Have a Healthy New Year

Forgetting perhaps that I also run, my brother sent me a link to one of those clickbait Active.com articles the other day entitled, “15 Reasons Running is Better Than Cycling.” A listicle, even! His message said simply, “Uh oh …”

Without hesitation, I messaged back that at least cyclists don’t spend half the year injured, and he responded with, “Unless they crash.”

Touché.

Fortunately, this blog isn’t about bicycle crashes—but unfortunately, it is about spending half the year with a running injury. Second year in a row, I might add. Different injury.

I think the thing that’s most infuriating about running injuries is that they seem to creep up without a lot of warning. There’s no shotgun blast as your achilles tendon rolls up into a ball in your calf or sudden sharp pain as your ligaments pull loose from the ankle bones. No, you just wake up one morning going, “What exactly is that little ache?”

This time, however, I feel like I can sort of pinpoint when it all went down.

I was running up a mountain a couple of weeks after doing Ragnar Wasatch Back. My calves felt tight, and I hadn’t done much running after Ragnar. But, I thought, that would constitute a normal taper before a race. Oddly, I remember feeling a tingling sensation and even a little numbness in the bottoms of my feet.

I can’t say for certain, but not long after that, I started waking up with a dull ache toward the rear of my arches. It took me probably a month and a half to self-diagnose plantar fasciitis, but here I am, five months later, still waking up with a slightly less extreme version of that dull ache every morning.

Now, granted, it’s 100% my fault that I’m still dealing with it. I should’ve quit running right away. But instead, I went and did my favorite event, the Grand Teton Relay, just a month later. Then I ran up the very same mountain as part of the Hidden Peak Challenge. And then, even after taking it mostly easy, I went and ran the stupid Turkey Trot at Thanksgiving.

Finally, I’ve decided to take a little time off running. And I’m convinced that, if I play my cards right, I can actually make this time off count for something. For starters, I came across a video from famed Canuck triathlete Kirsten Sweetland about making the offseason count:

And then I came across this fascinating podcast from a running researcher who says you basically can’t improve your running stride just by thinking about it—and that if you want to improve your running economy, you either have to do that by running tons of miles or through gym work.

So yeah, needless to say, I’m spending plenty of time in my home gym, and I’m riding the mountain bike every chance I get. I keep telling myself that if I end up racing the bike next year instead of running, that that’s okay.

I just have to make sure I don’t crash. 🙂

Taken

A friend of mine posted something on Facebook today about running and how uncomfortable it was. It got me thinking …

Okay, I just stuck this in here because I didn't want you to get bored with the nonstop text. Keep reading.
Okay, I just stuck this in here because I didn’t want you to get bored with the nonstop text. Keep reading.

There’s something really unique about running fast. There’s a certain threshold that you cross when you give everything you are over to it. Suddenly, every movement, every conscious ounce of your body is engaged in the deliberate action of running. Every muscle, every bone, every organ, and every drop of blood pumping through your arteries — it all comes together for one purpose.

You see this in professional runners when they go hard enough. You see Paula Radcliffe nodding her head like a donkey as she chases a marathon world record no one else has touched. You see the muscles in Genzebe Dibaba’s face tense up as she hurls herself toward the finish line. You watch Bernard Lagat’s eyes grow wide as he kicks out those long strides down the final stretch.

And in that moment, running is no longer something you’re doing; it’s what you are.

Of course, it feels terrible. But all at once it’s both delicately aesthetic, uniquely beautiful, and devastatingly intense. It’s a sublime and yet viscerally awful experience. Moments like those, you realize, have killed men and women — blowing the gaskets on their vascular cylinders, so to speak.

I don’t think any other sport is quite like that — not the same way, anyway. Not cycling, not swimming, not snowshoeing or football. So it makes sense that runners hampered by injury or age find themselves longing for another time, a time when the movement itself swallowed them whole — before spitting them out on the beach past the finish line.

The Ultra (aka “a race recap from 6 months ago”)

Look, another photo—I'm on a roll!

Years ago, I’d set a rule for myself that I’d never do the same race twice. And then one September, I discovered the Widow Maker, and I instantly fell in love — with its mercurial weather, its relentlessly unforgiving and often puzzling gradients, its capricious traction, its pristine alpine air, and most of all with the adventure of ascending a 3,100-foot mountain in 70 minutes or less. So I scratched my rule and replaced it with a commitment to come back to the Widow Maker for as long as the race exists.

Well, life changes, and in 2014, I had an obligation to my daughter that far outweighed any rashly made promises I’d made in the blind heat of racing passion. When i realized I wouldn’t be able to make it to my favorite race, I looked around on the calendar for something else.

As it turned out, there was one other hill climb that used the same course — with a slight variation. I’d still get to climb to monolithic Hidden Peak, 11,000 feet above sea level, but first, I’d have to climb from the valley to the ski hill, a climb of 3,300 feet in 9.5 miles. If you’re doing your math, you know that means this would turn out to be about 6,400 feet in 15 miles.

I figured I’d take it casually and simply participate instead of racing it. When the race started, I moseyed along, casually chatting with the racers around me.

“Hey man,” one of them said, clearly annoyed my garrulousness, “you’re not going hard enough if you can talk.”

What can I say? Exertion makes me talkative. Chocolate makes me talkative. Being within a five-minute radius of another human being makes me talkative! But I didn’t want to throw off his groove, so I quieted down. When he decided to attack the pack as we hit the climb, I went with him. And when he saw I was on his wheel, he turned and said, “You wanna work together?”

“Yeah,” I said, “I’m game.”

It came time for me to take my pull, so I got out of the saddle and went to the front. But when I turned around to see who we’d dropped … he was nowhere to be seen. Whoops.

Out of the saddle and feeling good at Snowbird — that's a first!
Out of the saddle and feeling good at Snowbird — that’s a first!

So instead, I soldiered on ahead by myself, and every time I got out of the saddle, I caught and/or dropped someone else. Working my way up the climb, I found rider after rider who’d gone out too hard or whatever, and one by one, they dropped behind me.

As I rounded Taylor’s Flat, with about a mile to go, I eased up, knowing I’d need to save some juice for the mountain bike climb. And at that point, a couple of guys got away from me. But when I came to the transition, I told my wife I was having a journal day. I grabbed my mountain bike and my Camelbak, and I was off.

As I rounded the initial switchbacks, I caught up to some girl who I’d seen ahead on the road climb, and she commented that she probably wouldn’t be able to keep up with me. I told her I’d never done that particular race before and I hadn’t even ridden much longer than an hour all year, so I probably wasn’t much of a threat.

Just moments later, we got to a steep climb, and as I gripped my handlebars, they twisted slightly with the torque. Handlebars, in case you’re not aware, are not supposed to do that. I quietly hoped I was just hallucinating, but as I came to the big switchback that signals the start of Peruvian Gulch, they twisted again. “Oh no,” I thought. “I knew I should’ve packed a multitool.”

My handlebars started wiggling out of place, and my magical fitness quickly faded. Racers started catching and dropping me just as I’d done only a half hour before. I’d been pedaling uphill almost nonstop for two hours when my bars finally came completely free of the stem, and when that happened, I had no choice but to walk. The heat of the day was starting to microwave the trail beneath me as the peak loomed tauntingly above. I threw my bike over my shoulder as I fumbled through loose rock on a steep switchback.

Behind me, another racer approached, and this time he looked oddly familiar.

“I think I’ve seen you in a YouTube video,” I told him. “Isn’t your name Brett Hawke or something?”

“You really have seen me in a YouTube video, haven’t you?”

We exchanged a few pleasantries, but ultimately, I learned he didn’t have a multitool either, so the conversation ended pretty quickly.

After a few more passersby, an older gentleman came riding up the switchback beneath me.

“You got a multitool on ya?” I plied.

“Hah?”

“A multitool — do you have one?”

“Hah?”

After about the third time, I thought he was just having obnoxious fun at my expense, but then he reached into his jersey pocket and then handed me a fairly robust multitool. “I don’t want to have to slow down to give it to you,” he said snarkily.

“Thanks!” I called as he pedaled off. “I’ll give it to you at the top.”

“Whatever.”

Despite the odd exchange, I was elated. I tightened the hex bolts on my stem, threw a leg over my seat and got back to pedaling what was left of my sorry carcass up the mountain. I easily cleaned the last few switchbacks, crossed the finish line and tracked down my good Samaritan. Minutes later, my wife and sister got off the tram and found me crumpled over my bike.

I’d produced one of the worst race results I’ve ever had for the Ultra, but on the flip side, I’d had a great ride on the road hill climb, enough for a 6th place in my age group. I’d flirted with my limits and perhaps even pushed them a little.

When the date for the Widow Maker rolled around, I was with my daughter, where I needed to be. But little did I know that, hundreds of miles away, it was snowing on Hidden Peak, and there was a race organizer telling a group of mountain bikers to head back to their cars.

The Widow Maker had been postponed …

The Final Stretch (Ragnar Part 4)

This’ll make a lot more sense if you read this, this and this first.

I told someone I went to Las Vegas in November, and she immediately asked, “Did you go ride the roller coaster? Or go up in the Space Needle?” No and no. I hadn’t done any of the usual stuff in Vegas. Basically, I’d shown up, run, slept, and gone home.

The Creep Van
The Creep Van — just so you know I’m not making this stuff up.

That’s not to say I completely missed out on the Vegas experience. There were plenty of adult-themed Ragnar teams with adult-themed cartoons and jokes scrawled across their adult-themed vans. You can just imagine the cartoon that accompanied the statement “You’ve been flashed by …” Then there was the “Creep Van,” with “we have candy!” and “free puppies!” written on its windows. Just walking around the parking lot at the main transition was enough to leave you feeling guilty for all of the unrestrained laughter. (Scan the Ragnar team list for additional risqué team names — but don’t say I didn’t warn you!)

Then there were the costumes. When you’re running in the middle of the night, everyone looks the same: headlamp, tail-light, reflective vest, darkness. But when the sun comes back out and things warm up, out come the tutus, masks, neon spandex, clever t-shirts, etc. The college-age girl I met in the last blog post? The next time I saw her, she was dressed as a kitty cat in a bikini. Some people were more subtle about it, wearing only Dr. Seuss-style knee-length socks or a Forrest Gump outfit to compliment their beards.

Then there were the NeverNudes. Jon had told me about this hilarious YouTube video he’d seen of Team NeverNudes, a group that races in cutoff jean shorts and frequently takes the top spot for the entire race, earning themselves an additional medal. One of their runners, he said, had even run his first mile in 4:30 — blisteringly fast for a 200-mile relay!

So I was feeling pretty out of place at this exchange zone until I happened to bump into the Real Housewives of Teton County, a group of women who’d also run the Grand Teton Relay and live just over the mountain from me. That tells you how crazy it was: I was looking to Idahoans — of all people! — for normalcy.

After rubbing shoulders with these other teams at one of the larger exchanges, we headed back to the hotel for some more much-needed shut-eye. After an hour or two, I’d had enough, so I headed for the hotel lobby, grabbed some grub and sat down with a great article in USA Today about Sir Winston Churchill. In walked … another Ragnar team. Guess we weren’t the only ones with the brilliant idea to get a hotel room.

Duck!
Duck!

We met back with the other team for our final exchange on a road right next to the Las Vegas airport. Every few minutes, we’d get buzzed by a massive commercial jet landing across the road from us.

By the time our Van 1 runner arrived, it was already warming up, so Paul asked us to meet him halfway through his leg with some water. I found a spot in the shade where I started high-fiving runners as they ran past, including some really fast teenager who was blowing past all of these older runners.

Waiting at the next exchange, I started chatting with a pregnant gal who was wearing a t-shirt that indicated she was from Panguitch, and she filled me in on the fast teenager. “She’s a state champion cross-country runner,” she said. “I’m her coach, and this girl is her sister.”

Jordan trying to flag us down a quicker ride home ...
Jordan trying to flag us down a quicker ride home.

Jordan took his handoff and we moved on to the next exchange. Whereas I’d run my previous two legs in 40- to 50-degree weather, I’d be running my last one in 80-degree heat. Fortunately, my last leg would be a pancake-flat 2.7 miles — a drag race.

Jordan handed off to me in a small city park, and I took off. And almost right away, I caught and passed a guy in cutoff jeans … one of the notorious NeverNudes! The Death Trap passed me just a few moments later, but then a funny thing happened: I caught up to my van … and then passed it while they were stuck at a stop sign. Then I caught and passed them again at a stoplight.

I’ve learned what makes running so irresistible for so many running addicts: it’s that feeling when your entire body becomes engaged in the forward motion of running, when every swing of your arm, every bob of your head is involved in driving your body forward. When that happens, running ceases to be something you merely do, a verb; instead, it becomes something you are — a state of being.

Absorbed in the motion, I  got a song stuck in my head, something I’d heard when I’d used the restroom at the Casino before the start: You Found Me, by The Fray, which turned out to be the perfect running anthem for that last leg. Just then, I turned a corner and caught sight of a runner ahead — I was coming up behind the pregnant cross country coach and closing fast. I was too out of breath to say anything as I went by, so instead, I tapped her shoulder, gave her a thumbs-up and kept going.

The final stretch was a city park replete with little rolling hills and sharp turns. I saw Jon and tried to pick up the pace, but I was already flooring it. I finished my leg (which turned out to be more like 2.9 miles) in around 20 minutes, and I was completely out of breath for at least a few minutes before I climbed in the Death Trap. Once again, I’d nearly beaten the van!

Waiting at the next exchange, I bumped into the cross country coach.

“Hey, I still respect your coaching abilities,” I said, trying to get a laugh out of her, “even though I passed you.”

“Well, in her condition …” one of her teammates clearly wasn’t getting the joke.

“I know,” I reassured. “I’m just giving her a hard time. I’m just lucky she didn’t sick one of her high school runners on me!”

Fortunately, the coach got it.

Fun times … and not a slot machine in sight!
Fun times … and not a slot machine in sight!

The Sarahs ran their last legs, and then we all met up together at the Red Rocks Casino for the finish. We’d crossed the line in 29 hours, taking 76th place overall. But once it was all done, we were all done too. We went to some Chinese restaurant and then piled into the vans and called it a race. The next day, I was back in Idaho, and two days later, I was back at the office.

That’s when I finally looked up the NeverNudes’ video, I saw a familiar face. As it turned out, I know the guy who ran the 4:30 opening mile. It was Nick Symmonds, two-time Olympian, silver medalist at the 2013 World Championship, and all-around nice guy.

“Hmmm,” I thought, “maybe we could get him on our team next year …”

On the Rivet (Ragnar part 3)

If you ACTUALLY want this to make sense, you’ll probably need to read this and this before you read ahead.

I sometimes hear people wondering where to find the motivation to exercise. Sometimes they even post about it online, and I find myself replying and then quickly erasing my reply instead of publishing it — because I know it’ll just sound weird or crazy.

Truth is, I rely on YouTube videos to get me psyched up about exercise. Seriously. It started with videos like this one, then this one, especially this one, and now even this one. I’d find myself watching them and thinking, “I want to do that,” and it would often lead to me doing a similar event just to have the experience for myself.

When that happened, I found a new source of inspiration: memories. I find myself daydreaming about running up through the clouds on Rendezvous Mountain, riding through the snow on my way to Hidden Peak, wiping the drool off my chin on the crazy gradients of Powder Mountain, or even just snowshoeing through my local trail network on a frosty and foggy January morning. My 2 a.m. leg of Ragnar Las Vegas is sure to join the list of motivational memories I’ll draw from in the future. It was both the shortest and the most awesome leg in the whole event.

After a bizarre episode where we’d groggily missed our Van 1 runner coming through the exchange zone (which made me feel better about my own navigational flop), Paul had started us off and then handed the baton to Jordan at some vacant lot on the side of a major road around 1 a.m. The last stretch of Jordan’s leg climbed up the outside of this half-bowl-shaped section of golf course to this little city park by the main road.

I was practically shivering as I watched two headlamps working their way up the trail in what looked like an epic battle for supremacy — one trying to make the catch and the other fending him off. All around us, unconscious Las Vegans (vegans?) had no idea about the drama unfolding on their quiet little golf course. And only when the race officials announced his number did I realize one of those duelists was my own brother!

The other runner somehow managed to just barely hold Jordan off in a last-second sprint, slapping his bracelet baton on a girl’s wrist just moments before Jordan did the same for me. So naturally I had to blow right past the girl before we even got out of sight from the exchange zone. Then the pathway descended into this brightly lit tunnel that dipped beneath a major road. It was cold enough that I could see my breath in the light of my headlamp.

Right after the tunnel, the pathway turned upward, and I immediately caught and passed two more gasping runners. Then the path turned to trail — a genuine singletrack, no less — and I caught two more runners who were side by side and clogging up the path. Like a peeved motorcyclist behind two dawdling minivans, I shot the gap, passed another runner and then clawed my way to the top of the trail.

Leg 21 elevation map
It doesn’t look like much, but 400 feet of elevation gain in 2 miles is far from flat.

The trail dumped me onto some silent, tree-lined, suburban road where I followed the signs until they led me to a sharp left and a steep, paved uphill. On a flat road, you can zone out and pretty much forget what you’re doing, but on an uphill with an unsteady gradient, you have to concentrate on recalibrating and adjusting your pace to match the slant of the road — or you’ll find yourself walking.

As the road kicked up, I was already on the edge — running hard enough that walking crossed my mind but not hard enough to actually give in. Ahead, I could see two or three runners who’d reached the hill and begun walking. I quickly caught them and worked my way past the next group. Then I spotted two tail-lights that appeared to belong to people who were still running.

“I probably won’t catch them,” I thought. But as the hill snaked through the dark, empty streets, those lights came closer and closer … until they were behind me.

Just as I caught the second one, we were back onto another golf course pathway — this one a serpentine, undulating route through the shadowy green. As it tilted up for one last steep stretch, I passed a young girl with a flashlight and a walkie-talkie who spotlighted my number and then called it in to the exchange ahead. And then I quickly caught a laboring group of three who were working their way up the final steep incline to the orange cones.

I handed off to Jon, hyperventilating like I’d just come up for air, and Jordan told me they’d barely gotten there — I’d nearly beaten the van to the exchange! I’d passed 15+ runners on this leg alone, which is as many as I caught in the entire Grand Teton Relay, and it was my shortest leg!

Picture from the exchange zone
I look decently awake in this picture, right?

At the next exchange, I was standing behind two tall college-age girls when I overheard the one say, “It was only supposed to be 10 miles — nobody told me they’d all be uphill!”

That’s when the hilarity of the situation hit me: Everyone else had volunteered to be Runner 9 because it meant running less mileage. I did it because it meant running the most uphill — 1,100 feet, of which 400 came during my middle-of-the-night leg. And that meant there’d be plenty of exhausted people to pass on my final leg in the afternoon …

Deep In the Hole of Vegas (Ragnar Part 2)

If this post doesn’t make any sense, it’s probably because you haven’t read Part 1 yet.

By the time we arrived at the correct exchange, the sun had almost completely vanished behind the horizon — dusk was giving way to darkness. We spotted Paul lying down in the grass before we even found a parking spot, so I rudely shoved Jordan out the passenger door, and he got going.

“I passed a bunch of people,” a clearly disappointed Paul told us as he climbed in the passenger seat, “but they all caught and passed me while I was waiting.”

Being the Canadian that I am, I began a steady stream of “I’m sorry!” that would probably still be going right now if Paul weren’t at least a few miles away from me at this moment. My mistake, we realized, was assuming that the address on the page of the leg map was the beginning point for that leg when it was really the end. So you’d have to look at the page BEFORE your leg to find the address for where your leg would start.

Jordan with one leg behind him … race leg that is … you know what I mean
Jordan the first time we showed up at exchange 8 … before we realized we were in the wrong place completely … and yes, Jordan, I stole this off your Instagram account to make you famous!

Jordan’s leg was perfectly suited to him: a long, steady downhill. Jordan, unlike me, has indestructible legs made of titanium (not literally), so he can run forever, and he even prefers downhill over uphill. Psycho.

I couldn’t even tell it was Jordan as he came running up to the exchange point — one of the consequences of him wearing a headlamp. But I was pretty sure Paul needed me to give him some space, so I grabbed the slap bracelet without thinking twice about it. If Jordan hadn’t said something when he handed off the bracelet, I probably would’ve spent my whole leg wondering if I had some other team’s nasty, gross, sweaty slap bracelet attached to my wrist … because that would be so much more gross than having the sweat from all of these other strangers I’d just met the day before. Good thing I’m not a germaphobe or anything.

My first leg started with perhaps a tenth of a mile winding through that park before it dumped me onto a long, gradual uphill, then a trail and then more uphill. By the time I got out of the park, I was already in oxygen debt — I was keenly aware that I’d put us in the hole with my little navigation mishap, and, like a delusional gambler who just lost his children’s college savings at the blackjack table, I wanted to get it all back!

Here's the elevation map of my first leg — not that bad, really
Here’s the elevation map of my first leg — not that bad, really …

I felt like I was moving pretty quickly, but I couldn’t see anyone ahead of me as I started on the long, uphill straightaway. I even began wondering if I was running on the wrong road until I saw a faint tail light up ahead. I must’ve already been experiencing middle-of-the-night hallucinations  because it seemed as if the light was moving toward me.

Going to the light gave me no premonitions of death, at least not right then, so I kept right on running full tilt. I blew right past the runner, who, it turned out, was actually running the same direction I was. Then I caught another, and then made the left turn and quickly caught two more. I reached the trail with five or six so-called “kills” and a strong suspicion that I’d gone out waaaayyyyy too hard.

The “trail,” as it turned out, was this bizarre undulating gravel pit. I’d be moving at a solid clip when, whoosh, the ground would disappear from underneath me in the dark and I’d drop five feet into this little gully, and a few steps later, I’d run up the other side. I quickly caught some guy who was moving at a good, but not great pace — and I’m pretty sure I freaked him out as I came up on him huffing and puffing like a 5’7″ hairy legged sasquatch. When I went to pass him, the gravel on either side was oatmeal soft, so instead, I got comfortable for a bit and then passed him when the trail widened.

As I exited the gravel pit, I came up behind two very slow runners who were blocking the entire sidewalk. I puffed out an “excuse me” and shot the gap, still wondering if I’d completely overcooked my legs in the first few miles.

I crested the hill and spotted the exchange, but it was on the other side of the street, which struck me as odd. I checked for traffic and ran over to a reflective-vest-wearing volunteer only to discover that I was supposed to run down to a distant intersection, cross the street like an old grandma in need of a dutiful boy scout, and then run the rest of the way to the exchange on the other side of the road.

“Oh,” I said, “okay.”

And I turned around and ran back across the street with the volunteer yelling, “No, hey, it’s okay …”

When I finally got to the exchange, getting mixed up once more as I came up to the pylons, my team was yelling “Go Mike!” and had actually gotten the crowd cheering for me too. Some random guy yelled out, “Way to go, Mike!” In retrospect, I should’ve responded MetroMan style: “And I love you, random citizen,” but if you can’t back it up by flying away, what’s the point, right?

“I think I probably passed 9 or 10 people,” I told Paul, in between gasps. “I hope that makes up for being late to your exchange — sorry!”

We piled in the Death Trap with me still hyperventilating and made our way to a park next to a large paintball arena and a brightly lit baseball diamond for the next exchange. And right about then, The Wicked Witch of the Waste came up with a brilliantly evil scheme … actually it was just a great idea, but wicked witches don’t typically just have “great ideas.”

“I have all of those points saved up from staying at Marriott hotels,” she said. “Why don’t I reserve us a room at a Marriott around here and we can get some sleep after I finish?”

The Grand Teton Relay was all about the backwoods — sleeping in a sleeping bag, carrying a canister of bear spray, watching the sunrise over the Tetons. At Vegas, when we had some spare time before Sarah arrived, we stopped in at a local REI for some late-night shopping. When we got hungry, we’d pop into a gas station for some chocolate milk. And when both Sarahs completed their lengthy legs, it was off to the hotel for a snooze.

Because I’m a vampire, I darkened the room as much as possible while everyone else was taking a shower, and then I passed out on a large leather chair, the taste of blood still on my fangs. (Too far? Couldn’t help myself.) I might’ve even slept for three hours, which would be more than the grand total I slept at the GTR.

But alas, the call eventually came sometime around 1 or 2 a.m., and we groggily piled back into the Death Trap. Van 1 was waiting, and it was about to get even more interesting.

More to come …

GTR Part 5: A Battle to the Finish

This’ll probably be really confusing if you don’t start with Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

There’s nothing quite like waking up in the backseat of a truck parked on the side of State Highway 33. Someone had evidently left the window of the truck cracked open, and the sound of a particularly loud pickup jolted me from my catatonically soporific sleep. So I pulled out my phone to check the time: 7:15 a.m. — just two hours after I’d conked out.

And I needed to use the facilities.

Fortunately, we were parked right next to the only gas station in town. Punch-drunk, I lumbered in and what did I find between me and the restrooms? A line … of WOMEN, which I promptly walked right past with just a touch of gleeful schadenfreude. When I came back out of the single-person men’s restroom, I told the next girl, “Hey, the men’s is empty. You might as well use it.”

She gave me a look of relief that said, “Can I really do that?” and proceeded to follow my advice.

Back in the backseat of the truck, I dozed in and out of sleep, and Taylor soon climbed into the front seat. Finally, around 8, I figured I’d just get up and get moving. I bought a chocolate milk at the gas station and then munched an Access® Bar just as Chuck told me Van 1 was on its way.

The crew of Van 2 — the SEAL Team 6 of the GTR
The crew of Van 2 — the SEAL Team 6 of the GTR

This time, Todd handed the wristband off to me, since Melissa was out of commission (though still our best cheerleader). Within the first quarter of a mile, my IT band began screaming at me again, and I proceeded to run the last three-quarters of a mile like a pirate with a peg leg. The guys in the truck must’ve noticed my gimpiness, because they pulled up and asked how it was going.

“Agonizing,” I responded, knowing I still had four more miles of my own leg to run.

When I handed off to Antonio and got in the truck, Melissa asked me why I wasn’t using ibuprofen. The answer, of course, is that I never use NSAIDs of any kind for exercise because it increases your stroke risk and potential for internal bleeding … blah blah blah … which caused Melissa to look at me like I was an idiot.

“You should really just take some.”

“If I take these two pills now, when will it kick in?” I said timidly.

“It says 20 minutes,” she told me.

“About 10 minutes into my run then?”

So yes, I popped the pills.

At my final transition, I once again bumped into my counterpart from the Black Toenail, who was still amazed that after more than 24 hours of running, our teams were just minutes apart. To my surprise, Chuck even arrived before their guy, meaning we were actually IN THE LEAD.

As anticipated, I had that same IT band tightness for the first five or ten minutes, but after that, my leg felt miraculously better. And just like that, I was back to my old self.

I spotted a girl a half-mile up the road who I didn’t think I’d catch. But then she started walking, and I blew past her.

“Run with me,” I said.

“Yeah right! I wish,” she said back.

There was supposed to be 500 feet of uphill on that leg, but the first 2.5 miles felt pretty pancake flat to me. Then I blew past two more walkers and the road finally tilted up. I spotted a large blind corner ahead, and I told myself, “It’s probably just around that corner.” But when I got there, I couldn’t see the transition. I walked for a couple of steps, and then I realized the transition really was there, just out of view. So I got moving again and finished my leg, handing off to Antonio at the Coal Creek trailhead. I was done!

Antonio started onto the queen leg of the race — the uphill finish at Teton Pass. He’d told the other guys that the same leg had taken him more than an hour and a half in 2013, so we expected we had all the time in the world to hang out at the transition. I downed a bottle of water, and then I spotted a familiar tattoo from across the parking lot — it was my good buddy Dawn from the Targhee and Rendezvous Mountain Hill Climbs last year!

It was probably because I was delirious after doing my leg, but I ran over and gave her a hug … before remembering that I was drenched in sticky sweat and probably stunk like a pair of old gym socks.

“What’s your team name?” she asked me.

“Uh,” I thought for a moment, “Prestige … Worldwide … I think. None of us knows what it means, but it’s supposed to be a funny reference from some movie none of us has actually seen.”

“Oh yeah, that’s from Step Brothers! That movie’s hilarious.”

“I’ll just have to take your word for it.”

After a while, we hopped in the truck and motored up to the transition … where Antonio had been waiting for five or 10 minutes! We’d just completely blown our lead over the Black Toenail, even after Antonio set a new personal best of about 40 minutes on his final leg.

“You’d been dreaming about that leg all year, huh?” I asked him once he was back in the truck.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “I’ve been doing tabata sprints at the gym all year just thinking about it.”

I know what it’s like to spend a year daydreaming about a race, so when he told me that — with a grin that told me he’d gotten what he came for — I was completely at peace with the fact that I wasn’t runner 9 this year, and thrilled to see what he’d accomplished.

Kenny bombed down the Jackson side of the pass, dropping 2,286 feet in little more than five miles — a leg for which he would pay dearly in the currency of pain and soreness. He’d managed to wrestle back a decent lead of a couple of minutes on the Black Toenails, whose team name had taken on new meaning.

We got in the truck and started driving to the final transition, and as we did, we spotted a lone runner, some poor schmoe who had evidently followed the signs for the support vehicles instead of the signs for the runners. We came up behind him, and Chuck recognized the KT tape on his calves.

That poor schmoe was our guy!

Taylor, a GTR novice (like most of us), had evidently gotten a little mixed up and added perhaps a half or a quarter of a mile to his leg. Instead of picking him up (which probably would’ve qualified as cheating), Chuck made sure he went the right direction, and we met him for an early water break.

Chuck took the wristband just seconds before the Toenail runner, and we knew it would be a battle all the way to the line.

It's amazing how many of my adventures start or end (or both) at Rendezvous Mountain.
It’s amazing how many of my adventures start or end (or both) at Rendezvous Mountain.

We drove to the finish area at Teton Village (at the base of Rendezvous Mountain) and parked the truck just across from the Black Toenails. And then we started walking to the finish area together.

“More than 27 hours of running, and we’re still within a minute of each other,” Dave, my Toenail counterpart, laughed. “Of course, it helps that you guys keep spotting us time.”

Dave then shared a cool plan with us: Regardless of whose runner officially came first, he wanted both of our teams to run in together. And it was then that I realized that even though he was our rival, our nemesis, our antagonist — and even though I kind of wanted his teammate to trip and either sprain his ankle or face-plant so Chuck could get ahead — Dave was still a pretty good guy.

We were just reaching the finish area when Taylor stopped and said, “Hang on, we forgot our orange traffic flag.”

“I’ll get it,” I said, and Taylor tossed me the keys.

It only took me a few hundred feet to realize the painkillers had completely worn off and I was once again in agony. So instead, I slowed to a speed walk as I realized how far away we’d parked. I got to the truck, and found the flag pretty quickly, and then I turned around and began speed-walking back to the finish line, bumping into Dawn once again. Her team had started two hours after our team, and they were going to beat us across the line. Wow!

When I found my team, Vans 1 and 2 together at last, they asked me what took me so long and told me Antonio had actually gone to look for me.

“I couldn’t run. Sorry.”

Team picture at the finish line
The mighty runners of Prestige Worldwide

Just then, Chuck and the Toenail runner came sprinting down the path — the Toenail runner ahead. When they got there, we told Chuck we needed to wait for Antonio, and Dave (of the Toenails) said he’d wait so we could run in together. But I told him not to worry about it. We didn’t know how long we’d be waiting. So they ran through the chute, and moments later, Antonio came running up. So we jogged the last stretch up to the finish chute and, after 29 hours and four minutes, celebrated finishing the 180 miles that make up the Grand Teton Relay.

Later, I celebrated with an utterly guilt-free root beer float at the square ice cream place in Swan Valley. On the way home, everyone in the backseat of the truck dozed off, but I kept everyone in the front seat awake with my endless prattle. When I met up with my kids later in the afternoon, I gave them my finisher’s medal (and even now, I’m not quite sure where it is).

But sure enough, by Monday, we were already plotting for next year.