery was incredible, flowers were in full bloom and the company was pleasurable… this is going to be the best race ever- I just knew it.

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I focused on maintaining a heart rate in my correct zone, consuming consistent calories and just remembering to soak it up at every turn. I was right on target, near the back of the pack, but feeling very fresh. I just kept thinking about how my chill pace now was akin to putting something in the bank, as no doubt I’ll be making serious withdrawals before long. As I trotted into the first major aid station in Dry Fork (mile 13) I was ecstatic to see my son sprinting up the road to meet me jumping high as we exchanged Five’s. He was so pumped to see his dad and it was contagious. I didn’t realize then how important this mental image would soon become. Soon after I saw Mason, I noticed my entire team waiting. However, I didn’t see them long as they were like a well-oiled NASCAR pit stop and had me refueled and back on the trail in a single minute. I was off alone on the trail once again.

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This next section started out great and I was again running it right on pace and smiling the entire time. I was focusing on the consumption of real food (good stuff too like bacon and PBJ) and staying hydrated and was really feeling like I was ‘nailing’ the plan. I was chatting it up with other runners and so looking forward to the technical downhill that awaited me shortly. It finally arrived and after 27 miles of ‘jogging’ I finally cut loose a bit and bombed the technical portion for several miles, passing 25-30 people in the process. Although my HR climbed a bit, I never really overdid it and couldn’t help but smile a little more after passing each runner.

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At the end of the downhill section I crossed the little Bighorn River and trotted into the Footbridge aid station at mile 32 and 4500 feet. This was a critical stop as it would be the last real place to grab gear needed for the 18 mile uphill trek to the halfway turnaround point at Jaws (9,000 feet) and I also needed to be prepared for nightfall. It wasn’t cold or raining and I was feeling so good, I decided to only take a very lightweight windbreaker, light gloves and my headlight. Again, Nikki and the crew really worked their magic here and I was fueled, loaded and on the trail in no time. It was here that I also picked up my running buddy Gibb who would be pacing me for the next 50 miles. We were all smiles and jokes as we left and headed up the hill.

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It wasn’t but a couple miles out of Footbridge when conditions started to change, and they changed rather quickly. The light cloud covered skies turned black, the temperature stated to plummet and the rain started to seep from the clouds. Although we were still in great spirits and moving well, we both could tell it was going to get western before long. Another half hour and the early steady rain had now soaked into the trail causing mud to cling to our shoes with each passing step. It was more of an annoyance than a serious hindrance and we even dared the big man upstairs with something like, ‘”What, you thought we were looking for an easy trot? Well, not even. Is this all you got? Bring it on”! In hind sight, we probably shouldn’t have done that.

Not even halfway up to Jaws and we were now in a torrential downpour, temps were falling steadily, and, as if the big man actually listened to us, substantial wind started to be introduced as a new variable. We were now slipping and sliding everywhere, experiencing ankle deep mud that made one step forward and half step back the new norm. Although it was really tough work, we were still pounding it and kept laughing to try to maintain a positive outlook on the situation. We finally made it to the last aid stop prior to Jaws and I remember looking over at a pack horse they used to pack in the station. The poor old mare was just standing there, in the bright green meadow, soaking wet from the sustained downpour. She looked so miserable and cold that she didn’t even want to eat those fabulous new green grasses right in front of her. It never did occur to me until now, that this was likely the very same thought running through the aid station volunteers when they looked at our wet and sorry faces.

The last uphill push until Jaws ensured that we got every penny out of this race. The rain had still not let up, the headlights were on, the mud kept getting deeper and the temperatures were now getting bone-chilling cold. No joke, but you would have been so thankful to have a pair of chest waders and a down jacket for this section… that’s how ridiculously wet, muddy and cold it was. It was also funny how those of us heading up the hill here were not too talkative anymore and certainly weren’t laughing or joking around. We just wanted to get to Jaws and conserve as much energy as possible! It was also in this section that we started to run into several of the faster runners that were now on their return trip down the mountain. Everyone we passed was so happy, complimentary, almost ‘drunk’ on good vibes. Gibb and I weren’t quite sure what they were serving at the Jaws aid station but knew it had to be pretty darn good. That served as our motivation to speed our pace and get there quickly. About a mile out the wind really picked up and I was freezing cold and shaking. I stopped, turned and shined my light in Gibbs face and saw that we was almost white as a ghost. Turn out he was freezing cold as well, although he never let me know simply because he didn’t want me to worry about him. Let that one soak in for a minute. He and I both knew we were in a bad way and needed to get warm and fast. We trotted hurriedly into the tent at mile 48, Jaws.

Blaise is a special kind of stud as he was waiting solo for us in the rain/sleet/snow during the middle of the night. As soon as he saw us coming, he grabbed us and led us to a magical place that had chairs surrounding a big heater. It was sooooo nice. He and the exceptional volunteers helped pull our wet clothes off, provided us with heating pads and wrapped us in warm blankets while they grabbed us hot broth and coffee. Now we knew what those folks heading down the mountain were so happy for! We were finally warm again, could feel our fingers and exchanged our soaking wet shirts, jackets and gloves for dry ones. Somehow, I had lost my stocking cap and without hesitation Blaise gave me the one right off his head. Best part, was as we were leaving Blaise told me we only wasted 7-8 minutes total at the stop… I know now he’s full of it- but I love him for helping keep me pumped when I needed it most!

I was so excited about starting the second half in such great time that I made a war cry before leaving the tent, a cry that generated a ton of positive response from several other folks in there. This fired us up and we left the tent running and everyone outside in the dark was now yelling as well, cheering us on I assumed. They kept those ‘cheers’ up until one guy caught up to us and told us we were heading the wrong way… oops.

Back on course we decided the power hike the first mile through a big swamp and then once we hit the crest of the hill, we were gonna pound it for 18 miles back to Footbridge. Well, once we hit the top, we indeed started to run and it didn’t take but 20 yards before we were lying in the mud face forward. This downhill was insane and was perhaps going to be even more difficult than the uphill climb. We kept at it, running every step possible, falling multiple times but still having fun. We were also amazed how many runners we were passing on our way down that were still on their way to the top and tried to share the positive mojo those before us gave to us. It was a steady stream of headlamps for miles and somewhere in here Gibb said to me, “Timmy, I know you’re going to finish this race but I honestly don’t think many people are. These conditions are just too insane.” I thought about that for a while and couldn’t agree more. Any time goal for this particular race was meaningless and at this point, I simply vowed to be one of the minority that finishes tomorrow in Dayton. Deep down, I actually really liked and embraced the new challenge.

Between the first and second aid stations (and yes, it’s still raining) my stomach and legs were feeling great, although I was starting to feel tired. Fighting the extreme elements this long was starting to take its toll and I am so thankful Gibb was by my side. His mind was a bit sharper than mine at this point and he did a fabulous job reminding me to eat, hydrate, salt and provided constant positive feedback no matter the new challenge we faced. Heck, I honestly believe that if he needed to fend off a mountain lion or grizzly bear because he was threatening me from finishing, he wouldn’t have even hesitated. This was OUR race and we were in this sucker together. We were real partners you know… you can therefore imagine my extreme disappointment when I begged my partener for a quick 5 minute nap and he said no. The deal we finally struck was that once we hit Footbridge in 3.5 miles that I could ask Nikki and if she said ok, then it was fine.

I couldn’t wait to hit Footbridge and ask Nikki if it would be ok to take just a small little cat nap. We ran/walked and shuffled until we finally arrived as the sun was getting ready to awake. She and Carlos were ready for us! They wasted no time and set me in a special chair by a fire and Nikki listened as I tried to explain what I needed to her. After my first sentence with the word nap in it, she cut me off, said absolutely not and started barking orders to Gibb and Carlos about getting me the things she knew I really did need. In a minute or less I had quickly consumed caffeinated gels, salts, hot broth, PBJ roll up, sandwich, bananas, and a beautiful cup of coffee Carlos brought for me. She exchanged my gloves for dry ones, removed the lights from my head and pack and after a few minutes had me completely recharged and ready to roll. She said that the sun would be up very soon as I would feel brand new again. Now get the heck out of here!

We were now leaving mile 66 and heading straight up the section of the course they affectionately refer to as ‘the Wall’. This is one steep cookie that doesn’t let us for a full 3.5 miles. Honestly, given how tired I was going in to Footbridge, I wasn’t sure how the climb was going to go. But Nikki was right (it’s like she knows what she’s doing or something) and as a result of all the caloric intake and sunlight starting to creep in, I was killing it! Gibb and I maintained a very respectable pace for the entire face and never stopped a single second to catch our breath. My second life had been born and I was feeling great, now at mile 70.

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Somewhere in this next section the rain finally let up completely, although the trail was still a muddy mess. It was a beautiful rolling single track and we were having a ball. Talking, joking, making funny pictures and just looking forward to an eventual finish today! Everything was going great except when I got behind on my real food consumption and started to down power as we neared Cow Camp.  I knew I needed real food or I would throw up for sure and the nearest food was 2 miles away. I decided to hike easily and we pledged to horde a baggie of real food once we arrived to prevent this from happening again.

As we approached Cow Camp, I could see runners hauling butt down the hill in front of me descending into the aid station we were about to share. They were moving so fast and it finally hit me that this was the 32 mile bunch and they had only 9 miles on their legs so far. I called them a bad word under my breath and Gibb couldn’t stop from laughing. We finally made it there and I perched on a chair as Gibb rounded up some slop. I was honestly feeling like crap at this point but kept having the image of my son waiting for me pop in my head. There was no way I could let him down, no way would I quit on him. Powerful motivation that ensured I would absolutely finish this race! Note- picture below is from start of 30 miler race on county road. You can guess what dirt trails looked like- too bad our phones were too wet to take pics!

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Gibb soon brought me back the best food ever, a diverse bowl filled with bacon, watermelon, potato chips, and fried potatoes. It was pure heaven and I could feel my batteries charging once again and the image playing on repeat in my head. Apparently, if you’re not me and can’t see and feel the rebound going on inside, I must of looked pretty rough. Two other buddies of mine, Eric and Josh, were running the 32 miler and saw me and tried to console me. They spoke positive words but I could tell by the genuine look on their faces they figured I was a gonna and there was no way this guy was gonna finish. I knew better, the only problem was that I was too tired to make a smile and show them.

After a few more minutes, we decided to leave and just hike the last few uphill miles to Dry Fork at mile 82. I must of still looked pathetic because I had several young ladies running the 32 miler stop, give me a hug and tell me how inspiring I was. That just doesn’t happen to me ever and Gibb just laughed and kept his usual positive accolades going. Every time there was a flat or downhill I would try and run it and when I did he would complement me on the great work… I loved it!

Dry Fork finally came and with it, a refreshed outlook on the race. It was here I got to Mason, relieve Gibb of his exceptional pacing detail, welcome Dave as the closer for pacing duties and chat it up with Blaise and Emma in the tent. All while downing some delicious food, sharing horror stories and getting the green light from the medical staff to continue. Just as I was about to leave, as if on cue, my lovely wife walks into the tent. I couldn’t believe it! She had just finished her first 14 mile loop of her 32 mile run and was now preparing to finish her race. She decided that she would slow her pace and just trot in the final 18 in together. I thought that was an excellent idea and off we went.

 

I told Melissa and Dave right after we started that I could easily run the entire 18 miles to the finish (kind of a white lie). However, I also informed them in as equally assertive tone that I wouldn’t be doing that. When they asked me why I said it was because I simply didn’t want to and that I was really tired (that’s the God honest truth). I figured that I only had to finish the race in 34 hours and knew I could easily do that if I just power hiked it in. Because I was forced to basically crawl down the huge downhill single track the year before, I really wanted to run that section and figured if I saved my energy by hiking the dumb roads, I’d be able to do so. Therefore, off we went on a nice, beautiful hike with the sun shining and the roads dry. Heck, you wouldn’t have known how muddy it was except for the fact that my legs and shoes still carried 5 pounds of dried mud and muck on them!

We hiked until we reached the top of the last hill and could see down the Tounge River canyon, what a beautiful sight. It took a couple steps to get a rhythm going but once I did it felt great and I was doing it. I was finally running this technical downhill at mile 90 in the race. I had dreamed about this section for a long while and was so proud of myself. It wasn’t until I was halfway down that I realized that my sweet wife was chatting up a storm behind me the whole way down without missing a breath. It finally dawned on me that although I was technically running (and felt like I was really moving fast), there’s no way I was going too fast. I thought about it for a minute, laughed, and said outloud, “Who cares at this point”. Relentless forward progress was being made and I was stoked!

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Finally the moment came when we exited that beautiful canyon and started down the dreaded, extremely hot and hard surfaced Tounge River Road. I knew this last 5 miles was gonna suck and it didn’t disappoint. After running the single track I remained true to my pledge and simply power hiked the road, trying mentally to be somewhere else. As Dave and Melissa chatted and offered nothing but positive encouragement, I was increasingly frustrated that nobody had the EXACT mileage to the finish. I was also very concerned about Mason, where was he. I thought he was going to join us the last 3 miles. Surely I have not only gone 2. Finally, we turned a corner and there he was. He was so excited and hiked with us until finally, the dirt road gave way to pavement and I decided to get off my lazy butt and run this baby home!

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Perhaps the best part of the entire race was when Dave lined up on my left side, Mason sided on my right, and together we did the 100 mile shuffle across the bridge and across the road into Dayton while the flaggers stopped traffic. I remember looking into the windshield of the stopped car to see a nice older lady that I have never met clapping vigorously for me with a tear in her eye. I can recall my unbelievable wife who had jogged ahead, squatted in position behind the bronze elk, camera at the ready just to capture the moment when we RAN by the bull unlike the year previous when I so badly limped.

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And as we entered the park, I will never forget the sight of the many people lined up clapping, whooping and cheering us on.  The ear to ear smiles on both Dave and my sons face will always be remembered. And just as we neared the Finish line Gibb jumped in the chute and joined us as we crossed the line, together as one team… it was BAD ASS!

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Although I didn’t come in first place, far, far from it actually; I really do feel like I won! Just finishing this adventure on this particular year was a major accomplishment in and of itself as more than 200 of the 379 that attempted it were forced to drop along the way. People for many years will refer back to this particular race as the gold standard of ‘horrible and unthinkable running conditions’. And although I’ll never forget the crazy amount of rain that soaked us for over a day, the surreal mud pit that we ran through for more than 2 back-to back marathons, or the extreme temperature drops in the middle of the night that brought us one degree from hypothermia, it is the overwhelming and selfless love and support that so many other people showed to me that I’ll never forget. That particular feeling and experience was priceless! After this journey, I guarantee you I will not repeat the ill spoken words of last year, Never Again.

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Special thank you to my incredible wife Melissa and 2 awesome kids (Madison and Mason) who supported me from day one, my world class coach and friend Nikki Kimball who inspired me daily to push myself beyond limits, to my unparalleled pacers and good friends Gibb and Dave, to my first rate crew of Blaise, Emma and Carlos, you guys ROCK, and to all my running and training partners who have helped me along the way. I am so thankful for each of your friendship and support. I’m forever indebted to each of you! I’d also like to send special thanks to Corey Jacobson and ELK 101.com for the awesome one of a kind race shirts… that are simply that cool!

Until our next Adventure!