"Persist. Resist." "The Obstacle is the Way." "I can make this good." "You knew this would happen now react to it and don't let it get you down." These along with a few other little sayings rattled around in my head during my 8th 100 mile finish at the Chimera 100.
I'm not normally one to get into the philosophical side of racing. I've always felt like I could just dig deep and keep going because that is mostly how I am wired for life in general. No need for me to train my brain for anything. However I noticed something about myself over the last year. I lost my edge. I know a ton of factors played into it. The stress of moving the entire family across the country and everything that comes from effectively having to start fresh in both my work and personal life was a huge weight on my mind. There are so many little things that I didn't account for. Before I moved I knew the all the routines because I'd been doing them for years. Now everything is new. Where to get groceries? What routes to run? Who do I call when issues XYZ comes up? How do I drive from point A to point B? It just took time to figure these things out and because of that everything seemed a little unknown and frankly I didn't feel settled.
I also have been in this sport a while. This is my 10th season running ultras. They became part of the routine. In contrast to the above this comfort level was hurting me. I know I can complete about anything I am thrown into. I've done it enough that even my bad days are good enough to land me above the midline. I noticed that when I'd get uncomfortable in a race, I'd back off. I'd tell myself "take it easy, you'll finish. no reason to get bent out of shape." While that sort of attitude has its place it doesn't line up with my goals. I'd finish a race and think that I didn't run the race that I wanted or that I was physically capable of. After I finished Waldo 100k back in August, I put my foot down. I'm done with this half assed approach it is time for a change and that change has nothing to do with running.
I started trying to really concentrate while training. Thinking about how I felt, concentrating on understanding the moment. No headphones, no disconnecting, no zoning out. I knew I needed this mental conditioning. In parallel the Sport Psychologist from the Seattle Seahawks, Dr. Michael Gervais, came and spoke at work. I am as anti Seahawks as it gets but the timing could not have been better. It was all about being present, about practicing excellence in the moment. It clicked. That was it. Don't think about the big picture. Think about the now and be in the now. On top of this I was talking with a training buddy Bill and he mentioned the book "The Obstacle is the Way" by Ryan Holiday. I immediately got the audio book and started listening. This book focused on how to deal with situations. Don't put a label of good or bad on something. Accept that it is a thing that is happening and deal with it. A flood of information came at me at the exact right time and I used these strategies to mentally prepare for this last race of the year as well as try to snap this streak of so-so races.
Usually I would go into a lot of details about this race and walk through it all from start to finish but not for this report. I am going to call out a few situations where this new mindset and mental training paid off big time. If you are curious about the course you can see the RD's provided GPX file that I uploaded on Strava for logging purposes below. Know that this course is riddled with big climbs of 3000+ feet, technical rocky footing, long quad crushing down hills, was very lightly marked, required constant review of a turn by turn sheet that I just happened to print the night before, and I went at it solo with no crew or pacers as it seemed too much of a pain in the ass to drag my friends or family around this remote location.
Start Line - This race is loosely organized and just know that theme is felt throughout. It is not bad by any stretch as the aid stations were excellent but packet pickup, course markings, race information leading up to race day, even the pre race briefing were all lacking for those who really want a lot of details. The race was supposed to start at 6am. The RD decided to let the sun come out a little more so we did not have to wear our headlamps on some of the early technical sections. He even said "the race will start in 15 minutes!" through his megaphone. I decided to run back to my car and drop off my long sleeve shirt and headlamp as I didn't need them anymore. My car could not have been more than .2 of a mile from the start so getting there and back in just a few minutes was going to be pretty easy. No sooner did I throw my stuff in the back seat and shut the door did I see everyone running towards me. "What happened to 15 minutes?" I asked. A few runners said that the group convinced the RD that it was light enough and to start the race. I ran back to the Start so my chip would register then worked my way back toward the pack.
In the past this would have really weighed on me. Not today. This thing happened and now I deal with it. There is no reason to sprint to the front as it is just a waste of energy. I had many miles and hours ahead so I relaxed and just did exactly what I would of had I done had I been at the normal start. This was such a freeing feeling. I immediately forgot about what happened and just executed on the present. The start was not ideal but it was out of my control and that moment was gone. I worked on this moment at hand. I found a couple of other guys that were about my pace, Paublo and Shannon, and just cruised and talked with them the first 12 miles. I was relaxed, fueling and feeling great. That missed start was all but forgotten.
Heat of the day - There was not a cloud in the sky and my softening to heat since moving to Portland was definitely felt. It was just before the middle of the race where I tend to have a slump anyway. I was a little behind on calories and fluids and could tell. In the past I may have just tried to muscle though it and ultimately pay for it later with having to dig myself out of a massive hole. Today I was listening to my body thinking about the right now and how I can practice excellence in the moment. To be excellent right now for this situation I needed to get back on track with the fuel and slow down. My brain and body were anxious. I had been moving up in the standings all day and was now running close to the top 10. I didn't want to slow down. I pushed those thoughts to the side and worked on the now. Any exposed section that trended uphill, I power hiked. I drank and drank Tailwind until I had 400 calories in me over the course of 90 minutes and suddenly things changed. I was getting stronger, feeling less fatigued at just the perfect time. The heat of the day was passing and I was ready to move. A passage from The Obstacle is the Way popped into my head. "Sometimes we must slow down to speed up."
Mile 90 - The day progressed without many other issues. I was playing the course. Running anything down or flat and hiking all the uphills. I had found a running partner in Nikki Kimball, yes that Nikki Kimball. I was a bit star stuck at first. This is someone I knew through her amazing running talents and now I was running with her through the night. We stuck close as our paces matched up. We helped each other navigate the course when ribbons were lacking and directions were questionable. We swore, laughed, complained about course markings, and talked about life all while making our way up and down the mountains. It was an amazing experience to spend time with such a talented runner and caring person.
Close to 81 miles the wheels started to come off. I was eating solid foods and drinking coke but something wasn't right. I assumed it to just be a low spot and kept moving forward. Nikki was moving better than I so we parted ways while I tried to get myself together after the aid station. I had a long 7 mile down hill that I kept moving on. Using gravity to pull me along as I knew I needed to keep moving here as I had to turn right back around and go up this 7 mile climb plus another few after the aid station before the course would trend down to the finish.
I hit the aid station at mile 88 and just stood there. Usually I am talking to the volunteers, but today I was that weirdo guy out of it barely talking. I didn't want to make these guys nervous so I just sat down for a few and tried to eat and collect myself. I didn't stay long as there was only 12 or so miles from here and I wanted to be done. I knew the next 8 miles were uphill so I took some food and just started walking. I was out of it big time and after about 3 miles of slow walking, I sat down and put my head on my knees to take a nap.
I knew this was bad news so I got up and tried to eat something and ended up puking it back up. That puking helped. I felt a little better and marched along for a bit until I was getting dizzy and sleepy again. I sat down again until another runner heading down into the AS talked to me a bit. I got back up until a 3rd time where I laid down. I decided I was just going to nap for a minute so I could get back to the AS. Then I'd sleep there for a bit until I could get myself together. Just as I started nodding off, another runner asked if I was ok. I told him no and that I was having trouble staying awake. He handed me a caffeinated gel and gave some encouraging words. My stomach was weird so I stared at this gel for a few seconds not wanting to eat it. Then my mental training kicked in. "The Obstacle is the Way!!!" my inner voice shouted. This gel was my obstacle, not the race, not getting to the aid station, not breaking 24 hours. This once ounce packet of sugary, goopy, hell was going to do one of two things. It was going to make me sick or get me out of this dizzy funk I was in. There was no option to avoid it as something had to change. I ate the it and immediately felt better. I was low blood sugar and that gel turned it all around. Thanks to that runner for helping me out!
The Finish - I was back in it and still had time after this massive blowup to get under 24 hours but I had to work. I charged hard to the aid station. No time to waste, I grabbed a few more gels and flew out of there. My mind was focused on the task at hand. Anything remotely runnable I had to run. I had to own the down hills and be relentless the last 8 miles to get there before that clock flipped past 24.
I blew though the last two aid stations just yelling my bib number and thanking the aid stations volunteers for their help. Still unsure if I could break 24 hours or not I pounded the 3 miles down hill until I hit the entrance to the campground roughly a 1/2 mile before the race finish. I then looked at my watch. Just like always my math brain failed me. I had plenty of time to make it under 24 and crossed in 23:32. Good enough for 6th overall.
I rallied through a missed start, a bad patch during the heat of the day, countlessly questioning if I was on course, a little puking, and even a few micro naps all by removing the label from the situation. It was not a good saturation or a bad situation it was just a thing that was happening. I removed emotion from these detours and took them head on. I pushed through what appeared to be a negative situation until it became a positive. Each time becoming mentally stronger and more confident.
Wrapping up - I possessed the physical tools already to complete a 100. I trained hard in the months leading up to this race. I ran lots of miles and put in a ton of vert. However In these closing moments of this race I knew it was this time spent on the mental side that paid the biggest dividend.
As always I have to thank my family for putting up with this silliness of a sport. Thank you to the other runners that supported me and helped me out when I was feeling rough. A giant thank you to the aid stations that were out of sight good. You gave up your weekend to help a bunch of runners achieve their goals and your contribution to our success is not small.