Oregonian Taylor Spike added his name to the very short list of ultra-endurance athletes to complete a sub-60 hour, 200 mile ultramarathon. He has the distinction of holding the master’s course record for the Tahoe 200 in both the clockwise and counter-clockwise directions.
For Taylor, running is about life — and life is about submitting to the friction necessary to get uncomfortable. Comfort is hiding after a lousy day at work to bust into a case of beer. Comfortable is overweight. Comfortable is Dilaudid, a buzz and a couch. There was a time in Taylor’s life when he went through the motions of addiction to cope. I didn’t have a pill problem, I had a pain problem. Back surgeries and a gut left him uninspired and lethargic. Perhaps most importantly, habit is the opposite of discomfort.
In the suffering of the long run, he finds his family and his truth. “I was quick to look for the easy out,” according to Taylor, who at the time was trapped in the spiral of routine, but which ultimately spun into a self-destructive path chasing numbness and a false high. When a second surgery was required for his back, he was already walking down that road. Alone. When the second round of therapy and pain management was heaped on his plate, Taylor expected help and accountability. He hoped again to skate through riding the easy out. Life was not gritty, raw, or real.
What he found instead was a heavy dose of self-accountability and a hard look in the mirror. No one offered to do the heavy lifting for him, and he realized that no one could alter the map of his life besides himself. There are prisons we lock ourselves in that we hold the only key to. “We all go through life avoiding confrontation,” he says. Even conflict within ourselves.
Taylor chased. Donavan won. It broke him.
Family has been the common thread all along, however. When his back healed in 2009, he was still caught in the cycle of addiction. His twelve year old son, Donavan, challenged him to run two miles. Taylor chased. Donavan won. It broke him. He lost the race, but he won motivation. He glimpsed a different lifestyle. He took up running and began to race. Course markings for his life started to pop up.
When Taylor walked through the front doors of a recovery center to check himself into treatment, and after they explained what the cost would be, he turned on his heel and walked out. Instead, he took a week off of work and sent away his family away. He detoxed at home, one hour at a time, then one day at a time. No more pills.
He was walking the path of transformation the next three years; change takes time. Recovery is not a light switch. Recovery is tacking, or learning to maneuver a vessel to point directly into the wind so that force from both sides can be balanced, managed, and harnessed to propel it forward in the desired direction. He lost his job when his company laid off nearly 3,000 employees and was forced to choose whether to deal or cope again.
“ I knew then — I had to quit. ”
There was a period where he thought he could both run and drink because the running seemed to justify the drinking. That day ended in 2012, after the Siskiyou Out and Back (SOB) 50 Miler. He was celebrating post-race, sitting across from Donavan. “He looked directly at me,” Taylor said, “And shook his head at me. I was sitting there with half a six pack left to go. I knew then — I had to quit.”
Again, he hoped someone would stop for him. He hoped someone would call him out or grab and shake him awake. Instead, life handed him a quiet, yet penetrating look of disapproval from his son. Finally at 34 years old, it was time to fully let go and grow up. The time for being parented was long past, and now he was the parent of three young boys. He took inventory of self and started choosing complete and honest sobriety.
Even tacking in the direction we want to go does not guarantee a destination. “Life always catches up with us,” Taylor says. For a long time he believed he was coasting through, unnoticed and unaccountable. In 2016, Taylor got a call in the morning.
“ Life gives us all roadblocks. ”
Donavan, now 22 years old, had been killed instantly in a car accident. His family was heartbroken and lost. “Life experiences make us better, not worse,” Taylor will tell you honestly, “Life gives us all roadblocks.” Running is a different way to cope with discomfort. Running is a different way to process the pain instead of escape it. Those road blocks are no longer excuses. Life is gritty, raw, and real.
Rather than cave to old habits, Taylor now launches himself into encouraging recovery in others and leading by example.
Ultrarunning carries him toward health and a continuous look in the mirror. “During these events I learn more about myself than ever,” he says, and he is right. Endurance sports will find the tool to break down your walls and search out your vulnerability. “Running is super humbling. Out on these really long runs you share things you hope the other person doesn’t remember,” he laughs. The running community bonds and builds over experience.
“ I always take them running, skiing, hiking — any time there could be suffering... ”
Now, he races with Donavan’s ashes and takes a moment to honor his memory when the race gets gritty. "I always take them running, skiing, hiking — any time there could be suffering. I’ll never hurt as much as he did. When I dig deep, I find a peak and toss them in the wind and say something I am thankful for. At Tahoe I did them twice: once at Armstrong Pass and once in the lake at sunrise I finished. Then I hiked to the first sliver of sunlight and waited for finishers to come in, drank some coffee, and soaked in my life at the physical lowest but emotionally highest.”
Family continues to weave its importance throughout Taylor’s career. In 2017 he registered — last minute — and finished the Moab 240 Endurance Run to pace and support his brother Cam. They crossed the finish line side by side.
In 2018, he raced Tahoe 200 with a goal to finish sub-60 hours. When he stopped to scatter Donavan’s ashes over a summit, his headlamp fell and broke. He finished running through the night holding out a cell phone with 3% battery. He finished the race 60:01, missing his goal by a single minute. He walked into the 2019 Tahoe 200 with support. His father, 71 year old Greg Spike, also raced. Taylor finished the 205-mile course with a time of 56:01. Over four hours better than 2018.
His wife, Pamela, continuously offers both strength and adventure. According to Taylor, “I had an eighteen pack of Keystone, a Dominos pizza, a can of Copenhagen, and more debt than sense. Then I married my wife. I gained a boy under my wing. My most humbling life experiences would start, and I would strive to change our lives for the better. Onward! No excuses.”
How do you run a sub-60 200 miler?
Onward. With no excuses. Sober. Accountable to yourself. Surrounded by family. Because experiences make us better. Taylor has only gotten stronger and trained harder since he abandoned the path of least resistance.
Today, Taylor is cutting his own trail up the mountain.