In the New Testament, Paul wrote very powerfully to the Romans: “…we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience… And patience, experience; and experience, hope… And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us…” (Romans 5:3-5)
Tribulations, or suffering as we might say in 2018, is my friend right now as I try and find any comfortable position. I’m not someone who’s idle very well, so as I sit and reflect on my latest race, I think I should’ve just stayed in bed, or kept to the road.
In an effort to spare wear and tear on my knees from running, I’ve opted to participate in more trail races as dirt is much softer on my body than asphalt or concrete. After quite a bit of searching, I opted for a Cirque Series Trail race. It was close to home, well organized and under 10 miles so the vertical gain would help balance the wear and tear from the descent.
Ten days before the trail race, I was able to preview the course with a very experienced trail running friend, Rachel Moody.
Rachel was great company, an excellent guide and helped me not only navigate the course but provided helpful insight on preparation and what to expect for this race.
I left our course preview feeling excited, well prepared and confident. Thanks again Rachel for being such an awesome friend and guide!
I woke up Saturday feeling well and quickly dressed and made the long drive to Snowbird ski resort up Little Cottonwood Canyon, about 50 minutes from my home. The weather was a little overcast which is perfect for summer running as it keeps the temperatures down and hides the warming sun.
About 30 minutes from Snowbird, I felt an all-too-familiar grumbling in my gut and knew I’d need to find a bathroom. Luckily, there was a restroom right on the way at a trail head up the canyon. I quickly stopped and then was back on the road again.
I picked up my racing packet and started to kill some time looking at race vendor booths when my gut completely took over with 3 additional bathroom stops.
At this point I was a little worried but more perplexed. I wasn’t stressed or nervous and hadn’t eaten anything in the last 72 hours that should upset my gut at all.
When it rained 20 minutes before our scheduled race start (giving us a 15 minute starting delay) I decided to see the moisture as a nice gift to wet the trails just enough to keep the dust down, which would be an added perk with 500 runners along parts of the single-track trail course.
I chatted with a few other runners and was ready to get going when the horn went off at 9:15 am.
I knew the first 4 miles from the base of Snowbird near the Gadzoom lift where we started would be tough, but I felt pretty good.
Up and up we trudged like lemmings, following the runner in front of you. With trail running, you run until it’s so vertical and steep that you just can’t move your body at that motion or speed any more and then you switch to power-hiking.
For me, one challenge with a course like Snowbird, is my legs and stride are long and many runners near me are not. A single track trail course is not the easiest to pass on, especially when we hit the cirque trail route about mile 2.75.
The pace slowed significantly and everyone settled in for the grind. The course preview really helped me mentally as my legs burned and my body was chilled by the 30 mph wind gusts along the cirque route.
Finally after 4.17 miles and 1 hour and 24 minutes, I reached the 10,992 ft summit at the top of Hidden Peak. I didn’t stop at the aide station (I can’t eat anything that’s usually offered anyway) because I was carrying my own water. I felt ready for the last 1.20 mile push to the next peak summit of Mount Baldy.
The race had thinned out quite a bit now and unfortunately I missed a trail marking and ended up adding an extra .35 of mile till I looped around and found the course again. What bothered me more than getting lost (common with trail running) was as soon as I started to run, my gut cramped and seized, giving me killer side stitches. As I continued to run through the cramping and pain, the aching got worse and worse and refused to subside despite stretching, breathing exercises and even walking. As I began the last vertical climb to Mount Baldy, nausea and tired legs kicked in.
In my slowest mile of the race, I finally summited Mount Baldy (11,068 ft) and immediately began to make my way back down. About .30 of mile from Baldy’s summit, we left the main trail and off-trailed down some steep soft dirt and vegetation. Personally, I was really bothered my this turn in the course because I love Utah’s wilderness and feel like we are guests among it’s majestic beauty.
500 people cutting a new trail along Snowbird’s side mountain seemed wrong to me despite the clear trial up ahead (that my friend and I previewed) that would be very technical and probably jam people in it’s chute going down.
Our elevation quickly dropped as we scrambled down and snaked our way along the mountain in the general direction of Snowbird’s iconic tunnel. Again, I was sad to see the perfectly good, cut dirt roads and trails being largely ignored for the sake of lesser mileage or convenience.
My sides and gut severely ached and cramped as I worked my way towards the 600-ft tunnel that would take me from the Mineral Basin side of the resort back through to Peruvian Gulch and the eventual finish line.
Somewhere along the descent, I noticed my upper-back and neck started aching too. Perhaps it was from me squeezing my sides so hard during my descent. Finally, in 2-hours and 59 minutes, 32 seconds I crossed the finish line.
I was surprised to learn that my descent down the mountain in 1:34:39 had taken longer than my ascent up.
I was just so happy to be done and really wanted to sit down and head for home.
Unfortunately, as the day went on, my gut issues subsided a little but the pain in my upper back and neck got extraordinarily worse. By the end of the day, I could not move without excruciating pain. It almost feels like I have whiplash. I had pulled a muscle in my right shoulder earlier in the week and popped a rib out of place, so yesterday’s mountain goat adventure has made it terribly worse; I can’t even take a deep breath.
Today, I manage and wait as I deal with the pain until I can be seen by a massage therapist and my chiropractor tomorrow. I’m icing, hydrating and practicing patience as I try to find a comfortable position. Unfortunately, there’s nothing an ER or MD could do for me besides give me muscle relaxants or narcotics and all that will do is make my Crohn’s disease issues even worse.
Bottom line, I’m grateful for yesterday’s race experience. While I probably won’t sign up with this series again (like I said, the trail-blazing really bothered me) I’ve been reminded of some powerful truths.
Despite my efforts and hard work, there will still be things with my health beyond my control. I don’t want to have Crohn’s disease, but the reality is, this disease can make it’s self known at any time and I just have to roll with it. Preparation helped me finish yesterday’s race because I knew what to expect. I came prepared for a 10-mile course and because I had a rough idea of where I was going and what came next, I didn’t quit despite that probably being the better idea with how I feel now.
The last 18 months of running has actually gone really well for me. If I only spend time at the top of an age group or always in front of a race, I’ll never learn or appreciate the depth and growth that comes from struggle. I know I can do hard things and that hasn’t left me arrogant, but empowered. I might not always be able to control my health and the challenges it brings, but I can choose to keep going despite it’s impact.
Lastly, finishing near the end of a race that’s been hard is 100 times more valuable than winning. So many people are working hard to change their health and the quality of their lives. It takes grit and patience to do so that rarely comes with accolades for all the effort and self-discipline it requires. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be reminded that with running, what’s most important is not winning, but the gift and freedom of being healthy.