i want to stand as close to the edge as i can without going over. out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can't see from the center.
- kurt vonnegut
the only differences between the start of this race and the othefr recent ultras i've attempted were: the guy ready to announce the start with a shotgun, and the 200ft, 30° climb just beyond the starting line.
around 60% of the starters are from colorado, so the one other difference was that everywhere i looked there were wiry, badass, mountain goat looking motherfuckers, seemingly ready to destroy this course, and i found msyelf seriously considering whether my... let’s call it midwestern frame, would be able to keep up.
spotted greg, in from new york, and it was great to catch up with him and to have a buddy there. (was even better when we got to meet up at the finish line (he finished way before me))
at the peak of the first 12,000 ft ascent, i feebly remarked to the group:
“that was fun”
a few runners laughed, as best as one can laugh in an oxygen-deprived stated. which is to say, i might be confusing a sharp exhale with a laugh.
even though it was hard, it really was fun to be soaking in this environment and experience for the first time.
things were going well at this point. took my time with the aid station bag, realized i needed to switch music sources, merged unused vitargo, etc.
someone at the station to a runner: “how’s it goin out there?”
runner: “i’m really suffering”
me: “hey, isn’t that what we signed up for?”
runner “well in that case, i’m getting my money’s worth”
12,000ft climb #3, or "out on the edge"
the edge of what i was capable of doing.
what is there to see, out on the edge?
this time, i saw my self.
there was nothing else to see.
the lack of oxygen simplifies thoughts and feelings beyond words.
concepts of past or future fade away.
there's no looking forward like "if i do this, then i'll ..." or "i did x before, so i know i can do this now."
it's just me.
it's just now.
simple sentences play in the mind:
over the peak and back in action. it seemed amazing to discover how quickly our bodies can shift from near shutdown to dancing down a descent.
looking back, another runner (matt from chi!) is coming up the hill:
finally over the last peak and making my way down, it seemed evident that i had done the previous downhills too quickly, as my body was in a lot of pain and as much as i wanted to run down, walking or stumbling was the only option for a while.
down below, the clouds were rolling in, or maybe that's the wrong perspective and it was that i was arriving where they had rolled in
what followed was a warm light rainfall, then a cold downpour, then a freezing downpour, then hail, then more freezing downpour. 7 miles to go, wishing i would have grabbed my raincoat (was forgotten in the car, not even drop bag), wishing i would have snuck a trash bag from that aid station, was convinced that i would either have to run hard to stay warm enough or to get taken to the hospital at some point for hypothermia. it was cold. my hands were freezing at the beginning of the day as the thing started, and now they're freezing again.
an intersting thing can happen during ultras. miles 40-42 before this storm were absolute torture. body was busted and hurt badly all over. maybe it was the cold rain and hail, maybe it's just part of deal. next thing i knew, i'd been running for a few miles, and everything felt great.
must be some kind of a cruel trick, we joked a few times, especially after thinking we were going to be making the final descent only to realize we still had several hundred feet of climbing.
the two guys in this pic passed me, one a leadman (did the 50 mile bike race the day before), and the other a leadville resident.
as the starting pic showed, there was a steep incline to start the race. arriving back in at the top of this steep incline did not indicate that final decline of the race. wtf??? meandered around the course a bit more, only to find an even steeper decline, on a surface that looked like it was fashioned for tobogan descents, not for running.
after stumbling down that thing, finally, the finish line:
these are the things that when said repetivitely for some stretch of time (like in tune with every step for as long as it stays on the mind), or when brought to mind occasionaly, seem to help time pass or seem to help pain fade.
"pain just hurts"
"this is what you signed up for"
tricky. most of the time, probably 75%, you really have to watch your footing so that you don’t trip. lots of large rocks, loose rocks, uneven terrain, etc.
a lot of times i wanted to look around at the mountains and couldn't because you have to watch where you’re going. this is where it’s helpful that it’s an out and back course, because the part you’re running down you’ll be walking up, and the other way, so you really get to soak it all in.
with the widely varying terrain, there was no need for the usual tempo-synched long running mix, so this playlist of fun songs was used. other than when a peak song hit in the middle of a 22 minute mile, and i had to tear my headphones off and throw them off a cliff, this worked out pretty well.
following the advice and research of tim noakes' new book waterlogged, tried to minimize sodium intake, and tried to drink to thirst and eat to hunger, with some minimal attentiveness just to make sure that really long periods of time don’t go by without enough water or calories.
seemed to work fine. salstick+ around mile 30, mostly for the caffeine. happened one other time, and also had some perpetuem solids, again for caffeine and for change of pace (one flavor of vitargo can get boring). so all in that’s only 500+mg of sodium, 10% of what might be recommended for this distance. weather was not too hot, and there was a nice breeze, so sweat rates were low. this is the part where i do not go on a tangent about “the establishment” or “the man,” or about gatorade being a myth-creating evil force in the sports world.
beyond that, no idea how many calories of food or ounce of water were consumed.
along with not tracking calorie and water intake, for the first time the gps watch was only used to show realtime elevation, just to get a sense for what different elevations felt like. this worked out well. drank when thirsty, ate when hungry, and ran as much as my body would let me, and didn't worry about anything else.
food storage: need to find a better way to carry the vitargo supply around. maybe it’s because there was only one drop bag setup at this one. though if there were more, i’d not want to keep going for a drop bag. at start and mid departure, there are 4 bags with 2oz of powder each, and this gets bulky.
two amphipod stretchy belts. one with camera, and one with vitagro. a bit too bouncy here and there.
used the back pocket of my shorts for my iphone (in lifeproof case). bad move. it can get really annoying to try to open a zipper with one hand when you are carrying 2 handheld waterbottles and have been running for 9 hours. the headphone jack on the lifeproof case is weirdly shaped, so it often took minutes of frustrating effort just trying to get the thing back in my pocket. was taking it out to take pictures, to read msgs on uphills, and to make it start playing music again when it stopped randomly a couple of times. can not deal with this during the hundred. will probably just use 2x nanos and no pockets for music next time.
is good to get msgs tho….
almost wrapping it up
no pictures even come close to feeling what it is like to be there, to be immersed in it.
even though it’s hard to get oxygen into your blood, the mountain air is crisp and fresh. the water that flows throw streams or creeks or puddles you pass along the way, it reflects light without oil streaks or dirt or algae. just clean and pure and beautiful. dipping your hat in it and splashing your face is a nice way to cool off, and being that connected to the natural source feels pretty good too.
it always seems weird to me to return to the reality of day to day life. happy to be home, happy to hug my family, and prepping to transition back into the normal kind of of work the following day, everything feels good. the next morning, it all starts out fine as i bike to the train, arrive downtown, and order my coffee at the train station coffee shop (though the walk down the stairs prior to the coffee part is usually a bit of a reminder of what i've been up to).
after getting coffee and being reminded what hot, fresh coffee tastes like (doubled up on years-old instant packets at the motel before the race sunday morning), i walk out the door of the train station and it hits me.
equally spaced, artificially positioned trees.
the peaks are the tops of buildings.
machines take us to the tops of the peaks.
the view can be nice, though it is seen safely from behind a glass wall in stale, climate-controlled air.
we're no longer fully immersed in nature, sensing it from beyond periphery, soaking in the freshest air and seeing the brightest natural colors.
want to be back there, want to only ever be there.
skipping back in time a bit: haniging out right after the race, greg and i saw an old timer, a guy who he had seen at the training camp. the guy was holding an age group award, and we guessed that it was for 60+. aware that we're a part of a growing trend, we talked about how bad ass and inspiring the old timers are, and about what might happen with the trend, and about how we hope we keep coming back, finding our way to the edge, year after year.
friends and i have joked about some of the peeps you talk to during ultras, when they say "oh this is just a training race, i'm really just getting ready for ___"
___ is one race or another.
for me, it's beyond one race or another.
it's getting ready for feeling alive.
for voluntarily and intentionally doing something that is really hard, and hoping at the start there's a least a possilibiliy of finishing, and right along with it, knowing there's also the possibility of not finishing. and maybe that's what makes it real and makes it feel so good. our parents or grandparents or their parents had some real shit to do. they had to make their way out there, fight in wars, claim new land; it wasn't all certain.
now, we don't have to do anything.
but we can.
and from what i've found, the reward is worth it.
the leadville trail one hundred is next. comparing finishers' data from last year indicates that for me it might not even be advisable to try this, and that i'm in for the long haul if i do (<10 hours indicates under 25 hours/nets the big buckle, and >11 hours indicates closer to 29 or 30 hours, aka the cutoff; i'll probably be close to the cutoff).
maybe this warrants one more of scott jurek’s quotes:
"sometimes you just do things"
in his case it’s win, in my case it will be just to try. finish or not, it’s going to be an epic journey, and i am thankful and excited that some of my best friends will be there to help along the way.