Three months before the race I was carrying lots of baggage. Past injuries, DNF's and absolute failures weighed heavily on my mind. For example, my Bighorn 100 debacle was a serious blow to my psyche and confidence. I began to wonder if I had already peaked as a runner and was now out of the mix of contenders.
When I got back to McCall with my aching hip and messed up shins, I took a bit of time to regroup. I had always heard the best thing you can do is train for a race and then not race it. In effect, that is what my Bighorn race was. I got a decent 50K training run out there and ducked out before my hip exploded. I knew I had put in the training since winter and just needed the health to see what I could do.
I waited 5 days until I was ready to burst- and then erupted into a binge of PR efforts. Not the smartest thing, but I was desperate to go. Each run was like a celebration and cleansing. I howled into the wind, chased the elk through the hills and ran like a wild animal. Within two weeks I was feeling great and building volume- ticking off substantial PR's on my staple training runs. I took a week off so my wife Brandi and I could direct our first mountain ultra- The McCall Trailrunning Classic on July 14. I hiked and marked course and stayed hungry for the next binge.
The next several weeks were the finest training weeks I could imagine. Tons of tempo/PR efforts, huge vertical and awesome, soul-cleansing exploration days in the high peaks. I recognized a new tool in my kit- the low gear. I had always been a hill attacker, slicing into every hill with everything I could muster and wishing it were over sooner, panting and near collapse at the top of every one. I found this new gear capable of cruising pretty steep terrain without fatigue for hours on end. I knew this was an important component to success at CCC100, so I built a strategy around it.
To apply this new climbing prowess to the CCC, I searched the maps for the most runnable long climbs on the course and planned to gain on my opponents during those stretches. The key climbs I picked were the Goat Peak, Kechelus Ridge and No-Name Ridge climbs. I would run every step of these climbs and dared anyone to join me. I knew there were other steeper climbs like the Cardiac Needles that would be more efficiently walked, so I left those out of the plan. I thought I could run under 18 hours at CCC if I was able to execute as planned. I was not too far off in my prediction.
I cut miles, but not quality until the last week. Brandi and I traveled with our McCall friends Matt Tock and Katie Lombard to Katie's parent's home in Kirkland, WA. We stayed there for the week while Henry and Naomi Lombard took exquisite care of all of us. We ate organic straight from their garden and got some great seafood at the Seattle fish market. I went for two runs in the last week: we ran Mount Si to the top of the Haystack in an easy hour, then jogged around Kirkland a bit. I felt like a coiled spring ready to pop. It was finally time to unleash what I had been building.
|Atop the Haystack on Mt. Si, east of Seattle|
|Brandi scrambles off the top, with the Snoqualmie River below.|
|Team rendezvous at the saddle at the bottom of the scramble. Matt, Katie and I.|
|Henry and Naomi Lombard. Great folks!|
|Pre-race in Easton. Idaho's Miss Molly Eimers about to become the CCC100's youngest female finisher ever. She and Brandi are a sight to behold when they get together. I'm the old curmudgeon that won't get out of his chair until the race starts.|
|Mountain Meadows- mile 40 or so. Feeling groovy.|
|Approaching Hyak. Love the strange contrast here of concrete jungle after running all day on high mountain ridges.|
Matt and I met this winter in McCall and we have been good friends and training partners since. He has been along on most of my long runs this year, so he had a good feel for the pace I would be getting and what it would take to motivate me for the win. We left Hyak with a 10 minute lead- unbeknownst to us. We hit the uphill and eased into it, allowing my uphill gear to engage. To my delight, an 11 minute pace felt easy so we kept it there. Subsequent study of the splits show I built a substantial lead of around an hour through this section. We hit the top after 5 miles of climbing in the dark and kept it easy on the descent. I had a few crampy twinges on the down, so I think we only ran 8 to 9 minute miles here. I had planned to get sub-7. Henry and Naomi Lombard met us at Lake Kachese with a grilled cheese sandwich and some gels. We were gone in a minute into the Trail from Hell.
The TFH begins with a pure bushwhack up and down a ridge covered with tangled blowdowns, to the slightly better trail along Lake Kachese- still very rough, techy trail. Many scramble sections forced us to stop and use our hands to descend loose gullies. Every time we got a minute of running well, we would be stymied by a near vertical step or a downed timber. We did miss a critical creek crossing on the right where the trail continues straight. After a few minutes without seeing a marker we returned to the missed turn and found a marker over the creek. I fell into the creek. Really hard. One time I broke my GPS watch clasp and would not look at it again for the remainder of the race. I fell lots of times. It is extremely difficult to try to run well on this entire course. Very humbling at times. As I fumbled around in the pitch black night, I waited to be passed by someone not so clumsy.
|Brandi and Katie "crewing" at Mile 75- on the road leading to No Name Ridge. Apparently they got the beads from a Girls Gone Wild film crew out there filming their latest feature- "Ultra Girlz...Hottest Crews of the Pacific Northwest."|
|Still moving well at mile 75. Like my headgear? It is a Scott hat, that I turned into a vizor by sawing off the top. It's a Scott, Hat, Vizor...I call it a Shizor.|
We passed French Cabin and managed the final climb up from the French Cabin basin. We knew it was all down hill and we tore into it as hard as we could. We figured we had not been moving that well and must have been way off record pace, so we just did our best, stumbling and tripping on the millions of obstacles along the way. When the descent got steep, I knew we were near the bottom and the end of the techno running for the day.
Our crew greeted us with woops and cheers as we rolled in to Silver Creek Aid Station. My friend Ben Blessing was captaining there and happy to see us. To our amazement, we were about 15 minutes ahead of course record pace! Un-freakin-believable. I ditched my shirt, kissed my wife and took off like a shot. 4 easy miles to go.
|4 more miles? What could go wrong?|
The Record that Wasn't
We were seriously moving and I still thought I might break 18 hours- I'm not sure if it were possible at that point or not. We hit the powerlines and a long straightaway that was flat or slightly downhill and very fast running. We began to notice that there were no markers. I was OK with that because I basically knew where we were and thought maybe because it was so simple that markers were not necessary. However, we began to pass several intersections with no markers. That was unusual, because EVERY intersection on the course had been marked to prevent confusion. We rolled on and found a dirt road that I recognized. It was the road that ran out to Sparks Road and the highway. We took it and thought we were good, but we followed the road a while and still no markers. We returned to the powerlines and went left. We powered along at full speed, feeling the record slipping away. We were suddenly dead-ended by a lake- Lake Easton? We ascended and tried another trail, finding the lake shore again. We ran back up to the main dirt road where we met by Ben Blessing in his truck. He knew we should have been on the road to town by now, so thankfully he came to find us. He yelled at us that the course had been stripped and that he would show us the way in his vehicle. I dropped the hammer, accelerating away from Matt as rage and adrenaline drove me as hard as I could run. It felt like 5 minute miles, but Ben was yelling out my splits at 6:40. Not a bad pace for rolling terrain after over 100 miles on THAT course. Ben screamed at me to hurry, never letting my pace fall off. He would drive a ways ahead and light the way, then I would sprint towards him while he cheered and implored me to hurry. I actually thought Matt was in the truck yelling too, but I was just crazed with mountain running fever at this point and not making much sense to myself at all. Matt was hustling as fast as his Tree-Trunk Tock legs could carry him, but falling off the pace. This is why we ran all those intervals this winter Matty!
I crossed over the highway and its small uphill then pushed even harder, sensing the end was near. I pulled into Easton and sprinted, still thinking I had a shot. I burnt everything I had bottled up all day and went for all I was worth. I shifted into the form that I finish all my repeats on the track- arms driving, only toes touching the ground, chest heaving. My running life flashed before my eyes. The prodigal youth runner with plans of sub-4 minute miles in High School and Olympic Gold; the fall-out with my father when I quit running at age 12; losing my father in the Alaskan mountains in 2005; rediscovering running in the mountains in Colorado in my 20's; my epic off-the-couch Leadville 100 which begat my ultra-running passion; the endless training; the suffering; the enduring of amazing hardships. I was finally fulfilling my commitment to my father to become a champion again. I told the Old Man that I loved him and roared like an engine as I made the turn into the Fire Station. I repeated our family motto to the cadence of my footfalls- "Strength & Honor, Strength & Honor, Strength & Honor." Mr. Crissman announced me as a champion and tears streaked my filthy face. I had done it. I barely noticed my time on the clock as I passed- 18:31:06. I was so happy to hug my wife and began celebrating with my crew. The record thing was far from my mind. I was fully sated.
I had missed the record by by 3 minutes and 14 seconds. I probably ran in the neighborhood of 7 miles in that last section from Silver Creek, instead of the 4.5 or so the course required. The last section took me over 50 minutes to complete and I know that most of those miles were under 7 minutes. I accept full responsibility for the route-finding mistake. Vandalism and missing markers are part of this sport and the runner is always to blame for failure to know the course. The previous two record holders had spent many days on the course prior to their victories and that commitment and attention to detail would have allowed them to carry on with or without markers. That is what makes real champions like Rod and Jeff so successful year after year.
|Kent and Charlie welcome me home. I love the stop sign in the back.|
|Molly Eimers and pacer Dan Sears above Lake Kachese. Great shot Glen T! Way to hang tough and finish Molly. The pride of Grangeville, Ideeho representin'!|
What's next? I'll start with some well-earned down time...if you consider chasing the wily Wapiti through the high peaks of Idaho for the next month to be down time. I am happy to announce I will be officially joining the Scott racing team, participating in product testing, representing Scott at events and flying the Scott flag on my race gear. Very exciting stuff.
Thanks for reading and I hope something in this drivel inspires you to go hard in the hills. If the urge to run through the Idaho mountains strikes you, then by all means come on up. My friend Ben Blessing and I are directing a 100 miler in McCall on October 6- The IMTUF100. Just like it sounds- I'm Tough. The Idaho Mountain Trail Ultra Festival 100.
The hardships of the Idaho winter will be upon us soon and we have a freezer to stock with meat and 6 cords of Lodgepole, Red Fir and Tamarack to cut and split for heat. Maybe I will find inspiration in another race this year. For now, it's good to be home.