Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The North Face 50...and the future

It has been a weird and scary year for me, and the North Face 50 was no different.  After UTMB, I got sicker for a few weeks.  I did several rounds of blood and other testing.  Finally, they found West Nile Virus in me.  I made some dietary changes to avoid some foods I was found to be allergic- almonds, blueberries, wheat, soy.  Eventually, the dizziness and fog lifted sometime in November and I did some pretty good training runs.  I was reasonably confident I had enough fitness to put up a decent fight. 

I started out at a quick but comfy pace over the first few miles.  I was probably around 40-50th.  I chipped away at the field and by mile 14 was in the 30's.  After leaving Tennessee Valley at mile 14+, on a steep and muddy hill, I slipped a few inches and felt my left calf tighten and then tear a little.  I almost quit right there.  The same thing happened at Bandera in 2013 and it was not possible to finish or even walk on.  Amazingly, it eased up and I felt better after a few miles.  I modified my stride and was probably a little limpy, but I was still moving OK.  I began to rally after mile 25.  I was still around some guys that would go on to be in or near the top 10.  It was awesome running with Rob Krar around mile 30.  Somewhere around mile 35, there was an endless mud slope downhill with runners coming up the hill towards us from other races- marathon/50K.  I came around a corner and had to break to avoid a big impact.  I again slipped in the mud and felt something in my hip/groin pull a little.  It didn't hurt, just tightened up the whole area.  From there, my form fell apart.  My entire right hip, glue, groin complex was locked down and I had cramp feelings all over that area.  I got passed by several runners in these next 10+ miles, including 1st and 2nd women.  At the top of the final hill, it is 2 miles of down, then a flat and small uphill mile to the finish.  The downhill began to hurt pretty badly in the front of my hip capsule.  I just jogged it out and finished in 7:21.  I have never felt as fresh after a race.  The effort was genuinely easy throughout. It is amazing how good my cardio felt in that thick air.

When I stood on one leg to put my warm pants on, I felt a jolting pain in my hip.  I hung out with my buddy Andy Skurka and my wife Brandi, chatted with some other runners and ate some food.  Brandi and I hobbled over to the buses and I knew something was very wrong.

I am home now.  I have not sought any medical care yet.  Just trying to give it a few days to settle down.  I believe I have a semi-unstable fracture of the femoral neck of my right hip.  I can not walk or bear weight.  I am pretty much bed-ridden and every movement causes shocking pain.  I know the pain of soft tissue damage well.  This seems like a different animal.  A memory from the past gives me hope...I dislocated my shoulder in 2005 while climbing in Colorado.  I was certain I had broken a bone in there, but it was just very painful in the capsule.  I was climbing again in a week.  It is possible that I just let the hip slip out a little and tweaked everything around there- like the shoulder injury.  I am giving the hip a few more days before I make any moves.  I was planning a long rest anyways, but this could retire me even if it heals properly.  Time will tell.

I am in tons of pain and the future is far from certain.  However, I am not feeling dark.  I feel grateful for all that my body has allowed.  The Old Man surely knows I have chased this dream with every bit of conviction I had. I love my wife.  Life goes on.

16th on the Hardrock 100 waitlist...

Saturday, August 30, 2014


Well, it's over.  All those frozen pre-dawn mornings on the skis, the weightroom, the miles and miles and miles.  It was a great adventure, one that will certainly pay off in future races, but I wasn't able to use any of it last night.  I learned long ago that I either have or it I don't- and I hand nothing on this day.  After some nice runs in the Alps last week, I acquired a virus or some sickness that made me exhausted and dizzy all this race week.  I had some terrible head pain, muscle pain throughout my body, a fever and dizzy spells.  I kept it to myself and stayed optimistic it would break and I would be rested after a week of no exercise whatsoever.  I ate as much as I could, slept 12-14 hours a day and just waited, rather scared that whatever was wrong with me was not passing.  I toed the start line with a plan to be very conservative.  I was dizzy and wanted to go lay down as the final countdown began and the music blasted. It was quite a frantic scene taking off to that kind of hoopla.  I smiled and tried to enjoy the scene- maybe once in a lifetime.

I was dizzy and had cramping twinges in my calves on the first mile through town.  I felt completely disconnected from my legs and any uptick in effort beyond casual jogging made me see black spots.  Thankfully, it was raining hard.  That cooled me and helped to clear my head.  I hiked all the climbs and passed many with ease, only to not have the coordination to run downhill.  I walked basically all of the downhills.  I saw Brandi in Contamines and she saw the deer in the headlights look on my face and knew I was in for a rough go out there.  I climbed the Col du Bonhomme (second climb of the day 4000+') and felt ok, but I limped all the way down to Chapieux to the aid at about 50k.  Even the beautiful grassy downhill road that leads the 2 miles to town, I was only able to jog and stumble an 11 min pace.  That is 6 min mile territory and I was unable to even jog it at this point.  For the first time, I felt a bad pain in my lower back.  I wasn't sure if it was from bad running form or if it was a kidney issue.  I sat in Chapieux for several minutes eating some soup.  It had stopped raining a while ago and I was boiling, even in the middle of the night wearing very little. 

From Chapieux, I jogged up the gravel road in the dark towards the Col de la Seigne.  Then, my light died.  I sat on the road and changed the battery to a brand new extra battery I just bought for $50.  I plugged it in and it only showed 1 out of 3 bars remaining.  I charged it fully and it was nearly dead before I used it!  Wow, that only bought me a few hours of light, then I would be down to my small back up light.  Not good.  Onward to Courmayeur.  On that road at a bathroom stop I saw some red in my urine.  That meant it was my kidneys.  Now, I was scared.  I ate and drank plenty, but my energy was absolutely failing. I was swerving and stumbling on the roads.  It was about to get ugly on Seigne.  I took my time, knowing I was on the edge of losing my finish.  I actually climbed ok and even passed some others.  But, in the first steps downward, I was falling and beating myself silly.  I focused hard on form and trying to get anything going to save me.  I had an overwhelming urge to sleep and the dizzyness was making downhills dangerous.  I got to the Lac Combal aid. It was just 13 more kilometers to see Brandi in Courmayeur, Italy and I wanted to get there.  As I pulled into the aid at Lac Combal mile 40, my spare battery died and now I would be down to just my emergency light.  I had some water and soup then went into the medical tent for a checkup.  The doctor pushed into my right kidney and pain shot through me.  She told me my day was done and said I could get a car to Courmayeur.  I was thankful for their help and felt like I was risking serious damage if I continued to Courmayeur.  It was no let down to stop.  I had played all my cards and my day was done.  I looked forward to hugging Brandi and catching the bus through the Mont Blanc tunnel.  I will be watching my health closely- especially the kidney thing.  Hopefully, it was just from the atrocious downhill running form I was using and not some kind of kidney failure.  It was humbling to fail so completely. However, I know I was not able to perform due to a sickness- not overtraining or some self inflicted problem from errors in my preparation.  That is a small victory- knowing I am stronger than that and someday that strength will show.  It is just sad that it could not show on this wonderful course around the Alps.

So, I slept a few hours and here I sit blogging while the winners approach the finish line.  Not how I imagined it.  I am still excited for my future as a runner.  September is a big month of hunting and directing IMTUF.  We will be home in a few days and hopefully I can recover soon and try to race again before the season ends. 

Thanks for reading.  I appreciate your support.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Saturday at the Races: Huckleberry Trot 5k and the Brundage Summit Cat Track 10k

A final tune-up

I haven't run fast for a while. I focused the past months on as much volume and vertical as possible, which has not meant much energy to sharpen the axe.  20 days out from UTMB, I figured a day of shorter racing would give me a nice strength boost and recalibrate my mind and muscles to what real pain and suffering was all about.  It just so happens that this weekend, there are 2 local races starting just 2 hours apart that made for an exciting and acutely painful "speedwork" day. I have not run a 5k or 10k since I was 10 years old, so I did not know what to expect besides trying hard and having fun.

First up was the Donnelly Huckleberry Trot 5k.  I had it on good authority that the winner of this rig got a fresh baked Huckleberry pie.  Sold.  I am a sucker for fruit pies...especially locally picked berry pies.  I took it out hard, but my hamstrings were already very unhappy and tight after just a half mile.  Some rolling hills added to the fun and my heartrate soared.  I figured I could run around 5 minute splits- which I knew would hurt carrying all the miles and fatigue on my legs into the race.  At the turnaround, I wasted a bit of ground missing an arrow in the parking lot behind the old Roseberry General Store.  I rejoined the inbound course and focused on form.  Mostly, I focused on proper arm carriage and backward/downward elbow drive with velocity.  This drives faster leg turnover and avoids wasteful arm gyrations that plague my running as I tie up with fatigue.  "Put the elbows in your back pockets."

On I went, deeper into anaerobia and farther into the pain cave.  My watch registered 3.1 and I still had a ways to go.  My sub-16 slipped away.  I hit the line in 16:21 and was glad to be done.  I thanked everyone for the "fun", grabbed my pie, chugged an ice cold shake of ginger/citrus SWORD sports drink mixed with whey protein isolate for quick recovery, rolled the sticks with my R8 and I headed north on Highway 55 for Brundage Mountain. 

Finishing my 5k.  Marcie Betty photo.
As predicted, the pins turned to concrete sludge while sitting in the car for 45 minutes.  I cranked the tunes.  Neil Young's Old Man is the standard when I need to feel something.  Alice in Chains Down in a Hole to get mean.  The Stroke's Someday just because.  I got to the starting area and hobbled around to loosen up.  It was already over 80 degrees and my head was spinning and breathing labored in my warmup jog.  I took a VFUEL gel.  And another.  A VESPA Ultra for focus and muscle-sparing aminos.  As I jogged, a young kid bounded past me with a great stride and I knew he would be the one to beat.  His name was Gabe and though he was new to mountain racing, he had some solid D1 track and cross country under his belt at the University of Kentucky and had recently been logging miles with Max King and David Laney around Bend, Oregon.  Yeah, he would be in the mix for sure.

The Brundage Summit Cat Track 10k is a first year event organized by Brundage Ski Resort and RD'ed by my wife Brandi.  It is a classic and simple challenge that I undertake often in my up the Cat Track and back down it.  There are better routes up and down the mountain, but this one is a fine test of legs, lungs and guts.  The start is at 6000'.  The first mile climbs 400 feet, to where the steepness starts.  The next mile goes up 800' and is a VO2 maximizer.  Early in the 3rd mile you hit the "shoulder" of the mountain, hang a left and roll north along the summit ridge from 7200' to the summit at 7640' and the turnaround.

Photo by April Whitney.
As Brandi began her starting countdown from 5, 4...a bear darted above the slope just above us to the delight of everyone.  He was a beautiful blonde and seemed to be frolicking and enjoying himself as he bounded across the steep ski run.  3, 2, 1...GO!  I felt tired and slow.  I settled in while a kid in an orange shirt sprinted off the line, then soon it was just Gabe and I out front.  I hit the mile in 7:19- a full minute faster than I have ever ran that first mile.  Gabe was right with me.  We hit the first steeper pitch and I surged to make some space.  I always feel better with a gap .  I have been like that since I was a child.  The Old Man and I had countless hours of fighting over this point when I was young.  Real fights that went all night long sometimes.  I just could not help it and still can't.  He begged me to slow down and run even splits like in the Prefontaine movie where Bowerman is trying to get Pre to pace himself.  No matter the pre-game plan, I am compelled to impose my will and then out-suffer the competition if they choose to go with me.  Every good race I have run used this "strategy."

The steepness came and my margin grew some more.  My breathing was raspy and I was near my limit as the slope increased to over 20% for the final 500' vertical pitch to the shoulder at 7200'.  The angle eased but my legs would not turnover.  My hams were smoked from the 5k this morning and I was left with a short and choppy stride.  I have run this stretch much faster in training, but it was not happening for me.  The heat was soaring up there.  As I approached the turnaround aid station, I saw my Mother-in-law Rita and barked out "shot of coke...shot of coke."  I was falling apart and needed a bit of sugar to clear my head. I managed to get a mouthful on the run, a big splash across my face and tossed the rest.  It helped.  I hit the top at 26:30, a PR by about 2 minutes.  As I descended, I passed Gabe 30 seconds later, which meant my lead was 1 minute.  He looked great and I feared his youthful speed on the downhill.  A shot of adrenaline spiked through me and I galloped a bit faster.  My wobbly legs struggled to find a rhythm on the steep and rocky descent.  One misplaced step onto a rock and everything I have been building this year would be ruined.  My plan was to run the rockier upper stretch a bit more cautiously, then gain speed as it smoothed out below and run the last 1.5 miles all out.  Of course this plan hinged on having a big lead.  If the race was close, I was ready to roll the dice and go "a la mort."  As it played out, I was able to find a groove in the 4:45 pace range and actually gain a bit more ground finishing 90 seconds ahead of Gabe for the W. We hung out on the lawn a while sharing stories and enjoying the day.  Later, the party headed for Smoky's Bar and Grill in the Lodge for awards and beers.  The event was a fine success for Brundage and Brandi again knocked it out of the park as RD.

Up Split 26:30 (8:32 pace)
Down Split: 14:55 (4:48 pace)
Finish: 41:25 CR/FKT (6:39 pace)

I am thrilled that I was able to hold it together in both races and as I write this I am plenty sore, but in a good way.  The kind of deep quad seasoning that forces adaptations I will need after 75 miles in the Alps.  Not sure why I am always more hobbled than others by races and hard training.  I see after-race interviews with winners looking like they are ready to run some more.  I am always so much more beat up than anyone else. I have some theories:
1. I undertrain.  Possible.  But I get my peak miles up there to elite levels and can hold it together for 100 mile races, so I can't be that lacking for fitness.
2. I am old. 35 is plenty old for achy, arthritis-y soreness.
3. I am bio-mechanically unsound.  Yeah, my mechanics are lacking. 
4.  I race harder than others.  I think this is it.  Something in my brain allows me to push myself to a greater percentage of my maximum than most others, to induce more damage and bear more pain.  This is great when the body allows, but can be disastrous when things are not right. 

Recent Training

I'm easing back now- only 19 days to go.  I'm plotting some final training missions in the peaks to cap my prep for UTMB. Mostly off-trail hiking and peak bagging from here on out.  Really starting to get excited.

I'm working on a full crossing of the Crestline above McCall.  Not the Crestline Trail, but the "Real Crestline"...the top ridge.  I have looked at it everyday since I moved here. Brandi and I married on frozen Payette Lake with it as a back drop.  I have been doing recon work in small chunks over the years.   It is an obvious and perfect objective.  Roughly 25 miles long with over 10,000' vertical.  About 20 of those miles are off trail scrambling over the serrated knife edge of the Crestline and topping about 15 peaks.  Some highlights are Fall Creek Summit, Box Peak, Beaverdam Peak, Rain Peak and Pearl Peak.  The start is at around 5100' at the South Crestline Trailhead. After the first climb to Fall Creek Summit, you are above 8000' for the duration of the traverse, before dropping into 20 Mile Trailhead at 5700' to finish. Few days of rest, a good weather forecast and it's on!

Typical Crestline action around Beaverdam Peak.
Classic granite ridge traversing above Burnside Lake
Looking down at Duck Lake (right side of pic) and the 20 Mile Creek drainage- part of the IMTUF 100 course.
February 16, 2012.  We married on an ice fishing trail on frozen Payette Lake under the beautiful Crestline. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

7/28 to 8/3

Week of 7/28 to 8/3:
105 mi, 20 hrs
24,000 climb
All singles, one day off
Long runs: 32, 21, 20, 20
2 power hikes with heavy pack- up to 60 lbs of rocks

Stay Vertical Cross Country Camp
2nd Annual gathering with the girls of San Francisco's Lick-Wilmerding High School Varsity CC Team.  We had a blast.  The girls are a year older and much stronger.  They are committed to a State Championship in 2014.

Track day...5 x 1k.

Loon Lake.

Team mascot- Aksel.  He ran himself sick on this particular day.

Box Lake.

 IMTUF 100 Country
Tons of miles checking conditions on the IMTUF course. 

Eva on Sawtooth Peak
Brandi and Eva with big exposure below.

Sawtooth Peak- looking into the East Fork of Lake Fork drainage.  The massive avy chute that obliterated the trail below is obvious.  All will be right by race day.  Chainsaw goes vrooooom.

Hydration takes a back seat to Idaho's purple gold.  A bumper crop for the huckles this year.   "Best in 40 years."

Crestline Trail above Box Lake.  Pausing to inhale some sardines and avocado.

UD's Scooter J special.  Money pack.  All runs in the past month I have been toting a full UTMB load and this thing carries lie a dream. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

McCall Brewing Company and Training Update: July 22-28

McCall Brewery has been my favorite restaurant and brew house since we moved to Idaho in 2010. They have been a solid supporter of our mountain races since 2012, donating many-a-keg to the delight of our thirsty runners.  Now, I am thrilled to announce that the MBC will be my "Official Ale and Cheeseburger Sponsor."  I'd like to thank Owner Louis Klinge for his support and belief in what I am trying to do. 

Here's how I hit up the MBC.
1. Run all day.  Barely make it back to the truck.  Drive to town.
2. Try to remember a clean shirt and splash the salt off my face in a stream.
3. A 1/2 lb KO'd Burger medium rare, fries and a pint while sitting on their rooftop patio deck overlooking Payette Lake and pink alpenglow on the Crestline. 
4. Recovery is accomplished.  Ready to train again tomorrow.  Look at some mountains and get psyched for another adventure.

The line up.  Minimalist Bane IPA is my standard.  Devious Intent Imperial Stout if I'm feeling stout.  Lemon Ginger Hef for refreshment.  Mackinaw Red for malty sweet and balanced.  They often have several more beers on tap in the restaurant.  They are bottling and selling beers around Idaho now.  Delicious...All of them. 

Training Update: July 22-28

82 miles running
40 miles mountain biking
25,200' climbing/descent

Key Sessions:
July 22: Brundage Cat Track.  30 seconds hard, 60 seconds easy.  All the way up the mountain.
July 23: Track.  5x1000m with 2 mins standing rest.  Last 1K went at 2:50.
July 27: Granite Mountain 2x hard.  Biked 20 miles home in 90 degree F heat.
July 28:  32 miles on the IMTUF 100 course.  Victor, Ruby, Nethker/Bear Pete.  90 degrees F. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Training Update, McCall Trailrunning Classic and more

Training July 14-20, 2014:

95 miles, 25,000' vert
3 mountain runs 18-22 miles with fast finish of last 4-8 miles.   
3 PR's of training run segments ranging from 2.7 to 7.5 miles.


The 3rd Annual McCall Trailrunning Classic 10/20/40 races were a few Saturday's ago (Hardrock Day).  Two weeks of all-out physical and mental laboring for Brandi and I as race directors, with tons of help from so many friends and volunteers.  We had many miles of trails to clear, prizes to make, rosters, food, volunteers, sponsors, etc.  Always so much more than I remember doing the year before.  RD'ing is grueling work, but so rewarding.  We grew a bit more this year to around 275 entrants.  The weather was great and the course was in its best condition yet.  We had two McCall locals win the 40 miler.  In the Women's race, McCall's Yadi Spangenberg held off Carolyn Goluza from British Columbia.  In the Men's race, Nampa's Jake Perry led from the wire while McCall's Andrew Armstrong tracked him down.  Andrew caught him with about 8 miles to go and they ran together to within a quarter mile of the finish.  Andrew punched it to secure the victory.  The party lasted until the last runners were through the finish.  Great day. 

It is such a relief to be done with all that so we can go for a run without a big pack, work pants and a chainsaw.  The summer running season is in full swing now and we are getting after it.  Here's a few pics from behind the scenes...

Matty, Katie, Brandi and I on an all-day trailwork binge in the Lake Fork drainage. 

Lodgepole Pine "tree cookie" plaques for all finishers.  I cranked out about 300 this year!  Is "sawdust lung" a real thing?

Matty, McCall and I checking on a possible new addition to the race for next year?  Sickness!

Louie Lake.
The new logo is BOSS.  "Griffin" the Goshawk presides over the emblem.   He's waiting for a moment of inattention to pluck the scalps from the little runners under his wings.  He laid low this year, but we've not seen the last of old Griffin.
Other highcountry fun...

Sawtooth Peak.   Lugging a heavy sack of rocks.

Lava Lakes Trail to Hershey Point.  First time out there.  Not my last time for sure.  Great run! 

Bear Grass in full bloom.

Sometimes you just don't need to question which way to go.                                                                             

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

2014 River of No Return 100K

2014 River of No Return 100K
Challis, ID
June 21, 2014
63 mi, 16K' vertical gain (advertised)
1st, 9 hrs 15 mins

Buildup? What buildup?
I waited as long as I could to sign up.  For some reason, as I've beaten to death in this blog, I can't get my shizzle together by June.  I figured I might be able to eek out a decent 100K based on climbing power from skiing over the winter, some long mountain bike rides and a few weeks of building my running miles up to 50 MPW.  I had not seen a 60 mile running week since last October.  Not much volume to speak of, but I did average over 15,000 feet per week of climbing.  Months of hard work cross training to top a big base of fitness built over the last few years.  My goal this year was to be really healthy and physically sound when the summer training opens up.  A goal I failed to achieve last year in an overzealous pursuit to tame the Cougar. For 2014, everything points towards France in August.  I knew an early 100M was out of the question.  100K might be fine.  The week before the race I did almost nothing to let my aching shin splints rest and to build my energy reserves for a hot and tough race with huge climbs and descents.

Brandi, Molly and I drove to Challis on Thursday.  Along the way we visited Stanley and its stunning Sawtooths. 

We camped in Paul Lind's (the Race Director) horse pasture. "Run Strong" Paul is a real Maverick.  He's like a drill instructor, track coach, carnivore, cowboy, philosopher, ultrarunner.  Reminds me of the Old Man.  Paul is an Idaho original.  Tough as nails, rough hewn, yet refined enough to pull together a sold-out event first year, sweet-talking sponsors, land managers and pretty much every runner in Idaho to buy into his vision.  Well done, friend.  He definitely had help.  His son Cody ran himself ragged, his co-RD Neal and his PR machine Emily, among many others, absolutely hit it out of the park.  The tracks were laid for a great event and strong runners filled his entrants lists.

We settled into a beautiful spot among the cottonwood trees on the Salmon River in the horse pasture.  I'm not a big allergy guy, but as soon as I got there, I approached anaphylaxis from the cottonwood fluff blowing in sheets on the wind.  My face swelled, my eyes ached, breathing labored and my head pounded with a throbbing fever.  Add to that a tension growing in my left calf (from inactivity) that had me limping.  I laid awake most of the night before the race, pretty much resigned to not start.  I was past 90% sure it was not going to happen.  I felt tons of pressure to perform in Idaho, my home turf.  I could reason it away, I reckoned.  More piles of excuses thrown into the trash heap that this blog has become.  We would crew for Molly's 50K and it would still be a nice experience.  Right.

The Race

After catching a few hours of sleep, I awoke feeling ashamed of my lack of courage.  The 4 AM wake-up would give me a few hours to sort through my issues and make a decision at the line.  I fought off the doubting voices in my mind and beat back the cowardice.  I could stomach yet another DNF, but I could not handle succumbing to fear.

The starting gun was actually a mortar.  I was familiar with this contraption because Paul's buddies had been drinking hard on Thursday night and decided to practice shelling the horse pasture at 3 AM.  The sun came up, the mortar went boom and runners took off.  I was among them.

Rolling through the first few miles south of Challis.  Ready to test the climbing gears.

We sauntered off for a few easy miles through Challis before beginning a big climb on the Lombard Trail toward the Bayhorse Ghost Town.  The low 6 pace felt relaxed through town and the 9-10 min pace up the first mountain was fine. Legs were heavy and vision was blurry, but I reasoned that is because I was running up a big mountain.  Sure.

Bayhorse. Mile 16.

We climbed and descended again and again.  Some of the climbs were quite steep on nice ATV width trails.  I lacked my climbing power, but tried to keep a gap on the trailing Patrick Murphy from Missoula, with frantic downhill running.  He lingered and stalked a few minutes back pretty much all day.  One little slip and I would have been toast.  I ran scared and for good reason. This guy was really strong and having an awesome day.  I would have no surplus- no buffer of genetics, talent or fitness that allowed me to pull away and relax.  I would have to execute and suffer.  By 50K, I was weakening in the heat.  My climbing was pedestrian, but thankfully the downs kept rolling well for me in the mid 6 range.

Squaw Creek.  Mile 30.  Brandi races back to the aid to get my nummy-nums ready for the road.

McKay Creek.  Mile 38.  This section was really nice.  Very thin ribbon of singletrack through some elky meadows.  I didn't see any ungulates, but I caught a whiff of the herd here and there.  Stein Shaw Photo.
I ran well into Fanny's Hole, mile 45.  I went to the standard race-closer concoction of ice + half coke + half water in the bottle.  The boost didn't last.  The climb up from Fanny's Hole was rough.  I walked and waited to get passed.  I was trying hard, but the power was just not coming.  After a few miles, I hit the top and began the nicest section of the entire course.  A rolling ATV track goes over a 9,000'+ ridge climbing steep false summits with sparse trees to offer a great view in every direction.  Finally, the rolling stopped and it was time to get down to the business of committing to the win.  Approximately 14 miles of running remained and it was 99% downhill over dirt and paved roads.  9000' to 5000' as fast as my legs could carry me.  OUCH!  I hit the 50 mile aid at Buster Lake and took some more Coke.  The road smoothed and the pace dropped.  I stayed solid for a while, but I could feel my form slipping.  My core was aching, trying to stabilize the trunk as the road pounding tried to loosen the nuts and bolts holding my frame together.  Eventually, the angle of descent lessened and the road turned to pavement hard as diamonds.  No more giveaways- I would have to earn the win- one wincing, whimpering stride at a time.

Six miles later and I was running through downtown Challis.  Just a quick climb up to the track, a short lap and it was done.  I focused on the pain.  I reminded myself this is what I came for, and to not wish it away. Instead, embrace this feeling.  The pain, sweat, blood and endocrine damage I had accumulated along the way was the price of admission.  Who knows how many of these things I can pull of, but I know it could end at any time.  I will never take that feeling for granted.  I thanked my body for its fortitude, for allowing me to chase this crazy dream and for pushing to its edge again.  I thanked the Old Man for showing me the way to the bottom of the well so many years ago.  No tears, no joy, just gratitude for the finish.  I took my shoes off and planted my bare feet into Challis before I could even hug my Brandi.  Ahhh.

The classic dirt track of Challis High School.  This was the kind of surface I raced as a child in Ohio.  I am a hurting unit here, but Paul's kind words over the announcer's mic made me buck up and hate life a little less.
Paul interviews Patrick and I post race.

Wasted.  Take me done I'm home.
        Hiroaki Matsunaga (Aki) was third.  This Japanese The North Face pro races big mountain events around the world.  I will see my new friend again at UTMB in August.  Hope his first visit to the US was enjoyable.  I wonder how he found his way to Idaho?
Aki's gorgeous family.  (photo lifted from Aki's report here:

Molly finishes her 50K with pistol hands and bullets flying- PEW, PEW.  PEW, PEW.  That's the sound a gun makes.
Brandi and Molly at the Lombard Trailhead.  The third leg of their tripod, Katie Lombard, could not attend the race, but it was nice to know a trail named in her honor was around.

Shoes: SCOTT MK4. Discontinued road shoe and a good one.  First run over 50K in a road shoe for me.

Hydration: 20 oz Jurek Grip handheld from Ultimate Direction.  I drank mostly water and some SWORD carbo juice provided by the race and it was pretty good stuff. No complaints. I took a second bottle from miles 30-45 with more water to douse myself.

Nutrition:  Fresh 4 oz UD flask of VFUEL at the start, mile 16, 30 and 45.  Few pieces of fruit off the tables.  Half a protein bar early and a pack of Louck's sesame snaps later.  I carried these in the UD Jurek Essential waist belt most of the race. I probably should have eaten one more real food item at some point because I finished really drained.  Sugar was not cutting it at that point.

VESPA: 2 hours pre-race I took a CV-25 pack.  Then immediately after the start I had an Ultra Concentrate.  Each time I saw Brandi at crew spots (mile 16, 30, 45), she gave me a 7 oz soft flask for the road with water and an Ultra Concentrate diluted into it.  I ran along for a few minutes sipping it down, then slipped the collapsed flask into my shorts pocket.  Slick.

Clothes: SCOTT hybrid shorts with the best pockets.  The outer short is flowy and soft and it is bonded to the inner tight compression short.  The pockets are held in place and carry lots of extra food with zero bounce.  SCOTT singlet and UD visor.  Smith Pivlock glasses with phtotchromatic lenses adapting to changing light levels.

Monday, June 23, 2014

New York Mountain, Colorado. Genesis.

New York Mountain summit ridge.
I am sliding.  No doubt about it.  It is slow motion at first.  I reach for a spike of wind sculpted snow and it crumbles in my hands.  I watch each crystal shine and reflect the magnificent sun as they burst into powder.  I reach for a horn of golden granite covered in pink and lime lichens.  No luck.  Faster and faster I accelerate until the rocks and ice around me pass as only a blur.  I trigger a spindrift avalanche as I go.  It follows me down, sharing my last moments of consciousness.  A crampon catches and I begin the cartwheeling end-over-end dance that leaves alpinists in pieces and all but assures closed caskets...if they ever find you.  Then, just as suddenly as my descent began, I nestle into a soft spot in a mushy pile of fluff and all is calm.  It is quiet in this crack deep inside the glacier.  I have found a tiny perch on a bench of snow with room for one butt.  Make that 2 butts.  Beside me is the Old Man.  He looks cold, like he has been there a while.  He is missing a glove.  He is missing some skin here and there.  We share a smile.  The avalanche catches up and pours over us.  I swim upward into the deluge but it is over in a blink.  I am suffocating as everything flashes white...

Sleep apnea!  I gasp for at least a minute in the blackness of my tent as I wake and embrace reality.  I have not slept above 10,000 feet since Alaska in 2005.  High altitude messes with the mind and makes sleep a bizarre experience.  The apnea strikes all night long inducing panic and a feeling of suffocation as I periodically forget how to breathe.  I am on New York Mountain, a nondescript 12,600' peak near Eagle, Colorado in the Sawatch Mountains.  It is snowing and I plan to summit tomorrow.  Bigger, harder and more beautiful mountains surround the peak, yet no mountain on earth has more significance in guiding the trajectory of my family.  Let's start at the beginning.

In 1972, the Old Man was fresh out of the Navy.  With $5, a canvas sack and his dog Oreo, he hitchhiked from Ohio to Boulder, Colorado in search of new horizons.  People felt sorry for Oreo and picked them up.  Upon arrival in the Republic, he found shelter in a long-abandoned school house at 9th and Arapahoe with the other vagrants.  He slept in a room with a missing window, soaked from the leaking roof and used newspapers as a blanket.  The building has since been renovated and protected as a local landmark called the Historic Highland Building.  These days, it is a bustling multi-million dollar center of offices, spas, and luxury living.  In the early 70's it was a meager place to scratch out an existence.

Luckily, he met a man named Gil with a construction outfit.  He put in some work around Boulder for a week and rented a one room shack from Gil.  He cashed a check and proudly went to the grocery store and bought some beans to quell his aching stomach.  As he walked home with Oreo in the sleety Boulder murk, filthy with plaster dust and nearly starved, his grocery sack ripped open and his beans rolled into the sewer.  Gone.  He walked back to the store and bought some more.  Upon his return home, he realized that he lacked a can opener to open them and a pot with which to cook them.  He laid down next to the old boiler- no bed, blanket or calories.  He propped himself up with his hand under his head and and his elbow on the cold ground- he could sleep like that indefinitely- and faced another night of misery. This part of the story has always choked me up.  I love my father and it pains me to think of his hunger, loneliness and lack of even the basic elements of human comfort.  This is the best part though.  It turns out the Old Man was hard as fucking nails.  He suffered and LIKED it.  He had worked to feed and clothe himself since he was 8 years old.  He was a survivor and this was what he did.  He was a frontiersman in the New West and he was about to find his way.

One weekend, Gil and the boys were heading west for a quick job and some partying in the hills.  They wound up in Fulford, high above Eagle and directly under the hulking flank of New York Mountain.  At 10,000' and 25 miles from anywhere, Fulford was a lawless haven of hippy debauchery.  They danced and partied like hippies were apt to do.  They drank tequila and blazed doobies until the sun came up.  After some breakfast Banquet beers, they began their climb.  It starts from around 11,000 feet, already far beyond Dad's sea level, tar choked lung capacity.  Up a steep trail through the forest to his first encounter with tree line- where the real world ends and the alpine dream begins.  Still drunk and high and reeling from hypoxia, the motley crew made their way across the sublime ridgeline, staggering toward the summit.  They embraced at the highest rock and it was done.  More tequila flowed and the hippies whooped with joy as a fat joint rolled out of the summit register tube securing their buzz all the way back to the continuing party of intoxicants and drum circles of Fulford.  Good times.

The Old Man built lots of things around Colorado with Gil's crew, especially around Aspen, Frisco and Dillon.  I'm not too sure how those years of the mid-70's played out for him, but I know they were wild.  Eventually, the Old Man found his way back to Ohio and found a job in the steel mill.  In those days, this type of job made you essentially a rich man.  He still lived in a shack down at Grimm's Bridge and paid $10 a month to old Micky for rent and had lots of extra folding money.  He met my mother, Crazy Nan, and at the age of 30, he became my father.  1979 was a big one.  He fed me pizza and beer as we watched the Steelers and Pirates win world titles.  As Willie Stargell hit his series clinching game 7 homer, the Old Man jumped high and smashed his hands into the dappled plaster ceiling he had just sculpted, splitting them wide open.  I cried for him, but I learned that is just how Humphrey's do it.  Always some bitter with the sweet.  

By 1980, Crucible Steel had closed its doors, the bank had taken his home and my parents had split. The Old Man was living like an animal again.  Not sure how, but Nan got custody and I was lucky to see Dad every couple weekends.  I lived with mom in a rough housing project and Dad never stopped worrying about my safety.  I was surrounded by bad elements.  Bad conditions and bad people with bad intentions.  I ran to school everyday carrying my books- 2 miles each way- all conditions.  I wore dirty clothes and smelled of cigarettes and was often hungry.  Each morning, when the school bell rang, and the sweat cooled on my skin, I stood and walked to the front of the class to accept my blue free lunch token with the other "Scums" while the girls and boys in the fancy clothes tucked their packed lunches with homemade goodies into the mini-fridge.  Like Dad, I was a survivor.  I was too smart, and too strong to let that cesspool drag me down. Things got hard.  I got harder.  For Christmas I found a fresh pair of Coolmax socks and my first running log under our Charlie Brown tree.  Ramen and bread, Ramen and bread.

In 1985, Dad quit smoking, drinking and became a real runner.  He even did some marathons. The jogging fad had swept the nation and had crept into the podunk dregs of Columbiana County, Ohio.  I began going to weekend races with Dad.  I got some attention and climbed the social ladder for my exploits on the roads and tracks.  The mill opened up again and he was one of the first hires.  Dad got custody and we were a team again.  He told me that when I got older and stronger, he would take me to Colorado to climb New York Mountain.  I dreamed of rocks and ice and ran uphills carrying snowballs in my bare hands to practice.

When I was 15, we made the trip west with my cousin Brett.  Dad studied up and made sure we had the best gear to ensure success.  Flannel shirts. Check. Timberland boots. Yep.  That same old green canvas Navy duffel.  Absolutely.  We lugged the gear from the trailhead up to tree line to camp and shorten our "summit assault" the next morning.  I labored with the old duffel slung over my shoulder, full of heavy and useless crap- mostly Dinty Moore Beef Stew and flannel- none of it mountain worthy.  When we arrived at the site, things changed for me.  I'm not sure if it was hypoxia or the epiphany of genuine inspiration...maybe it was destiny.  When The Old Man and Crazy Nan got together in some shack way back when, their hillbilly genes were twisted and smashed together with all sorts of drugs and stuff.  Dad's hardscrabble roughness and mom's craziness were mixed into a double helix shaped thing loaded up with a combination of A, C, T and G codons that became an endurance zygote.  I came out bloated with red blood cells and jammed with EPO.  My young heart and lungs were huge and my VO2MAX was a loaded gun. I stood there feeling weightless, looking up at miles of talus.  I dropped the heavy sack and began, sprinting up the mountain.  I ran all the way to the ridge in what felt like seconds. I staggered back down, drunk from the dizzying heights and we camped among the boulders, brothers.  I choked on apnea all night and had lucid dreams of the next day's adventure.  We summitted together the next morning- a life changing experience for us all.  Dad felt as if he had closed the loop by showing me this alternate reality.  I didn't realize it at the time, but I was becoming something very different.  Ohio would not suffice much longer.  We climbed New York Mountain a few years later with my buddy Nick.  By then, I had lost the nostalgia and just wanted to push for higher, harder, more and faster. "Do we have to go there again Dad, it's just a slag heap.  It's not even a 14'er."  The endurance rat had already began chewing on my brain.  I wouldn't put these running tools to use again for another 15 years, but the trail was already forged.  Dad would continue his climbing attaining incredible heights in athletics, career, education and humanity.  A noble hillbilly for sure.

May 10, 2005 I awoke exhausted and dehydrated at 14,000' from my solo climb up the Messner Couloir the day before.  10 hours camp to camp and the Denali Rangers had begun to call me "the Lung."  My mountain ambitions were just starting to be realized.  I lay barely awake in the tent and plot more climbs before my flight home.  Something is wrong though.  I'm not sure what.  I stagger out of the tent and try the Old Man on the 2-way.  Static.  I check with the Rangers.  They had been alerted by some guides to a party moving slowly that did not come back to the 17,200' high camp last night.  The guides were already en route up the mountain and had spotted something.  Minutes later, it was confirmed.  On the flight home, broken apart, I remembered something.  "Drawer by the sink.  Under the silverware.  If anything ever happens, look there."  Sure enough, New York Mountain would be his final spot.  He put it all in writing.  Nick and I set him adrift from the peak the following summer, when Colorado had become my home.  He took on a bird-like, or maybe even an angelic shape as he lifted over the Sawatch as dust in the wind.  The sturdier bits of titanium, silver and steel- the screws, pins and fillings- acquired from living so hard for so long- we sorted out along with the bigger shards of bone, tooth and claw.  Even the fires of hell could not break the Old Man down all the way. We stashed these under a rock up there.  Forever his home. 

Nine years have passed and I'm back for a visit. I shake off my suffocating dreams and begin my run up the mountain- the final prep for an upcoming 100k, which is the beginning prep for a 100+ miler this summer.  As I pondered the upcoming race, I remembered his stern warning.  "Someday, you will run a marathon.  Don't EVER run farther than that."  He looked me dead in the eye and poked me hard in the chest when I was 6 years old as he told me that.  Sorry man.  You have no idea what you started.  I plowed along post-holing and chuckling.  A big winter meant I had to run 3 extra miles of snowmobile trail just to get to the trailhead.  I broke trail through waist deep snow in a sloppy wet whiteout, wearing a cotton shirt.  I am my father's son, after all.  Above tree line, the storm shifted gears and freight train winds tossed me about on the slippery verglas-ed rocks.  I summited and ducked behind a rock pile for a second of tranquility and to give thanks, remembering what this mountain means to me.  As I stepped off the top, I waded through a huge drift and my shoe was pried off by a rock deep below the snow's surface.  I dug for several minutes then stopped to warm my hands in my crotch and pound on my bare foot to keep it from falling off.  I stood there in the maelstrom, numb, with miles to go to reach my rig.  "A little help here please? Dad?"  The wind subsided a bit and I found my shoe and finagled it back onto my frozen foot.  I smile despite my horrible predicament.

Always some sweet with plenty of bitter.  The Humphrey way.

New York Mountain Summit.  Hypothermia coming soon.

Gold Dust Peak the day after the storm.  In good conditions, this and several other area peaks could be enchained with New York.  Someday.

Modern day Fulford.  Pretty conservative little enclave.  Mostly 4WD enthusiasts and hunters, from what I can see.
The old schoolhouse, 9th and Arapahoe.  A snip from Google Street View.

Back home in Idaho with Brandi.  First Brundage Mountain summit on a bike for me.  The 5k Cat Track climb took me 45 minutes. I run it in 28.  Biking sucks.

Our home is on the right side of the lake below.  It is pretty cool to climb a peak from home, look at your home from the summit, then finish by descending back to home.

Elk tenderloin + morels is the best pre-race meal.  Not a bad harvest this year, just had to go a bit higher than usual. These guys came from 6200-6400'.  The highest I have ever picked.