Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Devil’s Backbone 50 Mile Race Report + Some Things I’ve Been Taught Along the Way

Photo - Quinn Fitzpatrick

I recently ran the Devil’s Backbone 50 Mile race in Bozeman, MT.  It’s kind of a cool race in that it is an out-and-back race all on single-track with no flagging or course markings, no aid stations (except a supply drop at the turn-around), and no frills. Its pure mountain running at its finest! And in addition to a stellar course, RD Tom Hayes works hard to give Devils Backbone 50M an intimate flavor – a pre-race meeting and potluck dinner at his house, a “pick your prize” raffle, and a post-race breakfast where stories and experiences can be shared.

I first ran Devil’s Backbone 50M in 2010 with Christian Johnson and Peter Lindgren.  That year Christian and I were out in front most of the race. It was a fun race in that it reflected both of our bicycle racing backgrounds – we took turns pulling each other along, we strategized where we could make time and gap the runners behind us, and when Christian’s stomach went sour, he catapulted me off the front with everything he had admonishing me to finish strong and break the course record.

I gave it my best, but I missed the course record by 4 minutes. Returning this year was about unfinished business.

DB50 Course Map
I’ve been running well this year and I know that I’m faster than I was in 2010. I was confident that short of an unforeseen train wreck, I could break the course record. I toed the starting line optimistic that the day would go well.

The weather was arguably perfect- cool, overcast, with a light drizzle. “If the expected rainstorms would hold off,” I thought to myself, “it couldn’t be a more perfect day for racing.” The first part of the course climbs 3,400 vertical over 7 miles to the top of Hyalite Peak at 10,299 feet. I felt strong on the climb and quickly pulled away from the other runners. As I neared the top of Hyalite Peak a thick fog enveloped me and it began to rain. I was nervous knowing that I would essentially be running along a ridge above treeline exposed to the rain, wind and lightening the entire distance. I suddenly felt vulnerable and alone.

As I descended the peak and began to run along the ridgeline I worked hard to disassociate, go to that other place, and daydream. Fairly quickly I started working through a mental inventory of all the cool and helpful things I have been taught about running from people like Christian, Greg, Erik and Peter. Things like…

  • Crunching up your race number before pinning it to your shorts. Yep, I was that guy with the obnoxiously loud race number, like a sail flapping in the breeze - wap, wap, wap. If it was me that gave you a headache because of the annoying noise during a race, I apologize. I had no idea that the cool and experienced runners wadded their numbers up into a ball, then folded it into the smallest possible size that still showed their number, before pinning it onto their shorts.

  • If you turn a hydration pack upside down and suck all the air out of the reservoir it eliminates most of that sloshing that can be so annoying, and at times has you considering dehydration as a desirable state in comparison to having 1 liter waves crash into the space between shoulders at every stride.

  • Rubbing Bodyglide in the small of your back so that your hydration pack leaves some skin attached to your back. In fact, a good slathering of Bodyglide almost guarantees no rashes or irritation. How quickly I forget about the outrageous cost of Bodyglide when I think about the alternative of having a 4 by 4 inch scab on my lower back.

Despite some exceptional daydreaming and disassociation, the day wasn’t going so well. I felt tired and my hamstrings were bugging me. The constant ups and downs over semi-technical terrain made it hard to put my race on cruise control. I was having trouble opening up on the descents due to my hamstrings. The flats required more effort than they warranted. I had no spunk on the climbs. I couldn’t find a rhythm. I was pissed off and discouraged when I reached the turnaround just three minutes ahead of my 2010 split.  My visioning of effortlessly dancing along the ridges of the Gallitan range was not working.

The return was a slog. It started to rain. I began to doubt I could break the course record. I was discouraged thinking that perhaps I was wrong in believing I was faster now than in 2010.  I even had thoughts that it was maybe time to give up running . “Perhaps I’m too old to be good at this anymore,” entered my head.  At some point I realized that my personal pity party was quite pathetic and not at all helpful, and that I needed to excuse myself from it. My race needed some immediate reframing. Yes – I was feeling off, the weather was crappy, and my hammys were no doubt fried and inhibiting my running. Yet – I was in first place, if I wanted it I could break the course record, I was running on one of the most beautiful trails on this planet, and I was still moving quite briskly for an old guy. In reality – my situation was pretty damn good and I knew I needed to seize the moment!

The last 10 miles or so were not easy. I focused on maintaining turnover, not falling (something I’m quite good at), and making sure that I didn’t drop below a 9-minute mile pace no matter what. Once I established rules, the task at hand became much easier.

I crossed the finish line 3 minutes ahead of the old course record. I had anticipated I would have been faster. But given the day, I was happy with the outcome.

Postrace – The hammys are irritated and inflamed with some adhering and stickiness of the fascia. I’ve experienced this before and know that it requires just one thing – REST – something that nobody has been able to teach me to do well yet. However, I must be learning as I have only run twice in the ten days following Devil’s Backbone. Maybe I can add ‘rest’ to the list of things I have learned! 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Hardrock 2012 Report and Breakup Letter

Business first:
Oh Hardrock how I love thee. From your majestic mountains to your warm and friendly family you bring together each summer, your allure is hard to escape. Your stunning scenery leaves me just as breathless as your 13,000' passes. Never has an event stripped me to my core, exposed every emotion from high to low, and left me so elated when it was over. We first met 3 years ago when I was unable to secure a spot on the start line and of course I felt scorned, but you repaid me in kind with two consecutive entries, and I thank you. As much as I love you though, the time has come for me to say goodbye. I don't plan on staying away forever, in fact I might be back next year to run with a friend or maybe to just come hang out and not have the pressure of the watch ever present. Either way I won't be toeing the start line for several years. Embrace the new runners and make them work for that finish just as you have the other 604 runners that have finished the Wild & Tough Hardrock 100. There, I said it, now I can move on.
Descending toward Cunningham AS mile 90. Photo: Greg Norrander

The Report:
After last year I at least had an idea of what I was getting myself into and I prepared appropriately by logging more vertical than I ever have and putting in many long runs. Arriving in Silverton on Wednesday I felt a nervous anticipation but nothing like the previous year. It was great catching up with the Hardrock family and meeting new people, something I never grow tired of. Getting through the pre-race check-in and meetings just left me with a desire to get it on with it. I was tired of waiting and my mood started to show it.

Finally race morning arrived and I walked down to the start with Karl. We had traveled down together and spent much of the last two days together preparing for the big loop in the San Juans. I laughed as we strolled down the dirt road to the gym and the start line, we were both wearing our puffy jackets trying to make it seem colder than it really was, a balmy 50 something. The laugh was a nervous one because we both knew that it could end up being a scorcher.

Signed in and ready to go I gave a quick kiss to Betsy, waited on the final countdown, then we were off. I never, ever, get tired of that feeling when I finally get to leave the start line, it just feels so good to finally let go of all the nervous energy. I started slow and hiked the very first climb we came to as I positioned myself in the top 30 or so. Like any ultra, the early miles rolled by easily but unlike other ultra's I held back and kept a very cautious pace. Coming through KT I was one minute off my pace, which was good, but I decided to take the climb up to Grant Swamp very easy. On the way I saw Betsy, Cheryl and Ben who had gone for a hike and took some pictures.
Climbing up to Grant Swamp Photo: Betsy Johnson
I told Betsy I would see her in Telluride and kept my steady pace up to the pass. Near the top I glanced around and I couldn't believe how many people were up there just hanging out cheering on everyone in the race. Evan Honeyfield was one of them and he quickly pointed the way down the other side as I did a dirt/rock glissade down.

At Chapman I was about 5 mins down on my pace and that actually made me feel good. I had consciously slowed down and still felt great at the 4:40 mark since I had been sticking to the plan, eating solids and drinking as much as I could stand. The biting flies at Chapman kept me moving not only out of the aid station but all the way up the climb to Oscar's Pass at 13,000'. Brian Fisher reeled me in at the top and together we picked our way down Bridal Veil basin as the clouds rolled in. Everything was still great and even improving as the temperature started to fall and the rain started coming down. By the time we hit Telluride it was a full on down pour but it didn't really matter as it still felt good. At the aid station I was still perfectly on my splits but I decided to take 10 mins in the aid station to make sure I was ready for the big climb up to Virginius Pass. I hate wasting time in aid stations but at a race like Hardrock if you get it wrong and leave without enough calories your race can fall apart and we all know what the pain cave looks like.

The climb up to Virginius is relentless and steep but thankfully the cool temperatures stuck around after the rain stopped about midway up. Near the top I found Tim Long who had gone a bit off course and Krissy Moehl just behind me. I grabbed some calories from Roch Horton and the hearty crew up at Virginius and then hit the scree again on my way down to Governor Basin Aid station. I spent 5 minutes there cleaning out my shoes and getting some more calories before getting out just before Krissy and Tim. The pace I was holding felt pretty good until they caught up to after a mile or so then I decided I could run faster without extending myself too far. We all hit Ouray at the same time and once again I was right on my splits but I decided to get some calories down and spent another 15 mins in the aid station while they got out in front of me.

Getting to Ouray felt great, not only because it's the lowest altitude on course at 7,800' or so, but I was also able to see Betsy and pick up Greg for some company. Last year Greg joined me at this same point heading in the opposite direction and my mood was pretty somber. This time around I was feeling much better and I was anxious to get up to Engineer and down to Grouse. Betsy let me know that Erik was on his way down from Salt Lake and I remember giving her this puzzled kind of look and right at that moment  my friend David Hayes showed up looking really good which made me happy. I told him to come catch me and then I checked out of the aid station. We weren't even halfway yet (mile 46) but I was confident because I was feeling so much better than last year.
Feeling a little rough around the edges in Ouray. Photo: Betsy Johnson
The trail leading out of Ouray to the point where the trail starts up Bear Creek is always longer than I expect and shortly after crossing the highway Greg reminded me it was time to eat something again.
Climbing up to the highway crossing leaving Ouray. Photo: Betsy Johnson
I opened up one of my bars and took a big bite and swallowed it down no problem, then seconds later I could tell it was coming back up. I have no idea why or what triggered the sudden reaction but it was my first puking episode of the run and it was right on queue at the 50 mile mark. Greg and I acknowledged it but didn't dwell on it and got back to the business at hand, Engineer Pass. The light slowly faded as we ascended higher and higher and I waited until it was absolutely dark before breaking out the headlamp. The rest of the way up to the aid station was pretty steady but David caught us just before we arrived. We both took our time and put down some broth and soup before tackling the last part of the climb to get over the 13,000' pass. I was down on calories and my pace near the top showed it. To make matters worse there was a "superfan" of the race waiting for us at the top and screaming at the top of his lungs "now that's what I'm talkin' bout, git'r done", over and over. Turns out he had a full bar loaded in his van and offered us a drink as we passed by, I didn't have anything nice to say so I didn't say anything at all.

The Grouse aid station slowly came into view as I tried to keep a steady pace on the descent but too much running and my stomach would start to get tight, so I alternated walk breaks in all the way down.
David Hayes and I fueling up in Grouse. Photo: Betsy Johnson
Betsy met me up the road just bit and walked me into the aid station where David was already sitting down and Tim was laying down covered in an awfully cute kitty blanket. Then I heard a familiar voice and looked over to see Erik. That was awesome. He told me he was going to run with David which I thought was super cool. After 30 minutes of stuffing food in I got up and left for the most intimidating and hard section of the run. Grouse to Sherman is 13.4 miles and travels over the high point of the race, Handies Peak at 14,048'. This is also the section where my race feel apart last year, so to say I was feeling a little nervous would be an understatement. 

I set a nice steady pace all the way up the initial climb and when we reached the ridge before descending into American Basin Greg reminded me to eat again. I threw down a couple of Gu Chomps without thinking about it and seconds later I had the same feeling as before, they wanted to get back out. This time I decided to fight it and proceeded to do some deep fast breathing and sat down to get my heart rate down. A few minutes later it passed and I was fine, disaster averted. Back on track, I glanced up and saw the headlamps in front of us makiing their way up to the peak. It still seemed a long way off but a short time later I was standing on the final ridge with a steady 20mph wind pushing me sideways, making my way to the summit. I pointed out the spot where I puked on the peak last year and quickly got off that beast. At Hardrock it is vital to get down as quickly as possible. The body is completely stressed at altitude and as Betsy Nye told me last year "You aren't doing yourself any favors hanging out at the top". Sure enough, as soon as would lose some altitude everything would start feeling better. David was also feeling well as he picked up the pace and passed me on the descent. Before reaching Sherman I caught up to Krissy and found out she was having a hard time getting any food down which was a real bummer.

The Sherman aid station allowed me another chance to get some solid fuel down and prepare for another long 9 mile section. David and I left at about the same time but it was pretty clear he was starting to really feel good and he power hiked away from me. It would be the last time I would see him until the finish. I left Sherman a little after 5am and the early morning light made me feel a little better initially but around 6am I started to crumble a little bit mentally. I had been out for 24 hours and it was likely going to take another 10 to reach the finish. That's a tough thing to accept at that point in the run, but I kept repeating "the more I run the sooner I'll get there". At mile 81 Pole Creek came and went like a blurry dream and then the descent to Maggie Gulch at mile 85 was quickly upon us. My quads were starting to feel completely fried on every descent and I started to experience some patellar knee pain. I tried to analyze why they would be hurting and Greg just simply replied "maybe it's because you've descended 30,000' so far". Yeah, that might do it.

At Maggie I was pleasantly surprised to see Betsy who had ran in with Suzanne so she could take over from Erik and run with David to the finish.
Betsy, somewhere in Maggie Gulch. Photo: Suzanne Lewis
Greg was off getting supplies for the next leg and I asked Betsy if she would like to run the last 9 miles from Cunningham to the finish. Betsy has never paced me but I knew she would enjoy seeing the course and experiencing the run from my perspective. She said sure and sent me on my way up a brutal 1,200' climb out of the aid station. Billy Simpson was trailing behind us by a bit and eventually caught us while we were traversing across the top. He got in front of us briefly then turned around and pointed straight ahead "best view on the whole course, the Grenadiers". And he was right, they were spectacular and I probably would have missed them if he hadn't said something.
Billy Simpson and I at the top of Maggie Gulch. Photo: Greg Norrander
More climbs and descents and I finally laid my eyes on the beast, Dives Little Giant. I had been thinking about this climb since I found out I was doing the run, 2,700' in 3 miles, topping out at 13,000'. I was tired but a little hail storm on the descent to the aid station urged me along in a timely manner.
Ridge running at it's best. Dives Little Giant is on the right. Photo: Greg Norrander

Betsy was all ready to go and after a quick re-fueling I was on my way. Finishing at this point was a forgone conclusion as I glanced down at my watch and figured out I had a little less than 3.5 hours to get to the finish if I wanted to stay under 34 hours.
Greg and I at Cunningham. Coke and broth to get me to the finish. Photo: Betsy Johnson
As silly as it sounds I was actually quite proud of myself for having the mental capacity to do some simple math as I started up the steep the climb. I could tell Betsy was super excited to be running this last section because she was talking non-stop until I increased the pace and let the altitude go to work. The strong hike I was holding in the first half started to falter near the top when the 12k gorilla jumped on my back one last time. I took a few breaks and watched Brett Gosney close in on us. With a few hundred feet to the top Betsy and I joined up with Brett and Missy to make the final push up King Solomon Mountain and finish off the last climb of the day. I felt a great sense of relief looking down into Little Giant Basin and took off straight away down the rocky narrow descent while Brett stopped to stretch out a cramp.
Betsy and I at 13,000' on top of Dives Little Giant. Photo: Missy Gosney
The clouds slowly grew darker and shortly after getting off the trail and on the long dirt road the skies opened up once again with a very refreshing afternoon shower. The rain lasted all the way down to the stream crossing when it suddenly stopped and by the time we hit the rolling singletrack the sun was shining and forest was shimmering light all around us. I couldn't have scripted a better ending, running with Betsy in the final miles through a stunning landscape. 

We exited the forest and as soon as the Kendall Ski lodge came into view I started to get a little emotional. Running through town I couldn't believe it was going to be over, I was relived but also saddened that the great adventure would be finished. I gave Betsy a quick kiss with a block or two to go and let my emotions carry me down the finishing chute where I kissed the rock. I looked up at the clock: 33 hours 44 minutes and just like that Hardrock was over.
The Rock. Finished. Photo: Betsy Johnson
I can't end this report without thanking the Hardrock family, including the board, the committee, all the aid station volunteers, and communications folks for taking such good care of us runners. Greg is one of the best friends I have I can't thank him enough for dealing with my ornery ass for countless hours, I hope I get to repay you soon, thanks Greg. Thanks to my family for supporting me not only during the race but all the time spent preparing for the big loop in the San Juans. Betsy is my best friend, the best crew I could ask for (even if she did drink my last red bull :) and it was really special to share the trail with her over the last 9 miles. Goodbye Hardrock, I already miss you.

Memories of Hardrock:
Somewhere after Stony Pass. Photo: Greg Norrander
Top of Maggie Gulch chasing Billy Simpson. Photo: Greg Norrander
Descending toward Maggie Gulch. Photo: Greg Norrander
Early morning in Cataract Gulch. Photo: Greg Norrander

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Millwood Project

Before reading this, be advised that it is a long winded account of my Millwood adventure.  It's as much a personal journal to remind me of the good times I had as anything else.  For the abridged version, you can scroll to the very bottom and read the Random Details section.  Thanks for reading!

Back in 2010, Jared Campbell -Hardrock winner, finisher of Barkley Marathons, and all around good guy-put together another of his infamous "routes"  He labeled this one Millwood, because it traveled through Millcreek, Big Cottonwood and Little Cottonwood canyons.  On par with his WURL, Wasatoja, and Zironman ideas, Millwood looked to be epic.   Christian, Greg, Jay, Peter and I made plans to tackle it last year, but due to heavy snows and a late spring, sections of the course were still covered in upwards of 10 feet of snow on the planned date, so the idea was scrapped.  It has tugged at the back of my mind since then, and when I did not get selected in the Wasatch 100 Lottery back in February, I knew what my 100 miler for the year would be. 

After much planning, looking at maps and running as much of the course as possible, the start day finally arrived.  At 3 am on Sat July 7, I met Pete Stoughton and Jason Berry at the Neffs Canyon trailhead and we set off on what I hoped would be a most excellent adventure.  My legs felt fresh, my mind was sharp and it felt really weird to be walking/hiking up the relatively gentle incline that started up Neff's.  I had to keep reminding myself that this would be a long day and a half and there was no need to head out too fast.

With the help of Jared and Christian I had put together some rough splits, and being completely ignorant of what I was getting myself into, I was hoping for a finish of around 32-33 hours.  3 mph didn't seem to unrealistic, right?  

I enjoyed the climb up Neff's with Jason and Pete, sharing stories and jokes and enjoying the cool early morning air.  By the time we dropped into Millcreek canyon and my first drop bag at Church Fork, Pete had dropped behind to tend to some business and I discovered that some critter had found my PB & J to be irresistible, tearing into the drop bag and eating the sandwich.  I hope it was enjoyed!!  The climb up Grandeur was as good as it ever gets in the early morning light, and I was happy to see Nate Remnyse halfway up taking pictures. Arriving at the Summit, I was pleased to see Pete again. I was worried that we hadn't seen him since Thayne's canyon. Turns out he had rolled an ankle and rather than trying to chase us down, decided to meet on the summit coming from Church Fork.
Oquirrh Mts from Grandeur Peak.
Photo: Nate Remynse
West Face Grandeur
Photo:Nate Remynse

Heading along the Pipeline trail in Millcreek Canyon-one of the few flat sections of the entire course, and made buttery smooth by countless REI trailwork activities- I caught a toe on one of the two small rocks overlooked on the entire trail. I took a tumble and my right knee smacked the only other rock-right in the middle of the patella. Ooooh, that hurt, and continued to hurt for the next 30+ hours!

I parted ways with Jason and Pete at the Birch Hollow trail.  What awesome friends to get up at 3am to get me going on this adventure.  They are testament to the unique nature of camaraderie present in the Ultra community. Thanks!! At the top of Birch Hollow, I came upon the biggest Horny Toad I have ever seen in my life.  I briefly entertained the idea of catching it to take home for my kids, but where to keep it?  The scramble along the ridge was entertaining and quicker than I expected, I was heading down the trail to Elbow Fork where I met up with Matt Hart and Ben Lewis, who would be accompanying me for the next 20 miles or so.  Running from Elbow Fork, to the Terraces, up Bowman Fork, traversing to Alexander Basin and up Gobblers Knob, along the Desolation trail to Dog Lake and down to the Big Water trailhead proved to be an awesome section.  I was starting to get a little tired at this point and decided that I would let Ben and Matt do some talking and I would listen and get in the groove.  Listening to those two was better than any talk show or podcast I could have put together.  The subject ranged from the vast array of fantastic runner's that Matt has rubbed shoulders with, to Ben's upcoming Tahoe Rim trail FKT attempt with Gary Gellin and others, to the abuse of adderall among college students to focus better while studying.  Fascinating subjects!!!  We soon found ourselves on top of Gobbler's Knob and I was amazed with how many people were up there enjoying a fine Saturday afternoon!  I remember commenting to Matt and Ben that we were 11 hours and 33 miles into the adventure at this point!!!

Video:Matt Hart

The traverse along the Desolation trail was beautiful as always, but it was really starting to warm up and I was running low on water.  Descending from Dog Lake we ran into my friend Jerry and his family,  and it was kind of fun to talk with him for a minute, knowing that he had no idea what I was doing other than being out for another of my "crazy-ass trail runs".   Big Water (top of Millcreek canyon) was a welcome rest area.  I was surprised and psyched to see my brother Steve, my mom and Paul all there waiting for me.  They pulled out the stuff Pete had stashed for me, plus their own assortment of food they thought I'd enjoy.  I'll be honest, the grilled cheese my mom brought hit the spot!! I chased it with a coke and ginger ale, and I was ready to keep going. 
Matt and Ben decided to keep going with me to Red Lovers Ridge and the company was welcome.  Soon after starting our hike, the weather turned, and we were caught in a monstrous downpour that turned into hail.  The trail turned into a creek and we tromped happily along.  What a change!! Not too long ago I had been hot and dehydrated, and now I had numb fingers and blue lips!!  I was reminded of how insulated we have become from Mother Nature and there was no place I would have rather been at that point than experiencing the rolling thunder and moisture that she was lavishing upon us!

Just before Red Lovers Ridge, Matt and Ben turned around and I continued along on my own for the next few miles.  I welcomed the solitude and the chance to soak in the landscape that had been recently scrubbed clean by the rains.  As I got to the bottom of Bear Trap Fork, I was happy to see that 50 miles into my adventure, I was exactly on the pace I had mapped out.  It was 5 pm and I had been out for 14 hours.  I felt relatively good at this point and then I got to the Spruces campground and my spirits were lifted even more to see Kevin Shilling waiting there with my next pacer, Tyler Lamprecht.  Kevin suffered a stress fracture in his right foot a few weeks ago, and even though I knew it was killing him not to be out running in his backyard, I was psyched to see him out hobbling around in his boot. I ate the popsicle he had for me and Tyler and I headed up Days Fork.  

This is where I officially started to feel the effects of what I had run so far.  While I never had thoughts of quitting, this next section is where I felt the most overwhelmed with what I still had to accomplish and it took a few hours of shambling to get past this mental and physical low point and get back on track.  Tyler proved to be a perfect companion through this section.  Although I had to ask him at one point to stop asking questions because I didn't have the breath or energy to respond (sorry Tyler!), Tyler kept entertaining and distracting me with stories, commentary and positive mental energy.  I loved being able to show him the beautiful views into Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons and show him the Prince of Wales mine as we scrambled into Silver Fork.  The short loop up around Willow Lake proved to be not so short as we got off course and ended up bush whacking all over the place, and then the same thing happened as we headed up through Solitude Resort to Silver Lake.  By the time we got to Silver Lake, I was ready to sit down and re-group!!  My mom and Paul were patiently waiting for me with Rich McDonald and Nate Remnyse as I got there about 2 hours later than I had planned.  Nate and Rich had a cheeseburger which was the best thing I had eaten in a long time, cold and congealed as it was.  Thanks guys!!

The next section was going to be interesting through the night and I was happy to have Rich and Nate with me.  True to form, Rich quickly livened things up by blasting Eye of the Tiger through the speakers he had on his pack, and we headed towards Twin Lakes Pass.  Unfortunately for all of us, something Rich had eaten during the day wasn't sitting well, and by the time we got to Twin Lakes dam, he was wheezing, nauseated and then dumped his stomach on the wildflowers.  We decided that his best option was for him to turn around and call it a night.  I was bummed because I had looked forward to running with him!!  Fortunately, Nate was there and we enjoyed quite the adventure together!  Note to self -Patsy Marley summit is not Mt Wolverine.  I pulled out the map and consulted it many times as we scrambled along Wolverine Cirque, and even though it didn't look quite right, I convinced myself that the Patsy Marley summit was indeed Mt Wolverine.  Nate and I started to drop off into Little Cottonwood and quickly lost the trail.  Thinking that we were close to Catherine's Pass and the trail into Albion Basin, we erroneously continued down.  We eventually made it to the correct trail, after traversing boulder fields, bushwhacking steep hillsides of mountain mahogany and getting a too close for comfort view into an open mine shaft. Millwood was proving to be every bit the adventure I thought it would be! The climb past Cecret lake, through Alta and to Mt Baldy was really enjoyable.  Two experiences stand out, the first being an up close (10-15 feet) encounter with one of the biggest mule deer bucks I have ever seen.  He lay there on the side of the trail calmly chewing his cud with our headlamps blinding him, with his two smaller-but still big- buddies behind him.  So cool!!  Then, as we were climbing the technical section of Mt Baldy included in the Speedgoat 50K, Nate received an email from Karl saying there were three weeks to the Speedgoat, and we should get out on the course and train. Ha!!!  Nate took this picture and sent it back to Karl, saying that's exactly what we were doing.

Mt Baldy-1am
Photo:Nate Remynse

We arrived at Alta Happy to see Christian Johnson and Mick Jurynec, who would be accompanying me over Cardiff Pass and past Kessler Peak.  If there was any section of the course that worried me, this was it, and if Mick and Christian really knew what was in store for them, they would have stayed home.  I had run this section once with Jared a couple weeks earlier, but we had approached it from Big Cottonwood, and not over Cardiff Pass.  Jared had patiently explained the intricacies, random trails, and many bushwhack sections and I committed them to memory.  No problem, right?  Unfortunately, 2 weeks, fatigue and the middle of the night can addle the brain a little bit.  At Cardiff Pass, I lay down for a 5 minute nap, and when I got up, I mis-read my mileage chart.  We were to descend 1.3 miles and take a sharp left to begin the ascent to Carbonate Pass. Unfortunately, my sleepy eyes read 3.3 miles, and so down we headed....... 3.3 miles.  It was an exciting descent, with nose to nose encounters with Bull moose and the exhiliration of seeing the sky begin to lighten.  Unfortunately, as we started to see the canyon walls around us, it didn't look right to me. Christian and Mick pulled extra duty by going up and down the road, exploring side trails and consulting the map.  Finally common sense took over, I pulled out the mileage chart and realized my error.  2 miles back up the dirt road and we finally saw the big ore bin I had been looking for and got on the right trail again.  Even then, it was much scrambling and route finding until we got to the rough miners trail taking us to the top of Carbonate Pass.  Those old time miners were tough dudes!!!  
Me and Mick-Carbonate pass Reed and Benson Ridge in background
Photo:Christian Johnson

Then the adventure started again as we dropped off Carbonate Pass and started side-hilling across scree fields and through cliff bands linking up old deer and miners trails.  We spent a good hour staring at the map as I tried to convince Christian and Mick that the saddle we were crossing through was wrong and we needed to drop lower, even though that didn't seem quite correct either.  Christian had cell service at this point and dialed up Matt Hart.  Matt checked out our location on SPOT and spent 15 minutes convincing Christian and me that we were exactly where we needed to be and we should continue through the saddle and down the trail.  It finally clicked and my fatigued brain recognized that we were indeed in the right place.  Apparently one recon trip isn't enough to figure that section out.  I can only shudder to think what would have happened if we had tried to do it during the middle of the night which was what my original schedule had called for. A proposed 3 hour section turned into almost 6 and Christian and Mick were happy to be done.  I can't thank them enough for their patience and good spirits as we figured that section out.

Greg Norrander was waiting for me at Mineral Fork, and after a PB & J and some good laughs over the previous 6 hours, we headed up the next to last climb. Finishing was finally starting to seem like reality, and I knew that no matter how ling it took, as long as I kept making forward progress, I would finish sometime that afternoon.  Forward progress at this point is a somewhat relative term.  The cloud cover of the day before was non existent, and Mineral Fork was devoid of shade.  My pace started out fairly good, but as we got higher, the air got thinner and I got slower. Apparently, Greg had a suspicion that I would be moving slow at this point and brought his big, fancy camera along to take pictures.  Of the few hundred that he took, I remember him saying that he would get maybe a dozen that were satisfactory.  They are more than satisfactory and you can see all of them here. Mineral Fork is one of my new favorite places to be and I kept looking around thinking to myself how fortunate I am to experience such a remarkable part of the world. As we neared the top of the climb, I was getting fairly light-headed and at one point when Greg asked me a question, I couldn't formulate how to answer him.   I figured it was a good time to sit down for a minute and Greg captured it perfectly.

IMG_3691 (1)

Figuring things out-Mineral Fork
Photo:Greg Norrander

Here's a few more that tell the rest of this section better than words:

IMG_3709 IMG_3747 (1) 
Last Scramble to Mineral Fork Pass
5 Minute shut eye at the pass
Lake Blanche and Mill B South
Photos: Greg Norrander

At the Mill B trailhead in Big Cottonwood Canyon (the S-Cuve) I was overwhelmed with how many people were there.  What an amazing show of support and encouragement.  My last pacer would be my good friend and neighbor Jesse Harding.  I had asked him to bring a pizza, and as Greg and I were descending past Lake Blanche, I commented that I'd rather have a popsicle than Pizza.  Jesse's wife Erin must have read my thoughts or something, because along with pizza, they had a cooler full of popsicles!!!  I sat down, had a couple slices of Pizza, 2 popsicles, a ginger ale and got ready for the last big climb.
Photo: Jesse Harding

It was going to be long (about 3500 ft vert) and hot and exposed in the heat of the afternoon(temps in the Salt Lake Valley were in the high 90's). Just as Jesse and I got ready to leave, Matt Hart came trotting in ready to run as well. He had just done the section in reverse, and was going to accompany us back up and over to the finish and his car.  Maybe it was knowing that it was the last climb, or maybe it was the pizza and popsicles, but my legs felt good and I was ready to move.  We set a steady pace, and just as with Matt and Ben the day before, Matt and Jesse kept the conversation lively and all I had to do was put it on auto pilot, listen, enjoy the view and relish the fact that I was going to be done soon.  Before I knew it, 2 hours had passed and we were at Bakers Pass dropping onto the Desolation trail.
Beautiful Millcreek Canyon- my Backyard
Photo: Jesse Harding

 I forgot just how many switchbacks this traverse had and it literally lasted for ever.  At this point, and out of nowhere, my right knee (insertion of quad femoris on medial aspect of tibia) was really starting to hurt, and I was having a tough time running.  I had fully expected to hammer this last 5 miles knowing there was nothing more to save my legs for, but all I could do was walk with the occasional trot aided by my poles.  Frustrating!!!  Finally, Thaynes Canyon.  2 miles of technical, brutal downhill (thanks Jared for making the finish so gentle) and then I saw my brother and nephews on the trail, and heard the cheering of friends and family at the finish.  I had to choke back the emotion as my mom gave me a hug and I saw so many people that had run, encouraged, sent good thoughts and supported me on this adventure.

Video: Matt Hart

Pacers: Greg, Jesse, Tyler, Me, Nate, Mick, Christian, Matt
Missing:Ben, Pete, Jason, Rich
Photo:Jesse Harding

As I sat down and enjoyed a milkshake, I was again overcome with how fortunate I am to live in such a remarkable place to allow experiences like this, to have a community of fellow runners and friends that would sacrifice to join me, and above all, to have a family that understands and supports me on these endeavors.  Most of all, I want to thank Brooke and my kids for putting up with, supporting, encouraging me and being my biggest fans.  Although they were on vacation and not there physically, I could feel their love every step of the way.  I love you guys!!!

I also want to thank the Wasatch Running Center, Altra Footwear, and Gregory for their good gear that was all rock solid.

Here's some random details if you're interested:

The trip:
104 miles.
38 hours 56 minutes. A very soft time-I can't wait for someone else to crush it!
36-40K feet vert depending on what you use to measure.  It was a lot, regardless!!
12 Major climbs of 1500-3500 ft.
First time it was finished in one push.

1. Finish
2. Enjoy every minute of the experience
These were my only concrete goals and I'm happy to say that they were both accomplished!

Patagonia shorts
Gregory Tempo 5L pack (look for it next spring-it's awesome!!)
Black Diamond Z poles
Altra Lone Peak shoes
Darn Tough socks
Altra Trail Gloves (first time ever with gloves and I'm sold!)
Black Diamond Spot Headlamp
Black Diamond Roch Horton special edition Headlamp

Food: (as best as I can remember)
6 Peanut Butter sandwiches
7 Snickers bars
1 Pro Bar
8 packages Sezme Sesame Snaps
8 bottles Gu Brew
6 cans Ginger Ale
3 cans Coke
1 Cheeseburger
2 slices cheese pizza
1 grilled cheese sandwich
4 popsicles
10-15 gels
3 cups broth/noodles
A couple handfuls of Wint-O-Green lifesavers.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Leadville 100 - 2012 Course Preview

Enjoying the Trail Along Turquoise Lake

This past weekend I was fortunate to be in Vail for a lacrosse tournament my daughter was playing in. I had the double good fortune of being able to watch her play – AND – preview parts of the Leadville 100 course!

On day 1 I did a quick out and back along Turquoise Lake to the Queen Mary aid station. What good fun this section of the course is – flat, fast and scenic! Note to self, don’t get sucked into going out to fast!

Trail Along Turquoise Lake - Fast!

Day 2 was a stellar run with Chad Brackelsberg from Winfield TR over Hope Pass to Twin Lakes and back. It was good to cover this section both ways to determine which sections I should try and run – and how much needs to be power-hiked. In addition to great company, Chad shared with me myriad tips on the course, the race, where to get good coffee, and how I can have a great day on August 18th.  Thanks Chad!!

Chad Cresting Hope Pass

I’m looking forward to Leadville and am optimistic I can have a good day. I’m feeling healthy. I’m feeling fit, I’ve got a phenomenal pacer and crew (Christian & Adrienne). I can hardly wait!!

Congrats to Erik on finishing the Millwood 100 - Bravo! Watch for a full-meal-deal report on the adventure in a few days...

Friday, July 6, 2012

Let the Millwood Begin...

Erik is on his way. You can follow his progress on the Spot Map. Read below to see what it's all about.

Back in 2010, Jared Campbell -Hardrock winner, finisher of Barkley Marathons, and all around good guy-put together another of his infamous "routes"  He labeled this one Millwood, because it traveled through Millcreek, Big Cottonwood and Little Cottonwood canyons.  On par with his WURL, Wasatoja, and Zironman ideas, Millwood looked to be epic.   Christian, Greg, Jay, Peter and I made plans to tackle it last year, but due to heavy snows and a late spring, sections of the course were still covered in upwards of 10 feet of snow on the planned date, so the idea was scrapped.  It has tugged at the back of my mind since then, and when I did not get selected in the Wasatch 100 Lottery back in February, I knew what my 100 miler for the year would be.

I have made arrangements to have company/assistance/pacers/a rational voice with me for the entire time I'm out, but I would love to have the company of anyone else that wants to join up for some fun. The more the merrier!! We start Saturday at 3am, and I make no guarantees that I will finish, but I can promise that it will be long, slow and amazingly beautiful.  A map of the course can be found here:

View Millwood100_revA in a larger map

You can also see where I'm at and if I'm still alive and moving HERE, via SPOT.

Let the Millwood begin!!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Brighton Marathon 2012

There are few better ways to spend a sunny Sunday morning in July than running in the Wasatch Mountains with a good group of friends and trail enthusiasts. An informal group recently gathered to enjoy a circular, marathon distance route beginning and ending in Brighton. While this was not an organized race or run, there was a watch on someone’s arm that captured times for most of the runners completing the full run. Visit the Wasalpstriders blog to view times. If your time was missed or an incorrect time was recorded, please email