Updated: Mar 19
Greg Lehman is a brand ambassador at Chaski Endurance Collective and works as a field experience representative at HOKA ONE ONE. A published journalist, visual artist, and poet, he is grateful for the opportunity to bring his passions for writing and running together here for the Chaski blog, and looks forward to many more chances to do so soon.
I was watching the starting line to the Coldwater Rumble 100-miler with my friend Kyle at a quarter to 6:00 a.m. on January 21st, 2021 in Goodyear, Arizona.
We were sitting together in a car, blasting the heat, the sun still a ways off before my first attempt at the distance.
Kyle’s wave would start at 6:10, mine at 6:20.
I felt ready to rock. The most training I had ever done put me in a solid place fitness-wise.
My hydration, nutrition, shoes, gaiters, and face masks were all in their places. My drop bag had been dropped, waiting a stone’s throw from the start and finish line in front of me.
But, of course, nothing had ever felt like looking down the barrel of 100-miles before.
Even though this was Kyle’s fifth encounter with the distance, his humility and respect for it only sharpened my own.
Now we just had the wait.
Kyle left the car for a minute. There wasn’t much light, but I loved what I saw
through the windshield. Runners and staff milled about, ducking under flags strung around generators for lights that were too bright in places, like they have to be this early.
After the 11 months since my last race at Surf City Half Marathon in Huntington Beach, California on February 1, 2020, I missed everything about racing tremendously.
Alone in the passenger seat, sitting with all the nostalgia and panic and thrills by myself, I had plenty to grapple with in this moment.
So, I listened to music the best I could.
Deep, sultry beats felt right to slow my heart rate. Or, at least, put me in a better state of mind than I was in at the time.
It helped, a little.
Kyle came back and got in next to me.
We sat for a few seconds, not saying anything.
I had to know.
“Are you freaking out, too, man?”
We busted up, which helped a lot.
Between laughs I put my face in my hands, gritting my teeth while trying to breathe right. It was all expected, perfect really.
And I couldn’t have asked for better than being there with a friend, bullshitting as long as we could before starting a race that I knew could very well crush me, and then did.
“All right,” said Kyle.
Telling people I was going to try to run 100 miles for the first time never failed to get a reaction.
I’m reminded of the scene in “Jaws” when the mayor is explaining to the chief the
difference between yelling barracuda and shark at a beach.
When people hear that you’re running a marathon, they’re definitely impressed. But there are often follow-up questions along the lines of, “Ah, that’s what, 25 miles, right?”
When you say you’re running 100 miles, people recoil, audibly or physically, or both.
The distance is used off-hand to describe places that are just way too far away.
Sometimes people would laugh, or take on a look of genuine concern.
“What?” they would ask. “Were you raised by wolves? People don’t do that.”
I would laugh, too, and confirm that, yes, this is an unreasonable task to ask of a body.
I’d add that I’ve been intrigued by the challenge for a long time.
Like any race, my primary goal was to finish. And with the successes I’ve had (a 3:03 PR for the marathon at Los Angeles Marathon in 2019, 11:38 at my first ultra at Speedgoat 50k in Snowbird, Utah the same year, and 12:48 for the one 50-miler I’ve raced at Crimson Canyons in Richmond, Utah, later still that same year), I felt like a
sub-24-hour finish was within reach, and marked it as my secondary target to hit.
I had no shortage of privileges and blessings working in my favor as well.
Working for HOKA ONE ONE provides plenty of both. I prepared by listening to the right people, including my Coach Brown at Chaski Endurance Collective, and many friends and athletes who have stepped into this particular ring and come out victorious.
Everyone was nothing but generous in sharing guidance with me.
I kept to a training schedule with more mileage than I’ve ever stepped up to. I prioritized rest and recovery as much as I could. I ate a lot, then ate some more.
I was also proud to fundraise for the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force with
this project as well. Human trafficking is one of the most horrific and pervasive evils that
infects our local and world community, and the OCHTTF does incredible work on a variety of fronts, from law enforcement to education and everything in between.
Adding a fundraising aspect to a race is easy to do, and I highly recommend it.
Doing so makes a difference by bringing funds and attention to important causes, and personally feels justified and empowering. I found this to be especially true when so much about this time feels opposed to both, and even more so when my fundraiser officially kicked off on January 6, 2021.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I’ve been surrounded by friends, family, and teammates in a variety of communities that have cheered me on in this project.
It was also interesting to have this be the first race where people could watch my progress along the route as my bib crossed through each aid station.
This felt reassuring and a good reminder that, though there were times when I felt deeply, profoundly alone, I never really was.
However, even with all of that, every runner knows that anything can happen in a race.
This monster of a distance eats people all the time. And I knew it could very well eat
But what were the options?
Not running 100 miles?
The Coldwater Rumble race event offers six different distances, each traversing a
section of the Estrella Mountain Regional Park, the longest being a 20-mile loop that the 100-miler takes on five times.
Per Aravaipa’s sterling reputation, the course was clearly marked, and every staff
member and volunteer was nothing but helpful and increasingly angelic in my
experience during the race.
When it was my turn to go, I tried to quiet my racing heart with the headline of my race
Stay slow, and whenever possible, slow down even more.
The count-down started.
I’d been ready for a while, and got right to work when it ended.
The day started cold, which made it easy to hold back on my first loop. I knew the chill
was not going to be around for long, either, so I savored the time I had to spend with it.
My pace averaged around 11 minutes per mile, which felt easy even with the climbs. I felt like I could keep this up comfortably, and if I did then 24 hours was in the bag, if not
Then the sun came out.
“Cool story, Greg,” it said.
I’d been warned, but it got hotter than a lot of people expected. We did have a breeze that went a long way with me, and changing into cooler clothes helped plenty.
But living where I do in Los Angeles, California, this type of heat wasn’t anything I had experienced recently, much less gotten used to.
I finished the first loop in over 4 hours. But getting caught in low 80 temps after only 20
miles of a 100 in Arizona, for me, was disheartening.
The most mileage I’d caught in a week before this training block was 74. Leading up to
Coldwater I ran 80, over 75, under 75, and about 50 or so in the last two weeks leading
right up to game day.
I felt great hitting those numbers, more fit than I’d ever been before.
But, of course, there is nothing like the exponential pressure that builds up when taking
all of these miles, and then some, all at once.
Terrain goes a long way, too. You couldn’t throw a stone without hitting ten loose rocks
or sand at Coldwater.
Many sections presented gauntlets of gullies and climbs that weren’t remarkable on paper, but definitely added up.
But to be clear, this was a beautiful run.
Like any terrain, deserts have their own beauty, a quiet grandeur that draws solitude in
broad strokes from afar, and turns up all kinds of interesting details and challenges up close.
The cactus were plentiful and varied, with different species dotting my line of sight: tall and squat, bare and with needles like fur, the latter set aglow by the low light that came with the two sunrises and one sunset I saw during the race.
Plenty of raptors crossed my path during the day, and I thought I heard other animals besides coyotes at times, low growls and large bodies shifting about in the brush. But it’s anyone’s guess what was and wasn’t there.
I never felt like I was in real danger, much less like anything was going to come get me for calories. The task at hand demanded much more of my attention than things I couldn’t see at night.
I was trudging up one of the longer fire roads in the dark, Positive self-talk, normally a cornerstone, rang empty as fatigue droned its one, empty note through my body.
I wondered if I was holding back too much and being lazy. I wondered if being safe was an excuse to not push it.
I was thinking about all of this and how much I had ahead of me, when red lights from not a few ambulances and fire trucks started gathering to the east of the trail.
I came up to another runner on the way up, said hello, and kept pace at a respectful distance beside him.
“Hate to see that,” I said, nodding to the lights.
“They’re going to pick up my friend,” he said.
He told me he had started the race with a friend and his friend’s girlfriend. The friend
had gone out hard, really let loose with everything he had, and gone missing.
The runner I was with had been texting the girlfriend. As I was walking with him, she texted to say that medical staff had found the runner, and were now looking for the best place to send a helicopter to take him to a hospital.
“Oh my god,” I said. “I’m so sorry.”
“It’s crazy,” he said. “My friend, he’s crazy.”
We talked some more. He’d heard them announce a winner when he had started this
loop, and I wondered if it was either my old friend Cody Logan or new friend Coree
Woltering. He hadn’t caught a name, but the time had been 17 hours something.
“Jesus,” I said.
“Just crazy,” he said.
Like you do during an ultra, after a while I told him I was going to do my thing and pick it up a bit. I said I was a holler away if he needed anything from me.
He said he would, we wished each other well, and I kept going.
Sure enough, I saw the helicopter later. I hoped and hope the runner is all right.
At 30 miles, things had gotten difficult.
By 50, I had no run left in me.
Hiking out another 50 miles became my only option. And I would be damned if I wasn’t going to put everything I could into doing so.
Muscular fatigue is its own burden. But sleep deprivation is quite another.
I knew lack of rest was a major challenge I would come across at some point. When I
did, it was on a level I’d never met before, running or otherwise.
I had also heard of runners hallucinating during long runs, too, but this was the first time it happened to me.
Exhaustion would take me, and I’d put my hands on my knees to pause and just
breathe for a while.
Then the dreams would begin.
I didn’t doze off, and there was no half-sleep introduction.
A story would begin in front of me, like panels in a comic book, complete with a soundtrack. Scenes would proceed, characters and heroes got established, all with clear goals to shoot for while I became a non-entity, not even an observer, just not there at all.
Then it would occur to me that, actually, I was in a race, the one I’d put months of
training into. I would shake myself back into this world, look back down the trail, and
start hiking again.
The hallucinations were different.
I knew I was awake when a man came up beside me in a rain jacket, a hood over his head. He was neither out of place or frightening, just another runner, then no one at all when I turned to look at him.
The non-existent animals I saw were cartoonish, formed out of the rocks, but with
eyes bright from my headlamp, and breath that swelled their at their sides.
I saw a wild-eyed rabbit, a pair of dogs, an incredulous elephant.
My stride lost grounding as well. It’s a small miracle I never fell or twisted an ankle.
Towards the end of the third loop someone behind me said, “Brother!”
I looked back and, thank god, it was Kyle.
I had to have looked surprised at how fresh he looked, and he seemed just as shocked.
“I might have it,” he told me. A sub-24-hour, what he’d been shooting for with the last 6
years of his running and training, was within reach.
It was wonderful to hear. I told him he had it.
“Thank you,” he said. “Talk to me, how are you?”
I’d been sticking to my plan of one gel every five miles and staying as kinetic as
possible. But, my god, this was just beyond anything.
I felt like the finish line was in Hawaii and I’d been handed a kayak and a spoon on Manhattan Beach.
“This is the Cormac McCarthy of sports,” I told him. Beautifully brutal. An intensity
that revels in itself, completely unhinged, then leaves you equal parts ragged and awestruck.
“Yeah, really,” Kyle laughed.
“Keep rewarding yourself as much as you can,” he said. “There’s a lot of time left. Stay strong.”
I did have time.
Given all the time you have during an ultra, your thoughts go everywhere.
There were plenty of times when I didn’t feel like I was me at all. I was a headlamp and
pace at night. My personality was replaced by drive, maybe even less than that. I was a direction, forward, always forward, for a bunch of running gear to hang on a body, surrounded by the yips and barks of coyotes in the dark.
After the second person to pass by me asked if I was all right, I said I should probably
I rested, and thought about the incredibly unique position I was in, where the people I
was thinking about might be watching me, right at that moment, alone, under a night sky bright with stars, like only the desert gets bright with stars.
It was a good thing to think about. Even better, I thought, if I was thinking about a
person as they were thinking about me.
I smiled, knowing there was no way to know, and kept going.
At one point during the third loop, when I just couldn’t stay awake any more, I went off the trail, brushed a space off behind a bush, and slept.
A fellow runner checked on me, which was sweet, and not surprising at all. Even for a body collapsed on the side of a trail, I must’ve looked pretty bad.
That might have been one of my longer splits. To look at them later is baffling.
My 61st mile was under 1:13. My 70th mile, almost 2 hours and 2 minutes. I could swear I had taken only one nap, but obviously did not.
At one point when I really thought about bailing and told another runner as much, he
turned to look at me.
“Dude, you’ve got time,” he said, sparing none of his annoyance. “Keep going.”
It’s a great nutshell for the entire experience.
If you run, other runners want you to keep running. Even if it hurts. Even if you don’t
Even if you don’t think you can, barring some serious issue, a real runner will tell you, “Keep going.”
I put 60 miles behind me, and started my fourth loop. Amazing people gave me laughs,
sustenance, and peace of mind.
But one does a lot of math during a race like this. And eventually, the numbers just
couldn’t be denied.
I wasn’t going to reach the cutoff to make the fifth circuit. And I took a wrong turn on the
way. This is why I didn’t catch the even 80 that would have been four complete loops.
So I would’ve been disqualified anyway.
This is nothing against the staff that marked the trails. I wasn’t in my best mind, or my
mind at all at that point.
And this is also likely the longest I’ve stayed awake at one time in my life.
I finished, told the race director the deal, and collected my first DNF. And, like you do, I
instantly struck up conversations with other runners coming in to the tables and tents
around the start and finish line.
Empathy and good stories found me at every turn, which helped with the burden quite a
One new friend said he’d stepped up to two dozen 100s, completed less than half, and
had just dropped out of this one as well. He said in the first loop he’d fallen straight to
his face, from an upright position, too quick to keep from catching all of his body weight
with his face on stone.
“My teeth are still sore, man,” he told me, grinning all the while.
“So when’s your next one?”
Dean Karnazes’ “Death before DNF” rule is a blast to quote and a wonderful goal post. I was aiming to follow it, and if I wasn’t disappointed then I didn’t care.
I’m not satisfied, in the best way.
I love this sport, and disappointment, like failure, can be overlooked for its value. When looked at straight on, defeat makes for a wonderful character arc when it fuels a new fight.
I aimed for something, went after it, and missed. This hasn’t happened with my running before, so I need to make it right.
And I will.
All of that said, I do like the ring of my first DNF being at a hard 100-miler, one where 48 out of 95 people finished the race.
To be clear, I’m very proud of what I did accomplish with this race.
I raised money and brought attention to a great cause. I caught a new 50-mile PR (12:18, almost 30 minutes better than I did at Crimson Canyons) and the longest run of my life so far.
I have every reason to be happy about these feats, and definitely am. And I want to be proud of more accomplishments to come.
I hope it doesn’t come as too much of a surprise, but I’ve chosen my next 100-miler already: Pine 2 Palm 100-miler, stretching from Williams to Ashland, Oregon on September 11, 2021.
Stay tuned, thank you for reading, stay safe and have fun!
Addendum: Gear Check
I brought three pairs of socks with me and never felt a need to change out the Drymax
Sport Lite Trail Running Speedgoat socks I started out with.
Which, naturally, was the case with my EVO Speedgoats by HOKA ONE ONE as well.
They are absolute crushers on all fronts, and my favorite trail shoe of all time performed admirably. In spite of how accident-prone the terrain was, and as dizzy as I got, I feel like the width of the last gave me a wide-enough platform to keep my steps level. The Vibram outsole was as sticky as always on the climbs, and the midsole stayed poppy enough to never weigh down my steps.
My NATHAN Trailmix 12-liter Race Pack exemplified the one thing I look for in any equipment: pockets. I’ve never seen too many on any item. Even a 2-inch racer short is worlds better when it has at least one zipper pocket for the key that, you know, most adults need when they run.
With the pack I had a place for everything. Bonus points for the big zipper pockets positioned apart from the bladder, where I didn’t have to worry about moisture getting to the rechargeable battery I used to keep my Garmin Forerunner 235 alive.
And, of course, my beanie and long-sleeve shirt by Chaski were cozy and lovely.
They also got me recognized on the course by my teammate Lee Jarvis, who won the 20k event.
I was trucking along as best I could when he called out behind me, “Hey, is that a Chaski shirt? What’s your name, man?”
This kind of random comradeship plays out fairly often in this community. Lee’s energy put me in a good place, so extra shoutout to him, as well as Coree Woltering, another Chaski comrade who I’d never met in person before and watched take 5th overall.
And, of course, my friend Cody Logan won his first 100-miler. I’m beyond proud of him,
Coree, Kyle, and every runner who finished or didn’t finish this race. It was an honor to share this experience with you, especially when it had been so long since I’ve been in any races at all.
I am endlessly grateful to my family and friends, everyone at Chaski Endurance Collective, especially Ty and Kris, and everyone at HOKA ONE ONE, especially the entire field experience team for giving me the bandwidth, gear, and cheerleading I needed for my race.
Every staff member at Aravaipa has my gratitude forever, as does everyone at the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force, Drymax, NATHAN, and GU Energy Labs. Double thanks to my friends Kyle, Cody Logan, Coree Woltering, Lee Jarvis, Ben Peterson, Chris Andrews, and Louis Savona for bringing me small and large acts of kindness, calories, and lifted spirits when I needed them most.