Sunday, September 25, 2011

Pfeifferhorn



Another perfect morning in the Wasatch Mountains. Christian, Erik, Jay, Mandy and myself did a leisurely run up to the summit of the Pfeifferhorn via Red Pine Lake. My lack of navigation skills lead us to the eastern side of Upper Red Pine Lake which made the climb a little slower and longer than we had planned for but nobody seemed to mind as the temperatures were warm the sky was clear and the conversation flowing. Erik had to turn around after reaching Upper Red Pine and headed back down, the rest of us scrambled slowly through the boulder field over to the steep loose trail up to the ridge that would lead us to the final steep pitch to the summit.




After reaching the summit we had the thrill of being buzzed by my friend in his Cessna. I thought after the run how cool it was to interact with him at such a amazing place. Him doing what he loves, flying in the mountains and the 4 of us doing what we love, running.

After some dried pineapples (thanks Mandy!) we slowly descended back to the Red Pine Lake taking a more direct route down and then finally running the technical single track back to the parking lot. I love running this time of year, no worries about pace or being prepared for this race or that, just good company and great trails in some amazing mountains.


video

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Mt. Superior

First off, I haven't forgotten about a Wasatch 100 report, I'm getting around to it. Instead I thought I would do a post about a little adventure this weekend instead. For a couple of years now I keep telling myself I want to bag a few peaks in the fall as the leaves are turning and there are no races on the horizon. You know, head out with a few friends, nice and casual like, stand on a peak and eat some dried mangoes. Well, I sent out the call and it was answered by Peter, Jay, Jon, Mandy, and John. Greg and George decided to hit the same peak but started  a little earlier than my alarm was programmed for this time of year. They also took a slightly different route than we had on the agenda.

Jon Schofield (who paced me the last 25 of Wasatch just the week before) suggested a route earlier in the week that would take us up the south ridge of Superior and down the standard way to make a tidy little loop. In my haste I agreed, and without looking at the route the stage was set.
Up the South Ridge, down the trail

Peter put together this cool video, unfortunately the GoPro took a dive about halfway and did not survive.

The morning and weather were incredible, just cool enough to raise a few goosebumps but as soon as we started climbing the jackets came off. We parked at the 4th entrance to Snowbird and hiked up the road a few hundred yards before starting our way up the boulder field.
Peter, taking a picture of me taking a picture of him

A little way up further, looking down on Snowbird
Still in the boulder field, Jay and John make their way up
The boulder field gave the ankles a good workout and my breathing rate increased as we climbed higher and higher, but I wasn't really that concerned until we hit the ridge proper. I want to make it clear at this juncture that I am a TRAIL RUNNER and not a mountaineer or rock climber. The next two hours presented some tense moments that many folks would hardly give a second glance, but I for one definitely had a pucker factor of TEN on a few exposed sections.

Soon the route required the use of my hands which was still okay, but eventually I had to stand by the mantra of maintaining 3 points of contact as my progressed slowed. At some point I heard a very different sound than rocks tumbling down the cliffs around me. I'm quite sure it was Peter's GoPro camera that I heard, because I came around a ridge a few moments later and joined him in the search for the missing pieces. We only spent about 10 minutes looking around for the pieces and Peter was able to find the camera, battery, and memory card before we carried on.
Jon and Mandy about halfway up
Jay with the Pfeiffohorn in the background
Just before reaching the real crux of the ridge John McGuire had a large rock dislodge and hit his lower leg. The mood was somber for a while as we let him decide if we should carry on or not. The wound changed color a couple of times as the blood pooled to the surface and then receded. John figured he was fine and judging by the way he completed the run he was right. Way to soldier on John!

John's lower leg

The climbing begins
As we entered some of the climbing sections my heart rate quickened. I was definitely out of my element (Donny). A lack of attention on the ridge would result in a very long fall. Maybe not fatal in all cases, but definitely something to take serious.
The final approach to Mt. Superior
I couldn't believe how happy I was to finally see the peak and realize I was within a couple of hundred yards. My pace quickened in the excitement as I started to run along the final approach. Suddenly my foot made contact with a frost covered rock and slipped a good two feet down the next ledge. I decided it would be a good idea to slow down just a bit to ensure I reached the peak.
Looking down the South ridge we just acsended
Mt Superior! John, Christian, Jay, Mandy, and Jon
The peak was fabulous! We sat around for a good 15 minutes discussing the distant peaks and ridgelines along with the new dusting of snow up around Hidden Peak before heading down.
Peter and Jon about halfway down
John, Mandy and Jay, with the South ridge of Superior in the background.
All in all a great day in the mountains with friends. Thanks.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

1000 Miles of Heaven and Hell - 2011 Wasatch 100



I was 12 when my mom ran her first marathon. Afterwards I told her that was enough, she didn’t need to do that again. The thought of running 26 miles was beyond me and it must be bad for you, I thought. Many years later my older sister, Leslie, was running marathons. I ran to keep fit for soccer, but really felt happier chasing a ball around than running to run. In 1995, Leslie signed up for the Chicago Marathon. The night before, I registered too and offered that I could run the marathon at “her pace”. At mile 22, “her pace” caught up to me. My legs became wooden stumps. She trotted away, able to finish 15 minutes ahead of me. I have never been so sore.


A few years later in the middle of the night in a neonatal intensive care unit, a respiratory therapist, Fred Riemer, was talking about the Wasatch 100. It seemed unthinkable, some sort of edge of human capacity, I had to find out what this was about. In 1998 Fred Riemer offered me a chance to pace at Wasatch from Big Mountain to Big Water. While pacing I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I knew there was something special about this race, and needed to experience the whole thing. The following year I signed up, discovered that Fred and I were neighbors, and started the tradition of driving to the start with Fred.


Greg, me, Fred, and Christian at the pre-race meeting


Fast forward 12 years, I am sitting in Fred’s car at 4 AM with some silly puffy shoes (Hokas), women’s socks (the ones I ordered hadn’t arrived), and a Gregory Diablo pack loaded with water, dried mangoes, a variety of bars and gels and driving to Kaysville, Utah surrounded by guys with whom I have run thousands of miles. Christian, Greg, Erik and I watched a huge orange moon rise over the Oquirrhs while Fred made the familiar drive to the start.


Arriving at the start was a complex mix of anticipation, fear, relief, and joy for me. If all went well, this would be ten finishes in ten starts with a chance to go for 6 consectuive years of faster times. Walking up the short hill to the gathering crowd is a reunion of sorts, people on a pilgrimage to the Homestead in Midway, Utah. John and Kate from Gregory Packs came to the start to wish us well. Before long we were off on a dusty trail. The pace seemed fast from the start. I tried to get in a pack with Christian, Erik, Greg and Jason, but there were too many others so I gave up. During the first 3 miles of rolling terrain, I started to notice a pain on the outside of my right knee when I transitioned to a downhill run. There is a saying that the pain you start with isn’t the pain you will finish with. I figured that somehow this would work itself out. It isn’t like you get to run 100 miles without discomfort. Climbing was no problem, and the next 10 miles of ascent felt fine. I spent some time with Greg and David Hayes as well as Jesse Crowne and Erich Peitzsch. The downhill from Grobben’s Corner to Francis Peak went by quickly. I arrived at Francis Peak a little ahead of my schedule, and was efficiently moved through the aid station by Rick Robinson (Scott Jaime’s father-in-law) who made me feel like one of the elites.


As I left the aid station eating my “breakfast”, the lateral aspect of my right knee began to hurt. I figured if I kept walking it would loosen up and it did. Greg caught up to me and we ran along together. When I stopped for a quick break to even the score in Greg and my micturition contest, my knee went into full protest. I hopped, hobbled, and swore up and down until things loosened up. Eventually I regrouped with Greg. I wondered if I was looking at another 80 miles of hobbling. The last months of training I felt were going to be for naught. My streak of improvement was giving way to iliotibial band syndrome (ITS). I wasn’t even sure if I could finish. On the flatter sections and climbs however, things were ok, so I continued on, remembering to eat and drink.


Bountiful B aid station came and went quickly. A hug and encouraging words from John Moellmer lifted my spirits immensely, but again the transition to a run was met with resistance and pain. Greg and David Hayes quickly caught me and we ran together for a short time, but I couldn’t keep pace. Any downhill was difficult, and the drop just before Sessions was particularly disheartening as I usually can let gravity take me to the bottom. Now I was fighting every step. At Sessions, I was met by fellow MRC runners Kevin Shilling and Rich McDonald who were running the aid station. Kevin asked what I needed. “A new knee” was my reply. Kevin winced, no stranger to orthopedic pain this last year with a healing tibial fracture. In 2 minutes I was off again to hobble, limp, and yell as I tried to make my way downhill. I must have been a sight. The only good news was that I still could climb. My typical strategy had completely reversed.


Most of the next 5 miles I spent alone. My pace was fairly steady, but I was approaching some downhill sections. Jesse Crowne and Jason Berry caught and passed me before Swallow Rocks aid station. We all left the aid station together, but they quickly glided away. Phil Lowry caught me, and offered that 2 years ago he had finished with an ITS issue, and to just keep moving. On the downhill coming into Big Mountain, I stumbled and fell. I could hear the bells and cheers from down below, but I was in little mood for encouragement as my day was slipping away.


As I checked into the Big Mountain aid station, my weight was good, up 3 lb. I was hydrated and fed. Jessica took my pack and started to assess my needs. She was worried, as the runners ahead of me had alerted her to my trouble. Scott Dickey, who was pacing me for the next section took over. As Scott put it he has had every running injury in the book. I reluctantly took some ibuprofen with the knowledge that I was well hydrated, and that the risk of acute interstitial nephritis was low. Scott went straight into the lower aspect of my vastus lateralis muscle with his thumbs and quickly found a very tight spot. As he massaged my leg, he described the band for Jessica to pick up at the Salt Lake Running Company. Before I knew it, I was headed out, still stiff but better. I now had a diagnosis, treatment plan, and company who knew what to do. The next 8 miles to Alexander Ridge would be a test. This section includes some long descents with names like Ball Bearing Hill, and exposed ridge tops that heat up in the afternoon. The first descent that Scott and I hit, I felt like new. I could run. I tried to contain my excitement, but I literally had goose bumps on my arms. This was not a time to push hard, but we moved quicker than I had all day, and we started to pull runners in.


Just before the turn down to Alexander Basin, I caught up to Erik and Christian. Erik was having a bit of a rough patch, and slowed to work on his hydration and nutrition. Christian and I descended together. He looked great and was exorcising demons from previous years in this section. We ran through the oven with Scott occasionally dousing us with sprays of water to keep us cool. I was very conscious of my water consumption, and was thinking of the value of knowing my approximate sweat rate of about 1.6 L/hr in this type of heat (thanks to Max Testa for pushing me to figure that out). Scott and I quickly transitioned out of Alexander Basin aid station, and caught up to Greg on the rolling grassy climbs on the sheep trail road. On our way down to Lambs, Scott mused that this must be my favorite section of the course as the road noise from I-80 drowned out the sounds of pretty much everything else. We kept a nice clip down to the aid station and eventually emerged to the crowd that was awaiting us. For the first time all day I was smiling. We were now about 6 minutes ahead of last year’s pace, having started the section 5 minutes behind. I was now able to run. My family was there, I had baba ganooj to eat, and Brian Harward (a physical therapist who specializes in running injuries) was waiting to take over pacing duties. Jessica had gone to the Salt Lake Running Company and purchased a jumper’s knee strap that Scott adjusted just above my knee. I was taken care of, blessed.


Brian and I made our way quickly up the road to the climb to Bare Ass Pass. I took my BD Z-poles out for the first time all day. Wow. At the top I had a little trouble transitioning to a run, but we managed to get going downhill without much drama. On the climb up to the Big Water trailhead Brian entertained me with Dave Hunt stories, and demonstrated how Dave chased down cars and bikes along the road. While I felt good, I didn’t have a 10th of the energy needed to break into a Dave Hunt high step run up the Millcreek road. Before I knew it we were at the Millcreek aid station, having been carried along by thoughts of Uncle Dave.


Jessica, Astrid, and Mats were waiting and again efficiently swapped my Gregory Diablo pack, gave me a headlamp, and sent me on to Brighton. John Pieper (from Gregory Packs) was there which was fitting, as he had outfitted me with the packs. He cheered us on and made sure to gather any needed information to pass on to John McGuire (also from Gregory Packs) who would pick up the pacing duties at Brighton. Brian and I made a deliberately slow climb to Dog Lake. We were passed by a few runners including Becky Wheeler, the eventual woman’s winner. Just before the descent to Blunder Fork, I paused for a Don Pedro. Now lighter, we ran the descent to Blunder Fork. The BD poles came out again on the climb to Red Lovers Ridge, where we saw an amazing set of pink and orange clouds from the setting sun. I struggled a little on the crest, meandering in my slow shuffle. Brian got me to force down a caffeinated gel. That and a Coke from the Scott’s Pass aid station did the trick. We were running again.


We arrived at Brighton a minute before last year’s time. John McGuire was waiting and ready to run 7 miles more than he ever had before. We efficiently moved in and out of the Brighton Lodge, careful not to get comfortable. We left a minute ahead of last year. Beating last year’s effort was what the last 25 miles was all about. It was a beautiful night, I felt surprisingly good, and I was in great company. Catherine’s Pass came quickly and we descended to Ant Knolls as well as I can remember. No matter how quickly I descended, McGuire was right with me. At Ant Knolls we were 5 minutes ahead. By Pole Line pass we were 11 minutes ahead. By Rock Springs we were 16 minutes ahead. By Pot Bottom we were 18 minutes ahead. As we left Pot Bottom I knew that barring a disaster we would break last year’s record time. About 2 miles from the finish I caught my foot on a root and fell into the brush, my right quadricep landed on a mercifully smooth root. I surveyed my leg and was helped up by John. Amazingly it hurt less than my legs as a whole, so we motored on now carefully running the rest of the single track.


Crossing the finish line with McGuire


The Homestead lights were a welcome sight. John and I had run the last 25 miles in under 6 hours. Jessica, Astrid, and Mats were waiting. I received a huge hug from John Grobben, and then to my complete surprise hugs from my mom and step-dad who had come in under the radar from Chicago. This was really special for me, as my mom used to get me out of bed in the dark to join her for morning runs. Both my parents mentored this activity. Standing at the finish line under the stars, I was flooded with memories and emotions of how I got to this moment and grateful for all the people in my life who have supported the process.


Resting with the crew at the finish

With a finish time of 22 hours 47 minutes, I completed my 10th Wasatch and goal of another faster time for the 6th year in a row.


2005 - 29:28, 54th

2006 - 27:40, 29th

2007 - 26:09, 14th

2008 - 25:15, 13th

2009 - 23:36, 15th

2010 - 23:05, 9th

2011 - 22:47, 9th

This is a tough streak to continue, but why not go for it again in 2012?

With my Crimson Cheetah buckle and 10 year ring


While it may seem cliche to run through a series of “thank-yous”, I can’t help it. The Wasatch 100 race committee is a family, and they put on an event that is for me and I am sure others to put it simply, meaningful. There is little external hype. What is grand about Wasatch is the challenge of the course and the collective efforts to complete that challenge. Perhaps as grand is the support that the runners, pacers, crew, and volunteers give to each other in the spirit of bringing out the best in each other. The work that the committee and all the volunteers do is nothing short of exemplary.


This year solidified my belief that “pacers” can make the race. Scott Dickey worked some magic on me at Big Mountain. I really think I would have finished 10 -12 hours slower without him. Brian Harward took me through what I think are the hardest hours of the race, and delivered me at Brighton in a state to have a run at my record. John McGuire, having never paced, or even run 25 miles, took over at Brighton. We ran from Brighton to the finish in the dark in 5 hours and 55 minutes. John didn’t break a sweat or breathe hard, and I absolutely couldn’t shake him on the downhill. Look out for this guy.


Over the course of the last year, I have been constantly indebted to Christian, Greg, Erik, and Jay, who are immensely imaginative in planning weekly adventures, introducing new trails, and presenting challenges.


And I couldn’t do any of this without the support of my wife, daughter, and son. We do this race as a team. So while my name might be on the plaque, I recognize this as a collective effort that motivates us in many aspects of our lives. A day after the race my 9 year-old son laced up his soccer cleats and declared that he was going to beat his soccer juggling record of 97. Thirty minutes later, sweating and smiling he walked in--146.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Post Wasatch 100 - 2011 Random Thoughts

It's a bit soon to write up a full race report but I still wanted to get down a few thoughts before I lose them.

First though, our fellow MRC'er Jay Aldous has started his 200 mile journey through the Italian alps this Sunday morning. You can follow his progress on the Tor des GĂ©ants "chronometraggio" page or learn more about the race on the main page and follow on Twitter.

Congratulations to all the runners who toed the line at the 2011 Wasatch 100. The sacrifice and commitment just to get there is worthy of recognition. This year saw 186 finishers out 265 starters which seems low, but a 70% finishing rate is still above average according to Run100s.com. There were a number of my friends going for number 10 and for most of them it did not come easy including, Shane Martin, Carter Williams, Charlie Vincent, and Dave Hunt. I had the pleasure of running with Carter and Dave during some tough stretches late in the race and they definitely kept me motivated. Thanks guys. Race director and all around nice guy Jim Skaggs not only got a finish at Wasatch he also finished the Grand Slam. Nice done Jim, have a beer.

There was one runner that tore the course up and set a PR of 22:47 en route to his tenth finish; Peter Lindgren. Congratulations on a stellar run my friend. Erik Storheim and I shared some slow miles together in the middle of the race and I was pleased to see him bounce back and grab another Cheetah in 23:32. His pacer and my friend, Dr. Cooper gave me some encouraging words to keep my head in the game, thanks Drew! Greg was working hard to go under 24, encountered some issues but still set a PR in 24:56, very impressive.

My friends Brian Kamm and Jason Berry provided some extra motivation in the final miles along with their pacers Jeff Bertot and Wynn Shooter. I was also really happy to see Sarah Evans get a finish after watching her deal with some stomach issues over the last 25, way to keep it going Sarah.

I had the pleasure of meeting Scott Dunlap, from the original Trail Runners blog, who toughed it out to get his first finish at Wasatch. One other person I wanted to mention was another new friend of mine, Tetsuro Ogata. I didn't actually meet Tetsuro until Hardrock this year where he helped Roch Horton man the aid station on Virginius Pass. Tetsuro has had an astounding year, not only did he finish Wasatch, he's also finished the Antelope Island 100, Pocatello 50, Masanutten 100, Angeles Crest 100, and Cascade Crest 100 this year. He has plans to do the Pine to Palm 100 and the Bear 100 in the next couple of weeks as well. Mind boggling. Way to go Tetsuro!

The 2011 Wasatch 100 was a real mental test for me. I really wanted a sub-24 run and as I watched it slip away I truly felt like calling it a day. I managed to get a finish but only with support from fellow competitors, friends, my pacer for the last 25 Jon Schofield, and my amazing wife Betsy. Thank you.

Look for some race reports in the next week or so from all of us and until then send your positive energy across the pond to Jay.