I first encountered Sean on Facebook in a discussion about Quest for the Crest. I had no intention of running it, but my husband and trail running partner had signed up, and he refuses to join Facebook, so I was doing recon for him. Quest for the Crest has a reputation as the World’s Hardest 10K, and Sean didn’t stop after 6.2 miles; he completed the 50K. He also posted a link to an article he’d written for Ultrarunning Magazine about his (almost) DFL at the Sheep Mountain 50 Mile in 2015. I wanted to find out what inspires a runner who DFL’s at one race to not only go on to finish Leadville and Quest for the Crest, but also return to Sheep Mountain the following year for revenge.
Did you expect to finish at the back of the pack when you ran Sheep Mountain in 2015, or did your race not go as expected?
You should know this was my first 50+ mile race ever. I had never run longer than 10 miles, outside the army, in any capacity before 2015. After an ankle injury and a random lottery win to run Leadville, my running life was flipped upside down, and I had to start getting myself ready for Leadville. Sheep Mountain was a huge test and a difficult run! From the onset, the elevation gain was total to many 100 mile races. SO, all that being said my goal was to finish and that I did. There were 3 of us that ended up finishing Dead Last that day, and we quickly bonded the last 10+ miles as we dodged rain, stormy weather, bad backs, and nausea. One of the runners was a very experienced runner, and I learned a lot that day
How do you deal with unforeseen challenges on race day?
“You don’t know what you don’t know” is the age-old adage, and you should always be prepared for whatever may come at you. Over time, I have matured into a good short distance runner, for my age group, a decent marathoner, and an Ultra Finisher. I am still learning more and more each day. I try to read as much about fueling, taking care of your feet, recovery, and any other tips I can. This helps me craft a plan for a race to be prepared for that blister, wet socks, nausea, or anything else that may arise. I have a pack I carry with a couple small essential items needed to help me in a tough spot…..or at least get me to the next aid station to receive proper care. For Sheep Mountain, I was so under prepared and not ready it wasn’t funny. You can ask my buddy Steve Knox, seasoned runner and my pacer for Leadville 2 years, when I rolled into an aid station at Sheep Mountain he literally sold me a fireball shot, an ensure, and some food. They all laughed at me but I was buying anything and had no plan.
What tips do you have for embracing the suck?
It is a saying that you embrace the suck and when it sucks worse you just laugh it off. You really must know yourself and what is your bottom or what is your red line. You can always throttle back and not over exert yourself to save some for another day, or you can push that red line all day long and be urinating coca cola later or throwing up all your calories. So, my first tip is knowing yourself and how hard you can push yourself. Know when you are hot, cold, running too fast, too slow, or your feet need to be taken care of. Unfortunately, this all comes with experience, but paying attention to some old folks really does help sometimes. My dad gave me some advice a long time ago for Ranger School, a very hard Army school- less than 1% of the Army is Ranger Qualified- “Put your left foot in front of your right and keep repeating.”
My second tip for the suck is to enjoy the ride. You will see things out there that you will never see again. You will meet amazing people. You will find some special moments in your life that you really should capture in a photo. Finally, the best thing you can do is break things down and take it piece by piece. For example, if you step off on the Leadville 100 thinking about 100 miles you will fail. If you step off thinking about 13 miles to Turquoise Lake Aid Station you are on the right track. Finally remember the suck can only last for so long. Tough times don’t last but tough people do.
When you completed Sheep Mountain in 2015, did you swear you’d never run it again, or did you know you’d be back for more?
I didn’t know if I was for or against the race again. I knew it was tough and exactly what I needed to get ready for Leadville 100, but I think I was leaning more towards doing the Leadville 50 Miler in 2016. However, because of some running schedules that didn’t align I ended up running the Sheep Mountain race again….while I did better during the first portions, I still hit a wall around mile 36-40 that was tough to get thru! I think most people cross a finish line and are DONE with that race, any race, or running period, then the bug gets you and you are looking at other races and runs. It is something human in all of us to push ourselves and test ourselves, over and over. LOL.
What did you do differently when you ran Sheep Mountain in 2016?
In 2016, I ran a better race because I had a fueling plan that didn’t rely on snickers, Gatorade and pickle juice. I knew exactly what I was getting into distance wise so that wasn’t scaring me off. Also, I knew deep down that if I had to walk I could. Run when you can and walk when you can’t and crawl when you must. The thing that I also did differently is I took it easy and had fun. I enjoyed the ride and climbs and the thousands of switchbacks. This time I ran most of it solo but still enjoyed myself.
Do you think the experiences you had while you were in the military make you a better ultra runner?
I think the experiences of the military give you a sense of being able to focus on a goal and plan and do it. They also teach you to endure your fair share of pain. So those things help for sure. But when it comes down to it, I have run with mothers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, bus drivers, un-employed folks, and just about anyone else. What you need is a belief in yourself and whether that comes thru ego vs. super ego conflict or from a belief in God, you must believe you can.
You recently completed Quest for the Crest, which has infamously been billed as one of the world’s hardest races. Do you think it lives up to its reputation? How hard was it?
LOL, this race was HARD, very HARD!!! It is hands down the hardest 50K I have run. I loved it though. It was so beautiful, and it was so awful; you had no other option but to fall in love with the climb up and down then back up again. The start crushed your quads, and you spent the rest of the day trying to recover. It is very worthy of its name and fame. Sean Blanton from RunBum Tours has done a great job with this race and keeps working to make it better.
Since you’re headed back to Leadville this year, what do you plan to do differently that you have in previous years?
I have set two goals each year I run Leadville: a 30-hour goal and a 25-hour goal. I will do the same this year. I am going to have a better meal plan this year and a way to take care of my back when it acts up. I am going to try and rely on whole foods again this year. That was something I did last year, and I had a marvelous stomach along the way with no issues. I have two pacers this year and really want to listen to them more and can put in more when they ask for it. I remember last year working so hard to get ahead of the cut I walked some sections I should have run. I need to run more than half the race. But the basic goal is to finish, then I want to finish better than I did last year. I am getting older so I need to stay focused on this.
What is Thumbs Up Runners and what are your goals?
Thumbs Up Runners is an attitude but more than that it is a soon to be launched app/website that supports runners thru the rating of races all over the US. Our goal is to operate a product like Yelp and allow runners to provide instantaneous feedback on races and experiences, share and upload pictures, link their social media profiles, and basically help other runners pick out their next race. Right now, I am still building the website and am in school doing it versus paying thousands of dollars for someone to do it for me. It is slow but coming along. In the meantime, I have been pushing the social media hard and trying to just be a friendly person on the trail, course, track, or wherever. I share experiences, and I tell stories about my life.
What is it like to live in an RV full-time and where are you headed next?
It is a test every day. You have a family, wife and 5 dogs, that demand a lot of time (rightfully so), and you must be able to balance your priorities. We are best friends and I love her to death but sometimes I know my wife is wanting to plot my death, JK Honey. We love to take care of our rescue dogs, and we love the experience of seeing the world. We are off to Colorado in a week to get ready for Leadville. So, if you see me out there, hit me up; I have some great advice on what not to do, I have some awesome shirts and hats, some free stickers, and a whole lot of energy to run with you whenever and wherever! See you on the trail.
When I looked at his site and social media posts and realized Sean and his wife live in their RV full time, I couldn’t resist throwing in a question about it. Although I’ve daydreamed about full time van life, and we do currently have an old Sportsmobile van, after traveling across the country in it with 2 Rotties and a cat, it’s hard to imagine what it’s actually like to do it full time! It sounds like they’re making it work.
Sean’s Q&A is full of good advice, including one lesson that I also learned the hard way. Fireball on race day is never a good idea. Good luck to Sean at Leadville in August!
If you have more questions for Sean, or want to hit him up to see if his RV is headed your way, connect with him here:
Or look for #thumbsuprunners online