Sunday, October 30, 2011

One Last Desolation Loop

The wild flowers of 2011 are gone. The air is cool enough that no one thinks whether the spring is running. It doesn't matter. There is no risk that you will overheat. The debate is whether to start with headlamp, even at 7 AM. The days are shorter, the leafless trees and frost on the ground are evidence of the inevitable coming of winter. The clock is ticking, but there is still time for a few runs up high. Fortunately, the falling of the leaves is followed by the falling of snow, which makes way for an entirely different sort of run.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Pony Express Trail 100 2011 Race Report

The Pony Express Trail 100 was an important race for me. I had a number of objectives going into the race. First, I wanted to try and set a 100 mile PR. Second, I thought I might be able to go sub 15. And perhaps most importantly, my daughter Zoe was going to crew me. Zoe has never watched me run, and something inside me wanted to make her proud of the old man!

My original plan was to try and run a negative split, something I have never been able to do because of my compulsion to go out fast. The Pony Express Trail 100 would not be an exception; I was not able to hold myself back and again went out faster than I should. At 24.4 miles I was averaging a 7:22 pace (granted most of the first part of the course was a gentle downhill). I reached mile 33.3 in 4 hours and 15 minutes, still maintaining a sub-8 minute mile pace. When I reached 50 miles in 6:52 and feeling great, I knew today was going to be my day. I had already begun celebrating in my mind, running a sub 15 100-miler.

Then, at mile 65 with no warning I started to get cramps in both my calves. Since the day was warm and sunny, with a light breeze I immediately assumed I needed salt. I popped several salt tabs. The cramps got worse. I could no longer run. I stopped to regroup and took a pee. My meager dribble looked like orange juice. “Goddamit!” I said to myself, “how could I have allowed myself to get this dehydrated?”

I started to drink but my stomach wasn’t emptying. I was reduced to a walk because of the cramps. I felt like I was going to hurl. I wanted to hurl. How could this be happening when everything had been going so well? I fought back the tears.

I walked three miles to the Blackrock aid station (mile 68). In a state of desperation and self-pity I broke both of my cardinal ultra running rules – I stopped AND sat down. My two rules are rather redundant, but they have served me well. 1) Always keep moving forward, and 2) Never sit down.

After about 5 minutes in the chair I had decided that if needed, I could walk this one out. I was not going to drop. I moved on. Rather surprisingly the cramps were gone. While my legs felt a bit weak and my stomach was a wreck – I was running – albeit slowly. By the time I had climbed Dugway Pass (79 miles) my overall pace had dropped to 9-minute miles. But, breaking 15 was still possible. It would be hard given that it was now dark and I hadn’t gotten my stomach back. And I could tell I was about to run out of gas for the lack of eating. While I had been continuing to drink, I had not been able to eat for the last 11 miles. I knew I had to get something in the tank. I forced a gel. I laughed to myself thinking the running part is easy. Eating these damn gels is what is hard.

My favorite part of 100 miler is the last 20 miles. For some reason I am past the pain and hurt. I can crawl into my head and the miles seem to go by rather quickly. I ran hard and my legs felt strong, but I was having a hard time motivating myself to really push the pace. It was if I didn’t want to break 15 as punishment for having screwed up with my hydration and I needed to suffer the consequences. And at some level, I didn’t really care – it was still going to be a good time for me.

I crossed the finish line in 15:06 achieving my goal of a PR. I was happy to be done. It had been a good race (for the most part). And yet again, I had learned some valuable lessons. Perhaps after of few more years of mistakes and learnings – I will be able to get good at this sport!

Top Finishers:
Jay Aldous - 15:06
Kendall Wimmer - 17:52
Craig Lloyd - 19:18
Phil Lowry - 19:54

Some thanks are in order… A big thanks to race director Davy Crockett for organizing a great event and to all the volunteers who trekked out to the west desert for the day. Given the remoteness of this race, logistics are challenging. Thanks to my daughter Zoe who afterwards remarked, “that was more fun than I thought it would be.” Maybe I have a regular crew now, and perhaps someday even a pacer!! Another good day in the Montrail Rouge Racers. For some reason when I put them on I am happy and I feel quick. I’ve had some great races this year in the Rouges. Thank you Montrail. And, I had the privilege of testing out several of Gregory’s new hydration products during the race. They’ve developed a great waist pack with zero bounce! Watch for it in stores next spring. It rocks!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Lessons Learned at the 2011 Wasatch 100

Wow- It's been more than a month since running Wasatch and I think I've finally found enough time to sit down and write a report and a few thoughts on my experience. I hope that I remember all the important aspects of the race, as much for my own record to look back upon as for anybody reading this to gain from, or scoff at.

Lesson 1: Training
Back in 2007 I attempted my second Wasatch and second 100 mile run. I had two years ultra experience under my belt and thought I had it figured out. I had some good races earlier in the year, I trained hard, and I was ready. Turns out I probably trained a little too hard, burned the candle at both ends trying to fit it all in, didn't recover enough, got a horrible cold 8 days out and didn't feel like I had kicked it until the day before. 20 miles into my race I started cramping and throwing up, and after 62 miles on the way up to Dog Lake, threw up a silver dollar size clot of blood. Time to call it a day. It took me a few years to understand it a little better, but I've now figured out that for me, with the demands of a 5 day a week job, a young family, and the other responsibilities life requires, training has to be about Quality rather than Quantity. AND, I need to rest. this year, from Mid June to September, I had 3-4 big mileage weeks (75-90 miles) with lots of 40 and 50 mile weeks in between. Probably the least ever in mileage, but the best in quality runs.

Lesson 2: Patience
Apparently, I still haven't really figured this one out. I started the race feeling great, running what I felt was a manageable pace. In fact, in some ways I felt better than in years past, and that I was holding back a bit. With that being said, I rolled into Francis Peak in 4th or 5th place in 3 hours 30 minutes, my fastest split so far by 2 minutes. And then people started to pass me as my left glute started to cramp up and climbing became laborious. Then my groin started to cramp, my right MCL was strained and within 5-10 miles I was really slowing down. At one point, I got passed with my pants down (literally) by a group of about 5 runners. About the time I made it to Swallow Rocks (mile 32) I had convinced myself that my race was over. Sitting in a chair feeling sorry for myself is how Christian and Greg found me. They convinced me to walk with them, and sucking on a grape popsicle, that's what I did. After a couple miles of this, and many internal debates to be discussed in a couple paragraphs, I was satisfied with the idea that I would be finishing the race sometime in the afternoon on Saturday. I moved slowly to Big Mountain, picked up my pacer Bryce Hopkin, and we went for a long walk to Lambs Canyon. Patience.

Bryce has been at Big Mountain spectating and cheering me on during my previous 4 Wasatch's and I was excited to have him run with me this year. Unfortunately for him, I was in a foul mood and he was subjected to more whining, petulance and self-pity than anyone should have to endure. He was patient, told me incredible and sometimes incredulous stories of fishing and High Uinta Sasquatch sightings and amazingly, we arrived at Lambs Canyon feeling a little better, albeit 1 1/2 hours behind schedule. This is where the whole patience thing comes in.

My next pacer, the fantastic Dr. Drew Cooper, asked a few questions about what was bugging me, made his diagnosis, stretched a few tight muscles, dug his fist in my left glute, convinced me to down 400 mg of ibuprofen, and 5 minutes later I was a new man. WOW!! I never thought I'd feel that good again, ever. We headed up the road towards Bear Ass Pass, with Drew forcing me to eat and drink. We hit the trail, and I started to feel better and soon was in a full, feeling really good, power hike. Unfortunately, it was through here that we passed Christian, who was not looking so good. We assured him that it would soon pass, and I was sad to have to leave him behind. All the way to Upper Big Water, I was feeling better and better, with Drew reminding me to eat and drink, stay a little bit conservative, and stretching me out every time something started to tighten up. We moved along so well, that I almost beat Brooke up the canyon as she was putting up her traditional, motivational posters on the Millcreek Canyon Road. Thanks Brooke!!

Me and Jesse

I picked up my next pacer, Jesse Harding, who has run this section with me a bunch of times. Patience. Jesse knew just what to do to keep me moving at a good pace and most importantly, kept me eating and drinking. Amazingly, as I kept reflecting back on the day, I was feeling better and better, where not too long ago, I was convinced my race was done. The only "rough spot" through this section was when a PB and J at Scott's Pass made with heavy duty whole grain bread caused me to gag mid stride and I lost my cookies for the first time that day. Give me ultra processed white bread any day (race day) of the week!! I scraped out the PB and J to eat and Jesse kept me moving to Brighton. At Brighton, I spent about 10 minutes too long at the aid station, but it was hard to pass up a seat in a chair, a toothbrush, and a hug from my kids. A 10:22 departure from Brighton was the latest I had ever been, and I knew it would take a big effort to still make it sub 24. Patience.

Al Matteson, Brooke's cousin from St Louis, was running the last 25 with me, and I was stoked for him to be with me. Al paced me last year for about 30 miles, and we had a great time together. In fact, he had such a good time that he came back to Utah in March to run the Buffalo Run 50 miler, his first ultra, with a stellar top 10, 7:56 finish. My master plan for Al is to pace him as he runs Wasatch one of these next few years. I felt very fortunate to have him along. Patience. The short of it is that I felt incredible for 95% of the last 25 miles. I kept a good, yet moderate, pace to Rock Springs. About every hour, my stomach would start to turn a little and rather than try and fight it like I always do, I decided to embrace the nausea, open my mouth wide and get it all out. I think this happened 4-5 times, and each time Jesse Crowne and his pacer and good friend Stu Gleason would pass me. After Rock Springs, I was tired
of playing Leap Frog and decided it was time to nail down 24 hours for good. The game of patience was over. I hit the Dive and the Plunge and let my legs go. Irv's torture chamber was indeed torturous, but I ran it as hard as I could. At Pot Bottom, 3 runner's had left within 3 minutes of me, and there is no better incentive to run hard than to chase someone down with 7 miles togo. Patience!! We hiked the 1.3 mile road up to Lime Canyon as hard as I could while trying to save just a little for the last 5 miles, knowing that they were steep, rocky and FUN!! Once I hit Lime Canyon, I again let my legs go, and figured I could push through anything for the last 5 miles if need be. Fortunately, I felt great!! There is an exhilarating, unexplainable feeling that comes from pushing your body to it's limits, then past, and finding that you haven't yet tapped it. There is still more. Where does it come from? Those last 5 miles I was in a constant state of shock and wonder that my legs and body were responding as they were. During the last 25 miles, Al had said more than once that we would be sprinting to catch someone on the last mile of road to the finish. I scoffed at that idea for many reasons. But, as we came out of the trees and hit the road at Wasatch Mountain State Park, sure enough, there was a pair of lights a couple hundred yards ahead of us. Al pointed this out, and told me it was time to sprint. I gave it a half hearted effort at first and the gap started to slowly close. Then, I saw a pacer headlamp turn back to see what the commotion was, and all the sudden, the gap started to widen. Damn, I forgot to turn my headlamp off to mount a sneak attack in the dark! Al was yelling at me to run, I was grunting in reply and the gap started to close again, v e r y slowly. I felt like I was running a 5:30 pace and in reality it was more like 10's, but I was running. As we approached the last small hill with 500 meters to go, I figured it was now or never, so somehow, I found another gear, and from somewhere outside of myself, was again amazed that my legs could respond. The gap was closer, and I caught up to Al. We hit the last 150 meters of grass and I swear to you, it was the fastest I have ever run 100 meters (which, if you've ever seen me in a 100 meter dash, isn't really that impressive). 20 meters, 15, 10- the gap was smaller and smaller. I could hear and see my family but couldn't get an extra breath to let them know it was me. And that was as close as it gets. I sprinted as Al said I would, Eric Wickland held me off by 10 meters, and it was the most fantastic finish I have ever had. Not my fastest finish, but definitely the most satisfying. 23:32:50.
It all started with taking a long walk with Bryce to Lambs Canyon. Although I didn't know it at the time, that was the beginning of my recovery and rebound. I drank and ate, then drank some more, recharging depleted resources. With Drew, I started to feel better, but he held me back just enough to make good time, but still recharge. Jesse was superb in this respect as well, and then, at Brighton, when my race against the clock really started, Al was able to help me harness all that stored energy and unload it at the right times for my most satisfying, and most memorable finish. Patience is a lesson I learned and will try and remember for races to come.
Which brings me to the 3rd and most valuable lesson I learned.

Lesson 3:What gives me the right to drop out just because I feel kind of crappy, feel sorry for myself, am having a "bad" race, but am otherwise healthy?

As I sat in the chair at Swallow Rocks feeling sorry for myself because my whole body hurt, it was difficult to run and hike and I didn't feel like going any further, I started to think of all my friends, and every other runner, that signed up for the 2011 Wasatch 100 Mile Endurance Run with no expectations other than to finish. They would be running through 2 sun rises, two hot afternoons, feeling as bad or worse than I was, and they were happy to be there, happy to have the chance to experience such an amazing event. What right did I have to drop out just because things weren't going as I had planned. Was I any better than anyone else, giving me the right to drop because my hip was sore and it was tough to climb? Hadn't I told everyone that asked me about the race that my first, and most important goal going into the race was to finish. Not to finish sub-24, or anything beyond that. Simply, finish. So, as Christian and Greg trotted into the aid station, and pulled me out of my chair with a grape popsicle, I decided then and there that barring a medical necessity (as in 2007), I was finishing. If it took me until 4:59:59 on Saturday afternoon, I was finishing. I figured I could walk 65 more miles if I needed to, but I was finishing. Luckily, with the help of an amazing support crew of friends and family, a little patience, and a lot of luck, I was able to finish, finish sub-24, and finish feeling the best I have ever felt.


I have an amazing wife and beautiful kids who encourage and inspire me. I have incredible friends to run with who push me beyond what I feel I am capable of. I can claim the spectacular Wasatch Mountains as my backyard training ground. I am blessed with a healthy body, and a sound (somewhat debatable) mind that allows me to take myself to the edge and beyond.

I can't wait for next year.

The Newton/Matteson Support Crew

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Summertime Rolls

Initially I sat down to write up a Wasatch 100 report but then I remembered some video I forgot to process during the summer. Then I started waxing nostalgic about Hardrock training then I decided to ditch the Wasatch report...Summer is almost over.
The video was shot on July 25, 2011 and there was still a lot of snow. This winter is shaping up to be more of the same.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Xterra National Trail Championships (21k)

It isn’t every day that a “National Championship” trail race is in our back yard. So once I heard that the Xterra Trail National Championship was at Snow Basin (Odgen Utah) this year, I got myself signed up to give it a go. The distance was a bit shorter than I was hoping for, just under a half marathon (21k), but it was still long enough to get a good workout. (thanks to Ken at for the entry)

I knew Max King was going to be there and a few others who were from out of state, but I thought I had a chance in the top 5. They were giving money out for the top 5 runners, so that was what I was going for.

I started my warm up with BJ Christensen, a co-worker of mine. He is more a triathlete, but loves trail running as well. Even with his 6’ 7” frame, he is a formidable runner. I didn’t think I was going to be able to hang with him unless I was on the top of my game and he wasn’t.

It was pretty nice day, weather was calm and sunny and not too warm. It was a great day for a trail race.

Max King had run the USATF 50k trail championships the day before in Bend Oregon in 3:27… he had to be tired right?? We had a chance...

We toed the line, BOOOOM – holy crap, I didn’t see the canon 5 feet from me. It scared the bejesus out me, not to mention it caused my ears to ring for the first 15 minutes of the race. They may want to put that further from the start line next year. We were off.

We ran around a parking lot to help space the crowd out before we hit the single track about a mile in the race. After we left the parking lot, we ran straight up the mountain. This felt like a cross country race, it was going to be fun race.

The pace wasn’t blistering up the hill and I felt pretty good. When we got to the top of the hill, Max and 3 others (BJ included) took off, at this moment I knew I was in trouble. I tried to go with them, but it immediately felt too fast for me and backed off a bit, that gear was not in me today. Pretty early to know I had no chance to win, haha. I was left in 5th place, so I had to hope that some would come back and that others would stay behind. I changed my mind set some and fell into a good rhythm as the trail wrapped around the mountain. I got one more glimpse of the leaders on another hill along a road, that would be the last I would see any of those guys.

I stayed in 5th place for a few miles, just cruising along. I had to work though; the miles just weren’t going buy like I was hoping, I felt flat. The course went up and down, had some sharp corners. A couple runners came up behind me and I could tell they wanted to get around me. The trail opened up a bit and they ran around me. One guy slipped on the corner and went down. We stopped and grabbed him to make sure he was ok, just a little blood, nothing serious. We all took off running again. I stayed with these guys for the next 7 miles or so with another coming up behind us.

As we ran, I would lose contact with them on the downhill's ad then gain it all back on the ups. It was pretty evident that I hadn't done much speed work as of late and was much stronger climbing. I really had no business running with these guys, but my ability to climb kept me close. We came to the 1300ft climb that would lead us up to the high point in the race.

The trail wasn't that steep, but steep enough you had to run it the entire way. It really became a grind for me at this point. Not feeling great, it was taking a lot of effort to stay with these guys. Near the top a few of them got away from me as the trail flattened and started to go down. I just couldn’t get the legs moving. It took me a bit to shake the legs out, but was able to start moving pretty good on the downhill sections. I was currently in 8th place.

On the decent two more guys passed me. One of the guys was able to get away from both of us. I matched the pace of the other guy who passed me and ran behind him the rest of the way on the downhill sections. I started to recover a bit at this point. Knowing there would be some uphill the last couple miles, I saved the energy for that section.

We got down to the bottom and the guy ahead of me slowed down and I was able to up the tempo a bit and got around him.

This section of the trail was very difficult. The up hills felt much bigger than they really were and it took everything I had to keep moving. With about a mile to go, I had distanced myself from 9th place. I was pretty much a lock for 8th. The runners ahead of me were too far to catch at this point. I had one more hill to power up right before the finish line. I crossed in 1:28:26 good for 8th.

Max won with a 1:17:59, he is just a freak. BJ was third with a 1:22:25 and ran great. Once he is done running triathlons, look out for this guy.

Here are the rest of the Results

I was happy with the effort, but also felt like I should have been able to get 4th or 5th place, it just wasn’t my day. Years ago, I probably would have fallen apart knowing I wasn’t having a great day. But I know now that if I change things just a little bit during a race, I can still pull out a good effort. It was a good experience and I went away feeling good about it.

I look forward to the race next year. It’s a very challenging course and a blast to run. I was surprised there weren’t more local runners there. There are some local guys who can give Max a run for his money, but they weren’t there and he was. Congrats on the win Max!

Fun race. I didn't think I would ever say this, but this race was too short for me. I believe I am officially converted over to the world of ultra running ;)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Lone Peak

With summer winding down soon Jay and I decided to tackle the iconic Lone Peak last Sunday. From the time I was a child I can remember looking up at the granite topped peak with wonder. It's hard to miss as it looms over Salt Lake county, rising over 5,000' from the valley floor. Safe to say this one has been on the list for quite a long time.
The chosen route was the well worn Jacobs Ladder trail at 12.6 miles in length. Jay had been to the top once before but it had been more than a couple years and I had never been up so we decided on what we perceived to be the easiest route to follow. Hah! What a laugh we had at that thought as we closed in on the cirque.
Not quite to the cirque, Lone Peak is the pointy piece of granite just left of middle.
The lower part of the trail was really quite straight forward but after after crossing through the "cowboy camp" meadow and cresting the north ridge we started heading downhill. Jay stopped after a half mile or so and we decided we should go back since it just didn't feel right. That was the right call as we dropped into the drainage and started following cairns but what a fool's errand that turned into. If I had a dime for every cairn I saw sending us this way and that I would have been able to buy a helicopter ride off the mountain.

Jay, just before getting into the cirque, Utah Lake in the background
Eventually we stumbled into the cirque and spotted the low spot on the north ridge we knew we had to aim for. I've seen plenty of pictures of the cirque but as usual it was so much more stunning in person. Even though the peak was the objective for the day I would have been happy to just kick back and enjoy the view for a while.

The scramble up the north ridge was pretty straight forward until hand holds were required. I knew there would be some exposure at the top but I decided not to think about and just do it. The final couple hundred feet are probably the most nerve racking, but with Jay's encouraging words like "don't worry it's just a little loose dirt", I made it through. He was referring to the dirt sitting on solid granite and just a small hop off a ledge, I focused on the landing and not the loooong drop into Upper Bells Canyon. 

Stats: 12.6 miles, 6,120' vertical, 5hrs 27mins.
Summit shots (none of which do it justice):
Jay on the summit with Timp in the background

Me on the summit with Big Cottonwood ridge in the background

Pano shot from the top looking northeast