Viewing entries tagged
ultrarunning

Moab 240 Pacing - A long walk in the desert

Comment

Moab 240 Pacing - A long walk in the desert

It’s taken me forever to write about this because Moab and everything that came with it was super hard for me. It fell conveniently a few days before my 24th birthday. For me birthdays are the only holiday I celebrate. I hate Christmas the most and the rest are just another day off work. But I digress. My favorite holiday was fast and approaching and I wanted to start my 24th year out right. And most of all I wanted to spend it with the people that I cared the most about! I made a fabulous plan to get a few days with my running family, a few days with my climbing friends, and a few days flying my paraglider. All I needed was my partner to icing the cake. But that was the heart breaking part. He didn’t want to go. He thought the drive was too long. He didn't understand why it even mattered to me. Ironically just weeks later he drove all the way to Moab for another woman. This is why I can finally write about this because I am no longer sad. So lets begin, I was on the road alone to enjoy my birthday the best I could. 

My first night on the road in the van didn’t go as planned. I got woken in the middle of the night by the cops and ended up just driving all 12 hrs pretty much straight to Moab. When I arrived in the morning the race had already started and I missed Karen by a few hours. That was okay though because I planned to pace her for half of the race which would turn out to be 120 miles worth of pacing. Her husband Phil was excited to adopt Lopi as his new buddy and I settled in the truck for the next 5 days of pacing. I was looking forward to being out of cell service.

IMG_6624.JPG

Phil and I spent most of the day hanging out at Hamburger Rock in Indian Creek waiting for Karen to show up. She showed up a little after sunset looking great and we made a plan, ate some food at the aid station, and kept on moving. The plan was that Phil would be able to make it to the next aid station and she would be able to sleep and get her stuff together there. As things would go… nothing ever went as planned at the Moab 240. We spent the next 12 miles catching up after a year or so of not seeing each other. I think the last time we ran together was when I paced her at the Western States. Spirits were still high as we came into the next aid station. But that is when everything changed. “Where’s Phil!?” I remember Karen asking. I ran up and down the campground looking and looking but I couldn’t seem to find him. I was certain the truck would be able to make the drive but I also had never driven a enormous camper. He’s not here I repeated. He must be at the road.

IMG_6632.JPG

That’s when her friend Derek showed up and informed us that the truck wasn’t able to make the drive. A few swear words from Karen but there was nothing we could do. The truck was at least a 5mile detour off of the course. I reassured Karen that everything would be okay and we would just eat the aid station food and sleep in the sleeping tent and it would be fine. She sent Derek back to the truck to get a change of clothes and few other things and then she headed off for the sleeping tent. I stayed by the campfire tired, but not destroyed, I tried to catch a few moments of sleep sitting up right in a chair by the fire wrapped in a barely warm wool blanket. Needless to say it was a rough night for all of us. We had about 40 more miles till we would see the truck again which would mean another full day of walking. Karen said the sleeping tent was cold and was lacking blankets not to mention loud. She didn’t sleep. The icing on the cake for that aid station was they had minimal volunteers and seemed to be out of all of there food already. Derek saved the day with a few things to make the next 40 miles a little more comfy and Karen and I hit the trail just before sunrise.

IMG_6639.JPG

The next section went on forever. We were both in a bad mood from the night before, and I wasn’t feeling talkative from a heavy heart and the overwhelming loneliness that a cold night in a chair shivering will do. We turned on a few podcasts for this section just to pass the time without feeling obligated to talk. And finally the aid station showed up. This aid station lifted our spirits like none other. The volunteers were loud and hilarious. I fed off of there energy and they even gave Karen a shoulder massage and made me a heart shaped pancake with peanut butter. I didn’t want to leave! As we jogged out of the aid station we knew this next section was going to be a death march. We finally had a bit of uphill but it was over 20 miles long. I knew we would see the sunset before we got to the next check point. But spirits were finally high and I was able to chat a bit here and there. Spirits didn’t stay high for long though. The course crossed the river maybe 10 times. It would go over it and then back over it two steps later. It wasn’t fun. And finally about half way we had to call it. Karen laid down on a rock in the shade and I laid down in the middle of the warm trail. Thinking I’d just lay down while she napped I lost consciousness immediately. 15 minutes later I woke in a panic. Woah how long was I out what’s going on I felt confused. Karen was still on the rock so I felt a sense of relief as I took some drugs, ate some food, and sat up off the trail. A few seconds later a runner came up the trail. Karen got up and we chatted. Then it seemed everyone showed up. My friend Scott was there with the camera and maybe another group of 4 runners passed us. It was the first time we had seen people all day. That motivated Karen to get moving and we started off again.

The nap revitalized us. We were finally moving good again. Karen powered up the uphill with the sun quickly vanishing. It was maybe another 3 miles to the aid station and I was hopeful we wouldn’t be in the dark for super long. As we walked up the last little climb to the aid station the sun finally fully disappeared and we pulled our headlamps out. Mine was quickly loosing strength so I was prepared to march it out in the dark if need be. But next thing we knew the aid station appeared. The plan was that Karen would do the next two sections alone and then I would pick her up for the next night time. Karen fell asleep in the camper and I curled up with Lopi in the back of the truck cab. It was one of the coldest nights of my life. Dipping down to 12 degrees. Training for winter ultras I kept telling myself.

I was relieved to have the next few sections off. I was exhausted and just needed some time to get feeling good again. At this point we had been out of cell service for a few days and I felt the much needed time away was helping me heal. Karen styled through the next sections but her feet were already absolutely destroyed. Finally through the 100 mile mark she was nearly half way done. I picked her up in the middle of the night as we started the last big climb up and over the La Sal mountains. It was cold but not nearly as cold as the night before and I was finally feeling normal again. I told story after story after story. The miles went by quickly as we laughed and talked about everything and anything. I got cell service here and there and we chatted with her friends back in Calgary as we marched on. This was the best section of the entire course. Beautiful single track twisting through the mountains overlooking the desert far below. As the sunset once again we rolled into the last aid station to another epic. The truck wasn’t there. Phil wasn’t there. Karen sat beside the heating lamp repeating. No you don’t understand this isn’t like Phil. Phil should be here. My friends Willy and Kate were cooking food and I got one of my best meals of the race. I went back to Karen to make a plan. It’s okay I repeated I’ll just do the next section with you. Don’t worry it’ll be okay. Then came a big black lab tackling me to the ground. Lopi I screamed. Phil was there but had parked a bit away. Not realizing we would come in so soon. Karen got the sleep she needed and her friend Derek decided to take her the next section. 

When she finally arrived at the 200 mile mark she was looking and feeling great… other than her feet of course. She only had two sections left and all the time in the world to do them. She didn’t mind walking alone during the day time so she headed off on the next section alone with the plan for me to take her the final section into the finish. I was excited. It was finally coming together. All the time on the trail everything was finally happening. She arrived at the last aid station in good spirits. Our friends from the Bridgerjacks aid station were there and we had a big party of good food and massage trains. My heart was so full and happy I couldn’t wait to get moving. Karen and I started the final section and I may have had a few tears in my eyes. The last section flew by. We went from beautiful single track trails up and over to wild jeep trails to finally a road that never ended to the finish. But just after sunset we blasted through the finish. Karen having traversed 240 miles of sandy roads in the past 4 and a half days. It was a strange feeling for me. 120 miles on my legs. I was dirty and tired. Karen went back to the camper to get clean and ready for bed while I chatted a bit with friends at the finish. My friend Amanda showed up that night and we made plans to climb the next day. Karen headed back to Canada and I said my good byes to my Canadian family. 

The next portion of my trip was good times with good friends. Climbing and flying my paraglider avoiding at all the cost the inevitable feelings of having to go back to California and face the overwhelming loneliness and sadness that had clouded my life. And that is why this report has come 2 months late. It’s because I have been feverishly running away from Truckee trying at all costs to avoid the inevitable feelings that needed to be felt. But I think I've felt them now and I know I will continue to feel them. But hopefully now with a layer of positivity for the future.

Comment

GR20 France - Learning is hard

3 Comments

GR20 France - Learning is hard

If you came to this post to read about the logistics of running the GR20 from gear to mileages to everything in between you should go read my blog post about the logistics instead. If you've arrived here to read my personal trip report then enjoy!

"It is not possible" a man repeated to us on the trail. "You cannot do it." Another man said. It was a common theme for Libby and I on our 5 day traverse on the GR20 but let's start from the beginning instead.

It was March I think fresh off a failure in Minnesota and preparing to battle the Alaska mountains once again when Libby cold called me. The conversation was something along the lines of you want to run the GR20? Sure! It was a week before our planned adventure when I finally sat down with the book and looked into what it would take to really run the GR20 in 5 days. What I found didn't make me scared but I knew we would be pushing. The book predicted 20 hr days every day. I assumed we would do half the time of their hiking predication if we had perfect days. I printed a couple of copies of a map and the plan and called it good for planning. I wasn't worried of 180km in 5 days with 44,000 feet of gain and 45,000 feet of loss. I'd run 100 miles in 1/5th of the time this to me seemed very doable. As long as I could recover daily and keep my eating right.

My schedule was tight. Libby was uncertain of her ability to get out of Libya on time so we only gave our selves 5 full days in Corisca with a travel day on the front and end. That means I flew from San Francisco to Paris to Nice to Corisca and then started running about 10hrs after landing. As a new world traveler I didn't realize the implications that a trans Atlantic flight would have on my stomach and sleep schedule. But we only had 5 days... so jetlagged or not we were moving. Libby and I met in the airport with our lovely couch surfing host Philipp. He was a huge part in our success. He gave us tons of useful information, took us to swim in the Mediterranean, helped us buy groceries, made us dinner, and even drove us to the trailhead at 6am the next morning.

The alarm chirped at 5am. I had barely slept that night from jet lag and the air conditioning being too cold. We rolled out of bed got our things together and ate a quick breakfast. I had some yogurt thinking it would be fine. Unfortunately it wasn't sugar yogurt but very raw sour yogurt. My stomach was already unhappy with this choice. We got to the trailhead by 6:30am and were optimistically charging up the long up hill to our first hut. We had barely stept onto the trail when two men came storming past us in little packs. Libby and I tried to pack light but we were definitely not running more fastpacking with the size of our packs. Those men were running.

We moved very quickly on the uphill passing lots of people and making good time to the first hut. We filled water here and kept on moving. The day seemed to fly by, the uphills seemed easy, and the terrain rocky and interesting to keep the mind occupied even with a very sour stomach. As we descended into our second hut of the day we picked up the pace. This is when I lost focus for just a second crossing a dry creek bed and twisted my ankle. Screaming in pain and crumpling to the ground I had felt everything in my ankle crunch. I thought it was over. After all the travel and planning to have everything be over in a split second. I was devastated. Libby quickly turned around and I regained some composure to assess the situation. The ankle was intact. The pain was extreme but I only had one option to get out of these mountains and that was to walk. I got up now heavily relying on my poles and hobbled to the next hut. We sat here and I removed my shoe to look at the damage. A bit of bruising a lot of swelling but it appeared to be a sprain so not a show stopper. Libby recommended I take some ibuprofen. I was hesitant. I had never taken any medicine during any runs I had ever done. This didn't seem like the place to start but she was a nurse and I needed to not roll it again because the next roll could be game ending.

My stomach was still very upset and now the heat of the day was setting in. We death marched up the final climbing sweating profusely. Head down trying to ignore the pain in my ankle and the nausea in my stomach we kept moving. As we started our descent into the final hut of the day Libby was out of water and the drugs had finally kicked in so I was moving fine. Time wise we looked good. 12.5 hrs for the first day was close enough to my 10hr perfect day predication. At the hut we paid to sleep outside and went to a nearby restaurant to get a big dinner. Eggs and fries were exactly what I wanted and a nice comfy sleeping pad in a tent was the best sleep I had in a while. I was limping badly now that we had stopped moving and even worse when we woke up in the morning.

We decided to buy breakfast at the hut the next morning which put us on a late 6:30am start. This day was a question mark for us since the information I had written down was for the recently closed cirque de la solitude. But we knew it was going to be one of the bigger days ending up closer to 30 miles. We always made good progress in the mornings and uphills were turning out to be our biggest strength. We passed parties that were gripped clinging to the side of the mountain as we mountain goated by hands free. We'd talk to a few english speakers as we passed by and they all seemed surprised as we told them our destination was "Manganu!!?? noooo" People seemed to be surprised but nobody seemed to express doubt in our abilities to do it just yet. This stage was beautiful and my stomach seem to be doing fine. It was the heat and the distance that seemed to wear on us and a few bone issues with Libby and her bad leg. Hikers liked to tell us of how flat sections of the trail were and how after the 4th stage the trail flattened out and was easy. As time would progress we would realize more and more that there was no such thing as flat on the GR20. And that the steep rocky bits continue on to the very end. Contrary to what people who are currently hiking it and who have previously hiked it may say.

Our late 6:30am start ended up really screwing us over on our way to Manganu. The hut seemed to never come and when we arrived at 8:30pm dinner was already done being served. We were screwed if we couldn't get a good dinner and a good night sleep. This turned out to be our free night. The host had already left so we had no one to pay for sleeping and a lovely Swedish couple saved us with some pasta, cheese, bread, and even a peach. We owe a lot to that couple and Libby and I made sure we would never have another late start again. Dinner was crucial to our success. We opened bivied that night and I in a thin bivy sack essentially slept in a warm sometimes chilly swamp of my own sweat. Needless to say it was a bad sleep.

We got up early the next morning and were hiking by 5:15 am. When we would start on a uphill we always seemed to make progress quickly. This was a nice technical traverse and we passed lots of parties. On the back side we boulder hopped quickly when Libby made a bad pole placement and went down face first into the boulders. The way she fell I was sure she had broken her leg. It was over. I slowly approached her growning. She hadn't yelled like a break so I was optimistic. A puddle of blood was pooling beside her face and I asked if she was okay. She responded yes but let me take stock first. She had punched herself in the face with her pole as she fell a few scraps on her knees and fat lip was all she sustained. I was hoping this would be our last accident.

We filled water at the next hut and decided to take the high route variation for the next section. A nice technical traverse of a ridge line to keep us occupied instead of traversing low in the trees. We moved faster on the technical terrain anyways. We passed a couple who we chatted with for a bit. The man very kindly wanted to remind us that we needed to stow our poles to get through the technical section. I ignored his comment and we kept moving. After a bit Libby and I talked about the encounter. It was the first time I had really started to notice how much unsolicited advice we had been getting on the trail. Was it because we were two females? Was it because we were Americans? Why did everyone want to tell us what we needed to do or that it was impossible to do the GR20 in 5 days? The pole comment stuck with me since we had never stowed the poles even once and honestly the entire route could be done without even using your hands. The real question was did they also say this to the two men who had flown past us at the beginning? Just as we were having this thought picking our way slowly down a step descent a man came flying past us in a tiny backpack effortlessly bounding down hill. His feet never touching the ground for more than a second. We must have passed those man in a hut at an early day I was convinced it was the same men.

Some storm clouds started to build and Libby set a grueling pace on the next uphill. Now it was just 5,000 feet of descending and we would be at the half way point of the GR20. This is when it hit me. I could eat like a 100 miler for 2 days worth of time but by the 3rd day my body was starting to lose hold of the sugar diet. Sugar might buy me 15 minutes instead of an hour now and the lack of calories and water sent my into a downward spiral. The downhills started to hurt more and my knees start to lock up. Next thing I know I'm bending over to stretch my legs standing up and falling face first into the boulders from a strong orthostatic hypotensive moment. I thought my sugar had dropped and I needed sugar. Libby was saying things to me but I couldn't hear her. Apparently I was moaning some inaudible sounds. I shoved a fruit leather in my mouth but couldn't chew it. Libby describes the moment as a partially unconscious person chocking on a fruit leather. She got me to move into the shade drink some water and eat some real food. She shared with me some of her extra food a cheese stick which I promptly spilled cheese liquids all over my shirt. It was my badge of dishonor to remember how I screwed up nutrition once again. This is when we realized that I had never done a multiday push. I've run 100 milers in a day before and I've climbed big walls in a day before. It turns out pushing is a lot different than pacing. I couldn't use my motivation of "the faster you run the faster you're done" no I had to keep sustaining for 5 days. You can't push into the pain cave and create a deficit. It was a new world of eating and moving that I was learning. And unfortunately this is what learning feels like as Libby liked to remind me. 

When we arrived at the half way point we got to see the the little town of Vizzavona. It wasn't much but it had showers, electricity, and the comfiest air mattress and best sleep I had on the entire trip. We ate downtown at a restaurant were no english was spoken. A few mystery dishes with one mild vomit and it was off to bed to start the second half. We chatted with an English speaker in the camp who was doing the route in 14days. When he discovered we were doing it in 5 he promptly responded with "You can not do it. It is impossible" We quickly ended the conversation and it left a bad taste in our mouths. On the way back to my tent I looked at Libby and said fuck that guy just because it's hard doesn't mean its impossible. 

The next morning we rose early and made our way to our last sleep on the course. The day started well and we made progress quickly. The terrain for this day was boring. Mostly wooded and good trail with little exciting to look at. I was running low on food and we were actually running on the trail. Libby close to falling asleep behind me we decided to slow down a bit and talk to make the time and distance pass quicker. When we finally reached Verde we decided to take a longer break drink some cokes and eat some food at the restaurant. We were on the final 10 mile stage of the day and making good time. The coke and the new drugs finally kicked in and we rocketed up what we thought was the final climb. But then things started to go south for me. I had eaten a bit of the cheese sandwich Libby had bought and the stinky cheese immediately did not sit well with me but riding the coke high at first it didn't seem to matter. Now about 3 miles out from our destination I was dry heaving on the side of the trail seconds from vomiting. I wanted to vomit. Vomit would make me feel better. Libby was talking about nasty things in an effort to make me vomit and I was retching on the side of the trail. An hour of slow walking and laying down and dry heaving and burping went by before I started to get angry. I felt like shit and I wanted to get to the next hut. At the pace I had slowed to we would miss dinner again. I started too shout and ride the anger wave now averaging a fast pace on the trail. I shouted angrily about french food and about animal cruelty and ran in anger. This wave of anger lasted until the hut was in sight and then I ran in desperation to be done. When we arrived I sat head between my legs with extreme pain in my abdomen. We had gotten the very last two dinners which I counted as a success. A nice comfy warm tent and I bought some more food to get me through the last day.

As we sat down to eat the food two very fit looking men in running shoes and clothing came up to us. You are the runner girls they proclaimed how many days are you doing it in. We responded with 5. They seemed impressed. They were the men that had passed us at the beginning and again on day 3! They were also doing the trail in 5 days. We had such a pleasant evening talking about the trail and running and getting to know each other. They both lived here on Corsica and the one man had run the trail in a just 2 days! We enjoyed their company and it was such a pleasant relief to have people who didn't use the word impossible. They gave us some good beta on some alternate routes that would make the final day more enjoyable. 

That night was rough. I tossed and turned all not from the pain in my stomach. I got up a few times to use the bathroom but nothing seemed to help the pain. Usually in the mornings I would feel great and we could make good progress for the fast half of the day. This morning was different. The abdominal pain had not left. We got on the trail by 5am and the boys passed us for one final time on the initial climb. Unlike the other days I wasn't able to muster the energy this morning. I was ill but moving. A cute little brown dog was following the boys out of the camp but when the boys moved to fast he latched unto Libby and I. He had a collar with no name and we assumed he belonged to someone at the hut. Libby kept shouting at him to go back but the fit little dog seemed determined to go with us. After a while we just accepted that he was with us now but the anxiety of having the dog around couldn't be ignored.

I ate 4 times with in the first hour of the morning. Hoping my stomach would turn around. The first hut took forever and the second took just as long and the sun was the hottest it had been the entire trip giving me heat rash on both my arms. When we arrived in Bavella we could finally eat some real food. We ordered 3 cokes, 2 chocolate crepes, and a large order of fries. Our puppy friend took a nap and the restaurant seem to recognize him and gave him a big plate of food. I was happy he was being fed but start to cry thinking about how independent he was and how much I missed Lopi. I poured a coke into my bottle and chugged the other. It was the final 12 miles to the finish and there was nothing that could stop us now.

Freshly drugged and full of food Libby and I took a more casual start to the final leg. We talked a lot and kept the miles and time passing. The end went quickly in my head. The mountains started to disappear and the ocean was the only thing on the horizon. My stomach and feet were hurting but a good conversation can distract anything. I had been in a strange habit of pooping about 3 times a day and the final day was no exception. This time however I realized something was different. I pooped the blackest poop of my life. A sign of bleeding. It was of no surprise having not taken ibuprofen for years of my life to now taking a healthy dosing for 5 days in a row that maybe the abdominal pain was something deeper than just upset stomach. But we were hours from the finish and it would heal in time anyways. 

The final day took us longer than expected and we arrived at the finish well past the bus schedule. It was entirely my fault but I had done the best I could. A lovely French family celebrating Bastille day invited us in for some delicious homemade pizza and wine and we talked all things Trump and GR20. In Conca even though the trail was done we were 3hrs from being back in Calvi and on a holiday in France the town was dead. Again for the last time of the trip we were told "It is IMPOSSIBLE to get to Calvi tonight" with early flights in the morning we reassured them that nothing is impossible it just may be expensive or hard. A few hours of attempted hitching and then a quick call to a taxi we were back in Calvi with our lovely couch surfing host Phillip at 2am. A glorious shower and blister relief allowed us to finally sleep well for me the first time 8 days. The next day would hold a 40hr travel block with a 18hr layover in Paris to a 5hr bus ride from SF to Truckee. Boy it felt good to be home and what a beautiful adventure. My ankle is healing well and I already feel like I can run again!

3 Comments

Arrowhead 135 - So much to learn

Comment

Arrowhead 135 - So much to learn

After finishing the Susitna 100 in Alaska last February I swore I'd never drag a sled again. But weeks turn to months and you quickly forget the pain and misery. I was itching to do another winter ultra as the summer season came to a close. So I found this amazing looking race in Finland. A little less than 100 miles at 160K in Finland! I was excited. It seemed unique and inspiring. But as the winter drew near my friends from the Susitna all got the itch as well. And we planned collectively to have a reunion at the Arrowhead 135. I knew it was too close to the Finland race to be able to do both and I knew I would never go to the Arrowhead by myself so I felt like this was my only chance to go out and do it. I put my Finland plans on hold for another year and entered the lottery for the Arrowhead 135.

When we all got picked for the Arrowhead I felt a little bit of disappointment. I couldn't find anything super inspiring about the race. 135 miles in Northern Minnesota!? But all my friends were doing it and I knew it would be a challenge so I began training and started to get excited. An adventure in any form is an adventure!

As race day got closer the anxiety started to set in. Winter ultras are logistical nightmares. From the gear, to the food, to the training, to the weather... You can never feel prepared no matter how many times you've done it. My first day was a complete travel day. We started flying at 6am and didn't arrive at International Falls till 6pm. Lourdes, Lester, and I were reunited and I was so excited to see them face to face again. My friend Scott (who took all these amazing photos) had also come along to enjoy the experience and take some photos.

After packing, unpacking, repacking, obsessing over gear it was finally race day. The race started on a Monday and was a balmy 15 degrees and snowing. This would be the theme for the entire race. Only dropping down well below 0 on the last day. There was lots of chatter about strategy. Lots of people don't run a single step of the entire race. People were warning about going fast. Others were pressing to get to the first aid station in 10hrs. Honestly I didn't have a strategy. I usually run fast out the gate and slow down later on. Lots of people pass me. But I like to get as far on the course as fast as I can before I start to break down.

Instead of running my own race I ran with Lester and Lourdes out the start. We walked mostly. Jogging a bit here and there. This race doesn't really work well for running with other people. We are required to stay single file on the right side of the trail at all times and there is only one track that is beaten enough to give okay footing. It was snowing a lot but warm enough that the snow was punchy. Every step felt like you were running in sand.

Lourdes, Lester, and I stayed together for about the first 24 miles. But my body was deteriorating fast and it didn't help that my brain was heavy with negative thoughts. My feet started to hurt at about mile 9 and I was convinced it was because they were already starting to trench. Unfortunately I think it was more because they were bruised from my rock solid already frozen shoes. The race was not off to a good start. Lester was already out of water and I had barely drank half a liter. I've never been the best at fueling and hydrating and this is not the race to test those limits. When extreme distances mixed with extreme cold. The body shuts down faster than you would expect.

I spent the next 13 miles alone walking slower than normal and playing the scenarios of my stressed relationship back home through my head over and over and over. The snow was falling faster and harder and my feet were throbbing with pain. But all I could think about was my failing relationships and how I was standing still in time. It was torture. It was mental torture. 

When I finally got to the first aid station which was a gas station off the interstate Lourdes and Lester were about 15 minutes ahead of me. Lourdes left quickly and I filled water, ate some food, popped some blisters and followed suit behind Lester. I assumed I wouldn't see them again till I reached Mel Georges the second aid station in about 36 more miles. I left feeling strong and rejuvenated. I was making good time out the aid station head down and marching quickly. I wished I had gotten my head phones out so I had some music to distract my wandering mind but instead I pushed to catch up to the blinking light ahead of me. 

It was Lisa a friend I had walked with earlier in the day. I welcomed the company and we chatted and walked for about 3 or 4 hours. She slowed me down at times and I was lacking in my fueling from a bit of an upset stomach. She pulled ahead for a bit and I couldn't keep up. I then realized how badly I was limping and how slow I was moving. The reality started to set in as I was now alone. In complete darkness, under caloried and dehydrated. I kept kicking myself for my ignorance. I sat on the trail. Legs crumpled in pain and ate some food. I was destroyed. I was completely destroyed. I had been running everyone else's race all day not listening to my body and being tortured by my own brain. The food didn't stay down for long. That and everything I had eaten at the last aid station came up all over the side of the trail.

I picked up the phone to track my own tracker. How close was I to the next aid station. To my surprise I had great cell service and I loaded my tracker. That was a mistake. Looking at the dots I realized I had been averaging 1 mile per hour for the past few miles. It felt like 1 mile per hour and I still had about 24 more to go to the next aid station. Next I called Corbin. I sobbed about not being able to bend my knees and the horrible loneliness that is eating away at my brain. His only response was you're tougher than this get up and keep moving. I put the phone away. Stood up and kept walking. It felt more like cross country skiing because I could barely lift my legs by this point. I just shuffled them over the top layer of soft snow. The 40lb sled pulling on my tender stomach didn't help the incessant need to vomit every few feet.

When I finally made it to a road crossing I was hoping I'd see Scott and he'd put me in the van and I would just go home. But he wasn't there when I got there and I sat on my sled with my head between my legs and screamed. I called Scott and asked for a pep talk. He didn't have much to say. I stood up and kept walking. I passed a few people here and there bivied on the side of the trail and the thought of a few minutes of sleep was inviting. I had about 20hrs to go till the next aid station if I kept walking at this pace. Then Julia called me. I bitched to her for an hour while I walked one mile and then I sat down. I needed to rest. My feet were fucked. My knee was so swollen on the back side that I couldn't bend it. I hadn't kept any food down for about 6 hrs. I was destroyed. I got the jet boil out and the sleeping bag and I got inside. Immediately I feel asleep.

When I woke up about an hour later I boiled some water and made some oatmeal which I was able to keep down. I drank some water and was determined to keep going. To my mistake I had left my shoes outside the sleeping bag and the sweat from the inside had frozen solid. Not to mention my feet had now swollen 8 sizes larger as well. I could barely squeeze my feet into the frozen shoes. Once I got the shoes on I stood up and packed the sled. Clicked the sled back around my waste and took my first step. Nothing. My legs were solid bricks. There was no bend in my left knee and my stomach was so sensitive I couldn't stand straight with the weight around my waste.

I had to make the decision of missing a cut off or quitting early. There was no way at mile 55 in the state I was in that I would be able to turn my nutrition and hydration around as well as turning my brick legs back into limber. If I quit now I'll recover faster and be back training and doing the things I love sooner. If the finish is not an option. The decision isn't hard. There was no physical way I could have finished. I am sure of that. That being said I know I can finish the race but I need to race smarter.

I walked the mile back to the road crossing and Scott picked me up and took me back to the hotel. The sun was almost rising and I spent the next three days limping around cheering my friends on. Lourdes and Scotty took a finish and Lester came 30 miles before his body said no. My left knee wasn't able to bend for 2 days and I took that as a good sign that I made the right decision. Asking the veterans that have done the race 4, 6, 10 times why they keep coming back every year to do it. They all say the same thing. The race is a different race every year. You can finish it 10 times and DNF on your 11th because you never know what the conditions are going to be like.

I think failing at this race was the best thing that could have happened. I learned more from this failure than from anything else. Here are my main take aways. First and foremost run your own race. Tim pulled me through the Susitna and it was the best thing I could have ever hoped for but it is not guaranteed. Everyone is different from the length of there walking stride, to when they need to pee, to how much they need to fuel and hydrate and stop. I shouldn't be looking for my next Tim every time I catch someone on the trail. I should be listening to my body and go the pace that my body needs to go and not worrying about the rest. Similarly I need to have a more ridged fueling system. When I ran the Grand Canyon with Libby I had a watch and every 45 minutes we ate a GU. I felt great that entire objective until I ran out of water and missed my hourly GU. I remember bonking so hard it was a labor to just walk. I need to be strict like this again. It's important to have a constant stream of calories and I know what works well for me so I should stick to it. Also more walking. Walking is hard to do in training because it takes lots of time and is super boring. But if you don't train your brain to be okay with walking it makes it even harder. For this race in particular utilize the cell service. Don't wait till your brain is tortured to break out the headphones. And even though this race doesn't allow pacers. It's pretty much like having a pacer if you call up your friend and chat for a few hours. But the most important thing of all is you have to want it! You have to really really want it. Because when it gets tough if you don't want it bad. It's easier to go home.

Though I started this objective by saying there was nothing inspiring about this race. It's more than just a race. It's an experience, a hard ass challenge, and I can't wait to go back wiser and stronger and give it hell!

Comment

Wasatch 100 Pacing

Comment

Wasatch 100 Pacing

Someone once said to me “Your family are the only people crazy enough to spend days on end with no sleep supporting you on some crazy run.” I told him he needed better friends. I’d support a stranger like I would support my family. when it comes to ultra running. We are all just vulnerable humans chasing the limits of our physical body.

It was a random May day in Yosemite Valley. My friend Blake and I had climbed a few things here in there. One day on a hike into the rocks she lamented, you should meet my friend Stacey she’s a badass ultra runner training for her first 100. I think you guys would be friends. Blake put us in contact and we phone tagged here and there as I travel in and out of Utah. It wasn’t till I failed miserably on my Nolan’s attempt till I inquired if she needed any help for the Wasatch 100. That’s how it all began.

Stacey asked how many miles I wanted to do. With my recent hip injury and oral surgeries I knew I was only good for a hand full of miles. So she gave me the shortest distance. Big Mountain to Lambs Canyon roughly 14 miles. I booked my plane ticket the next day. I started to feel nervous as the day got closer. I wasn’t in very good shape and all the physical therapy I was doing for my hip was just making me super fatigued. All I knew was Stacey was fasted and my worst nightmare was getting dropped. I can red line for 14 miles right??

Stacey picked me up from the airport on Thursday and I hoped in her little car with her and her friend Sal. I love supporting big races the energy and people in this sport make me unbelievably happy. We grabbed a bite to eat and headed to the pre race meeting. We got there a little early so we walked around Salt Lake for a little bit and drank some boba tea. It has been since I moved from San Francisco since I drank that and it did not sit right in my stomach. We went back and they explained the race course and sent everyone on there way.

That night we strategized or maybe just hung out. We got Stacey all packed up and ready to go. She went to bed early so that she could make it to the bus leaving at 4am and the race starting at 5am! The alarm rang and I sprung from bed. Stacey was up eating breakfast and getting ready to go. She asked again if she need a jacket and I assured her that she would warm up quickly. Sal drove her to the bus and I tried to catch another wink of sleep before I was to start running with her at mile 30.

Sal and I got up ate some food and headed to the staging area for the race. We sat around for a few hours refreshing her tracker till we got the text from Stacey saying she was headed our way. In a flash we drove up the hill and were waiting at the aid station. Stacey was crushing and I was getting more nervous that I would get dropped. The aid station was full of energy. I was screaming and shouting and cheering the runners on and maybe ringing the cowbell a little too much. Quicker than we had thought Stacey was charging down the hill and it was time for pacing to presume.

Sal and I checked how she was doing and how the tendinitis in her foot was. She was in good spirits... her foot not so much. The sun was just peaking and I know we were in for a scorcher of a run. Stacey unlike me enjoys running in the heat. I on the other hand I run 100s of miles in Alaska for a reason. We got everything together and got her to eat some food and we were off on our way to lambs canyon.

As we started on our way I asked again how she was doing. As I jogged along behind her, her limp was super noticeable. I knew she was in a lot of pain but I also knew she was tough as nails. A few men passed us and one guy stuck around for a while as we chatted about ultras and what not. He jetted off and we were alone for a bit. Stacey would curse every time she stepped wrong on a rock and I'd try to distract her with another Lopi story. 

She was low less than halfway through a 100 mile run and having to walk from the pain. I reassured her that this was normal. Everyone walks and that no matter what she was getting to the finish line before the cut off. We ran for a little and then walked for a little and another man passed us. She turned to me and said this sucks. I knew she'd pull it together as we chatted about Salt Lake. She was like you said your race in Alaska was a death march I don't want to death march for 60 miles.

The next aid station came faster than expected. Stacey got some much needed salt and we filled up some ice cold water to put on her neck. Only 6 more miles till I handed her off to Amy at lambs. This stretch was hard. It was 1 million degrees outside and I was definitely not hydrated or salted. Stacey needed to walk more to keep her bad foot from giving out to quickly. And then we passed a runner with an epic bloody nose. I gave him all my toilet paper and then ran to catch up with Stacey. He later charged pass us with the toilet paper jammed up his nose. Lambs was just a dot on the horizon as we could see it for almost the entire 6 miles. It never got closer.

But then there we were finally. We got Stacey all situated I gave her a hug and said see you at Brighton. I knew Amy was going to keep her on track even though she was in a really low spot. Sal and I hung out at the aid station with my Canadian friends for a bit before we went back so Sal could get some sleep before he started pacing.

After Sal realized sleep wasn't in his future we headed to the seedy part of Salt Lake to buy some fries and then up to Brighton to wait for Stacey and Amy to arrive. Around midnight she showed up still smiling. She looked amazing for having almost 70 miles and raging tendinitis in her foot. We let her sit down and she looked at us and dead serious said I want to quite. I'm giving up. We said okay thats fine as we forced her to eat more InandOut fries and a sandwich. It wasn't long after that she was wearing my jacket, holding my poles, and I was putting her backpack on her and saying see you at the finish. 

Then I epiced. I drove away from the aid station with no charge in my cell phone and a city I knew nothing about. O boy I thought I hope my memory doesn't fail me now. I got my way back to down town Salt Lake and at about 3 am I knew I was doomed unless I got some charge. I rooted through a bag Sal left in Stacey's car and found a charge. I sat there on the side of the road exhausted trying to get just 1% so that it would turn on. Once it turned on I realized I didn't know her address so I scrolled google maps till I found were I thought it was. I was close only about a mile away. By the time I tucked into bed it was lights out but I needed to get up at 8am sharp to drive the 1hr to the finish and also get everyone food. 

By the time I reached the finish it was only a few minutes before I spotted Stacey and Sal walking up the road! I was so excited she did it with all the pain and death march it was. She finished the Wasatch 100 and with about 150 people who dropped that's a damn good accomplishment. She took a shot of whiskey and we sat around for a bit before heading back to Salt Lake. After a nap, some indian food and a full night of sleep I was back on a flight to Reno happy as could be. Man I love this sport and all these amazing people!

IMG_20160910_124916850.jpg

Comment

Nolan's 14 - Unfinished Business

1 Comment

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.

1 Comment

Hardrock 100 Pacing

Comment

Hardrock 100 Pacing

It all started when I moved full time to Tahoe and got involved with the Donner Party Mountain Runners. I was meeting a lot of rad people and would hear the mention of people I should meet. Betsy Nye was one of them. My introduction to Betsy was based on a mutual love for the hard tall Colorado mountains. I was looking for a partner for Nolan’s 14 and she was a crusher 14 time Hardrock 100 finisher. We chatted about the prospects of teaming up together on Nolan’s, and I offered to pace her in exchange on her 15th Hardrock 100. As the summer approached and Betsy’s injuries lingered we both agreed Nolan’s wasn’t in the cards for her this year and she had already got all her pacing shifts covered. I drove out to Colorado at the end of June to start my training for the summer. I already found a new Nolan’s partner and promised Betsy I’d cheer her on at the Hardrock.

On Tuesday three days before the start of the Hardrock 100 I got a call from Betsy. One of her pacers was injured and she was looking for a sub in. Conveniently I was super available and excited to help out. I had been battling a pain in my gums for three days, but I didn’t think anything of it. That night after agreeing to pace Betsy it hit me. I was up all night moaning and crying in pain. I tossed and turned crying and screaming for help. As the sun rose restless and in excruciating pain I walked three miles to the dentist tears streaming down my face unable to control the internal moaning of pain. I begged the dentist to see me immediately. They quickly got me in and sent me immediately to an oral surgeon. I had let a gum infection spread to my jaw. The oral surgeon who was booked till September, fit me in as an emergency and pulled a tooth to release some pain. I was also put on an antibiotic to hopefully kill the raging infection. This was Wednesday and the Hardrock was on Friday… I couldn’t let Betsy down. I was pacing her those 17 miles infection or not. 

The narcotics actually helped me sleep at night but the infection didn’t seem to subside even after a few days. Laying in my van the day before the hard rock I felt nervous about pacing Betsy. It was about her and if I struggled that wasn’t okay. I kept telling myself that it was suffer training. That if I could run 17 miles with a fresh hole in my mouth and an infected gum I could run any distance. I had been on a liquid diet for about 4 days and was living off of baby food. I could feel the hollow in my stomach. I was finding it impossible to get enough calories.

imagejpeg_0_7.jpg

Betsy started that morning at 6am and at 7pm I was sitting in downtown Ouray watching her tracker and anticipating her arrival. She’d be about 43 miles into the 100 and I would be taking her to mile 60. When she arrived we tried to get her in and out of the aid station as fast as possible. With only a few hiccups Betsy and I were walking our way to Box Canyon. This was my first time ever in Ouray not in the winter and I couldn’t help but remember all of the fantastic ice climbing trips I had taken to this canyon. As we moved along she asked about my mouth and I responded that it was best if we didn’t talk about it. The taste of blood was already strong in my mouth and I was fearful about the night ahead. Betsy was moving at a really good pace and I kept up right behind her talking about this and that and everything in between.

As the sun set we became silent and tried to focus on the trail ahead of us. Though it was dark you could feel the great exposure opening up beside us. Betsy, behind me at this point, commented on the fact that if you trip and fall you die. I didn’t feel afraid. Heights and exposure don’t scare me… maybe it’s from my years of rock climbing. As we got higher, the night got darker, and the air got colder. We had run through several creeks at this point and I could feel the deep sinking feeling of coldness soaking in. Betsy didn’t want to stop till we got to the aid station so I rotated which hand was holding the flash light and which was in my pants. When we finally reached engineering pass I was ready for a few extra layers. We sat by the fire for a bit trying to dry out our feet and get moving.

The next section was very steep up hill. We kept moving because after cresting over the summit it would be all down hill to the aid station where Angela would take over pacing. Once we started to go downhill Betsy just took off. For over 50 miles on her legs she was moving quick and efficiently. I jogged along beside her feeling the swollen right side of my face jolt up and down with every step. I had come to the conclusion that I wasn’t feeling any pain because my brain was trained to block out pain when I was running… unlike when I sleep and the pain can only be subsided with narcotics. We made fast work of the downhill and showed up at the aid station greeted by her friends and family at 2am. We got Betsy all fixed up and headed towards Handsies. I was feeling happy to be done and head to bed with my dog.

I caught a ride with Betsy’s dad and was asleep in my van by 3:30am. We woke early the next morning and I joined in on the crew for Betsy. We met her at the last aid station and got her ready for the finally push to the finish. As the sun just barely began to set Betsy came running into downtown Silverton and kissed the rock for her 15th Hardrock 100 finish! It was such an amazing experience to get to witness and be a part of! The next day we got to join in on congratulating all of the finishers and all of the people who didn’t finish in a family style ceremony. It made me really appreciate races that aren’t over run by sponsors and money. It reminded me of all the great people I met in Alaska and the way it felt like a family. As I finally said my goodbyes my heart felt warm and heavy and my face still very infected. 

13697064_10154266282890692_4729788966758551221_n.jpg

I spent the next week going into my second mouth surgery and planning my next snow 100 miler. So thankful for all the people I met and all the time spent in the mountains! 

Comment

Western States 100 Pacing

Comment

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.

IMG_20160626_010320799.jpg

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.

Comment

Recovery - The Struggle is Real

Comment

Recovery - The Struggle is Real

Recovery. It's the most important part of a race. For me recovering from a 20, 30, 50 mile run doesn't take very long. Maybe a day of rest and listening to my body and then I can jump back up and start running again. However the Susitna 100 was a different story for me. Maybe it was the sleep deprivation, the snow , or the sled. Whatever it was I just couldn't seem to come back. A week went by and I was still limping around. I was struggling to sleep without my legs being restless. I was depleted and no matter what I did I couldn't seem to come back. Icing, stretching, slow walks with lopi. I must have slept in two hour increments for days on end. The worst part was I could never make it through an entire night of sleep.

Corbin was concerned and kept making suggestions that my diet wasn't right. His solution was that I should start eating meat. I didn't agree, but I had a feeling my less then stellar diet might have something to do with it.

So I turned to Skratch Labs again. I was determined to take control of my diet. I wanted to run and feel strong. Karen, Lourdes, Tim, Lester... Everyone was running again. I wanted to run too!

I searched the internet and found solace in a few articles like this one that made it seem like your first 100 was always the hardest and longest to recover from. A couple others suggested 6 weeks until you were completely recovered. That felt like an eternity.

So here I was resting in Boulder for work just a week after Alaska. I was still not sleeping and things seemed to be getting worse. My chest started to feel tight and my heart seems to beat faster then I remembered. The truth of the matter is my body lost a lot of blood after finishing the Susitna 100 (a detail I left out of my race report). I believe mostly from stress. I've always kind of teetered on the anemic side since being a vegetarian for 9 years but the extra blood loss I think pushed me over. I thought back to my friends Tom and Theresa and the story they told me about the weird things anemia made there bodies do. Tom is a long long time vegetarian and swore by some iron pills that allowed for easy absorption.

So step one was to turn my diet around with help from Skratch Labs and step two was to start taking those iron pills I'd been neglecting. Baskets full of veggies with extra beets for beet juice and a bottle of iron pills. I was going to get to the bottom of this.

I was in Boulder for the time so I decided to stop by the Skratch Labs office. I met with a few of the awesome people behind the business and talked training, nutrition, and recovery. The knowledge and experience they have with this kind of things is something I can only hope to skratch the surface of (pun intended). They tipped me off on a few things, first there Raspberry daily electrolyte mix actually has iron in it naturally from the raspberries so it will be an easy way for me to maintain the iron levels after I bring them back up with the pills. Second the sad reality is that unless you know your body really well and are a diligent vegetarian it's super hard to be a high performing endurance athlete without eating a little meat. It sucked to hear but after reading the introduction to the FeedZone cookbook when they talk about vegetarian cyclist David Zabriskie I kind of had a feeling that was the case. And as much as I think I’m good about my diet… I’m no Scott Jurek or anywhere close to that. I live in a van. Most my meals are centered around nut butters and eggs. Which is apparently not what my body needed after the Susitna 100. Last they warned me of the terrors of over training and how hard it is to recover from the constant fatigue. Right now though I was just concerned with getting running again not even training!

I left Boulder feeling like I had a plan of attack until a series of unfortunate events happened in the airport and I cried for a bit. Anyways back to recovery. The terrible airport experience made me want Yosemite because Yosemite is where you go for answers and where you go to heal. I picked up a prenatal vitamin because they have a huge amount of Iron in them and it’s also what the doctor suggested. This was my third week of recovery and I was spending it in Yosemite. I drank water from the springs, laid in the sun, climbed a lot, and finally slept. I slept every night like a baby. I was worked and after leaving Yosemite realized some of that fatigue was linked to an impending cold. So the next week I spent laid up in Tahoe sick as a dog. At this point I’m taking my prenatal vitamin along with an iron plus pill. Climbing a bit in the gym but mostly just working and sleeping. I had made up the tasty Scratch Labs beet juice recipe and had a glass everyday. I always noticed a big spike in my energy levels after a glass of beet juice.

About 28 days after I finished the Susitna 100 the weather in Tahoe finally cleared, my cold was gone, and I went for my first run. It was slow but I felt mentally and aerobically stronger than ever. However my legs felt like bricks. I didn’t seem to have the same turn over and my knees and hips got really tight giving me pain. I stretched and foam rolled right after I finished but still found myself limping around the next day. I’ve always been a really bendy person but for the first time ever I was sore from a 5 mile run. I couldn’t do all of the poses,  but I went to yoga anyways. The weather turned back to snow in Tahoe and I cursed the cold. You can’t blame me for not wanting to run in the cold and snow for awhile. But I was eating better with no meat yet, taking the iron supplements, and planning to spend the next few weeks with short distances at a regular interval. All in all no better feeling then being able to run again.

Comment

First 100 After Math

Comment

First 100 After Math

I'm trying to recount everything that happened that night I finished the Susitna. It feels like my recovery has taken an eternity and I want to capture all the details of what happened to my body.

So here is my trip report Link. In summary I was in motion for close to 37 hours straight with no rest. I was moving over undulating icy and snowy terrain with a 30 pound sled strapped around my waste. Every step was deliberate and forceful.

Here is what I remember from those days post race. When I finished at 9pm I was wide awake I was afraid to take my shoes off so I sat inside eating and drinking for about 30 minutes. When it was time to go Corbin pulled the car around but I couldn't stand. I had no control over my lower legs. I couldn't straighten my knees or bend them so they always stayed at a slight angle. Corbin lifted me from the chair and I put an arm around his neck. Though honestly he was supporting all of my body weight while my legs slid on the icy ground beside him.

Once in the car I finally removed my shoes and socks. Immediately my feet swelled to an abnormal size and the pain on the bottom of my feet was so extreme I started to moan. I couldn't tell if they were frost bitten, and I was convinced I would never walk again. I had over 20 blisters covering the bottom of my feet. I quickly placed them under the heat and fell asleep. When I would wake up I realized I was still hallucinating. I saw faces in every object that passed and the sound of snow machines still echoed in my brain.

By the time we got to the hotel I wasn't even able to use Corbin as a crutch. Unable to bend my knees my legs stuck straight out in front of me as he sat me in a wheel chair and wheeled me into the elevator. I was so swollen at this point I looked 30 pounds heavier. Once we reached the hotel room Corbin laid me on the floor where I was convinced I could crawl to the shower. My knees were so sensitive that I resorted to an army crawl but only an inch of dragging my legs uncovered the pain all over and instead I laid helpless on the floor. At this point still fully clothed in what I had run in I was going in and out of shock. My teeth would chatter uncontrollably and my body and muscles would convulse. By now it was almost midnight.

My clothing smelled of piss and sweat an extremely foul smell, and I wanted to shower immediately. I had been moving for two days and had peed countless times without wiping with anything but snow. Not to mention a few times I may have peed on my shoes at wee hours of the morning. Needless to say I smelled bad and I couldn't move. Corbin returned from putting back the wheel chair and assisted me in my clothing removal. My body was in worse shape then I had imagined and I found that the sides of my thighs were extremely bruised from the poles of my sled rubbing. Not to mention the horrible chaffing around my waste from the sled belt.

Now came the hard part getting to the shower. Corbin lifted me on to the toilet while he sat a trashcan upside down in the tub so I could shower without standing. This is when I realized how severely dehydrated I was. My pee was the deepest color of blood orange. I was unable to support my own body weight and as hard as I tried I couldn't left my legs over the side of the tub without using my arms. Corbin sat me on the upside down trashcan and started the tub. I couldn't figure out how to clean my self while sitting so I got rid of the trashcan and laid horizontal in the tub. I splashed water over my body and soaped as much as I could while Corbin sat near by making sure I didn't drown.

Then came the shock again. My teeth started to chatter and I started to convulse. I felt helpless as I urgently asked Corbin to get me warm. I was unable to free myself from tub. He lifted my body out and held me over his legs while he used the hair dryer to blow heat on my skin and toweled me to get the water off. I slipped some clothing on and he placed me in the bed.

The pain and swelling was so extreme there was no position that didn't hurt. I wanted my legs elevated because I still couldn't feel any of my toes mostly from the swelling at this point. He stacked all 8 pillows from the bed under my legs and made me some dinner. He was forcing Skratch Labs Recovery powder down my throat and making me eat even though I didn't want to. My left knee was worse then my right and the swelling and pain was strangely behind the knee. I think from the heel first walking I did in sections. So Corbin filled a few bags of ice and I iced my left knee all night. At this point it was now 1am.

Corbin was tired and I was set for a sleepless night anyways so he passed out in the bed beside me while I shifted and moaned all night in and out of small pockets of sleep. At 6am I realized I need to urinate and it was an emergency. I woke Corbin up and he quickly carried me to the toilet and back to the bed. He then snuck down to the lobby and grabbed me a big breakfast. By the time the sun rose it was shaping up to be the first bluebird day in awhile. Corbin got my trekking poles close to the bed and I urged him to go skiing.

I was now alone tossing and turning in pain. I needed to unpack and repack the sled for the flight that night. I couldn't sleep so I called my family and talked on the phone most of the day laying in bed with my feet propped up the wall. But then it hit again. I needed to pee. I positioned myself sitting at the edge of the bed with the trekking poles in each hand and stood up. Still unable to straighten or bend my knees I shuffled with the trekking poles to the bathroom. I was mobile now so I used my hands to lift my legs into the tub and used the railings to hold on while I took a solid shower. I could stand without the trekking poles now but I couldn't walk without them. I dried myself and put fresh clean clothing on. I felt good and wanted to put my compression socks on in hopes of making my feet feel better. So I sat on the couch with a knife popping some of the bigger poorly positioned blisters. Puss oozed out all over my feet and I applied as much Neosporin as I could.

I got the sled packed and unpacked and then Corbin showed up. Now was the true test. Could I walk without the poles? It was slow painful and awkward, but I could hobble unassisted. We went to the award ceremony and I got the belt buckle before heading back to the hotel. It was 9pm at this point an entire day after finishing the race and I could finally sleep. While Corbin packed his ski gear I passed out into the best 3 hours of sleep I could have asked for. We then headed to the airport for our 2 am flight back to Reno. I hobbled through the airport and to the gate where I fell asleep on the floor. Corbin woke me and I got onto the plane where I immediately feel asleep in Corbin's lap. Off this flight and on to the next a similar story. I was so destroyed I couldn't interact with other human beings. I couldn't formulate thoughts or words.

Corbin drove us back to Truckee where I laid horizontal on a couch unable to operate my car or move quickly for 3 days. I couldn't sleep. I could barely work. I couldn't walk Lopi without becoming extremely fatigued. Everything was a chore I was drained. The most empty I've ever been.

But I picked myself up on the fourth day and drove back to Incline. I showered and did laundry. I unpacked the sled and packed myself for my next trip to Boulder. I took Lopi on a walk and I enjoyed the little improvements in mobility that I gained daily. I still couldn't feel two toes on my left foot and my feet needed to be lotioned daily. But life keeps moving on even if your not ready for it to.

I flew to Boulder 5 days after returning from Alaska for work still unable to walk without limping. But everyday seemed to get just a little bit better and I found myself walking 1 to 2 miles everyday limp free after day 8 of no running. But I still couldn't sleep. It wasn't till my final night in Boulder that I got a goodnight sleep. I account it to the late night and good conversation with friends. Or maybe it was the climbing I had done that morning. Non the less I finally slept for the first time in 10 days.

I feel like I went through hell with this recovery and I've finally come out on the other side. I've learned so much about my body and what I need. I know next time things will be different.

Comment

Susitna 100 - A Race Across Frozen Alaska

2 Comments

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!!

2 Comments

Run a Fun-K and Join a Running Club

Comment

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!

Comment

Extreme Cold Fueling

Comment

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.

Comment

Ultrarunning Podcast Laughs

2 Comments

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


2 Comments

Where to Run with a Sled (in Tahoe)

Comment

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

Comment

Rim River Rim River Rim *of Zion

Comment

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.

Comment

Words to Live By

Comment

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

Comment

A Guide to Planning Nolan's 14

Comment

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

IMG_20150804_211049225.jpg

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.

11857656_10206171702344364_1218995300_n.jpg

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

IMG_20150820_160751485_HDR.jpg

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

IMG_20150708_120412380.jpg

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.

Comment