This past winter I read Ultramarathon Man by Dean Karnazes, where in chapter 4 “Run for your life” he chronicles the night of his 30th birthday. Unhappy with the trajectory of his life, he had a transformative experience. While out celebrating his birthday at a bar with friends, he decided to leave and go run 30 miles. This sparked many changes in his life and was the first step on his way to becoming one of the most accomplished and influential endurance athletes. And just like that an idea was planted in my mind. Scheduled to hit that same 30-year milestone on June 8th, 2020 I started pondering what that would look like for me to go after the same objective of running my age in miles. Before COVID, I was supposed to run a 50-mile event at the end of April and my first 100 mile event in mid-July, so I wasn’t sure if a 30 mile was going to fit into my training. Then came COVID. Races dropped like flies and I was in need of a new objective to train for. So, 30 miles on my 30th birthday naturally became the goal.
It just so happened that in the 3 weeks leading up to my 30th birthday, Nicole and I moved out of our apartment in Cambridge, MA and spent 10 days in CT with her parents. While this was going on, Nicole got a job offer in Golden, CO with a start date of June 1! And so, we went from being in limbo to frantically searching for an apartment in the Denver area and then driving across the country, acquiring new furniture, moving our stuff in and getting settled in a new area. While my training dipped during all of this, it allowed me to get fresh and ready for this effort, plus moving heavy boxes and furniture might just be the best form of strength training that no one is doing.
Being new to the Denver area and having only a handful of runs to acclimate to the new altitude, I wanted to find a 30-mile route that would be easy to follow and not involve too much elevation gain. I settled on the Clear Creek Trail, which is over 20 miles and runs from Denver west to Golden. I decided that I did want to have some variation and not be running on a paved bike path for the entire day, so I decided to start in Wheat Ridge and run out to Golden where I would pick up the North Table Mountain loop trail for one full lap before returning back to where I started via the Clear Creek Trail. Minimal turns and around 2,000 feet of climbing and even better the entire last 13 miles would be slightly downhill. I wanted to do this fully self-supported and carry everything that I might need. I brought 1.5 liters of water in a bladder, 6 Gu’s, 3 Clif bars, a bag of nuts/dates, a multi tool, a mask and my phone.
Nicole dropped me off at Johnson Park in Wheat Ridge and I set off at 6:18 AM on the morning of my 30th birthday. Temperatures were much cooler than previous days, starting out in the low 50’s and climbing steadily throughout the day into the high 60’s/mid 70’s. The first few miles followed clear creek and I passed by a nice waterfall. I had a lot of shade and a cool breeze and so the miles passed quickly. I brought my Bose Soundsport headphones to listen to music/podcasts and also to call people along the way. Running is a selfish thing to do, I spend a lot of my free time off running or training, away from Nicole, my family and friends. I run for me, period. But I know that I am a better person because of my running and it is good for my mental and physical health. I wanted to use this time to connect with people in my life. I documented my adventure on my Instagram so that others could follow along. I called my family members to check in with them and thank them for their role in my life. With an early start, I decided to call my mom first as she lives in Florida and was 2 hours ahead of me. We chatted for several miles which kept me at a nice conversational pace. My mom is the reason I started running. When I was growing up, she got into running to stay in shape and she entered many local 5k, 8k, 10k and up to the half marathon distance. When I was 8 years old, I ran my first 5k with my mom, I started out too fast and she caught up to me and we finished together. She instilled in me a love for running and an understanding of pacing.
The roughly 10 miles out to Golden went without a hitch, I did make one small wrong turn in Golden and had to retrace my steps but no harm done. North Table Mountain was beautiful, I went clockwise around which gave me stunning views of the Rocky Mountains off to the West before turning to the East and seeing the plains stretch out for as far as the eye could see. I got a great view of the Denver skyline as well. I took another wrong turn and had to redirect back to the right trail, a mistake that happens when you are running a trail for the first time and think you have good sense of direction. The trail at North Table Mountain was more technical and had more climbing than I expected, I had to do some power hiking at a couple points. While North Table Mountain offers beautiful views, if offers little to no shade. I began to really bake in the sun and started taking in a lot more water to combat the heat and the dry mouth that comes with this dry air. While on North Table Mountain I called a good friend, Max Beitel, to thank him for sparking my interest in trail running. He got me to sign up for my first trail race in 2015, the North Face Endurance Challenge 13.1 and we have shared many miles and adventures together. I also gave my dad a call, he and I talk a lot. Yet we always have more to talk about. We talked hockey, podcasts, life, the move out to CO and as always, he provided me with some great encouragement. I made it around the North Table Mountain loop and returned to the clear creek trail. I was officially in the pain cave. It was hot, I was tired and in need of a distraction. I flipped on an episode of Mario Fraioli’s The Morning Shakeout Podcast. I listened to his interview with Mary Cain and was brought to tears by her story and experience. Disordered eating and mental abuse are issues that the sports world and especially running need to address more openly. Mary Cain and others sharing their stories is a huge first step. Sometimes thinking about someone else and their struggles/challenges helps to distract from your own personal challenge, listening to this interview helped take my mind off the task at hand.
I also gave a call to the person with whom I have known for every second of my life, my twin sister Sarah. I do not know anything different; we are the only children that our parents had, but I love being a twin. I did not always love it, but I do now. There is something very special about the bond between twins, knowing that we were brought into the world together ties us together in a way that I assume must be different from siblings of different ages. Sarah and I have not always been close, but we have gotten much closer in our adult years and we are closer now than ever, she is even letting me coach here in her training! We talk openly about our relationships, mental health, family, friends and anything else that might be on the brain. We shared a great conversation highlighted mostly by our disbelief that we are 30.. soon we said our goodbyes and I returned to my pain cave.
Now, the pain cave is an interesting place. It hurts. It sucks. It makes you want to stop. But I search for the pain cave, we often get comfortable being comfortable. The pain cave represents a challenge and one that by going through, will bring growth. Instead of getting comfortable being comfortable, I choose to get comfortable being uncomfortable.
Right when I was deep enough in the pain cave that I could barely see the way out, my support crew came to lift me out. Good friends from High School who live in Denver came to guide me home. Rocco Guaragno joined me on his bike for the last 6ish miles, he brought some heavenly cold water and conversation to distract me from the stiffness that slowed my cadence. Not long after, Kevin Canavan came wheeling up on his skateboard/longboard and with his typical bubbly puppy dog energy, lifted my spirits. Before long Kevin was holding onto Rocco as Rocco sped up down the path on his bike. Not one to miss out on a competitive opportunity, I picked my speed up from a slow slog to under 8-minute pace for the first time all day. While it felt good to change pace, I was running out of gas. The heat, sun and dry air left me dehydrated and my bladder was now completely empty. I relied on Rocco’s water bottle for the remainder of the run and focused on staying right with his bike wheel one step at a time. From the moment I hit mile 20, I was counting down the miles until mile 29 when Nicole was going to join me to run the last mile. She was certainly a sight for sore eyes. Despite the fatigue in my legs, the thirst and hunger that I felt, the twinge in my left ankle that seemed to be getting worse with every step in that last mile, I dug deep and found one last bit of energy to push until the moment my watch hit 30.00.
Afterwards, we shared some laughs, snapped a couple pictures and then drove home. Nicole made me a massive pile of pancakes and (plant based) bacon to feast on. I enjoyed a relaxed 30th birthday, received some wonderful gifts, but the best of all was hearing from so many friends and family. Catching up with people that I haven’t talked to in a while was truly the best part of my day and to cap it off was a 30-minute video from friends and family sharing their birthday wishes for Sarah and me. I’ve been told that turning 30 means I am officially getting old, so maybe I am forgetting other birthdays and I know I have had many special such days, but my 30th was the best yet! Not sure what I will do for my 31st, but running 31 miles sounds like a pretty good start to me.