I’m going to keep this short and sweet. I’ve written a lot of WTM race reviews so i’ll leave out the fine details and just tell you what happened.
First of all, why did I come back?
When I ran 100 miles and won the men’s division at 2016 WTM I’d accomplished everything I’d set out to do and then some. I could walk away from the race forever and move on to something else, like I always do. Life’s an adventure and you can’t just keep doing one thing forever. WTM’s been consuming my Novembers for longer than it should have. I should’ve walked away, but I didn’t want to because I made friends and became part of a community. The community carried me through the race this year (Literally). I ran the worst race of my life but still came out near the top, thanks to everyone on course. Here’s how it went down:
Daytime: same as last year except I switched shoe brands and moved up a size (Topo Athletics, 13) and decided to wear shorts instead of tights (bad idea, dang kiss of rock obstacle). From bottom to top I wore: Shoes, gaiters, injinji compression socks with wool socks over, XO Skin shorts (great product but will wear full length next time), Goat Tough shirt, Salomon Vest with 1.5 liter/3 hour bladder, buff, and glasses.
Nighttime: Started with just my Head Swim Run wetsuit 2mm, but as the night went on and I got colder I eventually added a 2mm vest, blue seventy cap, and Goat Tough Windbreaker. I should’ve added gloves right away (not for the obstacles but for the running in between), the decision to run gloveless led to my downfall. More on that later.
Coming into the race I firmly believed I could run 110 miles. My body was as primed as last year and then some. I’d done the same training regiment but added a little more volume. I was all around in better shape and climbing at a higher grade. I ran 105 miles in 23:30 at WTM 2016 and I knew I could do that again if I stayed obstacle proficient……Well, 2 weeks before the race on my final grip training session at the rock gym I had to walk out after 20 minutes because my ring finger was aching. The next morning it was swollen. Every morning after that I would wake to a swollen finger that I couldn’t bend, but as the day went on it slowly regained dexterity. I wasn’t too worried because the race was still 10+ days away. Well just so happened, the swelling kept popping up every morning including race day. Sitting at the starting line I could make a fist and squeeze pretty good so I figured I’d be good on the obstacles, if not I hoped adrenaline would carry me through.
If you know more specifics about my training look at my Strava I log just about everything on there
I slept in until 9 and had a PB Bagel + ensure drink for breakfast. I got to the pits around 1030 and since I didn’t have to rush to the starting line to stake a spot because of the new contender bibs, I sat down in the shade of my tent. A pleasure I’ve never had before. I took the time to ice my throbbing finger, lube up, and put on some sunscreen (something else I’ve never done before). I took about 3 nervous leaks then sat down with the other orange bibs just before the pre-race speeches.
TMHQ announced the toughest and most grip intensive course yet with punishing penalties. I am glad they are taking the race in this direction, rewarding obstacle proficiency, but on this day my finger disagreed. With the speeches over the gun sounded and we were off.
I jogged the first lap and was passed left and right by everyone. Atkins and most of the orange bibs were out of sight. The course was roughly the same layout as last year with the halfway point being between the 2 hills of the course and near kiss of mud. I finished LAP 1 in 40 minutes and ran straight into lap 2. I wanted to get passed rope de dope and have kiss of mud be my first obstacle (just like last year). Luke Skyrunner and I ran together most of this time and chatted it up to pass the time. I finished LAP 2 having done only kiss of mud, everything else was still closed.
I lost Luke to the pits and found myself running with Jon Albon on lap 3, which shouldn’t been happening this early in the race. I heard he had stomach problems and retreated to his tent before night ops.
Going up the first hill on lap 3 Atkins passed me. He got lost on lap 1 by taking the very long funky monkey penalty loop instead of the actual course. We chatted for a second and just like that he was gone.
I knew head to head I couldn’t beat Atkins in this race. WTM is a personal race. If you run your own pace and keep your goal in sight, you will do well. I set my sights on my personal goal (110 miles) and whatever happens around me doesn’t matter. Yes, Ryan passed me in lap 3 making up a huge deficit, and eventually lapped me 2x, but at any moment he could hit a wall. Anyone can. It happened to Azar on the last lap of WTM 2016. The race is never over. Run your own race. That is it.
Anyway, I finished LAP 3 and instead of filling my bladder as planned. I went straight into lap 4. I was in the zone and didn’t feel like stopping. Well my bladder went empty 1 mile into lap 4. Luckily, TM stocks sports drink at the 2.5 mile mark I opted for that instead of water which kept the tank full. I usually drink water at the aid station and take a GU, I don’t put untrusted stuff in my stomach during WTM.
After LAP 4 was wrapped up my pit crew sat me down, refilled my bladder, and slapped a headlamp on my head telling me they changed to daytime rules. I questioned it but didn’t wait for a response. I was off.
On lap 5 (around 3-4pm) most of the obstacles were opening now and I saw people already had wetsuits on. TMHQ outdid themselves with water obstacles this year. If you were proficient on obstacles you got wet 12x per lap this year. If you failed obstacles you got wet 14x (if you did the cliff). It was the wettest course to date.
I was cruising and passing all the obstacles, my finger was holding up, and I wanted to get in 6 laps before dark, which would be a new 12pm to night ops record for me, just what I would need to get 110.
I finished my first marathon in sub-4 hours and wrapped up lap 6 before dark. My pit crew was ready and waiting for me in the pits to do what they do best. Put on my wetsuit. They really are professionals and I can’t thank them enough for coming out to help me do this race every year. Thank you again pit crew, you are the best! Check out the video of my wetsuit change here
With my wet wetsuit on and rapidly falling temps the obstacles became a problem. I finished 6 laps in 5 hours during the day, but because of failed obstacles I was barely able to hold on to finishing 12 laps in 12 hours. It all started by failing funky monkey on lap 8. I made it up the bars fine, and around and down the first and second wheel, but that last wheel to the downward sloping bar was where I kept falling. The penalty for funky monkey was HUGE. It was about a 0.6 mile run with a dunk in a warm water arctic enema. Easily a 6-10 minute penalty depending on how fast you ran. I took the penalty twice before Atkins lapped me for the first time. We chatted up a bit and I told I told Atkins I was failing funky monkey. He told me Killian had failed it and that it was a game changer, the obstacle had to be passed.
Well the pep talked worked, I passed funky monkey lap 9 but it was my last time. I skipped the new Kong because I heard the penalty was faster (which it was). A mistake TMHQ quickly fixed.
The temps continued to drop and I kept getting colder. First I added my neoprene cap, then my vest, and eventually a windbreaker. The one thing I missed (and my pit crew kept telling me to put on) was my neoprene gloves. My hands got colder, more swollen, and thus less able to grip shit. I went from failing just funky monkey, to failing hanging tough as well. Hanging tough was an easy obstacle by my standards, but my hands were so cold and swollen I couldn’t squeeze the rings. I kept taking the penalty on kong even after they made it longer. I just couldn’t squeeze hard enough to hold my body weight off the ground. If I would’ve put my gloves at the start of night ops and kept my hands warm, the obstacles wouldn’t have been such a problem.
After 12 laps in 12 hours I was still on pace to get 110. All I had to do was run 10 laps in 12 hours. Easy to do when you can pass all the obstacles and shuffle your way 5 miles for a 1:15 lap like I did last year. But now I was doing over a mile of penalties per lap which shot my average lap time above the 1:30 mark. I was in trouble for the 110 but kept running as hard as I could between constant swims and obstacle failures. It was a physically and mentally draining experience. When you’re cruising through the course passing obstacles you feel motivated. But when you’re failing obstacles and freezing your ass off, you start beating yourself up inside. I cursed myself every time I failed funky monkey because I knew I could do better. But every failure just made me run harder. I turned the obstacle race into a running race and did my best to stay on pace.
By early dawn I was freezing. I kept looking at the little glint of light on the horizon and waiting for the warmth. This hope went on for hours before I finally realized the sun wasn’t going to shine. Sky was overcast and it wasn’t going to warm up. I put my head down and kept shuffling along.
By daylight my 110 miles was long gone. My grip was so gone I couldn’t even climb the rope de dope anymore. I was now taking the rope de dope, funky monkey, hang tough, and kong penalties. I’d averaged 1 hour laps for 12 hours then threw it all away. With the pace I was keeping I could easily finish 100 miles by dipping a little into the 1.5 hour grace period. So I set my sights on that.
On lap 19 I forgot to stick a gel in my belt and I felt my tank hit empty on the hill following kiss of mud. I got so dizzy going up the hill I had to stop walking to regain my balance. I stood there and turned around to check out the course thinking “this is probably the last time I’m going to see this view”. It was around 1050 and I had plenty of time to walk this lap and go out for another, but then and there I said “nah”. I asked a group of people if they had any food and a one them gave me a snickers. I ate it as I walked up the hill and had half of it hanging out my mouth while I climbed the rope wall on top. Best snickers I ever had.
Out of the water like a wet dog, I was painfully jogged to the finish line and actually contemplated going out to walk a 2 hour lap for 100 miles (the clock said 11:20). But when I crossed the line I TMHQ was there ready to medal me. At this time I figured out that I had finished 3rd (I figured I was in the top 5 because of the bib, but never actually asked). With no pursuer and Killian a good hour ahead of me I called it a day. I reached my WTM goal of 100 miles last year and I did it running a good clean race. This year was a mess and I didn’t want 100 bad enough to crawl for it. I didn’t wear my watch, but I assume with penalties I ended up setting a new mileage PR this year. They weren’t WTM miles though.
I immediately went back to the pits, got out of my wetsuit, poured a Mt. Tabor beer and took a nap.
Thank you Alisha Miller, Matthew Luce, and Jeff and Crystal Locke for flying to Vegas to support me, driving me around, keeping me company, setting up my pit area, feeding me, changing me, keeping me updated, doing all the social media, running around the course to say hi, thinking for me when I couldn’t, and everything else. You are all the best friends in the world. Love you.
Thank you Jim Campbell and Team Goat Tough for the logistical and financial support this year. You made racing OCR so much easier and a lot more enjoyable.
Thank you Mt. Tabor for the generous donation of beer, hats, stickers, shirts, sweatshirts, and growlers. You’re beer is top notch.
Thank you XO Skin for the excellent OCR gear, Dry Robe for keeping me warm, First Endurance for once again getting me through a 24 hour race, and Beet Elite for getting me amped up.
A lot of people asked me why I didn’t look happy on the podium after the race. This is me happy and enjoying the moment. True story. I was honored and humbled to share the podium with these 2 rock stars.
See you all in Atlanta.