Oct
21

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

 

Oct
16

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rare Rocho sighting. Lessons.

Rare Rocho sighting. Lessons.

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

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

Off at high noon.

Off at high noon.


The Start Through Mile 22

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

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

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

Mile 22 to 52: Steady as It Goes

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

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

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

Heading into the night on Fish Cree Falls Trail.

Heading into the night on Fish Cree Falls Trail.


Mile 52 to the Finish: Through the Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post-race podium.

Post-race podium.



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

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

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

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

 

 

Sep
25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No more moving — ahhh. Photo by iRunFar.com

No more moving — ahhh. Photo by iRunFar.com

Kissing the rock again. Photo by iRunFar.com

Kissing the rock again. Photo by iRunFar.com

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

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

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

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

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

SmithRock50k-2014-PaulNelson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gear List

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

Footwear: Patagonia EVERlong

Nutrition: Gu Roctane + S Caps

Handheld Waterbottle: Ultraspire Isomeric Pocket

Eyewear: Rudy Project Rx Zyon

 

In the home stretch. PHOTO: Paul Nelson

In the home stretch. PHOTO: Paul Nelson

May
19
Jeff Browning Black Butte

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday

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

Tuesday

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

Wednesday

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

Thursday

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

Friday

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

Saturday

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

Sunday

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

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

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!

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