Hasetsune – Still the biggest badass race you’ve never heard of. – 10/23/14
By Max King
You don’t really realize how much the Japanese are into cats, yes cats, until you travel with self-described “crazy cat lady” Amy Sproston. They are really into cats here. They’re everywhere. Stickers, logos, sculptures, pumpkin heads, cafés. nothing wrong with it, just funny. They are also notorious from eating everything that comes from the sea, much of which you’re not even sure what it is unless you have a guy like Daigo showing you around and helping us by explaining what to do and what not to do, like wearing shorts at a Japanese Onsen (hot springs). That’s what the small towel they gave me at check in was for, hiding your stuff. But lets face it, it’s a little inadequate and silly to even pretend that does anything. Every time I visit Japan I remember how gracious, kind and hospitable the people here are and it’s why I love to come back. Aside from the fantastic dining experiences, beautiful scenery of the mountains, it’s the people that really make the trip worth it. This time I came to race the classic Japan mountain race, the Hasetsune Cup. It is 72km of beautiful and brutal forested ridgeline outside Itsukaichi. The race was started in 1992 as a memorial for fallen alpinist Tsuneo Hasetsune and I thought before coming over that it was a little odd to honor an alpine climber with a trail race in a fully forested area outside Tokyo. But not too far into the race, like 5km in, I realized that this is much more a mountain adventure than I had ever imagined.
The lack of alpine environment did not discourage or prevent the organizers of the first event from including some of the most difficult footing I’ve encountered during a race, or from including and astounding 15,000ft of climbing in just 44 miles. As you can imagine, 44 miles and that much elevation doesn’t leave a lot of ground to run anything flat or for the hills to be at all gradual either. I will never believe a word Amy ever says again because of the last words out of her mouth before the start of the race. She leans to me and says, “The last 10km are all nice and the first 30km are all runnable”. Wow, was that a false statement if I’ve ever heard one. She realized her mistake about 2km…then again at least 30more times before we got to 30km, that one of her mantras during the race would become “Max is going to kick my ass”. I knew I was in trouble when I started hurting…at 10km. There is a lot I could have done to better prepare myself for this race, I just didn’t know any better.
Hasetsune is also interesting because of it’s 1pm start time, insuring runners will spend almost half the race in the dark of the forest. With adequate lighting this isn’t that much of an issue but it does throw in another difficulty on top of the terrain and lack of aid stations. Oh yeah, aid stations, there are none. Sticking true to a mountaineer’s plight of having no aid stations and having to carry everything with them, Hasetsune requires you to carry everything you will need for the entire race aside from 1.5L of water at 42km. For the front runners carrying 2L to start and all your food isn’t all that bad but I can’t imagine how the runners doing the course in 20-24hrs (the cutoff time) can carry enough water for the duration. My hats off to those who are out there that long. This was probably the most sustained difficulty race I think I’ve ever done. I’ve done races that have worse footing or just as much climbing at high altitude but none where I’ve had to put it all together and have to endure that amount of torture for that long. That’s why, for 21 year old Ruy, running a 7:01 record by 18min is so damn impressive. Ruy is a young up n’ comer from Shinjuku on the Montrail team and he’s a stud in the mountains. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do in the coming years both in Japan and internationally. I ended up “running” a 7:49 for 8th place. It was a hard fought battle with myself just to stay in it mentally.
But, where I failed, Amy prevailed. Amy took home the win with a great run and I did help a little bit in bringing home the overall team title with my teammates Ruy and Shun. Between us, the Montrail Team captured all three Hasetsune Cups this year. What they believe may be a first for the team.
As with any trip abroad part of it is to enjoy and take in the culture of the country you’re visiting and Japan makes for some of the most interesting experiences you can have visiting another country. The dining experience is unparalleled and so much fun. There are lots of places with sushi boats on conveyor belts. The most fun was the Smart Sushi where you order on an iPad, press Order, then it travels on a little car on a track right to your spot, you take it off and send the car back. How cool is that? There’s also the array of other odd looking but usually pretty tasty things that come from various parts of a fish or other sea dwelling animal. Like the flying fish roe, it’s like a party in your mouth. The little eggs pop and they’re so much fun. Then you find a couple stuck in your gums later on and get to do some more popping. Then there’s the shark bone (I don’t recommend), the raw octopus w/ wasabi (it was pretty good), and the fermented soy beans (Nato), which no one likes so I can’t figure out why they put it in stuff.
The truly new experience was the Onsen, the Japanese Hot Springs, which after the race felt so good on the legs. This custom I never would have figured out if I hadn’t had Daigo and Ruy to follow through it. First, no shorts, then you bath in a traditional way sitting on a stool, then, it’s to the pools with the small towel to hide everything. We were soaking in the natural mineral waters while watching the low clouds and mist dance off the surrounding mountain in a light drizzle. A pretty amazing experience.
It was then back to Tokyo for two days. We were supposed to do a photoshoot but the rain killed that and we took a few photos but kept it to about an hour. Shortest photoshoot I’ve ever done. Back in Tokyo, Amy and I walked the streets and take in the sights (more cats) and eat more sushi. We hung out in 7-Eleven for awhile just poking around because well, it might be 7-Eleven but for us it’s a whole new experience and they have amazing little snack things that are probably just as bad for you there as they are here. And it turns out that I’ve never had good Sake until this trip. I always thought it tasted terrible but with a knowledgeable guide you can find the good stuff.
From there it was uneventful and relaxing to see Tokyo and make the trip home. It’s always nice to be home but as soon as I landed in Redmond I was off again. A quick lunch with my wife was all the time I would get before heading off to Medford for the inaugural Max King Invitational. I was quite honored to get a call earlier this summer from the XC Coach at my High School and want to name their home meet after me. My first thought was, “I though you had to be dead to get something like that named after you. I hope it’s not the Max King Memorial”. He assured me it was not and wanted me to be down there to start the races. But I managed to get them off and running even though I was falling asleep with the starter pistol in my hand. That 3hr drive home that night was one of the hardest I’ve ever had but sleeping in my own bed that night was sooo nice. Then it was up early and off to California for the Warrior Dash World Championships. No rest for the weary this week.
Three Days Run-Packing the Trinity Alps – 10/10/14
By Max King
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Clothing: MHW DryRunner Shorts MHW Wicked Lite T shirt MHW Super Power Tights MHW Ghost Whisperer Down Jacket Montrail FluidFlex Shoes Swiftwick Socks – 2pair Buff MHW Butterman ¼ zip Shirt
Other: Esbit cubes for cooking – 12 Two 17oz Softflasks for water Water bottle Spork iPhone GoPro
Food: 4 Packaged meals from REI Trail mix GU Energy gels GU Brew drink mix GU Chomps Beef Jerky Gummy Colas Coffee Other snacks
Spartan World Championships – 9/22/14
By Max King
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.
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.
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..?
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.
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.
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.
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 Atlasrace.com for some fun (not quite as brutal) obstacle races in 2015.
TrailStoke – Bigger Mountains, Bigger Pain – 7/30/14
By Max King
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Western States 100 – June 2014
By Max King
The best way I can describe Western States 100 for me is a whole new level of hurt. This photo says it all:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Since Western is a pretty big deal in the ultra world I ended up doing quite a few interviews with Ultrarunner podcast, iRunFar.com, 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.
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.
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.
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.”
Gear: 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
Best 50…ever! …Still hurt.
By Max King – May 13th 2014
I don’t really know where to start this one. I wish I could say that heading to Wisconsin was all in the plan and that everything was planned out so that I’d done everything right in training both physically and mentally to set myself up for the race I eventually had. Nope. Not true at all. Truth is, I’ve been having a bad attitude, well, as bad an attitude as a Care Bear maybe, about having to run another 50 miles to try to get into Western States. Not even sure that I want to run 100 miles and with just about zero confidence that I can run 100 miles I had about as much motivation to fly back to Ice Age 50 as a monkey without a banana. So yeah, not much.
I guess I can do a pretty good job of convincing myself of just about anything though and did decide that another attempt to get into Western States was worth another 50 miles and a lot of pain, potentially a lot of it mental anguish when I closed out another poor 50 mile performance. I think that was more frightening than actually now having a 100 mile race looming in about 6 weeks. A bad 50 mile performance (or 100 miler I suppose) is pretty disheartening. You don’t get too many chances to redeem your confidence, and with several in a row with Lake Sonoma last year, TNF50, then Lake Sonoma this year I was starting to think I just couldn’t run a good one. I am pretty convinced that I can’t run a mountainous long race well but that remains to be seen. I continue to do races with big elevation gain for a few reasons but the motivation is waning and it’s tough to keep getting your butt kicked if I know I’m stronger on different terrain. The training for that however, is beneficial for every distance and every type of race, I’m convinced of that, so I’ll continue to challenge myself through training and racing those types of races until I succeed. I’m finding that a lot of success at 50 miles is just not running like a sissy. Hanging back at Lake Sonoma was a huge mistake for me. I was 7 min slower through half this year than I was last year because I listened to myself and everyone else saying I’d gone out too fast. I didn’t go out too fast last year, I just bonked because my nutrition plan was bad. This year I ran like a sissy and got stuck in a rhythm and pace I wasn’t used to and it backfired. (yes, I do realize that I’ll have to run slower for 100 miles so I’ve got some work to do)
At Ice Age I didn’t have any expectations or maybe they were just really low. I was going in with an almost bad attitude about it then I talked myself into just running it how I like to run. We were out fast, well relatively anyway, and I would say a normal pace through 9 miles of very rolling terrain in about 60min. The one thing I learned at LS was just to not run like a sissy, so I didn’t. I like to run scared. I ran easy but pushed up the hills a bit more than I did last time. I ran smooth and relaxed and let Brian Condon set a good honest pace through almost half. It was nice to have other guys around that were keeping it honest and set a very reasonable pace.
Matt and I put a small gap on Brian between 21 to 26 and he and I ran a good pace around 7min to about 32mi. Those miles were by far the easiest miles I’ve ever run in a 50 miler. I couldn’t tell you why or how but it came together right there. I could tell Matt was just starting to crack on the hills at that point and I was running so easy that with every passing mile my confidence grew. I had to keep reminding myself that we still had a long way to go and that is one of the hardest things to do in an ultra for me. I’m still too used to go, go, go, push, push, push when I’m racing and I don’t think that will ever change, so when I feel good it takes all my restraint to hold back. I passed Matt at 32 but was careful not to do just that and take off. Just keeping everything smooth, the 8 mile out and back to mile 40 would be the only chance I would have to learn the course before I had to head back over the final 10 miles to the finish. I soaked up as much terrain info as I could so I would know how far out I was. I knew it was going to hurt. I just didn’t know how much. I continued through 40 still on a record pace we had set up early. It was nice to learn that I’d been holding pace the last 10 and not relinquishing time like I thought I had been. Turns out GPS just isn’t a reliable guage on trails like that. I knew at 30 that we were just about 10-13min up on the record. I figured that would begin to shrink for me after about 35 miles and I’d start to give up time, it would just be a matter of how much I would give up. About 44 miles I started to hurt and looking at my watch I was starting to hemorage seconds/minutes to the time. I started seeing 7:45, 8:15, 8:25 and thinking Matt was only 2-3min back and probably gaining pushed me harder. My legs started to go flat on the uphills, flats and downhills were still good, my vision was starting to narrow and get a little foggy, and HR was starting to drop, usually a sign that I’m slowing down. Hang on, hang on. Hitting the ski trail with 1.5 to go I knew I had it. I pushed it in with all I had to what I would consider the most successful 50 miler I’ve ever run. I learned later that I’d held on to run 69min over the last 9.7 miles so really hadn’t lost much time at all. I was surprised. To sum it up, things just clicked. Wish I knew why but I’ll take it.
Maybe my encounter with my pacer the previous day was a sign(although it doesn’t seem like an obvious sign) or just that I didn’t have the expectations on myself, or maybe it was the full moon on the trail (check the lunar charts and you’ll realize it wasn’t of the heavenly variety). Yes, it’s quite possible that 20 years of specific training has made me much stronger on this type of course and it will be another 20 years before I can master a technical mountain course. Well, to say the least, I’m glad I came. Everything about it turned out to be a great race. Dinner with Matt, Matt’s Dad, and Gina the night before, great people like RD Jeff Mallach, a beautiful spring day in the Kettle Moraine Forest, and a great after party with the whole trail community just relaxing after a day on the trails, oh, and a win and course record too helps sweeten the day.
And it seals my fate for the next couple of months as well. Barring anything unexpected I’ll toe the line for the second time at Western States with the intention of actually dropping off the back side of Squaw and stopping only when I arrive at Auburn High School 20 (or so) hrs later. Yeah, I said 20hrs, I’m sorry but if you thought I was going to say 15 then you’ve put some pressure on me that I’m not sure I’m willing to take on just yet. I may be keeping something to myself but lets just say I’m trying to get through 100 miles this go round. I’m not going to shoot myself in the foot and run like a sissy but that almost guarantees that I’ll be blowing up somewhere between Forest Hill and Rucky Chucky, I’ll take a leisurely swim in the American River and death march it in the final 20. It’s a long ways in case you didn’t realize. It’s hard enough to drive 100 miles as some would say.
Congrats to Kaci Licktieg who broke the women’s course record an to Matt who also broke the men’s course record. And thanks to Jeff for putting together a great day of racing and the sponsors that continue to work with me to refine the gear, nutrition, and shoes that get me through these races. Montrail, Mountain Hardwear, GU Energy, Polar, Swiftwick, and Rudy Project.
Roctane MHW Way2Cool Singlet MHW Ultra Shorts Montrail FluidFlex II Ultraspire MBS Waist Belt Swiftwick Aspire One Socks and Sleeves Rudy Project Rydon Shades Polar RCX-5 HR/GPS Monitor/Computer
Desafio Cumbres by Mountain Hardwear – Death Defying Edition
By Max King – April 23rd 2014
Let me paint a picture for you, it’s not much of a picture because it’s pitch dark outside but we’re headed down a steep dirt road in a stark landscape that could just as easily be Mars as it could a mountain peak high up in the Andes of Central Chile. I can see nothing other than what is lit by our headlights to the front and dimly to the sides. With no moon there is nothing further out in front and nothing to the sides but I know from traveling this road during the day before that at times there is a drop off on one side and the mountain side that we’re on is spider webbed with roads with no discernable difference and no markings. If you didn’t know exactly where you were going by knowing the mountain better than your own mother, you (I) would be lost in a maze of familiar rust colored roads and barren mountains. And that’s where Sebastian comes in.
Arriving in Santiago, Chile I’d only met Sebastian a couple of times in passing in the US while we both attended Mtn Hardwear sales meetings but I immediately recognized him at the airport. He would be my host and graciously offered to be my transportation for a new race called Dasafio Cumbres (Summit Challenge) happening high in the Central Andes in a few short days. The race was sponsored by Mountain Hardwear and I was asked a few months prior to come to the race as part of the Mountain Hardwear athlete team. I love South America and thought this would be a perfect opportunity to see more of Chile and spend a few days in the high mountains. I’d never been to this part of Chile and while the race was definitely a bit out of my league in terms of altitude and elevation gain this is exactly the type of race that I probably most enjoy doing and always ends up being a great challenge precisely because it doesn’t suit my strengths.
Throughout the first two days Sebastian spent way more time with me than he probably had time for since I found out he was also the co-race director and I know that the week leading up to a race you barely have time for your own family let alone some foreign athlete that doesn’t have any friends in town to hang out with. We visited the two Santiago Mtn Hardwear stores, one in a mall that definitely could have been in the US, but the other was in MallSport, a mall yes, but a sports oriented mall will all sports shops, a central atrium with a climbing wall, kids cycling track, suspended ropes course and a wave pool and skate park outdoors. It was awesome. I think I could hang out there all the time.
But even with the awesomeness of the MallSport I couldn’t wait to get up to the mountains, after all it was still the city. Then, disaster struck at 5:21am Friday morning. I woke up with that feeling in the pit of your stomach that something just isn’t right and it’s a feeling that you never forget no matter how infrequent it happens. FOOD POISONING! No, not now! But it’s just a matter of time before it becomes oh so real and you’re visiting the bathroom on a regular schedule you could set your watch by. This is where I refrain from going into detail and ya’ll thank me for it. In a few short hours I would be checking out of the hotel and headed up to the mountains. By that time I had certainly gotten everything out of my system and was feeling a bit better. I knew, or at least I was hoping, from past experience this would be a 24hr thing and I would feel better by the 10am race start the next day but mostly I was worried about being so dehydrated at high altitude that I would pass out on a high barren mountain slope and lay dying while other racers charged past me. (ok, that might be a bit dramatic) I knew I would be dehydrated and not at my best anyway. Through lunch with Sebastians wife and 18mo old daughter that actually looks very much like my Hazel, I’m calling her Hazel’s Chilean twin, I had some broth and ginger ale to get some fluids back in. Turns out though that my rehydrating was a little premature. From Santiago to the race start is an elevation change of about 7000ft over about 80min of driving. Translated, that means a lot of elevation change over a short distance. How do you build a road up a steep mountain? With lots and lots of hairpin turns, 60 of them to be exact. That does not include any corners less than 90 deg mind you. Oh God, you can’t be serious. Of all the days to have stomach distress. We reached Valle Navados, the ski resort at the top, I jumped, no I hobbled out of the truck and into the bathroom and again “dehydrated” myself. On the plus side I felt much better after that. We drove on the rest of the way up to the top of the ski resort where the race start base camp was located.
The Central Andes are a stark and barren place with only small patches of green moss like ground cover. It’s very surreal and like I would imagine a mountainous region of Mars might look like. Base Camp could have passed for a space station with several Mountain Hardwear Domes set up as race HQ and a few satellite tents pitched around in a little valley at the very top of the ski resort at about 11,000ft. It was kind of weird to go from a 5-star hotel on the treed streets of Santiago to camping on top of a mountain.
The race would start from here and only go up from there, up to 16,000ft (5,000m). An elevation I’d never been to before, let alone raced at. I was getting winded walking up the small hill back to the truck to retrieve my bags. I wasn’t sure how I was going to actually race up four peaks and 16,000ft. And I felt miserable. It was cold, I huddled into a sleeping bag, propped myself on a bean bag inside one of the domes and slept a while until the sun was going down. I really didn’t want to just waste this whole experience sitting inside a tent so I crawled out of the dome to an amazing sunset and the last bit of alpenglow on the high peaks rising over camp. It was like all the photos you’ve ever seen of the Andes. It soon turned dark, I nibbled a bit of pasta and went to bed, hopeful that the morning would bring an end to the knots in my guts.
I did manage to sleep well and with a 10am start time slept in until 8. The day dawned with blue skies and low wind. It was warming up fast and felt good, I felt good. Knowing I was still dehydrated I tried to drink as much as was reasonable and prepare my gear for the day ahead. Knowing I’d be walking most or all of the uphill I had my Black Diamond Ultradistance Poles.
I carried 1.5L of water in my Mtn Hardwear Race Vest, some Gus, and a light jacket. I picked the Rogue Racer for a still lightweight midsole but little more durable upper. The race route would leave base camp and we would get a punch on our “passport” at each of 6 checkpoints. Each was set up so you could see the next flag from the one you were at. The course started off with one of the steepest climbs up to La Parva Falsa at about 12,000ft, the first of four peaks we would tag, then on to La Parva at 13,000ft, El Pintor at 14,000ft, and finally the longest and furthest Lionera at 16,000ft, the highest point I have ever been to on Earth. The accent, while physically debilitating from the lack of O2, was really quite easy. There were a few small technical pitches but for the most part it was an easily followed trail. Pretty quickly off the first peak a group of five broke away from the pack and would race all the way to El Pintor together. On the climb up Lionera a Spaniard would take a good lead and two other guys would get a decent gap on me. It wasn’t until right at the top of Lionera where I would miraculously reel back in 2nd and 3rd.
The decent was another matter, it was not easy. Off Lionera we began a cross country route about 3k long over some not very nice terrain. It felt good to be going downhill but it was rough going. Some really bad scree that is just that perfectly wrong size of rock that slides but then nails you right in the ankle as it slides past, some ice that had me flat on my back at one point, and some rough little technical up and downs that unless walked would have you flat on your face. By this time, the Spaniard was gone. I couldn’t seem him. How do those Catalonians move through the mountains so fast? But I had a good lead on the chasers. Just had to hang on now.
It was a smooth run into the finish…except for those three small bumps. Still at 12,000ft these three small bumps were crushing. It was the very last one up to the finish that was the final kick in the nuts and would do me in. We had been moving with good speed and I knew the record of 4:29 from last year was going down, but by how much. Some guys in camp talked about the 4hr barrier so that’s what I wanted and so I pushed up the last hill as much as I could. It was a nice little victory to cross the line in 3:55 even if the Spaniard had crossed at 3:41 (holy cow, 3:41!).
The rest of the day was spent laying around on the rocks like at so many other trail races anywhere in the world and even though I couldn’t speak the language (very well) sitting around the campfire with total strangers just 5hrs before, listening to them talk I didn’t have to know what they were saying to know that everything was right in the world.
I met some great people on this trip as I do every trip, like Sebastian and his family and Max Keith. Max was one of the racers as well and would lead to confusion on more than one occasion. Max King…Max Keith. You can imagine. He’s like my Chilean counterpart, even if he is a bit more hip than I am.
I’d like to think Sebastian and I have a lot in common. He works too much at a job that he loves and takes him away from his family more than he would like. His wife tolerates it like mine does and loves seeing him do what he loves. I asked her what she was going to do this weekend since it was a holiday and she said jokingly “I’ll be sitting at home lonesome and crying.” And he can drive and multitask like no other on the harsh mountain roads. Cell phone, radio, no problem. Now I don’t see what the big deal is when I drive with my knee, eat breakfast and talk on the phone. And they certainly don’t drive like sissies in Chile. It’s not for the timid, or if you are, you get passed on a single lane road on the right side with maybe an inch to spare. And 70mph down a city street, not a problem, everybody does it. And so I managed to keep everything down that I ate, even with the 60 switchback curves back down the dark desolate mountains. Before my 9pm flight out on Sunday I managed to get another 2000ft and 15 beautiful miles in that took me high above the city right from my hotel in Santiago. It reminded me a lot of Salt Lake City with a big bustling metropolis and a wealth of huge running routes right from town.
Gear List: Black Diamond Ultradistance Poles Montrail Rogue Racers MHW Efusion Tights MHW Way2Cool Singlet MHW Running Gaiters MHW Cooler Running Hat MHW Race Vest Rudy Project Ekynox Shades MHW Running Gloves Lots of Roctane GU
Chuckanut 50k – Third Time is a Charm
By Max King – March 18th 2014
This past weekend was the conclusion to three years of trying for a successful race at Chuckanut 50k. I don’t know what it was about this race but it’s been one that I know I’d never really run my best at but also one that I knew I could run a CR on as well. My reasons for running it were good old-fashioned redemption this year and that was it, plain and simple. Would the third time’s a charm saying be true this time? It may have been that first year of running it in 2012, going head to head with Sage up until we both missed an unmarked turn with about 8 miles to go took me out of it. We were both on CR pace that year and while we still had a ways to go, it was looking good that one of us would take it. I think that experience right there is what sealed it for me and I would continue to come back until I had both the win and CR.
So when I entered both Way Too Cool and Chuckanut 50k last year and looking at the entrants list figured I didn’t have much to worry about, you can imagine how much I was kicking myself after racing side by side with David Laney and getting outkicked by him in the final 2 miles. That stung a bit but it was my own fault for A) running a fast 50k the week before and thinking I could actually get away with it and B) totally underestimating what David could do in a 50k trail race. That was my own ego getting the best of me but it made for a great race down to the wire and a lot of fun to go at it for that long in an ultra. That doesn’t happen often. Now in my advanced age I told myself this year I should be a little smarter. I had to come back to take care of some unfinished business. A two month break during December and January this year was much needed but left me a little unsure if I had it in me to run 31 miles fast. I knew I was in decent shape however so didn’t worry too much. That, combined with the lack of a 50k 7 days prior, good trail conditions, and smarter racing on my part by not letting it come down to the flat interurban trail set me up to finally put to bed what I knew I could do at Chuckanut 50k last weekend.
The race went out about the same as it always does, hovering about 5:40-5:50 pace for the first 6 miles on the interurban trail. Quick but relaxed. A group of 4 of us led the field where we would exit the interurban and start on the singletrack loops of Chuckanut Mtn.
The first climb would bring the front down to Laney and me as we ground our way up Cleator Rd. Still unsure of how I was going to feel later I was reluctant to push it here so let Laney come up beside about half way up to finish the climb together. We then enter the most technical 3 miles of the course on the Chuckanut Ridge trail. A winding, up/down, rooty, rocky section that has you high stepping and grabbing trees to stay upright. This is the fun section. I sat behind Laney at this point but after some tentative steps I decided that this was probably the best time to make a move and try to get a bit of a gap. I just didn’t realize this gap would remain largely unchanged the rest of the race. By the end of the trail I had put 2min on him (of course I didn’t know that then) so I would be running the rest of the race scared, trying not to let him catch me. A little over halfway coming off this technical section the trail flattens and is pretty non-technical. I had to keep pushing at this point because I knew he would be coming after me.
The rest is history. We dashed up Chinscraper, where I felt way better than I did last year and back down the trail to the interurban. I hadn’t seen Laney for a long time now but I still didn’t know how far back he was. I had to keep pushing with the main goal of still feeling good enough on the interurban to hit 6min pace. This is the part of the race everyone hates. You come off a beautiful singletrack trail onto a wide flat bike path for a 6 mile slog to the finish. It’s a race breaker for some. Saturday though I felt exactly like I wanted to. Tired but able to get up and go. I wouldn’t see Laney until the finish. I had raced Chuckanut like I thought I could and how I was capable of. It’s a pretty big sense of accomplishment and relief to be able to do it after three tries.
Just as it had last year, the rain held off until just after we finished. The wind though wasn’t as thoughtful and picked up the whole finish festival and deposited it across the parking lot. This left us with one cozy tent we all huddled under the rest of the day as racers came through until the 8hr cutoff. One of the greatest things about Chuckanut is the hot soup at the finish line. Ellie Greenwood continues to astound me with her finishing ability, coming from 6min back with 9 miles to go to win by 3min. That’s incredible.
Thanks Krissy for having me back again this year and putting on a great race. Also thanks to Bellingham. What a cool little outdoorsy town. Actually similar to Bend but much wetter. I met some really cool people this year, like I do every year, and reconnected with some old friends. Bellingham has a strong little running community too. I did a run and talk at Klicks Running on Thursday evening for Swiftwick when I got to town and things like that just remind me that no matter where you go there are always trail runners, and where there are trail runners, there are great people.
Now with Lake Sonoma 50 mile on the calendar in a couple weeks it’s back to training for two before a taper. The goal there being a top 3 finish to punch a ticket to Western States, yes, you read that right. That’s the plan. Exciting but also daunting. I’m scared to death of running 100 miles. That’s a long way last time I checked.
Upping the Trail Challenge with OCR – 2/24/14
By Max King
This past weekend I flew to Southern CA for my first obstacle race of the year and ended up hanging out with a reality TV star and an Australian, a big bonus for the weekend if you’ve ever had the chance to hang with either one. So before you all start snickering that I did an obstacle race and I’m talking to the runners both pro and recreational who would never consider debasing themselves with such a gimmicky event as a mud run, obstacle race, or any of that, let me tell you a bit about the weekend and the people I met.
This weekend was my first real taste of that other world of obstacle racing where crossfit goliaths meet sinewy track runners and they compete against each other on a level playing field. Is it intimidating for a runner like myself to line up against a guy that weighs 200lbs and could flip over a car and know we’ll be racing together, heck yeah.
This isn’t a crowd that I’m used to being around let alone racing and I suspect that’s a pretty big barrier to get over for many other runners as well. But if you’re a competitor, it’s actually a bit of a wake up call when a hoss comes up to a tire flip or sandbag carry that you’re struggling on, makes it look like he’s flipping pancakes and is off running to the next obstacle. It’s fun. That’s when it becomes a race. You’ve just decided there is no way you’re letting him get away with making it look that easy and you pump a little extra adrenaline out to get that tire over and now you’re on the chase. It doesn’t hurt as much anymore, you just know that you’re going to run with all your strength, be as efficient as you can at the next obstacle and whittle away at the lead of this dude who has no idea what his VO2max is but might be able to execute a clean with perfect technique. Oh, it’s fun.
I came in Thursday evening for the second event that Atlas Race, a Southern Oregon Company, has put on. After a good amount of traffic, I hate driving in SoCal, I met the Atlas crew of Scott and Lance as they finished up dinner. I also met my roommate for the weekend Matt Murphy of Australia. If you’ve never met and Aussie, I’ll tell you they’re some of the nicest, funniest people on the planet. Just a good sense of life and laid back. Matt was no different. A guy I’d never heard of, but an Australian reality TV star from the Search for Hurt, a show he created, and a badass athlete himself. He was second last year at the Spartan World Champs and is a personal trainer with wealth of good knowledge.
As with any good Aussie, he also knows how to drink, and when they drink that socially acceptable do-not-cross line quickly shifts. The progression of photos will give you an idea of how competition and suffering through a common endeavor can make quick friends out of complete strangers in a very short weekend. I’d have to say Matt capped off the weekend.
Friday before the race we took short run out at the race venue, careful not to run on the course. It’s frowned upon to pre-run the course. The course designers like to throw in special challenges that they want to keep a surprise until the race. It tends to make things…more “interesting” that way. So we didn’t see much except what was visible from the start/finish area. Your usual obstacles, cargo nets, walls, a tunnel crawl, tire flip, etc. What we couldn’t see would hurt us. You can’t help but be nervous before a race with unknowns. I have a hard enough time with nerves before a normal race but to go into a race when I don’t know exactly what’s out there, it’s entirely different. Saturday was go time. Same as any other race except you don’t know what to expect and there’s a 200lb dude next to you on the start line that can trash talk about as well as Prefontaine. That’s to say, he’s good at it and can back it up. Hunter McIntyre is an other worldly beast, a heck of a nice guy (off the course), and one of the most confident competitors I’ve encountered in years. I knew I had to get out fast and use my running ability if I was going to have any chance at winning this race so I was off in the first 100m like it was a 5mi XC race. Unfortunately, because I’m new at this the first barrier totally took me by surprise. Think of a fly hurrying away from a horde trying to make a meal of it and flying right into a spider web. Yup, the first obstacle was a tunnel of criss-crossing ropes, only they were bungee ropes and I didn’t know that. John Yatsko didn’t know that either and we both dove to crawl under them. He got hung up on the first rope, I ran into him and the horde was upon us. Hunter fell on top of me and kept on going, right through the bungees. Taking his lead I stepped over John (quite possibly ON John, I don’t know, sorry John) and clawed my way through. On Hunter’s heels, our next challenge was a 500ft climb to the top of a small mountain. As we start to climb he turns to me and says “Are you ready for this?” I said “yup” and took off, knowing that while I might get away on these running sections, it wouldn’t last long. I pushed my way up the hill, over a 12ft wall at the top, down the other side to the tire flip. I got first pick of the tires and chose wisely. I held my lead through the next three cargo net climbs, mud pits, and burpee broad jumps and 2 miles of running. Then came the real work. A challenge neither the racers nor organizers had really planned on being as hard as it should have been. A 65lb sandbag up over a mountain, an 8ft wall and a mile long is enough to destroy anyone…except Hunter. He finally caught me as we descended the back side of said mountain and continued to pull away on the flat part of the run. You’re talking half my body weight but only a third of his. Not to say that it was unfair, it wasn’t. It was just another obstacle and a lot of hard work even if it was longer than planned.
I did my best to cut into his lead as we headed to the finish and I cut it down from over a minute to about 45 seconds but I ran out of room to catch him. Over the last few obstacles and through a lot of mud I was pushing pretty hard to catch Hunter but to keep Cody Moat and Chad Trammell from gaining on me. I was extremely happy with a second place finish in my second obstacle race and against a field that included every big name in the sport right now including the top 3 from Spartan World Champs, new comers John Riccardi, John Yatsko a 4:05 miler, and a bunch of other guys that have proven themselves in this discipline already. With the prize money being laid on the line this sport is just going to continue to attract elite athletes from various disciplines and since it’s also a lot of fun with a great challenge, everyone is going to be doing this for a while. The sport is here to stay.
From there, we chilled on the grass of SoCal in 75 deg weather. Due in part to National Margarita Day the evening went into a downward spiral but ended on a high note with ice cream and a 11pm bedtime. Hey, I’m old. That’s really late for me these days.
Getting on the plane today I realized how similar OCR is to XC and that I always lament that we have a 1 month cross country season in the US but where there was a hole, a whole new discipline has popped up and I’ll be able to compete in XC all year around the world. It’s really what I’ve been waiting for and looking forward to the next one.
Thanks to Atlas Race for getting me and everyone else down there to go head to head and to Montrail for some prototype trail shoes that work perfectly for this stuff. You wouldn’t think of it but this is still a “mountain” sport so thanks to Mountain Hardwear from some great gear. If you’re looking for a sock that will stay put on your foot while getting sloppy in mud, water, and sweat look no further than the Swiftwick Aspire socks. Wicking, low water retention, and snug they are a perfect sock for OCR.
2014 Plans – Focus, Focus, Focus. – 1/22/14
By Max King
Oh what to do, what to do? It’s a good problem to have, don’t get me wrong but when you’re faced with all these incredible races and other opportunities a running career can seem rather short. How to you get it all in? I’ll be the first to admit that I lead a “charmed life”, as my mother would say, and have done a huge amount in the years that I’ve had. Every opportunity I’m given I’m thankful for and never take for granted what I’ve been able to accomplish. Live every day like it’s your last, as the saying goes.
But this creates another problem, if you’ll allow me to whine just for a minute, trying to do too much and trying to tackle every opportunity that comes along. This is the first year that I’ve really been hit by that realization and it shows in race results throughout the year. Success breeds success, until it doesn’t. The past few years has seen an escalation of high caliber races pop up on the calendar, a deeper base of very competitive runners, and my own short sightedness of trying to run every single big race I could get into. From disappointing finishes at Endurance Challenge 50miler to finish off the year, to Speedgoat 50k where I could have sworn that I was in better shape than last year andthosepoleswheregoingtohelpmerununder5hrs.
Each and every year has been a learning experience for me in some form or another. This past year I think it’s the realization that the longer big mountain races just aren’t for me. Focusing on “flattish”, more runnable courses have traditionally been stronger resulting in better performances and better finishes when my (track guys hold back your laughter) speed can be utilized more. It’s a tough pill to swallow because I think the grandeur and romance behind the long big mountain races is alluring and definitely has a big draw for me from an aesthetic point of view.
I didn’t even run that many ultras this year but my body feels otherwise. Compared to some guys out there (Sharman, Krar, and Clarky) I barely even ran an ultra, but the accumulation of years of miles felt like it finally hit me so I did something I haven’t done in 8yrs and took an extended break the past 6wks with another 1 or 2 wks to go. It will be good for the body but I do miss running and being able to get out and click off 20 miles of beautiful mountain singletrack. At least that’s a good sign after all these years. Hopefully the added pounds and healing joints will bode well for this coming year.
So, without further ado, the “very” tentative race schedule for 2014. As you’ll notice, I have totally taken my own advice and focused on…not focusing. I have narrowed my races to a very small window that includes the sport of running. You know, why place limits on your dreams.
Atlas Race SoCal Temecula, CA 22-Feb HillBilly Half Marathon Olympia, WA 8-Mar Chuckanut 50k Bellingham, WA 15-Mar Desfasio De Cumbre Chile 4-Apr Lake Sonoma 50 Healdsburg, CA 12-Apr Lost Creek Lake Trail Run Lost Creek, OR 26-Apr Atlas Race SoCal San Diego, CA 10-May Western States Training Auburn, CA 24-May Atlas Race Seattle Seattle, WA 7-Jun Teva Games Vail, CO Jun 6-9 Western States Auburn, CA 28-Jun Atlas Race Portland Portland, OR 12-Jul Steens Mountain Running Camp Steens Mountain Jul 13-26 Revelstoke TrailStoke Revelstoke, BC 19-Jul Siskiyou OutBack 50k Ashland, OR 26-Jul OR Show SLC, UT 3-Aug Atlas Race Boise Boise, ID 16-Aug Chute du Diable Canada 30-Aug Warrior Dash Oregon 6-Sep Atlas Race Medford Medford, OR 13-Sep Flagline 50k Bend, OR 22-Sep Xterra National Championships Odgen, UT 22-Sep Lake Padden Half Bellingham, WA 18-Oct Warrior Dash Esparto, CA 18-Oct Canyon de Chelly Navajo Res, AZ 11-Oct The Running Event Austin, TX Dec 3-7 TNF 50 Miler San Fransisco, CA 8-Dec USATF Club XC Championships Bethlehem, PA 13-Dec
That’s a lot of races you say? Well, sure. But I did try to make some thoughtful decisions about which races to focus on. As for the big mountain races, will you still see some of those races on the calendar? Yeah, probably. They’re fun, beautiful, and make me a better runner in the long run. Pun intended.
Chuckanut? Again? Really? Yes really, hoping the third times a charm. That win has eluded me the past two years and I intend on running up to my potential one of these times. Argh!
You see some Obstacle Races in there as well? Yup, it’s still running right. If you think it’s a joke, you’ve got to try one first. It’s the most fun I’ve had on two feet in a long time.
And a 100 miler? If I can gain a Montrail Ultra Cup spot then this may be the year to go for it. I’ve been sitting on the couch for a month trying to build up my fat stores just for this occasion. Lets hope they haven’t run out by June.
Focusing too narrowly never got me to far in the past and I’m sticking to that. On the flip side, 2013 was a good lesson in not focusing enough and trying to be at a high level in too many different distances. A goal going forward will once again be shorter trail races with a few ultras scattered around but with a better thought out plan like this spring and deciding what to really focus training towards.
Yes, there are a lot of races to do in a lifetime. I’m just hoping that I can begin to scratch the surface of my bucket list. There are still big goal races such as Comrades, Copper Canyon Ultramarathon, and the 2016 Olympic Trials down the road to prepare for.