Monday, July 30, 2012

Show A Little Respect

Running is hard work. It's a wake up early, stay until you're done job. We don't take shortcuts or quit until we've gone the distance. End result is that we've done what it takes to be successful.

Work is like running. Anyone who wants to be successful has to be willing to go through the pain and dedication it takes to achieve their goals.

In 2010 I was on the prowl for a shoe that would facilitate the new running form I had implemented, one that I hoped and had up to that point proven to help me avoid injury. It was tough to find a shoe that didn't have too much of a built-up heel though, and although the world of running was becoming more 'minimal' (I hate that term) it was still difficult to find the right fit. At the time I was running in Inov-8s, a company I not only liked their shoes, but had a lot of respect. During this time my tree of ultra running acquaintances was growing and I was meeting more and more people. One of these people was Brian Beckstead, the energizer bunny of ultra running. I started following his blog and we became friends on Facebook. In the fall of 2010 he started bragging about this up-start shoe company he and two friends had started called Altra, a company focused on promoting 'natural' running form through a 'zero drop' shoe. OK, this sounded a little more like what I needed.

I don't need to go into the history of my shoes and relationship with the company, I think I've pimped it out enough for everyone to know. More importantly, I want to show my respect for the company and the individuals who run it. I value above most else when it comes to buying my gear is the quality of the company and it's executives. Most big name companies are too big to have a relative understanding of their principles, but not Altra. New to the game they bring their personal character with them, which in turn is reflected in the product and service which they provide.

While Brian was my first interaction with the company, it wasn't long before I got to know the rest of the Altra team. Through facebook stalking the company I got to know it's Marketing Director, Jeremy Howlett. His excitement for the company, coupled with his background in Marketing made him the perfect voice. Jeremy and his family are now great friends of mine and regardless of my future association with Altra I will always have them as close friends. In early 2011 I got to meet the original founder himself, Golden Harper. Unless you've met him there is no way for me to really describe how awesome this guy it. He spends most of his nights online and the phone talking with the factory making sure shoes are getting produced and putting out fires. When he can find an hour away from the office he's even harder to find because he'll undoubtedly be on top of some local peak that he just ran to. Finally, a relatively late-comer to the party, Seth Wold, the COO, shows his true character in his appreciation for the sport. He is a top marathoner and ultra-marathoner in the state, but go on a run with him and you'll never know it because he's chatting up the 10 min/milers in the back of the pack. He cares more that everyone is having a good time then being out in front.

Above and beyond producing a top product, these gentlemen have a long term focus to promote a love of running and running health. What other company really cares about that? The last time I checked what they cared about most was which of their newest products is going to make them the most money. Don't get me wrong, Altra is in it to be a top company. I hope that ultimately they all want to be rich and spend all of their time running in distant lands then working 12 hours a day, six days a week to make sure that the company is successful. But for now they are willing to pay their dues. And paying they are. Each of the four has made family and monetary sacrifices to ensure this company succeeds. They've given their blood, sweat, and tears, and continue to do so each and every day to guarantee the livelihood of their new brand. Yet they've never lost focus of what really matters, a love of running.

Over the last six months or so I've spent some time with each of the four listed above, usually on a run. Their love for their company is only eclipsed by their love of the sport, which ultimately is what is going to make them successful. They genuinely care. On a run this past weekend with Jeremy said to me, "I want Altra to be where everyone comes for information regarding running health". Seriously? Not "I want everyone to come here because we have the newest styles" or "we have this crazy concept that will only be around for five years". I stood with these gentlemen at trade shows and expos as they've watched people walk away, not buying their shoes, but having a better understanding of how to run and what would be best for them in the long term. They care about individual's running health and happiness above all else. Don't get me wrong, with every new company there are hiccups and set-backs. But find your way through some of the hurdles and you'll see a leadership team that is dedicated to making every aspect of the company a massive success.

Ultimately, Altra shows the class that is reflected in the quality of their product. They have legitimate runners as the executive team. They have a firsthand knowledge for what it takes to start from nothing and become something, very much like a new runner. And they really care. I'm proud to know these men and glad to call them friends.

 Matt Williams and Seth Wold overlooking Ivins in the St George area.

Jeremy Howlett running my Half Pregnant Half marathon Matt and I put on last November.

NOTE: I'm not paid by Altra, no one asked me to write this article, and I am quite certain I'll get nothing from them other than a high five and a good laugh. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Busy Little Bee

Yeah, I've been pretty busy lately. Between work, family, and running I haven't taken much time to post. That being said, I have been having a lot of fun out on the trails and have done some good runs with great friends.

Last Tuesday we did our weekly night run. However, sitting straight through an 8 hour day at work is brutal. Normally, if I don't run during lunch I'll go out, but that day I just didn't have any money, so I was stuck at the office. At some point I just couldn't take it any more so I decided to go out for a run even though I knew I'd be going out again that night. During lunch I ran up to the summit of View Benchmark via Ann's trail. It was a great, but hot solo run to an easy peak with great views. Oddly enough though our night run a few hours later was to the same peak, just via different trails. So, two summits of View Benchmark in one day. Fairly awesome.

Ann's Trail up to View Benchmark in January. Beautiful views.

Saturday things heated up with a cruise up Timpanogos via Timpooneke with Scott. We got a normal morning start around 6am and the trails were already crowded. We took our time to the upper basin, but then I turned it on after that because I was feeling really good. I had a fast time to the summit considering the slow start. There were several other runners up there, as well, and we took the time to chat and get to know each other. What a great community! Scott decided that he wanted to become an awesome downhill runner that day, I guess, because he flew down the trail and set a new PR by over 30 minutes (round trip). It was really cool to do that with him. The flowers and colors in the mountains are absolutely stunning right now. If you get a chance to get up into the mountains, now is the time.

 Running up into the upper basin. These purple flowers were awesome.

 Just over the small hill behind Scott were 3 moose.

Seriously gorgeous.

Yesterday I did a solo run up the Pfeifferhorn. My legs were heavy from battling the sun and humidity the day before so I set a goal just to put in a moderate effort. My pacing must have helped though because I still reached the summit within a minute of my PR. The Pfeiff is a tough run/hike and even on your best day takes a lot of effort and focus. It's not just physically challenging, but also mentally. The lower trail is rocky and rooty and if you don't stay focused you'll catch a toe. The top has boulder hoping and potentially some 4th class climbing (the way I usually take), both require focus so as not to fall. Falling would be bad. I put it in cruise on the way down and could feel the fatigue in my legs. Round trip was still under 2:30 which is a solid time, I guess. 

On the summit with storms brewing to the southwest.

Finally, for those who are interested, the Quest for King's Marathon is set for August 11th at 8am. Come out and enjoy running to the top of Utah with a bunch of ridiculous trail runners. I am hoping we can all camp the night before and enjoy getting to know each other, then have a fun, safe day running the peak. You can link to the site on the right toolbar. There is also a Facebook page now and if you're interested I'd appreciate you letting me know you'll be joining there. Contact me if you have questions.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Utah Triple Crown - FKT

My history with the Utah Triple Crown (climbing Utah's 3 tallest peaks in one day) is long and storied. It dates back to 2003 when I hiked all three from an advanced basecamp at Dollar Lake. That outing, documented by a local news rag, coined what is now a common phrase in local peak-bagging and ultra running. It wasn't until 2008 when Davy Crockett upped the ante by bagging the Triple Crown, but this time starting from the Henry's Fork trailhead. His achievement set a new standard and was the first true Fastest Known Time (FKT) for the course at 14:34:59. Learning soon after of his success I made a commitment to try and get the FKT on the proper course. It wouldn't be until 2010 until I was a good enough runner to give it a good effort. On July 16, 2010 I successfully set a new FKT of 9:41:46. It was then beaten by a local elite trio in the summer of 2011, lowering the FKT to 9:21:00.

I knew going into my run yesterday that I would have some considerable work if I wanted to better their time. I had chosen a new route for this year, one that would eliminate going up and over East Gunsight Peak and dropping down the 2000 ft scree slope. It was also a more direct route. However, the risk of not having linked these new sections together could spell disaster if they ended up taking longer.

I left Salt Lake with two friends, Scott and Josh, at 3:30am on July 12, 2012. We drove all the way to the Henry's Fork trailhead without incident. We knew we would be under threat of early afternoon storms, so we did our best to get squared away and on the trail as quickly as possible.

The sunrise through the trees as we approached the trailhead

After a couple of photos taken by Josh and Scott we were off and a leisurely pace just before 6:45am. I chose to wear the following gear:
The plan was to stay together until Dollar Lake (mile 7.4) and then I would push up Gilbert Peak and if they couldn't keep up would just follow close behind. As it turned out my pace in the early miles was a little faster than Scott and Josh wanted to run and I found myself alone after mile two. The trailhead is 9400 ft elevation, so running up the trail towards Dollar Lake at 10,800 ft is laborious in the depleted oxygen. I've spent many days above 10,000 already this year, so I felt quite comfortable and maintained a fairly solid pace all the way to Elkorn Crossing, mile5.4 in 56 minutes.

There is no easy way up Gilbert Peak. I've taken two different routes up that mountain and three down; none are easy. Like in 2010 I chose to round the south side of Dollar Lake and then head straight up the hillside to the obvious ridge that horseshoes around towards the summit. The initial slope to the ridge is a 45 - 50 degrees and can often be loose dirt and rock. Cursing my way up my legs just wouldn't go any faster and I started to feel like I was falling behind on time. I knew that in 2010 my time to the summit of Gilbert was exactly 3 hours and once on the ridge I just felt like I was behind. However, as I started to approach the upper boulder sections I realized I was actually not behind on time, but ahead. Let me just say this now, Gilbert Peak is the most horrible mountain ever. I hate that thing. The approach is ridiculous, the plateau at 12,500 feet is unrunnable, and then there are the false summits to the top. Even when you know they are coming, these soul-sucking monsters are like getting punched in the face. The summit push is just a long slog across loose, large boulders that you have to hop across (something I actually really enjoy and can move fast on). Even with all my cursing, I was still able to reach the summit (elev. 13,442) in 2:43:00, 17 minutes faster than 2010. Unlike my previous attempt, I was not concerned with taking any additional pictures other than what I felt was needed to document my trip. I have enough pictures of the Triple Crown. My stop was less than 2 minutes and I was already heading back down toward the plateau.

Gilbert Peak (13,442). Not a glamorous summit

I passed the boys coming up to the first false summit just as I was getting to the bottom of it. I gave them a few words of encouragement and was off towards the chute instead of East Gunsight. I knew the chute I was supposed to go down. I had hiked up it on two separate occasions, however, you can't see it from above, so I had to take a guess at which was the right one (there are three to choose from). Luckily, I chose correctly I was down into Henry's Basin quickly. I made a quick stop to empty my shoes and was off towards Gunsight Pass. After a quick stop to refill my bottles in a spring I went straight up the pass instead of taking the switchbacks and was on top at just around 4 hours. I was tired though. My uphill legs just weren't cooperating. I felt fine on lower angle inclines, but as soon as the terrain got steep my legs felt heavy and my breathing and heartrate escalated. Pushing through the scree slope shortcut I was hammered and was worried about my new change in route, going straight up the face of King's Peak.

Once on top of Anderson Plateau I went straight across towards the face of King's. At the same time I crossed the actual trail coming up from Painter Basin a group of scouts passed me on their way up. I would use them as a gauge to see how much faster it is to go up the face than the trail. They were moving fast, so it would be a valid measurement. As soon as I hit the very loose and dangerous slope I felt like I was on Everest. I would move 25 yards, stop, put my head on my hands, recover, and continue. I would repeat this the entire way up. The boulders are scary going up as they move and shift under your feet. One wrong step and you could pull a 500 lbs rock down on your leg, quickly ending your day (or worse). I hit the ridge about 150 yards before the summit at the exact same time as the scouts. Not only was it not faster, it probably cost me time going up the face. I'll never do that again.

After returning to Anderson Plateau, I shared my feelings with the face of King's

I summitted King's at exactly 5:08:00. There were three different groups of scouts on top. Several leaders and scouts were curious with what I had been doing that day. Dressed like a runner and not a hiker piqued their curiosity. They asked where I was camped. When I responded "my house" they were shocked I had started from the car. When I added that I had just come from Gilbert Peak - pointing towards the mountain - I was met with comments and open mouths. But when I told them I still had to head over to South King's and why, they seemed to rally behind me, asked if they could quickly take my picture and then ushered me off on my way. It was cool to get that kind of support. I was on top of King's (elev. 13,528) for less than 4 minutes, probably my shortest stay ever.

King's Peak, elevation 13,528

Just as I was making my way over to South King's I could see a storm coming in from the northwest. I wasn't too concerned about it threatening my ascent, but I was a little concerned with my descent off of the mountain. I figured the storm wouldn't be a problem, but I've been in the Uinta's enough to recognize when new cloud formations are going to consolidate and create additional storms and that is just what was happening to the west of me. I also knew it would put Josh and Scott's attempt at the Triple Crown at risk. I made quick work of South King's (elev 13,512), even with it's one nasty false summit and stood on top at 5:40:00. I was very depleted of energy, so I ate some dried mangoes, drank some water, and left. 

Summit of South King's Peak. You can see a storm building behind me.

The route I take off of South King's and around and down King's is terrifying. There is no other way to put it. It's a constant traverse and descent over loose boulders on a 45 degree slope. There were two different times when I sent boulders rolling and once when a few smaller ones (in the 100 - 200 lbs range) nearly caught my leg. My heart would race, I would get control and then move on. About 2/3 of the way down I came across an awesome little spring though and refilled my bottles. It was so nice having cold, fresh water. As I got back down onto the plateau I once again came across the group of scouts I had been chatting with on the summit and they were ecstatic to see me successfully down and on my way. Their encouragement really picked me up and I made quick work back to Gunsight Pass, getting there in a total time of 6:45:00. I knew I had the FKT in the bag, it would just depend on if I could keep a good pace the 10 miles back to the car. I hadn't seen Josh or Scott and knowing the storm threat had figured they had turned back. 

You can only run so fast down the trail. It is so rocky it's like running down a trail with bowling balls scattered in and across it. I caught my toe a few times, but only went down once. My feet were also extremely tired and achy from boulder hopping for so many miles and hours and it wasn't until I was passing Dollar Lake that I felt comfortable and in a good rhythm. Even then I ended up stopping nearly every mile to chat with someone, wait for a horse to walk by, or use the bathroom. I was running at an 8 - 8:30 pace, but my splits were closer to the 10 min/mile with all of the stops and forced walking. 

As I crossed Elkhorn Crossing for the last time it occurred to me that I could potentially go under 8:30 if I could keep a good pace. When I reached the Alligator Lake turn-off and knew that I had 25 minutes to go 2.4 miles I was certain I could make it. With less than two miles left I caught up with Scott and Josh who were in no hurry. We chatted for a minute while we walked and then I took off. I was now motivated to go under 8:30 and was pushing harder than I felt I had in me. I was over-joyed to get back to the fence at 8:29:13, more than an hour faster than my 2010 attempt and knocking more than 50 minutes off of the previous FKT. 

It's official, I'm officially retiring from ever trying the Triple Crown again. If someone beats my FKT next week I will tip my hat to them, but I won't try and beat it. I never want to climb Gilbert Peak again. I hate that mountain and have no desire to ever go back. There is nothing appealing about it and I've done it enough times now to have no desire to return. I truly believe I've given my absolute best effort on the Triple Crown and bid it a fond farewell. Off to more creative things.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Grabbing Hands

Depeche Mode has a classic tune Everything Counts that contains the line "the grabbing hands, grab all they can. Everything counts in large amounts". With a challenging schedule last week I feel like that line had particular emphasis on my running.

On Monday I had to take my car in for new breaks. What better way to get to work than run? While I don't particularly enjoy running on the road if I don't have to there is something about running commute that just sounds cool. Sucking exhaust fumes most of the way isn't nearly as awesome however.

Tuesday was our weekly night run. While it was a short 8.5 miler in Utah Valley, it had nearly 4000 ft of vert and some killer full-moon views. I can't wait to head back on a morning run and try it again so I can see better and truly enjoy just how beautiful it obviously is.

Holidays are often open time for people to get out and enjoy the day and the outdoors. For me it usually means bouncing back and forth between different families, finding myself at the end of the day completely exhausted. While that was the case for the 4th of July for me and my family I was able to get in a quick 5 miler by participating in the Freedom Run 5k/10k. The Altramaniacs were there and there was a lot of filming going on, so they didn't run the full 10k. We cut it short so I could get home and drive up north to family for a late breakfast. That is a fun race though.

Thursday it rained for the first time in over a month. Me, Brent, and Scott had to take advantage by getting soaked running in the gully. It was only 8 miles, but it felt so good.

Friday, being the end of a post-holiday week, was empty in my office, so I took advantage by doing a little longer run during work. I got it in my head to try and put in a solid effort on the Pfeifferhorn. I knew that last year Matt VH went to the top in 1:35:00, 20 minutes faster than what I did a week later. I wanted to try and hit his time to gauge what the effort would be like. Also like him I've had a goal to try and run every step up to Red Pine Lake.

I set off at a good clip, passing several hikers along the way. As the trail gets steeper and more technical my breathing got more labored and my legs heavier. I was mindful as I passed the Maybird turn-off that I had now run farther than ever before, but my pace was so slow I doubt it would have mattered. Within another two tenths of a mile I finally gave up and hiked. I've now realized that while running it would be cool, it's just not efficient enough to warrant it. I doubt I'll really try again unless I back off considerably early on. Either would result in about the same time.

When I got on top of the headwall there was a large group of people, about 10 coming down and four going up. One of the ladies saw me in my tiny shorts and no shirt and let out a 'mercy!'. I'm gonna go ahead and take that as she thought I was sexy and not disgusting. I passed a few more people on the technical ridge, which I crossed in under 4 minutes. I then had the summit push and the top to myself. I chose a different way up, this time scrambling straight through the cliff section. I knew that if I could engage my hands, while more exposed and dangerous, I could move faster. I was totally at my limit as I hit the top in 1:28:30, a 23 minute PR. I now know what MVH's effort was like . . . . crazy! And even my time isn't close to the Fastest Known Time to the top - 1:07:00. Yowza!

I took the normal route down, completely out of control. I just love running that crazy technical terrain, especially the boulder fields. I feel like I'm floating. I hit the sign near the parking lot in 2:19:14 and literally collapsed. I was finished. I limped back down to the river and just plopped myself in. What an amazing adventure. I love that mountain. It was so great to PR by 23 minutes to the top and nearly 40 minutes overall.

A view from the summit.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

What Are Your Excuses? Part 3

"I Can't"

This must be one of the easiest and by far the most common excuses I've heard people give. It's a great excuse because it requires no thought, no effort, and no justification. In most cases people won't question you when you give it because it is immediately relatable. As people we can associate better with "I can't" than "I can". Whether this began in childhood or more towards our adult lives I can't be certain, but somewhere along our maturation we've accepted that we can't accomplish whatever we want.

I will be the first to admit that I fall into this myself; I've even posted about it recently. When it comes to my professional life I've been the epitome of self-deprecation. I've always limited myself because I felt I didn't have the background experience, skills, or ability to try and do what I really want. "I can't" has been my mantra for so long I stopped questioning why I was saying it. I always followed it with things like "I can't while my wife is in school", "I can't while my kids are still young", and "I don't have the certifications....".

"I can't" takes many forms when we use the excuse. It rears it's ugly head as "I don't", "that's impossible", "I could never", and "there's no way". They all point back to the same thing, we simply don't value ourselves and our own abilities enough to make the effort. I've already talked about effort and time, both of these are subtle derivatives of "I can't". They are excuses for not trying and all three together are a recipe for allowing ourselves to become less than we are capable.

I've shared this story before, but shortly after I ran the Laramie 100 I was asked by someone how I could run 100 miles. I had been asked that question dozens of times before and always given the stock answers, but this time I stopped and gave it some sincere thought. The answer I gave was so simple, yet so correct it caught me by surprise. My answer was, "I don't know, I just never told myself I couldn't". By giving that answer I opened my own eyes to the excuses I had been giving about every other aspect of my life for years. Now don't get me wrong, that answer was not inferring that running 100 miles was and is easy, nor did it mean I ran that race or any other race without fear and doubt. What it did mean was that the concept of running that far in a single day just seemed plausible, made even more comprehensible knowing that others had done it before and often. So why not me?

Talking with the race director after finishing the Laramie 100

Knowing there are others who have done something we want to accomplish not only makes our dreams more real, but often there is even a path provided to help us get there. There is probably even a book - or several books - written on the subject. That's why most people race, not because they want to compete against others, but because they want and need the social support of knowing there are hundreds, if not thousands of others around them trying to do the same thing. Trust me, anyone could go out and run 26.2 miles on any given day of the week if they simply made the decision to do it. But for most that would be impossible to try and do on their own. Knowing that they are part of a mass exodus to the finish line, with aid stations along the way and an outpouring of support from spectators makes the endeavor seem a lot more manageable. 

The real trick is to dream of something no one else has ever done or possibly even thought of doing and then doing it. Not only does it take imagination, but the determination to plan, develop, and execute without allowing yourself to be overrun with doubt. Notice that I didn't throw out doubt all together. Doubt is natural, but it doesn't have to be overpowering. In May of 2011 I went with a group of friends to attempt the Zion Traverse, a 48 mile, 10,000 feet of elevation gain run that traverses the entire Zion National Park. We were unfortunately stormed out after only 20 miles, but made the resolution to return. On the drive home I came up with this crazy notion to try and run across the park and back, totalling 96 miles and 20,000 ft of vert. Over the next several months I did some online research and asked several elite local runners if they had ever heard of someone doing it before. The responses were that no one had apparently tried. Cool. I was now exploring new territory, considering doing something no one had ever tried before. The thought was scary and exciting at the same time. Over the next year I planned and made ready for the attempt. I felt trained and ready to run, but only 35 miles into the attempt I was low on fuel and dehydrated. I was uncertain I could go on. But with great help from my crew I pressed on and started feeling better. After almost 27 hours I finished my goal and completed the first ever Zion Double Traverse. And the reason I was able to do it? It was simple, I just never told myself "I can't". 

Mile 55 of the Zion Double Traverse

Everyone has the ability to accomplish their dreams. I could relate 100 stories of people who went out and did something that should not have been possible. Most of these have nothing to do with physical abilities, but all are examples of people who wouldn't limit themselves to the things they only thought they 'could do', but instead made the commitment to accomplish the things they 'will do'. Quit telling yourself "I can't" and you'll find that there is an entire universe of "I can".