I’ll get to how great the Pikes Peak Ultra was in a minute, but first I have to tell you a story.

I knew something wasn’t right when the world seemed like I was staring down into an industrial-strength washing machine. Everything was spinning, and I certainly wasn’t in a laundry room; I was actually 15 miles into the 18 mile first stage at the 2009 TransRockies Run (TRR). My partner, Justin Ricks, must’ve detected my weirdness well before I did – my steps must’ve seemed off, my micro-route choices strange, and the rapid deceleration put the nail in my coffin. We had been trading second place with another team (the TRR is a partner race, run together, over 6 stages and about 120 miles total) on our first day, and my focus was so complete on running them down that I ignored the cold fact that I was a hot mess. I was dehydrated and flat lining. Quick.

Justin and I came together for the race at the last minute, a marriage of previous divorces, and as with second marriages, some accommodations are commonly made. While I brought plucky optimism and a scrappy spirit to the team, in this case, Justin was the stronger runner, and the local – meaning I’d have to run “up” to him – he’d be forced to exercise some patience, exceptionally difficult for perhaps the most competitive person I’ve ever met. He wanted to win so much he made Patton sound like Stuart Smalley.

And so it happened that with three miles left that day, the hardest charging guy I’ve ever laced up shoes next to forced me to walk to the finish out of concern for my health. And make no mistake, I felt shame and I’m pretty sure in my stupor I tried to talk him out of it. I’ve never asked him specifically, but I’m sure he felt it too – but he still made me walk. We dropped back to seventh place, way off the podium, and if that walk had a movie title, it would’ve been “The NeverEnding Story.” I was embarrassed for the both of us.

But the more important point is that as much as he wanted to win, Justin recognized my medical problem, forced me to walk, then eat, and the precise moment I stumbled across the finish line, pale white and covered with salt – Justin’s better half, his wife Denise, rushed over with salt caps, chips, electrolyte drink, and dumped cold water over my head (which she later admitted she enjoyed, immensely).

By any running measure, Denise and Justin Ricks are competitive, considerate, and compassionate folks that really care about a safe racing environment. And these just happen to be the characteristics that drive them as the race directors that manage Mad Moose Events in general and the Pikes Peak Ultra in specific – these three traits come through in their races and events. Let’s start with the Pikes Peak Ultra’s 30k, which I ran this past Saturday on the western edge of Colorado Springs.

Having just returned from an overseas military assignment in Korea (the south side), I arrived in the Colorado Springs area about two weeks before the race. I was looking for a challenging course and the Pikes Peak Ultra fit the bill as the USA Track and Field 30k Trail Championship. The route was tough but manageable, and while a lot of trail races that start amidst civilization and head into the mountains feature dead spots or long intermissions, the Pikes Peak Ultra has no weak spots. The course was designed with a competitive eye, by someone who knows the right balance between speed and summitry.

On that subject, the course was detailed. Well marked. Organized. Thoughtful. The website was clear and user friendly. The packet pickup was staffed appropriately and there were no lines. The shirt and hat they gave out will not become a giveaway. Every conceivable issue was considerately removed, so I could focus on a great run.

On the run, the competitors saw the Ricks’s compassion in an extension of themselves, via their volunteers (if you’re reading this, and you worked the race, you should know that you were all awesome and I appreciate your time and effort – muchas gracias!) at their well-placed aid stations. Moreover, Justin and Denise set up an extra water station at the last minute because the weather had recently been unseasonably hot (though it turned out to be a perfect weather day and we didn’t need it – as with gifts from toddlers, it’s the thought that counts).

Denise and Justin are exceptional race directors that somehow find the just right blend of competitive, considerate, and compassionate energy required to produce an exciting event. Even the pickiest trail runner will find themselves impressed by the style and substance you get for your dollar at a Mad Moose event. I’ll be back for the Pikes Peak Ultra next year, and the year after that, and continue to chase the Mad Moose beyond the confines of the Colorado Springs city limits.

Biased? Well, yeah. But let’s face it, I was a mess and Justin and Denise fixed me up with band aids and salt caps. And the rest of the story is even better – we recovered from our first stage blowout to finish fifth overall. Justin towed me the rest of that week through some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable.

Sign up for the next Mad Moose event, and he’ll do the same for you.


ML Cavanaugh is a US Army Strategist, a Non Resident Fellow with the Modern War Institute at West Point, and has served in assignments from Iraq to the Pentagon, and Korea to New Zealand. A Contributor at War on the Rocks, he looks forward to connecting via Twitter @MLCavanaugh.

This essay is an unofficial expression of opinion; the views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of West Point, the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or any agency of the US government.

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