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.




Monday, June 6, 2016

Putting it All Together: Scout Mountain Ultra Trail 100K

I've been fortunate to have some pretty good races the last year or so, but I've always left thinking I could have done more.  Maybe I could have paced myself better, or hydrated better, or I could have been more patient, or not taken a wrong turn, or not had the flu the week before.  This has been especially frustrating because honestly just about every training run I go on feels pretty darn good.  Going into Scout Mountain Ultra I took the risk of putting some extra pressure on myself: no excuses this time.  Time to put it all together and have a great race.

Scout Mountain Ultra Trail takes places in the rugged mountains just outside of Pocatello, Idaho.  For as close as I've lived to Idaho for the past eight years, its kind of ridiculous that I've barely stepped a foot in the state.  Formerly known as the Pocatello 50, Scout Mountain Ultra Trail has a reputation of being a tough Idaho run with great scenery.  Luke Nelson and his army of cheerful volunteers did not disappoint as the race organization was as smooth as, well, some of the single track.
They even had a kids race!  Ella is back there in her "Run Run Run" shirt, as usual.

"I'll be out on the course, and if I see you went out too fast I'll be cussing you out."  That was the pre-race message from my coach, Ty Draney.  Duly noted.  You don't have to tell me twice!  The other advice was to take the "small" climbs after the Big Fir aid station seriously.  I kept that one in the back of my mind as well.

The race started at 5 A.M. sharp, just before the sun came up.  It was barely cool enough for arm warmers, and I figured they wouldn't last on me more than a couple of miles.  I was right, because the weather heated up fast.  The forecasted high for the day was 90 degrees, and the I'd say the meteorologists were spot on (people only like to point out when those dudes are wrong).  I started the first climb with a nice guy from Washington and we were moving at a good clip.  As the grade of the climb steepened and I could feel my heart rate creeping up, I thought about the novelty of having Ty yelling profanity at me, and it made me smile for a moment, but I decided to back off the pace a little bit and let the Washington guy go.  There was plenty of climbing to do later and no need to get excited about racing in the first few miles.
Gibson Jack aid station

For most of the next 20 miles I just ran through wildflower heaven as the sun came up.  Yeah, tough morning, right?  The arrowleaf balsamroot carpeted the mountainside so thick that there was hardly room for anything else, including the trail.  Indian paintbrush, lupine, and countless other wildflowers that I did not know they name of were everywhere glowing in the morning light.  I cruised along at a very relaxed pace, just keeping an eye on the guy from Washington ahead of me.  Through the open and flowery meadows I could see that he had just a couple minutes on me.  Perfect.

As I descended into the Cusick Creek aid station at about mile 19, I was surprised to see the leader just in front of me. Apparently I made up some ground as I frolicked through the flowers.  We left the aid station together, and on the climb out he quickly moved over and told me to lead.  I took it easy and enjoyed the company as we meandered along the trail and eventually descended down the mountains to the edge of Pocatello.  I got the feeling he was working hard just to keep up, so I kept the pace really mellow, still no need to push it.  Besides, around mile 25 is when things started to get hot.
All systems go

I had great success last year at Wasatch 100 managing the heat by stuffing a neck gaiter with ice and putting so much ice in my hat that it barely stayed on my head.  I typically wear a pack when running far, but lately they have been feeling hot and constricting, so I went with two Ultraspire Iso Versa handheld bottles for this race.  I really think this kept me dramatically cooler, and more hydrated, as the only way to make the bottles feel less heavy in your hand is to drink up!  I drank like a frat boy to stay hydrated, taking down an absurd 40ish ounces of water an hour.  Normally I drink about 15 ounces an hour.
Rock star volunteer keeping me iced

I met Jenny and the girls at the City Creek aid station at about mile 25 and I felt great.  Jenny was like a Nascar pit crew at each aid station and had me back on the trail in no time.  Think about that for a second: she sent my butt back on the trail in just a minute or two while managing a four year and a 10 month old.  If you've never crewed for an ultramarathon before, what she did was incredible!
As I was getting re-fueled at the aid station Cora was just chilling in the grass

Heading back up hill after City Creek

Once I was loaded up with ice, some Roctane drink, a fresh flask of Gu, and a Honey Stinger waffle (I ate about 200 calories an hour all day), I zipped out of City Creek before the other front runner and never saw him again the rest of the day.  In fact, I never saw another 100K runner again the rest of the race.  I wish I could tell you a harrowing story of how we dueled back and forth all the way to the finish, but that just isn't how it worked out.  Of course out there on the trail, I had no idea where my closest competitors were.  In my mind they were always just two minutes behind me.  So, I ran like hell.  I relished the smooth and forested trails down to the West Fork aid station, and I marched the 3,500 foot climb to the top of Scout Mountain in the searing afternoon sun.  I practically sprinted back down the other side of Scout Mountain. I didn't let up once.  However, I did get to run with some other fine runners, as the 60K and 35K race started after the 100K, but ran on the same course.  So, I was able to chat with plenty of other hardy runners throughout the day.  Their gritty performances and cheerful words of encouragement kept me inspired to keep pushing hard all day long.
All the race volunteers were amazing at keeping runners iced and hydrated

As I made it to the Big Fir aid station at about mile 55, fatigue was just starting to creep in, but I was ready to charge the last seven miles to the finish.  I had not forgotten what Ty told me about the last climbs through the Nordic Center, so I was a bit wary of this last leg.  He was not kidding.  35K and 60K runners were leaving the Big Fir aid station just ahead of me and they were almost on all fours as they made their way up the first climb.  I grunted up it well enough and started the loose and rocky decent on the other side.  Almost instantly everything changed as the trees gave away to tall grassy meadows that the sun was blaring down on.  It was like an inferno.  The ice in my hat and neck gaiter instantly melted.  My stomach started doing flips, my head spun, and I just tried to keep my crap together.  For the first time that day I started to feel a little down about how slow I was moving.  I could hardly muster a fast hike!  I looked around and the scene was almost surreal; in almost every tiny patch of shade there was some poor 35K and 60K runner just sitting there with a dazed look on their face.  I asked most of them if they we're OK, and from each one a I got a dreamy "yeah I'm just too hot" with a far off stare.  Damn.  Well maybe my slow hike wasn't so bad, at least I was moving, right?
Almost to the finish

Eventually the fear of second place overcoming me in the final mile or two was enough for me to drag my butt over the last climb and down the road to the finish.  I felt completely cooked the last couple of miles but managed to scamper in just under 11 hours.  Turns out the next 100K finisher was almost exactly an hour behind me.  Better safe than sorry.
Ella had been wanting to dump ice water on my head all day long and finally got her chance at the finish line

It was always going to be a memorable day running through the mountains of Pocatello, chatting with other fantastic runners, and camping with my girls.  But, of course, winning is fun, and I was absolutely elated to finally get my first ultramarathon win.  It was about time I put it all together and had a great race.  Another highlight of the weekend was that the majority of the post-race meal was gluten free!  As someone with celiac disease, this is the first time I was really able to enjoy the post race meal, and the baked potatoes with white chicken chili and broccoli was delicious!
My Dream Team
Congratulations to all the other runners out there that toughed out the heat and steep climbs, and thanks to everyone else who made Scout Mountain Ultra Trail a unforgettable experience.



Friday, May 6, 2016

Spring Rhythm

This has certainly been one of the wettest springs in Wyoming in eight years that I’ve been around.  The past two weeks have had snowfalls measured in feet, and this weekend we’re forecasted for 2-4 inches of rain on top of that slushy melting snow and completely saturated soil.  Flood watches are up, as you’d probably expect.  I know this is all wonderful for the land, especially after seeing the devastation fires have been causing in Canada.  As for my own selfish desires, it makes for terrible spring trail running.  I've often been forced to run on pavement to avoid the shoe sucking mud.  Gross.  I do however highly recommend the precise grip and fit of the Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 5 SG to handle slick, snowy, and water logged single track.  Oddly enough, even though the running on dry dirt has been a rare treat this season, I think I’m in the best shape of my life, and I credit that to finding a new sense of rhythm.

Last year was logistically pretty easy for training; Jenny was too pregnant to do much strenuous exercise and as teachers we have the summer off.  I could pretty much run whenever I wanted to.  Now things are a little bit different, I have two kids that deserve all the love and attention in the world and Jenny is signed up for El Vaquero Loco 50K, and we’re both working.  Yet, somehow I’ve found the rhythm to still fit in 60-80 mile weeks.  As a family, we’ve found our groove this spring.  Jenny and I still cook all of our meals from scratch, spend time with our kids, spend time together, get in our exercise, and still get a decent (at least 7 hours) amount of sleep. Here is what Monday through Sunday week often looks like for us:

Monday
Gabe: Rest Day
Jenny: 60 min run
Logistics and Dinner: Mondays are easy.  I’ve been staying home with the kids every Monday this spring as part of my FMLA leave.  Its unpaid of course, which is tough, but totally worth it.  I literally just play all day, its amazing.  Maybe I bake some cookies or muffins too.  After Jenny get’s home from school she’ll go out and run while I cook dinner with the kiddos.  This week we had quinoa/lentil pasta with red pepper cream/yogurt sauce.

Tuesday
Gabe: Track workout
Jenny: Strength training
Logistics and Dinner:  On a day like this I’ll go pick the kids up from daycare while Jenny goes straight to the gym.  I’ll start cooking dinner while still playing with the kids.  Jenny will walk in the door around 5:30, and I high tail it over to the track while Jenny finishes up dinner.  We’ll eat at 6:45ish and have kids in bed by 7:30-8.  8-10 is time for Jenny and I to relax together.  Dinner this week was sweet potato-quinoa waffles with fried eggs, bacon, avocado, and tomato.

Wednesday
Gabe: 90 minute run and strength training
Jenny: 60 min run
Logistics and Dinner:  I do my best to get up early once a week before the kids arise from there slumber and do 30 minutes of strength training.  Its not the highlight of my week, but I think its important for mountain running.  After school, I’ll go pick up the kids while Jenny gets her run in right away.  I’ll balancing playing with cooking dinner and we’ll eat at 5:45 when Jenny gets home.  This week I made some pesto (basil, sunflower seeds, peas, olive oil, garlic), and slotted it into griddled sandwiches with red peppers and fresh mozzarella.  We’ll spend some time together as a family after dinner and then I’ll be out the door a little after 7 for a sunset run that is usually a mix of trails and pavement.

Thursday
Gabe: 70 min run with long intervals
Jenny: 45 min run
Logistics and Dinner: I'll run right after school while Jenny gets the kids from daycare. Then she'll make something ridiculously good like white bean-spinach artichoke dip that we will eat with red peppers, carrots, celery, and tortilla chips.  After some family time and getting the kids to bed, Jenny will go out to cruise around as the sun sets, or maybe head over to the gym.

Friday
Gabe: 60 min trail run
Jenny: Rest
Logistics and Dinner: I’ll drive straight to a trailhead right after school and enjoy some mud.  Jenny gets the kids and starts making pizza!  We'll use our top secret GF pizza crust recipe with a tomato-yogurt cream sauce with zucchini, peppers, and spinach on top.  Left over bacon too if we’re lucky.  Family time the rest of the night.

Saturday
Gabe: 20 mile trail run
Jenny: 7 mile trail run
Logistics and Meals: Saturday morning is waffle time.  Sometimes Jenny will go knock out her run for the day while I whip up some waffles. We’ll all hang out and stuff our faces the rest of the morning.  In the afternoon, I’ll head to the mountains to do my thing.  Dinner Saturday night is something like grilled salmon with oven sweet potato fries and roasted kale.  Family time Saturday night or have some friends over.

Sunday
Gabe: 15 miles
Jenny: 5 miles
Logistics and Meals:  Sunday morning is also waffle time, of course.  We’ll make waffles as a family, drink coffee, and hang out.  After a trip to the grocery store its time for church in the mountains.  I'll head out for a run and Jenny goes when I get back. Dinner is usually something like coconut curry with pineapple and a bunch of vegetables.  Somewhere in there one or both of us usually runs or bikes to the park with the kids as well.

One note on our training schedules: I’m working with Ty Draney again this year, which is great except for the the regular ass kicking, and it sure is nice to not waste time and energy coming up with effective workouts.  Ty’s certainly got me fitter and faster than I was 12-months ago at this time.  Jenny is working with Steve Bechtel at Elemental Training and she has never been more stoked about her ultra training.

A few other notes on food: After each workout we each have a bottle of First Endurance Ultragen recovery drink for chocolaty protein goodness.  Breakfast during the week is always oatmeal laced with chia seeds, berries, almond butter, and a berry/spinach/kale/flax/banana smoothie.  Lunch is always leftovers plus a huge spinach and kale salad that probably has some avocado, pumpkin seeds, peppers, carrots, feta cheese, and hummus.  Snacks throughout the day are usually fruit, nuts, or something delicious we baked.  I have celiac disease so we all stick to a strict gluten free diet.  If you want to know our secret waffle or pizza crust recipe just send me an email and I’ll give you an address for you to send $1 million dollars to.  Just kidding, sharing is caring.  My Mom taught me that.

Well that’s about it.  That’s our rhythm this spring.  It’ll probably all change soon, or be totally different next year, but at the moment everyone seems generally happy and healthy.  Our youngest is 9-months old now and Jenny’s getting back to pre-baby fitness, and I should be ready for Scout Mountain 100K in a month. I hope the trails in Pocatello are muddy… I’m exceptionally prepared for that.

Have you found your spring rhythm?  What works for you?  If you have a family, how have you worked ultra running around family and work?  Leave a comment below!



This is a photo from last year, but it really doesn't make a difference: mud and Salomon S-Lab Sense SG

Family Time






Standard weekend breakfast

Family time in the backyard after a run

Highlight of the spring


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Injury Recovery, Snow Running, Skate Skiing, and the 2016 Race Season

I spent much of the fall and early winter trying to recover from that obnoxious hamstring pull from Wasatch back in September.  It was a long, tedious process, and no doubt my impatience led to some  setbacks.  I unconsciously adjusted my gate to take the load off of my hamstring which led to some knee pain and calf tightness that I'm only recently getting a handle on.  Fortunately, I was able to keep it together in the fall for one glorious long run to Cathedral Peak on the Bears Ears Trail, but that seems so long ago now.

October peak-bagging on the Bears Ears Trail in another lifetime

For the past few months, my running reality has looked more like this:

2016 Twin Mountain Trudge
Dare I say it was colder than it looks?

The winter has been full of cold and dark pre-dawn road runs and weekend post-hole running, and if the snow hasn't been knee deep on the Saturdays, its been icy and slick.  To be honest, I kind of enjoyed the change in scenery for awhile, but now its definitely getting old.  I'm looking forward to the spring sunshine and maybe even a little bit of warmth.  Besides snowy running, I think I've spent more time skate skiing this winter than anything else.


Skate skiing is fast, fun, and guaranteed to get your heart pumping.  We're fortunate here in Wyoming to have hundreds of miles of Forest Service roads that during the winter are groomed for snowmobiles, but happen to work quite well for the skinny skis.  After my disappointment at Wasatch I was really motivated to run an early 100 miler, but my lovely wife helped me realize how dumb that was, and reminded me that its important to take a break.

I wanted a challenging winter project, something that genuinely scares me, something that I'm not sure if I'm really capable of.  After staring at a lot of maps I eventually came up with the idea of a skate ski loop through Yellowstone National Park.  I've always wanted to spend some time in the park during winter; it looks magical, isolated, wild, and ice cold.  I dreamt up a route that will go through many of the parks highlights, including the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Old Faithful, Yellowstone Lake, the Hayden Valley, and many other geyser basins.  I added up the mileage and it turns out the route is 150-miles.  I decided to commit, and with a little persuasion, I was able to get two other endurance junkies to join me, my friends Evan and Kevin.  We are going to attempt to ski from Pahaska Teepee to Old Faithful, mostly by moonlight, sleep for the afternoon, and ski the next night around the Grand Loop Road back to Pahaska Teepee.  I wanted a winter project that got me out the door during the dark cold hours of winter and this has done the trick.

Maybe some sunny Saturday training as well

I'm intimidated by a few aspects of this trip, but particularly the potentially dangerous cold and the challenge of adequate calorie consumption.  Yellowstone is often the nations ice box, and temperatures regularly dip well below zero at night.  -30 degrees fahrenheit is not that uncommon.  I don't stay as warm as I used to, so managing layers and sweat will be critical.  Staying warm and energized in those conditions requires an incredible amount of calories. Normally while summer mountain running, I consume roughly 300ish calories per hour, so I was doing some googling to figure out how much food to pack for a ski trip and I learned that skate skiing is the most energy consumptive sport on the planet.  Turns out a nordic skier burns 700-1200 calories an hour, which means over the course of, say, 30 hours I might burn 30,000 calories.  How does one pack that kind of fuel for skiing?!  I won't pack that many calories, of course (although it would be fun to try), and I'll have to dig deep while being a little bit calorie deprived.  I suspect I will mostly subsist off of homemade waffles and Justin's Chocolate butter, but I'm still working on that. I'll do a little write-up on that adventure when its all its done.

After the Yellowstone "Grand Loop 150" ski trip it will be a quick turn around to the racing season.  I don't usually get gut feelings about things, but I am feeling really positive about the 2016 season.

Here is what I have in store:

March 28 - Behind the Rocks Ultra 50 - Moab, Utah
June 4 -Scout Mountain Ultra 100K - Pocatello, Idaho
July 23 - Never Summer 100K - Gould, Colorado
September 3 - The Rut 50K - Big Sky, Montana
September 16 - Run Rabbit Run 100 (Hare)- Steamboat Springs, Colorado

I feel like these races are all nicely spread apart so that I should be able to give a fully committed race effort at each event.  I love the 100-mile distance, so Run Rabbit Run is the big goal for the year, and I'm super excited for hopefully outrageously yellow aspen leaves, crisp fall air, and beautiful blue Colorado skies.  All of the other races are exciting as well; I carefully picked them all and didn't sign up for anything that didn't get me antsy to get out the door and train.  They are all in beautiful places and its another good opportunity to push myself hard and let my competitive spirit out.  Am I going to see you at any of these 2016 events?

Scene from 2014 The Rut 50K

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

An Almost Wasatch 100 Race Report


I ran the Bighorn 100 back in June, and the further I distance myself from that event the more unimpressed I am with my run.  I finished in 8th place, which is pretty good, but I feel like it wasn't a committed performance.  I was too conservative, scared of the heat, and I copped out at the end; I didn't run like a man on a mission.

Wasatch 100 is a different beast of a race than Bighorn: it is much more elevation intensive, rugged, and dry.  Almost perfect. I was lucky to get into the race through the lottery and I was determined to make my chance count.  I didn't know where that would place me in the race, but I was going to find out.

My training leading up to Wasatch was good, even if it was a little disjointed by the birth of our second daughter.  The real hiccup was a bad ankle sprain 4-weeks before the race started.  It made for a more mellow taper, but after rehabbing hard I was ready to rock on race day.

My squad at the start

At 5 AM, we were off into the darkness at the base of the Wasatch mountains, just north of Salt Lake City.  I felt blind: it was a moonless night, I had no idea who was around me or where I was going.  I was watching the ground like a hawk making sure I didn't re-sprain my ankle in the first few miles before the climbing began.  I thought a few people zoomed way out ahead of me, but I knew I was somewhere near the front of the pack.  No worries: the plan was to start out relaxed, maybe tuck in behind some leaders, and see what I could do later.

Beautiful morning at The Chinscraper (Photo Credit: Lane Bird)
After a couple miles of plodding along in the dark, I passed a runner. Turns out it was Dominick Layfield, and he asked me "Are you going for the win?"  I was confused why he was asking me this.  I replied, "I'm just trying to have a good race."  We wished each other luck and and continued our 4,000 foot climb up to "The Chinscraper".  A little bit further on a runner caught up to me; it was Travis Macy, and we casually chatted as we hiked and ran up the climb.  As we went over The Chinscraper, the guys at the top said "I don't think anyone has ever gotten up here this fast before!"  I was confused again.  "What about the dudes ahead of me?"  A few miles later as Travis and I were cruising the ridge line, I asked him, "do you have any idea how many guys are ahead of us?" "Uh, I think its just us, man" he replied.  What?!  It was all starting to make sense now, but I had no idea that I had been leading out the race.  I almost didn't quite believe him.  I asked the race director at Grobben's Corner how many were ahead of us.  "Just you and the three pretty girls ahead of you," he said.  I promised him I would try to catch up to them.

Descending into Big Mountain Pass Aid Station, mile 39

Travis and I continued to run at a relaxed, conversation pace, through the rest of the morning.  We did a little leap frog now and then; Travis would spring out of an aid station ahead of me, but then I'd catch up and get a minute on him for awhile.  It made for a fun morning of Wasatch mountain running.

Leading at mile 39

I felt great coming into Big Mountain Pass at mile 39.  I had a couple minutes on Travis and I was excited to see my crew.  It was starting to warm up and I had stuffed ice into my pack, hat, and neck gaiter and I was delighted at how good that felt.  I fueled up and headed off into the dreaded 13 miles of trail until Lamb's Canyon at mile 52.  This section is notorious for being hot and uninspiring as you run beneath power lines and above buried gas pipelines.  It got really hot here, and I started to suffer a little as my ice melted away shockingly fast.  I was determined not to let the heat get me today, so I eased the pace, let Travis go a little bit, and tried to stay positive.


As I plodded along I was surprised to see Travis coming towards me.  Uh oh, I knew that meant we missed a turn.  We explored a little bit together, running all the way to I-80 before we knew we were way off.  We could see the Lamb's Canyon aid station, but had no idea how to get there.  We found a very obvious, but unmarked trail that went through an archery range.  It was a risk, but we took it.  We wandered around all over the place until we got onto what looked like old railroad grade trail.  We followed that until it finally dumped us back on track.  I figured we lost a lot of time, and I was nervous to see how much damage had been done.  "More miles, more smiles, right?" I said to Travis.  I'm not sure he agreed with me.  By the time we got to the aid station it was clear we weren't leading anymore.

Finally arriving at Lamb's Canyon, mile 52, after some exploring
More miles more smiles

Rather than getting down about losing 30 minutes (or so), I was just pissed.  All that hard work for the lead was erased while wandering around the Alexander Ridge inferno!  I left Lamb's Canyon with a fire lit underneath me and was determined to track down the new leaders.  Surprisingly, after going beneath I-80, almost instantly everything got better.  There was shade, tall trees, and lovely cold creeks flowing.  The air felt dramatically cooler and I was ready to rock.  I passed Dominick, Chris Schurk, and I think I regained the lead in about 5 minutes.  Awesome.

Never thought I'd run under an interstate highway!  Pissed off and charging up the road.

As I climbed up the Lamb's Canyon trail Chris tucked in behind me.  He's a strong climber.  I was thrilled to find some lovely smoothish and steep downhill after Bare Ass Pass so I decided to push a little.  It was cool out, I felt great, we were in the second half of the race, why not?  I was quickly out of sight from Chris and I took a more relaxed approach up the road to Upper Big Water.  Chris caught up with me on the road and we ran together and had a great time chatting.  Turns out he's a Wyoming boy too.  Yeehaw! We arrived at Upper Big Water aid station together, mile 61, and I still felt great.

"The race starts at Upper Big Water" my coach Ty had told me.  I was stoked, time to push on and see if Chris would come with me.  We both climbed well, and I maintained about a minute lead on him.  After passing a "Dog Lake", there was a relatively short but steep section of downhill.  I licked my chops and dropped in like a skier into a couloir.  My feet were moving brilliantly fast until I was suddenly stopped dead in my tracks.  It was that knife sharp pain in the back of my hamstring that, I thought, could only be a cramp.  No worries, stay calm, I thought, I can deal with a cramp.  I popped some electrolyte pills, drank some water, and ate some potato chips.  As I was taking care of my leg Chris came scampering by.  I wasn't worried, yet.

I tried to start running again, but I couldn't.  I walked down the rest of the descent, and then gingerly started the next climb.  I was itching to run, but my hamstring was just too tight feeling.  Once I thought about it, my hamstrings had been tight for a little while, but what isn't tight after 65 miles of running?  I stretched a little, took some ibuprofen, clenched my teeth, and soldiered on.  I purposefully did not have a headlamp with me; I needed to get to Brighton, mile 75, before dark.

That cheese stick is about to get stuffed down my throat. Brighton Lodge Aid Station, mile 75

I didn't move well, but I did move.  The descent into Brighton on the road was extremely challenging. I felt like my hamstring could go on me at any minute, but I did run the whole thing.  I made into town right at dark, but I couldn't figure out where to go. After wandering around Brighton in the dark for 5 minutes I eventually made it to the aid station, happy to see me crew one more time and still be in second place.  I was also glad to pick up my pacer, Maggie Heller, for the nighttime running.  25 miles to go didn't sound bad at all.  However, I was nervous; I knew this was the critical section of the race.  Chris was only 10 minutes ahead of me, and I was totally confident that if my hamstring held on I could chase him down and maybe even win.  I also knew with the ridiculous amount of descent left that if my hamstring did not work, I was utterly screwed.  Ella literally shoved a string cheese in my mouth and Maggie and I headed off into the night.

Make it or break it time

Maggie and I began the rocky 1,600' climb up to Catherine's Pass and I can only describe it as one of the low spots of the day for me.  I think one of the toughest parts of running 100 miles is the lack of sleep, and I sure got sleepy.  My eye lids felt like lead weights and I just wanted to close them so badly.  I tried talking Maggie into letting me close my eyes for 45 seconds, but we agreed on 30.  So, I sat down and covered my eyes for 30 seconds while Maggie timed me.  She did a 5 second count down and I hopped back up, and I actually felt a bit better.  The descent down Catherine's Pass is loose, rocky, and pretty fun.  However, I think this was the last downhill I was able to run.  I made it to Ant Knolls Aid Station, mile 79, in one piece, but I could tell I was being hunted down, as I could see headlamps in the distance behind me.

Maggie and I heading off into the night

I marched up "The Grunt" after Ant Knolls at a tolerable pace, but the stabbing pain was really getting to me now.  It finally occurred to me that this was not a multi-hour cramp (duh), but that I had really hurt my muscle.  We were finally into the easiest part of the course and I just could not move efficiently.  I'd try to run and would last only a minute before the pain was too much.  I'd rally, tell myself I came here to suffer, and I'd start again.  I'd only last 45 seconds.  Then 30.  Next only a handful of steps.  The utterly runnable trail down to Pole Line Pass Aid Station, mile 82, just about killed me; the pain was excruciating as I hobbled down.  Travis finally caught me and drifted by with a friendly "Good job, Gabe."  It was at about this point it really started to become real how screwed I was.  Since I couldn't run, I tried to fiercely hike as fast as I could.  That got slower and slower too, of course.  Maggie even tried to get me to skip down the trail to see if that helped.  Still no luck.  Another guy glided past me in the night.  Damn.  It was all just unraveling.

I was tired and worked, of course, but the desire, motivation, and energy to run were all still there.  My legs felt pretty good, besides the one hamstring, but I was starting to feel helpless.  Maggie asked me what I was thinking and I told her I was thinking about pulling the plug.  At first she tried hard to talk me out of it.  She told me only to considering quitting if I might actually be hurting myself.  I told her I think the whole muscle was about to split in half.  As we slowly walked down to Staton North, mile 87, I knew I was done.  The aid station crew asked if I needed anything, I replied I just wanted to pout for awhile.

So that's it, that was my Wasatch "100".  Am I disappointed and frustrated? You bet.  I poured everything into this race, and I was close to having my dreams come true.  But let's be real, its a race; a totally arbitrary 100 mile run through the Wasatch mountains.  I signed up and paid money for this crap.  On the bright side, I accomplished every other goal for the day: I ran with full commitment that never faded, I "ran my own race", I managed heat and hydration the best I ever have, and I had a great time in some beautiful and new mountains.  Maybe best of all, I know I can do it: I can compete with some of the best in the business.  Its a brutal sport, and anything can always happen in 100 miles, but on a different day I know I can finish right up there at the front.  How exciting is that?  Next time I get a chance to run Wasatch it won't be about "revenge" or anything ridiculous like that; it will be another great opportunity to spend a day running in the mountains and see where my limits are.

I also had the pleasure of being surrounded by an amazing crew: my dedicated wife Jenny, my energetic girls Ella and Cora, my parents Bob and Ginny who took all the pictures and were instrumental in child care, my super pacer Maggie, and my super crew friend Lindsey Thalacker.  My gratitude for them is simply beyond words.  I also have to thank my coach Ty Draney who got me physically and mentally in bangin' shape for this race.  Thanks also to all the folks that followed the race online and sent good thoughts, your energy is powerful.

My oldest and youngest fans

Congratulations to Chris and Travis on awesome races.  They are definitely two good dudes who deserved to finish well.

What's next?  Time to get some firewood, some quality family time, and start dreaming big for next year.