Sunday, May 30, 2010


This long Memorial Day weekend is welcome and unplanned. When I looked at this weekend months ago, I thought I might spend some time in the North Cascades. Instead, I find myself taking it easy, trying to recover from last week's 50 miler in New Mexico. 63% finisher rate, I heard--that makes my crawl in seem a bit more understandable. However, now I have some sort of muscle/bone-and I'm not an MD problem-in my butt/hip/hamstring complex. It sucks--I was limping much earlier this week, and improvement is slower than usual, indicating some kind of more acute injury. Everything in me tells me just to take it easy, and let the body make itself whole, and so that's what I'm doing. Four weeks to Western. So this weekend I'm  working around the house, working on the computer, watching movies, reading, and cooking. And it is nice. Fortunately, bad weather doesn't make it all that desirable to be up in the mountains.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Jemez Mountain 50m

The Jemez 50 miler was last Saturday outside Los Alamos, New Mexico. I came in 98 out of 100 finishers, starting in the dark and finishing in the dark. Over 16 hours on 50 miles of New Mexico "trail", at a starting elevation of over 7000 feet, and periodically topping out over 10,000. Dry country, high country, and 80 degree sun during the day, with winds through burnt trees. It was tough.

I am not happy with my day, but a few days later, I am content. The real story of the day for me was persevering through hardship. I felt horrible. Physically, my stomach never got it together, perhaps a victim of the high altitude, fast travel, or lack of sleep. I just don’t know. It’s troubling, especially with Western States coming next month. This was, btw, imo, the perfect trainer. By afternoon, I hit that point where I wanted to puke, couldn’t, and had no interest in eating or drinking. I just kept moving forward, most of the time. The sun was constant for the middle of the day, reaching 80s with lots of exposure. Not too bad in the moment, but a slow cooker.

My favorite parts of the race—that which I want to remember most—are my out of nowhere spurt of energy from Townsite Lift to Ski Lodge.  I made the 5 PM cutoff by just four minutes--classic. Later, the hot wind blowing strong through the charred forest as the sun set, shaking still standing trees, making a wild pipes organ. I was reminded of T.S. Eliot and Stephen King’s Waste Land writings, as well as old Apache war movies.

Additional pictures of the course can be viewed at this link.

That's the non-scientific abstract. Here’s a bit more of a mile by mile summary of my run, longer than I usually write, but I exercise Blogger’s Prerogative, like Bobby Brown:

The Jemez 50 is in the Jemez Mountains, outside of Los Alamos, New Mexico. Rockets. Many of the good folks of Hardrock family are associated with the event in one way or another, and Bill Geist does a terrific job directing it. There’s a 50 miler, a 50k, and a half marathon. Shirt, a poster, pre and post-race dinners, pottery to finishers, great aid stations—just a blue chip organized event. Thank you to the volunteers and Bill.

So I met my long-time friend BJ in Albuquerque on Friday. A surgical strike--- fly drive park run unpark drive fly. Like an idiot, I scheduled a 6:15 AM flight down, which I later realized meant getting up at 2:45 AM. I was tired on arrival. After a dinner at the event, and a quick hangout with Mike and Fran, it was to bed in anticipation of the 5 AM start. Note:  Mike originally was going to run Jemez too, but bailed when he got into the Massanutten 100, his first 100, which he finished and did quite well in. Mike, here’s a public congrats if you’re reading this. There's always next year for Jemez.

So, 5 AM, Saturday morning: the start. From mile 1, I felt the altitude. It’s an odd effect. You run for a while, not too long—maybe a few hundred yards, and then you want to walk. Little slopes encourage walking. Longer sustained runs on flats encourage walking. I tried to be assertive when I did walk, but running a race at altitude is a different deck of cards, completely.

The first 17 miles include a climb up Guaje Ridge, an out and back to the top of Caballo Mountain (10k+), and another slog in the warming up of the day to Pipeline. I frequently ran near friend Thomas in these early miles. Good to see him out there. My stomach felt awful, and there were some retreats into the woods. I hoped to weather my difficulty and press on, which pretty much ended up being the theme of the day for me.

Racers need to make Mile 17 by 11:00, or a 50m finish is unlikely, we were told beforehand. That’s 6 hours. I didn’t think it’d be a problem--I'm in decent shape by my usual standards right now--but I didn’t get there until 10:20 or so. Struggles here, struggles there.  On arrival, an aid station worker told me I really ought to consider switching to the 50k, as I was close to the cutoff. I didn’t want to believe that, as I knew 11:00 was the pre-race adivsed mark. Mainly though, I was in New Mexico, and the Valle Caldera National Preserve was only available via the 50m route, and so off I went.

Out of Pipeline AS, there is an immediate screamer-slider of a descent into the Valle Caldera, which was formerly a sea of molten hot lava. Sort of fun. In the Caldera, the air is large, still air where you can hear insects and see runners far in the distance, doing their best. The road looks easy to run, and maybe it is for some, but I found after a couple hundred yards I’d want to walk. Unbelievable that the next aid station was only 21 miles into the race, and I’d been on trail roughly 6.5 hours. The math seemed strange, but others were right there with me. Already quite tired, with 29 to go.

The hardest section of the course was the 7.7 miles between the Valle Grande AS and the Pajarito Canyon AS. Right out of VG AS, the course off all trail across the grassy caldera, marked only by small red flags here and there. Again, runners far in the distance, before and behind. The last picture below is of this section. From there, it's up and through a fun boulder field, with tippy rocks and lichen on lava to roughen the hands. The climb afterwards was a killer, up to the summit of Cerro Grande Mountain at 10,200 feet. A similar descent, with more bouldering. This turns into a beautiful creekside run. It just took forever.

I remember ending up at Pajarito Canyon at about 2:15 PM, beat. Two hours and forty-five minutes to make the Ski Lodge should be enough I thought, but I wasn’t sure, and so I got as aggressive as I could, just in case. Turns out that was a good move, and from here to the lodge was my best section of the event. I did get off trail once, missing a turn, and losing five or ten minutes. Still, I finally made the aid station at the bottom of the ski lifts at 3:37.

Mike and Fran were there, and so great to see. I wanted to talk, but I was in the moment of hurry, and thought I probably ought to stay focused, even though I only needed to go 3.6 miles by 5 PM. Again, turns out I was right.

The next climb is up to Pajarito Mountain, which I have renamed Venti Mountain, since it is taller than Cerro Grande at 10,400. I thought we’d just go directly up the ski slopes—tough, but over and done. Wrong--instead, the trail switchbacks all over the place, hitting a number of false and deflating summits. Time was running out—I was looking at my watch. I crested at 4:40, with only 20 minutes to get all the way back down, and the ski lodge was nowhere in sight.

The hill was straight down, and I “booked it like a mug,” as I used to say in third grade. First you go over slippery glass, then you bounce on mountain bike ramps and logs, and then you cut through rocks. Double diamonds with skulls and crossbones. I injured my back, and I can’t walk that well right now. I also lost my sunglasses, which fell off my hat. But I made it in with four minutes to spare, and sort of felt like Al Bundy in one of his finest hour moments, with everyone cheering and me reaching for the finish. I was really happy.

Make the cutoff and you can take however long you need to finish. Since I was a wreck, and my back was hurt, I pretty much took forever. Unfortunate, because even at the altitude, I think I could've ran the last sections well, and I had sort of been planning on doing it that way all day. But that's the way it is, I suppose.

Those final fourteen miles took me four tired hours of patient suffering, winding back to Pipeline AS, over a spectacular mesa, through a canyon on cliffs of orange rock, and to the finish line in the dark. Gorgeous rock formations and hot rogue winds through charred trees made the experience memorable, as did the pain.

The finish line was terrific, as I heard cheers through the trees for the runner before me, and then my own turn came with a turn of a corner, and there were Mike, Fran, and BJ, giving up a shout. Thank you friends!

I was an absolute mess--I wasn't sure what hurt and what didn't---all I knew was I wanted a seat. Also, with the finish, I didn’t know whether to be happy or not, since I came in so late and it was only a fifty miler and I'd been running well this year....but in that moment, I was just glad to be done. Sometimes the fight is just to make it through a bad day, and I know this--it wasn't my first bad day, but I have been running well lately. As BJ noted though, I've done three ultras in four weeks. A few days later, I feel pretty fine with it all. I now hope to return some year soon, just to take another crack at it and see those sights again.

Incredible life experience.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


This weekend was unaccomplished as far as running goes.  On Friday night, I went up to Raptor Ridge and sat there for a while, looking at the trees, trying to figure out what types of trees were below--spruces, cedars, alders, et al.  I listened to things for a while, and tried to take time to restore my soul, as the saying goes. After Raptor Ridge, I ran around some of the other trails up that way, and then eventually made my way down. I wasn't particularly in to running, and performance wise it was nothing. Great evening, and it even stayed light until after 9:00 PM! Not everything about climate change is bad!

Wait.....ok. I just remember thinking this, and then laughing at myself. Idiot.

Saturday was Western Washington University day for me, which was having a homecoming of sorts. As an alumni board member, I felt obliged to go, as I've missed board meetings recently, and will miss another one  on June 26th, because of a certain event down in Cali that day. So, no 12 hour, Tenderfoot, or backcountry adventure for me. But that's ok--WWU really had it going on Saturday, with 120 some events to choose from. I had a nice breakfast in Old Main's solarium, followed by a plantarium show, a trip to the Farmer's Market, a Huxley 40th anniversary speech by Timothy Egan and Jay Inslee, and then a reception in the library. Iron Man 2 in the evening. Liked it. With so much going on, running took a day off.

Today I planted blueberries in the backyard.  I don't have a green thumb, but I've given them light, some bone meal, some fortified soil, some mulch, and maybe a fighting chance. If they don't make it, that just shows they weren't tough enough to be in my yard. I don't grow pansies. I do hope they make it though--I love blueberries, and northwest Washington is the blueberry capital of the whole wide world.

And now off to run, perhaps, finally.  An off weekend is fine, with Jemez in New Mexico coming next weekend.  Looking foward to next Saturday's long day on new trails, new ecology, with nothing to think about but the trail, my salts, and my eats.  Also looking forward to seeing good friend BJ, Thomas, and Mike too with his new buckle from Massanutten! Not to mention New Mexico. They better have good food in New Mexico.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


My work took me down to Olympia today.  125 miles from Mount Vernon, one way. I had a 1:00 appointment, which lasted forty minutes or so. After the appointment, fighting Seattle to Everett traffic made little sense, so I put on the tennies and went for a jog.  I always like checking out towns I don't know.

I started at Capitol Lake, a little lake somewhere near the Capitol Building. BTW--Olympia is the Washington State capitol. If you're not from around here, Washington State has some interesting history, or at least I think so. I suppose if you are from around here, Washington State history is probably not so  interesting, amounting to a boring required elective in 10th or 11th grade. I did take this course. You'd learn about the Whitman massacre, Lewis and Clark, the mountain men, and potlatches. Since I grew up in Maryland and Virginia early on, I found it all fascinating, for its absence of wars, colonists, and all sorts of other things. I had to sing Dixie in elementary school and have nerf ball Civil War battles.

So as I was saying, my run started at Capitol Lake. Right away there was a sign honoring the first women's Olympic marathon, which was held here in 1984, and which Joan Benoit won, who even today is still honored by marathoners in the way Ann Trason is thought of amongst ultrapeople. Joan Benoit was one of the most inspiring marathoners ever--I thought she was incredible back then.

After the sign, I ran up some switchbacks up to the Temple of Justice, aka the Supreme Court. They weren't in session, but I went into the library, which sort of has a Catholic church religious feel to it, just without the holy water by the door. Then I ran over to the Legislative Building. Worth checking out.

From there, I went into neighborhoods, trying to see how Olympians live, and somehow ended up at the running store in town. I bought some shoes and a vest. Sort of a score--$10 for the vest, $30 for the shoes.  After that I checked out the Farmer's Market, which wasn't happening, and then the Olympia Port, boardwalk and waterfront.  A nice town, Olympia.

The Temple of Justice

Top of switchbacks to Supreme Court, looking at Capitol Lake

Trail infoboard on 1984 Olympic Trials--click on picture to expand and read

South Sound Running

Capitol Building from law library window

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Lost Lake 50k

I just got back from Denny’s. After the Lost Lake 50k yesterday, I came home thinking a couch and a movie sounded good, maybe a Dominos pizza with their new recipe, but after a bit of reading, it was bed instead. A restless stomach and tight muscles woke me up intermittently. Come 4:30, I decided I’d get up, and get a bite and some coffee. Denny’s at 4:30 Sunday morning is always a good anthro study. A few old timers getting ready to go fishing, a zonked ultrarunner, the dude on the stool, the waitress outside on a smoke break.

Anyway....the second running of Lost Lake was outstanding, as far as the event goes--great weather and organization--and a little hard for me personally as far as performance goes. The 50k is exceptionally tough, starting with the fact that it’s probably 55k, and then there’s a whole lot of up. Up like the movie, Up like the Shania Twain song, Up.

The course starts with two consecutive climbs to Fragrance Lake. There’s Chinscraper, there’s the Hemlock Trail, and then at Mile 19 there’s a very steep out and back to the Pine and Cedar Lake trailhead. My leg turnover going down that steep slope was laughably grim, with the ankles not flexing and the heels landing first, quads stiff. I ran a hard week, after the Sunflower 26.2 last weekend, and I felt it.

In fact, the first three or four hours of my run were pretty lame, as far as my running went. I took the Early Start, in hopes of getting the Early Done. Right away, I was sweating way too much, my body fighting being out there. I have officially decided from hereon out that I will not do Thai food buffet as a pre-race meal.

When I feel like this, I just go with it and laugh it off. I took pictures, some good, many blurred, and I ate four different flavors of GU. I pounded more Endurolytes than usual, to see how that worked. Nutrition and ultras are mad science. At least when I'm on it. By the time I started the climb out of Pine and Cedar, I seemed to be sort of catching a groove, but the quads were still tight.

Behind Lost Lake is a most outstanding waterfall. The course trail starts at the top of one side, then does some K2 life-imperiling type descent down to the bottom, crosses, and then climbs to the top again. Gorgeous. Somewhere around here I bonked—the shortest bonk of all time—five minutes or so--but for the record, it did happen, about the same time I busted my Nathan bladder and ran out of water. Frustrated, ready to be done, I started pushing, and knocked out the last two hours of the course in relatively strong fashion.

Alvin and Skagit Runners puts on a wonderful event, a quiet affair, with an awesome possum barbq to boot. Folks hung around for hours in the Clayton Beach parking lot afterwards, just enjoying the sun and our own company, listening to Michael Jackson, Bon Jovi, and Queen, and watching runners come in. The music was somebody's mom's Nano, I think, hooked up to speakers. Pictures of some of the volunteers below, with a Cosmo cameo. More pictures of the course and even a few runners at this link. Seriously, this is one of the best events around.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Sunflower Iron- Mazama to Twisp

Saturday was the Sunflower, a 26.2 mile trail run from Mazama to Twisp, with about 2k in elevation gain. The race is a mix of roads, dirt roads, and some single track. A relay goes on at the same time--it isn’t lonely. Lots of aid stations. This is the 30th year for the event—not many trail runs have those sorts of legs.

I love the race. Partly because I love the Methow, partly because I’ve been doing MVSTA races for a long time. The memories are always good. I get amped up on Fridays for any of the Methow races, and I don't get that way for most events. I just love to drive through the North Cascades, and then drop down into that other world which is the dry Methow. So much ecology.

This race is great because it takes you by the Methow River, and then up on wide open hills, with views of the Chelan Sawtooths and Okangan highlands, as well as Patterson Lake. Sunflowers, aka balsamroot, are everywhere. I wouldn't describe it as particularly hard, compared to the big ultras, but it's a challenge for any marathoner with the hills, and a real test if ran to the hilt.

My time was 4:02. I started reasonably slow, took pictures, and never really went anaerobic. Still, I managed to pick up the pace as the miles went by, churning up the hills, and I felt I finished strong. There was a point at Mile 23, up high on a ridge, where a headwind blew so hard I just wanted to stop and hunker down. But I kept on. The last two miles downhill is fun and fast.

It’s hard to tell which me will show up for a race anymore—I have good days, and then weekends like last, not worth blogging about. I try to blog the bad and the good, and my goal is one post a week, b/c I see this as a journal worth looking back at down the road (or trail, as the case may be here). I don't record my miles--this is it. It's a good training tool, I think. It's not a big deal if I miss a week now and then, but I try not to.

On Saturday night, James and his housemate Ian hosted a great party, with a campfire, barbq, and eats. I was zonked, but it was a great time, with talk of wolves, cougars, and sundry scrapes.

Sunday was supposed to be “run on tired legs with James” day. A lot of no shows, but Linda, William, Brian and I made it a troop. James was absolutely terrific, as always, taking us up the old Rattler course and keeping it agreeably slow, above and through the hoodoos of Pipestone Canyon. A few more photos are below, and here's a link to an album.

I’m entering the May phase of my road to Western. It’s getting thick. I have a series of races scheduled this month—Sunflower Iron this past Saturday, the Lost Lake Ultra this coming Saturday, and the Jemez 50 miler in three weeks, at high altitude in New Mexico. It’s a lot for me--I am really worried about getting burnt out, but then I’m also really excited about each event. They’re all exceptional events—good places to be.