Well, it has been a while since my last blog post.. I am planning to be more consistent with my blogging moving forward now that I AM SIGNED UP FOR A 100 MILER!!! Last spring my blog was all about sharing my training for the VT100 (which was then canceled). I am now signed up for Mace’s Hideout 100 on June 5th, so I plan to share updates over the next 3 months with how my training is going. Since my last blog post I started my own podcast! The Training With Tucker Podcast is findable wherever you listen to your podcasts: Apple, Google, Spotify etc., and I have 6 episodes out at this point. I am putting out one episode per week right now and it has been a learning experience so far to say the least.
Now before we move on to the 100 miler, this blog post is my recap of my most recent race, the Arches 50 Miler on January 30th, 2021. In short, if you ever want to run an ultra, do it in Moab, UT. What a beautiful place to run! I won’t say it will make it any easier, but personally I found running 50 miles to be much more enjoyable with spectacular views of red rocks, a glorious sunrise, snow-capped mountain views in the background and perfect running weather. Nicole and I got to Moab on Friday afternoon, the drive alone from Denver to Moab is worth the trip. We checked into the Big Horn Lodge, which had a bit of "The Shining" vibes.. After checking in, we went into Arches National Park and did a very nice two-mile hike to Landscape Arch and two other smaller arches. It felt great to move the legs after the long drive out. We then went back to the ole Lodge and had dinner which was homemade vegan lasagna (aka the dinner of champions) made by yours truly. I checked in with Chase Harris, one of my clients, who was the whole reason I signed up for this event! He was staying a few rooms down with his girlfriend Nikki, their friend Steph and their 3 dogs! It was a packed room to say the least. Chase and I chatted about how we were feeling and made plans to meet up in the morning at the race start. Nicole and I returned to our room to relax and get some sleep. I never sleep well the night before a race, so we flipped on the TV for some background noise. We found The Wolf of Wall Street on TV, which happened to be at the point in the movie when Jordan Belfort is telling his employees that he is not leaving. It was all the motivation I needed.
I never sleep that well when I have an early wake up, I'm always afraid to oversleep. So, while my alarm was set for 4:30 to eat breakfast, I woke up at 3:30 and decided I would eat then and go back to sleep. With no toaster, I was left to eat a peanut butter and banana sandwich. I drank some Nuun mix with water and went back to sleep for a bit. I got up around 5:30, got dressed and headed on over to the start area. It rained overnight and the temps dropped in the early morning into the teens, so the cars were all iced over (foreshadowing for the first two miles of the race). Despite how cold it was that morning, I knew I would warm up fast and the day would see temperatures reaching the 40’s. So, I took my place in the corral for wave 1 with shorts, my singlet and a windbreaker on as well as gloves, a hat and my headlamp. At 6:30 AM, 10 of us were released into the dark morning and we took our first steps on our 50-mile journey. The waves were selected based on Ultrasignup ranking. Any race results in Ultrasignup.com’s database feed into a percentage ranking based on your age, gender and placing in previous events. If you do not have any results in their database, such as was the case with Chase, you would be placed after those who did have a ranking.
Based on my previous results I managed to be in the first wave, the 10 of us took off on the paved bike path for the first two miles. I had asked the race director that morning if spikes were needed, to which he said no. After getting through the event I would agree, no spikes were needed. HOWEVER, the first two miles made me question my decision. The bike path was a sheet of ice. The rain from the night before had frozen solid in a layer of black ice across this paved 2-mile section so I elected to run alongside of the path, jumping little bushes as they came along. We took a tunnel down underneath the highway and it was at this point (again foreshadowing), that I realized the course was not as well marked as it maybe needed to be. The leaders took a turn off of the bike path and luckily, I only ran an extra hundred yards before they realized the mistake and turned back. We got back on the bike path and continued on. As we made our way through the moonlit night, I began to hear some voices chatting away behind me. They seemed far off but were getting closer. I figured these were the individuals from wave 2 that were catching up to us. Sure enough, by the time we turned onto the dirt single track section the leaders from wave 2 were behind us. I led a group of 6 of us along the single track, doing my best to stay on the trail. The full moon was impressive and while it provided a good amount of light, the headlamp came in very handy to follow the blazes and stay on track. After about 5 miles, the trail widened and we came to our first aid station. I used this opportunity to let the group of three individuals from wave 2 pass by, and before long they were out of sight! I took off my jacket as it was already warming up nicely and I fell into a rhythm with a guy from Virginia name Mikey. This was his first 50 miler and we had similar goals for how to pace the first half of the race. We entered a section of slickrock that is essentially a massive pale rocky surface with all sorts of dips and dimples. The sections of the race on this slickrock were very challenging. The hardest part was that, unlike running on trails, there was no defined path, the only thing distinguishing the course from the rest of the slickrock was a painted dashed line that squiggled and serpentined its way along. I was very grateful to have Mikey alongside as we helped each other stay on track, catching each other when we came close to missing to sharp turns.
Mikey and I made it through the slickrock section, got to the next aid station and continued on our way. Around mile 14, we hit a rocky descent. Even though I wore a brace on my left ankle, I stepped on the edge of a rock and rolled my ankle pretty badly. The pain shot through my foot and leg, and I was left limping for a couple minutes until the pain subsided. We got to the mile 15ish aid station, where Mikey’s wife was volunteering. She along with all of the volunteers on course were fantastic all day at refilling water bottles, giving updates on placement, motivating us, and providing us with great fuel to keep us going, such as PB&J’s, pretzels, chips and more. The two of us settled into a wonderful rhythm where we were running stride for stride, loping along a dirt road that allowed us to run side by side and share great conversation. We got a little off course around mile 21, but luckily not as bad as others in front of us, and so a volunteer was able to yell to us to get us back on course.
Backing up a little bit, Mikey and I had 6 people in front of us at mile 5, we passed one individual around mile 15 and then another at mile 22, both individuals were already suffering a fair amount and it was a good reminder how things can go sideways at any point during an ultra. We cruised into the mile 26 aid station where we had our drop bags stashed. Mikey had told me as we came into this aid station that he was going to take a break to stretch out a bit, and so I should go on without him. I could see the 4th place runner a half mile or so ahead of us and so I quickly refilled my bottles, grabbed some pretzels and headed out for the longest stretch between aid stations: 9 miles. Now that I was running alone and still feeling very good, I decided to go into hunt mode. I was excited by the prospect of pulling back the runners in front of me. My strategy for the day was to be conservative in the first half so that I would still have good energy and feel strong in the second half. Now into the second half, I was ready to push it! I knew the toughest climb was from mile 28-30ish and by the time I hit the bottom of that climb, again up a slickrock surface, I could see 4th place out in front of me. He had decided to walk the hill, so I decided this was a great time to close the gap and I kept a steady pace going uphill.
In my first ultramarathon, the North Face 50k in Virginia in April of 2017, I had seen one individual peeing as he walked uphill. Now, I don’t think this is something you necessarily need to do in an ultra, but since I was all alone, I decided give it a shot and pee while hiking up this hill. Who knows the time saved by doing this, but all in all, I would say it is worth doing if you are not going to reveal yourself to others and can keep moving without making too much of a mess. TMI? Well it’s running, so hope not.
After this brief walk break, I got back into a jog and caught 4th place soon after. I chatted with him briefly to see how he was doing and also gauge how far ahead the next runners were. He told me that the two women who were in first and second were at least 5 minutes ahead of him and the guy in third place was 2-3 minutes ahead. That was all I needed to hear, and I went back into hunt mode. Now there were only 3 in front of me and I wanted to catch them all!!
The views in these next few miles were spectacular, this was the highest point on the course and you could see for what seemed like forever! I pushed on alone and felt very good, the fueling was solid, the pace was solid. This 9-mile stretch was a loop that came back to the same aid station that we had hit at mile 26. This was a great boost of energy, as I started passing many individuals who were going the other way, it was great to wave and cheer each other on as we passed. I also was very happy to be on my way towards the finish line and not be still heading away. By the time I got back to the aid station, I could see 3rd place. I took off on the long dirt road determined to reel him in! The nice thing about long roads is that you can see a long way; the downside is that it can be hard to see the progress when trying to catch up to someone. However, after a couple miles I managed to bring back 3rd place. We were both very happy to have someone to run with, as we had been running alone for a bit. Matt, like Mikey, was also running his first 50 miler and in fact, his first time going over the marathon distance! That being said, he is no rookie. He's a 2:30 marathoner and proved his fitness on this day. Matt informed me that his friends Sarah and Jenny were the two women who were leading the race, however Jenny had not checked in at the last aid station and so it seemed that she had taken a wrong turn. While this was really unfortunate for her, and not a great look on the race as she was having a phenomenal day, it meant that Matt and I were now battling for 2nd overall. Matt, Sarah and Jenny all started in wave 2 and so they all had a 3 minute advantage on me. I knew that if I was going to beat Matt, I would need to gap him by over 3 minutes. However, I was really happy to have someone to run with and truth be told, the miles were starting to get harder and longer. Matt is also a running coach and so we chatted in depth about how we got into coaching, the challenges we face in coaching and much more. We also chatted about the upcoming Super Bowl and who we thought was going to win. Matt dealt with some calf tightness that led him to need some walk breaks, and soon after I started dealing with ankle instability that made it very hard to keep a decent pace. And so, we continued to grind along, taking walk breaks when we needed and running when we could. We climbed a muddy hilly, we descended some tight switchbacks, we refueled at aid stations and kept moving forward. We got to a rocky climb in the last 5 miles and as I took a big step upward, I lost all momentum and was perched there precariously, unable to find the strength to push myself upwards, Matt quickly grabbed my arm and pulled me up. This moment of teamwork, along with Matt’s commitment to stick with me even when I needed to hobble along due to my ankle, was very heartwarming. The running community is so strong and supportive, having Matt to suffer with and support me when I needed was very uplifting.
As we got closer to the return trip under the highway and back down the bike path to the finish line, I saw a photographer up ahead. I was determined to look like a runner and so I forced myself into what I thought was a good-looking stride. As I got up to the photographer I looked over and realized it was Nicole, I had been so in the zone I hadn’t even noticed that she had run across the highway to snag some pictures. It was so great seeing her and revitalized me to run it in.
Matt and I pushed the pace as much as we could down the last mile stretch and crossed the line with Matt taking the well deserved second place overall and I was happy to snag 3rd. (Had I known there was only one awesome wooden arch trophy for first male, I may have found a reserve to try and push for a 3-minute gap. But oh well).
It was an incredible day. My official time was 7:35:26, a 50-mile PR of over 90 minutes and it helped me prove to myself that I can do some special things in the sport of mountain and ultra-trail running. Every time you toe the line you (should) learn something that you can take into future races/training etc. I learned several things, one of which was never underestimate women! Sarah Cummings ran a blistering fast 6:54:17 to win, the 5th fastest time ever run on this course! I am posting this on International Women’s Day, March 8th 2021. So, it seems very fitting to celebrate Sarah’s accomplishment as well as that of Jenny who despite getting lost, still managed to finish in just over 8 hours and the 4th fastest female finish ever, and all of the incredible women who tested their limitations at Arches. We need more women in the sport of trail and ultra-running, I hope that reading this may inspire someone to be the next Sarah Cummings to go out and beat all the boys by over 30 minutes!!
That night, Chase, Nikki, Steph, Nicole and I raised a beer to celebrate a great day in a beautiful place. We capped off the night with some takeout Thai food that, truth be told, wasn’t the highest quality, but might have been the best post-race meal I’ve ever had.
My ankle continued to give me some problems for a few weeks after Arches, and I am working hard to strengthen it along with my feet and lower legs. I am now 1 week into my official training block for my first 100 miler. I am excited, apprehensive, scared and most importantly, I am ready! I know that I can finish 100 miles and that is what I will do. These next 3 months will prepare me specifically for this event, but it is the past decade plus of training that will get me to the finish line! Follow along for updates along the way.