Friday, August 4, 2017

Race Report: Obligatory Ass Pun Goes Here

I know my prose is not for everyone, but contrary to my statement of events of my time down south in March, finishing the long course of Northburn Station was one of the happiest moments of my life this year.  I had just waddled into the medical tent and was getting my knees checked out by the medic, and she had briefly left me alone while fetching her blister lance (she was really sick of dealing with exposure all weekend), so while waiting for her to return I decided to take my phone off flight mode and catch up on my emails.  

The subject line on one of them contained the word "Invoice", but my face slowly contorted to a shit-eating grin as I finished reading it off.  

Let's back up a little bit further for a little more context.

I ran the last Big Bend 50-mile ever back in January 2016, placing 5th.  I had originally signed up for this as I had passed by Alpine, TX on the Texas Eagle (seriously everyone, long-distance Amtrak is the shit) back in 2013 and felt that the area warranted a little more exploration outside of a 10 minute smoke break on a Sunday morning.  Henceforth, I had signed up for a 50mi run just to explore the desert and generally be all tourist-y and whatnot.  

I had arrived stateside two days before the race, and since the race was in close proximity to Big Bend National Park--one of America's most remote (i.e. a 4h drive from a decent commercial airport), least visited parks--I figured I should at least pay this gem a visit.  Tucked into the back of Big Bend National Park is a pedestrian-only border crossing across the Mexican border into the town of Boquillas del Carmen, and, given I didn't want to do much hiking/running across other gnarly desert terrain before the race, I decided to head over the border to get some authentic Mexican food for lunch.  Once over the Rio Grande, I had four options of getting up the hill into town and reporting to Mexican customs: 

  1. walk (lame, I can do that anywhere.  also i'm "tapering")
  2. rent a horse and ride it into town (lame, I can almost do that anywhere)
  3. get a ride in the back of a truck (ok, now you have me interested)
  4. rent a donkey and ride it into town
Having decided to be a tourist that weekend, I went with #4.  

50mi tapering done right, circa 2016
Fast forward a few months, back home.  I was talking to my friend Eric, a transplant from Mexico, about my stupid odyssey to get legit Mexican food in Mexico for lunch and how it involved equine handling skills, and he mentioned that if I didn't have too much trouble with my steed, there were these races that didn't involve riding but your finish time was only logged when you humanely brought your ass across the finish line.  After a little bit of research, I decided to make an effort to take on the longest version offered down in Colorado - a 29mi at the end of July.  I'd have to wait a year though because Angeles Crest was the weekend right after this race's weekend, but that gave me enough time to source myself a local racing steed from a ranch in the area.  

Back to the prologue--the email was for an invoice and liability waiver related to finding a donkey, hence my giant shit-eating grin.  Sure, this race was four months away, but my donkey's name was 'Smokey', goddammit.  I was so full of stoke, even after having just blown both my knees over 100mi and was now largely immobile.  

(No, none of the above could have been written more concisely.)

Deeply rooted in Colorado's mining heritage, Pack Burro Racing is Colorado's official summer heritage sport.  No one is exactly sure how this started--one story tells of miners running back into the town claims office with their asses to stake their claims (pun intended), while another tells of it being a result of a drunk-bet-settlement method being legitimized into a sport.  (I prefer the latter.)  There are many rules involved, but the main ones involve your burro needing to be weighed down with 33lbs of prospecting gear, including a pickaxe, gold pan and shovel; you can't ride your burro, but your burro can ride you; your burro must be under control at all times; and you can't be a jackass and perform acts of animal cruelty (pun so obviously intended).

There is an annual triple crown, involving 3 races in 3 weeks spanning a total of 63 miles, but as I'd be running Eastern States in short order I elected to make this a check-the-box exercise and just do the first race, a 29mi out of Fairplay.  It actually complimented my ES100 training pretty well, as the race would start at roughly 3000m high, then cresting to just over 4000m in a lollipop loop, which meant that I could heat train for this as a means of at least getting acclimatized to ~2500m.  This heat training would then feed well into needing to run in the summer jungles of PA two weeks later.  

On the penultimate Friday before the race, I called my donkey broker (yes, that is a thing), Amber, to confirm I had enough time before the race to bag six 14ers in the Mosquito Range as a means of crash acclimatization, and still get some run time with Smokey.  She did, but then also noted the following circumstances--

  • Salomon Running would be present at this race filming since Max King would be going head-to-head with previous triple crown winner George Zack, a contest that's been in the making since 2015
  • Smokey was faster than Max's steed, Earl
  • WSER winner Ryan Sandes was expected to show up too, because why not
  • Smokey likes to hang out with his girl Alice, who is slightly faster than his speed
I really didn't want to run this race with any expectations at all except to have fun and what not, but refusing to succumb to the temptation of going all-in (historically the field is less than 20 deep) when presented with these circumstances made it really difficult.  

Nevertheless, given the severity of this race to my racing season, my goals were prioritized as follows:
  1. Don't let this thing end my racing season.  I had a fast donkey which meant I would likely be tailing him for a large duration of the race, so there was a large risk I could get dragged on the downhills, break an ankle from running too fast over uneven surfaces or worse--taking two straight to the chest or legs or balls or all of those body parts one after the other.
  2. Don't be the ass that makes the ass lame.  That would be a total ass move.  Pun obviously intended.  
  3. Don't get vomit on my shoes.  There will probably be some adverse reaction to going balls-out without acclimatizing properly, and I'd likely not have enough time to clean my shoes before ES100.  
  4. Don't die.  Passing out while running with a donkey and then subsequently getting dragged to death is a horrible way to go.  
But that's not to say I didn't have anything to get out of this race besides reasons related to the #YOLO life.  I've never been a good pacer (she ran out of gas literally on the last mile of Leadville last year) or had much luck with getting paced, and I've never been keen to slow down for slower runners on a training run.  So of course, this race would be an exercise in patience and hanging on for me.  And maybe it was the fact I volunteered at a race for each of the five weekends between Worlds End and Angel Creek, but I hadn't felt particularly grateful for anything as of late.  Alas, I figured a team member with no sense of pace management should kick some of that feeling back into me and make me beg for forgiveness from the higher running powers that be. 
Angel Creek, which was the penultimate weekend before this race, was a 50mi in the [relative] lowlands of the Alaska interior, so the heat training was somewhat painful after needing to go from ~400m above sea level to nearly 10 times that.  Following some hilarious exposure on Northover Ridge the weekend before (which included an odd dizzy spell during a headwall ascent that was 'cured' by a good shot of bourbon), I settled into an uncharacteristic week-long sobriety spell to stay hydrated before I landed in Denver on Friday for some acclimatization and icebreaking with Smokey.  But despite trying to run this race with no expectations at all, I was incredibly nervous and anxious about the increased amount of variables affecting my performance relative to races where a burro doesn't have to accompany you.  I was sure I had more angst the week of the race than I did waiting for Fat Dog 120 to start back in 2015.  

After landing, I picked up a fellow first-time racer named Ben from Wisconsin at the Denver airport, and we headed out to Fairplay together to get some face time with our respective steeds.  He had been assigned Bandit, which I thought was hilariously divine as I had been given Smokey, and the two of us took them around the block behind the fairgrounds to see if they would play well with us.  Right from the get-go, Smokey was rather abrasive but I had chalked this up to me interrupting his lunch; I was also warned that he had been raised by bulls before he was acquired by his current owner Bill, so he had a little wild side to him and occasionally snorted like a bull.  Furthermore, Smokey seemed to be fairly cognizant of where he was relative to his friends, as I accidentally led him to a dead end street that had someone's yard separate us from the fairgrounds, and he absolutely would not back up the street and insisted on cutting through the yard Simon-Pegg-style. Fortunately, Smokey was very hesitant in leading Bandit for long distances and would not leave his side, so Ben led Bandit and subsequently Smokey out of the dead end and back onto the right street.  

After parting ways with Ben I hit up the nearby Mount Sherman to get some exposure to an easy 14er before returning into town.  I followed this up the next morning by doing five more 14ers at DeCaLiBro and Quandary Peak before returning to the fairgrounds to get some more time with Smokey to see how he would function if I simply picked him out from the corral to go for a stroll.  As you can imagine, it was tough getting him away from earshot of the fairgrounds, but once we turned around, I was able to get him to lead me on a <6min mile pace.  I repeated this process twice--wrestling Smokey via the cheekpiece of his halter or with a pressure-release knot tied with the lead away from the fairgrounds, and then breaking into a sprint back to the fairgrounds.  Afterwards I ran into Smokey's owner Bill while he was dropping off a few more burros for the night and he gave me a few more tips on handling, before I retired to carb load on pasta and to get my hydration pack/saddlebag loadout in order.  

Despite the race not starting until 1030h, I showed up on race day at 700h to help get everyone's mini-horses and donkeys saddled up and to meet my fellow racers.  Racing burros all know when race day is, and Smokey in particular was super anxious so I took him up and down Front Street a few times before the race once he was all set, and introducing him to children and tourists to get him to calm down.  I also met Laura, who would be racing Alice; the latter definitely had a calming effect on Smokey, but given Laura's CV (2-time Leadman, Ironman fiend, 4th last year at this race) I knew I was in for a world of hurt since she would be driving Alice hard and Smokey would be dragging me along for the ride.  Nevertheless I still elected to start next to her so Smokey would at least be in the zone and so there would be a possibility that Smokey wouldn't be throwing a fit right off the bat.  Ben and Bandit seeded himself ahead of us.  
saddling up.  (photo stolen from Paige K.)
Smokey (right) flirting with Natasha (left) and Alice (foreground) before the gun.  (photo stolen from JoAnne B.)
The course itself was a lollipop format, heading out from Fairplay towards Alma Junction,  turning onto North America's highest maintained dirt road, then heading up to the Continental Divide at Mosquito Pass before finishing the circumnavigation of London Mountain and then reversing the course back into town.  I had been warned that because the initial road section was flat and largely runnable, donkeys would tend to sprint out for the first few miles, but once we returned back into town we'd likely have to reverse the relationship and drag them into the metaphorical barn on the main drag. 

I was told multiple times before the race--you have one job; hold Smokey's halter cheekpiece at the start and keep him in close proximity to Alice.  I did, but  this was not enough once the start guns went off and Smokey somehow wrestled my hand away.  All I had to control him was my lead rope whose slack was rapidly shortening as Alice lurched forwards.  My lungs struggled to keep up as Smokey set the pace at less than 6min/mi, which was a little stupid at Fairplay's altitude of 3000m+.  Things quickly fell apart as the course took us off road, and my efforts to lift my legs in order to not roll anything on the uneven ground resulted in my HRM chest strap falling down and the tied sleeves of the jacket tied around my waist to fall to my knees.  I pleaded Smokey to stop, and then with Laura to try to slow Alice but neither obviously yielded anything, so with the last of my strength I hauled myself up to Smokey's halter, elbowed him to a fence post and quickly tied a bank-robber's knot before putting my head down on the fence wire so I could get my heart rate back down to something sensible.  Smokey brayed desperately as Alice disappeared into the distance, and he gave me two swift kicks to the leg before I got up, took my jacket and chest strap off and untied him.
and then, like five seconds later, i'm already halfway through my lead after Smokey decides to send it.
Smokey wasn't done yet with trying to mingle with the ladies, and with the middle pack coming up from behind us, he went off on yet another sprint still desperately looking for Alice, so he kept setting the pace and leading me on a stupid game of hopskotch across a roadside ditch.  My heart rate was definitely still above 180bpm as I could hear the beating in my head and it wasn't long before I had to pull over again at another fence post and take yet another break.  "How many miles you got left?", asked a roadside spectator.  I looked at my watch.  "Twenty sevenish?", I replied.  

Fuck.  I would so much rather be running a hunnerd right now.  

Thankfully, Brad, who helps train Smokey throughout the year, showed up behind me running Darby and in the company another pack of racers.  He was running the short 15mi course but nevertheless his presence seemed to calm Smokey down and I was able to get Smokey moving at a somewhat reasonable pace now.  The only problem was that Smokey, a perpetual top-10 finisher, went full-Jim-Walmsley--he seemed to know my sorry ass (pun obviously intended) was not going to get him to the front of the pack so his response was to constantly stop in his tracks and attempt to turn me around.  Brad told me that if I couldn't handle it I could always stick with him and run the short course, but I respectfully told him that I didn't fly all the way down here to do anything less than the long course.  Nevertheless the lot of us stuck together for a little bit before we got split up at a poorly-marked intersection, but I was still in the presence of three other burros in which Smokey absolutely insisted on being the caboose of.  It also didn't help that the 15mi front-packers were now coming at us from the opposite direction, which was distracting our pack, but the four of us kept our burros tight and effectively used some herd dynamics to prevent any of us from splitting off prematurely.

three of the four in the first group I hung out with.  here i'm trying to get Smokey to pass but he'd always stop a few yards short.  (photo stolen from Paige K.)
after having run out fucks to give about my placement, here's a picture of me helping Tammy on the short course rein in Pedro (upslope) after he decided to drop her.   (screenshot from 9News)
This band only lasted until the turnaround for the 15mi course, when my entire group peeled off in the opposite direction, leaving Smokey wondering 'what the actual fuck'.  I was pretty sure I was DFL at this point as it took me probably 15 minutes to drag Smokey to a point where we couldn't see the turnaround marshal (which was probably just under a half-mile), and yet no one passed me in that stretch.  What followed next was a cycle of these events: 
  1. Smokey refuses to proceed along the course.
  2. I tie a pressure release knot with my lead rope.  
  3. Smokey begrudgingly allows himself to be dragged up the road.  
  4. I remove the knot on the condition he behaves.  
  5. He does not and stops in his tracks.
  6. I attempt to have Smokey lead but he just turns around so I return to the front.  
  7. I drag Smokey by either the lead or the cheekpiece two or three steps before he stops.
  8. I turn around to look at him and he moves closer to me, but stops when I face forward. 
  9. Smokey sees a car and proceeds to run after it, regardless which direction the car is going.
  10. Smokey stops when the car disappears.  
  11. I drag Smokey up the road for twenty yards max, never at a running pace.  
Like a Finnish rally race, the road up to the pass was well stocked with spectators and residents just standing on the side of the road and cheering us on but Smokey was having none of it and probably begging them to rescue him from this weirdo annoyingly reciting quotes from the Shrek franchise plus Shrek 4-D AND the musical.  But this sojourn was made easier because every time I turned around, I saw that Fairplay was getting absolutely hammered by rain while it was still sunny on this side of Alma.  After an hour of tug-o-war, I briefly managed a chuckle--burros are known for their intelligence, and I realized that after I had cockblocked Smokey in his attempt to get after Alice, here he was cockblocking my entire race experience.  

I had hoped that I wouldn't see any long-course runners heading off the pass and that wish was granted after a long hike up to the bottom of the Mosquito Pass loop.  The marshal there informed me that I wasn't too far behind two more teams and that I would surely catch them, even at my current pace.  Smokey pretty much immediately disagreed with this statement when a passing car with a family of four hurled a bunch of encouragement at Smokey hiking up the hill, resulting in him hilariously stopping in his tracks and shooting a death glare at them.  

Nevertheless, I caught sight of the two teams that the marshal had spoke of after two more hills.  There was a substantial water crossing shortly after that which stopped the three of us (as anyone with equestrian handling experience will know).  Jack got Doc across after a little encouragement, and then he returned to get Smokey across.  I tied off Smokey next to Doc and then returned to get Marsha across, who was led by a childhood friend of Ben's, Ryan [the non-saffer] from Ft. Collins.  But we weren't done yet as another runner decided to DNF right before the pass, and we had to get his burro, Ellroy, across the other way too while he egressed the course.  

We realized that the three of us would move faster if we stuck together but unfortunately Ryan started cramping and Jack fell behind, and soon I was playing tug-o-war with Smokey again as we made our way up towards the pass.  Further complicating things was that we were off road now and hiking across an alpine meadow full of appetizing grass and flowers for Smokey's IDGAF attitude.  Eventually Marsha caught up and prodded Smokey along, and Ryan and I finally got up to the pass where we were informed there were only four runners left on the course--but really three with Ellroy headed back already.  

I was right--I was DFL at the short course turnaround.  But none of that mattered as I was about to start my descent from the pass in the company of at least one other team and I'd be able to breathe a bit easier.  

Jack and Doc were a ways behind now, and Ryan and I decided to try to have Marsha lead down the pass with me and Smokey driving her from behind.  Having run out of fucks to give I'd also give Marsha an occasional tap on the ass with my lead (pardon the pun), and after a couple miles of this we got to the point where Marsha would give me some nasty side-eye when I'd run beside her, and she'd speed up when she saw me twirl my lead.  Meanwhile, Smokey kept hanging on and maintaining a decent gap next to Marsha, likely cognizant of the fact that maybe I was taking out my frustration on her instead so he would keep me far away enough from her to avoid contact.  At one point Ryan tried to switch team positions to take the pressure off my voice, but Smokey was not wanting to take the lead and we quickly reverted back to Smokey riding caboose.  

After reaching the end of the Mosquito Pass loop and starting the reverse section, I caught sight of what I thought was a horseback rider slowly walking his horse in the distance on the road, but after closing the gap on him it was just someone struggling to drag his burro forward.  The jorts gave it away--it was Max King and Earl; upon reaching him he explained that Earl basically refused to cooperate after descending the pass.  I let Marsha get ahead of me and tried to get Earl to hang onto Smokey and to get on the pain train, but to no avail; Earl was only good for walking.  After a few more minutes of bartering with Earl with whatever I had in my saddlebags, I apologized to Max for leaving him behind and bid him the best of luck.  

Ryan was cramping real hard and he was walking all the uphills now.  I was able to still get Marsha to accelerate upon request, but she had a good read on Ryan's propensity to run and wouldn't run if he didn't want to.  Even if I came up alongside her and twirled my lead, she'd only sprint a few steps forward if Ryan was walking.  Meanwhile Smokey was still minding his own business in the back but kept pace as he probably knew we were going home.  

After a few more miles we made it back to the 15mi turnaround, and we caught sight of another wide brim in the distance.  It was Ben and Bandit; they were both stopped but Ben was sitting next to the ditch.  The two of us reached him in short order and Ben basically told me the same story as Max did--after having reached the pass in fifth place, Bandit had reached a "fuck this shit" moment and Ben basically had to drag his ass off the pass like Max was doing with Earl (pun obviously intended). Remembering the events of Friday afternoon, we seeded ourselves so Marsha would lead off Bandit, and Smokey would drive Bandit from behind.  We found that this was the only system that worked--just like Friday afternoon, Bandit refused to run if Smokey was in front, and conversely Smokey refused to move far from Bandit if he was in front.  And if I stopped to take a piss, Smokey would jerk on the lead repeatedly, and then when I finished up he would break into a sprint like the opening mile to catch up to Bandit before slowing right back down to a walk.  Nevertheless, after more than seven hours of basically the five stages of grief in dealing with Smokey, I finally got him to respond properly to the question 'you hot to trot?', so I was kind of feeling proud of myself.  

With six miles to go we were all aligned to the right side of the road, when Bandit took an unnatural jump to the left and knocked Ben off balance.  We were wondering what had caused this as Marsha didn't seem to react this way, and we realized there was a donkey tied to a tree off the side of the road, runner nowhere to be found.  The three of us took a few minutes to discuss options--Ben took a look at the saddle and ascertained it wasn't from the same ranch that supplied Smokey, Bandit and Marsha, so we didn't feel particularly obligated to untie the burro and take them along for the ride.  I thought the number, 53, looked familiar and may have been Ellroy, but I couldn't check for sure as I was holding on to both Smokey and Bandit's leads while Ben was checking the saddle.  Nevertheless we elected to leave the burro there and report it into the next marshal.  

Rain clouds were starting to creep behind us but Ryan could only barely manage brief running spells no longer than a minute.  I knew I had some juice in me and could run faster but I also knew that the fastest, least painful way to get Smokey moving was in our current formation of Marsha/Bandit/Smokey.  I also remembered the events of my first hunnerd where I finished simultaneously with two other runners and I told Ryan and Ben that, in return for getting Smokey moving, I'd do my best to tie with the two of them, even if it meant holding halters together and dragging all three burros across the finish line simultaneously.  Max was nowhere to be seen and we had ventured off into some tight single track, so I wasn't too fussed about the possibility of Earl having a second wind with the rain coming in.  Ben had taken on the responsibility of shouting at Marsha so I worked on getting Bandit to move, and it didn't take long for Bandit to give me some nasty side-eye too.  

We were now back on the highway ditch when a crack of thunder prompted Smokey to suddenly break into a sprint so I apologetically took Smokey up to the front.  This sudden spell of anxiety didn't last long and Bandit soon caught up to us.  Ryan was showing severe signs of dehydration at this point, so we shuffled back to having Smokey ride caboose but now with Bandit in the lead.  A fine drizzle started while we were definitely within a mile of the finish line; both Ryan and I elected to just run it into the finish line without stopping to put on our rain gear.  

The three of us soon trudged up the last hill to Old South Park City, which commenced the last turn before a straight 400m downhill shot to the finish line at the front of Hand Hotel. Ryan had to stop halfway up the hill but despite me promising we'd finish together, he let me go on ahead of him to put me out of my misery.  At the top of the hill I asked Ben if we were stopping to wait and he too said he wanted to just finish this, so the two of us proceeded to run what would possibly my most amazeballs bell lap 400m ever.  

The drizzle had turned into a most terrific rainstorm now, which I thought was just fucking hilarious  but also because Smokey was still hellbent on fucking my day up, despite what I had thought was quality bonding time in the  last few hours.  Ben managed to get Bandit going on a smooth, solid trot but despite pretty much dragging Smokey at the end of my lead, Smokey pretended to be out of gas unless I was far away enough from Bandit.  Ben was running his own race at this point and I got Smokey's nose up to the same level as the front of Bandit's saddle before Smokey slowed down and yielded to Bandit with less than 100m to go.  

I melodramatically screamed out, "WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY," as a crowd filtered out of the Hand Hotel, which sits adjacent to the finish line, to watch this comically slow duel between Ben and I literally dragging our asses (pun obviously intended) towards the finish line.  Ben was on the right side of the street and I thought I had heard a car turning behind me (we had taken so long that road closures were no longer in effect) so I took Smokey off to the left to try to get the car's presence to push him forward.  It worked and I thought I could at least muster a tie with Ben with a classic ticker-tape forward-lean, but like the jackass that he was (pun so obviously intended) Smokey eased off the gas with three yards to go and pulled me right back.  Alas, I ended up with a one-second split off of Ben and Bandit.  

And there you have it--my first time juggling the red lantern.  

Despite this utter shitshow of events (speaking as someone who usually sits in the front third of a non-pack burro race), it was quite understandable that I got served with what I asked for.  I've skipped out on arms day for the better part of five years, and got served with a nine-hour running game of tug-o-war after being unable to hang on in the opening mile.  I've been one to shy away from being vocal in social settings of any sort, and got served with having to perform a nine-hour soliloquy instead.  I had an attitude of irreverence towards Colorado's altitude (pun so intended) and so she tried to drown me in my own blood at the start of the race.  

But more importantly--as noted above, I went five straight weeks of volunteering at races prior to Angel Creek and I wanted to feel grateful again after giving away so much of my time.  Racing with a burro that only had either a homicidal or facile sense of pace management was the reminder I needed about the simple truths of life.  In the face of unrelenting resistance and adversity to making any progress, I realized during these 29 long miles that my unhappiness with anything is merely synonymous with ungratefulness.  I was at my roughest just after the short course turnaround, with Smokey distracted by short course burros turning back already, and the clock ticking on the first long course runners coming through the opposite direction to distract him even further; plus I was DFL at that point and with no immediate help from other burros in the vicinity.  Instead of dwelling on that, I focused on the simple truths of the situation--of how I lucky I was to run around Colorado with a stubborn ass, and how I had found a ranch willing to humor someone with basically zero training on burro handling.  I focused on somewhat ironically thanking Smokey for enduring my stubborn ass, and for making my long-weekend as #COLORADO as it could be.  Changing my mindset to being thankful for Smokey's presence ticked away the miles faster than lamenting Smokey's lack of cooperation.  

If I had to describe this experience with a single phrase, I'd have to say this was "oddly therapeutic"; it was nearly tantamount to drowning in puppies at a dog park.  It's particularly difficult for me to care about this parallel reality of positive circumstances when I've worked strategy and planning for the entirety of my post-secondary life, and the world my job exists in is pretty much in flames all the time so I'm never one to believe that I should just play the hand I've been dealt.   But when I do, it's like a breath of fresh air--there are some Sisyphean endeavors in life that are way out of your control in which you shouldn't waste your time on.  Life's too short for that, and it's completely OK to slow your ass down, put on yet another shit-eating grin, and enjoy the smell of the flowers instead...before he subsequently devours them.  

By the numbers:

  • distance run: 46.5k
  • elevation gain: 1070m?
  • official time: 9:09:11
  • official placement: 13/16
  • Bill, Brad/Amber/Bonnie and the crew of Laughing Valley Ranch for letting me run with Smokey.  I don't think I had what it took to run with Smokey as I definitely held him back, but per the above I am grateful I had the opportunity to run with him.  
    • also for quickly and effectively showing me the ropes.  literally
  • The town of Fairplay, for letting me take Smokey around the block Friday/Saturday like it was not a big deal and that it was totally cool.  And then subsequently letting him nervously shit all over the place Sunday morning while waiting for the race to start.
    • Word has it the town's population goes up 14-15x that weekend.  
  • Ben and Ryan, for gracing me with their and their burros' presence and being a part of the pain train, in order to get Smokey to play ball.  And then subsequently tolerating my creepiness towards Marsha/Bandit's ass, dark humor and Canadian tendencies.  
  • All my new friends, in particular John and Karin and Paige and Kiki, for giving me more reasons to come back and do this again.  
Stray observations:
  • This was Ryan's longest race to date.  Does no one just run a legit proper flat road marathon to extend their race distance anymore?
  • Del--I would like to drown in puppies at the dog park in September again, if that can be arranged.  
  • The Cow Days episode makes so much more sense now.  
  • I probably won't be walking anyone's dogs for a while now.  Even if they're just a puppy.  
  • I apologize for running so slow that there are no pictures that illustrate how epic running in the Mosquito Range is because I was at the back of the pack.  For another take, check out Jason Connolly's shots he took for AP from the front of the pack, featuring appearances from Ben, Brad, Laura and Alice, Max and other folks.  
  • I would say this race was more physically intensive than me waddling the back 60k of Northburn Station, but only because I talked so much to the burros that I lost my voice on the morning after.  
  • Jacks are male donkeys, and jennys are female donkeys.  Which means jackasses can only be male.  #foodforthought
  • another #COLORADO feature of this race--this is an image of the leadup to the Mosquito Pass loop on the CO-12 dirt road (Y-junction on the left).  the white line adjacent to the road and next to that pin near the center is a rather clean Gen II Lincoln Town Car stretch limo.  
  • I know I don't run races twice unless I DNF, and I said this would just be a check-the-box exercise, but I completely shit the bed at this one seconds after the gun went off, and that cascaded into a complete shitshow.  Yes, I just ranted about just playing the hand I was dealt, but I played it so shitty I am certain I have room for improvement, so I'll definitely be back.  
    • know, once I get feeling in my arms again.
    • This sport is all about continuous improvement.  'Last ass' is a rite of passage many current winners went through before.  
    • Alternatively, given the amount of variables that can affect your performance in this race, no two events would ever be the same, even if you keep the course and your training regime constant.  
    • I figure that if I want to one day do Hardrock in sub-48h, I should be able to do this decently first.
    • I would also concur that this sport is a most excellent form of conflict resolution, so if anyone demands satisfaction from me, let me know and we'll get you set up.
  • As noted, Salomon was out filming, so keep an eye out for that.  
I want to say they're wrong, but after the experience I had, I can't.  (that's Laura in the center and me trying to hang on behind her.)
Tips for greenhorn runners also looking to have their egos shattered:
  • Bagging 14ers is not guaranteed to do anything for acclimatization.  Ben spent the whole weekend camping and drinking while I was peak bagging, and he was able to go as fast as Bandit let him (although he does have a pre-existing track background).  If I were do this all over again though I would take an extra day to do some mountaintop yoga/spinning or something, vs. my 'touch the cairn and GTFO' method.  
    • The moment I knew I was fucked was when my resting heart rate upon waking up on race day was 80+ bpm.  So maybe it's time for me to buy the tent and genny.  
    • I think I would have felt just as shitty even if I ran the short course.  Even if the course was as short as 10k--it was a fight warming up to a running pace and getting to the second mile.
    • I think the lead-up week sobriety had something to do with it too.  If anything, I should have induced a few hangovers before flying down, because that's what it felt like waking up each morning.  
    • Alternate activity to acclimatize: the 5K llama race on the Saturday before this, as a warmup run.  
  • If you're as terrible as me around animals, you may want to think about getting more face time with your burro prior to the race.  Five trips around a city block means fuck all; you gotta get them out into the mountains away from distractions (or in my case, a high-altitude track).
    • the key thing is to establish trust in your burro and vice versa.  
  • Hitting a burro with your lead repeatedly is considered abuse.    
  • You can use saddlebags to hold your gear but your stuff may get dusty.  If I had to do this again I would probably just go handheld, pills and gels.  
    • Residents on County Road 12 may offer you beer, but only if you move fast enough to catch them before dinnertime.
  • Smokey wasn't pulling hard enough for me to justify wearing my Mechanix gloves past mile four.  
  • Upper body strength training, specifically the arms.  This race report would read so much differently if I won the initial wrestling match with Smokey at the start.  
  • Yes, burros can go full-Walmsley too if they realize they're out of podium contention.  
  • Yelling and screaming yields nothing.  Talk to burros like they're five.  
    • But not facetiously; Smokey seemed to pick up on sarcasm when I gave him kudos about how photogenic he was around child spectators.  
  • Set your expectations low.  This race is the epitome of how nothing is written and that anything can happen at an ultra, regardless of how much preparation you do.  
Up next:
  • Eastern States, because somehow I still haven't bagged a WSER qualifier for next year yet

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