My First Marathon - Pittsburgh (May 1, 2002)
100,000 Step Challenge (February 1, 2020)
The 4x4x48 Challenge (April 17-19, 2020)
1000 Flights of Stairs (April 27, 2020)
24 Hour Run (May 16, 2020)
Lucky 13 Virtual Ultra Endurance Challenge (June 10-22, 2020)
Assembly District 9 Perimeter Run (September 4, 2020)
The Grand Canyon in 5 Acts (2011-2020)
58 kilometer Run (October 1, 2020)
Moab 240 Endurance Challenge [DNF] (October 9-13, 2020)
12 Hour Run (November 7, 2020)
Rally in the Valley (January 15-17, 2021)
6 Hour Run at Jackpot (April 24-25, 2021)
Red Rock 100k (May 8, 2021)
24 Hour Run at 6 Days in the Dome (June 19, 2021)
Ragnar Relay Northwest Passage (July 9-10, 2021)
Manitou Incline (October 1, 2021)
Bootlegger 50k (December 18, 2021)
Coldwater Rumble 52 Miler (January 15, 2022)
Jackpot USTAF 100 Miler (February 18, 2022)
Ever since I participated in Jackpot in 2021, I had been itching to complete my first 100 mile race out there, on the faster USTAF course that is a 1.1761616 mile loop, consisting of 95% paved or concrete surfaces and 5% crushed gravel. With only 30 feet of elevation gain each loop, I knew I had no choice but to do this.
As I would tell friends that I intended to complete a 100 mile race, many asked me how you train for a 100 mile race. The truth is I have no idea. I'm not going to pretend that I really trained for a 100 mile race. I actually ran very little leading up to the race, opting to spend more time cross-training on my Peloton.
Jackpot returned to its customary February date this year and my race started on a Friday morning. I picked up my packet the day before. Because this was a USTAF race, you have to wear a second bib that prominently displays your age group.
Before the race, I sketched out two different scenarios, a 20 hour finish and a 24 hour finish. My goal would be a 24 hour finish but I thought that 20 hours might be within reach if I felt especially good out there.
We really lucked out with the weather. It was beautiful when I arrived in the morning to set my gear up. As you can see, I didn't bring much. A chair, a couple extra pairs of shoes and a change of clothes, some of my preferred electrolyte drink. Because there is a gigantic aid station after every loop, you don't really need to bring too much. That is one of the best parts of this race.
There is always excitement in the air before the start of this race. Beyond Limits Running does a great job to make that happen. This year, that included showgirls and Elvis. How cool is that! I also saw my friend, David Boley, who was volunteering at the aid station when I arrived. He is the one who graciously took a photo of me with Elvis and the showgirls.
The USTAF 100 miler and 72 hour race started at the same time and there were a good number of entrants. There were also a handful of elite athletes in the field, as the weather conditions lent themselves to the possibility of a world record or two. Although I certainly wouldn't be setting any world records, it was exciting to be in a race with some of the best in the world, including Camille Herron and Vicktoria Brown, to name just a couple.
I was disappointed to learn at the start line that earbuds were not permitted in the USTAF 100 mile race. We had not been told that previously and that put a serious damper on my plans to listen to audiobooks and music. How would I get through 100 miles without any music at all?? Had I known that, I am not sure I would have signed up for this race.
Next thing I knew, we were off and running for what I anticipated would be a very long day. The course offered some nice lake and mountain views.
I went with my Red Rock Running Company Donut shirt, which got quite a few compliments along the way. I was also wearing my new Brooks Ghost 13 running shoes as well as the 6 Days in the Dome hat, one of my favorites.
As often happens in these races, the excitement at the beginning had me running faster than I intended to. My first 10 miles were all between 10 and 11:30 minute miles. I was aiming for between 12 and 15 minute miles. But I felt good and ended up running quite a bit with a young lady from Florida who was also trying to conquer her first 100 miler. We were having a good conversation so I decided not to worry too much about the pace. I figured it would all even out down the stretch.
I was generally able to keep the next 20 miles or so under a 15 minute per mile pace. But I definitely started to have some challenges out there. First, I hadn't applied enough sunscreen and by the time I realized that, I was already burned. Second, my legs were feeling the stress of the miles way more at this point than I had anticipated. Third, my left ankle wasn't feeling great. And lastly, I felt like I was starting to get some blisters, which is unusual for me.
At this point, I was walking more than I was running and my time goals were quickly slipping away. Mentally, I was just not where I needed or wanted to be. I was stopping more to rest and I decided I really didn't want to be out there any more.
I got a bit of a boost when a couple of friends who had come to pick up their packets for the next day stopped me to say hi, including Greg, who I had paced at the end of last year's 100 mile Jackpot race. He signed up for the 100 miler this year too, but the one with the longer loop beginning the next morning. The one where you could wear earbuds and blast your music when the going got tough.
By mile 40, my legs and feet were really hurting and I had slowed down considerably. I took a seat in my chair to consider my options. I removed my shoes and found that I did in fact have a few blisters. No wonder my feet had been hurting more than I anticipated. I decided I would likely just call it a day soon. It wasn't that I didn't think I could complete 100 miles. It was more that it was going to take me much longer than anticipated and, mentally, I just didn't want to be out there that long.
Right then, my friend James arrived and said he was there to check on me and see how I was doing. I told him I wasn't doing all that well, but I invited him to walk a few laps with me. I put on different shoes and off we went walking. My legs were no longer interested in running.
This was right about the time the sun was setting and it made for a pretty spectacular skyline. And for a drop in temperature.
Shortly after James left, my friend Crystal arrived and we shared a few laps together before I decided to call it a day, with my finally tally being 46.48 miles in right about 12 and a half hours. It certainly wasn't 100 miles, but close to 50 miles wasn't bad for a day's effort either.
And we got to see Camille Heron break her own 100 mile record, in 12 hours, 41 minutes, and 10 seconds. She was a sight to see throughout the day. She was an example of consistency and it was really cool to see her cross this finish line to set the new world record.
I have conflicting thoughts on this one. I think I did the right thing by dropping out of the race when I did, but there is always regret and second guessing that follows such a decision. Mentally, I just wasn't where I needed to be to complete this race. I was distracted. And things didn't go well physically either. That one-two punch led to be dropping out of this one.
If I could do it over again, I would have signed up for the 100 mile race starting the next day because that would have given me the opportunity to run with my friend Greg. And to listen to music.
So will 2023 be the third time...and the charm? Stay tuned!
I chose the Coldwater Rumble as my first race of 2022. I opted for the 52 mile race because I didn't think I was quite ready for a trail 100 miler and the 52k was a similar distance to the Bootlegger 50k, which I had just done in December. So the 52 miler it was. Coldwater takes place in Goodyear, Arizona, at Estrella Mountain Regional Park. I drove because it was only 4.5 hours from Las Vegas and it is much easier to just throw your gear in the trunk than pack it in a suitcase, lug it to an airport, and throw it into an overhead compartment.
Packet pickup was on Friday afternoon, which was my first time at the park. Though I lived in the Phoenix area for nearly 5 years, I don't remember spending much time in Goodyear. It was exciting to get a sneak peak at where we would be running.
A few photos from packet pickup:
The shirt we received in our race packet was really cool and I was tempted to wear it on race day.
But I had other plans for my race outfit and I stuck to those plans. The plaid race shorts were a given. But I went with a really cool shirt given to me by my friend, Eric Jeng. It was from Red Rock Running Company and has pictures of tacos, beer, and martinis on the shirt and says "cardio & carbs" on the front. I knew it would be a hit with other runners and the volunteers. And was it ever. I received no fewer than 50 compliments throughout the day. Many said I had the best shorts on the course. And many yelled out "tacos and beer" when they saw me. It was nice to bring such joy to other racers. Here is the shirt in all of its glory:
After picking up my packet, it was time to carb up. After all, I had 52 miles to run the next day. I was delighted to learn that there was an Oreganos a couple miles from my hotel. I ate there quite a bit when I lived in Phoenix and I was craving pizza. I didn't get to the restaurant until about 5:30pm and it was very crowded, with many people milling around, waiting for tables. Luckily, I scored the last seat at the bar. I resisted the very real urge to order a Kilt Lifter or two, instead opting for water. But I did order a deep dish pizza with chicken, bacon, and mushrooms. It was tasty, but way too big. I think I ate 3 of 8 slices. I took the rest back to the hotel with me.
When I got back to the hotel, I laid out my gear and set my alarm for 5:45am. My race didn't start until 7:15am, but I wanted to give myself extra time so I didn't feel rushed in the morning. Thankfully, a very solid night of sleep followed.
I woke up before my alarm and started to get ready for what I knew would be a long day. I drank a cup of coffee and ate a Cliff Bar and a banana. Fortunately, the weather was forecasted to be perfect running weather. Lows in the 50s. Highs in the 70s. Mostly overcast. I knew I wouldn't need warm clothing once I started running, but I also knew that it would be chilly in the morning before the sun came up.
My main priority was to better stabilize my left ankle, the one that I had injured pretty badly at Bootlegger. I brought KT tape and watched a YouTube video about how to tape an ankle. I thought it made sense to tape both for symmetry's sake so I did.
I arrived at the park around 6:45am. It was still dark and it was windy, making it much colder than I had expected. I was glad I had brought a jacket to wear before the start. I was also glad I opted for a long sleeve shirt under my racing shirt. The sunrise in the morning was breathtaking:
The course consisted of a 20 mile loop. For my race, I would run the 20 mile loop clockwise, then run it counterclockwise, then run a shorter, 12 mile version of the loop clockwise. Those running the 100 mile race would do 5 of the 20 mile loops, alternating clockwise with counterclockwise. That meant there would be runners running in both directions the entire time I was out on the course. Before I knew it, we were off. A short video from the start:
The course was beautiful:
I immediately realized this course was going to be rockier and a bit more technical than I had anticipated. There really weren't any dramatic climbs, but there were a number of rolling hills that took you into riverbeds that were both rocky and sandy. I would need to be careful not to sprain an ankle or trip on a rock and bite it.
There were many sections of the course where the trail was fairly narrow. Were it not for the abundant course markings, it would have been very challenging to stay on track. Many sections of the trail reminded me of the series of 1/2 marathon races I ran out at Valley of Fire.
These videos gives you a sense of some of the terrain:
I didn't know anybody else running the race but I had very good cell phone service, so I decided I would text a handful of loved ones with updates every 10 miles. I thought this would give me something to look forward to and it would also make it more likely I would finish the race. Periodically updating others on my progress would provide a measure of accountability. The first ten miles didn't feel too bad, taking me about 2 hours and 2 minutes. Here is the photo I sent out:
Here are some photos of the course that I took along the way:
And a few more:
Though there were plenty of other runners out on the course, we became fairly spread out over time. I guess that is to be expected on a 20 mile course. Truthfully, I didn't mind the solitude. I simply put my earbuds in and listened to some of my favorite music, which isn't something I get to do all that often.
About 15 miles in, doubts started to creep into my mind. I thought about how nice it would be to quit after 20 miles. How that would leave me with most of my day. How I would be able to watch the Raiders playoff game. How 20 miles was nothing to be ashamed about. I decided to drop out of the race at mile 20. I didn't want to do another 32 miles. When I got back to the start line, I texted the photo below out. It represented 20 miles completed. It took me 2 hours and 45 minutes to run miles 11-20.
I sat down and took off my shoes, emptying the sand and rocks. My right foot had started to bother me about 10 miles in. I took my socks off to find that the tape job I had done on that ankle was causing a blister to form. I ripped the tape off of my right ankle, but kept the tape on my left ankle because it wasn't causing a blister and that was the ankle I was more worried about anyhow.
I ate a couple of cheese quesadillas. They were delicious. I resisted the urge to order a pizza from the mobile pizza oven guys. I received encouraging text messages from loved ones. Then I evaluated myself. Was I injured? No. Was I tired? Yes. Could I go on? Yes. Should I go on? Well...I finally convinced myself that I should just keep going. I was starting to feel better and told myself that I didn't drive all the way to Arizona and pay to enter a race to merely run 20 miles. I could do that in Las Vegas any time I wanted to. So I took a deep breath and headed back out.
About five miles into my second loop, I felt defeated all over again. I wanted to just be done and I was mad at myself for going back out there instead of quitting at mile 20, as I had resolved to do. My feet were really starting to hurt from the constant jarring of the trail. My lower back, neck, and shoulders were also beginning to feel the strain of the effort. I told myself that I would definitely drop out at mile 40, if not sooner. No way I would do 52 miles. I sent the photo below out at 30 miles. Miles 21-30 had taken me another 3 hours. I was definitely slowing down, doing more hiking and walking than running at this juncture. And I had slightly rolled my weak left ankle again, but not bad enough to make it more than a minor inconvenience at that point.
There is one particularly long stretch of about 8 miles between aid stations. That segment almost broke me on my second loop. I simply felt like giving up. What did I have to prove? But I knew it would be faster to just get back to the start and drop out at mile 40 rather than drop out at a remote aid station and wait for a ride back, which could take hours. So I pressed on.
As this point, as often happens in races of this length and difficulty, the world becomes very small. Your vision narrows and you focus on the step ahead of you and then the next and then the next. You push everything else out of your mind, the doubts, the pain, the fatigue. You simply focus on what is right in front of you and that next step. That is what I did at this point of the race. And I also cranked up the volume on a new playlist that I had compiled just for Coldwater - I needed some inspiration.
I struggled to get to mile 40, but I ultimately did. Miles 31-40 took me another 3 hours. At this point, it was almost dark out and I nearly had to deploy my headlamp as I finished the 20 mile loop. I sent out the photo below when I finished 40 miles.
Here is what I texted with the photo: "40 miles down. Up until now, this has been the appetizer. The main course starts now: suffering!" Because, despite my very strong desire to quit, I knew I couldn't pull the plug with only 12 miles to go. I would never forgive myself and I would rightfully be asked by many people how I could quit a 52 mile race after 40 miles. So I again drained the sand from my shoes, ate a couple more very tasty quesadillas, traded my hat for a beanie, put my headlamp on, and ventured out for 12 more miles. I knew this wouldn't be easy, but I was doing it anyway. I had come too far and too many people were pulling for me.
The course at night was totally different. It felt like an entirely new course because I could only focus on the patch of light right in front of me. The course became more treacherous because it became harder to see depth. Large rocks tended to blend into the path. This meant I would painfully kick rocks more often and my chances of tripping and falling increased. I had to slow down for my own safety, but I also just wanted to be done with this race. The yin and the yang of trail racing was in full effect.
On this shorter loop, you reach an aid station 4 miles in, then 8 miles in, then you are done. So I thought of this section of the race as three distinct four mile efforts. Somehow it just made it seem shorter than thinking about it as 12 miles. I tried to jog as much as I could, but my legs were fairly spent.
I made it through the first aid station, then the second. So I knew I had about 4 miles to go. And I knew I would finish. But I also knew my watch seemed to be about a mile off. So when I was at mile 48, my watch said 49. I had to remind myself of that so I didn't get too fixated on 52 miles because it would be at least 53 on my watch by the time I was done. Not reconciling those things in your mind can lead to a serious mental letdown.
With about 3 miles to go, I rolled my left ankle on a downhill section of the course. I don't know how I could have prevented it. The sharpness of the pain caused me to yell a few choice four letter words into the darkness of the night. I couldn't believe this had happened. I also knew if I just stood there and waited for my ankle to swell up and become more painful, I might never finish. So I limped forward until the pain went away or my brain stopped processing the pain signals. The rest of this race would not be pleasant by any means, but I had come too far to stop now.
When I believed I had about 2 miles to go, I realized I could probably finish under 15 hours if I picked up the pace. I began jogging as fast as my body would allow me to because the finish line was so close and I now had a goal that was within reach. When I believed I had about 1 mile to go, two other runners passed me going the other direction. We exchanged out customary "good job" and then one of the guys said "you are only about a mile and a half from the end." I thought it was more like a mile rather than a mile and a half, but I picked up the pace anyway.
Well, it turns out I still had another 1.8 miles to go. So despite my late effort, I missed the 15 hour mark, but I sprinted to the finish anyway and man did it feel good to hear people cheering for me as I approached. And at 10:16pm, I crossed that seemingly elusive finish line, about 15 hours and 2 minutes from when I had started the race. I finished in 22nd pace of the 42 runners who attempted the 52 mile race.
As I crossed the finish line and was given my finisher award, a group of folks started chanting "tacos and beer, tacos and beer!" They had heard about my outfit and were excited to see it. One of the ladies was kind enough to take this photo of me after I finished.
Here are the Strava details, which had the distance at 53.79 miles and the climbing at nearly 5,000 feet.
The GPS map of the effort:
Splits for miles 1-30:
Splits for miles 31-53.7:
What an awesome race. What a feeling of accomplishment when I finally crossed that finish line. Would I do it again? Probably not the 52 miler. Been there, done that. But the 52k and the 100 miler both intrigue me in their own way. Stay tuned. Until then, I will cherish this really cool finisher award, and personalized at that!
And, as always, a TikTok of the experience:
I remember hearing about Bootlegger in 2020, but I can't remember why I didn't run it that year. But I do remember the weather was terrible that day - cold and windy with hail. So maybe it was a good thing I didn't.
In 2021, I was slated to be out of the country when the race was taking place so I didn't sign up. When my overseas trip got canceled due to COVID, I had completely forgotten about Bootlegger. Until my friend Scot Rutledge reminded me by asking me to join him on a training run for it out at Red Rock Canyon. Though the training run ultimately didn't happen, the gears in my head started spinning. Now that I would be in Las Vegas, why not give it a shot? There would be a 25k and 50k option. Scot was doing the 25k. But you all should know by now that there would only be one option for me - the 50k. I asked my friend, Leah Elmquist, about the 50k, as she had run it the year before. She told me that parts of the course were fairly technical but that it was a good race. That was all I needed to hear and signed up for the 50k.
I drove the 40 minutes or so out to Boulder City on race morning. The race started at 7am and I arrived around 6:30am. It was cold, which was expected, but it was also very windy, which was unexpected. Wind had not been in the forecast. I checked in and went back to my car to try to warm up before the start.
I was very thankful that I brought a winter hat and gloves. I would need them for sure, especially for the first loop. I should note that the 50k consisted of two identical 15.5 mile loops, each with over 2,000 feet of climbing. You could leave a drop bag at the start line so that you would have access to it at the midway point of the race. I stashed a couple of gels in there, as well as an extra long sleeve shirt and a headlamp, just in case it I needed it. The cutoff was 10 hours, but it gets dark around 4:30pm.
Although it was cold, we were treated to an amazing sunrise that morning.
Right before the start of the race, I took off my puffy jacket and stuffed it in my drop bag and then we were off. I ran the first few miles with Scot. It was a good time, though I think I might have talked his ear off (as demonstrated by the photo below). So it was at least a good time for me.
You will note that I am wearing the now legendary Lululemon race shorts which, coincidentally, are very easy for rescue helicopters to spot, should the need arise. And this was my first time wearing my brand new Red Rock Running Company donut shirt, given to me by my friend Eric Jeng. It was a big hit with the other runners and at the aid stations. And then of course I had to rock the Golden Knights hat and gloves.
Scot pulled ahead after a few miles and I let him go, content to run my own race since I was running twice as far and climbing twice as high. I have a bad habit of going out too fast and I didn't want to do that in this race. I then spent some time running with and getting to know another really cool person, David Boley, who is a legit ultrarunner. Check out his ultra finishes by clicking here. He was recovering from an injury and running the 25k. I am sure he will be back to longer distances in no time. Along the way, he snapped the selfie below.
So the race was going pretty well. I felt in control and I was being careful on the rocky terrain. Then, for just a few seconds, I let my concentration lapse because we had reached a sandy part of the course that didn't appear to be too rocky. And then, boom, in an instant, I rolled my left ankle...on a part of the course that wasn't even rocky. Go figure. David was right behind me and saw it happen. He asked me if I was okay. I lied and I said I was, but I knew this could be a problem. It hurt with every step that followed. I slowed down and David and a couple of other runners pulled away.
I had to reassess things now. I wasn't sure that I would be able to finish the 50k. Heck, I wasn't even sure I would be able to finish one loop of he course, at least not at any kind of reasonable pace. I alternated walking and jogging, but my ankle hurt, more so when I stepped on large rocks. About a mile later, I rolled it again and went down to the ground pretty hard. Thankfully, no one was around to see that. But I knew that was it - the pain was real and intense. There was no way I could do 25 more miles on an injured ankle...or could I? I set a goal to make it through the first loop and then re-evaluate.
But wouldn't you know it, after a couple more miles, it started to hurt less. Or maybe my brain just got used to it or stopped processing the pain signals. I was extra careful not to roll it again. At the next aid station, I told one of the volunteers I had rolled my ankle and he said, rather appropriately, "Bootlegger will do that to you." His fellow volunteer also said he liked my shirt. That was nice.
Below are some photos I took from along the course. Note that you can see the Las Vegas Strip in the distance in a couple of them.
And below a couple of selfies because Mom likes the photos more when I am in them and no one was around to take photos of me at this point of the race.
As I approached the final aid station before completing loop 1, I was feeling hopeful. That final section was a bit flatter and less rocky and, therefore, more runnable. I actually started to move at a decent pace and my ankle appeared to be holding up at least. Other than the ankle, I felt pretty good. And just like that I finished my first loop, in a little over 4 hours.
Scot got some cool video footage of me finishing the first loop, though he didn't get the part where I accidentally knocked over Leah's celebratory beer. Sorry Leah!
And although he was done with his race, Scot had stuck around to make sure I didn't need anything before he left. What a guy! I love how supportive the ultra running community is. We took the photo below and chatted for a bit. I hydrated up and ate some food, including bacon, yes bacon, extra crispy too! David was there as well to see how I was doing and encourage me. I threw my headlamp in my bag just in case, as I didn't want to be out on that course in the dark. I also made a mental note to always have some athletic tape in my drop bag. I am not sure I would have used it to tape my ankle, but it would have been a nice option.
Originally, my goal had been to take the first loop slow and try to run a faster second loop. Negative splits. That was now out of the question, but I decided I had enough time to complete a second loop, however painful it might be. So I set off for the second loop and hoped for the best. I didn't come all this way to DNF this race.
I largely power hiked/walked the second loop, mostly to preserve my ankle, but also because my legs were just flat out tired at that point. I jogged a few parts that were flat, but my goal was to keep my miles under 20 minutes so that I would not be in danger of missing the cutoff. That was a struggle at times with the ruggedness of the course.
We had become so spread out at that point that I only saw a couple of other runners towards the end of the second loop where you had to do an out and back to get to the final aid station. So I put my earbuds in and let the music take over. It was quite peaceful to be out there in the mountains. It never really got warm enough for me to want to take my hat or gloves off. Man am I glad I brought them! It would have been very cold otherwise.
And then I saw the finish line and, at that, I rejoiced. The second loop took me almost 5 hours, but I finished the race so I didn't care one iota that I was slower than expected or that my second loop was slower than my first. I finished the race in just over 9 hours in 30th place out of 33, only escaping last place (DFL!) by 18 minutes. Race director extraordinaire, Joshua Eddy, did me the solid of taking this photo when I finished.
And I earned a super cool handcrafted medal (as well as a celebratory beer)!
When it was all said and done, I climbed 4,700+ feet over 31+ miles. And I burned over 4,200 calories, which would allow me to eat whatever the heck I wanted at the holiday party my wife and I were going to later that night (and I did just that at Barry's)!
Here is the Stava data:
And here is the GPS map of the course:
And my splits:
This was a tough race, made tougher by my ankle injury. This was definitely one of my more resilient finishes. I am proud I was able to tough it out. My ankle wasn't happy with me at the holiday party later that night and I had to take a couple weeks off of running to give it time to heal. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Would I run the Bootlegger 50k again? It would be nice to see what I could run without a sprained ankle. So a strong maybe. Only time will tell...
And, per usual, here is a TikTok video I made of my adventure:
Not surprisingly, I first learned about the Manitou Incline from my friend and fellow adventure seeker, Adam Czajkowski. He sent me a YouTube video about it. I remember watching the video and thinking that it looked crazy difficult but then forgetting about it because I didn't have plans to be in the Colorado Springs area any time soon. If you don't know what the Manitou Incline is, click here to learn more about it. A quick visual:
Fast forward to late September of 2021. I happened to be attending a legislative conference in Colorado Springs and my friend and legislative colleague, Howard Watts, reminded me about the Manitou Incline because he and his partner had done it earlier that week. It wasn't too far away - just the next town over, in Manitou Springs. I knew I had to find a way to do it because this might be the only chance I would get. Who knew when I would be back in Colorado Springs?
Because of the increased traffic on the Incline during the pandemic, you now have to reserve a time slot to do it. The good news is that there is no fee to make a reservation, only a nominal charge to park near the start. I chose the 6:30am time slot, figuring it would be less busy, and I was also banking on being able to catch the sunrise and make it back to Colorado Springs at a reasonable time. It wasn't too far of a drive from where I was staying in Colorado Springs, but I still had to get up early and drive there in the dark. And I had flown in from Las Vegas the night before so I was fairly tired. But that wasn't a good excuse to back out. I knew I would regret it if I bailed.
Once I got there and started to climb, I was treated to an amazing sunrise. My strategy was to power hike the whole thing. I could have tried to run some of it but that seemed like a bad idea that would likely backfire on me midway up. Some photos from the start:
Here is a video I took from the beginning of the journey, just as daylight began to break through the darkness:
As I continued the effort, the stairs seemed to go on forever, but the views got better and better:
Another video of the climb:
Video looking back to where the journey began:
Soon enough I reached the 2,000 step mark and I knew the end was near, though there is a false summit when you think you are done, but you still have a ways to go.
Look how far I had come:
But look at how much more I still had to go:
Good perspective of just how much climbing I had done:
I shared some thoughts as I got closer to the top:
And then, finally, I made it to the top.
Here are some views from the top, where I spent a considerable amount of time congratulating others who had also made it to the top. I volunteered to take a lot of group photos. It was really cool to see the sense of pride and accomplishment on the faces of those who completed the Incline.
And a video looking down from the top:
Here are the final details. Nearly 1,900 feet of elevation gain over a little less than one mile of distance. It had taken me 55 minutes. When adjusted for the incline, my functional pace was that of a 15 minute, 40 second mile. Which is totally insane.
You can go back down the Incline the same way you came up if you want, but that seemed like a very bad idea. So I opted for a trail that took me back to the start. The trail was longer, but offered a much more gradual descent that was certainly easier on the joints. A few photos from the way down:
Final details from the way down, which I finished 2 minutes faster than going up, even though it was 2 miles longer!
I rewarded myself with some coffee and a donut muffin in Manitou Springs at a cute coffee shop:
I am glad I went out on a limb to make this happen when I was in the area. Would I do it again? Absolutely. It was intense and fun. Perhaps I will try to jog some of it next time.
After I reached the top, a family wearing very large packs joined me at the top and I took some group photos for them. I asked them what they were doing and they said they were going all the way to the top of Pike's Peak. I thought that sounded intense and I didn't think much of it until I later learned that there is a Pike's Peaks Marathon, which some say is the hardest marathon in the United States. Obviously, I am intrigued by the idea. We'll see. You can learn more about that event by clicking here.
Anyway, enjoy the TikTok of the Manitou Incline adventure:
Ragnar relays are pretty unique in the running world. And very cool. The basic premise is that you form a team of 12 runners, separated into 2 vans of 6 runners each. Each runner runs 3 legs of the 36 leg relay, each leg typically ranging anywhere from 3 to 10 miles. Once all 6 runners in a van finish their legs, they have free time to do whatever they want until the 6 runners in the other van finish their runs. Some of the races are run on the roads, others on the trails, but they are usually somewhere around 200 miles long. There is also the option to complete the relay as an ultra team, with only 6 runners, each running 6 legs.
I had never even heard of Ragnar until the fall of 2012 when my friend and co-worker, Tegan, asked if I would fill in for her husband, who had gotten injured and could no longer participate. Intrigued by the format and in decent running shape at the time, I immediately agreed and thus became a part of team T.H.E. Katt's Conquerors.
This Ragnar was before the days of fancy GPS watches, at least for me, so I don't have many details about the three legs I ran. I remember that I was the first runner in van 1, so I kicked us off up at Mt. Charleston on a very cold, windy, and snowy day in November. I was underdressed and freezing and thus ran very fast on the entirely downhill portion of leg 1. My recollection is somewhere in the neighborhood of 7 minute miles. My second leg was later that evening in the Summerlin area. And my third leg was the next morning out on St. Rose Parkway in Henderson. I distinctly recall how tough the third leg was after I slept a few hours and my muscles tightened up. It was brutal - and hilly.
In any case, our team finished the 193 mile Las Vegas relay in 30th place out of more than 500 teams. And I earned this cool medal, which doubled as a bottle opener. It was definitely the coolest medal I had at the time.
And I thought that was probably my first and last Ragnar. But I was wrong. 9 years later, I would run another one.
Some of my friends and former colleagues at the Clark County Public Defender's Office were putting together a team to run Ragnar Northwest Passage, consisting of 199 miles, starting in Blaine, Washington and finishing up on Whidbey Island, in the Seattle area. They asked me to be on their team. I agreed on one condition - I wanted to be assigned runner number 5, the runner responsible for the most miles in our van. Thankfully, they obliged. Not my smartest request, as we had just finished a legislative session the month before and I was far from tip top running shape.
The other runners in our van were Deborah Westbrook, Dan & Alison Martinez, Tegan Machnich (yes, the same one who had invited me to do Ragnar some 9 years earlier), and Anna Stone. David Westbrook would be our driver. Although we had reserved a van, COVID had wreaked havoc on the rental car market and we had to settle for a Tahoe, which made for a very tight fit with 7 people and luggage.
I'm not entirely sure what our connection was to van 2. I didn't personally know anybody in that van, but somebody on our team did. The team captain, Claira, was responsible for picking the team name and she chose Mario Misfits. The runners in van 2 dressed up as Super Mario characters. We did not. But we all ran nonetheless.
The night before the start of our race, I flew into Bellingham, Washington, not too far from the start of the race. I flew Allegiant Airlines, which is always dicey, but I was delighted the plane was on time, I had a whole row to myself, and they were serving alcohol, a rarity during COVID.
We all stayed at a hotel next to the airport and met up for a trip to the Target to get snacks and supplies. We then go some takeout and went back to our hotel where we ate and were treated to a beautiful sunset. We talked through logistics and picked a time to meet in the lobby in the morning for our drive to Blaine.
Blaine shares a border with Canada and the race started in a really cool park, Peace Arch Historical State Park. We picked up our race packets and took some photos, including one with a Canadian Mountie patrolling the border!
Team start times are staggered depending on your estimated finish time. Our start time was 8am which was nice because it could have been a couple hours ealier. And next thing you knew, it was 8am and the race was starting, with Anna kicking us off:
The weather was beautiful. We lucked out because there had been record heat in the pacific northwest just a couple of weeks prior. Here is some footage of Deborah finishing up leg 3 and handing off to Dan:
My first run was leg 5, which was rated as hard, mostly because of the length. The anticipation started to build up as we handed the snap bracelet off from one runner to the next until it was time for me to head out. As Dan handed the bracelet off to me and I headed out, I remember it being hotter than I thought it would be and the running feeling substantially tougher than I had envisioned it. It really was more of a struggle than I thought, which made me very nervous about the fact that I had two more legs to go after this one. My legs were simply not cooperating and that had me plenty worried.
I definitely thought I would run faster but, given how bad I felt, I was fairly satisfied with sub 9 minute miles. Leg 5 run details below:
I was delighted to see the end in sight and hand the bracelet off to Tegan for leg 6. Here are some post run photos with the rest of the team, minus Tegan:
After all six of us finished our runs, we stopped to get something to eat. That was the only time I saw our driver, David, run (like he was shot out of a cannon):
We then checked into a hotel not too far away to drop off our gear and put on some fresh clothes before heading out for our second round of running. Ragnar includes plenty of down time to goof off and we took full advantage of that time.
Another interesting (weird) thing about Ragnar is that in addition to many teams wearing costumes and/or dressing up, most teams ornately decorate their vans/support vehicles. And it is a Ragnar tradition to purchase customized magnets to "tag" other vehicles at the exchanges. This race was no exception and we tagged a lot of other vehicles with these two magnets:
And now back to the running. Anna getting the bracelet and starting her second run:
Anna finishing her second run after having to wait several minutes for a train(!):
Alison heading out for her second run after getting the bracelet from Anna:
Alison finishing up her second run and handing the bracelet off to Deborah:
Deborah finishing up and handing the bracelet off to Dan:
My second leg would be leg 17, rated as very hard, because it was more than 8 miles long. By the time I ran, it would be getting dark out, which meant cooler weather. I looked forward to that, even if it meant I had to wear a headlamp and an obnoxious light up vest. When it got closer to my turn to run again, I ditched my sandals for running shoes and I realized that I had brought two right socks with me. Normally, this wouldn't be a problem, but I had the individual toe socks so this was a problem because the socks were not interchangeable. My options were to run without a sock or somehow make it work. I made it worked and hoped for the best. You don't really want to have any unforeseen complications on an 8+ mile run.
The exchange zone for Dan to hand off to me was directly in front of a really cool roadside market that was selling all kinds of great treats, including ice cream. I really wanted some ice cream, but I knew that would be a very bad idea right before I ran (think Will Ferrell drinking milk in Anchorman). So I watched everybody else eat ice cream and then Dan arrived and off I went into the night, longing for some tasty ice cream.
Thankfully, I felt much better on this leg. Perhaps it was because the sun had set, but I was relieved. I assumed I would be slower on this leg than my first one. But I was wrong. I actually ran slightly faster on this leg. Running in the dark was quite enjoyable. I put my earbuds in and got down to business. It was as if my first leg was the warmup and now the run had actually started. Fortunately, my sock didn't give me any issues. Leg 17 run details below:
Disaster nearly stuck after this leg. About 3 miles into our drive to the next checkpoint, I realized I couldn't find my phone. I suspected I had left it on the back of the Tahoe when I was changing out of my sweaty shirt and that it had fallen to the ground somewhere along the way. Thankfully, we had all shared our locations with one another so that we could track the person running. One of my teammates searched for my phone and we learned that it was still back at the last exchange. I was happy my phone was still sending a signal, but was also very nervous that another vehicle would run over it.
David whipped the Tahoe around and we sped back to the spot where we had parked. As I searched the area with my flashlight, someone asked me if I was looking for a phone and told me it had been handed in to the volunteers working the exchange. And like that, I had my phone back and all in one piece to boot. It was a miracle. I thought about how awful it would have been if the phone had been broken or lost and the inconvenience that would have caused. I definitely dodged a bullet!
And another very cool thing - my team bought me a pint of ice cream at the market and put it in the cooler. It was waiting for me when I finished my run. And it was birthday cake, my favorite kind of ice cream. I quickly ate the entire pint. Absolutely delicious!
On our way back to the next exchange, the Tahoe was blasted by some kind of industrial sprinkler system that was presumably watering crops. We later learned that Tegan, who was out running, had been soaked by the sprinkler as well. We weren't sure if it was just water or whether there were other pesticides or fertilizers mixed in. We kept a close eye on her to make sure she didn't start to mutate and try to murder us.
With Tegan's finish, we had now all completed our second run and our van had some time off. We headed back to the hotel to get a shower and some sleep. The shower was magical. The sleep was inconsistent. I probably slept about 3-4 hours, but that was certainly better than not sleeping at all and it was rally nice to sleep in an actual bed versus outside or in the Tahoe.
The runners in van 2 ran through the night and made pretty good time. Tegan got to sleep a little more than the rest of us since she was the final runner in our group. When I was out running my last leg, David would take the other runners back to the hotel to get cleaned up and pack and he would grab Tegan to bring her to our final exchange. Then he would take me back to the hotel before going back to the course yet again to collect Tegan. It was the only way we could all be assured we would have enough time to shower and pack before checkout. David was a saint for all the driving that he had to do - arguably a harder job than just running three times over the course of 30+ hours. One lesson for next time would be to have 2 drivers so one person would not be responsible for all of it.
It was a bit chilly in the morning, but we made the best of it. I was definitely sore from the miles I had already run, but was looking forward to knocking out this final leg.
Here was the morning exchange between Georgianna and Anna, as she started her third and final leg:
A few more early morning photos:
Before I knew it, leg 29, rated as very hard, was upon me. It was another long leg, about 8 miles, and Tegan had warned me that it had some hills, as she had done this relay before and had been runner number 5. The run was stunningly beautiful, along the coast the whole way. But those hills were the real deal. 531 feet of elevation gain over 8 miles! All things considered, I was very pleased to clock in at 9:20 per mile, especially because I thought I would be running more like 12 minute miles for this leg. Details below:
And that was it. I was done. I was hurting, but definitely relieved as well. My body felt the miles but it also felt a sense of great accomplishment. A job well done.
After we finished up, we checked out of the hotel and hit up a Mexican place for drinks and lunch. Amazing how good a couple of drinks and some greasy Mexican food tastes when you are exhausted and sleep deprived! Then we drove down to Bellevue, where we would be staying the night before flying back to las Vegas from Seattle the next morning.
The views on the drive to Bellevue were spectacular, at least until most of us fell asleep from exhaustion and full stomachs. Once we got to Bellevue, I was majorly excited to learn that one of my favorite restaurants was a mere block from the hotel: Din Tai Fung. Their soup dumplings are amazing and I knew I had to go there. And I did. I sat up at the bar and ate many dumplings and had a couple of drinks too.
We had a relatively smooth flight back to Las Vegas with just the minor annoyance of a couple hour delay, which honestly left more time to hang out in the airport lounge.
We later learned that we finished in 71st place out of 190 teams, completing our relay in a little over 32 hours, about 10 hours behind the winners. Because we chose not to go to the finish line, we had to wait for Claira to mail our finisher medals to us. But that gave the team a great exccuse to get together in Las Vegas to celebrate our accomplishment. And we did just that. The medals are really cool and all 12 of them say something different on the back. Mine says "Make Memories." That we did.
The smile on Deborah's face below says it all. This was a lot of fun. I am glad I said yes despite my doubts about whether I would be in good enough shape and whether I would want to participate so soon after the end of a legislative session. And I am most grateful for Deborah and David, who did nearly all of the planning and made it very easy for the rest of us to just show up and run. I would love to do another Ragnar, but I don't think I want to plan it. So much work. Hopefully I will just get invited again. But we'll see...
If nothing else, I got this cool coffee mug that I use on the regular and it reminds me of this awesome experience.
And, lastly, enjoy this TikTok of our Ragnar adventure:
6 Days in the Dome is a pretty wild event. I don't remember when I first learned about it, but once I did, I knew I had to get out there. Races consist of 24 hours, 48 hours, and 6 days. Yes, 6 days! All races take place at the Petit National Ice Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on an indoor track with ice rinks in the infield. The track is longer than a standard outdoor track, so you complete a mile every 3.6 laps. I was intrigued by this race because I believed it would offer the optimal environment for a 24 hour run. Protection from the elements, climate controlled, easy access to gear and restrooms, and steady footing. What else could you ask for?
I originally signed up to do the 24 hour race in 2020, but COVID eventually caused the event to be canceled. So I was excited to give it a shot in 2021. I signed up for the 24 hour race that started at 9am on Saturday. The first of the two 24 hour races and the 48 hour race both started at 9am on Friday. And the 6 day event started at noon on Sunday, giving the track a few hours to recover between races
I flew to Milwaukee on Friday and booked a hotel that was only a few miles away from the venue. I did not rent a car because the rental cars prices were through the roof at that time due to supply issues. I thought about walking to the venue on Saturday morning, but that seemed like a poor idea right before a 24 hour race and it just happened to be pouring outside, so I called a Lyft and was on my way.
It was a fairly tame scene when I arrived, about an hour before the start of my event. The 24 hour runners from the day before still had about an hour to go and those poor 48 hour runners still had 25 hours to go. It was clear that most of the runners were just buckling down.
I would like to tell you I was in proper shape to run a 24 hour race, but I would be lying. We had just finished up our legislative session about 2.5 weeks before this race and it always takes me at least 7-10 days to feel normal again after a session. That means I had trained in earnest for about 10 days before this event. Sometimes I don't know why I do these things to myself. But I also relished the idea of 24 hours of relative solitude, as I didn't know anybody who would be running in my race. I also had a few audiobooks I wanted to start and I looked forward to listening to some good music. It would be a welcome change from the hustle and bustle of the end of a legislative session.
I got checked in and started to mentally prepare.
Your entry fee includes rent for 1/2 of a table and one folding chair during your race. Because I flew and I hate checking a bag, I was somewhat limited in what I could bring with me, but that was fine, as I didn't think I would need all that much. I brought three pairs of shoes so that I could switch them out every once in awhile. I also brought couple of changes of shirts, a light jacket, some gels and a couple of handheld water bottles I could run with. One bottle was for water, the other for Sword, who just happened to be a sponsor of the event. Sword is my preferred electrolyte drink.
The first thing I noticed when I scoped out a table was that other runners had way more stuff on their tables - more food, more fluids, more gear. And many of them brought a more comfortable chair, some could even recline backwards for a more comfortable nap. And many people had a support person at their table to hand (or throw) them things when they jogged by. I, however, would be on my own. But I honestly wasn't too worried about that.
Before arriving in Milwaukee, I learned that there was a runner in my race who would be attempting to set a world record for the fastest 100 miler on any surface. His name was Taggart Vanetten. The world record he would be trying to break was 11 hours, 14 minutes, set by Lithuanian runner Aleksandr Sorokin in April 2021.
Taggart had recently set the world record for 100 miles on a treadmill, accomplishing that feat in 11 hours and 32 minutes. It wasn't hard to spot Taggart in the crowd, as he had shaved his goal time of 10 hours, 59 minutes into his hair. He was gracious enough to let me take a photo. I wished him well on his effort.
Next thing I know, we were off. Taggart took off like he was shot out of a cannon. I told myself to make sure I didn't get in his way. I didn't want to be the jackass who wasn't paying attention and tripped him up, ruining his chance at a world record.
The track had three lanes. Runners were instructed to pass other runners on the outside. This meant that you should be running in lane 1 unless you were passing somebody else. Sometimes you could hear a runner approaching and knew somebody was about to pass you. Other times, you didn't hear anything and then somebody was just passing you. I was cognizant that Taggart would be passing me a lot. He was going to be running more than twice as fast as me.
We would also change directions every four hours, which was interesting because you had to finish the lap you were on before changing directions. So, at certain times, people were running in opposite directions.
I was happy to finally be running. And I did what I have a bad habit of doing - I went out too fast. I didn't have much of a strategy, but I figured that if I could average 15 minute miles, I would cover 96 miles. I was aiming for 100 miles so I knew I would need to be slightly faster than that. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I was telling myself that perhaps I could do 12 minute miles the entire time, which would net me 120 miles.
At any rate, nothing in my race plan had me running 9-10 minute miles right out the gate. But that is what I did, for awhile. A photo from the first few laps:
And a video from that first lap. It would indeed be a long day (and night)!
Every time you crossed over the timing mat at the completion of each lap, you would see real time feedback on a giant television screen, telling you how long it took you to run that lap, how many laps you had completed, and your ranking. It was odd to get so much real time feedback. I am all about data, but it was almost too much for me...and there was no way to turn it off.
Another video from along the way. As you can see, the track is pretty narrow, so you had to be make sure nobody was attempting to pass you as you attempted to pass another runner.
And in the video below, you can see how much faster than me a shirtless Taggert Vanetten is running. It was crazy! [Alas, he did not set the world record. He started struggling at some point, perhaps about mile 50. I saw him fall down onto the track at least once, maybe twice. He tried to tough it out, but I believe he pulled the plug when he fell too far behind world record pace. Kudos to his race crew though. They had quite a system down of tossing fluids and food to him on demand as he passed them. It was impressive to watch.]
One of the really cool things about this race is that they provide meals for you.. I was pretty excited when it was lunchtime at 11:30am. I ate at least 3 sandwiches, stopping every couple of laps for another one. After all, I was burning a lot of calories, right? I needed the fuel, or at least I told myself that.
The running indeed became monotonous. I could only tolerate about an hour of an audiobook before I had to switch to something else. I listened to some music. Sometimes I just took my earbuds out altogether and let my thoughts wonder. I jumped on Facetime with my wife and mother a couple of times. At one point, hockey and speedskating practice were going on. That was a welcome distraction - something else to look at.
I didn't make much of an effort to get to know the other runners. I still felt quite exhausted from the legislative session and just did not feel like being social. Don't get me wrong, I had random conversations with others runners and both gave and received words of encouragement, but those were short conversations during the 24 hour race. In retrospect, it would have been nice to have someone to talk to along the way. It certainly would have made the hours and miles go by quicker.
Zach Bitter had set a world record in the 12 hour race back on this track in August of 2019 and they had a plaque commemorating where that happened. He covered over 104 miles in 12 hours! And, of course, you had to watch for zambonis while running, which is not something I ever thought I would have to worry about while running.
As morning became afternoon, I realized how much harder the track surface was than I had anticipated. Truthfully, I was thinking it would be more like a spongy outdoor track. It was not. It was much harder and that was starting to wreak havoc on my body as I eclipsed the marathon mark. Everything began to hurt. This is when I realized I had made another crucial mistake. I brought racing shoes with less cushioning rather than the more cushioned shoes I would normally wear out on the roads. One of the pairs of shoes I brought was very thin on padding, so I pulled them from the rotation pretty quickly.
About midway through the afternoon, I found myself walking more than running. My sore feet and legs just did not want to cooperate any longer. This is the point that I realized that 120 miles was definitely not going to be possible. A few hours hours later, I realized that 100 miles wasn't going to happen either. I was simply moving too slow and stopping too frequently. Seeing these goals slip away was, of course, disappointing, but I wasn't going to let it stop me from giving it my best effort.
I was very excited about dinner - it was basically going to be a Thanksgiving dinner! I stopped for longer than I should have to take down some turkey and mashed potatoes. It was so good. And, oddly enough, it gave me a huge boost of energy. Although I had been moving fairly slow up to that point, I now took off like I had been shot out of a cannon. I ran my fastest lap right after dinner and probably put together a 9 minute mile. Other runners noticed. One participant exclaimed as I passed her: "What got into you!" I knew the burst of energy wouldn't last. I was right. It was fleeting.
As we got into the evening hours, the place became very quiet. No more ice hockey. No more speed skating. No more music from the loud speakers. Just the sound of footsteps and determination and the occasional words of encouragement as runners passed one another. It got really cold inside, cold enough where I put on a jacket as well as winter hat and gloves. I am glad I thought to bring those with me. I don't think I would have survived otherwise.
Around 2am, I realized how exhausted I was. I needed to try to get in a quick nap to hopefully re-energize. I sat down in my chair and tried to rest. It isn't easy to sleep in a folding plastic chair. And I was cold. So cold I was shivering. I am not sure if it was from the temperature or the trauma to my body. In any case, I was having serious chair envy and wished I had something that reclined.
As I closed my eyes, I seriously thought about calling it quits. I started to think about going back to my hotel, taking a hot shower, and sleeping in a warm, comfortable bed. But then I remembered that I didn't have a car and I doubted I would be able to get a Lyft at 2am. Just to confirm, I opened the app on my phone to check. There were several cars only minutes away. I could be back at my hotel in a matter of 20 minutes or so. Tempting. I had to make a decision and it was going to be a close one. I was ready to be done.
There wouldn't be any shame in quitting. I wasn't properly trained for this type of event but I have covered a respectable amount of miles. On the other hand, I knew I would regret it. I would be mad at myself in the morning, no matter what the justification. I wrestled with these competing ideas in my head and finally decided to stick it out. No matter how slow. No matter how few miles. I wasn't going to quit. I had come all this way for this event, to give it my all for 24 hours. I could take a hot shower and sleep when the race was over. I assessed where I was and set a new goal to complete 75 miles. It would be a challenge, but also doable if I stuck it out.
After a mostly futile attempt to nap, I got back on the track and started walking. The lap where I contemplated dropping out would be my slowest of the entire 24 hour period. As I got back up, my feet hurt. My legs hurt. My lower back hurt. My neck hurt. It was hard to even walk. But I also knew that once I got started, my muscles would warm up and provide some measure of relief. They did. Maybe this wasn't going to be so bad after all.
Breakfast was served at 5:30am, after a long night of slogging around that track. After wrestling with my self-doubt all night, I was ready for breakfast and I took down a little bit of everything, but a lot of bacon! Who can say no to bacon after 20 hours of physical activity? Not me.
The last few laps were utter torture, but the end was in sight and I knew I would get to 75 miles. And I was proud of myself for toughing it out when I wanted to quit so many times along the way. I felt a sense of accomplishment as I crossed the timing mat for the last time. As runners finished their last lap, we all gathered to cheer on those racing against the clock to finish just one more lap. Every runner had come in with their own goals. Some were met, some were not. It was a very emotional moment, knowing that we had all accomplished something phenomenal regardless. And I earned my second buckle, and a really cool one at that!
I finished in 15th place out of 26 runners in my race, with 75.23 miles (my Garmin watch was a bit off, but that is to be expected on an indoor track). I finished 273 laps. My fastest lap was the one of the laps where I felt a surge of energy right after eating dinner. 2 minutes and 9 seconds. My slowest lap was when I was struggling mentally and physically and trying to take a nap in the middle of the night. 36 minutes and 7 seconds.
As I was finishing up my race, some of the racers for the 6 day event were lugging in their gear. And some of them had a lot of stuff - think Costco sized food items. Running for 6 days? That is something that even I don't want to sign up for. But just know that there is a small group of runners that travels around the world to do 6 days runs. Mad respect!
When I finally got back to my hotel room, I took the world's longest hottest shower and then went straight to bed. I woke up just in time for the Happy Hour at the Cheesecake Factory across the street, where I had eaten the night before the race. The only problem was that I had to walk there, which proved immeasurably more difficult than the night before. I hobbled like an old man the entire way. Now I know why those walk signals at intersections give you so much time. I needed all 25 seconds to make my way across the street.
I ordered 3 or 4 appetizers as well as this delicious vodka martini (slightly dirty) with blue cheese stuffed olives. I took a piece of cheesecake to go and hobbled back across the street (Pain!) and promptly went back to bed. The cheesecake made a delicious middle of the night snack!
Here is a TikTok video I made to commemorate my experience at 6 Days in the Dome:
Another really cool thing about this race was the unbelievable caliber of the field. This is an open event where anybody can register and compete. That means people like me can race alongside legends. In addition to Taggert Vanetten, there were a couple of world record holders in the 48 hour race (Marisa Lizack and Olivier Leblond). The first person in my race to complete 100 miles (in 13 hours, 21 minutes), Nick Coury, set the world record for a 24 hour run by completing 173 miles at the Desert Solstice race in December of 2021. Amazing!
Knowing what I know now, I really want to run this race again. I might even consider the 48 hour version. If nothing else, I would be way more prepared on the logistics side. I definitely hope to be there in 2022, hopefully with a friend or two.
There have been rumors of a trail ultra race out at Red Rock (Las Vegas) for years, but it had never materialized, presumably because of difficulty in permitting. That was until 2021! When I heard that Joshua Eddy/Desert Dash had actually gotten this permitted and it was a go, I knew I had to sign up. Just take my money! There would be a 50k (31 miles) race and a 100k (62 miles) race.
The race was originally scheduled for late April, but was ultimately moved to early May due to COVID-related scheduling issues. That meant it would likely be fairly warm and the race would be during the legislative session, when I was flying up to Carson City every Sunday and back to Las Vegas every Friday. Specifically, the race would be during the last month of our legislative session, meaning that I would likely be out-of-shape (at least from ideal) and utterly exhausted. So, of course, I signed up...for the 100k. I told myself it would motivate me to stay in shape during the legislative session, knowing full well I would not have time to stay in 100k shape during a legislative session.
Per usual, my wife picked me up at the airport on Friday, May 7th, the day before the race. It was another brutally long week at the Legislature and I was beat down, but I decided I would give it my best shot anyway. We drove straight to Red Rock Running to pick up my packet, then stopped for a nice Italian dinner. Carb up!
I woke up very early and drove out to the designated parking area, from which we would be bussed to Red Rock Canyon for the start of the race. as there is not enough parking at Red Rock and the finish of the race was in the town of Blue Diamond, miles away from Red Rock. Start time for the race was 7am. I was in good spirits despite my exhaustion but, as I paced around waiting for the race to begin, I could already tell that it was going to be a very hot day. I opted to go with a long sleeve shirt to avoid getting sunburned. I scanned the other runners in the starting area and it was clear to me that this field was no joke. I anxiously awaited the starting gun and just like that we were off and running!
The first thing I realized is that the course was going to be much more technical than I had anticipated. Although there were a few spots in Red Rock where we ran on the road, most of the race was on single track, rocky trails, almost all of which I had never run on before. So this race was going to take an immense amount of concentration to ensure that I didn't twist an ankle (like at Rally in the Valley) or trip on a rock.
Towards the end of the portion in Red Rock, we were on a trail known as Dale's Trail. Whoever he was, I cursed Dale the entire way and vowed to never run on that trail again. It was way too rocky and narrow for my liking. I nearly ran into a cactus or two. I was making very slow progress and was in awe of those at the front of the pack who were all out running these trails tough trails.
But, it is Red Rock Canyon and, if nothing else, Red Rock Canyon is beautiful. Some photos from along the way:
As we exited Red Rock Canyon and hit the stretch of road that would take us south to the town of Blue Diamond, I was excited to have a few miles of flat road to run on. Enough with those rocky trails! Although it was definitely getting hotter, I believed I could make up some time on the road. I was right about that and I really enjoyed this part of the race. I picked up my pace and even passed a few runners along the way! It was right about this time, however, that I started having my doubts about completing the 100k given that we were only 18 miles or so in.
The largest and most well stocked aid station was in the town of Blue Diamond, which would also serve as the finish line for the race. I stopped there for a few minutes to fuel up before heading out to run the 10 mile or so Landmine Loop, a trail I had run once before. I would be right back to this aid station after those 10 miles before heading out to more remote trails.
I made a rookie mistake at this aid station. I didn't refill my hydration pack. I drank a fair amount of fluids at the aid station and, for reasons unknown, thought it wouldn't be too bad out there on the Landmine Loop and that the water I had left in the pack would be enough. But I also knew that the trail was totally exposed and it was approaching noon. I don't think my brain was functioning properly.
The Landmine loop started off well enough, but I soon started to get overheated. My strength was sapped and I was drinking a lot of water as a result. About midway through this 10 mile segment, I ran out of water. It was a terrible feeling because I knew I had a long way to go to get back to the aid station. I slowed down and had to walk and take rest breaks, only increasing my thirst. I felt defeated. I had bonked.
At around mile 25 or so, I decided I was going to drop out at the next aid station. There was no way I could go 30+ more miles, longer than an actual marathon. I was out of water. I was tired. I had things to do at home. There was no shame in running nearly 30 miles before dropping out. I started to think about how I would be home by 2pm instead of in the middle of the night. I felt a weight lift off of my shoulders. Now I just needed to finish a few more miles and then I would be done. I knew it was the right decision and one that my worried wife would certainly support.
As I made it back to the road that leads into the town of Blue Diamond, I thought I heard somebody shout my name. I also thought that I must be imagining things because I wasn't expecting anybody there to cheer me on. Almost nobody knew I was even attempting this madness. Then I heard my name called out again. I was shocked to see Greg, who I had met and paced a couple weeks back at Jackpot. He told me that he had come to return the favor and pace me the rest of the way!
I had no idea he was coming and, to be honest, I was a little disappointed at first because I knew this could foil my plans to drop out of the race. I told him that I felt horrible, that I had run out of water, and that I didn't know if I would be continuing with the race. He was very polite, telling me he would respect whatever decision I made, but that I should just sit down for a minute and get some water. As a sat there in the shade drinking and eating, I was really humbled that Greg had come out all the way out to Blue Diamond from Henderson to pace me. That would have been at least a 45 minute drive for him. And, you know what, I did start to feel better.
I began to think about how significant it would be to finish this race and how nice it would be to do it with a friend by my side. But I was also aware that Greg had no idea how hard this course was. I told him I was willing to keep going, but that he needed to know it was going to take a very long time to finish these next 34 miles. He believed it would take us another 6 hours or so to finish the course, but I quickly disabused him of that notion, telling him I thought it would take more like 12+ hours. I asked him if he was up for that and if his wife would be okay with it. He said yes to both. He had not brought a headlamp but fortunately I had an extra mini flashlight in one of my drop bags waiting for me later on the course.
Once I felt ready, off we went, into the unknown...
It was getting very warm, but we headed into the desert, where we knew there would be no relief from the sun for hours yet. We headed towards the Hurl, the biggest climb on the course. It was really nice to have somebody to talk to and to take my mind off the pain. We did the best we could, but I was pretty exhausted and we resorted to mostly power walking/hiking while trying to run the flatter, not so rocky parts (there weren't many).
At one point, I felt a sharp pain in the bottom of my foot, like there was a thorn in my shoe. I took my shoe and sock off (no easy feat) to discover that some kind of splinter had actually gone into the bottom of my foot. I knew I wouldn't be able to get it out and my feet were too dirty to even want to try. The risk of infection would be too great. So I just hoped the occasional sharp pain would go away. It did or maybe the pain elsewhere just caught up. [Note: I never did remove that splinter.]
We anxiously awaited sunset so that we would get a reprieve from the heat of the day. After all, I had been out there all day. Greg was a trooper, encouraging me and showing a lot of patience at what must have been a very slow pace for him. The miles added up as we went up and over the Hurl, to the Late Night trail and then through the tunnel under Blue Diamond Highway and over to Cottonwood, all trails that I had never been on before.
As we headed further south, we traveled further and further from civilization. We could see the bright lights of Las Vegas in the distance, but they seemed 100 miles away. I thought about the fact that we were out here in the middle of nowhere on a Saturday night, just trying to survive and finish this race, while millions of people were simultaneously enjoying themselves and partying on the Las Vegas Strip. Honestly, I was right where I wanted to be. I would have it no other way.
As it got later and later, we talked less, each of us just focusing on the next step. The silence was only interrupted by the grunting that resulted from the occasional unintentional kicking of a rock, more painful to the toes the more often it happened. And it happened more often the more tired we became, as our muscles just didn't want to cooperate in lifting our feet high enough to clear all of the rocks. It was brutal!
In the most remote part of the course, we were on a jeep trail with huge rocks. It was unrunnable (at least to me) and technical, the effort made more difficult by the darkness. It took all available brainpower to focus on the little ring of light right in front of us, mine from my headlamp, Greg's from his mini-flashlight.
The volunteers at the last few aid stations were amazing. They were very encouraging and even laughed at my lame jokes. It had gotten fairly cold and windy out there, but they kept a smile on their faces, as they tended to the last handful of runners on the course. I am sure they were as eager as I was to be in the comfort of their own homes. I am grateful they were there for us as we toughed out the last several miles.
Next thing I knew, we were at mile 61, then mile 62. The end was near!
As luck would have it, my headlamp battery finally died just as we got into the town of Blue Diamond, with the finish line in sight. The sun had set around 7:30pm and it was already after 2am. That battery worked hard to keep the path lit for me for nearly 7 hours!
I don't believe that I have ever been happier to see a finish line. I resolved to jog to the finish and Greg went ahead to get some footage of the moment.
Here is video of the finish:
Instead of a traditional medal, I earned a really cool wooden plaque as well as a print.
Up to that point, this was the most difficult race I have ever completed. I was relatively out of shape (running only a mile or two most days leading up to the race), the course was really difficult and unfamiliar to me, and it was hot out. The course had a total elevation gain of over 7,000 feet, more than the Grand Canyon. I honestly don't know how I finished the race, especially given how bad I felt around mile 25. There is no doubt in my mind that I would have pulled the plug if Greg had not shown up to pace me. For that, I am incredibly grateful. It was such a generous thing for him to do.
So just how tough was this course? 37 of us toed the starting line for the 100k. Only 21 of us finished. I finished in 17th place. It took me nearly 20 hours. The winner? 12 hours!
Thankfully, Greg had parked closed to the finish line and he offered to drive me back to my car so I didn't have to wait for a shuttle at 2:30am. Another generous act from a great guy!
Shortly after the race, it was announced that the race would be moving to November. That would obviously make for much better weather, but I don't think I have another Red Rock 100k in me. Now a 50k? Maybe. Stay tuned.
Here are the Strava details:
And here is the GPS of the course we ran:
And, finally, enjoy some memes because, if you can't laugh at yourself, what's wrong with you?
Background - Part I
Jackpot is normally held in late February, but COVID forced it to late April in 2021. The race takes place at Cornerstone Park in Henderson, Nevada, which is a great venue because it is a huge park with tons of free parking and there is plenty of space for runners to stage their gear. Many runners set up large tents and bring crews to assist them. The regular loop is 2.5 miles (with 60 feet of elevation) consisting of 45% groomed crushed gravel trails, 45% wide asphalt paths, 5% grass, and 5% bridge and concrete surfaces. That loops serves as the course for the following races: 50 mile, 100 mile, 6 hour, 12 hour, 24 hour, 48 hour, and 72 hour. There is also a USTAF 100 mile race that has a shorter and faster loop that is only 1.1761616 miles and consists of 95% paved or concrete surfaces and 5% crushed gravel.
I originally signed up for the USTAF 100 mile race because I wanted to complete my first 100 miler at Jackpot and thought this course looked ideal. My legislative service, however, had other ideas. I would not be able to get back down to Las Vegas (from Carson City) in time to do the 100 mile race on Friday. So I changed my registration to the 6 hour race on Saturday morning. To be honest, that seemed way more reasonable given that I would have to fly back up to Northern Nevada on Sunday or, at the latest, Monday morning.
I went straight from the airport on Friday night to pick up my race packet at Cornerstone Park. I laid out my gear that night and decided to show some flair with the infamous racing shorts, plaid green shoes with shamrocks, and the Macho Man shirt that my friend, James Zygadlo, had given to me. If nothing else, I was going to stand out!
On my drive to the park in the morning, a car that had been traveling beside me on the highway veered off the road and up the embankment, flipped over and landed behind me, but not by much. I felt immense gratitude that the car hadn't landed on top of mine. No matter what happened at the race, I would be counting my blessings that day.
My good friend from Reno, Adam Czjakowski, had come down to run the 100 miler. He was rolling solo and, once the starting gun went off at 8am for both of us, I was delighted to hear that he wanted to run with me. I just figured I would be running faster than he would feel comfortable running at the beginning of a 100 miler, but he was happy to have someone to share some miles with. And so was I!
Though it was early, I could already tell it was going to be a hot day. I just kept the pace up as much as I could. Adam ran with me off and on throughout the morning and early afternoon. He also tripped and fell hard in the first couple of hours. As he hit the ground, I was worried that he was injured and might not be able to continue. I was wrong. He is tough as nails. He got up, brushed it off, and just kept running. Below are a few action shots from the first 6 hours. By the way, the Macho Man shirt was a huge hit, with many spectators singing "Macho Man" by The Village People as I ran by. It was a lot of fun!
My goal was to complete a 50k (31 miles) in my 6 hour race. As morning turned into afternoon, it got hotter outside and I definitely began to feel the fatigue from the sun. I found myself stopping more often to drink. But I pressed on and was delighted when the horn went off and I had completed 31.5 miles. Goal achieved! I was surprised to learn I was the third place male in the 6 hour race.
Here are photos of the finisher medal and third place male award:
Final Thoughts - Part I
Although I was disappointed I couldn't make it back to Las Vegas in time to run the 100 mile race on Friday, I was pleased that I was able to do the 6 hour race and achieve my goal of running a 50k. I left with a sense of satisfaction. But I would be back at Cornerstone park fewer than 12 hours later. To learn more about why, read on...
Background - Part II
As I noted, Adam had come down from Reno to run the 100 mile race. But nobody came with him, meaning he was here without a crew or his own cheering section. The rules permitted 100 mile runners to have pacers from sundown to sunrise. I knew those late night hours in the dark would be difficult so, before I left, I asked Adam if he wanted me to come back at night to pace him. He said that would be awesome. I intended to make that happen because that is what friends do, especially in the world of ultrarunning.
After I got home and showered, my wife and I went to a Korean BBQ place for dinner. I was famished and I believe I ate my weight in delicious Korean BBQ. I continued to monitor Adam's progress online and texted him for regular updates. He was not as far along in the race as he would have liked but the heat had been brutal in the late afternoon/early evening, making the miles much more taxing. He told me that he had connected with another runner named Greg, who was also running his first 100 mile race. When they started talking, they were basically at the same point in the race so they decided to try to stick together for the rest of the race. They tried to conserve energy in the heat and hoped for easier running once the sun went down.
I went to bed at 10pm and set my alarm for 1am. I wasn't sure if Adam would even need or want me to come back out there since he had linked up with Greg, but I thought I ought to at least get up and ask. I told my wife I would be home by 8am or so because I was only allowed to pace through the night.
When my alarm went off, I texted Adam to see if he needed me. My weary body and brain were kind of hoping he would say no. But he said yes and also asked if I could bring a phone charger for him. Game on! I grabbed an iced coffee that I had stashed in the fridge, geared up, and headed back to Cornerstone for a running encore.
When I arrived at 1:45am, Adam and Greg were right around the 65 mile mark, with 35 more miles to go. Which meant they would have to cover more miles than I covered in my 6 hour run earlier that morning! It was going to be a long day for them indeed, especially considering how many miles they already had on their legs.
My singular goal was to keep them both moving. I knew the next day would be equally as hot and the wind was supposed to kick up as well, so getting them through 100 miles as quickly as possible was crucial. This, however, was not always an easy goal. It seemed that every time one of them was feeling great, the other one felt terrible. But I knew we needed to stay together. So I became the motivator and encouraged continual movement, even if it meant walking. Though I made sure that when walking, we were walking faster than 20 minute miles, much to Adam's chagrin. He found it easier to run than walk at that speed.
One of the race directors recognized me from the day before and said he was amazed that I had come back to do some pacing. When I told him I was just there until sunrise due to the rules, he said I could stay as long as I wanted to pace because I was actually a race entrant, not just a pacer. This, folks, should have been my first indication that I would be there well past sunrise because there was no way we were going to cover 35 miles in the next 4 hours.
We began to curse a part of the course that we had dubbed "the gauntlet." That area was a rocky area that was more technical than the rest of the course and it became much more treacherous given how tired we were and because it was dark out. (I have learned the gauntlet will no longer be part of the course come 2022, which makes me both happy and sad.)
Here are some photos of the three amigos once the sun came up. Although we look happy, I can assure you we were all feeling quite miserable. You can actually see how awful Adam felt in a couple of the photos below.
As early morning turned into late morning, the heat moved in and the wind kicked up. Finishing as quickly as possible became paramount to avoid what were sure to be rising afternoon temperatures. I pushed Adam through some dark times, as he wanted to quit around 90 miles in, but quitting was never an option for either of them, not as long as I had anything to do with it. Though I was hurting too, I tried not to show it, mostly because I knew they were hurting worse that I was. Adam and Greg finished their 100 miler a little before 11:30am and I raced ahead of them to the finish line to capture the moment. Man, was it glorious!
I had run with them for another 9.5 hours and covered an additional 35+ miles, more than I had run in my 6 hour race the day before. I was exhausted and I knew they were too. But the pain was over for now!
Now, enjoy some memes that I made from some of the race photos because, in ultrarunning, you have to be able to make fun of yourself or you won't last long.
Also, a shoutout to the Jester, Ed Ettinghausen, who completed his 200th race of 100 or more miles at Jackpot. He is only the second person to do that. The guy is an absolute legend - just take a look at his results: https://ultrasignup.com/m_results_participant.aspx?fname=Ed&lname=Ettinghausen
Final Thoughts - Part II
Wow, I ended up running nearly 70 miles at Jackpot! That really wasn't too far off from the 100 miles I originally signed up to to. But I am glad I did it this way. It was really cool to pace Adam and Greg to their first 100 mile finish. There really is no greater feeling than celebrating the successes of friends.
I am already looking forward to Jackpot 2022, which will move back to February, hopefully meaning cooler temperatures. The USTAF 100 mile race awaits. If I finish it, it will be my first completed 100 miler. Wish me luck.
Rally in the Valley (of Fire) is a racing festival put on by Calico Racing. They offer a trail 1/2 marathon race on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, all at Valley of Fire State Park, one of the best state parks in Nevada. The course is different for each race. I raced one half marathon out there in 2020 and it was very challenging so, of course, I decided to sign up for all three of them in 2021! Here are a few photos from the 2020 effort. My friends Crystal and Brittany joined me out there as well so we all suffered together.
Most people who choose to run all three opt to camp out at the park, but I am not really one for camping, so I planned to drive back and forth each day, about an hour each way. After all of that driving, it might have been better just to camp but I do enjoy sleeping in my own bed. And showers are also good.
Day 1 - January 15, 2021
The Friday race started at 9am. I arrived around 8am and was eager to run. The cool thing about running a half marathon on three consecutive days is that you get to plan out your wardrobe ahead of time. For someone like me, who has way too many running shirts and shoes, this is really fun! For day 1, I went with the Don't Fence Me In Nevada t-shirt.
Here are some photos of the park before the race started:
In January 2021, we were still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, so we all had to wear masks at the starting line, but we could take them off once the race started. I was just happy the races hadn't been canceled because many had been over the prior 9 months.
Next thing I knew, we were off! Not too far into the race, I saw 3-4 bighorn sheep come scurrying down a large rock and run across the street. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get a photo of that but a number of us stared in awe.
The course was difficult because large stretches of it were in deep sand or on very rocky single track trails where was difficult to even know if you were still on the trail. If it weren't for the course markings, I would have had no idea where the trail was. But the scenery was phenomenal and the weather was quite pleasant for January.
I pledged to take it nice and slow and was amazed at those who took off as if they had been shot out of a cannon. About halfway into the race, I rolled my ankle bad enough that I wasn't sure I would be able to finish the race. The rugged terrain brought pain each time my foot hit the ground. But I gutted it out and kept moving forward, slower than I would have liked, but I knew I would at least finish. And finish I did, earning my first medal of the weekend.
I finished the race in about 2 hours and 43 minutes. The course had a total elevation gain of over 1,200 feet, but that didn't really tell the story of its difficulty. I finished in 23rd place out of 48 runners. Honestly, I was proud to have finished the race given the difficult of the course and my ankle injury. I did not know whether I would be able to run the next two races on my hurting ankle.
Day 2 - January 16, 2021
Despite the soreness and swelling in my ankle, I decided to go back out for race number two the next morning. I taped my ankle for extra support and hoped for the best. I knew it would be grueling.
Saturday's race started at 7:30am. I decided to go with my red Andale 5k shirt for this race. Next thing I knew, we were off and running. A few selfies from the starting line and along the course:
Another tough course, but again with amazing views along the way.
My ankle held up. I was definitely in pain and sore, but I tried to be extra careful on the especially rocky parts. I was very happy to do be done with this second race.
I finished this race in just over 2 hours, 52 minutes, which was good enough to finish 19th out of 50 runners. The course also had over 1,200 feet of elevation gain. Would I return for race number 3? Of course I would!
Day 3 - January 17, 2021
I taped up the ankle yet again and headed back out to Valley of Fire on Sunday morning for race number 3, which also started at 7:30am. If nothing else, I was getting used to the drive, though I preferred the 9am start time we had on Friday!
I went with my Vegas Strong shirt for this effort and before I knew it, we were off! Some selfies from the starting line and along the way:
Another course brought yet more amazing views:
It wasn't always pretty and my ankle was very unhappy with me, but I managed to finish in one piece, earning a third metal and my very first buckle!
I completed the third race in 2 hours and 54 minutes, finishing 22nd out of 38 runners. Again, the course had over 1,200 feet of climbing. My goal was to finish faster than 3 hours, so I was definitely happy about that. I really had to push the last couple of miles to make sure I met that goal.
A total of 14 runners completed all three half-marathons. As far as cumulative time, I finished in 11th place out of 14. Not exactly setting the world on fire, but these were tough courses and I clearly wasn't as experienced at trail races as the other runners. And the ankle injury didn't help. The guy who finished first in cumulative time was more than 3 hours ahead of me!
Although I enjoyed this adventure, I was not too sad to hear that Calico Racing was putting a pause on this running festival for the time being. If they ever do another one, I probably won't be able to resist signing up, but I might just pick one race instead of three. Then again, maybe I won't be reasonable.
If you live in Las Vegas and have never been to Valley of Fire State Park, go! If you are ever in the area, stop by. You won't regret it because it is stunning.
Steve Yeager is an ultra runner who rarely turns down a challenge. When he is not out putting miles on his shoes, he practices law and serves in the Nevada State Legislature. Steve lives in Las Vegas, Nevada with his very understanding and patient wife, Bita.