Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Run Rabbit Run 2015

A few days after finishing the Run Rabbit Run 100 miler here in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, my roommate Avery asked me, "So, are you going to write a race report for RRR?  I mean, you did finish."  "Hmmmm, I haven't really thought about that too much.  I guess I could.  I didn't have a splendid race, but I did finish.  Yeah....I freaking finished that bitch.  YEAH!  No DNF (did not finish) this year! BAM!"

Moments like these remind me that it'd be ridiculous to be disappointed in running my slowest ever 100 miler in a time of 26:36:28.  I finished 38th out of 153 finishers, with 145 DNF's.  It's really crazy, and unrealistic to expect everything in life to go perfectly.  And with running ~105 miles in the Rockies through the solitude of the night without a pacer, I'd be an ungrateful sap that deserves a swift kick to the groin if I was truly dissatisfied with how things turned out.  I will also say with certainty that RRR 2015 was easily my hardest 100 thus far (4 completions), and inflicted more discomfort than any race to date.  But, somehow I kept going.

To get started, I'd like to say that I'm pretty much ending my racing season.  I've been recovering better than ever, and have been able to get back at it pretty quickly, but that burning desire to compete has naturally dissipated until next year.  My goal is to maximize fun, because if you're not having fun, you yourself may not be that much fun.  At this point, fun is not toeing a line for me.  This is the greatest part of running to me; freedom.  Constantly reflecting on my punk rock, do it yourself, slightly rebellious childhood, I'll never forget and will always take away that I can do whatever the Fuck I want, with a capital F.  And more importantly, not to give a damn about conventional ways of approaching your muse.  After all, your happiness, or lack of it is yours and no one else's, so we gotta own that shit!  

My recovery from Western States at the end of June went extremely well, and I was able to get in an excellent training block before doing a little taper for RRR.  With Justin Ricks coaching/consulting  for the couple months before, and answering any questions about training I had, I was in excellent shape going into race day.  I don't think I'd change anything about the way I trained, or tapered.  It's just, you know, 100 miles, a step into the unknown to say the least.

As race day approached with a summer of some of the best memories I'll ever have, surrounded by brilliant people of all backgrounds, my heart was in this for Steamboat Springs.  This race meant, and still means the world to me.  It sounds like a lot of pressure, but I felt none.  Just plain stoked.  Determined.  Ready to represent.  I've met so many genuine people since I've moved here, and the local running scene is not huge, but is so tight, and friendly.  We also have thousands of miles of trails that weave through some of the most beautiful country I could ask for.

The race started at noon.  I hate getting up early, so I was not mad about this at all.  Both of my roommates, my neighbor friend Cara, our friend Eva, my friend Jesse (who'd also be running), and myself walked over to the start about an hour before the start.

Starting up the mountain at the very start (~3700' climb) wasn't too bad.  Since the course took us straight up the ski runs for well over half of the climb, it was only like 5 or 6 miles to the top.  I think that for us locals, it is pretty uneventful how the course utilizes "the mountain", or Mt. Werner; via ski runs and service road.  I guess it's a good way for spectators to watch from the gondola, and I'm not sure what permitting entails, but to me, the fun way up is on mostly single track, and takes nearly 10 miles.  I chose not to wear my watch, because I'd be too lazy to look at it anyways, and it'd likely die around half ways in.  Plus, 100 miles is such a journey that it feels unimportant to me.  I can get all the data and splits online, but no technology can convince me to work harder, and be better.

After reaching the top of Mt. Werner (Storm Peak), I began the gradually descending rolling section to Long Lake AS (aid station), known as Mountain View trail.  At this point everyone is still rolling into the stations in packs, still in close proximity.  This would be the case for a little less than the first half of the race.
My roommates and I-Fish Creek Falls Parking lot
The goal for me was to concentrate my efforts in not letting the exertion level get too generous.  I wanted to remain consistent.  With that being said, I ran very closely with 2014's 2nd place Josh Arthur, and Western States' record holder Timmy Olson for much of the first 40 miles, and kept wondering what in God's name I was doing this far up front so soon.  But, to be perfectly blunt, I never felt uncomfortable with my pace, and felt relaxed, but focused.  That is....until I stopped eating...and drinking.

My laziness, and/or forgetfulness started around half ways in, which also happens to be when it gets cold, dark, and you climb back up to 10,000'.  I was much better prepared for the cold this year, but damn it was frigid up there.  I'll probably repeat this a few more times.

Eventually I made it to the Summit Lake AS on Buffalo Pass after a miserable 6 or so mile section of dirt road, before taking Buff Pass Road down to Dry Lake.  It was kinda funny when I finally got to Summit Lake AS.  I refused to go in the warm, cozy tent, because I'd never get out (this is where I got trapped last year).  A volunteer filled my bottle, laughed at me, then I began the uneventful ~8 mile descent to Dry Lake where I'd see my crew for the first time in 20 miles.

I'm not sure what time it was when I got to Dry Lake (mile 65), but it was late.  By this point my neglect had begun running a very expensive tab.  I'd be shocked if I was even getting 100 calories an hour.  Looking back, I'm like "Devon, you're such an idiot.  What the hell, man."  But then again, I didn't ever consider quitting, and had ample opportunity to do so.

Somehow I ran surprisingly fast down Spring Creek trail to mile 70 before turning around back up to Dry Lake (mile 75ish).  The journey back up was what I'd describe as shit.  I returned to my crew totally exhausted, cold, hungry, but not really able to eat.  I sat in a chair for a good 40 minutes wrapped in a blanket refusing to eat much.  My crew did manage to get me some ginger ale, and a couple bites of the PBJ/banana/nutella sandwich I invented (no big deal).

Thankfully for my crew, I did eventually leave for the 8 mile climb back into the wilderness.  This would be the last time I'd see them until the end.  According to my watch on a previous training run, there were about 30 miles left.  Totally drained, malnourished, but determined to finish, I basically crawled back up to Summit Lake AS.  On a few occasions I almost fell asleep while walking.

By the time I finally reached Summit Lake (82) the sun was coming up, and I needed to sit down.  I had only taken a couple sips of water in the last couple hours.  "Dammit Devon.  Let's see how deep we can dig this hole you've dug for yourself."  I was very happy to see that AS.  I took a nap in a chair, then drank a cup or two of instant coffee that totally hit the spot.  Suddenly, Ryan Case comes in with the girl he was pacing, Elizabeth.  Ryan and I raced together at Behind the Rocks 50 back in March, and it was energizing to see him.  I thought, "this is my chance to get out of here", so I left with Elizabeth and Ryan.

It was pretty awesome up at 10,000' at the crack of dawn.  Steamboat is just gorgeous.  The beginning to a beautiful day made the struggle more tolerable.  Also, though it was a bit chilly, the rising sun made for ideal running conditions, even though I wasn't running much.

Long Lake AS came and they were partying it up, drinking beers, and having a good old time.  I wish I could've stayed!  There were a few locals that recognized me, which made a Tecate, or PBR quite tempting.  "Just 7 miles up Mountain View trail, then down Werner, and I'm done", I kept reminding myself.  Starting up Mountain View started off great, then shifted to me saying, "man, I'm so fucked right now" several times, and forcing a few laughs about my deteriorated self.

After sitting on a few rocks, and enjoying the alpine views provided on Mountain View, the final AS came after what seemed like forever.  I'd come nearly 100 miles, and all that was left was a 7ish mile descent to the finish.  It'd been a long day, night, and morning, and the sun illuminated the golden colors of the mountain glow.  I decided to take a seat at the Storm Peak AS, enjoy the view, chat with a few volunteers, and crack a few bad jokes before being on my way.  It took a couple miles for my legs to get used to the downhill, but eventually I could only envision the end.  I'd run this service road 100 times, and I knew the mountain like the back of my hand, so I ran pretty quickly from the gondola to the finish.

Free hugs for all finishers!
Crossing the finish line in 100 miles never comes without great struggle, and humbles to the depths of your soul.  I wanted this finish for me, for my family, for my friends, for my town.  And through persistence, and being willing to change my focus from racing to not giving up, the end did eventually come.  And that is life, man.  There are so many instances that just getting up in the morning is a struggle, let alone building, and maintaining a life for yourself.  It's the reassurance that permanence isn't real that keeps me moving forward in more ways than one.  You're going to get beat down, let down, and shot down.  Others are going to try and pull you down.  You're going to break some hearts.  And get your heart broken.  And sometimes it's so overwhelming that it feels like there is no end.  But, there definitely is.  And being cognizant that life is so damn short, and we are so incredibly insignificant in the grand scheme of things should make us want to take every moment as if it's the last.  I think that's a large part of why I ever considered running 100 miles in the first place.

Most of my crew was waiting for me at the finish, drinking beer and carrying along.  I finished with a laugh as Avery, who was volunteering, was chose to announce at the finish.  His words were something like, "And here's Devon Olson!  He moved to Steamboat a year ago, and is getting older so needs to settle down  with a house, and kids.  Devon's also going to quit 100 milers to focus on his 5k PR."  The only thing I could think was "Who in the hell gave Avery a microphone?  Are you even kidding me?"
In all seriousness, it was awesome to see everyone at the finish.  Everyone was really happy for me, and I think they were stoked for my finish.  After chatting with loads of people, drinking a couple beers, and catching up with fellow Pennsylvanian (now Colorado Springs), and world class runner Jared Hazen, I started hobbling for the 0.7 mile walk home.  Luckily, my friends Eric and Luke picked me up shortly, and dropped me at my door.  It was good to finish a race, and go home to bed in the same day.

I'd like to say that I am very thankful for such a successful season.  I'm not going to post all of my results.  That's what ultrasignup.com is for.  I am however very stoked about every single one of them, and will mark running a 19:11 at Western States as my best/most emotional finish yet.  I accomplished my goal of the season-to finish two 100s in the summer of 2015.  No 100 mile DNF.  Aside from a very amazing season of running, and racing in the high country, I've had so much fun this summer that I still haven't realized it yet.  I've also met some really incredible people that are absolutely infectious, but in that unique sort of way.

A finish at RRR 100 2015 was a great way to end the season.  As for next year, I'm hoping to do another big 100 (Western States, Hardrock, Leadville), but obviously contingent on lotteries.  Until all that stuff gets figured out, it's nice to just get out and enjoy for enjoyment's sake.  Because it's the slow season here in Steamboat, it'll be nice to go see friends and family in the east come November.  It'll also be great to get out on the Laurel Highlands trail!

Thanks to such an awesome/committed crew that sat in the bone chilling cold waiting for me-Avery Collins, Cara Weiner, Watkins Fulk-Gray, Eva Vaikus, and Hans Ulmer.  I really appreciate how much you guys were pulling for me out there.  It's friends like you that kept me moving.  Avery and I have logged some miles together, so he knows me pretty well.  They did a great job.

Thanks to my good friend Jesse (who will probably never read this), who though didn't have the day he wanted at his first stab at 100, is a total badass.  About 70% of my training for this race ended up being with Jesse, with lots of very productive miles.  Jesse is a really solid friend, and I'm stoked we got to train so much together for RRR.

Thanks to Justin Ricks for believing in me enough to offer his coaching services.  Though training for RRR was mostly on me, he did give me a few good workouts, and plenty of valuable advice.  I'm really excited to work with Justin in 2016, and continue to improve.

Thanks to all the Steamboaters.  I'm really fortunate to live in such a caring community of people.  There were so many locals, both runners and non-runners rooting for me.  That's so amazing to me.  It makes me want to be better, but not in that selfish kind of way.  It makes me want to become great to represent the brilliant hills and people I'm surrounded by.

Lastly, thanks to my family.  Three years ago, I don't think they had any idea what I was doing with the running thing.  Amazingly, they've really come around, and are my biggest fans.  I think they understand, and see how much effort, and emotion I put into running in the mountains.  It's hard being on the other side of the country, but these hills have my heart.  As the years slip into the past, I'm learning to cherish time with family much more than when I was 18.

Cheers everyone!  I don't have lots of good pictures this time so here's a song I've been digging the last couple months.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Western States 100 reflections

It seems to me that after every good race, you have the chance to bathe in your successes for a few days before everything levels out again, and life becomes more normal again.  This seems especially apparent in 100+ miles.  So much time and energy goes into such a feat.  There's no faking 100 miles.  That being said, post Western States has left me not super high, not super low, not too content, but not at all unhappy.  It's that sweet spot where you just roll with the punches, and can hardly look back because you just want to be moving forward.  I think that for me, that is at least partially satisfaction.  And when I stop to really think about it, satisfaction without stagnation is what gets me up everyday, and propels my ambitions, and inspires me to keep on keepin' on.

Just a few short years ago when I became aware of The Western States Endurance Run, there was no way that I could, would, or should run 100 miles in one push.  This race was unreachable, and would only ever be a dream stored in the dark, dusty closet somewhere in the back of my mind.  Isn't it funny how things change?

On one uneventful morning in December my roommate Avery and I were huddled around our electronic devices watching the lotteries for Western States and Hardrock, as I'd only a single ticket with hopes of Western, and Avery had an equally terrible chance at Hardrock Hundred.  The selecting was about three-quarters of the way done, and it was apparent that I'd just have to try again next year. And then I heard music in air.  "From Steamboat Springs, Colorado, Devon Olson".  I was celebrating by the time he finished saying "From Steamboat Springs".  Some things got knocked over, broken, and I almost broke myself in the midst of celebration.  Nothing like a good party!  Perma-smile!

Avery and I packed up my Corolla and left for Tahoe City on Wednesday the 24th, a few or so hours before the sun set.  These long road trips are becoming like clock work for us.  There's definitively an art to traveling efficiently, and safely.  Either way, we were pretty glad to see the "Welcome to California" sign, and feel the relief of almost reaching our destination.  Ultrarunning sometimes requires ultra driving; that is, driving so far that you feel and act like a maniac, but just keep driving anyway.  My friend Dave and I used to take ultra-driving trips, and talk like Irish people for hours just to stay entertained, and awake....then we couldn't stop talking with accents.  Ughhhh, we did it to ourselves.  Good times.
The starting line the day before takeoff
Anywho, the pre-race jitters were as typical as ever.  However, I knew that I was going into this race in great shape, and felt very confident in finishing at the very least.  After all, Western had been in the back of my mind since being selected way back in December.  I'd been fortunate and disciplined enough to run every day the month of May except for two, with a few doubles squeezed in, and even one 3 run day.  It's just that "100 miles is really far".  That's right Karl Meltzer!  "100 miles is not, not that far".  That guy is one of the most badass in the sport, and has the most 100 mile wins, but I still think he's full of shit with the "100 miles is not that far" crap.  A 5k is not far.  For us crazies, a marathon is not far.  But 100 miles....yeah, it's far no matter who you are, no matter where it's located.  When we get that remark we all hate, "I don't even like to drive 100 miles", they're serious!  Driving 100 miles is even far!  Anytime after a run that I don't immediately desire a beer is a good sign that it was really far, or something is terribly wrong.  Western States was no exception.

Day before photo

The 5am start was normal for any ultra, but this particular day was my first ever Western States, and the start line was abnormally dramatic, and intoxicating.  It, at this precise moment became clear how much work, and time had gone into what I was about to endure; mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

As we started off straight up the mountain, then escarpment before the first of many downhills, I did my best to relax, focus on a decent heart rate, and find a groove.  Naturally, I started off in 30th or 40th place, not at all to my surprise.  In the first 20, I had the opportunity to chat with a few people, Anita Ortiz being one.  She was running a pace that seemed very reasonable to me, so we shared a few together while a few scurried past in quite a rush.  Anita was really kind, and humble.  I didn't even realize who she was until after a mile or so!  As it turns out, she won WS in 2009!

Somewhere down the trail I found my groove with my first sights set on Robinson Flat (mile 30), which is the first stop that I'd see my roommate/friend/training partner/crew/pacer Avery.  Already, I was passing a few people, and my legs felt pretty okay.  On the ~5 mile climb up to Robinson, the sun started heating up, and wouldn't let up until dusk.  I rolled into Robinson Flat feeling pretty damn good, and the hundreds of people cheering me on reminded me why Western States is "the big dance".  At this point, I took my shirt off, snagged my Eastern States 100 hat filled with ice, filled my pack with ice, got doused in ice water, and grabbed more gels.  First class service at Western, I must say.  Avery said he made it to the the aid just in time.  Sometimes things just work out!

After leaving Robinson, there is literally a loss of ~3500' in ~20 miles.  And these, these were the miles that left me thinking, "wow, they weren't kidding when they said this course never stops going down!"  On the descent into the canyon before the Devil's Thumb climb, I was amongst Michael Wardian, and a guy named Chris (I think.  We'll call him Chris no matter what).  At the bottom of the canyon, before beginning the ascent, I realized that I'd somehow lost my salt pills, or left them at the last aid station.  "Oh shit, I'm going to cramp all the way up this climb with the way I've been sweating".  Wardian saved my ass, as he carries two bags in every race.  He said that during Olympic Trials one year he ran out, or lost them, and suffered all the way to the finish, so now he always carries two bags.  Same goes for if you have to cross a river, with the chance of them getting wet.  Oh man, between that and observing him throwing his handhelds on his wrist for the climbs, I was like a sponge soaking in wisdom accumulated through years of experience.  That climb to the Devil's Thumb aid (mile 48) was brutal after all that descent.  Between the heat in the canyon, and the hardest climb of the day (in my opinion), all three of us struggled up that climb.  To me, the crazy part was that I lead Mike, and Chris to the top.  At some point my inner dialogue questioned "why are you ahead of Mike Wardian, and this other guy that is clearly a great runner?"  To this I had no explanation, and already didn't feel like thinking any more critically than I had to.  So, I just ate some popsicle, grabbed more ice for my hat and pack, and kept running.

Somehow after Devil's Thumb I managed to pull it together and got the legs moving on the next descent into El Dorado Canyon.  Avery and I had run this section during a training run, so I had a general idea of what to expect.  I pulled away from Mike and Chris on the climb into Michigan Bluff (mile 56), and felt good all the way up.  I cruised into the aid, which would be the first place I'd see my mom and sister.  Avery got me restocked, I changed my socks, and was off.  Again, hundreds of people cheering me on....let's just say the stoke was high.  I would see everyone again at Foresthill in 6 or 7 miles, which is where I'd pick up a pacer, Kyle, who I'd met the day before.  Kyle was in the middle of a Pacific Crest Trail through hike, and had decided to stop in Squaw Valley to check out the race.  We randomly started talking, and before you know it, I had a pacer from Foresthill to Green Gate (62-80) before Avery picked me up at Green Gate.

Rolling into Foresthill (goodness I am demanding)

The journey with Kyle was fairly productive, and fairly consistent.  Kyle did a great job of saying the right things at the right time, and not saying the wrong things.  Being a pacer can be ambiguous work.  Thanks for putting up with me Kyle.

Kyle and I working our way up to Green Gate
Going into the race, one of my main goals was to remain positive, and focus on not letting the negative take over.  Looking back on things a few weeks later, it's apparent that somewhere after 70 miles in is where this became difficult to maintain.  One of my most vivid memories is crossing the American River at 78 miles.  The sun was setting, but it certainly wasn't dark yet.  Somewhere on the descent to the river I'd decided that I would put on a shirt at mile 80, where I'd see my crew again, as it wasn't hot anymore.  An aid station volunteer, a sweet lady only trying to help, dumped ice in my pack right before crossing the river, which left me shivering and frustrated.  She definitely didn't mean any harm, but nonetheless I got cold, and had a self-pity fest from after crossing the river until the next aid only a couple miles away.  Regardless,  I made it to my crew, grabbed a shirt, my headlamp, some gels, then took off for the last 20; 20 of the best and worst miles of my life.

Avery and I about to leave Green Gate (mile 80)

Another major goal of mine going into WS was to have a strong finish, as I still hadn't achieved that in either of the other 2-100's I've completed.  After this one, I think I'm halfway there, but still haven't really nailed it like I have at a few other shorter races.  Looking at it objectively, I had about 10 good/strong miles, and about 10 not so good miles in the last 20.  Swearing at rocks is a good indicator that some negativity has thrust it's way into your sanity.

This video my sister took of Avery and I leaving Green Gate is simply hilarious.  "Dev, you're doing great".  BAM!  Trip over rock.

By Green Gate, I was mostly happy with my performance to that point, and was glad that I'd only have about 15 miles or so in the dark.  Immediately as we left it seemed as if Avery and I were out on a regular training run; chatting, and joking about this and that, and how there were so many good looking girls at this race.  You know, dude stuff.

Leaving Green Gate
He told me that my mom and sister were so proud with what I was doing, and can't believe it.  From the time the gun went off, I knew I could never quit with how far Lindsay and my mom had come to watch me run 100 miles.  Knowing that they were there for me was in the back of my mind the whole time.  For as much as I pick on my mom, she's taught me more about love, patience, and acceptance than anyone.  I still can't believe they flew all the way across the country for my selfish pursuits.  Totally insane.

After departing Green Gate, I'd see my crew one more time at the Highway 49 crossing (mile
93.5) before taking it across No Hands Bridge, climbing up to Robbie Point, then hitting a little over a mile of pavement before running around the Placer High School track to the finish.  However, it wasn't over just yet.

It's crazy how good some of those last miles were, and how absolutely horrible some of them were.  It had gotten to the point where I just wanted to be done, and every time that I stopped at an aid station my legs started tightening up, then I'd have to walk for a minute before being able to resume running. It's so frustrating, really.  I mean, I bet I had a few 7-9 minute miles in there, but also walked down a few hills because my legs were so trashed.  This is what I mean, halfway there.  An improvement for certain, but not perfection.

I must've been out of it at this point because Avery told me I was talking to Hal Koerner at an aid station, and he was filling my bottles.  "Dude, you really didn't notice Hal?  You were talking to him!"  "Nah man, I don't know what you're talking about."  "Wow."

Finally, at some point we reached Highway 49, and I was struggling pretty good, still fighting the battle of staying positive.  After bitching about this, that, and the other thing to Avery out on the trail, and reminding myself where I was, I did my best to fight those demons.  For example, my mom kept telling me to eat at every aid, even after slamming more gels than I'd like to admit.  This eventually made me grumpy.  See for yourself....hahahahah

The last 7 miles from Highway 49 to the finish were tough.  I knew I had basically made it, but had trouble mustering up the will to push hard.  And then, right before Robbie Point at mile 98.9, Mike Wardian goes cruising past me.  I couldn't freaking believe it.  "I thought I lost him miles ago!"  And Avery says, "Let's do this.  How amazing would it be to end your first Western States racing Mike Wardian around the track?"  Without saying anything, I start cranking it down the road, knowing that it was almost over.  I catch up with Mike and his pacer, and he starts sprinting away.  I chase, and end up running one of the fastest miles all day (probably about 6 minutes), in the last mile.  Coming around the track together, I finish less than 20 seconds behind Wardian.  It was pretty sweet  I'll take it.

Finishing my first Western States Endurance Run was one I'll never forget.  19 hours 11 minutes 52 seconds.  This year there were 371 starters, 254 finishers, with a 68.5% finishing rate, much lower than most years-not sure why.  To be blunt, my first go at the most prestigious, historic, and competitive 100 miler in the world was more than I could have asked for.  Sure, I want to eventually go back for a spot in the top ten, but overall I'm ecstatic placing 23rd overall, with Magdalena Boulet being the only woman to "chick me", running a 19:05.  It was an emotional finish, and I'm so grateful that I had some of my family, and my training partner Avery to share it with.

It's finally over

Thanks to all the first class volunteers, with first class aid stations for kicking so much ass.  Special thanks to those that laughed at my bad jokes, and cheesy sarcasm.  Thanks to Gordy Ainsleigh for believing that it was possible to traverse the Western States trail on foot in a day.  Thanks to all my family, especially my parents, and siblings.  Thanks to Kyle for pacing me on a whim for 18.  Thanks to all my friends near and far for all the encouragement.  Thanks Avery, who not only kicked ass for me all day, but also joined me in plenty of tough miles these past few months.  Lastly, my sister Lindsay and my mom Debbie came all the way from D.C. and Pennsylvania because they knew how much this race meant to me.  More than anything that happened the entire trip, the best part was getting to spend time with them.  Now that I've run away to Colorado, seeing my family has become much more of a challenge.  Though it was the best decision I've ever made, it still sucks being so far away.  I still haven't found the words to express my gratitude, as a simple "thank you" doesn't carry that kind of weight.  Anyways, it's so incredibly heartfelt, and rad that they showed up.  I couldn't have done it without them.  

Here are some photos from the trip (post-race)!

The crew on Lake Tahoe

Mum is ripping it up on Tahoe

You see this chest hair?  That's right...I'm so manly.

Avery, Mum, me

Lindsay and I

That's a good bench, right there

Lindsay and Mum

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Behind the Rocks 50

The running season of 2014 ended for me in September after a big fat DNF (mile 70) at the Run Rabbit Run 100 miler, in my beautiful home of Steamboat Springs, Colorado.  Emotionally, I wasn't that bothered so much about dropping.  Being defeated is just, well, not that much fun to be perfectly honest, especially on trails I run constantly.  I am making it a point to not attempt two 100 milers within a month of each other this summer.  I'm just not ready for that, yet.

Anyways, with September came a desperate need to take a few steps back and re-evaluate my intentions/philosophies with running and racing.  Though this (2015) will only be my third season racing ultras I've had this same mental fatigue set in at the end of 2013, so I did what was best and tried to focus more on general happiness, life, and other things constant running pushes out of the way.

This last break had me questioning my rationale for competing.  I've used my ego to justify not needing to race/compete to fulfill my ego; that running is good enough as is, and doesn't need bad energy thrown at it.  Oh, the webs we weave.  In the end, I settled on taking some time off and focused on getting back to enjoying/looking forward to getting out there to simply run and be in wild places.  Some people just weren't meant to race year round.  I am one of those people.  There's no point in doing something unless you're having fun, unless it involves lots of money.  And even then...

It took a solid winter of skiing and cutting back mileage (sometimes not running for many days) to restore my motivation.  But, I'm thankful to say that these last 2 or 3 months have been getting that fire stoked once again.  It's a big, bright fire, with stacks of wood waiting to be used up.  Not unlimited piles, but big, healthy piles. 

So, basically I went into Behind the Rocks with enough training to run fairly well for 50 miles, but I knew I wasn't in tip-top shape, which was to be expected and not something to worry about.  My thoughts are with peaking this season for Western States at the end of June and hopefully maintaining for either Run Rabbit Run, or Pine to Palm afterwards.

Being a resident of Steamboat Springs meant that a drastic transition from the cold/snow to the desert would be a challenge, which was to be expected.  At the end of the day, I think that my roommate Avery (who was running the 50k), my friend Watkins, and myself were just stoked to be escaping the wrath of winter.  However, we didn't anticipate it being THAT hot.  Holy wow, man!  Apparently it's hot in the desert?  Oh, and you're exposed to the sun for the entire time; no trees like in Colorado.  Just cacti, slick rock, lizards, and crushed souls.

Watkins, Avery, and myself rolled into Moab, Utah around late lunchtime on Friday afternoon.  We drove to the start/finish where we'd be camping, set up shop, then picked up our bibs at a local outdoor store.  Afterwards, we met our friend Josh Robertson (J-Rob), also a Steamboater, for Mexican food.  I ordered some veggie enchiladas, and two beers that were closer to water (remember we are in the Republic of Utah) to try and calm the pre-race jitters.  Naturally, they didn't really help.  I was going to put myself through hell tomorrow, no matter how many beers I drank.

Avery, myself, and Watkins after setting up camp
Pre-race dinner.  Me, Watkins, and Josh.
The rest of the evening was pretty uneventful, and both Avery and I needed to get some sleep if at all possible.  I tossed and turned all evening.  With a 6 a.m. start, I rolled out of my tent at about 5:15, easily the latest I've gotten up on a race day.  Luckily the start line was only 100 feet away.  Though it is in fact hot in the desert, it's equally as cold through the night, and getting ready for the race in the freezing cold wasn't too fun, but I managed.

The 50k didn't start until 9am, but Avery got up to see me off, while Watkins said "Good luck.  Kill it out there" from his tent, as he had an exciting day of his own planned.  There was no need for me to have any kind of crew at this race if I just packed a drop bag at mile 15 and 35.  Therefore, Watkins could take my car and go to Canyonlands National Park for the day.  Before I knew it, 6 o'clock came, Avery told me to kick some ass, and we were off for one hell of a day.

Finally, the nitty-gritty.  Man, I just suck at running fast for the first part of any race.  I'm slightly envious of people that just go for it right from the start.  As it turned out, it's a good thing I lack that disposition.  I started out front with a bunch of Rocky Mountain Runners (I only knew this because their shirts said so), my friend Josh, a guy I kept calling Killian (he wore a lot of Solomon apparel), that I later found out was an excellent runner named Nico Barraza, and most likely Ryan Case.  Josh had a GPS watch on and kept telling me about our mileage and pace.  When he told me that we were on pace to run the course in less than 6:50, I verbalized that "Dude, it's going to get hotter than hell itself very soon and there is no way everyone will be able to hold this pace for the rest of the day."  Also, I conveniently positioned myself behind a nice looking young lady, who at the time was not only leading the women, but running in the top 7.  "Not a bad way to get started", I thought to myself.  "This is a great view, and later on I'll be staring into big, beautiful canyons, so why not be content right here for a little while."  The view didn't get old, but I started to pick up the pace somewhere around 15 or so miles in, so I decided to pass, like a gentlemen.

I suppose that my plan going into the race was to run the first 20 or so at a fairly comfortable effort level, then go for it the last 20 or 30.  With this in mind, my race didn't really start until a little before half way in.  I arrived at a section called Jacob's Ladder with a few other runners.  Jacob's ended up being my favorite part of the race.  It was not really runnable and required a bit of scrambling to get down/up.  After reaching the aid station at the bottom of Jacob's, I grabbed a few gels, drank a bunch of fluids, and took off for a 4 or so mile loop that ended up back at Jacob's Ladder.  During this loop I met Ryan Case and chatted with him a bit.  Ryan lives in Golden, Colorado, and to me, seemed to be the only one running smart.  Ryan and I came into the aid station at about the same time, before climbing back out of the canyon via Jacob's Ladder.  At this point we were at about 26 miles in.  Ryan left the station before me and this is when I knew it was time to start working hard.  I was stalking Ryan for the next 5 or so miles, which was mostly downhill, and superbly technical.  I was having such a blast on this rocky madness and clicking off some pretty fast miles.  Eventually Ryan was in my sights, which helped me focus.  I passed Ryan right before the only road section, which ended at mile 35 before pushing you back into the desert for a miserably hot last 15, not to mention a nice climb or two.  As soon as Ryan and I hit the road, I took off, opened up the stride, and went to a very dark, deep, emotional place.  "Devon, don't you ever forget about why you do this, dammit.  Don't ever take this for granted.  You have a reason to be alive.  You have people in your life that Love you.  You should feel lucky to suffer so hard.  Don't just do this for you.  Do this because people really believe in you", I kept thinking.  At this point in a race I always think about my parents, and my family, and all the beautiful, and good things life has provided me with.  And then the grunting began.  And then snot started flowing.  And then I became one with my objective, and forgot about me, because me...it's just not enough.  And then I forgot about the pain.  And then I decided....It. Is. On.

As I rolled into the 35 mile aid at the same time as 2nd place, I grabbed a few gels from my drop bag, filled my bottle, and was off.  Though I was psyched about how well I'd just run the last 10 miles, Ryan cruised in right behind.  "Holy shit, you've gotta be kidding me.  This guy is relentless!"  Once again, Ryan left the aid before me, and I had to reel him in....again.  "Who is this dude?", I kept wondering.  The next miles were intense for everyone.  That sun had hit its high point for the day, which left me with an empty handheld for about 5 miles.  "I probably should've brought two bottles.  Well Devon, you've put yourself in stupid situations like this many times before, so you're going to have to suck it up.  The faster you get to the next aid, the sooner you get more water."  And then, around mile 40 I caught Ryan again.  This time, we just reveled in our suffering together and pushed up a climb in the screaming heat.

And then, all of a sudden Ryan and I run into another runner (50k and 50 mile happening simultaneously), who promptly asked us which race we were running.  "50 miler", we squawked unenthusiastically.  "Well, you're in first place now", the guy said.  I really don't remember the guys name, but he didn't look so good.  "I guess I've got some work to do", I blurted out.  "Let's do this guys!  We're all in this together", with an attempt to get them to rally.  Shortly thereafter, as we were hiking up a climb, I started to run, while Ryan, and the other guy fell behind, and let me go.

Things just got real.  All of a sudden, 40+ miles in, it was time to race.

Alone, and running scared, not knowing where Ryan was, I pushed hard to the mile 42 or 44 aid station.  Who was there?  My roommate Avery!  "What the hell are you doing here, dude?"  "It's been a shit show of a day.  I've been puking, and took a nap on the trail, so I'm just going to run it in with you", Avery explained.  "That sucks, but sweet....Let's do this".  Right as we were leaving the aid station, who comes flying in?  You'd never guess...Ryan.  I couldn't get over it.  That guy is a freaking animal.  At this point we are running fast.  We are truly racing.

Don't think....Do.  That is exactly what I did.  I ran with Avery for a little, and he was like, "holy shit man, you're cruising."  I agreed, but didn't feel like talking and was feeling the dehydration.  Avery started to get sick again, so he told me that he'd walk it in, but to keep kicking ass, and to not stop.  As difficult as it was, I did exactly that and never saw Ryan again until the finish line.  I knew that at any point, Ryan had the ability, and balls to catch me.  Luckily for me, the last 4 or 6 miles were mostly downhill, so I ran as hard as I could until the last mile or so came.  All of the 50k runners were so supportive and kept telling me how close I was, and how great I was doing.  That really got me fired up.

A mile from the finish you can see the start/finish, which is when I'd realized that he probably wasn't going to catch me.  I stopped dead in my tracks, totally out of breath, dirty, sweaty, and slightly delirious.  "This is fucking awesome", I said out loud to no one but myself as I realized how great of a day it had been.  "Count to five, and run every last step with conviction".

I crossed the line and immediately sought shade under a tent, cooled off a bit, drank some cold water and ginger ale, then laid my dirty ass on the dirty ground and put my feet up.  What a day.

The race director's wife Denise handed me my fish fossil trophy and said "you're the first person that I've ever seen receive their prize while laying on the ground".

Watkins rolled into the start/finish area not long after I finished, and told me he was driving like a maniac to try and make it before I was finished.  He was stoked about me doing well, but also seemed pretty wide eyed from his adventures in Canyonlands all day.  We chatted with all the rad people at the finish line, and Avery eventually walked in.

Assuming that our friend Josh would be finishing in the next hour or two, we decided to stick around a little while.  Before long, we decided to go into Moab (about a 15 or so mile drive) and take showers at the local recreational center, then stop over at the Moab Brewery before Watkins drove us back to camp.  As it turned out, Josh lost over 15 pounds during the race, and became extremely dehydrated.

Josh is a goat.  Josh is an eagle.  Josh is a badass.  This dude finished the race, drove himself to the hospital, got an IV, then drove himself back to the hotel he was staying at.  Wow!  Great job on your first 50 my friend.  There are many adventures ahead.

After showering, the three of us stopped at the brewery for some food and beer, and met a couple named Levi and Claire who ran the 50k.  They were extremely nice, and fun to chat with.  They recently purchased a Sprinter van to travel the country in.  Avery and I immediately became jealous, as we talk about having a van on regular basis.

Soon enough we were back at camp.  Watkins and Avery crashed while I stayed up into the night with lots of excitement and sugar pulsing through me.  I walked over to the finish line and hung out to see the last finishers cross the line.  It was electric.  Those people weren't going to give up no matter what.

Even later into the night I sat around the campfire, chit chatted, and realized that the only people left were the Ricks family.  They'd all been working hard throughout the day, and were extremely cool people.  We talked into the night until it was time to hit the tent.  I snapped a picture of them, thanked them, hobbled back to my tent, then the day was over just like that.

The Ricks family.  The ones who made the wheels turn.
Thanks to everyone who was involved in the race in any way, especially race director Justin Ricks.  Thanks/congratulations to all the runners, finish or not.  Thanks to Ryan Case for pushing me to that finish.  Thanks to all the awesome people I met.  Thanks to Watkins, Avery, and Josh for being awesome.  Thanks to my parents, siblings, and family for everything.  Thanks to the desert, and beautiful landscapes for the inspiration.  Beautiful day, wonderful life.  Grateful.

The Steamboat vegan Friday dinner crew after the race: myself, Josh, Sophia, Watkins, and Avery (minus the vegan master herself, Eva) 
Bust a move!
Fun at Canyonlands the day after the race!

Watkins, raise your hand if you want to speak.

From the Canyons to the mountains.

Those shorts just aren't short enough, Avery.