Archive Reports

Below find a diverse collection of stories written by F4 DRATS runners following their 2008 training season and climactic race in Fruita on April 19th, featuring 25 miles of rugged trail running and nearly 5,000 feet of climbing.

Read Mountain Dave’s Blog Post Here

By F4 Athlete Cindi Yaklich

All I can say is Hallelujah; I didn’t fall in the cow pie.

I was going down and I could see it coming closer and even closer… to my face. With all of my body weight I threw myself to the right and whew… I missed the cow pie by inches. Unfortunately, it wasn’t my last fall and my stomach just was not being a happy camper. The race wasn’t quite what I had hoped. I really felt like I was in much better shape than last year and had trained harder this year. I wanted to beat my time by 5 to 10 minutes; instead I think I added 10.

But with all that said, I had a great time. It was the first time I had run with people in a race. I ran with Lea and Wendy and we stopped and took pictures and chatted the whole time. I saw much more of the scenery than I did last year and I got a hug on my second fall!

Luckily, I have now run enough to know there are some good races and then some

not your best. And even the not your best can be such wonderful experiences.

And I know that my fitness has improved, even if the clock doesn’t show it.

I have to go and put peroxide on my cuts and scrapes, but at least I’m not

wiping cow pie off my face!

Thank you all for such a great season. Dave and I always are saying,

“What a great group of people.” And it is so true.


By F4 Athlete Jamie Dawson

I had a good race. I was happy with my effort and the way it turned out.

What worked:

– Early season training, I showed up Jan 4th with a few good months of base training under my belt.

– A good course strategy. Just talking it through with Seth a couple times made a huge difference. Where to back off, where to run hard, how to know.

– hydration. Torin made a side comment on Friday night to drink alot early in the race. It made a big difference once it heated up

– a good attitude. I just stayed relaxed, positive, and in the moment.

– GREAT coaches

– Great teammates, too. It was a blast hanging out with everyone

What didn’t work:

– Eccentrics, or specifically, lack of them. I felt downhill was a real strength of mine, and not wanting to risk injury, blew off most of the eccentrics. BIG mistake. I probably lost 10+ minutes on descents in the second half of the race. Normally I can just bomb anything downhill, at the end of the race I was literally walking downhill.

Thanks again to everyone!


By F4 Athlete Dave Harrison

I just wonder what the protein content and electrolyte content of the pies are – might be worth considering.

I too found the course ‘cow hoof divoted’ in lots of places and also in several places the bikes had worn the trail into a half pipe. And how about the hill at mile 19 with the fresh bulldozer tracks – made the footing a little more difficult. I am sure it was those things (and not the fact I didn’t do the eccentrics as often as I should have) that made it about a 10 minute longer run than last year (and has my quads screaming at me today). But the beer was just as cold at the end of the run!

Dave Harrison

By F4 Athlete Wendy Drake

Trip Report…
It was hot? I honestly did not notice. Maybe the hot and humid run in Singapore helped but
I think it’s because I was really having too much fun and starting at M22 at the top of that “hill” my IT band lost it. I was in so much freaking pain hobbling down the last three miles that breathing through the pain and cold beer at the end were my mantras.I’d been having trouble and there was honestly no way to know whether to run or not. I chose to go for it and I’m glad I did even though I finished in over 6 hours. I learned a lot of little subtle things about what affects performance and yes Torin…eccentrics are in my future. Top it off… had a great time. I had a fabulous first 20 miles; felt strong, recovered easily at the tops of “bumps”, laughed often with took pics and participated in cow pie maneuvers. Lea, Cindy, Regina and I have a fantastic improv explanation for Jorge showing up without his yellow car. We kept trading off the lead checking in on each other all of us battling physical issues. You know, I’ve lived in Colorado for almost six years now and I’m still ga-ga over the natural features among which we live. Can’t wait to see the pics.

But the Mile 19-22 climb did me in. By the top, the part of the muscle just to the left of the knee was thoroughly inflamed and decided to inflict excruciating pain if I tried to bend it. One of the experienced ultra runners stopped and gave me some duct tape as I doubled over trying to will my knee to bend hearing my PA tell me it’s ok to keep running if I can stand the pain. I wrapped the tape around my knee as she advised and it stabilized it enough so that I could hobble down the last 3 miles watching the 50 miler runners come past me as they did their second loop in the opposite direction. What a great sport…just about everyone I passed stopped to check if I was ok.

At the finish I sucked it up and kind of ran in. I’m in the pool and yoga and RICE-ing for a couple of weeks but plan to be there and ready for summer training.

Thanks for a great winter program and the over the top coaching! Lea, Torin and Seth…you guys are the best!

Best all,

By F4 Athlete Marianne Martin

The drinking encouragement was definitely helpful. (Although I don’t normally don’t need any encouragement to drink….hmm) and the insistence to start off slow…..I had to force myself to stay at the low end of my normal pace. Thank you Seth and Torin!

I forced myself to stop at every aid station (Noticed that Dave didn’t as he blew by me without stopping at Mile 12! Good race Dave!!!) The aspirin and caffeine at mile 19 were very helpful.

My hamstrings hurt the WHOLE way…there will definitely be a LOT more stretching next year. (Thank you Lea!)

I didn’t do eccentrics…..but I’m sure they would have helped. At the time I have to say I was just so happy to have run through the winter. One step at a time.

I LOVED having tunes. I didn’t turn them on till mile 12 but it perked up the whole second half. Dancing down the rocks the last few miles to great tunes was heaven…my favorite part of the race.

And the really great thing was that it was such a great group!!! I loved getting to know all of you and it was such a great weekend to all hang out together. I missed having Miki, Pete, Amanda and Eva there….was glad Michelle finally realized she’ should not miss the race…and more importantly …miss hanging out with us.

Now that the race is over I’m sure the most important thing on your mind is the after-party. Mine too. Stay posted.

Thanks everyone for being such great teammates!!! And Seth, Torin and Lea…you ROCK!!! Thank you for giving so much!


By F4 Athlete Amy Allison

You’re not going to get me to admit to doing eccentrics!! that’s that.

And, Seth, I apologize if I sounded negative at the finish line. The race didn’t really suck–I was just a bit disappointed to not get my personal best.

Every time you participate in these types of events, you learn new things. About yourself, your mental fortitude, and all the good support out there from the crazy trail runners.

That’s the beauty of it.

The course felt more challenging this year to me because of:

· the hot weather. The sun took it’s toll during the latter hours. (Next year bring lip sunscreen)

· the terrain had some ankle twisting potential out there that I hadn’t remembered from last year. Took me a while to figure out it was cow hoofs.

· the bulldozer tracks were hard to maneuver uphill at mile 19 with a cheerful attitude.

· the wrong turn i took about 90 minutes into the course. (was just trying to find my rhythm when me and two other runners had to navigate back about half-mile.)

· in retrospect i could’ve done more mid-week training throughout the earlier weeks of the season, slow to start…

I was glad to have carried much of my own food and drink. Maybe I hauled around too much water in the beginning? I did partake in orange slices at aid stations and as much Heed as I could muster. Easter eggs were no good.

I had never used Ibuprofen before on a run, and I now think that would’ve been a good thing to help my knees that were feeling pounded on during the last few miles.

Salt tabs–never have used them, but if they work as good as people say, I’ll try those in the future as well.

Great hanging out with everybody this week-end. Looking forward to future fun.

Happy Patriots Day!


By F4 Coach Torin Dewey

OK – I’ll start it out (well, except for those who beat me to hitting send… and who typed more reasonable length emails… and… you get the picture)

But first, thank you to everyone who tolerated my DRATS training plan. As I hope you know, putting together a training program to span a wide variety of abilities – but especially a wide variety of levels of preparation for a program – is difficult for any race; but especially so for a race that could might span 4-7 hours. I was immensely impressed and pleased from the beginning with: 1) how well prepared people were who came to this program; 2) the attitude of everyone to tackle this TOUGH trail race. So, thank you very much for letting me learn from all of you, and thank you for being my guinea p…, errr, my partners in exploring this training plan. And I guess one more aspect to think about for next year if we do this or a similar program is to add heat-acclimatization!

This being the 6th year in a row (4th in a row on the exact same course; the first two years being on quite different courses) I’ve done the SDU/DRATS 25M race, and the least prepared/fit for race day I’ve started this trail race, I approached this race with a couple of basic goals that were not centered on absolute time: 1) run “to my level of fitness”; 2) eliminate (or at least minimize) my recurrent leg cramping problems; 3) better hydrate (corollary to #2); and 4) not get beaten too badly by Seth. 🙂

I decided to try to start out conservatively, drink all of my bottle between aids, consume 1 electrolyte tab per 30′, and consume 1 gel per 30′ minimum (plus some food at aid stations). Nevertheless, predictably, I found myself working too hard even on the 1st climb. I dialed it back, and tried to cruise downhill efficiently to aid station #1, getting there ~same time as last year. Downhills were definitely not as fast for me this year, though, and this first section FELT much harder than last year. I was drinking fluids well – 20oz bottle gone before aid #1, and then consumed additional fluids at the aid station. Eating/drinking/electrolye tabs continued to go well on way to 2nd aid station, but I found that like early in the race I didn’t have good speed or strength on the downhills – an area that is typically my forte. So, I decided my goal had to be efficiency, efficiency, efficiency – conserve a little strength needed for the last couple hills and maintain a very even effort. This contrasted with last year, where I simply hung on during the uphills but gassed it every time it was flat or downhill.

Some good news was that my blisters of last year (which started – I’m not kidding – in the first 2M; and got to be silver-dollar-sized and burst open within the first 5M) were not seeming to be a problem. I felt them coming later in the race, but knew that today these wouldn’t be much of an issue. The bad news was that my hamstrings and right quad were starting to show signs that they wanted to cramp within the first 5-10M of the race. Not good, but it served to remind me to be efficient, no wasted energy, and keep drinking and eating whatever I could to stave off worse.

I found some rhythm between aid #1 and aid #2, avoiding over-exertion but capitalizing on my ability to go on the flats efficiently. It was semi-comical that I would get passed on virtually every uphill and then pass the same people on the flats or downhills. I laughed about it with those near me in the race, “see you on the next uphill” as I passed them.

By the time I got to aid #3 at ~12M, I was still eating/drinking/e-tabbing but wasn’t, um, passing fluids. This wasn’t a good sign, but I was drinking everything I had with me. I was starting to realize I needed another bottle. Too late for that plan, but hopefully the next section would pass quickly (going against any experiences I’d had on this course… the distance between aid #3 and #4 is ~7M and takes a long time, with plenty of climbing and descending mixed in… oh, and the day continuing to get warmer). This section is a long way for no aid stations, being remote and quite inaccessible to support; so I was not surprised when I realized that I was going to run out of fluids (and thereby the means to consume gels, which I find do not work well without liquid to go down with them). about 2:30-2:40 into the race I was carrying one empty water bottle with me. Although I love this Troy Built section I knew this was going to be an issue. I was hungry and thirsty and a long way to go until 19M aid #4. Oh well, at this point I knew survival and (maybe, if I’m lucky) some recovery for the last section of the race was the best I could hope for.

Meanwhile, I had been noticing that Seth and Jorge were just a couple of minutes back and closing during the last several miles. I knew I’d see them before the end of the race. But even as I slowed down, it didn’t seem like I was getting passed except for one exceptionally fresh-looking youngster that I gave some course tips to (he could easily have put 20′ on me by the end, he looked ready to rock) since it was his first DRATS race. I continued to run near the #1 woman 50M racer and a guy who was running near her (a chatty 50M racer running very well) – in fact, I probably spent 75-80% of the race within a couple minutes of these two runners. By the time I got to 19M aid #4, I was definitely in survival mode. I stopped and ate as much as I thought prudent given my empty stomach and water bottle, filled up the bottle for the last 6M push, and looked at my watch for the first time in almost 2 hours. 3:10. I know from previous experience now that the last 6M takes me ~1:05-1:10, so I knew if I could hold on I’d be on track for what I predicted a few weeks earlier when discussing the race with Jorge – about 3:20 +/- 2 minutes.

The uphill you all know and love from 19M is no fun. This year was going to be really no fun, because I had no gas in the tank. Last year I had actually felt good for this uphill for the first time. I even “ran” most of it last year, and essentially caught Seth on the uphill. This year, no dice. However, I plodded forward trying to think about getting to the finishing line with minimal damage and with the faint hope that I might get some fluids and food into my system in time to run again and feel human. Slowly, surprisingly, and thankfully, within about 10′ of almost completely slow

hiking uphill, I started to feel a little better. Although Seth had passed me (no hugs!) just after aid #4 and put approximately 2′ into my within 2′ (don’t ask how that’s physically possible… I think there’s some sort of curvature in space-time out in Fruita), before long I noticed that he was no further in front of me, in fact sometimes I’d make up some time on him, especially on the flats near the top.

Of course, in the back of my mind and the back of my legs there was a sub-plot that has been repeated every year for 6 years now. Hamstrings. I had staved them off pretty well, with just hints at times on Troy Built from the dehydration; but couldn’t hold them off much longer. Luckily they didn’t really hit until the real downhills began. So, I was careful, took my time, and tried to be efficient. No big jumps, no sudden braking, no sudden acceleration… just efficiency, thinking loose hamstring thoughts, and drinking as much as I could. I had to stop only once for a few seconds to stretch, otherwise just slowing down to fight them off a few times and hope that not too many people would chase me down as a result of this slow-down.

Ah, then the last road section of the course. It seems like it should be so short, and that little downhill at the beginning of the race has somehow transformed into a huge uphill going the opposite direction. Luckily for me, the #1 woman caught up to me as we started on the road, thanking me for (apparently) pulling her along for several miles. This was all I needed. Once I told her that the woman in front of us was the #1 woman for 50M, she wasn’t interested in chasing. So I pulled her to the finish and felt as good as can be expected (i.e., like complete crap) at the finish.

In the end, I ended up running an almost identical race to last year, except for one thing – the last 6M. Last year I ran 4′ faster on the last section – and that was WITH several minutes of barely walking with severe cramps. So this year I likely lost 6, 8, or 10′ on what I could run if i could just get enough fluids and food into me.

A review of my goals for the race:

1) run “to my level of fitness” – largely successful, other than some time lost on the last section from lack of food

2) eliminate (or at least minimize) my recurrent leg cramping problems; – almost successful, just need a little better hydration I think

3) better hydrate (corollary to #2) – half successful, will try something different next year with 2 bottles perhaps

4) not get beaten too badly by Seth – mostly successful, Seth finished 2.5′ ahead of me (but I can chalk that up to the last section again I think)

So, my lessons for next year are:

1) train more – I had a moderate year for training, didn’t have the continuity like last year

2) do the eccentrics again – these definitely helped me at the end of the training, and I can always feel the difference. In fact, I suspect this is part of the reason I didn’t cramp as much this year.

3) carry two water bottles – I can’t think of how else to have enough fluids with me for the whole race, especially for the 12M-19M section

4) e-tab success – I think one tab / 30′ routine worked very well this year

5) food success – except for 12M-19M, I did nutrition relatively right, and with more fluids could likely have nailed it better. 1 gel / 30′ plus the occasional banana / orange at the aid stations seemed to be the right amount.

6) downhills – I need to get this back because I believe I lost 5’+ this year on the downhills; will need to do more speedy downhills in preparation for the race

7) efficiency – metering my effort and being conscious of taking the shortest route, stepping lightly, and relaxing my shoulders, etc. were all useful throughout the race.

Thanks for listening, and good luck with your running,


By F4 Athlete Jorge Rufat-Latre

Good Lord, the stories!

Torin, were you carrying a black box flight recorder during the race? You have an outstanding memory of your race….

My story is less focused, probably due to a temporary stress-induced (further) loss of cognitive ability.

The first 2/3rds of the race were a dream, paradise, ecstasy, perfect. It was like dancing with the Earth. The initial running snake I was part of had a hypnotic effect. The low Sun created amazing contrasts and shadows for the first two hours. The track was constantly throwing new delight after new delight at my feet. The climbs were fun. The flats were fun. The descents were fun.

Then at mile 18.87 my calves started cramping. As soon as I arrived to the last aid station I pigged on as many bananas as I could. Was I desperate? I even drank Heed!

To no avail! From then on, any climb – and I mean the slightest positive grade – made my calves turn into solid knots. Lots of stopping. Lots of walking with my feet pointing up – as long as my calves were stretched they didn’t stop me. Minutes rushing through my watch as I watched helplessly. I really missed the long Imogene descent…

Fortunately, the few descents available after mile 19 – and the one before the last stretch in particular – were still full blast. Calves don’t seem to play a role going down.

So, net net:

Our training prepared me beautifully for this race. All systems were go except for the pesky calves. But I thought I knew how to hydrate/electrolate and learned I didn’t! So, that’s my next learning goal. Or, better yet, please let me know if you find an 18.87-mile race I can sign up for.

And I had never run this much this far this fast.

It was awesome to run in that place and see everyone else running– the effort of the ones close by, the tiny stick figures far away framed in the majestic surroundings. Wish I had been able to spend more time running with all of you during the race – had a blast running with Marianne, Steve, Jamie (somehow always at a distance – we waved at each other), and Seth. Thank you Torin for the great training schedule, and thank you and Lea and Seth for the great coaching. Every time I see the group pictures I smile very big – y’all radiate positive energy just standing there! Thank you!

— Jorge

By F4 Coach Seth Portner

I figured I would chime and and share a few thoughts about my day.

First a quick disclaimer. I have been running much less the last year and a half than I have been accostomed to running.

So I started out pretty slow- though still too fast for the first few miles. I was really good about drinking water early on, in fact getting down a full 25 ounces of water before the first aid station, and then a gel. After the first aid I felt pretty OK, and Torin and I were running together. Then Torin ran away from me and I had to make a bathroom break, so I was officially dropped.

By the second aid station I had drank another full bottle and another gel.

Steve’s loop was good but and I ran with a few people for a while.

Another full bottle and gel by the midway point- that’s 3 full bottles, but that was my plan because I knew that the long stretch to the last aid station would be long and hot. After the crossroads aid station I was passed by Jorge and a few others, and again I stopped for a bathroom break- and though I was feeling pretty OK I was being very conservative. I was eating salt tabs every hour or so.

So along that stretch I was having some pretty big leg pains, which is something I chalk up to not enough miles training, but basically IT and knee pains. Pretty bad. I could barely make it down any hills and feeling pretty frustrated because otherwise I felt great. If only my legs would cooperate. Meanwhile I could no longer see Jorge or Torin.

About that time- maybe mile 16 or so I decided it was time to pick up the pace. Though I was really uncomfortable, I pushed as much as my legs would allow. I quickly caught up with some people ahead of me and ran into Jorge around mile 17. He was dealing with leg issues. At that point my legs were cooperating and I picked of a few more runners and was good until the downhill to the final aid station. I could barely walk down that hill.

Got to the aid station- another empty bottle- that 100 ounces so far, 4 gels, 4 salt tabs, 4 advil and I stuck with my plan to “attack” mile 19 hill. If you had asked me I would have told you I tore up that hill like it was a sanitas time trial. If you had seen me you might think I was going for a leisurely jog. I did pass Torin, but only because he was walking slowly. My legs were killing me. I mean really bad. Once it flattened out on Mack Ridge I ran the best I could, which was a mix of feeling OK and really struggling with leg pain. The down hill off of Mack Ridge was excruciating. But I ran the best I could because this guy was right behind me. Finally the road back to the finish and a really uncomfortable 1 mile. I figured I was on record pace (for me) but in actuality I was 3 minutes slower than last year.

So all in all good day, making the most out of minimal training, running a smart race with food and water. Not sure what else to add. Running smart is better than running strong for me these days. But only because smart is all I have.

Basically though, for me it’s all about spending a day running in the desert with friends. What a perfect day for running and what a thrill to watch many of you finish.


By F4 Athlete Terry Brown

*ec·cen·tric */n./* * One that deviates markedly from an established norm, especially a person of odd or unconventional behavior.

*ec·cen·trics */n./* *A group of people who exhibit odd or unconventional behaviors like paying money to run in the desert for 25 miles risking life and limb for no apparent reason, like being chased by a wild boar, or mountain lion.

I don’t understand all the concern about eccentrics, all of us obviously fit the profile!

Our group is very competitive we even compete in race reports, Marianne will have to post the results at the group get together. Not to be undone, here is my best shot.

I had a great time training with everyone and thanks to the coaches! It was great to have Lea as a new addition. I learned a lot, including running slow doesn’t count as stretching :).

I had mixed feeling about this race, my training fell apart near the end of February. I was 5 pounds heavier than last year. I was worried I wouldn’t beat last year time, even with healthy ankles. I decided not to have any expectations which helped me to focus on running a smart (at least for me) race.

For nutrition I decided to trade the hydration pack I used last year (a real pain to fill up) for a two bottle waist pack. The plan was to fill up only one water bottle for the closer aid stations, and fill up both for the long section between the Crossroads and Troybuilt. I mostly carried the water bottle in my hand, but it was nice to be able to put it away on occasions. I brought two 4 oz. Gu flasks, with a holder that clipped on my waist belt. I filled both flasks with 3 Gu’s, and three broken up electrolytes tablets, filling the remaining space with water to thin them out. In my pack pocket I carried extra gels, extra electrolyte tablets, and the second Gu flask.

A few days prior to the race I was feeling a bit ill with stomach cramps. I was also experiencing some phantom pains, my hamstring was acting up a bit (very unusual for me).

I started the race out slow (possibly too slow). After the first Aid station I picked it up a bit, passing a lot of people. I could feel the extra energy it took to pass people, I was wondering how much it was costing me.

My body was a bit crampy, legs and stomach, they did remind me to drink though. Stomach cramps caused me to stop a couple of time. I reached into my pack pocket for some electrolyte tablet only to find that the gel flask bouncing up and down broke open most of the tablets. That combined with my flask leaking a bit of Gu made for quite a mess. I did manage to find a few tablets intact though, and thank God for the electrolyte tablets at the 19.2 mile aid station.

I was glad to make it passed the spot where I turned my ankle last year (just after that sharp left turn with the drop off on Steve’s loop).
Soon after I took small spill gaining a small cut on my hand, hoping that was enough to appease the trail Gods. I continued passing people all the way to the last Aid station. I made it to Troybuilt aid station a couple of minutes faster than last year. I took in food and electrolyte tablets there and filled up 1.5 water bottles. I had taken a shot from my gel flask and didn’t quite close the top all the way. I didn’t notice it leaking until it ran all the way down my shorts to my leg. Unwisely I had tried to wiped it off with my hand which made me very sticky, by the time I finished the race I was covered in Gu. I did notice the heat heading up Mack ridge, but I don’t think it bothered me too much. I got passed by a few runners heading up Mack ridge. My legs were starting to cramp up and I was having a hard time on the uphill sections. I could run on the few flat sections, catching up with the people that had passed me. Finally I got to the top of Mach ridge, and passed everyone that had passed me on the uphill side. I made it around that last left turn at the bottom of Mach ridge, and struggled on the uphill, hearing footsteps behind me motivated me to kick it up a notch; it felt good to finish strong. All in all I’m happy, I beat last year’s time by 4.5 minutes.


By F4 Athlete Della Nelson

Unfortunately I was not blessed with fast twitch muscle fibers, so I’ve never been a fast runner. But fortunately, I was born with the endurance gene. Since I started running, I’ve loved it. And the longer I ran, the bigger the runner’s high I got. So when my husband Tom forwarded me Scott’s e-mail saying that there were a few more spots available for the F4 Trail/Ultra Running Program (I found out later Tom forwarded it to me as a joke), I immediately reacted. I read about the Desert R.A.T.S. (Race Across The Sand) 25 mile goal trail race in Fruita, CO, and found out that, since there was also a 50 mile option, the cut-off time for the race was geared towards the 50 miler – 13 hrs. No question. Anyone could finish 25 miles in that time. Even me. When I started running a few years ago, I ran with a trail group from Lakeshore Athletic Club (we were all slow), and I actually missed the scenic beauty of trail running. I also hated running hills, and I thought this was the sort of “tough love training” I needed to face that fear. I e-mailed Lea, one of the coaches in the program, asking her if she thought it was something I could do. She responded, “Absolutely.” So I e-mailed Scott that the check was in the mail and that, was that.

Training for this race this season has been, at best, frustrating. The program started on January 5th, before I even ran the Goofy Challenge on January 12-13 (you know, 39.3 miles in 2 days at the Happiest Place on Earth). I went to the first training run around the Boulder Res and realized that everyone in the group was MUCH faster than me. I came home after the run telling Tom, “Big mistake. I’m in the wrong group.” I wondered if I could get my money back from Scott.

I didn’t run with the group again until 2 weeks after Goofy – on my birthday, Jan. 26. I didn’t recover as well as I thought I would after Goofy, and the 1:20 run at Teller Farms was exhausting. Not to mention that I was so far behind everyone, that I only saw them briefly at the start, and then again at the finish. I was definitely in the wrong group.

The group runs never got any better. As we hit the trails with the bigger elevations, I got more and more discouraged. Then, about February 21, I got an e-mail from Wendy Drake letting me know it had finally been 39 days since Goofy, so if you go by the recovery rate of 1 day per mile, it was only then that my body had fully recovered from the previous race. That was the spark I needed to lift my spirits. I continued my training with the group being “back-of-the-pack Della” never seeing anyone else during the runs, because I was too slow. But I at least had some glimmer of hope that I would make it through and maybe not be the last 25 miler to finish the race. I took our coach Seth’s advice and started doing my Sunday hikes on Mt. Sanitas. Each Sunday, I felt stronger and stronger on those hikes, and almost began to look forward to them. In a nutshell, on the rest of the group trail runs before the race, I got lost several times, fell a couple times, nearly slid off an icy cliff, swore like a sailor, and told my family I quit the %&# group a few times. In other words, I was ready for race day.

It wasn’t too cool before the race started at 6:30 am, and as soon as the sun came out, it got hot quickly, ending up in the low 80’s. Quite a change from all our training this season in snow and ice. The race was small. About 200 entrants combined for the 25 and 50 mile options. With 4 port-a-potties, I missed the group warm-up because I was in the long line. When they announced that the race

started, I was actually in the port-a-potty, so I started the race at the very back of the pack (where I had intended to anyway).

I quickly met the other 2 back-of-the-packers. Two sisters from Salt Lake City. I asked them what they thought their finish time would be, and they said they were hoping for 7 hrs. I told them that I could hang out with them for awhile. My only race strategy for this race was slow, steady, and sustainable. But when we finished the first mile and one of the women announced that we had done that mile in 16:50, I thought I better step it up a bit. There was quite a big climb those first few miles in the race. I passed an elderly gentleman before mile 2, and wondered whether I could pass any more along the way. My competitive urge hit, and I could hear Scott’s voice in my head talking about picking off the racers one by one. I ended up passing 8 people the first 8 miles (not counting the first two sisters), meeting and chatting with each one of them before I eventually passed them. I wondered if I could hit double digits before the race ended.

Almost the whole race was on a single track dirt, rock, and sandy trail. But I especially remember one area called Mary’s Loop, where the trail hung close to the rim of the mountain from which the views were simply incredible. It wasn’t until later in the race, along Steve’s Loop, I think, that the trail ran right along the cliff’s edge when I stopped looking up at the views. (No one warned me about the heights in this race!) At mile 10, I was greeted by the first of several little lizards who ran across my path. That was the first time I smiled during the race. The third aid station at somewhere around mile 12, I was still feeling pretty good. The volunteers quickly grabbed my 2 bottles and filled them up with water and Heed (yuck, gag) respectively. I used my usual fueling strategy of consuming 2 Clif gel bloks every ½ hr, alternating between margarita (with added salt) and black cherry (with added caffeine) flavors. However, I did take advantage of the orange slices and pretzels at the aid stations too. I added electrolyte caplets throughout the race too whenever I started feeling like I was dehydrated or overheating, and within minutes, felt better.

The stretch between the third and fourth aid stations seemed long, and I actually ran out of fluids during that time. I was able to run, as opposed to walk, quite a bit. And I kept thinking to myself, “This race isn’t so bad. This is easier than our Mesa/Dowdy Draw run. What the heck were Seth and Lea training us for?” Well, the trail gods got me for that thought, because at the fourth aid station at about mile 19, I looked up and saw it. The Hill. I knew it was coming up, and I heard even more about it from one of the runners in a yellow shirt that kept trading places with me from about mile 13 until close to the end of the race. He said he had paced a 50 miler up that hill a few years back. It was a dirt, corrugated road hill that went on for over 3 miles. Here’s the elevation chart that I downloaded from my Garmin.

I left the aid station, telling them that I believed that if I had counted right, there were 13 runners behind me. I thanked the volunteers and started my trek. With the steep incline, the best I could do was a slow steady hike, trying not to twist my ankles in the ruts throughout the road, and now starting to see the 50 milers (who turned around and ran the 2nd 25 mile loop in the opposite direction) beginning to run swiftly past me downhill. It was during this stretch that I noticed that my fingers had swollen to twice their size, and my knees were quite swollen too and difficult to bend. I was able to glom an Advil from the yellow shirt guy, and actually smiled for the second time in the race anticipating some relief.

I had heard that with “ultra” runs like this, you would feel pain, and that you needed to welcome the pain and embrace it. You know, that actually, sort of, worked. My movements almost became robotic as I just kept moving on. The eventually single track descent at about mile 22.5 didn’t seem to provide much relief. Though I really enjoy running downhill, it was difficult to keep running, and I took many walk breaks. Somewhere along the way, I saw some cows and one of them walked along side me for a couple of minutes. (Another race smile.) As last the descent ended, we ended up on the ¾ mile stretch of dirt roadway where we started the race. I could see about 2-3 runners in front of me, and soon I could see the finish area. About 200 yards or so before the finish, my daughter Liz ran up to me, which made me start crying uncontrollably, and she ran with me to the finish where my tears turned into my last, big race smile.

I was disappointed with my time of 6:47, but I heard that a few other runners from our group had also run over 6 hrs, and that several of the 50 milers came in and said that they were done after the first 25 because of the heat. I think it ended up that I had passed a total of 13 or 14 runners from my start at the back of the pack, but I lost the exact count as I played tag with a few runners in the last 5 miles or so, and I was somewhat delirious towards the finish. F4 sure had the most festive (and beer-filled) group at the finish line, as well as at the awards ceremony – way to go Marianne! – even though no one would agree to do the 5 miler with me the next day. Maybe next year. Well, I guess I may be an “ultra” runner at heart, whatever that may mean. My next goal race is the JFK 50 miler in November, which doesn’t have near the same elevation gain and is at sea level. Until training starting in June, some rest and “playing not training” runs and duathlons. Big thanks to Seth, Lea, Torin, and Scott. And to all the other DRATS runners, you are a special breed, and I was honored to be able to be part of your group.

By F4 Coach/ Athlete Scott Gurst

“Allow me to pass gently through this sacred place.”

I repeated the words to myself as I stared out the window at the rising walls of rock that form the soaring cliffs of the Colorado National Monument.

I was in the final stretch of the 4-hour drive to Fruita, on the eve of the innocently-named Desert RATS Trail Running Festival. (A festival? Sounds like fun. Will there be clowns and jugglers?)

For the previous 4 months, my fiancée Miki and I, along with about sixteen of our FastForward Training Club friends, had been training for the 25-mile trail race that comprised the bulk of the participants in the aforementioned “festival”. We had sacrificed most of what turned out to be an epic ski season in exchange for race preparation, trading powder days for long runs, and eating a lot of ski pass in the process. But the sacrifice was tempered by the enjoyment we got out of spending time on beautiful weekend runs with our group, and the knowledge that the training was critical to our success on race day. Though many might be able to rise untrained from their winter hibernation and run a 5K, few would be arrogant and foolish enough to attempt the same on a course featuring over 25 miles of jagged trail lining deep canyons carved by the Colorado River, with about 4500 feet of climbing thrown in for good measure.

Let me just say up front that it had never been part of my master life plan to attempt to run this far. If you look at my body, it doesn’t shout “runner” (more like “tree trunk”). Despite that, I had done a few half-marathons on the road, and even challenged myself with a few trips over Imogene Pass. But the most I had ever done was 17 miles, and I never imagined wanting to go any further. Something about going over 20 miles seemed incomprehensible to me.

The year before, I had traveled to this “festival” to watch Miki and my friends in the FastForward Training Club take on the challenge. And what I saw was not just a group of annoyingly sinewy uber-machines who could run for hours over rough terrain without feeling any hint of soreness or breaking a sweat (though there were a couple). What a saw was mostly a collection of regular people, of all shapes, sizes, and ages, hurting, suffering, and ultimately, finishing. Strange. They didn’t look like super-heroes to me. And so, I began to wonder. Is it possible that I could do this, too?

Of course, once that spark of wonder is lit, it’s hard to extinguish. As much as I could speculate intellectually as to whether or not I was capable, there was only one way to find out for sure.

The weeks leading up to the race were an interesting mix of excitement and fear. This would be further and longer than I had ever run, by a long way. And unlike most other races, where my concern is my finishing time, in this case, my concern was just finishing.

The 21-mile training run 3 weeks prior to the race had not done anything to allay those fears. If anything, it added to them, as ankle pain about 5 miles into the run resulted in over 5 and a half hours of suffering. I hobbled into the finish well off the back, was fairly unhappy for most of the time, and was not all that interested in repeating that experience in Fruita.

The days between that run and race day were filled with visits to Fleet Feet, Massage Specialists, Alta Physical Therapy, and Mountain Acupuncture (I have a thing about needles, but was willing to try anything) in an attempt to make the necessary corrections to my shoes, footbeds, and body. I normally don’t advocate that much change that close to a big race, but I knew that based on my practice run, I just couldn’t stay with what I had.

As race day approached, I started to feel a bit better about the prospects of running and finishing. Part of it was definitely a result of me forcing myself to focus on the positive. I had a few decent runs, and it seemed that all the things I was doing to get healthy were helping. On Wednesday night, Miki and I went to REI and picked up a headband for her to wear during the race. We talked with excitement about the weekend to come.

The next morning, Miki starting experiencing some intense abdominal pain. Not your regulation pre-race phantom injury type of pain, but your real I’m-not-kidding, doubled-over type deal. A trip to the ER revealed that she needed emergency surgery, the kind that wasn’t going to be able to wait until we finished our silly little race. The universe had once again reminded us who was really in charge, (not quite sure who, but I know it’s not us) and what the real priorities are.

After four months of training and preparation, Miki’s race was over before it began. And though it was terribly disappointing that she wouldn’t be able to complete what she had started, that fact paled in comparison to the fact that she would be OK. We were just grateful that it happened when we were at home, and not in the middle of the drive to the race, or even worse, in the middle of the race itself.

So, instead of sharing the drive, along with the excitement and energy that comes with an event like this, I found myself on the road alone, with just the humming of the wheels and some Native American music (great for visualizing running in the desert) to keep me company.

By the time I had arrived in Fruita, I had pretty much reached peace with my decision to leave for the race with Miki still recovering in the hospital. Despite the fact that it didn’t feel right to leave, there really wasn’t very much I could do for her at home, and I knew Miki well enough to know that as much as she felt bad about missing the race, she would have felt a lot worse at the thought of me missing it as well.

In fact, Miki had asked me to promise that I would go to the race no matter what. I told her that I wouldn’t leave unless she promised that someone would be with her the whole time. Pete, my brother-in-law to be, agreed to stay with her. Pete had not been able to do the training for the race, but had been looking forward to traveling to Fruita to cheer us on, and perhaps jump in on the 10-mile race on Sunday morning. He willingly made the sacrifice to stay, which enabled me to go.

I arrived in Fruita just in time to head out for our group warm-up the night before the race. As we ran back and forth on a gravel path behind the hotel, I looked up at the canyon walls again. I felt an incredible smallness and insignificance in relation to it all.

“Allow me to pass gently through this sacred place.”

The words had come to me a few days earlier, when trying to figure out how I was going to handle this challenge.

Typically, I take a more aggressive stance with my self-talk before a race. I think about attacking and conquering a course. But somehow I knew that wouldn’t be the right approach for me this time. These canyon walls had been carved over the course of thousands of years. They were there long before I arrived on this earth, and would be around long after I was gone. Who was I to think that I could somehow conquer that?

After all, the canyons really didn’t care, did they? At some level, I knew that they would impassively meet force with force, and in order for my body to be able to hold up for that long, I would need a different approach. Not fighting against the trails, but blending with them. It would be a mistake to think I could impose my will on this course. If anything, I would need to ask permission, and draw from whatever sacred energy was stored up in this ancient place to help carry me through.

Back at the hotel, preparing my gear for race day, I felt unusually calm. I guess I felt that I had prepared as best I could, and that there wasn’t anything else I could do but go out and run the best I could. Miki and Pete had given me a great gift by allowing me to press on with the race, and I figured the best way to honor that gift would be to give my best effort. I wrote Miki’s name on my bib number, to serve as a touchstone in case things got difficult.

I decided to do a little light reading before bed, and saw some words that jumped off the page. They were from “The Vision of a Champion” by Anson Dorrance, coach of the UNC Women’s Soccer team. In fact, they were so powerful and appropriate, that I wrote them down, and carried them with me during the race.

“There will be adversity. If it were easy, everyone would do it. There are going to be peaks and valleys for all of you. How are you going to respond? This process can bring out the best in all of you, and wouldn’t you rather have the best brought out of you, whether you make it or not?”

The morning of the race was clear and cool. Despite temperatures in the low 40’s, no hats, gloves, or jackets were necessary. After all, it was only going to get warmer once the sun came up, and it’s nice to not have to lug all that extra stuff around. A bit after 6:30, the gun went off, and we were on our way.

The first few miles were truly joyous. I drifted towards the back, and wound up leading a small pack of about a dozen people through the first single-track climb, chatting with Terry for a while. The sun was coming up over the course, and as we crested the ridge, the first few views of the canyons were truly spectacular. I felt fresh and alive, and excited to be on the way. Nobody in our little group really seemed to be in a huge hurry, especially since the footing was a bit tricky, and nobody seemed really interested in risking a twisted ankle or a fall this early in the race in the interest of shaving a few seconds.

I rolled into aid station 1 (mile 5.9) at 1:14 (elapsed time), feeling warm and relaxed. My first stop went exactly as planned. I had promised myself that I would take my time at each of the four aid stations, since I was less concerned with my overall time, and more concerned with getting everything right before I headed off again. I emptied one of my pre-measured bags of Carbo Pro (a powder additive that adds calories, but not flavor) into my bottle, topped it off with electrolyte drink, took one of my salt tablets, ate some potato chips, grabbed a few pretzels for the road, and headed off after about 3 minutes time, happy that the first big climb was out of the way, and that the weather was almost perfect for running.

As I departed the aid station, I was suddenly alone. My company had all disappeared, opting to not spend quite as much time at the aid station. The course now looped back to the west, and I had the first opportunity to see if anyone was behind me. I expected to see a long line of people, but instead, saw just one or two runners making their way into the aid station.

For the first time, I felt my emotions turn. Could I really be so close to being in last place?

“There will be adversity … “

Then, I caught myself. Why did it matter, really? Why do your emotions seem to hinge on how many people are behind you? Why let yourself go from feeling joyous to feeling disappointed just because of where you are in relation to others? Seems like an extremely external perspective for someone who always is lecturing to those he coaches about internal locus of control.

So, I reminded myself that those other people really didn’t matter, where I placed didn’t matter, and how much time I took didn’t matter. All that mattered was that I kept going, and continued to give my best effort. I resolved to not look behind me again for the rest of the race, and absorbed myself once again in the task of putting one foot in front of the other.

The course climbed a bit, which suits me well. My body seems to be much better suited to going uphill than going downhill. I managed to pass a few people over the next mile or so. With each person I passed, I felt a renewed sense of strength.

And then, I caught myself again. Isn’t that just the other side of the same coin, feeling better about myself just because I passed someone else? Why is it that so much of how I view myself is in relation to others?

I continued to maintain a steady pace, drink, take my electrolyte tablets, and snack at regular intervals. From a strategic standpoint, I was doing all the right things. But the course was gradually descending now, and my right ankle was starting to complain just a bit. Despite all the PT, stretching, acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and prayers over the weeks leading up to the race, the distance was starting to take its toll, and sooner than I had hoped for. I slightly adjusted my running to compensate, touched Miki’s name for strength, and pressed onward.

I descended into aid station 2 (mile 9.2) at 2:03, reloaded for the next leg, and headed out again. Immediately out of the aid station, there is a bit of a steep and technical descent. Throughout the training, it was consistently the steep downhills that caused problems. For biomechanical reason I have yet to figure out, going downhill just hurts, and takes a huge toll on my ankles, knees, hips, quads, etc.

“If it were easy, everyone would do it …”

The section of trail between aid station 2 and aid station 3 is incredibly stunning. I have biked these trails before, and they are some of my favorites. The trails that make up Steve’s Loop and Handcuffs run the very edge of narrow, deep slot canyons overlooking the Colorado River.

But by the time I got there, I was having problems. Because I had altered my running to take pressure off my ankle, my calf was starting to tighten up. Every ten minutes or so, I would find a big boulder, and lean against it to stretch my calves for a few seconds. It would work for a little while, but I was definitely starting to struggle, and not even at the halfway point yet.

There are a few places in the race where you can bail out if you want to. Aid station 3 (mile 12.5) is one of them. From there, it’s a short 2 mile walk out to the start/finish area. As I pulled into aid station 3 at 2:48, I didn’t allow myself to think about the possibility. I ate some food, took a few minutes to top off fluids and snacks, and took another salt tablet. I knew this next section of was going to be a lot harder, but I felt good that I had made it this far. I took a few deep breaths, a headed off.

Whereas the first few aid stations are placed at reasonable intervals, the section from aid station 3 to aid station 4 is much longer, and technically challenging. It has a lot of short, steep ups and downs, and lots of rocky terrain. I had been trading places with two women back and forth for the first part of the race, and found myself with them as we left the aid station. For the next few miles, I would pull slightly ahead on the uphill sections, only to lose large chunks of time on the downhills. My left knee and quad were starting to hurt now, as I was putting more pressure on them to keep pressure off my right ankle and calf.

“There will be peaks and valleys for all of you …”

At the 15.4 mile mark, the course turns left to drop down to the Troy Built Loop, a lonely stretch of technical terrain on the far west end of the network of trails. After the left turn, I knew there was a steep descent onto a small plateau before the trail started to climb again. As I started down the trail, I knew I was in trouble. The discomfort in my ankle prevented me from running this section (which made it last a lot longer), and every step was difficult. I had put about ¼ mile into the two women on the previous climb, but within 2 minutes of the trail turning downhill, they had caught me, and were soon out of sight. In a short period of time, I had been caught by a few others who had been way behind me.

And for each person that passed, I got more and more frustrated. My ego felt as bruised as my ankle. It wasn’t fair! I was fit. I had trained hard. Why was my body giving out on me? I had a shirt that had the word “Coach” on it. Surely I was supposed to be faster than these people!

When I finally had descended to the plateau below, and lost sight of all those in front of me, I pulled out the paper again.

“How are you going to respond?”

How am I going to respond? It was a great question. Did I want to continue to be frustrated and petty (no), or did I want to be diligent, courageous, resilient, and proud (yes)? Did I want to drown myself in self-pity (no), or honor myself by giving the best effort I could, regardless of the situation (yes)? This was no longer about how fast or how fit I was. It was about being the kind of person that I wanted to be in that moment. Once again, I started to run.

For the next few miles, I ran the best I could wherever I could, whenever the terrain was flat, or uphill. Surprisingly, the climbs felt good, and there were a lot on this part of the course. It gave me a chance to stretch my calves, ankles, and feet with minimal impact. Despite the fact that my drink was starting to taste yucky, I kept drinking, as it was getting a bit warm (with temperatures beginning to climb into the 70’s).

But anywhere the course turned downhill, even for just a few yards, I had to slow to a crawl to get down. Despite my best efforts, I was getting passed now by people I had never seen before, people who had probably been miles behind me just a few hours before. I felt helpless as I watched them disappear ahead of me. I kept telling myself that it didn’t matter. All that mattered was to keep going.

“This process can bring out the best in all of you …”

I read the words again. Is this really bringing out the best in me? And what is the best in me anyway?

Initially, I had thought that toughing it out, and finishing the race would be it. I thought that my toughness would be “the best in me”. But at that point in time, it all seemed really trivial. After all, what would it prove, if I managed to struggle to the finish? Why bother? All that it would prove is that I was stupid and stubborn. There are a good number of people who run these distances, but it doesn’t necessarily make them great people.

I mean, there had to be more than that, right?

After all, what was it that I was trying to accomplish? It seemed that throughout my life, I had struggled to feel OK about myself. For a long time, most of my good feelings about myself had come from external sources, praise that I got from others for some impressive accomplishment or another. I felt that I constantly needed that approval to affirm that I was indeed a good person. As much as it is easy for me to preach the gospel of being internally motivated, I had trouble living it for myself.

As a kid in school, it was academic accomplishment that fed my self-worth. When I moved to Boulder as an adult, it seemed that athletic accomplishment was the fast track to being loved and respected. I started participating in all sorts of athletic challenges, as if my worth as a person would somehow be determined by my athletic resume.

But the upside of living in a place like Boulder is that it does certainly help to keep your ego in check. Whatever impressive thing you’ve done, there’s somebody who knows somebody who has done it better, further, and faster, in the dead of winter, with bare feet, no oxygen bottles, on a single speed with a backpack full of rocks.

Trying to convince yourself that you are a good person just because you’ve run 25 miles is like trying to resolve a deep hunger by eating cotton candy. Sure, it looks pretty, and tastes good for a little while. But there’s no substance, and it can’t possibly deliver. A few days after the event, when the thrill has faded, and you’re done trying to impress as many people as possible with your lofty accomplishment, you’re still left with the same hunger. So you sign up for more races, bigger challenges, longer distances, thinking that the answer will be in adding more to your resume, hoping to get “there”, until you become aware that there’s no “there” there.

So if that’s the cotton candy, then where’s the steak dinner? (With apologies to our vegetarian friends.) What it is that will provide true lasting satisfaction if it’s not simply an ever-expanding resume of athletic accomplishment?

There, in the middle of the desert, was the answer. It had been with me throughout the race. In fact, it had been with me in many other races, too, but I had been too focused on my time and place to figure it out. Why did my emotions rise and fall every time I passed someone, or was passed by someone?

As it turns out, the best in me really had nothing to do with finishing, and everything to do with character. It had to do with how I would run the race. In those difficult, lonely hours on the back end of the course, I certainly could have quit. Not in the true sense, mind you, because there was no shuttle bus coming to pick me up. But I could have just started walking, frustrated, and spent the last few hours busying myself by concocting excuses for my friends to explain away my “poor” finish time. I could have toted that negative energy all the way to the finish (as I did during the 21-mile training run), and crossed the finish line frowning (as I did at Imogene Pass) and shaking my head as if to say, “This wasn’t the real me. I could have done better, if not for blah, blah, blah …” (as I did in numerous other races).

No … the best in me was not that. Who wants to be around people like that, anyway? The best in me was to do exactly what I have preached to all those courageous folks I have had the honor of coaching in my running group, and coaching on my Ultimate team. It doesn’t matter if you’re first or last. It doesn’t matter if you’re the best player on the roster, or the last one to make them team. It doesn’t matter if you’ve had a difficult race, or a bad game. All that matters is that at any given point in time, you give your absolute best right then, with all of the heart and positive attitude you can muster, with no promises or guarantees for success, and no strings attached.

Are you allowed to be disappointed in your performance at times? Of course. In fact, it’s a necessary part of the process. Failures build resilience, and to ignore them, or put on a happy face and pretend they didn’t happen is missing an opportunity for growth. I think it’s a mistake to try to cheer people up after a race if they aren’t happy with their performance. I just ask them to focus on the big picture, and hope they can find their way to acceptance of both the positive and the negative.

Yes, you can have your disappointment, so long as that disappointment does not cause you to quit, or worse, look for places to lay blame in an effort to abdicate personal responsibility for your performance. The fact is that most things we do are not total failures, or total successes. They are a blend of things we did well, and things we wish we could have done better. If you dismiss your effort as a total failure when a few things don’t go your way, then you really have lost, even if you managed to finish.

Almost two hours after departing from the previous aid station, I was reawakened from my deep philosophical trance when I rounded a turn and finally spotted aid station 4 (mile 19.2). After the short descent into the aid station, I was really hurting. I limped in at 4:45, and spent a few extra minutes at the aid station preparing for the final push. I emptied the rocks from my shoes, had some water and some cola, took my last electrolyte pill, and had a few banana slices. As I poured the last of my Carbo Pro into my bottle and filled it with electrolyte drink, I joked with Glen Delman, one of the race organizers.

“You know, at aid station 2, they actually peel the bananas for you.”

Glen smiled and said, “You should go back there then.” I laughed, and got on my way.

The funny thing about this section of the course is that it’s the part that everyone seems to talk about, and fear the most. It’s the steepest, longest climb on the course, and it shows up after you’ve already been beaten up for a while. Ironically, I was looking forward to it, because I knew my strength was in the climbs. Within a few minutes of departing the aid station, I had caught the two women from before. But this time, instead of just going by, I slowed to introduce myself. We chatted a bit before I pulled ahead, knowing that I would see them again when the course turned down for home.

The last few miles were beautiful, and painful. I would run for a few minutes, and then walk for a bit to prevent my hamstrings from completely cramping, and to allow those doing the 50-mile race to pass going back in the opposite direction. The course crested Mack Ridge, and from the high point, you could see almost the entire course from where we had come hours before. It was quite inspiring, looking back on it all. By this point, over 5 and a half hours in, my body was broken, but not my spirit. I felt that I had turned a corner of sorts.

I had managed to find peace with my place in this event on this day. I was proud of the fact that I was doing exactly what I needed to do, which was continue to give my best, and continue to try to run, wherever and whenever I could. As the runners doing the 50-mile race passed me going the opposite direction, we shared encouraging words. I must have looked like hell, because they kept asking me if I was OK. I thought it was kind of funny that they were checking up on me. After all, they still had over 20 miles to go! My two friends went by for the last time, on their way to finishing several minutes ahead of me.

After a difficult descent, during which I was passed by a few more runners, I finally emerged onto the road, with about a mile to go. Here I was, physically in the same place I had been just six hours before. But emotionally, I felt like something had shifted. Though running those 25 grueling trail miles in itself might have been pointless and stupid, it had given me the opportunity to reach a little deeper and discover a little more about myself.

“ … and wouldn’t you want the best brought out of you, regardless of whether you make it or not?”

I decided that once I crested the last hill on the jeep road, and was in sight of the finish, that I would run as if I weren’t hurting at all, and that my finish would be a celebration, not just of the fact that I ran longer and further than ever, but of how I responded to the adversity. As I ran that last stretch of dirt road, despite feeling worse than I’ve felt in a long time, I was on an emotional high. I looked out to the highway, and knew that even though there was a good possibility that I might never do this kind of thing again, that every time I drove by this spot, that I would look over and remember this feeling, and consider this one of my finest hours.

At about 100 yards from the finish, and about 6 hours and 42 minutes after the adventure had begun, I heard the my friends cheering for me, and I thought of Miki, and how proud she would be. I imagined her standing at the finish and it made me smile. I looked over and said a quiet thank you to the canyons for allowing me to pass, raised my arms, and crossed the finish.

A few days later, I still haven’t completely sorted out the whole experience. I still go back and forth between thinking it was a mostly meaningless exercise in stubbornness, and thinking it was a life-changing event. The truth probably lies somewhere in between. I don’t think I learned anything I didn’t already know at some level, but it did bring into clearer focus the things I need to remember to continue be the kind of person I want to be.

And, it provided an opportunity for me to demonstrate nobility and character under difficult circumstances. I guess that’s the real motivation behind immersing ourselves in challenges of this nature. Not for the sake of accumulating results, medals and the admiration of our peers, but for the chance to practice being the kind of people we want to be, even under adverse conditions.

The fact that it still bothers me to think about being so close to last place, being so far behind so many others, and a few too many sigmas out on the bell curve, probably means that I still have some work to do. I’m not saying that I want to learn to be complacent with where I am, because that would mean that I had stopped trying. It seems to be more about accepting where I am for now, but not being satisfied with staying there, continuing to give my best effort, and always reaching for more.

Many thanks to my coaches, Seth, Torin, and Lea, to my fellow F4 runners for the company and the inspiration to see this through. Special thanks to Pete for sacrificing your trip to make mine possible. And of course, to my dear Miki, for your courage through your own personal battle. You continue to be an inspiration to me, always challenging the challenger to practice what he preaches, and step out of his own comfort zone every once in a while. You may not have been in Fruita, but you were certainly with me on this journey, every step of the way.

“There is no reason to attempt such a feat of idiocy other than the fact that some people, which is to say people like me, have a need to search the depths of their stamina for self-definition. It’s a contest in purposeless suffering.” – Lance Armstrong


3 responses

24 04 2008
24 04 2008

Ya’ll are crazy!…but i admit I’m liken’ your brand of fun!

15 11 2008
Vince Kiel

When your body is too old to race, and your mind is too old to engineer, you can smoothly transition to the next phase of your life – world class inspirational coach and author !
Vince Lombardi….Dr Phil…..Lance Armstrong…..Scott Gurst!

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