Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Some new to stir the stew

Where have I been?

I haven't blogged since post Hardrock in July! I usually do a jaunty race report after my ultra races, thing is, I haven't been doing any ultras lately. Porqua? Because I am bored. I am not learning much from racing the same distances, the same races and the same same same. I needed to stir the stew.

Spartan Beast, or Burpeethon 13 miler.
I took my sister to Honk Kong with me when I tried and failed to finish the Ultra Trail Tai Mo Shan 100 miler over New Years. We had a blast. Upon returning stateside, she decided to sign me up to race the Spartan Beast Obstacle Race with her. She is an Elite Master's competitor and she is ripped. I can run far and lift a 50# sack of beans. I had my work cut out for me to train for the event. I started by ignoring it, then progressed to refusing to do a burpee, not one! Then, about a week before the event, I ran all over the local park and jumped on picnic benches and boulders and did 100 push ups during my 8 mile run. Voila! Trained and ready to kick some Spartan butt!

The Plan, the challenge: Meg was in the Elite start which took off 15 minutes before my group the "Competitive". The challenge was to see if I could catch her. Did I mention she is really strong and knows what she is doing?

The race:
It started with a lot of hoopla but that is what you pay for, hoopla. Heaping helpings of hoopla. The running started and I felt great! The easy obstacles came and I was killing it! The wet monkey bars appeared and I did the first burpee of my life, well, actually 30 of them. Then, more running, then, more failed obstacles and more burpees. I would catch people on the running parts only to watch them scamper away as I threw my body on the ground, pushed up, jumped and repeated. A LOT. It was tiring. Tired arms lead to more failed overhead gripping obstacles which lead to more burpees. If the burpees had been slurpees I would have DNFed really early. Eventually all things miserable must come to an end and my final set of 30 burpees was within eyeshot of the finish. I saw my sister cheering from the recovery area, flipped her off and ran to the end.

Never have I been so sore in my arms and torso as I was the following week. The upshot- though I didn't catch her, I beat her time by one minute! Never again!... but... if I really trained hard next year...

Post Spartan I kept up my milage to be fit for a fall ultra but, nothing intrigued me. Nothing scared me. I  thought of doing an epic long run but couldn't commit to the time away from work and the idea of organizing routes and travel and contingencies was overwhelming. I needed something so I pulled the trigger on an idea I'd been interested in for a while. Cross Country! No, not trans continental running, but XC the team short running on grassy knolls and fall leaves sport. You know, the sport everyone who did it in High School loved more than staying up all night partying. XC scared me.

I joined the Seattle Running Club XC team and started practicing with the group. I am not a sprinter. Practice involves sprinting most everything. I quickly learned I'm a mid packer on the team unless there is a hill involved. I really enjoyed the peer pressure of trying to keep up, trying to not be embarrassed at my lack of turnover. It was really nice to be part of something, to have a team pulling for me.

The first XC race of my life was an 8k consisting of 4 2k loops around Woodland Park by the Zoo in Seattle. Pretty much my hood. I was excited and hoped to finish in the top half of the field and the top half of my team. Shooting for solidly mediocre. The gun went off and it was a grassy sprint for 8k full of dudes young and old and all of them fast. What do you do? You run as fast as you can and hold on. I passed a few folks on the up hills but mostly held my position to the end. Of the 19 men on my team, I got 10th, oof! Of the 86 participants I got 48th, oy! My goals of being middling were almost met, almost. It was fun. I had a lot of fun even though I kinda sucked.

Race #2 PNW USA Track and Field XC Championships. Same place, same course only this time broken down into Master's and Open. I was pinning a 50-54 year old bib on as I was now 5 days into my new age group. I was feeling... optimistic. This race was to be only 3 laps of the 2k course for a whopping 6k! Not and endurance event. It was snowing and blowing. The team was cheering. The Master's Men and Women lined up and bang it was on. I ran as fast as my legs would go for 3 loops. I felt, I dunno, like an old guy. Oddly enough, I was relatively alone on the final lap and sprinted to the finish without chasing or being chased. The clock read exactly 23 minutes as I crossed. I was later to learn I finished 4th out of 11 in my age division (color returns to cheeks) and I was the 5th team SRC finisher so my time counted on our way to a 2nd place team finish (head swells to fill running hat). I was really pleased to find out I may be blah in the open division, but in a much smaller, much older pond, I can still make a ripple.

Race #3 will be USATF Regionals in Portland where I may get my ass handed to me with a side of Tempeh Fries and a small batch, bourbon barrel aged porter. Either way, I'm scared and that is exactly what I am after.

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.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Hot Dog 122

It was hot. It was foresty. I had the same stupid kids song stuck in my head for two entire days. It was the Fat Dog 120 in BFE Canada. First off, the rumor of Canada being a cold place with hosers in touques is all lies, great white north lies. It is a tropical place with molten skyscapes, mosquitos the size of a maple bar and musty woodlands which ooze sweat and desperation.

They should have called it the Hot Dog 122. Yes, this year they added 2 miles to the fun because, y'know, metric. Last year the lucky bastards had a winter storm hit in August and those who didn't become hypothermic had really fast times. This year in response, they had a mandatory gear list which made UTMB's list look like a day at the zoo for 2nd graders. Two survival blankets, basically 3 shirts/coats, gloves, rain pants, warm hat, note from your mother, two liters of water, bean bag chair, remote control, spare pint of blood, quart of Maple syrup and a kilo of back bacon. By the start, which was 10:00 AM and sweltering, my pack was the only shadow around in which to huddle.

Suck it up Whiney Baby. No that isn't what my son said to end up in the principals office, it is actually the race's slogan. Trumpian and trollish yet a good deferral for those who dare complain about any issues with the race. Let's just say I might relegate the race shirt to "house painting" duties.

The bib #s were alphabetical. I pulled a 77! So I'm wearing my 7Hills hat with a big 7 on it and my 7Hills shirt with a big 7 on it which is basically 77 and I pin a 77 on my Merrell shorts. Damn bro, this could be my day.

I stayed the night in Princeton, Canada with Rich White, RD for CCC100 until I take over in a bloodless coup on August 26th. The Evergreen Motel was oddly not horrible and the Free WiFi actually worked if you found the right spot in the parking lot between the stoned guy in the resin chair and the dump truck parked by the pool. Pizza was consumed, Olympics were watched, sleep was had.

Race morning I was picked up by Linda and Gary Robbins and kindly driven the hour and a half to the race start which is in the actual middle of no where near a pine tree and hot dirt road. I got to meet Peter, the co-race director and he was great. I saw a bunch of hot nervous other runners waiting to get going and then we were. Up up up and the sweat came down down down. We were all going out way too fast. I had a plan, the plan of the old codger. My plan was to not go out too fast but here we were and damn, we were killing that first climb! I backed off. Most everyone passed me except the sweeps and an octogenarian with vertigo. I was running by feel and I felt sweaty. Half way up the first big climb we hit the start of Trapper Lake and a burned out forrest. It was amazing. I wanted to stop. I swear I'm no pyro but I love a burned out forrest. I love seeing the geography, the big rocks and crags which are usually hidden by brush and trees. I wanted to stop and explore but i din't. I kept running because that is my sickness.

There is a dude who is connected to the Ultra scene in Canada who owns a blueberry farm. He presses unsweetened, pure blueberry juice. I had it at Squamish. I hit the third aid station, where the heat of the day had turned into a sauna and dude had his blueberry juice there. I filled one handheld with water, the other with 1/4 blueberry juice and 3/4 water. I took off and that combo was like heaven. Water for hydration, then, when I needed fuel, calories, I'd hit the blueberry juice and get an immediate lift from it. I was stoked! At the next aid station I asked for blueberry juice and they looked at me like I'd asked for a caviar or escargot or a tongue massage. That was the only blueberry stop of the race but I will, in the future, find a way to drop bag it into my race plans.

The race went up, across, and on and on and on.
I met up with some nice people and chatted. The scenery was great when we got up high. The beauty of the area is that it is totally undeveloped. You look down on two drainages and neither has any roads, or logging or mining or anything made by man. It is very remote, pretty and big. Then it repeats itself. A lot. I finally found humans at a big aid station by a river. I ate foods, mostly watermelon and bacon and had a quality sponge soaking then schlepped my hot and sorry ass out for the next big climb. By this point I was running somewhere in the teens. My master plan was to go slow in the heat, bide my time in the first day then run well at night when it cooled down, crush the second day and finish yelling, "Fat Dog is my Bitch!" The part of running slow in the heat was spot on.

At some point in the late afternoon I hooked up with Angela Shartel. She was 2nd place woman at the time and we are both chatty. We had a great time getting to know each other, trading stories and watching the miles click by. We bonded in a way that only happens on the trails. Sharing very personal information and trusting each other with our openness. It is something which is a special part of Ultra Trail Racing which I cherish. Then we got passed by the 3rd place woman and it was game on. We crossed a deliciously cool river then donned snazzy neon orange vests for a little highway running. We crossed the Trans Canada Highway and wandered into the Bonhiver aid station. A major crew station. I had no crew or pacers. I saw Daisy Clark, a Seattle friend who was crewing another 7Hills runner, Dave. She jumped right in and crewed me. Helped me dump the debris from my shoes and watched me grump around the food. Her enthusiasm was so welcome and meaningful. She may not have know it by my demeanor, but I thought about her kindness for miles and miles that night and the next day.

Pet Peeve: Why the F can't an aid station which is on a major highway have actual food? No coffee, no soup, no watermelon and definitely no blueberry juice. Suck it Up Whiney Baby. I left with some bacon, a piece of grilled cheese and a few fig newtons. I was in my 40something mile funk.

On to the third big climb of the race out of four. The climb up to Heather Ridge was a mess of dark switchbacks and as night came the heat of the day stuck with it.
I was without a pacer or music. I had been repeating a children's song which goes, "It's hot in here, forrest in the rain, it's wet in here, tropical domain. Then you add all sorts of rhyming lyrics to it. Until you want to scratch your brain out through your ears. I had this song in my head for roughly 30 hours and 37 minutes.
The night was lovely. I would eat, get energy and run really good, then use up the fuel, start slowing and either eat out of my pack or wait for an aid station. The stations were few and far. The night ones were around every 10- 12 miles. I was riding the bonk but didn't succumb. My night was saved by a remote hike in aid station where they had perogies. Damn! Perogies! I loves me a perogie and they went down smooooth. I powered up and caught up with Angela who had dusted me much earlier. I ran  a while with her and her pacer then got passed my 7Hills Dave and I decided to put in some sprinting and catch up with him. We flew down the mountain and after some never ending switchbacks, emerged into morning. Head lamps were shuttered and we hammered our way to the big morning aid station at Cascade. The sun was coming up, the aid station was full of friends and they finally had coffee and breakfast burritos. I positively lollygagged. I chatted, I nibbled, I dumped my shoes. I ran out of excuses to stay so I left. Sadly. They even had ripe avocados. Another neon orange vest for another couple miles on the side of the road. Yuck. Dave and I ran to the next aid station where I dumped the neon and hit the flats. He stayed behind for reasons unknown. The sun was coming up but under a mantle of clouds, the Skagit flats, 20 miles of undulating flatish trail, way runnable were in front of me and the plan was still very much in play. 
In studying the race, it seemed to me people blow their legs early and have nothing left for the most runnable section of the race. My plan was to scuttle time in the first half and make it up in spades on the flats then hammer the final climb and descent to the finish. I hit the flats and started laying down some serious turnover. I felt good, really good. I had been injured for a year with a wonky hip. It was finally healed and I could do anything I wanted. No pain. My training was perfect building up to the race. I put in a ton of milage in Seattle, went to altitude at Hardrock and trained there and paced for 13 hours, then took that acclimation home to pound out more big mile weeks pre race. A week long taper and I was feeling better than I had in years. It now was playing through as I kicked up moss along the Skagit River. I caught a runner and he stuck with me. I stopped to pee and he took the lead. I was hot but hydrated. I chased him into the aid station at Sawattum. I had drop bag #2 there, a Bigfoot lunchbox containing bug spray and a bottle of coffee. I had both and some bacon and watermelon then headed out passing a knot of runners still in their chairs. I rounded a corner and the guy I'd been chasing was walking... he said, "I thought you'd already left the aid station." I ran past him and he didn't stay with me this time. I realized he'd already let me go once. I continued my torrid pace on the flats. 

The flats ended and the final climb looked, on the race profile, like it went straight up. I was stoked to kill it. I couldn't have been more wrong. The trail went sideways, switchbacks. Runnable switchbacks, inefficient switchbacks, meandering stupid, made for day hiker switchbacks. I grumbled, it was now super hot, in the mid 90s and buggy. I used a buff as a horse tail and soaked in every creek and drip on the mountain. It took forever but I finally got up high enough on the ridge to catch the slight breath of a breeze. Miserable. Worried my kidneys were going to stop working. Buggy. The scenery was really nice though Whiney Baby.
As I stared at the baked trail just trying to get up and over the ridge, my eye caught something miraculous. Ripe Alpine Strawberries! Nom. I ate them and it raised my spirits and my depleted calorie count in equal measure. Hot in here, forrest in the rain, wet in here, tropical domain.
Not in the happiest of moods, I found the last aid station. They were parked on the side of the mountain with not much of anything yet they had cold, meat pizza. Mmm Ok. I gnawed on it up the last half dozen stinger climbs of the ridge. The food professional in me tried my best to not think about how long it had been out of refrigeration. Finally, I crested the last hill and knew I was about 5 miles of downhill away from the finish. I had no idea what time it was or how I was doing. Some aid station workers had said, "you have a good time going." or something the likes which gave me hope. My original goal was to be under 30 hours but that was before the heat. Once it got hot my priorities became, don't blow up, don't lose your stomach and keep the kidneys functioning. I sprinted the final 5 miles of switchbacks until it flattened at a campground then crossed the lake at a bridge. From there it was a looong way around Lightning Lake to the finish arch but it came and with it a 30:37 finish time, 4th place and a substantial, not cheap belt buckle. I saw Daisy and she helped me get down to the lake where I took off my pack, my shoes and simply laid down in the lake for about 30 minutes. It was dreamy. When I went to get out, my legs were locked tight and I had to physically snap them with my arms. 
I sat and waited for #5. A long time. almost an hour. #5 ended up being Angela winning the Women's race. She killed it! I got a hamburger which I had a bear of a time eating because my tongue wasn't working. I found my van, changed and fell asleep and missed the finishes of the rest of the top ten.

Eventually I made it out of the van and enjoyed the company of the other runners finishing and hanging out. There was absolutely zero cell coverage in the area so no one was on their devices. It was kind of nice. I crashed for the night in the van and awoke in the early am just in time to see Linda Barton Robbins finish her first 122 miler less than a year after birthing her first child. Rich was pacing Linda through night number two. We hung out in a field of sleeping runners and limping shadows until the sun came back to remind us who is boss.
Sunday morning we drove my van, without air conditioning, back across the border to the USA. Mission accomplished. 
Shoes- Merrell All Out Peak
Socks-Drymax Trail Pro
Glasses- Julbo
Shorts- Merrell, new, zero chaffing. 
Shirt- 7 Hills running shop jersey.
Headlamp-Petzl Tikka
Fuel- peanutbutter crackers, fig newtons, Larabars, aid station fare, can of coffee.
Injuries- lost big toe nail due to smashing it into 3 rocks, feet wrecked from running 122 miles.
Lessons learned- blueberry juice & really, don't go out too fast.
No pacer, no crew, no problem
If I was a bear I'd eat people who wear bear bells 'cause that shiz is annoying. 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Shangri La 100k- China 2016

China- A country of contradictions and contrasts, beauty and bullshit in equal measure. Who am I to judge with my Western eye but judge I do and stories I have collected. Two races in 11 days, 7 different airports and countless meals containing yak products.

I arrived in Beijing on May 14th after losing a day in flight over the Pacific or Arctic or perhaps it rolled under the seat behind me. I came to China as an invited athlete to run both the Conquer The Wall Marathon (I did the 10k) and the Shangri La 100k. I had never been to Asia.

When I ran UTMB in 2014 I felt lost throughout the race. I didn't know the time, the milage or what country I was in. I understood enough of the language and the culture to make me aware of what I should know and did not. China was a totally different experience as I speak about ten words of Mandarin poorly, have no idea of the cultural norms and I look like a foreigner. I did not feel lost, I felt alien. Luckily, I had the race organization to rely upon to make hotel reservations, transportation and to translate phrases like, "What is the wifi password?".

Beijing is, drum roll please, huge. What first grabbed my attention was the free for all style of driving. One hand on a cigarette, the other on the horn while checking the cell phone. I imagined a communist country of many rules would lead to strict drivers, I was wrong. Driving in China is more cock fight than synchronized swimming. Pedestrians in an over populated country are considered fair game and the larger vehicle always has the right of way.

I settled into a nice hotel in Beijing on Ring road 3, slept a little then got up very early for the bus ride to the Great Wall of China. There was a large convoy of runners in busses tooling through the dark. I met up with the other invited Elites for this race, Ultra running superstar Nikki Kimball and Mosi Smith, a Badwater badass from North Carolina. The sun came up as we drove through the Chinese landscape along the Great Wall. It was surreal, I mean, the Great Wall of China! Finally we disembarked at the race start in a quiet valley with port-a-potties, an inflatable arch and military officials skulking about.

The Conquer The Wall 10k Race- The 5k and 10k started first with the half and full marathons to follow. I bolted from the start line up some single track as I was cold and wanted to warm up. Two Chinese runners followed me. The path topped out at The Wall. This part of The Wall is unreconstructed and steep as hell.
Crumbling, ancient stones going straight up ridge lines. So cool. I hammered up and down with my two chasers. I noticed they both had on blue half marathon bibs while mine was the green 10k. I asked them but they couldn't understand my jabbering in English.
I decided they must have dropped down to the 10k and considered them legit competition. We eventually hit the reconstructed part of The Wall. This was what you see in the pictures.

Jaw dropping. I could now open up and push it. I had my phone in the pocket of my new Merrell shorts and was able to snap a few pictures. I dropped first one of the Chinese guys, then the other with about 4k to go. I absolutely flew down the single track to the finish. I won the race in 1 hour 28 minutes. The second place man came in 30 minutes later and the two Chinese guys were actually confused half marathoners. This was the second 10k I have ever run. My first 10k time was 36 minutes. My second was only 52 minutes slower!

Nikki won the Half Marathon for the Women and Mosi got seventh in the full marathon. Katie Enquist the RD put on an excellent race with the help of Terry Sentinella and all the volunteers.

I spent the next day wandering around Beijing by myself. I sauntered out to the Forbidden Palace, Tien'amen Square and Mao'saleum.
me n' Mao

I was surprised at how few Westerners there were. Small children stared at me. People wore funny t-shirts with English writing saying things like: Don't Stop Premium When You're Done, and Universe Funnel Original and Hollywood Chap Riding. There were tons of military soldiers and police. They looked bored and very young.

The following day we piled into cabs to the airport where we flew across the country to Shangri La, a renamed town at 10,000 feet. Shangri La is the last major city in the NW of China before you are in Tibet proper. The population in Shangri La is 85% Tibetan and the prayer flags and temples reflect this.
It is a magical place with winding old streets and shops in the Old Town area and new buildings and knock off western shops and residential buildings in the New Town section. All parts of the city are under construction.
Nikki n' Mosi

We stayed at the 7 Days Hotel near Old Town. Then we ate, and ate and ate. Yakkity yak. Yak was a part of almost every meal and it was excellent. Dried, fried, ground, on pizza, burger buns, Yak candy, yak milk lattes, yak cheese. You name it, we ate it.

Nikki and I did a shake out run from the hotel. We headed up the surrounding hills, past family burial plots planted in the forrest, past a stupa (monk burning platform and prayer pillar) up to the Tea Horse trail which Nikki had run years ago. It is an ancient trail where Tibetans would trade War Horses to the Chinese for Tea. The history in the area predates the thought of America existing.
Shangri La

Yassine Diboun, stud runner from Portland joined us and our group of runners expanded in fun and laughter. The mix of personalities between the four of us was a highlight of the trip. Everyone got along, thrived together and bonded like siblings. Terry, his wife Deloris and the other Western volunteers that came along were busy with race details. We invited athletes also had some duties which included being interviewed and a photo session at the Shambala Cultural Center which contains a 40 foot tall "future Buddah" made of gold. Truly impressive.

May 20th we boarded busses for a harrowing five hour ride over a 14,000 foot pass to the town of Diqen. Diqen is a handful of buildings clinging to a cliff overlooking the Meli snow mountains and Sacred Glacier. This was race central for the Shangri La 100k. Our accommodations were unbelievable. Luxury suites with huge tubs, king beds and private entrances. It was here we met the other runners from around the world but mostly China. We learned there were a few top notch local runners who were gunning for the win.
Regalia resort n Spa

May 21- race day- We had to be fed and on the bus by 4:30AM for the 1.5 hour drive to the start. Luckily most the drive down the steep, crumbling, rock slide riddled road was in the dark.
We arrived at the start/finish area, checked in, had multiple pictures taken with just about everyone then, finally, at a little past 7, we started running. This is why we were here.

Yassine and I and three other fellows were the lead pack heading up the first climb and it was a doozy. Four thousand feet up a pilgrim path, near the top we came to a prayer flag swaddled building where a man was patiently milking a yak... yeah, this is cool. We passed all but one runner up to the top of the sacred mountain then Yassine left me on the downhill as his legs are about twice as long as mine. The downhill path led past hikers, Tibetan pilgrims, donkeys and some little villages with curious faces peering out windows.
The weather was overcast and drizzly, the landscape lush and I felt good. I Rolled into the first major aid station at 15k and had a coconut water and a steamed bun then headed out to the sacred waterfall. I ran past pigs, donkeys, horses, chickens and about 55 sacred sights on my way to the waterfall turnaround. I finally saw the lead runner coming back, a Chinese guy who looked very calm. I got to the top and I hadn't passed Yassine? He must have gone off course, I was now 2nd place. I waited for the volunteer to scan my timing chip wrist band for a long time then once successful, I waited more for the inevitable selfie with volunteer.
Back down the sacred trail and I saw Nikki coming up, then a bit later, Yassine and then Mosi who was running the 55k. Back past the pigs and donkeys to the aid station and more coconut water and another steamed bun then off to the Tiger Leaping Gorge. Beautiful single track along a roaring river led to a very high cliff trail with a tiny river way down there.
Tiger leaping gorge

At this point the terrain turned from forest to dry, exposed cliff. The stretch finally ended at an aid station with only drinks. "Be careful of the road." The kindly volunteer said. I thought, "uh, thanks, I think I know how to run on dirt roads but whatever." Then I rounded a bend and found out what she meant. The road was currently being bombarded by huge boulders being knocked down from the above cliff by a backhoe. The race signs had arrows pointing past the manmade landslide. Uh. I stopped and gawked. Then a worker saw me, waved to a worker on the cliffs above who waved to the backhoe driver to halt. I waited for the washing machine sized boulders to cease, then ran like hell across that section of "course". This is China bro.

The next section of the race was the pendulum swing to the beauty of the sacred waterfall valley. Road construction. Miles and miles of road construction. Bridges half built over littered valleys.
Dry, dusty, pot holed road with nothing to see but desolation, debris and the occasional roadside building. I may have already been in a half bonk funk but I was now in a full mental spiral.
The next aid station was the bail out point to drop down to the 55k or motor on to the 100k. I took stock and knew as much as it sucked at the moment, coming all the way to Asia for a race, and dropping down would be a bitter pill even if that pill would be taken in a really nice soaking tub back at the resort. I was handed a sandwich of Tomato, egg and a bright pink meat like substance. I wolfed at it greedily as I needed real food. This was the first food since the 20k aid station and I was in dire need of nutrition. Then the sun came out.

The sun didn't really come out. What happened is I was caught by Nikki. Just as I was finishing my mystery sandwich, Nikki came and we started chatting and between her company and a bit of food, I started to feel so much better. She was in the same malaise after the brutal exposed road. We were now on more road construction but we were together and it became fun. We stopped as a small landslide poured over the road, when it abated, we sprinted past. We found an aid station with Pepsi which was a nice treat as the earlier aid stations only had water, datemilk, bananamilk and Redbull. On we ran to a village with interesting people and dogs and cows. We began wending our way up a brick pathway which became steeper and steeper. This must be the climb to the Sacred Glacier! It was, we were both starting to cramp a bit and were pretty bonky but made it to the turnaround where we were scanned, given a bracelet and the ever needed selfie with the volunteer and his cigarette.
Sacred Glacier Turnaround

We saw the lead man still looking calm, and later we saw Yassine and a Chinese runner on their way up.

On our way down, Nikki had to stop because her entire body cramped. Go on without me she said. I did. Two minutes later she caught back up with me and we made our way back down the path. Another stinger of a climb slowed us and I again left Nikki as my climbing legs felt good. I powered to the top of the hill then down the other side past flags and stupas down to a village. The trail spat me out on a village road. I looked right, I looked left, no flags, no markings. Crap! I chose left and ran up the road, past a cow. I ran until I got to the highway. This can't be right. I turned around and went back past the unhelpful cow. In the middle of the village was an aid station and there was Nikki heading my way, the Chinese runner eating a hard boiled egg and Yassine just hitting the aid station. Crap crap crap. I was pissed. I refilled my water and headed out. Yassine took off fast, Nikki followed and I took up the rears. Eventually I caught back up with Nikki and we compared notes on which muscles were cramping. Yassine got smaller and smaller as he sped away. We got back to the Pepsi aid station and knew we were within walking distance of the finish. We hiked the road hard past the landslides and construction back to the sandwich aid station where our friend Gilda Catalina was volunteering. 9k to go. We started up the road for the last stretch of race determined to tie for third place.

9k, less than 6 miles of uphill, grinder road to the finish. Runnable if it were a short race but at the end of a long day, hiking was the only option. We were smelling the barn and working hard. With about 2k left to go we heard something behind us and were slack jawed to see it was the Chinese runner from the hard boiled egg aid station running up and past us! He was running! Past us! Where did he come from? He was young, I think 23 years old. We are not. He got about 50 feet ahead of us and started to cramp. We could see him slowly faltering and we silently upped our hiking pace. Fourth place sucks. He would look back, run a bit, cramp, then slow to a walk. We reeled him in slowly. It was a thing of beauty. Nikki and I, working together, old, tenacious, wise to the ways of racing, and we were now racing, reeling, catching, passing then upping the pace a touch more to separate from the young buck who showed his hand too early. By the last bend in the road before the finish, he was well out of sight and we didn't need to red line to the end.
As it was I was losing feeling in my arms so I was glad to not have to push a sprint finish uphill. We crossed the line in 12:28. I got 3rd Male, Nikki got 1st Female and there was Yassine who finished about 5 minutes before us. The calm Chinese runner won the 100k by a large margin and the young Chinese guy we passed rolled in about 4 minutes after us. All in all, a very successful day.
Nikki, me and an Australian

The finish area had a great arch, tons of sponsor flags, a podium stage and no food at all save for milk, yoghurt and Shangri La Beer. As runners would finish, they would fill busses and once full send them back to the Regalia Resort and Spa. We changed clothes, laid around, had some hot water then got on a bus to the hotel. The town was closed as it was now night. I came back to my luxury suite, showered then had a recovery meal of Yak Jerky and Shangri La Beer. I found it hilarious.

The next morning found me at the buffet line piling my plate high with breakfast food.
We ate and talked with other runners about their experiences. Everyone was thrilled with their race, the course, the things they had seen. We waited for an award ceremony which failed to materialize then checked out of our suites and loaded back onto the busses for the 5 hour ride back to Shangri La.

The rest of the trip was a collage of airports, layovers, hotels, subways, and a large, loud, fun Chinese meal for our last night in Beijing.
Upon finally landing in Vancouver, Ca. The first thing I did was drink from a drinking fountain and check Facebook which is blocked in China. My final stop was Seattle and the arms of my beautiful family. On our way home from the airport I couldn't help notice how small the Seattle skyline seemed and how good the drivers.
Chongdu China

In a couple of years, once the wrinkles have been ironed out and the race directors at UTRMA get enough feedback on what American and European runners need, the Shangri La 100k will become a world class, destination event. My Chinese visa is good for 10 years and I can't imagine not coming back to revisit this amazing part of the world. Next time I'm bringing my family.

Huge thank you to Terry Sentinella and NW Endurance Runs for the invitation to compete in China, to Katie Enquist for Conquer The Wall, to Oscar and MJ of UTRMA, to Merrell for the perfect gear for the adventure, to Julbo eyeware, Petzl headlamps, Drymax socks and most of all to My wife Jane and kids for letting me stretch my wings across the globe and huge thanks to Chris Barry for keeping everything in great shape at work while I was away.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Time and space

I got on a plane with my family in Seattle. We flew to the middle of the Pacific Ocean and landed on Kauai.
Here I am three hours different. The sun rises, the sun sets only three hours later than my home. I am here. I have a tendency to adapt fairly quick to time changes because I'm either very simple or very complex, the jury is still out.

Rewind, what are you doing on Kauai?

Six years ago we had a vacation in Hawaii and decided we would return every three years. We figured if we put away $1,500 a year and planned on eating cat food as seniors we could do this. Six years slipped past with the budget going to other trips based around my Ultra races and family visits. This year the Teriyaki Chicken came home to roost and we decided to return to paradise. So here we are.

In little over a month from now, May 13th to be exact, I will board a plane to take me the rest of the way across the Pacific. I will be going to China to run two races. China is a day and a half ahead of Seattle time. Will I adjust? Will I rise and sleep with the sun or will my internal clock rule the day?
I am hoping my body goes to sleep on the plane and reboots upon arrival.

Rewind, what? China?

Yes! Chi-frickin-na! I was invited to the second running of the Shangri-La Marathons 100k in the highlands of Yunnan Province. Think, Eastern Himalaya, Tibetan Plateau. Yak, monasteries, pilgrims, butter tea, high altitude. Oh, that's right, altitude, that is going to be an issue. Race is held between 7,000 and 12,000 feet. I will not be acclimated to the altitude, culture, language, food, water, time, or toilets. The only things I will have of comfort will be other runners. The language of running is international. Plus, I will be accompanied by Co-race- director, Terry Sentinella, Portland elite Yassine Diboun and Ultra running legend Nikki Kimbal.

Race website is: http://shangri-la-marathon.com/ It looks sooo dang cool.

My generous hosts also wanted me to run another of their races, the Conquer The Wall Marathon six days prior to Shangri-La. I at first said no as it seemed a bad idea to race that soon before a 100k. Then I realized my folly. Run a race on the Great Wall of China? Hello chance of a lifetime! I said yes but only to the half marathon, then I saw the course! It is all stairs! Jeepers. The winning time from last year was 3:30 something for the half! I down graded to the 10k. I will be stopping and taking pictures along the way.

Elasticity of time is going to be key for China.
I leave on a Friday morning, I arrive on Saturday evening. Conquer The Wall 10k is early Sunday morning. The only way to adapt is to become one with one's place. I think this is a valuable lesson for life. I've found running long races is a great exercise in being where you are. Sometimes it feels like the storm is your new reality or the heat will be here forever. Giving in and accepting what life gives you at the moment calms the mind and allows the body to follow. Fighting or over analyzing wastes energy.

For now, I've accepted my new reality to be this beautiful tropical island.
Big thanks to Merrell, Drymax, Julbo, 7Hills running shop and Globespun Gourmet