Run Rabbit Run is a beautiful race that takes place in Steamboat Springs. It is considered a high altitude mountain race as it passes 10,000 ft. and has over 20,000 ft. of elevation gain. It is a unique race in that there is money awarded to the top 7 males and 7 females. This doesn't happen much in trail running events, especially with this kind of purse. The male and female winner take home $15,000 and the prize money decreases until 7th place with a $500 reward. This race has two divisions, hare and tortoise. The tortoise division starts at 8am and those runners have 36 hours to complete the course. The hare division starts at noon and has a 30 hour cut off. The noon start had its pros and cons. We got in really late on Thursday (race day was Friday) driving in from Salt Lake to Steamboat Springs with my mom, dad, and brother Eric. I knew I could sleep in, but I can't really sleep past 8am anyway. After getting up, I didn't know what to do with myself until the start. The nerves started to get to me and the heat I knew would be a factor with lots of sun and clear skies. So yes, it was great to sleep in a bit, but I also like just rolling out of bed and getting right to it without so much anticipation. The noon start also makes it so that even the top runners have to run through the whole night which was a new experience for me.
It had been three years since I ran 100 miles. Last year I was signed up for this race, but understandably due to COVID, the race was cancelled. This was a long time coming and I was so happy to finally toe the line. With a new little boy added to the family recently, training leading up the race was not great in the spring, but things got better during the summer. Our family spent most of the summer in France traveling so it was easier to get out of the house while my wife was with her sister and her family. Unfortunately, the trails in the area weren't too inspiring. It was hard for me to get more than 40 miles in without feeling like I was pulling my teeth out. I've been so spoiled living right in the mountains here in Salt Lake that when I find myself running on the same dirt loop over and over again, I realize running for me is more about the surroundings than the sheer training itself. It was a nice maintenance period and once I got home in July, I was ready to take things more seriously. Shortly after I contracted COVID which put another two week hiccup in my training. I was worried I wouldn't be able to even start the race. I had just bailed on a local race in August because it was right in the middle of when I was sick. Once I felt healthy, I did what I could to fit in a lot of training in less than a month's time. I worked back up to a 90 mile week with 19,000 feet of gain three weeks before race day. I only had about a month of higher volume training, but I topped off training with the biggest week of my life. I felt like my taper went well and I was feeling pretty good and a lot more confident.
Race day arrives and I'm looking around at all the familiar faces that you see in magazines. These guys are at the top of the sport and I feel giddy just having this opportunity. 3-2-1 we were off. My goal going into the race was to be conservative and hold a top 10 position. My second, more challenging goal was to go under 20 hours. So I positioned myself right about in 8th place as we made our way up the first long, big climb. Two guys shot off but the rest of us kept it cool and easy. I kept roughly that same position until mile 17 where the guys going for the real money started increasing the pace. I knew it wasn't smart for me to keep up so I slowed it down a bit. It was hot! I was suffering back up a decent we had just come down. Climbing is my strength so I wanted to make sure I took advantage of that whenever I could. I passed two guys and just found my groove. The race was sponsored by Tailwind which is an electrolyte product I love. I didn't have too much on hand because they have it at all their relatively close aid stations. The only problem is, I don't do caffeine. I don't drink caffeine in my daily life so I think I am ultra sensitive to it and it makes me want to sleep on the spot. Unfortunately, many of the aid stations had Tailwind with caffeine as the only option. Because I am a big sweater and I need to replace my electrolytes continuously. They had salty foods I could grab and eat so that is what I did. After each aid station my belly started to get more and more full from foods like salted potatoes, potato chips, and pickles. I also had gels but was more concerned with not getting enough salt. I was drinking a lot of water too. Running with two great guys, Jesse and Tyler, at roughly the mile 35 aid station, the volunteers mentioned there would be ten miles until the next aid station. Being another aid station with caffeinated Tailwind, I decided to chug a bunch of water and pound more salty potatoes to be good until the next aid station. About 5 miles later my stomach had had enough. I puked big time. What a relief! This was a good puke, one that really made me feel much better. This was the first time I had actually puked during a race. I had dry heaved many times in the heat, but never this.
Although throwing up was relieving, my stomach wanted time to recover. I was sure if I drank or ate anything I would throw it right back up. Over an hour passed without food or water and I reached the next aid station. I wanted to quit. When the brain doesn't get glucose, you start to think really negatively and you want to give up. It's emotional for sure, but hypoglycemia is a physiological response that sends the mind down a negative thought spiral that only food can really get you out of. What is the best thing when your stomach is upset? Personally I was thinking of veggie broth. Of course they only had beef and chicken broth at the aid station and as a vegetarian that wasn't an option. I had some fruit and quesadilla and got up after sitting for longer than I had wanted. I was losing a lot of time recovering so I just started walking out of the aid station. Luckily, I started coming around and was able to eat gels again. Mile 50 and I see my family. I was sure this would be the end of my race just an hour before, but now I'm ready to roll and I knew seeing my family would give me strength and motivation. I put my head down for the next 14 miles and just stayed consistent. I had made up a lot of time, so much that my crew wasn't there when I got back to the same aid station where I first saw them. After 10 minutes I was starting to panic. They had my warm clothes for the night, they had my extra gels. Finally they run up, surprised I made it back so quickly. I was furious with tme at the time. I had pushed really hard to make up time and now I was just losing it. I apologized later for being so rude. I headed out knowing that I had either been passed already or that I would be passed soon. My brother had mentioned I was in 9th place, great still in the top ten!
This course is tedious because there are a lot of out and backs. This means that the five miles of descent had just turned into five miles of ascent back to the next aid station. I was feeling as good as you can 70 miles into a race. I was able to keep a consistent pace and really just get in a groove. I was keeping calories coming in the form of Spring gels without any further stomach issues. After leaving the mile 70 aid station and heading toward the next, I passed a woman who was in tortoise division. She mentioned she saw two hare division runners struggling to move well and that they were just ten minutes ahead. I thought I was moving efficiently, but this encouragement made me realize I was just comfortable and could definitely move faster. Sure enough, at the next aid station camped out by the fire were Dakota and Devon, two elite runners who had just gone out too hard at the beginning. It was really cold at this point so I didn’t want to stay still for too long, plus I didn’t know if they were finished or if they’d recover and pass me later, which I knew they were more than capable of doing. I was now in 7th, which meant I would get the last paycheck of $500 if I kept my position. A goal I didn’t think I could achieve was just a few hours away. Continuing into the night the hardest climb of the course really slowed me down. It was technical and steep. I thought for sure I’d get passed. There were moments I would just have to stop to catch my breath. Seeing I was going so slow, I decided to embrace the reality and enjoy where I was for just a minute. I turned off my headlamp and looked up at all the stars. It’s been a long time since I have seen that many stars. It was a special moment. I turned the headlamp back on and got back to it. Finally, the climb was over and a nice gradual descent was next. As I continued, I noticed something run across the trail really fast. It took awhile for my brain to register what it was because I had never seen one in person. It was a mountain lion. As much as I wanted to stop and look at it a bit more, I don’t think that large kitty would have enjoyed a blaring light in the face. I was all on my own and it wouldn’t have been a great place to get mauled.
Looking at my watch hit mile 84, then mile 85, I was feeling the end approaching. Those last miles feel the slowest. I had heard this course was longer than 100 miles. Some said 105 miles, some 108. Knowing this, I had to trick my brain into thinking this wasn’t quite over yet. 5-8 miles could take another hour so I needed to be mentally ready for that. I saw a sign indicating the Long Lake aid station was near. I only saw 16,000 feet of elevation gain on my watch. I knew the distance was wrong but could it be that the vertical is 4,000 feet shy from the advertised 20,000 feet? There must be another major climb. I came upon a junction where there was a turn with a sign that said Base Camp aid station. I knew this was the 50 mile course because I didn’t recognize the aid station name, but I also was missing those 4,000 feet of climbing and I knew the rest of the way back didn’t have much at all. I looked like a crazy person. I ran towards Base Camp a ways, then turned around and came back, then went towards Long Lake, then started running back. I started cursing to myself so frustrated and confused. Then I saw a headlamp approach. The next runner had caught up. I have never been so happy to see an opponent catch up to me. He clearly heard me swearing and was eager to help me out. He pointed me in the right direction as we ran together. I didn’t care we would fight for the last paycheck, I was just relieved I wasn’t off track.
When we got to the second to last aid station, the battle started. We alternated the lead with the last energy that we had. Rather than a mere five miles to the next aid station, it ended up being ten. That is where those extra miles ended up. He pushed ahead of me on the rolling hills to the last aid station. I didn’t have much left. I accepted my fate. So what if I didn’t get the last paycheck, my ultimate goal was top ten. After a quick ginger ale at the aid station, I decided I wanted to cross that finish line knowing I left everything I had behind me. Below me was five miles of flawless double track. Nothing but a dream decent after 100 miles. All I had to do was keep the breaks off and let my legs spin. Well, it wasn’t that easy but that is what I did. After three miles, sure enough I saw Morgan, the guy who had just passed me. He was hurting. Once I saw him it was time to shift into another gear. I was going to pass him and I wasn’t going to see him again. I was determined. The next two miles I was too nervous to look behind me. I had done the 50 mile course here six years ago and I got second place with just seconds to spare. Third was riding me the whole way down. I was having flashbacks of that day and was worried he was right on my tail. I see the finish line but I’m not letting up. All the gas and fumes left in my tank had to be evaporated. 100 yards to go and I heard my family cheering me on. I saw a fence with a small opening, and my family yells, “turn!” Still running fast I tried to pivot and make the abrupt turn to the finish line and fell hard. First fall of the whole day and it had to be in front of all those at the finish. I dusted myself off and finished just after 8:30am. What a day. What an experience.
After the race I enjoyed Strawberry Hot Springs with my family not far from town. I really got to take in the beautiful fall colors and soak in recovery, literally. My fourth 100 mile finish and I am pretty happy about the whole thing. 100 miles is never easy and will always make you dig deep into your soul to bring out the grittiest grit you have. Will I put myself through another one? Only time will tell.