Apr
28
Enzo Ferrari and I off at running at the start. Photo by Trail Chile.

Enzo Ferrari and I off at running at the start. Photo by Trail Chile.

I found myself glissading on my rear down a snowfield with only one good pole, the other I’d snapped in two at the handle a mere 10 minutes after getting it from my drop bag 4000 feet below. As I neared the bottom of the incline to glissade onto the glacier, I noticed a crevasse in my path. Whoah!I jammed my pole handle into the wet snow, dug in my heels and popped to my feet just in time to step across the foot-wide void. That got my attention.

Wow, it wasn’t marked — a wake up call. I needed to pay attention a little more. I’d been running for nearly 14 hours and that shot some much-needed focus into my fatigued body and mind. I moved more carefully for the next 1/4 of a mile to get off the glacier and back on solid rock. The course went straight off the glacier and into a class 3 scramble over wet exposed rock for another 1/8 of mile to drop me onto a saddle above a moraine lake.

The route descends just right of the lake, after the glacier. Photo by Kerrie Bruxvoort.

The route descends just right of the lake, after the glacier. Photo by Kerrie Bruxvoort.

The terrain I’d been moving through was more wild than anything I’d come across in the last 15 years of running ultramarathons. My 21st 100 miler and this course was throwing it at me. I had to keep pushing. Just after getting above treeline, I made a move to get away from Chilean Emmanuel Acuña running a series of off-camber rocky scree drainages and up a rockfall snow chute to gain a notch before the snowfield climb to the pass. I’d pushed hard. We’d been running together swapping the lead and pulling away from the rest of the pack for nearly 60 miles. I needed to get a gap and finally had a small one. I couldn’t see him anymore and knew I had at least a 5-10 minute lead and needed to increase it even more before we got out of this wild terrain 20 miles down a drainage I was trying to find.

Rewind…

When I heard about Ultra Fiord, it was via a Facebook message from ultrarunning acquaintenance, Nico Barraza. He spends some time in Patagonia and the rest of his time in Flagstaff, AZ. The new race was looking to bring down around 20 international runners for the various distances (30K, 70K, 100K, and 100 miles…actually turns out it was 108 miles) and he thought I might be interested in the 100-miler. I had just made a trip in December with a team to film Mile for Mile documentary and was excited to check out another section of Patagonia Chile, the southern tip.

Due to some business conflicts I was only able to be gone for 9 days (which really means 5 days on the ground with 2 days of travel on both ends). But, I wanted to race in Patagonia and knew it would be wild and remote compared to our U.S. races.

We had a required gear list, very similar to Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (100 miler in France) and after my December adventure run in Chile, I thought this would be a good tester for carrying UTMB-like gear/pack, since I was heading to UTMB in August. I also knew the Patagnonian weather could be gnarly and chage quickly after my previous trip. I also suspected (and expected) that a first year race in Chile might have some glitches and not as deep of support at aid stations that we’re used to in the states. I came prepared mentally and technically to run from drop bag to drop bag (3 key checkpoints) and not really rely on aid stations too much.

I would have some folks I knew coming down to run too. Willie McBride from Portland, my long time friend and practically an adopted sister, Krissy Moehl. They were both running the 100K and then other running folks I knew from the ultra scene in the US, but hadn’t really hung out with them before this trip: Kerrie Bruxvoort, Nikki Kimball, Candice Burt and Britt Dick.

After getting picked up at the airport we stayed a night in Punta Arenas and then caught a shuttle bus to Puerto Natales the next morning where the race would be staged. We immediately felt welcome and I fell in with The North Face’s Enzo Ferrari, who lives in Santiago. Enzo spent a couple years in New Zealand and his English is excellent. We had a great time hanging out and I was able to communicate everywhere with his help — and my limited spanish. We had a great time.

After a day of checking in, hanging out and getting final gear prepped, the race bussed us to the start about 30 minutes drive north of Puerta Natales for the midnight start. We were dropped on a lonely dirt road with a large starting banner and under a starless, overcast sky we headed out into the night.

Off we go. Just after the midnight start. Photo by Leandro Chavarria.

Off we go. Just after the midnight start. Photo by Leandro Chavarria.

The first 60K is a combo of crossing some estancias on old 4wd roads and across some old horse/game trails before eventually popping out onto a paved road by a lake, then back onto some old overgrown grass doubletrack and singletrack. It started raining a couple of hours after the start, which would continue for the next 10 hours. A light mist that would utterly soak to the bone, making all the underbrush wet and further saturating the already saturdated ground.

Crossing estancias and crossing fences. Photo by Leandro Chavarria.

Crossing estancias and crossing fences. Photo by Leandro Chavarria.

Right before the start. If I only knew what I was heading toward. Would I be smiling? Photo by Leandro Chavarria.

Right before the start. If I only knew what I was heading toward. Would I be smiling? Photo by Leandro Chavarria.

Our first drop bag spot was at Hotel Del Paine, a camp with a nice dining hall. I had been running in the top 5 and eventually caught each guy before this checkpoint and finally reeled in the leader, Emmanuel Acuña, a friend of Enzo’s, on the descent into the checkpoint and we arrived together in the dark at 6:23am.

The two of us ate, got resupplied and got into drop bags. I was done first and Emmanuel followed me out. We met the 3rd place running a few minutes out of the aid station. Emmanuel doesn’t speak much English and I don’t speak more than 15 words of Spanish, so we just ran quietly together in the dark knowing we had a major river crossing 3K ahead.

We arrived the first major river crossing and ran up the shore to the fixed rope line tied to trees on both sides. As we stood there, Emmanuel called across to the volunteers on the other side in spanish, they called back. We were standing 2 feet from each other and I gestured with my hand “how deep?” and Emmanuel being shorter than me, indicated up to his neck. I let out a loud “Umpf” and took my waist lamp and hiked it up around my neck. I offered my hand in the overhand chilean hand shake style…we shook hands in an unspoken “alright, let’s do this!” and I plunged into the dark cold river. It came up to my armpits while on my tip toes. Side note: After the race I asked him what he said to the volunteers, He had asked, “How deep is it?” They replied, “150 centimeters” (and he’s 160cm!)

Once I was across the other side, I ran off into the night grunting and yelling to get some adrenaline kicking to warm me up and get the blood flowing again.

The next few hours slipped by as dawn arrived after 8am. I hadn’t seen Emmanuel after the river crossing as I was just concentrating on the gnarly trail. The trails were some of the muddiest trails I’ve ever dealt with. Mud bogs mid-calf deep, moss-covered rocky technical terrain that never let up. Everything was a sloppy mess. The week of unseasonable rains southern Chile had received the previous week had everything fully saturated. Some sections you didn’t have a choice but to simply hike through a mid-calf mud bog. I had slowed a little through this section as dawn finally arrived between 8 and 9am. I was cruising along when Emmanuel caught back up to me and blew by me on a technical downhill section. He was cruising.

Whoah. I decided I better keep him in sight, so I picked up the pace so he wouldn’t drop me. I kept him in sight for a while before I had to do some pack and gear adjustments and I lost sight of him. Soon I was running along and passed him doing the same. From here on out, we ran together all the way to the 90K checkpoint at Hosteria Balmaceda. We were both soaked to the bone, it had raining a steady mist on us for 8 or 9 hours and we both got into our drop bags at the same time, ate in the food tent side by side, chowing down potato chips and soup and hot chocolate.

The heart of the wild Ultra Fiord course. Photo by Kerrie Bruxvoort.

The heart of the wild Ultra Fiord course. Photo by Kerrie Bruxvoort.

We left Balmaceda together with our poles out and ready to make the ascent up through what the race director had coined “The Fortress” — a 25 mile off-trail section over the high point of the course. Within a few minutes the course veered off the trail and straight up a brushy mountain side. Within 10 minutes, I caught a toe in the brush and fell onto my hands and broke one of my carbon fiber poles at the handle. Ah man! Useless equipment I still have to carry! I had no choice but to fold it up and stash it in my pack and use one pole.

At this point I just tucked in behind Emmanuel and had a little low point feeling sorry for myself. I only had one pole and I was soaking wet and cold. I perked up a bit when we hit a ridgeline in a stand of beech trees and Emmanuel pointed behind us and we were above the clouds that were sitting on the fiords below with a giant snow covered mountain range towering out of the fog. It was like a scene from Lord of the Rings. Truly specatular.

As we gained this high ridge, it was really windy and I was soaked and shivering and decided I better situate gear layers before we went any further up, as we were approaching treeline. He continued on hiking up and I stopped in the stand of beech trees which offered some protection and dug out some gear. I got out my Patagonia Nano Puff and got it on under my M10 waterproof jacket, put on a dry Cap 4 beanie and Houdini wind pants, shouldered my pack and took off running through the brush to catch up to Emmanuel and get my core temperature up.

After pushing through some beech shrubs and through a few small water-filled grassy basins, I topped my water bottles off at a snow melt stream coming out of the rocks above. As I jogged through the rocky, off-camber terrain we were on, I noticed Emmanuel was hiking and not running much. After getting more layers on I was feeling good and decided this might be a good time to make a move. I jogged by him and around a rocky point and glanced over my shoulder to see he was still hiking 40 meters back. As I rounded the corner, the route traversed a series of rocky, scree drainages for a half mile or so before dropping into a rocky basin. I picked up my pace and ran all the drainage downhills hard — 20 to 50 meter sections hard and power hiked up out of each. As I got to the basin, I ran through it, splashing across a creek and up the basin.

The basin before the last big push to the high point of the course. Photo by Ultra Fiord.

The basin before the last big push to the high point of the course. Photo by Ultra Fiord.

The route started up a steep grade of mixed jumbled rock fall and small snow fields to gain a notch above. I hiked it hard and got to the top fully sweating and warmed up. I quickly took off my nano puff and houdini pants, stuffed them in my pack and glanced back down to see Emmanuel was still in the basin. I had a good gap. I took off over the notch and up the rock field onto the snowfield wall that loomed ahead towering a quarter of mile above me.

I got into a nice hiking rhythm on the snowfield making my way to the saddle above. I soon gained the saddle and looked back down to see Emmanuel was just reaching the snowfield. I had at least 5+ minutes on him. I needed more.

I took off traversing the saddle before the route descends a steep snow slope down onto the glacier. I pulled my jacket over my rear and plopped down onto the snow to glissade down the steep incline. This is where I ran into the unmarked crevasse. Bam, I just got up off my rear to step across it. That was close. After I got across it and up and over the class 3 scramble, the course markers started to get hard to find, they were spread out and some clouds were moving in to cause a little fog. I stood on the saddle above a moraine lake trying to see which way to go. Finally I spied a blue marker down by the lake. I plunged off the saddle toward the lake.

The slope was a 40-50 degree slope of jumbled rock and snow. At this point, I would just glissade on my feet the 20-30 meter snow sections and jump off to dance through the technical rock field to the next small section of snow and repeat.

Below the lake, I ran out of markers. I hiked around the rocky hillside trying to find the next marker. After a little panic session and some praying, I found the next marker traversing up the rocky drainage, not down like I thought it would. It went against the grain and wasn’t the natural route. Easy to miss.

I soon traversed up and into an upper large flat basin and came to another stand still. I ran back and forth across the basin trying to see another marker. More praying. Finally, I spied another marker on the far end of the basin going up and over a rocky rise. I took off hard to get to it. I was worried all my effort to get away from Emmanuel were going to melt away with all the desperate searching I was doing trying to find the course. As I hit the rise and looked back, no one was in sight.

I started dropping down a drainage and could see the beech forest below me. It looked like I was heading down the prominent drainage in front of me. Sure enough, the route traversed a mossy, slick, off-camber hillside where water was everywhere. It was like traversing a 45 degree icy slope. I must have slipped and slid in the mossy water 3 or 4 times in 50 meters. Super sketchy.

Finally, I hit a rushing knee-deep stream crossing with a fixed rope and gained a very technical, faint trail. I started descending in earnest and came into a minimal aid station. Two dudes with a ziplock bag full of peanuts and some nalgene bottles they were filling in the creek to fill my water. Handfull of peanuts, topped my bottles and I was off.

The next 15 miles down the drainage was some of the most gnarly, technical terrain I’ve been on. It was muddy, slick, rocky, rooty and just constantly steep up and downs. Hard to get a rhythm. Mud bogs, peet bogs. The course just kept coming at me. Throwing every obstacle it could. More creek crossings. A wild bull sighting. Crazy and wild.

Coming through the beech forest after descending off the high point of the course. Photo by Ultra Fiord.

Coming through the beech forest after descending off the high point of the course. Photo by Ultra Fiord.

This section that evenutally drops you at Estancia Perales (mile 81) seemed like it would never end. Finally I arrived at the banks of a wide river and plunged in to cross the knee-deep river. I got into Perales at 6:47pm and quickly adjusted gear and resupplied from my drop bag. I got my headlamps on again, ditched my poles, dumped mud out of my shoes and ate a half sandwich, cup of soup and drank a coke. I was eager to get out of there before Emmanuel showed up.

Crossing the river coming into Estancia Perales at mile 81. Photo by Leandro Chavarria.

Crossing the river coming into Estancia Perales at mile 81. Photo by Leandro Chavarria.

Exiting the river crossing at Estancia Perales. Photo by Leandro Chavarria.

Exiting the river crossing at Estancia Perales. Photo by Leandro Chavarria.

I headed out of the aid talking with Max, the intern from Belgium who had been coordinating tons of logistics for us the previous days and was very helpful. I noticed Stjepan, the Race Director in the yard and told him this is a HARD course. He simply smiled and said “good job.” So, I took off up the dirt road hill out of the estancia and settled into the long dirt road marathon I had in front of me.

After about an hour it was dark again, and I kept looking back whenever the road afforded me a long view trying to see if any headlamps were on the road — nothing. I tried to get some idea from a few passing vehicles where the 2nd place runner was, but my limited spanish and the drivers lack of english kept me in the dark.

Running the final marathon on the dirt road back to Puerto Natales. Photo by Recasur.

Running the final marathon on the dirt road back to Puerto Natales. Photo by Recasur.

Finally with about 12 miles to go, a van passed me with Brazilian Manu Vilaseca (women’s winner of the 70K). She speaks Portugese, Spanish AND very good English and I heard someone say, “Good job, Jeff!” and I yelled at the open window, “WAIT, WAIT!” and ran up next to the van and asked them about 2nd place’s status. She said I had a HUGE lead and not to worry. Come to find out that Emmanuel had slipped descending out of the high alpine section and banged his knee and would end up dropping at mile 81 later in the night. Bummer, but thankfully he’ll heal up. I got a chance to hang with him after the race and go out for a few drinks post-race and we had a good chat with Enzo as our go-between.

At this point the fatigue really hit me. I knew I just needed to keep plugging along and I had a win, but my feet were absolutely destroyed I could tell. All the mud and grit and wet for the past 24 hours were taking their toll. I wish I would have brought a few pairs of shoes and changes of socks. But I just had what I started with, nothing I could do put keep plugging away.

I soon was hitting the last 6K of paved highway on Ruta 9, complete with a police truck behind me with red lights flashing and another truck with flashers on in front. Kinda cool and allowed me to just run down the middle of the highway’s right lane back to Puerto Natales. I came into the town square to complete Ultra Fiord’s 108 miles in 24 hours, 25 minutes and 39 seconds. Kind of weird to finish with TV cameras and lights and microphones in my face. A little different than in the U.S.

After some fatigued-induced comments to media, Stjepan the RD escorted me to Nunda, a store/cafe that was staying up round the clock to serve finishers and act as race headquarters. They made me 4 eggs and a big steak. Man, good stuff after such a long race. After a ride back to the hotel, I showered and slept. My feet are still hammered after over a week.

The race was such a beautiful, wild course. There were definitely some first year bumps, but I feel like they’re open to good constructive feedback from all those who came down. They want to continue to fine tune the race and slowly establish an official route over the 40K off-trail section. This race has tons of potential and I think they’ll continue to improve it each season.

Out on the town after the race. Photo by Candice Burt.

Out on the town after the race. Photo by Candice Burt.

Thanks
A big thanks to the Stjepan, Max, Camilia, Sam and all the interns and volunteers that made Ultra Fiord happen. Coordinating 20 athletes from different countries is a logistical undertaking. I’m amazed how much they get done with such a small staff. Also thanks to my wife and 3 kids who support and pray for me while I’m out there in the wild. I love you guys. And many thanks to my awesome sponsors: Patagonia, Altra, GU, Ultraspire, Barleans, Rudy Project, and Black Diamond. I also have to give credit to the Big Man Upstairs, as always, keeping my path safe and getting me to the finish line in one piece. Giddyup.

Gear
Patagonia Duck Bill Hat
Patagonia Cap 4 Beanie
Buff Headband
Patagonia Cap 1 SS Jersey + Arm Warmer Sleeves
Patagonia Strider Pro Short
Patagonia Nine Trails Jacket
Patagonia M10 Rain Jacket
Patagonia Nano Puff Pullover
Patagonia Wind Shield Gloves
Patagonia Houdini Pants
Calf Compression + Cycling Leg Warmers
Altra Lone Peak 2.5 Shoes
Black Diamond Icon and Storm Headlamps
Black Diamond Z-Poles
Ultraspire Titan Pack
Rudy Project Zyon Glasses

Nutrition
66 Gels, 4 large packets of Trail Butter, 1 Omnibar, and few other misc bars, soup and peanuts.

Mar
31

Mar
19

Ultrarunners Krissy Moehl, Luke Nelson and I took a trip to South America in December 2014 to run 106 miles through the newly opened Patagonia Park in Chile, to celebrate and highlight Conservacion Patagonica’s efforts to re-wild and protect this vast landscape.

Donate to Conservacion Patagonica, and help build 50 miles of trail — Patagonia will match your donation, mile for mile.

Jan
18

2015 is going to bring another year of heavy racing for this old dog. I’m feeling rather thankful right now for many things. I had a killer trip down to Patagonia Chile in December to run through the new Patagonia Park with Krissy Moehl and Luke Nelson. What a beautiful place. I’m still processing such a cool and wild experience. More to come on that trip (and photos…and a documentary film). Stay tuned.

I can’t wait to get rolling this year, I’ll be staying local this winter and early spring with a crack at Gorge Waterfalls 100K in Oregon and then the start of the season in earnest. Here’s a few notable things happening for 2015:

No.1: Self-employed Again
I’m back freelance designing full-time again. After three years working for a tech company as their Graphic Design Director, I’ve stepped back into a consulting role part time and back to working with an array of companies with branding, web/software design, and art direction. I’ve done the self-employed thing for half of my 20 year design career. It’s like putting on an old, broken-in shoe. It fits and it’s familiar.

No.2: New Footwear Relationship — Altra
Make no mistake, my long-standing relationship with Patagonia is still kicking strong. I’m so proud to be a part of that company for the past 12 years. They’re commitment to the environment and doing business responsibly — such an honor. However, most have heard the news by now…they decided to discontinue their footwear operations in 2015. My hard work on the Everlong was a great learning experience, as well as an opportunity to understand what it takes to create a shoe and go to market. I really enjoyed the process and as a designer, runner and complete shoe geek…I get speciality running. I help brand and market our local shop and I love it. So, it was a natural partnership with Altra. They think out of the box, they’re doing things a little different, they’re runners and I dig it. So, really looking forward to joining with them this year for shoes (I’ve secretly loved them since the beginning and you can find every version of the Instinct in my garage).

No.3: Another Big Year — Going International
After the Bronco Billy Suffer Better Tour last year, I decided just to keep hitting the 100s ’cause, well…I ain’t getting any younger. I’m feeling fortunate to be heading out on a few big adventures this year. Ultra Fiord’s 100 miler in April in Patagonia Chile, Ultra-Trail Du Mont Blanc 100 miler in August in France and tentatively Mt. Fuji 100 in September if that trip comes together. I’m looking forward to a great season. Now, time to work on my non-existent espanol.

So, here’s to 2015 and if you’re free in April, come join the party in Chile…Giddyup.

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Oct
21

In a scene ripped straight from an X-Files episode, I was climbing up Little Bald Knob’s flank into the erie night time fog at mile 38. I half expected to run into Scully and Mulder following up on a lead of suspicious alien activity in the area. When the first three hours of heavy rain gave way to foggy, isolated showers — I found myself in the lead around the marathon mark — 12 miles ago. After running a 100 miler just 3 weeks prior, my legs felt suprisingly strong. I was hopeful it would hold out.

Friday at 6pm and we're off in the fall drizzle. Photo by Leon Lutz.

Friday at 6pm and we’re off in the fall drizzle. Photo by Leon Lutz.


I couldn’t help thinking about the four hundreds I set out to run this season to cap my 20th career 100 miler with a final race in Virginia. Jokingly coined the Bronco Billy Suffer Better Tour — 4 hundreds in one season to get to that token 20th. Wow, time flies.

Reflecting on my previous 19 hundred mile finishes — Grindstone was turning out to not disappoint. Rain. Fog. Humidity (by my high desert standards). Humid enough that I hadn’t been able to wear my glasses in a few hours. Since they’re prescription, it had been an act of solid focus to read the rocky, narrow Applalachian singletrack in the dark.

Rewind 12 years. From the first time I stepped across the finish line at Placer High School in Auburn, CA at my first 100 mile finish, I was hooked. The 2002 Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run left an impression. To be honest, as I covered the miles and ran into the night way back then, something in my inner psyche clicked. No question I’d run another one. Now, don’t get me wrong — before I completed that first hundred, I thought…one and done. A bucket list item checked. Like seeing Mount Rushmore.

Sometimes life is funny though. Somewhere between Squaw Valley Resort’s starting line and that insane heat through the canyons — the other side of the Sierra — I found a puzzle piece that was missing. It fit. I love everything about this distance. The frustation, the planning, maps, nutrition, hydration, night running, the balance of light-yet-just-enough gear. Planning. Adjusting, always adjusting. The wild-ness, the weather, preparation that can make or break you. Finding that trail running rhythm. The flow.

Oh, and the wildlife — let’s not forget the wildlife. Throwing a rock at a moose, clawed in the back of the head by a territorial owl, or a mountain lion face-off near the strike of midnight — where no one will hear you scream.

The pure adventure each brings and the distance. That number. 100 miles. It’s a nice round number isn’t it? I think that’s why it’s got juice. More importantly in our plush, techie lifestyles with every convenience at our fingertips — it’s epic. Not in the pop culture over usage epic we hear people throw around like it means nothing. Bro, last night was SO epic. But the real-life-fight-or-flight-I-could-get-eaten epic that few experience.

Toeing the line to my 20th hundred gave me a lot of cool adventures to relfect on. Grindstone 100 in the George Washington National Forest of Virginia had been on my bucket list since Clark Zealand started this killer event years ago. 6pm start, 23K feet of climbing, technical 12 hours of darkness on rocky singletrack. The beast of the east. What a spectacular course and a great setting. A Boy Scout Camp — complete with a small lake, outdoor showers, a large main lodge to house the event and group meals. And, a large wooded lawn for a tent city to appear. Once the little tent village forms, you know, no matter where you’re from, we’re all here to run the big one, it’s a tribe.

Coming off Run Rabbit Run 100 three weeks prior to Grindstone, I had little expectations. My recovery had gone smoothly enough and my legs felt good on a 10 mile tester seven days out. After so much racing, I was just pumped to be healthy and making to my 4th of the season.

99 miles to go. Running with teammate Brian Rusiecki as we loop back through the back side of the Boy Scout Camp. Photo by Katherine Hawkins.

99 miles to go. Running with teammate Brian Rusiecki as we loop back through the back side of the Boy Scout Camp. Photo by Katherine Hawkins.


From the start at the Boy Scout Camp, we headed off into the growing darkness up and over Kings Gap across Highway 42. While ascending the fog covered Elliot Knob in the pouring rain, Brian Rusiecki, Neal Gorman, Michael Owen and I formed a little pack with Josh Finger out front a few minutes. We cruised along and in and out of Dry Branch Gap aid seemingly relaxed and together. As we were descending Chimney Hollow Trail, I felt like I was braking alot on the downhill. So, I asked to jump around on a wider section of the narrow, rocky trail.

After I got around, I relaxed and just rolled a comfortable pace and quickly found myself alone. It was early, so I was just in cruise control. I arrived Dowell’s Draft aid to see my crew, Jenny Nichols — and my buddy Scott (aka Monkey Boy) who was crewing and pacing the infamous AJW. After a quick bottle swaps with Jenny, Monkey Boy got me some much needed duct tape. I was so drenched earlier that I had lost my nipple bandaids. Yep, I’m here to tell you nipple chafing absolutely sucks if you haven’t experienced such an incident. Avoid at all costs. If you ignore this seemingly simple problem, it could get ugly. The fix — some quick skin drying and a couple of big pieces of old-fashioned duct tape. After that, I was off into the dark with Josh only a few minutes in the lead.

A little ways up the rolling climb to Lookout Mountain aid station, I caught Josh. We exchanges some small talk and I jumped around him on the trail and took the lead. Quickly I was alone again and soon in and out of Lookout Mountain aid and on my way to North River Gap.

After the quick weigh-in at North River Gap’s medical check and more Gu flasks swaps with Jenny, I was climbing up to Little Bald Knob and over to Reddish Knob on the double track. I quickly searched the thick summit fog of Reddish Knob to locate the glow sticks marking the self-serve hole punch tool. I punched a hole in my bib number to prove I summited and was off heading back down the short road to the aid station once again. I was expecting to see someone on the short out and back. However, I made it to the top and back down and continued on the ridge with no sign of lights.

On the paved rolling section over to the turnaround, I decided when I hit the turnaround I’d run at a good clip back until I met 2nd place. I was in and out of the turnaround at mile 52 at 3:09am (9:09 running time). I again saw Monkey Boy about a 1/2 mile out of the aid station waiting to pace AJW. He gave me a little pep talk and finished with, “Go close this.” Giddyup, Scott. That’s the plan. It’s over halfway, now the race starts. Let’s close this.

I was feeling good as I watched my time split increase with every step. I kept glancing at the time — 8 minutes, 10, 12, finally — 14 minutes from the turn I met Rusiecki and Adams running together, 2nd and 3rd — 28 minutes back. Sweet.

I made my way back across the rolling double track to Reddish Knob, then Little Bald Knob. As I dropped off Chestnut Trail on my way back to North River Gap, I kept meeting other runners. The beauty of an out and back course is you get to see all the other runners. Such a great time of comraderie and encouragement. On the lower section, I ran into Virginian veteran ultrarunner Gary Knipling, a 70 year old 100 mile veteran. We had a good quick hellow and a hug and he asked me how far back 2nd was and then told me to “Get going!” Yes sir.

I got to North River Gap, got my Gu resupply and bottle swap from Jenny, weighed in at medical check (only 1 pound light) and was off up the road. I met a few more runners and crossed the footbridge and headed up to the first switchback where you can see back across the creek bottom you just crossed. Lights, I saw lights!

I would later discover, it was a back of the pack runner I’d passed. But at that moment, at mile 67, I was sure it was Rusiecki. I put my head down and ran pretty hard all the way through Lookout Mountain, into the sunrise and into Dowell’s Draft at 80 miles. I arrived the aid station with Jenny, her 6-year old son Todd, and the infamous Dr. David Horton there to greet me. In the early morning light, I grabbed some Gu resupplies, adjusted gear and ditched my lights. As I was getting ready to go, Dr. Horton gave me a half cup of hot chocolate. Oh man, that WAS GOOD. Sometimes 100s make you appreciate the little things.

At mile 87, I arrived to grab some more supplies from Jenny and find I had a 38-minute lead. I really started to relax and enjoy the close of the challenge I’d taken on this season. Four 100 milers. I had a great season and feel very blessed to have been able to finish all four with no major issues. Zion 100 in April. The big dog — Hardrock 100 in July in the giant San Juan mountains of SW Colorado. Complete with a two week road trip with my wife and 3 kids. The third, a return to Run Rabbit Run 100 in Steamboat, CO and another 2,000+ mile road trip with the family. And finally, 3 weeks rest and Grinstone 100. My 20th. What a ride.

As I rounded the lake’s mowed grass, I was soon coming through the camp and into the finishing shoot in 18 hours, 34 minutes. After shaking hands with Race Director and Patagonia teammate Clark Zealand, I hugged the totem pole — a Grindstone tradition. What an honor to celebrate my 12th hundred mile win and my 20th career hundred at this race. What a way to visit Virginia’s Applalachian Mountains for the first time. Giddyup.

Crossing the finish line for  the win. Photo by Jenny Nichols.

Crossing the finish line for the win. Photo by Jenny Nichols.


Thanks to my wife and kiddos for their love, prayers and support. To Jenny and her son Todd for their crew help — troopers. And the big man upstairs for keeping me safe on my feet through 20 hundreds.

Thanks to Patagonia, Ultraspire, Rudy Project, Gu Energy Labs, Black Diamond, Barleans

Gear List
Patagonia Cap 1 Sleeveless Jersey
Patagonia Strider Pro Shorts
Patagonia Duck Bill Cap
Patagonia Merino Gloves
Patagonia Houdini Jacket (carried, never used)
Rudy Project Zyon Glasses
Ultraspire handheld bottles
Black Diamond Storm (as waist lamp)
Black Diamond Icon (as headlamp)

Nutrition
Pre-race: Barlean’s CoQ10, Omega 3-6-9, Organic Greens, and Olive Oil Complex
During the Race: Tons of gel — Gu Vanilla Bean, Salted Carmel, Roctane Cherry Lime, Roctane Island Nectars; organic sushi rice and avacado rolls w/ sea salt and fresh lemon juice; a little broth
Post-race: Gu Recovery drink and tons of food and Barlean’s fat supplements (same as pre-race)

 

Oct
16

I was excited to return to Steamboat in September for the 2014 Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile Endurance Run. This is a great venue and a great part of Colorado. Steamboat Springs is a cool little town and the Steamboat Resort is a perfect staging area for a hundred miler. This year my wife and I decided to make a vacation out of it and come in a week early and hang out in Steamboat. We got a little studio condo and settled into the final taper week in the Rockies.

Pre-race morning. Rob, myelf and my oldest son. Up early to see the Tortoise division off and running — then back to drink a little more coffee and get ready for our noon start.

Pre-race morning. Rob, myelf and my oldest son. Up early to see the Tortoise division off and running — then back to drink a little more coffee and get ready for our noon start.

This being my third hundred of the season, I was fighting a little tight low back and left groin. It had been flaring up here and there since Hardrock 100 in July and I had attacked my hip and low back with bodywork, rolling and ART the past few weeks before we loaded up the car and began our road trip. Even the week of the race it was pretty tight and sore. But, I was stretching and rolling religiously and it was feeling better 2 days out from the race.

This is a very unique race, in that there are two divisions — Tortoises and Hares. The Tortoise division starts at 8am and the Hare division starts at Noon. Both on the same course, with a tighter cutoff for the Elite race. This race also has a rare thing in ultrarunning — a cash purse. The race directors have been very transparent about the race and the more entries, the bigger the purse. This year would be 7 deep for the Hare race (in the men’s race) and 5 deep in the women’s (and prize money in the Tortoise race also). If they get more female entries in the future, they will extend the purse to 7 deep for women as well. And, because I’m over 40, I was going after Master’s Premium too, an added $1,000 for first Masters. With the spectator and crew friendly course, this has the making of a huge event in the future.

After a nice mellow week with my family, we moved condos to share with my crew of Roch and Catherine. Roch crewed me to my Wasatch 100 win in ’12 and I was looking forward to hanging out, as were my kiddos, who love Roch and Catherine (after so many years of knowing them, they’re kinda like family). We crashed at their house on the road trip out when we cruised through Salt Lake. Roch gave my 9 year old daughter a ukelele and showed her a few chords and she practiced all week knowing that she was going to see Uncle Rocho again. They had quite a few jam sessions once they were together again in Steamboat.

Rare Rocho sighting. Lessons.

Rare Rocho sighting. Lessons.

The morning of the race dawned and Roch, my oldest son Benjamin and I got up to see off and cheer for the Tortoise division at 8am. Then, back for breakfast and final gear checks. The one thing about bringing my family to races, I don’t get caught up in over thinking the race, I don’t have time. I’m either cooking or cleaning or answering a question or getting someone a drink of water. You never have to get anxious because you don’t have a chance to think that deeply about the race.

Just before noon, I trotted up and checked in and made my way to the front of the group for the start. The day was sunny with a decent breeze and only in the 60s. Perfect bluebird mountain running weather.

Off at high noon.

Off at high noon.


The Start Through Mile 22

At 12 o’clock sharp, we were on our way up the ski slope and even in a deep field of 100 mile veterans, the top 25 guys (myself included) made the beginner mistake of not looking for flags and following the guy in front of him like a bunch of sheep. We missed a section and ended up having to backtrack — no more than a 7 minute mistake. Soon we were back on the route and trying to catch the rest of the runners. Most of us spent the next 1/2 hour getting back to our original positions in the pack and by the top and Mt. Werner aid station we had re-established the front pack.

The weather was cool and sunny at 10,000 feet as we made our way across to Long Lake. I had to slip on my merino wool gloves while up high — it was brisk and clear. My teammate, Paul Terranova and I were making our way to the Long Lake aid, then I realized they moved the aid station back from last year, tacking on another 11-12 minutes. After our early course detour and this little change, we were over 15 minutes slower than last year on this section.

After a quick water top off at Long Lake, I was off down the technical trail of the Fish Creek Falls drainage. After the fun decent to Fish Creek Falls, I crossed the footbridge and popped up into the trailhead parking area, swapped water bottles with Roch and was clipping off the 2 mile paved section that leads through town and over to Howellett Hill and Olympian Hall aid station.

Mile 22 to 52: Steady as It Goes

It was a fast in and out of the aid, quick hello to my family, grabbed some bottles and a gel flask and was gone. On the climb up and over the lollipop loop of Emerald Mountain we were in a tight pack — at least the top 8 or 10 guys. As we descended Cow Creek, I was with Josh Arthur and Paul through the aid station and up the dirt road. On the long 7 mile grinder climb out of Cow Creek. Josh, Paul and I were never more than a few strides apart. No chit-chat, just Josh leading, me in the middle and Paul right behind me — quietly knocking out the climb in tight formation.

After the top, we all were back in a loose pack of the top 8 or so again. We came through Olympian Hall aid and everyone was quick through. I was at the stop light (if you don’t have a walk signal, you have to wait — which was the case). As I stretched a little, Nick Clark caught up to me, as well as Brendan Trimboli. Once we got the green light, we were in a tight pack climbing up the pavement to Fish Creek Falls Traihead at the failing light of dusk. We got into the parking area (a crew spot) and Roch and Catherine help me get my light set up on as we hiked through.

I flipped my lights on as I crossed the footbridge and began the technical Fish Creek Falls Trail climb to Long Lake. Just below the upper basin, Josh and Rob Krar passed me. At this point, I was little confused. I was expecting Nick or Paul, as I thought I was in 5th or 6th, but actually (I’d find out at Long Lake) was in 3rd. I pride myself on being efficient through aid stations, but didn’t realize I’d left the falls trailhead in the lead.

Heading into the night on Fish Cree Falls Trail.

Heading into the night on Fish Cree Falls Trail.


Mile 52 to the Finish: Through the Night

From this point forward, I was in 3rd the entire 2nd half of the race. At the turn around at Spring Creek Ponds, I was 9 minutes behind Josh and Nick was 15 minutes back. However, after the long 13 mile climb back up to Summit Lake at mile 80, I was a solid 25 minutes behind Josh in 2nd place. I wanted a podium spot and also wanted the Master’s prem and knew Nick (at 15 minutes back) was a tough competitor, so maintaining 3rd place became the focus the last 20 miles. It got down into upper teens above 10,000 feet on the cold Wyoming Trail across the ridgeline and back to Long Lake. The sky started to lighten on the traverse back to Mt. Werner and the final aid staiton and several times I glanced back to make sure 4th wasn’t closing on me.

By the time I started dropping down the final descent to the finish on the gravel service road at the resort, I started meeting the 50 mile starters. That really helped keep me moving well. It’s always a mental boost to have encouragement and after being alone in the dark with your thoughts all night — it’s nice to see humans as the day dawns.

Running into the finish with my kids. My youngest was so excited. His first time running it in with Daddy.

Running into the finish with my kids. My youngest was so excited. His first time running it in with Daddy.

As I entered the trail section that leads to the finish line, right before the trail comes out of the small drainage and you get a visual on the finish line, I saw my two older kids waiting and watching. I gave out a whistle and they started dancing and jumping around. As I ran up to them, I said in my worst british accent, “What a fine morning, young miss and fine sir.” They jumped up and down and we commenced to run it in together. As we hit pavers of the village’s mall area and the final 100 meters to the finish, my 3 year old son rushed out to meet us and we all jogged in together and a big hug and kiss to my wife. Rob and Josh were both there to greet me and we exchanged “good jobs.” Awesome to have Rocho and Catherine at the finish. What a solid event. I finished 3rd overall in 19 hours, 6 minutes and grabbed the Master’s premium.

Third place. Enjoying the finish line with my little tribe. What a treat to have them there.

Third place. Enjoying the finish line with my little tribe. What a treat to have them there.

Post-race podium.

Post-race podium.



Thanks to my wife and kiddos for their love, prayers and support. To Roch and Catherine for their crew help — the best. And the big man upstairs for keeping me safe on my feet through my 19th hundred. One more to go. Giddyup.

Thanks to Patagonia, Ultraspire, Rudy Project, Gu Energy Labs, Black Diamond, Barleans

Gear List
Patagonia Cap 1 Sleeveless Jersey (day) and Cap 1 Long Sleeve (night)
Patagonia Strider Pro Shorts (lots-o-pockets)
Patagonia Duck Bill Cap (Buff headband at night over the hat)
Patagonia Merino Gloves (2 pairs)
Patagonia R1 Gloves
Patagonia Houdini Jacket
Rudy Project Zyon Glasses
Ultraspire Pack
Black Diamond Storm (as waist lamp)
Black Diamond Icon (as headlamp)

Nutrition
Pre-race: Barlean’s CoQ10, Omega 3-6-9, Organic Greens, and Olive Oil Complex
During the Race: Tons of gel — Gu Vanilla Bean, Salted Carmel, Roctane Cherry Lime, Roctane Island Nectars; organic sushi rice and avacado rolls w/ sea salt and fresh lemon juice; a little broth
Post-race: Gu Recovery drink and tons of food

 

 

Sep
25

Jul
24
Almost to Grants Swamp Pass with Island Lake in the background. Photo by Fredrik Marmsater Photography.

Almost to Grants Swamp Pass with Island Lake in the background. Photo by Fredrik Marmsater Photography.

My fascination with Hardrock began when I ran it for the first time in 2007. Every year they swap the 100-mile loop of the towering San Juan Range in SW Colorado. My first time at HR was counter-clockwise, 2014 was to be a clockwise year.

The race entry for 140 coveted slots is now sought after by more than 1,000 people each year. Since running Hardrock in 2007 (my then 5th hundred miler), I’ve entered the race 5 times. I’ve been on the wait list several times over the years, as close as No. 8 — no luck. Hardrock boasts 33,000 feet of climbing — all at high altitude. The high point is Handies at just over 14,000 feet and the average elevation is 11,100 feet. It’s relentless and stunning.

The hiatus gave me a lot of time to reflect on my hands-down worst 100-mile performance (out of 17) — I wanted a second shot knowing what I was getting into. Hardrock is kinda in another league. It’s gorgeous, wild, HUGE, views galore — worth every lung-searing step. But, of all the hard mountain 100s — well, this one demands a wee bit of respect. Not to mention you have to qualify with a list of hard mountain hundreds to even enter.

The Buzz
There was a lot of hype and media in town for this year’s race. With good reason. It’s on the map now. After a huge feature in Trail Runner Magazine recently, the obvious talk was of ultrarunning phenom Kilian Jornet’s Hardrock debut (and with it rumors of Kyle Skagg’s stout 23:23 course record going down). Not too mention, a long list of stellar runners in the elite men’s field. Former Hardrock winners both Frenchmen Seb Chaigneau and Julien Chorier, Western States course record holder Timmy Olsen, Canada’s Adam Campbell, Japan’s Tsuyoshi Kaburaki, Dakota Jones, Joe Grant, Jared Campbell, and Scott Jaime. This was a stacked field of veteran 100 mile runners.

Pre-race Week: Family road trip, camping and scouting
I wanted to come early to top off my AltoLab’s Intermittent Hypoxic Training (IHT) acclimation efforts. Plus, for this race, it doesn’t hurt to get a few days scouting — the latter half of the course. Route finding can be tricky on the course and it’s an advantage to see it before race day. Especially the night sections.

My family and I (wife and 3 kids — ages 3, 8, and 11) hit the road on July 2nd and camped for few days as we traveled (Bruneau Dunes, Moab and our final base camp near Silverton). We rolled into a packed Telluride on Independence Day, fresh off a roller-coaster 48-hour road trip (over 1,000 miles with a 3 year old — bit of a crazy train). Within 15 minutes, we bumped into Timmy Olsen and his family and hung on the street for a bit. Good scene and was stellar to be in the San Juan range again. So big. We made it to Silverton that evening and found a base camp a few miles above town below Red Moutain Pass. Only after some bumpy 4WD searching and a harrowing creek crossing in my Honda Pilot (of which my wife was not the most enthusiastic about). This would be our base camp for the next 3 days.

The next few days I scouted Bear Creek Trailhead to Engineer Pass and back, Maggie Gulch climb with my oldest son (and saw Seb and Kilian scouting too), and Green Mountain/Stoney Pass area on Monday morning. And finally a 3-hour hike/jog up Grouse Gulch to American Basin just below the 14er on the course, Handies Peak for some photos with Fredrik Marmsater and testing out Black Diamond Z-poles.

We checked into our condo for the week in Ouray on Monday and settled into beds, showers and a sweet spot next to the city park and Ouray Hot Springs. I did my final race prep and planning with my crew: Patagonia Team Manager, my man, George Plomarity (aka Surf Monkey) and his wife Stephanie (a talented photographer) and Bryhn Ireson, Patagonia’s Gear Man (aka Trail Running’s Product Line Manager ).

The Race
The morning of the race dawned partly cloudy. Shortly before the official start on Friday morning, we all gathered at the start line with the infamous hard “rock” to our back. At 6am we rolled the few blocks out of Silverton’s gravel streets on our way to our first stream crossing at Mineral Creek, 20 minutes into the race.

Descending Grant Swamp Pass scree field. Photo by Gary Wang.

Descending Grant Swamp Pass scree field. Photo by Gary Wang.

As the jockeying began, I settled into a comfortable pace with Jason Coop. We cruised along letting the early morning miles roll by — talking some, or running quietly as we moved through KT and Chapman aid stations. And, we were together on the climb out of Telluride. Jason was climbing well and pulled ahead on that climb when I was having a small rough patch and by Virginius Pass, Kaburaki caught up to me and we ended up in Kroger’s Canteen aid station at the same time (mile 32). This aid station is captained by Roch Horton (long time buddy, mentor and Patagonia Teammate). It’s basically a 12′ x 12′ flat patch of earth that you climb a scree field in order to get through a knife ridgeline at 13,100 feet. You then drop off the north side’s steep drainage onto a large series of snow fields that hits in 3 steep pitches.

The snow conditions were pretty junky, with lots of patchy rocks sticking through and inconsistent firmness. Easy to only sink 4 or 5 inches then all the sudden punch through to mid-thigh. Not ideal for making up time with a snow glissade. I ended up using the fixed rope line to get down the first pitch and then cruised down the other two pitches of junky snow to the 4wd road. There I did a shoe dump to get rid of the snow and scree and got moving again.

At his point, Kaburaki passed me. I was content to hang back, as my stomach was a little off on the Camp Bird Road descent into Ouray. So, I just focused on hydrating and cruising comfortably down the road.

Ouray. Giving my 3-year old son five before I took off. Photo by iRunFar.com

Ouray. Giving my 3-year old son five before I took off. Photo by iRunFar.com

I started feeling a little better near the bottom and caught Kaburaki as we came into town. I was stoked to get to Ouray and see my family and crew. My family was waiting as I crossed the footbridge into the park and was greeted by my kids, wife, crew and Krissy. I downed some avocado, chugged some ice water and was off at the same time Kaburaki was leaving with his pacer.

I led out of Ouray, but as I got up on the trail above town, I let Kaburaki pass me and then just settled in for the climb to Engineer Pass up the Bear Creek drainage. Before accessing Bear Creek Trail I came across Timmy Olsen. He was sitting on a log with his pacer standing over him. He started to get up, then sat right back down. He looked a little hammered. I said a quick “hello and hang in there” and was climbing up to Bear Creek Trailhead.

As I climbed Bear Creek Trail into the steep cliff face section, I soon caught Scott Jaime, who was moving slow, but seemed still together. Scott’s a veteran and I figured he’d rally later (and sure enough he did for 5th place). Soon after passing Jaime, I passed Joe Grant sprawled out on the side of the trail, looking pretty cooked. White faced and complaining about his quad. He ended up having a tear in his quad and dropping. I was bummed for Joe.

The entire climb up Engineer Pass I could see Kaburaki and I topped out the climb maybe 150-200 meters behind him. I relaxed on the long 4wd road descent into Grouse Gulch. As I got lower down, ultra legend David Horton, was riding his mountain bike and we chatted a bit. He said I was “running smart and looking good.” I felt good.

When I got into Grouse Gulch aid station and checked in, I smiled at George as he shuffled me over to a spot where he had all my gear laid out. I had held back for 58 miles and was ready to let it loose a bit after Grouse. That was my race plan. I did a quick shirt change to a Patagonia Cap 1 long sleeve, my Black Diamonds lights, and heavier gloves. After chugging a mate powershot, I was off to hunt down a few places. I left the aid station and entered the singletrack climb right behind Kaburaki and his pacer, Justin Angle.

Within a couple of switchbacks, I passed Kaburaki and set into a solid hiking pace up Grouse Gulch to American Basin. As I was climbing, I kept seeing flashes and hearing thunder to my right over the ridgeline. The wind was blowing right to left, so I knew the storm was heading my way.

Climbing up Grouse Gulch right before the storm. Photo by iRunFar.com

Climbing up Grouse Gulch right before the storm. Photo by iRunFar.com

Right before topping out the climb and dropping into American Basin, I met Dakota hiking down with his pacer Erik Skaggs. He mentioned a rolled ankle and he was dropping. Bummer. As I topped out the ridgeline and started the traverse across the basin, it quickly got dark and the storm moved into the basin in earnest.

Lightening was striking all around with no break between flash and sound. Right on top of me. I was nearing the far end of the basin before the final push to Handies summit, when I came across Jason Koop huddled next to a cliff band, waiting the storm out. I hunkered down with Koop, put on all my layers and waited too. Lightening was hitting the summit about every 30 seconds. It was now full-on dark and pouring down rain.

After about 20 minutes, Kaburaki and Justin caught up to us too. We all sat there. Koop and I had been standing in the downpour, not moving the longest and were both getting very cold. I was shivering and needed to get moving soon. Sean Meissner and his girlfriend showed (reporting for iRunFar.com from the summit) — chased off by the storm.

As we sat there, they gave us extra jackets to divide up to keep warm while we waited. Coop took a coat, I held a women’s jacket around me while we huddled and Angle agreed to pack the layers back to Sean afterward (he had a sizable hydration pack). So, we sat some more in the rain trying to ward off hypothermia. Freezing and shivering (my jaw was sore afterward from my teeth chattering so hard). We tried to decide our next move.

Eventually Diana Finkle and her pacer arrived too. At this point, we had been there almost an hour. As we all stood there huddling and waiting, Koop decided he’d had enough and was too cold. He backtracked to a backpacker tent we’d passed in the basin 200-300 meters before. That was the last we’d see of Koop. He eventually warmed enough to make it to Sherman, but could never get warm enough again and dropped. Bummer, as he was running a strong, smart race up until that point.

After another 5 minutes, Diana, Kaburaki, and I (and their pacers) hiked up to the lake and stood there another 10 minutes or so and watched the lightening flashes and counted. Once we could count to 6 or 7 we decided the storm was moving off the summit and made a group decision to make a push over the summit.

I was so cold that I just took off hammering up the final exposed climb to the summit and gapped the group by 60-70 meters pretty quickly. Once you summit, you quickly drop 20-30 feet off the summit and the trail traverses a saddle and loops around a large crag, then drops off into a steep scree field above Grizzly Gulch. As I dropped off the summit onto the short saddle, BOOM! Lightening struck the crag 60 meters in front of me! I immediately hit the deck to my hands and knees. I quickly jumped up and hauled across the saddle, around the crag that was just struck and had my poles out and hucked off into the steep, wet scree and bombed down at top speed. After a couple of benches, I stopped, dumped the mud and rocks out of my shoes and then took off again to descend the 2,000 feet of exposed mountain side to reach treeline.

The trail becomes increasingly better as you descend and soon I was into the trees and jamming down to the aid station at Burrows Park (mile 67). I arrived Burrows Park aid and jugged some broth and continued down the road to Sherman. The rain let up for 20-30 minutes as I made my way down.

Just outside of Sherman, it started raining hard again. I got into Sherman’s large aid station in 4th place and asked about 3rd. Adam Campbell was just over an hour in front of me. I have to say I was pretty bummed at this point, as I had burned over an hour in American Basin. So it goes with 100s in the mountains.

I got in my drop bag, ate some bacon graciously offered — crunchy or soft — from an aid station volunteer while I put on every layer I had (double houdini jackets, buff headband, hood up, houdini pants, and gloves). I big “thanks” and I was off climbing the switchback into the pouring rain to gain the willow-covered upper Basins of the Continental Divide.

Luckily, Joe Grant had given me some beta on route finding above Sherman, as it’s a cross country, off-trail section in a big basin. I ran into him on Tuesay before the race and he drew me a map in the dirt. He was spot on and I only had to stand around a few short times scanning with my headlamp to find course markers.

This whole night section was kind of a wet wandering in a series of rolling, off-trail web of small streams. All running full from the constant rain. Wet feet, soaked layers from bushwhacking through wet willows. There was a lot of motivation to run more to stay warm.

Around Pole Creek, I had creeped back within a half hour of Adam during the night, but as I reached the mid 80s mark, I figured I wasn’t going to catch him unless he sat in an aid station for a long period of time. Also, I hadn’t seen the lights of 5th place the previous 10 miles of above tree-line running. It was hard to be motivated the last 15 miles to push. I just kinda fell into cruise mode.

Soon I was through Pole Creek and heading to Maggie Gulch. I had (what I think was) a coyote encounter when something barked once at me across the drainage from the hillside opposite me. I talked back with something like “WHAT’S UP?! YOU DON’T WANT A PIECE OF ME, I’M MEAN! I’M CRAZY!! That was followed by a ton of grunting and ape-like “oo-oo”ing. “I’ve been through lightening, sucka.”

After dropping into Maggie Gulch aid, I downed a quick half turkey sandwich and some broth, I was climbing up to Stoney Pass as it was just getting light out. I dropped off and traversed my way down to the final, steep trail through the broken cliffband into Cunningham Gulch (mile 91).

I arrived Cunningham with my crew there to meet me, wolfed down some more avacado, ditched a small pile of layers, wet gear and lights and got moving again. A quick wade of the creek, I settled into a plodding pace up the final 2,800 foot climb to Little Giant. This climb is steep. Lots of switchbacks and exposure. As you climb higher, there are some nice false summits to mess with your head too. But also a spectacular waterfall. Hardrock — it just keeps coming at you with every angle.

Finally, I was on the final grunt to the top. I hit the ridge, grabbed a quick glance at the morning sun coming up over my shoulder and dropped down the singletrack into the final basin. Soon I was merging onto the 4wd road and making my way across the final trail traverse back to town.

This section is long and rolling and you keep thinking you’ve got to be almost there, but then you keep traversing and traversing — and traversing. I finally hit the edge of town, crossed the bridge over the Animas River to find George and Steph waiting on me to run it in. Within another block, my son Benjamin met us and we all ran it in together.

I was cutting it close to getting under 27 hours and told them we had to pick it up. We rounded the final block clipping off sub 7 pace. My daughter joined us too and we all ran into the finish shoot together for 4th place in 26 hours, 58 minutes, 59 seconds. First masters, first American. Giddyup.

I kissed that Hardrock and plopped right down on the gravel street, leaning against the rock and soaking in every morsel of my 18th hundred finish. Everything a hundred can throw at you — lightening, rain, hail, wind, wildlife — unpredictability. I guess that’s why I like them so much. You have to learn to roll with the punches.

It was so special to have my whole family there to share it with me after such a long break. It was the first 100 they’ve been to since Bighorn in 2010 (before our 3rd child was born). He’s finally 3 years old and travel with him is getting easier (albeit not smooth as butter yet). No matter — it was worth the crazy train road trip to have them there.

Two 100s down, two to go in the Bronco Billy Suffer Better Tour.

Finally off my feet and happy to be sharing the experience with my favorite 4 people in the world. Photo by iRunFar.com

Finally off my feet and happy to be sharing the experience with my favorite 4 people in the world. Photo by iRunFar.com

No more moving — ahhh. Photo by iRunFar.com

No more moving — ahhh. Photo by iRunFar.com

Kissing the rock again. Photo by iRunFar.com

Kissing the rock again. Photo by iRunFar.com

Thanks to everyone, especially my family who puts up with my sometimes insane schedule of working full time and training my rear off. Their patience and understanding is deeper than an ocean. Thanks to the Big Man Upstairs for keeping my feet straight and lightening free (yeah, I was praying up on Handies) — definitely the closest I’ve ever been to getting struck by lightening. Giant thanks to all my sponsors that support me.

Gear List
Patagonia Air Flow Sleeveless Jersey (day) and Cap 1 Long Sleeve (night)
Patagonia Strider Pro Shorts (ah yeah, tons of pockets)
Patagonia Duck Bill Cap (Buff headband at night over the hat)
Patagonia EVERlong Shoes
Patagonia Arm Warmers
Patagonia Merino Gloves
Patagonia R1 Gloves
Patagonia Houdini Jacket, Pullover, and Pants (I needed all 3 at night in the storm)
Rudy Project Zyon Glasses
Ultraspire Alpha Pack
Black Diamond Ultra Distance Z Poles
Black Diamond Storm (as waist lamp)
Black Diamond Icon (as headlamp)

Nutrition
Pre-race: Barlean’s CoQ10, Omega 3-6-9, Organic Greens, and Olive Oil Complex
During the Race: Tons of gel — Gu Vanilla Bean, Salted Carmel, Roctane Cherry Lime, Roctane Island Nectars; organic avacado w/ sea salt and fresh lemon juice; organic dates and banana chips; broth, turkey sandwiches and bacon at aid stations

Jun
16
Grinding up the first climb below Burma Road. ©Paul Nelson

Grinding up the first climb below Burma Road. PHOTO: Paul Nelson

SmithRock50k-2014-PaulNelson

Less than a mile to the finish on the river trail back into the park. Awesome day at Smith Rock. PHOTO: Paul Nelson

I jumped into the new Smith Rock 50K as a trainer for Hardrock 100 coming up in 4 weeks. I only took two easy run days on Thursday and Friday before the race, as I was training right through this with Hardrock on the horizon. Also, Smith Rock area is a big spring/early summer training ground for our ultrarunner crew in Bend, plus I lived next to the park during the 2008 season. Needless to say, I know the park like the back of my hand. Such a special place. So, running a 50k on my home training turf sounded awesome.

Race day start was overcast and cool. We were off and running a bit after 8am and local Brandon Drake went out like a shot. I was thinking, uh…okay. We descended to the footbridge and my buddy Ken Sinclair was directing us up the river trail. He pointed at Brandon and made a gesture like, “What’s up with that guy?!” As I came across the bridge, I just shrugged and said, “Whatever.” I knew a few dudes that could run like that and hold it and I was pretty sure Brandon was going out a little hot. He’s fairly new to ultras, so I just relaxed and still ran the first mile in 6:15. Brandon was 30 seconds in front of me. I just settled into 2nd to bide my time. He was either gonna fly through this course or blow up. We’d see.

We were soon grinding the Goat Trail that gains Burma Road. It’s close to a 1,000 foot climb in one mile. I settled into a comfortable uphill pace for the climb and noticed I was gaining on Brandon. I just relaxed and caught him about 2/3 of the way to the top and passed him.

We ran the Gray Butte Trail traverse on our way over to the south saddle of Gray Butte to the first aid station at 5 miles. Brandon caught back up about a 1/2 mile from the aid station and asked to get by. No problem…early. I jumped aside and let him cruise on by. He quickly gapped me again.

We were in and out of aid #1 quickly and climbing Cole’s Trail up to the green gate. I kept Brandon within 20-30 seconds for the next 6 or 7 miles, content to let him lead and I just tried to relax. After the big descent down to aid station 2 (with killer views toward the Cascades and Mt. Jefferson), we settled into the 1,700 foot climb back up to the NW side of Gray Butte.

I was gaining on Brandon again on the climb, but just relaxed and reeled him in. Josh Zielinski was in 3rd and only 20-30 seconds back. He was climbing well and figured he was going to be my main competition later. He looked relaxed. I raced him last fall at the very muddy Silver Falls Trail Marathon and caught him in the last 1/2 mile for 2nd place. So, I knew he’d run smart.

About 2/3 of the way up the climb I caught Brandon and passed him. I quickly got a little bit of a gap as I topped out the climb at the old corral. From here it’s a long rolling down for 3 or 4 miles and out toward Madras in the Grasslands. I’ve only run this section one other time (as we usually stay in the park and around Gray Butte in for more vertical training). The mellow downhill is pretty fun with little technical spots. It’s BLM crazing land too, so I jumped some cows along the way. On this section with the help of the rolling donwhill, I felt good to pick it up and ran a sub-19 min 3 miles to get a gap on Brandon and Josh.

Once you kind of hit the northern end of the course’s lollipop loop, you hit a straight gravel road section at mile 17 or 18 for a mile and some change. After a few roller hills. I could see Brandon and Josh running together and maybe 2-3 minutes back. I just put my head down and pushed the pace for the next 10 miles back up and around Pine Ridge and Skull Hollow. After that I just relaxed and ran the climb back up to the last aid station at mile 27 at the South Saddle. Right before topping out the saddle and aid station I ran into Yassine. He was running down to meet me and run back up (he was volunteering at the aid station). He and I chatted for a few minutes as I ran up into the aid station. I topped off my water, grabbed a couple of Gu Roctanes and cruised the remaining 5 miles to the finish.

At this point, I knew I had a good lead and just kept a relaxed pace into the park in 4:07. I came across the line to see my youngest son (3 years old) running to greet me, then my daughter and oldest son and wife. Sweet. With a little one in the house the past few years, I’ve been racing solo most of the time. Awesome to have my family there. Always such a blessing to have their support in person. Fun to see them all at the finish line and especially being fortunate enought to grab a win to top of the day. The kids were stoked.

The aesthetics of the course are pretty darn sweet, it is 2 miles longer than 50K, be warned. I hope they just keep it as is. Course should always be about the route first, mileage 2nd. Close enough. All in all, solid training run with 33 miles and 4,700 feet of ascent. Great race and really well run by Go Beyond Racing. Todd, Trevor and Renee put on a stellar event.  Very well-marked course and great finish line. I’ve always thought Smith Rock was a perfect place for a 50K. They nailed it. This is going to be a classic in the NW.

Gear List

Clothing: Patagonia Duck Bill Cap, Patagonia Cap 1 Sleeveless Jersey & Strider Pro Shorts

Footwear: Patagonia EVERlong

Nutrition: Gu Roctane + S Caps

Handheld Waterbottle: Ultraspire Isomeric Pocket

Eyewear: Rudy Project Rx Zyon

 

In the home stretch. PHOTO: Paul Nelson

In the home stretch. PHOTO: Paul Nelson

May
19
Jeff Browning Black Butte

The staple of my running release is long run days in the mountains each week. While the high country is still locked in snow, the views just don’t get much better while knocking out a double summit of Black Butte, near Sisters, Oregon. Photo by Max King.

Lately I’ve been reflecting on my training and how it has evolved over the past 14 years of ultrarunning. The natural progression of the body’s ability to handle more work as I’ve consistently trained, adapted, trained more, adapted — and so on. This is all on the forefront of my mind as I’m attempting to complete four 100-milers this season (plus a few other shorter ultras thrown in too). Since turning 40 a few years ago (I’m turning 43 this summer), I’m trying to make sure I do the little things on top of simply running a lot. The little things…

Strength, core and cross-train. Being a master’s runner (40+), I’ve found I need to consistently mix in strength training and time on my bike to stay fit, strong and not fall into the trap of over-training. Plus, it keeps the training fresh. An important factor the longer I try to train hard and compete. For many years, I did little but run. However, I’ve found that the bike and strength, if used strategically, work synergystically with my running regimen.

The other thing is making sure the easy runs are super easy. Now that my two older kids are able to join me for 2-4 milers, we take the dog out and cruise around. It’s usually my 2nd run of the day, which allows me to relax and just enjoy running 9-12 minute pace and enjoying my kids energy (since I’ve already “trained” earlier in the day).

With a busy career that many times puts me at 40+ hours per week, plus family time, it can all be a big-time juggling act. But, that means long runs are not only important for actual race preparation, it also makes it important for a stress relief each week. A time to go run in the mountains and clear my head of deadlines and responsibility for a few hours. Just the woods, the trail and finding that simple rhythm that mountain running brings.

I’ve had lots of runners ask me how do I balance racing and competing with a full time job, 3 kids and a wife. Short answer: Figure out how to incorporate training into your life instead of separating the two. For example, bike commuting to work or getting a second run of the day in with kids while exercising the dog. The proverbial Killing Two Birds with One Stone. And sometimes, well, I just have to run at 11pm with a headlamp to fit it all in.

Here’s a peek at last week’s training…

Monday

AM: Bike commute 6 minutes to work (1.25 mi)
Noon: Lunch 10-mile run w/ tempo for 7 miles of it with time trial climb in the tempo workout (1000′ of climbing)
PM: Evening bike commute 9 minutes home (1.25 mi w/ 250′ climb in last half mile)
PM: Easy 2-3 mile shake-out run with kids and dog before dinner
PM: 5 minutes of yoga/strength/stretching routine before bed (downward dog – plank – pushups; super slow controlled reps; end with pigeon pose and lunge stretch movements)

Tuesday

AM: Bike commute 6 minutes to work
Noon: Lunch 10-mile easy pace hill day (1400-2000′ of climbing)
PM: Evening bike commute 9 minutes home
PM: Easy 2-3 mile shake-out run with kids and dog before dinner
PM: 5 minutes of yoga/strength/stretching routine before bed (downward dog – plank – pushups; super slow controlled reps; end with pigeon pose and lunge stretch movements)

Wednesday

AM: Bike commute 6 minutes to work
Noon: Lunch 10-mile steady state lunch group run
PM: Evening bike commute 9 minutes home
PM: Easy 2-3 mile shake-out run with kids and dog before dinner
PM: 5 minutes of yoga/strength/stretching routine before bed (downward dog – plank – pushups; super slow controlled reps; end with pigeon pose and lunge stretch movements)

Thursday

AM: Bike commute 6 minutes to work
Noon: Lunch 10-mile interval run (combo of flats and hills; 90 sec intervals)
PM: Evening bike commute 9 minutes home
PM: Easy 2-3 mile shake-out run with kids and dog before dinner
PM: 5 minutes of yoga/strength/stretching routine before bed (downward dog – plank – pushups; super slow controlled reps; end with pigeon pose and lunge stretch movements)

Friday

AM: Long Run – 18 to 25 mile trail run in mountains with lots of climbing
PM: Easy 2-3 mile shake-out run with kids and dog before dinner (sometimes a family hike)
PM: 5 minutes of yoga/strength/stretching routine before bed (downward dog – plank – pushups; super slow controlled reps; end with pigeon pose and lunge stretch movements)

Saturday

AM: Dawn patrol 1-2 hour mountain bike ride (sometimes this ends up being a Saturday night ride after kids are in bed if family commitments interfere)
PM: Easy 2-3 mile shake-out run with kids and dog in afternoon (sometimes a family hike)
PM: 5 minutes of yoga/strength/stretching routine before bed (downward dog – plank – pushups; super slow controlled reps; end with pigeon pose and lunge stretch movements)

Sunday

AM: 7-12 mile trail run, easy pace (or rest depending on training cycle)
PM: Easy 2-3 mile shake-out run with kids and dog before dinner (sometimes a family hike)
PM: 16-minute BB Power Pack Strength workout (constant muscle load full body workout with dumbbells, includes core work, pushups and pullups)

 TOTAL = 79.6 miles running w/ 13,928 feet of climbing; 27.5 miles of cycling; 46 minutes of strength/stretching

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