4:00 AM. The coffee is hot. The boys are ready to rock. We’re zig-zagging our way through empty streets comprised of those holding on to whatever bit of euphoria remains from a night on the town. The euphoria we’re seeking is miles away. Miles away.
For some of us – Hudson (Huddy), Dave and Rob (Slooter) – the North Face 50 marks their first exploration into the ultramarathon world. For Matt, Josh (Hickey) and myself, this is another opportunity for progression at the 50-mile distance. Hickey is like our sensei. Hickey – our good vibe guru – carries with him invaluable experience, constant encouragement, and a relentless smile. Our drivers – Brit (my brother) and brother Nick – embraced the selfless duties of making sure that we were ready to rock come 5 AM. They squared away logistics between start and finish and were stoked to do so.
Amidst the starting area were bright colors, excited spirits and propane heaters. Oh yeah, porta potties too! We all bee-lined towards a mandatory bathroom stop with ten minutes until start time. Runners were lining up near the start. The music was pumping. It’s go time!
On the first climb, there’s boundless energy and chatter while everybody tries to find a groove. During our first ascension, I was talking to this dude named Jonas and he told me to look back. What I saw was absolutely incredible; it was a stream of speckled light (headlamps) down below. Way cool.
From that point onward, I just remember desperately wanting that California sun to share its beautiful rays with us. When the sun finally did rise, it was extraordinary. The birthing light emanated from behind the mountain silhouettes and, to compound the stoke, the Golden Gate Bridge was visible. To top it off, I could hear the waves crashing into the rocks. Are you kidding me? That was a polysensory experience that I won’t forget anytime soon.
Anyways we rolled along from Aid Station to Aid station, the warm sun made a December day feel like summertime. After heading towards the Mckennan Gulch Out-and-back, it was inspiring to see some of the Elites hammering down. It’s a whole another level.
After turning around, we had some sweet decline entering Stinson Beach (mile 29.4). I was dogging it pretty badly and needed a quick fix to snap out of it. Salt should do the trick. They didn’t have salt tabs. What to do next? I saw a bowl filled with salt and went for it. I threw a handful in my mouth and washed it down with Mountain Dew. Well, that was a first. It wasn’t until after the race that my squad informed me of the proper salt-intake procedure. Ha! Apparently, there were baby potatoes next to the salt. The idea is to grab a potato, roll it in the salt and then consume. This is a novel concept, and, a far more appetizing one. I’ll be sure to remember that for next time!
After a while, I entered into one of the most spectacular parts of the race. It was through the John Muir Forest. With the tunes blasting, I weaved through pine-softened trail splitting between massive Redwoods. This was the rhythmic trance I had long been waiting for.
That all changed when I arrived at Muir Beach (mile 41). It was time to go full grind mode. All of sudden I heard my name. It was my buddy Matt. I looked at him and had made the assumption that he was already done.
He said “No, No. I’m still in it.” I was stunned. This dude is high-caliber. He went out with the big dogs and it didn’t pan out. That happened with like 30 miles to go. Rather than throwing in the towel, he decided to stay the course. I love it. It shouldn’t be viewed as a failure, but instead that idea of “going all in” needs to be celebrated. Matt could have played it safe. But he didn’t. He chose to let it rip.
As I am writing about that moment, it fires me up!
We power-hiked the next climb. And kept hiking. And kept hiking. Finally we arrived at the top and saw the next aid station below.
When we rolled into it (Tennessee Valley – mi. 43.8), I immediately heard voices. “YAHHHHH BOYS” It was my cousin Hayes, Erin, Lindsey and my Tante Wimpie and Uncle Rob.
Then my brother Brit rolled up to us. “You guys good? I’m pacing you until the end”.
We trudged forth together. I was dragging hard, but miles were slowly clicking off. It was the last bit of uphill and before I knew it we arrived at the final aid station (Alta 46.7) with only 3 miles left! My initial goal was to finish this race was to go sub-9 hours. Brit said screw that, let’s go sub 8:40!
It was all downhill from there. We kept at it. We then passed some more family with less than a mile to go. It was my sisters – Willemina, Amber, and cousin Erica. At that point we knew the hay was in the barn.
As we approached the last turn, I could hear the music blasting and the noise of the cowbells. We trotted a little faster. People were screaming. That feeling of euphoria when nearing the end is hard to match. We crossed the finish in 8:39:51. I laughed. Sub-8:40 by 10 second; thank you bro!
As we were adorned our finishers medals, I saw my parents. That was really special. We exchanged high-fives and all kinds of positive conversation. Now it was time for a much needed beverage!
We then waited for Slooter, Hickey, Huddy and Dave to finish. When they did, it was incredible! We saw Slooter hammer his finish.
When Slooter crossed, we yelled and gave hugs. It was awesome! He did it! He crushed it. I was so amped to see him finish.
After that, like only ten minutes later, Hickey clicked his feet at the finish line. Despite a jacked up lung and multiple warnings to not participate in the race, Hickey finished it. Not only that, but he did so with a beaming smile on his face.
After that, we hung around the beer garden and waited for Huddy and Dave to bring it home. As the sun settled, we cozied up next to a fire. Every ten minutes, somebody would go check to see if they checked in at the last aid station. We wanted to be there for them at the finish.
We remained huddled and all of a sudden “Hudson Hanlon coming through the Finish” blared on the loud speaker. Without hestiation, our table sprinted through the finishing gate. Hugs around the house, they freaking did it! Huddy and Dave stuck together for the majority of the day and gritted it out. It was deeply inspiring to see them stick with it and get it done.
After that spectacular moment, we loaded into our vehicles and headed back to San Fran. for pizza and beer. What a way to spend a Saturday!
It’s not about the time you get, rather the time you had. No matter if I met my goal, everything about December 3rd was spectacular. It was an arduous day, but I loved it! These journeys always tend to cover the emotional spectrum. They strengthen the soul, harden the body and fortify the mind. Deep down, the suffering we experience strips us of comfort and we become the rawest version of ourselves. The ego no longer exists and humility is the only option. Following these intensely visceral moments, is a very powerful, feeling. It’s hard to quantify in either a written or verbal manner. Really, it’s indescribable.
Reasons this race was surreal
- Familial support. Hands down the reason why the weekend was so incredible. I can’t express enough gratitude for them.
- Thanks to Brit for pacing me and Matt for hanging with me until the finish (I wouldn’t have gotten my time without them).
- Seeing Friends/Family testing their limits at the 50-mile distance for the first time. It was super inspiring.
- The scenery. Stunning.
- The volunteers were outstanding. They opt to put up with a ton of characters. And they do it on their own time.
- A sunny 60 degrees in December is hard to beat.
- The post-race vibes were flawless.
- Pizza and beer
- That feeling of adrenaline and fatigue that stayed with me for a couple of days after was 100% worth it.
- I can’t wait to go back next year!
- Last but not least, this juicy jam kept me dialed when I need it most
School is out. Ice cream, cloggers, mexican beers, road trips, beaches, mountains and long days that allow more play time!
First things first, a couple little bangers to get the adventure juices flowing. AYYYYYYYYYYEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
Magic City Hippies – “Bull Ride”
Sticky Fingers – “Headlock”
Machineheart – “Circles”
Dagny – “Backbeat”
Been blasting this jam all week long.
“No, No, No” by Beirut
With Summer around the corner, adventures lie ahead. Here’s a couple goodies from the past.
This past weekend was the iconic American River 50 mile trail run. Brit, Matt Mo and I were Folsom-bound Friday afternoon. After a quick bib pick-up and pasta throw down, we went to the hotel.
Fast forward to the cell-phone-alarm-symphony that brought the thunder at 3:05 AM .No this wasn’t by choice. Actually, it was b/c it’s “what we signed up for”. In order to make to to the starting line by 6, the roads shut were shut at 5, so that left us needing to catch a bus at 4. Oh yeah! Treats.
We arrived at the starting line at 5:45 ish. We tried napping on the 40 minute bus ride, but apparently 4 am isn’t too early for people to discuss the entirety of the race course. Yes -every single freaking aid station – in full detail, at a louder than desirable decibel level. We arrived to the starting line. Pitch black. Cold. We followed the masses because that’s what you do at running events, even though nobody really has a clue what’s going on. That led us to the porta potties. With temps. being in the 40s and standing around as the only thing to do for an hour, Brit decided to find shelter in the bus. Well, the busses were leaving. Bummer dude.
We “chilled” for an hour until, we could finally start moving towards the starting line. After moving towards the starting line, all we had to worry about was moving towards the finish line. Let the adventure begin.
It felt great to get moving. The sun came out and it stayed out. The first half of the course just rolled along. Then, after about mile 30, there were mountain bikers. Lots of them. Come to find out, they had an event as well. I’m all for sharing the trail, just not when it’s after 30 miles, you’re trying to groove uphill and these hellions are ripping around blind corners right at us. Super sketch to say the least. Fortunately, after an hour or so, that passed.
After that, aid stations came and went. The sunshine didn’t though. It felt great, but running along a beautiful river made the temptation of jumping in all too real. That temptation stayed for the entirety of the race. You gotta love type-2 fun.
I finally got into a groove at mile 41. It was like something came over me. I felt like a possessed mongrel. The ever elusive and much needed “runner’s high” came in full-force. The iron was hot! The time to strike was right now. Those moments are fleeting. I think it’s a disservice when we bow out and shy away from them.
Well, that euphoria faded quickly. Classic. The mile 44 aid station brought was clutch. They even had wine, but offered me none. I have no idea why, but it sounded good at the time.
From mile 47-50, the hill known as “The Last Gasp” was the only thing between the runners and the finish line. There was a guy with a pacer who was ahead of me from 45-47. I was tired of being stuck behind them and was ready to pass. It’s like when you’re on the highway and the car in front of you is going at a good speed, but you’re sick of being behind them, so you make the pass. Same exact feeling. I had faded a bit behind them, but saw the opening and decided to sneak up on em’.
Well, I saw my window of opportunity. I got right behind them. Foaming at the mouth, I started charging. One step later and I slammed to the ground! My water bottles spilled out and dust was all over me. I felt like a complete kook. Cover blown, they turned around and asked me if i was okay. Yep. Fueled by frustration, I bolted. That is until I turned the corner. The climb was gnarly.
I power hiked the rest of it out. Finally, the finish line was in sight! I crossed it and took a quick shower from my gallon of water in the car. After changing clothes, Matt convinced me to get a complementary leg massage. In all honesty, it might have hurt more than the race.
Matt crushed it and finished an hour before me. We hung out, tried to nap, but the adrenaline kept us awake. We waited for Brit to bring it home. Eventually, he rolled up. We were hollering at the top of our lungs. With about 50 yards to go, Brit threw his water bottles on the ground, threw his hat backwards and sprinted toward the finish! The crowd and commentator went bananas! It was the classic Brit move: all or nothing. Watching this scene unfold, Matt and I laughed hysterically.
We hobbled to the finish line and chatted Brit up. We got to the car and went straight for coffee and pizza. That’s right. An unorthodox combo, but the challenge ahead was the 3.5 hour drive home.
As the sun set in the east, we quietly made our way back home, satisfied with an adventure-filled day. These adventures always bring out everything our senses have to offer. The physical and mental agony of suffering coupled with the euphoric, emotional high of surviving is a raw display of vigor. That vigor is best encapsulated when folks near the finish. It’s an electrifying scene that charges the atmosphere and those in it. I am just stoked that the boys and I got to be a part of it.
“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” – Theodore Roosevelt
In the few years I’ve been into endurance sports, one line I’ve never understood (and still don’t) is: “This is my B (or C, heck maybe even D) race”. Ahhh yes, the classic nonchalant attitude, that, in my opinion, serves as an excuse. 5k or 50 miler, I don’t understand why one would pay to register for a half-hearted effort. “B Race, tune up, fun run…” Whichever way it’s framed, I just don’t get it. I think every race should be an “A race”. No matter what.
Isn’t the point of a race to be a culmination of your training? Or at least an implication or where you’re headed? I understand people sign up for shorter distance races prior to long ones. There’s a variety of reasons: motivation, gauge fitness levels, go with friends. With that being the case, I believe every race should be an A race. Running is the ultimate mind-body, in-the-moment connection. The best way to embrace that moment is to extract as much from it as you possibly can. To me, that means to absolutely go for it. Sore, tired or fatigued, I think we’re selling ourselves short when we decide to hold back.
We’re not guaranteed tomorrow, the next day, or next month. That eventual “A race” way down the line, might never happen. The possibilities of life interfering with the opportunity to stand at the starting line are endless. Standing at the starting line of a race should be a celebration. The best way to celebrate is have no regard for failure and let it rip.
Six-time Olympic medalist, Bode Miller exemplifies this killer instinct. He ignored the noise around him. Everybody hammered him to go 80%, that way, he could at least finish a race. That didn’t align with his most sacred belief: “You gotta send it. Other people’s perspectives, while valuable, shouldn’t supersede your own”.
In the World Cup Slalom, Miller went two complete seasons without finishing. That’s right, zero finishes. It’s a record! Skiing is his job. It’s results-driven and for two years, the results were nil. He certainly had the speed to win, but he wasn’t going to let the temptation of slowing down triumph over letting it rip. He knew he would keep crashing; however, once he figured it out, he would start winning. Sure enough, that happened. The next year Miller won 4 races in one season. Win or lose, it was Miller’s dogged confidence that was the greatest result of all.
Below is a video of Miller crashing 5 days after DNFing at another event. You gotta love his fortitude!
I believe that this “letting it rip, no regard for failure” attitude can produce a ripple effect in our lives. If and when we do screw up, this frame of mind allows us to acknowledge a mistake, own it and keep charging. It takes some chutzpah, but not holding back allows us to create the life we want, with no room for regret. The discomfort felt when we let it rip pales in comparison to the strong and long-lasting feelings produced by regret. Miller’s explanation is spot on: “The one person you have to answer to is yourself anyways”.