Dances with Dirt - Devils Lake 50K Ultramarathon
Updated: Apr 28
3 hours before my flight when I was moving back to the mainland from Kona, Hawaii Emma and I wanted to take one last snorkel down at “Two-Step” off the southern coast of the Big Island.
We were packed, it was a nice sunny day and there was no better way to end my trip.
I dove into the water (which admittedly was about a 2-foot jump) and when underwater I swung my knee forward aggressively to do a froggy-style swim and that's when I smashed my knee on some coral.
Immediately, I knew it was serious.
The cut went down to the ligament, and it bruised and was swollen due to the trauma of hitting the lava rock the coral was on.
After 8 hours in the ER of having them flush my cut and pick coral shards out of my knee, I left with a hip-to-knee cast to allow my leg to heal for 7-10 days.
In the grand scheme of things, there was no structural damage and once it heals, it was going to be good to go, but we all need moments like this to reset our perspective. In other words, make us more grateful.
I sat with a throbbing knee on a flight from Kona to LA, LA to Houston, and then Houston to Savannah.
Lots of time to think.
My whole life is centered around movement. And for a brief time, this is taken away from me. I feel so grateful. A 7-10 day rest was a big setback for me, and that put life into perspective.
I believe movement is the greatest gift we can be given. It clears the head, is good for the body, and can take you places nothing else can… mountains, lakes, deserts.
I realized then, on that flight, that I need to really cherish what I have and take advantage of it.
I decided I am going to sign up for my next ultramarathon.
I was “off” ultra’s going into Hawaii because I felt my body was getting banged up. I ran a 50K and two 50 milers in 60 days and my body felt it.
But after studying it more, with better training, dieting, and recovery, I knew you could alleviate any concerns about the body.
I was in no rush though. The reason was I wanted to find one that fits well into my schedule and gave me time to train.
I had a few weeks to get back to walking/jogging. Then I was moving to Canmore, Alberta to ski, and as it warmed up would have a chance to run more.
So I had the plan to start a better diet now, start learning a little more about mobility, and finally get to training.
I changed my diet to where I eliminated most bad carbs and bad fats.
I was not extremely strict, but I would say I ate 1 or 2 cheat meals or snacks throughout the week.
Besides that, no bad carbs (fake sugars, added sugar, bread, pasta, flour, etc.) and no bad fats (fried food, cheese in excess, sauces with mayo or cream, etc.).
Immediately it became EASY to do this because I had a goal.
I had officially signed up for “Dances with Dirt” at Devil Lake. A 50K race with over 4,000 feet of elevation climb.
My sleep changed too. I prioritized 8 hours.
Those that know me, know I wake up early. So this forces me to get into 8 hours and 30 minutes before I would wake up.
No chance, but I went from getting 8 hours on 1 or 2 days of the weekend a week to most days.
The shift in my diet and my sleep made a significant impact on my energy levels.
I never felt a “dip” mid-day, or never woke up sleepy.
The diet and the sleep of course helped, but I think it was my spirit that was lifting. I was working towards something.
Visualizing running this race, having a blast during it, and recovering well because of all the training became something I did all the time. Especially when workouts got hard, when I wanted junk food, or I was tempted to stay up watching TV.
The power of a goal is amazing.
Achieving the goal in and of itself is actually not going to make you feel better about yourself. Maybe temporarily, but long term? No way.
What goals do for me is give me a tangible and justifiable reason to live the best life possible.
This helps with validation.
“Peer pressure” is something we teach to kids and then we “poo-poo” it as adults.
But how often are people trying to get you to go grab a beer, get junk food, or do anything that pulls you out of your Zone of Genius?
All the time.
They are not doing it to sabotage you, it is generally out of love and they don't think anything of it.
But I came to realize that I am very social and I almost exclusively cheat on my…
… diet when I am out with my buddies
… sleep when I am staying at someone’s house who wants to stay up late
… meditations and breath work when I crash with friends because I don't want to be that weirdo
But having tangible and justifiable excuses help not only with that inner dialogue, but it helps me when I feel pressured to act a certain way.
Be honest with yourself and consider if you need something like that.
Back to this 50K - I am in good shape.
I could have run this absolutely with no training. I am 100% confident in that. But for what reason?
I wouldn't have done my best, recovered well, felt much gratification, or learned much from it.
It would have been fun to see the trail and test myself with no training, but having this goal, I dedicated myself to make me become a better person throughout the journey, and feel full after the race.
In the weeks leading up to the race, I felt like a monk. Everything I did was deliberate.
Strangely (or not because this makes sense) everything felt better in my life. Meditations were deeper, my diet was cleaner, my perspective was more holistic, and I lived by my priorities.
We camped out the night before, 6 of us all racing. The race has some shorter distances to it and that allows us to have a group of runners, all different distances, camping and relaxing the night before.
On race day, the weather was perfect, I ate my oatmeal, honey, and banana breakfast and took off.
The race was good. Hard.
Much more vertical than I expected. Well, I knew the climb was over 4,000 feet, but it was serious in 3 steady, long down hills and up hills. All of the climb at once basically.
I started a little hot (I think, I don't use a watch, phone, or any sort of tracker to know my distance, time, or pace) but it felt hot.
As people passed me, I started noticing myself running a little bit faster. “Run your own race” I kept thinking, but when you see people that you size up and think you’re in way better shape than them it does affect your ego.
Without knowledge of my pace, this decision had to be 100% based on intuition.
I realized I was judging people based on looks. Not only that, but I was assuming they had the perfect pacing and were going to stay ahead.
Instead, I decided to focus back on my breath, my form, and the scenery. We are where to have fun! So enjoy it.
I believe to my core, the more fun you have, the faster you will run.
So, I checked my breathing, my legs, and my form, and it felt right.
Working hard, I was trying to think, “Can I hold this for 5 hours?!”
As the race went on, I found myself feeling good. Working hard but feeling good.
It is a small, but a magnificent change in your point of view if you can go from “working hard” to “feeling light and fast”.
Implicitly, one has more of a negative connotation, and the other is much more positive.
Races like this have 3 different parts in my mind. Uphill, downhill, or something in between.
Every uphill, I told myself it was a chance to gain time on the course and really push. Downhill, was a time to fly, and let gravity do its thing while I'll keep my feet light as a feather. And the “something in between”... let's call those the flats… were times to actually just run! Run with great form. Run fast. And enjoy all your training.
It really becomes a decision to just take the next step. You get pulled into the present moment.
When I found my mind drifting, I knew I was performing.
Knowing I was nearing the end, I decided to turn it up.
The last 9 miles went quickly, I was running light and fast. (Except for the one huge climb which is when my “running light and fast” attitude became “hard running”)
Interestingly enough, when I was towards the end of my race, I think my short, speed workouts helped the most.
When I would train and run 18 slow miles, that's good for “building your base” and getting my body ready for the long run.
But when I would go and run 3-7 miles as fast as I can, I encountered times where I was down and out. In pain. Panting. And I had to keep pushing.
Those times training at top speed, that's how I started feeling at the end.
I went back to my training and remembered how much harder I was running, and that kept me moving!
4 hours and 50 minutes.
7th place overall and 2nd in my age.
I couldn't have run harder.
I couldn't have run harder.
The fact that I left the race feeling I could not have run harder is what all the work was for. I visualized, trained, and prepared, and I was ready to execute.
3 cheeseburgers, a handful of beers, Chick-fil-a milkshakes and chicken strips, and a big Mexican feast soon followed. I wallowed in it. Relaxed. Spent all day lounging, stretching, sleeping, and was in bed by 7:30 pm.
I am not one to relax much in traditional ways, but then, I felt I felt I earned it. That time relaxing after the race was enough to recharge me for weeks and months!
Seriously, the shower, the meals, the couch, the episodes of Seinfeld.
All more relaxing, tastier, comfier, and funnier than I could ever remember.
This is the power of goals.
If chosen wisely, they make you live your best life and allow you to dedicate yourself to living in your own best interest.
Now, the morning after the race, I find myself asking, what is next?