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'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.