What Success Feels Like

LV run sign

Today, everything is different.

The sun shines brighter, the air a little crisper, and the morning recovery run a whole lot easier.

I didn’t win, place, or break the top 10.

In fact, as the 34th finisher out of 61 runners, I didn’t even crack the top 50%.

But, considering that four months ago I was lying horizontal, in a horribly uncomfortable hospital bed, with a tube stuck in my gut, draining “Arthur juice” out of my liver while jacked up on Oxycontin, Oxycodone and mainlined Dilaudid, and wondering if I’d live to $%^%! crawl again, I’m pretty damn happy.

Breaking All the Rules

You aren’t supposed to come to Laurel Valley if you don’t feel fit and ready.

It’s not your typical ultramarathon.

There aren’t aid station tables every six miles full of M&Ms and gummy bears.

There are no smiling volunteers taking your bottles, telling you how great you look, and offering a plethora of hydration choices while you rub cold potatoes in salt and mumble appreciation.

There are no pre-race coffee stands, no sponsor tents, nor porta-potties.

Just a bunch of nervous gristled ol’ runners who like it this way, self-supported and standing in the dark at the trailhead in Rocky Bottom, waiting for a simple “GO!”, before heading off into the foothills for yet another day of memorable experiences in the deep dark woods.

You eat what you brought, you drink from many water sources, and you pray each time that you won’t get “Laurel Valley Liquid Belly” for two weeks afterwards.

With all I have been through, and the current training times I was posting, I wasn’t sure if I was ready.

Other people weren’t sure I was ready.

That should have been enough for me to skip Laurel Valley this year – but I just couldn’t do it – The race means a lot to me, I’ve done it five years in a row, and as cheesy as it sounds, this is where I always, ALWAYS, get to connect with my deceased grandmother spiritually.

Sitting in the Horsepasture river at mile 19 with the loud-mouth, shaved-head, freshly-tattooed Mad Mexican, good ol’ grandma showed up for a visit as her usual butterfly self. As I ran solo for the next 13 miles, she showed up for more visits; and as I made my way along that awful Bad Creek section, she showed up for a visit, only this time as a horse-fly to get my butt moving.


My grandmother was always a supportive lady, just never a patient one.

What Did I Learn?

I’ve written 5 race reports about this event over the years, as slow as 12:14 as a sweep, to a 7:40 5th place finish in 2010, so I won’t subject readers to yet another rehashing of the course. I’ll just summarize by saying that it’s hard, with tons of climbing, and is known as feeling more like a 50-miler, than a really long 50K; but, with all that comes some of the most varied and beautiful terrain that is just as much spooky as it is beautiful.

Here are some of the ah-ha moments I had as I made my way through the 10-hour course:

Trekking Poles

Yup, they help like crazy. Even though I already knew this from the UTMB race in Europe, my poles broke descending in the Alps, so I didn’t get a long time with them. I don’t think they help me climb faster, but instead more consistent throughout the race. I did end up with cramping triceps late in the race, but some stretching and S-Caps usually took that away quickly.


Man, I hate that I love my Hokas so much. I am so proud of the whole minimal runner thing and my usual choice in footwear, but there is no denying the leg-saving benefit of the Hokas. I was a little sore for 24 hours after the race, but today, two days later, I feel like a million bucks.

Slow Changes the Experience

I really enjoyed the race this year because I rarely found myself in any kind of state of suffering. That’s impossible when you are truly racing, but when you are simply out for a great run in the mountains, you see and experience a whole lot more things. During the miles I ran with the Mad Mex, we stopped to take photos, sat in various creeks along the way, and talked enough smack to make Howard Stern wiggle uncomfortably.

Babette is a Great Volunteer

My wife volunteered at the finish and she took photos of just about every finishing runner. She followed finishers around getting them drinks and making turkey sandwiches and finding chairs for them to sit in – it was awesome to watch her. On the way home she kept saying how much fun volunteering is and I was both inspired and humbled by her satisfaction at doing for others. My wife is a pretty great lady.

Babette and Marcia, volunteers

Gotta Do A Mad Mex Shout-out

Lastly, something happened out there that I can’t let go without a mention. It was sorta intense, but at the time, we blew it off and kept moving, but it bears mention because it could have been really bad.

As the Mad Mexican and I descended a particularly steep and slippery section, with him in front and me behind, I had a momentary loss of equilibrium, tripped, and slid down a rock face with enormous momentum. The fall flipped me over, and while I was grabbing for trees and rocks along the way down, I couldn’t grab anything and I started barreling down quickly, scared sh*tless…

Then I just stopped.

The Mad Mexican had reached out, almost losing balance himself, and grabbed me at the last second by the arm.

I’m a beefy 200 lb man, and I was sliding down that rock face with a lot of freaky speed, and for him to grab me and stop my fall in mid-slide took a lot of strength.

Say what you will about strength-training for runners and whether or not its necessary for endurance athletes, but I’m damn glad my boy V-dub Mad Mexican is a Crossfit junkie, cuz his lightening fast reaction coupled with humbling strength, saved me from a very, very bad fall, into a very remote part of nowehere.

So, thanks V-dub. I just wanted you to know I knew what happened out there, recognize it for what it was, but was in a little bit’a too much shock to acknowledge it at that moment.

Thanks fo’ looking out.


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A crazy buddy of mine got me back into running 3 years ago after 25 years away from it…then of course his trail ultra insanity wore off on me. Hooked ever since. Stumbled across your blog after Cheaha 50K last Feb as I investigated adding Mtn Mist for this year. Your story has been inspiring and humbling…can’t express the empathetic gratitude I experienced reading your latest. Thrilled you’re on the trail again, although in the ways that really matter, you were never of it. Hope to run into you if you tackle Mtn Mist or Cheaha this season. Blessings…

@Patrick – thank you man. That was a very nice sentiment. Im happy to be back in the game too, while still reaping the “benefits of change” associated with my injury

Everyone that runs ultras has a story, and this back of the pack ultra runner from Arkansas has enjoyed your story immensely over the years. Your writing is filled with wonderful physical and mental experiences, but more interestingly, to me anyway, is that they portray a person with a deep underlying spiritual capacity. That is precisely what I like about your writing although I suspect you may not even be aware that you are conveying it. When I read your stories, I’m seeing the journey of a good natured soul.

I’m extremely glad to see that you are back on the trail and that a new and richer chapter in your life has begun.

Happy Trails,

PB in Little Rock

Big smile for you! Congratulations to both you and Babette!!! The world is a little less off-kilter with you out there running around once again.

Blessings, susan

Hey Christian,
I’m so glad you’re back!!!! Your race/run reports have inspired me for several years now. It’s your great attitude and your… pervasiveness that help me to keep gettin’ out there.

@Tatiana: are you saying I’m not writing as much? Careful what you say …I’ll flood y’all with prose :)
@Juli: wow, thank you Juli. I was stoked that you came to LV and I have a picture to prove it!
@Denise: thanks Denise. Babette enjoyed meeting you (and all) as well.

Great report! Now, just waiting for the next one in 2013 ;-)


Nice report and congratulations on finishing! I was thrilled when you pulled ahead of me and hoped I wouldn’t find you suffering on the trail somewhere. You could have backed down from the challenge after nearly dying not long ago — you proved once again who Christian really is. You were always inspiring but you have outdone yourself this time! And Babette — what can I say that hasn’t been said? She truly seemed to be having a blast and loving doing for others. Thank you beautiful and sweet Babette! We love you! I told you once how cute you two are together, and you just keep getting cuter :)

Juli (no longer an LV virgin)


So glad to see you back at it and meet your wonderful wife. I can relate to the joy of just being out there feeling good and the totally different experience of not suffering. Weird, in a great way, wasn’t it? Congrats on all your progress in such a short time!

The long reports are great – I never know how you remember such detail!

@Leslie: Thank you. …at least it’s shorter, right? (the report, that is…)

@JohnnyD: man, you are on fire bro. 6:13???? what what???? You missed Vic’tah. he wanted to see you man. You gotta quit being so fast and then dippin’ so soon. Nice work King Dove.

What an accomplishment after your recent illness! The finish is what matters at this point, not the place you finished in. Even without your usual full on race report, this was great to read and also good to know your on the road to recovery. Congrats!

Glad you are back in the mix. You should enjoy the Jewell 100 it is much easier than LV.
You do have a great wife. She was always helping someone at the finish.

@JR: as you know, Claude likes first-timers to sweep and you could do that now. It’s hard, but you know hard, so whatever, right? After Pinhoti and few 2013 sringtime races, you’ll feel more-than-ready for LV. Question is, is LV ready for JR?

@Sully: I’m ready for another night run, backwards, through those spooky trails, dood.
@Emily: Thank you. I’m happy to have one to post. {grins}
@Claude: Yea, but you’re running, and that’s the blessing. And you look fit as a drum. You’ll be back next year.
@Kelley: Breath-taking and brutal is right. I should have titled the report with ‘dat. Thanks for your support, girl.

Back at the ultras! I’m proud of you, man. I want to qualify for Laurel Valley sometime this year, although I’m sure there will be times when I’ll be wondering why I was so eager when I get my wish.

I was scared about you running this and I only kept quiet about it because you knew exactly what you were in for.

another trip through the valley – it’s always life changing.

Thanks for the race report, Christian. It’s so good to finally get another one from you. Glad you are feeling better. ~Emily

Christian, It was really good to see you finish. There were already reports that I was dead on the trail and that you were dying. OK, reports were that I was having heart problems and that you were really sick. It is difficult to finish that course in 10 hours being very sick. Your will power conquered any sickness that you were experiencing. Martha said that you have a beautiful wife and she said that Babette was a huge help. I saw her helping runners and I loved the way that she got into helping others. She just didn’t sit around doing nothing. I felt almost ashamed to show up at the finish having to turn around at 10-11 miles.

For some reason this years race was very special. I rarely allow so many newcomers run at one time but the ones that did run really proved that they were up to it.

Wonderful report!! Not every race is about speed and what place you came in. So happy for you that you could run, enjoy and finish it!! The race is breathtaking and brutal. Huge accomplishment for you to finish!! Congrats :-) . Babette was the most awesome volunteer and cheering everyone in! Tell her thank you. Always wonderful to see her!!

Kelley W

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