The Cuyamaca Carnage Carousel: Round III

I love this race. I love this place. This past Saturday, I did not love the pace.

Prior to Saturday, everything seemed to have clicked: the energy, headspace, fitness, nutrition, taper, and I felt that I struck that optimal balance of pre-race tension.

Not only that, but this was an opportunity to complete another in the mountains with Matt & Hickey. It’s been awhile; the synergy on the car ride southbound was strong.

The course, with a few minor changes, was relatively the same.

It was still hot (90 F) and exposed, both of which were expected.

The aid stations and volunteers were first-rate (yet again).

Yet still, Round III was a struggle to tune in. No rhythm was found.

“Beware the chair” is a common saying in the sport, usually an attitude I heed. resonated But on Saturday, I longed for the chair. After mile 31, I sought reprieve and plopped myself down the chair at every single aid station that ensued.

I walked up, down, everything in between, and barely jogged down. Joints, feet, legs, hamstrings, knees, … they all hurt.

Things felt like they were slipping fast. The discomfort became psychological, though I’m not sure whether it started internally or externally first.

“Settle In” I told myself; still no rhythm.

Slowly my mentality shifted from competition to completion. Or so I thought. The idea of completion would morph into a competition, one I would be holding for next seven hours against myself.

I sat at the Gator Aid Station (Mile 39) and my favorite aid station in any race I’ve ever done. They always bring the energy. And again, they did not disappoint. As a bonus, they also were dishing out popsicles. I clutched my melting popsicle as though it were a lifesaver, drowned my hat in water and ice, and sat down. A dude named Richie popped in the chair next to me. We exchanged pleasantries as one does at mile 40 in the heat of the day. I finished my second popsicle, absorbed some Gator vibes, and did my best to harness their energy for the next four mile stretch.

Four miles later, I arrived for loop three. My stomach felt a little better, the heat was dissipating, and there was only 15 miles remaining. I could now wrap my head around that.

As I was leaving for Loop 3, the 1st place finisher was coming in at a blazing 8 hours and 50 minutes. Unbelievable. He looked fresh. I couldn’t believe it. All of my efforts seemed to have failed me and nothing was clicking, but, of course, none of that matters because I could keep moving forward.

After exchanging high-fives with the optimistic volunteers, I was headed for Loop 3.

As I was turning the corner, Matt flagged me down.

Ummmmmm…. What are you doing dude? Shouldn’t you still be out there gunning for 2nd? I thought.

Come to find out, he was. Unfortunately, Matt missed the Gator Aid Station on Loop 2. He ended covering approximately the same distance as the competitors and did so with no refuel or hydration refill. He told the Race Director – Scott Crellin – that he missed the aid station. He had his head down and started hammering, which means he must have missed a ribbon – a commonality in this sport. Do enough races and it will happen to you. Missing an aid station is different though and unfortunately Scott gave him the option to either run the loop again or take a DQ. It’s a pretty demoralizing option considering Matt was climbing from 6th place to 3rd and nearly 2nd as the race progressed. He took the DQ. It’s the hardest, hottest, most exposed stretch of the course. Plus, this would’ve meant retracing another two hours.

I would’ve done the same thing. Most would. I’m not so sure most would’ve had the integrity to inform the Race Director of an error that nobody else was aware of. Granted, it would’ve eventually been found out had he said nothing, but the point is he did. Honesty always wins, even if it might not appear to look that way given the subsequent circumstances; however, I have no doubt when Matt runs this race next, he will crush it. Vengeance will be had on Loop 2.

On to Loop 3….

Almost every turn of this loop is etched in my memory from years past. That’s probably due to its proximity to the finish. Everything becomes more memorable. Now that Matt was waiting, I had to make my get through it. I set my sights and narrowed my focus. From this point forward, all that mattered to me was making it to the finish line. That’s it. Game on.

Still nothing was clicking. I ran into a guy who was supposed to be on Loop 2, yet had gone 3 miles into Loop 3. I informed him he needed to go back and wanted to give the dude a hug because I felt bad for him. He said thanks, put his head down, and marched back.

I slogged my way through the next couple of miles. I stopped nearly every mile and crouched down into the fetal position because it was the only posture I could tolerate. I even sat down on a rock for a minute or two. Nothing seemed to be working, except for stopping. Finally, I made it to Mile 50 and, to no surprise, sat down.

“I’m over this”, I said.

“No, don’t say that; you’ve still got some miles to go.” this stranger chimed in.

I looked up and introduced myself. Her name was Angela, and she just so happens to be the Race Director for the San Diego 100 Mile Endurance Run.

“I’m on the struggle bus for every hill.”

“You’ve got to flip it dude! Flip it into a positive. Can’t run the hills? No factor. You can run the flats and the down hills. Who cares about the hills? Flip it dude. Right now. All you can do is control two things: your attitude and your effort.”

“Got it.”

“ATTITUDE AND EFFORT TYLER!”

She gave me some green tea capsule to add a little more pep to my step. I thanked her and moved on. It was just the boost I needed.

It wasn’t the typical, charge-hard, hammer the pace boost; it was, instead, just enough to keep me moving forward with the finish line nearing.

One more aid station before the finish line.

As I was dropping down the last climb, Richie ran into me again. We started talking. This was his first 100K and he was crushing it! We kept yapping and rolled into the last aid station – Pedro Fages – together.

We started cruising. The sun was setting. The surrounding mountains, and all of their details that were visible from afar, now were turning into silhouettes. The road below our feet was turning dark and fast. Richie had a headlamp. I did not.

He clicked his on. The batteries were low. I followed behind him. The sliver of moonlight that dangled above illuminated just enough for us to avoid any errant steps or ankle-biting holes.

Finally, we rolled into a smooth section. Ohhhhhhh, I remember this. Hay is in the barn.

“We got it in the bag; we’re going to get this $#!* done!”

We agreed to finish it together since we probably had spent the previous 2 hours trudging.

The finish line lights were in sight and the parking lot, signifying the last stretch, now under our feet.

We fist-bumped again. We arrived. The course was now behind us. All 62 miles. Done.

 

Lesson(s) Learned

 

ATTITUDE & EFFORT

I had completed this race twice before. That mattered, not in terms of how fast I thought I could run, but just in being able to get through it. Round III demanded what felt like a strained effort. My ego got beat down around mile 15. My body wasn’t responding, but the bigger challenge was that my optimism got annihilated. That’s the lesson I’ll take moving forward: attitude and effort. And no, I’m not going to heed the en vogue “Love Yourself” mantra that every life coach seems to preach. It was mile 22 and 40 miles remained. “Loving Myself” would have been irrational and destructive, likely resulting in me to putting forth a half-hearted effort. On the flip-side, I had to also avoid self-loathing as that can be equally unproductive. It’s not that complicated even. I had to get out of my own way. I had to keep moving forward. That was the effort. The attitude was only focused on moving forward. Attitude and Effort, both of which were (and are) 100% in my control.

 

TRIBE

Due to injury, it’s been almost a year-and-a-half since my last trail race. Saturday served as a reminder why I keep showing up to these deals. Nobody cares what you do, what you did, where your from, how much money your worth, the car you drive, the clothes you wear, your major, who you voted for, your GPA, what school you went to, or even if you even went to school. All status symbols for posturing and keeping up with they who are drowned out with the noise distraction and stuck chasing the rat race.

All that “stuff” might matter during the work week, but it means little out there.

Out there cuts you to the core. You see whats inside and keep moving forward. Most love the idea of peeling back the layers, or at least talking about it (take a look at all of the “life coaches” out there). But, as I was swiftly reminded Saturday, talk remains useless. Go. Do.

I probably ran 3 hours with Richie and all that mattered to us was that we pulled each other along. The bonds you make out there are different because you get to the truth a whole lot quicker. It’s why I continue to do these journeys with Matt & Hickey. I’ve probably trudged more than 1,000 miles with each of them. We’ve seen each other crash hard, blow up, crush goals, and fail. In doing so, you skip past all distractions and

Onward and Forward

 

…and, of course, a tune to share:

 

Advertisements

The Mountain Doesn’t Care

I arrived at Ben’s house at 6:45 PM after work last Friday. He had the java and we were bound for the hills. Actually, to be more specific, the mountains. Our sights were fixed on Rae Lakes. Rae Lakes is an iconic 41-mile loop that touches part of the John Muir Trail. Having had the good fortune to complete it once before (see October 31, 2015 entry), the mojo was strong!

Currently, we’re all training for different races in the coming months. Ben will be doing his first 100-mile race (Javelina Jundred) at the end of October. Thus, this would be an optimal time for him to rehearse running at night and, of equal importance, cashing in some quality time on feet.

IMG_4814

We arrived at the End of the Road (literally, that’s the name of the parking lot) just before 10 PM. We were engulfed by darkness with crystal clear skies and stars shining above us. We double-checked our supplies and stepped into the forest ready, each of us ready to test our mettle against the elements.

The first couple of miles went by way too quickly. For this part, the trail was mostly sand, but our enthusiasm at this point made everything seem easier. That shifted quickly though. We knocked out the first 5 ½ miles in about an hour, the route seemed easier than I remember, like a too-good-to-be-true type of ease. That’s because it was. Upon crossing a bridge, we realized we had missed an important turn. We sorted out the situation, re-checked directions and ended up back at the parking lot where we had started. This time, it was 11 PM.

This missed turn meant we would have to re-trace the first 3 miles again. This go-around, the sand was 10X more difficult to trudge through. This is all part of the adventure is what I kept reminding myself, though it was a bit demoralizing as the night was growing much darker and seemed more unwelcoming than it did an hour before.

We navigated and, at least, kept moving. Soon we found our turn we had earlier missed it We hit the switchbacks and, compared to the gallivanting around in the sand the hour prior, they were entirely different. Senses heightened, as we climbed, the surrounding rock faces looked more and more familiar, but only to a degree. This wasn’t the type of familiarity like running into an old friend.

IMG_4812

No, this was different.

The little moonlight that did exist was enveloped up by darkness. Beyond the reach of my headlamp, trees branches were sharp, rocks jagged, and the little moonlight that did exist was totally engulfed by darkness. I zeroed in my focus to what my headlamp provided. Every now and again, we’d stop to relieve ourselves or cross a creek, and I’d the lamp off and look around at the pitch black.

IMG_4813

I couldn’t get into a groove. I tried. I tried some more, but sometimes a forced effort is a futile one. We pressed on. Then, somewhere along the climb, around 2:15 AM, we paused for a minute, had a conversation, and agreed to turn around. It wasn’t an easy decision, but it seemed that I wasn’t the only one with a churning stomach. Ben said he felt off the whole time and I had equal difficulty settling in to a groove. Regardless, it was still a solid training run for Ben en route to his 100 debut. For Matt and myself, we had a race in two weeks time and there was no need to burnout before tapering. Matt was flying on the trails and appeared to be doing just fine.

IMG_4815

We turned around and arrived back at the car at 4 AM. We didn’t get the loop done, but we did get time on feet and did so in the wee hours of the morning, both of which will be valuable for Ben in his journey towards running 100 miles.

Last week’s run was a reminder that things can shift rather quickly in the outdoors. This wasn’t as much about external difficulty as it was about own difficulty coping with it. Since it wasn’t a race, there were no aid stations, no fanfare, and no emergency aid; it was just us and the mountains. Sure, we had experience, (little) food, some humility, and water, but none of that mattered because the mountain doesn’t care. To be honest, I was a little sketched out heading into the night because, well, it’s the night. The whole trip reminded me of a quote my High School Chemistry Out teacher – Mr. Gann – used to share with us, “Nature doesn’t like you; it wants to kill you”. That being said, I’ll take what I’ve learned because I can’t wait to get back to there.

If you ever have the chance, I highly recommend you go; however, I’d recommend heading out at sunrise…

Onward & Forward

Tyler

The Hollow Glow

At 21, I completed my first marathon. Like many first-timers, I had little to no idea what I was doing. What started as a run fueled by extremely unrealistic expectations quickly morphed into a near crawl kept alive by aspiration. I could have cared less. At that time, I was oblivious to this world of “runners”.

It was my 3rd year at university. I didn’t have a running group. I had no “training plan”. My only strategy was to run a little longer each week. I didn’t know that periodicals like Runner’s World existed. My interest derived from curiosity and excitement, not competition. My chief concern was the competition I was going to be having against myself. I wanted to see if I could endure every last inch of 26.2 miles.

On November 7, 2010, I lined up at the Fresno Two Cities Marathon. Upon arrival, I was taken aback at the amount of people signed up for the race. Where and when are all of these people running? I had never seen any of them. Regardless, not only was everybody lined up, but all looked like they knew what they were doing. I felt like I did not.

The energy was infectious. I blazed through my first 10K. Rookie mistake. I thought I had a chance at qualifying for the Boston Marathon; another rookie mistake. I was stoked. Perfect weather, legs are feeling good. That changed quickly. Any ideas of Boston grandeur dissipated quickly and my stride deteriorated after the 16th mile. Every step forward hurt more and more.

And more.

Then, the intensity ratcheted up to a new level at around mile 20. Almost instantaneously, I was introduced to “the wall”. It hit hard. Despite my best attempts at forcing the pain aside, it just stuck around and infiltrated my mind. I had difficulty tolerating such extraordinary discomfort. Up to this point in my life, I had never felt anything like this. My physical state deteriorated at a faster rate than my dawdling pace. Perhaps, even more concerning was that every last fiber of resolve I thought I had in me was now withering away.

Soon, the crowds increased.

The cheering intensified.

Perhaps my ride on the struggle bus is coming to an end?

Many a spectator hollered, “You’re almost there!”

Gee, thanks. It sure doesn’t seem that way.

How much does “almost there” really mean? At this point, their definition of “almost there” was much different than mine.

I know spectators meant well and their support helped, but I wasn’t thinking rationally. This isn’t a plea for forgiveness either, just the matter of the situation. There were no positive thoughts floating around. No good vibes. None.

I had officially stepped into a new territory that I’d never felt before in my life: a world of pain.

ZthCOov

Still though, I did my best to keep moving forward. Earlier in the race, I noticed some elderly folks participating in the marathon. I grew eager to see how long they would last. Well, now, THEY were blowing by me. Hubris really is the silent killer. Apparently, “Almost there” didn’t equate to “there”. The only way I would get through it was by taking one step at a time.

I turned what appeared to be the final corner.

There it was, the iconic arena that is Woodward Park.

Almost there!!!!

Finally!

Finally!!

Finally!!!

I glanced around. To my left, there stood my parents, family friends, and others. I felt like I was floating and clicking off sub-6 minute miles. I wasn’t. The pictures confirmed otherwise. I looked at the clock: Four hours and some change.

It’s finally over.

No more almosts!

Immediately after crossing the finish, I was adorned the finisher’s medal etched inscribed with the race and date. Out of nowhere, this wave of emotions washed over me: relief, joy, exhaustion, excitement, ecstasy, and unrelenting discomfort.

In an attempt to exit the finishers village, I tried to play it cool like I knew what I was doing. The medic was watching. She saw me. Perhaps, it was the staggered cadence, pale face, and slurred speech that was a dead giveaway. I don’t know. She asked me politely to take a seat and drink some water.

No, I’m good.

I did my best to fight it. It didn’t work. My hobble only intensified. Nevertheless, I submitted to the overwhelming exhaustion and took a seat. Finally, a logical thought! Heeding her advice might be a solid life decision. She then wrapped me in one of those stylish aluminum blankets. I was super fired up over the aluminum blanket because now, it felt like I had finished a marathon.

After exiting the finishing chute, I saw family and friends. They shared nothing but encouragement. I rolled around on the grass in a pitiful attempt to find the smallest semblance of comfort.

The sweat had all but dried up on my shirt. I got really cold really fast. Fortunately, my Dad’s friend, Kadalak (a 2:28 marathoner in his day), knew the post-race protocol. He came equipped with a sweatshirt for me. That stuck with me, as I have packed a sweatshirt at the finish line of every single long-distance race I’ve done.

At this point, the primary objective turned to pizza and beer. Walking was an unforeseen struggle. My Dad sat me down on his bike and pushed me along to the car. And to think that I tried to play it cool earlier…

Beer had never tasted so satisfying as it did in that moment. The collective joy was now emanating around our corner table.

Satisfied, I swore I would never put myself through anything like that again. One and done. It wasn’t “fun”. I earned my regalia.

After lunch, we parted ways and it started raining. This made turning a nap from an idea into a reality the least challenging task of the day.

I woke up from that nap and the Oakland Raiders – my favorite team in any sport – were on television. They were in overtime with the Kansas City Chiefs. I was so stoked that I could have cared less who won the game. In my struggle to move, I watched. My favorite player, Sebastian Janikowski, had an opportunity to win the game. The Polish Cannon lived up to his name and smashed it through the uprights. I smiled and thought to myself: How can it get better than this?

The next week was surreal. I remember feeling a tremendous sense of accomplishment when I walked into my Ancient Chinese Civilization course the next morning.

Some friends asked about it. I said the usual stuff. It was hard. I hit the wall. I’m never doing that again… The week wore on and I remained on cloud nine. Literally. It was like a high that no drug could provide. Friends and family called to see how it went. By Thursday, it went from “brutal” to “incredible!”

It was surreal. The euphoria was different than anything I had experienced before. Kevin Eslinger , swimming coach and ultra-endurance athlete once paddled 120 miles from Santa Barbara to Ocean Beach (San Diego). He coined this post-performance bliss as “The Hollow Glow”

“What follows these profound moments is a Hollow Glow. Hollow in the sense that you’ve just enlarged the space that you live in, by doing something that you’ve done beyond any previous experience. At the same time, there is the glow. It might just feel like you’re walking a couple inches higher off of the ground. You feel like you aren’t touching the ground for however long that glow lasts. To me, this is a sign that we all have this proclivity to literally grow as much as we can. When you do something that produces this, it doesn’t take too long before you start looking at what the next target may or may not be”

– Kevin Eslinger

Lessons learned:

1. The beauty isn’t necessarily the challenge; it’s how far one is willing to stretch his or herself to meet the challenge. That’s where the edges lie.

a. Everybody’s edge is different, thus, everybody’s challenges require varied degrees and frequencies.

b. 26.2 is really an arbitrary number. On that day, it wasn’t. This was a goal that required preparation and was sustained by purpose. It took every step of that distance to uncover a place deep inside of me that I didn’t know existed. Such an intense experience lays a foundation for new discoveries. There’s nothing arbitrary about that.

2. The result is only one variable of many. That’s not to say it doesn’t bear any weight, but quantifying success shouldn’t be solely limited to the outcome. Focusing only on the results limits one’s propensity to learn afterwards. Other variables to consider might be: self-talk strategies, nutrition, hydration, sodium intake, pre-race routine (week before, day before, morning of), pace allocation…

3. I still am unsure of what this post-race euphoria can be attributed to:

a. Is it the movement?

b. Is it the distance?

c. The time?

d. The preparation?

e. All of that energy coming together?

f. Or is it the simple act of challenging oneself?

g. I’d like to believe it’s a collection of all of the above.

4. Never underestimate the incalculable value that a challenge might yield. Really, I had no idea how influential that day would be in my life. I got way more than I bargained for on that day.

5. How might I be undermining growth for other areas of my life?

6. Participating in these challenges is a privilege because it’s voluntary. Others aren’t so fortunate, as the challenges many face aren’t by choice. It’s a 21st luxury, so choose wisely.

The San Diego 100: Chip Away

Two weeks later.

I’ve thought through it all: the training, the nutrition, my mental game, the shouldas, wouldas, couldas and pretty much anything else that connected to this experience. Rather than exhaust what’s finished, I’ll extract what I can, do my best to learn, and move on.

Looking back, I’ve got zero regrets; however, that isn’t to say that there aren’t changes that I’ll make moving forward. Not only is tinkering fun, but it promotes curiosity, stoke, and neverending learning; three elements that I need en route to the starting line. This go-around, I don’t think the excitement was as strong as I’d have preferred. Maybe a break or some time spent doing other things will shift the focus and, eventually, rekindle the fire.

 

Anyways, trying to run 100 miles is bizarre. Everything that follows the starting gun is a like a blurred time warp. My focus shifts from here to there to everywhere. My needs become simplified, driven by a single-minded objective: keep moving forward.

 

To better make sense of the experience, I figured I’d write it down. Below is a rundown of my experience at the 2018 San Diego 100 mile run:

 unnamed-1

At 3:15 AM the alarm went off. Brit and Rob were up and at em’. I savored my morning constitutional as we double-checked our race provisions, loaded the rental car, and headed towards the mountains. After checking-in, we waited. While waiting, I was more eager than nervous, as it would be a long day comprised of fluctuating thoughts, emotions, and moods.

 

Finally, go time. The first 10 or so miles were filled with conversations and trying to settle in. My only goal during this phase was to keep it mellow and settle in. 

 

Under a wide-open sky, the sun burned brightly and the temperature increased quickly. The conversation that accompanied these miles served as a pleasant distraction from the eminent heat.

 

Through this stretch, I met a dude named Wes and a gal named Darla. This was Wes’s first 100-miler and ended up crushing it. He finished in 4th overall. Darla, a total stud and five-time Hardrock finisher, ended up finishing just after 23 hours. Needless to say, after the 21st mile aid station, that was pretty much the last I saw of them. I took time to reload and cool down, as I knew that would be important for me to maintain the rest of the day.

 

I was pretty much on my own for the next fifteen miles. I plugged in some headphones and tried to keep it positive. To no surprise, it got much warmer. In the heat, what works best for me is salt tablets every 30-40 minutes and enough water to perspire.

 

After mile 36, the course got gnarly. We entered into a stretch called Noble Canyon. It was probably the hottest time of the day and the shade was limited. I met another cool dude through this stretch, but forgot his name. Whether that’s due to fatigue or forgetfulness, I’m not sure. Regardless, I kept moving forward. I felt as a comfortable as one might feel after running 40 or so miles. My goal was to get through the day, staying focused and hydrated, so that I wouldn’t be broken off by the time night arrived.

 

unnamed-5
The help that the course volunteers provided was second to none. 

At mile 43, a volunteer noticed my shoes were a bit worn. No big deal. We’re 43 miles deep and they haven’t bothered me yet. He then applied duct-tape around each shoe as a way to prevent sand from entering. I didn’t really care because my feet were going to be destroyed regardless. If anything, the duct-tape looked cool.

 

unnamed-4
Bring out the duct-tape.

At mile 48-ish, it started to cool down. A volunteer, Tracy, helped fill up my bottles and was very encouraging. While we was pumping out the good vibes, I realized that we had raced each other at Lake Cuyamaca back in October. He remembered and we chatted for a minute. Tracy told me the hardest part of the race was behind me. He’s a total stud and, in that moment, I definitely needed a pick-me-up. Good on ya Tracy!

 

unnamed-6
After receiving encouragement during the heat of the day. 

At this point, the heat of the day was behind me. I was now entering the Mile 55 aid station, a significant point in the race because it means I’m onto the second half. This time, it was even more significant because Brit and Robby were there waiting. This was an unexpected treat, as I was not anticipating seeing them until mile 64. I took a seat. They jumped in and filled up my bottles and grabbed me a V8. At this aid station, I ran into Austin from Flagstaff. He is a young buck, 22 years old, and was in the thick of the grind. It was his first 100-mile race and he was entering unchartered territory. His crew was stellar and loaned me some more duct-tape. We chatted for a bit, encouraged each other, and pressed on.

 

Quickly, Austin and his pacer went ahead of Rob and me. I wasn’t worried about them or anybody else for that matter. My goal was to move as easily and efficiently as possible until the last 15 or so miles. Then, it’s just a matter of finishing as fast as possible.

 

Rob and I chatted until the mile 64 aid station. As we descended, the sun was setting on the mountains. It was epic. It was dark. We were now entering the night. After this aid station, it would be time to put on the headlamps, our guides through the night. Again, Brit and Rob were extremely helpful in assisting me in any way possible. It wouldn’t be until mile 84 that we would see Brit again. Our adjusted goal was to arrive at mile 84 by 2 AM. I sucked down some chicken broth, a V8, and we marched on.

 

The gap between mile 64 – 71 was comprised of our last final big climb of the race. For the most part, everything following this section would appear to be more “runnable”. Out of mile 64, we power-hiked and ran when possible. Rob made sure that I was taking in salt every 30 – 40 minutes, and drinking/fueling as well.

 

Since the race was mostly an out-and-back, this section was the last part where we encountered runners on their way out to mile 64. It was really cool sharing in the encouragement with the other runners and pacers. As we would run into them, everybody would dish out a “Good Work”, “Way to go” or “Awesome Job”. This is why trail running is so different than other sports. Some people will have more highs than lows. Others might experience more lows than highs. Either way, it’s a long, gnarly day. Everybody out there knows that. There’s no need to trash talk or belittle others because either the weather, the distance, the darkness, the time, or the terrain will take care of that. All will influence a performance  at varying times and degrees. But in my brief experiences, they seem to become amplified during the night. 

 

Rob continued with his encouragement. He even pointed out how surreal the stars appeared above us. Crystal clear, it was unbelievable. I felt like a child and was totally mesmerized by the grandeur of it all. Finally, we arrived at Dale’s Kitchen, the mile-71 aid station at 11:02 PM. We were on pace to break 24 hours. The initial goal was 22, but it was time to adjust.

At Dale’s Kitchen, Rob helped me with fuel and hydration. At this point, I remember starting to feel exhausted. At this point, fatigue was expected, given that we were nearly 75% of the way through.  

 

We pressed on to Todd’s Cabin, the mile-75 aid station. Todd himself reapplied duct tape to my shoes. It was now 12:14 AM. If we were to get the sub-24, we had around 25 miles to cover in a little less than 6 hours.

 

unnamed-7
Hello darkness my old friend…

We pressed on.

 

An hour and a half later, we had arrived at the mile-80 aid station. It was around 1:40 AM. The vibes at this aid station – Penny Pines 2 – were first-rate. They were dressed in costumes, playing music, and drinking beer. They gave each of us a sizzling piece of bacon and even referred to me by my name, not bib number. It was hilarious. At this point, unless I was able to pick it up, the sub-24 might be slipping beyond my grasp. Now fatigue and frustration were starting to take their toll. 

 

I don’t really recall the next stretch of trail, other than my mind beginning to drift and my body following suit. My only desire was sleep. I remember stopping by a rock, kneeling,

 

Four miles and an hour and twenty minutes later we arrived at mile 84 (3:02 AM). It was time for Rob to pass the baton to Brit. From 84, Brit would help bring me to the finish line. Rob just busted out 29 miles.  More impressive than covering that distance is the fact that he put my needs above his own for every single step. Brit did exactly the same. Without these two, the night would’ve been much darker.

 

When we arrived, Brit was wired, ready to rock. I was not. While taking off my hydration pack, I scanned the aid station and saw a lineup of cots. I walked straight towards them and told Brit and Rob that I wanted just five minutes. They allowed it and squared away my hydration and nutrition while I napped. Up until this point, I had yet to take a nap at a race. I didn’t care. I rolled my head wrap over my eyes and, in about 10 seconds, knocked out. While out, they reapplied more duct tape. I didn’t even notice. It was probably the hardest five minutes of sleep I’ve ever experienced in my life.

 

My five minutes was up. Brit and Rob quietly reminded me to get up. They offered a Red Bull and I obliged. The time spent sitting left me feeling cold. I stood next to a propane heat lamp while they helped get me sorted.

 

It was now around 3:30 and 15 miles remained. It just wasn’t going to happen. I was on the struggle bus. It wasn’t until right after mile 84 that I realized the sub-24 hours might not happen. It took until 5 AM to let that sink in. There was still a goal that remained and that was to finish. Rather than see it as a missed opportunity or a race gone awry, I still had a choice. I could choose to get all bummed out or savor the remaining 15-miles. This choice sort of organically developed as night morphed back into day. 

 

Up to this point in my life, that was by far the most surreal sunrise I had ever seen. There were layers of gold contrasted against dark mountain silhouettes. We were both in awe. Rather than take a photo, we opted to drink it in. I’ll never forget it. Other than shuffling feet, it was dead quiet. My brother, who came all the way from Iowa, was running along the trail with me; simply surreal.

 

We talked, walked, power-hiked, jogged, ran, and made sure we were following the trail correctly. Brit shared with me the sad news regarding Anthony Bourdain. In a strange way, that made me cherish this gift of living.

 

Once the sun had risen, we arrived at mile 91.5. I knew the sub-24 was no longer a possibility. Thus, there needed to be no rush at the aid station. I downed some bacon and

M & M’s. All that remained was the home stretch.

 

The last bit was not how I’d wanted it to go. I struggled to jog. It was rough. Brit kept encouraging me, equating me 15-minute-per-mile pace to “hammering”. I got passed on this stretch and didn’t even muster enough mojo to charge back. Oh well, we still had to make it to the finish.

 

The last mile went around a lake. I could see the finish. I could hear the finish. I could almost taste the cold beverage waiting for me at the finish. We walked a bit more and Brit did his best to encourage me to jog. We did and slowly inched our way towards the finish line. I saw Rob waiting and gave Brit a fist-bump.

 

The race was finally coming to an end for me 25 hours and 48 minutes after it had started. Yes! Rob was holding a couple frosty IPAs at the finish line. Double Yes! I crossed the finish line, took a seat, and threw away my shoes. To no surprise, my feet were pitch black, covered in dirt and muck. I was surprised to find a couple blisters. That was a first. I can’t complain though. No worries, especially if that’s the worst thing that happened.

unnamed 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before I conclude, I owe a big thanks to Brit and Rob for bringing me to the finish line. The very next night, they went to a wedding, while operating on no sleep. Savages. A big shout out to all of the aid station volunteers, many of whom I’d recognized from previous races. Shoutout to Paksit photos for the dope pictures! A huge thanks to my training partners from the last 5 months: Matt, Ben, and Kenny. We all had different goals, but each committed two mornings a week to meet up and put in the work. A huge thanks to my parents and siblings (Brit, Amber, Will,  & Cobra) for the never-ending support. Thanks to Peter Defty for hooking me up with VESPA. While fat adaptation might be en vogue, I believe there is merit to it, especially for a long, slow effort. Nutrition and GI issues were no factor. Also, a huge thanks to anybody and everybody who sent text messages of encouragement.

 

unnamed-3
Rough two days after… Good times. 

 

LESSONS LEARNED

 

1.              The race will not go as planned. Have a Plan B, C, D.

2.              Sometimes, the magic won’t be there. The swings between highs and lows won’t be dramatic. Rather than swinging from a 1 – 10, this time it felt like a 4 – 7.  

3.              Update the playlist.

I left an old playlist on my IPOD. After an hour streamtime, during the race, it got old. Part of my pre-race ritual is curating a new playlist that I’ll get psyched on. I’m not sure why I didn’t do that this time around. That won’t happen again.

4.              It’s a long day. Be patient.

5.              The “Dream Race” is still ahead of me. I strongly believe that working through the difficult days will pay dividends down the line. That belief is rooted in training, learning, and experience. When will this “dream race” come to fruition? I have no idea. Regardless, I will do my best in continuing to chip away, chip away, and chip away some more.

 And, of course, a sweet jam:

If you found this in any way remotely interesting, feel free to explore my other site     https://www.theresilientathlete.org where I am exploring  how the world’s best navigate adversity.

Onward,  

Tyler Baxley

 

New Site is Up. Check it.

This past year, I finished graduate school.

In order to do so, I needed to complete a project.

Out of that came the “Endurance Mindset”.

This blended my passion for endurance along with

my curiosity into high performance.

I was fortunate enough to have interviewed 10 of the world’s

best ultra-endurance athletes (> 6 hours in duration).

In those conversations, we explored the psychological side

of high performance. It was fascinating.

Now, I feel it is my duty to share the findings.

Interested?

Want to learn more?

The website is: Endurancemindset.com

If you’re still not interested, at least give the video a look!

Quite a Day For It

While the entire trailrunning world seemed to be at the North Face 50 in San Francisco this past weekend, I opted to keep it local for a variety of reasons. Most importantly, I had school priorities that needed to get squared away. My good friend Josh Hickey smashed out another finish and described the jaunt across the Golden Gate Bridge as ‘epic’. While the overuse of ‘epic’ often undermines its real emphasis, this labeling was certainly appropriate for such a day. That being said, I signed up for the San Joaquin River Trail 50k to mark a definitive finish to my running year.

Matt and I carpooled, only to arrive to the race start fifteen minutes prior to the start. My goal for the day was to feel good. That’s it. Nothing more. Nothing less. While the last two races – Kodiak 100 & Cuyamaca 100K- were filled with amazing moments, those were counterbalanced by a multitude of frustrations. Those frustrations do pay dividends in the future. I think Saturday was one of those days where the patience paid off.

We started at 6:30 and took off on a climb. Right away the legs were burning and the lungs were churning as everybody jockeyed for position on the single-track. After mile 1, Matt made his move and bolted. I kept my distance. We turned a corner and there he was, stuck behind a herd of cattle. Myself and some others caught up. Having worked with and around cattle for the entirety of my youth, I was hoping to harness the old ‘Bax-to-the-max’ cowman mode and magically move them. That didn’t happen. Ha! We instead walked patiently and eventually they moved. Such is life as a muggle. It was a classic trail running moment, that signified the unimportance of what we were doing.

Matt then took off again. I followed, but at my own pace. After a while, he was gone. I had zero intentions of cat-and-mousing him all day, but it sure was great to have a carrot! The first aid station appeared around mile 6. After that, the next couple miles were uneventful. Feeling very relaxed, I carried on and kept running.

For 95% of the race, I was on my own. Concerns about others, albeit ahead or behind, sort of became irrelevant. That influenced my strategy as my number one priority was to keep it internal. By internal, I mean maintaining acuity through rhythmic breathing, steady movements, and pleasant thoughts. I like to call it the Triumvirate of Chill. This helped me better handle the geographical and emotional undulations that were inevitable.

Around mile 13, I turned a corner and was a bit startled. A human?!? I tripped on the side of the trail, only to attempt a suave tuck-and-roll. It was anything but that, as I lost control and sort of just rolled. I immediately sprung back to my feet and acted as though nothing had happened. I looked back towards the ground, acting like I had some sort of authority over it. It was like I was accusing it of tripping me. Funnily enough, there was nothing there. No big deal. It’s cool. I looked back up and there was a girl laughing. Having made a fool of myself, I laughed and carried on.

For the remainder of the run, I did my best to stick to the Triumvirate of Chill mode. It was not too difficult because the surrounding views were stunning and the weather was perfect. Yes, like idyllic-California-autumn-perfect. Human interaction was pretty low, so I used this to keep maintain stoke. My Ipod had enough battery life for one song. It wasn’t even a big deal because everything else was just AWESOME!

1-AX1A0103

I kept moving and grooving. At each aid station the volunteers cheered me on to Go Catch Matt! Yeah. Right….. Regardless, miles kept clicking off. The climbs didn’t seem as arduous as I had envisioned. Looking back, I know it was a special day because everything just sort of clicked. In terms of feeling, I had been yearning for a day like this for a loooong time. The patience and training paid off, leaving me chomping at the bit for some more. However, this time of the year is best for  unstructured fun and investing time towards other, oft-neglected responsibilities.

 

IMG_2952
Me, Nate Moore (Race Director) & Matt

 

 

Lessons Learned, Epiphanies Spawned, or Much-Needed Reminders

 

A. Nobody really cares. Not even the cattle.

  1. Take your pick: Coming to a halting stop because of some unconcerned cattle or trying to play it cool while falling on a near-flawless trail. I feel that these moments happen for a reason. I suppose that they are reminders for all of us to not take ourselves so seriously. Nobody (outside of you and your running friends) really cares about splits, mileage, or any of that stuff. All the more reason to let it rip and savor each experience.

B. Massive debt of gratitude to all involved

  1. Props to Nate Moore, the volunteers, and everybody else who helped make the SJRT 50K such a memorable experience. I literally had no expectations and this race operated like a well-oiled machine. He’s a great trail runner and a phenomenal human, so he knows how to put on an A+ race. And, if you are wondering this is not a paid endorsement. Ha! I highly encourage anybody to sign up for one of his races. Check em’ out at http://www.sanjoaquinrunning.com
  2. Also, a big thanks to my family and friends that have encouraged me in the last year. 2017 has been loaded with optimal moments and I am really, really fortunate to have such wonderful people in my life.

C. It feels good to feel good

  1. Finally! This was the day I had been hoping and working towards for quite some time. I don’t know if I have ever felt as good as I did on Saturday. From the start to the finish, the rhythm was there. It had been a big year for me and I was losing my fire for running. It wasn’t about numbers or any of that stuff, simply the feeling. My goal was to feel good and I felt great. This was the ideal way to end the year off and carry the mojo into the off-season. Well, carry the momentum until I will need it in next month’s Beer Mile.

 

 

Consumption (not that you’re interested, simply jotting it down as a reminder for the next-time around)

  • Pre Race
    • ½ Avocado, 1 tbsp. Almond Butter, & 1 Boiled egg
    • Coffee w/ coconut oil (for the road)
    • VESPA (20 minutes prior to race)
  • During
    • Water
    • Salt Tabs
    • A little bit of tailwind
    • Peanut M & Ms –à AMAZING!!!!
    • Light Fruit
      • à 2 slices of watermelon
      • ¾ a banana
      • Orange slice
    • Bacon (Yep, it hit the spot)
    • 2 handfuls of potato chips
  • After
    • Soup
    • Slice of Pizza
    • Americano (the caffeine charge-endorphin rush combination is one that I highly recommend. I felt like I was on another planet for the remainder of the day. Give it a shot, or two, or even three if we’re talking espresso).

 

And of course, the obligatory jingle. An all-time favorite of mine How to Fly by Sticky Fingers. Probably have listened to this more than any other song in that last 3 years. Cheers!

Cuyamaca 100K Round II

Rather than inundate you with the minutiae of my 2017 Cuyamaca 100K, I’ve opted for a much less verbose recap. Cheers!

Night Before

  • Bunkhouse felt like Junior High Camp, except for the fact that we went to bed early.
  • Bunkhouse (2017) > sleeping in car (2016)

Morning of

  • Alarm
  • Up and at em’
  • Frigid
  • Dark
  • Double-check preparation
  • Packet Pickup
  • Packed house
  • Nervous Energy
  • Spend nearly 20 minutes trying to attach bib
  • Coffee + Brekkie
  • Triple-Check preparation
  • Bathroom
  • Startline

Loop 1

[Miles] 0 – 10

  • Go!
  • Moonlight
  • Thawing out
  • Keep it steady
  • Don’t press
  • Sunrise

10 – 20

  • Climbing
  • Talking
  • Focused
  • Drink
  • Eat
  • Relaxed

20 – 32

  • Music
  • Climbing
  • Downhill
  • Drink
  • Eat
  • Relaxed
  • Still feeling good

unnamed
Aid Station Buffet

Loop 2

32 – 39

  • Reload
  • Drink
  • Eat
  • Off we go
  • Brutal, exposed stretch
  • False flats (didn’t feel that way though)
  • Carried by two others here à The Synergy was strong
  • Janna (from Columbus) & Sam (from Ann Arbor/now Oakland)
  • Bone Dry in both bottles
  • Stopped Sweating = not good
  • Arrived at Gator Station (Florida Gator Fans/Alumni clad in jerseys & drinking beer while helping)
  • Lots of Stoke
  • Drink, Drink, Drink
  • Sun is full-on
  • Ice-cold Sponge rinse on head, face, & back

39 – 44

  • Solo
  • Feeling better
  • Maintain Composure
  • Playlist on point “Terrain” by Pg.lost (Shoutout Dave Kraina)

Loop 3

44 – 50

  • Speed through Aid Station (too quickly)
  • Adrenaline pumping
  • Adrenaline fading
  • GI issues
  • Head Fog
  • Weary legs
  • By myself
  • Pity party has officially commenced
  • Now Talking to myself
  • A lot
  • This sucks
  • Waaa, Waaaa, Waaa
  • Find something to laugh at
  • Seriously, quit taking yourself so seriously
  • Looking forward to pacer

50-ish Aid station

  • Jeff, friend and fellow classmate, eagerly waiting
    • (not to mention that this is Jeff’s longest run yet – Thumbs up!!)
  • The chair is calling
    • I am usually a staunch proponent of “beware the chair”, but not now
  • I needed five, but probably took ten or fifteen
  • Pickle Juice – A first for me & now i know why…
  • Laughs
  • Smiles
  • 12 to go
  • Stomach still whack
  • Need to rally
  • Colbie Caillat bumping in the background – Can’t beat that!
  • Onward
unnamed-3
The Chair….

50 – 56

  • Trudging
  • Others blowing by me
  • Now Slogging (Slow Jogging, aka walking…)
  • Jeff’s company is greatly appreciated during this stretch
  • Stunning views from high desert ridgeline
  • Downhill to Aid Station
unnamed-4
Getting passed in the heat of the afternoon action

56 Aid Station Oktoberfest theme (beers and margaritas are flowing)

  • Wanting to sit. Again…
  • The wonderful volunteers tell me No
  • Suck it up dude! Only 10K left! You’ve got some carrots dangling ahead of you!
  • Onward
unnamed-2
Beautiful stretch of scenery 

56 – 59

  • Still not finding my stride
  • Stomach still frustrated
  • Energy still zapped
  • Pace is slow, scenery is unbelievable
  • Jeff’s presence helping big time
  • At this point, I’m slower than last year
  • Okay, re-calibrate and get something out of the last 3 miles

59 – 61

  • Dusk is upon us
  • So is downhill
  • Jeff reminds me: It’s 6:00. There is a half hour left to bring it home in under 12 hours.
  • Okay
  • Silence falls upon us
  • Erratic footsteps turn into rhythmic footsteps
  • Pace picks up
  • Letting it all go
  • We’re moving faster

< 3/4 mile

  • Turning the corner, there’s a carrot
  • The mojo is back
  • Fully engaged, I go for it
  • Pain is taking a backseat
  • Don’t look back
  • I was lucky enough to make the pass
  • Feeling better and better
  • Thumbs up & a good job exchanged

< 1/2 mile remaining

  • Finish line in sight
  • Another carrot
  • Oh boy
  • Thumbs up
  • Feeling better
  • Matt & Katie waiting
  • High-fives exchanged
  • Deep breathe
  • Quick expression of gratitude to the Man upstairs
  • Game over
  • Done
  • Stoked
  • The adrenaline-fueled finish was like that one great shot in a bad round of golf.   I started the day in rhythm, then battled frustrations, and finished strong. It left me chomping at the bit
unnamed-1
We finished! 

Lessons, discoveries, epiphanies…  

  1. Course Familiarity is a DOUBLE BONUS
  2. Aid Station Volunteers rule! The Florida Gator-themed Station brought the juice. At the final aid station, appropriately named Oktoberfest (they had beer, margaritas…), a gal told me to suck it up and get moving.
  3. The other runners & pacers. The synergy from Janna and Ben pulled me through the difficulty of loop 2. Without their steadiness, I would have walked most of that stretch.
    1. Kudos to my friend Jeff who paced for the last 12 miles. It’s worth noting that, up to that point, 12 miles was his furthest run. During the last bit, he helped me get back on the horse. Many people might think these are solo efforts, be we all know they are not.
  4. Carry more water. This has been a theme for me lately. I have had a string of runs where running bone dry is part of it. That is usually followed by not sweating. It is foolish bordering on dangerous. It doesn’t need to be that way because it’s a variable that can be controlled. Nobody earns points for carrying less water… That being said, this was the last straw. Lesson learned…
  5. Too much sugar = gastrointestinal rollercoaster. After switching to a Fat Adapted protocol for Kodiak, I reverted back to my old ways. The objective? To see how I would feel. Long story short; it sucked! My stomach became wrecked from miles 40 – 50 and didn’t get much better until the last 3 miles. After reading more from dudes like Dr. Tim Noakes, Dr. Peter Attia, Dr. Dom D’Agostino and Dr. Stephen Finney, this is a change I still believe is worth exploring.
  6. It wasn’t the race I had envisioned, but that is okay. I’m not getting paid to do this and nobody really cares. A dose of reality always smacks me in the face when getting out of a vehicle for the first time after crossing the finish line.  It’s extremely satisfying and also hilarious hobbling through a gas station. People take notice like something is seriously wrong, but nope All good over here!
  7. Every single time I finish a race there is this immense + intense feeling of thankfulness that settles in. That feeling trumps the any muscle soreness felt shortly thereafter. The culmination of a long, hard effort outside puts things into perspective. That sense of smallness always brings me back to appreciating life’s simpler things.

Coupled with an incredible rush afterwards, the lasting lessons are the ones that come from being on the edge. Wrestling with uncertainty, doubt, and pain makes that ride home that much sweeter.

And, of course, here’s a little sliver of audio pleasure…

Koi Child “1-5-9”