If at first, you don’t succeed…

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Try, Try Again!

by Patrick Reed

“Is this just what big distance training looks like — pressing through perceived limitations and real physical limits to find wind after wind of extra grit?”

When was the last time you bonked – and bonked big? For me, it was yesterday — the second time on the same course this month. Is this just what big distance training looks like — pressing through perceived limitations and real physical limits to find wind after wind of extra grit? I’m not sure. What I do know is that when I bonk and end up dropping out of that effort, the only redemption is to return again to that place, that course, that challenge — and do it right. That is just what I set out to do yesterday.

A month ago – in my first effort on this course – I finally got a few hours blocked out in my schedule to be able to attempt the course I had been devising for the better part of a year. This super-challenging run would cover 23 miles roundtrip, climb over 3 modest mountainous ascents – one at a scrambling 40 degree incline for a quarter mile of agony. To make things worse — or better, depending on your perspective — this climb comes right in the middle of the whole effort…  The entire run contains only 5 miles of fairly flat roads – everything else is winding trail, up and down.

On my first attempt, I was great through 12 miles; I made it across the “spine” — that jagged trail with the 40 degree super-steep start that courses across the mountains which backdrop stunning Avila Beach (I took the iPhone picture at the top of this post from the top of “the spine” during my run.) After summiting the northern peak of the ridge, the trail careens down 800 feet over the span of just 3/4’s mile. Much of the footing is nearly impossible to stay upright upon. I scrambled my way down, only to realize a couple of miles later that my body was spent. Not only had my food intake been non-existent during the run and my H2O consumption poorly planned, but the heat of the day was clamping down, too. I worked my way through the next 5 miles until it was time to call it a day. I have pushed myself beyond oblivion too many times to stumble into that depleted state again when I had “options.” As I mentioned in a recent blogpost about this first attempt, in this case my best “option” was my longtime friend and training partner Scott – who instantaneously pulled me off of the course, pushing a water bottle into my hand.

No doubt it seems crazy that less than 2 weeks later I was back on the same course, facing a similar predicament at the same spots on my ill-conceived challenge. Or perhaps it wasn’t ill-conceived. Maybe just a bit agressive and imaginative — the stuff of us distance runners. After all, who wouldn’t want to challenge such a course, replete with backyard obstacles and challenges? And the looks from my family and friends when I described the journey…!

“To road warriors, this may sound like sacrilege. But–“

Indeed, I even got surprised looks from the people I passed while completing the course — which, this time around, I was determined to do. I had been wiser about food and water, this 2nd time. I had multiple gels and an ever-present water bottle this go-round. I knew where to refresh my bottle on the course… And — probably most significant of all — I incorporated the ultra-endurance practice of walking specific sections of the run. To road warriors, this may sound like sacrilege. But, again, I have paid my dues: multiple 2:20’s marathons, mid 60’s in the half — multiple 140 mile training weeks in my resume, etc. I have put down the miles in training. This type of running differentiates itself, though. When you run for hours on twisting up and down trails, no aid stations availing, and when ascents which few attempt to even hike rear up before you like giants less than halfway into your run, you’d better take a big gulp of humble — and consider walking (really more ‘charging up’) certain sections. I did. And it helped. A little. I actually found that my splits walking the steepest sections of the spine matched my running splits for the same section on my first effort on the course! Crazy — sometimes, walking is more efficient than running:)

“Sometimes, walking is more efficient than running…”

Regardless, the terrain, distance, sun, wind and lack of caloric intake caught up with me again at mile 17. On the previous occasion, I made a phone call. Not this time. I charged into the winding trails of Johnson Ranch, wonderful open space known for its central coast beauty and a well-groomed course. We had taken our girls out here on a few occasions for a family hike. Today’s run was a little less idyllic. My water nearly wasted, my gels all gone, I scrambled for 3 miles up to the 750 foot summit which is the connector in the Irish Hills — another famous local running spot. Upon descending out of the Ranch and into the Irish Hills, I could now spot my favorite mountains in the near distance – especially Madonna Mountain, where I do most of my training. Exhausted as I was, I searched for a new way, the fastest route, out of these hills to my home. Apparently, I was not alone in looking for a new “line.” Off to my right, a mountain biker tangled up a hillside to what I knew was a dead end. I thought to run away towards home, but then hoped that he might know of some other route down. We moved towards each other.

“Any other way down?” I managed to ask — not having spoken for 3 hours.

“I don’t think so. I came from there.” He pointed to the path I was about to head down. The one I had come up 2.5 hours before.

“Yeah,” I again managed… “Hey, do you happen to have any gels on you?” I was quite hungry.

“Want an apple?” the angelic biker – he must have been sent by Somebody for me! – offered.

“Dude. Yes!” He gave me the fruit and filled my water bottle.

“What are you doing today?” he questioned — as he began to see my wasted state, that I needed ‘home’ soon.

“I’m in the middle of a 23-mile course,” which I then described for him.

“Are You Serious!? Awesome!” He echoed my original enthusiasm for the effort. “Hey, you okay to get out of here?” he finished.

“Yeah – thanks. Hey, thanks for the water, dude.” I was beat and had to go.


I devoured the apple in the next half mile. I just ravenously gobbled it up. Upon the first bite, my energy renewed. Though I labored through the coursing path, I knew I’d get home now, thanks to that ‘angel.’

I dragged in 3.5 hours after leaving from the same stoop of our home. Our girls were playing in a sprinkler out front. My older daughter seemed to look at me for a minute before saying, “Hey, Papa…” Had she only then recognized me?

I was beaten and dirty and hungry. But this second time around, I had finished the course.

If at first you don’t succeed…. do it right the next time!

While not every aspect of my run was “right” — I am proud that I finished the course marked out for me that day.

Keep thinking big!


a couple of stats from this run: 23 miles, 3hrs 33minutes, 3,400 feet of altitude gain and loss, I guess that’s enough for now:)

image credit: businessweek.com