The experience of trying to run 100 miles is hard to describe. Of course, I say "trying" because I bowed out and took the DNF (did not finish) 21 hours and 55 minutes after I started my attempt to go distance. Despite that, it was every bit as tough, surreal, exhilirating, joyful, desparing, awe-inspiring, funny, wonderful, painful and humbling as it could have been. I've heard before that running 100 miles is like a lifetime in a day in that you experience such a wide range of emotion and now I understand what that really means. The only thing I didn't get to feel was the triumph. But I don't think that is necessarily the point. I think the real point may be the journey and what you can take away from it. Overall, I had a good race, a great experience and, in the end, learned more from failing than I probably would've had I finished.
About 100 runners started the Tortoise division race at 8:00 a.m. at the base of the Steamboat Ski Area. At the start, a few brave souls actually started running but I took it out at a steady hike with most of the runners. Just a little ways up Headwall, I was already feeling the home town love as I saw JD standing outside the Bear Claw with a big "Go Randall" sign and an air horn. We high-fived and I was pumped to be underway. We climbed up a short dirt service road to the base of the Lower Valley View ski run, one of the steepest on lower mountain, and began bushwacking straight up. No trail, just straight up. It was laughable to start a 100 mile race this way but the absurdity actually made it enjoyable. At the top, the course took the Why Not dirt road over to Snowmaking Control and then straight up the Heavenly Daze ski run. Again, don't bother switchbacking, just go straight up. By the time I reached the top of the Gondola, I had already climbed 2000' in a mile and half. It's a good thing I enjoy this shit. I got to do a little slow running as we got on another dirt road down to the Duster saddle. I was running with Gwen Scott, from Seattle, following a clear race marker, onto Duster when we saw a pack of runners coming back towards us, saying that there were no more race markers ahead. We turned around and I assured the other runners that we were now going the correct way to get to Storm Peak Challenge. When we finally crested the top of Mount Werner we saw runners coming from the another direction but were reassured by race volunteers that our group had gone the correct way. At the summit, I was feeling fresh and warmed up. I re-loaded my vest with some food at the aid station and descended the summit to Mountain View Trail and started the second leg out to Long Lake.
I cruised the single track easily, running all the downhills and flats and hiking the hills. The 6 mile run to the lake went well and I found a nice, easy groove. Passing a few runners here and there, as well as getting passed, but ran this section through the woods at 10,000' mostly by myself. The morning air was still cool and crisp and I was jazzed to actually be running my first 100-miler. When I got to the junction with Fish Creek Falls Trail, the race marker indicated that I go left, so I did. About a quarter mile down the trail, I see another runner coming from the opposite direction, telling me that we were supposed to go right to check in at the aid station. So, wrong turn number two made, I turned around again and ran about a mile back to the Long Lake aid station. At the aid station, I put on a visor and sunglasses and repacked my vest again. I had already eaten a couple of gels and a Honey Stinger waffle with some almond butter on it. I also was taking Vespa every four hours and sucking on LifeSavers as I ran. I carried 50 oz. of water in my hydration vest. I spent a few minutes at the aid station and, then, left ready to take Fish Creek Falls Trail back down into town and onto a short road section that would lead to the high school.
Fish Creek was beautiful in it's fall colors and I felt really good just ticking off the trail miles. From the lake, the first 3 miles of trail are gently rolling, mostly downhill, as you pass a couple of meadows and some forested areas. The second 3 miles are, at first, exposed and rocky trail past the 2nd water falls, then, still somewhat rocky, but forested and steeply descending single track down to the 1st falls I got some encouragement from day hikers as I hiked the short uphill back to the Fish Creek parking lot. From there, I got on the road and began the 2 mile paved section down to the high school. I caught up with a runner from Boulder (Mike or Mark, I think. Anyway, he went on to finish. Great older guy.) and we chatted it up as we ran down the road. About 20 minutes later we arrived at the Steamboat Springs High School aid station right around 1:30 P.M.
As I checked into the aid station, I was greeted by my friend, Tiana Buschmann and her daughter, Maile. It was unexpected and I was so happy to see her but, in a way, it threw off my rhythm as I was trying to prep for the next leg. Furthermore, I was going to stop and see my wife, Katy, right down the street where I would stop again and eat some food she had for me. By the time I got to Katy, I felt kind of like I needed to rush and get over to Olympian Hall to start the next leg. Also, when I saw Katy and her big, beautiful 7-month pregnant belly, I felt happy, but also, guilty for having her out there trying to help. In hindsight, I should have had her meet me right at the aid station, so I wouldn't have had to stop twice. In the end, it probably only cost me a few extra minutes and wasn't really crucial.
After leaving Katy, I took 3rd Street to Lincoln Avenue where I had to wait for the traffic light to change. While waiting, I saw my neighbor, Gallo, from Stagecoach with his year-old daughter and talked to him until the light changed. It was so funny to be running a race under these circumstances but I guess that's just life in a small town, too. I slowly jogged a mile on the Yampa River Core Trail to get over to Olympian Hall where I checked in and did my best to get hydrated for the slog over to Cow Creek. By now, it was mid-afternoon and although it wasn't really hot, the sun was beating down and I knew it was going to be a tough 7 mile run over Emerald Mountain and across the sage brush covered ridges that go over to Cow Creek.
This section started with an extremely steep 400' climb up the face of Howelsen Hill before getting on Blackmere Drive, a dirt road that climbs up Emerald. Then, it's a half-mile climb up the Lane of Pain to the summit. It was a steep, slow trudge to the top. After the summit, there are a few steep descents and ascents before the trail starts to gradually roll downhill for 4+ miles. I ran behind another runner before teaming up with one more for the long, sunny descent to Cow Creek. We talked and joked and the miles passed well, but the heat was taking it's toll and we all were feeling a little drained by the time we finally reached the aid station. It was a tough and warm two-hour run to get there and I was worried that I wouldn't be able to carry enough water to last for the run back to Olympian. I decided to drop my trekking poles at Cow Creek, as I wasn't really using them anymore and it would let me travel a little lighter. In hindsight, although they helped on the steepest climbs it probably wasn't all that beneficial to have them. I spent a few minutes at the aid station re-hydrating and eating as much as I could and putting on more sun block. I could feel a blister developing on my right heel but it wasn't terrible so I just left it alone and headed back out on the course.
I was definitely feeling tired when I got back on the dirt road to the Beall Trail and kept it at a steady hike for a few minutes until I felt good enough to run slowly for a little while. While it wasn't really hot, it was warm enough and being in the sun too long was wearing on me. I mostly just hiked the road and thought about conserving water and energy. By the time I reached the trail head, I was with another runner but dropped him shortly after we got on the trail and I started to feel good enough to run again. To my surprise, the trail entered a nice, cool pine forest and started to roll mostly downhill and I felt good enough to clip off a couple miles without too much hard effort. But then, it just started to drag on and on. This was the longest section of the race between aid stations, nearly 11 miles, and when the trail got back into the sage brush and it was warm again. I did my best to conserve water but ran out with still a few more miles to go. On top of that, the blister on my right heel was still hurting a bit, as was my left knee, at times. I was running with my phone on me and receiving text messages from Katy and my friend JD, so they would when to meet me. It was cool because I was also getting text messages from other friends and family who were rooting me on and sending words of encouragement. One of my texts to JD simply stated: "I NEED a Mountain Dew with ice when I get there." I was fading quite a bit just before I got back to the summit of Emerald but got lucky when I ran into a mountain biker who had pulled off to the side of the trail with his dog. He wished me luck on the race and I asked him if he could spare any water. He permitted me a nice, long drink from his Camelbak and I left telling him he probably saved my life. It made the descent back down to Olympian Hall a little less worrisome. My spirits were also lifted on the way down Blackmere Drive when I saw Jeff Good, peddling uphill on an evening mountain bike ride. The sun was beginning to set and it was finally cooling off a little bit. Jeff gave me an "Attaboy!" and it helped me forget my troubles for a while. I was beginning to see runners in the Hare race going out to Cow Creek. I recognized U.S. Mountain Running Team member Michelle Suszeck coming up the dirt road with another elite, attempting her first 100. That was cool. Then, I finally got back to the top of Howelsen Hill for the 400' drop down to Olympian Hall. The extremely steep descent was murder on my knee so I just stepped slowly, which was mentally hard because all I wanted to do was get down! My final 20 steps or so, I had to turn around and walk backwards so my knee wouldn't hurt. I was feeling pretty low but was immediately lifted out of my funk when I was greeted by my wife, my dog, Benihana, and my friends, JD, BA and Melissa with Marvin and Biz Markie, and Rebecca and Tracey, all in front of Olympian Hall at around 8 P.M.. It was quite a lift. I was so jazzed! It was such an incredible show of love and support and I'll never forget it.
I checked into the aid station and Katy and JD helped me get sorted out at the aid with food and water. I told them that the course had been measured short and it was taking longer to get to the aid stations because it was actually longer between them than advertised. Not a big deal, at the time, but it was making my progress SEEM slower than it was. (After the race, I learned that varying GPS measurements had the course at 108 to 113 miles.) Once I was ready, we all walked the mile over to the high school on the Core Trail together with my dog, who wanted to stop about 50 times. At the high school, we saw Jonny Buschmann and Tiana and Maile, again. The leader in the Hare race, Dave James, blew through the high school while I was there, shirtless. "He's going to be cold by the time he gets up to Long Lake." I thought. (James later succumed to the cold and fell back to finish 5th.) It was getting dark and cooler, so I put on a long sleeve shirt, a beanie and my headlamp. As I was leaving, the 2nd place runner in the Hare race, Dylan Bowman, came through the aid station. I felt really rejuvenated leaving the high school, ready to run all night long. Seeing everybody had really pumped me up for the night section. So, around 9 P.M. I said 'bye' to friends, kissed my wife and started running back up to Long Lake.
I was already running when I left the aid station and just kept a steady jog going on the two miles of road back up to the Fish Creek Falls trailhead. On the road stretch, I was feeling alright but getting annoyed at the headlights from the few on-coming cars I encountered. I even got heckled by some high school kids getting their Friday night kicks. I thought that was just priceless. About halfway to the trailhead, Karl Meltzer (ultrarunning legend and the eventual winner of the race and $11,000 in prize money) passed me and disappeared into the darkness ahead after just a few minutes. Once I hit the rocky, single track I dropped down to a steady hike for the climb back up Fish Creek. It was pretty exciting being on the trail in the dark. At one point, I saw Karl's headlamp way ahead of me on some switchbacks. I was feeling really good, glad to be out of the day's heat and on with some nice, cool night trekking. I passed a runner and their pacer regrouping on the side of the trail before second falls and offered some encouragement. I ran the flat section before the bridge and power hiked again after there all the way past the second falls. During this part, Tim Olsen, winner of this year's Western States 100 (in 14:47!), passed me and I had to give him a "Go get 'em, Olsen!" after he passed. It was really to cool to be running the same race as all these incredible elite athletes. Once the trail levelled out, I found an easy, rhythm and ran the next 3 miles to Long Lake. I passed several people on the trail, including a female runner who just sat on a rock trying to figure things out. As the trail gained altitude it got colder and I put on a vest layer to stay ahead of the falling temperatures. When I finally reached Long Lake, some time after 11:00 P.M., I actually felt really good and was positive everything would go well from here on out. I was ready for a jacket, though. As soon as I pulled into the aid station, I went straight to my drop bag and put on a short sleeve shirt and my fleece jacket and I was finally able to get some gloves on my hands, again and I felt nice and toasty warm. I grabbed my I-Pod and then stopped at the aid station to eat some noodles and make sure I had plenty of food. I checked out of the aid station and headed over to Divide Road for the next section, a 5+ mile, rolling dirt road over to Summit Lake.
I was stoked to finally have my I-Pod as I knew it would be a welcome distraction to the pains developing all over my body. I, first, listened to an hour-long stand up routine by Dave Chappelle that did a great job keeping my spirits lifted. I steadily hiked all the uphills and ran most of the downs and flats while the night pressed on. It was on the road that I finally got a sense of how dark it was that night. There was no moon and no ambient light for miles so outside of the ring of the headlamp was utter darkness. Although it wasn't a problem, I did develop tunnel vision a few times during the night and would click my light off and back on to let my eyes readjust. Every now and then, volunteers from the aid station would come driving down the dirt road and I got annoyed by their headlights and the dust their vehicles were kicking up. After an hour of Chappelle, I switched to some music and was really feeling some nice, overall pain as I kept charging on down the dirt road in complete blackness. When I arrived at Summit Lake, sometime in the wee hours of the morning, I was relieved for a chance to sit down and regroup.
There were three or four other runners at the aid station while I was there and no one was in a big hurry to leave. I was still feeling pretty alert and was noticing how the other runners were looking. A couple looked pretty good and comfortable in their surroundings, giving the impression that they were 100-mile race veterans. A couple looked pretty beat up and fatigued. Elite runner Duncan Callahan (past winner of the Leadville 100) came through and asked if anyone else was commenting on how 'long' the course was. One of the volunteers confirmed that the course was indeed several miles longer than previously thought. I sat for a few minutes and enjoyed more hot noodles and then went through my drop bag to see if I needed to refill anything I was carrying. After about 15 minutes, I finally felt ready to tackle the 8 mile descent down Buffalo Pass Road to Dry Lake.
The slog down Buff Pass road would be tough and I knew it. I've been on this road many times and could imagine most of it even though I ran it in the dark. I just put in the earbuds and steadily pounded out the miles. Fortunately, it's primarily downhill and I was able to get moving but I wasn't feeling good about it. It was just mentally tough and I had fallen hours behind where I had planned on being because the course distances weren't what I previously thought them to be. I texted Katy and my friend, Brian, while heading down the road and told them not to bother meeting me at the high school because I was still hours away from being there and I didn't want them waiting for me. At the time, I didn't think I'd get there until at least 5 A.M. They assured me it was ok and I kept plugging away in the dark, mile after agonizing mile. One uplifting moment came when the town lights of Steamboat came into view. In the vast darkness, it provided a glimmer of hope. Until, I thought about running all the way down there...
It seemed like an eternity before I finally reached Dry Lake but I was elated when I finally arrived there. There was a buzz of activity as runners met up with crew members and friends and I got to see Bronwyn for the first time during the race. Bron sat me down and I warmed up with some miso soup. We talked for a while about the race and it was a real lift to be with a friend after such a rough patch. By now, it was some time after 3:00 A.M. and I was coming around and ready to get going again. I bid Bronwyn farewell and started hiking down Spring Creek Trail.
About five minutes down the trail, I started running again and was glad to be on this trail that I know so well. I was feeling really rejuvenated from my aid station stop and started pushing the pace. Everything seemed to click and I started running faster than I had all day. The beats of the music pulsing in my ear helped me forget any discomfort in my body and I felt, well, amazing. There were runners heading back up the trail, some doing well and others struggling. At one point, I crossed paths with local runner, Sean Doran, and I was happy to seem him still out there crushing it. Then, I felt my phone buzz and I read the message from BA saying that they had left the high school. I felt bad that I was going to miss them after they had waited for me there. Still, I was hoping to see my wife. When I reached the gazebo, about a mile from the high school, I called Katy to tell her where I was and when she said "No!" I knew that she wouldn't be at the high school to meet me. Katy had gone to get some sleep while I ran the night portion of the course. She didn't expect me to arrive at the high school until near 5:30 A.M. but I ended up running the section down from Dry Lake almost an hour faster than I thought I would and she wasn't going to be ready to meet me. Just like that, my mood dropped.
When, I arrived at the high school aid station it was dark and cold. There was no buzz of activity like Dry Lake and my emotional balloon completely deflated as I checked in. I walked to the cooler to refill my water bottles but they were both nearly full. I hardly drank a drop the last 6 miles. I was feeling cold. I waited for some noodles to finish cooking and then, tried to eat some but they were soggy and I began pacing, unsure of what to do. First, I thought "I need to leave right now, if I'm going to make it." Then, I thought about stopping. The high school seemed like the logical place. My motivation retreated deeper. Damn. I texted Katy: I think I'm going to DNF. She called me back and told me she was on her way. Damn. Can't leave now. Don't want to leave now. I asked a volunteer if I could sit in a car and warm up and one of them helped me immediately. As I sat there, I sunk lower and my legs grew stiffer and I knew I wouldn't be able to continue without a great deal of suffering. The wheels were falling off the cart. I told myself: "Just go back out and start walking. The sun will come up in less than an hour and you will be re-energized." It made sense and was probably true but I couldn't get myself to do it. I shivered and sulked. After 15 more minutes, Katy showed up and we discussed my options. I ended up sitting in the car for another 15 minutes. Despite my fatigue and pain, I was still lucid and told her I had made up my mind and wouldn't go back out on the course. At that moment, I just didn't want the buckle bad enough. I walked over to the aid station table and told them that Number 274 was out of the race.
Looking back, of course I regret the decision but I can live with it because I gave it a solid attempt and I can always try again. The experience I had while I participated was incredible. I met some really great people and stretched the boundries of what I have done before. I actually had a pretty good race up until that last leg and learned alot about the course and HOW to run a 100-miler. My eating and drinking were mostly on the money, with the exception of running out of water on the Cow Creek Loop (Next time, I won't use poles at all and will carry and extra bottle to and from Cow Creek). I will have a plan of attack to address blisters next time. Most everything else went well, the low points were expected but never terrible and the fact that I wasn't even sore by Wednesday after the race tells me that physically, I should have been able to finish. Unfortunately, I won't be able to do Run Rabbit Run next year because we're already planning to be in Maine next September but I will be lining up in 2014 for another, hopefully triumhant, shot at the buckle. Meanwhile, I've got about 6 weeks until the birth of my daughter and then, it's time to raise a little girl!