Sub Four No More?

I’m not sure what prompted me to say it. It was right before last year’s race, 2012, where I admitted to my wife that breaking 4 hours may be out of my reach. It is not a good idea to admit such a thing when your intentions may be the exact opposite. Nevertheless, I’m a sucker for reality and have trouble with self-deception.

Nothing lasts forever, eh; including my ability to finish the Bridger Ridge Run under four hours. So after two years in a row (2012 and 2013) of not being able to dip below 4 hours, it certainly looks like 4 hours is now out of my reach. It wasn’t without trying. Just when I finally figure out what works with regards to equipment, fueling and training, my body starts to give in to the inevitable slowdown that comes with aging!

A Little History of Sub Four Attempts

Back in the early 1990’s, I did the Ridge Run a few years in a row (91, 92, 93) attempting to break 4 hours. 22 years ago, I was a heck of a lot faster runner. Granted, the race was rougher and more technical. Back then, the section of the course from Ross Pass all the way to Baldy was not worn in like today. There wasn’t much, if any, of a trail over most of this middle portion of the route. This made it significantly more demanding and slower.

But what prevented me from breaking 4 hours in the early 1990’s, was not just the tougher course. It was my lack of knowledge and experience about fueling and equipment. In 1993, after a couple years of dedicated preparation and serious efforts, I was left frustrated that I could not break 4 hours. My interest in attempting it again waned. After my 1993 attempt, it did not occur to me that I would ever try again.

During the mid-1990’s, I still stayed involved with the Ridge Run as a volunteer. Several years in there I helped with the timing. Jim Banks would pull the bib tags at the finish and I would do the timing and collating of results in Excel. Things were simpler back then. We made a good team. For a few years, helping with distributing water to the aid stations meant I got to ride in a helicopter – always fun and memorable. Now a team of volunteers manually carry all the water without aerial assistance.

After a six year hiatus, on a whim, I signed up at the last minute (you could do that back then!) and tried the Ridge Run again. It was 1999. This time I finally broke 4 hours. It wasn’t because I was more fit or faster than six years earlier, but it was a serendipitous combination of critical factors. I was smarter about fueling and hydration and I used shoes more appropriate to the terrain than I had in my previous attempts. It is also important to mention, that by 1999, the course was already starting to get worn in and arguably faster between Ross Pass and Baldy.

Round Number Barriers

Humans, myself included, have a habit of putting significance on breaking a round number barrier like 4 hours for the Ridge Run. In the case of the Ridge Run, 4 hours is a convenient benchmark. It sits at that sweet spot of being a very lofty goal, but not in the rarified air of nearly impossible.

Sport accomplishment-wise, I would equate a 4 hour Ridge Run to running a sub 3 hour marathon or a sub 5 minute mile. All are worthy goals for a recreational runner, but nowhere near elite. The afore mentioned examples are all different and require different types of training. But I would argue the required commitment and level of training or talent is at the same level. You either have to be blessed with some natural endurance talent or train and work darn hard to break 4 hours in the Ridge Run. Same can be said for running a 5 minute mile or a 3 hour marathon.

2012, Carry That Weight

Last year’s race (2012), played out just as I had figured and confided to my wife. The result being, I failed to break 4 hours. After training for and participating in Ridge Runs for several decades, I have a close relationship with the knowledge of my abilities and how my training is going. Fooling myself into thinking I will do better than I will is just not possible anymore.

Leading up to 2012, I just could not shake my winter weight and was sporting an extra 10 pounds in body weight compared to years past. Most years, my weight approaches 150 pounds in the winter as my body layers a little fat for insulation against the cold. Then over the summer my body trims down to around 140 pounds. In 2012, I just could not shake my winter weight. A little extra weight can really slow down one’s running – especially when going uphill. And so was the case in 2012. My ability to drag myself uphill at a decent pace was suffering. I could tell from my training that I was going to be slower than years past.

Sure enough, in the 2012 Ridge Run, I struggled on the ups and finished a few minutes over 4 hours.

2013, Lean but Wobbly

This year, 2013, I was able to trim down and loose the winter weight. The only difference compared to last year when I couldn’t trim down was that I gave up eating junk like chips and chocolate. In short order, I got down to my normal summer weight of 140 pounds. Amazing what a little self-discipline can do.

Leading up to the 2013 race, I was starting to get mildly optimistic. My mind flirted with thoughts that perhaps I could break 4 hours again. Then I would remember that this year with the relocation of the start line, the course was longer. In my mental banter, this fact gave doubt a reason to convince me that sub 4 was still a thing of the past.

At the end of July, a couple weeks before the race, I was feeling lean and fast and ready to race. I was thinking that I wished I did not have to wait till August 10. A lot can happen in a couple weeks and sure enough it did. I got sick. There goes that sub 4 hour possibility. My how fickle and fleeting is a fitness peak.

Whether I got exposed from my MAT (Muscle Activation Technique) therapist who caught Strep from a family trip or from me attending a wedding and a funeral among other public events; I was exposed to some disease and caught a sore throat and upper respiratory infection.

If I was really serious about preparing, peaking and tapering for race day, I would avoid potential exposure to sickness by quarantining myself in the weeks leading up to the race. But cutting oneself off from human interaction and participation in life just to avoid getting sick before a race seems a little extreme. It is wasted effort for someone such as myself, but maybe worth considering for someone at the elite level and totally serious about optimizing their race potential.

The sore throat was not that big of deal. A little raw garlic and essential oil of oregano seemed to banish the infection in a few days. What was a big deal, is that the infection triggered an acute bought of vertigo and peripheral neuropathy. I spent the day before the Ridge Run bouncing between medical labs getting tested to rule out the possibility of any serious malady such as Meningitis or Guillain Barre.

The vertigo was not new to me as I had suffered from it periodically for the last couple years. It started from a bad viral infection back in the winter of 2012. Ever since then, when I experience any kind of inflammation in my left ear from infection, fever, wind or even from extreme exertion, I’m greeted with a bought of vertigo. But this case, right before the 2013 Ridge Run, it was particularly severe and persistent.

The day before the 2013 Ridge Run, it seemed doubtful that I would be able to do the race. I accepted and surrendered any attachment I held with regards to participating. After having done the Ridge Run so many times (17, I Think?), it is surprisingly easy to accept the possibility of not participating. Sure there is a twinge of disappointment, but also a sense of relief that comes with a legitimate excuse to back out.

The next morning, race day, I went up to the start with my wife. Vertigo prevented me from lying down and sleeping, so I might as well head up to Fairy Lake and see how I felt. We got up there early to help setup the bib number pickup, so I had plenty of time to get my race gear ready and do a little test run up the trail. The test run encouraged me. It gave me confidence that as long as I kept moving forward, kept my eyes open and didn’t make any sudden lateral or twisting moves, I could negotiate running up the trail without problem. So with a promise to my wife to take it easy and not do anything stupid (yeah right), I started the race.

Given the backdrop of the events the day before, my race went quite well. Going uphill was easier and faster than last year probably because I was so skinny. Caution ruled the day on the downhill portions as I dialed it back to make sure I stayed upright. Amazingly, 2013 was one of the few Bridger Ridge Runs where I did not trip and fall! The 2013 edition of the Ridge Run would not notch any new scars on my body. By the time I got to the top of Bridger and then later Baldy, experience told me that a sub 4 hour time was out of reach. And so it was. It was not one of my faster races, but I was grateful that I was able to at least participate and finish. For the second year in a row, I finished the Ridge Run in just over 4 hours.

Pacing One’s Life or What More Could I Have Done?

The week before this year’s race, a friend of mine passed away. The week of the race, I attended her cremation service. We use to work together as instructors teaching team building through outdoor skills mostly to teens. But we also played hard together; skiing, climbing and adventuring. During the race, I had plenty of time to think. Not all my mental energy is devoted to where to place my feet or monitoring about how good or bad I was feeling. Her memory and the event of her passing was fresh in my mind. It comes with a shock to embrace the notion that we would not get to play and work together ever again – at least in this life.

As I neared the finish line, I got pretty emotional. A few tears crept down my cheeks as I was overcome with an incredible sense of gratitude that I can still participate when many of my old friends no longer can. I may not be as fast or as strong or as healthy as I use to be, but I can still scurry across the crest of the Bridger Range in the Ridge Run. In honor of all those that I have loved and lost…

This recent loss was just the latest. Over the years, numerous friends, acquaintances and activity partners have perished. Some I shared very close multidimensional relationships with. Others were more singularly wrapped around a specific activity such as skiing. Relationships formed from bonding over long hours spent traipsing through the mountains are different than those formed with coworkers or school chums. Perhaps there is something about the shared risk and danger. The adventure of climbing, assessing the avalanche safety of a ski descent or just killing time waiting out bad weather in a tent form bonds that transcend everyday life.

Other than a suicide and cancer, a common thread is that most of my friends that have perished have done so in the mountains. A drowning in an alpine lake in the Tetons, several avalanches in Utah Wyoming and Montana, a heart attack while dirt biking near Homestake pass, several falls while extreme skiing and a fluke mountain bike crash. I’ve never been a socially needy person, but with the death of each friend in what seemed early in their life, I grow even more cautious about developing close relationships. Am I jinxed?

I’m still alive. It makes me pause and assess whether I have paced my life wisely. Just like a race, in life, I want to get the finish line knowing I gave it my all. Crossing the finish line knowing you could not have done any better is deeply satisfying. Squandering ones energy and life force too early in the game and enduring prolonged suffering before you reach the end is foolish. And arriving at the end with lots of juice still in the tank, leaves one regretful and forever questioning “what more could I have done”.

Old Age Disease and Death

As Siddhartha discovered on his first sojourn out in the real world, the notion of mortality is intrinsically entwined with this physical world. Sure, there are lots of hyperbolic claims that aging is just in our minds. That our human beliefs and what we see binds us into the whole concept of aging and dying. Well, a positive attitude towards aging is certainly helpful, but I think these self-proclaimed gurus such as Deepak Chopra do a disservice by sowing false hope in regards to aging.

Perhaps it is possible to overcome aging by mastering the mind through some esoteric yogic occult practices. If possible, it has got to be extremely rare. Someone who transcends aging is also not likely to be the type of person that would be attracted to doing the Ridge Run. The closest person I have ever met who had transcended aging was a Qi Gong master in China. She was over 100 years of age and still full of life and energy and practicing medical Qi-Gong. But she was not totally ageless as she was quite wrinkled and looked old, which was normal for her age.

My answer to those that claim that aging is a creation of our minds, is to consider a lowly animal. It has no consciousness of or preconceived notions of aging. An animal does not cogitate and worry about aging. Yet, they still age. In fact, witnessing a beloved pet age is a sad process. It comes on as a surprise to them. To their bewilderment and sometimes embarrassment all of a sudden they can’t do something they use to.

After last year’s (2012) race, I felt the same way as our cat that can no longer jump up to a dresser that they use to be able to. For me, slowing down just happened; without any say so on my part. It has been a gradual process over the last decade or so, but the last couple years as I hit my mid-fifties the physical limits imposed by aging have gotten more pronounced. Other than memories and accumulated knowledge, my mind is the same and as youthful as it was back when I first became self-aware as a very young child. On the other hand, my body is certainly not the same as it was when I was in my 40’s or 30’s or 20’s.

Reacting to Aging and Slowing Down by Racing More

Last year, as I came to terms with the disappointment of not breaking 4 hours, I felt an urgency to do some trail running events that were of interest to me. It was a wake-up call to ageing and mortality. I thought I might not be able to do this forever. Are there any races that I still want to do? So right after the 2012 Ridge Run, I did some wandering around the Internet looking for trail races of interest to me.

I’ve always wanted to do a trail race down in the red rock country of southern Utah. The Moab Trail Marathon caught my attention and I signed up for it right away, before the soreness of the 2012 Ridge Run wore off.

After the 2012 Ridge Run, I was pretty beat up – mainly from training in preparation for the Ridge Run. I had done the entire course twice prior to the race and went into the race with some hip pain. For over a month after the race, I did no training. The Moab Trail Marathon was the first weekend in November. I prepared for it starting in October by doing a couple weekly trail runs from Truman Gulch over to Middle Cotton Wood and vice a versa. I certainly was not ideally trained for the Moab Trail marathon, but I figured if I ran at a moderate pace and fueled smartly I could enjoy and feel good about the race.

As it turned out, the race went well. The time off leading up to the race paid off, as I did not have any injury problems during the race. During the first 20 miles, I fueled with Clif Bloks and Skratch Labs sports Drink. The race officials allowed runners to stash a drop bag at the 20 mile mark. My drop bag held a bottle with about 420 calories of Vitargo. When I reached the 20 mile mark at about three and a half hours into the race I was feeling pretty stiff and tired and was glad to grab my drop bag and chug the 24oz 420 calorie mix of Vitargo. Immediately I got a boost of energy and the next three miles went pretty really well. I slowed significantly the last three miles, but I was not inspired to eat any more sugary fueling products and instead just slowed down and kept moving along at a pace I could sustain till the end.

After the Moab Trail race, I journeyed down to the Grand Canyon and did some running down there as I recovered. The Moab Trail Marathon was the beginning of a cycle of numerous races leading up to and beyond the 2013 Ridge Run. The cycle finally ended the last weekend of September in Wyoming at the Sundance Trail Run.

Between November of 2012 and October of 2013, I did races in 7 different states and at least one race in every month. A week after the Trail Marathon I did a Half Marathon on Veterans day and was surprised at how well I felt. So I figured I would just keep racing and participating in adventures. Some races went better than others. Some were total disasters and some were pleasant surprises.

A Year of Racing in Review

Following is the list of races in chronological order that I did over the past year. Some were just spur of the moment little 5Ks as community activities. Many of the races such as the ones in Florida I have done every year for years and it is fun to gage one’s fitness by comparing times to years past. Others will probably be a once in a lifetime event because of the conspiracy of life’s circumstances. That would be the 5K in west Texas were I got stuck in Monahans because a fluke never seen in history snow storm closed the interstate.

  • Moab Trail Marathon, Moab UT, Nov 2012, 76th Overall 4th Age Group Fun (Overcame poor shape with good fueling)
  • Veterans Day Half Marathon, Tucson AZ, Nov 2012, 27th Overall 2nd Age Group (Easier than expected)
  • Thanksgiving Day XC Classic 5K, Tucson AZ, Nov 2012, 97th Overall, 2nd Age Group (Felt terrible, but my neighbor and I both won a pumpkin pie)
  • Half Marathon, Las Cruces NM, Dec 2012, 13th Overall 1st Age Group (On track to run fast time, but got tricked by mile markers)
  • Run for Hope 5K Trail, Daytona FL, Dec 2012, 3rd Overall 1st Age Group (Ran way faster this year in Montrails as compared to last year in Hoka Sponge Shoes)
  • Holiday Bridge 5K, Ormond Beach FL, Dec 2012, 12th Overall, 1st Age Group (Hamstring strain so went easy)
  • Sand Hills 5K, Monohans TX, Jan 2013, 3rd Overall 1st Age Group (Hamstring strain after 2 miles; slowed and got passed stuck there from freak west Texas snow storm)
  • TRAK 5K, Tucson AZ, Jan 2013, 1st Overall (Hamstring strain after 2 miles; held on for win)
  • Skin to Win Rec, Bridger Bowl MT, Feb 2013, ? Overall 3rd Age Group (Nicer weather than last year; not much faster)
  • Frigid Digger 7 Mile, Butte MT, Feb 2013, ? Overall 1st Age Group (Slow and out of shape)
  • Run for Pub 10K, Bozeman MT, Mar 2013, 42nd Overall 4th Age Group (Hamstring fragile; took it easy ran for fun)
  • Big Butte Trifecta 11K 5K 1Mile, Butte MT, Mar 2013, 2nd Overall 1st Age Group (Fun event, did better than expected)
  • Mount Lemon Half Marathon, April 2013, Tucson AZ 5th Overall 1st Age Group (Calf strain, but had a good day)
  • Cinco da Mayo 10K, Tucson AZ, May 2013, 33rd Overall 2nd Age (Way slower than last year)
  • Evaro Mountain Challenge 10K, Evaro MT, Jun 2013, ? Overall 1st Age Group (Disaster, strained my non-strained calf)
  • Wulfman 14K, Butte MT, Jun 2013, 17th Overall 3rd Age Graded (Surprisingly set a PR)
  • Targhee Hill Climb, Alta WY, Jun 2013, 9th Overall 2nd Age Group (Hard work, slower than expected)
  • Beartooth Run 10K (6.5 miles), Red Lodge MT, Jul 2013, 2nd Overall 1st Age (Fun race, ran better than expected)
  • Bridger Ridge Run 20 Mile, Bozeman MT, Aug 2013, 13th Overall 1st Age Group (Sick, Vertigo; problem free race but slower)
  • Big Hole 10K (7.1 miles), Wisdom MT, Aug 2013, 1st Overall* 1st Age Group (Ran OK; *not everyone did the same course)
  • Rendezvous Mountain Hill Climb 7 Mile, Teton Village WY 4th Overall 1st Age Group (Good performance for my age and met my goal)
  • Absaroka Challenge 15K, Meeteetse WY, Aug 2013, 5th Overall 1st Age Group (Tough race, totally spent on last climb, steep descent hard on knees)
  • John Colter 7 Mile, Three Forks MT, Sep 2013, 18th Overall 1st Master 1st Age Group (Great event; slower than previous years)
  • Sundance Trail Run 30K, Sundance WY, Sep 2013, 4th Overall 1st Age Group (First 9 miles fun, middle muddy canyon burnt out hip flexors, overcame pain in last 5K)

Here are a few pictures from some of the races:

2012 Moab Trail Marathon

2012 Moab Trail Marathon

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2013 Bear Tooth Run Course

2013 Bear Tooth Run Course

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2013 Bear Tooth Run

2013 Bear Tooth Run

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2013 John Colter

2013 John Colter

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2013 Sundance Trail

2013 Sundance Trail

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What is Next?

There are still a couple races that I have a hankering to enter. One is the Speed Goat 50K at the Snowbird Ski Area in Utah. Snowbird was my old winter stomping (skiing) grounds back in the 1970’s. It would be a hoot to do a trail race there 40 years later! My only apprehension is that I’m not sure I could handle doing such a long and challenging race. It is arguably the most challenging 50K in North America.

The other is the Mount Marathon up in Alaska. The ruggedness I experienced in the Absaroka Mountain Challenge inspired me to think about considering the Mount Marathon in Alaska. The Absaroka Mountain Run was surprisingly challenging as it consisted of a lot of cross country portions with little or no trail. Kind of like the way the Ridge Run use to be. There was also a very steep downhill section of 100% grade (45 degrees) that was more like a controlled fall and slide. Watch the following slide shows of the Absaroka Challenge and Mount Marathon in Alaska.

2013 Absaroka Mountain Challenge:

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2013 Mount Marathon:

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Prize Give Away

A Contest, yes a contest. Is there anyone out there that really reads these posts? A reward for the first person that wades through this post!

In this case, it is just for people local to the Bozeman Montana area or Philipsburg Montana area. You can catch me either place to pick up your prize. I’m not taking the time to package and ship it anywhere else – Sorry. And you have to arrange to pick it up by November, or you may have to wait to January 2014.

Dakine Drafter Pack

Dakine Drafter Pack

What is the prize? A Dakine Drifter hydration pack. This hydration pack is intended more toward skiing or biking than running.

What is the contest? Be the first to comment below on this blog post leaving the exact number of races that I did between the 2012 Ridge Run and the 2013 Ridge Run.

When you place a comment, there is a field to leave your email address. Make sure you fill that out, so I can respond to you and coordinate getting you your prize.

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About Bridger Ridge Run

The Bridger Ridge Run blog is an information portal for all those seeking to learn more about the Bridger Ridge Run event held every second Saturday of August in Bozeman Montana. This blog contains notifications about important registration dates and deadlines, history of the event, training advice and other stories and entertaining tidbits of information about the Bridger Ridge Run.
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7 Responses to Sub Four No More?

  1. Anonymous says:

    That was a fantastic piece of writing and philosophy. I think you still have a sub 4 hour Ridge Run in you. Probably would have done it again last year but for the illness.

  2. We have a winner!

    Thanks to everyone for reading and commenting.

    The correct number of races I did between the 2012 and the 2013 Ridge Run is 18.

    Since fall and early winter is the Ridge Run off season, it may not be till early 2014 before we get another post up on this blog.

    Have a wonderful last couple months of 2013.

  3. Anonymous says:

    20 races including the 2012 & 2013 ridge runs! You are an inspiration 🙂

  4. Anonymous says:

    Great article :). Always love reading the ridge blog! Thank you for the motivation!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Eighteen. I am a Bozemanite since 1986 (and merely two-time Ridge Runner) who is a long way from home right now, so no need to get a prize to me. I just wanted to say thanks for writing and for loving running.

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