Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Tougher Than Hail. Hardrock 2017

This is a Mountain Willow
as you can see, it is not very thick nor would it protect one very well from, say, an intense HAIL STORM! One that lasted maybe, say, almost an HOUR! But I digress. 
Mile Zero of the 2017 Wild and Tough Hardrock 100 Mile Endurance Run. I am at the starting rock with pretty much everything I'd need for an arctic expedition in my pack. Light wind coat, rain pants, arm sleeves, heavy rain coat, winter hat, chemical hand warmers, gloves, rubberized, Alaskan Crabber, Deadliest Catch style gloves and quite possibly some matches just in case.  There is no mandatory gear at Hardrock but I've seen some crazy shit on this course and I may have been kicked out of the Boy Scouts, but damn it, I will be prepared... and always alert... and stuff. 

Mile 7ish, Gary Robbins, Sean Meissner and Matt Hart mock my huge pack as I crest the first climb of the day under a bright blue sky. I'm running smart and therefore somewhere in 40ish place despite the garage sale on my back. The miles start to accumulate. I fall in with my friends Kevin Davis and Darla Askew and we calmly click off the miles, Maggie's Gulch, Pole Creek, we pick up another runner, a guy named Chris and we head across the expanse of high alpine nothingness past Cataract Lake. Above timberline and in a wide hanging valley we are eclipsed by darkness as a storm rolls in fast. KABOOM! Rumble, rumble, my stomach is adjusting to the altitude. No! It is the Gods of Wrath hurling lightning at us as we pick up our pace looking for cover of which there is none. Crack, boom! Speedwork don't fail me now. Somewhere over the next ridge or the next is the descent into the Sherman basin and trees and rocks and hidey holes and such. Boom rumble rumble we are a little freaked out and run faster, we are totally exposed. Then the rain starts, big drops like loogies from a giant with post nasal drip. We are still in high gear as now we are getting wet with our wild eyed fear. Ouch! WTF! Ouch! the rain is turning to hail! Really big hail. Ouch, shit, run! We are already running! Run faster only with  your hands over your head, Ouch! The hail is nailing my knuckles and my ears and my Ouch! Holy shit, run, run, ouch. We turn a corner which drops us down a small slope and there is our salvation* See picture of skinny Mountain Willow above. We turn a corner and the four of us dive straight into the thicket of willows. Kevin pulls his pack over his head, I yank my heavy rain coat out of the pocket of my pack and make a tent over my head. The hail pummels us. I can't see Chris or Darla as they are behind me. It is loud and painful. We stay put curled up in the willows. The hail won't stop and starts to build up along my legs. The hail is filling the hedge, covering us. By the time it gets a couple of inches up my legs, maybe 30, 40 minutes, Kevin has had enough. He says, "I'm getting hypothermic, I gotta go!" And he does. Everyone else follow him. I stumble out of the hedge and take the time to properly zip up my heavy rain jacket over my pack and body. I look up in time to see a mama moose leading her baby across the meadow trying to find shelter. By now the trail which once was a path cut into the alpine tundra is now a six inch deep trough of ice pellets and water. 
This section of bloggery is brought to you by Drymax Socks.
My feet were cold but not frozen. Perhaps it is the socks, perhaps it is the feet. Either way I felt lucky to have any feeling at all in my feet. My hands were a totally different story. Ten blue sticks wrapped around Black Diamond poles. I charged down toward Sherman falling in with a few other shocked storm refugees. We came to the first river crossing which had become a raging rapid as the river had doubled in size because of the storm. Running start and jump! The next few crossings had logs across them to walk across, only, they were now two feet under water. Eventually the hail abated, the trail became forest, the color started coming back into my fingers and I stumbled in the Sherman aid station in a state of disbelief and totally bonked out from lack of water and food and an overdose of stress. I ate warm things, I had some coffee. I found my gloves. All that winter gear and I had been only able to pull out my rain coat. 
I left Sherman alone. My friends had gone. I wandered up the road watching rogue streams of chocolatey mud cascade down the hillsides, across the road and my Merrell All Out Peaks. My stomach decided it had enough of my shenanigans and rebelled. I sang the yodeling song of the ultra runner for a few miles then walked it in to the Burrow's Park Aid Station. They were really happy there and it was infectious. I ate a few pot stickers and headed out for the climb up Handie's Peak. It started to rain. I was climbing well and decided if I could stomach a few Fig Newtons I'd be fine. I did, I was. The climb went well. I passed a few people and topped the 14,000 footer in time for another storm to blacken the sky. I got off the peak in a hurry and descended to the Grouse Gulch aid station where my daughter Hazel and friend Annie were waiting. I got in, got a few hugs then broke down in tears. I tried my best to hold it together but the adventures of the day had accumulated to a bursting point and the flood gates opened. A brisket quesadilla brought me back to my senses and I pulled myself together and out of the aid station.
I don't wear a watch. I run by feel and as hard as I can within my means. I have a pretty good idea of how to pace things. I've seen four sunsets on Engineer Pass and knew I was later than I've ever been. 
Take it as it is, I ran down Bear Creek in the dark to Ouray with not another soul near me. 
Gary Robbins is a near and dear friend. We've know and adored each other well before he became "Barkley Guy" and I became "Stick Man". We've always wanted to pace each other in a race but in never matched up until this year. Gary was waiting, and I mean waiting, at Ouray. First thing he did was make me leave half my "gear" at the aid station. He promised if it got really cold, we'd cuddle for warmth and if you've seen his beard, I was comfortable with this option. We left without both my survival blankets and fire starter. 
The second half of the race was a dream. I was hiking and running up and down the most beautiful mountains with the company of a great friend. We finally had time to really catch up and the miles disappeared. Kroger's Canteen was like an All Star Game of Ultra Running. Roch Horton, Jeff Browning and Diana Finkle were feeding us and, hey, is that Scott Jurek heating up some water? Howdy Scott. It was ridiculous and amazing. Back at it we ran the night away. Brushed my teeth in Telluride then headed up into the morning. Passed more people and believed Gary when he told me I was doing great. The race simply progressed. I swear I got a silly feeling on the final climb up Putnam Basin that I didn't want it to end. The magic of being one of the lucky runners to be able to pin a Hardrock bib on and run this majestic course, the unfettered joy of being on top of the San Juans chasing glittering markers, it really is my happy place. We were hauling ass in my happy place too. My slow start and pity party early on lead to having quads left for the late climbs. We topped the last top and headed down. Then we saw Adam Campbell slowly working his way down trail. Adam broke his back, hip and ankle in a climbing accident and brought himself all the way back to recover enough in a year to tackle the Hardest 100 miler in the USA. Adam is a hero and a fighter and an inspiration. We exchanged hugs and a few tears then hit the final aid station for Ginger ale. The rest of the run was a happy blur. We pounded the final descent to Mineral Creek and crossed the river. We ran the victory miles back to Silverton and as we came close to the high school I saw my daughter waiting for my arrival. I live for moments like this. Gary said something that stuck with me. He said, "You are on a different plane right now, pushing hard at the end of a 100 miler. You can't cheat that. That is only earned. You are one of the few people on Earth that gets to feel this." Then I kissed that beautiful rock and my daughter and hugged RD Dale Garland and probably everyone else within a two block radius. 
My time was 31:50, 24th place. An hour slower than my last time. *See picture of Willow above.
Two weeks later I have four Hardrock finishes and five toenails. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Giving In not Up- Diez Vista 50k

"Siri, find the nearest Tim Horton's."
I was still wet but happy and smiling and driving around North Vancouver with my 16 year old daughter Hazel. Our cheeks were aching from smiling and pink from the cold. First Siri led us to a Tim Horton's in a Hospital, then she took us to one nestled in a 7/11. We were in Canada, we weren't leaving without exploring the cuisine of our northern neighbors. The "Potato Wedges" were splendid and the BLT elicited comments the likes of, "The bread tastes like bread!" and "Hey, this is Canadian bacon, har, har." The coffee was good, the lemonade served in millilitres. 

Hazel went adventuring with me to the Diez Vista 50k north of Vancouver in Port Moody. We drove up on a Friday is  the drizzle and awoke on Saturday to a heavy downpour. The race had an 8 O'Clock start and has been gifted to Gary Robbins and his race directing partner Geoff. First stop was hugs with Nikki Kimball who came up from the wilds of Montana to run. Then as the race started I got to catch up with Hal Koerner while we glided up to the first major hill, the Diez Vista Ridge. Then the bottom dropped out. 

It started with being passed on the up hills. Climbing is my strong point and people were passing me going up hill. At first I was all, "See you...later, bro!" Then I was like, "Local knowledge." then we peaked and the gnarliest gnar gnar technical downhill I've experienced started. I was busy picking and choosing my little muddy foot placements and suddenly zoom! Some dude would fly past me at full sprint. I was dumbfounded. How can anyone run that fast on that gnar? Then it would happen again and again. I started the climb in fourth place, by the bottom, I was in 15th or 16th. I decided then and there I was old, washed up, broken, but I was going to enjoy the day, the scenery (which was ah-may-zing!) and I was going to spend an incredibly wet day traipsing about in a forrest in Canada. I gave IN but not UP. Then, the course flattened out a bit, went around a lake which was only slightly more wet than my outfit. I started catching people. Interesting. The race progressed, I got to see Hazel at aid station 3 and that made my heart lighten.
I headed out feeling positive and caught more runners. Interestinger. They kept coming back to me. I think they may have blown their energy stores on the first climb and descent.

I usually have songs stuck in my head during races. I've had Adele haunt me for 20 miles on Orcas Island. Elvis Costello stuck in my head for at least 85 miles of UTMB. Daft Punk poisoned my brain in Squamish. This race was oddly devoid of my mental playlist. I think I was so engaged with the technical terrain, then the out and backs where I could count the runners ahead of me, the songs were squeezed out. As I was repeating seven, seven, seven as I had moved up to seventh place, I came across the sixth place guy peeing by a tree and passed him, six, six, six and I came across Hal tucking his junk back in his shorts as I passed, five, five, five and sure enough, fifth place was soon trail side shaking hands with the unemployed. I was in fourth place and scared to death of stopping to pee.

The last aid station arrived in a heavy downpour and they said 6.25 to the finish. I knew they meant kilometers because they had that metric look in their eyes. I still felt good. My huge right leg was powering along and my paltry left quad was tagging on like a lamprey. My excellent math skillz figured  about 4 miles, I can do that and I pushed hard. With about two miles to go, I saw someone on the trail ahead of me, it was the 3rd place runner and first place woman. She had been killing it all day and here she was stepping aside to let me pass. I was surprised, pleasantly surprised and I continued to push push push to the end. The finish materialized in the liquid distance and I flew/squashed through the mud to the finish and a huge hug from my very rained upon daughter.
3rd place and a time of 5:02. I was thrilled. By giving In I relaxed, by not giving up I was able to bring it back and by being a tenacious old coot, I was able to continue to drive hard all the way to the finish. It was a blast.

Post notes: Getting the chance to involve my daughter in the full race experience was priceless. Getting to chat with Gary and Linda about their Barkley experience is what defines our community. Getting to flash a trophy at the boarder crossing guard when they ask, "What were you doing in Canada?". Fun, just fun.
All the pictures in this blog post are by the very talented photographer Scott Robart who was working the Diez Vista race, except the one where I'm stuffing a cookie in my face, Hazel took that one. 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Ultra Trail Tai Mo Shan Hong Kong

Imagine, if you will, a life in which you truly embrace each opportunity. Try your best to not let any chance of excitement, adventure, intrigue go unexplored. What would you do? Imagine eyeing your next year with only growth, change and newness as your goals. I had this mind set going into the late part of 2016. This would be the year I would try to train throughout the dark, dank Seattle winter and finally run an early season 100. I was looking at the Hurt 100 in Hawaii in January when I got an invitation to run the Ultra Trail Tai Mo Shan 100 mile in Hong Kong over New Years. They would comp me for the race, some hotel nights and the flight. Boom. I had no choice. I am embracing the new, the adventure and I said, "I'd love to come explore Hong Kong".

I coerced my sister Meg, with very little effort, to accompany me across the world.
A few days after Christmas, there we were, trying to understand the Hong Kong MTR subway system to get from the airport to the Regal Riverside Hotel in Sha Tin, Kowloon.

Six transfers later we were checked into the race hotel with a view of the pool and the river.
The next two days we explored and ate our way through the Kowloon side of Hong Kong. It was amazing. 7 million people stacked in high rise apartments with mountains, shopping, parks, funny signs, and really nice people everywhere. Years of English rule have made Hong Kong a country of bilingual, right hand drive, rule following, efficient, friendly folks. We touristed our way from Victoria harbor to Kowloon Park to

the monastery of 10,000 Buddhas

with amazing views

like this.

Then we went to the race briefing and it got real. I met Paul Wong the race director and Lucina Lo who was the organizer and the rest of the Invited Elite runners. I was honored to be amongst the people brought to Hong Kong to compete and the sole representative of the USA. Back across the river, to pretend to sleep until race morning.

The people of Hong Kong are lovely, really. Smiles abound, people are genuine and helpful. "Good Morning" is common and a sense of health and well being seems to be in the air along with a lot of smog drifting over from the mainland.

Race morning we were introduced to Andy, a volunteer who would be my sister's driver for the day taking her from aid station to aid station for however long it would take me to finish. He drove us to the start and played tour guide to my sister for 12 hours.

I spoke a bit on the stage prior to the race then toed the line and headed out into the unknown at 8:00 AM Hong Kong time which is about 4 PM Seattle time only the next day.

The morning dawned hot. What had been 60 degree days morphed into mid 70s. I was not prepared for the heat. I had been training in the darkness, wetness and chill of a mid 30 degree Seattle. The shock of my white, white legs traipsing around Hong Kong in shorts was one thing, the heat and humidity of running in this suddenly tropical domain was quite another. I started to slowly shrivel.

Things I wish I had been prepared for: A-The heat- I don't own a sauna but may have built one for this occasion. B- The terrain- I had no idea about 80% of the first 50 miles was paved steps. I was later to learn, the government of HK, in an effort to get people out exercising more, paved most trails so the populous could still hike during the monsoon season. No Mud! Great idea but really hard on the knees and quads and psyche of the unprepared runner. C- The air- burning eyes and a goopy throat is the result of Chinese industry and 7 million people in a small area. The Pacific Northwest's air is washed daily.

I dehydrated. Simple and true. I wilted like a daisy left in an empty vase. The pavement, the heat and the racing led me down a path of no return. I had my ups, I saw actual, live, monkeys.
I saw beautiful views like this-
photo by Clement Chan.


but eventually, I couldn't hold down food or water

even the Horse Boy couldn't help me.

I found myself heading down the wrong path.
and I heard the DO DO DO.

of defeat.
In actuality, I was getting very dizzy, threw up a lot and started to feel my kidneys hurt. I didn't think it wise to continue and risk ending up in a hospital so far from home. My body said stop. I did. I also happened to stop at the aid station where they had BBQ Goose and noodle soup! I couldn't eat it! I was really sad. I loaded up a zip lock baggie with goose, broth and noodles for later. Andy gave Meg and me a ride back to the hotel. Hours later, after a shower, I celebrated New Year 2017 with a cold baggie of goose noodle soup and fireworks on the TV in Cantonese.

The next day we wandered about Hong Kong Island and I felt excited to be adventuring but let down at my race failure. It is hard to deal with sore legs from 50 miles of stair running but feeling like you don't deserve to be sore. That evening we went to the race finish and watched people cross the line. I was able to chat with Desmond Wong who invited me to the race and had finished the full 100 miles. I was impressed. Later we ate real Hong Kong cuisine in a very sketchy restaurant. Why not?

Monday came and we hauled our carry on luggage across the city, through crazy cool street markets with all the sights, sound and smells we had come to experience, past the tall residential towers, the magnificent shopping districts, the bustling harbors, the orderly subways to the airport then off to Vancouver and eventually the very small looking skyline of Seattle.

I will always remember Ultra Trail Tai Mo Shan for the people. The volunteers were some of the most earnest, caring, enthusiastic people I have ever seen at a race. The race organization was spotless, the website and tracking were very good and the event was world class. I tip my very sweaty hat to the UTMT organization and Mr. Paul Wong Race Director. Thank you for inviting me and showing me your part of the world and your hospitality.

Thanks to Merrell for making shoes that could handle all terrains, to Petzl, Julbo, Drymax, to 7Hills Running Shop, to my family and everyone who watched the tracking and most of all thanks to my big sister Meg for sharing the adventure with me.