Monday, June 27, 2011

Zion Traverse FKT Attempt

To say I’m a bit fixated with the 48.3 mile Zion Traverse would be an understatement. Behind this fixation – is considerable history. My first exposure to the Zion Traverse was Thanksgiving weekend back in 2009 when I was honored to receive an invitation from Jared Campbell to join him and Christian Johnson in an FKT attempt. I didn’t have my wheels that day and watched Jared and Christian set a new FKT of 9:08.

Since then I’ve been able to run parts of the traverse with regular frequency during my monthly work trips to Kanab. I’ve run sections with friends like Rich McDonald. Yet, all the parts never seemed to add up to a whole for me. At some point, I knew I had to go back and complete the traverse in its entirety.

In April 2010 Matt Hart set a new FKT of 7:58. How might I measure up against greats like Jared, Christian and Matt? This past weekend I was finally able to find out.

I grew up in an era (a long, long time ago) when little boys read books about World War II. I was always fascinated about the strategy and logistics of the long distance bombing raids conducted by the Allies against Germany and the U.S. against Japan. These raids pushed to the limit what aircraft and their crews were capable of at the time. When I race, the strategies and tactics used by the crews of these bombers are both inspiring and metaphorically helpful.

I knew this would be a difficult mission. Weather, that critical variable that can bring out our best performance, or lead to catastrophic failure was not in my favor. Late June is not the ideal time for the Zion Traverse given high temperatures. But, it was the one weekend my work, personal and race schedule allowed. The assigned aircraft had some shakes and rattles due to a heavy racing schedule this spring. While my airframe has more years on it than most, I know that with good maintenance and smart piloting that it is capable of getting the job done. Despite concerns about the weather and my equipment, I knew my advantage was my intimate knowledge of the route – every hill, rock, and water source. Could this advantage and some element of experience and wits get me back across the English Channel??

I took off from the East Rim TH at 5:00 am in an effort to try and get ahead of the heat. My plan was to climb to the top of the East Rim in the dark and have first light greet me for the screaming descent into Zion Canyon. Matt had run this first 11.6 mile leg from the East Rim TH to the Grotto in 1:40 minutes - an extremely brisk time. I knew I would need to push my abilities to be even close to his time. I reached Echo Canyon in 1:38, eight minutes behind Matt’s pace. Ahead of me was 1.2 miles of road where I knew I would need to make up time if I wanted to go undetected by radar and avoid heavy anti-aircraft fire. I ran as fast as I could down the road and made up 4 minutes. I arrived at the Grotto at 1:44, 4 minutes behind Matt’s pace.

As I began the climb from the Grotto out of Zion Canyon to the West Rim, I watched my instrument panel in an effort to get the most efficiency out of the aircraft. Did I have the right fuel burn, was the aircraft properly trimmed, were there any shakes or rattles that needed attention? Now that I was at cruise altitude I felt good and forced myself to seize the moment and relax knowing that not far ahead was the midpoint of my mission where I would need to be at my best if I was to get back across the Channel.

I reached Lava Point (25.8 miles) in 4:19. I was exactly on Matt’s pace! I made a calculated decision to go light and jettison my hydration pack and run with 2 handhelds and a single bottle waist pack for the next nine miles. Unfortunately, the waist pack had not been restocked with nutrition. I began to bonk. It was if I had just dropped my bombs, had been hit by anti-aircraft fire, and faced the reality that I may not be getting back across the Channel. I kept saying to myself, “gotta keep it together.” I began flying by instinct.

At the Hop Valley TH (34.2) I was still exactly on Matt’s pace (5:46). I downed a Red Bull and immediately felt better. Yet, I could tell that I was getting tired, the 90+ degree heat and sun was getting to me, and that getting back across the Channel would take everything I had. As I slogged through the sand leading into Hop Valley I began to have doubts that I could beat Matt’s time. I needed to get my head back. I turned up the volume of my iPod. I drank heavily trying to lighten my load and stay hydrated. I thought of good friends and memories. Yet, I was having trouble keeping the turnover I needed in the sand and heat to stay on pace. More doubts. As if my doubts were conspiring with my abilities, I tripped on the root of a sagebrush and dove face first into a lush green flowering plant. As I lay there I couldn’t stop laughing. It was completely dark with my face pressed into the base of the plant. All I could think was, “Did I just crash into the Channel? “

I extracted myself from the plant with the realization that I have it pretty damn good! How lucky am I to be running across Zion? How lucky am I to be able to run? How f’n lucky am I to have my face in a soft fragrant plant, sand stuck to my sweaty body, with deer flies lusting after my flesh (always nice to have somebody wanting you) reminding me that it is the journey that brings us joy. Damn the f’ning Channel (and the deer flies too)!

As I plodded onward towards England I was in bliss. Yeah, I was tired – but I was having more fun than a grown man should be allowed to have. Would I beat Matt’s time? – who cared, I was LIVING. Was I disappointed in myself? – yes, but I had learned so much today that would better prepare me for future races.

I crossed the Channel and reached Lee Pass TH well baked and dehydrated in 8:12 minutes, 14 minutes off Matt’s time. I was content. As far as I was concerned, I made it back across the channel alive – and that much wiser and experienced for a future Zion Traverse FKT mission.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Squaw Peak 2011-Race Report

Anyone who has run with me, or even associated with me on a regular basis, knows that I am always about 2 minutes late. So when I hitched a ride Down to the start of the Squaw Peak 50 with David Hayes, Jeff Bertot and Drew Cooper, I didn't know what to do with all the free time I had. We got there at 4:20 for a 5 am start, I've never had so much time to waste before a start. And waste it I did. I got rid of my drop bags, picked up my race packet, chatted with other runners and as I was waiting in line for the porta-potty, realized that it was 5 minutes to the start and my water bottles were still in the car. I ran to the car, and it was locked. Ran to the start line and found David and his keys as RD John Bozung was starting the countdown. Ran back to the car, got my stuff, and hit the starting line in full stride 2 minutes after the race started. Classic! Even with 40 minutes of prep, I was still 2 minutes late.

I was a bit worried that I wouldn't be able to positionmyself where I wanted once the singletrack started two miles into the run, so I took off a bit faster than normal trying to catch up hoping that the fast pace wouldn't come back to bite me later in the race. Once I got to the single trackI quickly caught up to David Hayes, handed his keys back to him, and caught up to the guys in front. Cameron Kasteler, Ben Corrales, Ron Gutierrez, and Mick Jurynec. I enjoyed getting to know Ron a little and catching up with the other guys. We almost missed the sharp turn off the fire road up the steep climp to Hope Campground, which unfortunately the next 50-60 missed and added an extra couple miles to their run.

On the climb to the campground Mick, Cameron, Ben and I stayed relatively together and talked about our summer plans. Cameron just finished Ironman St George and has a 1/2 Ironman this weekend, Mick has San Juan Solstice in two weeks and Angeles Crest in a month and Ben has Hardrock in a month. I started to feel a little left out when all I could say was my summer was wide open until Wasatch. Writing this I'm laughing to myself at what an over ambitious/OCD group we ultrarunners are when I'm feeling left out for only planning a 50 and 100 miler over the summer.

Somewhere after the Hope Campground Aid station I started to pull away from the group and found myself running alone, except for passing the occasional runner that had opted for an early start. After a mile or so of descending into Rock Canyon, I pulled over for a pit stop, and by the time I got going again, Cameron had passed me and Mick was 5 seconds behind. The rest of the descent was really enjoyable. I ran into Greg taking pictures, and the morning was crisp, and it felt great to be out on a new trail with beautiful scenery. The folks at the Rock Canyon Aid Station were great and I got in and out quickly with Cameron ahead of me, nowhere in sight.

I wasn't sure what to expect of the the next 9 miles of rolling bonneville shoreline trail, but felt I could make decent time while not over doing it. After the first series of rollers, I caught sight of Cameron about a minute ahead of me, and over the next mile I was able to catch up to him. We ran together for another mile or so, then I found myself slowly pulling away and by the time I got to the Buckley Draw Aid Station I couldn't see him behind me anymore. I grabbed a couple of delicious homemade chocolate chip cookies and headed towards Spring Creek canyon. Somewhere in this section I missed a turn and realized that I hadn't seen a flag for about 20 minutes. For a second a little panic set in and I spent a few minutes bushwhacking up the hill to find the right trail. Eventually, logic took over and I figured that if I just stayed on one of the many trails traversing the foothills, I'd eventually end up at Spring Creek. Sure enough, a couple miles later, the trail started heading up and I beheld the beautiful sight of blue and orange flagging, followed soon after by the Spring Creek Aid Station. I refilled my bottles, and started the long hike up the canyon. I took advantage of this time to eat and drink quite a bit, and catch up on my electrolytes as the sun was starting to come out and warm things up. The top of Spring Creek was beautiful with green meadows, early morning sun and a 3 mile downhill to open up the legs. I arrived at Pole Heaven in 4 hours 10 minutes, about 10-15 minutes behind where I thought I might be, but I felt great and was happy to start back. My pre race thoughts of maybe running an 8:20 were fading, but I thought an 8:30 was still possible. I started running back up Pole Heaven road with a goal of running the entire thing, knowing that I would have to in order to stay in fron ot Mick, Ben and Cameron. Sure enough, two minutes up the road Mick came flying down looking very fresh, followed closely by Ben and Ron. I ran almost every step up the road and then started the rocky, steep descent down Spring Creek. It was great to see so many familiar faces and hear words of encouragement and support.
After leaving the Spring Creek station and heading back on the long 9 miles of Shoreline trail, I hit a bit of a rough patch and had a big dip in my energy. I slowed my pace a bit, walked most of the uphills and tried to catch up on some food and fluids. The aid stations seemed to take forever to get to, and I knew I was losing time on my 8:30 finish. When there was enough open space to see, I would catch glimpses of Mick 4-5 minutes back, and I knew that if I didn't turn things around, he'd blow past me on the climb up Rock Canyon. I ran into Greg taking pictures just past the Y trailhead and I was tempted to sit down with him and take a breather, but he wasn't having any of that and sent me on my way.

At Rock Canyon, I tried something new. I pulled out a set of Black Diamond Ultra Z-poles to help on the long climb. I have been using them while climbing the past month or so and thought they might help out a bit. Off I went with poles in one hand and a cold Coke in the other. I walked a few minutes to have time to drink my Coke and it was just what I needed. The climb up Rock Canyon was long and I kept expecting Mick to pass me. I'd run as much as possible and the poles helped a ton! Near the top I ran into Sandy White coming down to help pace his wife Ashley on her way to a first place finish.

Finally the top and 7 miles to the finish. The 5 miles of descent were pretty brutal. Steep, rocky, and rutted. It was hard to get a good rythym and actually run. Still worried that Mick was right on my tail, I pushed it as fast as I could. I missed the turnoff to the Hope Campground Aid station and ended up crashing someone else's family picnic. I'm not sure what they thought of a dirty, smelly, runner waving long sticks at them asking frantically where the aid station was. They pointed in 7 different directions and luckily I went the right way and found the aid station around the corner. After another couple glasses of Coke, I made it down to the fire road and then missed the turnoff to the last section of singletrack that would take me to the Provo River Trail. Apparently the flagging was removed by some friendly, helpful Forest Service officials. When I realized my mistake, I took a gamble and bushwhacked off the side of the mountain to the only trail I could see, which thankfully turned out to be the right one. Hitting the pavement with 2 miles of gentle uphill to go, I knew that a sub-9 hour finish was a long shot. Still, I pushed as hard as I could weaving in and out of bikers, joggers and couples out for a nice Sat afternoon stroll. Finally, there was Vivian Park, there was the finish and I was done.
1st place, 9:00:31.

What a great day and an awesome race. Definitely different than the normal Squaw Peak course, and in my mind a little harder. There was about 11,000 feet of climbing, with most of it being long uninterrupted climbs. As a consequence the descents were long, uninterrupted, a little more technical, and not quite as runnable. I think John and his crew did a great job of coming up with an alternate course and making it run so smoothly. Thanks again for putting on another 1st class event!!
Congrats to everyone who finished a tough 50 mile race, and I'll make special mention of Betsy Johnson in her first 50 finishing in 12 hours, and my good friend Drew Cooper, with his first 50 in 12 hours. Way to go!! Thanks to all the support crew, aid station volunteers and everyone who made this race happen. Special thanks goes to Brooke and my kids for putting up with these events and being my biggest fans, and thanks also to Wasatch Running Center for their continued support.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Photos Squaw Peak 50 2011

Brian Howard focused and moving fast.

Todd Schmidtke loving the single track high in Rock Canyon

Shane Martin cruising one of the many bridges in Rock Canyon.

David Hayes making up time after getting off course early
in the race.

Betsy Johnson making it look easy

Erik Storheim powering up one of the many small climbs on
the BOSHO trail on his way to a first place finish.

Betsy and Christian getting it done on the final 1/4 mile.
This was Betsy first 50 mile race

Carter Williams showing how to relax after 50 miles on the trails

A thought I would post a few photos on the MRC blog from the Squaw Peak 50 race this weekend. I had originally planned to only spend a few hours taking pictures and maybe fit in a short run but ended up spending most of the day watching the runners, taking pictures and even got in a easy 2 hour run up Rock Canyon with Christian. I think Erik will post a proper race report later so I won't go into detail but the short version is Erik ran a great race to take first place overall in just a hair over 9 hours. Ashley White ran a amazing race to take first place for the women (not sure of her time). Also happy to say Betsy Johnson finished her first 50 mile race. It was only her second ultra and she made it look easy, her time was just over 12 hrs. If you would like to see more photos you can go here.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Fun Run Results-2011

The 2011 Grandeur Fun Run was, as always, fun. Due to a last minute scheduling conflict with the county, it was postponed a week, and I aplogize if that caused any inconvenience, or caused anyone to have to miss it this year. Maybe that accounts for the lower number of runners. Still, there were 56 runners that showed up and everyone finished!

After the front pack made a quick ascent to the summit, through more than the usual amount of snow, Matt Hart took the lead on the descent into Millcreek Canyon and never looked back. He crossed the finish 1st in a time of 1:49:56. Mick Jurynec was 2nd in 1:54:55 and Christian Johnson, on his second loop! was 3rd in 1:58:17.
For the women, Emily Sullivan smoked it for 1st in 2:11, Karen Craig was 2nd in 2:17 and Anny Merrill was 3rd in 2:20. Full results are here.

As usual, the weather was perfect and everyone had a great time. Thank you to everyone who showed up, and everyone who brought stuff to add to the pancakes. The 1/4 lb bacon steaks were awesome!!! Thanks to jay for marking the course, and to Steve Takahashi for taking times at the top. And most important , thanks to everyone who helped raise $450 for the Granite Education Foundations Christmas program.

John Schofield put together a little video of the run, check it out below and we'll see you next year!!