Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Colorado 200

I am 3 months removed from this and still cannot shake it. I have had my cat die (long live Tommy), I have become self-employed, bought a fat tire bike and have ridden countless miles, broke my collarbone and had surgery (and am now bionic), and continue to rehab a stress fracture…but I still cannot shake it. I replay the sections over and again in my brain, and fantasize about the last 50 miles. I think about the things that went right, and the things that went wrong.  Think about being alone for hours at a time, just me and the mountain. I think about the fear and stillness of the night, and the joy of the most incredible sunrise I have ever seen. I think about the taste, the coolness of freshly filtered mountain spring water. My skin remembers the heat of the day, and the crisp chill of the night, and the blisters and abrasions.
The day before the drama

And then there are the participants. Stoic on Monday morning, wearing the weight of the anxiety that we are trying to manage at the start…but as the days progressed, being stripped bare, and unable to hide the fear, and the fatigue, and the worn-out faces, some despondent , others confused, and still others wondering if we will be able to get out of here and leave this plane of existence at some point, only to be confronted with the harsh reality that are the course markings. They summon us onward…upward…through rivers…up mudslides…into valleys…into aid stations…up mountains…through the rain…across fields of flowers…across fields of scree…for 200+ miles…

(I cannot imagine the logistics and organization that go into an event like this...due to last minute course changes, the stats for the sections that follow are approximate)

Section 1: Start to Doctor Gulch Aid Station – 13.7 miles, 4,024ft of climbing.

Race Morning
The race began at about 8:07 Monday morning from Harmel’s ranch. Low-key, subdued, but full of energy. Up the road we ran to the trail head that would take us up and over the first climb of the day. I had settled in to what I felt was a nice cruising effort, hiking the climbs in the steep, and jogging the downhills and flats. From the word go, I could feel the altitude pressing on my chest; however, I have done several good efforts at heights with no worries, so this effort was to be no different. I knew I would be breathing more rapidly, and my heart rate would be higher for a bit.
One of 100+ water crossings

Cruising post-climb, across a river, and into the aid station, I could hear the cheers of my family, who had come from Tennessee to share the experience. High-fives were in order, and I was so thankful! My wife reloaded my nutritional supplies from my drop bag, and I was back at it in to time. So far so good. Into Doctor Gulch AS at 11:24am, out at 11:28am, 7/13.

Section 2: Doctor Gulch Aid Station to Spring Creek Reservoir Aid Station – 11.1 miles, 1,898ft of climbing.

Cruise control through here. Easy running on jeep/service roads for the most part, with just a few spots of steep, rocky terrain. The heat of the day was upon us, and I was glad to have a full deck of fluids on board. The aid station was located on the shore of a beautiful reservoir…what a view! My wife fed me my supplies, I re-upped on the sun screen, and drank a ton! Feeling good, I was setting off into the early afternoon, set for the biggest climb, and a 20- mile section. Into Spring Creek AS at 1:48pm, out at 1:54pm, 7/13.

Section 3: Spring Creek Reservoir Aid Station to Star TH Aid Station – 19.8 miles, 4,501ft of climbing.

This section took us up to just below 13,000ft, with the climbing starting right from the start, and continuing for about the next 9-10 miles. I felt electrified, humbled by the majestic beauty but unable to contain my excitement! So awesome is this place! I stayd on top of my nutrition, and was greeted near the top by a man and his son, who were working the water station AND shooting guns. I love Colorado! I stopped and chatted for a bit, enjoyed some grub, and set off on the long decent to the next aid station.

On this section, we were spending about 14 miles above 11,000 ft, and this suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks. Classic symptoms of altitude…light-headed, dizzy, shortness of breath…something was going on and I was feeling goofy. Before I knew it, tunnel-vision hit me, and then it went black. I was out on my feet until I hit a rock with my shin, and this somehow woke me up. I hit the ground, and had to assess the damage. What was going on? I couldn’t make sense of it at the time. A fellow runner passed me, and I asked him to make the aid station ahead aware of my situation.

Tryin' to make sense of it all
I continued to hike slowly down to the aid station, and by the time I got there I was overwhelmed. This was too big for me…too big of a challenge. Who did I think I was, trying to take on a beast of a race like this? I am just a guy from Mississippi…this is impossible. I sat with my thoughts, and cried…was this it? Not even 50 miles into it, and I had lost my will. My wife consoled me, I ate some food, and huddled by the fireplace, thinking of what the crap had just happened to me. Think John, think…work this out…

I had just spent an extended period of time above 11,000 ft. I wasn’t bothered climbing up, because I was hiking, not asserting my system too much, but allowing my breathing rate to dictate my speed, so as not to go into the red. I had topped out, feeling good. I ran down the decent….BINGO. I had elevated my heart rate on the decent to a level that was not good. I wasn’t thinking about it, due to being overwhelmed with my surroundings, and the experience as a whole. As my heart rate sky-rocketed, my breathing got more shallow…as my breathing got more shallow, I began to think about how shallow my breathing had become, and how I couldn’t make it slow down. Soon enough, tunnel-vision hit, and bam! I hit the rocks…I had given myself a panic attack. Silly me…

After getting my act together, I made a deal with my wife that I would continue to the next aid station. No climbing, and it would take me back below 10,000ft. Into Star TH AS at 7:25pm, out it 8:37pm, 7/13.

Section 4: Star TH Aid Station to Texas Creek Aid Station – 11.2 miles, 770ft of climbing.

I set out with my music in my ears, trying as hard as I could to distract myself from the negative vibes that seemed to be consuming me. Day soon turned into night, and with my headlamp on, my world had shrunk to the glowing orb that enveloped me. Mindfulness 101. I took this epic, monumental event and shrunk it into a here-and-now moment, aided by the simplicity of my glowing headlamp, and the serenity of the music in my ears. Finally, for the first time all day, I was present with myself, in the here-and-now of my experience…just me, my light, my tunes, My God.
That's right...Cat Pants!

I arrived at the aid station, still present, but seeking motivation. I climbed into the crew vehicle, and struggled to get comfortable. Hours passed, and sleep evaded me. Another hour passed. I watched headlamps arrive and leave. Another hour passed, and I just sat, uncomfortable, trying to become motivated to get back out there. My wife asked me, “Is there any part of you that wants to keep going?” The question sat out there in the void of silence for a bit. I had to think about that one. But realizing that I had to think about that particular question told me that the answer was yes. “A little bit”, I answered verbally. After I said this, I knew what it meant. It was time to get reloaded!

I ate food, drank fluids, changed into my cat-pants (nothing motivates like the sight of cat-pants), and was ready to hit it! Back to the flags! Into Texas Creek AS at 11:20pm, 7/13, out at 4:32am, 7/14.

Section 5: Texas Creek Aid Station to Texas Creek Aid Station – 22.7 miles, 2,967ft of climbing.

This was a loop that brought us back to the same aid station, but not before ascending a 3,000ft mountain. I set out on this section with two other guys, one of which fell behind after suffering with foot issues. Myself and Dave set out into the pre-dawn, and had the pleasure of conversing about all things, from our day jobs, to our families. Great vibes out there. Neither of us allowed the enormity of the task to overwhelm us, but instead we stayed focused on the new day, and stayed captivated by the beauty that enveloped us. I created a bit of separation on the climb, and sat down on a nearby fallen tree and enjoyed eating a “bevrything bar” for breakfast. Dave soon passed, and I arose from my mealtime, feeling refreshed, and for the first time since the start, determined. Into Texas Creek AS at 10:50am, out at 11:18am, 7/14.
Getting ready for the new day

Section 6: Texas Creek Aid Station to Pieplant Mill Aid Station – 18.2 miles, 3,338ft of climbing.

Grueling ups
My wife accompanied me on this section, and it was great to have some company. I was also glad to have her, so that she could serve as an eye-witness to the veracity of this course. This section started tame, but soon led to a 10-mile climb, up service road, and then up steep scree. I remember thinking that this was mind-blowing, and just cruel. Somewhere along this section I had become aware of a slight tick of a pain in my lower left leg, and actually mentioned it to Bev, giving it no more credit that the wear and tear of the experience. Also along this section it began to rain…nothing too severe, but a steady sprinkle. The temperature would fluctuate from hot to cold, depending on which side of the mountain we were on. I took turns putting on my Houdini jacket, and taking it off…zipping it up, and unzipping it. I was successful in regulating my temperature, but it did take some effort.

Arriving at the aid station, I was beginning to shiver from my damp clothes. I tried to entertain the fire, but the rain became too steady. I sought refuge in the tent, in a sleeping bag. There I shivered until my wife came back with the car. I ate some food, and changed into dry clothes. By now the rain had ended. Into Pieplant Mill AS at 5:50pm, out at 8:06pm, 7/14.

Section 7: Pieplant Mill Aid Station to Dorchester Aid Station – 12.9 miles, 1,720ft of climbing.

Honestly, I think this is where the lack of sleep caught up to me. I can remember leaving the aid station, but that about it, until I arrived at the next station. Honestly, I have racked my brain, but cannot remember any of this section. When I came into the aid station, I ate some food, climbed into the car, and told my wife to wake me up at 2:30.  Into Dorchester AS at 12:00am, out at 2:50pm, 7/15.

Section 8: Dorchester Aid Station to Mt. Tilton TH Aid Station – 12.5 miles, 2,438ft of climbing.

As I headed out, I was given some course directions. Since it had rained all night prior to now, the valley was enveloped in a thick layer of fog. I set out, feeling refreshed from the piece of sleep I got, and renewed in spirit. I was able to keep a good clip on the service road tht led to the entrance of the single track, and the arduous 4-mile climb up the mountain. The lower slopes were steep and rocky, but maintainable with a good effort. I was loving it at this point, and began entertaining thought of what it was going to feel like to finish this race…but quickly reeled those thoughts in, and stayed with the moment, enveloped in my orb (headlamp), and jamming to tunes. But I soon realized that something was up with the trail.

The craggy rocks that I was becoming used to soon ended, and I looked up the slope to see a river in place of the trail. I scanned the terrain, looking for a marker, but the only ones I saw were hanging from limbs, over the river. The rain had taken the trail, which was marked while it was still a trail, and had turned it into a cold, rushing cylinder of water. In some places, I was able to loop around through off-camber vegetation, and avoid the water. But there were a few spots where it was unavoidable, and I found myself, by myself, laughing hysterically, fording up-river, in the middle of the night, in the Colorado mountains, with no sight of civilization. Oh, the humor of the mountains, if we dare to find it!

Once the trail got back to dry ground, I knew I needed to be moving vigorously to warm up. I swung my arms, and put in a good effort over the next little bit…until the trail turned into a mudslide. Soft, gooey mud on top of hard-packed ground made for another really humorous situation, as I grasped at the air, trying to balance, and not go sliding back down the 20-feet I had just come up. Topping out, I caught the outlines of old mining materials, as well as abandoned old structures dotting the landscape…I kept waiting for some kind of creature to jump out and get me…I am glad nothing did.
Clearing towards the top-out point of this section, I noticed the sky getting brighter. Another day was dawning, and I was at about 12,000ft elevation to be a witness. As the sun rose, the wildflowers began to open, and turn towards the light. The clouds were trapped within the valleys, with the peaks of the mountains serving as islands, jetting out of the cloud-formed sea. Fog was burning off a nearby high-altitude pond. And just then a doe comes bounding down and across the trail, followed closely in chase by a buck. This is why I do what I do…to capture moments of time like this, that I am unable to see or experience in any other way. This was the most incredible memory, and I pray to God that I can carry it with me to my grave.
The majesty of the big mountains

Fueled by this magical, surreal moment, I continued my decent into the valley, to the next aid station. Crossing another river, I was soon greeted by my lovely. Today was our anniversary. Into Mt. Tilton TH AS at 7:07am, out at 7:26am, 7/15.

Section 9: Mt Tilton TH Aid Station to Brush Creek TH Aid Station – 17.8 miles, 3,981ft of climbing.

Meeting my wife at this aid station on our anniversary was pretty cool. We got a great anniversary pic out of it! After some killer food, and a kiss, I was off. Once again crossing the river, I remarked to a fellow runner heading to the aid station, “What’s another river to cross after all they have done to us!” And up I began to climb. Due to a reroute, we didn’t have to suffer through three 12,500ft peaks in 3.5 miles, only two.
Anniversary Pic

And they were brutal. Scree climbs, with a pitch that encouraged four points of contact in places. When I topped out on the first, I couldn’t help but take in the miles and miles of mountain peaks…incredible! Following the trail with my eyes, I saw another peak, but was sure that we weren’t going up that one also…it was even more ridiculous than what we just went up…but surprise, it was peak number 2! Following the same breath-taking scenery, it was time to head downhill, into the valley. A 13-mile decent, dropping from 12,500 to 8,900…this section had roughly 5,690 feet of decent! I enjoyed being able to open the stride a bit, getting to run in the beauty of the day…some places I had to apply the brakes, I was having so much fun!

But maybe too much fun. Remember that pain I had in my lower left leg? I was once again beginning to feel it, only this time it was becoming annoying. As the course entered the valley we were spit out onto a county road that would lead to the next aid station. However, due to a car parked on the sign that pointed the right way, I made a left turn onto a part of the next section, rather than continuing straight towards the aid station. I had no clue, and continued to move at a pretty good clip.

Up and up I went, and I was beginning wonder where these climbs were on my elevation cue sheet. No worries, I just continued to follow the flags. I soon came up on a few other runners, totally out of nowhere, and one of them informed me that I had missed a turn. BOOOOOOO. I retraced my steps back down the climb to the road, and what do you know, the truck that was there had moved, and there was the sign. OK, no worries, just a few bonus miles…hey, at least I know the route ahead! I made my way to the aid station, and soon was met with a car-load of people…it was my family! They had made the trek to the aid station to see me…what an energizing moment! I continued to the aid, where I collected the support of my family, and was greeted with a warm, pepperoni pizza! Into Brush Creek TH AS at 1:15pm, out at 1:25pm, 7/15.
Maybe a few drops to keep it interesting

Section 10: Brush Creek TH Aid Station to Farris Creek Aid Station – 8.7 miles, 4,266ft of climbing.

Leaving the aid station, I had to walk. What was annoying had become painful. With each step I was aware that something with my leg wasn’t right. I pressed on, and once I got back to the portion of trail that I had been on during my wrong turn, I tried running again. What I found were mixed results. I could power hike uphill pretty good, but could just walk on flats and downhill. This was lending itself to a slow pace, but I was managing forward progress, so no worries. The sky was filling with clouds, threatening with thunder, but it never came. I continued to press onward, upward. I was running out of fluids pretty fast, but I just couldn’t move any faster.

The climbs through here were horrendous…just these steep spike ups followed by steep downs. My leg was becoming more and more painful with each one of these downs. On the final decent into the aid station, I was doing everything I could to try and keep pressure off my leg, even trying to walk backwards…but its hard to keep pressure off your leg. Finally, the aid station came.

The final steps
I knew I was in trouble. I tried to ignore it. I propped it up, put ice on it, distracted myself and did some foot care on my right foot. But at some point I had to address the issue. I went to bend my foot, and screamed. Horror-movie kind of scream. My wife tried to calm me. I laid in a cot for a while. I tried to move my leg, and screamed. The pain was terrible. I finally took a look at my lower left leg, and it was puffy, swollen in a very distict spot, and was discolored. All bad signs.

My wife and I tried to be optimistc. I had plenty of time to go the last 50 miles, but I knew the last 50 were tough as nails. I had my boot with me, so we thought about slapping that bad boy on and going at it. We were thinking of anything we could to try to instill hope into the situation. However, the RD came over and took a look, and made the call. Since it was localized swelling with discoloration, it had a high probability of being a stress fracture, and if it was a stress fracture, and I continued, I ran the risk of developing a full fracture, and being stuck somewhere on a mountain with a broken leg. The call was made. My race was over. Into Farris Creek AS at 5:30pm, 7/15.

The Aftermath

I went to the Orthopedist  in Crested Butte and he did an x-ray on my leg. It was inconclusive due to the amount of swelling I had around the injury site. He showed me the x-ray, and pointed out an area that could be the fracture, but encouraged me to follow up once I got home. I didn’t, but was recently told by my guy here in MS that it almost certainly was, due to the amount of build-up I now have in that area…he is going to do an MRI this week just to confirm.

I gave it my best effort. I fought demons, but embraced the mountains. I got to see and experience things that I hope I can remember forever. I did all I could to get to the finish line, and I am happy with my effort…there are not many races out there where you can record a 150+ mile DNF.

But let me revisit why it has taken 3+ months to get this tale out. I have been holding on to it. I have been replaying it over and again in my mind, wondering if there are things I could have done differently, and figuring out things I could have done better. I have seen that sunrise in my mind on day two over and again, not wanting to ever lose it. This is why I have not written anything down til now…because I have been afraid of losing it. When I have it in my mind, it is mine, and I get to have control of the experience, and I get to run it again, and experience it again anew, and see and feel and hear and smell everything, over and again. This was the most amazing experience I have ever had, and I did not want to let it go.

But I understand something else...that it is time to let it go, to get it out, to give it away. If I keep it to myself, then the experience loses its joy. God has given me this experience to share and encourage others…and I don’t just mean the Colorado 200, but my entire life, and if I selfishly keep it to myself, for myself, then I am no better than if I had never experienced it at all.

So this is my Colorado 200 report.

And yes, of course, I will be back in 2016 to finish this beast off!

Scroll down for more pics

Special thanks to Rock/Creek, Swiftwick Socks, Fuel-100s, Mississippi Blues Marathon, my wife, all my family and friends, and My God.

The Gear

Swiftwick 7”, 12”
Drymax Trail
Nike Wildhorse Shoes
Nike Vomero Shoes
Nike Pro Combat compression Briefs
Brooks HVAC gloves
Patagonia Arm warmers
Camelbak handheld bottle
Cat Tights (from Target)

Nutritional items in each of my drop bags:

Peanut Butter M&M’s
Honey BBQ Fritos
Epic Bison Bars
Bevrything bar

Can of Coca-cola

This would have helped me stay warm

Moments before the start

Coming into mile 85-ish

Old-school trail race start!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Rouge-Orleans 126.2...The Dream Cycles On

Ultimately, it was what it was….128.65 miles of flat, sometimes paved, sometimes gravel path…sometimes interspersed with cow patties, and sometimes with bodies…sometimes in the daylight and sometimes in the dark. The moon was there, then the sun was there, and then there was fog. Occasionally, there was an aid station, but that was rare. Sometimes, there were other runners, but that was rare, too. There were cows, dogs, and horses…I think I even saw a cat. There were teenagers on 4-wheelers, appearing Mad Max-style in the night, yelling threats and obscenities, seeking to run me over. Always to my left was an ever-changing landscape, full of factories, oil refineries, plantation homes, seedy night clubs, and the occasional post office.
3am is early
There were, however, a few constants…things that I could count on. Always to my right was the Mighty Mississippi, with ports, barges, and tugboats. There was the levee itself…always in front of me, always behind me. There was always the shuffling sound of my feet hitting the surface. There was River Road, always to my left. And on River Road, there was always a blue Element, containing both my fuel and my wife, either of which if I went without, I would have been screwed. She was my lifeline. Since there were only 4 aid stations, I relied on my wife’s presence for fuel, both for my body and my mind.
Old Blue!
This was the longest I had ever been on my feet, both in distance, and in time.

I had tried to do it a couple of years ago. I got to the starting line moments removed from a boot on my right foot due to tenosynovitis, and was met with tornadic weather that gave way to frigid temps. I quit after 62 miles.

This time, I came to the levee with more experience, and with a determined mind set. It wasn’t gonna get me, no matter what.

The race coordinators set the event up for the solo participants with two start times: 8pm Friday, and 3am Saturday. I started in the early morning Saturday with what seemed like 15 other people. I knew that somewhere out there on the levee were my compadres, already 7 hours into their ordeal. Only thing to do was to follow in their footsteps, one stride at a time, on the levee…for hours.
...and on...
...and on...
By the second aid station at mile 55, I was toast. The heat and humidity of the day, combined with the stress of the work week prior, combined to leave me exhausted and tired much sooner than either I or my wife expected. I sat down in my chair and went to sleep for about 5 minutes. This was a new experience for me…sleeping in a race…but my wife re-framed my exhaustion for me as being good training for the CO200. For the past 55 miles, all I had been thinking about was the dang levee, and with this comment came a breath of fresh air. Lest I had forgotten, this was just part of the dream. Maybe not a fun part of it, but a necessary part of it. I rose from the chair, ate some food, and proceeded on, with a renewed vision in my mind of epic peaks and mountain goats.
How I look...in my dreams!
The next aid station was at mile 81, but now I was at mile 75. I was completely fried…tired, exhausted, and beat up. I got in the element, and passed out for 10 minutes. When I came to, I was almost in tears.

My wife encouraged me: “You’ve got this…let’s get you some food, and make sure you have fluids…only 6 miles to the next aid station!”

At this point the problem was not my body. I still believed that I was plenty physically capable of making it to Audobon Park. At this point, it was all in my head. The monotony had taken its toll. From my viewpoint in the car, I looked to my right, and knew there was 75 miles of levee behind me…but looking to my left, anxiously awaiting my arrival back, was 53 more miles of levee. I was devastated. I knew how slowly I was moving, and knew how much longer the suffer-fest was going to take…and my brain revolted.

As I climbed out of the car and onto the levee, I turned left, and I quietly sobbed. But I put one foot in front of the other, and moved forward.

This was the hardest experience I have had thus far in my running career. Trying to make sense of what I had done, and what was left to do was too incomprehensible. I was deep in the pain cave, trying to embrace the discomfort of the next 50+ miles, but this time was different…it was the mental anguish and toil that was getting the best of me. I prayed to God for strength and courage, and to not be afraid of what was coming, because I knew that He was with me, and He would not fail me or forsake me. My steps became quickened as I meditated on this passage from the book of Joshua. The context of the verse alludes not necessarily to the physical challenges that we face, but moreso to the fear of what we encounter in our day to day lives, and the various paths that God sees fit for us to sojourn. He gives us the strength and courage to persevere through our most difficult, fearful, anxiety-provoking experienced…His peace is available if we just humble ourselves and
take it!
The nite-time views of factories disguised as cities
Soon, I was running again, fully enveloped in this idea. I hit up the playlist on the Sony and rode the grooves all the way into the mile 108 aid station, with the distance interspersed with occasional pit stops in the chair. I had developed a pattern of running and walking that allowed me to break up the time and the distance. I was ticking off checkpoints, refueling when I got to them, sitting when I needed to, and taking the levee to town!

The sun began to rise. It was hard to tell where I was in relation to the city of New Orleans due to the fog bank that had set in, but I knew I had to be close. Past Norco…past The Colonial…the traffic was beginning to pick up on River Road…two legs to go…more traffic…a construction zone…then my wife, one last time! I grabbed a full bottle, and hit the gas.

The levee became familiar to me now…I remembered seeing these houses before, on a previous run in New Orleans…the train tracks appeared to the left…the hospital…the levee dives down closer to street level…past this building on the right…
Home stretch
…then, through my tear-filled eyes, I saw my wife, and some signs that pointed left across the tracks. I followed them on across the street, onto the sidewalk, keeping a watchful eye out for the inevitable.
The cars filled the parking lot, but that couldn’t obstruct the view of the most glorious finishing arch I have ever seen. I crossed the street and my feet hit the soft grass of Audobon Park.

I made it. 128.65 miles in 29:58:23…4th OA.
Me and the RD
So the second cycle in my dream sequence is complete. Upon reflection, I am inclined to say that this was a nightmare…but it is way too early in the sleep cycle to be having nightmares…that generally occurs in the deep, REM sleep, often continuing on until right before awakening. I have a lot of training left to do, with a few more monster efforts to produce. I guess only the miles will tell how I get through this dream, and if the monsters devour me, or if I devour the monsters.


Thanks be to God, who gives strength, courage, and peace. Big thanks to Rock/Creek for all the love and support, and for the gear that goes the miles with me. HUGE thanks to Fuel-100 Electro-Bites…I ate them early and often and, even though the temps and humidity were tough, I had no problems with dehydration or cramps! And yes, I ate numerous Epic Bars, Bison/Bacon/Cranberry, to be specific…best food EVER! Thanks to JN and the MS Blues for the love, and of course, my wife…cuz without her, I would have quit at mile 55.

Gear used:
Buff Headwear
MYO RXP 2 Headlamp
Patagonia Air Flow Tank
Patagonia LS Shirt
Salomon Running/Trekking Gloves
Salomon S-Lab Compression Shorts
Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab Hydro Running Pack
Camelbak Podium Big Chill Bottles
Hoka One One Stinson EVO Trail Shoes

Monday, January 12, 2015

You gotta dream it to be it

Every dream has a beginning…sometimes we can remember them, but at other times, they are a blur, and we just remember the ending. Seriously, think about it for a moment…when is the last time you woke up from a dream, be it a good dream, or a nightmare, and remember how it began? But we always seem to remember those last few moments upon awakening…only to have our brains resort to some type of selective amnesia, and suddenly, even the ending we cannot remember…but we know we had the dream….

While trolling Facebook one day, I just happened to stumble upon a feed-link for something called the Tahoe 200, and instinctually clicked on it. What I found was a 200-mile race in California, circumventing Lake Tahoe, for 200 miles. I quickly opened up google and began a search for the homepage to get more info.

200 miles….I wonder if I could do that….

And like that, the beginning of this dream had an origin…one that won’t seem to go away…but it’s how it will end that I want so desperately to remember.

Elevation profile of the Colorado 200
I resigned myself to the dream, or the “great idea”, that I should try to go for it...go for 200. After doing a bit of research, I found that, logistically, and time-wise, the most feasible attempt would need to take place in July in the Colorado Rockies, at the Colorado 200. So yes, I am from Mississippi, and yes, we have no hills here…and why does this make the most sense? First, the race is in the middle of July, which means I get to bypass training in the hell-hole that is the deep south in the summer, with its 100-degree heat, high-humidity, and horse flies. Second, with my experiences running at high-altitude, I have not had any issues with altitude sickness, so no worries there. And third, the terrain itself seems flat and fast, just like here in Mississippi…gulp. So on January 3rd, at 10am cst (9am in CO), I signed up.

If I am going to do this, I guess I better start training…but how?

Coming off a year that saw me push the limits of my body mileage-wise, and that left me broken, I had to come up with a new strategy that would allow me to train properly, but remain relatively injury-free. I looked around the interweb, read some blogs, read Runner’s World, but only seemed to find training plans that were either geared towards logging high-miles, or running a marathon on three days of training, or losing weight.

And then I remembered the Speedgoat, and it clicked. Karl Meltzer has been an inspiration to many of us in the ultra-world, and I remember reading an interview with him, where he outlined how he was able to maintain a high degree of fitness over an extended period of time. So I gleaned this info from my memory, and came up with a plan. Four to five week training cycles, with a 100-mile run once a month. So it would look like this: 100+ mile run, recovery week (minimal miles), fitness build up (40 miles), peak week (60-70 miles, including a 35-50 mile long run), maintenance week (30-40 miles), race week (10-15 miles), 100+ mile run….then repeat!

This plan would limit my monthly mileage to 250-260 miles a month, with the biggest mileage week being the week of the 100+ mile events. This is much more manageable that the 350-400 mile months I was trying to bang out, and the idea is that by the time July comes around, I will be well-prepared mentally, without suffering the physical depletions that seem to take me to the edge.

So now, it’s time to put the plan into practice.

Blues 100
After a sold, but relaxing Lookout 50 three weeks prior, and a good walk-jog 30+ miles two weeks out, I was ready to implement the new training schedule for 2015, beginning with the Blues 100. I spent the first full week of the year in my race week phase, accumulating 15 miles for the week prior to the big effort. I felt prepared enough to finish, and that’s all I needed to do…no record-breaking performances needed for this one…besides, it wasn’t really even an event!

My friend is the RD of the Mississippi Blues Marathon, and he actually encouraged this bad behavior by creating a prototype buckle, and then showing me. The Blues Marathon is known for its finisher’s medal, and he had a buckle made of the guitar medal from the year prior…and when I saw that baby, I just knew I had to earn it. And so the plan was hatched.

The MS Blues course, four times, starting at 3pm on Friday, with the last loop to coincide with the actual start of the Marathon at 7am on Saturday. I had a game plan in my mind to run about 5 hour loops, using my house (which is two blocks off the marathon course) as home base, where I could stop in, eat, warm up, and, if ahead of schedule, rest a bit so as to try and time it out perfectly. I told a few buddies of the idea, and ended up having four of them join me for the third loop, beginning at 1am.

As the hour approached, I began to set up my “aid station” at home. This would be the only aid station for the first three loops, so I had to make it count! I cooked a pizza, had some chicken noodle soup ready, K-cups, Coca-Cola, Little Debbie snacks, crackers, Fritos, a big box of Electro-Bites, some EPIC bars, granola bars, and a few other goodies, just in case. My house is about 2 miles from the start/finish line, so it would afford me the perfect opportunity to reload my pack, and my gut, each loop (except for loop four…just gotta get it done at that point).

The "Aid Station"
I drove to the start/finish line at 2:30, and just couldn’t wait…so I got started about 2:45 on Friday. I was running the first two loops solo, with my only thing to worry about being to be at the s/f line at 1am to meet my buddies. This allowed for a nice, pedestrian pace, with no real pressures…10:15 to finish up the first two loops, or 52ish miles. On loop one, the most welcomed surprise was my biggest fan, and biggest encourager…my wife! There she was, with a big smile, and a hug of encouragement, at about mile 14. Just enough to let me know that I may be kinda crazy, but not too crazy for her!

My biggest fan
I stayed in the groove through this loop, listening to tunes, staying on top of hydration and nutrition via EPIC bars and Electro-Bites, and made it to my “aid station” right on schedule. I ate some pizza, drank some coffee, and left with a piping-hot cup on soup. Did I mention the temps yet? The temperature would not get above the freezing mark throughout Friday and Friday night, with it dipping into the low 20’s, and I dare say the wind chill put it into the upper teens….so that soup was MONEY.

As I began loop 2, the expected happened, right on schedule. I generally hit a low point in my 100-milers between mile 25 and 35. Inevitably, my mind tried to go south…not due to fatigue or nutrition, but just because that is what it does. I guess the reality sets in of what lies ahead. So it was no different this time, but I was expecting it. I knew what to do, and I began to compartmentalize the remainder of the miles, outlining in my head significant land marks, highlighting walk breaks, and the arrival of my friends at 1am. No worries…the thoughts were gone as quickly as they came.

So I landed back at my house sooner than I needed to…dodging high school kids driving wildly in their monster trucks while they raced their Friday night curfews had my adrenaline pumping! I reloaded my pack, ate pizza, sat down and watched the news, checked the weather, rolled out my legs with the stick, had some coffee, got a big ole cup of hot soup, and after 25 minutes, headed back out to meet up with my friends. Despite walking a majority of the next two miles to the s/f area, I was still about 15 minutes ahead of the 1am meeting time. So as to avoid the possibility of hypothermia, I got into my car, and waited. Soon though, one friend, then another, and then another arrived, and at 1am, we were off on loop three!

Gettin' it done in the dark
As my friends chatted around me, I began to withdraw deep into my pain cave. I purposely shrank my existence into the glowing orb that was emitted from my headlamp, and just focused on being present, in the moment with my discomfort…understanding that it would not hurt any worse, but that it would not feel any better, until the finish…still a few more miles away. Along the course we ran. I tried to join into the conversation when asked to do so, but the attempts were short-lasting. I was in a dark place, and I was content to be there. And so the miles went by…60…65…70…75…

Back at the house, a bit early but right on schedule. Accompanied by my friends, I had enough time to reload my pack, eat some pizza, drink some coffee, and grab some soup, and head back out. We walked a majority of this 2 miles so as to time our arrival out perfectly, arriving at about 6:55am for the 7am start. I made my way into the corral, and managed to see a few friend from the Jackson-area…I met their enthusiasm with a dazed and confused look, as evidenced by their facial expressions in response to my mumbled voice.

“Have you already been running?”

“Something like that…yeah, I guess so…”

And then I experienced the same feelings I did at mile 14….somehow in the midst of the crowd, I managed to stumble upon my wife! What a pleasant sight to see, and feeling to feel, even if I couldn’t really communicate it…the great thing is, she is my wife, so I didn’t have to…I could just be, and that was enough.

As the starting horn sounded, I had to wonder how I was going to make it through loop 4…not like am I gonna make it?, but moreso what is this gonna look like?

I didn’t have to think about this too long…my wife decided to accompany me for the loop. She knows me well, and knows I don’t require much…just presence. I told her I had my tunes in, and she was cool with that. She gets me…and she knows that I can succeed when I withdraw and go inward, and she lets me do this…I have a very wonderful, loving wife, and without her understanding, there is NO WAY I could continue this dream.

We ticked off the miles. I was in the pain cave….suffering well. I would poke my neck out occasionally, just long enough to eat, then right back in. 85…90…95…the miles went by. I had the course segmented perfectly, with strategic eating spots, obvious walking points, and a finish in my mind. Mile 100 came, and went…still more work to do. We passed the final walk break, and I knew from a plan in place from hours before, that there was no more walking to be done until the finish. 101…102…103…and then I hit the gas. No more pain cave, just that full body numbness that we get in 100-milers that allows us to drive ourselves into the ground all the way to the finish.

Down the finishing chute, and across the line. And the first step, the first cycle in my dream sequence, was complete.

John N. (the RD), me, and the best
I do remember the beginning of this dream….as with most dreams, some of the details are a bit foggy, but for the most part, they are intact. God-willing, this dream will continue, as I stick to my plan, heal up well, and prepare for what’s next. A few days, and a few epic meals removed from the first cycle, I feel relatively well, and am excited for the days, weeks, and months ahead, all the way to the Colorado 200. No, I cannot get caught up in the what-ifs, or the fear, the worry, the anxiety of what this dream will become. All I can do is be thankful for this day, and for the people in my life that are helping make this dream a reality, and for the God who gives me the strength to just take one…more…step…

Gear Check:
Hoka OneOne Stinson Tarmac
CEP full-length compression socks
Salomon S-Lab running pack
Salomon S-Lab compression shorts
Brooks HVAC running gloves
Patagonia SS Top
Patagonia quarter zip
Defeet arm warmers (old school!)
Smartwool beanie
Buffs (used two of em)

Big thanks to Rock/Creek for the gear (all the Patagonia and Salomon gear mentioned above came from them…shop ‘em today!), Fuel-100 Electro-Bites for keeping my electrolytes in check (no cramping!), and EPIC Bar for the best freaking meat bars!

A huge thanks to all those who helped me on this part of my journey: David E., Bailey A., Greg G., Ed D., John N., and all those who sent prayers and well-wishes my way…I felt them all!

And of course, my lovely wife, Bev, whose inspiration, and belief I cannot do without.

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;
            From where shall my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
            Who made heaven and earth.
He will not allow your foot to slip;
            He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel
            Will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD is your keeper;
            The LORD is your shade on your right hand.
The sun will not smite you by day,
            Nor the moon by night.
The LORD will protect you from all evil;
            He will keep your soul.
The LORD will guard your going out and your coming in
            From this time forth and forever.”

Psalm 121, NASB