The Hardest Race: An Overview of Canyons 100k

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4:55am… Five minutes to the start!
I shuffled along Foresthill Road and into the Foresthill AS… 32 miles down.  I finished the first half of the Canyons 100k with the slowest 50k time in my running career.  It was hard.  Cold and wet, my ankle was tender, my heels were hurting, and my head was a mess.  In a fog, I was greeted by Chaz who bore a big smile and a hot cup of bean soup.  I was miserable and considered dropping right there.  A few more cups of soup made their way into my body, and I found a supply bin to sit on.  In the distance, I saw Abbey and Leslie make their way from the school to the AS tent.  I know Leslie was hurting from a conversation we had on the first half of the race.  I remember saying to Leslie, “Wanna go out there with me?”  She acknowledged.  Abbey came over to see how I was doing.  “Bad day.  I f&%$ hate bad days.”  Emotions were high.  Doubt was apparent.  Abbey stepped in, drew my focus back to the race, and proceeded to kick my ass out of the AS.  Just what you need to do in times like these… keep them moving!  I went back to the van, changed my shirt, grabbed by gloves and beanie, slammed a Perrier, and made my way back to the AS.  On my way, I called Fran.  Like Zion, I just needed to hear her voice… encouragement… sense of home… mission accomplished… I was ready.  I crossed the mat, called out my number, and headed out toward Cal 1 for the remaining 32 miles.

The 16 mile descent down to the river was challenging.  Although I hadn’t taken off my shoes, I knew my heels were rubbed raw to some degree.  I just wasn’t sure how bad they were or could be.  Hiking the hills and the steep descents were murder.  Running the flats were my only reprieve, as the pain was minimal during those periods.  Despite the increasing pain and discomfort, my spirit was rejuvenated every mile I covered not only for the simple fact that I was inching closer to the turnaround but because I knew I would run into my friends on their way back up to the finish.  First was Bob cruising on his way to a strong 2nd place finish!  A high five and howl!  Next, Derek… we shared a moment and hug.  Perfect!  Then Stacie… a hug and a smile.  Last was Jill… encouraging words, hugs, and a smile.  All were inspiring, motivating, and comforting.

A cool moment for me was crossing paths with Magdalena Boulet.  She was moving effortlessly on her way to another 1st place finish.  As we came upon each other, we exchanged pleasantries.  It was brief but very cool and personal.

I reached the turnaround at Ruck-a-Chucky (Mile 47) at 6pm.  Phone dead and watch dying, I walked into the AS and requested band aids and duct tape.  I was greeted with not only my requested items but the best helping hands along the course.  I told them I was finishing this race no matter what the feet look like.  One volunteer took my pack and filled it with water, as I sat down to take off my shoes.

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I can only assume they looked like this from about mile 24 on…
OUCH! 

The skin had completely rubbed off both my heels.  Raw!  Another volunteer came over with the band aids and duct tape and patched me up good!  Yet another volunteer grabbed a pair of socks from his car and gave them to me.  Band aids, duct tape, socks, and shoes!

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Here are the socks given to me by the wonderful volunteers at the Ruck-a-Chucky AS!
Perfect!  A big thank you to Leslie for the Ensure, avocado, and potato from her drop bag… not to mention the headlamp!  That hit the spot!  Now, I was ready to go!

Quick side note:  The volunteers at the Ruck-a-Chucky AS were top notch!  Their assistance and patch work made the last 16 miles comfortable and possible.  A HUGE THANK YOU!!!!

As I walked out of Ruck-a-Chucky, I set split times for the remaining AS to the finish.

Cal 2 – No later than 8:30pm

Cal 1 – No later than 10pm

Finish – No later than 11:30pm

With significant climb ahead, I figure these were not only practical but doable.

Goals set!  Race starts now!  Go time!

I was determined.  Now that the heels were patched up, there was no reason not to push it.  Pain and discomfort was minimal.  It was time to open it up on the flats, motor the descents, and, to steal a phrase from Jill, hike the hills with purpose.  I did just that.  As the sun was setting, I made my way up to Cal 2.  I was a machine with my goals in mind.

Over the next 7+ miles, I was in cruise control with the trail flowing beneath my feet.  I was enjoying every step and soaking this moment in through and through.  I crossed paths other runners who were on their way down to the turnaround.  I love these interactions on the trail.  These brief moments can make our day better when things are low.  They can also keep a good mood going when all systems are go.  It kept me smiling and kept me going.  I hope my words did the same for them.  The sun began to set as I was just outside of Cal 2 creating shadows along the hillside across the river.  I gloved and beanied up and turned on the headlamp.  It would be a dark run from here on out.

I arrived at Cal 2 ahead of time to a dress laden volunteer crew and warm soup!  Awesome!  A brief stop to get calories in my body.  Thanks to the Donner Party Mountain Runners!  Time to go!

The next five miles were my favorite.  Darkness, alone on the trail, and conversations with my dad.  Reminds me of my time at Zion.  These are great times.  You learn a lot about yourself.  Such a great mental workout.  Time alone and to work through and process the day.  I used this time to talk to my dad and come to peace with a difficult morning.  All along, I kept moving and hiking the hills with purpose.  It was somewhere between Cal 2 and Cal 1 that my watch died.  In some respects, it was the best thing that could have happened.  It forced me to further enjoy the experience and be in the moment.  Sooner than expected, I rolled into Cal 1.

I did my final fueling up on everything the AS had to offer.  With only 3.5 miles left, much of it uphill, I was determined to go fast, so I wanted to load up.  I was tired and needed as much energy as I could pack into my body.  As I was leaving, I remember asking how far ahead the next runners were.  They told me a couple came through about 15 minutes prior… told me to go catch them.  Challenge accepted!

Finish strong!  That’s what drove me.  Closer and closer I came to the finish.  I could see the lights on the ridgeline.  I tackled a hill and then another.  I soon came upon another runner.  I thought back to what the volunteers at Cal 1 told me.  I had caught one of the runners.  Five minutes later, I caught two more.  In the distance, I could hear Daft Punk blaring from a house up ahead.  There it was… the single track to the neighborhood.  I cruised along and hit Lowe Street.  Left on Cal Street.  I heard a voice.  It was Kaycee… greeting me with a hug and a Perrier!  Thank you Kaycee!  Solid!!!!  She texted Fran and gave her to thumbs up.  Onward to the finish!  At this point, I was enjoying the success of overcoming the lows and adversity of the day.  The fact that I did what I set out to do… finish the race.  I decided to walk the rest of the way in… after all, I didn’t want to spill my Perrier!

There it was… the finish line.  Oh man, what a feeling!

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Perrier in hand at the finish!
18:23:10

Perfect!

The Take Away:  Today’s performance was nearly 4 hours slower than my fastest 100k finish.  But it must be said that Canyons 100k was by far the most difficult course/race I have ever done!  Even harder than Zion 100!  Over 16,000 feet of climb and equal descent, along with soggy, raining, muddy conditions, made this race even more challenging.  I was humbled to the nth degree and reminded of why I do this.  Not only do I love running and trails, but I love the process.  From training to the race, I love it from beginning to end.  I love the fact that every race brings its own experience and its own share of hardships, lows, highs, and successes.  Even the same race yields a different result and experience each time it’s done.  It’s the unknown that drives me.  No matter how well I train, the journey is unknown and I like that!

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All well-earned and well worth the pain and discomfort!  A reminder to always finish strong!
I walk away from this race with another 100k under my belt along with the coveted hat, shirt, pint glass, and leather belt.  I walk away from this race a more humble runner with experience that will guide me into my next race in July.  I walk away with a heightened appreciation for races and finishes like these.  Up, down, up, down… the constant push and pull that is an ultra.  I walk away with the knowledge that my mind and body can continue to overcome, conquer, and persevere through darkness.  I walk away with a smile on my face and completely thankful.

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!
First and foremost, my family, Fran, Aiden and Parker for your love, support, and tolerance of these crazy things I do; Kaycee for your friendship, support, and the much needed Perrier at the perfect time; Abbey for your friendship, support, the training miles, and kicking my ass out back on the course when I needed the kick in the ass; Mike C. for your friendship, support, and putting countless miles in with me even though you weren’t training for anything this month; Chaz for your friendship and support and a putting on a damn fine race on the hardest course ever; Spike, thanks for cleaning up my heels at the finish; My friends out running on the course Riddle, Stacie, Derek, Jill, Bob, Leslie, Cheryl, and Gretchen; Silver State Striders for the smiling faces at The Pump, Michelle, John, Jill, Mike, Al, Kathie, Katie, and Annie, did I miss anyone?; All the volunteers out there on the course; Tahoe Mountain Milers; Donner Party Mountain Runners; The wonderful volunteers at Ruck-a-Chucky for the patch up and socks!  You were AWESOME!; Jessica Ryder at Carson Physical Therapy for getting my ankle back in working order; Lamont, Edd, and Vickie, congrats on a strong finish!  It was great meeting and sharing the trail with you three at different parts along the last 16 miles; and Magdalena Boulet for the very cool trail interaction between elite and ordinary ultrarunner:)

On to TRT 100!

“Less Is More”

In Robert Browning’s poem Andrea del Sarto (1855), the words “less is more” are used.  No doubt, we all have heard and used these words throughout our lifetime.  Used to describe simplicity as the best approach to things, often times, we tend to complicate an otherwise simple situation.  Whether it is an absence of mindfulness or sheer disregard for the obvious, we find ourselves stuck in the middle of something that we created by our own design that rivals the solution of the Rubik’s Cube.  This is not to say we should peel the stickers off and put them in place to satisfy the task at hand, nor should we pass the opportunity to solve it.  Our approach to solving the cube is what leads to solving it in the first place.

When it comes to running, these words resonate like a mantra throughout the running community.  As it refers to approaches to training, these words could not be more true.  Too often, we take a different approach when leading into a training period.  There is a fear, or a level of anxiety, that creates unbalance and unrest in the mind of the runner.  Runners tend to believe that they need to cover training plans to a tee, thus disregarding other elements that go into training.  Yes, it is important to make sure that a solid base is established meaning our bodies have to be acclimated to the miles and time on the road it will endure for your upcoming race.  But, it must also be coupled with proper rest, cutbacks, and balanced nutrition.  Of course, they are givens, but when focused on training, these things can be overlooked quite easily.  The goal of training is to be prepared for the race.  Being prepared includes staying healthy.  Really, what good is training if we’re injured, tired, burned out, or all three?  The goal is not met if we never make it to the line in the first place.

I am no stranger to this.  I am fortunate to have people around me that aren’t afraid to let me know when I’m overlooking things of this nature… over-training being one of them.  As I approach Zion, my first 100 miler, I entered training with the mindset of “I need to make sure that I take this seriously and follow the training schedule”.  I have other ultra distances under my belt, but, for some reason, I had it in my mind that I should approach this differently.  In reality, yes, it will be my farthest distance, but my approach to training has always been “listen to my body”.  This includes the ideals of resting when needed, cutting back on the miles on certain weeks, and putting in the extra time on the road when I feel good.  I simply overlooked my usual approach and began to create a sort of complexity that defied all logic.  Luckily, my friends put me in check… “less is more”… it brought be back to center.  I began to think about all my other races and my overall training approach.  Less is more.  It couldn’t have come at a better time.  I was about a month into training, and I was locked into tunnel vision.  I let go.  I exhaled and refocused my attention.  I adjusted my training schedule and reminded myself that I have my base.  It’s been there all along… for months and months.

Now, with 9 weeks left, I am rested, strong, and healthy.  I am focused and mindful.  My goal is still intact.  April.  Zion.  100 miles.

Moving forward, my attention is on Way Too Cool 50k in March, which I’m using as a competitive training run.  From there, I’ll be tapping further into my friends for the remainder of my long runs and other training runs that definitely long for the company of others… and to keep me in check.

Less is more.  The mantra for today.