I would say by all accounts it was mission accomplished for Team Canada at our first ever appearance at Rockyman Brazil. A unique format event in which teams compete for the lowest combined time. Six individual disciplines are contested by five team members, with any one team member competing in two events. As a full team of five you add one member (a steersman) for a six-man outrigger canoe race, and then you cap it all off with a team run over trail, sand and pavement in which all team members must stay together but the team is allowed to carry and use a skateboard as they see fit. Yeah, that's about as unique as it gets right.
Viewing entries tagged
I've kept my latest racing plans a little under the radar over the last eight weeks. This was nothing more than wanting to ensure I was 100% recovered from the lingering foot issues I've dealt with this year and not wanting to outwardly commit to a racing goal until I knew I was good to go.
Guadeloupe. What? Guadeloupe. Where? Guadeloupe. How? Guadeloupe. Huh?
My 2013 Race Report via IRunFar
My 2010 Race Report
It's time to do a quick blog posting and officially put this one behind me, though it'll linger and sting for quite some time.
First and foremost, I DID NOT drop out of the GD race due to COLD HANDS! Let's just get that one outta the way right off the top.
The coverage the Bryon and Meghan provide to the ultra running world via iRunFar is unparalleled and they deserve to be commended, in fact I was happy to contribute one small iota to their extensive coverage by lending them my smartphone which I'd purchased a French sim card for. I met David James for the first time, a great guy as I'd been told by our numerous mutual friends, and he took my phone on a greater tour of the Mont Blanc range than my own legs would afford my body during the race itself.
Back to my point, Bryon tweeted: Gary Robbins is "ok," but likely not continuing from Les Contamines. His hand was frozen. #UTMB
How that exact exchange went:
IRF: "Gary! How are you?"
Me: "I don't think I'm continuing. I'm okay though, I need you to let Linda know that please."
IRF: "Okay, I'll be sure she gets the message"
Me: as I shook his hand "Thank you"
It was another 30+ minutes before I even processed that my hands were cold. Bryon has simply added an observation to his tweet but it unfortunately read like the cause of my drop and subsequently I've answered more frozen hand questions than this guy
I'll try not to drag this out too much but when I arrived in Chamonix on August 22nd it was with a quiet confidence that I'd done absolutely all I could to show up on that starting line in the best shape of my life. I'd never strung together such consistency and stayed injury free for so long before. Including December's training for HURT I'd logged nearly 3,000 miles of training in the eight and half months leading up to my flight across the Atlantic. Included in this was a straight line focus on mountain running with the majority of those miles being on trail and over terrain similar to what would be encountered in France. My goal heading into UTMB was a top ten podium finish. I know I had the physical and mental abilities to pull this off, but in the end I never even made it out of the train station.
In the week leading up to the race I'd refreshed my mind with visits to many parts of the route.
Colorado based runner Brendan Trimboli joined me on these excursions and I was constantly amazed by how fresh and spry my legs felt, day in and day out.
Four days before race day I got a slight scare though, as all of a sudden I started sneezing and my face started leaking fluids. I hadn't been sick in over a year and it seemed unjust that anything could sideline my attempts at 'honouring my fitness' while in France. I define honouring your fitness as the constant reminder you need while digging deep in a goal race. You work so damn hard just to get to the starting line that honouring your fitness is about pushing through the lows and ensuring you stay focused on your race goals all the way to the finish line. To not honour your fitness is to quite on yourself, even momentarily during your race.
Getting sick obviously freaked me out and I started ingesting 5-6 packets of Emergen-C a day, which I always travel with. I also realized that a lot of times you can only seem to get sick when you allow a 'normal level of stress' within your body to cease. In line with this I attempted to keep my body a little physically stressed in the hopes that whatever bug was attempting to get the better of me would quickly f#@k off. It seemed to work for within 24 hours I was no longer dragging a box of tissues around with me.
Day Before Race Day
I headed out of my hotel, across the street to the Aiguille Du Midi tram parking area and then started up the trail for 30 minutes. I sat in the forest for a full half hour and cherished the relaxation that it afforded. I was confident that my mind and body were aligned and ready for the task at hand. I sauntered back down the mountain and did my best to relax for the rest of the day.
I actually really enjoy late day start times as it allows for a full nights rest. The day itself always manages to get away from you but in the end by the time I was following Julien's coat tails into the starting chute I felt at ease with what lay ahead. I was ready to run my own race and let the course come to me. A similar effort to what Mike Foote had laid down a few years prior, while starting slow, back around 100th and climbing all the way up to 11th was the grand scheme. Anything more than that would be icing on the cake I figured.
The pre-race insanity behind us, and the race was finally underway. After protecting my space and ensuring I didn't get my legs taken out from under me I ended up settling into a pack with the top English speakers in the field. Mike, Mike, Jezz, Tony and Amy just ahead of us. I was checking our pace and happy to see we were all staying controlled at somewhere between 7 and 7.5 minute per mile pace. I had opened up Fuji in 6.5 minute per mile pace so this felt like the exact pace that would allow everyone a nice warm up run into Les Houches.
As soon as you hit Les Houches the first climb presents itself. I watched Tony and the Mike's go to work and quickly disappear and I happily settled in with Jezz, Rory and Nuria. We alternated the lead occasionally with Jezz leading the majority of the climb. As we neared the 80% point of this climb was the first true inkling that something wasn't quite right. I effectively blinked as the terrain flattened and when I awoke from my brief stupor I literally found myself thinking "How did they get a gap on me like that?"
I had taken thirty seconds to assess why the hell I was feeling so terrible and in doing so had internalized so much that I'd lost site of what had happened externally.
"Whatever" I said to myself "Just slow down if you're not feeling it. Let the race come to you"
I watched Jezz and the girls disappear and started focusing on eating. I had already been eating consistently but anytime things feel off I try to eat in the hopes that the calories are at the root of the issue.
We dropped down into Saint Gervais and I slowed further. I was letting people pass me on the descent as all of a sudden everything felt like effort, even the downhills.
I smiled my way through the aid station. Fake it till ya make it. Steal some positive energy from those around you in the hopes that it will help you rally quicker. I reminded myself that every race has its low points. You can never predict when those lows will hit and though most times they are later in the race when your mind and body are at war over if you should be vertical or horizontal, I have in fact had races where the worst of it was very early on. I slowed further and was now full on coaching myself through this.
"This is okay. It's still way early. You'll get through this. Eat. You're not even in the mountains yet, you'll feel better once you're there. There's still at least 20 hour to go, don't fret. Etc, etc, etc"
The problem throughout all of this was that I was getting continually passed. I then spotted Hara (winner UTMF) and he was favoring one hip. I knew his day was nearly done and I patted him on the shoulder as I passed him, the one runner I'd passed in the last hour.
Right about then I realized that I'd been in my head for far too long. I simply needed to externalize some of this and I needed to speak English with someone. As if right on cue a British runner pulled up alongside me and asked how I was feeling. We commiserated and reiterated that we were both feeling terrible. It was nice, nice that is right up until I uttered the words "don't let me slow you down" at which point England walked away from me as though I were towing a sled. It was back to self coaching and it wasn't getting any easier. I was effectively attempting to talk myself off of that DNF ledge. My mind flipped between the anger at the very thought of the DNF and the reality of simply attempting to figure out what was wrong with me.
Another perfectly timed interaction. This time with John Tidd, the 6th place finisher at UTMF. John was an interesting character to me. He was the only non-sponsored runner on the UTMF top ten podium and he was the first runner in Hokas, finishing ahead of their team runners. A Spaniard living in South America who luckily for me speaks perfect English. Once again he reiterated that what I was struggling through was 'normal' and he mentioned that this was his least favorite part of the race and that it was rather 'deceptive' in how it played out. I knew John was a legit top ten threat and told myself it was time to wake up and go with him. Once again though, I had zero ability to even walk/hike the same pace as these guys. My shoulders and lower back started hurting and I could feel my hamstrings tightening. Things were getting worse.
As we closed in on Les Contamines and what was looking more and more like the end of my day I made one last ditch effort to rally my way through this thing. I had yet to be caught by my buddy Brendan so I pulled aside and waited for him. I started to feel dizzy when I stopped and I was thankful that he wasn't far behind. I told him how I was feeling and he went to work on coaching me through it. We ran towards the Les Contamines aid station together and I had convinced myself that if I could just run with Brendan for awhile it might help me snap out of this, or at the very least to continue further and see what happens. As you head into Les. C there is a tiny bump of a climb up to the aid station. Brendan walked it for the bump that it was. I could not believe how difficult I was finding this rock pile and I was passed by three more runners.
I was done. There was no denying that something was off, way off. I wasn't even 20 miles into the race and I felt like I'd run a hard 50 miles.
I told Bryon I was done and shook his hand. The twitter-verse thinks I've dropped due to a frozen hand, in 20 degree weather. It's not a fun night for me, and it proceeds to get worse.
My crew is the head of the S-Lab shoe design team and the man who patented the Salomon lacing system. He does his best to get me to continue, but I'm beyond done and I know it conclusively.
I pull my bib and while Patrick stays to cheer on a few friends I lay down in his car and fall asleep. It's 8pm.
I awake thirty minutes later and stumble from the car just in time to puke in the adjacent ally. I haven't thrown up in over 18 months. I've never thrown up in a race before, in fact I'd never thrown up for anything less than severe food poisoning, far too much alcohol, or a serious bout of the flu...oh and for Typhoid Fever, I threw up that one time I had Typhoid Fever.
Patrick returned with some friends and while driving me back to Chamonix I had to ask him to pull over so that I could get sick again. He thought it might be his driving as he was flying down the windy road, it was not as I wanted him to drive faster still.
A half hour later and we were back at my hotel. I thanked them for taking care of me, apologized for feeling like I'd wasted their time, and then ran up the stairs into my room for my third and final chunder.
I collapsed on the bed and tried to will a redo into existence. Where was my mulligan? How could this have happened? How the hell was I back in bed before the lead runners had even made it to the half way point of the race?
Shit happens...or more accurately I guess, puke happens. Some things are beyond your control and you can't go beating yourself up over things that you effectively have zero control over.
What I posed on FB the day after my drop:
After a restless night where my mind wouldn't allow my body to sleep I realize that I feel a little like the sports team that makes the finals but loses out after a great year.
I am attempting to remind myself of what a great season I've had and how successful 2013 as a whole has been, with the absolute highlight still to come. As a friend just pointed out, if a DNF is the low point of 2013 than it's a pretty good year by most accounts.
I'm exhausted, surprisingly and inexplicably sore, excited to be in the Alps on a beautiful day, proud of my North American brethren and Salomon teammates for great runs all around and astounded by what Rory Bosio just pulled off (7th overall with a new CR). It's a great day for ultra running and given that a Japanese runner won UTMF, an American runner won Western States and a French runner won UTMB it's also been a rather balanced year in this world. It's an exciting time for our sport.
On a personal level, I'm now completely homesick and longing to be with my bride to be Linda Barton and our furry family of Shazzar and Roxy. I can't believe I get to marry the absolute love of my life in just fourteen days! AND that we're going to have family and friends from around the world joining us for our party
I'm a truly fortunate soul, and that is never lost on me for even a second. I work tirelessly at creating a life that is full of joy and reward and in doing so there will always be a balance of disappointment and setbacks, but never regret. One step back, two steps forward. A bump in the road of life. Onward and upward. Thank you all for the support along the way, you make me feel blessed.
The pre-race odds are officially out via iRunFar and Talk Ultra.
Personally, even though I ran the entire UTMB course in a four day span last year prior to the race itself, I am kindly being reminded of the fact that though this race has a beastly 9600 meters of climbing, nothing on this course is beyond anything I've regularly trained over in the last few months. The grades are quite similar, if not slightly less, and the average climb is in the 700 - 800 meter range with the exception being one 1500 meter climb early and a 1500 meter descent a bit later. The average ascent I was tackling in North Van was right in this range of 800 - 1000 meters. All in all, I truly believe that North Vancouver is an absolutely ideal training grounds for a race like UTMB, even more so than some of the iconic areas you would associate with big mountain training in the US. I like where I'm at right now, both physically and mentally. I'm right where I need to be on a personal level and right where I deserve to be on the prognosticators lists, just marginally below the main radar tracker. There is a great opportunity in front of me in the coming days and I plan to take full advantage of just how hard I've worked to get back to here. I couldn't be more excited to be lining up on Friday and quite frankly there are few runners in this field who have trained as specifically as I have, while strategically limiting their racing and all the while still staying healthy and uninjured throughout the entire year. I can't wait to run this race!
In regards to last year's 53rd place finish, which has been mentioned but in which I never actually wrote a race report for. I'll sum it up briefly by saying this. I was approximately six months ahead of myself mentally vs physically and I shouldn't have been listed as a pre-race anything last year, including in my own head but sometimes you just have to go and take a chance. I knew early on that 2012 would end up being more of a recon for 2013, and I struggled heartily to not drop out of the race numerous times. The frigid weather and lack of accrued fitness took its toll on me. It was a full body struggle just to make the finish line and when I looked back on my 53rd placing a few weeks later I was surprisingly quite proud of it, for I feel that I actually managed to out perform my fitness and come away with an almost respectable result. This year will be different however. I am certain of that.
It's been a great five days so far, here's how it's broken down. I'm pretty sure that from here on out time will start to speed up and before I know it I'll be on the starting line at 4:30pm on Friday. The long range weather forecast is promising, and at the very least it's going to take something completely unexpected at this point to prevent us from running the full 168km loop, which would be the first time that's happened since 2009!
Day 1 - A mixed bag of sleep. Feeling tired. Run final climb towards La Flegere and continue up to Lac Blanc. Take the descent at a good clip. Very pleased to wake up the following day with zero soreness on my quads. My legs seem ready to go. I got engaged to Linda here last year and I visited the exact spot where that happened. Starting my week off right.
Day 2 - Wake up numerous time throughout the night. Meet up with Brendan Trimboli who I met at Orca's Island 50k in 2009 and we instantly become adventure / recon partners. We do the first climb out of Les Houches up to Delevret. Decent pace up and down. The rains hit pretty good in the afternoon and I'm reminded pretty quickly of just how finicky the weather can be at this time of year. Another great day out.
Day 3 - Wake up at 4am and find it impossible to get back to sleep. Brendan catches the bus in from Les Houches and we depart Chamonix at 8am. We cross the border into Switzerland and recon the 2nd to last climb out of Trient. It's a messy morning and raining when we start, yet somehow we end up with one of those special days out where the clouds enhance the scenery and the rains succumbed shortly after we began. Post run we took a slight detour into a gravel pit operation before rectifying our mistake and finding a once a year street festival in Martigny. The sun comes out and we're treated to a perfect afternoon.
|Missing start data. Should be rounded profile with 3400ft|
Day 5 - Finally a full night's rest. As with each night prior I'd wake up and hesitantly check my phone for the time, only today I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that I'd slept until just five minutes before my alarm would sound at 6:45am. Hopefully this allows for another good sleep tonight. I recall last year that it took the better part of seven days before my body balanced out and adopted a new rhythm. Today we drove straight through Mont Blanc via the 11km long connector tunnel to Courmayeur in Italy. The crossing costs 51 Euro so Brendan and I were looking to fill the car. It was nice have recent arrival and 2012 3rd place finisher Mike Foote join us along with friend of a friend Callum Stowell from NZ. We hit up Courmayeur for coffee before driving up the Val Ferret into Arnuva which is where the trail climbs to the highest point on the entire course, the Grand Col Ferret at 2537m / 8300ft. We sauntered but a mile uphill to gain the Refugio Elena, posed for some pics and dropped back down. It was a shocking visual reward for less than 5km of trail. Montrail runner Amy Sproston is staying right in Arnuva and we all grabbed lunch together before the guys hit the 11km stretch of tunnel back into France. All in all it was a perfect day as we had very little physical stress along with ample visual and caffeinated rewards.
I'll end with this, a funny side story. Last night at the 10pm start of the 300km long PTL Meghan Hicks from iRunFar introduces me to Michel Poletti, one of the heads of the UTMB races. She kindly says,
"I think Gary can finish top ten this year"
To which Michel, without hesitation, shrugs his shoulders and says,
"Weeeeeee shall see. We would like to see a top American (North American) finisher...." before he tapers out. It was pretty comical actually. He didn't even flinch in basically saying, "Yeah, heard that one before, a few too many times. Best of luck but we all know it's a European dominated race." In the end he's being nothing but honest, but something tells me there's a few runners from the other side of the pond this year who'll make some waves. It's gonna be fun to watch it all play out on Friday!
As promised at the Knee Knacker banquet: I'm not about to keep a coupon for free shoes from the very company I run for. My Dad will be short one Christmas present but I'm sure he'll understand :)
FREE SHOE DRAW!
|Prize winner can choose either Speedcross or XR Mission|
1) LIKE this page
2) Leave a comment (it doesn't even have to make sense or even be in English) on the above linked page to be entered into the draw
**Since I won the shoes at the Knee Knacker race I feel there should be a weighted draw in favor of other KK runners, SO anyone who ran the KK please simply include the letters KK in your comment and you'll get TWO entries into the shoe draw.
**If you don't use or believe in FB you can also be entered without the FB page like, and by leaving a comment below.
Best of luck and thanks for checking in on my blog.
I'll draw for the shoes on Sunday, July 28th at which point I'll roll out another prize draw for two of these suckers, which are currently sold out in Canada (at least that's what they tell me)
All the best with your playing, training, racing.
|I do not have a record of who took this picture and shared it with me.|
If you recognize the image please notify me so I can give proper photo credits
The fact that my calves were already feeling lactic while climbing unusually large and seemingly endless dirt stairs by mile four just reinforced the fact that UTMF was a bit of a different beast. A 100 mile run in which approximately 30% of the terrain was paved and fully runnable, yet the remaining 70% would somehow contain nearly 30,000ft / 9,000m of climbing and descent. It just didn't make any sense to me. The math seemed to be missing a variable. How steep could the terrain really be? Oh hardy har har har. The joke was in fact on us and the equation was about to be balanced, one painful mile at a time.
With a 3pm start time and a 5:30pm sunset my Princeton Tec headlamp was now shining bright. I had held my own over the opening miles and slowly moved my way up into the top ten, and then the top five. Within the first mile of this climb I now found myself up in fourth. Just two miles later and the course topped out at close to 5,000 feet, in which I was anticipating a super enjoyable descent. Though the terrain disappeared nicely at a near 35% grade in the upper portions I picked my way though it before I started to experience acute and intense foot pain. Foot pain directly where I had broken my foot twice before. Foot pain that I had not felt since getting back off of crutches over a year and a half prior. The pain would be brief but super intense and left no doubt as to its whereabouts, and it was freaking me the f#@k out. The sensation never lasted for more than the individual foot strike and was acute enough to balance perfectly with allowing me to continue racing while never allowing me to stop worrying about when it might flare again. A nice little internal dialogue ensued in which I basically told myself that I'd have to pull out of the race if it didn't somehow rectify itself. I've been in hospitals in New Zealand, Australia, El Salvador, Honduras, Oregon and Hawaii. I've filed over $20,000 in out of country medical claims (that have all thankfully been fully covered by my $75 annual policy) and I simply had absolutely ZERO intentions of adding Japan to my international hospitals list. At 36 years of age I'd really prefer if the next time I end up in a hospital is when Linda and I start a family in a few years time.
One, two, three, four, five. Five "f#@k me" moments in about an hour of running. As the terrain eased underfoot the pain within the foot disappeared altogether so I just decided to roll with it. In a funny conversation with friends after the race.
"It was an intense localized pain from about hour three till four, but then it subsided and I never felt it even one more time over the next sixteen hours of running"
By the time I'd reached the water station at about mile twenty three the foot pain seemed a distant memory, though I was then hoping that it was not going to be terrain specific and simply spike in pain again on the impending descents. As mentioned though it subsided and never flared again. As a preventative measure I actually had an x-ray on it today and even my Doctor could not believe how great the images looked. All is good and it just seems to be 'one of those things' that can happen when you go and run for a full day in the mountains.
I spotted Australian runner Brendan Davies hitting the water station ahead of me but failed to notice that I'd passed him in transition. About a half a mile after the water station there was a volunteer on the gravel road who was directing me to my left and onto a singletrack climb. The course flagging, which included reflective lights, pylons, volunteers, volunteers with mini light sabers and just generally anything and anyone in place to ensure you did not take a wrong turn was truly beyond anything I'd ever seen in a 100 mile race. It's a testament to Tsuyoshi Kaburaki, his team and the entire Japanese running community, and quite the site to behold. This volunteer directed me to my left. There were little blinky lights on the flagging tape up the climb. I looked left, then up, then up further, then straight up. I tried to make a joke in English to the volunteer which involved me using my arm like an airplane taking off. We were about to go vertical.
You never really feel like you're racing up this terrain as your cadence is so low, though the lack of oxygen reaching your brain leaves no doubt that you are indeed pushing to you maximum pace just to continue forward momentum. Before I realized it I was closing in on the headlamp of then second place French runner Cyril Cointre. I pulled ahead of Cyril just before our 50% grade climb gave way into a 53% grade descent. Cyril pulled right up to me and all of a sudden we were kind of caught up in a 'who's the better downhill runner' game among two guys who obviously prided themselves on how they could cover downhill terrain. Nothing about what we were doing felt overly intelligent but it was fun to have another runner to push the pace with.
After a slight uphill grind in the landscape I promptly took my head out of my ass and pulled aside, waving Cyril past and simply saying "you lead" to which I immediately let him go. We were less than thirty miles in and on the first of what was promising to be many sizable descents. It was far too early to be revving the pistons up. Not ten minutes later did my quads reiterate my decision by starting to cramp.
'You've gotta be kidding me' I thought. I glanced at my watch to see I'd been racing for approximately 4h30mins. 'This is bad. This is really bad. I don't know if you can recover from this Gary? I think you've potentially already made mistakes that are going to haunt you for the rest of the race.'
The Greatest Magic Trick I've Ever Performed. Disappearing, Reappearing, Disappearing Quads.
I huge component of ultra running and more specifically 100 mile running is the ability to constantly and honestly assess your physical situation so that you can make appropriate decisions that ensure you are able to perform at your optimal level. I was struggling through some tough decisions and realizations that also forced me to question the first 4+ hours of my day. Had I gone out too hard? Was I running someone else's race without noticing it? Could I maintain my current slightly slower pace without cramping or would I have to slow further? Was my race effectively done? Would I be forced to drop out? Would I even finish this race today? How could this be happening to me? Quad strength and resilience was one thing I worked hard at and prided myself on, how in the world could that be my weak link on this day? Were my quads getting better or worse? How was my nutrition? How was my nutrition? How was my nutrition? How was my...
I'd been doing a decent job at staying in the optimal range of 200-300 calories an hour since the race had begun but I had been ignoring the overwhelming sense of hunger that would not subside no matter how many race food calories I injected. Looking back over my day in that moment I realized that I'd in fact eaten very little in advance of the 3pm start. It was now 7:30pm and I hadn't had much of a meal in nearly twelve hours. The mere recognition of this seemed to prompt an unsettled grumble in my belly as if it were calling for help. I had a Hammer bar in my pack so I reached back and promptly devoured it. Sure enough, some solid calories combined with the slightly slower pace and my quad cramping subsided. This small victory felt pretty huge in that moment and I high five'd myself in my mind for working my way through it.
What goes up must go down and on this ridge that meant going up again, and then down again, and then up, and down and up and down and up and down again, and then for good measure you went up a sixth distinct spine before finally dropping some 2700 feet in just over a mile with a maximum grade somewhere in the 57% range. From start to finish this approximate 12m / 19k section took three full hours. An hour after the first quad issues my quads started to speak to me again. Once more I managed to eat them back into submission.
When we finally dropped down off this ridge we hit pavement and flat runnable terrain again. Time to wake up the legs!
As I was approaching the mile thirty-three aid station in third place, while running paved roads through a small town, a Japanese runner wearing #113 came screaming past me like he was in a 10k road race. The only thing I could figure was that he was looking for the accolades that would come with arriving at the aid station in third place while also being the first Japanese runner. There was simply no way that he was running a smart race and his pace certainly wasn't sustainable so I wrote him off without a second thought. Turns out most of us did. Hara Yoshikazu wasn't one of the pre-race favorites and I knew this when he passed me. I'd paid attention to who my competition was and who I needed to be aware of. Hara was in fact running his very first 100 miler, though he had won a 100km trail race in a time of 6h33m, which is pretty nuts. This of course was all information that I would not be able to source until after the race. In that moment Hara was just a runner that I was certain would either DNF or slow considerably and struggle to finish at all.
We could not have gotten any luckier with the weather for the race as just hours before the race started a few rain clouds passed over the starting line and we were concerned for what might lay ahead. In the end we ran under a cloudless sky AND a full moon! So bright was the night sky through this exposed section of the course that I managed to shut my headlamp off and simply run by the light of the night orb over my shoulder. Though we were covering a mix of paved and then gravel surface road it was at least an isolated backroad in the forest with absolutely no car traffic or outside distractions. It felt as though we were running through a park and with my headlamp off, lit from above, clicking off mindless miles of the race I found one of those rare and special moments of peace. This is why I do this I thought. This is special. This journey and sense of adventure is what I crave from life.
I have a storied history of getting lost in races. It was this and this alone that forced me to once again turn my headlamp back on as I knew I'd never live down missing a turn in the night because I was running with my headlamp off. Not two minutes after I switched my lamp back on though did I end up jumping over a dormant snake on the side of the road. Just an over sized grass/garter snake was my best guess but having been confronted by a brown snake in an Australian expedition adventure race once I at least decided to pay greater attention to where my feet were landing.
As the road angled upwards the motivation to continue running waned, but again there was no reason other than mental fatigue to break stride. At about this time I spotted Cyril up ahead and walking. As I caught him all he said was "how far?"
To which I responded "About 3km"
Taking it down a notch three hours earlier had saved my race.
There was a slight and slightly unexpected out and back as we approached the next aid station. Hara came running towards me, to which I spat out, "Wha!? Am I going the right way!?"
His general lack of response told me that his English probably rivaled my Japanese, and that this was likely an out and back.
Next up was Julien, now less than five minutes ahead of me. I was in third AND I'd managed to make up eight full minutes on him in that section, but Hara was now eleven minutes clear of me and showing no signs of weakness. It was clear now that Hara was indeed a threat on the day, a completely unexpected runner was not only in the lead but he'd been making significant gains over all of us on the faster sections of the race.
Out and back sections can be pretty tough in trail races. The forest and mountains can hide so much, with runners merely minutes apart never once catching a glimpse of each other. In referencing post race splits it's evident that nothing really changed through this section in terms of competitors behind me catching up, however they were now thrown in front of you like they'd appeared out of nowhere and were somehow running twice as fast as you. The out and back was only a few miles long and I said hi to nearly half a dozen people behind me. This had the effect of getting kicked in the nads repeatedly. Again like unicorn wings, not something I've yet experienced in my life, but basically how I'd expect it to feel.
I had JUST made up nearly ten minutes on one Julien Chorier yet somehow because there were half a dozen runners within thirteen minutes of me I became convinced that the wheels were coming off. So convinced of this was I that I started coaching myself for how to react WHEN those runners behind me caught me. In essence I was prepping myself for the inevitable letdown that would occur and attempting to rally in advance of this letdown to ensure that I didn't temporarily give up on myself WHEN those runners caught me. This is a common reaction when things like this happen in racing and basically I was recreating it in my head to attempt to limit my loses once it actually unfolded. I promised myself that I would make every additional effort necessary to latch onto those beasts behind me once they tracked me down and I'd fight like hell to keep from getting spit out behind them. All the while being 100% certain it was an inevitability.
Clearing another aid station without seeing a runner from behind and learning that I was holding my own against the two in front of me was reassuring. The next section of the race contained the literal and figurative high point along with one of the weirdest things I've ever heard of in a trail race, a mandatory walking section.
Immediately after departing I was instructed "no running in this section." This had of course been covered in advance of the race but now that I was confronted with its reality I was disappointed that the terrain was in fact so damn flat and easy. To be all alone in third in a highly competitive 100 mile race and then to self govern walking over terrain that you would be forced to run if you sneezed or caught your toe on a rock was a bit torturous. It demanded trusting that your opponents were in fact honouring the same rules as you. Given that Japanese culture is probably the most honour based society on the planet I convinced myself that should I chose to run I'd surely be struck down by some god of the trails and have my foot clear severed in half should I break their code of conduct. Not a minute later I came across two volunteers almost hiding in the woods and holding up a sign in English,
I was congratulated with a ceremonial golf clap for adhering to the rules. Truth be told though I was shoulder checking the entire time while attempting to channel my inner Olympic speed walker, swaying my hips hither and tither and had I spotted a headlamp closing in on me I was prepared to erupt into a sprint as there was no way a gap of the minutes I possessed could be honestly closed if everyone were walking, speed walking or not. I saw no lights and was thankful for it. The flat slowly steered itself upwards and before long a hike was all anyone would be able to sustain anyways
As we topped out at the highest point on the course at just under 6,000 feet the full moon illuminating Fuji immediately to our left, as we were now on her flanks, the landscape transformed itself into a lunar style volcanic rock. Volunteers manned the high point and said in broken English,
"Okay to run"
I basically asked them to repeat those words three times before I exploded into a scree field of volcanic rock, taking a few kilos of it with me in my shoes to deposit at the next aid station.
|Photo Credit Shinpei Kosecki|
Hearing that I was eight minutes back I was hoping to make up five minutes over the next ten miles of the course. I wanted to arrive at A8 - 121.7km and hear the words,
"You are just three minutes behind the leaders!"
If I remember correctly it was 3:30am what I started into the climb and felt just slightly better than Death on a Monday after a long weekend. It was finally time to use my greatest weapon, my music. I pulled out my MP3 and bluetooth earbuds and fired it up. Within minutes I was wide awake and moving faster over the mountains than even I would have guessed possible. Singing out loud, pumping my fists to the beats, anticipating and embracing the terrain ahead rather than fearing it. The music in my ears quickly made me feel at one with the earth under my feet and though I'd hesitate to say I felt like I was floating over the terrain I became confident and almost hyper aware of my every stride. This confidence lead to more unencumbered running than a body wearing nearly 13 hours of constant movement would normally possess. My questions about IF I was making time on Hara and Julien were replaced by questions about HOW MUCH time I was making. I simply knew that with relatively consistent splits between all of us over the last forty miles that I was now outpacing my nearest competitors.
The sun started to rise and presented a scene of beauty that left me nearly pinching myself. Fuji in all her glory, a full moon lingering off her shoulder, a red blanket colouring the horizon, and a Lake Yamanakako appearing from within the shadows down below as though a curtain had been drawn back on its slumber. A brief moment after digesting all of this and there were photographers and videographers dotting the landscape in front of me. They'd positioned themselves for just this moment in the race and I threw my arms in the arm and screamed,
"Can you believe this! This is AMAZING!!"
I came around the corner and he was right in front of me. I had no inkling that I was so close to Julien
As I pulled up alongside him he asked, "Who's that?"
I responded "It's Gary"
Even though we'd met a few days earlier and spent enough time together via the team to become acquaintances he just was not expecting to see ME and hence did not process who Gary was. I pulled alongside of him and as he looked over to see just who was there he inadvertently uttered "Oh non non non"
This was comical for numerous reasons, not the least of which was that he just seemed to have blurted out his thoughts more than anything else in particular. I managed to translate what that meant into English though.
"Umm, excuse me! Non, non, non. There's a clause somewhere in your Salomon contract that states that you can not pass Julien Chorier. I think you need to step aside and revisit what you signed IMMEDIATELY you smelly Canadian bastard."
(Julien could not be a nicer person. None of what I said above was actually thought by Julien, at least not that I know of. He in fact came up to me post race and specifically commented on how impressed he was by how I was moving at that point in the race...before he laughed at me for beating me and jabbed me in the eye with a French flag...and he even apologized for not realizing who 'Gary' was in the moment. Class act all the way with a great sense of humor as well)
I had just passed Julien Chorier. If I'm not mistaken Julien had yet to be been beaten in a 100 mile race and his resume is stoopid stacked with amazing results. It was mile 75'ish and in that exact moment in time it was the best I'd felt compared to where we were in the race all race long. My Imagine Dragons song I referenced in my HURT race report was next up on my playlist and the trail cut left and proceeded straight down. My adrenaline was pumping and within two minutes of passing Julien I could no longer see him behind me on an open section of trail.
I'D WON THE RACE! It was mile 75 and I was in second, but with all the positive emotions that had collided inside of me it was like a cheetah had mated with flying squirrel that'd co-evolved with a flying fish...that'd be one badass creature with wings mind you, I was dropping miles like I was counting in the 90's for distance and not the 70's.
Mile 75...76...77...78...79 into the aid station with cameras and live feeds and the unexpected 2nd place runner getting his fair share of early accolades.
"How do you feel?"
"Like this race is about 21 miles longer than I'd realized"
I was in and out without seeing that not only was Julien just over five minutes behind me, but he had now teamed up with fellow French legend and co-pre-race favorite North Face runner Sebastien Chaigneau.
I knew within a mile of departing the aid station that I'd given too much too early. I'd made a mistake and now I had to pay for it. This was my sixth hundred miler yet I should have and do know better than this. I was internally scolding myself as I processed just how bad the damage was.
Could I finish? Definitely, eventually, with a 48 hour cutoff at least I would hope so.
Could I catch the lead runner? Absolutely not.
Could I hang onto second place? Doubtful. It's not like Julien Chorier goes 'oh I was passed by a runner. On no no no, I guess that is that and this race is over for me, it was nice while it lasted'
Could I hang on to top ten? I certainly hoped so but honestly I was in a bad spot and I knew it.
Head down, go to work. Don't think, just do. One foot in front of the other. Eat, drink, repeat. Distract the mind as much as possible. Try not to look at the mileage on the Ambit as it's clicking off slower than paint drying. Try to stay positive. Try not to freak out at the fact that Julien has just passed me while I was filling my water bottle at the next water station. I swear he shot laser beams through me with his eyes as if to say don't even f#@king think about trying that shit again!
Try not to look straight up at the fact that this climb appears to go on forever. Try not to freak out over the fact that Sebastien, who I haven't seen since mile five, has just appeared out of thin air and is passing me like I'm moving backwards. Am I moving backwards? Hard to tell but either way I'm giving it all I've got.
Seb tells me the worst is yet to come.
"Yup, steepest section of the race is yet to come."
Nothing, and I mean nothing on my course profile eludes to or prepares me for what's to come. I honestly thought I was about to the top of this section, the apparent last significant climb of the race, but in fact I was on false summit one of three and the top was a clear cut rock scramble. I LOVE rock scrambling, when I go out for a f#@king ROCK SCRAMBLE not for a 100 mile running race!
Foot hold. Hand hold. Foot hold. Slippery mud from the frost overnight that's melted in the sun. Literal movement backwards. Hand hold. Root Hold. Rope Hold.
Am I having a heart attack?
No you just wish you were so that you'd have an excuse to stop.
THE TOP! Shit you've gotta be kidding me. The downhill is so steep that I have to use the ropes on the trail to make my way down the supposedly easier side of this mountain. Only six more miles / ten kms of downhill to go until the final aid station.
A10. Mile 90. KM 143
They tell me the splits to the three runners in front of me. I laugh in their faces. I grab my supplies reminding myself that I'd still really prefer to finish 4th over 5th, and 5th over 6th, and 6th over 11th. I feel like the finish line is somehow moving further away from me. I detour to the actual aid station and literally twelve volunteers behind the table stand at attention and almost try to 'sell me' on their foods in front of them. They're wonderful. All of the Japanese people have been. Everything in this race save how I've actually run my final twenty miles has been wonderful. I take a slice of orange and everyone celebrates in unison. I realize I'm the first runner that's touched anything outside of my own supplies that my crew has laid out for me. I eat five slices of orange and they count off each and every one. It's comical and heart warming all at once. I thank them in my best broken Japanese and get on with my near but not quite death march to the finish line.
It's not the climbing miles that scare me it's the flat and downhill miles as those are where I'll lose the most time to my stalkers.
About 45 minutes later,
"Eight miles / thirteen kilometers, all downhill"
It was toughen up time and I was really struggling to convince myself that this would all be over shortly, and that the faster I ran the sooner it'd end. I walked and shoulder checked more than I care to admit. Then I caught up to the very last runner in the shorter STY race. The three sweepers around him were all but literally sweeping him off course. I detoured his way and threw my arm around him and told him how strong he was, how he was almost home, how everyone would be so proud of him. I knew he wouldn't understand the verbal language but communication and support comes in many forms. He found me on FB two days later and thanked me via google translator. I told him how much he'd helped me without realizing as much. I think in hindsight I was attempting to speak to both of us.
The terrain gave way to a steep gravel road descent. I leaned forward under the assumption that inertia would propel me forward and that somewhere tucked away deep inside I actually cared if I fell on my face or not and I'd prevent that from happening by moving my legs faster than they'd moved in hours.
I was too close to quit now. Too close to not win 4th place. We passed through a temple at the bottom of our last climb, right before the gravel gave way to pavement. The temple and temple grounds looked impressive and warranted stopping to appreciate them further, at least that was the latest argument that popped into my head as an excuse to stop torturing myself.
I could see the finish line now, though it was closer in sight than it was in running distance as we were to run an arc around the lake and across a bridge first. Purgatory. My legs started cramping. I didn't care. One mile. A half mile. A quarter mile. Nothing but cheers and applause. Nothing but smiling faces and positive energy and love. Nothing but pure elation.
|Photo Credit Shinpei Koseki|
|Photo Credit Koichi Iwasa|
The hardest 100 miler I've ever run.
The most talented field of runners I've ever gone up against in a mountainous 100 miler.
I couldn't be happier. I couldn't be more proud...in that moment I thought as much, but just sixteen hours and fifteen minutes later I was happier still, I was far more proud.
Thank you Japan
Thank you Kaburaki
Thank you amazing UTMF volunteers and organizers
Thank you Team Salomon, especially my crew who I could not have succeeded without
Thank you Justin Jablonowski and Rich White for hosting/helping me/us in Japan and motivating us to sign up in the first place way back in November
Thank you Kim and James for the surprise congratulations decorations upon our return home
|My amazing crew. Photo Shinpei Koseki|
I sincerely hope to return again and to ideally spend more time in Japan appreciating and exploring the culture and the history further. I've dreamt of going to Japan my entire life. I've dreamt of running an internationally competitive mountainous 100 miler since 2008. I've dreamt of being healthy and at the top of my running game since 2010. I've dreamt of Entering the Ninja since I was five years old. Three out of four ain't bad I guess, three out of four ain't bad.
|Photo Credit Shinpei Koseki|
PS: I have an athlete page on Facebook now and an online like will help grant you three wishes!
If you like this page within the next 24 hours you will find something amazing in your life.
If you like this page within the next 12 hours you'll be rich beyond your wildest dreams.
If you like this page within the next 6 hours you'll have the skills of a Samurai bestowed upon you in your sleep
If you DO NOT like THIS PAGE something you love will be tragically taken from you while the whole horrific incident it is inexplicably live tweeted via my Twitter feed. Feel free to follow me on Twitter as well, though I'd strongly recommend against it if you don't LIKE THIS PAGE!
|New for 2013, Salomon Sense Mantra - my favorite!|
I started using this for the first time during the Mountain Masochist 50 miler in early November. It was my third time running the race and there were some climbs that had forced me into power hiking during my previous two times on the course. I knew I was trained and ready to race, and that I should be able to finally run the majority of those climbs. My goal was sub 7 hours which I feel I would have run had there not been snow on the course, and of course had I not detoured for almost six additional miles. Anyways, during those climbs I still had to fight my tendencies towards power hiking. I still had to convince myself in those moments that I had it in me to run terrain I'd never run before.
I simply chanted in my head "Fight, fight, fight...fight, fight, fight" and low and behold I forced myself up and over the steepest parts of the course faster than I'd ever done so before. It wasn't easy, but it isn't supposed to be. Fight.
I've never been one for mantras, but for me, this simple word sums it all up perfectly. It was a long few years fighting through injury. It was difficult to fight through the lack of confidence in my own abilities after being down for so long. I had to fight day in and day out to stay motivated during my own training and to believe that I would get back to where I once was.
When you line up at a race you're out there to fight against the course, against the weather conditions, against the competition, and most of all against your own internal dialogue and weaknesses. You have to fight through all of this to stay focused if you want to get the most out of yourself come race day. For me recently, it's come down to simply reminding myself that it's not supposed to be easy. To achieve your absolute best, you're going to have to learn how to fight, and the hardest battle we all wage is against ourselves and right inside our own minds.
"The mind is weak. The body is a machine. Control your mind and your body will be forced to follow."
One other Mantra I've acquired recently has already lead to happy feet and fun times on our local trails. My favorite new shoe! The Salomon Sense Mantra.
Here's A quick video review on competitor magazine
The Mantra is based on the S-Lab sense that Kilian wore during his 2011 winning run at Western States.
"The Mantra adds only a few essentials to make it friendly for everyday running; a little more cushioning, a little more protection, and a longer OS tendon to return more energy.
Natural motion construction for running has a lower heel drop, supporting a midfoot or forefoot-oriented stike, better enabling muscles to absorb more shock instead of joints and ultimately building greater balance and overall running efficiency."
My debut in the Mantra via STRAVA. A brand new shoe for 2013 and it already owns some of the KOM's on The North Shore:)
You can follow along on the live webcast on Sat as of 6am Hawaii time (two hours behind PST). Umm, I'm using a tablet app to post this and I can't seem to link specifically to the webcast, here's the address that you may have to copy and past to get it to go: http://www.ultralive.net/hurt100/webcast.php
In terms of how I feel and where I'm at, all in all I think it's hard to arrive at a January 100 miler in better health and fitness than I currently find myself. Hopefully that means something come race day.
I got out on the course for about an hour today and it seems to be drying out quickly. Recent first hand reports had the course in rather rough shape after quite a wet late Dec and early Jan. During today's run it was certainly slick in sections, and it would run much more challenging than the last few years however, as has been mentioned to me by a few locals now, with any wind and no rain in the next 31 hours we could in fact find it to be in prime condition come 6am Saturday. Either way, whatever is presented to us, I'm incredibly excited and thankful to be able to step back onto the HURT course one more time. I'll actually have to run right past the spot where I last broke my foot, ten times throughout the race, and I am 100% certain that I'l recognize exactly where it all went down. It's been quite a journey these last few years and as I sit here tonight, blogging when I should be sleeping, it is with anxious excitement to get back out onto what truly are some of my favorite trails in the world.
As you follow along here's a reference point as to how I ran the race back in 2010. I'll be straight and say that I'm hoping to run as close to this as possible, maybe even a wee bit faster if conditions and my legs allow for it. It looks to be one of the more competitive fields they've seen here at HURT, yet another reason to get excited about race day!
Alright, here's a few pictures if they'll post, then off to catch up on some zzzzz
Jan 16th, 2010
Lap 1: 3h40m
Lap 2: 3h42m
Lap 3: 4h04m
Lap 4: 4h15m
Lap 5: 4h31m
1) Start to Paradise / Manoa
2) Paradise / Manoa to Nuuanu
3) Nuuanu to Nature Center
Wish me luck,