2015 has been a year full of new and exciting adventures. I have raced my first 50k, first 50 miler and now I was to embark upon my first 100 mile race at Mountain Lakes 100. Although new things are exciting, they can also be very scary.
Race morning had finally arrived and the weather was cold and misty. Time seems to shift quite erratically on race mornings. Some hours drag on and on while others pass by with the blink of an eye. Knowing this I made sure I was prepared and ready to go come race time. All of the racers congregated at the starting line. We listened to our final instructions from our friendly Go Beyond Racing team and off we went. I went out with a lead pack of four. I began chatting almost immediately with Jace Ives. I found him to be a very composed character with a kind spirit. With that said, he is also a great runner and I had him slated as one of the top contenders. The other two runners were Zach Gingerich and Adam Angstadt. I knew that Zach had won Badwater and would be someone I would definitely need to keep an eye on. While I knew less about Adam, that didn’t mean he would be any less of a threat. These two quickly broke away from us and went out on their own. Jace and I separated, and I was now running by myself in third place. I was simply trying to focus on running easy and relaxed.
One of the more interesting points of the course comes after you pass Breitenbush for the second time, as you backtrack and pass by the runners that are behind you. I was able to see who was behind me and how they looked. Both Jace Ives and David Mitchell were in good position and looked strong.
The course at Mountain Lakes was predominately rolling single track with lots of grinders. The first 26 miles had sections of technical single track while the remaining miles were much more runnable. The Olallie Lake area is an alpine landscape with many beautiful lakes to enjoy. The contrast between the rocks and vibrant plant material was breathtaking. Renee, Todd, and Trevor did an exceptional job organizing volunteers as well as marking the course for runners and crew alike. The food was great and everything seemed to go off without a hitch. Go Beyond pulled off a first class event once again. Thank you to the countless volunteers that gave up their weekend to help us at the aid stations and to Paul Nelson for capturing all of the special moments. You are greatly appreciated!
I arrived at Olallie Lake aid station, Mile 26, on 17 hour pace and was right where I wanted to be. I met up with my crew, picked up some nutrition and slammed down a couple scoops of UCAN then I was on my way. It was so nice to see my wife Stephanie and my friend Ryan Kaiser at the aid station, and it gave me a big boost of adrenaline. I was now on the long journey away from Olallie Lake, and I wouldn’t see my crew again until Clackamas Ranger Station at mile 54.
The Olallie Meadows aid station, Mile 29, came quickly and I didn’t bother to stop. Soon after I saw Adam walking and I asked if he was alright. He was eating some chips and said he was fine. So, I continued on my way. I was now in second place and was still pacing where I wanted to be.
I had reached the Pinheads aid station, Mile 36, and felt now it was time to take a bit of a chance. I had reached a very runnable downhill section and my plan was to give a little extra during this section. I knew I was pushing a little and it was still very early, but I thought it was a nice spot to put in a good effort. Four or five miles later I would see Zach in the distance. I contemplated how I wanted to handle the situation. I eventually decided that the terrain ahead of us looked very runnable and I would try and pass him with authority. I caught up and asked if I could pass. I put in a big surge to quickly pass by. I think I caught him off guard and I gapped him quickly. However, the move completely blew up in my face as it was very poorly timed. I had not realized the Warm Springs aid station, Mile 43, was only a half mile ahead and I needed stop and refill the bladder in my pack. Almost immediately he joined up with me at the Warm Springs aid station, so my move was a total waste. I asked Zack how he was doing and he said he felt like it was already mile 80. We left the Warm Springs together and I tried to shake him. Zach is a strong runner, and I thought he may have been playing me with his mile 80 remark. The terrain was gradual downhill and he was latched on pretty good. I finally reached a stretch of windy trail and I was able to surge out of site. I pushed hard on a few steep up hill climbs and I was finally able to break free for good. In retrospect, I probably should have been much more patient. I used up more energy than I wanted during that exchange, and there was a chance this would affect me later.
I was now leading the race, but I had picked up some shrapnel along the way. My mind was continually going back to my vision at Breitenbush, and I was curious as to how Jace and David were doing. I was also reflecting on the long downhill at Pinheads and the big downhill at Redwolf. I wondered how much strength I would have to climb those sections on the way back to the finish. I was now leading the race, but the pressure I felt had increased, and I really wanted to keep my lead until the finish.
By nature, I don’t like to ask people to go out of their way for me and I constantly try to be aware of the feelings of others. However, when I rolled into Clackamas Ranger Station, Mile 54, I uncharacteristically said to Ryan (who was recovering from a recent ankle injury and debating whether or not to pace me), “if you can run I could really use you on the way back.”
I picked up more nutrition from my sweet wife and threw down another bottle of UCAN. I said thanks to my crew and the wonderful aid station volunteers, then off I went. About a half mile later I realized I didn’t have my headlamp. I would not return to Clackamas until around 7:20, and the possibility of nightfall was likely. I remembered Ryan telling me on one of our training runs how troubleshooting was a major factor in 100 mile races, and so I chose to remain calm and filter through my options. I decided to continue on and ask the next aid station if they had an extra flash light or head lamp available. I will admit I was fairly stressed during this stretch as I was facing a possible race ending situation.
I reached the Little Crater Lake aid station in a slightly stressed state of mind, but was quickly relieved when I felt the very positive vibes from the volunteers. They were directing me to a table with shots of Fireball, which I quickly passed on. I was very happy to see Yassine Diboun who was donning a full on suit. He cordially shook my hand with a big smile. I explained my situation and Yassine immediately went looking for lighting. While he went behind the tent a saint of a man named Mathew Clover handed me his Petzel headlamp. I was blown away by his generosity and made sure to thoroughly thank him. I quickly grabbed a small turkey wrap and headed back towards Timothy Lake. Before I could make it out of Little Crater I was handed a bottle of Fireball. At this point things were looking up, I was riding the high from the selfless act by Mr. Clover and the energy was good. I grabbed the bottle and took a nice big swig. I was met with what felt like rock star level applause. It was really one of the best moments of the race and reminded me that I do this because I love it and it is fun.
I enjoyed the jaunt around Timothy Lake and arrived back at Clackamas Ranger Station. I picked up my headlamps and exchanged jackets as the darkness would soon be upon us. I had spent the first 71 miles alone and I was now accompanied by Ryan, my pacer and friend. It was invigorating having him with me now. We began to go over how I was feeling both mentally and physically as well as how the guys behind me looked coming into Clackamas one.
We headed up to Red Wolf, Mile 76, and I began to get a little bit complacent. My right knee was having an issue and it became difficult to pick it up with each step. I ran the downhill section poorly, seemingly just going through the motions and that can become contagious. I tried to pick the pace back up, but subconsciously I was thinking, “Maybe I can just finish this thing off without too much effort.” It is a horrible thought, and it goes against everything I stand for, but after 76 miles those weak thoughts tend to try and creep in.
We had almost reached the beginning of the six mile climb up Pinheads when Ryan needed to stop and change the battery in his headlamp. I continued on and hoped he could make the switch in complete darkness. A few minutes later I looked back and was relieved to see his headlamp bouncing towards me. Oh shit. No, that’s two headlamps. I thought maybe it was an injured runner heading back to an aid station. Nope. It was David Mitchell and a peppy David Mitchell at that! I stopped after crossing the bridge and let David pass. He gave me a friendly slap on the shoulder accompanied by a “Wattsup homey.” I mustered something in reply, but it certainly did not match the tone or cadence of his greeting. Ryan and I looked at each other and didn’t say much. We both knew what had happened, we knew where we stood and we knew what we had to do. I then followed behind David who was full of energy, singing to himself as he bounded up the hill. I began processing information as I quietly trudged on behind him. It can be very discouraging getting passed by someone at mile 78 and I was working through some emotions. Thoughts like…second place is still good, and now I can let up a little went through my brain. Those thoughts were immediately met with feelings of cowardice and I would not have any of it. I quickly got back on track and thought about what I stood for. I was presented with a tough situation and this was not a time to take the easy way out. It was time to fight on, accept the fact that these next 20 miles would be very painful, and show myself what I was made of.
I was fortunate to have Ryan pacing me. Not only is he a phenomenal runner, but he is very smart and our personalities are very much in line with each other. He began to tell me that we would stay directly on David. He wanted me to be a gnat on his butt and annoy the hell out of him. We were right in position and although David was running very strong, he was doing most of the work. We remained like this for some time.
We were making the long climb up Pinheads, Mile 84, and David had become quite. He still looked good. He was power hiking some sections with intensity and I was forced to run to keep up. Ryan and I talked about how I was feeling. I told him I was comfortable and I had reserves available if needed. He said to save them, because it may come down to a final seven mile race. Then, out of the blue, David pulled off to the side and said he had to relieve himself. I was immediately wondering what he was up to. I thought he might have been sick of leading and wanted me to take over. A little bit of a gap formed and I thought to myself don’t get carried away, he is just trying to make you burn some energy on the hills and he will come firing back full of energy on a flat or downhill section. After a little bit of time though, a decent gap had formed and I decided to go ahead and use some energy and gap him. We had made it through the hills up Pinheads and the terrain was now rolling downhill. I actually preferred the climbs, because I knew David had been so strong on the previous downhill section. I had been running gingerly on my right knee and now blistered feet and decided just to let it rip regardless of the pain. We had an opening… and we took it. We fought hard the entire way to the finish. Ryan’s motivation was incredible. My efforts were met with, “No one else is willing to fight this hard,” and “This is why we train like we do.” Each mile we got closer Ryan would explain how David could be making up time and we would have to work harder. He asked me how badly I wanted this. He was pushing me hard and I thrived on it. We had respect for David’s running abilities and did not want to give him a way back into this race. The last three miles seemed more like five or six, and at no point did I allow myself to think I had the race in the bag. Eventually I saw a large grouping of orange cones and I knew we were on the final stretch. Ryan made the comment,”you have a proud friend behind you,” and that meant a lot to me. The road widened and Ryan was able to run next to me like the team we were. We could finally hear people and Ryan yelled out,” We have got Rob Russell coming in.” I made the final turn and crossed those beautiful arches before the lake. I had nothing to say. I felt like nothing needed to be said. I hugged Ryan, I hugged my wife, and I felt proud.
There are only so many times in your life when you are met with intense challenges and how you handle them really defines you. I was happy that I was able to dig deep and fight hard despite being challenged late in the race. More than that, I felt so fortunate that I have a loving wife that would spend the entire day handing me nutrition and driving around in the dark wilderness. I was thankful to have a friend that would risk running on an injury just to see me succeed. These are selfless acts. These are the things in life that you cannot purchase, and not everyone can just have. This is why I love the ultra running community, and all of my fellow racers at Mountain Lakes 100. We don’t race to receive huge checks or have television commentators speak about us. It is to see how we will react when faced with a challenge, and what we will do for others while expecting nothing in return. The photograph below is a perfect microcosm of my race at Mountain Lakes 100. I can’t tell you how much it means to me. It encapsulates many of the things I truly value. It captures the grit, heart and determination it takes to win a 100 mile race. As well as the pride, love, worry and selflessness shown by others. Thank you Stephanie and Ryan. David Mitchell, Renee, Trevor, and Todd. Paul Nelson. Mathew Clover, Yassine Diboun, Ian Sharman, Eric Lubell, Jonathan Schwab, all of the wonderful volunteers, and all of my fellow racers at Mountain Lakes 100. Congratulations to all of you. What an accomplishment.