What drives someone want to run 100 miles over mountain tops in foreign territory? Collin O’Berry, one of our founding athletes at McHone Performance Training recently took on the Ute 100 mile ultra running race for his first and possibly only 100 mile ultra. For some this would be a goal that might seem impossible but his journey to his first 100 miler was a long one. When Collin first reached out to MPT he had recently become a father, opened a new business venture while still juggling all of the other life stresses that come with being a family man and entrepreneur.
Collin is a seasoned endurance athlete who enjoys running and mountain biking in Pisgah National Forest in his spare time. He has completed almost all of the original classic trail races in the Asheville/Brevard area so he began to seek out new challenges. So what do you do when the 40-50 mile races are no longer the epic challenge they once were? Pick a goal that is so epic that the only option is to complete your mission! At MPT we love being a part of our athletes dreams so when Collin told us that he had signed up for the Ute 100 we started planning how we could help him along his journey.
For anyone who has taken on an epic trail run or participated in an ultra distance run through the forest know that it’s not just all about running. We tell our athletes “every step is a rep”. Our goal as a performance training gym for mountain athletes is to make sure our athletes are not only ready from a cardiovascular demands of their sport but also making sure that all weak points are addressed along the way to making sure the athletes are as strong, durable and mobile as they can be leading up to their goal. Collin for instance has a history of ankle sprains, one of the more recent sprains happened during a 50k trail race a few months prior. During the bounce back from that race we focused more than ever on strength and stability to make sure he was ready for Ute. We also incorporated mountain bike rides to keep his aerobic capacity up along with HIIT training that didn’t involve impact on the sprain.
The work had been put in to be as best prepared as possible but now was the time to think about the what if’s that could pop up during the race. Hydration, nutrition, chafing and blisters are some of the most common problems that can start out small but over the 100 mile course could lead to much bigger issues. This being Collins first 100 mile race there was the possibility of a lot of unknowns that we needed to plan ahead for. The elevation in Asheville is around 2,000ft compared to the lowest point during the race would be over 7,000ft and climbing up over 12,000ft at the highest point of the course. To start acclimating to these elevations we would have to be at these elevations for 3 weeks or more. Since we don’t have that luxury we are taking the other option, the show and go method by flying out the day before the race and hoping that we can make it through the race without altitude sickness setting in.
Its 3am and Collin is on his way to pick me up to head to the airport for our 6am flight out of Greenville, SC to Houston before heading to Grand Junction, CO. Due to the early start we were able to sleep through both flights enough to feel almost human as we drove into Moab. Moab is so rad!! We booked a campsite at Dead Horse Point State Park and took off for a short hike to shake off the jet lag. Using this time to talk about the mental game and getting Collin prepped for when he would need to push through the long miles. Watching the sunset from the edge of the canyon Collin declared that “this is it, one and done”. Collin had been working for this goal for a long time and felt that this would be his only 100 mile race. We took in a magic sunset then started walking back to our camp. Collin stopped and said “this is one of the moments we would always look back on”.
The next morning I took off early so that I could get a mountain bike ride in on some of the epic trails in Moab while Collin got a little more rest. After sleeping in Collin went for another short hike to shake the legs out before checking into the hotel. He then spent the rest of his day focusing on getting his daypack ready with the supplies he would need for the first big stretch of the race. The Ute 100 provided ample resupply/aid stations along the race route so there wasn’t any worry of not having options but we didn’t want to risk not having Collins go to gels and bars. At the pre race meeting Sean “Run Bum” Blanton the race director informed the racers of how well supplied the aid stations would be. This included bringing out generators and mini ovens to cook pizza for the racers. After the pre race meeting the rest of the day was spent relaxing and trying to keep the nerves under control by lounged around in the hotel room and watching movies until we fell asleep.
1am wake up felt like we had only taken a short nap before it was time to load up and take off for the La Sal Mountains to the start/finish area. From our hotel in downtown Moab it was about an hour drive but we wanted to give ourselves ample time just in case we had trouble finding our way around. The energy in the field was full over nerves and adrenaline as racers piled in filling the darkness with beams of light from their headlamps. One last check of the gear and supplies before Collin headed over to the starting line to join the rest of the crazies that were about to take on an adventure of a lifetime. It was go time! Sean gave a few more words of inspiration before sending the racers off into the darkness.
I headed back to the Hotel to get a little nap and hit up the continental breakfast. The breakfast buffet was one of the best I’ve ever had! Then it was back off into the mountains to find the 30 mile checkpoint to see how Collin was doing. After getting lost in the La Sals for a few hours I finally made it to the checkpoint to find out that Collin had already come through and was crushing the route so far. One of the volunteers informed me that he was in 11th place when he came through about an hour before I arrived. This being Collins first 100 mile race my first thought was “oh shit, Collin slow down”, he had ran over 20 ultras in his running career but never more than a 50 miler so I was worried that he was pushing at a 50 mile race pace. I headed off to the halfway aid station to make sure I got there in plenty of time to catch him and check in on how he was mentally and physically. The halfway checkpoint was a party of family members and support crew waiting on their racers to come down the mountain onto the road. Each racer that came off this section recounted how grueling the previous pass had been. When Collin came out the trail head he was looking solid but he too had a rough time coming down the steep rocky mountain side. The aid station and volunteers were rockstars! They got Collin a chair and treated him to a kings welcome with food and hydration. The next section was a short loop down into the canyon and back up to the 50 mile aid station so I headed down the trail a little ways to check in on Collin and chat away from the growing crowd. Collin informed me that he had eaten a bit too much at the aid station and had to toss some of it back up in the canyon but was feeling much better for it. Collin continued up the road and I got back in the truck to head to the next aid station at mile 70. When I arrived at the parking lot was almost empty and only the top couple of runners had came through. I set up the bed of the truck with sleeping bags and pillows so Collin could get a little nap in if he was starting to get too loopy. Not too long after I set up runners started trickling in. Collin was in need of a little shut eye as he was now 21 hours into the race without sleep so he crawled into the back of the truck and I set an alarm for 30min. It seemed like 20 runs came through during his short nap but I knew he would be able to get just enough of a reset in this time to make up the spots he lost. “That did not feel like 30 minutes.” Collin mumbled as I woke him back up and escorted him over to the aid station for some snacks and supplies before heading back into the darkness. I too was now feeling the effects of sleep deprivation so I decided that I would drive to the next aid station and take a nap when I got there. My short nap ended up being 2hrs and I missed Collin coming through. He later told me that he had gotten a second wind and crushed that section. The truck was getting low on gas so I had to drive down out of the mountains into Moab to fill up before going to the last aid station at mile 85. Collin was still crushing and again had already gotten through the aid station by the time I arrived. Luckily one of our MPT members Mindy was working as a volunteer at that aid station and gave me the update that Collin was looking good and head down the home stretch. Off to the finish line I went to make sure I was there for the finish. I arrived just in time to see one of the Asheville runners come in 10th place with Collin not far behind coming in 13th Overall!! Collin crushed it! We hung out for a few more runners to come in before heading back down the mountain to get him out of the heat and back into the hotel bed where he would spend the next 20 hour except for going out for dinner that night.
The next day we caught up on his epic adventure over breakfast. Collin was limping something fierce due to the blisters on his feet rupturing during the last 20 miles of the race but the mission was completed. Collin crushed his bucket list race and now it was time to get back to Asheville to the real world with work and family. These are the adventures that leave you changed forever making you stronger and more resilient than you could have ever imagined possible. Collins perspective of hard times both mentally and physically now have a new reference point, so I had to ask Collin again “what the next 100 miler?”. There was a long pause but instead of shutting down the possibility of another one he just shook his head and said “It's too soon answer”.