24 September 2013

Frenzied and (a little bit) Fearful

“Man is sometimes extraordinarily, passionately, in love with suffering...”  
-Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Bear 100 elvation profile
The pre-race jitters have arrived. As of yesterday, my ability to nap is gone as my brain churns over details of the race. The anticipation of 20+ hours of suffering is hard to ignore. I told my Facebook community that I feel like I'm looking forward to a 30-hour natural labor. There is a similar ambivalence to childbirth of wanting to get on with things, being fearful of the upcoming pain and expecting great joy when it's all over.

I know that it won't be a sufferfest in its entirety. At the pace I hike/run, I can enjoy the first 30-50 miles, based on prior experience. It's the second, unknown 50 miles that I anticipate to be very challenging. I expect to hit the 52 mile aid station in the early evening, when darkness falls and my vision is reduced to the beam of a headlamp. Normally, I enjoy running at night but I've not done so with 50 miles on my legs. I may need to search deep in my soul for continued joy in the journey. 

 "Time to dare and endure.” - Winston Churchill

I want to keep the perspective that I'm incredibly fortunate to have legs that work and to take part in a well-supported mountain adventure with like minded folks. As I enjoy this sliver of God's creation I'll do so with prayers of gratitude, supplication and praise going up. As God gives me my next breath and keeps me alive (Job 12:10), He gives my legs the means to move forward.

As I rely on God's help, I'm also very determined to keep moving until I finish or I'm told to stop. Steve Pero said that if I'm pulled for missing a cutoff, I am to politely say thank you and enjoy my rest. Good advice from a wise man who knows what it's like to DNF (Did Not Finish) and maintains a proper perspective on it. If I'm not fast enough to finish within the cutoffs then I'll keep working on my speed and try again next year. 

I really have no idea what my limits are and these running events are ways of testing them. Failure is simply a tool to help me improve the next time around. There is great peace in the knowledge that failure says nothing about my significance as a person or athlete. As a follower of Jesus, my worth is rooted in being a forgiven sinner, well-loved by the one who I've offended who has promised me a deliriously happy eternity. And this has nothing to do with my performance -- it's all grace, that is, unmerited favor. Praise God.

"I've not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that didn't work."
- Thomas Edison

My curiosity as to what I'm able to accomplish athletically in my middle age is a large part of why I'm doing ultras. I've got nothing to prove to anyone; I'm just taking something that I enjoy (moving as fast as I can in the mountains) and seeing just what my body is capable of. I've been continually surprised as how trainable it is, when the mind is willing. I tell people who don't run long distances that they can too, if they want to. Barring an injury or significant health impairment, anyone can train their body to run 100 miles. It's the lack of desire or mental fortitude that stands in the way. While no one needs to run 100 miles to prove this, our bodies can be trained to do way more than we think we can.

"Only those who attempt the absurd can achieve the impossible." 
- Albert Einstein

Experiences like these are formative and I know that I'll be changed in good ways from having attempted something so hard. I truly believe that I've been brought to this place and that every step to getting here has been laid out for me and that every amazing person that I've met has been placed in my path. Whether I succeed or fail, it has been an incredible eight months of being a part of the ultrarunning community. Thanks to all of you that have shared the trails and encouraged me from the sidelines this year. 

With that said, I'm beginning to pack and put my drop bags together with spare shoes, socks, food, clothes. I have my foot care bag to cover up potential blister spots and extra tape/bandages/alcohol wipes for those that appear during the race. I'm packing warm clothes as it appears the temps will be between the 20's Friday night with a couple of inches of snow possibly. No record heat this year, which is fine with me. I run better in the cold. I'm bringing three pairs of shoes, just in case. I've got comprehensive list of items to ensure I've not missed anything.
I guess my ISTJ-ness is showing.
When I'm out in beautiful places, inevitably this hymn by Saint Francis of Assisi comes into my head. If I was a race director, I'd serenade the runners with an acapella version before the start. Better yet, I'd try and wrangle Patty G., the Wailin' Jennys or Manhattan Transfer to do it. Enjoy...

Happy Trails,


10 September 2013

Wasatch 100 Pacing Report

 “Success goes to the ones who do. Get up. Show up. Throw up if you have to. Do it afraid, but do it no matter.” 
-Toni Sorenson
Date: Sept 6-7
Location: Wasatch Mountains, Central Utah
Distance: 48 miles
Time: 19 hours

Of the five mountain hundos I am participating in, The Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run is widely regarded as the 2nd hardest 100 miler after Hardrock. The course, with it's 26k feet of elevation gain, is famous for its difficult terrain, steep climbs and descents, especially in the last 25 miles. The highest point of elevation is at mile 77 (10,467 ft) and at mile 87, runners are forced to endure the notorious "Dive & Plunge", two steep 600 ft descents over loose rocks. Add to this the amount of off-camber terrain, birthing blisters in new places, it's a brutal way to end a long day in the mountains. But I'm getting ahead of myself here...let's start from the beginning.

Sheila's participation in the race was uncertain and she subsequently did not start due to an injury. I still wanted to pace there since it would be a great training run just before I begin a taper for The Bear. So I found another runner looking for a pacer -- Matt Baker from DC -- and made plans to pace him instead. This would be Matt's fourth 100 miler, after completing MMT, Grindstone and Western States. His wife Lindsey would also be there as his crew chief and she could get me out to the Lambs Canyon AS to begin my pacing duties.

I met up with Matt & Lindsey at Sugar House Park last Thursday, dropped off my bags and we went to dinner to get acquainted and talk about the race. I got the impression that Matt would be a lot like my other two runners (Sheila & Jeanne): very self-motivated and mainly wanting the company on the trails. He didn't need a lot of data regarding mileage/pace etc, just some help with getting water refilled & getting refueled at aid stations. I was warned by Lindsey that he'd be a whiny pee-pants in the second half, but apparently Matt donned a different persona because I didn't hear a single whine the entire time we were out there. In fact, he was conversational, positive and a very pleasant person to run with, even when the going got tough. 
Wasatch Mts from Sugar House Park
The first of many "thumbs up" shots
The race started at 5am on Friday and it's always a slow, relaxing morning / afternoon for me as I wait to meet up with my runner later on in the evening. I spent a leisurely morning in SLC before heading over to Park City. That afternoon, I went to the only place I knew of -- Atticus Coffee -- which seems to be the second office of Bryon Powell from iRunFar. I took a local's recommendation and had the Wrap of the Mohicans and Dirty Chai. Oh my, that was a tasty lunch. They also had an open mic and it was nice to have some live music in the background as I read this month's Trail Runner, my blogs and followed the race. Met a nomad by the name of Shytei Corellian who is living the outdoorsy life, working at ski resorts, house sitting and writing novels. She's got one out called Merehr and working on more. It was great to share some friendly conversation with her & the folks behind the counter. If you go to PC, be sure and stop in there, it's a great place to eat and hang out.
Waiting isn't so bad...
Since Matt was holding a 34.5 hr finishing pace, we expected to see him sometime between 8-9p. I met up with Lindsey around 5p, dropped off my car at the finish line, grabbed a quick bite to eat and headed out to Lambs Canyon (Mile 52). We got there a little after 8p and Matt arrived around 8:43p, looking good after going through a couple of rough patches earlier. Temps earlier in the day were in the 90's and runners were dropping. A total of 105 DNFs out of 312 starters. Since I drove all the way from CO to pace him, Matt stuck with it and got through the low points -- one of the incentives of having a stranger from out-of-state pacing you, I guess.
"100 miles is not that far!" Sure, Karl.
Ready to roll out of Lambs
Anyway, Matt got some food, we got his pack refilled and we were on our way around 9p. The weather was warm - I had arm sleeves pushed down and pulled them up only when stopped at aid stations. I didn't need anything else for the rest of the night. After a short road section where Matt ate and brought me up to speed on his race we got on to some nice single track for our first 1500 ft climb out of Lambs Canyon up to Bare Bottom Pass. He was hiking the climb at a good pace and we were passing some folks. This was where I learned that Matt liked to sit down and eat a GU rather than eating it on the go. I told him he'd knock an hour off his total time if he kept moving each time he took one, but he insisted that this break gave him add'l energy, so that was that. Stubborn kid, I tell ya. Sheesh.

We got in to Millcreek (Mile 61) at 11:53p without incident. At this point, I was already hungry and was thrilled to find that my favorite aid station food - grilled cheese - was being served. I shoveled one down along with some watermelon and chased it down with some Coke. Both of us had hot spots on our feet. I put a blister bandage on mine and after we checked out and started on our way, Matt realized he needed to do the same thing. So I ran back to the AS and asked for a piece of duct tape to hold another bandage in place since his feet were dusty. Not ideal, but it got him to Brighton, where he had it tended to properly.

For some reason my recollection of the next 14 miles past Desolation Lake & Scotts Peak is a blur, probably because it was in the dark. I can't even remember the aid stations. I do recall scanning the sky for the Big Dipper, as I have seen it on my other night runs and saw that as a good omen. It was partly cloudy, but Matt thought he saw most of it, so that was good enough for me. 
GU break
We rolled into Brighton Lodge (Mile 75) at 5:03am, where Lindsey was waiting for us. We were ready to eat and to have Matt's blisters taken care of. Turns out, there was only one foot doc, so there was a bit of a wait. It was a madhouse in there, so many people crawling over each other. I had another delicious grilled cheese as well as a potato patty, watermelon & Coke. Hit the spot. Matt got his feet taped up with instructions not to change socks for the remainder of the race. Only 25 gnarly miles to go, what could happen?
Matt's thumb doesn't look as certain as mine does
We finally got out of there 30 min later and headed up Catherine Pass to the course's high point 2.5 miles later. I had been told this is a beautiful piece of trail and in first light, it was dimly apparent as Mary Lake & Lake Martha came into view. We got to the top of Point Supreme and enjoyed some sweet views. This is when I was finally able to get some pics of the course.
Mary Lake (I think)
The Beach
A GU with a view
Still had my Super Pacer socks on
Downhillin' to Ant Knolls
I recall that the descent here revealed I had a couple of blisters forming. By the time we got to the Ant Knolls AS (Mile 79) at 7:36a, it was time to change the socks. Why I didn't tape up the blisters, I don't know. Probably, I was distracted by the food. I loved this aid station and enjoyed chatting with the volunteers there. In contrast to the madhouse at Brighton, there were only a handful of runners, plenty of chairs and they had breakfast! I had pancakes, sausage & hash browns, just what I needed to fuel the short, steep climb up the Ant Knolls. 

We had 3 miles to go before reaching Pole Line Pass (Mile 82) and picking up an extra water bottle for the long, hot 10-mile segment to Pot Bottom. Thankfully, there was plenty of ice available at Pole Line. I iced my bandanna, put ice in our bottles and we were on our way.

GU time

Aspen grove & shade!
Rock Springs
As you can see above, first 5 miles of this section were beautiful. But we knew that at mile 88, the beastly part begins. By this time, both of us had blisters and Matt's quads were shot so the steep descent down the Dive & Plunge was just not fun. Neither of us fell, but there were a couple of near misses. I really didn't enjoy any bit of this section as the trail was just a mess and really tough on blistered feet. It was in this section that we saw Bighorn/Hardrock buddies Scott & Matt as well as Hans-Dieter and we would all end up finishing within 15 min of each other. As the heat intensified around noon, that was the one pleasant thing I recall from those miles.
Top of the Dive
The brief respite 
Matt coming off The Plunge
73 year old Hans getting it done
By the time we got to Pot Bottom (Mile 92) at 1p we were hot and dehydrated, despite bringing extra water. Imagine how we felt when we were told that they were low on ice and giving only one bottle's worth to each of the runners. The only soda was Diet Coke. I basically left with one water bottle and didn't eat anything else.*

The final 8 miles were nothing to write home about. Our final climb featured a dusty, jeep road in which vehicles would kick up dust, exposed to the mid-day sun. By the time we were descending the final few miles, storm clouds were moving in and the wind picked up. Once we hit the last mile of pavement, the heavens opened up and the rain fell. It actually felt good to be done with the heat, and the cold air kept us both motivated to run as much as possible.
BAM! Finished in 34:55
Matt crossed the line 183rd out of 205 finishers after a well fought fight to keep going, despite feeling ill-prepared for these mountains. It was a pleasure to join him on his journey and experience a piece of this storied course for myself. My summer of pacing is now over and I can now focus on recovering and prepping for my first hundred miler coming up in a less than three weeks! I'm getting excited about it, especially now that I'll be seeing Steve & Deb Pero there. Steve will be crewing Deb and has offered to crew me too (presuming I stick with her, of course). It'll be great having their company while I see what it's like to do one of these myself.

*I really appreciate aid station workers and their willingness to come out and help the runners all day long. Overall, the aid stations at Wasatch were great. But many of us going through Pot Bottom in the heat of the day were upset when there was little ice to cool us or our drinks. Someone had a point that if a race advertises fully stocked aid stations, this shouldn't be happening, especially when a) the number of runners can be estimated and b) the forecast is warning of high temps. I think a runner's expectation of having adequate ice/drinks is reasonable, especially when they're paying for that aid.

It's the back-of-the-packers that have to deal with these shortages, the ones out of the course the longest. And don't tell them to just run faster; we all know that developing speed takes time and there are numerous reasons why someone isn't able to run in the front or mid-pack, so let's not oversimplify things. Every race has those that come in the bottom third and they shouldn't be shortchanged because that's the speed they are running on that day. 

It seemed that aid station captains were given the discretion as to how much to supply the runners since some were well stocked and others were not. Perhaps the RD should be more involved in standardizing the basic supply levels, while giving them freedom to add their own personal touch. Maybe Wasatch can take a tip from Hardrock and have the extra aid station food brought to the finish line. 
That way, stations can supply enough for the runners and not waste the leftovers. My two cents. 

Happy Trails,


03 September 2013

Nolan's 14 Pacing Report

“Do it badly; do it slowly; do it fearfully; do it any way you have to, but do it.” 
-Steve Chandler
Mt. Princeton (14,197 ft)
Date: Aug 30
Location: Mt. Princeton, Sawatch Range, Colorado
Distance: 13 miles 
Time: 9 hours

If one follows the ultrarunning scene closely, it doesn’t take long before you hear of the Nolan's 14. When you run in the mountains in Colorado, it’s common to run up, down & around 14ers (peaks over 14,000 ft) since Colorado has 54 of them. Since many ultrarunners around here also enjoy peak-bagging, I suppose it’s no surprise that some of these mountain runners would try and chain many of these peaks together in a single push.

Back in the 90’s, Jim Nolan, a mountaineer who had tagged all of Colorado’s 14ers, mapped out a route of fourteen 14ers in the Sawatch Range in central Colorado (Mt Massive to Mt Shavano), which would cover approximately 100 miles. The first attempts at this colossal endeavor started in 1999, and in 2001, four people bagged all 14 peaks. This particular “adventure run/race” had a 60 hour time limit, but as TK has remarked, anyone who can summit 14 of these mountains at once has accomplished something special, no matter how long it takes. The shortest routes between the peaks are not necessarily the common ones, so finding the best route is part of the challenge. When mistakes are made and routes are missed, sleep deprivation dulls the brain and storms roll in quickly, the difficulties of merely getting over 14 mountains fast are compounded. As in an ultra, you never know what can happen to you when you're exerting yourself (at high altitude!) for that long. That's part of the appeal of this sort of intense endeavor.

While only 7 have finished the full route since 1999 (15% finisher rate) there have been many attempts made. My friend Julian, who is an experienced ultrarunner and mountaineer, has had this on his bucket list and planned to attempt it over Labor Day weekend. As a Leadman and a bona fide Hardrocker (both directions), this is just the kind of challenge that would engage his imagination. I offered to help and he suggested that I pace him over summit #4, Mt. Princeton, one of the most challenging of the 14.

Since he was taking the South – North route, I met up with Julian’s wife Lisa in Buena Vista and together we met Julian at the Grouse Gulch trailhead around 1:45pm. He had already summited Mt Shavano, Tabeguache Peak & Mt. Antero earlier in the day and was looking great. After having some soup and a potato & cheese burrito, we were off in the light rain, headed up Grouse Gulch.
Julian, upon arrival
Lisa had a great little setup for cooking
I hope to have one of these in a few weeks
Ready to go, rain or shine
We followed the trail as it led us up the east side of Grouse Creek, where the trail was a bit overgrown. Obviously, this is not the common route up Princeton. Lots of sticker bushes and fallen trees and if I was doing this in the spring or early summer, would be doused with DEET as I understand ticks are common in these parts. After going through an aspen grove, we came to a talus field, the first of many that I would gain experience with on this journey. We were a little over a mile into the climb at this point. We then went up the drainage to get to the rib where the southwest ridge came in to view.
It's a jungle out there

The first of many potential ankle-turners we encountered 
Climbing out of the drainage
We started the hike at about 9,100 feet. By the time we hit the two mile mark, we had climbed nearly 4,000 feet. My calves were hollering at me most of the way. Julian, being a stud, just hiked up like it was no big deal. At this point, we began taking lines along the side of the ridge (class 2-ish scramble) in which he pointed out a herd of mountain goats to me and we finally got to the point where the summit was in view.
Looking back at the lower line we used to go across
The little white specks in the bottom center are mountain goats
There were no safe lower lines to take to the summit, so we climbed up and over Point 13,971 and down the north side to the “trail” that led us back up to the ridge. After another 30 min or so, we made it to the summit around 6:30. Julian sent up a Spot Tracker signal to mark his summit time and we prepared for the descent.
Spotted: the summit
Heading up Pt 13,971
Looking at the summit from Pt 13,971
Going down the talus slope to catch the trail back up the ridge
Yours truly (Photo: Julian)
Final push to the summit
BAM! and #4 is bagged.
View of Mt Yale to the north
View of the ridge we just crossed to the west
View of Mt Antero to the south
The goal was to descend into Maxwell Gulch, take a jeep road that would lead to the Colorado Trail, about 6 miles from the next aid. We had a couple of options for getting down: 1) taking the NE ridge all the way across and down or 2) going straight down the avalanche gully on the north side. As I was having trouble getting my non-sticky soled shoes to grip on the talus, I voted for the gully, thinking we could glissade down on our feet. Julian thought this may be the quickest way down, tho’ in retrospect, we have our doubts. While there was some fun glissading to be had, it only lasted about a 1/3 of the way down. After that, we were mostly picking our route over loose rock as the sun set and we were using our headlamps. It took nearly three hours for us to get down off the mountain and on to the Colorado Trail. Julian radioed to Lisa that we were running late (we were due by 11p) and hoped to be there around 11:15 if we could run some of the next 6 miles.
This actually looked fun and it was...until it wasn't.
Long story short, we got there about 11:45p with Lisa, Sheila & John waiting. Sheila was pacing Julian over Mt Yale and she was hyped up on caffeine and ready to roll. Julian was feeling more tired was about to hit a low point in the next few hours. I was glad he had Sheila to keep him company and help him through that time.
Julian & Sheila as they headed out.
Having thoroughly been schooled on the rigors of climbing 14-ers, I was toast. My only 14er up until this point was Pike Peak (Barr & Crags trails) and was not a good indication of what I’d be experiencing on Princeton. I realized that I need to add a few 14ers into my annual training runs to get better at scrambling up and down talus slopes and across the ridges. I also need steeper vertical in my training to increase my strength and endurance on the climbs.

Julian managed to summit 12 of the 14 peaks in under 60 hours in his Nolan’s attempt, which is the farthest anyone’s gotten this year. After doing just one of those summits, I understand just how incredible an accomplishment that is. I expect him to go at it again using lessons learned this year to get all 14. He'll get it done, I'm sure of it.

As for me, I'm in major recovery mode as I prepare to pace at Wasatch 100 this Saturday. Those steep climbs gave my calves & hams a good workout and they're still feeling the effects as of today. After two days off, just one 40 min easy run and two 60 min easy runs are all I have on the docket for this week. Looking forward to sampling a bit of this course, widely considered the second hardest 100 after Hardrock. Stay tuned!

If you find the Nolan's 14 intriguing, learn more about it here & check out the reports of the three who finished in 2012:

The Julian Smith featured in this blog should not to be confused with this one, of YouTube fame:

Happy Trails,