Sunday, October 18, 2009

Palo Duro 50 kilometer trail race 2009

From Palo Duro Canyon 50k Trail Race, 2009-10-17

50 kilometers
9th overall (Official results)
Official race website
My GPS stats, splits and map

“Man, those two guys are taking off fast”, I think to myself as I look at my watch to see we're running a 6:30 min/mile pace. We're about a half mile into the race, running with headlamps and flashlights after the 7:00am start a few minutes ago. It's dark and I'm following the fastest two runners. The three of us are ahead of the other roughly 150 runners that started the 50 mile and 50 kilometer races at the same time. I take a quick look back to take in the sea of blueish white lights bobbing up and down.

I probably shouldn't be up here with the front runners and wonder how long I'll be able to hang with them. Six weeks ago I had a rappelling accident that resulted in a severely sprained ankle and a partially torn medial meniscus in my left knee. A little over a month ago I had surgery to remove the torn part of the meniscus. I'd run a mere 16 miles in the past 6 weeks but my competitive race attitude takes over and I'm out front running as if I'd trained for this race. Definitely it won't last but I figure I'll put some time in the bank and limp it in to the finish later if needed.

Beautiful light and color on Friday evening.

The running is great. The trail is smooth dirt passing through a desert environment. There are no big climbs but plenty of small rollers passing over hills or through creek drainages. The stars were out when I awoke at 5:00am but now we have a very nice cloud cover which, thankfully, would last most of the morning and only break about the time I finished the 50k race.

The course is basically a figure eight with a large loop on top and smaller 6 mile loop on the bottom. 50 milers run the entire outside of the figure eight as one big loop four times. The 50k runners run the bottom loop of the figure eight once to start and then two of the big loops along with the 50 milers. Most often, the trail is paralleling the paved roads in the canyon so crew access is simple and frequent with the numerous aid stations. Because of the frequent aid stations, there's no need to carry more than a single hand bottle and some gels in this race. A pack would just be extra weight and extra heat on the runner's back later in the race when it gets hotter.

I start the first, small loop with just a hand flashlight. I have a long-sleeved shirt over my sleeveless shirt and shorts on the bottom. Aggressive trail shoes are not necessary on the smooth trails either. I run in very basic trail shoes that are basically glorified road shoes (Saucony Excursion TR3s). The first aid station, at the middle of the two loops, is Phil's at 3.6 miles. I get there around 7:30am and by now it's light enough that I can ditch the flashlight there. It's also warm enough that I ditch my long sleeve shirt. I drop these items by a kiosk-like sign and head back 2.3 miles to the start/finish area to complete the first small loop at 7:50am. Allison hands me a hand bottle and my gel flask and I don't have to stop. At this point I'm in second place but it's way early in the race, 6 miles into it, and I'm sure that won't last considering my lack of training in the past 6 weeks.

Again I'm at Phil's AS at mile 9.5 where Allison is again waiting for me. I quickly spray some sunscreen on and grab my visor and sunglasses. While I'm doing that, another 50k runner passes by and now I'm in third. So it begins now eh? My slide down the ranks. I'm used to this feeling, though, as I often go out too hard and slowly lose places but this is still early in the race. But I'm OK with that...I'm soley focused on my goal time of “around 5 hours” and also assessing how my knee and ankle are feeling as I go. So far, they've both treated me well in the race and I'm pleased with that.

After leaving Phil's and embarking on the large loop for the first time, I'm quickly impressed with the landscape. This part of the course heads deeper into the backcountry of the canyon leaving the sounds of the paved road behind. Small pinnacles and little sandstone towers rise up on top of the red-dirt foundation mesas. It reminds me of the Grand Canyon on a much smaller scale. The leaves on a few of the trees are changing yellow. The clouds overhead keep things cool and pleasant which is a good thing since there is virtually no opportunity for shade out here. After close to 2.6 miles, I pass through the remote Dos Loco Senioritas aid station—a station run by two self-proclaimed crazy ladies. They are making enough encouraging yells and claps that I could hear them from a mile away. It was awesome. With my hand bottle and gel, I'm well-stocked and don't need to stop at the aid station and just wave as I pass through. The next section of the course is very scenic passing through and around brightly-colored dirt and sandstone to the Janda and Lyle's aid station 2.7 miles from the Dos Loco Senioritas aid station.

Allison was again waiting for me at Janda and Lyle's because this one is on the paved road just a little over a mile from Phil's aid station. I don't need anything from Allison here and again keep moving through the aid station. I run on the trail along the road from Janda's to Phil's and switch out hand bottles with Allison at Phil's. Af ter a short, scenic bit of running from Phil's to the start/finish area, I've completed the first of two big loops, along with the initial small loop, in 2 hours, 45 minutes. Allison tells me I'm in fifth place at this point. I knew that, though, as I had been counting the runners that pass me.

I start the second, and final, big loop and chat briefly the fourth place runner ahead of me. We're both thankful for the high clouds that are still keeping things cool. I pass through Phil's again to change out my hand bottle and gel bottle with Allison. I'm starting to feel the effects of running pretty fast with no training and tell Allison I'm likely to slow down and be later than expected at the remaining aid stations. My groin muscles are starting to feel very sore and tight , my calf muscles are tightening up and my right knee is a bit sore, probably from involuntarily favoring my right leg to protect my left leg joints a bit. However my energy level is strong and running at this relatively low altitude is resulting in plenty of oxygen.

I end up walking up the small hills and tiny climbs mainly to change my stride a bit to work the muscles a bit differently. Occasionally I stop to stretch my legs and groin muscles. The leg pain is starting to be more constant and steals my focus from running and enjoying the scenery. But pain is a fine indicator that we are alive and I do my best to welcome it. It's not unexpected and it's not terrible.

I stop briefly at the Dos Loco aid station to refill my hand bottle half way and to take another electrolyte tablet. I've been on a schedule of taking an electrolyte tablet and a big shot of gel from my flask about every 30 minutes. On the trail again I pass a couple of 50 mile runners and look back to see another runner coming up fast. At this point, the 50k and 50 mile runners are all interspersed but the 50 milers are, expectedly, taking it a bit slower than us 50k runners. When I see a runner coming up on me, I know it's another 50k runner. I stop to pee and let the runner by. Just outside of the Janda aid station again, I get passed by one more 50k runner. I think I'm in 7th place now but have lost track. Also, I realize I won't be able to finish under 5 hours. I pass through Janda again without stopping and say hello to Allison and tell her I'd like a half-full water bottle at Phil's. It's a slow, lonely jog for me from Janda to Phil's. I see no one else and don't hear the cars passing by.

At Phil's for the last time Allison gives me the half full water bottle and asks when I finish. I tell her it will be about 10 minutes after noon, 5 hours and 10 minutes for the run. I can smell the barn now, so to speak, and want to run faster but my legs won't have anything of it. I can run but not much faster than 10 minute miles. I do what I can, passing a few 50 milers when, about a mile from the finish, I see another runner coming up on me. She passes me with an encouraging word, “we're almost there!”. I know it and I'm excited. I get my pace just under 10 minute miles and hold it as long as I can which is almost to the finish line. The finish area is full of runners and families and the cheering gets me excited and I step up my pace to the finish at 5:09:15.

I receive my finisher's hat and find Allison so I can go lay down in the shade somewhere and stretch out my limbs. Both legs hurt all over and I can barely lower myself to the ground. My lower back is sore, my shoulders are sore from too much tensing (something I frequently do with my shoulders) and, oddly, my left bicep is quite sore. I'm not upset about the pain and, in fact, I relish in it. It feels great to be feeling this wasted again. Six weeks ago while I sat in the emergency room after my rappelling accident I was sure I wouldn't be trail running again until early 2010 at best. I far exceeded my expectations and ran stronger than I could have hoped.

The Palo Duro trail race is a very good race and one that I would recommend and hope to run again. There's a 20k “fun run”, the 50k and the 50 mile. I'm not sure I'd run the 50 miler on account of it running the big loop four times and getting very hot in the afternoon with no shade but the other, shorter distances would be good fun. The camping in the canyon is very nice including hot showers at the campgrounds. The race staff were quite friendly and the runs were well organized.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The difference a month makes

OK, so really it's been 33 days since I had my rappelling accident at Gallows Edge in White Rock Canyon but I'm going to round down to a month. As we've all noted, I was very lucky to have only sustained a badly sprained left ankle, a torn meniscus in my left knee and some other minor bruises and scrapes.
The recovery has gone amazingly well and quick--I was walking without the ankle boot after three days and climbing again within four days. I didn't need but one of the pain killer pills they prescribed to me for my ankle.
Then I had an MRI done via the Taos Orthopaedic Institute and it showed a bucket handle tear in my medial meniscus in my left knee. On September 15th, Dr. Lubowitz at Taos Ortho performed a partial mensicectomy on my knee to remove the torn meniscus. He quantified it as a "substantial tear" and removed a good bit of meniscus but said things went very smooth and looked very good.

A partial meniscectomy is a relatively minor knee surgery that's performed arthroscopically involving only a couple holes cut into the knee--one for a camera and one for tools. I was walking without crutches the day after surgery and climbing easier routes five days after the surgery. It's now two weeks since the surgery and I've had the sutures removed and my knee is almost back to complete range of motion. Also, I never experienced any pain in the knee post-surgery. It's safe to say it's been a great recovery.

My ankle sprain is healing well and is mostly pain free all the time. I can walk and jog without discomfort but there are some certain motions that produce an acute, sharp pain deep within the outside of my ankle. I've been visiting a friend, Carl Dickson, who's a physical therapist and he's been working the ankle very well and that's been extremely beneficial.

As for exercise, I haven't ran any appreciable distance since Aug. 26th and I'm itching to. However, I have been hitting the stationary bikes pretty often and just today, after Carl's suggestion, have started elliptical trainer work. My goal that I haven't told many people about is to run the Palo Duro 50k trail run on October 17th. Obviously I won't be setting any personal record but know that it will feel good to get back to trail running. I feel very lucky that I have the potential to return to trail running less than two months after my accident.

Again, I appreciate all the kind words and encouragement from all my friends and family. It's been a very positive experience for me and has kept me motivated to heal strong and quickly.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Day 4 of the recovery

It's been four days now since my accident at Gallows Edge in White Rock Canyon. The support from friends has been awesome and I'd like to say a huge "thank you" to all of you that have stopped by to visit or called--I'm way stoked to have so many great friends!

My ankle feels unchanged since the day after the accident. It's still huge, super swollen, very tender and now multi-colored. The good news is, though, that I saw Dr. Garcia today and his prognosis is that I didn't break anything but really sprained it good and tore ligaments. Apparently the purple coloring is a result of all the blood from the torn ligaments. He also believes I didn't do anything to my knee despite the fact that I think I did. The knee ligaments all seem good but I think I've torn the meniscus. (Speaking from experience from my other knee.) I still have an appointment with Taos Ortho next week for a second opinion (I take my legs pretty seriously.) I've been very pleased with Dr. Lubowitz and Dr. Guttman at Taos Ortho in the past.

In the meantime, Dr. Garcia suggested I start working my ankle up and down and in circles a few times a day to keep the healing ligaments from healing too tight. The up and down isn't so bad but the left and right movements hurt like an MF right now. Going into it easy. I've taken some photos the past two days showing my ankle and plan to keep adding to the photo album. Keep an eye on the album if you're into checking out gross injury photos.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Falling on basalt hurts

It must have been a nightmare. Seriously, I don't do that. I know better. Way better. I've been climbing for over 12 years without an accident and just plain know better. Only rookies do that. Apparently not so.

When I awoke in my bed on Friday morning I was hoping it was a nightmare but when I looked down at my left foot wrapped in a bandage and covered with an ice pack and felt the discomfort coursing up my leg, I was painfully aware it wasn't just a nightmare and I had definitely fucked up. It could have been worse though...when a climber rappels off the end of his rope it's generally a lot worse than a severely sprained ankle (with torn ligaments), a bruised left ass cheek and a scraped left arm. Yes, I had been very lucky.

On Thursday evening I had driven down to Gallows Edge to replace some anchor hardware on four routes there. I had been given some hardware in support of the Anchor Replacement Initiative (ARI) and wanted to replace some of the weird anchor setups there that involved chain links bolted directly onto the bolt stud using washers. It turns out I didn't need to drill but one new hole because the existing stainless steel bolts looked great. So I just replaced the hardware that was attached to the bolts. Also, while down there, my friends Matthias and Lee had been looking to establish a new route that they had top-roped before.

For all of this work I did what I normally do for working on routes--I setup a single line static rope anchored to some huge blocks. My static line is about 60 feet in length and since I planned to only work on the top of climbs and drill some holes for Matthias and Lee, I didn't need a longer rope. I did all my work with using a Grigri on the single static line which allowed me to rappel down and stop to work with the Grigri locking up on the rope, as designed, while working. I replaced three anchors and drilled the holes/installed the bolts for Matthias and Lee without issue and things were going great. Our friend James showed up and had been planning to climb but his partner bailed on account of the weather. It had rained once while we were down there and it was looking threatening again as the evening wore on.

Matthias and Lee climbed their new route and got ready to head out. I wanted to replace the hardware on a route called Planet of the Apes because it also had some non-standard chain-on-bolt action going on. It was getting darker but I still had plenty of light to replace this one anchor. So I moved my rope over to this route leaving it tied around the huge boulder it had been tied around all night. This boulder, though, was some distance from the route I was now working on. Matthias and Lee headed out but James stuck around to walk out with me after I replaced the anchor. The anchor replacement went fine but just as I was finishing up I dropped a piece of the old chain I had removed. By now it was getting pretty dark, a ominous looking storm was brewing to the south and I was engaged in conversation with James. I told him I was going to zip down to the base of the route to pick up that chain and that he could take down the rope once I was off rappel. I started rapping down and got down at least 2/3rds of the route, maybe more, when I noticed a curious and quick sensation--the rope whipped through my Grigri.

In that instance I knew exactly what I had done, knew I was fucking stupid and knew things were about to hurt. I did my best to stay upright and spot a landing and crashed into the ground. I think I fell maybe only 12 or 16 feet (I don't really know but I plan to go back with the same rope to rig it the same way and find out for sure) but it doesn't take much when you're falling onto blocky terrain. I let out a big 'ol "Ouch!" more because I expected it to hurt rather than it actually hurting. It was all over in an instant yet I felt I had time to ponder my future and think about how the next months were going to be spent laid up with some injury. I crumpled into the ground with my left side against the wall and then thought, "OK, you just fucked up big time but landed feet first and are still cognizant." I quickly assessed my situation and for a moment thought I was the world's luckiest SOB as I could still wiggle my extremities and actually didn't think I was injured. I yelled up to James that I had just rapped off the end of the rope but was OK. I think I might have even said I was off rappel, obviously, in an attempt to lighten up the situation.

I felt my knees and ankles and stood up without issue. I took a few steps and noticed my right side was completely fine. My left side, however, was not as good. My left ankle felt broken, my left knee was sore, my left ass check was super tender and my left arm was scraped up pretty good. I could still walk, though. So I told James I'd limp back up there to get my pack and asked him to pack up some of my gear into his pack. All the while, James was staying level-headed, positive and extremely helpful. I took advantage of the shock and limped quickly around and up to the top to gather my stuff. (I had left some hardware and a hacksaw in a hole/cave up there so if anyone wants to go get that, I'd appreciate it.) (Edit, 8/30/09-Daniel was kind enough to go pick up the gear on Friday.)

James coiled up the rope, we loaded up our packs and donned our headlamps as it was fully dark by now. Thanks to James taking most of the gear, my pack was pretty light and I limped/hopped up the trail. In places where it was steep I could use the rocks on the side as support and in places where it was flatter, James offered up his shoulder for me to lean on. We slowly moved up and near the top I asked James to go up a bit and drop his pack so he could take mine. He graciously did this and we limped to the car with good efficiency. It took probably 30 minutes to get out whereas normally I can hike that in 15.

At the car, I took off my harness and drank some water while James went back to retrieve his pack from the canyon edge. He came back to the car insisting he drive me home but I was feeling completely aware and since I have an automatic car, a screwed up left foot wasn't an issue for driving. I insisted he need not drive me home and called Allison to tell her why I was late. I told her James had helped me out and that my plan was to drive straight to the emergency room because I thought I had a broken ankle. She said she'd meet me there.

James has had some medical training in the past and checked my pupils, palpated my upper and lower body to ensure I didn't do any damage to other parts of my body that weren't my chief complaints and reluctantly let me drive myself home. James' help was invaluable.

I arrived at the hospital around 9:00pm and had beat Allison there so I limped across the parking lot into the ER. It was a short wait (we're lucky to have such a quality emergency room and hospital here) and I was visiting with doctor Chadwick in short order. Dr. Chadwick told me a story of him breaking his ankle on a volcano hike somewhere where they did not have very good medical care and how it was quite the ordeal for him. This made me feel better for sure knowing that there is life after an ankle break/sprain. The nurse cleaned out the scrape on my arm and I had x-rays done on my left elbow and left foot. Dr. Chadwick came back with the good news that my ankle was not broken but that had likely torn the ligaments and obviously I had sprained it big time. My elbow checked out OK and is just bruised.

I'm at home now icing and elevating my ankle and will see an orthopedist soon for a better picture of my injury. I've got a walking support boot for my ankle but otherwise feel OK. My left knee feels sprained or strained and I hope it's not anything serious. I definitely cannot sit on my left ass cheek. I now have time to ponder how lucky I am after a moment of completely stupid inattention. I have taught new climbers how to climb/rappel and stress the importance of tying a simple knot in the end of the rope so something like this doesn't happen yet I failed to practice what I preach but thankfully got off very lucky.

Addendum, 8/30/09: Thank you to everyone calling, stopping by or emailing me to give your support--it means a lot. I've had a lot of people comment with something like, "Well, no doubt you learned a lesson and won't do that again." The thing is, I knew better already and can't say that I really learned anything new from this. The notion of always tying a knot in the end of your rope when rappelling has certainly been reinforced but was something I was already well aware of. This accident was a result of rushing to get out coupled with being distracted by external forces (and not tying a knot in the end of the rope.) If anything it should serve as an example to others to slow down and pay attention to details even when circumstances are pressing and distracting.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Oh, for trains

I'm now recalling why I enjoy the desert southwest—the lack of humid heat. We are now traveling from the mountains of Italy and Austria to the Mediterranean coast at Marseilles, France. It's been a whirl wind day of trains to achieve this distance. We started at the train station in Innsbruck, Austria at 8:30am on a trip of nearly four hours back to semi-familiar territory in Zurich, Switzerland. The bonus part of this day was that all 4 train legs of the trip were to be via first class seats on the trains.

In Zurich we boarded our second train of the day to Geneva, Switzerland. This was the fanciest train I'd been on yet and at one point we had one of the entire first class coaches all to ourselves. This leg of the trip was 2 hours and 45 minutes. We broke down and bought some very expensive ham sandwiches on this train as well as the most expensive can of coke ever imaginable-- 4.80 CHF! Highway robbery.

At the Geneva train station we had close to an hour and a half to wait for our next train to Lyon, France. I managed to connect to a free and unsecured wi-fi connection there to get caught up on email and chat with the Beist for a bit via gmail chat. All sounds well back at home if not a bit rainy. Here, while waiting in the Geneva train station I really started to notice the heat. It doesn't help matters that I'm wearing the same “travel shirt” that I've worn for at least 6 days of this trip without a wash. It'll be in dire need of a wash after today's wearing, though!

Once we got on the train at the Geneva station headed for Lyon, France, the first class section was completely full but we were able to find standard seats next to each other. I'm not all bothered, regarding comfort, to sit in th standard fare area but I am quite a bit disappointed in that we paid for upgraded seats and did not get what we paid for. Such are the trains here it seems. Often times you pay for your entry on the ticket but must pay an additional fee to guarantee a seat. The train to Lyon started a bit late and got delayed for a few minutes on en route leaving us with an extremely tight transfer time of 7 minutes in Lyon to exit the train, get our bearings, find out which gate we needed to head to for our next train to Marseilles and get there. This task was made more difficult by the fact that we each have a decent sized duffel bag full of climbing gear with mine weighing at least sixty pounds. Not so nimble nor discreet.

We when exited the train in Lyon the first thing I noticed was the heat. Second, I noted the huge crowd. It seems at least two different trains had just dropped their load of passengers off simultaneously on the same platform. We got to moving and both looking around as if we were on that show “The Great Race” but without the fame and fortune or nearly the same drama. Not-so-long story short, we made it with a couple minutes to spare and boy is this is a train! It's the train known as the TGV which is an abbreviation for something in French that translates roughly to “super fast train that doesn't stop much, if at all, along the way.” And the seating in first class is super comfortable complete with a desk and tiny desk lamp allowing me to type comfortably on this here laptop as I watch out the window the late-day light illuminate the whirring French countryside.

We'll very soon be arriving in Marseilles and are staying at the Holiday Inn there. It looks as though it's a 5km distance from the train station to the hotel so we may be up for a decent walk with heavy packs or perhaps we'll try our broken French to catch a taxi instead. I just know that I very much look forward to a shower this evening. And, looking further ahead, the dry desert heat of the American southwest. I do miss it along with my family and friends there.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

On the road (and rails) again

From Dolomites Day 7, Vajolet Towers, 2009-07-28

Back to the city, Innsbruck that is. But just for a short bit. Tomorrow morning we leave for a full day of trains from Innsbruck to Zurich to Geneva to Lyon to Marseille, France where we'll spend the night and then drive to our friend Rick's house north of Marseille.
Since I last updated the blog here Allison and I got to do some more climbing on Falzarego Pass as well as experience a very fun via ferrata (Lipella) that included an 800m tunnel and some fun, exposed climbing near some waterfalls.
We also spent a couple nights in rifugios in the Rosengarten group of the Dolomites to climb routes on the three Vajolet Towers. One Vajolet Tower, Delago Tower, was a primary reason we opted to come to to the Dolomites and it was all we had hoped for! I've posted some new photo albums at of the days' action.
The time we spent in the Dolomites was fantastic. The views often breathtaking, the people extremely friendly and the climbing full of history and very fun. It is with some sadness that I leave that area of Italy but I now have a good feeling for the Dolomites and fully intend to return. They're that great!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Dolomites exploration ongoing

From Dolomites Day 4, "Mariakante" and Sella Pass. 2009-07-24

We're back in Cortina tonight at the familiar Hotel Impero. It's a great little hotel that is centrally located, has fast wi-fi and the staff are great! Yesterday Allison and I climbed a fun 8-pitch route called "Mariakante" on the Pordoispitze and spent the afternoon hiking around Sella Pass. The whole day was beautiful but as we went to sleep in our hotel in Canzei last night, a thunderstorm raged through for a few hours yet made way for a beautiful day today.
So today we slept in, ate breakfast at the hotel and then drove over Sella Pass to Gardner Pass. Just over Gardner Pass we parked and went up for a fun day on the Via Ferrata Brigata Tridentina. It was our first via ferrata experience and one that we really enjoyed. The day's weather was fantastic and the climb experience great. It's awesome that so many people, families included, get out on these via ferrata adventures!
Tomorrow we plan to climb on th Falzarego Towers near Falzarego Pass and maybe squeeze in another via ferrata before driving to Canazei again to stay the night in the Rifugio Gardeccia tomorrow night. Monday night will have us in the Rifugio Alberto near the Vajolet Towers before we drive back to Innsbruck on Tuesday afternoon. It may be a while before we're back online after tonight, though. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Enjoying the Dolomiti

From Dolomites Days 2 and 3, 2009-07-22-23 hasn't even been a week since we left Los Alamos and it feels like we've seen and done a fair bit. This is awesome.
This evening we're in Canazei, Italy for the next two nights. We've climbed in the Dolomites the past few days and it's been amazing. Beautiful weather and a truly mind-boggling amount of rock. It's everywhere! After spending a couple days in Zurich, Switzerland and a day in Innsbruck, Austria I was way burned out on the cities and was super stoked to get outside in the Dolomites on Tuesday. Yesterday we were skunked on the big 14 pitch route we wanted to climb (three slow moving parties ahead of us forced me to downclimb the first pitch and tuck my tail between my legs.) We then went to climb a 6 pitch easy route and found it completely choked up with groups and none of them appeared to be moving at all! So we did a shorter 3 pitch route, super easy, to a cool summit.
We got up early this morning and was the first party on that 14 pitch, 5.7, route (south arete of Tofana di Rozes) and it was awesome. And the cool thing is, the weather today was quite a bit better than yesterday so we felt avenged.
We'll be climbing around here the next couple of days before heading back to Cortina for a night and then to Rifugio Alberto for two nights to climb in the Vajolet Towers area hopefully.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Not much of a city boy

From Europe Days 3 and 4, 2009-07-21-22

I'm not a fan of cities. I can appreciate city life and function for a short bit but I was at the end of my appreciation by the time we left Innsbruck, Austria this morning. The crowds, the heavy European smoking, the noise and the traffic. It was nice to see all that in the rear view mirror this morning when we picked up our rental car in Innsbruck and drove the 2.5 hours to Cortina de Ampezza, Italy.
And now we're very happy. This quaint mountain town is still pretty big in size but it's situated high in the Dolomites and feels full of life. I can't quite put my finger on it but everything about this area feels so much more friendly and appropriate than either Zurich or Innsbruck.
We checked into our hotel, Hotel Impero, and pretty much made a beeline for the Cinque Torri area to get some climbing in. This area is at about 7,400 feet and easily accessible via a five minute ski lift ride and a 10 minute approach hike. It gave us a good opportunity to get warmed up to the limestone of the Dolomites. All the hillsides in the area are a very lush green and rock simply juts out of the hillsides making for some very dramatic mountains.
We plan to spend the next six days around here in the Dolomites with a night or two in a rifugio but most likely mainly doing day trips from hotels in Cortina and/or Canazei.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

European vacation 2009, Day 2

From Zurich, Switzerland, 2009-07-19

Photos, day 2.

Boy, we were tired. And, thankfully, our room was very dark. We slept off a major chunk of the jet lag this morning sleeping in until 7:30am. Once we got moving we headed downstairs to the restaurant in the lobby where our included breakfast was served. This was no American continental breakfast either. Bacon, eggs, sausage, fresh bread, fruit, yogurt and a pile of oranges and a juicer to make your own fresh-squeezed orange juice. Awesome! No doubt I over ate a bit but we weren't planning on a lunch so I was just being cautious.
It was an overcast and windy morning so we packed our jackets and umbrellas in the backpack and hit the streets. First stop was the Schweizeriches Landemuseum near the train station. For 10 CHF each we enjoyed a bit of natural history swiss-style and then attempted to understand the all-German Swiss history exhibition which was very nicely done but impossible to understand.
From there we caught the train to Uetliberg, a decent foothill with a footpath to the summit and viewing tower at the top. This area boasts what are likely the closest trails for running and hiking and we enviously waved at a number of trail runners out there. Also, along the trail is a mini-scale map of the planets one can follow for nearly 8km along the ridgecrest to the Adliswil tram down. We hiked that trail for close to two hours as the day got better and better. It even ended up a bit warm at time.
We caught the bus/tram back to city center and went in search of good chocolate at a shop called Teuscher recommended by Brian Crone's wife. The first one we found at 4:07pm closed at 4:00pm. So we hopped on the tram down to Bellevue where another one was supposed to be. Whilst down there we figured we ought to check out the Kunsthaus modern art museum but found it cost 23 CHF each and was only open for another 30 minutes so we bailed on that. Instead, we rented a paddle boat for 18CHF for 30 minutes and paddled across Lake Zurich and back dodging the big tourist boats along the way. It was odd when I rented the boat...the guy barely spoke, took my 18CHF and driver's license and said, "OK, take the orange one for 30 minutes." That was it. No orientation, no forms to fill out, no guidelines. So we hope paddling across the lake between big tourist boats was allowed. When I returned the boat I saw other renters filling out paperwork and getting the rules spoken to them.
We did find the Teuscher in the Felix Cafe after that and scored four truffles. Tasty! After dessert we went in search of dinner. Casa Mia was another Italian place that came recommended but we found it closed. Naturally I gravitated towards beer and we popped into the Brasserie Federal which claims to have more that 100 Swiss beers. Problem was, the menu had no English on it and our question to the waitress, "Sprechen Sie Deutsch?" was met with the stern answer, "No!" and she walked away. OK, time to move on to that little Italian place we passed on our walk towards our hotel. I don't recall the name but it was a tasty and quite enjoyable.
Tomorrow we hit the rails with a 9:40am train to Innsbruck, Austria. We should get there around 1:30pm and will be staying at the Hotel Goldene Krone for one night before renting a car and driving south down into the Dolomites of Italy. While it's been fun exploring the city life a bit and gettin' cultured, I feel much more at home away from crowds and up in the mountains so I'm looking forward to getting into Italy.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

European vacation

Allison and I hit the skies yesterday for a three-week trip to Switzerland, Austria, Italy and France. Our first stop finds us in the Hotel Novotel in Zürich, Switzerland where I'm writing this from. It's the first visit for either of us to Zurich and so far we're really enjoying it despite the fact that neither Allison nor I speak any German--the predominant language here.
I was impressed with how easy it was to go through customs and be on our own in Zürich. We arrived this morning and purchased 24-hour public transport pass for 12 CHF each which allows us unlimited transport on the city trains, buses and trams. It took us a little bit of time to figure out which train to take from the airport to the main station. This wasn't too bad at all except for the fact that I was schlepping around our big North Face duffel bag with our climbing equipment (to be later used in the Dolomites) and it was a bit uncomfortable. A short 10 minute walk from the main station got us to our hotel where they were able to let us check in early (we arrived in Zürich at 7:15am and were at the hotel by 8:15am).

After checking in we got out for a short bit to take the tram downtown to visit a couple of the more famous churches in the area. The Fraumünster church has some amazing stained glass by Marc Chagall which I could appreciate. We then found ourselves very tired (we had been up all night on the flight) so we wandered back to the hotel to nap for a few hours. In the evening we went exploring downtown again and ate dinner at an Italian place. A quick stop at the Coop grocery store for snacks and we were back at the hotel ready for bed.

Tomorrow we plan to go visit the zoo, hike at Uetliberg and a couple of the museums before leaving for Innsbruck the following day.
The view from our hotel room at night.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

2009 San Juan Solstice 50 Mile Race Report

Hanging with Mom at the start/finish just before the race.

50 miles
13th overall of 109 finishers
Unofficial results
Official race website
My GPS stats, splits and map

8 ounces. It's amazing to me the difference 8 ounces of material can make on a day like this past Saturday during the San Juan Solstice 50 mile trail race. This was my fourth time running this fantastic race and by far the worst conditions I've experienced during the race in those years. But I digress...

For some reason going into the race this year I schemed up the goal of trying to run it under 10 hours. 9:59:59 is what I was shooting for. In retrospect, I'm not sure where I got off thinking I could pull that off considering my fastest time on the course is 10:35:44 and I've only been running an average of roughly 35 miles per week this year. But what the hell, I went out for it. But if you view the results from this year's race you'll see I barely made it in under 11 hours in 13th place overall. Yeah.

From the start at 5:00am I went out with the first group of roughly 12 runners and hung in there until nearly the turn off up into Alpine Gulch when I realized that pace was too much for me and would put me in at Williams around mile 16 well ahead of my goal time of 8:15am so I slowed up. The sky was mostly cloudy making for a warmer-than-usual morning and the river crossing in the gulch were way easier than in 2008. In fact, I could still feel my toes by the end of the crossings so I knew it was warmer and less wet than previous years. Sections that normally have a snow field in them were dry and looked like a different gulch. I reached the Alpine aid station at mile 7.5 at 6:36am which was right on my schedule. I stopped to refill my single hand bottle with water and kept on moving.

Up on the ridgeline above Alpine there was also very little snow and it was a beautiful morning. The view of Half Peak across the valley was stellar and while there were clouds in the sky, it didn't look too threatening. I got into a good groove and rolled with it making fine time down into Williams at mile 16 at 8:06am which was faster than I had planned but I was feeling good. I came into the aid station with Helen Cospolich and would follow her until the Divide when she just plain took off! It was awesome.

My plan to "shave" off 36 minutes from my best time on this course was, besides running a bit faster, to really minimize time at the aid stations. I did this by not ever changing shoes, socks or any other clothing as well as having bottles pre-filled and a firm plan for switching bottles and fueling quickly. My Mom and Matt were invaluable as my experienced crew and did a fantastic job of getting me in and out of the aid stations super fast. So I can only blame me for not running fast enough in between the stations. :-)

The run from Williams to Carson seemed to go quickly and without any issues and I got into Carson at mile roughly mile 22 at 9:26am. I filled my two hand bottles, ate some Clif shot blocks and looked up at the divide and the sky. It looked quite nice and for a moment I contemplated leaving my 8oz GoLite Virga jacket in the drop bag but thankfully thought better of it and tied it around my waist before heading up. I did my best to keep Helen in sight on the climb up to the divide and managed to do that until just below Coney Peak (~13,300') when she motored on ahead.

As I neared the summit of Coney Peak I looked south to see some very dark, menacing clouds engulfing Rio Grande Pyramid and knew we'd soon be in the weather too. Sure enough a couple minutes after I "ran" over the summit of Coney Peak the snow started to fall. At first I figured it would be a short-lived snow squall but after about 15 minutes it looked like it was here to stay so I donned my jacket. The wet flakes were huge and prolific and it was pretty surreal for a bit. I thought back to earlier in the morning when I was running in a sleeveless shirt and sweating and how that seemed like a different day compared to the current weather. Then the wind began to blow a bit harder, the snow flakes got bigger and it got cold. (See the videos on Joseph Lea's blogpost about his experience this year.) I wished I had brought along gloves but got clever and stuck one of my hand bottles in my jacket pocket so I could suck a hand into the sleeves of the jacket. On my right hand (the windward hand) I wrapped my hand in my cotton handkerchief that I normally use to wipe sweat off my brow and jammed my hand into the hand bottle sling effectively making a cotton mitten. This worked great for the long jaunt to the Divide aid station at mile 31 at noon straight up. At this point I was still on my schedule for a sub-10 run but was feeling the fast miles I had run earlier and the cold weather wasn't helping. I was burning more calories just trying to stay warm in the adverse conditions.

I filled a bottle of HEED at the Divide aid station, ate a vanilla Hammer gel and then got moving again. Standing around for too long would only leave me colder. As I left the aid station I was pretty sure I saw my friend and frequent training partner David Coblentz striding up the hill into the aid station. For the first time I ran the whole section from the Divide to Slugullion without seeing another person. This is not to say I was way ahead of others but rather the clouds and snow were so thick that at times visibility was maybe 50 yards. It was pretty surreal and I wondered how people who hadn't been on this course would manage through this's pretty obvious following a well-established two-track but I know if I didn't know the course well I'd be second-guessing myself wondering if I was supposed to turn off or something. Also, I was hoping folks behind me were prepared for the weather. It was pretty nasty.

Then, to make things more difficult, the super wet dirt road turned to a gloppy mud that began sticking to my shoes making them feel a few pounds heavier not to mention slick! I got in the habit of kicking the bottom of my shoe on big rocks as I passed them to knock the mud globs off. I repeated that procedure all way down into Slumgullion at mile 40 at 1:40pm. I had hoped to arrive at Slumgullion at 1:20pm for my sub-10 goal. Being wet, cold, 20 minutes "late" and a bit beat up at this point I knew sub-10 was out of the question now. My fingers were a bit numb so I asked my Mom for my gloves out of my bag and struggled to get them on. By this point it was raining rather than snowing at this elevation but I figured dry gloves on my hands for at least a little while would make me feel warmer. I spent approximately three minutes at the aid station which I believe was the longest of all my aid station stops during the race.

I left amongst spirit-lifting clapping and hollering and felt very grateful for everyone being there encouraging us runners in our endeavor. The climb up Vickers has always, always kicked my ass and this year was no exception. I don't know what it's relatively low in elevation and in aspen groves so you'd think it would be easy but no! I struggled my way up thinking, "OK, next year I'll feel good at this point." Yeah right! About half way up the climb I heard a familiar voice from behind. David Wilcox was charging up the hill smiling and encouraging me to get a move on. He passed me and I tried to hang with him for a bit but knew it was not to be. We kept on moving up and into the trees to the flat section when the rain finally started to abate. I lost sight of David but kept running as much as I could across the top of Vickers through the three meadows. I've learned to count the meadows before the final aid station. Just before the Vickers aid station came into view the 10 hour mark slipped by. Yep, not this year. I reached the Vickers aid station at 3:06pm and didn't stop at all but thanked the volunteers there for letting us run through their property and for being there to support us.

The sun had just come back out and it looked like it was shaping up to be a fine afternoon. I stopped to take off my jacket and gloves and tied them around my waist. The descent down from Vickers is always tough on my quads and this time was no different. Also, I had to make a pit stop in the trees to take care of some trow-dropping business. Refreshed a little bit, I got back on trail and tried to run as fast as I could. It was now looking like that sub-11 would be a challenge and I was sweating it. These arbitrary goals are tough sometimes. I finished the descent and was back in town running the final mile or so into the finish when I looked back to see Coblentz only a couple hundred yards away! Nice, David, nice! The competitive adrenaline kicked in and I stepped up my pace. Plus, I knew it was going to be tight for sub-11 anyway. We crossed the bridge and made the final left turn towards the finish. I was still sprinting as best I could and got psyched to hear the cheering and cow bells ahead. The positive vibes were nearly overwhelming as I entered the park and across the finish line just a bit more than a minute faster than my time last year.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

2009 Jemez Mountain Trail Runs 50 Mile Race Report

50 miles
5th overall of 104 finishers
Official results
Official race website
My GPS stats, splits and map

Going into this year's JMTR 50 mile race, I had two goals--feel good on the descent of Pajarito Mountain and finish under 10 hours. The first goal was a result of my terrible downhill performance last year on Pajarito Mountain when I went into the race under trained on account of a five week trip to India in March/April of 2008. In the 2008 race I had felt pretty good until I crested the Aspen run and started down the slightly snowy, slick and steep descent and realized I had nothing left in my quads and that it would be a long 14 miles to the finish. I wanted to prove to myself I could do better. My secondary goal of finishing under 10 hours was certainly possible if I had a good race and things went well.

When we started the race from the Posse shack at 5am I started out front alongside Ryan Burch as we trotted down the short bit of pavement and turned onto the dirt road. I had met Ryan last year, and maybe even earlier, and knew he was a nice, strong guy and I expected him to win. He and I chatted for a while during the first few minutes along the dirt road and then we cranked down into Bayo Canyon and Ryan was gone! I was thinking he might be going out too fast but as it would turn out, he was way strong and ran a super race out front solo the entire time. Very inspiring.

For the first few miles through the first aid station I ran with Glenn Mackie and we also chatted a bit. He was coming from Dallas, TX for this race and I was super impressed with his running considering the altitude. But I think it didn't take too long for the altitude to start affecting him and he slowed behind me a bit after the first aid station. I then ran along with Greg Feucht as we ascended to Guaje Ridge and enjoyed a nice sunrise under the cloud deck above. The day was turning out perfect for running with an overcast sky and a cool temperature. It was definitely a bit humid for Los Alamos and I found myself sweating a great deal more than I normally would at 6:00am in the morning. I reached the Guaje Ridge aid station at mile 7.1 at 6:15am, quickly filled my one hand bottle and dropped down the North Mitchell trail into Guaje Canyon. I really enjoy steep, technical descents and I felt I was making good time on the other runners behind me on this section.

Down in the canyon the running up canyon was really pleasant and certainly scenic with the stream flowing and a little bit of sunshine poking through the clouds. I ran into the Caballo Base aid station at mile 10 at 6:50am and saw a number of familiar faces working the aid station. I'd later learn there was a bear hanging out near the aid station watching the runners. The out and back run up and down Caballo Mountain was, as always, steep and hard. I ran only near the the start of the climb and near the top and reached the Caballo summit at mile 12 at 7:30am...40 minutes for that climb isn't too bad. The view of Los Alamos and the Rio Grande valley was stellar this morning. I ran down fast but a bit conservatively as I wanted to save some legs for the Pajarito Mountain descent that was 23 miles away. A few downed trees along the trail kept me attentive and in check from going too hard. I was running in second place at this point and feeling good. I refilled my hand bottle at Caballo Base again at mile 14 at 7:47am and headed up Guaje Canyon on one of the two portions of the course that I often consider to be hot. As I neared the top of the canyon and started heading out on the cruising trail towards the Pipeline aid station the third place runner at the time, Dakota Jones, came up behind me and we chatted as we ran into the Pipeline aid station at mile 16 at 8:25am. As I neared the aid station I let out a little whoop to let my family members running the aid station--Mom, Matt and Dylan--know I was coming in.

Their aid station is notoriously awesome! The homemade shelter my Mom and Matt made for last year's race was again erected and well-stocked. I wanted to spend more time admiring the well-appointed aid station but I had a long way to go still. I grabbed my second water bottle filled with HEED powder and filled up both hand bottles. I also grabbed my electrolyte capsules and a few gels for the long section through the Valles Caldera, over Cerro Grande and down Cañon de Valle to the Pajarito Canyon aid station. The initial descent from the Pipeline aid station is a steep, loose and sketchy slide down the pipeline "road". I started down with Dakota behind me but it sounded like it was coming down faster than I was so I stepped aside and sure enough, he flew right by me. As we ran down into and through the caldera I was sure to take in the view as it is a phenomnal, wide open place to run. Dakota gained a bit on me through this section and I ran into the awesome Valles Caldera aid station at mile 20 at 9:03am. It was a quick stop for me to fill up my two bottles and get going again.

From the aid station the course leaves the nice dirt road and starts out along a cattle trail over a small stock pond dam and then cut cross country to the saddle south of Cerro Grande. As I ran along the cattle trail towards the cross country section I noticed Dakota had missed the cross country intersection and was continuing south along the cattle trail. I whistled and yelled his name but I don't think he heard me. When I got to the intersection I realized the problem...nearly all of the pin flags we'd stuck in the ground had been knocked down and/or chewed up by the elk. I really hoped Ryan hadn't missed this section but I knew he had run this course last year and hopefully remembered where to go. Since I had marked this section of the course two weeks earlier I knew where to go and ran along stopping to pick up and stick the flags that were spaced about every 70 feet or so back into the ground as I knew there'd be 100+ other runners behind us and this wasn't an obvious section of course. Along this section I met Jason Wolfe and then Dakota looked back to see us going across the big meadow and came back to meet up with us for the climb up through the talus, up to the saddle and to the summit of Cerro Grande.

On the Cerro Grande summit I stopped briefly to dump some small rocks out of my shoes and Jamil Coury cruised by me there. I was now in fifth place and looking forward to one of the most runnable, nice section of the course--the descent down the great single track of Cañon de Valle. It was a great descent and I was looking forward to seeing my Dad and Allison at the next aid station. I didn't see anyone else on this section and ran into the Pajarito Canyon aid station at mile 28 at 10:46am. I had been hoping to arrive there at 10:30am but was still feeling good and hoping I was running a smart race and saving some juice for later. At the aid station I grabbed a new gel flask and refilled my two hand bottles--one with HEED and one with water--and left the aid station having spent only about a minute there.

I always dread the climb up Pajarito Canyon despit the lush beauty of the canyon because it is a notoriously hot section of the course. However, this year the clouds kept things relatively cool and reasonable. I still decided to take off my shirt and run without it to the Townsight aid station and enjoyed the slight breeze cooling me off as we entered the Geist's Gap section of the course. Geist's Gap is a section of trail that was a the brainchild of Bill Geist who really wanted to avoid running the pavement of Camp May road during the race and convinced us to improve an old, faint two track through the forest paralleling Camp May Road. The effort was worth and I always enjoy this section of the course. I followed Jason Wolfe into the Townsight aid station at mile 32 at 11:43am feeling good and ready for the last big climb of the course up Pajarito Mountain. I had hoped to get into the Ski Lodge aid station at mile 36 at noon and realized there was no way that was going to happen. But I was feeling strong and still in fifth place so I wasn't too bothered by this realization.

Jason and I left the aid station together and talked briefly as we headed up the mountain. He was making ground on me but I did my best to keep him in sight for some added motivation and that worked well. We held a good pace going up the mountain and over along the crest to the summit and then dropped down the run called Oops! As I descended the run I looked back to see Harry Harcrow and another runner not far behind me. I then looked forward and noticed I could no longer see Jason Wolfe when I should have been able to see him. There was an intersection that left the main trail we had been running along and I assumed he'd missed this intersection so I whistled and shouted his name hoping he'd hear me and come back on track. The wind was blowing now, though, and I didn't get a response. I figured he'd run into runners going the other way and realize the mistake soon though. And now for the moment I had been waiting goal number one.

I crested the Aspen run and looked straight down familiar territory. I recalled last year having nothing left for this descent and was super stoked to feel so good as I started down fast and strong. I think I even gained a bit of distance on the runners behind me on this descent this year. I ran into the Ski Lodge aid station in fourth place at mile 36 at 12:44pm to a surprise crowd of my Dad, Allison, Pattie and Roger. Very cool! I loaded up my two hand bottles and grabbed a couple extra gels and beat feet out of there pretty damn quick.

Photo by Jim Stein

The run out Cañada Bonita to the Pipeline aid station was good and I kept a good pace saying hello to incoming 50k runners and passing a number of outbound 50k runners too. As I entered the Pipeline aid station at mile 39 at 1:18pm I again shouted a "yahoo" before my family there could see me so they knew I was coming. At the aid station I utilized the water sprayer that I purchased specifically for the race this year. Dylan refilled my bottles and I was on my way again ready for the final 11 miles to the finish. Oh, but first Dave suggested I stop for a photo with the inflatable durable thick vinyl "love ewe" sheep and I couldn't refuse.

Just when you think the climbing is done, there's one more long climb on the dirt road leaving the Pipeline aid station! I tried to run as much of this as I could which wasn't much and I quickly resorted to power hiking. Near the top of the climb I glanced back and saw Harry Harcrow not far behind and this motivated me to run more. Thanks Harry! In short order I reached the turn onto the upper Guaje Ridge trail and enjoyed the nice single track running down the ridge trail to the Guaje/Mitchell aid station at mile 42 just before 2:00pm. Sandy was there to welcome Harry and I we got there and graciously filled up my hand bottle. At this point I realized I wasn't likely to finish under 10 hours because we had about seven miles to go and only an hour to run it to finish under 10 hours. Nonetheless, it was worth a try and Harry was definitely motivated for it. It was out of my sight in no time.

These final seven miles can also be brutally warm on the open, treeless lower ridge but heavy clouds and a threat of showers, along with some decent wind, kept things very nice all the way down to the final aid station, Rendija, at mile 48 at 2:48pm. As usual, this aid station run by Maura and Nena had a theme and definitely a party feel to it. This year it was Christmas in May at the aid station! I was pumped up to hear the aid station personnel shouting my name as I came into the aid station and only stopped long enough to gulp down a cup of water. The adrenaline of being so near the finish motivated me to run out of the aid station and start up the hill. As I got near the first switchback I slowed to start power hiking with Nena, Maura and the rest of the crew shouted up to me, "No walking!" Damn! So I picked it back up and ran to the next switchback and slowed again only to hear "No walking!" being shouted again. I was shamed into running again and couldn't wait to get out of sight of the aid station so I could walk! But really the extra motivation got me running the entire hill up to the contouring singletrack back towards the tunnel. Thanks to all you wonderful aid station volunteers! Although I knew I wouldn't make it under ten hours I ran continually through Bayo canyon up to the cutoff up to the final stretch out of the canyon. This final stretch of single track is cut deeply in the tuff and I did end up walking this last climb out of the canyon but of course had to start running again before I turned the corner where everyone would see me heading to the finish. I heard cowbells, clapping and shouting and picked up the pace to the finish line at 10:11:19.

It felt great to be done but was especially encouraging that I ran the course 30 minutes faster than I had last year and felt quite good the entire time. As usual my Dad did a fantastic job crewing for me, my Mom, Matt and Dylan did a fantastic job manning the Pipeline aid station and the run was a great success all around. I'm already looking forward to next year where I'll hopefully actually finish under 10 hours!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Buffalo Run 50k 2009 Race Report

50 kilometers (32.63 miles actual)
4th overall of 151 entrants
Official 50k results
My SportTracks GPS data report and map
My Picasa Photo Album
Official race website

View Larger Map

As I sat in the Salt Lake City airport the morning after the run, it was blowing and snowing with a temperature of 36 degrees outside and I couldn't believe what a gorgeous day we had yesterday for the Buffalo run on Antelope Island. The nasty Sunday weather also made me really appreciate the fact that the run was yesterday versus today. It would be miserable out on that course a day later. We lucked out and had an awesome day for a great run on a very scenic island.

Bill, Minesh and I had flown up to Salt Lake City on Friday before the race and got checked in for the race at Striders Running store in Layton. A snow storm had just passed through the area the day before leaving the Wasatch mountains a bright white and deposited some snow on the higher peak on Antelope Island. We heard that despite the new snow up high, the course for the run was in great condition with only a few muddy spots. Bill would be running the 50 mile course while Minesh and I planned to run the 50k course. For a bit I had considered the 50 mile course but because I had recently run in the Old Pueblo 50 mile race and I had heard the 50k course was more enjoyable, I stuck with the 50k.

We awoke at 4:15am on Saturday morning in our hotel in Layton for a quick breakfast and then nearly 30 minute drive out to the island. As we entered the Antelope Island State Park and drove over the causeway we immediately got the feeling the race was very well organized by the number of “parking nazis” (as RD Jim Skaggs referred to them) using lights to direct us to the parking near the start. We found the parking and rambled the hundred or so yards to the start area to find some tents setup and a couple of campfires raging to keep us scantily-clad runners warm while we waited. Jim Skaggs was easy to spot wearing his unique buffalo hat. He gave us a pre-race briefing of the course to the 50 milers and showed the runners where to line up. At 6:00am the 50 milers took off running amongst the usual whooping and hollering. It was dark and pretty chilly with the temperature in the mid-30s and a light wind blowing but the sky was clearing promising a nice day.

From Antelope Island Buffalo Run 50k and 50 mile race 2009, 2009-03-29
The Beist takes off for the 50 miler.

Minesh and I loitered around the campfires and chatted with some friends that we've made during meetings at other races. Karl Meltzer and Scott Mason (WasatchSpeedGoat) would be manning the Lower Frary aid station in the 50 mile race and were loading up drop bags.

The time came for Minesh and I to get ready for the 8:00am 50k start. I chose to ditch my beanie, gloves and running pants so I'd start with just my visor, sunglasses, long sleeve shirt over my sleeveless shirt, shorts, hand bottle and my Saucony Xodus trail shoes. This would be my first long run in the Xodus shoe which has turned out to be a nice little shoe.

From Antelope Island Buffalo Run 50k and 50 mile race 2009, 2009-03-29

As all of us 50k runners lined up, no one was anxious to step up to the start line. Since I planned to run the course hard I decided to step up to the line and then a few others finally did so too. When we all took off running at 8:00am, I was the leading the pack for the first few miles which made me uncomfortable for two reasons: First, I'd never been on the course and hadn't studied the map very well and second, I'm not used to running in that position so it felt odd. I was wondering if my pace was too slow or too fast. One look behind me confirmed that I didn't appear to be going too fast...plenty of folks were with me.
The course starts uphill on a long switchback up the east side of major ridge on the north end of the island. As we rambled up the hill I began talking the the runner next to me, Jesse, from Bozeman. He had spent a summer in Los Alamos working at LANL in the Theoretical Division. Pretty cool to meet another runner here that was familiar with Los Alamos. His friend Don and other friend, Nikki Kimball, were right behind us up the hill. Once we crested the ridge and turned to the right along the ridge we encountered the only herd of Buffalo I'd see all day and ran past them with them standing about 50 feet away. Pretty awesome and huge beasts but no match for us bunch of mountain goats. Baaahhh! We next hit a nice, fast descent into a saddle between the two high points we'd be running around all day. At this point I was running in the group of the front four and saw Bill coming uphill with a couple other 50 milers on their return of the loop. Bill was looking strong and we high-fived as we passed by each other. From the saddle it was another steeper descent before some flat running and then up the steepest climb on the course to the first aid station, Elephant Head. Up the steep hill the three other runners in our group started power walking but I had to pee and took the opportunity to keep running up the entire hill to gain some ground so I could pee without falling too far behind. I went out ahead of the others and no doubt they were thinking, “He's gonna burn out running the steep hill.” But when they reached the top of the hill and saw me peeing on the side of the dirt road at least one of them said, “Good idea, I need to do that too.” I got back on track and passed through the aid station without stopping. I still had plenty of gel in my flask and my single hand bottle was half full. We' be back at the AS in five miles so I was set.

We busted off right onto some fast downhill trail/old road and the four of us were flying down with a pace of about 6:00/mile for the next mile. At the bottom of the fast section we turned left and started up a gradual hill that eventually led to some very runnable switchbacks up and back towards the aid station. The scenery back here was phenomenal with a view of the open water over to some snow covered mountains on the lake's west side. Here the group started to break up a bit and three runners moved up about a minute ahead of me and a fifth runner. At the top of the switchbacks another runner in tan came up on me and the other runner and passed us just before the Elephant Head AS at mile 10.5. At the AS I went looking for my drop bag and it took a few minutes to locate it. I grabbed an extra three gels, refilled my water bottle and headed out. A few hundred yards out of the aid station I realized I had meant to grab my electrolyte tablets but had neglected to do that. But they did have S-caps at the aid station tables so I knew I could get some at the AS at the start/finish area before starting our second lap.

On the return to the start/finish area we ran on a new trail that stayed pretty low on the ridge's west side. This trail was really fun and fast and we made good time back towards the front of the ridge looking down on the start/finish area. I believe I was in sixth place as we descended down to the start/finish area. About a half mile out from the start/finish AS I noticed the front runners all heading out on the dirt road along what I knew was the 50 mile course. I thought this was odd as I didn't recall the course description stating anything about that. When I reached the aid station as just over two hours, I filled up my water bottle again and grabbed a few s-caps while swallowing a couple for good measure too—I had been sweating pretty decently in the last hour. As I got ready to leave the aid station, two of the front runners came back up the dirt road from the 50 mile course area asking, “hey, where do the 50k runners go?” A woman at the aid station said, “out that way along the dirt road and then eventually back here.” It sure didn't sound right but the three of us went for it anyway and starting running along the dirt road out away from the loop we had just ran. As we ran I looked over to see Tim Long, whom I'd met a couple of months ago at the Ghost Town race in southern NM. I said hello as we passed by. But as we neared the parking area I really started thinking this was wrong. I didn't recall the course description staying anything about an out-and-back and my GPS watch was now reading 16.3 miles which was already more than half the distance of a 50k...if we were going to run that loop one more time that would be more than 50k. So I hollered at the other two and told them I didn't think this was right. We saw an official-looking truck of some kind with two guys in it and stopped to ask them if they knew where the 50k course went. They didn't know but another guy standing nearby told us he didn't think it went out where we were headed. That was enough confirmation for me and all three of us turned around. There was a runner in brown ahead of us who I was pretty sure was a 50k racer also so I whistled at him but he was wearing headphones and didn't hear my whistle. We got back to the aid station and a different woman was now telling us the 50k runners didn't go the way we were going and pointed us back onto the loop we had just run. It would have been nice to get that information before we headed out the wrong way rather than being directed to go the way we went but the bonus distance was good for my training and we lost only about 8 minutes total. It was just a small heat-of-the-moment misunderstanding on all our parts--no worries!

From Antelope Island Buffalo Run 50k and 50 mile race 2009, 2009-03-29

Back on the course and starting the second loop I ran as much as I could up the initial hill but got passed by another 50k runner. At this point I had lost all track of where I was in relation to other runners because I expected a few had passed by when the three of us were off track for a bit. So now with this other runner passing me and three others I could see up ahead, I was hoping I was still in the top 10 at least. I reached the top of the ridge and started running along the top and could see one runner ahead of me. At the saddle he stopped to pee and I passed him there. It was an uneventful cruise to the Elephant Head aid station again save for yielding to all the other 50k and 25k runners coming up towards me. At the Elephant Head for the third time I found it congested with many of the other runners and had to wiggle my way to the water container to fill up my water bottle at the aid table. I still had a good amount of gels so it was a quick stop and back onto the fast downhill section again. Earlier I had ran this section at about 6:00/mile pace but now, at mile 20 I ran it a bit slower but was still pleased to maintain a sub-seven minute pace. I was coming up on another runner in front of me and as I passed him he asked my name and said, “Didn't we meet at the Moab Alpine to Slickrock 50 miler last fall?” Indeed we had. We reintroduced ourselves...his name is Shane and he had run an awesome MAS 50 miler last fall just a couple weeks after running the Wasatch 100. I opened up my pace using my long legs to my advantage and cruised to the bottom of the descent. I knew I was likely to slow down on the climb up again so I wanted to move as fast as I could on the descents.

Going up the runnable switchbacks again I ran a good bit of them slowing to a walk only a few times and mostly so I could change up my pace and take some of the strain out of my groin area that was starting to feel the effects of running as hard as I had been. As I topped out and ran back along the contours towards the Elephant Head AS again, I noticed another runner coming up fast and strong. He passed me right before the AS. At the AS for th last time, I filled up my hand bottle with water again and grabbed one more gel and an extra S-cap for the final five miles to the finish. I left the AS before the other runner but not long after I left he came cruising by and I told him how strong he was looking. I was impressed. I shuffled down the steep descent as fast as I could go at this point and then held a decent pace along the contouring trail to the final decent climb back up towards the saddle. Here I noticed that strong runner had completely stopped and was cramping. I pulled the S-cap out of my pocket and gave it to him as I passed him because I know how much it sucks to cramp late in a race. He was thankful and slammed it down. At the saddle another runner, Greg Norrander, had been making good time on me came up and passed by me as I slowed to pee one last time.

We were now on the homestretch towards the finish line with only a few miles to go. The cramping runner had made a good recovery and came up behind me and introduced himself. His name was Sandy and he again thanked me for the S-cap as he passed me. I told him, “No worries, now go finish under 4:30!” We were at 4:20ish at that point so I think we both knew that wouldn't happen but it was motivating to think about that. A few minutes later Sandy cramped again and I passed by him once more. As we turned the corner and could see down to the finish, I slowed for a moment and Sandy passed by me one last time. I did notice Greg in front of us was slowing just a bit on the descent so I hoped to catch up to him before the finish. At that moment Sandy yelled to me with some encouraging words so I picked up my pace to keep up with him. As we descended we continued to pick up the pace eventually passing Greg about a mile from the finish. We hit the flats just before the final short hill that then led to the short downhill finish. Sandy finished about 30 seconds ahead of me and I came in at 4:40:50 feeling like I ran as hard as I could. It took me a few minutes to decompress before I could shuffle the 100 yards to the car to get my recovery whole chocolate milk, extra clothes and a chair. I ended up driving the car back to right near the finish because I figured Bill and Minesh would appreciate not having to make that walk.

I sat around the finish area drinking chocolate milk, water and beer, in that order, (I had a few hours to hang out) while ringing the cowbells for finishers and eating chips. I also indulged in a bowl or two of the potluck buffalo stew which was quite tasty. I had never eaten buffalo before. It was a beautiful afternoon to hang out on the grass waiting for fellow Los Alamos runners Bill, Nena and Minesh to finish.
From Antelope Island Buffalo Run 50k and 50 mile race 2009, 2009-03-29
Beist finishing strong for a 50 mile PR.

From Antelope Island Buffalo Run 50k and 50 mile race 2009, 2009-03-29
Nena finishes up her 50k run in 7:30ish I believe.

From Antelope Island Buffalo Run 50k and 50 mile race 2009, 2009-03-29
Minesh coming into the finish.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Old Pueblo 50 Mile 2009 Race Report

~52 miles
7th overall out of 124 finishers
Official Website
My Picasaweb Album
Official Results
GPS watch data report

The head wind was killing our gas mileage and had been for the past 100 miles. It was Friday afternoon and Dan, Mom, Matt and I were pulling into the Fleet Feet running store in Tucson, AZ having driven down from northern New Mexico all day. We were there so Dan and I could run in the 20th Old Pueblo 50 mile trail race south of Tucson. Neither Dan nor I had run in this race before and we were looking forward to running a new course. In fact, Dan had never run a 50 mile race before so this was going to be big for him. Mom and Matt had graciously offered to join us to serve as our crew.

After picking up our race packets we drove out to near the start line at Kentucky Camp, an historic homestead not far from Sonoita, AZ. The wind was blowing, as it had been all day, so we found a relatively sheltered camp area in the valley a mile short of Kentucky Camp in some grass. For dinner we cooked up some tortellini and sauce and hit the sack pretty early opting against a campfire given the strong winds.

4:00am came all too early but I had slept very well so I easily awoke to make my standard pre-race breakfast of one cup of strong coffee and a toasted bagel with cream cheese. As I finished eating my bagel the masses of runners began driving by on the dirt road towards the start line. Dan, Mom, Matt and I arrived at the start line around 5:20am finding time to obtain our cloth bib numbers, drop our drop bags in the appropriate piles and huddle around with friends Ryan, Susan and Nicole waiting for 6:00am to come so we could start running and warm up.

From Old Pueblo 50 Mile Run, Tucson, AZ, 2009-03-07

I opted to start without a headlamp based on the suggestion from my friend David who'd run this race a few times before. I lined up just behind the first row of runners on the start line and wished Dan a good run. At 6:00am sharp we all did the usual hooting and hollering to signal the start of the race and headed off and up the initial 200' climb on the dirt road. I started the race in shorts, no gloves, a visor, sunglasses and a long sleeve shirt over my short sleeve shirt. It was about 30 degrees at the start but no wind so my clothing situation was perfect for me. After starting up the hill, I saw the lead pack already taking off and reacted accordingly by upping my pace and keeping them in sight up the hill. It was dark with no moon but there was already enough ambient light to run without a headlamp. Once we crested the initial hill it was plenty light and we were really off. I ran a few paces behind a runner I didn't know and we were running in about 6th and 7th place. We kept a good consistent pace going through the first aid station at mile 3 where I didn't stop and continued on up the hill. At mile 3 we turned off the main dirt road and headed up an old two-track before turning onto some sweet single track along the Arizona Trail. Along this section the sun came up and the scenery was beautiful. I love the desert and at sunrise it was magical. We had to pass through a few cattle gates along this stretch and I even managed to jump over one rather than opening and closing it behind myself. I knew I wouldn't be doing that on the way back over this section later in the day.

I ran into the mile 7 aid station at 1 hour, 2 minutes (1:02) and realized Iwas moving pretty fast. I was feeling good, though, so I made the stop quick picking up a couple gels and my extra hand bottle before continuing downhill on the dirt road. We made a hard right turn onto another dirt road that I nearly missed but volunteer in a truck pointed me in the correct direction. I was getting a bit warm so I pulled off my long sleeve shirt and tied it around my waist. I wouldn't have a chance to drop it off before the aid station at mile 25 where I'd first see my Mom and Matt. At this point I was pretty much running by myself and would continue to pretty much to the end. The run down in this sandy road canyon was great and I ran through a ranch where two dogs were hanging out next to the road. They were very friendly so I took the opportunity to stop to tie my shoes and pet them briefly. Awesome dogs. Further down the road I came to a triangle intersection. The right fork was flagged and the left fork was not so I went right but immediately after that there was flagging going left back towards the left fork. This didn't make sense to me. Why would they flag it to the right and then back left immediately afterwards when they could have just flagged the left fork initially? So I opted to not turn left and stayed right for a bit. After about 100 yards I hadn't seen a flag so I turned back and ultimately got back on track. I rolled into the mile 13 aid station with much relief after second-guessing myself for the last 10 minutes at 1:53. I slammed a packet of Carbboom energy gels and refilled my bottles with water for the climb up to Gunsight pass. As I left the aid station, two other runners came in just behind me so I felt motivated to really push a bit up the climb.

It was getting warm but still nearly perfect running weather as I ascended the pass. I had heard the backside of the pass was very technical and I was looking forward to seeing that and running it as I enjoyed technical running. At the top of the pass I finally had a view towards Tucson as well as the view east that I had much of the morning. Running down the backside was indeed very technical and took some solid concentration to keep from twisting an ankle or tripping. At the bottom of the hill it was more fast dirt road runnning south along the base of the mountain to the aid station at mile 19 at 2:48. I again ate some more Carbboom energy gels and refilled my bottles with water. As I started to leave the station I started to head out on the wrong road and was quickly corrected by one of the volunteers. Another one said, “Head down that way and soon you'll turn left on another road.” There just happened to be a road heading left just a few yards out of the aid station so I jokingly started to head down that road and said, “oh yeah, right here?” and looked back smiling. It took them all a second or two to catch my joke as I headed the correct way.

I felt I was holding a good pace here along the rolling dirt road but looked back at the top of a hill to see another runner behind me—the first I'd seen in many miles. So I stepped up my pace a bit as I passed the end of the dirt road through a gate into some private land for a bit. I could now see the mile 25 aid station and was looking forward to seeing Mom and Matt for the first time since the start. I heard the cowbells beckoning me into the aid station and reached it at 3:43 where I ditched my long sleeve shirt, refilled my water bottle and grabbed a gel flask for the big pull up the hill to mile 29. My goal was to run the entire hill and I set off and did in fact run the entire hill except for a short stint where I had to urinate on the move. This section up the hill was pretty warm and dusty thanks to some decent traffic along the road. As I neared the top of the climb I started to turn left onto the road we had initally turned right onto after aid station at mile 7 but was corrected by another volunteer. This was odd for me since I rarely, if ever, have trouble following a course. I came into the aid station at mile 29 at 4:24 and the woman there said I was in fourth place. I knew that wasn't true and was sure I was in 6th or 7th place. I grabbed some more gel and filled up my hand bottles with water and HEED before getting back on the portion of the Arizona Trail we had run in the morning.

I ended up walking a good bit of the climbing on this section and was happy to run down into the aid station at mile 33 at 5:10. Apparently I had a drop bag here but had forgotten about that so I just filled my bottles and kept on going. Leaving this aid station we were back on a dirt road running up a slight incline for a bit before turning left onto a more technical road and down into a drainage complete with an old windmill and some water in the creek. I was still running alone and really enjoying being back in this area on such a beautiful day. As I neared the aid station at mile 40 another runner, Mike, came up from behind. We had leap-frogged a bit since mile 28. I felt I needed to “go see a man about a horse” so I pulled off the course and found a suitable tree and rock to take care of business. Back on track I came up on the mile 40 aid station to the sound of, “Now that's what I'm talking about!” This was a now-familiar sound to me as I have heard this man at a couple of different races in the last year. I gave him the knuckles as I passed by him into the aid station at mile 40 at 6:29. Mom and Matt were here to help me with a quick time through the station so I filled up both hand bottles and grabbed some more gel. One of the station volunteers offered to take a photo of me and Mom so we posed briefly for the photo op.

From Old Pueblo 50 Mile Run, Tucson, AZ, 2009-03-07

From the mile 40 aid station it was a long, gradual grind up a dirt road along a nicely running creek. Mike passed by me again here and we talked briefly. He was from Phoenix and hadn't run this race before either. We informally paced each other along the road and onto some singletrack which led to a technical dirt road and then a crossing over the stream again before some nice singeltrack to the mile 46 aid station. Here, Mike moved out quickly and I tried to keep moving fast too. A quick bottle fill up for the final stretch. A short distance out of the station Mike and I encountered another cattle gate that he graciously left open for me. From here I would barely see him much until the final stretch to the finish. This section to the finish was longer and more difficult than I had expected. We crossed down and through a couple of drainages, climbed a long hill and then paralleled the finish line area running along a mesa top. It was definitely getting warm now and I was ready to be done. My GPS watched beeped mile 50 at 8:20:29 but I was still far enough from the finish that I could not see it. Now I really wanted to finish under 8:30 and was really pushing it and slowly coming back up on Mike. I averaged about 9:00/mile for the last three miles and finally could see the finish line at the top of a small rise. I put my head down and was sprinting as hard as I could towards the finish so I could come in under 8:30. But then I hear the crowd saying, “No, go back, you missed a turn.” Sure enough, I was supposed to go right around a truck instead of left. So I stopped dead in my tracks, rand back and around the truck the correct way to finish in 8:30:21. I probably wouldn't have made it under 8:30 anyway but....

I sat down to my quart of chocolate milk and enjoyed watching a few more finishers before Dan came in at 9:39:40. The post race scene was great...burgers, beer, music, good chat and fine weather. This race was really enjoyable and I hope to make it down there again.