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

May
04

 As it appeared in Jeff’s column, The Dirt, in the June-July 2012 Issue of RaceCenter NW Magazine

One of the beautiful aspects of trail running is the simplicity of going light and fast. If water sources are readily available, a couple of well-stuffed pockets with calories and a water bottle or two will allow you to cover a large area quickly. Photo by Brad Lewis.

One of the beautiful aspects of trail running is the simplicity of going light and fast. If water sources are readily available, a couple of well-stuffed pockets with calories and a water bottle or two will allow you to cover a large area quickly. Photo by Brad Lewis.

Training for Trails

So, you’ve been running trails pretty consistently and you’re ready for something a little more epic. Well, you’re in luck. Because the longer running adventure is where trail running really starts to shine.

When you start to take your trail adventures longer, especially in the mountains, you have to throw your road-running mind in the trash. There’s no pace monitoring and no hard expectations. You have to learn to go with the flow and be ready to soak in what nature throws at you. That also means being slightly more prepared.

If you’re heading to the mountains, you have to be ready for everything: weather, wildlife encounters, eating and drinking, and even the possibility of getting off track a bit. Think of long trail adventures more like one-day minimalist fast-packing. Take just enough to be prepared for the unexpected, but have the wonderful capacity to cover a large amount of real estate in a single bound with breath-taking breaks.

Get a plan

Do a little planning. Find a cool destination to reach — a peak, an overlook, a wilderness loop that takes you through varied ecosystems. Look at maps or inquire at your local specialty running store. For my long runs, I like to browse a topographic trail map of where I’m going, thinking up cool new routes in my locale. I typically pick a general route and then go with the flow. When I come upon a spot that looks like something out of a movie, I stop, dig into my pack, and sit down for a quick hydration and snack break. Soak in the views. They can be grand, especially in the Pacific Northwest. Trail running has taken me to some of the most beautiful, secluded spots on Earth. And most of them are right in my backyard.

Mixing it up

When the going gets steep, embrace the power hike. Not to be confused with walking, power hiking is an acquired mountain skill. If the going gets steep, the quick power hike can be much more efficient on the ups than actual running — while giving those running-specific muscles a little breather. You’ll find that if you practice, you can move just as fast uphill as the runner who insists on running everything. It’s also a good way to go farther with less fatigue, especially if you’re new to the longer stuff.

What to bring

Ample hydration and easy-to-pack calories (like gels or bars) are a must if you’re going to be out past two hours. I love a couple of handheld water bottles and a lightweight fanny pack for nutrition needs on the move — a gear choice that mirrors what I do in a race. For runs over three hours, this usually requires a water refill somewhere along the way. If water is not available, I like to reach for a hydration pack with a 70-ounce bladder. No matter what your hydration system, you have to pick what works for you — and what gives you enough cargo capacity to pack what you need, plus a little extra just in case. Also, mountain weather can change pretty quickly, so don’t forget a lightweight and packable shell in case something blows in while you’re out.

When you’re willing to go that extra mile, trail running adventures can be a truly breathtaking experience. Whether you’re a veteran or just getting into it, trail running can really take you to wild places. Giddyup.<

About the Author

Jeff Browning (aka Bronco Billy) only runs on pavement if he absolutely has to. Otherwise, you can find him exploring his local singletrack in Bend, OR, or toeing the start line of a handful of trail ultramarathons each year.

 

Apr
28
Drake Park, Mirror Pond viewpoint — spot of the encounter.

Drake Park, Mirror Pond viewpoint — spot of the encounter.

Some of the HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) theories for training are to mimic the fight for flight mechanism to quickly drain our muscles of glycogen. Hard, short intervals. Which in turn gives solid physiological adaptation. These high intensity intervals try to get us in that state that nature used to get us to all the time. When danger unexpectedly reared its ugly head — we had to drop everything and get moving to save ourselves. Enter drunk dude Saturday night.

I’m finally back running and training again post-Zion 100 and was out on a night run Saturday night on one of my standard townie 10-mile loops. This route is one of my standards and I went up and over Awbrey Butte and around on the Deschutes River Trail back into downtown for a cruise through downtown and the park. After downtown, I started to cruise into Drake Park (a large park right downtown overlooking Mirror Pond and the Deschutes River). Right when I hit the park, I noticed a large group of 8 people walking together, typical Bend 20-somethings with skate/snowboard attire, hoodies, etc — obviously been drinking at 10:15pm.

Not giving them another thought as I passed, I quickly heard running footsteps. As this registered in my mind, I glanced over my shoulder to find one of the dudes had decided to give chase. He was bigger than me and coming up quickly, maybe 20 yards back and closing fast. Bam! Enter the true fight or flight response that HIIT workouts try to mimic. In these situations of complete surprise, you don’t think, you react. I yelled “C’mon!!” and turned on the afterburners. As I was pulling away from the dude through the rolling park, he continued to give chase for another 100 meters before I heard him shout through gasping breath as he was losing ground, “You’re in better shape than me!” and gave up. The predator goes hungry another day.

As I contemplated the encounter on my remaining run home, I thought about how suddenly drained I felt and also how satisfying it is to be able to throw down 4:11 pace when you need to (yes, I downloaded and checked my GPS data later that night to see how fast I’d turned it on to outrun the dude for 300 meters). I went from cruising 7:40 pace to 4:11 pace in about 10 strides. The one thing the HIIT workouts cannot mimic is the fear and adrenaline rush that potential danger causes. A natural response, but no matter how hard we try, a controlled workout simply can’t mimic the real threat scenario.

So, thanks drunk dude in Drake Park for the primal HIIT workout — eat my dust with a side of adrenaline, homeboy.

Apr
18

If there was any mantra for my 17th hundred miler, it was “Laid Back.” This was the most chill I’ve ever felt going into a 100. George, aka Surf Monkey, is definitely “my brutha from another mutha.” He also happens to be Patagonia Ultrarunning Team Manager. Surf Monkey was my crew man and I was stoked. He’s been with me for both San Diego 100 wins the past 2 years and we’re dialed. He even mentioned how chill I was acting. Part of it was the fact that I’m attempting to run four 100 milers this year — an adventure I’m coining The Bronco Billy Suffer Better Tour. (I’ve only done 2 in a year, so new territory for me this season). The other reason was that Karl had dropped back to the 100K so it was not stacking up to be a show down. Speedgoat and I are good bros and similar in racing styles — consistent, good closing old dudes. I guess the experience a decade of running 100s brings doesn’t hurt, but just the same, I was bummed he dropped back to the 100K. Who knows what we would have run, time-wise. Definitely would have upped the anty a bit. Karl always runs strong, as he proved by easily taking the 100K course record and win.

Monday before though, I did find out Michael Aish would be in the race. I met Mike at TRE (The Running Event) in Austin in December. Both being shoe geeks and runners, we talked styles and philosophies. Mike is quite the accomplished track and road runner. A New Zealander living in the states…he’s qualified for 3 New Zealand Olympic teams (the 10K in ’00, the 5K in ’04 and the marathon in ’08. With a PR of 13:22 for 5K and 2:13 for the marathon, he obviously has good leg speed. That lit a fire under me a few days before. It was shaping up to be a race. But, ultra mountain running is different than running flat and fast and Mike’s pretty new to 100s. I was hoping my experience could even it out in the later in the technical stuff. I was glad I’d been doing some speed work this spring though.

I figured Mike would take it out fast, but instead he took it out mellow. I didn’t know if he had started for sure until 16 miles into the race. A good reminder as to how running 100s tend to be weird and unpredictable. Gotta learn to roll with it.

Jonathan Byers Photography

The starting line in Virgin, Utah on Friday morning. Photo by Jonathan Byers / jonathanbyers.com

Friday, 6AM. With my Black Diamond headlamp shining in the pre-dawn dark, we headed out through the little town of Virgin and up a road. The course quickly picks up ATV trails winding through the desert on our way to the base of Smith Mesa, the first major climb. First mile or so, I was leap-frogging with the 2nd place 100K runner and Karl (in 100K). By the time we started climbing Smith Mesa, Karl quickly gapped us by a couple 100 meters. By the top, I was thinking Aish didn’t show up for the 100 miler, as I was alone up front with only 100K front runners.

The morning dawned cloudy right when we topped out Smith Mesa, I dropped my lights at the aid station at mile 7 and started the dirt road and old paved road descent off the mesa 2,000 feet below at Sheeps Bridge Aid Station at mile 14. This is where I would see crew (George) for the first time.

As I came into the aid, I grabbed my fresh bottles from George and headed out to run the rolling mountain bike trails that wind over to Virgin Dam. After a couple of miles, the 100K course went left and we continued snaking along the lip of the Virgin River canyon. Soon after that intersection, I saw a guy catching up at a good clip and figured it had to be Mike. And sure enough, he caught up to me and asked who was in front of us. I replied, “We’re it.” I explained that Karl was in the 100K (he was not aware as Karl’s name was still on the 100 mile entrants list online).

Virgin Dam

Mike and I arriving into Virgin Dam aid station at mile 23. Photo by Jonathan Byers / jonathanbyers.com

Virgin Dam trails

Mike and I leaving Virgin Dam aid station. Photo by Jonathan Byers / jonathanbyers.com

Mike and I talked training and experience for a bit. We came into Virgin Dam aid station at mile 23 together. I was in and out faster and he soon caught back up to me. We ran together chatting as we started the traverse over to the base of Gooseberry Mesa. The old dirt 4WD road was choked full of steep, winding rollers and we soon were having sporadic conversation as we power hiked up 30 yard grunt climbs only to top it out and roll another steep 30 yards off the back side into another roller.

We hit the intersection and the right turn up the canyon that looks like the scene from Star Wars when the Jawas attack Luke’s landspeeder. Luckily, we avoided Jawas and Sand People and started the steep singletrack climb up to Goosebump aid. A dainty little 1,200 foot climb in less than a mile.

I led up the steep climb mostly power hiking with my hands on my quads. We topped out the climb and right into Goosebump aid station where George was waiting with my fresh Ultraspire handheld bottles. We hiked through the aid station and exchanged bottles and I got a fresh Gu Roctane Gel flask and took off before Mike. I glanced a few times over my shoulder, expecting Mike to do another surge to catch up, but the sandstone trail is windy through low junipers and pines.

Goosebump Aid Station

Arriving Goosebump aid station at mile 31. Photo by Jonathan Byers / jonathanbyers.com

Running along the top of Gooseberry Mesa, mile 31. Photo by Jonathan Byers / jonathanbyers.com

Running along the top of Gooseberry Mesa, mile 31. Photo by Jonathan Byers / jonathanbyers.com

The next 11 mile loop is out to Gooseberry Point and around the top of Gooseberry Mesa on a Sandstone mountain bike trail. If you’ve ever been to the Slickrock Trail in Moab, this is essentially what the loop is kinda like. Almost entirely on solid, gritty sandstone rock (aka slickrock) following white paint blazes on the rock. Running on slickrock is challenging since it’s built for the rolling rhythm of a mountain bike. The running rhythm of sandstone is kind of an anti-rhythm.

Four miles later I was at the ½ mile out and back to Gooseberry Point. There was supposed to be a remote aid station at the point, but later we found out a few of us up front beat the aid station staff to it and it wasn’t set up yet. When I reached the sheer cliff face turnaround at the point (literally no where else to go), I glanced at my watch to see how far back Mike was. I soon passed him about 4 minutes back on this little out and back section of trail.

Since the aid station wasn’t set up, I spent the next 7 miles conserving water. I had scouted this portion the day before and knew that once I saw an old windmill, I was within a few minutes of the aid station. I soon had the windmill in sight and was into the aid and out with new bottles and Gu flask from George and running the slightly rolling 7 mile dirt road to Grafton Mesa.

Since Mike is a very fast track and road runner, I was trying to keep pushing my pace on this section, as I figured he’d be able to make up that 4 minute gap quickly on this runnable section. I was a few miles down the road when George drove by and leaned out the window and said he stayed 20 minutes at the aid after I left and Mike hadn’t shown up yet. Wasn’t sure what to make of that, but kept plugging away. I got in and out of Grafton Mesa at mile 49 and around the 5 mile technical singletrack loop on top of the mesa and back to the same aid station at mile 54 to find out that Mike had dropped from the race at mile 43.

At this point, I had at least an 1 hour and 20 minute lead on the new 2nd place and I was ahead of course record pace. So, I decided to keep pushing for the record.

I took off down Grafton Road’s steep gravel road descent to meet George at the Grafton Road intersection. I got to the crew-only spot to find George kicking a soccer ball around in the middle of the road by himself. I had a big enough lead all day that he ended up by himself most of the time. He’s a trooper.

After a quick bottle swap, I was off to Eagle Crag and the turnaround at mile 60. I tried to pump this section out. Soon enough I was heading up the climb to the radio towers at Eagle Crag where I downed some broth (thanks Turd’l Miller). Turd’l and I had a quick chat and I was off.

There was a mom with her young son and daughter walking along the dirt road when I got to the aid station and I met them on my way back out. They cheered and I held out my hand for a high five and said, “Don’t leave me hangin’!” They both slapped my hand, even the mom. The kids were stoked and it gave me a little boost.

I was soon bombing down off the ridge and back the paved road toward the historic old west cemetery of Grafton before the long steep singletrack climb up the north side of Grafton Mesa.

I topped the climb out and made the double track route back to Grafton Mesa aid station at mile 68 an hour and a half ahead of course record pace. George was pumped and reminded me I could PR for 100 miles. I said I’d try, but my stomach was acting a little squirrely at this point.

It had been off and on all day and I think the culprit was the meal the day before. My son and I both have a subtle soy allergy and I suspect the soup I had at the pub the night before had some soy in it. I forgot to ask (I tend to get lazy about it sometimes), but I had all the usual symptoms. Whatcha gonna do. Roll with it.

I climbed up the Grafton Mesa Road and just as I arrived at the intersection to turn west to head the last 4 miles toward Gooseberry Mesa, a car stopped and Jesse Haynes jumped out to say good job. Jesse paced me the last 20 mile of San Diego 100 last year.

He was crewing Keira Henninger, a Patagonia Ultrarunning Teammate, who fell on sandstone and dislocated her hip! (She’s okay and will make a full recovery).

After seeing Jesse, I turned west and headed back up the gravel road to Goosebump aid. This was a tough 4-mile section that’s slightly uphill with a headwind. This part of a 100 is always slightly tough. It’s kind of no-man’s land. I still had over a marathon to go, evening was fast approaching and my stomach was a little off. It’s also probably one of the least scenic portions of the course. You’re up on top of a wide rolling mesa with just shrubs and a dusty gravel road with crew cars going by and kicking up dust. It’s only a 4 mile section but it seems to take FOREVER.

Also, I started meeting 100 mile back of the packers at this point too. This is always a bittersweet aspect of being up front. I was 70+ miles into the race and these folks were not even halfway yet. I feel for them, they’re so dang tough. That’s a long time to be out there. Much respect.

I finally got to Goosebump to find Geof Hasegawa, a local Bend runner who was running the 50K on Saturday but crewing his wife for the 100K. He helped me locate my drop bag, I grabbed my Ultraspire Alpha Vest and dropped off the steep descent from Goosebump to the valley floor. A section we had come up 43 miles earlier.

Goosebump Return

Dropping off Gooseberry Mesa in the late afternoon, mile 74. Photo by Jonathan Byers / jonathanbyers.com

I was soon hitting the dead-straight dirt road back toward the Virgin River. I was still trying to run strong but could feel the early season lack of volume training in my legs. I soon was running the ¼ mile highway section up to Dalton Wash where I’d see George again.

About a ¼ mile up the gravel road of Dalton Wash, I came running up to George and Jesse Haynes, who had a bouldering crash pad they were lounging on with cold beers in their hands. Oh man did those look good.

We had a quick bottle swap and I chugged some water as the 3 of us started hiking. My kiddos all had cold in the month before the race and of course it made it’s way through my wife and I too. I had just quit hacking a week before the race. The 2nd half of the race, I kept hacking up a little junk every once in a while when all the breathing was loosening up the leftover cold in my lungs. Well, I started a coughing spell and some junk came up and evoked my gag reflex and I puked up all the broth and water I’d downed in the last hour or two in 3 quick ralphs.

After it passed, I started hiking again, sipping water and my stomach felt a lot better. Within 5 minutes I downed a electrolyte pill and a Gu and felt good. I gave George and Jesse a Giddyup and took off up the gravel road climb to do the final lollipop loop on top of the last mesa (82 to 91 miles). When I got to Guacamole aid station, I downed some orange wedges and got my bottles refilled and took off into the sandstone formations.

The section is extremely winding and hard to get a rhythm. It was still light so I pushed on and made it almost halfway around the 9 mile loop before I turned on my lights. That’s when I slowed down a ton. Route finding in the winding sandstone was hard in the dark. I ended up running 20-40 yards at a time and then hiking and scanning the terrain for find the next course marker. This section went forever.

I soon got back to the lollipop and saw a headlamp coming my way. It ended up being Jason Koop in 2nd place just heading out onto the loop I was just ending. He was having a solid, steady race. His good pacing and patience were paying off. We chatted for a second about the day and Hardrock 100. He was in and I was #1 on the waitlist (I just found out I got in officially!). Anyway, we parted ways and I soon was in and out of Guacamole aid again and heading down the road off the mesa to run the last 9 miles.

The road drops steeply off the mesa to an upper pretty flat basin, then drops another pitch down Dalton Wash to the highway below. I was just starting down the final pitch when I caught glowing eyes about 70 meters off the road in a rock outcropping. Golden eyes blinking at me in a little alcove in the rock formation that jutted out to my left. I had my Black Diamond Icon headlamp on high beam and couldn’t quite pick up what it was.

That’s when it jumped up onto the rock and slinked along the top of the rock formation paralleling my movement. That’s when I realized it was a cougar! I stopped and yelled and grunted like a maniac and yelled, “You don’t want any piece of me!” It just stood there crouching and staring at me.

So, I started walking down the road with my light on it and the road quickly dropped away steeply and the left side of the road become a steep hillside into the canyon below. Once it was out of sight I took off with a good adrenaline rush.

I came back down to George and Jesse in the dark and we swapped bottles. They hiked with me for a minute or two and I took off for the last 3.5 miles to the finish.

The course from Dalton Wash Road heads up an old ATV trail along a little canyon a short ways, then bushwacks straight up a hillside off trail. The route gains the hillside above the highway and picks up a faint trail along some power lines. Soon you drop down off the hill and jump on an ATV trail. This soon spits you out north of Virgin on a paved road I was heading back into town on the road and finally was winding my way a few blocks through town and into Virgin’s city park and the finish line.

I crossed the finish line in 16 hours, 49 minutes — setting a new course record by 1 hour and 3 minutes. And did the first thing I wanted to do all day — sit down. Stoked to win my 11th 100 miler. Can’t believe I’ve been running these crazy things for 14 years now. Giddyup.

Race Gear: Patagonia Duck Bill Cap, Patagonia Cap 1 Sleeveless Jersey, Patagonia Strider Pro Shorts, Patagonia EVERlong shoes, Ultraspire handhelds (new lids!) and the Alpha Pack, Rudy Project Zyon Frame with Rx UV Sensitive Lenses, Black Diamond Icon Headlamp. Nutrition was mainly Gu Gels and a little Roctane Energy Drink.

Post Race: Barlean’s Organic Greens and Omega 3-6-9 blend, Gu Recovery Brew (oh, chocolate), Patagonia Stretch Board Shorts, Injinji compression toesocks coupled with Patagonia flip flops — my must-have uniform for days after a 100.

Thanks: Shout out to Surf Monkey for putting up with me and being THE crew man. He’s a stud. Also to my wife and kids for their unwavering support of my little running “hobby.” I love you guys. Also my stellar sponsors — Patagonia, Ultraspire, Rudy Project, Gu Energy Labs, Black Diamond, Barlean’s and my peeps at FootZone in Bend. Special thanks to G5, the tech company I work for. They give me a long leash with my schedule for both training and racing. Work hard. Play hard. Also Mark DeJohn for the last minute ART bodywork sessions before I left town for the race (highly recommended technique for problem spots). Last but not least, the Big Man upstairs for keeping my steps safe out there, especially with a big cat lurking in the sandstone.

 

Apr
17

I’m pumped. I just got an email last night and I’m officially in Hardrock in July. Time to start putting my new AltoLab Altitude Simulator to work.

NOTE: I’m working on my Zion 100 race report. Almost complete, just came back to huge design deadlines and finally digging out of work commitments. As most of you know…work, family, and running is a juggling act…especially with 3 kids and a lovely wife. Thank goodness they’re patient with me.

Giddyup!

Mar
31

So, I’ve hatched my 2014 plan and coined it The Bronco Billy Suffer Better Tour. The tour consists of 4 hundreds this season. If I can successfully get through them all, the 4th hundred would put me at 20 career 100 milers. A good round number I think.

April

Zion 100
Virgin, UT

Completed: 1st place in 16 hrs, 39 min (course record)

July

Hardrock 100
Silverton, CO

Completed: 4th place in 26 hrs, 58 min (1st Masters, 1st American)

September

Run Rabbit Run 100
Steamboat Springs, CO

October

Grindstone 100
Swoope, VA

Mar
13

I was recently interviewed by Outside Online. Thanks Joe Jackson for an interesting gear review. Tips from some ultrarunners on their gear recommendations under $25. Read Article

Bronco Billy recommendation: Ruby’s Lube

Oct
15

And...we're off. Start of the Hare Division. Photo: Fredrik Marmsater

Little late on this post — almost a month. Came back to a slammed 2 weeks at work, multiple consulting deadlines, coaching Little Foot Running Club and deep in kids soccer season — with 3 kids, blogging sometimes gets knocked to the bottom of the list. So it goes.

This was the deepest field I’ve come up against in a 100. Solid field of experienced 100 mile runners. I was excited to see where the chips would fall going into this. I’ve had some success at 100s, 10 for 15 going into this race. Even with that record, I still feel like I’m still a bit under the radar. Mainly due to seeking out some not as well know 100s based on my own personal bucket list based on good things I’ve heard about a particular race and not necessarily chasing competition. I was looking forward to throwing down against a strong field.

This is a particularly unique race in that they divide the competitors into two groups: Tortoise and Hares. The Hares division is a small, elite field that starts 4 hours after the Tortoise division and is going after a cash purse of $10,000 for first, $2,500 for second, $1,500 for 3rd, $1,000 for 4th and $750 for 5th. Plus, a Master’s Premium for the first person, age 40+ to finish ($1,000 which can be added on top of a top 5 earnings finish). Being a Masters runner, I was wanting a top 5 and knew I’d have to have an “A” race to knock off Karl or Paul Terrenova (or up and comer Jess Haynes) for the Master’s prem. Plus, a cool fact about the race — the Tortoise division is going for their own cash purse, albeit smaller. It’s cool, as it gives that division a chance at cash when they normally wouldn’t have such an opportunity.

I flew into Denver on Wednesday to massive flooding on the front range. My buddy, Fred would be crewing and taking some photos. He lives in the foothills of Boulder and I spent Wednesday night at his place. It was raining like crazy all night and we woke Thursday of news that every canyon (besides his) was closed. Roads fully washed out, flash flooding everywhere and only one highway out of Boulder was open (the one we needed to take to Golden and our access to I-70. We barely made it out around noon with rain still coming down hard. Our only hiccup was a 1/2 hour wait for crews to clear a gigantic tree from a bridge we had to cross at the base of his canyon as it enters town.

Preparing gel flasks for the race to put in drop bags. Photo by Fred Marmsater

Once we got over the divide, there was only isolated thunderstorms in the area. W arrived in Steamboat Springs, checked in and got settled in at our condo I was sharing with Roch Horton and Karl Meltzer and his wife Cheryl. We all go way back, so it’s nice catching up with old friends. Speedgoat Karl was the defending champ from last year and was definitely one of the main favorites for this year. We had a group dinner with Roch, Karl, Cheryl, Fred, me and Dakota (Jones) at the condo and hung out for a while before hitting the sack about 11pm.

Race morning was slow going, since we had a noon start for the Hares division. On one hand it’s nice to sleep in and have a good breakfast and not be rushed like typical early morning starts. However, on the other hand, it’s a waiting game when you just want to get running.

Soon enough though, we were standing at the starting line a few minutes from the start. I gave Meltzer a little low five and said good luck and “let’s show these younger boys how to run a 100,” to which he replies, “Let’s show them how to finish.” Giddyup, goat, indeed.

After a countdown, we were off from Steamboat Village and starting up the ski runs climb to the top of the gondola. I settled in about 9th or 10th and watched a small group of runners pull away (Mackey, Louttit, Schlarb and Dave James), with the two Tarahumara runners not far back. We soon were heading up and traversing the high singletrack from Mt. Werner over to Long Lake aid station. I ran this section relaxed and on the 1/2 mile out and back section to Long Lake, I ran into Schlarb and Louttit running together, Dave and the two Tarahumara all within a minute of each other. I was probably 2-3 minutes back and soon found out Mackey was leading about 7 minutes up. On my way back on the short out and back I found Meltzer and Josh Arthur were right behind me, less than a minute.

Heading down Fish Creek Falls trail. Photo by Fredrik Marmsater

On the upper basin descent of Fish Creek Falls trail Karl and Josh caught up to me and we ran together all the way to the trailhead and then down the road section back into Steamboat and through town. Josh, Karl and I were making good time down the road and soon reeled in the Tarahumaras. When we arrived at Olympian Hall aid station at 21 miles, Karl and Josh were in and out. I grabbed my new bottles from Fred and asked him for my gel refills (in my drop bag). He had forgotten to get my drop bag, so I ran into the building, unzipped it, grabbed my gel refills and ran out of there. Karl and Josh were a good 200-300 yards up a climb and were just rounding a corner out of sight.

I spent the next 3 miles pushing a bit harder than I wanted in order to reel them in on the climb and finally caught back up to them toward the top. Not ideal to be pushing like that at mile 20-something. I ran with Karl along the top and soon Josh passed me. I was feeling a little bonky from the effort to make contact with them, so I decided to take an almond butter packet (NOTE: big mistake, I later found out, based on the empty wrapper, than I had accidentally picked up a Peanut Butter packet at the store and took that instead) Big mistake. Peanut butter sits in my gut like a rock. Why I don’t do PB&J at aid stations. And this influx of hard to digest crap had my stomach in knots for the next 5 miles. I got into Cow Creek feeling mighty low. My gut was bothering me and I had lost contact with Josh and Karl. But, Dave James was there and clothed. Not sure where he dropped, but he was out.

I was in and out and up the dirt road to pick up the singletrack. I was really creeping through here and feeling really low both physically and mentally. After a mile or so on the trail I passed Jason Louttit who was walking and said he was worked. Within another mile I was starting to feel better. I kept plugging away on the long climb back up to the ridge, when I rounded a corner and saw Mackey walking. I passed him too, which now put me in 4th place. But it was early. I kept concentrating on efficient forward progress.

Once I gained the ridge double track, I ran out of water and went without for about 15 minutes. I finally made it to the unmanned water only table and chugged a half bottle and got running the gravel road down to Olympian Hall. I got in and out and was soon making my way up the road to Fish Creek Falls at ~46 miles.

My stomach was still little squirrely from time to time, so I made it there right about dark and hit the restrooms. Feeling much better after a bathroom break, I came out to find Cheryl and Fred ready with my bottle refills and some soup. When I was leaving the aid station, I noticed Jesse Haynes had just come in and quickly got moving out ahead of him. I was across the footbridge and heading up the first switchback fumbling with turning on my ipod when I accidentally dropped one of my water bottles smack on top of the lid/nipple and it hit right on a granite slab of rock in the middle of the trail. Crack!! The impact broke the entire nipple and little bit of plastic encasing it into my bottle! No freakin’ way! Really?! That’s a new one.

I fished out the nipple with the broken, jagged plastic housing still surrounding it from my water and ended up drinking it first and rather quickly over the next 30 minutes as I ran with the bottle held out away from me and with limited arm swing holding the bottle upright to keep the water from splashing out all over the place. Not fun. Not efficient. Not ideal. So 100s go — gotta roll with the punches. Once I finished off that bottle I started thinking of what I was going to do. My best solution was to ask the volunteers at the next aid station (Long Lake) if anyone had a bottle lid and started devising a plan to give someone something in return if they were so willing to aid in my delimma.

I arrived into Long Lake very animated as I told the quick tale of what had happened. At first no one had a lid. Finally a guy stepped up from the shadows and said, I might have one in my truck. He went to check. In the meantime, I whoofed down some mash potatoes and got my other bottle filled. He came back with a lid and I practically kissed the dude I was so happy. I told him my name and said find me after the race and I’d give him a Black Diamond headlamp as thanks for his kindness.

As I left, I asked the aid station staff how far up 3rd was and they said Josh was 13 minutes in front of me. I said, “Rock ‘n Roll” and was out of there, feeling good. The next two sections were pretty uneventful. I just kept plugging away through the high country and occasionally passing Tortoise division runners. It’s always nice to have such a set up (normally in an out and back course), because encouragement abounds from both sides as we see each other in our little bubble of light in the dark.

I was soon through Summit Lake, got in my drop bags for gel refills and warmer gloves and was off heading down the 13-mile downhill to the turnaround. I arrived at Dry Lake aid station to find out from Bryon Powell that Mackey was closing on me. I was in and out and down the singletrack descent to the turnaround. I looked back a few times to see a light gaining on me after a few miles Dave flew by me near the bottom. We were both in the aid station at the same time and he quickly got in and out, while I took the time to get some food and drop bag stuff. Soon after leaving, it started to rain and I was soon pulling up my arm warmers and Patagonia Houdini jacket with the hood up to keep warm. It was very wet and that portion of the course has some pretty overgrown underbrush. So, by the time I got back up to Dry Lake aid station I was soaked, but the rain had stopped.

I got in to find my crewman, Fred, had soup ready to drink. I asked him how far in front of me Mackey was and he and Bryon, to my surprise, informed me that Dave was still in the aid station tent. Really?! I immediately said, “I’m out of here” and took off up the 8-mile gravel road climb to Summit Lake.

I kept looking over my should for lights but never saw them and kept running and hiking and running all the way to Summit Lake. I was in and out of my drop bag at Summit (mile 82) and off on the Wyoming trail with 21 miles to go (yes, this race is 103 miles — at least). About halfway across the section to Long Lake, I was having some gut rot issues. Stuff just not feeling right and felt like I had a bad mix of calories not digesting. I had a little hacking cough to get up some gunk in my lungs (common from pushing at altitude) and I gagged and everything came up in 3 fast puke bouts. After the purge was complete, I got running again, sipping water and in about 5 minutes, I felt much better. Sour stomach was cleared up and I took a gel and a salt and was all good.

I got into Long Lake, in and out and was on my way to Mt. Werner aid — the final aid station at the top of the ski resort. I got into Werner with just the first hint of light in the morning sky. I was in and out quickly and heading down the gravel, muddy ski access road. After 3 or 4 switchbacks I saw a runner ahead. I thought it was a front of the pack Tortoise runner. However, as I approached I noticed his stride was short and looked like his quads were wiped. I soon could see visor, long hair pulled into a bun and Altra shoes, that meant only one thing — Josh Arthur — 3rd place! Sweet. I still had quads and was ready to throw down for the $500 difference between our two positions. As I came by I asked how he was doing and he didn’t even try to run with me and just asked, “how far back is the next guy?” I replied, “your all good, bro.” And he stated his quads were shot and I told him to hang in there. I kept pushing just in case, but after a few turns I looked back and he was nowhere in sight. Phew.

After that, I kept pushing and soon was off the gravel road section and into the bushwhack ski run section and meeting the early morning 50 mile race starters. This section is crazy to come down, at least a 45-50 degree slope in wet grass with a faint patches of dirt. It was hard on the old quads at mile 100, but I just bit the bullet and ran it. My Patagonia Everlongs were holding tight traction and I had no slippage going on so I just trusted it and kept the wheels turning.

The final couple of miles meander over to the north of the village square and finally I was coming into sight of the finish line. I crossed the finish line in 18 hours, 52 minutes flat for 3rd place. Karl was 2nd (and 1st Masters) in 18:32 and Jason Schlarb rocked the course for a new course record of 17:15:20. He had a stellar, nearly flawless race. Much respect, Jason. Josh held onto 4th place and Tim Olsen rounded out the top 5 for men only 2 weeks off a 4th place Tour de Mont Blanc finish in Europe. Impressive.

Chatting with Karl Meltzer after the race. Photo by Fredrik Marmsater

Thanks to my wife and kiddos for their constant prayers and support through all this crazy running I do. Thanks to my sponsors and their staff that support me. Patagonia for the loyal support and trusting and allowing me to help design a shoe that I absolutely love and listening to feedback from our ultrarunning team and constantly evolving and improving their outwear for us specifically — namely pocketed Strider Pro shorts and bringing back the duckbill cap. Money. And, for making such a light jacket for running — the Houdini was perfect when that rain hit in the middle of the night. At only 7 ounces, it’s stupid to not have one around your waist if there is even a chance of weather in a race. No brainer. Shout out to Ultraspire for the awesome handhelds that help me stay hydrated. Look for their cool new handheld design in ’14 as well as a cool new race bottle lid (which I wish I would have been using when I dropped my bottle, it would not have broken). Also, thanks to Rudy Project for the kick butt Rx glasses that allow me to see the intricacies of those tricky mountain trails at night. Roch at Black Diamond for the blinding bright lights and FootZone of Bend for their nutritional support and putting up with my manic, constant tinkering of nutrition and testing stuff. And Barleans for their awesome supplements that I take religiously to recover and stay healthy at the ripe old age of 42. And finally, the Big Man upstairs for keeping me safe through the gnarly night in Colorado’s stellar Rocky mountains. What a blessing it is to run in such beautiful places. Giddyup.

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