Stephen gave me my start as a blogger/diabetes sports media member. It was at the New Jersey Marathon in 2015, I didn't know what I was doing and decided I'd talk/interview to Stephen like he was one of my friends. What I got was motivation for the rest of my life!! Stephen will go out of his way to help anyone, and has helped me tremendously as a person, endurance runner, and a blogger. The best thing is that he does that with everyone he meets. The work Stephen does off of the trail is more impressive then the races. 120 mile races are very impressive so that just shows you the person that Stephen is. A very special thank you to Stephen for the interview and for motivating so many, Stephen is truly changing diabetes!!
I knew I wanted to make my tenth 100+ mile race something special. By choosing to take on Fat Dog solo, it added that extra level of difficulty but even more importantly; it made the sense of accomplishment even more satisfying.
The race is a relatively new ultra. It’s marketed as ‘the most scenic race in Canada’ as well as being called one of the toughest nine races in the world by Outside Magazine. Both claims piqued my interest. It’s a point-to-point mountain trail race that climbs just shy of Everest with a 28,000-feet gain and a similar descent deep in the British Columbia wilderness. In a nutshell, it takes you on a very long challenging adventure with very few flat sections. It was as hard as it sounded. It now counts as the second longest race of my life after the Tahoe 200. I can say it ranks as my second hardest one too. Yes, that means harder than UTMB!
2) Was the race easier or tougher diabetes wise without a crew? What was your diabetes game plan going into the race?
Having a crew definitely helps with my diabetes. They hand me my blood tester at aid stations. If my pacer also has type 1 diabetes, I have an extra level of security and trust in their opinion when my mind starts to fog.
For diabetes game plan, I went into the race mentally prepared to be on my own for a very long time. I had a focus knowing it all fell on me to figure out how to monitor and adapt my diabetes for 120 miles.
This plan was no different than any other 100. I carried both my blood glucose monitor and CGM with me from start to finish in my running pack and planned to check my numbers with a blood test at each aid stations to ensure my CGM was calibrated and reading accurately.
Yet as with any plan, things can go wrong. After the first mountain pass at Cathedral Peak, I made it to the other side, which was 18 miles later. I went to do another blood test, but for no explainable reason, my glucose monitor wouldn’t work. Fortunately, a medic was at the aid station had a blood glucose tester. I was able to confirm my CGM was accurate but did not keep the tester. My spare tester was at mile 99! This is exactly why having a crew makes life so much easier but alas, I had to adapt to the situation and persevere. It was definitely a challenge, but I wasn’t going to quit because my blood tester did.
3) What was the toughest part of the 120? If you can, describe your mental state and if resting or even thought about pulling out of the race. (I'm sure he never thought about quitting)
Many factors made the race insanely difficult. Wildfires in the area meant the air was full of smoke and even up to race day there was a risk the race would be canceled. Not an easy mindset to deal with during a challenging race. The temperature shifted from a high of 99 degrees Fahrenheit to an overnight low in the 20’s and then a similar repeat the following day. This was true mountain extreme weather, and it meant multiple clothing adjustments to perform at my best.
Overall, sleep deprivation trumped everything else. There was always a chance I would have to run two nights to complete the race. Night one began badly when I hit my lowest point in the race at just mile 35. The heat of the day had caught up to me, my stomach was off, and my energy was zapped. I was in severe discomfort and as nice as the volunteers were to me, I ultimately needed some tough love. My friend and fellow racer, Chris, entered the aid station to sarcastically congratulate me on getting 35 miles before calling it a day. I gave him the look of death to reassure him this was not it. It was simply a severe level of discomfort, and I would somehow bounce back. We left together and ended up holding each other accountable and motivating each other to keep moving through the entire first night. We did grab a nap at an aid station high on a mountain ridge around 3 am. It was full of many tired runners, all wrapped in foil blankets trying to do the same. After 10 minutes of a very light rest, I woke up to the sound of violent vomiting beside me. It was a reminder; someone is always suffering more than you. I viewed it as a cue to get up and get going. Quality sleep, this was not.
Day two was a long slow struggle. After three huge mountain passes that only got us halfway, the reality that the 36-hour goal was not going to happen sunk in. Only having 10 minutes of sleep didn’t help my pace. As nightfall got closer, my fatigue increased. Hallucinations of bears on branches and people sitting in the forest gave me great feedback; I was utterly exhausted. My watch also gave me feedback; I still had 30 miles to go and was desperate for more sleep. At the Mile 93 aid station, I jumped onto a cot and grabbed 10 more minutes of much needed downtime. It’s so hard to be woken up and then realize you’re in a middle of a race. At that point, it’s a dream and nightmare rolled into one.
The last major aid station before the finish was at mile 99. Reaching this point was the reality about what makes Fat Dog so hard. One hundred miles was done, but we still had 21 miles to the finish. It was about much more than the distance. This section was called Skyline; up and down a fourth huge mountain to reach the finish in Lightning Lake. It takes on average eight hours and for a good reason; a nine-mile climb, which did it’s best to break me, followed by several false summits on an exposed, cold ridge. Then you descended technical rocks, which were wet after a nighttime downpour, and then the longest finish I’ve ever experienced. Half of my brain said to sleep while the other half said soldier on. With each mile taking longer and longer to complete, I took a couple more naps on Skyline to try and reset, but it didn’t help a great deal. In summary, with just 20 or so minutes of sleep, I reached the finish in 43 hours 40 minutes. I lay on the grass by the finish line, elated to be among the 55% of finishers, but even more overjoyed that I could get some sleep!
4) A week after the fatdog 120 you decided to PR in the Brooklyn mile, how is that possible?!?! Was it tougher running the 120 or the mile?
The idea was born out of some of the Western States 100 runners who ran a mile as fast as possible the day after the race. For obvious reasons, it doesn’t attract many participants! But three days after my Western States in late June, I did somehow shuffle my way over to the Icahn Stadium in NYC for the Strava Mile. As every athlete knows, with a challenge comes fire. So I set off on that track barely able to walk for the two previous days and unexplainably, I ran that mile in an unofficial Sub-5. It surprised a lot of people, including myself.
The Brooklyn Mile was one week after Fat Dog 120, and I wanted to make that unofficial mile time legitimate. Others have asked me, which was harder—Fat Dog or the mile? In some weird way, the mile did hurt more. My game plan was very simple (forgive me as I wouldn’t quite call myself a miler); hit 400 in 70-75 seconds and that was the entire plan. Luckily, I nailed the plan, but then had ¾ of a mile to go. Halfway, I hit 2:25 and foolishly thought it was going to be plain sailing from there. Then came the searing knife-like pain in my thighs, my shoulders rose to touch my ears, and my form was officially lacking. The pain soared to an almost unbearable level. At the ¾ mile point, I almost let my brain win and slow the whole thing down. But this was Brooklyn, and the streets do not accept quitters. I found some leg speed and crossed the finish with an official 4:56! The mile is brutal, but I now had run my fastest mile and immediately following a 120-mile race and with zero mile training. I can’t explain how I did it because I don’t even understand it!
5) What's next? Are you eyeing a certain race?
Up next is a lot of fun in the mountains for the rest of the year. My wife and I are doing our first stage race in Nepal called the Manaslu Mountain Trail. It is seven stages covering 105 miles. I feel it is going to be a life changing with immersing ourselves in a different culture and exploring the Himalayas, a mountain range I’ve been obsessed about for years. It’ll be a great way to try out a new style of racing with the stage format and all at very high altitude. I believe the highest stage is above 16,000ft, far higher than any of my other mountain races. At the end of the year, I will have completed a triple of global ultras with Western States 100 in the USA, Fat Dog 120 in Canada, and Manaslu Mountain Trail in Nepal.
6) Any tips for those of us living with diabetes that are looking into an endurance run this fall or next spring.
Go for it! I strongly believe that everyone should be chasing his or her dreams, no matter what life throws at you. I don’t feel diabetes should be seen as a limitation; it should be a catalyst. All Team Novo Nordisk athletes are racing with type 1 diabetes, and we are living proof to keep chasing your dreams; we aim to inspire others to take on big challenges. If that’s a mile race, a marathon or even an ultra, you’ve got the support of the team and me. And remember what I always say ‘run diabetes, don’t let diabetes run you’!
7) You had a very busy summer speaking at a couple of diabetes camps, what was the best part and how did the campers motivate you?
It’s been a great year interacting with the diabetes community. Some highlights include running the Boston Marathon with JDRF, going up to the Albany Medical Center to help kids get ready to go to college, and traveling down to Alabama to meet kids at summer camp.
I told the kids at Camp Seale Harris in Alabama, ironically about 120 of them, that I would race Fat Dog 120 for them because we are all in this together--they help me stay strong. After sharing some of my running dreams, I asked them what their dreams were and what they were going to do when they grow up while living with diabetes. Getting to hear their answers, their unique stories and seeing all of those brave, happy faces motivated me. These kids are positive and strong. With the right level of support and encouragement, they are going to be fine. These interactions are etched in my memory.
When I hit that low point in a race such as mile 35 at Fat Dog, I thought of these kids. I crawled out of my negative thoughts and overcame because of them. That’s exactly what living with diabetes can be like at times, and I can express that to others through my running. We don’t just get to quit because something is tough. We do the opposite and show our strength. Quitting is not an option. Why quit on a race if you cannot quit diabetes?