Now I Know Why it is Called the Badlands

A little over a year ago I started thinking about what my next non-race long run would be.  Having grown up in North Dakota, when I thought about the Maah Daah Hey Trail (MDH) this seemed like a perfect option.  The MDH Trail is a 97 mile trail connecting the North and South Units of Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the Badlands of North Dakota.  To be able to do a long run in my home state would be great.  The MDH is mostly known for mountain biking and horseback riding, but I figured anything that is good for riding, should be good for running.  When I started researching the MDH in more detail, I found that it had been run once in 2003 by David Holland in 32:53 (at least this was the only documented run of the MDH I could find online).  I also learned from my father-in-law that they were building a MDH Trail Deuce (part 2) which would extend the trail around 40 miles south to Burning Coal Vein Campground.  This kept getting better, now this run could be close to 140 miles (which would be my single longest run ever) and a run that no one had done before.  With further research, the logistics were getting more difficult.  There is no water along the trail, there is water at 4 campgrounds along the way, but these are all 1-3 miles off the trail and running that extra distance was definitely out of the question.  Due to this, I would need to have crew instead of running this self-supported like I did on the Highline Trail in 2010.  Emily said she would gladly crew me and pace me if I wanted.  As I started to map out the route in TOPO!, I was marking crew spots at locations where the trail would cross the road.  There were 9 logical spots for my crew to meet me .  Now the next hurdle, I needed to cross the Little Missouri River at around mile 51.  For crew, the closest bridge across the river was I-94.  This meant in a section where I would run 12 miles, my crew would have an ~100 mile drive with 60 of those miles on rough gravel roads.  This would be a 3-4 hour drive and would mean that my crew could not get to the other side of the river before I would.  My options were to have a 20 mile section without crew or have 2 crews.  Since I was doing the run supported anyway, I saw no reason not to make this as easy on myself as possible.  My crew just grew from Emily to Emily, my parents, and her parents and would require 2 trucks so the crew could split up to cover both sides of the river.  Everyone was on board with this concocted idea and even a little bit excited (I think).  Now the million dollar question – when to do the run.  With North Dakota’s 2 weather seasons (fry and freeze) late spring or early fall would probably be the best weather.  Unfortunately, with Emily’s and my race schedules, my only window was the first week of August (a time when the average daytime temperature is 87F with 20-30% humidity.  This was not good running weather, but I figured I would just spend a lot of time on heat mitigation and not worry about it.

After a few more weeks of mapping and planning and I had a very solid plan for the first 97 miles (original MDH), but since the Deuce was not officially open yet, there was no maps available (including from Don Mayer the president of the Maah Daah Hey Trail Association) who had been helping me with some logistics.  He assured me that when we arrived in Dickinson, he would be able to help me map out that section.  The week before the run, the weather kept getting better and better each day.  The forecast dropped from 88F to 78F as a daytime high, from 70% to 40% humidity, and a good strong NW wind on Monday.  This had my confidence increasing and my fear of the heat (which originally outweighed my fear of the distance) had decreased.  With as much planning completed before leaving for ND as we could do (I estimate I had over 60 hours into mapping, food planning, and general preparations), we packed our bags and were off.

Saturday and Sunday were spent purchasing and organizing food (not only for me, but also for my crew of 5), finalizing the mapping of the Deuce, getting a first run in the heat on humidity (on Saturday), then going out to the trail and scoping out 1 of the difficult stream crossings (the muck was knee deep with waist deep water).  Unfortunately, due to having to scope out this crossing (which I was very glad to have done), it meant I had run 13 miles in the 2 days prior to the race – not exactly the rest I would have hoped for.  By Sunday afternoon, all of the crew was together and were busy all afternoon reviewing maps and crew points, loading crew point waypoints onto GPS units, and reviewing the plans for the following 2 days.  I think my crew was more worried than I was as they were afraid they may miss me somewhere (my response was, ‘well, then I will just see you at the next spot).  I had full confidence in them and wasn’t going to worry about it.

Emily and I pre-running the Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit Section of the MDH Trail 1 day prior to the run.

 

Monday morning, we all drove to the MDH trail head at the CCC Campground. I started the run at 8:32AM. 

                                                  

The start

The first crew point was only 5 miles in so I just took 2 hand bottles 2/3 full and 2 gels to keep my load small.  This section went fairly quickly, but I realized in this section that in spite of having only 11,000’ of climbing in the original trail and another 5,600’ in the Deuce (a total elevation change that I felt made this a relatively flat run), this was going to be a hard run.  Due to being an incredibly wet year in ND, the trail was very over grown with switch grass (which has razor sharp blades), sage brush and weeds and there were numerous landslides on the side hills along the trail (I estimate that over the original trail, I crossed at least 2 miles of landslides).  I had a quick crew stop, grabbed the new Mountain Hardware Fluid 6 pack I was testing (it weighs only 8.5oz compared to 11 oz for my Nathan vest) and kept going. 

Running into my first crew stop

The next section was just under 9 miles and took me through the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  This was a challenging section where I lost a shoe twice in knee deep muck and almost stepped on a rattle snake.  At only 14 miles in, I was starting to wonder if this trail had it in for me since each section seemed to be throwing everything it had at me.

Running through the Badlands

The next 10.5 mile section continued to throw it at me.  I blew out the toe box of both shoes (with only 150 total miles on them) and kicked a prickly pear cactus.  It was also by this time that my shins were completely raw from the razor like switch grass blades that completely covered the trail.  I was really starting to contemplate how this run was going to play out.  My legs did not have a lot of energy in them (go figure since I only tapered 1 week and had run 13 miles over the 2 previous days) and I was getting beat up in every section.  How was I going to make it another 115 miles?  I was able to keep my spirits high with the help of my great crew and was able to get in and out of the crew points very quickly while at the same time taking in a lot of calories at each stop.  I knew I had to spend more time focusing on eating if I was going to make it the full 140 miles.  It was after this stop that my crew split up with Emily and her dad picking up Don Mayer and going to the west side of the Little Missouri River; my parents and Emily’s mom meeting me at the next 2 crew stops on the east side. 

Typical badlands terrain

The next 23 miles went much better.  I got off trail for about 20 minutes, but other than that the sections were very runnable and I was feeling good.  It was at one of these crew points where my mom reminded me that I came in and said, “By morning, this could reach the top of my list for bad ideas.”  I reached the half way point in 11:05 which was about 1 hour slower than my goal pace, but I wasn’t too worried about it since the half way point was for the original 97 mile trail and not the full 140 miles.  I had around 90 miles left, I needed to keep a comfortable pace to ensure I had enough left for the last 40 miles.  The last mile approaching the Little Missouri Crossing was tough with head high grass, weeds, and shrubbery.  It was truly a bushwhack.  Emily, Don, and her dad had descended to the river and found the best crossing. This was a huge help as I would have gone straight across the river, but they had found a gravel bar that went at a 45 degree angle up stream that allowed me to cross with only thigh deep water.  We climbed the couple hundred feet out of the river bottom just as it was getting dark and were treated with another great aid station with warm soup and other food from Rod (Emily and I are thrilled at how well both of our parents have picked up on crew duties and are able to do exactly what we need when we come in).  I changed socks as I was having issues with the ball of my left food.  Unfortunately, since my crew had to split up, they made decisions about what gear would go into each vehicle.  I was left with only Wright Socks which I love on dry runs, but with wet feet, they tend to bunch up and cause issues.  This is exactly what happened and this caused me severe issues for the next 50 miles (note: my crew made the right decision about socks as I had 2 dry pair and they were keeping the best pair for late in the run when I would need it most).  I left this crew point with Emily who was going to run the night with me.  As night fell, route finding got more and more challenging.  If we were in the open prairies, we could easily find the trail by looking for the next sign post, but as soon as we dropped into a creek bottom or into the woods, we were quickly off-trail.  I was carrying a Garmin Oregon GPS with a way point every 0.15 to 0.25 miles, but even with this it was very difficult to stay on track.  Over the next 8 miles, Rod (Emily’s dad) and Don met us at numerous road crossings to keep us on track and help find the trail on the other side of the road – this was a huge benefit to keep us moving a a fast pace.  It was the 9 miles between Elkhorn and Road 722 during the night that provided us the most challenges.  Instead of 2.25 hours, this section took almost 5 hours.  We were off track 5 times, once for 20 minutes and another time for 40 minutes as we wandered around in the middle of about 100 head of cattle trying to discern our trail from theirs.  We were happy to finally see the distant truck lights of our crew and they were happy to see our bobbing headlights running across the top of the butte.  This section took a lot out of us (mentally more than physically).  We spent some time ‘regrouping’ at this spot, then off again for a 12.5 miles to Wannagan Camp.  Morning started to break about 90 minutes into this section and with the dawn of a new day, we were able to pick up the pace and finish this section 25 minutes faster than my goal pace. 

Dawn of a new day

At Wannagan I had to spend some time on foot care.  I was down to only 1 pair of dry socks and shoes (I was thankful that at the last minute I brought a third pair of shoes) and if I was going to finish both MDH and the Deuce, I had 60 miles left.  I decided that dry feet were the most important thing at this point and drained a blister, padded it with Mole Skin, taped it up, then I was off.  My dry feet lasted all of 0.5 miles until I had a creek crossing and entered low that was thick with morning dew.  Well, the 7 minutes of dry feet were worth it and regardless, I had on my Dry Max socks which even when wet, are very comfortable.  As I left Wannagan, I started contemplating the next 17 miles to the end of MDH and then the next 40 miles after that.  After 30 minutes of ‘taking stock’, I had made the decision that I was only going to finish the original MDH trail and not start the Deuce.  There were several factors that went into this decision including: I had been running with 1 pain or another since mile 20 and some of these pains were now becoming sharp (I was worried about the potential long term damage), I wanted to ensure I was recovered for Bear 100 in 5 weeks since this was my ‘A’ race for the season, the Deuce had several sections which were not completed yet (this concerned me about how much time I was really willing to spend wandering around lost), the impact of another 11-12 hours on my crew, and the fact that I could finish the first 97 miles strong with a time to be happy with.  The decision was made and if I wasn’t going to run both trails, I was going to finish the first trail as strong as possible and if I pushed hard enough, I may be able to come in under 26 hours.  With 16 miles left, I put the hammer down (which is somewhat relative at mile 85).  I ran this challenging 12 mile section (including a couple of land slides, several climbs, and a waste deep river crossing that had knee deep muck) in 2:40.  At my next crew stop with 5 miles left, I stopped only long enough to grab a hand bottle and kept going (unfortunately, I also dropped my gel bottle at this stop so I had no food for the next hour).  I had spent the last 6 miles deep in the pain cave and I was worried that if I stopped I would not be able to get back in.  The last 5 miles had 2 large climbs, 0.5 miles of beach sand, and a 50M neck deep river crossing. 

Neck deep and half way across the Little Missouri River at mile 101.5.

I was at over 95 miles and running harder than I have ever run at that distance and was feeling great.  My entire crew was at the river crossing 1/4 mile from the final MDH marker post.  My dad had waded/swam across the river finding the best way across, I hit the water running and was quickly neck deep (I had remembered to get my camera out of my pocket, but not so lucky with my iPod or my dad’s GPS).  I got out of the river, ran the last 1/4 mile and finished the MDH in 25:56:00 having run 101.75 miles.  I covered this section is 1:05 having run negative splits for the final 16 miles (compared to the first 16 miles).  I was happy with my finish and sort of happy not to have another 40 miles to run. 

 

                                            The finish marker!!!

Chad’s shriveled feet and Emily fixing her feet at the end.

I will be back to the MDH to complete the entire 140 miles.  There are a few things to do differently. 

  • Run the next 40 miles first to know what to expect. 
  • Ensure the trail conditions are better than they were this year. 
  • Start at midnight and run the first 50 miles on my own with 2 water/food caches and not have crew until I cross the river.  This will allow me to minimize the impact on my crew. 
  • Taper for more than 1 week. 
  • Not run 8 miles the day before I start (I really didn’t have a choice in this as I needed to find a safe river crossing)

Maah Daah Hey Video

Local Dickinson Press article about the run.

Fastest Known Time Pro Board Entry

A Tough Day at the Tahoe Rim 100

I was very excited for Tahoe Rim Trail 100. This is the first year I’m running two 100 mile races and this one is very early for me. Although I spent much of the spring backcountry skiing (due to our Europe trip) I felt very ready for this race. I was also excited for this race since it is the first time that I would have family at one of my races. Ultras have been a big part of my life for many years and I was excited for my parents and my sister to share this with me. My parents traveled from ND, my 6-year old nephew from CO, and my sister traveled from northern Alberta (also leaving her two kids at home with her husband for the weekend).

I started getting a cold on the Monday before the race and could hardly get out of bed. I really focused on getting extra sleep, taking it easy, cold medicine, etc. all week. By Friday I was feeling a lot better.

The start

The TRT 100 started at Spooner Lake at 5 AM. I completed the first 30 miles in 6h 45m, 40 minutes faster than my planned split for that section of the race.

 
  A quick aid at Diamond Peak Aid Station – Mile 30

Leaving Diamond Peak Aid Station

During miles 30-50 I felt my energy decreasing a little and completed 50 miles in 12h 23m and 20 minutes slower than I had hoped. I picked up Chad at mile 50 and we cruised through the next 20 miles making good time.

Running towards sunset around mile 60

The beautiful Tahoe Rim Trail

At approximately mile 70 I had a downward spiral where I started coughing up chunks profusely. I got into the 80 mile AS at 2:47 AM (just 25 minutes past my planned split and almost 23 hours into the race) and really didn’t think I could go on. I sat with the Dr. for over 3 hours. He said I probably had bronchitis and my pulse ox reading was 73 (below 85 is bad). He put me on oxygen for 30 minutes to get my pulse ox up and allow me to sleep. Chad and I talked and he reminded me of what Ken would say – It is better to hurt for a few hours than to hurt for 365 days (to have to come back and redeem myself from a DNF). There were lots of reasons to continue and lots of reasons to stop. I decided that I needed to go the last 20 miles to the finish. At this point I was not only worried about my lungs and coughing but also about my nutrition. I hardly consumed anything from miles 70-80 and only had a few bites in the 3+hours I was at the aid station. I tried to force down some eggs and hot chocolate but couldn’t do it so I decided just to head out.

Not where you want to be at mile 80 (Diamond Peak Aid Station)

A little before 6AM Christopher and I headed up the first 2000 foot hill (1.7m) to determine if I could make it through the rest of the 20 miles. I was feeling OK so we continued on.

Climbing out of Diamond Peak AS determined to suffer on to the end

One of the last snow fields at around mile 93

It was a very difficult 20 miles since I could not breathe, my lungs felt like they were going to burst, and I was coughing horribly. Although I wasn’t able to push very hard, I was definitely in the pain cave. Molly ran with me the last 2 miles and it was wonderful to have her company. I’m not happy about my finishing time (32:05) but I’m definitely glad that I was able to finish.

Molly pacing me in the last 2 miles

The Tahoe race is very beautiful with views of Lake Tahoe and other lakes, gorgeous sunrises and sunsets. The course was in good condition. Many people thought the 10 miles of snow were tough but that part was not difficult for me since I have trained in the snow all spring.

Everyone’s support through this was phenomenal. We knew that lung issues would not be permanently damaging but I was really hurting. It was wonderful having my Mom, Dad, and Molly there to cheer me on and get me through the tough times and Chad and Christopher keeping me company on the trail. As always I had my number one pacer, crew, and best friend that knows me better than anybody to help me throughout the race and to help make the decision to go on which I am extremely grateful for (thank you Chad!).

With perseverance I finished and got my buckle

Two days after the race I was still quite sick – continuously coughing and unable to sleep. I went to the Dr. and he gave me 5 prescriptions and I’m finally feeling a bit better. I have only 5 weeks to be ready for Wasatch 100 which is really my “A” race for the year.

Redemption at Big Horn

After last year’s epic Big Horn 100 race (2010 race report), I registered for the 2011 race wanting a good race and to get redemption on my poor 2010 race. Due to the long winter (or great ski season depending on how you look at it), the standard course was impassable and had to be modified. The modifications started the course at the park in Dayton (the normal finish line) instead of 3 miles up the Tongue River road, added a 7 mile out-and-back at Dry Fork (that you did once on the way out and again on the way in), then turned the course around at Spring Marsh instead of going all the way to Porcupine. The short story first – I had a great race finishing in 6th place in a time of 22:47.

And as they say, here’s ‘the rest of the story’. My total training miles for the year were less than 2010 so I was worried about being fully ready for a 100. I had a strong non-running base due to a great ski year having had close to 80 days in including lots of days over 8000’ of climbing, an 11,000’ day and a 13,000’ day. I was also going into this year with a coach (Matt Hart) so even though I didn’t have as solid of a running base, the quality of what I had seemed to be better.

My race plan was simple, run my own race (not get caught up in too fast of a pace during the first 5 miles of gravel road or foolishly chasing early on), feel good for as much of the race as possible, and finish in under 24 hours. Christopher and Emily were along as my crew and pacers. During the drive to Sheridan and the evening before the race, the 3 of us reviewed my race, aid station, and pacer plans. Everything had come together except the weather which was a little bit questionable (cool, cloudy, and rainy for the entire race). The 2 nights prior to the race, I got better sleep than usual so when race morning came, I felt ready. Big Horn had a 10AM start this year (it is usually 11AM) so we were able to have a relaxing morning and not have to get up in the middle of the night and rush to a starting line.

The race started fast with a couple of groups taking off running sub 7 minute miles. I stayed back with the third group and we ran a fast, but comfortable pace covering the first 5 miles in 38 minutes. At mile 5 you start climbing and mostly climb for the next 12 miles to Dry Fork Aid Station. I was happy with my time into Dry Fork covering this section in around 2:40. Coming through Dry Fork was a huge confidence booster as we had a perfect crew stop (see it in the video below). I slowed down to a 10 min/mile pace, handed Emily my waste pack while she handed me a hand bottle, 100’ later Christopher handed me an Ensure and I never had to slow down or break stride. At this point, I was running in 9th or 10th place with Emily Judd. It was good to have company and Emily Judd and I continued to push each other for the next 40 miles.  Emily  would go on to win the women’s race and become on the second woman to finish Big Horn 100 in under 24 hours.

The 7.5 mile out-and-back section went quickly (84 minutes) and we had another very fast pit stop where I picked up my waste pack and food for the next 17.5 miles. They always say never try new things on race day, but having not had a lot of long training runs this year, that wasn’t an option so I left Dry Fork with 2 turkey/avocado sliders (1/4 of an avocado wrapped in a slice of turkey) hoping these would be a good source of ‘real’ food for the race. They turned out to work out well for me. Emily Judd and I settled into this section at a comfortable pace pushing hard and catching a few people at the same time. We rolled into Footbridge at mile 41 at 5:15PM a full 45 minutes ahead of my 23:30 split time. I was not expecting my crew to be here, but thankfully they were. They had everything organized and got me out of the aid station in just a couple of minutes.

Leaving Footbridge, Emily J and I were running with Mike Farris. We made the 3,300’, 9.5 mile climb in 2:30. At the turn around (mile 50.3), I was now running in 7th. I was now updating my race goal to finish in the top 8 and if possible under 23 hours.  This was maybe a little premature at only mile 50, but it kept me motivated. I was hoping to make good time back to Footbridge, but due to the rocky and technical trail and my extremely poor headlamp, my return took me 2:10 so I had lost some valuable time. My second time at Footbridge (mile 60) was another quick stop, I sat down for 2 minutes (the first and only time I had sat the entire race) to eat, then headed out with my top pacer (my wife Emily) and BD Z-poles. The 3.5 mile, 2,000’ climb out of Footbridge is steep and muddy, but we made really good time getting to the Bear Camp aid station in just over 1 hour.

So far the weather had been very good. There was a strong headwind for quite a while during the day, but the rain held off and the temperatures remained comfortable. As morning came, it started to get cold. I was able to get by with just shorts, shirt, arm warmers, long sleeved shirt, hat and gloves. Definitely better than lots of years when you have pants plus a jacket on.

Emily B continued to push me hard (making me even run the hills) the rest of the way to Dry Fork and we made the entire 16.5 mile section in around 4.5 hours. We spent just a couple minutes at the aid station quickly drinking a cup of warm soup, then headed to the 7 mile out and back section. We were now past mile 76 and I was starting to feel poorly for the first time. I was hungry, but really couldn’t eat, and starting to get a pretty upset stomach. We pushed through and made this loop in 1:45. Back at the aid station, I took the longest break of the race (about 5 minutes) and quickly had some oatmeal and coffee that Christopher had ready. This was another case where my crew came through for me. I needed real food, but didn’t have anything planned and Christopher just knew that these 2 things would taste good and get me the calories and energy I needed – he was right.

Christopher took over for Emily and he had his work cut out for him. It was just after 5AM and we had a little over 17 miles and under 4 hours to do it in. This would be easy if it wasn’t mile 83, I wasn’t tired, and the terrain was flat, but none of this was the case. Christopher and I were making good time until after Sheep Creek when we hit the steep descents. My knees were shot. It was all I could do to hobble down the steep hills and we continued to lose valuable time. As the descents eased up, I was able to pick up the pace and due to not being able to move quickly on the steep descents, we had to move all the faster on the gradual descents and climbs. In the last 9 miles, we were regularly pushing sub 8 minute miles and averaged just over 10 minute miles for the final 12 miles. We reached the Tongue River Road with 5 miles to go and 50 minutes to do it in (this would give us an 8 minute buffer for any amount that our watches or mileage estimate were off). Christopher pushed me to the edge and kept me there for this entire 5 miles and we came through the finish line at 8:48AM covering the 5 miles in 46 minutes.  My finish time was 22:47 total time.

All I can really say is that I had a great race and I could not have done it if it weren’t for my extremely organized crew that kept my total aid station time to less than 15 minutes for the entire race, my pacers for pushing me harder than I could have pushed myself, and Matt for forcing me to do speed work (this was definitely noticeable on several occasions in the last 40 miles). From a personal perspective, I was mentally and physically ready for the race and when I realized what I could do, I was willing to go deeper into the pain cave than I had been before (this confirmed that the demons only get worse the further in you go). There were some new things that worked well for me in the race including the turkey/avocado sliders (thanks Matt), tapioca pudding (thanks Roch), Black Diamond Z-poles, CEP compression calf sleeves, and a Nathan Krissy pack (kept the weight off my waist late in the race).

In the end, I had a very successful race. I had my fastest 100 mile finish by 1.5 hours, my first sub 24 hour finish, my best 100 mile finish (6th place), I placed third I my age group, and I made the Big Horn 100 Rusty Spur Club (for finishing under 24 hours).

 
 

2011
Big Horn 100 Video

Running in Costa Brava Spain

We are blogging in random order from the 3 weeks we just spend in Europe.  Our next posting will cover the fantastic skiing in the Bernese Oberland (Switzerland) and La Grave (France) as well as time on the Mediterranean cost of France and Spain.  During the last week of our trip we were contemplating how we would put together a 20-30 mile training run.  We only had a single hand bottle for water so we assumed we would end up doing a 6-9 mile loop several times.  We also did not have a real ‘plan’ of where we were going other than we needed to be in Barcelona by the end of the week.  We were not having much luck with Google searches about trail running on the Mediterranean cost of France.  When we change our search to Spain, we had a great hit on Bryon Powell’s ‘irunfar’ website.  He had some great information about running in Spain, but even better, one of the responses was asking about a company called Running Costa Brava  located in Girona, Spain.  This was exactly the area we were headed to, now we were on to something.  Reading their website, it sounded perfect, they plan the route, either guide you or provide you a GPS, meet you with water and food every 8-12Km, organize the lodging, and transport your luggage. The problem, it was Sunday night and we were hoping to do a run on Tuesday.  Taking a chance, we sent them an email and within a couple of hours, Cristina had emailed us back.  She said they would see what they would do about putting something together on short notice and that it would be one of the longest runs they had put together with such little notice. By Monday mid-morning, we had another email with details of lodging in Girona, a 40km route (it later turned into 50km), lodging in Cadeques where we would finish, and a very reasonable price.  At this time, we were in Cap d’Agde, France and had a 2 hour drive to Narbonne, then a 3-4 hour train ride to Girona, we quickly confirmed we could get to Girona Monday night and booked everything with Cristina.  We had several bumps getting to Girona with a 50 minute train delay which we assumed meant we would miss our connecting train in Figueres.  We were scrambling to come up with backup plans for lodging in Figueres and leaving from there instead of Girona, but luckily, the connecting train waited and we made it to Girona.  After an ~3km walk in the dark from the train station (with all of our luggage including skis) we finally found our hotel for the night and finally settled in just before midnight.  Not exactly the hectic late night you want before a 50 km run.

Pablo (Cristina’s husband) picked us up on Tuesday morning and we drove about 1 hour to where we would start near Portbou.  Pablo showed us the route on the mapping program on his laptop, provided us with a Garmin Oregon 450 GPS with the route loaded, and we were off.  The route they had planned was a fantastic mix of beaches, mountains, ancient ruins, and coastal towns.  From Portbou, we followed the coast to Llanca where Pablo met us with water. 

 

From Llanca we had a great climb up to Monestir St Pere the Rhodes.  We followed the ancient trails up to this monastery that was built in the 9th century.  Pablo again met us a couple of times on this leg.  We quickly toured the monastery and then were off again. 

 

From Monestir St Pere the Rhodes we descended to the village of Veredera Costel, then on to Port de la Selva.  It was in Port de la Selva that we decided to add a few kilometers to our run.  We had missed Pablo and therefore our water stop so after we climb up out of Port de la Selva, we ran back down to town to fill up water and buy a croissant.  We were pretty sure we knew where the next meeting spot was, but if we missed Pablo there, we were definitely a little concerned about heading out for 15 miles with 40 oz of water and 1 Gu between the 2 of us.  If things didn’t go well, this could get challenging to do 15 miles on 50 calories.  Luckily, we were able to get in contact with Pablo and he ran in and met us with water as we ran from Port del le Selva through Natural Parc of Cap de Creus.  We filled with water, then ran with Pablo to his car parked !10 km on the other side of the park.  We took a break here for a while and refueled (we had run 22 miles in just under 5 hours and had only eaten 450 calories each).  From the edge of the park, we followed the road back down to the coast, past a fantastic light house, then down ancient trails to Port Lligat and finally to Cadeques.  By the time we reach Cadeques, my Forerunner was reading 29.5 miles (and I had accidentally shut the watch off for around 10 minutes).  Cadeques was a beautiful coastal village that was a perfect way to end the run and relax for the rest of the day and the following morning before catching a bus back to Girona.

This was the first time we had done a ‘catered’ run like this and it was fantastic.  Neither of us could imagine a better way to see the area.  It was great to not have to worry about planning a route, navigating it, figuring out where to restock water and food, and how to get our bags to the finish.  Cristina and Pablo took care of all of this.  We will definitely be planning more catered runs on future trips.

Here is a video with some fantastic photos from the run.

 

Here is a link to our course plotted from my Garmin Forerunner.  You can check out the elevation, terrain, and it also has a player that will play the route on the map while following along on the pace and elevation charts (it’s pretty cool).

Another Successful Powder Keg

We survived another Powder Keg.  March 12 marked the 9th Annual Wasatch Powder Keg and our third Powder Keg as race directors.  Each year certain aspects of being a race director get easier and new surprises arise.  We  are lucky to have a fantastic host resort (Brighton) as well as close to 50 dedicated volunteers who show up at Brighton at 5:30 AM and spend up to 5 hours out on the mountain.  This  year marked the largest race to date with 141 registered racers.  I believe this makes the Powder Keg the largest ski mountaineering race in the US as well as the second oldest race.   Even more exciting was the exceptional talent at this years race.  We had some extremely fast people from Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, California and Colorado race.  It was exciting to get the check point reports at the fast times racers were coming through.  We had a busy finish line area this year with multiple sponsors, 3 groups promoting avalanche education and safety equipment, and a avalanche beacon search park.  We were excited to have so much going on as it helps make the Powder Keg an event rather than just a race.  Also exciting was the number of spectators.  Previous years have seen only a few spectators, but this year the finish area was full of people.  We hope that the popularity of this will bring more people out next year.

Race results are posted on the Powder Keg website.  Here are our overall division winners:

Division Racer Time
Men’s AT Race Luke Nelson 2:06:45
Women’s AT Race Michela Adiran 2:56:02
Men’s Tele Race Christopher Pond 2:47:30
Women’s Tele Race Sarah Jackson 3:10:06
Men’s AT Rec Nicholas Francis 1:50:13
Women’s AT Rec Anne Perry 1:59:41
Men’s Tele Rec Daichi Ito 2:01:40
Women’s Tele Rec Anna Knudsen 2:43:20
Men’s Splitboard Rec Tom Bender 1:52:33
Women’s Splitboard Rec Melissa Axen 2:45:03

We have a couple of great videos from Jim Hopkins and PCTV as well as lots of photos on the Wasatch Powder Keg Facebook page and our home page.

Thanks to all of our volunteers and sponsors and congratulations to all of our racers.

Winter Gear Modifications

The bikes are hung up, most of the trail shoes are put away, and the Wasatch has already had over 300” of snow.  We are off to a great ski season and everyone is hoping the big snow continue.

I am a self proclaimed gear-head and I am constantly looking for new gear and modifying the gear that I have so that it works exactly like I want (and frequently to avoid buying another piece of gear that would do the same thing).  With winter in full swing, I thought it was a good time to share my favorite gear modifications for winter which are my ‘screw shoes’ and ‘semi-split skins’. 

You can buy all kinds of winter running traction devices from Yak Traks to Micro Spikes to Ice Bug shoes.  All of these are great, but I don’t run that much on the trail in the winter so why spend the money on shoes/devices.  I got the screw shoe idea from Matt Carpenter’s web site.  Since I go through 5 or more pair of trail runners each year, I used a retired pair of Montrail Hardrocks as base shoe.  Adding anywhere from 12-18 1/8” (or as short as you can find) sheet metal screws to each shoe and using an electric drill with a socket bit, in just a few minutes you have a great pair of winter running shoes.

Part of being a gear head is also always trying to shave a few ounces off my gear.  The old adage is that you shouldn’t spent a ton of money on lighter gear when most people can shave far more ounces from their bodies.  I don’t have too many ounces to spare so I look towards my gear.

When Black Diamond came out with the Split Skins, I thought they were a great item for my Voile Drifters.  My calculations determined they would save me 8 ounces over traditional skins.  The problem with these skins is that you now have a strip of slippery nylon under your foot.  When you get on a hard skin track, the nylon causes a lot of slippage.  To counter this, I sewed a small strip of skin under the mid section of the skin to provide a little additional traction.  I have not weighted the difference, but my estimate is that this only added 3 ounces to the skins so I still have a 5 ounce savings.  Thanks to Mark at Voile, I was able to stitch the skin strips on with their machine rather than hand sew them with a sewing awl.

As I mentioned, we are well underway to a great ski season.  Check out Matt Hart’s You Tube Video of one of our ski days and Andy’s show of perfect powder.

The Race Across the Sky – Emily’s Leadville 100

I fell in love with the Leadville area when Chad completed the Leadville 100 mountain bike race in 2004. The mountains, streams, and lakes are so phenomenal in this area. In 2008 we went back to Leadville for a 4-day weekend of training on the course to prepare Chad and our friend Kristin to run the Leadville 100 (I was training for Wasatch). He did extremely well finishing in 24:24. While we were training and when I was crewing and pacing Chad, I knew that I would want to run this course at some point but the 30 hour cutoff was quite intimidating. It wasn’t until I finished the Bear 100 last year in 28:51 that I knew that if I set my mind to it I could finish Leadville. It’s always quite a feat for me to even sign up for a 100 mile race because once I do, I know I’m committed and will train and finish the race. That is again how I felt after signing up for Leadville.

I trained differently for Leadville than I have for any other race. I can’t say that I love running and really do love hiking so this race was very different for me since it is so runnable and you have to run the majority of it to make the cutoffs (a strong finish requires you to run at least 80 miles of the race). So I trained as such – running a LOT – running up hills and down them. I don’t know if I got much faster but I know I got stronger and was more aware of my abilities to run. I set goal times of around a 27.5 to 28 hour finish hoping that I could meet those times and knowing they were lofty goals. There is less elevation gain/loss than the Bear 100 but the high altitude was going to have a factor on me (starting altitude was over 10,000’ and the high point is 12,600’).

I had fantastic friends join me in Leadville to pace and crew – Kristin, Becky, Christopher, and of course Chad.

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Crew and Pacers (minus photographer Christopher)

The pre-race meeting on Friday morning was inspiring as Ken always is. He had us chant “We commit, we won’t quit” as many of us had tears in our eyes. Ken’s other inspiring words include “Dig deep” and “You can do more than you think you can and are stronger than you think you are”. I love it because those words really do come back to you when you really do need to “dig deep” when you think there is not anything left.

We started the race at 4:00 am. The first 5 miles are a downhill dirt road and extremely fast. I looked down to see a 7:20 pace which I found very surprising since I didn’t think my legs could go that fast. I cruised into May Queen Aid Station (13.5m) a little past my goal time but I always know that I’m more steady on the last half of a race and don’t want to get too worried about pace at that point.

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Aid Station setup

 

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Restocking at Twin Lakes

I made it up and over Sugarloaf pass and into Fish Hatchery (23.5m), ran the road, dirt road, and Colorado trail to Twin Lakes (39.5). Next was the 5 stream crossings and up and over the huge Hope Pass (12,600 feet elevation). I came into Winfield (50mile) at 12 hours (my fastest 50 miler time).

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Winfield Aid Station and coming into Winfield

At this point we turn around and run 50 miles back to Leadville. I picked up Kristin to pace me and, as always, was very happy to have her with me. Kristin has a way to make me feel at ease with everything that is going on which always give me the ability that I need to cruise through the miles.

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Climbing up Hope Pass

I had some minor stomach issues on the next 25 miles, but even with that I felt my strength not diminish too much during this time and was able to make up a little time in this section. At Fish Hatchery Chad paced me “home”.

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Fish Hatchery

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Leaving Fish Hatchery

I always have a lot of confidence when Chad is with me because he knows me better than anybody and is able to push me beyond where even I think I can go. He gives me the strength to push myself to my outer limits.

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Running down from the last hill after Turquoise Lake

Becky, Christopher, and Kristin joined Chad and I for the last ½ mile and it was great having my friends there to support me to the finish line. My body felt pretty good but my legs were absolutely shot. I crossed the finish line in 27 hours and 41 minutes. Merilee gave me a bouquet of flowers as well as the finisher metal around my neck.

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Finished

I was ushered right into the medical tent, they weighed me, I told them I felt great and they let me go right away. It felt incredibly good to sit down but once I tried to stand and walk I was surprised by the fact that my legs had a hard time holding me up much less moving. In the short 36 hours after the finish I’m recovering very well. Leadville is a great race. It is quite interesting though since it is such a huge race. Over 800 people registered, almost 650 people started the race. I was the 163rd person through the finish line (15th woman of ~100) out of ~310 that finished.

Becky, Christopher, Kristin, and Chad were the best crew I could have ever asked for. They had everything ready for me and I was in and out of the aid stations as fast as I could to continue on the trail.

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