Tuesday, April 24, 2012

My Story of Running

We all have a story to tell. In fact, most of us have many stories, each representing a different stage of our life. Many of you have heard a lot of my stories; stories about jumping off of cliffs into trees, of desperate descents down some of Zion’s hardest slot canyons, hiking in the Uinta’s, and climbing obscure cliff faces. These stories have defined me throughout my life. I’m proud of these stories and together they paint the portrait of ME.

This is the story of how I became an ultra-runner.

For 15 years I was certain that I wouldn’t do anything other recreation activity in my life at as serious a level as I was taking rock climbing. I was talented in all aspects of climbing; sport, trad, bouldering, and aid. However, over time I specialized in bouldering, something I could do better with my limited time. I was after pushing my limits as far as they could go for as short a period of time as possible. Along with my climbing I also enjoyed peak-bagging in the Wasatch and the Uinta mountains. I backcountry skied, mountain biked, canyoneered, and (oddly enough) played volleyball. But these were all secondary to climbing. And while my enjoyment of climbing was as strong as ever my abilities had plateaued by 2005 and I simply didn’t have the time and inclination to focus my efforts on achieving that next level.
Attempting Seven Deadly Crimps in Triassic

In 2003 I was invited by my friend Scott Wesemann to go hiking in the Uinta Mountains and attempt to climb Utah’s three tallest peak (King’s, South King’s and Gilbert Peak) in a day starting from an advanced basecamp at Dollar Lake in the Henry’s Fork basin. While I was there to tag along and enjoy the mountains, Scott was invited by a reporter and photographer from the Deseret News (along with the reporter’s son). If successful they would run a two page, full color story on the feat. The short story is that only I and the photographer completed the task and since he didn’t want any part of the article they ran the whole two pages on me. While honored I really didn’t think much of it as the years passed. What I didn’t know was that there began to be a bit of a following of what became coined as “The Triple Crown” in the peak-bagging community.

In 2008 I returned to the Uinta’s, again with Scott, and also another friend Steve to attempt to hike King’s Peak in a single day starting from the car. It was September and I was now doing a spot of running here and there at the request of my wife who felt I needed a bit more focus on my cardio. But I wasn’t running far, I was only getting out 2 – 3 times a week, and it was always on the road (and never over 4 miles). We completed our task of hiking those 26 miles in just over 13 hours and we were all pretty sure that was about as hard as it got. When we returned to the trailhead we looked in the trail log to see how many other people had tried it in a day, feeling pretty confident we were of the elite few who would make such an attempt. To our surprise one name stood out – Davy Crockett – whose log report stated that he had completed the “Triple Crown, car to car, on [his] 50th birthday”, dated August 1st. To say our sails were deflated would be an understatement. And this reference to my “triple crown” feat was interesting. The following Monday I was called out of my office by Steve who had found Davy’s trip report on the internet. In the report he referred to my 2003 trip with a link to the article online (no longer active) and called me out by name on two occasions in his report. I was shocked. I immediately emailed him and congratulated him on such an amazing accomplishment. His response was quick and complimentary. He even invited me to go running with him. Uh, no way! He was a veteran ultra-runner with more 100 mile endurance races to his name than I could count. He had also done so many insane adventure runs that I wasn’t sure if he was actually human, but a very modern cyborg whose sole purpose was to dominate nature. I replied by telling him that he’d have to give me till the following summer to get into better running shape and then I would love to. I spent the rest of September and October turning myself into a trail runner, without any success. I still only got out 2 – 3 times a week in those two months, I still never went more than 4 miles, and only one of those days would be on a trail. But this time those trails were taking me to the tops of easier mountains, such as Sugarloaf and Mt Baldy. And then in November I got sick and running fizzled out. I was determined to get back on the horse and on January 5th I committed myself to really focusing on running and forcing myself to enjoy it. Davy had won the Triple Crown by doing it from the car and I wanted to step up and do the same thing.
The video I made of our King's in a Day trip in 2008

That cold day in the beginning of 2009 I left work and ran 1.9 miles around the block from work. It was hard. Two days later I ran 3.2 miles in a longer loop from work and I was pretty sure that my lungs were going to explode from the one and only tiny hill I had to ascend. But I stayed at it, running 3 days a week for all of January. My brother had given me this great advice that I now share with every aspiring runner who is having trouble breaking through the discomfort, “when you can run 3 miles without feeling like you are going to die you’ll begin to enjoy it; the first time you run 6 miles you’ll be addicted”. He was right. That first week of February I was in Texas on business and I ran all 5 weekdays. On the Tuesday of that week I did a 6.2 mile loop and finished feeling really good (at the time I didn’t realize how much the low elevation and lack of hills really helped). Yep, Brent was right, I was hooked!

Over the next few months I focused on increasing my distance and preparing for my first real race, the Salt Lake Half Marathon. As it was still winter and cold most of my running was on the road. By race time I was ready. I had run the required 13.1 miles on several occasions and felt like I could push pretty fast. I ran a respectable time of 1:36:28. As I crossed the line I was very emotional. I didn’t know why at the time, but as I look back now I can see that that was the moment when I redefined myself as a runner and no longer as a climber. I knew then that I had opened the door to a whole new world of adventure, to something that would allow me to do what I always loved – pushing myself harder than I thought I could – but in a way that would also allow me to dig deeper into my love of the outdoors. Whether it was on the road, the mountains, or the desert I now had the world at my disposal, just by putting one foot in front of another. As I would focus my training it would simply become about how fast I could do it.

I spent the rest of 2009 racing on the trails and the roads. I finally did get to run with Davy Crockett. While preparing for a marathon length run I inquired on the internet, on a running blog I now belonged to along with Davy, I asked if anyone knew any 26 mile trails that would allow me to do my long run. He replied and asked if I wanted to run the Lake Mountain 50k course with him. Forget that I had never run further than 20 miles before, why not just jump up to 31. Of course I accepted and on July 2nd I ran one of his favorite training run courses around Lake Mountain in Saratoga Springs. Those 6 miles from 26 to 31 I thought I might die they were so hard. You can read about it here on my blog. But I was now officially an ‘ultra-runner’ and I was hooked . . . . HARD. I was also injured. That run destroyed my IT Band and that injury would follow me for the rest of the year. In 2009 I ran (in this order) my first 10k, half marathon, 16 mile trail race, 20 mile trail race, 50k (a bit out of order), marathon, and 50 miler. I then spent all of November and December on the disabled list. Ouch.
Video of my Lake Mountain 50k run with Davy Crockett

During my time trying to recover from my ITBS I changed my running form and switched to a mid-foot strike. When nothing else worked, this did. In January of 2010 I found myself running pain-free and able to push farther faster. 2010 was a keystone year for me as it truly solidified me as a true ultra and adventure runner. I went back and accomplished my goal of running the Utah Triple Crown, car to car. I even set a new ‘fastest known time’ of 9 hrs 41 min. It was such an honor to return and finish it properly. That year I had a goal to run a marathon distance run at least once a month. I finished the year with 15 marathon+ distance runs. I also ran my 100 mile race, the Pony Express Trail 100, in a time of 22:46:49 and good enough for 3rd place overall. There were other notable runs and adventures, but they aren’t worth bringing up.
Utah Triple Crown Footage

2011, even with all of my personal life hiccups, was a banner year. There’s no need to brag, but it’s just worth saying that it was a very gratifying and yet again, another milestone year. I continued to learn and grow as a runner, as I still do today. I fondly look back at my beginnings and love to remember all that I’ve gone through. I’ve had so many fun adventures, met some amazing new friends, gotten involved with the greatest company on theplanet, and I feel like I’m only scratching the surface. I still rock climb, but not very often and only when I’ve got some extra free time to hang out with friends. The love is still there, but not the passion. That passion has been reinvested and it’s paying huge dividends.


MVH said...

You have a great career ahead of you: 20+ years of running 100 milers and other various distances. That's the way I see it. I'll be running trails until I can't run anymore. Thanks for all the inspiration I get from running with you and reading about your victories. (An adventure run is to me a victory.)

Anonymous said...

I'm with VH, you have a great running career ahead of you. I look forward to all our running adventures to come and I really appreciate what a great friend you've become. Running, and friends like you have helped me keep my head on straight during all my struggles. Congrats on everything you've accomplished!

Sam said...

Coincidentally, I did King's peak in a day that same year in August with some friends. It was grueling. Last year we had planned to run it and found out about Quest for Kings and participated. It was awesome. We are looking forward to doing it again this year, and knocking off another hour or two.