It was only one year ago that I toed the line to run my first 100 miler, the Leadville 100. Needless to say, few weeks later I was already thinking to what was going to be my next one. I was somewhat curious to repeat the same race to have an objective measurement of my improvement (or decline) but there were things of the Leadville 100 2013 edition that were not in line with the ultra running community spirit. I didn’t mean to boycott it, but I wanted to experience myself an event more representative of the roots of this sport. Of course the list nowadays is long enough to find one anywhere and anytime of the year, but my requirements were 1- on the mountains, 2- as close as possible. Run Rabbit Run 100 here I come!
The day before the race I was a lot more relaxed than what I remember the day of my first 100 was. Overconfidence? Not at all, actually the very limited number of long runs during the summer really worried me. I didn’t care? Not at all, this was my A race and RRR100 had been the ultimate goal for my previous 6 months, I sure wanted to do my best. I don’t know what it was, but even in the morning before the race started I wasn’t feeling anxious. Few minutes before the gun went off Mike told me: “Evan is in the front line, and that’s where you should be”. That is when, in a matter of few seconds, it all became real for me. The gun went off and Evan and I led the way for a good stretch of the first climb. I don’t think either one of us meant to do so but the pace was comfortable so I wasn’t too worried, and if there is somebody I’d be happy to share the miles with, it’s Evan!
At mile 10 is what changed my entire day: a puddle in the middle of the trail. I didn’t want to get wet and muddy so early in the race so I decided that it was best to jump over it. Big mistake. As I lifted my right leg I felt a sharp knife deep into my hip flexors. Shit! 10 miles in and I’m injured? I kept moving at a mellow pace sure that the muscle would loosen up a bit and the pain go away. Nope, it was getting worse and worse every step. I trained injure-free for 6 months and now that I am ready to materialize my training efforts on race day something goes wrong so early. I guess it part of the game, and life. As disappointed as I was, I was still fully committed and the idea of using option two (where option one was racing), didn’t even cross my mind. I met Mike at Fish Creek TH (16.5 miles) and that helped me a ton. He paced me through Steamboat Springs town and I felt much better. The next section (miles 20 to 40 approx), however, I felt miserable and option two started to cross my mind more and more often. It started with me consciously assessing the situation, the alternatives and the solutions. But it soon turned into that mind set where you are so low that instead of you having thoughts, thoughts have you. And those thoughts were destroying my mind and my body, and I simply could not get rid of them. Probably a sign of my mental weakness in ultra but with so many miles to go and with a leg that at each step made me moan I challenge anybody to be happy. A guy passed me and I lost sight of him in few seconds, it was so demoralizing. Was I the only person in this planet, then I would be now writing about a DNF.
But I’m not, I actually feel very fortunate to have a fantastic girlfriend and amazing friends. Chiara couldn’t come to Steamboat but I knew she wanted me to finish this race at least as mush as I did, and my friends drove or were driving to Steamboat to help me out. I couldn’t drop. Option three: forget about racing and just finish. That sounded the only likely solution and so I decided to keep moving. Back at the Olympian Hall AS (40 miles) Mike was there again waiting for me. I told him how bad I felt and he probably said something to make fun of me. I found a foam roller at the AS, used it and felt significantly better. A quick shoes change and I was back on the road with Mike, but the benefit of foam rolling didn’t last that long and was in pain quite soon. I even ran backward for a bit, that wasn’t painful but also not efficient. The rest of my crew, the RMR’s mom and dad (Silke and Ryan) arrived few minutes before Ryan had to start pacing me, perfect timing. Ryan paced me from Fish Creek falls TH to Dry Lake outbound (45 to 65 approx).
This was by far the most scenic part of the course, but I was not feeling well at all. It is a 3700 ft climb and my uphill strength on my right leg was reduced to close to zero. I hated these miles, not moving fast enough to see them go by, and suffering badly. However, the sunset at the Fish Creek Reservoir was probably worth the whole pain. Nature is amazing! On the downhill stretch from Summit Lake AS (57 miles) to Dry Lake AS (65 miles) I finally recomposed and felt a lot better (going downhill was a lot easier on my hip flexors issue). Here I picked up Mike again. It’s an out and back section to Spring Creek Ponds AS which was by far the best one of the race (Jason Schlarb was running it, he sure knows how to treat you!). On the way back we started seeing some of the pros coming, so impressive! Back at Dry Lake AS inbound (75 miles) was time for Silke to pace me. At this point I kind of gave in to the pain and took a pain killer. Silke pushed me to keep moving, and I swear that I was really pushing hard but the pace seemed so slow and boring to me.
That’s when I started daydreaming: not about a fancy car, a huge house, a new phone, but about a place to lay down, a shower, and food. Real needs. We were progressing and we were finally at that point where the miles started to have a meaning: three marathons down, only one to go. A statement ridiculous and real at the same time. Summit Lake AS (81 miles) and Long Lake AS (90 miles) went by with one or two more pain killers and lots of moaning, whining and cursing. Only Silke could have not lost the patience pacing me in that state! Long Lake AS to Mt Werner AS felt long, long, long. Short before Mt Werner the sun was about to come out and I turned my headlamp off to enjoy that beauty. I was aware that such a low light wasn’t safe at all for me, and I was a bit scared of it indeed, but a beautiful sunrise can really give you a huge boost so I wanted to experience it in its whole purity.
We finally reached the dirt road that goes down Mt Werner, headed to finish. Here we started seeing the 50 miler racers coming up, including RMRs teammate Tom, Rick (who few miles in was already taking a wrong turn!), Jon and Britt, they all cheered for me (and so did all the other runners). I wanted to say thank you to all of them and cheer back, but I was suffering too badly and nothing seemed real anymore around me. Everything hurt. Everything. Then I saw Kea dog, Mike and Ryan, and that meant only three miles to go (that’s where you are allowed to have more than one pacer). I had asked them to be there to finish together, all with the RMR t-shirt on, my tribute to this amazing group of people. Sub 8-min/mile was painful but it had never felt so enjoyable. I punched Mike in the shoulder, we looked at each other and started smiling. It was happening. There was still enough time left for few more highs and deep lows, but at that point nothing could have stopped us. 106.6 (as my gps), 23 hours and 40 minutes and finally done!
Emotions? None. So empty. So void. So indefinite. It’s only few hours later that you realize you weren’t left empty, void, indefinite. You were just making space for feelings you didn’t even believe you could experience.
I was fortunate enough to put together the Rocky Mountain Runners Dream Team to help me in this race. This was a team achievement, and each one of them deserve a special consideration:
I’m really glad Mike and I experienced pacing each other this summer (I paced him at WS100). It was fun being on the two sides of the game with such a good friend. I challenged Mike by bringing all my running gear and tons of food and asked him to be ready for everything, with requests that I now admit were absolutely unnecessary. Sure enough he didn’t miss a single one. Mike has a sharp mind for jokes (an everything else too). Even in a very low point of the race, he can make you laugh with few words. During the run, we had some casual conversation, some man only conversation, some indescribable conversation (you know Mike) and even some emotional conversation (you know this too Mike!). Not the fastest runner out there, but certainly the one that does everything he can for you, and more. When at some point I started shivering for the cold while power hiking a hill, he came behind me and started petting me. Soon after the trail turned into a downhill and I started running and felt warm so unfortunately I can’t tell how far he was willing to go. Also, he showed up at the last three miles wearing my pajama t-shirt, classy. Bonus, he owns RMR mobile headquarter vehicle! Thanks for always keeping it fun Mike!
If you know Ryan, you know that he doesn’t like easy things. Indeed, the more he suffers, the more he experiences pleasure. His running skills are clear to everybody: he is a beast. I admire him more than some of the big names because he is real, especially when it comes to nutrition: he eats and drinks regularly what would knock me down in two days. But here is another great quality that not many of you might know about Ryan: he has an answer for everything. Me: “Ryan, I need to stretch my leg“. Ryan: “Stretching is not gonna help your issue – just keep running“. Me: “Ryan, at the next aid a station I’ll sit down for two minutes, I’m sure it will make me feel better“. Ryan: “Not really, resting won’t help your legs – we’ll just keep running“. Me: “Ryan, let me walk for 10 seconds please“. Ryan: “Sure, no problem. One, two, three OK let’s run“. Now, going back to what I said at beginning of this paragraph. I said he has “an” answer, and with that I really meant only one: Run. Thanks for pushing in my lowest mental patch of the race (20ish miles long!). I truly learned a lot, and I’m truly grateful to you Ryan. And I’m happy at the end you were suffering too, you like it, right?
We know what she is made of. Sweet and tough. At my first ultra, a 50 miler, she passed me with about 15-20 miles to go. I laughed and thought “Ahah, she clearly doesn’t know what she’s doing”. Ahah. She clearly knew what she was doing and, ahah, I clearly didn’t know what I was doing. Sure enough, I got chicked, but she was one of the first people to hug and congratulate me at the finish line.
Silke paced me when the pain was the most intense. She listened to all my complains, and I did complain a lot (how many time that word Silke!!), but she never stopped being super supportive and telling me how well I was doing (was I?). She is the perfect example of efficiency at aid station: she let me rest at each aid station, but we never wasted time. She knows how to race. We experienced together the only aid station in the history of running where everybody but one volunteer was sleeping. I’ll remember that for a while.
She always had something appropriate to say and that kept me distracted from the pain, but I got to the point that the pain was so unbearable that the only way to manage it was to embrace it and let my body suffer 100% (see below on Michael Oliva). I had to ask her to stop talking to me, I felt so bad because I’m sure she was talking to make me feel better. Sorry Silke, I didn’t mean to be rude – we will continue our conversations next time!
We ran by the moon light without headlamp and we ran by the sunrise light. Believe it or not, the pain was more bearable in those moments. We were both so grateful of such opportunity that we have to do these sufferfest things. Her love for this sport goes beyond the physical act of running. Thanks Silke for having shared with me those moments of pure happiness and pain.
Other things worth mentioning:
Andy Blatecky and John Knotts, these two guys did it without pacers. You inspired me before, during and after the race. I’m a slacker compared to you guys! Congrats to you two!
Michael Oliva for sending an email that only he can write: “Remember that if the shit gets really bad just embrace it! How often to you get to suffer that bad?? Just plow through man!”. I’m not sure whether you, Mike, can foresee the future or simply you have enough experience to tell how things go in a 100 miler, but you got it right. Your mailbox story is always an inspiration to me, we missed you out there!
Rick Hoberg and Jon Davis for saving my ass in the middle of the race when I lost a water bottle. Pure example of ultra-community support. Thanks guys!
All the RMR family, racing and non-racing for non-stop support. Jon, Rick and Tom: I knew you were lying when you saw me on the last few miles (“you look great Alberto!“) but that’s ok. I’m not mad at you, seeing green t-shirts was such a boost!