Thursday, September 27, 2012

Rough Creek 40 Miler Race Report

I have arrived. I am home.
In the here. In the now.
I am solid. I am free.
In the [ultra] I dwell.
—Thich Nhat Hanh, adapted via Timothy Olsen

I didn't learn of this gem of a saying until after my debut in the ultra racing world, but it fits. On Sept 15, I ran 40 miles. On trails. At one time. I finished in 9:39:08. It was glorious. 

This was the inaugural running of the Rough Creek 40, a fantastic trail race put on by Dave Hanenburg at Endurance Buzz Adventures. The course is made up of three 13.55 miles loops featuring both insanely steep (~30% grade) sections (the Rusty Crown) and fast jeep roads. Over run either section and you'll get shredded on the other. Nice thinking, Dave! What a unique course. Here's the profile:
Courtesy of Endurance Buzz Adventures

The total elevation gain/loss was +5369.9 ft / -5370.5 ft for about 10,700 ft of elevation change (and most of that is over the course three trips to the 3.5 mile Rusty Crown. Oh boy!
The meanest incline on the Rusty Crown. Note that all three of these runners are bowing low to the Crown (the only appropriate response). Image courtesy of Suann.

Loop 1
I started Loop 1 nice and easy. I knew what was coming since I went on the recon run with Dave and some new friends the weekend prior. The Rusty Crown would be no joke (gotta respect the Crown, people). My goal was to run even splits and since this was my first 40 mile *race,* (and only really a training run) there was no sense in getting too worked up. I took the Crown in stride, if maybe a bit too fast and then relaxed through the flat remainder of the loop, coming in at 2:35:59. My nutrition was spot on, but this was a bit quicker than I had planned. My Vertical K's handled everything really well, but they were a bit soft underfoot for my taste, so I switched to my Merrell Mix Master 2's. My mom was coming to cheer me on, but, since I came in a bit too quickly, she wasn't there yet. I missed seeing her, but no worries. I'd catch her later. Rachel was working the Start/Finish aid station, which was so cool. I was so excited to see her and have her cheer me on.

Coming in after Loop 1. Ditched the second bottle then.

Loop 2
Back out on the Crown, I was regretting my shoe switch. I had not run in these shoes before (Isn't there something people say about doing that?...). The upper is great, but I'll be damned if the sock-liner didn't start bunching up beneath my toes on the descents on Rusty Crown. I had read about this, but ignored the warnings. It was really discouraging, not to mention uncomfortable, to have to keep trying to flatten out the sock-liner without taking the shoes off. I would have to run another 9 miles or so in these shoes—at which point I would rip them off and send them back. Fortunately, they were fine on the flats, but I was a bit slower there, due to the beating my feet had taken at the hands of the sock-liner (sounds so pathetic!) and another trip to the Crown. I came into the Start/Finish aid station for a second time, having run about 27.1 miles and feeling great. I got even more of an energy bump from seeing both my mom and Rachel there—cheering me on and watching me do my thing. I came in at 5:46:37 (split: ~3h 10m).

Happy after 27.1 miles. Mom in the background.
[Side note: I can't believe that, after such a long time living a sedentary life, I would come into an aid station after running 27.1 rugged miles... feel great... and still want more—a good thing since I still had another 13.55 to go!] 

Loop 3
I changed back into my Vertical K's, hit up some coconut water and ran off to finish up. I was running completely alone at this point. For those not quite familiar with ultras, this is not at all uncommon as the field tends to separate out over the distance. I was quite happy to be running alone as 99.9% of my training is done alone. It lets me slip off into a place that's difficult to articulate, perhaps into the "fully present." 

I have arrived. I am home.
In the here. In the now.
I am solid. I am free.
In the [ultra] I dwell.

The final trip to the Rusty Crown was a beast! I mean, really, it was tough. And the flats that were so easy the first loop were now really hurting. But, I had stayed on top of my nutrition for the entire race and was surprised to find that I was in very good spirits the entire time. I was even smiling, singing along to my tunes, and giggling. I felt in control, even amidst the pain of the pounding on my legs. With one mile left, I decided to spend whatever money I had left in the bank and so I took off. I was happy to find that I quickly dropped into a sub 9 minute pace and then sub 8. I was able to finish the last .25 mile or so at a 7:10 mile, with a grin the size of Texas, at 9:39:08 (split: ~3h 50m).

I was received by Rachel and my mom; words really can't describe the feeling. It was amazing. 

Done! And just a bit disappointed it was over.
Obviously, I couldn't have done this without the support of the awesome volunteers (including an old college friend that I had no idea would be there—Kevin Luper—so cool). Dave put on an incredible race and one that I hope is held again next year. It was an epic event.

 It was so special to run my first ultra with my mother there to cheer me on. I wish my dad could have been there. He really would have been proud to see me running farther than he preferred to drive. He has been gone for over six years now and it still seems like yesterday. I'd like to think he was watching, but even then—selfishly, I must admit—I wanted to see him see me; to experience him reveling in this enormous accomplishment. It's one of my proudest moments to date and it just wasn't the same without him there. Miss you, Dad. A lot.

What went Well
  • Nutrition: Spot on. Perfect. Drank Heed in between aid stations and got some water at the stations before refilling on Heed. Took 2-3 gels per hour, plus 2-3 S-Caps in the same period. Felt stable and happy the entire time and I ran almost the entire flat section of the course.
  • Fun: Check. I really lived it up out there.
What I can Improve
  • Aid station stops. I can shave more time off of these, particularly later in the race. I easily spent a total of 20-25 minutes at the three aid stations on Loop 3. 
  • Shoes: Don't switch them unless absolutely necessary. Takes a lot of time.
  • Drop bag: Keep it simple and keep it organized. It's tough to dig through a bag after 27 miles!
  • Speed: I need to focus on hills and speedwork in my next training block (after October). I'm making big gains for where I'm at, but I'll really benefit from that focused work. I can feel that my body will really soak it up. It's time.
What's Next?
Next up? On Oct 20, I've got my first 50 miler— the Palo Duro Trail Run, which goes through the Palo Duro Canyon floor. Can't. Freaking. Wait.

Until next time... 


  1. You were absolutely AMAZING out there! It was always so encouraging to see you smiling at the aid stations. What a great way to enter the ultramarathon world! Your dad would be SO proud... just like your mom & I are!

  2. Hey man. Congrats. I ran the marathon. My first. I also just dnf'ed the 50 miler at palo. After only 15 miles. :/ My body wasnt working right. Anyway, great blog, man.