2019 Pine to Palm 100 Miler

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Location: Williams, Oregon
Total distance: 100 Miles
Notable features: Point to point course with lots of ascent and descent; parts on the PCT; rock scrambling.
Weather: 55º at the start, going up to 89º at peak and 50’s during the night.
Cutoff: 36 hours
Total Elevation Gain: 20,000’
Total Elevation Loss: 20,000’
Average Elevation: 4872’
Max Elevation: 7448’
Min Elevation: 2042’
Total runners who started: 110
Total runners who finished: 82
Goal Time: Have a fucking blast
Finish Time: 23:26:04
Overall Place: 9

Preamble:

Pine to Palm was actually supposed to be my first 100 miler in 2018. Right after I registered, a close friend let me know she was getting married the same weekend, so I jumped into Mogollon Monster instead, and well, that’s a story for another day. When it came time to plan out my adventure calendar for 2019, P2P was still high up on my list, and after losing out on the Western States, Hardrock, and Cascade Crest lotteries, it felt like maybe the lottery gods were telling me something. I’m still surprised that P2P doesn’t sell out, considering that it’s a Western States qualifier and gives out UTMB points, plus it’s stupid beautiful and very well organized, but I digress. I really enjoyed my first 100 miler and learned a lot from the experience, and was really excited to see what the next one would bring. I chose P2P to see a beautiful and new-to-me part of our country, plus to learn more about 100 milers and what my body and mind are capable of. It was also going to be nice to get some solid climbing and descending in, but on less technical trails than most of the other races I’ve done lately.

Before the Race:

I was able to fly out to the race on the Wednesday night, thinking that getting two solid nights of sleep before the race would help, especially as the night before the race usually isn’t great sleep. My flight was delayed getting out there and I managed to tweak something in my back running to make my connecting flight in SLC. It got in my head a little at first, but I just reminded myself that somethings always hurts in an ultra anyway, and I figured I could deal with it when I got to Oregon.

We stayed at a really awesome Airbnb in Jacksonville: to the left of us was a gorgeous cow and horse farm, and to the right, a huge pot farm. Oregon doesn’t fuck around when it comes to the sweet, sweet cheeba. In fact, from what I can tell, 90% of the stores in Medford are weed dispensaries. I spent a solid amount of time in the house’s jacuzzi, letting the hot jets sort out my back while sipping a beer and reading over some race reports. I turned in early Thursday and slept a glorious 11 hours.

I woke up on Friday feeling pretty fresh, but my back was still bugging me, even after a short shakeout run. I drove down to Ashland to see a sports chiropractor who was able to fit me in last minute, Matt Terreri at Southern Oregon Spine Center. Matt was from New Jersey originally, talked like the Dude, and knew his way around a back. I felt much better after leaving his office (and my back didn’t bother me the entire race). Clara arrived midday on Friday and we cooked some lunch. She was a great, calming energy. She’s never actually been out to any of my big races, and I was so happy she was with me. I like doing these things alone, but having the love of your life with you really changes it, and much for the better.

The rest of my crew, Adam and Sara, was driving down from Portland that morning, and we met them around 4:00pm at packet pickup. The race gave us some sweet swag: a bright-green finisher’s shirt, a pair of custom Goodr sunglasses, and an awesome trucker hat, plus a sweatshirt at the finish. I also couldn’t help but buy a Pine to Palm Hydroflask insulated coffee mug. Given that it was Oregon, I’m surprised they didn’t have Pine to Palm bongs or vaporizers. Maybe next year, Hal? We bumped into a friend, Michael Ortiz, at packet pickup, who would be attempting his 41st 100 miler in as many weekends. What he is doing is so inspiring and so unbelievable.

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We had a nice dinner at a Japanese restaurant, then headed back to the house so I could show them the crew gear. I managed to get in bed a little after 8 (and by manage, I mean Adam basically manhandled me into bed) spent 15 minutes reviewing the course, eventually falling asleep around 9.

Race Morning:

I woke up to Adam’s sonorous baritone informing me it was 3:40, pleasantly surprised to have slept through the night. I slugged down my cold brew, banana, and Bobo’s bar, lubed up, and shimmied into my race kit. When I got out of my room I saw my crew was wearing custom “Team Imbo” t-shirts and sweatshirts that Clara had made. It was so fucking amazing! We hit the road promptly at 4:20, a very Oregonian time, and set off on our way to the start in Williams as I sipped on sports drink. We arrived at the start at 5:15 and I immediately hit the porto potties to unusually great success. I walked around trying to find my old coach, Brett, and my friend Steph, but couldn’t so jogged a bit and hit the bathroom one more time. We still had 15 minutes to the start so I huddled with my crew and we took a last minute picture. Just before 6:00, Hal gave us some last minute words of encouragement and then we were off.

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Start to Rock Creek

After a short downhill jog we started the ten mile climb up to Big Sugarloaf Peak at around 6,600 feet. In the back of my head were my friend Yung-Hae’s words of wisdom about letting all the folks pass you in the first 10 miles so you’re passing them back at 50k, so I took it mellow. We were on a wide jeep road running in loose packs, enjoying the silence and the stunning moonlight from the almost full moon. Pretty quickly we hit the Rock Creek aid station which was just a truck with some water in the back. I filled up my empty bottle that had naked flavor tailwind powder, thinking it’d be better to have some extra liquid during the long climb.

Rock Creek to O’Brien Creek

Immediately after we left Rock Creek we took a sharp turn onto lovely singletrack. I had settled in with group of folks at what felt like a comfortable effort. My mom would have been happy to know that I had joined the conga line with a bunch of medical professionals. Behind me was James, an oncologist from Philly, and Donny, an orthopedic surgeon (I think?) from San Francisco; in front of me were Chad, a Medical Tech from Ashland, and Anna, a last-year resident at Stanford. The climb was somewhat steep but not terrible and the terrain was pretty mellow with switch backs at the worst parts. I was enjoying the scenery so much and checking in with my effort, making sure that I felt like I was climbing with purpose but not too much intensity, as it was going to be a long day. Anna (also a fellow SWAPer) was setting a great pace for our group and eventually we hit the peak of the climb and started the descent down to the O’Brien Creek aid station, a little over four miles down the mountain.

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The descent started off mellow and even though I wanted to pass people I forced myself to stay behind Anna and Chad, as I remember Adam’s word’s to me at dinner the night before which were something to the effect of, “I know you like downhill running, but don’t be an idiot in the beginning.” A few miles from the aid station, the trail got steeper and Chad and I passed Anna, as we were stepping on each other’s heels by then. The descent was steep but flowed nicely and we rolled into the O’Brien Creek AS at about 9:20, a bit earlier than I had anticipated.

O’Brien Creek to Steamboat Ranch

I realized at the AS that I hadn’t packed any more Tailwind or Spring Electroride, so I grabbed some watery, grape Gu Roctane drink, refilled my water, and ate a few banana slices that they volunteers had covered with peanut butter and m&ms—they were a delight. Our group had broken up, but I caught back up with Chad and another guy named Drake, from California (so many nice CA folks at this race!). The next section was downhill, this time on jeep roads. We were moving pretty quickly, but again my effort level felt pretty mellow. We sped past a huge pot farm and the smell alone was enough to induce euphoria. I sucked down my SiS gels on schedule, and started to drink more, as the sun was out and it was warming up.

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Steamboat Ranch to Seattle Bar

At the Steamboat Ranch AS I grabbed some water, pickle juice, Roctane, and potato chips and went on my way. Shortly after the AS, the road flattened out a bit and I ran with a guy named Chris, again from California, who was doing his first 100 miler. He was moving very well if a little fast so I wished him luck and let him go ahead as I continued my jog. It was during this section I got stung in the calf by a wasp, and it hurt like a mother fucker. Wasps are just plain assholes. My calf felt instantly numb, and then when sensation came back I had this persistent burning. It was painful, but there wasn’t much I could do, so I just moseyed, aware that I was still ahead of schedule to meet my crew at the next AS. I had no idea where I was in the pack, and couldn’t have cared less.

Seattle Bar to Stein Butte

I pulled into Seattle Bar feeling focused and excited to see my crew. Not a surprise to anyone who knows my wife or the Devine’s, but there was plenty of yelling and jumping up and down. It felt awesome! I haven’t run an ultra over 50 miles with crew that I know before, so it felt amazing to see not only close friends, but also my amazing wife cheering me on. I felt so grateful for them. They were all ready to get me out quickly, and they swapped pre-mixed bottles for empties, resupplied my gels, slapped on some sunscreen, and took my trash. Clara read me an amazing note from one my runners and then they sent me on my way to climb up to Stein Butte, an ice bandana around my neck and my cooling sleeves in my pack in case got even hotter. I had been warned by another runner to take extra water, so I took three bottles, one water, one Electoride, and one Tailwind, plus some extra Tailwind in a zipsickle for the next AS.

Once out of the AS, I crossed back under the highway on a small trail and immediately started the steep climb up to Stein Butte. The terrain felt steeper and rockier than our first big climb in the morning, so I did kick myself a bit for not grabbing my poles. It was also getting much hotter now, and the sun was really strong in the exposed sections. The race has had some notoriously hot years, so when the forecast for the day read with highs around 90º, it felt like we dodged a bullet, but it’s not like it was a cool fall day. I began to feel worked over, and worried I had gone out too fast. Had I climbed the first climb too hard? Had I taken the descent too fast? The RD hard warned us against both, as had my pacer, and I was pretty sure I hadn’t. Up until Seattle Bar, my perceived effort level hadn’t really climbed past a point where I couldn’t breath in a 4/4 rhythm, or hold a conversation, which are usually good judges of effort for me. I had come into the last AS feeling great, but I was now feeling terrible. I resisted the urge to feel sorry for myself and instead started to do a mental checklist to troubleshoot the system: I had stayed on top of my calories really well, I’d been getting electrolytes consistently, I hadn’t felt like I’d run too hard at any point, and my hydration had been fine. The only thing I could think of out of the ordinary was the wasp sting, which hurt like hell. I kept moving slowly uphill, but could feel pre-cramp twinges in my calves and quads.

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It was much hotter now, so I took a salt pill just to be safe, because at that point it couldn’t hurt. The pain started to ratchet up and I decided to stop to try to stretch out my legs, hoping a short rest might help reset. Wrong. The minute I stopped my legs cramped from waist to ankle. It was all I could do not to scream at the top of my lungs. I rode it out, sucking in deep breaths as I watched my muscles twitch, as if a thousand snakes were wiggling inside each one. Why hadn’t I taken my mother fucking poles? Wait, why am I cursing at myself? How is this helping? Time to right the ship. I figured if it hurt more to stand still than to slowly walk up this fucking hill, then I better get to walking. I stopped again to put on my cooling arm sleeves, hoping that they’d bring some relief after I doused them with water.

There was a short descent and climb ahead of me to the AS, and I fought for every step of it. The descent was dispiriting mentally and physically. I love downhill running and here I was, reduced to a slow walk, slaloming across the trail so I didn’t land too hard on any steep grade and send my quads into cramp city again. I got passed a few times on the downhill, and then a few more times on the uphill. I congratulated all the runners passing me on how well they were moving, realizing it would be better to connect to those around me than feel sorry for me. Still, thoughts were slowly starting to creep into my head that this might be a very, very long day. I figured that if this was the best I could move, at some point I’d be caught by Michael Diaz (sadly, he DNF’d after missing a cutoff later in the race, the result of starting the race late because of trouble finding the start) and hike it in with him if he wasn’t moving too quickly for me. Then, the pain got worse and I was no longer problem solving: I began to think about dropping. Yup, just 35 miles in and I’m thinking about dropping. I knew there was nothing wrong with thinking about dropping. The real mistake would have been not to have an answer (or multiple ones) to the question I was asking myself: is this too painful for me to go on? Luckily, I had spent time before the race–during training runs, talking with friends or my crew, etc–thinking through the various scenarios under which I might drop. I had told my crew that I was only dropping if I was either medically unable to continue, was experiencing pain that might prevent me from running in the future (near, mid, or long term after the race) or if I missed a cutoff. None of these seemed to be the case, so I pressed on, stutter-stepping in agony and frustration into the Stein Butte aid station, but determined to get to my crew at Squaw Lakes. I knew I had lots of time, wasn’t in danger of missing cutoffs, and I was going to be patient and make the smartest choices I could, even with the pain being so intense. I knew there was some happiness to be had still.

Stein Butte to Squaw Lakes I

I limped into Stein Butte feeling rinsed. I was hoping for pickle juice, even it’s cramp-solving abilities are merely a placebo, but couldn’t find any so I grabbed more potato chips, loaded up my spare tailwind, and took another S-cap. I think there was a bottle of Advil and I thought about taking some, but quickly decided not to, since I was still able to walk, and if my body needed to slow me down it was telling me something and I didn’t want to override that message by taking a pill that could also land me in the hospital if something went wrong (for those that don’t know what I’m talking about, google “rhabdomyolysis and ultra running”). The aid station was manned by a father and son team, and they quickly refilled my bottles and got me ready to go. I took a moment to use a big sponge they had in a bucket of ice water to soak my quads and calves, hoping it would help them settle down a little. I also loaded up my pack with ice and refilled my ice bandana and sleeves, which helped some.

I probably spent about 5 minutes at the aid station, which felt like an eternity, but eventually went back out again after thanking the volunteers to tackle the last climb before the descent to Squaw Lakes, where my crew would be waiting. It wasn’t pretty and I was in a low spot: I was just over 35 miles into 100 mile race and I was already suffering; and that was the problem–I was suffering, not just in pain. I tried to think back to what I’d hear Gary Robbins say about these moments, “Don’t give a voice to your suffering” and I reminded myself that the third of Mogollon had gone similarly for me, and I was able to turn it around when it cooled off later in the day. Still, thoughts crept in about dropping, and once more it was a quote, this time attributed to Courtney Dauwalter when talking a friend out of dropping, that provided me with the answer I needed to keep moving: “Is it that you can’t go on, or that you don’t want to?” I could go on, it’s that I didn’t want to, so press on I did.

I have very little memory of this section, as I was using all the meditative tools in my kit to be inside my activity and not inside my thoughts. I did repetitive counting, I body scanned—you name it, I did it. Short of talking in an English accent to myself a la my Headspace guide, I was a zen fucking cowboy. It helped some, and finally I was at the parking lot before Squaw Lakes, thinking to myself, “Please let this be the fucking aid station.”

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Squaw Lakes I to Squaw Lakes II

My crew saw me and instantly went into triage mode. It felt like a relief to look into my wife’s eyes and say, “I’m really suffering right now”. She was a ray of positivity and somehow just saying the words out loud, freed me a bit from the burden of the feelings. I plopped into a chair and rolled my quads a little with “the stick”, while Adam and Sara got my pack off and gave me a hand bottle for the lap around the lake. I stopped to soak my legs in the lake, which helped some, but mostly served to get my socks full of dirt. The best thing to happen during this part was I spotted a composting toilet and took 5 minutes to liberate myself of extra weight. Someone had put a squatty potty stool in there, and man-alive did it help my quads. I honestly think getting them into that position helped as much as anything! I’d like to dedicate this race to the Squatty Potty.

Squaw Lakes II to French Gulch

Once back at the aid station, my crew gave me back my loaded pack, and I put on fresh socks. Clara read me another motivational card from a friend. She also put a sticker with a picture of my older daughter on my arm and I was so touched and my eyes started dehydrating themselves. I grabbed a fresh ice bandana and my poles, never happier to see the cursed cheating sticks, and tried to move out of the AS with purpose. It had spent about an hour at Squaw lake, including the lap around the lake, which was a lot longer than I had anticipated it would take, but there was no sense thinking about that now.

I honestly don’t remember much about the next section. I was tired of trying to meditate through the pain and finally gave up and put in one earbud and fired up my iPod shuffle. What song might a weary, in-pain, third-generation son of Brooklyn need to hear at this moment? Yup, you guessed it, the first song to come up randomly was the Beastie Boy’s, “No Sleep ’Til Brooklyn.” I’m a spiritual if not religious man, and I’ll say I sent out my thanks to the universe for that song. The music didn’t make the pain go away, but it helped alleviate my suffering. Pretty quickly I took a right turn onto single track and up towards the French Gulch aid station.

French Gulch to Hanley Gap

The French Gulch AS was just a water cooler on a table, and I grabbed a quick refill before continuing to climb again, passing an English guy who was cursing the heat but vowed to see me again. I passed one more guy who was bent over on the side of the trail with nausea. I asked him if he needed anything, but he said he would probably just throw it up so I made a note to tell the volunteers at the next aid station about him, though he looked like he just needed a moment’s rest. Before long I was at the Hanley Gap aid station, power hiking up the hill to see my crew, the sampled voice of Jay Z in T.I.’s song, “Bring em out” yelling in my ear and whipping me into a frenzy.

I’ll pause here to say how fucking on-point my crew was all day. They navigated with speed and precision the over-packed bags I had given them, quickly getting me what I needed when I needed it. I say this, because the actual only mistake they made the entire day was at Hanley Gap, and it’s actually part of why I was able to turn my race around. At Hanley, we were allowed to crew before and after the out-and-back climb from the aid station to grab a flag to prove we had been to the summit of Squaw peak. When I stormed in, power-hiking with all the finesse of the Bushwackers from WWF days gone by, they quickly sent me up the hill to get my flag, as they thought they couldn’t crew me until I got back down. After about 10 minutes up the climb it dawns on me: fuck, I could have dropped my pack. Instead of getting annoyed though, I realized I was actually passing people. I got to the top and got my flag and was even more amazed to realize that after a long stretch of not being able to run downhill, I could now jog back down the climb I had hiked up. I wasn’t exactly setting a speed record, but I was able to pass a few people on the downhill. By the time I got back down to see my crew, I was able to say to them the most important phrase I had said in a while, “ I’m in pain, but I’m not suffering.”

Hanley Gap to Squaw Creek Gap

Beyond just my words, my crew sensed something had shifted, so the got me out quickly. I wouldn’t see them again until Dutchman Peak, the high point of the course at 7,417 feet and 66 miles into the race, at which point it would be dark. I slugged part of an ensure, Clara read me another wonderful motivational note from Brian Schwartz and Carmen Cramer (I didn’t get lost guys!) and gave me some stickers of our old dog Alfie to put on right pole. I swapped out my soaked hat for my PPTC hat and Adam yelled out a yell so loud that I think the aid station volunteers were worried we were under attack; it put a big smile on my face. I thanked the volunteers and was off.

Again, I’m a little blurry on what exactly went on for this stretch. It was lovely terrain though and I was zoning out, except I had to pee a lot, but I took that as a good sign. I felt calm, watching a glorious sunset, and continuing to suck down gels every 30 minutes, with random bites of quesadilla and salt and vinegar potato chips between. I was in a good rhythm for power hiking, even if the downhills still hurt my quads, and I felt like I was able to take in a lot of calories. There was a decent amount of jeep road in this section, but I knew we’d get back on single track after Dutchman, so I just listened to some music and moved along, trying to run the runnable and hike the hike able with some purpose.

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Eventually I had to grab my headlamp, which I had put in a hard to reach part of my pack, and a nice runner name Torsten helped me grab it out of my pack as he happened to be running by. One thing I’ve figured out, at least for me, is that in races where you spend a lot of time in the dark your headlamp really matters. I have more than a few choices for lights, but decided to go with my Zebralight h600w MK IV (rolls of the tongue, right?). It’s basically a headlight strapped to your forehead. My obnoxiously bright beam basically made Torsten’s redundant, so I told him to shut it off to save batteries, and after a bit we arrived at the Squaw Creek Gap AS. I felt like I had my shit together finally. The stars were out as the full moon hadn’t yet drowned them out, and all was glorious.

Squaw Creek Gap to Dutchman Peak

The volunteers at Squaw Creek gap, a husband and wife team, were totally amazing. I had a hot cup of miso soup, a turkey and avocado wrap, and refilled my to-go bag. They told me they would sleep at the AS after they finished, because it would be too hairy getting down the mountain by the time they were done. What dedication! I thanked them profusely, slugged some gingerly, and started the long hike up to Dutchman Peak.

I caught up to Torsten and we chatted some more. It was his first 100 (he had DNF’ed Bryce I think because of injury and weather issues) and he was setting a great pace. I asked a bunch of questions about his life bopping back and forth between Berlin and Vancouver, and he humored me with answers. I decided to stick with him for most of the climb, knowing I’d move faster with someone else. The peak kind of snuck up on me, and you could see the lights of Ashland far below us. I was energized by how well I had been hiking. I had battled back a lot and was moving well, and I had a feeling picking up my pacer would mean some fun was in store. I know some people complained of feeling the altitude at this point (about 7,500’) but I was thankful to not feel anything much besides the constant pain in my quads, and even that was now relegated to the background noise that can always exist in an ultra.

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Dutchman Peak to Siskiyou Gap

I arrived to huge cheers from my crew as I came up the road. They sprung into action when I finally reached them, giving me my gel and bottle resupply, Sara grabbing me to-go bags of quesadillas and Clara reading me more motivational notes from friends. Originally it looked like it might be very cold at this AS, but the temps felt okay, even with stopping for a few minutes. I finally took caffeine, a Yerba Mate shot, as I try to hold off until after midnight my time (so with the 3 hour time difference, it was after midnight for me already). I drank some more coconut water and half an ensure, then grabbed some Skratch chews, my gloves and some arm sleeves and a fresh buff to cushion my headlamp, plus grabbed a spare battery and dumped all my heat gear.

Adam and I got out pretty quickly and ran back down the jeep road I had just ascended, chatting about how things had been for me and what the plan was for the upcoming section. We passed by the cars where people were car crewing and I was extra appreciative that my awesome crew had hiked over a mile to crew me at the aid station, as it was nice to roll past people and not have to worry about stopping again. Pretty quickly we were one the Pacific Crest Trail, traversing, descending, and climbing on gorgeous terrain with the full moon lighting our path. There was lots of side hilling in this section and it was fun to see the slides to our left. This part of the course was super easy to follow, the PCT being so clearly marked and the reflective confidence flags picking up our headlights from far away. I felt a little nauseous and let Adam know that I had probably taken a few too many calories at the last aid station, so would chill with food for a bit; but that he should let me know if he didn’t see me eat in 30 minutes. Even about 70 miles in I was still doing fine with gels, although I was really digging the Skratch Lab chews. I remember trying to eat some quesadilla but it was kind of burnt and I hit that point where I had to scoop the food out of my mouth since it seemed like I’d choke if I tried to swallow.

Siskiyou Gap to Grouse Gap, 7.5 miles:

The Siskiyou Gap aid station had fantastic volunteers and more quesadillas. It also had bacon: deliciously salty bacon. I made little bacondillas, finally drank some coke (first time I’ve waited this long to bring coke in any race) dumped my trash and we were out quickly. I was still drinking naked flavored Tailwind and Spring Electroride off and on, and my stomach seemed fine after the small break I gave it leaving Dutchman (plus the two Tums I had managed to get down). Adam and I kept climbing, trying not to anticipate the summit—hell, expecting false summits. At some point Adam said he’d have to visit the pooping part of the woods and catch up with me, and shortly after he went I felt like I had to go too. I liken this effect to yawning: if you don’t yawn when someone else does you might be a socio-path; if you don’t poop right after your pacer poops you also might be a socio-path. Probably the least fun thing I could do about 80 miles in is to figure out how to recollect my shitty baby wipes in the ridiculously small ziplock I had packed them in, but I’m proud to say I did. Leave no trace, except on your hands, right? Entyways, I feel like we were moving well on this section, chatting about all sorts of things but still moving with purpose, and eating and drinking well.

We finally hit the top of the climb and ran a little twisty section before hitting the downhill to the Grouse Gap AS, which would be our last time seeing Sara and Clara. About five mins from the aid station I let Adam know I had a hot spot on my big right toe from where grit had been rubbing against my toe (thanks, Squaw Lake!) and that I should change my socks and sort out my toe, as we had 20 miles left.

Grouse Gap to Weasel Creek, 10 miles:

We got in ahead of schedule, and I was feeling really focused and ready to get out quickly. I told them I’d be changing socks and they sprung into action. Thankfully, there was no blister on my toe, just a bit of redness, so I grabbed a pair of Injinji’s and an Engo patch and put the patch in my shoe, lubed my toe a bit, and popped the socks on, already loaded with 2Toms powder. I also drank another Yerba Mate shot (man those worked great) and grabbed a spare battery, which in hindsight wasn’t a fresh one, but that we’ll cover below.

I looked up after fixing my socks to notice there was a group of people huddled around me, watching as I prepped my foot. I think I said that I felt like a celebrity, but someone kindly pointed out that I was sitting in front of the fire pit after all, and we all had a laugh. Before I left, Clara gave me one last motivational message, this time her own. She looked at me lovingly, smiled, and then said, “No regrets!” Feeling the energy from her words, we took the fuck off, having spent not that much time, even with the sock change.

I started to run the climb coming out of the AS, until Adam reminded me to slow the fuck down. Up next was a pace-killing rolling section where you’d run some, then hit an uphill just steep enough to hike, at least at this point in the race. I went into Manitou’s mode, reminding myself to run every stretch of runnable terrain, even if it means just 10-15 seconds at a time. Adam noticed and started to give me kudos for throwing in these little efforts, which really helped because I’m a sucker for positive reinforcement. We were even jogging some of the uphills. If memory serves me correct (and it usually doesn’t) this was the section that was supposed to be more technical according to other people’s race reports. I was noticing more rocks and roots, and definitely some eroded trail, but it still felt pretty mellow, at least by East Coast standards.

We finally saw the sign for the climb to Wagner Butte, and hooked a left up the trail for the out and back to the rock scramble. As we climbed further, runners started passing us coming the other way, having already grabbed their flags. I was feeling rinsed. It seemed like a really long section, and much longer than what the elevation profile suggested, but I knew not to get down about it as it just didn’t matter at this stage in the race and all I could do was move forward. A few more people passed us, the last one being Chad, who said the scramble wasn’t far ahead. I felt a bit buoyed, especially as I thought he was far ahead at this point. The trail narrowed even more and finally was just a pile of boulders, so we started to climb up to the peak, picking our way carefully between refrigerator-sized rocks. I grabbed my flag at the top and wove it into my pack’s bungees, rightfully paranoid that it might come loose on the descent down to the AS and I’d be forced to go get another or DNF. I also paused briefly to soak up the view and it was glorious, Ashland seeming less like a mirage down below than it had at Dutchman Peak. Something washed over me—maybe a sense of the race drawing to a close, maybe just the calmness inspired by the moon painting the valley below a serene and ghostly white—and I felt energized and focused again. I was ready to close.

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An aside: I tend to be able to close well in ultras, even in races where I’m struggling, and I’ve always wondered if that was more indicative of having run earlier parts too conservatively–or just plain not well–or if it’s that I’m able to drain parts of the well I didn’t know I had in the end.

We had reached the point from where it was finally all down hill, and I was ready to roll. I stopped at the bottom of the scramble to tie my shoes one last time, wanting them to be locked down for the descent to come. Adam, ever watchful of the clock, finally said, “If we’re going to do it, we have to do it now.” I was in total agreement. I yanked one last time one my laces and we took off. I doubted we’d catch anyone who’d passed us while we were climbing, but I wanted to at least make up some time, as we’d lost a fair amount getting to the top of the butte and by my very fuzzy math, sub 24 seemed iffy.

From the elevation profile, it looked like we’d lose close to a thousand feet in the first mile of the descent. I just let gravity do the work and fell downhill, careful to avoid falling to my doom on the right as the trail was eroded. I had been concerned about this big descent since 50k into the race, when my quads were cramping like a mofo. The pain was still there, but nothing felt like it was gonna cramp, so I leaned hard into the hill and tried to run even faster, reminding myself to eat on schedule and focus only on getting to the next aid station. Then my mind went blank I was just flowing along, mildly aware I was moving fast but seemingly expending no effort. I kept waiting for the descent to get steeper, but we had already done the worst of it, so we moved faster through tight switchbacks, eventually spilling out onto the road and hitting the Weasel Creek aid station.

Weasel Creek to the Finish, 10.5 miles:

I laughed out loud when we hit Weasel Creek, as Clara and I had jokingly been calling it “Weasletown”, which isn’t funny to anyone besides parents of kids who’ve watched Frozen about 10,000 times. I dropped my poles and drank my last caffeine shot and we were out in around 90 seconds, ready to tackle the jeep road down to Ashland. We started out at a decent clip, and I remember feeling tired and wanting this descent I had been promised to start. We passed a few runners and we congratulated each other on moving well, one of them shouting, “sub-24” as we passed. I was trying not to do math because it’s never my strong point, but I figured we’d still have to run 11 minute miles to finish safely under 24, and I knew we still had a little under 10 miles left at this point—not a layup in a 100 miler. I was tired of climbing up this stupid road and finally asked Adam when the fucking downhill was ever gonna start, to which he replied, “We’re going downhill, we’re just going fast.” I was totally fucking shocked. Instead of slowing down, I did a body scan (thanks, English guy from Headspace!) and was thrilled to discover that my breathing felt easy and my body felt strong. It’s funny how your perception can change everything. I leaned into the downhill again and tried to pick up the pace, passing a few more runners that I’d recognized had passed us on the climb up to Wagner. This definitely got me motivated and I finally felt bold enough to ask Adam if we’d make it under 24, with him ebulliently replying that we’d make it with time to spare.

Adam had done an almost psychically good job of talking or being silent during our time together, and this was the only time I asked him to stop talking. What he couldn’t know—and I was too tired to articulate—was that I very badly needed to sing, “I’ve been working on the railroad,” over and over again in my head until we got down to Ashland. I have no idea why, but it seemed very fucking important at that moment.

We went through the gate that would lead us down a short trail and into Ashland, and wouldn’t you know it, my headlamp automatically dims from total its high, “total fucking daylight” setting to the low, “where the fuck did the world go” setting. Turns out that the battery I had grabbed at Grouse Gap must have been one from the used pile from earlier in the day. I was trying to balance going as fast as I could, while going slow enough to not trip on rocks, as my headlamp only brought them into relief a millisecond before I was upon them. Thankfully, we finally hit the pavement and there was light from the houses around us.

We did more descending, taking some turns as we wound downhill, and finally spotted a runner and his pacer about 2/10s of a mile ahead of us. I made a move to speed up but then slowed a little, not sure how long I could sustain the pace if the finish wasn’t around the next turn. Thankfully, Adam and I both realized that this was in fact the finish, and the last words my amazing friend and pacer said to me after 34 miles were, simply, “Let’s go get them!”

We took off, sprinting downhill until we caught them, pulling ahead of them just as we turned into the parking lot. Clara and Sara erupted in cheers as the world turned into a blur. I kept building, leaving everything behind, and then all of a sudden I was on the other side of the finish line, screaming “Fuck yeah!” at the top of my lungs, as Hal gently shushed me (it was, after all, a little before 5:30 and we were in a park next to people’s homes—whoops!).

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I collapsed into a cot just as Clara rushed up to me, saying I was 9th place overall and sub-24 hours. I honestly was stupefied. I had no idea of what place I’d been all day, and I figured I’d go under 24 hours, but would end up in the high teens or low 20s. I didn’t ever care at any point about my placement, and while getting under 24 was a great motivator once it seemed possible, I didn’t go into the race with the idea that it was sub-24 or bust. I was elated to finish top 10, to go under 24 hours on a race with a fuck-ton of climbing, but I was really thrilled about the whole journey, and especially with how I had been able to find my fun, even with some very challenging parts.

After a few minutes spent getting some warm, I ceded my cot to another runner and hobbled back to the crew minivan. Clara handed me a beer, but despite how much I had looked forward to it during the race, it tasted god awful; sitting was heavenly though.

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Aftermath

I pretended to drink my beer for a few minutes more and then we piled into the van to head back to the house to take a well-deserved rest. I took an epsom salt bath and then gobbled down some food before going to sleep. After 24 hours of sugar, a healthy dose of yogurt with toast with butter tasted heavenly, and I drifted off to sleep for 6 hours. We finally woke up midday and lazed about the house, used the hot tub some more and shuffled around to get my blood moving again, before heading back to Ashland for the awards ceremony at 4. The ceremony was really cool, as Hal had everyone stand up and talk a little about themselves and their experience with the race; and by everyone, I mean EVERYONE who was there. The ceremony was just after the end of the official race cutoff, and it was awesome to be able to talk with people who had just finished and hear about how their days went. There was delicious, race-subsidized ramen to slurp while we chatted, and before I knew it, Hal was handing me the sub-24 hour silver finisher’s buckle, plus a nice sweatshirt. Eventually we went back to the house and Adam and Sara made a delicious dinner, which was entirely unnecessary considering all they had already done, but very much appreciated.

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Takeaways:

My main takeaway from this race is that continuing to pick races because I think I’ll enjoy them, even if they might also cause pain, is always a better strategy than picking a goal and making the race fit the goal. Having the goals of enjoying my adventure and being in the moment meant that even if I hadn’t run as fast or placed as well, I was still going to have a meaningful day. Similarly, not thinking about time until the last part of the race, and not knowing anything about placing at any point of the race, meant I felt free to experiment and run freer than I might otherwise. I didn’t feel limited by my goals because enjoying myself isn’t limited. Chasing happiness is proving to be much more successful than chasing quantifiable goals. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me happy to run sub 24 or place to 10, but those were the product of a much different and much more fulfilling process.

I’m proudest of my mental growth as a runner and human this year, and more so than any other year on this earth. It’s been a hard year, that’s been marked by some of the most challenging times, but also some of the most rewarding moments of my life. There’s things I’ve learned from it that I hope won’t repeat; but, I wouldn’t go back and change history either. This year has taught me a ton, and one of those takeaways is that I’m a strong and compassionate person and capable of great change. It’s part of what got me through an agonizing couple of hours in the first half of P2P, and a huge part of why I was able to push so hard for the last 15 miles of the race, when I was still in pain. Learning to tolerate my feelings better, to sit with what’s going on and realize I can make a choice about how to react, means that I might be in pain, but I don’t have to suffer.

I also worked a lot this year on my nutrition, less so on specifically what I was eating, and more on dealing with binge eating issues that have plagued me for a while, especially during the stressful periods of my life. Without a doubt, working on the food/emotion connection was very liberating, and I felt like I was carrying a ton less stress during training, but especially going into the race. I felt much less concerned about fixating on a specific diet, or hitting a specific race weight. I felt more aware of what my emotional state was and how that related to my eating, and I definitely noticed a positive affect on how I performed and recovered.

Thanks

MY CREW WAS FUCKING AMAZING. Seriously. Who the fuck flies across country to wait for hours on end, only to see me for a few minutes in the middle of fucking nowhere and tend to my various needs? My truly amazing friends and wife, that’s who. I am incredibly indebted to them, not just for their emotional and physical support during the race, but in my life in general. You all have my eternal gratitude and love.

I’ve only been working with David Roche for a few months, but he’s been tremendously helpful in changing my perspective on my running, both how I think about it and how I enjoy it. He’s an unwaveringly positive person and I am thrilled we started working together. The greater community around his and Meghan’s practice (go SWAP!) is so incredibly supportive and friendly, and it’s a fantastic reminder that community matters so much. I’m thankful and inspired by all my incredible teammates.

I also want to thank all my Prospect Park Track Club teammates, who are the most encouraging, friendly, and inspiring group of Brooklynites I know. They never cease to amaze me with their support for each other, and I thought lots about all of you while was out in the mountains. I even thought about my teammates who put ravioli on pizza and still deign to call it pizza. Let’s grab a beer and I can help you with overcome your pizza problems!

To my Brooklyn Distance Running Athletes: you can’t begin to know how much you all inspire me. The thoughtfulness you put in towards creating and achieving your goals, dealing with setbacks as they come up, and taking on new and sometimes scary challenges is a huge part of why I do the very same. I definitely had you with me during my race.

Special shoutouts to Ben Kessel from Priority Fitness, for his friendship, tolerance of my ever-shifting schedule, and his expert insight into my strength and mobility needs. I always leave his gym feeling stronger and less like the tin-man. Also to Andrew Eisen from Symbio PT, who helped keep me running smoothly, put me back together when things were going pear-shaped, and otherwise beat the fuck out of me with his sadistic metal tools. Fuck those tools.

A huge shout out to the RD Hal, and his amazing helpers and volunteers, without whom all of this would have been a story about a Brooklyn guy who got lost in Siskiyou wilderness, never to be heard from again. You were all friendly, helpful, and encouraging each step of the way.

And thank you to the lovely folks in the Pine to Palm Facebook group for many of the lovely photos you see here!

2018 Mogollon Monster Race Report

Race: 2018 Mogollon Monster 100
Location: Pine, Arizona
Total distance: 102 miles
Completed distance: 102.5 miles
Weather: 65º at the start, going up to 92o
Cutoff: 36 hours
Net Elevation Gain: 21,000’
Net Elevation Loss: 21,000’
Total runners who started: 106
Total runners who finished: 68
Goal Time: Sub 30 hours
Finish Time: 29:31:00
Overall Place: 28
(Number of gels consumed: 50)

Elevation Profile:

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Preamble:

I've always wanted to start a race report with a close up shot of some really dramatic moment after the race–a raw and powerful moment where all of life's mysteries revealed themselves to me. From there, my race report would read as a flashback of how it all started, where I'd bring the reader along on the ride and help them relive the sights, sounds, and smells of my experience. Well I'll be damned if things don’t feel eerily normal as I write this: my kids are asleep upstairs, I'm enjoying a tasty beer and some sushi, and my body feels fine. And who in the great fuck wants to experience any of the smells from my race anyway? Sorry to rob you of the dramatic moment, but if it helps, you can imagine Morgan Freeman’s voice narrating as you read this. I find it helps tremendously.

I wasn’t even supposed to run the Mogollon Monster 100. I was actually signed up for Pine to Palm 100 in Oregon the week before, which lured me in because I’ve never been to the state, and the pictures my coach posts of all his runs out there look amazing. I expected the aid stations would be stocked with dry cappuccinos and gluten-free snacks, and the swag would be hand-knit or at the very least the race shirt would be flannel. As an added bonus, my friend Yung Hae had volunteered to crew me, which meant I would spend 100 miles trying to figure out if the gummy candies she was giving me were full of weed or not (Oregon is one of those states). As it turned out, one of my closest friend was set to get married during P2P, so I had to go back to the drawing board.

I knew I wanted a course that was beautiful, remote, challenging, and ideally didn’t repeat too much of the same terrain. It also had to be either the week before or after Pine to Palm, as the rest of September was filled up with family commitments and I didn't want to cram training in for an August race (plus nothing really appealed that wasn't already filled up). Given that I had UTMB points from Manitou’s Revenge and Georgia Death Race, I figured it wouldn’t hurt if I could get enough points to enter the lottery for 2019. Mogollon Monster was the obvious choice as it gave me my UTMB points and was a Hardrock qualifier to boot. My thinking was that I’m not getting any younger, so I may as well start the endless cycle of rejection that is the Hardrock lottery now, so when I when I do get in 10 years from now I'll at the very least have the pre-requisite ultra beard (it takes me a while to grow facial hair and I know how important it is to the sport these days).

Training and Preparation:

This year, my season started with the Georgia Death Race, which I did after recovering from a marathon in February. Yeah, a lot of thought went into preparation, as you can see. Since GDR, I've focused mainly on technical races or adventures with a focus on climbing: Quest for the Crest 50k, Manitou's Revenge 54 Miler, Jug End 6 hour (maybe the one exception) a week out in Jackson Hole that included a 10k with over 4,000 feet of climbing, the classic Pemigewasset Loop (50k w/~9,000 feet on very technical trails) and then a goodly amount of time in the Hudson Highlands or the AT in the Berkshires. In between races the focus has been on recovery, and then doing what I can to prep for the next effort. My total volume, wether judged by miles or minutes, hasn’t been that huge at any point, except for maybe my last big week before Mogollon where I hit a peak of about 75 miles and 14,000 feet of climbing, including the Pemi loop, which was technical, hilly, and beautiful in equal parts. Nothing to sneeze at, but not brutal either.

The coordinated gazelle that I am, I ended up spraining my ankle after the Pemi Loop whiled running in the park near home. The extensors on top of my foot got very enflamed, enough so that I had to abandon my last peak weeks and start my taper early. Good news is that I didn't waste a ton of time sulking–I wasted many tons of time sulking. Yeah, for that whole week I was a flustered, whiny baby. I can deal with the fatigue of peak training or the feelings of not being prepared for a new distance. What I couldn't apparently deal with is the idea that I might not be able to race if my ankle didn't get better. Luckily, my wife, coach, and friends were there to give me the hugs kick in the ass I needed to get over myself and start being productive. I had lost a few peak weeks and now had an almost 4 week taper, but sulking about it wouldn't help. I started an aggressive recovery strategy, and by the time the race rolled around my ankle was feeling much better. It wasn't 100%, but I knew I could at least finish the race on it without damaging it any further.

I didn't know anyone in Arizona and my go-to crew and pacer weren't able to schlep out to AZ to join me (and honestly, that would have been crazy). I felt conflicted about wether I even wanted a crew or pacer at all, as I generally prefer running alone in silence and soaking up the surroundings. At this point I feel like I have my mental strategies and drop bag game dialed in, I'm pretty resourceful, and able to think on the fly and work around challenges as they come up in a race. I'm not the kind who's gonna totally fucking lose it if some very specific form of food isn’t handed to me at the right moment, or the aid station has run out of ice or some shit. That being said, I had friends crewing or pacing me at Manitou's as a test run for MOG 100, as I'd never had crew or pacer before, and I have to admit having a really dialed in crew can definitely save time and stress at an aid station. My crew at Manitou’s was the perfect combination of organized, enthusiastic, prescient, patient, and firm. My pacer at that race was also really comfortable not talking and having me set the pace, which meant we ran really well together. In reflecting on that race though–and not to take anything away from my pacer who was amazing–I think having crew was the biggest change for me, as even when I picked up my pacer I preferred to set our pace, didn't really talk much, and had my race details dialed in such that I didn't need to be reminded to eat, or cajoled to push at hard times. I make pacing me sound so fun right? Come, spend hours in the woods in silence as you stare at my ass until we get close to the finish and then I'm gonna try my hardest to drop you. I'm a right treasure, I is.

This, however, was going to be my first 100 miler and it was a notoriously difficult course, so I figured it was better to have help end not need it than need it and not have it. I was sort of right about this.I had posted on the Aravaipa Facebook group (the race director's running club) a while back to see if anyone wanted to help crew and/or pace a total stranger for the race. As luck would have it, someone responded and even roped in a friend of his to come help. We had a phone call the Monday before the race and went over my pacing and crewing strategy and preferences. One of the guys clearly had a lot more experience than the other, but they both seemed really excited to help a total stranger finish this race, which had to count for something.

Even though I had crew, I decided to pack my drop bags so I could be totally self-supported, that way I wouldn't be up shit’s creek if my crew had an issue making it to an aid station to meet me. There were also only two places on the course where they were allowed to help me, which meant I'd need well organized drop bags anyway. I tried not to plan my packing around preparing for every possible problem, and instead focused on making sure my drop bags were easy to navigate, and clearly labelled with instructions of what I had to take vs. what was conditional. You pass aid stations 13 times on the course, but some of those are because you hit the same aid station from a different direction. I took this into account when packing and tried to separate out supplies based on each time I’d stop there, making sure I had adequate headlamps, batteries, calories, clothes for if it got cold, etc. My one real luxury was shoes, and I left a pair of shoes in each bag, not because I planned on changing so much, but because my extensors were still cranky and I wasn't confident in any one pair not making it worse during the race. As it happened I ended up wearing the same shoes for 80 miles of the course, but more on that below.

I had spent a lot of time tearing apart Strava tracks of the course from 2016, as 2017 was a rerouted course and we were going to be returning to the original course for our year. There weren’t a ton of reliable Strava tracks from comparable runners; however, I was lucky enough to find a track from one guy who seemed roughly similar in terms of fitness at the time, and who had run Manitou’s Revenge in his build up to Mogollon that year. I figured that the race would probably take me around 29-31 hours unless things were going perfectly or really poorly. It’s not that I was looking to make splits for myself, but I wanted to give my crew an idea of the earliest I’d likely hit any aid station, so they had ample time to get there and have stuff ready for me, as I didn’t want to waste any additional time if I didn’t have to. I will say that in the wake of such a good race at Manitou’s, I did get carried away thinking about finish times for MOG during the first part of the taper and found it stressful putting expectations on myself. For new distances, I’ve always taken the approach of just enjoying it and doing what I need to in the moment to move forward and that’s seemed to work well for me, so I stuck to that for this race and stopped putting any time pressure on myself. I did harbor a secret product goal of finishing under 30 hours, but really I just wanted to finish. My main process goal was to minimize time spent at 0 MPH.

Race Week:

The taper was definitely the hardest I’ve ever had. Partly due to the fact that I was anxious about my ankle and missing a few peak weeks, but mostly because there was a lot going on at home. Oh, did I mention that in the wake of our trip to Jackson Hole, where every dog is literally the cutest dog ever, my wife hoodwinked me into adopting a border collie puppy? In the grand scheme of things, an adorable puppy is a great problem to have; but, waking up multiple times in the night to a whining fur ball does not exactly make for great rest.

I tried to channel my energy into taking care of all the final logistics for the race, but definitely spun my wheels a bit making and remaking packing lists, instead of actually throwing shit in bags. Between the state of the union type talks on the home front and the olympic level chess game that I had turned packing into, I was pretty fried by the time race week rolled around, and was more wanting it to be over with than excited about the journey. Great way to start an adventure, eh? I stopped the pity party, did a lot of meditating, and lost myself in videos and pictures of the course. Finally, I started to feel properly excited, if still nervous. I'm proud of myself for not letting all the stresses outside of the race undermine my confidence going into the race, but it definitely took a lot of self care on my part.

Days before the Race:

I flew in Thursday before the race so I'd be able to get a little sleep for one night at least. I met one of the guys who was going to help crew and pace, and we grabbed a few supplies at Costco, loaded them in my rental, and then Idrove up to Pine, AZ where the race is held. I took a short run down into the town itself, so I could see the finish line that I’d be crossing a few days later, and celebrated with a pulled-pork feast at the Pinewood Tavern and then got to bed early, sleeping blissfully for 8 uninterrupted hours. Miracles do happen.

The next day I decided to do my shakeout run from the Pine Trailhead to see the first few miles of the course and gauge a little bit more about how the sun might feel by this point (roughly 8 am, so a few hours into the race). The trail worked it’s way up a series of fairly exposed switchbacks. It was nice to see this part of the trail that I’d hit at the start, and which I’d cross on my way to finishing in pine over 100 miles later (the official race distance is actually 102 miles, as you finish in town, a few miles past the start at the Pine trailhead). Given the heat at this hour, I decided to throw my Salomon pack and bladder into one of my early drop bags, just in case I needed more water than my UltrAspire pack could carry. Afterwards, I drove to the nearby metropolis of Payson–a strip of fast food chains interspersed with gun stores–and grabbed a few last minute supplies. I also met Michael Bielik for lunch, a friend of a friend and a very accomplished ultra runner (he’s currently trying to run a 100 miler in each state and has already run around 7 this year alone).

After lunch, I headed back to Pine to pick up my bib, and then back to the Airbnb to meet my crew, Jesse and his friend Troy in person, so we could review the plans for the race. I decided, assuming they were cool with it, to split up pacing duties so that they would each pace two sections, alternating crewing and pacing duties. This meant picking up Troy, the less experienced of the two, at Washington Park II, which was roughly mile 43, swapping him out with Jesse at Buck Springs around mile 58, then having troy jump back in for his last section from Washington III (mile 80) until Geronimo at mile 90, where I’d grab Jesse until the end. They had some apprehensions about the drive to Buck Springs, but after I explained they’d otherwise be stuck waiting at Washington Park for like 12 hours, we all agreed it was as good a plan as any.

We spent some time going over my drop bags, the crew bag I had packed for them, and the crew instructions that specified my nutrition plan, what gear I'd need each part of the race, etc.. In retrospect I probably should have gone over these details a few times to make sure they had it all down despite their reassurances, as things didn’t go exactly smoothly when I met them during the race. This isn’t to slag them off, as I think it’s really hard to crew a stranger and be expected to have it all dialed in. I decided not to stress it too much, because I'd be fine with my drop bags, and I had provided a very organized, concise, and laminated spreadsheet breaking down what I’d need at each aid station in terms of supplies, etc., so I hoped they’d be able to crew me effectively from that. Here’s an example of one part of the sheet:

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We had dinner at Pinewood Tavern again (chicken sandwich with sweet potato fries and a beer) and then went back to the house where I probably spent an hour more than I needed to futzing around with my drop bags and start kit. As usual, the only thing that had me anxious was my shoe choice. For this race I had a good excuse, though, as my ankle was better but not nearly 100%. The main issue was that I still felt pain where I tied my shoes on my left foot when wearing my Saucony Peregrine 8s in my usual size. I had a bunch of other choices with me, all of which with some tradeoffs. The Hoka Torrents felt great, but only had like 10 miles on them and the upper seemed to want to stretch out. I stashed the Torrents in one of the later drop bags, figuring if shit went real pear-shaped, they’d be a decent gamble. The Altra Lone Peak 4s felt decent on my extensors, but I don’t love that wide toe box for truly technical terrain, so those also went into a drop later in the race when it was less technical. My other choices were the Hoka Speedgoat 2, the La Sportiva Helios SR, and the Peregrines up 1/2 size from my usual 12. In the end I decided to wear the larger size of the Peregrines, as somehow the laces felt better on my foot and it was still a shoe I

had spent a lot of time in (and while I had more toe room, the heel felt like it still held snuggly). I was in bed finally at 8:30, meditated, and finally fell asleep around 9:00.

Start Kit:

Salomon blue t-shirt
Salomon half tights
Saucony peregrine 8 shoes size 12.5
Injinji original weight mini crew socks
Salomon Speed Bob Hat
Brooklyn Distance Running half buff
Ultraspire momentum pack
Ultraspire 500 ml ultra flasks x 4 (1 bottle of sword, 1 of Electroride, 1 water, 1 empty) 4 SiS gels, 1 Spring, 1 Long Haul
Stripped down blister kit
iPod Shuffle
5 x Succeed salt pills (didn’t use)
5 x CarboPro motivator pills
2toms lube
2 toms foot powder
Garmin Fenix 5X Plus
My iPhone with course loaded on Trail Run Project
Arc'teryx Norval SL rain coat
CEP cooling sun sleeves
Ice bandana

Race Morning:

I woke up a few times with crazy dreams, but managed to sleep until 1 minute before my alarm at 4 am, so got roughly 7 hours, which is worlds better than any race this year (personal low points were the 3 hours I got before Georgia Death Race and the 2 hours before Quest for the Crest). I had a Bobo bar, banana and coffee for breakfast and finally was able to take a pre race crap (or 3, as was the case–payback for all the other races this year). I had my usual 3 scoops of Ucan at 5am, and left for the start at 5:15.

Start to Dickerson Flat

I dropped of my drop bags, and stood around with Michael while the RD gave a short speech warning us about the nature of the challenge ahead and the expected high temps (it would climb to over 90o pretty quickly). I spotted Ed “the Jester” Etinghausen and Scott kummer from Ten Junk Miles, which was cool, and a Jeff Browning looky-likey.

Finally, the RD counted us down and we were off. I started running with Michael, but his initial pace felt harder than I wanted to be going, so I stopped to retie my shoes and let him go by. I settled in with a nice group of people as we gradually worked out way up the first climb. We were dancing in the conga line, but instead of passing or being anxious, I tried to remind myself that this was probably the right pace if I felt like I needed to go faster. The first big climb was shorter and easier than I’d thought it’d be, mostly because it had switchbacks, as opposed to being a powerline cut like most of the climbs we have back east. At the top we transitioned onto a dirt road, and I felt warmed up so opened my stride a bit and chatted with a guy from Milan in Italian for a while, until the conversation turned away from weather talk and the shallow depth of my Italian vocabulary became evident. He sprinted on ahead, and I hoped he was just really going out too fast and that I wasn't already feeling the heat.

Dickerson Flat to Geronimo

I breezed through the Dickerson aid station, as I had enough water on me and all the calories I needed, and continued on towards a long descent on the Turkey Springs trail headed towards the Geronimo aid station. I got turned around a few times on the descent but quickly found the flags again. I passed Jubilee, who I recognized from the Aravaipa podcasts, and managed to put on my best douche-face as she snapped some photos. It's not really that hard to look like an asshat if you're already in spandex half-tights and a have a head scarf on.

Flying the Brooklyn Distance Running flag while trying to eat shit on the rocks.

Flying the Brooklyn Distance Running flag while trying to eat shit on the rocks.

Geronimo to Washington Park I

At Geronimo, I refilled my bottles with water, Sword powder, and Spring Energy Electroride, but neglected to fill up my empty, fourth bottle. It wasn’t that warm yet, and I figured 3 x 550 ml (18.6 oz) bottles would be enough to last me the next 10 miles to Washington Park, guessing it would take around 2-2:30 on this rough section of the Highline trail. My general nutrition plan called for about 2-300 calories an hour, mostly from Science in Sport gels (which you can take without water) Sword drink (1 scoop per bottle) and Electroride (1 sachet per bottle) plus some real food from aid stations. So far it was working well and my energy felt consistent, but relying on liquid calories meant I was going through my water faster as it had started to warm up quite a bit.

I began to feel a hot spot form on my right heel about 5 minutes after leaving Geronimo AS, so I stopped and got out my blister kit, as I had promised myself that I’d take care of any foot issues immediately. Sure enough, I had a blister forming on my heel, I’m guessing from the extra space in the Peregrine’s, which had originally been in a late-stage drop bag for if I needed to change and my feet had swollen. I cleaned the area, put on some benzoine, then a little Trail Toes on the affected area and used coverall tape to secure. It wasn’t going to last all day, but it would get me to the next aid station fine. All-in-all I probably spent 5 minutes taking care of something that could have forced me to lose a lot more time in the race.

I got moving again and was moving well enough on the technical terrain despite the temperature, which was climbing steadily. I did run out of water on this stretch, despite having 3 18 oz. bottles on me. Luckily, another runner offered me some of his, as he had more than enough. Eventually we pulled into the Washington Park aid station, about 15 minutes ahead of when I had predicted I would. I figured that wasn’t terrible, considering all the splits were at best an educated guess.

Washington Park I to Houston Brothers I

I spotted Troy and Jesse pretty quickly. They had grabbed my drop bag (really one big bag with three sections: one for each time I’d visit Washington Park) but nothing was laid out so I gave them some time to get organized and asked the medic to redo the tape job on my heel while I ate some food. He taped up both heels for good measure, and did a great job, because I had zero problems the rest of the day (note to self: not crazy to tape heels before the race). I also swapped out my Peregrines for a pair La Sportiva Helios SRs with thin Skecher’s insoles to which I’ve glued milk jug plastic, to add a little more forefoot protection. I wore these the rest of the race and they were great, all things considered.

I was feeling really hot so I decided to swap out my UltrAspire Momentum pack for my Salomon 5L pack, which takes a bladder. I lost some time showing the crew how to fill a Hydrapak bladder and the Raidlight 20 oz flasks I’d be using, plus they had left some things I had given them in the car, so I made do with what was in my drop bag. I grabbed my nutrition and some potatoes and salt for the climb, and had them fill my powders in the flasks and I was off.

I hit the power line climb up to the top of the Mogollon Rim shortly after leaving Washington Park. I had read a lot about this in race reports and seen footage from previous years of people struggling on it. Oddly, this was one of my favorite parts. Yeah, it was hot as balls and the footing was sketchy at best, but it was a nice change of pace from the red rock section of the Highline trail, plus I had ice in my pack, bottles, hat, and bandana.

Not your humble author pictured, but you get the idea of why they call it Powerline

Not your humble author pictured, but you get the idea of why they call it Powerline

Once at the top, we had a somewhat long stretch of service road that was pretty mellow and afforded amazing views of the valley below. The only bad part was that there were lots of ATVs kicking up dust. I settled into a kind of 5:1 run- walk and trudged along, making sure to get my calories in. I was feeling less than awesome, but the views helped pass the time. I ended up running into another guy from NY State, Bernie, who seemed to be struggling more than I was, and asked if he could tag along. We chatted a bit and I tried to get him to eat some food to help him get out of the negative headspace, but he kind of brushed me off and continued complaining. I made a mental note to try to get away from him, as I that kind of energy can be contagious. I tried to remind myself not to give a voice to my suffering, and tune him out, which worked pretty well until we hit Houston Brothers AS.

Houston Brothers I to Pinchot I

I grabbed some potato chips and some pickles from the table, refilled my bottles, then waited a few seconds for Bernie to join me on the single track down to Pinchot. Why? I dunno. I was eager to get away from his energy but felt bad leaving someone who was hurting behind. We got a bit turned around at first but righted the ship and continued on our way. Eventually Bernie started to lag behind, so I pressed on, relieved to not have to hear him talk himself out of finishing (sadly, he would DNF at Washington II). I eventually caught a guy from Las Vegas with Yankees tattoos who told me how much he hated living in New York, and a woman who seemed to be running really well in an attempt to get away from the aforementioned yankees fan. Side note: if you hate New York, why get a full-size back tattoo of the twin towers overlaid with the Yankees logo? I stopped to pee and let them get ahead a little, opting to put on my iPod for a while. This stretch was rolling singletrack, with short and steep ascents and descents interspersed with pretty runnable terrain. I wasn’t moving super fast, but was making decent progress.

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Eventually I hit the Pinchot aid station and grabbed my drop bag while the shirtless Yankees superfan went to shit in the woods. I drank a shot of pickle juice, thanked the volunteers, and grabbed some more potatoes and my resupply of gels. The SiS were going down well, as were the Spring gels, so I didn’t overdo it on food. I got out of this aid station really fast, and it was actually less stressful crewing myself out of my drop bag than worrying about if my crew was ignoring my instructions.

Pinchot I to Washington II

The stretch from Pinchot to Washington II was probably my least favorite daytime section, probably because I was feeling the heat and not moving as consistently as I wanted. I feel like this stretch had more lows than highs, and looking at a long day ahead in the heat seemed daunting and left my questioning the life choices that had landed me here. I was prepared for this to happen at some point, so had a good laugh at myself, talked out loud a little, then went back to the soundtrack of shitty EDM that had somehow worked its way onto my iPod. We were just on singletrack, darting in and out of tree coverage until we eventually ran along a muddy river. I had to peel off into the

woods once to take a crap, which wasn’t really that productive, unless you count hamstring cramps as helpful. It was still really hot, even in the shade, and I was starting to annoyed that I was still running. I also think I maybe skipped one eating interval pulling into Pinchot, so tried to trickle a few more calories in, knowing that if I tried to cram down a ton my stomach would go south.

We ran past camp sites and through some pretty stretches of forest until I arrived at the rim road again, this time to descend the power line climb back to Washington Park for my second visit. The descent was actually really fun–like skiing downhill on lose rocks–and gave me a little of my mojo back. It's funny that looking back, my best parts in terms of time were either forrest road or technical singletrack and not the runnable trails. I was about 40 minutes behind my projected ETA I had given my crew, but I didn’t really care as I was happy to moving a bit better again, and very happy to be pulling into Washington Park where there was ice a-plenty.

Washington II to Hell’s Gate

This time around, my crew had things much more dialed in and had laid out everything I needed to ingest or take with me. I downed a coconut water, then some coke, and then a whole ensure for good measure. Yeah, probably not the best strategy, but I was pretty thirsty and wanted to put my bonk behind me. I grabbed my gel and powder resupply, then threw my headlamp and waist lamp into my bag and dumped my sun gear for them to hold onto. Troy would be jumping in to pace me from Washington Park to Hell’s Gate, but he wasn’t exactly ready to go, so I went over my list while he grabbed his stuff, trying not to be frustrated that he wasn't ready.

We took off and I walked the first stretch out of the aid station to let my food digest. The ensure was making me really gassy, and I think a better strategy would have been to sip it over the course of a few miles instead of crop dusting anyone unlucky enough to be in my, wake. Live and learn. In any case, the beginning of this stretch felt rough, but eventually the sun started to set and it cooled off a lot enough that I could run consistently again. This section was really overgrown–we're talking waist-high grass–and it added another element of difficulty to the already technical terrain, since you couldn’t really trust your footing. Eventually, it got dark enough for us to pull out our lights. I was using a new headlamp from ZebraLight, in combination with my UltrAspire waist light. Imagine, if you will, the brightness of the sun combined with the stank of 2 years of unwashed jock strap, and you now have a picture of what I looked and smelt like as I bumbled through the wilderness.

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We had been prepped that it would be hard to follow the overgrown Highline trail to get to Hell’s gate, and man the RD’s weren’t kidding. Multiple times we’d have to back track to find out where we’d missed a flag. It didn’t help that Troy’s headlamp was roughly as bright as a the love child of Lindsay Graham and an inbred donkey. Still, we eventually made it the Hell’s Gate aid station and were offered beers and shots, which I declined. I did accept their wonderful soup. Troy had put his bladder together wrong, so ended up having to beg a water bottle off a volunteer (meaning he only had 16 oz to get to Buck Springs). We lost a little more time here trying to sort out Troy's water situation, and eventually we were off. His headlamp was totally dead at this point, so I gave him my waist lamp, as my headlamp was more than bright enough, plus he was stumbling around in the dark behind me and there were many places where you could plummet to your death if you weren’t careful going up the Myrtl climb. Good thing there's nothing in the rulebook that prevents runners from muling supplies for their pacers.

Hell’s Gate to Buck Springs

We linked up with another runner for a while, until we all got lost, having missed a spot where we were meant to cross a gap in a barbwire fence (this wasn’t nearly marked well enough and lots of people I spoke to got lost here). This added on about a half mile, but eventually we found where we were supposed to turn and were on our merry fucking way up the Myrtle Trail, which climbs over 1000 feet in a mile. To add insult to injury, the grass was really high and they had used more ground flags than hanging flags, so it was really sketchy following the trail. Nothing like stumbling around in the dark with cliff drops around you.

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We followed the headlamps ahead of us a bit, and then the trail became more regular. Eventually we hit the rim again, and were treated to a cruise along a service road in the cool night air. I was feeling pretty good so ran what felt like fast at the time, passing a few people on the way until we pulled into Buck Springs.

Buck Springs to Pinchot II

I was in good spirits entering Buck Springs. I had been running well after the Myrtl climb, my stomach was feeling much better now that I was no longer spraying everyone with Eau d’Ensure. Jesse was there waiting for us and said that Mike Bielik had left only 15 minutes earlier. That meant either he was slowing down (I had been about 40 mins behind him at Washington II) or I was speeding up, but more likely some combo of the two. Either way, he news made made happy.

I drank some coconut water, grabbed a Starbucks double shot for the road, swapped headlamp batteries and grabbed my gel resupply. The SiS and long haul combo was working really well. I was still enjoying drinking Electroride and the Sword was getting a bit tired, but not terrible. I had kind of gone off potatoes so I had a cup of ramen soup at the aid station (definitely the funnest we’d hit so far) thanked the volunteers and then waited for Jesse to get his stuff on so we could leave.

The stretch from Buck springs to Pinchot was probably one of my favorites of the race. The ramen was sitting really well and I had tons of energy. I think I had maybe taken my first Motivator pill around this point too, which gave me a little boost. We did a fair amount of descending on mixed single track and my downhill legs felt the best they had all day. We passed a good number of people on this stretch, and I was able to run the more gradual uphills too, which gave more confidence about the rest of the race. I could feel Jesse lagging a bit behind on some of the more technical downhills, or uphills where I pushed the pace, and made a mental note to talk to him about what happens if we split up before hitting Washington Park.

We ran through a meadow of tall, wavy grass ringed by towering ponderosa pines, and I had us shut off our headlamps and soak up the stars. It was magnificent and I could have stood there all day letting the blowing grass and twinkling stars convince us we were being swept along in a boat on a great green sea. Back to reality, we eventually got to Pinchot, this time coming from the west, and saw Michael sitting in a chair. He had just pulled in a few moments before and said he’d head out with us. I was happy to have his company, and happy to have caught him, not in a competitive way, but more because it was the only external indication so far I’d had of how I was doing (and okay, maybe in some competitive way). Catching him made me think back to advice I’d gotten from a friend a long while back about struggling in a race, “If it’s hurting you, it’s killing them!”

I grabbed my gels and swapped batteries again even though I didn’t really need to, then drank some broth and pickle juice and a fantastic quesadilla (plus took one for the road). The volunteers here were awesome! I could swear that the ham radio operator here was the same white haired, white bearded gentleman I’d seen on several other parts of the course radioing in our positions. It’s more likely that Ham radio operators in Arizona have a very specific look: bearded white gentleman over 60 who are really into Ham radios.

Pinchot II to Houston Brothers II

We started out at a trot to let our food digest, and then settled into a decent pace as we did the gradual climb up to Houston Brothers. I didn’t love this stretch during the day, and doing it at night in reverse wasn’t much better. It’s not that it isn’t pretty and doesn’t have good parts to run—it’s probably the most runnable part of the course except Buck Springs to Pinchot—but I think I got a little behind in calories and the pacing of the short hills meant you weren’t really getting into a great rhythm. We got passed by Noele, who I’d been leap frogging with since Washington II, and he was moving so well (he’d get eventually finish about 10 mins ahead of me). That lit my fire a bit and I moved ahead of the group.

We crossed a service road and I pulled off into the woods to take a crap, not knowing that we were continuing onto the trail that I happened to be despoiling. I felt a bit better after that and we continued our gradual uphill struggle in

the woods. Eventually we hit Houston brothers and we all took a few moments to regroup. I downed half the can of Starbucks and grabbed some grilled cheese and ginger ale. I had been taking a Tums every hour or so and my stomach was feeling pretty good all things considered, even with the caffeine.

Houston Brothers II to Washington Park III

We departed Houston Brothers and pretty quickly were spit out onto the rim road again, this time headed west to east. It was pretty at night when you could see the lights in the valley below and the stars above. We were doing a sort of run-walk approach and at one point I stopped to tie my shoe and Michael kept running ahead. I guess at that moment my competitive instincts did kick in (we had previously been stopping as a group) and I just took off running down the rim road, leaving Michael and Jesse behind. Jesse and I had already talked earlier about what would happen if I went ahead of him on the powerline descent back down to Washington III, so I knew he'd be fine grabbing keys to the car and taking over crew duties from Troy, who'd pace me to Geronimo at mile 90.

It was a little before 4 AM at this point, but I was feeling pretty alert, and I kept on motoring, passing a few others people I hadn't seen yet before. I finally caught up to one guy on the powerline descent who had passed me hours earlier, and that definitely put a spring in my step. I slid my way down powerline, using my poles to prevent any real carnage. I did slide out majestically on one steep section, but luckily no major damage was done.

I had already done this descent during the daytime and knew how close I was to the aid station, so I turned it on a bit and ran the runnable bottom of the descent at a pretty decent clip, eventually pulling into Washington Park for the third and final time having made up a good amount of the time I'd lost earlier in the day.

Washington Park III to Geronimo II

Troy was waiting for me and had everything really well organized. He had fixed his bladder and already loaded up his pack so he was ready to go. I ditched my long sleeve and rain coat as it didn't seem like I'd need either at this point. I had pulled in at about 5 am and spent the majority of my time there availing myself of the porto potties, which were a nice change from squatting in the woods. I ate part of an egg, bacon and potato burrito which was bland but palatable, and we were off.

It was still dark and Troy was using one of my spare lamps from my drop bag, but after about 40 minutes we didn't need our lamps at all. The terrain was technical and undulating, but we were still making decent time and the scenery was more enjoyable in the cool morning weather than when I'd done it the day before in daytime heat. The arrival of dawn definitely refreshed me the way I've read about it in so many other race reports. We were walking any steep uphills, jogging the flats and downhills, and even running a bit of the runnable uphill grades. At this point I was sucking down gels like a robot, not leaving anything to chance. It started to dawn on me that I would finish under 30 hours if I could keep up this effort. In general, math isn't my strong point, and 24 hours into a race it was even harder for me to start to calculate the pace we'd need to hold to finish under 30 hours. I also still had over 20 miles left from Washington III to the finish, so I stopped doing math and focused on getting to Geronimo in one piece. Small process goals became name of the game: eat every 20-30, smile through the uphills, focus on posture.

This section of trail was prettier than I'd remembered it, with red rock and more of a desert vibe. I focused on trying to run all the runnable sections, even if that meant only a few steps here or there in a long climb. This is one of the techniques that helped at Manitou's this year, and keeps me from getting complacent. It's almost a game, where I'm hunting down all the parts I can run. Troy was lagging a bit, especially on the uphills, and I needing to pee a lot (I gave him the trail name of “Tiny Tank”) so I felt like I was pretty much running this part alone.

Earlier, Jesse had said he was going to go back to the house and take a bath after his first pacing section, because his back was hurting him and he wanted to rest before pacing me from Geronimo to the finish. I decided it was best for me to assume I was going to run from Geronimo to the end solo, that way I wasn’t flustered if Jesse wasn’t feeling up to it or got delayed getting to Geronimo. Troy said he'd be fine to pace me to the finish if Jesse didn't make it to Geronimo or didn't want to pace, but I said it was totally up to him as I felt fine and wasn't worried about being on my own. As we got closer to Geronimo Troy was less certain about continuing to the finish, but he eventually decided to keep going. I was fine either way because I was making good, if slow time, and smelling the barn.

Geronimo II to Donohue

When we got to Geronimo, Jesse hadn't arrived yet, soI grabbed my drop bag, stashed my headlamp, and grabbed my gel resupply. It was starting to get a little warm so I had the volunteers fill my ice sleeves, ice bandana, and throw ice in my pack. The cold was refreshing and we lit out of Geronimo, back on the Webber Trail. I was done with Sword, so grabbed Gatorade from the aid station, which tasted really nasty. Jesse arrived just before we left, crossing a river before beginning a series of climbs, and managed to snap some pics. He really is a great photographer!

I distinctly remember wanting to turn and smile for the picture here, but I was running dangerously low on fucks and didn’t have one left to give

I distinctly remember wanting to turn and smile for the picture here, but I was running dangerously low on fucks and didn’t have one left to give

As we started climbing up the trail we were passed by 35k runners coming the other direction. It was nice to hear them cheer us on at this late stage in the race. At a certain point I got fed up moving aside and yelled for all to hear that anyone who wanted to get past me would have to move out of my fucking way. This drew a few laughs from the 35k-ers in earshot. I was dead serious. Having a bunch of bright eyed and bushy tailed runners careen carelessly down inclines towards you as you death march your way endlessly uphill isn't exactly the best feeling late in a race.

I was beginning to wonder when we'd start the infamous last climb known as the "Dick-knocker" when all of a sudden it appeared out of nowhere. At first I thought we were just on a short climb up to a traverse and then I looked up and saw an impossibly steep and long bowl stretch out ahead of me into the distance above. It was definitely intimidating, so I stopped looking up and just looked at the end of the switchback ahead of me. I set a slow but even pace, making sure my breathing was steady even if it was hard. Eventually we caught up to two women (eventual 4th female and her pacer) who were chatting it up, but moving a little slower. For a second I started to doubt my pace, thinking I was moving too hard if I couldn't chat like that, but I also figured there was only a few hours left in the race and now's not the time to talk, so I passed them (turns out I had shared miles early on with the runner–the other woman was her pacer–and she knows one of my oldest friends) and kept on moving switchback to switchback.

We climbed for what seemed like forever, and I dutifully sucked down gels and drank my fluids so I wouldn't have any danger of bonking towards the end. I also took one last caffeine pill for good measure. We topped out and hit the Donohue aid station, which was a full aid station this year as opposed to just a water drop, probably for the 35k runners.

Donohue to the Finish

I dumped out the Gatorade I had picked up at Geronimo and put in diluted ginger ale which tasted fucking sensational. We took off down a dirt road until we hooked a right onto single track for the long descent down to the Pinehead trail, where the race had started over a full day ago.

By my really foggy math we could still finish under 30 hours, assuming we didn’t lose any time, which was easy to considering the rising temps and pace-killing terrain. I guessed it would be close–like 15 minutes close–so I pushed ahead. I didn’t want to regret slowing down out of apathy if I could still bring it in under 30. My right toe had been hurting since Geronimo from what felt like a deep blister plus lots of kicked rocks, but there was no point in stopping now. We were getting passed by the lead men running the 35k, and even pointed second place in the right direction as he stood flummoxed at an intersection. The trail was still pretty technical and it was hard to get into a rhythm. I had been using my poles a lot on the downs and I felt it was slowing me down, so I just held them and let gravity do the work, gambling that I could still move nimbly enough not to break my neck.

We got closer to the bottom and the terrain became easier and I picked up some speed. About 1/4 mile from the trailhead I saw Jesse who was snapping pictures. He yelled that I was gonna finish under 30 hours and that lit a spark in me and I took off down the trail, leaving Troy behind momentarily. The trail spit us out into a parking lot and I dropped my pack and poles for Jesse to collect and chased down a runner ahead of me. We were running fast–what felt like 7 min/miles–two abreast at this point, and I was getting huge cheers from people along the road. Eventually the guy next to me asked which race I was running, and heaved a huge sigh of relief when I said I was running the 100 Miler, as he was running the 35k. While it felt great to be racing one of the front of the pack of the 35k, I was relieved he wasn’t racing the 100 as I honestly couldn’t keep that pace up much longer, and we had another 2 miles left before the finish.

You can just see me about to pelt Jesse with my silly “What About Bob” hat.

You can just see me about to pelt Jesse with my silly “What About Bob” hat.

We headed through the methy tunnel under the highway and then onto a smaller paved road that I knew from my shakeout run. I had about a mile left and it was miserably hot. I had cleverly dropped all my water with my pack in the parking lot and desperately wanted a drink of water. The 35k guy ahead of me looked back every few feet, I imagine wanting not to be caught by another person in his race as much not wanting to be caught by a guy who had been running almost 30 hours.

Jesse cruised by me in the car and I commented that I looked like I was out for a jog. I had to laugh. It honestly kind of felt that way at that point, probably from the euphoria of nearing the end. Troy was a few feet behind me, ambling along in silence.

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I wouldn’t say I sprinted the last half mile, but I definitely didn’t walk it in. The finish line was finally in site and I ran through that bastard to collect my buckle. I felt hot more than anything else. Not even that tired, just really hot. It was satisfying as shit, and I felt deeply happy.

Aftermath

I hobbled over to the wooden open air shelter and a friendly volunteer grabbed me cold water while I sprawled out on a bench and started to assess the damage to my feet. To my surprise they were actually in good shape. I had a blister under a callous on my big right toe, to be sure, plus I had kicked enough rocks with that toe that the little nub

of newly grown nail that had sprouted since I lost that toenail at Manitou’s was now a deathly shade of grey, and had pushed back into the nailbed, leaving a red crescent of cranky. I also had some blistering by the extensors on the top of both feet, leaving me to believe I’m just tying my shoes too right. Maybe a place to tape in the future.

I wanted to wait for Michael to come in, but not knowing how far behind he was (he finished about 1.5 hours and a few places behind me) I decided to go back to the apartment to rinse off so we could grab some food, as I knew Troy and Jesse were both tired and hungry. We returned again to the Pinewood Tavern, where by now the waitstaff recognized me and congratulated me on my finish, plus let us sit in a big banquette so I could put my legs up. I had a deliciously cold beer and instantly felt the weight of all the hours I’d been moving.

We went back to the apartment and Michael joined us and we all traded stories and acted like we were foam rolling. Eventually Michael, Troy and Jesse left and I went back to the finish line to cheer on some runners, since it was around 4 pm so there were still two hours of the race left. I congratulated a few people I recognized and then chatted with Jamil, the race director, and Scott Kumar from Ten Junk Miles. Scott was a really friendly guy, and I can see why he’s such a good interviewer. He’s genuinely just very curious, and before I knew it I was taking pictures with him and Siva, and was being introduced to the rest of the crew.

I felt a little lost, and it being too early to sleep, I headed back to sit at the bar at the Pinewood Tavern, where I nursed bottles of Coors Banquet beer and ate a tasty salad, as I’d been craving greens all day. I acted like I was looking at Facebook, but really I felt totally absent from the present time. Eventually I went home, packed, and then ate an entire container of Haagen Das coffee ice cream and fell deeply asleep.

Takeaways:

I’ve stopped and started writing this section of the race report a dozen times. Not because I was so profoundly affected by the journey, or because some new and amazing identity was forged in the heat of the Mogollon Rim that I struggle to put it into words. Truth be told, it’s because I feel pretty fine about the whole process. This was less of a vision quest than other races I’ve had (and certainly less so than what a lot of friends made out a first 100 to be). Honestly, it’s just felt really normal and just like another thing I do. That may seem to others like I’m being really cocky and casual about the experience, or trying to brush it off so I can appear tough or some shit. That I feel satisfied and accomplished, but not fundamentally changed by the experience feels good though. It feels balanced (if any experience where you’re running for over a full day can be seen as balanced).

What I’m getting at is this: this race was never “everything” to me this year. I didn’t focus all my efforts this race around this race. That’s not to say I didn’t train or didn’t work to do my best. I’ve enjoyed a variety of challenging and exciting races and adventures this year, and I never felt like I was training for this race specifically. There was no monumental build up of peak weeks, no massively discrete blocks. I felt less like I was in “training” this year, and more like I was in a continual state of adventure. That says a lot both about how my attitude around running has changed, but also about how it’s been helpful working with a coach again (and how good my coach is). This race served as a fitting end to a fantastic journey that has been a year of satisfyingly hard challenges, some great results, some less great results, and lots of things learned on the way.

Still, I do have some concrete takeaways it would be helpful for me to record for future endeavors, so here they are:

Mental: your mental game matters, and it matters that much more as the distance gets longer. I didn’t do oodles of

mental prep for this race, mostly because what I feel makes me mentally flexible and adaptive as a runner comes from things I try (but still fail at times) to include in my life as a matter of course. Meditation probably had the most profound effect on my training and racing this year, and it shined during the 100. There were plenty of times during the race that I got down on myself, things I couldn’t control like the weather, or on people around me. It became second nature not to judge myself for these things happening, and not to struggle to prevent it happening in the first place, but to identify and acknowledge these moments and be able to choose to move on to a different way of feeling. Yeah, I used some distraction techniques like repetitive counting and singing the same song over and over, but it was this state of non-judgement that helped me return to a calm and thoughtful place during hard times.

Food: 100s are basically eating competitions with some running thrown in. Also, I can eat a fuck ton of gels. I ate -/+ 50 gels during the race. The bulk of these being Science in Sport Apple gels, which rock. Turns out SiS Tropical gels taste like sunscreen to me (sorry, coach, you’re wrong). I also ate a fair amount of Spring Energy Long Haul gels, and while they were harder in the hot parts of the day, they were still tolerable 29 hours in. Ensure is something not to gulp, but to nurse as you leave the aid station. Maybe it’s something to skip all together. Ginger ale is fantastic when watered down and iced in your bottle. I can tolerate a pretty decent amount of caffeine from Motivator pills, as I took about 4 from around 11:00 PM until my last one at around 9 am. I also don’t need a ton of solid food, and my strategy of grabbing a few select things to go from the AS and sticking mostly to gels works best. I supplemented a lot of my calories outside gels from either Sword or Spring Electroride drink. I think Electroride is good for the duration because it has a low caloric load, but relying too much on calories from your hydration can get dicey, as that’s what I think hurt me most during the hottest parts of the day. I think that’s what got me into trouble early on from Geronimo I to Washington Park I. Lesson learned.

Gear: I want to love the Saucony Peregrine, but it’s been really hit or miss for me. I think the La Sportiva Helios SR worked great once I taped my ankles, so that’s what I’m likely to stick with except for courses like Manitous, where I need more under foot protection. The UltrApsire Momentum is great, but it met it’s match with the heat out there and the distance between aid stations, as it couldn’t carry enough fluid. Maybe it would have been better if I wasn’t using the fluid for nutrition, or if aid stations were closer together during the hot parts of the day. I probably just didn’t take enough water and would have been fine sticking with it, but the Salomon pack is still great in a pinch. I continue to need less and less gear, but I notice the point of diminishing returns as I saw people with horrible blisters who could’ve saved themselves tons of time by simply having and knowing how to use a small blister kit, or were gingerly tiptoeing downhill in the night because they had a shitty headlamp. That was a key part of my race not going south. The new ZebraLight headlamp is amazing, and no other light is needed. It gobbles batteries, but 2 or 3 should get me through the night for future races, so no need to stash extra lamps.

Drop Bags: I was fairly anal about planning my drop bags for this race, but I think it mattered. I am inspired by the runners who go super minimal and just leave things to chance or adapt to the situation at hand, but I don’t think that’s me. I don’t aim to be maximal, but I think being too minimal in preparation can lead to a situation where you need something but don’t have it. I’ll stick with having extra shoes in drop bags, just because I’ve now proven to myself that shit can go wrong and if it’s with the shoes, having an extra pair can really change your race. I think I can skip packing secondary nutrition choices, as gels work well, and if they don’t that’s what the aid station is for. As I noticed more people using stuff sacks for drop bags at this race, I think I should tag my handle with orange tape to make them more visible when I pull into the aid stations, and really do huge numbers so volunteers can find them easier. Here’s a snippet of the new spreadsheet I set up for drop bags, and I think it worked pretty well:

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Crew: going forward, I’ll probably elect not to have crew unless it’s people I know, only because I think it’s a really hard position to put someone in, and I think in the end it stresses me out a bit. I’m hugely thankful to Troy and Jesse who did a great job considering I’m a total stranger. I think there’s a tipping point, though, where I expend more mental energy worrying about my crew or feeling responsible for them that it undermines the benefit of having them there in the first place. I’m very comfortable planning and executing on my own, and while I love the community I’ve built running, I also value the purity and enjoyment I get from being on my own.

Pacer: If I had to chose between a crew and pacer, I guess at this point in my career I’d still opt for a well organized crew. I think in general I prefer running in silence, often alone, and don’t feel like I need someone to egg me on or remind me to do things along the way. Maybe I’d feel different in a more runnable 100, where I had a time goal and wanted someone to actual pace me. In mountain races I view the value add more as a safety runner, in case I hurt myself or got miserably lost. I don’t think it’s fair to put someone else in a position where at best they’re just along for the ride, and at worst I’m actively trying to run away from them.

Course: overall I think it was a very scenic and challenging course. I know that the RD designed the course to show off the variety of terrain and challenges that the Mogollon Rim posses; however, I did find it a bit circuitous. The rim road parts show off the valley below, but they’re just dirt roads in the end Luckily, they don’t make up much of the course. I heard a lot of people complain about the marking on the course, but I guess overall it didn’t bother me, since the race manual and course descriptions were thorough and we were warned that there would be stretches that are hard to follow. That being said, I think the section of the Highline Trail from Washington II to Hell’s Gate, and then the climb up Myrtle definitely needed some better flagging and signs. There were too many instances where a flag was buried in high grass, when it could have easily been hung in a tree so you could catch it with your headlamp. The majority of the race hit this section as it was getting dark or already dark, so this is something to watch out for. The climbing is tough, but fair, if that makes sense. They’re not overly long, but they’re steep. Yeah, it was hot as fuck during the day, but it’s a dry heat. In terms of technicality, I found the terrain more technical than much of what I’ve experienced out west (barring scree fields at high elevation in Colorado). The terrain is rocky like out east, but the rocks aren’t fixed in the dirt so you really have to watch your footing. At the top of the rim the terrain felt much like back home: rocks, roots, and lots of short and steep uphills and downhills. Speaking of the top of the rim, we topped out at 8,000 feet, which felt manageable at night but harder in the heat as I dehydrated faster. I don’t think it really affected my performance overall, and if you’ve done well with elevation in the past, this course should be fine for you coming from sea level.

Training: the injury close to the race and the extended taper really hammered home how fitness, especially during ultras, isn’t just about what you did in the last few weeks. Your lifetime history as a runner matters, and in this case more rest didn’t mean less fitness. My training overall felt really manageable and I was never chasing huge numbers each week, wether judged by mileage or vert. I was super consistent, took extra rest days when needed, and tried not to cram things in. I maybe pressed my luck by throwing in the Pemi loop so close to my race and during a peak block. As always during ultra training, I crave doing some speedwork and that maybe got lost in the shuffle of all my racing this summer. And, as always, I respond well to strength work and need to make it more of a priority. I liked the stair climb sessions my coach threw in, and think doing them with a weighted vest might help my hiking even more.

Performance: I’m really proud of how I prepared for and executed this race. I think I did a good job of being flexible during low points and adapting to the situation at hand. I prevented what I could from going wrong, and found ways to change things from bad to better (or at least more tolerable). I kept a pretty good sense of humor, stayed focused, and kept moving. I can see the time I lost at aid stations because my crew wasn’t so dialed in, but I know that can easily be changed next time. I guess I’m happy that the elements that could have lead to me finishing faster were controllable, because it means I can learn from this race, which was one of my goals: to have a new experience and be able to learn from it. The things I couldn’t control, like heat, I just didn’t worry about, and that is what makes me feel more mature as a runner. I’m most proud that I was able to move well during the last stretch of the race from Washington Park III until the end. From 5 AM until 11:30 I focused on doing what I could to finish sub 30 hours, and it paid off.

Thanks: This race was made all the more awesome by the sage advice of my coach, the incredibly generous support of Jesse and Troy, and the love and patience of my wife and kids. I am deeply grateful.

Up Next:

The end result of this year’s ultra season means that I’m now in the lotteries for Western States, Hardrock, and UTMB for next summer. I thought I’d naturally be most excited by the prospect of Hardrock, then by UTMB, with Western States in last. Maybe it’s all the technical racing I’ve done this year, but I’m definitely hoping I get into States more than the others. I never thought I’d be one to get caught up in the hype of the race, but talking to friends who’ve run it and reading and listening to stories about the race has me itching to toe the line of such a historic race. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely want to race Hadrock, but I think I need to get a few other, tougher 100s under my belt first. Mogollon was a hard course by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s not that similar to Hardrock. While I felt the altitude a bit at the top of the rim (8,000 feet) I think I need to do a race like High Lonesome or Wasatch to really experience suffering at altitude before I take on Hardrock. UTMB also looks amazing, but that seems more like a family vacation if I’m going to sell it to my wife, so may need the kids to be a bit older. In some ways, TDS looks like the more interesting race to my. I’m lucky if I get picked in any of these lotteries, as running just one of them would be amazing. I’m expecting to not get into any of them, in which case I’m eyeing Cascade Crest, High Lonesome, P.U.T.S., Angeles Crest, or IMTUF. I also have a deferred entry to Pine to Palm. Going a different direction, the runnable quality of races like Mountain Lakes and Yeti 100 definitely sound appealing.

One takeaway I have from Mogollon is that races farther into September kind of drag things out a bit and are harder on the family, unless I’m doing them as a B race. I remember feeling ready earlier into August, and feeling bummed that my race wasn’t for another month. Also, work starts to pick back up and the kids not being in school is harder on my wife, so I think outside of UTMB, it’s more sustainable to do races that are a bit earlier in the summer.

Oh, I guess I’m racing Boston in April, so there’s that.