“This feels good man, just real good.” I bounced past a mountain biker, and a few minutes later, past the spot where I had bonked on the trail last September. Nick and I were out for a run and the stoke was high. That morning he had suggested “let’s just get out and turn over the legs for 3 hours,” but earlier in our planning Nick had mentioned my favorite words – “I want to get out and suffer.”
I was in 7th grade when I discovered I loved endurance sports. I ran every single day that year. I ran in hiking boots in the Chicago winter, and lived for summer runs along Lake Michigan. I loved that it made me lean and quick. Even then I knew, I wanted to move fast and light in the mountains.
After last weekend, I’m just not worried about my foot holding me back much any more. I started my 4th of July at 430am, rolling out of bed, throwing a carefully packed bag in the car, and meeting Martin by 5. I’ve wanted to get high in the Missions since I first saw them, and Martin had been itching to get on top of McDonald Peak. I left the car in running shoes with simple bivy gear, boots, and ice axe on my back.
We made good time on trail, and kept moving across excellent snow conditions- supportable, but not icy. The last few slopes were a slog but the final summit ridge took a little rock climbing savvy to tick the peak in 7hrs 20 from the car. We had dropped the bivy gear at the last basin, descended back to it and looked forward to a comfortable night in the range.
While stoked on the event, the summit, and the experience, I got back to Missoula knowing I had a little more in me. Nick texted, and Sunday morning we headed up to the Rattlesnake to try beating the heat that was sinking into the valley.
We didn’t really intend to summit Sheep Mountain, it just kinda happened, and it only took 2 hours of running. The only problem was I really wasn’t prepared for the return. A 4 hour run requires some planning, particularly around hydration and nutrition. I had packed 260 calories, and one hand bottle of water- barely enough for the 3 hour run Nick and I had originally planned, but not nearly enough for the 4 hour endeavor it became. I bonked the first time at 2hr 30, but was able to get up, get moving, and fire off quite a few more miles.
About 1 1/2 miles from the trailhead the bonk hit hard. The heat takes it out of you. Nick put my arm over his shoulder and we walked together, one step at a time towards the water in the car. We crested the last hill and I let go, coasting down to the car under my own power, but humbled by the harshness of finding my endurance limit. Nick, of course, was still going strong. Together we covered 22 miles and 3,500 feet of vertical gain (and 3,500ft of loss). It was the longest duration I’ve ever run (Chicago Marathon only took 3hrs 13min, but it was flat). I laughed at myself after a soak in the creek and a burrito.
Its been a long time since I tried something hard and really failed, but I think in finding a limit, there was a certain success. Nick is an ultra-marathoner that I deeply respect. Sharing my limit with him was a privilege, and I hope to return the favor some day. “Ultra” is a state of mind, and I think I’m just starting to understand what that looks like. To both Martin and Nick (and Madison, the dog) thanks for reminding me of some of the things I loved the longest. Life is a long game, it’s fun to practice playing.