Sunday, October 5, 2014

Georgia Jewell 100 Race Report

Pinhoti Trail - Georgia
And then there are those days…

And this was one of them…

Running the Georgia Jewell 100 seemed like a good idea at the time. I was going to be in the U.S. for meetings that would span a weekend. “Why not run an American trail ultra for old times sake?” was my thought. When the Georgia Jewell 100 came up during a search of races the idea of running through the wooded forests of northern Georgia sounded fun.  I’ve been running well, feeling reasonably healthy, and felt like it was time to try and bust out a good time for a 100.

The lead up to the race was not ideal. I was working long days with events each evening that went too late into the night and with too much alcohol. I was tired. Then the stress of a delayed flight to Atlanta, rush hour traffic, and racing to get to the pre-race check-in before it closed Friday night. I crawled into bed thinking, "I just want to sleep in – not get up at 3:30 am to run."

As I waited for the start I felt ready. There was a small field of 50 or so runners with some regional speedsters. I was confident that unless I made some big mistakes or something went terribly wrong I could place, and possibly win. This confidence was buoyed by the ease in which the early miles passed in the predawn dark. Within the first few miles I was off the front and by myself. A nice place to be.

Despite being in the lead and feeling physically good – I wasn’t feeling it. I didn’t have a hunger to race. My motivation was lacking. This was unusual in that for me the day was as good as it gets; I felt strong and healthy, the weather was perfect, the trail was stunning, and I was in the mix.

I tried to go to that other place - leave the present and find a daydream that would entertain my mind for miles. But I couldn’t. At about mile 35 I hit a low spot. My mind kept repeating, “I’m bored.” My non-listening self kept replying “then deal with you boredom.” This was not a good place to be. I was frustrated.  It was too early in the race to slip into a trough when arguably things were going so well. With resignation I accepted the reality that if I just kept moving and running smart, in time this would pass and I would again feel engaged. I kept running...

At the turnaround at 52 miles my condition had not improved. I was still in the trough. I resorted to my ever-reliable pathway out of the funk. Coke. I downed several cups and asked that my water bottle be filled with the elixir. High fructose corn syrup would be the answer to my funkatosis.

As I began the return journey the Coke in my bottle began to fizz out dripping down my lower back and into my crack. Soon after I had to take a Shilling from drinking so much Coke on an unsettled stomach. This presented a problem in that I had decided to run light with just a Gregory Tempo waist pack. I had used all of the pocket space for gels and had deliberately decided to not bring any toilet paper. My cotton Armani button-down would need to take one for the team. Then, I noticed a pressure point in my right shoe, it was sort of like a rock stuck in the sole feeling, but different. After scuffing my shoe on rocks hoping to dislodge whatever was stuck on the bottom of my shoe, I stopped to take a look. Upon inspection I discovered that the bottom of my, out of the box, Montrail Fly had delaminated. All I could do was laugh at how my sticky shitting ass was still somehow moving forward despite a broken hoof. Perhaps self-pity would turn this race around for me?

The return was a slog. I listened to every breath. I felt every step. I could never find that other place where miles and time pass without effort. I cursed myself for not having placed some tunes in a drop bag for a mid-race distraction. My stomach remained unsettled and my ass remained sticky as bottle after bottle of Coke dribbled down my backside. I kept on running, counting the breaths, the steps, and the miles...

I wanted the win, but was unwilling to earn it. As the sun set laziness set in and I was walking uphills that I should (and could) have been running. But, I didn’t care. I rationalized to myself that if I saw a light, I would turn it on knowing that I had a lot left if needed. I was deliberately choosing to run lazy, blaming it on my defective shoe, chaffed ass, and bored mind. 

After passing the 100-mile mark I lost patience with being complacent and decided it was time to get this race over. I pushed hard the last five miles (The Georgia Jewell is 105 miles long) and felt good about the effort. I crossed the finish line in 20:22 in first place, though I was not proud of the effort or the time.

A week later I feel better about the race. It was a good lesson about how if I want to run well then I need to take preparation more seriously (e.g. using drop bags, ensuring I have access to the foods I like, bringing music). And more importantly, make sure I bring my head to the race with me. But, despite it being a train wreck of a day, there is something always fulfilling and fun about running a 100-miles that I cherish. Already the self loathing thoughts that propelled me for many miles have been forgotton and am looking forward to the next time that I can race.

Thanks to RD Karen Pearson and all the volunteers for a well organized race. Apologies for not being my usual appreciative and cheerful self – blame it on the Coke induced ass chafe J

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Swiss IronTrail T81

This past weekend (15 August) was the Ferragosto  (Assumption Day) holiday in Italy. So when work colleague Richard Chourlaton suggested a road trip to Davos Switzerland for The Swiss IronTrail T81 race, I knew it was the perfect way to enjoy a long weekend and get out of Rome’s August heat.

Richard Chourlaton - Finish Swiss IronTrail T81

The term Ferragosto is derived from the Latin expression Feriae Augusti (Augustus' rest), which is a celebration introduced by Emperor Augustus in 18 BC. During this celebration, races of various beasts of burden (including oxen, donkeys and mules) were organized across the empire. Given this, it seemed like an apropos day to burden in an 88Km trail race across the Swiss Alps.

I’ve enjoyed trail racing in Europe and I have found the comparisons between racing in the US interesting; from aid stations, to trail marking and racing etiquette. Each race is a bit different and I learn and experience something new. I’ve come to look forward to cheese and chocolate at aid stations (excellent gluten-free choices), I can’t quite cut the trail yet without feeling guilty, and I appreciate that the sport is still pedestrian enough that I can show up without compression socks or Solomon gear, instead wearing a button-down shirt and still be welcomed. I love this sport!

Rosti - Yum!
Davos is an 8-hour car drive from Rome. The ride north went quickly with good conversation and stunning scenery. Stepping out of the car in Davos, I could have well been on another planet in comparison to Rome.  No graffiti. Ten degrees Celsius. Towering mountains. Food options beyond pasta. We enjoyed a pre-race meal of rosti, a traditional Swiss dish made of coarsely grated potatoes accompanied by an assortment of yummy complimentary foods – in my case ham, cheese and egg.

While the start of our race was only 40km away as the crow flies, it required two buses and 2 hours and 15 minutes to travel from Davos to Savognin. Richard and I walked to the start, checked-in, rested and prepared for the civilized 10:30am start.

Start at Savognin
I had ambitions of placing. I’ve been able to get some vertical on the weekends outside of Rome and have been feeling healthy. However, almost immediately that ambition seemed overly ambitious as I was out of breath and struggling to keep up with the lead pack. I hung on. Then, at about 5 kilometers we realized that we had missed a turn and had to backtrack about a kilometer. When we got back on course we were at the tail end of the conga line moving slowly up the first steep single-track ascent. Energy was wasted needlessly trying to get by people on the climb.

I crested the top of the first big climb in 2nd place. But, within the first 500 meters of the descent 4 people had passed me. I was not confident on the descent and I was struggling. I felt the day unraveling.

I pushed hard on the descent and slowly gained on the person in front of me. Yet, my gain was not enough to catch him. On the initial climb several small rocks had gotten into my shoe. For several kilometers on the descent I tried the wiggling the toes technique to move the rocks to a place where they didn’t rub. This effort failed and I needed to stop to clean out my shoe. As I sat on a rock removing my shoe and sock, the race felt over.

I tried to regroup on the next climb. Intellectually, I knew this should be the best part of the race for me. A long gradual to medium grade climb that was not particularly technical – my strength. Yet I couldn’t pull it together. It started to rain. I was cold. I debated putting on my rain jacket. I didn’t. I then debated if the reason I didn’t put my jacket on was whether I was lazy, or that I didn’t really need it. Time moved slowly. The kilometers even slower. I crept past a number of runners, surprised that I was moving faster than they were despite my funk.

Between abating rain and catching people I began to feel better. My confidence built. Then, after not seeing flags for some period I realized that I was likely off course. This presented a challenge. Being old-school and not having the course programmed into a GPS watch, I needed to refer to a print map which required getting reading glasses out of my pack which then kept fogging up. F*ck! All this when I was just getting it together. Once I confirmed I was off course I made the necessary corrections. Back on course, I could see that there were more footprints on the trail than before. I had lost a number of positions. How many, I did not know.

Despite the setback my legs felt good and I reeled back the people who had passed me. Reports from people along the trail indicated I was in first place. Footprints on the path seemed to confirm this. However, I could not account for all the people initially in front of me. Despite the conflicting data, I pushed a bit harder motivated by the thought of placing and perhaps winning.

On the next climb a fog settled in making it hard to see the course markers and impossible to see any runners ahead or behind me. I tried to keep moving. After about an hour into the climb I heard a faint click-click of poles. Someone was about to catch me. I pushed harder. At the top of a minor pass, Alister Bignell of France caught up to me. I expected him to surge off on the descent but he lingered. I took off in the faint hope that I could stay in front of him. On the next climb I realized I was holding my own with Alister. I reckoned if I could hold him off on the climbs, I could move faster on the non-technical descents and flats. I ran as fast as I could through the fog, chased by the ghost of Alister.

The final ascent of this 28km climb was a bugger. It took everything I had to keep moving and literally not stall-out mid-step because of the steepness of the trail. I crested the top at 2650 meters, the apex of a 1800-meter climb and cherished the descent knowing there was one last big climb before the finish in Davos. At km 76 I again got lost, missing a key junction. Once I realized my mistake, defogged my glasses and consulted my map I backtracked to the missed turn. Best estimate - 10 minutes lost. Fortunately, no new tracks on the path. I knew this race was mine if I made no more mistakes.

Finish - Courtesy of IronTrails
On the final climb I could see Alister’s headlamp occasionally popping out of the fog, but I knew it would be hard for him to make up the distance with just 6km to go. I crested the ridge and could see Davos below. I moved as quickly as I could, conscious that I was tired. The trail was moderately technical, and no mistakes were allowed. Conservatism was my new race strategy.

I crossed the finish line in 12:29 – not particularly fast, yet I was pleased with the effort and pleased with the win given that I had not felt my best and had been navigationally challenged.

Congrats to Richard who had a strong finish and then proceeded to drive most of the way home. And bravo to Adrienne who completed the 21Km course. All-in-all a great way to celebrate Ferragosto. Augustus would have been pleased with the event and the competition.

Courtesy - Swiss Irontrails

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Running to Take a Call

My Fun Birthday Present

So how fun is this? For my birthday my daughter's friend Zoe made me this custom iPhone cover. I really like it, but I've avoided contemplating if there is any symbolism, much less asking.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Gran Sasso Running

For the first year of living in Rome I lamented that there were no real mountains close by.  Then, I was introduced to the Gran Sasso National Park, just 2 hours from Rome. Gran Sasso lays claim to many interesting features including Southern Italy’s highest Peak (Corno Grande), the southern-most glacier in Europe, Refugio Campo Imperatore where Mussolini was imprisoned until freed by a Nazi commando operation, and the castle of Rocco Calscio – all of which as you can imagine, makes for great running.

Adrienne and I have made Gran Sasso our go-to weekend summer getaway with the aging “Hotel Budapest-like Refugio Campo Imperatore as our base. The weekend drill goes something like this...

Jay blocks his Friday calendar with “week wrap-up” from 15:00 to 17:00 so he can get out of the office no later than 5:00. Pick-up the rental car at 5:30. Join the hordes of Romans escaping the city for the weekend. Exchanging hand gestures and expletives turn the crawling pace of traffic into a pleasurable experience. Once outside the Recordo Grande (belt route) traffic thins and we speed along the A24 at 130 kilometers an hour…

Immediately upon arriving at Refugio Campo Imperatore we crack a bottle of regional wine (Abruzzo) over which we plan the weekend’s running adventures.

Enjoy some pictures from past weekends…

Hotel Budapest-like Refugio Campo Imperatore (2130M) - our weekend home

Planning the weekend activities down the hall from where Mussolini was imprisoned

Calderone Glacier

Fog Lifting on Cresta del Monte Acquilla

East Face Corno Grande (2912M)

Campo Pericolli

View from Rocco Calascio (highest castle in Italy)

Medieval Village of Santo Steffano (most buildings date from 11-15th century)

Castle Rocco Calascio

View from Corno Grande
Adrienne  - the climb out of Campo Pericoli

Climbing to Corno Grande

Corno Grande (2912M)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Velebit Ultra Trail100K Race Report

Velebit Mountain Croatia

Let’s start with I’m a big fan of Croatia – the geography, the people, the spirit. After running the 100 Miles of Istria earlier this year I knew I wanted to come back. And when Simun Cimerman, RD for the Velebit Ultra Trail 100K invited me to run his race in Paklenica National Park in the Velebit Mountains, I had an excuse.

I flew from Rome to Split, which is a quick 45 minute flight. While driving the 90 minutes north up the coast to the race I realized that I was driving on the very same road that I had bicycled in 1984 on an around-the-world tour. I reflected on the myriad differences between today – and Yugoslavia at the time. My mind wandered to long forgotten memories. An excerpt from my journal, “we pedaled on in the dark with the road faintly luminated by the dim lights of the Lada police car. It was not clear where the police were directing us. Their sternness, and displeasure with our presence and dismissiveness of the requirement to register with the police in the last town as dusk had approached led us to believe we were being asked to ride to a location where we were to be roughed up, intimidated and likely robbed. Their intent was uncertain so we carried on without taking action. We rode in this suspense for more than 40 minutes before arriving at a roadside bar. There we were forced to enter the establishment against our desire, and told we were to drink together. Perhaps our value as humans was our ability to buy alcohol. To our complete surprise they bought us drinks (and more drinks), we ended wearing their hats and taking pictures of ourselves, and then they asked the proprietor to allow us to camp (illegally) behind her establishment. Tired and drunk, we crawled into our bags having experienced yet another unsuspecting turn of events.”

Vaganski Vrh Peak
I had been warned by Simun that the Velebit 100K was something that I would have experienced never before and to expect a very technical course. “Yeah right,” I thought to myself. "I’m from the Wasatch Range and I’ve run in mountains all around the world. How technical can some mountains in Croatia be?" The short answer to this rhetorical question is – VERY!

But I get ahead of myself. With a 5:00 am start I was confident I would be finished well before dark and enjoying a nice dinner and good glass of Teran wine while I watched the sunset over the Adriatic Sea. This confidence was reinforced as the first 4km were a fast gently climbing trail. Then, the trail turned into a dry streambed and climbed straight up. The terrain in many ways reminded me of Mount Olympus, dry and arid and mostly rock. I hung with the lead pack and tried to assess their ability. Quite quickly I determined that these kids were much more agile and adept at working through the rock than I was. I told myself "let them go and hopefully you can reel them back on the runnable sections." With that consolation I fell back into 5th place.

Once we reach the top of the first climb I tried to make up some time. While moving too quickly I caught my left foot on a root and while catching myself from falling augured my right foot into a rock. Immediately I knew, “Houston, we have a problem.” The pain in my foot was intense and I while I had no idea what the damage was, I knew it would be a long and painful day.

Once the 47K runners took a different route I learned I was in 2nd place. This gave me encouragement to continue and not dwell on how much each step hurt. Kilometer 20-40 was a runnable section, following the Croatian Patriot War Road, the frontline during the 1991 – 1995 Croatian War of Independence. One could still see remnants of bunkers and battlements, and the signs along the road and trail reinforced the warning of race officials to not leave the course as there is still unexploded ordinance in the area.

Best to Stay on the Trail
After 40K the “fun” began as we climbed Mount Sveto Brdo, a most spectacular peak and then descended to almost sea level before climbing to Vaganski Vrh peak. It was during the first descent that Marko Prot moving swiftly caught up with me. As we descended through a tangle of roots and rock he kept repeating, “Jay, this is f*ck.” “Jay, this is f*ck.” It might have been the best part of the day listening to Marko so articulately describe my sentiments of the trail.

I don’t know how to describe how unrelenting the course was. It either seemed like I was picking my way through rocks, climbing absurdly steep ascents, or tiptoeing down scree and through shoe catching rock knowing that any mistake would hurt. The mistakes for me were many as evidenced at the end by my bruised and lacerated hands from myriad falls and tumbles. There was just no getting into the groove and running which is my forte.

"This is F*ck"
Marko and I ran together in a seesaw like manner – Marko pulling away on the descents, me catching up on the flats, Marko pulling away on the ascents, me transitioning faster in the self-service aid stations. Marko had an ailing stomach. I had an aching foot. We made for the perfect miserable companions!

At 85K, on the final big climb of 2,200 feet in 2.5 miles I could no longer hang on to Marko. There are times when people pass me or leave me behind and I am frustrated and angry. And, there are times like when I watched Marko march away from me when I feel good inside admiring one's talent and fortitude. I was glad that I had been able race with Marko over the last 5 hours, and I was glad to see him pull away knowing that I would likely not be able to catch him over the final miles.

The last kilometers were a sufferfest. I was wrecked and barely caught myself a number of times from what would have been disastrous falls. I was depressed by thought that it would take me more than 16 hours to cover 100k. I questioned the wisdom of me being there.

Finish with Marko Prot
Yet, like all races I knew it would soon be over. And, while I had hopes of placing better than third, I would be proud of my accomplishment and already begin thinking about racing another day. And as always happens, the finish was soon in front of me and it was over.  While I was completely wrecked and knew that the pain of walking down the 2 flights of stairs in my apartment Monday morning with my broken digit would be worse than anything I had experienced that day – I relished at what a magical day I had enjoyed with my good Croatian friends in their wonderful country. And when asked would I be back, the answer was an unequivocal, “yes!”

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

100 miles of Istria Video

Here's a great video of the Istria 100 in Croatia that Jay ran and won a short time ago. Thanks to Alen Paliska for submitting the link through a comment on the race report.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Grandeur Fun Run Cancelled

The Grandeur Fun Run on Saturday, May 17 has been cancelled.  Please pass the word, and please don't plan on showing up as a sort of protest…. or to enjoy one another's company, donate to a good cause, or dive into a plate of post run pancakes and venison sausage. There are hundreds of miles of well maintained, authorized, official Forest Service trails out there that none of you have explored, so go find one and get to know it this Saturday morning.

Monday, April 28, 2014

La Habana Running

This past week I had the privilege of visiting Cuba for work. Each day I was able to run and explore the beautiful city Havana. The contrasts, complexity and colours of the city captivated me and I found myself intoxicated with images of people, objects, and the city itself. Here are a few pictures of what I was able to find and enjoy while on my runs. Hasta mi regress a La Habana

Monday, April 21, 2014

100 Miles of Istria Race Report

Motovun Aid Station
“Don’t chase them. Let them go!” admonished Greg at the Plomin AS (17 km). I was stressed and anxious as I could not fathom how quickly the lead runners were moving along a surprisingly technical trail. Within the first mile of the start, my race strategy of hanging on to the lead pack as long as possible had evaporated as I counted 10 runners ahead of me. Clearly I was out of my league trying to race in Europe.

I had signed up for the 100 miles of Istria trail race several months ago needing some trails, a racing goal and an adventure:


The course crosses the Istrian peninsula in Croatia, from Labin to Umag. Elevation gain is 22,000 feet with an actual distance of 167km (103 miles).  The race starts at 5:00 pm so the first half of the race is run through the night. To assist in the effort and share in the adventure, Greg Norrander had graciously offered to crew.

I left Plomin and worked on following Greg’s advice. I tried to find my own pace and run my own race. I had underestimated the difficulty of the course – both in terms of the steepness of the ascents/descents, and the rocks. There was just no running fast for me as every step had to be carefully placed to avoid rolling an ankle, falling – or both. At Poklon AS (41K) I had worked myself up to 3rd place, yet I was 45 minutes behind the lead runner. The fact that this guy was running 2 minutes a mile faster than me across this terrain had me completely in awe.

The night went by quickly. The experience was familiar to US trail races in many ways such as the AS volunteers who had hiked into remote aid stations and were sitting around a fire manning an aid station in the wee hours of the morning, or volunteers standing on the top of peak administering a checkpoint and doing their best to encourage me on in English once they learned I was American. Yet the experience was foreign in that the aid station offerings of bread, pastries and bananas was leaving me unfilled (since I am celiac I could only eat the bananas) and I felt like I was imposing on the race not being able to communicate with the volunteers in Croatian or Italian.

At Buzet AS (82KM) it was reported that I was now 30 minutes behind the leader and 10 minutes behind second place. If this information was correct I was now moving faster than the two people in front of me. I tempered my expectations knowing the quality of this information is often suspect. Within a few miles of the aid station I suddenly saw a headlight floundering through a river crossing. Either this crossing was more difficult or treacherous than previous crossings, or this guy was running sloppy. As I caught up to him on the other side he looked worked. As we began the climb out of the valley I had renewed energy. I was able to pull away from him on the long gradual climb to Hum AS (95KM).

Hum - Smallest Town in the World
I ran into Hum, considered to be the smallest village in the world (population 17) and quickly filled my handheld with Coke, grabbed a banana and was on my way. I was informed that the first runner had left 20 minutes earlier. I pushed hard on the descent and wondered how many more descents I had left. Living and training in Rome had me ill prepared for the climbing and descending and I could tell my quads would be what might fail me. As I ran into Draguc (103KM) the first light was breaking and I could see Greg standing on the road into the village waiting for me. As I got to the aid station I saw someone lying on the ground. Greg responded to my quizzed face and said, “… he came in about 10 minutes ago and just lied down and hasn’t got up.” Greg ran me through the drill filling up my water pack and giving me a fresh inventory of gels and bars, as I was changing into dry socks the church bells above us began ringing to announce the 6:00 am hour. We laughed as we both said at the same time, “time to go!”

Entering Motovun Aid Station
Now that it was light I figured out the rhythm. Aid stations were generally villages on the tops of hills. From each aid station I would look for the next church or castle on the top of a hill and I knew were I would be going next. I was surprised at how steep the ascents and descents were. I had to start holding back on the descents as I could feel my quads going. On the flats and climbs I felt strong.

The course is a diverse mix of mountain trails, old walled roads and pathways hundreds of years old, and footways through farms and vineyards. It is one of the most interesting and varied courses I have ever run. And, I would add the most technically challenging.

As the course works its way towards the sea in Umag the climbs became less extreme and there where long runnable sections were I felt good and was able to make good time. It felt good to be running fast at the end of a 100. I began to catch the 100K runners. Seeing a runner in the distance and chasing them down helped pass the miles and the time

2'nd Place Male Paolo Massarenti of Italy
I came into Umag and crossed the finish line in 20:31. I was pleased with the effort and knew that it was probably as good of a race as I could have run living and training in Rome. It had been a most amazing adventure both visiting and racing in Croatia, and being able to share the experience with Greg.

Finish Line in Umag

Bravo to RD Alen Paliska and all the volunteers for one of the best-organized races I have ever participated in. Specifically, the course markings were the best I have ever seen, bar none! Kudos to Nancy Aburto, my colleague from work who placed 3rd place women in the 65K. And a big thanks to Greg for coming from very far away to drive the Fiat Panda from village to village crewing me. Unfortunately the many great photos that he took were lost on a damaged card

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Power of Four Skimo Race Report 2014

"Put on every layer you have you're going to need it" yelled the ski patroller over the roaring wind and snow as I made my way past him. We had just made the decision to go up the ridge to Highland Peak at 12,392' rather than take the detour option and dropping into the bowl 1,000' lower. My fingers were balled up into fists inside my wet gloves and I had already pulled my buff up over my nose for some extra protection. The extra layer I had brought for my core had already been put on about 10 minutes prior. This was getting serious. I looked back at Mark and he asked me if I was okay, "everything but my hands" I yelled over the 60+mph wind. "Just keep them close to your chest" he yelled back. I turned back to the ridge and looked up at the tiny black specks that the racers in front of us had become, intermittently dotting the way to the summit a mile away. Then I put my head down and started marching forward with my skis attached to my pack.

The Power of Four skimo race in Aspen Colorado travels up and down through the four Aspen ski resorts. The race is unique because it is a teams event meaning you must complete the 25 mile, 12'000' vertical gain course with a teammate. I had no plans to race it this year until my friend Mark Christopherson contacted me 8 days prior to the start and while I was little reluctant at first, I figured it would be a good challenge. There is no race bigger than this in the USA in terms of vertical gain.
Power of Four route from Snowmass to Aspen, download KML
One of the biggest storms of the season began in the early morning hours and was dumping heavy wet snow down low at Snowmass with several inches accumulating at the higher elevations. The 6am start was pushed back to 6:30 because of the weather and avalanche control work.  Eventually the nerves were put to rest and 50+ teams of two headed up the hill 2x2 for our first climb of 3,000'. We hit the top of Snowmass in about 70 mins, quickly transitioned to ski mode and started descending the out of bounds ridge toward Buttermilk. The ridge we were on required one more short ascent before we reached the top of Buttermilk. The descent was rather quick through the resort and before I knew it I was skating a slight uphill grade on a walking path to the next checkpoint.
Power of Four Profile
Everything was still going smooth at this point except the gloves I had started with were completely soaked through to the point that I could wring the water out of them. At the checkpoint aid station I pulled out my dry pair of gloves as Mark gave me 3 Clif Bloks that I promptly crammed in my mouth. At this point we were almost 9 miles in and we had covered 3,200' vert. The climb in front of us would be the monster of the day gaining 4,500' over 4 miles and also the steepest in terms of grade. The mild weather down low slowly gave way to cooler temps and increased wind the higher we climbed. As we neared the top of Aspen Highlands and past the top chairlifts the wind was at least a steady 40mph. Mark and I sought shelter in a small group of trees to get our extra layers on before attempting the Highland Bowl ridge. Leaving the shelter of the trees my core and feet were fine but my hands were completely frozen and felt dead.

Just as we were leaving the ski area boundary someone from the ski patrol told us we had the option of not climbing the ridge and instead taking a shortcut into the bowl. Had I been on my own and this was an individual race I would have taken the safer route but after I looked back at Mark I knew we would heading up that nasty looking ridge.

I passed the guy warning us about the conditions on the ridge with a singular focus to get up and get down quickly. My goggles were useless as they were frozen inside and out so I was forced to squint in order to find my way and I carried my poles sandwiched between my upper arm and chest. Soon I started passing a few people and it invigorated me to charge even faster. I quickly glanced back and  found I was leading a small group of 6 or 8 us. Then with about a half mile to go a gust of wind hit me so hard I fell to my knees. The wind was now a steady 60 mph and gusting past 70. My buff had been pushed down off my face and hung uselessly around my neck. The gust lasted for a good 15 or 20 seconds before I struggled to my feet and continued upward to the peak.Three more times I would get knocked down and in that instant everyone around me would disappear in the white out conditions. This felt like true mountaineering but I was poorly dressed for such endeavors and reminded myself, up, down, quickly.

What felt like an eternity probably took us around 30 minutes to reach Highland Peak. Once there I struggled to get my skis off my pack, unable to use my fingers. Now that I wasn't moving I was starting to get cold and I knew it was serious. With the skis finally on the ground I clipped into the first one and then pushed my toe into the binding of the second ski and it wouldn't clamp on to the boot. I tried several times in frustration until Mark came over to help me. Ice had become jammed in the toe piece and the binding wouldn't fully close We both started desperately jamming the tips of our poles at the toe for a few seconds before I tried it again. I held my breath and pushed my toe into the binding. SNAP. It worked. Within seconds we pushed off and started skiing 42 degree, powder filled bowl.

Had I been warmer and not concerned about my hands I would have enjoyed the fresh powder and face shots more but I really needed to get down in a hurry, so that's what we did. Back at the base we skinned up for a short flat section to the Congo trail. Mark got ahead of me slightly before I stepped right out of my ski, the toe piece was still giving me trouble and after several frustrating minutes I figured it out.

Next up was the infamous Congo trail which doubles as a mountain bike trail in the summer. Picture a bobsled track on a 25 to 30 degree slope with trees lining each side. Not exactly the descent I was looking forward to after 5 hours and 9k vert in the legs but I made it down pretty much unscathed.

At the bottom I quickly transitioned for the final climb of the day up Midnight Mine road. I had read about this climb and everyone said it was just demoralizing as hell. Well, they were right. It's not the fact that it gains 3,000', what makes it so terrible is that it is 5 miles long. I've never skinned such a low angle for so long. Mark finally broke out the tow bungee and I gladly snapped it on, happy to receive a little help so close to the end. After about an 1hr 45mins of climbing we had one long descent through the Aspen resort left. The groomer we started out on fooled me into thinking it might be easy, but that quickly changed as we followed the flags under the "Experts Only" sign. I did my best to hold it together and keep Mark in sight and after 20 mins of descending we crossed the line in 7hrs 40mins. Not quite the race we were hoping for but I was still satisfied with the effort.

Out of the 47 teams that completed the Highland Bowl route we finished 27th overall (Full Results). I want to thank Mark for his patience and support with helping me finish this adventure. Also, the skis he is responsible for developing, the Voile Wasatch Speed Projects, were absolutely amazing. If you're looking for a durable, lightweight ski that is affordable you should definitely check them out.
Next up, the Wasatch Powderkeg, then I should start thinking about running...