Wherein I attempt to share useful advice

So needless to say, being injured has been an interesting (albeit unpleasant) experience. This bizarre cycle of losing tons of fitness through excessive resting and then re-injuring myself as soon as I try to start back up again — that has gotten very old very quickly.

I’ve run into three problems:

1. Diagnosis — I really don’t have the problem figured out completely. I wasn’t sure if I just strained a muscle (I was thinking soleus) or if I straight-up tore something (like a vertical tear in the achilles or something).

2. Re-injury prevention — Because I didn’t know what I did, I’m not clear on how I can avoid re-injuring myself. That’s the thing: for the first few weeks, I wasn’t sure if it was a result of running and cycling, running and swimming, just plain running, or even just plain cycling. I’m still not 100% certain how I did it in the first place, and that makes it pretty tough to avoid doing it again.

3. Rehab — It’s really easy for you to play armchair physiotherapist and say, “Duh—stop running, moron!” But newsflash: it’s an injury in a largely tendinous region of the body. That means it’s difficult to get a lot of blood flow in there, and when it’s hard to get blood flow, it’s hard to heal. So to some degree, I need aerobic exercise to keep a higher rate of blood flow. The other question is, do I put heat on it (like I would a muscle strain) or do I ice it (like I would a tendon injury)?

Fortunately, in the middle of all of this, the world’s finest exercise science and sports nutrition minds were convening a conference in Spain. And since it’s 2015, that meant I got to follow along via Twitter. Asker Jeukendrup had to make things one step simpler when he took all of the cool info I saw in 140-character tweets and summarized it like this:

Graphic summarizing how to get over an achilles tendon injury.
Holy simple, right?

Being the self-diagnosing hypochondriac that I am, and since I couldn’t get an appointment with a running doctor until December, I decided to start treating it like a tendon injury. I’m downing gelatin and vitamin c, and I’m trying to avoid impactful exercise.

So I had a recovery regimen to commit to. Then I read Born to Run (which, I should mention, was a brutal hatchet job on Ann Trason — but that’s a different story), and I started wondering about whether the new pair of Nike Pegasus shoes I got last Christmas are playing a role. Christopher McDougall, of course, hangs out with Jon Krakauer and therefore doesn’t have a lot of credibility in my book. But he’s not the only one out there who has suggested running shoes might play a role in the high rate of injury among North American runners.

The other day, I found myself in the mountains with a group of people leaving on a little nature hike. I’d talked them into doing it on the lower elevations of the Aspen Grove-Mt Timpanogos trail. After moseying along for the first mile with the group, I got an itch, poked my way to the front and took off on a little jog up the trail. When I got to the turnaround point, I didn’t feel like turning around—so I didn’t. I kept going.

It wasn’t until I’d gotten about three miles and 1,800 feet up the trail that I decided to call it a hike. By then, I could see the summit far above, with the clouds hovering, brooding over the snow-covered dampness of the mountain. So I bounded back down, fully expecting to have worsened my injury.

To my surprise, the next day my calf felt pretty good. I’d even felt some tightness while I was headed up, but that was all gone when I woke up the next morning. The familiar soreness in my gluteal and vastus muscles was back—and that just plain felt awesome.

But it got me wondering about trails. Maybe there’s still something I can do on trails. Maybe snowshoe season will be nicer to me than I expect. We’ll see.

Cold, wet, miserable … and happy

In my early years as an amateur cyclist, I used to do nothing in the winters. I couldn’t ride the bike, and the internet experts somehow convinced me that specificity was so important that I shouldn’t bother with anything that didn’t involve pedaling. Some of the blame was mine too — I took cycling way too seriously in those first few years.

Somehow, through the Thanksgiving Day 5k races, I managed to adopt running for some of those winter months, which paid off to some degree. But in 2008 (I think) I went to a used gear sale at my alma mater and found a pair of Crescent Moon snowshoes on sale for a mere $70. I say that with some sense of irony, because my wife thinks anything that costs more than $10 is incredibly expensive and an overwhelming burden on our family. (Hey, that frugal attitude has gotten us pretty far, so don’t knock it!)

Snowshoeing in Park City
Snowshoeing in Park City

I think I used my snowshoes first in Utah at a couple of different trails in Ogden and Park City. But then I learned we had a bunch of snowshoe trails in the mini-mountains around our local bunny hill, and I even found a map online, because that’s how resourceful I am. So I drove my car up to the bunny hill and found a trail named “Lower Cole’s Climb” …

Moments later, I was gasping as I marched up into the forest between the bushes and trees, the claws of my snowshoes digging in to the icy snow beneath me. The climb was narrow, serpentine, and brutal — taking me up the face of a mountain that I would later learn was completely inaccessible in the summer.

Each weekend after, I would come back, sometimes with my brother-in-law but often alone, and explore another part of the trail system. There were overwhelming and exposed quick climbs, eerily still and narrow forest routes, and unrelentingly steep long climbs, all of which were rendered significantly more difficult when they were covered by fresh powder.

I remember telling my coworker I’d become a snowshoer who cross-trains with cycling, rather than a cyclist who cross-trains with snowshoeing. I even made a low-quality YouTube video about it at one point:

 

My favorite was to come to the hills when it was really, really cold — like in the negatives on the fahrenheit scale. The snow would be soft and dusty — perfect snowshoe weather and often cold enough to keep everyone else at home. Sometimes, I’d show up just after a patch of fog had rolled through, coating branches and limbs with hoarfrost, and giving the forest an other-worldly appearance. I’d get up on top of the high climbs and see the distant snow-covered peaks and wonder about snowshoeing on them.

Then there was the wildlife. After an exhausting 950-foot climb up the Moose Rim trail one cold morning, I was startled to find myself standing perhaps 15 feet from, of course, a moose. It was a bit of an awkward meeting, so I tried to break the ice by talking to it … or her, I guess. As I walked away, passing a group of trees next to the moose, I asked, “There isn’t another one over here, is there?” And sure enough, there was. That year, I saw seven moose in perhaps four weekends of snowshoeing.

I’d finish every hike with snow plastered to my back and ice crystalized on my neck gaiter. I’d strip off my jacket before I even got in my car. And by the time I got home and pulled into the garage, I’d be shocked to find my legs so fatigued that I’d have to sit in the car for a moment before I could muster the energy to go inside — where I’d gobble everything I could find and then take a well-earned nap.

One Saturday night, my wife and I were watching some special on PBS about a woman who’s a river guide in Idaho. The woman told the camera, “I need to get cold and wet and miserable, and then I can be happy.” My wife turned to me and said, “She’s just like you.” And she’s absolutely correct.

I don’t know why I’m writing this all in past tense and with perfect aspect. Fact is, I went snowshoeing again this morning, saw a bull moose with a cow, tripped and fell on my face,  came home with sore legs and wet clothes, and enjoyed it as much as I ever have. Guess I just wanted to share.

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.

GTR Part 4: A Visit to the Woodshed

Sasquatch roasting a marshmallow
Sasquatch likes s’mores … keep that in mind next time you’re camping in the Pacific Northwest, eh?

You can find Part 1 HERE, Part 2 HERE and Part 3 HERE.

Did anyone guess the Sasquatch? Cuz that’s what I found.

Even in August, it’s cold at night in Tetonia, Idaho, so I was happy to discover the race organizers had a warm fire going in the park fire pit. And in the adjoining shelter were marshmallows, chocolate bars, graham crackers, hot chocolate powder and a vat of hot water (score!). I gave up hope of sleeping, grabbed some hot chocolate and joined the Crown Runners (a bunch of goofy college kids from Montana State University) for some oddball around-the-fire chit-chat.

And then we were joined by the Squatch, aka Bigfoot, aka that guy my sister dated back in junior high. (I can write that because I’m pretty sure she doesn’t read my blog.) We’d seen this fella roaming around throughout the race — he looked miserable in the heat of the afternoon, not so miserable when posing for pictures with young female runners and then disturbingly creepy at midnight. (If you want to see more pics of this guy, or of the race in general, go to Instagram and look up the hashtag #runGTrelay.)

Around 12:30 (a.m., it should be noted) Todd emerged from the shadows of some farmer’s field and passed the now glow-in-the-dark baton to a still-groggy Melissa, signaling that it was time for the graveyard shift to start.

(I don’t have a lot of pictures to go along with this part, but if you want to get a feel for night running at the GTR, go to the 1:02 mark in this YouTube video. Heck, the whole vid might be interesting.)

It took us a little while to find Melissa out on the dirt road she was running, partly because all blinking red lights basically look the same at 1 a.m. At first she looked like she was making decent time. Then we asked how she was doing, and she indicated her back wasn’t feeling so good, but she still wanted to finish her leg. We drove ahead and waited for her headlamp to come bobbing down the road, but when it did, it was … not Melissa.

When she showed up, we could tell her smile had given way to a grimace — that girl was in a world of hurt. But she kept telling us to go on, so we drove to the transition like we’d planned.

At the transition, I again ran into the guy from the Black Toenail, who said he was going to try to catch me this time. As it turned out, that wasn’t a problem, because his guy showed up well before Melissa did.

I started to get cold standing outside at 1 a.m. in my running shorts. There were two women standing nearby huddled under a blanket, and I told them I was tempted to ask if they had any more room. They said I was welcome to squish in, and I said, thanks, but no thanks — I was only kidding.

Then a few more minutes went by, and my teeth started chattering.

And then I changed my mind about the blanket.

By the time Melissa showed up (in immense pain, it should be noted), I’d watched at least three or four other runners go by. But they were so far ahead, I didn’t think I’d catch them. I took off running hard — my leg was only 3.6 miles, after all — and I probably passed two or three people in the first half a mile.

And then I got this familiar feeling in my leg. If you’ve never had iliotibial band syndrome before and you’re curious to know what it feels like, go running with a fork sometime. Just when you feel like you’re in a good rhythm, take the fork and plunge it into the side of your knee, and then keep running — voila, you have now experienced ITBS or runner’s knee. (By the way, I’m totally kidding about stabbing yourself with a fork. Only do it if you’re a professional on a closed course.)

I’ve run a 5k with ITBS before, but that didn’t make it any easier. I tried to keep my tempo up, but I was hurting. The truck pulled up next to me, and Chuck asked, “How’s it going?”

“Terrible,” I responded, wincing.

“Do you want us to get you anything?”

I waved my headlamp back and forth, and they drove off.

I ran past a red truck, and they told me, “10 points for getting a roadkill on a car.” A “roadkill,” I should mention, is the GTR term for passing someone. So that should’ve been humorous, but instead, I just stared blankly at the girl in the truck, thinking, “YOU THINK THIS IS FUNNY?!!”

Finally, I rounded a turn and found the “1 Mile to Go” sign, but as I did, I heard a sound behind me. I was getting caught! Evidently, I’d let off the gas too much, and someone who’d paced herself better than me was coming up behind me.

“Wow, your turnover sounds great,” I told her as we ran shoulder to shoulder.

“What?”

“Your turnover …” then I gave up.

I recognized her as someone I’d passed after about the half-mile point, someone who’d started with a decent-sized jump on me. She wasn’t going to keep that lead relative to where we’d started, but she was going to get her “roadkill” back.

Let’s give her a run for her money, I thought, and I picked up the pace, keeping just a few strides behind. On the last stretch, an uphill, I managed to minimize the damage and then handed off just a few seconds after her.

“That girl just took me to the woodshed,” I told Chuck, because, you know, I’m not competitive or anything.

For Antonio’s leg, we were actually required to pick him up partway through and drive him a quarter of a mile to where he would resume running. At the pick-up point, we again saw the Black Toenails just ahead of us. When Antonio got in the truck, I’m sure it looked like a little relay triage unit — me nursing my IT band and Melissa resting her back.

When it was Kenny’s turn, he quickly dusted the Toenails, cranking out 3.5 miles or so in 27 minutes and putting us ahead. Then consistent Taylor hit the pavement and kept us in the lead.

Chuck had back trouble before the race too. (What did I say in Part 2 about injuries and the actual series of events? I was just sayin’.) So he was a little worried about his next leg — the climb up to Grand Targhee Ski Resort. He asked us to check on him every mile or so to make sure he was doing okay. But after he took the baton, we drove up the road and the race volunteers told us to pull into a dirt parking lot instead of following him.

The top of Ski Hill Road (just before the resort) was going to be another major transition point since it’s where Van 2 hands back over to Van 1, and I guess there was some concern about having too many cars up on this narrow mountain road. They asked us to wait until we thought he’d be done before we drove up to meet him. So we called Van 1 to make sure they were on their way and then we headed up to find our guy.

We spotted him just as he was about to pass four other racers who were bunched up in a queue. And, good news, when we asked about his back, he said he was fine. So we drove on to the transition.

But when Chuck got there, Van 1 hadn’t arrived yet. (In all fairness, Chuck had already told us about getting that phone call at 4 a.m. after sleeping for two or three hours at most … you can imagine how not so fun that would be.) We waited for a few minutes, and then Chuck said, “I’m warmed up, so I’ll just start running back down.”

We called Van 1 and warned them to look for him on the side of the road. They met up, and we got Chuck back in the truck. Then it was off to get some sleep.

We drove to the next transition area, a city park in Victor, and parked the truck on the side of the main road. It was about 5 a.m. Everybody unloaded their sleeping bags, and I unloaded my wife’s denim quilt.

“Does anyone want to sleep in the truck?”

“Uh,” I paused, “sure, I’ll take it.”

Then I climbed into the backseat of the cab and lost consciousness.