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"Help Is Not Coming" - The 2018 Barkley Marathons

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"Help Is Not Coming" - The 2018 Barkley Marathons

Howie Stern Photography

 

It was 1:30am on Wednesday, March 21st and we were in Knoxville, TN. The temps were just below freezing, with a stiff wind gusting over people. Snow was accumulating on the ground and my family, collectively my parents, wife and son, were walking between the hotels in the immediate vicinity asking if they had any available beds for the night. We had of course booked our own hotel that evening, and we were all in fact sleeping soundly just minutes before, but currently there were a few hundred people braving the winter conditions in their pajamas as firefighters streamed into the building.

When the hotel alarms were triggered my mother thought it was her alarm clock, and she called front desk complaining that she couldn’t turn it off. She was informed that this was the fire alarm and she was to evacuate immediately. My own room, with my wife and son, was half a hallway away from my parents, but my mother and I somehow opened our doors into the main hallway in unison and I waved at her with that look that says “damn fire alarm, I guess we should evacuate just to be on the safe side.”

I walked down the hall with Linda and Reed, towards my parents, whose room was directly across from the second floor stairwell. As I was getting them all set someone barreled through the door onto the second floor, with their full rolling luggage bag in tow. He looked like he was being chased by a bear and he simply yelled, “FIRE!!” then promptly dove back into the stairwell and outta site.

Okay, shit, this is actually happening right now!

I direct my family down the stairs and then walk back the length of the second floor saying in a calm but loud voice, “There is a fire in the building, please evacuate immediately. There is a fire in the building, please evacuate immediately.”

It was amazing to me in that moment how many people were still attempting to wait this out in their rooms. The alarm noise leaves no doubt and certainly no desire to attempt to ignore it. My head hurts now just recreating this and thinking about it. I ducked back into my own room to grab my wallet and keys to our rental SUV, as I was now envisioning that we’d be spending a few hours out in the cold. I had thousands of dollars in electronics with me, between my computer, battery packs, watches, etc, etc, but I stayed calm and rational, all of that was replaceable and I wanted to be in and out of my room in a matter of seconds, so I didn't even attempt to take more than my wallet and keys.

I did one final check of the entire second floor and no one remained, so I headed down the stairwell and out into the frigid night to locate my family.

 

When Linda and I had checked in exactly 24 hours earlier we were placed in a “non-smoking room” on a smoking floor. I had no idea smoking was even allowed in hotels any longer, but here we were. I retreated to the front desk and asked if in fact there was a non-smoking room available on a “non-smoking floor”, what a concept. The front desk attendant was helpful enough and we were moved one floor lower. I mentioned my folks were checking in the following day and requested the same for them. Linda and I were initially placed in hotel room #313 and I’d later discover that the person in room #312 (the one we would have been sharing a wall with) had fallen asleep while smoking in bed.

 

My wife, son and I had arrived in Tennessee 26 hours earlier, and it had already been an eventful first day up to this point, what with an ER visit for our two-and-a-half-year-old son’s first ear infection, and our rental car agency messing up our reservation and not having a child seat available for us upon arrival. I had a full Jerry Seinfeld moment;

“You see, you know how to *take* the reservation, you just don't know how to *hold* the reservation. And that's really the most important *part* of the reservation: the holding. Anybody can just take them.”

Hands up in the air and all.

By all accounts our first day had not gone so smoothly, but that’s why we decided to fly in a day earlier this year, to get all of the rental car issues, hospital visits and hotel’s burning down out of the way early.

I eventually located two available rooms at an adjacent hotel, and at 3am we all attempted some fitful shuteye.

I don’t believe in omens. I don’t subscribe to luck, but it was undeniable by this point, I’d been sensing for quite a time that nothing was going to unfold the way I’d hoped it would at this year’s Barkley. Every time I had this fleeting thought of impending doom, which had been ongoing for weeks, I’d repeat a Macklemore lyric in my head (mock me if you will, I really don’t care. That’s not the lyric, that’s me talking to you) “they ain’t givin’ it, I’m takin’ it” and it was just a reminder that I had to get my headspace right and to not allow any expectations, distractions, or excuses to creep in. Nothing about the Barkley is supposed to be easy, you want an excuse, I’ll give you 100 of em in under a minute, “they ain’t givin’ it I’m takin’ it”… “nobody’s gonna make this happen but you Gary, control what you can control and forget about the rest.” The hotel fire would make for a great story and It was but one night of lost sleep. I didn’t even talk about it again until after the race, because as we drove out of Knoxville and towards Wartburg, it was already literally and figuratively, behind us.

Frozen Head

We arrived at Frozen Head late on Wednesday and were greeted by a familiar site in an unfamiliar location, snow, and lots of it. I managed to get out for a sundown run up England Mountain and the snow drifts along the top were shocking, some being knee deep. “This could get interesting” I thought, but the forecast for the following days was promising enough and most people expected the course to be free of snow come race day.

 

One of the rules of the Barkley, and Frozen Head State Park, is that you’re not allowed to depart the ‘candyass’ maintained trails at any point outside of the race. If you are caught going off-trail outside of the 60 hours of the race you are removed from the race by Laz immediately and escorted out of camp, likely to never be drawn back into the event again. I was hoping for a bit more daylight so I could scout my end of lap five error from 2017 a bit further, but within minutes of cresting the high point I had all the information I needed. Twenty feet. Six meters. That is the actual margin of error that lead to my coming in from the wrong direction one year ago. Twenty feet at the end of 60 hours of effort. I never did write a race report about it. I sat in an internet café for seven hours on a rainy day in April last year and I had managed to recreate all but one paragraph of my experience. I just didn’t have the desire to relieve it blow for blow. A common misconception that’s taken hold is that I hit the trail and simply turned the wrong way, going right instead of left. I knew I was to go left and was expecting to T-junction with the trail. If I had, I would have turned left and run down into camp to close out the race with a few minutes to spare. I would have become the 16th finisher of the Barkley Marathons, and I wouldn’t have been standing there now, staring down thoughts of why and how, and attempting to put a positive spin on things.

 In the end I learned that in 2017 I was about twenty feet too far west, and the trail curls away at that point. When I finally found the trail I was parallel to it, while knowing I was supposed to T-junction with it, then I trended into it, more of a merge really, and somehow as the trail was on my left at this point my 60-hour sleep deprived brain went “left side, left turn, all the same, you’re on the trail now run it in!”

Anyways, they say American football is a game of inches, and the Barkley is no different. Small mistakes rapidly become big mistakes, and that was one of my mantras this year, along with "go slower, to go faster.”

 

Friday arrived in no time and before we knew it the map was out and things were getting real. There were three changes to the course for 2018, two of which favoured the runners in terms of appearing to be slightly faster than the previous book locations, whereas one book location was most certainly much longer than the year prior. In the end I guessed this 2018 course to maybe be in the range of 7-12 minutes longer per loop, or 30-60 minutes harder overall.

The total climbing stats for 2018 would come in at 13,484ft per loop, or a whopping 67,420ft for the full pull. If Laz adds one more 500ft climb to the mix in the coming years, the Barkley will be a 70,000ft race! Read that again and let that sink in.

The Conch Is Blown

Save for our fire alarm evac on Tuesday, I’d slept great all week, and thankfully Friday night proved no different. I passed our just after midnight, after already being in bed for three hours, and likely ended up with about six hours of reasonable sleep. When I awoke just after 7am I eased into the morning and the conch was eventually blown at 8:33am for a 9:33am start. Jamil Courey and I were the first two runners to greet Laz as we awaited our official “Barkley watch”, the $10 Timex piece that is the only watch you are allowed to carry for the race. This watch is set to “race time” or “zero time” so when the 24hr watch goes to zeroes you start running. When the watch hits 12:00 on your third day, time has officially expired (60 hours).

My strategy was simple going into the first loop, go slower to be faster, get through it mistake free, refresh my memory as to the nuances of the course and go from there.

Just prior to the start I’d somehow managed to bump my watch and it reset the seconds back to zero. The seconds must’ve been counting up in the 50’s, about to turn over to a new minute, because my watch showed the race starting about a minute early, and I was scrambling just a bit to get through the pack at the back and up near the front as we all streamed past the yellow gate. We were about ten minutes into the first climb when I questioned someone else as to the start time and then realized my watch was out by over a minute. Runners know that the watches will be out vs the “master watch” that Laz wears but only by a few seconds over the duration of the 60 hours, and by coincidence when I initially compared my watch with Laz’s we realized my total time variance for the 60 hours would be seven seconds, meaning my watch, set to race time, could not go above 11:59:53 on day three. Not that any of this ended up mattering in the end, but it is just another example of the attributes that make the Barkley so unique.

As we worked our way up the first climb, on a few miles of candyass trail, this was the slowest I’d ever started The Barkley, following my race plan perfectly. In the previous two editions a lead pack pushes off the front and crests the first climb in about twenty-five minutes. We were closer to thirty minutes and there were at least 8-10 runners in front of or around me. We snagged our first page and proceeded to drop off the mountain towards book two. The race always seems to splinter here, as runners scramble for position after the first backlog of pages being pulled, and this year was no different. By the time we intersected the river below I’d found myself at the front of the race, earlier than anticipated, and already down to a group of about six.

The more eyes the better, was also something I’d been telling myself. No need to shrink the field until we’ve at least collectively located the new books together. I had mentioned to Guillaume Calmettes a day earlier that I intended to up the pace a bit after book seven, which in the clockwise direction would be the third and final “new book location”, but until then I saw no reason thin out the field.

Our now lead group nailed book two, thanks in no small part to Nova Scotia’s Jodi Isenor (a previous fun run finisher) and as the book gets handed around to pull pages I glance at the cover. The book is titled “Six Seconds” and I temporarily lose my mind. “F@#K YOU LAZ!!” He is an expert at mental warfare. As we started up “hillpocolypse” which in the clockwise direction is the first off trail ascent of the race, our group consisted of myself, Jodi, Guillaume, Jamil, a Scottish bloke named Ally Beaven and another overseas runner whose name was James. Before we topped out on this climb we’d be down to four runners and I’d be down to one trekking pole, somehow managing to snap one of my poles within minutes of pulling them out.

Jamil Courey certainly knows the course well and he was a huge asset as we proceeded along without issue. When we arrived at book five, the biggest change of the year, he zoned in on it like a hawk. It was really impressive and I knew my decision to not forge on was paying dividends.

What was really surprising to me was how well Guillaume know the course. He’d done his homework, having travelled out just a month or so earlier to run all of the trails you’re allowed to scout outside of race weekend, and Guillaume took the lead on some sections as he was in fact the person in our group who’d been over some of the terrain the most recently. All in all, we were moving right along and accomplishing exactly what I’d set out to do, which was to put in an error free first loop.

At book seven, the third and final alteration to the 2018 course, I went right to a set of trees that matched the description, had a poke around, saw nothing, and began moving away from there, then Jamil comes in just behind us, goes to the exact set of trees and pulls out the book. This is one of the things that people fail to recognize about this race, you can literally be standing on top of the book at times and you still won’t see it unless you dig for it. Books are buried in tree stumps, under rocks or just anywhere that makes it as hard to locate as possible. Jamil informs us that “this was the location of this book in 2014.” Cool, good to know. Okay, all new books have now been established and it’s mostly smooth sailing in regards to my own course knowledge.

For the first time in my three attempts, the course goes up the infamous “Testicle Spectacle”. Over the past two years the book near Testicle has been off to one side of it, in 2016 it was in the left hip, if you will, and 2017 was in the right hip, so I’ve never done this route in its entirety, and I’m excited as it feels like a right of passage.  

It had rained overnight from Friday into Saturday and we were warned of an incoming “weather event” from late day Saturday into Sunday. As we started up Testicle the hill just continues to slop away from under us. It was a complete pile of mud and not a single inch was gained without slipping backwards to some degree. I was no longer enjoying my right of passage. The thrill of the new climb had lasted all of, well, six seconds really.

We crested the climb, now down to three, myself, Guillaume and Ally, and proceeded towards book eight. My line was off a bit and sure enough captain consistent Jamil catches back up to us. I lead us all up Danger Dave’s Climbing Wall and the onwards towards Rat Jaw.

Rat Jaw is a bitch. There is not a single picture ever taken of Rat Jaw that can accurately display its gradient and inherent challenges. Every year pics are posted from Rat Jaw and inevitably people following along online think “oh that doesn’t look so bad” “oh hill x-y-z that we have here locally is at least that steep.”

We were in for a special treat on Rat Jaw this year as the recent rains, not just overnight but over the last few weeks, had turned its clay like dirt into a vertical skating rink. No matter how fast you are moving up until that point, or how strong you might feel, Rat Jaw is am absolute soul destroying grind from bottom to top. There is an old cable that lays on the ground along some sections, and this cable becomes a life line. You drag yourself up this slope, one agonizing step at a time, and then you hang on for dear life on the downslope, using the cable as you would a climbing rope that’s been strung over a rocky slope to allow for safe passage.

By the time we’d topped out it was but myself, Guillaume and Ally. We might have been a few minutes slower going up than I’ve been in previous years on the first lap, but we’d exerted so much more energy in doing so. It was a fight for every step and for the first time in my three years at the race I actually had the thought, on the first lap, of “I can’t even imagine the effort that’ll be needed to get up this thing on laps three, four and five.”

Bottles filled, page pulled and careening down the mountain. I slam hard at one point but immediately bounce back up and keep running. My tricep is screaming at me and I think it’ll dissipate, but it never does. I attempted to arrest the fall by leaning into a pole and ended up straining my arm. Even as I type this almost a week later the tricep still has a ways to go to get back to 100%. Only at the Barkley are you as likely to experience an upper body injury as you are a lower body injury. The amount of upper body strength needed for the Barkley is often underestimated, and it’s a whole-body workout for two and a half straight days.

We went through the prison, up and over the final two climbs and down into camp after what could readily be described as a perfect first lap.

With about a mile to go, Guillaume says to me, “so how long do you think you’ll spend in camp?”

I’ve had a year to digest last year’s failure. I’ve watched Ethan Newberry’s documentary about it 17 times on the big screen (WhereDreamsGoToDie.com). I do not see six seconds as being the difference, I see the better part of 45 minutes that could have been improved upon. Goal #1 for 2018 was to be more dialed in camp, to be better organized from the start, and to “leave no doubt”. Leave nothing for chance. Be better, from lap one through lap five.

Laz changed the rules around camp for 2018 and each runner was allowed but two crew members. This meant Linda +1. This meant no Ethan, no Kim and no Shaun Martin. In the end my crew ended up being Linda + John Kelly, and we shared John Kelly with another runner, the aforementioned Jodi Isenor. John would have his hands full, crewing for two people, but there was no better person for the job. I was honoured that he’d dedicate his weekend towards my own hopeful success. My parents were staying at a hotel in Oak Ridge and would come to camp for Interloopal, taking Reed off of Linda’s hands so Linda and John could focus on the task at hand. Every – second – counts.

Me to Guillaume, “five minutes best case, seven minutes worst case.”

Guillaume, with a pause…”okay”.

We hit camp in 8h38m.

In 8h45m, after a full gear change from head to toe, socks, shoes, shirts, lube, everything,  I was sprinting back out of camp. It was, easily, the best I’ve ever felt after a lap at the Barkley. Things were going perfectly.

I spotted Guillaume and Ally scrambling to get to the gate to claim their second lap bib, as I was exiting the campground. I did not have a desire to move on without them, I had a desire to finish the race. Every – second – counts.

There was about ninety minutes of daylight remaining when I departed camp on lap two. For 2018 the direction of the loops was set as;

1. clockwise

2. counter

3. counter

4. clockwise

5. choice

The Second Lap - Counterclockwise

I put in a good push to get up and over the first climb, claiming book #13 (or the first book going ccw). As I dropped down the first off trail section of lap two I thought it about the right time to pull out my headlamp. The weather, as had been predicted, was setting in and it was foggy, cold and starting to rain. They were calling for up to 30mm of rain. The “weather event” had begun.

I clicked on my headlamp but nothing happened. I tried again…nothing. Tried one final time, but still zero. I always carry two primary headlamps of 350 lumens, the Princeton Tec Apex rechargeable, and a third emergency light of just 100 lumens, the PT Remix.

I attempted to fire up my second Apex light but it too was dead. This had never happened before. I pulled out my backup, backup light and turned it on. There was no way in hell that this emergency light was sufficient for navigating in the dark, and I didn’t even have spare batteries for it. I was far too far out of camp to head back and fix this. The sun was all but gone, the fog had rolled in, and my race, was about, to end…

“GUILLAUME! ALLY! GUILLAUME!! ALLY!!”

I knew they’d be close, but if I was unable to locate them I’d be hooped as there were no other runners close to us at this point.

Thankfully Guillaume started whistling back to me and we worked towards each other through the dense laurel brush.

“Oh my god, thank you! My headlamps are both dead, do either of you have a backup main light?”

Neither did but both offered what they did have. Nothing added up to a working solution though (extra batteries specific to each lamp) and I was forced to continue with my “AAA” powered Remix. I need to explicitly state at this point that my headlamps were not malfunctioning. It was not a product issue but a user mistake. We as a crew made an error and learned a valuable lesson in real time. The lamps were both dead, but through no fault of the manufacturer.

Myself, Guillaume and Ally were a team again, whether they liked it or not 😊

I lead us to our second book and as we made our move towards the third book a pack of runners headed our way at the end of their first lap. I asked everyone if they had any light source or “AAA” batteries to spare and a TN runner was kind enough to spot me his emergency light which was also “AAA”. This would at least get me closer to being able to cover the 12hrs of darkness we were now confronted with. (if you are reading this please message me so I can get your light back to you)

As we navigated towards our next book the epicenter of the storm started to unleash on us. We had curtains of rain rolling over us and visibility was down to about a foot or two at most. Neither Guillaume nor Ally had ever been on the Barkley course at night before, this was their first counterclockwise loop, we were in a rainstorm, on a pile of mud, in the Tennessee wilderness, with temperatures in the single digits, and their fearless leader had 100 lumens of light to work with.

The death by a thousand briar cuts had begun.

We blew this book in significant fashion and by the time we did locate it we were all soaked through to the bone and on the cusp of hypothermia.

“Guys, put on every layer you have, this is not going to get any better and we won’t regret it if we somehow end up being a smidge too warm on the next climb up Rat Jaw.”

I was now wearing a long sleeve merino wool base, a short sleeve tech shirt, and hooded wind jacket, a waterproof jacket, a buff, a toque, I had a second thicker pair of gloves that I switched into, I had on a short pair of tights under a full pair of tights, and now pulled on my waterproof pants. On the bright side, my pack was now much, much lighter.

Guillaume Calmettes is certainly one of the most positive people you’ll ever meet, and he exclaimed with a smile, in his thick French accent, but with perfect English “ADVENTURE!”

Ally Beaven possessed a great sense of humour, the ability to tell a good story, and most importantly he understood the golden rule of not complaining out loud.

I would have classified us squarely in the middle of being a “Dream Team” and “The Three Stooges”.

We dropped down towards the prison in the most deranged conditions I’d ever witnessed on this slope. It was like the ground was no longer solid but had somehow decayed into a foreign, much more malleable surface. If I could not visually process that I was moving across a supposedly solid slope I would have guessed it to be ice and snow underfoot. Each time we slipped, and we slipped plenty, we’d go for a ride downslope of about five to six feet before coming to a halt, often against a rock or tree, and then we’d be forced to pick ourselves up and attempt a few more feet of actual forward progress. It reminded me all too much of this:

I mostly nailed this descent, placing us just a tiny bit south of our intended target. We claimed our book and proceeded to the prison tunnel.

I have done the prison tunnel and Rat Jaw ten times in my first two years, this was now my 12th pass of the tunnel. Down the center of the tunnel is a cement strip that’s about five inches wide and six inches high. If you are not wearing a headlamp you loose site completely for about 25% of the tunnel in a complete blackout. Jared called this one of his Barkley games, to see if you could navigate this while essentially blind and I’ve adapted this game. On lap one I’d make it through the tunnel without falling off and getting wet, now on lap two, by headlamp, I was presented with something new to me. The tunnel no longer offered a slab of concrete down the middle as an option. There was one steady stream of water flowing through the tunnel, seven plus inches deep throughout. We still tried to stay on the concrete as the water was only an inch above this, but unbeknownst to me there are “inflow” pipes up above and at one point a rather vicious waterfall from above forced us to hug a sidewall. We were essentially fording a river, through a tunnel, at night, under a prison. It was right about then that I started questioning where I’d gone wrong with my life? Up until that point I'd mostly believed that I'd made reasonably good decisions with my life, but in retrospect, my epiphany was that I’d just managed a positive spin on a series of really bad decisions. I do really stupid things, and I do them with stunning regularity.

Anyways, not like I'm making any big life changes at 41 year's old, might as well forge ahead as is...at the exit of the tunnel there was genuine concern for not getting washed over the edge, into a five plus foot drop.

“ADVENTURE!”

We cleared the tunnel and heaved ourselves up Rat Jaw, crawling through the mud and briars every step of the way.

John freaking Kelly was waiting up top yelling encouragement at us through the fog. There’s a fire tower up top and I couldn’t help but picture Lieutenant Dan in the Forrest Gump film, sitting on the topsail yelling out into the storm,

“IS THAT ALL YOU’VE GOT!?”

John informed us that we had at least another six hours in this weather, but that it should start to ease through the night and, as forecast, it would blow through and the next 48 hours were in fact promising. He also admitted to me later that he got lost in the fog, on maintained and sign-posted trails, while heading up to the fire tower to cheer us on. I was uncertain in that moment who was more miserable, us, while plodding through this thing, or John, wearing every layer he owned and standing out in this mess awaiting our arrival.

We were effective through the next few books, skiing down a mountain of mud on both Rat Jaw and then Testicle, and fording the New River to start up what’s known as Stallion Mountain and the back-half of the course going CCW. I couldn’t help but think of Blake Wood, a true legend of the sport and Barkley finisher who during one particularly rough year found the New River impassable on lap five due to heavy rains, and he subsequently was unable to finish that year through no other reason than he didn’t have a boat with him. Laz instituted a workaround for any future years should this happen again, with a prescribed reroute, so we couldn’t even claim that this was the worst year on record, though we were later informed that it did rank right up there.

We made good time all the way to the top, snagged our book page and then turned to descend towards our next book, dropping through a feature known as Cougar Rock.

Guillaume was on lead, he was near perfect through this section in daylight on lap one, but this was a different beast entirely at night. In hindsight, I became a passenger, and it cost us dearly. When you’re dealing with conditions like we were it hinders your judgement, there’s no time to stop and reset because stopping for even a moment leads to a deep shiver that originates in your core. To move is to stay warm, to stop is to freeze. If you start shivering you might not be able to recover from it, so you push on. It is not until we are fully cliffed out that the severity of our situation overwhelms us. We’re in a bad spot, we’re lost, we’re bleeding time, and a misstep by any of us could lead to a serious incident. We retreat, we reset, we work together to figure things out, but the damage is done. We right the ship, find Cougar Rock, nail our next two books through what’s known as The Garden Spot, and find ourselves correcting for a small error on the third to last book.

We’re now down to the final two books and our best case scenario for this lap is 13hrs – high.

The lead is back to me and with limited light I struggle. I’ve already gone through two sets of batteries for my own headlamp and am now borrowing Guillaume’s backup light. A major marker I’m searching for is a sign off the side of the trail, it is less than two feet from the trail, I know this, I am looking for it, I completely proceed right past it and start down an unfamiliar trail and am confronted by a sign I’ve never seen before that reads “legacy tree”.

“F#@K.”

I scream back up slope to Guillaume who is third in our line,

“Did I miss the sign!? Can you see it?”

“Yes, it’s here!”

We retreat, reset, and then struggle with this descent. For the second straight lap, I snap my pole in pretty much the exact same location. We are anything but smooth and the clock is ticking. We eventually locate the second to last book and start up the second to last climb of the lap.

In the fog mistakes are made, I miss by a few degrees and we’re once again scrambling. I have a deep pit in my stomach. This feels fatal.

We locate the trail right at daybreak and I ask the guys if they’re okay with me pushing onward, saying every second is vital right now. They’re totally cool and off I went, somehow feeling like I was up against the clock on lap two, instead of lap five.

I got chased off the trail a short time later by four wild hogs but no harm was done. I get up and over “Checkmate Hill” snag my page and absolutely careen down into camp. Lap time was something like 14h30m. My entire body is numb, not from pain, but from fear and frustration.

The weather has passed and the forecast for the day is nice. I did a full gear change and bathroom stop, but there was a lot to address after that loop.

To add insult to injury I was up against the absolute worst chafing I’ve ever experienced in my life. My Squirrel’s Nut Butter had more than done the trick on loop one, but something went wrong on the second lap. I was continually reapplying but things were getting worse. It was not until I stripped down that I could spot the cause. I was caked in mud from head to toe, and we were so cold overnight that removing gloves just wasn’t an option. Every time I relieved myself I was inadvertently introducing mud into my tights and I’d created a sandpaper grit effect. I was officially no longer having any fun, though at least I knew it’d help keep me awake from here on out.

Linda learned to make sushi in the months leading into the race. If you want an idea of how all encompassing this race has become for our family, Linda spent months this year helping me with my food options for race weekend, and Reed has a tattoo across his shoulders that says “My Daddy has made it further in the Barkley than your Daddy.” Of course this means we can’t hang out with John Kelly, or Jared Campbell, or Blake Wood, or David Horton, but that’s besides the point, this thing never really leaves us alone for too long at a time. Linda stuffed a sushi burrito into my hand and walked me to the gate for my third lap.

I got out of camp before Guillaume and Ally arrived, and it was once again daylight. There was 12h15m left on the clock for the 36hr cutoff to begin my fourth lap. I knew I could manage an 11h30m lap if I pushed hard, and if I was calculated and focused. This wasn’t over yet. I also finally established my favourite direction of travel, clockwise, which would be the direction of the final two laps should I make it that far. In the CCW direction the “handrails” into books are a bit subtler than in the CW direction, and I am therefore faster and far less prone to errors going CW. I just had to lay down an 11h30m lap and to leave 12h45m on the clock for lap four. I believed in my heart that going clockwise was faster and that this was still within reach.

“I can do this, and I will do this.”

 

Lap 3 - Counterclockwise

I ran out of camp and focused on going fast when things were certain and slowing right down when they were not. I tripled checked everything, and though this lead to a few more minutes being eaten up, it subscribed to the “go slower to go faster” race plan.

I arrived a Rat Jaw a full 40 minutes quicker than lap two and there were a ton of people there to cheer me on. I was getting into some eating issues now, as I approached 27 hours of continual movement. I’d find myself dry heaving a bit here and there, but was thankfully still keeping things under control. It is a fight to keep the calories coming, and if you’re not dedicated to the fight than you’re all but done. At one point I opened an Endurance Tap maple syrup gel, sucked it into my mouth, but realized I was going to dry-heave again, so I promptly spit it right back out, but I spit it back into the resealable pouch, got over my dry-heaving, and then sucked down the vital 100 calories on my second attempt. I actually patted myself on the back for that one. “Nicely done” I thought, “that’s a first”.

I dropped off Rat Jaw and had legs. I was moving well and the rains were behind us. I just had to keep pushing and stay focused.

I made great time through Armes Gap, across the New River, and back up Stallion. A small bump once again near where we messed up one lap earlier, but I was triple checking things so my small mistake stayed as just that, a small mistake.

Howie Stern Photography - descending Testicle Spectacle

The next few books were uneventful and I have ten pages in my pocket. I was doing some math and figured I was on pace for 11h45m at worst. I would have 7-10 mins camp time and be out on lap four with maybe 12h20m or so to work with. I was thinking about a lot of things, about if it were possible, about how this had gone wrong, about what it would mean to finish under these circumstances, about how fortunate I am to have such a wonderful family, my parents, my wife, our beautiful son. I was thinking about how much I wanted this, how much me and my wife have invested into this already, how much a finish would mean to us, forget everything else, that’s all white noise, this is for us. I’ve dreamt of becoming a Barkley finisher for ten years now. I was thinking about how good I felt overall, now having eclipsed 32 hours. This is probably the best I’ve ever felt at this point, though I was already on loop four by this point in my two previous attempts.

I was thinking about so much and getting into a nice running rhythm, I was thinking about absolutely everything BUT the one thing I should have been thinking about, book three.

There are varying levels of difficulty between books and some are considered “a gimme” compared to others. Book three is a gimme so you can often treat it as such…

“Whoa, did I miss Bald Knob!?”

I continued around the corner, seemingly confirming in that moment that I had gone too far, then I backtracked and headed up to claim my page.

I was about ten minutes up the slope when things started not adding up so much…

“Did I f@#K this up!?”

I pulled out my map, confirmed direction, moved up slope about another minute, and there it was, the Emory Gap Campground site…

“F@#K! F@#K! F@#K!”

Jared and I ended up here two years ago, at least I knew where I was. I shot a bearing and went to work on correcting my mistake. Maybe ten minutes later I pulled my page from the third book. This error, in and of itself was shitty and detrimental, but not fatal, it’s what happened next that buried me. I somehow dropped down off of Bald Knob too far North, thinking I was West. I thought I’d missed a prominent trail intersection and that I was South of where I needed to be. It’s at this point that I should point out that I’ve never gone more than 31 hours at the Barkley without sleep. I didn’t feel like I was necessarily sleep deprived, but this entire thought process is rather inexplicable to me post-race. I ditched another fifteen minutes piecing this back together, then really wanted to puke when I did a time check.

“GO, for f@#k sakes Gary, GO!”

I ran to my next handrail and then did something I’ve always struggled to do, I got the CCW descent into book two absolutely perfectly. I was still in this thing! About a quarter of the way down I spooked a dozen hogs of varying sizes though, and they continued down the exact line that I was. The last thing I needed was a standoff or a charge from one of them so I made as much noise as possible and after what felt like an eternity they finally dropped off of my line and to the west.

I ripped my page from book two and leaned into the second to last climb in the CCW direction. The sun was setting and my headlamp, which we’d figured out, was back on my head and shining brightly, all 350 lumens of it.

I made good time up Checkmate Hill and ripped my final page. I know my best case time from here to the campground and it didn’t look good. I had to get up and over England in record time and then lean into the descent to camp like my life depended on it.

I got over England, found the trail, hooked a left, and flipped my watch…I double checked the math, then triple checked it…checkmate.

Even if I found another plain to exist on for the next few miles I’d still come in about 90 – 120 seconds over time. I took my time dropping down into camp, not wanting Linda to worry about me once time expired, but also not wanting to rush the inevitable. I wasn’t ready to step aside, I hadn’t even gotten to the hallucination phase of the race yet. I trained for a 60-hour effort, not a 36-hour effort. “I’m not even going to lose all my toenails” I thought. Is there a greater indicator of failure at the Barkley than NOT losing all of your toenails? Probably not.

 

 

The Barkley Marathons is a personal goal that I am dedicated to. To finish, is akin to breaking a course record at a lot of other events, things have to go right, and some years it can feel like the odds are stacked against you. I want to go on record right now as saying the race was doable this year, I have no doubt of that. If you look back through the history of the event there is a higher likelihood of a finish when two knowledgeable veterans are able to work together through four full laps. Just one year ago John and I formed a great team in which we were continually correcting each other’s errors to prevent any small mistakes from becoming big ones. Having said that, the course has been completed numerous times by an individual, Jared being just one of them, and I believed that I had the skills to do that myself as well. I have the physical capabilities to outwork many of my mistakes, but until I eliminate those “zone outs” and “passenger periods” for 60 full hours, a finish will elude me, for as John Kelly so eloquently stated,

“The Barkley will find your weaknesses, and it will exploit them.”

I had described the experience going into this year like I was a prize fighter. One year ago, after being decisively ahead on the cards going into the 12th and final round, the Barkley got me with a lucky punch and left me TKO’d. It was the hardest defeat of my life and I’ve had to wait a full year for my rematch. This loss is more shocking, but somehow slightly less devastating, since I never even made it to the championship rounds.

As I sit here typing this I have but one “Barkley toe”, not ten (a completely numb toe). I will likely loose but three toenails, not the full set. I am tired, but not obliterated. I am sore from head to toe, cut up by briars, and flush with the usual unique recovery issues post-Barkley, but I will probably head out for a short run sometime this weekend. I did a 36-hour race, not the 60 hour event I’d set out to, and I am unsettled and rife with emotion.  

A Barkley finish likely means more to me than it should at this point and there’s been a crescendo through three years now that would have made for a perfect storybook ending this year, but that’s not how life works sometimes. I simply cannot express my true gratitude to everyone who has followed along and sent well wishes and words of encouragement along the way. This is my purge, please understand that this is my way of telling my story, and it is my preference to not have my life and every single interaction become about the Barkley Marathons. This has evolved into so much more than it should have. There was one goal, it was not accomplished, I’m proud of what I did do, but finishing a Fun Run is not even close to finishing the actual race. I don’t want to be “picked up from this”, that’s the reality and that’s where motivations are forged from. If I was okay with this already I would question how much I really wanted it to begin with. I will stand tall again when I am ready to, but right now I am processing my shortcomings and this is as valuable as any BCMC mountain lap repeat I’d perform in training. This is a period for introspection.

I will return for a fourth go, but honestly we don’t know when that will be. This is not like a year ago where we knew we were going again the following year but we didn’t want to talk about it, we really don’t know when we’ll go back and a decision won’t be made until well into the fall. I’ve missed my skis quite a bit this winter. I’ve missed having more days to teach my son to ski. I’ve missed having more adventures with my wife on a day to day and week to week basis. There are a lot of variables here.

In the grand scheme of things, this is just a race and these are trivial matters. My wife and I have our health, we have our happiness, and we have each other, and in the end, that’s all that I’ve ever wanted or needed. I will say that in three years the Barkley has brought us closer together and for that I’m forever thankful. Linda and I have always been a team, but we’re a tighter more cohesive unit than ever before, and our son Reed will reap those benefits throughout his life. Linda said this to Laz before we departed the park;

“In the end this is just a stupid race, put on by a funny man.”

True dat babe, true dat.

You can’t put yourself out there without expecting to fall flat on your face from time to time, sometimes literally. Life is not easy and pursuing the limitations of who you are will certainly be wrought with unforeseen challenges, but as long as you keep your head up and keep pushing onward towards your truth, towards your belief in who you can be, you will learn to enjoy and cherish the journey, to find positives where others only see negatives…even if you end up reaching your ultimate goal a little later than you may have expected to. Even if you find yourself at that destination a few years further along than your planned arrival time. 

GR

To Guillaume and Ally, I have no idea what either of you said at any point in time (that whole French and Scottish accent thing), but I did enjoy your company, and I really enjoyed your headlamps. Well done out there! Very impressive first go for both of you. 

To the Kelly family, John, Jessi, kids and John’s parents and cousin: Thank you for extending your home to us and for taking such great care of my wife, son and parents while I was on course. You’ve taken a race that’s already special to us and brought it to another level.

To the Barkley family, Laz, Sandra, Rawdog, Kathy, Dave, Ed, Gail, Keith, Rich, Mike and on and on, and all of the runners from around the globe. You are what make this so special. You are why we keep coming back. You are why we as a family will return again, at some point, because believe it or not, we really like you guys 😊

To my sponsors, thank you for believing in and investing in me. Salomon, Suunto, Princeton Tec, Drymax Socks, Trail Butter, Endurance Tap, Squirrel's Nut Butter.

and supporters: Fortius Sport & Health / Matt Thompson RMT 

To my parents, I love you so much and I'm so happy you were there and that you got to establish such a wonderful bond with Reed throughout the week. (this is but the second time my father has seen me race and the first time my mother has been to one of my races, given that we live over 7000km apart and I didn't start running till I was long free of the nest.)

To my son. You'll regret that tattoo when you're older.

To my wife. I'm sorry you learned to make sushi for nothing, maybe we should have relied more on the ketchup this year. #backtoketchup20??

Photo Thanks to Michael Doyle / Canadian Running Magazine

The following eight images are thanks to Howie Stern Photography

These final eight images are some of my own from the week

55 Comments

4 Comments

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)
Confidence
(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.
GR
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BEST RACES



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.


WORST RACES
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.

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HURT 100 - Follow Along

If you're interested in following along during this Saturday's HURT 100 here are a few useful links:




My Twitter Feed that Linda will update through my first 80 miles (she'll be pacing a friend after that)

My 2013 Race Report via IRunFar

My 2010 Race Report

Personally, I'm busting at the seams a little bit right now. I'm excited to lay one out there this weekend and I feel like even though I came down with a chest cold at what I thought was the absolute worst time, right at the end of November, I managed to get past it at just the right time, near the end of December. My training through the back half of December and into the first week of January was flawless and going into this weekend I am 100% fit, healthy, rested and without excuse. It's time to race!

A few of my favorite pictures from the last few months of playing outside


















GR

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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.
"REALLY!?"
"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.
20h20m.
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 proud...in 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


GR

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!

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Carkeek 12hr - The Custom 5hr Version

I ran the Carkeek 12hr today in Carkeek Park, Seattle. Race Directors Brock Gavery and Sam Thompson have been organizing the fun run for six years now and all proceeds go to charity. Couple that with it being a Halloween run where plenty of people show up in costume and it's one fun day out on the trails.

It's a looping course and at just 1.93 miles it might not sound like much but checkout their website and know that their claim to it being one of or indeed the hardest 12hr out there is legit.

Each loop has 430 feet of climbing and descent, and on this day in particular weather was a slight factor as it was rainy, windy and freezing to start in the dark and though the rains eventually subsided the trail became slightly more slick with each passing loop.

I never thought I'd draw this comparison but it really does run like a mini HURT course, though it certainly lacks the level of technicality that HURT has become famous for. The similarity starts with the fact that it's a looping course and continues with the fact that there are pretty much three climbs over the 1.93 miles, and of course the first is the longest, exactly like HURT. In fact if you were to complete a hundred miles on the Carkeek course you'd end up with 22,278 feet of climbing and descent, which is pretty damn close to the 25,000 that HURT presents.

The 12hr starts at 6am. We were late getting outta Tacoma and ended up arriving at 6:03am, which of course meant everyone but the RD's were gone, and even they were still setting up camp.

Given that we were in our Halloween costumes and not 100% ready to run anyways we were quickly sucked into the fire to help sustain our falling body temperatures. After a good thirty minutes and watching the lead crew come through I realized that if I didn't get my ass in gear that the nasty weather was gonna win out and I'd be ridden with guilt at cowering to our standard fall precipitation.

At 6:45am I headed out with the intention of simply trying to warm up sufficiently enough so that I could kill another mug of coffee by the campfire pit after one loop before actually getting on with my run shortly thereafter. Of course once actually running everything starts to make sense again, the body heats, the rain seems like a compliment rather than a hindrance to your day and the mind settles into a relaxed state that makes you wonder how you ever could have considered not running because of a few measly rain drops.

With one lap down I knew stopping would be a terrible idea and I found my groove and started to roll. Roxy was along with me and of course in costume herself. It wasn't going so well for either of us and after numerous stops to address her outfit I ended up stripping it off and carrying it along (she ran the rest completely naked).

After lap two I changed out myself and will point out for sake of accuracy later in the post that I in fact paused my watch for the few minutes it took me to switch outfits. Carkeek doesn't keep times, just laps, and I had a time goal in mind as a test of where I'm truly at right now.

After lap three I passed off Roxy to Linda as she was also running and typically Roxy prefers Linda's pace on long runs.

Lap four and I was on it, I felt good. I was on top of my calories, my electrolytes, and my fluids. I decided I would in fact shoot for my pre-race goal of the equivalent of a sub five hour 50km run. Due to the looping nature though it broke down to attempting to run 17 laps or 32.81 miles or 52.8km as a 16 loop run would only equal 49.7km. Blah blah blah

Over the next 13 loops I was really happy with my consistency. There were obvious highs and lows but a few other things I really wanted to test out on the day were my mental game, and my ability to really fight for something I had set out to achieve on the day. This race toughness has been lacking for me lately. I've fought hard to reach numerous finish lines this year but most of those were made more complex by my mind being months ahead of my fitness levels. I never set out to just finish the CSP115 in March, but that's what it ended up being. I never set out to finish 53rd at UTMB in early Sept, but that's all I had in me. Obviously Carkeek is a fairly low key event and for me I desired nothing more, for if I blew up at least I'd know where I was at right now. Heading into Mountain Masochist 50 miler in Virginia next weekend and then finally returning to HURT Hawaii again in Jan, I was really setting out to hopefully confirm what I'd been sensing as of late. This is the best I've felt since pre-crutches, since August 2010.
(Managed one slip during the race. Never suffered from road rash in a trail race before)
The highs were so beautiful. I was forced into a reminiscing phase that lasted hours. The repetitiveness of the terrain and the certainty that an aid station was always less than a few miles away allowed the mind to wander while the body did it's job.

One year ago at Carkeek I very tentatively walked two loops, a mere 6km, and it was a victorious day. I'd been out of a walking boot but a few weeks and off of crutches just over five weeks. The doctor advised that it was potentially doable but to stop at the sign of any pain. Every step was a struggle and yet I refused to stop because the only thing that scared me more than potentially breaking my foot a third time was having the inability to walk six bloody kilometers.

It was January before I was allowed to run ten kilometers. I have spent far too much time this year staring off into the distance at where I want to be with my running and racing, longing to simply match where I was in 2010. I've forced my body to do things it wasn't conditioned for and then been frustrated by my lack of ability to achieve my racing goals. I've never been completely fair with myself throughout this process and I've never properly celebrated what really boils down to some of my best race results when the entire journey is put into perspective. I had completely lost perspective on this, and thankfully today it hit me full force...of course the fact that today was the first time in this lengthy journey that I felt like I had glimpses of my previous running levels certainly helped the positive mindset and awareness along.

2012 has been one of the best years of my life and it's been capped off by asking the love of my life to marry me while we were in France AND she actually said yes!
I have nothing to complain about and I know this. Today was still an extra special day though as although I just missed out on my sub five hour 17 loop goal, running 5h01m24s, I was well over 50km by five hours as I closed out the 52.8k version of my own personal race today.

Splits
18.49
18.41
18.03
18.30
16.42
16.40
17.16
17.23
17.12
17.30
17.02
17.23
17.13
18.59 (Roxy left Linda and caught up to me. I had to hold her up:-) )
18.08
17.57
17.58

Gear

GR

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215km Of East Coast Trail, The Perfect 35hr Family Vacation!

I had been on my feet for over 24 straight hours,


and I had covered over 100 miles of ground for the first time in my life. The sun had risen on my second day only to reveal terrain that was completely overgrown and impossible to run. Navigation was not an issue, but I was down to a bushwhack hike of about 4km an hour. I was wearing running shorts and my primary thought, outside of reaffirming every curse word I'd ever learned before, was that I only wished I had enough foresight to pack a pair of running tights. Every step through the harsh overgrown Newfoundland brush was like grinding on a heavy grit sandpaper, and I truly wanted my legs to bleed more than they actually were so that I would at least have visual justification for all the frustrations I was dealing with.

To add to the anguish I was suffering through I had under budgeted my food and fluids for this section and I had completely run dry hours earlier. My left hip, which had been an on and off issue for months on end had started flaring up after just the first hour and a half of my journey and since then had gone completely numb. As painful as it was it had not spiked in pain in hours and I felt like the worst of that issue might be behind me. Over the years experience had taught me that if you ignore your own body's sensory perceptions they will eventually start to questions their own sanity. Which is of course directly in line with the conversation you will inevitably have with yourself at some point as well.

"Listen I've been telling him for hours that he's all messed up but he just ain't hearing it."

"Really? You sure we're right about sending out those pain signals?"

"I dunno. I just do what what comes naturally but if the big boss man is telling me to shut up I guess I might as well listen to him. He can deal with the consequences himself later."

Truth be told, had I registered for any race on that same weekend I would have pulled the plug, DNS (did not start) without question or any feeling of remorse whatsoever. Since early summer I felt like I was just hanging on. I managed a successful Western States in June yet I still had two major pursuits on the schedule that I'd made very public in March. There was a fundraising campaign for Right To Play that was gaining momentum and I had somehow been able to fight my way to a slightly better West Coast Trail time than ever before, just two weeks prior. Though three quarters of the way through that West Coast Trail attempt I found my mind on the opposite side of the country, in Newfoundland. I was wondering how in the hell I was going to pull off a 215km run just fourteen days after running the 75km WCT. Those thoughts lasted all of a few minutes before I realized I had to be present in that moment in BC before shifting my sights towards the next run in Nfld.

The weeks between runs had evaporated and I now found myself in a whole other world of hurt. I had once covered 200km in a weeks worth of training and it completely shattered me. I had never attempted a distance greater than 160km in one go, and I had never had the 'good fortune' to run into a second sunrise before. This was all new terrain for me, and none of it was going according to plan.

Ray Zahab had been kind enough to send me fourteen maps that made up the entire route, and in hindsight these maps were integral to our success as a family. Though the terrain had now slightly eased, at least in terms of the overgrowth, I found it impossible to run more than a few steps at a time. I would guilt myself into a trot of about a minute before my body would shut down on me. I continually repeated this process like a scratched LP stuck in a record player. Over, and over, and over again. Try, fail, walk, try, fail, walk, try, fail, walk.

I knew the direction I wanted to travel and I couldn't help but notice that I was getting farther away from my next town and what would end up being my saving grace of seeing my family and their rolling support vehicle again. It was already four hours beyond my predicted arrival time and though the sun was now shining bright upon a beautiful Sept day I was being bombarded by coastal winds that would leave my face wind burned by the end of it all. I pulled out my maps, careful not to let them get caught in the breeze, and I confirmed that I was indeed still on course. It just happened to be the long way round to my next intersection. It was blatantly evident why the trail meandored out to sea and not towards the safe haven community of Petty Harbor. The scenery was endless and this trail was designed to take in all the fantastic sights and sounds that help make the route such a rare gem. I however, no longer gave a shit about the sights, sounds, and vantage points, and in fact I was actually starting to loath all of it. My two cameras felt like dead weights that I had to carry to document the damn trek and I was sick of feeling the need to stop and capture beauty on film.

I glanced into the distance and could just make out what appeared to be the end of the inlet I had yet to turn towards. My next 'aid station' was all too far off and I very literally had thoughts of just laying down and shedding a few tears. I was a defeated man, completely deflated and devoid of motivation to continue onwards. I had always wanted to find my breaking point through my endurance pursuits and I was now being confronted by something I had never truly dealt with on such a low level before. I wanted to quit. I just didn't care anymore, about anything. Knowing that quitting simply was not an option was all that kept me moving, one step at a time. Then it happened, I started to hallucinate.

As I crested a small knoll I thought I could see my brother off in the distance. Part of the beauty of The ECT is the solitude of the experience, and after covering nearly 185km, and being on my feet for over 29 hours I'd seen but two other people. One was camping in the night as I ran past, and the other was enjoying breakfast (while I still had food and fluids) many hours earlier, and nearly fifty kilometers away from the first hiker.

I blinked a few times to get a grip on myself and when I rubbed my eyes open I could not believe what I was seeing. My brother Bryan had hiked in 4km to find me and he had huge smile on his face and simply extended a handful of tinfoil towards me,

"I thought you could use some breakfast."

I found those tears I fought back just minutes earlier now starting to form by means of sheer amazement and excitement. I felt like he'd saved my life, and more importantly, my run...and for the second time in the last twelve hours no less.

East Coast Trail 215km


The first twenty nine hours of the run had itself brought many a high and low, and much in the way of mental anguish and doubt, but all in all my Father's rough time estimates were proving to be incredibly accurate.

The biggest issue that I simply had not prepared for was that of being completely wet for nearly the entire effort. Though we did not really get rained on too badly at any point, it did rain fairly hard the previous night and with so many overgrown sections of trail I rarely went more than a few minutes after changing into dry clothes without getting soaked again. In fact in the first 24hr my feet were dry for fewer than two of those hours. At one point my Brother even utilized a laundry mat in a small town we crossed through to 'refresh' my clothes for me and it took him nearly an hour to remove all the moisture from everything

I was also not expecting The East Coast Trail to have so many steep climbs in it. This may sound foolish to say, but it is a coastal route and there are no mountains in the region. This did not stop my GPS from recording almost 20,000 feet of climbing, and that's after the data corrections have been applied to the file. I'm always weary of inflated elevation data from a GPS watch, but I'll confidently say there was over 15,000 feet of climbing for sure.

I had expected and was prepared for the mud upon the trail to be worse than it actually was. This is not to suggest that the terrain was not atrocious because it most certainly was. Mentally though I had told myself I'd swim through quicksand like bogs and ford surging rivers if I had to. Instead I simply felt like a child on hockey skates for the first time in my life. There were hours upon hours that passed where every singular step I took was a fight to stay upright. I had my fair share of tumbles with the worst landing me elbow deep in a mud bath that smelled like a barn yard. I unleashed my anger and frustrations into the universe only to be on my ass again not a minute later.

The trail was turning out to be a lesson in humility. It was not the clear shot run that I had dreamed of and I felt more like a speed hiker than an actual runner at times, yet the goals of both are always the same. Relentless Forward Motion. One step at a time, baby steps if the trail demanded, and all the way from Cappyhaden to St. John's. There would be no stopping until I reached my home, my true home, the city in which I was born 33 years earlier.

The number one concern I had going into the speed attempt was based around my hip injury. It had been bothering me for months and even on the nine hour flight across Canada I would have to continually walk around and stretch off the impending numbing of the area.

I took my first steps upon the trail at 6:15am on Friday August 20th, and by 7:45am that same morning I was locked into a war of wills against my own body.

"This really hurts"

"No it doesn't"

"Umm, yeah, it totally hurts right now"

"Like no it doesn't!"

"Like yeah! It totally does like, really, like, freaking hurt...like"

Yes, I have the internal dialogue of thirteen year old kid.

"Alright fine, it hurts, but you knew it was gonna hurt coming into this thing so how bout a little suck it up princess"

"But I still have over two hundred kilometers left to go...."

"SUCK..."

"I just started this thing. There's no way I can ignore this much this early...."

"IT..."

"I'm ninety minutes into what will likely be a 36hr run..."

"UP ALREADY!"

"I hate you"

"I know"

"I'm not talking to you"

"Good"

"You'll pay for this!"

"I'm ok with that"

The first 100km of the trail took around thirteen hours to complete, and I fully recall hours seven, nine, and eleven being the most painful to accept. At the eleventh hour, and around 80km, my body screamed at me louder than it had all day long,

"SERIOUSLY ROBBINS WHAT THE F?"

It was a brutal sixty minutes in which I stopped a few times to try to stretch out the pain, but to no avail. I noticed my stride was being compromised in an attempt to alleviate the issues, but again this wasn't making things any easier. I had my first true doubts about my ability to endure, and the mental math nearly debilitated me.

"Eleven hours, eighty kilometers in. Still 135 kilometers to go. Still at least a full day of running left to get me through this thing. I still have twenty four full hours to go...how, just how is all I'm asking you?"

"Honestly I don't know ok. I just don't know. I'm sure you'll figure something out, and besides when you see your family again I know you're going to come around, so deal with it."

That eleventh to twelfth hour on the trail was the most painful I've ever experienced from that specific injury, or any other injury for that matter. By the time I'd hit 90km mark though, it was as if the pain sensors had hit a steady state and simply started cancelling each other out. The hip would no longer make it to the top of my 'reasons to quit list' upon the run. I'd won a small battle, one of many that were waged along the way.

As the kilometers rolled by we got into a pretty smooth rhythm as a family. My Father (Fred), Mother (Gerri), Brother (Bryan), Niece (Kayla), and Brother's Girlfriend (Heather) were all along for the ride, in the form of two rolling support vehicles. The East Coast Trail has fairly regular intersections with small coastal communities and on average you spend about four kilometers running roads through small towns for every twenty or so kilometers you cover upon completely isolated trail.

These communities became our intersection points and my family would continually leap frog me throughout the entire process, always awaiting my arrival into each town. Every few hours I'd pop outta the trail to big smiles, hugs, cheers, and a rolling buffet. From time to time family members would hop outta the car and run with me to the next trail head, or until we hit the first wee bump in the landscape that created a bit of a climb. These moments were pure magic for me. Completely spontaneous and fueled by love. I felt no pain when I was with them and without my family the run would have been completely impossible on so many levels. They had even gone as far as to make signs that they hung on the car while they drove between towns.
In one community a rather large gentleman started chasing me down the road. Survival instincts kicked in and all I could think was,

"How in the hell am I gonna out run this guy right now!?"

Then I noticed he was waving money at me. He was donating to Right To Play!! When I stopped to accept his generosity he just looked at me and said,

"Get going already! Don't stop for us!"

How could you not be moved by something like this. How could you possibly not finish what you'd started. How could you not draw energy reserves from this the likes of which you didn't even know you previously possessed. I felt like I floated on air for an hour after this encounter, feeling no pain whatsoever. Such a simple human interaction, yet so powerful at its core.

Gettin Ruffed Up


As nightfall was approaching, and we were running through yet another small town, my brother hopped out of the car to join me while the rest of the family drove on ahead to find the next trail re-entrance sign. It was to be a ten minute jaunt at most. A 'hey howya doing, keep digging, you're doing great' pep talk run.

We were just passing the second to last home in the community of Brigus South when out of nowhere an overweight Golden Lab came screaming out of a driveway at us. It was brandishing its teeth and left no doubt as to its intentions. The dog gave chase, but unlike every other scary dog encounter I'd ever experienced this beast meant business. He was on our heels in no time and as we turned to face him he leapt up and grabbed my Brother by the leg! The owner was now sprinting down the road after all of us which eventually turned into the three humans yelling at the one dog until he finally cowered behind his master. Bryan was obviously now pumping with adrenaline and for a second I thought I was going to have to prevent him from biting the owner of the dog himself. After a brief screaming match and a multitude of apologies from the dog's owner we were on our way again, my Brother now hobbling a bit from the impact of the bite, which turned out to leave a mark but not break the skin. He'd eventually walk it off but I'm not convinced I could have fended off the dog on my own at that point. We were laughing about it by the time we caught up with my family again.

The funniest thing I witnessed during the run was about six hours later at 2am. As I came off of another section of trail and into the community of Witless Bay we awoke another angry mutt and up he got and at me he came. My Dad immediately positioned the car between the dog and I, as I watched in shock as my Mother threw open her car door and started positioning herself to defend her first born at all costs.

"I woulda tackled that dog if he'd come at ya ya know!"

"Oh I know you would have Mom, you left no doubt with me or the dog that he didn't stand a chance of getting past you!"

Once the adrenaline from that scare wore off I found that I was completely and utterly drained. Physically and mentally I just needed a break. At 2:30am, after covering approximately 135km in twenty hours of running, I simply came towards my parents car, now set up at the trail head ahead of me as an aid station, and said,

"I need a nap"

They were so focused on the task at hand and our end goal that no one even processed what I'd said. They were straight into filling bottles, offering up clothes, and changing headlamp batteries.

"I need a nap"

"What?"

"A nap. I'm done. Someone wake me in fifteen minutes please." I then looked at them with a serious expression which was to convey that though we all knew I needed more sleep that this, they were not allowed to let me go beyond fifteen minutes.

Ten seconds later they placed a blanket over me in the back seat of the car. I didn't anticipate needing a nap for the run, but having flown clear across the country and into a four and a half hour time change on Wednesday, arriving in Nfld at midnight, shopping for supplies on Thursday before driving the two hours to our starting point, and only getting five hours of sleep the night before the run began on Friday morning, I just had nothing left. I've done numerous 36hr adventure races and without fail a 15-20 minute nap had always gotten us through.

Nineteen minutes later, after my parents had let me 'sleep in', I was back on my feet. It was a lot like peeling myself out of a self constructed coffin. I didn't really know my name for a few seconds before grabbing my gear and hitting the trail again. Ten minutes later as my mind finally joined my body I found my legs moving better than they had in hours. The power nap had worked wonders. I now just had to make it till sunrise and my body's natural circadian rhythms would take care of the rest.

For the most part this strategy worked well. The sun rose a few hours later, right on time even, and I was awake. But the trail had thrown us for a loop and our time guesstimates for the longest non intersecting section of trail, 32km, proved grossly under estimated. It took a full seven and half hours to clear this section, yet I had carried sustenance for three and a half hours. If my brother had not unexpectedly shown up with the food and water I'd probably still be out there waiting for someone to drag my ass back to civilization.
My savior Brother had lifted my spirits and ripped me from the dead when he showed up with that tinfoil breakfast and two full water bottles. He started running to pace me, asking if he should go faster. I hadn't actually run for the better part of four hours and the fear of loosing him was all that propelled me along,

"No, this is good! No need to go any faster Bryan!"

He helped haul my ass back to my family, still four kilometers away, and upon seeing them a funny thing happened. Their smiles, cheers, hugs, and laughter seemed to caress through my body like pure energy, with it removing every singular bit of doubt, fatigue, and exhaustion that I still carried with me. I knew I'd overcome the worst the trail could throw at me. The worst my mind could throw at me. The worst my body could throw at me. I knew I was going to beat this thing. I knew WE, as a family, were going to succeed. It was noon on my second day of running, the sun was shining bright though it had forecast heavy rain, and I had but thirty kilometers of trail standing in my way. Thirty kilometers between me, beer, and sleep.

Those final thirty kilometers of the run were a bit of a blur,

not because I can't remember them now, but because I was fried and just going through the motions. I very literally had an hour of full on hallucinations, with everything from ski resort chair lifts, to road construction signs in the middle of the ocean and I was almost enjoying the distractions to be honest.

As I hit Cape Spear, The Most Easterly Point In North America, I was finally in my own backyard. I was on familiar ground, playing in my home rink, and that familiarity picked me up as much as the inevitability of completing the task at hand.
My parents called the local news network and gave them a finishing time of 5:30pm. I glanced at my watch and I thought I could do better, but like every good ultra runner I had completely forgotten just how tough the final section of the trail actually was, it being the only real part I had any previous experience upon.

As those final kilometers started to tick away I realized I was really going to have to dig deep to finish by 5:30 so I told myself I was going to leave it all out there.

"No use holding back now Gary, let's see what ya got in there?"

I effectively destroyed the final 15km of my 215km run along the coast. It was very near the strongest I had run at any point on the entire trail in the day and a half that I was out there. The climbs in this final section are long and steep, with technical footing, and rarely an easy or flat step. I ran the entire section minus the one obscene and endless scramble/climb in the middle of it all. I think I would be hard pressed to run all of this terrain on completely fresh legs. I have no idea exactly how this all worked, whether it was adrenaline, the need to be done, simply a newfound focus and motivation, or maybe a bit of all of the above. Either way I felt like a runner for the first time all day and I ended up finishing just two minutes behind my Dad's perfect guesstimate, at 5:32pm on Saturday August 21st.

A news crew, family members, and even some high school friends had turned up to welcome me home. I'd made it. Thirty five hours and seventeen minutes to complete two hundred and fifteen kilometers of incredibly challenging terrain. But beyond that, I'd had conquered doubts the likes of which I'd never experienced before, pain the likes of which I hope I never have to deal with again, and nutrient deficiencies that I will never subject myself to in a racing environment. After all of this I still managed to persevere. I came out on top, I didn't say uncle, I didn't listen to the quit now demons in my head, and I continually fought past all obstacles that were presented to me on the day.


In life it is rare that you will feel 100% prepared when faced with a new challenge, but you can ALWAYS give 100% of what you have in you on that day, and more often than not, that's plenty good enough to get you through




Way back in March when I decided to propose this project dubbed 'Conquer The Coasts' I really had no idea what to expect or exactly how I intended to pull it all off. Sitting here now in November I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to say that I achieved all I'd set out to over nine months ago. 

-The West Coast Trail Record now sits at 10h08
-The East Coast Trail Record now sits at 35h17
-An ECT film is being worked on
-A combined trail film will be completed as well

Thank you to everyone for their continual support and kind donations towards Right To Play. None of this would have been possible without you.

Special Thanks

My Family. Every single one of them were integral towards the success of this project, right down to my beautiful niece Kayla who took care of all of the twitter updates and found most of the nearly impossible to locate trail heads during the night.

Trevor Richmond. I don't know how I would have afforded to pull this all together without your assistance with flights. Your generosity is unmatched and I knew there was a reason I still talked to you after all these years!

Erik Nachtrieb. For offering to take all my raw solo shot footage and to make it into something worth actually watching!

David Papineau. That fantastic logo is compliments of Mr. Broadway Run Club, thank you!

Ray Zahab. Ray was more excited than anyone about my proposed runs this year and he provided me with plenty of insight about The East Coast Trail and the aforementioned invaluable maps

North Shore Athletics. Any other employer woulda fired my ass long ago, yet somehow you still keep me on payroll. Thanks for approving the time off necessary to pursue these things.

Drymax Socks. Of course all sponsors deserver their props but Drymax deserve their special mention here. I have run 4x100 mile races, and in each of them I have battled significant foot blistering over the final 20miles/30kms. I have never run more than a dozen hours without some sort of foot issue. I've learned to accept it and thought it was just a part of the game. Then Bob from Drymax spots me some socks, telling me they're bound to help. 'Yeah Right'. A sock is a sock is a sock. I'd tried no fewer than a dozen kinds so how is yours gonna be any different?

I NEVER GOT A SINGLE BLISTER ON MY FEET! MY FEET WERE SOAKING WET FOR OVER 2/3 OF THE 35HR RUN!

Even my Father, having seen me at WS 09 was completely speechless. These socks are the best. PERIOD!

Sponsor Shoutout

Montrail

Mountain Hardwear

Princeton Tec Sport Lights

Carbo-Pro

Moveo Sport Rehab

Curb Ivanic Strength & Conditioning

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East Coast Trail 220km, Countdown Is On

No Idea Why, But Blogger Not Allowing Picture Uploads Right Now?

It's hard to believe that I'm going to be initiating this run in a little over thirteen hours from now. The last four weeks of my life have been a bit of a blur and though I still haven't posted my West Coast Trail Tail it is about 40% complete.

To be completely honest about stuff right now, I'm nowhere near 100% for this thing, and if it were a genuine race I'd be really concerned about having to pull one outta the hat. Thankfully, though a speed attempt, I know I can suffer through it and still make this thing happen. It is rare that we are ever 100% heading into an event anyways, and with a distance this great it ends up being way more mental than physical.

All I have to do is look back to 2007 when I ran the 130km West Coast Trail + Juan De Fuca back to back. I hadn't run more than 67km in distance or nine hours in time prior to that day. Though I wasn't properly trained for that endeavor my mind was locked in and it wasn't about to let a small thing like inadequate training come between me and my stated goal of a sub 24hr completion time. (23h40m)

On that note, unless things go way better than expected, this will be the first time I've gone over the 24hr barrier while strictly running. My adventure racing background will serve me well on this one.

A Bit About The Trail

If this trail were hard packed and well marked I'd wager to say it could be doable in under 24hr...but that's not the type of terrain I'll be dealing with here in Newfoundland. Though the scenery will be stunning, with sea stacks, sheer cliff side drops, lighthouses, blow holes, and even possible ice bergs and as of late Killer Whales! This will be a true adventure.

Having spoken with Ray Zahab himself and doing some online searching I've been told to expect sections of 'no distinguishable trail', mud and bog potentially thigh deep, and moose paths that often appear as running trails. Hopefully I don't end up running in circles once the sun sets. I've also decided to delay the start by two hours till 6am, as a pre sunlight start might end up being more of a hindrance than a help.

All in all, it's amazing to be sharing this one with my family. My mother has never seen me run before and she's so excited she's been cooking non stop all day long...just in case I decide to stop for a buffet style feed along the way. Dad has already poured over the maps and listed all the best and worst case scenarios, and my brother is nervously awaiting his pacing duties, which will involve joining me for the last 20-30km...he has never run longer than 9km before. My fourteen year old niece is looking forward to trying to stay awake for 30+ hours for the very first time, and my brother's girlfriend is just as worried about him as she is about me!

With support like this, there is simply no possible way that I can't and won't succeed on this journey. Sure I would have liked a few more days to prepare properly, sure I have some injuries that will likely act up, sure I'm about to tackle something I've never even attempted before, but in the end, that's really what it's all about?

It's about pushing your boundaries and exploring your own limitless human potential. For no matter what the obstacles before you may appear to be, they are never quite as difficult or as daunting you can make them out to be in your own head.

I am ready. I am excited. Let's get this thing started!

(please don't forget to click on the smiling child in the top right corner of this blog to help support the third challenge in my Conquer The Coasts attempt)

GR

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