Monday, August 25, 2014

Run at Redemption - Lean Horse 100 2014


Lean Horse 100 Ultra

The woods stay the same, but what you see is a reflection of your mind.

South Dakota marks my 36th State of this journey of marathons (or greater) across the 50 states.  There were a few reasons I chose this race and distance besides what my wife believe is my proclivity for punishment.  Besides well timing and my fair physical conditioning, I had some unfinished business with the 100 mile distance.  After being literally destroyed at the 2013 Nanny Goat 100, then dropping down to the 50 miler at the Nanny 2014, I had something to prove to myself.  Did I get lucky in 2013?  Was it a fluke?  My confidence was a bit shaken and I needed to prove to myself that I can.

My friend, Joshua Holmes, told me about Lean Horse 100 sometime earlier this year.  "LH is a fast trail, I call it a most favorite surface ever to run on."  Joshua is a super strong and experienced ultra runner who I bother often and trust for advice.  I also see him as sort of a drug dealer of ultra running...instead of slinging crack, he dishes out bigger and badder ultra races for the running addicts.

I was convinced this would be my 36th State after some further research.  99% of the race course is run on the Mickelson Trail on crushed limestone and gravel.  The course is an out-and-back on the trail built on what would have been rail from the gold rush era.  It includes breathtaking rail bridges and tunnels and is surrounded by mountains, rivers, and wildlife of all kinds.  On my run, I would experience the beauty that is South Dakota as well as traveled a bit back in time in history.

I faced one problem before I would commit to this adventure.  I was badly injured after early June when I ran five marathons in five days in the Heartland Series.  For the first time in years I was forced to rest for a few weeks.  Those tough few weeks in June may have been a blessing as my legs finally had a chance to really rest.  By July I was finally cleared by my doctor and what do you know, I went out and signed up for the 100 miler the same day.

Typically I try to minimize the amount of days away from the family when I travel for running.  Typically for a Sunday marathon, I would travel out Sat, run Sun morning, then return immediately after the run on Sun afternoon.  Well, running an ultra gets a little challenging.  I had to ask my wonderful wife for a special hall pass for Lean Horse.  In theory, I could have traveled out Friday, ran the race Sat-Sun, then flew home Sun afternoon.  The issue is that plan would put a lot of pressure on me to finish the race well so not to miss a Sun flight.  Also, I had concerns about my ability to drive (or function for that mater) immediately following a sleepless 24-30 hour 100 mile race.  A special hall pass was granted for a Monday return.  Did I mention my wife is wonderful?

"Eat a sandwich, love, your marathon widow" A nice find in my bag when I left for LH100

Custer is a small town about 30 minutes south of Mount Rushmore and is the start and end of the Lean Horse 100.  The logistics consists of a short 1.25 hour drive from Rapid City to Custer on the open highways surrounded by the smell of pine and rolling hills.  I don't know why the sky always seems more blue and vivid when I am in a new experience.  A side tour on Friday to Rushmore was worth the $11 parking fee at the monument.  In the town of Custer, the hotels, restaurants are literally 5 minutes from race packet pickup and the race start.  Its a neat, friendly, self-containing little town with a lot of charm.  It would be a great place for the outdoors loving family and history buffs.

I arrived in Custer on Friday afternoon as planned and met the race director, Royce Wuertzer, who I've been in communications with since July at the packet pick-up at the Custer YMCA.  Shook my hand and when I said my name he immediately recalled we had exchanged emails.  There is something very special about smaller marathons and ultra races.  The community that they built is vastly different from those of big city marathons.  At small marathons and ultras, I meet exceedingly interesting people, amazing athletes, and sometime make new lifelong friends.  I need to praise Royce, the LH team, and volunteers for a top notch job organizing and supporting the runners.  The personal attention from pre-race, at every aid station, and post race was AMAZING.  I hope I don't wear that word out before the end of this blog post.

Receiving my buckle and AG award post race with LH100 RD Royce Wuertzer 

An early dinner at a surprisingly fantastic brewery (without beer) called "Bitter Elma's" included an outstanding pasta and ginger ale.  I vowed to return on Sunday for a pint of some amazing on-location brewed IPA.  Oh yeah, it would come true.  Then off to bed at about 7:00PM before a 4:00AM wake-up call.

5:30AM, most runners had gathered at the start and I met a few runners who Joshua had introduced to me on-line prior to the race.  We exchanged pleasantries and encouragement but the tension was as noticeable as the slight chill in the air in the Custer High School football stadium where we awaited our start.  59 were about to embark on the 100 mile journey with a 30 hour limit.  Together with the 50 mile and 50K runners we were off at 6:00 dusk prompt into the smoky hills of Mickelson trail.

Pre-Race LH100 2014

As the race started I reminded myself why I was there, how I am going to do it, and most importantly to enjoy the journey.  I've learned something at every race I've run regardless of the distance and I would apply what I knew at each mile, each section, and each obstacle during the race.  I ran the first quarter of the race at an easy and controlled pace of about 12:00/mile.  I met Mike the school teach and cross-country coach, "red/white/blue" Ann (who I later watched finish an emotional 100 in the final hour of cut-off), and "marathon maniac" Jill in these early morning miles while exchanging stories about running.  The heavy over-cast was more than I could have asked for.  Looked like we missed the predicted storm.

early morning miles
Crazy Horse Monument in distance

I've never been exceptionally good at fueling at ultras.  Gels and sports drink work for my muscles but not my stomach.  In the first half of this race I alternated between gels and solid food provided at the aid stations, each roughly 5 miles apart.  As predicted, my stomach started cramping after the 25 mile mark.  I can think of nothing worse than running with the worry that I may poop my pants.  The positive was that after the 25 mile marker, the field thinned significantly.  While I ran mostly alone from miles 25 forward I felt VERY uncomfortable in 4 attempts at doing my business (slightly) off the trail.  For one, sometimes there were just no space to pull off and I was never good at identifying poisonous plants.  Also, periodically a mountain biker would show up unexpectedly and quickly.  At last the stomach settled down after about mile 35.

The climb from about 5,200 to 6,200 feet from miles 45-50 was mentally draining as the sky cleared and sun beamed harshly after mile 40.  "Just keep moving" was the voice in my head as my running mentor Richard "Shifu" Yiap had repeated to me many times.  So I ran where I could and walked (fast) when I needed.  Even during the tough stretches, I was able to manage some 15-16 min miles.  The game plan was to take no significant breaks before mile 50 and I mostly stuck to it.  Some things I'd have to "earn" by getting to the half way point.  A 15-20 minute break at mile 50 along with fresh clothing, shoes was rejuvenating.  Really enjoyed my first larger meal of instant ramen, a cup of coffee, and also earned the right to music at 50.  Time out of turnaround station, roughly 11 hours, 40 minutes.

With some hip-hop in my ear, new cloths, and a meal in my belly, I felt great... and moved faster...  for a short lived 4-5 miles.  For me, feeling good is a bigger problem than feeling bad.  When I feel good, stupid ideas of unrealistic and unnecessary goals begins to creep in.  "what if I ran sub 24?" "what if I can pass that runner in front?" "how do I keep that runner behind?"  These are the trappings that puts unnecessary pressure on me mentally and destroys me physically.

By the time I reached the next station, I was drained.  For a brief moment, and the only time during this race, I thought "I can't do this."  When that thought appears in the mind of (this) a runner, it is like chink in the armor that leads to a floodgate of negative thoughts. "you are not made for this" "see how stupid you look now" "you still have 45 miles to go!"...  I sat and stewed at the aid station of mile 55.

"stick to the plan," "there is no hurry" said ShiFu's voice.  I swear! like a montage from the movie Kung Fu Panda.  We had run countless times at lunch prior to the race and those were the words he said over and over.  So I ate, filled my water bottles, and hit the trail again "not in a hurry" and just focused on keeping on moving.  Whenever the idea going faster would creep in, I would say out loud to myself "there is no hurry, just keep moving."  Thank goodness there were nobody around to see this maniac talking to himself.

Mickelson Trail SD 30 minutes before night fall

Soon the night fell.  The majestic mountains changed hues from green to sage and sky from blue to red then deep purple.  By 8PM Sat night, 14 hours of running, there was just a twilight in the sky to the west.  Then complete darkness.  With a crescent moon, there was not a light besides the millions of stars in the sky.  I wish I had the time or frame of mind to stop and enjoy the stars.  I felt incredibly small...smaller than a dust moving under the star studded sky.  But while small, I was not drifting...I was moving with a purpose.

Running through the night in these woods was an incredible, soul changing first-time experience for me.  The woods stay the same, but what you see is a reflection of your mind.  From station to station I ran, no crew, no pacers, just me, the Mickelson Trail, the darkness, the stars, and too much time inside my head.  I saw eyes staring back from the darkness and heard large animals imaginary and real.  I heard wind that sounded like cries and shadows that looked like hands reaching onto the trail.  I ran scared, pridefully, lonely, angry, sad, and finally peacefully.  I just focused on one thing.  Keep moving. (I saw and heard a lot of imaginary things that night.  funniest had to be smelling BBQ pork sausages before mile 80 but NOWHERE near an aid station or signs of human life.  Its funny b/c I said out loud "its not real")

From 70 and beyond I ran sufficiently and felt stronger as I went.  I walked when needed and ate when hungry at every station.  The cheese quesadilla at the Mystic station was so good it made me want to cry.  After Mystic I passed my first runner in the night fall.  It scared the shit out of me.  In the distance I saw a floating light but moving from side to side.  I am not sure why this guy decided that waving his hand held flashlight was the best way to survey the trail but I thought I was going to be abducted by aliens.  As I got closer and closer I finally realized that it was a fellow runner.  I gave some words of encouragement and made sure he was okay. "my strategy is to alternate between walking and walking" he said.  Made me chuckle.

@ mile 85 aid station.  amazing tomato soup, Campbell style

As I forged forward, those gentle downhills on the way out seem to have turned into aggressive climbs on the way back.  "just keep moving" I said.  I hope the wild animals enjoyed my rendition of some New Edition and even some Eminem because I know most humans would not.  But it kept me moving.  As I moved, I came across more moving lights ahead as I passed more than a dozen runners after mile 80.   I was surprised at how many runners were struggling in these final miles.  I was more surprised at how good I felt.  I felt so good that I began running more and more.  With the end in sight I let go of fear of breaking down and ran it fast.

In the last ten miles I ran down more and more of those glowing lights ahead.  Some were unrelenting as they realized my approach.  It became a game of chase in the darkness.  I'd see a light ahead surge away then get closer as I pushed.  As I passed I'd aways encourage with "way to grind it out" or "great work, you are doing great."

Miles 90 to 96 was the final climb before 4.4 mile descend back to the finish line.  I worked hard up these hills and awaited for the second sunrise.  It was beautiful.  I felt a rush of emotions as I got to the top of mile 96.  The station at 96 was the only one I passed altogether without stopping.  I just wanted to finish.  On my way down from Crazy Horse to Custer I saw deers roaming the fields, birds in the ponds, and the fields coming back to life.  I should be dead tired but I never felt so alive.  I ran down those last few miles at 12 min/mile splits and kept moving.  Looking at my watch I saw that I would finish under 25 hours.  Nearly 3 hours under my previous 100 mile finish.

second sunrise
Was this really happening?  Maybe I'd wake up and have to run Lean Horse for real now.  I pushed and kept looking for the final turn off the trail as my watch showed that 25th hour expiring.  Finally it appeared in the near distance.  If not for a well placed sign, I wouldn't recognize the turn out that I had crossed more than a day prior.  With a left turn I had returned to Custer High's stadium.  With one very long final lap around the field I crossed the finish at 24:55.  There was Royce and two time keepers who gave the best fanfare three people can give.  This time around there were no cowbells, no family and friends, and no tears.  There was just me and a finish I can be proud of.

The first buckle was no fluke.  I am an (pedestrian but) ultra runner.

Buckle, AG Award, and "bitter elm's" IPA

Four hours later after a shower, meal and quick nap, I returned to a packed Custer High Stadium to watch and cheer for the final hour 100 mile finishes (an incredible 50/59 would finish).  For my friends who have never witnessed an ultra marathon, I encourage you do the same one day in the future.  Because if you want to witness the spirit of the human will, thats where you'll find it.  As the last runner crossed the finish just under 30 hours and nearly collapsing after (but not before stopping his garmin!), I couldn't help to feel the deep happiness for them and within myself.

one step, one mile, and one race at a time,


special thanks to Joshua Holmes, Ethan Matyas, ShiFu Richard Yiap (not on social media) and of course Aud Liu for your support for making LH100 a reality

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Nanny Goat 2014 - Finding Peace and Reward in Failure


"Im done" I said as I crossed the threshold at the barn for the 50th time.
Those were not the words I expected to utter and this isn't the blog entry I expected to write today. 

The 2014 Nanny Goat 12/24/100 ultra two days ago was my 40th lifetime marathon+ race and also my first DNF, drop down, or whatever you may want to call it.  It was a humbling experience.  It was also no less rewarding than when I was fortunate enough to buckle in 2013.

goats in the pen
2014 medal
This year's NG100 was about #wifey (Diva) and her awesome teammates Vinay (Tall) and Stacey (Blonde), Team TBD - Tall, Blonde, and Diva running their first relay 100 miler raising money for the Semper Fi Fund for injured Marines. 

Semper Fi Fund (with Andrea post race)

The three of them crewed and paced me at the 2013 Nanny Goat and caught the bug.  I am so proud of all of them for the training and dedication they put in to get ready for their individual 34 mile commitment.  It had been many years since wifey's last marathon and her work ethic leading up to the event was unbelievable...  In many ways her renewed interest in running has brought us closer together...

wifey powering through the barn
Team TBD raised over $1,100 for the Semper Fi Fund and completed the 100 miler under 20 hours.  It was a fantastic effort and a joy to watch all three of them soaking in the ultra experience.  Wifey is already talking about next year...  oh boy, I don't know what I've created here :)
Team TBD 100 mile relay finishers!

This year's NG100 was another step in my growth as an ultra runner.  Before the race, I made sure that it was known that this year was not a year about me or my run.  But secretly, I thought that it would be very cool to get that black buckle.  I am in the best physical shape of my life.  I've put in more miles this year than ever and I am as "running fit" as I've ever been. 
In faint memory I had forgotten the wise words of Katrina Judd (paraphrased) "you have to see if you REALLY want the buckle or you liked the idea of having the buckle."  I was reminded this weekend that if you are not fully committed to do whatever it takes to finish the 100 miles, it isn't likely to happen.  I can sit here today and tell you that I dropped because I didn't want to get injured for races that are coming up shortly.  I can tell you that I had major stomach issues on race day.  I can tell you I was hampered by blistered feet and on and on.  But the bottom line and honest truth is I was not tough enough in that moment in time.  I didn't have it.
I am disappointed but I don't regret the decision.  For one, other than torn up feet, I feel fantastic two days after the race with next to no soreness.  I ran 50 miles NSAIDs free!  While I didn't finish, the DNF didn't knock my confidence.  I know I am fit and ready to tackle similar or bigger challenges.  I've now got renewed fire in the basement to redeem myself from my first DNF...  and that's something that has been missing for a while.  But, the biggest reason I do not regret the shorten race is I got a chance to give back to Nanny Goat and the running community the way that they had helped me last year.
After my decision to drop I showered and cleaned up.  OF COURSE on my walk back to the barn I run into Andrea, Tony, Tracy, and Jean on the course.  Having to fess up to my drop I was met with reactions ranging from disbelieve to disappointment to sympathy.  After my walk of shame back to the barn I just wanted to hide and sleep.  But the excitement and energy inside the barn makes it difficult for me to sulk in the corner.  I ate, sat, and chatted a bit with my stall-mates.  I was excited to see wifey surpass the marathon mark and decided to pace her 30-33 miles.  I was surprised at how fresh my legs felt. 
When they were done, the team packed up their belongings and left the race early in the morning.  "Im going to stay to watch Jaeson's finish" I said.  My friend Jaeson flew in from Atlanta for his first 100 miler.  I met Jaeson a few years back and we've run a handful of marathons together.  When he became ready for the 100 last year we got to talking about NG and he came out seeking his first buckle.  This guy is one tough dude.  He plugged away miles after mile.  He'd stop in the stall for short breaks but was always upbeat and looked determined.
wifey, me and Jaeson pre-race
At this point I was exhausted.  I calculated Jaeson's finish time and set my alarm for an hour nap so I would wake up when he would be at about 90 miles.  I am not sure if I got any actual sleep.  But I woke up with renewed energy and a new mission.  I remember how I felt last year and the encouragement of the spectators and the support of pacers really helped me complete the race.  So I decided that I would run, walk and chat with whoever was still grinding it out on the course in the last 4-5 hours of the race.
Right away I saw Tony at mile 89 and he was by himself and looked worn.  He braved a smile as he entered the barn but I could tell he was struggling.  Tony had paced me last year in my final 5K.  I never forgot.  I said, "lets go Tony, I've got you."  I told him that he is a rock star and that I just wanted to bask in the glory of his finish.
caption this
Tony at mile 95

We walked for few miles and he went through the up-and-downs of what the final miles do mentally.  I made sure he ate, drank, and paced his progress.  I am so thrilled and honored to have been a part of Tony's redemption (third attempt at NG) race.  Congrats on earning that baby blue buckle buddy.

tony at 99 around every one's favorite cone
The finish...  look at the joy!

I had the pleasure of meeting Jose and pacing one of his final miles before his finish.  Thanks you for sharing your Nanny journey with me and your insight about your WS finish.  Epic stuff that is truly inspirational.

with Jose with just a few miles to go
There was still Jaeson working hard out there.  I managed a few more miles with him and his friends who flew out from Atlanta to see his epic race.  Again, I am honored to be a part of his journey.
Jaeson at mile 95

Jaeson and the entourage at mile 99

and the epic finish
As I look back at the 2014 NG, I think I walked away gaining more than I lost.  I learned more about myself as ultras always tend to help one do.  I also feel fulfilled in giving back in a small way to the community.  All is not lost with a DNF.  And I will be back.  Perhaps, some day.
one race, one mile, one step at a time,

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Love to Run and Run to Love

I am learning as he is learning. 

From 2011-2013, my 10 year old had participated in his school's KROC (kids run the OC) program. It allows the kids to run 25.2 miles over 10 weeks and finish the last mile at the OC marathon. He went from a 9:00+ mile the first year to a PR of 7:10 the second year, then a 8:00+ the third year. 

I pushed him every year and he hated it. I pushed him to go faster ...and work harder as I do myself. For him, he just wanted to have fun and run zig-zags and check out the neighbor's orange tree. It was painful for both of us to run together. I didn't sign him up this year b/c I thought "if he isn't out there to work harder and improve, then there are other things to work on." He barely has enough time to finish his homework.

But part of me always knew that the approach wasn't working. What I wanted was self motivation from him but what I was getting was withdrawal. I was not getting him to understand the joy of running or to develop a love for the sport that has given me so much. 

Late last year we took a family hike up to Peters Canyon Trails and I noticed something in that short hour or so. He ran. He ran and smiled. He got to look at the clouds and check out the brushes (poison oak was his favorite) while he RAN. He asked to go back when we got home. 

Last weekend we ran/walk/hiked 7 miles at El Moro together. He led and dictated the pace and distance. It was the most fun I've seen him have while running. It was the opposite of running at the track where he would whine and complain. He smiled, we joked, and we raced the hills. I introduced him to the term "getting chicked" as a pair of ladies were running behind us... and I saw a competitive side of him I always knew he had. He took pride when other runners smiled and commented about "the kid" running on the trail.
It was just one of those great days in running I will remember for a long time. 
 I hope that the discovery of the trails is something that can continue to teach me to be a better father and teach us to be better at loving each other.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Road(s) Not Taken

The Road Not Taken

in my city

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

- Robert Frost

 in the morning

I remember this poem well from middle school though its meaning has changed much since.  As a kid, the school taught us to take the road less traveled because while it may be unfamiliar and challenging, the poem implies that the road less traveled would lead to some ultimate success. 

near night

I look at this poem in quite a different way today.  I find the poem to be an appropriate metaphor for the roads I’ve run and the journey I’ve traveled.  We’ve all stood at so many forks in the road and stared at decisions big and small.  As a runner, I’ve stood at many forks in the road that lead to all directions.  These forks often lead to more forks in the trails, in a new neighborhood, and in life.  Should I run towards the familiar route or up that hill with the wild flowers, or toward the bay near the ocean?  Should I run the big city race or in a unknown small town in Tennessee?  Twenty six point two or a hundred? 

on the path
These days I often choose the road less traveled.  Have these roads made me more successful?  Not really... in the traditional sense.  However, the road less traveled has given me much in many other ways.  It has helped me to open my eyes and heart to new experiences and enrichment.  I’ve seen the color of sunsets and shadows of trees and buildings.  I’ve smelled the sweetness of strawberry fields and felt the stings of cold hard rain.  I’ve kicked around dust with incredible, amazing, inspiring people along the way.  I’ve spent important time alone and with my family on the run. 

with the kids

with new friends
These are priceless, irreplaceable experiences that I found on the road less taken.  Take the road less taken and you will be surprised at what you find on the journey and within yourself.

One race, one mile, and one step at a time, (with eyes and heart open)



Friday, November 22, 2013

Are runners better people?


This is a safe place to vent and rant right?

I mean its not like its publishing to the world or anything...  So, let me use this safe little space to get some thoughts off my chest.

Most of you, my friends know that I am more of a cynic than an optimist.  I do believe people are rightly governed by self interest and self perseverance.  I think of it as human nature.  That is not to say we are not capable of performing extraordinary selfless acts.  But recent events has pushed me further to believe some people are inherently decrepit, cowardly, and just bad.  (they obviously don't run!)

In bad I mean they do things not only to pursue their advancement but they do so IN ORDER to relish in the destruction of others.  Sometime, we (myself included) do things for our own agenda at the cost (or at some cost) to others.  I am not innocent of this but I try my best so that my benefits can be gained without cost (or minimal cost) to others.  However, I cannot comprehend why, and will not stand for those who act to harm others for the sake of hurting other.  What I've recently witness and experienced can only be described as an act of evil.

The incident has since been declared "closed" and without going into specifics, I will just say that at least I know where the enemies lie.  And that is a great thing.  I do not forget.  Oh yeah, my friends also know that I never "turn the other cheek." I did not back down to the bullies.  I have fought hard not to stoop down to their level but my enemies can expect no favors from me in the future.

That brings me to the question of "are runners better people?"

(how many times have you waved to another runner on the road, and if he/she didn't wave or acknowledge you, you said to yourself "he's not a real runner"????)

Last weekend I had the honor of pacing a friend at a local 100M ultra race.  What I experienced there is what I've always experienced in the ultra community...  that grit, determination, pure will...  BUT wrapped inside is unity, kindness, selflessness, and comradery.  The fellow runners on the trial, the volunteers at the aid stations, and all the spectators who lent their support showed the kind of respect and love that we should all have for one another.  Well, isn't that strange?!

After all, this is a race right?  I mean there are still first place finisher and last place finisher right?  YES.  But to us runners, its not all that matters.  While I cheer and admire the runners up front at races, I've seen the front runners encourage the back-of-packers just the same.  That is the beauty of our sport.  It seems everybody wins. Does that mean we are a bunch of non-competitive pansies?  You better think twice before you answer that question.  Remember, we torture ourselves over 26.2M, 50M, and even 100M for fun...  These are some of the most competitive and toughest MF's I've ever met.

So how is it possible that this group of competitive, tough sons-of-guns are also the nicest, humble, welcoming, and inspiring people I've met?  Now, some of you will say, I know so-and-so runner and he is a real asshole.  In fact, some of you may think I am an asshole.  That all maybe true but I think as a whole, runners ARE better people.  Think back to the Boston Marathon bombing of this year and recall all  those runners who ran towards the blast in order to help those who were hurt.  Think if the same thing happened in your workplace, how many of your co-workers would do the same.  CONVERSELY, I've never seen a runner purposely hurt another runner out on the race for no damn reason.

My experience tells me without a doubt, "yes, runners are better people."  I have no scientific proof and I do not know if good people gravitates towards a sport like running or running makes one a better person.  Maybe it is a bit of both, and maybe it really doesn't matter.  The fact that so many runners that are great people often makes me try to be a better representative for the running community.  Even if I do not perform life saving deeds, it makes me want to at least treat other runners with respect and kindness.

(queue rainbow and music)  The world would be a better place if there were more runners.  Lets get out there, run hard and respect one another.

one race, one mile, and one step at a time


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

State #25 - Montana: The Madison Marathon - An Adventure to Remember


The panorama photo above was not lifted from a postcard.  It was captured during my 25th State marathon at the Madison Marathon in the Gravelly Mountains in Montana.  I had to get out my thesaurus for words other than "amazing," "incredible," "magnificent," "stunning," and "beautiful" to describe the course.  It IS the most beautiful course I've run in my in 33 marathon so far across the country and world.  It was also one of the toughest courses I've ever completed...  but, worth every step in these mountain ranges in Big Sky Country.

running in the clouds in MT

Being a city slicker from Orange County, CA, completing Montana started out as just a check mark on my way to completing the 50 States.  But when I stumbled across the Madison Marathon website I was struck by the photos of the incredible course.  Now, have you ever been fooled by hotel websites with unbelievable photography only to show and and find out that the place was a dump?  Well, make no mistake, the beauty of this race is as advertised.  If anything, the pictures cannot do the experience proper justice.  The endless blue skies and miles of velvet green fields, the smell of the wildflowers, and the touch of the gentle breeze are simple indescribable by words or photos.

My buddy Mike L. from Denver (AKA Yoda, finished in 4:11) and I decided that we'd meet to run this extraordinary race.  Mike brought his wonderful wife Michele and three boys and spent a week in Yellowstone prior to the race.  He was also kind enough to pick me up and transport me throughout the weekend.  My only regret was doing this trip in my usual fashion, which is to fly in Saturday and fly back home immediately after the race on Sunday.  This is a part of the country that deserves and requires days to explore.  The turn-around trip posed some logistic challenges.  The nearest airport to the town of Ennis (race central; hotels, bib pickup, shuttle to start) is in Bozeman approximately an hour drive away.  

first view of Montana at the Bozeman airport
The drive from Bozeman to Ennis is straight forward and scenic.  It immediately screams, "you aint' in the city no more!"  Miles of fields decorated by the occasional barn looked like oil paintings.  We saw families playing in the waters and floating in rivers besides the freeway on our drive in.  Something you just don't see in the city (unless you are into Raging Water parks packed with pool peeing kids).

                                        view from drive from Bozeman to Ennis
Ennis is a small town of approximately 1,000 residents.  From all the signage it looks like a terrific town to visit and do A LOT of fishing.  We stayed at a modest motel called Rainbow Valley Lodge. Main Street Ennis is the gather place of the marathon on Saturday and has several restaurants, stores and the town pump for our needs.
The fly making station at the Rainbow Valley Lodge

From Ennis, runners would be shuttled to the staging area and start of the race in the Gravelly Mountains approximately 2 hours away.  Sounds complicated?  It is and it isn't.  The race organizers did a tremendous job providing direction and support of this small and intimate race.  In order to meet my flight time on Sunday evening, I requested for and took advantage of the early start option at 7:00 a.m. (regular 8:30) offered by race organizers.  I met the RD Sam Korsmoe Sat afternoon after our arrival at the bib pick-up.  Sam was friendly and we joked about the sophisticated timing device used at the race...  his hand held stop watch.  After a quick bite to eat at the local pizza joint (Pit Stop Pizza; very good by the way), it was off to bed early in order to make the early shuttle pick up at 4:50 a.m.

Race morning started with a gathering of the early starters at the town pump promptly at 4:50.  About 10 of us gathered and exchanged pleasantries in the early dawn.  Then we were divided into three cars for the two hour drive up to the start line at the base of Black Butte Mountain.  Now, I had the misfortune of getting the cherry seat in front of an extra cab pick-up truck with five other dudes.  And I don't mean little dudes.  I think most of us stood at about 6 feet tall.  Imagine a two hour ride with six dudes in the dark with a little space and lots of morning breath of coffee...  But the ride actually turned out to be an entertaining treat.

the early starters on the way to the starting line

Our driver was a local triathlete named Cory.  Cory is like a character straight out of "Born to Run."  Between the sideburns and big laughter was one funny dude.  Between Cory and the elder European gent on my other side we got stories about marathons in Poland and living in Tokyo.  We also found out about the magic qualities of the coffee from the town pump and vodka in the morning.  With a few more stories about bear and sheep dog attacks on the marathon course we were almost at the start.

last pit stop before the start
We arrived at the start promptly at 7:00 a.m. and began one of the most memorable runs of my life.  The course "road" is a dirt trail of mostly loose gravel and small pebbles.  There were a few sections with fist sized rocks.  The climbs are challenging and some descend are steep.  I was glad to have worn my Hoka Ones!  They saved my feet.  Ok, I'll let the photos below do some of the talking...  

At the start with fellow 50 Staters, Marathon Maniacs Cowboy Jeff, Melinda, and Sandy

view of Black Butte

At Monument Ridge rocking my RIF shirt for the first time

somewhere near the valleys of 13

one of the challenging hills at 19
The Madison Marathon is billed as "highest road marathon in America."  The course peaks at near 9,600 feet near mile four of the course at Monument Ridge.  My Garmin recorded a total elevation gain of 2,894 (drop of 3,547) throughout the course.  The first four miles presented the most major climbs but climbs continued throughout the course with some real tough SOBs after mile 19.  The last six miles were "hard" as the knees began feeling the effects of the descends.  I finished the run with a time of 5:23 which is one of my slowest recorded marathon time.  Am I unhappy about the finish time?  Not at all.  Do I feel like I let down the "Run It Fast" shirt I was wearing?  No.  Just the opposite.  This was a run for the adventure and a run for the unique experience of being in one of the highest and most beautiful races.  Was it "fast?"  Yes.  It was my fastest marathon at  9,600 feet.  It was my fastest marathon with the amount climbs and descends.  I ran it as fast as I could...  but more importantly than speed, I ran it with my eyes wide open like it was my first marathon.  There were places on the course so beautiful I wanted to cry.  At times during the run I forgot that I was running altogether.

Madison Marathon is a must do and I hope everyone gets to experience it in person.

Yoda and me at the finish

One race, one mile, and one step at a time,