I’m finally in France and less than 48 hours until the start of Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc’s 104-mile mondo course in the Alps. Boasting nearly 34,000 feet of climbing, it’s one of the premiere ultrarunning events in the world. I can’t believe I’m finally sitting in Chamonix and running this race. Definitely a bucket list race. The first thing you understand when the 5 races start happening during the race week, ultra and trail running is a legitimate sport in Europe — not just a fringe sport like in the United States. They have TV coverage, helicopters, media, spectators everywhere. People sitting in bars until they close to watch middle of the pack runners finishing. People hiking up on the course to watch runners go by. It’s awesome and contageous — straight-up exciting.
Summer Training and Racing
I spent June getting in big climbs in the Cascades with a pack and using my BD Z-poles after some time off recovering from UltraFiord’s gnarly race in April. After a good training block in June, I started looking for something to test my fitness in July as a tune-up for UTMB. I found Beaverhead 100K in Salmon, Idaho.
I entered this race two weeks before — six weeks out from UTMB in late August. I wanted something with some altitude and something with some solid climbing. This hit just right in my scheduled build up for the race in France.
I took off on a Thursday afternoon for a whirlwind solo trip to Idaho — 20 hours of driving and 3 nights of sleeping in the back of my Honda Pilot. Since this was a trainer, I also decided to start my altitude mask the week before the race, only do a mini-taper and run on both days around the race (Friday and Sunday) so the total 3 day block of Friday through Sunday would be 75 miles and nearly 16,000+ feet of climbing and almost 20,000 feet of descent. Always good for 100-mile training.
Beaverhead is a 100K point-to-point almost entirely on the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) with one foot in Idaho and the other in Montana, it’s a cool route. And to add a little extra toughness, the course veers off the CDT and onto an off-trail scramble along a 9,000-10,000 foot rocky ridgeline from 51-55 miles before bombing you down to connect with a drainage trail/double track section following a creek back into the sage brush to finish at one of the Race Director’s farms. Techinical course, great aid and an esthetically cool route.
The early miles I ran with Zac Miller (Missoula, MT) and Travis Macy (Evergreen, CO) and author of new book “Ultra Mindset.” Short of it, I took the lead in teh 30s, held it until the late 40s when Travis passed me at 47. I watched him run away up the climb and quickly pull away with no way to answer. We were hovering around 9,000-10,000 feet and Travis had better lungs at that altitude. I held onto 2nd place and chalked it up to a solid training trip.
I took an easy week and jumped right back into training in the Cascades for August — back to summiting the volcanoes before flying out for Chamonix in mid-August to finish up training in the Alps. Now, I’ve been here for almost two weeks and have scouted 60% of the course. Weather forecast looks solid, even hot and I’m completely stoked! About go time and it’s gonna be epic. Giddyup.
This past November, Luke Nelson, Krissy Moehl and I ran 106 miles through the future Patagonia National Park in Aysen, Chile. For two days we ran up and over mountains, through windy grassland valleys, and across rivers of cold glacial run-off. Our carefully mapped route was the first long-distance trail run in the park, comprised of a combination of trails, meandering guanacos paths, gravel roads, and bushwhacking. Running is the purest way to see a landscape — when the wind is in your face and the rain is pounding on your back, that’s when you fall in love.
I’m reaching out to ask you all to join my CrowdRise Fundraising Team to help us create 50 miles of new trail in Patagonia National Park. Joining the team is quick and easy — below are the steps to get started.
Join My Team
- Go here: https://www.crowdrise.com/MileforMile/fundraiser/jeffbrowning
- Click on the Fundraise for this Campaign button
- If you’ve used CrowdRise before Login and if you’ve never used CrowdRise click Sign Up
- Click the orange Donate to this Fundraiser button. Then, share your page with friends and family via email and social media to help spread the word
We ran not only to experience the beauty of park, but also to bring awareness to the Patagonia Park project. When it is complete, the future Patagonia National Park will protect 640,000 acres of land forever. By running these spectacular 106 miles, we felt connected to something bigger — this connection with nature is a powerful, invaluable feeling that we hope to share with others.
Together we are doing our part to contribute to the park project by raising funds to create 50 miles of new trail in Patagonia Park so that others can experience this landscape as we have. Join my Crowdrise team to help us reach our goal of $42,500, which will be matched by Patagonia, Inc, Mile for Mile.
Thank you for following my journey and for your support in this important conservation effort. So many times in environmental activism we don’t win the fight, and here, they are.
“Whoever you are, wherever your interest lies, whatever you’ve fallen in love with—you get out of bed every morning and you do something. You act. You step into the fray, and you fight for a human society that is in balance with the natural world.”
– Kris Tompkins, Mile for Mile
Another article giving some insight into the new UltraFiord race in Patagonia Chile. Click here for the article by Willie McBride.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Patagonia Duck Bill Hat
Patagonia Cap 4 Beanie
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
66 Gels, 4 large packets of Trail Butter, 1 Omnibar, and few other misc bars, soup and peanuts.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Black Diamond Storm (as waist lamp)
Black Diamond Icon (as headlamp)
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