Sunday, November 28, 2010

Seattle Marathon

This was a good year for the Seattle marathon. My eighth year in a row, tenth overall. I have told a couple people in the past week that I’m not sure why I do this event every year, but I just do. I wonder if other people have things like this. For me, it’s a bit of a measure of the aging process, a bit of a streak, and a bit of a window on northwest weather year in, year out. There have been rain years, semi-snow years, and some good years too. Traditions and rituals have their place--this seems to have become one of mine.

In the morning, the weather looked unsure of itself, with clouds above after a long night of rain. It was kind of cold at the start. But the conditions turned ideal—overcast, but about 40 degrees. Easy to click the miles off. I ran with my friend Keri, and we improved big upon the last time we ran a marathon together.

The shirt is good—dark blue. Lots of GU on the course. I think I noticed some new poison oak signs in Seward Park. So, more or less, same old, same old. And that is sometimes reassuring.

Lots of friends on the course, though I think more of my trail running friends are opting for the Ghost and other earlier week runs, with good reasons. I miss the Ivar’s clam chowder at the finish of Seattle. They should bring it back, and maybe have Jay Buhner or Chip Hanauer serve it. Yeah, the Seattle Marathon really could benefit from making the marathon more Seattle. Maybe get some salmon flavored gels on the course. Space Needle timing chips. A grunge band in Madison. The marathon should instill hometown pride.

Seattle should do more, especially for the price. My packet included an early bird entry form for next year--$75, to register 12 months in advance. Too high, and I find it somewhat puzzling that marathons raise prices in a down economy. I concede that I don't know all the inputs, but since I do this race annually, I have also noted the annual tradition of the price going up. Seattle is not alone, and by far not the most expensive, I know.

Not sure what’s up next, besides my couch and Sunday night football. December is sort of slow for ultras. I might be looking into an avalanche course, or a course on raptors. Maybe a Skagit float for eagles. I want to do some outdoor education.  And some cross country skiing and snowshoeing. And then there’s always the Frosty!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Kalalau Trail

The Kalalau Trail is on the north side of Kauai, along the Na Pali Coast. “Pali” means cliffs in Hawaiian. The trail is 11 miles long, climbing and dropping along the cliffs and fluted ridges, crossing five valleys, almost always directly above the ocean. The waves crashing below look big, in different hues of blue, and somewhat violent.

The Kalalau Valley, the endpoint of the trail, long ago used to be home to Hawaiians, who farmed the cliffs with terraces of taro, similar to as is done in Nepal. The difficulty of reaching the valley made it easily defended. The only access to the Kalalau Valley is by this trail, boat, or aircraft.

The full color spectrum is richly represented on the trail—lush green valleys, flowers, orange trees, black lava rock formations, red dirt, and the constant deep blue of the sea below. The Kalalau Valley would make a good nominee for an Eden Award, if there were such a thing.

Just about all the guidebooks say the out and back can’t be done in a day. I was skeptical, as it is only 22 miles roundtrip, and no matter what the terrain, I think most ultrarunners would agree that sounds doable. And yet…it was a bit disconcerting to not find many reports. I wasn’t really geared up for camping, and so it was going to be one day or a DNF turnaround.

Though it can be done in one day, based on my experience, I really suggest staying a night or more, and taking plenty of time to enjoy the trail and Kalalau Beach. I feel like I rushed it. The trail and beach evoke a spiritual type response. The area is reputed to be home to mystics, dropouts, and other people from the edges of society. It's just so beautiful that people want to stay.

So, here are the details of my Kalalau hike/run experience: 

I left Kapp’a at 4:30 AM, got coffee, and parked at the trailhead just before 6 AM. It was pitch dark. I got ready, and then waited until I could read my watch unaided. 6:19 AM. Very first light, first guy on the trail. I didn’t see anyone for the first couple hours. I made Kalalau Beach around 11:45 AM, and that included a wrong turn or two, and delays to figure out semi-technical stream crossings, because of recent rains. The streams are prone to flash floods. After about an hour kicking around the beach, I turned it around, and made it back to the trailhead around 4:51 PM. It turned dark again around 5:30.

Starting at first light was key to getting the whole thing done without a headlamp, though I did bring one. The Hawaiian day is very short in the winter—less than 12 hours. The terrain is tough, with much of the footing being on lava rocks, or on very narrow trail with cliff exposure. The trail is rarely flat, and it is frequently composed of catwalks, some of which are extreme. I imagine it's somewhere between 5000 and 7500 feet in climbing, but I didn't carry technology to figure it out.  It's impractical and unsafe to move fast all the time.

Overnight permits are required to go past Mile 6, even if just going out and back. They can be purchased on-line now. There weren’t a lot available when I applied, two weeks before my trip, so it’s a good thing I took care of this when I did.

On the way in, I took lots of pictures. It’s hard not to, and it's the curse of the limitless digital film card. Taking pics slowed me down a bit, but that's ok. The miles stretched and stretched. When I came to Mile 6, marked on a rock, I wondered if the 6 was a 9. And then the miles after that were the toughest, with some unbelievable sections. In particular, there is one section around Mile 7 on red rocks, pictured below, where I just said “No way!” when I first saw it.

I was concerned about leptospirosis, a waterborne illness I'd heard something about. I know that’s not leprosy (which does have a history in Hawaii), but it sort of sounds like it. As is so typical of me, instead of figuring it all out, I winged it and decided the night before to carry all my liquid. This plan blew. I ran out. The Hawaiian sun in early afternoon can be very tough, and even in the morning, humidity can make you sweat. I had some pretty bad leg cramps towards the end. At least I made it out alive.

I ran plenty on the way in, at a safe trot. I had a heavier pack than usual for running, but it was easy enough to jog down some of the ridges. Other parts are emphatically inappropriate for running, and even at a slow trot, it’s easy to catch a toe on a rock. On the way out, I did just that, sprawling all out and falling halfway off the trail, losing my hiking stick, and grabbing a root to stop my slide. Nature went easy on me.

After this, I gave up caring about running, especially since by then I had a sense of the effort and distance needed to complete the day. A wonderful finish it was, as over the last few miles I came upon more and more dayhikers around Hanakapi'ai and Ha'enas' white sand beaches, smiling. In the last couple miles, the weather changed and the predicted fierce winds and lightning storms for the day finally arrived, a bit of a monsoon, conveniently late. The trail would be a different animal if completely wet.

The trail is said to be one of the best in the world. I think that’s accurate. It is now amongst the favorite trails I've ever been on. Rankings are unimportant. But there's something about it--it’s just one of those really special places. I hope to go back someday.

More pics here.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


I spent the last week in Kaua’i, hiking and running the trails of the “Garden Island”, relaxing on the beach, and taking in a long overdue vacation. A friend once told me about this trail that skirts the Na Pali Coast on the north side of the island—the Kalalau Trail—and since then, I’ve always wanted to check it and the island out. Come October, I felt I needed to get away. I had air miles, and so in November, I got away good.

On the first whole day, Monday, I got up early and drove to Koke’e State Park, and hiked/ran through the Alaka’i Swamp, which is a boardwalked trail through an old caldera at an elevation of about 4000 feet.  The preserve is home to many endangered species. Very wet, wonderfully quiet, and pretty near to Mount Waihaleela, one of the wettest places in the world. Views of the Kalalau Valley from above, along the Pieha Trail. I also looped down along the Kawaikoi Stream Trail, to the beginning of Waimea Canyon, the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” 3000 foot canyon walls--breathtaking. Probably 11+ miles on trail for the day. One serious faceplant.

Day 2 I slept in, and then checked out the local farmer’s market. Fresh pineapples, starfruit, papayas, monstercados, and other fruits from the Jurassic Age. Later, I drove north to Hannalei Bay, one of Hawaii’s top surfing beaches. Had a fish taco from a taco truck. On the way out there, I checked out the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, which is home to ocean-faring albatrosses. I also saw a bunch of dolphins at this old lighthouse. I drove to the end of the road, to Kee’e Beach and the trailhead for the Kalalau Trail.

Day 3, Wednesday, I spent mostly in Poipu, on the southern end of the island, snorkeling, and then hiking eight miles on the lithified sand dunes and cliffs of the Maha’ulepu Coast. Highly recommended.

Day 4 was the Kalalau Trail. 4:30 AM rise. Hit the trail at 6:19 AM, first light; finished around 4:51 PM, about 45 minutes before dark. 22 long miles, very tough, very beautiful. Stunning really. Tons of catwalks and are-you-kidding-me cliffs. Backpacker says it is one of America's top 10 most dangerous trails. The trail is also featured in a book I have as one of the best 50 trails in the world. I think it would make a top 10 list on that count as well. The trail wrecked me, like the Tom Petty song.

Day 5. Recovered from Day 4. On the beach. Watched the sun rise over the Pacific. I think I saw a wild pig or two, and visited Wailua Falls. Continued working on the second season of Lost.

Day 6. Watched the sun rise again over the Pacific. Vacation ends, with a tamale on the beach and coffee.

Unfortunately, I came home to a dead battery and a flat tire, in the now freezing cold Pacific Northwest, but I was so mellow that I rolled with it pretty well.

This was one of the best vacations ever. I think I need to do something like this at least once a year.

Some pics below, and more pics here.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Fowl Fun Run

This morning I ran the Fowl Fun Run in south Mount Vernon, a 10k that’s been around longer than some of the runners. I ran like a runny nose, bad, like a slug on saltines. My shins hurt and my shoes didn’t feel right, and I never seemed to be able to get the blood flowing or the heart beating. And then it was done.

That’s the way it goes for me sometimes. I don’t worry about it too much. But on another day, I’m sure I could take a few minutes off my time. Guess I’ll have to prove it to myself sometime this winter.

That said, the Fowl Run was Fun! The course starts at Mount Vernon Christian School, and loops out along the Skagit River dike on semi-rural roads, and loops back to the school via Britt Road. It's totally flat, with some mild headwind today. There are nice views of farmlands, and the possibility of seeing winter fowl, like snowgeese and one big running turkey. One aid station midway.

This year there seemed to be more runners than ever—a few hundred, I’m sure. I enjoyed watching people warm up, which you just don't see too much of with ultras and marathons. Maybe I should've joined in.  Pumpkin pie and hot chocolate in the gym afterwards, with great company. A beanie and handmade coasters to all runners, pictured above.

Heather R. did a terrific job directing, with her wonderful supporting cast and Skagit Runners, our local running club. Thank you all! Great to hang out with Terry, Bryan, Craig, and so many others before and after.

I started up winter track this week, on Wednesday nights, with Erik D. coaching and a bunch of B’ham peeps running. Hopefully I’ll pick up some flexibility tips, and figure out how to move faster. At this point, running is a fundamental part of my life, but one reason I like it so is because there are so many ways to mix things up and keep things fun and new---go trails, headlamp running, hit the track, cross train, short races, long races. Running the WWU track on a cool night, with the track illuminated and the students playing football, rugby, or whatever is pretty cool. Hopefully the weather holds up.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

International Rescue Committee

The Seattle Marathon is coming up.  As in past years, I've agreed to run for the benefit of the International Rescue Committee. The International Rescue Committee is one of a few charities that are officially supported by the Seattle Marathon. You can find a link to them at the marathon's website. We have roughly 20 people running and raising money on their behalf this year--more than ever I think--and the last few years "Team IRC" has raised roughly $10,000 per year. 

The IRC helps refugees resettle.  What's a refugee?  A refugee is a person who "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country".

The IRC has helped refugees in just about every major world conflict since World War II.  Europe. The Iron Curtain. Korea. Vietnam. Cambodia. Rwanda. Sudan.  From each conflict, people flee, with little, leaving the land of their parents, for a new land.  Sort of like the pilgrims, though sometimes with threat of death or physical harm if they stay. The IRC tries to provide temporary resources to help refugees resettle. A roof. Food. Interpreters. English lessons. Clothes. Whatever is needed.

Here's a link to what the organization is doing in Seattle.

So, for the last few years, I've adopted the IRC as my organization to promote and support during the Thanksgiving season. It seems appropriate. If you're thinking about making a charitable donation this Thanksgiving season, please consider the IRC--there's a link to the right. Your gift would be put to good use--the organization gets 5 star ratings as a charity. Also, if you wish to join the Team and  run the race, I can put you in touch with the organizers.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Ron Herzog 50k+

This year’s edition of the Ron Herzog 50k+ brought back the tank traps, after a two year hiatus due to overgrowth. The “tank traps” is an infamous three or four mile section of abandoned deep ditches, designed to challenge tank drivers-in-training. The section now is quite overgrown, and these three or four miles are pretty much bushwacking. You go up, you go down, and do it again, for a while, all on muddy ground. The picture above is a good illustration. I enjoyed it.

The traps are at the crest of a loop, connecting two different sets of logging roads. The event itself is out by Granite Falls, Washington, off of the Mountain Loop Highway, in the Glacier Peak area. Ron Herzog is a deceased Washington ultrarunner, who I believe passed from Lou Gehrig’s disease. The event is dedicated to his memory, and I understand a great deal of money was raised to for ALS research.

The race checked out at about 33 miles. I finished a bump over 6:30, starting out horribly and running better, albeit stiffly, as the day went on. It's time to take up yoga. Nonetheless, a steady diet of Gu and Endurolytes seemed to sort of get things going. I never had any intention of pushing—I was just out to get some miles, and enjoy the day.

It turned out to be sort of a wet one. It didn’t rain all the time, and it didn’t rain hard, but the mist and light rainfall up high had me plenty wet by the midway aid station, and a little cold. I put a jacket on, and seemed to run better after that. But then, the second half is faster than the first half.

Friend Seth and I ran more or less together for Miles 8 to 16, including the sometimes ridiculous tank traps, along with Craig. Seth has a great writeup with a link to additional pictures posted here.  The last 6 miles or so I ran with Glen M. and Dave D., crossing the finish line together. Good stuff. 

Thought of the song Misty Mountain Hop, with all the fall colors and the clouds drifting below, through the valleys. Lots of signs of logging—clearcuts, second growth, logging equipment. It was nice to land a chair and some warm soup at the finish.

Thanks to TC and Shawn, Tom and Chris, Tim, and all the other folks who helped make it such a great time.