I entered Paradise Aid Station at mile 27 in 4th place and left in the lead. I’d been running with Gary Robbins and Avery Collins since the start, and our lead pack had slowly eroded to the three of us. I left Paradise with Avery and Gary in tow and settled into a combo of running and hiking. As we ascended past the crowded Manoa Falls and a couple of switchbacks, I looked back and didn’t see them. That was the moment it began to dawn on me that my “experiment of one” and my recent diet shift of utilizing OFM (Optimized Fat Metabolism) principles was working. I felt good and relaxed. I told myself to not push yet, it was still early. I kept running smoothly and enjoying the humid jungle ride.
Rewind to 7 weeks prior…
I was a mess. I’d been fighting a candida/yeast issue in my GI tract since June and a staph infection I’d picked up in South America. I’d had to go on antibiotics for the staph, but this caused the yeast to get worse. I was dealing with my 4th major candida flare-up. When it would flare, I’d usually miss a night of sleep itching out of my mind, I was sick and tired of dealing with this issue.
In a desperate state, I started researching anti-candida diets online and came across a Paleo forum talking about yeast and candida and that the Paleo lifestyle could help heal it. After all, yeast feeds on sugar and it made sense to cut out any yeast-feeding foods, especially starchy, sugary carbs. Plus, it helped that my wife had wanted to go Paleo for several years. She’d been dealing with some insulin resistance/hypoglycemia symptoms since her 20s. She already had two Paleo cook books. So, we embarked on cutting out grains, legumes, sugar, wine, beer and even coffee for good measure (I did bring back red wine in moderation after 4 weeks). It was 7 weeks from race day when I got full-on crazy strict — even through the holidays. I had no choice. I just couldn’t deal with another yeast flare-up.
The first week was horrible. I was lethargic, moody, and my workouts sucked. My kids were not hip to Dad’s new grouchy shortcomings. My body was deep in carb detox, starved of my normal intake of sugar, caffeine, and rice and potatoes. My body needed time to adapt to new fat-optimized pathways. I took my carb intake down to 15% of my daily intake, mostly from fresh veggies, about 20% protein from good natural meat sources, while upping my fat intake to 65%. I was combing the web for food ideas, trying to find new habits. I started reading Vespa’s OFM strategy. I started researching fat adaptation and listened to hours of podcasts on LCHF (Low Carb, High Fat, Moderate Protein) diet, the science, the theories. This led me to email my friend and Altra teammate, Zach Bitter for support and tips. I knew he’d been strict LCHF diet for several years and I was in need of advice.
I started to come out of the carb-haze on day 8 and by 2 weeks in, I was feeling better. I cycled myself into ketosis. The yeast amazingly cleared up within that first week and I was starting to have consistent energy throughout the day. No lows, no crashes. I started to experiment with some carb-fasted runs with good success. I found I was able to run a 17-mile run after an 18-hour carb fast on only water and one s-cap, with the last 12 at 50K race pace without any issues. I wasn’t even that hungry after the run. Not my normal.
I started to go on my long 4-5 hour runs with only 50 calories per hour of Roctane drink with no bonks. I lost 7 pounds in the first 10 days and then stabilized at my high school weight of 135 pounds. My energy levels were solid. Recovery seemed to be faster too. Biggest bonus — zero yeast symptoms. I was definitely encouraged.
Fast forward to the race…
As I came back to Paradise at mile 47 still in the lead, I was stoked. I felt good, I had no bonks, despite going on half the calories of my normal 100-mile nutrition plan. As I left, I yelled over my shoulder at my crew, Jesse Haynes, “It’s working! It’s working!” I was just as surprised. I had fretted quite a bit before the race, back up gels in all my drop bags, how much to take per hour? How would my body react? Sure it seemed to work in a 4-5 hour run, but what about at 12 hours? 16? My normal regimen was out the window, the regimen that had been working for years in 100s with good success.
As I pushed up the hill to see where 2nd place was at nearly halfway though the course, I was stoked to see Gary 18 minutes back and Yassine not too far behind him in 3rd. I’d increased my lead more since the last checkpoint. I continued to grind away on the three mile climb back up to Paoua Flats and then up to Bien’s Bench (Rod Bein’s father’s memorial bench) and descending the steep, technical and slippery Nu’uanu Trail. I was pushing on the down and meeting other runners coming up when I stepped to the edge to avoid a woman runner and slipped off the trail on the slippery rocks. I tumbled off the trail and just happened to quickly grab a bowling ball sized rock before I did a face-check. I clung onto the rock to avoid slipping down the 70 degree slope below the trail. The woman standing over me with wide-eyes asked if I was okay. “Yeah, I’m okay.” I was scrapped up but fine, luckily. I pulled myself back up onto the trail and took off again.
At Nu’uanu on the 3rd lap, I grabbed my lights from Jesse and was out to see if I was getting a further gap. To my surprise, Yassine had pulled into 2nd on the descent and was looking good — 24 minutes back. I kept grinding up, running as much as possible on the steep ascent and quickly met Gary too. I pushed the pace down to the Nature Center (Start/Finish), hopping rocks and roots and dancing my way to the bottom. Jesse was ready and I grabbed refills of Roctane and downed another Vespa and took off up the rooted Hogs Back climb. I came through the top short road section where Mike Arnstein (last year’s winner) had a fresh coconut aid station. Every lap, I chugged straight from a fresh coconut on my way through. What a treat. Thanks Mike. One of the things I truly love about the ultrarunning community, the willingness and want to give back. Solid.
I flipped on my lights on the descent on lap 4 into Paradise and continued to increase the lead on each out and back section over Gary (now in 2nd) and Yassine in 3rd. When I left mile 80 for my final lap, I had about a 50 minute lead. I was very relaxed at that point. I felt good, I still had juice in the tank if I needed to make another move and I would see my competition two more times on the final lap on the out and backs. I decided to cruise the last 20 and enjoy the aid stations and just keep from getting hurt on this gnarly course.
This is when I started to think about post-race food. I wanted some protein and asked the aid station if they had bacon. Nope, just ham. I ditched the bread, ate a small piece of ham and cheese. They informed me that Paradise had bacon. 7 miles away.I stopped and chatted with Mike and thanked him for the coconuts. We chatted for a minute or two and I left with one of my water bottles topped off with raw, fresh coconut water poured straight out of a freshly hacked coconut. Sweet nectar.
I came into Paradise on a bacon hunt. Thanks to Jen McVeay, a long time staple at HURT, I mowed down 3 pieces. However, I got the 3rd piece only with the stipulation that if I won, I had to credit the bacon (which I happily did at the awards ceremony…thanks again Jen…that bacon was the bomb).
At Nu’uanu I had a half a hamburger patty. I hike more on the climbs and was keeping an eye on Gary, still 45-50 minutes back with 7 miles to go. My headlamp started to dim on the final, technical descent to the finish, which had me going slow to pick my way through the rocky jumble, but thankfully was enough to make it to the finish. I crossed the line in 21 hours, 22 minutes for my 14th 100-mile win and my 23rd hundred mile finish. So thankful and excited to grab another win and feel better than I have in a while, health-wise. Paleo and OFM are working well for me and I feel strong and excited for the 2016 season! Especially with both Western States 100 and Hardrock 100 on the schedule — a mere three weeks apart.
The LCHF diet has been amazing. I just can’t say enough. I was able to go on half the calories I normally would intake in a 100-miler (GU Roctane, Vespa, unsweetened banana chips, and few orange wedges mainly). It’s a different, less traveled road, but worth it for the health benefits. My post-race recovery was like nothing I’ve experienced before. Truly unbelievable.
Also a big shout out to the HURT 100 volunteers and all the crew that make that race what it is. It’s a special one. And, all the folks who ran. Solid to see everyone laying it down out there and fighting that gnarly course. Thanks Gary, Yassine and Avery for pushing me to a solid finish. Giddyup!
Know more about the nutritional angle…
To understand how we’re wired and why grains and legumes aren’t very good for us metabolically, I highly recommend: Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint (probably most aligned with his stuff personally — great intro and info on his website), Robb Wolf’s The Paleo Solution (great mix of why and how of Paleo), and the first book I read on the subject (yeah, I like to get my geek cap on), Volek and Phinney’s, The Art and Science of Low Carb Living (deeper science angle). All worthy reads.
A Big Thanks…
Special thanks to my wife and kids and their tireless patience and putting up with all the training. Big shout out to Zach Bitter and Peter Defty at Vespa for all the consulting on OFM to help me get it dialed in before the race. Stoked to be on an even more dialed nutritional path than I was before.
Huge thanks to my stellar sponsors and all their support, Patagonia and the killer threads; Altra who are constantly improving and fine-tuning the footwear line; Magda at GU for the special Bronco Billy Brew Roctane; Bryce and Tina at Ultraspire for the handheld bottles; Rocho at Black Diamond for the lights; Rudy Project for the Rx glasses; Barlean’s for the fat supplements and all the organic coconut oil I use daily. And my local peeps, FootZone, my running community and Recharge for the great scene they’ve created with recovery, treadmills, workout facility — awesome addition to my training routine. Lastly, big ups to the Big Man upstairs for keeping my path straight and safe. Giddyup y’all.
CAUTION: Please be warned that NOTHING is great on sheer ice. If you hit a sheet of ice, be careful. But, you’ll be surprised how well this works.
How To Stud Your Running Shoes:
1) Drill with quick attachment (the attachment acts as a mini-socket)
2) 3/8″ #6 hex head sheet metal screws
3) Running Shoes
4) Table and a C clamp is not necessary, but makes the job WAY easier
Hex Head Screw Type
Here’s the kind of sheet metal screw to use…
#6, 3/8″ hex head sheet metal screws
I haven’t found 1/4″ in a hardware store as a standard stock item. So, this is the lightest and smallest I’ve found. Every hardware store will have them.
Drill with Quick Attachment
Any drill will do. I have DeWalt Quick Attachment for my drill, but any will do. The standard Quick attachment acts as the socket and fits #6 hex heads just like a socket and bolt head.
Screw ‘Em In
I usually use a clamp on a table, like a “C” clamp or a quick clamp of some sort to hold your shoe down, as you really need both hands to hold the tiny screw on the end of the quick attachment to get it started.
EXPERT TIP (thanks to Craig Butler): Drop of Gorilla Glue on the tip before screwing them in and the never come out.
Each shoe pattern is different, so you have to get creative, but general placement is 5 in front (horseshoe pattern) and 2-3 in back (triangle pattern). Don’t place any in the middle where the main contact weight of your foot strike will fall. I’m a mid-foot striker and only put 2 in the very back. However, if you are a hard heel striker, I would maybe place 3 in the very back of the heel vs. two for a little more grip. Make sure you check your pattern periodically, as you may loose one sometimes. We run a lot of trail, even in winter in Central Oregon and the rocks will catch and pull the screw out sometimes. But, not a big deal, get home and throw another in with your handy powerdrill.
NOTE: They don’t hurt the shoe, so if you get them in and don’t like one or two, put your drill on reverse and take it out and put it in another spot. Also, after you get one done. Set it next to the 2nd one you’re working on to ensure your placing them in the exact spot as the opposite shoe.
The above photo shows carbide screws, not aluminum sheet metal screws. They both works but the carbide last longer, albeit more expensive and hard to find (probably have to special order online). Our local running store, FootZone, gets a bunch every year for studding shoes.
Happy winter running. Giddyup!
132K into the race, I was pushing the pace on the road into Lake Yamanakako attempting to close the gap on that coveted last podium spot. I had about 30K left to accomplish the task. At the previous aid station, my crew, Yasu reported I was 15 minutes behind Norwegian Altra teammate Sondre Amadahl. Meghan Hicks of iRunFar appeared out of nowhere, apparently driving by on her way to another checkpoint and spotted me. She yelled a quick hello and informed me I was less than a kilometer behind Sondre and appeared to be moving better. Good news.
The first idea of coming to Japan to run Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji started the summer at the 2014 Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City. One of my sponsors, Ultraspire, had a distributer in Japan, A&F Corporation, who had graciously asked if “Bronco Billy would be interested in running UTMF?” And the plans began to take shape for my trip to Japan.
Fast forward to Mount Fuji just over a year later and I was standing on the starting line of a 105-mile race that has quickly become a major race on the ultra world stage. The locals call it Fuji San, and it’s the iconic Japanese mountain. Part of the reason for the event’s quick rise to popularity in ultrarunning is the mountain’s celebrity status. Add to the fact that it is part of the Ultra-Trail World Tour and it brings out a solid international field of fast men and women.
The race course itself circumnavigates the mountain in a combination of extremely steep, technical trails. The major aid stations are in the 10 villages along the way. Each trail section is matched with a combination of very runnable rolling paved, gravel and grass roads and pathways in the valleys in between coming and going from the villages. This means that the 27,000+ feet of climbing is sandwiched into less mileage than the typical hard mountain hundred. This combo requires runners to be good at all disciplines. Strong mountain running skills and solid leg speed in the valleys. All in all, it’s a tough race.
The 2015 edition was moved from April to September due to a new National Heritage classification of protection for the mountain. This new date puts the race right in the path of typhoon season — strong tropical storms that come up from the Philippines and usually hit the coast of China and the island of Japan. This year the nice muggy weather earlier in the race week, gave way to clouds and moisture by Thursday. By the time I walked to the race start at 1pm on Friday, two inches of rain had fallen since Thursday. The race was forced to reroute two sections to a lower traverse due to the saturated conditions in the surrounding mountains.
We started off the race with humid, warm and misty conditions. Most of the heavier rain fell within the first few hours of the race. As we took off through town to head to the first trail climb up from the shores of Lake Kawaguchiko, I let a lead pack of runners take off, settling into a comfortable pace, inside the top 20. The rain and humidity wreaked havoc on my Rx Rudy Project glasses. There have only been a few ultras where the combination of rain and humidity caused constant fogging. This was one of them. Luckily, my eyes are not terrible and take about an hour to adjust into what I like to call “soft focus” mode. I see everything slightly blurry, but thankfully can function. That’s where I found myself within an hour of starting the race. After fighting it, I finally accepted it and put them away in my pack for the rest of the race.
After 10 miles or so, Gary Robbins caught up with me and we cruised together for a while, talking and catching up. It was nice to have company in the early miles and by mile 20, Gary, Sebastian Nain, and anther runner started to pull away from me. I felt they were going a little too fast, so I was content to let them go and run my own pace. Going into the Tenshi Mountains — the 18-mile section of notoriously slick muddy, technical trails on Fuji’s west side — I stayed on cruise control. This is where I started to pick off earlier the runners who went out too fast. I emerged from the Tenshi’s in 10th place and from there continued to pick off more runners. By the time I got to A6 at Tarabo at 110K into the race, I was in 6th (with 4th and 5th in the aid station when I arrived). I left in 5th and moved into 4th right outside of the aid station. That is when I started to be focused on moving well and not sitting back anymore. I pushed some and chilled some through the next few sections and left A7 about 15 minutes behind Sondre in 3rd. When I arrived A8 at Lake Yamanakako, I arrived the aid station as I saw Sondre leaving. Sweet.
With a mandatory gear checkpoint (they check your pack for required gear), I burned more time than I would have liked. But, with Sondre so close, I was laser focused as I left the aid station 4 minutes behind him. I caught Sondre near the upper part of the climb on the ascent to A9. After leaving A9, I was pushing hard up the steep, exposed scramble to the summit of Shakushiyama. I bombed down the rutted trail to A10 and asked where 2nd place was. “Left 27 minutes ago” was the answer. Dang. I continued to push over the final steep climb and descend back to Lake Kawaguchiko. I was so psyched to lock down 3rd place and it wasn’t until I crossed the finish that I found out Frenchman, Arnaud Lejeune in 2nd place was only 6 minutes in front of me. Apparently his wheels came off and he paid for his early fast pace leading the first 90K of the race and was forced to walk the final kilometers. So it goes. I was so stoked to grab a podium spot after such a tough injury-forced drop at UTMB. I was patient, waited and pushed hard the final 50K and it had paid off — maybe a little too patient!
What a great trip and stellar race. Japan is such a cool country. The race was very well organized and the aid station volunteers were great. The people I met are so honest, respectful and friendly. I made a lot of good friends. Thanks to all the new “Bronco Billy” brothers in Japan: Yasu and Seiji (Patagonia Japan), the A&F crew: Masa, Daisuke, Gen, Hisa, Fumiya, Honda, and also big shout out to the other Yasu (Yokohama Patagonia Store) and the rest of the Yokohama store for helping make a successful Mile For Mile showing. Thanks y’all. Awesome time. Thanks for all the hospitality. Giddyup.
We had an awesome Mile For Mile showing and slide show with a packed house before I flew back. If you haven’t had a chance to check out the film click on the link to veiw the 15 minute documentary on the new Patagonia National Park in Chile.
Patagonia Duck Bill Cap
Patagonia Capilene 1 SS Jersey
Patagonia Strider Pro Shorts
Altra Lone Peak 2.5
Rudy Project Rx
Patagonia Windshield glove
Black Diamond Storm Headlamp
Waist-mounted Ultraspire Lumen 600
Patagonia Capilene Midweight LS Jersey
Patagonia Cap 4 Beanie
Patagonia Alpine Houdini Pants
Patagonia Storm Racer Houdini Jacket
Leg warmers/compression, arm warmers
Gu gels and avacado sushi rolls
Special thanks to my family and their support through all of the training, travel and racing. I love you. And, finally thanks to the Big Man upstairs for keeping my path straight.
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.