The Silverton Alpine Marathon

“Anything is one of a million paths. Therefore you must always keep in mind that a path is only a path; if you feel you should not follow it, you must not stay with it under any conditions. To have such clarity you must lead a disciplined life. Only then will you know that any path is only a path, and there is no affront, to oneself or others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you to do. But your decision to keep on the path or to leave it must be free of fear or ambition. I warn you. Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. This question is one that only a very old man asks. My benefactor told me about it once when I was young, and my blood was too vigorous for me to understand it. Now I do understand it. I will tell you what it is: Does this path have a heart? All paths are the same: they lead nowhere. They are paths going through the bush, or into the bush. In my own life I could say I have traversed long, long paths, but I am not anywhere. My benefactor’s question has meaning now. Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t, it is of no use. Both paths lead nowhere; but one has a heart, the other doesn’t. One makes for a joyful journey; as long as you follow it, you are one with it. The other will make you curse your life. One makes you strong; the other weakens you.” Don Juan, The Teachings of Don Juan


“Set a goal to achieve something that is so big, so exhilarating that it excites you and scares you at the same time. It must be a goal that is so appealing, so much in line with your spiritual core, that you can’t get it out of your mind. If you do not get chills when you set a goal, you are not setting big enough goals.” Bob Proctor 

The beautiful San Juans

For a while now, I have been living my life in a mode where only one thing matters above all else: personal growth and self-betterment. After sampling spiritual practices from all over the world and trying to integrate what I like into my own practice, while also realizing that any true path to self-betterment will include a spiritual aspect, I have come to the conclusion that the path which will lead me to the most personal growth is one of committing myself to being the very best that I can possibly be. Nothing less than actually knowing that I have realized every ounce of my potential is good enough. I don’t think it matters what activity or discipline I choose to pursue, it is the intent that matters. Whether or not there is money to be gained from this path is also irrelevant, as the true wealth I gain will be experienced in the opportunities, friendships, and realizations made, the higher vibrations attained, while running this disciplined and committed path. Only once in my life do I ever remember committing all my energy for an extended period of time towards something that I knew I could eventually accomplish, yet was never-the-less very difficult to stay committed to, and I often look back at it as one of my most rewarding lessons. This time I plan to go way beyond that, because this time I have no idea what I might be able to accomplish…

I want to know just how far I can go, how high I can fly, how much inspiration I can disseminate into this world, what it feels like to actually know that I could not have possibly tried harder! I am going to follow this path as long as it takes! I don’t have to eventually be the very best, I just have to eventually be MY very best. It seems to me that in order to accomplish the most that you actually can, then you may need to set goals for yourself that may frankly seem totally ludicrous. I have set such goals for myself, and indeed they are so ludicrous that I do not even feel comfortable sharing them yet. I still laugh at myself when I think of these goals, “what a crazy nut!” These goals are so big that they simultaneously “excite and scare” me. It may in fact be possible to accomplish these goals, we shall have to wait and see how this mystery develops, but if in fact they prove to be impossible for me, at least they are big enough that I will end up at my limit trying to reach them! “Shoot for the moon! Even if you miss you’ll land amongst the stars!”

If you know anything at all about me, and I am guessing you do, then you may be able to guess that my path of choice is mountain running. That’s the path with heart for me, and so I happily and blindly follow it! I can surrender everything to the mountains, and trust in them absolutely to teach me everything that I will need to know, and so I will…

Which brings us to the morning of Saturday the 24th of August, in Memorial Park in Silverton, and the start of the Silverton Alpine Marathon. I toed the line with about 30 other eager participants, ready to begin our morning run and give chase to the numerous 50k racers who were already out on the course in front of us. I was beyond eager, as the previous week had been spent nursing my tight calves and aching feet back into reasonable enough form to consider running 27 miles. Without running, without a home, and without much of a job, I was overflowing with pent up energy. I tried to balance my energy with my specific goals for this race. Naturally, I hoped that I would be able to win, but as with every race, winning is a matter of whether or not anybody faster shows up. All you can really control is your own performance, and so my goal, as it is with every race, was to realize my highest potential on that day. 27 miles is a long ways, needing a solid plan and careful pacing to not succumb to cramps, fatigue, exhaustion, or any other malady that would cause one to run slower than they were capable. I just hoped to execute my plan to perfection, and also hoped that my plan was designed well enough to get me to the finish as fast as I was capable.

At 8:00am precisely we set out and I took it out hot, curious to know who else was interested in running fast. The first eight miles followed the main road from Silverton to Eureka, and were mostly flat dirt. This type of running is by far my weakness, and I tried very hard to stay totally present so that I could continuously monitor how my body felt at any moment. I was afraid of running too fast, spending too much effort, and then suffering for it much further up the hill. After a mile or so a nice fellow from Boulder named Paul joined me from behind and we ran together for the next seven miles to Eureka. We chatted as we ran, and I noticed that Paul’s breathing seemed easier than mine, his stride far looser, and he informed me that he ran in college and had been running ever since. Our strides naturally synched up, and although I was not struggling too much to sustain the pace, I was having a hard time knowing whether he was dragging me along faster than I should be going. Only time would tell!

Running with Paul on the early road, somewhere between Howardsville and Eureka.

In the old ghost town of Eureka the road turns into a 4WD jeep road that gains altitude at a pretty consistent grade for the next seven miles, until the last very steep climb to the summit of California Pass. I stopped to pee and gave up the lead to Paul, who really seemed to find his stride and managed to keep extending the gap further and further on me as we grinded our way upwards into the alpine. With the curvy nature of the road he was often out of sight ahead. I focused my efforts on maintaining my pace, one that I knew I could run all the way to the summit of the pass. I had run this section twice for training in the past few weeks, and knew what effort I needed to maintain in order not to burn out before the summit. I tried to not even look at Paul ahead, just focus on myself and hope that he would come back to me with time.

Sometime before Animas Forks, halfway up the long climb, Paul had stopped to pee as well and now I was only a few hundred yards back, maybe a minute or so. But after the Animas Forks aid station, as we were passing much of the front of the pack of the 50k, I noticed that I was slowly gaining on him. I tried not to let this encourage me into picking up the pace, and instead kept it right where it was, sustainable for me. Finally, with about one mile till the summit of the pass, right at the bottom of the very steep grade, I finally passed Paul, and was now out in front of seemingly everyone as the air got truly thin. In training I had managed to run every step of this giant hill, but today, with 15 miles already under my belt, and the increased excitement of racing, my heartbeat was high enough that I was forced to drop into a hike for a few one-minute stretches. Looking back down, I was relieved to see that everyone else was also hiking, and so I lost no ground by hiking a couple times. Knowing that downhills are my strength, I was buoyed by the fact that I would be first to the summit, and gave every ounce of my effort to reach the top as fast as I could.

Mere steps before the California Pass aid station, the top of the course at 13,000 feet, hypoxic and gasping, my hamstrings and calves in both legs started to simultaneously cramp up. Running hard, I had apparently not taken in enough electrolytes, and was now about to pay for it. “This could really be disastrous,” I thought, not to mention painful. I guzzled a ton of gatorade at the aid and filled my bottle, taking off quickly before Paul arrived, not wanting to give him hope, wanting to keep my lead. The descent was initially extremely steep, but it was very short lived and soon I was climbing again towards Hurricane Pass. My legs began cramping again, and I had to stop a few times to stretch them out, hoping that Paul was not close enough to see me. My gait was now a pathetic shuffle designed to keep moving forward while not cramping. I continued to guzzle as much gatorade as possible, hoping to reverse the inevitable.

Nursing the hamstrings on the climb up to the summit of Hurricane Pass. Como Lake is in the background. Still smiling!

Finally I crested Hurricane Pass alone and it was all downhill for over ten miles into Silverton. For a couple miles it was very steep, and the change in terrain and gait was enough to keep the cramps at bay. Every once in a while there would be a tiny uphill bump and I would have to shuffle and stretch just to make it up without cramping. But, I was determined to continue to run as hard as I was capable, and knew it would be a really painful next hour or so. I pounded down the steep jeep road, flying as fast as I could possibly maintain, focusing on not tripping and superman-ing onto the rocks. Eventually I reached Gladstone, where the road again turned into a dirt, flat, county road, and I passed the first place 50k runner, who I had no idea was in front of me. He was limping along because, as I later found out at the finish, he had taken a huge spill on the descent.

The last six miles down the Cement Creek Road into Silverton were much too flat. I badly needed gravity to assist me, but this road was often dead flat, and had some extended uphill roller sections which were nearly crippling. Luckily all the gatorade I had guzzled seemed to have helped me out a bit, and I was able to maintain my roll without cramping. I focused on relaxing and running as easy as possible, knowing that an easy and smooth stride would be the fastest one. I kept hearing footsteps behind me, and would turn around to see nobody there, they were only my own footsteps. The miles ticked away too slowly it seemed, even as I tried to run as fast as I possibly could.

Soon enough though the dirt road transitioned to pavement, which meant the finish was very near. Memorial Park became visible below me and I could hear the announcer call out that the first runner had been sighted. I don’t think that I had stopped smiling since the moment I had started running, but my smile had to have become even bigger knowing the finish was at hand. A final sprint across the grass to the finish had me finish in 3:39:36 in 1st place.

Me and Kendal Mountain in Silverton

As it turns out I had managed to extend my lead on the downhill, and need not have been too afraid of the footsteps behind me. Paul had sort of a rough downhill and eventually finished in third. Marco Zuniga, of Durango, who had run the Pikes Peak Marathon the weekend before managed to finish second. There were not a huge amount of competitors out there on the course, and finishing first was not nearly as significant as the fact that I had accomplished all of my personal goals for the day. I ran a fine line all day between being my absolute best and pushing it too far and suffering as a result, and luckily came out on the positive side of that line. It turns out that my hydration plan was pretty flawed, but it was gratifying to be able to recognize and correct it mid-race and avoid a meltdown because of mis-management. It felt really good to be able to rely on my pacing strategy, even as Paul ran away from me in the middle of the race, and stay disciplined enough for it to pay off in the end. I also felt happy to have been able to execute what I knew I was capable of on race day. On this day, I was very close to my absolute best, which is exactly what I hope to accomplish – today, tomorrow, and every day of my life. So many valuable lessons were learned, as they are during every race, and every run, during every encounter, all the time, always… As long as we are paying attention, striving, and following the path with the Heart! ONE LOVE!