Friday, April 7, 2017

Dad

If somebody were to ask me what I thought about when looking back to my childhood, a quick image comes flooding into my head...

Tossing the baseball back and forth with my Dad in the backyard of the house I grew up in, on Corrales Road. 

My dream as a kid was to show him that I would indeed play for the Philadelphia Phillies!

Both he and I knowing, that wasn't much of a possibility.

I can't recall very many occasions that my Dad didn't meet my latest 'moment of zen' with as much enthusiasm as me. I will add that when he didn't agree, he let that be known too...

My Dad always proclaimed that we were the greatest Philly sports fans west of the Mississippi!

To this day, I wear that badge with great pride. 

Both of my parents grew up in Levittown, Pennsylvania, a suburb outside of Philadelphia. After falling in love and getting married, they craved adventure.

Together they left the East Coast for Taos, where I was born, eventually settling in the small village in New Mexico known as Corrales. 

It was in that small town that my parents, Robert and Linda Lupowitz, would raise their three children. My older sister, Ariana, myself and my younger brother, Max, rounding out the trio.

Watching my parents build my fathers Chiropractic practice is something I will cherish for a lifetime. A small office that once sat in the front room of that house on Corrales Road quickly grew into a thriving practice that was known far and wide.

People loved my Dad. My Dad was a healer, a pillar of the community.

My father healed countless thousands through his life's work as a Chiropractor. And countless people loved and revered him. People were drawn to him. His spirit was contagious. His courage, inspiring. 

The thing about my Dad is that he had a passion for living life with such integrity. It was something that he demanded of himself.

I am convinced that the term "He wears his heart on his sleeve" was intended for my Dad.

My father once told me that he was sickened to tell a lie... He explained to me that the times he was put in a position to lie, it literally made him ill.

I always loved him and looked up to him, even when our relationship was strained.

I always wanted to be like my Dad.

I won't attempt to tie a bow around the struggles I created during my twenties. I admit, I wasn't exactly walking the line...

My Dad never gave up, though.

The man always seemed to seek out the positive!

His determination helped pave the way for me to find the wonderful life I live today. 

His love continued to grow on me and eventually not only was he my father, he was also my best friend.

I miss his face, his laugh, his wit, his humor, his smile.

I miss his love.

My father gave every last ounce of courage to those around him. I can only strive to live my life with such grace and dignity. 

Like my Dad always said, remember to leave with words that heal not wound, you never know when you might not see someone again. And say I love you, it never hurts. 

I will always cherish the moments we shared. Forever sealed inside my heart.

I love you, Dad. 



In Loving Memory Of My Father
Robert Alan Lupowitz
12/20/1950 - 3/10/2017

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Stagecoach 100

2015 was a success and topping it was sure to be a task.

I managed to tag the summit of Blackett's Ridge 100 times, had a handful of solid races, ran more miles and climbed higher than ever before.


But most importantly, I finished a 100 mile race.


I finally obtained the 100 mile buckle I had so desperately desired. I finished the Mogollon Monster 100 in second place with a time of 26:05, thus proving to myself that I am indeed capable of running 100 miles.

Twenty six hours is a long time to run. But in all honesty, a lot of that time wasn't actually spent running, but rather hiking. Sure, I ran as much of that gnarly course as I could, but large chunks of it simply aren't runnable!  

While the 100 mile monkey was off my back, I was left wondering what I am really capable of in regards to running 100 miles.. 

"Could you really run a hundred miles?" I asked myself over and over.

"No, you'll cramp up. You'll burn out. You'll blow up.." I discouragingly thought.

"You are a mountain runner.. Better off doing races with lots of climbing, that's what you're good at.." 

Despite all of my reservations, I needed to know. And I had the perfect race in mind.

Flagstaff to Grand Canyon Stagecoach Line 100 Miler seemed to fit all of the criteria. An entirely runnable point to point course that takes you from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon. Mostly along the AZ Trail and Forest Roads, the course has around 7,000 feet of total gain and has a net downhill.

The race director, Ian Torrance, also happens to be a teammate of mine on the Aravaipa Racing Team. Ian is nothing short of an ultra running legend. He has been a part of the sport since the beginning and when I told him I wanted to do his race, he was ecstatic. I, on the other hand, was terrified...

"There is no turning back now!!" I cried after registering for the race. 

I decided to back off on doing a bunch of races, instead I directed my focus on Stagecoach. I am a race junky, so that wasn't easy!  

I knew this was going to be the biggest challenge of my life. 

My original plan was to implement a lot of long flat runs into my training, but I don't like long flat runs! Pavement is made for cars, not runners.

After a few boring flat runs in the blistering heat, I decided that this wasn't going to work. 

"Fuck it, I am going to Mount Lemmon!" I proclaimed.

And so I did.  

I spent countless hours running all over the top of the Santa Catalina mountains. I embraced the thin air and lack of oxygen. I learned to be comfortable being uncomfortable. I literally made Lemmon my second home! 

Training went as smooth as butter until about a month before the race. Almost too smooth.. I was more fit than I had ever been in my life. 

And then the wheels came off! 

Should I have expected anything else?? I mean, that would be too easy and there is nothing easy about ultra running! 

I'll save you from the gruesome details of what I experienced that last month leading up to the race, but I will say that in terms of training, it was the most painful and demoralizing series of events I've ever experienced. 

I even managed to throw my back out pretending I was Dwyane Wade while heaving a ball of dirty laundry into the hamper!

"I can run up and down sketchy mountain trails and I'm fine, but I get injured tossing laundry.." I moaned. "Maybe this race isn't in the cards."

Like the laundry I tossed in the hamper, I was on the verge of throwing in the towel. Everything was going against me. 

Despite all the adversity, I couldn't pull the plug. 

"Just go give it a shot..." I convinced myself. 

What's life without a little risk?! While the decision was potentially a major mistake, the chance that I may miss a great adventure was enough to make it worth the risk!

I wrapped up my training on a high note, smashing a previous PR on a run I've done many times. The hay was stacked and I was chomping at the bit! 

My buddy, Michael Duer, was set to pace me for the last 32 miles. Mike had just paced Ronni Rudolphi to a win and CR at MOG the week prior.

"Maybe he'll be two for two.." I daydreamed. 

After a few easy shakeout runs the week of the race, Kristi and I packed enough stuff into our car to begin a new life and headed to Flag! 

Without a hitch, we arrived in Flagstaff and checked into our hotel. A trip out to grab dinner and pick up a few last minute essentials allowed us to experience the madness that is "Parents Week" at NAU. 

After we had the pleasure of dealing with 'Flagstaff Family Feud', we settled into our hotel for the night. 

As per usual, I barely slept a wink. Instead spent the night tossing and turning, playing out various outcomes of the race in my head. Like a kid on Christmas eve, I watched the minutes tick by...

The barking of my alarm jolted me out of the only decent sleep I had of the night. I pried myself out of bed and the two of us began getting our stuff in order.

"You're gonna run a hundred miles today." I said, laughing to myself.

It always sounds like a good idea until you actually have to run 100 miles! 

We arrived at the start of the race with about 30 minutes to spare. My buddy, Catlow Shipek, was there to race the 55K, in what would be his first race in a long time. Catlow had been sidelined with an injury and it was awesome to see him back where he belongs! 

It was cold and breezy. The sun was rising, spraying golden rays across the majestic San Fransisco Peaks. It was simply beautiful.

Time quickly dwindled down as my nerves spiked up. Ian gave the pre-race instructions and we all lined up.

I gave Kristi a hug goodbye and made my way to the front of the pack. Kristi was going to be meeting me at several aid stations along the way.

All the days, the weeks, the months spent training are now put to the test. The countless hours spent suffering, the pain, the joy, the frustration. It all boils down to this. 

The all too familiar countdown ensued and the adventure was underway!

Time to make that money!

It was interesting to have the 55K start with the 100 milers. I made sure to not get sucked into the fast pace and settled into a nice easy rhythm. Lots of runners pulled ahead of me. I had no idea which ones were in the 55K or the 100 miler, and I didn't care. 

I went into the race with a goal of going under 19 hours. Not knowing how my body would handle the flatness of the course and the long period of sustained running, I would be happy with anything under 20 hours. Lastly, just finishing would be a success! 

The initial climb on single track that wrapped around the base of Mount Humphreys was spectacular. Morning dew coated the ground and the faint smell of rain infused the air. 

I made sure not to allow my heart rate to go up, occasionally hiking steep sections. Following about five miles of climbing, I enjoyed a swift descent that eventually spit us out onto a forest road. 

Tall ponderosa pines flanked each side of me, sending out words of encouragement. I made my way to the first aid station of the day at Hart Prairie, 10.5 miles into the race. I nibbled on a PB & J and quickly continued on.

A short out and back section allowed me to see one 100 mile runner ahead of me. We exchanged quick grunts in passing. He looked focused and strong.

"Ah, it's early..." I quipped.

To my surprise, shortly after leaving Hart Prairie, Kristi appeared on the side of the road along with several other spectators.

I was excited to see her. I got rid of my arm sleeves and gloves.

"Who's in front of me?" I asked.

"I don't know, it's hard to tell." She informed me.

Not only was there the 55K and 100 milers, now there were also relay runners out there. It was almost impossible to gauge what was going on. 

I said farewell and continued on!

After what seemed like an endless climb up the forest road, I finally connected back to a trail. The climb continued before reaching a split. 13 miles into this "flat" race and it had been pretty much all climbing.

"I thought this was flat..." I said catching my breath. I hung a right onto the AZ Trail, which descended quickly. 

"Yes, some down!" I cried.

The single track was glorious. Blanketed in shade and soft footing made for some quick miles. I began passing runner after runner as I got lost in thought..

I thought about crossing the finish line in first place. I would hug Kristi and I would cry. People would be cheering and clapping. Ian would hand me my champion buckle and take pictures of me.

"It's the hardest thing I've ever done." I would proclaim. "I couldn't have done it without you." I would say to Kristi. "And you either!" I would add pointing to Mike.

I would take the buckle and hold it high in the air, tears would stream down my face. 

Yep, it was all mapped out for me. Just needed to run another 85 miles to get there! 

Soon the trail became surrounded by Aspen trees, jolting me out of my daydream. It was the most magnificent area I've run in my life. Words can't describe the beauty. I was mesmerized by the white trees and lush landscape. I soaked it all in.

"This is gorgeous!" I shouted!

I wish that could have lasted forever, but soon the landscape opened up and I connected back to a forest road. 

21 miles into the race, I galloped into Kelly Tank aid station. Kristi helped crew and I refilled my pack. I made it quick and headed out. 

All in all, I felt good. I enjoyed more downhill and soon caught up with Cristian Rios, one of the 100 mile runners.

"What's up, man?" I asked passing ahead of him. "Who else is ahead?"

"Nothing, trying to take it easy now.." He mumbled. "Only one guy is ahead.."

I wished him luck and pulled away.

The guy I exchanged grunts with earlier was now the lone runner in front..

"You got this, lots of racing left, stay relaxed." I reminded myself. "You'll catch him no problem."

About 24 miles into the race, I began catching up to someone familiar. As I inched my way closer, I realized it was John Mollenhour, who was running the 55K. John also lives in Tucson and runs with the same group as myself. While John isn't a youngster anymore, the guy happens to be very fast. He just set a new record for the fastest "masters" time at the Leadville 100 miler a few weeks prior to this race!  

John had a nice pace going, so I decided it would be best to hang with him.

John and I enjoyed chatting away as we cruised along the forest road. Mile after mile of that road, all of which looked the same. 

"When do we get off this road?" I asked John, who had run the 55K last year.

"We don't." He said while laughing.

While the temperature was very nice all things considered, the road was completely exposed and it was beginning to heat up.

All of our conversing really made those miles go fast and soon enough Cedar Ranch aid station came within view, which was the finish to the 55K race. 

"Go for it, John!" I shouted at him. "Finish it off strong!"

"Alright, I'll see what I have left!" He responded as he began sprinting towards his finish line!

I watched him pull away and couldn't help but smile. I felt like I helped him hammer out those last 10 miles. But more than that is how much he helped me. That was a monotonous stretch and I never seemed to struggle, instead I enjoyed the company.

Just a couple ultra runners shooting the shit while doing what they love!

Soon I pulled into Cedar Ranch and got to congratulate John, who had claimed 4th place. Catlow was there, he had taken 2nd place in the 55K. Nice work, gentlemen!!

Kristi and Catlow helped me get refueled and ready to roll.


Kristi pointed out the first place runner, who had arrived at the aid station just minutes earlier. He quickly took off, back in front.


I said my goodbyes and began chasing after the frontrunner!


Soon I caught up and began running alongside him. We headed up another forest road and I had the opportunity to introduce myself and the pleasure of meeting Joe Owen. 

Joe explained that this was his first stab at the 100 mile distance and that he had been in a rough patch for the last ten miles.


I tried to give hime some words of encouragement. "Just take it easy for a bit, it'll pass.."


I could tell he wasn't feeling very good and I was beginning to smell blood. My competitive nature kicked in and I picked up my pace. Joe did his best to hang on.


"This headwind is a nice touch!" I joked as we continued up the winding dirt road.


Pretty soon the pace took it's toll on Joe.


"I gotta hold back for a minute.." He said breathing heavily. "Good luck, Sion."


I wished him well and picked up my pace some more.


"Time to put the hammer down."


Soon I reached Tub Ranch aid station, just over 38 miles into the race.


I grabbed a handful of pretzels and bolted out of there.


I headed up a steep hill and connected to the AZ Trail, which was yet another forest road.


"Damn, this race is a shit ton of dirt roads!" I shrieked.


I continued at a nice pace, occasionally looking back. My lead continued to grow and soon Joe was no longer visible.


Over 40 miles in and to my surprise, my legs felt great. The consistent pace wasn't taking the toll I anticipated. No sign of cramps and my stomach felt good.


I maintained the same pace and before I knew it, I reached Oil Line aid at 44.5 miles.


I choked down a banana and slammed a cup of coke.


"You're killing it man!" One of the volunteers screamed.


"This is when it gets real!" I exclaimed as I bolted out of there.


I kept expecting my legs to wear down as I maintained a steady pace.. But it wasn't happening. I was cruising along, almost in total shock.


I cracked the 50 mile mark in 8:02.


"Half way done!" I shouted.


On I went, eventually making it to Boundary aid station, just over 55 miles in.


Squirrels Nut Butter's main man, Chris Thornley was there with words of encouragement!


"I didn't realize the AZ Trail was nothing but a long dirt road!" I said jokingly. "Do we ever connect back to a trail?"


"Right there!" Chris said pointing to a trail.


What a relief it was to see some single track staring me in the eyes! I hopped on the trail and took off!


30 miles on nothing but forest roads and my attitude hadn't completely plummeted...


Winning!


The trail rolled up and down through the thick forest, slowing my pace down. I hiked the steep sections and tried to find a new gear.


I fell into a steady rhythm and got lost in thought. I tend to do that.


I eventually came galloping into Moqui aid station at 60 miles.


For the first time in over 9 hours, I kneeled down and began to feel zapped.


I knew I would hit a rough patch around 60 miles, how I handled it was going to dictate the rest of my race.


I chatted with the volunteers and choked down a boiled potato. I was excited that I only had about  seven miles to Russell Tank, where I would get to see Kristi and pick up my pacer, Mike.


I stumbled off, back onto the trail and forced myself to begin running again.


The sun was beginning to set and the warm air was a thing of the past. It was cooling off quick.


I could feel the self doubt beginning to leak into my mind. Each step became more difficult. My mind began to wander. The demons were trying to get in...


"Just keep grinding..." I told myself.


Soon I came across three horses grazing beside the trail. I stopped and watched for a moment before continuing on.


Moments after I passed them, I heard a loud thump, Thump, THUMP!


My heart almost jumped out of my chest as I turned around to see what was coming my way..


One of the horses was charging directly at me!


I was cloaked in fear and still as a statue when the horse suddenly stopped and whipped around in the other direction.


"Holy shit..." I mumbled under my breath. "That was nuts!!"


I got a burst of energy as I quickly got my ass out of the area!


Those seven miles from Moqui to Russell Tank seemed to take an eternity. My hands were freezing and it was almost completely dark as I finally came shuffling into the Russell Tank aid station.


It was a nice boost to see Kristi and Mike, but I was in a bad place. Kristi helped me get some warm clothes on and I stuffed a few more Honey Stinger gels into my pack.


I knew that I needed to work myself out of the funk, but the thought of going back out there was heartbreaking.


"You'll find your second wind." I thought to myself.


I gave Kristi a long hug and told her to just go to the finish.


"See you at the end..." I mumbled, walking away.


Mike and I headed out, into the darkness, into the cold.


"Not feeling great, going to do my best.." I explained.


"Do what you have to do, I'll let you know if you're walking for too long!" Mike quipped.


What I figured to be a long stretch of feeling like the world was caving in, actually faded away pretty fast. The trail was really runnable now and I was beginning to run longer stretches at a time.


Mike has been a friend for a number of years and we can talk about anything and everything.


And so we did.


We chatted away as we cruised the winding single track that dipped and climbed in and out of canyons. We zigzagged up and down switchbacks underneath the dark sky. A sliver of a moon above.


Soon we hit a forest road and hung a right. The road descended quickly and signs eventually directed us to the Hull Cabin aid station. Over 80 miles in and I was beginning to feel the rebirth!


Hull Cabin was awesome! I was eating chicken noodle soup when all of a sudden Ian walked in.


"How's life!?" He exclaimed.


"I'm good!"


And I was! I was feeling great. I had been running for just under 14 hours, so my goal time was not only within reach, but barring any kind of disaster during the final 20 miles, I was in a position to shatter that sub-19 goal!


Mike and I shared a cheese quesadilla and headed out.


Hull Cabin wins the "Best Aid Station" of the day award! 


We trudged back up that forest road and reconnected to the AZ Trail.


The next eight miles went really fast. A trail that almost entirely went downhill allowed me to click off some of the best miles in a long time.


We quickly passed through Reed Tank aid station at 88 miles and soon I crossed the 90 mile mark.


"Only 10 miles to go!" I was tasting the finish!


The next several miles were a mixed bag of running and walking. My legs were completely trashed and my feet were in horrendous pain.


All of a sudden, like angels from above, the lights of a town came within view.


"Check it out, looks like a neighborhood or something." Mike pointed out.


"Oh my god, it is!" I was in shock.


I looked at my Garmin; 17:28.


"Holy shit, I can go under 18 hours!" I shrieked.


There was a little water station set up and on that station sat one lone can of Coca-Cola.


Mike grabbed the coke and poured into a couple cups and we had a cheers.


"Thanks for being out here with me!" I said.


"It's my pleasure."


We slammed the soda and took off, en route to the finish!


After going through a tunnel, we hit a small paved path that brought us to the top of a hill.


"There it is!" I screamed, looking at the finish line ahead.


It was surreal. Something that seemed impossibly long. Something that I worked so hard for was almost over..


We bolted down the hill and through the finish line!!


I gave Kristi a hug and then Mike. Ian came over and congratulated me.


"Couldn't you have gone five minutes quicker?" Ian jokingly asked.


I finished in 17:42:17, less than 5 minutes shy of the course record.


In my wildest dreams, I couldn't have asked for a better race. A better crew. A better pacer. A better life.


I ran 100 miles!!


I would like to thank Araviapa Running, Honey Stinger, Squirrel's Nut Butter and Bio Skin for the support! Thank you for helping me chase after my dreams!


I have enormous appreciation for Michael Duer. It was an absolute pleasure sharing those miles with you my friend. Thank you.


Lastly, thank you Kristi. You have supported my desire to become the runner I am today. And more importantly, you have helped me become a man. I love you and I couldn't do this without you.


Until next time...




"A journey of a thousand miles (or a hundred) begins with a single step"
~Laozi 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Cedro Peak 45; The Homecoming

Several years ago I boarded a plane en route to Tucson, Arizona.

I had never been to Tucson.

I didn't know anyone that lived in Tucson.

Tucson.

I had just left everything and everyone that I did knowbehind.

Unknowingly at the time, that would be the last of my life in the "Land of Enchantment".

At 27 years of age, I had nothing but a bag of dirty laundry to my name.

I had spent the better part of the last ten years on a drunken rampage that brought me through the grim streets of Albuquerque. Living life my way.

And I had burned the candle at both ends.

I was out of options.

So with a last-ditch effort, my folks got me out of there.

I would land in Tucson and begin from scratch.

Somewhere along the way, I began to run.

I could write an entire novel on how much running and racing has changed my life over the last few years. It has given me a sense of purpose, the one I desperately searched for during those dark days. 

Running in the mountains has become my religion.

It is my life.

As I began laying out my race schedule for 2016, I had an overwhelming desire wash over me.

I wanted to go back to New Mexico to run.

I wanted redemption. I wanted to show what I had become. I wanted to show who I had become.

I was no longer that lost soul drifting through life in a daze.

"I'm comin' home again."

I picked my race and it was set. I was going back to New Mexico to race Cedro Peak, a 45 miler in the Manzano Mountains outside of Albuquerque.

It just made sense.

The excitement for the race grew strong, as not only would I have Kristi waiting for me at the finish line, but my parents were going to be there, as well.

I wanted so bad to win this race!

I daydreamed of running through the finish line in first place, everyone cheering. My parents and Kristi would scream "Congratulations, you did it!!"

We would all hug each other and smile.

I would then take the first place award and hoist it above my head like the Lombardi Trophy.

"I owe this one to you!" I would shout while pointing at my folks...

Yep, I was excited about this race.

I notoriously have challenges in my life leading up to races. I get sick. I think I'm hurt. I am hurt. I don't feel fit. I'm too fit.. I mean, the list goes on.

But this time, nothing.

I put in a ton of miles, a ton of vert and I felt fit and healthy as ever.

A couple days before the race, Kristi and I made the trip to my parents house in Corrales, NM. My folks live about an hour away from the start of the race in Tijeras. Everything seemed to be lining up perfectly.

A quick shakeout run along ditch banks of childhood memories brought me to tears.

I gazed into the mountains in the distance and thought about my life.

I was ready.

Just like that, race day arrived. Kristi and I got our stuff together and made our way to the Manzano Mountains in Tijeras, NM.

Along the drive, I realized just how little I know about the beautiful mountains that surrounded me as a child.

"Where were you when I lived here?" I thought to myself.

With less than an hour to spare, we made it to the Oak Flat Campgrounds. My folks would be arriving a few hours later.

The course was basically an out and back, with a lollipop loop.

My goal was to go under 7 hours and win the race. If all the stars aligned, maybe I could go under the course record of 6:30:47, set at the inaugural race in 2012 by Jason Loutitt.

Time quickly dwindled down. I said good bye to Kristi and made my way to the starting line.

"This is what you worked so hard for." I reminded myself.

"Leave it all out there."

As the race director went over the directions, I joked around a bit with one of the other runners.

"I always get lost" he said.

"Well, follow me.." I responded "I've never done this race.."

Just a couple ultra runners shooting the shit before the gun goes off!

The familiar countdown ensued and it was GO TIME!!

I took the lead and was closely followed by the guy I had been chatting with. I introduced myself and had the opportunity to meet Mike Wagner, an ultra runner from Colorado that had recently moved to Albuquerque.

I made a point to go hard right off the bat. I wanted to set the pace early, but Mike was right there with me. We chatted about where we were from and the love we share for running in the mountains.

I was already enjoying the rocky single track that was descending quickly. The thin air was making my breathing a bit labored.

"Oh hell, this elevation is gonna take a toll.." I realized.

A little over a mile into the race, we reached an intersection of trails with no markings.

"What the hell?" I said as I was stopped in my tracks "There are no markings anywhere..."

Mike looked around in every direction.

"I think we missed a turn." He mumbled.

Soon enough three other runners came galloping up to the intersection.

"There's no markings here, we missed a turn." I said.

Everything I had worked for.. Was it all going up in flames? I know this feeling. It's familiar.. McFailure with Korey Konga all over again!

A mile into a goal race and I am lost!

"How could this be happening?!" I said to myself.

One of the other runners quickly pulled out a map of the course. Brilliant!

Yup, we missed a turn!

Before I knew it, Mike took off!

I quickly sprinted off as well, clinging to his heels.

"Hopefully the turn we missed is close.." I sadly thought.

But it wasn't. It may have only been half a mile or so, but it felt like an eternity.

"There it is!" Mike shouted as he jumped back on course.

I followed and felt relieved. It wasn't until we caught up with the very back of the pack that I realized how detrimental the missed turn was...

"Oh my God, I have to pass every runner now.."

This was not what I had envisioned!

Mike was on a mission and my breathing was becoming labored. We began passing runner after runner.

I looked down at my Garmin; 06:15 pace.

This is not good!

I finally backed off and let Mike disappear into the distance.

"Have some discipline for God sakes.."

The runners ahead became more sparse as I tried to recover. What should have been a nice long descent to separate myself from the pack had become a nightmare. I couldn't catch my breath and felt worked.

I relaxed as much as I could and soon enough, I saw Mike in the distance.

I quickly caught up. I could sense that he had gone too hard. His breathing was heavy, his stride looked forced.

I sat back and let him lead the way. I gathered myself and thought about finishing the race.

"Winning isn't everything, just relax and have a good race.." I told myself.

I started to feel better and realized I was ready to pull in front of Mike.

I went around him and the two of us continued passing a runner here, a runner there. Eventually we caught up to a couple of runners chatting away.

I startled them as I came flying up.

"Is there anyone ahead of you guys?" I asked, hoping this was the last of them.

"Just a few others.." one of them said..

After a second of frustration, I realized that the "few others" was us.

"That's us!" I shouted! "We got off course in the very beginning. That is us!"

The great news was enough to give me a burst of adrenaline and I pulled ahead of the two runners and Mike.

I didn't look back for sometime and when I did, I saw nobody. I had created some space and began to relax for the first time. About five miles into the race and I was just beginning to relax. Oh boy.

Fortunately, the better part of those five miles were downhill. Or unfortunately...

I was lost in thought as I came rumbling down a steep section and BAM!

I crashed to the ground, tearing my right knee open. Blood everywhere. Good times! Get up and go!

As the terrain flattened out, so did my energy level.

I tried my best to focus on the beautiful mountain views and single track. But I was gassed.

"This is not good.." I mumbled.

Had I ruined my race making up the lost time?

I went into a dark place. Those thoughts of winning the race in front of my folks were now replaced with thoughts of explaining why I gave up.

"I got lost. I guess it just wasn't my day.." I would explain.

They'll understand. They're my parents, they have to understand!

I forced myself to hold onto a reasonable pace despite the rough patch. I got a small burst of energy as I cruised into the Cedro Peak aid station around 13 miles into the race.

I wasted little time, simply stuffing a peanut butter & jelly in my mouth and continuing on.

The next stretch was up a steep jeep road that winded it's way to the very top of Cedro Peak. I was actually surprised by my pace as I quickly climbed to the summit.

A few volunteers were there checking off bib numbers. The wind howled, screaming words of encouragement.. Or the opposite.

I stopped at the top and tried catching my breath. The air was thin and lacked the good stuff. I put my hands on my knees and gasped for air.

"What's your bib number?" One of them shouted through the screaming wind.

"252!" I shouted back as I took off back down the jeep road.

Out and back sections are always a good way to see where you stand in a race. This one was pretty short and I was hoping that I wouldn't see any other runner prior to beginning the loop segment of the race.

I began hammering the down and for the first time all day, I was feeling optimistic about the race. To my surprise, about a half a mile from the top, I saw Mike trudging up the dirt road.

We exchanged quick grunts as we passed one another.

Before I had a chance to process my lead, another runner appeared. Third place was not far back either.

Both of them looked pretty strong climbing up the road. I figured I had about a mile lead and it was still very early. Still anyones race.

"If you can maintain a consistent pace, you'll be fine.." I encouraged myself.

The next stretch was a long downhill along the jeep road. I gazed in all directions, soaking up the scenery. The views were magnificent.

"This is your homeland, this is your race."

Soon I hung a right and connected back to a trail. These trails reminded me of what I am accustomed to in Tucson. Very technical and lots of rocks.

Needless to say, this shit is second nature!

I reached the Powerline aid station just over 17 miles into the race and made my visit brief. I sucked down a Honey Stinger gel and began the loop.

I felt like I settled in. I enjoyed the single track that hugged the side of a steep mountain side. It was a lot of downhill and fast running. I got lost in thought again, visualizing winning the race.

"You wouldn't believe it, I had to come back from dead last to win.." I would explain "It was insane!"

I played out various scenes in my mind and before I knew it... BAM!!

I came crashing to the ground!

I laid there in disbelief.

"I thought this was second nature.."

I pried myself up off the ground and quickly carried on.

"The hell is wrong with you, Sion!" I barked at myself!

I plowed ahead!

Looking back on it, the section that brought me from the top of Powerline to the Four Corners aid station was some of the best single track I've had the pleasure of shredding. Fast, techy, views for days. You know, the good stuff.

I refueled, chatted briefly with the volunteers and departed. I had the sense that I wasn't going fast enough and I wasn't feeling top notch by any means.

"Don't let those demons in.." I thought to myself... But were they coming?

Eventually the trail led me to a wide open meadow. All the beauty one could imagine, for everyone to see. Except for me.

My attitude began to plummet.

"Why?" I often ask myself during a race. I run on, in search of the answer.

It felt like I had been running downhill for the majority of the day, which meant only one thing..

A lot a uphill awaits.

Just over a marathon into the race, I came galloping into Coyote aid station.

"First one in!" someone shouted.

"Yeah.. Ah, thanks.." I tried finding words.

I was feeling nauseous and zapped. Weather had been pretty nice all morning, but the sun was beginning to get more aggressive.

I grabbed an orange and fumbled around with it as I took off. I only managed to get my hands sticky before chucking the orange to the ground in frustration!

"Stupid orange!!!"

I hung a left back onto a trail and looked ahead.

"Dammit."

There, in all it's glory, was the steep climb back up Powerline.

"Perfect!"

I began the slow trudge up the mountain.

I had run every step of the race thus far. I had told myself that I was going to run every step of the race. But it was quite clear, I had completely underestimated the difficulty of this course. I was in for a long day.

It didn't take long for that climb to stick a dagger in my spleen.

I collapsed to the side of the trail and whined.

"You gotta be fucking kidding me.." I moaned.

Feelings of a race slipping away flooded my mind. I got up and began power hiking.

Power hike.

Curse the world.

Collapse to the ground.

Drag myself up.

Power hike.

Repeat.

Visions of the course record wiped away.

Somewhere toward the top, a young man offered me a popsicle. Was I hallucinating?

I gladly accepted.

I only managed to get my hands sticky before chucking the popsicle to the ground in frustration!

"Stupid popsicle!!!"

I finally came stumbling back to the top of Powerline. I staggered to the aid station.

"Still in first place! Good job!" One of the volunteers shouted.

"That climb sucked.." I grumbled.

"You're killing it man, had like a 20 minute lead on second place earlier, probably bigger by now...."

His words became distant, my vision became blurred. I stared at the jagged rocks below my feet. I wanted to spill everything inside of me onto the ground.

"Ah.. that's great news.." I said. "If I can just hold this pace, I'll be fine.."

Hold this pace.. Yeah, right. Who was I kidding, I was already hearing the sirens..

"Thanks dudes..." I mumbled under my breath as I staggered ahead.

I reconnected to the jeep road I had enjoyed running down earlier and began the fun trip back up.

For the life of me, I couldn't maintain a consistent pace. I would run for a short time and feel completely gassed. The frustration grew as I inched my way back to the Cedro Peak aid station.


My stomach twisted. The demons entered and began wringing out my insides like a soiled washcloth. I let them in with open arms.

They were now in control!!

"Why do I even do this shit??" I cried!

I tried to throw up but only dry heaved.

"So much for sub 7.."

I staggered on..

Eventually I hit a small stretch of downhill that brought me back to the Cedro Peak aid station, over 32 miles into the race.

I got refueled and nibbled on some snacks.

At this point, a bunch of the 45K runners were in the middle of their race.

I clutched my stomach and moaned.

"You have any Tums..?" I whined to one of the volunteers.

"No.. We don't. Sorry." He replied.

Before I even had a chance to respond, one of the 45K runners came to my rescue.

"I do. Here ya go.." He said as he poured a couple Tums into the palm of my hand.

You're the real MVP!!

I took off and jumped back onto the final stretch to the finish!

Tum ta tum tum tums did a nice job on my stomach and I got a needed second wind. I found a consistent pace for the first time since the climb up Powerline.

Running was good. Attitude was acceptable... For awhile.

The next stretch was nothing but up. Seriously. Up, up and away! Cramps began to develop in my calves as I focused on running the steeps.

"One foot in front of the other.." I moaned.

It was a long stretch to the final aid station, but I felt like I made good time. That was a ROUGH section!

40 miles in and 5 to go!

I took off in pursuit of the Lombardi Trophy!!

I enjoyed a very brief stretch of downhill before finding myself gasping for breath on more of the steep stuff.

"You really underestimated this course!!" I yelled aloud.

I topped out and gasped for breath.

I looked at my Garmin; 06:55 and change..

"It's not gonna happen.."

I began running, the trees cleared out and I saw people ahead..

"Is that the finish?!" I shouted out.

"Yep, right there." Someone replied.

I sprinted ahead!!

I shot through the finish line in first place with my folks and Kristi cheering me on!!

Dreams come true!!

The cramps in my legs took over as I collapsed to the ground writhing in pain. It felt like the muscles in my calves were going to rip right out of my skin and it was worth it.

I finished the race in 6:56:53.

After being medically cleared, I got to give my parents and Kristi a group hug. I did it.

We did it.


Sharing that moment with my parents was priceless. It's been a long road back home, but I wouldn't change a thing.

As always, It's an honor to represent the Aravaipa Racing Team! The support provided by Honey Stinger, Squirrels Nut Butter and BeThin Tea is greatly appreciated.

Until next time...


That's a wrap! Pic: Kristi McCauley