From feeling like a chain smoker
to smoking the field!
I think we’ve all been there -on the sidelines, watching friends compete, while nursing an injury or unforeseen setback. We try to play it off like it’s no big deal. Like taking time off from running is actually fun, but really, deep down, being on the sidelines is probably the worst place in the universe to be.
That was my situation at last December’s TNF 50 ultra in San Francisco. I was a spectator, watching Sage Canaday crush the field and wondering where I would have, could have, been. But in reality I was not in shape to race 50 miles, let alone take on one of the best fields assembled for the distance.
After running what was probably my best-ever race and finishing third in a super-stacked field at the 45-mile Les Templiers in late October, I had just assumed that I would roll right into the final race of the season and finish the year on a high note. Unfortunately my body had other plans. To cut a long story short, I was dealing with some iron deficiency problems. When I went training I felt heavy -like I had suddenly gained about 230lbs -and that I had become a chain smoker. Yes, I felt awful.
After a few miserable weeks I got some great advice from Select Physical Therapy and finally got back on track in late December. As is the case for everyone coming back from a long break, running was downright difficult. I had the vague ambition of returning to Moab (Utah) in February to run the Red Hot 55k ultra, but as of January 1st running 55 kilometers (approximately 34 miles) sounded as plausible as a clean-shaven Peter Maksimow! (see image below)
Racing the best in the business,
2014 ultra runner of the year Rob Krar
As the days went by, my fitness improved and soon enough I found myself signing up for Red Hot once again. I immediately soiled myself when I realized I would be racing course record holder, Western States and Leadville 100 victor, and 2014 ultra runner of the year, Rob Krar. I washed my pants and got to training! Before long I was doing workouts that rivaled my days pre Les Templiers. I was regaining my fitness, but the race and the competition nevertheless remained intimidating.
Race day arrived. I did a quick warm-up jog as the sun rose over the red rock cliff sides. I must have been a little too distracted by the beauty of Moab on my warm-up because I very nearly missed the start of the race. The near miss resulted in a little a surge of adrenaline that put me immediately into the lead. A quick glance at my watch showed that the first half-mile -uphill -was close to 6 flat mile pace! I told myself not to panic and I let the lead group catch me.
After just a couple miles the lead group of Rob Krar, Jim Walmsley, Christian Gering, and myself was established. I knew the first half of the race would be quick but with Christian pushing the pace up front I found myself lagging off the lead pack by 50m-100m. It was almost like the three of them were running just a few seconds faster per mile than what I found comfortable. Fortunately I was able to catch the lead group at every aid station. As they stopped to fuel up, I was able to keep running, thanks to having quick and easy access to all my fluid and food in the inov-8 RACE ULTRA VEST. At times I found the gap between the leaders and myself really irritating. But deep down I knew I would have my time once the course turned to slickrock slabs and steep climbs.
Joy at running the second fastest ever time for
Moab Red Hot 55k ultra
I took the lead on a slow, painful grind of an uphill. I had bridged the gap back to the lead group of three and made my way past them on one of the biggest climbs on the course. I didn’t put in a surge, I just kept up my own effort and found myself in the lead at 35k.
From then on it was just me versus the course. I didn’t look back, I just focused on the distance ahead and tried not to blow up. To my surprise, everything worked out. I maintained my lead and won the race for the second year in a row. It was a great feeling to win such a competitive event and to run the second fastest ever time (3:48:58 -nearly five minutes outside of Rob’s course record but over eight minutes quicker than I ran in 2014).
But when I look back on the experience I honestly feel like the most satisfying part was finally being off of the sidelines and back in the thick of the action. As it turns out I really don’t make the best spectator!