As I packed my belongings for my quick weekend trip to Texas last Thursday, I decided to bring an old favorite book along for the ride.  It’s probably been close to ten years since I last read John Krakauer’s classic Into Thin Air, and I’ve had a hard time putting it down since my flight left Aspen on Friday morning.  Reading about other people intentionally subjecting themselves to extreme discomfort in the hours before and after a race of such intimidating distance, I think, lends credibility to the activity itself and quiets the inevitable mid-race question of “Why the hell am I doing this?” My race on Saturday was a heartbreaker in a lot of ways but the experience only served to further deepen my love for our sport and our community.

Upon landing in San Antonio on Friday I met up with teammate and Ultra celebrity Nick Clark, and made the quick trip to Bandera to catch the tail end of the race briefing.  Yassine Diboun joined us for a quick 20 minute leg stretcher on the opening miles of the course before we retired to the fine accommodations Nick had secured nearby with some incredibly kind and generous Texans.

Photo: iRunFar

At 7:30am on Saturday we were dispatched out into the rocky hill country of Central Texas, where 100 kilometers of trails waited to abuse us.  Immediately the pace felt fast but comfortable.  Timothy Olson and Dave James built a bit of separation on myself and Nick, while a train of solid runners followed very close behind.  It felt like summer in Texas and I relished the warm sunshine and dirt I’ve missed over the last couple months in the high mountains.  I ran the entire first half with Nick and felt pretty good save some crampy quads that started acting up on the last climbs of the first lap.

We came into the turnaround a couple minutes under 4 hours with Olson, James, and Mackey just out front.  I left a bit before Nick and wasn’t surprised to see the stampede of talented runners heading towards me during the short out and back to start the second loop.  RD Joe Prusaitis said the next morning that 9 of us in the 100k field beat the eventual 50k winner.  It was shaping up to be quite a race.

The second lap started in a vary discouraging way for me.  It had become increasingly apparent that I was woefully underprepared for 70 degree temperatures and the cramps in my legs progressively became violent leg seizures like I’ve never experienced. On the second downhill of the second lap, in my state of crampy clumsiness, I caught a toe on a rock and took took one of the best superman diggers of my Ultra career in what probably looked like a headfirst slide into home plate.  Surprisingly the damage was minimal and still nobody had caught me, so I soldiered on.  Thankfully, with the help of several hand fulls of salt pills, I was able to turn it around somewhere around mile 45 after enduring a grueling 3 hour low point.

Photo: iRunFar

It is absolutely amazing to observe oneself rally through tough race circumstances and find a miraculous second wind.  Slowly my stride  came back and my spirits were lifted.  My electrolyte levels must have been closer to equilibrium because I loosened up and my legs felt great.  With my new found energy I soon caught Dave James and moved into third place as we left the Crossroads aid station. My spirits were further lifted when I came back through Crossroads 5 miles later to learn Dave Mackey had just left looking beat, meaning I was making up serious time.

I gave chase but stayed patient in my pursuit over the next few miles.  Eventually, I made it to the Last Chance aid station at about mile 57 to learn Dave had an 80 second lead.  I could see Dave hiking near the top of the climb so I hiked too hoping to bide my energy for a final push in the last couple miles.  Just then I looked over my shoulder for the first time in hours and saw Joe Uhan maybe 30 seconds behind and looking very strong.  I was immediately deflated and instinctively hit the gas hard.  I kamikazed the ensuing downhill and charged up the last climb sucking on a gel.  I probably got to within 20 seconds of Dave on the flat section before the rocky downhill finish but knew I just had nothing left.  The wheels came off and suddenly Joe was on top of me coming downhill.  I stepped off the trail and congratulated him on a perfectly executed race and coasted in for fourth place, disappointed but proud.  So solid Joe!  Good on you for having the heart to chase so late.

Photo: iRunFar

Over the past year I’ve been very determined to avoid bitterness when it comes to getting into certain races.  Going into Bandera I was fully resigned to the fact that, if I ever have the opportunity to race Western States, I’ll have to earn the spot myself.  That’s the most honorable way to do it and hopefully someday I’ll earn my shot.  I gave it everything I had and came up just short on Saturday.  I’m okay with that.  I’ll be dealing with the shoulda, woulda, couldas for a little while but I’ll be better for the experience and will have an even hotter competitive fire next time I’m on a start line.  I really am happy to have been apart of the drama this weekend albeit on the losing end.

Huge respect and admiration to Timothy Olson for a signature wire to wire victory!  Dude’s got a great attitude to compliment his stupefying talent.  He’ll be a force at any race he tackles in the coming years.  Nick Clark came in a few minutes behind me for fifth place so it was a solid showing for the PI team.  Not quite the sweep we would have preferred but 3 out of top 5 ain’t half bad. It was a pleasure to spend the weekend, including the entire first half of the race, with Nick and look forward to more of the same in the future.  Unfortunately Darcy Africa had to drop halfway with some nagging problems with her hammies and feet.  In the absence of my mother, Darcy became a great cheer leader for me in the second half and helped accelerate me through the aid stations.  No doubt, after a little rest she’ll be up to the challenge her hefty race schedule presents.

After the race, our gracious hosts filled Nick and I up with some deliciously greasy pizza before we retired to our double wide trailer for some rest. Of course, I could not sleep for a while so I busted out my book to keep my mind occupied.  Again, it was comforting to hear a similar perspective on the merits of physical challenges in the context of mountaineering.  The suffering of Himalayan alpinists made the pain of my post-race body seem significantly less intense.  On the plane ride home on Sunday, I came across this passage in the book which I think any serious ultrarunner can relate to.

“Above the comforts of Base Camp, the expedition in fact became an almost Calvinistic undertaking. The ratio of misery to pleasure was greater by an order of magnitude than any mountain I’d been on; I quickly came to understand that climbing Everest was primarily about enduring pain. And in subjecting ourselves to week after week of toil, tedium and suffering, it struck me that most of us were probably seeking above all else, something like a state of grace.” – John Krakauer, Into Thin Air

Who the hell knows why we do this?  Who the hell cares?  It’s a painful struggle but it’s also the greatest satisfaction I have ever known.  I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Photo: iRunFar

34 Responses

  1. Great race DeBow! Your a strong dude! I look forward to many good times running together.
    Enjoy some fresh powder on your home turf.
    Happy recovery,

    January 10, 2012 at 4:36 am

    • dylan

      You’re the man Tim! See you in Cali in a few months. Keep up the great work.

      January 10, 2012 at 3:09 pm

  2. Congrats Dylan. You guys are an inspiration. Great run and fantastic attitude. Can’t wait to see how well you do in 2012. See you in Moab.

    January 10, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    • dylan

      Look forward to it Aric! Wore some Pivlocks during the race on Saturday. Best running shades I’ve ever worn. See you soon!

      January 10, 2012 at 3:36 pm

  3. Erik Wardell

    Well executed race and blog. I was wondering what was up with the greasy belly stain.

    January 10, 2012 at 3:48 pm

    • dylan

      Thanks my bro.

      January 10, 2012 at 5:25 pm

  4. Wiley

    Great run, Dylan, an excellent race report, and a great attitude. So close tho!! Arrgh.
    If you ever decide to come back down for more TX rocks, look me/us through Nick. We’ve got a double-wide waiting for your return. Mike

    January 10, 2012 at 4:12 pm

    • dylan

      Thanks again Mike! I heard your race went really well. Good for you! I hope you got your money’s worth out of the open bar on Saturday :).

      January 10, 2012 at 5:24 pm

  5. Schlarb


    Nice work Saturday!

    I am going to be in the Aspen area Friday-Monday and wanted to see if you were around for a run, maybe mountain adventure or a drink.

    Congrats again.

    January 10, 2012 at 4:15 pm

    • dylan

      Awesome! I should be off on Sunday and would love to do something. I’ll email you.

      January 10, 2012 at 5:26 pm

  6. TK

    Damn dude, so close…solid solid effort! I was really hoping you’d get that WS slot. Luckily there are a few more opportunities this spring, and I only see you getting stronger; you’ll get yours.

    January 10, 2012 at 4:45 pm

    • dylan

      Thanks Tony. Lake Sonoma is the only other MUC race I’m in for and it is crazy deep. Either gonna do AC or SD again I think. Frankly, I wish they would just bump the WS spot down to fourth since they were prepared to give two spots anyway :). Someday….

      January 10, 2012 at 5:30 pm

  7. Joe

    Thanks again for the hard-fought battle over that last 8K! Happy recovery and I’ll see you in Sonoma!

    January 10, 2012 at 4:52 pm

    • dylan

      So strong man. See you in Sonoma!

      January 10, 2012 at 5:31 pm

  8. It was breath-taking for us at Last Chance to watch both male and female top racers be so close (well, past #1 anyway:)). Thanks for providing excitement! Sorry it didn’t go your way for the spot. There is Ice Age, still, don’t give up. And loved the final sentence, after the book’s exert. Right on.

    January 10, 2012 at 5:14 pm

    • dylan

      Thanks Olga! Appreciated your support out there. What a race!

      January 10, 2012 at 5:32 pm

  9. Colin

    Good job Dylan! It was cool meeting you and Nick. You guys are both beasts! I’m looking at that race up in Steamboat..maybe I’ll see you there. Take care and good luck for 2012!

    January 10, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    • dylan

      So pumped for you Collin! We heard you leave at 5:30am and were bummed we didn’t get to hear about it. Good luck at Rocky! I’ll be rooting.

      January 10, 2012 at 5:33 pm

  10. Hey, so will you try another MUC race to get a WS spot?

    Great post.

    January 10, 2012 at 5:37 pm

  11. dylan

    I’m in at Lake Sonoma already but the field is absurdly stacked and doesn’t even include Clark and Dakota yet, who both plan on running. So basically I’m looking in a different direction now. Probs either Angeles Crest or San Diego again… Maybe Vermont. I don’t know. Still bummed I missed on Saturday. Hope all is well!

    January 10, 2012 at 6:15 pm

  12. Good stuff man. You put up a good fight and will do again at Sonoma. AC would be sweet and natural progression from the last two years means you’ll take the top spot at Leadville…Keep it up!

    January 10, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    • dylan

      The only problem with AC is that it’s the weekend after Hardrock where I was planning to “run” for several hours :). Don’t think I’ll race Leadville this year. Got Steamboat on the brain.

      January 10, 2012 at 8:53 pm

  13. Holy crap … Paula Newby Fraser is in the Sonoma race.

    January 10, 2012 at 7:13 pm

    • dylan

      I know! So cool.

      January 10, 2012 at 8:53 pm

  14. nickp

    Bummer it didn’t work out for WS – but still a great run!

    What about Bighorn? I think you would like it.

    January 12, 2012 at 3:30 am

    • dylan

      Thanks bud. Ya I’d love to run Bighorn but just can’t because of work. Pretty much the busiest weekend of the summer in Aspen. Definitely on the bucket list though.

      January 12, 2012 at 4:29 am

      • nickp

        Hate it when real life gets in the way of all of fun ;-)

        January 12, 2012 at 3:41 pm

  15. Great perspective, Dylan.

    January 13, 2012 at 4:37 pm

  16. Have you considered running Leona Divide to get into WS?

    January 18, 2012 at 12:29 am

    • dylan

      Hey Chris. I’m already doing Sonoma so Leona is a no go. Timmy is running both but he’s a freak. Sonoma (and Leona for that matter) is stacked already so I doubt I’ll be competitive for a spot there. I got into AC100 so that’s what I’m aiming at. Really excited for that race. What about you? Running SD again?

      January 18, 2012 at 4:44 pm

  17. I’m running AC as well. I live close to the course so I had a hard time justifying running anything else. After running around on the course a bit I’m stoked to piece it all together this summer.

    If you’re ever over here and want to check out some of the course I’m always down.

    Good luck at Sonoma!

    January 18, 2012 at 10:35 pm

  18. finally got a chance to read, great stuff! keep it rolling

    February 10, 2012 at 7:17 pm

    • dylan

      Thanks Ben! Looks like your training is pretty strong as well.

      February 11, 2012 at 11:05 pm

      • thx Dylan, so far so good!

        February 12, 2012 at 3:43 pm

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