Training and racing in Texas, specifically the Dallas area, has its advantages and disadvantages. A few plusses and minuses include the heat, humidity, lack of altitude and overall flatness of the terrain. The main advantage is that the weather is pretty much tolerable year-long, which makes it possible to essentially run year-round. On the flip side, when you never get a true winter, it can be hard to convince yourself to take a break from running. For me personally, I’m currently taking a down period from running and it is in this time that I reflect on my 2017 racing season.
2017 has proven to be my best and most memorable year of running ever. This includes running accomplishments, first time achievements and other experiences. There are a few races that stick out in my mind when I recall the year; winning a Golden Ticket at the Bandera 100K, running the Wings For Life World Run in Santa Clarita, finishing my first 100 Mile race at Western States and finishing my year off with the Brazos Bend 50 Miler. Each represents a moment in my life that I will always remember.
Bandera 100K – January. This race was a goal of mine, starting back in early 2016. I knew that I wanted to train hard and get fit to be able to compete against the strong competition that the race was sure to attract. I had a great training blocks leading up to the race, but was hampered in the weeks leading up to the race, race day and post-race recovery due to a knee injury that built into sciatic nerve problems. Despite the issues, I was able to run a resilient race that resulted in a second-place finish for men in the USATF 100K Trail Championship. I am grateful to Rob Goyen and Katie Graff who crewed me throughout the race, without them I’m not sure that I would have pulled through. The finish came with prize money and a coveted Golden Ticket into Western States 100. I gladly accepted the spot, determined to recover quickly and up my training for my first ever 100-mile race at the end of June.
Wings For Life World Run – May. After Bandera, it took me about a month to get my running fully back to normal once my injuries were corrected. A big thanks to Logan Sherman from Sherman Sport and Spine for working with me and helping to fix my problems so quickly. I immediately began to train and up my mileage with Western States as my main focus for 2017. In my build up, I was lucky enough to be able to run Wings For Life World Run. This race was an incredible opportunity and I’m so glad that I was able to be a part of it. The race raises money for spinal cord research and tasks runners at multiple locations worldwide to run as far as they can before being caught by a catcher car. You can read more about the specifics and sign up for the race here if you’re interested. I ran at the Santa Clarita location with my fellow Team Trail Racing Over Texas teammates Tracie Akerhielm (also my lovely fiancé), Daniel Bucci and Patrick Sweeney. I had a great race, faltering slightly in the final few miles to finish 4th at my location and 69th overall out of the 150,000 participants globally. This race gave me confidence that my training was going in the right direction.
Western States – June. Everything I had done since January had been building up to this race. Without qualifying automatically at Bandera, I wouldn’t have set my sights on my first 100 Miler for another year or two. That being said, I couldn’t pass up this once in a life opportunity and embraced it fully. Training had gone well leading up to the race, but I ran into multiple days of extreme fatigue and sickness a few weeks out that left me depleted. I made sure to get adequate rest and began my taper earlier than expected, hoping my body would respond to the care I was taking and be able to perform on race day. I flew out to the race with Tracie and spent some incredible days with the Altra Crew (Mike McKnight, Ben Bartley, Ashleigh Jameson and Zach Bitter) before heading up to Squaw Valley. I was also able to meet a lot of others who worked at Altra, the Altra Athletes racing as well as a few fellow Altra Ambassadors. I also joined up with Maggie Guterl, Rob Goyen, Rachel Goyen, Jeremy Hanson and Erich Weller. The race started off through snow-covered trail that involved route finding, avoiding snow bridges, knee-deep mud and dozens of creek crossings. Ultimately, the race would heat up in the canyons and temperatures rose to 100 degrees. My race went sideways early with bad blisters on both of my heels, stomach issues and blown out quads, but I battled my way, step by step, to the finish line. I can’t thank Tracie and Erich enough for crewing and pacing me the entire race. They kept me going when I wanted to quit and motivated me to keep pushing, they are truly incredible. I’d also like to give a shout out to my co-workers who were extremely supportive to me during training and who tracked me the entire race, they’re awesome! The atmosphere of the race was something that I will never forget. Even if you don’t run the race, I highly encourage making your way out one year to crew/pace, volunteer or just be a spectator at Western States. It truly is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.
Brazos Bend 50 Mile – December. I took a little bit of time off after Western States and didn’t pick any key goal races for a while as I recovered. Lingering fatigue lasted longer than I anticipated and I was keen to let it fade before starting to train hard again. I did several races between July and the end of August before deciding that I wanted to go for a fast time at Brazos Bend at the end of the year. I started to gear up in September, before going on a few work trips, then picked up training at the beginning of October. From then on, I cranked up mileage and dropped my pace in an effort to get to the start line in the best shape possible. 3 weeks before race day, I got food poisoning and my body felt absolutely destroyed. I started to question my ability to run my goal time as I began to taper much earlier than I had wanted. Even two weeks after the incident, my legs and body still didn’t feel back to normal. I began to accept the fact that I just had to accept my situation and give the race everything I had. I came to Brazos Bend State Park with a few goals in mind; A-5:45, B-5:59 or Under and C-Just Finish. Muddy conditions didn’t deter my objectives and I set out in search of glory. The race went perfectly for 27 miles before something odd happened. All of a sudden, after averaging 6:45/mile, I immediately clicked off a 7:30 and then my pace started getting slower and slower. It felt as if my body had a power switch that I didn’t know about and it had decided to turn itself off with no warning. I struggled through the next 6 miles before getting back to the start/finish for the second time at mile 33 (the 50M is 3 loops total). I felt broken and nothing was helping to put myself back together. I had been on pace for 5:45, but had now started to focus on Goal C, just finish. Luckily, the event offers pacers on your final loop and Bryan McKenney who is also part of the Dallas Dirt Runners offered to pace me the last 10 miles. With the help of Bryan, I went from 9:30/mile and we were able to cover the last 10 miles around 8:20/mile. He got me moving and helped me through a very tough time. Without him, I would have given up all hope and finished much slower. I’m thankful to Bryan for being a great friend and stepping in when he saw me in need. Although I was very far from my original goal, I know that I had the ability to achieve that goal if the day had gone better.
These are four of the races that come to the forefront of my mind when I think back on 2017. There are many others that hold significance for me as well, but these ones top the list. When all is said and done I will have hit just over 3,500 Miles and raced a total of 15 trail events (including 1-100M, 1-100K, 2- 50M, 3-50K). Numbers and statistics are great, but I’m most grateful for the friends and community that has offered their support and encouragement. I’m also very thankful for the support of my sponsors; Trail Racing Over Texas, Nathan, Victory SportDesign and Altra. Each one puts a tremendous amount of encouragement into their athletes and provides the best gear to help me achieve the best results I can. 2017 was incredible, but hopefully 2018 will be spectacular!