Monday, January 20, 2014

Moving to a new cyber home

This will be my last post on this blog. I decided a while ago to build a proper website and I finalized it yesterday. Please head on over to and have a look around. I am very open to feedback and any comments you may have and hope you follow along for the next chapter. 


Monday, August 5, 2013

Speedgoat 50k 2013

Near the top (the second time) - Photo: Cody Draper's wife.

Occasionally in life there are times when everything comes together.  For me, the 2013 edition of the Speedgoat 50k was one of those days.  I had a great training block leading up to the race, listened to my body, and took a little extra time off the week before the race.  I went in rested, and I was in the right mindset before the race.  Nerves kept me awake the better part of the night before the race, which, for me, is a good sign.  At 4:00am, when the alarm clock finally sounded, giving me permission to get up, I was ready to get at it.

Flash forward two hours and fifteen minutes, Karl is giving last minute instructions about the race, and I am headed to the bathroom for my third or fourth nervous pee.  As I emerge the crowd is making its way to the start.  I take a spot on the second row, right behind Tim Olsen and Tony Krupicka.  I wanted to be near the front, but not out front for the first climb.  Karl started the countdown, and as he yelled go, the front line of runners exploded forward, pulling the rest of the field along with them.

Coming into this race I knew for certain that the pace from the start would be quick and relentless.  I also figured that a smart race would pay off.  I didn't have the confidence in myself to think that I could run with Sage, Max, or Tony, but figured that if I could run a smart race, I may not be far from them.  I was surprised that, with what at the time felt like a moderate effort, I was not getting immediately dropped by the leaders on the first climb.  I continued to hold my pace somewhere just past comfortable, but not all the way uncomfortable.  Max, Sage, Tony, and a few others crept away, and the group began to spread out.  I found myself running in a small, loosely bunched chase pack.

Before the race Andy Dorais had warned me to watch out for his friend Lars. He explained Lars had been training super hard, and as a former MMA fighter the dude knows how to suffer.  I was psyched to be running with Lars in the chase pack.  Rather quickly we made our way to the top of Hidden Peak, passing Tim Olsen on the way up.  It was a good sign that things were going well, or we were running too fast.  As we left the Hidden Valley Aid Station we passed Cameron Clayton.  I was very surprised to see Cameron and to pass him on the down.  He said he felt pretty crappy and when he dropped his jacket I made a move to get a little ground on him.
Power hiking in flowers - Photo: Aric Manning

I tried to just flow down the first descent like water.  No braking, not hammering, just flowing.  I needed to not destroy my legs now.  Larry's Hole came by quickly and in a blink Lars and I were up and over Sinner's Pass.  We continued to flow down the rough descent towards Pacific Mine, moving in low 7:00 minute pace through the technical, loose rock.  When we hit the smoother dirt road Cameron blew by feeling a little better and using his legendary leg speed to make up lost time. I let him go knowing there was still too far to go to get reckless and chase someone like Cam.  As we got onto the outback section we saw Max and Tony working hard, Sage had already gone by, and by the time we hit the aid station Lars and I were in 11-12.  I took an extra minute at the aid to clear out my shoes, drink a Red Bull, and fill my water bottle and flask (with EFS LS).

The next few minutes I spent chasing Lars to get caught back up.  I had decided before hand that the climb to Baldy from Pacific would be the time to start making a move, to push things a little harder.  I caught Lars and he jumped on as we caught and passed several people.  When we caught Cameron, I told him to jump on as well. Cam did, and then he stayed on for quite a while.  Near the spring I started to feel really good and began pulling away from the group with my sites set on a couple of lone runners up ahead.  By the time I hit Larry's hole #2, I was in 7th.  I could see Justin Yates and Jason Loutit up ahead.  On the steep section of the climbing I went back and forth with Jason after passing Justin early on.  I hit my only low of the race as we topped Baldy and both Justin and Jason went by me again.  At the tunnel aid station I put myself back together and set out to catch back up.
More Hiking - Photo: Cody Draper's wife

Starting up the final climb I had gotten back within eyeshot of Jason and Justin, but I could also see Timothy Olsen creeping up in the rearview mirror.  When I caught Jason and Justin, who were together on the ridge, I warned them that Tim was coming.  Jason said something about not being worried as Justin and I put the hammer down and went around him.  The warning must have really hit Justin as he steadily put time on me for the remainder of the climb.  As I crested Hidden Peak into the aid station Justin was dropping out of sight ahead and Tim was no more than 100 yards back.
Rallying - Photo: Cody Draper's wife

I pulled out all the stops on the final descent, running as quickly as I could muster in an all out effort to stay ahead of Tim.  I did a pretty good job for a while.   As we dropped onto the mountain bike trails just over a mile from the finish Tim moved up and caught me.  He agreed to finish with me as long as we continued to motor.  It was one of the highlights of my running career to come into the finish with such an amazing runner as Tim and to finish amongst the some of the best mountain runners in the sport.

Overall, I couldn't have asked for a better race day.  I felt pretty good all day, stuck to my plan, and then laid it all out there at the end.  It was counted as a 6th place finish, but I'll rank it as one of my best ultra finishes ever.  It isn't everyday that you can toe the line with such a deep field, race well, feel good, and finish in a solid position.  I have to make sure to give a thank you to my coach, Adam St. Pierre, for helping me to continue to hone my craft and sharpen my skills as a runner.  Now my sites turn to UROC, with El Vaquero Loco and Run the Rut along the way.

Gear used for the Race:
Shirt: Patagonia Airflow Sleeveless
Shorts: Patagonia Strider Pro
Socks: Patagonia Ultralight Merino

Handheld: Ultraspire Isomeric Race

Pre-race: two packets instant oatmeal, 1 bottle Ultragen.
During: Two flasks of EFS LS, 1 bottle EFS, 3 bottles plain water.
After: 1 bottle Ultragen, and all the food that got in my way on the drive home.

Awesome race photos here:

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Moving Slow in the Heart of Idaho

Not too far from the trailhead
This fourth of July Ty Draney, Matt Irving, and I decided to celebrate Independence Day by going way off the grid into the heart of Idaho.  We planned on visiting a place that we had been before, although not all together as had been planned.  During that trip, Ty and I missed Matt by a couple of minutes and ended up having a full epic.  Check out that story here.  This time we all left the trailhead together, walking, with backpacks.

I haven't done a ton of backpacking, particularly since I started trail running. When during a long run day you can easily double the distance that is normally covered while backpacking, it makes it difficult to see the benefit of carrying a heavy pack over just a few miles.  Even though I don't love backpacking that was part of our master plan.  We were headed about 7 miles in from a very remote trailhead to set up a base camp for three days of trail running in one of the most remote places in the lower 48.

I have lived in Idaho almost all of my life and I find a tremendous amount of joy in discovering new hidden gems in my backyard. This particular corner of the Frank Church Wilderness area has been on my mind for many years and I was pretty excited to head out there with this crew. The walk to camp took a little longer than we had anticipated, but before it got dark we found an awesome spot to hunker down and call home for the next few nights.  Shortly after arriving we discovered that, due to the lack of numerous visitors, the mosquitos were extra hungry, and they all called their relatives to let them know we had arrived. We later found out from another hiker, who happened to be from Alaska, that they were the worst mosquitos she had ever seen.  The bonus was as long as you kept moving you weren't eaten alive.  Unfortunately in order to do many things around camp you had to stop moving for a least a couple of seconds, so we resorted to one of man's oldest tricks, fire.
Standing in the smoke eating another delicious meal

For the first time in my life I was constantly shuffling around the fire to stand as close as feasible to the path of the smoke.  After the first of many delicious meals (we brought way too much food), we settled into our sleeping bags and tried to get some sleep before the o'dark thirty alarms for the next morning.

Luckily it got quite cold during the night and when we woke up in the morning the mosquitos were still hunkered down and not interested in us.  With the trail lit only by the small cone of light coming from our headlamps we made our way past a couple of lakes and up to the pass that was our destination for the morning.  The mosquitos were there to greet us as we waited for the light to get just right to shoot a few pictures during the magic hour of light.
Ty doing his best to fend off the hordes of mosquitos
Terrace Lakes 

When the light got too harsh we made it back to our camp, ate another good meal, took a short nap, and then got our things together for a long afternoon run.
Matt doing his best to keep our enormous food cache safe from intruders. 
We left camp a little before noon with the planned destination about seven trail miles away.  We decided to explore an alternate route up and over the ridges instead of the classic trail.
Handsome Matt finding himself on the other side of the lens
We made our way past the lake that was just below our camp and up the steep ridge separating us from our goal.  The descent off of the ridge got a little spicy, but once down we were in one of the more amazing alpine cirques I have visited.
Ty enjoying a spicy decent
We continued working our way along, passing another couple of lakes, until we reached out goal,  Ship Island Lake.
Ship Island Lake with weather building. 

We had been keeping an eye on the sky watching the weather slowly starting to build.  The clouds still hadn't started to darken so we opted to see if we could get to the far side of the lake. We made it as far as the trail went and we pressed on a little further until we could get back on the shore.  With the weather starting to look a little more threatening, we opted to take a quick dip in the lake and then turned back.
Head's up for the Jenny's Bog near the north end of the lake

Some of the more impressive thunder I have heard pretty much continuously rumbled for the three or so miles we ran after we turned around. Fortunately for us, we somehow managed to be right between two storm cells, and apart from a few rain drops and the background noise, we escaped the weather unscathed.  In our haste to stay clear of the storm we must have missed a turn in the trail and the one we were following abruptly ended.  After consulting briefly with the map, we 'shwacked up towards a saddle where we again found the trail.
Matt taking advantage of a spring running into the trail
Ty gets his turn...

The storms had all mostly passed and we felt comfortable cruising the ridges back towards camp.
Self-portrait with the Rusty Nail in the background

As soon as we got to camp we once again feasted on some delicious curry soup and noodles while we waited for the sun to get a little lower in the sky. Once the light was again softening we headed out for another quick run with the hope of catching a few more photos to document this amazing corner of the world. A little over an hour later we were back at our camp, standing in the smoke, and eating second dinner. With full bellies and nearly 30 miles under our belts for the day, we crawled into sleeping bags eager for a good nights rest.
Ty was stoked to have Matt's head net for the night.

A couple of over slept alarms found us loading our packs, eating as much of the remaining food as possible (so we wouldn't have to carry it on our backs), and getting ready to march back to the trailhead.
Tough to leave a place like this
The walk out was pretty pleasant, not as cumbersome as the walk in (that's for sure), and before too long we ticked off the final mile.  Back at the truck we dropped our packs.  I was honestly quite relieved to get it off my back, but not so eager to leave the wilderness.
Sure is nice to get that pack off
Flip Flops!

As ultrarunners, it probably would have been possible to do all that we did in a single day, but that would have cheapened so much of the experience that we did have.  We would not have the pleasure of hundreds of mosquitos swarming our heads, the joy of waking up hours before the sun rose, napping in the alpine during midday, or to actually sit down and enjoy the sun setting with no real pressure or destination to go to.  The thing I learned most from this trip was that maybe running isn't always the best way to take it all in. Sometimes going slow is the fastest way to really get in touch with the world and I guess backpackers are on to something after all.

One of the best views I've ever enjoyed. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

(San Juan) Solstice- taking advantage of the longest day of the year

Brynlee, Chloe and I enjoying the view

One of the things I like the very most about summer is the amount of daylight. On this summer solstice I did my very best to make the most of the longest day of the year.  A few days prior we loaded the family into the truck (which by itself can be quite the task), and started the long drive towards Lake City, Colorado. The first day we made it 520 miles to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison outside of Montrose.  The girls help me to set up the tent as the sun was getting low in the sky.  Once our home for the night was set-up I slipped into the twilight for a little run.  Not far from the campground I spooked a bear cub that had to have scared me at least as much as I scared it. I wasted no time in getting clear of the area as quick as I could so it's mother wouldn't be able to catch up and scold me for startling it's offspring.

I returned back to the tent well after dark to find the girls winding down with an episode of Sesame Street on the iPad. Tanae was almost asleep so I took the opportunity to drag the girls outside and show them as many constellations as I could.  Given my lack of knowledge of constellations this didn't last too long and minutes later everyone had fallen asleep.  I woke at 3 am to the sound of heavy sniffing right next to my head.  Immediately visions of the bears from earlier overtook my groggy brain and I set to making as much noise as possible.  Whatever creature (or maybe dream) it was quickly moved along and left me wide awake to contemplate the wonders of nature (and how terrifying it can be).  Miraculously, the girls did not wake up.

Chloe testing the use of Gunnison dirt as make-up

Just after the first light hit the walls of the tent the whole family was awake and ready for the day. After breakfast we went for a hike along the rim of the canyon before getting in the car to drive the remaining 100 or so miles to Lake City.  After a visit to the park, lunch with friends, and some ice cream we checked into the hotel.  Then I met up with Fred to see if we could get some pictures out on the San Juan Solstice 50 course while Tanae took the girls and tried to get a good nights sleep.  Friday morning we ventured out as a family to recon the first part of the race and spent the rest of the day taking it easy and getting ready for the San Juan Solstice 50-miler the next morning.

Team Nelson out doing some recon on the San Juan Solstice course

Saturday was the day that we tried really hard to make the most of the longest daylight hours of the year.  Around 3 am I got up and forced down a 1000 calorie breakfast and donned the race kit.  At 4:15 we put two sleeping children in their carseats and drove down to the start of the race.  At 5:00 am on the dot the race started, Tanae went back to the hotel with the girls and I set about racing 50 miles through the San Juan Mountains.

I felt about as blurry as this photo turned out right before the start. 

The first 17 miles went exactly to plan; I arrived at the aid station on my goal splits, felt really good, and was in 4th place. I got a high-five from Brynlee, Tanae (who is better than a Nascar pit crew) swapped my gel flasks and water bottles, and less than a minute later I was out on the trail again.

The San Juan's are a magical place! Photo Fred Marmsater

 I'll save you the drama but I came a bit unraveled in the next 20 mile section that included a little time adding some mileage to the course and a solid beating that came from running above 11,000 feet for a long time. When I next saw Tanae and the girls I was an hour behind my goal splits, and just trying to get done.  Tanae again got me in and out of the aid station, and with another high five from Brynlee I was off for the last ten miles.  I ran (shuffled) the majority of the final climb and then found as I descended towards the finish that my legs and stomach (and everything else) started to feel quite a lot better.  I finished feeling better than I had since the first time I saw my crew and had the tremendous privilege of finishing with Brynlee.

My favorite finish line photo of all time! Photo Fred Marmsater

Amazingly, I held onto 4th place all day and even though it was slower than I had wanted I can't complain about finishing my first San Juan Solstice run in 9:17:26.  It also leaves plenty of room for improvement in the future.  Now anyone who knows me, knows that I love to hang out at races as long as I can, but this day was different.  It was the longest of the year; there was still much to be done on this day.  So after piecing myself back together, getting a nice finish line massage, having two ice-cold bottles of Ultragen, and a quick rinse in the river we loaded the family in the car and started driving.  Destination Angel Fire, New Mexico.

You may be asking yourself, what is in Angel Fire, New Mexico? I will tell you; not much.  The reason that we were driving 300 miles (it would have been only 200 miles but the West Fork Complex Fire had closed the shortest route) right after racing a 50-mile race was that on this same morning that my good friend Toph, started running 100.  Last year he was the ONLY finisher of the Angel Fire 100 and this year I wanted to be part of his run, and it is the longest day of the year after all!

Chloe chose to sleep in while I was out pacing Toph. 

Unfortunately we did not make it to Angel Fire before the sun set, but the super moon was rising which made it feel like an eerily extended day! Toph came through 75 miles just before we arrived and a few hours later I joined him for the last 12 miles of his run.  It was awesome to see Toph rally after a long day on the trail and he damn near dropped me in the last 1/4 of a mile when he turned on his sub-6 minute mile pace to bring it home.

Toph finished an hour and half faster than he did last year in just under 28 hours.  My family had supported me at a 50-miler, endured a 300 mile drive, slept in the back of the truck and then supported Toph in finishing his second 100 mile race. Not only did we use all of the light of the Solstice, but we managed to stretch a day to nearly 30 hours! And we loved every minute of it!

Chloe showing her stoke about going for a hike!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Transvulcania: A lesson in persistance

All packed and ready to go
A few days ago I flew half way across the world.  The destination for this trip is Isla la Palma, Spain. It is not without significant trepidation that I make this trip, the intimidation of toeing the line with what will likely be the highest concentration of top level mountain and ultra runners that has assembled in one place. I will be racing the Transvulcania 84 kilometer Sky Ultra.  This year’s race is the opener for the new Sky Running Ultra World Series, and it has gathered some amazing talent.

I arrived on Isla de La Palma in the Canary Islands late Wednesday night after 4 flights, and more than 18 hours in the air.  I was greeted at the airport by one of the race staff, loaded into a car and along with a couple of other runners, we made the 45 minute drive to the hotel.  Our driver must have been a distant relative to Mario Andretti because he drove super fast and aggressive the whole drive.  I would later find out that everyone I rode with on the island drives that way! 

The section of trail near the start that I previewed.

Thursday before the race was mostly spent sleeping, relaxing and trying to recover from the travel.  Midday I bummed a ride with the media crew from TrailRunner magazine to the start.  After another white knuckle ride I opted to get my run in from the start and hitchhike back to the hotel.  I ran the first 7k of the course which consists of a climb of pretty close to 3000’ from the beach to the closest town Los Canarios.  At the top of the climb I was pretty quickly able to get a ride from a local who was running the half marathon on Saturday and was super fired up for the event. 

Who wouldn't pick up this guy?

Friday was another rest day.  I went for a 30 minute run with Adam Campbell before a nice dip in the ocean.  

Adam Campbell shaking out his legs the day before the race.

After lunch we had the athlete briefing, which was very well done, and to the point.  The hours quickly slipped by and at 10:00pm I tried to lay down and get a few hours of sleep before the 2:00 am wake-up call.  All of the runners would be taken to the start, and our shuttle was scheduled to leave at 3:00, for a 4:30 arrival at the lighthouse. 

The start of the race was one of the craziest starts I have been part of.  They pack all of the runners for both the ultra and the half marathons into a small parking area just below the lighthouse.  This turns into quite the spectacle considering there were around 2500 starters! Typical for what I have seen at European racers there was a lot of fanfare with music, lively MC’s and generally a ton of stoke.  When the start when off at 6:00 am I was surprised that the pace was fast but not ridiculous.  We did a quick lap around the lighthouse and then headed up the route I had ran two days previous.  The field settle in fairly quick and I found myself in somewhere around 25th or so.  One of my favorite memories from the race was being able to look back at the stream of headlamps working there way up the trail! It was incredible.  

I passed Los Canarios about 5 minutes faster than what I ran Thursday, and deeply enjoyed the energy of what must have been pretty much the whole city who had lined the streets to cheer for the runners. In contrast to the start and Los Canarios the forest we climbed into above town was quite and tranquil. It was a glorious morning on the Island, I was running near Joe Grant and had felt great.  

26 k into the race we arrived at El Pilar aid station.  The place was going off! There were tons of people there cheering the runners on. I grabbed a little coke and got out of there as quick as I could.  Not more than a kilometer out of the aid station I felt like a switch flipped and with it my legs went flat.  I tried to ramp up the pace, but just couldn’t find another gear.  I hit an extra gel and immediately my stomach protested.  As I fell off pace Joe went by and within a couple of minutes the leading women went past as well.  I figured I was just having a little bad patch, so I worked on staying positive, getting food and water in and moving forward. 

So stoked to be on La Palma! Photo: iRunFar

Unfortunately my bad patch would last the rest of the race. I was able to shuffle along, but never found the comfortable cruising pace that I had prepared for.  My stomach simply would not let me consume any more gels so for the last 50k of the race I fueled off of apples, water and coke.  The course was so beautiful and inspiring and it was very frustrating to be able to draw from that energy and run as planned.  I particularly struggled on the descent from the high point, Roque de los Muchachos all the way to the sea. It dropped somewhere around 8000’ in a relentless, quad thrashing, steep, technical descent. By the time I had hit the ocean I was super hot, tired and completely blown, but the race organizers have one last treat for the runners; a 1700’ ascent in about 6k up to the finish.  

I poured a bunch of water on me to cool off, ate a little chunk of watermelon, then put my head down and went to work at getting done. I was surprised to find that I could still run (shuffle) uphill and decided that I would run the entire ascent.  Surprisingly I was able to grind all the way up! At the top there is about 2k of flat running through the town of Los LLanos to the finish.  Much like the other large aid stations there were so many people lining the streets out cheering for the runners to come through.  It was quite hard to not get emotional from all of the support.  I crossed the finish in 9:20:01 completely spent and very happy to be done.  

Done! Photo: iRunFar

The finish area had kiddie pools filled with ice water to soak beat up legs, the school of Physioterapia was offering massages for the runners, and there was some great food.  I enjoyed the finish line environment for about an hour before heading back to the hotel to rest. 

This morning along with many of the other runners I am hobbling around, nursing sore legs.  I plan on spending the better part of the afternoon soaking in the ocean before I board a plane at 9:00 pm and begin my journey home.

I have to take a moment to thank the International Sky Running Federation and Transvulcania for putting on such a great event and allowing me to be part of it! I loved how well organized the event was and how difficult the course turned out to be.  It was my first Sky race and it will surely not be my last.  Also a huge thanks to Patagonia, Ultraspire, First Endurance, and Smith Optics for their continued support. 

Gear I used for the Race:

Most of the kit before the race

Shirt: Patagonia Airflow Tank
Shorts: Patagonia Strider Pro
Socks: Patagonia Lightweight Merino Anklet Sock
Shoes: Patagonia Evermore
Pack: Ultraspire Alpha
Sunglasses: Smith Serpico Slim
Hat: First Endurance Trucker

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Getting Lost in Peru

Town is that least I think so

I can feel my heartbeat pounding in my head, my breathing is fast and labored, and my pace clearly isn't as fast as it should be given the effort it is requiring. A little over two hours into the run I admit to myself that I am not on the route that I was planning on taking.  I am lost, sort of...

The Town of Cusco in the distance, I still know where I am sort of....

Four days prior I had had left SLC with a large group of medical and dental providers all bound for Peru.  I have actually made this pilgrimage every spring for four years now.  The group I am part of, Idaho Condor, takes a group to the highlands of Peru every spring to offer medical and dental care to a very special people living in and around the Sacred Valley outside of Cusco, Peru.  I love being able to go every spring to provide medical care and to get in some high altitude training to kick off ultra-season. Cusco sits at a little over 10,000' and it is quite easy to get up to and stay above 12 or 13,000' feet for an long period of time.  It is also hard work.

During this trip I had set a couple of slightly more ambitious goals than I had in the past in regards to running while in Peru.  One of them included running from Cusco to Chincheros via the mountain range that separated them.  I had spoke to several people who all thought it could be done, and had made contact with two people who have completed the traverse.  I went as far as buying a map, not a topo map since that proved pretty much impossible to locate.  The map I bought did have some trails and all of the roads that could be traveled to link the two cities.  We held a half day clinic Wednesday morning and at 1:30 pm I set out on what was estimated to be a 4-5 hour run.

The first part of the run went without incident as I climbed from the Plaza in the center of Cusco, past the ruins of Saksywaman, and into the mountains that form the Northern Cusco Skyline.  I have gone on many shorter runs into this area and felt confident in finding the correct saddle and trail that would lead me through the crux of the route.  The altitude always slows things down a little for me, and considering I had only been living at 10,000' for three days, I was pushing on all cylinders to simply run up hill. When I finally arrived at the saddle and got my first look at the next portion of the run, I immediately got quite nervous.  The mountains in front of me were large, with massive relief between the ridges and valleys.  I was standing at 12,700' and in front of me was an enormous chasm, flanked on the far side by a peak that extended much higher than my vantage point.  I could not make out any villages or other landmarks that were on my very helpful map. The trail I had followed up to that point contoured to the east ( off to my right) and I couldn't see any other trails going to the north or the west, the direction I thought I needed to be heading.
Right or left? 
In one conversation I had about the route I was told that I needed to go left at every intersection that I came to and that would lead me to my destination.  I quickly justified that this technically wasn't an intersection because there were no other trails, and without further debate I started to run again.  The trail was amazing! A pencil thin single track pasted on the high flanks of an Andean mountain.  It contoured around without gaining much more elevation and I finally felt like I could run at a decent pace.  About 45 minutes later I noticed a small village in the valley below.  I consulted my map and was a little confused about the location of the village.  It's location didn't fit with where I thought I was, it was also a long ways down to the village, maybe 2500' descent. It was 3:45.
Good single-track early in the run

After some internal debate I decided to continue on for another 15 minutes to see if I could get to a better vantage point.  40 minutes later I finally admitted to myself that I was going the wrong way, but I wasn't even sure which wrong way I was on.  The small villages that I occasionally spotted didn't match at all with the map, and they were so committingly far away that to descend to one would be going all-in- a full commitment to that location.

It was very exhilarating to be lost.  I knew that I had a headlamp, some gels and enough clothing to be out until I relocated myself.  I resolved to simply run until I ran into someone (not too likely), I arrived at a village, or I could make sense of my location and pick a new route. I was completely free;  no route, no destination, no specific time to arrive.  Yet, I was nervous at the same time; this could end up being very epic. At a few minutes after 5, I came across a shepherd who spoke a little Spanish and was able to explain that I had in fact should have gone left at the saddle and that my current trajectory would lead me deep into the Sacred Valley.  He recommended a slight alteration to my route which would loop me back to the highway, which I could then follow back to Cusco.
Basically I ended up running the skyline of this picture and then back to Cusco

By following my new friend's directions I was quickly able to "find" myself and work my way back towards civilization.  I ran down the final pathway and paused at the top of the stairs that would lead back to my hotel just as it got dark enough to consider pulling my headlamp out of my pack. I was relieved that the adventure had turned out so well and not in the least disappointed that I hadn't made it to my original destination.  The journey into the unknown and mishaps along the way had provided a much richer experience than if things had gone according to plan.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Ski Mountaineering World Championships Round-up

When I went to Europe for the Ski Mountaineering World Championships a few weeks ago I intended on writing a brief write-up every day about the races and the things Team USA was up to.  Well, as often happens, I found myself much busier than expected and chose to take extra time to recover or (gasp) ski! So here I find myself, home for almost two weeks, sitting at the keyboard trying to figure out how to share what happened.  In an attempt to keep my adult ADD in check, I am going to summarize what happened and share a bunch of pics.  If you want to hear more, leave a message below and I may or may not write a more detailed post about a certain part of the trip.

The Backdrop to the Teams Race

Saturday February 9
Most of the team spent the morning getting registered and doing recon of the individual course that would be held the next day.  Marshall Thompson, my partner for the teams race, and I broke off from the main group to talk strategy and to scout the middle fourth of the course. Seeing what the race officials had put together, coupled with the amazing backdrop, had both of us pretty fired up to get after it the next day.

Team USA 
That afternoon we attended the opening ceremonies. It is pretty cool to be able to represent your country and at the same time I find these events a bit intimidating.  It marks the pinnacle of so much hard work and the start of finding out where you stand amongst the best in the world.  Needless to say the pre-race jitters kicked in.

Sunday February 10

The Very Fast start of the Teams Race, Marshall and I are 32A/32B on the edge of the picture. 

We woke up to pretty cold temperatures and made our way to the start line.  The race started in the valley near the river, well below the Vallouise Ski Area and worked its way up (with a couple of climbs and descents) to a high point above and outside of the area.  We then enjoyed a very long descent (with one small climb) back to the valley and had a long skate back to town.  Just outside of town we had to put our skins on for one final slight uphill to finish at the town center.

The race for Marshall and I went well.  We had no serious mechanical issues, both of us felt good on the climbs, and we skied the descents well.  We finished 17th overall, 2nd US team, and 3rd North American Team.  We watched the rest of the US teams come in and then headed over the the lunch tent to work on recovering for the sprint race the very next day.

That afternoon I had the tremendous opportunity to represent the US at the athlete meeting.  Athletes from all of the participating countries were present to discuss Ski Mountaineering Racing, some of the rules, and from our standpoint what needed to be changed and improved upon.  The meeting was directed by Kilian Jornet and Mireia Miro.  I sat next to the amazing Spanish mountain runner Marc Pinasch.  I was a bit starstruck during the meeting and was pretty fired up to be part of the sports progress.

Monday February 11
A bunch of new snow fell overnight.  I was excited at the prospect of a powder day, but first was the sprint race. The sprint format is fairly new to skimo racing.  It was designed to concentrate the elements of a skimo race into a spectator-friendly format.  The way the course is designed it should take the top men about 2:30 to finish it. I raced this race in Claut two years ago, and was excited to throw down on the short course again.

Sprinting as fast as possible

My race went pretty well.  I felt pretty flat from the previous day's effort, and kind of flubbed one of my transitions.  I finished 34th overall, tied to the hundredth of a second with fellow US racer Max Taam.  Andy Dorais took home the top US spot in 31st.  All of the team US men fell outside of the quarterfinals (30), so we put on puffy coats to cheer on the women.  Nina Silitch made US Skimo history by battling super hard to a 2nd place.  It was incredibly impressive to see her do so well.

That afternoon team USA went to the awards ceremony to cheer for Nina, and after that there was a whole lot of celebrating.

Tuesday February 12
Tuesday was one of the highlights of the whole trip for me.  I was able to get out on the course and cheer for my good friend, Micah Thatcher.  Micah is an amazing 17-year-old who I have been helping get into the sport. He came to the Worlds as our only junior racer and did an incredible job duking it out with some über tough euros.  He fought hard the entire race.  He had an epic crash after straight-lining an entire descent that resulted in a broken ski. We scrambled to help him find a ski, and after a few minutes we had him back on course.  He continued to rally and finished a very respectable 18th.

Micah about to point it for 1000' 

Meredith, Chad, and I skied some of the fresh pow after the race before calling it a day.

Wednesday February 13

Start of the Individual Race, looks like Kilian should do some nordic racing! Photo Andy Dorais

Andy and I cruised out of the hotel in time to watch the start of the individual race, and then we caught the chairlift/Poma Lift combo to get to a good vantage point to watch the race.  We had a great time watching the leaders come through followed closely by the US contingent. We hung around watching the ladies come through and then we skied down to the finish.  We missed the top men finishing but arrived just in time to see Janelle Smiley come charging in to the finish, passing one more racer in the final meters of the race.  She finished 13th overall.

After the race both Andy I and took some time to recon the vertical course, which we would both be racing the next day.  After that I went back to the hotel and took an extra recovery catnap and started to get my head in the right place for the next day's effort.

Thursday February 14
I woke up ten minutes before the alarm clock and headed down to eat breakfast.  I wanted to make sure I was fueled, but that my stomach was empty before the race start. I then got my kit ready and tinkered for for another half-an-hour before it was time to go down and start warming up. I followed Adam's instructions very carefully for my warm-up and timed it just right to line up for the start.  I honestly can't remember too much about the next 30 minutes and 39 seconds other than I told myself over and over again to push as hard as I could. I remember starting to have the metallic taste in my mouth maybe ten minutes into the race and having the narrowing of my vision as I turned the last switchback. I finished feeling very, very worked.  I was a little disappointed that I didn't finish further up in the pack, but after looking at my HR data from the race I had to be satisfied. For the entire effort I held my HR within 2 beats per minute of my anaerobic threshold, with about half of it being two to three BPM over! I finished 46th overall and 3rd US racer.

That afternoon, after spending too much time on the phone with Avis Rental Car Assistance (long story, but I wasted far too much time on the phone, and we pretty much ended up buying a fiat van...don't ever rent from that company). Chad and I rallied to catch a crew that left about an hour ahead of us to ski a big line Andy had spotted a few days before.  A little over an hour of hustling up the way we thought they had gone we caught sight of our compatriots.  We finally caught on and proceeded to follow Andy up a huge line deep in Ecrin's National Park.  We went until my dang-o-meter started to buzz as we crossed into a wind loaded section a few hundred feet below what we thought was a saddle between two higher peaks.  We turned around just as the sun was dipping behind the mountains, the whole crew got ready to descend and we then leapfrogged down the 7000' continuous descent.  It was a great way to lick our wounds after the vertical race.

Bootpacking, still a ways to go- Photo Andy Dorais

Getting Ready to ski 7000' back to the valley- Photo Andy Dorais

Friday February 15
I hardly slept the prior night; we stayed out kind of late and Andy left at 3:30 am to catch his flight in Torino. I stayed in bed as long as I could before loading into the van to watch the last event of the World Champs - the Relay races.  The relays are another super fun race to watch. Each racer would do a multiple climb/descent lap that was taking about 12-15 minutes to complete. They would then tag a teammate and so on until the whole team had gone. (men 4; women 3; juniors, 1 female, 2 male)  The races were super exciting to watch.  The US men finished 11th, the women 8th.

That afternoon we went to the closing ceremonies and the closing party.  After watching the Spanish and Italian juniors completely destroy themselves with the open bar, Team USA headed back to the hotel to get some rest.

Saturday February 16
Chad, Scott, Mckenna, Kim, Micah and I loaded all of our stuff into a van and drove to La Grave.  We sorted our giant pile of gear on the sidewalk, bought tickets to the telepherique and hopped on.  La Grave is famously known for it's steep skiing and we were excited to break out the bigger skis for the day and explore some of what it had to offer.  We cruised around pretty mellow terrain while trying to get acclimated and waited for Chad's friend to meet up with us.  We finally connected with his buddy who gave us some beta on where to ski and off we went.  Overall we had a pretty good day, skied some fun lines, and for the first time while in France, didn't hike uphill.

For a bunch of weight nerd rando racers we sure pack heavy. 

Sunday February 17
The whole group opted to go for a tour this day; the objective was a long easy day with a French style picnic.  I have to admit that at this point I was feeling pretty tired from the week, so I had a pretty easy time just hanging back and enjoying the incredible scenery.  We still skied over 6000' vertical feet, including some of the best turns of the trip.  Scott and Chad broke off about 2 hours in and charged with a very specific objective in mind, to ski Goleon Peak. They got shut down just below the summit, but they skied 10,000' of vert before returning to the hotel later in the day.

La Grave in the background during our French Picnic Tour

Skiing some pretty good powder, La Grave in the background- Photo Mckenna Douglas

Monday February 18
Mckenna, Kim, and Chad decided to head back over to La Grave for the day and get a better taste of what the gondola had to offer. Scott, Micah and I decided we could use one last tour before leaving the next day.  We went up the valley from La Grave to Vall de'Arene and proceeded to have the best ski day of the whole trip.  We skied a handful of long, steep powder lines. All of which had the best snow of the trip.  We could have gone for days up there, but we refrained ourselves from getting too out-of-hand and settled for another 6000' day.

If you look close you can see the 1st of the 3 lines we skied

Some pretty awesome mountains to spend some time in! Photo Micah Thatcher

Overall it was an incredible trip to France; great racing, great skiing, and great company.  I owe a special thanks to my wife Tanae for putting up with me training all of the time and allowing me to galavant all over the world racing.  Also a special thanks to La Sportiva, First Endurance, and Ultraspire.  These sponsors are critical in helping me pursue racing at this level; couldn't do it without you guys!

I hope to have a post in the next week or so reviewing some of the gear I took to Europe as well as my fueling strategies for the races.