Monday, April 21, 2014

100 Miles of Istria Race Report

Motovun Aid Station
“Don’t chase them. Let them go!” admonished Greg at the Plomin AS (17 km). I was stressed and anxious as I could not fathom how quickly the lead runners were moving along a surprisingly technical trail. Within the first mile of the start, my race strategy of hanging on to the lead pack as long as possible had evaporated as I counted 10 runners ahead of me. Clearly I was out of my league trying to race in Europe.

I had signed up for the 100 miles of Istria trail race several months ago needing some trails, a racing goal and an adventure:


The course crosses the Istrian peninsula in Croatia, from Labin to Umag. Elevation gain is 22,000 feet with an actual distance of 167km (103 miles).  The race starts at 5:00 pm so the first half of the race is run through the night. To assist in the effort and share in the adventure, Greg Norrander had graciously offered to crew.

I left Plomin and worked on following Greg’s advice. I tried to find my own pace and run my own race. I had underestimated the difficulty of the course – both in terms of the steepness of the ascents/descents, and the rocks. There was just no running fast for me as every step had to be carefully placed to avoid rolling an ankle, falling – or both. At Poklon AS (41K) I had worked myself up to 3rd place, yet I was 45 minutes behind the lead runner. The fact that this guy was running 2 minutes a mile faster than me across this terrain had me completely in awe.

The night went by quickly. The experience was familiar to US trail races in many ways such as the AS volunteers who had hiked into remote aid stations and were sitting around a fire manning an aid station in the wee hours of the morning, or volunteers standing on the top of peak administering a checkpoint and doing their best to encourage me on in English once they learned I was American. Yet the experience was foreign in that the aid station offerings of bread, pastries and bananas was leaving me unfilled (since I am celiac I could only eat the bananas) and I felt like I was imposing on the race not being able to communicate with the volunteers in Croatian or Italian.

At Buzet AS (82KM) it was reported that I was now 30 minutes behind the leader and 10 minutes behind second place. If this information was correct I was now moving faster than the two people in front of me. I tempered my expectations knowing the quality of this information is often suspect. Within a few miles of the aid station I suddenly saw a headlight floundering through a river crossing. Either this crossing was more difficult or treacherous than previous crossings, or this guy was running sloppy. As I caught up to him on the other side he looked worked. As we began the climb out of the valley I had renewed energy. I was able to pull away from him on the long gradual climb to Hum AS (95KM).

Hum - Smallest Town in the World
I ran into Hum, considered to be the smallest village in the world (population 17) and quickly filled my handheld with Coke, grabbed a banana and was on my way. I was informed that the first runner had left 20 minutes earlier. I pushed hard on the descent and wondered how many more descents I had left. Living and training in Rome had me ill prepared for the climbing and descending and I could tell my quads would be what might fail me. As I ran into Draguc (103KM) the first light was breaking and I could see Greg standing on the road into the village waiting for me. As I got to the aid station I saw someone lying on the ground. Greg responded to my quizzed face and said, “… he came in about 10 minutes ago and just lied down and hasn’t got up.” Greg ran me through the drill filling up my water pack and giving me a fresh inventory of gels and bars, as I was changing into dry socks the church bells above us began ringing to announce the 6:00 am hour. We laughed as we both said at the same time, “time to go!”

Entering Motovun Aid Station
Now that it was light I figured out the rhythm. Aid stations were generally villages on the tops of hills. From each aid station I would look for the next church or castle on the top of a hill and I knew were I would be going next. I was surprised at how steep the ascents and descents were. I had to start holding back on the descents as I could feel my quads going. On the flats and climbs I felt strong.

The course is a diverse mix of mountain trails, old walled roads and pathways hundreds of years old, and footways through farms and vineyards. It is one of the most interesting and varied courses I have ever run. And, I would add the most technically challenging.

As the course works its way towards the sea in Umag the climbs became less extreme and there where long runnable sections were I felt good and was able to make good time. It felt good to be running fast at the end of a 100. I began to catch the 100K runners. Seeing a runner in the distance and chasing them down helped pass the miles and the time

2'nd Place Male Paolo Massarenti of Italy
I came into Umag and crossed the finish line in 20:31. I was pleased with the effort and knew that it was probably as good of a race as I could have run living and training in Rome. It had been a most amazing adventure both visiting and racing in Croatia, and being able to share the experience with Greg.

Finish Line in Umag

Bravo to RD Alen Paliska and all the volunteers for one of the best-organized races I have ever participated in. Specifically, the course markings were the best I have ever seen, bar none! Kudos to Nancy Aburto, my colleague from work who placed 3rd place women in the 65K. And a big thanks to Greg for coming from very far away to drive the Fiat Panda from village to village crewing me. Unfortunately the many great photos that he took were lost on a damaged card

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Power of Four Skimo Race Report 2014

"Put on every layer you have you're going to need it" yelled the ski patroller over the roaring wind and snow as I made my way past him. We had just made the decision to go up the ridge to Highland Peak at 12,392' rather than take the detour option and dropping into the bowl 1,000' lower. My fingers were balled up into fists inside my wet gloves and I had already pulled my buff up over my nose for some extra protection. The extra layer I had brought for my core had already been put on about 10 minutes prior. This was getting serious. I looked back at Mark and he asked me if I was okay, "everything but my hands" I yelled over the 60+mph wind. "Just keep them close to your chest" he yelled back. I turned back to the ridge and looked up at the tiny black specks that the racers in front of us had become, intermittently dotting the way to the summit a mile away. Then I put my head down and started marching forward with my skis attached to my pack.

The Power of Four skimo race in Aspen Colorado travels up and down through the four Aspen ski resorts. The race is unique because it is a teams event meaning you must complete the 25 mile, 12'000' vertical gain course with a teammate. I had no plans to race it this year until my friend Mark Christopherson contacted me 8 days prior to the start and while I was little reluctant at first, I figured it would be a good challenge. There is no race bigger than this in the USA in terms of vertical gain.
Power of Four route from Snowmass to Aspen, download KML
One of the biggest storms of the season began in the early morning hours and was dumping heavy wet snow down low at Snowmass with several inches accumulating at the higher elevations. The 6am start was pushed back to 6:30 because of the weather and avalanche control work.  Eventually the nerves were put to rest and 50+ teams of two headed up the hill 2x2 for our first climb of 3,000'. We hit the top of Snowmass in about 70 mins, quickly transitioned to ski mode and started descending the out of bounds ridge toward Buttermilk. The ridge we were on required one more short ascent before we reached the top of Buttermilk. The descent was rather quick through the resort and before I knew it I was skating a slight uphill grade on a walking path to the next checkpoint.
Power of Four Profile
Everything was still going smooth at this point except the gloves I had started with were completely soaked through to the point that I could wring the water out of them. At the checkpoint aid station I pulled out my dry pair of gloves as Mark gave me 3 Clif Bloks that I promptly crammed in my mouth. At this point we were almost 9 miles in and we had covered 3,200' vert. The climb in front of us would be the monster of the day gaining 4,500' over 4 miles and also the steepest in terms of grade. The mild weather down low slowly gave way to cooler temps and increased wind the higher we climbed. As we neared the top of Aspen Highlands and past the top chairlifts the wind was at least a steady 40mph. Mark and I sought shelter in a small group of trees to get our extra layers on before attempting the Highland Bowl ridge. Leaving the shelter of the trees my core and feet were fine but my hands were completely frozen and felt dead.

Just as we were leaving the ski area boundary someone from the ski patrol told us we had the option of not climbing the ridge and instead taking a shortcut into the bowl. Had I been on my own and this was an individual race I would have taken the safer route but after I looked back at Mark I knew we would heading up that nasty looking ridge.

I passed the guy warning us about the conditions on the ridge with a singular focus to get up and get down quickly. My goggles were useless as they were frozen inside and out so I was forced to squint in order to find my way and I carried my poles sandwiched between my upper arm and chest. Soon I started passing a few people and it invigorated me to charge even faster. I quickly glanced back and  found I was leading a small group of 6 or 8 us. Then with about a half mile to go a gust of wind hit me so hard I fell to my knees. The wind was now a steady 60 mph and gusting past 70. My buff had been pushed down off my face and hung uselessly around my neck. The gust lasted for a good 15 or 20 seconds before I struggled to my feet and continued upward to the peak.Three more times I would get knocked down and in that instant everyone around me would disappear in the white out conditions. This felt like true mountaineering but I was poorly dressed for such endeavors and reminded myself, up, down, quickly.

What felt like an eternity probably took us around 30 minutes to reach Highland Peak. Once there I struggled to get my skis off my pack, unable to use my fingers. Now that I wasn't moving I was starting to get cold and I knew it was serious. With the skis finally on the ground I clipped into the first one and then pushed my toe into the binding of the second ski and it wouldn't clamp on to the boot. I tried several times in frustration until Mark came over to help me. Ice had become jammed in the toe piece and the binding wouldn't fully close We both started desperately jamming the tips of our poles at the toe for a few seconds before I tried it again. I held my breath and pushed my toe into the binding. SNAP. It worked. Within seconds we pushed off and started skiing 42 degree, powder filled bowl.

Had I been warmer and not concerned about my hands I would have enjoyed the fresh powder and face shots more but I really needed to get down in a hurry, so that's what we did. Back at the base we skinned up for a short flat section to the Congo trail. Mark got ahead of me slightly before I stepped right out of my ski, the toe piece was still giving me trouble and after several frustrating minutes I figured it out.

Next up was the infamous Congo trail which doubles as a mountain bike trail in the summer. Picture a bobsled track on a 25 to 30 degree slope with trees lining each side. Not exactly the descent I was looking forward to after 5 hours and 9k vert in the legs but I made it down pretty much unscathed.

At the bottom I quickly transitioned for the final climb of the day up Midnight Mine road. I had read about this climb and everyone said it was just demoralizing as hell. Well, they were right. It's not the fact that it gains 3,000', what makes it so terrible is that it is 5 miles long. I've never skinned such a low angle for so long. Mark finally broke out the tow bungee and I gladly snapped it on, happy to receive a little help so close to the end. After about an 1hr 45mins of climbing we had one long descent through the Aspen resort left. The groomer we started out on fooled me into thinking it might be easy, but that quickly changed as we followed the flags under the "Experts Only" sign. I did my best to hold it together and keep Mark in sight and after 20 mins of descending we crossed the line in 7hrs 40mins. Not quite the race we were hoping for but I was still satisfied with the effort.

Out of the 47 teams that completed the Highland Bowl route we finished 27th overall (Full Results). I want to thank Mark for his patience and support with helping me finish this adventure. Also, the skis he is responsible for developing, the Voile Wasatch Speed Projects, were absolutely amazing. If you're looking for a durable, lightweight ski that is affordable you should definitely check them out.
Next up, the Wasatch Powderkeg, then I should start thinking about running...

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Movie Night!

Last summer a good friend of mine accomplished something utterly amazing, traveling from Durango to Denver in a little over 8 days and breaking the record for the Colorado Trail. Scott Jaime is the guy I'm talking about and his adventure was captured by Matt Trappe. If you have been running Ultra's for any amount of time you already know what a great guy Scott is and if you haven't seen Matt's photography well then you are missing out (check his site if you don't believe me).
Running the Edge - The Colorado Trail

There are two showings for us in Utah along the Wasatch Front, Ogden and Salt Lake City. For other showings check Matt's site.

Scott and Matt will both be on hand and there will be plenty of schwag given away. Don't miss out on a great night!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Brighton New Year’s Day Pentathlon

My "go-to mountain" - Mt. Millicent

I’ve been back in Brighton over the Christmas/New Year's break indulging myself in all sorts of fun winter mountain activities; skate skiing, tele-skiing, running, snowshoeing and snowboarding. To welcome 2014 I thought it would be fun to combine all five activities into a New Year’s Day celebration.

My celebration started at 6:00 am with a run from Brighton over Guardsman’s Pass to Deer Valley and back with speedster Kevin Schilling. It’s great to have friends who think the best way to welcome a new year is with an early morning run. (15 miles)

Next was tele-skiing on perfect corduroy after catching the first chair on Millicent. A number of high-speed laps were just what I needed to get a good case of Bernina legs. (8.5 miles)

After a quick switch into snowboard boots I was back on Millicent. This was my first time on the board this year and the first run was a bit shaky. But, just like never forgetting how to ride a bike – the board and I once again became one. (8.5 miles)

I was looking forward with great enthusiasm to event #4 – skate skiing. If I had to choose only one sport I could do for the rest of my life, my choice would be skate skiing. I enjoy the total workout – legs, arms, and core. But more so, I find that the rhythm and motion allow my head to go to that other place that I so like to visit. (17 miles)

And for the final event of the day, snowshoeing with my kids. Yeah, it took some arm-twisting and even the promise of a few post snowshoeing beers, but they joined me for a wonderful late afternoon jaunt through the woods (3 miles)

And for fun symbolism – the day added up to 52 miles of ground covered – my age on this first day of January 2014!

All-in-all a most enjoyable day and hopefully some good prep for several running events in early 2014 including the Treviso Marathon outside of Venice, Italy in February where I would like to run a sub 3:00. And then on April 11 the 100 miles of Istria trail race in Croatia. I’m feeling healthy and strong and have high hopes for doing well at this race across the Istrian Peninsula. While it is only January, I’m feeling healthy and strong, and am confident this could be a good running year for me.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Grandeur Fun Run 2014

The 7th annual Grandeur Fun Run will be held Saturday May 17, 2014.
See sidebar to the right for details.

See you there!!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving Prep

This is pretty much how it's been in my kitchen today.

Monday, November 25, 2013

SkiMo and finding my mojo

Wow, it's been a while since I've done a post. I suppose I've been feeling a little uninspired since the Wasatch 100 that wasn't. I was one of the many that failed to finish this year's run and while I could make many excuses it was my own fault. Something I learned from this year; if I'm going to put high expectations on myself then I also have to be able to deal with it when it doesn't work out. Which brings me to the reason for this post: SNOW and the MOUNTAINS! If you want to skip to what I'm about to write about got to: UTAHSKIMO.ORG

After Wasatch I took some time off before turning my attention to new mountain activity for me, SkiMo. I wrote about this last year after I jumped in the deep end and ended up having a great time. Now I have a little more experience and I want more of you to join me. I want to make it clear that I am in no way an authority on ski touring or SkiMo, I just have a blast participating in it and learning a wealth of information along the way. SkiMo is short for Ski Mountaineering and is basically a race on the snow, up a hill, back down, repeat often.

First you must choose your gear. Alpine touring gear is the current fast gear but you can use anything you want except full nordic gear (cross country, skate or classic) tele skis, or split boards were seen often last year. Next you need a little bit of fitness so that once you get up the hill you can ride back down.

Up until 2 years ago there was basically one race here in the Salt Lake valley that one could participate in if they were into moving fast across the snow. That race is the Wasatch Powder Keg, which has been around for many years and this year it will be the North American Championship race. In addition the Keg we have a full series of races that are set in a low key, affordable environment. Thanks to the enthusiasm of Chad and Emily Brackelsberg, Andy and Jason Dorais, Jared Inouye, as well as many other volunteers we have 8 races leading up to the Powder Keg in March. The Wasatch Citizen Series. What started as a few folks showing up on Tuesday evenings at Brighton, turned into steady turnout with 40 to 100 people showing up regularly last year. Why? Because it's fun, the people that show up are friendly (many you will recognize from trail running) and there's no pressure. Visit UTAHSKIMO.ORG to learn more.

What to expect:
The races are at Brighton ski resort, mostly in the evening starting at 7pm, ending at ~9pm, hang out at Molly Green's afterwards for prize drawings and getting know friendly folks.
Full avy gear is not necessary so don't worry about a pack (this is required for the Powder Keg though). Bring a headlamp even though we are often getting light from the night ski runs. You'll also need a helmet. I would suggest a bike helmet if you don't have a skimo specific helmet, a normal ski helmet will be way too hot. Many people bring a heavier jacket to the start/finish area and leave it there. Don't overdress, just like running you will generate a lot of heat going uphill. The courses are generally quite short, about 10 to 15 mins up, focusing on the transitions from up to down and back again. There are usually two categories, Race and Heavy Metal. Race is for light gear, Heavy Metal is for more mainstream touring gear. Go as fast or slow as you want nobody is keeping track and there are no results.

Last year the greatest benefit was all the new friends I made. Side benefits included gaining some fitness with an activity other than running and last but not least, faster transitions. Hope to see you out there.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Ultra-running Foot Maintenance – Fish Exfoliation

Most of us have experienced it - feet damaged by the miles, the wet, and even sometimes an ill-fitting shoe. While we might be proud of the miles we can cover, the races we have finished, and the friendships hours on the trail have created – it has likely come at the expense of having beautiful feet.

Lest you despair and think that beautiful feet and ultra-running are incompatible, let me give you hope. I was recently in Northern Cambodia and heard rumors of fish that ate the dead skin off one’s feet. At first I thought it was just another crazy travelers tale, but upon hearing about “the fish that eat dead skin” from several sources I went in search. You see, I’m a seeker and I want beautiful feet!

We’ll I found the fish and gave it a try. $1.00 for 30 minutes. What did I have to loose other than perhaps my toes. When I dipped my feet into the tank they were swarmed by the small fish. The Cambodian owner of the fish said “You feet really dead. Fish like very much!” Nice, I’ve always wanted feet that were attractive to somebody, or in the absence of somebody, something….

A rather interesting experience… I could feel little bites on my feet as the fish nibbled away at the dead skin. I was glad they liked my feet, yet wondered if their gluttony was a deadly sin in the aquatic world. Would they be punished for the good they were doing to my feet?

Without giving too much thought to the fate of the gluttonous fish, I awoke the next morning to noticeably softer feet. Hmmm, I thought to myself – might there be a market for selling trail-running and foot fish exfoliation travel packages to Cambodia??

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Bear 100-2013 by Erik

"No, he can't have a ride!!  If he gets a ride or receives any help, he's disqualified!!"

I had just rolled my ankle and was lying face down in the dirt cursing the rocks, the rutted dirt road, the cold, my weak ankle, and the 30+ miles I still needed to run to finish the Bear 100. When I heard Greg yell these words at the hunters on 4-wheelers that kindly offered their help after witnessing my fall, I knew that there was no way I was dropping.  I'd have to break an arm or lose a limb to convince Greg that I was done.  The hunters drove off fairly bewildered, and Greg compassionately (but firmly) offered me a hand to get up and then informed me that we would walk the last mile to the Logan River Aid Station for my ankle to "swell up enough to stabilize", and then the break was over.

Typically, by the time I reach the finish line of the Wasatch 100, I'm done with running and training for the year.  I'm wiped out mentally and physically and look forward to some mellow days in the September woods.  This year, as soon as I finished Wasatch, I felt like somehow there was unfinished business to take care of, and started contemplating running the Bear.  When the opportunity came up to run, I took the bait and found myself at the start line just 3 weeks after finishing Wasatch.  My training in between was  pretty minimal.  I think I logged 50-60 miles in the interim, and I was optimistic as to how the day would unfold.

I started pretty slow, with runners streaming by on both sides as we made our way through the subdivision leading to the first of the single track.  I chuckled as the grade increased and commented to someone that if this was trail, we would be hiking instead of running.  With that thought, I slowed to a fast hike, and looked ahead to the next 99 miles.  It was overcast, in the 30's with a forecast of snow and rain showers until late afternoon and then clearing skies and temperatures dropping to the low 20's throughout the night.  It would be a perfect day in the September mountains!!

A great start to the day.

Logan Peak Aid Station

For the first 20 miles or so, I felt relatively good, although I could tell that my legs were lacking the "springiness" typically felt this early in a race.  Somewhere just after the Logan Peak aid station, I came to a 4 way intersection while running with a shirtless Kendrick ? from Colorado.  No shirt, snowing, in the 30's.  Seriously??  Anyway, the intersection wasn't marked at all.  Nothing.  We took what seemed to be the the best option, and after 5 minutes of no markers, found ourselves at the end of the road at the edge of a cliff.  Wrong way.  This could be a long day.  Maybe the infamous Bear course "marking" would be in effect today.  We met up with Robert Mueller, Seth Hales, Chuck Kanopa and a few others back at the intersection, they pointed us in the right direction, and luckily there were no questions whatsoever about the course for the next 85 miles.

Erik and Robert Mueller

Robert (Bob, Robbie) -who I had run quite a bit of Wasatch with 3 weeks ago-and I settled into a mellow pace heading down to Leatham Hollow and soon caught up to the talented Diana Finkel, who we we would play leap-frog with for the next 40 miles until just after Franklin Basin.  Leaving Leathan Hollow I ran a little with Drew Harrington who had made the trip down from Fairbanks, AK.

It was on this section that I realized it was really going to be a long 80 miles, and my day began to unravel a little bit mentally.  My hip flexors hurt, my left ankle was starting to get quite sore and irritated,and I felt some weird sort of neuroma/nerve pain on the bottom of my left big
toe that sent a little shock every time I pushed off of my toes.  Basically, my body wasn't too excited about being out for this long with another 75 miles to go.  I tried to take my mind somewhere else, enjoyed the absolutely spectacular scenery unfolding everywhere around me, and focused on getting to Tony Grove where Greg would be waiting to accompany me the 2nd half of the run.

Joe Campanelli leading the way to Cowley Canyon.

I ran with Justin Faul from Flagstaff, AZ for a bit after leaving Cowley Canyon and looking at our pace charts, realized that we were on a 20 hour pace, which before the race seemed to be a realistic goal, but given how I was feeling, now seemed akin to chasing rainbows and pink unicorns.

Cowley Canyon.  
The photo doesn't do the colors justice.

Leaving Temple Fork.
The long climb to Tony Grove ahead.

Catching up to Robert and Joe Campanelli (another Wasatch 100 finisher) we rolled into Temple Fork, and started up the long, muddy hike to Tony Grove.  Another beautiful section, with the beauty of the Crimson Maples detracting somewhat from the steep, slippery trails.  As soon as we topped out the climb and started the descent to Tony Grove, the temperature dropped, it started to snow and it got cold!!  I met Greg here, tried to get some warm soup and pumpkin chocolate chip bread in me and started the shivering hike towards the Franklin trailhead.  Man it was cold!!  It took a good 30 minutes for my fingers to warm up and for the shivering to stop.  Oddly enough, this would be the coldest I would get for the rest of the race, even though temperatures dropped significantly during the middle of the night.  Greg and I settled into a steady pace, and he did a great job of assessing how I was doing and keeping me moving.  Moving through the next few aid stations, along with Diana, Robert and a few others, we began to leapfrog with Georg Kunzfeld from Germany.  He was running his 3rd Bear and on a quest to get his first Wolverine (sub-24 hour) belt buckle. Georg would come into each aid station announcing that he was done, there was nothing left, and he couldn't eat or keep anything down.  Then after two minutes or so, would charge out like it was the start of the race.  At each aid station for the rest of the run, I would get there first, spend too much time drinking my hot chocolate and broth, Georg would arrive, make the same announcement and blast out of there before I left.  I got a kick out of it and it was a fun game to try and catch back up each time.

Gold and White after Tony Grove

Just enough snow to keep it interesting.

Somewhere between Franklin and Logan River and after the sun went down, we teamed up with Ford Smith, an amazing 17 year old from Texas who I met at the Squaw Peak 50 earlier this year.  Ford was on a quest to finish his first 100 miler and was doing an amazing job of it.  While most kids are staying up all night long on the weekend playing video games and engaging in other "wholesome" activities, Ford was displaying the tenacity and mental toughness of someone well beyond his years.  His stomach was starting to complain a little bit however, and I was hopeful he would be able to hold it together.  Just before Logan, I rolled my ankle (see above) and Greg and I found ourselves alone again.  I deep-sixed my negative thoughts and after the Logan River aid station, focused on maintaining a steady hike on the ups and a careful hobble on the descents.  I was surprised to find Robert, Georg, Ford and Chuck, plus a few others, all at the Beaver Mtn Aid station.  Apparently a steady hike can cover ground quickly.
Beaver Lodge

 I spent a few extra minutes in the warmth of the Aid station, made sure I had everything I needed for the last 25 miles, put on a jacket and took off my tights, and we were out of there.  It was here that I told Greg to go in front or behind me, whatever he felt would work best.  He took a lesson from when Jim Huffman paced me on this section in 2008 and took the lead, never really letting me catch up to him.  It was frustration at times, but effective in keeping me moving. I pulled out an old trick to help pass the time and keep my mind occupied.  There were four long climbs over the last 25 miles.  At the start of each climb I would start counting to 100 with each step of my right foot.  1000 steps was approximately 1 mile, so usually by the time I got to 3000 or 4000, I'd be at the top of the climb.  I didn't talk much to Greg during these climbs so I wouldn't lose count, but he was usually far enough ahead of me that it didn't matter, and it got me to the top of the climbs  relatively quickly. The descents were long and arduous.  I was very distrustful of my weak ankle at this point, and my legs were shot.  With that being said, I still managed to stay ahead of Georg and catch up to and pass someone else and their pacer.  I think it was Chuck Konopa.  More than anything during this section, I remember the long beautiful high mountain meadow we crossed after leaving the Beaver Creek Aid Station.  The sky was clearing with brilliant stars and a crescent moon playing hide and seek in the clouds.  The trail stretched out before us through a field of white snow and tufts of golden grass.  It was cold, with a stiff breeze playing in the tree tops, and it was one of those moments that will stand frozen in my mind.  100 mile races are run for many reasons, but in explaining to a friend tonight why run 100 rather than 25 or 50 miles, I understood that it is for moments like these, where the body and mind are so spent, so utterly depleted, that the moon is brighter, the air crisper, and the experience is seared into one's being. To quote Keith Knipling "In the process of completely exhausting myself, I connect with an inner part of me ordinarily veiled by the everyday distractions of life. During that short time spent on a trail in the mountains, my life is reduced to its simplest terms.....Going for a run always clears my head, but running 100 miles distills my soul."

As Greg and I finally came off the trail and onto the gravel road leading to the finish, Greg looked behind, saying "I'm not shi&;%ing you, but I see lights, and they're close."  I hadn't been concerned about racing for about 50 miles.  I had just been concerned with getting to the finish.  I had a vague concept of the idea of finishing under 24 hours, and that it was going to happen.  But I had no idea that there was a freight train of 6 runners only 10 minutes or less behind me, and that there were 3 runners 10 minutes or less ahead.  But now, with a light closing fast, I tried to switch gears and change my trot to a run. The stride lengthened slowly, the speed increased, I actually started to sweat and breathe hard, and still the light kept closing.  With less than 1/4 mile to go, as we turned off the gravel road and onto the highway, Georg caught up to me.  With a slap on my back, he told me in no uncertain terms that he would not pass me.  We would finish together. So, we trotted the last 1/4 mile, and finished.  Together. 23 hours 10 minutes.  Georg got his Wolverine.  A true competitor who gave it everything he had to the end, and showed true sportsmanship and the spirit of ultrarunning.  A lesson that will stick with me.

-Leland Barker and the Bear 100 organizers.  All the volunteers who braved the cold and bad weather to make sure that we runners, pacers and crew were well taken care of.
-Brooke, Sam, Andrew and Kate for putting up with another weekend of mountain wandering and the week of uselessness that I was, following said weekend.
-Wasatch Running Center and Gregory Packs for awesome gear and goods.
-Mom and Paul, Dad and Denise, Jack and Kathy and all others who have loved, encouraged, cheered on, shook their heads in bewilderment and so forth....
-God- for an incredible world and mountains to run in, and the most miraculous body to experience it with.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

2013 Wasatch 100- By Erik

I frequently hear runners prior to a 100 mile race comment that they are "ready to lay one down", "crush it", that they feel as prepared as they have ever felt, etc,.  Maybe this is their way of pumping themselves up, or of "psyching out" the competition, or maybe they truly feel that way.  

Me...... I don't think I've ever gone into a race with those feelings.  I typically feel under-prepared, under-trained, and wonder if I'll be able to make it through the next 100 miles and 24-36 hours.  Could be that I sub-consciously minimize my expectations, possibly I'm not a very confident person at heart, who knows?  All I know is that I was fairly apprehensive going into this year's Wasatch 100 Mile Endurance Run.  

Why? I'll try to keep it brief.  Last summer I suffered a strain to my left posterior tibialis tendon, and rather than stop running all together and let it heal, I merely reduced my running, and over the next few months ran less and did other stuff more.  It got to the point that in November I was in a boot for 3 weeks following fluid aspiration from the tendon sheath with a cortisone injection to the same area.  I was optimistic that I would return to full strength and took my recovery very slowly, starting with 5 minute walks on the treadmill.  By the time I ran the Squaw Peak 50 in July, I was feeling fairly fit and running about 90% pain free.  Unfortunately, Squaw Peak was not the recipe for continued recovery and while I ran well, by the end of the race I was hurting.  Stubbornly hoping that I could "run through it" without any changes other than daily icing and wearing compression socks almost 24/7, I continued running, and tackled the Uinta Highline trail in July with Peter, Ben and Jason.  We had a great time, but contrary to my plans, the foot hurt even more during recovery.  After wearing Altra's as my shoe of choice for the past 1 1/2 years, I decided that maybe I needed a little change in footwear for a bit.  I began wearing Hoka's every other day as a "recovery shoe" and lo and behold, my ankle started feeling slightly better. Following the theory that if it works, keep it up, I went for a BIG change and 3 weeks before Wasatch, started wearing the Hoka 100%.  I finally had to admit that, while I LOVE the Altra shoes, and they have done so much good for my running (no more black toe nails or blisters, good bye plantar fasciitis, better running form and economy) the current selection is not working for me right now.  One of Altra's basic premises is that the arch is a natural shock absorber. Unfortunately, I have no arch-I'm completely flat footed- it kept me out of the military- and over time this put an over abundance of stress and strain on the posterior tibialis. I started wearing the Hoka's with a Montrail Endro-sole, my foot felt better and better, and by the time of Race day, I was feeling more confident.  Don't get me wrong, the ankle still hurt, and I knew it would be a long day of hurting, but I was optimistic things would hold together.
OK, the prologue is over, now you know why I was hesitant about how Wasatch was going to pan out.  Plus, it was going to be HOT.  Oh, and it was 100 miles. That's a long way for things to go wrong, no matter how you feel or the number of times you've run that far.

Start Line with Rich McDonald
Photo: Barry Miller

My two goals going into the run were to slow down, especially through the first 20-30 miles, and then just run on how I feel.  Too often I get caught up too early with "racing".  This year I would run my race, not worry at all about who was in front or behind me, and see where that put me at Soldier Hollow.

The race started out just like that.  I enjoyed spending time running with good friends, and meeting a few new ones.  I stuck to my plan and ran a more conservative pace than normal, arriving at Francis Peak at 8:40, right on schedule, 15-20 minutes behind "normal" times.  By this time, I had separated from any other runners, and besides pacers, this is largely how the next 80 miles would be run, solo.  However, until Lambs Canyon, I played some leapfrog with speedy Robert Mueller, who had an outstanding finish after spending some time at the Lambs Canyon aid station recuperating from the heat.  I felt really good all the way to Big Mountain, with my only "incident" being a full water bottle that dropped and cracked halfway to Ant Knolls.  Not a great time to be stuck with 5 oz of salvaged water and 45 minutes of heat to get through, but I made it to Ant Knolls, savored a popsicle, and left with extra water to get to Big Mtn.  
Down to Big Mtn.
Photo: Derrick Lytle

Kate-cheering me up as only she knows how!!
Photo: Brooke Storheim

At Big Mtn, I was met by my incredibly supportive, patient and #1 fan Brooke, who brought along a fan club.  A kiss from Kate, an ice-filled handkerchief around my neck, and a kick in the butt from Brooke, and I was out of there with my first pacer, Kendall.  My only goal from here to Lambs Canyon was to survive. I didn't care if I got passed or passed anyone else.  I had 70 oz of water on my back in my Gregory Tempo 3 pack, 20 oz of GuBrew in a handheld, and my thoughts were to empty them by the time I got to Alexander Ridge, then repeat to Lambs and arrive in good shape.  Kendall was the perfect companion through this section, telling me fabulous hunting stories of the big bull elk that got away a couple days before, and adventures such as hiking with skis on his pack from Death Valley to the top of some 11,000 ft mountain in the Sierra's and then spending an extra day bivying while cliffed out on the way back down.  A great companion, the time went quickly, and thanks to the ice on my neck and the slight breeze, I never really felt the heat.  Somewhere through here we linked up with Robert Mueller again and we made a nice train heading into Lambs. 
Photo: Joe Azze

I spent a few minutes at Lambs making sure everything was feeling good, changed packs to my Gregory Tempo 5 with Black Diamond z-poles stashed in the back pocket and with another kiss from Kate, a full reservoir, and Brooke's caring but firm instructions to get out of there, I left Lamb's in the good company of my good buddy, and younger brother, Matt. Again, I wasn't in any particular rush to run the Lamb's road, I just wanted to make sure I kept a steady pace, and make it to Millcreek feeling good and ready to start to push it just a little bit.  Matt updated me on his kids football games that morning, assessed my overall condition, and then I took a sip from my bottle of GuBrew.  Pphhhwttttthh.  It went spewing from my mouth.  Disgusting!!!  I took a sip of water from my reservoir.  Blecchhh-just as bad.  Everything I had filled up with from Lambs was bad.  It had a horrible chemical taste to it and I could only think that whatever container it was stored in had some kind of residue in it that tainted the water.  I was in a pickle.  Luckily Matt had a bottle with his own concoction in it that I was able to drink, but 20 oz wasn't really going to get me to Big Water in good shape.  We still had cell reception so Matt called his wife and asked her to meet us at Elbow Fork with fresh water. I figured I could make it that far on 20 oz.  We made it up and over Bare Ass Pass to Elbow Fork in fine form, and I even started sipping from my tainted water with no more ill effect than a disgusting taste in my mouth.  At the Elbow, I re-filled my reservoir with fresh water (if this is receiving aid outside of an aid station I guess I'm dis-qualified) said good bye to Matt and hiked off up the road.  
Erik and Matt at Lambs Canyon
Photo: Brooke Storheim

I trotted some, power hiked even more, and arrived at Big Water feeling really good and ready to join up with my good friend and neighbor Jesse Harding.  I think there were one or two other runners in the aid station when I got there, but they quickly left and I don't remember who they were.  

Jesse and I had a great time over the next 13 miles.  While climbing up to Dog Lake, we noticed a weird mist filling the canyons below and by the time we got to Desolation Lake it had dropped 15 degrees and it dawned on us that we were smelling the lovely sulfurness of the Great Salt Lake.  How weird was that?  The only downer to this phenomenon was that it obscured the beautiful sunset from Red Lovers Ridge I was looking forward to seeing, and that it got dark 5-10 minutes earlier, preventing us from making our goal of getting to Scott's Pass without headlamps.  
Hazy Desolation Lake Aid Station
Photo: Jesse Harding

Up Red Lovers
Photo: Jesse Harding

Looking for a Sunset. Sulfury haze in the distance.
Photo: Jesse Harding

The 5 miles or so to Brighton went quickly and while I didn't necessarily feel perky, I didn't feel trashed either, and felt like I would be able to make some good time over the last 25 miles.  I felt like a celebrity as a good 20-30 people were waiting when Jesse and I made it to The Great Western House, Jay's property at Brighton that he generously made available to friends and family to wait for their runners.  I tried to quickly brush my teeth, change into a dry shirt, and top off my supplies to get moving again.  Brooke told me that Peter was about 25 minutes behind me and Jared was only a few minutes back.  I remember telling her that it didn't matter how far back Peter was, he would catch me somewhere between Forest Lake and the Dive and the Plunge.  Little did I know....

I was in and out of the Brighton Lodge at about 9:30, with my neighbor and good friend Pete Stevenson ready to help me through the next 25 miles.  This was Pete's first experience with Wasatch and I was looking forward to him getting a first hand glimpse of the fun the last 25 miles dishes out.  
Ready to have some fun with Pete!!
Photo: Brooke

As usual, the climb to Catherine's Pass was long, and I struggled getting into a good rhythm. My stomach felt a little rumbly and rather than fight the queasies like I'm prone to do, I decided to embrace it and initiate Peter into a true late night climb with a stomach emptying.  He observed in silence, and I chuckled silently to myself.  I could see lights catching up to me as we climbed up towards Catherine's Pass and I knew that it had to be Jared. If he caught me on this first climb, than it would be hard to hold him off.  I gave it all I had, dropped towards Ant Knolls and the lights got farther away.  This was our game for the next little while.  He would get closer on any little climb and I would put a little distance on the descent.  I started subsisting on my usual late night/end of race caloric intake of a cup of broth, a cup of hot chocolate and a cup of coke at each aid station.  It's what my stomach handles, and it seems to work  The only downside is that I end up spending more time than I should at aid stations.  Peter was super positive through this whole experience, continually reminding me to look at the stars, enjoy the night air, live in the moment. Even though I spent most of the time in silence, not having the mental energy to start or carry a conversation, it was great to have Peter along for the ride and feed off his enthusiasm.  Just after leaving Pole Line Aid Station, my stomach rebelled again, and I bent over to make an offering to the trail gods. Unfortunately, the Coke, Hot Chocolate and broth had mostly cleared my stomach and there wasn't much to leave on the trail, just a lot of noise to alert Jared that I wasn't too far ahead.  Sure enough, as we started our way around Forest Lake, Jared came bouncing by in his good natured way, and then a few minutes later, Peter Lindgren popped out of nowhere right behind us.  I swear he had been stalking us with his headlamp off, but he denies it.  I tried to hang with Peter, and it was here that I arrived at an interesting observation.  My stomach had normalized, my energy and spirits were good, but I didn't have another gear to switch to to chase Peter with.  All summer, due to my irritated ankle (by the way it hurt for the first 75 miles, then everything went numb and nothing hurt.  Interesting how that happens, but it's almost universal for me when I run Wasatch), I hadn't been able to do much intense running.  No tempo runs, no intervals, just a bunch of long, moderate paced runs with LOTS of hiking.  So when it came time to chase, there was nothing to chase with, however, I felt fantastic keeping my same steady pace.  So I held to it, and as we made our way through the Dive and the Plunge and entered Irv's torture chamber, we came upon Jared, emptying his shoes of rocks and dust.  He thanked me profusely for lobbying to keep that wonderful section of the finish intact and then we parted ways.  I knew I had to make some time if I wanted to stay ahead of him with all the little climbs left. Arriving at Pot Bottom, I finally told Peter what I had been trying to calculate over and over as we ran.  Barring any un-forseen problems over the last 7 miles (turns out there were 8!), I might be able to PR if we could keep a good pace.  We ran as fast as I could with Peter's marathon training pulling me along.  Jared was in back, Peter somewhere up ahead, and more important was the time goal of 22:42 to beat.  After the climb to the Staton aid station and the long ATV road down, we were finally on the homestretch with 2.5 miles of pavement ahead of us and a 20 minute window.  I could see glimpses of Jared's light behind, but couldn't see Peter anywhere ahead on the big loop of pavement.  We ran what felt like a 6 minute pace which in reality was more like 9-10. Down the road, past the big barn, then up the road, time was running out. I could hear Brooke and my family cheering, we criss-crossed the meadow and then it was done.  A handshake from John Grobben sealed the deal and I could sit down.  22:40:43.  A PR by 2 minutes.
My #1 Fan. Thank you Brooke!!!
Photo: JoAnn Miner
While there were so many things throughout this day that could have gone wrong, for whatever reason, they didn't.  I ran a steady pace.  Never had any huge highs, but never had any lows either.  I stayed hydrated, stayed cool when I needed to, kept my head when water bottles broke and water was tainted. Had awesome pacers and company along the way.  Had the best support crew and fans along the way. Thank you Brooke, Sam, Andrew, Kate, Mom, Paul, Kathy, Jack, Dad, Denise, Kendall, Matt, Jesse, Peter, Ashley, Erin, Becky, Bryce, Pieper and everyone else that I know I forgot about along the way. 
Thanks to the best group of friends anyone could be lucky enough to train and spend time with. Christian, Greg, Jay, Kevin, Peter, Rich. Thank you to everyone else who intentionally or unintentionally imparted of their wisdom and advice, served to motivate and inspire, and who otherwise helped out in another great adventure.  Thank you to John Grobben and the Wasatch 100 Race committee.  Without your tireless commitment to making this race the best it could be, without listening to runners and spectators, without working closely with land-owners, federal and state land agencies, none of this "fun" would occur every year.
Thank you to the Wasatch Running CenterAltra shoes, and Gregory packs.
Thanks most of all, again, to Brooke, Sam, Andrew and Kate for putting up with and encouraging this strange, addictive behavior!!
With Peter at the Finish
Photo: Brooke