I put the tumble in the Rough and Tumble 18K in Sinks Canyon National Park, just outside Lander, Wyo.
At Mile 8.3 of the 11-mile race on June 22, my left foot caught a small rock or root — I didn’t see it, it wasn’t one of the hundreds of larger ones that I navigated before that point.
The diminutive trail obstacle sent me sprawling while it also dashed my hopes of catching Orangish-Brownish Hoodie Guy (OBHG). I had been lasered in on catching OBHG, who I figured was 10th-place male at that point. This wasn’t Western States, of course, but I was determined to finish top 10.
After I went flying, so did the expletives.
I quickly got up and did a biological inventory check. Some blood on the left knee. A few scratches on my right wrist. No real pain. After a few steps, I had accelerated to the speed I was at before the fall.
A great race director, gluten-free food and much more
Two years ago I also completed the R&T race, which held its fifth annual race in 2019. It had grown substantially since the last time I was racing in the Sinks Canyon, which sits around 6,000 feet of elevation at the southern base of the Wind River Mountains.
There are lots of reasons why I chose to return to the race, hosted by Gabe Joyes. It’s an absolutely beautiful course, as runners traverse through the canyon with yellow and purple wildflowers lining the way, along with expertly placed pink confidence markers.
Joyes, who is also a Celiac, provides gluten-free aid stations and finishing line food. In fact, the eggs, tortilla wraps, protein bars and other treats after the race are all gluten free. One of his sponsors, Speedgoat Coffee, was also on hand to dish out coffee to the runners. I bought a bag to bring back with me as a way to help out a Lander small business.
I also like the fact that R&T is a cupless, plateless and forkless race. Thankfully, I remembered to pack a paper plate, utensils, hotel coffee cup and my UltrAspire handheld. I sipped on water from my handheld during the race, as well as fueling with my own stash of Honey Stringer waffles. I had one during a climb about a third into the race and another to fuel the final push.
Upon finishing the race, runners received a sweet pint glass and congratulations from Joyes.
But first I needed to rebound from the fall and get to the finish line.
In hot pursuit
My projected time from Ultrasignup was 2:11, which I made my C goal. My B goal was an even 2:00 and my A goal was 1:54.
Before the race, I planned to finish the first five miles in 64 minutes. I aimed to take the first couple of miles easy and then walk the uphills as needed from mile two through five to conserve energy for the finish.
I finished the fifth mile — and a long power hike — in just under 18 minutes, with a total time at that point of 61:22.
The course flattened out for the next two miles, which I aimed to hit 9 minutes each mile. If all went well, I figured I could hit 8-minute miles for the final four, bringing me in around 1:54.
I had nailed the first 8 miles. I was feeling strong. I had OBHG in my sites.
Then I was down, and he was gone.
Did it truly matter if I finished 10th or 11th male? Absolutely not. But my competitive spirit lusted for the thrill of chasing someone down.
I plowed ahead, shoving aside the demons who encouraged me to forget about OBHG and take it easy for the last stretch. No, I told them, I can rest tomorrow. Today, I run and I run hard.
Suddenly I saw a figure a ways ahead of me. It was OBHG.
Or so I thought, unless his outer layer had slightly changed color tone and he had changed genders in the last few miles. This runner politely moved over, as did several others in the final miles as the 6K runners were also winding toward the finish.
Just outside of a mile to go, I saw the real OBHG.
The final surge
The last mile was relatively flat so I had lost my advantage of bombing the downhills. But I had come too far to let up now. I was on pace and locked in for my 1:54 finish.
Soon enough I passed another runner who had slowed after a too-fast start. My strategy had paid off. Next up was OBHG, just ahead.
I straightened up, quickened my pace and pushed past him. But there was no time to cheer inside. Another runner was ahead.
With about one-third of a mile to go, I passed the third runner in the final stretch, each time extending a customary “good job!” or other compliment.
I pressed onward toward the finish, fist pumping as I neared the line. 12th overall, eighth male, 1:52:11 officially.
After chatting with Joyes and receiving my pint glass, I waited for the next group of runners to finish, including OBHG. I gave each kudos at the finish line and then sought out food, drink and aid.
It was never about OBHG personally. He represented a challenge, a metaphorical mountain — as opposed to the real one we ran up and down.
It’s hard to say exactly what he represented to me. We all deal with various demons in our lives. I am fortunate to have found running to fill myself with joy, challenges and a renewed strength.
As I went to my car, I thought a lot about those last few miles — and my knee, which needed some attention. I reflected on the race, my desire to never give up and just how far I had come in a year since emergency abdominal surgery. I also thought about transitioning to my goal race at the end of this year, which is one of those experiences that scares you. Now, I feel ready to register for it.
Then I realized the uniqueness of the song that was playing in my AfterShokz, “Running down a Dream” by Tom Petty.
Yeah, runnin' down a dream
Never would come to me
Workin' on a mystery
Goin' wherever it leads
I'm runnin' down a dream