“Coming to Run” – 2011 Mountain Mist 50K Race Report

Mountain Mist swag

Thinking outside the box

“5:45?” asked Sally.

“The way you ran at Fat Ass, I think you have a 5:15 in you.”

Shocked, but intrigued, I smiled a little sideways and replied, “really?”

Burnt out

If you read my runner-tortured ramblings, you know that I hit the proverbial bottom with regards to my running, and specifically, 100-mile race performances at the end of last year (2010).

Keys 100 – DNF

Western States – DNF

Rio Del Lago – DNF

It wasn’t pretty.

The Pinhoti 100 was the final straw – Lying trail side at mile 34, at 221 pounds, with a crazy, erratic heart beat, and being cared for by ultrarunning entrepreneur, Shannon Farar-Griefer (and almost ruining her race), I realized something had to change if I was going to continue this sport.

I was a mess.

Who am I? What do I want to be?

After Pinhoti, I took a very real and honest personal inventory with regards to what I was doing.

Sure, I was big and strong, but I had the running fitness of a rhinoceros. Did I want to be a runner? A weightlifter? or what?

I wanted to be a runner.

But more than that, I decided that I wanted to be a competitive runner.

It no longer felt good to just complete events. My approach to ultrarunning had been all ass-backwards, and I realized that the truth was clear. I was biting off waaaay more than I could chew, and suffering in the process.

Whether it’s a 50K, 50-miles or 100-miles, if you have to walk a significant portion of the ultramarathon, you aren’t running it – you are simply completing the distance.

I want to RUN ultramarathons.

Starting off 2011 with a bang

So, I decided to start over.

I decided that I was going to train with no excuses.

Lose the weight with no excuses. 30 lbs of it! Gone.

Get faster. Go harder. Rest more. Eat right. Train consistent…

…with no excuses.

And coming off of a decent effort for my first race of the 2011 season, the Ghost Town 38.5, I felt ready to not only tackle the Mountain Mist 50K one week later, but actually run my heart out and PR the damn race come hell or high water.

Plus, I had already called it out publicly, so the pressure was on.

I was gonna get that 5:45.

A cold morning at Monte Sano

Being my 4th year as a race participant, the starting line of Mountain Mist always feels like a southeastern family reunion. All of my GUTS friends, Alabama friends, and a smattering of Carolina folks, all milling around excited to tackle the beautiful trails of Monte Sano and the surrounding wooded areas.

It was cool to see Hal Koerner line up with some of my local heroes like Rob and Kathy Youngren, Carl Laniak, Dwayne Satterfield, David Riddle, Sally Brooking, Marty Coleman, etc etc etc …too many to name, but clearly it was going to be a fast field.

Running to aid station one

Running Mist with my eyes closed

I started out at a moderate pace alongside Jen Vogel, Tatyana Spencer, Sally and Marty – people with whom I should normally be very careful around as they are great runners and could easily blow me up early; but we were running comfortably at a 7:30-ish pace up the road and it was a good way to start as we made our way into the technical trails.

I was on a mission, and I shot ahead of a small group on the trail, hoping to get a good position in the usual early conga line.

I found myself in between Kathy Youngren, Dana Overton and a couple other Alabama locals. They all seemed to know each other, so I just ran along with them listening to some good stories, watching the pacing on my watch, and trying to maintain comfortable breathing.

This early section is technical, gradual uphill climbing, but we were still maintaining low-to-mid 8’s and I was feeling pretty proud to be running with this group.

And just when I thought I was somebody —- {WHACK} —- I flew into the air, stumbled for a good 10 yards trying to catch myself, before finally ending up staggering into a pretty gnarly fall that banged the hell out of my left knee.


Slam at Mountain Mist

But that’s trail running; and after a few jokes tossed around about who was responsible for my fall, I caught up and continued running with the speedy group into aid station 1.

Feeling fantastic.

Switching it up

Ok.    Stop.

This is where I get into my race report writing conundrum. I’ve run this race four times now. It seems silly for me to offer a blow-by-blow account, again, so I won’t.

If you read the first time I ran this race, then 2009, then 2010 – that outta’ be plenty to understand what this course is like.

These dudes did an AWESOME job capturing the ruggedness of the course, so check it out!

Instead, …well… I don’t even have an instead. I’m just gonna write some crap and whatever happens, happens.

Lonely on the Rocks

From the time I entered the trail at the beginning of the race, until the time I got to the Landtrust Aid Station (mile 21.1), I focused on three things:

  • My body: doing constant mental body scans and evaluating my physical well-being
  • My watch: was I maintaining an acceptable pace?
  • The scene: Mountain Mist is one spectacular place. Add snow, and dood, it was flat-out gorgeous

I was focused on time, not the competition, but I did enjoy picking off the occasional runner who had gone out too fast. …and I’ve been that runner many a’time.

If you know the course, you know that after this Landtrust aid station, you begin  your approach to the dirty ol’ nasty waterline climb; and to make it worse, the approach to waterline is about 4 miles of constant, jagged rocks – a full-on rock garden – with sketchy creek crossings and this year, snow and ice.

I ran this entire section completely alone.

In my New Balance 100s, I started to form some blisters purely from my foot slipping between various pairs of rocks, getting stuck, and then popping out after some significant pulling. It was slowing me down, and I let myself get a little low.

I was lonely, and frustrated …and every time I looked at the watch, I was seeing scary numbers like 11:31 for pace. Even tho’ that’s the pace at that moment and not average pace, it still made me grumble and added to my frustration.

At this point, I knew by simple math that unless I completely fell apart on, and/or after, the waterline climb, I was a lock for 5:45…

…but that damn Sally put a faster time in my head, and although all I cared about was 5:45 for months leading up to the race, Sally derailed all of that with one simple side comment, and now I was stressing to see if I had what it took to actually beat 5:45.

Such a sucker for peer pressure.

Piece of cake

Now, I’m not saying that waterline wasn’t hard; but, as one experiences more and more races around the country, it definitely becomes one of the more manageable climbs in your experience index – mostly because it’s very short; but it is hella’steep y’all, and while you’re climbing, you’re feeling it for sure.

However, where I was with my racing at the moment, I actually used the climb as a bit of recovery. I didn’t try to waste a ton energy, but instead just climb steady and consistent.

There’s only two speeds up waterline – slow and slower.

After topping out, I felt pretty good and passed a couple o’ dudes who may not have had as much fun as me negotiating that dirty ol’ beast, and by the time I hit the 25.1 mile aid station, I was surprisingly ready to crank it up.

McKay’s Hollar’

I felt really strong passing through that aid station, and focused on a couple of dudes up ahead.

“I got’chu,” I kept saying to myself, and I picked it up a little bit at a time, each time I caught one, until I had passed about 3 guys and was now making my ‘dip’ into McKay’s Hollow.

Ahhhh… McKay’s Hollow, I love this section – it’s just so crazy dramatic – but being a complete psychotic head-case, I truly embrace sections like this and love hammering them hard.

I passed two more dudes here, and came upon Joe Fejes, a faaaaast Georgia runner and someone with whom I should be very, very proud to be near. Joe and I dropped one more runner, and hit the ever-so-slightly rolling flats with some serious speed. I thank Joe for this because he set the pace, and I just tried to hang on for dear life.

My legs were crying.

My lungs were wheezing.

We splashed through the mud with reckless abandon, and I was so happy to be getting pulled by Joe. I knew it would help.

Rest Shelter – Wipe the eyes & straighten the hood(ie)

The last climb of the day is also the longest.

Joe was faster than me up the climb, but I ran some of the less dramatic switch-backs and hit that final aid station JUST as the watch flipped over to 5:00 hours. Dink, the RD, was there, and after a couple of quick sarcastic greetings, I tore out of there.

1.7 miles to go.

I ran that last section with all the heart I had, kids. Seriously. I didn’t have any wacky crazy over-the-top dramatic moments in this race like others, but I did still run to the point of tears. (‘cuz I’m super wimpy like ‘dat)

My legs burned and my calves were trying to cramp, and I’d have to tweak my gait to avoid it, all while still trying to hammer as hard as I could with 30 miles on my legs already.

It was surreal.

It hurt, but it also didn’t…

Sort of euphoric in a way.


I took a horrible fall.

I couldn’t have been more than .25 mile from the finish when I looked up to see the lodge through the trees, kicked a root, flew in the air, landed on my shoulder, and every muscle in my left leg locked up as tight as drum.

But %^%$! it, I got up, mud in my mouth, and kept on running just as hard as I did before I fell.

Turned the corner, ran up the railroad tie steps, heard people cheering, looked at the clock from a distance, and saw it…


Sally hit it on the head.

5:15:47 was my official time down to the second, and when I crossed under that banner, I just froze.

“How in the Hell did I, Christian Griffith, run that fast at Mountain Mist?”

And on the way home, it hit me – “I ran well because I trained.”

It’s so crazy how we, as human beings, can spend countless weeks, months, and even years of wasted time seeking alternative solutions to problems that already have clear-cut answers.

If you want to improve at running you have to run. Really run.

You have to really care and you have to train.


You have to set goals in your training every bit as much as you set goals for your races.

Thank you Sally

But you also need mentors.

Had Sally never put that possibility of a faster time inside of my head, I would not have even considered the possibility on my own. I may appear cocky and confident, but I believe I am really very much self-deprivating in many ways.

Having someone you really respect step to you and say, “hey, you’re doing very well, go for THIS” can do wonders for your head, your confidence and your drive.

Thank you Sally.

And thank you you to Dink, Suzanne, and all the race volunteers for yet another perfect, perfect race. I don’t know how they do it and make it look so easy, but they do. Every single year.

Tip of the cap to ya.

Next year, sub-5 …doh!

The Last Ghost Town 38.5

Christian running 'the rollers' section, finishing mile 32

So, yeah, I was a little scared

One of the most exciting, and frightening, things about wearing your life on your sleeve, is the risk of public failure.

And God knows, man, I’ve failed plenty.

That never feels good.

But, when you do get a success, that one good race where you did what you set out to do, it feels so incredibly good, you just want to scream at the top of your lungs.

You want to hug everyone around you, and maybe even shed a little tear. (Paul Carrington, are ya listenin’?)

For months, it has consumed your mind, your training, what you eat …and what you didn’t eat. It pokes and pesters you as that angel on your shoulder during those torturous track workouts, and those long mountain climbs when your body begs, “dude, no more!”

But you just keep going because it means something to you – you simply want to be a better athlete.

Today, as I start this report at 30,000 feet on Delta flight 2536, back to the hustle and bustle of Atlanta city life, I’m wearing my black, long-sleeved Ghost Town 38.5 race shirt with HUGE pride, and a GIANT smile on my face.

The hard training paid off.

Finally, I did something right.

Albuquerque a’int my kind’a New Mexico

Ok, I’m just gonna say it and be done with it – Albuquerque was not all that cool to me. It’s a vast, flat dry land that is 57 shades of brown. No grass, no vegetation, and a lot of fences.

I met up in the ABQ with ultrarunning friends from Arkansas – Ryan “Holla” Holler, Jeff “G-unit” Genova, Tom “Slow Lane” Lane, and “Sleepy” Shannon McFarland. Ultrarunning legend, Julie Aistars was in town as well with Iliana Dimitrova as they had planned to travel, and run, the race together.

It was great seeing my Arkansas buddies, and five, smack-talking, sarcastic dudes in one hotel room, makes for a very entertaining and comical night.

It was clear that this was gonna be one of those “epic trips.”

…and I couldn’t wait.

Welcome to Hillsboro – Now THAT’s more like it!

The next morning, the five of us headed south, just 120 miles from the border of Mexico, to a small – and I mean small – desert town called Hillsboro. Home of the Ghost Town 38.5 ultramarathon.

As we made our way south, the terrain kept getting more and more awesome. It was still brown, but a cool kind of brown. Large Mesas turned into vast canyons, which turned into bigger and bigger mountain ranges.

Lots of, “Cool! did you see that?” goin’ on in the car.

Christian and Ryan chillin in New Mexico, headed to Hillsboro
photo: Ryan and Christian – who’s gonna win? (credit: Jeff Genova)

Being that we were sorta competing against each other, and we both seem to have the gift of gab, Holla’ and I rode down to Hillsboro together in the same ride. In between deep conversation we’d snap photos of the spectacular jagged mountains, rustic windmills, and unique settings all around us.

We cruised through the town of Truth or Consequences, hit the only Wal-Mart in town for groceries, and rolled into Hillsboro to meet Susan Reynolds, the race director, drop off our food contributions for the pre-race feast, and get officially registered for the early morning race.

Meeting Susan

Susan Reynolds is one interesting woman. Talented artist, proficient wordsmith, fabulous (did I just say fabulous?) cook, and story-teller extraordinaire.

Susan has never really known what to think of me, only knowing me through email exchanges, some heated, some not-so-much, so I was excited to meet her in person and see if I could eventually win over her friendship after all.


We arrived, busted some hugs, told some stories, …and just as were leaving to go find our home for the next two days, in walks Bill.

Bill Halm

Check this – Bill Halm is 83 years young. He’s been running longer than I’ve been alive. He has run more races in his life than most people have sneezed. Bill was walking a specific 27 mile section of the Ghost Town course as a double masters entrant.

Let that soak in your brain — 83 years old, and walking a rugged ultramarathon, in the mountainous Gila Wilderness.

Bill is one of the most incredible men I have ever met.

Christian with Bill Halm

Every one of us dreams to be Bill someday.

The Black Range Lodge

I’m so sorry. I know people would rather I just get to the damn race already, but it just wasn’t one of those experiences. For all the joy I got from the race, it was easily equaled by the overall experience.

The Black Range Lodge is located about 8 miles from the Ghost Town starting line, in a “town” called Kingston. The “town,” as far as I could tell, consisted of maybe 20 houses, a small fire station, that may or may not have been operable, and a Spit and Whittle Club.

Kingston, Home of the Spit and Whittle Club
photo: Welcome to Kingston, NM

Nope. I have no idea what a spit and whittle club is, but it sounds very remote, high desert New Mexico, doesn’t it?

This is where we met Dallas and Renee – a very cool athletic couple from Tuscon Arizona (and recently engaged). This was Renee’s second Ghost Town race, and the two had plans to run the entire race together.

In our “lodge” we also had Erik and Ed, two fast runners from Texas, as well good ol’ double masters Bill Halm.

Both nights in the lodge were filled with lots of laughter, hyper, excited runner-talk, and the sharing of life experiences – we all became great friends as easy as breathing.

Chillin at the Black Range Lodge
photo: Chillin’ at the Black Range Lodge (credit: Jeff Genova)

The pre-race fiesta – a feast fit for kings and queens

Wow. Talk about a pre-race meal, this was an outdoor party complete with a local string band, incredible array of food options, and running gear giveaways that would easily give a North Face event a run for its money.

Tim, injured ultrarunner turned head kitchen master, recruited an awesome crew of volunteers, and we ate five different kinds of pasta, vegetable salads, fruit salads, and various local favorites that runners brought from their home towns. Cheeses from Wisconsin, jambalaya and king cake from New Orleans, sausage-n-potato soup, vegetarian dishes, deserts, …it was all top notch, all the way around.

I want to offer a public shout-out to Tim, who’s a helluva a nice dude, and all the kitchen volunteers who fed us pre-race, at the finish line, and post-race. We never went hungry, and after slamming the course, we were constantly peppered with, “can I get you anything?” and it just made the event feel that much more like a community gathering of like-minded souls.

6:00 a.m., 27 degrees, and 70 cold runners

I woke up at 4:15 roaring and clapping and getting fired up. I’m sure everyone in the lodge wanted to kill me.

I was dressed and ready in a flash.

This is what I came for …what I trained for, and the starting line was calling my name. I couldn’t wait to step under that banner and go to battle with myself, the course, Ryan Holla’, and the other 69 trail runners.

There were some fast young rippers there. Jason Koop, Pete Stevenson, and Nick Pedatella, all from Colorado, and of course all from elevation, were the race favorites; and when they lined up at the front, I made it a point to line right up with ’em. Sure, I had no business anywhere near these studs, but mentally, it was just what I needed to build that excitement even stronger. Plus, I’m a race groupie and enjoy being around the fast cats.

Just before the start of the race, Susan asked me to let out one of my way-too-loud ultra screams, and thinking she was using it as the starting gun, I busted a nasty redneck howl, and took off…

…and the front group followed…

But it wasn’t yet 6:00 a.m., and her intent was not for that to be the start, so she called us all back under the banner.

A few laughs, and a minute or so later, she officially counted off the final seconds of the 5 a.m. hour, and we were off into the darkness.

Officially, this time.

Hills are easy when your fresh

The first 6.3 miles of the Ghost Town are run on the road from Hillsboro, towards Kingston, and all mellow-grade, gradual uphill.

The Colorado runners took the lead quickly, and about 4-5 of us settled into a small pack quite a ways behind them. Interestingly, these two groups wouldn’t really change much throughout the entire event – its just that the runners within these groups spent the day trading places amongst themselves.

The group I was in started uphill at between 8:20-8:50 pace, and we held this all the way up to the trail head feeling nice and comfy. Not too fast, and not too slow, ‘cuz we still had a long way to go.

Sunset at the GT

It was beautiful as the sun started to rise behind us and cast light on the mountain ranges in front of us. You know how sometimes you’ll be watching a cheesy happy movie, and you’ll catch yourself actually physically smiling because of what you’re watching?

That’s what watching the mountains felt like.

They were so beautiful, so awe-inspiring, and I would catch myself floating off into daydream land just’a staring at the mountains and feeling so lucky to be where I was at that very moment.

It was like how I imagine heaven to be if it exists. Pure happiness. Body moving freely. No worries. No concerns. Just running and absorbing and smiling and happy, listening to the rhythm of my feet and my breathing as the miles clipped off steadily.

Junction Station

Christian and Ryan race the Ghost Town 38.5
photo: Ryan and Christian enter the Gila Wilderness at 8.3 (credit: Jeff Genova)

The first aid station pops up just as runners turn off the road and make the approach into the Gila Wilderness.

I blew past the aid station, and Ryan and I continued to stay together through what I call “the rollers.” This was a 2-mile series of rolling, gravel hills with exceptional views of the sunrise over our right shoulder.

I started smiling again. So did Ryan.

Like a couple of kids… “damn, man, do you see that?”

“yea, dood, crazeeeee pretty.”

Then, Ryan would say, “no man, look back THERE!”

And sure enough, I’d look between two other mountain peaks and it would be even more dramatic and more colorful.


(I say “dude” a lot.)

Nutin’ like seeing a friend

Right after we finished “the rollers,” we officially entered the Gila, and there’s good ol’ Jeff Genova, aka G-G-G G-unit, with the cameras set up, firing away, and calling out our current placings. We were in 6th and 7th at the time and feeling fantastic.

We tossed our headlamps into his truck without skipping a beat, and continued on down the trail towards the Stone Hut aid station.

This early section of the Gila was similar to “the rollers” and I started getting a little cocky.

Ryan fell behind for a brief second, and I started thinking to myself, “this is easy,” and I wasn’t finished being cocky as I started saying to myself, “man, if it stays like this, I can handle this pace and terrain all day long.”

One thing was certainly for sure, there was not one bit of flat. We were always climbing or descending, even in these early miles; and while nothing was crazy difficult, it was always clearly uphill, or clearly downhill, and mostly rolling.

We hit the Stone Hut aid station still feeling great, and since I didn’t have any drop bags in this race, I pounded a cup of Gatorade, grabbed some cantaloupe and left the station just a little before Ryan.

Would it last?

Nope. He was right on my heels within 5 minutes.

The dirty, nasty spur

Everyone liked the spur but me.

Talk to anyone who’s run the race and they’ll say, “I thought the spur was cool.”

For me it was just aggravating.

See, on the way out, the race takes a sharp left onto a very rugged spur trail, which this year had a lot of snow. 90% of the 2 mile spur trail was covered in snow, and since we were some of the first of the runners to hit it, it was still kinda deep (ankle-ish) and incredibly slippery.

And of course, being the clueless idiot runner that I’m known to be, I was wearing racing flats, trying to negotiate snowy trail.

Why was I wearing racing flats in a mountain ultra known for lots of dirt, snow and rocks?

I have no idea why I thought that was a sound idea.

I can picture plenty of people who know me well right now …Vic’tah, Rockdaddy, Crazy Asian, Geraldo, Zombie Runner, Transcon Priceless, even Weezy …and on and on, just a’shakin’ there heads and saying to themselves, “what a complete dumb@ss.”

But yea, there I am, slipping around like a wet fish, complaining like crazy, while Ryan crushed through it in trail shoes, happy as a clam, and moving as efficiently as if he was running on snow tires.

I felt stupid.

And while I did have a rough time on the spur, expending waaaay too much energy for very little gain, it was still an out-n-back kinda thing, so we got to see lots of the other runners heading out as we were finishing it up.

That’s always a big pick-me-up, and I enjoyed cheering on the other runners, seeing friends, and high-fiving peeps along the way – but I was glad when it was over.

No more snow.

…for awhile anyway.

Hilltop Aid Station or “bye bye easy”

Once leaving the spur, I caught back up to Ryan, and we powered up the short climb to the Hilltop aid station where an awesome and energetic aid station crew was ringing cow bells, yelling, and eagerly attending to any need we might we have.

Ryan had a drop bag here, so I just pretty much grabbed a scoop of cantaloupe again and took off down the long downhill, thinking I could put a little distance between he and me.


Cocky again, and it does nothing for me.

He came flying down the hill, with a dude named Jeff, and they passed me like I was standing still. For one, my racing flats made the loooong rocky descent torturous, and two, both of them are simply faster than me.

This was a very long descent and I looked at my watch and noticed we were running 6:55 pace into the canyon.

“This can’t be good,” I thought to myself.

Hoping they’d slow down, I muttered a pitiful little, “wow, we’re going to to have to come back UP this later.”

But it did no good. They kept it up.

And not knowing the course, I had no idea what was ahead, but sure enough, after we bottomed out of that descent, and rolled through some bizarre house(s), ranches, or some kind of living quarters made out of sticks and logs, we crossed what I now refer to as “the creek of doom”

It’s not that the creek was deep, or tough to cross, ‘cuz it wasn’t …it’s just that after that creek, things, at least to me, began to change dramatically.

All of sudden it was very rocky …scree-like rocky, and once again, my racing flats made me feel like a complete dork.

The climbs were starting to get longer, steeper and more challenging…

Mountains in the Gila
photo: Mountains of the Gila

False summits a’plenty

Oh I hate false summits.

Well, not really, I love everything about trail running; but, at that moment, when the sweat-salt is stinging my eyes because I inadvertently rubbed my forehead with my water bottle, and my calves are burning like crazy, and the thin air coupled with particles of dirt is coating my exercise-induced asthmatic lungs, I get frustrated when I think I see the top, turn a corner… and it’s not the top.

That’s when you force yourself to smile and remember that you chose to to do this, and trudge on.

The climb to the Vista aid station is where I really started to feel it from going out so fast. I did not save enough for the tough stuff, and now, I was in the thick of the tough stuff.

Ryan (and Jeff) dropped me just before the Vista aid station. I wasn’t sure how far ahead Ryan was, but I knew I’d have to work really hard to catch him, and that just wasn’t appealing at the moment. I had dropped to 9th place now and I started sweating my dream goal of a top 10 finish.

A quintessential “bad patch” was looming, but I was trying to fight it off.

I hit the Vista aid station and it was cool to see Susan’s husband, Matt. He’s a very efficient and accommodating aid station dude, and along with his gang of helpful volunteers, I dropped off my gloves and hat, watered up, grabbed some pretzel sticks, and dipped out very quickly, headed down into “the bowl” to try to catch Ryan Holler before the 22 mile mark at the turn-around.

This wasn’t going to happen…

Hey – whaddya know, more snow!

Yippee. Not.

About a 1/4 mile from the turn-around I see Ryan coming at me.

“Grrrrr, he’s 1/2 mile ahead I say to myself, “ but to him, I say, “great job, Holla…”

‘cuz I’m friendly and supportive like that …at least I pretend to be.

But I’m really bummed because I’m starting to have a little bit of a bad patch because we are now back in the snow, and I’m bummed that he dropped me so easily and still looks so &^%$! fresh.

I’m sweatin’ the snow I just cruised through on the downhill because I know it’s now going to be an uphill snow challenge, in racing flats, which did not work out so well back on the spur trail.

To make matters worse, as I’m making my way back up the mountain from the turn-around, I see the 10th place guy making his descent, and he’s not that far behind me. …and the 11th place guy is not too far behind him.


So I slip and I slide and I climb and I crawl, and eventually, top back out at the Vista aid station, now somewhere in the area of 23 miles.

It gets easy from here, right?

Seeing people makes it all better

Since Ryan dropped my sorry butt around mile 21, I had been running alone and dejected (Thanks a lot Holla’); but, once I left Vista and started heading back, I started seeing a lot more of the field of runners making their way out to the turn-around.

In a way, I felt bad ‘cuz I knew what they were headed for, but I also really enjoyed the camaraderie and the encouragement, and did my very best to encourage all the other runners right back.

This really lifted my spirits and brought me right out of the funk.

I’m such a sucker for attention. It’s like my fuel sometimes. Maybe it’s sad, or maybe its just human nature, but when people say my name and let me know what place I’m in, or remember me from this blog, or the ultra list, or other races and all the other cool things that make people feel special, it just feels really, really good and makes me smile. …which in turn gives me a hella’ energy that feeds me and encourages me to wake the F%*@ up and do something!

Some people have that internally. I’m jealous of that. But I’ll take it it however it comes.

It’s only 13 to home

I rode this wave of excitement from seeing everyone else for quite awhile. Jen D., Paul C., Julie, Iliana, Dallas and Renee, Ed, Erik, first-time ultrarunner Greg, and California Ryan. The pep’y Colorado pig-tail girls, Slow Lane, “sleepy”, and of course, Bill Halm himself; and by the time I hit the Hilltop aid station for the second time, I knew it was only 13 miles – a measly half-marathon – back to the finish.

Time to put the hammer down, the headphones on, and let A7X help get me there.

Finding some mojo in the music

I pounded the downhills from Hilltop, through Stone Hut, and back to “the rollers” with everything I had left. I ran that 6+ miles with aggressive heavy metal pounding into my skull and it felt freakin’ great!

I had found some brand new energy and I beat my quads into submission before mellowing out at the gate to “the rollers”.

Unfortunately, and as usual, that was great an’ all …but it was waaaay too early.

The rocks in my shoes that weren’t

Remember my idiotic move of wearing racing flats for this race? Well, I really got to feel extra stupid on the rollers – check it:

So I’m running nice and easy through the rollers, holding an 8:46 pace which I felt pretty good about seeing as how I had just run 30 miles through some gnarly terrain, when I started to feel rocks in my shoes.

Now, understand, I hate to stop for anything, and especially when I can kinda, sorta smell the barn; but the pain was killing me!

Damn rocks!

I couldn’t take it and finally stopped, took off my shoes, shook’em out, and…

“hmmm, not much came out. That’s weird.”

So I slip ’em back on and keep running… and again, I feel rocks stabbing me in the heel and midfoot.


So, again, I stop, knock out the shoes, struggle to bend over and slip ’em back on, and again start running.

This goes on for 4 or 5 times before I finally give up and decide I’m crazy.

“Grrrrr. Screw it. I’ll just deal with it and figure it out at the finish…”

So I just ran with pretend rocks stabbing me in the feet.

Just’a 10K to go. How hard could it be?

I hit the last aid station somewhere in the area of 5:40-ish.

“Cool, 32 miles in 5:40 – I have 50 minutes to run 6.3 miles, and it’s all downhill – how hard can it be?”


Real hard.

Like, black top hard, …’cuz it was road.

For whatever reason, my body had become accustomed to the dirt roads and rugged trails, and when I hit the road weird things started happening to my body. My legs tightened up instantly, and my hips started to scream out in pain.

“Why? Why now?”

And looking back, I’m pretty sure it was mostly due to the fact that I was probably right at “50K-fit”; and running in the high-8s in the previous “rollers” section, hammering to get to the aid station, probably blew me out waaaay too early.

Whatever it was, all that new mojo was gone. I was now forced to run/walk intervals, but even then I figured I had plenty of time as long as when I walked, I did so briskly.

I wish I would have known Ryan was only six minutes ahead of me and was also run/walking. It might have given me some fire, …but I doubt it.

My legs were dead.

This boy was ready to be done.

“But, hey, I’m in 8th place, and I have time, …I just need to get there.”

It a’int over ’til the fat lady sings

I love that song, Fat Lady Sings by the GZA…

But, cocky gets served y’all.

With just about 2 miles to the finish, I looked behind me and saw a blue shirt…

It was 2:59 marathoner John McKenna from Connecticut.

Oh, great.

I had nothing left and I knew I wouldn’t be able to fight him off ‘cuz he was coming pretty fast. I did some quick math in my head, and was pretty sure I was gonna get caught.

I decided not to get too stressed out…

“Come and get me if ya can, big boy.”

And he did.

Rather easily, really.

I was sad.

Dropped to 9th place with only a mile to go.


Get by with a little help from my friends

“Are those all the runner’s cars?”

“Am I finally there?”

Sure enough, I hear “Bring it on in Gunshow!!!”

And there’s good ol’ G-Unit taking photos, and Ryan Holla’ clapping me in, so I had to pick it up for the final sprint to the Montrail banner and the finish line.


Close to my dream goal of 6:30 for 38.5 miles; but best of all was that sweet  top 10 finish.

I wanted it so bad, and I did it.

I said I was going to do it, and I did.

I trained harder than I ever have in my life.

I lost 31 pounds for this race, I busted my @ss with some really fast runners far better than myself, and I stayed focus – not only during training, but mentally throughout this entire race. I constantly kept my eyes and my mind on the goal, and I’m VERY VERY VERY proud.

Kicked that sucka’ …straight in the teeth as instructed.

So, dude – did you ever figure out the rock situation?


We hung around and clapped and cheered for every single runner left out on the course and didn’t leave until the last runner came through in 11:33, so I had plenty of time to take a physical inventory.

Because I was such an idiot and wore racing flats, the rocks had literally torn through the bottoms of my shoes and were half-stuck in the super thin bottom soles of my shoes, so that when they were off my feet, I couldn’t tell, but when they were on and I stepped down, they’d protrude through and stab my feet.

Rocks coming through the bottom of my flats

I ran about 10 miles getting stabbed in the feet with every step. Crazy, huh?

Yup, I feel even more stupid.

More rocks coming through my shoes

So, numbskull runner fool, what did you learn this time?

As usual, I end the report with tidbits about what I learned in the race. Here ya go:

  1. Racing flats in rugged rocks and ice cold snow is not a good idea (duh)
  2. Hard training pays off
  3. Being lighter pays off
  4. Running harder, longer may hurt a little more, but it feels so wonderfully free
  5. 7100 feet for low-landers is still “thin air”
  6. Ryan Holla’ is faster than me (for now. I got his @zz next time)
  7. I don’t need nearly as much food during a race as I once thought
  8. …water, neither.
  9. Perpetuem chews are A-ok
  10. Never underestimate a race’s difficulty until its over

Lastly, I just want to take a second to express how good it felt to sit there and cheer in all 61 of the remaining runners as they finished. Some first-time ultrarunners, some older veterans, some in complete pain, some smiling from ear-to-ear, some sprinting to the finish, …while some walked it on in just glad to call it a day.

Ghost Town amigos
photo: Postrace chillin’ – Ryan, Tom, Shannon, Renee, Dallas & Christian

I loved it and slapped hands with as many as would slap me back.

I know how good it felt to be right there, 30 seconds from ending the pain, and each time I saw someone right there, I knew exactly what they were feeling – like I was feeling it all over again myself.

I love ultrarunning.

So very much I love it.

Now, let’s hit Mountain Mist next weekend and break off a sub-5:45!!!!!! Get some!

Special thanks:

Thank you Susan Reynolds for allowing me to be part of the last year of a great event. Your hospitality and uniqueness are very special and I will remember this experience with the utmost of fondness. Thank you Tim, and G-unit, and all the kitchen, food and aid station volunteers for taking such good care of us runners. Thank you runners for making this punk ass, wanna-be athlete feel special. Thank you for the blog comments and the recognition, and the conversations and most of all, for not getting sick of the long-haired dude bouncing around like a teenager, talking too loud, hollerin’ too much, and kickin’ up dirt.

This race …no, this entire experience was so awesome and I just love when experiences like this come along. This is what I want in my life. I don’t care about stuff, I care about experiences. Friendships, races, loving, laughing, crying, screaming, hammering courses, training, getting faster, encouraging others, and passing the positive vibe. Some people think I might be too emotional, too wound up, too crazy – but if you do, too bad, ‘cuz feeling like this is what I live for.

I’m crazy, but I’m alive.

Experiences are what life is made of, and the Ghost Town 38.5 drove that home for me.

Rock on everyone associated.

I loved it, and I love you all.

2011 Ghost Town 38.5 race results

Half Ass, Fat Ass Builds Confidence

Trail running

This is not one of my crazy, dramatic, intense stories.

No pacing.

No suffering.

No whiny excuses.

For the first time since I started running ultramarathons, I actually trained like a runner.

Not a weightlifter. Not a Crossfitter. Not a less-is-more, pathetic rationalizer; but, a real runner.

Someone who actually runs.

A lot.

And low and behold, it works.

I ran the best 16.2 miles of my running life today at the GUTS Fat Ass event to cap off a 30 mile weekend, and 62-mile week. This is just the confidence I needed to feel pumped and ready for the Ghost Town race in New Mexico January 16th, 2011.

I’m lighter, faster and stronger than I have ever been before.

This is how I got there…

Step 1: lose the weight, fatty

Ok, so I’m no Kena or Kate or Bickelhaupt, but from November to January,  I got serious about my training and stopped eating garbage and giant portions of food.

I lost 30 pounds.

I stopped eating to fullness.

I stopped snacking.

I limited carbohydrates significantly.

And, I stopped eating too much during long runs.

I eliminated soda, caffeine, and artificial sweeteners.

I started eating only live food …or food that was recently alive.

Nothing out of boxes…

And lots of water.

With each morsel of food, I paused and asked myself every single time, “what will this piece of food do for me?” – I didn’t always like the answer, but I paid attention.

Step 2: run, run, run

Ran trails.

Ran streets.

Ran long.

Ran fast.

Ran slow.

Ran barefoot.

Ran with fast people. Better people. More experienced people.

Trained with faster-than-me, serious people who also wanted to get better.

Mixed it up, gauged progress, and tried to be better the next week.

Didn’t miss workouts. Didn’t shortcut them either. Didn’t bail for the short route or the easier day.

Pushed past the point of comfort.


Step 3: swim, swim, swim

Lane Vogel once told me, “swimming is the poor man’s massage.”

It’s true.

It’s too bad I gotta gun for him at the Keys 100.

For recovery, I swam slow and steady for the stretch and therapeutic effects.

For training, I swam the Masters workouts as fast and as well as I could.

I learned good form, and practiced it often.

Sometimes it sucked, but I got stronger.

Swimming contributes to better running.

For me, anyway. Your mileage may vary. (I hate that line)

Now prove it.

None of it matters without improved performance.

Ghost Town 38.5 in the Gila National Wilderness is the venue for me to prove it, and I’m shooting for a top 10 finish. Period.

6:30:20 for 38.5 miles was good enough for top 10 last year, so I’m striving for that finishing time this year.

That’s a solid, 10:00/mile which sounds easy, but not on that terrain; and not with ~5,000 ft. of elevation.

click to see the Ghost Town course map

click the image to see the full Ghost Town 38.5 course map and elevation profile

The majority of the run takes place between 6,000 and 7,000 feet, so while its more elevation than I’m used to, it shouldn’t be crazy.

From the Race Director:

As for the climbs and the descents – their locations – there is really no flat stretch in this course. Maybe 10-50 ft. here and there, but for the most part plan on either climbing or heading downhill. The lowest point is at my place – just around a mile high. You will be just under 7,000 ft. a couple of times. For the most part the run takes place in the 6,000-7,000 ft. range.

I’ll like this.

Really fast people always smoke me on the flats, but I like running up and down hills, so bring it!

This is it.

No more excuses.

I put in the training.

I set my goals.

I’m gonna taper for reals…

…well, kinda.

The first race of 2011 is going to be my race.

I’m giving it all I have.

Once I’m actually in the high desert, no cell phone access, no Facebook updates, no texting.

Just me and the mountains and the runners and the course.

Please wish me luck.

*** 1/17/2011 update: I finished the Ghost Town 38.5 in 9th place at 6:44. While I really wanted a 6:30, and believe I had it in me, I’m more-than excited with 6:44 and pleased with the top ten result. Further proof that hard work pays off, and I’m not about to stop now. GET SOME!

(special huge giant “Thanks” to my wife, J. Hearns, L.Hill, A.Massey and Zombie Runner)