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My Slowest Mile - A Story of Pain, Suffering, and Mild Stupidity

Drainage View From Base - Elk Camp.jpg

Two links of boudin, a pop tart, and some cheese sticks, plenty of calories. Hell, it was just a few mile hike. Who cares about the 10,000 calories I was deficient of over the last 72 hours. I had an hours rest and a pop tart, I had done more with less. I loaded my pack. I packed food, clothes, shelter, a sleep bag, and a few essentials. I loaded the camera gear, my bow, binos, and a kill kit. Food and water rounded it all off. I was set. It was 56 pounds when all was said and done. Just shy of some training hikes back home. So off we went.

Mile one - it was a good one. I saw a mama moose and her calf, the aspens were beginning their seasonal change, and the mountains surrounded the horizon. It was my favorite part of the hunt, leaving the comforts of base camp, heading into the true wilds of the wilderness. I was headed to my home away from home.

Mile two - things began to turn.  I realized I left some stuff. First, it was my tarp stakes. After that, para cord. It was one thing after another. Everything began to weigh me down. Anger began to creep in. I stopped, and I told myself, "Suck it up buttercup and soak it in. Look around. You are where you love. You are in your sanctuary." So I pulled up my big boy pants and did. I looked and gazed in all directions. I took my camera out to distract me from the negativity of my mind. I looked up, turned around, and twisted my knee. It was bad, I must of torn something. It burned. My thought were racing "Now what? First the tarp stakes and now this. Eff my life. Why did we even come here today. There are elk in a drainage near camp. Why did I agree to this. We had already spent the day climbing a mountain tracking a dead elk that was nowhere to be found. I climbed up and down all day for nothing." I was pissed. I hated the thought of bivy now. My mind was completely in the gutter. Each rock that bumped my toe was on a hit list. Each change in elevation was torture. I hated the world and everything in it. I just wanted to go home. 

Mile 3 - bivy camp was less than a mile ahead. Each step was Torcher, I wanted the button. You know that button. That button, on Alone, where a helicopter flies down and sweeps you away. That button that takes you to the best steak dinner money can buy. The one that makes everything disappear. I wanted that one. I was in total despair. I wanted off the dang mountain.


Oh wait... 

I forgot, I wasn’t on the mountain. I was on the valley floor, the least strenuous trail I had been on. If I stretch the truth, It may have been 500’ of elevation gain over 3 miles, and that is completely reaching. On any other day I could do it all in less than 40 min. Even worse, If you were a bystander watching me, you would of seen a snail tied to a tree. Painful to me but more painful to watch. Each step was harder than the next. One step, two steps, then three. I needed a break. My heart was racing, legs burning. Everything hurt. I repeated this over and over again. I took everything I had to put together a forward momentum of 5 steps. My mind was fighting itself.  The irrational side of me took everything I loved of the outdoors and made me hate it. I hated the trees, the trail, the mountains. I hated my backpack, my bow, and friends. I hated my food and I even hated my water bottle. My Water bottle? My Friends?  I was a failure in pure misery. As I slothed my way into bivy camp, I already wanted to leave, I wanted to go home, and I wanted nothing to do with the outdoors. I was done.

.86 miles took 48 min and 35 seconds. I stopped 31 times. My heart rate was 162 beats per min and I gained 217’ in elevation. It was my slowest mile. I stopped just feet from bivy as if the last five steps would have killed me. I felt like death, a zombie. I had bonked, I hit the wall in full stride. 

Bonking to me was somewhat a myth up until this point. I heard of it, thought about it, but never experienced it. By definition in the endurance sport arena, it is a condition of sudden fatigue and loss of energy caused by diminished glycogen stores. However, I think Paul Scott of Runner’s World Magazine, defines it better as a “collapse of the entire system: body and form, brains and soul.”

I was broken, I hurt emotionally, and I hurt physically. It scared me. I thought I had really screwed up. I sat and moved around slowly at camp. I ate, and ate, and ate. 2 days of food to be exact in a matter of hours. Those friends I hated no longer looked like the devil, they became the support I needed. I relaxed, built a fire, and even use the sat phone to call home. Hour by hour I regained my legs, my mind, and my soul. I was okay.

Note: this was totally preventable. What happened to me was exactly what will happen when you forego your natural instincts and exert yourself past what is considered normal. Listen to your body, slow down, eat, and rest when due. Preventing this is as simple as eating proper nutrition a few calories every thirty minutes to an hour while maintaining proper hydration and electrolytes. I fully understand this concept and practice it during training, yet failed to mimic it in the field. I learned a lesson that I hope to never repeat. Having someone with me that understood this first hand was an important factor in recovering quickly. The next morning I was back completely and put a full days work into our hunt.  

Finding My Flow

Finding My Flow

2 miles in I am still feeling a tightness to the point of pain in my tibialis anterior muscle that I can't seem to shake. My hamstring is burning and every step is telling me to slow down, stop, but I can't. I have 8-10 more miles to go and my team is counting on me. The pain I know will subside, but when?

4 miles in I am now focused on my breathing, I have been so focused on my legs I am letting my heart rate increase to the wrong zone. I am deliberate now. With the pain decreasing each step forward I am focusing in. I take one breath per 6 steps, then one breath out per 3 steps. This slows my heart.

I become zoned in, six steps then three, six steps then three, it becomes my rhythm. My pace. My surroundings are a blur. It is this state that I try to maintain. When I do, I forget the pain, I forget the boredom, and the stress.

It is this that I strive for each run, climb, or hike. It feels great when I do, but many things derail me. A dragging toe on a root, a passer by, or a simple thought of an email I forgot to send. These small thing make huge impacts on my mental state. I notice when I am bored I shorten my run. When I am not warming up I slow my pace. When I am thinking of work or life, I burn myself out. When I zone in and focus, I go that extra mile.

I am still learning, getting faster, and improving with each stride. My goal of completing an ultra is becoming a reality, yet seems that I have along way to go. Will I be successful? I don't know but I do know I will continue to push my self, learn, and give it my all each and every day.

Daniel Underbrink

A Step back and Much Needed Help

A Step back and Much Needed Help

December will be here before I know it and after trying on my own I know I don't  know as much as I think I do. A 100 miles is no gimme in the running world and way fitter, much faster, and far better people than I have failed at it and for me to think I can do this is alone has been humbling. In the recent weeks, I have been struggling to keep on track. My eating habits have taken a back seat, workouts have been fewer than before, and my longest run is only 11 miles.  I knew this would be tough times for my pursuit as we just welcomed a new healthy baby boy to our family.  Because of all this I enlisted some hired health, in the form of a coach. He is not the standard run of the mill nutritionist/trainer but someone that works with me daily, educates, guides me, and calls me out when i am doing something that is counter productive.  I am just a short week in to the program and already can see an improvement in my self. I think more than anything I see the little things that make big impacts. I am way more focused on my food, though he would tell you different, and most importantly I see everything I am not doing. This week has really been eye opening for me. 

- Daniel Underbrink


The long run

The long run

A sponsored link popped up in my Facebook feed with a video of a bunch of crazy people running across the desert over a span of 7 days gaining more elevation than Mt Everest, spanning a distance of 273 Km across every landscape imaginable. At first thought, this had to be the most terrible idea in the world, yet as I continued to watch it was everything I dreamed of, I wanted this. I quickly shared the link to broadcast to the world I would take on this challenge but I put a disclaimer in there. I said, 2018, with a big question mark behind it. Seemed like a good goal, far enough out I could learn to run or even chicken out where no one would remember the crazy idea I once had. Yet, as I watched the video over and over again I decided that I should pursue this now, today. 

Fast forward nine months and I am off to a good start and I on my way to my first Ultra Marathon. The first one being just eight months away, i took to the trail with a distance of 20 miles in mind. I grabbed a quick bite, laced up the shoes, and headed for a pretty cool spot near my home that had 6 mile trail loop. I set up at the trail head and took off down the trail.

Mile one, I started to doubt myself, my shins tightened, heart began to elevate, everything felt foreign. My steps felt rough, and my energy low. I stopped at an outlook and thought why am I doing this. I should be fishing, paddling, something other than this, but with determination out weighing my thoughts, I slowly headed my way to the next mile.

Mile by mile I begin to loosen up, into a zone I began to move. With each passing mile, my will became a rhythm. On loop three, well that's where my determination kicked in. I began to see a goal turn in to reality. I passed some kayakers, a gator, and a few sightseers. I passed a lot of things but fatigue I could not. I stopped at mile 15 and took a snap shot of my GPS and headed to my cache of supplies just 2 miles in the distance. Pain begin to set in and fatigue was real as I approached mile 17.

Though I didn't reach my target distance I did reach a milestone, I just ran longer and further than anytime in my life. I PR'd my pace, time, and distance and it was then I knew that i could do this.

- Daniel Underbrink