North Face 50: Ride it Out.

It was going to be a victory lap or a long day of taking in the scenery. Either would’ve been just dandy. Somehow, it was all of that and more. Now, a few days removed, I realize how special Round Two at the North Face 50 was. Why? Saturday was the day I got the fire back.

After a grinder of a Saturday in last month’s Cuyamaca race (aka the Carnage Carousel), I was looking forward to getting back up to the Bay. 2016’s experience can’t be topped. The purpose isn’t to replicate the past, as that is a recipe for disaster. Saturday was going to be a new experience in a place in a beautiful place that I sort of knew. It was like revisiting an old friend.

Friday night, I arrived in the Bay around 8 PM to meet Hickey at his mom’s place. We were treated to a stellar meal: salmon, pasta, a salad, and tons of veggies. Perfect! We ate then hit the hay. With the race starting at 5 AM, we needed to arrive in SF by 3:30, so 2:15 alarm would have to do. Embrace it.

I’ve never heard Hickey complain before. In true fashion, come 2:05 AM, he’s firing up the coffee. We did the usual routine: a bite of food here, a sip of coffee there, all while throwing together our Saturday attire on.

We arrived at Marina Middle School just in time to catch the last bus to Sausalito. It was really nice for a change to arrive at the race without being in a rush. Actually, it felt weird, but I loved it.

There was a buzz at the start as throngs of vibrant colors huddled around propane heaters. We ran into Ryan Cronin and his fiancé, Melissa, right before. I was stoked to see them as Ryan and I shared many miles pushing each other a couple years ago at Fort Ord. They were fired up. So were we. So was everybody.

Before the race, I had a mantra in mind – Appreciation, Not Expectation – as a reminder to be present. I wanted to free myself from expectation because I knew this was a new race, and thus, a unique experience. The purpose of the mantra would also act as a cue would me nudge me into savoring the sunrise, to thank and stoke-up the volunteers, and to energize others out there. Most importantly, it would keep the gratitude flowing, mostly for the fact that I am healthy and get to play in a breathtaking environment.

Thus, that’s what I told myself the first 15 miles. It worked for every single step. We were socked in by the marine layer, but it didn’t bother me. I kept repeating that mantra. I was chatting up the folks around me. I’m always fascinated where all these folks are from and how’d they end up here. Curiosity didn’t kill the cat, it’s the only way to try new things or drive a genuine interest in others. Curiosity is the pre-requisite to growth. Without it, one becomes static and probably really uninteresting. By dishing it out, it is reciprocated back. In doing that, we all elevate each other.

Early on, I chatted a lot. The way I gauge if somebody is keen to chat is by one’s immediate response. How do they reply to a “Howdy” or “Morning”? Is it upbeat or sound like frustration? When the response comes in the form of complaining, I press on.

I don’t understand it. Bickering about the course, weather, injuries… There’s no performance benefit to complaining. It sucks the energy right out of you and from everybody within your vicinity. Steer clear from the energy vampires. Rather than giving, they take.

The marine layer lifted. The sun poked through. The stoke was high.

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Every aid station was stellar! They brought the juice all day long and were more than helpful. I slammed PB & J slices, potatoes with salt (not just fistfuls of salt this time hahahaha), broth, and orange slices. Halfway through, I requested a concoction of half-electrolyte fluid with half-Mountain Dew. It was cash money! No doubt I’ll be trying that one again. Without a doubt, they helped me ride a rhythm.

When I jetted out of the Stinson Beach aid station, I left way too fast. I had my headphones cranking on instrumental Irish jams (some foreshadowing for later). I felt like I was literally transported into a Braveheart scene gallivanting through the Scottish highlands with William Wallace. Of course I’m going to take off!

Everything was clicking. It was really bizarre. I kept waiting for things to fall apart, and not in a pessimistic sense, but more of a realistic one. Oh yeah, I wasn’t wearing a watch. That helped big-time in keeping me present. Rather than fret about some pace, I could savor the beauty of the surrounding place.

The stairs were ahead. I remembered these from last time because they were a slap to the face. Rather than be gloomy about it, I flipped the switch. I was frothing to get to them and even verbalized a “WHERE YOU AT?” a few times. A dude I just met – Fabio – led the charge as we took em’ one step at a time.

Back to the singletrack… The marine layer slowly burned off as we cruised through the Muir Woods. I could talk for hours about the beauty of this portion. If you’ve never been there, GO.

Finally, the big climb was looming. I think it was Tennessee Valley? I never remember the names, unless I pull-up the website. It’s usually a blur. Somehow, the rhythm remained so I decided to “ride it out” – mantra #2 for the day. I’ve never used two before, but they helped keep my head in the game. Between the ebbs, flows, highs, and lows, the goal endured: ride it out.

The only cure for suffering is to face it head on, grasp it around the neck, and use it.”

– Mary Craig

We hit the climb. It wasn’t as bad as I had remembered. Like the stairs, I think during round one it was a total shock. I knew they would be there, but freeing myself from any expectations I just focused on my effort in getting to the top. Once there, just cruise it down.

At the mile 42-aid station, I fueled up. I ran into Ryan again. He provided some encouraging words. More high-fives and fist-bumps were shared. We charged on.

One last climb and the Golden Gate came into view! It was on this stretch that I finally started to yearn for the race to end. Right before we got to the bridge, a dude named Pat ran up behind me: “Dude, a couple miles left, let’s charge this bridge bro!”

“Yeah boss, let’s get it. Hay is in the barn!”

A minute later, I heard a YEWWWWWWWWWW. It was Fabio and he was blissing out on bridge. I can’t speak for them, but in crossing the bridge with them, I felt the synergy. It was intense. We were pushing, and grooving and dodging the masses.

We finally crossed it and dropped down near the waterfront.

YEWWWWWWWW!

We were nearing the finish. Everybody along the waterfront appeared to be having a swell time, especially one gentleman. A fierce spectator, this elderly Irish chap brought the juice:

“YOU’VE GOT MORE IN THE TANK LADDIE! LEAVE IT ALL OUT ON THE COURSE!!” 

We exchanged head nods and, of course, we high-fives. I couldn’t let him down. I let it rip. In reality, I probably wasn’t moving fast, but I did my best to heed his command.

I turned the corner. Yes! Done. Over. Finally.

YEWWWWWWWWWWW! Fabio belted once more for good measure while. Pat was there too. The three of us exchanged high-fives again.

Then, we went to the Sierra Nevada garden for our earned beverage. I’m still not quite sure what the “spot” is, but that first sip of a Hazy IPA sure hit it.

While waiting for Hickey to roll in, I hung out with Pat’s crew. I was shivering and they loaned me a jacket. Clutch. People are always looking out for each other which is another reason why I love doing these things.

Just as Hickey entered the beer garden, I ran into Jake O. and Diana – friends I met through another friend, Jake Johnson, two years ago in Yosemite. Jake crushed his first 50K and Diana had crewed for him. It was great to see them! Hickey was fired up as well! He hammered out yet another ultra. I think he’s done this race the last 6 or 7 years. Don’t ever let the old man in!

We grabbed some burritos and reveled in the post-race afterglow. We found Ryan and Melissa hanging by one of the fire pits. She crushed her first 50-miler and in under ten hours – phenomenal! We walked back to the car, with a satisfaction only effort can provide.

 

 

It felt like one of those memorable concerts that don’t ever want to end. Yet, with the passing of each song, you near that inevitability and try to savor every fleeting second. Then, once it concludes, you realize how incredible the experience was. That pretty much sums it how Saturday felt and I can’t wait to go back!

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Lessons Learned

  1. No watch. No worries.
    1. This was the most present I’ve ever been in a race. The experience was 100% better because of that.
  1. Never underestimate the power of a mantra
    1. Appreciation, not Expectations
    2. Let it Ride
    3. Those worked for me. You might think their hokey or love em’, it doesn’t matter to me. That’s the beauty of mantras. Find one that works for you and go all-in on it.
  1. Bring the Juice! Share it with others.
    1. Speaking for myself, but I’ve learned not only do I perform better, but enjoy the experience more when I keep it loose. I keep it loose by reciprocating and harnessing as much energy as I can from the amazing volunteers, enthusiastic spectators (especially the elderly Irish gent), and fellow trail brethren.
    2. Nobody at these events ever roots against you. They’re hard enough, so you know most of the encouragement is genuine. We’re all out there trying to get through it. Might as well elevate each other, right?

Destruction = Construction

“Destruction is also creation”.

Marcel Duchamp

Bend, don’t break.

You hear it all the time.  

I say: Why not break?

Afterwards, clutch the shattered remnants, feel their sharp points and jagged edges. Then, try to piece them back together.

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Rae Lakes: Summer 2015

 

But there’s never been an example of injury and adversity in my life where I haven’t come back from it stronger and wiser and more humble and more appreciative. You know, so what’s the answer then?

 Do you push yourself until you get injured? Because struggle and adversity eventually makes you that better person and allows you to reach your potential even more”.

Rob Krar

Breaking implies failure for some and represents finality for others. For all, end is beginning.

Thus, breaking is a form of renewal. The whole premise of science is to rigorously test an experiment to see if, indeed, it does break.

This is likely due to the need that humans feel to be proven right, at least more so than we desire to be proven wrong. Appearing to be “right” validates. It’s a nice ego stroke.

Keep bending, you’re never wrong. Break once; question everything.

Ride that edge long enough, and it’s inevitable: the jagged points will rip right through every fiber of hubris that got you have. Only then, if you pay attention, like really pay attention, might a lesson or two be gleaned.

To move forward, it starts internally, as there is no doubt today that mind and body are connected. Thus, if the body believes what the mind perceives, then thoughts generate action.

Bending is a disservice and its’ lessons are ephemeral. Those who only bend cling onto a thin veneer of self-assurance that only gets revealed when the comfort zone is long gone. Keep bending and stay convinced you’re better than you are.

That’s not learning. It’s more like the perfect cocktail for stagnancy.

So, do you bend or do you break? When and how often?

I’m not presumptuous enough to know the answer. I do know, however, that every decision and action has a cost. Bending equates to playing it just safe enough to where you still have more answers than questions. Why be wrong?

“Knowledge without mileage is bullshit”

Henry Rollins

Breaking, for better or for worse, hits harder. In those initial phases of introspection, its’ taste more potent. Its’ feel more visceral. It’s at that point precisely where one gains the invaluable opportunity to really, truly learn about self. Those are insights that no coach, “guru”, or “expert” can provide.

“I’ve been hurt, I’ve gotten better. Hurt, I’ve gotten better… I know that process that I had to go through to get better. It’s a formulaic process”.

Laird Hamilton

I formerly deduced breaking as weakness. Yes, it is defined as such; however, through experience, my definition of ‘breaking’ has broadened to include (but is not limited to): breaking out, emerging, changing, and opportunity. Thus, if we allow for it, the sharp edges that remain can be put back together to build something. That something might not look the some as it did, but whose to say it can’t be better? There are countless examples of artists, including Picasso, that found liberation in the destruction of what they had created. Burn it to the ground. Re-emerge with a blank slate.

Whether one chooses to interpret breaking as a path hell-bent on destruction or sees it as an opportunity to reset before taking another plunge into the fray, new ground will be broken. It might be worth re-framing how we perceive destruction. Destruction not only leads to construction, but it’s a form of it. They are inseparable. Break. Build. Question. Feel. Learn. Grow. Onward.

Destruction = Construction. Pt. I

No big deal. So I thought.

Maybe take a couple days off.

Perhaps it will go away once it stops swelling.

At best, it was wishful thinking. In reality, it was an ability to accept just that – reality.

I couldn’t undo what had been done. Not one iota of me was willing to accept that a single misstep could possibly negate the hundreds of thousands steps that preceded it.

Hours passed. It lingered. Swelling increased.

Whatever.

Hubris took the reigns; I went along for the ride. Training took a brief pause. I put money down, I was going to show up. I could still move (albeit compromised by additional ankle support) and that was good enough for me.

Five weeks later, I completed the race. It went well until it didn’t and, then it was a literal unraveling.

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The pain was tolerable because, well, that’s endurance: you confront resistance and maybe, just maybe, rhythm emerges. Other times, it doesn’t. Either way you deal.

The dealing makes it all the more difficult to distinguish between injury-induced pain and fitness-related pain. One would think that the accruement of miles supplemented by experience helps in deciphering between the two, but, still, the ego remains…. Since it does, lines get blurred and warning signs become that much easier to ignore. Sprinkle endorphins (and with their addicting feel-good afterglow) into the mix and you have the perfect recipe for complete abandonment of reality.

Post-race, I took time off. Eventually, though, I kept on. Quickly, though, running came to a halt.

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Better shoes next time…

The disconnection became evident as pain remained and the endorphins did not.

Hubris, stubbornness, or irrationality, call it what you will. I am not so sure what prevented me from visiting a doctor. 2018 turned to 2019 and the mobility remained limited. Stagnant thoughts increased both in frequency and in duration.

Time off represented a new starting point, a new focus. I went to the doc, got the information I needed. Information is only useful so far as it is applied to move forward. Thus, I directed all of my energy into the steps I needed to take to improve.

After the first session, I took home a list of protocols. I did 10X of whatever prescribed movements I was assigned. My train of thought: more equals better (though, when it comes to ligaments, tendons and all that, better equals better. More only means more).

Quickly, I developed my own “program” comprised of walking, stretching, blazing-hot saunas, frigid cold showers, reading, and, of course, some Wim Hof breathing for good measure. Repetitions turned into sets turned into days turned into weeks. When it came time for session two, everything became less difficult.

Winter faded. Spring arrived. Days grew longer. The sun felt a tad bit warmer. Renewal.

 

Months of resistance churned into rhythm. Still though, I needed an objective. I craved momentum and the best way to harness that would be through a measurable challenge that validated my subjective view of progress.

After moving back to CA, I registered for a marathon. Training was consistent and nothing more than that. Long story shot, I crossed the 26.2 finish line faster than I’d done before by a couple of minutes. Most importantly, it marked a definitive moment, one where I could leave the past where it belonged, behind me.

It was only a rolled ankle. No big deal. I didn’t want, nor need sympathy because this was a result of my own doing. I know and am related to plenty of others who didn’t have the luxury of an injury or illness emerging and exacerbating from a choice.

Through that winter, the limited movement forced me to reflect. I fought it. I wanted to move forward. It was one reason why I fell into a season in the wilderness. I did not find myself, but asking better questions led to new perspectives, one of which was re-framing this idea of Bend, but don’t break.

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.

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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:

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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!

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

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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