Colombia is one of the most amazing places in the world and this was one cuss of an adventure. Most notably my most greatest adventure to date. I am super grateful and amazingly appreciative for the opportunity and need to thank JulboUSA, but most notably superman Nick Yardley. Nick as been unbelievably supportive and has embraced me into the JulboUSA family, which feels like a very tight group and I really love being able to call them a sponsor (and their gear is far superior to the rest).
The flight into Colombia was wild and crazy and upon arriving at Manizales, it was very evident that this was going to be a wild adventure. The people that were hosting me and helping me get situated didn’t speak much American, and my Spanish is rusty but usable, so communicating was tough, but it was awesome.
I befriended a bunch of people that turned out to be editors and photographers for outdoor sports magazines in South America, and they became my guides up the mountain to preview. The preview was gnarly and awesome and had me zoned into that this would be the hardest adventure also.
In preparation for the race, I needed to wake up at 3:30 to catch a bus to the start, which was a 4 hour bus ride was speeds of 25 mph due to the dirt mountain roads.
We then boarded the busses again and continued up into the mountains. I opted to not ride inside of the bus (which was a party bus known as a Chivas), and took a seat on the roof of the bus. This was gnarly and epic. A few Colombian compadres joined me up there for what turned out to be a very scary endeavor.
After another 90 minutes of 20 mph and treacherous mountain passes we reached the destination of the start in the Los Nevados Mountains. This was great to get off the bus and stretch the whole body out. It became very frantic, and people started to get panicky. I asked a few dudes who I now call friends what was going on and they told me that the race was going to start in 5 minutes! Cuss, we just got off the bus, and I just went to the bathroom.
A group of dudes did continue to pound away, and I had no illusions of going with them. I knew I could have, but I also recognize that that would have ruined my whole race and experience. I stuck to the plan that Pete Thomas preached to me: “Don’t you try and win this cussing race! Don’t even thinking about winning the cussing race. Just run and finish.”
This was a very new approach, but knew him to be right, as he always is with my running, and took it to heart. But… in the back of my head I had to think I was going to compete, and maybe that was surviving until the end and seeing what happens. So, as those wild hombres sprinted out ahead, I settled in to a very comfortable pace up into the elevations.
The first 10 miles was rolling up and up until around 13,5k feet of elevation. The race started at 9,5k feet and the first 10 miles were a great lead in with nothing too severe. It was around here that the up seemed to have stopped (it was still gaining elevation, but rising ever so slightly) for a bit and it just rolled up and down.
Once the officials allowed me to turn around and head back down, I felt better and better the closer I got to 14k feet. This was very short lived. AS great as I surprisingly felt over the next 45 minutes, upon the next climb I was destroyed. The VertK absolutely annihilated me. The next climb was a series of switchbacks and around half way I had to stop. One, I was dead, and two; I was low on calories, so I started walking and eating the granola/power bars in my pack. I was well geared with salted caramel GU’s (and ended up eating 12 throughout the whole 42 miles), and bagged one of them as I was walking. It was here that I got caught by 2 dudes that were still running and they went by me like I wasn’t even moving. This climb was insanely steep and they were floating up it like it was nothing, as I was reduced to barely being able to walk straight. I just kept telling myself to fuel and hydrate.
Once cresting the hill I was on a large plateau and could see the dudes that passed me. One of them I befriended in the hotel we were both in, his name is Diego, and he wasn’t too friendly once he passed ha-ha. At the next check point and 20 mile mark I found out that I was currently in 5th. Around this time, a storm cloud rolled in out of nowhere and the fog was so thick, I could barely see 25 ft in front of me.
This brought me back to the breakfast stop from the morning and my bovine friends were out in the field to cheer me on. I now had 15k to go; with (what I thought to be) one more mountain climb (turned out to be 7 1000m climbs and descends). I was completely out of water, so I hopped a fence and hustled to a farm house that was just off the trail and frantically asked fro agua. A little kid (9 yrs old) was super fast and hooked me up, filling both of my Ultimate Direction bottles. I had my mind made up that I was going to power hike anything that added the least bit of lactic acid to my legs, and stuck with this.
Granted the last 10 miles of a 42 mile race are going to feel tough. But when the actual vertical steepness is the most severe (even if it was only 800-1000m stretches) it makes it ever so much harder. Upon cresting one small mountain it was followed by an immediate downhill that mirrored the climb. This continued until the last 4k. GOOSH! Up and down, up and down, and no one in sight behind me or in front of me. I kept telling myself that all I had to do was finish and it was going to be a huge feat. I focused on sipping water, hawkeying the trail, and playing my footing safe while watching the trail. I couldn’t fathom getting lost now, nor was I going to allow that to happen. I was dialed in, focused and STILL feeling great! It was mind bottling (like when you have your thoughts trapped in a bottle) that I was feeling this good, this late into a gnarly cussing cluster cuss of a cuss hard race!
It was around this time that I did want to be done also. I wanted to know where the finish was. I was running out of fuel and water, and just needed to be done. Then a miracle happened, I caught a glimpse of 1st place. This was like being in prison for 25 years and then let loose into the PlayBoy mansion, all life was burst back into my whole being. The only kicker was he was at the top of a 5 switchback 400m climb and I was at the bottom. I just told myself countless times to just keep rolling and keep your eyes on him. Once I got to the top of the climb I saw him on, I could see that he was hurting and not running. He was in full on walk. This also turned out to be the last real climb. I caught him in a matter of seconds and flew past him in hopes of destroying any morale or confidence. It was around this time that there was only 5k left in the race. I pushed with all I had. The original plan had the race finishing on a climb, and this is what I believed the whole race, so on the next portion, which was downhill, I just strided out and ran comfortably as I could. I knew he was fried on the ups and wasn’t going to be a factor on the uphill’s, but he caught me on the next downhill and had a downhill gear that I wasn’t ready for. The race is going to end on an uphill, right?
So I thought. Once he went flying by me down the hill, I didn’t try and change gears to catch stay with him. And truth be told, he had a gear that my legs at that distance into the race didn’t have. The last time he and I were together there was only 3k to go. After losing total contact with him, I did try one more hurrah but the legs didn’t have a response down the hill. A few curves of the road later the finish popped into view and it was definitely not on an uphill! Ha.
Now, I’m not making any excuses as I truly believe my legs were shot, but had I known where the finish was (and not gotten off trail earlier) maybe I would have been a little closer to the winner at the finish. I finished in 2ndplace (losing to the Colombian National Marathon Champ, who was of hero stature) in a time of 7:47. He put 2 minutes on me the last 2 miles, and he said that he closed in 10 flat for that 3k! Whoa… so my finishing pace wasn’t too shabby! Ha.
The race concluded by ending right next to some Termales (hot springs) where the first 4 finishers bro’d up and chatted about our races and the race in general. The winner didn’t speak great anything (even the Spanish speakers found his dialect tough to translate as it was more Basque than mainland Spain), and my buddy Diego finished 3rd right ahead of a Brit named Danny Green. The three of us chatted it up at great length in the spring before crushing some empanadas. (Diego was a true lifer, as I almost got into a physical altercation the next night with a local trouble maker, and Diego was ready and willing to jump in if I needed him. Obviously, I didn’t!)
Colombia is an unreal wild place filled with amazing geographic locations, beautiful heartwarming people, awesome food, gnarly animals and life long memories. Thanks ever so much to Nick Yardley and JulboUSA! Arguably the best sports related experience of my life…