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2014 UltraInclinathon: Means to an End of a Decade

     It seemed like a brilliant idea at times, but mostly, the thought of 24 hours on the Incline scared me. A lot. More than the Inclinathon, more than the Stank, and more than any race I've done. But once a notion like this tickles my brain, there's some deep rooted, personal obligation that requires me to act. Plus, turning 30 was deserving of some magnanimous celebratory gesture and the UltraInclinathon fit the bill. 

[Ultrainclinathon Elevation Profile]

     Going into it, I wondered how much climbing I could do in a day. Then I wondered how much climbing anyone could do. In my research, I came across stair climbing records and ski records but an outdoor, trail running record was much harder to come by. I'm still not sure that I've found it but my buddy Wes sent me information of Jared Campbell's 40,000 ft  Running Up For Air fundraiser. That would mean 20 Inclines in 24 hours? The mind boggles!

     With the event 2 weeks away, an omen in the form of a nasty sprained ankle offered me the final confidence I needed. In a "good or bad" dichotomy, most would lump ligament damage and cankles into the "bad" category. I did at first, especially when the severity made me wonder whether something more sinister like a fracture was involved. But once the bruising and swelling began to subside, I realized that this injury belonged under "good." You see, in the weeks leading up to some of my biggest races including the original Inclinathon, Western States, and in the midst of HURT, I had done the same thing and came away with satisfying results in each of those events. Sprains apparently are my body's way of signaling "Taper Time." They serve as distractions and prevent me from overanalyzing or overtraining for whatever event I'm prepared to attempt. Interpreting the sprain in this light helped it heal faster (I think), and though I still wavered a bit, by Wednesday, I decided I'd go ahead and at least try. 

[from left to right: cankle, ankle, dankle]

     July 4th rolled around and I woke with little to no pain. I decided to Rock Tape for pre-emptive proprioception, but as long as I kept my Pearl Izumi M2 outsoles down and avoided any other tweaks, I'd be golden. Fortunately, a noon start meant I could enjoy a leisurely morning and put the final touches on preparing myself mentally for the next 24 hours. 


     Noon approached and Amy, Scheri, Miles, Ella, Steve, and Mary gathered at the start to share their positive energy. After a quick interview with Tim, the spirit walk was on! In my head, the 24 hour event was best conceptualized as 6 hour quarters. With this understanding, averaging 5-6 laps per quarter would put me at my goal of 20 to 24 laps. Of course, fatigue induced slowing was inevitable so I wanted to bank some extra laps on the front end, especially before the sun retired.

Here we go!

[Photo: Tim Bergsten/PikesPeakSports]


     Adrenaline fueled the first lap which was bit faster than I thought would be sustainable. From that point on though, I settled down and found a nice rhythm of movement. Sporadic bouts of rain, thunder, lightning, and even a bit of hail offered a nice reprieve from the mid-day sun while slick railroad ties served as a reminder to temper my enthusiasm on the descents. Blown quads at midnight with 12 hours to go would do me no good. 

Railroad ties, slippery when wet!

     The daylight laps passed smoothly once my body and mind accepted the routine. While I took splits for every ascent, descent, and aid stops, these numbers were regarded only with retrospective curiosity.  Feel and consistent effort were the more important markers. I made sure to take some time at the bottom of each lap to refuel and refocus. Surprise encounters from Harsha, Carson, Tim, Reese, Samantha, Brian, Alex, and Maddy  along the way kept me on track and after the first quarter was complete, so were 7 laps. This 28 lap/24 hour pace would surely begin to slow soon but the cushion I built was encouraging. I planned to keep pushing for another 3 hours until nightfall and reward myself with a longer break for the firework show.

Lap 7


     For most of the day so far, Steve Stermer was also out there putting in his laps. I asked him how much he planned to do and if he was going to stay for the fireworks. He said "no," but when 9:30 rolled around, Steve was still trucking! He would ultimately put in 10 over the course of 24 hours and earn the title for 2nd place!

     Once day finally gave way to night, booms echoed and flashes lit up the sky. I took that was my cue to sit down near the summit, devour a barbecue chicken wrap, and enjoy the show. Happy Birthday America!

Holiday props courtesy of Rodger

     One of the best views around

Not long after continuing on, Dan and Jeff showed up to do 3 and 1 laps with me respectively. Though I'd seen friends along the way, these guys were the first to hang with me for complete laps which was a huge help through the night. Two years ago I completed the original Inclinathon in 11 hours and 47 minutes. This year, even with a concerted effort to hike more and conserve energy, the first 13 laps were over in a comparable 12 hours!

Lap 13. An Inclinathon!

     Without the crowds and heat to contend with, the night passed peacefully and I wanted to continue to get as much done before daylight returned. Tim G and Sean ended up camping at the bottom and graciously joined me for some laps in the wee hours of the morning. Sean dubbed lap15 the "Everest lap" as we climbed into 30,000 ft territory. With the contrasting light and darkness cast by the railroad ties and their respective shadows, my eyes were starting to glaze over a bit. Suddenly the distinction between prolonged blinking and actually sleeping was difficult to discern. Fortunately, gnawing on some spicy beef jerky that Sean brought kept me somewhat alert and prevented me from becoming a complete zombie. 

Tired, and with barbeque sauce on my face

     Lap 17, which began sometime around 3 am, was the only lap where I had the entire Incline to myself. I knew the sun would soon welcome others on their morning pilgrimage so I soaked in one last bit of solitude. By this time, I was no longer able to run the downhills for any significant stretch, but I was still pretty pleased with how the body was faring. Last year, during a 5 lap training run, I recall being completely immobilized and crippled by cramps at the top of the last lap. That wasn't the cause for my slowing this time around. My legs just felt tired. They were sluggish, clumsy, and unable to respond to a cadence greater than a walk. Fatigue was manageable. However, sometime in the early daylight hours, I realized that underlying this malaise was increasingly consistent left knee pain. Noon still seemed so far away. 

Sunrise over Manitou

     By planning to end in the daylight hours, I envisioned having enough gas for a final, heroic push to the end. In the moment, no such gesture was possible. Now, not only was physical fatigue present, but appetite fatigue had set in as well. Energy and motivation to keep moving was difficult to come by.

This hurts!

[Photo: Tim Gore]

     Essentially all of my solid calories had come from Kind Bars, grapes, bananas, peanut butter/apple butter wraps, chicken wraps, baby food pouches, chocolate covered espresso beans, and one gel. Oddly enough, out of everything, the baby food packets were most desirable. My penchant for the pureed was so strong in fact, that Sam generously made a specific baby food run the previous evening to bring back about a dozen more pouches!

     To this point, I had also nailed my hydration, as the single bottle in my Ultimate Direction AK vest was quickly and easily refilled after each lap. The problem now though, was that after 18 hours of consumption, all food and sports drinks had lost their allure. I could feel my tongue begin to blister from all the sugar and really any interest in caloric consumption was now lost. While I still tried to choke down some things here and there, what ultimately fueled me for the final 6 hours was the emotional energy from friends. Having Amy, Brian, and Tim return and being escorted by Fred and Ed Baxter, Greg Cummings, and Steve for the final hours was a powerful motivator. 

Escorted by Incline royalty

Fred, Greg, myself, and Ed

     On lap 21, my left knee began to worsen with every step. So much so, that I eventually had to sit and quit moving. I decided to pull over below the halfway point to have a mini pity party to really contemplate what I was doing and why.  Pressing on wasn't worth long term damage and I had already met my expectations. I had two options at this point, continue on and leave some hope for more laps once this was done. Or head back down with 20.5 ascents. After several minutes of Greg working on my knee, I decided I had enough in me to just finish this lap and then I could justify stopping. I stood up and resumed trudging, trying to convince myself that the pain now was less intense. Ultimately however, the knee-high steps proved just too much and though I knew I shouldn't, I began to compensate. I reasoned that while the problem was with my left knee I still had another non painful option on the opposite side. So for the rest of the way up, my right leg along with my "magic sticks," would handle the brunt of the heavy lifting.  

The magic sticks helping out lame lefty

     It took me nearly 35 minutes to get down, and once at the bottom, I knew I was done. I couldn't fathom dragging my body up and down 2,000 ft again on a leg that hurt with every step. I sat in the shade to ice my knee, eat another barbecue chicken burrito, and shared my intent to throw in the towel with friends. It was a difficult decision to make but it was the right one...at least until I made it. Almost immediately after sending Greg, the Baxters, and Steve on to continue their trek, I didn't feel right. Despite everything I had gone through, stopping now with time still left would be quitting. The internal dialogue went something like this:

Me: I'm done. My knee hurts!

Me: True, but what did you expect. Isn't 24 hours on the Incline supposed to hurt?

Me: You're absolutely right!

Me: Yes I am!

     This was a profound revelation. Maybe the pain wasn't a sign that I was doing something wrong, but a sign that I was doing it right. Inspired, I stood up and took a couple practice step ups with my left knee. While the pain was still there, it didn't seem as bad. And so with an hour and fifteen minutes left in this 24 hour endeavor, I embarked on my final lap.

[Probably not the most effective way to ice the knees]


     Now with a defined mission and renewed spirit, I was moving faster. I wanted to catch up to the other guys at the summit and complete the round trip before noon. 40 minutes later, part one of the objective was complete, and all that remained was the descent. Accompanied by my Incline escorts, I tried to hurriedly hobble as much as possible. When not possible, I awkwardly double pole vaulted the larger stairs, a technique that I had all but mastered at this point to save my knees from any excessive flexion.


     Greeting me at the bottom were many of the same amazing faces who had offered their support throughout the previous 24 hours, including Tim for a recap of the event. The man is everywhere! Food was still unappetizing but the heat of the morning had begun to take it's toll. The Otterpops that Ella kept handing me definitely hit the spot and it felt so satisfying to just be still!

[Photo: Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette]


             Lap                                       Ascent                                            Descent                                             Aid


28m 11s

17m 4s

3m 9s


29m 11s

17m 31s

2m 41s


29m 43s

17m 54s

2m 54s


30m 35s

17m 35s

2m 56s


30m 24s

19m 50s

4m 20s


31m 13s

18m 31s

2m 54s


32m 43s

19m 6s

3m 2s


33m 20s

17m 50s

4m 38s


33m 23s

19m 6s

2m 46s


33m 52s

21m 11s

8m 11s


37m 15s

27m 44s

3m 34s


34m 7s

22m 38s

3m 39s


34m 10s

24m 37s

3m 59s


34m 19s

26m 14s

6m 5s


37m 46s

22m 41s

3m 45s


35m 19s

28m 56s

12m 30s


37m 31s

29m 18s

7m 40s


40m 46s

23m 17s

6m 6s


37m 57s

27m 36s

9m 16s


38m 45s

29m 18s

14m 37s


52m 35s

34m 28s

27m 48s


40m 39s

25m 48s


[What's most impressive is that I remembered to hit the "lap" button each time!]


 After a couple days of rest, reflection, and processing, I really could not have asked for a better experience. Twenty four hours of moving meditation helps remind me to continue pursuing joy and the things that are important. In my nearly 30 years, I've found life becomes increasingly and often excessively busy. Adventures like this help me counter the frantic and frenzied traps that I sometimes fall into. They strip down and simplify things to the basics. Moving. Breathing. And when it's all said and done and I return to the world of the busy, I'm armed with a better understanding of the things that matter I'm reminded to enjoy the now. Here's to another 30 years!

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Comment by Brandon Stapanowich on July 12, 2014 at 8:16pm

Thanks buddy and thanks for your help! I didn't know what blogging was until Glass Half Full. 

Comment by Sean O'Day on July 12, 2014 at 9:02am

I read recaps like yours and wonder why I even bother blogging.  Awesome write-up.  Awesome accomplishment.

Don't pee your pants, dude.

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