Where Have you Been

The last couple of years have been such a strange one for all of us. Here I am looking back and wondering how I got to this exact moment. I suppose we have all had that flash of clarity and wonder lately. For some, things are starting to go back to a semblance of a normal status.

As humans, we all want things to stay somewhat the same, but the truth is that change is a constant. Part of the problem with the last couple of years is that the change was so sudden and dramatic.

With change, we need some constant thread of stability. Sometimes that thread is merely hope.

My hope and stability was the 2020 Leadville Trail 100. Looking back, however, it ws probably a good thing that it was cancelled.

For most Americans, this strange trip started in March of 2020, but for me, it started in May of 2019, just before my first attempt at Leadville, when my wife and I purchased a camper and sold our house. The intention was to live in our mobile domicile while we built a house. The old one wasn’t what we had dreamt of, the new one would be away from town and in the woods, where we wanted to be in the first place.

Delays in the process are inevitable. Where exactly would we place the house on the property? Which direction would it face? Not to mention the layout of the house, siding, colors…and on and on. But my constant was running, I tried to keep my weekly miles up the best I could given the situation.

In the end, it all came together. The house was livable, not necessarily finished, in October of 2020. By then, I had been out of the habit of writing for so long that I just never started back. It would not be until Christmas 2020 that I even got a desk set up to write at.

And now, here we are in the autumn of 2021, I am reasonably settled into the house. There are still many projects to finish, there always will be, but I am recommitting myself to this blog. Life, like running, is about setting goals. My current goal is to post twice a month at minimum.

As for my running goals, watch for a future blog post!

These are the Days

A few drops of rain spattered on the windshield as we headed towards the forest for our training run. The temperature was already hovering in the low 40’s, so the rain wasn’t exactly welcome. Quickly, before cell reception was lost, we checked the radar on our phones.

The image on the screen wasn’t promising. As we moved north towards the trail head, an ominous colored blob on the screen was moving towards the west. We would be meeting the blob about the time we started our run.

A cold rain was not what I wanted to accompany me on my run, but it was what Mother Nature had dealt me. I tell myself that these are the days that build my inner strength, that build my mental fortitude and in a strange way, it builds my determination. It’s these bad days that numb me to the uncomfortable times that will surely come during an ultra-marathon.

We had not prepared for rain, the forecast from the night before had put it coming in later that afternoon, which is why we had opted to start this early. The cold front would not allow the temperatures to rise much, so my short sleeves would not be of much use. I did have a rain jacket in my truck, so that could be of some use.

As I head off, the rain gets harder, but the temperature is steady. The hourly forecast had been updated and now called for the rain to taper off, at least the last few miles might not be as bad.

My luck and, more importantly, the forecast, would not hold.

I am training for the Leadville 100 and the Rocky Mountains are notorious for changing weather conditions. This rain, I tell myself is merely a trial run for what lays before me. I will be running a race that could be in the mid 30’s at the start and climb up to the 70’s.

In the first few miles, I start to get use to the rain and being a little cold. I start to get my focus on the run and ignore the discomfort of the weather conditions.

These are the days that make us. If all the training miles were easy, we would not know how to handle the hard times during our races. As the old saying goes, smooth seas don’t make a sailor. Rain, cold, heat, hills; they make the runner. If I can learn to handle days like this, it will only help me in the end. It will not guarantee me a finish, it will simply aid me in my quest.

Leadville is a legendary race. It did not come by its reputation by being sunny and easy. The days when most people don’t run or opt to run on the treadmill, these are the days when I will earn my finish, these are the days that I will earn my buckle.


Thank You for Your Service

Over the last few years I have noticed that more and more people thank me for my service. At first it was somewhat awkward, I did not know how to respond. I was a teenager who wanted to serve my country and see the world, why would they thank me?  What was I suppose to say? You’re welcome just does not seem appropriate. Over time I have started saying “no problem” or what seems like the most standard for veterans- “I was just doing a job”.

Over time I have just come to accept it for what it is, a way for someone to show a little gratitude for sacrifices we have made. I have even noticed that veterans have started thanking each other. This seems to me like a verbal fist bump, as if saying “yeah, I understand”.

Last weekend, though, I received a thank you unlike any other I have heard. I was in Nashville and we had taken an Uber to get downtown. I ended up in the front seat and started a conversation with the driver. As it turned out he was Kurdish, I told him that I had been a part of Operation Provide Comfort and was stationed in Turkey after the first Gulf War. During this operation, U.S. and allied forces defended Iraqi Kurds and provided humanitarian relief.

It was dark and I could not see the driver’s face, but I heard his voice start crackling. He thanked me. He told me that I have no idea how many lives we had saved there. When he was 4 years old, Saddam Hussein’s forces bombed his village, killing his grandfather and 2 year old sister. One of his earliest memories is of the naked bodies of his family members and other victims being thrown into a mass grave on the same day of the bombing. I was in shock, no child should have to see this.

His enraged father became a leader in a humanitarian organization. Apparently, a fairly effective leader because a price was eventually put on his head. Bodyguards were a constant presence.

In 1996, they decided that they had had enough and immigrated to Nashville, Tennessee. Apparently, there is a large population of Kurdish immigrants in the area. So many that there is an area referred to as Little Kurdistan.

My driver now loves the area. He said that he once went back to his native land, but decided that the United States was now his home.

As the ride came to an end, he thanked me again and gave us some advice on places to go while we were in town. (if you are in the area make sure to check out Peg Leg Porker Bar-b-Que).

This is the one thank you that will always stand out to me. It wasn’t awkward, it was the most sincere one I have ever received. To my Uber driver, Shorishvan, you are very welcome!


Leadville, what can I say that hasn’t been said. She is a brutal course, full of challenges. This is what attracted me, along with hundreds of others, to the race. Perhaps the allure of some of the best views in ultrarunning tempt us to forget the trials and hardships to get there.

While 4 a.m. may sound early, it can’t come soon enough when you are full of anticipation and excitement. The early time also provides for a nice cool start (38 degrees). In the darkness of the hour, the excitement and anticipation could be seen and felt in the air. We were all here for the same reason. The personal challenges lay before us, spread out over 100 miles.

The race starts at 6th and Harrison Avenue, right in the middle of town, a fitting place since it seems that the entire town revolves around this race for several days. We followed 6th street to the edge of town, then turned on to a dirt road. It was here that my first surprise happened. While I had studied the course, it never occurred to me that over 600 runners hitting a dirt road at once would create so much dust. While my training had been on dry dirt roads, it just never crossed my mind that I would encounter these conditions in Colorado.

This section did provide a couple memorable sites that one can only see during the race. While on the dirt road, we had a small climb. It was here that I looked ahead, only to see a glow of headlamps accentuated by the dust in the air.

I had read that the headlamps reflecting in the waters of Turquoise Lake create a majestic site. This year it was only enhanced by the glow of a nearly full moon. It was here that the photographer in me came out, torn between my two passions, this day running would be first.

This first section was the only one that I was even remotely familiar with. Last year we had camped on Turquoise Lake and I had ran several miles of the trail around it. I knew that it was somewhat technical. This section would be my downfall.

Around mile 10 my left foot landed on a rock at an odd angle, it twisted my foot and knocked me off balance. When I fell, I tucked and rolled, managing to come out unscathed-or so I thought. No blood, no foul. As I continued on, I started feeling an aching in my left leg. It seemed to be centered behind my knee and radiate into my calf and hamstring.

The first aid station, May Queen, came up at mile 12.6, the plan was to exchange my jacket and headlamp for sunglasses and get out of there quickly. As my wife helped me, I mentioned the fall in passing. I still thought it would be ok, the pain was a dull ache, but nothing major. I managed to move in and out as planned. Off to the next aid station at mile 23.5-Outward Bound.

This next section provided me with the other big surprises of the day. The first being that after a couple of miles of climbing, I could hear cheering in the distance. I knew that I was nowhere near the Outward Bound aid station. I also knew that it was in a flat field, we were on a mountain. I looked down the mountain, towards the cheering and realized that I had climbed up the mountain above the aid station, those few miles had been steeper than I realized, but I was feeling good.

The other surprise of this section was the flatness. While I had heard that there were some flat sections, I envisioned something more like the small Arkansas hills, not the Kansas plains. I could actually see the aid station for about a mile and a half before I got there. It was on these flats that my leg started getting worse. The combination of flat areas and asphalt must have aggravated it.

One of my biggest fears before the race was not being able to find my wife/crew in the crowds. While there were many people crowded around the aid station, I found my wife right of the bat, she had positioned herself so that I could find her without looking too hard.

My R8 Recovery Roller was pulled out. While this device can feel intense, I knew that this is what I needed. The plan was for me to only stay for a couple of minutes, drop my trash and reload my pack and get back out on the course. I did take a little longer than intended, but I needed the time to massage my leg. This extra time wasn’t anything to worry about since I was doing well on time.

Leaving the Outward Bound aid station, I had been warned that it was a field riddled with unseen holes created by prairie dogs. This fact kept echoing in my mind, I did not want to take another fall, so I eased through the next mile or so, eating, scanning for those small pits and wondering when I would get back on those mountains.

Little did I know that before I could get back into the mountains and trees, I would have several miles of roads, both dirt and asphalt. These miles were painful. It started to feel like a stabbing on the back side of my knee. It radiated up into my hamstring and down into my calf.

Finally, I started to get into trails again and start climbing Mt. Elbert. This mountain is the highest peak in Colorado. While I would not scale the peak, It felt like the climb would never end. It was here that I realized that I should have been carrying my trekking poles for the entire race. Not necessarily using them, but carrying them in my pack in case I needed them.

Short of flying out to Colorado, the only way to know the course was to study maps and race recaps. I spoke to people who had been there, who had run Leadville, who had hiked the area, but there was a gap in my mental picture – Outward Bound to Mt Elbert. All I really knew was to watch the field leaving Outward Bound. I wonder if this would have helped me plan better when things went wrong.

The next aid station after Outward Bound is called Half Pipe. I could not remember how far it was, making the plan to run from aid station to aid station and not think about the miles getting a little harder. While it was only about 6 miles, it felt like much more due to my leg.

I made the decision to stay with the plan and get in and out. I topped off my bladder and got a cup of ginger ale, then pushed on. I knew the next station was called Mt. Elbert and from there is was only a few miles to Twin Lakes where I would see my wife again.

Mt. Elbert is 6 miles from Half Pipe. These mile felt like they would never end. The climb wasn’t what bothered me, it was that leg. Climbing has never bothered me. I cannot be called a fast climber by any stretch, but I relish the challenge. This day, however, was different. One quote from Ken Chlouber, founder of the Leadville 100, is known for is “make friends with the pain and you will never be alone.” It was during this time that this quote started echoing in my head.

As hard as I tried, the pain did not want to play nice.

I reached the aid station and made the call to rest a few minutes. I sat down and drank a quick cup of coffee. I tried to stretch my leg and reset my mental focus, but I knew that I had to keep pressing on if I was going to finish.

From there it was mostly downhill into Twin Lakes. I began to realize that the pain was worse on the downhill. This was bad news, since I have always been better on the downhill, I had lost my strong point.

The entrance to Twin Lakes is a steep drop. With my leg, my footing was unsure. As I came down the embankment, I lost my footing, TWICE! Luckily, it was steep enough that I managed to almost sit down on my butt and slide both times.

I hobbled into the tent that First Descents had set up (I got into the race by raising funds for them). I was ready to quit, but my wife pushed me to keep going. She massaged my leg while the rest of my crew put a fresh bladder in my pack and got my trekking poles out. My friend Chad, who was to pace me from mile 50 to mile 75, ran with me through the tiny town of Twin Lakes, giving me advice for the next section.

Every race, whether a 5k or an ultra, has its challenges and demons. The biggest two in Leadville were on the next section, the crowning jewel of the Leadville 100 trail run, Hope Pass. This is the section I, along with most first timers, focus on, dread and obsess over 4 miles, 3,000+ feet of climbing on a somewhat technical trail. But before you get to the climb, there are 2 miles of fields, marsh land and water crossings.

The biggest water crossing is a river that was nearly knee deep and flowing fast with snow melt. Race officials had stretched a rope for us to hold while crossing. The water was so swift that I could feel it trying to pull me with each step. While most people would not want to attempt such a crossing, I remember thinking how great this was and how glad I was that I had pushed on. I remember wishing that the water was a little deeper so that it would ease my knee a little.

I stepped out of the water and faced the beast. I knew from the course descriptions that I had read the climb would start soon after the water crossing. I had also read that there was a creek next to the stream that should be enjoyed for a minute before heading on. The creek was raging this year. The roar was a nice distraction from the climb.

The climb-while it wasn’t as steep as I had imagined, it was a little more technical. Perhaps it seemed worse because the pain in my knee was getting so bad. It had gone from throbbing to a stabbing, but I wanted to see the top of this climb. The final three miles to the Hope Pass aid station took almost 2 hours.

Volunteers who had finished their shifts were on the way back down the mountain encouraged all of us to the top. They kept telling us that we were only about half a mile from the aid station. I know that they were just estimating but after hearing that so many times, I started to grumble to myself every time I heard it, at least until one of them looked at her GPS watch and said that it was .62 miles left and I had less than 5 minutes to get there.

Given my average pace and the pain, I knew that getting past Hope Pass would not happen. This destroys a person’s drive, and I was no exception. I feel like I slowed down even more.

As I entered the aid station, there was a man standing there pulling our timing chips. I knew it was over, or I thought it was. You see, there is no vehicle access to this particular point, I was told that I would have to get back to Twin Lakes aid station on my own.

So six miles back down the mountain.

The trail seemed even more treacherous on the way down. Each step reintroduced me to the knee pain. The only solace was that I wasn’t the only one who was making the descent of shame. Together, we talked and worked our way through the emotional pain of missing the goal that we had all set for ourselves.

We were total strangers bonded by a common dream that was now lost and a future goal that we collectively set for ourselves, to finish this race.

Over the last few weeks, I have come to realize that the Leadville 100 trail race is not so much a race as it is a virus, an illness. Somehow this event gets inside a person. It takes over ones soul like a demon. There is only one true way to exercise that demon…

Don’t Ring the Bell

As I stood at the starting line that dark Saturday morning, the air was crisp, but not too cool. While it felt good, I knew the comfortable temperatures at the start would mean that later in the day I would be uncomfortably warm. Still, I had an objective, a mission to do. I was there to run 100 miles. I had tried it before, things did not go well.

In the year since my last attempt, I had learned much about ultrarunning, about training for 100 miles and most importantly about myself. I started this year out with a mission of finishing the 2 races that I had failed to complete last year, I had completed the first one in January and now I needed this last one.

The gun went off and I knew that I had to pace myself. Just enjoy the first few miles and save energy for the long road ahead. It was still dark until I was almost to the first aid station. Everything seemed to be flowing perfectly. I focused on running aid station to aid station, not thinking about the miles left or the challenges that I may face.

It was through this area that I started a mantra. I was wearing the KIA bracelet for a fallen Navy SEAL named Adam Brown. Call it fate or call it divine intervention, I ended up with the bib number 24, Adam’s football jersey number.

SEAL training has what is called Hell Week. During this time, trainees are subjected to superhuman tests. They are almost constantly moving on minimal sleep for 132 hours. The trainee can stop anytime they want, therefore quitting the SEALS, the catch is that they must stand in front of all the others and ring a bell. The sound of the clanging bell announces to the world that you did not have what it takes to finish the test.

I started to think of this race as my Hell Weekend. I had a mission and I would not quit, I would not suffer ringing that figurative bell in my ears again. This was just the line of thinking I needed because I don’t remember a time after that point that I thought about quitting. I just kept telling myself, don’t ring the bell-don’t ring the bell!

The miles clicked off and before I knew it, I had reached Lake Sylvia, the first station where my crew would be waiting. A quick shirt change into a singlet, I grabbed a sandwich and was out. I’ve done more hill repeats on the stretch coming out of Lake Sylvia than I could count. This could be dangerous, I could get over confident and burn myself out in that section. I made it a point to hold back through here.  On to Pumpkin Patch at mile 22, Electronic tower at 24.6 miles,  then on to Lake Winona at 31 miles, calling to the radio operators as I left each one- 24 out. This is done for safety and to track each runners progress.

Running has it’s ups and downs emotionally and Electronic Tower to Lake Winona provided my first down. The stretch seemed to drag on. In years past there had been an aid station between to two. This year race officials eliminated it and moved them slightly closer together. Don’t ring the bell.

At Lake Winona I had my entire crew waiting. Change of socks and shoes and a few minutes of stretching and I was ready again. As I left, I told my pacers to be ready, they WOULD run with me this year. Last year they didn’t get that chance.

By this point it was getting warm. I had to change my nutrition strategy. I had planned on gels and waffles between aid station, but they just didn’t taste good. Not that my stomach was bothering me, they just were not doing the trick. I made the call to switch to Tailwind  as my primary calorie source between the aid stations and rely on the solid foods provided at the stations.

I settled into a rhythm, not looking at the time, just running. I wasn’t wearing any GPS watch, just a cheap Casio I had bought earlier in the week. As I neared the Power Line aid station at mile 48, I realized that I was about half an hour faster getting to that aid station than the previous year.


At Power Line (mile 48). Best Coke ever!

At this point a runner can pick up a pacer. Someone to help guide you, to make sure you are eating and drinking enough and making sure you check in with the Ham radio operators as you left the aid stations. I had a pacer who was suddenly deployed and finding a replacement was tough, so I opted to run with out one for now. I would end up running 68 miles solo. I was on to the Copperhead aid station at mile 52. This would be a mental milestone for me. This was the aid station I dropped at last year. As I approached, I made the decision to move as fast as possible through it, I didn’t want to linger on the bad memories. If I had not needed to get water and food, I would have passed it.

As I waited for my water bottles to be filled, looked over at the chairs. Runners who had dropped out sat there in defeat. Wrapped in blankets and asking themselves what they could have done differently, I knew that feeling. They would face weeks of self questioning, wondering if they made the right call. They had rang the bell and I would not put myself through that again.

The Turnaround aid station was another mental milestone for me. At that point I was running back towards the finish line, there were only 42 miles left! This thought reinvigorated me, I wanted this. Back to Copperhead  then on to Power Line (mile 68) again.

At Power Line I was joined by Micah. She had never paced anyone in an ultra, but she had a very positive energy that I knew I would need through the night. She would take me back to Lake Winona (mile 84.8). Off we went over Smith Mountain.

Looking back, two thing during this time really stand out to me. The first is when we got to a clearing on Smith Mountain, I stopped and we turned off our headlamps. We just enjoyed the stars for a couple of minutes. This was a small reward to enjoy the beauty for a moment. The weekend had been about moving, sometimes it needs to be about stopping and enjoying.

The other thing that stands out was an odd thing that happened, I was nodding off while running. Somewhere between Bahama Mama (mile 72.6) and Club Flamingo (mile 76.4) I realized that as I ran, I was leaning on my trekking poles and almost falling asleep. I got a cup of coffee at Club Flamingo and continued. This woke me up just enough to stop the small naps between steps.

We continued towards Lake Winona, watching the lightening all around us. Wondering if we would get rained on or if we would have to whether a small storm. Luckily, it never happened. We got to Lake Winona just as the light started to appear on the horizon. I quickly got what I needed and thanked Micah for her help.

Shauna would be joining me from here on out. She and I have ran many miles together, I knew she could push me if needed. We headed out for Electronic Tower (mile 91.2) just before sunrise. This would be a key aid station. If I made it past there before the cutoff, I would be allowed to finish regardless of 30 hour time limit. The problem was that this would be the longest most miserable stretch. I had not been close to cutoffs, but my energy was fading.

She would push me, while not telling me anything about pace or distance. We both knew that I did not need to know that information, I just needed to keep moving as fast as I could.

It was during this stretch that I realized that my perception of time and distance were way off. The miles dragged on and on. After what felt like days, we finally reached Electronic Tower, I would be a finisher! I was tired and beaten, but I would be able to finish. My friend Tina was there and gave me a zip lock bag of chocolate covered espresso beans that ended up carrying me through.

I always thought that I would be a little emotional at the end. As it turned out, my emotional moment came at mile 93.7, Pumpkin Patch. A lady named Lisa Gunnoe introduced me to the world of trail and ultra running. I paced her when she ran this race the first time. While she finished that year, she has tried unsuccessfully two times since, this year became the third unsuccessful try.

At some point during the night, I got word that she had dropped out. I knew she would be at Pumpkin Patch since her family volunteered there. As I rounded the corner, she stood there in the middle of the road, tears rolling down her cheeks. As she hugged me, I told her how sorry I was that she wasn’t able to finish. Lisa said to me that she wasn’t crying for her race, but that she was crying because she was so proud of me. After we had our moment, her family and some of our friends came over and took care of me.

A little over 6 miles left and I was ready to be done. I had 3 miles to a creek crossing, one mile from there to the last radio check station and then 2.5 miles to the finish. I was ready, so we ran a bit. I felt like we had ran for a couple of miles, but no it was only a couple of minutes. I would take a walk break then run again and repeat. Shauna and I had found a pace that felt good to me and she kept me there (She still hasn’t told me what the pace was, but I know it was slow).

I was worried about the creek crossing. How would I do it on my worn out legs? Should I just push across and not worry about wet feet? When we got there, Shauna went first, finding any loose rocks. When she got across, she turned around and talked me across. In the end, I got across better at mile 97 than I did the first time at mile 18.

I had done many hill repeats on this last couple of miles of the course. It’s near an area that we camp and train at often. I knew that it would be a mile and a half of down hill and some flats then one last small hill to the end. I ran the down hill as much as I could.

The one uphill that had scared me during all the training was that last one. It’s not really that steep, I just wondered how it would feel to run it with 99+ miles on my legs. As it turned out, I opted to walk it. I did know that there was a point where the hill leveled off and actually went down a little, there was a road sign there that had always been a marker in my mind. Traveller

At that point, I ran as well as my worn out, chafed legs would allow. I had always thought that I would be extremely excited and over joyed to cross the finish line. In the end, it was just sense of being done. It was an odd feeling, not exhaustion, I just wanted to stop running. There was too much adrenaline to be sleepy, this was the most worn out yet awake and in the moment I have ever been. I had not rang the bell, I had survived my own little Hell Weekend. After 29 hours and 20 minutes, I turned to the Ham radio operators and gave my final check-24 DONE!

Ever Changing Motivation

The sun was beating down, it seemed like there had only been two or three days of nice spring like temperatures. Now summer was here in it’s full fury. Beads of sweat gathered on my hat bill, hanging for a second or two before giving up. That’s about how I felt, like giving up. I’ve hung on as long as I could, just turn around and go home.  Something made me keep moving up the hill, but asking myself why the hell I was doing it.

Recently, I was asked about my motivation. I thought of the high cholesterol and blood pressure that I had been trying to correct when I started. Those problems are a distant memory, so what kept me going? It wasn’t the weight, somewhere along the way running to lose weight had given way to keeping weight down so I could run better, in a weird twist the two had switched places on my priorities list.

I reached the top of the climb and looked ahead. A nice down hill and then another climb. Why am I doing this? If I go down that hill, it will only become an uphill climb on my way back. For some reason I kept moving forward, down the hill and up the next. Why am I doing this?

Somewhere in all of us there is a tiny spark of motivation. What each of use chooses to do with that spark, defines us. When we feed this motivation continually, that is what people remember. This is where we grow physically and mentally. Those that keep moving have learned to nurture that spark and grow it. It’s like kindling in a fire, if you don’t feed it, the flame will go out. If you watch it, nurturing it, then the fire will grow, sometimes beyond control.

Our motivation must be ever evolving. Always moving towards the next hill. I think this is why many people fail to keep the weight off. Their goal is to lose a certain amount of weight and once they reach that point, the motivation is gone. There is no longer a reason to maintain a healthy lifestyle. With their motivation gone, the kindling burns out, there is no more fuel in the fire. When we find one little bit of motivation, one piece of kindling, we start. If we don’t add to that kindling, we stand a high chance of failure. Why? Because the fire no longer has fuel to maintain or grow.IMG_9406

When the flame on the log is getting low, we stir the fire and add another log. When the flame of your goal is low do you stir it and add another? Did you run a half-marathon? Good, then set a goal to do it faster or do a full marathon.

Many of us began our journey due to health problems, for others it was to support a friend or family member. Eventually, that motivation is going to vanish. Things change, goals change and when they do, that’s where many people have trouble. They stop nurturing that fire within. Just keep looking to the next peak, the top of the next hill and keep moving towards it.

Something pushes me to keep moving until I get to my turn around point. I stop and look at where I came from all the hills and challenges and start heading back. Those nice downhills are now climbs, those climbs that I cursed in the beginning are now my friends. I realize that nothing in life has actually changed except my perspective. I look at those hills and challenges differently now, once they were an excuse, now they are merely a small obstacle.



My Favorite Mile

Each year, I run many miles. Some on the road, some are on the trails. I have my preferred routes. For example, Hot Springs National Park just up the road from my house, a full loop around the park can get me up to 17 miles with roughly 3,300 feet of elevation gain. I can zigzag around the trails and get many more if needed.

My neighborhood has several subdivisions that I loop around. I know the distance of each loop off the top of my head. I know that if I have “x” miles left that I can go to this loop or that one. I have even made Strava segments for these loops, just to keep an eye on my progress.

Still other times, I will go out to the Ouachita National Forest and run different routes there. Usually I will run on part of the Arkansas Traveller 100 course, just to get more familiar with it. The views there are amazing and there is camping nearby.

Out of all of these miles, though, there is one that stands out for me each and every year. At mile 16 of the Arkansas Run for the Fallen, we take a small detour off of the main highway to the front of an elementary school.

Several years ago, we decided to start the run on Friday and run through the weekend. Until then we had just ran on Saturday and Sunday. Word got to an elementary school on our route that we would be going by during school hours. To our surprise, the teachers, faculty and students were all outside as we came by, cheering for us while waving signs and flags.

Part of our mission is to teach others about the fallen heroes that we honor, so it was a natural progression of our mission to move the hero marker to the front of this school. This would allow the children to take part in honoring the fallen and learn about the costs of freedom. While it does make for a long mile, the reward is the greatest experience. With motorcycles and police cars in front and behind us, we turn off of the main highway and go several blocks up a small hill and then make a right.

As we come up the hill, you can hear something faint in the distance, over the sound of the roaring motorcycle escorts. If you have never ran this mile, you might not be able to distinguish what it is, but you can hear a distinct rhythm.  We draw close to the school and it becomes clearer, the sound is children chanting -U-S-A!-U-S-A!-U-S-A! The chants drive our cadence as we push up the hill. We can feel the energy and excitement as we near the small turnaround in front of the school.

As we approach the flag pole, the chanting stops, slowly fading as we assemble. These 85 children, all in the 5th and 6th grades know what we are doing. They have adopted this hero as their own and are there to honor him with us. This hero is SFC Kevin P. Jessen.

With children this age, silence is often lacking. Some how these kids all remain silent as the name and brief biography of SFC Jessen is read. We then come to attention and salute this hero and the chanting starts again.

We then make a loop around the front of the school and high five all of the kids that we can. We are made to feel like star athletes, not because we are fast or that we are running ridiculous miles, but because we are honoring the heroes of this state.

Just a Warm Up

There are many things I love about ultra running, the time in the woods, the people, and as crazy as it sounds, I love the hours spent training and planning. Pushing myself to past my perceived limits has taught me a lot about myself and the world around me. It has inspired an entirely new level of self-confidence.

There are a few thing that I don’t like, for instance the time spent dropping water and extra food, sometimes this can take awhile. The main thing that I don’t like about it is the “but” and “only” I started hearing. You see, I have noticed that once people find out that I have ran ultra marathons, I tend to get these. As in “I know it’s only a warm up to you, but I signed up for my first 5k.”

So what if it’s only a 5k, you’ve set a goal and you are trying to achieve it. Seeing someone finish a 5k is as exciting to me as any other race. What makes it so great is seeing someone do something that they once viewed as impossible, a mental barrier has fallen.

Watching others do incredible things inspires me, and when I see the person who has lost weight cross their first finish line, I get inspired. When someone takes a few seconds off their personal best time, I get inspired. When someone sets a lofty goal and starts reaching for it, I get inspired.

Just be forewarned, if you tell me that you have done a distance and are thinking about going longer, I will push, pull, prod, and goad you until you sign up for that race. Thinking about it will not get anything done and I want to see you do it. .

Ultimately, the greatest thing we can do for the world around us is to inspire each other. If someone looks at me and decides to do a 10k because they saw me do 100k, then that is a gift to both of us.


After failing to complete the Arkansas Traveller last October, I had to take a long look at my goals and priorities. Did I want to attempt another 100 miler and take a chance on my IT band giving out or getting worse? Should I even attempt it? Most of all I had to search myself and decide if I still had the confidence to attempt 100 miles again.

In the end, I realized why I was so down about it. It was because I had 2 goals in 2017 and had let both of them slip away. First, it was Bandera 100k (you can read about it here). Then there was the Arkansas Traveller. While my times had improved and I had done well at a couple of races, my goal was not to get faster, the goal was to have those 2 finishers buckles.

So, it was decided that 2018 would be my year of redemption. I would make a go at those races again. First up-Bandera, TX on January 6th. The timeline for training would be tight, but doable. I spent the last few months working on my hip and glute strength hoping to correct and rehab my IT band. I put in my long runs, but didn’t feel like it was enough. I had 24 hours to complete the race and was afraid that I would use it all.

Its fitting that the finishers medals and buckles for Bandera have a rattlesnake on them, because the race will bite you. It is a fierce course, so when I stood there at the starting line, I told myself that no matter how bad it got, how miserable the conditions, this would be a “no fail mission”.

IMG_0114With a sellout race, the first few miles were stop and go. This section can get a little technical and had some climbs, but it has one of my favorite climbs, Sky Island. You climb to the top and circle the hill, taking in views of the canyons below. The crowd had started to thin, the elites had started to pull away.

I knew that we would thin out even more around the first aid station (mile 4.7) and it did. It was around this time that I ended up behind a lady.  She offered to let me by.  I declined, letting her know that she was keeping a good pace for me. I knew that if I got out on my own this early, I might try to keep up with the faster runners and burn out. My goal was to finish, not place.

The second aid station was nearly 7 miles from the first. It was a fairly runnable section, but it still took awhile to get there. Once there, my new running buddy (who I had learned was named Liz) got out of there before me.

Somehow, I caught back up to her before we got to the third aid station, Chapas, at mile 16.28. We were halfway through the first loop and knew it was about to get technical again. Liz and I agreed to stick together as long as we could. Her friend, Christian, had been feeling good and she sent him ahead, so she welcomed the company.

Over the next few miles, we talked books, TV, politics, family and whatever else passed the time. All the while I knew what was coming, the 3 hills that I have a love/hate thing for. I hate going over them, but love the fact that I tackled them – Lucky’s Peak, Cairns Climb and Boyle’s Bump. I tried not to think about the fact that I would have to do them again-in the dark. In fact, with each step, I kept asking myself how I would feel in 31 miles.

We hit each one and I handled them better than I had thought. I guess I have improved my uphill more than I realized. My legs felt good and my mind was strong. I had not experienced any major lows, no thoughts of quitting.

The next big obstacle would be the loop. This is where I dropped last year, so it had been on my mind for 12 months. I had opted to leave my drop bag in my camper, which was within eye sight of the start/finish line. My reasoning was that I could get to my stuff without dealing with other runners and I could also change clothes much easier if that was needed. This can be a double edged sword. When I went in, I could see my own bed and pillow, a full fridge and my heater.

However, I was mentally prepared for this. I knew that I needed to get in and out before I got comfortable. My focus all along was on starting the next loop. I had been training myself to think about the next aid station and when I got there I was able to mentally rest and focus on the next one, so leaving was easy.

I met back up with Liz and off we went. I told myself that once at the next aid station, we would be committed to finishing. A little way up the trail, Liz asked if I had left a note for my wife, who was doing the 50k. I was so focused on getting in and out that it hadn’t occurred to me. I said that I didn’t but I left my dirty socks in the floor, so in a way I had.

We needed to get as many miles done as possible before sunset. The trail is very technical. Loose rocks, cactus and  sotol bush are tough in the daylight, but limited light makes it all the worse.

IMG_0121It was somewhere along here that I heard some runners behind us, I turned to see Gordy Ainsleigh coming up.  He caught up and ran with us for a mile or so, talking and smiling the whole time.

After the first aid station, the next section would be tough mentally, this is the stretch that was nearly 7 miles. We were loosing light fast so the headlamps came out, but not before we were treated to a Texas Hill Country sunset.


Much of the next 20 or so miles seem like a blur.  I just kept moving. The advantage to the darkness is that you don’t see the hills ahead. The downside is that you can’t see to get your footing as well. We started hearing the coyote and feral hogs. There is a lot of wild life, but I only heard it.

By this point, I had mastered not counting the total miles, just how many to the next aid station. I never wanted to run 62 miles, I wanted to do a bunch of 5-6 mile runs, back to back.

Around the YaYa aid station, it hit me, I was really going to do it. We were at mile 53.5 and I felt good. Not great, but I knew that I could push through. There was only one aid station left, the 3 hills are all that lay between me and the finish line. Off to challenge Lucky’s Peak, Cairns Climb and Boyle’s Bump for a second time today.

If you had asked me before the race, I would have said that the low point would be somewhere around Lucky’s. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t the best mentally, but I was ready for the lows and I was able to push up the hill. Then into the aid station called Last Chance.

This would be a big mental boost. Yes, there were still 2 good climbs to go, but knowing that you are that close to the end caused an adrenaline rush. It was at Last Chance that Liz saw a familiar face, her friend Christian. He had stopped there to rest and relax for a few minutes. He got up and joined us for the last 4.5 miles.

The thing about ultra running is that when you get to this late in a race, its rare to have company, unless you have a pacer. Here we were, 3 runners and several more had shown up around us. For 2-3 miles, we had a line of people. One by one they dropped back, until it was the 3 of us again. All the new company had distracted me from the climbs, all were in good spirits, especially after so many hours on the course.

We tackled Cairns then Boyle’s and knew we were close. We cold hear the noise drifting up the mountain.  I thought at one point I heard my wife cheering runners in.  As much as I love downhills, this last one went on forever. Maybe it seemed longer because I knew that at the bottom there was a nice flat road leading up to the finish.

Suddenly, I saw an old, abandoned barn. I knew this barn sat just a few yards from the point where the trail hit the flat road. All would be okay.  Liz would get her PR and Christian and I would earn our first 100k buckles. That last half a mile or so seemed surreal.

We rounded the corner and there were just a couple of people, my wife and some volunteers. Not a huge crowd like a road race. I remember a man came up to me and asked for the timing chip on my ankle. The edited version of my thought is “how does this dude expect me to bend over to get it off?” My wife was there, but she was focused on taking pictures and for some reason, I couldn’t articulate to get her to help me. (She actually got a blurry picture of me pointing at my leg.)

Finally, Mr Timing Chip figures out that I am in no condition or mood to do a yoga move to get this stupid chip off, he reaches down to help me. As he does, another man taps me on the arm, trying to hand me something. “What’s this,” I asked. He said “It’s your buckle.”

After spending the last 2 years thinking about that snake adorned buckle, somehow in the last 19+ hours, I had stopped thinking about the prize and started focusing on the journey. The effort and commitment are now my prize and the buckle is merely a souvenir.





New Year, New Me!

With Christmas just a couple of weeks away, many people are thinking about the traditions of the season and celebrations to come. One such tradition that I have never really taken to is the New Year’s resolution. The whole “new year, new you” thing has always felt odd to me.

Why do you need a calendar to get rid of bad habits or make a positive change in your life? What one really needs is commitment and dedication. Gyms across the country will be booming for the first few weeks of January, only to slowly fade back to normal.  Big box retailers will have sales on the latest fitness equipment, diet meals and smoking cessation aids.

Don’t misunderstand me, I am all for someone turning their life around, I just feel that making a New Year resolution has become more a fad than a commitment. The first change that has to happen is the mind, not the calendar. Once the mind is in the right place, that’s when the magic happens.

A person becomes dedicated to the new lifestyle, the feeling of being fit. The strange thing is, with this comes other changes. You no longer want the same things in life. One starts to view life differently, priorities change. Over the course of months and years, you become a completely different person. You might not realize this until there is a reminder thrown at you, like an old picture of yourself or you run into an old friend.

Nearly four years ago, I put on some cheap shoes that I had bought at Wal-Mart and I tried to run. In my mind, I wasn’t a runner, I was a wannabe. Slowly, I became a runner, but I started experiencing life more as I ran more. My perspectives changed, I no longer wanted the same things out of life.

As I have continued to evolve, I have come to the conclusion that I don’t belong in the job I have been doing. Not that I’m unhappy, it just not where I am destined to be, as if my universe is out of sync. So today, after 8+ years of working at the same auto body shop, I gave my notice.

January 1st, I will start a new chapter in my life. For the last few months, I have been working part-time at my local Fleet Feet and I have decided to go full-time with them. It is a scary but exciting change in my life, but I am looking forward to not just going running, but living it.