Frölicking trails since 2010

Frölicking trails since 2010
Frölicking trails since 2010

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Pacing Randy - 60 miles at the IMTUF 100-mile Race, Idaho - October 6-7, 2012

"I can tell how cold it is just from my nipples"


BACKGROUND

Pre-Race Meeting,
Photo By Long Run
Picture Company
Shortly after Randy signed up for the IMTUF 100 mile race, I offered to be his pacer. Randy is a 100-mile veteran, completing most of his 100-mile races without a pacer (including a sub-24 hour finish at Cascade Crest in 2011). He didn’t need a pacer (many runners don’t), but it usually provides welcome company during the dark, cold, sleepy, lonely hours of the night and early morning. He accepted my offer to pace him, and I’m grateful for him allowing me to be a part of his adventure.


We bought these glasses
at a dollar store, in case
we needed to keep our
eyes from freezing.
Marjon, Randy, and I drove from Portland to the Burgdorf HotSprings in Idaho over a 2-day period. We made stops at select rest areas, Randy’s favorite gas station, historical landmarks, and even spent the night in a haunted hotel. After arriving at the Burgdorf Hot Springs on Friday evening, we settled into our rustic cabin and casually showed up late for the mandatory pre-race meeting (we may have missed a small important pivotal piece of information at the beginning of the meeting). After some group photos and last minute organizing of drop bags, we slept.


SINGLE DIGITS

Holy balls. The temperature at the start of the race was about 8° F. My upper lip was freezing, providing yet another reason of why I was jealous of Randy’s mustache. Ready or not, there was no choice in the matter. Randy had mountains to conquer.

Start of the race
3…2…1…YOU POOR, CRAZY, CRAZY PEOPLE….

Watching the runners disappear into the freezing darkness, I couldn’t help but feel a small bit of pity for what they were about to go through…and shear jealousy. There’s something about extreme weather that makes the running experience that much more awesome and ridiculous at the same time. Randy (and everyone else) would have to run smart and efficient to survive the tough course and the brisk elements, and I couldn’t wait to join them.

MILE 12 - CHINOOK CAMPGROUND, FIRST CREW ACCESS

Marjon was full time crew. I was part time crew. Together, we were the best crew ever! We showed up at mile 12 bearing any supplies that Randy might need including hand warmers, sets of clothing, and glasses (from the dollar store) to keep his corneas from freezing. As the first 5 runners came into the aid station, all facial hair had been turned to ice, some of their water bottles were frozen shut, and one runner had Nun chucks (he was dressed like Michelangelo). Soon after the group of runners had left, Randy came running in with a face that could be nominated for the Mustache Hall of Fame. It was hard to tell if Randy was smiling, or if his face was just frozen that way…either way, he was running strong and on schedule. GO RANDY!....Ok Marjon, start the car, start the car! Brrrrr!!!

Mile 12
MILE 32 - UPPER PAYATTE LAKE, 2nd CREW ACCESS

Marjon and I took the scenic route to this aid station…as in, we accidentally went to the wrong aid station before realizing how very wrong we were. Bad crew! Bad Crew! We zipped to the correct aid station, just in time! Not before too long, Randy showed up. It was nearly noon, and Randy needed to change out of his cold weather gear. The weather was sunny and around 50° F. so far, he was running his own race and doing a strong job of it. The frontrunner was far in front of everyone, but Randy didn’t need to win...he needed to finish. Randy was in 1st place in the Idaho Trail Ultra Series, and all he had to do was finish the damn race and he would have a solid chance at winning the series. There were other factors, but everything was looking good for Randy. As soon as he was willing and able, he left the aid station to chase his destiny.

MILE 44 - THIRD CREW ACCESS (Enter Pacers)

We arrived PLENTY early to await Randy. I began my preparations for pacing as Marjon slipped into a red dress and a blonde wig…hey, whatever it takes to motivate Randy. She went far down the road to wait for him, and I anxiously awaited my opportunity to pace.

Away we go!
Randy came marching up the hill with Marjon at his side. He was having stomach issues at the time, and nothing edible sounded good to him. Human bodies typically require calories as an energy source, so getting any kind of food into Randy was crucial. He wolfed down a few bites of something (PB&J Burrito?), knelt down like he was going to throw up…but didn’t. He then rested, fiddled with his supplies, and we took off together down a long 3 mile stretch of downhill gravel road to the next aid station. Randy was running an easy pace, with some walk breaks on any flat or uphill terrain. This course was tougher in real life than it looked on paper, and without a steady inflow of calories, efficiency was kind of important. My role as a pacer wasn’t to push Randy to run fast, but to give company to a man who knows exactly what he has to do to finish.

Marjon then drove by us blasting Gangnam Style from the truck.

MILE 47 – SNOWSLIDE TRAILHEAD

Of all the scenarios playing in my head, there was only 1 where Randy might drop out of the race. If he couldn’t somehow manage to get calories that he needed, there would be a point where his system would likely crash. It seemed like every type of food made him nauseous, but little by little he somehow ate enough to keep moving.

The next 3 miles were a steep rugged grind of a climb, and the pace was like dancing the fox trot without the quick-quick. It was clear that Randy had the end in mind, for he was saving his climbing legs for the 2nd half of the race. So as we climbed, we took our time and soaked in the beauty of it all. After reaching the peak, my Garmin said we were just over 50 miles into the race. We then coasted downhill (no faster than a 9:30 min/mile pace) for about 8 miles to the next aid station.

Climbing to the 50 mile mark
Plants on Fire
MILE 58 – LAKE FORK AID STATION, 4th CREW ACCESS

As we arrived, the light faded completely. Marjon was there, and she seated Randy by the camp fire. I ran to the car and grabbed a plastic bag full of clothing, dumped it onto the ground, and did a complete wardrobe change to prepare for the below freezing nighttime temperatures: New shirts, vest, fleece jacket, fleece hat, gloves, a second layer of shorts, arm sleeves, and two fresh headlamps. A man at the aid station bluntly warned me that it would be too cold for my bare legs…my running experience told me otherwise, so I ignored him and helped grab food for Randy. As a vegan, Randy’s food options were limited. Marjon had lots of Randy snacks, but the aid stations limited him to PB&J sandwiches, pretzels, and fruit...and at the time, Randy seemingly hated fruit.

Meanwhile, the next runner came into the aid station with a huge blister on one of his toes, and he was about to sit down and get it lanced. That sounded exciting to me, so I rushed over there to take a look. In my haste, the soup in my hand had spilt over the edge and onto my right shoe. Fiddlesticks. Not knowing if my wet foot would soon become a frozen foot, I changed into one of my backup shoes. By the time we left the aid station, I would somehow spill my water bottle onto the same damn shoe. WTF, fine I’ll run with a wet shoe. F. Damn. Gosh dang. Gee whiz. It would later prove irrelevant.

The next aid station was only 3 miles away on a mostly flat gravel road. This section of running remained uneventful except for the soothing sounds of burps, farts, and compliments on the quality of such sounds.

MILE 61 - FALL CREEK AID STATION

This was a lovely quaint aid station, completely enclosed in a heated tent. Randy requested 5 minutes to rest and ingest some food. When his 5 minutes were up, we shoved off. From here, the trail was a long steep climb. Our body temperatures were getting hot from the ascent, but as soon as we took off our jackets we started freezing. Cause we’re hot then we’re cold, we’re yes then were no, we’re in then we’re out, we’re up then we’re down. Pretty much. Eventually we were caught by Ryan Lund and his pacer Joelle Vaught. We could hear Joelle chatting from a mile away, and it’s easy to see why she makes a great pacer. After they dusted us, I started to realize how quiet I was. As Randy was getting more and more tired, I would have to find ways to keep him from falling asleep on his feet. Randy couldn’t ingest any form of caffeine, but at least the ginger candies were helping…for now.

The trail became brutally steep before leveling off and eventually catching an ATV trail for a long downhill descent. The trail was covered with soft moon dust (very fine silt, like a turkish grind), and we were keeping a decent pace.

Mile 67 – BLACKWELL LAKE

As we reached the aid station, my shoe started to press into my forefoot uncomfortably. Upon further inspection, the moon dust was beginning to accumulate directly on the forefoot of my insole, which would explain why my foot was feeling tenderized. Using my fingernails, I scraped off the moon dust from the insoles of both shoes.

The distance to the next aid station was about 11 miles. Within the first few miles, we had to stop a couple times to scrape the moon dust from the insoles of our shoes. It’s amazing how something so small can buildup and cause such excruciating discomfort. Onward we marched, eventually leaving the dusty ATV trail and ascending some kind of ridge. Every so often, I would shine my headlamp into the wilderness on either side of us to try and see if we were being watched by anything wild. No eyes reflected back, but maybe that was a good thing. My ability to talk at Randy was 1/100th the scale of Joelle Vaught’s ability, but I kept trying. “Hey Randy, have you ever chopped a tree down with an axe before? REALLY?! How big was it? Wow, that’s manly. I’m impressed….umm…what’s your favorite kind of dog?...interesting…Yeah, I’m the best pacer ever. While telling one of my favorite stories from my soul-searching trip to Scotland, Randy actually stopped running for a second. With his headlamp beaming in my face, I turned to him and asked:

Me: Hey, are you alright?
Randy: …huh? Oh, yeah. I think I just fell asleep.

Without caffeine, only adrenaline was keeping him awake. Not even the coolest story of my life (hiking the Highlands of Scotland in a kilt) could keep the man awake, thus insulting me, though unintentionally. Eventually, Randy managed to ingest a caffeine-concentrated Gel which definitely helped. However, his biggest motivation was to make it to the next Aid Station and recharge. The outside temperature was around 14° F, but it was a dry cold…I don’t know how that works, but our water bottles surprisingly weren’t even freezing (but wet boggy areas were). We approached every stream crossing very cautiously to avoid getting our feet wet, especially with the freezing temperatures. We were fortunate to not slip into the streams, given the sketchiness of some of the crossings.

The mileage on my Garmin suggested we were getting close next aid station, and Randy was lifelessly marching up the hills hoping to see some signs of warmth and food. I was also marching, but with the purpose of hoping to find an actual toilet to sit on. We were surrounded by nothing that would serve as comfortable toilet paper, and I kept kidding myself that the aid station would be around the next corner, with a heated toilet seat and double-quilted Charmin. Delusions of Grandeur. The aid station ended up being 2 miles further than expected, Randy was nearly starving, I became constipated, and there was no toilet anywhere. Shuttlecock. It is what it is, we were just happy to finally reach the elusive aid station.

MILE 78 – CRESTLINE AID STATION

Randy rested in the heated tent while I grabbed him a PB&J, helped refill his bottles, and scraped the moon dust from the inside of both our shoes. After a good 10 minutes of regaining strength, we pushed on. Down, down, down, the dirt road we ran until we were directed onto some bushwacking trail for a couple miles. Reflectors and blinky lights guided the way, and after switching to a new headlamp, my spotlight was beaming strong. We caught Ryan and Joelle and distanced ourselves from them. The trail soon ended at a dam and a shallow stream. There was a dam fence that prevented us from having dam access to the dam road on the other side, so we opted to tip toe across the dam stream on dam little rocks while barely avoiding getting our damn feet soaked. Beyond the dam was a gravel road, which hugged the western rim of Upper Payette Lake for 3 miles before reaching the aid station. The moisture from the Lake made it the temperature drop to balls cold, commencing the freezing of the water bottle nozzles. At this point, it seemed like Randy was getting a little competitive. Every now and then we would glance back to see how far away Ryan/Joelle were. There was still a ways to go, so I was curious to see how hard Randy would push it.

MILE 87 – UPPER PAYATTE LAKE, 5th CREW ACCESS

If you're happy and you know it...
It was now dawn. It was wonderful to see Marjon, as we hadn’t seen her for a good 9 or 10 hours. Marjon helped me prepare hand warmers in my gloves, as my hands were beginning to get painfully numb. The rest of the time, she tended Randy’s needs. My feet were feeling raw, so I switched into my excessively cushioned Hokas for the final miles. We rested long enough for Ryan and Joelle to catch up to us, and we all left the aid station together. As we ascended, Randy and Joelle began hiking together at a quick pace, while I stayed back and hiked with Ryan for a bit. Switching pacers was kind of refreshing, and I could tell that Randy was perking up a bit now that the sun was out. It was cool spending time with Ryan, as this was his first 100 mile attempt. He was suffering, but he was determined to finish. When we reached the paved road, Randy and Joelle were far enough ahead that Ryan and I had to run to catch up to them. Once we were all together again, we had an Oh Shit moment and didn’t know where the hell we were supposed to go. Miraculously, Marjon drove by, and we flagged her down to help us with directions. Good crew! Good crew! Now that we were back on track (and with the right pacers) Randy’s competitiveness took over, and we started to outrun the other two. It was nice to run in daylight again!

Upper Payatte Aid Station
Dawn
Cruising through the flatlands, Randy surprised me by his strong steady pace. I commented that he looked better now than he did at mile 44, and he shot me the dirtiest look I’ve ever seen him make. Okay, maybe he doesn’t FEEL that way.  Pretty soon we began climbing the longest ascent of the course, and Randy continued to impress me. Several miles later, the last aid station was in sight…and they had pancakes. YES!!!

MILE 92 – CLOOCHMAN SADDLE
Beyond the final aid station, the hiking continues to the highest part of the course, over 8,000’ in elevation. We stopped when we ran into our friend Michael Lebowitz, who was taking race photos. After some chatting and posing, we marched on. Thanks Michael! The next trail section was absolutely gorgeous, and it was a blessing to run this ridge in the daylight. There were seemingly endless mountains and valleys combined with colors of red, black, and golden brown… atypical of the green Oregon landscape that we’re used to.

Climbing to 8,000'
Somewhere along the way, I followed a stray ribbon that was off trail. I confused it for a course marker, but Randy had his doubts. After a good 5 minutes of deliberation, Ryan and Joelle catch up to us and Randy convinced me to get back on the trail to follow them. He was right, and I felt bad about wasting precious time. Bad Pacer! Bad Pacer! Randy was stronger on the hills than Ryan, and we overtook them for the last time. The 7 miles of downhill soon began, and it wouldn’t stop until we reached the finish line. Our pace was pretty fast, considering we were at the tail end of a tough 100 mile race. I looked at my Garmin to check our mileage/pace, but the battery was dead. What? I thought this thing was supposed to last up to 18 hours?...wait a minute…It was this moment when I realized how long I had been running with Randy.

The downhill was endless, understandably. The last 5 miles of any 100-miler are endless, especially when that particular race is closer to a 104-miler. Throughout the race, the distances between Aid Stations seemed longer than advertised, but such is life. The aid stations were extremely well organized with some of the best volunteers I’ve seen, and there’s little more we could have asked for (well, maybe some tofu for Randy). The last few miles were on a gradual soft trail, and it was a super pretty forest. At the bottom, we reached the gravel road and final mile of the race. I jokingly tried to get Randy to pick up the pace, but he didn’t give a **** (fill in the blank with any 4-letter word). This finish would be his longest career 100-miler at just over 30 hours, and it was the 2nd-longest run of my life at 60 miles in 20 hours. Together, we had a blast.

FINISH

Results: 30:17:44, 5th out of 16 Finishers






Photo By Long Run
Picture Company
Randy was genuinely happy with his finish. He finished strong despite the toughness of the course, his fitness level, and the stomach issues. And on top of that, Randy earned enough points in the Idaho Trail UltraSeries to remain in 1st place and eventually win the series. Hero status. Undoubtedly, our friendship grew from this experience, and I’m so happy that Randy allowed me to share the adventure with him and Marjon. To solidify Marjon’s status as “BEST CREW EVER”, she was quick with the beers, and a Jubelale was the first thing I drank after finishing. Good crew, indeed.

R&R at the Hot Springs
That night, we celebrated by watching the milky-way galaxy and counting shooting stars while floating in the Burgdorf hot spring.

The next day, we would drive to a nearby peak and scramble to the top for one last view of the rugged wilderness that we all became a part of during this wondrous 100-mile Festival. Thanks again Randy and Marjon, I had a blast with the both of you!!!




THANK YOU RACE DIRECTORS, VOLUNTEERS

To Ben Blessing and Jeremy Humphries, you both did a job well done in organizing a tough, beautiful course in rugged Idaho. Having the Aid Stations in heated tents helped keep the food/water from freezing, so thank you for being prepared for the weather. I will recommend this race for anyone looking for a tough 100-miler.

Thank you Volunteers for spending days and nights in the freezing weather to be Aid to the runners and pacers. Without you, this race would be beyond tough. I am grateful for your willingness to help, and for your efforts in setting up Aid Stations in the remotest of places. You have my respect.

FINAL WORDS

You’re living in your own private Idaho.

Cheers,
Jbob

The rustic cabin we stayed in at the Burgdorf Hot Springs

His license plate matches his bib number.
AND it says fun, which is synonymous with most hundred milers...ha.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Volcanic 50K - The First Ever Race Around Mt. St. Helens - Sept 15, 2012

UPDATE: Click this link to watch my 4 min Circumnavigation video from October 2013. It's a great, upbeat preview of the course.


"Gentlemen, we can rebuild him...we have the technology" - My cardiologist, 2 months ago


Photo by Takao Suzuki
Course knowledge goes a long way, especially on Mt. St. Helens. Having previewed the course just 3 weeks prior, the details were fresh. Every technical section of trail was mapped out in my mind, and my plan for race day was all about efficiency. There were a few badasses at the race whose mear presence immediately had me scrapping a podium goal for 'time' goal (I'd rather be competitive with myself than with them). What was the goal? To break 6 hours...without breaking anything else.

"10... .....8.... .....4...3....2....1...GO!" - Trevor Hostetler, Race Directing like a boss



Seconds before the start.
Two miles of gradual climb, followed by a second round of slightly steeper climbing. Yassine jumped into the lead, followed by Brian Donnely, Joe Kleffner, and Andrea J-H. I was running behind them for a time, but my uphill legs eventually reached their efficiency threshold. My water supply consisted of two handheld 20oz water bottles and a 2-liter bladder on my back. My legs weren't exactly flying uphill with this water weight, thus begins the power hiking just 2 miles into the race. No need to burn out my legs this early, the strategy was to race strong to Windy Pass (mile 22) and gun it from there.


Mt. Adams in the background.
About 4 miles into the race, taken 3 weeks before the race.
Cock-a-doodle-damn it!...A few miles into the race, and my biggest concern was forgetting to put on sunscreen. Thankfully, there was a round of chapstick in my pack with SPF 15. Whilst hiking, I spread it on. The Icy Pear scent filled the air, prompting compliments from Nicole Sellon who was hiking behind me. She declined my offer to borrow my chapstick, though. By the end of the day, there would be chapstick streaks all over my shoulders, surrounded by burnt skin.

Passing Takao Suziki (photographer), the trail leveled off as it crossed the Climbers Bivouac Junction. My legs came back to life! And the weight of the water on my back was slowly going down as I was both drinking and spitting it out to achieve a comfortable 1 liter. Too close for missiles, switching to hand held bottles. Entering the first lava rock field, I caught up to Andrea. We teamed up for the first section of rocks, helping each other find the 'trail' of cairns and ribbons...it was like crowd surfing at a rock concert, literally. After a couple miles or so, I pulled away and ran strong through the twisty ins and outs of silty lava channels. My legs were feeling great, and the trail was super fun! Technical trails bring me to life, and it had me amped up more.


Typical Lava Rocks. Taken three weeks prior to the race.
The Loowit Trail. Taken 3 weeks before the race.
Before starting the race, I had resolved to blow by the first aid station (mile 12). The plan was to have 1 liter of water on my back and two full handhelds heading into the exposed Blast Zone (miles 12-20). GUs were my main food for the day, and my pack had plenty of those. So after the long descent into the Toutle River basin, Aid Station Volunteers began cheering me in. They had to hike in tons of food and water at least 5 miles on their backs, and all I took were 2 pretzels without even stopping. I then jumped down to the Toutle River, chugged some water before filling up my handhelds unfiltered, crossed the knee-high river, and scrambled up the the north slope. It was this moment when I remembered to yell THANK YOU across the channel to the aid station crew. Seriously, though...thank you volunteers for muling the food/water out there, those were the most delicious pretzels I ever had! (Thanks Amy, Willie, Gary, Jared and others who were out there).

Aid Station 1 Split: 2 hours 15 min - 4th Place - 9 min behind Yassine - 6 min behind Brian/Joe

 
Little me, Scrambling up the slope after crossing the Toutle River
Photo by Animal Athletics
Hiking out of the Toutle River Basin maybe halfway to the top.
Taken 3 weeks before the race 
The climb out of the Toutle River was long and slow (especially the sandy parts). Looking up at the top, I spotted Brian maybe 5 minutes ahead. Being able to see the person in front of me was like dangling a toy in front of a cat. Not a kitten, but a cat. Rawr, baby. After reaching the top of the climb, the landscape was becoming flatter and more baren with every mile. My eyes were glued to the technical trail, with an occasional glance on the horizon to try and spot the frontrunners. At mile 15, they came into view and looked maybe 8-10 minutes ahead of me. If I were going to catch them, there were two choices...to either outrun them or outlast them. Since my legs were content with the current pace, I decided not to burn out by increasing my pace. Instead, I would try to outlast them and start chasing them down after Windy Pass (mile 22). But until then, it was steady running through the flat, sandy, rocky, lunar Blast Zone.


North Side Blast zone. Taken 3 weeks before the race.
The North Side blast zone. Taken 3 weeks before the race.
Oasis. As I reached the natural spring on the north side of the Mountain (mile 20), my eyes caught what looked like Yassine and Brian in the distance. After stopping to fill up my bladder and water bottles, the gap was probably 8 minutes. Marching on, I eventually reach a junction and turn right towards Windy Pass. Getting closer to the pass, I expected to see the front runners hiking up. Hmm...maybe they've gone over it already? I didn't think they were THAT far ahead of me...Then out of nowhere, Yassine, Brian, and Joe were hiking towards me across the rocky terrain to my left. They had made a left at the junction where I turned right, and were hiking back up to the correct trail. Out of pity and general fatigue, I slowed down to give them back their respective positions. Yassine sees me slowing down and yells something like "What are you doing?! Get Running!". Shit. So I take the lead as we start the climb up Windy Pass.

High Anxiety. All along I knew I'd be racing hard to the finish from the top of Windy Pass, but in no way had I expected to be in the lead. All 4 of us were within talking distance as we climbed up the pass, but nobody really said anything. The other three looked a little deflated after making that wrong turn, and I was beginning to wonder how I would ever get away from these guys. As soon as I crested and began my descent, I never looked back. Bombing the technical downhill, my feet kept trying to slide off the sandy trail. Fun shit. At the bottom, the trail entered the flat terrain of the Plains of Abraham. From here, it was smooth sailing to the next aid station. My legs kicked steady and strong, trying to push the pace to demoralize Joe a little bit. Two miles later at the 2nd aid station, my lead was extended to 2 minutes.



Coming into Aid Station #2, the final aid station
Morale Boost. There must've been a dozen people at that aid station, and it was a HUGE energy boost! Thanks Renee, Bryan, Joe, Nick, Stephen, Matt, and everyone else who was there (especially those who hiked in everything). Bryan filled one of my water bottles with an electrolyte drink, and within 20 seconds I left the aid station with a fire in my heart. Walking, I switched one of my water bottle holsters for a new one that had 4 fresh GUs in the pocket. With water on my back, water in my hands, GUs within reach...I was ready to crank the final 8 miles of the course.

Aid Station 2 Split: 4 hours 35 min - 1st Place - 2 min in front of Joe - 4 min in front of Yassine and Brian

You can see the Fear in my face. Thanks for the top-off Bryan!
Pure Fear. A mile after the aid station, my calves started to cramp. NO!!! WHY NOW?! I need salt! After digesting a few Endurolyte salt pills, things were manageable again. The badasses were out of site, but not out of mind. How long before they catch me? Are they cramping too? How the hell am I going to do this? The electrolyte drink was probably saving my legs from totally seizing up. Hiking the hills with a furious purpose, I just pushed as hard as possible. My legs hammered the downhills perfectly fine, and that's probably where I made up the most time. The trail was full of quick up and downs, and it was impossible to get into a comfortable rhythm. It just wears you down.


I literally just took a piss before running around that corner.
That would have been awkward. Photo by Takao Suzuki.
By the Hammer of Thor. With 4 miles to go, my hamstrings begin to tighten. With my cramping calves and tightening hamstrings, I wondered how hard I could push without seizing up like a rusty tin man. At any time, I expected to get caught by somebody, but maybe everyone else was suffering too. Getting to the final lava rock field was a relief, since it didn't require much energy to rock hop...just insane amounts concentration. Where's the cairn? There it is. Head down. Hop-hop-hop-hop-hop-hop-hop-hop. Head up. Where's the next cairn? There it is. Head down. Hop-hop-hop-hop-hop...look over shoulder. Nobody. Head down. Hop-hop-hop-hooop-MISSTEP-Ah!-whoa-hop-hop-hop. Is this the trail? Run-run-tip-toe-lunge-hike-hike. Where's the cairn? Where the HELL is that cairn? F***-a-doodle-doo, there it is. Hop-hop-hop...

The final 2 miles. Reaching the junction with trail 244, I turned and glanced up at the rock field. Nobody. Am I going to win this thing? With 2 more miles of gradual downhill, it was cruise control. Since cramping was only an uphill issue, the only thing that worried me was rolling an ankle. Every now and then I would look over my shoulder, but it would have taken a massive effort for anybody to clear the lava rock field and chase me down. All I had to do was keep steady. A lot of things went through my mind, especially with everything that's happened this summer. How cinderalla is this? This one's for you, Todd W. Rounding the final corner, the cowbell started ringing.

Results: 6:03:54 - 1st out of 45 Finishers
Pace: ~11:15 min/mile
Results



video

Epic day. Racing around Mt. St. Helens was an unreal experience and extremely humbling. It's by far the most scenic and technical race I've ever done, and I really appreciate Trevor Hostetler and Todd Janssen for making it happen. The Volcanic 50 will no doubt become an instant classic in the Pacific Northwest, and it's rad to see so many out-of-state runners come to join the small race of 50 people for its inaugural year. That course wasn't easy on anybody, and everyone dug deep that day.

THANK YOU VOLUNTEERS AND FRIENDS who took the time to spend the day at the race. Having you around was incredibly uplifting, and it made the day even sweeter. Cheers!



ROLLER COASTER

Getting back my fitness over the last 2 months has been anything but routine. Volunteering at so many races in the Northwest allowed me to travel and break away from normality, and it provided a breathtaking escape from the monotony of running in my backyard. In the mountains, my spirit and endurance rediscovered the answer to the question of WHY. Why do I need this so much? It's one of those things where you don't realize what you have until you've lost it. Spending June/July off my feet was difficult for me on so many levels, but it was so incredibly necessary. Getting depressed was so incredibly necessary. Feeling the void was so incredibly necessary. For it's times like these where the little things in life become the big things, where you truly learn to appreciate every day for what it is. To be alive is amazing. To be able to make someone laugh and smile is amazing. To be able to say "I did the best I could with the time I had" is amazing.

This day was one of the proudest days of my life, not for how I placed, but for how I finished. Regardless of who was in front or behind me, I was going to run MY race and do a damn good job of it. Apparently, that was enough.

MAD PROPS

Brian is a badass. He fell and cracked his rib at the Toutle River crossing (first aid station), and finished the race in 2nd. I'm so impressed by that.

FINAL WORDS


The day before the race, I filled up my hydrapak bladder in order to count how many mouthfuls of water it took to empty 2-liters of water. That way, I could keep track of how much water was in my bladder throughout the race. So as I was sucking and spitting water into the bathroom sink with the door wide open, one of my roommates walked by and we made eye contact. I then proceeded to explain "I'm counting how many mouthfuls it takes to empty my bladder". 3nonjoggers, that one's for you.

Thank you Friends, Thank you Family. You are my sunshine in good times and bad.

Much Love,

Jbob

My Saucony Peregrines, Drymax socks, and Dirty Girl Gaitors



Sunday, September 9, 2012

Six Runners Break Course Record - Bunker to Bonneville 50K - September 1, 2012

Slow down my beating heart...

Mt. Adams. Photo by the lovely Esther Holman
In 2010, the Bunker to Bonneville 50k changed my life. More than anything, it was the people I met that day who have had a profound influence on my life over the past 2 years. Thank you everyone for your friendship and support through some of the most influential years of my life. If you don't know who you are, then I haven't hugged you yet.

THE COURSE



A classic point-to-point 31 mile run almost entirely on the Pacific Crest Trail, running from Carson-ish, WA to the Bonneville Hot Springs Resort.  Long gradual climbs combined with long technical descents. Great views of Mt. Adams and the Colombia gorge, but the trail is mostly sheltered by beautiful forest.

RACE DAY 2012


The Sticker Challenge from Justin
4:30 am - WAKE UP! Get dressed. Drive to the gorge. Get anything but Taylor Swift stuck in my head. Cross the Bridge of the Gods ($1). Arrive at the Finish line of the race. Kyle Chaffin wins the 'first hug' competition (sorry, Nicole). Get shuttled to the start of the race. Accidentally drop and crack water bottle lid. Get bib number. Hug here, Hug there. Accept sticker challenge from Justin. Run into unexpected friends. Wait in bathroom line with Larry and Susan. Pull an Ace of Diamonds from the deck of cards. Bullshit with friends before the start. On your marks, get set, go. Deep breath. Run, run, run, run, run.....


Pulling the Ace of Diamonds
A successful day for me would have been to run a strong race, to beat my old finish time of 5:06, and to HAVE FUN. In my mind, this was extremely doable. Step 1: don't start out with the lead pack. Watching the frontrunners disappear in the distance was a relief, and I fell into a comfortable pace for the first several miles of flat trail. The bullshitting that was going on between me, Randy, and Paul Heffernan was hilarious and uplifting. As soon as the first hill started, though, I took off.

As this was my first race coming back from injury, it was important for me to go at my own pace. Finding the gap between the frontrunners and everyone else, I peacefully ran alone. Running uphill has an amazing way of bringing me into the present moment, for it's a constant mental battle to sustain the discomfort and strain of ascent. The calves burn...the balls of my feet get warm from pressure and friction...my heart rate has a party...eyes are peeled for respite...there's really nothing comforting about running uphill, and that's what makes it so special. One of my favorite quotes is "Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional." At this moment, my motivation was instinctual.

Blowing by the first aid station, there was nobody in front or behind me. Alone, I felt compelled to practice my 'peeing while moving' technique. My effort was both successful and unsuccessful. It was a success in that I left a wet streak on the trail for runners behind me to guess "is that water or NOT water?" The failure was a holstering/timing issue, but that's why practice makes perfect, right? Yeah yeah, TMI...tmi...

Blowing by the zombie themed 2nd aid station, the climbing soon turned into a fun gradual downhill. Lots of PCT through hikers were kindly stepping aside as I flew past. The long scrappy beards on some of the hikers told quite a story. Eventually arriving at the 3rd aid station (mile 15), I had my bottles filled by lovely Lynn (thanks again!). Stan and Kyle were bar tending, but I didn't stay long enough to tip them. Pretzels, m&ms, PB&J, bottles, gotta go!

The next long gradual climb started soon after the aid station, and I was still running alone. At about mile 17, I finally caught a runner who was hiking. Maybe he started out too fast, or maybe the hills were wearing on him. I ran passed and tried not to show my fatigue. My legs were holding up well, but my feet were taking a beating from the constant forefoot grinding. The Plantar in my left foot was saying hello, and the stone bruise in my right foot (from January that caused 4 months of swelling on the ball of my foot) was getting tenderized. My hip flexors were feeling sore, and my legs found their breaking point at mile 18.5. For the next mile, I would alternate running/hiking until the turnoff to the 3 Corner Rock out-n-back Aid station (mile 20). The first person I see coming off the rock was Yassine!, followed by 4 runners. My position was seemingly 5th place, but that didn't really matter to me. For me, the purpose of this race was to get back that warm fuzzy feeling in my soul...also known as self confidence.


Descending into the Mile 25 Aid Station.
The volunteers were awesome, all day!
The next two miles were rolling up and down, and the short uphills were wearing me out. AT LAST, with about 8 miles to go, the infamous 3,500' rocky descent begins beautifully. Imagine watching Rocky I, Rocky II, Rocky III, and Rocky IV in the same day...that's how rocky the trail was. It was a combination of stationary rocks with some not-so-stationary rocks spread out on an otherwise pleasant dirt path. Sometimes the trail grew narrow with overgrowth, creating a game of chance with each hidden step. My pace was cautiously hasty, and my dancing skills were put to good use. The pain from my uphill legs was completely gone, and my fresh downhill gears were jackhammering the descent without a twinge. It was kind of pleasant!

The last mile of the race dumps you onto this hot exposed asphalt road. It was draining, but not terrible. I just kept dumping water on my head and trudged on. On one of the straightaways, two of the runners in front of me were within site but not range. Whatever. My mind settled, for everything had been a success this day...except for one little itty bitty flaw....MY STICKER FELL OFF!!!


The Sticker Challenge: Young Justin gave me a sticker to wear at the start of the race. If the sticker fell off by the end of the race, I owed him $1. If the sticker stayed on, he owed me $1.

The "Running Penguin" sticker
The sticker "fell off"
Within 100 yards of the finish line, I stopped and looked everywhere for the sticker. It must've come off on the homestretch! Blast! Oh well, the kid's gotta make a living somehow.


2011 course record: 4:44:02

2012 Results: 4:40:15 - 6th out of 71 Finishers
Pace: ~8:59 min/mile




After crossing the finish line, I wasn't surprised with 6th place. I WAS surprised when someone told me that I broke the course record set in 2011. Holy shit! My only time goal was to beat my time from 2010, and I beat it by over 25 minutes. That's a solid day, right there.

So as things may appear that I'm "back at it", things are still uncertain. As my body began to tighten up after the finish, pride filled my heart as doubt filled my foot. Despite running solid with plantar in my left foot, the soreness was apparent afterwards. It wasn't debilitating, but it's a real reminder that I'm still not 100% healthy. Consequently, my left hip was causing me to limp, likely an overcompensation injury from using my hip too much during the uphill portions. Live and learn. Learn and forget. Forget and re-injure. Live and learn. I'd rather not end up in this injury cycle, but sometimes it feels inevitable. I'm still planning to run the Volcanic 50k on September 15th, so long as my foot feels solid. On the plus side, I was still able to hike up Multnomah Falls with the family later in the afternoon. It wasn't pain free (sore hip), but it added to the 'sense of accomplishment' for the day. And it was great spending time hiking with Mum, Dad, Tre, bugaboo, and Penny!

Final Words

Great race. Greatest people. Thank you.


Important Notes
  • Rocky V isn't worth watching.
  • The 'bear pit' scene from Anchorman is somewhat inspiring.
  • Kyle is amazingly awesome.
  • I'll have a hard time forgiving the man who marked mile 22 as "mile 20". Not cool, man. Not cool...but it was kinda funny.

Much Love,

Jbob


The future is never certain.
Taken while running the following weekend on the PCT.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Hunt - Circumnavigation of Mt. St. Helens

Sometimes in order to find yourself, you need to lose yourself first.



My decision to run around Mt. St. Helens had a lot to do with re-building my self-confidence and taking time for some self reflection. I'm sorry for not following up on my original invites to friends, but I felt like running this one alone. Having already ran around it once last October, I felt competent enough to safely manage my food, water, and energy. And yes Mum, Teresa and several friends knew where I was and when to expect to hear from me.

My route would start at the Marble Mountain sno park and run clockwise, following the Volcanic 50 course exactly.

RUNNING HEAVY - SOUTHEAST TO WEST


Knowing how exposed and how hot the day was going to be, my water supply consisted of two 22 oz handheld bottles and a full 2 Liter bladder (and a water filter for re-filling). My pack was probably the heaviest I've ever run with, and my legs/shoulders kept reminding me of it. Within the first three miles, I almost face planted twice and already took a wrong turn. Hmm, I better start drinking my water to lighten my load...

Varied Terrain
As soon as the views were omnipresent, my pack felt lighter and my legs were running easier. The wind of its beauty was catching my sails, and sometimes blowing silt in my face. The views were absolutely phenomenal, whether you were looking at the exploded mountain, or the infinite forest of the Cascade Range. The terrain on the mountain was incredibly varied, and it constantly goes from running on the moon to running in a forest to running in a desert and back to running on the moon. Incredible. The power of the mountain was obvious even from the South side, and that wasn't even the blast zone.

Neil Armstrong landed here once.
My emotions were giddy as I navigated the terrain, excited to run around at my own leisure. Rock hopping, rock dodging, tree jumping, slope scrambling...it's a real playground. Certain sections of the trail are the pure definition of technical, especially the lava rock fields that turn into a sketchy game of hopscotch. Most of the rocks are fixed, but sometimes I found one that had me rocking like a hurricane. During the Volcanic 50 race, I can see these lava rock sections being very interesting for many of the runners.

Ascending and descending through the forested Southwest corner of the mountain, I finally reached the Toutle River. This was a good opportunity to play around with my water filter and take lunch (about 13 miles into the run). The river is skinny and shallow, but the river channel is HUGE! The photos below give an example of what it takes to scramble in and out of the channel to reach the trail on the other side. It's gnarly and extremely tough to get a solid footing in the sandy-silt.

Toutle River
The climb out of the Toutle River channel

THE HUNT - WEST TO NORTHEAST


Fallen Trees on the Northwest side of the Mountain
The climb out of the Toutle River basin is one of the longer climbs of the route, and it gets frustratingly sandy near the top. Regardless, the views are fantastic. After reaching the top, it's only a few miles to the epic blast zone. The terrain levels off, and it becomes rather fun with rolling ups and downs through a rather moon-like terrain. The crater of the mountain slowly creeped into view, steaming with the evaporation of snow. Dead trees that were blasted by the eruption were still petrified and pointing away from the mountain. Rocks were everywhere, and vegetation was scarce.

The Crater
Tracks: Brooks Cascadias
Tracks: Rogue Racer
All of a sudden, I noticed something on the trail. There were several types of footprints, but these were all too familiar. My trail running experience helped me conclude that I was following a pair of Brooks Cascadias and Rogue Racers. From what I could tell, the Rogue Racer was the leader, and they were hiking the hills. Immediately, I went into hunting mode. My pace increased, and my eyes were pealed on the lunar horizon of the blast zone looking for them...I could almost smell them. Every hiker on the trail told me they were only a couple miles ahead. "You'll never catch them! They're booking it like the bible!" one hiker said to me. Don't ever underestimate the Jbob, I said with my eyes. As I reached the Oasis of drinkable groundwater, I finally spotted the runners in the distance. Only a matter of time now. The natural spring was bursting across the trail and provided a great opportunity to fill my bottles before beginning the chase. No water filter was used, and I'll keep you posted on the consequences of that decision later this weekend (many sources claim the water is drinkable straight up). The natural spring is half a mile East of the Loowit Falls trailhead, bursting out of a rock just above the trail. See photo below.

Green Oasis in the desert. The Natural Spring on the North Side of the mountain,
about half a mile East of the trailhead to Loowit Falls. It's obvious,
and you can see the water bursting out of a rock.

A FEW GOOD MEN -  NORTHEAST TO SOUTHEAST (FINISH)


Hot Damn! Brooks Cascadias (Josh Owens) and the Rogue Racers (Josh Marks)
Huckleberries!
After hiking up Windy Pass, I caught up to the runners as we were reaching the bottom of the descent. Lo' and behold, it was Josh Owens and Josh Marks! These guys ran the Mt. Hood 50 miler and Marks paced Owens at the Waldo 100K, both races that I volunteered at...so we recognized each other pretty quickly. Both Joshes are in training for the Pine to Palm 100 miler in September, and this was their first ever circumnavigation around Mt. St. Helens (and the next day they would summit). They let me tag along, and they made great company considering I'd been chasing them down for the last 5 miles. The hunt was over.

One of my favorite shots. Photo by Josh Owen.

Rocks-Rocks-Rocks-Rocks-Rocks-
Rocks
The trail was flipping awesome, weaving in and out of silty channels, popping into random forests and fields of huckleberries. Of course, there was one last section of lava rocks that slowed us down a bit. Such is life. The rock hopping was a bit less enthusiastic after 9 hours of running/hiking, but we eventually cleared the final technical dance with the mountain. This is where we departed. Josh and Josh started at the climber's bivouac, so they had three more miles to go on the Loowit trail. It was an honor to run with these men, I had a blast getting to know them. After we parted ways, the final 2 miles of downhill were gradual enough to bomb down...thus completing one of the funnest runs I've ever done...about 33 miles in 9 hours and 30 minutes.

VOLCANIC 50 RUNNERS

Course knowledge will go a long way in the Volcanic 50 race on September 15th. For those running it, I highly recommend wearing gaiters and some sort of hat or sun visor. The course is mostly exposed, and can get pretty hot. And get intimately familiar with the course map, it'll help. Be prepared for every kind of terrain, including a few river crossings (ones where you can't avoid getting your feet wet). My conservative pace got me around the mountain in 9 hours and 30 minutes, mainly because of technical trail, photos, water filtering, and general frolicking. It's a slow course, so be prepared for a long day. Cheers!

FINAL WORDS

The mountains are calling...bring your dancing shoes.

Vanity shot.
Mt. Adams from the east side of Mt. St. Helens.

Much Love,

Jbob