Wyoming | Dirt roads in Cheyenne

Back to backs always bring out something just a little extra. Knowing that I have a race the next day is one thing, but the competitor in me just won’t “take it easy” on that first day and instead I put in as much as full effort as I can in each race. This can be good and bad. Good for my mental strengthening, bad for my body that calls me stupid. 

After coming off a tough race in Colorado, Kaela and I spent the drive up to Cheyenne talking about any adjustments in the plan that could make for a “better” race the next day. We agreed that my typical carb loading and race day nutrition plan had not been working in the last few races as stomach issues had kept creeping in. We decided to do the thing that every running article, book or speaker will tell you not to do, “let’s try something new tomorrow.” My thought was that it couldn’t get worse, could it?

Race: Cheyenne Marathon
Location: Cheyenne, WY
Date: September 17, 2022
Time: 5:17:24

We made the drive up I-25 from Denver to Cheyenne. After a quick stop at Sam’s Club to restock our water and car snacks, we drove to the Archer event center just outside of town. This is where the start and finish of the race took place. The entire area seemed like they would hold lots of events but had a lot of empty field areas. Not sure if it was something in progress of being expanded or if that was built and laid out for future needs. The packet pick-up was at the fire station on the property. Getting out of the car I saw some other folks stumbling similarly to me wearing the shirt and medal from the All Out Fall Fest that we both had finished just a few hours prior. They were from the New England area and had mentioned that since the races were close by they thought the same thing as they were working through 50 states. 

After leaving the pickup we checked into our hotel as I was ready to get my feet up for a little bit before picking up dinner. Kaela and I spent some time looking through menus to try and find something that sounded good for the both of us. We ended up ordering from Hambones as they had a ton of reviews raving about their pizza. We ordered a “monster” calzone, some cheesy bread and a side salad. The idea is that we would eat what we could for dinner and the rest of it would be my food for the course the next day. After getting my fill I went through the normal cleanup and stretching routine until it was time to call it a day.

Luckily I was able to get some sleep compared to the night before when I had slept like garbage. It could have been because I was exhausted but I think I was a little more settled after some just refocusing and reflecting on the previous day with Kaela. I didn’t race very well and had lots of excuses but I was determined to come into this race with more positive vibes.

I spent the morning just listening to my pre-race mix while taking a look at the course and the weather for the day. When I woke up it was in the upper 40’s but we had forecasted temperatures of low 80’s. The goal was to make sure to stay as hydrated as possible and to keep moving forward knowing that there was not going to be a lot of shade on the course. With the layout of the course, Kaela was going to be able to see me at multiple spots on the course which allowed me to not worry about carrying as much nutrition on me while running.

I felt pretty relaxed laying in bed while trying to get some calories in. We were going to be staying another night in Cheyenne so I didn’t have the extra chore of getting completely packed up to leave after the race for which I was very grateful. However I may have been just a bit too relaxed, losing track of the time of when we needed to get out the door. We made it to the parking lot with less than 10 minutes to make it to the starting line. Typical of my style, I started to get a little flustered rushing myself to make the walk while still needing to get my shoes on and my pre-race nutrition down. Kaela, per usual, helped calm me down and get centered again.

We made the walk through some Wyoming brush before making our way to the pavement. Bella was not a fan at all of the rough ground with lots of things to poke her feet. Kaela took my pre-race photo as they were starting the countdown to start the race. I had given her and Bella a kiss as they were going to see me around mile 1, then I had finished tying my shoes and saying a quick prayer before starting about 30 seconds behind the rest of the runners. The weather felt breezy at the start so I decided to hold on to my long sleeve until my body warmed up a little bit. It wasn’t long before I caught up to the back of the pack runners and due to the wide road was able to pass by them with ease. I was trying to keep a solid pace without letting my body want to push forward quickly due to the little high that I got from passing each runner.

The start of the race had us running almost a full loop around the Archer event area before making our way out towards open land and farms. Kaela and Bella were posted up towards the entrance at around mile 1. I had taken off my long sleeve shirt and laid it down on the curb. Kaela looked confused wondering why I had thrown it down instead of just handing it off to her, which caused me to just have a good laugh. (For clarity, she would have had to pass by it on the way back to the car so I thought I was being more helpful but I should have known better.) 

I had caught up to the couple from New England and I wished them a good race as I made my way past them. There was a gentleman that was staying pretty close to my pace that I started to spark up a conversation with. His name is Brent Weigner and he told me stories about his running and how he was the only Brent Weigner that he had ever heard of. He knew a lot about the race, since he was from the area, so I picked his brain while we made our way down the road. He told me stories about how his students had looked him up online and saw all that he had done with running and even at his age was doing big things. While we chatted we picked up the pace a little bit and I think it was a little more than he wanted so we wished each other luck as I kept powering through. I was feeling good at that point and wanted to ride it as long as I could before my body realized what I was going to put it back through. Looking him up now as I write this, he has run a marathon in over 180 countries amongst a lot of other accomplishments. Didn’t know I was running with a celebrity! https://cowboystatedaily.com/2022/07/12/cheyenne-marathoner-who-has-raced-on-every-continent-to-run-in-record-192nd-country-in-august/

Shortly after mile 2 we made our way out of the loop heading south on a packed dirt road. The road seemed to just drop beneath our feet as we had a long decline. It felt good at this point but I quickly remembered that the end of the course would just repeat the first 3 miles in reverse. I tried not to think too much about this fact and would just play ignorant until the last 5k when the deja vu hit. As we approached an aid station at mile 3, there seemed to be a little bit of confusion on the course. There were a group of folks talking with volunteers and then to my left folks running back to the aid station instead of away from it. Apparently volunteers sent the first 20 or so folks down the back side of the course and it wasn’t until our group came through that it was brought up. The folks were long gone so they let them go do the course in reverse while the rest of us stuck back to the normal course route.

The next two miles were a steady grind uphill, so I found a comfy pace and just stuck with it. Nice enough I met another runner, Jeff, who was on his own journey of 50 states. We had a good chat about family, running and the balance of all of it with traveling. It definitely helped pass the time of the climb during our chat. I had mentioned that my wife would be up ahead at mile 6 to help provide some real food to keep me powering through. But as we approached the intersection, Kaela and Bella were nowhere in sight. Typical freak out Jonathan was worried that something happened as I couldn’t think of a reason why wouldn’t have beat me to this spot. I took a deep breath and told myself that perhaps an extra road was closed and she wasn’t able to make it here. Luckily I had made sure to carry some gels with me in case something like this happened or if I needed a little extra kick. At mile 7 I took the opportunity to walk it out while I ate the gel while heading up a hill and I wished Jeff a good rest of his race as I wasn’t sure I’d catch back up with him as he was killing it with consistent pace.

Around mile 8 we made a hard left turn to start heading back east for a little loop that would circle me back to the mile 6 intersection. This portion had a little bit of shade with trees on the side of the road so I tried to use those to my advantage as the sun was starting to hit harder as we ran towards it. There was something peaceful about the quietness that was around us with fields as far as I could see in front of me. It wasn’t the most scenic view, mostly of just dead grass, but the quiet was something that allowed me to get in sync with each step and with every beat of my heart. It’s moments like these that keep me wanting to run for as long as I can.

My pace had slowed down a little bit to something more manageable at the time and I had another runner catch up to me. We started chatting for a little bit and found out that he was another 50 state runner working his way, I think he was on state number 25. We spent some time talking about our favorite races and some of the upcoming dream races. He had lived in Colorado for some time before moving his family to Iowa. We talked a bit about the Disney marathon and he had mentioned running it with one of his kids and how his youngest was interested in doing the same, so they planned to do it in a few years again.

I always love having conversations with people on a similar journey as me. I think one of the primary reasons is because they know what the process looks like. Not just from a training aspect but how you have to really balance your life out to make it all work. But I think most of all, it’s the amount of family support you need to make something like this happen. I know without a doubt that without the support from Kaela there is no way I would be able to be on this journey. Not only from the amount of money and time it has taken so far, but just the support to kick my butt out of bed on days when I much rather just snuggle and stay warm. It really does take a village to do this and I love hearing about how other families are prioritizing each other rather than the things of the world.

Coming into a turn around mile 11, we saw the first place runner heading towards us. The guy I was running with seemed worried that we had missed a turn with folks heading towards us but I let him know the situation at the start where folks are going to end up doing the course backwards. We saw a few more runners heading towards us before making it back to the mile 6/12 intersection. This time Kaela and Bella were set up on the side of the road with lots of goodies in hand. She had explained that when she arrived at mile 6 the first time, she had overheard that runners had taken a wrong turn and would be doing the course backwards. She quickly pulled up her map and drove to a similar spot based on a reversed course so that I would have nutrition. However, when she arrived she heard that it was only the first 20 or so runners and knew that I wasn’t going to be that close to the front and by the time she made it back to the real mile 6, I had already passed by. 

She filled up my water while I had some Powerade and ripped off a piece of cheesy bread to take on the go. There was a decent climb for about ¼ of a mile after leaving her so I decided that I would power walk it while eating. When I hit the top of the hill I remembered that I wanted to get a little bit of Coke to help with some stomach bubbles I was feeling. I knew I would see here in a few miles so I just gave myself a pep talk and kept moving. I saw another handful of runners coming at me and I wished them luck knowing that we were both around that half way mark on the course.

Approaching mile 13 I saw a line of cars being held by local police officers. They had made the road a single lane to allow the runners to be on the route but also to keep traffic moving. Towards the back of the row I saw Kaela parked and I started to yell out to her that I wanted to grab something from the car. As I approached the intersection, Kaela pulled around some of the cars in line to get closer to me and the officer said “I’m guessing she is with you” as I turned the opposite way on the course to meet Kaela. After my pit stop I turned back on the course, thanked the officer as Kaela made her way back in line.

This part of the course was a straight shot for just over 4 miles, slightly downhill with a few little kicker hills, but wide open. Both sides of the road were fields as far as you could see with not a cloud in the sky. It was beautiful, peaceful and with the sun blazing, it was sucking the energy out of me. I held a decent pace in this section with just a few short walking breaks. Kaela parked on the side of the road at two spots that I used to fill up water and drink some Powerade and coke. After the first stop I realized I had been taking in too much liquid too fast and started to feel a little off and made sure that I didn’t over do it on the second. 

Shortly after mile 17 we made a left turn heading past a large horse farm and making our way back to some small neighborhoods. There was a volunteer sitting in the back of a pickup that seemed very thrilled to be soaking in the sun, and we turned right into a neighborhood that had me instantly climbing uphill. There was a family sitting in their front yard at one of the first houses on the left that were cheering us along as we powered up the climb. My legs were pretty dead and as much as I tried to run it, it turned into a quick power hike. Once I topped the hill around mile 18.6 I got back into the flow as I saw Kaela sitting at the intersection. We had a loop around a street and would come right back to the intersection and then go through the opposite way heading back towards finish. I told Kaela that I was going to do the loop and then make it my stop to refill everything and get some more food at that point. 

The loop was a little over a mile but man it was rough. I told myself that I wasn’t going to walk any of it, and I didn’t, but my pace was crawling compared to where I had been most of the race. I finally made it back to Kaela and she filled my water bottle up while I made my way to the aid station to use some cups of water to clean the dried sweat and salt off of my face. They had some honey stinger products so I grabbed a few and handed them off to Kaela to replenish my stock (I mean I did kind of pay for them with the race so I felt okay about it). Kaela handed off my water bottle stocked with sour patch kids in the pocket to get me through the rest of the race. She also handed me a large piece of the calzone for me to slam while I climbed the little hill coming out of the loop. This was the last place I was going to see her on the course so I gave her and Bella a kiss before power walking while chowing down on my calzone.

During the climb, a pacer ran by and asked what I was eating. When I responded with a calzone he seemed confused and did a double take before continuing on. He was the 5 hour pacer and as much as I would have liked to stay with him I just knew where I was at, that it would be a little tougher than possible to keep up. I ate a good bit of the calzone before throwing the rest in the ditch that I’m sure some wildlife would enjoy that evening. I picked up the pace again as I ran back down the back side of the hill taking me back to the main dirt road that we were on a few miles ago.

The combination of the sun beating down and the dust being kicked up on the road, just made my dehydration feel even worse. Around mile 21 there was a family on the covered porch cheering runners on. I asked if they had any beer to help with the sun, they laughed it off, I guess they didn’t realize I wasn’t joking. After a short little bump in the road I could see the next aid station in the distance and could hear Kaela yelling “pick it up babe!” She always has a way of kicking me in the ass to move faster and sometimes it works, this time it didn’t. I just laughed as I walked my way into the aid station. This aid station was on the route that Kaela would have gone to get to the finish so she thought she would just stop once more. It was a great pick me up to see her once more, as it always helps to have any positive vibes when in the hurt locker. 

We turned right from the aid station and again we were heading uphill. I think I should have paid closer attention to the elevation of the course as I did not realize this was happening at this point in the race. My running sections kept getting shorter and even my walking pace was slowing down to what felt like a crawl. The field being small, I was alone out here on these dirt roads just trying to keep my mind positive to put one foot in front of the other. I laughed at myself about the reason I was hurting was because I thought it was a good idea to do another set of back to backs. Reminding myself that it was my fault gave me a good laugh and just had me enjoying the moments and the opportunity I had to even be doing something this dumb.

At mile 23, I made it back to the point where folks got lost at the beginning of the race. I thought it was an actual aid station as I was hoping for some additional fluids but it seems it wasn’t the case as there were just a handful of volunteers making sure folks made their way back towards the finish. There was a volunteer that asked if I care for some company as the upcoming hill was a long one. I had a quick flashback to a few hours before where I knew this hill was going to be a doozy at the end. But I welcomed the company as I had been talking to myself for the last few miles, so having someone to talk back to would be a nice change of pace.

She had moved to Wyoming about 6 months prior from San Diego to live with her boyfriend. She talked about how she really enjoyed the pace of life in Wyoming compared to California and the need to keep up with the Joneses that seemed to just flood her life. I let her lead the conversation to allow myself time to breathe and she followed me step for step as I would walk the steeper parts and then pick up pace when I found a break in the incline to keep it moving and back to walking again.

Just before mile 24 we made it to the aid station at the top of the climb heading into the final. As I walked into the aid station, the lovely volunteer that kept me company for the last 10 minutes made her way back down the hill to her spot. The volunteers at this aid were super helpful in refilling my water bottle, offering some candy and pointing me in the right direction. At this point I just need to make my way around the loop in reverse from the start, which seemed easy enough but my body was beat. I spent time back and forth between running and walking, telling myself that the faster I moved the faster this would be over. 

“There just one mile left, you’ve got this”

There was a spectator cheering on myself and a few runners that I slowly caught up to in this last portion. I gave myself a little pep talk and said I am going to run through the finish. It didn’t look pretty but that’s exactly what I did. I finished up the loop and made a final left with the finish line in my sights. Kaela was set up with the camera cheering me all the way in.

5:17:24

That was tough. Not only the back to back, but also at higher altitude and very warm weather, there were just so many variables that were making me have to dig real deep here. The hills were definitely the surprise that I was not 100% prepared for and luckily I was smart enough early in the race to pace them out so I could make it to the finish.

Apparently there were supposed to be two food trucks at the finish but only one showed up, which meant that they only had enough food to serve half of the runners. So they corralled us to the event center where there was a snack bar setup. They were providing burgers or hot dogs and I had a feeling I was going to end up hungry. I had asked if they had anything else since I was a vegetarian, honestly not expecting anything as I don’t expect folks to cater to my diet. The kind man said they had mini doughnuts and I was sold. They were kind enough to make a fresh batch and in the meantime, the lady that was topping the items put together a salad for me chopping up lettuce and tomatoes and placing in a paper tray. These folks were top notch and I thanked them up and down many times.

I joined Kaela at a table working to get down as much food and fluids as I could to get some energy back. We had other runners join us at our table and we talked about the race and our future running plans. As we were finishing up and walking out, we saw the couple from New England area making their way in with a similar hobble as me. We congratulated them as we made our way back to the car. 

Back at the hotel I took a quick trip to the pool to soak my feet in the cool water while Kaela and Bella hung out in the room. It felt so nice to have the water relieve some of the pressure I was feeling in my feet. The pounding for the last two days took a toll on them. After cleaning up we made our way out to downtown Cheyenne for some local craft beer, picked up some fresh cookies from Mary’s Mountain Cookies (a must stop if you ever come across one), then heading to get some pad-thai from a local thai restaurant. 

The Cheyenne Marathon was everything that I could have hoped it would be. After having a tough race in Colorado, I set my expectations to just having a good time and I think that freedom allowed me to soak in every step that it had to offer. Even if most of those steps happened to be uphill. 

Now if you are keeping up with my blog, you are probably wondering why this took me a little longer to write as it’s been a handful of months since the race and even finishing the Colorado race report. Two weeks after this race I was helping pace a friend at a 100 mile race in Illinois and then two weeks after that I was to be in New Mexico for the Dukes City Marathon in Albuquerque. My plan was to try and finish this report the week before New Mexico, however on the evening of October 10th, Bella had a seizure.

We assumed it was from her calcium levels from a surgery in the summer, however it was determined she had a brain hemorrhage that they were unsure of the cause. After many trips back and forth to the emergency hospital, Bella gained her wings on October 16th, the day of the race. I obviously decided during the week that heading out of town wasn’t an option with her condition and I am so thankful that I was able to spend that additional time with her and Kaela. 

Bella had just celebrated her 13th birthday and had been with Kaela and I since the start of my journey as a runner. She had traveled to 38 states, most of those for races, and was my cheerleader and positive vibes always right beside Kaela. I don’t know what racing is going to look like in 2023, as the plan is to wrap up the 50 states this year, not having her by Kaela’s side. It is going to be tough knowing that she won’t be there at aid stations or the finish licking off my sweat as her way of saying “way to go Dad”. Seeing Kaela on the side without her is going to be tough, but I am going to carry all of the great memories and moments with me every step until I cross that finish line on state #50. 

Forever our little girl!
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