Sunday, November 16, 2014

Ski Tuning

For the majority of the MRC this last ultra running season was not very productive. At all. We have some pretty good reasons why but none of them are worth taking up space in this post. 

No, this post is about ski tuning and not the kind that involves wax and sharpening edges, instead it's about knocking the dust off the skis and the cobwebs from the boots. It's about making the first turns of this very young winter season and re-connecting with the Wasatch in what is quickly becoming my favorite season. Perhaps it should be called "Winter Tuning". Here is the evidence of our winter tuning from the past two days.
The only pic from Day 1, Greg in less than ideal conditions

Day 2 - Peter and Greg enjoying the ascent




Saturday, November 8, 2014

Cinque Terre Trail Running

Home Base - Vernazza

This past weekend was a long holiday weekend in Italy which afforded a great opportunity to travel to Cinque Terre (literally translated as 5 lands), a rugged section of the Italian Riveria with exceptional trails. While most tourists opt for the seaside trails that connect the five villages of Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomagiorre, we took advantage of the higher trails that are seldom frequented and surprise and delight as one runs through vineyards, forests, and along windswept ridges. Here are some pictures of three great days of trail running followed by good food and wine (not necessarily in that order). 

Post run recovery drink and afternoon nap in the sun
Running through vineyards
Forest Trails

The trails would go through the heart of villages

Climbing out of Corniglia

Adrienne catching the train to the start of her run

The possible outcome of running along cliffs

Endless views of the sea

One of many surprise ruins along the trails

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Georgia Jewell 100 Race Report

Pinhoti Trail - Georgia
And then there are those days…

And this was one of them…

Running the Georgia Jewell 100 seemed like a good idea at the time. I was going to be in the U.S. for meetings that would span a weekend. “Why not run an American trail ultra for old times sake?” was my thought. When the Georgia Jewell 100 came up during a search of races the idea of running through the wooded forests of northern Georgia sounded fun.  I’ve been running well, feeling reasonably healthy, and felt like it was time to try and bust out a good time for a 100.

The lead up to the race was not ideal. I was working long days with events each evening that went too late into the night and with too much alcohol. I was tired. Then the stress of a delayed flight to Atlanta, rush hour traffic, and racing to get to the pre-race check-in before it closed Friday night. I crawled into bed thinking, "I just want to sleep in – not get up at 3:30 am to run."

As I waited for the start I felt ready. There was a small field of 50 or so runners with some regional speedsters. I was confident that unless I made some big mistakes or something went terribly wrong I could place, and possibly win. This confidence was buoyed by the ease in which the early miles passed in the predawn dark. Within the first few miles I was off the front and by myself. A nice place to be.

Despite being in the lead and feeling physically good – I wasn’t feeling it. I didn’t have a hunger to race. My motivation was lacking. This was unusual in that for me the day was as good as it gets; I felt strong and healthy, the weather was perfect, the trail was stunning, and I was in the mix.

I tried to go to that other place - leave the present and find a daydream that would entertain my mind for miles. But I couldn’t. At about mile 35 I hit a low spot. My mind kept repeating, “I’m bored.” My non-listening self kept replying “then deal with you boredom.” This was not a good place to be. I was frustrated.  It was too early in the race to slip into a trough when arguably things were going so well. With resignation I accepted the reality that if I just kept moving and running smart, in time this would pass and I would again feel engaged. I kept running...

At the turnaround at 52 miles my condition had not improved. I was still in the trough. I resorted to my ever-reliable pathway out of the funk. Coke. I downed several cups and asked that my water bottle be filled with the elixir. High fructose corn syrup would be the answer to my funkatosis.

As I began the return journey the Coke in my bottle began to fizz out dripping down my lower back and into my crack. Soon after I had to take a Shilling from drinking so much Coke on an unsettled stomach. This presented a problem in that I had decided to run light with just a Gregory Tempo waist pack. I had used all of the pocket space for gels and had deliberately decided to not bring any toilet paper. My cotton Armani button-down would need to take one for the team. Then, I noticed a pressure point in my right shoe, it was sort of like a rock stuck in the sole feeling, but different. After scuffing my shoe on rocks hoping to dislodge whatever was stuck on the bottom of my shoe, I stopped to take a look. Upon inspection I discovered that the bottom of my, out of the box, Montrail Fly had delaminated. All I could do was laugh at how my sticky shitting ass was still somehow moving forward despite a broken hoof. Perhaps self-pity would turn this race around for me?

The return was a slog. I listened to every breath. I felt every step. I could never find that other place where miles and time pass without effort. I cursed myself for not having placed some tunes in a drop bag for a mid-race distraction. My stomach remained unsettled and my ass remained sticky as bottle after bottle of Coke dribbled down my backside. I kept on running, counting the breaths, the steps, and the miles...

I wanted the win, but was unwilling to earn it. As the sun set laziness set in and I was walking uphills that I should (and could) have been running. But, I didn’t care. I rationalized to myself that if I saw a light, I would turn it on knowing that I had a lot left if needed. I was deliberately choosing to run lazy, blaming it on my defective shoe, chaffed ass, and bored mind. 

After passing the 100-mile mark I lost patience with being complacent and decided it was time to get this race over. I pushed hard the last five miles (The Georgia Jewell is 105 miles long) and felt good about the effort. I crossed the finish line in 20:22 in first place, though I was not proud of the effort or the time.

A week later I feel better about the race. It was a good lesson about how if I want to run well then I need to take preparation more seriously (e.g. using drop bags, ensuring I have access to the foods I like, bringing music). And more importantly, make sure I bring my head to the race with me. But, despite it being a train wreck of a day, there is something always fulfilling and fun about running a 100-miles that I cherish. Already the self loathing thoughts that propelled me for many miles have been forgotton and am looking forward to the next time that I can race.

Thanks to RD Karen Pearson and all the volunteers for a well organized race. Apologies for not being my usual appreciative and cheerful self – blame it on the Coke induced ass chafe J

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Swiss IronTrail T81

This past weekend (15 August) was the Ferragosto  (Assumption Day) holiday in Italy. So when work colleague Richard Chourlaton suggested a road trip to Davos Switzerland for The Swiss IronTrail T81 race, I knew it was the perfect way to enjoy a long weekend and get out of Rome’s August heat.

Richard Chourlaton - Finish Swiss IronTrail T81

The term Ferragosto is derived from the Latin expression Feriae Augusti (Augustus' rest), which is a celebration introduced by Emperor Augustus in 18 BC. During this celebration, races of various beasts of burden (including oxen, donkeys and mules) were organized across the empire. Given this, it seemed like an apropos day to burden in an 88Km trail race across the Swiss Alps.

I’ve enjoyed trail racing in Europe and I have found the comparisons between racing in the US interesting; from aid stations, to trail marking and racing etiquette. Each race is a bit different and I learn and experience something new. I’ve come to look forward to cheese and chocolate at aid stations (excellent gluten-free choices), I can’t quite cut the trail yet without feeling guilty, and I appreciate that the sport is still pedestrian enough that I can show up without compression socks or Solomon gear, instead wearing a button-down shirt and still be welcomed. I love this sport!

Rosti - Yum!
Davos is an 8-hour car drive from Rome. The ride north went quickly with good conversation and stunning scenery. Stepping out of the car in Davos, I could have well been on another planet in comparison to Rome.  No graffiti. Ten degrees Celsius. Towering mountains. Food options beyond pasta. We enjoyed a pre-race meal of rosti, a traditional Swiss dish made of coarsely grated potatoes accompanied by an assortment of yummy complimentary foods – in my case ham, cheese and egg.

While the start of our race was only 40km away as the crow flies, it required two buses and 2 hours and 15 minutes to travel from Davos to Savognin. Richard and I walked to the start, checked-in, rested and prepared for the civilized 10:30am start.

Start at Savognin
I had ambitions of placing. I’ve been able to get some vertical on the weekends outside of Rome and have been feeling healthy. However, almost immediately that ambition seemed overly ambitious as I was out of breath and struggling to keep up with the lead pack. I hung on. Then, at about 5 kilometers we realized that we had missed a turn and had to backtrack about a kilometer. When we got back on course we were at the tail end of the conga line moving slowly up the first steep single-track ascent. Energy was wasted needlessly trying to get by people on the climb.

I crested the top of the first big climb in 2nd place. But, within the first 500 meters of the descent 4 people had passed me. I was not confident on the descent and I was struggling. I felt the day unraveling.

I pushed hard on the descent and slowly gained on the person in front of me. Yet, my gain was not enough to catch him. On the initial climb several small rocks had gotten into my shoe. For several kilometers on the descent I tried the wiggling the toes technique to move the rocks to a place where they didn’t rub. This effort failed and I needed to stop to clean out my shoe. As I sat on a rock removing my shoe and sock, the race felt over.

I tried to regroup on the next climb. Intellectually, I knew this should be the best part of the race for me. A long gradual to medium grade climb that was not particularly technical – my strength. Yet I couldn’t pull it together. It started to rain. I was cold. I debated putting on my rain jacket. I didn’t. I then debated if the reason I didn’t put my jacket on was whether I was lazy, or that I didn’t really need it. Time moved slowly. The kilometers even slower. I crept past a number of runners, surprised that I was moving faster than they were despite my funk.

Between abating rain and catching people I began to feel better. My confidence built. Then, after not seeing flags for some period I realized that I was likely off course. This presented a challenge. Being old-school and not having the course programmed into a GPS watch, I needed to refer to a print map which required getting reading glasses out of my pack which then kept fogging up. F*ck! All this when I was just getting it together. Once I confirmed I was off course I made the necessary corrections. Back on course, I could see that there were more footprints on the trail than before. I had lost a number of positions. How many, I did not know.

Despite the setback my legs felt good and I reeled back the people who had passed me. Reports from people along the trail indicated I was in first place. Footprints on the path seemed to confirm this. However, I could not account for all the people initially in front of me. Despite the conflicting data, I pushed a bit harder motivated by the thought of placing and perhaps winning.

On the next climb a fog settled in making it hard to see the course markers and impossible to see any runners ahead or behind me. I tried to keep moving. After about an hour into the climb I heard a faint click-click of poles. Someone was about to catch me. I pushed harder. At the top of a minor pass, Alister Bignell of France caught up to me. I expected him to surge off on the descent but he lingered. I took off in the faint hope that I could stay in front of him. On the next climb I realized I was holding my own with Alister. I reckoned if I could hold him off on the climbs, I could move faster on the non-technical descents and flats. I ran as fast as I could through the fog, chased by the ghost of Alister.

The final ascent of this 28km climb was a bugger. It took everything I had to keep moving and literally not stall-out mid-step because of the steepness of the trail. I crested the top at 2650 meters, the apex of a 1800-meter climb and cherished the descent knowing there was one last big climb before the finish in Davos. At km 76 I again got lost, missing a key junction. Once I realized my mistake, defogged my glasses and consulted my map I backtracked to the missed turn. Best estimate - 10 minutes lost. Fortunately, no new tracks on the path. I knew this race was mine if I made no more mistakes.

Finish - Courtesy of IronTrails
On the final climb I could see Alister’s headlamp occasionally popping out of the fog, but I knew it would be hard for him to make up the distance with just 6km to go. I crested the ridge and could see Davos below. I moved as quickly as I could, conscious that I was tired. The trail was moderately technical, and no mistakes were allowed. Conservatism was my new race strategy.

I crossed the finish line in 12:29 – not particularly fast, yet I was pleased with the effort and pleased with the win given that I had not felt my best and had been navigationally challenged.

Congrats to Richard who had a strong finish and then proceeded to drive most of the way home. And bravo to Adrienne who completed the 21Km course. All-in-all a great way to celebrate Ferragosto. Augustus would have been pleased with the event and the competition.

Courtesy - Swiss Irontrails

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Running to Take a Call

My Fun Birthday Present

So how fun is this? For my birthday my daughter's friend Zoe made me this custom iPhone cover. I really like it, but I've avoided contemplating if there is any symbolism, much less asking.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Gran Sasso Running

For the first year of living in Rome I lamented that there were no real mountains close by.  Then, I was introduced to the Gran Sasso National Park, just 2 hours from Rome. Gran Sasso lays claim to many interesting features including Southern Italy’s highest Peak (Corno Grande), the southern-most glacier in Europe, Refugio Campo Imperatore where Mussolini was imprisoned until freed by a Nazi commando operation, and the castle of Rocco Calscio – all of which as you can imagine, makes for great running.

Adrienne and I have made Gran Sasso our go-to weekend summer getaway with the aging “Hotel Budapest-like Refugio Campo Imperatore as our base. The weekend drill goes something like this...

Jay blocks his Friday calendar with “week wrap-up” from 15:00 to 17:00 so he can get out of the office no later than 5:00. Pick-up the rental car at 5:30. Join the hordes of Romans escaping the city for the weekend. Exchanging hand gestures and expletives turn the crawling pace of traffic into a pleasurable experience. Once outside the Recordo Grande (belt route) traffic thins and we speed along the A24 at 130 kilometers an hour…

Immediately upon arriving at Refugio Campo Imperatore we crack a bottle of regional wine (Abruzzo) over which we plan the weekend’s running adventures.

Enjoy some pictures from past weekends…

Hotel Budapest-like Refugio Campo Imperatore (2130M) - our weekend home

Planning the weekend activities down the hall from where Mussolini was imprisoned

Calderone Glacier

Fog Lifting on Cresta del Monte Acquilla

East Face Corno Grande (2912M)

Campo Pericolli

View from Rocco Calascio (highest castle in Italy)

Medieval Village of Santo Steffano (most buildings date from 11-15th century)

Castle Rocco Calascio

View from Corno Grande
Adrienne  - the climb out of Campo Pericoli

Climbing to Corno Grande

Corno Grande (2912M)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Velebit Ultra Trail100K Race Report

Velebit Mountain Croatia

Let’s start with I’m a big fan of Croatia – the geography, the people, the spirit. After running the 100 Miles of Istria earlier this year I knew I wanted to come back. And when Simun Cimerman, RD for the Velebit Ultra Trail 100K invited me to run his race in Paklenica National Park in the Velebit Mountains, I had an excuse.

I flew from Rome to Split, which is a quick 45 minute flight. While driving the 90 minutes north up the coast to the race I realized that I was driving on the very same road that I had bicycled in 1984 on an around-the-world tour. I reflected on the myriad differences between today – and Yugoslavia at the time. My mind wandered to long forgotten memories. An excerpt from my journal, “we pedaled on in the dark with the road faintly luminated by the dim lights of the Lada police car. It was not clear where the police were directing us. Their sternness, and displeasure with our presence and dismissiveness of the requirement to register with the police in the last town as dusk had approached led us to believe we were being asked to ride to a location where we were to be roughed up, intimidated and likely robbed. Their intent was uncertain so we carried on without taking action. We rode in this suspense for more than 40 minutes before arriving at a roadside bar. There we were forced to enter the establishment against our desire, and told we were to drink together. Perhaps our value as humans was our ability to buy alcohol. To our complete surprise they bought us drinks (and more drinks), we ended wearing their hats and taking pictures of ourselves, and then they asked the proprietor to allow us to camp (illegally) behind her establishment. Tired and drunk, we crawled into our bags having experienced yet another unsuspecting turn of events.”

Vaganski Vrh Peak
I had been warned by Simun that the Velebit 100K was something that I would have experienced never before and to expect a very technical course. “Yeah right,” I thought to myself. "I’m from the Wasatch Range and I’ve run in mountains all around the world. How technical can some mountains in Croatia be?" The short answer to this rhetorical question is – VERY!

But I get ahead of myself. With a 5:00 am start I was confident I would be finished well before dark and enjoying a nice dinner and good glass of Teran wine while I watched the sunset over the Adriatic Sea. This confidence was reinforced as the first 4km were a fast gently climbing trail. Then, the trail turned into a dry streambed and climbed straight up. The terrain in many ways reminded me of Mount Olympus, dry and arid and mostly rock. I hung with the lead pack and tried to assess their ability. Quite quickly I determined that these kids were much more agile and adept at working through the rock than I was. I told myself "let them go and hopefully you can reel them back on the runnable sections." With that consolation I fell back into 5th place.

Once we reach the top of the first climb I tried to make up some time. While moving too quickly I caught my left foot on a root and while catching myself from falling augured my right foot into a rock. Immediately I knew, “Houston, we have a problem.” The pain in my foot was intense and I while I had no idea what the damage was, I knew it would be a long and painful day.

Once the 47K runners took a different route I learned I was in 2nd place. This gave me encouragement to continue and not dwell on how much each step hurt. Kilometer 20-40 was a runnable section, following the Croatian Patriot War Road, the frontline during the 1991 – 1995 Croatian War of Independence. One could still see remnants of bunkers and battlements, and the signs along the road and trail reinforced the warning of race officials to not leave the course as there is still unexploded ordinance in the area.

Best to Stay on the Trail
After 40K the “fun” began as we climbed Mount Sveto Brdo, a most spectacular peak and then descended to almost sea level before climbing to Vaganski Vrh peak. It was during the first descent that Marko Prot moving swiftly caught up with me. As we descended through a tangle of roots and rock he kept repeating, “Jay, this is f*ck.” “Jay, this is f*ck.” It might have been the best part of the day listening to Marko so articulately describe my sentiments of the trail.

I don’t know how to describe how unrelenting the course was. It either seemed like I was picking my way through rocks, climbing absurdly steep ascents, or tiptoeing down scree and through shoe catching rock knowing that any mistake would hurt. The mistakes for me were many as evidenced at the end by my bruised and lacerated hands from myriad falls and tumbles. There was just no getting into the groove and running which is my forte.

"This is F*ck"
Marko and I ran together in a seesaw like manner – Marko pulling away on the descents, me catching up on the flats, Marko pulling away on the ascents, me transitioning faster in the self-service aid stations. Marko had an ailing stomach. I had an aching foot. We made for the perfect miserable companions!

At 85K, on the final big climb of 2,200 feet in 2.5 miles I could no longer hang on to Marko. There are times when people pass me or leave me behind and I am frustrated and angry. And, there are times like when I watched Marko march away from me when I feel good inside admiring one's talent and fortitude. I was glad that I had been able race with Marko over the last 5 hours, and I was glad to see him pull away knowing that I would likely not be able to catch him over the final miles.

The last kilometers were a sufferfest. I was wrecked and barely caught myself a number of times from what would have been disastrous falls. I was depressed by thought that it would take me more than 16 hours to cover 100k. I questioned the wisdom of me being there.

Finish with Marko Prot
Yet, like all races I knew it would soon be over. And, while I had hopes of placing better than third, I would be proud of my accomplishment and already begin thinking about racing another day. And as always happens, the finish was soon in front of me and it was over.  While I was completely wrecked and knew that the pain of walking down the 2 flights of stairs in my apartment Monday morning with my broken digit would be worse than anything I had experienced that day – I relished at what a magical day I had enjoyed with my good Croatian friends in their wonderful country. And when asked would I be back, the answer was an unequivocal, “yes!”

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

100 miles of Istria Video

Here's a great video of the Istria 100 in Croatia that Jay ran and won a short time ago. Thanks to Alen Paliska for submitting the link through a comment on the race report.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Grandeur Fun Run Cancelled

The Grandeur Fun Run on Saturday, May 17 has been cancelled.  Please pass the word, and please don't plan on showing up as a sort of protest…. or to enjoy one another's company, donate to a good cause, or dive into a plate of post run pancakes and venison sausage. There are hundreds of miles of well maintained, authorized, official Forest Service trails out there that none of you have explored, so go find one and get to know it this Saturday morning.

Monday, April 28, 2014

La Habana Running

This past week I had the privilege of visiting Cuba for work. Each day I was able to run and explore the beautiful city Havana. The contrasts, complexity and colours of the city captivated me and I found myself intoxicated with images of people, objects, and the city itself. Here are a few pictures of what I was able to find and enjoy while on my runs. Hasta mi regress a La Habana