In June, 2004 I was pretty much a non-runner. In 2004, I was a 45-year-old over-weight long-distance hiker who knew nothing about running. I had never picked up a running magazine, never had witnessed a marathon, and never heard of an “ultra marathon”. But during 2003 I had learned to hike far and fast. I had hiked 580 miles during the year, which I thought was really far.
Now I’m a 51-year-old, lean runner, who subscribes to various running magazines, has read 20-30 books on endurance/running topics, reads the ultralist at least weekly, has a new pair of running shoes delivered bi-monthly to my home, and has toenails that are cooler colors than the toenails of my young-adult daughters.
What caused this madness and transformation?
My wife started to insist that I stop going on long solo hikes. So, I started to search the Internet for local groups who might have the same interest. I quickly discovered a crazed ultra community. I wondered what this Wasatch 100 race was all about, in the mountains above my home? Naively, I thought, “I bet I could do that.” Race full? Well, I could try something else. I set my sights on The Bear 100 in Idaho and started my long and painful ultra education.
Race #1: Midnight Mountain 50K – July 10, 2004
I went into this race confident that I could finish, maybe even with a good time. I told my wife that I would finish between 7-8 hours. At the start line I could see two distinctive groups of runners, the experienced, and the rookies. I certainly looked like a rookie. What a humbling experience. I was able to charge up the hills pretty good, but I marveled how the experienced runners could pound down the hills. I crawled down the hills slowly and painfully. When I finally approached the finish line, my kids yelled out, “Finally!” My finish time was 9:23, 30th out of 44 starters. I learned what “back-of-the-pack” meant. I ate all the wrong things and still had no clue what electrolytes were. Despite the pain, I caught the bug. The ultra disease was flowing in my blood,
Race #2: While River 50 – July 30, 2004
I thought it was time to step up to a 50-miler. How much harder could it be? We made the event a family vacation, a visit to my childhood home of Washington. What a beautiful setting for a race – in the mountains at the foot of Mount Rainier! It was only 20 days since my first ultra finish. This was pretty stupid, but away I went on the beautiful single-track, soft, forested trails. The finish cutoff time was 14 hours. I dragged myself across the finish line in 14:00.02. Two seconds over, but still an official finish. I was dead last. I had dealt with the stress of cutoff times all afternoon. I was 104th out 125 starters. I ended up dehydrated and got hooked up to an IV at the medical tent. As I was trying to recover, in terrible pain, I told my son that there is no way I could ever finish a 100-miler. It was impossible for me. I was deeply humbled by this experience and marveled at the super human strength of all the ultrarunners I met. I was just a pretender, an impostor in running shoes.
Race #3: Where’s Waldo 100K – August 21, 2004
Three weeks later, I attempted my first 100k. I traveled to Oregon with my son to crew and pace me. The forest trails were amazing. The climbs were punishing. For the first time I was able to run some of the downhills. I felt much stronger during this race until mile 30. I felt a sharp pain in my knee and it only got worse. I limped through another 20 miles and then pulled out. I was in last place at that point. My first DNF. Of all this race’s DNFs, I went the furthest. How depressing it was, to watch people I ran with cross the finish line.
My knee healed slowly. The only running I did between races was a 10-mile stretch of the Wasatch 100, running with two friends, elite runners, Joe Kulak and Todd Holmes during the night. As I returned to my car, the pain was terrible. The next day, I watched the last two hours of the race at the finish line and was so impressed with those who finished. I wanted to experience that accomplishment – a 100-mile finish.
Race #4 The Bear 100 – September 24-25, 2004
I went into my first 100-miler very nervous. My knee hurt at the pre-race meeting — not a good sign. I had a great crew, three friends who all took turns pacing me. The first 25 miles were pretty painful, but the knee eventually went somewhat numb and I learned how to run on it. I had a great race going and ran many miles near legendary Hans-Dieter Weisshaar. I was on a good pace to finish under 30 hours. But at mile 85, my body shut down. My energy was gone. The heat started getting to me. I could only move very slowly and after a couple hours of struggling with my pacer on the trail, I knew I had to give up. 88 miles. Like my last race, I was the furthest DNF in the race. My family met me at the finish area as I drove up in a truck. I hurt terribly. I told my family that the 100-mile distance was too far for me. I said that I wouldn’t try it again.
Well, that silly thought stayed in my mind for about one day. For the next month I nursed my injured knee and my injured ego. I longed to run again. I had an MRI performed on the knee, but it was negative, just a soft tissue injury and badly bruised kneecaps. But I healed rapidly. By November 1st, I was running again. I was thrilled.
Now I started to use my head. I carefully learned how to train. I listened to my body and became paranoid about injuries. By December, I was able to do mid-week short runs and long runs on weekends. I had six consecutive Saturdays of 30+ mile runs. I could feel both speed and strength increasing.
Race #5 Rocky Racoon 100 – February 5-6, 2005
I couldn’t wait a full year to try finishing a 100-miler, so I entered the Rocky Racoon in Texas. I felt strong and ready. The race went very well. I experienced an amazing second wind at about mile 57. What an incredible feeling. But by mile 80, my legs could no longer run. I experienced similar symptoms as I did in the Bear 100. But the difference was that I was stronger and I was about eight hours ahead of my pace set at The Bear! I could walk it in and I did. I finished with a 26:53, in 72nd place out of 143 starters. I did much better than I expected. I never dreamed that I could finish a race mid-pack.
However, my post-race recovery was difficult. I didn’t immediately start eating and by the time I reached the airport, it felt like I was going to die. I was in agony on the trip home. I again announced to my family that I would never run a 100-mile race again. That thought lasted two days this time. I realized the post-race mistakes I made and knew that they could be corrected.
Race #6 Old Pueblo 50 – March 5, 2005
After one month, I felt ready to race again. I took the family to Tucson. The race went well, but I learned lessons about gastrointestinal challenges that cost me about an hour. For the last ten miles I again experienced that amazing second wind and finished very strong. My wife was surprised to see me finish with excitement and energy. I finished the race in 12:16, 58th place out of 111 starters.
I was amazed how rapidly I recovered from this race. My training mile base was making a true difference. Including races, I was now averaging about 170 miles per month.
Race #7 Avalon 50 – April 2, 2005
I combined a business trip with a race and flew out my wife for a nice weekend on Catalina Island. It was an amazing setting for a race. We had a wonderful time. I sprained my big toe running on the beach two days before the race — pretty stupid, but it didn’t really bother me much. For the first time I really raced. I ran to place well and finish fast. Everything came together very well despite the unseasonable warm weather. I finished with a 9:49, obviously a PR. I also ran a PR for the 50K distance, 5:40. I was shocked to find out that I placed 19th out of 90 starters! I was 4th in my age group. This was better than mid pack. This race was an amazing confidence booster.
Race #8 Zane Grey 50 – April 23, 2005
With my confidence high, I decided to go ahead and run the toughest 50-mile race in the country. I knew it would be punishing, but it would also be a great test. I started strong but soon the heat beat me down. I had many ups and downs but again finished strong on a very high note. I finished in 13:55, 56th place out of 125 starters.
My recovery was very rapid. Two weeks later I did a double-crossing of the Grand Canyon, the next week ran a 6:23 34-mile run near my home, and the next week did an amazing 38-mile run in Zion National Park. It was all starting to take its toll and I should have backed off more. A week before my next race, I took a bad fall which probably caused an internal bladder injury and painful abdomen muscles.
Race #9 Squaw Peak 50 – June 4, 2005
For the first time since the Bear 100, I went into a race injured. I kept my expectations low but wanted to enjoy the race. By mile 15 the pain was terrible and I stopped racing, contemplated dropping, but pushed on ahead. By mile 33 the pain eased and I was able to finish pretty well, but probably lost about an hour overall due to the pain. I finished in
12:42, 60th place out of 187 starters.
Race #10 Vermont 100 – July 16-17, 2005
I went into the Vermont 100 with more uncertainty about my ability to finish than any of my previous ultras. The past month was very trying. While attempting to diagnose the cause of my abdomen/bladder problem, a tumor was discovered in my bladder. I went through a stressful period of uncertainty. There was a 97% chance that I had bladder cancer. My short running career was likely over, and I would need to turn my attention to treatments to prolong my life. The tumor was removed, and a week later, the news was unbelievably great – benign, no cancer. I quickly recovered from the surgery and the abdomen strain had almost healed. Did I dare run the Vermont 100 just 18 days after surgery with a huge month of tapering? Yes!
Heat and humidity was the major factor of the day. Over 90 runners dropped early. At mile 57, I decided to drop because of bad cramping, but a passing pacer convinced me to try to push on. My second wind kicked in and the temperatures became milder. I cruised for the next 20 miles catching up to and passing many. But at mile 77, I had a major bonk about 1 a.m. With no pacer to help, and no one passing me, I stumbled on for an hour or so and finally found a ride to the finish line at mile 80. Lesson learned: In 100-milers, use a pacer for the last 25 miles.
Looking back on the year, my first running year, I feel pretty good about my progress. I am no longer in the back of the pack. I’ve trained/raced 1700 miles during the past year with ever increasing miles. My troubling knees are getting stronger with each race and are much less of a worry. I now love pounding down the hills with speed.
Race #11 Leadville 100 – August 20-21, 2005
I was very determined to do well at Leadville, but I felt uneasy about the enormous challenge. Within the first mile, the altitude slammed against me and slowed me down. The important lesson I learned during this race is that ultra racing is as much mental as physical. I let my mental worries affect my performance. I worried about my cold, and my swollen hands. I used those as excuses to slow down and be lazy. Finally I got over my worries, but it was too late. The tough cut-offs were against me. I vowed to not quit, rather to make the RD pull me off the course. She did, when I didn’t make the cutoff at Twin Lakes. I was relieved to stop. I went to the finish line and watched friends finish. I had two straight DNFs. I didn’t like the feeling.
Race #12 Bear 100 – September 23-24, 2005
Leadville shook my confidence. A local veteran ultrarunner, Phil Lowry, built that confidence back up. He convinced me that I just had a bad day at Leadville and should forget about it. I recently had agreed to pace Phil for 60 miles at Wasatch 100. We conversed by phone and email before the race. I met him for the first time at the pre-race meeting although I remember seeing him at the trails. I successfully paced Phil to strong finish at Wasatch. I had no problem keeping up with him and I felt great at the finish. I learned a lot during my 20 hours with Phil and my confidence returned.
The Bear 100 was the site of my first 100-mile DNF. I returned very determined to finish it this year. I was not injured this year, in better shape, and had much more experience. Still, I feared the tough course. I started the race by simply running behind my new mentor, Phil Lowry. I kept up with him for the first 15 miles or so until he kicked it into gear up a tough climb. I was then left to myself. During the second half of the race, I used friends to pace me. I learned an important lesson — Don’t let your pacers slow you down. I worried too much about giving my pacer’s condition that it affected my race. I learned that if I ever used pacers in the future, I should still run my race and no worry about dropping them if needed. I finished The Bear in 32:23. My crew had wrecked my car (punchered oil pan) and left me to pick up the pieces and get it towed. Even though I finished, I was depressed about the whole experience. I was in bad pain and my car was undrivable two hours away.
I seriously retired from ultrarunning. When I returned home, I packed up my racing gear and told friends I was done. It didn’t seem worth it. Even my wife was convinced that I was done. Within three days I started to waiver on my decision. After a week I unpacked my running gear and came out of retirement. Over the next couple months, adventure running revived my spirits. I ran up and down Mount Timpanogos many times with Phil Lowry and did two double crossings of the Grand Canyon. I signed up for my next 100-miler, the very tough HURT 100 in Hawaii.
Race #13 Goblin Valley 50K – October 29, 2005
Goblin Valley 50K was a fun run. I enjoyed it and didn’t take it too seriously, just had run. I finished in 5:22, in 32nd place among 88 starters. Anita Fromm did a great job putting on the race. For me, the 50K distance no longer felt like an ultra distance. It felt more like a training run distance.
A couple weeks later, I ran in my first 10K race. I was curious to see how I could do with no road traing at all. I was surprised that I placed very high in my age group awith a 45:17. During the rest of the winter, I entered a 5k, 2 10Ks, and a 15K. I did very well and felt that the speed training from those races was helping my foot speed.
In November, I was shook hard by some serious criticisim from close friends who believed that my running was going to affect my marriage and waste away my life. My wife convinced me to not worry about that criticism, it was none of their business. But I seriously thought about things. I’ve always been very compulsive in what I do. Was I going too far? I finally concluded that these critics needed to worry more about their own lives. My life is so much better now that I am in very good shape and have a stress-outlet. I’ve been doing much good by influencing dozens of people to improve their lives through fitness. Non-ultra critics think we are constantly training huge distances, ignoring our families. In reality, I do most of my training while my family is asleep, and rarely train more than three days a week. I went away from this experience feeling very good about my running, determined to invest even more in it.
Race #14 H.U.R.T 100 – January 14-15, 2006
I took my wife with me to Hawaii. I made sure that we had a good vacation before the race so I wasn’t too hammered to enjoy the island. H.U.R.T 100 was very tough but I enjoyed it. But after 70 miles I experienced a terrible bonk. I lost my motivation and quit. I didn’t feel bad about this DNF because I we credited with a 100K finish. I also didn’t want to do anything to make our Hawaii vacation turn sour, so I quit before I really got hurt. But still, I quit. I didn’t want to do that again. To avoid bonking in the future, I had to seriously concentrate on eating better during the night.
Race #15 Old Pueblo 50 – March 4, 2006
I returned and ran Old Pueblo again this year. It was the first ultra that I had finished twice. I ran the first 20 miles very strong, in 28th place, but then faded poorly as the heat increased. I improved on my 2005 time by 35 minutes and finished in 56th place. I enjoyed the race but felt that I left a lot of energy out on the course. I had been too lazy.
Race #16 Antelope Island Buffalo 50K Run – March 18, 2006
I met Jim Skaggs on the ultra list and we ran a 50K training run together. He later invited me to help him organize a new ultra on Antelope Island. Thus I entered into the new phase of my running involvement — participating on race committees. I learned a lot watching Jim put this very sucessful race together. He has a ton of successful experience putting on races. For this race, I decided to just have fun and introduce the ultra experience to my brother, Bob. Togther we had a fun race and beat 6 hours.
A month later I went and ran my 4th Grand Canyon double, my fastest, in 12:47. It was very funny to run into training buddy Phil Lowry in the canyon in the middle of the night. Neither of us knew the other would be there. Ultrarunning is a small world. Grand Canyon doubles were starting to feel “easy.”
To be continued….
Too many races to give summaries of!
|1||2005 Rocky Raccoon||26:53:00||72nd|
|4||2006 Tahoe Rim||28:04:49||16th|
|7||2006 Pony Express||25:29:00||1st|
|8||2007 Pony Express||23:26:00||1st|
|14||2007 Pony Express||24:45:00||2nd|
|15||2008 Rocky Raccoon||25:38:55||94th|
|18||2008 Tahoe Rim||25:54:00||17th|
|21||2008 Pony Express||24:26:00||2nd|
|22||2008 Across the Years||22:48:00||5th|
|25||2009 Tahoe Rim||25:43:00||18th|
|28||2009 Pony Express||22:58:19||1st|
|29||2009 Javelina Jundred||23:46:59||35th|
|30||2010 Rocky Raccoon||21:07:58||42nd|
|31||2010 Antelope Island||22:15:45||1st|
|33||2010 Tahoe Rim||26:05:39||15th|
|36||2010 Pony Express||20:53:02||1st|
|37||2010 Across the Years||19:46:00||1st|
|38||2011 Rocky Raccoon||21:22:10||32nd|
|39||2011 Buffalo Run||20:27:00||3rd|
|40||2011 Salt Flats||21:36:36||2nd|