Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Importance of Not Running

Some people like to go all in. I’m probably one of those people, most of the time anyways. I’ve never liked the idea of doing anything halfway, and often think of commitment like jumping across a raging, ice cold, boulder and log strewn creek. You don’t leap over that thinking “maybe I’ll make it across” — you either go all in with full intention of successfully making it to the other side, or you simply stay put on the safe side of the torrent. You go, or don’t go, but there is no in between.


We usually opt for "go"


I first realized that I possessed this personality trait when I was in middle school, training relentlessly to make it onto the prestigious Yahara United soccer team, the reigning Wisconsin state cup champions and premier league champions. I’m not sure if it was a conscious decision or not, but at some point I decided that it was extremely important to me to make the team. I dribbled figure-eights in our empty two car garage during snowy winter months, I juggled underneath a streetlight at midnight during the summer, and did bodyweight strength training in my basement all year long. Did I make the team? You bet.


Life twists, turns, flip-flops, and changes sometimes; I coach soccer now more than I play, but that dedication hasn’t gone away. Now, of course, that dedication directed towards ultra distance mountain running. 2,000 foot hill repeats, early morning tempo runs and evening progression runs, and back-to-back long runs are the tools of the new trade. Putting in the miles and hours is a surefire way to become a better ultrarunner, no doubt about it.


About to crash and burn at Run Rabbit Run 100

However, contrary to the popular American belief, more is not always better. If we keep pushing our limits and slogging through endless workouts, somewhere along the line we meet the law of diminishing returns. We probably can’t achieve our maximum potential without reaching this point, but at some crucial moment(s) in the training continuum, our bodies and our minds can only take so much. I may be hyper-motivated, and I’m not sure my mind has ever reached total training exhaustion, but my body certainly has. My theory is that the key to ultrarunning longevity is doing something about deep exhaustion and fatigue before you’ve really dug yourself an energy hole. Sometimes being in tune with those physical and mental signs that maybe we’ve pushed ourselves a smidge too far are difficult to notice until it is too late. There are plenty of Over Training System poster boys and girls out there to drive that point home, so just being “mindful” or “knowing your body” probably is not enough.


So what is enough? I would argue that it is taking a break when you don’t really want to, and don’t feel like you really need to. For the last two years in the fall I’ve taken 4 weeks off from running, and basically any exercise in general. I can’t take any credit for this idea, that goes to none other than my coach, Ty Draney. I don’t have a great finishing record in September 100 milers, which there are a myriad of factors and explanations for, but it’d be hard to argue that end of the season fatigue is not one of them. I’ve been ingrained with the mindset since my soccer years that every single day you should do something to make yourself better. So, how can baking more cookies and muffins than running for a month make you a better runner? Sometimes doing something to make yourself better is being kind to your body, refueling the tank, and just taking a break. Check back with me in a few years to see if I’m right.

Keep your eyes on the prize

Ultrarunning seems to be an attractive sport for people with addictive tendencies; former drug addicts and alcoholics are pretty common on the trails. Some folks run 20, 30, or 40 ultras a year. I would not describe myself as an addict. Sometimes I feel like people view me that way, and maybe me choosing to stop running cold turkey, and patiently waiting to start training again is just one way to prove that I’m not an addict. But really, taking time off is not about being addicted to running, or training, it’s about doing what is best for mind, body, family, career, and overall health.

That being said, I’m ecstatic to hit the trails this Saturday as my 4 week hiatus will be over. I’ve enjoyed spending more time with my family, taking a new job, and putting on a couple pounds. But don’t get me wrong, I am hungry as ever to get back after it. So with that, good luck to you, fine reader, with wherever you are at on training continuum. Even if you haven’t “trained” in years, or if you are at the peak of your season, I hope you do something today that improves you.

Still time for some fall running


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.