Monday, October 30, 2017

Weeks ending October 15th, 22nd, 29th

Backlog of entries here.

Oct 9th: 6 miles, 1500 feet of gain, Mesa out to Table Mesa and back.

Oct 10th: 6 miles, 1500 feet of gain, same thang.

Oct 11th: 7 miles, 1500 feet of gain, Mesa out to Table Mesa and back, plus some Shanahan trails.

Oct 12th: Off.

Oct 13th: 7 miles, 1500 feet of gain, same thang.

Oct 14th: 8 miles, 1500 feet of gain, South Shanahan loop out to Shadow Canyon.

Oct 15th: Off.

Totals: 34 miles, 7500 feet of gain. Felt tired this week, but I think that's the previous weeks' training catching up. Next week I'll taper hard into the race and see how things go.

Oct 16th: 3 miles, 500 feet of gain, Shanahan mini-loop. Felt more pep in the legs today.

Oct 17th: Off.

Oct 18th: 4 miles, 1000 feet of gain, Shanahan loop.

Oct 19th: Off.

Oct 20th: 3 miles, 500 feet of gain, Shanahan mini-loop, before heading up to the Fort to stay with a friend.

Oct 21st: 27 miles, 3000 feet of gain, 3:43, Blue Sky Marathon. It felt good to be racing again, even though I was a about 10 minutes slower than normal. Taking the past two years into perspective, I am happy with what I was able to run. I think I've lost quite a bit of sustained speed on the runnable sections, but I think my recent training averted any embarrassment.

The pace out the gate was insane, by any standards. I hung back in about 15th or 16th, giving my legs time to wake up and my mind the energy to weather the battering, cold winds on Towers. I started feeling queasy early on and had to step to the side to dry heave on the descent down Stout. Maybe the wind hitting my face, coupled with the first seriously fast run I've done in...two years...was racking my brain.

I passed a couple of folks on the Towers descent and caught up to a few more around the 9 mile aid start/finish aid station. After a quick shedding of my arm sleeves and gloves, I tore off under the bridge and hit the Blue Sky trail. Blue Sky is therapeutic. I've come to embrace it. I used to finish this race and cuss it out, vowing to never return. On paper it sounds easy once you get past the climb up and down Horsetooth. In reality, the trail is a snaking, technical grind interspersed with heavenly stretches of cruisy terrain. The biggest challenge is getting to those with enough fuel in the tank to take advantage of them.

When I got to the start/finish aid station, I saw no one around the curve in the trees. I figured that meant I was at least 3 minutes back from the next runner. By the time I reached the Indian Summer aid station, I saw at least four people within a minute of me. I passed two on the climb up Indian Summer; one guy at the top was slogging it pretty hard. On the descent I started to close in on the next runner, who was starting to surge a bit to hold me off. I lost sight of him after the aid station, but shortly after cresting the slickrock I could see him and another guy in the distance. In a few minutes I passed one on the way up a steep slickrock roller and slid by the other through a tricky section on the proceeding downhill. This was probably the first time in any of my races here that I felt in command of my body through the Devil's Backbone playground. The angled rocks, quick ups-and-downs, and endlessly snaking trails can really rack your body and turn you into a zombie.

I slammed it pretty hard up and over the ridge and back down to the aid station. At this point the queasiness was rushing back, which really limited what I was able to pull off up and over the final Indian Summer climb. I didn't really lose ground so much as I didn't gain it. At the final aid station I was a babbling but relaxed mess. Zen and panic. That last little booter of a climb back up to the Blue Sky trail did me in, and for the next mile I was almost shuffling. My mind was cloudy and I felt sick.

I pulled off to the side of the trail and barfed. A whole lot. A groaning, aching barf. Somewhere in the mix I was passed, but after that the weight was lifted. For a mile or so I was able to run unbridled, but then the queasiness set in right before the finish line. So it goes.

Well, I'll take it: 10th, 3:43. So yeah, slightly slower than normal but my pacing was spot on. Pacing has always been my weakness. Maybe if I focus I can wrestle that demon.

Oct 22nd: Off. Eating. Etc.

Totals: 37 miles, 5000 feet of vertical gain. Blue Sky was a good race for priming a winter of running. Bit of a confidence booster, but also motivation for working hard to get faster next year.

Oct 23rd: Off. Still need to give the legs a break.

Oct 24th: 3 miles, 500 feet of gain, Shanahan mini-loop.

Oct 25th: Lifting. 5 sets of bench, squats, and weighted pull-ups.

Oct 26th: 4.5 miles, 1000 feet of gain, Shanahan loop. Very sore after lifting for the first time in a long time.

Oct 27th: Lifting. 5 sets of incline bench, deadlift, barbell curls, and dumbell rows.

Oct 28th: 4.5 miles, 1000 feet of gain, Shanahan loop. Not so sore today, but still somewhat stiff. In spite of that, I can feel the pep back in my stride.

Oct 29th: Lifting. 5 sets of dumbell press, sumo deadlift, and overhead press. I decided to try out chalk during my deadlift routine to help my grip. My gym has older bars with well-worn grips and a patina of sweat and oil. It also has rules against chalk use. The spirit of the rule is to prevent the chalk dust from coating everything in a mile radius. No one wants to clean that. So, I decided to make some homemade liquid chalk. I mixed some climbing chalk with 2 parts rubbing alcohol and 1 part water - a couple of dabs worth, just enough to coat my hands. Whoah. What a difference. And easy to clean up. There's no cloud of chalk that rains out and coats everything and it comes right off the bar with a damp towel. It's allowing me to focus on form, rather than finding creative ways to prevent 250 pounds from slipping through my fingers.

Totals: 12 miles, 2500 feet of gain. Lots of lifting and eating this week to rebuild and stoke the fire. I'd like to gain back the few pounds I lost in September and October.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Week ending October 8th

Oct 2nd: 9 miles, 2000 vert, Shanahan/Table Mesa/Skunk Canyon. I suppose technically I'm running Skunk Canyon and Kohler Mesa. I don't know. All of these terrain features are so small, it's hard to keep track of the names. Rainy, boggy, barely above freezing. It was honestly energizing to get out in the elements and feel my body fight a little to stay warm. It reminds me of running in Seattle over winter.

Oct 3rd: 6 miles, 3000 vert, Bear Peak via Fern Canyon. Saw the mountaintops dusted with snow, decided I needed to get on that. Snow line was at 7000 feet, although the coverage was patchy until just over 8000. The top was somewhat of a mess - rocks in the shadow of trees were iced over by refrozen meltwater, but the snow in the trail was crunchy and grippy. Definitely a hands-and-knees affair coming down the first quarter mile, though. I should have brought spikes.

 Green Mountain from the Bear Mountain summit.

Oct 5th: Off. Somewhat busy work day.

Oct 4th: 12 miles, 3000, Royal(e) Arch. With cheese. This is becoming my favorite mid-week mileage booster. Rolling terrain at the start/end with a steep, angry climb smack in the middle. My focus right now is on technical, steep trails followed by runnable terrain. It's race-specific training for the Blue Sky Marathon, but it's also perfect training for longer races where I need to transition between runnable terrain and steeper ascents/descents.

Oct 6th: 9 miles, 2000 vert, Shanahan/Table Mesa/Skunk Canyon.

Oct 7th: 18 miles, 4500 vert, Green Mountain loop. Up via Shanahan/Mesa/Bear Canyon, down via Ranger/Gregory Canyon, quick jog over to Chautauqua for water, and then up Chautauqua and south on Mesa back home. Looks vaguely like the Blue Sky course with a climb at the start and rolling hills in the second half. In reality, this is more vert than Blue Sky in substantially less mileage. Still, I felt great the entire run. I started a little sleepy and out of it, but by the start of the big climb up Bear Canyon my legs were pretty warmed up. The up-and-over on Green was speedy, and my descent off the backside was definitely my fastest. The Chautauqua, Enchanted Mesa, and Mesa trail climbs were cruisey - I was tired, but I was able to extract a lot of speed out of my legs without feeling "tired". I feel like I'm slowly getting my body back in shape after years of mediocrity. It just needed some hard work.

Oct 8th: Off.

Totals: 54 miles, 14,500 feet of gain.

I signed up for the Blue Sky Marathon, which is coming up in a couple of weeks. Is this a way to kick my training in gear? To give me a benchmark? To get my fifth finish? A resounding yes on all accounts. I remember always falling flat at Blue Sky around the second Indian Summer climb. I guess the question is "who doesn't?", but I'd like to see if I can slam it home this time. Taper time.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Week ending October 1st

Sept 25th: 9 miles, 2000 vert, Shanahan/Table Mesa/Kohler out-and-back in the mist.

Sept 26th: 7 miles, 2000 vert, Shanahan/Table Mesa out-and-back, easy pace.

Sept 27th: 12 miles, 2750 vert, Royal Arch via Shanahan/Table Mesa/Enchanted Mesa/Flatirons Loop. I have to cross north quite a ways along the Mesas to get to the first Flatiron (I start in Shanahan), so this is actually quite a solid run. Didn't realize the trail up was closed, so I climbed the Flatiron Loop and then threw in Royal Arch as a consolation. Rock steps in the rain are a bit terrifying.

Sept 28th: Off.

Sept 29th: 9 miles, 2000 vert, Shanahan/Table Mesa/Kohler out-and-back in the mist.

Sept 30th: 17 miles, 5800 vert, South Boulder Peak, Bear Peak, and Green Mountain loop. 3:22. This route left me spent. I went sans food and definitely bonked on the final few grunts at the end.

I set out up the Shanahan South Fork trail, climbing up through the damp and the dark of the old ponderosa stands. It was going to be a blue bird day, but the rains over the past week soaked everything and made for a humid warmup.

After topping out on the ridge, I cruised the Mesa trail over to the Shadow Canyon north spur. The  steep, rocky rollers along the base of Bear foreshadow what lays around the corner in Shadow Canyon. I've never gone up Shadow Canyon - only down. And for good reason. The "trail" is a debris pile in the steep canyon that ascends 1700 feet in one mile. Ouch. Lots of large boulders and rock steps necessitate some seriously high knees, and it quickly takes a toll on your muscles. I probably pushed too hard, but I was trying to top out on the saddle before it got too hot.

Just before the saddle the trail mellows out into a series of sandy switchbacks that were a pleasure to run, if only to cool my hiking muscles. The final jaunt up to South Boulder is a steep, narrow trail, and I transitioned into a hands-on-knees power hike, blasting by a few other folks on the way up. After scrambling up the pile of boulders at the top, I turned around to retrace my steps back to the saddle and cross over to Bear. After tagging Bear, which was a detour of at most a few minutes, I started the slick descent down the backside of Bear. The trail cuts its way through a talus slope, and at the pace I was dropping I was sending piles of stones skittering off the trail. Sometimes I wonder how much humans are accelerating the erosion at the tops of mountains. Makes me feel a bit guilty. I'm of the belief that there is almost no "sustainable" human activity.

Anyway, back to more lighthearted things. The west ridge of Bear is one of the most cruisey trails in the Boulder system - it's the perfect grade, and the curves are the perfect radius, for getting up some solid speed. Crossing Bear Creek, one begins the climb up to Green rather abruptly for a few minutes until the trail chills out a bit. I like running up Green-Bear and the west ridge of Green. It's a minimally technical, steady climb that's runnable with a bit of effort. The last mile up to the top isn't so bad - by that point, it's only another 500 feet of vert. I felt some fatigue up the final quarter of a mile to the summit; the rock and log steps burned my quads and knees, the ghosts of Shadow Canyon lingering on.

I decided to descend the front-side of Green via Greenman and Ampitheater. It was packed to the gills with groups of students and older folks getting out the enjoy the weekend weather before the storms hit again. It's an extra challenge to manage while ping-ponging boulders, hairpin curves, and slick rock.

After hitting the bottom at the Gregory Canyon trailhead, I did my usual punishment slog up Bluebell-Baird and Ski Jump and dropped down to the Chautauqua station for water. It was heating up so I chugged half a bottle, refilled, and then got to it back up the Chautauqua trail. It's a steep, punishing 600-700 foot ascent through the crowds back up to Bluebell-Baird. But I knocked it out pretty fast this time and dashed over to the Mesa trail without much effort. The climb up and over Enchanted Mesa felt pretty rough, but once the trail leveled out above Skunk Canyon I was able to get my speed back up to snuff.

The final few miles are gravy - it's the middle of my daily run so it's a series of climbs, booters, and rocky stretches that I know well. That's useful to me, because I can compare how I feel on this section to what I feel like fresh. I was definitely bonking here, but I was able to muster enough gas to push it up and over Shanahan Ridge without too much embarassment. All around a good push. Maybe I'll throw in Flagstaff next week for extra mileage.

Oct 1st: Lifting, 5x5 overhead press, bench, squat.

Totals: 54 miles, 14,550 feet of gain. That's stout! If I can continue this kind of training into next year, I think I'll be doing well.

Given the numbers, and the effort per mile, I think this week is equivalent to a 65+ mile week back in Fort Collins. I know I can add more mileage by running 6 days per week, but for me that treads into injury territory. For now, focusing on five solid days of quality running seems to be paying off.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Week ending September 24th

Sep 18th: 7 miles, 1500 vert, super easy Shanahan/Table Mesa out-and-back.

Sep 19th: 7  miles, 1500 vert, Shanahan/Table Mesa out-and-back. Took this a bit harder - call it a psuedo-tempo run in the middle 3 miles.

Sep 20th: Off.

Sep 21st: 9 miles, 2000 vert, Shanahan/Table Mesa out-and-back with Kohler Canyon loop thrown in.

Sep 22nd: 7 miles, 1500 vert, Shanahan/Table Mesa out-and-back.

Sep 23rd: 4 miles, 750 vert, mini Shanahan loop.

Sep 24th: Off.

Total: 34 miles, 7250 feet of gain. A drop week to punctuate the buildup. I think adding these is important to give the body some training integration time. Next week will be a push.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Week ending September 17th

Sep 11th: 7 miles, 1500 vert, Shanahan/Table Mesa out-and-back. I really enjoy this route because it's got a lot of solidly runnable miles on the Shanahan/Mesa fire roads interspersed with technical stretches here and there.

Sep 12th: 7 miles, 1500 vert, Shanahan/Table Mesa out-and-back. Creature of habit.

Sep 13th: Off.

Sep 14th: 7 miles, 1500 vert, Shanahan/Table Mesa out-and-back. No, not boring yet.

Sep 15th: 9 miles, 1500 vert, Shanahan/Table Mesa/Kohler out-and-back. Felt really peppy and on top form the entire way, so I pushed it a little harder. Tired by the end, but never drained.

Sep 16th: 17 miles, 4500 vert, Shanahan/Bear Banyon/Green summit/Gregory Canyon/Chautauqua/Mesa/Shanahan loop. Churned it out in under 3 hours. This was an epiphany of a run, let me tell you.

I started from home and felt the previous day's effort, so I hung back on the first climb up and over Shanahan Ridge. When I hit Bear Canyon I started to feel the life in my legs come back. In the few times I've done this route, I've become pretty quick on the gentle but relentless climb on the backside of Green.

When I hit the west ridge trail I pulled back a bit and coasted up over the top of Green, taking no time to savor the view. For one, Green was enveloped in a cloud, and for two, I've found that it's good mental training to immediately start a descent. Greenman really beats you up if you're tired, but I was comfortably fatigued today and kept up the pace down to the Ranger trail. The reward of the quad blast on the upper half of Greenman is the cruisey, pine needly lower half of Greenman and the Ranger trail. It wouldn't be unfair to say I smoked this downhill and ended up in sun drenched Gregory Canyon before I even knew it.

Gregory gave me a bit of a run for my money after the aggressive descent of Green, with its myriad rocky outcroppings and steep little booters. With the Chautauqua ranger station as my target, I decided to run up and over Bluebell and down Ski Jump for an extra two-hundred-some vert, rather than cruise down Baseline. Learn to suffer.

The crowds on a cool Saturday morning on the Chautauqua trail. Whoah. It's like a sporting event. I refilled my bottle at the ranger station and immediately started re-ascending Chautauqua. It sounds stupid, but I'm proud I was able to run all the way up to the Flatiron trail without slowing down. It's a solidly steep 1,000 foot climb on fire road. It's nothing. But it felt like I finally got my ultra legs back. That ability to just start pulling energy out of nowhere.

Anyway, I cruised the mesas back to the house. The final climb up the Mesa fire road feels effortless at this point, even at the end of a hard effort long run. Amazing what some actual, solid training, sleep, and eating can do for a body.

Sep 17th: Off. Some biking around town, nothing strenuous. Taking this week off from lifting for R&R.

Totals: 46 miles, 10,500 feet of gain. About the same as last week, but with a way better long run. Achilles bursitis is nearly gone after I cut a massive V in the back of my shoes. Incoming post on heel counters, injuries, and how to fix overbuilt trail shoes.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Week ending September 10

Sep 4th: 7 miles, 1000 vert, two loops around Shanahan. Just a quick shake-out after Sunday.

Sep 5th: 7 miles, 1500 vert, Shanahan/Table Mesa out-and-back.

Sep 6th: 9 miles, 2000 vert, Shanahan/Table Mesa/Kohler lollipop. Barely a hint of heel issues.

Sep 7th: Off. Just takin' it easy.

Sep 8th: 9 miles, 2000 vert, extended Shanahan/Table Mesa/Kohler lollipop redux.

Sep 9th: 13 miles, 3500 vert, Green Mountain lollipop loop via Bear Canyon, Greenman, and Mesa. Around 2500 feet of sustained climbing with another knock-on 1000 feet from the mesa trails. It was pretty hot but I managed to scrape this out without water.

Sep 10th: 5x5 weights again.

Totals: 45 miles, 10000 vert. Feeling in the zone, but tired. I may hold this mileage constant into next week before adding anything.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Week ending September 3

Aug 28th: 6 miles, 1000 vert, Shanahan/Bluestem route. Slowly getting my running legs back.

Aug 29th: 7 miles, 1500 vert, Shanahan/Table Mesa. Up and over Shanahan Ridge, down to Table Mesa, reverse and repeat. Felt good to slam the downhill on the Mesa Trail fire road. This out and back is fast becoming one of my favorite hour runs.

Also did weights, the ol' 5x5 bench, deadlift, squat. 5x5 means you get to the end of each set spent but not wrecked, and with only 5 reps per set, you can really focus on power output (i.e., faster, more explosive lifts). I can feel my quads and butt getting kicked into gear.

Aug 30th: Off.

Aug 31st: 7 miles, 1500 vert, Shanahan/Table Mesa.

Sep 1st: 8 miles, 2000 vert, Shanahan/Table Mesa out to Kohler. Just a bit longer with more climbing at the turn around. This felt like a breakthrough run - I was able to hammer all of the climbs and the little rollers the whole way. I think eating and sleeping better is already working its magic.

Sep 2nd: 7 miles, 3000 vert, Bear Peak out-and-back via Fern Canyon. The "hard" way to the top of Bear (there is no "easy" way up). Started at 10 AM, it was already cooking down below. The breeze at the top felt great. A bit shaky coming down, so I don't have my mountain legs back, yet. Cruised it in nice and easy to cool down and cap off the week.

Sep 3rd: Weights, 5x5 again, no surprises here. Lifting doesn't even feel like coss-training anymore, it's more relaxing than total rest.

Totals: 35 miles, 9000 feet of gain, 258 feet/mile gain. I am both surprised and apprehensive about those vert numbers. As I add mileage I'll probably mix in some flatter runs. I've thought about throwing in a once-a-week road run just to work on form and pacing. I'm really more worried about injury prevention. My right heel (bottom) was a bit sore on Friday, but on Saturday's Bear run it hurt much less. Should be gone by next week.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Week ending August 27th

Aug. 20th: Weights - 5x5 bench, deadlift, squat.

Aug. 21st: Off.

Aug. 22nd: 3 miles, 500 vert, short Shanahan loop.

Aug. 23rd: 3 miles, 500 vert, short Shanahan loop.

Aug. 24th: Off, travel.

Aug. 25th: 6 miles, 0 vert, running along the beach in Florida.

Aug. 26th: Off.

Aug. 27th: 6 miles, 0 vert, running along the beach in Florida.

Totals: 18 miles, 1000 feet vert. Flat as a pancake.

I sort of used this week to shake out the rust and see how everything feels. My calves and Achilles are still a little tight, but that's a perennial issue. I'm just going to settle for the simple fix and cut a notch in my shoes' heels. I wish major shoe manufacturers made their shoes without heel counters - they do nothing for stability, right, or comfort, and only aggravate the bursa in your heel.

Next week I'll continue to build up a solid schedule. Once I get to 5-6 days of solid running again, I'll start ticking up the mileage. Baby steps.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017


This year didn't go so well.

It's pretty easy to diagnose the cause - I was working 60-80 hour weeks for the past 6 months, and nearly that amount in the preceeding 12, trying to finish my Ph.D. That left precious little time to train, to take care of nutrition, and to keep my head in the game of running. There were nights I'd go to bed at 9, set my alarm for midnight to check a model run, and then get up at 5 again to check another run. And I'd work from breakfast till bedtime, only rarely getting in more than the occasional 7 miler. I became accustomed to the feeling of heavy eyelids for most of the day, to looking ahead 24 hours instead of months.

The result: Bighorn and Bigfoot DNF's. The Bighorn DNF was because my head just was not in the game, and I made a number of hydration errors that wrecked me by Jaws. Bigfoot because I went into the race tired, lost focus at night, and took a very nasty fall that left me with a host of injuries. My most recent races, I've felt like a stranger in a strange land, struggling with things that used to be second nature. In short, I've fallen into a slump. A big slump.

I stopped tracking mileage a couple of years ago because I let training erode in favor of work. I also let it erode to spend some time with family and friends. This saga has made me realize that I value these things more than running. I see that as admirable. But I didn't have the foresight to just red shirt the summer and clear my schedule. That's not admirable. It's something I'm always bad at - I'll keep loading my plate until it's overflowing and has fallen on the floor.

I start my first "real" job in Boulder on September 1st. 40 hours per week sounds like heaven. Not carrying the shadow of a dissertation sounds like heaven. I'll be able to run to work, up and over a mountain, if I so choose. I see this as a huge opportunity to return to serious, consistent training, and I've already scoped out a race schedule next year to help make that happen.

I'll use Hagg and Badger as a stimulus to build a solid base of mileage over the next 6 months. They're tough, but not, say, Bighorn or Bigfoot tough, and I think they'll help me rebuild my confidence and regain the competitive stride I used to have. I think you can run too few races in a year - if they're sparse, they creep up on you, so you arrive under trained, and because you haven't tested your strategy and body in a recent effort, you spend half of the race getting into the zone.

I think it's easy to forget that we need to train, really train. We train hard for a few years and find ourselves improving. Then, the training sloughs a little to no ill effect (and maybe even to a benefit, as we show up even better rested to races). But eventually, it comes crashing down. Results are talent plus training, and talent can only carry you so far. At the end of the day, you only have a satisfying race if you put in the time in training.

With so much accumulated knowledge and mileage, I don't feel the uncertainty I would feel if I was beginning to run high mileage weeks for the first time. I've been there. I remember. And now that my body and mind feel one again, it's what I want. And what I'll do.

The sting of failure in races, the ghosts of regret over miles not run - I think these are enough to light the fire inside.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Quad Rock 50

The 2017 Quad Rock 50, which I will hereafter refer to as Oven Rock, was a good learning experience for running in the heat. While I’ve done races like Bighorn which can get notoriously hot, they often give their heat in short bursts. At Bighorn, you’re always ascending or descending 4,000+ feet and traveling through multiple climate zones - at worst you’re in the oppressive heat for a few hours. At Quad Rock, there is no escape. A 1,500 foot differential between the lower and upper reaches of the course gives you little escape from whatever weather race day brings. This was really the first sustained-heat-race I’ve ever run.

My plan was simple - keep my body temperature down by keeping my shirt and sleeves soaked, hydrate, and eat whatever I could, prioritized in that order. I think I handled the first well, the second decently after a substantial hiccup, and the third not well, but well enough to get 28th and run a P.W. 10:45.

I started out in my regular shorts plus a cotton crop top and Moeben sleeves (who I understand is no longer in business, boy that makes me feel like I’m getting older), a visor, and lots of bottles and snacks scattered in my drop bags. The pace set by the front runners was brisk so I hung back quite a ways. Sunrise was spectacular, with orange and red creeping through purple scattered clouds - the last clouds I’d see until the final 6 miles.

By the time I was halfway up the first climb to Towers I was already sweating. We had hit an inversion around the Sawmill/Loggers intersection and were already basking in the previous days’ warmth and humidity. Through the climb I passed a number of folks I wouldn’t see until the finish. I use this as a sort of gauge for whether I went out too fast, and I think I hit my early pace bang-on. I tossed some water on my back just before turning downhill onto the Spring Creek descent.

Spring Creek was cool, but when we turned onto Stout we got a real nice preview for the rest of the day. The sun was already cooking the trail and by the time I reached the Horsetooth aid station at the bottom of the first descent I had already drained my water bottle.

For me, the race was really blasé from Horsetooth to Arthur’s. I passed no one on the climb up to Horsetooth and passed no one on the Mill Creek descent. I think all of us were biding our time as we were fast aware of the struggle the later miles would become. At Arthur’s I was in a good mood, if not a little hazy, and for the first time in as long as I can remember I enjoyed the climb up Howard. In spite of its southern exposure I kept cool with a soaked shirt and arm sleeves. I can remember what it was like to run in the heat years ago, and it definitely feels like I need to work a lot harder to keep cooler now. I’m 35 pounds heavier than I was when I first moved to Fort Collins, and a most of it is upper body strength - helpful for 200 milers, not so helpful when you want to dump body heat in a fast race.

At the top of Howard I hit a wall. Not stiff legs, just low mental energy, a lack of focus, and a loss of appetite. In hindsight, I now understand that this is my body’s signal for more electrolytes. I shuffled over the top of Timber and had a minor panic attack when I found out there was no water stop here. As I’d later learn, I had beaten it to the punch by 10-20 minutes. I was out of water at this point (I had banked on refilling and had used a lot of my water to keep my shirt wet) so I slowed down on the descent on Timber to try to save my legs.

At the turn-around I ate some oranges, a little bit of salt, and plenty of Coke, and within five minutes blasted out of there. I felt a bit shitty but I mustered a smile and some banter with the volunteers before leaving. Usually I’m in a pity-me headspace at the midpoint of a race, but this time I was hungry for the second half. I think I’ve done enough of these that I approach them, no matter the course or conditions, with a healthy level of optimism and intensity. I think a lot of people looked forward to the weather forecast with trepidation, but I couldn’t wait to get into the heat of battle. Hahhhh....

About half a mile up the Timber climb I went through a few waves of nausea. Rather than waste time, I chugged some water and induced a solid barf fest on the side of the trail - oranges, a granola bar, and coke everywhere. The first burst was productive, thankfully. I kept jogging and over the next ten minutes I barfed some more, occasionally just tilting my head to the side and continuing to plow on. After that episode finally ebbed I power hiked for a bit while I drank water and had a gel. I also, in a stroke of genius, decided to take a salt pill. Until this point I had been drinking regular strength Tailwind, but it was making me queasy and, apparently, was not giving me enough salt. I ended up needing about 2-3 times the salt I had been taking up until that point (about 2-3 salt stick pills per bottle of water). Everyone says you’re not supposed to do anything new in a race that you haven’t tried in training. That's ridiculous unless you have a perfect race in the exact same conditions you train in. A little experimentation during this race really helped me dial in how to read my mental and physical state to determine my salt needs.

The climb up the second half of Timber was agony - I had dug myself into a nutrition and hydration hole over the past two hours. This was really the crux of my race because I hit such a low point. I crested Timber at nothing more than a sad shuffle, and I could feel my body heat going out of control - I was baking in the sun and shivering in the shade. Taking a salt pill whenever that happened seemed to quell it almost immediately, though.

At Arthur’s aid I plopped down, drank a lot of Coke, ate two whole oranges, and chomped some salt. I took the time to get my self put together before Mill Creek, which proved to be a smart choice. While I absolutely slogged up the bottom section of Mill Creek out of the valley, I started feeling better once I got to the meat of the climb. There was no running, but there some solid power hiking, which I hadn’t been able to do for quite a while. The trail on this stretch really baked, though. There was no breeze, the sun was overhead, and we were all on the highway to hell. Literally, there were signs displaying the lyrics to Highway to Hell. I’ll admit to enjoying those signs, if only because they couldn’t possibly add anything, except some dark comedy, to the struggle to get up to Towers.

By the time I reached Towers I was almost out of the hole. Unfortunately, that meant that my legs had spent the last 3+ hours in a dehydrated state and had become summarily trashed. Good training for Bighorn, though. Also, I need to mention that Westridge trail's geometry makes no sense - it feels uphill both ways. But man, on a hot day, it absolutely kills on the way back. Descending Horsetooth through crowds of graduation-day revelers is always a fun exercise. There’s a bit of shock, a bit of reverence, and a lot of confusion on their faces as sweat-drenched people with 1,000 mile stares careen down the rocky, switchbacky trail.

Horsetooth aid was an oven at this point, and I ate the only thing I could: oranges. I couldn’t stomach gels. I had been eating peach candies - the gummy, no-fruit kind - but even they were becoming a chore in the heat. I watched Danny Bundrock roll in and out of the aid station and realized what I had been doing wrong. Every time he came in he had volunteers drench him with a whole pitcher of water. Then he’d go about his business and right before leaving get another quick shower. I was only soaking my shirt at the end of my aid station routines, and even then, I wasn’t really getting my shorts soaked. Basically, he was evaporatively cooling the whole time at the aid station, while the rest of us suckers were sitting there with our tongues hanging out.

The next section of the course was the real deal - absolute, unyielding heat in the low elevations. Spring Creek canyon seemed like Florida - humid, searing, filled with all sorts of characters carrying Bluetooth boom boxes. I was thankful to turn onto Stout because I thought the ridgeline it scurried up would catch a nice breeze.

I was wrong. It was stagnant and it really tested my resolve. I had to ration water between drinking and keeping my body cool, and I had two full-sized bottles. My brain felt like it was melting. But every time Stout would flatten out, I would start into a jog, no matter how hot it felt. I realized that some of my hesitance to run faster over the past few hours was just inexperience. I just didn’t believe that I could keep chugging along at a solid clip without collapsing. Central governor and whatnot.

Wow, did the final descent hurt. My legs were supremely trashed, but at least the weather was becoming bearable. The sky started to fill with some mid-afternoon thunder clouds and temperatures dropped down to somewhere around 75 or 80. When I hit the looping bottom of Sawmill I leaned into the trail and eked out a pretty decent pace, but when I hit East Valley I could barely get my legs to turn over. I hiked some of the steeper parts of the trail on the way to Arthur’s aid, where I had to stop to drink some Coke and get myself out of another rut.

With 2 miles to go I sped up little by little, getting as much out of the rolling downhills on East Valley that I could. When the trail flattened out I started to kick it in - maybe by only another minute or two per mile, but enough to make it feel like a solid effort. With half a mile to go I was grunting with my head angled down, arms swinging - probably looked a little overdone to the folks camping in the bay and having beers in the sun.

I really enjoy the final little climb at Quad Rock. You can see the finish line area just around the bend, but you’ve got to make it up a steady incline to get there. The course really makes you earn everything, including the chute down into the finish.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Bigfoot 200

(Months behind, yada yada...)

No fear, no fear. By Howie Stern.

The Bigfoot 200 is somewhere around 206 miles long, with around 50,000 feet of elevation gain and an equal amount of elevation loss. I took 83 hours to finish, getting only a few hours of sleep along the way. Sleep deprivation, a foot injury, and plenty of misjudgments magnified the experience.

I am still in the process of comprehending everything that happened, more than half a year later, but if I could condense it into a simple bit of wisdom, the race was all about patience. I answered that in the hours after the race when someone commented somewhat incredulously on my consistent, unwavering aid station habits. It was tempting to try to blast through aid stations and get back on the trail, but a little bit of patience paid dividends later in the race. When I dislocated a bone in my foot just before the mile 75 aid station, I quickly accepted a new reality and adjusted my race strategy. I had to take more time in aid stations and take more thoughtful steps on technical terrain, but the injury never got in the way of a solid finish.

I am so impressed with the race management and the beauty of the terrain, but I am also deeply inspired by the other runners that crossed the finish line.

Start to Blue Lake

The atmosphere at the start was casual and much more laid back than you might expect, with runners milling about eating croissants and coffee. Excitement and some healthy fear permeated the crowd. We were eager to start but also preparing ourselves for the utter shit show it would be in another 48 hours. Or even just another 4 hours because of the heat.

The section to Blue Lake is a such a fun stretch of trail. It’s mostly runnable and a breeze compared to the later sections of the race: 2,500 feet straight up with some alpine rollers followed by a fast descent on soft pine needley single track. The temperature was rising fast but I had a bottle of water stuffed into my shorts to keep my shirt and arm sleeves wet and cool. The climb is interspersed with sections of large boulder fields, and the “trail” there is just a series of wooden stakes every 1/8 mile or so. It broke things up a bit and gave me a chance to catch the panoramic views on St. Helen’s southwestern flank.

Loowit "trail". By Howie Stern.

Rolling into Blue Lake was like lowering myself into an oven. Bubbles of hot air would blast up the trail, followed by stagnant stretches of dust. When I got to the aid station I took plenty of time to get myself together with solid food, coke, gels, and snacks from my drop bag. I heard that temperatures here were pushing 90. I’d believe it. I filled my arm sleeves with ice before leaving and it melted within 5 minutes.

Blue Lake to Windy Ridge

The trail took a quick jaunt through some toasted trees in a very exposed ash field, a prelude of things to come. After a few miles of old-growth forest I started the descent to the Toutle River, and save for a few blown down logs it was easy running. The temperature continued to rise as I descended the last several hundred feet to the Toutle, which cascades in a series of waterfalls through deep gullies on the side of St. Helens. Despite such a short time since the last eruption, it has already carved an impressive canyon through the ash and debris.

I repelled down the rope to the river shore and stood in the cold water for a minute, soaking my shirt and shorts and getting my body temperature down. I filled my waistband bottle with some water to keep myself cool on the climb and ascended the rope on the other side.

The climb out of the Toutle river valley has breathtaking views as you switchback up through the trees, but it was scorching. It’s a steep, south-facing slope pockmarked with short, stubby trees and bushes, and it has almost no shade. Treeline here is a somewhat meaningless distinction. The trail is a faint tread in the sand, and it was hard to get traction. It also reflected the sunlight back onto my legs. It’s not an exaggeration to say that sweat was pouring down my face.

For an hour or two, the trail weaves through a barren wasteland, in and out along ridge lines and rocky spines extending from St. Helens’ main spire. There are a true handful of trees here and plenty of dry creek beds to tease you. In another hour I ran out of water to keep my shirt wet and started to ration my drinking water (I left Blue Lake with nearly a gallon of water).

As soon as I hit the silty creeks trickling through the black sand and lava rocks I knew it was only another mile or two until the gushing spring below Windy Pass. The little climb up toward the spring dragged on, but I soon caught sight of a lush valley with bushes and trees. Even several hundred yards away, you could see the water shooting out of fissures in the rock. I stopped near the spring and hid in the cool shade, drinking a couple of bottles of water. Before leaving I realized I should get some salt and food in me to help everything digest. I ate some chips and a salt pill and felt settled.

Ten minutes later I was overwhelmed by waves of nausea. I was ascending Windy Pass, the high point of the section, and could feel my gut wrenching. For about 10 minutes I was dry heaving every few steps. I descended the the scree field on the other side of the pass but kept stopping to dry heave. Finally, I had enough, chugged some water, and promptly spewed at least a liter of fluid and tortilla chip chunks onto the side of the trail.

The episode left me devastated and my muscles weak and thrashed.

Windy Pass to Johnston

I was getting overheated in the sun and chilled in the shade along the contour trail to the aid station, a sure sign that I was dehydrated. I sat in the shade of the aid tent for 20 minutes just trying to get some water in, and I left with enough to rehydrate along the way to Johnston. I could not have anticipated the unyielding blast furnace along the way, though. The air was still and humid in the swampy hummocks, which took a toll on my still-dehydrated body. I got my feet wet a few times in the marshes teeming with red algae. As I ascended up to the ridgeline I could feel the skin on my feet sliding around. Dehydration plus wet feet is not a winning mix unless your goal is to get blisters and sloughing skin.

When I sat at Johnston I went straight into zombie mode. I tried to drink a cup of water and it took almost half an hour. I had tunnel vision and saw spots just sitting around. Eventually I was able to start eating again, and once I was coherent I changed socks. I got some life back into me and I started the downhill to Coldwater.

Johnston Ridge to Coldwater Lake

This section gave me a chance to right myself before the next aid station, which is by all measures probably the most critical one in the first 24 hours. I loaded up on gels and Tailwind on the way down and kept up a good running pace on the undulating hummock trails at the bottom. It was still warm and humid, but at least the sun was over the mountains.

This is the fastest section, even in terms of raw mileage - it feels like a gimme. Just a nice downhill and some cruiser flats through lots of wooded ponds and creeks. Since there’s a Chain of Lakes in this race, Johnston to Coldwater would definitely qualify as Chain of Ponds.

I felt nostalgic running this trail because I visited it on a class trip back in middle school. The trees have grown larger since then and seem almost out of place with the devastation only a few hundred feet away.

Coldwater Lake to Norway Pass

My positive attitude was back, I had finally kicked the dehydration and zombie status, and I was excited for the start of the first night. I transitioned my gear to a larger pack and ate grapes, grilled cheese, soup, coffee, Coke, all the food. I also let my algae-pickled feet dry while I ate and worked on my gear. There were plenty of comments about how bad my feet looked, but I wasn't worried as long as I could get them dry. For the first time in the race I put on a (apparently magic) balm called Run Goo, and I found that even walking around the aid station felt better with it on.

In no time I was off on a trot along Coldwater Lake. The profile makes this section look flat. In reality it’s filled with little rollers of all grades, some almost too steep to run, and it was overgrown. As I crossed the bridge at the start of the big climb I flicked out my poles and got into a nice groove on the way up. The occasional spider web blanketed my face but the real challenge was the vegetation. It was even more overgrown higher up and completely blocked the trail in places. You simply could not see the trail, the ground, or your own body.

Somewhere around here my sunglasses got pushed off my head. I spent about 10 minutes looking for them to no avail, getting passed by the eventual women’s winner, Katie, and Matt Tanaka and his pacer. After giving up I hooked onto that party train and we knocked out the final couple thousand feet of vertical in no time, occasionally teetering on a sketchy cliff and wondering how far it plummeted into the abyss below. Because the trail snakes left and right from canyon to canyon, even the geometry of the course is confusing. In the darkness you just have no sense of direction or of the topography. It’s unsettling for a while. Eventually you just give up and realize that you shouldn't waste mental energy on uncertainty, and you let your world shrink to the 20 or 30 feet surrounding the trail.

We stuck together on the rolling climb up to Mt. Margaret, and I took a moment to eat some bacon and a gel at the top and savor the midnight view of St. Helens. In the faint moonlight, it looked like mottled blue skin blanketed over a pile of old bones.

The descent to Norway Pass…it’s fun at first. You get a nice, moderately steep, mostly clutter-free trail, but sooner or later your quads start screaming. We passed a few folks on the way in and triumphantly entered the warm embrace of the aid station. A couple of miles out from the aid station I remembered a section of trail that was cambered to the downhill side. I hit a couple of rocks here dead on with my right foot and it hurt for a moment, but I thought nothing of it.

Norway Pass to Elk Pass

Norway Pass is in a high-altitude valley and is absolutely freezing at night, so cold that you just want to get moving again. I changed into my Altra Olympus’s and fresh socks, re-applied Run Goo, and ate a pulled pork sandwich, soup, and coffee. This next section would be relatively short so I didn’t take much when I left.

On the first mini-descent I started to realize that something was very wrong with my right foot. It was splaying out properly with each footfall but I could feel a sense of fullness on the outside of the foot, like someone had stuck a rock in the matrix of bones. It didn’t really hurt, yet. It’s 70 miles, something is going to feel weird.

Halfway through the main climb of the section my foot developed pain that seemed to peak whenever I went over technical stretches with lots of rocks and roots. In other words, whenever I needed to brake, turn abruptly to dance around rocks, or allow my foot to settle on an uneven surface, the outside of my foot hurt. A lot. On the final ascent to Elk Pass, when I could have been running some of the rollers, I was walking.

Elk Pass to Road 9237

And so began my rapid decline. I asked if anyone knew anything about what might be going on with my foot. Nope. By now my foot was red and swollen. I ate some food and reluctantly left, figuring that if this was the blowup, I was going to need as much time as I could muster to get to the finish before the cut-off.

Not a few miles out I was in severe pain. I mean cussing in the woods pain. When I look back on this day I’m not sure how I kept moving. I had dreams about the pain weeks after the race because it was so bad. On top of that the deer flies were swarming me, probably because I was an easy target at the speed I was navigating the more technical sections of trail. Whenever I would try a new lacing pattern to ease the pain off my foot, I’d get swarmed by the little guys. At least this section was shaded, though - that kept me positive. Sort of. Not really, if I’m being honest.

When I hit the descent to Road 9237, I had a mental breakdown. The flies were still swarming, it was getting hot, the trees were sparser, and the trail was rutted and rocky. The ruts would push my foot into the sidewall of my shoes and it strained the injury, whatever it was. By the bottom of the descent I was walking and using my poles to take a lot of weight off my right foot. I got my pole lodged in a pile of boulders as I was swinging off a log step in the trail and heard a sharp pop - the pole broke at the handle. I hit rock bottom. I screamed obscenities, I thought I was going to DNF from the injury because I knew I couldn’t move another 115 miles without poles. Phil Nimmo passed me here and in a few gentle words gave me some hope, but I think he could tell I was mentally unstable.

Road 9237 to Spencer Butte

I walked into the aid station with thoughts of dropping, but I explained that I wanted food, and Coke, and that I needed help with my foot. To me, it felt like something was dislocated - the fullness, the swelling and lack of bleeding, and the pain only when my foot bore weight. An evaluation a week after the race revealed that I had dislocated the cuboid, compressed the fifth metatarsal joint, and developed tendonitis in multiple tendons in the surrounding tissue. In other words, I had really messed my foot and its ability to function.

The absolutely stellar aid station crew had me ice my foot in the river and take a nap with my feet elevated to see if the swelling would calm down. I woke up and my foot felt a little better, but now my right leg, which had been compensating for the past 25 miles, was getting spasms and I couldn’t move it, at all. I lied on the cot and strained hard to lift my right foot off the cot. Eventually, I got it an inch. Then two inches. Then three. If you’ve ever seen Kill Bill, it was like Uma Thurman in the Pussy Wagon. In fact, I’m pretty sure that in my sleep-deprived state, I rationalized that if it worked for her, it would work for me.

Somewhere along this 200 mile journey, I think everyone reaches this a moment. You can wallow in misery, or you can take control. I was not going to stop, and that left one option. I knew, didn’t hope, knew that I would run again.

After a lot of small movements I graduated to walking, and I did laps around the aid station. After countless hours, I finally told them I was ready to get the hell out of there.

The next section is not very forgiving, but it didn’t matter - a fire was burning inside of me. The descent toward the Lewis River was rutted out to absolutely absurd levels, with ruts almost as deep as a person is tall. I still hauled it down the rocky, rooted motorbike track and made it to the start of the climb up Cussed Hollow with all of the strength and positive energy in the world within me. It had many false summits, but I enjoyed being able to move again with some purpose.

Crossing the road to the start of the climb up to Spencer Butte was emotional, because I knew I was going to be able to finish the race. It was going to hurt, but I could do it. Even though my foot still hurt, it didn’t hurt as bad as it had before Road 9237. I powered up the climb and when I reached the top I stopped for a moment to watch the sun slowly sinking toward the horizon.

Spencer Butte to Lewis River

Todd and his medical crew got to work on my foot almost immediately while I chugged soda and ate a mound of macaroni and cheese. The next section to Lewis River would be my last before finally taking a nap, and I wanted to get there well-fed. My foot was taped tightly across the arch to help hold the bone in place and prevent it from splaying and jamming into the other bones. I put on some older Altra Olympus’s which had a bit more room in the forefoot to accommodate the swelling.

I started the descent into the Lewis River basin at sunset, but the density of the tree canopy necessitated a head lamp almost immediately. It was steep and occasionally hard to follow, with leaves and lots of small brush pockmarking the trail. A few hidden boulders took me by surprise, but in the end it took little effort to get to the river’s shore. Down there it was sticky - humid and hot enough to cause sweat to drip down my chin, even at night.

The rolling trail to the aid station dragged on forever. Never have I felt more defeated by such an easy section of a course. I went by so many campgrounds and paved pullouts and I kept imagining the aid station behind every corner. I went up, I went down, and I wondered if this was all part of Candice’s plan to mess with our heads. When I finally hit the Lower Falls I knew I had about 3 miles left, and the trail steadily got more technical, crossing a few talus slopes and narrow contour trails around the steep river canyon.

The aid station was like a dream. There were Christmas lights everywhere. Out in the woods. In the middle of nowhere. They frightened me at first. I saw them dancing around. More than they should be able to in the wind. It was time to sleep.

Lewis River to Council Bluff

I ate a big burger, cookies, soda, and a beer, and hobbled over to the sleep tent for a 90 minute nap. It was so hot that I ended up sleeping in my underwear on the cot with a single blanket. When the volunteer came to wake me I wasn’t even groggy, I was ready to roll.

I drank a “morning” cup of coffee around 2 AM and assessed my body. At this point the foot swelling had gotten considerably worse, so I cut out a patch of my shoe insoles to accommodate it. I thought about cutting a hole in the side of the shoes but I decided against it. If it came down to that I could do it on the trail with my med kit scissors. Or I could run-walk barefoot. That was another option, and one I wouldn’t be opposed to.

Lewis River to Council Bluff is the hardest section of the course, in my opinion harder than Klickitat to Twin Sisters. The meat of the climb up to Council Bluff is very steep and unrelenting. At least the trail to Twin Sisters is composed of multiple, moderate climbs that each give you a bit of a descent afterward. But on this section, you have over 5,500 feet of elevation gain, with a net gain of 3,400 feet from a low of 1,800 feet at the bottom to 5,200 feet at the top. For Lewis to Council, Google Earth gives me more gain than CalTopo, purely from the steep rollers in the first 8 miles. The “hidden gain” referred to in the course description is real. I have no idea where it comes from looking at the profile but it’s there. And it drains you before you ever make progress on the main climb.

Starting out happy and well-fed was key. The section began with some gentle uphills and downhills through old-growth forest. Looking off hundreds of feet in either direction in the dead of night, I could see maybe 30 trees around me. All were enormous, some with trunks as wide as a car. When I would pan my headlamp upward the rays would dissipate into nothingness. I knew the trees had branches, and the canopy was up there somewhere because I couldn’t see the stars, but it was way up there. Cavernous is not the right word. In the damp, stale air, it seemed more like an immense cathedral.

I entered a tunnel of tall ferns and bushes and heard a voice off to my left blurt out, “don’t worry I’m just resting”. At first I thought I was hallucinating or sleep walking, but I as I drew closer I realized it was Selina napping on her pack. We were near another one of the many stream crossings and the cool air was so refreshing. The temperature had to be in the high 60’s with a dew point nearly as high - dank, but comfortable.

I pressed on and reached the start of the first “big” false summit 5 miles in. The trail tilted vertically and I could almost touch the ground reaching forward. I really dug in with my poles but even they started sliding back on the sandy soil. Up ahead was a huge blow down. I spent a minute hugging it and trying to slowly shuffle over to the other side. Nothing before or since would be so challenging or so frightening - the log hung off over an impossibly steep hillside, and a fall would be very painful.

An aside about hallucinations is warranted here. They will happen. They weren’t scary for me. They never bothered me, or made me think I was in trouble. Maybe they would have if I had gone without food for a while. But they were vivid. I kept seeing happy, sitting dogs everywhere through this entire section. Every stump or lumpy rock looked like a dog sitting with his tongue out, happily panting. I was aware they were hallucinations, but my mind continued to produce them.

I reached a point where I clearly needed coffee. Dawn was creeping over the river valley and my body was telling me to sleep. At the next creek crossing I filled my bottle from a stream of water sheeting over a flat rock bench and mixed in some instant coffee. I just stood there and drank crappy, cold, chunky instant coffee for a few minutes, marveling at the ravine the creek had dug below. So many bushes and trees were crowded around the banks of this stream that crashed down innumerable rock ledges on its way to join Quartz Creek below. I though about the sheer mass of plant matter in the world - how many millions of tons of this exist? The trees surrounding me were hundreds of years old. Here they’ve stood, through dry years, through floods, through thunderstorms. And here I am, struggling for a few days to get through them.

Soon after my break Selina caught me on the next steep roller and we worked together to find the trail through the thick, overgrown sticker bushes. Eventually we found ourselves at the wide shores of Quartz Creek. Here we’d begin the climb out of the river basin in earnest. Sometimes the trail was absurdly steep, at other times it teetered on the brink of collapse when it hugged a contour in the hillside. We gained another 1,000 feet and picked up Mark who was getting something out of his pack. For the next couple of hours we’d trade places on the way up and feed off of each other’s resolve to get to the aid station. At some point the pain in my right foot bordered on unbearable again. I couldn’t carry on a conversation. I had to dig into my mental foxhole and ride it out.

Eventually I had enough. I slipped my shoe and sock off to find that the swelling was bulging around the tape Todd and his medical crew wrapped around my arch. The tape had gotten me 12 hours of comparatively minimal pain, but now I had no choice but to slide it off. It instantly brought the pain level back down. By now the swelling was so extreme that it was padding my foot on the bottom and the side. I realized that my body was now in control and that I should let it do it’s thing. The swelling would protect the injury and allow me to push on. I just needed to loosen my laces and give it the room it needed.

When the trail flattened out up top we were out of water and in bad need of food. It would be another hour of hike-running to the aid station. By now the sun was high over the trees and starting to cook the trail.

Council Bluff to Chain of Lakes

Getting to Council Bluff was a mental victory. We were almost 2/3 of the way done and arrived just before noon, a perfect time to eat a burrito and drink beer. I took some proactive foot care steps, replacing my Run Goo and socks, and Mark and I headed out into the heat of the day.

This section looked relatively easy, but perhaps only if you didn’t run it in the mid-afternoon. Otherwise, it bakes. It bakes hard. The climb was shaded but I was struggling to stay on top of my salt balance. Mark and I kept a really solid pace to the top and began our descent on an old, rutted-out gravel road. After running the rest of the course, though, it felt easy, even to tired legs.

We passed Saravanan who was dealing with the throes of trench foot. After giving him some encouragement we continued on at our pace, but he would eventually gut it out for a solid finish not far behind either of us.

Within a couple of miles the road changed direction and the sun was beating on our backs. Instead of thrashing ourselves in the heat, with dwindling water and questionable hydration levels, we fast-walked the rest of the road. In hindsight it probably would have been okay to cruise it in but we had no idea how long it would take to get to the aid station.

Chain of Lakes to Klickitat

The next section would be challenging so I took my time to eat well and get my pack in order. It was a leisurely stop, sure, but it was sorely needed. I ate chili, beer, a smoothie, and a sandwich and prepped my feet for the coming river crossings. We headed out at about 5 P.M. just as the direct heat of the sun began to taper off.

If you were ever looking for a downhill to cruise and rest your legs, you would not go looking around this part of the course. After a short sandy stretch the trail dropped down nearly 1,000 feet to the river below through what can only be described as the ruts from hell. Deep ruts with narrow banks that necessitated running in the ruts and accepting the pain. Deep ruts filled with rocks and slippery slate and all kinds of debris. Dust kicking up everywhere.

At the bottom there was a rickety bridge across the river that we took advantage of, but it felt like the collective strain of the race participants may have eventually broken it.

The climb out of the river valley went south for me in a hurry. It was still hot, I was still trying to get my salt and water levels in some semblance of balance, and I was running low on energy, all amplified by a lack of sleep. Mark was definitely feeling better, and at the top we amicably split - Mark took off down the trail while I started to eat with earnest. Blueberries, gels, chunks of bacon jerky. Within half an hour I got my mind and my legs back and I gave chase after him.

Jim, who was working the Chain of Lakes aid station, was right - this is one of the most beautiful sections of the race if you get the pleasure of running it during the day. It’s on an alpine plateau that’s nearly flat with lots of tiny lakes and creeks and the occasional vista of the surrounding mountains.

Soon the trail tipped ever so slightly downward and I leaned into it and let gravity do its work. In a short time I caught back up to Mark. He was bonking and realized he hadn’t eaten much at Chain of Lakes. We hucked it along for a while and then decided to concoct some very calorically-dense drink mixes. I was getting a leg up on the inevitable evening sleep deprivation haze by mixing in more coffee. Van passed us with her pacer here and I convinced Mark to transition into a steady run. I eventually took off after Van and passed her not far before the Cispus River crossing, stopping for a moment to slip on my headlamp.

After a mile of aimless wandering through meadows and glades I dropped down to the river. It was wide. There were no ropes or bridges. I waited for Mark and Van because I wanted to get some water filtered before the next climb and cross together for safety. Mark rolled in holding my I.D., batteries, and other gear - it had fallen out when I was getting my headlamp on. Van and her pacer picked it up and handed it off to him when he passed by. Absurdly lucky timing.

We all waded across the cold, thigh-deep river together and began the slog up to Elk Peak. It’s such a slog, even people who never slog along in a race would have to slog it. At this point in the race nothing, not a single thing, seems impossible anymore, but everything feels far harder than it should. The trail was steep, the soil was sometimes so loose that it had a tendency to trigger dirt slides, and my feet were wet so the nonstop friction from sliding backward in my shoes had me worried. I started seeing dogs in the forest again, just like the second night. Cartoonish stick figure faces with curly mustaches were everywhere, too. Carrying on a coherent conversation with other people while hallucinating becomes normal.

We let Van’s pacer take the lead and set a steady pace toward the top. I think it took over two hours to summit the mountain. On the way we had to stop to put jackets on as the wind was whipping up, and I had to apply an emergency gob of Bag Balm on each foot. I was getting a pins-and-needles sensation on the bottom of my feet, a tell-tale sign that the skin was starting to separate. On top of that, my right foot was still hurting - every step was pain, but at least it was gradually fading into that well of nothingness at the back of my brain.

The final quarter mile to the top was a steep scree scramble. I leaned heavily on my poles to keep pressure off of my damaged feet. After taking a long moment to savor the 360-degree view at the top, Mark and I made our way down to Klickitat. When we saw the glowing lights of the aid station tent we were ecstatic.

Klickitat to Twin Sisters

Oh when you’re in the thick of the shit, you’re in it deep. I was a mess after spending so much time worried about my feet. I had skimped on food on the way up Elk Peak and I was reduced to a cold, shivering wreck as soon as I sat down. I propped my bare feet up against the fire pit in an attempt to get them dry and get the trench foot under control. The aid personnel wrapped me in blankets and I plowed through hash browns, grilled cheese, soup, anything they put in front of me. After eating I hobbled over to one of the sleep tents to settle down for my second nap - another 90 minutes after being awake for a total of 62 hours.

I woke up a minute before the volunteer came over to wake me up. Just like at Lewis River, I was dialed in. I got my gear ready and trudged out of there, and within minutes I was hauling down some dark mountain trail, hopping over blowdowns and enjoying the cool night air. I caught up to Jeff and his pacer and ran ahead of them for about an hour in the early morning twilight.

The mosquitoes on this section were unreal. I slipped my shell on even though it was temperate just so I could get away from them. As I waded through the marshes on top of the ridge line I could hear the din of hundreds of them lazily swooping after me. I’m not sure what game they prey on up here, but whatever it is it must be slow.

Eventually I hit the gnarly climb to the high point of the section. I took a break to slip my jacket off, eat some solid food, and get my mind into daylight mode. Jeff and his pacer caught me and I tucked in behind them. We spent the next 6+ hours enjoying the scenery together.

I personally believe Klickitat to Twin Sisters is the most enjoyable section of the course. Yes, the terrain can be absurdly steep. Yes, the trail sometimes teeters on the edge of a wild slope, almost like it’s going to fall straight down into the trees. Yes, there are lots of blowdowns. But it is surreal. You have never run a trail like this. You will get vertigo. You will feel yourself sink into the vastness of the ridges. On the high peaks you’ll see all around you and marvel at how far you’ve come. Sometimes, the ridge line becomes so narrow that even in the trees, you can see the drop-off on either side. Supposedly this section is run on an old Native American trail. They had some mad calves because they apparently went straight up these mountains.

Throughout the morning it remained pleasantly warm and breezy at our elevation. We didn’t spend an extra minute at either of the two picturesque alpine lakes up here. Mosquitoes. So. Many. Mosquitoes.

We invented what I’ll call the Klickitat Rule. Wherever you are on the trail, look off in the distance and find the next highest peak or hill. You’re going there. And you can be sure the way the trail takes to get there will be the hardest way. The final climb was exposed to the midday sun, and it was a dog. But it gave us glimpses into neighboring valleys and pockets of sublime alpine flowers. After running on a plateau for a few minutes, we reached a junction in the trail.

One way led to the Twin Sisters aid station, the other toward Randle. It was a welcome change of pace to finally descend to Twin Sisters. Even though I knew I'd have to turn around and climb back up, I was starting to really enjoy myself.

Twin Sisters to Owen’s Creek

When I arrived the aid station the volunteers said my parents were coming - I didn’t expect that! They showed up a minute or two after I trotted in and I think they were surprised that I was coherent and happy. Yes, I was happy to eat and get hauling on the second-to-last section, but I was only just coherent. Tasks like filling my hydration pack were taking far too much mental energy.

Wondering what to do next. By Peggy Boisvert.

Oh right, beer. By Peggy Boisvert.

After a lot of food I started with a vigorous hike out of the aid station. Once I topped out I was in full sun on the ridge line so I slowed it down a bit to keep things under control. The trail over to Pompey Peak is kind of a mess after a few miles - lots of big blow downs and lots of hidden rocks, roots, and potholes underneath the litter and overgrown brush.

As soon as I hit the climb up to Pompey I felt a rush of excitement. This was going to be the high point for the rest of the course, and after this it was all downhill or flat to the finish. I took a few minutes up top to soak in the sun and savor the views of Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, and Mt. St. Helens.

The descent to Owen’s Creek is not what you expect. You hope for and almost expect something runnable like that stretch into Twin Sisters. Instead, it’s blow down after blow down, narrow trail on steep hillside after narrow trail on steep hillside. I saw old logging equipment near the top of Pompey. I imagine that loggers some century ago tracked this trail. I don’t think they gave two shits about drainage, slope, or user comfort. It didn’t matter. Even though each step with my right foot was hurting, it hurt less to just bomb it than it did to try to brake or walk.

After clearing the steep downhill the trail dumped onto what felt like an ancient logging road, overgrown with grass and walled on either side by spruce and thick brush. The “green tunnel” as it’s been dubbed. Luckily, I had eaten well and taken care of myself the past day so I was able to lean into it and run at a solid clip the rest of the five miles into Owen’s Creek, passing Jeff just before the aid station. It was hot and I ran out of water an hour outside of the aid station, but I had momentum.

Owens Creek to Finish

I got to Owens in the late afternoon and destroyed a plate of bacon and egg hash browns. I also switched back into a lighter pack and left with virtually no gear and only a couple bottles of water. My plan was to spend minimal energy fueling and hydrating and just go balls to the wall the last few hours into the finish.

It was a long, shallow downhill on logging road to get to Owen’s. It’s barely any steeper heading out of Owen’s, but I rode gravity as hard as I could. When I hit the pavement below, I knew I had 9 miles left, but they were going to be 9 painful, paved miles. It was still so warm and humid in the valley that a haze hung over the tree tops. My guess is that it had to be hovering in the eighties. The last 197 miles had been the trial by fire; so it would remain until the finish.

Eyes were watery. Legs were dead. Mind was shot. I was trotting along and saw a mileage marker, “Mile 5”. For the next five miles I’d be reminded of how much longer I had to go until the highway ended and I caught the final road into town.

It felt like an eternity. Endless, flat, hot, the low sun glaring into my eyes. I lost track of the miles and saw a mileage sign in the distance. Mile 1! No, wait. As I approached the sign the 1 turned into a 2 turned into a 3. After steadily drifting left and right for miles the road finally straightened out and I could see nearly a mile ahead. The pavement stretched forward, then it stretched backward. I felt like I was zooming a camera in and out. Finally, I saw the real Mile 1 and looked at my watch - I was going to make it before sunset, but only if I pushed a little harder.

When I turned off the highway and onto the road into town I felt the weight of this entire experience wash over me. Until this point my emotions had been a thing to conquer, but now they were something to embrace. The entirety of the race hits you in these last moments. This entire time you’ve taken things one step and one section at a time so that you could survive. Every decision has been calculated in the interest of getting to the finish. Now that it’s in the bag, you’re suddenly overwhelmed because you can just let everything go. I went through waves of sadness, nostalgia, happiness, everything. I almost didn’t want the race to end because it had become me.

I absolutely demolished the last mile from downtown Randle to the High School parking lot. By now I was running with my feet stretched out behind me. I was flying like I wish I could have on those rough trails, had my foot not fallen apart, but this little moment was all the consolation prize that I needed.

Always enough left for a little kick. By Howie Stern.

When I hit the track I laid it out all. Everything that was left in me would be left there. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to make the finish feel real and give me closure. Despite the drama, the struggles, and the mistakes, I was proud of my race. I sat in a chair, drank beer, ate pizza, and passed out.

Done. By Jerry Gamez.


The swelling in my foot helped me over the final two days. Our bodies have ways of dealing with injuries that have been honed over millions of years, and I think that getting in their way is counterproductive. Pain is information, it’s nothing more. Embrace the inflammation!

The goal of the race is to finish 200 miles, but the foundation of that accomplishment is the many small victories. I set my watch timer and ate every 15-20 minutes. I never had to think further than that. Every climb was its own race, distinct from the next climb, and every section was its own, distinct from the next. I think that is what people mean when they say to live in the moment in these races. Don’t get caught up thinking about the final act. As Yogi Berra might have said, you won’t get there unless you get there.

There is no greater community in trail running than the community that surrounds these 200 milers. It is so selfless, it has no ego. It is full of the most awesome volunteers who prepare your food for days on end, help you clean your disgusting feet, and through it all cheer you up like no one else could. The race is full of spectacular highs and the most tragic lows, but the highs would not be as high without the people who give their time to the race.

I watched an entire community through night and day cheer and applaud for minutes on end as each runner rolled around the track. The greatest excitement was saved for the final finisher. It was not some consolation, it was not a platitude. We all understand how hard it is just to be out there for that long, let alone move so far over such rugged terrain with blisters, dehydration, injuries, and whatever other cards each of us was dealt. More than anything, we’re just happy they’re home. With us. And the volunteers cooking rad hash browns. And the beer. But mostly, we’re happy they’re back with us. A finish line has never felt like home. This one did.

Thank you to everyone I met. You made me smile, you energized me, you shared your wisdom, and for all of those gifts I am grateful. I am so happy we made this journey together, and I am excited to to do it again next year.

By Kristal Sager.