Jan 19

4 Steps to Running thru Adversity (and Life)

It was just above freezing, the rain was coming down and the wind was whipping the few remaining tree leaves through the streets. Despite this less-than-ideal weather, for nearly an hour I was out running in my shorts and t-shirt. An acquaintance who drove by me that day later asked, “Aren’t you cold?”

Honestly, I was. Or I had been. Until I decided I wasn’t going to focus on the cold anymore. It got me thinking about what happened on that run and how it was a template for adversity I may face in my life. Pretty simply, it was four steps I had gone through in those cold, rainy miles.

  1. Acknowledge it. Yes I’m cold. There’s no point in lying to myself about it. But what if tomorrow I’m too hot? What if in Mile 19 of the marathon my stomach hurts? Or I get a blister? Or I just want to quit? What if I’m not able to maintain the pace I had trained so hard and long for? There are countless things that can go wrong over 26.2 miles. And there are just as many things that can (and probably will) hurt. Perhaps some will try to block everything out, grit their teeth, let out a primal scream and continue on. Fine. But there are other ways to deal with adversity.
  2. Embrace it. Rather than pout or shrink, embrace this obstacle and recognize it as a learning, growing or strengthening experience. Yes, it’s cold. And I’m cold. But is it hurting me? (No). Am I still running? (Yes). Can I continue? (Yes). If this is the case, then why not turn what was initially thought of as adversity into motivation. Heck yeah it’s cold– but I’m out here anyway, putting in the miles, putting in the time, putting in the effort, working towards my goal. And nothing will get in my way of that. Certainly not being wet and cold for a bit.
  3. Push through it. At some point, I no longer felt the cold or the rain or the wind. I had already acknowledged it and decided it wasn’t going to affect me and now it was time to move forward. Emboldened, my pace quickened. I laughed as a semi-truck passed me (going the opposite direction) and a wall of wind and water spray barrelled into me as I ran on the sidewalk. I was not going to be beaten or slowed by the elements.
  4. Be better for it. I finished my run and I felt great. It was just one run and only a few miles in a long process, but a lesson was learned. Limits were pushed back just a bit more. Confidence increased.

These lessons are no different for trials or obstacles in our lives. We can choose to lie to ourselves and try to bury our feelings of disappointment, struggle, and pain. Or we can acknowledge that there is adversity of some kind in front of us — whether it has been self-imposed or not it makes no difference — and begin the process of overcoming it.

By embracing what we are going through we stop looking to the past and begin looking to the future. We can’t change the past but we can choose to become better and stronger because of it. Is it keeping us down or are we choosing to let it keep us down?  What are we going to do to get up off the mat, put one foot in front of the other and start moving again?

Ultimately, as we push forward we begin to learn things about ourselves that can and should convince us that we are strong and that we can choose how we will respond to adversity. Bolstered by this blossoming confidence and with continued effort we will, at some point, be able to look back at the person we were and the trials we faced. It is then that we will see how far we’ve come and that we know how to handle future obstacles on our journey.

Jan 13

Post 100 miler Thoughts – Running Without a Goal

I haven’t blogged since I completed my first 100 mile ultramarathon in October. I found myself in an interesting position. I had accomplished something I had set my sights on a long time ago. It took me years and lots of work to achieve it. Now I’m left wondering what’s next. I don’t have a running goal. I feel like I’ve always had a goal in running.

I still want to run forever.

“I’ll be happy if running and I can grow old together.”

― Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

I’ve had some great runs since the 100 miler. I’ve attached a few pics from my runs. I had fun exploring and taking photos.

Leaping Through a Slot CanyonВ Sunrise at Lone MountainВ Calico Hills at Red Rock Canyon

More of my photos can be found on my Instagram.

I did the Ragnar Relay in Las Vegas with some friends. I had some great paces on those runs. This was a good event at the time because, as a non-competitive team, there’s no pressure for a time goal. Just do your best and have fun as a team. This was a good sign because I was still uncertain how my recovery from the 100 miler was going.

Start of RagnarSunrise at Leg FinishRace in Progress

Later that month, I ran the 30k at Desert Dash’s Trails of Glory. I considered the marathon. I’ve run the marathon before and wrote about it in a previous race report. I wanted to run the marathon. But, I just didn’t think my body was recovered enough for it. So, I ran the 30k. AND, I ended up winningВ the 30k!! That was a great experience and a lot of fun to podium. My friends teased me a bit because I had voiced my concerns about lack of recovery from the 100 miler before the race. Still, when I finished the 30k, I had nothing left. I knew I made the right choice in not doing the marathon that particular day. Desert Dash’s race experience was top notch, as usual.

PodiumAwardDucky

A little over a month later, I ran a 50k, which I’ll go into more detail in another post (with less delay between posts).

Surprisingly, I’m enjoying running without having any particular goal I’m driving towards. I’m enjoying some nice runs and races.

Scott Jurek put it well:

“The longer and farther I ran, the more I realized that what I was often chasing was a state of mind–a place where worries that seemed monumental melted away, where the beauty and timelessness of the universe, of the present moment, came into sharp focus.”

― Scott Jurek, Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness

Oct 23

Pony Express 100 miler – Steve’s first 100

The Pony Express 100 was my first 100 mile ultramarathon. I decided last year that I wanted to do a 100 mile ultra and I spent all of 2015 leading up to it getting ready for this race. I ran multiple 50 milers earlier in the year, then I dialed things back a bit to let my body heal. A couple months before the race, I ramped up the training again. As the race approached I became more and more nervous. 100 miles is a REALLY LONG WAY. The longest I had done before was 100k (62 miles), and I now needed to do 38 more miles than that.

This 100 miler has an interesting format. The race takes place on dirt roads on the old pony express route (I’m sure you figured that part out). Participants provide their own vehicle and crew. The crew vehicle leapfrogs the runner along to give aid. The actual race only has a few aid stations and check in points. This format makes it great for first-timers like me. I had ample access to aid. This also makes it so friends and family can be a direct part of the race for their participants. I had my friends RJ, Josh, and Paul to crew/pace me. I realize this was a huge sacrifice in time, energy, and cost on their part. I deeply appreciate it.

I didn’t realize the logistics involved in a 100 miler. I had to make sure the crew was all briefed on their duties, the route, and timing. I had to make sure I had a vehicle and the right gear/equipment. We were also camping at the start the night before so I had to prepare for that. Plus all the normal items to pack like race clothing, nutrition, etc for a very long run.

The Pre-Race Crew Pic

We pulled up to the campground at the start line late Thursday night. It was a beautiful evening. The stars were amazing that far away from civilization. I didn’t sleep too well, as I suspected, given my nervousness. Also, there is a staggered start for the race to break up the crew vehicle traffic and have everyone finish within a certain time window. I was starting at 8am (with the faster group, although I wasn’t sure I belonged in that group). The others started at 5am, 6am, and 7am. So I kept getting woken up by runners starting, not that I slept much anyways.

The Pony Express

The race began in usual ultra fashion, laid back and without much fanfare. Off we went. The beginning of a 100 mile journey. The weather was fantastic in the morning. The first 13 or so miles were downhill. I settled into a pretty quick pace alongside the eventual 100 mile winner Curtis Eppley and Peter Van Horn. We had a good chat as we ran. My crew settled in a routine but quickly decided it would be prudent to top off the gas tank in the vehicle. This was fine since it was early in the race and I didn’t need as much aid. Curtis’ crew kindly took a few of my things to help me out along the way. I love stuff like that in the trail and ultra running community. People are willing to help each other out and want to see everyone succeed.

Running with Curtis Early(photo credit to Lara Roundy Eppley)

Eventually my crew returned and Curtis took off and I ran by myself through long stretches of the pony express trail. It was beautiful out there. You could see so far. There were very few man-made items along the natural landscape. There were some cool historical monuments along the way. The biggest hazard were the hunters flying down the road without regard to how dangerous it was to runners or how much dust they created for me to choke on while I ran. All the crews, volunteers, and everyone else associated with the race were very respectful keeping their dust and speed down as they approached runners. Some of those other drivers were scary, especially at night.

The View

I was going faster than I should have. During the beginning of the 100 miler, I ran a sub 2 hour half marathon, then a 4 hour marathon, then a 9 hour 50 miler, I PR’ed my 50k, and then PR’ed my 100k. Apparently, my first 50 miles of the race were nearly as fast as the winner of the 50 mile race. Yeah, it was a fast start to a 100 miler for me.

Cruising Along

About 50k into the race, my feet started to get a bit sore. I was still cruising though. By this time, I had Josh pacing me and things were going great. At first, I was hydrating with plain water or water with Nuun. I was consuming gels and Mamma Chia squeezes. I quickly got sick of the gels. Literally, my stomach was getting upset. I ate some ginger candy (with real ginger) and that helped settle things. I didn’t want to go back to the gels though. I rotated through coconut water, fruit, and chia squeezes. That seemed to work well. When I got to Blackrock aid station at mile 68, I had some hot broth that really helped.

Running with Josh(photo credit to Matthew Van Horn)

After about 50 miles, I started rotating more walking alternating with running. Most of the race so far I was in second or third (to my knowledge). I yo-yoed back and forth with Melissa Soper, an amazing ultra runner that went on to take first place woman. At the aid station at mile 33, Melissa and another runner Philip, left the aid station before me. I wasn’t stressed about it. I was content to run my own race. There was so much race left to run. I was focused on getting through it and my own issues (my stomach at the time). There was also a lot of sun exposure along those long straight dirt roads. The temps were fine but the sun took its toll even on this desert runner from Las Vegas. The sun was almost always on my left side throughout the race so I ended up with a funny sunburn only on my left arm and only on the left side of my face/neck, haha.

Pain Face

As I got to Fish Springs, I saw Phillip and his RV (sweet crew vehicle) on the side of the road. He was in a chair with his socks and shoes off. I asked him if he was okay and if he needed anything. He said he was having blister problems. Ouch. After checking in at the turnaround at Fish Springs, and re-applying some anti-chafing product (to avoid problems of my own), it had become dark and we headed out into it. RJ started pacing me at this point. Not far out of Fish Springs, we saw no sign of Philip or his RV as my crew leapfrogged ahead. Last we saw of him, he didn’t look like he was going anywhere anytime soon. Later, when we had cell service, we saw they hadn’t recorded a check-in for him at Fish Springs. We theorized that his foot issues were bad enough to warrant a DNF so he packed it up and drove off. We figured I was second or third as I kept changing places with Melissa.

Melissa and I got to Blackrock aid station (mile 68) at nearly the same time. I stopped for soup and she left quickly (smart). Sitting in the chair at the aid station was a bad idea for me. I did NOT want to get up. Paul was an awesome crew member and rubbed my sore lower back muscles. Eventually, I forced myself back out on the course. I felt really great after the soup but the feeling didn’t last long.

Having some soup

The miles in the 70s were the toughest for me. I started a long incline up to Dugway pass. I just didn’t have it in me to run at this point. Everything started hurting. My feet, calves, back, hips, glutes, and quads all hurt. Every step hurt.

Pain

I knew my crew was getting tired too. I was worried about them. I wanted them to get some sleep in shifts. I felt bad for how BORING the race was at this point too. We were walking along at as quick of a power hike as I could muster for so long. RJ traded pacing duties with Paul who hiked with me for a while. I was glad when I would get to vehicle and see a crew member or two grabbing some rest. I still felt like I wasn’t eating enough. Just some fruit and coconut water? I didn’t think that was enough fuel but I couldn’t risk another upset stomach. The night temperature was pleasant. The stars were beautiful and it was quiet. I had some negative thoughts though. Should I quit? Is this worth it if I have to walk the rest of this thing? I had come so far though. RJ had previously done the math that if I could maintain even a 15min/mile average, I could finish under 24 hours, which was my goal. That was a nice thought but that was such a long time away. Being out there walking so long was not appealing. When I hit mile 74, I realized I had a whole marathon left. When I hit mile 75, I realized I had one fourth of the whole race left. I was so negative even though I tried to tell myself to be patient. There I was in a world of negativity and pain.

But… I kept going.

Paul kept hiking along with me trying to be positive. We kept hiking up to the top of Dugway Pass, which felt like it would never come. Once I got to the top, I was so happy. I could run! I ran down the other side and kept going for a while. I pepped back up and did more running alternating with walking.

RJ started pacing me again. Before the 100, I was worried if I would get really loopy late in the race. I don’t think I got too bad. I heard some noises in the bushes and I got really drowsy at points as I watched my headlamp beam bob in front of me. I didn’t have any crazy hallucinations though.

Josh started pacing me. Now, Josh meant business at this point. “Let’s run,” he says. “I can’t,” I replied. “Sure you can. Let’s run a quarter mile.” “Okay.” And on it went. Josh kept pushing me, trying to get all the running he could out of me. I tried not to get too frustrated because I was in pain, and I knew Josh was trying to help me. He knew better than I did what I was capable of. He kept prodding just enough to get more out of me.

Now in the mid-80 miles, Josh and I were approaching another runner in the distance. His name was Kyle Emery and he had started at 7am. I knew, as far as placement, that I was still ahead of him because I could see him and I had an hour buffer. Still, it was nice to have someone to chase after. Eventually we caught up to him and it appeared he was resting in his vehicle and really struggling.  After we passed him, I kept running to put a little distance between us so he didn’t get any ideas about chasing me, hehe.

As I kept going, we saw more vehicles ahead. We ran by Melissa who was sitting in a chair being tended by her crew. I asked if she was okay and they said she’ll be fine. Josh and I got really excited because this now meant I was possibly in second place. I saw Melissa getting up and Josh and I took off! I don’t know what came over me. I had energy and motivation. I was excited and wanted to run. It felt like I was flying! Although I checked my splits later and I was running 9-10 min miles. I suppose that pace is kind of like flying at 86-96 miles into a race. The crew vehicle would move up for aid. I would wave it off. I wanted to keep this rhythm. I couldn’t stop (because I didn’t know if I could start again). I had to ride this wave. We just kept going, kept waving off the aid vehicle. Josh and Rychen ran alongside me. Everyone was pumped. We saw some other runners and their vehicles as we passed by. We saw Melissa’s crew vehicle pass by me, turn around, and head back. Hmmmm maybe she sent her husband up to see how far ahead I was? As he drove by, I did my best to look like I was running as fast as possible and showing no signs of slowing down!

Coming in for the finish

Finally, with a few miles left, we reached a hill and I had to slow down. I kept looking behind me as I hiked up that hill to see if anyone was coming. Nobody was catching up. I was so excited to be so close, but, seriously, a hill at mile 99? What’s up with that? I felt the anticipation building as I rounded that final corner, and ran down to the finish! What a feeling! I had accomplished this goal I had worked so hard for so long to accomplish. It was incredibly difficult. In my most optimistic projections, I thought a finishing time of 22:30 would be great if everything went right. I ended up finishing in 21:42! I thought maybe I had finished in second but Davy Crockett, the race director, told me I was third. Apparently, Phillip had really taken off and done well after he tended to his blisters rather than dropping and took second. I was so happy with third overall. I did not anticipate finishing so well. I got that 100 mile buckle too! It sure was nice to finally sit down with a cup of hot chocolate at the end and take my shoes off. To my surprise, no blisters or toenail problems! I wore the Altra Lone Peak 2.5s for the whole race with Injinji trail socks and it really helped.

Finished

I have so much more respect for the runners that compete in the 100 mile distance now. It was more difficult than I could have imagined.

Thank you to my family, crew, friends, trail and ultra community, volunteers, Davy Crockett, and all others involved in the Pony Express 100!

Buckle and Medal

Running Gear: Altra Lone Peak 2.5 shoes, Injinji trails socks, Pearl Izumi shorts, Ink n Burn shirt, Ultimate Direction handhelds

Nutrition: Water w/ Nuun, Mamma Chia, GU gels, Coca-Cola, fruit, ginger, PB&J, C2O coconut water, and hot broth.

Jul 14

Capitol Reef 50 Miler by Steve

When I first looked at the elevation profile for the Capitol Reef 50 miler, with its 6,700 ft of gain and 8,600 ft of vertical loss, I felt that it would be easier than the Bryce Canyon 50 miler I had recently completed. I was so wrong!

This race takes place near the beautiful Capitol Reef National Park. If you decide to participate in this event, make sure you plan some time to enjoy the park and its hikes.

Hickman Bridge

Cassidy Arch

The camping near the event provided great views too.

Camping

That View

Early Saturday morning, we shuttled to the start. The early morning temperatures were chilly and I hoped it wouldn’t get too warm later in the day.

Early View

For the first 10 miles we climbed quite a bit, including one rocky climb that was about 1,000 ft climb over a mile. We were taken to the top of Aquarius plateau, the tallest plateau in North America, at over 11,000 ft. The views were amazing. We ran through forests of aspens and grassy meadows. We were treated to mountain lakes and river crossings. There were moments where the course would take us along the rim of the plateau to see amazing views over great distances.

Rim View

Now, why was this course so brutal?

There were significant climbs. These mountain ultras have plenty of climbing and this one is no exception. Even late in the race, there’s still a few little steep ones near the end when I was hoping it would be, “all downhill from here.”

You spend a lot of time at altitude. Some courses you climb and go back down. This course has you climb and continue to run at that altitude. Fortunately, I didn’t get altitude sickness (although I heard about some that did). Still, running at that altitude for someone that lives at an altitude just over 2,000 feet really fatigued me as the race wore on.

The course is very rugged and technical. There were a lot of large rocks. This made it difficult to run at times. You really had to pay attention and be aware of every step. Also, there were many times when the trail was not clear. I had to find the next flag, cairn, or trail marker to know where to go next. This delayed me many times. Sometimes it was advantageous to travel with other runners because you would have many eyes looking for markers. It was true backcountry trail running.

Rocky Rim View

This was the first year for this race and many of the runners I chatted with were surprised by its difficulty.

I felt like I was doing well throughout the beginning of the race. It was tough but I was cruising along. I really enjoyed chatting with so many experienced Utah runners out there. As the race wore on, I became really fatigued. I struggled but I hung in there. I remember pushing along with another runner that was struggling and we commented how nobody was catching up to us. Everyone was struggling!

I hit a low point after mile 37. I was feeling cooked and it didn’t help that the mosquitoes would bother me when I slowed down. I used a long sleeve white shirt, a bug band, and bug spray and those bugs still loved me! Once I got to the aid station at mile 44, I just wanted to be done. Maybe it was the fact that I was returning to lower altitude but things start to click again mentally and physically, and I was able to run well to the end.

Personally, I thought I had a poor race but to my surprise, I had come in 14th place! I was so happy to be done. It was a humbling experience.

Mountain Lake View

 

Gear: Hoka One One Challenger shoes, Injinji trail socks, North Face Better than Naked shorts, Champion tech shirt from Target (aww yeah!), Patagonia Houdini jacket, Nathan Hydration pack, TAUR trucker hat.

Nutrition: Nuun Hydration, GU Roctane, Mama Chia, Coca-Cola, and some fruit from aid stations.

Jun 18

Bryce Canyon 50 miler by Steve

I was excited to run the beautiful Bryce Canyon 50 miler course. However, the week before the race, I did the Mojave Death Race. I thought it would be a nice tune up for this ultra. On the contrary, the Mojave Death Race was very competitive and I pushed myself really hard. I was sore and my hamstrings were particularly tight the week leading up to Bryce. I did everything I could to recover quickly including massage, extra rest, foam roller, and lots of eating.

Tipi Life

For the race, I camped out in a tipi in Ruby’s campground the night before. So cool! It rained the night before and it looked like the weather could continue throughout the weekend. I got up early Saturday morning in the cool weather for the shuttle to the start. I had no idea how my body would respond to the mileage. Would I get 13 miles in and have my hamstrings give up on me? Did I have the energy stores for the full distance? I was uncertain but I was willing to give it a shot. I decided my plan would be to start towards the back of the pack and take it very easy in the beginning to see how I felt and go from there.

The race started out quite foggy. Unfortunately, one of the more promising scenic locations, the pink cliffs, was completely obscured by fog. Bummer.

Foggy

Foggy

The fog cleared up later in the race and there were certainly some great views of the unique formations Bryce Canyon has to offer.

I was plugging along at a relaxed pace. The miles were coming easily. The aid stations seemed to come quickly. Keep in mind that I did a Grand Canyon R2R2R a month before, as a training run, for Bryce. When people asked if Bryce was hard, I feel like my perspective was a bit skewed to answer that question properly. Yes, it was difficult. 50 miles is never easy. However, it was easier than the Grand Canyon rim to rim to rim run. I also learned a lot about self-reliance in the Grand Canyon. At Bryce, I felt less dependent on the aid stations. They were nice to have along the route but I knew I could get by without them.

One thing I should add is that they had cake at the aid station at mile 33. It had been my birthday recently so I felt it was appropriate to have a small piece during the race.

As the miles ticked by, I felt more confident. I enjoyed running this course. The scenery was diverse and beautiful. The aid station volunteers were kind and helpful. One particular runner and I kept passing each other from time to time, and whenever we saw each other we would enthusiastically cheer for the other.

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon

On the second half of the course, the clouds rolled in. There was rain, then there was hail (ouch), and then there was lightning. A few nearby lightning cracks and I took off! There was another runner hauling with me. It felt like we were moving quickly (quick is relative this far into an ultra) trying to get out of the storm as quickly as possible. We were getting pelted by that hail. Thank goodness I had my Patagonia Houdini jacket and a hat to protect me. Once we got through the storm, the other runner and I laughed about it. There was quite a bit of rain and the hail returned once more later in the race. The trails were muddy at parts. They were mostly runnable with some sticky mud parts to try to avoid.

Overall this was a solid experience. Everything went so smoothly. I set a conservative goal for myself and I finished an hour before that goal. My body felt good and I have recovered well. The race swag was great! I got a shirt, a trucker hat, and a handmade finisher’s bracelet. The Grand Circle Trails / Ultra Adventures race company puts on great races at amazing locations!

 

Gear: Hoka One One Challenger shoes, TAUR trucker hat, Patagonia Houdini jacket, Desert Dash trail race shirt, The North Face Better than Naked shorts, Injinji 2.0 midweight trail socks and buff, Garmin 620 watch, and Nathan hydration pack.

Nutrition: Nuun tabs (lemonade), GU roctane, gin-gins ginger candy, Mama Chia, Hammer endurolytes, and random stuff at aid stations including a little birthday cake 😉

 

I definitely stuck around for another day after the event and saw some of the amazing views/trails that Bryce Canyon has to offer (See Below).

Thor's Hammer