Friday, December 19, 2014

The Dreaded Off Season

Fall color in GTNP

Every fall, like so many other runners, I try really hard to take some time off.  For many people this comes very easily to them, but I actually have to work pretty hard at it.  Finishing the running season with a strong 100 miler makes one feel bulletproof, unstoppable, and ready for more.  I really have to force myself to slow down a bit and I don't look forward to it.  But in reality, after 9-10 months of hard training, adventuring, and competing, its time to chill out for a little bit and gain some perspective.  For me, relaxation often comes in the form of an axe and chainsaw.

Getting some wood on Limestone Mountain

I spend a lot of weekends in the fall dodging snow storms and building up a wood pile to survive the winter, or the apocalypse — which ever comes first.  Most people get their wood a little earlier in the year, but I was too busy running.  As it turns out, carrying 100 pound logs in the snow is pretty hard work, but I appreciate staying active in the mountains, even if it isn't running.

Kids are heavy

Most importantly I try to spend a lot of time with my family.  Hiking as a group works best for us, and as long as the weather allows, we get out as much as we can in the fall.  We had some great family hikes, but I also had the opportunity just to hike and camp with my 2 year old since Jenny made a habit of going to conferences this fall.

Hiking up high in the Tetons on a oddly warm October day

I took a solid two weeks completely off from running after the Bear 100.  I tried to ease into things, but apparently I wasn't ready yet.  One fine fall Saturday in October I cut trees for a couple of hours to get good and tired, and then I went running up and down a sloppy and slippery Roaring Fork Pass that was slick from the previous weeks snow.  I was tired and struggled to focus on the super technical downhill part of the trail.  When the rocks mellowed out I let my guard down; I lazily over extended my stride a little bit, my foot started to slide in the mud, and I sprained the hell out of my ankle. This was kind of shocking to me because I had never sprained my ankle before — ever.  I limped my way back to the truck, and it has been a long rehab process ever since.  Throughout November and December I've been trying to get healthy and slowly build a strong fitness base so I can be ready for whatever 2015 brings.

About 20 minutes later my right ankle was kaput

An important part of my off season is strength and agility training.  A good friend of mine, fitness coach, and all-around badass, Lee Brown, wrote me a strength plan last year that worked out really well.  So, I'm implementing it again this winter to balance out all of the muscles after a lot of mountain running in 2014.  The plan involves a lot of work on the posterior chain through dead lifts, front squats, pistol squats, and other fun heavy lifts.  The goal is to get strong and durable for another running season without bulking up or losing flexibility.  I have a hard time getting back into weight lifting in the fall, but there is something fun about the challenge of lifting a ton of weight at once.

Cooking up our own homemade pizza sauce

I also try to focus on nutrition during the off season.  I certainly pay close attention to nutrition year round, but I've been really trying to eat foods that are nutrient dense, anti-inflamatories, and are going to prevent me from gaining too much winter weight.  Elemental Training has a nutrition challenge this fall that I am taking part in; there were a few challenges to choose from, but I decided on trying to eat an extra serving of vegetables at every meal.  So, I've had a lot of spinach in my morning smoothie, kale salads at lunch, carrots and celery as a snack, and boat loads of vegetables for dinner.  Its been delicious and fun getting creative in the kitchen.

We bought 144 oz. of fresh blackberries — no joke

As for snow, its been a really mellow fall/winter in Wyoming so far.  Temperatures have been all over the place; since the beginning of October we've had temperatures ranging from 65 to -15.  The below zero stuff lasted for a couple of weeks, which made for very cold morning runs.  Snow has been lacking, besides a few windy and frigid blasts of snow that don't stick around long. I've still been able to run on some of the lower elevation mountains, even if it has been in almost hurricane force winds and whiteouts. As soon as we get some more of the cold white stuff I'll get on my skate ski's that I got last year; I got on them once this fall but I skied on more tree stumps and rocks than snow.  This years big purchase is a lightweight AT/rando ski set-up for getting way back into the Winds and trying to chase some powder on Togwotee Pass.  I haven't got to use it yet, but I'm ridiculously excited.

Wind doesn't show up in pictures, but I was holding on for dear life

Goofing around at The Bus (Photo Credit: Bob Joyes)

Whiskey Mountain near Dubois

So has it really been "The Dreaded Off Season?"  Well, I guess no, not really.  I do like a lot of things about the "On Season" like having a goal to work towards, warm weather, long training runs, competition, and wide open days to explore the mountains.  However, it really is vital to take a break from things, not be so one dimensional, and evaluate where you are at.  Plus, I never would complain about some extra family time.

Christmas card picture?  Check your mail to find out.

A few other pictures from the fall that I think my Mom would like to see:

Getting read to sled

 Playing a game called "Ready, Set, Go!"

Sunday, September 28, 2014

2014 The Bear 100 Race Report

Last year, The Bear 100 was my first shot at 100 miles.  I trained exceptionally hard and I was well prepared.  Finishing in a little over 25 and a half hours was a big accomplishment, but I was confident I had a lot more in me.

Obligatory awkward starting line photo

Like so many ultra-marathoners, I applied for the Hardrock 100 this year, but I didn't get in.  I applied for the Wasatch 100 too, but my name didn't get drawn either.  So, I thought, maybe I still have some more to learn from The Bear 100.

6am Logan, Utah ready for 100 miles

I was a little bit unsure of how I was going to pace myself for this years race.  I surprisingly only ran up to 50 miles once this year back in June (Zion Traverse), but I had done a ton of really technical and elevation intensive 30-some mile runs.  Self-doubt would creep into my brain before the race "have I even ran enough to be prepared for 100 miles?"  I quickly cast that crap to the side and decided to just run relaxed, take care of myself, and enjoy the day.  After all, it takes a lot of time, money, support from others, time off of work, etc. to do one of these things... you'd be crazy to do this stuff and not have fun.

The first crewed aid station at mile 20 (photo credit: Frosty's Salomon posse)

The race starts by a nice park in Logan, with about a mile of running on pavement before the single track starts.  As I was running along the pavement I heard a familiar New Zealand accent behind me "Is that Gabe?"  It was Anna Frost again, arguably the best female trail runner in the world.  As it turned out I ran big chunks of the Telluride Mountain Run and The Rut 50K with her, and now we were paired up again for The Bear.  Myself, Anna, and a group of dudes worked our way up the first 4,000 foot climb of the day.  We moved fast; it felt pretty easy compared to some of the other climbs I've done lately.  The descent down to Leathem Hollow was beautiful with clear blue skies and yellow aspen leaves everywhere.  I kept singing in my head "follow the aspen leaf road".  I was psyched to see my crew, even if it was just for two minutes.

Starting to feel the heat about mile 30

I think the 25-35 mile point of a hundred mile race might be the hardest part.  You have been out there a long time, and run a lot of miles, but there is still a really long ways to go.  Also, muscle glycogen supplies are pretty much toast at that point, and that's what most people call "hitting the wall".  Around that time it started getting pretty warm out too.  This years race was well above average temperatures for the area, and I was starting to feel it.  I often struggle with the heat, so I was determined to not let it get to me.  I put on my white running hat, Emily dumped water all over me, Jenny stuffed a bunch of ice down my shirt, I popped a few electrolyte pills, and basically got over the fact that it was hot.

I more or less ran with Anna up until about mile 40 until she got this look on her face that I remember seeing the last two times I ran with her; kind of a gritty and determined I-don't-care-what-it-takes-I'm-tearing-through-this-course-like-its-nothing sort of look.  After the race she described it to me as "I just got a burst of energy".  Yeah, a 60-mile burst of energy.

Leaving Right Hand Fork about mile 37

One of the toughest parts of The Bear 100 is the 7-mile and 3,000 foot climb from Temple Fork (mile 45) to Tony Grove Lake (mile 52).  Its steep and long, and I was feeling a little bit low on energy.  But, I'm proud to say not a single person passed me the rest of the race after Temple Fork.

Fall colors at Tony Grove

Tony Grove is a good spot to get a fresh shirt on, eat some food, and pick up a pacer for the second half.  I was very relieved and excited to see me crew and get ready for the business end of the race.

"Go go go!"

Ready for the second 50: snacks, ice, fresh shirt, and fresh shoes

Lindsay and I leaving Tony Grove

Also at Tony Grove I picked up Lindsay, my first pacer of the day.  Lindsay paced me in the same section last year and we had a great time.  This year was no different; we ran through golden aspen with curling leaves and deep green pine forests.

Jenny and I leaving Franklin Basin, about mile 61.5

Next, it was my turn to run with Jenny.  Those of you out there that are married and have kids know how hard it can be sometimes to do outdoor recreation (especially mountain running) with your spouse.  We rarely get to together these days, so it was super fun to run with Jenny for 15 miles into the evening.  As Jenny and I ran and light turned to darkness, I actually became more confident today was going to be a really good day.

Enjoying a cup of tea at mile 85, I think.

The last 15 miles of a hundred mile race are always going to be tough.  So, I made sure I had one tough pacer for the finish.  Our friend Emily is a personal trainer, nordic ski coach, and a previous finisher of The Bear 100 as well.  I figured she'd get me to the finish in the fashion that I wanted.  As Emily and I set off into the darkness, the unusually high temperatures of the previous day came to an end as a huge and moist weather system moved in.  It rained non-stop for almost the entire final push to the finish.  The terrain got sloppy and slick; we struggled to get traction on the climbs and slid almost out of control on the descents.

Emily dragging me off into the night, always a step or two ahead of me

I always have different levels of goals during these sorts of race, but my ultimate goal for this race was to run it in 22 hours.  I kind of thought hoping for a 3.5 hours improvement from last year might be a little far fetched, but I thought I was up for it.  As I left the final aid station at mile 92 with Emily, I knew that I would have to be really fast to get under 22 hours.  We were up for the challenge, and after clawing our way up the final muddy climb, we recklessly bombed down everything that was left.  Even when it was clear I wasn't quite going to get exactly 22 hours, Emily did not relent, pushing me into a couple of sub-8 minute miles into the finish.  It was pretty agonizing, but that's what pacers are for!

Just crossed the finish line

In the end, I finished in 22 hours and 8 minutes, which was good enough for 8th place on the day.  I was absolutely thrilled.  Halfway through the race I was pretty sure 22 hours was out of reach, but I decided to keep pushing on anyways.  I'm proud of the dramatic improvements I've made from a year ago; I started 2014 off injured and worked diligently to get fitness back and then move forward.  Ideas for what next year will bring are already floating around in my head... we'll see what I come up with.

There were 310 runners registered for this years race and I applaud every single one of them that toed the starting line.  Taking a shot at 100 miles takes some bravery and stupidity, and I'm just so impressed at the people who fought through the endless cold and rain of Saturday to get in under the 36 hours cutoff.

Wolverine belt buckle this year

None of this would be possible without Jenny supporting me, tolerating all of my training, pacing, and crewing for me. I also could not have done it with out the tireless help from Emily and Lindsay; they were truly remarkable.  Thanks to all of you out there who cheered me on, followed the race online, or just wished me well; your support means so much to me too.

Also, congratulations to Anna Frost for winning her first ever 100 mile race and setting another new course record in the progress.  Truly amazing!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

2014 The Rut 50K Race Report

Its kind of strange really, but as I went through the last aid station on Saturday at The Rut 50K with only five miles to go, I excitedly thought to myself, "This is going to be my first ultra race where nothing really went wrong!" I mean, I was tired, my legs were sore, and I was ready to be done.  But, on the bright side I wasn't hiding in the woods using God knows what for toilet paper, or throwing up partially digested energy bars, or being knocked to the ground by spasms in my legs or stomach.  I finally ran the race I wanted to.  So the question begs to be asked, "why does one keep doing these things that can end so terribly and painfully?"  I think Dakota Jones sums it up best: "The people who are attracted to these races tend to be experienced outdoors-people with strong legs and short memories."

Lone Mountain

The Rut 50K is one beast of a race, boasting more than 10,000 feet of climbing and descending on terrain that included rocky roads, technical single track, and straight up scree fields.  This year, the race was the International Skyrunning Federation Ultra Final, which means that many of the best runners in the world were going to be at this years event.  Simply put, the field was absolutely stacked.  Here is what had to say about the men's field and the women's field.

What am I looking at?  Write your best guess in the comments section to win fame and glory.

As I stood at the starting line towards the front of the starting line, I was kind of star struck.  Almost everyone around me was a pro or sponsored runner, including Kilian Jornet. I was determined to run my own race from the start, because I knew chasing the front of the pack would have been a recipe for disaster. The race started when an elk bugle sounded and we were off into the freezing darkness.  The race starts out climbing around 1,000 feet up a ski hill, but I couldn't tell you much about it because of the lack of light.  The first 9 or 10 miles were actually kind of boring, as we wound around rocky service roads and some tight mountain bike single track.  It was okay, but not quite what I had in mind for the day.

The start was electric

As I approached the first aid station at about mile 7.5, I honestly thought today wasn't going to be my day.  I felt slow compared to other runners on the relatively smooth terrain.  I was stiff, gassy, and didn't feel like I had much pep in me.  A little sunlight, caffeine, some positive thinking, and my super crew of Ella and Jenny changed that.  Once we got to the first real climb of the day I started passing people and I began to feel optimistic.  I made up some ground on all of the climbs and caught up to some strong runners.

Starting to feel alive at the first aid station

Many runners gingerly tip toed up and across the seemingly endless scree; the runners that excelled on the smoother terrain before tended to struggle now.  I enjoyed all of the rock running, except for when the odd rock flipped up and gashed my shin, sending blood and curse words oozing out.  Some of the steep down hills were fun too; one grassy section was so steep I lost traction and started to slide.  I dug my fingers into the ground, but it would have taken an ice axe to stop that slide.  Eventually I got some traction in the form of more rocks to stop my decent.  Another rocky shoot had a hand line in place to help ski down the loose gravel sized rock.  All I can say is holy crap I'm glad I put my gloves on before that.

Ridge Running

Reaching the Tramdock Aid Station at about mile 18 was a highlight of the course as Jenny and Ella had ridden the chairlift up to cheer me on.  There is a very short out and back climb at this aid station, so I actually got to see them twice.   They asked me if I needed any more water, and I said no, but Ella insisted that I took two 8 oz. soft flasks with me.  I thought what the heck and took them.

Leaving the Tramdock Aid Station

Next was the climb to the summit of Lone Mountain, which is pretty darn intimidating.  I had been running with Anna Frost for awhile at that point, and I tried to keep up with her on the climb, but that wasn't happening today.  It was a humbling sight to watch her march up that mountain.  Much of the climb was a scramble on all fours and certainly did not resemble running.  I felt very comfortable though as I spend a good bit of time scrambling in the Winds.  I refueled at the summit, and bombed down the mountain determined not to let the almost un-runnable terrain slow me down.  I had vowed not to run out of water again during a race, and I would have again if it weren't for Ella.  As I used all of my agility to descend the long ridge off of Lone Mountain the temperature heated up and for once I was thankful my two-year old is so stubborn.  My main bottles were empty, with a couple of miles until the next aid station, the bottles Ella gave me were just enough!

Keeping me hydrated: She wasn't taking "no" for an answer!

After descending Lone Mountain the running was pretty straight forward.  Single-track and two track that did some climbing and descending.  One last climb up a smaller ski hill and I was on the way to the finish.  I was hustling down the ski hill when Ellie Greenwood absolutely stormed past me; another impressive runner to see on this amazing day.

Descending Lone Mountain was ridiculously fun

The finish was fantastic.  I felt strong and ran in fast to a rowdy crowd and my super crew waiting for me.  What else could I want?  It was a great day and I'm glad to have run the rut in 2014.  In the end, I finished in 7:03, which was good enough for 44th overall out of 500 runners that started the race.  I was pleased to be in the top 10% at a race with such top class competition.

Enjoying a good finish

Next up?  The Bear 100 in on September 26th and 27th.  This race has always been the priority, so hopefully I've got enough left in the tank!

Also, on our way home driving through Yellowstone we saw this giant grizzly swim across a river.  Awesome.

Huge Yellowstone Grizzly

Monday, August 11, 2014

2014 Telluride Mountain Run Race Report

I've trained hard this spring and summer, and much of that training was with the Telluride Mountain Run in mind.  Every time I needed a little motivation to train I just took a quick glance at the elevation profile for the race:

13,000 feet of climbing, three passes over 12,500 feet, all in only 38 miles? Yikes.  On to the race.

At the start with Simon Kearns, Anna Frost, and some other really fast people
 The race started nice and early shortly after the sun came up at the base of the Telluride ski resort.  Our lovely course started with a 4,000' climb in 5 miles basically to the top of the ski hill.  A couple of guys took off up the hill and ran really steep stuff, while another group of us moved quickly and efficiently after them, running when we could and hiking when we thought better of it.

The beginning of a lot of uphill

After the top of the ski hill, we dropped down close to 2,000' feet into the beautiful Bear Creek drainage.  I thought the trail down was especially fun because it was fast and relatively smooth, but had big exposure.  A misplaced step could send you for a tumble that wouldn't help you win any beauty pageants.  After our 2,000' decent came time for a 3,500' climb through thick wild flowers of every color to upper Wasatch Pass, a little over 13,000'.  The two front runner guys were a good bit ahead by this point, and I was running in a pack with three other dudes.  The scenery was so spectacular that we joked about screwing the race and just hanging out up there all day.

Running into the Bridal Veil Falls Aid Station, mile 17

Next came the 4,000' decent to the first aid station of the day.  I felt amazing running the long, semi-technical downhill.  The temperature was cool and the trail was smoother than I'm used to in the Winds so it felt easy.  In hindsight, I probably pushed the pace a bit too much at this point, and should have saved some of my quads for later.  I left the Imogene Aid Station at mile 17 very quickly feeling good and in third place.

Jenny's view of Bridal Veil Falls.  We came from way the heck up there somewhere.
There are three really big climbs in the TMR, and I was confident that if I could get over the third feeling good that I'd be in good shape for the rest of the race.  The third climb was honestly kind of crazy.  Parts of it were up old mining trails with sharp and rusty iron obstacles sticking out of the ground in random places.  Parts of the climb had no trail at all.  One rocky chute was so steep that I was using all four limbs.  I cursed out loud at co-race director Dakota Jones when I grabbed on to some ridiculously thorny weed while scrambling up.  As rough as the climb was, I was moving well.  I could see 2nd place just a little bit ahead of me, and I could see first just a bit ahead of him, and I was gaining on them.  However, 4th and 5th seemed to be making slow progress on me as well, so it was turning into an exciting race.  As it turned out, first through fifth place basically all made it to the top of the pass at mile 23 close to the same time.  Next was another big downhill.

Feeling the burn (more like stabbing pain)
This is where my race started to unravel.  I underestimated how much water I would need (not the first time I've done this...) and the temperatures got a lot warmer than expected.  I had started cramping a little bit on the last climb, but that didn't really worry me too much.  I almost never get cramps, and if I do, they go away fast.  Well, this was different.  I was having a hard time running normally down hill as my quads continued to cramp.  I tried stretching my quads out, but that just made my hamstrings cramp.  Damn.  Deep breathing seemed to help the most and I moved OK down to the next aid station in Liberty Bell Basin.  I felt better for a bit, but the cramps just would not go away.  At about mile 29, Anna Frost and her photographer (or whatever he was) passed me and hooked me up with some water. Holy smokes was I thankful.

Mile 31 at the Mill Creek Aid Station
After hobbling a long a little longer, I noticed I had seen no course markings for awhile.  Being off course was the last thing I needed.  I got to a junction and there were no markings at all and I barely kept my cool.  I cursed a few times, and turned around to see if I got off course.  I found a flag a little ways back, so I knew I was on the right track.  So I turned around again and headed off into the unmarked trail.  Suddenly Anna and the rest of 2nd-6th place appeared walking towards me; they were all "lost" too.  Someone had a phone on them so we tried to call Dakota or Reese to see where we were supposed to go, but we go no answers.  After chillin' with some Gu we decided just to run down the trail and see what would happen; we were all in this together.  It looks like in that section of the trail somebody helped them selves to the flags... maybe they though they were picking up garbage.

My biggest fan jumping up and down and squealing as I came in

After the Mill Creek Aid Station, I really struggled. I loped along and watched the rest of the top seven speed off without me.  I was so bummed; I felt generally fine but the muscles in my legs were just spasming out of control.  I was ready to run but it just wasn't happening.  The course ends with a 1,000' climb back up part of the ski hill, which should have been a pretty easy run, but I was reduced to a death march.  I cramped so bad that I fell down a few times.  I slogged along with a little self-pity as a couple of other guys hiked past me.  When I got to the top, I contemplated taking the gondola down, but then decided to just go for it.  Somehow I ran most of the way down the last 1800' feet to the finish for a total time of 8:50.45, good enough for 10th place.

Finishing in style

A chair, some shade, and a TMR pint glass.

When I taught middle school in Mancos for a year I had a then 7th grade student named Simon Kearns.  Simon was a standout in cross-country and track then, but now he has taken it up a few levels.  Simon is 14-years old and he crossed the finish line in 9:18 for 14th place.  Incredible!

Me and Simon at the finish
Thank you to Jenny and Ella for being my super crew; thank you to Todd and Kate Kearns and everyone else who gave me some encouragement along the way; and thank you to Dakota Jones and Reese Ruland for putting on one rad race.

Every time anybody runs an ultra, or any other race, you certainly learn a thing or two.  Hopefully I've learned my lessons about carrying enough water, taking it easy at the start, and how to deal with cramps.  Next up for me, the start of the 2014-15 school year at Fort Washakie High School and the hyper-competitive Run the Rut 50k in September.  Oh, and the Bear 100 in September too.