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A Guide to Planning Nolan's 14

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A Guide to Planning Nolan's 14

Nolan's 14 is a huge endeavor not only because of the intense and extreme running but also because of the months and months of planning and preparing that go into it. If you want to read my failed trip report go to the previous post Nolan's 14 the Adventure.

I spent months preparing for Nolan's 14 with pages and notes and emails. I hope this helps the next person, maybe a little, to feel more prepared before they start this process. Also because next year I don’t want to forget all the things I had to do this year.

I’m not going to go into detail about how to train for Nolan's 14. It is actually simple... run a lot, run a lot at altitude, run sections of the course, run at night, be prepared to suffer.

This post is more about the logistics of gear, food, crew, travel, navigation, pacing, and anything else I thought about.


Gear


I am a strong believer that gear doesn’t make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things. For example, I once won a bouldering comp in an old pair of evolvs with a blown out toe. However I will say that gear can greatly limit the amount of suffering and make your life much easier. Here is a list of things I’d recommend having on you with the brand of what I used.

Running Shoes: Salomon Speed Cross 3 GTX
Backpack: Black Diamond Blaze Pack (they no longer make this model)
Trekking Poles: Black Diamond Ultra Distance trekking Poles
Rain Pants: Patagonia Houdini Pants
Rain Jacket: Patagonia Houdini Jacket
Leggings: Lululemon Speed Tights
Wool Socks: SmartWool PhD Run Ultra Light Mini Sock   
Puffy Jacket:  Patagonia Nano Puff Hoody
Wool Shirt: Patagonia Merino Lightwieght T-shirt
Fleece Sweater: Patagonia R1
Gloves: Columbia Trail Summit
Sunglasses: Oakley Half Jacket Polarized
GPS device: Delorme InReach Explorer
Bladder: Osprey Hydraulics Lt Reservoir 1.5L
Water Bottle: Platypus SoftBottle 1L
Watch: Suunto Core
Gaiters: Salomon Trail Gaiters High Lab
Headlamp: Black Diamond ReVolt
Batteries: 3 AAA
Tape: Athletic Tape or Duct Tape

This is what I’d recommend you have for gear in your support van. Essentially bring whatever extra you have brand doesn’t matter because if you need to use them you’ll just be happy you have something.

Extra Running Shoes
Extra Rain Pants
Extra Rain Jacket
Extra Leggings
Extra Wool Socks
Extra Headlamp
Flashlight: Nathan Zephyr Fire 300


FOOD

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Fueling and hydrating is one of the most important things when it comes to long distance running. With Nolan's 14 it is super important to not screw this up. Especially at altitude when it can get hard to eat or drink enough. Here is what I’d recommend having on you for food.

4 Caffeinated ClifShot Energy Gels
6 Non Caffeinated ClifShot Energy Gels
2 ClifBars
2 Kind Bars
5 HappyBaby Baby food
2 Miniature Wheat Bagels
2 ClifBloks Gummies
2 Nuun Electrolyte in Platypus bottle
4 Saltstick Tablets

That isn’t very much food so it is important to refill at each aid station maybe carrying more or less food depending on the mileage or terrain or time of day (Maybe bring more caffeinated gels at night). So I recommend having a bunch of extra of the above items in your support van. I’d also recommend splitting out what you think you will need into separate drop bags labeled with the aid station you want them at so on go day you don’t have to think about it.

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Here is what I’d recommend having in your support van for food. But to be honest really any food would work. I told my crew to grab me a milk shake and fries every time they went through a town.

Peaches
Apples
Oatmeal
Peanut Butter
Nutella
Hummus
Tortillas
Bananas

Pedialyte
Slim Fast
Cookies
Donuts
Ginger Ale
Bagels
Mash Potatoes
Avocadoes
Pretzels
 


Crew

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The most important part of Nolan's 14 is having an awesome crew. It really amazes me when I hear people who have done Nolan's 14 in under 60 hrs with no crew. This is also the hardest part getting someone to commit 3 full days of their life to making sure you don’t die in the mountains. So it is important that you prepare them for what’s in store. In my case I only had one person to crew though ideally you might have two or three to help out.  First I debriefed my crew via email. Then I followed up in person providing maps and answering questions.  Here is a sample email of what I sent my crew a few weeks prior to my attempt:

Nolan's 14
Hey! I've been planning this run for a few months now and I want everyone to have all the information they need or would desire. Here is a link WEBSITE LINK to my GPS where you can catch my location at any point on the run.
First I will say my goal for this run is to complete it in under 60hrs. If at any point this goal seems unattainable my second goal is to just finish no matter how long it takes.
My motto is never give up, just keep moving, it's not that bad. Since you will be supporting me in this so don't let me give up!!
Okay now into the meat and logistics! Aka the fun stuff.
These are the times I need to be at these points on the course to achieve my sub 60hr finish assuming a 5am start on Wednesday August 19. Note I low balled these times most likely I will be there later rather than sooner.
-Mt Massive 8am
-Mt Elbert 11am
-La Plata Peak 5pm
-Mt Huron 9:15pm
-Mt Missouri 12:15am
-Mt Belford 1:30am
-Mt Oxford 2:30am
2 hour rest
-Mt Harvard 7am
-Mt Columbia 8:30am
-Mt Yale 11:30am
-Mt Princeton 6pm
-Mt Antero 10pm
-Mt Tabeguache 12am
-Mt Shavano 12:30am

I will be carrying on me
- 1.5 liters of water
- 16oz of nuun drink
- 10 gels
- extra batteries
- sat/gps phone
- a rain jacket
- rain pants
- gloves
- socks
- hat
- headlamp
- trekking poles
- 5 baby food
- 2 clif gummies
- 2 mini bagels
- salt tablets

In the van I will have 5 bags label for each aid stations they will all include:
-extra socks
-extra food
-change of clothing (if needed)
-extra batteries (if needed)
I'll also have food in the van to eat but if you're rolling through town grabbing some fries or a pizza would make me totally stoked. I'll leave cash with you.

Things to note
- I will want to give up. Don't let me. Even if I'm crying about falling or seeing an animal whatever it may be. Don't let me. This is very important because I will not be in a state of mind to make these decisions and will be upset looking back if I give up for some stupid reason.

Things you might hear me say and should ignore:
- I'm too tired
- My legs are fatigued
- Too much elevation
- Its too dark I'm scared
- I'll never make it
- The weathers too bad
- I'm not moving fast enough
- I haven't trained enough

GPS coordinates for aid stations and time
-aid1 9am (Lat 39.151030 Lon -106.455116) May not be needed
-aid2 2:30pm(Lat 39.071978 Lon -106.469364)
-aid3 6pm(Lat 38.985233 Lon -106.440611)
-aid4 2:30am(Lat 38.94379 Lon -106.342764) Hike
-aid4 am(Lat 38.871523 Lon -106.292038) Hike
-aid5 1pm(Lat 38.816305 Lon -106.332722) 
-aid6 7pm(Lat 38.711233 Lon -106.289806)

Along with these aid stations there are several places on the course you can hike too you can find them linked here http://mattmahoney.net/nolans14/maps/index.html. I think the easiest one would be to catch me on Missouri or Belford after the aid before Huron. And or park the van at the aid stations and start hiking the course backwards till you find me. Odds are you'll be moving faster than me at all points in time. Also I'd recommend after the last aid station in alpine driving to the trailhead for Shavano and meeting me on the summit of Tabeguache for the grand finale! Aka the short Traverse between the last two peaks.

When you see me on the course at an aid station make sure you do the following:
- fill all my water
- restock all my food
- get my stoke back up
- tell me any weather changes
- make me change my socks
- make me lube up any chaffing or tape hot spots
- make me change any wet clothing
- make me eat and drink

Okay last but not least. Things happen I get that and if for some reason I get to an aid station and you're not there it's no big deal. I'll just keep moving. The amount of food I'm carrying on me will be able to last me a long time and lots of water readily available even though untreated. No sweat. I'm prepared to roll with the punches.
Here is the timeline I'm thinking
August 17 - Fly into SF at noon drive to Truckee immediately. Pick you up and head straight for SLC.
August 18 - Drive into CO. Get Groceries. Prepare for Race. Climb at Rifle. Sleep at Fish Hatchery.
August 19 - Start at 5am.
August 20 - Pushing
August 21 - Finish at sometime.
August 22 - Climb in Rifle drive to SLC.
August 23 - Drive back to Truckee. Drive Back to Bay.
August 24 - Back to work.

I'll send you anything else if I forgot it.

Travel

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Nolan's 14 is no joke when it comes to elevation. If you have the time and flexibility to stay in CO for a month before making an attempt do it. Otherwise I’d recommend making your attempt on your second or third day in CO. Just enough time to get rested but not enough time to start the slow acclimation process.
As for traveling I always find it better to drive. That way I have my van and everything I could possibly need already sorted out, but I live in California. If driving isn’t an option flying and renting a 4wd vehicle is your best bet. The roads for crew can be a little rugged at times so I wouldn’t rally a rented Prius back into the depths of the mountains. The last thing you want is your crew not being able to get to you because of car issues.


Navigation

I wrote up a bunch of Topos and detailed information on my Run Topos part of the blog. They are broken down into 5 sections which are big feats themselves and great places to start out to get a taste of what Nolan's 14 will feel like. I used some of them as training runs and ways to gage pacing. You can find them linked here respectively:

Leadville Fish Hatchery to CO82
CO82 to Clear Creek Road
Clear Creek Road to CO Trail
CO Trail to Alpine
Alpine to Blank Cabin

As for navigation picking up an inReach Explore Delorme and pairing it with a smart phone is a life saver when it comes to navigating the mountains…Especially navigating the mountains at night.


Pacing

Pacing is important when you are trying to do it in under 60 hrs but honestly I think finishing Nolan's 14 even in 70 hrs is an accomplishment too. I first calculated pacing based on a 30 minute mile pace but often you are doing fast than this or slower than this at times. I then compared that to what pace other people had on successful Nolan's 14 attempts. Instead of taking this information from me though checkout all the amazing data parsing Tom Lauren did on his site www.tomlauren.com/notes/... A wealth of knowledge to be had on that page.


Questions to ask yourself

Should I find a partner or do it alone?
Like anything having a partner can be nice but can also have its draw backs. I went at it alone but that’s because it’s hard to find someone else that’s just as crazy to join me. I would recommend bringing a partner but making sure you train with them and both have the same goals. It’s always refreshing to have two brains when running such extreme distances. And since pacers are not allowed having a partner is your best bet.

Should I do it North to South or South to North?
When I made my attempt I was going South to North. However for all of the planning and really up until the day before I was going to go North to South. Honestly I don’t think it matters much but this is my thoughts. North to South seems a little bit easier. The first couple of mountains involve a lot of up and down between each of them from Massive to Huron you aren’t really linking any peaks on ridges, which can be nice while you are still fresh in the beginning. This allows you to finish on Tabeguache and Shavano were the ridge between the two is fast with little elevation change when you are the most tired. Going South to North has its benefits in terms of aid. In the beginning the aid is more spread out and you are linking mountains together before seeing you’re crew and at the end when you’re exhausted you get to see your crew between every mountain. In the end they are equally as difficult traversing the same terrain, it’s really up to you.

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Missouri Missouri Belford... Lessons Learned

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Missouri Missouri Belford... Lessons Learned

It is finally dark and the van is parked deep in the woods below Mt. Elbert. This is true darkness. Lopi is curled up in the bed beside me breathing heavy, legs twitching. I am sitting in the bed three pillows propped behind my head with the glow of the laptop on my face.
Words. I am struggling to find the words to articulate the emotional day I had today. So I'll start from the beginning.

The alarm rang and I sat up alert in my bed. It couldn't be 4:30am already!? I heard voices outside the van. I wasn't the only person planning on an alpine start this morning. I pulled the covers off slightly but the cool alpine air made me pull them back on quickly. It was dark. I was tired. I could afford a little snooze I was sure I'd be moving faster than the people outside my van.
Woof woof woof! I awoke again. This time to the sound of barking and it wasn't Lopi's either. A quick glance at the clock What!? It's already 5:30am. I tried again to pull the covers from my body only to snuggle deeper into the bed with Lopi. He wasn't helping the problem nosing closer to keep warm. I through the privacy current open hoping the dim morning light would wake me. Instead I snoozed for another half hour before prying my body from the warm bed placing one article of clothing on at a time before getting back under the blanket to warm them.

It was 6:30am... hard to call it an alpine start. I ate a few miniature bagels and a gel and was on the trail finally. The night before I had come up with the plan to run Missouri to Elkhead Pass to Oxford to Belford. A loop I measured to be close to 20 miles with a serious amount of elevation gain. With the map etched in my head and mileage to trail junctions and peaks occupying my thoughts I knew I had to move quickly my slow morning wasn't helping anything. And my daily weather update from a friend in Truckee had me worried I'd be stuck in another thunderstorm.

One by one I picked people off the trail. When I pass people I often want to ask what time they started but never do. The morning dew on the bushes soak my pants as I run by and my feet feel refreshed running through the raging rivers.

All was going to plan it was 9am now and Lopi and I were on the summit of Missouri. This left plenty of time for a summit of Oxford and Belford and I was confident we would be off the summit before the storms hit. They hadn't even started building! 
I had no plans of stopping on the summit but I decided to chat with the only other people up there, a group of four with two dogs. They were headed across the ridge that connects Missouri to Elkhead Pass with plans to summit Belford. I was immediately intrigued I had researched the ridge and thought it would make the trip faster. However the night before I had made the decision to not take it because of the 3rd/4th class nature and Lopi. I quickly responded "Really!? You guys think the dogs can do that? I hear it's pretty steep and exposed 3rd class." To which they laughed "Oh yeah it'll be fine if we have to pick them up we will." Against my better judgement I followed them off the summit. Which quickly turned into Lopi and I leading across the ridge. They seemed very surprised to hear I was traveling alone but I assured them I was not alone because I had Lopi!

Lopi is a strong dog and after 4 years adventuring with him. I know what he can and cannot do. And this was doable. We made quick work taking the path of least resistance until we were suddenly cliffed out. Our destination was less than a quarter mile away. To the right I could see a faint trail far below. We traversed back up the ridge and the group finally caught up. I explained the situation and we all headed down the right side. The terrain was extremely steep with serious exposure. Rocks crumbled in my hands and slipped underneath my feet. The consequences for a misstep were death. I had a bad feeling in my stomach as Lopi clung tight to my legs almost tripping me at moments. I knew if I had been alone on the summit I would have never got Lopi and I into this situation. But it was too late now. We made it even closer to Elkhead Pass but cliffed out again. This time I was done. Lopi and I were headed back to the summit of Missouri and going to finish our run the way we had planned it. The rest of the group tried a couple more times to find a way across the ridge with no luck.

Lopi took the lead sending rocks down on me as he quickly headed for the ridge. He was tired, I could tell, we had already run 7 miles and traversed across a technical ridge. Back on the ridge we headed for the summit of Missouri. Lopi's scrambling became dynamic and his movements sloppy. But he's a strong dog and we were headed to the safety of 2nd class trails. I thought the worst was behind us.
Only one more section of technical terrain. I was hugging tight to Lopi's heels because he wasn't moving very fast. He put his front paws up on the top of the ridge and jumped with his back legs. His back legs didn't make it and he came falling down the steep face right at me. I was precariously perched on the ridge with a sheer cliff behind me. Lopi means the world to me but being knocked backwards off a cliff from a falling dog was not how I imagined I'd go. Adrenaline kicked in and I braced myself. Lopi isn't a small dog actually the opposite at 115 pounds. Instinct made me use a bouldering technique. Arms out straight I tried to catch him but maybe just broke his fall gently. My heart pounding everyone was okay! I lowered Lopi back to the ground and he quickly took an easier route to the top of the ridge. I, still shaking, followed. When I got to the summit I found Lopi laying in some snow. The summit was now crowded in 30 plus people and I was ready to get off it. In the distance I could see the storms building I glanced at the clock. 11am. Damn it! I had wasted two hours and only summitted the same mountain twice. In two hours I could have already been on the summit of Oxford.

There was no time to think should've could've would've so we bolted. Knowing in the matter of a few hours that storm would be on top of us. But I was still determined to finish the loop. Running behind Lopi in the snow a million things on my mind I caught a glimpse of his print. Was that blood? I stopped and took a closer look. It was blood. I immediately jumped to conclusions. My trip in Colorado was over. I bought him booties and I didn't even use them. How could I be such a terrible dog mom? I was sure he had reinjured the paw he delaminated weeks earlier on a run in Truckee. It looked like a lot of blood it must be bad. I sprinted to catch up with Lopi shouting for him to stop. We sat in the middle of the trail I picked up his two front paws and saw nothing. The two back paws nothing. Wait. I looked again. One of his back paws nails had gotten torn up. I assumed it was from the fall he had taken a few hours earlier. It didn't seem to bother him so I put my glove over his paw and used a hair tie to secure. Hoping this would keep it clean.

We were already over half way to Elkhead Pass and it would actually be a shorter distance to just run up over Mt. Belford then to turn around. So we pressed onward. I kept glancing over my shoulder at the approaching storm. I didn't hear sounds of thunder or see lightning so I assumed we would be fine. Just a rain storm. Right? Less then a mile from the summit of Belford we watched the storm engulf Missouri. As I passed the only other people on the mountain they were headed down. We exchanged few words. They used words like cold, miserable, suffer and I just nodded in agreement.

A few steps from the summit what I thought would be rain hit us. Blowing horizontal the snow pelted my open face and collected on my pants. I pulled my rain jacket tight against my head and continued to walk up over the summit. The snow soon engulfed us full force.

Lopi laid close to the ground and I hunkered over my legs. Gloveless with only a thin fleece jacket and leggings I was not prepared for this weather. However I felt no panic. I didn't know if the storm would last days or minutes or if I would go hypothermic before I ever found out. I was calm. I was well above 14'000 feet in pure whiteness. Everywhere I looked all I could see was white. And the sound. There was no sound. The world was silent. I was silent. I was alone. The most alone I've ever been. All of those moments when I stressed about Lopi or the weather or my hydrating or fueling. In this moment nothing mattered. Nothing was real. Was I really on the top of Mt. Belford. It didn't matter. I didn't know what time it was I never looked. Time didn't matter. I've never felt anything like it. It's hard to articulate the peace and emptiness I felt. I couldn't tell you if I was dead or alive. 
But having awoke from the whiteness the storm passed. It could have lasted an hour I wouldn't know. The surrounding mountains came back into focus and the sky shown blue for a moment. A few rays of sun warmed my frozen cheeks and I felt life again. I could hear the sound of the mountains. A deep rawr of thunder in the distance and the scattering of marmots.

I picked up my things, brushed the snow off of Lopi and headed down the steep face of Belford. This time it was different. I wanted to walk and no I didn't want to walk fast I wanted to walk slow. I had nothing to prove to myself. I know I'm a fast descender. I know I could make it down this mountain in a quarter of the time. But what did it matter. I was training. The storm had passed. I wanted to walk. So I did.

I slowly walked over the slippery wet rocks enjoying the beautiful yellow and purple flowers. It wasn't long though before my desire to move quickly kicked back in and I bounced swiftly down the mountain and back to the van.

Lopi crawled wet and muddy into my bed for the third day in a row and I laid naked feet propped up trying to figure out what happened today. I guess if everything in life always went the way you planned it life wouldn't be interesting.

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