Rancho Santa Fe’s Ben Brown completed his second 100-mile Kodiak Ultra Marathon, taking on the challenging and rugged course in Big Bear Lake in support of wounded warriors. Brown started the race at 6 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 16 and finished the next day at 11:39 p.m., wanting to shower off a mountain’s worth of dirt, crawl into bed and sleep, sleep, and sleep some more.
In running the 100 miles, he has so far raised $6,700 for veterans and first responders to go through the healing 9 Week Warrior program he founded with his wife Chondra.
Brown, a veteran Army Ranger and Purple Heart recipient, took up running as a tool to cope as he dealt with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from his tour in Iraq. The father of six has since become an ultra-runner, running the 81-mile Badwater in 2017 and the Kodiak Ultra in 2018 all to support wounded warriors.
Chondra served as Brown’s ultimate support crew for this year’s Kodiak, up for 40-plus hours “keeping him alive”— “She is very good at that,” Brown said. During the race, Chondra provided updates on Facebook for friends and family—sharing him eating watermelon as a close-to midnight snack on the first night, giving him fluids and Tylenol about 55 miles in, suggesting sunblock at the 70 mile mark and asking for prayers at a scary point when Brown ran out of water after a 90 degree climb to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain.
Sugarloaf Mountain was the hardest part of the course for Brown this year—it is the biggest climb of the race tackling 3,000 feet in 5.6 miles to the summit at 10,000 feet. Brown miscalculated how much water to carry and unlike last year, he did not have a pacer to help carry extra water.
“I don’t think I have ever gone this deep in my life before to get through something. I was ready to die on the mountain. I was not walking straight, every step forward up the mountain I fell three steps backward, only thing holding me up were my trekking poles,” Brown wrote in an email in-between naps. “I kept falling down, would just lay there in the dirt take a break then get up and try again, it was real ugly!”
Brown was on Sugarloaf at the hottest time of the day, starting his ascent at 10 a.m. and by the time he was 3.5 miles up by 12:30 p.m. he had run out of water. He had to push himself to the summit all the while knowing there was no water up there—the next water stop was 5.5 miles out.
“Best way I could describe the whole situation after running out of water is that I felt like my head was being held under water and I could not breathe...It felt like I was literally holding my breath under water for six miles until I reached that next water point and could come up for air,” Brown said. “Nothing I did could relieve the pain.”
Once he reached the top of the mountain he took a 10-minute nap in the dirt but he still had to travel those 3.5 miles to get to water.
“I have always looked at my goals with a level of commitment that is unquestionable and this has served me well in all aspects of life, family, combat, business and relationships,” Brown said. “I also have the Ranger Creed ingrained into my soul, especially the fifth stanza which says: ‘Readily will I display the intestinal fortitude required to fight into the Ranger objective and complete the mission though I be the lone survivor. Rangers lead the way.’”
Brown said when it came to dealing with Mother Nature and the dehydration he suffered on Sugarloaf, he had to tap into his sixth sense, “a spiritual being,” as well as his military training in which he learned that you must submit to the elements Mother Nature throws your way. Submitting to the elements doesn’t mean stopping or quitting, it means to embrace the situation you’re in and keep moving forward.
And so he did, even if it meant his running slowed to a crawl.
“I understand my running is extreme, but nowadays I see people so quick to get out of pain or grief or accept feelings or emotions. Sometimes it is good to feel what you feel and accept it. It’s a part of who you are. So I know it sounds kind of cliche but I felt very connected with that mountain and went through a lot during that section,” Brown said. “God was watching over me and knew I was all in, either I am going to drown in this tank filled all the way up with water or someone is going to pull the plug. But I am not lifting the lid and getting out.”
When Brown got back to the aid station six hours later, 87 miles in with 13 miles to go, he was “completely wrecked.” He laid on the cot for a little while and got some fluid and food.
He told Chondra that all he wanted to do was go home, watch a movie and snuggle with his kids. “But I can’t do that, I love you, see ya later,” he told her, and off he ran.
Brown said it is hard to put into words what was going on in his head that moment—he knew he was in terrible shape and that everyone would understand if he decided not to continue. But he thought of the strength of the men he served alongside and the wounded warriors he was running to support that day—he did not want to let them down.
“All the growth or meaningful things in my life have come at the point of a breakthrough when I was ready to quit but continued,” Brown said.
As Brown said, most 100-mile runners like to aim for a sub 24-hour race time. However, in this course, the top runners have a hard time breaking that mark due to the altitude, rocky technical trails, the elements and over 17,000 feet of elevation change—only five of the 85 finishers finished under 24 hours.
Last year Brown made a wrong turn at mile six and added eight extra miles and 6,000 feet of elevation change to his race and finished under the 30 hour cut-off at 29:20. This year, after battling dehydration on Sugarloaf and “crawling along after that,” he finished in 29:38 and in 22nd place.
“When I look at the numbers that is a little disappointing because you always want to keep getting better, however, I think it is what you learn in your mistakes and the resiliency you develop along that way that is worth way more than statistical improvement in the rankings,” Brown said.
After the race, Brown planned to take two days off enjoying Big Bear with his family before going back to work.
When asked if he had plans to do this race again, Brown’s simple response: “Yup.”
To donate to 9 Week Warrior, visit bit.ly/2KudqTg