Thursday, September 14, 2017

Run Rabbit Run 100 ...Tale of a Tortoise Win

~  Guest Post by Chuck Radford 
“Tortoises are not very fast, as everyone knows, but they make up for their slow speed by being very determined. And if you turn your back on a tortoise, thinking they will just hang around like a lazy cat, you are in for a surprise.” ~William Herring 

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” ...that can sum up the past year for me regarding my running career and my Run Rabbit Run 100 (RRR) race in a nutshell (or is it turtle shell? Hmmmm).


Since my race last year at RRR, it’s been a frustrating year full of injuries, uncertainty and what felt like many failed attempts at a healthy return. I’ve known for some time of a desperate need to “fix” issues that I put off for way too long (i.e. knee tendonosis, hamstring tendonosis, Achilles, general imbalances and weakness in strength, etc...). That has only been exacerbated by getting older which in return delays the healing process. In many attempts to “right the ship”, I took months of full rest from running, headed to the gym for strength training, did aggressive physical therapy and sports massage, did mobility and yoga and even some prolotherapy. As the months progressed and I thought I was ready to rebound, I would incur further injuries as I started running (i.e. a tibial stress fracture in March and some kind of ligament tear/strain in my back in June both causing further shut down). Enough of the sob-story ...the most unfortunate and/or challenging issue facing me was how to stay Western States (the "Boston Marathon" of the ultra scene) qualified at this point? With almost ¾ of a year gone, I still needed to run another 100 mile race in order to keep my bid in the Western States lottery leaving me hallow on time left to train. I decided early that I would run an “easy” 100 mile race (as “easy” as a 100 mile race can go) and was planning to head to Arizona for the Javelina Jundred in late October. That would give me a good 3 to 4 months to train adequately. Fine and dandy right? Wrong. I found out I had a work commitment that landed on the weekend of the Javelina race. What now?

The Decision:

As I mulled over my quandary with my good friend AJ Wellman, I noticed that there were 4 spots left open for this years RRR race. I threw that out there and he immediately challenged me with “Go for it”. I thought he was joking, but as we ran through it in more detail, it had some merit: 1) Local; 2) Fun; 3) More time to recover after the race (end my season 2 months earlier). To a greater extent, it was full of lunacy: 1) I was no where NEAR prepared to run 100 miles; 2) I was not fully healed from all my issues; 3) I’d have to scramble to throw it all together in 3 weeks. In the end, AJ didn’t pressure me, but simply said “What will make you happy”. As I struggled over that statement, I finally decided staying local, punching my ticket for Western States and being done with the season early was going to make me happy. Decision made what? Freak out, lament, stress, doubt.

Signing up as a tortoise was a no-brainer as I was not in league with the Hares like I was last year. I won’t go into the nuances of the Tortoise/Hare divisions and their particular rules and restrictions, as you can find that on their website RRR100.


Where do you start when you feel like you are at ground zero? A race strategy and plan. I grabbed my statistics from last year (if you don’t know already, it was an interesting year last year as I dealt with blind running for about 30 miles ~ RRR 2016) and I started trying to determine what I was capable of. I made it easy and took RRR’s already formulated 24 hour plan, which seemed ludicrous considering I had no business running in 24 hours untrained. Ehhhh, good enough. I backwards planned for food, hydration, gear and pacing. AJ and I have been through every 100 mile race together and have been through some amazing battles and adventures, so he was on board for a long section of  pacing. Much to my surprise and pleasure, my good buddy Jon Ahern (I paced Jon at the Leadville 100 this summer) offered to make the trek up to Steamboat Springs to also pace me a big section of the race. Everything was coming together …except the cold I came down with 10 days before the race. I have a history of not recovering from colds for up to 4 weeks …and this would be the case again heading into the race unfortunately.  Update ~Diagnosed a week later with a sinus infection and mild upper respiratory infection ...wonder what from?  😏


AJ and I headed up to Steamboat to get settled the night before the race and Jon joined us just before bed. I hit the race meeting with my other good friends John (also racing) and Nicole Witcher. I picked up my bib, took my obligatory picture, went home and chilled with AJ and Jon. We talked race specifics and they tried to lift me up with confidence of which I had little. I had no idea what to expect and felt like 30 hours was a stretch let alone 24 hours. We’d find out soon enough. Bed time.

Is that skiing Cowboy taking a dump on my head???
~John Witcher

Start ~ Long Lake (mile 12)

The Witchers and my crew all walked to the start together and talked about the prior nights sleep and our nerves. I was just ready to get this crap-show started (the sooner we started, the sooner it’d be over). I didn’t have the best attitude, but I was tired of lamenting over it. We lined up and were off.

This course has three major climbs and the first one is a 3500 foot climb right out of the gate straight up the ski mountain in the first 5 miles. This is a brutal way to start the race pushing you straight into zone 5 heart rate. I immediately tried to get to the front and when the others started walking, I kept running up, up, up. After feeling like I was going to bust a lung, I finally made it to the top of Mt. Werner (in the lead) where I could open it up and start running, which felt great.

It was an easy cruise down into the Long Lake aid station where I immediately saw a beautiful moose standing in the lake. We exchanged glances as I entered the aid station where I made it a quick stop to drop some gear off, apply sunscreen and grab a hat. Down to Fish Creek Falls (in 1st place).

~Paul Nelson Photography
~Paul Nelson Photography
Uhhhhh, no tiny task ahead!!!

Long Lake ~ Olympian (mile 22)

Fish Creek Falls is a beautiful single-track trail from top to bottom with some serious technical trail in the middle. Flying down the trail only made me think about having to come back up that trail later (which you’ll learn later was almost the end of my race). After running into many casual hikers out to see the falls and many greetings, it was right through the official aid station and then down the asphalt road/concrete all the way into the Olympian aid station (one of my least favorite sections of the race). As I came in, I looked at my watch and noticed I was an hour ahead of my plan and worried not only that my crew wouldn’t be there, but even if they were, they’d be mad about my lack of discipline the first 20 miles into the race to stick to the plan. As I came in, both AJ and Jon were there and I said “why do I make a plan? I NEVER stick to it!”. They both smiled, helped me get new drinks, food, sunscreen and change of shoes and I was out of there. Getting through aid stations fast all day was part of a winning strategy, I am sure!

Olympian ~ Olympian (mile 43)

The next 20 miles take you around the beautiful, but under-ratedly hard Emerald Mountain. Right out of the gate, it’s back up a 1500 foot climb in 2 ½ miles. This is where my race started to take a turn. I started losing steam and energy on these two miles and became frustrated with the 5 false summits. When I finally reached the top, I regained my focus to get into the Cow Creek aid station. When I got there, I regrouped with the guys, said “Hi” to my friends Nicole Witcher and Mike and Heidi Mizones who were waiting for John. Jon and AJ got me two fresh bottles, some food and I headed out a little worried about the next 12 miles with only 40 ounces of water, as this is the hottest section and the longest.

As I headed up the road and onto the Beall trail, I noticed my “Fight” was waning a bit and my ability to run longer got more and more labored. I put it into power hiking mode when I couldn’t run and ran when I could. On one of the short downhill sections, I tripped and popped the top off my water bottle expelling everything inside and thus guaranteeing dehydration the rest of the section. I fought the rest of the way, but finally lost my 1st place position to a STRONG runner who ran by me like I was standing still. I tried not to let it bother me too much, but knew he would likely not be the only runner to pass me as I continued to struggle. I ran back into Olympian and immediately asked for water. I changed shoes, complained of dizziness and nausea while Jon geared up to start his next 30+ mile pacing section.

Olympian ~ Long Lake (mile 53)

Jon, geared up, excited and ready to rock was unfortunately subjected to a sluggish, out of breath and declining racer (me). Jon was one of my key pacers in my 4th place Leadville 100 finish and I believe was hoping for a repeat performance today. Sadly, this was the start of perhaps my biggest blow up in ANY of my 100 mile races and Jon would have to endure it and pull me out of the depths of hell. My stomach was a total mess, I was dehydrated, suffering from my cold, overheated and my breathing was worsening and worsening. With every push up to Fish Creek Falls, I would have to stop with a heaving chest and was faced with what felt like asthma and anxiety with not being able to breath. This turned out to be the case for the next 3300 foot climb back to the top of Long Lake. As I took 50 steps (if I was lucky), I would tell Jon I needed to stop to catch my breath, as I sat on a rock or was bent over with hands on knees. I got darker and darker with my thoughts and let the dreaded thoughts of “not finishing” enter heavily. I kept telling Jon I wasn’t sure how I was going to run the next 60 miles in this condition. In a proper and concerned response, Jon asked if I felt my breathing was a potential health risk. I told him I didn’t think so. I’m not sure why I knew that, but I truly thought it wasn’t life threatening, which in the end may have given me the answer to whether I should continue or not. Jon texted AJ with the hard situation we were faced with and then we just continued with the death march up, up, up. Two more runners passed me, putting me in 4th, but at the time, I was in survival mode and didn’t care if I was in LAST place. After hours of struggle, we made it to Long Lake, I sat down, ate some broth, drank ginger ale, put a jacket on and tried to put that hardship behind me as I knew I needed to keep going.

Long Lake ~ Dry Lake (mile 67)

Feeling mildly better now with the sun setting, a brief rain shower, the heat subsiding and some very needed downhill (or flat) road ahead, Jon and I set out to the Summit aid station at dusk. We immediately started running as I promised Jon I would be able to do on the down-hills as the cardiovascular effect would be drastically different than going up hill. I didn’t remember much about this section from last years race, so we just alternated between running and “hiking with a purpose” (our theme for much of the remainder of the race). As we got closer and closer to Summit, I was incrementally feeling better, chatting more and becoming more and more positive.

As we entered Summit, it was more broth, ginger ale and a short in and out of the aid station. The next 7+ miles were almost all downhill road, which I knew was a great opportunity to continue running, recovering and turning the corner back to a “good” race. Jon also knew this was a good opportunity to make up for time lost at Fish Creek and we both ran strong 7-9 minute miles all the way down to Dry Lake and eventually caught back up with the 3rd place runner. With each step, I felt better and better, stronger and stronger and the problems of the past where just that …the past.

Dry Lake ~ Dry Lake (mile 77)

As I entered the Dry Lake aid station, we were happy to see AJ there (we didn’t expect to see him until the return trip up). Another quick in and out of the aid station and it was a beautiful night run down the Spring Creek trail section. As I ran, I let gravity take its course and I just ran without brakes all the way to the bottom. I eventually caught the 2nd place runner and we ran into the Spring Creek aid station together chatting and telling our stories. The aid station had no prepared food and thus there was no reason to stay long. I topped off my water, grabbed a pickle and headed back out now in 2nd place.

I somehow gathered the strength and energy to run UP hill now and pushed this section back to Dry Lake as much as I could. I wish I could have run more, but I eventually heard that I gained 40 minutes on the lead runner and in AJ’s words “won the race on this section”. This was finally "Rally time" and I literally came back from from the depth of an all time low!!

Dry Lake ~ Summit (mile 84)

As I got back to Dry Lake, I was again greeted by AJ and Jon and found out that the lead runner was still there and sitting in a chair. AJ geared up for his pacing section (Dry Lake to the finish). I found myself getting very warm, which was contradictory to the cold that everyone said we would face. I still loaded my vest with warm clothes, gave Jon a “thank you” hug for his efforts and then AJ and I headed back up the 7+ mile, 2500 foot climb to Summit.

AJ and I ran very little of this climb, but we “hiked with a purpose” from the bottom to the top with ZERO stops. We knew that if we couldn’t run, it was unlikely others would be able to either and the difference we were making was a consistent and steady, hard effort. Having a new pacer and friend at my side lead to much conversation, laughs and talk of strategy now that we were in the lead. Even though we ALL said we were only focused on finishing, we KNEW we were all on board with trying to finish in first place.

Summit ~ Long Lake (mile 92)

Once again back at Summit, I ate a little, filled water bottles and departed with the goal of maintaining a lead (not knowing how big the gap was). We headed out on the Wyoming trail for the next 8 miles and I immediately began losing energy (I had not been eating for hours and miles due to continued stomach issues) and the desire to push the uphills after that last long road. AJ tried to contact Jon to find out the gap of our lead, but we ran into service issues on the trail. In the meantime, AJ took the lead and tried to set a good pace for me to keep, which I did pretty well until I tripped twice, both times avoiding any damage, even though I was on my backside or back. AJ helped me up in all cases as I tried to put the fatigue out of mind.  I began letting negative remarks escape on this section (one thing AJ, Jon and I talk about a lot is pushing negative thoughts out and staying positive, but 80 miles into a race makes that a real challenge).

I continued to push myself and AJ continued to praise me for giving everything I could. But the inescapable thoughts of being caught by another runner started to hit hard. AJ finally got confirmation that we had about a 30 minute lead on the 2nd place runner. I don’t know if this was good or bad news because I seemed to “settle” and hiked a lot leaving me to wonder in hindsight if I could have given more. We pushed all the way into the Long Lake aid station and were just passed by the 1st and 2nd place "Hare" runners (not in my division, so no loss of placement).

Long Lake ~ Finish (mile 106)

We took a little more time at the Long Lake station to regroup for the final push to the finish. Unbeknownst to AJ, I informed him the next station back to Mt. Werner was more uphill than it looked on the profile. That was unfortunately VERY obvious as we started back up on this endless section. AJ continued to try to keep track on the lead gap as we pushed on. Somewhere in this section, I am convinced that I was running and sleeping at the same time (about 22 hours of straight racing). I would come back from some unknown place regaining consciousness and then fade back into sleep again (unlikely what truly happened, but it sure seemed like it did). The fatigue was hitting HARD and I was hurting. Out of nowhere, I caught a toe on something and found myself face down on the trail (my hands were nowhere to be found to help break the fall). My headlamp pushed hard into my glasses, breaking the nose piece off and pushing the glass down and cutting my nose. AJ asked if I was ok and I told him “MY FACE HURTS”, which makes me giggle now in a school-boy, immature way. He knew I had very little left to give, so we “hiked with a purpose” all the way back to Mt. Werner.

We had just finished running 100 miles and only had 6 miles to go down the road to the finish so we went straight through the Werner aid station. I didn’t have the same energy on this road section as I had earlier descending from Summit, but I knew I had to try to run as much as possible. AJ and I worked in a run for ¾ of a mile and would walk ¼ mile from the top to the final mile. We ran past all the 50 mile starters on their way up and we received lots of claps and praise which was uplifting. As we got down to the cutoff to the final mile trail to the finish I started to find energy for a final push hitting a sub-8 mile. I rounded the corner and ran right through the finishing arches for a WIN and into a big hug from Brady (the official “designated hugger”). I was welcomed by Jon and gave Jon and AJ hugs in appreciation for their ability to push me through to a 1st place finish and for dealing with my “diva-ness”.

 Finish line hug
 Happy to be DONE!!
 Podium Picture
Buckle, awards, bib and shirt


Many asked the question “why weren’t you running as a hare?”. The simple answer is that I had no business running as a Hare let alone running a 100 mile race on no official training or preparation. This performance really comes down to not quitting, giving what I could WHEN I could, keeping my head up and moving forward at all costs. You have that overwhelming thought that “this will NEVER end” numerous times in a 100 mile race, but it does end and the glory is always worth it whether it’s a win or a finish. You must dig deep inside yourself and find strength that isn’t always readily available. You have to find a spark to relight your fire when it’s burning out and you have to negotiate with yourself and convince yourself that you just can’t stop when stopping is all you want. The pain, negativity, fatigue and constant struggle are all part of the adventure/story and you have to decide if that’s a fight you want to pick. I don’t have answers for every scenario someone could face in a 100 mile race. I just know what I need to do when I hit those adverse conditions (i.e. blindness, lung depletion, etc…) and that’s to mitigate it and press forward until I simply can’t press forward any longer. Running 100 miles is not always fun, but it sure is “living”.

I can't thank AJ and Jon enough for being in my corner all day (and all season as we train together) and for being such great friends and supporters in my race efforts. A special thank you to John and Nicole Witcher for spending time with me and lifting me up before and after the race. More thanks to Mike and Heidi Mizones for their continued friendship and support and a special thanks to Jenn Coker for taking pictures and a celebratory hug at the finish (she's a great ambassador for our sport). And in no way would I ever skip the biggest thanks to my family for their love, support and for putting up with this crazy "thing" that I do in an attempt to be a better person for them and a role model for my kids.

A special shout out to my sponsors Fuel 100 for their continued support in so many ways especially this year as I struggled. You guys rock Andrea and Michelle!

* More photos slowly trickling in from the race photographer, which will be posted as they come in.

* Strava Data (106 miles, not 103 as stated on the website): RRR 100 2017

* Athlete Results: Chuck Radford

*And finally just for fun: Looney Tunes