Thursday, January 17, 2019

My Plantar Fasciitis Story


As a serious runner of 15 years, I'd heard others talk about fights with plantar fasciitis (PF) but had been lucky to never deal with it myself. I didn't fully understand what it was or how it manifested itself when it came about.
Then, one fateful evening in October 2017, I went to play my weekly match of tennis with my dad but forgot my tennis shoes. I had worn some Vans casual shoes to work that day and figured one evening of relatively low-key tennis in those shoes should be just fine. We only played a couple sets of friendly tennis and all went well. The next day, however, I felt like I had a bruised right heel. This made sense--I ran around on a hard surface in some flat, no-cushion shoes for a couple hours. It seemed a no-brainer I had bruised my heel. No biggie, I'll just take a week off from running to let the bruise heal up and get back to normal.
Fast forward 15 months and I'm here laying on the couch recovering after undergoing a plantar fasciotomy surgery on January 15, 2019 hoping that within the next few months, I'll be able to get back to my pre-PF activity level. In the past 15 months I struggled with every conservative PF treatment I heard about trying to get this PF resolved without any success. Surgery was the final, last ditch option; one I had tried to avoid. This blog post is my detail of the the last 15 months with a timeline of how I came to understand I had PF and how I tried to treat it conservatively.  If you're reading this because you're currently dealing with PF or considering surgery, I hope you find something helpful here.

October 2017 - December 2017: The Onset

As I mentioned in the introduction, I'm 100 percent sure when my PF began--after a night of playing tennis in poorly supportive and poorly cushioned work shoes. In hindsight, of course, this was stupid. But I had done similar things many times without issue and have never had PF before so it didn't even cross my mind. The day after playing that tennis match, my heel felt bruised. It wasn't bad, just there. Having never dealt with PF, or even really being aware of what it is, I was oblivious to the fact that I may have PF and thought it was just a bruised heel. For the next two months, I'd take a week or so off from running and try again hoping my heel wasn't bruised anymore. We went to Greece in November 2017 and I really wanted to run there to explore the countryside so I did run. It was running on loose limestone rocks so it wasn't very comfortable. A few weeks after returning from Greece I was talking to my friend Bill about my ongoing bruised heel issue. He had had PF a couple times in the past and suggested I may be dealing with PF. This was late December 2017 by this point. After doing some reading about PF I was quite sure that, yes, I had PF:
- Pain in the bottom of the heel: Check. 
- Pain is worst in the morning, first thing out of bed: Check
- Pain subsides throughout the day and often only hurts after exercise, not during: Check.

January 2018 - March 2018: Initial Treatments

I began reading as much as I could about PF and started the recommended stretches, including stretching my foot in bed in the morning before getting out of bed. I also went to a familiar face in Los Alamos, podiatrist Jeffrey Sauer. I had a long history with Dr. Sauer starting in 2004 when he surgically shortened the second toe on my right foot. In January 2016, Dr. Sauer surgically removed a neuroma from my right foot. He quickly came to the same conclusion as me about my heel pain--plantar fasciitis. He suggested continued stretching of my calves and foot and administered a steroid injection. I didn't feel any relief as a result of the steroid injection and, having had previously injections for my neuroma without any relief from them, I opted to not try any more injections. 

I tend to seek out second and even third opinions. Therefore, I made a visit to Dr. Joel Wilner, a podiatrist in Santa Fe, about my PF. He suggested more stretches and custom orthotic footbeds for my shoes. There in the office he had me step into foam molds which he would send off for the custom footbeds to be made. This all seemed reasonable and appropriate. Two weeks later I had the $250 custom footbeds and began using them in my work shoes and running shoes every day. 

By this time, I was in a daily routine of waking up, stretching my foot immediately out of bed and then stretching my foot on the stairs at home. I was also using a lacrosse massage ball directly on my plantar fascia to massage and work the fascia. I would also use a roller massage bar to massage my calf. This was my daily routine. I had also more or less stopped running and moved to mountain biking a lot more. We had a pathetic winter in terms of snowfall which allowed for plenty of mountain biking all winter, thankfully. I was glad to have something to do that didn't bother my PF yet kept me active and fit. That said, I did manage to run  the Run Through Time half marathon in Salida, CO in March which, of course, didn't help the PF. My PF wasn't getting worse but it wasn't getting better, either. I posted on Instagram about my half marathon run and ongoing PF issues and was happy to receive a number of other suggestions including a suggestion for acupuncture.

April 2018 - June 2018: Trying More and More

Adding to my daily stretching routine, I went for eight acupuncture treatments, once a week for eight weeks, with Dr. Henry Ahlefelder at Acupuncture Los Alamos. The morning after the first treatment, I didn't feel my PF at all anymore. I thought I had found the panacea and was super excited and relieved. Unfortunately, a few days later it was feeling the same as it had before. I continued the treatments but only found temporary relief. Still, I feel this is a worthy treatment option worth exploring for those in the initial stages of PF. I also talked to a friend, a physical therapist, that had recently become certified in dry needling with electronic stimulation (estim.) She was wonderful and looking for a person to practice on while gaining more experience. I was a happy guinea pig and saw her for about eight weeks of estim with the needling being done in my calf and foot to help release tension. Again, I felt a temporary relief from these treatments but as it would turn out, it didn't help in the long run.

July 2018 - October 2018: 

I had skipped over the idea of using a night splint boot despite it being suggested in many places online and by others I had talked to. I finally got a night splint boot and began wearing it every night. I really wish I had started this long ago as it seemed to help the most. If I have one piece of advice for new sufferers of PF, get the night splint ASAP and use it habitually.  This felt like it offered the best treatment and I feel like if I had started with this immediately, along with the daily stretching, the PF would have subsided. By this time, though, my PF was so chronic it would feel better after a night in the splint but then just return pretty quickly. 

By now, I was a year into this PF ordeal and getting depressed and desperate. In July, I met up with a great group of ultrarunners near Salida, CO to do a training run for a 100 mile race I was registered for, the High Lonesome 100 in August 2018. During this training run, I ran a number of miles with the race director, Caleb, and he told me about his experience with PF and the extracorporeal shockwave treatments (ESWT) he had had success with. He said they were highly effective for him but had a catch--most insurance companies did not cover the cost of the treatment. I searched around discovered the podiatrist I had seen earlier in the year, Dr. Wilner, also did the shockwave treatment. I saw him again and signed up for four sessions of ESWT at a whopping $750 total cost. Long story short, the ESWT was not effective for me despite reportedly being effective for roughly 80 percent of patients. I was gutted and distraught. As you may have guessed, I did not end up running the High Lonesome 100 in August. We did travel to Scotland in mid-September where I ran the Ben Nevis 50k trail run race, however. I had signed up for this in January 2018 naively expecting to be over the plantar fasciitis. It was a slow, arduous race for me but an enjoyable experience nonetheless. 

I began questioning if I really had PF and thinking perhaps I had a fractured calcaneus. With that in mind, I made an appointment with my primary care physician to see if I could get an x-ray. He was very understanding and ordered the x-ray. Whilst sitting in the x-ray waiting room at the Los Alamos Medical Center, I saw an advert on a display there for a new podiatrist in the medical center, Dr. Marta Riniker. Fortuitous as the only podiatrist in town, Dr. Sauer, had retired in March 2018 shortly after I had seen him initially. Riniker suggested I get an MRI done so she could see just how significant the PF was. The MRI report showed "acute on chronic PF."  Dr. Riniker didn't push surgery but after hearing all that I had tried in the past year suggested surgery is likely the next best option. I concurred.

October 2018 - January 2018:

Having scheduled the endoscopic plantar fasciotomy surgery for January 8, 2018, I resolved to stopping running, stretching even more and taking it real easy in hopes I wouldn't actually have to follow through with the surgery. During this time, I did a good bit of internet research to see if I could find cases of active runners and climbers having this surgery done and what their outcome was. I didn't find much but a couple posts on reddit, including a private message exchange with another Reddit user that had been through this, was helpful. 

But, alas, January rolled around and I was no better or no worse so surgery it was. It was scheduled for January 8th but that morning the elevator that gets patients up and, more importantly, down after surgery broke. Due to safety concerns, all surgeries for that day were canceled. I was rescheduled for January 15, 2018. 

January 17, 2018: Two Days Post-Op

The surgery on January 15th went well, as I'm told. I was home in the early afternoon after the short, 20 minute surgery (prep time and recovery time accounted for the rest of the morning.) I've had no pain as a result of the surgery. None at all. I took two percocet that first evening thinking that once the nerve block in my foot wore off, it would hurt but it never did. So my last percocet was at 10pm the night of the surgery. Since then, I've been keeping it elevated and spending a lot of time on the couch. Nothing very exciting. Dr. Riniker called this morning to see how I was doing. She told me my fascia was the thickest she'd ever worked on and it took three passes to get it cut enough. Even then, she said it wasn't as much as she wanted but that it should help. I've been crutching around the house and have a walking boot (saved from my last foot surgery!) Riniker said I could put weight on it if necessary but ideally I should stay off the foot for two weeks while the stitches heal. 
She had hoped to do a single incision on the inside of my heel using a single tool that was both a camera and saw through that one incision but apparently my insurance, BCBSNM, didn't approve that. Instead, she made two incisions--one on the inside of the heel and one on the outside of the heel-- to put the camera in one and the tool in the other. 

I've been sleeping just fine. The only discomfort I have is if I put pressure on the arch of my foot by standing on it. I haven't yet put full weight on my foot as I'm trying to be a "good patient" and not weight the foot at all. I'll continue to update this blog post as my recovery progresses....

January 21, 2019: Six Days Post-Op

For the past two days I've been hobbling around sans crutch while wearing my DeRoyal walking boot. If I stay on the ball of my foot, it's not uncomfortable. If I put direct pressure down on my heel/arch, it feels very "bruised" and uncomfortable. I did get out of the house for the first time this week with a knee scooter trip to the local grocery store. A friend of mine borrowed the knee scooter from a friend at work and it's great for a situation like this. 
Wild Friday night scootin' around the grocery store. Going so fast I caused flames!
Sleeping has still be quite good. I have woken up a couple times with discomfort on the outside edge of my foot around the middle of the arch. I think this is from my foot rotating out while I sleep thus causing pressure on the part of my foot where the bandage is bunched up. If I flop over to my left side, the discomfort dissipates. 
I peeled back the bandages yesterday to take a look at the stitches on the medial side of my foot and it looks great. I was pleasantly surprised. 
Taking a peek at the medial stitches. There's another incision on the lateral side but I haven't peeked at that yet.
Also, I can drive now! I'm used to driving in my soft snowboard boots so driving in the walking boot is a piece of cake. The training paid off!

January 22, 2019: One week post-op update

I had my one week post-op appointment today with Dr. Riniker. The incisions appear to be healing very well. It was my first time seeing both incisions as I had worked to be a good patient and not remove the dressing. The area around the incisions is bruised, as expected, but not unreasonably so. In another week I'll return to have the sutures removed. Functionally, I'm still hobbling around well in the walking boot and if I stay on the front of my foot, it's not uncomfortable. If I step on the heel, it's pretty tender but feeling a little bit better each day. Some photos:
Lateral incision, one week post-op

Medial incision, one week post-op

January 24, 2019: Nine days post-op

This morning I was able to put my pants on by putting all my weight on my affected foot instead of sitting down to get them on. Progress! It's still uncomfortable but not debilitatingly so. Walking around the walking boot is a lot more natural now. Sleeping has been completely normal.

January 25-27: Ten days to twelve days post-op

Ten days post-op my foot was feeling good enough I knew I could at least top-rope some climbing routes in the climbing gym while wearing the boot. I called the climbing gym and verified it's cool to climb in a walking boot and they were fully on board with it. After a couple of easy top rope routes on the vertical wall I was confident climbing wasn't going to bug my foot (the walking boot is so stiff I was virtually climbing one-footed anyway) so I went to the steeper lead wall for some leads. Turns out it was easier, in a sense, on the steep wall because the routes are generally less foot-intensive (at least in the 5.10 range I was climbing in.) I did a lot of pull-ups and pixie kick moves to make up for not being able to fully use my right foot. I was gassed but it was exactly what I wanted and felt great to be climbing again after a few weeks off. 
Ten days post-op, leading a steep, juggy route--perfect for 1.5 foot climbing
Around home on Saturday, I installed new blinds in every window in our house so I was on my foot a lot (in the boot) and it seemed not to be a problem. The incisions look to be healing great and each day I feel less discomfort (but still feeling discomfort) when I weight the foot, especially the middle/back of the arch area. Staying on the ball of my foot is quite comfortable but walking a full stride motion (heel on ground first, roll through length of foot and push off ball of foot to take next step) is definitely uncomfortable kinda like someone took a meat tenderizer to my arch and beat on it for an extended period of time.
Sunday, twelve days post-op we went climbing at the gym again and again had a great time. I'm finding it useful and good training to climb with mostly just one foot. It translates to more dynamic movement on the wall and certainly a lot more campus-like moves. It also means I climb slower and spend more time on a route shaking out and trying to recover--good training for my forearms. 
Medial incision eleven days post-op
The sutures were supposed to be removed Tuesday, 14 days post-op, but the appointment was rescheduled for Thursday, sixteen days post-op. So four more days!

January 31, 2019: Sixteen Days Post-op

I showered! I actually showered yesterday, fifteen days post-op and again today. I figured since the sutures were supposed to come out at 14 days post-op (and they looked great!), it was OK to shower before the official go-ahead on that. I had been taking baths with one leg out of the tub which, at 6'5", baths already suck bad for me and this was worse. So the shower felt great. I saw Dr. Rinker today and she was very happy with the healing and removed the sutures this morning. 
Medial incision moments before removal, 16 days post-op

Lateral incision moments before removal, 16 days post-op
My foot continues to feel a bit better each day but still pretty tender on the inside of the arch. I'm waling in a regular shoe now but feel like I'm really favoring the outside of my foot on each step--not good for biomechanics--to avoid the worst of the tender discomfort on the inside of the arch. From here, I'm allowed to walk on it and "do stuff" but if it hurts too much, don't "do stuff". As yet I cannot tell if my original PF pain/issue has been corrected. Too early to tell as I'm really avoiding stepping on my heel much still.

February 4, 2019: 20 Days Post-Op

I made a concerted effort to walk normally today, using my entire foot, not just cheating to the outside of the foot. It was a sore pain but bearable and I'm stoked to have full, normal use of my foot back. I walked up to the gym and did a 15 minute bike spin followed by a 5 minute row and some core workout. My first cardio in three weeks! It was no problem and I'll plan on doing more this week. Also, I should note, I've been sleeping with the night splint every night since the surgery. I'm still worried my PF won't actual get better and I figure better to be safe...
Medial incision 17 days post-op (shortly after sutures removed.)

Lateral incision 20 days post-op. 

February 7, 2019: 23 Days Post-op

I'm still wearing the night splint and doing my morning stretching of both legs/feet. Old habits die hard. I really don't want PF in my left foot so the daily stretching routine continues, perhaps indefinitely to be on the safe side. Stretching my right calf and foot doesn't hurt and feels good, actually. It does, however, hurt to massage the plantar fasica with the lacrosse ball so I'm not doing that yet. Yesterday I went on my longest outing since surgery, a 5k walk. The day before that I walked about two miles around the neighborhood focusing on good form and walking normally. I've noticed in the past 15 months, and certainly since surgery, I changed my walking pattern to compensate for the PF pain. I'm doing my best to correct that by consciously focusing on my stride and foot movement as I walk.
The past two nights I put on a regular climbing shoe and climbed on our home climbing wall. I had done some climbing the past two weekends inside a commercial climbing gym but was using first the walking boot and then a looser-fitting approach shoe. This week was the first time I used a standard climbing shoe. It doesn't hurt at all when I climb but is still uncomfortable when I drop off the wall down to the padded floor. Still, I'm encouraged...each day my foot is feeling a bit more healed.

February 11, 2019: 27 Days Post-Op (Not Out of the Woods Just Yet)

Just when I was thinking I was out of the woods, I noticed last night after showering that my lateral incision seemed a bit red and more painful. It's a hard incision for me to personally inspect because I'm just not that flexible. But I laid down and got a decent look at it. It was partly open and puffy. I gave it some good squeezing resulting in some pus coming out. I was bummed as I have been trying hard to keep it clean and covered as much as possible, especially after my infection issue three years ago after my neuroma surgery. Thinking back on it, I'm pretty sure this incision has been showing signs of infection for about a week but I didn't want to admit it. 
I went to visit Dr. Riniker today and she said not to worry too much about this--it's common on feet because, well, feet. I started a one-week course of Keflex (Cephalexin) antibiotics (same as three years ago!) 
As for functionality, the overall feeling is better each day (except the discomfort around the lateral incision due to infection.) I went mountain biking on Saturday out at White Ridge and it felt great to be getting in some decent cardio again. I climbed a bit outside Friday with Allison but used an approach shoe on my right foot. Sunday we went climbing again and I used a brand new climbing shoe sized up a full size and that felt reasonable. I feel like I don't feel the PF pain anymore which is quite amazing. Still hopeful. 
Lateral incision infected. Slightly macerated due to antibiotic ointment and band-aid 

February 20, 2019 - 36 Days Post-Op

I finished up my one-week course of antibiotics a few days ago. The infection in the lateral incision seems to have cleared. The incision site is still a bit tender when pushed on but less and less so each day. The medial incision has healed up really well. It looks and feels very good. Funny thing--I went to the store five days ago and was in a bit of a rush. Without thinking about it, I jogged from my car to the store's door before the realization hit me that I had just run for my first time since surgery and, more importantly, without any PF pain. Ho-lee-shit! That was an awesome feeling.
Last weekend we went hiking, bouldering and camping in Roy, NM for a few days. I was paranoid about the lateral incision (I was still on antibiotics) so I was sure to clean the site with an alcohol wipe and fresh band-aid frequently. The first day of bouldering and hiking had my ankle, and whole foot, feeling pretty weird. A deep discomfort inside my ankle. I was kinda freaking out thinking maybe the infection had spread to the joint. Thankfully, the next day it felt tons better and I suspect it was just a case of not using my foot/ankle in that manner in a month or so.
Bouldering in Roy, NM just shy of five weeks post-op. Note the two separate shoes...I've been using a sized-up shoe on my surgery foot for more comfort. 

I'm starting to allow myself to feel some optimism that I might be over this PF chapter and it feels great. Ironically, it didn't really snow in the past five weeks while I was recovering. Then, just as I felt I was ready to try snowboarding again, we received a big dump of 12" new snow up at the little bird. What better way to go give 'er. And I was stoked! I managed five earned laps in the morning. My foot felt slightly uncomfortable towards the end but mostly a feeling of, "hey, what are you doing to me now after five weeks of taking it easy!?" Not a bad pain to have.  At six week post-op, next Tuesday, I plan to do my first run post-op. Excited to see how that goes. 
All smiles. Back in the game exactly five weeks post-op!
Now, of course, some incision photos:
Lateral incision, just a bit more than five weeks post-op. This is the incision that has been infected. Still red and a bit tender but better.

Medial incision, just a bit more than five weeks post-op. Nearly all healed.

Saturday March 2, 2019 - Six and Half Weeks Post-Op

I cried a little bit this week. Tears of joy. I did my first run in 2.5 months and first run since PF surgery on Monday, Feb. 25 and felt NO PF PAIN. It was an easy, flat four miler but being able to run without modifying my stride to avoid PF pain was amazing. It has been so long since I could say that. Damn. But let me back up to last weekend first. I finally felt confident enough to go for a long day in boots on a splitboard tour. I hike up a lap at Pajarito Mountain in the early morning, then splitboarded a couple laps on Rabbit Mountain and ended the day with a nice 1,200' run on Cerro Grande. A wonderful tour de Jemez after the solid storm Friday night. This was especially rewarding since it had been at least four years since we were able to ski Rabbit Mountain. During the day I had a couple of very brief, sharp pains in my arch but nothing disconcerting. 

Jemez Mountains Snowboarding - Feb 23, 2019 from Jason Halladay on Vimeo.

Since my run Monday, I did two more runs, spaced two days apart including an eight miler Friday. My foot felt a bit sore after each run but nothing lasting and nothing like the PF pain I had. I think it is just getting used to being run on again. Otherwise, I'm thinking about my foot less and less each day which is a great sign it's nearly normal again.
I'm not claiming success yet (nor ready to actually believe it) but I'm certainly encouraged. Here are a couple photos of the incisions at 6.5 weeks post-op. The medial incision looks great and resembles a healing blister. The lateral incision, the one that was infected for 10 days or so, is healing up very well and now has a small scab on it. Homestretch!
Medial incision almost completely healed. 6.5 weeks post-op

Lateral incision finally looking much better with just a small scab. 6.5 weeks post-op

Tuesday, May 7, 2019 - Sixteen Weeks Post-Op

I had my last podiatrist appointment related to this issue yesterday and I'm happy to report all is quite good. I'm very pleased I went ahead with the surgery. I have been running 20 to 30 miles per week for the past six weeks or so and I no longer have much noticeable PF pain. I do still feel a small bit of soreness in the heel area after a long run or hike with a heavy backpack but it's a different discomfort than the PF pain was. It's likely still the tissue and scar tissue breaking up and healing up. It doesn't really bother me. The incision scars are already very subtle and I must look pretty hard to see them.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019 - 4.5 Months Post-Op

I've been running more and more and enjoying running without constantly feeling/thinking about my PF issue. It's still not totally pain free as my heel does ache a bit after a long or intense run but it's considerably better than it has been in the past 18 months. The discomfort I feel is generally one of more of a widespread ache versus the pinpoint pain feeling of the PF. The discomfort did increase in the past couple of weeks as I ran more so I've gone back to sleeping with the night splint. The night splint is still helping. If you didn't catch it earlier in the post, USE A NIGHT SPLINT! Seriously, though, for me it has gotten results. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Swole Hole (Moonboard Shed)



For quite some time, Allison and I have really wanted a home climbing wall and climbing training area. The problem is, we live in a unit that's part of a quadraplex so we don't have a garage and space is limited. Our first iteration was a build of a small free-standing campus board with removable hangboard that I built in March 2015 in one of our spare bedrooms. While this worked pretty well for Allison, I'm 6'5" so I couldn't campus on it. I was finally able to do hangboard workouts, though, because it did have a pulley system for taking weight off so it certainly did serve a purpose. It was really nice to actually be able to do some home training. 
But in August 2016 we got a bit more serious and decided to have a shed built with the sole purpose of building a small climbing wall in it. We measured our back yard area and determined we could barely fit a 10'x12' shed in the area. That's pretty tiny as far as climbing wall areas are concerned. We knew we wouldn't be able to have a multiple-angles climbing wall in that space. It would have to be a single wall with a single angle. We had seen some information about the Moonboard and decided that would give us the most efficient use of the space. For those not familiar with the Moonboard, you clearly haven't been looking at climbing-related posts on Instagram recently. Shortly after we built our Moonboard in October 2016, they seemingly blew up in the United States and on Instagram despite being around for ages. We'll take credit for the explosion in popularity! Certainly it seems there's some animosity towards the Moonboard and its popularity, for whatever reason, but for maximizing training in a small space, we felt this couldn't be beat. 
To summarize the Moonboard, it's an 8' wide by 12' tall, 40 degree-overhanging wall with three hold sets set in a precise location and orientation allowing users from all over the world to climb the same problems and share them via the Moonboard app. Moon Climbing makes the build specs and instructions available for download from its site. The Moonboard fits in our 10'x12' shed without losing any holds. The fit is tight but it works. The caveat is, though, we can't really go for dynamic top out moves for fear of kicking the walls or flying off into the back wall--so we don't do that. 


The Shed
I knew if I decided to build the shed myself it would take months and likely not come out perfect. Therefore, we decided to bite the bullet and pay for a high quality Tuff Shed Sundance TB-700 build installed by Tuff Shed. This way we'd get a quality shed and it would be built on-site in one day. The TB-700 is a tall barn style shed. Googling the TB-700 doesn't yield a lot because the TB-700 is proprietary to Home Depot, apparently. The TB-700 doesn't show up on Tuff Shed's site but you can configure a custom TB-700 shed at www.888tuffshed.com and then order it through Home Depot. We wanted the TB-700 because it has seven-foot sidewalls and a maximum height of 12'10"--just tall enough for a full-size Moonboard. 
Our custom TB-700. The transom windows above the front door and dual skylights, along with the side window, allow plenty of natural light to enter the building. The 12"x12" wall vents on each end at the top of the walls allow for good ventilation. Our custom TB-700 with the two doors, vents, skylight, smart floor and extra windows cost ~$4,000
We also configured our shed with a centered back door so we could access the area behind the Moonboard and use it for storage. There's quite a bit of room back there on account of the 40 degree angle of the Moonboard. We haven't insulated the shed and I don't think we will because the exposed frame makes it feel just a bit more spacious in there. That said, we haven't used it in summer yet and the heat may necessitate some foam insulation to keep it a bit cooler in there. We've been heating the shed in winter with a Mr. Heater propane tank heater and it's worked out well. Also, so long as the sun is out and hits it for a few hours during the day, it warms up quickly in there. 
We did apply for, and obtain, a Los Alamos County Small Shed (120 sq. feet or less) permit. Also, because of the 12'10" height, we had to obtain a Minor Dimensional Deviation From the Code permit since the standard max height in Los Alamos County is 12'. While a somewhat onerous process, it was, in the end, relatively easy with no challenges or difficulties. 
We prepped the area in our backyard by clearing the area and getting it level within four inches (the installers can use shims to get it level within that four inch tolerance.) We did our best to have a two-foot clearing around all sides, as stated by Tuff Shed, but the only area we had for the shed has a chainlink fence on one side and we needed the shed to be built right up against that fence in order for it to fit. On installation day, I quickly removed the chainlink fence fabric and the installers did a fantastic job of getting the shed built right up to the fence posts. 
The installers came in on October 6th, 2016 and cranked out the installation in one long 9-hour day. It was amazing to watch the skill and experience at work. 
We've run an extension cord out to the shed to a five-outlet power puck, with USB ports, and run a single 40W, 3000 lumen LED shop light (mounted to front wall) which is plenty of light in the space. 

Finished product

The Moonboard Build
Painting the Moonboard. The area to the right of the board is where the shed was placed. The post from the old chainlink fence (seen bottom center) had to be removed before the shed was installed. 
With the shed built, I had a blank canvas inside and three days over the Columbus Day holiday weekend to build the Moonboard. I had ideas in my mind on how I'd do it but truth be told I winged it A LOT and did a lot of engineering-on-the-fly. This means I don't have build plans I can share with you but this time lapse video of me building it should give you an idea of how it went up. I did build shelves in the back with an access hole from the back door up to the shelves. In three days, with multiple trips to the lumber and hardware stores, the Swole Hole was born!  

Because we wanted to be able to do more than just power workouts on the Moonboard, we looked for ideas to add more holds to a typical Moonboard t-nut grid of 6x11 per sheet of plywood. I happened upon this blog post showing a build that added an additional 5x12 grid per sheet of plywood adding 180 t-nuts to the Moonboard's standard 198 t-nuts for a grand total of 378 t-nuts. Lots of additional potential hold locations! Therefore, in addition to the three Moonboard hold sets, we purchased a bunch of holds by Atomik, including some jugs, to add many more options to our board. The additional holds have allowed us to work power endurance and endurance doing some ~30 move circuits on holds that are a lot more generous than most Moonboard holds. 

The gray arrows show the grid pattern for the additional 5x12 t-nuts per sheet in addition to the standard 6x11 Moonboard t-nut pattern (A-K and 1-6)

Our Moonboard with the three complete sets of Moon holds and additional holds on the extra 5x12 t-nut grid (per sheet of plywood) we added. Look closely at the upper corners you can see where I had to use wood glue to add the corners of the board back on after install. The corners had to be cut fit into the narrowing corners of the roof
For the floor, we have four bouldering pads with an Organic blubber pad over the gaps between the pads. 

Adjustable Hangboard
On the front wall above the front door, I've added three 2"x6" horizontal supports across the length of the wall to allow us to hang our hangboard and a removable campus board on. The hangboard is a Trango Rock Prodigy Training Center (RPTC) board setup as removable/adjustable along with a pulley system for taking weight off the climber. I used the RPTC Adjustable Mount 2.0 idea to make the RPTC adjustable and removable. This has been great because it allows both my wife and I to use the same board but adjust it easily for our different body sizes. 

Removable Campus Board
I've also built a removable campus board. The board has two sets of campus rungs on it--medium and large. It's a bit overbuilt and heavy (weighs 67 pounds.) It requires two people and a pulley to put up/take down (plus space to store it when not in use.) It's built upon the same idea of the RPTC removable/adjustable mounts using the same door stop hardware for hanging it up on the 2"x6" supports I put up on the wall. I'd like to whittle down the weight and will see about removing the angled side supports to see how it feels without them. But once in place, it's very solid and effective. Due to space constraints the bottom of the board only juts out from the wall about 16" so you gotta keep your swinging knees in check while getting after it. 
Campus board backside showing the door stop hangers for attaching to supports on wall
Campus board frontside

Removable campus board on pulley system, before campus rungs screwed onto board
Removable campus board in place with rungs screwed onto board. Two sets of rungs--Metolius medium and large rungs--eight inches apart. 

More Media
A few videos to show what it looks like to climb on the Moonboard in the Swole Hole:




Our Moon Problems
The problems we've created on the Moonboard:



Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Morton's Neuroma Surgery

This past Friday, January 8, 2016, I had surgery on my right foot to remove a Morton's Neuroma that has plagued me for nearly a decade. At first, for many years, the neuroma discomfort was gradual and infrequent but as time went on, it got more painful at more frequent intervals. For many years I didn't know what the cause of the pain was and figured I just had less "padding" (skin and fat) on the ball of my right foot so I avoided walking barefoot because it was uncomfortable. 

Every now and then, typically while on trail runs on slickrock or really rocky trails, the neuroma would flare up and I'd be forced to stop every few miles, take my shoe off and massage my foot and toes for about five minutes at a time to get feeling back in my toes and clear the pain for bit. It worked but was annoying to have to stop frequently to take care of the issue. Then, while running the Mogollon Monster 100 mile race (MOG100) in September 2015, the pain came on around mile 14 making for a VERY long 100 mile race with frequent shoe changes (that didn't really help) and many stops to massage my foot. My guess is because the MOG100 course is so rocky, the rocks beat my feet up quite a bit. That was the final straw...I had to figure out what was going on. 

A few weeks later I went to see a local podiatrist, Dr. Sauer, that had surgically shortened a toe on the same foot way back in April 2004. By the time I went into see Dr. Sauer, I had self-diagnosed myself with Morton's Neuroma after my friend Andy had suggested that may be what I had. Dr. Sauer was quick to come to the same conclusion and had me try three cortisone shots over about six weeks. The shots didn't really bring any serious relief and I was fed up with the pain so I opted for surgery. 


Too sexy
It's been five days since the surgery now and I wanted to document the surgery and my recovery a bit. 

On Friday morning, the surgery went very well and took about an hour. The neuroma was "quite sizable". The surgery took place in the morning and I was out of the hospital by noon and back home on the couch for the rest of the day. I kept my foot elevated and enjoyed some solid couch time.  
Sayonara, sucker!
Dr. Sauer placed a "suction drain" in the incision area to help drain excess fluid and keep swelling to a minimum. I had done a good bit of internet research about this surgery and the experiences of others. I hadn't read about anyone else getting a suction drain but considering I felt no post-op pain at all, I'm pretty sold on the idea of the drain.
Foot in boot with suction drain (two hours post-op)
The afternoon and night of the surgery I took two Percocet pills thinking my foot should start hurting and I wanted to "stay ahead of the pain." As it would turn out, I never felt any post-op pain at all and that would be the only pain pills I took. The rest of the weekend I spent chilling out on the couch watching NFL playoff football with my foot elevated. My foot was in a velcro boot so I could hobble around quite well. 

Monday morning I went to see Dr. Sauer to have the suction drain removed. It was painless and quick...just a quick snip of the suture holding it in and a fast pull of the drain tube from the incision. 
About to remove the drain tube 72 hours post-op
As soon as the drain tube was out, I was able to ditch the boot and slip my foot into my Altra Olympus shoes. The wide forefoot and maximum cushion of the Altra shoes worked well for my beat up foot. It was nice to only be in the boot a few days. 
Four days post-op
Now five days post-op I'm walking around pretty well but with a small "hitch in my giddy-up." But really I'm very pleased with the recovery thus far. Having no pain post-op and being able to get around with only a small limp is encouraging. The stitches will be removed eleven days from now and I'm hopeful by then I'll be walking normally and able to hike trails a bit. 
Five days post-op
One week after surgery I was able to walk pretty normally in my wide, maximally cushioned Altra shoes but still used hiking poles for added stability on trails. My wife and I even did a little rock climbing and climbed one easy route, on top rope, without any major discomfort.
Easy toproping with mis-matched shoes one week post-op

Seven days post-op (first shower)
On the eighth day I was able to stop dressing the stitches and drain incision with gauze because it finally healed up enough. 

Nine days post-op
Eight days post-op I began walking without thinking about my foot and didn't feel the need to modify my stride to avoid rocking up on the ball of my foot. Other than some slight discomfort the first few steps out of bed in the morning, walking was quite comfortable with a slight "bruised" feeling in the ball of my foot when I walked. 

Ten days post-op I went rock climbing again, using bigger, more comfortable climbing shoes and this felt very reasonable. I was able to lead climb and not worry about my foot much. In fact, I think climbing is good therapy because the weight is mostly on my big toe and each step is very calculated. 

Eleven days post-op I did a short run of about a half mile en route to the gym to do some spinning on a stationary bike. I did the spinning with the pedal placed in the arch of my foot to avoid putting too much pressure on the ball of my foot. It felt great to work up a sweat again! 


The Plot Thickens - Two Weeks Post-op

Right at two weeks post-op my right ankle started feeling super painful and was swollen a good bit. It was bad enough I couldn't walk stairs normally at all and had to limp around everywhere. I saw another local foot/ankle doctor and we came to the conclusion that I had incurred a small bit of Achilles tedonitis most likely from wearing zero drop shoes while modifying my gait to avoid putting pressure on the surgical area.  I moved out of the zero drop shoes into more normal shoes and forced myself to walk normally as much as possible in addition to doing some PT exercises to stretch and work the tendons in my ankle. I found good relief in the ankle about three weeks post-op and neared about 80 percent normal feeling in my ankle (it hurt a bit still on deep steps down, etc.) 

February 10, 2016 - Well, four weeks post surgery (February 8th), I decided to try a short run to see how it felt. My short run turned into about four miles because it felt pretty good. Unfortunately, a day after that run my forefoot was swollen, painful and, apparently, infected. I'm not sure the running had anything to do with the infection but the timing seems awfully coincidental. Also, though, I'm sure I had gotten the incision site dirty a couple weeks post-op by wearing sandals so the combo of all of this sure spells disaster.
Nasty staph infection 4.5 weeks post-op

So after a week or so of walking quite normally without pain, I'm back to swollen foot with pain and limping around. I'm doing a few epsom salt bath soaks on my foot daily and started on antibiotics (Cephalexin) yesterday to help clear the infection. Lesson learned: Even though my foot was feeling quite good, four weeks post-op isn't enough recovery time for me to start running again. Also, I should have been better about keeping the incision clean. Drats. My theory now is that I contracted the staph infection by showering in the public shower at work after my run four weeks post-op.


February 22, 2016 - After the ten day course of Keflex (Cephalexin) my foot was feeling better and less swollen. I thought the antibiotics may had done the trick. I finished the antibiotics on Tuesday morning, 2/16. But by Thursday night, the incision area was red and swollen a bit again. I went back in to the doctor on Friday morning where he took a culture of the fluid (there was a still a small slit in the incision that had been draining fluid a bit.) I went back on Keflex starting that morning, 2/19, and back to the Epsom salt foot baths a few times a day. The Keflex made a difference and the area felt better through the weekend but now, Monday morning, it's feeling pretty tender and a bit swollen. I go into a follow-up appointment in a couple hours to hopefully find out the results of the culture. For the first time since the surgery, I'm starting to feel bouts of anxiety and worry--feelings I don't generally ever experience. I'm starting to worry things are really not good and I don't know what that means for my foot and long-term foot health. In a word, I'm scared. 

February 24, 2016 - It turns out the culture of the fluid showed a staph infection. On 2/22/2016 the podiatrist removed the scab from the incision and we found it wasn't very well healed deep down. He did a little bit of cleaning and now we're treating it as an open wound. It's possible the stitches were removed a bit too early to allow it ample healing time but I'm guessing I got the incision dirty (bad patient!) so it's my fault. For now I'm applying Silvadene ointment  twice daily and keeping it covered with a breathable gauze pad. I'll also continue on the second round of Keflex until it's done. In the past two days I haven't really noticed an improvement but it hasn't gotten worse. There's still mild swelling in the forefoot and the area around the incision is red and tender. The area isn't shrinking but not enlarging either. At this point I'm beginning to regret having the surgery. It's been nearly seven weeks and the healing has been poor. I'm wondering if I'll be able to run this spring, or summer, and with Hardrock and PTL on my schedule, it's rather depressing to think about. 

February 26, 2016 - Seven weeks post-op. The Silvadene ointment and bandage treatment seemed to help. The healing is coming along and the soreness in adjacent toes and tendons running the length of my foot is decreasing. Keeping the faith (and keeping it clean!) 
Seven weeks post-op using Silvadene ointment
March 10, 2016 - Right about eight weeks post-op I felt a noticeable change in the healing and, finally, felt encouraged that the worst was behind me. The swelling in the foot was all but gone in the morning, right out of bed, and minimal by the end of the day. My podiatrist concurred that the healing was looking very encouraging and gave me the go-ahead to start running again. I still gave it another five days before going for my first trail run since the surgery on January 8. 
Eight weeks post-op (four weeks post-infection.) Side by side comparison. Note the reduced redness around the healing incision site and the definition in the top of the foot again. I can actually see the tendons!

March 16, 2016 - Hopefully the last update to this continuing saga and blog post! I've run the past three days in a row with no foot pain at all. I can tell it's feeling good because I don't think about it or notice it while running. I'm claiming victory at this point even though there's still some healing taking place at the incision and a scab persists. The swelling and redness are all but gone now. I really do think I would have been at this point by week five post-op had I not incurred the staph infection. That set my healing back by three weeks and was pretty scary. I haven't run long enough yet, nor on technical enough trails, to know if the neuroma pain is completely gone but I'm hopeful it will be. Once I go for my first long, tough trail run, I'll update this blog post once more.  
Thanks to everyone, especially Fritz, who has kept a positive attitude throughout this saga and did their best to keep me positive when I was feeling pretty down. The human body is a pretty amazing thing (as are antibiotics!) 

January 19, 2017 - It's been just over a year and I wanted to add a yearly follow-up. In a nutshell, I'm very glad I went through the surgery. I haven't felt any sign of neuroma pain in my foot in many month. In June 2016, six months after surgery, I ran the San Juan Solstice 50 Mile trail race. In July I ran the Hardrock Hundred 100 mile trail race and in August I ran a 165 miles around Mont Blanc in France and never once experienced any concerning foot pain. My story is a success story. If you're experiencing neuroma pain, I hope you're able to find a fix as I did. 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Nolan's 14 Attempt 2015 (South to North)



Sept. 4-6, 2015
71 miles, 36,000' climbing
57 hours, 7 minutes

It sounds overly dramatic, but in a way I’ve been training and preparing for the challenge of Nolan’s 14 (N14) for over a decade now. The notion of enchaining fourteen 14ers in a single continuous push of nearly 100 miles over much no-trail terrain embodies what I love most about mountains and long distance running combined. I’ve never been a fast runner nor a super talented mountaineer but I feel I’m pretty good at both disciplines so combining the two really appeals to me.

I first had done some long, multi-peak Sawatch 14er linkups in the mid-2000s with a few friends and friends-of-friends. At that time a few of them encouraged me to look into this route called “Nolan’s 14”. Being a neophyte mountain runner at that time, it sounded pretty impossible but certainly captured my interest. For the next many years, I did a few more linkups of Sawatch 14ers and crewed friends Bill, Tom and Homie in a north to south Nolan’s attempt in August 2009. Since then, I’ve had many a great day scouting more of the Nolan’s route and figuring what routes I prefer. By the time I gave my first attempt at the Nolan’s 14 route on Labor Day weekend 2014, I had been on all of the route except the north side of Mount Princeton. But that 2014 attempt was from north to south and I didn’t get over Mount Yale so I still hadn’t seen the north side of Princeton. I spent a weekend scouting it out and felt good about the entire route going into my 2015 south to north attempt with five other friends on Labor Day Weekend again.

But first, back to my 2014 attempt…Going north to south starting with eight or so other friends and I had a pretty solid first go and exceeded my expectations getting nine summits (Massive through Columbia) in 33.5 hours but as I ascended the tenth peak, Mount Yale, at the sunset on the second day, a short but intense rain storm blasted me above treeline and got so cold I couldn’t warm up. My attempt was done as continuing higher as the night came on was not a smart idea. I turned back and hiked out North Cottonwood Creek and called it good at about 60 miles and 29,000 feet of vertical ascent. I was super pleased with that outing and my effort and learned a good bit about what it takes to complete this route. The biggest lesson I learned during that effort is to dress super warm for the nights. Insulated jackets, mittens and heavy duty rain gear. None of that light duty rain gear. So for 2015 I purchased cheap but warm and dry (read: not very breathable) Frog Toggs rain gear. I was ready for the 2015 attempt.

Leading up to the 2015 attempt I spent a weekend scouting both sides of Mount Princeton and the east side of Mount Huron. These two segments are, in my opinion, the cruxes of the route so it was great to go into it knowing these well. I also spent two weekends doing long, high altitude mountain traverses in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. These two traverses were two outings I’d long wanted to do but never made the time. Both traverses were very rewarding in their own right and, as a bonus, made for great N14 training. The first traverse was the Northern Sangres Traverse in the northern-most portion of the Sangres in southern Colorado. The second traverse, a month later, was a classic traverse in the heart of the Sangres of New Mexico, the New Mexico Sangres Traverse. Both traverses served up roughly 30 miles of rugged mountain ridge running in 12 to 14 hours at a time.
When it came time to go for the 2015 attempt my goal was to better my summit count of 2014 so anything beyond nine summits would mean a successful outing for me. I still harbored no illusions of actually finishing the entire route under 60 hours…it’s just too daunting to imagine completing the entire route. So when we set off early on Friday morning I had my sights set on Clohesy Lake between Missouri Mountain and Huron Peak as that would mean I had passed over the tenth summit, Missouri Mountain. If I managed to get that far, anything beyond that would be icing on the cake and would exceed my expectations. My friend Julian had done a great job of setting up generous people giving up their holiday weekend to help support the six of us attempting N14 by establishing aid stations along the route. Additionally, my Mom and stepfather, Matt, along with friends Bill, Rebecca, Katrina and Tom, crewed for me meeting me at trailheads along the way with my supplies, food and gear. I cannot express my gratitude for volunteers, family and friends that gave up their holiday weekend to help support me in this endeavor. It’s really very touching and I hope I can return the favor for others in their endeavors in the future.
The 2015 crew. Will, Logan, Adam, Julian, John and me (L to R).
When the six of us set off from the Blank Cabin trailhead for Mt. Shavano on Friday morning at 5:04am I had only met one of the six, Julian. I would quickly get to know the four others; Adam, John, Logan and Will and we would spend the next many hours and miles together. It was really very nice to have the company of like-minded folks for much of the route. Our ascent of Mount Shavano went quickly and smooth with Julian setting a great pace the entire way and we reached the summit of Shavano at 7:10am. We made quick work of the jaunt over to Tabeguache Peak in 40 minutes, arriving at 7:50am. Some of the talus between the summits was frosted over making for slippery footing but otherwise it was a clear, calm day.
Sunrise while heading up Shavano
From the summit of Tabeguache the only descent route I had scouted was a talus ridge from near the saddle between Tabeguache and Shavano that leads down to Brown’s Creek but Julian and Will had a different idea that piqued my interest; the so-called “Hamilton route” down Tabeguache into upper Brown’s Creek basin. The Hamilton route is named after Andrew Hamilton, the current Colorado 14er speed record holder. It sounded legitimate and would likely beat a couple thousand feet of talus descending so I hitched my wagon to the gang and we all descended this route. While longer in distance, it saved some elevation loss and was really quite pleasant. I’d certainly do it again. Minimal willow bushwacking was encountered in Brown’s Creek basin and we were soon making great time to the summit of Mount Antero at 10:50am.
Heading up out of Brown's Creek Basin towards Antero with Tabeguache in the background. Julian Smith photo.
Clouds were building all morning and it started to look a little dark as we hung out on the summit of Antero for a bit. I could see a rain cell to the north near Mount Yale but not eminent for the Antero area. The clouds were actually quite nice all day keeping things cool but never really opening up with rain. All six of us were still together here and instead of taking the standard ascent/descent route off Antero as I had planned I stuck with the gang to check out a new-to-me line off Antero. We descended about five hundred feet to the north off Antero to a small saddle before going due west down steep talus and scree eventually leading to a very steep treed slope going straight down to the Baldwin Gulch road at about 10,900’.  While this was very direct and short in distance, it was a pretty leg-intensive, steep descent. I’m not sure I’d do it again but it was fun to see a new line on Antero and I’m glad I did it. 

At this point, Julian, Logan and I were a bit ahead of Adam, Will and John so we mostly walked the Baldwin Gulch road to give the others time to catch up and we all more or less rolled into the Alpine aid station at the old cemetery at the same time around 1:15pm. The Alpine aid station was extremely well setup complete with a pop-up canopy—Chris has outdone herself. We restocked with food and water. My fueling for the weekend was mostly comprised of Tailwind powdered drink and cold Dominos pizza. I supplemented the pizza with energy bars, Powerbar gummy chews and bacon, mostly. My stomach would never be a problem all weekend and I was stoked about that.

I was also excited to see the next section…the mysterious but well-defined ascending traverse trail from the cemetery up to 10,700’ in Grouse Gulch on the southwest side of Mount Princeton. I had tried to find this trail from the top down earlier in the summer and failed miserably. It’s quite easy to find and follow from down in Alpine, it turns out. 
Sweet single track up into Grouse Gulch
All six of us more or less stuck together for the ascent of Mount Princeton as well. In upper Grouse Gulch we opted to ascend a direct scree/talus slope just south of “Blake’s Fast Scree Gully” which got us to nearly 13,900’ on Princeton’s southwest ridge. Once on the ridge it was nice talus hopping to the summit of Mount Princeton at 4:40pm. Much to my great surprise, my friend Walt from Los Alamos had been waiting on the summit for nearly an hour for us bearing freshly-cooked bacon! Yeah! It was quite an uplift to run into Walt up there after a tough ascent of Mount Princeton.
Princeton summit bacon!
From the summit of Mount Princeton, our merry band of six really split up. Logan was super keen to take a descent route he had scoped earlier in the summer that went northwest over to near Cottonwood Lake before descending down to the Colorado Trail and over to the Avalanche Gulch TH for Yale. Julian and Adam both wanted to join Logan.  It sounded a bit complicated to me and I was really keen to try a descent into Maxwell Gulch that I had scoped earlier in the summer but hadn’t actually taken. John and Will opted for the more “standard” Nolan’s route down the NE ridge to the Colorado Trail. At about 5pm we all went our separate ways off Princeton. The evening turned out quite nice with sporadic sunbeam bursts and my descent into Maxwell Gulch turned out very good and I’d certainly do it again. Once in Maxwell Gulch I filled up with water again (I carried a Sawyer squeeze filter but never ended up filtering water, opting instead to just drink the water directly.)  I had heard of an old mining road in lower Maxwell Gulch and managed to lock onto that for an easy and smooth descent down to the CO trail just before 7pm. It rained briefly, but not very hard, as I descended to the CO trail but once on the trail it dried up again.
Will and John descend Princeton
I was feeling quite good and it was really very nice to finally open up my legs and turn my brain off after so much tedious talus hopping for the past few hours. The running along the CO trail was glorious as the sun set. Cellular service is really good along this stretch of the CO trail so I was able to catch up a bit on text messages and even called Allison to chat with her for about 10 minutes as I trotted along the trail. I made good time running the trail and got to the Cottonwood Lake road before having to stop and bust out my headlamp. Just a couple more miles and I’d be at Avalanche.

I got into the Avalanche trailhead aid, manned by Rita and Gina, around 8:30pm and I was feeling great. All systems were “Go” and I was ready to take on the night and the trek over Mount Yale. Bill would accompany me for this section as he was looking to spend some night time on the trail with me. Since I’ve never been up Denny Creek and have enjoyed the east ridge of Yale the couple times I’ve been on it, it was route of choice for the ascent. After about 30 minutes at the aid station, I left as Julian and Logan came in. They both suggested I go for Denny Creek but I had my mind made up so Bill and I headed up.
Suited up in the light rain to head up Yale through the night. Patty Simi photo.
The ascent up to the east ridge proper went pretty well but as soon as we started up the ridge proper, leaving the trees behind, the wind and cold air really made itself known. However, I had learned from last year to “overdress” at night so I donned my heavy mittens, insulated jacket and warm beanie and I was in good shape. The East Ridge is steep and loose at times and I was feeling the accumulated elevation gain of the four 14ers I’d already ascended so I began to fade a bit. A number of times I chose to sit down and close my eyes for just a moment or two.  Clouds rolled in giving the already cold and dark night an ominous feel for the last few hundred feet. We saw a headlamp up on top and assumed it was Logan. Turned out we were correct. Logan had reached the summit about 10 minutes before we had. On the summit I sat down only for a few minutes before getting cold again and quickly motivated for the descent. Just a few paces on the descent and we ran into Julian and his friend Steve(?) as they neared the summit.

I had done this Mount Yale descent before but in the daylight. For the most part it was easy to follow the line I had previously taken but damn did it feel much longer than it had in the past. We could see Logan’s headlamp ahead of us and behind us we saw the headlamps of Julian and Steve. Bill and I finally reached the saddle between Point 13,105’ and Point 12,619’ and it was time to descend the “airplane gully” down to North Cottonwood Creek. The airplane gully is steep, bushy and full of vegetation. There’s not really a trail either. The grass and vegetation was wet making for treacherous footing and a soaking experience. By the time we got to near the bottom of the airplane gully I was pretty frustrated, wet and super tired. Then we had to deal with the tree deadfall. That was horrendous. In the daylight it’s a bit easier to navigate the tree deadfall because you can see a good distance ahead and pick a decent line that minimizes tree hopping and ducking-under. No such luxury in the dark. I was pissed. I really felt bad for Bill because he hadn’t been through here before and I was leading him on the worst tree hopping/crawling/ducking expedition possible. Somehow I feel I managed to lead us over every single possible dead tree in this section. My CPM (curses per minute) was at an all-time high and while it embarrassed me to be blurting out so many expletives, I couldn’t stop. That deadfall brought out the worst of me. By the time we hit the North Cottonwood aid station at 4:30am where my Mom, Matt and Tom were waiting, I was a full-on asshole. I apologized for my attitude but still I shouldn’t have let it get that out of line. This was the lowest moment of the weekend for me and I had to work hard to turn my frown upside down. As it turned out, Julian and Logan also both had a devil of a time with this descent so we were all happy to spend a solid hour at the aid station to regain our composure and steel our nerves to head up into the now windy conditions above treeline.

The highlight of the night, however, had to be the awesome remote aid station that Shelby and Martin had put together in North Cottonwood. Shelby was quick to hand me a warm bowl of Deb Pero’s famous potato and bacon soup which really hit the spot. Any thoughts of calling it quits at this point slowly faded as each spoonful of soup hit my lips. However, an unfortunate mix-up meant that my cold pizza had been left back at the car, two miles away. The thought of taking on Columbia, Harvard, Oxford, Belford and Missouri without my favorite food was hard to swallow. Thankfully, the valiant Tom came to the rescue running two miles back down to the car, grabbing my pizza and running back to the aid station in short order. Julian and I had decided to wait until the sun started to come up before heading up so the wait was not a problem. In the meantime, Martin was kind enough to allow me to lay down in his tent to get out of the drizzling rain and stay a bit warmer as we waited.
 
Around 6am, Julian and I motivated to head up Columbia. Logan had headed out about half an hour ahead of us. As I plodded up the trail behind Julian, the wind was whipping up above us and the whistling noise was not at all motivating. We pressed on and it wasn’t long before we broke out above treeline and up what I feel is the worst route on a Colorado 14er, the west slope of Columbia. Steep, loose, braided and just not at all fun. It was made even less fun with the wind, especially once on the ridge heading north to the summit. We reached the summit around 9:30am and sat down for a snack. At this point I still hadn’t found my mojo again and mentioned to Julian I may head back down the way we came and call it a day. He gave me a puzzled look and I don’t recall if he said anything but it was clear what I said was ridiculous. I’m glad he reacted the way he did and set me straight. I was thinking nonsense and he called me on it. It was great. After a short break we got up and continued on our way towards Harvard.
Heading up out of Frenchman Creek basin
I’m accustomed to staying a good bit higher in elevation in upper Frenchman Creek basin but it’s a ton of talus hopping and not always much fun so when Julian headed further down in elevation to avoid the talus and stay more on grass, I was intrigued and followed along. It worked out pretty well and is certainly easier on the mind versus the talus hopping. Getting lower in elevation got us out of the wind a bit more and I finally felt like I was warming up. The warmth was nice to enjoy for a bit before we headed back up the ridge and back into the strong winds en route to Harvard’s summit at 12:40pm. I found a little nook in some boulders just below the summit to enjoy some pizza. I was able to get text messages on my phone here and received a few encouraging messages from friends which helped boost my increasingly better mood.

Julian and I made decent time on the descent of Harvard’s north ridge and slope down to Pine Creek by around 2:45pm. It was awesome to see an aid station down in Pine Creek. I believe his name was Richard and his wife’s name I have unfortunately forgotten. We enjoyed some soup, chocolate teddy grahams and pleasant conversation with Richard and his wife. Moments later, Logan and his friend Cordis came back down to the aid station after a brief false start up Oxford. At this point it started raining and there was some decent thunder further up the valley so we all opted to wait it out under the cover the trees next to the small campfire at the aid station. We ended up hanging out for about 90 minutes, all told, before motivating to head up and out around 4:45pm.

The ascent up Oxford went quite smooth. We all knew the route pretty well and despite wet grass resulting in wet feet, we enjoyed having a group of four for conversation. But again, as we got above 13,000’ the wind was pretty strong and quite cold. All four of us got pretty chilled as we reached the summit of Oxford just before 7pm. In fact, Cordis was cold enough to skip the summit of Oxford and stayed lower going directly down to the saddle between Oxford and Belford. Meanwhile, Julian, Logan and I all hunkered down in the small summit wind block area on top of Oxford. I even took my shoes and socks off to put them in the wind and hopefully dry out a bit.  I’m not sure things dried out much, or at all, unfortunately. 
Julian and Logan take a load off on the summit of Oxford
After a short bit of summit time, we headed over to Belford via the connecting ridge. I caught up to Cordis just after the low point on the saddle and he said he was quite cold. The air temperature had dropped just after the sun set and with the wind on the ridge, it was pretty frigid. I had an extra Frog Toggs rain shell jacket and pants in my pack so Cordis put the kit on. It was pretty hilarious because the rain kit was too large on me and extremely large on Cordis. But the kit did a great job of keeping the warmth in so he wasn’t complaining. All of us headed to the summit of Belford in the brutal wind and tagged the summit around 8:20pm just before it got dark enough to mandate a headlamp. Cordis continued over the summit and down to the Missouri Gulch trailhead while Julian, Logan and I headed down to Elkhead Pass. I scampered down pretty quickly to the pass and was able to lay down for a bit, maybe five minutes, and close my eyes and rest some before Julian and Logan reached the pass. The brief “doze-off” felt great.

When Julian and Logan arrived at the pass we had to decide how we wanted to tackle Missouri. Logan and I were keen to skirt around the southeast face of Missouri and Julian humored us. I’d been on this south face traverse coming down from Missouri and over to Elkhead twice in the past but both times during the day. Logan had recently scouted it too so we felt good about it. Turns out it’s pretty difficult in the dark! We ended up farting around a bit trying to decide when to head up. I think, in the end, we did not traverse far enough southwest before heading up. Eventually I found a fourth-class gully that looked good enough to me so I went for it. It worked out well and I hit the south ridge at 13,700’ around 10:40pm. I called down to Julian and Logan that the line went and they opted to follow me up. I had another chance to sit and “rest my eyes” for a bit while they two of them ascended the gully. Once we were all together we headed up the final bit to the summit and sat on top at 11:30pm. It was breezy and a bit foggy on the summit so we didn’t stay long. Julian and Logan were able to use the FRS radio to chat with crew down at Clohesy Lake. The crew had been able to see our headlamp light reflect in the clouds and it was a boost knowing they were all down there. The three of us had a short discussion about where the route down to Clohesy was from where we were at so I used my phone and Locus Pro app with a GPS track showing my route from last summer to get us set straight. We headed northwest, then west, on the ridge before dropping down to the lake.
Back when I head left the summit of Harvard, I had sent a text message to Tom and my crew suggesting I’d called it quits at Clohesy Lake. That would have gotten me through 10 summits and I would be very pleased with that. Apparently my crew was prepared to give me a pep talk and get me to continue beyond Clohesy Lake but as I rolled into Clohesy around 1:00am, I had already decided I’d continue on through at least Huron Peak and over to Winfield. I had a second wind come through and was feeling good mentally and physically. No reason to stop!

The aid station crew at Clohesy Lake was chock full of experienced ultrarunners and crew folks and the vibe was fun and very supportive. They had a massive campfire going which helped warm us all up and get us excited to press on into the overnight. I think I downed some Muscle Milk protein drink, some coffee and snacked on various foods before getting ready to head out. Julian, Logan and I spent probably close to 30 minutes around the fire enjoying its warmth and chatting with the large crew.

We chatted about our route up Huron and I was quite keen to take the route I’ve done a couple times up Huron—ascending the basin to the north of the Lois Lake Basin despite the Lois Lake basin being the more common Nolan’s route up/down Huron on the Clohesy side. Julian and Logan were both interested to see this route so we headed out from the aid station around 1:30am. A small log bridge across the outlet stream of Clohesy Lake allowed us to keep our feet dry on the crossing. After a short bit of bushwacking the route into this basin goes straight up a gully full of giant, stable blocks for about 300 vertical feet. It’s pretty engaging scrambling so it kept me mentally focused and warded off any thoughts of sleep. We did a good job of navigating and were soon bouncing across the talus of the upper basin before the steep climb to the ridge. The clouds came in and gave an eerie feel to the night as well as obscure the route for a few moments every now and then. Going through the wee hours of our second night, the three of us started to drag. At about 4:30am the three of all sat down and, without discussion, just nodded off for about 15 minutes. We all snapped awake when a short bit of drizzle passed over us. It was another few hundred feet to the 13,400’ ridge north of Huron. Right around this time, unbeknownst to me, my Delorme InReach battery died.

On the ridge a little after 5:00am we could see the headlamps of a couple of other hikers coming up the standard route from Winfield. The next bit of talus traversing from our ridge to the standard route trail is normally fun talus hopping but after the freezing cold, damp night the talus was covered in verglass and was extremely treacherous and slow-going. I found myself often using both hands for stability along this traverse. I felt pretty bad about this because I know Julian and Logan weren’t psyched on this route in these conditions and it was me who had led them this way. They were troopers to push through the conditions with no complaining. We were all pretty chilled being up in the clouds and as we got higher we encountered a bit of snow covering the last couple hundred feet to the summit of Huron. We reached Huron’s summit around 6:30am and didn’t linger in the chilly conditions. The descent was a bit slippery on the upper few hundred feet but quickly dried up and got warmer as we got lower.
Sunrise from near the summit of Huron
The rising sun really gave me a boost and that, along with passing by a large number of hikers heading up the trail as I descended, I was amped up. I was 49 hours into the outing and suddenly feeling the best I’d felt the entire time. It was a wild feeling but I was ready to open it up and run it into Winfield and cruise over the next 14er, La Plata. I stripped some layers as I got down to the dirt road that leads into Winfield. Coming up the road from Winfield was Steve Bremner and he was kind enough to turn around and run with me for about 10 minutes giving me some company into Winfield at around 8:20am.

My Mom, Matt, Tom, Bill, Rebecca, Katrina and a host of others were waiting at Winfield with freshly cooked bacon and breakfast burritos! I was keen to eat a bit of food, drink up a bit and get out towards La Plata summit’s as soon as possible so I made it a quick turnover of about 15 minutes in Winfield changing socks and shoes quickly. A fellow ultrarunner runner from Kansas, Sophia, had put together an amazing aid station at Winfield and I felt bad for blowing in and out of there given just how awesome it was but I did manage to enjoy some of her freshly-cooked bacon before hitting the road. Since it would be dirt road and trail from here on out, I grabbed my ultra poles for the next bit.
Leaving Winfield amped up. Tom Stockton photo.
Leaving Winfield by 8:45am or so, I fired up some tunes from my phone and managed to do a good bit of running up the road up the North Fork of Clear Creek and La Plata’s southwest side. My good friend Bill quickly caught up to me from Winfield to give me some company over La Plata. It was great to be back in the mountains with Bill and especially great at this point in the outing. We motivated and pushed pretty swiftly to reach the summit of La Plata at noon making it a 5.5 hour split from the summit of Huron to the summit of La Plata—something I was super, super pleased about that pace at this stage of the adventure. 
From the summit of La Plata, looking north to the remaining two 14ers, Elbert and Massive, I did not make it to.
The day was beautiful and I was feeling great. With the InReach dead, I was still able to send a text status update to Facebook to keep friends and family updated on my progress and the comments and replies were very uplifting. I was utterly stoked!

Bill and I munched on some snacks on the summit for about ten minutes before beginning the descent down the standard route to highway 82 at La Plata gulch. It was an uneventful and enjoyable scamper down the trail and to the trailhead at 2:07pm…a total of 57:07 for 12 peaks trailhead to trailhead. I was so stoked with this effort!

I had given a good amount of thought about going on to Elbert and perhaps Massive if I could have kept feeling good even though it would easily be another 14+ hours but many factors made me decide to call it good at this point. It was a beautiful afternoon and this adventure had only been possible thanks to the support of my Mom, Matt and friends that had come up to the area for the weekend. I really wanted to enjoy the rest of the beautiful afternoon with them instead of just seeing them for brief spurts of time at various meeting points along the route. It would have been very selfish to ask for more support after everyone had given up nearly 60 hours of non-stop time to help me in my adventure. It was awesome to stop, sit in a chair and enjoy a beer with my family and friends on this gorgeous summer afternoon. Life was great and I wanted to soak it up.

Thank you
I cannot adequately express how grateful I am for everyone that helped make this attempt so successful. Many people, from family to friends to people I hadn't ever met, gave up their weekend to give me the best chance at success possible. If you were one of those people please know that your help means the world to me and accept my heartfelt gratitude for what you've done. Thank you!