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Tahoe 200 - Wow That was Fun!

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Tahoe 200 - Wow That was Fun!

I wasn’t totally positive I could do it. But the Iditarod loomed on the horizon and I knew I needed to at the very least try the distance. I had gone through a range of emotions surrounding the race mostly thinking I should drop out before the race had even begun. Was it really going to help me for the Iditarod? I like winter racing and I haven’t raced any 100 mile+ distances that didn’t involve snow and sled dragging. Winter races have barely any elevation gain, are at sea level, and have maybe a check point every 20 to 100 miles. The races have roughly 10 runners, and I’m pretty positive the race director doesn’t even follow the runners progress because they very aptly refer to us as the “walkers”. For me the Tahoe 200 didn’t really fit into my goals very well. But I had registered and with no option for a refund I was committed and getting excited for the new and different challenge it would present.

In the months leading up to the Tahoe 200, I got the flu, had eye surgery, got a deep laceration with 12 stitches in my knee, and did one training run (The GR20) across Corisca. Needless to say I was very very well rested. About two weeks before the race I tried to formulate a plan for crew, drop bags, and pacing but winter races don’t allow crew or pacing or even drop bags so I felt very out of place. My last minute, roped together, still barely committed crew would be a group of 4 people that had never met before. I was finally getting excited.

The day before the race I packed some random, barely thought out drop bags in the parking lot of pre race and then the nerves started to set in. My best friend Julia was also doing the race and we vented about the craziness of such an endeavor. I had been feeling ill for a few days. I’ve never been the best at eating so it was no surprise that for the few days leading up to the race my stomach was an absolute mess. That night Stacey, Corbin, and I formulated a plan for crewing and we all said good night. In the morning I would head to the start line to run 205 miles. A feeling that is hard to describe toeing the line for such an absurd distance.

The gun went off and we all quickly made our way up the first climb. I was still feeling sick to my stomach and was assuming it was just the nervous and would wear off once I settled into the race. But the first hill came and went, then the first aid station, and then a long runnable section of the TRT that dumped us onto the Rubicon trail. I was slowing drastically on terrain I should have been able to run. I kept up for a bit with a nice lady named Kate from Texas. She had just gotten down with the Bigfoot and was shooting for the triple crown. I was super impressed and we chatted for a bit till I fell off the back of her pace. I kept reminding myself to run your own race but I do enjoy trail company. The next aid station came and went and I was still struggling bad with my stomach. I decided to cut my water bottle with ginger ale hoping to gain some relief. As I headed out of that aid station the skies opened up. I quickly threw on my jacket and poncho and put my head down as the rain poured over my body. The trail was barely a trail at this point. Densely over grown, steeping over logs, and getting my rain poncho stuck in bushes. It was a short 6 miles with barely any elevation gain that went by slower than molasses. I was convinced that trail was only ever used for this race.

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As I arrived at the next aid station a seat and some relief from the rain was welcomed. I ate a bunch of food, changed my socks, and got ready to go back into the rain. It was raining harder now and my poncho had seen better days after all the bushwhacking. The trail also had retained almost all the water leaving it a huge river of a mess. I was still moving slow but had settled into a group of people that I saw occasionally back and forth between pee breaks and eating. The rain had subsided enough to ditch the poncho. It was a long up hill followed by a downhill to the last aid station before I’d see Stacey and get some trail company. 20+ miles though would mean I’d have at least one very long cold lonely night out.

As the sun started to set it started to become real. I was sick to my stomach, alone, in a dark and densely forested woods. 30 miles from a road and who knows how far from help. My brain started to race. I am deathly afraid of the woods at night and I am not often faced with this fear. Snow is bright and reflective at night and the forests aren’t as dense as the barely traveled woods behind desolation. Everyone in the world knew exactly where I was in that moment. My backpack was publishing this information to the web. I started to panic. My breathing became shallow. Tears welled in my eyes. I contemplating ditching my spot tracker and just running for it. In that moment a runner came up from behind and asked how I was doing. In a belabored shallow breath I exclaimed something inaudible. The man behind me followed in silence as I tried to repeat. I’m afraid of the dark and I’m having a panic attack. He finally understood what was going on and said don’t worry about it. I’ll stay with you for a bit and get you through the dark. I felt an inexplainable sense of relief. I took a few deep breaths and got my breathing under control. It was going to be okay. I was going to be okay.

The mans name was Davy he was a local as well and we chatted through to the next aid station. I had picked up my pace enough to keep up but knew I was holding him back. I didn’t feel well. I had no appetite and I was clearly missing some key nutrition. Davy made me take some salt tablets and suck on some chips. We tried a bunch of things hoping my stomach would make a come back but half way to Sierra at Tahoe it was clear I wasn’t speeding up but actually slowing down. Davy got me out to the open road and took off. The last thing I said to him was see you at the finish. Even though in that moment I think we both knew I probably wouldn’t make it. I had been trying at every aid station to get a hold of Corbin to tell him I needed him at the Sierra at Tahoe aid station my Altra Lone peak shoes were soaked and having close to 900 miles on them were as good as being barefoot at this point. Plus I really wanted to sleep in my van and at that point maybe even just go home. The next 3 miles of downhill on pavement were the hardest. My feet were bruised on the bottom, my calves felt like giant knots, and I was so cold I kept dreaming of curling up on the warm black top and taking a nap. Unfortunately the black top wasn’t warm but cold and wet from hours of rain. I finally called Corbin and he said he would meet me at Sierra at Tahoe. I felt a sort of relief knowing I had a out if things never got better. However I had gotten into a zone finally. The night time didn’t scare me anymore. I was just moving forward at the pace I needed to move. I walked for a bit with Bobby and Gene the 68 and 69 year old men. In that moment heading to lovers leap we were the youngest and oldest racers on the course. It was fun to enjoy there company. As we approached the last horrible climb up and over Lovers Leap I caught back up to Kate. A badass horse vet from Arizona that I had leap frogged with most of the evening. She was zombie walking and we made a packed to get each other to the next aid station awake and alert. I was still in extreme abdominal pain and I felt bad for holding Kate back but we chatted here and there and just before sunrise stumbled into the Sierra at Tahoe aid station.

Stacey greeted me and I couldn’t have been more excited to see her. She got all of my stuff together and help me get prepared for the next section. I got caught up with Spike who gave me the best advice of the race. I was trying to eat every hour but Spike told me I needed to be eating a little something something every 15 to 20 minutes just to keep my stomach active otherwise it will send all of the blood to my legs and then my digestion shuts down and you feel nauseous… a feeling I was all too familiar with. Then Todd came over looked me dead in the face and said wow you look like shit. I chuckled a little at his brutal honesty and he later gave me a oral IV which may or may not have helped turn my race around. I still wasn’t eating but hoped a little nap would fix things up. I got in the back of the van with Lopi and curled into the fetal position. I was lights out for 2 hrs while Lopi slept squarely on my head. When I woke up I still felt sick but I threw on some compression socks to help with the knotted calves and got prepared to take a nice long walk with my good friend Stacey. My motto this race was I either have to time out or be pulled for medical. Otherwise I’m walking. I was super bummed on how hard it was to time out at this race.

The new shoes, the welcomed company, the compression socks, and a new way of thinking about eating made the miles pass quickly. Stacey entertained me with stories and I just spewed hate for no real good reason. We sat every once and awhile to get the pressure off of my feet but ultimately I felt like we were moving well. A quick little teaser storm made us dawn the ponchos again over Armstrong pass but the weather cleared quickly and set us up for a beautiful night. When we got into the next aid station my stomach was still upside down but improving slightly. I sat in the back of the van for a bit chatting with Creedance and his kick ass in-laws that I thoroughly enjoyed seeing several times out on the course. Creedance had come all the way from Santa Cruz to pace me so I at least need to walk with him. Plus I was hours off of the cut off. Corbin and Lopi had been eating fried chicken so I ate some of that before getting ready for another long cold night as we went up and over Freel peak and down to Heavenly.

Creedance and I had never met before so it only seemed fitting to get to know each other at night when I’m a bit tired, sick, and grumpy. We got off to a rough start as the sunset and we made our way up and over the highest point of the course, Freel peak. I was in a lot of pain and wasn’t feeling super talkative. I apologized a few times to Creedance letting him know I wasn’t always such a crabby patty. He didn’t seem to mind and entertained me with small talk here and there with my ya, cool, huh, sweet generic responses. Maybe about half way through to Heavenly I finally broke through. My spirits lifted and we chatted back and forth about this and that. We took a few sits the most notable being when we came to this beautiful over look of Lake Tahoe at night. I sat in the bushes the big moon and stars and lights below. We had a moment of aw as we shoveled some food in our mouths until Creedance said… actually you know that’s actually Carson City. We laughed about that afterwards the several minutes of complete disorientation. Creedance really cracked the wipe on the way to Heavenly it might have been the several heart attacks he gave me ever time he went pee and then charged down the trail after me at 6 min mile pace. Or maybe it was because we thought it was 20 miles and it only ended up being 15. Needless to say we got into Heavenly mile 100 at 1am which was 10 hours off the cut off.

Creedance headed home to Santa Cruz and Stacey said she would pace me again the next section to spooner summit. I was only planning to sleep 2hrs and then get back on the road. But 2hrs turned into 6hrs and I wasn’t at all upset with the goodnight sleep I got. I had gotten a strange sense of peace about the race. I was like I just ran 100 miles high five me that is badass! I don’t really need to go anymore but I either have to be pulled for medical or time out so I better keep sleeping till the cut off. Spike came up in my van and taped up my feet really well. A little extra cushion on the forefoot and some blister relief on my pinky toes. My appetite had come back now too and I ate some eggs and pancakes before Stacey and I hit the road 2 hrs off of the cutoff. I planned to just walk really slow in hopes of missing the cut off at spooner summit but I felt so incredibly good that I couldn’t slow down. Stacey and I blazed up and over Spooner summit giving ourselves way more cushion than I wanted. Steve wasn’t planning to meet me at Spooner but I wasn’t sure if I’d make it past Tunnel Creek so he hurried up to the summit to take me what I thought would be my final leg of the race.

Something changed for me on my way to Tunnel Creek my stomach and legs finally hit sync and I was feeling like a million bucks. Not to mention Steve has one of the coolest and most interesting lives to listen too. It was like an audio book on tape. Part 1 Part 2 Part 8… I was holding on by the edge of me seat the whole way to Tunnel Creek. Not to mention a most excellent sunset and we even got to see Marlette Lake in the day light! As we rolled into Tunnel Creek we got fed and dozed off for a hard hour and half nap. I insisted that they needed to be aggressive with me otherwise I’d sleep for another 6hrs. The alarm went off and I wanted to sleep for another hour. Stacey very politely said “You told me to be aggressive”. I came back with well Corbin and I talked and I get another half hour. As I tried to fall back asleep Stacey passively aggressively continued to talk till I caved and got up. I guess aggressive takes different forms but I’m glad I got up. Steve and I headed out for another section to Brockway summit. This starts with a bit of road walking to a straight up over grown scree slope called the power lines.

I actually rather enjoyed the power lines it was a new use of different muscles like stepping up stairs. And sometimes you could even use your hands. Steve and I made good time on this section and completely obliviously gleefully walked by a bear and apparently also a mountain lion. I seemed to making better time on the uphills than downhills since my badly bruised feet wanted nothing to do with pounding downhill. As we neared the top of Martis Peak I ran into my good friend Julia. She wasn’t doing well and could barely make it up the hill without horrible back spasms. I offered some helped but there wasn’t much I could do so we kept moving. Julia stayed with us for a bit and we laughed and chatted about this and that and she got to fully enjoy the farty mess I had been for 2 days now. I knew she was tough as nails and would get the help and rest she needed at Brockway. Steve and I rolled into Brockway right before sunrise. I took a quick 45 minute nap in the back of Stacey’s van, ate some food, and got to hangout with my running club before Steve and I headed for our last section together. I had done this section before so I wasn’t at all worried. I believed it would go fast.

Boy was I wrong. Something had shifted in my brain. I had gone from I wish I would time out, I really enjoyed this, no matter what happens this was an amazing experience to I WANT TO FINISH. I had made it 155 miles and only had 50 miles left to go. I was almost back on the west shore. I was going to the finish if it killed me. I started getting in my head mulling over and over again the thought of only two sections left. Only two sections left. Get to Tahoe City get to the finish. Steve and I barely talked at all. He was tired and had bad blisters I can only imagine suffering in his head wondering why he was doing this. All the pains of an ultra without any of the glory of a finish. Pacing is such a selfless beautiful thing and I owe Steve, Stacey, and Creedance so much pacing time it’s not even funny! But here Steve and I were. Silently suffering in our own heads. The miles going by slower and slower and slower. Steve would ask me every once and awhile if I wanted to sit down and a part of me thinks it’s because he wanted to sit down too. We ran a down hill out of frustration and I felt muscles in my legs come alive it was the first time since the beginning of the race that I ran. That I actually ran. Not an ultra shuffle but a run. It felt amazing! But my feet hurt so bad. Every running step would send a shock wave up through my leg and the pain was slowly eating at my brain. We were in the final downhill to Tahoe City. I had done this section before. All down hill not a single up hill and it just went on forever. In my head I kept feeling defeated. It was never going to come. That’s when Steve asked me how I was doing and I snapped. I yelled in pain and frustration and fatigue MY FEET FUCKING HURT OKAY! In that moment I realized what had happened. And I quickly in an effort to mask the monster I had become turned it into a song. Screaming at the top of my lungs WE’RE WALKING DOWN THE HILL TO TAHOE CITY. WALKING DOWN THE HILL TO TAHOE CITY. WALKING DOWN THE HILL TO TAHOE CITY. WALKING ALL DAY AND WALKING ALL NIGHT! My speed picked up and started to run to the beat of my awful singing. A little nervous for the fact I was loosing my marbles a bit. Steve chimed in with verse two. And by verse 6 we were running down the hill to Tahoe City passing people left and right sharing our joyful awful singing voices. I remember feeling the pain disappear in my feet as I got lost in song and before we knew it we were in Tahoe City.

I felt rejuvenated in Tahoe City with only 30 miles left to go and I could sit down forever and never have to ever get back up. Stacey was pacing me again up and over this last section and I was looking forward to some fresh company. My friend Jesse spotted me walking through downtown Tahoe City and got me all ready to go. Filling my water bottles and making me sandwiches. He was a real sub in crew life saver! It was also nice to see Howie again. But mostly Howie’s dogs. As we left Tahoe City I gave Joey (he’s my favorite) a big old pettings and a kiss. And maybe a little wanted to steal him for the next 20 mile section or for forever… I walked slow out of there trying to eat as much food as I could before we powered up the long last uphill. I felt pretty good in this section running as much as I could. I think Stacey was excited to finally get to run a bit of the trails. I just couldn’t believe how much better and better I kept feeling as the race progressed.

As we neared the top of the big climb the sky started to get dark. It was also getting sunset dark but this was a different dark. A big storm dark. I remembered back to Nolans 14 being up miles above tree line and having the pre shocks hit our hats and poles. This is when you have the decision point. Push hard and fast over the summit and run down below tree line or sit and wait it out before the summit. I felt confident from my time above treeline in storms that we could push it out and over this and make it to safety before things got too dangerous. So the adrenaline sit in and we motored up over the summit and started to run down the other side. WABAM my first fall of the race. I went face down the trail and got right back up and kept running. No time for stumbles when your above treeline in a lightning storm. Then the sky opened up lightening and thunder and sideways rain. We pulled over under a tree and frantically pulled our ponchos over. I knew this was bad. The sun was setting and we were soaked. Jackets and ponchos on with frozen hands we bolted down the trail. I wanted to run as fast and as much as I could before the light completely disappeared and our moving became slow again. I’m not sure how fast we ran that downhill but it felt fast. Tripping over rocks, rolling ankles, and lightly bouncing from foot to foot. My feet seemed to hurt less the faster we ran. Finally we got our headlamps out and I still felt confident enough to run. I knew we had about 3 miles of road which I very strongly opposed to running. It’s just a huge pain on your feet and legs with no real benefit. As we dumped out onto the road my time with Stacey on the trail was finally nearing an end. I felt sad. We had spent over 60 miles together in the past 3 days and it was soon going to be over. We sat down in the road for a bit. My feet were soaked, I could feel the tape on my feet just swimming around in my shoes. Then we got up and powered to the last aid station.

When we got to the final aid station I couldn’t believe I only had 10 miles left to go. I took off my shoes and put them under the heat vents in Stacey’s van and dried my badly trenched feet as well. Stacey got my backpack all ready to go and made sure Corbin was prepared enough for the final miles. I sat comfortably in Stacey’s passenger seat going in and out of consciousness. I asked a few times if I could take a nap to which they both strictly said no. As I prepared to leave the aid station I went over to check out and low and behold Davy was there! I was so happy to see him. He said he had had some knee complications early on and had to drop. And that he was so excited to see me on the tracker. I think we were both surprised to see me at mile 195 feeling so good about to get that finish after the mess I was at mile 50. Crazy how a race can turn around in 200 miles. Corbin and I left the aid station in a light drizzle which quickly turned to a rain and the poncho got pulled out one last time. We powered up the final climb together chatting a bit here and there and enjoying the beautiful silent lightning storm. It was unreal the power of lightening being out there in the elements for 3 days. I wasn’t even afraid but in aw of the beauty. I let Corbin know that if the lightning was too bad when we got up and over Ellis Peak that we might have to cuddle under a tree for a bit and wait it out. But when we got up above tree line the wind and rain were wiping hard and all you could hear is the sound of my poncho flapping beside me.

As we stood on the top of the final downhill. The long long final downhill to the finish. The emotions started to well inside me. I wasn’t even sure I was going to be able to do it. Up until that point I still wasn’t sure. But here I was with Corbin by my side. I could roll down that hill and still make it with in the time cut off. But I felt like a million bucks. So I ran. I ran that entire downhill as fast I could. Corbin even said his knees started to hurt but I didn’t feel it. I was bouncing off of rocks. Slightly rolling my ankles from side to side. But I was doing it. I was finishing the Tahoe 200. As I ran into the finish line holding Corbin’s hand Stacey has a video of me screaming. Why do I feel so fresh!? I honestly felt like I could keep going. If that was an aid station and someone said you still got another 200 miles left to go I would have taken a 6hr nap and got up and kept going. But that was the finish. And as I crossed the finish line in a haze. Julia embraced me in one of the biggest longest bear hugs I won’t ever forget. I was so confused. I couldn’t understand what she was doing there. I kept repeating what are you doing here? I think she respond with something like you fucking did it dude. I came to watch you finish. I can’t believe you fucking did it. I felt this overwhelming sadness that we didn’t do it together but also a sense of accomplishment. She ran 178 fucking miles. That is huge. Who cares if she didn’t do the last 30. We all have our journey and that was hers. And I would have been happy if my journey was only 50 miles.

We than sat outside and shot the shit for an hour or so. I got my belt buckle and a burrito that was a little too spicy for my sunburnt tongue. Then Corbin and I went home and I slept like a dead person. We said goodbye to Stacey in the morning as she traveled back to Salt Lake City and then we all went back to the award ceremony were I got my first place finishers award for the 20 to 29 age group. Which is surprisingly not a hard age group to win at these races. And that was it. We all returned back to our full time jobs, sleep schedules normalized again, and my stomach after a few days finally came back around to accepting food.

I have to wonder though if my success was just beginners dumb luck. Did I just get lucky that I slept for 6hrs at Heavenly which just happened to do a full body reset and get me at a cruising altitude to finish? Did I just get lucky that I didn’t run anything until Tahoe City and so my legs were never destroyed? Did I just get lucky that the GR20 was the absolute perfect training for this race? People keep saying I raced a really smart race but honestly I didn’t race anything. And to say I did anything intentionally would be a lie. I sat when my body told me it was time to sit. I slept when my body wanted to sleep. And I force fed myself for 4 days straight. All of that to be said. Would I have been as strong mentally without all of the support form Davy, Kate, Stacey, Creedence, Corbin, and Steve? I guess I don’t know. And I don’t want to find out because I find that these experiences are so much more rich because they were shared. So ya I’m scared shitless about the Iditarod and the potential to be completely alone out there for 7 days but I’m ready to embrace any situation that gets thrown my way and just hope another winter crazy wants to walk with me.

So in conclusion I ran 205.5 miles with 35,117 feet of ascent and 35,117 feet of descent. I finished in 89hrs 24minutes. I was 61st overall, the 10th female finisher, and 1st 20 to 29 year old. I slept 11hrs 6 of which were at the 100 mile mark. I wore 12 pairs of Swiftwick socks, ate 15 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, enough gummies and gummy bears to kill a horse, and drank 3 gallons of Skratch Labs. Did I have fun? Too much fun!

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Nolan's 14 - Unfinished Business

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Nolan's 14 - Unfinished Business

Here I was again. Alone in the woods. Spooned tight against Lopi with the rain tinging loudly off the roof of the van. It was a Tuesday or a Wednesday. Days didn’t matter out here. What mattered most was the weather. Another flash of lighting blinded me for a few seconds and the thunder rumbled through the van. It fit my mood. I was feeling the apprehension of years of time spent here. Months of being alone running, hiking, and exploring these mountains. But the mountains don’t care about that. A fall could be deadly and the weather. The weather turns from blue bird to snow in seconds and when the hair stands up on your arms you fear you will die. But even if the weather held. Would I finish? Would I finally be able to bury this obsession? What if my body gave way before my heart and mind? What if an injury? What if a sickness? What if… 

This was my second summer in Colorado scouting the beautiful line called Nolan’s 14. It traverses 14 14ers gaining and losing 44,000 feet respectively. And it is the most beautiful line I’ve ever seen. It has consumed my time and thoughts for years. After a horrible failure last year this was my redemption. I wouldn’t make the same mistakes, and I would have the company and strength of my partner Julia Millon to pull me through.

Let’s start from the beginning. It was a average cold Monday in May. I had just driven back from a week in Yosemite and wanted to see some familiar running faces so I showed up for the Donner Party Mountain Runners Monday group run. It was a large group and I recognized a few faces. We started with a big up hill. I struggled to keep on the heels of Gretchen and was looking forward to the downhill. At the top we waited for the group to all finish and then it was the fun part. I took off in my typical brakeless descent. It is rare someone can keep up with me, but I kept hearing a person a few steps behind. When we reached the parking lot within seconds Julia and I became instant friends. The most mentally tough person I had ever met and balls out crazy on technical descents… It was only days before I reached out to see if she would want to be my partner for Nolan’s. Her response was something like “Fuck Yes!!” and that’s how it all began.

I left for a two month training and scouting mission in Colorado around the beginning of July. Unfortunately things took a turn for the worse once I arrived. A horrible gum infections and two surgeries put me out for 3 weeks on my training and scouting. When I was finally able to run again I came back fast and hard. Spending long days in the mountains and as much time as I could. Nolan’s was coming together and as the date came closer and closer I was becoming less and less excited. I started to feel burned out on the mission. Nothing was new and exciting anymore. I had seen almost every part of the course and I couldn’t pull on any stoke. I had spent most the summer alone and work had been very stressful. My energy levels were tanking, and I was afraid I wouldn’t be my normal stoked self.

But here we were getting ready for go day. I picked Corbin and Julia up from the airport on Thursday morning and we all made our way out to the mountains in the van. First stop was the Leadville beer mile. A tradition at most races were your crew and pacers get out and run a beer mile. Corbin participated and actually did really well. It was a fun way to start the trip and see some other ultra friends. 

Next was Friday. The plan, pack, and get super fucking nervous day. We spent the day in Buena Vista making sure everything was set and ready for our mission. Corbin was debriefed and our bags were packed. Now it was just time to sit and wait for 5am to come. It was crazy that last day. I had waited almost 360 days for this very moment. BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals), as my friend Stacey calls them, have a tendency to pull you in and then spitting you out making you wanting more. I knew we could do it. The real question was would the weather allow us?

The alarm chirped at 5am and we all piled into the van to prepare and make breakfast. Corbin cooked me up some eggs and made Julia some coffee. This time I double checked to make sure tracking was turned on and at 6:08 sharp Julia and I were charging up the trail.

Most of the Shavano trail was in a thick cloud and when we finally got above treeline we got above cloud line too. It was shaping up to be a beautiful day and we made quick work of Mt. Shavano. Once we got to the saddle and started our final ascent a crazy wind picked up. It was blowing straight into our faces and my hands quickly lost feeling. We finally layered up, crested over the summit, and started our way to Tabeguache. The ridge between Shavano and Tab goes quickly and once on the summit of Tab we headed for what they call the Hamilton traverse. Continuing on the Tab ridge we got our first taste ofexposure and steep scree. It landed us in a beautiful saddle and we finally got to run a grassy roller descent.

Julia looked back at me as we opened up our stride and said this is some sound of music shit right here. To which I shouted “The hills are alive with the sound of music…” for the entirety of the descent. There was no trail and when we got to the bottom it placed us in a marshy bog with dense bushes. At first we tried to pick good footing and avoid getting are feet wet but after a few minutes we were just charging straight through feet and ankles in deep water and mud. The marsh dumped us out on a fire road which we would take almost to the top of Antero. 

This is when I started to tank. My stomach had been sour all morning and I was struggling to keep any calories down. The fire road was a gradual grade and we never stopped moving but I was starting to feel the fatigue and my energy levels were tanking. My sister Ruthie and her fiancé Stephen were planning on meeting us on the top of Antero so I kept pushing through to see them. Off in the distances I caught a glimpse of Stephens backpack. Julia was waiting for me at the top of the hill and when I got there I told her I think thats my family and even though I want to take a little break lets keep going. Julia was getting her self situated as I continued walking. Out of nowhere a helicopter started to land. I turned around to find Julia getting dirt blasted. She took off in a sprint and we laughed at the close call. She was like I kept telling myself that helicopter won’t land till I get out of the way… apparently not.

We kept going until we caught up to Ruthie and Stephen and we shared stories about the helicopter and found out that a jeweler had a rock stuck on top of him and was needing a rescue. The four of us continued the last little section to the summit of Antero. I made slow progress of the final section to the summit. It seemed that every time we’d get close to 14,000 feet my body would slow to a survival pace and I just slowly keep moving upward. We said goodbye to Ruthie and Stephen and started our run down the steep face of Antero. As we lost elevation and scree skied down the mountain I started to catch another wind. Julia and I talked the entire fire road out to the van running the entire time.

At the van I finally got some calories down. We were making great time and right on the schedule we had predicted. 10 hours from Blank Cabin to Alpine was the most ideal situation. Giving us a good amount of daylight to get up the back side of Princeton. We refilled, changed socks, and got on our way quickly. It was hard leaving the van but the next section up grouse creek flew by. Julia was setting the pace and I was just keeping on her heels. When the trail finally disappeared we started straight up the side of the mountain towards the Princeton summit. On a map it doesn’t look so far but the terrain isn’t quick moving. Up through the woods we moved. The hill was steep and we followed aimlessly through the trees. This is when we encountered fresh mountain lion tracks. I had been intently looking at the ground trying to see any other signs of humans and unfortunately found signs of one of my biggest fears. Being alone in the woods at night in mountain lion territory. Our goal was to get to treeline as fast as possible now. A small kick of adrenaline got me moving and we crested above treeline right at sunset. We scared a heard of about 15 mountain goats and we watched them scurry up the steep talus.

We could see our ascent gully now and Julia looked at me and said that looks way too steep. Headlamps on and a little pump up music playing we started our way up the gully. At this point it was our only option we needed to get up and over. The gully which I coined “Death Gully” was incredibly steep and very loose. Every step up was a few steps down and a rockslide of dirt and boulders. It was important we picked a clean line and the leader didn’t send rocks speeding down at the second. Julia took the lead at first but after a mild panic attack I took over. The moving was slow and the top of the gully never seemed to get closer. At one point in the pitch dark I tried to convince Julia for a nap. We moved even slower the higher we got. The late night and lack of oxygen was getting to me. When we finally reached the top of the gully we could see Princeton silhouetted by the moon in the distance. We were still so far from where we needed to be. A quick scan of the terrain with the headlamp showed jagged steep cliffs in almost every direction. Unfortunately for this time in the night our best option was to traverse the ridge even though this meant submitting a 13,971 foot peak as well as Princeton. 

The ridge to Princeton went slow. We had been above 13,000 feet for hours now and both of us were struggling with food and fatigue. When we finally made it to the summit hours later than we hoped we needed to make a crucial decision. Run down the shortest route and bushwhack below treeline in the dark or take the actual trail and potentially add several more miles but be on trails the entire time. I was nervous about the mountain lions below treeline and Julia was nervous about the terrain. So we made the decision to rough out the extra mileage in an effort to be on more runnable and safer terrain. 

We didn’t stay long on the summit because we both felt very ill and started to run down the trail. The trail was steep and loose and both of us took a few tumbles. It wasn’t going as fast as we had hoped and I was looking at my GPS for navigation. I didn’t want to loose the trail on accident. At one point an hour or so after leaving the summit we looked at the GPS only to discover we were still above 13,000 feet. At 2 in the morning we took breaks often and barely talked. The trail turned into a road and we shuffled our way as quickly as possible. By the time we reached the Colorado trail at 3am we were still 12 miles from the van. I looked at Julia and said we’re going to watch the sunrise before getting to the van. And then silently we pushed our way towards Yale. Julia led setting a good pace on the uphills. We filtered water once and Julia took a few second nap on the trail. The sun was rising slowly and the darkness became a bit less dark. Our hallucinations started to hit strong. Is that a house I’d ask and Julia would respond I thought that was a bus and as we got closer it would just be trees.

By the time the sun finally rose we were on the road headed towards Yale. I was a little nervous that Corbin would head into town to check our tracker or something and miss us since we were now about 3 hours off of schedule. But being able to turn my headlamp off made me catch a second wind and we laughed our way the final two miles to the van. Our plan was to take a quick 30 minute nap and then be on our way up Yale.

When we got to the van at 7am we found my friend Brandon, Ruthie, and Stephen all surprised to see us. Our best case scenario arrival would have been 3am so showing up at 7am was a surprise to everyone. Julia and I passed out immediately in the van having been on the move for 25 hrs. Our half an hour nap turned into an hour and a friendly stranger named Sue offered to do some body work for us. She was a extreme sports massage therapist from Aspen out riding horses for the day. She gave Julia a leg massage and then came for me. I was struggling already with the nagging pain my hip gives. I was unable to sleep in certain positions in the bed because of it and Corbin commented that it felt like my femur was protruding from my hip. Sure enough it actually was.

Sue laid me down and rotated and popped my femur back into the socket. For a few seconds I felt better and then as I sat down I heard it pop back out. At this point there was nothing I could do about it. My muscles wanted to femur there and it was going to need to be dealt with later. Around 10 am after mentally and physically struggling to get started again Brandon, Julia, and I started to make our way up Yale. At this point time didn’t matter 60hrs was looking far out of the picture and I was now nervous we would be getting stuck in the dark on some unideal peaks. The steep climb up the Colorado trail to the Yale turn off went forever. Corbin and Lopi caught up with us for the summit and I really enjoyed all of the company. I had felt like shit for almost the entirety of the run and I was doubting my ability to continue. The middle 7 peaks are a serious commitment and after our night on Princeton I was questioning it.

As we reached the turn off for Yale I confessed to the group my lack of stoke. I was having the ultra downs and joked with Julia. “You didn’t come all the way to Colorado not to get stuck in a lightning storm above 14,000 feet.” I had been watching clouds build on Harvard as we hiked up the hill but wasn’t worried. A lot of the storms that happen don’t amount to much and the forecast was calling for a near perfect day. Julia and Brandon went ahead and Corbin stuck with me as I struggled to eat and keep moving. Yale was a death march but I was determined to summit. 

We summited the false summit and then met back up with Brandon and Julia for the final push to the summit. The clouds were starting to look ominous and at this point it was safer for us to summit and descend quickly the trail on the other side than it would be to traverse back the way we came via the entirety of the ridge. Right as we approach 14,000 feet it started to snow graupel on us. Brandon in good spirits stated that this was his favorite type of precipitation because they were like little snowballs! Now above 14,000 feet and on the final 70 feet to the summit it hit us. Corbin threw Lopis leash to the ground shouting did you feel that!? As the carabiners on his leash started to sizzle. Immediately next my poles in my hands started to buzz and the hair close to my face stuck straight out. I threw my poles to the ground and Brandon said ow! My poles just shocked me. Someone in the group asked if we should turn around and before an answer could be made I was full speed down the hill. We needed to make it treeline asap. 

We tried to keep 100 feet between us and stay off the ridge as much as possible. I made it down to the meadow at 13,000 feet and could still feel my poles buzzing. Next was the metal button on the top of my hat. The adrenaline was pumping hard and I was moving faster than I ever had with 50+ miles on my legs. The thoughts flashed through my heads what if something happened? This was my fault all these people were out here on this mountain because of me. Not only that I was the one moving slow if only I had moved faster we would have summited before the storm hit and hopefully had been in safer terrain. But it just came so quickly with no warning. CRACK! Lightning shot across the ground and struck in the valley close by. Don’t stop I kept repeating. 

We all made it to treeline in record time and as we sat eating and dumping the scree out of our shoes it was over. Nolan’s was over. I wasn’t sad actually but happy. All the people I cared about were safe and alive. No serious injuries and nobody got zapped by lightning. Some things you can’t control. With Nolan’s the weather and the mountains determine your success. And there will always be another year.

We made it back to the van ate some food, took a nap, and started the return back to normal life. I keep telling myself I won’t be back. That I’ve seen all of the course and that I’m ready to spend my summer doing something else. But deep down inside I know I will be back. Me and those mountains have some unfinished business.

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Western States 100 Pacing

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Western States 100 Pacing

It was February 2016 I stumbled out of our red Prius rental car and shuffled my legs across the icy ground. Everyone looked in much better shape than me. But less than 24 hours earlier I was deep in the woods of the Alaska wilderness running. The Susitna 100 was an epic 100 miler race across frozen Alaska. This year it only saw 28 runners actually finish. Of those finishers only 9 were females. Karen Johansen was one of those 9 females and so was I. At the award ceremony the next day she looked almost completely recovered while I stayed firmly in my seat trying to hide my obvious limp. I didn’t know much about Karen at the time other than that around mile 40 her and her friend Lourdes effortlessly floated by me at my lowest of lows. We all chatted about the race, our up coming races, and where we were from. This is how Karen and I connected on the Western States 100. Excitedly she asked if I would pace her and even more excited I obliged.

It is now June 2016 and the hype for the Western States 100 was growing in Tahoe. Karen had a super limited schedule so we barely got to sync up before race day. It was Friday afternoon when we finally saw each other 5 months since our last chat in person in Alaska. Karen was super sick. She could barely sit with us for more than a few minutes before getting nauseous. We made a plan to have me pace her the whole way from Forresthill to the finish and then she went to bed. I started to feel nervous about her health and the heat of the coming day but if I knew anything about Karen it was that she was one tough cookie. I decided to pass the time by going paragliding which proved to be a mildly bad idea. I stalled my paraglider close to the ground and fell right on my ankle. A sprained ankle the day before an ultra. I knew this wasn’t going to be easy.

By the time I woke the next morning Karen was already at mile 10. I continued to watch her tracker like a hawk. She was averaging a good pace and I started to estimate when I would need to be in Forresthill. By the time she reached mile 30 I had a good estimate of when she would be at mile 60. It started to dawn on me that I would be running for some very strange hours. Entirely all at night. I quick grabbed another nap and headed down the hill. I kept massaging my ankle just hoping it wouldn’t cause me any problems. I put on my running clothes, packed up my backpack, and put on my compression socks in an effort to combat the swelling in my ankle. The sun was setting already and I was feeling super mentally unprepared for what the night was about to hold. I kept reminding myself that Karen had 60 miles on her legs and I had 0. This isn’t about me. This is about her. 40 miles on fresh legs is nothing. 

By 9pm all of the spectators started to go to bed and clear the streets. It was dark now so I put on a jacket because I was cold. I said goodbye to some people and then it was just me standing waiting. Karen rolled through the aid station around 9:45pm and we were off running together at 10pm. I had already shed my jacket as we ran down the street together chatting. I couldn’t believe how fresh Karen looked! Distracted we missed the turn straight out the gate and some people behind us yelled for us to turn. Wow that could have been bad I thought as I cleared my head and focused. The course wasn’t as well marked as I thought it would be so I made extra sure to always be looking… I mean we all had heard what happened to the number one guy getting lost before HWY 49. 

Before even getting a mile into the run we both had to use the bathroom. We cleaned up and continued downhill. It was a lot of downhill. I thought we were making really good time. We were talking about running, our personal lives, and everything in between. The first aid station came and went and I was back on familiar trails. I had worked the Cal 2 aid station for the Canyons 100k so I felt a little less lost in the woods. I couldn’t believe how dusty and hot it was for how late at night. We made it to the Cal 2 aid station were everything was buzzing. We saw a few people who had dropped and ate a little food. By this point we had finally settled into together. We had tried Karen running in front and me following and vice versa but settled in with me leading and setting the pace. We reached the next aid station quickly and everyone couldn’t believe how great Karen looked. I really lucked out. She was so strong and good at running ultras. She knew exactly what she needed when she needed it.

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As we left that aid station we started to go uphill again. Karen is a really strong ascender even with 70 miles on her legs. We set a really solid pace on the uphill and passed several parties that looked like they were hurting. The next stop was the river crossing and I was getting nervous about the prospect of the fridge water at 3 in the morning. The river came faster than expected and Karen flew through the aid station before the water. A spectator grabbed me by the arm and said Jen!! what are you doing here?? Immediately confused she realized I was not Jen Shelton. This wasn’t my first time being mistaken for Jen. We both laughed as she continued to rant about how I could be her sister. Karen was already at the river as I sprinted down the stairs to catch up. They put a life jacket on both of us and it was time to go. We waded waste deep across the river making sure not to twist an ankle on the slippery big rocks below. This was a first for both of us. The water was cool, welcoming, and refreshing! I was feeling revitalized and ready to take on the rest of the course. Karen took her shoes off to realize what she thought was a rock was actually bad trench foot. She changed her socks, but the damage was already done. She knew she just needed to grit it out. 

We went up hill for the next mile or so and the heat had already dried most of me out. We were at mile 80 now and we had a small 20 miles left to go. The trail goes down hill for a bit and then turns into a very runnable angle. We capitalized on this and set a slow but steady pace. We passed a young man who was really hurting. His cough echoed through the canyon. I kept thinking how lucky I was that Karen was in such good shape! I turned around and asked her how she was doing again. She responded with the usual good! Though I knew she had terrible trench feet, 80 miles on her legs, and horrible chaffing. The strength of an ultra runner is insane. We ran with in close distance of this young man and his pacer for awhile and had to listen to the awfulness of his pacer. Sometimes its better to let the struggler struggle and encourage them instead of being so hard. Karen and I shot each other a glance and pulled away from hearing distance.

I refilled my water and fueled up at the next aid station. My hand flashlight battery was dead so I pulled my spare headlamp from my pack. The sun was just barely rising. But it was dark enough to need a light. We were roughly a half marathon from the finish. We wanted to cover as much distance as possible before the sun hit us and slowed us down. Then it hit me… the gut rot. It was only 3 miles to the next aid station I could make it. I trotted along the trail in fear of shitting my pants. All of my energy and thoughts were consumed by keeping it together. Out of no where my friend Chaz chipper as ever came flying by. When did we pass Chaz I thought? He had come through Forresthill in the day light!! I was super happy to see he was still going and hadn’t lost his sense of humor. The aid station came faster than expected and I disappeared into the portapotty. I made it quick and found Karen on her way out of the aid station. It was a quick section to HWY 49 and then we would be in the home stretch. The sun had risen and it was already smolderingly hot.

This was my lowest point. I was sick. My hips were hurting still from the Broken Arrow Skyrace the previous weekend. I was over 30 miles in. Karen was going to finish whether I was there or not. She was doing so good. I contemplated stopping at HWY 49 and getting Corbin to pick me up. It wasn’t like I was racing. Crippled over on the uphill Karen still looking strong she knew I was hurting. I joked doesn’t it feel good to see someone with less miles on there legs hurting worse than you? She laughed and said kind of. We both laughed and I started moving a little better. This is when I realized what made pacing hard. It’s the motivation. When you’re racing you get your motivation from the belt buckle, from the finish line, from the idea of crossing something off your list. I didn’t have these motivations. What was it that I could draw on to keep moving? It was Karen. It was getting to see her succeed. It was getting to share in her accomplishment. It was getting to make sure she finished. I told her I’d run with her to the finish. I was running to the finish. 

We could feel the energy of the finish line when we reached HWY 49. Everyone was screaming and cheering. We were a short 6 miles from being able to close our eyes and sleep forever. I knew all of these trails I had run them before. Karen wanted to run so we ran. Even on the uphill. By the time we reached the no hands bridge which was the second to the last aid station a sense of relief came over us. Karen was finishing this race. There were no cutoffs left to miss and just a short 3 miles and a big up hill between us and the finish line. I runner came up behind and me and said hey Jen it’s Blah Blah from race Blah Blah remember me? At this point I just said it’s so good see you again! And Karen and I left the aid station. Karen laughed and looked at me and said wow I bet everyone is wondering why a professional runner is pacing me. 

 

Karen started to become teary eyed as the prospect of finishing this race became more and more a reality. I quick grabbed the phone and turned it to full speaker on some jams. We were walking up this hill and we were going to do it in musical style. We passed a few people and got passed by a few people and after the final aid station we started to run again. Less than a mile from the finish I couldn’t contain my excitement. I was screaming and clapping and cheering and maybe dropping the F-bomb more than I should have. As we hit the pavement and ran through the neighborhoods of Auburn, Karen and I started to belt the lyrics to the song playing. Right now the name of the song escapes me but this moment was really special to me. Karen had been awake for 28 hours, had 100 miles on her legs, and was so happy and alive! The track came into view and I handed my phone off to my friend Lucas to take photos of us finishing. I looked at Karen and she said run the track with me. We ran the entirety of the track and as the finish line got closer and closer I didn’t want it to end. And just like that it was over. She had did it. And no one can ever take that away from her. She will always be a Western States 100 finisher!

We laid on the track drank some water and parted ways. To me pacing the Western States felt more rich and more meaningful than any race I’ve ever done. There’s no doping, no cutting course, no glory, no finish line, the selfishness that has made me hate running sometimes was stripped away. It truly made me appreciate what Tim had done for me in Alaska. He could have finished 5 hours faster but he stuck with me. He stuck with me and made sure I finished too. The selflessness in these serious endurance events makes me really love the people I choose to call friends.

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Broken Arrow Skyrace

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Broken Arrow Skyrace

I feel weird writing a blog post like this. Usually they are upbeat and stoked. But the Broken Arrow Skyrace left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth, and I can’t paint it to be something that it isn’t. I will say before I say anything else that the RD and all the volunteers were awesome, and I know everyone worked really hard to put on an awesome event. The course was beautiful and I appreciated the opportunity to come out and participate. Similarly, I strongly feel that this race will only get better in the years to come with hopefully a new and less confusing course. 

Skyracing. It’s a European thing. Essentially they try to jam pack as much vertical into as little distance as possible. I was intrigued by the challenging aspect of the race and the idea of traversing mountains. When they decided to start a skyrace in Tahoe I signed up without thinking twice. The Broken Arrow Skyrace in Squaw valley promised a 50k that wouldn’t disappoint. Unfortunately when the race course was released a month before the race I became less than excited. I never liked running track and field in high school because I despised the idea of being able to count the laps… being able to count the distance… doing the same thing over and over! This course was just that. A bunch of tiny little loops crossing and repeating all over the Squaw Resort ski hill. And no longer a 50k but now a 54k. The word around town was that the epic stellar loop they had planned fell through when the permits didn’t come in. Needless to say I didn’t care what there excuses where. I just didn’t want to do it anymore. Still battling an injured hip from Alaska I had excuses to not do it. To take the DNS. Instead in silent protest I stopped training. I spent the next 20 days raging the cliffs of Yosemite and the 3 days leading up to the race being drug around by a paraglider. And still at 5am on June 19th I was in Squaw preparing to race.

I woke up that morning in the van and made a solid breakfast. I had been struggling with what would be appropriate to wear all morning but finally settled on an outfit that wouldn’t make me hot. Last minute I through a fleece and some gloves in my backpack. I do really hate being cold. I was using trekking poles which previously I hadn’t anticipated, but with my lack of training and hip injury it was a no brainer. At the start line I synced up with a few fellow Donner Party Mountain Runners. It was the first time I’ve ever raced and not felt nervous. I was planning on a DFL finish so what was to be nervous about?  When they asked everyone to file into the start I took the position which I thought I’d finish way at the back back. It was the first time I’d ever done this. My past racing strategy has always been to go out strong and hard and then you know exactly who is in front of you because they have to pass you. But this time I was giving a big zero fucks about strategy and finish position.

The horn sounded and we all filed out like a herd of cows. The fire road turns into single track really quick and I felt trapped behind some slow trotters. Initially I regretted my decision to start at the back. I felt like I was losing precious time behind these slow people but then I remembered that the the first 3 miles of a 32 mile race don’t mean that much. Crazy what a change in perspective will do to your attitude. I started moving faster once the road opened up again and then the first wrong turn happened. Everyone made it. This is how we ended up so high trying to make a decision to go down or up. Most of the pack went down so I went down. But then a man started shouting wrong way. So a lot of people turned around and went back up. I on the other hand stuck to my decision and kept going. Which turned out to be the right way. Everyone was pretty spread out now because of the wrong turn. This was only mile 2 and unfortunately was about to become a common theme. The first aid station came and went and I stashed my jacket in my pack.

In the next section we got our first tastes of snow. It was still very early in the day so the snow was frozen solid. Your feet wouldn’t punch through which made things very out of control going down and even more sketchy going up. The snow lasted on and off for the next 3 or so miles. Butt sliding was an awful and unwanted option because the ice would just cut the back of your legs and butt. The downhill went fast and I chatted here and there with a few people. I was feeling strong by mile 10 when we crossed back through downtown Squaw but the next uphill was just looming around the corner. I left downtown optimistic about the race but that quickly diminished. The trail becomes incredibly steep and loose and the uphill was relentless for hours. We went up for a long time and I was feeling low. Capitalize on your high points but keep moving during your low I kept thinking. I wanted an aid station by the time we reached Squaw Peaks summit and the helper just pointed off in the distance at a speck and said that’s your next one. The trail starts going down again and it felt good to open up my stride. This is where the next wrong turn happened we followed the flags across a snowfield which looked very well traveled only to realize we had seriously cut the trail. This resulted in the people who cut having to back track and go back up. As we came down I watched three more people cut the trail in the same spot. I told them they had cut but they didn’t seem to care. It was a substantial hill and mileage they missed.

So here is when I started to loose all hope in this race. The course was easy to cut and nobody was tracking. What are times? What are distances? What are places in a race? They mean nothing if people are cutting the course intentionally or unintentionally. We continued to run and the men who had cut passed me. At this point I didn’t care. I told myself they probably would have passed me anyways. We started to go down again and then back up. It was the final long uphill. Charting along I see my friend Julia coming down the trail. Confused I ask if she changed to the 27k. Even more confused she said no. She had taken a wrong turn which ended her up going down the wrong trail and actually adding more mileage and elevation gain. Things just weren’t adding up. How is this course so confusing? Even from looking at my map I couldn’t decipher. I got to the high point and started to go down again. A lady passed me and was asking a lot of strange questions about the course. I gladly answered but was very confused because she seemed to not remember coming up this entire section only a few hours earlier. But again I just brushed it off. Maybe she just didn’t remember. I was so happy to reach the final aid station. Then the final uphill happened it was all down hill from here. There was no-one behind for a long while. So I settled in the idea of finishing right where I was. We crested up the final climb and I watched the woman and man in front of me cut a big part of the course. I couldn’t believe it, but I gave them the benefit of the doubt it was a hard turn to see but we just went up this a few hours ago!!!??? How do people forget??? I took the correct trail and started to become paranoid. I knew the guys behind me were going to cut this and then probably catch me. I started to question my decision not to cut. It would be easy. No one but I would know… But I had morals and I also cared little about this race. What would cutting do? Solidify my current position? I was like dead last any ways why did I care? If I cheated I’d be a cheater. I’d always be a cheater. I couldn’t live with that. 

As the final stretch came into view I opened up my stride and finished right where I should have finished. Though my superstitions about the legitamentness of this race continued when a man I had passed and I very clearly remember did not pass me was already at the finish line chatting me up. I finished in about 8 and half hours which is what I expected to do based on all of the runs of half the distance and half the elevation I had done in Yosemite in about 4 hours. It’s a strange feeling to be given a rank on a piece of paper based off of something nobody can confirm all these people actually did. All that matters to me though is that I know I did it and I did all of it. So fuck yeah! But honestly a little piece of me wishes I would have just run 32 miles with 12,000 feet of vertical on my own and then none of this would even matter.

At the end of the day it’s a good reminder of why I hate racing. Racing is why people dope. Racing is why people cut course. Racing turns good people into people who will do anything to win or anything to place a few spots higher. Now it’s time to return to the purity of the mountains. Colorado is my next stop. 

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Susitna 100 - A Race Across Frozen Alaska

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Susitna 100 - A Race Across Frozen Alaska

I watched the sunrise, then the sunset, then the sunrise, and then the sunset again. I don't even know where to begin to talk about the Susitna 100. I'll try to start from the beginning.

I had originally heard about the Susitna 100 from a good friend who was working at Happy Trails Kennel. He raced it two years ago in the bike division and at the time I thought it sounded crazy. Flash forward to August 2015 I'm coming back from a soul crushing (and foot crushing) Nolan's 14 attempt looking for a sufferfest to satiate my sadness. I looked seriously into the Zion 100 but couldn't bring myself to register. The terrain seemed straightforward and the challenge was more of distance and less of elements. Weeks went by and something sparked my memory of the Susitna 100. I did a quick Google search and found myself entangled in the logistics of a race across frozen Alaska dragging sled! A few hours later I was registered. At the time I don't think I realized what an epic endeavor this would be.

Months went by and I built a sled and did some long runs in Tahoe, Yosemite, The Grand Canyon, and Zion. Training was easy this year with the large amount of snow Tahoe received so I tried to get out often to run around with sled. Logistically the race is intimidating warning of frostbite and other serious damages from the extreme cold and extreme distance. I over planned and was sure I'd be ready for the worst case scenario. I wanted to leave there with all my fingers and toes!

Something to know about the Susitna 100 is that all racers are required to carry a -20 degree sleeping bag, a closed cell sleeping pad, a bivy sack, 2 insulated liters of water, 3,000 calories of food that you can't eat unless in an emergency, a headlamp, and a rear flashing light. At a minimum your gear has to weigh 15lbs but most peoples weigh well over. This is why all the runners drag a sled. So here I am weighing in at 118 lbs with a sled that in total weighed 30 lbs. My weight to sled ratio had me at a serious disadvantage from the start. But no matter what, this race wasn't going to be physically or mentally easy.

Corbin and I flew into Anchorage a few days before the race and explored around the area. A quick day in the Chugach and a awesome day in Talkeetna getting to see Denali up close and personal. It was nice to distract myself from the grim reality the next 2 days would be for me. I got the sled packed and all the gear dialed and was feeling ready but nervous for the day ahead. I honestly had no idea what to expect. When people asked me how long they thought it would take I would answer with anywhere from 32 to 38 hours.

At the start it was still dark and I checked in for the race. I walked around in a room full of athletes over hearing conversations that started with "The last three years I did this it was... " or "My last 100 miler was like... " My heart immediately sank and I couldn't join in on any of the conversations. A few people chatted with me and asked me about my last race or my other ultra races. I was left codfish mouthed. My response was uh... I don't race but I really liked running the Grand Canyon.

All the racers funneled out to the start line and I positioned myself directly behind the woman who has raced it 15 times. I figured if I could stick close with her I'd do well and not get lost. The gun went off and the adrenaline started pumping. I was determined to keep up with these ladies. I was in first for awhile, then second, then third. By mile 5 I knew this was not a pace I could sustain for 100 miles, but I kept charging. I wanted to stick close to the front of the pack. By mile 10 I must have been 5 or 6 back and by 15 I realized that I needed to walk. The first aid station was 22 miles from the start and it felt like an eternity to get there. Kept thinking I must be getting close. Two men that were keeping the same pace as me caught up, Dustin and Tim. I kept with them till we got the first checkpoint in a little over 5 hours. I left the checkpoint before them because I was moving much slower then them so I knew they would catch me in the next 15 mile stretch to Flathorn Lake. This was the section of the trail that conflicted with a dogsled race.

Zoom another group of dogs ran past and then another and another. It was crazy to watch all the mushers out there running the dogs and for a few minutes I also felt like a dog dragging a sled. My thoughts wandered to Lopi and how much I love that dumb dog. I played out scenarios in my head of Lopi getting picked on by the sled dogs because he's a California softy. It's the little things that keep your mind distracted from your current state.

Tim and his friend Lester zoomed past me and Dustin stayed pretty close. It was the infinite awfulness of the dismal swamp. The never ending flat icy miserable miles of nothing. I was happy to have the micro spikes on my feet but now 30 miles in I could feel the bruises building on every step. I just wanted to get to Flathorn Lake before the sunset. The temperature had dropped considerably since the start of the race and just in a light pair of gloves I thought I was going to lose my thumbs. I kept shaking my hands trying to rush blood back into them.

It was a relief right as the sun was setting to finally make it to the check point. It felt like an eternity as I watched the checkpoint get closer and closer traversing the miles over the frozen lake. It was busy with people. I dropped the sled and started to prepare myself for the long cold night. I pulled out my big black diamond expedition mittens and a few hand warms. I thought my feet were doing fine other than the bruising on the bottom so I didn't change my socks. I pulled out my puffy and a second pair of pants and headed into the checkpoint. My plan was to make it quick I was feeling better and want to making it through the night with all my fingers and toes. I had drank almost all my bladder so I planned to fill it up and get on my way with a few bites of food. Any icy hill led up to a small hut that was booming with warmth. As I started up the hill I watch Tim slip badly and fall down it. He seemed okay so I kept moving. When I got inside I layered up and ate some food the warm couch was so inviting I knew I needed to stay focused. I went outside to fill my water bladder and ended up filling it with freezing cold water. This proved to be a crucial mistake. As I headed back inside for a brief second I realized my backpack was soaking wet and there was water everywhere. I checked to make sure I closed the bladder only to realize the cold water had burst the seams. Well there was no way I was going to put a soaking wet backpack back on my back so I cut my loses and threw it in the sled. 

It was dark now so I had my headlamp out and was ready to keep moving. As I left Flathorn Lake I had a million things racing through my head. How was I supposed to run another 70 miles with no water!? I had a Nalgene in my sled but having to stop and take the sled off every time I needed to drink was going to take too much time. I continued contemplating my options for several hours. The bruising on the bottom of my feet had become unbearable and I removed the micro spikes after dropping down onto the Susitna River. It was about to be a very long 18 miles on a cold flat river to the next checkpoint and at this point I wasn't positive I was going to finish. My demeanor quickly changed from wanting to finish towards the front of the pack to just wanting to finish period. It was no longer a competition to me but pure survival. I didn't train and travel all the way here to just give up. I was going to finish. I kept repeating in my head my motto... never give up, it's not that bad, just keep moving.

The miles ticked by slowly and my pace had slowed considerably. My thoughts drifted to comfortable things like being in a warm hotel room with Corbin just snuggled up fast asleep. I mentally struggled to push through. I thought about how much easier it would be to like simple things. To take a vacation to Alaska without running 100 miles. I thought about my other options. How I could be a stay at home mom and never run again. I picked up another handful of snow and shoved it in my mouth. It was the only way to get a little water in. All I could see on the horizon were red flashing lights and when I looked behind for miles dots of headlamps. It was nice to know I wasn't completely alone yet. 

My legs were now starting to cramp. I could barely bend my knees. I had stopped fueling because I had stopped hydrating and now almost 50 miles in my body was taking a toll. The bruises on my feet felt better when I jogged so I found myself shuffling slowly. A red light in the distance kept getting closer until it was right in front of me. It was Tim and he was standing in the middle of trail just standing. I looked at him and dry mouthed sputtered can I have some of your water. He kindly obliged and I got a few calories and water in. He was hurting bad from the fall he took down the icy hill at Flathorn. We ran together for a bit talking about this and that. He would share his water with me every for miles and I greatly appreciated it. Time seemed to go faster with his company and my mind wandered less to the comfortable things. 

The final stretch to the 5 Star Tent checkpoint went on forever. Tim would stop every few minutes to lay in the snow and stretch out his back and I found myself more and more often needing to bend over and stretch out my legs. The cramping had become so severe I was constantly making a plan for the next check point which involved a Skratch Labs Rescue drink and a lot of salt. When the checkpoint finally came into view we told ourselves we would be quick and get as fast as we could the 11 miles to Eagle Crest Lodge. The tent cabin was warm and inviting and being able to sit down never felt so good. Tim took his shoes and socks off and his feet looked like hell. I should have changed my socks too but instead I continued to stick it out. A couple people there had given up, and I made a pack with Tim that we would not give up. We were making it to the finish even if it took us 48hrs.

When we left 5 star tent we were moving well. We chatted about our families and friends. Tim was excited to have dry socks on and I was excited to finally have some salt in me. Miles passed and my body started to deteriorate again. My thoughts wondered to the bikers who by now were showered and sleeping in a warm bed. The race was a memory to them. Something they did yesterday. But for us we were only half way done and it was still very much a reality. 1 am, 2 am, 3 am... it was early and I was wide awake belting the lyrics to I believe I can fly. Tim on the other hand was exhausted he wanted to sleep. I encouraged him and we kept moving. The air had gotten colder and our breath lingered around our faces. Every time Tim would breath a cloud of minty fresh air would sit in the air and I would walk straight though it. He was chewing gum at this point to keep himself awake.

When we reached Eagles Crest Lodge it was the last point we had to give up and we were determined to finish. I finally got to use a bathroom inside and see the carnage the sled had done to my hips. We left the Lodge early in the morning and were headed towards Cows Lake. We knew we would be watching the sunrise on the way. A few miles from the lodge I was hurting again. The weight of sled was taking a toll on me. I needed to make it lighter. We stopped and dumped all of our liquids from the sled. We were now just sharing one camelbacks worth of water between the two of us. We sat down in the darkness and laughed about all the shit in the sled we didn't need to bring. But we weren't going to drag it all the way out here for nothing. So we lit up the jet boil and made a cup of hot chocolate. The best cup of hot chocolate I've ever had.

As the sun rose we could finally turn our headlamps off and Tim made a comment about all of my hair being frozen. Next the hallucinations started to begin. We had been moving for 24 hours non stop at this point with over 30 miles left to go. Giant houses with airplanes and dog kennels appeared and disappeared in the woods. Tim was seeing similar things and a few times we would ask confirmation on if something was there or not. I found myself falling farther and farther behind Tim. In an effort to keep up I would walking directly behind him in his foot prints. This seemed to help the time pass but I found myself getting fatigued faster. The steep icy uphills with the sled felt traitorous and the icy descents often ended in me and the sled sliding down together... involuntary. 

When we reached Cow Lake we knew we weren't going to make it to the finish in the daylight but we hoped we could at least make it to the 90 mile mark at sunset. This was the hardest stretch for me. The trail jerked steep up and then steep down and repeated this for miles on end. A few times I found myself taking the sled off and sending it down the hill without me. Tim at this point was well ahead of me. He would a go three or four miles and then fall asleep on the trail and I would wake him up when I finally caught up and we continued  to do this almost the entire way to mile 90. The checkpoint never felt like it was going to come and we passed under power lines for a few miles. Out to the left something caught our eye. A moose I screamed! It quickly turned and looked at us and I immediately regretted my decision to shout. It started to kick its legs and for a few moments I wondered if I was hallucinating it but now Tim saw it too. The checkpoint was right around the corner and I pounded a pop-tart and a bottle of water before we started the final stretch to the finish. We were going to actually do it! This 10 mile stretch went quickly while Tim and I talked about everything to distract ourselves from our current situation. We planned our ways of destroying the sled. Burning, pissing, running over it with a car. We were determined to never do this again. A couple of times Tim shouted in fear of an actual hallucinated moose and I thought I saw Corbin on the side of the trail multiple times.

When the finish finally came into sight I thought I was going to cry. My body was depleted and my mind was too. Corbin cheered us on as we pulled the sled up the final hill. 36 hours on my feet with 40 hours of no sleep and we were finally done. Tim and I laughed about the craziness we just endured and we sat inside eating and drinking food for a bit. I know for a fact I would have never finished if it wasn’t for Tim pulling me along the last 30 miles.

Now came the biggest challenge. The race was over and now my body was done. I tried to stand up but couldn't. Corbin carried my limp body to the car where I finally took my shoes off for the first time since starting two days ago. Pruney, white, bruised, swollen, and blistered. The pain was so extreme I wanted to cry. In my delirious state I asked Corbin to cut my legs off. And then I was out. Corbin said I would moan every once and awhile and say words like pop and then laugh. When I regained consciousness we were at the hotel. I was still hallucinating and I smelled bad of piss and sweat. Corbin dragged my limp legs into the hotel and pushed me in a wheel chair to the room where he dumped me out on the floor. I was determined to make it to the bath tub. But my legs didn't work and I laid on the hotel floor in pain.

I wanted out of my smelly clothes and I wanted a shower. I got naked on the floor and Corbin lifted my body into a warm bath. I've never felt so helpless in my life then when I asked Corbin to supervise so I wouldn't drowned. The warm water felt nice but I soon went into shock convulsing and violently shivering. He lifted me from the tub and toweled my off before placing me in the bed. He then elevated my legs, forced calories and water down my throat, and iced my knees before falling asleep. I don't know what I would have done with out him. I slept like shit from the pain maybe getting one or two hours. In the morning I urged Corbin to go ski and I laid helpless in bed for hours. Tossing and turning moaning in pain. But without Corbin there to help I became mobile. At first using trekking poles to get around and stand in the shower, and then fully supporting myself as I limped around. 

As we headed back to Tahoe that night my legs seemed to get better as my exhaustion increased. I would fall asleep everywhere and on everything in an instance. 

I learned a lot and I appreciate more now then ever before the importance of foot maintenance. Hopefully my next 100 will feel a little bit easier after that... and it will most definitely not involve pulling a sled!!

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Run a Fun-K and Join a Running Club

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Run a Fun-K and Join a Running Club

Let’s talk about me for a second. I gave up racing after cross country in high school because I didn’t like the person I had become. I’ve always been a super competitive person coming from team sports like soccer and basketball. I feel in love with running when I was a Freshman in high school after giving up team sports. I joined the cross country team and realized the excitement of competing against yourself and the elements and not against the people around you. Running was physically hard and the personal challenge intrigued me. I took a class specifically in running and training from BYU and started to realize how limitless the body was with proper training. I moved to Colorado after finishing high school and decided to take an academic life style and give up running. Two days into living in CO I discovered rock climbing thanks to my cousin Anthony who was living there at the time. This community of people covering ground in the vertical world was exciting. I was hooked. But then I discovered the CO 14ers. I spent three years in Colorado running, climbing, and summiting tall peaks but doing it because I enjoyed it not because I needed to train. I accepted a job in SF shortly there after and moved to the city. I hated everything about it and used running as an outlet for my stress. I ran every day of the week and quickly discovered the crazy community of ultra runners in the Bay area. I became strong and raced my first 10k with in weeks of moving. The stress that overcame me and all the pressure to train was overwhelming and though I was the third female finisher I never wanted to do it again. Racing to me wasn’t worth it. I wanted to run because I loved to run not because I needed to place in some position in a race. 

So I looked into a running club. Running with other people is way better then running alone. I discovered the San Francisco Running Company which was just down the road from where I was living. Excited to meet like mind people I introduced myself and showed interest in there Saturday group runs. The lady said to me “We do a minimum of 20 miles on Saturdays. You probably couldn’t keep up.” That stuck with me. I never did show up to a group run instead fell back in with the community I felt welcomed in, the climbing community. Yosemite is the only place I’ve ever felt fully at home, and I consider the people there family. Everyone is pushing the human limits, and everyone is excited to see other people succeed. Those were my people.

Fast forward to a year later. I’m gearing up to make an attempt on Nolan’s 14 a burly mountain run through the mountains that I first fell in love with. I’m not racing against other people. I’m racing against the power of my mind. Against the will power in my being and against the muscles in my thighs. This is were I fell in love with running again. Traversing large amounts of terrain in rugged environments with nothing but your body. I ran big runs in Tahoe, Yosemite, The Grand Canyon, and Zion but I had a big question mark in my mind. If you change the way you approach racing can racing be fun? Can it be just like training for a mountain objective like Nolan’s 14? I also didn’t have any runner friends. I often found myself out alone or dragging a climber through the mountains. My other question was were there people like me in the ultra running world?

I moved away from San Francisco for good and settled in to Tahoe. This is when I decided to give racing and running clubs another chance. I picked the Susitna 100 in Alaska because it seemed the closest race to not being a race. The extreme cold and rugged environment make the race more of a race against yourself then against other people. I also chose to become a member of the Donner Party Mountain Runners. I admittedly was nervous at first. To me running clubs carry a clique vibe. Everyone knows each other and everyone runs together and the new person is usually greeted with judgment of speed and fitness. But this was different. I was immediately welcomed with kind words and encouragement. They invited me on group runs and even to run one on one. These weren’t the San Francisco ultra runners that won’t welcome you in unless you place a certain time in a certain race. These were the mountain runners. The people I had been searching for in the running world. 

Needless to say I decided to tackle my hatred for racing again this time in a snowshoe 10K hosted by the DPMR. The race was fast and fun and I got third but honestly it didn’t matter. I never stressed or felt any pressure and that was all that mattered. Next stop Alaska.

You can catch the running clubs newsletter here with a few of my blog posts in it DPMR Newsletter! Not to mention if your in the Tahoe sign up and drop me a line! Let's run together!

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Extreme Cold Fueling

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Extreme Cold Fueling

So what do you eat when it's freezing outside and everything that has water in it is frozen? Ever try to bite into a rock solid Clif Bar or suck back a very solid goo... It is not fun. So I am facing this dilemma in regards to the Susitna 100. Libby and I also had a small issue with this in Zion as well. Our solution on the go, in the cold but not terribly freezing temperatures, was to rotate goos into our legging pockets after eating one so that it would have enough time to warm up by the time we had to take the next one. This may have been a good solution for us at the time but what happens when its -20 degrees out and you need fuel right now and everything is frozen!?

Dehydrated everything. You can't have anything that has water in it. People have recommended dried fish and dried beef jerky along with dried fruits and veggies. This however is a bit of an issue. I am a vegetarian and have been for a long time. Downing a packet of beef jerky in the middle of a 100 miler sounds like the last thing I want to do. As for dried fruits and veggies they will work, but I am looking for something with sugar, salt, and calories without having to eat a pound of dried cranberries. So I reached out to Skratch Labs hoping for answers to my problem. They suggested making my own goos they didn't give me an exact recipe but pointed me in the direction of a recipe and this is what I made up from a combination of a few recipes and just from my mind. So take it with a grain of salt (pun intended) and modify as you like!

Ingredients: 

  • 1 large egg
  • 2.5 cups of raspberry Skratch powder
  • .5 cup of water
  • 1 cup of marmalade
  • half a stick of salted butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon of cream of tartar

Gear:

  • Large mixing bowl
  • Large pot
  • Spoon
  • Optional: wax paper, edged pan, whisk

Cooking Directions:

  • Combine Skratch mix, water, butter, and tartar in pot. Stir on medium heat until Skratch mix and butter is completely dissolved and then bring to a boil.
  • Let boil for a few seconds and then add the marmalade and stir until it is completely dissolved and boiling.
  • In the mixing bowl add the egg and beat for a few seconds. 
  • Slowly pour the syrup into the mixing bowl while still mixing.
  • Beat with a spoon or whisk for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Place the bowl outside your van in the snow over night 

OR

  • Line a edged pan with wax paper and pour the mixture into the pan. Then place it in the freezer over night.
  • In the morning the mixture should be a little harder but not stiff.
  • Scoop the contents into a jar for storage and or plastic baggies for on the run and or wrap in Skratch paper tubes for on the go.

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Ultrarunning Podcast Laughs

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Ultrarunning Podcast Laughs

I peed in a water bottle in the back of a Subaru Forrester while recording a podcast for DFL Ultrarunning.

The stories a little deeper then that though. So I woke up on MLK day in Truckee. I hopped in the car and headed west towards the Bay. I shot Libby a text telling her I might be late for the podcast we had planned to record at noon. We had tried to record the podcast about three days earlier but had technical difficulties with being in three separate cities. I had to be in the Bay for work so we figured it would be easiest to just meet up and do it then. The pass on i80 was chain controlled and it had been raining/snowing non stop for three days... But oddly enough I made record time and was an hour early. I met up with Libby and we grabbed a boba tea from across the street before starting to figure out logistics for recording. Libby lives in a shack outside a climbing gym and doesn't get very good internet. The climbing gym itself would be too loud. So Libby had the great idea to back her Subaru Forrester up against the gym and we could sit in the back and poach the gym wifi. 

So here we are with the Subaru backed up in the do not park spot just to the right of the handicapped spot and subsequently right in front of the entrance to the gym. I finished my tea and we Skyped on with Eric from the podcast. Everything was going great until half way through the Yosemite story when I had to pee... but by half way through talking about the Grand Canyon I realized it was an emergency and I was never going to make it through talking about Zion. So I mouthed to Libby "I NEED TO GO PEE" she read my lips and and didn't know the emergency state I was in. I pointed to right outside the car door. She shook her head no. I was at the pee your pants state. She handed me the laptop and I filled some time talking about the rest stop outside the Grand Canyon. When she returned she handed me a bottle and my eyes lit up. I handed her the laptop quickly ripped down my pants and started peeing in the bottle... In the back of a Subaru directly beside the entrance of the climbing gym. Libby turned the laptop away so you couldn't hear the pee hitting the bottle but the whole scene was too much to not laugh a little. I pulled my pants up and capped the bottle off and continued talking as Libby burst into laughter. We were really good but the laughing blew our cover. We have really proven to not be the best at planning. Give it a listen if you have the time. DFL Podcast Episode 60


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Where to Run with a Sled (in Tahoe)

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Where to Run with a Sled (in Tahoe)

So you built this sick running sled and now you want to know where you can run with it. Well thats a tall order. In Tahoe it seems like you can barely get enough flat miles in to actually feel like you ran with it. Every trail seems to want to go up up up. So I’ve been out and about running around with my sled trying to find the places that offer more than a few 1 mile laps of meh running. Here are the current goods I’ll try to update this as I find more gems in the area.

Castle Peak - Options to go on the rolling PCT or to run on the moderately flat Donner Lake Rim Trail
Trailhead Coordinates: 39.339750, -120.350162

Deep Creek - An initial uphill followed by lots of flat. This gets skinned a lot so follow the skin tracks (but not in the skin track)
Trailhead Coordinates: 39.258776, -120.211609

Donner State Park/ Coldstream - Roads and roads and roads of rolling snow to run! Or just run around the mega flat state park.
Trailhead Coordinates: 39.321503, -120.230272

Tahoe Meadows - A few miles of flat mostly snowshoers and snowmobiles
Trailhead Coordinates: 39.307656, -119.908443

Spooner Lake - Flat and a 2.1 mile loop… Lap it out for hours.
Trailhead Coordinates: 39.107080, -119.913613

Prosser Hill - Flat OHV roads big and wide
Trailhead Coordinates: 39.386975, -120.184195


All that being said you can most definitely always go to a groomed cross-country resort to get that good long work out in. People will look at your funny but who cares you’re training! Some good ones include:

Tahoe Donner and Royal Gorge

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How To Build A Running Sled

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How To Build A Running Sled

So you've found yourself in a situation. You are running a 100 miler in Alaska in the middle of winter. The race requires you to carry 15lbs of survival gear on you at all times and you decide that is too much to carry on your back. So what do you do!? Build a sled of course! Lets also say you want to build this sled in about 3 hours from stuff you can get from around town... Well you have come to the right place because I have done all the hard stuff for you.

Step 1: Convince yourself that running 100 miles in Alaska in the winter is a good idea and register for the race.

Step 2: Move to a snowy climate so you can train.

Step 3: Re-convince yourself that running 100 miles in Alaska in the winter is a good idea.

Step 4: Training in cold weather conditions without a sled.

Step 5: Realize that you should really be training with a sled.

Step 6: Gather materials for the sled.
-Cheap kid sled from your local gas station
-2 Carabiners
-30ft of static cord
-Backpack belt
-25 large zip ties
-2 5ft and 1/2in PVC pipe
-1 Large duffle bag or custom made sled topper (made by my awesome mom)
-Power drill with two drill bits (based on cord/zip ties size)
-Lighter and Scissors
-1 Black Lab for moral support

Step 7: Drill 10 holes on each side of the sled.

Step 8: Place custom made sled cover in sled and use scissors to punch holes in fabric at the exact holes. (if using a duffle just buy bungee cord and strap the duffle in the sled then skip to Step 11)

Step 9: Accidentally stab your finger with the very sharp scissors

Step 10: Place quick ties in holes and fasten them tightly and cut the extra plastic

Step 11: Drill two large holes in the front of sled (and two in the back if custom sled)

Step 12: Cut cord in thirds.

Step 13: Thread cord down through front holes and tie an over hand not on the bottom and top.

Step 14: Slide PVC pipe over cord and clove hitch or whatever knot you want to the carabiners.

Step 15: Clip Carabiners to backpack waste belt (cross them in the back for more control).

Step 16: Run around your house in it because it's a damn sexy sled.

Step 17: Melt those knots!

Step 18: Okay go drink some hot tea because you're done. And now the hard part of actually training with it is upon you. The following steps are for my custom sled.

Step 19: Cut the remaining cord in half.

Step 20: Thread through the back holes and tie a knot on the bottom.

Step 21: Thread through the tie down straps and tie to the front of the sled.

Step 22: Now you are done too and can drink some hot tea before going outside with it.

Hope that helped maybe just a little! Feel free to reach out and ask me anything else. (I named it Clifford the big red sled)

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Triple Crown of Trail Running

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Triple Crown of Trail Running

The Triple Crown of trail running encompasses approximately 100 miles and 25,000 feet of elevation gain. 3 Rivers, 6 Rims, 3 National Parks, 2 Months, 2 Chicks, 4 Sticks. The Rim to Rim to Rim of Yosemite, Zion, and the Grand Canyon. As climbers going fast and light in the mountains is really important. Being able to cover large amounts of distance in a short amount of time with only your legs and large amounts of gels is the name of the game. We coined it the Triple Crown of trail running because of the famous triple crown in our home park linking El cap, Watkins, and Half dome.

So what exactly is this made up adventure the Triple Crown of trail running you might ask. Here are the separate trip reports:
Yosemite Trip Report - Topo and Elevation Profile
Grand Canyon Trip Report - Topo and Elevation Profile
Zion Trip Report - Topo and Elevation Profile

Though you don’t have to do them in any particular order we seemed to do them in increasing in difficulty. Not as a strategy more as an accident. Yosemite is the shortest of the three at about 17 miles and 7,000 feet of elevation gain. A start at Glacier Point sends you down to the valley via the 4 mile trail. The valley is only about half a mile wide so it’s fast progress getting to the Yosemite falls trail were you ascend quickly and then return the way you came. We completed this in the end of October when the days where longest and we were on familiar terrain. Our Grand Canyon adventure happened a month later right before Thanksgiving. The days were shorter and the distance was more than doubled with even more elevation gain. We had perfect weather though for late November. Covering 44 miles and about 12,000 feet of elevation gain via the South Kaibab and North Kaibab trails. The final and star of the entire adventure was Zion. We completed Zion on the shortest day of the year right before Christmas. Night running, snow, and cold for hours on end as we charged for about 40 miles and 6,000 feet of elevation gain. Navigating the East and West Rim Trails of the valley.

I could talk your ear off for hours about these amazing adventures. There is no way to really see a park then by experiencing it by foot. I hope you get inspired and hike or run these lines as well!

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Rim River Rim River Rim *of Zion

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Rim River Rim River Rim *of Zion

Bang Bang Bang! There was a loud knock on the door of Libby’s mothers house. Who could that be we thought? When we opened the door it was the cops. “Excuse me miss but we got a call from a neighbor about a suspicious econoline van being parked outside this residence.” Ironically I had just crawled from my bed in the back of the van maybe two hours earlier. It is my home and even when offered a bed in a house I often choose the van. Libby consoled the officers letting them know it was fine and everyone went on there way. So what were Libby and I doing in Las Vegas a few days before Christmas? Let’s rewind.

The idea to run the Rim to Rim to Rim of Zion happened a little after the half way point of the Grand Canyon. It was Libby’s idea and in the moment it seemed like the best idea ever. We trotted along the trail scheming about how easy Zion would be. I distinctly remember us saying something along the lines of “At least we have the hardest one almost done. Zion will be easier than Yosemite!” The planning was immediate, laying in the back of the van legs paralyzed from the Grand Canyon and already looking at topos for Zion. You would have thought we might have, just maybe, learned something from the beating we just endured. Runners highs will do weird things to the brain. The initial idea was to run from the river to observation point back down to the river up to angels landing and back down. However this would be considered a River Rim River Rim River… and that just didn’t fit right with us. 

A few weeks went by and Libby and I had planned out the epic three day adventure for the end of December. This time it involved a van, plane, and a Las Vegas rendezvous. I didn’t do much of any running between the Grand Canyon and Zion and I didn’t expect Libby to have either. Libby was in Ukraine being a bad ass nurse healing hearts, and I was in the Bay quitting my job. I picked Libby up on December 19th from the Las Vegas airport. I was already in the area because the previous few days I was climbing with my sister and friends in the St. George and Red Rocks area. That night we got an alright sleep and in the morning was when the cops showed up. We ran a few errands and then headed for our bivy spot outside of Zion.

The plan had changed from the original idea and we were now going to run the East Rim Trail to the West Rim Trail back to the East Rim Trail this would be a total of about 60 miles round trip and allow us to do a proper Rim River Rim River Rim. Our longest run yet. Since we both live in California winter isn’t really a season. And the past couple of years that was the truth. Climbing in tank tops in Yosemite in December and running in a snowless Tahoe in January. I for some reason had this idea that there wouldn’t be much if any snow in Zion. But we called up the backcountry office to get the details on the trails. They pretty much said I don’t know it might be snowy. I imagined a few hours of post holing in knee deep snow on the rims followed by lots of dry and fun trail running. I couldn’t have been farther from what we were about to endure.

We woke up at 4:50am and started towards the East entrance. We wanted to start moving close to dawn. The roads were icy and as we got closer to the East Rim the snow on the sides of the road became more and more apparent. We both packed our bags and stuffed a bagel and cream cheese down our throats. It was about to be a long day of goo, trail butter, and baby food. We were a few miles in when the sun finally rose. It was this brilliant red. Libby made a comment about a red sky being a bad sign. We were about to see a lot of bad signs. We charged through the snow for a few hours. We kept thinking the snow would lessen as we lost elevation but it seemed to just be getting thicker. The crunchy snow turned our ankles side to side and stressed our metatarsals. While the champagne powder felt like quick sand as it splashed up over our knees. The moving was slower than we had expected and we kept trying to make mental notes of the surroundings just incase if the storm hit early and covered our tracks. 

As the sun rose it was hard to tell that it did. The ominous sky was gray and was foreshadowing for the storm forecasted for that night. The sun never graced our skin and I stayed tightly covered all morning. As we ran through the snow we could hear the woods come a live in the morning. The barking of the coyotes in the distances and the sound of snow crunching under our feet. It felt therapeutic almost like meditating. We barely talked mostly because it was hard to hear each other over the sound of snow crunch. 

We came across a few trail junctions and ended up following a fainter trail that went out right. I was hesitant and shouted back to Libby about getting the map out. We never did and continued to trudge on. I was following the tracks of a single person which should have been the first warning but by the time we reached a trailhead half a mile from the junction it was clear we had made a wrong turn. A little extra mile detour to add to the mornings joy. We turned around and got back on the correct trail. We need to keep moving. It was after all the shortest day of the year.

A few miles from the trail junction the trail was covered in blood… fresh blood. It was scary seeing the white snow so bright red. It looked like a bunny had been eaten for breakfast and we took that as another bad sign for the day. We continued down hill in a couple of areas that were definitely no fall zones. We were loosing elevation quickly and I joked that running was my favorite snow activity as we sneaker skied down pillows of powder. Soon the view of the valley came into sight. It was breath taking and we were both relieved to finally be making some sort of progress after what felt like forever of snow slogging. Libby wasn’t doing well. She was already setting the ground work for an early turn around. She said just letting you know that we may just do Angels Landing and then turn around. My knees are hurting really bad and it’s early to be having this much pain she reiterated. I reassured her that I would do whatever she felt was right. Though an early turn around at Angels Landing was feeling very enticing. The thought of being out here in the dark for 7 or 8 hours in a potential snow storm was making me nervous as well. 

We hit the trail junction for Observation Point and finally found a place to slip on our spikes. Now it was just the quick run down to the Weeping Rock. We made quick progress of this with the extra sure footing that the spikes on our feet had to offer, and I snapped a few pictures of the views to distract myself from the extremely urgent need to poo. It was quickly becoming an emergency. As I stood a thousand feet above the trailhead toilet I peered down at what seemed like my freedom. I looked back at Libby and said I’ll see you at the bottom as I launched myself into a full out sprint. The trail was packed with early morning hikers and I wasn’t about to ruin there morning with an explosion of trail side diarrhea. Though for a few minutes I thought it was inevitable. My gait opened wide and I let gravity take me down the trail, across the parking lot, and into the bathroom. Without even time to lock the door, backpack still on my back, I pulled my pants down just enough and lost control. I can most definitely say that was the closest I have ever been to shitting my pants.

Pants up and spikes off, Libby and I made our way on the mile long section of road between the Weeping Rock trailhead and the Grotto. The Grotto was the only place we would be able to fill up water that we knew of so we made sure to drink a lot and fill up as much as possible. We never stopped for very long because it was so cold. The longer we stopped the more cold we got so our stops were often quick and to the point. It was surprisingly cold even down in the valley which was not a good sign for the weather on the rims. When we headed up the Angels Landing trail we decided we weren’t going to make a decision until we got to the split between Angels Landing and the West Rim trail. I knew Libby was leaning more towards the Angels Landing option but I still had some fight left in me. We charged up the trail in a extremely fast pace. We were finally hitting our second wind. By the time we reached the junction I knew we should keep going and Libby did too. It was very apparent at this point how low Angels Landing actually is from the true rim. It does not even get close to the West Rim height. Loosing a little elevation and then gain some again we finally reached the West Rim. 

We sat down and looked at the map. We had planned to take the Telephone Canyon trail which would save us about 2 miles of distance getting to the West Rim trailhead. Unfortunately since the recent snow fall nobody had taken that trail and it was completely untracked. Our lack of a GPS left us in a tricky situation. Do the longer option adding another 20 miles on to our trip and risk getting stuck in a snow storm, in the dark, in an unfamiliar park. To me we had already finished half of our goal. We had run Rim to River to Rim now all we had to do was get all the way back to the van. Tagging the trailhead of the West Rim would be nice but it was where it was located so far away because of where the road ran not because of where the true rim was. Running from trailhead to trailhead in the Grand Canyon made sense because the trailheads were actually at the rims but for Zion the trailheads were 10+ miles from the rims just because of the nature of the valley. Here was the dilemma Libby was jet lagged, in pain, afraid of the dark, and nervous about the weather. I was nervous about the weather, in pain, and afraid of the dark. We made the call. We turned around at the rim and we both kicked ourselves at first. Trying to justify our decisions. We played it safe and I think we made the right call for us as a team, on this day, with these conditions. But because we are both motivated people it was hard to turn around. But the faster and faster we lost elevation and the darker and darker the sky got the better I felt about our decision.

We had committed to our decision and there was no turning back now. Libby kept commenting the faster we move the faster we get back. It kept us moving. Nothing seemed more exciting then laying in my bed in the back of the van. I wanted to make it up the East Rim climbs before it got dark. The route finding was a bit cryptic and I wanted to avoid getting lost at all costs. We ran down the paved Angels Landing trail wincing with every move. Filled back up at the Grotto and made our way along the road for the final mile before heading back up the East Rim. At this point we still head 11 miles to go and a ton of elevation to climb. It was around 3 pm and the sun was already setting.

When we put our spikes on at the bottom of the Weeping Rock we knew we wouldn’t be taking them off until we got to the van. I struggle to run in the spikes because they tweaked my previously broken first metatarsal just right that by this point the pain was not just ultra pains but broken bone pains. Something I was not unfamiliar with when it comes to running. Up we went hardly talking at all. We were on a mission to get the hell out of this canyon before we had lost all of the light. We made it up both major climbs before we needed to strap on our head lamps. We were 5 miles from the van and in complete darkness. There was no moon or stars because of the storm clouds. The worst part of this all was that we were now in the woods. My headlamp illuminated the snow in front of me which showed tracks of animals coming in and out of the woods. Nothing feels more eerie then being in the snowy woods at night. I kept my creeped out feelings to myself and agreed with Libby to stay close. Heads down we studied the tracks on the trail, bunnies, deer, coyotes, maybe cats, human foot prints, big human feet, little human feet. It wasn’t fun but we kept moving and in the silence I would think of the worst case scenarios and then quickly forget and daydream about laying in my bed getting a back and calf massage. Every time I lifted my headlamp I half expected to catch the glow of an animals eyes but never did. I was happy about that.

We had done really well about fueling and kept a good strategy all the way up to the end. About 2 miles from the van we both popped a goo and congratulated ourselves on never having to eat another goo for a really long time. I was feeling very sick and barely kept down the last 3 goos I had taken. All I wanted was real food. Anything of substance anything to stay down. When we made it back to the van everything went away. All of the fears of getting lost everything. It was all over we could rest now. Eating a little here and there and changing a few layers we both examined our bodies. Our feet didn’t fare well… blisters, bruises, and sores. I know it would be a long few days of compression, stretching, and icing. But our ultra was far from over as always. We still had to drive back to Las Vegas.

I hoped behind the drivers wheel and started to make our way slowly towards the interstate… very slowly. My night vision is terrible and so are my headlights on the van. Poking along at 20 to 30 miles under the speed limit we made progress. This isn’t anything new. Libby laughed remembering how slowly I drove away from the Grand Canyon. It almost felt like deja vu… until the flashing lights showed up in my mirror. O boy I was getting pulled over. The officer came up to the window and was surprised to see two emaciated females behind the wheel. I half expected him to be pulling me over for going way under the speed limit but instead he told me my license plate light was out and gave me a warning. If there is one thing I know, driving a creeper van sure does draw the attention of the cops. 

We headed on our way and I stopped at a Mavericks to get gas. I put the pump in the van and hobbled to the bathroom. I was surprised though I felt much better then after the Grand Canyon. When I returned to the van I opened the drivers door to find Libby hanging out the passenger side and like any good friend ran to take a picture. The first vomit of the day which was then followed by several other vomits at different Mavericks along the way back to Vegas. By the time we got home Libby limped into the house, and I crawled into the back of the van. I could finally relax it was finally all over for a bit. I crawled into my sleeping back and tried to fall asleep. Unfortunately I wouldn’t be so lucky. The pain in my broken foot was excruciating and I tossed and turned all night unable to sleep. When I woke I was worked. Libby gave me some pain medicine but it didn’t seem to take the edge off. It had been 6 months since I broke it but I guess I never really rested it. RICEing real hard right now. Libby headed off to the airport to go back to her job in the bay and I loaded up Lopi and my sister and headed back to do some climbing in Red Rocks. Like always life returns back to normal faster than you’d expect.

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Rim River Rim River Rim *of the Grand Canyon

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Rim River Rim River Rim *of the Grand Canyon

So here I sit. Legs up a wall and laptop slightly falling into my face while I try to type in this awkward position. I am searching to find the words to explain the amazing adventure we had in the Grand Canyon. I hope I can capture it here.

It was September some time and I was in the Valley. I tried to motivate to climb but instead I joined the gathering of climbers sitting in the shade around Tom Evans. We must have sat there all day talking about climbing and everything in between. Cheering on the crushers pushing in the heat to send El Cap. I was on the tail end of my fractured foot and itching to get back out running long distances. The previous morning I had free soloed Tenaya Peak, and that morning I had motivated to get in a short run up Cathedral gully finally boulder hopping my way back down at a clipping speed with minimal pain. Needless to say, I was feeling rather invincible. So there I was sitting in the meadow dreaming about my next big objective. Nolan’s 14 crushed me and breaking my foot had made dealing with the crushing even worse, but now I was coming back and ready to train. 

Libby and I on the yoga mat. Photo Credit: Tom Evans http://www.elcapreport.com/ 

The idea to run the Grand Canyon had been in my mind for about a year now. In my mind I always imagined it being this epic feat of days on days on days of running, but when I finally sat down and Googled the distance it only came out to about 42 miles. I was psyched that seemed reasonable and totally doable in a day. The only problem was that I wanted a partner. I made the bad decision to attempt Nolan’s 14 alone. Though I don’t regret it. I think it would have been much more enjoyable with company. This however is a problem I face often. I don’t hang out in running circles. I hang out with climbers. Badass crusher climbers, who don’t particularly enjoy running or at least running for hours on end. But sitting in the meadow my foot finally healing, stoke level high, and sharing a yoga mat with Libby Sauter I had an idea. Libby, an expert in suffering and badass crusher climber, had been running a little bit. A very little bit. I later found out only 5 times in the past 4 years since badly breaking her leg. I thought Libby would be the perfect partner, she’s determined and not afraid to suffer. So on a whim I asked her if she wanted to run the Grand Canyon with me around Thanksgiving. Initially she wasn’t sure if I was serious, but then she got stoked. The only problem was that we had about two months to train for a massive run, and I was still recovering from a broken foot and she had some big El Cap plans.

All this to say we trained… actually not at all. We met up once in Yosemite Valley to run the Rim River Rim River Rim of Yosemite which entailed starting at glacier point running down the 4 mile trail across the valley up the Yosemite falls trail down the Yosemite falls trail across the valley up the 4 mile trail. Roughly 20 miles and approximately 9,000 feet of elevation gain which meant 9,000 feet of elevation loss as well. It would simulate about half of what running the Grand Canyon would be like. When we finished we felt good but that quickly turned into calf cramps and funny walking. In only 3 more weeks it would be the real thing and we would be deep in the Grand Canyon not on the familiar terrain of the Sierras.

 

We were on a tight schedule. A super tight schedule. Libby only had 3 days off of work so we knew we would be pushing hard to drive down, run, and drive back. But we were psyched! We met up Thursday night made sure we had all of the essentials and started the journey to the Grand Canyon. I had chatted up one of my good friends who guides down there and he made plans to meet us in the bottom of the canyon and help pace us out. Unfortunately he bailed last minute for splitter climbing in Red Rocks. I couldn’t blame him. I’d rather be climbing in Red Rocks instead of running the Grand Canyon. At this point I had entered the apprehension phase, as I like to call it. It’s a phase that happens during all big objectives. The phase where you doubt all of your training and doubt you ability to do anything and everything every again. You think about how great it would be to just take this time and do some nice warm sport climbing in Red Rocks instead of dragging your ass across the Grand Canyon and back. During this phase you come up with a million different ways to get out of doing what you had planned to do. Sometimes you even draft up a text to your partner explaining how your recently fractured foot or bad head cold is going to keep you from following through on your plans. You never do send anything. This phase always passes, but I think it’s natural to feel this way sometimes.

Libby and I drove most of the night Thursday night before tucking away in a interstate rest stop off the 5. The next morning we finished the drive talking about everything and anything to pass the time and getting more and more nervous as the landscape quickly changed to desert. We talked about water mostly. Mainly because we were trying to hydrate, which entailed peeing every 150 miles on the side of interstate. This made the drive drag on forever. And also because Libby had expressed concerns about a 30 mile stretch of the canyon that might be waterless. We talked about it a lot and she planned to carry more water because of it. I on the other hand was very unconcerned about the water issue. I felt like a liter and a half was more than enough for the sections we couldn’t fill up at. I continually tried to assure her we would be fine and it wouldn’t be a big deal. This has often been a fault of mine. I tend to take a no big deal attitude to a lot of things that are actually a pretty big deal. Being with out water in the Grand Canyon with no way of getting out but by foot would have been a pretty fucking big deal. When you first come into the canyon it is littered with signs warning death by dehydration. Maybe Libby was right. I was about to find out.

When we got to the Grand Canyon Friday night the sun had just set. We drove to the entrance gate to ask the rangers questions about trailheads and water. They assured us the water would be off from Phantom Ranch to the North Rim and gave us instructions on parking for the South Kaibab trail. It looked like we would have to park a mile away from the trailhead which meant we would be adding an extra 2 miles on to the run, one before and one after finishing the canyon. When you are already running 42 miles an extra 2 miles doesn’t seem like a big deal. We drove out of the park and slept in a hotel parking lot about 5 minutes away from the entrance. We got the van organized and started to pack our food talking about what and how much we needed for fueling. The excitement started to surge inside of me. It was finally going to happen. We made a game plan for the morning. We would wake up at 4:50am and drive into the park locating the pull out where we could leave the van. Then we would eat breakfast, get dressed, and prepare any more food and water for the trail. We wanted to be running just as the sky got light enough to see. We were in bed by 7pm.

Click headlamps on. It was morning and I was excited. We drove into the park and found the parking spot no problems. We quickly prepared and peered out into the darkness. It was 5am and the moon was set. The night was dark. Very dark. But not only dark it was bone chilling cold and the icing on the cake was the wind. We knew the night running would be slow so we wanted to make sure we did the down hill in the daylight maximizing our fresh legs and gravity. We both laid in my bed in the van in our warm sleeping bags just waiting for dawn to break. Staring out the windshield we laid in silence. At 6:15 am it was time to go. Everything on, car keys check, time to go! A quick glance at the clock showed 6:22 am as we started our way on the paved rim trail. We quickly gained warmth and Libby shed her puffy before we even got to the trailhead. At the trailhead we didn’t miss a beat plummeting down the extremely icy trail and trying not to loose it in front of a few men standing with there hands on there watches looking like they were ready to start what we had started a few minutes earlier. When the trail stopped being icy we knew we were rapidly loosing altitude and could relax a little bit. Libby looked back at me and said “I think we are going to get passed today. Those guys looked fast.” As the sun rose the canyon opened up below us. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was beautiful.

We made quick progress of the South Rim. Using the GoPro a lot and taking photos of the views. We had both forgotten to use sunscreen which we feared would by a huge problem by the end. Libby joked “A ginger and a cuban run the Grand Canyon without sunscreen. Which one gets more burnt?” followed by “A runner and rock climber run the Grand Canyon. Which one gets more worked?” Libby shouted “Damn it I get fucked in all these scenarios!!” When the Colorado River finally came into sight we felt a relief that 1/4 of the objectives was finished only 3 more to go. The trail was closed for a bit which redirected us through a campground but we kept moving till we got to Phantom Ranch. At Phantom Ranch we chatted up the tourists and refilled our water. Our plan was to carry a little extra water for another 5 miles and then stash it before summiting the North Rim. This would help break up the 30 mile stretch which we feared could be waterless. Libby took an extra 2 Liters and I added an extra 1 Liter to my pack. We headed for the North Rim. The problem with the North Rim is that it is ever so slightly going up hill for 15 miles. So slightly that you don’t really notice it and don’t understand why the flats feel so hard. We made progress but barely talked at all. We had distance between us and the extra weight on our backs wasn’t helping our speed. We stashed the water were we thought would be appropriate and felt a little lighter and faster. Less then a mile from our stash we came up on the campground below the North Rim. It looked under construction and a few people were milling about. I tried the water and to my surprise it began to run. Damn it I thought we didn’t need to bring all that extra water! O well we kept moving. By the time we reached the final 5 mile push which ascends the North Rim we couldn’t believe how terrible that section of trail was. Neither of use were excited to retrace our steps through that on the way back. 

At this point almost 20 miles into the run the two fast looking men we had passed at the beginning finally caught up to us. We chatted for a bit of the up hill and then they charged on ahead. Libby and I couldn’t believe it had taken them so long to catch us. Even after we kept what we thought was a crawling pace for almost 10 miles. We ascended the North Rim slowly making jokes and chatting along. We could tell we were getting higher as the trail became more icy. I looked back at Libby and said “Just remember it only hurts because it’s hard!” To which she responded “And it’s only fun because it’s hard.” We continued up hill. When we reached the North Rim the two men were just leaving we exchanged hellos and figured we might see them again on the downhill. The North Rim kind of sucked. There were no views and everything was covered in snow. Libby and I sat in the road with our puffy jackets on to keep us warm and eat a bit before heading back down. I lamented that the nice thing about the Grand Canyon in the winter is that you have no other option then to finish at this point. We laughed a bit at the thought we were only half way done. Our laughing often turned into painful coughing which then turned into occasional gaging. The North Rim was the closest I came to vomiting as Libby made a joke and I laughed coughed gaged a bit.

It was time to go again. I moved slow on the initial downhill because of all the snow and ice. I couldn’t imagine how terrible it would be to slip and break or tear something that far from help. Libby moved a little faster ahead of me. Almost out of the snow Libby ate it hard. This was exactly what I was afraid of. She quick did a check and everything seemed okay. Phew now it was just downhill downhill and downhill. As we passed some backpackers we joked “It’s all downhill from here… Until its uphill again.” We could see the two guys in front of us. We were gaining on them slowly. Libby thought we might be able to catch them. After all, we were definitely faster then them on the downhill. But then it hit me.  “O my god Libby I am going to shit my pants right now. O my god I am going to shit right here. O my god!” I quick ripped my pants down kicked up a little hole by the side of the trail and relaxed. Rupturous farts exploded from me but I didn’t actually shit. I felt better. Lets keeping going I yelled. I had eaten my entire burrito on the North Rim and with an already sensitive stomach I knew I should have stuck to gels. My body was having trouble digesting and the constant pound on the downhill wasn’t helping. We never did catch the men but we were clipping along quickly. Almost down the steep part of the down hill I had another one of the stomach fits. This time there was no time to kick a hole. Almost simultaneous to my proclamation of immediate need to shit, Libby loudly announced she was going to vomit. So here is the scene. Two girls on the trail. Trekking poles and backpacks yard saled on the trail. One with her pants around her ankles making loud echoing farts, and one with her hands on her knees saliva draining from her mouthing coughing and gaging. This is what a horrified hiker, runner, or backpacker would have seen if they crested around the corner of the fourth mile on the North Kaibab trail. Libby held it together and laid horizontal on the trail trying to combat the need to vomit. I similarly lost no liquids or solids. A minute passed and we were both feeling worlds better. We continued down the hill to the next place we knew we could get water. Laughing about how absolutely ridiculous what just happened was.

We filled up on water and continued on our way to Phantom Ranch. It was clear at this point that we could make it there before sunset. We quickly made it to our water stash and drink a bit before pouring the rest out. There was no need to carry extra weight on our back. We kept light conversation excited about how we were more than half way done. Pounding a gel here and there and skirting along the river. By the time we got to Phantom Ranch it was 6pm. We filled up on water and talked with some of the tourist we had seen 10 hours earlier. They observed, “It’s good to see you guys are still friends. Laughing and having good time even after all of that.” It was funny because it was true. We were just as happy and laughing as we were when we rolled in optimistic and fresh that morning. We sat by the water spicket for a bit eating and drink before we headed in search of a bathroom. A quick bathroom break and we would be on a non stop push for the finish. At this point 12 hours in and the entire South Kaibab trail of climbing left to do we thought it unlikely we would do it in under 15 hours. But at this point we didn’t care we knew we needed to get out and it didn’t matter how long it took us to get there.

We were on a non stop march. There was only one thing left to do and we weren’t getting there any faster. We switched our head lamps on and started the journey. The moon was bright but we needed to stay focused. This is when we came up with… the bubble. There is no life outside the bubble. The bubble has no concept of distance, no concept of time. There is no start and there is no finish inside the bubble. The bubble protects you. Don’t ever leave the bubble or the bubble will leave you. When your eyes stray from the bubble the bubble shalt make thy trip and stumble. This banter back and forth lasted for a few hours as we marched up the trail not letting hour eyes stray from the head lamp bubble on the ground in front of us. The elevation and distance seemed to fly by and before we knew it Phantom Ranch was just a light on the bottom of the canyon. We switched our headlamps off and decided to finish the final miles by moonlight. It was cool out but not cold yet. The sky opened up with a million stars and the moonlight illuminated the tops of the mesas. We had no idea how far we had left. My watch head died hours ago on the North Rim. We just knew it we would get there some how. Everything hurting and we still had a ways to go. Libby proclaimed “Climbing is so much easier than running.” Explaining and comparing running and climbing for a few feet. I had warned Libby about this phase. It happens in almost every hard run I have every done. It is the period where everything in the world is easier than what you are doing and you can’t imagine why any one would want to do this. You saying things like “Climbing is so much easier. I’m just going to take the next few months and do nothing but climbing.” It goes both ways though. Often on really hard climbs I will find myself thinking “Running is so much easier! It’s so simple and easy.” 

Around this time however, I started to bonk hard. I had run out of water because I, in my delirious state, forgot to refill my water at Phantom Ranch. With no water I couldn’t eat the gels that I so badly needed and I started to inwardly moan with every step. At one point I found a nice looking bivy site off the side of the trail and I half jokingly stated we had reached our final destination. Libby was feeling it too. How glorious it would be to finally stop. To finally be done moving. The inward moaning turned to outward moaning and about a mile from the top Libby handed me some water from her pack and I took another gel. The feeling of life came back quickly and I knew we were going to make it out, which at moments I wasn’t totally sure we would. Out of no where there it was, the top. We had finally made it. Shivering we put on our puffy and finished out the final mile to the van. It felt unreal that we had made it up the South Rim in only 3 hours without stopping once. The clock showed 9:33pm when we check it at the van.

We high fived and celebrated that it was finally done. It however was far from done. We still had to drive back to San Francisco. When I finally sat down in the van my brain could tell my body to relax. It was over. There was nothing left to run. Relax. Even though it was cold I needed to get compression socks on my feet before the swelling began. But I couldn’t just put compression socks on I wanted all fresh clothing. So sitting legs outstretched in my bed I pulled my pants down. Immediately I started to shiver and subsequently my thighs started to cramp and spasm. Here I was unable to get my pants off of my ankles and shivering and convulsing. Every time I tried to left my leg up so I could reach my feet I was thrown into a world of muscle spasms and pain. This probably lasted for 15 minutes half naked and shivering. When I finally got the socks and pants on Libby was already sitting in the passenger seat wrapped in a blanket eating saltines. She was not about to take any of her clothing off it was too cold. Blasting the heat we headed for the California border. We drove all through the night exchanging stories from work and life. We were caffeinated from the gels we had eaten and riding a runners high. Not to mention we both knew that sleeping was not going to go as we wanted it to that night. Every movement would be painful. By the time we decided to bivy it was 2 am and we found ourselves at an Arizona rest stop only 20 miles from the California border. Libby promptly waddled out of the van to use the bathroom and I laid face down in my bed.

When Libby returned it had been several minutes but I had really lost concept of time. She was relieved to be back at the van and looked at me completely serious and said, “I really thought I was going to have to bivy in that bathroom on that toilet.” She had been unable to lift herself from the toilet and sat there contemplating how she would get out. It was kind of scary how helpless we were. We later after many bathroom breaks realized that the beta was to always use the handicap stalls. The extra handles allow you to lower and push yourself up with your arms instead of having to engage your thigh and leg muscles. We hunkered down there for the night and to no surprise slept terribly. In the morning we finished back to California. Just in time for us both to go back to work on Monday morning.

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Words to Live By

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Words to Live By

I've been asked this question before... What is it that pushes me to get out every day and push my human limits? What kind of sick and twisted and fucked up thing makes a person run 40 miles on a badly broken foot? I'm not going to sit here and tell you that I don't struggle with motivation every once and awhile. For example, over the summer when I was training for Nolan's 14 I once woke up at 4am to run part of the course only to drive to the trailhead, take a nap in the back of my van, and not get started until 11am. Which subsequently meant I get stuck in a terrible thunderstorm as is common during CO summers. But all that aside I must say I do enjoy suffering. I genuinely enjoy a self induced dose of pain. I seek it out in its most natural forms, and then dwell in the pain cave with a smile. I think this is mostly because I experience much worse pain. Pain that is not physically induced. Pain which I cannot explain. Pain that is so painful my life stops. I stop. Pain which I have no control over. And when this pain rears it's ugly head in my life I am reminded of how pleasant that long run in the rockies was with that broken foot. But I can talk about this for hours so instead I'll post the wonderful and motivating skyrunner manifesto, which I know by heart and I hope will motivate you like it does me. Feels fitting as I prepare for another sufferfest adventure. This time in the desert with good company!

THE SKYRUNNER'S MANIFESTO

Kiss or kill. Besa o mata. Kiss glory or die in the attempt. Losing is death; winning is life. The fight is what decides the victory, the winner. How often have rage and pain made you cry? How often has exhaustion made you lose your memory, voice, common sense? And how often in this state have you exclaimed, with a broad smile on your face, "The final stage! Two more hours! Go, onward, upward! That pain only exists inside your head. Control it, destroy it, eliminate it, and keep on. Make your rivals suffer. Kill them" I am selfish right? Sport is selfish, because you must be selfish to know how to fight on while you suffer, to love solitude and hell. Stopping, coughing, feeling cold, not feeling your legs, feeling sick, vomitting, getting headaches, cuts, bleeding...can you think of anything better?

The secret isn't in your legs, but in your strength of mind. You need to go for a run when it is raining, windy, and snowing, when lightning sets trees on fire as you pass them, when snowflakes or hailstones strike your legs and body in the storm and make you weep, and in order to keep running, you have to wipe away the tears to see the stones, walls, or sky. The strength of mind to say no to hours of partying, to good grades, to a pretty girl, to the bedsheets against your face. To put your soul into it, going out into the rain until your legs bleed from cuts when you slip on the mud and fall to the ground, and then to get back on your feet and continue uphill until your legs cry out, "Enough!" and leave you marooned in a storm on the remotest peaks, until you die.

Leggings soaked by snow, driven on by the wind that sticks to your face and freezes your sweat. Feeling the pressure from your legs, the weight of your body bearing down on the metatarsals in your toes, pressure that can shatter rocks, destroy planets, and move continents. Legs suspended in the air, gliding like an eagle, or running faster than a cheetah. Running downhill, slipping on the snow and mude before driving yourself on anew, and suddenly you are free to fly, to shout out in the heart of the mountain, with only the most intrepid rodents and birds hidden in their nests beneath the rocks as your confessors. Only they know your secrets, your fears. Because losing is death. And you should not die before you have given your all, have wept from the pain and the wounds. And you cannot surrender. You must fight on to the death. Because glory is the greatest, and you can either aspire to glory or fall by the wayside. You cannot simply not fight, not suffer, not die...Now is the time to suffer, the time to fight, the time to win. Kiss or kill.

Preparing to get caught in the storm on Mt. Antero with my late 11am start

Preparing to get caught in the storm on Mt. Antero with my late 11am start

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All The Running Shoes

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All The Running Shoes

A few weeks ago when I made an attempt on Nolan's 14 I tossed all my running shoes in a trash bag so if I needed an old pair I would have them all in one place. I picked up the bag and realized that I had a lot of old running shoes! Every time I need a new running shoe I go out and try something new. I figure after awhile I'll settle on the shoe or the brand I like the best but right now I'm still looking.
In an effort to not forget what I liked and didn't like. I've written up little personal reviews for all these shoes.


 

Trail Shoe:


La Sportiva - Wildcats
The wildcats were not my favorite shoe. Probably because I bought them in a size too small. They have a large heel to toe drop and a plastic piece on the bottom. I would not recommend them for any substantial amount of running. But made great approach shoes after the fact. My advice also with La Sportiva shoes is you can never go too big. My foot size is 7.5 but in every shoe I’ve owned of theres I would easily go 9.

Best memory: loosing my toenails in the Tetons
Retired As: Approach Shoes



Brook's - Pure Grit
The PureGrit are a phenomenal shoe! A nice cross over to a slightly minimalist shoe. I wouldn’t recommend these shoes for rocky technical terrain because the tread wears off quickly and the all around minimalist feel to them can cause foot bruising. But for running beautiful dirt trails for hours this is a perfect fit.

Best memory: 3rd Female finisher of the La Sportiva mountain 10k
Retired As: Backup Trail Running Shoes



Altra - Lone Pine
The Lone Pine is another great shoe. This shoe offers a large toe box and 0 drop for a real minimalist shoe with a little extra cushion. One of the lightest shoes I own and pretty much 100% mesh. This is it’s only fault, not a shoe to run on granite because the mesh will wear through very quickly. My advice when running with these shoes is to start short and build it up if you’re not use to a minimalist shoe. I always feel just a little bit more tired after running long distances in these shoes the first few times. Just takes a lot of miles to get everything strong again.

Best memory: run from my front door to the top of Mt. Tam
Current trail shoe

 

Road Shoe:


Brook's - ghost
The Ghosts are the first real running shoe I owned. I didn’t know anything about serious running at the time and had just grown my toenails back after loosing them in the Tetons to my old running shoes (the Wildcats). Mainly a road running shoe I spent many cold CO nights running the slick sidewalks. When I moved to California I continued the trend and also wore them for my 3 mile walk to work everyday. Lets just say they wore out really fast. It is true. Don’t walk in the same shoe you run in. Thats why I retire all my old running shoes to walking shoes. Brooks makes fantastic shoes though. If you have no plans to run ultras or you are just getting started into running. I can’t recommend Brooks enough!

Best memory: first run in SF
Retired As: First Shoe to cut up in emergency



Salomon - X-Wind Pro
The X-Wind Pro left a bad taste in my mouth for Salomon products. They claim to be a “city trail shoe” which to me means a road running shoe. I felt like they forced my foot into a weird position. And I only ended up running in them for a few months. However, I will say these are the most durable shoes I’ve ever owned. I walk to work 3 miles everyday in them and love them to death. The speed lacing makes them convenient to slip on and off and the sides are not made out of mesh which means after 500+ miles of walking and running they still have little to no signs of wear on the sides. When it comes to Salomon they know mountain running shoes probably the best in the industry but not really road shoes.

Best memory: the ledge trail Yosemite
Retired As: Walking Shoe because the are the most durable shoe I own



Hoka One One - Clifton's
The Cliftons are the shoe that changed road running for me. I hate cities and I hate running on the road. But lets face it sometimes you don’t have a choice but to run on the road. These shoes opened up a world of commuting for me. I could seemingly run forever on the roads and not feel the pain of the constant pounding of concrete and asphalt. Though I’ll never be a road runner I can’t imagine running in any other shoe when it comes to those days in the city.

Best memory: run commuting around the city
Current road shoe

 

Mountain Shoe:


Salomon - Speed Cross GTX
The SpeedCross GTX are some of the best mountains shoes I’ve run in. Salomon really disappointed me initially in there “road” shoe but made me believe again when I picked up a pair of there mountain shoes. These shoes keep your feet warm and dry but are also durable enough to not rip apart after hours of running on granite. The tread stuck well during technical running and didn’t wear down too fast. I have run in these shoes in the tall mountains of Colorado and California and hopefully soon Alaska too.

Best memory: Nolan's 14 attempt on a fractured foot
Retired As: Hiking shoes
 


Hoka One One - Speedgoats
The SpeedGoats are a new shoe for me and I haven’t really put them to the long days in the mountains test. The high profile makes me a little nervous of twisting an ankle but on my short technical runs around Yosemite it seems to be an irrational fear. What I have noticed is they actually have pretty good traction and control. More so than any of my trail shoes which is why I want to test them more on the spicy rocky runs. If they are anything like there road shoes I know I’ll be hooked. I will write more about them soon.

Best memory: running through the wet marsh around Bishop
Current mountain shoe


So in conclusion I’d currently recommend:
Road Shoe: Hoka One One
Trail Shoe: Altra
Mountain Shoe: Salomon
Just getting started running anything/ all around best in the show: Brooks

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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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