A Made For TV Lead-Up
My season started in March with my worst race performance ever. I came into New Zealand’s Tarawera 100k flat and tired from having biked 2,000 miles around the South Island for four months with my wife and son. While New Zealand was the best adventure of my life, I was in poor racing form. In April, I ran one of my most painful race of my life while in “ok” shape placing a disappointing third at the desert-hot Leona Divide 50 Mile.
In June, I had a great Pocatello 50k training race, winning and setting the CR followed by a good performance placing second at the San Juan Solstice 50 Mile, which was shadowed by Dakota’s phenomenal course record performance. Come July, I was in great form and had my best race performance yet placing a surprising third at the Speedgoat 50k amongst an amazing field. The first three weeks of August, I felt like I could run in the mountains all day comfortably, and I did. I did until I tweaked my hip running around the Maroon Bells in Colorado.
From August 21st to September 9th I didn’t really run. I was a bit of a mental wreck leading up to Run Rabbit Run. My saving grace was that I was sort of on a massive taper (in hind site). Only working out on a mountain bike and then elliptical for more than three weeks before a mountain trail 100 mile, how was that to turn out? My hip was not feeling 100% normal even on an easy 5-mile jog two days before the race. I debated daily for about a week and a half on rather to run RRR or possibly make an attempt at the Bear 100 instead. Luckily, I didn’t give up hope.
In Steamboat, I met up with my amazing Hoka teammates Dave Mackey and Darcy Africa, their crew man Basit, along with my crew Tony Prichard (Bird Dog) and Kendrick Callaway, minus my go to massage therapist Marcus Allen Hille, who was stuck bailing out his flooded basement in Boulder. Bird Dog lead me through my visualization/ meditation session before bed and I slept better and was more mentally on my game than I have ever been before any major ultra. The noon start is nice for sleeping purposes and I arrived at the start awake and rested, a very nice treat.
The race was on and this year the leaders of the elite race were actually power hiking the ski slope ascent start, which surprised me a bit after last year’s outrageous all out run up Mount Werner.
Dave Mackey pushed ahead (still just primarily hiking) and led everyone to the summit of Mount Werner with the rest of us behind by a few minutes. My body felt pretty good and my hip was not bothering me a bit. On the descent back down Dave, the downhill master, had a solid lead on the chase pack. I ran down mountain with the animated Jason Louttit. I seem to rarely run for very long with anyone in a race, but Jason and I comfortably cruised to Dry Lake together switching leads and conversing along the way. At the turn around, we saw Dave a couple minutes ahead of us and then Karl Meltzer, Josh Arthur, the Taraumara guys, and Jeff Browning all just a few minutes behind us. Relaxed and comfortable was my mantra. Down Spring Creek Dave would open up a five-minute gap while I did my best to focus on efficiently descending the most technical section of the course with Taraumara guys just 10 seconds back.
On the road running with Kendrick for the 4 miles over to Olympic Hall, Jason took off and opened a few minute gap while I ran a steady 7:15-per-mile pace, doing my best to not race down. At Olympian Hall I caught Loutitt at the aid, but no sign of Dave. Feeling great, I conservatively walked/ran back up the hills before dropping into Cow Creek. I was at peace and quite enjoying my energy levels and comfortable approach to the first half of the race. The views were awesome and it was a perfect evening for running beautiful mountain trails in Colorado.
I started taking calories 80 minutes into the race and then implemented a 100-calorie per 40-45 minute rate that I would keep to the entire race with only a few exceptions when I needed something at 35 minutes instead. My stomach was never bloated, I almost never felt hungry or “bonkish” and I didn’t eat a single bite of “real food” with only a small drink of some electrolyte mix maybe three times and one salt pill someone handed me. I never felt like I was going to puke and, in short, my nutrition plan was perfect. My diet, training, and discipline leading up to the race successfully made me a fat burning machine that needed very little carbohydrate support along the way. I consumed no more than 2,400 calories of Vitargo over my 17-hour race (just over 140 calories per hour rate).
Comfortably cruising, I started to do some self-talk consisting of positive mantras and cheerleading. Down to Cow Creek aid, Josh and Karl caught up to me. Josh passed me and we ran into the aid with Karl just a few seconds behind. Josh would gain a short lead that I didn’t make up until maybe 3 miles after leaving the aid. Passing Josh, I encouraged him as I know last year this particular section was a really tough one for me that made me want to quit. There was a lot of just barely runnable (for the 100 mile) grade that seems to really tire you out. Karl caught up to me and together we passed a walking Dave who was having some stomach issues.
Karl led the race for a while and I passed at some point shortly before we began to descend back to Olympian Hall. It was descending to the hall where I began to really build confidence, smile, and enjoy the race. I picked up Kendrick and we ran the four miles back up to Fish Creek Falls aid where I put on my Ultimate Direction AK vest for the night. Karl closed the small gap I had made and we stayed relatively close for a mile or two running into the dark. I gained strength and confidence running up Fish Creek with ever mile all the way to the aid station making some time on Karl.
After dark and alone, this was my reality: self-positive talk, laughing, encouraging other runners, and literally talking to God all night. I ran comfortably without any real “bad periods,” problems with my stomach, energy levels, or running body. I wouldn’t say it was easy, but, honestly, it was never “bad” or “tough.” Maybe I was delusional, maybe it was a once in a lifetime race, or maybe I somehow was able to completely remove myself from the challenge of the situation through a positive attitude and making the run a religious experience.
At the turn around going down to Spring Creek aid station I was greeted by Nick Clark and a festive party equipped with Christmas lights. Only four minutes out of the aid I saw Karl, then Josh a few minutes later. Browning and Dave were maybe 10 minutes later. I didn’t panic, but accepted I had some work to do if I wanted the win. I never looked back after passing the pursuit train until the final descent. I could tell I was becoming tired at the final few aid stations as I had a hard time communicating, but I was focused, having a good time, and enjoying the lead position.
I allowed myself to enjoy some daydreams of winning the race and the rewards that would follow, something I forbid myself from doing before mile 70. I never sat down (something I obsessed about at the Grindstone 100) and I was always anxious to get out, maybe even too anxious. I did pay a bit too much attention to the mileage left in the race over the last 15 miles, but it wasn’t a real big deal. The final aid station was where I snapped out of my trance and came back to reality.
Running down the steep 10k to the finish was exciting but has small doses of fear mixed in with regards to the unthinkable… Karl barreling down after me. I was looking behind me every five minutes, but deep in my rational brain I was confident I didn’t need to worry. In that last 10k I was prepared to run extremely fast as I had a few more gears available for such a dilemma. The route down the front of the ski area was all sorts of crazy, with off-trail running, a number of turns and a general state of confusion of roaming in the dark and not knowing where I actually was, but, finally, I could see the village and the finish.
Like never before in my racing life I began to yell and holler with joy and pure pleasure. I was in absolute emotional overload and my release, I would later find out, woke a number of people sleeping in the lodges around the gondola finish area. I pulled out my American Flag I brought back from Iraq and have raced with over the last 2+ years and I finished. Unlike most of my races, I wasn’t on the brink of dropping to the ground in a long expected collapse of pure exhaustion, instead I felt better and energized in a way like never before. A perfect race and journey was complete.
[Editor’s Note: Enjoy our post-race interview with Jason Schlarb.]