“I’m done. I gotta stop. I can’t keep going.”
“Why? Does your knee hurt?”
“Not really, no.”
“You sound like you’re pretty with it…”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“Well then you have to finish. You’re finishing.”
Kelsea met me just before I reached the 40-mile aid station. I had just finished suffering through the worst stretch of running in my life. I just walked 3 miles…down hill. My body hurt so bad that I couldn’t even jog the easiest part of the course. I could barely walk it! I couldn’t go any further.
Within ten seconds of talking to Kelsea however, my mindset switched from “I’m totally shot. Done. Spent.” to “Okay—this is gonna be ugly, but maybe I can still finish.” Without Kelsea (or more specifically, her glare and harsh resolve) I would have quit.
I had been dueling The Beast since mile 27. Before that, the race went pretty smoothly. I was 5 minutes ahead of schedule at mile 10 without breaking much of a sweat. I hit the mile 17 aid station – still in good shape! A few minutes ahead of schedule and the only issue I was having was a small blister forming on my big toe. Meh—I’ll deal with it at the 25 mile turnaround. I climbed 6,000 vertical feet, descended 6,000 feet, and glided into mile 25 without complaint (other than needing to deal with the blister and maybe change shoes). Kels, Bro and Dad were stellar all day—got me supplies, popped a blister, change of shirt, butt slap and I’m on my way. They’re pros!
Around mile 27 though, The Beast came out to play—I was working my way up an1,800-foot climb when BAM! I hit a huge wall (not a literal wall of course…this isn’t one of those Tough Mud type races. We’re speakin’ metaphorically here). As if someone snuck 40 pounds of sand into my pack. Everything started to hurt. My biggest strength—powering up steep climbs—became almost unbearable. And so quickly! My legs were concrete! What the hell was going on?! I was cruising until about ten minutes ago!
I dredged to the top and sat down. Well that came out of no where. But I figured it would pass (The Beast has never lasted more than a few miles…) now that I had a nice smooth downhill to the next aid station. I was right—for about 10 minutes. The fifth of six climbs began at mile 30, and The Beast roared back to life. The previous climb and battle with The Beast was peanuts compared to this round. It started to rain. Then hail. I was alone.
Every part of my body was screaming for me to stop. So I did. I sat down on a rain-soaked fallen pine tree and began thinking of dropping-out. But I knew I had to at least reach mile 40’s aid station to get a ride outta there. So I started to walk. Downhill. A soft drizzle fell as I descended from Horsetooth Rock toward the aid station below. I was resigned to dropping out but was grateful for a beautiful day. But I definitely had to stop.
And I would have, had Kelsea been any less demanding that I continue.
When I reached her at mile 40, I was destroyed. Bottom of the barrel, baby! The Beast had taken me down. But Kelsea refused to let me stop. Can she even do that?? It was just as difficult for her to push me on as it was for me to keep moving. Actually, it was much harder for her. So…
I downed a cup of warm soup from the aid station volunteers (man oh man, those people were the best) and changed into dry clothes. Sure enough, I began to rise from the dead. I walked out of the aid station and back into the woods.
Halfway up the final 1,800-foot ascent I started to jog. Then run. I kept repeating: “Get to that next tree…get to the next bend in the trail…keep. f**king. moving.” I wasn’t planning on making the 14-hour cut at the finish line and didn’t care. But with 4 miles to go, I was feeling well enough to start calculating…4 miles, 50 minutes. It’s possible. I started moving faster.
The sun began setting behind Arthur’s Rock. With 2 miles to go I could see car lights near the finish line. Then I saw my crew. Kelsea. Andrew. Dad. They’ve been up since 3:30 this morning helping me. I was overwhelmed with emotion but tried to keep it together for the last 100 yards. 50 yards. 10. Finish line. Kelsea. Done. …with 17 minutes to spare.
I thought this 50 miler would be easier. Ha! It didn’t matter that I was better trained, better prepared; that I had run this course dozens of times. Bad patches and bad days come outta no-where. You never know when they’ll hit. The Beast might go easy on ya one race—or for most of a race—then hop on your back for 20 or 30 miles without any tangible explanation. Either way, ya gotta keep movin’.
I had to finish Quad Rock. The time didn’t matter. What mattered was that I found the bottom of the barrel—and still found the finish line. If I stopped at 40 miles, how was I going to mentally take on the Leadville 100? No way! Never. Stop. Moving.
“Appreciation” doesn’t really cut it when I try to describe how I feel about my crew on Saturday: my incredible (and fierce!) wife Kelsea, my steady and always best man Andrew, my encouraging and cow-bell ringin’ dad John, and the always “ready-to-jump-in-for-a-quick-“twunt”” Mr. Jay Bowers. You, my friends, saved the day. And with it my hope that 100 miles is still possible. Thank you. And thanks to Ella and Haddy for bein’ at the finish–I really appreciate your support!
All right, then. Three more months til Leadville, where The Beast will be waiting.