Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Antelope Canyon 50 Miler

by Craig

Some ultras are about self-discovery. For me that's what running 100 miles often comes down to in the later miles. I feel pretty comfortable at the 50 mile distance, however, I don't generally go through that same process since much of it takes place much later in a longer race. But I also haven't really run a 50 miler since 2010, so I didn't know what I was in for (I did attempt one last fall and DNFed at mile 28 due to injury). What I found was that racing at that distance is more about the other people I am with rather than about myself.

My race at the Antelope Canyon 50 miler can be broken down into 5 main sections, each associated to a specific person or group of people. They are what made my race-day so successful; not my time or overall placement, but the people they were and the experience I had with them.

Matt Gunn, race director, and the Ultra-Adventure crew put together a monster race this year. With 30 miles of miserable sand, the course was relentless. But thanks to widely spaced and incredible slot canyons and pristine overlooks, the sand became secondary to the whole experience. I would be remiss if I didn't thank Matt and his team for putting on such a great event. If you can mentally grasp running through that much sand then this is a race you can't miss.

Horseshoe Bend aid. Photo: Matt Williams
The Wasatch Mountain Wranglers
Our local running group was at the race in full force. We had spent most of Friday together, playing at Horseshoe Bend, eating dinner, drinking Slurpees, and just laughing and enjoying each other's company. I love this quality time with them, so to have spent the first 5 miles of the race running with Jennilyn, Scott, Steve, and others was a real treat. The hardest part about running with Scott is that he makes me laugh so hard I nearly have to stop running to catch my breath. I had hoped to run with all of them longer, but they stopped at the first aid station to drop headlamps and jackets and I continued on. I didn't know then that it would be the last time I would see them until the finish. It was because of them, however, that my mood was so high and that emotional foundation carried me through the rest of the race.

Jumping onto nothing. Photo: Jenna Bradford
Scott Wesemann near Page Rim aid.      Photo: Matt Williams
Matt Baird and Laverne Lindsay
Matt was kind of tucked in behind me from pretty early on. After Antelope Canyon things spread out a little and we were able to converse more. We ran all the way out to Horseshoe Bend together, chatting about nothing important and just taking in the beauty of the course.

At one point, as we made our way across the rim of the canyon I came across a 50k runner who was struggling to get down a tricky portion of the course. I stopped to grab her hands and help her down a series of small drop-offs. She was so concerned she was messing up my race and slowing me down. I assured her I had no intentions of just leaving her there. The most important aspect of racing is that everyone gets back to the finish successfully. There were times throughout the day when I'd get to a tricky section and think about her and hoping she would be ok as she moved through there.

Laverne Lindsay at Waterhole aid.     Photo: unknown
Jesse Scott
Jesse latched on behind Matt and I at the rim of Horseshoe Bend. He's speedy and I'm very comfortable on technical slickrock, so it was no surprise that after only a few minutes of running across it he and I were on our own and making our way across the desert to the other canyon. We talked about our running backgrounds, work, and other random things. It was hot, one of the few times the sun was directly on us and his company made the crossing easier, even when we got off course and had to redirect a few times. He fell back just before Waterhole Aid station and I never saw him after that.

Jesse Scott above Horseshoe Bend
Steve Kent
After exiting Waterhole Canyon there is a steep, sandy climb to the top of the canyon. I could see several 50k racers ahead of me on the climb and one person just finishing it who took off at a good trot. I immediately pegged him as a 50 miler and began to follow him. He was maintaining a better running pace than me, but he must have stayed longer at Horseshoe Bend aid station (2nd time) longer than me because I caught him within a quarter mile of leaving. We exchanged pleasantries and then ran together for the next hour and a half. If we weren't running next to each other I was out front and felt like he was pushing me, which was great. Finally, after a couple of fast miles beyond Page Rim aid station, at mile 38, I had to step aside and get my electrolytes under control as I was really dizzy and he pushed quickly on ahead. I only saw him one more time as we passed each other on the short out and back to Lake Powell aid. He would go on to finish 10 minutes ahead of me. That's really impressive.

The Wasatch Mountain Wranglers x2
Finishing my race in 8:25 was very satisfying. I had exceeded my own goals and done so feeling very proud of the effort. I came into the finish with none of my closest friends there. They were all out either still running, pacing, or shooting film. I don't have any ill feelings of finishing alone, it's something I have gotten used to. And to assume I was alone is incorrect, there was a full finish line of people there, many whom I did know or quickly got to know. I would go on to spend the next several hours watching and filming friends finish, something I value more than my own.

Jennilyn was the first of my friends to finish. She ran 9:15, took first female, and set a new course record. I had spent the last 4 miles of my race expecting her to pass me at any minute. It's amazing how strong she has gotten in the last 8 months. I was really proud to see her finishing so strong.

Scott was the next to come across. What I love about any finish Scott has is that he looks like he just got run over by a car. It's because he gives everything he has in those remaining miles and leaves it all out on the course. I respect that in him in a way I've never understood of myself.

Steve seems to represent the heart and soul of ultrarunning; always positive and continually supporting others along the way. Even as he crossed the finish line he was all smiles and quick to congratulate others.

Finally, Jenna. I've been working and coaching her for a few months now in preparation for this race. I went out and saw her at mile 43 to take her a jacket. Watching her cross the finish line was one of the most rewarding moments of my running career. I was and am beyond pleased for her and her performance.

There were other Wranglers who also had great races - Kendall, Pete, Davy, Jim, and more. Too many to speak individually of, but all worth recognizing.

Jennilyn Eaton crossing the finish line, 1st Female
Kendall Wimmer near Horseshoe Bend.    Photo: Matt Williams
Pete Stoughton      Photo: Matt Williams
Jenna Bradford near Horseshoe Bend.     Photo: Matt Williams

And while Matt, Ashley and MVH didn't run the race this weekend, without their help and support it would not have been nearly as good as it turned out. The selflessness to travel down and crew and pace friends is immeasurable. I am so grateful they were there.

I could have written every detail of my race, most of which would have been some repetitious sentence about the sand. I could have detailed the turns and beauty of the slot canyons or the immensity of the Colorado River gorge. But while the images of those places will remain, it is the influence of the individuals I met and shared that day with that will stick with me far longer. It is they who deserve my voice and my gratitude. And to them I am forever grateful.

Finally, a big thank you to Matt Gunn and Ultra-Adventures. What a massively awesome race. Thank you so much. And to Gnarly Nutrition for making the best products ever. I'm so pleased to be associated with them.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

I Heart Sand . . . . and Slot Canyons

by Craig

Just before the beginning of the year I was selected as an ambassador for Ultra-Adventures - a series of races in Utah that represent the Grand Circle. For a few years now I've admired Matt Gunn, the Race Director, and his Green philosophy to racing and the fact that he chooses courses that share his great love for some of the most beautiful places in Utah. As an ambassador I get to the privilege to race several of his events free of charge. The first of which will be this coming Friday, the Antelope Canyon 50 miler.

Training since the Zion Double Crossing with Jennilyn last November has been spotty, at best. However, the last couple of weeks I've felt like I've put in decent miles and a solid effort. More importantly, I am starting to feel strong and fast again and my foot is only giving me rare pangs of remembered injury. It would be easy to say that I feel like I'm ready to run well. I'd like to say it. But I can't.

The Antelope Canyon course only boasts 3800 ft of vert along the 50 mile course, a profile I drool for, know I can move fast. However, this course is tough. There are miles and miles of sand, then technical scrambling through slot canyons. And finally there are the stunning views of the Colorado River. Link all of these spectacular sites and the sand together and I fear I won't be moving very fast. And that's just fine.

This will be a ramp-up race for the Bryce 100 in June. It will be a way for me to test my legs and fitness as I refocus my training on a fun mountain ultra. Regardless of my time it will be a great way to re-introduce my legs to the ultra distance for the first time in the last four months. Better yet, I'll be surrounded by friends and have a great weekend with a group of people I care a great about.

Monday, February 9, 2015

1st Annual Wasatch Mountain Wrangler Formal Meet-Up

by Craig

It's natural for people to generate an idea and make plans toward that idea with the hope that it will evolve into something successful, something that people will appreciate and the organizer will feel satisfied with the results. Thus was my vision for the 1st Annual Wasatch Mountain Wrangler meet-up.

I've been receiving pressure for months to host an all Wrangler get together. On a few occasions I explored locations to host it, researched catering, and was even ready a few times to put down deposits. But time after time something stopped me from progressing. Eventually someone suggested that we host an adults only 'formal' party. For no other reason than my own self desire to get dressed up with my wife, I immediately agreed that it was a fine idea and thus the vision began.

All photos taken by Morgan Williams

Thanks to many amazing connections within our own community (Kendall Wimmer at Thanksgiving Point, Jennifer Hanna at Zenergy Massage, Altra Footwear, Jim Skaggs with the  Buffalo Run races, and others) I had what I thought was a genuinely good plan for the biggest bash of the year - a celebration of all this incredible running group accomplished in 2014. I even went as far as to create awards in different categories for Wranglers who stood out. These were decided by public vote on an anonymous survey.

I spent the better part of the 3 days prior to the event nearly sick to my stomach with nerves and anticipation. Every part of me wanted it to go well. But what actually transpired transcended even my wildest imagination.

Hosted in the main banquet hall at the Thanksgiving Point Clubhouse we were greeted with an immaculate spread of tables and decorations, with a large area in the middle for dancing. At 7pm people began to trickle in, then in groups, all decked out in beautiful formal wear. The men mostly in suits (a few in tuxes) and the women in beautiful formal gowns and dresses. While not all participated, most came in suggested running shoes. We were a running group, so it only made sense.

At 7:30 dinner was served as people sat at tables with old and new friends, introducing normally uncomfortable spouses. This was no regular running conglomeration, it was date night and non-threatening, where everyone, runner or not was able to feel comfortable and welcomed. By 8pm most people had gotten through their meals and I stood to deliver a message of welcome and raffle off a few of our donated prizes, followed by our awards. In due respect, you can read them below:

Mr Wasatch - Kendall Wimmer
Ms Wasatch - Jennilyn Eaton
Most Improved Female Wrangler - Kenzie Barlow
Most Improved Male Wrangler - Aaron Williams
Most Inspirational Wrangler - Matthew Van Horn
Peak Bagger Award - Same Jewkes

My idea for the awards was to just honor a few people for their accomplishments. What became quickly apparent was that these awards were a big deal. People were genuinely moved and seemed to have taken great pride in their winning. I had no idea it would have such an impact. Congratulations to everyone who was nominated and to those selected.

After the awards and a few more prizes to raffle Matt Van Horn debuted his trailer to his forthcoming Pony Express 100 documentary. It was truly beautiful and we are all excited for the full length story. Aaron Williams collected video from all sorts of Wranglers over the last month and compiled what might be the greatest and most hilarious collection of running vidoes I've ever seen. Finally, Brendan Rensink presented a photo highlight of the Wrangler Christmas gift exchange, something so cool I would have to write an entire additional post to describe it.

With the formalities of a get together over, the presentation table was moved out of the way, the lights were turned low, and the music turned up. The next two hours would be spent dancing and partying with some of the greatest people I've ever had the honor of knowing. Personally, it was a night to remember as my wife has not looked that beautiful since the day we were married. She was a vision and stole the scene in her beautiful gown and magnetic personality. While many left to get home to children those who stayed laughed and danced, made new friendships and solidified others. Eventually the last of the party trickled out to get home to their beds. The few who remained helped to take down the set-up and make sure we said our appreciations to the establishment.

I don't know where to begin to express my gratitude to this amazing group of people who attended, who sacrificed a night with family or other commitments, who made the financial commitment to attend, and then show up and support their friends. I'm blessed to have had the support of close friends who offered to help and take up responsibilities I just didn't have time for (Matt, Jenna, Aaron, and others). I love this community and I thank each of you who have allowed me to be involved, to have an influence, and be allowed to host something that is now so special to me. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Until next year!

To our sponsors:
Altra Running
Trail and Ultra Running
Buffalo Run Races
Ultra Adventures
Wasatch Running
Dugway Proving Grounds

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Lone Peak- Winter ascent 1/24/15

In early January Matt Van Horn posted his plans to make a winter attempt on Lone Peak. MVH has been climbing Lone in winter for several years now and knows the mountain very well. In summer Lone peak is one of the more challenging peaks to climb in the Wasatch, gaining 7400 feet of elevation, crossing some very rugged terrain and finishing off with an exposed summit ridge scramble. In winter the peak becomes much more technical and provides more of a mountaineering challenge, as the rocks on the summit ridge become icy and the risks of a fall are significantly increased. The winter difficulty varies depending on conditions, so it is advised to make this attempt with someone that has experience navigating the sketchy sections, as well as mountaineering experience to make judgements on conditions.
Craig at sunrise

Craig and Jennilyn both expressed an interest in joining the group, but they had commitments later in the afternoon, so the 3 of us decided to start early ahead of the others, hoping we could make it up and back a little faster. We met at the Orson Smith trailhead and set off at 4:50 AM. We made quick work of the first few miles of Cherry Canyon until we reached the snow. It had been 5-6 years since I had been on this route and a few years for Craig as well. We took a wrong turn and ended up on the wrong side of the ridge. We post-holed for a while and finally got fed up and put on the snowshoes. We had to navigate some pretty awful terrain and it was quite cold. We were on a steep snow slope with a hard crust on top and then sugary powder below, making it difficult to move even with the snowshoes. After negotiating some boulders on the snowshoes and then getting into more bad snow our stoke for the summit was quickly dying. Getting off route slowed us down a lot and the mood wasn't great.
Jennilyn on Enniss Peak

Eventually we made it back to our route and started climbing the frozen slopes of Draper Ridge. The climbing was much faster and my attitude started to change, but it was very cold and now we had a stinging cold breeze to contend with. About a half mile from the top Craig started having issues with his new snowshoes. Jennilyn made a stop to change her socks and I started to get very cold. We got moving again and topped out on the ridge where Craig's foot came completely out of the snowshoe squashing any hope of a summit bid. Jennilyn was running out of time and both of them decided they were going to turn back. I was pretty bummed because I was really looking forward to getting to the summit, but I was hopeful that I could possibly meet up with the other group. After a long stop for Craig to mess with the snowshoe we started up to Enniss Peak. About half way up we saw the front-runners from MVH group traversing the slope up to Enniss and my mood quickly changed because now the summit was back on for me.

Travis A. ans Steve B. with Lone Peak
MVH had started with over 30 people at 6:00 AM and now a group of about 20 remained for the summit push. After tagging Enniss Peak we went down to the cowboy camp and then up and into the cirque, traversing high on the western wall to the shoulder of the mountain. The sun was out, the sky was blue and I thought we were going to have great weather for the summit bid, but as soon as we reached the shoulder a large cloud quickly moved in and enveloped the upper mountain. The wind picked up, the temps dropped and we were treated to a rare snow rainbow to the northwest. Incredible.

Navigating the cirque. Photo by: Kendall Wimmer
MVH gave everyone the 'don't die' speech and warned those without mountaineering experience to stop at the safe spot and not attempt the summit. Most of the group dropped their snowshoes here and started to head up the slope. I needed to take care of some 'business' in the trees and got behind the group, so I tried to quickly catch up. High up on the shoulder the wind was really whipping around and I stopped to put on my crampons and get out my ice axe. It was nasty trying to get geared up and my hands went numb making what should have been simple adjustments more time consuming. I finally got geared up about the same time as Sam and we both went up to tackle the ridge. The wind was really blowing over the ridge adding to the challenge. It no longer felt like a typical group run up a foothill peak, this was real winter mountaineering and climbers started turning back as the comfort level just wasn't there.

Starting the ridge. Photo by Sam Jewkes
The last time I was up there in winter the conditions allowed you to get very close to the summit without getting into the serious terrain, but this year the angle of the snow required the use of my axe a lot sooner and Sam decided to stop there because he didn't have an axe. It was a smart decision and he snapped a few pics of me as I ascended up higher on the ridge. The wind had really picked up and that added some spice to the already challenging ridge.

The ridge. Photo by Sam Jewkes
After a few short knife-edge sections I came to the first technical rock. KalinaZ and another guy were there and decided to stop because they didn't feel comfortable getting over the rock. This was one of the most sketchy moves to be made. In summer I think this is the crux of the whole ridge. There is a boulder you have to either climb over or around. The boulder was covered in snow/ice and the ledge to the left where I go in the summer was covered in ice. There isn't a very good hold on the boulder, so I took my time and worked around on the ledge. At that point it is about 4 feet to the ridge and you have to jump down and land on the small step (with sheer drops on both sides) or down-climb the icy boulder. AaronW was there waiting for me and after taking some time I finally jumped down. From there you have to traverse a small knife edge section. The exposure is significant and I took my time on each step and used my ice axe as a self-belay.

MVH on the first technical rock. Photo by: Kendall Wimmer
After the knife edge you come to the Big Bad Rock. Depending on snow conditions this can sometimes be the crux of the route. This year there was a nice ledge to the left and it wasn't too bad traversing around it. Another knife edge brings you to the ledges just below the summit boulders. The exposure is severe, but there were good holds and some decent snow piles that I could get purchase with my ice axe for protection. There was one scary move just below the summit that didn't have a very good foot hold. You had kind of swing onto the slope and really trust that you could get your foot to stick in the snow. From there it was a short quick scramble to the summit boulder.

Making the final move before the top. Photo by: Stephen Lindsay
MVH, KendallW, TravisA, me, SteveB Aaron, and a few guys that I didn't know were there on top. Stephen Lindsay had already summited and was on his way down. I think 10 of us made it to the summit. What an adrenaline rush. After some celebratory high fives, yells and pictures we made our way back across the ridge. After negotiating the first boulder I knew I was safe and could breathe a lot easier the rest of the way. Back at my pack the hose on my hydration bladder was completely frozen and I was starting to feel dehydrated. Kendall gave me some of his burrito, some nuts and some water and SteveB gave me some candy. I could immediately feel the energy boost and we quickly put on our snowshoes and made our way off of the shoulder and back down into the cirque.
On the summit with Aaron Williams and Brian Peterson

I spent about 15 minutes with the bite valve for my bladder in my mouth trying to thaw it out and eventually I was able to get some water flowing again. The descent back down the mountain was a slog. I was pretty tired and really wanted to get down. The views of the valley below were stunning as we had some really cool cloud formations forming. I stayed with MVH, Kendall and SteveB most of the way down. We finally took off the snowshoes with about 3.5 miles left and it felt great to get them off. The lower trail was now pretty icy which slowed us down some and then we had a little mud and I finally reached the trailhead about 10 hours after starting. It was definitely one of the most memorable days I've had in the Wasatch with old friends and new ones.
Going home. Photo by Kendall Wimmer