Sunday, July 13, 2014

Back to work!

So the past two months have been a challenge - little injury after little injury. Some real, some imagined, I'm sure. Regardless, all with some negative impact. Prior to Santa Barbara 100, my right hip was problematic. A half dozen trips to the chiropractor (thanks, Dr. DeVasto at Hosmer Chiro!) demonstrated that the issue stemmed from tightness in piriformis and other deep rotators in my butt. This issue was solved through a mix of deep tissue massage, joint manipulation, stretches, and a 30 minute hip series I learned from Becca at P.A.C.E. (I recommend it; hardest workout you'll do without breaking a sweat. Check it out!). After SB100, the hip held out but my right Achilles proved problematic. I ran the Smith Rock Ascent (awesome race in an awesome place!!) and the next day, the right Achilles was screaming!

This issue was curious. I gave it a week off and then embarked in a short but high-mileage backpacking trip with Steve and Noelle. On the third day of hiking, I could barely walk the Achilles was hurting so bad. Based on some Googling, it seems as though it was a case of Achilles bursitis, perhaps. However, a blister that arose on the heel seemed to exacerbate the discomfort. Which does not make a whole lot of sense to me... anyway, I took a few more weeks off (some bike and core workouts to try to stay fit in the meantime) and then, after the blister had completely healed, I tried running again. And it was OK. The Achilles got sore BUT never the pain I had felt prior and some stretching and ice always alleviated it. So, this week I returned to training.

And it was great. You don't realize just how great it is to be healthy until you're not... and then when you return to running form, the freedom of being able to lace up those shoes and go for a run without experiencing distracting pain is delightful. Now, I am ot convinced I am 100% healthy yet so I need to be smart and ease back into the training. This week featured six runs totally 50 miles to ease back in. Four runs with hills but not a terribly brisk pace and two runs on the hot roads around Intel in Hillsboro, super flat and a more aggressive pace.

The verdict? That first run felt sloppy, floppy, loosey and goosey. By the end of the week, I could feel my fitness returning and my body buckling down and ready to get back to work. Now, that is a great feeling! Let's hope I can make the right choices to get back into the swing of things and continue doing the preventative maintenance I need to do in order to stay healthy.

So, what's next? Angel's Staircase 35k in early August is the next minor race though I do not intend to race it hard as the following week is Waldo 100k. Waldo is a race I intend to have a great run at so my sights are focused there. Time to do work :)

This past week:

Tuesday, 7/8/14 - 6.3 miles in 55:00 (Up to Pittock, down to Cornell, and back)
Wednesday, 7/9/14 - 6.3 miles in 52:00 (same as yesterday)
Thursday, 7/10/14 - 6.9 miles in 50:10 (flat route near work in H'boro)
Friday, 7/11/14 - 7.4 miles in 53:29 (flat route near work in H'boro)
Saturday, 7/12/14 - 14 miles in 1:56:30 (Wildwood to Marquam to Terwilliger to downtown to home)
Sunday, 7/13/14 - 9 miles in 1:15:00 (up to Pittock down to Macleay TH then back up to Pittock and home)

Total: 49.9 miles

Peace, world :)

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Friends are the best! 2014 Santa Barbara 100, May 31-June 1, 2014

It is two weeks post-race. I am standing in my kitchen at home in Portland, drinking a beer, and standing watch over a kettle full of shrimp jambalaya as it steadily works its way towards "lunch for the week." It looks pretty happy in the pot... all sausage-y and shrimp-y and rice-y. Things are good :)

Part of the reason why things are good is because today is Father's Day and I happen to have a wonderful father. Thanks Dad, for being my Dad. I'd be a wreck if I didn't have you and the example you set while growing up. I'm still growing up so needing you and your example extends through now and likely forever.

Another reason things are good is that the running has been truly wonderful. From weekly runs with "my people" (aka TrailFactor and the Portland trail running community in general) to a number of races that have generally been great all spring long. Which brings me to the race I'd like to write about here (my fist writing about anything since last fall...!), the Santa Barbara 100. Sit down, grab an Old Fashioned and maybe some bar meat... this is a long one.

This race was known, up until the day before this year's edition, as the DRTE 100. With the name change came extensive course changes. Last year, depending on who you ask, the elevation gain for the 100 mile distance was between 27000' and 33000'. That is a lot of feet. Assuming roughly half the course is climbing, that is more than 500' of elevation per climbing mile. Which is terrifying! Huge props to the men and women who finished this course last year including our own Trevor Hostetler from the Portland area. That must have been a killer course. This year, while they didn't take the teeth out of the race, they certainly lessened their bite: approximately 22000' of elevation gain to contend with including three big climbs of 2500-3000'.

Flying into Santa Barbara, I got a great view of the Santa Ynez mountains from my seat. Two things happened. First, my breath was taken away. I have seen these mountains before but never just prior to trying to climb them over and over again. They are beautiful... and big. Which immediately led to the second set of intense feelings: fear and respect. After last year's DNF at Pine to Palm, I have a deep respect for big mountains and the long courses that we attempt to cover in them. This was, to be clear, a healthy fear and respect. Rather than, "I am terrified and this weekend those hills are going to kill me," it was more of a, "Wow, those are big. It's gonna be hard. There will be low points and high points (in every sense). This run will require mental and physical strength, good planning, patient and intelligent execution, and maybe, just maybe, those hill won't kill me." Also a great crew. This race would take a wonderful crew. I will introduce those epic people as I came across them.

Steve was there from the beginning. I stayed with him and his housemates and he sat through the pre-race meeting and carted me to the start line early Saturday morning. He met me at aid stations throughout the race and saw me through the last 15 miles as a pacer. Steve: there probably aren't enough words to express my thanks so hopefully beer will do it.

The race started off well. The first miles set the stage for what was the most beautiful course I have ever run. Exposed peaks covered with an assortment of awesome desert flora. Not quite as Dr. Seuss-y as San Diego but prettttty close. Fantastic single track alternating with super runnable double track and dirt roads. The only downside was that the course had some marking issues with some turns being tough to spot unless you were looking closely and one intersection that was completely unmarked. This problem was solved when one of the runners who was with us trying to decide which way to go shouted as loud as he could, "Which way does the course go!??!?!" A second later, the response from a 100k runner ahead, "Take the left firelane!!" Problem solved. Soon thereafter another intersection would turn about 12 runners off course costing some of them as many as 6 miles. I was lucky and saw that one. I'm absolutely certain the race directors will take these issues to heart and make sure there are no marking issues in the future.

So the course was amazing. All. Day. Long. Never a bad view, the ocean on one side and the backcountry with its innumerable peaks on the other. The first half of the course contained two big climbs; the first from the backcountry up to Cold Spring Saddle before bombing down into the frontcountry near Montecito. The second was back up to Romero Saddle though this climb was largely on a firelane with a small enough grade that I was able to alternate running and hiking up. The real struggle began after this climb with a twenty mile section between crew-accessible aid stations, miles 40-60. These miles were run/hiked during the heat of the afternoon and, while it never got sizzling hot, the temperatures did climb into the upper 80s, warm for a pale northwesterner like myself. The aid stations out there in no man's land were staffed by awesome volunteers (all of the aid stations were but some especially motivating characters were helping us out here on top of the ridge!) armed with awesome stuff like cold soda, cold grapes, cold water misters, cold water, cold ice, all the cold stuff!!!! Every single ice cold thing that went inside me made me immeasurably happier than I was the moment before consuming the ice cold thing. I also began spending too much time in aid stations during this stretch, though that time was likely very good for me and kept my spirits up and my mind prepared to continue tackling the challenge.

I hit 50 miles at around 10:45, a really solid time for me on that course. I had long ago given up on going substantially sub-24 hours (by mile 20 I had reset myself mentally when I realized how hard this was going to be) but felt that 24 hours was within reach. After the 50 mile point, however, my pace slowed to a crawl and I was plagued by minor but still annoying stomach and bathroom related issues. Rather than push hard through those issues and risk completely exploding or DNFing, I decided to take time in aid stations to get food inside me and rest as much as I could. While that strategy might a poor one to take when trying to take risks and win a race, it proved a good one in terms of finishing the run and doing so in good physical and mental shape. Which is why I did not begrudge the eventual overall winner, a woman from Toronto named Ginna, or alter the way in which I was running my race when she blew past me as I sat on my a** in an aid station drinking an ice cold Coke. She's amazing and I did what I needed to do to continue having a great run.

The best part of the run was the last 40 miles. Why? This is when my crew grew from just Steve (awesome in his own right!) to include other super awesome people. Waiting for me at mile 60 were Steve plus Dan and Kara, old roommates from undergrad and wonderful friends since our freshman year, and Erin, a Santa Barbara friend of Steve's who I had met on my previous visit to Santa Barbara last fall. After a long stop in the aid station to bask in the brilliant happiness these new friendly faces brought and eat as much as I could stomach, Erin and I set off back down into the front country. We didn't descend fast as nagging stomach and bladder issues were making running uncomfortable and Graham from Seattle passed us on the descent (He would eventually finish in under 24 hours but due to getting lost he ultimately ran a different course than the rest of the field and was given an unofficial finishing time). The effect of running in the sun all day started making itself more apparent on the way down... at one point I asked Erin if the crinkling of her pacer bib was her "filing things." The thought escaped my brain before I realized how absurd it was. All part of the fun of running a long race, I guess! Erin was great company, always able to keep my mind off the various frustrations I was dealing with at that stage of the run. I'll run with her anytime, anywhere. Except her short races... I think she'd drop me sooooooo hard at her one mile race distance. Or any other race distance for that matter! We arrived at Montecito in one piece where I would leave Erin and tackle the biggest climb of the course as the sun set: Montecito up to Cold Spring Saddle. But first, we were met at the aid station by Erin's roommate, Lane, who was there to pick her up. After the race, when I thanked both Erin and Lane for their help, Lane mentioned she didn't really do anything, just came to pick Erin up. Besides the obvious assist in the form of making sure my pacer was able to help with that section and then make it home afterwards, she helped in a way I hope every crew member realizes in which they are of immeasurable assistance. She talked to me, took interest in what we were doing, smiled and was super friendly. To all folks who are helping a friend complete the great, wonderful challenge that is 100 miles on foot and who aren't totally plugged into the ultra scene and wonder, what do you need from a crew person? That's it. Support, happiness, distraction from the low points, helping create the highs. Erin provided that for several hours from miles 60 to 65 and Lane and Erin provided that for ten minutes at the bottom. Then I left in such high spirits that I was super stoked all the way to halfway up that big climb. Which is amazing, because it took freaking forever so halfway is a long time.

The last half of the climb was awful. It was now fully dark so my only illumination was a headlamp. I had trekking poles (thanks Steve for basically insisting I use them for the climb... epic assist!! In addition to the smiling, motivating, crew people, it's also good to have someone who is plugged in and knows when it's time to say, "listen dummy, use the poles, that climb's gonna be a big f***er") which helped a lot BUT every time I looked toward the ridge, all I could see was a shadow: the dark ridge silhouetted against the slightly less dark sky. No matter how hard I hiked, how long I hiked, it never got closer. Until eventually, it did. And I was there. And waiting there was Dan, Kara, Steve, and newcomer Alex. Alex, another friend of Steve, was to be my pacer for the next 13 miles or so. Now this is a risky business. I had never met Alex and the pacer/runner relationship is a tricky one. Two compatible people will generally make a good team in this setting BUT two incompatible people would be awful. Talk about a bad time to find out you really don't like someone... those would be some long, terrible miles. I was lucky. Alex was freakin' awesome! Incredibly supportive, content to run in silence when I wasn't talkative, easy to talk to when I was. Couldn't ask for more in a pacer. He talked up our good sections when I was able to pick up the pace and never needlessly pushed when I dropped the pace because something was amiss. Right then, that was exactly what I needed. I'll run with that guy anywhere.

Dan, Kara, and Steve met me at mile 83 and Steve took over pacing for the last long section of the course. This was awesome. Why? Because during every race (that we finish) there is some point where you know your're going to make it. All day long, you've been slaying proverbial dragons in the mountains, overcoming so many challenges both inside and out that there is just no way, at this point, you are going to fail. You are just indestructible enough that this race isn't going to be the thing that destroys you. Perhaps it is a close thing, but you know you're going to make it: Today is your day, the day on which all the miles pay off. It is such a motivating feeling to leave your crew for the last time before the finish, knowing the next time you see them, you'll be done. Thus energized, Steve and I took off. 

I remember during those miles that, while the going wasn't always easy, the distance was passing and we always made good progress toward the finish. Our spirits were high and our combined optimism only served to entrench the feeling that this would all end spectacularly well (or, at least end with a successful finish, which is spectacular in my book!). Every time I managed to get past a walk into a run, Steve would call out encouragement. When I was walking on terrain he knew I could run, he pushed me, sometimes subtly by picking up his pace behind me, forcing me to work a little harder (but never in a overly pushy way). In this manner, the miles ticked by until the sun rose and we approached the final aid station. (These nighttime miles featured a headlamp fiasco that conveniently occurred just before sunrise and another crinkling pacer bib causing me to wonder if Steve was casually looking at a map as we ran...) The sun was fully up and I had a strong sense of deja vu. Perhaps this was because only 24 hours previously I had run this same terrain as the sun was rising on Saturday. Now it was Sunday. And time to finish. After some amazing Chicken broth at the aid station to get me going again, we set off up the final small climb. One half mile up the hill and then ~5 miles down to the finish. Right at that opportune time something happened to me. I found new legs. New lungs. A new heart. A new, strangely settled stomach. And we said, Steve and I did say, "Let's finish this." "Now." "Fast."

We ran the final five miles in about 45 minutes. This might not seem terribly fast but consider this: some of the previous sections had seen 5 miles pass by in a run/hike that took in excess of 1.5 hours. This represented a speed boost of amazing proportions and resulted in an exhilarating downhill blast to the finish. From whence this boost came, I cannot tell. But it was wonderful. I felt so alive pounding down out of the mountains after 95 HARD miles. We hit the hardtop in Upper Oso campground and ran what was for me, at that moment, all out, 100%. My heart pounded and my deep, sucking breaths fueled the fire. I felt like I was on the track doing 400s. My mood swung wildly during this final stretch; it wasn't clear if I would cross the finish line sobbing or laughing. But what was clear was that I would cross the finish line and that, after not having been caught since the sun went down, I would not get caught during that last section. Finally, the finish line came into sight and there were Dan and Kara waiting. My mood was on an upswing as I crossed so my wonderful friends were faced with tired happy Gordo (five minutes earlier they likely would have had a sobbing Gordo). I immediately leaned against Steve who helped me to a chair and, just like that, I was the second official finisher of the Santa Barbara 100 with a time of 26 hours, 44 minutes. Ginna, first overall official finisher had smoked me and the rest of the field by just over two hours. What an incredible woman! My friend from L.A., Marshall, finished about 20 minutes after me, despite having missed a turn and adding 6 extra miles, for a solid finish (that dude is a stud). Hats off to Graham as well for running a great race; it's disappointing that his time couldn't be included in the official results as he was likely the fastest person in the Santa Ynez mountains that day. And, of course, to every single person who toed the starting line. That was a beast of a course. Everyone who gave 110% out there, whether or not they finished, is a stud.

Meeting Dan and Kara at the finish was great for me. They have been such wonderful friends for so long and are among the few people I always feel truly at home around (much to their chagrin, I'm sure). Their contribution towards my successful run cannot be overstated. Seeing their smiling faces every ten miles or so sustained me more than I suspect they'll ever know. A hundred mile run brings us into touch with a veritable lifetime of emotions in a short period of time. It can be so overwhelming. Just writing about it now makes me choke up just the littlest bit as I relive and feel again what those miles do to us. Just as having wonderful friends softens and gets us through the low points and raises the high points to new heights, so to during an ultra. And this is why I will keep running these events: I rarely feel more alive or more connected to the people who matter most to me than I do during these epic adventures. Thank you to Steve, Dan, Kara, Alex, Erin, and Lane for making that race one of the most positive experiences of my life. Everyone move to Portland, please :)

The race was great, I recommend it to anyone who wants to run a challenging yet doable course. There were issues with the course marking but the race directors are very passionate about their event and I'm sure they will ensure those issues do not occur in the future. The aid station volunteers were great and made sure I got what I needed so my crew could focus on me. As I was the first official male finisher, I have the distinct honor of having my name added, alongside Ginna, 1st overall and 1st female, to the Vicky DeVito trophy, named for a woman who had a wonderfully positive impact on the Santa Barbara trail running community.

What a wonderful run. It's events like this that make me fall in love with this stupid sport and the crazy people who do it all over again :)

Here are some pictures... we only got them at the finish so they involve me, other finishers, and hardware.

Ginna, the overall winner and 1st female, and I plus some hardware with the Vicky DeVito trophy alongside.

Marshall and I showing off our sweet buckles.

With one of the RDs while wearing my super awesome Go Beyond Racing shirt. 
Very honored to have my name added to a trophy in memory of someone who had such an impact on my new SoCal running friends. It is very humbling and seems almost intrusive to be added to this award. I suppose this is what gives it such meaning. It was a trophy I held very reverently.

I say it again, what a wonderful run. And what wonderful people. Peace, world.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Westward Adventure: Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim

While planning the westward road trip, I knew I wanted to spend some time running in the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness and visiting friends in SoCal. A week or two before defending, it occurred to me that I would also be passing close to Grand Canyon National Park. What do trail runners do in the Grand Canyon? Well, they like to run from one rim to the other. Or, if one is feeling especially adventurous and energetic, one might then return back the way he or she came and return to the other rim. This nifty trek is aptly named the "Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim." Many many ultra runners do this run every year and I figured this was as good a time as any to add my effort to the thousands and thousands of miles logged by my running brethren. After all, how often will I be passing through northern Arizona?

Before I recount the details of this particular adventure, I should also note that I did a couple runs on the way, while passing through Utah. I did a short jaunt in Arches National Park (this was a crowded, crowded place) followed by a 13 mile run in Canyonlands in the Needles District. Canyonlands was AWESOME. Very few people and the desert was spectacular. Running through canyons and washes amid beautiful spires and other stunning geological relics was something else entirely. I will certainly go back to this place and explore it more. There are a lot of trails and plenty of cacti to stub my toe on (yes, I did this and it was pretty hilarious in hindsight). But back to the Grand Canyon.

I brought my cell along and took a lot of pictures and video while running in the Canyon so I will post some of those here and try not to drown you, my dear friend, in details that even I don't care a whole lot about. I'll end the post with some data that might interest someone who is interested in doing this awesome, fun, and eminently doable running adventure.

I arrived in Grand Canyon Village the night before the run and stayed with Joelle, a ranger in the canyon and good friend from the glory days of Hoofer Outing Club adventures at UW, and her three splendid housemates. They made so much pizza and I ate so much of it. Fuel was not going to be a problem on this run. Joelle and her colleague Emily also spent a few minutes PSAR-ing me. Preventative Search And Rescue. If you see someone doing something dumb, you can prevent a future search and rescue operation by convincing them not to do it. I was not convinced but I think they had some faith that I wasn't completely full of sh*t and more or less capable of finishing this run. So 4am the next morning rolls around and I found myself walking from their house to the Bright Angel Trailhead on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Here the adventure begins.

Grand Canyon Bright Angel Trailhead: The Beginning

After leaving in the dark, I ran at a very relaxed pace down into the canyon. On the way I used a privy near Indian Garden Campground... while leaving the privy, I was distracted by a sign. While reading it, I walked backwards and tripped on a rock. And fell on my ass. This was my only fall of the day. Down to the river in 1:50.

Sunrise on the Colorado River

OK, 9.5 miles and about 4500 feet of elevation loss from Bright Angel Trailhead down to the Colorado River. 14.5 miles and 5500 feet of elevation gain up to the North Rim. Get some food inside me and time to go. The first 7 or 8 miles past Phantom Ranch towards Cottonwood Campground only rise about 1500 feet or so meaning the entire distance is super runable. Up through the Box in the rising sun I went. Through Cottonwood and on towards Roaring Springs.

Heading towards the North Rim along N. Kaibob

Roaring Springs is cool. As I learned from many signs in the Canyon, the water supply for the park, its many visitors and its several hundred full-time residents comes not from the Colorado River but from Roaring Springs. They pipe the water down underneath the N. Kaibob Trail and up to Indian Gardens under gravity and then actively pump it the rest of the way to the South Rim. Super cool! About this time the sun is up and I can finally start seeing where I am running. And let me tell you, the Grand Canyon will steal your breath away. Unreal. The colors are just stunning. Millions of years of geological history uncovered in the mile deep canyon make for some scenes that are a challenge to wrap one's mind around. So I didn't bother. Rather, I just loved every second of it. So much so that I hardly noticed the uphill slog to the North Rim. While the first 7 miles of the N. Kaibob trail ascend 1500 feet or so, the last 7 miles ascend about 4000 feet. Not so bad for the most part but the last few miles are particularly steep. All hiking here. But, after about six hours even, I made the North Rim! Halfway there!

The North Rim!

So now the real run begins. For me anyway. After the first 24 miles or so I was pretty tired but not too bad as I had been taking it pretty slow. The first 14.5 miles of the return trip are all downhill back to the Colorado so I was looking forward to the gravity assist. And very excited to be running into the Canyon rather than away from it. Running uphill requires one turn around every now and then for the epic views. Running downhill means its all in front of you all the time. This was gonna be good :)

Heading back down into the Canyon along N. Kaibob

Running downhill has its issues. Sure, gravity is now helping you along but the toll on your body can be great. The impact on your legs is somewhat greater and stability muscles do a lot of work to keep you upright as you cruise along, especially on trail. And your quads... those big muscles take a beating from the loading they experience when running downhill. So, a 5500 foot descent over 14.5 miles ends up being less fun than it sounded at the top. But, still fun nonetheless :)

Running downhill in the Canyon! Sorry the picture sucks... my phone doesn't do action terribly well I guess.

As one approaches the bottom of the Canyon, you arrive in the Box. This is a box canyon with nearly vertical walls and is famous for its challenging conditions. Runners fear this area on sunny days as it can routinely be 15 degrees warmer here than in the rest of the Canyon. On this day, the forecast was 100 F so it was entirely possible that, at this stage of the afternoon, the Box might be well over 110 F. But Lady Luck smiled upon me. Clouds obscured the sun and, of all things, a cool breeze started blowing up the Canyon. The Box was, for me, a pleasant 80-something degrees. Some people get all the luck and, right now, that's me!

Running the Box. This place is seriously cool. I mean this in the various ways one can mean it.

So the Box behind me, I reached the Colorado for the second time. About 38 miles or so down, just under ten to go. 4500 feet of climbing to go with it. Now, at this point I was very tired. The energy I felt near the North Rim was used up almost in its entirety with the long downhill. I will always respect downhills from now on as they can exact a toll that I was not entirely prepared for. So, after a long break at Bright Angel campground, I began to make my way up the Canyon. I hiked every step of the way. For three reasons. 1) I was tired. 2) I had a race in less than a week and a half and I saw no reason to kill myself on this fun, awesome run and put that race in jeopardy. 3) Oh My God the Grand Canyon is beautiful and this is especially apparent from the trails heading up the South Rim. I spent so much time just turning around and looking at the Canyon. These were views that I missed in the darkness of the initial descent that morning. And they took my breath away. I'd normally wax poetic about some profound thought that passed through my mind at this point. But I had no thoughts. That place wiped my mind clean and, for that, I will be eternally grateful. It is rare that such a sense of peace and smallness can put one at complete ease, satisfied with the inconsequential space we occupy in a place so vast and beautiful as the Grand Canyon. I will let some images supply the description.

Approaching the South Rim.

Arriving at the South Rim.

No clue how to sum this up. Running the Grand Canyon was possibly the most epic run I have ever done. And you should do it too. 13 hours 20-something minutes was how long it took and eventually I will go back and run it for time as it is a really intense and awesome challenge.

I'd like to thank Joelle and her house for their hospitality and kindness. You guys are the proverbial bomb :)

Ran from Bright Angel Trailhead at South Rim to N. Kaibob Trailhead at North Rim and back the same way. Water was running everywhere in the canyon so no issues there and no need to filter. Ate a number of gels and two nutella, peanut butter, and granola wraps. Also ate some shotblocs. No electrolyte drink but did have some endurolyte tabs. Ran in shorts and shirt sleeves all day. Hat and bandanna kept the sun at bay. Weather was cool and cloudy for most of the afternoon. Morning was warm and sunny. Never got above 90 as far as I could tell.  Shoes were Inov8 flite 195s. The sole on these was a little thin and rockier sections of trail were sub-optimal. But these popular trails are not technical for the most part so I'd use these shoes again over something heavier. Carried all food and a few emergency things like a map in a Nathan Hydration pack (from which I removed the bladder after the messy water incident in CO. Hydration was taken care of by Ultimate Direction bottles (the kind everyone uses). 48 miles total, some solid breaks added in for good measure... this was vacation, after all!

OK, I hope this gives at least ONE person the bug to go run in the Grand Canyon. Its a special place (understatement). It will touch you were you have never been touched before (profound and oh so creepy).

Peace, world.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Westward Adventure: Epic Mount Zirkel Trek!

Sunday, September 1, 2013. Three days of acclimating to 10000+ feet elevation have passed. Mount Zirkel lies 18 miles north of my camp at Luna Lake, perched atop the Continental Divide. The time is 5:15 am, and it is time to go.

I want to make it to the Divide in time for sunrise so I leave in the dark, armed with a headlamp, two water bottles, and a pack filled with calories and a few emergency supplies I have convinced myself will be worth carting over 36 miles. There is also a full water bladder in this pack too. This will be important later.

The previous three days, I have started the day with a time trial up to the Divide. Just to see how my fitness is improving (or not) as the days pass. Today is a long day so I take it easy and walk most of the way up to the Divide. The sky begins to light up as I approach the Wyoming Trail along the Divide, promising a stunning sunrise, the reward for my restless sleep and early rising. Sure enough... the sun does not disappoint (as Sol rarely does).

Sunrise at 12000 feet.

I continue along the Divide, heading toward the Lost Ranger, a 12000+ peak and, upon cresting the thing, I see my object on the horizon, dimly lit by the rising run, Mount Zirkel, flanked by the ever-so-slightly-shorter Big Agnes. Mount Zirkel is the namesake of this Wilderness and rightly so: it commands the Wilderness and the respect of those who wish to gain its summit.

My first glimpse of Mt. Zirkel.

So I run. I run downhill and I walk uphill what with my oxygen problem up at this altitude. The water on my back pisses me off though. Sloshing around, being all heavy and whatnot. Then I notice I am sweating. A lot. From my butt. This is strange as I have yet to sweat noticeably all week. It's so dry and the sun is so intense up here that sweat evaporates before you even notice its there. So why is my ass soaking wet? Damn water bladder broke! The junction between the hose and the bladder itself broke and now the contents are leaking down by backside. Maybe this is a blessing in disguise though? I hate that thing back there and now I have no choice but to empty it out.

And now I feel a million times better! My pack is several pounds lighter, it sits stably on my back, and my butt is refreshed. Onward! After traversing some surprising and beautiful high alpine meadows, the trail descends several thousand feet to about 9500' before the long ascent toward Mt. Zirkel commences. This is great, actually. At 9500' I can run! Uphill! Not a steep hill, mind you, but an uphill incline nonetheless. For the first time in four days, I am able to make about 12 minutes per mile on something other than flat or downhill terrain. Thank you Oxygen! But, the uphill incline is accompanied by a monotonic increase in elevation, as will happen in these things. So eventually I am reduced to sucking air and power walking. But this is also great! Because I am in the mountains!!! I came here to do this and now I am doing this and it's marvelous and wonderful and happy.

After an hour or so making tracks up toward the approach to My Zirkel, I find myself in a high Alpine meadow under the unwavering gaze of these high peaks. I think they are laughing at me and my pitiful attempt to scale them via "running." Anyway, see for yourself, it was a rather moving sight.

Alpine Meadow Approaching Mt. Zirkel

The approach up Mt. Zirkel is a series of long switchbacks up a barren slope into a pass in which the dirt is red. It's name is "Red Dirt Pass." Clever. From here the trail goes straight up several hundred feet onto a flat ridge that runs to the summit. I am always amazed by the boulder fields one often finds atop mountains... makes for slow going but damn its fascinating stuff! Anyway, I figure out which bumpity bump atop the mountain is the actual summit, pass some folks who like my bright yellow shorts, and find myself atop Mt. Zirkel.

And then I cry. For like a minute. This is the first time I actually realize that the past is past and that all I have left is the future. This is a stupid simple concept but I suppose it had yet to occur to me that I am in fact leaving Madison and going west. That I will no longer see the people I am closest to on a daily basis. But then of course, this is OK! Change is good and the future is a terribly exciting place where anything can and will happen. So I spend a few minutes atop Mt. Zirkel, think about all the people who have helped me get where I am today, the people I wish wish were with me right now, and eat a peanut butter-nutella-granola wrap. After sufficient pondering and reminiscing I take my leave from this amazing place and start working my way down the boulders and off the mountain.

Atop Mt. Zirkel. It's been a long exciting road to get here and a long exciting road onwards from here :)

The trip back is just a slog in terms of running. 18 miles back down off Zirkel, back up to the high meadows north of Lost Ranger, a tangle with a little bit of lightning atop Lost Ranger and, finally the long slow descent back into Luna Lake. I'd say more about this second half of the run but I was so overwhelmed atop Zirkel, so flooded with emotion once I realized just where I was and what was going on in my life, that I have so little to say about the second half. Except this: once I got the little bit of sadness out of my system, I was so filled with optimism and happiness about where I can go from here that I hardly recall what went through my mind for the next five hours or so. All I recall is a feeling that things aren't just going to be all right, they are going to be great. And not just for me but for all of us. So much lies out of our control but we can influence things just enough, I think, to always steer our lives toward excitement and happiness. Freakin' sweet!

OK, 36 miles down, about 8500 ft of elevation gain to go with it. All between 9500' and 12500'. A nice little cry in the middle to round it all out ha. Total time? Who even cares? I did this for fun, not for fast. But, for those who like to keep score (me a tiny bit), about 10 hours and 18 minutes on the move. Not a bad way to spend a day! After ending the day with a freezing dip in the lake, all I can do is sit, eat, drink, and contemplate the run and the events of the past 6 years. What a run it has been, literally and figuratively! I think the video atop Mt. Zirkel says it all - where would I be without my friends and family? I'd rather not even contemplate that. I am so grateful for all of you over all these years. And I cannot wait to share many more experiences with you all over all the years to come.

Now, go for a run or a hike in some mountains. Perhaps you cannot always move them but, I can assure you, they will move you.

Peace world :)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Running in Mount Zirkel Wilderness

So running adventure number one. Mount Zirkel Wilderness near Steamboat Spring, CO. I dropped off some belongings that didn't want to be in the sun very much with new friend MJ in Fort Collins and headed west into the mountains. Four hours later found me driving into Buffalo Pass along a pretty sweet forest service road in my AWESOME new car that I love to own and drive places in a TON. Buffalo pass is where the Wyoming Trail (coincides with the CDT at this point) passes through a nice high, accessible trailhead with parking and many other amenities like a pit toilet. Which is an important amenity. Left the car, hoisted my pack and, for the first time in several years, headed into the wilderness for a five night/four day adventure.

Armed, in hindsight, with a somewhat misplaced sense of self-confidence I hiked 8.7 miles into the backcountry to Lake Luna, a beautiful alpine like sitting at 10500 feet. This is the same lake that Jesse, Steve, Christa, several other Hoofers, and I visited back in 2010 on a whirlwind Colorado hiking weekend. I recall its stunning beauty then and I was not disappointed this year either.

I arrived in an evening drizzle as the sun set, set up a temporary campsite (my intended site was occupied when I got there... this is what happens when you arrive stylishly late to the backcountry mountain party) and spent the first of five nights in this majestic place.

Final campsite for the week! This site is just north of the east end of Lake Luna
up on a little hill above the lake.

The next morning featured a late wakeup (I'm on vacation here!!), moving my camp to the place I wanted to be after the forest service trail workers who had been staying there left, and heading off on the first run. Oy. Running at 10500-12000 feet is hard. There is no oxygen. None. Zero. I was breathing like a fat kid at the slightest aerobic provocation. And when the trail went uphill, which it does immediately from my camp on all the trails I wanted to run, I swear I felt like I had just sprinted a 200 on the track -- that anaerobic, lactic acid feeling in your quads that suggests you have very recently demanded more oxygen for the effort than was available at the time. It was challenging. My first run up to the Continental Divide (so cool to run on the Divide!!) was 1.9 miles uphill and took me over 30 minutes. Once I was up there was not much better... for the duration of the trip I think I only ran a handful of miles that resulted in a pace less than 12 minutes per mile. Remind me that, should I ever run Leadville, I need to take at least a full week and live/run at 10000 feet because even four days of intense running at this altitude was not quite enough to render me able to perform up there. Here, "perform" means "be able to actually run in a manner the average person would recognize as 'running.'"

But, these technical, ability, and acclimation issues aside, the runs took place in the most majestic arena imaginable. The views from atop the Divide were simply stunning.

Looking back on Lake Luna from about 1000 feet of elevation higher.

Many trails were lovely dirt singletrack while others were much more technical.
Great variety to keep every run interesting.

My running schedule for the week ended up looking as follows (along with some random notes I made regarding the runs while I was out there):

Thursday 8/29
AM: 6.2 miles 1120 ft in 1:20:58 (31:22 to the Divide and 23:26 back down [1.9 miles])
PM: 8 miles 1920 ft in 1:47:43 (yarrrr...)

Friday 8/30
AM: 12.6 miles 2640 ft in 2:54:46 (30:22 to Divide and 24ish back down; legs dead at the end but two super hot CDT thru hikers)
PM: 7.4 miles 1600 ft in 1:29:02 (descended from Divide in 19:30 motivated by thunder; 1.8 miles flat at the end with last 0.9 in 5:42, though I think this mileage is a tiny bit suspect; met a huge porcupine on this run)

Saturday 8/31
AM: 19.6 miles 4320 ft in 4:27:51 (30:57 up to the Divide; ran back to car to get a different day pack for long run tomorrow! had to walk a lot but made good time from Luna Lake trail to Buffalo Pass, 7 miles in ~1:22; along Wyoming trail and back again; met lots of cool people who think I should come back for Run Rabbit Run)

Sunday 9/1
Epic run... 36 miles with about 8500 feet of elevation gain. There will be a separate post describing this run.

So a grand total of just about 90 miles in 4 days. Super exhausting but moving. Moving in the sense that I was basically overcome by intense wonder and happiness ALL THE TIME. Except for some of the climbs... they were hard. To conclude, amazing trip, lots of running albeit slowly, and a great opportunity to engage in a great deal of soul searching and hard running. Vacation is the best :)

Wyoming trail was great for running :) 

The Continental Divide is amazing :) 

 My little beach for swimming with or without clothes.

Afternoon thunderstorms often chased me off the Divide.

The granddaddy of all porcupines.

Post-run trip to New Belgium in Fort Collins and some great recovery nutrition!

Look back in a day or two for a more specific post on the 36 miler to Mount Zirkel and back! And for a Grand Canyon adventure! And, eventually, hopefully (foot willing... more on this later), Pine to Palm 100 miler.

Peace, world :)

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Fort Collins and Westward

I have not posted in a long time. The past few weeks have been dizzyingly exciting and busy and have featured completing my dissertation, successfully defending it (Dr. Gordon Freeman??), going away party/EP release party, about a dozen gigs with No Name and Riptide, bidding Madison farewell, spending a week in CT where I bought a car and spent wonderful time with my entire family... and now a whirlwind road trip across the country in which I have spent time in wonderful places with wonderful people. Stops in Bethlehem, PA, Philadelphia, PA, and now Fort Collins. I also spent five days in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness near Steamboat Springs in there as well which featured a great deal of running at 10000+ feet. I will hopefully have time to post again in the next day or two as these running adventures are the real focus of this road trip as I make my west towards a new life in Portland, OR!

OK back to the road. Check back soon for some epic mountain running adventures! Today I head to Moab for some runs in that area and then tomorrow night to Grand Canyon for a.... rim-to-rim-to-rim run on Thursday!!!

It's a wonderful life indeed :)

PS Snooze for breakfast and Larkburger for lunch?? I Love CO!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The rollercoaster

The last few weeks have been intense, to say the least. The last I posted, everything in the world was right as rain and only looking up. Well, as far as I can tell, that is still the case! But things go up and down faster than I can keep track and I have so much emotionally invested in so many things at the moment that my feeble mind has trouble keeping up from hour to hour.

On Friday July 26th, we got a rejection notice from PNAS. An editor took a look at our paper and decided he or she didn't like it. Or, rather, that he or she didn't think it warranted consideration for PNAS. This was frustrating as PNAS publishes a lot of articles and, depending on the editor, utter garbage gets through along with the really great articles that define the journal. I am not trying to suggesting that our paper was garbage but I do think it was both good enough and impactful enough to at least go to peer review. One unlucky editor draw later and here we are. We decided a giant F*ck You was in order so we are revising the manuscript and sending it to Nature Physics instead. Nothing like upping the ante and resubmitting to a Nature journal. Besides, cutting out more than half the words to make it fit the guidelines for Nat Phys has forced us to make our story more concise and the message, and its importance, easier to distill. So maybe the PNAS rejection was both warranted and a good outcome. We'll see.

Then on Monday, July 29th, I finished my dissertation and got it turned in to my committee!!! This was a big deal. And, for me, a moment of mixed emotions. Once I submitted my dissertation, all I could think was a mix of, "Oh My God, it's finally done," and "Oh My God, did I do enough?" I never thought I would experience postpartum depression but here we are.

What about running? Isn't this blog supposed to focus on running? My man, your work-life balance is all upended and work is coming out solidly ahead: what gives? Well the past few days I am trying to get back on the horse. Because I am registered for Pine to Palm 100 miler in the Siskiyou Mountains of southern OR on September 14th! So I need to get my fitness back as soon as possible and then work on improving it. The average elevation gain is approximately 50% more than Devil's Lake 50M three weeks ago and the distance is twice as much. Note to self: treat with respect.

The past five days then:
Tuesday: speed work with Tom Kaufman and gang - 3.5 mile warmup, 3x1600m (5:18, :17, :18) with 4:00 rest, 3 mile cool down
Wednesday: off (busy day and last concert on the square!)
Thursday: 5.6 miles at 7:18 (busy day, little time to fit run in)
Friday: 12.6 miles at 7:30
Saturday: 19.1 miles at 8:44 (this was supposed to be slow; not this slow, but slow)

Moving forward, I am focusing on hill work and long runs. And making sure I get speed and tempo runs in every week to keep my fitness and speed up.

More to come soon. There is a lot more happening in my rollercoaster life right now than just a lot of work and a few runs... music and musical friends are providing me with an amazing sendoff. Not just the going away show on the 14th, but 10 gigs in my last 14 days in Madison! And then all the other issues attending moving. Like... moving. Anyway, it is time to start thinking about my defense talk. And dinner. Maybe another long run tomorrow (shock and awe training regimen!) followed by a set the stringband is playing at a music festival out in Mineral Point, WI! Should be a good day!

Peace, world :)