Over the course of 100 miles I repeated the quote a thousand times. To me it meant sticking with it no matter how bad it got. To date I have finished every ultra I've entered and I wasn't about to let that go. I made a committment to myself and I was prepared to "win the war." Running a 100 miles was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, period.
A runner once said “If you have a weakness, a 100 miler will find it” and now speaking from experience I can say I have never heard anything more truthful. Below is my story....
The set up…..
The Burning River 100 was something that when I signed up I really wasn’t even sure I could do. Before this the furthest I had ever run was 50 miles and after that I felt decent at best. Thinking back I could have probably went another 10 or 15…but another 50? I’m not so sure. So using 0% logic I bucked the odds and registered. This falls elk hunt was going to be a doozy with destinations over 9 miles in and elevations over 12,000 feet. I figured a little extra prep wouldn’t hurt, plus it would be good to see what I was made of.
Preparing for the race I broke it down into 3 major sections….first 50+miles to Happy Days (64.1), Happy Days to Covered Bridge (85.5), and Covered Bridge to the finish (101.1). I was pretty comfortable with myself up until Happy Days but after that I really wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Using my best guest estimate I planned to be at Happy Days at 6:51pm (race clock 13hrs,51mins) and the finish at 5am (24hrs).
I had 5 drop bags that I planned to access during the race which would help me resupply with essential items. Wilderness Athlete gels, Hammer nutrition perpetuem, socks, Badlands Reactor, headlamp, etc. My lone shoe change was scheduled to take place at mile 54.
My pacer Dave and I were scheduled to meet at the Happy Days aid station near mile 64 (for those unaware a pacer is a runner that can run a portion of the race with you). Not all runners have pacers but I was lucky enough to find one, and Dave was worth his weight in gold (Dave, I know you’ll read this and I can’t thank you enough for helping me!!).
A quick run down of events looked like this…start the day at 2am, leave the house at 2:45, bus ride to the start 3:45, race start at 5am. By my pace schedule I was planned to wrap up by 5am the next day. A far cry from the 28hrs, 51mins, and 42secs it took me.
The first 50+ to Happy Days….
“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” – Steve Prefontaine
When I saw this quote at mile 40 it literally gave me chills. Someone at the Ottawa Point Aid Station (AS) had made the sign and slapped it to a tree. It was the last thing you saw before disappearing again into the woods.
To this point I had been going since 2am (up for 12 hrs and running for 9 of them) and I still felt strong. Hammering down the trail I repeated the quote….”don’t sacrifice the gift, don’t sacrifice the gift”…. In my plans I was right where I needed to be. The first 35+ miles had rolled on smoothly and I was now on my way to the Snowville aid station scheduled to arrive around 3:27pm. I had knocked out a touch over 40 miles and had a little more than 60 left to go.
Rolling on the miles I chipped away at it. Snowville…Boston #1…Boston #2 and it was on my way from Boston #2 to Pine Lane (one stop before arriving at Happy Days to meet Dave) where things started to fall apart. 3 miles into a 4.2 mile section my stomach decided it had had enough, and I went from feeling good and being positive, to complete misery and just trying to survive. I just kept putting one foot in front of another trying to get to the next aid station.
Finally arriving at Pine Lane I sat down to pull things together. I was now in my first real battle with pain and losing some major time along the way. Knowing all I had to do was get to the next aid station (Happy Days) I forced myself to get up and move on.
Looking at my watch I was running over an hour late and I knew Jor and Dave would be worried. Walking away I asked an aid station volunteer to text Jor to let her know I was ok and on my way. It wasn’t until about a mile into the next section I realized I gave the worker my cell number not Jor’s.
In route to Happy Days it went from worse to impossible. First, I continued to linger on the thought that my family and Dave would be worried, so I was worried. And second, dealing with my stomach was just consuming me. I could barely run and now had fallen into the dreadful cycle of run/walk/run and there was nothing I could at the moment to escape it. I didn’t have mental or physical strength to break through it. I tried to battle on.
On the forever journey to Happy Days I was finally caught by Tammy who was pacing Simon from Germany. As they rolled by I forced myself to get in behind them and run. It was everything I had. Nearing the aid station I caught a glimpse of someone running down the trail at us. It was Dave. God bless him, knowing I was in trouble he left to find me. As we ran together we caught up and took inventory before finally arriving at HD.
Happy Days (64.1) to Covered Bridge (84.4)….
Before coming out of the woods to Happy Days Dave got me up to speed. He said my family was there and were worried, but ok. He told me that he was talking with Jori and asked her “no matter how bad he looks, don’t let him quit”. I laughed as I could only imagine what Jori was thinking.
Arriving at Happy Days I walked up, sat down, and Dave started to bring me food. I knew I needed to eat but to be honest it was the last thing I wanted to do. I hit my drop bag, ate some potatoes, and drank some ginger ale before walking over to see Jor and my brother-in-law Brad. We didn’t stay long. Knowing I had to get out of there I said my good byes and grabbed my headlamp. I had now been at it for over 15 hours and it was starting to get dark.
Walking out of that aid station I can honestly say I had no earthly idea how I was going to make it to the next one, let alone cover the 35 miles left in the race. At this point I felt sick and exhausted and trying to figure out how I was going to make the last 35 miles just made me feel even more sick and exhausted. I felt like a walking zombie. As we hit the trail head we flipped on the headlamps.
Plodding down the trail dodging rocks and boulders I asked Dave if he would lead. This section was 6.8 miles long and I didn’t even feel like I could think anymore. We pushed on….turn after turn, hill after hill, down hill after down hill until finally arriving at the next aid station (Pine Hollow). I walked up, sat down, Dave got me food, and we left. The whole stop wasn’t 5 minutes. We were back at it into the 3.3 mile loop that would bring us right back to Pine Hollow at mile 74.2.
When we left Pine Hollow I was really struggling keeping things together. Physically my stomach was still upset and mentally the remaining 35 miles almost seemed too much to even get my hands around. As we plodded down the trail I just stared at the 10 foot circle created by my headlamp. What the heck I was doing out here? Why on earth did I think that I could do this? Like 98% of the other normal people in this world I should be at home in my nice cushy bed. I had now been running for over 20 hours and the majority of every thought bouncing around in my head was negative. I was about as down and out as I have ever been.
We finally emerged from the dark timber to an open meadow full of glow sticks lining the trail back to Pine Hollow for our second stop. Walking up I heard the familiar voices of Jori, Brad, and Darb. Looking back, this was a point and time that things really turned around for me. I walked up and sat down. Dave started bringing me squares of hot grilled cheese sandwich. Hammering away at the food I told them that over the course of the last 15 miles, suffering through my stomach issues, I realized this was the most stupid, idiotic, ridiculous thing I have ever done. At this point even I myself couldn’t believe I was doing it. We all joked and laughed before getting up to go. 74.2 miles done, 26.9 miles to go.
Covered Bridge (85.5) to Finish (101.1…or 103.1 “unofficially”)
As we moved over the next sections (Covered Bridge #1, Covered Bridge #2, O’Neil Woods, Merriman) things became more and more weird…..towards the end I had been up for over 30 hours and it was really starting to catch up to me. I was tired, beat, and something was going on with my left ankle because it was starting to swell. Every time I would sit down at an aid station it would get harder and harder to get moving again. These sections were all pretty uneventful with the exception of taking two wrong turns at Covered Bridge #1 which in the end cost us 2 miles and 40 minutes.
After 27 hours of being at it we finally reached the last aid station around 8:30am, 95.4 miles down, 4.8 miles to go. I used an aid station volunteers phone to call Jori and let her know I was heading towards the finish.
Leaving the final aid station I could hardly believe it was all coming to an end. As Dave and I walked we talked about the many low points, high points, wrong turns, and the insanity that running 100 miles is all about. Many of the moments over the course of the last 4.8 miles seemed surreal.
As we neared the finish I could see Owen and Jori. I could hear them yelling and see the smile on their faces. I will never forget looking at Jori as I heard everyone start to clap. I walked over, grabbed Owen, and asked Jori to walk with me. Whether they know it or not they were with me every step of the way. The two of them are the most important things in my life and I wanted them to share in this moment with me as I crossed the finish line. Official finish time 28hrs, 51mins, and 42secs. I had done it. I finished my first 100 miler.
A lot of people who put this together deserve to be thanked. The Burning River 100 is an awesome, well organized event that all that helped should be proud of. The organizers and volunteers did a fantastic job! Thank you.
Another group of very special thank you’s go out to the following…
Dave Blankenship…man what can I say.....you are a machine Dave. I thank you from the very bottom of my heart for all you did and put up with out there. You were an awesome pacer that if you had not been there I don’t know if I would have made it. I wish you the best of luck in Leadville! (Dave’s running his first 100 miler at the famous Leadville 100 in Colorado on August 21!) I know you are going to hammer it my man!!
Brad, Jess, Carter, Caitlin, and Coby & Darby, Jen, and Bodey thank you for coming and your support. It was awesome to have you there and you all helped more than you’ll know. A very special thanks to Brad and Darb for staying up most the night with Jor and hitting aid stations to see me. Jess & Jen thanks for “manning” the kids back at the ranch.
Jor & O – I love you guys. There is no way in the world that I could have done this without you. I’m the luckiest man alive. Jor you are the most supporting, loving, encouraging person I know. No matter how crazy or ridiculous, you are always helping me to chase my dreams. I know 100%with all my heart that you believe in me. I can’t thank you enough Jor, I love you and O more than anything. I know I have told you this before, but thoughts of you and O kept me going. Whenever I’m out there, alone, trucking down the trail you and O are 99% of what fills this crazy head of mine. You both help me in ways I can’t explain.
Next up in 5 weeks is the whole reason I do what I do…..elk hunting the mountains of Colorado with Pops and I can’t be more excited! After this 100 miler I’m ready and so is Pops. He’s been working hard and I couldn’t be more proud of him. All that work is going to pay off when he puts an arrow through his first elk! Stay tuned, stories from the elk trail coming soon.
See you on the trail-