Days after the most epic adventure of my life I’m inspired by one thing: the potential of the human body.
Saturday brought a different kind of introspection. When you’re stripped down to the components of your being, your self, you realize what is important.
I pushed my body to a foreign place on Saturday at Grey Rock, and I’m amazed at how it continues to respond. I moved further and faster than I ever have through the rocky, hilly terrain.
The trail dished out punishment, but my legs almost welcomed the challenge (and the pain). With that, here’s a report from my first ultramarathon.
Carving through the Ahtanum State Forest for 45 minutes on a gravel road let us know we were in ‘the bush.’ No cell service, no infrastructure… Chris (the only other person crazy enough to do something like this) and I shrugged it off with a laugh.
After a quick check-in and pre-race pep talk, we were off! We fell into formation on a single track trail laced with switchbacks for about 5 km.
I stuck with a pack of five for the climb before two peeled off infront and behind. The top greeted us with an amazing view of the snow-capped Mount Rainier. I thought to myself how my favourite cheap beer is produced on that snowy peak.
Post-climb, we cruised down a lengthy, steep descent into a valley. We bombed it, but I tried my best to disperse the impact to my glutes in order to save my quads a bit for later in the run.
I had quad problems after a long descent during my marathon, so this was something constantly on my mind.
Knowing the course is a 25 km out and back, I vividly recall thinking to myself “man this is going to be a bitch to climb later on.”
Alas, the descent lead to the first aid station. This is where my competitive instincts kicked in. I wanted a quick turn around.
I fumbled with my water bottles, but managed to fill them up, ate a ton of food (peanut butter filled pretzels? Giddyup!), and set off for climb numero dos.
This was the longest climb of the day – about 12 km up 2400 feet to the top of a beautifully situated ridge at 6600 feet of elevation.
The nature of ultrarunning is such where you can’t run everything. This is a bit of a mental adjustment for me, giving I’ve never practiced ‘hiking’ or anything close to it. Apparently you just walk… for an extended period of time.
Nonetheless, the trail gets so steep that running is not only counterproductive in terms of energy output, but it is also barely quicker than a more efficient power hike.
So our crew of three prodded up and up, finally reaching the second aid station at the 25km turn-around point.
The views were truly breathtaking — 360 degrees of chiseled mountains extending to the horizon. I remember being jealous of the aid station volunteers who got to the views from atop the ridge all day.
I also realized that we were in 4th place. Shocker.
My eyes immediately fixated on the peanut butter sandwiches. It’s funny how, when you’re stripped down, it is the simplest of things which bring enjoyment.
I destroyed a PB&J, and some juicy watermelon – cracked a few bad jokes to the friendly aid stationers, relieved myself on a nearby tree, and was on my way back down (bringing a second PB&J for the road of course).
The descent back to the bottom of the valley was where the pain started to set in. A few callouses-turned-blisters and more ankle roles and catch-myself-stumbles than I care to remember.
But, we hit the final aid station still in our pod of three. The volunteers asked my name and I told replied with a grin: “David Hasselhoff.” I think this confirmed I was in good spirits and not severely dehydrated.
After stuffing my face with a banana, more peanut butter filled pretzels and M&Ms by the handful, my outlook shifted on the final climb.
Upon learning that the 2nd and 3rd place runners were 7 and 10 minutes ahead, I surged forward with my two compatriots, ready to tackle the same gnarly climb that took us about 45 minutes to bomb down hours earlier.
The climb sucked – lots of power hiking, water sipping, and grunting. Nothing pretty about this hour and a half as sweat poured down and my head got a tad foggy, but we grinded it out.
I was straddling this line between contentment and competition. It was a longshot to catch anyone, but I didn’t care, I wanted to win and needed to try.
So we continued up this brutal ridge, while I kept the thought in the back of my mind of catching one.
I was in hunting mode and I loved it.
We kept pushing the pace, I led for sections, then Chris led. Our tank emptying, but something kept us moving, step by step.
My addictive personality is such that I fixate myself on certain things and get absorbed in complete tunnel vision.
Everyone talks about enjoying your first ultra, I cherished every second of it. But I’m always hungry for that next thing. If you’re going to set out on an adventure, why not pursue your potential?
The top of the climb finally came. Now the fun part – a 5 km descent to the finish!
I pictured myself hobbling down this final stretch with shredded quads, but surprisingly, my legs felt… decent.
I had some pep, so did Chris (we lost Matt on the climb, who just came off a 100 miler 3 weeks prior!), so we cruised down growling, hooting, and hollering our way to the finish.
We couldn’t make up the time on the 2nd and 3rd placers – they finished 2 and 3.5 minutes ahead of us respectively.
They also apparently heard our yells, along with the everyone else at the finish.
So Chris and I crossed the line together in 4th with a time of 5 hours 33 minutes. It’s certainly an adventure, and I loved every minute of it.
There’s a certain purity I experienced on the trail, one I can’t quite describe. The best description I can give is one of simplicity.
Everything slows and you’re focused on one task: to finish. Step by step, climb by climb, you hone in on our innate sense of progress, of forward momentum until the job is done.
It sounds corny, but I was consumed by my surroundings, and it was a beautiful thing.
Conquering climbs, peaks, and mountains on your two feet brings an almost paleolithic (not the shitty diet) feel.
There’s something primal about travelling long distances through the wild using your own two feet and I can’t wait to keep exploring my potential.
I estimated eating about 1500 calories through the run consisting of 6 Honey Stinger Waffles (reminded me of stroop waffles from Belgium: delicious), two PB&J sandwiches, a bag of M&Ms, countless PB filled pretzels, a banana, tons of watermelon.
Finally, I’m grateful for all the support from you: I read every single message, Tweet, and word of encouragement – these are what got me through it.
Forward momentum is something I spend a lot of time thinking about. For whatever reason, I need that constant feeling of progress – the reassurance that I’m not wasting time, not moving backwards.
Moving forward is about never settling with where you’re currently at. Why should I settle when there is so much more out there? Bucket lists, careers, and living a life worth living.
I’m starting to contemplate how you only get one go at this thing. Why waste time on anything? Those 2 hours wasted online, that hungover day laying in your room with fans blowing in your face – whatever it is, you’ll never get it back once it passes.
Time is without a doubt your most valuable commodity.
For me, I relish the present moment. I find myself more content with just being – not worried about the past, and not looking forward to the future.
The tricky part is that there is a fine line with this thinking. If you’re satisfied with being present, then how does ambition fit into the equation?
Ambition means planning and thinking big, and part of thinking big is positioning yourself for the future.
Running my first marathon was the single most rewarding thing I’ve done in the last year. I look back on that morning and I’m pierced with this urge to get that feeling again.
Leading into it, I planned on taking it fairly easy for the rest of the summer because the time commitment is such a sacrifice.
Choosing to stay in on a Saturday night because of the impending 35km Sunday morning stroll is fine… but enjoying the fruitful Vancouver summer is a top priority as well.
The timing was perfect: I could bang out the marathon in early May without destroying my summer activities. But something happened.
After a month or so ‘off’ and taking care of a nagging knee issue from the marathon, I’m getting another itch. Life without challenges is boring.
I want to compete… to keep pushing my body and mind.
To satisfy said itch, I’ve decided to run an ultramarathon (ultra) this summer. Ultras are anything over the standard marathon (42km or 26 miles).
Setting goals is important. You know that so I won’t get into the kumbaya swan song because you’ve heard it before. What I will say is that I put a lot of thought into my personal and professional goals.
I regularly write them out and share them with those who’ll keep me accountable.
With that, I’m setting the goal to complete two ultras by the end of October. The reason I share this with you to keep me accountable (please do).
It’s easy to think big to yourself – much harder to let others in on your dreams and the accompanying uncertainty.
So over the next few months, in addition to my other musings, I’ll share everything associated with my lead up to run an ultra.
I’ll give you a snapshot of the training which you’ll be interested in because it is a bit different from the traditional schools of thought.
The training plan is still being put together, but I’ve consulted a couple of ‘experts’ and literature. We’re going fine tune this machine.
I have some unique challenges in preparing given that I work a lot (who doesn’t?), am currently without car (makes it difficult to access local trails), and also love going to the gym. All of these potentially make things counterproductive.
The gym one is interesting because I’m stubborn and refuse to give it up. The feeling of lifting weights in therapeutic and stress relieving for me.
I also don’t want to shrivel up and turn into some malnourished looking marathon dude.
Another challenge is social activities through the summer. Thus far, I’ve been out of town on weekends for music festivals, stags, and weddings.
After I stopped playing field hockey competitively, I told myself I would never sacrifice experiences for sport. Life is too short and I already sacrificed too much.
These make training pretty difficult given that weekends are the logical time to get in the long, hilly runs that I’ll need to prepare my body for a long slogs through the mountains.
We’ll see how things play out, but I’m confident I can find a balance between getting my body ready without ruining summer festivities.
You’ll find out over the next month if I can indeed have my cake and eat it.
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