Sunday, November 9, 2014

Robert Louis Cole: Train Man, Blues Man

One September night, I wandered into a bar Johnny Cash had once played, in Louisville, Colorado.  There was a young man picking a guitar and singing with only a few people, hanging out and listening.  I was immediately entranced.  His voice commanded attention.  He sounded like a fifty year old black guy singing the blues when in fact, he was a white guy, probably in his twenties.  He sang with his eyes closed and there was depth in his songs that someone his age shouldn’t know yet.  It was like he was exorcising demons on stage, while equally calling upon them.  He broke the strings on his guitar at one point and had to go out to his car to get more.  He had the voice of someone who had lived ten lives.  We stayed until the very end of the set and he gave us his CD. 

“He was fantastic live—his CD must suck.” I have to admit I thought. 

His CD was even better than his live performance.  The eight songs were arranged perfectly.  The songs told folk stories, told of the blues.  Blues that a young man at his age should not know.  Sitting around a campfire with a jug of whiskey blues.  Boxcar blues.  You could hear influences and references to classic literature, along with country and folk music.  It was an extremely wise CD for a man of his age.  It immediately reminded me of Tom Waits first album, Closing Time.  There was so much potential there.  His CD felt like he had laid down the groundwork for something amazing.

I didn’t take the CD out of my trucks player for a month.  The more I listened, the more curious I became.  Who was this guy?  I did a little research online.  I found out he had left school at an early age to hitchhike and ride trains around the country.  People still did that?  You could hear the travelogues in his music.  I had to find out more. 

I contacted him to see if he’d meet me to tell me his story. 

When Robert Louis Cole arrived at the Weathervane Café on 17th Ave in Denver, he told me he had just worked a double shift at the bar the day before.  It’s 1:30 pm on a Sunday and he just woke up.  He was surprisingly clear eyed and ordered a coffee and a sandwich. 

“How did it all start?” I ask him. 

“Well, I knew by the time I was 15 that school and that sort of life wasn’t for me.  I started hitchhiking around the country and hopping trains.  It terrified my parents.”

“I bet!  How did you start riding trains?”

“I grew up in the punk rock community of older guys.  Some became my friends and others became my enemies.  They were all apart of this train hopping culture.  I just got really hyped on it.  You see these kids in lots of towns.  Dirty, carrying backpacks, eating out of trash cans, begging for change, drunk a lot.  I did all of that shit.” 

He had tattoos peeking out from every part of his flannel shirt.  He had a pack of Pal Malls in his shirt pocket. 

“So, I wasn’t doing much.  I had twenty-four free hours in a day.  I learned how to juggle.  I’m still pretty good” he smiles. “I bought a pawn shop guitar and started playing.  Dylan songs, stuff like that.” 

He tells me he had a great life growing up.  His mother was a musician and he grew up singing in the church choir.  He grew up going to church because it was a safe community and it was free.  His parents were hippies and he grew up on wheat bread and sprouts. 

“Does your mom support your music?”

“She does, mainly because it’s one of the only positive things I’ve done with my life.  She’s sixty and does Thai Chi and is still writing songs.” 

Eventually, RL Cole ended up living with his sister and brother in law.  He was living in the basement and teaching himself to play guitar.  His brother in law was a great musician and was patient with him and gave him honest feedback.  He really helped him out. 

Eventually, he found himself living in a trailer in New Mexico for a couple of months and in his mind, he was putting together a concept for an album.  Not long after, he recorded twenty-seven songs and whittled it down to eight perfectly arranged, beautiful songs. 

“How does the muse hit you?” I ask.

“Well, sometimes it hits me after a manic episode of not sleeping for a few days.  I’ll be in the garage with my dog, red eyed and drinking whiskey, putting together all of these concepts that have been rummaging around in my head.  Sometimes Lady Luck comes to your house for two or three days and throws a brain party.   However, I’m not necessarily a balanced person.” he admits. 

“Listen man, I don’t want to dwell on your train riding days” I say “but you’ve gotta indulge me a little.  Tell me some stories” 

“Well, there’s a few ways to ride freight trains.  The most common is to ride box cars.  It’s nice when it happens but it’s not that often when an unmanned boxcar goes by with one or both doors are open.  It’s easier to get in a shipping container called a forty-eight.  It’s called a forty-eight because each of the serial numbers on the cars starts with a forty-eight.  There’s a lot of wind pressure between the wheel well and the track and if you’re not careful, it’ll suck you under.  So you have to be careful riding forty-eights because it’s easy to lose a dog or your backpack.  I actually lost a friend that way.  It sucked him under between Baltimore and Philadelphia and split him in half.  So most of the time, I’d rope myself onto a medal rail and crawl in my sleeping bag and sleep.  Half the time it’d be pouring rain and I’d just want to ride in the pusher engine in the back of the train. There’s usually no one in them.  It’s like a luxury ride!  There’s a fridge full of water, a bathroom, air conditioning or heat.  But I got caught doing that a few times.” he laughs. 


“Oh yeah.  Sometimes you’d get lucky but not always.  I didn’t usually have ID.  Sometimes they’d just kick us off, sometimes we’d get arrested.” 

“What was one of your high moments while out riding trains?”

He thinks for a minute. 

“Probably the last time I rode a train, it was June of 2013.  I was in Texas and I wanted to get home to Colorado to see the woman of my dreams.  I had a buddy who had just gotten out of jail and he had a good mind for train hopping.  I asked him, how do I get back to Colorado?   Well, there’s a north / south coal line that goes down to Texas and dumps there and goes back empty.  So I needed to hitch a ride down to Saginaw, Texas outside of Fort Worth.  There I am, camping in a cornfield near the train yard waiting for the right train for a couple of days.  Riding trains is 98% sitting in bushes waiting and 2% pure adrenaline.  I saw my train and I’m booking it through a cornfield in snakeskin boots with a backpack and a guitar.  Well, I missed that train and had to camp another night.  Finally, on the third night, I caught a train and I was so happy.  It was a high point in my life.  I’m on a train heading back to Colorado to see the love of my life, it was pouring rain.  I knew I was going to be back in Colorado in thirty-two hours man!  There is no storm like a Texas plain thunderstorm.  It was beautiful.”

Robert Louis Cole has several lifetimes of hard won experience.  I think about all of his adventures and talent and him working at a bar in Denver.  I feel like there’s something to be said about a guy who drops out of school at 15 to ride trains, drink and do drugs, yet he somehow emerges as this heroic, layered musician.  I see as much devil in him as I see God.  I see as much of a past in his eyes as I see a future.  I see as much evil as I see good.  He’s extremely well read and we talk literature for a while.  He says he ripped off a Dylan Thomas line in one of his songs.  He mentions the Russian authors and how they wrote so beautifully amidst such a bleak landscape.  He doesn’t understand Faulkner but acknowledges that Steinbeck is his guy.  He also says he’s been a heavy drinker and drug user since age 15.  He is now 26 years old. 

“What are you doing with yourself these days?” I ask. 

“I live with my sister and her husband and their two kids.  Between work and my family and my dog, I like to read.” 

He tells me he goes to the gym regularly and he’s an amateur boxer. 

“Where do you see the direction of your music going?”

“I’ve got a few shows coming up but I’m going to take five or six months off to reflect on where I’d like to go with it all.  I want to think about different album concepts and I want to analyze my live performances and decide where I want to go with that.” 

When we shake hands and part ways, he is in front of the Weathervane Café, smoking a cigarette.  This is his one man attempt to do something.  The hard living RL Cole.

South Arapaho Peak

Monday, August 25, 2014

Leadville 100 2014

When I look back at the video my crew took of me at the May Queen aid station (mile twenty-three), I don’t look like a runner that’s going to run nearly another eighty miles that day.  I don’t look fit.  I don’t look confident.  In fact, I look like I just ran one of the bigger runs of my life.  I barely remember that aid station.  I remember running into the first place I’d see my crew thinking / My legs feel like they’ve got eighty miles on them, how am I ever going to get this thing done? / I’m pouring sweat.  My crew is looking at me, dumbfounded.  Karlen just stares at me with a look that says / What?!—You’re out of shape?—You’ll never make it!  Why did you drag us here? / The video shows an uncomfortable silence.  No one knows what to say. 

I know better.  Luckily, my crew chief knows better.  Heather wipes the sweat out of my eyes and waits for me to use the bathroom.  We both know that three hours into a twenty-four hour event is not a good gauge.  This is the first time Heather has taken one of my races as her responsibility.  She knows me well.  She hands me my food and says / Okay, you’re good! / and kicks me out of May Queen.  I walk out thinking / How am I ever going to do this?

He can pull a run out of his ass / I later found out Heather told the rest of the crew / —don’t worry about him.

My plan was to start slow and ease into the first fifty miles.  At mile twenty-three, I’m whooped.  Not a good sign.  I force food down.  I force myself to run but thirty seconds later, I need a break.

You have to turn this around, Adam.


Be grateful.  Grateful for your health.  For your crew. For the fact that you’re healthy enough to make it to the starting line of such an amazing race.

I put the headphones in—something I normally save for WAY later in a race.  I stop thinking.  I just move.  I feel.  If there is a need to walk, I walk hard.  When I can run, I run.  That’s it.  I encourage others, which somehow encourages me.  Over the next eleven miles, I somehow come back from the dead.  I gather up a few guys that are moving well.  They follow me and we charge.  We steamroll people by the dozen.  I bark orders like a drill sergeant and they are all in for the ride.  There’s about six of us, charging into Twin Lakes (mile forty).  I know I have crew there, waiting.  I can’t wait to tell them I’m back from the dead!

Joel calls my name and waves me over to the set up.  This aid station is short and efficient.  Not slow and confused.  I know what I need and I tell them I’m about to crush Hope pass.

I’ll see you in a few hours!

And just like that, almost as soon as I leave the aid station, I feel like death again.

Going up Hope Pass is supposed to be my specialty.  I love going uphill and normally that’s where I pass tons of folks.  However, today, as I climb up to 12,800 feet, I need lots of little breaks.  It’s like I’m carrying a hundred pounds on my back.  I begin vomiting.  I sit down.  I worry.  I get up and move.  I need another break. 

I know enough by now to know—this is just how it goes sometimes.  Bipolar ultramarathoning.  High highs, low lows.  Suck it up and keep moving.  I’m moving SO slow that when I make it into Hopeless aid station, they ask if I’m okay.  They can tell I’ve fallen off pace by quite a bit.  I’m wrecked but I tell them I’m feeling great. 

Coming down Hope Pass, I’m embarrassed to admit…I needed a ten minute power nap.  COMING DOWN.  This is supposed to be the easy part.  This is supposed to be where I rest. 

When I make it to Winfield, Heather is right at the edge of the woods waiting for me.  I’m at nearly twelve hours.  This is not shaking out the way I wanted.  She tells me Logan is going to be my first pacer.  Thank God.  Logan and I have slogged hundreds of miles together.  He knows me and I know him.  Lucas has joined the team and this is the first time I’ve seen him all day.  We bro hug and just like that, he’s on the team.  I refuel.  I try and fake strong.  They tell me I’m doing well.  I cringe.  Logan and I head back up the big hill. 

C’mon dude, we gotta pass twenty-five people on the way up.

I don’t say anything.  He’s lucky I’m moving at this pace. 

Twenty-five people / he says again. 

I projectile vomit everything I just ate at the aid station.

I breathe deep and loud.  Logan plays music on his phone, loud enough to annoy folks but his only concern is me and he knows how to get me to move and feel like a gansta when I’m doing it.  He calls me a pussy and a cocklicker at least fifty times.  Two-thirds of the way up, we’ve passed our twenty-five people.  Does that shut him up?

Twenty-five more / is all he says. 

His words just go through me.  Impossible goals.  He can say what he wants, I’ll just keep moving. 

You’re turning it around! / he says / —Hope Pass is easy, bitch!

My head is down.  I’m marching hard and hyperventilating. 

A little chicken broth at Hopeless and I know we’re running down whether I’m able to or not.  It’s a six mile descent.  We pass more folks.  He keeps playing music and others are annoyed.  He says things that I don’t hear.  We just crush.  We cross the river and jog into Twin Lakes.

We passed ninety-six runners and pacers on Hope Pass / Logan tells me.

Ninety-six?! / I think.

Twin Lakes is all business as usual.  Lucas is taking over pacing duties.  I eat, drink.  I know I’ll be puking it all up once I’m back in the woods but I have to at least TRY getting it down.  I hand out high fives.  I accept hugs.  I take food with me.  We have a three mile ascent ahead of us. 

Lucas is a work buddy.  Lucas is an Ironman.  Lucas shaves his legs…and I’ll never let him forget it.  At work, it’s ultrarunner versus triathlete…all day. Our friendship is literally just smack talk.  I don’t know if we’ve ever said anything nice to each other.  We just make fun of each other.  Sometime we go too far.  However, here he is, volunteering to stay up all night and get me to the finish.  If I can’t be a wuss in front of ANYONE, it’s Lucas.  I know this and it was all planned.  I have no choice but to be strong or I will NEVER hear the end of it. 

I thank him for shaving his legs for my race.

However, Lucas is perfect.  We talk about everything.  We tell stories about work, women and life in general.  He does a fantastic job of keeping me moving just a bit above my comfort level. 

After ten miles, I break Lucas.  He admits what must be painful for him:

I’m impressed / he says / —if you finish this thing, I’ll never make fun of you for being a power walker!

Ha.  Win!

He gets me to May Queen.  Crew crews me a like a Naascar pit stop.  I give Lucas a hug.  We’re closer than ever before.  I’m handed to a stranger with wide eyes.  He’s a pacer my crew has set up for me and I trust them.  He tells me he’ll get me over Sugar Loaf.  I tell him I don’t want to lollygag on this climb, I want to get it over with.  His name is Dave and he assures me, we won’t be messing around. 

No talking up Sugar Loaf, we decide.  We need to move hard.  I lead the way and give a hundred percent.  I’m hyperventilating. 

I wouldn’t want to see you climb with fresh legs / Stranger Dave tells me. We pass the few people that have made it this far.

I’m just thankful to have him.  He pushes me.  He keeps me running when I don’t want to.  He tells me I’m a badass.  He’s very encouraging.  He gets me to eighty-seven miles.  I fall into a chair.  I’m stupid with exhaustion.  Thirteen miles to go.  Heather takes over. 

God bless Heather for her thick skin.  She got the brunt of everything. 

I was not nice to her and I wouldn’t let her push me.  I refused.  I was a baby.  I was rude.  I hadn’t eaten  for hours.  I’d been throwing up.  No sleep.  All compounded, it came out over the last thirteen miles.  I argued with her about our pace.  I complained.  I whined.  She was encouraging.  She was firm.  She was beautiful.  God bless her.  I was not a nice person to be with at that point. 

We made it past Turquoise Lake, to the boat launch. 

How much further? / I ask someone.

Six miles.

I complain some more.  I look at my watch.  We can walk it in and still get in under twenty-five hours. 

We hike a couple of miles.  I ask the next person we see / How much further?

Six and a half miles.


We’ve gotta move.  We’re running out of time.  I want the big buckle.  We run a mile or two. 

How much further? / I ask the next person we see.

Seven miles.


We’re running out of time / Heather says / —you’ve gotta go!

I can’t!

You have to!

I don’t care!  I don’t want it this bad!

I DO! / Heather screams.

Silence.  I process this.  These guys have spent tons of time and money to come out and help me finish with a respectable time.  I can’t quit now.  I HAVE to push. 

I leave Heather.  I run the endless gravel road into Leadville. 

Forty minutes to get in under twenty-five hours.

Thirty minutes. 

I look at my watch.

I see lights—they’re miles away.

Twenty minutes. 

I’m finally coming into town.  There are a few diehard spectators. 

Will I make it? / I yell.

If you hurry!

I run. 

Will I make it? / I yell to the next person I see. 

If you hurry, you’ve gotta move!

I turn around.  Heather’s headlamp is trying to rush in to see me finish.  I don’t have time to wait. 

Finally, I see the finish line.  I have ten minutes to get the BIG buckle.  It’s mine.  Karlen and Joel run in to the finish with me.  I run up the red carpet.  I’m the last person to get the BIG buckle.  The LAST!


I was happy to have finished, but I wasn’t done for the day.  I owe apologies for my behavior.  I owe thanks for everything that was done for me.  I couldn’t have done it without my seamless crew and supporters.  Saints, all of them.  Now, if they just get me to a warm bed and put a beer in my hand, I would owe them my life.

And they did. 

And I do. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Longs Duathlon

Long’s Duathlon

An alarm going off at 1 am usually means one of two things.  You have to go into work at some godawful time or you are getting up for a major league adventure.  Luckily for me, today is going to be a major league adventure.  I’d packed up everything the night b/f.  This time I was going to bike from the “official” start rather than Louisville, where I live.  The last time I attempted the Longs Duathlon, I started from home and the extra hour or two of biking made for A LOT.  I mean, c’mon.  I’ve got far enough to go here as it is. 

I would venture a guess that only 10 or 20 people have completed the Long’s Duathlon.  I was going to give it another go.  My planning hadn’t been meticulous but it was thorough.  I’d be carrying a heavy backpack w/ my gear up to the Long’s Peak ranger station from the gentleman’s club on the north side of Boulder.  I was carrying enough food and water for about twelve hours.  I was carrying bike locks and running shoes.  I had a Snickers bar and a Red Bull for when things got ugly.  It would be a hundred miles on the bike at the end of the day.  Oh, and run/hike up a 14er as quick as you can.  13,000 (!) feet gained total.  The skies were clear and I could see a million stars.  I was ready. 

I took off on the bike at 2:05 am (the exact same time I started this adventure last year) and began peddling.  The ride out to Lyons is rolling and really a quite enjoyable bike ride.  The ride up to the ranger station from Lyons has about 6,000 feet of gain.  It’s brutal for a non-biker like myself.  I can run up hills okay but I’m out of practice w/ biking up hills. 

The guy who’s been sleeping on my couch for a few weeks now, says he’s going to run up and down Long’s this morning too.  Logan’s plan is to go up the Loft’s route and come down the cables quick enough to make it to work at 10:30 am in Boulder (badass!).  He’s eighteen years old, about to start college.  He runs and climbs everyday.  I knew he’d be driving past me at any time.  I keep thinking every car that passes me is going to be him.  Finally a car drives up real slow and I hear his voice out the window.

Havin fun buuuddy?

Yeah man / I was peddling ferociously uphill.  We’ve had several long conversations about cycling and Logan is definitely not a fan.  He can run and climb better than me most days but he’d rather die than ride a bike.  I half expected him to throw a sandwich at me. 

And off he went.  I was left w/ my blinky lights and dark road going up into the mountains.  As I got closer, I was getting tired.  The heavy backpack was digging into my traps and hurting my lower back.  As I made my way up to 9,000 feet, I was barely going 10 mph.  Every peddle stroke was torture.  JUST GET ME TO THE RANGER STAION ALREADY!

When I finally made it, I took about ten minutes transition time.  I made sure I had what I needed and made sure the rest was locked up.  I started up the big hill and there wasn’t much “run” in my legs.  They were spent.  I hiked hard while taking in some calories.  The sun was coming up and Long’s is always busy on a Saturday.  I bumped into ultra mountain man Nick Clark on his way up w/ a buddy.  They said they were planning on doing the grand slam today (Long’s peak and the surrounding satellite peaks) which I told him is on my list.  They told me they’d seen me biking in and knew immediately I was from Boulder and going for the duathlon.  We wished each other good luck and they took off at a good speed. 

I hadn’t really made up my mind as to what route I’d be taking up.  The keyhole is the standard route that I could easily live the rest of my life w/out.  I’ve been up and down the keyhole route many times.  Cables is much faster.  However…the FKT that I’d like to take down one day is the keyhole route.  (Last time I went up cables and down keyhole.)  I was leaning toward keyhole, just not looking forward to the extra time I’d be spending out here.  A twelve hour day is long no matter how you cut it. 

I started getting really tired as I broke tree line.  Really tired.  Tired at the same exact spot as last year.  Was it from only getting two hours of sleep?  Was it from the bike ride?  I knew I’d be needing a quick power nap at the exact same spot I took one last year.  I found some grass and lay down on my hydration pack.  I crossed my feet and passed out completely for about ten minutes.  The nap helped.  Then I kept making my way up the hill. 

I found myself moving toward the keyhole.  I looked up at the summit and the cables route.  It looks so easy.  So available.  So…right there!  But I wanted to know my time on an honest keyhole up and keyhole down route.  It was getting cold and I hadn’t brought anything warmer w/ me.  I was only wearing bike shorts and a long sleeve shirt.  People stopped at the keyhole to put on warmer clothes.  I just breathed into my hands and kept moving.  I followed bull’s-eyes the rest of the way up, past the trough, past the narrows and past homestretch, passing lots of folks.  When I made the summit, people just wanted me to take their picture.  I took a couple bites of food and started down as quick as I could.  It felt good to finally be going down.  I moved as best I could along the rocks, passing people and trying to be kind while in a hurry.  I was having a good time!  It’s not everyday you get to carve out a twelve hour period of time to do what you love!  Half a day in the mountains is a gift.  It’s a beautiful thing!  You have to appreciate it while you have it.  In a couple of days, I’ll be back to the pod, in front of a computer screen…trying to enjoy that J

I didn’t have as much energy as I would have liked.  In fact…I was bonking pretty hard.  Walking the downhills is something I never like to admit but here I was…same place as last year…walking the downhills.  All I could think about was my Red Bull and Snickers down by my bike.  I chatted w/ folks, many of which were also exhausted.  I tried to encourage them or offer them food.  No one was in trouble but everyone seemed exhausted on this Saturday.  Me too.  I finally made it to the ranger station and had my sugary snacks.  I put in my earphones, hoping the music would just carry me home.  I took time to transition, making sure everything was packed away where I needed it.  I’d consumed a few liters of water but my backpack didn’t seem much lighter.  At least I was going to be riding downhill most of the way back.  I accept.  I took note that Logan’s car was gone, so he must have made it out alive.  There are a few uphills to get out of there that are real diggers.  Not much energy left for biking uphill.  However, the majority of the ride was a fast descent, much of which I was peddling for my life to get it over w/ as quick as possible.  My watch told me I was on track for eleven hours.  That would be almost 90 minutes quicker than last year!  I needed to keep moving.  Once I made it back to Lyons, it was almost over.  Just about ten miles of rolling hills to where my truck was parked (and hopefully not towed away).  There are always lots of cyclists on the road btwn Boulder and Lyons on a Saturday and I was happy that I was passing most of them.  Heavy backpack, tired legs and all!  Every mile was taking forever.  I could see Boulder.  Why wasn’t it getting any closer?  Move, Adam.  Move! 

When I made it back to the start I was exhausted and happy it was all behind me.  I was happy.  I enjoyed every minute!  I stopped my watch. 10 hours and 54 minutes.  Over 90 minutes faster than my last attempt.  Yes!  I set the bike down, took off my backpack and just walked around moaning, breathing and coughing a lot.  It hurt and felt good simultaneously.  A long, beautiful day in the mountains.  These are dream days for me.  I really appreciate days like this.  In fact, if I didn’t have to work…this is probably how I’d spend most of my days.  Rushing up and down the biggest mountains, checking my watch to see how close I’m getting to the masters.  That’s it. 

Do big things.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Kettle Moraine 100

It wasn’t supposed to be THIS hard.

I’ve been running most of my life.  I’ve run a couple of hundred milers on much tougher terrain, up and down high elevation mountains—so this should be cake, right?  Was I getting too cocky?  When I signed up for the Kettle Moraine 100, I knew it would be tough but in the back of my mind—I kind of thought I’d be able to breeze right through it.  It’s my home turf, my friends will be there, I’d run the course once before.  It’s relatively “flat” compared to what I’d been training on and I’d been training harder than ever before. 

Mile 0.1!  Here we go.  Only 99.9 miles to go…

“I have a chance of winning this thing.”  I thought.

I took off with the leaders in sight.  I wanted to keep them close and just see how I feel.  When we made it to the Bluff aid station (mile 7), we’d been running 7:30’s.  This is a hundred mile race.  I knew it was going to be a long day.  I told myself to back off.  Slow down.  However…I couldn’t do it.  I was running well with a couple of guys and I physically had to pull myself off the trail and force myself to pee…just to let those guys go.  Now I was by myself.  I would HAVE to run at my own pace.  There was no one to dictate the pace for me.  I kept moving toward the meadows. 

The meadows are what everyone fears.  Anyone who’s run the Kettle Moraine 100 knows them well.  It’s a nine mile stretch with no protection or coverage from trees.  If it’s sunny, you are going to feel it.  I prepared by switching out my handheld water bottle for my Nathan pack, filled with water and ice.  I also made myself take a couple of walking breaks through those meadows.  Just to slow the heart rate down and drink lots of water.  The heat out there is rough.  I knew I needed to manage myself well here or the whole day could end up in the toilet.  As I made my way to Scuppernong, I could see where I was within the field because it’s an out and back.  I saw runners coming back the other direction and I was counting them in my mind. 





I was disappointed to find myself in tenth place.  Really?  Ten guys are going harder than me?  I almost found it hard to believe.  They had three or four miles on me too.  It was time to buckle down.  It was time to really start moving. 

At Scuppernong, I washed the sweat off my body, drank a Mountain Dew and headed back into the woods.  I decided to run hard until the meadows.  Once back out in the heat, I slowed it down.  Took some more walking breaks.  A couple of guys passed me.  I tried not to be discouraged but I was.  I knew once I made it out, I’d drop the hammer again.  I put the headphones in and went to work.  I ran 7:30’s and charged the uphills.  I sang along to my music, alone in the woods.  I crushed, for a while there.  Then I ran out of food for a few miles and I was back to the pain cave. 

Just need to make it to the aid station.

This is where things began to HURT.  A lot.  Like more than normal.  HURT more than I was prepared for.  HURT too early in the race.  I wondered what I was doing out here.  I wondered how I was going to finish this thing.  Walking became a monumental task.  Running another forty-five miles seemed impossible. 

“What’s wrong with me?” I thought.  “I’ve been training at altitude all year for this!”

I hoped it would get easier once I picked up my pacer.  I was hoping he could distract me from all of the HURT I was feeling.  But I was embarrassed for him to see me in this kind of HURT so early in the race. 

A few things about my pacers.  Jason Penticoff and Ryan Dexter are both stud athletes.  Jason has run a million races but never completed the hundred mile distance.  He’s a fantastic runner but an injury had sidelined him this year.  I know he’s got a hundred miler in him but his mind is usually his worst enemy.  I wanted to give him a good show.  I wanted to show him how it’s done and hopefully inspire him.  Now Ryan Dexter, on the other hand, has won hundred and fifty mile and two-hundred mile races!  Talk about stud.  He’s not necessarily a talented runner.  But he’s got more guts and balls than anyone else out there.  That’s how he runs.  Guts and balls.   

However, eleven plus hours in, at 71 miles—I’ve never felt so wrecked.  I sat down at the Bluff aid station for the first time all day and wondered how I was going to go on.  I apologized to my crew.  I had told them we were going to win this year.  I’d fallen back to 12th place and now they were pouring water over my head and handing me Pepto-Bismol to calm my stomach down.  I couldn’t even look at them.  I was ashamed.  Dexter hasn’t even paced me for ten miles yet.  I’m letting him down.  I felt like absolute death.

Dema Nuertey stepped in.  He came out of the woods like a shaman with sage advice.  He pulled me close and spoke into my ear. 

“Adam.”  He said with his cool, soothing voice.  “This is going to be the most difficult day of your life.”  I’m probably paraphrasing.  This is what I heard.  “You can fight it or you can accept it.  You need to breathe.  Breathe.  Yes.  Breathe deeply.”

I started breathing.  It was working.  With each inhale, I could feel strength coming back to me. 

“Okay, get up Adam—it’s time for you to get moving!” crew tells me.

“What” I think, “they’re not going to give me any mercy?  I’ve never felt this bad in a race, ever!  They’re kicking me out of the aid station?”

I have some of the best friends in the world.

I feel like walking to the finish at this point is impossible. 

“Get going!” is the only encouragement I receive. 

Dexter forcing me to eat, as we walk out of an aid station.  38 miles to go. 

I had no idea how I was going to finish.  My friends had volunteered to come out and stay up all night to see me to the finish as quickly as possible.  I really didn’t want to let them down but I’d clearly run the first half of the race too fast and the Wisconsin humidity has been punching me in the guts all day long.

Ultras, for me, are the perfect analogy for life.  You get what you put in.  It’s not going to be easy.  There’s going to be highs and lows and there WILL be a time when it seems impossible and you want to quit.  You can count on it.  The point is you have to keep moving forward.  No matter how bad it may seem at the time, if you keep moving forward, it WILL eventually get better.  Guaranteed.  If you get stuck focusing on the lows and feeling sorry for yourself—you’ll find a million reasons to quit.  I’ve dropped out of races before and woke up the next day feeling like the loneliest person in the world.  I don’t ever want to feel that again. 

Penticoff took over on the way out to Rice Lake.  I was vomiting pretty regularly and couldn’t keep anything down.  I was getting weaker and weaker.  Food just wouldn’t stay down.  It was dark.  It was raining.  I couldn’t eat.  We are running two minutes and walking one.  I’m doing deep breathing exercises just to move forward.  This is not how this race was supposed to go.  I know I have to DIG.  DIG deeper than ever before.  But every time I try to DIG, I’m already at the bottom.  There are no reserves. 

I switch pacers.  I tell Dexter we’ve been running two minutes and walking one.  It’s been working well.  That’s about all I can manage right now. 

That’s when he started yelling at me. 

“What do you want man?”  I’m probably paraphrasing and making it seem much worse than it really was.  “You came here to win this race!  Well that’s not going to happen now.  What’s your plan B?  Walk it in for twenty five hours?  You have to decide, Adam.  Make the decision and tell me what you want!”

I thought about it.  He was right.  Winning was impossible.  Top ten was impossible.  I was making a mess of everything.  I was ruining this whole thing.  I was letting my friends down. 

“I know what I want.” Dexter yelled.  “I want sub twenty hours!”

Sub twenty?  Twenty-four seemed impossible at this point. 

“You moved to Boulder to take it to the next level.  It’s time to take it to the next level!  And you aren’t going to do it with this two one two one shit!  We need to run!”

I began to run.  Five minutes of running.  Ten.  Fifteen.  I was running again. 

“Nice Adam, NICE!”  Dexter yelled.  He YELLED it.  He was celebrating the little victories with me.  “Make a decision.  What do you want?”

I didn’t have the energy to talk.  Literally.  Everything was going into moving forward.  Talking was a waste of what little energy I had in my body.  I whispered it. 

“Sub twenty.”

“Alright!”  he YELLED into the night.  “Let’s go then!”

And somehow…we ran.  I don’t know how.  I get tears in my eyes thinking about how far down I had to dig to find energy reserves.  I couldn’t get any food in at all and my body was getting weaker for it.  Ice water was the only thing my body wouldn’t reject.  Dexter watched me puking, examining the bile with his headlamp. 

“Looks like blood, we’d better move fast!”

I kept pushing.  It didn’t get much easier for me that day but I discovered another gear I never knew I had before.  I went deeper into the pain cave than I ever had.  I felt toenails loosening up in my shoes.  My legs were jacked and my feet were hamburger.  I couldn’t eat or drink anything for the last thirty miles.  But somehow…I kept moving forward.  I started passing other runners.  It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  I tell myself, “It’ll be over in three hours.”

“Two hours.”

“One hour.”

We made it to the Bluff aid station where Jason was supposed to pick me up and run me in.  However, Dexter and I have run too fast.  They aren’t here.  They aren’t expecting me for another hour. 

“They’re not here?”  Dexter asks. 

“No.” I whisper. 

“I’ll run ya in.”  he said.  Thank God for Dexter.  But I knew that meant this was going to be the hardest seven miles of my life.

I have NOTHING in the tank but somehow find myself getting a tiny bit stronger with every runner we pass and every mile we click off. 

We make it to mile ninety-nine.  We see another runner and pacer.

“NO!”  I think.

“We’ve gotta pass!”  Dexter says.  I’m crushed.  It’s mile ninety nine and we are picking up the pace to pass runners?  Doesn’t he understand?  I’ve got NOTHING left.  But somehow we pass.  Then we complete the pass.  We disappear into the woods so they don’t get any ideas about chasing me down. 

“Ok, you’ve earned a ten second walk break.”  Dexter says. 

Thank God.  We walk.  He turns around. 

“They’re coming man!  We have to move!”

“What?” I ask.  “Are you shittin me?”

“No, let’s move!”

And that’s how you run hard all the way into the finish. 

My strength came from God, my pacers and crew and deep, deep within myself.  I lived a lifetime of emotions in that 19 hours and 48 minutes.  I learned more about myself that day and night than ever before. 

That’s why I challenge myself.  That’s how I feel life.  That’s why I run ultras. 

I’ve never been so happy to cross a finish line.  It’s 2 am.  My crew isn’t even here because I ran the last fifteen miles too fast.  They aren’t expecting me for another hour or two.  I sit down and sitting down has never felt so good.  I put my feet up and moan in pain and ecstasy. 

“Never again” I swear. “That was the last one!”

“Hey Adam!”  Dexter yells.  “That last runner we passed…they weren’t running the hundred, they’re doing the fun run!”

My amazing crew and friends!  100 miles.  19 hours, 48 minutes.  8th place.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Ryan "The Punisher" Dexter

Ryan “The Punisher” Dexter

Ryan Dexter’s reputation preceded him, in my circle of friends.  A few years ago, some of my friends and I dreamed about running a hundred miler, someday.  Dexter had already won a 150 one year and a 200 mile race two years in a row!  He was local to where I lived at the time and he seemed like a rock-god.  He always ran with a Punisher logo on his shirt and it somehow seemed fitting.  He was built more like a football player than a runner and it seemed like he was picking a fight with the course when he ran trails.  Determination and grit emanate from him.  I didn’t picture him doing track workouts or yoga as cross training.  Regardless, he just seemed…well, tough.  It seemed the longer the race was, the stronger he was. 

It took me weeks to get him on the phone.  He had just run the McNaughton 150 again this year and nailed a 2nd place finish.  I wanted to hear all the gory details but right after the race, he was flying back and forth to Florida to look at homes and schools for his three boys.  When he put his home near Madison, WI on the market, it was time for an all night painting session to get the house ready. 

I couldn’t do this stuff if I didn’t run ultras / he says / —I painted from 8 pm to 7 am and then went to work.  I believe ultras help you in life.  I mean, after running two or three nights straight…what’s three gallons of paint?

Dexter is also a thirty-seven year old family man and works a full time job as a professional engineer.  I was interested in finding out how he did it all.

I run back and forth to work everyday, seven miles each way.  If I’m training real hard, I get up and run five on the treadmill, run seven to work, run seven home and then five more on the treadmill.  It’s tough in Wisconsin when the weather sucks to lace it up four or five times a day.  I think that’s how I deal with the monotony of these loop courses and long distances.  I run the same course every single day.  But really, I just love running. 

That adds up to big miles.  Dexter averages over three thousand miles a year, sometimes putting in six hundred mile months before a big race. 

God made us so amazing / he says / —and most people never tap into it.  I’ve spent a lot of time with David Goggins and he always said you have to put yourself in the most miserable situations to really see what you’re made of.  Loop courses, for me, are the epitome of miserable.  But that’s why I do them.  In a hundred and fifty or two hundred mile race, you’re going to break down and want to quit.  No mater what.  It’s the person who doesn’t stop that wins. 

Dexter started running in 1996 and he’s been training hard ever since.  He started with a three miler around his neighborhood.  He ran it everyday.  He wondered if he’d ever be able to do it twice.  Twice came and went.  Before long—he ran a marathon.  Then a few fifty mile races.  In 2004, he toed the line for the Western States 100. 

When I qualified, I didn’t know Christina was pregnant with our second son / he says.  Her due date was pretty much race day / —the race took me almost thirty hours.  I barely had time to shower before catching my flight home.  I don’t know who was in worse shape at the hospital, her or me.  After that, my wife made me sign a piece of paper that said I wouldn’t do this crazy stuff anymore.  But she’s a six time Ironman finisher, so she kind of gets it.  I still have that piece of paper.

In 2005, he ran the McNaughton 100 and afterwards, felt pretty good.  He finished in 22:51 and realized that since they allow thirty-six hours to complete the course, he could probably run another 50 miles in that amount of time.  He convinced the RD and in 2007, the first McNaughton 150 mile run was born.  Fifteen loops around a ten mile course.  All hilly, muddy trails with 24,000 vertical feet and two creek crossings on each loop.  About ten people showed up, including David Goggins and Paul Stofko. 

At the time, the race started at 6 pm, which sucks / Dexter says / —because you’re immediately in the dark, so you’re definitely going through two nights.  I was running with David for a while and he ran into some problems and I thought I had 2nd place in the bag.  I’m doing my last loop—barely moving and suddenly David FLIES by me out of the blue.  I tried to catch him but—I’ve never seen anything like it.  FLYING at a hundred and forty-seven miles.  So that year, I got third place. 

The next year, David Goggins won and set the course record.  Ryan finished second.  (If you haven’t seen it, jump on Youtube and look up David Goggins Human Machine and thank me later.)  In 2009, The Punisher returned and finished in first place, about an hour off of Goggins record. 

1st place McNaughton 150

 It took me three times to win that race.  It was all consuming.  I lived for that race.  Each year, after finishing, I’d take a little break and then start training for the next year.

Lucky for Dexter, the RD of McNaughton moved to Vermont and found another ten mile loop and started another race.  100, 150 and 200 mile options.  The Punisher was all over it. 

In 2010, ten people lined up to run 200 miles.  John Dennis was one of them.  John actually lapped Dexter at mile 90 but as the night went on, he ended up breaking down and dropping at around 150.  On the third straight night of racing—that’s when the visions came. 

I was hallucinating and saw these super real and vivid car accidents on the side of the trail with me in them, bloody and mangled and dead.  They were very intense.  I think my mind and body thought I was dying.  I was 180 miles in and leading when I quit.  I took a shower and called my wife in tears.  She told me I’ve only got twenty miles to go—just go walk it.  I went back out in the mud and won the race. 

Shattered but in the lead.  McNaughton 200

The next year, he went back.  John Dennis was there again, went out too hard again and couldn’t hold the pace.  The Punisher won and took ten hours off his previous years time. 

The Punisher taking 10 hours off of his own time.  1st place

 Since then, Dexter has been steadily racking up a slew of other races while balancing work and family.  He even ran the Frozen Otter 64 miler, which is a self supported race in the dead of winter, in the middle of Wisconsin.  Why?  Because he HATES the cold.  He hated all twenty-two hours of the cold that day. 

You gotta try it—you gotta test yourself!

In April of this year, he returned to Pekin, Illinois for the McNaughton 150.  By mile 120, his feet were in such bad shape, he could barely walk.  If you can’t run and maintain your core temperature, it’s going to make the creek crossings at night when it’s thirty-five degrees out pretty cold.  Dexter got a chill that he couldn’t get rid of and suffered.  At mile 140, he sat in his crew’s car trying to warm up for almost an hour, with only one lap to go.  Logan Polfuss told him third place was five minutes back.  That was all he needed to hear.  He took off as hard as he could.  He put almost forty minutes on third place during that last loop.  He finished second this year. 

I love that feeling of being DONE—totally dead and then coming back and passing tons of people that just can’t keep up. 

That is pretty much was Dexter is known for. 

I ask him what his secret is?  He immediately tells me consistency. 

I’m not special or gifted in any way.  I don’t run a fast marathon.  But I show up to the race knowing for a fact that I trained the hardest.  I may not be the best or the fastest but I know I put the work and time in to win the race.  It’s a tremendous advantage.  I don’t run for success—I run simply because I enjoy it / he laughs / —really I’m a lazy person.  I want to sit and watch tv but I feel guilty.  That’s what I love about running a 200.  It makes you appreciate the little things so much.  Like sitting down and just being still.  After moving for over fifty hours, it feels SO good. 

When I ask him what the next ultra is, he laughs and say / Moving to Florida! / He doesn’t have any races planned at the moment but admits running is a bit of an addiction and races help to keep him motivated. 

Dexter and family

I’ve done a couple of twenty-four hour events but I’d like to do a flat forty-eight hour.  I’d also like to try a six day event and see what kind of time I can pull in / He jokes about retirement but mentions that a sub three hour marathon and a sub twenty-four hour Western States are both still on the list as well.