Team RWB Running Camp

RWB

I’m just tired. I was expecting more of an easy weekend rather than what I actually got. I figured running camp, run easy, fewer miles, etc. Instead I, like usual, ran three runs a day, couple miles each, over rough terrain and now I’m spent. The three times through the obstacle course yesterday probably didn’t help, but how could I resist, it was so much fun.
That’s the nature of the RWB (Team Red, White, and Blue) Trail Running Camp. It’s set up so that vets and other trail running enthusiasts will have fun, learn from experienced runners, and experience trail running at some of it’s most rugged and scenic best. The camp was held this past weekend for the second time in as many years at Camp Eagle outside (way outside) San Antonio on some of the most unforgiving, skin taking, cactus riddled, rock strewn terra firma I’ve ever seen. I thought the basalt lava rock in Central Oregon was bad (and it is) but this land is covered by sharp rock from river bank to highest peak with cactus thrown in for good measure. It was just rough.

Camp Eagle


Camp Eagle is a 1400acre retreat camp used for everything from sporting events to church camps and we happened to fall somewhere in between. The past 4 years that Team RWB has been around the founder, Mike Erwin, has gone from a few t-shirts given out to a full-on non-profit group that supports hundreds if not thousands of veterans from every branch of the armed forces from every generation. This was the second year of the trail running camp held at Camp Eagle and it roughly doubled in size this year to include 84 vets, about 50 civilians (cus they like to trail run too), and 50 camp staff such as mentors like myself.

Rocky enough?


We gathered for two full days and three nights to share our knowledge and experiences with those that are both new to the sport of trail running and those that were there to experience a fun trail running environment. With such a wide variety of folks tailoring specific knowledge to each individual is a big key to helping people learn the basics or the intricacies of a simple but often complicated sport. I won’t bore you with the structure of daily activities but to say we accomplished a lot by separating athletes into four groups ranging from first time trail runners to trail running veterans looking for that extra knowledge that would help them improve their performance. The mentors Liza Howard and crew had assembled would later lead to the most competitive race between ultrarunners in November with Sage Canaday, Jason Schlarb, Dominic “Unicorn” Grossman, Dave James, and Jason Bryant. Also there were Meghan Arbogast, Pam Smith, Liza, Nikki Kimball, Katie DeSplinter and many more.

Yeah, we're studs and we know it. Look at the chest hair on that guy.

I had amazing time at camp and it is exactly the thing that I need from time to time to reinstill my faith in the human spirit. Luckily runners tend to be a rather upbeat crowd which is exactly why I surround myself with them but at running camp everyone just seems a bit more relaxed and at ease with themselves. Even though I go as a coach or mentor to try to help others, usually it is I that comes away with more than I came with.
Take for example two of my favorite people at camp this week; Karen and Eduard. Karen was a Olympic Trials marathon qualifier with a bright future in professional running when she was derailed by an accident in the military to where she can no longer feel sensation in her legs. She can move them and she’s still a 3hr marathoner but I can’t imagine not being able to feel your feet when running but despite that she’s getting into ultrarunning and trail running with a little healthy fear and an indomitable spirit. To see her running over technical rocky terrain and knowing she had a broken bone in her foot (that she couldn’t feel) really amazed me.

Then there’s Edward who I first met on the bus ride out to Camp Eagle. He was limping out of the gas station stop so I thought he had an injury, turns out he did, he’d lost his whole leg up to his hip, one of the worst amputations because usually people end up just sitting around and not trying to do anything. Turns out though that there isn’t much (if anything) that is going to stop Edward. Throughout the weekend he ran the technical trails using his leg to bound up steep technical terrain while using his prosthetic running leg to land and pivot on to get back to his good leg. He participated in each run never slowing anyone down and refusing help when we asked if he needed any. Then he went and did this: the last event of the weekend was an obstacle race. He did the whole thing and when I saw him on course he was working his prosthetic through a tire hung between two trees about 4ft off the ground that is one of the hardest things for people with two good legs to do. He made it through to my amazement. Kid is tough as nails. And he’s funny too, he said he had a little tightness in his calf too when I was saying something about one of my injuries, but he was talking about his prosthetic leg.

Eduard

To say the least, these two and the other hundred or more at camp have my respect. And in four short years Mike Erwin, RWB Founder, has created something that for many will be an important part of the recovery process for these vets and for others just an awesome running camp to come to, be inspired, and learn a lot about trail running. Look for more camps next year including this camp at Camp Eagle. It’s open to all trail runners and tailored to the huge range of abilities that we have in the sport. Hopefully I’ll see you there at one of them.

A mason jar of Apple Pie Moonshine, a cigar, some smores, a long run in the hills, and a wrestling match with “the Unicorn” himself capped off the weekend and sent me home quite wasted (not from the moonshine, really) and in need of a few days of recovery.

No caption can do it justice

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Japan 2013

-By Dakota Jones

I’m back in Japan.

Last year I arrived in Tokyo completely unprepared for what I was to find. If Japanese people weren’t so nice I likely wouldn’t have made it past the airport. Unable to go forward, too poor to go back before scheduled, I would have spent ten unhappy days in the airport, wandering between gates like Tom Hanks in The Terminal. Fortunately for me, the nice people of the land of the rising sun kindly directed me to the correct taxi service, which safely took me to my hotel without incident. I reached my hotel room, laid down on the bed and breathed a sigh of relief.

Try as I might, I soon found that I couldn’t huddle in my room for the whole trip. Just outside my window flashed the bright neon lights of Shibuya – Japan’s fashion district – and whether or not I was mentally or emotionally prepared, I had to see what it was like. So I took the elevator downstairs and walked out into a world completely unlike anything I had yet seen.

I’m more of a mountain guy, to be honest. I grew up in a small town and still gravitate towards small towns. Though I now live in what is undeniably a small city – Boulder, CO – I am right at the edge, near the mountains and the trails which I use every day. When I want something fun to do, my mind gravitates not towards Las Vegas or tropical beaches but to the mountains. The wilder the better, the bigger the better, the fewer people the more attraction. So, knowing this, you can imagine my surprise upon finding myself all of a sudden in the fashion center of one of the largest cities in the world. Overwhelmed is only one of the emotions I felt.

Other emotions I felt were: scared, surprised, a little angry, pretty tired, excited, hungry and curious as to why the hell everybody looked like a freaking maniac.

All around me were lights and noise, bustle and action. The streets were filled with not just regular cars and taxis (all of which, by the way, were driving on the wrong side of the road), but also with massive semi-trucks whose trailers were wrapped in album art for boy- and girl-bands with poorly-translated English names. Radiating from the trailers we said band’s particular brand of noise at top volume. The buildings on either side rose in unbroken sweeps of metal and glass, often draped for several stories with advertisements for fashion companies (imagine a ten-story Lana del Rey). Along the street level flashed blinding lights of all colors. From each storefront boomed tinny pop music. Neon signs lit up and blacked out, expanding and contracting with an unceasing line of ads and enticements. The higher the neon sign, the larger the neon sign. In the distance flashed Japanese characters forty or fifty feet high.

You know that scene in every movie about Tokyo where a normal intersection is running at its limit with a huge amount of traffic, then every light goes red and the street is completely overwhelmed by thousands of people crossing in all directions? That’s where my hotel was. Right above that intersection. I stood and watched for at least thirty minutes one night with the same fascination I generally reserve for car wrecks or public meltdowns. And what noticed above all was that everybody was dressed like they were in a music video. From the shoes upward, people had on some of the craziest and most diverse outfits I’d ever seen. Bright colors, unexpected skin, heavy makeup and tight could not be tight enough. I stared in awe.

That was only the beginning of the bug-eyed orgy. Every restaurant has phlegm-colored plastic food on display at street level along with a menu. If you wish to eat at that restaurant, you look at the accompanying floor level and take the elevator up. Looking for a department store? They’re everywhere, but whereas in America we have a surplus of land that allows us to expand horizontally, Japanese stores expand vertically. Walk into any outdoor store (as I did many times while touring the city in the following days with the local Montrail/Mountain Hardwear representatives), and you can look at shoes on the first floor, backpacks on the second, climbing gear on the third, skis on the fourth and so on up to the seventh or eighth floor. If the intersections seem packed, get used to it. The population density is incredible.

Buy any food item in a convenience store and it will come wrapped in three layers of plastic with a plastic tray. And buy two, for that matter, since Japanese portions are sadly inferior to American sizes. And for those in need of electronics, you have come to the right place. The electronics stores in Shibuya are massive and always full of bright lights, helpful staff and eager consumers. Though the prices aren’t much better than in America, they do have the benefit of appearing insanely huge before you convert the number to dollars. To give you an example, a camera that costs 29,000 Yen is actually a more reasonable $300. So you’re like, “holy shit! Twenty-nine thousand Yen!” and then you’re like, “Oh, three hundred bucks. Whatever.” And then you buy a camera and take a bunch of pictures.

The reason I was in Japan last year was the same reason I’m going this year. It’s called the Hasetsune Cup (Ha-set-sue-nay) and it’s one of the biggest trail races in Japan. Here is some more information about the race that will totally bust your gourd:

- The name “Hasetsune” is a shortening of the name “Tsuneo Hasegawa”. Tsuneo Hasegawa was a well-known Japanese mountaineer renowned for his dedication to long, self-supported adventures in challenging places. He died doing on one of said adventures, and his friends decided to start a race in his honor.

- The race is 71.5 kilometers long, which cruises in at a cool 44-ish miles

- It starts at 1:00 pm, which means that every runner has to run for a while in the dark. The cutoff is 24 hours, which should give you an idea of how challenging the race is.

- Looking for aid? You came to the wrong place. Hasetsune has a total of one aid station(s), and at said station you are only permitted a maximum of 1.5 liters of water.

- The race is really hard. It reportedly has over 6,000 meters of elevation change, but I think that means it has 3,000 meters of up and the 3,000 meters of down. That’s still a huge amount of climbing and descent, and it all comes in agonizingly short bursts. Straight up for two hundred feet, straight down for one hundred. This zig-zag pattern denies any recovery or rest and steadily builds up to a major peak, then proceeds in a similar manner down the other side. There are three peaks in total, and they all hurt.

- More than two thousand people run every year.

- The race is technically within the city limits of Tokyo, though it’s about a two-hour drive from where I was staying in the city.

The primary sponsor of the Hasetsune Cup is Montrail, hence my presence and shameless promotional activities. What you may not know about Montrail is they do really well in Japan, so they are able to roll out extra colors and features that aren’t seen in the States. In fact, last year I was surprised to find another entire Montrail shoe that is only sold in Japan and South Korea. This year I will be running in a special Hasetsune version of the Bajada, with coloring around the outsole that mimics the view of the lights of Tokyo from the top of the third peak on the Hasetsune course. This goes to show how far out of their way they are going for me. I have a relatively big foot in America (size 11), but in Japan the sample size is even smaller. In a country where I look over the heads of most people while walking in the city, building a shoe to my size before it is on the market is a significant effort. So, if anybody who works for Montrail in Japan is reading this, thanks guys. You rock. I love my my shiny shoes.

The race was a wild adventure. I was asked to give a short speech just before the start, but they were running behind schedule. I still gave my speech, but upon stepping down from the podium the gun went off and I wasn’t even in the starting corral. I had to run down the line, leap the barriers and dodge several hundred people before I reached the front. After that things went about as smoothly as they can go when you’re running at your anaerobic threshold up a mountain. I huffed and puffed along as well as I could and took a long time to get into rhythm. Soon enough I found myself running alone through the woods.

The course had an air of mystery. We ran all day and night through damp forests, carefully stepping between the many roots and rocks. The clouds hung low in a dense fog which dampened the sounds of the birds and wind, making them seem far away and sad. I hiked uphill and ran downhill through a serene land of hills and water, wood and vines. The peace and tranquillity seemed distinctly Japanese. The mountain forests felt like the ancient stronghold of a deeply spiritual people. I felt a calm respect for the generations of people who had walked these hills before me, and an overwhelming gratitude for the opportunity to walk them myself.

I raced hard too. By the top of the first major peak I had run through the two liters of water with which I had begun the race, and was forced to run more than ten kilometers farther without water. At the one aid station I filled up my bladder, but with eighteen kilometers to go (more than ten miles) it was empty again. At that point I was winning, but this was late in the race, when whatever is left to go wrong doubtless will. I was getting tired and felt an incredible unquenchable thirst. With so far yet to go I kept looking behind me for the approach of the competition.

Running in the dark down the third peak I suddenly realized I was running next to a rushing stream. Not being able to see any of my surroundings, having no idea from where this water came, I quickly waded in and drank my fill. Drinking again five seconds later I kept repeating in my head, “I’m totally getting Giardia right now. I’m totally getting Giardia right now.” But I knew that I could not finish the race with any efficiency if I did not drink that water. So I went for it, Giardia be damned.

The rest of the race passed quickly. The trail leveled out and became smoother, and I ran fast along the contours of the mountains in the dark, steadily descending back into the town. As I reached the paved roads half a kilometer from the finish I took a wrong turn and wasted a desperate two minutes wandering around looking for the right way. But when I found it and ran in to the finish it was all worth it. I had won the race, even set a new course record.

I was warmly received by the race’s spectators. This reception continued for several days after the race. Everyone was happy for me and wanted to hear all about how the race went. I spent the rest of my trip smiling and bowing obsequiously to or with various people at various events. I left a hero, determined not to return ever. With all the positive press I had received, I didn’t want to risk ruining my good name.

But I couldn’t help myself. In August I got the email from Mountain Hardwear: “I know you’re not planning on running Hasetsune again, but you should really think about it.” I could have said no, and at first I meant to. But the idea brought back so many positive memores that by the end of the day I was already making plans for the trip. Like it or not, Japan has a hold on my heart.

Since arriving this year I have spent most of my time on the following:

- Trying to stay awake when it matters
- Being wide awake at 4:30 in the morning
- Fighting with the morality of eating at the Krispy Kreme right outside my hotel’s lobby
- Being confused about the park system. One park is only open between 9:00 and 4:00, while another has a shrine on one end that doesn’t allow running. I have to walk (on the road through the shrine; the road with cars) or they’ll blow a whistle at me. However, you are allowed to run on the other side of the shrine. But where that delineation stands still eludes me.

I have also spent some time productively. The Japan Montrail/Mountain Hardwear team has connected me with local writers for lots of interviews, and I spent the last two afternoons being herded around the city for appearances at stores. This is actually pretty cool, because I get to see the city better than I would otherwise. Though the public transit system in Tokyo is apparently one of the best in the world, there is no way in hell I would be able to navigate it without the help of someone who can understand Japanese characters. The Japanese team provides that in the form of Tomonori, Yohei, Miyuki, Yuji and Hidei, so I have nothing to complain about. I have seen Tokyo.

That means the time has come to see somewhere else. This afternoon we are quitting the city and heading out to the town that hosts Hasetsune, two hours away. The race begins tomorrow at 1:00 pm, and the pressure is mounting. I don’t have anything to do between now and then, which means I’ll be able to complete my pre-race tradition of walking around nervously and sweating a lot. I’ll post an update after the race. But until then – arigato gozaimas! Sayonara.

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World Mtn Running Champs and a Bum Ankle

I think it’s fair to start off this report by saying this turned out to be a very disappointing race. I hate to be negative and I can still even find some positive aspects to the trip to Poland but at the same time it was an important race for me to do well at. In a situation like this there’s no reason for me to be mad because there’s nothing I could have done to prevent a mid-race misstep so I’m not mad, just disappointed. Those races that go poorly due to how I perform are much harder to take because I’ve had an impact on those and ultimately it comes down to how hard I push it and what my body feels like. In this case, it doesn’t make it any easier but it was also out of my hands.

The aftermath

I went into the IAAF World Mtn Running Championships in Krynica, Poland with high, but not unreasonable, expectations. I had to right? I mean, I did win the last up/down race in 2011. I was hoping for a top 5 finish knowing there would be the usual suspects of US (Joe Gray), Turkey, Italy, Uganda and Eritrea so a finish that high would be great. But I wasn’t going to be unreasonable and expect that I would win the whole enchilada again, after all, I still feel like 2011 was a bit of a fluke.

The only way to go...down.

Poland was cool but aside from the town looked a lot like the east coast in spots with nice rolling hills, green grass, and a few more evergreen trees. A small town like Krynica has a lot of very old culture which I’m sure if we were there a bit longer we probably would have seen.

Polish Sidewalk Art - Interesting


Drinking a pint with Alex and Maddy


The Rolling Hills of Poland


Hanging around in Krynica

We were staying at a ski resort a few miles away so didn’t get to experience it in all its glory.
The course was remarkably similar to this year’s national championship at Cranmore in NH. It started with a 200-300m uphill straight into a steep downhill with a few corners and then into a straight very smooth downhill road section that everyone can blitz. The bottom of the course starting up was very steep grass ski slope zig-zaging in large switchbacks across the slope making for awkward and difficult footing.

The ski resort and part of the course.

This would prove (on my one loop of the course) the most difficult section by far. This transitioned at the top of the slope into a short flat section then into uphill singletrack the rest of the way up to the top. This was a great section. Nice shaded singletrack with a roller in the middle to move the legs then finishing with a mellow 200m uphill road section before heading into the next loop or the finish (that I never got to).
My race started out like a cross country race heading uphill over a grass slope. I was in about 5th position at the top but quickly moved into first on the top corners of the downhill. I knew I would need all the speed I could muster on the downhill if I was going to finish in a high position so I tried to extend my margin on the downhill as much as I could while still being relaxed. Reaching the uphill section at the bottom I dialed it back a bit to stay comfortable on the first climb while the field caught me from behind. On the singletrack I had the whole Ugandan team right behind me and I know they didn’t want a repeat of two years ago where they completely fell apart one by one. I half expected this from a couple but I was amazed when they never did. Up the singletrack I had some control of the race and I backed off the pace a bit. The Ugandans didn’t go by. I waited and waited and still they stayed right behind. It wasn’t until the last 400m of the uphill that they finally went by and I stuck right on the back of them. I wanted to make this first lap as easy as possible knowing the next two wouldn’t be. At the top again I was about 5m back of the Ugandans and Joe Gray, right where I wanted to be.

Top of Lap 1

I started moving past them one by one on the downhill again. I was in second about 600m down the hill moving into first when, snap! Nothing hurt, everything seemed fine. For about 5 sec…then Boom. My ankle blew up like a balloon. I continued to run but ankle range of motion was gone slowing me down to a jog. Then I knew it was over. It really didn’t hurt, too much adrenaline, but that ankle it turns out is an important joint when you’re trying to run. About five minutes later as I tried to walk myself out is when it brought the pain. Ow, it hurt. I hobbled my way back up the course cheering on the rest of the team and letting them know I was out of it. Glenn wasn’t having a particularly good race and as he went by an realized that I was out and he might need to stick in there the look on his face was priceless. It was great to get to watch the race unfold but I would have much rather have finished. I got to see Alex and Ryan make pretty significant gains on the field in the last lap to bring us up into 4th place. I think I was on the verge of having a good race but one will never know. That’s really all I have to say after that.
I went straight to shoe school in Boston to see how American made shoes are put together, I got to make my own shoe (in size 6), and meet many amazing people in the American workforce that make shoes that I sell. Pretty cool.
I’ve taken a few days off to let the ankle heal up but with Xterra coming up next weekend I’m feeling like I’ve got to get back on it to work out some kinks. Everything with it seems fine, meaning not broken, but only running will let me know. Don’t worry, I’ve done this before. I’m a professional so don’t try this at home.
UROC in two weeks. That one might hurt.

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Three Sisters Adventure Day

I’ve been waiting the whole summer for another shot at the Three Sisters Traverse record. Back in about 2005-6 Kevin Grove took me across all three peaks for the first time. He trashed me that first time and little did I know until the third and final peak that day that we were racing it and trying to hit a time. We stood atop South Sister at 10,358ft and he says to me, “We’ve got an hour to make it down by 8hrs.” I was like, “what, we’ve been trying to hit a record?” and off we went to dip just under 8hrs and get what we thought was probably under Ben Husaby’s time.
Skip ahead 7 years and the record has been lowered to about 6:30 by Brett Yost and Dave Potter. It’s a pretty fast time but one I thought I could probably handle on a good day. So on Aug 23rd I left town about 8:15am, drove up to Sparks Lake, jogged down the road to Devils Lake Trailhead and started my watch just after 9am.

At the Trailhead

I did a hill workout the day before. Was that smart? Eh, the legs were working ok and I felt pretty good up the flanks of South Sister. Since that first epic adventure of a North to South Sister traverse, the consensus (by that I mean Yost and Potter’s record was done S to N and scouting by me) is that a South to North assault is probably better because of the footing, so that’s how I was attempting it. The jury is still out, however, after this. I checked off the summit of South in 1:27, actually a record for me, and down the loose scree slopes of the north side of South I went.

South Sister Summit

Bounding and flying down South Sister into the saddle between Middle and South I went, only to be stopped by a thicket of weathered gnarley old fir trees. Ugh. Out of those after only a few minutes and I was back on my way up Middle and summited the 10,047ft peak with nary a hiccup.

Middle Sister Summit

Then, I had a big hiccup, fog on the summit shrouding everything from Middle to the saddle and on up to North. I couldn’t see a thing. I had an idea of what it looked like but shoot, it’d been a long time since I’d been between the two mountains and all I remembered was a scree slide off north and a snowfield to Middle. It started off easy enough, a quick scree run down off Middle until…a crap, a cliff. Or I thought it was. I skirted carefully around the cliffs and stayed on the scree. I went off in the direction I thought north was but found only rock bands and rock fields. I continued on through the fog not knowing exactly which way I was headed. All I had to go on was that down to the left somewhere was Eugene and down to the right somewhere was Bend. Unfortunately, a mountain’s topography is never that simple so the snowfield I expected to be there never materialized how I thought it should. I did find a really cool rock canyon to go through and areas that made Mordor look tame and quite tranquil. It was nice.

The depths of Mordor, really.

Finally giving up and thinking that I was probably completely turned around in between Middle and North Sister, the sky began to lift, at least a little until from where I was could see the faint outline of a mountain on my left and one on my right. It was really weird but I was so unsure of which direction was which by this point that I had no idea which mountain was North. I had to scramble up to a little ridge line a couple hundred meters away so I could see down into the valley. I righted myself, (I’d been going in the right direction, whew!) and on I went…or scrambled. Down a rock ledge I was traveling on and onto the snowfield that I remember being there, (It was a lot smaller than I remember it) up the scree slope and onto the Southwest ridge of North. This was, by far, the worst (by that I mean slowest) footing on the whole route. Very steep, very loose. Take one step, slide back two. Lame.

I was still making good time at this point. I hit Middle in 3hrs and the time in the fog only cost me, eh, 30min or so. But, what lays ahead I have no way of knowin’, to quote Tom Petty and that’s where I screwed up. See, there are two sections of North that make this mountain the most dangerous and slowest. First, you have the traverse. Covered by snow until late season, but now melted into the loose large skateboard size slate that can, with a wrong step, send you off your feet and on a vary painful slide down knife edged rocks. Choosing your footing here wisely is the key and a necessity. To top that off, just as I arrived at the traverse, the familiar sound of crashing rocks made me look up just in time to see a couple baby head sized rocks come careening right down the center of the traverse. Uh Oh! Waiting a few minutes to check which route I was going to go with (up or down?) and whether the rock fall was going to hold, I finally decided I would move quickly and quietly and get across. Whew, made it! Not too bad.
Ok, now you get the Bowling Alley. A series of shelves in a narrow chute with particularly loose rock that you can rain down on any climbing partners you happen to be with. Lucky for me I was both first and last of my party this day. I did rain down rocks however. I saddled up and climbed into the Bowling Alley, or what I thought was the Bowling Alley. I remember it being sketchy, but I also remember it being doable. On the first shelf, I was unusually sketched out but made it up, the second shelf however was a 30-40ft high vertical wall with questionable hand holds a drop that would most certainly kill you. I DO NOT REMEMBER BEING THIS SKETCHED OUT!. See photo below for emphasis. AH! Down climb! Don’t need to die, not sure how I did this before, don’t let go. And here’s the funny part, I’m down climbing over this sheer face and I look over and see that, “Oh, there’s another gully that looks exactly like this one”. Ah, crap! So, I take my time to down climb the rest of the WRONG Bowling Alley very carefully so that I can actually live long enough to try the right one. Onto the right one after spending at least 30min (felt like 3hrs) on the wrong one, I find out that it is sketching indeed but also doable, even after almost crapping my pants, so in reality: not that bad. Huh?

WRONG Bowling Alley


Sketchy!

I hit the summit at 10,085ft in 5:30. That still gives me an hour to get down to the Pole Creek Trailhead. Hustling down the Bowling Alley, crossing the traverse, picking my way down the ridge, sliding a massive scree slope, making great time. Going to be close to 6:30…wait, if I’m at 6hrs that means it’s 3pm. It’s my 10year anniversary tonight and we have plans at 5:30. I’m supposed to be home at…gulp, 5pm. Oh, crap. Veer hard right! Make B-line to car, now!

Three Sister Traverse

The Route!

See, I didn’t expect to be out this long as you can tell. I also decided to do this attempt a bit different than the other times. The Three Sisters Traverse is from Devils Lake Trailhead to Pole Creek Trailhead (car-to-car) and we always do a shuttle to make it easier, cus who wants to run the extra 12-15 miles back to the car afterward. Uh, me? So, looking at my watch at 3pm and realizing I have at least 12 miles of mountainous terrain, possibly half of which is going to be cross country, I kind of had a mild panic attack. Now, under the normal circumstances of just having a date with my wife I wouldn’t freak out, but seeing as how it was our 10 year anniversary I was able to find that extra gear deep down and bolted straight for the trailhead as fast as I could. I pretty much trashed myself on that run. It was fun and I had a great adventure moving through those woods. Over springs, across gorges with rushing rivers, under a huge rock fall, through a rock arch. Lots of really cool things in the woods where no people ever go.

I made it back to the car right at five. I would be home by 5:30 for a quick shower and I would only end up about 5-10min late. It was awesome, and a pretty good save (I could have been much later). I didn’t end up finishing the whole traverse since I didn’t go the 2 miles to the Pole Creek Trailhead but it was a good reconnaissance mission for the next attempt.

Man what a day, a good 8hr adventure, a date night with my wife with good food, hot chocolate, and then a banana split sundae. Not sure if it gets any better than that.

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Cascade Trifecta: Attempt #2

We both sat slumped in the snow, 2000 vertical feet from the summit of Mt Rainier, discussing our options. It was getting close to 2pm, late in the day for anyone heading up that high on the mountain. Both of us were exhausted as we’d just pushed to 19,000 feet of elevation gained in the last 24hrs. Up at 12,000ft above sea level the air thin enough to make each step labored in the soft mushy snow, we deliberated over what we should do. According to the guides we had just passed heading down there was weather moving in, possible thunderstorms, and they were reluctant to allow us to carry on but agreed only after we had roped up and put crampons on. Safety precautions that were quite reasonable. Brett was wavering whether he had enough in him to continue on and the guides advice about the weather may have just put the nail in the coffin, so to speak.

A little over two months earlier I ran into Brett Yost riding his “classic” pink and white Bridgestone 10 speed down the back alley on my way back from a run through Bend. I’d been thinking about our attempt the previous summer to scale the three highest peaks in the Cascade Mountain Range; Rainier, Adams, and Hood and how it would be nice to take another crack at it. We’d made it up Rainier so fast it gave Brett heat exhaustion, I made it most of the way up Adams solo but was turned around by darkness about 1000ft short of the summit because I’d never been up there before, and we never even made it to Hood. So, I asked Brett if he would be willing to give it another shot. He said yes, and so it began.
In preparation, I went about my daily training and dialing in my gear to make it more useful to going fast in the mountains and Brett began training in earnest, much harder and more specific than me, for a date to be determined in June to make our attempt.

Last year the biggest barrier to us getting out had been finding a window in my schedule that lined up with a good weather window. This year would be no different. Between races, watching the kids, work, the weather, and other commitments our window of opportunity was getting tighter and tighter until it was starting to look like we might just squeeze ourselves out of time. It came down to the third weekend in June. I had a free Fri/Sat, Brett was ready to go, but low-pressure weather was dragging out during the week and closing the window even tighter. As we approached Friday morning our plan was to leave that afternoon for Rainier, sleep in the parking lot that evening and start about 5am on Saturday. Looking at weather reports though, showed that another patch of bad weather was supposed to come in Saturday afternoon, about the time we would be starting on Adams. This was bad news. It was giving us a good weather window of 24hrs starting not on our schedule of 5am but instead on Friday afternoon. That is not what we had planned at all. But, even though we can scale mountains, we still can’t move them, Brett nor I was going to be able to change the weather. To make lemonade, we took our weather window, changed our plans and left Bend at 4pm Friday afternoon, not for Rainier, but for Hood.

I was stoked to be making a second attempt at the Trifecta, and through Brett’s quite demeanor, I could tell his nerves would only settle after we set foot on the snow at Timberline Lodge. I clicked my watch into action at 6:38pm and we set off on a gorgeous evening with sunset about 2.5hrs away.

The snow was soft but it had been at least coolish that day so wasn’t as slushy as it could have been. We found a bare ridgeline to travel on to near the top of the Cooper lift that made getting up a little easier where it would have been softest. With excitement and fresh legs we were going a bit harder than we had planned so we scaled it back to look at the big picture. Still, we reached the summit in 2:06 in good snow conditions, about 6min faster than our previous climb two weeks earlier in similar conditions. This got Brett a little worried, all too aware that a hot pace (and hot weather) got him into trouble last year. I assured him we were fine and we started down. The trip down was amazing. With the sun setting we were running down the side of an 11,000ft volcano with the sun setting on the horizon while falling downward with the glistening slope of snow. Words, of course, can’t do it justice but it was one of the most amazing sights of geometric planes in motion.

Mt Hood

Sunset on Mt Hood

Aside from a few face plants in the snow, we made it down without incident, back to the car with the watch split at 3:06, and on our way to Adams. Feeling good with one down. Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve had Pringles? Well, it’s been a long time, and I have to say they taste really good in between climbing mountains. A quick stop at the gas station helped satisfy that craving (and we got gas) and we were off through the night like Batman and Robin in the Batmobile, only it was a Honda Civic…and it was blue.

Prior to this trip we didn’t even know if climbing Adams was going to be a possibility this year. Near the end of last summer a raging wildfire swept through the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and destroyed the Mt. Adams trailhead and much of the surrounding forest. It wasn’t until about June 1st that the trailhead finally opened allowing access to the mountain. In the dark of night we wound our way upwards toward the trailhead. The badly damaged dirt road had been repaired but due to erosion concerns huge water bars were constructed making it a herky-jerky ride. My struts may be shot but at least the oil pan came away with only a few dents and no holes.

We started up Adams at 12:30am amidst a sleeping campground. We quickly pushed past two other crazy climbers just starting out for a would-be camp halfway up the mountain. We moved quickly and quietly, the only sound our shoes crunching on the now ice crusted snow. We rose higher and higher up the mountain as the full moon rose with us in the sky. Adams is an easy slog until you get to the headwall. While still a hike it rises at about a 45 degree slope slowing travel and sapping your legs. To add insult to injury (or maybe just fatigue) the peak you stare at the whole way up is only the false summit, the real summit rises another 1000ft across a flat traverse. It was about this time that it definitely started getting colder. Hands started going numb, the feeling of toes in thin running shoes became an ache, and all available clothing was layered on. We topped out and though chilled I had to stop for a few minutes and take in the sight. A full moon illuminated the entire mountain and surrounding forests. We could see Hood River, Portland to the southwest and each of the mountains surrounding Adams. It was the second amazing sight I had seen that day. Brett was pretty cold and hurried down to find warmer air. Back down off the headwall the sun was beginning to rise and the air became warmer. We picked our way through the woods to intersect the climber’s trail and hiked down the rest of the bare trail to a parking lot starting to awaken. Already we had passed a few groups of climbers with skis on their backs and many more would follow within a few hours to get some turns on Adams perfect corn snow later in the day. But we were just finishing so away in the car we went. Adams down in 5hrs. It was now 6am Saturday morning.

Back down the waterbarred road, I pushed the civic as hard as she’d go. Brett was just starting to feel the accumulated fatigue of two mountains and no sleep. With a 3hr (hopefully) drive ahead, he managed to get a little sleep though with my rally driving I’m not sure how. I definitely drifted a few corners. Paved part of the way with 12 miles of dirt it was an exciting drive and the required concentration on not going off the road kept me wide awake. This is where we were able to really make up some time over he previous year. In a Vanagon this drive took us about 5hrs and while it was nice being able to lay down in the back and have our own personal driver, it was definitely worth driving ourselves for the extra 2hrs it gave us.

Brett took over the wheel about 45min outside the park so I could get a little sleep. We rolled into the parking lot to a blue-bird day with the temperatures quickly rising. After getting permits and gathering our gear, we were off, confident in the weather and in our success. We started at about 9:30am.

Already very soft snow conditions made the going slow and arduous and relegated us to the stomped in climbing trail fighting through the crowds of people heading to Muir Camp. Brett began to slow noticeably toward the top just before reaching the camp but with still plenty of time we could afford to slow down to insure success. We took a quick lunch break at Muir Camp before slogging forward to the Ingram Glacier and Disappointment Cleaver (DC). From now on we would see fewer people since most don’t go above Muir Camp. We roped together just before traversing the glacier but due to snow conditions with hardly a worry of slipping didn’t bother with crampons. Once on the DC at about 11,500ft both of us were feeling the fatigue of the day. During a sit down break high up the Cleaver was the first sign of cracking. It was here we met the Mt. Rainier climbing guides heading down the mountain. Showing obvious concern that we might be ill prepared they recommended crampons and ropes. And they showed concern for good reason. All day long Brett and I would pass climbers and summit wearing nothing but running shoes, tights and light shirt, and be carrying only a small pack. Most climbers would look at us funny and I would feel a little underdressed like I was at a black tie affair wearing my Hawaiian shirt, cut off jeans, and flip-flops. I don’t think they see runners all that often.

The guides left us to continue upwards but knowing only one more party was up above us didn’t give Brett a warm fuzzy feeling and he visibly started to look shattered. Don’t get me wrong. I was tired too. We decided to move on.

Up above the Cleaver the route deviated from its usual route by traversing underneath a headwall across the glacier to a ridgeline before continuing it’s upward rise to the summit. Just before this traverse, with another 2000ft of climbing Brett and I both sat down to take stock. Brett expressed concerns that he was not feeling too good, his exhaustion was starting to impair his coordination and while he thought he could make the summit, wasn’t sure he would be able to make it back down, obviously not a good thing. That’s the thing about mountains. Going up’s the hard part but even though down is the easy part, you still have to be able to make it. I was confident and feeling tired but ok, sure I could make it but we were in it together and I could only do it with him. We talked about options. Took a long break and deliberated over whether it was worth it or not. In the end, with the weather starting to turn, we decided to turn and head down. On a mountain, even though it may not be Everest or Denali, in a situation like this it’s tough to turn around so close to the top and I can see how you can get into trouble by pushing on even when it’s not the intelligent thing to do. Luckily it was just Rainier, I’d been up it before and even though we missed out on the Trifecta I still had an absolutely incredible and rewarding day in the mountains. It will still be there next year for another try at it if I so choose, as will every mountain that someone else fails to summit.

As we descended, I became aware just how exhausted Brett was and was glad we had decided to turn around. The snow was even softer now and we postholed down to our knees on every step making it that much harder on already exhausted legs. Glad to be back to the car after 7:25 on Rainier and over 22hrs of adventure, we took off our wet shoes, sweaty clothes, ate some food and geared down. I inspected a blister that started as a hot spot on Mt. Hood almost 24hrs

This is the End.

earlier that was now a flap of skin the size of a quarter. Ouch. That smarts. It was this drive back to Bend via Portland that was probably the hardest and most tedious part of the whole day. Brett got some sleep while I slapped myself to stay awake. After a stop at Chipotle in Gresham we switched places and I was able to get a bit of a nap before reaching Bend.

For me at least, this second attempt was a success. No, we didn’t quite complete the final goal we set out to do but for me it was always more about the adventure I think than anything. It was odd sitting in the snow knowing the summit was only two thousand feet away and yet we weren’t going to be making it. I didn’t feel as much disappointment as I expected. Looking back on the day we had climbed two mountains already and essentially a third, we got an awesome sunset on one, a moonlit experience on another, and a bluebird day on the third with some of the best northwest driving in between. By all accounts it was the adventure I was enjoying, not the summit I needed.

Video from the attempt is here.

Gear Used: I don’t always do this for a running race but a technical mountain climb with varying conditions warrants a gear list

Mt. Hood:

MHW Race Vest w/ hydroflask softflasks
MHW ¾ Tights
MHW Butterman ¼ zip
MHW Hydra EXT Glove
Swiftwick Aspire Twelve Socks
Montrail Bajada Outdry Shoes
Black Diamond Ultradistance Poles
Black Diamond 55cm Ice Axe
Katoola Crampons
MHW Ghost Whisperer Jacket
MHW Strapless Seta Gaiters
MHW Truckery Hat
Rudy Project Gaurdyan Glasses
Rudy Project Snow Helmet

Mt Adams:

MHW Race Vest Pack
MHW Effusion Tights
Swiftwick Merino Pursuit Twelve Socks
MHW Butterman ¼ zip
MHW Effusion Jacket
MHW Beta Power Beanie
MHW Hydra Pro Gloves
Rudy Project Rydon II Glasses
Everything else carry over.

Mt Rainier:

MHW Fluid 10 Pack
MHW Wicked Lite Tee
Everything else carry over

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Teva, I mean, GoPro Mtn Games

Teva I mean, GoPro Mtn Games

Still takes some getting used to anytime a big event decides to change sponsors but uses it in their name for branding.

Each of the past three years I’ve made the pilgrimage to Vail for the Mtn Games and when you repeat events from year to year with the same flight itinerary you tend to develop habits, good or bad, and develop traditions. Take Chipotle for example. Each of the past years I’ve arrived in Denver mid-morning on Friday, rented a car and started the drive to Vail. The first year as I was passing through Denver about lunch time I got hungry, imagine that, and because I had just purchased one of the most amazing devices called an iPhone I could Google something to eat and it would tell my rental car that I still get for $7 a day to go to that place. It was amazing. It took me to Chipotle at the Youngfield exit off I70. So each year now it continues to direct my rental car to that same Chipotle. But this year a surprise was waiting for me.
Because of my connections and I know people, I was hooked up with a room at the Vorlaufer literally in Vail Village. All I had to do was buy a six pack of beer for the caretaker and my stay was on the house. Well, because I’m from Bend, beer capital of the world, I had to deliever only the finest Bend beer from Deschutes Brewery. I knew though that I could get said beer in Colorado allowing me not to check a bag or for my clothes to smell and taste like beer all weekend due to a broken six pack in my luggage. That’s how I found AppleJack.

For those not in the know, I am a self labeled notorious light-weight, meaning rarely will I have more than one beer at a time (I’m talking in like a day here) but for some reason I have this fascination with all the different ways in which you can use a single ingredient like ethanol. From Scotch, my favorite if you’d like to send any for me to test, to liquors, to beer, to well, everything, except wine, it really doesn’t do it for me. That’s why AppleJack is amazing to me. The size of a regular Walmart (I may or may not be exaggerating here) it carries only alcoholic beverages (although, and I didn’t know they even had such a thing, non-alcoholic wine). I got my said six pack of Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale and then I found an item I’ve been scouring the globe for ever since Peter Maximow introduced me to it last summer. Blackmaker is a small batch herb based root beer liquor and I have finally found it. I’m just hoping it lasts the trip home in the belly of this jet. Eh, baggage handlers. Anyway, after my ritualistic stop at Chipotle, Applejack became a new tradition.

Moving on. In past years the tradition was to rent a car that was cheap and I could potentially sleep in. This tradition was born more out of my frugalness and less for the sake of tradition though. But this year, after bumming floor space from Peter Maximow the past two years, I called him up and proactively sought floor space. Turned out he wasn’t coming but still could hook me up with Hooker, no, not A hooker. It’s a pretty sweet hook up but turns out he likes dark beer. My bad. He still let me stay.

Megan Lizotte finishing the 10k

The whole Mtn Games experience is a pretty fun weekend with concerts, athletes to watch from World Bouldering Championships to kayaking, vendor booths, and mountain films. With two running races in two days both with prize money it seemed like a great weekend of racing that first year. And each year it continues to be a place to head to at the beginning of June.

Vail Pass Half Start

Vail Pass Half

This year, and each year, I compete in the Vail Pass Half Marathon on Saturday, a mostly uphill half running from Vail Village at 8,000ft to Vail Pass at 10,600ft, and the Spring Runoff 10k is on Sunday running up and down the trails of Vail Ski Resort. The half marathon is a road race and it’s pretty gradual. I should be good at it. Problem is, it’s at high altitude. Turns out, running at altitude against guys training at altitude makes it very difficult to compete with them. It’s a lung buster. The 10k is more my bag with trails, steep ups and downs. It’s still at altitude but the technical downhills help to even things out a bit and it’s a fun course to fly down.

The 10k climbing up Vail Resort

The 10k view and tunnel

This year was no different except that Josh Eberly is in monster shape right now. He won the half on Saturday, beating out Mario Macias, king of high altitude races (I think his half PR is faster at like 10000ft than at sea level), then proceeded to trounce me on the uphills during the 10k. I caught up and passed him on several downhills only to be passed right back on the next climb. I so thought I had him. After trading places three times, I stayed close on the last climb as both of us were just about out of steam. The last long gradual downhill was where I was going to take him as we came to the finish, but he had different ideas and so did the course. Josh is a 2:12-2:14 marathoner so he’s got decent leg speed but I was catching him on the more technical downhills pretty easily. Unfortunately we were out of technical downhills though. The last long downhill was all relatively smooth downhill service road and while I was making up ground, I wasn’t making it up fast enough. He kept his lead, I ran out of steam, and couldn’t quite reel him in.

Me, not catching Josh

It was a great race and as disappointed as I am when I don’t pull out a win in a race like this, this is my favorite way to race, head-to-head, using strategy and strengths to gain advantages and pushing each other to the brink. In my career, as many races as I’ve competed in, I’ve only had a handful of these races that truly embody the spirit of really racing for me. There are a few requirements that are difficult to line up on any given day. Two, or maybe a few, racers have to be almost equal in fitness and each person has to have a willingness to race and put up a good fight against the other. It’s rare enough that these races don’t happen all that often but when they do, you know why you compete. It’s what makes competition so much fun.

The weekend in Vail is spent catching up with old friends from Colorado, lounging around Vail Village in one (or a few) of the local eateries, and watching other athletes at the top of their game. It’s a great weekend and a great outdoor festival that I would love to see other mountain towns emulate to bring athletes, events, and spectators together.

The podium

After a short and sweet awards ceremony where 1st place was handed a golden hatchet by Gerber Knives (possibly the coolest award that I’ve ever seen and of all the times not to get first, I was bummed to say the least), I headed out to explore some of the upcoming UROC 100k course being held in these parts in September. I didn’t make it very far on the course before snow prevented any forward movement so I back tracked to find another beautiful trail and ran along Gore Creek for a couple miles before deciding that I better make for the airport. My time in Colorado is generally very short but I always wish I could stay a bit longer and relish the altitude and elevation change that I can train with while there. Until next time, may your lungs sear from lack of oxygen, your nostrils dry up like a parched mud flat, and your legs scream as they fill with lactate. Ahhh, mountain running.

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Yankee Springs Trail Run

Back in February an email entered my inbox from Nick Liversedge (Midwest MHW Rep) via Mountain Hardwear that was requesting an athlete to come to Grand Rapids, Michigan in June for a little three-day race and to do a talk at the local running store. I looked at my calendar, thought a little while about a race in Michigan and didn’t have anything booked yet so I said sure. With that short exchange I found myself in Grand Rapids Michigan this past weekend answering questions such as “Why’d you come to this race?” The simple answer is because someone asked and I always take requests like that seriously and with a bit of flattery that they would actually want me to come to their race. Also of course, I’ve never been to Michigan and it would be a good opportunity to see another part of the US I hadn’t been to, meet a new corner of the trail running world, and low key local trail races always have a cool vibe that I miss just going to big competitive races sometimes.

Mostly, that’s not due to a different feel at the more competitive races but just because of me. I’m competitive and a highly competitive race changes the feel around it for me. Not to say I didn’t want to win and put in some good hard work this weekend but the expectations aren’t there in my mind and I’m free to relax a bit and not stress over whether I’ll be able to perform up to my perceived potential. In the three days of racing I put in a good hard 10k on Friday night, a moderate but harder than normal 26.2 miles on Saturday, then after two course records I figured going for a third in the Half on Sunday would be another good challenge as long as my legs came around.

But that’s not what’s important, who cares about that, it’s certainly not going to be on irunfar.com tomorrow. The locals that I was hanging out with don’t care (I don’t think), they only care whether as a professional athlete coming into their town I was a jerk or not, if I take myself too seriously, and what I do for granted. Well, I don’t think I gave them that impression; at least what I was told to my face was the opposite. For me these trips like this get back to the heart of why I started trail racing and gave up a lot of the roads and track. Why I feel more at home with a crowd that sits around on the grass after the race is over, drinks beer, and camps out in a field the night before instead of needing a hotel room. I was fortunate enough to make some new friends this weekend. Most I’ll never see again but if I do, we’ve got something in common already.

Hangin round the finish.

I love doing stuff like this. On my flight out to GR, I sat next to a pro mountain biker on his way to race and I mentioned how it’s going to be a fun weekend because I have three days of racing, camping and hanging out with trail runners. Then he says to me, “yeah, I hate hanging out with mtn bikers. I liked it for the first 10 years I was doing this. “If I ever get that kind of attitude, please, force me to retire. I know most mtn bikers are cut from the same cloth as trail runners, so I know they’re just as much fun to hang with.

I really hate to write this blog post because I feel like I’m just going to make a lot of people jealous with the weekend that I had so I’ll spare you most of the details aside from a few gastronomic details that were quite spectacular experiences.

The people of GR love trail running and they have a great community with support from Gazelle Sports, so needless to say I had a full weekend on tap. I was picked up at the airport by Byron Pittam (my excellent “handler” and MHW sports marketing guru (vote for Byron for MHW head sports marketing guy in 2013)), went for a short run from the luxurious Riverfront Hotel before being whisked away to Gazelle Sports for a talk they scheduled that evening. Gazelle has played host to numerous other pro trail runners and is a primary reason that trail running is flourishing in West Michigan. It went pretty well and I feel like I’m getting the whole speaking thing down a bit better, though the poster signing still feels weird for me.

Then we went to Stella’s. where we met up with some guys from Gazelle Sports that I also happened to meet last year at Transrockies, small world. Oh baby, that was a good burger. This was like heaven. 200+ whiskeys where the soup of the day was…whiskey. Really, whiskey. The burger was voted best in America and I, after a not that extensive search, tend to agree with them. Cool place. Great food.

Friday we ran some local trails before heading down to where the race started later that evening at Yankee Springs. Our morning run was at the local ski hill. Michigan Mountains. Huge. At least 250ft tall. I was a little intimidated coming from the west coast so I didn’t even attempt to summit that day but formidable as it was, Byron was able to make it to the top and only needed 3 donuts and some apple cider afterward before becoming coherent again.

Oh oh, this is awesome: To my amazement, GR was able to out do Portland. If you’ve seen Portlandia then you’ll know what I’m talking about. First, me, Joe (local dude) and Byron stopped at a local coffee shop straight out of Portland (ok, could be anywhere, but wait, gets better), then we head to lunch at Trillium Haven, a true farm to table restaurant owned by one of the Gazelle Sports owners. We get in and the waitress starts to tell us about the restaurant, how it’s farm to table, local ingredients, yada yada. Then not only does she know where the chicken and turkey comes from but she actually raised them, kills them herself (we even know how after the conversation turned a bit more gruesome), and brings them to the restaurant. BOOM, take that Portland. You got nothin on the Midwest. She was actually pretty hilarious about the whole thing. Great food though and really cool that stuff like that is catching on in other parts of the country.

THE restaurant that out-Portlanded Portland. Wow.

The races all started around a boy scout like camping cabins at Yankee Springs Rec Area. It was a cool setup with rustic bunk house style cabins and a central kitchen/dining area that would be a great spot for a high school running camp or trail running camp. The surrounding forests are lush rolling hills winding with smooth single track trails that take you on a dizzying tour of the woods where you quickly lose orientation, have no idea which direction is which, and find yourself just wondering if you’re actually getting anywhere or just spinning your wheels through the forest when it all begins to look exactly the same. With several turtles hanging out on the trails you also began to wonder if you were just seeing things too.

Awesome Trails.

The next morning, Saturday, was the marathon. After too little sleep and a 10k that I probably pushed too hard on after having a ton of fun flying on the banked corners of the course, the marathon felt a little harder than it probably should have. After the first loop of the 2 lap course felt like I’d been out there for several hours I came through and found out Byron decided to sleep though it. The prima donna athlete that I am I immediately had a fit like a 3 ½ yr old (trust me, I know what one looks like) and fired my “handler” on the spot. He later made it up to me by making me breakfast so I re-hired him.

Start of the weekend races - Scott Laudick

The rest of the day, after I finished of course, we hung out on the grass with a beer, nice weather, and good people to watch as the 52 milers came through the finish area on each of their 4 laps of the course. After having to do 2 laps I couldn’t imagine having to head back out for two more but there were some real troopers out there. And I found possibly the most ingenious product on the market after Swiftwick socks. 2Toms (they make anti chafe stuff) makes a product called Stink Free. There is no way that any product made my man should ever be able to take the smell out of my shoes short of burning them, because the smell is out of this world. But, I sprayed some on my shoes, or I may have just saturated them, and to my wonder and amazement, they were indeed stink free. Truly amazing. Almost as amazing as the woman that wants to date Dakota Jones. Hey, I told her I’d set her up. Consider this an introduction.

While GR might be known as Beer City USA, it’s debatable that they are better than Bend in that department. Lets call it a draw. I will admit that they do indeed have some rather delicious stouts including the Breakfast Stout from Founders that tasted like I took my morning mocha and poured a bottle of stout into it and the Dragons Milk that was so rich I had to nurse it for about 2hrs. Sad, I know, but it was good.

Sunday dawned earlier than I would have liked and I made my way out for a short warm up way too close to start time to feel like trying to run a fast half marathon. Within a half mile of the start Darin (Gazelle Employee extraordinaire) informed me that the course record was way faster than I thought I was capable of running this course on this day at 1:22. My competitive nature began to flow and I found my legs coming around to a speed that I thought might at least get me close. It was way more fun to run a course like this fast anyway so I pushed on for a good time trial. The trails this weekend were deceptively difficult and taxing. While it’s pretty flat overall the rolling nature of the hills force you to change pace every minute or so transitioning from a short grunt climb to sprinting downhill. Doing that over and over never lets you get into any kind of rhythm. Coming into the last aid station was the first time I could gauge a rough finishing time and I knew it was going to be close. Pushing it pretty hard over the last couple of miles my legs felt better than they have in quite some time so I was pretty happy to feel like some strength had returned to them after a few weeks of just feeling kind of lethargic. Crossing the finish line in 1:20:35 I was pretty happy with the weekend and the amount of work I was able to get in.

Phil, Me and Kim - Scott Laudick

My thanks goes out to Kim and Phil the RDs who invited me out and put on a cool low key trail event and Nick our Montrail Rep for making it happen. The hospitality I was shown while there from Gazelle Sports and everyone I met was amazing as it always is with the trail community.

Byron, I’m putting it out there: I will crush you in a donut eating contest, you do not want to tempt this.

Dakota, I have digits for you.

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Well Done, Mauri! An account of El Cruce Columbia.

Well Done Mauri!

A small intimate group is a nice way to spend a couple days high in the Andes. I’ll take it over a big group of very familiar faces anytime. The last couple of days have been well spent, getting to know athletes from around the world with different cultures (awkward at times) and languages (also awkward). Needless to say there were definitely a few awkward moments, and there inevitalbly always is, when you spend time out of your comfort zone. You know you’re out of any kind of comfort zone, when the time spent running feels like the only comfortable thing you’ve done over the last couple of days.
For someone that isn’t used to my bubble being invaded, having to touch cheeks with strangers in another country as the standard form of greeting certainly isn’t something you get used to in just a week. Hence the waiting faces of puckered lips hovering over me as I’m introduced to new people. Awkward! I do love the “man” shake that has replaced the standard “hand” shake though.

So, with no other Americans (that I knew) heading for Chile to El Cruce de los Andes, I knew it would be a good chance to get to know some other athletes from around the world like Iker Karrera, Francois D’haene, Anna Frost, Emma Roca, Gustavo Reyes, and Oihana Kortazar. These were the selected few that I would get to hang out with, travel with, try to use hand gestures to converse with and eat copious amounts of meat with over five days in Chile and Argentina.

Almuerza with the gang

You would think that I would be a little better at preparing for travel to another country by now but I think I’m actually regressing. Yes, as an “elite” I do have quite a few things taken care of for me on a trip like this. When the organization invites you and takes care of everything you tend to get really lax and start forgetting that you still need to think for yourself sometimes. As I’m landing in Temuco, Chile I’m just hoping and praying that there’s one of those guys with a sign that has my name on it.

The Airport in Temuco with my friend waiting inside with a sign that said "Max". Thank goodness for him.

Phew! There was. Ok, so far so good, I can at least get to Pucon, it can’t be that big and he knows where I’m going right. Errrr, “what hotel?” he asks. Oh crap, I think I remember something about Gran and I’m going to Pucon, so I say “Gran Pucon?” and he nods and says “ok, Gran Hotel Pucon.” Ahh, another disaster averted. I have got to start printing out this info before I leave. You don’t realize how much you rely on that stupid phone for this kind of stuff until you can’t use it.

Arriving at the hotel I knew this was going to be a good week. A sun drenched beach out the hotel back door, an aerobics session with dancers on the back patio, and banners for El Cruce clued me in that this wasn’t some rinky dink organization sending us out into the mountains and jungles to die. Mauricio Pagliacci would be our organizer, interpreter, and right hand man for the few days we were here and he was indispensible. As we said our good byes, I told him we couldn’t have done it without him and it was with 100% conviction that I told him that.

No explanation

The local entertainment at our hotel. Can't beat this place.

Beach view: Tropical vacation or 3-day stage race? Hmm.

I eased into day one (day before the race start) with a 1hr jog with the other runners, a little time spent on the beach, then a day lounging with not much to do but relax before the race. Not bad. There was a little lost in translation and a mild kerfluffle as us athletes that were gunning for the win and trying not to get disqualified tried to sort out the required gear list. There were no less than four different lists floating around and no one could actually tell us the official list. So we floundered with that for a while, had Mauri stressed out trying to figure it out, and 6 athletes worried about being disqualified at the end of stage one. As it turned out, with over 2000 athletes running the last thing on the organizers minds was what gear we were actually carrying and they never did check what we had.

I honestly did not know what do expect of the course, the competitors or the organization of everything so the first day I just stood back and let others take the lead. Transfer to the start line was right on time, so far so good. All the invited runners lined up on the start line for some photos (see Facebook) then with some confusion (and me following) we took off in groups up over a ramp and down over the chip mats and we were off.

Day 1 Start

Gustavo and others leading, Francois, Iker, and I following close behind. We ran a rolling rocky and sandy trail that took us around the Villarica Volcano on trails very similar to some of my summer running routes up in the Cascades. In fact, much of what we ran over the course of 3 days, aside from different plants, looked and felt very much like what I would run on a summer weekend up in the mountains around Bend. It felt like home with towering volcanoes with cinders underfoot, sandy flats, and forested trails as we came down to treeline.

Picture postcard shot

After a while on the trail I was feeling pretty confident that eventually I would be able to take the lead and not get lost. Course markings were great with flags every 100-200m. At just before 12km to go on a flat section of cinder wash I pushed past the group of five and before Francois realized it, I had broken away. He was in hot pursuit, but now that I had a break and it was a flat section of an 18 mile run, well, he didn’t really have a chance at that point. The rest of the course raced across the plateau of the volcano with crunching cinders underfoot before dropping 2000ft or so through deep jungle to the finish line. Much of the course seemed freshly cut through the forest and wound up, down, and around massive trees and rock outcroppings. We hit a quickly descending 4km double track to the finish and stage 1 was complete. 3 minutes on Francois, 4 on Gustavo, and 5 on Iker. With a good lead going into Stage 2 I could relax and make sure that all I really had to do was stay with them and not let them get away on the longer stage.

Part of the difficulty with El Cruce is the transfers. Imagine trying to coordinate getting 1000 racers from the finish line, to camp, then back to the start line in the morning. It’s a lot of work when access into the mountains is by small winding dirt roads and travel is slow. All week, Anna Frost and I would compare this race to Transrockies since that’s what we knew of stage racing and we’d both been there and enjoyed racing in the stage-racing format. We realized that these are two very different but similar events and that comparing them to each other isn’t really fair or relevant but none-the-less, we still did, and what I found was that we couldn’t conclude that one was any better than the other. Transfers here were a pain and the run-in/run-out format that Transrockies has is definitely preferred. El Cruce though changes courses each year, which is pretty cool that if I went back next year I would experience a completely different part of Chile/Argentina. This doesn’t really lend itself to always having the luxury of run-in/run-out at each camp. The camps are where you can make it work.

Camp 1

The people at both are incredible even if knowing a bit more Spanish would make El Cruce easier to figure out. What I’ve found is that whether you’re in France, Chile, or the good old USA, a trail runner is a trail runner and probably a pretty good person. Something about the suffering that everyone goes through during the day breaks down a few barriers and brings everyone a little closer in the evening. Even with a significant language barrier (I have got to learn Spanish) I had great conversations with folks from Brazil, Argentina, Columbia, Spain, etc. The same interesting and amazing stories of overcoming I hear from people at Transrockies every summer too. El Cruce camps were isolated in the wilderness which was definitely pretty cool to be completely surrounded by mountains, Transrockies has a good mix of both wilderness and city parks. Organization and trail marking, both of utmost importance is great in both events which makes both of them also bucket list events if you’re a trail runner. The only thing I wished for at El Cruce were the lounge chairs we kick back in every afternoon at Transrockies, man those are nice.

Day 2 started with a bit of confusion. With the logistics of getting everyone to the start line being what it is, at El Cruce it’s not so much a race (except when you’re and invited athlete and racer) as it is a journey, therefore, you can start whenever you want. Yup, when ever you want. With chip timing that makes it easy. If you’re trying to race, not so much. I’m off in the bushes taking care of business when Iker and most of the field take off from the start line. When I pop out Francois is there waiting for me telling me we have to get going, that everyone already started. Ok, no big deal since if we catch up to them then we’ve already got a little lead anyway, but dang, I’m not ready and so I spend two miles warming up and trying to take off a jacket and base layer and tie my shoes while not falling too far behind. I’ve got my pack in one hand while trying to take off my race jersey and my base layer with the other. Eventually I made it up to the front pack of 3 and I joined them to make it four. We ran through old growth forest with crazy trees, plants, and bamboo groves. Over streams and through alpine meadows just like at home.

Insert inspirational photo here


And tourism photo here


And postcard shot here

We popped out of the trees and into the volcanic wasteland after climbing about 2000ft with still another 3000ft to go for the day. We continued to climb up cinder slopes and across lava fields with clouds shrouding the Quetrupillan volcano. Now down to Francois, Iker and me we traveled together up to the top pass. From there it became flatter and gradually I began pulling away again. Now down, down down we went. Back through swamps, forest, across mountain streams with waterfalls, Francois chasing me and never seeing another person except for the few race volunteers out on the course. Another 3 minutes on Francois today. With 5000ft of decent I was spent. Quads shaken, hammies tight, feet soggy, muddy and sore I had a comfortable 6 minute lead going into the last stage of 18 miles.

Camp 2 was set between two towering ridgelines with rock spires reminiscent of the Ande’s to the south. Even after 25 grueling miles I was still looking for a way across the river and up to the peak. While I could very well have started up I realized that the down would be the hard part and I resigned myself to staring up at them and taking photos. Had it been the last day, I seriously probably would have tried climbing them.

Camp 2


Awesome


What to do all day at a stage race

This being Chile with an Argentinian crew, we of course had a Barasa (huge BBQ) each day and ate copious amounts of meat for both lunch and dinner. They would cook meat continuously throughout the day for the stream of people finishing. With a huge open fire pit going strong, the guys would rack meat between two grates and stand the racks up right next to the fire to let them cook. Interesting way of doing a large amount of meat. Take note.

Mmm, Meat. Fire. Smoke. Perfect combo.

Here we are, the final day. An 18 mile stage with a gradual 2500ft climb up, gradual descent, across the Argentinian border to the finish. What could go wrong? Well, Iker was about 1 min behind Gustavo at this point so these two would duke it out for third place today. Right out of the gate they began their fight to the finish. It was a road and I couldn’t keep up. After a couple miles of warming up I eventually caught back up right before the pitch turned steep and we gradually lost Gustavo to the climb. Up through the forest we climbed to tree line again. Today we got our first taste of some mountain weather as temperatures dropped and the wind howled over the barren lava fields at the top of the pass. We couldn’t see the Lanin Volcano looming to the right just over the

Iker and Francois Charging Day 3


Day 3: Chile to Argentina


Argentine border but we knew it was there. Mountain peaks were shrouded in clouds but off through the distance we had great views of the valleys below. With a nice cushion I could cruise, take some photos, and trip over some rocks. The last few miles became a road race and I gradually pulled away and ran it in to the finish.

Argentina!

Just over the Argentinian border we finished with the huge El Cruce Columbia banner overhead and the largest support/media crowd we had seen for days.

Finish line photo op


Not sure they're used to having photos taken of them.

This was quite an amazing trip and one I will not forget. A South American race has been on my list for quite some time and this will not be the last. I was glad to have the support of the great race organization to help with logistics as my very limited Spanish would not have been adequate to get all the information I needed in order to have a stress-free trip. Mauri was awesome to have around and the phrase of the week became “Well done, Mauri!” Yes, it’s an inside joke but now anytime anything goes smoothly a fist goes up and “WELL DONE, MAURI!” is sung aloud.
My thanks goes out to Mauri, the race organizers that brought us together for a more than just a race against competitors as we’re now all great friends, and of course my wife that let me out of the country with a two month old at home.

On the bus ride back through the Argentine country side toward Chile as the sun set over the mountains, the river flowed down the valley, and silence in the rattle trap bus left me alone to think I was filled with a great peace and feeling of gratitude that I was there and am fortunate enough to be able to experience the places around the world in a way that connects me to them like only running through and over them can do.

Junin de los Andes

I have to hand it to sponsors like Mountain Hardwear, Montrail, Swiftwick, and others that help make these experiences possible for me. Yeah, it’s a lot of hard work to get here but it wouldn’t be possible without some help. Gear that works makes it easy to focus on the race and experience without having to worry about what’s working and what’s not. The MHW Fluid Race Pack, Montrail shoes (of which I cannot speak), Swiftwick socks, MHW shorts, and Rudy eyewear are exceptional pieces that make it a bit easier to work on pushing harder.

New Friends

Gear List:
MHW Fluid Race Pack
MHW Ultrarefuel Short
Rudy Project Rydon II glasses
Montrail “secret” shoes
Swiftwick Aspire socks
MHW Ghost Whisperer jacket
MHW Butterman ½ Zip
MHW Butter Beanie
Hammer Nutrition Huckleberry Gel
Hammer Nutrition Bars
Reco-Fit Compression Leg Sleeves

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The Montrail Fluid Flex: A Review

By: Ellie Greenwood

First I should start this post with the note that I am decidedly not a gear freak. Second I should mention that, in all honesty, I’m not the most knowledgable on the specifics of this running shoe and that. Please don’t start throwing around words like ‘drop’, my eyes will glaze over instantaneously. I don’t read shoe reviews or eagerly await the release of new models. Bad for a sponsored runner? I don’t know, I’m too busy out running and leave the discussions of the ins and outs of all things new in the shoe world to the product designers and gear junkies. I just like a good pair of shoes; ones that get from A to B as fast and as comfortably as possible. I’m also more inclined to wear a heavier shoe than many these days, oh and did I mention that I hate trying new shoes for fear that I might have a ‘bad’ run. Yeah, I’m a little stuck in my ways.

So last week I got delivery of a pair of Montrail Fluid Flex’s which Montrail were keen I try out. They looked cool! They looked slick! But oh man, these are not like any other Montrails I’ve worn before. Was trying them out going to ‘ruin’ one training run? Hmm, I padded around in the house and to the store in them a bit, but was a little hesitant to actually go run in them. After a few days I decided to take the plunge, after all – they are running shoes so best to try them for what they were designed for. Otherwise they’re a kind of expensive pair of slippers.

The Montrail Fluid Flex are a light shoe (in this more technical report by my Montrail team mate Max King, Max notes the womens 8 weighs in at 6.1oz). They are NOT Montrail Masochists. And for you real old school peeps – they are most 100% NOT Montrail Hardrocks. The Fluid Flex are light but feel pretty squishy and spongy (yep, those are technical shoe-review terms!) Certainly the upper wraps securely around your feet but I worried that the softness on the ball of the foot might not provide enough cushioning as I was used to. So I started my run with 1.5kms of downhill – yeah, always good to try that fear of lack of cushioning on the ball of the foot with a downhill tarmac mile :)

On my first outing I ran 10km in them and would have kept them on for more but I decided to ease into them gently rather than risk pounding my legs more that they were used to (Little Miss Cautious). Last night I ran 11km in them to the start of my speed workout (which was to be 4 miles, 1 mile, 1 mile) with a spare pair of more trusted road shoes in my Mountain Hardwear Fluid 6 pack just in case. I never took the Fluid Flex off my feet and and now sure I’ll be wearing them for my first race of the year – a road half marathon in a few weeks time.

Where I’ll not be wearing these shoes any time soon is on the technical root and rock strewn trails of Vancouver’s North Shore. If you are used to a lighter and more minimalist shoe I can see some might be happy to run technical trails in the Fluid Flex but for that I’ll stick to my Montrail Bajada’s. The Fluid Flex’s are a hybrid shoe and I certainly feel 100% stoked to run on tarmac with them, and would have no hesitation on running on non-technical trails and crushed gravel paths in them. For right now, I’ll also stick to about 30km or shorter runs in them, again – if you are used to a lighter shoe I am sure they would be suited to longer runs but I’m not used to light shoes, and as I’ve said before – I’m a little cautious :)

And for all you gear junkies who can’t wait to get your hands on a pair of these, they should be on store shelves come February 1st. I can highly recommend them.

Hope you all started your training year off well. I always like to run 50km on Jan 1st and as the shower facilities were closed it seemed sensible to rinse off in the Pacific.

UPDATE: Ellie set a personal best at the “First Half” half marathon in Vancouver wearing the Montrail Fluid Flex! Congrats Ellie!

Read more on Ellie’s Blog, Trail Running Tales.

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Red Hot 50k

I just did it! I am now signed up the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, Europe’s premier 100-mile race. I started the race in 2011 but dropped out shortly after halfway. My season had been long and I was out of condition, both mentally and physically, to run 100 miles around Mont Blanc. In retrospect I should have finished the race, no matter how long that took, but I was miserable and decided to drop out instead. That won’t happen this year. No, in 2013 I will be primed to not only finish UTMB, but to finish well. And to do that I need to start getting into shape early, and I’m going to do that the only way I know how: by running a 50k six months prior. That’s right – the Red Hot 50k.

The Red Hot 50k is just one of a host of early season ultras that have become more popular as the race schedule has become longer. Founded in 2006, the Red Hot runs through some of the most scenic trails just outside of world-renowned Moab, Utah. Nowhere on Earth is quite like Moab. It’s a land of paradoxes: a barren landscape that fosters life; a desert characterised by water. And it’s a land that is always changing – what was once a lifeless desert turned into a mining mecca and then morphed into a mountain biking and jeeping paradise and now is a combination of all those and more. Moab epitomizes outdoor sports with its trails, its unique landscape, its outdoor culture and the endless possibility for adventure provided by the great expanse of wilderness right outside one’s door. In other words, Moab is the perfect place to hold an ultramarathon.

The Red Hot 50k holds a special place in my heart. I grew up in Moab, and though I didn’t start running ultras until I moved to Durango, Colorado at the age of fifteen, my first two races were in Moab. The Red Hot in 2009 was my second-ever ultra, a landmark race for me because I had the experience of one race behind me, but the gusto of a novice in competition. I managed to squeeze out a fifth place behind such legends (in my eyes at least) as Karl Meltzer and Dave Mackey. Since then I have run the race every year except 2012, when I just sort of went climbing instead while all my friends ran the race. I even won the race in 2011. But the results have become less important for me than the experience. The fact that the race is in Moab means I get to go home for the race, something I almost never get to do with the kind of race schedule I have had lately. And the fact that the race is early in the season means that people are more relaxed. Positions aren’t unimportant, surely, but neither is this the uber-competitive UTMB. Everyone – friends, all of us – just goes for a pretty long hard run. It’s about getting into shape and having a good run in the desert more than anything.

The course certainly provides a solid amount of desert viewing. It begins on the Gemini Bridges trail, which takes runners right into the heart of the backcountry. We then take a large loop to the north, ascending an anticline that at its top reveals incredible views of Arches National Park and the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park. The next section of the trail weaves across the Poison Spider Rim on the Golden Spike trail, providing magnificent views of the Lasal Mountains, the Colorado River and the town of Moab itself. Finally, the course connects into the Poison Spider trail for a fast finish across the mesa and down to the river. The best part comes next: beer. And a party at my house. And perhaps a swim in the river if you haven’t had enough suffering for the day.

When the time comes to run UTMB, I am going to be standing on the start line with clearcut attrition on my mind. But next weekend I’m going to be at the start line of the Red Hot 50k shaking hands and talking to people when the gun goes off and surprises us all. Then I’ll run as hard as I can and just try to get back into the motions of racing after not competing since the Hasetsune Cup in Japan in early October. The sport of ultrarunning is many-faceted, and I try to make the most of each facet. One of those primary facets is to have a good time, so next weekend at the Red Hot, that’s what I’ll be doing. And I won’t be alone. If you get the chance to come out for the race, make sure to stop by and say hello. This is an exciting time to be an ultra runner.

-Dakota Jones

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