Saturday, February 14, 2015

2015 Black Canyon Ultramarathon - Phoenix, Arizona (Montrail Ultra Cup)

Belief will change my world. One of the most powerful statements I've ever come across. A notion I carry with me on every single journey I've experienced that hauntingly tests me and pushes me beyond any limits I could've ever imagined.

In 2008 I had testicular cancer. Neither testicle was viable and one had to be immediately removed. I no longer produced the hormone testosterone. I now have to supplement with testosterone just to have the minimum acceptable levels to allow me to function properly. Extreme fatigue, loss of libido, depression, a much higher predisposition to arthritis among a plethora of all side effects ensue when proper levels are not maintained. The doctors keep me at the minimum level of the range in order to hedge against these negative side-effects.

In 2015 my medical insurance went up. I have a personal medical insurance policy and the changes to the insurance and medical system as a whole raised my premium by more than $100 per month.  The insurance company also decided to change what they deemed an acceptable testosterone medication for people who have had testicular cancer.

I can definitely see and feel dramatic differences being on the testosterone gel versus off of it. Even on it, I am susceptible to greater levels of fatigue but my biggest worry is to have any further arthritic change in my body. My feet already pop with every step, my lower back has three shot discs and I'm bone on bone in my shoulders.

When the insurance company changed their formulary for my condition, I was forced to get a new authorization for a different brand of testosterone from my doctor. This was an absolute nightmare as is any dealings where collaboration needs to happen between a doctor, a pharmacy and the insurance company.  It took almost 3 weeks to get the new brand of testosterone as well as me calling the insurance company every day for the last week to find out the status on the authorization.

During this time, I was off the testosterone completely. I couldn't help but remember what my urologist told me the last time I saw him.  He said "You're the next best thing to a female." jokingly, because I have no testosterone left in my body.

I was seemingly fine that first week and thought I'd be fine holding out until the mess with the insurance company cleared up. By the second week, the depression started to trickle in, little by little, like a storm cloud forming. By the third week, my libido was gone and the storm cloud had fully formed. I could noticeably tell I was depressed.

At the same time, I was trying to taper for the Black Canyon Ultramarathon, so I stopped running for almost two weeks, something I never do. I decided to cross-train to take the impact off my joints. I did this because my New Years Eve consisted of a 123 mile run on slightly damaged feet, which left my feet in worse shape then when I started. I also proceeded to run the Phoenix marathon, the 50 Mile Ultramarathon - Mc Dowell Mountain Frenzy followed by the Coldwater Rumble 50k, all within 1 months time. My taper included biking 40-75 miles per day, every day, along with leg weight-lifting and the eliptical cardio machine. Not a great taper considering this fried my muscles even more than running. I biked on a spin bike in the gym so I could bike at a high intensity, non-stop for hours. Normally, this is an awesome way to train, just not when you're trying to taper for a long ultra and haven't biked in a long time.

I run far and I run a lot. I do this because I love running plain and simple. At 6'4" 235lbs, I don't do it to win races or to impress anyone, I do it because it touches me in a place that nothing else seems to be able to touch. The best way for me to describe my training is that it is how I pray and the land and the mountains I run through are my temple. If you were to ask me if running as much as I do is the right way of doing things, I would ask you, what's your goal? I ask, because if your goal is to run the best race possible, as fast as you possibly can, then you need to taper. Something I don't do. At 6'4" 230 pounds, my body loves to taper and rest. I run my very best races when I taper for almost a month before any race. However, I'm not running the race to run my best race ever, or to have my fastest time. I'm running the race because I love to run with other runners. I love to pray (run) and I love being in my temple (the land and the mountains).

Coming into the 2015 Black Canyon Ultramarathon, I was depressed, burnt out and extremely sore from the biking and weight lifting. I lacked the confidence to run the race, because when I'm not running all the time, I start to feel like less of a runner, especially given my size. I know that with the slight depression I had, my nutrition was thrown off, as was my sleep. The two things that make all the difference in the world. I cannot stress enough, how much sleep, nutrition and exercise are the keys to being at your very best. I also recognize that hormone levels play a key role in your mood, your focus and your behaviors.

I got about 3 hours of sleep the night before the race and woke up at 3am. I was all packed, the night before and headed out the door quickly in order to catch the bus to the start of the race. (A point to point race).

Riding on the bus, I tried to focus on positive thoughts, on my breathing, on mindfully meditating and on the goal of finishing the race even though I lacked the confidence to believe I could finish.  I knew the course was going to be hard. It was going to be rocky single track through the mountains. The previous couple weeks I had to go so far as to wear shoes in my house because my feet were so sore from my last few runs that I couldn't stand walking barefoot.

I get to the race and as the runners line up to get started, I stared off as if in a trance towards the sunrise and focused on how grateful I was for everything I had and the people that were in my life. I focused on my journey over the last few years and how far I had come. I focused on how thankful I was to have the ability and opportunity to be at this race among so many other runners who knew the joys and the love I had and practiced the same religion as me (ultrarunning). You feel a comradery and a peace when you're exactly where you want to be, around the people you want to be surrounded by. There is a closeness felt, even without words spoken, just by being around other ultrarunners.

The race starts and we take off. By mile 10, I'm running at a good pace, my body is warming up. It usually takes my body about 8-10 miles to get fully warmed up. Once warmed up, its like a light-switch is switched on and I get an enormous wave of energy and strength that washes over me. It's an incredible feeling, a rush like no other. It is truly glorious. Only this time, the switch was not switched on and the feeling wasn't coming. The first time this has ever happened to me.

By mile 15, I felt nothing but pain. Pain in my knees, pain in all of my joints, pain in my feet. With each passing mile the pain only got worse. I tried to do everything I could to focus on the mountains and on my gratitude, but the pain was overwhelming. I had no energy, no motivation and couldn't seem to mentally conjure any thought that could take my mind off the nagging and throbbing pains throughout my body.

By mile 19, I was utterly defeated. I was still under a 12 minute mile pace, but had no will whatsoever to continue. My joints were throbbing and I was getting sharp pain in my feet with every step I took. I wanted nothing more than to stop and drop out. I had never been in pain quite like this so early in a race. I could only think that I would need to fight the good fight another day. I was convinced being off the testosterone, the nutrition and the lack of sleep, took me out and there was no way to come back from the deficit it had put me in.

By mile 32, I was doing the logistics for dropping out. I just needed to make it to the next aid station, which was only 1/2 mile away. There was just no way I could continue. The pain was too much.

As I was nearing the aid station, my mind began to think of all the reasons I started to run in the first place. It was almost like a defense mechanism kicked in. Among all the voices in my head shouting, "Stop running", there was still that single small voice that whispered nothing more than "Keep going...". I focused with all of my strength on the constant whisper and tried to drown out all the other voices telling me how much my body hurt, how this just wasn't my day, how there would be other races, how no one would even care, how proud I was that I ran as much as I did and that I had nothing to prove.

And before I knew it, I was out of the aid station and running. And all I kept telling myself was "just one more aid station, just make it one more aid station!".

As I got to mile 37, the heat of the day had gotten to every runner I came across. Runners were already doing the death march (The thing runners do when they are burnt out and have no more energy to run, when they are slumped over and barely able to speak, yet still find a way to keep moving forward, one half step at a time). My pain hadn't subsided in the least. I was in pain more than ever and with the next aid station approaching, I was 100% positive I was going to DNF (Did not finish - Drop out of the race).

Logic was telling me that stopping was the right thing to do. Logic was agreeing that I had made it as far as I wanted to go. I just wasn't having any fun and had no will to continue. As I approached the aid station, with the volunteers all clapping and cheering me on, the whisper came back into my head. That still small voice that said nothing more than "Keep going...". But I just couldn't continue. I didn't know where the whisper was coming from, I just knew I needed to stop here. I was done. I had to stop. My knees were killing me. I knew the difficulty of the course that was coming up. The biggest climbs of the race weren't going to happen until after mile 50 and there was no way I could make it. The logic was undeniable.

As I entered the aid station, my mind began to play back scenes from the movie "Cast Away" with Tom Hanks. How he was trapped with no hope, how his spirit was shattered. I remembered what he said after he had been rescued, when he recalled his point of greatest despair, being trapped in a hopeless situation,

"And that's when this feeling came over me like a warm blanket. I knew, somehow, that I had to stay alive. Somehow. I had to keep breathing. Even though there was no reason to hope. And all my logic said that I would never see this place again. So that's what I did. I stayed alive. I kept breathing. And one day my logic was proven all wrong because the tide came in, and gave me a sail. And now, here I am."

I kept running.

By mile 46, I felt no endorphin rush, no pleasure, just a dull aching pain that somehow I had become accustomed too. The nausea had kicked in hard. It had been there for the last five miles, but now it was here with a vengeance. With every step my body shaked from it. I tried throwing up several times but nothing was coming out. I remembered the saying "Make friends with your pain and you will never be alone." The saying and it's notion resonates and comforts me to my core. It is so true and applies to so many aspects in life, not just running.

I knew I had 16 miles left over the very hardest part of the course, most of which were ascents over and over again. Usually it's my euphoria or endorphin rush that keeps me running in races, without which, I don't even want to run, but this time it was different. It wasn't the feeling of pleasure that drove me, it was something new. Something I had never "used" before - My pain. And with the pain came an anger and a drive that brought voices that shouted in my head, "You can't give in!"

I was broken down to a fast walk by this point, doing everything I could to keep moving forward, throwing up over and over again, something I would be doing right up to the end. I focused on nothing more than one mile at a time. The nausea was crippling. I kept my head down and tried to block out all distractions. I began passing runners who were literally on the ground crying because of the amount of pain they were in. Runners throwing up, runners laying over top of rocks, runners defeated as I was so early on in the race.

By mile 55, it was pitch black, with no noise and very little light other than the light coming from my head lamp. Any runners left at this point were far apart from one another and every so often you could barely make out another headlamp off in the distance. I literally heard someone scream at this point and as I made my way around a turn, I found a runner who collapsed and was in severe pain because his feet were just destroyed. He was yelling because of the amount of pain he was in just from walking. Luckily he had two pacers with him and was still composed enough to ask me how I was doing. :)  I made sure they were all okay and kept on moving.

When I got to the finish, all I could think about was that there was no way, no way at all, no way, I could have finished this race. I was in utter disbelief and shock, because I knew what I would have had to overcome from the very start in order to make it to the end. I had reached a new level of awareness that I had never, in all of the racing and training, ever known.

I was handed my finishers buckle and found a bench to sit on. I sat down and stared at the ground. I reflected on how what I'd just experienced was so much like life. We come to travel so many bumpy roads and heed so many heavy winds and if we relied on just the logical parts of our awareness, I'm not sure anyone would make it. Without a leap of faith, I'm not sure one could ever believe in their own abilities. I reflected on how the end of a race is so much more than just crossing a line in the dirt. And as I continued to stare at the ground, a tear came from my eye, because I remembered something that now resonated within me, with an understanding and clarity I had never felt before.

Belief will change my world.

Keep Going

2015 Black Canyon 100km Ultramarathon... Complete...


  1. Fucking amazing Dude. You killed it. Such a badass!

  2. Congratulations on another finish. Way to persevere.