Tuesday, April 5, 2016

2016 Gorge Waterfalls 100K. 3rd, 9:34.

A Simple Plan 
My strategy hinged on a complete disregard of all outside stimulus.  No watch, nothing in my hands, no hat or sunglasses to fidget with, no thoughts of Western States, no pressure.  Just some shoes and shorts and a little water and food and a big day on the trails.  I haven't been at the sharp end of a big race like this in a while, and I have run only 455 miles coming into race week this year.  That is 30 some miles a week, with some weeks in the 50's and some with less and more cross training.   Without a big summer mountain running base under me, I needed to exist in my own world and forget everything else.  That is not to say that I didn't feel fit.  My broken hip and shoulder had healed and my endocrine system has mostly put the West Nile Virus stuff behind me.  I had a nice smooth block of steady miles and I nailed a lot of my workouts.  I even busted up some PR's set during my 2013 Bear fitness.  We had a ROUGH winter in McCall.  Lots of my workouts were frozen roads or intervals on the spin bike.  December and January were mostly spent shoveling the driveway.  The only dirt and mountains to run requires a 45 minute drive north to Rapid River.  Down there, I got some rough game trail running in 15-20 mile chunks that rack up 7000+' of gain.  I made do with what I had and I came to Portland in a state of fitness I have really never felt earlier than July.  Brandi and I came out on Monday and did a few runs on the course, toured the city and ate lots of good food.

Somewhere on Multnomah Falls Trail

Fairy Falls?

Pizza from the pub in Cascade Locks
Cascade Locks

Crawfish Etouffee

Pre mural, down by the Powell's Book Store

The Race
We start in the dark with an obscure two track access trail around a pond to get to the Multnomah Falls Lodge, then take a nice rolling singletrack.  You get a pleasant mile warmup, then blast off up the Wakeena Falls Trail which switchbacks steeply up a wide paved trail.  When it gets beyond the standard tourist turnaround and enters the realm of the hikers and mountain runners, the footing devolves to a choppy and washed out mess, running with creeks.  There were a handful of fasties pushing the pace and pulling away.  I run hills just fine, so I did my own thing, and pushed some early calories into the bank. 

After 1500' feet of climbing over a couple miles, the trail descends in a similar manner as the earlier climb.  First down over rocky nastiness to the Multnomah Falls Overlook, then down paved trail to the bottom.  All of this went smoothly.  The legs didn't feel great, but it is easy to get worried when there are 20 people around you running WAYYY under course record pace.  I just kept relaxed and focused on my game.  As is my norm, I would catch up on the climbs and fall back on the easier sections.  None of this would matter for the next six or seven hours, so I just let it happen without ego or concern.

Miles 6 (No Name) to 22 (Cascade Locks) are fairly monotonous.  By monotonous, I mean regular visits to stunning waterfalls, tricky singletrack running through mossy old growth forest, and consistent short climbs and descents.  Challenging terrain, but not the pace to make a stand.  I think I got through here in 9th position.  Leaving Cascade Locks, I began to feel stronger.  Ryan Ghelfi came along and we got to talking and started mowing through the field.  We hit the long and smooth downhill into the turnaround (Wyeth) in 4th and 5th place and I was out quickly with adrenaline flowing and the desire to reel in some more.  I surged into the 3 mile long hill and before long I found Ryan Smith, my pick to win the race.  He was definitely not having the kind of day he is known for, but it was cool that he soldiered on to finish with his wife Silke.  I had the first little twinges of some cramps, so I backed off a bit and fed off the well wishes of lots of friends coming down the trail towards me.  I guess when you direct 2 ultras, coach and race all over the place, you get to know some runners.  It seemed I knew every other person.  Two of my runners, Erin and Frank, were looking good and after some words of encouragement, I set my mind back on the chase.  I was getting reports that 2nd was 2 minutes and the leader was 10 minutes up, but the numbers were always changing.  It is amazing how the minds of runners process time.  One woman told me 10 seconds, then the next group said 6 minutes.  I began to remember some of my early training in criminal law on the unreliability of eyewitness testimony.  How can so many people see the same thing and process it so differently?  Amazing how the brain works.  I tried to block it out and keep on my own path.  With 20 some miles to go, anything could happen.

I got back to Cascade Locks, hit another Vespa, but left in a hurry without replenishing my gels.  I ran the next 9 miles with only a Honey Stinger Waffle and 50 cals of VFuel drink.  It was very bad timing for such a mistake.  The cramping got worse and I began to have some substantial pain on the bottom of my left foot.  I consumed some extra gels at the next crew spot (49mi, Yeon), hit one last Vespa and left in sight of #2.  Chris is a talented roadie and he put some distance on me on the 2 mile stretch of road.  Some rough trail brought me to No Name Aid with just 6 miles to go.  I was feeling a bit smoked, but still had designs on running every step of the Multnomah climb and winning the race.  Leaving the Aid, there is a short climb up to join the Multnomah Trail on rocky singletrack.  I am not sure what happened, but I felt a white hot jolt of pain in my heel and fell flat on my face.  I heard and felt a pop.  Wow, what the F was that?  I stood up, picked the rocks out of my palms and tried to power hike.  The next step, it popped again and I was down again.  I was going to have to make a decision to quit and walk less than a mile down to the finish, or commit to the huge, technical and rocky climb and descent, with a foot that was exploding.  I tried a modified stride.  Any transition from heel to toe caused the tearing, so I just peg legged using my heel with my foot turned sideways.  I begged everyone I saw for pain killers, but most of them thought I was insane or didn't speak English anyway.  A 3rd tearing incident, and by far the most painful came high on the hill on the wet rocks.  I pressed on in terrible pain, just trying to get lucky and finish.  I figured up to 10 runners would pass me, but I would finish if I could just get to the top.  For now, the fitter looking hikers were holding pace with me and I appreciated the company.

I made the 1500' climb and committed to a downhill shuffling, stiff legged extreme heel strike that avoided any contact with the ground on the bad left foot, except the very back of my heel.  It must have been quite a scene for the 500 or so hikers up there.  I remained disciplined and resisted any desire to compete or strive to hold my place.  My future and my health was on the line, I had 3 times ruptured my plantar fascia in the past few miles and I still had 3 miles to go.  I still had a great chance of needing to be carried out of there on a litter.  I made it to the pavement- now just .8 mi to the bottom according to the sign.  I got better at my limpy stagger and probably widdled it down under 15 minute pace.  I hit the trail at the bottom.  One mile of searing pain to go.  When I got to the Falls Lodge, I allowed myself some looks back and wondered how far Ghelfi was back there.  He had to be coming.  If I saw him, what would I do?  Nothing.  He was in fact coming, but there was little real estate remaining.  The tourists took in my contorted look of agony as I wimpered with each stride through the bustling parking lot.  Just a half mile now.  More looks back.  Still clear.  I switched into a stride reminiscent of Forest Gump, before he got his magic leg braces off.  It was so ugly, but I was doing it.  I had been through hell the past 2 years.  I had come all the way back.  This was a big time race and despite a busted foot, I was going to podium on 30 some miles a week of running.  I really could care less about getting 3rd and being "first loser."  In my opinion, there is the race winner, then everyone else.   You either win or you didn't, so I have no sore attitude just because I missed the Ticket by one spot.

I crossed the line to cheers, a kiss from my wife and congrats from Ruy and Chris.  They ran a fine race.  Chris must have caught fire after I made contact with 13 to go, because he finished less than 30 seconds back from Ruy.  What a race!  I would have had to really climb well to have a chance to catch either.  I don't really know that the bum foot made any difference.  These guys just had better wheels than me at the end, when it mattered.  I did not concern myself with the Golden Ticket during the run.  It would have just been another distraction.  Sure, it would be great to go back to Western.  However, I made a resolution to only do races on their own merit, not for a qualifier.  When I had to make the decision with 4 or 5 miles to go, to finish or to drop at Multnomah, the Ticket had nothing to do with it.  I carried on because the entire race experience had been worthy- Portland, my time with Brandi and my friends, the excellent running, everything.  If the race had been anything less, then I would have dropped.  The injury just would not have been worth enduring.

Ruy, Chris and I just after I crossed the line.

Thanks to the Race Directors at Rainshadow Running...Matt and Kerri Stebbins and James Varner.  The Gorge is a great venue for a race.  I think I would try the 50K here someday. I heard the aid volunteers were great, but my wife Brandi is such a crewing machine that I don't recall if I even looked to anyone else for aid.  It was all kind of a blur.

Huge Congrats to the winners of the Golden Tickets and to all the finishers.  Those rocks can rattle some bolts loose, so anyone making it 100k definitely earned it. If you like the rough ones, come on up to Idaho and try one of my rigs.

Big thanks to my sponsors that have stuck by me through my troubles.  Here's what I used from my sponsors:

Ultimate Direction Groove Mono fanny pack with a 12 oz Body Bottle
VFuel gels and drink.  Aimed for around 300 cals and hour, with very little other foods all day.  No tummy issues and each gel is such a treat. 

Vespa CV-25  Vespa's greatest benefit to me has always been enhanced mental clarity.  I used this to stay focused on my game plan and to disregard everything else.  I took a CV-25 about 15 minutes before the start, then at miles 13, 22, 31, 40, and 49.  Each dose saw a drop in perceived exertion and a relaxing effect on my mind and body.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Sawtooth Bow Tie

The Sawtooth Bow Tie.  A 46 mile figure 8 loop with a bit of extra credit to the Imogene Pass making a 48 mile day with a lot of climbing.  I ran steady but allowed plenty of photo breaks. 8hrs 29mins run time.  It has been a while since I have been over 20 miles from the truck and over 20 miles from anything in any direction.  That is the beauty of Idaho "capital dubya" Wilderness.  So much open space.  I bumped into one guy and his dog out there.  Perfect.

Petit Lake near camp.  B and I went for a 6 miler around camp to shake off the drive and get ready for the next big day.  I ran alone and B was joined by Katie.

Alpine start yields magic light at Alice Lake.

Two billies.  All the goats I have been around in Colorado were pretty tame and personable.  Not these guys.  They are obviously hunted and they disappeared in seconds.

Pristine fill up in the headwaters of the South Fork of the Payette River at 9,000'.  I live very near the North Fork of the Payette headwaters.  It was cool to see the South Fork.

So many lakes.  

Virginia Lake.

I went left and climbed up to the pass above Imogene.

Very fortunate to have the weather hold.  T-shirts at almost 10,000 in Idaho in October is a rarity.

Imogene Lake.  Next time I will explore this central trail that cuts through the heart of the Sawtooths, north to south.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

How to "run" Nick Peak

Calvin and I set off for my final long run before Fat Dog.  Nick Peak would be the culmination of Calvin's summer mountain running training.  It involves about 9 miles of actual trail, 4 miles of steep and loose bushwhack and a few miles of clean and beautiful ridge traversing with scrambling.  As you can see in the description below, it Involves subtle route finding.   This classic McCall peak guards it's secrets carefully and turns away many first time suitors due to its length, rough terrain and deceptive difficulty to find "the way."

The day starts with just over 4 miles in the East Fork of Lake Fork Creek canyon.  Since it was Calvin's tempo day, we warmed up a mile and did the next 3 miles at around 7 minute pace on the undulating terrain and gradual ascent.

At the 4 mile mark, at an old sign post (with no sign), turn right and go cross country through a meadow towards the creek, which you reach in 100 yards or so.  At the creek, angle right slightly and ford the knee deep water aiming for cairns on the opposite shore.  Enter the woods and for the first couple hundred yards, the trail is tricky to follow.  As the trail begins to climb into old growth forest, it becomes wider and obvious to follow, but it tends to have some downed timber on it.

You are now on the Idler Creek Trail.  You will follow this uphill about 1 mile until it comes right up to the creek.  You may cross here, but there is a better crossing just upstream about 30 yards.  Angle upstream as you cross and find the trail on the opposite shore.  Follow this trail briefly, until you reach a granite rock slab on your left.  Ascend that slabby and bushy face.  As you climb, go left each time you hit an alder patch.  These alder trees are impassable, bright green leaved bush/trees that grow facing downhill in tight bunches.

At around 7500 feet, you will pass the last of the alder thickets and can begin moving right slightly and heading toward the old remnants of the trail.  It is not critical to hit the trail, but it may help some and will lead you to the right notch above.  At 7800' you can catch the trail.  It angles slightly left and climbs to 8250+' at Fitsum Summit (remember in Idaho the word "summit" means saddle or pass- not the top of a mountain).

Turn right and ascend the steep ridgeline.  At 8600+', at a false peak, encounter an instrument box of some kind with solar panels on it.  It is about 10 feet high.  Descend slightly and cross some talus, staying on the ridge top.  Climb again through pearly white boulders and grass.

Crazy classic north ridge of Nick Peak.

At about 8900', cross the "Sidewalk" and then head off the ridge to the right, to avoid a false peak with steep rock.  When you view the peak from McCall, this false peak is the left side of the "nick" or gunsight that makes up Nick Peak.  The real peak is the right part of the "nick." Go down off the ridge to the right and drop 100 feet or so and keep heading south towards the true peak.  Scramble up the talus towards the final pitch.  It is guarded by 100 feet of steeper rock that is mostly avoided by walking around on loose rocky ledges.

The "Sidewalk"
However, there are 3 short moves of consequence, that I call the "3 Boulder Problems."  They are very low 5th class climbing, are only about 10 feet high and have ledges below them, so a fall would not likely result in tragedy.  The greater danger is rolling loose rocks down on your partner.  To avoid this, we send one climber up each little boulder problem at a time.  This also allows the lower climber to spot the climber above.
The ledges leading to the first boulder problem.

Top.  2 hrs 11 mins with plenty of goofing around.

We continued north into the Nick Lake basin and swam in that little tarn in the center of the photo.

Nick Lake.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Good times

Fat Dog 120 in just two weeks time. It has been a long and toilsome journey back to health and fitness, but I am thankful for the process as much as the outcome.  I finally feel ready to walk the fine edge between breakdown and breakthrough.  Not sure there is much difference in strategy between 100 and 120.  I guess I will find out.   

Glassing the Buckhorn valley.
Nick Peak

Nick Peak

Matty and I cut that step into the big round in 2013.  Our saw was too small to go all the way, so we spent an hour hacking a step in so you could vault over.  The next year, the Forest Service removed the round. 

Brundage Cat Track 10K

Brandi's 2nd year as RD of the Cat Track 10k.  It grew to over 100 runners.

McCall Trailrunning Classic

Boulder Mtn. with Keith, Jess and Kent.

RD duties under ominous skies.  We made 4 trips up the Ladybug and Jughandle Peaks to get it marked and ready to race.  Three of those trips were under serious threat of lightning.

My friend Keith Lannom finishing his first ultramarathon.

Now that is a racecourse.  (just follow the pink ribbons)

Patrick Butte w/Matty

Patrick Butte lies 8 miles from the road.  It is the peak in the left of photo, but we didn't know which of these peaks was the true summit until we found the summit marker. 

Matty on the finishing gully of Patrick's summit ridge.

Stay Vertical Cross Country Camp

The girls of Lick Wilmerding High School came back for their 3rd year to our cross country camp.  This is a pic from our climb of Bear Pete Mtn near Burgdorf.  This is the top of our new 30k race on September 20th.

Friday, July 3, 2015

An Early Idaho Summer

Summer is in full swing in McCall, and has been for several weeks.  Currently, we are stuck in a continuous stretch in the low 90's.  One day was 97F in town.  This melted out everything pretty early and made June quite productive for getting after it. As usual, my early season is comprised of lots of peak bagging and ridge running.  This gives way to more proper running, once the fitness comes along and the body hardens to the rigors of our brutal trails. 

Today, I connected several obscure and forgotten trails around the French Creek and Little French Creek drainages making a memorable new 25 mile loop.  For the first time in my life, I had a predator react aggressively towards me.  I was moving downhill on a rough trail covered with alder branches.  I was only able to run about 10 minute miles downhill, because my hands were always in front of my face pushing the alders away.  I heard a small rustling just ahead.  I thought it was a squirrel.  I popped into a tiny clearing and came right up to a medium sized black bear.  We both jumped back a bit, startled by the encounter.  My momentum continued to carry me downhill and as I caught a quick look back, the bear was growling and charging.  I hit an opening in the alders with smooth trail and after just a few steps with a surge of adrenaline, the pace went to an all out sprint.  My arms went up to make me bigger and I growled and barked loudly to attempt to intimidate the bear.  I heard her pounding the ground behind me for just a few seconds, then I was gonzo hitting sub 4 pace as I screamed down the trail.  I think the bear only charged maybe 20 yards at most, but I kept hammering a solid mile down into French Creek, which at around 4000' was nearing 100 F today.  I plunged into the icy water and let my heart slow and relax.  I believe I surprised a sow with cub and put her into a tough situation.  Nowhere to go.  The cover was too tight to get out of there with baby, so she held her ground.  I have encountered many bears up close, including those with cubs, and have never seen anything but fear and avoidance from them.  I am grateful to learn from her in her lair, and live to fight another day.  The remainder of the run was uneventful, besides the mild bonk brought on by many hours in the heat and only 400 calories in the belly.  I am beginning to feel my summer groove. 

Pics from our upcoming McCall Trailrunning Classic 10/20/40.

Climbing The Lady Bug Peak.  The Long Valley is below, containing the towns of McCall, Donnelly and Cascade. 
Traverse from The Lady Bug to Jughandle Mountain.  A 1 mile cross country traverse through grass, Lupine and Fireweed.  Ends with a section of talus, then steep trail descending to Louie Lake.

Talus.  Pretty rare in races these days. 
Back down from Jughandle Mountain, crossing the Louie Lake Dam.

BJ Haeck and Matty Tock descending from Buckhorn Summit towards Boulder Lake.  Irene and Karl and their famous pack goats will run an aid station just a quarter mile below this point. 

Scrambling Adventures
Brandi approaching the summit of Rapid Peak 8300'.  This is a great ridge traverse between Kennally Creek Pass and Buckhorn Pass.  Using the trails to these passes and the ridge that connects them makes a fine loop from Boulder Lake.

Nick Peak with Matt, Katie and Brandi.  Sadly, my phone/camera had a clear sticker over its lens, so all shots on this day from my camera were blurry.

Katie Tock on the final summit block of Nick Peak.  Definitely no-fall territory.

Still some snow above 9,000' on Nick Peak.  Probably gone by now.  It was 93-97F this week.

Idaho Batholith Granite.  On the ridge near Beaverdam Peak.

Anatomy of a great elk spot.  You can't tell from this picture, but there are many elk in this area, visible only with binos.  I have been carrying them on most of my ridge running/scrambling adventures.  This little area has everything an elk needs to spend summer through fall rut.  First of all, the meadow is high (7500') and right against the alpine zone above.  I took this photo from a summit at 8600'.  This means it will stay cool.  There is water in that meandering stream which is essential for the spot to hold elk through the summer.  The water also keeps the surrounding grasses green and nutritious.  There are multiple timber stringers running away from the meadow giving the elk multiple escape routes when attacked by wolves and other predators.  The timber is thick enough in the top of the photo to provide shelter from winds and to allow them to bed in the cool shade on hot days.  The smaller ancillary meadows are substantial enough that smaller satellite bulls may even take up residence here and attempt to lure females away from the main center meadow as the dominant herd bulls are exhausted in late-September.