Logan Rhodes, 2019 High Five 100 Report
My Experience with the 2019 High Five 100, where do I begin? I guess the best place to start is with the creation of the challenge. In late 2018 I had finished my first 100 miler, the Run Rabbit Run 100. I chose this race mainly because I wanted a Hardrock qualifier. After helping and pacing at Hardrock for a few years I fell in love with the race, the community, the difficulty it presented and the sense of accomplishment I believed it would promise. I also loved the big mountain terrain it covered and the feeling that it's still wild and untamed. I learned quickly that it was very unlikely I would get into Hardrock for many years because it is so sought after and the number of people entering the lottery is growing every year. After accepting this for a few weeks I started to realize something, the things that I love about Hardrock are things I can find all around me. My local trail running community here in Lake City, the monster big mountain terrain, the untamed wild land that surrounds us, a series of trails that could be linked to create something so difficult that it makes you really examine your soul. It was at this moment that I decided to create something epic, something different, something that would force each challenger to dig deeper than they ever have before. A challenge that stays true to what made me fall in love with mountain running. So we got a committee together from the local ultra runners in Lake City and created the High Five 100. Soon after the creation of the High Five 100 I realized two things. The first thing I realized was that it was something really special. Something that wasn't like anything else around and that someday it was going to be big. The second thing I realized was that I had an amazing opportunity to do something great and run it for the inaugural year. Something I knew to be true after being a huge part of developing the challenge was that it was hard. Not just hard like this is going to hurt hard, but hard like this may be impossible for me. Even on my best day something of this magnitude could break me. To put it into perspective, after examining the numbers, the route had roughly 40,000' of elevation gain, was over 100 miles long and traversed some of the most rugged terrain in the San Juans. It would go over five 14,000' peaks and would have multiple very slow sections with no trail at all and require you to be proficient at navigating. You see I'm a very average runner in comparison to the type of people who finish things like this. I'm not very fast, I'm not a very good climber, I don't have great endurance. To complete this challenge you need all those things. I thought about it for a long time and decided to go for it. I trained harder than I ever had before and basically became obsessed with completing the High Five. Over the course of eight months I put in a perfect training block. I didn't miss a single mile I had planned for the entire eight months prior. I was running more miles and doing more vert than I ever had in my life. I was totally consumed. The challenge loomed over me like a massive storm, approaching closer and closer every day, and with each day the weight on my shoulders grew heavier. I had put so much into planning the challenge, training for it, and convincing myself that even an average Joe runner like me could rise to the occasion and achieve something great if I wanted it bad enough. But I knew I could fail. I knew I could give it everything I have and it not be good enough and I felt the weight of this. The day the High Five 100 finally came I found myself lined up against runners far better than myself. We had vetted all the runners we let in to ensure they could handle the conditions that would be thrown upon them. The runners we let in had accomplished big things, and placed well in major "difficult" mountain ultras. Basically we wanted to be sure no one would die out there. The problem I found with picking really good runners for the first year was that I was the least likely to succeed and wouldn't be able to hang with any of these guys according to the numbers. I was out of my league was all I could think as my wife Caitlin gave the countdown to start the challenge. The countdown hit zero and we were running to the cheers of townspeople who came out to witness the start of something most of them thought was impossible. The first climb was up Crystal trail 4000' over the saddle, a gentle reminder of the beating you’re about to get over the next 90 miles. I knew my course like the back of my hand and had trained on it over and over, but what I was about to get was more than any amount of training could have prepared me for. Uncompahgre Peak was next, followed by Wetterhorn peak, a class 3 scramble that happened to be in blizzard conditions as we climbed. We made it over Wetterhorn peak and ran all the way down to Capital City. Next we climbed over Lee Smelter gulch, a 4000' climb that's only 2.5 miles long. At the top of Lee Smelter I knew I was in for it, and that it was going to be even harder than anticipated. We had climbed around 20,000 ft in about 30 miles. I was already more fatigued than I had been at the finish of my previous 100 miller. The combination of being so high for so long while being on such steep, slow, un-runnable terrain was wearing on me and I still had three 14000' peaks to go. As night approached I completed Handies Peak and stopped at Grizzly Gulch to rest for ten minutes as well as change my soaked shoes. People stoked about the challenge were gathered at Grizzly Gulch to cheer on runners and surprised us with warm ramen noodles and cookies. I sat in their camp eating the warm ramen in the now freezing temperatures. With each passing minute it grew harder and harder to leave but they encouraged me to push on. I continued up Redcloud and Sunshine peaks in complete exhaustion. I had been running for around 20 hours at this point and had climbed around 26000' in 45 miles with most of it being well above 12,000 ft. It was getting difficult to stay awake and I found myself falling asleep for quick ten minute power naps along the side of the trail. I would immediately fall into a deep sleep to find myself being awaken by my pacer what seemed like seconds later. I climbed deeper and deeper into the pain cave. My thoughts grew negative, I started doubting my ability. I wasn't a good enough runner to finish this, I was only half way done and felt like I was approaching my limit. I ran for awhile like this, my mind full of negative things, while struggling for air over the last two 14000' peaks in the middle of the night at a brisk 26 degrees. But then something amazing happened as I stared off into the surrounding peaks lit up by the full moon. I started to remember why. Why is one of the hardest questions to answer when you're surrounded by the complexity and comfort of life. Your mind full of everything you need to get done in the day, but "why" gets really easy to answer the more your mind gets stripped of all those things. You see over the years of running endurance events I have learned that there is a clear line you cross when you push yourself further than you ever have. You go into new territory and it's scary because you don’t know what to expect. Every time I find myself crossing that line I lean on my faith and use that moment to pull me closer to God. It sounds crazy but when you are so exhausted and past that invisible line you feel like, at that moment God himself is walking with you, telling you that it's possible to keep going. Pulling you to lean on him. At that moment nothing else in the world matters. Your mind becomes free of the clutter that fills it when we're living our day to day lives. The only thing that matters are the people In the world that you love and your faith that is carrying you and lifting you up. The feeling is euphoric and words don’t do it justice. It's the purest, highest feeling you can feel and it’s addictive to feel that close to God. I’ve never had such deep, sincere talks with God in my life. Not just about helping me to complete that challenge, but about so much more. Every aspect of my life. And I come away from those moments changed. That's how I got hooked on endurance races to begin with. It's hard for me to talk with God in that way if my soul isn’t truly empty. I remember each talk specifically and all of them happen when I cross that invisible line. To be honest I hate running, but I love the spiritual place it takes me to. It was at that moment that I remembered, this is why I do it.I wanted this fight, I wanted the hardest of fights. I wanted to be past that line. Once I remembered that my mind became free. I realized I didn't care what people thought, I didn't care that the runners on the field were better than me, I didn't care that I was in pain, hypothermic and exhausted. I didn't care that this challenge was relentlessly beating me to a pulp. But I cared about giving it my best. I cared about being proud of what I did over these 48 hours. I cared about reaching that point of exhaustion where my mind can be free and you can see your life from a new, better perspective, walking with God, uninterrupted from the world around you. I cared about setting an example to my kids to finish what you set out to do no matter how hard. I remembered how blessed I am to be doing these things when so many people in the world are suffering in some way and can't. The why became so clear to me. As the sun began to come up I was rejuvenated. I was running with the right purpose in mind now. Even though physically I was beat I had gained the iron will to finish this thing. My mind was no longer a slave to the pain and exhaustion my body was feeling. I grinded on over the next 40 miles on the Continental Divide Trail through the second day and went through some real lows but kept the right mindset. As I found myself on the last 15 miles and what might be one of the hardest sections of the challenge, I started to hit all new lows; lows that I had never experienced before in my life. It was midnight the second night, roughly 35,000' of gain into it, and I could hardly stand. I was so exhausted. I was falling asleep leaning on my poles as I grinded up the last never ending peak. I was hallucinating in the realest way. I could stare my hallucinations straight in the face and believe they were real all the way up until I would reach out and touch them and then they would vanish and turn into something that made sense like a stump or rock. Both my big toes were totally numb and my feet blistered badly. My quads were so wrecked I could hardly step down more than a couple inches at a time for fear of collapsing into the rocks below. But I held onto the why and the iron will to finish. I trudged over some of the biggest avalanche debris fields followed by roughly eight waist deep ice cold river crossings coming down alpine gulch. I knew at this point I was going to finish, all I had to do was make it down the road three miles to the town park. I just had to stay awake. I just had to keep my grip on reality for a little while longer. I had envisioned these last three miles of the High Five over and over on training runs that covered the same path. I saw myself exhausted but still able to hold a respectable jog all the way to the finish, after all it was just three downhill miles on a maintained road. But the reality was I could barely walk a 20 minute mile at this point. I was totally spent. Before every big race I write a bible verse on my calf in huge sharpie letters. The verse is always a key one that reminds me to lean on God in the hardest of moments. The verse this year was Psalms 23. It was especially fitting for this race because I was absolutely in the valley of the shadow of death at that moment. The verse kept ringing over and over in my mind as I could feel myself slipping away. Over the next three miles, in my dream state, as hallucinatory furniture laid alongside the road and the echoes of kids voices danced around the cliff walls, I stumbled my way to the finish at the park where the cheers of friends and family echoed in the otherwise silent town at 3:50 in the morning. I felt a surge of happiness and relief as I took the sharpie and signed my bib and the registry signifying I had finished. With one fail swoop of the sharpie marker I was done. The pain and suffering was over and I had achieved my goal. I sat in the park elated for a few minutes thinking, this is why I do it. I had really found myself out there. I crossed that line and became a better person than I was when I began. I had learned that I could achieve whatever I wanted so long as I had the iron will to never give up. I learned that it doesn't really matter how good of a runner you are on paper, that on any given day you have the power to change the outcome by changing your mind. And that even an average runner can achieve something great if you want it bad enough. On this early August morning I became my own hero. I will be proud forever of this achievement. The High Five 100 Gave me a hard enough challenge that it allowed me to learn these things about myself. I learned nothing is impossible when you run next to the Lord. This challenge took me to the darkest corners of my soul, but I was able to fight my way out, into the light. And I think that's why we do it; because just like life, we will be given a bad hand every now and then, we will hit the low that seems like it's never going to end and it will feel like your "race" is over. But so long as you just keep moving forward, one step at a time, keep your mind in a positive place, focus on your "why" and the reasons to keep going. Then, even the average Joe can do extraordinary things. I finished the High Five 100 in 45:10:00, with about 25 minutes of that being sleep. Fourth place out of seven runners. Two of them did not make it to the finish line.
Click the link above to be redirected to Nick's Blog "Footprints on the course" for an excellent report on his 2020 running of the High Five100.