Friday, July 28, 2017

Hardrock 100

The first climb up Dives-Little Giant Pass (photo credit: iRunFar)

As I stood at the starting line in Silverton, listening to the buzz of the crowd and media, and the nervous chatter of all the runners, I found myself surprisingly relaxed. Maybe relaxed isn’t the right word, maybe more like happy? Excited? There were fairly low, grey clouds hanging all over the deep green San Juan Mountains, as the sun just came up not too long before. I’ve read countless race reports and accounts of Hardrock over the years and so many other runners have described themselves as being “scared shitless” on the starting line. Was I scared? Should I be scared? Why the heck wasn’t I scared? Am I being arrogant? All these questions briefly swirled through my mind, but I had decided months ago that since I’d been wanting to run Hardrock for so long, I was so lucky to be selected for the race, and I had put so much work into preparing for this event I’d better enjoy it. So I did.

The first descent, straight down to Cunningham Gulch (photo credit: Bob Joyes)

I really like the start of Hardrock because it is not a frantic rush. After a short countdown off we went, and runners were still chatting with each other while the crowd went wild. After a few rolling miles we started the first climb of up Dives-Little Giant Pass and I was just blown away. Right from the get go the scenery was everything I hoped it would be as I almost tripped over thick wildflowers while staring at the towering mountains above us. I settled into the climb with a small group that included Kilian Jornet and Anna Frost. I’ve ran with Anna before, but honestly I was a bit star struck as we hiked up and up. Kilian decided he had enough of our group after awhile and just casually ran up to the lead pack at an astonishing pace. I pulled away from that group as well, but not quite in the same manner. When I reached the top of the pass there were high fives from some hearty spectators and then it was down down down to the first aid station, Cunningham Gulch, mile 9.5ish.

Goooood morning at Cunningham (photo credit: Bob Joyes)

Cunningham Gulch was a zoo. There were tons of spectators, media, and crews there. My crew was in full Nascar mode and got me out of there in no time. As I was running down the road to the next climb there was a kid playing frisbee with his dad. I hollered to them, “play me in!” The kid grinned and floated the fabric frisbee to me. Luck was on my side and I caught it. I chucked it back over my head as I ran by and smiled as the boy snatched it out of the air. It was going to be a great day.

Leaving Cunningham Gulch ready for some frisbee (photo credit: Bob Joyes)

The race was honestly pretty uneventful for awhile, but just so dang enjoyable. The front of the pack had spread out a little bit by this point. I knew Scott Jaime wasn’t too far ahead of me and Adam Campbell wasn’t too far behind me, but I wasn’t sure what place I was in. I thought I was inside the top-10, but I didn’t really know and wasn’t too worried about it either. So I climbed up Green Mountain and cruised along Buffalo Boy Ridge through lush green alpine meadows and a little bit of snow here and there. Dropping into Maggie Gulch was a real treat as the wildflowers were so vibrant I had a hard time following the course markers. I got off the trail for a little bit, but it couldn’t have added more than a minute or two. 

Maggie Gulch (photo credit: iRunFar)

After Maggie Gulch I rolled down to Pole Creek and started the slightly more mellow climb up to the Continental Divide and Cataract Lake. I had strict instructions from my coach, Ty Draney, no racing until the top of the climb after Telluride, mile 80, which felt like a ridiculously long time not to race. Every few minutes I could see Scott Jaime in the distance in front me, but I always resisted the urge to chase him down. However, I could tell I was gaining on him little by little and I was pleased  to catch up to Scott shortly after Cataract Lake. We chatted a bit, and he gave me some great encouragement, and I was dumbfounded to learn that he was going for his 10th freakin' finish. That dude is a machine. I’d also been watching the sky all morning and of course the clouds were starting to build, and they began to look particularly nasty around Cataract Lake. As I enjoyed the descent to Sherman, lots of thunder started to ominously rumble.

Climbing (photo credit: Criss Furman)

The day before the race my eternally optimistic mother said something to the effect of she hoped it wouldn’t rain tomorrow. My response was “its not a question of if it will rain, its a question of when it will rain.” As you’d expect, the storm hit shortly afternoon as I was making my way to Burrows Park. It didn’t just rain, it freakin’ poured and hailed like crazy. Streams of water starting running down the road carrying columns of hail with it. Lighting cracked and thunder roared all-around. I gave thumbs up and a smile to the few crew vehicles that went by as they looked on with horror. Shortly before Burrows Park the rain started to let up, but I heard the loud crunching, sloshing, sound that I can’t quite explain. I finally realized that wasn’t the sound of rain, and as I looked around I discovered that a mud slide was coming down the mountain right at me. For a moment I freaked out and started sprinting forward, but upon further evaluation of the slide, I determined it wasn’t actually moving all that fast. But, I stopped and stood there in the light rain, starring at the awesome force of nature. It was like a mudslide with a pile of scree on top slurping its way down the mountain. I watched it slide down to the road before I decided I’d better get moving again.

San Juan's make you feel small (photo credit: Bob Joyes)

I skipped right through the Burrows Park aid station, much to the volunteers disappointment, and started my climb to Handies Peak, the high point of the course at just over 14,000 feet. I didn’t know which peak was Handies, but all of the high mountains around me looked like 14ers in my mind. Lightning was still pounding the ridge lines and summits around me and I was very worried for the leaders who were probably up in those areas. I was a little worried for myself too; I’ve had a few close calls with lightning and that stuff is nothing to mess around with. I decided I would hike to tree line and decide what to do next there. Well, tree line came pretty quick and there was still a long ways to go. The lightning was becoming more intermittent so I just kept plugging along as every once and a while a bolt would strike Handies. Each strike would stop me in my tracks, I’d stare at the mountain contemplatively, and then keep hiking forward. When I got up to roughly 13,000 feet on the summit ridge, one more scintillating crack of lightning struck right at the top of Handies followed by a rumble that could shake your soul. What was I supposed to do? Go back down? Hell no. Stay exposed and chill at 13k? That seemed dumb. Run my ass up and over the summit as fast as possible? Yep. I’d been very careful with my heart rate all day on the climbs, keeping it in check and not letting it thump too high. That all went out the window here as I climbed the last 1,000 feet, or so, as fast as I could, not even stopping on the summit of my first 14er and running down into American Basin.

Ella and Evan running me into Grouse Gulch (photo credit: Bob Joyes)

From American Basin I descended to the Grouse Gulch aid station ecstatic to see my crew. I’d been out for a long time, mostly on my own, and I just couldn’t wait to see me family and crew. My 5-year old, Ella, paced me into the aid station where I enjoyed a chair in a tent. I ate a PB+J with a thick slice of extra sharp cheddar cheese in the middle, got restocked on Honey Stinger Waffles, and just like that Jenny kicked me out and back on the trail.

Grouse Gulch munchies (photo credit: Bob Joyes)

The climb up Engineer Pass was hard. I felt like the elevation was starting to get to me; my head hurt, my food wasn’t digesting well, and I couldn’t run at all without spiking my heart rate. Much of the climb is really a pretty runnable grade, so I was a little disappointed to just have to hike up almost the entire thing. I could tell a runner was creeping up behind me too, but I just marched along at that point listening to the sound of an entire heard of sheep laughing at me. Or at least that’s what it sounded like. I missed the turn off the top of Engineer Pass in my hypoxic state and started going down a rough 2-track. Going downhill the wrong way at 13,000 feet sucks. I quickly realized that I wasn’t in the right spot, and saw Nick Pedatella and his pacer dancing down a single track in the distance. Damnit. I kept my cool, got back on track, and began the 5,000 foot decent down to Ouray.

Meeting my Mom and Cora in Ouray (photo credit: Bob Joyes)

Magic (photo credit: Bob Joyes)

Every step down towards Ouray felt like more oxygen and it was refreshing. I again decided not to “race” and chase Nick down, but I was descending well and caught him after a couple miles. If Engineer Pass had been the “low” point of the race for me that was now long gone as I felt amazing running into Ouray to meet my crew again. As I was running through town I saw my parents with my almost 2-year old, Cora, in the distance. When I got closer they let her run across the street to me and she just sprinted towards me with a joyful grin on her face. I scooped her up and just stood there in the middle of the road for a few moments hugging her. Time stood still and it might be the highlight of the race for me. Ella once again paced me into the aid station where my crew got me geared up for the night.

Nascar eat your heart out (photo credit: Bob Joyes)

Some of the guys who went out super hard had spent an hour or more on cots in Ouray, and I left the aid station in 5th place. I think this was the first time all day I really knew what place I was in. I left Ouray with my good friend, and 2017 Bighorn 100 champion, Amanda Taglioli. We had a great time running and chatting up Camp Bird Road as the sunset. Not far up the road Iker Kerrea, who had been bonked in the tent in Ouray, came charging past me at a blistering pace. Once again, I just let him go since there was plenty of time to race later. I caught Iker again at the Governor aid station, as he was sitting there looking pretty miserable. Amanda and I were all yeehaws and high fives as we began the climb to Virginius Pass and Kroger’s Canteen. Iker followed us up the steep, snowy climb and we crested Virginius Pass together. After Kroger’s, Iker went into race mode again and bombed his was down to Telluride and left me in his dust. Once again, no worries. I also passed the women's leader, Caroline Chavoret, who led the entire race out from the get go. Somehow she and her pacer got incredibly off course coming down from Virginius, as we could see their headlamps in the dark devastatingly far off course and much further down than they should have been.

Leaving Ouray with Amanda (photo credit: Bob Joyes)

As Amanda and I descended into Telluride, mile 73ish, it was surprisingly warm out for the middle of the night. Amanda woke the whole dang town of Telluride with her woohoos and yeehaws and we arrived at the aid station in great spirits. Once again Iker was sitting there looking cooked. I ate some mac n’ cheese, chugged some Mountain Dew, and set off into the night with Jenny.

Do the Dew in Telluride (photo credit: iRunFar)

It was a tough spring for both Jenny and I to be training. However, she still made it look easy as she took 3rd at Bighorn 50 back in June. We hadn’t been on a run together in a long time so running through the night up the Bear Creek trail out of Telluride was just all around special. Iker’s bright headlamp kept on looking back at us as we laughed and chatted up the long 4,500’ climb. An even brighter half moon rose above the mountains and illuminated all of the giant peaks that surrounded us. As we approached Wasatch Pass and Oscars Pass the trail became almost completely covered in hail from the afternoon cloudburst; a couple inches had accumulated and now packed the trail. Oscar’s Pass was about mile 80, where I had the green light to start officially racing, and Jenny and I were only a minute, or so, behind Iker. I absolutely love a good technical descent, especially one with “snow” and Oscar’s Pass did not disappoint. I licked my chops and at the top of the pass we let loose and slid, shuffled, jumped, and practically sprinted down 3,000 feet to Chapman Gulch. I arrived at the Chapman Gulch aid station several minutes before Iker, and after refueling I headed off into the night again, this time in 4th place, with my final pacer, Evan Reimondo. 

Last year I paced Evan in the night at Bighorn 100, and I worked him pretty hard, so I knew he’d return the favor for me. We climbed aggressively, and I was still moving uphill pretty efficiently. The climb up Grant-Swamp Pass is the real deal: soft, sandy scree that feels like trying to climb up a vertical quick sand wall. This was maybe the most physically challenging part of the course and I was awfully relieved to make it to the top. From the top of the pass we could see Iker and his pacer starting to make the ascent, so we were ready to roll down towards Island Lake. We could only see a silhouette of all the scenery, but that was still enough. We hit that down hill hard, really hard, trying to put a gap on Iker. We made it down to KT, mile 89, in no time at all.

San Juan sunrise somewhere after Island Lake (photo credit: Evan Reimondo)


The top of Putnam Ridge and the climbing was done (photo credit: Evan Reimondo)

The sun had just come up at this point, and the last major climb of the race was in front of me. Lot’s of people talk about how during 100-mile races the sunrise rejuvenates them and helps them feel awake. I’ve never had that experience. I was fighting off the sleep monster a bit at this point and my climbing legs were starting to feel the toll of the last 23 hours, or so, but I still climbed fairly well. I was extremely happy to reach the top of Putnam Ridge, knowing that the overwhelming majority of the 33,000 feet of climbing were done. I’ve always still got legs for the downhill though, and we ran down towards Mineral Creek and Silverton at breakneck pace.

Crossing Mineral Creek (photo credit: Bob Joyes)

I was overjoyed to reach Mineral Creek, mile 98ish, and see my family on the other side. I high-five’d my girls and picked up Jenny for the last couple of miles into the finish. She was a ball of energy, and was pretty relentless, making me run all of the small uphills to the end ensuring that I finished in under 27 hours. Ella joined me again for the final block and she ran me into the finish with a final time of 26:55 and 4th overall.

Ultimate pacers (photo credit: Bob Joyes)

How’d it feel? If you’ve read this far you can imagine it was pretty damn amazing. I accomplished every single goal I had for the day and it was a dream come true. Sharing the experience with my family and friends was just the cherry on top.

Ready to kiss that rock (photo credit: Bob Joyes)

It on all honesty, none of this would have been possible without the support of my wife, Jenny, my children, Ella and Cora, my crew, Brandon and Amanda Taglioli (as well as their daught, Auna), and Evan Reimondo, and the support of my parents, Bob and Ginny Joyes, as they took care of my kiddos through day and night. I’m also very grateful to all the good folks out there who wished me well before the race and cheered me on during the race. I’m also thankful for Honey Stinger supporting me this year with the best damn running food on the planet, the GF Honey Stinger Waffles. Thank you to all of the 450+ volunteers, the other runners, the race committee, and everyone involved at Hardrock that help make the event so special and amazing. Finally, a big thank you to my coach, Ty Draney, for helping me balance work, coaching soccer, having a family, and still getting me well prepared for the race.

Ultra running is a team sport (photo credit: Bryon Powell)

Well, that’s it. Less than two months until Run Rabbit Run 100 and then praying to the Hardrock lottery gods again in November.


Thanks for reading, it was a long one, I know.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

My Road to Hardrock

About eight years ago I had this really ridiculous idea that I should sign up for one of those really long mountain races. You see, I just finished up a long and competitive college soccer career and was looking for a good challenge. I enjoyed spending a lot of time in the mountains so why not an ultramarathon? I did a little bit of googling and I stumbled upon a picture of someone clawing their way up a steep talus slope, with an icy island dotted lake below them, and alpine tundra that was so green that a leprechaun must be around somewhere. “This looks like a good one” said the guy who’d walked to the finish of one road marathon. So I went to the race website with every intention of just signing up. Honestly, at first I didn't realize it was actually a 100-mile race. Also, thankfully the Hardrock Board or Directors was wary of young fools like me, and had a stringent qualifying process in place which includes running a separate 100-mile race first, that is mountainous and lonesome enough to prove that you are Hardrock ready. Then there is the fricken lottery. The lottery is set-up to favor veterans first, and recently has left first time applicants with slightly less than a 1% chance of getting in. Reluctantly, I decided if I really wanted to do this thing I’d better get started with something else. After all, the website says:

The Hardrock Hundred is a "post-graduate" run.

I’ve never won anything in a lottery. I know everyone says that but I’m serious. I remember my college jazz band would have a Christmas party and my instructor would raffle off his old jazz CD’s and I’d just be given one at the end of the night out of pity. When the Hardrock Hundred lottery finally arrive last December, I decided I wasn’t going to stare at my computer screen this year and wait for disappointment, but instead I was going to go for one more snowy run in the mountains before winter set in.

Roaring Fork Pass

It was an unusually bitter cold December day, even by my standards, as I trudged through the snow up Roaring Fork Pass. There is no cell reception in this area except for in one small, 200ish meter section of the trail. Usually my phone dies instantly in the cold, but all of a sudden it started blowing up with text messages. Text messages on my phone usually indicate a credit card transaction, so my first thought was “oh no I hope Jenny isn’t at aveda.com again.” I dug my phone out of my pack and was stunned:

Screen shot text message from Jenny

As I was overflowing with stoke immediately after the lottery, life has a way of reminding you what really important. The last week of November we'd been noticing that our youngest daughter, Cora, was looking really yellow in the face. We also started to notice that all she wanted to do was sleep all day, and wasn't so good at playing by herself anymore. I took her to the doctor in the afternoon one day, and was told that she'll probably be fine, but they'd run some tests on her to make sure. I'd been home from the doctor about 30 minutes when I got a call saying that I should pack a bag for me and Cora, come up to the ER and they'd have a plane ready for us because Cora's red blood cell count was a mere 2.9. Damn. After a quick plane ride, lots of awful tests, and way too many blood transfusions at the Denver Children's Hospital it was determined that Cora had something called Transient Erythroblastopenia of Childhood (TEC). This basically means that about 2-3 months before this Cora had stopped making red blood cells and had done a painfully slow, almost completely unnoticeable slide into anemia. To make a long story short, it was a terrifying and horrible experience, but Cora did begin to make her own red blood cells again and has made a full recovery. Sometimes I still get flashbacks to hanging out on the cancer/blood disorders floor at Denver Children's Hospital and all the kids that are still there. In my hyper-goal oriented mind, this may have been a important reminder to me that Hardrock is just a arbitrary race around the San Juan Mountains, and certainly not what is most important in life.

Denver Children's Hospital ER at 1AM

In my head, Hardrock training began the rest of that first frigid run on Roaring Fork Pass. I had many other snowy, cold, and dark runs throughout this winter. Turns out the Wind River Mountains ended up with something like 300% of average snowfall, which is a bit much considering a normal winter is plenty snowy. But I enjoyed much of it, even if it meant that all the synthetic insulation in my jacket was frozen by the end of most runs. I was feeling ambitious in February, so I made a trip to Utah for the Running Up For Air 12 hours Grandeur Peak Challenge. That’s an event where you run 2,500 feet up Grandeur Peak in just under 3 miles and straight back down. I ended up doing seven laps in 12 hours, which really made me feel optimistic heading into spring.


Typical winter run

Early spring training was rough. It just snowed and snowed, and not the kind of snow that is good for running in. Like, 30” of snow at a time snow. Sometimes I skied, but often I just ran on the roads. I know it may surprise you, but hill repeats up and down Sinks Canyon Road aren’t quite as fun as they sound. But, we did have an awesome spring break trip to the Moab area for some much needed family time and warm weather training.


Spring Break

To make things more interesting, the week before the Hardrock lottery I accepted a job as the local high school girls soccer coach. You see, I coached some of the girls on the team when they were 10, 11, and 12 years old and they were awesome. Now they had grown into teenagers with strong persuasive writing skills. They sent a very well written letter home with my wife (also a teacher) urging me to apply for the vacant coaching position. I'm a sucker for motivated athletes. So, during March, April, and May when I would have ideally liked to dedicate tons of time to Hardrock training, I had to work it around soccer coaching. 6-10 hour travel days for away games didn’t help, but my family was flexible, supportive, and somehow we made it work. The soccer season went pretty well too. In fact, the team did so well that we won our conference and got to skip the Regional Qualifying tournament. That also meant I got a free weekend and May, and we made a mad dash down to Fort Collins for the Quad Rock 50. I had a decent race and ended up taking 3rd, but more importantly got a good long run in my legs. The soccer season finished up well as the team had been about last in the state in 2016, but ended up in 4th place at State in 2017.


LVHS Girls Soccer Team on the way to State

Just to make sure we weren't bored this spring, Jenny and I, along with our friend Emily, took over the reigns of the Lander Running Club. We've held group runs, clinics, and had a rad film festival too, all while planning the Sinks Canyon Rough and Tumble Trail Runs.


Lander Running Club Group Run

Then we made it to the end of the school year and the real fun began: Summer Mountain Running Season. Well, sort of. Everywhere was still buried in snow, and if it weren’t for a freakishly hot June it would all still be buried. The snow was so deep here that I took a trip down to the Never Summer Mountains to find some dry ground and high elevation. But, at least in the last week of June some of the high alpine melted out and I was able to get up high. June wasn’t just all training though, as I also co-race directed the Sinks Canyon Rough and Tumble Trail Races and crewed for Jenny as she cruised to a 3rd place finish at the Bighorn 50.


"Summer Mountain Running" with Jenny

High up in the Never Summer Mountains

Cirque of the Towers from the summit of Mitchell Peak

So, am I ready to be a "post-graduate" mountain ultra runner? I guess we’ll see, but I am confident that I am much more ready than that naive fool was 8 years ago. I've been consistently training since January and have basically been injury free, and I've also managed several consecutive 100-mile weeks with up to 33,000 feet of climbing in a week— and I'm still in one piece. I’m thrilled just to have the opportunity to run around the beautiful San Juan Mountains and take part in the wonderful community that this race has fostered over the years. Running this race has been my training goal and dream for a long time now, and I of course intend to not waste the opportunity.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

One Eye Looking Back, Two Looking Forward

All things have a beginning and an end

Upon reflection, I'm certain that 2016 had to have been more than a year long. The first big change of the year was that I left my job as a social studies teacher on the Wind River Reservation and now I'm working as support staff in the Life Skills Special Education classroom at Lander Valley High School. Instead of helping students understand the United States from multiple geographical and historical perspectives, I'm teaching students how to sound out words, use a calculator to add and subtract, and even color in the lines.  Work feels pretty darn different. Apparently that wasn't enough change, so I also dove back into the world of soccer coaching and just started as the LVHS Head Girls Soccer Coach. To keep things really fresh and different Jenny and I (and our good friend Emily Tilden) also took over as leaders of the Lander Running Club and race directors of the Sinks Canyon Rough and Tumble Trail Runs.

Running date with Jenny working our way up in the Northern Winds

My youngest daughter turned one, and to really make her presence felt in this changing world she decided to drain our bank account on multiple occasions. The most recent and shocking event was a few weeks ago when she was "life flighted" to Denver on a tiny Guardian airplane for three emergency blood transfusions. Turns out she has something called Transient Erythroblastopenia of Childhood (TEC), which means that she was unable to produce red blood cells. This is supposed to last weeks to months, but thankfully it appears she is already starting to make her own blood cells again. We heard and saw some scary stuff at the Denver Children's Hospital and were blessed to get out of there relatively unscathed.

We were trying to crack jokes to cut the tension, but that was some scary shit.

And then there is running. I've adventured, trained, and raced a lot. I was able to explore new and special places in the Winds and got a few good race results along the way as well, particularly at the Never Summer 100K and the Scout Mountain 100K. I had a real disaster of a race at Run Rabbit Run 100 as well, but I don't even want to think about that dismal run. The real exciting news is that I got into HARDROCK 100! My fourth time applying was the charm; maybe after a year with my fair share of challenges the lottery gods decided that my ultra running dream could be a reality. Hardrock is one of the big reasons that I started ultra running roughly 7 years ago. I love mountain runs that are remote, wild, big, and adventurous, and there is no ultra race around that better fits that criteria than Hardrock. I probably lose a little sleep on this one every night.

Cold running for the next few months, at least.

So, I imagine 2017 is going to bring more challenges, but hopefully with a little less drama and financial burden. Training for Hardrock will be exceedingly tricky with my busy family life, coaching soccer, the Lander Running Club, and working around Jenny's training and work schedule as well. I hope to do some long fastpacking adventures in 2017 and maybe even IMTUF 100 in September as well, but Hardrock is my top priority and I'll have to see what else I can fit in. No doubt I'll have to be more creative, flexible, and dedicated than ever before. Challenges accepted.


The Christmas Card Photo
What races and adventures do you have planned for 2017? Do you have any tips or suggestions for me on how to fit it all in? Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and good luck to you in everything that you aspire to in the new year! Remember to play hard and have fun! 

Friday, July 29, 2016

Limping to the Start, Sprinting to the Finish: 2016 Never Summer 100K


Shin Injury

On Monday, July 18th, I gave up on running the Never Summer 100K.  Eight days before that during a big training weekend I decided to run up the unnamed peak adjacent to Roaring Fork Pass for some extra vert and altitude training.  After all, the Never Summer 100k has more than 13,000 feet of climbing and descending and frequently ventured close to 12,000 feet in elevation.  As I was hopping from rock-to-rock coming down the peak, just as I have so many other times, suddenly the grip on one of my shoes just gave out and my foot slid down the side of a boulder.  I danced and twisted on the edge of several boulders trying desperately to regain control.  Gravity won, and I fell awkwardly, unable to break my fall as my left shin took the full force of the crash.  The pain absolutely took my breath away.  I played years of highly competitive soccer before I became much of a mountain runner, so I am no stranger to shin trauma, but this searing and intense pain was like never before.  “Holy shit did I just break my leg?!” I thought as I sat crumpled in the boulder field.  Eternally optimistic, I decided I must be fine, and I pictured the shin abuse English footballers like Jack Wilshere take from defenders metal tipped studs every game.  “I’ll walk it off of just like those dudes” I thought, and so I did. Two minutes later I was running normal, and twenty miles later I was back to my truck and on my way home.

The boulder field where I fell.  Photo taken on a windy, cold day last fall by Evan Reimondo.

Sure, my shin was bruised that night, but no big deal.  I got up the next morning and ran fifteen miles up above 12,000 feet to the proper summit of Roaring Fork Mountain.  I took the next day off, did some speed work the day after that, and my shin was 100% fine.  That same day, Jenny and I and the kiddos headed down to Boulder, CO for a family reunion of sorts.  In Boulder, Jenny and I joined up with a Salomon running group for a short run in the Flatirons before dinner.  The two mile climb was steep, but the pace was super mellow.  On the way down the trail the bruise on my shin started to hurt.  Just a little tight at first, and then almost throbbing.  In less than two miles, I went from happily running downhill to limping with no apparent trigger.

For the rest of the week in Boulder, I pretty much sat around while everyone else went hiking and Jenny went running.  It was brutal.  I even just sat outside in the cold wind in Rocky Mountain National Park at the Alpine Visitor Center on Trail Ridge Road at 11,800 feet while everyone else went hiking.  I thought things were starting to come around when we got back to Lander, so I went for an easy two-mile run on the aforementioned Monday the 18th.  Still hurt.  I was screwed.  I rested some more, and got some treatment from the always heroic Courtney Hansen at Fremont Therapy.  I even had my 4-year old do some “magic” on my shin by wiggling her fingers over it.  It all seemed to be helping, and I was starting to be able to run without pain, and merely just some tightness.  

After some exceptional training in June and July, I was totally committed to running Never Summer 100K, so I rolled the dice and decided to race.  Here is the actual race report:


Never Summer 100K Race Report 

My ears were ringing at 12:30 AM, four hours before my alarm was going to signal it was time to get ready for the race.  Our youngest daughter, who is almost one, was screaming like I’ve never heard a baby scream before.  It felt like her voice was echoing through my brain.  I’m sure everyone else in the Alpine Campground can attest to that as well.  We had barely got a wink of sleep up to this point, trying to deal with a totally inconsolable baby. Jenny and I were both at the breaking point, so in desperation Jenny took Cora to the car to try and sleep in there.  I guess that kind of worked (bless Jenny’s heart).  I woke up before my alarm at 4:15, and instinctively crawled out of my sleeping bag and started chowing waffles with an absurd amount of chocolate butter. We rallied the kids and with blurry eyes headed to the start.

As the sun was just coming up, the race started and off we went at 5:30 AM at an appropriately fast pace down a flat dirt road.  Might as well, since there wouldn’t be much else flat to run for another 45 miles.  The Never Summer 100K is a newer race, and its gaining popularity very quickly, I’ll let some pictures explain why:

Lake Agnes (Photo: Lee Brown)

Alpine Time (Photo: Lee Brown)

The Crags (Photo: Lee Brown)

Summit of North Diamond with course marker (Photo: Lee Brown)

Steep, off-trail alpine climbs, rocky and rugged dirt roads, a bit of single track, and borderline bushwhacking are how I’d describe the trails of the Never Summer 100K.  There was a combination of all those surfaces in the first 18 miles of the race, and predictably there was a lot of leap frogging in the front of the pack.  I was never outside of the top 3, but the people I was running with seemed to change all the time, which was kind of nice.  We summited 7 Utes Mountain, cruised passed the breathtaking Lake Agnes, and frolicked through fields of wildflowers.  It was early in the race and stunningly beautiful, so I tried to just relax.  But, I was disheartened that my shin hurt from the beginning.  I struggled to run downhills and flats efficiently.  I consider downhill running to be a real strength of mine, and runners caught up with me, or passed me on almost every descent.  On the bright side, uphill running and hiking was virtually pain free, which was great since there was plenty of climbing to do!  Early on I decided to take the calculated risk of pushing extra hard on all the climbs to hopefully make up for my sluggish and awkward descents.

Also predictably, the front pack started to break up at mile 18 after the first crewed aid station.  There was a roughly 2,000 foot climb in 2 miles to the top of North Diamond peak that really put the hurt on some folks.  Myself and two other dudes hiked up to the top as a lone drummer stood on the top of the mountain playing a slow “death march” beat.  It was hilarious blend of contradictions: I was hiking with good company up a nearly 50% grade slope with beautiful sunlit mountains in every direction, yet we were quietly huffing and puffing to the sound of an executioner's drum.  Once at the top, it was straight down another steep, grassy slope for a couple miles of high alpine ridge running.  It was simply wonderful.  It was the kind of running that is so beautiful that it felt sort of effortless.  I was surprised that myself and the other two leaders spread out just a bit here.  The veteran ultra runner, Chris Price, sort of slipped away behind me as I stayed 40 yards or so behind another guy from Salt Lake City.  I made it to the Montgomery aid station just behind the SLC guy, and we both zipped out pretty quickly.  From here it was a very rocky and steep dirt road for a few miles, and the guy ahead of me took it fast, “recklessly fast” I thought as I watched him pull away from me.  I tried to protect my shin, while keeping him in sight, so I just plugged along on the downhill at a moderate pace.

Leaving Lake Agnes (Photo: Erin Bineau Photography)

Parts of the Never Summer 100K course were difficult to follow if you were not paying very close attention.  I thought the course was very well marked IF you were running with your head up.  I noticed some pink course marking flags in the trees on the right side of the dirt road; I slowed down and saw that the course left the road and starts a nearly off trail excursion.  I didn’t see the SLC guy anywhere in sight, and my gut told me he missed the turn.  He had missed a turn earlier in the race, and he was charging so hard down the hill again there is no way he saw this one.  I made a similar mistake last year at Wasatch 100 and felt bad for him.  This next section of the race was maybe the most challenging to run: there was almost no path at all, just pink course flags to follow through tall thick grass and downed logs.  Every now and then the “trail” went into the trees where there was a slightly worn path, but otherwise it was just like following cairns through backcountry.  It was difficult to run through all of the off trail hazards of logs, rocks, branches, holes, etc. while keeping my head up to find the pink flags.  It was very mentally engaging though since there were no opportunities to space out or stare at the scenery here.  Lose focus and you’ll be lost!  The miscalculation I did make through this area was not packing enough food from my last drop bag.  I did not have a resupply of Gu’s and Honey Stinger Waffles for another 13 miles, and I was getting low on calories.  As I approached the Ruby Jewel aid station I was trying to figure out what I was going to eat, which is challenging for me since I have Celiac Disease.  Aid stations are full of stuff that will end my race in a hurry, and I have a policy of not eating anything I’m not 100% sure is safe.  I heard some familiar voices as I ran towards the aid station and I was surprised to see Jenny and the girls there!  She made the couple mile hike in at 9600’ with the girls in the hot afternoon sun.  She was probably working harder than I was all day.  She had extra waffles for me and an extra water bottle too.  It was a critical moment of the race because I did not have enough water storage or calories to make it to my next drop bag, another 10 hot, hard, and high miles away.  I also found out that indeed the SLC guy was nowhere to be found.  I was in first place and wouldn’t really see anyone again for more than 30 miles.

After Ruby Jewel, I didn’t try to push the pace, I just tried to enjoy the day.  The high alpine scenery was awesome, and I enjoyed the wildflowers, a bit of old snow, and watching big clouds rise.  The most “competitive” part of this section was on the steep dirt road climb out of Ruby Jewel.  Almost immediately a jeep with a Duck Dynasty lookin’ family in it passed me on their was up the road.  After breathing in their dust for awhile, it dawned on me that they weren’t moving all that much faster than me.  The race was on: I was going to try and beat that jeep to the top.  My climbing legs felt great all day and I crept up on them quickly, while some teenagers in the back of the jeep looked on with a bit of shock.  They got momentarily stuck on a big boulder and I ran on by. Got ‘em!  We exchanged pleasantries and never saw them again.

After mile 45, I decided it was “go time”.  All the major climbing was done and everything else was mostly runnable and/or downhill, so it was time to get this thing over with.  It was hot and I was tired, but I pushed as hard as I could.  Even though no one had caught up with me since about mile 25 or 26, I knew from the Clear Lake out and back section there was a small pack of runners not too far behind me.  To keep my energy up, I sipped on some VFuel for the first time, and I was pleased with how it tasted and felt in my gut.  After what felt like an eternity, I saw Jenny and the girls one more time at the Bockman Road aid station at mile 55.8 and did everything I could to kick it in to the finish.  I know in hindsight that I was getting a bit jaded at this point, and was tired of pushing so hard without ever seeing anybody.  Obviously you don't want to see anyone when you are leading a race and trying to finish it up.  So, I was quite surprised when I heard soft footsteps behind me right before the last legit climb of the race at mile 59 or so.  I was shocked to turn around and see my buddy Chris Schurk a mere 30 yards behind me.  Chris and I led a big portion of Wasatch 100 last year together until I pulled my hamstring in the second half.  He ended up out-sprinting Travis Macy for the win, and I earned my first 100 miler DNF.  So, Chris was not who I wanted behind me with just a few miles to go, and I’d been wary of him all day.  I must say, Chris is a great dude, and if anyone was going to be beat me I’d be happy to have him be the one to do it, but after leading for so long that was kind of unacceptable to me.

“Holy shit” I said to myself, “don’t panic”.  I just knew I had to get back to my “A” game.  I hiked hard up the last 500 foot climb, and Chris matched me every step of the way, of course.  I could hear him quietly stalking, maybe 10 or 20 yards behind me, ready to pounce, or so I thought.  All that was left of the race was a steep 500 foot decent, and then 2.2 miles of smooth, crushed gravel path.  I’m fortunate to work with a running coach, the legendary Ty Draney from Afton, WY, and I felt pretty confident with the training I’ve logged this year.  I’ve done all sorts of tempo runs, speed work, fast finishes, etc. and I was counting on muscle memory to kick in.  My shin went numb as we started down the descent at full tilt, and I’m sure Chris matched me step for step.  At the bottom of the climb was the last crew spot and a highway crossing before the final 2.2 miles. I saw Jenny and the girls and they obviously knew what was going on, as Jenny was urgently yelling at me. I chucked my water bottle and rain jacket to her and sprinted across the highway.  I glanced at my watch and it was 5:47 P.M.  Inside my head I convinced myself “its just another 2 mile tempo run” over and over.  I thought about my form obsessively: running from the hips and glues, elbows pushing back, knees driving forward, my forefoot pawing on the grippy gravel, and my face completely relaxed.  I imagine about a mile into the “tempo run” I started to get really tired.  I debated whether or not I should look behind me, because that’s like a bad omen, right?  I took a glance on a straight away: no Chris there.  “Bull crap, he must be right there, I’m not slowing down.”  So I kept pushing and pushing, taking a few more glances, focusing on my form, glancing again, pushing harder, looking for the finish.  My shin was completely numb at this point, and probably not in a good way, but I didn’t care. Finally a sense of relief started to creep in as I saw the parking lot before the finish line, and Chris was still not in sight.  As I approached the finish line, I looked at my watch as it just switched to 6:00 P.M.

About to finish with a new course record of 12:29:21

Classic ultra running finish with Chris

After the race it was all high fives and hugs.  That’s such a cool thing about ultra running: you can chat with your competitors all day, race your socks off, and still have a beer at the end.  Chris ended up finishing just over a minute behind me, and was well below the old course record as well.  Another Lander runner, Jeff Mogavero took third place, even though it was his first 100K and he was the youngest finisher at age 22.  Awesome stuff.  I was pretty wrecked all around, but especially my left shin and my right quad (from compensating so much).  It took a long time for me to get my act together and get back to our campsite.  I’m writing this a week out from the race and I still can’t quite walk normal after several physical therapy sessions.  The tendon in my shin is clearly still not happy with me, and the bruise has still not gone away.  Hopefully I can rest up and recover enough to have a strong race at Run Rabbit Run 100 in September.

Also, here's a link to a County 10 article about the race.

Men's Podium with (L to R) Jeff, Chris, and Myself

I want to give a special thank to my wife Jenny for putting up with this racing habit I've developed, and for all of the incredible aid and support.  She's my rock, for real.  I also want to thank Ty Draney for the perfect preparation for this race, and for Courtney Hansen at Fremont Therapy for getting me to the starting line.  Thank you Amanda Taglioli for helping us out at the end of the race, even after running 30-some miles of your own!  I also want to thank all of the other runners, crews, and volunteers for such a great day in the mountains.  Also, thank you to Nick Clark and Gnar Runners for putting on such a smooth event.  Also, a special thank you to all the good folks out there who reached out to encourage or support me in the lead up to the race.  You are all more powerful than you know.