Viewing entries tagged
100 Milers

Barkley, A Long Form Race Report


Barkley, A Long Form Race Report

Credits : Des bosses et des bulles

Almost a month on from when I toed the line at The Barkley Marathons and I am literally still unable to feel most of my toes. The scars from the briars have mostly recovered and my energy levels slowly return to normal, though I do swing between feeling near 100% and knowing I still have a ways to go to get back to 100%. 

The Barkley, quite simply, was the toughest race I've ever attempted, and although I did come up just short in the end I was able to take away nothing but positives from the experience, at least after I'd slept on it a few days and come to terms with it all. 

The Barkley documentary that recently made its way to Netflix certainly affected things this year, most notably in the media coverage during and especially after the event. To speak specifically to the documentary on Netflix, having now experienced all that Barkley is I can say that the doc does a pretty good job of capturing the essence of The Barkley, with its quirkiness, unique characters and appeal on all levels. Where the documentary falls flat on its face though is in showing how difficult the Barkley really is. In hindsight I believe the documentary softened my expectations of the purely physical challenge of the event and as such the very first words out of my mouth after my first lap, to Laz were "This is WAY harder than I expected it to be. I'm enjoying it mind you, and I kinda like what you've managed to piece together out here." 

Beyond all the things that makes The Barkley a near impossible undertaking I like to sum it up like this, I know track running and what happens in Frozen Head State Park could not be more diametrically opposed but bare with me here. Consider the sub 4-minute mile, for many years it was considered impossible and at the outer reaches of human possibility, but since Roger Bannister became the first to break the barrier in 1954 the record has dropped by almost 17 seconds and high school runners have since broken the mark. Take the sub 4-minute mile and after every single runner breaks four minutes tack on another 50 meters / 50 yards to the distance, but keep calling it a mile.  This is The Barkley.

Lap 1 - Let's Get This Thing Started Already.

I had been warned that Jared would take it out hard, at least in comparison to what you'd expect a "60-hour" pace to consist of. I decided that I would hang with Jared and the lead pack for the first thirty minutes, no matter the pace, and then assess from there if it were sustainable or not. I thought we'd see a bit of a false charge, or a "scraping" of people as soon as possible. When I veteran makes a move to drop a virgin, it is referred to as scraping them. 

Sure enough just a few minutes in and we were running the first climb. The grade was nothing serious and you'd run it without question during a shorter endeavor as it was a maintained trail, also known as a "candyass trail", but to assess this as a 60-hour pace or not would certainly return with only one answer of "oh hell no." Thankfully, and as expected, once we'd established our lead group of seven the pace eased ever so slightly to a more reasonable clip. Our group consisted of Jared, John Kelly (so local that one of the hills/mountains is named after his family), Andrew Thompson (2009 Finisher), Adam Lint and two french runners. Not a bad group to find yourself with this early on. 

As a virgin I knew the only shot at success was to latch onto a veteran and attempt to learn as much as possible while not getting dropped. My intent, if I did get scraped by Jared and co. was to immediately stop and await the next group of runners to catch up to pair up with them. I did not know Jared in advance of the race beyond a one hour phone call we'd had after I reached out to him asking him if I could run a few questions by him. The main piece of advice I took away from that was, "follow a vet for two laps, ideally someone who is slower than you and take on as little stress as possible while learning as much of the course as you can." We never once spoke about the "what if" of if we would pair up together, but it was always my intent to stick with Jared for as long as it made sense to do so.

We rapidly veered off the candyass trail and through the forest towards our first book. Once we located it I became jubilant, my first Barkley page! On the way into Frozen Head State Park there is a house just before the turn with a small sign for self defense classes and a rather large red sign on the roof of the building simply saying "NINJA". I told Linda I would celebrate each and every book along the course by simply saying NINJA when we found it, whether out loud or to myself I did keep this promise and it helped to keep my spirits light as the race progressed.


As I was celebrating people were pulling pages passing the book along and then darting out of sight. There's no "I" in team and there are no teams in Barkley. As the last person to pull a page I now had a gap to Jared and co. at the front. As we started down our first off-trail descent we were forced through a pinch point in some rocks. I lept forward, caught mud at the bottom and was thrown to my butt for a slide of about ten feet. My backside was covered and people continued to peel away from me. I found myself with AT, asked him about his course knowledge and he said it'd been years since he'd lined up and he was in fact not 100% confident in his nav skills for this new course. He himself was following the leader and we were both about to get scraped. I immediately leaned into the descent and rather recklessly went about attempting to make up ground before the leaders were in fact out of sight. One of the french runners was between myself and the lead pack and he was all that kept them in sight initially. 

Me to myself, "This is NOT a sensible pace right now Gary." "Thanks Captain Obvious, how bout ya shut the hell up and focus on not throwing our race out the window before book two?" "10-4"

At about this time the reality of the Barkley starts to unveil itself. The terrain underfoot is steep and buried beneath organic material, mostly leaves. Every footstep crunches like you're on a early morning winter frost, and every footfall breaks through into something unknown beneath. A patch of mud, a tangled root, a slippery rock, you are constantly being thrown about and often to the ground only to have to pick yourself up time and time again. It is glaringly obvious that the number of ways for your race experience to end prematurely are all but infinite. The Barkley is thrashing me about and I'm not even an hour in, picking myself up off the ground again and again. Thankfully I am closing the gap and by the time we find ourselves at a river crossing to step back onto some candyass trails I'm up in the lead group of four again. Heads down, moving militantly up the second climb, I look down the trail to see AT working hard to catch back up. One French runner is gone and I realize in that moment that there's no messing around here, this isn't an easy stroll in the forest, we're racing.

On the now off-trail descent to book two I am all but attached to Jared at the hip in the two spot. Jared sticks to what he knows which is kind of a two step approach to the book, follow this ridge to this rock, then take a bearing straight shot, while John Kelly opts for a direct line. It would be the last we would see of John until the beginning of our third loop, while going counter-clockwise and we would later learn that as he was heading towards the book he became entangled in a briar patch. The briars took him down and wrapped around his neck and John would end up looking like he'd escaped a cougar attack. 

Book one had been fairly straightforward, but book two would be all but impossible to find as a complete virgin. Jared hit it straight on and all of us doted appreciation on him as we realized how vital he was to our success in that moment. 

We started the near 2000ft off-trail climb away from book two and another member of our group started to falter. As we topped out on some candyass connectors the pace quickened once again and you could hear the scraping sound. We were down to four, Jared, AT, Adam Lint and myself.

As we collectively approached book three, a newly added book for 2016, all but Jared started searching the rock features for where it might be hidden. You are given instructions as to how the books are placed, things such as, and I quote

"If you go to the exact juncture of the two creeks, and cross over to the west bank, there will be a steep earthen embankment directly in front of you. Go left, downstream, until you see the path climbing onto that earthen bank, and turning right to go up the crest. This is only about 30 or 40 feet. Climb up the trail until you are directly above the juncture of the creeks. You will be standing next to a Beech Tree with a Hollow at the bottom. Inside the hollow is book XX"

The instructions mostly make sense if you hit your target spot on, and can kind of make sense for the 101 ways you can slightly miss your target. 

Jared goes straight for a rock on the ground while saying, "I think Laz would put it HERE." Bingo. Slow clap. Ninja.

Onto book 4, standard stuff. From book 4 towards 5 AT tells us stories of how he sat in a mudpit in this area on the 5th and final loop years back squishing mud into his toes for over an hour. He was so delusional he had no idea where he was or what he was doing anymore. He obviously did not finish that year. 

Book 5 involved a short but steep descent and once again we all relied on Jared's precision to save us valuable time. 

Somewhere between Rat Jaw (shown below) which is book #9 and book #12 AT fell off the back and it was but three of us, Jared, Adam and me. We actually waited a minute hoping AT would catch up before turning and continuing on without him. Such is the respect level for a previous finisher of the race. Jared continued to show us the ways of The Barkley and collectively we made haste towards the end of the first lap. 

Photo Credit Keith Knipling

In the clockwise direction the final four miles are candyass trails and they are after you've collected the final 13th book. As we ran down those 2000ft to close out the lap we started talking transition. Adam straight up said he was not continuing at our pace and as I was thinking Jared might declare twenty or twenty-five minutes of "interloopal" time when he spits out,

"Ten minutes?"

Excessively long pause while I process the influx of emotions that came with this tidbit...

"Sounds great...."

Woohoo, camp! Our first lap time was 8:01:19. The conch blew at 9:42am for a 10:42am start time. It was now 6:43pm with a sunset time of just after 8pm and a sunrise time of just before 7am.

Me to Laz as he's counting our pages, "This is WAY harder than I expected it to be. I'm enjoying it mind you and I kinda like what you've managed to piece together out here."

To Jared, "See ya in ten."

To my amazing support crew who consisted of my beautiful wife Linda and our then 7.5 month old son Reed, a buddy from highschool in Newfoundland who now lives three hours from Frozen Head, Shawn Martin, Ethan Newberry (aka The Ginger Runner) and his lovely wife Kimberley Teshima, and finally Matt Trappe...


If I could insert a GIF of the Tasmanian Devil spinning in circles it'd be perfect. Ten minutes later,

"Oh hey Jared, that was fun wasn't it, did you sleep? I thought about it but figured it best to focus on breathing for fifteen seconds."

Lap 2 - Second Verse Same as the First.

Into the night. 

As Laz is handing us our new bibs he reminds us that once we take the bib our crew and camp is off-limits again until either dropping or completing another loop. "Make sure you've got everything you need."

Two headlamps, three batteries, 12+ hours of food, waterproof breathable kit, just in case, cold weather gear as the temps are expected to drop to near freezing, etc, etc. The pack is loaded, weighing maybe ten pounds. We grab our bibs and are off, attempting to cover as much ground as possible before needing to turn on our headlamps. It is now down to just Jared and me and we move remarkably well up the first climb to snag book 1.

At book 2 we come across Canadian Rhonda Marie-Avery, the runner with 8% vision. We are on loop two, somewhere around nine and a half hours in and Rhona, along with her guide, are still searching for the second book. You want dedication? You want resolve? You want inspiration? Look no further. They were within throwing distance of the book and yet they just could not locate it. To their great relief Jared helped them out, I gave her a hug, and we were off again. There was no downtime, there was only focus.

The sun set on us shortly after this and we next lapped runners at book 4. From book 3 we could see a light at book 4 and when we arrived there about thirty minutes later the light was still searching. Starchy, someone I've met at the HURT 100, was going in circles looking for the 4th book. Again the runner was all but right on top of it, but at night the navigation becomes even trickier. We all grabbed a page, placed a rock atop a cairn memorial, and as Jared and I proceeded on towards book 5 we came across a group of maybe five runners. The group was a mix of "get me the hell out of here and back to camp" and "please, please, please just help us find this one next book."

We attempted to convince everyone to come with us towards book 5 but a few were so shell shocked that they were hearing none of it. The group split and Jared helped the eventual group of three, Kimberly, Brad and Starchy, who would go on to set the new longest first loop record of, are you ready for this, 31h59m. We were directing them to book five on their first loop, and we would pass them again on our next loop. I said this afterwards via the Barkley message boards, they, along with Rhonda, were my "heroes of the weekend". No one leaves camp with 32 hours worth of food on them, and very few depart with 32 hours worth of fight in them.

Jared and I had gotten to know each other pretty well by this point and we were clicking along like a well oiled machine, right up until we ourselves got lost in the night. Being very experienced at getting lost in adventure racing I have at least learned one thing over the years, small mistakes become big mistakes and limiting those loses is key. Jared and I were attempting to figure out where we were, while thinking we were perilously close to the one house on course in which the pre-race instructions clearly stated "DO NOT got to this property for help as the owner is entirely likely to shoot any and all trespassers on site" when Jared says,

"East? How are we going east? We should be going west, can you reference your compass here." 

Yes, we were that turned around. At this point I said we needed to sit our assess down and talk this out. In under five minutes we were in agreeance with where we were and just a few minutes after getting up and proceeding in the agreed upon direction we found ourselves back on course. I had helped with something! I felt just a little bit less like a deadweight at that moment and I celebrated the knowledge that we were in fact working as a team and we were most likely in this together until we both made it to the 5th lap.

We proceeded through the rest of loop two without and major hiccups to close our our second loop in 11h01m.

Jared, "Ten minutes?"

Me, "Ya know, an extra five would be dreamy right now."

Jared, "No worries, sounds good."


As I was packed up and ready to head to the gate my bladder seemed to have exploded on my bag. Shit! Thankfully I had packed two of every essential (pack, bladder, compass, poles, etc)

Me to Jared, "My bladder exploded, just need another minute."

"No worries" as he proceeded to the gate and hung out with Laz for a bit. I was not being scraped, we were a team and a damn fine one I might add with how well we worked together and how there was an unspoken bond between us. We got to talk about anything BUT how we were feeling, how we were doing, what our time looks like or how much pain we're in, etc. We can ask questions of each other as long as they don't pertain to these items, and we can randomly spit out any stories that pop into our minds as we go. We were less than 24 hours into this thing and we pretty much knew each other's back stories, kids names, how we each met our wife, etc. It was rather quite pleasant. 

Lap 3 -Counterclockwise.

Photo Credit Kimberley Teshima

I tried to go the wrong way while leaving camp. Nope, it's counter-clockwise time now. About thirty minutes out from camp John Kelly came running down the candyass trail looking strong. We had no idea his story at that point and hadn't seen him since book 2 on loop 1. It was nice to be going in the opposite direction so that you could interact with the rest of the runners who were still in this thing. 

As we were honing in on book 2 in this direction I stepped on a rock that was about a square foot in size, it rolled back and as I slipped behind it it slammed into my left shin. I crumbled to the ground while writhing in pain. Jared was ahead of me and he stopped to ask if I was alright with a bit of a look of what the heck just happened to you? 

On my final long training session leading into Barkley, the overnighter I posted a video about, I'd managed to injure myself. I knew going into that training session that I was in "gravy time" with training and I felt no need to push things, so I agreed to shut it down at any point that night if anything felt off. Nothing did, it went great and I celebrated the training session as I was driving home for breakfast. As I arrived home I stepped out of my Xterra and could not walk without significant pain in my lower left shin. What the hell? Where did this come from? 

Throughout the night of the training session, on one small section of trail, I was postholing through a thick ice crust while coming down the upper parts of the snow covered mountain. The first time this occurred I remember thinking, holy crap that feels terrible, but nothing more than that so I proceeded lap in and lap out to posthole and ignore this discomfort. It would take three more days before I learned that I was suffering from tenosynovitis, initially diagnosed as a tendinopathy. Basically the postholing through an ice crust created an impact injury on my shin in which I'd damaged the tendon sheath, caused an inflammation and could not walk without significant pain. There were 15 days till race day when this first occurred and I was told that the only true remedy was time and rest. Things that could help with recovery included a topical anti-inflammatory, massage, ART work and cold laser therapy.

The following week, with less than a week to go until we flew to Tennessee I was driving all over Vancouver, North Vancouver and Burnaby getting as many treatments as possible. I spent over $400 on sessions and have never been so stressed while leading into a race before. I was unable to do much of anything in the taper phase, which is certainly not ideal, and on one particular day my quads nearly shut down on me while out on a short steep walk working on my compass skills. I had gone from 60 - 0 in training and you just can't apply the handbrake while cruising the highway and expect things to go well. I arrived home after that compass session and declared this was all for naught, I had not purchased refund insurance on our flights so we were heading to Tennessee and if things managed to recover enough to allow me to even start I'd see if I could make it at least a few laps. 

I did not talk about this to anyone who did not need to know about it because I didn't want to believe it was happening, and I could do without the sympathy, support or condolences which would only make it more real. Linda did manage to make me laugh but once when she said,

"It's as if Laz is a wizard and he could see how confident you were in your training so he cast a spell on you just to see if you could handle it."

It almost goes without saying that it is NOT difficult to picture Laz wearing a wizard's hat.

I started the race with nothing but uncertainty, but I also knew that I'd never been so mentally dialed into an endeavor before and I believed deep down inside that I had a chance, even with this obstacle. I asked my practitioners before departing BC what the worst case scenario was and I was told that a lengthy recovery period was the worst case, if I were even able to continue to push through the pain and swelling to get it to that point.

The rock took me down. Jared asked if I was alright.

"I will only speak of this once. I started this race injured, I've been ignoring pain since mile one and my downhills are seriously compromised by this injury (I couldn't remember the word tenosynovitis at that point so I simply said) called a tendinopathy. (As I picked myself up) I'm fine."

Jared, "I've had that before, it really hurts."

And that was that, back to business.

Through book three and four and while going for book five, up Rat Jaw we came across Kim, Brad and Starchy...they were still going on loop one....we were closing in on the halfway point of the 100 miles.

A few hours further along and I asked Jared what his preferred direction of travel was. There is no way in hell that I would have had any shot at this thing without his assistance and it was just a bonus that we were enjoying each other's company along the way. Jared said clockwise and I said great, you go clockwise and I'll go counter when we both get to our fifth and final loop. 

If you don't know, the first two laps are clockwise, the following two are counter and on the final lap is runner's choice, but if multiple runners make the fifth they must alternate direction so that they can no longer work together. I actually really like this rule and believe it adds a wonderful dynamic to things.

We were still on three but now Jared forced me to lead while he instructed me as to what to look for along the way. We were pretty much doing this all along, but now he placed me in front so as to ensure I collect every bit of knowledge to ideally succeed on my final loop by myself. There was absolutely nothing more that Jared could have done to set me up for success and without him this race report would have ended long it is JARED'S FAULT that this F-ING RACE REPORT is so F-ING LONG ALREADY! Thanks Jared!!

As we neared in on the end of three I was pushing up against the longest I'd ever been on my feet continuously. I have completed expedition adventure races before with the longest taking me and my team nine days to reach the finish line, but those are multi-sport and at a slower overall pace. The combination of not sleeping the night before the race, being on foot for over 30 hours, now having covered nearly 39,000 feet of climbing and descent, and then realizing that we were only 3/5ths of the way through this thing lead to my own armour showing chinks. My mind, the number one tool in any Barkley attempt had been my greatest asset up until this point in time, but now it was thinking things through. I was doing math, I was extrapolating pain and thinking it forward, I was losing absolute focus and struggling to believe I could or should go on past this third loop, the Fun Run. I had no interest in a Fun Run (three loops in under 40 hours) and not once had I told myself I'd be happy with this. There was no reward for me in only doing 3/5ths of what I trained so diligently for and what I knew conclusively that I could accomplish, yet here I was, completely entrenched in doubtsville.

We agreed to attempt to sleep after this lap and that we'd spent a total of 90 minutes in camp. Sleep as much as you can in that amount of time but don't be late getting back to the gate. As we thumped down the candyass descent of 2000ft feet at the end of loop three I started a chant in my head, 

"Just keep your feet moving. Just keep your feet moving. Just keep your feet moving."

Nothing else went through my head for the final twenty minutes into camp. Nothing else was welcome there.

We arrived after an elapsed 31h27m. They call this 60 miles, but the true distance is at least 78. Those first three laps at Barkley stand up as being tougher than any 100 miler I've yet to compete in, without question. I believe Hardrock will eventually prove to be harder than three laps of the Barkley (when I get in via the lottery), but the HURT 100 is not and UTMF is not. 

Laz actually looked impressed and the glint in his eye showed a hint of excitement. He knew he'd at least have some 5th lap runners this year.

Matt Trappe Photography

I announced to the team that we had 90 total minutes and that I needed to try to sleep. I fell into my chair, removed my shoes and socks and attempted to eat some real food before laying down. I had onset of trenchfoot but it was not yet full blown. As I was cramming food into my mouth, and rubbing a topical anti-inflammatory across my injured shin, uncontrollable tears started to slowly trickle down my cheeks. I did not know how to go on. I did not understand how this thing called Barkley was in fact possible. I was embarrassed by these tears and yet I could not prevent them. I crawled into my sleeping bag and asked Linda to sing to me. I requested the song we sing to our son when we put him down at night and the uncontrollable tears continued behind my sleep mask.

It was evening in camp and camp was active. I had in ear plugs, I had on a sleep mask, and I had a comfy sleeping pad on a flat surface, but sleep would not find me. Dogs were barking, the bugle was tapping people out and I think a car alarm went off once. I was all too aware of the fact that my 55 minutes of actually laying down was about to expire, and all at once I was up and getting dressed again. 

I did not, for one second, hesitate. I was robotic in my movements while still telling myself to just keep my feet moving. I was up against the wall of The Barkley and that wall was constructed by a master of drystone masonry. I could not conceive of how to get through this wall and as I walked up to the yellow gate with Jared to collect our bibs for the 4th time I passed on through the wall as if it did not exist, for in fact it didn't, it was all a construct of my mind. As we departed the campground on lap four I felt a surge of energy. Before even getting to the first climb on lap four I now knew I was going to make it to lap five. The first crux of the Barkley had been negotiated.

Lap 4 - Who Is This Guy In Front of Me?

Matt Trappe Photography

We were heading into the night, our second. Night nav is incredibly difficult at The Barkley, night nav after being awake for two straight days takes on a whole other challenge. 

As we proceeded through the fourth lap and through the night we made small error after small error. Every micro-error leads to lost time that won't come back to you, and as Jared and I both dealt with hallucination issues we did express that we weren't leaving ourselves much room for error on the fifth and final lap.  

At one point during loop four I'm following Jared through the night and I realize I have no idea of who is in front of me. I start a mental roll call of who it could be, is it my high school buddy Shawn Martin? I almost laugh, nope Shawn is a wonderful friend and we've shared some fun adventures but he is not a runner. Is it Andrew Thompson? No, I don't think I've seen AT since we departed on loop two. Is it Eric Carter? (Eric is an adventure buddy and my partner in our coaching business, no I did not just put him in here to work in a plug for our business I swear) It can't be Eric, he's not on skis and I haven't seen Eric in running shoes in over six months. Who is this guy in front of me? OH, is it Jurgen? I think his name is! I then repeated the name Jared five times in my head before speaking out loud.

"Jared, I'm struggling to remember who the hell you are right now!"

His response, with a bit of a laugh, "I'll be whoever you need me to be, let's just keep moving forward."

Our micro-errors were adding up and the hallucinations were increasing. There are two water drops on the course and as were were closing in on the second water drop over halfway through the lap Jared mentioned being tired. I knew we were both struggling but was aware of the fact that sleep would be challenging, even in our depleted state, as it was a windy and chilly night. The water drop was in a bit of a sump so my hope was that it would protect us from the wind. 

I had, up until this point in the race, not carried a watch. There was simply no point really as you're not allowed a GPS, and time of day could reasonably be deduced given our nice weather pattern over the weekend. I did not know the exact time of night, but I did know we were likely a few hours from sunrise. 

"Do you have an alarm you trust?"


"We should sleep when we get to the water drop, how does fifteen minutes sound?"

"Sounds like a great idea!"

We trudged down to the water and filled our bottles. We knew that upon waking up we'd be freezing and we'd need to get moving immediately. I put on every additional layer and piece of clothing I had in my pack, but I wasn't carrying pants at this point and I had on knee high socks and a spandex short under a running short. I grabbed an empty gallon water jug, depressed a head sized pocket into it and I plopped myself down in the dirt. We set an alarm for seventeen minutes, to allow for two minutes to fall asleep and fifteen of actual sleep.

"Sweet dreams."

I did find sleep, though about twelve minutes on I started shivering from the wind catching my knees and in hindsight I should have pulled apart a box that the water was transported in and created a blanket out of it. I lay there shivering for a few minutes, knowing that Jared was asleep and not wanting to prematurely end his seventeen minutes of bliss, but alas my stirring lead to standing so as to attempt to stay warm and Jared awoke when he heard this. 

"Time to go?"

"Not quite, but I'm shivering so I have to move a bit."

Up he popped and we simultaneously turned towards the slight incline away from the water drop and got straight back to work on the task at hand. The alarm sounded as we were ascending away from our five star accommodations. No wifi, but all you can drink bottled water.

The sun seemed to arrive all too early and we started feeling the pressure of the 60 hour time limit. A new hallucination began as any and all flowing water now became group conversations in my head. I could not discern words, just that I was hearing voices. Given how many water crossings there are on a Barkley loop it was one of the less pleasant hallucinations I would deal with. As we snagged the final book in the counter-clockwise direction and approached the candyass descent back into camp I felt the need to push the pace a bit. Jared had been dealing with his own knee issue for over ten hours already and collectively we made quite the site of hobbled runners. I should have removed a strap from my pack and tied our bunk legs together to create the first ever three legged race in Barkley history. 

I arrived at the gate about a minute ahead of Jared, feeling like this was beneficial to both of us since it would allow Laz to count out pages seperately rather than collectively and thereby save each of us about thirty seconds. Yes this is a preposterous thought as I write this, but that's how up against the clock it was all starting to feel in the moment. In the end Laz showed his own sleep deprivation by restarting my page count no fewer than four times, and just enough for me to start worrying that I'd somehow lost or forgotten a page. In the end Laz counted our pages simultaneously and Jared and I headed into camp at the same time. We had taken 14 hours to complete the fourth. 

My crew surrounded me in prep to get me set and the campsite was a buzz.

"Let's get me outta here ASAP!"

We were efficient, I knew what I needed and I was pumped. I was making it to the 5th lap! Jared described the fifth as a euphoric experience and adrenaline was surging through my body. 

2012 finisher John Fegyveresi offered congrats and words of encouragement saying I had plenty of time to get it done. I responded by saying that I hadn't accomplished anything yet as I was all too aware of the fact that in the last 75+ hours I'd slept about 90 minutes. I knew I had the physical capabilities to close this out, but did I have still possess the mental wherewithal to figure it all out?

Coincidentally Jared and I walked right into each other in the campground as we were heading to the gate to collect our final bibs.

Me to Jared, "I've got an idea! Let's go to that gate, collect bibs and then head off in opposite directions. Let's high five at the exact midpoint on course and both meet back here before the 60 hour cutoff!"


The bibs are handed out and the bell lap is announced with gusto.

Lap 5 - Can I Get A Timeout Please?

In the counterclockwise direction the first mile or so is flat with a slight downhill before the climbing begins. It's about 10am, sunny and the day is promising to be the warmest yet. It's Monday. We started running on Saturday morning. There are film crews everywhere and cameras follow me until the grade kicks up. I'm lucid, focused, happy, and I'm running, like actually running. I reach the incline and continue to push the pace, climbing faster than I have yet to do in the counterclockwise direction. I know the adrenaline will wear off shortly but I can't stop my mind from going to what it'll feel like to hit the gate and close this thing out. I get excited, too excited and I quickly tell myself to "Chill the F out. Keep your focus. You haven't even collected a single page yet." I then go through waves of excitement that are followed by chanting "CTFO. CTFO."

I turn a corner and the trail heads down for a bit. All at once everything feels entirely foreign to me. Have I taken a wrong turn? I look for the green blazes on the trees to confirm I'm still on the right trail, and I know inside that there are no other trails off of this one. Yup, green blazes, this is right, but it all looks wrong. Shit! Did I accidentally turn around at some point? Am I heading back towards camp or away from it? A long pause as I attempt to recall if I've stopped to pee. No. The adrenaline has dispersed and all I'm left with is complete and utter sleep deprivation and confusion. I make a pact with myself that whenever I stop to pee I have to take my trekking poles and place them on the ground pointing in the direction of travel so that I don't make this critical error. My mind is crumbling.

Book one is a near gimme in this direction and I find it without issue. From the first to the second book is fairly complex. I have a new mantra now. "Take a bearing, check a bearing, follow a bearing. Trust your compass." I start chanting this out loud to myself as I align compass to map and begin my descent. I am aware of the fact that I have little to no room for error now. I can make this happen, I can finish the Barkley in my first ever attempt, I just need to get everything right. 

I look downslope to align my bearing and I see a vivid image of an industrial sized water container, the large white things that are the size of a transport truck trailer.

"Ok, shoot for that water container...wait, I've been through here four times now and I'm pretty sure there's nothing on this slope. Ok, I wonder what this'll actually be once I get to it."

I was at least still with it enough to recognize what was going on in my own head. Sure enough once I found myself in the clearing that was suppose to hold a water container there was nothing even remotely resembling one, not even a tree that I could believe had contributed to this illusion. 

"Take a bearing, check a bearing, follow a bearing. Trust your compass."

The river came into sight, the confluence came into sight, the incline came into sight and the beech tree came into sight. HOLY SHIT, I DID IT! WOOHOO! Ninja.

Water. Voices in my head. Talk out loud to drown it all out.

"Take a bearing, check a bearing, follow a bearing. Trust your compass."

I triple checked before I made a single move. Down across the river and up towards book three. I peered up through the forest and I spotted a number on a tree, then another, then another. Clear as day, no doubting that my mind was seeing numbers on f-ing trees. I looked down, I saw faces in the leaves. Anything with two puncture holes became a face. Leaves everywhere = faces everywhere. I avert my gaze, my eyes pan across a pile of small rocks and I see my brother's face on a pebble the size of my pinky nail. "Was that Bryan?"

I try to reason with myself, to talk myself out of this malfunctioning mindset, to regain the necessary focus to continue error free. I again peer up slope and I spot two mule deer prancing through the forest. The deer are far enough away that I process no sound from their movements and all at once they are gone. Was that a hallucination too? Why does this feel like one of the most beautiful experiences of my life right now?

I topped out on my climb and I did not hit my target. The map came out as I started to piece together where in fact I was. My mind felt as though I must have continued too far north, when in fact I was too far south. I started to make the map match my mind rather than the other way around and I decided to move, rapidly, down a ridge in the hopes that I would all but collide with my intended point. I started jogging, then running and then all but sprinting. I was bleeding time but I could limit that by moving rapidly now. Before I even knew what had happened I'd dropped far too much elevation and I was intersecting with service roads. Another challenge of the Barkley is that a lot of gravel roads you cross or utilize on course do not in fact show up on the map. 

As I was trudging one service road I caught my toe and wound up on my face before my deadened senses and reflexes could even respond. It was the harshest fall I'd taken all race and I lay in disbelief for about five full seconds before peeling myself out of the dirt. I quietly murmured "Fuck you Barkley."

The clock never stops.

One hour became two and for the first time all race I lost my cool. Success at the Barkley is predicated on keeping a cool head and dealing with any and all obstacles along the way as part of the challenge you've undertaken. Picking yourself up off the ground time and time again is par for the course. Briars ripping the flesh off of the back of your legs, where the knee bends, is standard fare. Getting lost is just part of the game. For over 50 hours I had slogged away at this thing and not once had I even so much as even flinched in anger, but that was over now, I was all but out of time to make up for this error. I stopped moving, through my arms up, and yelled from deep within,


After two and a half hours I finally located book three. I briefly told myself that maybe I could push past this, that if I found yet another reserve of energy somewhere that maybe I could make up for my mistakes. I dropped towards book four, at the prison, ended up in the wrong gully, came out north of my target and had bled yet more time. This wound was fatal. 

"Well I might as well climb Rat Jaw for the fifth and final time."

I had run out of water and the sun was beating down on me now. I was in full slog mode, no stopping, suffering every step of the way, my mouth becoming drier and more encrusted in salt with each agonizing breath. To stop is to only prolong this discomfort so just get to the top and the water drop. With maybe 1/4 of the climb to go you come into sight for any would be observers from the water tower. It is one of but two points on course where non-runners are allowed. To my joy and dismay a crowd had gathered and they started cheering. I wanting to vocalize something in response but my mouth was all but dried shut. I eventually topped out, went straight to the water table and collapsed in the shade beneath it. There was not enough time left to finish this thing and everyone knew it, especially me. I knew it was but impossible for me to get much further at all without some form of sleep, ideally at least three hours of it. 

Photo Credit Andrew Thompson

Andrew Thompson, John Fegyveresi, Heather Anderson, Billy Simpson, Nicki Rehn, along with others were all cheering me on while also seeming to derive some sick pleasure from witnessing someone so close to the brink of extinction. This group of people are some of the most accomplished you'll find anywhere and my respect for them is off the charts. They would not let me stop and eventually they kicked me outta there. Again the adrenaline surged a bit and as I descended Rat Jaw I harbored illusions of maybe finding a hidden gear. I did my best impression of a runner and was grasping at straws to keep my race alive. It was like a diesel engine that had run out of fuel, I kept cranking away hoping a spark would catch, but I'd only managed to roll myself onto a down slope and was utilizing gravity while it was on my side.

The terrain flattens and you take a left onto a service road. The adrenaline had worn off and I was struggling to stay awake. I needed sleep, there were no two ways about it, my eyes had to shut for a few hours. I didn't have an alarm I trusted and I was scared to put my head down for twenty minutes as I figured I'd wake up three hours later after the sun had set and I started shivering. I believed Jared might be an hour away so I sat down, removed my pack and was about to lay down, knowing Jared would wake me up when he came by...but then he literally appeared as I was about to go prone. 

Jared to me, "What the heck is going on?"

I explained my plight and that I simply could not go a step further on no sleep. Jared looked sullen, he was genuinely saddened by learning that I would not become a finisher this year.

Me to Jared, "You're doing amazing man! Get on out of here and close this shit out! First ever three time finisher!"

Jared reluctantly departed. Not a minute later two people magically appeared while coming down from the lookout tower. I had gone through so many iterations of what to do next and in the end I was worried that Linda would be worried about me. I could either sleep for three hours, waking once the sun set, and then continue to grab books all night long, or I could accept my fate, ask for a ride back to camp and go listen to the bugle play me a song. I came to Tennessee to attempt to finish the Barkley and the Barkley had won. Nothing I could do in that moment would change this. I had failed and I had accepted it.

It took more than a bit of convincing to get the two people to take me back to camp for as they put it, 

"We don't want to be the people who drove Gary Robbins off course."

"Well it's either you or the first car that picks me up hitchhiking once I drop down to the road crossing."

And with that we proceeded back to camp. I told my ride to drop me outside of the campground so that they wouldn't have to take any flack and I dragged my sorry ass up to the yellow gate. 

Taps played. Danger Dave is not very good at playing taps which makes it sting all the more. 

Barkley 1 - Gary 0

For 55 hours I gave myself to the Barkley, heart, soul, mind and body. I was all in. Nothing else in the entire world mattered for three full days, and I loved it. I did not reach the finish line of the Barkley Marathons but I got pretty damn close. As I mentioned leading into the race I knew it would challenge me in new and unforeseen ways and boy o boy did it ever. During the race I feel like I unlocked a door in my mind that led to a room I'd never entered before and in that room existed a near perfect version of myself, devoid of ego, free of judgement, removed from life's minutia, steadfast in purpose, distracted by nothing, heart wide open with a complete inability to overreact to any obstacle that stood in my way. I wish I could be that person more often.

To be continued.


This race report is ridiculously long so if you've made it this far I commend you, this probably means you could finish the Barkley since you're so dedicated to the process.

Thank yous - couldn't have done it without yous:

Jurgen Campbell - The ultimate badass and an incredible person to boot. Congrats on making history as the first ever three time finisher. I'll pay your entry fee if you line up with me again next year

Linda Barton-Robbins - my rock

Reed Robbins - my inspiration

Shawn Martin - best burgers in interloopal history

Kimberley Teshima - Reed is in love

Ethan Newberry - has a long ways to go on that new beard of his

Matt Trappe - master bladder filler

Lauren Eads + Jason Eads -  don't sell your home in Nashville we want to come visit again in 2017 and we need to borrow your camping supplies

Georg Kunzfeld - a secret German spy

Lazarus Lake - the wizard

Keith Knipling + Keith Dunn + Raw Dawg - save my campsite for next year please

Frozen Ed - thank you for writing the definitive guide on the Barkley, it should be considered mandatory reading by those hoping to apply 

Danger Dave - try playing taps more than just 39 times per year would ya

The end.

Matt Trappe Photography

Image thanks to Melanie Boultbee



The Fine Line Between Race Successes and Failures

There's a Japanese proverb that goes "He who climbs Mt. Fuji is a wise man, he who climbs it twice is a fool."

Photo Credit Yuma Hamayoshi
Why did I return to UTMF this year? What were my true motivations in travelling around the world to run a 100 miler in which I'd already had my day and already experienced the journey around Fuji? The answer is simple, it was to run against a perceived deeper field of runners and to ideally have my day on what was going to be a much more public stage this year. That was the main driving factor in my choice to return. After Krissy Moehl won UTMF last year she gushed "Wow, this is a huge breakout race for you!"

I felt the same. I had shown, at least to myself, that I could run with and even ahead of such great runners as Seb and Julien as I found myself in second place at mile 85. I definitely faded before the finish, but snagging fourth simply felt incredible. It was one of the absolute highlights of my 2013. Upon returning home however, I was surprised to see how little attention UTMF had gotten. If you weren't directly paying attention or emotionally invested in the race, you likely didn't even notice. My main motivations in returning this year were rooted firmly around simply replicating my 2013 run in front of a much more engaged ultra community. Though these motivations are not flawed per se, they are fairly far removed from the usual driving factors that draw me to international events. By no means am I saying that I did not want to return to Japan for all that it offers outside of the race itself, just that I very likely would have waited at least another year before returning, had I not seen just how competitive the race was going to be and as such just how much of a following it would garner.

I've struggled to move past what transpired at Mt. Fuji for UTMF, primarily because I know that even though I was forced to drop out when a foot injury flared up, I was in no way shape or form having the race I was capable of having on that day up until that point in time. Even if I had managed to continue to rally and to have somehow fought my way back into the top ten, I would have been left wondering how and why I was unable to have pulled off a near top five performance on the day. I was fit enough, I was rested enough, I was primed for a great race. So what went wrong, before it all went wrong? What could I have done differently? How much was beyond my control and how many small consecutive errors had I made to eventually bring down the ship?

Photo Credit Yuma Hamayoshi
I watched a documentary once about how the average plane crash is not caused by one major failure, it's caused by up to a half a dozen small errors that when combined can lead to tragic consequences. It raises the question of how many near misses are we never aware of? To parlay this into ultra running, and my own ultra running, how many mistakes did I make in Japan? How many mistakes are maybe typical and preventable going forward? Are there some that have become habitual, yet in their own right have not lead directly to race failures? Basically, it's time to slice and dice things a bit more as these thoughts won't be put to rest in any other manner. 

I figure the best way to do this is to take my five best efforts and contrast them with my five worst, my DNF's and "I should have DNFeds"...yes, that's a word.

First and foremost though to dispel one thing in regards to UTMF 2014 vs 2013. I did not start off any faster this year than I did last year. In 2013 we had the lead runners blasting off the front at near sub six minute mile pace. I held back in 12th or so in six minute thirty pace. This year the lead guys weren't blasting off quite so quickly and when I found myself mimicking my 2013 start I was much higher up in the field at the very start. Through the first mile I was in second place, high fiving all the spectators and attempting to take in as much positive support as possible. I continually referenced my watch to ensure I wasn't getting carried away and as I stayed on a high six minute mile pace eventually a few more runners caught up to and surpassed me. My first two miles in 2014 were about ten seconds faster than my first two in 2013. I did not start out faster than I had already proven I could upon that course. But is there still a lesson to be learned here?
Also worth mentioning is just how well the returning top ten runners from 2013 did in comparison to the much more famous group of runners that showed up this year. Outside of myself, Hara and Seb, the rest of the top returning runners all had similar or better performances than they did just one year ago. I show this to make a point, that this year's race, outside of Francois D'Haene's simply astonishing run, was no faster than last year's field. The race was a bit deeper, but if I had even come close to my race from one year ago I would have been right where I knew I could have been, and that was fighting for a top five finish.

So here we go: Best Five Races vs Worst Five Races (I settled on six races in the end)

Worst six are relatively easy as all but one are a DNFs. Listing DNFs in this format is to explore the idea that these DNFs could have been prevented with a better race day and pre-race strategy 
-UTMF 2014
-UTMB 2013
-Speedgoat 2012
-Knee Knacker 2012
-Miwok 2010
-49th place finish at Western States 2009

Best six results
-UTMF 2013 - 4th
-HURT 2013 - 1st CR
-Knee Knacker 50k 2013 - 1st
-HURT 2010 - 1st CR
-WS100 2010 - 6th
-Mountain Masochist 50m 2009 - 3rd
-I purposely left out more top local and close to home results in an attempt to get a better cross section

How best to assess the similarities and differences in these races and these results? I've come up with a standard list of questions and a point score associated with them. A lower score is better. The highest/worst score would be 41 while the lowest/best score would be 14, though that would only be possible by running a local race that you've run before while having zero expectations and zero stress, both internally and externally. Pre-race is the combined sum of the eleven questions posed that can be answered before you even line up, and Race Day is the combined sum of the three questions surrounding your own race day decisions.

The questions and associated points:

Travel/unknown and unfamiliar surroundings 
(1: no travel 2: continental travel 3: international travel)
Jetlag / time change 
(1: no jetlag 2: different time zone 3: proper jetlag)
Familiar with course / run it previously 
(1: run it before 2: trained specific to terrain 3: no course experience)
Internal stress/pressure/expectations 
(1: low 2: med 3: high)
External stress/pressure/expectations
(1: low 2: med 3: high)
Motivations / what lead to the choice to run that event 
(1: new area/beautiful course/travel 2: mix of travel and competition 3: competition, to compete against best)
Environmental, heat, elevation, fast, mountainous
(1: similar to home 2: slight challenge 3: major challenge)
Competition, how deep was the field of runners
(1: not super deep 2: reasonably competitive 3: internationally recognized runners)
Pacing, specifically pacing in the first 30 - 45 minutes of the race
(1: started slow 2: started reasonable 3: started fast)
Own race vs getting caught up
(1: throughout 2:  reasonably influenced by other runners 3: completely influenced by other runners)
Fueling during race
(1: wasn't an issue 2: some issues 3: major issues)
Training leading up to race
(1: solid training block 2: average training block 3: low training block)
Tapering into race
(1: normal taper 2: abnormal taper)
(1: overly confident 2: reasonably confident 3: self doubt)
Music during race
(can't effectively assign a number ratio to this, I have become a big believe in the benefits of music while racing and simply have this here as a personal reference)

The Findings
A full list of more specific race breakdowns is below should you care to delve further. The results are interesting but not surprising, and all around fairly predictable, though it's much more meaningful when you lay it all out like this.

My best races have a statistical overall score of about 17% lower than my worst races.
My best races have a statistical pre-race score of about 15% lower than my worst races.
My best races have a statistical race day score of about 35% lower than my worst race.

What does it all mean?

The very first conclusion to draw from all of this is of course the glaringly obvious race day mistakes. In all but one of my best races I had a score of about half that of my worst races. Race day mistakes, by and large, are the number one contributor to race day disappointments.

My best races also have a pre-race correlation to success. There is an obvious link that can be drawn here between lack of major travel, and lack of true depth of the fields. The further you travel, for the more competitive events, the higher stresses you place on your body and mind. Knowing this in advance of the races may allow you to address things differently or at the very least to anticipate things better. If I'm going to travel to the ends of the earth for competitive races, I'm going to need to give myself ample travel time, and to learn to deal with all the additional stresses that come with big time events. Gaining course insights in advance of a race is also hugely beneficial if at all possible.

I think the biggest thing I'll take away from this mini-study of my own racing habits is just to know that I have rarely had racing disappointments around events where I've run my own race and started conservatively. To compete in ultra running today you absolutely have to take some chances and to lay it all out there from time to time, however, going into my future events I am going to reel myself in a bit at the beginning. There is very little detriment to starting conservatively, especially when you're looking at races with average finishing times of over fifteen and close to twenty-four hours.

I think my UTMF 2013 race had an anomaly in it in terms of the fact that I started off fast and still had success. I think I took a race day chance and it paid off, though I took that information to mean that I could always successfully start 100 milers at six and a half minute mile pace. Even if this information contains some truth to it, it is still not an effective racing strategy. I need to slow it down a bit off the start in my upcoming 100s.

Not readily available within this small data sample is just how difficult it is to run your own race while lined up at super competitive events. A primary example is UTMB. These races start off far too fast for 90% of the runners, yet everyone just gets towed along for the ride. The level of confidence in one's own abilities and racing strategies to start conservatively at such events is one of the hardest skill sets to attain in ultra running. A fairly unknown runner by the name of John Tidd is a master of this. In 2013 he finished 6th at UTMF and 10th at UTMB, both times coming from way back in the race to snag top ten positions. If the average runner had as much insight and confidence into their own abilities as John does they'd end up with better results across the board. I possess this insight and confidence, but I seem to have temporarily misplaced it.

I want to continue to show up and compete at the most competitive of mountain ultra races, but I am ready to turn a corner in my own racing to start running smarter, to own my results, and to move past these race day debacles. I'm glad I took the time to look at this a bit further. It's exactly as I'd expected, but it just hammers home the point so much more while looking at it all in this light.

So, what race day mistakes do you seem to continue to make?

What strategies do you have in place to prevent race day errors?

What questions would you have added or removed from my personal assessment above?

Have you ever broken down your successes and failures in this manor? If so what did you find and did it allow you to address it going forward?

Full list of race assessments below.


UTMF 2013
4th, 20h20m
Score 31/41
Pre-race 24/32
Race Day 7/9
Travel: (3) / Jetlag: (3) / Familiar: (3) / Internal: (3) / External: (2)  / Motivations: (1) to run in Japan on a course that was known to be techincal / Environmental: (1) a beautiful spring day / Competition: (3) a very deep field of European runners / Pacing: (3) I started way faster than I usually do / Own Race: (2) / Fueling: (2) some issues eating later in the race / Training: (2) was pretty much sustaining fitness off of HURT / Tapering: (1) / Confidence: (2) I was stressed but confident in what I could do / Music: yes, for five hours during the night
Assessment: I stared off much faster than I normally would, and I was rewarded for it with a strong race. In hindsight though, this is against my normal running strategy and likely against my best interest. In comparison to my other best races this race was the one where I took the greatest chances early on. Taking chances like this can go either way though, especially over the 100 mile distance, and the best racing strategy, for me at least, likely resides somewhere slower than how I started here and a step faster than how I have started at other races.
I faded significantly late in the race and dropped from 2nd down to 4th, while 5th was closing ground on me. I believe that had I started slightly more conservatively I would have been rewarded with a stronger finish and potentially a higher placing. I believe this one off, though not blind luck, would be the exception to how I should run and may have contributed to me believing that I could and even should be starting faster in my longer races. I have not come to terms with this until just now as I've only looked at this race as a successful template and not critically assessed it prior to today.

Knee Knacker 50k
1st, 4h41m
Score 24/41
Pre-race 19/32
Race Day 5/9
Travel: (1) / Jetlag: (1) / Familiar: (1) / Internal: (3) / External: (3)  / Motivations: (2) / Environmental: (1)  / Competition: (2) a very talented albeit local field of runners / Pacing: (2) / Own Race: (2) / Fueling: (1) / Training: (1) was in the middle of my largest training block ever / Tapering: (2) I didn't taper at all. I ran 120m the week prior / Confidence: (2) I had questions going into the race around if I'd simply not taken enough/any recovery time leading into the race / Music: yes, for full second half of the race
Assessment: A unique race in the fact that I did very little in the way of tapering. The week prior I ran 120 miles and the day before the race I had my hip seize up and briefly make me question if I'd even be able to start. A low stress race on home turf allowed for very intelligent race day decisions. Lack of external variables such as travel, unfamiliar terrain, external pressures all allowed me to completely run my own race and to not make any race day mistakes.

HURT 2013 
1st CR, 19h35m
Score 22/41
Pre-race 18/32
Race Day 4/9
Travel: (2) / Jetlag: (2) / Familiar: (1) / Internal: (2)  / External: (2)  / Motivations: (2) I broke my foot on the HURT course and this was a very emotional and pure journey. I wanted CR but just finishing would have been a success / Environmental: (2) a fairly hot and humid day / Competition: (2) I ran within six minutes of Jason L for 85 miles / Pacing: (1) / Own Race: (1) / Fueling: (2) / Training: (1) / Tapering: (1) / Confidence: (1) I was in a very good head space heading into this race / Music: yes for final 20 miles
Assessment: The perfect day. A comeback race over the very course that I broke my foot on, while running toe to toe against the runner who'd won the two years I was away. I doubt I'll ever see another 100 mile race go as smoothly and almost as effortlessly as this one did. It's probably best to assume this race was a one off in all the positive ways a race could possibly go. 100 milers should be and almost always will be tougher than how this race played out for me.

Western States 2010 
6th, 17h06m
Score 29/41
Pre-race 24/32
Race Day 5/9
Travel: (2) Yes / Jetlag: (1) No / Familiar: (1) yes, I'd finished 49th one year prior / Internal: (3) yes, I was looking to prove to myself that I could succeed in high pressure, highly competitive environment / External: (2) yes and no. I was there as a part of the Montrail team but had recently suffered from overtaining symptoms and DNFed Miwok 100k/ Motivations: (3) To run the race I knew I was capable of against one of the deepest fields or runners/ Environmental: (3) a very hot race, and overall a very runnable course / Competition: (3) as per usual, the most competitive 100 in NA that year / Pacing: (2) I started off conservatively and worked my way up throughout the day / Own Race: (2) / Fueling: (1) Very good. I was on it from the start and all day long / Training: (2) After DNFing Miwok I didn't run a step for three weeks. In the month of May I ran less than 100 miles, while everyone else in top ten ran at least 400-500 miles / Tapering: (2) kind of a reverse taper, I ran everyday for the two weeks leading up to the race, though most were short runs / Confidence: (2) I knew the course and I'd prepared for the heat better, but I ran very little in May after my Miwok DNF / Music: yes
Assessment: I had a very questionable final seven weeks leading into the race but a very strong year of training otherwise. I had nothing but top ten aspirations but was still very much an underdog on the day. I ran an intelligent race while allowing the lead pack to separate as I forced myself to stay calm and to work myself into a good race pace. It was a very solid race for me but in all likelihood I was helped along by my Miwok DNF and therefore eliminating an element of expectation both internally and externally.

HURT 100m 2010
1st CR, 20h12m
Score 21/41
Pre-race 17/32
Race Day 4/9
Travel: (2) / Jetlag: (2) / Familiar: (2) the HURT course is identical to our North Van terrain/ Internal: (2) I was shooting for and attained Geoff Roes CR / External: (1) absolutely nobody knew who I was / Motivations: (2) to run in Hawaii / Environmental: (2) some heat issues / Competition: (1) there were some very talented runners but from 20m to the finish I ran alone in the lead / Pacing: (1) / Own Race: (1) / Fueling: (2) / Training:  (1) I had a then best ever training block heading into the race / Tapering: (1) / Confidence: (1) nothing to lose and everything to gain. I felt very quietly confident heading into this race / Music: no
Assessment: I was so confident that I'd have a good day on the HURT course, in just my 3rd ever 100 miler, that I let everyone go off the start and just did my own thing. I need to get back to this. This is the only way you should ever start a 100 miler.

Mountain Masochist 50m 2009
3rd place 7h00m28s
Score 24/41
Pre-race 20/32
Race Day 4/9
CR before Geoff Roes killed it on that day was Dave Mackey 6h48m
Travel: (2) yes / Jetlag: (2) not noticeable, three hour time change / Familiar: (1) yes, I'd run it the year prior and finished 2nd, though with a slower time / Internal: (3) yes, I was shooting for top two and auto WS entry / External: (2) yes, I had finished 2nd one year earlier / Motivations: (3) WS entry, to improve upon 2009 time, to run sub 7hr / Environmental: (1) very runnable course, cool fall day / Competition: (2) / Pacing: (1) I started off conservative as I did with all my races at the time / Own Race: (1) / Fueling: (2) I remember struggling with calories in final two hours but fudging my way through it / Training: (2) Not crazy, I took down time in months leading up to race, but I knew course was all runnable and trained more for running all of my long runs / Tapering: (1) I don't recall, likely two weeks / Confidence: (1) I knew the course and had trained more specifically for it. I knew I was fit enough for my race goals / Music: no
Assessment: I had a great day and came within 29 seconds of breaking the seven hour mark, something only a handful of other runners had done. I completely ran my own race from start to finish and that's why I had success.

**Miwok 2008 (I fully accidentally assessed seven races. I'll leave this in since it only help to reaffirm the overall findings)
12th place 9h22m
Score 23/41
Pre-race 19/32
Race Day 4/9
First question might be why I'd chose this as a top result. This was beyond the unknown for me at the time. I'd only run a handful of 50k races plus one 67k race. I had calf issues in the months leading up to the race and spent two full months training only on a bike. I would have run sub nine hours and finished in 8th place if I had not taken a full five kilometer detour. The top four runners that year were Dave Mackey, Jon Olsen, Geoff Roes and Scott Jurek. I knew none of them. I knew f#@k all and yet I ran an incredibly well balanced race while up against a fairly deep field at the time. If there was ever a race I'd run where I would have had every excuse to mess it up, this was the one, yet I pretty much nailed it right out of the gates.

Travel: (2) yes, first time to San Fran / Jetlag: (1) no, same time zone / Familiar: (3) not at all / Internal stress: (2) I had expectations of myself by zero pressure / External: (1) nothing / Motivations: (1) new challenge, new area, travelled with great group of friends / Environmental: (1) a very runnable course on a hot day in May / Competition: (2) very competitive but I didn't even know / Pacing: (1) I started off way slow as it was such an unknown distance for me / Own Race: (1) /  Fueling: (2) I don't recall the specifics / Training: (2) I trained hard but a lot of it was on the mountain and road bike / Tapering: (2) I was kind of rushing to get time on my feet, off the bike in the weeks leading up to the race / Confidence: (2) I was scared but excited, confident but hesitant, it lead to holding back just enough early on and running a very smooth race / Music: no
Assessment: I was too inexperienced to make the mistake of trying to do anything I didn't already confidently know my body could handle. I ran my own race from start to finish and had a great 100k debut.

Photo Credit Glenn Tachiyama
Western States 2009
49th, 23h07m
Score 32/41
Pre-race 23/32
Race Day 9/9
Travel: (2) / Jetlag: (1) / Familiar: (1) / Internal: (3) / External: (2) / Motivations: (2) / Environmental: (3) / Competition: (3) / Pacing: (3) / Own Race: (3) / Fueling: (3) / Training: (1) / Tapering: (2) / Confidence: (3) / Music: no
Assessment: I ran a dumb race on a hot day and paid a price for it. I got caught up in the hype and by the third mile my fate on the day was likely sealed. I'm still incredible proud of even being able to gut this one out just to claim a finish. My kidneys were shutting down and I was peeing blood. It took me over a month to recover from this one.

Miwok 2010 
DNF around 50km mark
Score 29/41
Pre-race 21/32
Race Day 8/9
Travel: (2) / Jetlag: (1) / Familiar: (1) / Internal: (3) / External: (3) / Motivations: (2) / Environmental: (1) / Competition: (3) / Pacing: (3) / Own Race: (3) / Fueling: (2) / Training: (1) / Tapering: (1) / Confidence: (3) / Music: no
Assessment: I set out to run a race I was incapable of running, and I pretty much knew it all along. If I had set out on a more reasonable 8h45m'ish run pace I very likely would not have DNFed and not ended up getting the blood work done that told me I was having iron deficiency issues. The bad with the good I guess.

Knee Knacker 2012 
DNF after first climb
There's little need to dissect this race as I woke up with a fever on race morning and shouldn't have even started.
Assessment: Shit ass bad luck

Speedgoat 50k 2012 
DNF around 40km
Score 36/41
Pre-race 28/32
Race Day 8/9
Travel: (2) / Jetlag: (2) / Familiar: (3) / Internal: (3) / External: (2) / Motivations: (3) / Environmental: (3) / Competition: (3) / Pacing: (3) / Own Race: (3) / Fueling: (2) / Training: (3) being sick all of July didn't help things / Tapering: (2) was hardly training and just attempting to get better / Confidence: (3) being sick more of July let me know I wasn't fit enough for what I was hoping for / Music: no
Assessment: I did just about everything wrong for this race and it started with signing up for a super competitive race at altitude and just hoping for the best on race day. Though I made race day mistakes at Speedgoat there is very little, if anything I could have done differently to have prevented this DNF due to severe altitude sickness

UTMB 2013 
DNF after 30kms
Score 34/41
Pre-race 27/32
Race Day 8/9
Travel: (3) / Jetlag: (3) / Familiar: (1) / Internal: (3) / External: (3) / Motivations: (3) / Environmental: (2) / Competition: (3) / Pacing: (2) / Own Race: (3) / Fueling: (2) I was already struggling with calories by the time my race ended / Training: (1) / Tapering: (2) directing the SQ50 less than three weeks prior throws a kink into things. In two years of directing I have yet to sit down for over 40hrs on race weekend / Confidence: (2) / Music: no
Assessment: I managed to get sick around race day but there's still a part of me that thinks I could have at least finished the race even while being under the weather. I headed in with high hopes and plenty of self imposed and perceived external expectations, though I was fully confident in my fitness and abilities. I still think of this as a lost opportunity to perform on a big stage. I had top ten fitness but was was likely still shooting for a result just beyond my fitness level. I should have gone into this with the goal of finishing 8th, 9th or 10th, not 4th, 5th or 6th.

UTMF 2014
DNF after 105km
Score 32/41
Pre-race 25/32
Race Day 7/9
Travel: (3) / Jetlag: (3) / Familiar: (2) I knew the course but it being run in the opposite direction made it slightly less than completely familiar / Internal: (3) / External: (2) / Motivations: (3) / Environmental: (1) / Competition: (3) / Pacing: (3) I started out at the same pace as last year, though I think started slower would have been beneficial to my overall race / Own Race: (2) / Fueling: (2) / Training: (2) / Tapering: (2) I had some funky issues with my legs after Salomon's Advanced Week / Confidence: (1) I had already succeeded on this exact course / Music: yes, for twelve full hours and it's all that kept me alive and from dropping out of the race early on.
Assessment: I was equal parts stressed and excited, but I never would have expected to not be in the mix for top five. I absolutely had it within me to be in the top five mix. If I could attempt the race all over again tomorrow I would start slower and just do my own thing. No matter the foot injury would have stopped my race, but at least I would have likely been having a better race when that all occurred. I was incredibly proud to have fought so hard to make it to 105km. This is one of the few positives to take away from the race. There's an element of misfortune and confusion over why my climbing legs / hamstrings never seemed to show up on race day though. I was doing great on the flats, the downhills and even the gradual grades, but the super steep terrain felt impossible on race day.



HURT 100 Finish Line Interview

I had completely forgotten about this archived footage from last weekend's HURT 100 until Linda stumbled across it last night. Here's my finish line interview via Ultra Sports Live TV

I was also able to locate some fun footage from my second time coming through the Nuuanu aid station at mile 34, where I was in the zone and having fun. You'll have to fast forward to 57m20s if you want to see my free throw skills.

Video streaming by Ustream

I'll be working on my race report throughout the week and am happy to say that Ian from Talk Ultra will be giving me a call tomorrow for our annual HURT conversation :)




A 100 Mile Journey Around Mt. Fuji

I do not have a record of who took this picture and shared it with me.
If you recognize the image please notify me so I can give proper photo credits
The first climb of the race held approximately 1600 feet / 500 meters of elevation gain and it began just two miles in. After nearly decapitating a few teammates due to some non-breakaway tape on the starting line, I narrowly avoided being stampeded by the nearly 1000 runners behind me who were also tackling the 100 miles around Mt. Fuji. Staying controlled over the first few miles was no easy task and even while hanging back around 12th place overall I still managed a few back to back 6m30s miles to open my 100 mile journey. (If you want a good laugh FFWD this video to 1m47s and then freeze frame it through the start)

The fact that my calves were already feeling lactic while climbing unusually large and seemingly endless dirt stairs by mile four just reinforced the fact that UTMF was a bit of a different beast. A 100 mile run in which approximately 30% of the terrain was paved and fully runnable, yet the remaining 70% would somehow contain nearly 30,000ft / 9,000m of climbing and descent. It just didn't make any sense to me. The math seemed to be missing a variable. How steep could the terrain really be? Oh hardy har har har. The joke was in fact on us and the equation was about to be balanced, one painful mile at a time.

Shinpei Koseki
After twelve miles of racing and the aforementioned 1600 foot hump I'd had nine miles of running at seven minute mile pace or better under my belt. That's not the kind of running you'd expect to do in a mountainous 100 miler. The next four miles, which took us to the sixteen mile aid station, were covered at an approximate 7m30s pace over undulating terrain. Immediately following the aid station we were finally into the steepness I'd prepared for. The trail underfoot on was an approximate 30% grade which is very comparable to the grade I did the bulk of my training over. The first 16m/26km of the race, had been covered in just over two hours.

With a 3pm start time and a 5:30pm sunset my Princeton Tec headlamp was now shining bright. I had held my own over the opening miles and slowly moved my way up into the top ten, and then the top five. Within the first mile of this climb I now found myself up in fourth. Just two miles later and the course topped out at close to 5,000 feet, in which I was anticipating a super enjoyable descent. Though the terrain disappeared nicely at a near 35% grade in the upper portions I picked my way though it before I started to experience acute and intense foot pain. Foot pain directly where I had broken my foot twice before. Foot pain that I had not felt since getting back off of crutches over a year and a half prior. The pain would be brief but super intense and left no doubt as to its whereabouts, and it was freaking me the f#@k out. The sensation never lasted for more than the individual foot strike and was acute enough to balance perfectly with allowing me to continue racing while never allowing me to stop worrying about when it might flare again. A nice little internal dialogue ensued in which I basically told myself that I'd have to pull out of the race if it didn't somehow rectify itself. I've been in hospitals in New Zealand, Australia, El Salvador, Honduras, Oregon and Hawaii. I've filed over $20,000 in out of country medical claims (that have all thankfully been fully covered by my $75 annual policy) and I simply had absolutely ZERO intentions of adding Japan to my international hospitals list. At 36 years of age I'd really prefer if the next time I end up in a hospital is when Linda and I start a family in a few years time.

One, two, three, four, five. Five "f#@k me" moments in about an hour of running. As the terrain eased underfoot the pain within the foot disappeared altogether so I just decided to roll with it. In a funny conversation with friends after the race.

"It was an intense localized pain from about hour three till four, but then it subsided and I never felt it even one more time over the next sixteen hours of running"

By the time I'd reached the water station at about mile twenty three the foot pain seemed a distant memory, though I was then hoping that it was not going to be terrain specific and simply spike in pain again on the impending descents. As mentioned though it subsided and never flared again. As a preventative measure I actually had an x-ray on it today and even my Doctor could not believe how great the images looked. All is good and it just seems to be 'one of those things' that can happen when you go and run for a full day in the mountains.

I spotted Australian runner Brendan Davies hitting the water station ahead of me but failed to notice that I'd passed him in transition. About a half a mile after the water station there was a volunteer on the gravel road who was directing me to my left and onto a singletrack climb. The course flagging, which included reflective lights, pylons, volunteers, volunteers with mini light sabers and just generally anything and anyone in place to ensure you did not take a wrong turn was truly beyond anything I'd ever seen in a 100 mile race. It's a testament to Tsuyoshi Kaburaki, his team and the entire Japanese running community, and quite the site to behold. This volunteer directed me to my left. There were little blinky lights on the flagging tape up the climb. I looked left, then up, then up further, then straight up. I tried to make a joke in English to the volunteer which involved me using my arm like an airplane taking off. We were about to go vertical.

Shinpei Koseki
I train on steep-ass terrain. I LOVE super steep unrunnable terrain that forces you into a power hike, bent at the waist, hands on knees, straining to breath just to sustain twenty minute mile pace. I excel at this discipline though I'd never seen anything quite like what I was staring at before. It was the lack of noticeable switchbacks that really accentuated what I was confronted with, but the next single mile was going to climb 2600ft / 800m at a maximum grade of up to, including, and slightly over 50%. For reference a double black diamond ski run will often be in the 30-40% range. Because there were blinking lights on the flagging tape going up the trail it felt as though you could look straight up, like you should be able to see stars but instead they were flashing and you knew you had to pull those stars out of the sky under your own power. I reached forward in the dark to grab any solid object I could find to help pull me up the trail. A friend described it best when he said, "and then the trail was right in front of your face"

You never really feel like you're racing up this terrain as your cadence is so low, though the lack of oxygen reaching your brain leaves no doubt that you are indeed pushing to you maximum pace just to continue forward momentum. Before I realized it I was closing in on the headlamp of then second place French runner Cyril Cointre. I pulled ahead of Cyril just before our 50% grade climb gave way into a 53% grade descent. Cyril pulled right up to me and all of a sudden we were kind of caught up in a 'who's the better downhill runner' game among two guys who obviously prided themselves on how they could cover downhill terrain. Nothing about what we were doing felt overly intelligent but it was fun to have another runner to push the pace with.

After a slight uphill grind in the landscape I promptly took my head out of my ass and pulled aside, waving Cyril past and simply saying "you lead" to which I immediately let him go. We were less than thirty miles in and on the first of what was promising to be many sizable descents. It was far too early to be revving the pistons up. Not ten minutes later did my quads reiterate my decision by starting to cramp.

'You've gotta be kidding me' I thought. I glanced at my watch to see I'd been racing for approximately 4h30mins. 'This is bad. This is really bad. I don't know if you can recover from this Gary? I think you've potentially already made mistakes that are going to haunt you for the rest of the race.'

The Greatest Magic Trick I've Ever Performed. Disappearing, Reappearing, Disappearing Quads.

I huge component of ultra running and more specifically 100 mile running is the ability to constantly and honestly assess your physical situation so that you can make appropriate decisions that ensure you are able to perform at your optimal level. I was struggling through some tough decisions and realizations that also forced me to question the first 4+ hours of my day. Had I gone out too hard? Was I running someone else's race without noticing it? Could I maintain my current slightly slower pace without cramping or would I have to slow further? Was my race effectively done? Would I be forced to drop out? Would I even finish this race today? How could this be happening to me? Quad strength and resilience was one thing I worked hard at and prided myself on, how in the world could that be my weak link on this day? Were my quads getting better or worse? How was my nutrition? How was my nutrition? How was my nutrition? How was my...

I'd been doing a decent job at staying in the optimal range of 200-300 calories an hour since the race had begun but I had been ignoring the overwhelming sense of hunger that would not subside no matter how many race food calories I injected. Looking back over my day in that moment I realized that I'd in fact eaten very little in advance of the 3pm start. It was now 7:30pm and I hadn't had much of a meal in nearly twelve hours. The mere recognition of this seemed to prompt an unsettled grumble in my belly as if it were calling for help. I had a Hammer bar in my pack so I reached back and promptly devoured it. Sure enough, some solid calories combined with the slightly slower pace and my quad cramping subsided. This small victory felt pretty huge in that moment and I high five'd myself in my mind for working my way through it.

What goes up must go down and on this ridge that meant going up again, and then down again, and then up, and down and up and down and up and down again, and then for good measure you went up a sixth distinct spine before finally dropping some 2700 feet in just over a mile with a maximum grade somewhere in the 57% range. From start to finish this approximate 12m / 19k section took three full hours. An hour after the first quad issues my quads started to speak to me again. Once more I managed to eat them back into submission.

When we finally dropped down off this ridge we hit pavement and flat runnable terrain again. Time to wake up the legs!

As I was approaching the mile thirty-three aid station in third place, while running paved roads through a small town, a Japanese runner wearing #113 came screaming past me like he was in a 10k road race. The only thing I could figure was that he was looking for the accolades that would come with arriving at the aid station in third place while also being the first Japanese runner. There was simply no way that he was running a smart race and his pace certainly wasn't sustainable so I wrote him off without a second thought. Turns out most of us did. Hara Yoshikazu wasn't one of the pre-race favorites and I knew this when he passed me. I'd paid attention to who my competition was and who I needed to be aware of. Hara was in fact running his very first 100 miler, though he had won a 100km trail race in a time of 6h33m, which is pretty nuts. This of course was all information that I would not be able to source until after the race. In that moment Hara was just a runner that I was certain would either DNF or slow considerably and struggle to finish at all.

Shinpei Koseki
I hit the aid station in fourth, thirteen minutes behind defending champion and pre-race favorite Julien Chorier, 4m30s behind Cyril, and now one minute behind Hara. The race was six and a half hours old and I was exactly where I was hoping to be. Heading to Japan I had every faith in my abilities as a 100 mile runner over mountainous terrain, and after training with last year's second place finisher Adam Campbell I had every confidence that I was strong enough and healthy enough to challenge for the lead and a hopeful podium finish. The race was still in its infancy but I felt like I'd dodged a bullet with my quad issues, and once I saw my amazing Salomon support crew and they provided me with a triangle of rice wrapped in seaweed it only served to confirm my earlier findings. My quads had started to seize from a lack of overall calories on the day, not a lack of per hour racing calories, and getting solid food into my stomach was like riding on the wings of a unicorn...or at least how I'd envision that to feel. My spirits were buoyed by a simple 300 calorie reward and my legs seemed to forget that they'd threatened to leave me for dead just an hour earlier. (I've been told that if I don't correct Unicorn to Pegasus that I won't be getting married in Sept...OR Unipeg, greatest creature ever not created)

The next twenty-two miles of the course, bringing us up to the midway point, were predominantly paved and with a continual slightly uphill grade. This was the longest sustained runnable section of the entire race. Adam had told me about the UTMF course and how sections of flat'ish pavement were interspersed relentlessly with super steep mountain terrain. In training I'd run a 50km road run on a near weekly basis for the last few months. This wasn't as much about developing any additional foot speed as it was about training my mind to handle the monotony of this task at hand. I needed to learn how to zone out and click off kilometers for hours on end without a single excuse to walk, hike, or stop for any reason. This training was now paying dividends for as much as I continually wanted to stop and walk this section of the course there was simply no physical reason to do so.

We could not have gotten any luckier with the weather for the race as just hours before the race started a few rain clouds passed over the starting line and we were concerned for what might lay ahead. In the end we ran under a cloudless sky AND a full moon! So bright was the night sky through this exposed section of the course that I managed to shut my headlamp off and simply run by the light of the night orb over my shoulder. Though we were covering a mix of paved and then gravel surface road it was at least an isolated backroad in the forest with absolutely no car traffic or outside distractions. It felt as though we were running through a park and with my headlamp off, lit from above, clicking off mindless miles of the race I found one of those rare and special moments of peace. This is why I do this I thought. This is special. This journey and sense of adventure is what I crave from life.

I have a storied history of getting lost in races. It was this and this alone that forced me to once again turn my headlamp back on as I knew I'd never live down missing a turn in the night because I was running with my headlamp off. Not two minutes after I switched my lamp back on though did I end up jumping over a dormant snake on the side of the road. Just an over sized grass/garter snake was my best guess but having been confronted by a brown snake in an Australian expedition adventure race once I at least decided to pay greater attention to where my feet were landing.

As the road angled upwards the motivation to continue running waned, but again there was no reason other than mental fatigue to break stride. At about this time I spotted Cyril up ahead and walking. As I caught him all he said was "how far?"
To which I responded "About 3km"
"Okay thanks"

Taking it down a notch three hours earlier had saved my race.

There was a slight and slightly unexpected out and back as we approached the next aid station. Hara came running towards me, to which I spat out, "Wha!? Am I going the right way!?"

His general lack of response told me that his English probably rivaled my Japanese, and that this was likely an out and back.

Next up was Julien, now less than five minutes ahead of me. I was in third AND I'd managed to make up eight full minutes on him in that section, but Hara was now eleven minutes clear of me and showing no signs of weakness. It was clear now that Hara was indeed a threat on the day, a completely unexpected runner was not only in the lead but he'd been making significant gains over all of us on the faster sections of the race.

Out and back sections can be pretty tough in trail races. The forest and mountains can hide so much, with runners merely minutes apart never once catching a glimpse of each other. In referencing post race splits it's evident that nothing really changed through this section in terms of competitors behind me catching up, however they were now thrown in front of you like they'd appeared out of nowhere and were somehow running twice as fast as you. The out and back was only a few miles long and I said hi to nearly half a dozen people behind me. This had the effect of getting kicked in the nads repeatedly. Again like unicorn wings, not something I've yet experienced in my life, but basically how I'd expect it to feel.

I had JUST made up nearly ten minutes on one Julien Chorier yet somehow because there were half a dozen runners within thirteen minutes of me I became convinced that the wheels were coming off. So convinced of this was I that I started coaching myself for how to react WHEN those runners behind me caught me. In essence I was prepping myself for the inevitable letdown that would occur and attempting to rally in advance of this letdown to ensure that I didn't temporarily give up on myself WHEN those runners caught me. This is a common reaction when things like this happen in racing and basically I was recreating it in my head to attempt to limit my loses once it actually unfolded. I promised myself that I would make every additional effort necessary to latch onto those beasts behind me once they tracked me down and I'd fight like hell to keep from getting spit out behind them. All the while being 100% certain it was an inevitability.

Shinpei Koseki
I just kept trucking along as the terrain grew in steepness and technicality. I kept my head down and went to work and a funny thing happened. No one caught me. I shoulder checked repeatedly and it wasn't until I arrived at the next aid station unscathed that I had managed to regain some of my confidence in how well I was moving. I just never ceases to amaze. You are moving at a set pace of 10km/hr for arguments sake. You catch the runner in front of you and you naturally speed up and feel amazing. The adrenaline catches a hold of you and you can't believe how FAST you're running. Reverse the scenario, going the exact same speed, in the exact same initial head space, yet getting caught yourself you somehow suffer a massive letdown and your mind gets the better of you. I was thankful that I had yet to deal with the latter and was hopeful that I'd soon be dealing with the former.

Clearing another aid station without seeing a runner from behind and learning that I was holding my own against the two in front of me was reassuring. The next section of the race contained the literal and figurative high point along with one of the weirdest things I've ever heard of in a trail race, a mandatory walking section.

Immediately after departing I was instructed "no running in this section." This had of course been covered in advance of the race but now that I was confronted with its reality I was disappointed that the terrain was in fact so damn flat and easy. To be all alone in third in a highly competitive 100 mile race and then to self govern walking over terrain that you would be forced to run if you sneezed or caught your toe on a rock was a bit torturous. It demanded trusting that your opponents were in fact honouring the same rules as you. Given that Japanese culture is probably the most honour based society on the planet I convinced myself that should I chose to run I'd surely be struck down by some god of the trails and have my foot clear severed in half should I break their code of conduct. Not a minute later I came across two volunteers almost hiding in the woods and holding up a sign in English,

"Walk Only"

I was congratulated with a ceremonial golf clap for adhering to the rules. Truth be told though I was shoulder checking the entire time while attempting to channel my inner Olympic speed walker, swaying my hips hither and tither and had I spotted a headlamp closing in on me I was prepared to erupt into a sprint as there was no way a gap of the minutes I possessed could be honestly closed if everyone were walking, speed walking or not. I saw no lights and was thankful for it. The flat slowly steered itself upwards and before long a hike was all anyone would be able to sustain anyways

As we topped out at the highest point on the course at just under 6,000 feet the full moon illuminating Fuji immediately to our left, as we were now on her flanks, the landscape transformed itself into a lunar style volcanic rock. Volunteers manned the high point and said in broken English,

"Okay to run"

I basically asked them to repeat those words three times before I exploded into a scree field of volcanic rock, taking a few kilos of it with me in my shoes to deposit at the next aid station.

Photo Credit Shinpei Kosecki
The next 6m/10k was almost all downhill while losing about 2,000ft of elevation. I departed ten minutes behind Julien for 2nd and arrived at A7 - 105.3km just eight minutes in arrears. The volunteers at A7 actually told me that I was eight minutes behind BOTH runners. BOTH runners! I thought, that's it Hara has cracked and Julien hasn't been making any ground on me. Looking at the somewhat inaccurate course profile I figured this was my best chance to put in a bit of a push and to get myself within striking distance of the lead.

Hearing that I was eight minutes back I was hoping to make up five minutes over the next ten miles of the course. I wanted to arrive at A8 - 121.7km and hear the words,
"You are just three minutes behind the leaders!"

If I remember correctly it was 3:30am what I started into the climb and felt just slightly better than Death on a Monday after a long weekend. It was finally time to use my greatest weapon, my music. I pulled out my MP3 and bluetooth earbuds and fired it up. Within minutes I was wide awake and moving faster over the mountains than even I would have guessed possible. Singing out loud, pumping my fists to the beats, anticipating and embracing the terrain ahead rather than fearing it. The music in my ears quickly made me feel at one with the earth under my feet and though I'd hesitate to say I felt like I was floating over the terrain I became confident and almost hyper aware of my every stride. This confidence lead to more unencumbered running than a body wearing nearly 13 hours of constant movement would normally possess. My questions about IF I was making time on Hara and Julien were replaced by questions about HOW MUCH time I was making. I simply knew that with relatively consistent splits between all of us over the last forty miles that I was now outpacing my nearest competitors.

The sun started to rise and presented a scene of beauty that left me nearly pinching myself. Fuji in all her glory, a full moon lingering off her shoulder, a red blanket colouring the horizon, and a Lake Yamanakako appearing from within the shadows down below as though a curtain had been drawn back on its slumber. A brief moment after digesting all of this and there were photographers and videographers dotting the landscape in front of me. They'd positioned themselves for just this moment in the race and I threw my arms in the arm and screamed,
"Can you believe this! This is AMAZING!!"
Shinpei Koseki

Shinpei Koseki
Feeling the sun rise over you in a race that takes you non stop through the darkness of the night all by yourself is a bit like the warm embrace of a loved one that you've gone far too long without seeing. It's all at once foreign and familiar and comforting beyond reason. I was now wide awake and alive by every possible definition of those words, and not five minutes later this happened (fast forward to 1m45s for the sunrise shot and what follows)

I came around the corner and he was right in front of me. I had no inkling that I was so close to Julien
Shinpei Koseki
and that I'd taken back the eight minutes he had over me in half the distance that I though it would take to gain just five of those minutes.

As I pulled up alongside him he asked, "Who's that?"
I responded "It's Gary"

Even though we'd met a few days earlier and spent enough time together via the team to become acquaintances he just was not expecting to see ME and hence did not process who Gary was. I pulled alongside of him and as he looked over to see just who was there he inadvertently uttered "Oh non non non"

This was comical for numerous reasons, not the least of which was that he just seemed to have blurted out his thoughts more than anything else in particular. I managed to translate what that meant into English though.

"Umm, excuse me! Non, non, non. There's a clause somewhere in your Salomon contract that states that you can not pass Julien Chorier. I think you need to step aside and revisit what you signed IMMEDIATELY you smelly Canadian bastard."

(Julien could not be a nicer person. None of what I said above was actually thought by Julien, at least not that I know of. He in fact came up to me post race and specifically commented on how impressed he was by how I was moving at that point in the race...before he laughed at me for beating me and jabbed me in the eye with a French flag...and he even apologized for not realizing who 'Gary' was in the moment. Class act all the way with a great sense of humor as well)

I had just passed Julien Chorier. If I'm not mistaken Julien had yet to be been beaten in a 100 mile race and his resume is stoopid stacked with amazing results. It was mile 75'ish and in that exact moment in time it was the best I'd felt compared to where we were in the race all race long. My Imagine Dragons song I referenced in my HURT race report was next up on my playlist and the trail cut left and proceeded straight down. My adrenaline was pumping and within two minutes of passing Julien I could no longer see him behind me on an open section of trail.

I'D WON THE RACE! It was mile 75 and I was in second, but with all the positive emotions that had collided inside of me it was like a cheetah had mated with flying squirrel that'd co-evolved with a flying fish...that'd be one badass creature with wings mind you, I was dropping miles like I was counting in the 90's for distance and not the 70's.

Mile 75...76...77...78...79 into the aid station with cameras and live feeds and the unexpected 2nd place runner getting his fair share of early accolades.

"How do you feel?"

"Like this race is about 21 miles longer than I'd realized"

I was in and out without seeing that not only was Julien just over five minutes behind me, but he had now teamed up with fellow French legend and co-pre-race favorite North Face runner Sebastien Chaigneau.

I knew within a mile of departing the aid station that I'd given too much too early. I'd made a mistake and now I had to pay for it. This was my sixth hundred miler yet I should have and do know better than this. I was internally scolding myself as I processed just how bad the damage was.

Could I finish? Definitely, eventually, with a 48 hour cutoff at least I would hope so.
Could I catch the lead runner? Absolutely not.
Could I hang onto second place? Doubtful. It's not like Julien Chorier goes 'oh I was passed by a runner. On no no no, I guess that is that and this race is over for me, it was nice while it lasted'
Could I hang on to top ten? I certainly hoped so but honestly I was in a bad spot and I knew it.

Head down, go to work. Don't think, just do. One foot in front of the other. Eat, drink, repeat. Distract the mind as much as possible. Try not to look at the mileage on the Ambit as it's clicking off slower than paint drying. Try to stay positive. Try not to freak out at the fact that Julien has just passed me while I was filling my water bottle at the next water station. I swear he shot laser beams through me with his eyes as if to say don't even f#@king think about trying that shit again!

Try not to look straight up at the fact that this climb appears to go on forever. Try not to freak out over the fact that Sebastien, who I haven't seen since mile five, has just appeared out of thin air and is passing me like I'm moving backwards. Am I moving backwards? Hard to tell but either way I'm giving it all I've got.

Seb tells me the worst is yet to come.
"Yup, steepest section of the race is yet to come."

Nothing, and I mean nothing on my course profile eludes to or prepares me for what's to come. I honestly thought I was about to the top of this section, the apparent last significant climb of the race, but in fact I was on false summit one of three and the top was a clear cut rock scramble. I LOVE rock scrambling, when I go out for a f#@king ROCK SCRAMBLE not for a 100 mile running race!

Foot hold. Hand hold. Foot hold. Slippery mud from the frost overnight that's melted in the sun. Literal movement backwards. Hand hold. Root Hold. Rope Hold.
Am I having a heart attack?
No you just wish you were so that you'd have an excuse to stop.

THE TOP! Shit you've gotta be kidding me. The downhill is so steep that I have to use the ropes on the trail to make my way down the supposedly easier side of this mountain. Only six more miles / ten kms of downhill to go until the final aid station.

A10. Mile 90. KM 143

They tell me the splits to the three runners in front of me. I laugh in their faces. I grab my supplies reminding myself that I'd still really prefer to finish 4th over 5th, and 5th over 6th, and 6th over 11th. I feel like the finish line is somehow moving further away from me. I detour to the actual aid station and literally twelve volunteers behind the table stand at attention and almost try to 'sell me' on their foods in front of them. They're wonderful. All of the Japanese people have been. Everything in this race save how I've actually run my final twenty miles has been wonderful. I take a slice of orange and everyone celebrates in unison. I realize I'm the first runner that's touched anything outside of my own supplies that my crew has laid out for me. I eat five slices of orange and they count off each and every one. It's comical and heart warming all at once. I thank them in my best broken Japanese and get on with my near but not quite death march to the finish line.

It's not the climbing miles that scare me it's the flat and downhill miles as those are where I'll lose the most time to my stalkers.

About 45 minutes later,
"Eight miles / thirteen kilometers, all downhill"

It was toughen up time and I was really struggling to convince myself that this would all be over shortly, and that the faster I ran the sooner it'd end. I walked and shoulder checked more than I care to admit. Then I caught up to the very last runner in the shorter STY race. The three sweepers around him were all but literally sweeping him off course. I detoured his way and threw my arm around him and told him how strong he was, how he was almost home, how everyone would be so proud of him. I knew he wouldn't understand the verbal language but communication and support comes in many forms. He found me on FB two days later and thanked me via google translator. I told him how much he'd helped me without realizing as much. I think in hindsight I was attempting to speak to both of us.

The terrain gave way to a steep gravel road descent. I leaned forward under the assumption that inertia would propel me forward and that somewhere tucked away deep inside I actually cared if I fell on my face or not and I'd prevent that from happening by moving my legs faster than they'd moved in hours.

I was too close to quit now. Too close to not win 4th place. We passed through a temple at the bottom of our last climb, right before the gravel gave way to pavement. The temple and temple grounds looked impressive and warranted stopping to appreciate them further, at least that was the latest argument that popped into my head as an excuse to stop torturing myself.

I could see the finish line now, though it was closer in sight than it was in running distance as we were to run an arc around the lake and across a bridge first. Purgatory. My legs started cramping. I didn't care. One mile. A half mile. A quarter mile. Nothing but cheers and applause. Nothing but smiling faces and positive energy and love. Nothing but pure elation.
Photo Credit Shinpei Koseki
Photo Credit Koichi Iwasa
4th place.
The hardest 100 miler I've ever run.
The most talented field of runners I've ever gone up against in a mountainous 100 miler.
I couldn't be happier. I couldn't be more that moment I thought as much, but just sixteen hours and fifteen minutes later I was happier still, I was far more proud.

Thank you Japan
Thank you Kaburaki
Thank you amazing UTMF volunteers and organizers
Thank you Team Salomon, especially my crew who I could not have succeeded without
Thank you Justin Jablonowski and Rich White for hosting/helping me/us in Japan and motivating us to sign up in the first place way back in November
Thank you Kim and James for the surprise congratulations decorations upon our return home
My amazing crew. Photo Shinpei Koseki

I sincerely hope to return again and to ideally spend more time in Japan appreciating and exploring the culture and the history further. I've dreamt of going to Japan my entire life. I've dreamt of running an internationally competitive mountainous 100 miler since 2008. I've dreamt of being healthy and at the top of my running game since 2010. I've dreamt of Entering the Ninja since I was five years old. Three out of four ain't bad I guess, three out of four ain't bad.

Photo Credit Shinpei Koseki


PS: I have an athlete page on Facebook now and an online like will help grant you three wishes!
If you like this page within the next 24 hours you will find something amazing in your life.
If you like this page within the next 12 hours you'll be rich beyond your wildest dreams.
If you like this page within the next 6 hours you'll have the skills of a Samurai bestowed upon you in your sleep
If you DO NOT like THIS PAGE something you love will be tragically taken from you while the whole horrific incident it is inexplicably live tweeted via my Twitter feed. Feel free to follow me on Twitter as well, though I'd strongly recommend against it if you don't LIKE THIS PAGE!