Three Days Run-Packing the Trinity Alps

by Max on October 14, 2014

There’s the trail!” I would hear every so often coming from Tonya just a way’s behind me. Looking out over the mass of white granite speckled with black I didn’t see anything other than a questionably man-made cairn off in the distance with obviously no track or “trail” of any kind running through the landscape. Tonya and I were scrambling our way across part of the Trinity Alps high route with the destination of Man on Rock Pass off in the distance. The crumbled granite blocks impeding our way made for the greatest playground I’ve ever seen and by the end of the day my feet and legs ached from lunging here and there amongst the great boulders.

Where's Tonya?

It is an incredible landscape and one you might associate better with the high Sierra around Yosemite or Tahoe Basin, but up here tucked in a remote part of NorCal where few venture off the I-5 corridor rises a mountain ridgeline that rivals it’s southerly mountain cousins in beauty and ruggedness. It my not have the huge faces that Yosemite does, but that same difference makes it more accessible (to an amateur climber anyway) to explore.
The Trinities are somewhere I’ve wanted to explore for many years. Growing up just over the Oregon border they were closer than the Sierra’s but just like everyone else, I always passed them by on I-5. I would stare out the car window every time I would drive past Castle Crags, huge monolithic granite spires just off I-5 and had no idea that a whole wilderness lay just beyond with more granite to explore.
Tonya and I and a few others have been dreaming of run-packing through some great wilderness area of the west all summer and with time running out we finally put down a date to go do it. And by “we” I mean I finally had a weekend in the schedule that I wasn’t racing or doing something else.


We chose the Trinities for a close but south leaning destination that would hopefully still be warm enough in late September in the mountains. We didn’t have any clue what was there since we’d never been there and with no map to be found at the Bend REI we headed south about 7am on Friday morning. I’d gleaned the internet for a good long route we could do and came up with what someone dubbed “The High Route”. It was only 25mi so we needed a bit more and what trailhead to start from.
To get some more beta we stopped in at the Ranger Station in Mt Shasta and to my utter amazement, they were actually really helpful. Sorry, but yes, I was surprised. We got a great map, the best way to get the Honda Civic over the mountains (it was not the way that I wanted to go by the way), and some guidance on what lakes to hit. We planned a route that would have been about 80-90mi, it’s tough to tell, and would have encompassed the White Trinities and Red Trinities.
The Trinity Alps are divided into three distinct sections. The Green Trinities, which we would miss this trip, the Red Trinities, and the White Trinities, which we knew we wanted to hit since that’s where the granite is. It’s part of the greater Klamath Mountains of Northern California and has over 600mi of trails. Too much to explore in just one short trip. The geography and history of the area are as interesting and diverse as anything else in Oregon or California but very little is ever explored other than by the few hardy back packers. Very little of the wilderness is visible from any road and even a day hike barely penetrates into the heart of the wilderness. It’s one of the most truly wild areas of the West Coast.

Forested Approach

We left the Stuart Fork Trailhead, with two other cars in the parking lot by the way, at about 1:30pm on Friday headed for Canyon Lakes, one drainage over. The trail started out mellow, cruising through thick old growth forest along a boulder strewn creek that held some of the clearest, cleanest water I think I’ve ever seen. Five miles in we would depart the creek trail and head up over a 3000ft ridgeline climb and down into the next drainage. Here we would begin to get our first glimpses of the high granite peaks…and our first rain shower, but man was it cool to see the storm clouds roil up, the thunder cracking and then break with rays of light shooting through the clouds right over the jagged peaks of the Trinity Alps was such a sight to behold. That, right there made the whole trip worth it.

The Storm Approacheth

We wound our way down off the ridge and into the next drainage. We were getting short on time since spending a few minutes under a tree for shelter. A few miles up the Canyon Lakes trail night began to fall so we picked our way up the trail with headlamps until we found a great creek side camp spot that you could tell was a popular destination during busier months. Luckily when you only have 20lbs on your back camp is a really easy set up. Pull your sleeping bag out, put it in your bivy sack and wah lah, camp is made.

Camp, Simple.

Seeing as how it was late September it was also getting pretty chilly, so puffies came out, pants on and a warm meal was, well, reconstituted. My original thinking was that for this run-packing thing to work out meals would have to be bars and dry cold food but then Tonya turned me on to Esbit cubes. Small, lightweight solid fuel cubes that will boil approx. a pint of water in a few minutes. Pretty ingenious if you ask me and also saves you from having to pack a stove for the comforts of a warm meal. I thoroughly enjoyed my chili mac that night.
We woke the next morning to bright blue skys that we would enjoy all day high above treeline on the white granite slopes of the Trinity’s. Another warm meal and hot coffee got our day started and we headed up the trail with our first destination being Granite Lake. It was a pretty mellow start with a nice hike up the canyon and even though we were run-packing this trip definitely wasn’t about an FKT, but about being in nature, enjoying the serenity that you can only get from wilderness and wondering about how clean and clear the water is and how green the trees are. I don’t get to slow down and smell the roses very often and it was nice to be able to do that.

Granite, Granite everywhere.

Climb up to Boulder Lake

We climbed to Boulder Lake and beyond to the granite slopes that form the ridgeline secluding the Canyon Lakes Basin and began traversing our way toward Man on Rock Pass and what would eventually be our final destination at Grizzly Lake. This is where things go totally awesome. I’m sorry but this is my type of play ground. Huge granite boulders strewn in a great boulder field has the likeness of a nature made parcour course and it’s your mission to find the most efficient, but also fun, way through. Jumping, leaping, scrambling, and playing my way across what seemed like an eternal boulder field was the most fun I’ve had in a long time. It’s the way nature intended us to play. And shoot, it’s a good workout too.

Climb out of Boulder Lake

Just hanging around.

UP? Above Canyon Lakes

I was pooped, my whole body, worked. We were moving for about 8hrs on day 2 and we made it an incredible 12 miles, and it was some of the most beautiful and rugged 12 miles I’ve ever traversed. High up climbing over Man on Rock pass the views stretched on for as far as the eye could see. Storms a few days before we arrived cleared out the smoke from all the California forest fires so we had un-interrupted views of ridgeline after ridgeline reaching from the Oregon border south to where the mountains trail off into the Central Valley. Tonya remarked before we left the ranger station that they should connect the Trinity Alps Wilderness to the coastal Redwoods National Park and we could run that sometime. I thought it was a great idea, still do, but being up on that ridge made us realize the enormity of that request and how long it might take us to travel that distance.
Up over one more pass and we would begin our decent down into Grizzly Lake for the night. Grizzly Lake is a remote little lake surrounded by a cathedral of granite walls that as the sun sets catches the light just right and is lit up on all sides with a pink glow reminiscent of the late afternoon light through stained glass windows. Just amazed once again. Grizzly Falls leaps off the edge of the lakes shoreline almost as though held back by huge castle walls made of granite.

Grizzly Falls

That evening we lit up our little Esbit cubes made a hot meal, and watched the sun set on the high granite walls all around us. We crawled into our bags and slept. Our camp spot was so perfect I found a little patch of soft pine duff surrounded by trees that was nice and comfortable. I was a bit cold the first night so I made sure to have some extra insulation under my bag on the second night. The wind kicked up a bit but I slept warm and sound.

Grizzly Lake Alpenglow

Day three dawned with low clouds blanketing the surrounding peaks. If it hadn’t lifted in time for our departure out of Grizzly Lake it would have proved problematic getting out of there and back to the car. As it was we had a scramble up to a pass over a very precipitous granite ridge that took us several tries to figure out. Like a puzzle that you can’t see the other side of we would make a jab at getting over the ridgeline to Mirror Lake on the other side only to find a sheer drop that was impossible to down climb. After about four attempts we finally found the pass through the rock that we were aiming for and wound our way through the rocks and treed ridgeline to Mirror Lake and downward toward Emerald Lake.

Traverse across to Mirror Lake Pass

Tonya and Mirror Lake surrounded in a bowl of granite.

I had originally thought that a 1pm arrival at the trail head might be doable based on how far we had to go and how much cross country travel we had in store. That estimate quickly went out the window with our multiple failed attempts at getting through the first rock pass but when we hit the quagmire on the “trail” around Sapphire Lake that estimate quickly became, “lets just get out of here before dark”. The trail heads up through the canyon from the Stuart Creek Trailhead about 10 miles to Emerald lake, it then turns into what the map calls a “scramble” (or a rocky trail) but then disappears around Sapphire Lake on it’s way to Mirror Lake at the head of the granite bowl. We figured this was just because it wasn’t maintained but we would be able to scramble over some rocks and a well worn “path” that wasn’t an official trail. After all, Mirror lake is in a beautiful hollowed out bowl of granite rising on three sides, who wouldn’t want to go there. Well, people may want to go there, they just don’t. And here’s why:


A mess of brush so thick that you stare at it in wonder, wonder how on earth you’re going to get back to your car by the time night falls thinking that just swimming the length of the lake may give you hypothermia but would actually be faster than just waiting to die in the maze of brush before you.
We made it, but just barely. Back on the trail my original ETA was just slightly off. The wife wasn’t going to get any help with the kids tonight, and she wasn’t going to be happy about that. Sorry dear, it was the brush, I swear.
Tonya and I got into a good running rhythm down the trail. With packs about 10lbs lighter than two days ago running felt easy and more natural now. Occasionally we would see an opportunity to capture a few final photos of the grassy meadows with ragged granite towering above them with just the right amount of light passing through the swirling clouds to highlight the white stone. A picture perfect ending to such an amazing inaugural run-packing adventure.


Yeah, it's about the most perfect setting...ever.

Despite our impeccably rationed food, we were still famished after moving for almost 9hrs through some unforgiving terrain. We swung through Weed, CA on our way back to Bend and hit the Hi-Lo Café for a bit of downhome cooking. I never order chicken but the Southern Fried Chicken stood out on the menu as did the cherry milkshake. Both were as good as they sounding and made for a satisfying end to the great adventure.
There’s so much more to explore in the Trinities and beyond that we’ll be back for many more adventures in a vastly unexplored area that holds so many treasures. I had my hopes up for this first run-packing trip. That it would mean more freedom from a weighted down over stuffed pack without giving up too many luxuries of true back packing, that it would allow me to cover more ground and see more in the short amount of time I have with obligations to work, family and training, and that I would truly still get the primal feel that I was out in nature with risk and reward living together. Did I find all of those things? Unequivocally, yes, and I’m already planning and looking forward to the next great adventure with a little gear on my back and fast shoes on my feet.

Then there’s the High Route. I alluded to it earlier. It’s a roughly “established” (meaning someone did it and drew a map of it) route that is a gnarly route through the highest peaks of the White Trinity Alps, that may be a good candidate for an FKT record due to it’s difficulty, beauty, and adventure. I know there are some that would highly discourage this becoming an FKT but fear not, your secret is safe in the wilds and seclusion of Northern California. Few will ever attempt such a route, but… a possible attempt might be in my future.

Here’s a rundown of my main gear and what went into making this a comfortable but minimal experience.

Sleep System:
Mtn Hardwear Mtn Speed 32 Bag
Mtn Hardwear DryQ Bivy
Thermarest ProShort Pad
Mtn Hardwear Fluid 18L Pack

MHW DryRunner Shorts
MHW Wicked Lite T shirt
MHW Super Power Tights
MHW Ghost Whisperer Down Jacket
Montrail FluidFlex Shoes
Swiftwick Socks – 2pair
MHW Butterman ¼ zip Shirt

Esbit cubes for cooking – 12
Two 17oz Softflasks for water
Water bottle

4 Packaged meals from REI
Trail mix
GU Energy gels
GU Brew drink mix
GU Chomps
Beef Jerky
Gummy Colas
Other snacks

Adventure Buddy

Sapphire Lake from above

And the Video:


Spartan World Championships

by Max on September 22, 2014

Maybe someone can help me out here. I’m having a hard time understanding how you get 10000 people out into the middle of nowhere in Vermont to run up and down a big mountain, carry around buckets of gravel, and get torn up in the woods but the majority of America is fat and out of shape and doesn’t want to do anything “hard”? Well, I’ve got some theories but it’s hard to comprehend that I just witnessed just that scenario. I can’t believe that there are so many people that would go through the Vermont Spartan Beast course. You mention that you have 3000ft of elevation gain in a trail race or say that a trail is going to be technical and it totally scares runners (who are typically in great, if quite fragile, shape) away from even attempting it. The crowd of people that obstacle racing has tapped into has me completely confounded. Obviously it’s a crowd that wants nothing to do with running otherwise that would be their way of challenging themselves, yet they run (walk, mostly) up and down 7000ft of mountainous terrain. To say I’m quite impressed with them is an understatement and also shows that much of America stuck in cities, in cubicles, are in need of an outlet and this has been the first thing in a while that has called to that subset that isn’t inspired by your typical endurance event.
And who knows, maybe trail running would be on the same scale of 4 million people a year if it weren’t hampered with the bureaucratic nightmare of getting a permit to hold larger events.

Either way, I’d like to tell you about my trail running (plus) adventure over the weekend in Vermont. I decided after my last Atlas Race in February that I had to set some time aside this fall to really make a run at some obstacle races and see what it had in store for me so I blocked off a couple of weekends to do the Vermont Spartan World Championships, Warrior Dash World Championships (Oct 18th), and the OCR World Championships (Oct 25th), (I know, lots of world championships, just a name for big prize money). The Vermont Spartan is by far the most brutal and longest Obstacle course so far devised. And each year it keeps getting harder and longer.
I went into this race with pretty high hopes for at least a top 5 finish but knowing that what I was walking into would be different than anything I’ve ever done. I didn’t get murdered but I was definitely still unprepared for what I would have to endure. Obviously my legs were good, it was like a very difficult 50km distance, but my arms and grip strength have some significant catching up to do to some of the other guys (and gals) in the field. It was actually a pretty international field that Spartan put together and the unknowns surprised the American veteran races as well. (1st American was Cody Moat in 3rd)
I was in 5th and gaining on a couple of guys when we reached the double sandbag carry, but that ‘s as high as I would get before my race took a dramatic downward spiral. But, lets back up for a few minutes to go through how we got here.

The Start - Go For Glory!

For me, the most difficult part of preparing for this race was trying to figure out what the heck to wear. Trail racing is easy, shorts, shoes, jersey, a pack if you need it. I felt like a diva picking out which shoes to wear to dinner as I was standing over a pile of gear trying to figure out what to go with. It was supposed to be pretty cold (60s) and we would be in and out of cold water (how many times, who knows?) and from the descriptions of last year everyone cramped up from the cold water and a few cases of hypothermia. I didn’t want that and knew I couldn’t handle cold water very well so settled on cutting off a wetsuit top and went with that. There were times when I totally needed it and others when it felt a bit bulky but overall I was glad to have it. I also took a pack for water and gel. Last year they described the water stops as infrequent and unreliable so I thought I would take that out of the equation. Turned out they were more organized this year and while I did drink about 1.75L of water probably could have used the water stops. Oh well. It’s not too bad racing with a pack.


At 7:30am we were called up to the starting line. A downhill start made for fast TV coverage before heading straight up a ski slope to take our pace to a hike. A 1000ft climb right out of the gate spread the field out before our first obstacles, a quick sandbag carry to a bucket brigade carry (carry a 5gal bucket full of gravel up a ski slope and back). Then we hit our first real big obstacle: a 100m swim in freezing water, climb a rope ladder, a tarzan swing to ring the bell, back in the water for another 100m swim to shore. That was rough. I went in thinking, ok, at least I can swim better than most of these guys, but I hit the water gasping for breath and it was totally different than I’d imagined. I couldn’t put my head in the water, it was too cold. I was trying to crawl but my heads going from side to side and with full clothes and shoes on it’s really hard to swim fast and efficient. Eventually I had to resort to a backstroke to calm down and out of the water I was disoriented, dizzy, and weaving side to side. Ok, nice way to start off. Get it under control, Max.

Swim and Tarzan Swing Obstacle

Back running again I warmed up ok and we were off running up to Killington peak with more obstacles on the way, heavy stone carry, barbed wire, log hops, log carry, walls, cargo nets, and drag a big cinderblock up/down a ski slope (that was hard for a little guy like me). Then, reaching the peak, I nailed my first spear throw, that was an awesome feeling. Then back down the mountain for a long gnarly off trail and down ski slopes run to the long bucket brigade. I was probably most afraid of this but it turned out to be not that bad after you consider what was coming. Back up the mountain again to a tire drag, then back down, through the Vermont woods, rocky, rooty, and full of ankle busters to the now-dreaded double sandbags. No one knew it was going to be two until we got there. Two? Seriously? What the..?

Double Sandbag Carry - up up up!

I stood there for a minute at the bottom just trying to figure out how I was going to carry two sandbags up a mountain. (see photo) I tried on the shoulders, I tried one on a shoulder and one in my hand. If I did that I was going to destroy what little grip strength I had left. Finally I had the “brilliant” idea of just doing it twice. Take one sandbag up, drop it and come back for the other. It was the only way, so I got to work. A lot of the other guys behind me and with me then started doing it that way too. It was taking longer but there wasn’t going to be another way. At least 5 guys caught me. I went from 5th to 10th in one obstacle. I’d been holding Hunter McIntyre and a couple of other guys off for the past 10 miles but their strength would put them ahead for good.

This should be easy. Jungle Gym.

The next obstacle was a big jungle gym that I thought no problem, the rings went smooth then we got to big square bars. One wrong hand placement and I was off. First burpees of the day, but wouldn’t be the last. Any missed obstacle calls for a 30 burpee penalty and this would be the first of many to come. Down through the woods and back to the lake for out second big water obstacle, the Tyrolean Traverse. This was the one I’d been looking forward to all day. I love a good Tyrolean. Dipping under the rope and hanging by all fours you kind of feel like a monkey or a lemur. My grip held for this one and I rung the bell and dropped into the water. I was still in about 10th at this point and hopeful I could hang on. The last mile was full of obstacles and to save myself the trauma of having to relive it, lets just say that my grip was gone, strength was gone, my adductors were cramping, and I did 180 burpees in the last mile. Yes, I failed the rope climb, the spear throw, the 200yrds of barbed wire was very painful with cramping, I got through ¾ of the monkey bars and pole traverse before grip gave out and I was back to doing more burpees. I lost a few more places over this last mile but everyone was hurting just as much as I was. I just did too many burpees. I think the only thing I did do right was the fire jump 10 meters from the finish, but I still crossed with a smile on my face because it was hard and it was awesome. It was a cool 4 hr adventure through the deep, dark woods with jungle gyms just like when you were a kid, and carrying heavy things around, and throwing spears, and jumping in the mud. Oh… wait, that’s why so many people are doing this… it’s really fun.

The Course - 14.5mi, 7000ft, 33 obstacles

It was one of the tougher things I’ve done. It felt like a really difficult 50km I think. It was unfortunate that I just lost strength in my arms so it wasn’t something I could just push through. That’s just training. To compete on a course like this, it takes years of training and when you have guys that focus on obstacle racing it comes through late in a race like this. One of my favorite parts was the through-the-woods cross-country running we were doing over rocks and trees, through brush and swamps. That’s just primal.
Hanging out at the race the rest of the day, the views from the bottom of all the people out of the course was just amazing. It was a solid stream of people all over the mountain at various points on the course from mile 1 through mile 14. To see so many traversing the same thing that I’d gone through a couple hours earlier was impressive to see, mostly knowing what they still had to do.

Tractor Pull

Thanks to my family and sponsors that helped me get here. GU Energy Labs, Montrail, Mtn Hardwear, Polar, Flora Healthy, Rudy Project, Swiftwick Socks. West Coasters check out Atlas Race at for some fun (not quite as brutal) obstacle races in 2015.


Nick Elson and I were locked in a heated battle. We’d just passed through aid station 4 and he’d opened up another 1 minute gap on me after I’d just gotten done closing the first gap he’d gained on a technical, scrambly and steep climb up toward the peak of Mt. MacKenzie. I was just about done after having already climbed over 10000ft up and down Revelstoke Mountain Resort and now just had the long decent back down to the lodge left.

Beauty in all it's Glory

We were in Revelstoke, BC for the first TrailStoke event, the only Ultra event in the Canadian 5Peaks race series. Being three weeks post Western States my only obligation in heading up north was to be on the speaker panel the night before the race. After getting there on a clear day and seeing the towering mountains looming over Revelstoke I figured I would run the course easy just to get out and see some of the scenery. I still wasn’t feeling 100% after Western and didn’t know how it was going to feel taking on a demanding 50k at that point.

Downtown Revelstoke

Pre-race Briefing. That's a lot of people.

The beginning of a whole lotta pain

A flat 8 miler the day before didn’t feel too bad until I hit a few little hills in it. It was a nice day out and my legs were coming around but didn’t feel like they were quite there yet. The morning of was relaxed and it’s always nice preparing for a race with not expectations. If a big group of guys hauled off the start line I’d just settle in and be out for a nice run up a very big mountain. But, that didn’t happen that way. When the horn sounded we all jumped out of the gate a bit more conservative than I’d expected. There was a relay event going off at the same time and two of them were out front for awhile but the main ultra pack caught up pretty quickly once we headed up the climb. I was in the lead pack and feeling rather comfortable. No one was pushing the pace so I was able to keep it relaxed and in control on the way up. It was about a 9 mile, 4000ft climb up to what I thought would be the top and the first aid station.
This is the first time I think I’ve ever had an all out sprint in the middle of a 50k. A prime was set up for this first aid station and when we topped out I ended up well ahead of 2nd, but the aid station was downhill about 1/4mi from the top down a dirt road. As we neared the aid station the dude in 2nd began his charge as quietly as possible but I knew what was coming. Checking over my shoulder several times I could tell he was getting closer and was about to make a break for it. When he was about 20m from me he started his all out sprint and I made mine. Lucky for me I still had some leg speed. Turned out later that he was one of the relay guys, he got to stop, I had another 22 miles.

Alpine meadows

Continuing on I actually figured it was going to be a walk in the park…or an easy jog in the mountains. I was dropping the other ultra guys in the race pretty fast. We headed out into the unknown. From the ski hill we traversed through the off beaten track through a swamp, up a technical scree covered pitch, and high alpine meadows. Everything I’d read online was about getting up the ski hill then having some beautiful high alpine ridgeline running. Not on this course. They got everything right except for the running part. It was beautiful with clouds swirling, we were in the midst of a gentle storm with showers here and there. It gave the mountain a certain mystique since we couldn’t define where we were in relation to anything around us. We just continued to climb. At least another 2500ft. With the rough terrain I was relegated to hiking. I started to take in the beauty of the alpine. Meadows, grasses, wildflowers, and rocks.

Starting the pain train

Boom, Hit's you like a wall! Wait, it is a wall.

Still Climbing

That’s when, out of the fog, Nick Elson crept up on me. I could see him down below on the ridgeline I’d just come up. He was moving well and gaining on me pretty fast. He caught me at about half way at the turnaround. We both came up on a pile of flags and just stopped. There was supposed to be a person at the turn around but this was clearly where the course ended. Nothing beyond. We decided that was it and turned to head back down the mountain. The technical downhill was no easier than it was on the way up but I stayed as close to Nick as possible. Through the more runnable sections I would creep up on his heels, through the technical hiking sections he would gain some ground on me. As I descended down the treacherous loose rock the only thing I could think to myself was that this wasn’t so much of an ankle turning course, this was like a broken bones type of course.

Nick gaining ground.

Trail? What trail?

One more big hike up to 2200m and just a shade below the summit of Mt MacKenzie Nick gapped me pretty good as I started to struggle after so much vertical. We hit aid station three then we had about 3 miles of downhill dirt road. Hallelujah! Open it up baby! I’d caught back up by aid 4, another little off road stretch and he opened back up another little gap. Dang it! Ok, more road to the finish. I closed back down on him and took the lead for the final time. I didn’t gap him quite as fast as I would have liked and now was hurting pretty good. Any little uphill would send minor cramps down my calves so I had to stay diligent in gauging my efforts on any uneven terrain.

Nick pouring on the pain.

That jacket saved me.

The final two miles was a steep off-road pitch straight down a ski slope then a winding and fun little singletrack right into the finish. I managed to hold him off and came in just 40sec in front to one of the most scenic finishes I’ve ever raced toward. It was pretty amazing as the photos will show and it was an epic adventure.

Finish Line View

I was surprised to feel pretty decent throughout but only 3 weeks after Western I definitely dug myself into the pain cave and back into a recovery hole. Was it worth it, yeah, probably. It hurt but to win the first ever TrailStoke is pretty cool.

5Peaks Racing is trying to make TrailStoke a premier mountain ultra event with weekend festivities and what not. It’s a SkyRunner Series Race with a great after party, dinner and live band too. In their first year they attracted about 270 people up to the off-the-beaten-path resort location and managed to put on a great event. That’s a lot of nutty people running a brutal 50k course in the middle of nowhere. Good on ya 5Peaks. Thanks to Amy and Magi all the whole crew for having me up and putting up with me for the weekend. I even got to cruise around in this: The 5Peaks Mobile.

5Peaks Mobile

This is a race that is going to become one of those classic mountain races, an epic adventure course. There are some amazing mountains to explore up there with some very wild lands. It’s going to be fun to see what else our northern neighbors can cook up. The whole weekend I couldn’t help but stare across the valley at Mount Begbie and just hear it beckoning, calling my name. Next time Begbie, next time.

Mt Begbie

More to Explore

Gear (thanks to all for the support):
MHW Ultra Refueler Shorts
MHW Way2Cool Singlet
Montrail Fluidflex II
MHW Ghost Whisperer Jacket – This thing saved me. Such an essential mountain piece.
MHW Arm Warmers
MHW Race Vest
MHW Trucker Hat
Rudy Project Rydon II
Swiftwick Aspire One Socks
GU Cherry Lime Roctane


Shoes of a Finisher

by admin on July 17, 2014

The longest journey begins with a single step. Little did Mark Vincent, General Manager of Timberline Lodge, know when he blurted out his goal to improve his health at an executive retreat in 2008 that his journey would end by crossing the finish line of the Antarctica Marathon last March.

Mark is now a member of the “7 Continent Finishers Club,” one of the elite athletes who completed seven marathons on each of the world’s seven continents. “Antarctica was always the prize,” said Vincent, “but I knew I had to work up to it.”

“Working up” meant adding marathons in Rome, Marrakesh, Buenos Aires, Tokyo, and Sydney to the NYC Marathon he’d completed in 2007. Antarctica was by far the most grueling, its steep, muddy terrain laced with ice and snow even in summer. The shoes on his feet? Montrail’s Mountain Masochist II. Vincent first tried Montrails while training on Mount Hood. “You’re running over patches of snow and through streams from the glacial run off. The shoes gripped in the snow and were waterproof in the wet areas. I thought they would be perfect for the varied conditions in Antarctica.”

And perfect they were, helping Mark to endure mile after punishing mile. “I was getting a little rummy toward the end,” he said, “but I said to myself, there’s no way I’m not going to finish this thing—not after eight years of work and waiting.” As for his shoes: “After I got them cleaned up they were still pretty new—I’m still running in them. I’m not that into shoes, but they were great. Lightweight, waterproof—I didn’t get one blister!”

We think Mark and his shoes are pretty amazing.


Western States and All That History

by Max on July 5, 2014

The best way I can describe Western States 100 for me is a whole new level of hurt. This photo says it all:

A whole lotta hurt!

It, of course, was much more than that. I’ve only had a few race experiences when crossing the finish line comes an overflow of emotion rather than just trying to catch your breath. WS100 was one of those where coming through the finish line was a good mix of crying and laughing, happy to be done and in awe of what I’d just done. Not the fact that I’d been able to run the course in what I would consider a fast time but more that I’d just freakin run a hundred miles. Because, lets face it, that’s the accomplishment that we were all striving for. Your first goal is to just finish the darn thing, think about running it fast later. That’s a long way by the way, a hundred miles. The longest I’d ever run by about 38 miles.

Squaw Valley to Auburn photo: irunfar

This was more than just another race for me, of course any hundred miler should be for anyone, but a short list of reasons this was my first hundred reads like this: This is the first hundred I ever knew about growing up in Sacramento, I spent countless hours in the Tahoe, Foresthill, American River, and the whole Sierra area and it’s a special place to me, probably my favorite place in the world, my family gets to see me run and follow along, it’s the first ever hundred miler and the history and tradition are full of legends of the sport, stories, native American routes, and thousands of people making their way over the high Sierra to Auburn.

I’ve always known I wanted this to be my first hundred and I’m glad I made it my first. I’m also glad I waited. Many of you know I started this race with no intention of finishing back in 2009 after I won the American River 50 then got injured. Looking back now the injury between was a blessing as I was grossly under prepared for such an undertaking. In several of the years since I’ve been fortunate to head to Squaw Valley and follow the race as it winds its way to Auburn as a spectator, taking in all the hoopla and preparing myself for what that would be like.

Still lots to learn in 2009

The road to get into Western this year was not without it’s hiccups as I didn’t perform at Sonoma and then had to make an emergency trip to Ice Age to qualify. At the time I was torn 50/50 on whether to go or bag out. Finally deciding that it was worth pursuing this year since I had other plans next year already, I’m glad I made that trip for many reasons, not the least of which turned out to be a great experience at Western States and one I’ll remember for all time.

With qualifying and having a short window to actually train specifically for Western I did what I thought I had to do and headed first to the Western States Training Camp to see the course. In all my years around the area I really hadn’t run the course. This was by far the best thing I could have done to prepare mentally for the run. It let me “see” how I would mentally break 100 miles into smaller doable segments. It became doable in my mind and not as daunting a task.

Heat Training: Ringing out my shirt. photo: Recharge

The training weekend was a great way to see the course, definitely more enjoyable than the race. You get to run with friends (I got to run with the future womens WS winner, yeah, that’s right, and my buddy Byron who was also running his first 100miler), we all camped in Foresthill, swam in the river, and did it as enjoyable 30 mile segments. So, if you don’t get into the actual race, go to the training weekend and enjoy the trail just as much. The training weekend also got me from dreading running the race to actually becoming excited to run it.
I have to admit that something other than myself was pushing me to go to Ice Age because prior to that and the training weekend I wasn’t sure I wanted to run Western or if I was just doing it because it fit into the schedule this year. After all, after Lake Sonoma I wasn’t really in the mood to ever run another ultra race.
The about face in my mental state was a combo of Ice Age boosting my ultra confidence, the training weekend just being what I’ve always loved about running, having friends to run amazing trails with then hanging out with the family camping the rest of the time, and really getting into the training, trying to figure out what would prepare me the best mentally and physically.

Training Weekend Partners

Best View from a Grocery Store EVER, other then Byron.

The training weekend would boost me to my highest mileage week at 135 miles. Subsequent weeks were 115-110 with some good elevation gain like a 30 miler w/ 11,500ft of gain followed by 20 mile road runs in under 2hrs, at one point clipping off a 53:30 10miler on the second half. When you can do that, training is really hard but really rewarding. You’re putting all you’ve got into it and it becomes important to see what your body can really do.

When Western rolled around I was as ready as I was going to be and what amazed me was that I was excited to do it. I spent some time gathering up gear, I had my crew, I put in the training as best I knew how, and I knew the course. We packed up the car on Wednesday (100milers take a lot of gear) and headed South. It was me and Tonya, one of my crew people that works at Footzone with me. We made it south to Susanville where we had our only negative encounter of the trip, a cranky old pizza making lady. I’ve never had to wait an hour for pizza before, unless there are actually other people in the restaurant. We camped outside Susanville that night and continued on to Squaw Valley early the next day to catch the USA soccer match, good game by the way. We had a nice relaxing two days in Squaw hanging out at the Montrail house, helping with the 6K Uphill Challenge, and enjoying the views of the valley. Makes for a good start to the weekend.

Squaw Valley at Dawn photo: irunfar

Only a fraction of the top guys

Since Western is a pretty big deal in the ultra world I ended up doing quite a few interviews with Ultrarunner podcast,, and a few others and in each one I laid out exactly how I would run and what my goal for the weekend was. First goal: finish in 24hrs to get that belt buckle. How: I would run my own race at my pace and see how things ended up. I might just lead to Foresthill and then blowup and walk it in. Well, you all know how it went, just as I said. I ran my own race at my pace. I knew I would be more comfortable and efficient if I could run what I’m used to running on an easy run and that that pace was most likely going to be faster than most of the runners really wanted to go.


And Byron, His first 100miler too.

The Start. A long way to iRunFar

So, I found myself leading Western States at about mile 9 after a cruising a flat road. What I didn’t know was that I would continue to lead until about mile 70. I wanted to keep my HR low and knew that I could cruise areas that were flatter like from Robinson Flat to Last Chance but thought I would be pretty slow going up/down the canyons and that on each climb a handful of people would catch me. Except for a brief moment at Robinson that didn’t happen. Looking back, maybe I should have taken those climbs a bit easier and slower. I don’t know. All I know was that it was a lonely 70 miles but it was fun to come through the aid stations, whoop it up with the crowd, and be on my way. It was uplifting to come through and talk to my crew too. They did an amazing job getting me what I needed. I saw all the wildlife on the course and scared it away for the rest of the pack and got into a better rhythm by not following behind another runner.


My mantra going in was to feel good to Foresthill, then I could push. Stay relaxed, smooth and efficient. I knew at some point Rob would catch me and so it was just a matter of time before he caught me just after the Cal 1 aid station. I probably pushed this section a bit too hard and should have just kept my foot off the pedal a little longer but I felt good and knew he was coming up. It wasn’t until the last 20 miles that it started to get interesting. I started to feel it coming up to the river crossing and knew it was going to be a long final 20 miles unless I could turn it around. The problem was, I didn’t know how to turn it around. Just not enough experience yet. I ran well up to Green Gate but at that point the stomach started to shut down. Nothing seemed to be passing through and all the water just sat in my stomach. That didn’t feel good and I started to slow my pace. Whether it was the accumulation of fatigue or my stomach I don’t know, but I wasn’t running at a pace that was going to keep me in second for very long. I kept sipping on water, GU, and taking an S-Cap at aid stations but couldn’t seem to get things moving.
At some point around Browns Bar I just stopped eating. Big mistake. I ran Quarry Rd, then ran well up to 49 crossing. I saw D-Bo come through the aid station just behind me and I cruised up the penultimate hill trying to fend D-Bo off. We got up to the flat though and the lack of fuel caught up to me. I bonked hard and fast. Dizzy, I sucked down a bit of GU and walked a couple minutes downhill to get it back together. Miraculously it helped and I finished off the downhill. I crossed No-Hands Bridge then looked back to see Ryan Sandes gaining ground on me. He passed me and pulled ahead by 20-30sec. I sucked down a bit more GU and charged the hill as hard as I could. This whole time I was pushing hard knowing that Ian Sharman was lurking back behind me somewhere and he was the one I didn’t want to pass me. I gained ground quickly back on Ryan and passed him on the climb to Robie Point. The final mile on the road I kept looking back expecting Ryan or Ian to come around a corner at any moment.
They never came back and I hit the track and I knew it was over. Overwhelming emotions came up and I was high fiving the crowd knowing it was about over. I crossed the line and began heaving, laughing, and crying at the same time. So happy to be done. Feet hurt, legs hurt, stomach hurt. Everything hurt.
I crossed over to the grass and laid down for a very long time. I did not feel good. I could have slept there. I laid there for about 2hrs until finally moving again. Staggering around to do a quick interview, staggered to the showers, then to the trailer for the night.

The finish.

Pain, oh the pain. photo: iRunFar

I’d been thinking about it all day, poison oak! I just remembered that I meant to tell my crew to find some Technu Poison Oak wash so I could shower with it otherwise I was going to be miserable for weeks. So, my amazing crew of Geof and Tonya found a 24hr pharmacy, picked up some Technu and a strawberry milkshake at In n Out to cap off the night. Wow, what a day.

There was so much anticipation in town that it was getting hard to handle everyone asking about it before I left. It starts to mentally affect you because you’re continually thinking about it, but when we got back it’s really pretty awesome when you get everyone following along with the race. I’ve had so many people say “I was glued to my computer all day!” That’s cool. And a good feeling that you have so many people back home that care about you. So much so that Footzone threw a Race Re-cap party for the 4 Bendites that ran the race. Stephanie, of course, Denise Bourassa, and Scott Wolfe. Put us up against any other town and we did pretty well considering we’re 80,000 people.

The Homecoming Crowd at Footzone

Bendites in WS100 photo: Footzone

One of the coolest things was to see two guys walk in that had WS belt buckles from their races…in 1978 and 1981. Running the race, you join a small but dedicated crowd that is passionate about the race, can talk about the different elements of it and man can they tell stories, and the stories are amazing.

I finally had the chance to meet the amazing Ann Trason after the race. I mentioned my plans for next year included Comrades Marathon and so probably didn’t include a Western States. And she says “I did both.”

Montrail Fluidflex II shoes
Swiftwick Aspire socks
MHW Ultrarefueler Shorts
MHW Way2Cool Singlet
MHW Way2Cool Arm Coolers
Rudy Project Rydon II Glasses
MHW Way2Cool Neck Cooler
Ultraspire MBS Synapse Waste Belt
Straw Cowboy Hat

More Photos:

Out of the river and to the woods. And hurt box. photo: tachiyama

Up to Michigan Bluff photo: ultrarunnerpodcast - Stephanie Deveau

River Crossing photo: irunfar

Frolicking Through the Wildflowers photo: irunfar

photo: Matt Trappe

photo: Matt Trappe

photo: Matt Trappe

photo: Matt Trappe

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