101 miles, 27+ hours of running, hiking, walking (and pooping), and one can only stare off into the distance thinking, why the eff did I do that…
The thing about ultra runners is that we’re often mislabeled. We’re not health nuts or fitness nuts, we’re just nuts. Running 100 miles is absolutely nuts. For the few athletic super-humans, 100 miles is but a walk in the park. For the rest of us mortals, it’s a challenge that will reduce you to nothing and somehow, through pain and misery, inspire you to keep getting stronger.
I finally bagged my first 100 mile race. Writing those words brings tears to my eyes so this post will take on a life of its own and may very well make zero sense once complete.
- Race: http://www.devildogultras.com/ 
- Where: Prince William Forest (near Quantico, VA)
- When: December 7, 2019
Warning: this is a brief but sappy thread showing some of my true self. You’ve been warned.
It was my early 20s and I looked in the mirror one Spring evening. Summer was almost here and I was starting to think about the next chapter in my life. As I saw my reflection, I was hit with a wave of disappointment. I was immediately angry. My grades, my attitude, my behavior, my body were not a reflection of the standards I was taught nor held for myself. I remember this moment as if it were yesterday and still have that flimsy mirror hiding in the basement. I called myself out that evening and flipped a switch inside to redefine myself.
I re-committed myself to my crafts. School first, my body second, the relationships around me third. It was a determination and focus that’s hard to describe. None of it easy nor did the results come over night. Years passed and the hard work started paying off. Finding career success, meeting my now wife (and not screwing it up), building new relationships, and countless hours committed to living a healthy lifestyle. I was happy and reveling in the fruits of my labor.
My early 30s brought on some unexpected drift. Nothing bad but the focus and pursuit were not there. I laid in bed one New Years Eve and relit the fire. First, eliminating anything that wasn’t adding value. Second, back to taking care of my body and back to marathon training. Third, defining my career by my terms not others (insert garbage LinkedIn post). Things immediately improved. The goals mindset carried into every pocket of my life, giving me purpose and appreciation. One marathon turned into many and many marathons allowed ultra distances to become the focus.
I ran my first 50 miler in 2017 and completed my first 100 miler in December 2019. I worked my ass off for years to reach this goal. It didn’t happen overnight and without unwavering support from Nicole and the people I choose to surround myself with. 5am wake ups for a decade and counting. Fueling my body with healthy foods. Committing to rest and sleep. Giving up alcohol and nights out with friends. Fighting injuries and pain and learning *my body.* Relearning the meaning of trust and patience. Running when my mind didn’t want to. Running when my body didn’t want to. None of it easy.
So running has become much more than a hobby for me. It’s a mechanism to hold myself accountable while doing something I love. A mechanism to bring out the best in me that carries into all aspects of life. 100 miles is just the latest chapter in discovering my best self. As much as Devil Dog gives me a sense of accomplishment, I’m mostly proud of the near 15 year journey. And I’m excited to continue redefining myself, to keep dreaming, keep moving, and keep working my ass off to find my best self.
What I loved
I finished. My only other attempts at 100 miles were failed attempts at four loops on The Wild Oak Trail (112 miles of unsupported, super technical, mountain running). The DNF’s weighed heavy on my mind and I’m beyond thankful to get this 100.
There really wasn’t any major low point in the 27+ hours. There were moments of doubt and even some passing thoughts on quitting but never any long suffering pity parties (spoiler, this is rare). When things got tough, I got focused on the next aid station. The last bit of loop 4 was the closest thing to a low point, albeit rather brief in comparison to past races. I was nearly 80 miles into the race and Saturday had turned into Sunday. I kept telling myself, 5.5 miles to the aid station, then 8, then 6. I kept telling myself, “I can do 5.5 miles.” For the first time, in a very long time, I kept my head in the moment and stayed true to the plan, to take it one section at a time.
My friend Erick, a super experienced ultra runner, kindly decided to crew me. We didn’t have much of a plan nor did I expect much other than to see him and likely have some company for a bit. Looking back, I can’t imagine finishing the race without his support. I first saw him at mile 36. I sat while he brought me food, refilled my bottles, and gave me all sorts of encouragement. This was repeated at varying aid stations all the way until the bitter end. He also joined me for loop 4, patiently shuffling through the woods while I was somewhat quiet and not moving very fast. The best and most powerful message of the entire weekend was shortly after 3a on Sunday: I was sitting by a fire after finishing loop 4. I was tired and less than excited about another loop. I ate and hydrated and rested for a few fleeting moments to recharge myself. Erick came over, looked me dead in the eye and said,
“it’s 3:13a, you need to go.”
That was the defining moment of the weekend, the most powerful and memorable words of a 27+ hour adventure. He flipped a switch inside of me that set me out for the fifth and final loop with a purpose. For a sport that is highly individual and nonsensically selfish, none of it is possible without friends that hold you accountable and help you reach your goals.
To lighten this post up a bit: I like to judge races by my bm-to-fall ratio. Spoiler, I’m typically deep in the woods, and well, bathrooms are not even necessary. But past races have usually resulted in a few falls, some of which have led to a DNF. Sometimes it’s the gnarly terrain, other times it’s tired legs giving out, and other times it’s just a lapse of focus. I survived two very minor falls this weekend. The second was a near river bath if not for the tiny tree that I grabbed. While I don’t want to speak to the other side of this equation, I’ll just say I fell less.
What I learned
Patience. Hardly the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about running but patience is very much on the surface for every runner. Whether it’s patience towards training or recovery or goal setting, it’s often easy to forgo and find yourself doing too much too soon. Or burning your matches in the first 25 miles of a race. Devil Dog presented a mental challenge with five loops required to get that belt buckle. By the end of the third loop, I could recall every bridge, rock, and puddle. When your body gets tired, you think those objects are closer than reality and patience starts to run thin. I found myself repeating, “be patient” while I shuffled through the late hours, anxiously awaiting that next bridge, rock, and puddle. While I grew frustrated at times, my mantra kept me in the right frame of mind. I’d think about where I am and how lucky I am to be out in the woods. I’d think about my body and how lucky I am to be moving forward this late in the race. I was practicing patience and can confidently say that intention would have never crossed my mind a decade ago. A little bit older, a little bit slower, and maybe a little bit wiser.
Silencing the gremlins. I had some lingering back/neck issues coming into the weekend. I had a lot of race miles on my body and very little sleep in the bank with a 3 month old at home. These, in addition to a recent TWOT DNF, weighed heavy on my mind. During the race, my right calf/hamstring (really not sure) created some pain that made the last two loops far from enjoyable. It was easy to let the fear take over and make all the excuses for why I couldn’t finish 100 miles. I was in pain. I was injured. I was tired. I wasn’t strong enough. I wasn’t tough enough. All these thoughts raced through my mind the days leading up to Devil Dog and certainly showed up during the 27+ hours. When the gremlins in my head got loud, I shifted my thoughts to something positive. I am tough. I put in the work. I will finish. While I won’t be able to silence the gremlins for every race, I can use Devil Dog and past races to remind myself of what I can accomplish. A little bit older, a little bit slower, and maybe a little bit wiser.
Community. I saw sooo many familiar faces over the weekend. I couldn’t tell you what any of them do for a living but can tell you how kind, caring, and driven they all are. It warmed my heart to see so many friends, at the aid stations or on the trails, that were there to support all the runners. And I made new friends, friends that I’ll remember more than the bridges, rocks, and puddles. Many shared stories of their recent adventures and some shared inspiration for races ahead. For all the things I’m going to miss when we move to Seattle in April, the friends I’ve made through trail running is near the top of that list. A little bit older, a little bit slower, a little bit wiser, and a whole lot more grateful.