Stories Ultra Race Report

By Upper Left DT Athlete Josh-Meyers Dean

The morning started off early with a 3:30am alarm to get myself, and my girlfriend/crew master extraordinaire, Julia, up to make some oatmeal with peanut butter, banana, and maple syrup, as well as a smoothie before we made the ~2 hour drive down to Cheyenne Mountain State Park near Colorado Springs.

JMD1Figure 1 Early on

The drive went by fast, listening to some spooky stories from Dirtbag Diaries “Tales of Terror” podcasts. It’s been a fairly snow free winter out here in the Front Range, but it’s been pretty cold compared to the PNW, which I’m more used to. The drive was spent mostly bundled up and trying to “bank” warmth if that’s a thing? After a while we drove into Cheyenne Mountain via the wrong road and had to back track a bit, it was pitch black as I got out to pee on the side of the road, which it was already freezing but I was stoked none-the-less! We eventually made our way to the actual start and were greeted with Christmas lights, illuminating up the start area and the Human Potential Running Series arch atop the hill we would run up and down the next 30 hours.

JMD2Figure 2 The start for each loop

Checked in around 5:35, changed out of my Luna Oso Sandals into my Scarpa Spins, which I would wear for the majority of the race. We had a pre-race meeting with RD John Lacroix, whom is always full of inspiration and jokes. He’s a really stand up guy and was saying how, as a race organization, he wants to celebrate everyone and not just the elites. He also went on to say that, since cheating has apparently become popular in these endurance races, that if you are caught cheating, you will be shamed on every form of social media he can find, which I appreciated. The meeting ended around 5:55 so we had a few minutes to mess around and chat.

JMD3Figure 3 Happy Happy Happy

The race started at 6am sharp with John just saying, “Well come on, go!” and we were off like a herd of turtles. I stuck with the leader for the first lap as it was darkish and the mud has frozen over to form millions of little ankle breaking walls. The race consists of four different loops following the color spectrum, Red which was about 3 miles, Green which was about 4, Blue which was 6ish(?), and the motherfucking Purple People Eater Loop which was 7ish. The first red loop was pretty uneventful and I was still waking up, thankful to have someone to navigate the perfectly marked course so I could just go autopilot and not have to think too hard for the first bit.

We rolled into the aid station/home base where I grabbed some typical aid station food, probably chips. Julia refilled my handheld for me and I was off onto the Green loop, my favorite loop, in first place. It was still pretty chilly so I was dressed like a gaper with splits over tights, and very thankful to have my Montucky Cold Snacks 80’s style warm headband.

The green loop was amazing as I was greeted with a beautiful sunrise, and as I was cruising some killer downhill, the local military played their bugles, it was a moment of bliss and reminded me how much I love trail running. I got back to the aid station, had some food, and set off on the blue loop still in first. Not much to report on this loop other than seeing a heard of deer and doing lots of walking and smiling. I believe this was the loop that I got passed by Miguel Isaza, but my goal was just to finish all 30 and enjoy some new trails, not necessarily to place.

I’m not sure why but I really dreaded the blue loop, despite it not being the hardest loop. Rolled into the aid station, ate, water refilled, then out again for my first purple loop. Excuse my language, but this loop was fucking rough. It was the longest, and had the most vert, but more so it was just lonely. I didn’t run with anybody for the most part for the entire race, which was kind of a bummer but it was nice to be alone with my thoughts for awhile.

JMD4Figure 4 Aid station fare

The hardest thing about the purple loop was the sticky mud, that clung to your shoes like a parent with a child leash, it was annoying and made my shoes really heavy. But got through the uphill, banged my shoes on some rocks, and started cruising some awesome downhill. I was in a Zen like state that was sharply interrupted by my bowels reminding of how much oatmeal I ate that morning. I gracefully tromped through some sharp branches to find an appropriate spot, dug a hole, and the sweet, sweet relief of sharp ass pinecones (thanks CO). I got back on the downhill, cruised to the main trail, and back up the hill to the aid station finishing the first 20 miles in 4:30.

Not much happened the next few loops, aside from the mud being persistent, until I hit 50km mark (actually 55km) in about 7 hours in first place. At the start of the race you get a question on the back of your bib to ponder for the first 50km and then are interviewed by John about it, which will be put in his podcast series, Ultra Stories. My question was, “Why?” which I really thought about hard, and came up with how I want to find the joy in suffering, talked about my overwhelmingly positive view on life after the passing of my mom, and really just to show myself how much I can accomplish. It was probably a blistering 34 degrees at this point and I was never really warm but I felt really good and fresh. I had a veggie burger then set out on my second blue loop, which was uneventful.

JMD5Figure 5 Home Base

My second purple loop is where things really started to change, I was bonking hard, and really starting to suffer. My nutrition had been on point up to this point thanks to Gu Roctane, but I was really only trained to run a 50 miler at this point, and this race was a last minute decision, but I pushed onward. I’m blessed with an amazing coach, Korey Konga with Upper Left Distance Training, and luckily what I had done in training paid off since the winter was so cold, I had done all my long runs just really suffering. But, during this loop I was hurting and bitching the whole time, alone. I walked pretty much all of this loop, taking over 2 hours to run the 7.whatever miles. I got into the aid station looking pretty rough, but Julia, along with the best pals anyone could ask for, Jake Ryan and Ian Andridge, helped shove some veggie burger with avocado, as well as tater tots down my throat, sat me down for a bit, and set me off for my third red loop.

JMD6Figure 6 I call this, “The Suffer Burger”

On the red loop things really started to hurt and I was struggling pretty bad, doubting if I could finish, it was getting below freezing and the trails were back to their ankle breaking walls. Again I walked and met up with a really nice guy in the 15 hour version finishing up for the night. We shared the last mile of the loop, and it was very refreshing to have some company. That’s the thing about this race, it was so lonely that the minute you got companionship, it was one of the most cherished things I’ve experienced.

I arrived into the aid station slogging up that fucking hill, bitching and doubting myself to my crew. I did not want to go out for another loop, I was adamant that I would not go and here I would DNF. But ultra-whisperer John gave me a pep talk, and we talked about my DNF at his Indian Creek 50 mile race. I went to Jake’s car to lay down for a bit, had an all out bitch fit to Julia, “I can’t do this, it hurts, blah blah blah, bitch bitch bitch” and luckily she wasn’t having it. They bundled me up, stuck a headlamp on me, a veggie burger in hand, and set me off for my third green loop.

JMD7Figure 7 The best of the best

Let me say, I am terrified of running in the dark, which is something I will work on, but it really motivated me to get this loop done faster. It was also just so cold, brutally cold. But I trudged through the loop, alone and scared, in a horrible headspace. I got back to base camp and was set on not going out on the blue loop alone, I was not budging on this. It was decided I would sleep until 2 or 3 am (it was 8:30pm) and then go out. Well, I ended up sleeping until 5:45, which I was okay with since this meant I could pick up Julia as a pacer for the final 6 hours. I woke up convinced I was DFL, which at this point placing didn’t matter, I just wanted to finish.

JMD8Figure 8 Relentless Positivity

Julia and I set out on my third blue loop, and honestly I felt fresh and refreshed, slow but stoked. I was just happy to have someone with me and lucky to have such an amazing girlfriend to pace my slow ass for 6 hours. We ran most of the downs, not a single hill, and some flats. Otherwise, it was a pretty uneventful loop.

Setting off on my last purple loop, we found out I was in third, “It shouldn’t matter but just so you know, you’re in a close top three” said Sherpa John. This lit a fire and we cruised out on the purple loop running a bit more, although naming a series of hills The range of Mount NOPE, as in every time we started running up a hill, I’d exclaim, “NOPE” and start walking. At some point we ended up in second place as we ran into base camp. We didn’t stay for too long because I had a fire under me at this point, but had some pickles, tots (THANK GOD FOR TATER TOTS), shoved a lemonade Gu down my throat, and set off for my final red loop.

JMD9Figure 9 shameless plug

This loop HURT and we walked most of it but got it done and came back to camp, in first place. I was pretty surprised but got a wave of energy! In the last hour there’s the “golden hour loop” which is a pleasant .6 mile loop going down a hill, and then back up one, on new trails which I was very thankful for. Anyone can join you this last hour so Jake, Julia, and myself set for five of these loops smiling and laughing the whole time, hooping and hollering at whatever runners we saw. This one guy, who this was his first ultra and hit 50 miles! Set out on one loop with his dad and that made me pretty happy.

When we got done with all these loops we returned to base camp to discover that I had won, which was pretty neat, but I was more psyched that I didn’t end up quitting. This girl Kate, had a goal of 50 miles and was really struggling the night before, but she pushed through and made it winning her the Purple People Eater Diversity Award! Very humbling to see such perseverance. I immediately cracked open a well deserved Montucky Cold Snack who supported me throughout this race, a company who gives 8% of profits to local causes! Had a good talk and interview with John, hung out with the remaining people, then went on to crush burritos and margs before the drive home.

Very thankful for everyone who supported me through this, from my awesome crew, Sherpa John and all of Human Potential Running Series, Gu Energy, Montucky Cold Snacks, Scarpa, and Korey Konga and all of my ULDT team mates. Ultra running may be a individual sport but without these people it wouldn’t be possible. It was the first ultra I have won too which I’m pretty psyched on! Now time to shift the focus to vert for the rest of the year. (All photos in this race report art credited to Ian Andridge Photography)

JMD10Figure 10 Post race