Monday, March 29, 2010

Seven Hour Monkey

The short of it is that I finally broke the 7 hour barrier on my fourth try.
Since my first running of the Buffalo 50 miler in 2007 (7:11:43), I knew I had a sub 7 hour finish in me, it just took a few years to get there.

This year, I was fairly skeptical that I would pull it off. I had no illusions of keeping up with Scott Jaime and Ryan Burch, and just hoped to maybe hang on for third. As has been the case the past couple years, my training hasn't been ideal leading up to the Buffalo Run. I've put in decent miles(for me), with some consistent speed work, but only managed to pull out a couple 20+ mile long runs, the longest being 22. So.....I was a bit uncertain as to where my fitness and endurance would be.

The race started out with Ryan, Scott, Max from Bozeman and me pulling to the front right away. For the first 4 miles we all ran together chatting and taking it easy. Scott called the pace "pedestrian". As we hit the climb just before Elephant Head, Scott and Ryan slowly pulled away and then Max did as well as I walked for a second to make a few adjustments. At the Elephant Head aid station, I saw that Scott, Ryan and Max had taken the out and back option first and that was the last I would see of them until the Mtn View out and back. I felt pretty good for the next 15 miles keeping a steady pace. Last year I pushed it much harder through this section trying to keep up with Christian and Hiroki, and I paid for it later in the race.

At the Mountain View out and back, I was surprised that I was as close to Scott and Ryan as I was. When they got near enough to talk, I found out why. The turn around point wasn't marked and they blew right past it with Scott continuing to the Causeway before realizing his mistake. It probably cost them an extra mile of running. I'm not sure what happened there, in the past it's been very well marked. I turned around and 3 1/2 minutes later crossed paths with Max giving me a 7 minute lead on him. A couple minutes later, two other guys came along. I had a lead on all 3, but not enough for comfort with 30 miles to go.

The next 10 miles are enjoyable if you like being able to see just how far you have to run before you get to turn around. It's long and flat with some rolling sections, with a beautiful view of the Wasatch Range to the East. I put myself into self-induced runners hypnosis and and and kept a steady pace until about 7 minutes before the Fielding Garr Ranch aid station turn around, when Scott came cruising by with Ryan about 200 yards behind him. They both looked great and it looked like they were both pushing the pace a bit. I hit the aid station in 4:27, giving me a 3 minute cushion on my splits to finish in 7 hours. The last 18 miles, I had allowed myself about 20 seconds per mile more than the previous 32, knowing that if history repeated itself, the lack of long runs would start to take it's toll, and I'd slow down a bit. I passed Max 4 minutes after the turn around which gave me comfort that he hadn't made up any time, instead I gained a little more breathing room. Then I started passing other runners and it was nice to see some familiar faces. Rich looked strong, Tom Nelson was leading a pack of 5 or 6, Tom Remkes and Cory Johnson were on their way to great finishes, and Davy Crockett looked SOLID- 80 miles into his Antelope Island 100 miler.

I was still nipping at my EFS flask every 20 minutes or so, (not enough-but adequate) and trying to eat a jelly bean every now and then to add some variety.

The Lower Frary aid station was a welcome sight with Peter, Christian and Marge there taking pictures like I was some kind of celebrity. My stomach has always struggled at this point, but today it felt just fine. I drank some coke and got out as quick as I could. I wasn't 30 seconds out of the aid station when out of nowhere the queasies hit and before I could stop it, everything came up. How weird is that?? I emptied my stomach, and things felt fine again, in fact I felt great.

30 sec prior to gastric emptying

I was still on pace for 7 hours with 55 minutes to finish the last 6.5 miles. I walked up that steep mother of a hill where Christian was waiting and tried to keep walking but Christian convinced me that the only way I would make it was if I started running RIGHT NOW! So I did, and pushed it as hard as I could to the Camp Aid station. With 37 minutes for 3.8 miles, it was (barring any last minute catastrophes) in the bag. I sipped a coke, got some encouragement from Bozung, told him I couldn't run Squaw Peak this year and then it was 3.8 miles of beautiful, rocky, single-track around the north end of the island. This is always one of my favorite parts of the race. It's scenic, isolated, and it means the end is near!!

I navigated the last mile of intertwining trails and dusty roads, and lucky for me (and not so lucky for Scott) knew where I was supposed to take a 90 right turn even though the flour arrows were kind of washed out from all the traffic.

Sam cheering me home.

6:56:49. 3 minutes to spare!! Thanks Christian for making me run!!!!

As always it was a great race, and the deal RD Jim Skaggs has made with the weather gods was once again upheld with perfect running conditions. I'll be back again next year for sure.

Photos courtesy of Marge Norrander, Peter Lindgren and Christian Johnson. More can be found here.

As a follow up, I feel compelled to add my favorite picture of the day. If Nikki only knew what was behind her........

Thursday, March 18, 2010

How to tie the Swiss Knot

This is a follow up to the previous post on the history of the most excellent shoe lace knot in the world "Thee Swiss Knot".  If you like stopping in the middle of _____(insert any activity that involves shoes with laces) and tying your shoelaces because they have come undone then STOP READING now.

I will start by saying that the best method for learning the Swiss Knot is to stop one of us on the trail and ask us.  If you can't wait until that happens then check out this short clip I shot in my professional studio with the best camera money can buy.  If that doesn't work you can try following the instructions for Ian's Secure Shoelace Knot.  It is close but slightly more complex and time consuming to tie in my opinion.  What really makes the Swiss Knot work is taking your 2nd loop (or bunny ear) and the loose end and bringing them both back through the middle knot.  I tie all of my shoes this way now and never have them come undone.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

History of the Swiss Knot - By George Odell

The dinner party was fun. Good friends. Good food. Good wine. And, perhaps best of all - great running conversation... Yet after our guests had left, my wife Adrienne nonchalantly asked, "why don't you talk about things other than running? Things like religion, politics and history." In an effort to show her and you that I have some other, albeit shallow, dimensions, let me share with you the history of the Swiss Knot as told by George Odell. But first an abbreviated and potentially incorrect history of George...

George is a local trail runner. In fact, George may hold the unofficial record for the most summits of Granduer Peak. Most days of the year George will run to the top in the early morning hours before going to work at Doppelmayr ctec - the ski lift manufacturer where he is an engineer. For year's George has made the claim that while he might not be the fastest person on the trails - he is the ONLY person who has never had a shoe become untied. When I first heard this claim, my reaction was "bullshit!"

Well, after finally hearing George's story - something about his mother being a descendent of an old world cobbler in the Swiss Alps, George eating Museli for breakfast everyday and being the only kid in grade school wearing lederhosen, loving to play the trumpet (while purportedly wearing his lederhosen), and of course, George being made by his Swiss mother to tie his patent leather shoes every morning with the infamous Swiss Knot- I knew the history that follows could not have been made up and must therefore be fact.

So George, thank you for sharing the knot (as a regular user - I can attest that it truly never comes untied) and for sharing this history...

By George Odell
Many of you have by now heard of and are now regularly using the Swiss Knot. As you know, this shoelace knot is a Godsend to Ultra Runners, parents with small children and professional bowlers, among others. This Knot is quick and easy to tie and WILL NOT become untied until you pull either end of the shoelace rendering your foot instantly free of its hot and steamy confines.

Like so many other modern day marvels that we take for granted, (the ball point pen, charged-coupled devices, and canned shaving cream, etc) the Swiss Knot also has its own story to be told. This story is not the "Humble Beginning Story" (sauté spoons), the "Serendipitous Beginning Story" (White Out) or the "Hard Work Beginning" (airplanes). The History of the Swiss Knot is all about stopping 15th & 16th century cavalry charges by impaling horse and rider with 22 ft long lances by 100 man blocks of highly trained Swiss mercenaries. What we are talking about here is the Swiss Pike Phalanx. The Swiss Pike Phalanx changed the way battles were fought from the time they first appeared at the battle of Vaumarcus (1476) until about 200 years later when other battlefield advancements rendered this tactic obsolete.

The close quarters of these blocks of pike pointing Swiss was the key to their success. They could travel across a field at a full run, shoulder to shoulder in a block formation, and quickly change directions at a leader's command. Imagine, if you would, a very large remote controlled porcupine. This particular battlefield tactic, although very successful, did not lend itself well to certain battle-time activities such as stopping to take a leak or worse: stopping to tie your shoe.

In fact, one early pike battle did nearly end in disaster for the Swiss because of untied shoe laces. It should be emphasized that the effectiveness of the Swiss Pike Phalanx depended entirely on its close shoulder to shoulder formation of pikes to repel cavalry charges and infantry assaults. So, during The Luxemburg Turnip Rebellion, at the fourth battle of Kluge (1490), approx 6 or 7 pikemen dropped rank to retie their rawhide laces. With a gap of only 6 or 7 men in the phalanx, Kriegmahler's second flank was able to penetrate a lesser phalanx and kill all pikemen associated with it. The Phalanx simply could not successfully engage in close quarters combat.

The Swiss commander of the battle took note of this untied shoelace incident and upon his return to Geneva the following spring, commissioned a young, energetic cobbler by the name of Henri Duzer to develop a knot suitable for battlefield use. Henri happily set himself to the task knowing full well that a failure on his part would result in a dungeon style imprisonment (shackles, rats, toothless jailers). The resulting knot saved the Swiss Pike Phalanx, saved Henrie from the toothless jailer and enables us to run long distances over rugged terrain without ever having to stop to tie a shoe.

So for the most part, the elements of the Swiss Pike Phalanx, The Luxemburg Turnip Rebellion and even Henri Duzer have passed into that practically indiscernible clutter pile of European history. The Swiss Knot, however, managed to survive, brought to this county by a young Swiss woman in the early 1950's. This woman, often mistaken for Jacqueline Kennedy, tied her children’s shoes with the Knot. Her children, (I being one if them) tied their children’s shoes with the Knot.

I’ve shown this Knot to a lot people over the years, and very few were interested in its use. But this Knot has enjoyed resurgence in popularity, especially with the local Ultra Runners who virtually never have to stop to retie their shoes during a run.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Grandeur Loop

For anyone who is interested, the Grandeur Loop is definitely runnable. Kevin and I headed out for a go at it this morning and it was a perfect day. West face was no problem, Church Fork was slippery with an inch of slush on ice, the pipeline was muddy with cambered ice, Bambi hill was an absolute mudfest, and if you get lost going down Camel Toe, just follow the blood trail from icy shins. All in all a great run and none too soon as the Fun Run is just 2 months away!

Saturday, March 6, 2010


While listening to a talk on wilderness medicine in the morning , I silently answered the question that the lecturer posed: What is the most common reason for medical intervention in the backcountry? Trauma is of course the answer, though my answer gets at the cause of most trauma, stupidity.

As my wife, kids and I enjoyed 19 inches of new snow at Alta, I kept a close eye on my children. There were more than enough slides of comminuted fractures to make anyone wary of taking their children out on the mountain. A few pictures and stories made me uneasy about going for a technical trail run. Nonetheless, we were out having a great day. I was standing on top of a 15 foot ledge with my 8 year-old son that we had dropped off earlier in the day. Now we were back for more fun. He quickly dropped in and skied out without difficulty. I picked a nice line between some rocks, but angled towards some untracked powder (stupid). When I hit the powder my feet stopped and my upper body continued. Had my bindings released all would have been well. Instead I started a forward roll with heels firmly locked in place. My right gastrocnemius had a snap that I was certain was not good. As I pushed my toes down in my boot, I knew my Achilles tendon was intact. After a few minutes of quietly sitting in pain, not wanting to stir alarm in my daughter who had skied over to assist me, I put my ski back on and descended down. Our day was over, and while I was able to hike up to our car, I could feel the muscle starting to swell.

We stopped in the Alta Medical Clinic, where Dr. Ken Libre, a friend and colleague gave me an ace wrap, a bag of ice, and advice. Ken asked my age, and nonchalantly said that this was a typical injury for my age. At first I thought he was nuts, and that anyone with this mechanism of fall would have this injury, but as I have read today medial gastrocnemius strains/tears are a problem of men in their late 30's and 40's. Apparently after this type of injury you have 70% function following the injury, but within a day the functional strength is about 50% due to hemorrhage into the muscle and active inflammation. Currently with my rather pathetic hobbling, swelling and pain in my calf, 50% might be generous estimate. By 2 weeks there supposedly is close to 90% strength, but the healing is far from complete. Ken warned me that I would feel pretty good at 2 weeks, but to not push it. How about a 50 mile race in 3 weeks? "That will be tough."

So, I am sitting resting, hitting the ice, compressing with an ace wrap, and keeping my feet up with hopes that I will have fast generation of fibroblasts to fix the torn muscle fibers. I can't complain it was a fantastic day, and I was happy to have been the one who was hurt. Still I am very sorry that the Buffalo 50 looks like a long shot.