Cruel Jewel was important to me. Important for a lot of reasons but mostly important for selfish reasons of redemption. I needed redemption for last year. Last year was abysmal, by any running standards. Quad Rock 50 got flooded out and rescheduled. Then I sprained my ankle and couldn’t make the reschedule. I ran San Juan Solstice 50 a month after said sprained ankle and had to walk about 25 miles—it took like 14 hours to finish. Then I put all of my energy into Nolan’s 14. I didn’t do any more races, I just focused my energy into scouting and getting the routes down. Both Nolan’s attempts didn’t work out d/t getting sick beforehand. I was left w/out a Hardrock qualifier and zero races that I felt good about. I felt like a failure. Was I getting too old for this stuff? Nothing seemed to be working out. You’re only as good as the last thing you did, or at least that’s what I read somewhere. Well, I hadn’t done anything. I needed to finish. I needed a Hardrock qualifier. I would have crawled across broken glass infected w/ typhoid to get to this finish line.
I flew out to Georgia early Thursday morning and ran a shakeout run, shortly after I landed. I had never climbed 33,000 feet in a day and 108 miles is about 6 or 7 miles further than I had ever gone—further than I really ever cared to go. I wasn’t nervous. In fact, I was calm. Too calm. Would I fall flat on my face? Had I trained hard enough? Too hard? In March and April, I had run lots of 80 mile weeks, with a few 90’s and 100’s sprinkled in for kicks. In April, I ran the Rockin K 50 miler in Kansas as a little test. A week later, I jumped into a 24 hour event (not something I recommend but I’ve been known to succumb to peer pressure) w/ the intention of running an easy 50-60 miles. At 60 miles, I was in 3rd. My buddy Logan showed up at that point w/ fresh legs and was able to pace me through a fast 10 miles or so. I kept it up until I was in 2nd. I went on to run 102 miles before calling it a day. I never really pushed hard, just cruised. Then I basically rested for a month before Cruel Jewel. I exercised twice a day but was only logging 30-40 mile weeks most of that month in order to let the legs heal up. I didn’t feel 100% going into Cruel Jewel but I didn’t feel injured either. I was ready to see what I was (or wasn’t) made of.
The noon start was something new for me. That gives you just enough time to “try” and sleep in and just basically have a few anxious hours b/f the race. I made sure I had everything I needed in my pack and my drop bags. This would also be my first hundred w/out crew or pacers to help me out. I was going this one alone. The only other person that I knew down there was my friend Cecilia. I was staying at her parent’s house. She was running as well and had run the course last year as well. She was the one that convinced me I needed this race on my resume. While she nervously hugged everyone (she knows everyone down there, this is her home turf) I sat on the sidelines, quietly waiting for noon. In fact, she’s so popular down there, when people saw me quietly following her around, they assumed I was her pacer. Nope, I’m here to see what’s what.
At noon, we were off. I felt the nervous energy, felt people going out way too fast, settled into an easy pace w/ about 10-12 people ahead of me. I tried to keep my heart rate low in the first 7 miles to tap into the fat burning mode I’d trained my body to do.
A few months b/f the race, I’d taken on a new diet. I’m not one to try fad diets but I needed a change and knew my body wasn’t happy w/ what I’d been feeding it. I’ve always had a gluten sensitivity. I’d always puked my guts out during ultras. I’d always had a large capacity for alcohol and it never seemed to bother me too much. However, I’m always trying to make small, positive changes. What better way to start than w/ what I’m putting in my body?
First, I gave up gluten and wheat. I started to feel better. My skin cleared up. Then I increased my fat intake and lowered my carbohydrates altogether. It was a big commitment. No bread. No tortillas. No pasta. No beer. Lots of butter, coconut oil and avocados until they were coming out my ears. I was spending lots of money on quality foods and most of my spare time was now spent in the kitchen, preparing food for the day. The first few weeks, I felt like crap. My runs felt like junk. Ten minute miles seemed to nearly kill me. I went for runs w/ friends and was just plain embarrassed at my performance. I was slow and tired. I hung in. I pushed through. No carbs. After a few weeks, I broke through. I crossed the line and my body was now burning fat rather than carbohydrates and sugar. I didn’t “become faster” after those few weeks, I just slowly bounced back to feeling normal. Gone were the days of needing a gel every 20 minutes of a run. I’d go for a 20 mile run w/ only a nut butter. I’d wake up and have a super fatty bulletproof coffee and run 10 miles and not even be hungry afterwards. Was it working?
I tested it out in Kansas at the Rockin K 50. The race went well. I ran the whole things w/ 2 gels, 2 nut butters and a coconut water or two. That’s it. The good Lord granted me a first place finish to let me know to stay on the path I was on. Recovery was quick. The next weekend, I jumped into the 24 hour event. I was only there for time on feet and sleep deprivation training, w/ Cruel Jewel in the back of my mind. I ended up w/ a 2nd place podium finish. Then I basically had a month to recoup b/f Cruel Jewel. I ran some 40 mile weeks. I cross trained a lot. I gave up alcohol altogether. W/out being able to drink beer, I was left w/ liquor or white wine, neither of which is all that great for training hard. So I gave it up. Now I’m not saying I’ll be sober and carb free for the rest of my days but right now, it’s working for me. Even after the race, I’ve managed to stay strong. High fat, low carb, ketogenic, sober living. Who the hell was I? All the questions went through my head. Did I even want to be this person? I kept it up anyway.
The first aid station was at 7 miles. I’d been following a conga line of runners and as they all stopped for food and water, I cruised right on by. At mile 7, I was on my own. There were runners ahead but who knew how many. Run your own race. I felt great. The Duncan Ridge Trail, known as the Dragon’s Spine awaited us. It was relentless. In Colorado, we are used to monster climbs and technical trails much worse than this. We are used to 3,000-4,000 foot climbs and trails so technical, you can barely run at all. But in Georgia, most of the climbs were 500-800 feet. There are a few bigger ones but since I was running on (only) 3,000-4,000 foot mountains, it didn’t seem that taxing to me. In Colorado, we run up 8,000-14,000 foot peaks on the weekly. I ran by myself for a long time. In and out of aid stations, up and down mountains, sun shining down w/ nothing but blue skies above me. I saw Cecilia’s folks at mile 30 (the only time I would see them throughout the race—after all, they were there for her, not me) and was able to switch shoes. They let me know my GPS tracker wasn’t working and they messed w/ it while I ate a couple strips of bacon. There were a couple of guys I’d been leapfrogging w/ for miles and we were kind of pacing off of each other. Nightfall came and we ran into the 50 mile turnaround a few hours later. I was tired, sore etc. but not done. Still moving well. I changed shirts, ate some nut butter and drank coconut water and headed back out by myself for more punishment. I went deep, deep into the night and into myself. I wasn’t puking my guts out. I wasn’t going through super high highs or low lows. I was just cruising. Instead of dreading eating a gel every 20 minutes and making myself sick, I was eating every 8-10 miles and looking forward to it. Never hungry, just feeling “normal”. Sure, it was tough. Sure, my legs were toast. Sure, my feet would turn into burger b/f long. But I wasn’t sick and I was able to take food in w/out it being a complete nightmare. I put in headphones and listened to an audiobook. Eventually, the sun came up. I had about 30 miles to go. I’d power hike the ups and shuffle along on the downs. There were no flats. It was either up or down. I wasn’t necessarily moving fast but no one else must have been either b/c as slow as things seemed to be going, I was on my own and no one was passing me. Everyone was suffering by now. My lowest point came at mile 75. I was tired. Wrecked. At the 80 miles aid station, I tried to eat some beef jerky. Too dry. I tried to drink a Red Bull. Blah. Fail, fail.
Is there anything you need? / the aid station volunteers offered.
Nope—I’d better just get back out there / I replied indignantly. The last 25 miles weren’t going to run themselves. The Dragon’s Spine still awaited me, along w/ a finish line—somewhere out there. I was pretty destroyed but still moving. I made it to 100 miles. Only 8 miles to go. Those 8 miles seemed impossible. There were one or two more climbs. I didn’t want to do it. I wondered if I could hitch a ride w/ some southern boy who would be willing to drop me off a half mile from the finish. I could run in and claim I’d made it. God, would that be easier than this. I shuffled along for 30 minutes and looked at my watch. I’d only moved ¾ of a mile! What? This is stupid! Help! Get me off of this course! Eventually I made it to “the bridge” and I knew I only had 3 miles to go. I got it in my head that no one would pass me w/in the last 3 miles and I’d give it all I had. I moaned in pain w/ every step. I knew the finish was close. I could smell it. W/ about ¾ of a mile to go, I saw someone behind me, moving fast. He was trying to overtake me. Nope. Not happening. Not on my watch. I didn’t know what place I was in and didn’t care. This gentleman was not going to take anything away from me. I just “turned it on”. I don’t know where the reserves came from but I dropped a 7 min / mile and ran it all the way into the finish, pain every step. 108 miles. 33,000 feet. I crossed the finish line, elated. 28 hours and 41 minutes. No one to hug. No one to celebrate w/. I had done it alone. Not just the race but the entire journey that had started months ago. No one to encourage me. No one to push me. I had found a strength and confidence w/in myself that was quite literally priceless. They told me I was in the top 10 finishers. I felt like I had found a new me.
I like who I am when my back is against the wall and everything is against me. I like who I am when the pressure is on and I’m tired and want to go home. These are the moments I live for. These are the moments when I find out what I’m really all about. These are just a few of the memories I will remember on my deathbed.
I’m definitely not perfect and I would never suggest modeling your life after mine. I’ve made every mistake in the book and it sometimes seems I only do the right thing when there’s no wrong things left to do. I’m not special, gifted or even all that athletic. I’m just a messed up guy, looking for my own peace of mind. The trails are just one of the things that help me to be a better person. Running 100 miles isn’t healthy. It’s pretty tough on your body. But there’s something special about finding a strength deep, deep w/in yourself that you KNOW everyone has. Most people will never tap into it though. I say—open that door. See what’s on the other side. Go deep. You only live once. Be the most authentic you that you can. Be YOU on level 10. You don’t have to do it every day. Do it once in a while. Prove to yourself that you are something special and carry that around w/ you, silently. Bukowski said it best. “You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.”