Thursday, September 10, 2015

Rut 50k & Beyond

Elissa & I flew up to Bozeman and met up with the Schulte's at the Big Sky Resort before the race.

Idyllic setting for a Skyrunning event

Mike Wolfe bugles on his elk call and we're off.
photo by Myke Hermsmeyer

My knee had been pretty tender and temperamental in the weeks leading up to race and it flared up the day before the race on Erik and I's 4 mile shake out/cheering 25k racers.  I stretched a bit the night before the race, put a hand warmer on the knee the morning of the race and hoped for the best.  Surprisingly, the knee withstood all the rocks, 10,000' of climbing and 10,000' of descending on the course.

Up & over Headwaters Ridge, then Lone Peak
Saw a lot of Hoka Speedgoat's on the mountain, four of them here making their way down Headwaters Ridge.
photo by Dom Grossman

If my knee held up, I thought I was in sub 6 hour shape for this race, which would put me right around the top 10 in years past.  I finished in 5:59 and 12th place, 2 minutes out of the top ten.  While finishing in the top 10 at a competitive race like this would have been 100x cooler than finishing 12th, I'm still happy with my race.  It wasn't an A race for me (but should have been), I didn't toe the line in my best shape, but I was in decent shape, and these mountains and this type of course inspire me.  I paced myself well and had a blast.

Cruising over a graupel covered bridge in the early cruiser miles around the resort base.
photo by Meghan Hicks
After Hardrock back in July and some backpacking adventures in the Sierra's, my brain has constructed a governor for my speed, making it feel a bit unnatural to spin the wheels as fast as I should for a 50k.  Putting in some faster training runs prior to the race helped loosen up the governor a bit, but it's still there.

The Rut was an awesome event and I highly recommend it to people who appreciate big mountains, and aren't afraid of rocks.  I liked the energy of the event, tons of spectators, cowbells, hundreds of runners in each event every day, and the international field.  Little local races in majestic mountains are more of my "thing" but the atmosphere at races like the Rut are very cool to immerse oneself into.  It's easy to feed off all the energy around you and use it to fuel yourself up, over and around the mountains.  In addition to the Schulte's, we got to hang out with Andrejs Galienks, Dom Grossman, Katie Desplinter and I met Luke Nelson before he ran to a speedy 7th place finish in 5:47.  Good company.

Now what?  I'm going to take a couple weeks off then destroy this flimsy speed regulating relationship that is presently existing between my brain and my legs.  I think I'll jump into a fast road marathon, run a PR, then carry this newfound speed into training for the North Face 50M in December.

Hopefully I can arrive at the starting line of North Face better primed and feed off the competition and hype of that event and see if I can't surprise myself with what I'm capable of.  I feel like I have a lot of untapped potential that I'm slowly unraveling.  It is time to turn into a lean, mean running machine and work my way to the runner I want to become, gone are the days of showing up to work and polishing off half a dozen donuts.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Hardrock 2015 Race Report

Arriving Early

In late June, Elissa and I drove out to Lake City. She and my friend, Erik Schulte, ran San Juan Solstice 50M.  We hung around Lake City for a couple days and I checked out three beautiful 14'ers: Uncompahgre, Redcloud and Sunshine.

View from Uncompahgre peak, the highest point in the San Juan's

We made our way to Silverton and camped mostly until race day.  Friends and family came, we experienced the magic of the San Juan's and race day came.

Dinner at the Teller House

Start to Cunningham

I was excited to start the race finally and jumped ahead of everyone.  Then I settled into a comfortable pace through the flat beaver damn filled flats with Adam Campbell and Killian Jornet.  Once we hit the first climb those two pulled ahead and some others caught up.  After making it over Little-Giant Pass with its fresh dusting of snow, we made our way down the steep descent to the aid station below:

The descent to Cunningham Gulch.  Little-Giant Pass on the right.
If you look closely you can see switchbacks to the right of the creek.
I passed Iker on the way down and was having a great time.  Seeing my parents, in-laws and friends at the aid station pumped me up a bit:


Cunningham to Sherman

I was quickly passed by Mike Foote then Iker Karrera on the stiff climb up to Green Mountain.  After winding across Stoney Pass and sliding down a cornice I pulled into Maggie Aid Station and shortly after Pole Creek AS.  Brendan Trimboli and Troy Howard passed me on the gradual climb to Cataract Lake but I passed them on the smooth descent to Sherman AS.

Sherman to Grouse

Troy and Brendan left the AS before I did.  I caught Troy on the road up to Burrow's Park AS and the trailhead for Handie's, but Brendan remained just out of reach.  Once we hit the trailhead and real climb, Brendan put more time on me.  It was sunny, then it started snowing and Troy passed me before the peak.

I caught up to both of them just as we reached Grouse Gulch AS:

Brendan Trimboli, Troy Howard and I arriving to Grouse together
photo: Dom Grossman

Grouse to Ouray

My first pacer, Eric Wickland, and I hiked/ran up to Engineer Pass.  It rained and hailed on us as we made our way down the fun muddy route that made its way to the rocky canyon of Bear Creek.

Bear Creek Trail a couple days before the race
Arriving in Ouray with Wickland
photo by Chamoun

Ouray to Chapman

My friends and family helped me eat a bit of food, change socks, throw my pack on and hit the Camp Bird Rd. and Eric Schulte began pacing me up the longest climb on the course.

photo by Chelsea Ryan
Iker had left the AS just before us and we could see him ahead of us on the way up to Governor's Basin AS, but did not catch him.  We did pass Adam just before the aid, and Troy caught us at the AS and left before us.  A couple miles later it got dark and the headlamps were turned on.  The dirt road ended and we scrambled up the steep, snowy route to Virginius Pass.  The final pitch had well formed steps kicked into soft snow and a rope available to help pull oneself up to Kroger's Canteen at the top.  Adam, myself, Iker, Troy and our pacers were all making our way up this pitch at the same time.  I sat down and scarfed a few Perogi's and made my way down the Mendota Ridge.  Thanks again for everything Roch!  Short video about Kroger's Canteen Aid Station here at Virginius Pass.

Halfway down the descent we passed Adam and continued to drop down the mountain in the dark.

Telluride to Chapman

Eric and I made our way through the city streets of Telluride to the AS, Elissa handed me a Redbull and excitedly told me that Troy just left a couple minutes ago.  I grabbed a handful of chips and headed out with Schulte, en route to Oscar's Pass.  I was feeling okay up the first half of the climb.  It started raining and my foolish decision to remove my waterproof jacket from my pack came to bit me in the ass.  Nausea set in and I wasn't able to eat much, then I pulled over and puked in the aspen and Adam passed me, offering words of encouragement.  I was still nauseous and didn't eat much for a long time.  I could tell that I needed to, especially since I was wet, cold and had no energy.

It started to snow and I became more tired, cold and light headed.  Schulte and I weaved back and forth across the creek, making our way up the basin under the pass until we hit a lot of snow on the ground.  My brain was fuzzy at this point, so I don't recall a lot.  I do remember post-holing waste deep in snow, not seeing markers anywhere, my pole breaking, and seeing headlamps spread out in the basin scanning in every direction.  Guys were yelling out to each other, "Donny... where are you?!"  "Over here, I think I found it!" "Hey!!!!!!, heyyyyyy!!!!!!!"  "What's it like over there?!"  It was dark and the snow flurry limited our visibility a bit.  We could make out the top of the basin, but without markers and with tracks in the snow going every which way, it was tricky to locate the correct pass and how to get there.  In the middle of our wandering, Troy Howard came out of nowhere and pointed us in the right direction.  I'm lucky that my pacer is an uber tough mountain man that helped navigate the way over the pass and steep icy snow on the other side.  I told him I was in bad shape and he started singing Beyonce, Brittany Spears and Neil Young to me to lift my spirits.  At the time I didn't think about it much, but in retrospect, I can't believe that my hair hippy friend knows every word to Beyonce's, "To the Left."

I moved like a sloth from halfway up Oscar's, all the way down to Chapman AS.  Hardrock broke me here.  I have never felt so depleted in a race or any other outdoor activity for that matter.  I was mentally gone.  I sat in a chair, asked for blankets, ate food and whined to my wife and friends.  29 minutes later I finally got up and made my way towards Grant Swamp Pass with my new pacer Mike Chamoun.

Chapman to KT

I warned Mike that this was going to be a long slog to the finish.  My soul had been crushed.  Shortly after leaving the AS we saw Iker and his pacer Gary Robbins catching up to us.  They were close enough for me to chat a bit with them, then we hit the steep scree field at the bottom of Grant Swamp Pass and I pulled away from Iker, but looking back I could see another pair of headlights close behind him.  Later I learned that this was 6th place finisher Brandon Stapanowhich.

The sky began to lighten just enough to make out Island Lake below the pass and my brain began to regain function.  My quads didn't feel as sore any more and I was able to run downhill a little faster again.

Island Lake from Grant-Swamp Pass

KT to Finish

Despite my disbelief, Mike told me I was doing great, and he encouraged me repeatedly.  After a couple hours of this I finally started to believe him.  He mixed a little cola into my water bottle at KT AS and we took off for the final climb of the course.  We ascended above tree line, then over Cataract-Porcupine pass where a couple campers told us that Troy was 10 minutes ahead and Adam 13 minutes in front of him.  Damn, with 10 miles left I didn't think there was enough real estate to catch Troy, he's finished 2nd here twice after all.

Chamoun and I quickly traversed over to the base of Putnam-Cataract Ridge and I could see Troy and his pacer Donny 8 minutes ahead.  I slowly inched my way up this final climb, soaking in the beauty around us.

photo by Chamoun

I folded my poles up and they pain I felt in my legs didn't matter as we ran down the Bear Creek Trail, because I knew this was the final descent on the course.  The Putnam AS volunteers said Troy was 3 minutes ahead.  When I caught up to him I asked if he wanted to run in the last 4 miles or so together.  He help me find my way over Oscar's Pass and saved me a lot of time and frustration, when I was a hot mess.  If it weren't for this I'm sure he would have finished in front of me.  He insisted that I run on ahead so I did.

I knew Adam was probably too far ahead to catch, but since my brain had the capacity to race again I figured I ought to put it to use.  I ran as hard as I could all the way to the finish but Adam finished 3 minutes ahead of me.  While it is a little hard to digest finishing just off the podium, I couldn't have asked for more of the run.  Leap-frogging with Troy, Adam, Brandon and Iker all day was awesome.  Getting to share the journey with them added a lot to the experience.  It's not everyday that you get to pass and get passed by competitors so frequently while running a hundred miler.

Adam giving me a high five in the chute
photo by Chelsea Ryan

Thank You

My mind is still trying to process our trip into the San Juan's this summer.  My wife ran a great San Juan Solstice race that I got to pace her in.  My friend Erik had to drop from the race unfortunately, but he and his wife Jessica hung out with us there in Lake City and then crewed/paced/hung out in Silverton with us as Hardrock approached.

Along with the Schulte's I've got to thank Eric Wickland and Chamoun for the crewing and pacing they did, the Ryan's for hanging out in Silverton and cheering me on at aid stations, my parents and Elissa's parents for coming out to support us as well.  My crew chief and wife, Elissa, worked extra hard this year to help revive me in the wee hours of the morning at Chapman, thank you.

Race organizers and volunteers put in countless hours, making this dream a realty for myself and other runners.  As I made my way through the aesthetic route that is the course, up and down mountains of huge scale, blanketed with wildflowers, I felt like I was in a fairy tale.  The sights and emotions experienced at Hardrock hardly seem real.


The competitive side of me is embarrassed that I shit the bed so to speak above Telluride.  But I also know that I'm tougher from that experience and am growing from it.  After finishing 4th in my two runs at Hardrock, I know I've got what it takes to reach the podium and I can't wait to throw my name in the lottery for next year.  Another side of me doesn't really care about when I finished or how many people were before me.  I am fortunate to have been given the chance to participate and what I saw and felt over the span of 26 hours and 52 minutes was incredible (finishers list).  I eagerly await the opportunity to reunite with the Hardrock family next year, wether I am running, pacing, crewing, or volunteering.


Shoes: Speedgoat's by Hoka One One.  The perfect shoe for Hardrock and big mountain running.  The Vibram outsole with its aggressive lugs worked flawlessly in the mud, snow, creeks and rocks.

Socks:  Drymax 1/4 crew Trail Running.  I had 0 blisters on my feet after 100 wet miles.

Sunglasses: Julbo Blast's with Zebra Light lenses.  Comfortable frames and perfect lenses for conditions ranging from sunny to dark.

Recovery:  I pounded a bottle of FLUID Recovery after the long descent into Grouse and Ouray.  My quads were feeling beat up and I wanted to feed them.  Hours later I was able to hammer the downhills again.