Thursday, December 29, 2016

Jay Aldous - Year in Review

“You don’t seem to running much anymore” more was the comment. When I replied, “not true,” the response was “Oh, I just haven’t seen many posts.” While the posts this year have been limited, the running has not. It’s been a remarkable year of running that has included being able to run in 18 different countries, trudges to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro and Mt. Fuji, and four races ranging from 50K to 166k.

Crazy Desert 50K
My first race of the year was the Crazy Desert 50K in San Angelo, Texas. I was looking for an early season tune-up run with ambitions to go sub 4:00. I was pleased with the effort, which was good enough for first, but finished in an ‘o so close’ 4:01.

100 Miles of Istria - Motovan Aid Station
In April I returned to run the 100 miles of Istria trail race. This race, which crosses the Istrian peninsula in Croatia, is one of my favorites. The course, race organization and volunteers make this in my view one of the ‘must run’ 100 mile trail races. Two years ago I was able to win, last year I dropped at 85 miles, and this year I felt compelled to return both to redeem myself for last year’s drop as well as run with a number of Croatian and Italian runners that I have met since living in Italy. While it wasn’t my best day, I was able beat my previous time and place 3rd.

Mt. Kilimanjaro
In June I ran to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. I’ve wanted to do this for a number of years and when a work trip took me to Kenya I knew it was my opportunity. I had ambitions to break Simon Mtuy’s self-supported FKT of 9:21. It took me 9:22. Darn! Running at 16,000+ feet was an amazing experience. I‘ve always sensed I was good at altitude. This run validated it.

Start of UTMB
During June and July I prepared for UTMB. I traveled to Chamonix on a number of occasions and was able to complete two preview/training circuits on the UTMB course. I enjoyed the long days of running followed by good food, conversation and companionship in the refugi along the way. I had ambitions to complete the course in under 26 hours, but after wilting in the heat and running out of gas on the final two climbs I finished in 27:04. While my time was not what I had hoped for, I was still pleased to have placed first in the V2 category.

Mount Fuji
In early September work took me to Tokyo and I seized the opportunity to run to the top of Mt. Fuji. This is another run I have wanted to do for some time and thoroughly enjoyed this remarkable Japanese cultural experience.

My final race of the year was the Desert Solstice invitational event where I wanted to set a new world best 100 mile 55+ age performance. I went into the race confident I could easily beat the existing mark of 14:15, but the day did not come together for me. My time of 14:37 was good enough for a new American 55+ 100 mile mark and I was able to set a new 55+ American mark for 100k along the way. Cleary some unfinished business in 2017??

Desert Solstice
So what does 2017 bring? I went through the fall ritual of applying for Western States and Hardrock in the hopes that some day I will be able to run these races. But no luck for 2017. One of the reasons I enjoy racing in Europe is that I am largely exempt from participating in lotteries because of my ITRA cotation. Yet, I have not registered for any events given that my work will reassign me early in the year and do not yet know where I will be living. Possibilities range from Geneva, Switzerland (great for trail running) to Freetown, Sierra Leone (not so good), and several other possibilities in Africa and Asia. By the time I know my new terra firma, I will have missed the closing dates for most of the big European races such as UTMB and TDG. The upside is that I will be somewhere new and will be able to experience a new trail running scene and races. And, there is the 100-mile age group record that will require a trip to an IAU certified course sometime, somewhere during the year. No doubt 2017 will be another exciting year of running!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Rest and Recovery, and 2016 in Review.

2016 has been an interesting year in the running segment of my life.  I was weight-listed to run the Barkley Marathons in early 2016, then trained like I was in. I waited patiently for the list to move, and luckily, with a couple weeks to go, moved onto the unfortunate list of 40 who were to start the race.  Little did I realize how much Barkley would sap me. Physically, I over did it.  The demanding schedule of a young family, a full time job and other life responsibilities meant that the back to back to back days of tons of vert were only accomplished by giving up precious hours of sleep. Not a great recipe for peak physical preparedness.

Heading up Rat Jaw with Ty Draney
PC: Leon Lutz

And 1 1/2 laps into Barkley my knee (possibly as a result of over training and not enough recovery) decided it was done.  Mentally, I was fried.  I didn't realize just how much mental energy I was wasting worrying about the unknowns that Barkley presented.  What will the terrain be like, will I be able to navigate, can I keep up with a veteran and remember the course, what will the weather be like, do I have the right nutrition and equipment, will I actually get off the weight-list?  The mental stress was relentless, and taxing.

I took the rest of April and most of May off, going for a run if I felt like it, more often than not just going for a mellow hike.  I organized a monthly neighborhood hiking group, hitting Mt Van Cott, Mt Wire, Grandeur Peak and Red Pine Lake over the summer months.

Grandeur Peak
With the Valley View Neighborhood Hikers

During these outings,  I started thinking about races again, but every time I started to formulate a plan on how to get back into it, I just couldn't find "it".  I started the Millwood 100 in early July, and after just 20 miles, I was already a few hours behind my anticipated splits. With no desire to suffer for the next 30-40 hours,  I pulled the plug.  I managed to run a decent Speedgoat 50K, followed by a solid Vaquero Loco 50K a couple weeks later, but then lost the drive again.

Vaquero Loco 50K
Corral Lake with Greg Norrander
Planning to run the Uinta Highline trail in early August, I fizzled in my half-hearted attempts to coordinate logistics, and opted for a leisurely and thoroughly enjoyable exploration of a few of the 13,000 ft peaks in the Uintas, along with some fantastic fishing in Cliff Lake, Dead Horse Lake and the West Fork of Blacks Fork river.

Wasatch Peak
High Uintas Wilderness
Tiger Trout
Dead Horse Lake-High Uintas Wilderness

I had a great time exploring some new hiking trails in Acadia National Park with my family.

Precipice Trail
Acadia National Park

And finally, after struggling with daily self-motivation sessions to train for and run the Mogollon Monster, a tough 100 mile Hardrock qualifier in Arizona, I decided 2016 was done as far as racing goes.  And I have enjoyed every moment spent outside since then.  I switched modes from "training" to "enjoying" and more often than not, when I was on a trail, I had my binoculars and/or bow and arrow in hand and was moving slower than I had in years.

Wasatch Mountains
Late Season Archery Elk hunt.
I stopped to soak up the sights, I paused to explore the rustlings around me.  I listened to bull elk bugling at each other (and occasionally at me).

This bull gave me the slip over and over again

I renewed friendships that had lain fallow while I concentrated on "fast and far."

Best 25-year High School Reunion ever.
with Drew Cooper and John Ballou
I slept more (occasionally). I was resting, I was recovering physically and mentally, I was rejuvenating.  What will 2017 bring?  I don't know.  The only certainty is that life will continue to get busier as we add Kiddo #5 to our growing family in the Spring.  I'd like to say that I will run a few races.  Maybe I'll even get psyched enough to run a 100 again (THAT hasn't happened since I finished the Bear in 2013).

I do know that whatever I end up doing, I'll take the time to Enjoy, Rest and Recover.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Paris by Night + Romania

This past week I had the honour of speaking at a dinner event hosted by US Ambassador Crystal Nix-Hines in Paris. Since my flight had me arriving several hours before the event, I reached out to Marie-Amelie Serre who I had met earlier this year at UTMB to see if she was available for a quick early evening run along the Seine.  Marie's response was that she had a commitment, but asked if I would be interested in a "Paris by Night" run after my event. My initial reaction was "no" given my phobia of not getting enough sleep. But after a bit of reflection, I realised this was a unique opportunity to see Paris by night guided by a Parisian ultra-runner. A few pictures from from a 15 mile route that captured many of Paris' great monuments and sights.

And if that was not enough fun for an entire week, the weekend brought a quick excursion to Brasov, Romania and some great end-of-year trail running in the Carpathian Mountains. Good fun!!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Sights and Street Art - Running in Rome

Mile .15 - Piramade & the Old City Wall (where we live)

I’m often asked, “can you run in Rome?” Many runners think of Rome and imagine gridlocked streets, crazy drivers, and errant motos. While some of this is true, there is something magical about Sunday morning runs when Rome is slow to awake. Let me take you on tour of sights and street art during a spectacular 10 mile run this past Sunday. 

Mile .3 - 'Silvio's House' by MTO (right), Untitled by Lex (left)
Mile 1.3 - Palantine Hill
Mile 1.9 - The Forum
Mile 2.6 - The Colosseum
Mile 3.6 - Baths of Caracalla

Mile 5.1 - Caffarella Park
Mile 7.7 - 'The Weight of History' Jaz
Mile 7.7 - 'The Redeemer Child' by Seth
Mile 9.5 - Painted Building by Blu
Mile 9.7 - 'Planet Earth' by Baglioni

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Mt. Fuji Running

Mt Fuji-san

Sengen Shrine - Beginning of Yoshida Trail
For some time I have been intrigued with Mount Fuji given it’s historical, cultural and religious significance with the Japanese. I’ve wanted to run the traditional pilgrimage route from the Fujiyoshida’s Sengen Shinto shrine at the very base of Mount Fuji to the 12,388 foot summit. This has proved difficult given my past travels to Japan have not coincided with the short climbing season (July – mid September). However, this past week the stars finally aligned and I was able to run Mt. Fuji on the last day of the official climbing season.

Red Pine Forest on the Lower Slopes of Mt. Fuji
While tens of thousands of Japanese make the trek to the top every year, the logistics of getting on a plane in Italy and going straight to the mountain proved to be rather complex. My original detailed plan of trains, buses, taxis and finally running to the trailhead was thrown into flux when my flight into Narita was delayed by several hours. This resulted in getting on unplanned trains and buses with somewhat unknown destinations. In the end, I reached the town of Kawaguchiko at the base of the mountain. The earned reward for 30+ hours of sitting in a variety of seats not engineered for human comfort or health was a late evening Japanese bath overlooking Lake Kawaguchi.

The Trail Starts to Climb
I arose early the next morning knowing I needed to be on the trail starting at first light in order to be able to summit and get to Tokyo for a late afternoon meeting. My plan was to catch a taxi at 4:00 am from the hotel to the train station (where I would put my bag in a locker) and then have the taxi driver take me to the Shizuoka Sengen Jinja (Sengen Shrine) where the original trail begins. A great plan until I learned in the wee hours of the morning that taxis don't operate early on Sunday mornings. My run to the top of Mount Fuji began with a walk to the train station dragging my roller bag and then running to the outskirts of town in search of the Sengen Shrine.

3rd Station Ruins
2nd Station Ruins

Once the shrine was found I went in search of the trailhead. After several attempts of making a walking motion with my fingers and saying Fuji-san to a number of sleepy eyed monks, I was directed to the trailhead. I was excited about the first part of the run given that few people now climb the mountain from the bottom. More than ninety-nine percent of Japanese climbers start at the fifth-station, mid way up the mountain (there are ten stations from the base to the top of the mountain). In particular, I was looking forward to seeing the abandoned stations where in the past travelers drank tea and rested.   

My expectations were met. A trail to myself and interesting ruins to explore. The run from Sengen Shrine to the Kawaguchiko Fifth Station was exceptional.

As I reached the Fifth Station I moved into the clouds and into the billows of people descending from the summit. Most Japanese climb the mountain at night (resting/sleeping in the upper stations) with the goal to summit in time to watch the sunrise.

The Roped Trail
Those of us who run trails have different perceptions of what is difficult, challenging and possible. Yet, we often assume everyone else is like us.  As I power-hiked up the trail I was reminded we are different – the reminder being the faces and bodies of those coming down. The expressions of anguish. The jolting limps. The sighs, ughs and grunts as grim faced trekkers placed one foot in front of the other. And then there were those whose faces I did not see because they were walking down backwards due to quads that had failed them. It felt like the morning of the walking dead. I was also saddened in that the basic fitness of the general population is so poor – the distance from the 5th Station to the summit only being 7km!

The Last Kilometer to the Top
I continued to climb passing stations 6 - 10, most of which were closing for the season, with station staff busy bolting boards across the windows and doors. I finally broke through the clouds and was able to see my destination above me reached by a well established trail marked with ropes that switchbacked up the open and barren volcanic slope. 

On the Summit

I had originally planned to run around the rim of the crater before descending. However, the wind was screaming on top filling my eyes with volcanic dust making it hard and painful to see. Plus, I was cutting it close on time and felt anxious about catching my bus to Tokyo. I descended.

A few hundred feet below the summit the clouds rolled back making it hard to see and leaving me wet and a bit cold from all the moisture. I amused myself of as I modified the words to Twas a Night Before Christmas -  “visions of Japanese baths danced through his head.”  The thought of a long soak and getting the grit out of my eyes made the run down to the Fifth Station go fast.

Looking Down from the Summit

A Good Day at UTMB 2 Weeks Earlier
At the Fifth Station I decided to call it a day and take a bus down to the base. My descending legs were still a bit creaky from UTMB two weeks earlier and I was stressed about missing my bus.  It was a good call in that I had time for a nice curry lunch with a glass of sake in Kawaguchiko before jumping on a bus for Tokyo. All-in-all, an exceptionally good day!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

UTMB Preparation

Flying in Cham

I've heard the statement many times, "there is nothing like UTMB." Until this week I just discounted that as more of the incessant rhetorical hype that causes people to avoid runners like me at parties and social events. But my experience in Chamonix the last 5 days is starting to validate this statement for me. The town is simply abuzz with running - runners themselves, families and friends, volunteers, sponsors and exhibitors, and even commerce has caught the fever with restaurants offering carbohydrate dense "UTMB specials" and every store having a "UTMB sale." In fact, too much running-themed everything with hoards of people in compression clothing, Buffs, and running packs has been a bit much for my liking. In an effort to avoid the UTMB chaos consuming Chamonix, I decided to enjoy the week with two activities where the look doesn't matter and I don't feel competitive - flying and drinking French wine (undertaken as separate and distinct activities).

Salomon Gear not Required for this Activity
The Good Life
Once a storm system passed on Sunday, the weather has been stellar for paragliding. Cool nights followed by warm cloudless days has created good thermal action resulting in four days of exceptional flying weather. The perfect flying weather has been tough on the TDS and OCC runners with daytime highs in the mid 80's resulting in many wilted runners and considerable carnage. The hot weather will play a big factor in the UTMB with a high probability that many of us will be destroyed not only by the vertical - but by the heat!

Pack that Kite and Do it Again!
While I arrived in Chamonix with confidence that I would have a good race given that I have been able to train in the mountains most weekends for the past three months, have twice covered the entire UTMB track, and have been consistently averaging ~100 miles per week. However, I think the big miles and vert (at least for me) combined with old age (read slower recovery) have me overtrained and potentially starting the race tired and not at my best. I remain hopeful that the cause of this feeling is a sense of inferiority resulting from not owning any compression gear, my plan to run without sticks (which oddly people seem to correlate with low intelligence), and not having any Salomon running wear. I am thinking of buying a Buff in an effort to try and understand if my insecurities are truly justified or simply gear-related.

Getting Psyched Out Waiting in Line with all the 'Good' Runners
For those interested in following the race you can track runners at and/or follow the race at My bib is #158. Good luck to the other 2299 runners!