Born to Run 2017 Race Report

Background

This was the 4th year I participated in Born to Run, a multi-day trail running event held on a cattle ranch in the foothills of Los Olivos, CA, about 45 minutes north of Santa Barbara.

Though the event takes its name from the 2009 book of the same name and is organized by Luis Escobar, the photographer from the book, I didn’t know about it until 2013 after hearing about it from a blogger I came across online who was into minimalist running. Several race distances are offered: 10 mile, 30 mile/50k, 60 mile/100k, 100 mile, 200 mile and 4-day. There’s even a 0.0k that people pay for. And can participate “virtually”. Yeah, I don’t understand either. People camp in tents, SUVs, camper vans and various sizes of RVs. There are no showers. The only available restrooms are porta-johns that can get pretty… inhospitable… by the end of the weekend. Several side activities happen during the weekend (some ad hoc as people get motivated to organize): bola races (a game/sport of the native Mexican Raramuri tribe that involves kicking and chasing a small wooden ball soccer-style while running), a beer mile, sometimes a “vertical mile” with donated Patagonia swag to be picked up along the way, an archery race, a “no-talent” show, and bands on Friday and Saturday nights, the latter having morphed into a “dirtbag prom”.

I had signed up for the 100k initially that first year but had to drop down to the 50k after experiencing some foot pains in the weeks leading up to the event and was not confident I could run that distance with the injury. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as I was able to hang out more and make many new friends during the downtime. I have run the 30 mile/50 km offerings ever since. The event has become to mean much more than just a trail race; it is a yearly opportunity to unwind and reconnect with some of the most down-to-earth, fun-loving, unafraid-to-let-loose-and-get-funky people I have ever met.

Deliberations

(Kinda boring, if I do say so myself. Feel free to skip this section.)

Fast forward to this year, I went back and forth quite a bit about making it out to the ranch. I had initially put it on my race calendar, as it has become something I look forward to every year, but between hearing that a number of my friends were not likely going to make it this year and obligations at home falling on the same weekend, making it happen was going to be a challenge. My friend Toni, a fellow Michigander who I met at Born to Run in 2014, was also going back and forth due to various things going on in her life. In the end, she ended up pulling the trigger, which was enough to push me over the edge and sign up as well.

Typically we have headed out on Thursday morning, flown into LAX, rented a car and driven the 112 miles in time to get reacquainted with our friends and participate in the side activities starting that afternoon. Unfortunately this year Toni could only fly out on Friday, so I did the same to simplify the travel arrangements of getting between the airport and ranch.

Additionally, this year my youngest daughter had a 5k scheduled for Sunday morning through the YMCA’s Girls on the Run (GOTR) program and my oldest daughter had a voice recital scheduled for Sunday evening. I sometimes feel that my involvement in these endurance sports can be a bit selfish, so I try to minimize its impact on the family schedule. There was no way I was going to make it to the 5k if I did Born to Run, so instead I ran with my youngest daughter in another local 5k the weekend before as well as a “practice” 5k at the after-school GOTR practice during the week. I booked an early flight back to Michigan so that I could arrive in time to see my oldest daughter in her recital at 7pm. This would require getting up at 5am to pack up after racing, hit the road by 6am to do the 2 hour drive back to LAX, return the rental car, take the shuttle to the terminal and get through security in time for a 9:25am flight that would put me back in Michigan around 5pm, assuming there were no delays. To maximize the buffer time, I bit the bullet and parked in the airport parking garage rather than using the much cheaper off-site US Park. I also packed everything I would need for the weekend into a carry-on (a backpacking pack) so that I wouldn’t need to wait to retrieve anything from baggage claim after I arrived back in Detroit.

As far as which distance to race, I was torn between the 30-mile and 60-mile offering. As mentioned earlier, I’ve done the 30 mile/50 km race for the past 3 years. I’ve found it to be a good balance of being a legitimate ultra effort yet leaves enough time to hang out with friends and participate in Saturday’s other activities. However, I’m also in process of training for another 100-mile ultra marathon in June and had already done a 50k ultra at the end of April, so the 60-mile option would be a good stepping stone to further gauge my fitness level heading into the 100 miler. Toni had done the 60 mile event the past few years and highly recommended it, so I figured I would give it a shot. It would mean less time hanging out with friends, but I figured this would be the year to do it since there would be fewer friends around.

This ended up not being entirely true. As it turned out, most of my friends I thought weren’t going to make it were able to do so after all. There were some additional circumstances that I would argue did NOT make this a good year to try this distance, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

I received a text from Toni earlier in the week indicating that the forecast was calling for a high around 88ºF on race day. Great, I thought. Yet another hot race. I’ve been plagued by bad weather for many of my endurance events over the past few years. In 2014, my first ever 100k started out with the hottest day for that summer, then had a wind storm come through around midnight while we were running through the woods with trees swaying violently and dropping branches all around… one of the fortunately few times I’ve genuinely ever feared for my life. Later that year, the swim at Ironman Florida was canceled due to crazy waves and riptides and the bike segment had 30-40 MPH gusts of wind. In 2015, a heatwave struck the Pacific Northwest and I dealt with temperatures that topped out at 106ºF at Ironman Couer d’Alene. Last year’s Mohican Trail 100 high was around 96ºF, as was Ironman Chattanooga’s. The silver lining to all of these sufferfests, though, is that I’ve learned how to manage the heat:

  • Lube up the feet and any other place where friction is going to be an issue (including areas where the sun don’t shine). They are going to get wet either through sweat or from being doused with water.
  • Wear a visor rather than a hat to let the heat escape.
  • Wear loose, light colored clothing that can soak up doused water.
  • Wear arm sleeves and a bandana under the visor to protect your neck. Douse them, too.
  • Stuff ice cubes into the tops of the arm sleeves and let them melt between aid stations.
  • Don’t rely solely on addressing the heat at the aid stations. Carry an extra water in a bottle and douse regularly in between aid stations.
  • Favor dousing with water over drinking water, as evaporation is a more effective cooling mechanism and it’s important to save room in the stomach for actual food.
  • If an aid station has bucket with ice water sponges or towels, use them!
  • Stay on top of the nutrition. Eat a little bit at every aid station even if not hungry, as it’s possible you won’t want to eat later so it’s important to get the calories in early.
  • Wear and regularly apply sunscreen to any exposed skin. Though it’s not great to clog the pores, once the skin is damaged, perspiration – the body’s natural sweat evaporation cooling process – is also compromised.
  • Slow down. Duh.

Travel

Friday morning arrived. I met up with Toni at the gate at the airport shortly before the scheduled boarding time, only to find that our plane had been delayed… not due to mechanical issues or weather, but because Delta is in the process of changing terminals at LAX and the planes there were backed up getting assigned gates. So rather than circle in the air, they delayed our departure back in Detroit. Ugh.

Thankfully the flight was relatively uneventful. After grabbing our rental minivan, we grabbed lunch at a little hole-in-the-wall Greek restaurant near the airport I discovered on Yelp the first year I went to Born to Run called Aliki’s Greek Taverna. We picked up some baklava to share at the ranch then hit the road.

The drive typically takes about 2.5-3 hours in previous years when we’ve arrived on a Thursday, but due to the flight delay and it being a weekend, ended up taking an extra hour from the extra heavy LA traffic. While we were a bit frustrated that our already limited time with friends at the ranch was getting cut shorter and shorter, we managed the situation by keeping the windows rolled down the whole way, soaking in the warm California air, blasting tunes, and guessing the ages of palm trees we passed along the way. Somewhere near Camarillo we passed a strawberry field that was extremely fragrant and for a few brief moments that heavenly heady scent seemed to make everything all right in the world.

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Guessing the ages of palm trees (Photo credit: Toni Reese)

After making a stop in Santa Barbara to pick up some food and another in Los Olivos for a cooler and beverages, we arrived at the ranch around 5:30pm… too late for the beer mile but time enough to hang out for a bit and grab some dinner from the taco & burrito “truck” (a.k.a. RV) Luis’ sister runs at the event.

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Only a few minutes away! (Photo credit: Toni Reese)

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We have arrived!

Afterward, we partook in one of my favorite activities at Born to Run… dancing to the live music at night. The band that evening – Brass Mash, made up of a collective of saxophones and brass instruments – played some kickin’ mash-ups of various popular songs. As always, it was a blast to cut loose with the tribe and a great way to end the night.

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Brass Mash, yo (Photo credit: Tyler Tomasello)

Race Day

Morning comes early on race day, at least for the 30- and 60-milers. The race doesn’t start until 6am, but at 4:30am mariachi music is blared from the PA system at the center of camp. Around 5am Luis fires several rounds from a shotgun, yelling at everyone to get up and that all runners need to be at the starting line at 5:30am for instructions and announcements, etc. In the meantime, a mariachi singer serenades everyone as they perform their morning preparations.

After the announcements and instructions are given, the pledge that originated with Caballo Blanco at the race he held in the Copper Canyons in Mexico – “If I get hurt, lost, or die, it’s my own damn fault!” – is recited by everyone and the race begins.

The course is comprised of two loops on dirt roads and single track trails through the ranch. The loops are followed logically, though not even remotely geographically, like a figure eight. There is no map. The route is marked by pink ribbons for the first loop, yellow for the second. If you see blue, turn around. Blue is bad. The loops are approximately 10 miles each, though the distances are anything but certified and Luis is uninterested in their accuracy. Show him your Garmin and he’ll tell you to take a hike. This event is not about accuracy. It’s about a love of running and everything that comes with it, good or bad.

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Luis explaining the trail markings. (Photo credit: Toni Reese)

That said, in years past, the typical 50k (31 miles) and 100k (62 miles) ultra marathon distances were offered, but due to the logistical hurdles needed to add in the extra mile or two (not to mention the frustration of having to run past the start/finish and then turn around), the offerings were changed last year to multiples of ten. However, even though those multiples-of-ten distances were what was offered this year, the pink loop had to be re-routed due to where cattle were grazing on the ranch, so the loop ended up being 11 miles instead of 10 and about 1350 ft elevation gain instead of 970 (according to my Garmin data). So the 30 miler ended up being closer to 32 miles and the 60 miler closer to 63 miles (or 64, again, according to my Garmin…). C’est la vie.

Loop 1

The temperature was around 50ºF when the race started… quite pleasant running weather!

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And they’re off!

I was not looking forward to the hot afternoon temperatures, so although I made sure not to go out too fast, I tried to find a balance that would allow me to cover more ground early so that less time would potentially need to be spent in the heat.

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Catching the sunrise.

Toni and I stuck together for most of the first (pink) loop. Running is very much a social thing for me, so I also try to find a balance between finding the time to stick with friends and running at my own pace. At this point Toni started to slow down a bit, so I pulled out ahead, sticking to a pace that felt good but not so fast that I wouldn’t have enough energy to finish the 60+ miles.

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Eating hills for breakfast. (Photo credit: Toni Reese)

I finished the first loop in just over 2 hours, my Garmin showing 11 miles so far. After getting my water bottle refilled at the nearby aid station, I ran back to the minivan at camp, maybe 50-75 yards from the start/finish, and spent about 10 minutes preparing for the next loop. With the sun now low in the sky, I knew this loop was going to get warm as the morning progressed. I applied sunscreen to any exposed skin, applied Body Glide to my thighs to avoid chafing, threw on arm sleeves to protect my arms, and replenished the Tailwind energy drink in my handheld bottle.

Loop 2

The beginning of the yellow loop passes a watering trough that on this day seemed to be extremely popular with the local bee population. I had noticed quite a few bees flying around near the entrance to the ranch the day before, something I hadn’t seen in previous years and had wondered if it would be a problem at camp. I hadn’t noticed any back where the minivan was parked, but as I started off on this yellow loop I passed through a stream of hundreds… no, thousands… of bees that were flying between the trough and some unknown location to the right of me. I didn’t realize what it was until I looked over and saw them swarming all over the trough. At that point I wasn’t interested in figuring out where they were going to the right of me… I just wanted to get through them unscathed and not stung! Fortunately this was the case. The bees had better things to do and flew right around me.

I met up with Toni again briefly about a mile into the second (yellow) loop. She had passed me during the time I was prepping at the minivan. The rest of the loop I ran on my own. I lingered a bit at the aid stations to cool off but didn’t eat much… something I realized during the next loop that I needed to be better about.

I finished the second loop in about 2 hours and 15 minutes. Though slowing a bit as temps and fatigue started to rise, I was doing a good job of keeping a maintainable pace. Now 21 miles in, I knew the next loop would be rough, as the temperatures were already noticeably warmer and the sun was now above the hilltops. I did what I could to prepare for the heat. I stopped by the minivan again, re-applied sunscreen and Body Glide, refilled my water bottle with Tailwind and grabbed an extra water bottle so I could carry ice water to douse myself between aid stations. I changed my shirt from the dark red tech shirt from last year’s Born to Run to a white one to minimize heat absorption. I grabbed a white bandana and tucked it under the band of my visor to cover my neck. I also changed my shoes from the Altra Superior trail runners to a pair of Luna Mono sandals I had picked up the year before at Born to Run. There are a number of relatively steep descents on the yellow loop that caused my toes to ram into the front of my shoes and started to give me hot spots, so I wanted to give my toes a break. I figured I would give the sandals a shot on the pink loop since its descents weren’t quite as steep. I run quite a lot in my Lunas at home, though mostly on flatter terrain and nothing longer than a marathon. Unsure of whether my feet were ready for the wear and tear on the descents, I kept my Injinji toe socks on as a protective barrier, fashion be damned. Born to Run is definitely not a fashion show… well, not in the traditional sense.

Loop 3

About fourteen minutes later I was back on the pink loop. Little did I realize just how rough the third loop would be. Within about 30 minutes I was starting to get a little light headed so I stopped at the side of the trail in some available shade and recuperated for a few minutes. Less than 20 minutes later I had to do this again. Fortunately Wild Bill’s aid station was not too far away, so after I regained my composure again, I ambled down to it and recuperated there for about 15 minutes… sitting in the shade, eating what I could, refilling my water bottles with ice water. Best of all, they had towels soaking in ice water at this aid station. Glory be! I eagerly took advantage of that icy goodness.

Due to all of my stops, though I had past her early in the loop, Toni arrived at the aid station shortly before I was about to leave. She seemed to be handling the heat better than I. It was good to see a familiar face, though later she mentioned that I looked like I could strangle her for convincing me to run the 100k. After mentioning how woozy I had been, she urged me to stick around until she was done at the aid station. I contemplated finishing off the loop with her (she had dropped down to the 50k before the race started due to some shin issues she was experiencing), but I was eager to get this loop behind me. I figured if I could just get back to camp, I could take a short nap and re-assess my situation from there. So I told her I would just start walking, assuming that she would catch up at some point in the remaining 7-8 miles.

I was able to keep moving for about another 40 minutes before I had to stop and sit down at the side of the trail in some shade again. I did this about 3 times before reaching the next aid station, where I sat for about 10 minutes, taking in food, refilling my water bottles again, and letting my body temperature drop again. I didn’t meet up with Toni again, though I saw her approaching the aid station as I was leaving. Thankfully the end of the loop was only about 1.5 miles away at this point, which took me about 20 minutes to reach.

As a point of reference, when I ran the 30 mile option at Born to Run last summer, due to the cooler temperatures that year and the flatter pink loop, I finished in 5:10. With that in mind, and a 50-mile winter PR of 10:20, I had set an initial goal of finishing in 12-13 hours. But with the longer, hillier pink loop and high temperatures, it had take me 8 hours to go those 32 miles. With about half the distance still ahead of me, that initial goal was long gone.

After crossing the timing mat, I headed back to the minivan to formulate a plan. Though I had experienced some dizziness from the 96ºF heat at the Mohican Trail 100 last summer, 95% of that trail is under a tree canopy so that made it easier to get that under control early on using some ice-water sponges. I had never had to stop so many times before. Was I alright? My legs still felt fine. I didn’t feel exhausted; I just couldn’t muster much energy, if that makes sense.

On the drive to the ranch, Toni had been wavering between still attempting the 60 miles that she had signed up for and dropping down the 30 due to her shin issue. Hoping to help her come to a definitive answer, I had asked her, “What’s your ‘why’?”… what was she looking to get out of the experience? I now found myself asking myself the same question. I had signed up for the longer race because I thought it would be a good challenge and a better gauge of my readiness of the 100 miler I was planning on doing 4 weeks later compared to the 50k I had done 3 weeks earlier. And I had already told people I was doing the 60 miler… made it part of my Leukemia and Lymphoma Society fundraising campaign… and didn’t want to let anybody down. But part of me really only wanted to do the 30, as I would be missing out on hanging out with my friends on the ranch. I also didn’t know if continuing under these conditions was compromising my health and going to jeopardize my 100-miler attempt in any way.

I decided I would eat some food, take a quick nap, and see how I felt after that. My Garmin was at about 46% battery level, so I planned to charge it while slept.

The minivan – which I slept in the night before – seemed like it would be a bit warm, so I grabbed some food and climbed into one of a handful of hammocks that people had strung between a small grove of California oaks. After scarfing down a fresh peach, some Coco-roons, some tortilla chips and an almond butter packet, I set my phone alarm for 25 minutes, as I didn’t want to rest too long and risk having my legs cramp up. I didn’t sleep very deeply, as there was still a bit of commotion going on around camp, but it felt good to take that break regardless.

Around the time I planned to get up, Toni and her brother Tyler came by and found me on the hammock. We chatted a bit and I re-assessed my situation. I decided that since my legs still felt good, so as long as I stayed on top of my nutrition, managed the heat by continuously dousing myself with water and was able to make forward progress, I would continue and push through until the temperatures started to drop, if I could. I resigned myself to walking that fourth loop, as I figured that’s what it would take to do so.

Tyler also offered to pace me for the last loop, should I want it. I personally wasn’t sure if I would make it that far, but I figured we’d cross that bridge when I came to it and thanked him for the offer.

As I started to replenish my Tailwind I realized I had forgotten to start charging my Garmin. Great. It wasn’t going to last the whole race, but it should last at least one or two more loops, depending on how long they took. I figured I would probably stop for at least 20 minutes at the end of the 4th loop… probably even take another nap… so I would at least charge it for a few minutes while I continued to get ready for the next loop (which only increased the charge to about 48%) and then plan on charging it again when I came back to camp. I also had a choice to make with regards to footwear. The Luna sandals had worked well for the pink loop, but the yellow loop was going to have steeper descents. I wasn’t looking forward to having my toes ram the front of my shoes again, so I decided to chance it with the sandals again.

I also decided for this next loop I would listen to music or podcasts to help take my mind off the drudgery I was anticipating, so I grabbed my headphones and hit the trail.

Loop 4

The fourth loop once again started by running through the stream of swarming bees (no stings!) and was just as hot as the third. There were reports from others that it reached a high of between 93ºF and 96ºF. The temperature at the top of the hills seemed to be a few degrees warmer than in the valleys.

After stopping for a few minutes at the first aid station, which was only 1.5 miles from the start of the loop, I found myself getting dizzy again. I found some shade around the 3 mile mark and once again laid down at the side of the trail in some available shade for a few minutes. I did this again at the 3.5 mile mark. Then again at 4.

“What am I doing?” I thought. “I could just drop. I don’t really need to be doing this. I could be hanging out with my friends right now.” The specter of my first DNF hung over my head. “It would be a badge of honor. It would mean you gave it your all.” But I felt like I hadn’t given it my all. I was still making progress after all, albeit slowly. I still had food on me. I still had water and Tailwind. My legs weren’t cramping. It was only another 3 miles or so to the next aid station.

I thought about what it meant for gauging my fitness for the 100 miler. If I could push through, it would be a confidence booster for attempting Mohican again. If I didn’t… well, it left a big old question mark up in the air. Maybe it was just the conditions and I’d be fine at Mohican. Or maybe not. What will my legs feel like later in the race? Would I still have the mental fortitude to tackle the 100 again?

I thought about the people that had already made the donations to my fundraising campaign in the single day between when I had sent out my email and had left for the airport. My brother. A cousin. Friends. Parents of friends. Neighbors. I thought about how this discomfort was voluntary. The people I was fundraising for didn’t have a choice in facing their blood cancer. I did. And I had people rooting me on back home.

So I got up and ambled on. I was able to push it a full mile before laying down this time. And then pushed through another two miles to Wild Bill’s aid station again. Relentless forward progress.

I re-filled my water bottles and scarfed down anything I could: PB&J squares, pickles, boiled potatoes with salt, watermelon chunks. I sat under the canopy and just relaxed for a bit. About 13 minutes passed before I felt ready to move on. As I was leaving, I overheard one of the aid station volunteers mention that the temperature there had dropped about 12 degrees in the last hour or so. I looked up in the sky and noticed the sun was getting lower. A smile started to spread across my face. It was showtime.

The first 1.5 miles past the aid station were uphill, which I managed to walk at a relatively quick 15 min/mile pace. The last 1.5 were downhill. I was finally able to run again and knocked out a 10:30 min/mile pace, finishing the loop in about 3:15. The light at the end of the proverbial tunnel was coming into view, well, at least as far as the heat went. I still had 21 more miles to run.

Despite once again feeling good, I still had the matter of recharging my Garmin. And to play it safe with my body, I decided to take another nap back at camp. The minivan was no longer in the direct sun by this point, so I opened up the back hatch and a side door, ate some more food, set the alarm on my phone and a backup travel clock for 25 minutes again, and settled in for another nap on my air mattress, remembering to put the Garmin on the charger this time.

Loop 5

Once again, I didn’t rest very deeply due to the commotion of camp, but it was better than nothing. I caught Tyler again as I was prepping and told him I’d take him up on the offer for pacing me on the last loop. As I mentioned earlier, running is very much a social thing for me. I figured I’d be tired of listening to podcasts by that point and it would be a good chance to get to know him better.

He asked if there was anything he could get me… food… water… It was about dinner time and I didn’t have much in the way of non-snack or race food and the options at the aid stations were, well, aid station food. He offered up some sriracha tofu salad that one of our friends, Brookque, had just whipped together. It was a very welcome change from everything I had ingested previously and I scarfed it down quickly, thanking them profusely.

Since the sandals had served me well for the previous two loops, I decided I would stick with them for the rest of the race unless they started giving me problems. At 42 miles, it would be the furthest I’ve gone in them in one go. However, before doing so, I took off the Injinji socks, washed the layers of dirt off that had made their way through the fabric, re-applied Chamois Butt’r to my feet, and put on a fresh pair of Injinjis. Luxury.

With the sun going down, I ditched the sunglasses, arm sleeves and the bandana I had been using to shield my neck and grabbed my headlamp.

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The sun setting over the hill tops.

By this time the temperatures had dropped to about 77ºF according to Garmin Connect… still warm but much better than before. I no longer felt the need to stop between aid stations, though I still spent about 5 minutes at each one to refill my water bottles and take in more food. Still listening to podcasts, I power hiked the uphill segments and was able to eek out 10:30-11 min/mile paces on the downhills. I finished this loop 45 minutes faster, in about 2:30.

Loop 6

At this point was feeling surprisingly good, considering I had about 53 miles and several hours of stumbling through the heat behind me. I was eager to knock this last loop out and be done. After crossing the timing mat, I headed toward the minivan, worming my way between the front of the stage at the center of camp and the throng of dancers at the “dirtbag prom” I was missing out on. I tracked down Tyler to let him know I was back and going to resupply and head back out in a few minutes. Shirtless and donning American flag jean shorts, a coonskin hat and evidence of a heavily lipsticked kiss on the check, I quickly realized there was probably little chance I would be pulling him away from the party to pace me… which I was fine with. I was doing well. I was well acquainted with the trails, especially since the last one was the yellow loop and that had not changed from previous years. I’ve run in the dark quite a few times in practice night runs and previous 100k and 100 milers, so that wasn’t a concern either.

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Tyler, Kimberli and Sam at the dirtbag prom, yo. (Photo credit: Toni Reese)

I took a few minutes to replenish my Tailwind one last time and threw on a fresh shirt. I grabbed a new Bonk Breaker bar, as I had finished off the one I had been carrying with me to keep a steady stream of solid food going in my system between aid stations. I stashed my headphones in one of my pockets in case Tyler wasn’t going to join me and I wanted to use them, then headed back to the dirtbag prom to track him down. Considering he hadn’t come back to the minivan to get ready to head out, I pretty much knew I’d be on my own. I found him again and told him I was going to head back out. He looked conflicted about whether he should stay or head out with me, but I told him not to worry about it. It was obvious he was having a good time and I’d be fine. He gave me a big hug and I started making my way toward the start of the loop.

At this point I ended up passing Toni hanging at the back of the crowd of dancers with our friend Loic.

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Toni and Loic dirtbag promin’ it. (Photo credit: Toni Reese)

Excited to see me, they jumped up and asked me how everything was going. On the spur of the moment, Toni got the idea for the two of us to pose for a picture, her all dressed up for the dirtbag prom and me in my dirty, sweaty running clothes, separated at arms length, dancing a safe distance apart like at a “proper” prom.

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Practicing safe dancing (from the stanky stank?) (Photo credit: Loic Bernard)

With that, I headed out on the last loop on my own. I started fiddling with my Garmin to start it again and the next thing I knew Toni and Loic were right behind me chasing me down the road. With a surge of adrenaline, I started sprinting to outrun them, and outrun them I did. I was amazed at how fresh I was feeling at this point considering all that had preceded that moment. The cooler temperatures were making all the difference, though the fact that I had walked so much earlier rather than run also helped.

It’s amazing how much the trail changes at night. This time around there were no bees. What can be seen is largely defined by what is illuminated by your headlamp and the silhouette of the trees against whatever light is left in the night sky. My awareness of my surroundings intensified. I purposefully left my headphones in my pocket, wanting to take in everything. Though I had traveled this loop many times before, there were a number of times I started questioning if I was still on the right path as it had been a while since I had seen a yellow marker. At one point shortly after passing through the first aid station I started to get off route but quickly realized I was heading away from where I thought the trail should be going, backtracked, and found where I needed to go.

Every step of this loop I made with a purpose. I was proud of having pushed through all of those low points earlier in the day and was eager to cross that finish line. I power hiked every uphill section and ran the flats and downhills. I barely lingered at either of the aid stations this time. There was one point when I did stop mid-trail, though. The sky was still cloudless and the stars were looking amazing. On top of the ridge line about halfway through the loop, I stopped, turned off my headlamp and just looked up. I stood there for a minute, just soaking it all in. The endless number of stars. The endless blackness between them. The cool evening air. The breeze blowing through the grasses surrounding me. The silence of having no one else around. The feeling of accomplishment from what I had pushed through earlier that day. This lack of relentless forward progress was just as important as every other moment in this journey. It was important not to let this opportunity pass.

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Camp under the stars (Photo credit: Scott Smuin)

I crossed the finish line right around midnight, eighteen hours after I had started. By then the prom had ended and everyone had headed back to the tents, campers, etc. I moseyed back to the minivan and camp, where I found the rest of my tribe. Let me tell you, there’s nothing quite like finishing a long ultra event like this and being greeted with a huge hug from a shirtless, American flag jean short- and coonskin hat-wearing friend and his luchador mask-donning significant other.

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Now that’s a greeting. (Photo Credit: Toni Reese)

A drink was quickly placed in my hand and Brookque once again came through in the food department with a plate of vegan pancakes, applesauce and fresh fruit. It was heavenly.

Toni and Loic found me shortly after. They had gone off to grab something before planning to head to the finish line to cheer me in but just missed me. I was too quick!

We sat around for quite a while chatting and recounting the trials and tribulations from the day. It was 2am before I crawled into the minivan, wiped off as much dirt and dust as I could, slid into my sleeping bag and nodded off. I needed to get up at 5am to pack up and head to the airport to catch that early flight back for my daughter’s voice recital. I was going to get less than 3 hours of sleep. But I didn’t care. I could sleep on the plane (though I didn’t!).

I sometimes get asked why I participate in events like these. To be sure, there are moments I ask myself this question, such as when lying at the side of a trail for the fifth time recuperating from the heat. There are many reasons:

  • I view these events as metaphors for life, with high points, very low points, and everything between. How we adapt and face the challenges often reflects on how we handle situations in real life. Knowing I can get through situations like these give me the confidence to reach big.
  • They are often very humbling and allow time for reflecting on what is and what isn’t important in life.
  • I have met some of the most down-to-earth and amazing people at these events that I am proud to call my friends.
  • With a wife and two daughters, sometimes I feel like the time it takes to train and prepare is a bit selfish, so I make a conscious effort to minimize the impact to the family schedule. However, I have discovered the positive aspect of this is that I have become a role model, with my wife training for a handful of half marathons over the years, my oldest daughter participating in her middle school cross country and track teams, and my youngest daughter having run a number of 5k races through the YMCA’s Girls on the Run program.
  • I am able to harness the attention I inevitably get by doing these events and direct it toward a greater good, such as fundraising for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
  • They are an amazing source of stories like this one and make my life feel all that much richer.

Takeaways

  • I love this event.
  • I’m not sure I want to do the 60 mile/100k again. It was a great challenge, but I need to spend more time hanging out with friends. And dancing.
  • Friday to Sunday isn’t enough.
  • I love this event.

With that, I’m outta here. See you on the trails.


In case you’re curious, I was 12th overall and 2nd in my age group out of 51 registered and 32 finishers.

Here’s my Strava data:

Here are a few other race reports I’m aware of:

And some photo collections:

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Mohican Trail 100

Got ‘er done! Second 100 miler in the books. Man, those hills at Mohican! Makes the hills at Pinckney look like bunny hills. Dug deep and ran strong for the last 14 miles or so, finishing in about 28:15. Thanks to Michael Wolff for pacing and crewing me for 46 of those miles. And thanks to all of you who sponsored me by donating to my Leukemia & Lymphoma Society fundraising efforts. Your support helped me get through some tough spots!

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