It’s been stated more than once that 2018’s TransRockies Run was the best yet. And in the fourth year of our Race for the Rockies team giveaway, we sponsored an incredible duo in Blake Burket and Jessica Carroll (pictured here at the start of the 12th annual TransRockies Run.) Over six days, 120 miles, and 20,000 of elevation gain in the Colorado Rockies they, along with 348 other runners ran, climbed, crawled, cried, cheered and pushed on with immense passion. A family of great people was formed, memories to last a lifetime were made, and the power of the human spirit was on full display. So, what is there to say about this year’s TRR? Words almost can’t describe all of the feels, but we’ll certainly let our amazing Kahtoola representatives of Jessica and then Blake give it shot. The psych is up for next year!
For once, I struggle with my words. It’s difficult to look back at the amazing week we spent meeting new friends, climbing insanely gorgeous terrain, and finding new limits within myself—and to create the perfect summation of ALL OF THAT and so much more. I’m struggling. But here goes …
I guess I didn’t really know what to expect—looking out over the mountains from my hotel room in Denver … I was nervous. Scared. Terrified. What if I couldn’t do it? What if I couldn’t keep up? What if I let down Kahtoola? What if … my mind was racing. Would I be the only one who didn’t know anyone (other than my running buddy Blake?) I kind of felt like I would be the odd man out, that I didn’t really belong to this incredible group of amazing people. I mean, I am a FLATLANDER. Sure, we can get some decent hills in the East, but my training leading up to TransRockies Run was quite literally averaging only a couple hundred feet above sea level. I mean, LOOK AT THOSE MOUNTAINS! Aid stations were going to be anywhere from 5–7 miles apart! What if I ran out of water? Food? EGACK! I almost passed out that Saturday night from nerves.
But my nerves were unfounded. On Sunday we arrived in Buena Vista, met up with Kahtoola associate Andrew, checked in (I was still a little freaking out TBH) and started this crazy wonderful adventure. Grabbing lunch, we met some of my most favorite people—Craig, Scott, Tim, Señe, Houda, Kris, Breck—before I learned that I had so many other favorite people still yet to meet. There may or may not have been a Fortnite dance challenge going on while we rocked the Kahtoola tent during registration … It was then, I realized, that I found my people. My family.
On the eve of Stage 1, I fell asleep listening to the sound of a creek dancing outside my window with the cool mountain air falling across my face, and the gravity of the week hit me. All at once I was at ease, nervous, and totally amped up. Who knew what the week would hold? The next morning dawned bright, with sparkling sunshine falling across the mountain sides. Making our way to the start line, I requested some “psych up” music, and Andrew did not disappoint. It totally made the day (and the song, “R.E.D.” by A Tribe Called Red (feat. Yasiin Bey), is now a repeat offender on my ultra playlist) and it played through my mind the entire stage. It got me THROUGH Stage 1 (which was wickedly hot and dry) and Sufferfest beer sitting in a cold river was my reward (along with MORE of my most favorites like Don, Mindy, Sami, Lainie, Lloyd, Daniel, Hunter and more).
So, turns out Blake and I COULD in fact hang with the TRR crew because, like family, we all cared for, laughed and harassed each other all the way through the run. To be clear, I wasn’t in this to barrel through each of the stages and get some crazy awesome PR—for what? To what end? Miss out on the views, moments, friendships? No. I took such pleasure in stopping for those minutes, closing my eyes, taking that breath and reawakening to the dangerously beautiful landscape that continued to present herself to me over the next days, and relished the opportunities to help some of my family as they struggled through the different phases of our journey. Because, what good would it have been if we didn’t all come across together?
I suppose I could keep talking about the scenery, the challenges of the dynamic weather, the INSANE climbs on Stages 2 and 4, and the critical importance of Fireball (trust me, it’s a thing), but that’s not really what it was about. It was about ALL of us—the TRR family—and the experiences and emotions we shared. That fleeting connection in a lifetime of memories, and I got to spend it with some of the most resilient, kind, hilarious BADASSES out there. And for that, I am eternally grateful. Thankful to consider you family, gracious of the time we had together, and optimistic of the adventures we might share in the future. But most importantly, I am SO grateful for the incredible generosity of the entire Kahtoola team—without them, none of this would be possible. So, Danny, Hilary, Andrew … thank you, now, and always.
— Jessica Carroll
Wow, what a great experience! It’s now a few days post completion of the TransRockies Run in Colorado and I am still amazed that it’s over. The last week has been a blur of action; seeing family in Colorado, meeting a great group of interesting and fun people, running 120 miles, and representing Kahtoola. I am still surprised that Jessica and I were selected for this and astounded by how much fun we had.
I think I came into the run well prepared. As documented in this blog, I was pushing 60 miles a week for about 10 weeks leading up to the race with treadmill climbs, speed sessions, and easy recovery sessions mixed in. With this base I had no issues completing the course, although I did feel the effects of elevation. I was really happy with how I felt and did. Initially, on days 1–4, I really struggled to run up slight slopes, but as my body adapted that came back. The course had technical sections that were challenging but those were mixed with areas that were very runnable. The hardest part was getting up and going each morning through the soreness, aches, and minor injuries.
Throughout the run, the event team lead by Kevin “Houda” McDonald was great. As someone who deals with logistics and transportation, the event staff seamlessly moved us from point to point. The explanations of what we needed to do and when were simple, posted, and repeated. Shuttles were on time and everywhere. The tent camp, Chill-Ville, showers, and other structures were set up and ready as soon as we finished the day. The locations of the camps were great and often beautiful, especially the two nights at Camp Hale (pictured below).
The course crosses some of the most majestic mountains and valleys that I have seen. It was often so overwhelming that I would stop (something I detest doing during a race) to enjoy it and take a few pictures. Jessica did a great job of helping me do this. I often go internal during runs and just concentrate on the next few feet. She made me come out of my self-imposed tunnel vision and see the wonders that surrounded us.
While going into the race I most looked forward to crossing Hope Pass during Stage 2, the Stage 5 trip from Red Cliff across the Vail ski slopes and into the town of Vail was the most impressive day for me. These high points were accentuated by TRR’s most dedicated character, Steve, an exciting and motivating costumed volunteer who was always a surprise—from a happy elf trying to give us shots of maple syrup to Gandalf on a mountain pass to Thor. The other volunteers and staff were also great fun and very helpful.
In a normal race you would meet the people who are in your pace range and maybe a few others, but TRR had a unique dynamic with its stage nature and camping-centric design. Because of this I met and befriended people in all sorts of pace ranges, from speedsters trying to win podium to people out to prove to themselves that they could accomplish something they thought was impossible. All of the runners I met had one commonality: they were there for the experience. In the six days running, I have made some new friends that I will have for a long time; people whom I already have plans to visit over time and run with in the future.
As with every race there are environmental challenges that are to be dealt with: heat, cold, rain, and in this case, elevation. TRR provided everything we needed to keep racing at their aid stations and at camp: water, electrolyte drinks and pills, watermelon and other snacks. But each runner still had to control their own race and balance their own body. During the course of the run, we had three opportunities to help those who had problems with maintaining that balance. I could not be more impressed as every time we crossed a runner in need, Jessica stepped up and took care of them. Everyone who passed asked if they needed assistance and offered aid (very common among ultra-athletes), but Jessica took it on as a mission and turned every one of them back into a good place and passed them on to medical. Because of this I also had the opportunity to see the TRR emergency plan in action, and I was impressed every time as they accessed hard-to-reach locations with aid and then extracted when required. Kudos to Sue and Dan for their specific efforts.
Yin and Yang
This was an amazing experience and the first stage race I have ever been a part of. Completing it with Jessica was a trial by fire. We are very much “yin and yang,” planner and free spirit. We have been friends for quite a while, but spending almost 24/7 together can strain any relationship. If you go into TRR with a partner, be ready to communicate little problems before they fester and to understand the other person’s perspective. Jessica put up with my idiosyncrasies and helped to break me out of some of my shell. She was a great race partner and I could not have asked for a more outgoing and excited person to do this with.
Blake and Jess
Lastly, I would like to thank Kahtoola and, specifically, Andrew. Kahtoola is true to its goal of trying to give back. In addition to their humanitarian efforts in Nepal, they support multiple ultras, and in this case, are in their fourth year as a TransRockies Run sponsor. The opportunity they gave Jessica and I was amazing and I am so humbled by it. Andrew specifically came out to take care of us during the run, providing gear, support, encouragement, and wit. He even ran Stage 4 with us. His efforts were the cherry on top of the yummy cake that was my TRR experience. Because of wearing the Kahtoola gear, Jessica and I were constantly contacted by runners on the trail or in camp who loved their gear and just wanted to let us know. I even had the opportunity to talk with a pair of runners who had used K•10 Hiking Crampons with trail running shoes to ascend 13,000-foot mountains in winter. I was constantly amazed by the positive response and how people just want to thank me as a surrogate for the company.
Thank you all for reading and your support. I encourage all of you to trust in your capabilities and to make a push for Kahtoola Race for the Rockies in 2019. It was a wonderful experience in keeping ultrarunning weird and I know you will enjoy it as much as I did. Thanks again, Kahtoola!
— Blake Burket
August 2, 2018
This weekend I embarked upon the greatest physical and mental challenge of my life—my first 100-mile race at Burning River. I signed up for it on a whim (I’ve never been good at planning) with my steadfast race buddy M, whom, when my race amnesia kicks in, has a knack for convincing me me to sign up for things I would never consider solo. In a state of panic, I called Blake and asked him to pace/crew given his experience with Umstead.
We got to Cuyahoga Falls, recce’d the finish line (*funeral home and breweries, check), fueled up (*tacos, guac, and a few flights of beer), and racked out. Morning came and we were off—plowed through my first 50 on FIRE, I was having a blast. I came screaming into the 50-mile checkpoint like La Brujita Joven (she’s such a badass!), and got a selfie with a blimp. We rolled out of there after Blake set me up with some cold brew and Chick-fil-A (seriously, best.crew.ever) and a quick wardrobe change on some stranger’s camp chair (sorry dude) under a rain poncho (#expertlevelninjamoves). Well, it wouldn’t be an ultra without a Fortnite dance challenge (Best Mates for the win!), brushes with savage wildlife (aka ponies) and tons of watermelon—and some mismarked distances.
Which means I ran out of water coming into mile 68. Needless to say, my high tumbled as did my spirits. Blake was there for me with some more coffee, a change of clothes, and this torture device called a roller for my legs—I couldn’t decide whether to throat punch or hug him! Either way, the next 8 miles sucked. I was off. I kicked my race buddy out with another pacer and Blake picked me up at mile 76 — I told him I was done. He was right there, building me up, setting a great pace (I think I was sleepwalking and crying at the same time?) while I was telling him that while I appreciated all his support, I didn’t care because I was dropping at 83. I had made it 83 miles and that was a win, not a failure. Well, in true Blake form, he kept pushing me through the next checkpoint—we BARELY made cutoff. The AS captain handed me a cup of coffee and some salt tabs (WOAH, did I have slosh belly) and said “get the hell out of my station.” Well, away we went, and we kept ahead of cutoffs. Picking up pace, gaining ground and time. There was a lot of ugly snot crying and pitiful whimpering between mile 83–93. But, with Blake by my side, urging me forward, I made it. We made it. My first 100-mi lebuckle.
And I owe it all to Blake, my eternal race buddy M, and the rest of my crew who kept me sane, lubed, and laughing. Love you all.
“Completing 2-mile lactic threshold repeats around the Lincoln memorial, reflecting pool, and WWII memorial. It’s a great way to get in a beautiful sight and have a 2-mile circle with no street crossings. The pictures make me look faster than I am.” — Blake
In order to make up for the paltry display of mountain goat-ness, I returned to D.C./work and settled into a week’s worth of steady climbs. I ran the ramp outside my office building for a couple 90-min sessions (ends up being ~8 miles of continuous up/downs without breaking my knees on stairs) and pulled a long, rolling-hills run in (western) NOVA “horse country.” Yeah, it’s not mountains or trail but in between kid duties, chores, 4:30 a.m. starts at work … best I can do. And so on Sunday, I celebrated the end to an insanely long few weeks of travel and crazy work with a two-hour paddle session on the Occoquan—literally finding it insanely difficult to taper for my first 100-miler while balancing the need to maintaining endurance. — Jessica
#crosstraining #goodcarbs #refuelingisimportant #carboload #imnotsurewhattodowithmyhands
July 16, 2018
I had a work trip to Omaha, NE, the perfect mountain fix following a week at the beach. Oh, wait … while I can’t complain about the two weeks galavanting around the U.S., it did create a challenge to get that much-needed terrain training. But, c’est la vie—I opted for daily fartleks while truly enjoying the American heartland. When I got home I did manage to squeeze in several therapeutic miles around a local Civil War battlefield with a local running group. It is SO good to be home. — Jessica
July 9, 2018
So, it’s beach week, which means I’m more focused on sun, sand, and booze than running normally. I DID manage to log about 45 miles over the last week with a few long and a few short distance runs following the whole beach mentality of “I’m lazy and not waking up until at least 9 a.m.” (Yes, my kids are AWESOME). The only downside is that I wasn’t getting out on the pavement/sand until about 11 a.m–1 p.m., which means it was crazy hot. Like Dante’s Inferno hot. WTForecast told me so. Also, all my pavement runs happened around an ~2-mile loop, so there’s that. I did also happen to run through an atmospherically-detonated nuke, which was pretty cool.
How Do I Train for an Ultra?
This is a question I have gotten twice in the last week, so I talked to them about it and decided to share it. First, there are many ways to get ready for an ultra, this is just mine. I have a friend that does 20 miles a week and German volume training (weight lifting) to get ready for his 100 milers, and Jessica just runs when she can, with a goal of running “a lot.” That kind of approach would destroy me. My wife has said on more than one occasion that I like to have a plan for when I will be making my plans, which is true. As an example, I know that the week of November 12 I will be building my winter training plan. Having a plan makes me feel comfortable and enables me to just run with no decision fatigue. I wake up, look at the plan, and then just do what it says. My planning method has evolved over the last few years, as I have changed my training due to our daughter, and as I have found what works for me.
The first step is to pick a goal race; I try to pick one four to six months out (this is one macro-cycle). I pick something that inspires and drives me to want to be there. Then I sign up, because I know that once I put down money I am locked in. This drives me to do the training and provides an end point for the plan. I put down a calendar of all of the months between the start of my macro-cycle and the race. I mark my goal race and add in any other races that I might have planned. Because of logistics issues I also add my wife’s races (she is doing the 50-state challenge—run a half marathon in every state) as a note to ensure that I do not double book us. I also add in any work trips, which I attempt to make recovery weeks (because travel workouts are always bad).
Next, I figure out my build-recovery cycles. I have tried a few different cycle types. The most interesting is Matt Dixon’s constant recovery. In his method you work hard for three days and easy for two, constantly taking recovery. I have also tried two/three/four hard weeks, one easy. Over time I have found that three weeks hard and one recovery works well for me.
I start from the goal race and back off my taper period; one week for events under three hours (half marathons, Olympic triathlons), two weeks for under six hours (marathon, 50k, half Ironman), and three weeks for anything else. The taper counts as recovery, so I mark back three weeks of effort, and then each four-week cycle going back to my start day.
I then assign the number of training hours for each week. I can generally do 12 to 14 hours a week. With my recovery weeks being 25% less time than the hard weeks. I have found that for me if I do long runs (4-plus hours) on the weekend, I tend to need a good amount of recovery and I miss out on things at home. So, I went to a more consistent schedule day-to-day with no runs over two hours (this aligns to Jack Daniel’s opinions on training). I have found that I can work in two hours a day before work (6–8 a.m.) and two hours on each day of the weekend. So, to hit a 65-mile week, I will run roughly 9 miles a day during the week and 10 on the weekend.
Each week is a micro-cycle where I try to hit 80% easy aerobic effort (conversational pace) and 20% hard effort (around lactic threshold pace) by time using heart rate as my determining factor. I have determined by aerobic heart rate in three ways: (1) Phil Maffatone’s 180—age + 5 (consistent running), (2) blood testing, and (3) my watch’s algorithm. For me these are pretty consistent (149, 151, 152), so I use that. For a while I tried a few ways to figure out how to get a progressive lactate threshold training plan for my 20% hard. I tried a few that were perceived effort based or a little more open and adaptable (like Matt Fitzgerald’s 80/20 plan, Jason Koop’s Essential Training for Ultra Marathons). I found that because of my analytical nature, I actually really enjoy the Jack Daniel’s 2Q method. This provides me a listing 36 “quality” workouts (two per week) based on my weekly mileage that is designed to be progressive and which for me hits pretty close to 80/20 if I run everything not a Q workout as easy. A sample of a Q session is: 2 miles easy, 2 miles at lactic threshold pace, two minutes recovery, 2 miles at lactic threshold, two minutes recovery, 2 miles easy.
With my lack of a weekly long run, I need to make an effort to keep my long range running endurance and to practice my nutrition for my goal race. So, every other macro-cycle (4 weeks—3 hard, 1 easy) I try to schedule a marathon, 50k or 50-miler that falls in my last hard week of that cycle. This allows me to use my recovery week to rest from the hard effort of that longer run and not worry about missing hard training sessions that would improve my capability.
This process provides me with a listing of what I need to do each week and each day. It gives me confidence that I will be ready for my goal race. The progressive nature of the 20% hard enables my body to train hard while the 20% easy minimizes the chances of injury and keeps me from overtraining. — Blake
July 4, 2018
July 2, 21018
Here’s me completing a 90-min, 8-mile “hill climb”—e.g. 90-min of steady ups, no breaks, just trying to get some elevation (snort snort lullz) here at sea level. And because I can only go around work during the week, I’m stuck with the fancy pedestrian ramp at the Pentagon. I almost died by bikers!!! They refuse to clip out and then go too slow up the ramp and cause some serious choke points at the turns. So, what do I do? I chase those mofos up that ramp and watch them freak out and start pedaling as fast as they can to (try and) beat me 😉. — Jessica
June 25, 2018
So, I did absolutely NOTHING on Saturday other than wrap a couple days of debauchery celebrating my (almost) 37th birthday. My friends took me out Friday night in D.C. and the theme was, in this order: tequila, tattoos, and tacos. No joke. By Saturday afternoon I was a proud owner of two new bad-ass tattoos to remind me of my kids and my time in NZL. (And, yes, I would’ve gotten them regardless of tequila, but hey, that always helps). So, needless to say, as there was A LOT of tequila involved in my Friday DAY and well into the wee hours of Saturday, the rest of the day was a down day to recover and feel sorry for myself. BUT, Sunday was a chance at redemption and a means to sweat out the booze. Did I mention there was a lot of birthday tequila? Being the masochist I am, I went for a 21-mile morning run and proceeded to sweat out EVERYTHING—really, it was a super gross humid day. But, it was a kick-ass, necessary run in prep for Burning River 100 and TRR (yes, I’m crying). Also, my hair may or may not be pink 😉. — Jessica
June 18, 2018
Last Friday I was up at 4:30 a.m. to catch a plane back to D.C. (I was TDY) so I could roll into the PNT for a couple hours before hurrying home to see my 4-year-old put on a fashion show and get cleaned up and throw on a ball gown for a black tie event, for which I did my makeup and hair in the back of an Uber. I got home from that at 2 a.m. on Saturday morning, slept for five hours, woke up and did the “mom” thing all day before I managed a 20-min catnap only to wake up at 3 p.m. and get to the start line of the OSSCIA 50-Mile Night Run … making sure I stopped at CFA first for a #1 with extra EXTRA pickles (girls gotta electrolyte!), then proceeded to bang out 50 miles in some of the most sweltering, technical, downright CRA trail I’ve ever run ever. I finished 4th female overall—the race field was 90, only approximately 40 finished. The race director proudly touts the race as one of the most “isolating, disorienting, claustrophobic, suffocating” 50ks you’ll ever run in your life—and that’s absolutely 12,000% true. That was last weekend. This weekend I treated myself to the (barely) 5k Night Nation Run. Needless to say, I LIVE for a good bass line 😉. Jessica @ the 5k Nation Night Run — Jessica
June 11, 2018
It’s been three years since the Kahtoola Race for the Rockies idea light bulb lit up bright above our heads. Three years since we thought it a genius idea to giveaway a team spot to the annual TransRockies™ Run. Three years since we decided to give people who otherwise wouldn’t be sponsored a once-in-a-lifetime chance to toe the line at a majestically located six-day, 120-mile ultra. And three years to tell their stories.
In those three years we’ve had people finish last, offered others their first-ever glimpse at the Colorado Rockies, and made a film about Matt “Wildcat” Muchna and James “Bigfoot” Madson, brothers-in-law who call each other brothers, but it’s weird because James just sleeps with Matt’s sister.
Now entering our fourth race, it’s fair to say this thing sure has taken off. At the end of May we sifted through 200 team entries to arrive at six impressive finalists. But after an interview process that left us with audible expressions of disbelief, foreheads pressed on tables and pens wildly tossed in the air, we could only choose one: Jessica Carroll and Blake Burket’s team Suck It Up Buttercup.
We’ll let them introduce themselves in their own words below, but here’s what we’ve learned so far. They both work long, demanding hours at the Pentagon, each with kiddos, and somewhere between all the insanity they find time to run, train, and compete in ultras. In hearing their stories, we were inspired by their commitment to family and country, but even more they exhibited an infectious team balance that is the perfect mix of offbeat, humble, and genuine.
Beyond that, as you’ll find, they’re VERY different—in a way that is complimentary rather than opposing, like yin and yang, to form a fluid, dynamic system. Where Blake is regimented, Jessica is spontaneous. Where Blake is on-time (or more likely early), Jessica is late. Where Blake is an iron man, Jessica is a cyborg. But, ultimately, they connect through running, showing their kids what’s possible, and beer. When asked how they felt about a Beer Mile, Jessica replied, “Oh my god, yes!” followed by Blake’s resolute, “We can do that.” They both also constantly abbreviate everything and use military time, which has caused chaos in our office and resulted in us hanging a Civilian/Military time conversation chart on the wall. And when it comes to camaraderie on the trail, they maintain that they will institute “monkey backpacks” to drag each other along—whatever that means, we’re still not sure. But we digress …
Appropriately titled the “Getting Psyched Up” blog by Jessica, we’ll be sharing their story and journey and updating this blog over the course of the next several weeks leading up to, during, and after this August’s TransRockies™ Run, so please stay tuned. Kicking things off, we introduce the winners of this year’s Kahtoola Race for the Rockies: Jessica Carroll and Blake Burket. Big congrats to them!
My running journey began my junior year in high school where I ran a 5k to impress a girl. I still remember how long it felt like it took to finish and how I had to walk parts because I went out too fast. Nothing ever came of it as apparently a 30-plus minute 5k was not very impressive to her. After I joined the Navy and was in college, I ran when I had to. This came out to about three 3-mile runs a week. I was running in order to take our twice-a-year, 1.5-mile physical fitness test. Some guys claimed they were 3-mile-a-year people (1.5 miles × twice per year), but I didn’t have enough native talent to make that work.
The first time I really got to enjoy running was in 2006 while I was deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom. The base I was stationed on held a 5k/10k every week and it was “the” event to be at. With all of the stress and issues, I suddenly found the runs to be a stress release. I still remember how hard I worked to go from a 1:11 to try to break 1 hour. I never quite succeeded, ending my deployment on a 1:01, but I like to blame the 90-degree (but it was a dry) heat!
Coming back to the world my running fell off and I ran maybe 10 miles per week for the next few years, until 2012 when I was stationed in Seattle where I decided that I would race my first marathon. With a horrid training plan and almost zero real race experience, I showed up before the race to find no one at the starting line (I might have been a bit nervous about being late and showed up an hour ahead of time). Staying there at the line, I hung out until just before the race when all of these slim, fast-looking people showed up next to me. The gun went off and I started running. Everyone was going so fast, so I decided that “must” be how you start a marathon. I think the shock of this chubby guy trying to run at the front shocked the front runners for a few seconds, and I led the Seattle Marathon for about a whole second. Then they were gone and I was getting ready to have a global meltdown at mile 20.
After that I declared myself done with running long distances and went back to my 10 miles a week until my wife and I had a daughter. We had a good number of complications and were in and out of the emergency room five times across the months following her birth. I fell apart, stopped working out, gained weight, and was just trying to take care of the two of them. Then one night, I got frustrated and went outside for a walk to clear my head. Half way down the block something moved me and I started to jog. That jog was all of a mile, but in that moment, I found a moving meditation that called to me. I suddenly felt mentally better and I found a level of joy in running that I had not felt before. I found that I needed to set aside time for me in order to take care of my family.
Over the next year I set a new goal and started to run again. I ran a few local half marathons and was feeling good. I had lost some of the excess weight and was much happier. I started to grow my race distances and found I loved the trails, both the solitude and the camaraderie. In my work life we seek constant improvement, not necessarily large improvement, but constant. I try to follow this philosophy every time I race. I am always trying to be a better version of myself and improve from where I was. I will never be on the podium, but I can always be better than I was. My engineer side loved the training plans and using Excel spreadsheets to track what I was doing and what I had planned. My wife teases me about how my solution to many things is to use Excel to make a spreadsheet (I promise I can stop at any time).
In this time, I have created a list of my top ultra marathons and I am working through them. My first was the Stonemill 50 which grabbed my attention when I read the book My Year of Running Dangerously by Tom Foreman. The second was the Umstead 100, which even with my DNF due to hypothermia at 75 miles was one of the best experiences I have had at a race. My last is the Leadville 100 which I plan on doing in 2019. Leadville grabbed my attention when two friends ran it last year, one as part of the Grand Slam of ultrarunning and the other on his third attempt. Their perseverance and stories combined with the glorious views have captured my imagination. Watching Billy Yang’s The Why just added to my desire. Luckily, Kahtoola is giving me a wonderful chance to do race recon during the TransRockies™ Run.
Then one day I was running at the Pentagon’s indoor one-eighth of a mile track and I saw one of the runners I had a nodding acquaintance with (I nodded when I saw her and she nodded back, the international “hello” of the runner). My wife decided to get back into running and had mentioned she wanted running pants, something I know nothing about not being a woman and not wearing running pants. So, while we were both stretching I asked my nodding acquaintance about her opinion and introduced myself. That person was Jessica. She had noticed my 50-miler shirt and was interested in doing an ultra, so we started talking. Wow, was she ever different from me. I literally have a plan for when I am going to make my plans and I feel uneasy going into big events without one. She gets nervous when you say the word “plan” but is one of the most dedicated hardest training people I know. She sets her mind on something and it is as if an unstoppable cyborg takes over and just does not stop. She has since become one of my closest running friends. She volunteered to pace me at my first 100 miler and I volunteered to pace her at hers.
One day we were jogging together and she brought up this harebrained scheme to enter Kahtoola’s Race for the Rockies. After we signed up, I found out she had in fact not even looked at the website for details—she just thought crossing the Colorado Rockies would be fun. I, on the other hand, did hours of research after she told me about it to figure out how it worked.
I keep her centered and she keeps my running interesting.
— Blake Burket
So … I never thought I’d ever be a “runner” when I grew up (let alone actually like running. Seriously, people do this for FUN?!) because I could never find the joy, the ease, the freedom.
I tried running indoor track in high school (like a bajillion years ago) and loathed it. It was forced and unnatural to me. Plus, indoors—ick. It wasn’t really until college when I started running for myself. After some rough sophomore and junior years, I lost control of my body and my mind. I couldn’t recognize myself in the mirror. I knew I needed something to help me regain control of my life, and it was then that I found running. Really, running. Nights, trails, country roads … and suddenly I found myself nervously signing up for my first half marathon my senior year. While I wasn’t anything remotely close to spectacular, I finished. I did it. I had found myself—the space to be, to accept, to GO.
It was liberating.
I stuck with half marathons for a while, killing the C-bus half (*for me) only a few months after I had my first child in 2009. Then we moved to New Zealand, and WOAH! It was this perfect meld of awesome, wild, pure nature and uninhibited go. So, I did. And that’s where I really fell in love with how running freed me—much like this incredible land I found myself living in.
When we eventually moved back to the land of politics, Chick-Fil-A, and shitty commutes (*ahem, D.C., looking at you, kid)—and three babies later—I got back into the obligatory Army 10s, MCMs, and just about every OCR possible … and had a blast. But, on New Year’s Day 2017, after running a trail 10k to sweat out the booze from the night before, I found myself running alongside this woman who was talking about her experience running a 50k, and I was IN. Like, 12,000% in, and went straight home and signed up for the North Face Endurance Challenge D.C. 50k—sober! (I know y’all get me when I stress sober, opposed to those nights after a couple glasses of <pick your poison> perusing UltraSignUp.com.). After convincing a few friends (*suckers) to join me—one a U.S. Marine whom signed up only six days prior to race day with his longest run being 10 miles because he’s a badass and ‘Murica—I went out and ran my first ultra and LOVED IT. Boom. I was hooked.
That, folks, was the start of my “year of crazy”; however, those who are much better at math than me will instantly realize that this is 2018, and thus, my year of crazy persists. Balancing a steady state of ~12-hour work days (national security never sleeps! Really, I sadly average about five hours of sleep per night), I’ve proceeded to knock out Ragnar, American Odyssey, JFK, BRR, OSSCIA (← seriously, folks—hardest run I’ve EVER done. But being the masochist I am, when signing up for a race with a 50% washout rate which the RD calls “suffocating, isolating, claustrophobic … it will break you,” well, shit, sign me up!) And now here I am, looking down a terrifyingly short three-week taper to Burning River 100 just a mere 10 days before TRANSROCKIES™ RUN!!! Well, I’m kind of all about unplanned crazy. It works for me. So, yeah … it continues.
But where I draw my strength and joy, the things that are even better than the badass experiences—the scenery and the food and booze at the aid stations—are the friendships. The look of awe in my babies’ faces. The support from near and afar. The camaraderie of being in the suck TOGETHER. I could name some pretty amazing people who have and continue to pull me through, but they know who they are. This, friends, is why ultras are amazing. Because whenever and wherever you find yourself, you are never alone. There is always someone there to pull you through and up. To keep you going. To push you further than where your mind will tell you is possible. Because of all of you, I can keep going.
I continue to move forward, to look forward to TransRockies™ Run, because it’s all I know how to do. I do it understanding that I have a responsibility, a driving purpose in life to my little girl, my littlest baby, my mini me. She deserves more than what our society provides or offers as she grows into the amazing, world-changing woman I know she will be. And so, I try to show her that there are so many other ways to be incredible, to be GREAT. Not by my (far) less-than-podium finisher times, but by NEVER giving up. By staring down that mountain or looking past that infinitely winding road. My original submission for the TransRockies™ Run was not for me, but to give my daughter the chance to witness fear, sadness, loneliness, desperation and accomplishment. Relief. Exhilaration. Awe. This is an opportunity to demonstrate that we ALL have greatness in us, and I cannot imagine a more natural demonstration of that tenacity, self-awareness, and ferociousness than to represent Kahtoola throughout every emotional stage as we traverse the Colorado Rockies as a team with my accomplished running mate Blake. This opportunity will provide testament that we are far, far stronger than our minds let us believe. And, for my daughter, that as women, we can, in fact, do ANYTHING.
To all of you … THANK YOU! I wouldn’t be who I am, or where I am today, without you.
— Jessica Carroll