I stood there in my front yard thinking it over. Or rather, just kind of staring blindly at the pallet and wondering how did I get to this place. How quickly things have changed. I didn’t think about it long, and grabbed at the plastic cover and starting to pull the bags off. Two bags at a time, 40 lbs each, I’d spend the next hour taking 25 trips to the basement to re-stock my wood pellet supply to heat my house.
Not exactly something that pops up as a regular household task as a resident of Phoenix the last 16 years. Moving 2000 lbs of tiny compressed sawdust pellets into a basement. Heck, they don’t even have basements in Phoenix. Yet, its exactly those almost routine tasks that remind me of what New England life is all about. Shoveling snow, pulling weeds, raking leaves, cutting wood, and moving bags of pellets. It’s what gives Mainers and other cold weather states that edge many softer (see: winter free) states just don’t have. In Phoenix you just pay your bills and go about your day, all year round. There is literally nothing to worry about beyond making sure your AC is working. No grass, no leaves, no weeds, no wood. You can just be as lazy as you want. Its why so many people retire there, they are sick of the work it takes to live in a cold weather state.
Lazy doesn’t have much place here in Maine though. If you don’t put in the work, you might just freeze. But if you put in the work, and you prepare for the conditions that come at you, you are rewarded with one of the most magical places you could ever live.
Much can be said about the running experience you get here on Mount Desert Island, home of Acadia National Park (or most of it) and the town of Bar Harbor, Maine. We’re on an island with a population that has less than most Wal-Marts on Black Friday and despite Acadia National Park being one of the top ten most visited national parks (3.5 million visitors last year, another new record) you rarely see anyone on the trails. (At least everything outside of Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the eastern seaboard and the easiest to ascend with that convenient pavement leading its way to the top for all those visitors seeking instant gratification without any of the work.) This is particularly true in the offseason here whe visitors drop to under 500 a day spread over 46,000 acres. Last year I saw not a single person on the trails for 47 straight days. I was starting to think I moved to a deserted island, not Mount Desert Island.
I soon figured out why. It was winter when I moved here last year.
Winter in Acadia
March 6th last year it was -15 with the wind chill. I wore a coat. Several of them.
Before I had even moved from Phoenix I spent almost equal amounts of time preparing for my new position overseeing operations at the iconic and historic Bar Harbor Inn as I did pouring over topo maps of Acadia. I scoured the map and countour lines to understand how each unique path connected to one another, how to string together larger runs, bigger runs, steeper runs. I knew the entire trail system before I crossed the border into Maine. But I was 16 years removed from winter conditions and it quickly showed.
My first runs were in shorts. Because naturally I didn’t own any leggings/tights or anything remotely close to “winter running gear.” I resorted to my trusty 15 year old Adidas wind pants trying to see if there was also some magical way they would protect me from the inevitable mid section freeze I experienced with each and every run. The park is stunning in a fresh coat of snow and the ice covered rock walls. The unique way mountains light up in the low lying light of winter was enough to get me out the door every morning. And opening the front door every morning and feeling the brutally cold wind was amost enough to get me to turn right back around and go back to sleep every morning. I froze morning after morning trying to figure out the right number of layers to stay warm. (I settled on 19.) But more of what got me out the door was a new trailhead every morning, and the mystique of what I was going to find every day. I was addicted to the unknown, how much I could cram in before work, how much changing terrain could I handle.
“Can I connect the Gorge trail with Cadillac and down the Featherbed and not fall to my death on the ice?” These were the thoughts that ran through my head as I shivered in my truck driving to the trailhead. Often I had to alter the course mid-way through, or sometimes I pushed through and it was the adventure I didn’t know I was looking for that day. Every time it was spectacular, and immediately I fell in love with the area. While my wife and kids were still assimilating to the area, I was already hooked.
Spring in Acadia
Running in the winter here isn’t all rosy Instagram posts. Every mile takes the effort of three and the time I spent doing the extra laundry was excessive at best. After awhile you’re just excited to see some dirt. Any dirt.
And eventually, spring arrives in Bar Harbor and the park. Its certainly not in March. The first day of spring on the calendar is meaningless. We had 20 inches of snow on the ground when it hit “spring.” April saw several small snow storms but was also 72 degrees on Easter. But it sure wasn’t 72 degrees the next day. As any good self respecting New Englander says about the weather, “If you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute.” Most of April is spent with wet shoes as everything is melting so eventually it just becomes an accepted part of your run. That eventually gets old too but the excitement of seeing dirt patches and slivers of green peeking through, certainly reigns supreme. I ran almost every day of April and soon had covered a huge portion of the 120+ official trails of Acadia and beyond. It became a fun game to find the route that could connect me to a new section I hadn’t seen yet, without repeating any prior segments. It was a game I thought and planned out often and called the “Acadian Pac-Man Project.” The Pac-Man project soon took over as my primary motivator when the alarm clock went off at 4:30am.
With spring also comes the pure discovery of sections that previously were covered in snow. What was originally a trail I had covered, now looked totally and completely different in the spring. Norumbega mountain was completely ice covered on the Goat Trail every time I took it, and the descent was always ice and snow. Yet in spring it became this stunning mass of bright green moss covering huge granite boulders amongst the tall pines. Light was peeking through on early morning runs and lighting up the wet moss like lanterns. It became a wonderland of color and life. You felt like you were in The Hobbitt every time you visited.
With spring comes more than just newborn wildlife and fresh vegetation. The runners on the island come out of their winter hiding spots and you start to see cars in the parking lots and even occasional hikers around the more popular peaks. While local runners certainly do run in the winter here, very few actually run the mountains and trails. (Clearly all of which are wiser than I am.). Yet with spring comes a new collection of “regulars” that increase your chances from 1% to 5% in seeing another trail runner in the woods. The 46 miles of crushed granite carriage roads are closed for several weeks in April as the imprints during the mud season can ruin the roads, and that pushs people out on the trails. The 20 mile driveable park loop road that circumnavigates a large portion of the national park opens up to traffic in the spring and with that comes Cadillac Mountain access. The park is open for business and that brings out the hikers, runners, andadventurists. Come May 1st, the park is open for business usually and active again.
In May I was fortunate enough to connect with Tom St. Germain, author of an incredible resource “A Walk in the Park, Acadia's Hiking Guide” as well as the best map available of the National Park. (He also co-authored the fascinating "Trails of History; The Story of Mount Desert Island's Paths from Norumbega to Acadia." Tom was someone I found online prior to deciding to move to Maine and interestingly (see: stalker) enough I found him through Strava.com. In researching Bar Harbor and the area as a potential new home, the running community I came to love in Phoenix was something I didn’t want to give up. Finding a similar community in Bar Harbor was a key aspect of the decision and I found Tom through activities he’d run in Acadia over the years. As it turns out, Tom is as experienced a runner in Acadia that likely has existed for decades and he’s published the literature to prove it. Reaching out to Tom via social media as a total stranger prior to moving to Maine proved to be a pivotal reason we did move. Come May of 2017, I was fortunate to go for a tour of the park with Tom starting from the west side in Seal Cove and finishing after Pemetic Mountain. That came after this 27 mile solo adventure the week before. Reading my comments on that run last May still ring true, "I thought I was a tough trail runner. Then I moved to Maine. Didn't even do 6 other peaks, didn't have the five extra hours to get it in. Or the heart to endure more rocks. 7:44 total time on feet."
That's the challenge of Acadia. As with any trail system, you quickly discover your biggest adversary after you spend enough time on the trails. In Phoenix, and Arizona in general, it was always about the heat and exposure. A long run in the desert was always planned around the available water, or how much water needed to be carried to make it through the chosen trails for the day. Here, water is abundant, particularly when the park is fully open and water fountains are functioning a several trail heads and parking lot locations you come across along your route. While the weather is ever changing, there isn't really much to worry about for the seasoned trail runner in these mountains. What will get you are the rocks.
Specifically the abundant supply of granite rocks. Entire mountain tops of pure granite, stairs of made of granite, boulder fields of granite. I remember finding the first person on an actual trail last winter on Dorr Mountain and even in that brief conversation he mentioned, "Be careful with stress fractures." My first thought was, "Oh please, I'm from Arizona. Land of the Rocks."
He was right. It's an entirely different running experience bounding between loose rocks, and running down granite bedrock for miles. Literally, for miles. It's stunning, rugged, and wild while you are doing it, but it takes a toll on your legs. So running Acadia in the spring, coming off the usually soft and forgiving snow packed trail, becomes an effort in easing into the Acadia Pounding that is the granite cliffs and rocks. Later in the season, with more conditioning, and rotating in carriage roads and soft mossy trails, my legs can handle it. But early on, it's a bruiser. For the casual visitor or runner they'll probably be fine for a weekend trip to Acadia, but week after week, it'll break you down.
Somewhere around late May comes the first leaves on the trees and like the flip of a switch in June, we're in summer.
Heaven on Earth.
Summer in Acadia
Long in daylight, yet short on time sums up the nature of summers on the island. Ranked by National Geographic and the Today Show as one of the best places to visit for the Fourth of July, it's the kind of place you dream about for summers. Time slows down, Saturdays become Tuesdays and weekends become weekdays. Nobody seems to be working and everyone seems to be on vacation. The streets are packed, the parks are full of people hiking, biking, running, and just experiencing the area. It's the busiest time of the year for a lot of residents, particularly those of us in hospitality, so it also limits how much free time there is to enjoy the area. Luckily, the sun is out until after 9pm so even after dinner we'd sneak in hikes or runs before the sun went down. The sun is up at 4am too, so there's plenty of no-headlamp time on the calendar!
Summer in Acadia also brings a lot of visitors you may even know, and with that brings some running companions. One of my favorite things to do in Acadia is show fellow runners the local trails here in the park, and then to see their reactions as we pass through one mountain range after another, up a sheer granite cliff and down a mossy one, and along a river to the Atlantic Ocean. Very few places can you smell the mountain air and ocean air in a few short miles and it provides for some incredibly scenic, and memorable routes that I'll never tire of showing people. Likewise, it brings a greater awareness to the difficulty of the trails in Acadia, often overlooked due to its shortage of elevation. At 1500 ft, its not exactly an imposing mountain on paper, but the grade up several of the mountains here, and quick accumulation of elevation gain, make any run in Acadia extremely difficult, and rewarding. It isn't difficult to put together a 7000 ft gain 20 mile run here, and you could do it a number of different ways covering a variety of different trails. It's part of what makes Acadia such a fascinating running paradise, you're not committed to any one trail for more than a few miles, and always have several options to add, delete, or edit any planned run based on your mood, the conditions, or how much caffeine is racing through your veins at that particular moment. Feel like going straight up a 30% grade? Just wait half a mile, you'll find one. Want to run along a fern covered single track in the woods? Take a left on the Jordan Stream Trail. Feel like running through maple and oak trees? Follow the Kebo Trail to the Gorge. You'll see plenty.
My favorite run of the summer last year was a 41 mile jaunt through the park, hitting most of the peaks, and all in the name of a 40th birthday for the super strong local runner Jen VanDongen. We hit 15 of the 26 peaks in the park and had 9000 feet of gain to show for it. Finishing the route in a dive into the frigid Sand Beach was a truly memorable way to end a 12 hour day in the woods. For the ultrarunners out there, the accessibility of this park is truly unique and almost perfect for these kinds of adventures. I left my truck at Jordan Pond the night prior (parking is very difficult in the summer, planning ahead is key,) a very central location on the eastern side of the island, and stocked it with water and food supplies. Then the following morning we kicked off from the Visitor Center and proceeded with the route. Every few miles we'd pass by another trailhead for parking, most of which have restrooms and some have water fountains. So even what you have to carry is quite limited, because there are frequent re-supply points along the way. To top it off, as Cadillac Mountain is a premiere destination for all visitors of Acadia, they have a gift shop at the top of the mountain! True story, I'm not even making this up. I started to bring a zip lock bag with $6 so I could get a coconut water and a Mexican Coca-Cola when I ran through the top of Cadillac. Literally, nothing on this earth exists that is better than a Mexican Coke at mile 20 something of a summer afternoon. (For those that don’t know the difference, Coca-Cola made in Mexico still makes it like Coca-Cola origially did. Before high fructose corn syrup.) It's incredible and became my go-to visit I'd look forward to each weekend trip up there. Best of all, you can finish your runs in the town of Bar Harbor quite easily as well, as it's only 1 mile from the trail heads to town. Finish at the Village Green in the center of town and there are 15 places to buy a beer, poutine or a lobster roll within 15 feet.
Fall in Acadia
Fall for many of the locals autumn is their favorite time of the year. Traditionally it was when the tourists would start trickling out after Labor Day (now it's Veteran's Day), and that quintessential crisp autumn morning air starts to greet you as you head out the door for your run. And with the change in weather, comes the change in scenery and as the month progresses you see the transition on the trails. As we enter October the leaves are sharp red and oranges, drawing you to a full stop at every opening in the trees. Your pace on any run slows considerably in the fall, it's just spectacular outside and yet again, the trails seem new again. As the leaves fall, the trails become a tricky set of rocks and roots, guesswork of where your foot is actually falling. But you don't really care because you still can't believe how beautiful it is outside and that you are running through this forest and nobody else is out there.
Fall also brings a number of races in the area, most notably the MDI Marathon & Half Marathon (www.runmdi.org) which has been named one of the most beautiful marathons by Runners World and I'm sure other publications and articles. It runs along the coast of the island through the various villages and towns and really highlights all that you can see in the island. Held in mid-October, it's often during foliage season and great weather for a marathon. It has a unique feel to it you won't find at many of the bigger marathons and the charm of the villages and people cheering you on is really something special. And unique, there are some interesting characters you see along the course that capture as much of your attention as the actual scenery. If you're going to come to Acadia to run, and road running is your thing, the MDI Marathon is special and a worthy reason to visit Maine in and of itself. I mean, you get a lobster claw medal. I probably could have just skipped that entire paragraph and just left it at that.
Run MDI. Always & Whenever.
It's been almost a full year of running on the island for me. I haven't done everything, I haven't seen everything, but I've seen a lot of the island. What I've seen, I've fallen in love with. It hasn't all been an easy go of it though. The winters have beaten me up bad and I've paid the price physically for some of the routes I've tried. One bad fall after another on the ice has damaged my motivation at times and contributed to the deep, dark "winter blues." Now in my second winter, I yearn for those clear trails again and the impending snow storms aren't quite as charming as they were leading up to Christmas. Yet, it's a part of the lifestyle here and I'll grab my drill, my box of screws, and set a new pair of running shoes for the ice. I'll throw on my running tights, my four layers, hat and mittens and dive out into another negative wind chill morning for a trip through the mountains. If we’re being honest though, I don’t really like it.
Spring can't come soon enough though as its truly a reward for fighting through these winters. Normally I would be anti-entitlement for any aspect of life, but I feel like I've EARNED the spring this year. We ALL earn these springs and the eventual summers. I've taken more falls, slips, smashes, trips, and pure pain and bruising from these trails than any combined five years of trail running in my life. Every step is an effort, every mile is a battle, and every mountain ascent comes with its own risks.
Spring brings with it new changes, new life, and a literal and psychological rejuvenation. While the winter is beautiful and welcomed on some levels, I'm more excited to repeat this cycle and seeing that green moss poking through the waning snow cover...and sticking around for the summer.
Our summer is over and the race season is just beginning. Another October is upon us and I've already been completely taken over by the incredible weather and forgotten completely that it was 110 degrees just a month ago.
What miserably hot summer?
It's perfect out.
And running has never been easier.
No water bottle.
No dry mouth.
No getting back to your car after the run feeling destroyed and then five minutes later your body catches up and sweats through the cloth seats.
No more strategically planning your week of training around the sunrise because once it comes up it's like the Chronicles of Riddick...it's overbearing and ever present in the rest of the run. A monkey on your back waiting to pop you in the ear with those stupid symbols (that can't be spelled right....) I can run in the heat and I know many that actually enjoy it. Many go out at noon in August. But that doesn't mean it's smart or fun. In fact...I hate it. It's bearable through mid-July but the last month plus is always rough for me.
Now, you can run at any time of the day or night and it's perfect. I ran this morning at 5am without a shirt on, just a headlamp, shoes, shorts and the Disco Biscuits. It was incredible. Running up hills I've always walked in the past, cruising along at a solid pace without the interruption of walking to get my core temperature down to under 201 degrees. Running the the fall in Phoenix is a rejuvenation.
To test the rejuvenation I'm running my first race since the Mesquite Canyon 50K way back in March. March. Seven months ago.
It seems odd that I haven't raced since then, but I skipped Zane Grey this year, didn't run a 100 all summer and was focused on the Monster up until a few weeks ago. I ran a ton of marathon or longer training runs on the Mogollon Rim and a 85 mile jaunt on the Mogollon Monster course in May but nothing with competition.
So this will be fun. 18 miles up in Cave Creek Regional Park at the Cave Creek Thriller 30K, the first of the Aravaipa Running DRT Trail Series here in the Phoenix area. It has some trails I know, some I don't. But it's 18 miles and it'll be a good test of my fitness after putting in a couple decent runs the last couple weeks and one strong week last week. I'm still way short on training and being where I want to be in having a focused training plan but comfortable enough that I'm ready to head up north, run a few trails and hang with the fast guys. We'll see how long it lasts. Bret Sarnquist, Jay Danek, Tony Delogne, Jules Miller, Jeremy Schmuki and as usual in running and ultrarunning...a whole bunch of people that will come out of the group and crush a bunch of us. It's not a Dark Horse in running, it's a Dark Herd. So many unknowns that can pop up and put down a fast time. Which is part of the intrigue in running a race, especially one where it's around 50-100 runners. Just enough to know who is going into this with you and not so many you have zero chance of competing for a respectable place.
So I'll for the first time give it a shot up front of the pack and see where that takes me. I'll shoot for a spot in file behind Jay Danek as I know he's in the fastest shape of his life and after 10 miles see where each of us are and go from there. Eighteen miles is a perfect distance but I've never ran it without thinking I had another 13 to go. But as my races typically go, 18-20 miles is usually where I have a low spot before rebounding for the last ten miles of a 50K. Maybe for 18 I can hold a much faster pace and remain up front. If not...
I'm sure my ego will survive it.
R2R2R - 2012
November 2nd I'll be taking another trek down to the Canyon for a Bright Angel>North Rim>Bright Angel Double Crossing. I haven't done it since last fall and aside from a trip this February for a 50K route off the Tanner trail I haven't seen the Canyon since. So I'm totally oblivious again as to just how difficult and challenging this trip can be and always is. Jay Danek is going for his first go of the Double Crossing and of course Honey Albrecht who always makes it when it involves the Grand Canyon. It'll be my 5th double and probably Honey's twentieth or something. It's great to have done it and a once a year trip. Not sure I'd be up for multiple attempts in a calendar year. It's a lot like Zane Grey. Always sounds like a great idea until you hit about 30 miles and you're staring down 8 miles of switchbacks...
Either way...really looking forward to it and starting out at night Friday night we'll be up over 24 hours before we even start climbing back up. And we'll catch the sunrise which is worth a thousand gels.
The Zane Grey Obsession Continues....
The Mogollon Rim. Photo by Andrew Pielage- www.apizm.com
It's easy to be lost sometimes. Buried amidst a world of high speed activity, stress filled lifestyles and the ever climbing necessity of improvement, being lost is sometimes natural.
We go from one thing to the next. Thanksgiving to Christmas. Spring Break to Summer Break. Empty checking account to pay day. Starving to bloated. Happy to sad. Every day brings a new day and with that new challenges, new changes, and new views of what needs to happen.
For nearly two years it's been a non-stop whirlwind of change. Married. Honeymoon. Rented a house. Said rental went into foreclosure. Auction owners tried to evict us. I extorted them for payment to break our lease. We get pregnant. We buy new house. Start a new website with John Vaupel & Jay Danek. (www.trailrunningclub.com.) We have baby. We prepare for Mogollon Monster 100. We direct Mogollon Monster 100. We still have baby. Still have house. Still working all the time. And apparently I still have a blog.
Yet the Monster has come and gone. And the void that remains leaves me lost in what to do next. Immediately I volunteer to motivate and train our hotel staff to run the P.F. Chang's Half Marathon, something I'm passionate about but realistically didn't have time for. When I should be putting a hold on my ambitions to focus on traditional household husband things like siding, lawn care, organizing shelving, etc. I'm out signing myself up for more time consuming projects. Yet I can't help myself. I don't have ADD but I cannot just sit around. As great as that can feel sometimes.
I need to be involved in something.
I need goals.
I need ambitions.
To fill a part of that void I signed up for two races the day after the Monster finished. The Cave Creek Thriller 30K and the Zane Grey 50M a ways off in April 2013. I haven't run hardly a lick since my son Dean was born but now with the race behind us (for now) I should have more time... My training "program" the last three months consisted of a 30 mile training run on the Mogollon Monster 100 course on a Saturday.
Rest for 6 days.
Repeat on a different section the following week. I would run 20-30 mile long runs every weekend for 8 of the 10 weekends of August/September in preparing for this race in both training runs and course marking. Some went well...others were miserable death marches.
Yet somehow, towards the end of the summer, leading right up to the race I started to feel stronger. Not strong, but stronger. Last Tuesday I covered 16 miles on the Highline Trail for course marking for the race and on the return trip I pushed the pace, hammered the hills and came back into Washington Park feeling great. I drove up to the top of the Rim and ran another two miles along the General Crook Trail marking it along the way and somewhere on the way back, as the sun was coming down, still slightly poking through the tall Ponderosa's I felt like I was cruising down the trail on a bike. Nearly 7,500 feet up, it felt like sea level and I was off. It was short distance but a big boost to my confidence. Running hasn't felt that "easy" in a long time.
So the race is over. Planning for next year is ongoing and constant. Ideas flood into my mind in an ever rotating display of improvements and projects. Never submitting to mediocrity, my aspirations always at least reach for something greater. That will never change but leaves me pulled in another direction, a constant tidal pull bringing me back out to sea every few hours, every few days. As welcome a distraction as unwelcome. Focus on one thing, one specific goal has become very challenging with so many aspects of the race I'd like to change while also focusing on work, family, and training (not in that order necessarily...)
With the race over though it does allows me to focus on running again. My son is three months old now, bigger and stronger and stroller ready. We can train together and focus on the Zane Grey 50M in April and get back to running with Jay Danek. I've missed our reckless descents down Bell Pass at breakneck speeds and the much faster pace Jay trains at than I would running solo. His big ambitions, goals and training regimin rub off on me and I need to get back to that.
I have big plans for Zane Grey, my favorite race to hate in all of running. Yet ultimately...my favorite race. My brother distinctly remembers my putrid attitude following my horrible experience back in 2011 where I suffered through a death march the final 17 miles. All of which were self imposed through my own stupidity, poor planning and newly found arrogance.
This time around though, I'm smarter, I'll be stronger, and I feel like that's my home turf now. I've run the Highline so much now in preparation for the Mogollon Monster I know so many of the in's and out's of the trail. I know it's a whore of a trail. An unrelenting beast waiting to eat up the first runner that succumbs to the heat, elevation, exposure, manzanita, or those few rocks out there. The last time I was arrogant. I had been running 50K's like they were 5k's. The 50M was a near regular event for me, at least once a month. I had run a wickedly hard and vicious Superstition Wilderness 50M the month before and felt that Zane Grey was just a stop at the ice cream shop in comparison (incidently, during that delusional Superstitions run the first seeds of the idea for the Mogollon Monster we laid).
I made a cardinal Ultrarunning sin. I did not respect the distance.
Zane Grey is one of the toughest 50 milers in the country. I don't care which one you compare it to. There may be "harder" ones but there is no debate that this is towards the top of the list. Nobody leaves the Highline saying, "That was easy." Nobody. Most leave in a near crippled state saying, "I'm never coming back."
Which any Zane Grey veteran likely say's in their head, "See you next year."
I'm not overlooking the distance this year. I'm focusing on this race and this race only. I'm not going to go out and do all these fat ass random runs through the desert. My off course adventures that end up eating up every ounce of my energy. I'm training for speed, stregnth and endurance. I'm not just looking for an improvement over 2011. I want to knock several hours off it.
I want to go sub 10 hours.
At Zane Grey.
I know. Ridiculous right?
Anyone just ultrastalking me can look at my past results and will be wondering, "How in the world are YOU going to run sub 10 hours at Zane Grey??!"
It's 2:24 better than I ever have run there. Ever. I have zero statistical data to back up that kind of time. My fastest "official" 50K on there is 4:54. I barely ran 10 hours on a flat,loop course.
BUT...I know what I can do. I know what I'm capable of. I know I've never even gotten close to pushing boundaries on speed or training. I've always skirted by with just enough training to keep it from being a full on death march. I ran Cascade Crest 100 last year topping out at a 52 mile week. I get by because I'm a strong hiker and I can run downhill. I've always been weak on the flats and actual "running", as ironic as it sounds, and that is what has kept me plateaued, just off the cuff and from taking that leap to the next level.
My problem has always been that I could hinge back on the "I don't really train excuse" for my less than stellar times at races. It's always been a side joke with my running friends but ultimately it's just an excuse. I'm capable, I can make the time, I just have to put the work in.
So I will.
And when it comes down to the line, come April, on the Highline, I'll really see where that takes me.
And if sub 10 hours doesn't happen at Zane Grey...well look for me at the finish line. I'll still make it there. It just might not be as pretty.
San Tan 50K - February 4th, 2012
Am I even wearing shorts here??
My first "race" since the Cascade Crest 100 last August...I've been running but haven't raced anything since then. With this race being the only race I've ever dropped from I didn't want to miss it and going into it I felt really strong, fast and ready to "race" a 50K versus simply finishing through a dismal last ten miles suffering to the end. Jay had me convinced to shoot for a 4:30 finish despite never beating 5:36 in a dozen previous 50k's...so that's what we went for.
That's a 4:37 min/mile pace photo...that's called "proper pacing."
Three ten mile laps make up the course with a steep out and back on each one totaling 4,300 feet of climbing total. We shot for a goal of 90 minutes per lap and after one lap we were 3 minutes ahead of pace. Wearing the Minimus 110's for the first time for a run over 20 miles (see: stupid) the second lap was less fun and my feet really started to feel the pounding after 15 miles. Luckily I had my La Sportiva C-Lite 2.0's ready at the start of lap 3 and I told Jay to go ahead as I changed my shoes. I was still on pace going into lap 3 but running solo I struggled to maintain a 8 minute mile pace and was soon passed by Paulette (this is the last time she passes me I swear...ok, I can't back that up. She's fast) and then Chris Fall from Tucson. Getting passed when you're feeling down always sucks, drags you down but at the same time brings me back from feeling like garbage because I got so pissed Chris passed me I picked it up going into the last climb. My feet and calves were trashed from the 110's (extremely regrettable choice) going down the last two hills but I got a boost seeing Jay and the others on both the out and backs and knew that I was assured at least my place in the top ten and finished the mile strong, albeit cramping so bad I nearly collapsed at the finish.
Is that a Mogollon Monster 100 Shirt? Yes...yes it is.
In the end I finished in 4:54, a personal best in the 50K by 42 full minutes. I guess I could be disappointed by missing my "goal" by 24 and really struggling the last lap but it's still a good improvement and gives me at least an idea of where I stood and stand before Mesquite Canyon.
The event itself was a lot of fun, much more fun than last year when I was sick. I really like the course itself and realize more and more how much I love out and back courses and seeing other racers on the course while you are running. Often, especially on one big loop courses, you see the same 3-10 runners the entire race as you all switch positions. With a course like San Tan I saw every single person (almost) the first couple laps and knowing many of them it made it so fun to cheer each on and hear them cheer us on. I don't think I will miss this race again, it's a classic to me.
It was also fun to meet Jerry Armstrong from Boulder, CO who contacted me on Dailymile.com and asked for a ride to the race. I picked him up and got to hang with him pre-race and he went on to run really strong and capture 3rd place as he passed Jay & I on lap 2. Great runner, puts out some cool video's and always fun meeting fellow runners from other areas. He wrote a great race report on is blog here: http://www.jerryarmstrong.blogspot.com/2012/02/san-tan-scramble-50k-race-report.html
Grand Canyon- Tanner Trail Route - February 11th, 2012
Tanner Trail...you have to look hard to see the guys...
I was really excited for this one. Four times I've been down in the Grand Canyon, all four times running or hiking the R2R2R trails. While that is an incredible trip each and every time I was excited to see a different part of the Canyon. I had this opportunity when a few WMRC members invited me along for a 30 mile route that was to take about 10 hours...I didn't need to hear another word. I was in.
Colorado River along the Escalante Trail
Andrew Heard, Art Bourque and John Pearce started out with me on the Tanner Trail head on the eastern edge of the Canyon. The trail was steep, icy and covered in snow at the top and it switch backed its way all the way down until the Colorado River came into view. Writing about the Grand Canyon is hard for me, it takes someone with real writing talent to be able to fully encapsulate what really "is" a run in the Canyon. The walls pull you in, the Canyon goes from narrow and claustrophobic to massive and belittling. You lose control of what you previously thought you had control of. You become a part of it.
Art lead us along the Escalante Trail all morning, dipping down to the Colorado to refill bottles, then seemingly back halfway up the Rim towards what for miles looks like a dead end straight into the walls of the cliffs. Running along the ridge, the Colorado a thousand feet straight below, you look up ahead trying to see where the trail possible could be going. Not until you reach the cliff wall do you realize that it does in fact scale the cliff all along its edge, precariously close to the edge, drawing up the details of your life insurance policy you hope to God you kept paying.
Boucher Point starts the downhill towards the Colorado one more time before entering Seventy Five Mile Canyon. Art describes a story when he was 33 and on this route alone, in 105 degrees, and completely lost. Having already passed a dozen spider trails off into the unknown, unmarked, I can see how easily someone can be led astray. Art takes us up the canyon and right away we climb above what becomes this majestic canyon, twenty feet wide but fifty feet tall, taller with each step deeper up the canyon. Art purposely leads us up the trail past the real turnoff, a scree trail down into the depths of the slot canyon, nothing remotely resembling a trail but more of an avalanche zone. No human rightly would have left a worn path for that. Nobody.
Art leads us down the precipice, down climbing our way down the hundred feet to the canyon bottom, an ant among the giant walls. Running down this dry riverbed, the walls tight around us, hovering high above us. It was like nothing I'd seen before and it would only truly be the beginning.
Andrew stirring up the spirits in an Anazazi ruin.
The trail continued it's steep ascents and descents, rock climbs up Fifty Foot wall, passed along the Colorado several more times providing for ice cold foot baths along the way. Continually the trail would wander random directions, running in random directions to go in the direction we needed to travel. We took the Grandview Trail out of the Canyon that day, a 4,000+ foot climb up the Rim that went on for a couple runnable miles before turning into a staircase leading straight up the chute, a leg burning, energy sapping assault on some of the steepest, most aggressive trails I've experienced. Art hammered the climb like it was his last climb of his life, absolutely crushing Andrew and I, leaving me sapped for the last three miles and 3,000 feet of climbing. Up to that point I felt great, strong and capable. That quickly turned into weak, wobbly, possibly the next victim in a Grand Canyon fall to his death. The trail narrowed, the elevation climbed and in turn the terrain became ice, snow and rocks covered with ice and snow. Climbing up the pace went from a reasonable 20min/mile to the dreaded 30min/mile to a few minutes later...58. Never...I'm using the word "never" here...have I ever wanted to just plain sit. Sit down. In the snow. And just lay there. My legs didn't hurt. My feet were fine. Everything was fine. There was simply nothing left in the tank. I was so tired, the trail so slick with ice, every imprint of a shoe with Yaktraks on it I wanted to scream. Wouldn't those be convenient right now...
I've been in this mindset before and never stopped but plodded along until I found a good section of untouched snow. With Andrew behind me a bit below I knew he would be struggling just as much in this snow with the footing being so slick and wrote, "This Blows!! :)" in the snow. Just writing it made me laugh thinking of Andrew coming up the trail and seeing that. I headed up the cliff, found a seat on a tree branch and regrouped. Put down my last gel, put a long sleeve back on, gloves and hat now that we were back in the upper elevations and waited for Andrew to come on through. He wasn't far behind and within a couple minutes he was there and we pushed our way to the top where Art was waiting for us with a big smile on his face, standing among the tourists there for a view of the big "Hole in the Ground."
John would come on through about 45 minutes later on his own. He had taken a wrong trail, back tracked, found the trail but spent a few nerve racking moments working through the fear of being lost in the Canyon. A veteran of the area he ultimately made it out, with a story, but made it out.
Two weeks later I'm still thinking about this route, the Canyon and the great time I had with Art, John and Andrew. It's never just another run up there, it always have me leaving thinking grander thoughts, bigger dreams and totally blown away and waiting for the next adventure there.
Grandpa Jim's 50K - February 18th, 2012
Jay on the 8B...still complaining about his knee. "I don't care if the bone is through the skin. We have 28 more miles to go. Eat a gu or something..."
Yes...this is my third 50K in three weekends. Just the way it panned out on the schedule and I didn't want to skip any of the three. Grandpa Jim's 50K runs through my backyard, literally, and covers some serious climbing along the way so I wanted to make it, donate some money to the cause and see how it goes.
Atop of Squaw Peak, Jay complaining about his compound fracture. Cry baby.
I could go into a full on race report here but this post is long enough already isn't it? I agree. I'm taking the lazy way out. So go read Jay Danek's race report, we ran the whole thing together and finished in 6:32 tied for 2nd place. If there is such a thing as "placing" in a somewhat unofficial race. Either way I count it and it continues my domination at Fat Ass races that don't count with very few runners in it. Yeah, I'm really good at those kinds of races. Borderline elite really. (see: 1st Place at Tom's Thumb 50K, 5 total entrants. Still wondering when La Sportiva is going to start sending my free shoes...)
Sean, Jay and I at the Dreamy Draw aid stop halfway through.
Jay coming down North Mountain after we got our fix of radiation.
So in the end...three 50K's in three weekends netted 93 miles, 21,000+ feet of climbing and 21 hours of running. In between each week I ran a whopping 50 miles in the other 18 days...I'm getting dangerously close to a full sponsorship from WalMart or Wendy's. It's a battle right now, really just the paperwork that needs to be worked out at this point. If nothing else I should earn some kind of special shirt for "Laziest Training Program in Ultrarunning." The week leading into Grandpa Jim's 50K? Two miles pushing a stroller.
Eat that Anton.
Top of Shaw Butte. We started that morning on the other side of the far peak that morning. True story.
Next up...Mesquite Canyon 50k on March 11th. I'm going for a 4:30, I don't care if that's 66 minutes faster than I've ever done it.
Limits are for cowards.