Friday, August 15, 2014

Crawford 100



Somewhere between Montrose and Gunnison on the drive back from Silverton, I noticed the sign pointing to Crawford and thought, "oh yeah, there's a new 100-miler up there next weekend."

Later that evening back at the Fort, the conversation leads to the Crawford 100.  Still digesting the disappointment of another Hardrock DNF, I like the idea of a new goal, but no way is this going to happen.

"I bet registration is already closed anyway."

Turns out registration is open about another 24 hours.

"Well, if the race starts on Friday, I can't do it."

Race starts Saturday morning at 4am.

"This is crazy!  I am going to have to drink a lot more beer if you think I am going to sign up for another 100 in just 6 days!"

After communicating with the race director (Charles) and verifying that my body had survived any significant damage from the San Juan mountains, I am signed up for the Crawford 100 by Monday afternoon.

As the week progresses, Charles passes along a few emails to the registrants (all 7 of us) providing us some nice last-minute info such as:

"Too many trees down on the trail for me to clear them all, so you will be climbing over, under, or through a lot of them."

"Unless I get any more volunteers, expect the aid stations to be unmanned metal boxes."

"I hope to install a rope on some steep, slippery rocks climbing out of the creek.  I BARELY made it out of there."

"Oh yeah, the course is probably a little longer than 100 miles and it actually has about 28,000 feet of climbing."

Nice!

I make the drive to Crawford on Friday night, get a few hours sleep in my tent at the Crawford State Park, and then I am at the starting line at about 3:30am.  Turns out there would only be 5 of us (Jeremy, Matt, Chris, Bob, and myself) taking on this monster.

A dark 4am start.

We take off in the darkness and up the 5 miles of jeep road that starts the course.  I am going very conservatively, but end up leading the race alongside Matt who is doing his first 100.  I think Matt wants to go a little faster, but I keep warning him that we have a long way to go.

After a few miles of rolling singletrack, and all the downed trees Charles warned us about, we get hit with some serious climbing.  I catch up to Matt at the top of the climb (he had opened up a gap on me earlier) and we finally get to cruise down some nice runnable trail, probably the nicest section of the whole course.  Too bad it wasn't on the course.  Matt and I went a good mile before realizing that there weren't any course flags and then had to hike all the way back up to see the well-flagged sharp turn in the course that we missed.  So it was more climbing up to Bald Mountain (the high point of the course) before we finally got to some downhill leading us to the beautiful Bald Mountain Reservoir and our first manned aid station around Mile 13.

How do you run through this?

Bald Mountain Reservoir

Matt and I refueling at Bald Mountain Aid Station (Mile 13).

Charles and Cheri (one of our awesome volunteers) are glad to see us thinking they may have gotten to the aid station too late and missed us.  Jeremy and Chris had already passed through and told them that we were ahead of them.  It turns out that they might have missed us if we hadn't done the bonus miles, so it was just as well that we did.  I take off from the aid station a little before Matt and continue down a beautiful, although not easily runnable, descent along Dyer Creek.

Trail leaving Bald Mountain Aid.
Near the bottom of the valley, I catch up with Jeremy and we hang together for a while making our way through the overgrown trails just trying to go flag to flag without getting off course.  It is obvious that most of these trails see little traffic (I saw no other trail users outside of the race all weekend), and therefore they are quite overgrown with vegetation and not well maintained.  This is kind of surprising given the beauty of the area.

The next climb is not that steep.  It is just a long, gradual grind leading to a beautiful pass at a jeep road crossing where we would have an unmanned aid station (Mile 18).  Although the aid station was no more than a water stop, the group from Texas who were camping at the pass with their horses were just finishing up breakfast.  Home-grown bacon and sausage were just what I needed.  Delicious!  They were a fun group and I was glad to know that I would be passing through 3 more times and that they would be camping there all weekend.  They told me to stop by again (and I would).


The next stretch of the course would be probably my favorite, a beautiful section of trail popping in and out of the forest while descending down toward Curecanti Creek.  I was running strong through here, enjoying the downhill all the while realizing that it was going to be one heck of a climb coming back.  I was again gaining on Jeremy and watched him head down to the bottom of the valley.  I also noticed course flags signaling another sharp turn that Jeremy missed.  I gave a yell to Jeremy, gaining his attention, and now he would be following me as I started heading along the trail parallel to the creek.

The Curecanti Valley.

The trail along Curecanti Creek would seemingly go on forever.  Very overgrown and climbing up and down as you would find yourself right along the creek one second, then a hundred feet above it the next.  It was also getting very hot and I was dipping in the creek at every chance.  Eventually, Matt came cruising up behind me looking great.  Turns out he had a rough patch after Bald Mountain but was over it and feeling good.  We would finally hit the jeep road together and soon be at the turnaround aid station (Mile 25, supposedly) almost 8 hours after starting the race (this was going to be a long one).  Chris was just running out from the aid station as we got there, also looking strong.  Charles also was running out with his rope which he had promised.  There was a tricky piece of trail climbing out of the creek and the rope would be handy, especially going down.

Joe, a Crawford local volunteering for the race, was running this aid station and was a pleasure to meet.  I guzzled down an icy cold coke, and then took another for the road that I would drink while eating a turkey sandwich I had in my pack.  I let Matt run off ahead of me as I would walk the road back to the trail.  I just wanted to make sure I ate as much as possible while my stomach was cooperating.

I climbed very well out of the Curecanti Valley and was still feeling strong.  Near the top of the climb, I met Bob still heading out.  He was moving slow but seemed to be enjoying the experience.  Bob would end up dropping out at the Mile 25 turnaround, but stuck around the rest of the weekend to help out.  Really cool! 

Unfortunately, the Texans weren't at their campsite when I reached the pass so I just got some much needed water and pushed on.  After descending back down to Dyer Creek, I was expecting a pretty mellow climb back up to Bald Mountain.  The climb wasn't steep, but this turned out to be my toughest climb of the day.  The afternoon sun was beating down on this exposed climb as the temperatures climbed into the mid-90s.  Even though I was now moving very slowly, I did see that I was gaining on Chris.  I ended up pulling into the Bald Mountain Aid (Mile 37) right behind him and we shared the same opinion that the climb sucked way more than we expected.  Cheri was there to greet us and had some delicious cold sodas.  A few minutes later, Jeremy would join us and we were all pretty well cooked and tired.

Catching a quick break back at Bald Mountain Aid (Mile 37).

I took off first from the aid station and was grateful for the shade of the forest around Bald Mountain.  Now I was wondering if I would even make it back to the Start/Finish (Mile 50) before dark.  The legs held up well on the steep descents coming off the mountain, but I could feel my stomach starting to go to its dark place as I was getting behind on my fueling.  The rolling terrain back to the jeep road seemed much further than it did in the morning going out and I was moving very slowly, especially getting through all of the tree fall.  I took a few seconds to rest on every tree I climbed over.  Surprisingly, Jeremy and Chris didn't catch me until we reached the 5 miles of jeep road that would bring us back to the start line (Mile 50).  I followed Jeremy and Chris, as none of us were really running very much.  After a couple of miles on the road, we met Matt running up the hill on his way back out.  He was moving faster than any of us going downhill and seemed to be well on his way to first place.

The Mile 50 turnaround back at the starting line came just as it was getting dark (around 9pm) and 17 hours after starting this thing!  Jeremy joked how this 50 had just taken him about twice as long to complete as the Quad Rock 50 in Fort Collins.  And Quad Rock is not an easy 50.  Jeremy decided to call it quits here.

Jeremy, Bob, and Chris at Mile 50.  Who wants to head out for another 50?

The thought of going back out to repeat what we had just done was just too much too even think about.  It would have been so easy just to hop in the car and head home, but I wasn't going to let that happen.  I tell everyone that I am headed to my car to lay down and setting an alarm for 10:30pm.  I had lots of food in my car and knew I had to get myself in a better place before heading back out there.  I didn't actually sleep, but I did get some good rest and some food in my belly.  By the time I headed back out (10:45pm) I was the only person there.  Not like I could drop now because I wouldn't even be able to tell anyone that I was dropping.  So now I was pulling up the rear in this race with just Matt and Chris ahead of me.

Knowing that the hardest climbs would be over once I got back over Bald Mountain, I was hoping this would be my hardest section of the race.  I fueled on Sprite and Sun Chips and slowly made my way back, setting a goal of getting to Bald Mountain Aid before the night was over.  Probably the biggest disadvantage of being in last place was that I decided to lay down a couple of times to rest and knew that nobody was going to pass me.  Despite this, I made it to the aid station (Mile 63) with my headlamp still on.  Nobody was awake and I saw Chris's pack and trekking poles laying on the ground outside a car.  I grabbed a couple things and started writing a note in the gravel road with my foot to say that I came through, but then Charles awoke and I let him know that all was well and I was heading on.  I asked him for the time.  "5:11am".

When the sun came up near the bottom of the descent along Dyer Creek, it was just like my body had a reset, my stomach and appetite improved, and suddenly I was ready to start moving.  While the course still did not allow for much running, I was moving quickly and certainly felt like I was faster than yesterday over the same terrain.  Not knowing if Chris was in the race behind me, I started to wonder when I would meet Matt.  Not long after hitting the trail along Curecanti Creek, probably 4 miles from the 75-mile turnaround, I met Matt.  He was looking pretty ragged but I figured he must have had at least a 3 hour lead on me.

I pulled into the final turnaround (Mile 75) around 10am and 30 hours into the race.  The way I was feeling, I was now pretty confident about finishing under the 40-hour cutoff.  I sat in the shade and chatted with Joe for a bit while eating a sandwich and drinking Coke.  It was a good feeling that I would now be on the homestretch and my final time through this 25-mile bear of a course.

Ready to head back out for the last 25.

Unfortunately, it was shaping up to be another hot day.  I tried to ignore it, drink lots of water, and dip my head in a stream every chance that I had.  I was in "the zone" and knew that if I continued moving faster than yesterday, when it took me just a little over 9 hours on the return trip, then a finish was going to happen.

I would never see Chris (he ended up dropping at Bald Mountain) so I knew it was just Matt and I left.  I met up with my Texas friends for a final time around Mile 82 and was greeted with homemade cookies and brownies, and best of all a cold Coke!  I was physically and mentally in a good place and really enjoying myself.

I was not looking forward to the climb back up to Bald Mountain in the heat of the day again (it really sucked the day before), but this time I got lucky as some thunderstorms rolled in.  Yes!  It felt so good, I was just hoping the lightning wouldn't be an issue as I climbed up toward the high point of the course.

I rolled into the Bald Mountain Aid (Mile 87) one final time in the pouring rain and was greeted by Bob.  It was a very quick stop as Bob jumped out of his car and quickly got what I needed.  He told me that Matt passed through 2 hours and 15 minutes before me, but I was more happy when he gave me the time and I realized that sub-40 was in the bag (and maybe even sub-39).  I have stopped wearing watches during 100s, so now I just ask the aid station volunteers if I want to know.

I topped over the Bald Mountain pass with lightning flashing and rain falling.  Then it was a fun descent splashing my way down through the flowing, muddy trails.  The rain stopped and I managed to get myself off-course one more time as I guess my mind wasn't completely intact despite feeling quite focused.  Then the anticipation of the finish line had me moving faster and stronger than I think I have ever moved this late in a 100.  Too bad, that still didn't mean that I was running a whole lot, as it was just impossible on this trail.

I finally hit the road signaling about 5 miles to go.  After a couple more climbs, I convinced myself to suck it up and run the rest of the way to the finish.  There's nothing quite like the feeling of "running" after you have been on your feet for nearly 40 hours.  I might have been running under 10-minute miles, but they felt like sub 7.  Not really knowing around which corner the finish line would be, it just sort of snuck up on me and there it was!  Another 100-mile finish!

I think the finish line was the pylons, but I just kept running.

It was great to see that Matt was still there, along with Charles, Joe, and Bob.  Turns out that Matt had only been there 20 minutes since his feet forced him to walk it in.  It probably would have been better if he had beaten me by 2 hours so I wouldn't even think about the 20 minutes I could have made up somewhere to catch him.  Anyway, it was a great 100-mile debut for Matt and he certainly earned both his first 100-mile finish and victory.  So I will take "DFL" and 2nd place with pride with an official finish time of 38:53:08.

It's been hard to evaluate my performance at this race.  I was mostly just glad that I stuck it out and finished, especially after what happened to me just one week earlier.  I really felt good from about mile 65 to the finish and thought I was moving fast.  I proved to myself that I can comeback from the "lows", when finishing seems impossible, to really finishing strong.  I need to always remember that when those "lows" inevitably return at another 100.

This race certainly was unique in many ways.  Obviously, a race of 5 starters and only 2 finishers is pretty uncommon.  Let's hope that those numbers grow in the future.  The remoteness of this course is another thing that will either excite or turn off some people.  You're not going to see many people out there, and I liked that.  I was not crazy about the double out-and-back course (I wish all races could be 100-mile loops or point-to-point), but you have to take what you can get to make it work.  I would also like to think that my 38 hour finish had a lot to do with the toughness of this course and not my slowness.  Overgrown, technical, and hard-to-follow trails, with lots of vertical may not be for everyone.  Don't come here looking for a 100-mile PR.  But if you are looking for something challenging, where it is more about moving efficiently and effectively through the mountainous woods than it is about running, then this is a race to consider.  And the course is beautiful!

Charles has asked about the direction this race should go in the future.  Do you clear more trees and do more trail maintenance to make these trails both easier to run and find your way through?  I think you could do that and still have a very tough course.  I also think leaving it the way it is, giving it a bit of a "Barkley" feel is also cool and I would prefer it to be left that way.  And I would say a 48-hour cutoff would not be too generous.

The aid stations were quite limited on food choices and I ended up being pretty self-sufficient in that category.  Charles could certainly use more help in terms of volunteers and sponsors to improve this part of the race.  However, the volunteers we did have were great and all the work Charles did on his own to make this race work was amazing!   Thank you!

So it feels really good to pick up my 5th buckle (and it was a nice one) and I continue to learn a few more things after every one of these 100-mile adventures.  I don't know if I will ever come this close to actually winning one of these things again, but I was pretty happy with my 2nd place award.  Looks pretty sweet on the wall of my place.



My splits as close as I can guess:

Start: 4:15am
Bald Mountain (Mile 13): In 8:15am (4:00),  Out 8:20am (4:05)
25-Mile Turnaround: In 11:45am (7:30) Out 11:50pm (7:35)
Bald Mountain (Mile 37): In 5:00pm (12:45), Out 5:15 (13:00)
50-Mile Turnaround: In 9:00pm (16:45), Out 10:45pm (18:30)
Bald Mountain (Mile 63): In 5:10am (24:55), Out 5:15am (25:00)
75-Mile Turnaround: In 10:00am (29:45), Out 10:15am (30:00)
Bald Mountain (Mile 87): In 3:45pm (35:30), Out 3:50pm (35:35)
Finish: 7:08pm (38:53)

(all pics but the last one snagged from the Crawford 100 facebook page)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Hardrock 2014


DNF

I dropped at Mile 58 (Grouse Gulch) around 3am (21 hours after starting).

There were lots of "epic" stories from this year's Hardrock.  Dakota summarized a lot of the more talked-about ones here, and I am positive that there were just as many stories to tell from the back of the pack as well.  Of course, Kilian's dominance and course record still has everyone buzzing.  However, the more times I take on this course, the more impressed I become with those who can endure through the second day and beyond.  There is the story of Amanda Grimes pushing with all she had left from Cunningham to the finish, beating the 48-hour cutoff by just 10 minutes.  Seeing her at the finish line completely spent but with a huge smile on her face reminds me of how special any Hardrock finish is.

So for me, there was rain, hail, lightning, flooding, and vomiting, but that really isn't a "story" at Hardrock, it is expected.  These mountains and this course provide a challenge like no other and that, along with the unsurpassed beauty surrounding you, is definitely what makes this event so alluring.

By the third significant climb, Oscar's Pass, I am already struggling to the point of considering a drop at Telluride (Mile 28).  That is not a good sign for a 100-miler, but not that uncommon for Hardrock.  Unfortunately (or fortunately), the weather on Oscar's doesn't allow me to rest up there.  A couple of zaps of lightning has me running as fast as I can down the flowing river, presumably the trail, into the Wasatch Basin and Telluride below.



Completely soaked, I see my crew for the first time in Telluride and I am able to drink and eat a little.  This gives me the strength to push on, but again I would soon fall apart on the climb to Mendota Saddle and Virginius Pass.  Just before coming into view of the awesome volunteers on Virginius, I duck behind a rock hoping to empty my stomach.  It would have been very disappointing to puke at Kroger's Canteen, the best aid station on Earth.  I sit at Kroger's taking some chicken soup from Roch and his terrific crew, while thinking in my head that I am now dropping in Ouray.  Just then, Kirk Apt takes a seat next to me and I feel ashamed to even having those thoughts in my head.  This was Kirk's 20th visit to Kroger's Canteen, on his way to his 20th Hardrock finish!  So again, I push on.  I actually run quite well into Ouray and have hopes of turning things around.



I again see my crew and ask Kristel if she is willing to pace me.  I feel as though I need her more now even if she can't pace me all the way to the finish (which I know she would have done anyway).  I get down a little bit of food and head out with Kristel with still quite a bit of daylight left, which is encouraging.  What is not encouraging is how much I am instantly struggling to climb out of Ouray.







The climb up Bear Creek Trail towards Engineer Pass is a struggle.  I keep replaying in my head where I fell apart on this same stretch two years ago and these memories do not help.  And then it is just like a self-fulfilling prophecy and I fall apart again.  Kristel gets to witness some nice puking action, which unfortunately doesn't make my stomach feel any better.  We somehow manage to get to Engineer aid station in pouring rain and I curl up in a sleeping bag under the Tyvek cover protecting everyone from the intense storm.



After sensing a slight drop in the intensity of the rain hitting Tyvek roof, I know it is time to get out of there.  Kristel and I grind our way over the pass and now I have to succumb to walking all the way down the jeep road to Grouse Gulch.  A couple of attempts to muster up some semblance of running only leads to inevitable dry heaves.

Just like two years ago, I am rolling into Grouse Gulch around 3 in the morning, knowing that I can just stay there for hours if I need to.  I know there is no need to drop out upon arrival like in 2012.  Take as much time as you need to get feeling better.  You think I would have learned my lesson last time, but I didn't.  I instantly find the aid station captain and tell him to remove my wrist band and add me to the drop list.  This course, this direction, has beaten me again.

It is extremely tough to be in Silverton while you know you should still be out on the course.  I don't know why I struggled so much more this year than last, but it was obvious that I just wasn't ready this time.  You then try to tell yourself it is just a "race".  Get over it.  Well, I probably won't ever get completely over it until I finish this thing again.  Maybe I will get another chance soon, but I also feel that so many others deserve a chance before me.

My frustration led me to run the Crawford 100 the next weekend (report to come).  This course was no joke and, despite wanting to quit there as well, I pushed on to maybe my best 100 mile finish ever.  It definitely helped my confidence, but now I wonder why I couldn't do the same at Hardrock.  I am definitely still learning.

Thanks to my crew (Regina, Sam, and Kristel).  Thanks to all my friends I saw out there on Hardrock weekend.  Thanks Kristel for enduring the longest 15 miles ever with me out on the course.  And finally, congrats to all 100 of you finishers this year!  For good or bad, Hardrock is in my blood.  It is different than all other "races" and I know I will be back.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Tetons



Some of the most spectacular mountains (if not the most spectacular) in all the Rocky Mountains, the Tetons!  Kristel and I spent the 4th of July holiday weekend barely scratching the surface of this great network of trails in and around Grand Teton National Park.  With tentative plans of doing a full Teton Circumnavigation, it was still a bit too early and the deep snow made the trails nearly impossible to follow over the passes.  We ended up covering much of this loop, however, over two days.  Day one took us from Jenny Lake, up Cascade Canyon, and eventually near Hurricane Pass.  The next day we ran up Death Canyon from Phelps Lake to the Alaska Basin Trail.  We then made our way as far as we could toward Static Pass, again to be denied by the snow.  I can't wait to come back again, next time a little later in the summer.

Day one:

 
 














Day two:

 
 







Thursday, June 26, 2014

San Juan Solstice 50



Five years was much too long of a wait to return to this race (my first 50-miler in 2009).  Lake City is great!  The San Juan mountains are great!  This race is great!  Although I wasn't as fast as I would have liked (did someone say "training race"?), you can't complain when you get to soak in the beauty of the San Juans.

When my sister Regina asked which 50-miler she should do in honor of her 50th birthday, I immediately responded San Juan Solstice 50.  Besides, I wanted to run it again too.  Unfortunately, Regina's race ended at the Carson Aid Station about halfway into the race due to the time cut-off.  The experience of just half of this course, however, beats what most other courses can offer in a full 50 miles.  She seemed to agree and was not too disappointed by her abbreviated race.  I know she will knock off an easier 50 miler soon and it wouldn't surprise me to see her back at this race some day.

My race.  Well I hadn't gotten above treeline until race day, and it probably showed.  I didn't feel like eating at any point and I realized you can't just fuel on PBR for 50 miles and get away with it.  I took Jaime's splits from last year as a guide to my A+ goal of sub-11 hours.  I was on track until Carson (mile 22), but slowed significantly from there.

First of many stream crossings

Williams Creek Aid (Mile 16)
 
I spent some time with Alabama Rob up on the Continental Divide.  Although he didn't get into Hardrock this year, he still made the trip out to play in the San Juans.  The views were amazing (it was a snowstorm in 2009) and Rob and I were just soaking it in at a leisurely pace.

The Divide Aid Station (mile 31) and the drop back down below the trees seemed to take forever to arrive.  I got passed by Amanda and held on with her to the aid station, but it was clear she had a lot more in the tank than I did.  She kicked my butt, once again.  Great race Amanda!

Am I done yet? Slumgullion Aid.

Some mashed potatoes and watermelon at the aid station gave me just enough energy to slog my way to Slumgullion (mile 40) where I got the news of Regina's shortened race.  Another PBR, some more watermelon, and I was ready to get this race over.  I asked Kristel if she wanted to join me for the last 10 miles (they allow pacers from here) and she was in.  We left to a Tarzan call from my sister Robin, who also made the trip out to support her siblings.

Let's go Kristel.  Get me back to Lake City.

I was just about crawling on the final ("easy") climb to Vickers, but I made it.  I am pretty sure Kristel has never seen me move that slow, even after pacing me at Hardrock.  I then ran, somewhat respectably, the downhill to the end to slip under 13 hours (12:56).

Finished!

I am so glad we got to run the traditional course, as the high water and deep snow was putting that in doubt until the week before the race.  The stream crossings were raging, but fun.  Postholing up to your waist at times on the Divide was a little less fun, but not much.  It's the stuff like this that makes this race special.

I'm so proud of Regina for coming from sea level to take on one of the toughest 50-milers for her first 50.  If the cutoffs weren't so tight, I'm sure she could have completed the course.  Congrats to so many of my friends who also raced this year, especially to Kristen for getting her first 50-miler and making it look easy.  Also thanks to all my friends out there on the course providing their support and my awesome crew and surprise pacer.  Thanks Robin and Kristel!

So I guess it is taper time for Hardrock.  Too bad, I don't taper.  Bring on summer in the Rockies!

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Land of Rocks and Roots



A great Memorial Weekend filled with family and friends in the North Maine Woods and lots of time on my favorite trail, the Hundred Mile Wilderness of the Appalachian Trail.  On Saturday morning, Dad dropped Kristel and I off in Monson as we took the scenic route to Camp Pine (the family retreat).  Getting rained on most of the day did not dampen the fun one bit, even if it did make the rocks and roots even more challenging than they already are.  A solid push through the 30 miles from Highway 15 to the KI road still took us almost 12 hours.  We probably would have been even slower if we hadn't met up with Whisper at Chairback Gap.  The way she was moving proved that my big sister is more than ready for the San Juan Solstice 50 next month and we only kept up with her because we knew she had food in her car at the KI road crossing.

On Sunday, Kristel and I headed out for another 16 miles under some wonderful sunshine.  We continued up the AT for an out and back to the Carl Newhall lean-to and then added a loop around the incredible Gulf Hagas.  We met the first SOBO (South-bound thru-hiker) of the year.  A young guy from Texas starting his journey to Georgia.  Inspiring stuff!

Day 1:

Our starting line, the southern end of the HMW.

North Pond outlet.

Little Wilson Falls.

Big Wilson Stream.


Wilson Valley lean-to.

Long Pond Stream.
 

Barren Mountain


Bog-loggin'

Some typical terrain in the Chairback-Barren Range.

A little sunshine on Fourth Mountain.
Third Mountain.
 
Chairback Mountain.

Day 2:

West Branch of the Pleasant River.

Gulf Hagas.

Screw Auger Falls.