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A Race Experience Abroad – The Amsterdam Marathon

A Race Experience Abroad – The Amsterdam Marathon

Running is such an amazing sport because it constantly introduces you to new people and places. Headsweats Ambassador Kim Cowart experienced this first-hand when she had the opportunity to race in the Amsterdam Marathon earlier this month. Read more about Kim’s experience in Amsterdam and what she learned from racing in another country!

My three passions in life are running, writing and traveling.  My dream is to combine all three writing about my running adventures in far away places.  My most recent adventure was at the Amsterdam Marathon.

What set this race apart from so many other big races is there were three races in one day: the full marathon, a half-marathon and an 8K.  The day before the race, we took part on the Good Morning City run which was an easy jog through Amsterdam.  Four miles later we had a better idea of the layout of the city and had already seen many of the highlights.

Because the streets in Amsterdam are quite narrow, the start times were staggered.  Full marathoners began at 9:30.  The course was a loop course, starting and finishing in Olympic Stadium.  Spectators dotted the stand above, giving them full views of all the action on the track.

The energy was electric with music pumping at the start, and big screens around the stadium so we could see the elites take off.  Five minutes after they began, I crossed the same start line.

Amsterdam is the most beautiful European city I’ve ever seen.  The weather was a perfect 50 degrees with plenty of shade from the gorgeous trees lining every street.  The half marathon course follows most of the full course.  The advantage of the full marathoners is we got to run around the Amstel River which offered the most scenic, bucolic views.  Horses running across the fields, sheep grazing in the pasture.  Yes, we even ran by a few iconic windmills.  I had to pinch myself to make sure it was all real.

A view from the race course.

While this is only my second European marathon experience, I have traveled to numerous other big marathons like New York and Boston.  Here are a few points that set Amsterdam apart from the rest of the pack.

First, the race is cheap.  At around $80, this race is by far the cheapest big city race I’ve ever run.  By comparison I paid over $250 to run New York and $180 to run Boston.  Half marathoners only paid $45 to run through the streets of Amsterdam.  The support didn’t suffer; in fact, it was even better than some of the bigger races with plenty of water, energy drink, food and bathrooms along the course.

Second, there was music at every kilometer along the race.  I didn’t know what a difference this would make in my mood until around the 10K mark I realized I was starting to look forward to the bands and DJ’s that dotted the course.  A marathon is 42 kilometers.  So, yes, there were 42 music stations to keep us pumped and it worked.

Third, we started and finished in Olympic Stadium.  Not only was it just plain cool to run around the stadium, but it made it easy for spectators to cheer on their runners.

Fourth, there were a variety of distances to choose from.  Most big city races limit themselves to the full marathon, and for good reason.  Logistically it’s difficult to close down the streets on a Saturday or Sunday.  Accommodating tens of thousands of runners can be a challenge as well.  But Amsterdam made it happen.  By staggering the start times, more than 35,000 people ran either the full marathon, half marathon or 8K.

Finally, the views were spectacular.  It was like running through a postcard.  Every turn offered stunning views of canals and tree-lined streets.  While many streets are cobblestone, we avoided most of that.  My legs were grateful.

With my finisher’s medal!

It wasn’t all roses.  I was disappointed at the finish line offerings.  The only food at the finish was bananas.  There was water, but only in little cups.  There was also plenty of Isostar, their energy drink of choice, but my stomach did not agree, so we declined.  There were food trucks, but I wasn’t willing to spend money on them.  They did distribute free toothpaste, so there’s that.  I would recommend packing some extra food in your drop bag.  I didn’t and I lived to regret it.

Also, more than 16,000 runners ran the full marathon.  European streets are narrow.  This makes for a tricky start.  I had no intention of racing, so I was fine with going with the flow.  There is an attempt to organize runners by pace at the beginning, but they aren’t strict about it so there were quite a few people who started at the front and slowed the crowd.  It wasn’t until mile 10 I felt I could find a comfortable stride.

My last complaint would be transportation.  We did a dry run on the busses to the stadium, only to wake up race morning to find the busses were shut down.  Not even the concierge at our hotel knew that would happen, so we scrambled to find a taxi that could get us somewhat close to the stadium.  Getting back to the hotel after was tricky, too.  We walked quite a ways until we could find a tram to the hotel.  I ran with some money just in case, and I was glad I did.

Overall I loved the Amsterdam Marathon.  I would do it again in a heartbeat.  I love the diversity.  I loved the energy.  I loved the beauty.  This flat course is well-worth your money.



Ironwoman and Headweats-sponsored Athlete completed Ö TILL Ö – otherwise known as “One of the toughest 1-Day races in the world.” That’s right, WORLD. Here’s her recap of the race:

Written by Penny Comins

Penny with her race partner Renata at start of the race.
Penny with her race partner Renata at start of the race.

Being the only kiwi that has ever raced I felt I had to knock this one off. As the waves rushed up the rock face, crashing me against them and then sucking me out as quickly as they had compressed me, I was more worried about my life than representing my country. Drawing on my rock climbing lessons at school I looked for finger holds and pulled up on the wave, scrambling with hand paddles failing around my wrists and my pool buoy trying to separate my legs, I made it out of the water. No time to soothe myself as we had to press on. Time to engage legs and run, and scramble. This was the Swim-Run World Championships in Sweden. My partner Renata and I were deep into the race, learning on the job. 22 islands, 65 kilometres of running, 10 kilometres of swimming.

A neutral start set us off on the first island of Sandhamn. The sun rose through the cloud in a star formation, symbolic for the adventure that lay ahead. We were a bundle of nerves. So many questions that had stirred around in us couldn’t be answered until we were actually doing the event. Hitting the water for the first time and swimming to a flashing beacon showed us just how raw and open this race was going to be.

On paper, the race sounded achievable; O till O is 75 kilometres of racing over the Stockholm Archipelago, the second largest in the Baltic Sea. Broken down, the longest swim was 1,650 meters while the longest run was 20 kilometres near the end of the race on the longest island Orno. Completed in pairs, my partner Renata was an accomplished Irish long-distance triathlete. We mused for weeks over kit and how the distances broken down would be achievable. We had tried to calculate our splits being very generous on the timings to allow for getting in and out of the water. With these times laminated and glued to my swim paddles we thought we would have a tough day but make all five cut offs and finish in time for beers before dinner.

O till O Race 2013

The first island was nature’s slap in the face, timings went out the window as our focus shifted to getting through each cut off with time to spare. Our mantra was always to ‘keep moving forwards.’ We were told repeatedly to not stop moving at any time. The rocky shoreline, boulders and slippery granite that greeted us was not conducive for a nice easy running flow. We got down to a fast scramble and picked our path along the shore, through scrub and over boulders following carnival tape hanging from trees.

O till O Race 2013

We were told at the briefing that we had to go around the side of several islands due to land ownership issues; we were cursing the owner after 4,400 meters of wobbly walk/running in ankle deep waters.

Prior to the race I had been in contact with the previous winning woman’s team; they had said to get your ‘in’s and outs’ practiced. If you waste five minutes with each entry and exit over 22 islands that equates to three and a half hours of dead time. Simply, we would never make the cut offs if we mucked around. We had a decided to verbalize our process as trying to put your goggles on when you already have your hand paddles on just wouldn’t work. “Pull buoy, goggles, paddles, push off.”

Once in the water it was nice to cool the legs. Each island had a yellow flag on the shore that we had to sight towards or in the swims over a kilometre a flashing strobe light. Without the comfort of buoys marking the course, we could take any line we liked. The rules state you must be 10 meters from your partner at any time; many using a tow rope. We trailed a rope but found that it was more hindrance than help and opted for looking out for each other. This added to the adventure when the current was ripping between the islands pushing us out to sea. Having been brought up near the beach in New Zealand I didn’t find this too stressful and just swam in a vector to the current. For my Irish teammate this was a new sensation and she nearly missed the exit points several times, showing how nature has the final say each time. This made for interesting swims watching out for her while still navigating to each exit. The birds flew above while jellyfish pulsed below, an overwhelming feeling of being in nature rushed me many times. We were really doing this!

Climbing out of the rough water onto equally rough terrain
Climbing out of the rough water onto equally rough terrain

We made it through the nine am cut off with 25 minutes to spare. This was going to be a tough fought race with nature; our minds and the time checkpoints. The course headed west for four islands before a crossing of 500 meters to head south. The weather forecast had given us favourable winds for the day pushing us to the final island Uto. Due to the nature of being 60 kilometres off the coast of Sweden in the Baltic Sea several storms rolled through bringing thunder and hail at times but these were brief and almost a relief when running in our wetsuit.

Either the favourable weather or the fact that this year’s race was the SwimRun World Championship where teams had to qualify through the Uto swim race or merit meant that of the 114 teams on the start line 99 made it to the finish, the highest completion rate in the eight year history of the race. Last year only two woman’s teams finished and this year nine of the 13 finished indicating the level of participant that the race now attracts. 120 teams were given slots from over 300 applicants and with the use of qualification or merit proved to be a winning formula meant the top teams pushed each other harder than in previous years. The record of nine hours and 15 minutes set in 2011 was smashed by 32 minutes this year.

O till O Race 2013

Sprint prizes throughout the race kept the teams pushing all the way. The Red Bull sprint prize was first on the island of Rumaro and won by Team NybrovikenRib passed the line in first, which was the same as last year. Followed by Paul and Björn of team Head swimming and Lelle and Magnus who were last year’s winners.

However at the Addnature sprint prize, 24 kilomteres in to the race the order had changed to Paul and Björn in the lead while Magnus and Lelle had used their prior course knowledge and over taken Nybroviken Rib, Simon and Rasmus.

The last 15 kilometres was a test of who had paced their race in a way to have enough gas for the last half of the 20 kilometre run and then five more islands to hop over. As Michael and Mats, race organizers, had said in the race briefing, this is where the strong get stronger and the weak get weaker.

O TILL O - Island Hopping Race

Coming up the last hill dubbed ‘Devil’s Hill’ to the finish line at Utö Värdshus Björn and Paul of Team Head swimming held their lead and won Ö till Ö 2013 World Championship in a winning time of 8 hours and 35 minutes. Lelle and Magnus followed seven minutes after. Simon and Rasmus of Team NybrovikenRib rounded the podium off. A total of four teams finished under nine hours, a new record that tested the logistics team of the race.

In the woman’s it was a one horse race with mother-daughter team Puppy TS of Bibben and Lotta leading the whole way and setting a new course record of 10 hours and 55 minutes placing 21st overall. Last years winners Helena and Linda of Lisa’s Cafe finished second and Sanna and Victoria, Team Cougar completed the set. In the Mixed competition Team Freddan and Ankan smashed the last record in 10 hours 33 minutes, a compelling 15th overall. Björn and Marika of Team Adeptic came in second with Erica and Thomas of Team Bisnode pushed hard for third.

Meanwhile Team PenRen, the Irish and Kiwi girls were ticking off the islands one by one. Without Renata knowing, I had set my watch fast by 10 minutes so every checkpoint we went through we had a bit more to spare than she thought. Still, we were not on our times, down to the wire and starting to fade. Renata’s shoulders started to feel the strain of the paddles and the longer swims in waters of 10 to 16 degrees she was feeling the cold. Luckily running in our cut off wetsuits and swim caps meant she warmed up quickly. Momentarily we did wonder how we got in to this crazy race as we came to rock faces to climb over, ducked under branches, wove through reeds and swam in grey silt filled inlets all in our wetsuits, caps, paddles and a pull buoy tired to our leg.

O TILL O 2013

Getting through the 1,400 meter swim from MörtöKlobb – Kvinnoholmen was the demon we had in our minds as the current is tough in the exposed swim and has taken athletes up to an hour in the past. We got across the straight and out the other side relatively unscathed. It was the 20 kilometre run on Orno that showed us this was an ultra race in every proportion. We decided to take our wetsuits to our waist and run this section hard to make the six pm cut-off at the south end of the island. Once we passed here we could take as long as we wanted to get the finish.

We struck several hurdles when the terrain became rocky and slippery so we had to run the gravel road section hard. Renata’s body wanted to shut down but she fought hard to hold her legs together and support her shoulders that stabbed with every jarring step. After the feed station we had an hour and 20 minutes to cover 7,900 meters. “Easy,” I hear you say. Not so when you have been in and out of the water all day covering 60 kilometres. We were reduced to a walk-run strategy and chatted with other teams who too were just ‘moving forward.’ We made the cut off by 30 minutes and gave garbled whopping interviews to the TV cameras at the timing zone. Mats said he would see us at the end for beers in the hotel, a great touch for the race directors to be out on the course.

O TILL O 2013

Only 7,100 meters and five islands lay between the finish and us. We totally underestimated the enormity of this simple thought; coupled with the sun going down and the current ripping around the smaller islands made for a rock n roll entry and exit at each island. Tired, slightly delirious, and starting to swell from the exposure we smashed over the islands in and out of the water. Each time we got out there were more people cheering us on yet the wind had picked up and Renata was shivering uncontrollably. Some blueberry soup at the last feed station helped as we pushed on not wanting to be swimming in the dark. The last exit was emotional as that was when the swimming was over. We ran-walked to the finish under the orange sun sliding to the horizon. As we got closer to Devil Hill, the hotel and finish line sat on top, Renata got a new lease of energy and bolted to the top and across the line. Her first words ‘Can I have a big beer for me and my mate?!’

O TILL O 2013

2014 entries open in February with qualification or merit the way in to the swimrun World Championship.

 For more info on the race, visit:

2012 San Diego Triathlon Challenge a Success

2012 San Diego Triathlon Challenge a Success

Haven Shepherd leading the pack in the kids run at SDTC
October 21, 2012 marked the “best day in triathlon” as over 750 participants (200 of which were physically challenged athletes) gathered at La Jolla Cove for the 19th annual Aspen Medical Products San Diego Triathlon Challenge (SDTC). Athletes completed a 1 mile swim, 44 mile bike, and 10 mile run as individuals or as part of a relay team.

Among those participating were pro athletes like Jordan Rapp, Chris “MACCA” McCormack, Sarah Piampiano and Jamie Whitmore, legends like Bill Walton and Scott Tinley, celebrities like stars of ABC’s The Bachelor, and dozens of Paralympians home from London. This year’s event raised over $1.2 million for Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) to help physically challenged athletes be able to participate in the sports they love.

The weekend got started on October 18, with plenty of opportunities for challenged athlete kids to participate in forums, clinics, a family picnic, and more fun activities. Thanks to the tireless efforts of volunteers, kids were able to play, explore their abilities, and learn from experienced athletes.

The San Diego Triathlon Challenge rounded out the weekend on Sunday, October 21. The best day in triathlon kicked off with the parade of athletes and without hesitation the 19th annual SDTC was underway! The 24 Hour Fitness Tour de Cove and Kaiser Permanent Thrive 5k all later commenced creating a trifecta of inspiration, fun, and fitness down at La Jolla Cove.

“You never know true inspiration until you’re inspired by people who rise above their abilities, and CAF and its competitors started the spark.” – Stephen Groce of Sport Chalet

Check out all the photos from the day’s race here. And for more details and footage of the day’s event, click here. Headsweats is so happy to have been a sponsor of CAF and part of the Triathlon Challenge – it was a day of inspiration and motivation for all.

We’d like to also share the story behind Haven Shepherd – who’s featured in the photo above: Haven Shepherd is a bubbly energetic 9-year old who loves to run and play with her friends and six brothers and sisters. Her parents have even appropriately nick-named her “Tigger” after the playful tiger that won’t stop bouncing around. Born in Vietnam out of wedlock, her parents were so ashamed that they committed a family suicide resulting in the parents’ death and the loss of both of Haven’s legs as a baby. She was adopted by the Shepherd family from Missouri and immediately fit into a family of athletes. Last year, CAF granted Haven her first pair of running legs and she has already competed in a school track meet. She is shown here running for the second year in a row at the San Diego Triathlon Challenge Kids Run. Haven was awarded our Catch a Rising Star honor this year and we believe there is no stopping her now.

IRONMAN World Championship Race Report

IRONMAN World Championship Race Report

Who watched the NBC broadcast of the 2012 Ironman World Championship this past Saturday? To all those who’ve been following Ironman religiously over the past weeks and months, Headsweats is happy to share one athlete’s personal story. Brady Murray shares his personal race recap along with some incredible photos of this year’s Ironman. Brady races to raise money for RODS (Racing for Orphans with Down Syndrome). Check out his website here for more information.

It’s hard to believe the Ironman World Championship has come and gone. What an incredible experience! Everything couldn’t have gone better and I’m thankful for the opportunity to race. I want to thank Headsweats for your support on my journey to Kona and especially for getting the RODS visors to Kona in time! That was huge!

Ironman and this year’s presenting sponsor did some remarkable things for RODS Racing and the child I was racing for.  I’m excited to see this story told. Read on for my full race report:

Race day started at 3:20 a.m. when the alarm clock welcomed me into the days activities. The normal race day jitters and nervousness was strangely not there right from the beginning. Instead of nervousness I was feeling excitement! It was time for the big dance and I couldn’t wait. I knew I had done everything in my power to prepare for this race and I was ready.

The morning of the race

I made my way down to the start. I was among the first athletes to arrive. One of the first things they have us do is get a number stamped on your arms. The energy was huge from the very beginning. With race number 137 successfully tattooed for the day I then stepped on the scales for a weigh in. I’ve never actually been weighed at a race check in. I wish they would have weighed me after to compare. I bet I lost a few pounds in water weight.

I then put my race nutrition on my bike that had been carefully calculated to give me the correct amount of calories at the right time of the race. This is such a huge part of the race and cannot be overlooked. Regardless of the amount of hours trained, without enough gas in the tank it doesn’t matter how well tuned the engine is.

By now there were a lot of athletes starting to pour in. About this time is when I was introduced to an NBC Sports camera crew. They started filming me prepping my bike. It was a little uncomfortable at first, but then I found it to be kind of fun. The other Kona Inspired athletes started to arrive for the day as well. We have all become very good friends. I feel like I knew them all from their videos. To get to meet them in person was great. To get to race with them was even better.

As the horizon started to brighten, I knew it was time. I put on my speed suit from Aqua Sphere and checked in my morning clothes bag and made it back to the start just in time for the pros to start the race. With the pros gone, it was time for all of us to enter the water. 25 minutes until the cannon goes off!

Stepping into the ocean increased the excitement even more. I swam out so I could see if I could see my family sitting on the cement wall that was lining the bay. Sure enough, I saw them all there with their RODS Racing shirts on. I got their attention and then made my way out to the starting buoy. I’ll never forget looking back at all the spectators lined along the bay. There were also many hundred athletes still filing into the water. Mike Reilly, the voice of Ironman, started to give us the estimated time before the start. 10 minutes, then 5 minutes, then 1 minute. By this time I was like a 10 year old on Christmas morning waiting to open presents. We were all stacked in there which made it impossible to tread water without having contact with other swimmers. A warm up of things to come. Then the countdown, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, BOOM! Instantly the blue ocean water looked like it was boiling. All you could see was white water and arms flying all around. Immediately I started hitting into other swimmers all trying to make forward progress. It was utter chaos! I had never been in a swim start quite like that one. I found myself trying to avoid being kicked but at the same time, not backing off one bit. This lasted for a few minutes before things started to normalize and the rhythm of the swim strokes started to settle.

Within 5 minutes of starting I got behind a swimmer who was going slightly faster than I was. Perfect! I slipped in right behind him and started to draft. Drafting in the swim is perfectly legal and can be a big advantage to conserve energy and pick up a few minutes as well. It’s amazing how much it helps having someone break the water in front of you as you focus on staying right on their toes. I stayed so close to this swimmer that I found myself tapping his toes every time my arms came forward in my stroke. I worried that this might be annoying for him, but he just kept on swimming and I kept on following. The other advantage of doing this is you aren’t required to site as much. As long as the swimmer you are following is going straight, you can keep your head in the water. This was also nice because I loved looking at all the fish during the race. It was a nice distraction.

The entire way out I stayed right on this swimmers feet. There is a big sailboat at the turnaround which gets pretty congested. I had to work hard to stay behind him, but I managed and before I knew it, we were on our way back after having just swam the first 1.2 miles. Heading back into shore was much faster. The current was pushing us and I think we all were excited to get on the bike. The entire swim seemed fairly congested, but I later found out from Andrea that I was swimming in a group of 15+ swimmers and there weren’t any other swimmers in front or behind us when we came in.

Getting through transition was quick. I had a camera man following me which I wasn’t necessarily ready for, but it was fun. And just like that I was on the bike riding up the infamous Palani Road. The first 10 or so miles weaves through town where there are hundreds of spectators all cheering. You honestly feel like a rock star in this race with all the fans cheering. My legs felt great and all systems were checking out well. After weaving through the city streets there is a steep climb going up Palani and then on to the Queen K. Once you make it to the highway it settles down and you can get into a groove for the remaining 102 miles.

20 miles into the ride there were a lot of other bikers. Swimming is my weakest discipline which means I typically pass a lot of bikers the first 20-30 miles. It was fun seeing all of the other athletes from around the world. We had a big tailwind heading out which meant that the miles were flying by. Around mile 30 I had another TV crew pull up next to me filming for about 8 miles. I didn’t know what amount of filming would be done while I was racing before the day started. One thing I am thankful for is when the camera is on you it helps you go faster.

By about mile 35 I hit my first difficult part of the race. I had a hard time keeping my wattage up and I was going into a big headwind. I decided it was time to have a peanut butter and honey sandwich and some PowerBar Blasts which really hit the spot. Within 5 minutes of finishing my meal I was feeling much better. When you are exercising for this amount of time the food gets into your system almost instantaneously. By the time I started the long climb into Hawi I was feeling great. One thing I did notice though was the wind was really starting to pick up. By the time I got the the last 3 miles of the 18 mile climb the wind was blowing hard. I looked out over the ocean and it was pure whitecaps as far as the eye could see. Right before I started feeling sorry for myself I remembered back to May 5th, the day I raced Ironman St. George. A big smile emerged as I remembered how much worse the wind and conditions were that day. Nothing will compare to St. George wind. I picked up the pace and started to go faster.

The bike course turnaround in Hawi is right at 60 miles. It felt great to get the wind at your back and have a very long downhill heading back to Kona. By this time it was around 11 a.m. and it was starting to get hot. On my way back to Kona our route took us back through the lava fields. I remember hearing about how the heat would radiate off the blacktop but it was hard to imagine there being more heat from below than from the sun above. Let me tell you, this is absolutely true. It was like somebody turned on a heater on the road and it was blasting you from all angles. One way to combat the heat was while going through aid stations to fill up every possible water bottle cage with full bottles of water. Not just to drink but to pour it all over your body while you are riding. This provided temporary relief, but the heat would just not quit. The good news is mentally I was still very much where I needed to be. Any time I found any negative thoughts come to mind I found it relatively easy to replace them with the thoughts and feelings of why I was doing this. The cause of racing for Orphans with Down Syndrome allows me to mentally stay positive and stay where I need to be in my mind throughout these races. Without that cause I believe I would find it much more difficult to battle through the hard times and ultimately finish.

Coming into town I felt great. I was going faster than I was expecting, averaging 20.2 MPH over the last 110 miles. My heart rate was good and my legs felt good. Time to go run a marathon. Coming into transition I was met by a camera crew. My feet were all wet as I was trying to get my socks on. My right sock went on perfectly. My left sock was off a little bit and I didn’t take the time to adjust it. This would come back and haunt me 3 hours later.

Running out of T2 is always a big test. The test is how do the legs feel? If you go too hard on the bike, you will know immediately. Luckily the legs were feeling fantastic. This was good. I ran out of transition and saw all my family. Their cheers are pure adrenaline and energy. Thank you!

Something different for this race than any other is I had never ran the course before. This was kind of fun, but it was also a little frustrating. Fun in a way because it’s all new. It’s kind of like going for a drive in an area you’ve never seen before. Kind of entertaining. The frustrating part is I sometimes felt like a little kid always asking myself “are we there yet” as I look for the next turn or turn around. The first 10 miles of the run took us through town and right next to the ocean. What a great route! I was feeling great and my pace was holding true. I was sticking with Ironman Perform and water to drink and an occasional gel every few miles. I also saw my good friend Mark Wilkerson as well as Alex and Risa Wight during this portion which helped. After 10 miles you have to climb right back up Palani. I wasn’t ready for this. I went up this in my bike and it was tough, now I had to run up it. Crazy! Getting to the top is when we once again turn onto the Queen K and leave all the spectators behind. The next 15 miles were going to be lonely.

About the time I hit mile 13 I could feel another mental challenge coming on. By this time I was 10 hours into the day. I had just ran 13 miles and I had to get my arms doing it all over again. The heat was still an ever present factor and I was starting to feel fatigued. This is when the Ironman secret weapon had to be utilized, Coca-Cola. Most people don’t realize this, but one of the best sources of nutrition in an Ironman is pure Coca-Cola. Not Coke zero, not caffeine free Coke. Only the good stuff! This stuff is magic! I always wait as long as I can before I start drinking coke when they offer it in the aid stations, but it was definitely time! I was able to keep my pace and continue to progress along the course.

Next up on the run course is the infamous Energy Lab. This is a place where you leave the Queen K highway and take a left into one of the most desolate places on the entire island. It’s called the “Energy Lab” because of the huge solar panels and different facilities on the road. What this place does not do is give you any energy. In fact, it sucks it out of you. When I saw the Energy Lab just ahead I decided right then and there that I would pick up my pace when I entered the Energy Lab. I refused to let this 4 mile stretch get me. I went into the energy lab with a chip on my shoulder kind of like a little brother that finally thinks he has a chance at beating his older brother in a foot race. I did pick up the pace. I could feel some deep pain in my quads but I pushed. I knew this was gut check time and I was not letting up. The first 2 miles felt OK. Miles 19-21 were among the toughest faced yet but I lasted and it fueled me when I finally exited having taken on the Energy Lab and won. It was time to take a right back onto Queen K and head back into town.

With only 5 miles to go I kept telling myself, “You got this! 5 more miles! You’ve ran 5 miles a hundred times this year! Keep pushing!” Things were starting to get tough. I could feel a blister on my left foot start to form. I remembered back to the transition area when I didn’t get my sock on right. I demanded that the pain leave my mind and I kept going. My pace was still steady, but my heart rate was increasing rapidly. “Only a few more miles, keep pushing!!” I kept telling myself. The battle that was going on in my head was as intense as it’s ever been. The adversity I was facing on whether I could do this or not was real.

“Keep going!” I kept reminding myself over and over. Mile 22 passed and I celebrated, 4 more miles. I can do this! Between mile 22-24 was the hardest of the entire day. My quads were smashed, my head hurt, and I was spent. Every athlete will face this during an Ironman. This is really the true test in my opinion. It’s easy to race when you are feeling good. It’s when you are hurting, when you’re body tells you that you can’t do this, that you find out what you really are made of. All you want to do is walk. Your mind will start to reason with you. It will say things like, “you’ve done great, just walk a little bit.” Then it will get more aggressive. “This is crazy, why are you doing this to yourself!” it screams. The thoughts of “Why am I doing this” and “I can’t go on anymore” start flooding your mind. It was here where I had to go back to why I was doing this. I remembered Maelie and I remembered the commitment I made to myself to find her family. If pushing through this temporary physical pain meant that she has a family I would do it. If this meant that Down Syndrome as a whole is more widely accepted and that together we can prove that Anything is Possible, I would do it! I kept the pace and pushed harder.

Before I knew it I was on the top of Palani making my way down the big hill I had to run up a few hours earlier. It was here that I knew I had it. Tears started streaming down my face as I thought not just about the day, but this year. Here I was, running the last mile of the Ironman World Championship for these kids that have become such a big part of my life. Last year at this time I didn’t even know Reece’s Rainbow existed or that there were hundreds of children with Down Syndrome withering away in orphanages throughout the world. Now I was getting to represent them at this very moment. I was afforded the opportunity and blessing to be their voice. To stand on their defense and bring hope at that very moment. In this moment I also gave thanks to a loving God. I knew this last year wasn’t anything of my own doing, but more a tender mercy from a loving Heavenly Father.

As I turned down Ali’i drive I could see the finish line in the distance. The pain was gone and I was running on pure adrenaline. Thousands of people lined the streets cheering and high fiving. I came into the final hundred yards under the bright lights and everything went to a blur. As I crossed the finish line I saw lots of people and I saw cameras. Then I saw Alex, he had the biggest smile on his face and I bet mine matched it. He gave me a huge hug and I lifted him up off the ground. Then Andrea and Nash came to me and we hugged a very long hug. I looked into Nash’s eyes and could see that innocence and look that was the source of so much motivation. I then saw my Dad, my Mom, and my Sister Paige and hugged each of them. Then I gave a huge hug to Rob Wight CEO of myList, David Deschenes, Executive Director of Ironman Foundation, and Andrew Messick, CEO of Ironman. That’s when I saw this huge check made out to RODS Racing. I was in shock. It was for $20,000 and it was for Maelie’s adoption. This meant that this little girl has a chance! It was joy in the purest form!

I want to take a moment to recognize and show my appreciation for Andrea. RODS Racing and Ironman is a team effort. There is no possible way that I could serve these children as I have without her. I can’t stress this enough. She IS the reason why things have worked out. Her level of contribution is huge, but often goes unnoticed behind the scenes. Thank you Andrea! I love you!

After the race I went in the transition area and had a chocolate milk. The adrenaline quickly dissipated. I sat down on the grass in a corner as far away as I could get and put a towel over my head. Piece of mind came over me. I knew I left it all out on the course and gave it everything I had. I suppose doing this race is a lot like life. We’ll face exhilarating highs and extreme lows. Pain always comes but it’s how we handle the pain that defines us. There are a lot of people cheering us on at times and at other times we are alone in the lava fields. It takes a team effort. It’s never just one person, but in the end, the results are dependant upon the one looking back at you in the mirror. I hope that at the end of my life I can go to a far away corner for a moment, put a towel over my head and know that I left it all out on the course.

Final stats on the day were: Swim 1:19:42; Bike 5:33:48; Run 3:51:11 Total 10:51:32 I was able to beat my Ironman St. George time by 1:35 minutes!

Total Stat’s for 2012 are: Swim 152 miles; Bike 5,443 miles; Run 1,194 miles Total Hours 802

At the end of these race reports I always find myself asking the question, so what’s next? Well, I can’t wait to watch the Ironman Broadcast on October 27th at 2pm MST. I have a feeling that Maelie will have a family very soon. My hope is that we can find Megan and Maggie a family very soon as well. I’ve already spent time putting together the plan for RODS Racing in 2012. I will continue to race, but my hope is to continue to develop a network of other athletes and advocates who are passionate about racing and passionate about Down syndrome. In the end, our work is not done until every child has a home and until society as a whole has a better understanding of just how much of a positive impact a person with Down syndrome can have. One thing that I have learned this year that I plan on applying next year is this: ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!!!!

Feel free to visit Brady’s personal blog here, for more photos of the day’s highlights!

Tahoe Rim Trail 168 Mile Nonstop Attempt

Tahoe Rim Trail 168 Mile Nonstop Attempt

David Wronski successfully completed his Tahoe Rim Trail 168-mile run. Read on for an in-depth recap of his run!!

Before getting into the specific details of my Tahoe Rim Trail run, I want and need to thank my amazing crew who allowed me to even attempt such a grueling endeavor and come out healthy and alive. The amount of dedication, sleepless hours, work, and effort they committed to helping me towards achieving my goal is more impressive to me than anything I have or will accomplish. My success at these ultra endurance attempts, is 100% dependent on a strong, knowledgeable, and loyal team that is willing to do whatever is necessary at any given time to get me to the finish line. Also, thank you to all my friends and family who have wished me luck and shown me your support leading up to this amazing adventure. Trust me when I say that I use everyone’s positive thoughts during my long hours spent in the mountains; it not only keeps me motivated but makes me remember how many others I’m trying to make proud.

Now onto our 168-mile Tahoe Rim Trail adventure. The idea of running the entire Tahoe Rim Trail nonstop started in February of 2011, while I was recovering from my incredible experience running the Brazil 135. It’s been a long 17 months of dreaming, training, and planning on being able to attempt this endurance feat. What made the whole experience even more surreal was the fact that I had already tried to accomplish this feat in October of 2011; but was horribly unlucky with the weather, and got stuck in many feet of snow in the first few hours of our attempt, thus putting my hopes on hold until July of 2012.

My team and I arrived at the TRT trailhead in Tahoe City on Friday, June 29th and I finally realized that this was going to happen. I was going to be able to attempt to complete the longest distance I’ve ever covered nonstop, knowing I would have absolutely ideal weather. There would be no excuses, or reasons outside of my control that I would have to deal with; I was going to start and hopefully come back to the same location 2-3 days later, in a much more physically broken down but satisfied state of mind.

1st Segment-Tahoe City to Brockway Summit (19.2 miles)

We quickly took a few pictures at the start, documented the start time of 9:15AM on Friday, and Ray Sanchez and I quickly left to cover the next 19.2 miles ending at Brockway Summit. We were in great spirits, and feeling happy to be on the beautiful trail in 70 degree weather. Since I had done the first 13 miles of this section on my last TRT attempt in October, it was great to see familiar sites, only this time instead of stepping into three feet of snow I could appreciate all the dry forest around me. We climbed the first 6 miles which are all steadily uphill, until we reached a few great lookouts, Ray constantly snapping pictures with his phone (which he enjoys to do on all of our runs together). The section went pretty well with no navigational issues until we reached a fire road that required us to find where the TRT picked up again (it was not directly across the road we came to). Luckily we saw a couple mountain bikers enjoying a ride, and asked them to confirm what we believed to be the TRT. Once we received verification that we were on the right trail, we quickly said thanks and went on our way. I’ve learned from past experiences, that it’s very important to avoid the desire to push yourself physically early on, knowing you will pay for this mistake in the future. So Ray and I tried to stay conservative but were running at a good and steady 4-5mph, until we reached our first major navigational dilemma. We came to a Y shaped intersection, with a TRT sign that had been ripped out of the ground, and was now being helped up by rocks. Because there were arrows pointing in opposite directions on both sides of the post, we were unsure of where the post was originally supposed to be placed (which would determine which direction we would take to stay on the TRT). We chose to go right (which ended up not being the right way), and ended up running an extra 20-25 minutes, until we realized we needed to backtrack to the sign, and call Michael (my logistical expert) and figure out what to do. Luckily since we had phone service, I was able to take a picture of my location at the intersection with my phone, and send it to Michael hoping to get an answer of where to go. Our strategy worked and we figured out we were supposed to go left, which would take us to our first meeting point on the trail, about 13 miles in. After a quick stop with our team, Ray and I continued on to try to finish the 19 miles in a reasonable time. Unfortunately I was quickly introduced to the unforgiving terrain of the TRT, and was forced to hike quickly instead of run because my ability to hop from rock to rock in Vibrams was not successful or safe. We made it through the last 6 or so miles, and completed the 1st of 8 sections of the TRT. It was great to have Ray with me on the trail, but had to say goodbye, since I would not be seeing him the rest of the weekend.

2nd Segment- Brockway Summit to Tahoe Meadows (19.7 miles, 38.9 total miles)

The second segment proved to be very difficult even with semi-fresh legs, mostly due to its multiple 1,000+ ft. climbs, the rocky terrain, and adjusting to the highest altitude on the entire TRT, just above 10,000 ft. Michael was a great person to have with me on this section though for many reasons. First off he’s the current unsupported (meaning no crew, assistance of any kind) record holder on the TRT, but more importantly he kept me hiking at a fairly quick pace up the long climbs when slowing down would have been very easy for me to do. I realized I had made one key mistake early on in the first segment. I had drank too much water, and not enough salt/electrolytes; thankfully from experience I can usually recognize this right away and start taking in salt. After feeling very dizzy and lethargic early in our first climb, Michael graciously gave me some electrolyte tablets for my water which made an immediate difference and allowed us to resume climbing up to the highest point on the TRT, Relay Peak at 10,335 ft.

What made this segment so physically challenging, was my slow adaptation to the high altitude. I had not been above 10,000 ft in a very long time, and the time it took for my body to assimilate, definitely took some energy out of my body. The feeling of not being able to catch your breath, no matter how fast or slow you’re moving, always takes some getting used to. We eventually reached the summit, snapped a few amazing pictures, and was relieved to start a slow jog of about 5 miles downhill. The views from this section were absolutely incredible, and if I went back to hike just one section of the TRT, I would definitely go back to this segment. By the time we made our complete descent back to around 8,700 ft, night time was approaching and our first day of sunlight was just about over. However I was very excited to get to Tahoe Meadows because it would be the first time seeing my girlfriend Dawn, my new puppy Wendy, and the rest of my great crew. We arrived at the Tahoe Meadows parking lot, said hi to everyone, and enjoyed the first cup of many chicken noodle soups.

3rd Segment-Tahoe Meadows to Spooner Summit (23.1 miles, 62 total miles)

The third segment was by far the easiest, flattest section of trail on the entire TRT. What had made this segment different from the others, was that I had run the entire section before when I completed my first 100 mile race in Lake Tahoe in 2010. Thinking of this recent memory while being happy to be on the sandy Nevada side of the TRT, made for a very enjoyable first night of running. Also I was very pleased to be able to start this long 23.1 mile section with my good friend Lauryn, who paced me during my 1st night of the 100 miler, on almost the same trail in 2010. It was great to reminisce about that experience with her, while we made steady progress running the entire way, catching up with each other simultaneously. We made it to a waypoint on the trail (9.5 miles in) to Tunnel Creak Rd, where we were planning to meet the rest of the team to resupply food, water, etc.

This was just one of many spots on the trail that my team willingly hiked many miles (this one being straight uphill the entire way) to meet me on the trail, which allowed us to break up the long 23 mile segment. Unfortunately Lauryn and I were too ambitious with our pace, and actually beat our team to the Tunnel Creak Road meeting point. After a quick phone call to our team we realized we would wait about a half hour for their arrival. We weren’t too upset though considering it wasn’t windy thankfully, I was hungry, and we could just use the time to relax and refuel, which we did. We found a cluster of big boulders, settled in together under Lauryn’s jacket, and tried to stay warm while I ate half a turkey sub, Lauryn had packed with her.

After an impressive hike from nearly our entire team, we reunited and topped off our food/water, and prepared to finish the remaining 14 miles of the segment. I had to say another quick goodbye to Lauryn, since she would be leaving for the rest of the weekend, and got to have my new pacer Allison join me for the remainder. Both Lauryn and Allison did a fantastic job pacing me, staying in front of me and running every flat, downhill section, while setting a steady controlled pace up the hills. After a few miles of running with Allison, we were approaching another familiar destination on the TRT course, Snow Valley Peak 9,300 ft. This is another gorgeous location overlooking both Marlette Lake and Lake Tahoe, which we could not see unfortunately because were running in total darkness. I briefly explained to Allison what she would be seeing if it were light out, but instead we looked up and could see the entire milky way and every star imaginable. It was an incredibly clear night, with almost no wind which is rare at the top of Snow Valley Peak.

We started another enjoyable descent of about 5 miles to Spooner Summit where we would meet our team, and the 2nd morning of our adventure would begin. I was feeling great both mentally and physically at this point, but knew in the back of my mind we were about to tackle some very difficult sections and my physical state would not be as ideal during the next 100+ miles.

4th segment-Spooner Summit to Kingsbury South (16.4 miles, 78.4 total miles)

The 4th segment began in the early morning hours of Saturday (the 2nd day), and at this point I had just come to the 24 hour point of being awake and moving. This period of time can always be tricky if you’re not prepared, and ready to stay awake through the night. Your body has not yet switched into a survival mode type mindset yet, but I made sure to eat consistently which I’ve found to make a big difference in easing the transition from a “regular” mindset to a “survival” mindset. Once the sun came up though, and Dawn and I began our first and only long climb uphill, I felt fully awake and wasn’t having any trouble staying awake.

We finally made it to the top of a long uphill section, which thankfully had some easy terrain to hike up, not being full of boulders and rocks like I’d experienced in previous sections. The view of Lake Tahoe was spectacular in the early morning hours, with the sun coming up on our right as a giant orange ball. I was glad Dawn could see this great view, which I had been lucky enough to have already seen multiple great views of the Lake from my previous 75+ miles of being on the trail. This was a trail neither one of us had ever been on. We then started the descent which unfortunately absolutely sucked for the first few miles.

We went from climbing groomed dirt trail on the way up, to now descending large loose rocks again on the trail as our main type of trail surface. This was frustrating mostly because the downhill sections are usually the only parts of the run where you can make up some time, and let your legs loosen up and actually run some decently quick miles. This was completely not an option now, because of the extremely rugged terrain we were now faced with going downhill.

This was a common occurrence for the entire route, which was another reason I found out my time would be considerably slower simply due to the rough and rugged terrain I’d be approaching for the rest of the way. Obviously running in minimalist shoes like Vibrams doesn’t make the task any easier. We eventually made it through the rocky section, and actually found a few miles of rolling trail with scattered rocks and boulders, but at least the dirt surface was showing underneath allowing us to start running at a decent pace. We enjoyed a few miles of easy rolling hills, and caught a view of about 8-10 large bucks with huge sets of antlers, it was a cool sight to see, and would have been a great picture if they didn’t run away into the forest as we approached.

We then reached the last few miles of the section, where the new TRT is completed now (there used to be a 3 mile section with no trail, which you’d have to run on paved roads to reach the next trailhead). We were able to easily navigate this new section thanks to Michael and Sarah marking the trails with our own trail markers. Dawn and I completed our first section together around 10am on Saturday, the plan was to give her a break, and then she’d be joining me again during the 6th segment. Unfortunately the 5th segment was going to be quite daunting and long.

5th segment-Kingsbury South to Big Meadow (23.2 miles, 101.6 total miles)

As I was laying down getting my legs shaken out, eating, resupplying my food/water, and changing clothing, I knew I was about to begin one of the most difficult sections of my entire run. Granted the 2nd segment from Brockway to Tahoe Meadows was no easy task, and had a lot of elevation gain, but I was fairly fresh during that time and knew we could get through it. However this segment was going to be a long 23 miles, on not so fresh legs, and during the middle of the day. I definitely won’t complain about the weather because it was absolutely beautiful all weekend, but the sun was extremely bright and the UV index was at 10 (the highest it can pretty much be), and it definitely was noticeable in how it affected my hydration levels. So the next 23 miles were not going to be easy in any way, and mentally I knew I’d be climbing multiple 1-2,000 ft climbs.

Jason (my pacer) and I began a first huge climb that was slow and steady uphill, the first few miles took a while to judge how I was feeling. Soon after I realized I would be drinking a lot more fluid on this segment, which would mean we’d have to use as many stream crossings as possible (which thankfully were abundant). What made this section extra difficult, was the way we were climbing, not necessarily the terrain. What I mean is that the climbs required us to go up many steps, consisting of large flat slabs of stone set many feet apart.

This proved very difficult and tiring, because not only were they un-runnable, but they required large steps that used a lot of energy. It felt like a stairmaster, only with stairs requiring large strides and high steps to clear our feet. This section was where I later learned I had strained my left soleus (muscle underneath the calf) going up these high spread out stairs. It was not an acute injury that I noticed right away, but become a major factor in my running ability as the miles added up. After many more climbs we finally reached a section requiring us to go downhill. We quickly noticed no sign or TRT markers giving us any direction in how to start our descent. We asked a few hikers coming the opposite direction, and they informed us that the TRT picked up down the road a ways, and it would be on our right.

We thanked them for the help, and started our descent. This road had very loose sand as its base, and because of this I spent more time looking at my footing, since the decline was pretty steep. Somehow in between all of my looking at the ground, and talking we missed the turn off for the TRT, which turned out to be marked, but was on a side of a tree that wasn’t directly facing us at the time. Long story short, we ended up probably wasting 20-30 minutes trying to get back on the right route. Once we found where we were supposed to go, we came across a great stream with fast moving clear fresh water, where we refilled our bottles. Getting lost pissed me off at the time because I didn’t have tons of energy, and didn’t want to waste any little bits I had getting lost. So I decided to try to make up for the time we had wasted which we did a decent job of, running as much as possible on the flats and downhills, hoping to meet our team at Armstrong Pass (which allows the 23 mile segment to be broken down into 14 and 9 mile sections). The meeting point at Armstrong Pass required my team to hike up a few tough miles of trail.

Because of our newly acquired faster pace, and some issues using our SPOT GPS tracker, our team was still about an hour away when Jason and I had arrived at the meeting point. We had no phone service at all, and nothing to do except wait for our crew, we couldn’t keep going with the little food/water we had left, and I had to make sure our team knew we would be there still (no matter how long it took them to meet us). At the time it was easy to get frustrated at this situation, but in the end it was probably a blessing because it allowed me to get off my feet, and just try to recover from the last hard 14 miles of climbs and descents.

After waiting a while, we finally saw our crew at the meeting point, refueled, and started the next 9 mile section of the same segment with Sarah. We would be going to Big Meadow which would complete this 5th segment of the TRT. Because of my brief period of rest, waiting for the team at Armstrong Pass, I was feeling fairly strong and wanted to try to knock out the next 9 miles in a few hours or less. Sarah and I started hiking up at a fast pace, uphill for the first major climb. We then ran most or all the flats and downhills which ended up allowing us to finish that 9 mile section at about a 4 mph pace, which is a great pace for that far into the run.

We were in good spirits, and I was surprised how well I felt physically. My feet and legs were doing well, which is a rarity after 100+ miles, especially for the feet. Sarah and I ended the segment with a nice gradual downhill section, where we met Alex who had hiked up a few miles to see us. The three of us then finished the segment in good spirits, enjoying some good conversation. The night was nearing, and our sunlight was quickly disappearing. Dawn would join me again for the next segment which would be in complete darkness going into our 2nd night of being on the trail.

6th segment-Big Meadow to Echo Lake (17.5 miles, 119.1 total miles)

Dawn joined me again for this segment which turned out to be a very difficult segment, for many reasons but mostly due to the fact we would be doing it all in the early morning hours, approaching the 45 hour mark by the time we’d finish. We started the section with a huge climb that was probably the steepest climb of the entire run, which quickly reminded me of my injured soleus which was now becoming a lot more apparent. The steep climb required us to barely keep a 3 mph pace which I was always trying to use as the base of any pace we chose. My soleus becoming a bigger problem as we climbed, limited my ability to take advantage of the flat sections due to the fact I couldn’t run without dealing with consistent pain.

Acquiring minor injuries like this isn’t uncommon for me though, especially after being 110+ miles into a run. I dealt with the pain, while Dawn did a great navigational job making sure we were still on the right route. Some of the sections of the TRT are much more well marked than others, and this section was not very impressively marked. I have a hard time understanding why such a popular well known and used trail has such inconsistent and crappy markings; but it does and we were just trying to make the best of the situation knowing that slowing down to find the right way would still be faster than running more, but missing our turns resulting in getting lost and an even greater waste of time.

We then reached a point with a small wooden plank in the ground with Echo Summit engraved into one side. This was our destination, but knew it was a tricky logistical area to find and stay on the TRT. To make things more complicated there are additional signs for PCT which is the Pacific Crest Trail which shares the TRT for certain lengths and different times. We know were seeing literally no TRT markings of any kind giving us a sense of where to go, or how to stay on the trail. What we ended up having to do to continue on our way turned out to be a ridiculous combination of a river crossing, going under a fallen tree, making several snakelike switchbacks, and coming to an unmarked trail that could barely be identified as a trail, let alone the correct trail.

This delay ended up costing us another 30 minutes or so which ended up being the 3rd and final time I would be getting “lost” on the run. We were never “lost” but rather just trying to make sure we could find the correct trail, and not go to far off trail to then realize we needed to go back. Eventually after many frustration walking trips back and forth to survey the area, again in total darkness only with the help of our headlamps and moon could we try to distinguish where to go; did we find the right trail which would continue to take us to Echo Summit. This slow climb to Echo Summit proved very difficult for a new reason, unlike the previous sections that were extremely rocky and rough terrain, this trail was mostly mud and very wet. Our trail ended up being mud and water, which would then turn into a small stream at times requiring us to try to walk on the borders of the trail, staying out of the water filled sections of the trail. Nothing was fast about this whole segment, even keeping a 3 mph pace proved very difficult due to our slow moving trudging through dark, muddy, wet trail.

After what seemed to be an endless climb, we finally reached to be what we thought was the summit, only to then start descending before another final climb uphill to what was the actual summit. We were now only a couple miles from the next meeting point with our crew, however the descent could not have been more frustrating and slow. Just like during the last segment, when I was climbing up large slabs of stone in a stair climbing fashion, we know were going down similar rock formations. This really annoyed us both, and slowed our pace down considerably, because we were hopping down from step to step rather than being able to run more gracefully and efficiently. We continued to rock hop down further and further but never seemed any closer to our destination. The descent took over an hour, and finally we came across Michael on the trail. He had hiked up a considerable distance to meet us and show us the way back to the meeting point, and the rest of our crew.

Both Dawn and I were just happy to be over with the section. After the long steep climbs we had dealt with, the insanely horrible trail markings, and the ridiculous directions we had to follow to stay on trail, we were both mentally and physically spent. What we originally thought to be a 6 hour section turned into an all night almost 9 hour section that we were very happy to be done with. We were now starting our 3rd morning of being out on the TRT, and the goal was to not see another sunrise. I wanted to finish sooner than later, not because I cared about my time but because I knew I was approaching new territory in regard to staying awake without sleep. I had never stayed up longer than 52 hours, and this record was going to be easily broken by the start of our long Desolation Wilderness section coming up.

7th Segment-Echo Lake to Barker Pass (32.5 miles, 151.6 miles total)

We were now starting our 3rd day, and about to begin one of the most unique but grueling sections of the entire TRT, Desolation Wildnerness. This area is quite unlike the others due to the trail inaccessibility, its remoteness, and most noticeably its trail surface. The number one factor of the entire run that I was least expecting to be such a major issue, was the trail surface. My feet have become adapted to rough terrain, allowing me to run on very rugged terrain without having any major issues, but I quickly learned with Desolation Wilderness, and other shorter sections of the TRT was that the trail surface consisting of loose rocks and small boulders on top of other loose rocks was not a conducive trail surface for my abilities. Knowing the trail surface would be considerably more rugged and rocky than anything I had experienced until this point, I decided to change from my Vibram FiveFingers to my New Balance Minimus MT00, which is an actual shoe, but again is extremely minimal in its cushion or protection. Michael and I started this section on some runnable trail which I took advantage of trying to gain any ground I could while the dirt was still there, knowing the rocks were soon to come. Sure enough we reached many long sections which were 100% rocks, consisting of many layers which makes the instability of the trail even greater. Walking fast across the rocks wasn’t an option, let alone even trying to run.

The amount of walking we had to do definitely affected my energy levels, and my ability to stay attentive and awake. Michael did a great job of keeping track of how long I was going in between GUs or any other source of calories. I needed to keep consistent with my hydration and food intake to have any chance of maintaining enough energy to complete this long 32 mile stretch. During our time rock hopping for many miles, we saw some of the most beautiful lakes I had seen all weekend, which are completely hidden unless you are hiking in Desolation Wilderness. Aloha Lake was one of many absolutely perfect blue lakes with small islands of trees growing right out of the water. The steep mountain slopes in the background were still covered in snow, giving a great backdrop to our blue lake scenery. Thankfully again we had an opportunity to meet Sarah “halfway” around mile 17. Unfortunately before we would meet, Michael and I would be tackling an enormous task, which was climbing the steep and tall Dick’s Pass just under 10,000 ft.

This climb was good because it was a challenge that didn’t involve running, which at the time I could not do comfortably due to my increasingly painful soleus injury. However by the time we reached the summit of the pass, I had expended a lot of energy getting to the top, and definitely could feel the altitude sucking any energy I still had quickly away. We started the descent quickly because I knew Sarah was waiting for us at the bottom of the mountain, and I was in need of some food, energy, and an opportunity to stretch my now throbbing soleus. Michael did a great job again of trying to get me to run downhill and make our meeting with Sarah happen sooner.

We finally reached Sarah, where I was happy to stretch, eat, resupply, and try to regain some energy before heading out with Michael for the 2nd half of Desolation Wilderness. After a brief stop, Michael and I headed out for the last 15 or so miles which would bring us to the beginning of the final 8th segment. We were again moving through the trails at the height of the 3rd afternoon, the sun was starting to get warmer, and definitely had taken its toll on my face, nose, and lips which were all pretty well burned from exposure. After spending 3 straight days and nights outside, no amounts of sunscreen will prevent your face from getting pretty roasted.

We started on our way which now was through totally different environment, a very heavily wooded forest section with no views of any mountains or anything around you. It was a very confusing and closed in feeling where every foot of trail going through the forest looked the same. The craziest aspect of this section was that were literally no TRT markers anywhere, thankfully Michael has a lot of experience on the TRT, and was navigating with ease, and constantly moving ahead of me making me follow him as best I could. My speed was now diminishing quickly, due to my leg injury and my energy levels. I was now awake for 50+ hours about to break my record for staying awake, only I still had to run/walk 30 more miles, let alone just be awake.

After many slow hours of moving, I suddenly realized after talking to Michael, and looking at my watch that if I kept this pace I may not even finish on Sunday. Again, my actual finishing time was never a concern or important factor to me, but I was concerned about going through another night and finishing early Monday morning. This new reality made me mentally flip a switch, and turn off any pain I was having in my leg. I started to run, and at a much faster rate than I had previously been attempting. I was getting to the point where I didn’t want to see another sunrise, and I just wanted to finish. I ran at this newly found rate, for probably close to 2 hours. This allowed us to make up some considerable distance, and get me that much closer to the beginning of my last and final segment. We only had one more major hurdle to get over, before finishing this segment and that was to try to survive mosquitoes that were more aggressive and relentless than I’d ever seen before.

Since I was now running faster and using more energy, I was drinking more and required Michael to try to get me some more water on a regular basis (mostly again from running streams on the trail). We quickly realized that we were being swarmed and attacked by millions of mosquitoes. I had most of my body completely covered with clothing, had powerful bug spray all over my body, and still the mosquitoes were eating us alive. We could literally not stop for more than 1 second before your shirt, arms, and head would be covered with mosquitoes. When I say covered I’m not exaggerating, my white shirt would be full of small black mosquitoes in 2 second of me trying to bend over to adjust my shoe. It was miserable and something I did not want to deal with at all. This horrible mosquito problem made me even more motivated to get completely out of Desolation Wilderness and to the beginning of the final segment, which I knew would not have the same mosquito problem.

I came into the final meeting spot for myself and my crew, feeling very upbeat mentally, knowing I only had 1 more segment to complete before I was finished. Physically I was surprisingly feeling good, the running caused my soleus to lengthen and relax as I ran, which was not how it had felt for a long time in the past 50+ miles. I came into the meeting point at Barker Pass about 57 hours into the run. I knew I wanted to complete these last 17 miles as quickly as possible, and planned to run every bit I possibly could.

8th segment- Barker Pass to Tahoe City (16.7 miles, 168.3 miles total)

I left my team for the last time feeling very positive and happy to be on my last leg of this incredibly long adventure. I was know 57 hours into my run with no sleep, breaking my previous record of being awake by about 5 hours. I was encountering unchartered territory both mentally, physically in staying awake, but also the amount of miles we had completed (151). My plan to run as much as possible was quickly taken away by yet another long stretch of my dreaded loose rock terrain. Not only was the trail again horribly rocky, unstable, and sharp; but it was also a very thin trail with a drop off on one side, so paying attention was vital to staying safe and not sliding half way down the mountain.

This slow paced hiking on terrain that hurt with every step, in darkness again since we started the segment around 9pm on Sunday, was very mentally draining for me. All I could think was to get this section over with as fast as possible so I could get to a part of the segment that had runnable dirt trail instead of this insanely dangerous sharp loose rock surface which seemed to be the only thing we were ever going to be on. I remember looking at my watch and we had reached the 3 hour mark into our hike, and were still on this rugged rock surface, which resulted in us only being able to cover about 6 miles in this 3 hour period. By this time I had literally walked my self to sleep. I was in great need of being able to run, and force my body to wake up and stay alert, but the terrain we were on made this option impossible, and unfortunately crushed my spirit.

In addition to the terrain, I was now battling mental exhaustion more than I had ever experienced before, being awake for now more than 60 hours straight. Hallucinations were constant, and I had become so used to them that I almost didn’t even pay attention or care that I was having them. I was reaching the point though that I could not keep walking like this without falling asleep on my feet. All I wanted to do was sit, somehow my body equated sitting with sleeping even though when I did sit, I would not sleep at all but rather just take a few deep breaths and try to stand up again. I have never experienced such a situation where I felt very good so far into a run, just a few hours earlier when we completed the 7th segment to now feeling like I barely had enough energy to keep walking. It was very confusing to me at the time, and I had no plan on what to do to recover or bounce back from feeling as mentally drained as I was. I remember not being able to speak, because it was to difficult to have to think of what to say, and the amount of energy it took to open my mouth and say words was not worth the effort.

Thankfully Dawn was with me the entire time, in addition to Sarah leading the way, making sure we were on course. Dawn has had experience seeing me in a pretty broken down mental and physical state before, and knew I was probably reaching new heights of mental and physical exhaustion. To give you an idea of my physical and mental condition, we were covering about 1 mile per hour at one point, which is difficult to replicate if you try to go that slow. Physically my body was actually not completely depleted, but the sleep deprivation was now my biggest enemy resulting in a constant battle between my brain and body. My brain wanted to sleep, but my body wanted to keep going. This constant struggle sucked every remaining amount of energy out of me, and I had no idea how fast we were going, where we were going, or how much time had passed. Time had no meaning anymore in my mind, and I knew I was walking towards the direction of the finish that was all. I didn’t understand any instructions, advice, or information given to me. I was in essence walking unconsciously, having no recollection of doing so. But most importantly to me, I never did go to sleep!

As quickly as my mental state deteriorated, it suddenly bounced back just as fast and I was completely cognizant of what was happening, where I was, and how far I still had to go to the finish. I have no idea why or what happened to allow this switch in my brain to go off, resulting in me “waking up”. I was now aware that I was 7 miles from the finish, and was already well past my expected time for completing this segment. I was now going into the 4th morning (sunrise) Monday morning, and was now on pace to finish around 5am.

I was now so close to the finish, that nothing mental or physical would stop me from finishing as soon as possible. I had completely come out of my “fog” and knew I only had a few more miles to go, that’s all I knew and cared about. Anthony joined Dawn and I on our last 5 miles section, which seemed to be the fastest 5 miles ever. I was now approaching 68 hours of moving and being awake, 16 hours longer than I had ever stayed awake before, and 28 miles further than I had ever run. Anthony, Dawn, and I finished our 168 mile adventure just as the sun was rising on Monday, 68 hours after I had started. I had no emotional feelings other than relief that I could now go to sleep. That’s all I looked forward to, and even if there were hundreds of people waiting for me to finish (which of course there weren’t), I would have still simply desired to do one thing, sleep. Your brain is very well wired to protecting itself, and after that long of staying awake, and depriving your body of sleep, the only thing I wanted was to lay down, close my eyes, and not get back up.

I don’t know why or how I hit such a rough patch towards the middle of the last segment, but I can simply guess that it was because I was encountering new territory in sleep deprivation levels that I had never experienced before. I’m now much more aware of what my mind and body is capable of, and believe if I was in that situation in the future I could avoid the breakdown, and mentally be prepared for the mental and physical onslaught brought upon by extreme sleep deprivation.

My ability to run further and attempt more extreme challenges solely depends on my ability to stay awake and alert for greater amounts of time. Now that I know I’m capable of staying awake 70+ hours, I know my limits for distance are that much greater. Ultimately sleep deprivation will be the limiting factor in what I’m capable of accomplishing, and that’s why I decide to do all my adventures in this fashion. Once sleep is allowed than the physical abilities are endless, resulting in no limit every being pushed or tested.

I am extremely happy and content with the outcome of my experience running the TRT, and am eternally thankful to all my crew members who helped me so much and are invaluable. The biggest surprise to me about the TRT, was the lack of runnable sections (at least for my abilities), and how hiker-oriented the terrain of the TRT really is. There were countless sections of loose rock on loose rock as the only trail surface, and then others that may have been more dirt, but the steps were too far apart to run, so hiking became the fastest method of moving.

I have no regrets at all from the run, and am very happy I finally was able to complete the distance in “one go” with no sleep. I accomplished both of my personal goals: to run further than I had ever gone, which we successfully did by traveling 168.3 miles on foot, and staying awake without sleep, longer than I ever had previously done, which I was thankfully able to accomplish by staying awake for a total of 71 hours.

Thank you to my Crew: Dawn, Michael, Sarah, Eugenie, Anthony, Alison, Lauryn, Ray, Alex, Emly, Jason, and everyone who wished me luck and sent positive thoughts towards me during this difficult task! Without my crew I would never have even made it one mile, thanks to their hard work and sacrifice, I was given the opportunity to accomplish a goal I’d been attempting for a long time! I will now recover and enjoy looking back at this great adventure, and on to the next adventure which as of today hasn’t been determined?!