It was not long after the Greenland Trail 50k that I stumbled across a timed event called the American Heroes Run up in Longmont, CO. This event was started by the late David Clark who passed away suddenly due to complications from a routine back surgery this past March. David was an incredibly inspiring individual who went from a 320-pound addict to a vegan ultrarunner. He started the “we are superman” movement and inspired countless individuals to get clean, lose weight and run! I never met David but having listened to many podcasts that he was a guest on and hearing how others spoke of him, (not to mention he was a NY Rangers fan!), I could tell how awesome of a person he was and I so wish that he had not passed and I had a chance to meet him. The link below is to a Runners World article written about David and it includes a link to the GoFundMe set up to support his partner, Courtney, and their kids.
The 2020 version of the American Heroes Run was special as it not only continued the tradition of honoring the lives lost and all those impacted by the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001, but it also honored the life of David Clark. Bill Stahl, a local ultrarunner, coach and a friend of David, picked up the race director duties and did a fantastic job putting on a great event. This event takes place on a roughly 1-mile loop at the Rogers Grove Park in Longmont. Participants can choose between 100-mile, 24-hour, 9-hour 11-minute, marathon, half marathon, 9.11 mile, and 5k events. While I was tempted to pick the 100- or 24-hour events, those started on Friday afternoon and I had XC practice with my High School team on Friday afternoon so I elected for the 9-hour 11-minute event. I do not like loop courses, much preferring out and back or point to point courses. However, I am drawn to the backyard ultra-last person standing events and so I knew that getting experience on a repetitive loop course would be fantastic mental training. I drove up Saturday morning, checked in at the table and set up my personal aid station next to a tree. I had brought with me a few Nalgene’s filled with water, Nuun electrolyte mix and some snacks. The event start was fairly anti-climactic with a small group of us standing around and then we were off!
I went into this event without any set goals, however I figured if I had a really good day, I might be able to run further than I ever had before which was 51 miles at the North Face Endurance Challenge in 2018. I thought there might be a chance to get in 100k which would be pretty awesome but I tried to keep my expectations low and focus on just doing one lap at a time. I found myself running alone very quickly and while I had brought my phone and headphones with a couple audiobooks and podcasts queued up, I elected to spend the first 10 miles enjoying the morning air and the views of Longs Peak and the surrounding Rocky Mountains! I was clicking off mid 8’s to low 9’s no problem but I felt myself starting to feel the weight of all that was in front of me. I put in my headphones and got Becoming by Michelle Obama playing. The soothing voice of our former first lady extraordinaire kept me distracted from my fatiguing muscles and the ever-climbing temperatures.
I passed by many incredible individuals who were slowly and steadily ticking off laps in their 100 mile or 24 hour pursuits. One individual completed her 9.11 miles over dirt and gravel trail in her wheelchair! I drew inspiration from all of these people who were doing incredible things. I was passed a few times by one individual in superman socks who was running the marathon. He wasn’t running much faster than me when he passed me for the third or fourth time and so I decided to link up with him for a few laps. I shut off my headphones and ditched my pack to lighten the load a bit. We talked some and ran in silence together, sharing the struggle of the small hills that now felt mountainous and basking in the shady spots that were becoming fewer and fewer as the sun rose above us. Another individual joined us soon after and the three of us ticked off the last few laps of the marathon together. And then, they were done and I was not. Luckily one individual that I had ran a bit with, his name was Adam, was doing the 9 hour event as well. We decided to stick together and we settled into a rhythm of running, walking, running and walking. We held each other accountable and set markers for ourselves of where to walk and where to run again, we developed a strategy for using the small uphill sections to recover and the flatter and slightly downhill areas to gather ourselves and run some more. Adam brought a lot of knowledge and experience to the table as he was a veteran of many timed events and hundred milers. He knew that we could clock 12-13 minute miles even with some short walking breaks. By this point the dream of 100k was all but gone and 50 miles was starting to like highly doubtful. But I was enjoying running with Adam and the heat was really taking a toll on both of us so we just kept putting one foot in front of the other without thinking about goals. We struggled mightily with the heat and we simply couldn’t take in enough water to replenish what we were losing and the sun was zapping our energy.
Each time we crossed the finish line a TV screen would display our total distance covered, overall place and the pace of our last lap. I had been in 1st for the 9-hour event and had a 4-lap lead over Adam and the rest of the field, but as Adam and I continued to walk/run a woman who we had seen throughout the day just continued to jog along in a steady gear. She lapped us once, then twice and then a third time! Soon she was within 3 laps of me and while I was focused on running my own race, I couldn’t help but start to feel the competitive juices coming back. I hit 40 miles at about the same time that Adam told me he needed to take a break. We had run together for hours and he was instrumental in getting me through some really tough stretches. He had driven out the previous day from Minnesota and was dealing with some altitude issues along with the fact that it was 85+ and sunny! With no one to run with I decided to just let my body set the pace. I did some quick math and figured out that all I needed to do was run 10 miles in the last 1:50 and I would get 50 miles. This might sound fairly easy when you think about going out and running 10 miles at a 10 minute pace, try doing it when you have 40 miles in the legs and are dealing with fairly serious dehydration.. I clicked off 8:39 and then another 8:39 and despite feeling really good, it was not a pace that I could hold for another 90 minutes. I settled into a run, walk, run rhythm that certainly did not feel good but was manageable. I had been trying very hard not to use any of the plastic water bottles that were provided by the race and instead refill my bottles, but by this point I couldn’t be picky. Each time I went past the aid station table I grabbed a plastic water bottle, dumped some over my head and took some sips, then dumped the rest on my head.
By this point the shorter races were completed and the participants in the 24 hour and 100-mile events had almost all called it a day. Anyone left on the 1-mile loop had realized that they were walking in their last lap or two, but not me. I knew that I had to squeeze in a few more laps to hit 50 miles. I trudged onwards and managed to clock 10:44, 10:41, 10:05 and 10:36 for the last 4 miles. I came through in what I had hoped would be my final lap and was .15 short. And so, I went through the finish line area one last time and looped around the bathroom area of the park and hit 50 miles on the dot with a few minutes to spare.
Running a timed event is MUCH different from any distance events I have done before. When you have a distance to complete and a set finish line to get to you can power through tough sections with the realization that each step brings you closer to the end. In a timed event it is completely up to you how much you want to run; you can quit at any point! To make matters worse, each time you come around the 1-mile loop you see your car waiting in the parking lot and have this opportunity to throw in the towel. It was fantastic mental training to find the will to go back out for another loop even when your muscles, joints, bones and your mind is screaming to stop. I learned a lot from this experience which at the end of the day is the main objective. Learn, improve and adapt so that for future challenges you can dial things in even more and get the desired result.
Most importantly it was wonderful to be a part of the ultra-running community again. I met a ton of awesome people, was cheered on by the great volunteers and timing company all day and I got to see a ton of people do things that many would think are impossible. I met an individual who had never run over 20 miles (which he had done the week before) and he was in the 24-hour event and ran 75+ miles! I saw two guys hit the 100-mile mark with the support and help of their crews. There were people who looked half dead that found a second wind and managed to will their bodies to continue moving!
We can do anything we set our minds to!