Friday, December 27, 2013

Having fun!

Picture it. The reddish soil of Palo Duro Canyon. 2008. It was then and there, about 5 years ago, that I ran my first ultramarathon and my first trail run. I had never run a trail before. The description said "99% dirt trails on the floor of the canyon" with a photo of a wide open trail. How hard could it be? What were all of the things people were wearing on their shoes? Oh, we need a flashlight? Anyone have an extra? People are carrying water - in backpacks with straws? Is there not any water along the way? Yes, these were just some of the questions that I had throughout the day - including - what did I get myself into? Followed later by - what did I do to my knee?

It's funny to think about how it all started. How naive I was. How a 50K seemed so far to run. How little I knew about running, and how little I knew about my limits and what I could accomplish with focus and determination. How excited I was to discover a whole new world I never knew existed. How hooked I had become with just run race - one trail experience. I hobbled around for a month with IT band issues aggravated by running on the uneven surface after Palo Duro. But this didn't deter me from wanting to get back out and run another trail. The one marathon I had previously run ended up being the only marathon distance race to this day I've completed. I was hooked on ultradistance.

My running has progressed considerably in the last five years. From showing up unprepared to having a closet full of a supplies and a myriad of bags and cases to tote to races. From one pair of shoes to a closet full. From one 50K medal to multiple 100 mile buckles. From saying "I think I can" to "I know I can." My running is less about "how far I just ran" and more about "how much fun I just had." That pretty much sums up my running in 2013. Fun.

This year I explored some unbelievable places with awesome people. Some highlights were running the Grand Canyon R2R2R with friends from Utah and seeing the canyon in ways few people every get to experience. Pacing my buddy Howard Mayson to his first 100 mile finish above the red sandstone cliffs at Bryce Canyon. Walking down Main St in Leadville, CO and completing the "race across the sky" for my 5th 100 mile finish. Running the Zion Traverse.

Each of these runs produced memories I'll have forever. I took away experiences, learned things from friends, and learned things about myself. I tweaked nutrition and shed pounds and found that a leaner, meaner me produced faster times with similar effort. I continued to be amazed at the selfless attitude of other runners that will give up their time and energy to help me achieve a goal. I'm much better at focusing on my running attitude, knowing that my apptitude will follow with discipline. Most of all, I had a blast.

Just as 2013 was an improvement over 2012, good things are in store for 2014. Acceptance into the Western States 100 opens up the door for a potential UltraRunning Grand Slam which includes four hundreds: Western States, Vermont, Leadville, and Wasatch. Of course there has to be some good prep runs leading up to those such as Bandera 100K and Moab 100. Although some of these are tough runs, and there will be some unhappy times during some of the races for sure, and although I want to finish all of them with great times, first and foremost I want to have a good time. Afterall, 100 miles is a long ways to run when you aren't having fun, right? I also look forward to supporting other runners at the aid stations, at the finish, or helping them get to the finish just as so many people have helped me along the way.

Gotta run have fun!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Western States 100 Lottery

Just after my name was drawn. Whoop!

It's been almost a week since I watched the Western States Lottery on the internet and saw my name pulled from the metal hopper - 45th out of 270 drawn. I'm still not sure it's 100% sunk in that I'm actually going to get to run - evidenced by the fact that I've checked the official 2014 entrants list multiple times just to verify and have regularly checked email waiting for some type of welcome/confirmation email (did receive the receipt that the registration fee had been processed though - that day!)

I read about the WS100 from Dean Karnazes' Ultramarathon Man. I knew it was something I had to one day attempt - and gained my first entry in 2009 when I had barely run a qualifier - Palo Duro 50 mile in 10:44 with the specific goal of entering the lottery. I thought I was pretty cool. Apparently I also thought I was lucky because I was pretty sure I'd get in that year. I didn't. Talk about being bummed out. I remember wondering what I would do with my running - what races would I run to pass the time until the next lottery? What other races were there besides THAT one? I felt like I was in a holding pattern. 

I fumbled around with mostly local races but took a stab at a couple of 50K's in the mountains out west because c'mon - I had run a 50 mile race before so a 50K was a training run. Kindergarten. I ran the Jemez 50 mile in NM but dropped down to the 50K midway through the race and later that summer ran the Speedgoat 50K in Utah and received the dead last award for the last finisher. These two races taught me very quickly to respect both the terrain and the distance. Western States was three times as long. Confidence and ego put in-check. 

The 2nd WS100 lottery came and went - I didn't get picked again - and I found other races to focus my attention on. I was sort of over it. I started running more races in the mountains. I started working harder in gym - focusing on really building up my legs which I never thought I really needed to do since I ran so much. Remember, I could run 50 miles. Oooh. I started having a lot more fun by enjoying awesome scenery and meeting new people that shared the same passion. I stopped focusing on always having to force myself to do better from race to race to race - and let my running take a natural upward progression rather than a forced one. I stopped going off of a pre-determined training regiment, and started going off of feel. I started understanding that running was so much larger and more rewarding than one race, and that my calendar year didn't have to be from the 2nd Sat in Dec to the 2nd Sat in Dec.

The last few years I've had some amazing experiences. Zion 100, Bryce 100, Leadville 100, Pony Express 100, Zion Traverse, Grand Canyon R2R2R to name a few. My times have gradually gotten faster. I've learned to run smarter races. I've learned to tweak and fine tune my strategy and listen to my body during races to improve my chances of finishing. I understand how to work through lows and push forward. I know how to pare down my drop bags so they're necessities and not security blankets. And most importantly I realize that I'm not the runner now that I was 4 years ago that thought he could run 100 miles; I'm smarter, stronger, and better prepared to tackle the challenge now.

Sometimes fate has a funny way of giving us what we want, when we need it, and when we're ready for it. I wonder what path my running would have taken if I had gotten into WS100 four years ago. Would I have finished? Would I have had a good time? Would I have learned all of the things about myself and my running that I've discovered? Would I still be having fun? Although there's no way of knowing - I do know that my experience in June is far more likely to go well than it would have several years back. Four years ago I simply wasn't ready. I wasn't ready physically. I wasn't ready mentally. My running wasn't ready for that step. But now. Now is a different story and I plan on seizing it. Confidence.

"Here I go it's my shot. Feet fail me not. This maybe the only opportunity that I've got!"  Eminem

Monday, August 26, 2013

Leadville 100 Trail Run Race Report

Starting off with a few shout-outs!
Crew and Pacer - I couldn't have made it back to Leadville without Cindy and Howard getting me to the finish. This was really a team effort. Hundred mile runs start well before the sound of the starting gun with all of the preparation and they both had me dialed in and confident before and during the race. I saw awesome crew and pacers the entire run (of course mine was the best!). Really - of the 5 hundreds that I've run I've never seen such an awesome group of support teams getting their runners to the end. It was inspiring. The video clip below where I hit the top of Hope Pass the 2nd time and Howard is encouraging me is just a very short snippet of his 17 hour shift of encouraging, motivating, and keeping me on track. This doesn't include the 25 miles that he actually carried my hydration pack (muling allowed at Leadville). I can't thank Cindy and Howard enough for their selflessness and friendship.

Brooks - another hundred mile run without equipment issues. Two new pair of Brooks ASR 10's held up well - including some mountain climbs in wet feet after the river crossing at Twin Lakes. My Brooks 5" essential shorts were great all day and caused zero chafing issues - and my running pants and hat kept me warm once it cooled off.

2013 Leadville Trail 100
I made it to Colorado on Wednesday night to give my body a few days to adapt to the high, dry mountain air of Colorado. Prior to leaving TX I got a prescription for Diamox to help with altitude sickness – and it did seem to prevent the headaches and the typical lethargic feeling you get when you go to higher elevations. The side effects that I felt were tingly fingertips and some issues with my taste – both of which I thought were a fair tradeoff.

Thursday morning my pacer Howard and I decided to scope out some of the course – and hike part way up Hope Pass to give my body an idea of what the steep climb was going to be like. We started by heading off to Twin Lakes and walking down to the river crossing which Howard indicated was lower than most years. Then we headed over to Winfield and went to about tree line for some spectacular views of the mtns. The climb was as expected – steep and I was winded in the thin air. After Winfield we stopped in Leadville and got checked/weighed in which was literally a 2 minute process – and headed back to Breckenridge for some carb-loading.
Low River Crossing Year - But still got wet feet!

Hope Pass is just beyond the ridge in the photo as seen from Twin Lakes
Friday morning we made the drive back to Leadville in plenty of time to grab a seat at the gym for the pre-race and crew briefings. No surprises from either – and we were on our way in the early afternoon to check out some more of the course – the flatish section between Fish Hatchery and halfpipe –  the infamous powerline – Hagerman Rd and May Queen. I felt really good having seen a majority of the course and had a pretty good mental idea of what to expect on the sections I hadn’t seen based on race reports.

Best Crew and Pacer at Leadville Trail 100!

Drop Bags - very few things could have happened that we weren't prepared for!
Saturday morning wake-up came at 1:30 and we left at 2am for a 2:50am arrival in Leadville. We expected to see tons of people, activity, excitement – but instead pulled into a virtual ghost town with only a few people wandering around. We grabbed a parking spot about 50 yards from the start line and hung out in the car going through last minute supply checks. The weather wasn’t as cold as I expected – and I decided to head off in shorts instead of pants which was a good move since I was already warm when we made it to the end of the first 3 - 4 mile downhill section and started climbing the short but steep and rocky trail up to Turquoise Lake.
My strategy was to go as smoothly and evenly as possible through the first 13.5 miles  – never over-exerting but also not holding back since I wanted to get ahead of the cut-off’s early. Even though I stuck with my plan til May Queen – I just didn’t feel 100% when I got to the first aid station. The last ¼ mile into the aid station is paved and flat – and I walked almost the entire section trying to figure out what I could do to get my energy level up because I just didn’t seem to be feeling it. I had Diamox-like feelings with the tingly sensation – but instead of it just being my fingertips it was also both arms and my face. Wha? I snagged my drop bag – downed an Ensure and some other calories – switched my warm cap for a baseball cap and left my long sleeve shirt – and headed out for the first decent climb of the day.

Looking down at May Queen Aid Station from Hagerman Rd
The first few miles after May Queen on the Colorado Trail are nice single track – rocky in places – and mostly uphill. I had a ton of people pass me in this section – again I just didn’t feel like I had any energy. Once on the road – wide and gradually uphill – I decided I would powerwalk to the top which is about 3 miles. I continued to get passed – but everyone that was running was not making a lot of time on me so I decided to stick with my power walk and focus on getting some calories and hydration in me.
Once at the top of Sugarloaf at a little over 11K feet we finally got some downhills – and I was pleased to see that I had good leg speed going downhill. I bombed the section all the way to the base of powerline – and continued on down the paved road pass Fish Hatchery to the Outward Bound Aid station at mile 23.5 which I hit around 4:30hrs. Right about on the splits that I wanted to hit which was great since I hadn’t felt 100% since the start.
Leaving Outward Bound there’s a long paved section. Most race reports I read talked about this section being hot since it’s wide open and exposed – but luckily there were some clouds so it wasn’t too bad. Still not feeling 100% I ran/walked about 50%/50% all the way until the paved road switches back to a dirt road when I finally got some legs under me and ran til the Halfmoon aid station at mile 31 which I hit in a little over 6 hrs. After the aid station there’s a little bit of up and down – nothing too bad – as you wind your way to the top. At the top, you have a nice long downhill section that you can really make up some time. I ran all of this – even the rockier parts towards the bottom – and made it to Twin Lakes in a little over 8 hrs (8:06) which was right on my target pace. Not bad since I was only feeling only about 75%.
Coming into Twin Lakes there were mobs of people. Really – there were massive crowds and I almost wasn’t sure where to go. I crossed the mat – went under a shelter where the drop bags were kept and looked for my drop bags. No drop bags. No worries – I knew my crew of 1 - Cindy had them – I just needed to find her in the sea of people. I walked around aimlessly – at one point having a guy come up to me and ask if I was ok and if he could carry something for me. No crew. The pre-race briefing said not to leave for Hope Pass without waterproof gear and something warm. I had a light water resistant wind-breaker with me and nothing else but a short sleeved shirt. That would have to do – because I didn’t want to spend any more time at Twin Lakes looking and wasting time. I walked out of Twin Lakes not having eaten much and without warm gear and trekking poles – but it somehow seemed like (and was) a good idea to keep moving.
I walked the flatish section down to the river which Howard and I had walked a few days before – then made my way across the calf-deep ice cold water and headed on to Hope Pass. The first part of the climb was rocky and fairly steep – it was a slow slog until about mid-way up when it seemed to flatten out a bit and give way to better footing. Mid-way up I saw the front runners heading back down – and there was a constant routine iofstepping off of the trail to let them by the rest of the way up which allowed a few seconds every now and then to catch my breath. Once at the Hopeless Aid Station – which I thought was the best aid station on the course where I had soup mixed with mashed potatoes – the trail got very steep and rocky again until the top of Hope Pass. Brian 1 Hope Pass 0.
The descent to Winfield was as expected since I had hiked a lot of that section on Thursday. Steep but runnable.  I had not been on the connector trail however that leads to Winfield once you’ve made your way down the mountain. I was expecting this section to be flat – but instead it was mostly uphill which was a mental annoyance. Once I got onto the main road – I could see Winfield chaos up ahead – and was happy when my pacer Howard got my attention and pointed me in the right direction to get weighed in (exactly 171 which was my starting weight) and to sit for a few minutes and catch my breath. Dazed and confused – but half way finished – and on my target pace about 12 hrs 15 mins into the race.

Down but not out at Mile 50

Howard and Gayle at Mile 50 - it was awesome to see them there!
Howard let me borrow his trekking poles for the climb out of Winfield and up Hope Pass. I remember reading a blog that said the way to attack Hope the 2nd time around is to accept that you have to get it done – and to just get up and over and move on to the rest of the race. So – this is exactly what we did. Rather than whine and complain and worry about tired legs – Howard and I just went for it. It wasn’t fast, it wasn’t without some stops, and it certainly wasn’t with a heartrate any less than 150. When we got above treeline we stopped for a few minutes at the place we had hiked to a few days before; it was great to see some familiar territory. We eventually moved on and made our way to the switchbacks that led to the timing mat and confirmation that we had made it. The view from the top was awesome – and we took a few minutes to soak it in and put on some warm clothes since it was windy and the sun was starting to go down. Brian 2 Hope Pass 0.

The first part of the descent down the other side was again steep and rocky – but flattened out some after the Hopeless Aid Station where Howard snagged some photos of Llamas. It seemed a little longer than I remembered to get down off of the mountain and back to the river crossing – and we walked into Twin Lakes in the dark where it was still a chaotic scene – although this time we connected with our solo crew Cindy which was a great mental boost.
With a fresh pair of socks and shoes and some warm clothes we headed out of Twin Lakes. The first part of the trail is steep – about a 1500 foot climb – and seems to go on forever. We were we cold when we left the aid station but apparently it was from lack of movement because we were really warm through this section once we got going. In fact, I took off my gloves and hat and put them back in my pack. We made it to the top of the climb and started down the other side making really good time on the descent – not running but walking really fast. We passed a lot of people through this section – nearly everyone with their pacer – and moved well all the way down to the halfmoon aid station at mile 71.  Howard said we were walking a 12 – 13 minute pace – this is definitely a section that you need to take advantage during the race.
Shortly after halfmoon we saw Cindy again – in LED lights and lit up like a Christmas tree – which was a huge mental boost. Typically the worst time for me to stay awake in a 100 mile run is right before sun-up – but I was really, really sleepy through this section which I finally decided was because of the earlier than usual race start (4am). We made our way along the paved road – with Outward Bound Aid in the distance. It seemed like a mirage way off in the distance that we were never going to get to – but we finally made it about 1:30am. We re-supplied – which for me included a 5 hour energy shot and double caffeinated gels– and I never had any more issues with falling asleep. (try it!)
Once through Outward Bound we headed up the paved road past the Fish Hatchery to Powerline. I had been dreading this climb every since I bombed down it Saturday morning. I looked up and saw all of the headlamps ahead – and told Howard I was going to go as slowly as I needed to but I was going to keep moving. Well – that was a good plan but it didn’t last long. The first part of the climb is really steep – and not long after heading up my breathing was out of control. We finally got high enough where it started to level off and we thought we were getting close to the top – and then we started to go down. This is never a good thing when you know you’re supposed to be climbing since that means all of the elevation you just gained you gave back and have to re-claim again. We started going up again – and way off in the distance could see headlamps way up high. It seemed to take forever to get to the top – and we must have been passed by 50 people – but it felt good once we made it knowing that there were no substantial climbs the rest of the race. We started to walk fast again – passing people and making up some time – down the flatish/slightly downhill Hagerman Rd to the Colorado Trail which was a little more rocky and rugged than I remembered. We finally made it to the trailhead before MayQueen where we hoped to see Cindy – but didn’t because of traffic issues – and rolled into MayQueen at 5:15am with over 4 hours to walk it in to the finish.
One thing to note – somewhere in the middle of the night my breathing became a little raspy. I think part of it was from all of the dust that I had been breathing in for hours and hours. Every now and then I would cough up a mouthful of nastiness. Also – earlier in the run I was chomping on an energy bar and crown came off. Yah – not a good thing to happen when you’re in the middle of nowhere – but what can you do about it except push on? This kept me from eating as much as I probably should have though I tried to do as many liquid calories as possible. Even though I was hydrating well – my mouth was so dry it was on fire. I think this was from breathing the dry air in so fast (erratic breathing).
We spent a few extra minutes at MayQueen mile 86.5 – and started doing the mental math on our walk out to make sure we didn’t miss the 30 hour cutoff. A few of the folks we talked to along the single track seemed to think we were really going to cut it close – so I tried the best I could to jog a few of the downhills. Howard told me not to use a ton of energy doing that – so I must not have been jogging much faster than I was walking! Once we got to the boatramp which was about half way to the finish – the trail flattened out and was smoother and sandy.
Along the way people were telling us how far we were to the finish. At the boat ramp someone said 7 more miles – at the dam we were told 5.5 and 6 miles – and after walking a long, long time and when we thought we were almost to town someone told us 3 miles. The miles sure were ticking by slowly. Eventually we made it to the school where the pre-race briefing was and made one last turn onto the paved 6th St where we walked it in with townspeople on both sides cheering us on. It was a pretty sweet finish and great to see everyone out.

It was a great feeling to cross the finish line at the Leadville Trail 100. Definitely a race I would call “iconic” in the ultra-trail running world. Before the race I read many, many race reports. Very detailed descriptions of the course – strategies on how to get to the finish line in less than 25 and less than 30 hrs – course flyovers, etc.  My best recommendation for anyone attempting this run for the first time is to stay ahead of the cut-offs early on. I told my support team I didn’t need to see them before mile 40 because I was going to stay completely focused on staying on my target times. This was a strategy that really worked for me – and even though I didn’t feel 100% from the start and did a lot of walking the first 40 miles – there’s enough downhill and runnable sections that you can make up time if you take advantage of it. By making it to Twin Lakes in 8 hours – and making it over Hope Pass twice in a little over 8 hours I had nearly 2 hours of cushion leaving Twin Lakes the 2nd time so I never really had to stress about cut-offs.
The other recommendation I have is to not overlook the last 2 climbs leaving Twin Lakes and leaving Outward Bound (in-bound). There is so much attention given to Hope Pass – and rightfully so – but both of these climbs will knock you in the teeth at mile 60 and mile 78. They’re tough. They’re really, really tough.  The good news is that after each one you have some very runnable or fast walkable downhill if you have energy. You have to take advantage of this to make up time you’ll lose on the climbs.
One last thing - there were way too many entrants (1200 registered and almost 1000 started) in the race which caused major headaches for support teams trying to get to the aid stations. Not meeting your crew until mile 40 is a great strategy not just for you – but for them as well. Also, I highly recommend having a game plan on where to meet your crew ahead of time. At Winfield Howard and I had a pre-determined location on where we would meet if we couldn’t find each other. We should have had the same strategy at Twin Lakes because there were just massive amounts of people lined up for a few blocks. It was really chaotic and stressful for everyone involved! Also, DO NOT depend on your support crew. We expected to see Cindy at mile 86.5 - but who would have known she was stuck in a traffic jam trying to get there for 1.5 hours at 3am and never made it? Be prepared to run off of your drop bags - and if you see your crew consider it a bonus!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Bryce 100 Trail Run Race Report

Two of the three hundred mile runs I completed prior to Bryce 100 were in Utah – and with Southern Utah being one of my favorite places to visit it was hard to pass up the opportunity to run the inaugural Bryce 100 when my running buddy Howard, whom I had met at the Grand Mesa 50 in Colorado last July, showed interest and signed up.

I met Howard at Bryce Canyon in time for a quick traipse around the course en route to packet pick-up at Kings Creek Aid Station which we would cross during the race around mile 90. Howard was going for his first 100 mile finish – and we were going to battle the course as a team to get him his first belt buckle. The race course was as advertised – scenic. We hit several aid stations – Crawford turnaround (mile 50), Blubber Creek (mile 26 and mile 74) – and saw directional signs for crews to a few others.  We both commented on how much better we felt having seen some of the course ahead of time – as if viewing an aid station gave us some type of mental edge. It sounds trivial – but it did seem to help.

Packet pick-up was smooth and the weather was great – no wind and warm temps in the low 70’s. I picked up an extra hat and Howard purchased a few extra shirts as souvenirs and for bragging collateral – already anticipating a finish before it happened. I thought this was a good sign – he was already in a good frame of mind and had a positive attitude. He anticipated finishing.  We laid down our drop bags in the appropriate locations – and headed back to the hotel and found a pizza place to grab a quick bite. Extremely greasy, thick crusted pizza which was very welcomed – particularly considering I hadn’t eaten many carbs leading up to the race in hopes that I could somehow trick my body to burn more fat for fuel.

I managed some ZzZ’s before getting up a little before 4am. We headed to the start/finish, huddled around the fire pit in the dark watching the sky gradually get lighter – and headed off on the trail when it was light enough to run without a headlamp. The 10 miles to the first aid station were effortless. Smooth single track that several times I described as “freeway” – soft under the feet with some gradual ups and downs – just fantastic running. It was hard to decide between stretching the legs out and getting a good, quick start – and stopping every few feet to grab another photo of the landscape which was now in full light with the sun up. It was a good mix through the first aid station which we hit around 8am.

The terrain after the 1st aid station was a little more technical – but not by much. A few more rocks – some steeper ups and downs – but still mostly runnable. I was trying to stay focused on nutrition and hydration – a plan that I usually start off paying attention to and then lose interest in keeping up with. Howard was still moving well too although he had a little bit of a blister already forming which he stepped off the trail and took care of – and some twinges of a heel issue that had been bothering him the last month or so. No big issues – these things come up.

The 2nd aid station around mile 19 was our first chance to dig into our drop bags. Sometimes drop bags are like Christmas morning – “what did I surprise myself with??” I decided to go with a minimalist approach this time around – since most of the time I have too many things to sift and sort through. Plus – for the most part they have emergency type things if there’s anything you don’t have. I looked in my bag to find some UCan drink mix and a couple of 600 calorie energy packs (a gel, some peanut butter crackers, an energy bar). I grabbed some of each – re-loaded on the water – and headed out – looking forward to seeing the same aid station again around mile 80.

The stretch between Proctor at mile 19 and Blubber Creek at mile 25 was some serious running. This is the time typically when you hit the wall anyways – you’ve blown through a lot of your energy reserves – it’s just a tough time in any race. The first few miles we started to descend a fairly steep but runnable trail – some deep sand which wasn’t an issue since we were going down – though in the back of your mind it lingers “I’ve got to come up this in another 60 miles.” Howard and I both moved well through this section. We passed several people that were walking and I commented to Howard that it was great that we were able to run the runnable sections.

Once we got to the bottom, we turned and headed up into the canyon and all hopes of any type of running were whack-a-moled. The trail became steep, narrow, and unforgiving. One section was so steep I had to cling to some large boulders with my finger tips and hope that my trail shoes would hold on the loose gravel. I was gasping for air – not a stitch of wind – and we kept going up and up with no end in sight. It was a hard climb that I had somewhat expected so mentally I was ok. Howard and I had the elevation chart – and we had been to the upcoming Blubber Creek aid station which was on the edge of a cliff during our course tour so I figured we were just working our way up the cliff. One foot in front of the other – and another – and another – through the soft sand – and eventually through the aspen trees. It was slow going but the legs were holding and still felt strong.

We finally crested the top of the climb – and could see red cliffs off in the distance. Those must be the cliffs below Blubber Creek Aid station. It looked like they were still pretty far off, and a lot higher than we were which meant a lot more climbing. But then we started to descend. Wha? We went down a pretty good ways – before finally climbing again. That was cruel. And not funny.  Then once at the top of the next climb - again we dropped off. Down, down, down – and then started up. I felt defeated by the repetitive ups and downs and false summits. The guys behind us were looking for their elevation chart – how much more of this do we have? It was a steep, steep climb up to Blubber Creek which we finally reached around noon – defeated and in a bit of a daze – and only 25% of the course behind us.

After re-fueling and re-grouping we ran a trail along the rim of the ridge with some great views. We knew there wasn’t any significant elevation change since we were at the top – and we spent some time re-covering from the last climb. We had a fairly good combo of run/walk all the way through Kanab Aid Station at mile 33 and down the long descent to Straight Canyon Aid at mile 39. The climb to Pink Cliffs aid at mile 44 (super windy at the top) was jeep road and gradual uphill which we power walked at a good pace and we moved pretty well  down to the Crawford turnaround at mile 50 which we hit in a little less than 15 hours. Whew – half over.

Leaving Crawford the sun was almost down and I realized it was going to be awhile til I would get my warm clothes at Kanab aid station, mile 67. Bad planning. I had some compression sleeves and a vest which normally would have been ok even in temps in the 30’s – but the wind on some of the ridges was fierce. I was about 100 yards out of the aid station when a volunteer ran after me with a trash bag to put over for warmth. These are the small, random acts of selflessness that make aid station volunteers great. I immediately felt better that I had some type of additional protection.

I felt good leaving Crawford and could have run at a good clip – but Howard was having some issues so we took it easy to get him back on track. Every now and then we would decide to jog some short sections – but we mostly walked back up to Pink Cliffs at mile 55 where the wind was blowing at least 40 mph with gusts higher. The aid station tent seemed to be hanging on by a thread – and all Howard and I focused on was getting through there and getting down off the ridge. I held the trashbag on and pretty soon after we left the aid station the winds calmed down. We moved pretty well through Straight Canyon Aid at mile 61 but hit a wall as we climbed back up to the ridge to Kanab at mile 67. The trail seemed like an endless climb for miles. I remember the long descent down – but didn’t remember if being THAT long. We could hear the wind whistling through the trees – and when we finally made it to the top of the ridge – the trail continued. It wasn’t technical or a tough trail – it was just never ending. We thought we saw the aid station in the distance because we saw a light – but then we realized it was the moon shining through the trees. Bummer.

We finally arrived at Kanab and I got into my drop bag and put on some warm pants and borrowed a warm pullover from Howard. I also picked up some trekking poles from Howard. We sat – probably longer than we should have – around a fire and ate some Ramen Noodle Soup and tried to pull it back together. The middle of the night is such a hard time to battle through. You’re tired, cold, and still have a long ways to go. It’s this point in the race where you start showing raw emotion. Things come out unfiltered – things that are trivial seem monumental and frustrating – distances seem twice as far – everything is uphill – chatter and dialogue are internal as you try to will yourself through the night in hopes of rallying when the sun comes up. The body wanted to quit long ago – so this is the point where you really have to have mental focus to keep going. We kept going – although I fell asleep while jogging a short portion just before sunrise.

The sun came up and we hit Blubber Creek at mile 74. There was a short time where we both seemed to hesitate – were we ready for the long descent – and then the long climb up to Proctor? Howard said “do you think we could run some of this section?” which really encouraged us both to run the long downhill. We separated a little – but never more than a few minutes. Through the steep canyon – and then up the long, sandy climb to Proctor mile 80 which we hit around 1030am.

We ate grilled cheese sandwiches – put on sun tan lotion since the sun was up and it was getting hot. We thought we had some more uphill – referencing the elevation chart again - but the aid station volunteers told us it was pretty much flat til the end and we were pretty much home free. This was a huge mental boost and we both left really encouraged and with a new lease on life. That lasted all of about 2 minutes – when we immediately started climbing again. Really? It wasn’t technical trail since it was a road – but it was up – and it was supposed to be flat. Typically this would have been frustrating – but at this point we figured worst case scenario we could walk it in and still sneak in under 36 hours so it was a manageable frustration.

The gravel road was a technical breeze – but it was hot. Really hot. My sunglasses were back in my drop bag where I had left them when the sun went down at Pink Cliffs (mile 45/55) aid station so I was squinting to keep the light out which was really, really bright. We went on for what seemed like much longer than 5 miles until we hit the self-supported aid station to re-fill our bottles. The trail continued down the road before turning off onto single track and climbing again. This climb was really steep, completely exposed and excruciatingly hot. We had bad attitudes. Again – flat? Howard seemed to think we weren’t going to finish in time – even though at mile 90 we had nearly 5 hours left to finish in the 36 hour time. We pressed on.
The last 10 miles which were probably closer to 12 wouldn’t end. Dry, hot, dusty. The previous 30 hours had left my chest and throat raw and dry where it was hard to swallow. I kept drinking but continued to feel dehydrated. Although we walked the entire way – we actually caught up and passed some people so that gave us a little bit of a boost. We saw the finish line off in the distance – got the camera ready – and trotted across the finish in right at 35 hours for Howard’s first 100 mile finish.

If you’re reading this and haven’t run The Bryce 100 – it is a great race and definitely worth checking out. It is tough though – and when originally advertised it had 12K feet of elevation and was promoted as a good 1st 100. After a few course changes – the elevation was all over the board – and went to 18K feet up to 26K feet and then back down to 22K feet with an “expert” saying it was back at 18K feet. I have no idea how much elevation change there was – but there was quite a bit in the first 80 miles. The last 20 miles seemed almost all gradual uphill – but you always feel that way towards the end (or at least I do). This is doable as a 1st 100 but I would not say it’s a beginner’s course – although the trail really isn’t very technical. I heard several people say the course was long – somewhere around 102 – 103 miles. Will be interesting to see what everyone’s Garmin had for distance and elevation.

The course was really well marked. The trail was so well marked it was your own fault if you got lost. Nowhere did I even feel there was the potential get veer off course. Night time markings were almost better than daytime markings because there were LED lights that you could see from a pretty good distance if your headlamp didn’t pick up the ribbons. Aid stations – had pretty much everything you could need. Ramen was great – grilled cheese was great – volunteers were great (especially those that track you down with trashbags to keep warm). Scenery – tops.

Thanks to Race Director Matt for a great inaugural Bryce 100 run and one that’s going to be on many race calendars when the word gets out about it. Kudos to all of the runners who battled a tough course with lots of up and down and weather that was dry, windy in places, cold at night, and hot during the day. Lastly – congrats to Howard on his first 100 mile finish. Dude – you were tough as nails and never waivered mentally. You’re a warrior and this race was a stepping off point for other 100’s to come. See ya in Leadville!

“This day we are masters of our fate, that the task which has been set before us is not above our strength; that its pangs and toils are not beyond our endurance. As long as we have faith in our own cause and an unconquerable will to win, victory will not be denied us.”
-Winston Churchill

Thursday, May 2, 2013

R2R2R Run Report

This past Christmas while running in Utah up a snowy mountain – a running buddy and previous pacer at Zion 100 Troy mentioned running the Grand Canyon. Not just running around the rim or down and up – but a R2R2R or rim to rim to rim (double traverse).  In between gasps of air and chattering teeth – I managed to mention I’d love to join… (gasp) … the (gasp) … parade (gasp). Troy said there was room for another – and R2R2R was inked onto the running calendar for mid-April

Running in the snow in Utah

Leading up to Grand Canyon I did as much gym work as possible to simulate running conditions. Calves for the ups – quads for the downs – and interval training for cardio to assist with elevation and the miles of uphill. There’s really no other way to prepare in Texas for miles and miles of up – and miles and miles of down since we just don’t have that type of terrain. I felt just about as good as I could have felt before the run with the legs feeling rested and strong – and generally feeling well prepared.

I flew to Phoenix on Thursday and made it to the Grand Canyon that afternoon in just enough time to catch the sunset. I wasn’t exactly sure the route we were going to take for our Saturday run – but looking across the canyon there really didn’t seem like an easy way to traverse. It was wide, it was deep, it was steep and rocky. The following day on Friday once the rest of the gang – Troy and his wife Candi, Mike and Blaine – arrived from Utah, Troy gave us a better idea of our route: Start at the south rim and head down the Bright Angel Trail (9.2 miles), Up the North Kaibab Trail to the north rim (13.8) – then back down the North Kaibab Trail and up the Bright Angel Trail for a total of about 46 miles.

The general route of our R2R2R

After a pasta dinner – we hit the hotel to grab some sleep. I had  my hydration pack put together with enough food for the day – a mix of UCAN, Pro-Bar’s, a few gels, and some peanut butter sandwiches – along with two water bottles and a Platypus collapsible water bottle that I would use for the 11 mile stretch we would run without access to water.  I got up several times during the middle of the night to add something that I had forgotten to pack.  This was the first time I had run nearly 50 miles unsupported.

The 3am wake-up call came early and we met at 330am in the HI Express lobby in Tusayan for the 10 minute drive to the Bright Angel Trailhead. Weather at the top was in the low 20’s but not long after we started down the trail it started to immediately warm up – even though it was still dark and well before sunrise. The first part of the course was a little tricky with footing. Although not technical – there were lots of steps (for erosion purposes) at different intervals that made it hard to get into any type of rhythm. In addition, it was dusty and the headlamp picked up all of the dust flying around which made it a little hard to see.
Looking back where we started and ahead where we were going you could see groups of headlamps of other teams that were starting their R2R2R journey. Although it was still dark and you couldn’t see any of the canyon, you could tell how steep the trail was based on the position of the headlamps. Eventually around mile 4 the trail flattened out and we soon came to Indian Gardens which is a small oasis of Cottonwood Trees, a stream and a campground. Although it was cold I had already drained both of my water bottles and we all huddled around the water faucet to re-fill and catch our first glimpse of the canyon from inside the canyon which was just coming into view.

The next 4 mile section down to the river was much more runnable than the first 4 miles. Not nearly as steep and not as many erosion “steps” to have to navigate over. It felt great to stretch the legs out – and it continued to warm up the lower we got. We ran alongside a stream for a few miles before finally coming to the Colorado River right as the sun rose over the edge of the canyon. After a quick ½ mile run next to the Colorado River – we crossed the Silver Bridge and eventually made our way to Phantom Ranch where we refilled out bottles and grabbed some calories.

Made it to the bridge to see the sun rise
We were laughing becuase the footing was awful the entire way down - and Candi stumbles on the bridge :)

When I’m running long runs I try to break the course up into sections. The thought of traveling 46 miles on foot in a day is sometimes hard to get your mind around. Sometimes the sections are long – later in a run with some miles on the legs the sections get shorter. The section from the Bright Angel Trailhead to the river/Phantom Ranch was really the first section – and the second section was from Phantom Ranch to the North Rim – 14 miles of uphill.

Leaving Phantom Ranch we entered a narrow canyon on some great single track. The trail was all runnable – and even though slightly uphill it felt good on the legs. There were a few foot bridges that crossed the stream a few times – and eventually the canyon opened up and was much wider and gave some great views of the North Rim. You could see the shadows retreating across the canyon and we were finally in the sun for the first time at Cottonwood Camp which was around mile 14 where we again refilled our bottles.

Nice single track - slightly uphill - sun creeping up the canyon

Everyone in the group was moving well and having a great time. Then – out of nowhere – we get passed by Tony Krupicka (elite ultrarunner). We all had on packs carrying tons of calories for the day – he blew past us effortlessly appearing to only be carrying one hand held and shorts full of gels. In no time at all he was out of sight – very humbling. So much for thinking we were moving well!

The couple of miles up to Roaring Springs was more gradual uphill and it continued to get warmer. Troy told us one we got there that we had about an 11 mile stretch (5.5 miles up to the North Rim and back) without water and to make sure that we carried plenty with us. I filled my two bottles and also filled my 1 liter collapsible water bottle which I used first. Having done multiple 100 mile runs – I’m surprised that I haven’t used a collapsible water bottle in the past. It was not difficult to run with – and it was great to be able to roll it up and stash it away when it was empty. Old dogs learn new tricks!

Immediately after we left Roaring Springs we made a left into a narrow canyon and began to climb. It wasn’t nearly as steep as other climbs I’ve encountered in other runs – but it kept going and going and going. Occassionally there would be a runnable section – but for the most part it was a hike for me. The trail was in relatively good condition for the first few miles – narrow in places as the trail was hugging the edge of the cliff. As we got close to the north rim there were sections of the trail that had been damaged by rock slides, land slides, etc. Going through the Supai Tunnel we actually had to climb over a large pile of rocks that had fallen during the winter.

The "trail"

An awesome group of runners!

About a mile from the top we finally got in the pine trees and knew that we were getting close to the North Kaibab Trailhead. It was great to be in the shade and out of the sun and it started to cool off since we were close to 8000 feet. None of the typical water crossings that I anticipated on the final 5 mile climb were running due to low snow levels – so there was no place to dip my hat to cool off. It was an awesome feeling when we finally made it to the top and to sit in the shade with snow under the nearby trees. Section 2 completed.

Relaxing the legs on the North Rim

We re-grouped at the top of the North Kaibab Trail – all a tad beat by the long uphill. There was another runner that was there talking to a couple of forest Rangers about being evacuated because of an injury – which we decided later was probably more of a mental issue than a physical one. While the Ranger’s were waiting for his decision they took some runners in the ambulance to refill water bottles since water at the trailhead was shut off. I was very grateful for this since I had used more water than anticipated on the climb up. After a much-needed peanut butter sandwich and refilling the water bottles – I was ready to go. I was feeling decent– not great – but good enough to take Troy’s advice when he said “let’s get out of here – we need to get moving.”

Blaine and Mike - not being tempted by the open ambulance door

I got up and headed out to start the 3rd mental section – thinking as I jogged down the trail that it seemed steeper going down than it did coming up (usually doesn’t work that way). After about 5 minutes of jogging I realized that no one else was behind me. I thought we were heading out togther and that we all needed to get a move on? Where is everyone? Not longer after – Mike came bounding down the trail and said that Troy had stood up and started throwing up. I decided to go ahead and keep moving down the trail since I wasn’t feeling great – and figured Troy would rally and blow past me in a few miles.

This is the canyon you ascend to the north rim - narrow and steep but scenic

I slowly descended down the canyon – jogging some portions and power hiking others. It seemed to take forever to get out of the narrow canyon and it was great when the trail finally flattened out a bit and I was able to run. I still wasn’t feeling great – and knew I needed calories – but the thought of eating anything just didn’t sound appealing.  If you’ve run long distances – you’ve experienced mind/body battle. I just kept moving. After passing the Cottonwood Camp (end of mental section 3) I rallied a little and ran a few miles at a pretty good clip. Although it was hot in the exposed sun with no shade I was feeling pretty good about my movement and thought I must be getting close to Phantom Ranch – but that thought must have come when I was still 3 – 4 miles away because it was a long time until I finally made it in around 4:20pm. End of mental section 4.

Back at the Phantom Ranch in the shade

I was pretty pumped to roll into civilization – people, a guitar player, and a flush toilet - and knew I was less than 10 miles from finishing an epic journey. I was really looking forward to being under the Cottonwood Trees – relaxing – getting some calories in – and waiting for Troy and Candi to catch up – Troy was still having a rough patch he was working through. Not long after I got there Mike and Blaine had already made a decision that Blaine and I would start heading for the south rim so we could finish and make it to town and get some pizzas ordered before everything in town closed down – and Mike would hang back and wait for Troy and Candi. Aw man, what about hanging out under the Cottonwood Trees and relaxing? The incentive to get up and get moving was exactly what I needed – because if I had gotten too comfortable I wouldn’t have wanted to leave. So – after a quick shot of lemonade and some pretzels – Blaine and I were off for the south rim.

When we were scoping out the trail the day before – we had talked with a guy that said the climb up Bright Angel from the river was ok to Indian Gardens (about mid-way up) – and then tough the last 4 miles. Mentally – I was expecting the first part to be ok – and for the most part it was. The 5pm sun was mainly behind the high rim walls so we were in the shade which was welcomed since it was probably about 90 in the canyon. There were reeds and bullfrogs croaking in the stream – and as we started to climb it began to cool off. I wasn’t able to run any of the uphill – but my legs still felt pretty good hiking.

Not my photo - but it's a great idea of what the Bright Angel Trail Switchbacks are all about

We made it to Indian Gardens (mental section 5) – refilled our bottles and tried to stomach a few calories. It was hard to see how the trail made it to the top because it looked so steep – so I was glad when it was finally dark enough to need my headlamp and the rim of the canyon disappeared in the night. At this point Blaine had gone on ahead – and I just put my head down and put one foot in front of the other. It was switchback after switchback after switchback. Like my observations when scoping out the course the day before – it was steep and it was rocky. I was able to monitor my progress through familiar landmarks. The 3 mile water stop – the 1.5 mile water stop – the tunnel. I finally made it to the top a little after 8pm having gone 46 miles and climbed about 12,000 ft – and having enough memories to last for a long, long time. Unfortunately the pizza place had closed by the time Blaine and I made it to town – so we had to settle on McDonalds – but for not having eaten McDonalds in years it sure tasted good.

Happy runner!

The rest of our gang finished not too longer after us – and as tired as we all were we decided to re-connect the next morning for breakfast. As a tribute to our long run – my colleague and support crew for many long runs Cindy made some commemorative R2R2R t-shirts!

Earned it!

Overall thoughts:
  • ·         The run is hard but it is completely do-able if you’ve done a mountain 50 or if you’ve done a 100 mile run. If you aren’t an experienced ultramarathoner – this probably wouldn’t be a great first run since you’re pretty much self supported and have no way to get out of the canyon if you encounter problems. This is probably what happened to the guy that we saw on the north rim that was having problems. He was in over his head.
  • ·         There are a lot of runnable sections – but no matter how flat and nice the single track is you will encounter large barriers of some sort (rocks or wood beams) that you have to step over – even in the flat sections. Some of them made no sense to me – I understand erosion control on the side of the canyon – but in a flat valley along a stream?
  • ·         Make sure you know what water sources are open and use them.
  • ·         Make it to Phantom Ranch by 4pm to get lemonade and a candy bar. I didn’t make it there until around 420p – but fortunately Blaine and Mike from our group had made it down and were able to stock up! It was needed. Thanks guys!
  • ·         The uphills are really long – but really not that steep. I’ve done races where your hands are on your knees and it’s so tough to put one foot in front of the other. These aren’t that bad. They’re steep in places – but more than anything they’re just really, really long. Of course – once you get close to the end everything seems steep and uphill – but still the last 4 miles are more mentally tough than physically tough. I wasn’t really sore the days after and was running my usual 8 – 9 mile route by Tuesday.
  • ·         Don’t worry about time – take your time and enjoy the canyon. You’re experiencing something that most people will never experience. Who cares if it takes 12 hours of 16 hours. It’s not a race.
  • ·         Stay at the HI Express in Tusayan. They were super nice – the hotel was great – they had three breakfast areas - and I work for the company!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Bandera 100K

I haven't been to Bandera before - but have read a lot of race reports from the Bandera 100K and the Cactus Rose 100M - both run in the same area. Everything that I've read has mentioned rocks and nasty, gnarly terrain. A great physical and mental challenge to start the new year off was exactly what I needed - not to mention I needed some good mileage to burn off holiday and birthday eats  :)

I arrived just in time for the pre-race briefing late Friday afternoon. The drive down was awesome - and about 10 miles before arriving at the start/finish I started getting into the hills - which are pretty tall for Texas! The scenery really is picturesque - and it's hard to imagine anything tough or gnarly about the terrain when you see it from a distance. There were a good number of people at the race briefing - and I met up with some DFW folks that had made the trip down. There were 950 registered runners for all three distances - so I knew it would be chaos the next morning getting to the start so I decided I'd give myself plenty of time.

I was on the road Saturday morning at 530am even though the race didn't start until 730am. Before I left I checked - it was 64. Yikes! Warm for a January MORNING. The forecast was a high of 66 and then a cold front was supposed to move through later in the evening and cool things off into the 40's. I decided to carry my hydration pack without the bladder and use it instead of drop bags - and then carry one handheld since it was only 5 -6 miles between aid stations. I grabbed my gear and headed out.

When I walked outside it was a heavy, heavy mist and warm. The road was wet like it had been raining and as I made the nearly hour drive from the hotel I had to use my wipers. I made it to the start line in plenty of time - and could tell from my squishy footsteps that the trail was going to be sloppy. This was going to be "one of those days" where you just deal with it. At straight up 730am we were off.

The first part of the course was very rocky. Normally not a big deal - but the rocks were covered in mud and extremely slick. I was slipping and sliding all over the place - and rather than take a chance at falling in the first few miles I took it easy and was as careful as possible with my footing. The footing wasn't the only thing that was a little sketchy. There were cactus every now and then that were covering the trails that you had to run through. They had serrated edges - and every time I'd run through one I could feel it scratch - followed by itch. Really? So - muggy weather, slick muddy rocks, and cactus/itchy legs? Really?

After the first aid station - the course seems to flatten out and there were less rocks - but that only meant there was more mud. Thick, sticky mud. I could feel it sucking the shoes off of my feet every time I would step - and I'd have to really pull up on my shoes to take a step. Then - there was so much mud on my shoes that it was like wearing ankle weights. Every now and then a huge clump would fall off - but within a few steps there was more tacked right back on.

The first loop was just a battle. I was hot - sweating like a pig - muddy - cranky - but still moving relatively well and still processing food/liquid ok. I did the first 50K in just under 7 hours. Back at the start/finish I re-stocked my pack - threw a long sleeved shirt and gloves in even though I was burning up - and headed out to start the 2nd half of the race. The first few hours were still hot - muggy and humid - zero breeze - still cranky! When is it going to cool off? I could really tell the trail had dried out and firmed up some - it wasn't nearly as sloppy as it had been in the morning - but the cactus were still there eating at my legs.

At the Crossroads aid station around mile 48 I stopped to get my headlamp since the sun was down - and asked where the heck all of this "cold weather" was that everyone had been talking about all day. Right that very moment - a huge gust of cool aid blew through. Ahhhhhhh! It felt remarkable. Even though people were already in jackets and bundled up - I decided I needed to cool off and enjoy the cooler, dry air so I kept running in my short sleeved shirt.

The rest of the race was a lot more enjoyable with cooler weather and better footing. No more cranky runner. Everyone else on the course seemed to be moving better as well. As the miles continued to tick away, the temperature continued to drop and the wind continued to pick up. Fortunately I crossed the top of the last hill and dropped down to the finish line in just over 15 hours - and found a warm tent full of great volunteers that were literally waiting on me hand and foot. "Here sit down - let me unlace your shoes - what do you need to warm up?" Thank you volunteers! After about 10 minutes of relaxing - I knew it was time to get up - gather my folding chair and supplies that I had used all day - and hobble across the dark field in the cold wind to the car.

As I pulled away - with the heater on - I was impressed with the tough souls that would still be out battling the elements all night long. These are the folks that impress me the most - because they have grit and determination and they're mental warriors. This wasn't the best day with the weather conditions - but that's never a reason to stop - or worse to not start. When you battle through tough conditions in a race - it always gives perspective to other races. I can always look back and say "well I remember at Bandera 100K in 2013 when the mud was so thick..." and know that I can battle through anything.