Saturday, September 29, 2012

Quality, Not Quantity

Now three+ weeks off of Wasatch 100 and I feel fully back to normal. I've tried to get into the swing of normal training again, and while I have had some amazing outings over the last week it certainly isn't reflected in the number of miles I've posted. I wouldn't trade those outings for anything though. What a week.

It really started one week ago when my friend, Matt Van Horn, and myself wanted to tackle Mt Nebo. Unfortunately, we did the math and just didn't have the time. Instead, we targeted the 'ole fallback, Mt Timpanogos. But then, while standing in my front yard, I turned to the east and Lone Peak caught my eye, a peak that has been on my to-do list, but something I've never done. As a Draper resident I feel it's my civic responsibility to climb it. I called Matt and shared my idea and he was immediately on board.

I could tell I still wasn't recovered fully from Wasatch, but all things considered I think it went really well. I settled into a very relaxed pace on the way up, summiting in 2:55:18. Matt beat me up by a few minutes and I'm quite certain could have gone a lot faster had he not had to show me the trail. What a view. It is really beautiful up there. We chose to come down a different trail so that I could get a sense of both of them. It turned out to be a nearly 16 mile outing with almost 7000 feet of vertical gain. I'm proud to say that I've finally put that one away.

 Looking through the notch above Bear Canyon toward the summit

 Matt on the summit

 Me on the summit

That run tuckered me out. I took Sunday off and enjoyed a very easy run on Monday up to View Benchmark, my standard Monday run with Scott Wesemann. I felt better than I had expected and really enjoyed a speedy run on Tuesday in the gully with good friend and amazing triathlete, Leslie Howlett.

Wednesday was another day, like Saturday, where we had plans in mind, but ended up having to change them a few times. Matt VH and I again hoped to get together and this time tag the Broads Fork Twins. Unfortunately, clouds had been sitting on top of it for a few days and just as we pulled into the parking lot it started raining. We settled on Mt Olympus, a peak we can do in pretty much any weather (lightning aside). While on the drive over Matt suggested we do the West Slabs and loop around. I immediately bought on it as the west slabs are another tick list item I had yet not done. The only hitch was that were it to rain we would be in a world of trouble.

How do you explain the west slabs if you haven't seen or done them? Hm. A grueling steep single track climb into a very steep 2nd/3rd class gully. The slabs themselves are more than 1200 vertical feet tall and range from 4th to low 5th class, if you take the correct route. Go off-route and you sustain more consistent 5th class (5.4 - 5.6) for considerably longer. As we made our way up the approach I was looking for the clean line, while Matt searched for the correct and easiest way up. Within a few hundred feet I had found the clean line, but it turned out to be much harder and exposed than Matt was comfortable on, considering we were in running shoes. As I continued up Matt looked for another way. I hit the top of the slabs in 1:15:00 (which included a 7 min wait for Matt). After waiting up the north ridge for a bit longer we both continued together over to the main summit, reaching the top in 2:07:40. From there we ran the spectacular main trail back down and then cut around on the newly cut Bonneville Shoreline trail. At only 7.3 miles total it boasts a total of 4800 vertical feet of climbing. Again, I was grateful to tick off another from my to-do list.

 Matt, low on the slabs during the still very easy part

 Looking back down the technical section

 Matt on the north ridge

 On the summit of Mt Olympus

 Cruising through the turning leaves

Matt on the new BST

I finished my week off with a very easy run in the gully with Brent and Jeremy testing out my new Sony Action Cam. I think I'm going to have a lot of fun with this thing. I posted a very short video about it. The clarity isn't that good because my output file with medium format and I didn't upload it to youtube in HD. You'll get the idea though.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Running on the Edge

For decades the lines between ultra-runners, hikers, peak-baggers, and mountaineers have been pretty clearly defined, at least in the US (in Europe these lines have been obscured for ages). However, over the last few years we’ve seen those lines become a little more distorted. Historically, most ultra-runners were ex-marathoners who were tired of the distance and sought to try their luck running farther.  Recently, if one were to take a closer look, you would find that many ultra-runners are hikers and peak-baggers who want to challenge themselves more and see how fast they can move over traditional hiking trails and up mountains. This new vision of looking at how we ascend mountains and moving over technical terrain is being broadened, the boundaries of speed and safety are being pushed, and times from trailhead to summit and round trip are dropping dramatically.

While most evident in the recent Fastest Known Times (FKT) of the Grand Teton and Gannett Peak by Andy Anderson, Killian Jornet and Anton Krupicka, respectively, we continue to see this attitude becoming more apparent across the mass of US ultra-runners, as seen in Jared Campbell’s and Matt Hart’s recent success of the Nolan’s 14 and the FKT of the Utah Triple Crown getting beat twice this past summer. While this mentality may seem to be more pervasive among the elite runners, it is also becoming day-to-day training throughout the masses of the ‘average’ ultra-runner.

Before I started running I was a religious rock climbing and frequent peak-bagger. If I wasn’t pulling on technical boulder problems or sending ‘at-my-limit’ roped routes I could often be found tagging many of the local peaks, both in the Wasatch and Uintas. I actually took up running as a means to gain better cardio so that I could push summit times. It didn’t take long before I was running in six hours mountains that used to take me three days to hike. Along with several friends, we’ve started doing ascents of more technical routes to the tops of these peaks, upping the technical requirements and the risk. The end result has been an increase in the number of mountains I’ve climbed this year (over 65 so far) , along with a solid improvement in my ultra training, as was evidenced by my success at running my first Wasatch 100.

Traversing the knife-edge ridge towards the American Fork Twin Peaks

Don’t be fooled, however, it’s a serious game that comes with considerable risk. Killian, Tony K, and Jared all make for great reading and fun to watch youtube videos. Since I’m familiar with the peaks and routes they have been climbing I can attest that the difficulty is much greater than it appears to be on film. Tony, just days ago, set a new FKT of Gannett Peak, crushing the old time by almost four hours. He chose to summit sans crampons and ice axe, something that would be considered suicidal by most mountaineers and hikers, especially considering the dodgy late season they are having on that mountain this year. Yet, unless he was to admit to it, he seemed to be quite comfortable in those types of conditions.

I was talking to a friend about it just this morning and he likened this new attitude towards deep sea diving. He noted that years ago people would have never attempted to dive hundreds of feet below the surface without a massive amount of equipment and back-up gear. Yet today people are diving deeper on a single breath of air and even now without fins. It’s astounding. Likewise, those of us who have taken up running /climbing summits on challenging 4th and easy 5th class routes without technical climbing gear are simply trading out heavy ropes and protection that can sway balance with the ability to move freer and faster. Yes, the risk is greater, but when done with confidence and careful movement, on terrain where we feel comfortable and well within our abilities, the risk is mitigated and liability is at a minimum. Speaking from personal experience, I don’t feel that at any point to date I’ve put myself in any greater harm than at times climbing with full protection. The terrain I am moving over can most often be done without a rope, ice axe, or crampons, but is frequently used more to put the mind at ease then to provide actual protection.

 Matthew Van Horn on the south ridge of Mt Superior

Some would argue that this doesn’t fall within the realm of running or training for ultras. However, I’m certain if you were to ask anyone who has incorporated this activity into their training curriculum you would find that they would unanimously state that it has improved their fitness overall and made them a better all-around athlete and trail/ultra-runner. Even Tony K stated himself over the last few months that his new attitude towards ‘hiking’ has made him a better runner. Certainly it has made him stronger in the mountains. And no one will argue Killian’s ability to perform in the biggest mountain races around the world. His new Summits of My Life project with Salomon running is a testament to this.

The point of all of this is to simply show a different side to our sport of trail and ultra running. That the concepts we’ve learned in other aspects of our life are now being infused with our ability to run far and move over technical terrain. I can say with great confidence that because of my rock and mountain climbing background I am a better runner on technical terrain, especially steep descents. The lines of running, climbing, and peak-bagging are becoming more obscure and our sport is becoming more exciting every day!

Enjoy this video a friend of mine made when we climbed the south ridge of Mt Superior, Utah. Unfortunately, his battery died before he was able to get us flying down the single-track back to the car.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

In Retrospect

"Hindsight is 20/20", or so they say. At mile 75 of the Wasatch 100 I was spot on the splits to go sub-24 hours if I could complete the last 25 miles in under 6 hrs 20 min. These splits were generated by someone, someplace, based on years of finishing times and the law of averages. My personal splits I had created said I needed to be to Brighton (mile 75) at least a half hour earlier, giving me a full 7 hours to finish. While I came into Brighton feeling amazing, I left feeling not-so-great and within 100 yards had consigned myself to a sub-25 hour finish. I was physically moving forward, not super fast, but well enough. I was in a decent mood and optimistic, but mentally I just didn't feel the motivation to push myself harder to try and get under 24 hours. It was my first Wasatch and I had told myself anything under 26 hours would be great, so I was actually very happy with how I was doing.

Of course, now I am kicking myself wondering why I didn't find that extra 'umph' to push myself 25 minutes faster over 25 miles. I mean, pain is temporary, the Cheetah club is eternal. I look back now and it seems so simple, so easy to find that extra motivation that could have propelled me just a little bit faster on the not-so-steep climbs, to run a little stronger on the flats, and to try harder the last 5 miles pushing the downhill. I tell myself Matt could have pushed me harder, that he could have jumped out front and started leading at a running pace in an effort to try and get me moving quicker. I could have eaten more, taken a few more gels, or found something that would have sparked the psych I needed to get after it. Brian Beckstead, at Brighton, sure tried. He tried again passing us to Catherine Pass, to no avail.

Heading up to Dog Lake, mile 63

In hindsight it all seems so simple, so easy. The reality is not so clear. I was tired, really tired. I had been pushing hard the previous six hours up to Brighton, so much so that I had  recovered an hour on my splits. An hour over 22 miles and most of it uphill. That is huge. But it also took its toll. That hour didn't necessarily put me back on target to go under 24 hours, but instead allowed me to have a big cushion to go under 25. And Matt was everything he should have been. He motivated when he needed to and shut up when he knew he should. He had been at it hours and for miles on end himself. He was, for only the second time, running the farthest distance he ever had, but this time with 99% more vert than the first time, and likely under-trained. Yet, he never gave any inclination that he may have been tired or hurting. He likely wouldn't admit it to this day, if it were true. He's that good of a pacer.

So yeah, hindsight is 20/20. I guess what that really means is that now the fire is back to try again, to finally get that coveted Cheetah buckle. But it's not enough to get me to put in for next year, I really want to focus on something else, likely out of state. I want an adventure, somewhere I can prove myself on a course that isn't in my backyard. That is the real draw for me and it makes me more excited than the thought of returning to Wasatch. We'll have our day again, soon, but not too soon. Until then I'll relish my 24:25 and be satisfied with the fact that I did something not often done in a first encounter with the Wasatch 100.


Monday, September 10, 2012

Wasatch 100 Race Report

The Wasatch 100 is an iconic and classic member of the ultra-running 100 mile Grand Slam. It's origins date back to 1985 (I believe) and continues to set the standard for what a 100 mile mountain ultra should be. Unlike many modern 100s, Wasatch still puts the responsibility and safety of it's competitors in their own hands. From their own website, "The primitive and isolated nature of the course is both its beauty and its challenge, for it requires the individual runner to rely primarily on himself or herself rather than the Race's support systems. Wasatch is not just distance and speed; it is adversity, adaptation and perseverance". It is literally 100 miles of "Heaven and Hell".

My Wasatch 100 mile adventure began four years ago when I first paced Davy Crockett on a short section between miles 39 and 53. I've returned each year to pace a different friend and have enjoyed each and every experience. Having the opportunity to race this year was the culmination of years of anticipation and preparation. I had set lofty goals for myself, all based on previous running experience. However, my success would be a mystery because I had only run the back half of the course and knew little about the front. I wanted to get the often coveted, but rarely achieved 'sub-24 hour' mark and make it into Wasatch's honor society, the Cheetah club. It was a dream though as this was my first time running the race and I just didn't know what to expect. Were I to run 26 hours I would be elated. And that's what I trained for.

 The night before the race my good friends Matt and Alicia Williams host a BBQ for all of his friends, their pacers and their families. It has become a tradition of sorts and I can't thank them enough for the effort they put out in making us feel comfortable. Because he lives so close to the starting line he also plays host to several of us to stay the night so we can sleep longer. I woke Friday morning feeling very good and relaxed. Along with Scott Wesemann and Josh Greenwell, who also spent the night there, we were up, fed and at the starting line by 4:30am. We all lined up near the front and went out comfortably fast, but not too fast. I quickly got separated from all my friends, but settled in with a great group of guys and we chatted our way through the rolling first four miles and then had a great time going up Chinscraper, a 5000 foot climb in 5 miles with a bunch of cool people that I would run on and off with throughout the whole race.

At the top of Chinscraper, mile 9, you run the ridge above Davis County for a few miles before a long drop down into Francis Peak aid station. I was still running in the same group, but falling back a little, making me think I might have gone out a little fast. After Francis Peak aid you run along dirt roads through grazing lands low in the mountain valley, then start climbing and bushwacking through a nasty section up to Bountiful B aid station, mile 24. Things kind of broke down coming up to Bountiful B. I wasn't ready for the bushwhacking climbs and it started getting hot. Regardless of taking plenty of salt and trying to eat a lot I just didn't have energy and was cramping in my legs. The climb out of Sessions aid station (mile 30ish) is long, steep, and hard. While very challenging, I did have fun running with Emily Judd, the eventual women's winner (who finished 15 min ahead of me). She passed me a couple of miles before Swallows aid station(mile 34), then the 2nd place woman, Sarah Evans, passed me just minutes before that same stop. I was doing a great job of keeping my aid stops down to 2 - 3 minutes. That being said, within minutes of leaving Swallows I couldn't see either women any more and was also passed by four other men. They were all flying and I just couldn't manage any speed. I was told by a hiker that I was in about 30th place. I did all I could to move forward the next 4.5 miles into Big Mountain, where I would pick up my brother as my first pacer. Seeing him would change my race.

At Big Mountain aid station, mile 39, I made quick work eating and drinking, then Brent and I headed off up an easy climb toward Little Bald Mountain. I still wasn't feeling like I had energy, but I had my brother and I knew that would change. Half way to Alexander Flat (mile 47) my fueling and electrolyte intake got balanced and things started to click. I was really moving and Brent was having a hard time keeping up. I left Alexander Flat and was surprised at how fast I could make the long, easy climb in the exposed heat. I came into Lamb's Canyon (mile 53) at 11:30, an hour behind my goal time splits, but still on 24 hour splits according to a lot of breakdowns (just not mine, I wanted a bigger cushion). It was at Lamb's I switched to Matt who would take me 47 miles to the finish.

Atop Little Bald Mountain, mile 43

Being taken care of Lamb's Canyon, mile 53. I changed my socks, that's all.

All I'll say about the next 22 miles to Brighton is that we were a blur. I was meticulous about my fueling and salt, we were running up hills I would normally walk while fresh on a training run, and I doubt we ever went more than 5 minutes without laughing. We actually made it all the way to Desolation Lake (mile 67) before we had to turn on our headlamps. On the Wasatch Crest trail we passed a couple of other runners and then again a final person near the bottom of the road down Guardsman Pass. I came into Brighton on a real high.

Brian Beckstead, a good friend from Altra, who was pacing another runner not far behind me ushered me out of Brighton in 6 minutes. I probably should have stayed another few minutes to refocus because as soon as I went out into the cold with Matt my climbing legs and energy failed. Completely failed. I knew in that first 100 yards that my ability to do the next 25 miles in 6 hrs 20 min (that's how long I had to go under 24 hrs) just wasn't there. I couldn't push the uphills, at all. I hoped that taking it easy up to Point Supreme (mile 77) would get me back into pushing mode, but my uphill legs just never came around. I could run the downhills fine and the flats were ok, but anything uphill  was a shambles.

I was now grinding, hoping to go under 25 hrs. I had three groups behind me pushing hard and it was all I could do to stay in front of them. I kept good distance on them until mile 88, when you hit the Dive and the Plunge - two crazy, nasty descents in 6 in deep dusty troughs. They are killers in the light, treacherous in the dark. For some reason Matt and I didn't care and we flew down these with reckless abandon. It was a miracle neither of us got seriously injured.

After that is a section called Irv's Torture Chamber, a series of rolling hills that wind in and out of finger canyons. We cursed the uphills but pounded the descents. I think we passed 10 people in this section.The turn and last 1.5 miles into Pot Bottom, mile 93, was a crazy blur. We shouldn't have been running that fast. It was hard, but really fun. Once there we spent less than 2 min in the aid station, ushered the 2nd place woman, Sarah, out and we all took off to try and push the last 7 miles and go well under 25 hours.

It's a long, but easy climb out of Pot Bottom only to have to spend the next 5 miles running steep downhill dirt roads covered in softball sized rocks. After 95 miles this is not what you want to be doing and it really hurts. You can only go so fast and its even worse in the dark. I finally got passed just as we started the descent by someone who had been chasing me since Brighton. I was fine letting him go by, he was moving well. I was now in a fight to try and stay under 24:30 and we were pushing pretty hard. We hit the pavement and Matt's goal was to just  keep me running. We slowed to a walk only twice and for less than 1 min each time. When we hit the grass it really set in and finished our run to the overwhelming cheers and clapping of the 4 people who were there and awake. Ha. The RD shook my hand, I walked over to Brian Beckstead who had gotten his runner in 45 min before me and gave him a hug, and we all laughed about our journey.

Standing in front of the finish line a few hours after I was done.

I had run the 2nd hardest 100 mile event in America in 24:25:26, something I really didn't know was possible for me. Brent saved my race at Big Mountain and I owe him everything. Matt is an absolute machine. He ran his 2nd ever 50 miler unbelievably fast, on one of the hardest sections of course around. He is undoubtedly the best pacer on the planet. I'm grateful to all of my friends who came out and supported me. And to everyone else who was following online and on Facebook, you are the best ever. I can't believe the overwhelming amount of support. Thank you. Time to start planning the next most awesome thing.

I got to spend the rest of Saturday watching great friends come in and socializing with other racers. What an awesome event.

Josh finishing.

 Seth Hales up Lamb's Canyon

Josh and Scott coming into Big Mountain