Monday, January 27, 2014

By the Stars

When we turn off our headlamps and crane our necks back we are enveloped by the bright, shining stars backed by the eclipsing emptiness of space. It's beautiful and mesmerizing. And it's simply a random Saturday night with some local Wasatch Mountain Wranglers.

"Wranglers" - the duality of the word is actually comical and yet completely unplanned. Months ago I started the Facebook group the "Wasatch Mountain Wranglers". Its intended purpose was to create a public forum to connect on running plans. I figured it would be easier for the 10 to 15 of us to coordinate plans on there than to email. Now, so many months later the group has crested more than 450 members and has a completely self-sustaining community. The group is filled with wranglers, both those who corral mountains like tame horses and those who lasso their friends into doing their bidding.

Jennilyn was the Wrangler this night. A run we've done a few times now has gone unfinished in Winter - running Tibble Fork to the top of Hidden Peak (the top of Snowbird Ski Resort) and needed to get done. She and a couple of others tried it last week and got scared off by a snow machine making its way down the mountain towards them. Uncertain if they were going to get in trouble or not, they opted to get out of there instead of face potential consequences.

We started our adventure at 9pm on a crisp, but not overly cold night. Tibble Fork Reservoir reflected the surrounding mountains while Box Elder Peak kept vigil over us. Five of us - me, Jennilyn, Scott, Leslie, and Jen made our way up Tibble Fork Rd toward Mineral Basin. Leslie and I fell behind as we scouted out some very obvious mountain lion tracks. The reality of the wildness around us enveloped us like a fog and we continued on in quiet respect. The climb up with quick and easy as we approached the bottom of the lift, Larry's Hole (at least that's what it's called in the Speedgoat 50k).

As we approached it became obvious that there people inside the shack, purposefully managing the snow makers just outside. While the others seemed apprehensive about approaching I took the initiative and walked right up to the building. Two guys came out to greet us, asked where we came from, and were impressed with our Saturday night's activity. I felt comfortable asking them how high we could go and they excitedly told us to "go all the way up". Sweet, Hidden Peak was ours for the taking. We donned our Kahtoola and Hillsound spikes and headed straight up Mineral Basin. The slope was steep, often approaching 45 degrees, but the snow was tracked out and bullet hard, so there was no chance of avalanche, just slipping. We successfully hit the top of Hidden Peak and the warmth of the 'warming room' in exactly 3 hrs. Having the warming room was a real treat and we hung out, snapped a pic, and prepped for going back out into the cold.

A warming room at 11,000 ft. Yep, that's awesome.

The run down wasn't nearly as direct as the way up, it was just too steep. Instead we cruised down the groomer track, only stopping at the steeper sections to pull out garbage bags and slide down the hill on our backsides. One time I got moving so fast that I almost took out Jennilyn and had to pull the bag out from under me so that I could slow myself to stop. Back down on the road out of Mineral Basin Leslie pulled out her sled and started riding it down the snow machine track which acted just like a luge run. Twice she did it, both times riding well over a quarter of a mile. I remember the last time she slid down she spun around just before coming to a stop and seeing them smile on her face was of pure childhood enjoyment. Magic.

We continued down without incident. Jennilyn and I even tried to hide and scare the others, unsuccessfully. We chatted away, fighting off the sleep that was starting to weigh on us. It was now almost 2am, and three of the five of us had already run once before earlier in the day. Ultimately it was one of the best runs of the year. I'm so pleased with the friends I have and can't think of a better way to have spent a Saturday night.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

2013- A year in review: By Scott Wesemann

What a year! It seems like I have been saying that every year for the past several years, but as I look back at 2013 I can't help but think it was a pretty phenomenal year once again. I ran more miles and gained more elevation than ever before. I finished 3 100 mile races and once again hit my goal to summit over 100 peaks for the year. Here's the recap:
A hug from Craig at the Buffalo 100 finish.

Buffalo Run 100: Yeah, on paper this race seems like a pretty easy one, if you can call running 100 miles easy, but this year the weather didn't cooperate and finishing this race was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. The cold air, wind and constantly changing temperatures were something I hadn't planned well enough for. Mix in some really achy knees and the first 50 miles were a total mess. The wind calmed down some the back 50, but the cold temps during the night really took a toll and grinding out the last 30 miles was a suffer-fest. I didn't have the finishing time that I wanted, but I got it done and overcame a lot of adversity out there. I'm looking forward to running this race again in 2014 and significantly improving my time.

The boys at the Bryce 100

Bryce 100: This was the best experience that I have ever had in running and one of the sweetest memories of my life. I was fortunate to be able to run every step with 3 of my best friends, Craig, MattW and Josh. My plan going in was to do whatever I had to in order to hang with the guys for the first 50 miles and then take it from there. Remarkably we all felt pretty good the whole way and not only were we able to run the entire 100 miles together, but we also finished in a very respectable tie for 19th place. I still can't believe that we all went the whole distance without any significant issues. I'll never forget all of the laughs, the pain and pushing each other through the night. I think more than anything this race taught me what I am capable of and it also reaffirmed that I have some pretty incredible friends.
Me, Craig, Josh and Matt at the Bryce 100 finish.

Speedgoat 50K: This is probably the most difficult 50K in the country and since it is in my backyard I've wanted to do it for a few years now. After banging my kneecap in the Uintas my training had suffered significantly and I was worried about it going into the race. Fortunately I felt fantastic the entire 32 miles and the scenery was as good as it gets anywhere. Mix in several elite runners, most of the local ultra running crew and all of the Refuse2quit guys and it made for the perfect day. My only real complaint was my knee took a beating in Mary Ellen Gulch, but otherwise I completely enjoyed this race... Oh wait, there was that part when we had to make the final climb back up to Hidden Peak. That kind of blew a bit, but otherwise it was one of the best days of 2013 and I got to swear at Karl.

Running the Speedgoat 50K

Wasatch 100: This was my 3rd straight Wasatch. With my experience finishing the race twice along with some very solid training during the year made me feel very confident about reaching my sub 30 hour goal, but the Wasatch course has a way of neutralizing expectations. It was one of the hottest Wasatch race days ever and was in the high seventies when we started at 5:00 AM. I felt nauseous from the start (damn you Hostess pie) and didn't start feeling well until about mile 25. I did have a fantastic stretch from mile 25 to Swallow Rocks at mile 34, but I developed a really bad calf cramp that got progressively worse to the finish. I felt decent to Desolation Lake (mile 66) but from there to Brighton the wheels came off, the nausea came back and I lost my will to finish. After spending several hours at Brighton (mile 75) my pacers, Rob Bladen and Zac Marion refused to let me quit. I was convinced that I couldn't finish, but somehow I got out of there and came back to life. I felt phenomenal the final 25 miles and went from 211th place to 150 at the finish, shaving almost 3 hours off of my previous best time on the last 25 miles. It was my slowest 100 mile finish ever, but one that I am the most proud of. I learned that our bodies are stronger and more capable than we think. We can accomplish at times what we think is unthinkable.

Finishing my 3rd Wasatch 100

102 peaks: Keeping track of my total mountain ascents for the year started in 2009 after I made it a goal to climb a peak per week for the year. From 2010-1013 I've summited 348 peaks. Last year I set a goal to go over 100 and I finished the year with 116. My goal this year was once again 100 and midway through the year it wasn't looking very good, but I made a really strong push the last few months and just barely hit the mark. Most of the summits were repeats, but I did hit 11 new peaks that I had never been on and I loved every single one. My favorite summit memory of the year was watching the sunset from the top of Tokewanna Peak with MattV and Craig. It was pretty awe inspiring to be there in that moment, in one of the most remote and least visited places in the High Uintas. I'll never forget that feeling.

Willard Peak with Jennilyn and Craig

2013 was a sweet year. Most of all the best memories from the year are getting up early while the rest of the world sleeps, to meet great friends to play on the trails and in the mountains. I could not be more stoked for 2014. We have a lot of adventure planned and I'm psyched to watch all of my friends do amazing things. There are races to run, summits to climb and adventures ahead. Bring it on.

The Grandeur Peak Fun Run

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A Glance Back While Planning Ahead

As I sat down to plan out my running schedule for 2014, I struggled to grasp and accept the idea that the 2013 season was over. There were so many emotions that went into this last year. Heartaches and struggles as well as successes and accomplishments were so much more abundant and profound this season. So what started as a post about the new year and new goals, is going to be a look back at the great season that 2013 was for me.

I consider this last year my defining year in running. Not because the races that I competed in or the adventures that I was a part of defined my career as a runner. But because I was finally able to define what kind of runner I am.

Up until this year, I found myself to be a rather mediocre road runner. With marathon PR’s just under 3 hours and half PR’s just under 1:20, it was time for me to start really focusing on speed if I want to “go anywhere” in running. Even though I started to see the benefits of my focus, running didn’t get any better for me. It wasn’t until I met up with Craig Lloyd and Mark Kruezer that things started to fall into place. Through them, I found the Wasatch Mountain Wranglers... who I instantly felt akin to.

It started on a cold February morning when Craig somehow convinced me that I should run my 20 miler with them on an icy trail. Of course I showed up without a pack, no micro spikes and no headlamp. It was the most difficult and uncomfortable 20 miles I’ve ever run. But by the end of that run, I was hopeful that I would be invited on more of these adventures. Thankfully the gang thought I was cool enough and I was welcomed with open arms.

I noticed that I was focusing less and less on the road and had been training more and more in the mountains. Going fast quit becoming the goal and focus. It was replaced with having fun and being out on trails. I almost felt a relief after a successful 3rd place finish and another 3 hour marathon at the Ogden Marathon because that meant that I could finally completely let go of what little grasp I had left.

The vision I had for the year finally came into focus just a few weeks after Ogden. With beat up legs, I was coaxed (it really doesn’t take much, apparently) into a last minute 100k race at the Bryce 100. I don’t know what it was that made me sign up for this race with just a day’s notice and knowing that I was completely untrained… especially since I was still hobbling from the marathon not even two weeks earlier.

That day, that race and on those trails, I learned who I was as a runner. It took 65 miles of SUFFERING, almost 18 hours of pain, and a pretty good sunburn to help me understand that I would rather suffer for that long on the trails than suffer 3 hours on the road. As Mark likes to say, “[I] had a different look in my eyes from that day on”. I had grown up that day. A LOT. I would consider it my aboriginal walk-about.

Thanks to New Balance, I was offered a spot in the Leadville 100 and had something in the Ultra world that I could now start to focus on. Once I recovered from Bryce, the next two months were about getting in long days on the trails and running to the tops of things. So many fun adventures ensued! Brighton Marathon, Millcreek Overnighter, Pie ‘n’ Beer (which I turned into a 50k), King’s Peak Marathon, and even my own 50k on the BST with a few peaks thrown in.

Leadville was a special day for me. Definitely the highlight of the I have my own race-day philosophies and will one day possibly try to explain them when I can find such words. But mainly not approaching that race with ANY expectations or real concrete goals is what made it so much fun and successful. That, and the fact that I was crewed by my father and wife and was paced by two of my favorite running friends, Leslie and Bob. Crossing that finish line meant so much to me and I’m glad I was able to spend it with those closest to me.

It sounds obscured, but that one singular step over the finish line changed me forever.

After my selfish summer and once Leadville was done, I decided to repay the favor for a little while and had a blast pacing Leslie at UROC 100k (where she destroyed it!) and supported tons of friends and even got to pace Scott Wesemann, with what I consider the most impressive finish, at Wasatch 100 this year.

I thought my season had ended with Leadville and was just having some fun on peaks. I was, again, talked into a last minute 100k at Antelope Island. I went out just to have fun and was able to compete with fellow Altra Footwear runner Damian Stoy. We had a fun day running together and I was very happy to end the season with a second place finish.

I was able to play around for the week after the race on a few peaks with some friends, including two first time peaks on Lone Peak and Olympus. Unfortunately, an injury that I incurred at Antelope Island went into full blown status and I was forced to take the rest of the year fairly easy.

The frustration that I thought would come never did. I know it sounds cliché but, honestly, I was just so happy to be a part of such a great community and so grateful for the year I had, that it didn't matter to me. Besides, I got to spend some much needed time with family, loved ones, and bowls of ice cream.

I wish that life had a rear view mirror so I can keep my focus on what’s to come, while occasionally looking back and seeing where the trip has already taken me.