Laying in the fetal position on a cot, on top of the Mogollon Rim.
I am shivering uncontrollably while trying to cover myself up with a blanket that's half my size. My microfiber running singlet is now nothing more than a crumbled ball of cloth used for a pillow underneath my head.
My stomach is in knots and I haven't peed in over 12 hours. I twist and turn in search of some comfort. I long for some peace. But like the way I feel inside, I come up empty.
I've just been informed by the medical staff on hand, that my race is over. I already knew that, plus to hear that was a spirit-crushing relief. If that makes any sense...
I pull the blanket over my head and hide. I close my eyes tight and wish I were somewhere else. Anywhere else.
I try to ignore what's going on around me. The commotion, the voices. And especially the cheers. The cheers are like little daggers jabbing at my heart. But there's no use.
I listen as Dustin Simoen heads out of the aid station, back on course. He's now in sole possession of first place. Soon after that, another runner is quickly in and out of the aid station.
Dustin and I have been battling for the lead the majority of the day. But now my race is over.
I lift my arm up and glance at my Garmin. The seconds continue to tick by...
16 hours and change, a hair under 74 miles into the adventure.
I take a deep breath and sigh. I stare at my Garmin a few more moments before reaching over with my other hand to press the stop button.
I pull the blanket back over my head and hide.
Earlier that day I woke up feeling pretty damn good. Getting any amount of sleep before a big race is always a gift. It's kinda the cherry on top of a solid training block, if you will.
And it was just that for me, on that particular morning.
I had meticulously set up my pack and drop bags with such OCD like precision, it would make Howie Mandel proud.
Howie Mandel has OCD... Anyway, I digress!
I was rested, healthy and mentally prepared to tackle the Mogollon Monster 100.
This would be my third time lining up for the race.
The first time in 2014, the race was shut down midway through due to a nasty storm that slammed the Rim. The following year, I returned and managed second place in my first ever 100 mile finish.
I had learned a lot since then, finishing multiple ultra races along the way. Two of those races were 100 milers. In 2016, I took the overall win at Stagecoach in 17:42. The following year, I took fifth place at the uber competitive Javelina Jundred with a new PR of 16:15.
I had grown up quite a bit and experience in this sport is priceless.
Kristi dropped me off at Pine Trailhead around 5:30 in the morning. I gave her a hug goodbye and jumped out of the car.
"See you at the finish!" I yelled with confidence.
That early dawn crispness to the air normally felt before MOG was nonexistent. It was going to be a warm one!
The sun quickly rose as we all began lining up at the start.
The star spangled banner was playing as I closed my eyes and thought about the adventure ahead. I pictured it all. The good, the bad and the ugly.
And of course, the glory...
In the end, I would trot through the finish line in first place. I would grab that monster statue and hoist it high above my head like the Lombardi Trophy!
Tears would come streaming down my face and I would yell out "finally!"
What can I say, I keep it dramatic.
All of this was sure to be a reality, just had to run a hundred miles to get there...
And in the words of the great Karl Meltzer "a hundred miles isn't that far."
Time quickly dwindled down and we were off!
"This is it..." I told myself. "This is what you've worked for."
A small group of us led the way as we began the first climb up the Mogollon Rim. Eventually I topped out in front, alongside Elijah Flenner. I hadn't planned on being up front this early, but the pace felt relaxed. I made the decision to roll with it.
Elijah and I cruised along the top of the Rim, that early morning race vibe clearly peppered in our step. We chatted away, getting to know each other a bit. We breezed through the first aid station before beginning the steep drop down Turkey Springs.
The views on the descent down Turkey Springs make every one of those loose rocks worth the risk! A thick cluster of pine trees lined the horizon as the sun began to spray golden rays across the mountain range. Thin cloud layers in the distance teased us with short stints of shade, as it began to warm up quickly.
Eventually the two of us bottomed out and cruised up and down some rollers before another runner caught up. In no time the other runner passed us and eventually was out of sight.
"That dude is getting after it!" I shouted to Elijah.
"Yeah, let him run his race!" He responded.
That was some sound advice!
Soon we connected with the historic Highline Trail before making our way into the Geronimo aid station, 11 miles into the race.
I traded high fives with some friends volunteering there and chomped down a banana while getting my pack filled up. I felt zapped, but it was legit hot already and I chalked it up to adjusting to the heat.
Between the Zane Grey 50 miler, MOG100 and training runs, I've spent countless hours on the Highline. It's a bitch and I love it. It's got that love/hate relationship quality about it. I am very familiar with it and feel that is an advantage.
I headed out of the aid station in second place.
The stretch of trail from Geronimo to Washington Park is about 9 miles, but it always feels longer than that. I caught glimpses of the lead runner here and there during the first couple miles, but eventually he was no longer in sight. I felt like that was a good thing, as I really settled down.
I never really pushed myself outside of my comfort zone during that stretch, hiking everything that was steep and keeping my heart rate in check... But... I just felt winded.
I've run enough races to know that's par for the course and you've got to stay with it and keep grinding. 100 milers in particular are filled with rough patches and I generally hit one around 20 miles.
I got a nice boost as I rolled into the Washington Park aid station at 20 miles. Everyone let me know I was about 5 minutes back of the lead. I ate some food and refueled before heading back out en route to the climb up Powerline.
As I approached the base of Powerline, I caught sight of the leader. He was almost to the top. I stopped for a second and caught my breath.
"No need to worry about him, 80 miles to go..." I thought
So I began the steep climb up Powerline.
There is no "running" in this climb. It's way too steep and it's all loose rock. Think of climbing up something stupid steep on a bunch of marbles that are different sizes...
It's a gnarly MF'er.
I train on a lot of steep stuff in the mountains that surround Tucson, this kinda thing is right up my ally. But I struggled to find any sort of strength in my legs as I power hiked up.
I felt completely exhausted and was gasping for air as I topped out on the Rim.
That wasn't the issue, it's to be expected.
The issue was that my legs were SCREAMING in pain.
I stood there in disbelief. My thighs in particular were really hurting. I was completely shocked.
"What the fuck?" I grumbled. "22 miles in and my legs are destroyed?"
I tried to remind myself that it's a long race and I was sure to bounce back.
But this just felt different.
The next few miles were on a forest road that runs along the edge of the Rim. In 2015, I ran the entire stretch.
Not on this day. I couldn't find any rhythm! I would run a few hundred yards before having to walk. I began to get frustrated. I had trained on a steep forest road in the Catalina Mountains preparing for this very section and I had NOTHING!
My legs were burning with pain and the thought of another 75 miles seemed diabolical.
It felt like an eternity before I finally got to the Houston Brothers aid station and off that dreaded road.
I felt woozy and nauseous as I nibbled a few things and got refueled.
"He's only got 5 minutes on you!" One of the volunteers said.
"Alright then..." I moaned.
I could hardly talk. I was really hurting, but I figured the next stretch I was sure to find new life.
I thanked everyone and headed off to begin the beautiful Cabin Loop section. Single track underneath the shade of tall Ponderosa pines. It's some of the best trail running I've ever experienced and was sure to give me some pep!
I ran at a nice clip from there all the way to the Pinchot Cabin aid station, now about 34 miles into the race.
All that easy running in the shade did nothing for me. My legs were in more pain than ever. I was still nauseous. My attitude was beginning to plummet.
I thought about dropping when I got back to Washington Park. Mike Duer was set to pace me from there, so I shook that thought and tried focusing on moving.
I continued to slog along until I made it back to the top of Powerline. I took a quick breather and began to descend the monstrosity.
I can't adequately put into words how painful it was descending that section. My quads felt like they were being put through a meat grinder. My calves decided to join the party and began cramping. I had to alter my normal stride in an attempt to protect myself from the pain.
This was not good!
I began playing out different scenarios of how I would explain why I quit...
"My legs are destroyed, what can I say..."
"It's just not my day. We all have bad races..."
"I'm a loser."
I didn't like any of those.
"I don't drop races!" I barked at myself.
At 42 miles, I rolled into Washington Park without the option of dropping. I was going to fight until I couldn't fight any longer!
Oh the stupidity...
Mike was there to greet me and after a quick break and refuel, we were onto the Highline Trail.
Mike is not only a good friend of mine, but he also paced me at both Stagecoach and Javelina Jundred. I consider him kinda my 'ultra wing man'.
"Dude, my legs are in so much pain..." I explained to him.
"Yeah, once the sun goes down and it cools off, you'll start feeling better." He tried encouraging me.
The stretch from Washington Park to Hells Gate was a long 10 miles. Have I mentioned the pain in my legs yet?
Well, about that pain... It was getting worse and running at any pace was sheer agony. The frustration was unbearable because the energy to run was there, but the pain was winning the battle. I found some relief by soaking my legs in cool creek water every chance I got. It seemed to allow me about 10 to 15 minutes of sustained running before the pain would inevitably take over again.
About a mile before Hells Gate, I caught up to the leader of the race, Dustin Simoen. We all introduced each other and complained about the dreaded heat. Dustin said he had been struggling and felt overheated.
I got a little spirit after passing him and felt better than I had in a long time. We made a quick stop at Hells Gate aid station and were back on the move.
It was slow going on the Highline from that point on. Nothing but loose rocks and completely exposed to the glaring sun above.
Who's idea was this anyway?
That little adrenaline boost I got from taking over the lead was all but a memory as we began the slog up Myrtle.
My strengths became my weakness on that day. My legs seized up several times as we crawled up the trail. Dustin was a few minutes behind, slowly making his way up.
"Don't let him dictate your race..." Mike told me.
"Yeah, I know." I mumbled.
Deep down I felt like it didn't matter anyway.
Mike and I finally topped out and as soon as I began to run on the flat surface, my legs completely locked up in cramps.
I collapsed to the ground, it felt like the muscles in my calves were going to rip right out of my skin!
Mike grabbed my legs and stretched them out and the cramps subsided.
What a guy!
The next few miles were gradual downhill along a forest road. I managed to find a rhythm and ran that entire stretch to Buck Springs aid station at 58 miles.
I forced some food down my throat as one of the volunteers tried having a conversation with me. Talking took too much energy, so I said little.
The sun was setting and it was finally nice out. Unfortunately, that didn't matter.
From Buck Spring to the next aid station at Pinchot Cabin, everything went to hell.
I could hardly eat. I was drinking next to nothing. Running down hill was excruciating. Running up hill was impossible. The pain was constant. Every step was torture.
My demeanor took a nose dive.
"I just don't think I can continue feeling like this..." I moaned to Mike.
"I understand, but you are still moving well. You're in the lead!" He told me.
Mike was doing his best to keep me positive and I love the guy for that, but I knew that I couldn't go much longer. I realized there wasn't going to be a "bounce back" this time.
I began to go inward. Into my mind. I went ahead and welcomed in the darkness. I surrendered. There was nothing that could stop it.
"You shouldn't do this stupid shit anymore..." I sadly thought.
Eventually we made it to Pinchot Cabin aid station, 67 miles into the race.
I choked down a cup of ramen noodle soup and thought about my day. I thought about why I fell apart so early.
I thought about what I would tell Kristi and what everyone would think of me now that I am a quitter.
I thought about all the times I said I would never drop a race in an inconvenient place. I thought about why I do this stupid sport.
Somehow Mike convinced me to give the next stretch to Houston Brothers a shot. I don't know how he did it, I really don't. Maybe just to extend this story. Who knows...
But somehow I continued and so did the punishment. It only got uglier. At one point, I tripped over my own feet and fell to the ground.
"Fuck man!" I cried, laying there on a pile of rocks.
"What the hell...?" I moaned.
It was demoralizing.
Dustin squeezed pass me right before Houston Brother aid station. He was met with cheers and high fives.
I didn't want anyone to see me. I just wanted to disappear.
I came staggering up to the aid station cloaked in self despair.
"Need anything?" a volunteer asked.
"I just want to lay down." I said. "I need a place to lay down..."
My race ended right there. Laying in the fetal position on a cot, on top of the Mogollon Rim.
But this is not a bad ending. I am alive and well. And besides some sore twigs and a toenail that's not going to survive, I am in good health.
It was a wild adventure!
I've had a little time to process it and work through the depression, the frustration and the confusion.
I've come to the conclusion that I'll never know why my body decided to betray me that day.
I've had many great races, maybe I was due? This sport is about pushing yourself to reach new limits and I definitely achieved that.
Without a doubt, those last 20 miles were the most difficult, painful, humbling miles I've ever traveled.
I am stronger because of that.
Thank you, Mike, for helping me discover more about myself and what I'm capable of. I was in the gutter and unpleasant for a good chunk of our time together, you are a true friend for helping me continue for so long...
Even when I hated you for it!
I want to thank all the volunteers and congratulate everyone out there that battled the monster. Whether you finished or not, or if you came in first place or DFL. Respect. This stuff isn't for the weak.
I'll be back because lord knows how much I love this stupid sport!!
Until next time...
|Photo courtesy of Jamil Coury|