Viewing entries tagged
salomon

"Help Is Not Coming" - The 2018 Barkley Marathons

55 Comments

"Help Is Not Coming" - The 2018 Barkley Marathons

Howie Stern Photography

 

It was 1:30am on Wednesday, March 21st and we were in Knoxville, TN. The temps were just below freezing, with a stiff wind gusting over people. Snow was accumulating on the ground and my family, collectively my parents, wife and son, were walking between the hotels in the immediate vicinity asking if they had any available beds for the night. We had of course booked our own hotel that evening, and we were all in fact sleeping soundly just minutes before, but currently there were a few hundred people braving the winter conditions in their pajamas as firefighters streamed into the building.

When the hotel alarms were triggered my mother thought it was her alarm clock, and she called front desk complaining that she couldn’t turn it off. She was informed that this was the fire alarm and she was to evacuate immediately. My own room, with my wife and son, was half a hallway away from my parents, but my mother and I somehow opened our doors into the main hallway in unison and I waved at her with that look that says “damn fire alarm, I guess we should evacuate just to be on the safe side.”

I walked down the hall with Linda and Reed, towards my parents, whose room was directly across from the second floor stairwell. As I was getting them all set someone barreled through the door onto the second floor, with their full rolling luggage bag in tow. He looked like he was being chased by a bear and he simply yelled, “FIRE!!” then promptly dove back into the stairwell and outta site.

Okay, shit, this is actually happening right now!

I direct my family down the stairs and then walk back the length of the second floor saying in a calm but loud voice, “There is a fire in the building, please evacuate immediately. There is a fire in the building, please evacuate immediately.”

It was amazing to me in that moment how many people were still attempting to wait this out in their rooms. The alarm noise leaves no doubt and certainly no desire to attempt to ignore it. My head hurts now just recreating this and thinking about it. I ducked back into my own room to grab my wallet and keys to our rental SUV, as I was now envisioning that we’d be spending a few hours out in the cold. I had thousands of dollars in electronics with me, between my computer, battery packs, watches, etc, etc, but I stayed calm and rational, all of that was replaceable and I wanted to be in and out of my room in a matter of seconds, so I didn't even attempt to take more than my wallet and keys.

I did one final check of the entire second floor and no one remained, so I headed down the stairwell and out into the frigid night to locate my family.

 

When Linda and I had checked in exactly 24 hours earlier we were placed in a “non-smoking room” on a smoking floor. I had no idea smoking was even allowed in hotels any longer, but here we were. I retreated to the front desk and asked if in fact there was a non-smoking room available on a “non-smoking floor”, what a concept. The front desk attendant was helpful enough and we were moved one floor lower. I mentioned my folks were checking in the following day and requested the same for them. Linda and I were initially placed in hotel room #313 and I’d later discover that the person in room #312 (the one we would have been sharing a wall with) had fallen asleep while smoking in bed.

 

My wife, son and I had arrived in Tennessee 26 hours earlier, and it had already been an eventful first day up to this point, what with an ER visit for our two-and-a-half-year-old son’s first ear infection, and our rental car agency messing up our reservation and not having a child seat available for us upon arrival. I had a full Jerry Seinfeld moment;

“You see, you know how to *take* the reservation, you just don't know how to *hold* the reservation. And that's really the most important *part* of the reservation: the holding. Anybody can just take them.”

Hands up in the air and all.

By all accounts our first day had not gone so smoothly, but that’s why we decided to fly in a day earlier this year, to get all of the rental car issues, hospital visits and hotel’s burning down out of the way early.

I eventually located two available rooms at an adjacent hotel, and at 3am we all attempted some fitful shuteye.

I don’t believe in omens. I don’t subscribe to luck, but it was undeniable by this point, I’d been sensing for quite a time that nothing was going to unfold the way I’d hoped it would at this year’s Barkley. Every time I had this fleeting thought of impending doom, which had been ongoing for weeks, I’d repeat a Macklemore lyric in my head (mock me if you will, I really don’t care. That’s not the lyric, that’s me talking to you) “they ain’t givin’ it, I’m takin’ it” and it was just a reminder that I had to get my headspace right and to not allow any expectations, distractions, or excuses to creep in. Nothing about the Barkley is supposed to be easy, you want an excuse, I’ll give you 100 of em in under a minute, “they ain’t givin’ it I’m takin’ it”… “nobody’s gonna make this happen but you Gary, control what you can control and forget about the rest.” The hotel fire would make for a great story and It was but one night of lost sleep. I didn’t even talk about it again until after the race, because as we drove out of Knoxville and towards Wartburg, it was already literally and figuratively, behind us.

Frozen Head

We arrived at Frozen Head late on Wednesday and were greeted by a familiar site in an unfamiliar location, snow, and lots of it. I managed to get out for a sundown run up England Mountain and the snow drifts along the top were shocking, some being knee deep. “This could get interesting” I thought, but the forecast for the following days was promising enough and most people expected the course to be free of snow come race day.

 

One of the rules of the Barkley, and Frozen Head State Park, is that you’re not allowed to depart the ‘candyass’ maintained trails at any point outside of the race. If you are caught going off-trail outside of the 60 hours of the race you are removed from the race by Laz immediately and escorted out of camp, likely to never be drawn back into the event again. I was hoping for a bit more daylight so I could scout my end of lap five error from 2017 a bit further, but within minutes of cresting the high point I had all the information I needed. Twenty feet. Six meters. That is the actual margin of error that lead to my coming in from the wrong direction one year ago. Twenty feet at the end of 60 hours of effort. I never did write a race report about it. I sat in an internet café for seven hours on a rainy day in April last year and I had managed to recreate all but one paragraph of my experience. I just didn’t have the desire to relieve it blow for blow. A common misconception that’s taken hold is that I hit the trail and simply turned the wrong way, going right instead of left. I knew I was to go left and was expecting to T-junction with the trail. If I had, I would have turned left and run down into camp to close out the race with a few minutes to spare. I would have become the 16th finisher of the Barkley Marathons, and I wouldn’t have been standing there now, staring down thoughts of why and how, and attempting to put a positive spin on things.

 In the end I learned that in 2017 I was about twenty feet too far west, and the trail curls away at that point. When I finally found the trail I was parallel to it, while knowing I was supposed to T-junction with it, then I trended into it, more of a merge really, and somehow as the trail was on my left at this point my 60-hour sleep deprived brain went “left side, left turn, all the same, you’re on the trail now run it in!”

Anyways, they say American football is a game of inches, and the Barkley is no different. Small mistakes rapidly become big mistakes, and that was one of my mantras this year, along with "go slower, to go faster.”

 

Friday arrived in no time and before we knew it the map was out and things were getting real. There were three changes to the course for 2018, two of which favoured the runners in terms of appearing to be slightly faster than the previous book locations, whereas one book location was most certainly much longer than the year prior. In the end I guessed this 2018 course to maybe be in the range of 7-12 minutes longer per loop, or 30-60 minutes harder overall.

The total climbing stats for 2018 would come in at 13,484ft per loop, or a whopping 67,420ft for the full pull. If Laz adds one more 500ft climb to the mix in the coming years, the Barkley will be a 70,000ft race! Read that again and let that sink in.

The Conch Is Blown

Save for our fire alarm evac on Tuesday, I’d slept great all week, and thankfully Friday night proved no different. I passed our just after midnight, after already being in bed for three hours, and likely ended up with about six hours of reasonable sleep. When I awoke just after 7am I eased into the morning and the conch was eventually blown at 8:33am for a 9:33am start. Jamil Courey and I were the first two runners to greet Laz as we awaited our official “Barkley watch”, the $10 Timex piece that is the only watch you are allowed to carry for the race. This watch is set to “race time” or “zero time” so when the 24hr watch goes to zeroes you start running. When the watch hits 12:00 on your third day, time has officially expired (60 hours).

My strategy was simple going into the first loop, go slower to be faster, get through it mistake free, refresh my memory as to the nuances of the course and go from there.

Just prior to the start I’d somehow managed to bump my watch and it reset the seconds back to zero. The seconds must’ve been counting up in the 50’s, about to turn over to a new minute, because my watch showed the race starting about a minute early, and I was scrambling just a bit to get through the pack at the back and up near the front as we all streamed past the yellow gate. We were about ten minutes into the first climb when I questioned someone else as to the start time and then realized my watch was out by over a minute. Runners know that the watches will be out vs the “master watch” that Laz wears but only by a few seconds over the duration of the 60 hours, and by coincidence when I initially compared my watch with Laz’s we realized my total time variance for the 60 hours would be seven seconds, meaning my watch, set to race time, could not go above 11:59:53 on day three. Not that any of this ended up mattering in the end, but it is just another example of the attributes that make the Barkley so unique.

As we worked our way up the first climb, on a few miles of candyass trail, this was the slowest I’d ever started The Barkley, following my race plan perfectly. In the previous two editions a lead pack pushes off the front and crests the first climb in about twenty-five minutes. We were closer to thirty minutes and there were at least 8-10 runners in front of or around me. We snagged our first page and proceeded to drop off the mountain towards book two. The race always seems to splinter here, as runners scramble for position after the first backlog of pages being pulled, and this year was no different. By the time we intersected the river below I’d found myself at the front of the race, earlier than anticipated, and already down to a group of about six.

The more eyes the better, was also something I’d been telling myself. No need to shrink the field until we’ve at least collectively located the new books together. I had mentioned to Guillaume Calmettes a day earlier that I intended to up the pace a bit after book seven, which in the clockwise direction would be the third and final “new book location”, but until then I saw no reason thin out the field.

Our now lead group nailed book two, thanks in no small part to Nova Scotia’s Jodi Isenor (a previous fun run finisher) and as the book gets handed around to pull pages I glance at the cover. The book is titled “Six Seconds” and I temporarily lose my mind. “F@#K YOU LAZ!!” He is an expert at mental warfare. As we started up “hillpocolypse” which in the clockwise direction is the first off trail ascent of the race, our group consisted of myself, Jodi, Guillaume, Jamil, a Scottish bloke named Ally Beaven and another overseas runner whose name was James. Before we topped out on this climb we’d be down to four runners and I’d be down to one trekking pole, somehow managing to snap one of my poles within minutes of pulling them out.

Jamil Courey certainly knows the course well and he was a huge asset as we proceeded along without issue. When we arrived at book five, the biggest change of the year, he zoned in on it like a hawk. It was really impressive and I knew my decision to not forge on was paying dividends.

What was really surprising to me was how well Guillaume know the course. He’d done his homework, having travelled out just a month or so earlier to run all of the trails you’re allowed to scout outside of race weekend, and Guillaume took the lead on some sections as he was in fact the person in our group who’d been over some of the terrain the most recently. All in all, we were moving right along and accomplishing exactly what I’d set out to do, which was to put in an error free first loop.

At book seven, the third and final alteration to the 2018 course, I went right to a set of trees that matched the description, had a poke around, saw nothing, and began moving away from there, then Jamil comes in just behind us, goes to the exact set of trees and pulls out the book. This is one of the things that people fail to recognize about this race, you can literally be standing on top of the book at times and you still won’t see it unless you dig for it. Books are buried in tree stumps, under rocks or just anywhere that makes it as hard to locate as possible. Jamil informs us that “this was the location of this book in 2014.” Cool, good to know. Okay, all new books have now been established and it’s mostly smooth sailing in regards to my own course knowledge.

For the first time in my three attempts, the course goes up the infamous “Testicle Spectacle”. Over the past two years the book near Testicle has been off to one side of it, in 2016 it was in the left hip, if you will, and 2017 was in the right hip, so I’ve never done this route in its entirety, and I’m excited as it feels like a right of passage.  

It had rained overnight from Friday into Saturday and we were warned of an incoming “weather event” from late day Saturday into Sunday. As we started up Testicle the hill just continues to slop away from under us. It was a complete pile of mud and not a single inch was gained without slipping backwards to some degree. I was no longer enjoying my right of passage. The thrill of the new climb had lasted all of, well, six seconds really.

We crested the climb, now down to three, myself, Guillaume and Ally, and proceeded towards book eight. My line was off a bit and sure enough captain consistent Jamil catches back up to us. I lead us all up Danger Dave’s Climbing Wall and the onwards towards Rat Jaw.

Rat Jaw is a bitch. There is not a single picture ever taken of Rat Jaw that can accurately display its gradient and inherent challenges. Every year pics are posted from Rat Jaw and inevitably people following along online think “oh that doesn’t look so bad” “oh hill x-y-z that we have here locally is at least that steep.”

We were in for a special treat on Rat Jaw this year as the recent rains, not just overnight but over the last few weeks, had turned its clay like dirt into a vertical skating rink. No matter how fast you are moving up until that point, or how strong you might feel, Rat Jaw is am absolute soul destroying grind from bottom to top. There is an old cable that lays on the ground along some sections, and this cable becomes a life line. You drag yourself up this slope, one agonizing step at a time, and then you hang on for dear life on the downslope, using the cable as you would a climbing rope that’s been strung over a rocky slope to allow for safe passage.

By the time we’d topped out it was but myself, Guillaume and Ally. We might have been a few minutes slower going up than I’ve been in previous years on the first lap, but we’d exerted so much more energy in doing so. It was a fight for every step and for the first time in my three years at the race I actually had the thought, on the first lap, of “I can’t even imagine the effort that’ll be needed to get up this thing on laps three, four and five.”

Bottles filled, page pulled and careening down the mountain. I slam hard at one point but immediately bounce back up and keep running. My tricep is screaming at me and I think it’ll dissipate, but it never does. I attempted to arrest the fall by leaning into a pole and ended up straining my arm. Even as I type this almost a week later the tricep still has a ways to go to get back to 100%. Only at the Barkley are you as likely to experience an upper body injury as you are a lower body injury. The amount of upper body strength needed for the Barkley is often underestimated, and it’s a whole-body workout for two and a half straight days.

We went through the prison, up and over the final two climbs and down into camp after what could readily be described as a perfect first lap.

With about a mile to go, Guillaume says to me, “so how long do you think you’ll spend in camp?”

I’ve had a year to digest last year’s failure. I’ve watched Ethan Newberry’s documentary about it 17 times on the big screen (WhereDreamsGoToDie.com). I do not see six seconds as being the difference, I see the better part of 45 minutes that could have been improved upon. Goal #1 for 2018 was to be more dialed in camp, to be better organized from the start, and to “leave no doubt”. Leave nothing for chance. Be better, from lap one through lap five.

Laz changed the rules around camp for 2018 and each runner was allowed but two crew members. This meant Linda +1. This meant no Ethan, no Kim and no Shaun Martin. In the end my crew ended up being Linda + John Kelly, and we shared John Kelly with another runner, the aforementioned Jodi Isenor. John would have his hands full, crewing for two people, but there was no better person for the job. I was honoured that he’d dedicate his weekend towards my own hopeful success. My parents were staying at a hotel in Oak Ridge and would come to camp for Interloopal, taking Reed off of Linda’s hands so Linda and John could focus on the task at hand. Every – second – counts.

Me to Guillaume, “five minutes best case, seven minutes worst case.”

Guillaume, with a pause…”okay”.

We hit camp in 8h38m.

In 8h45m, after a full gear change from head to toe, socks, shoes, shirts, lube, everything,  I was sprinting back out of camp. It was, easily, the best I’ve ever felt after a lap at the Barkley. Things were going perfectly.

I spotted Guillaume and Ally scrambling to get to the gate to claim their second lap bib, as I was exiting the campground. I did not have a desire to move on without them, I had a desire to finish the race. Every – second – counts.

There was about ninety minutes of daylight remaining when I departed camp on lap two. For 2018 the direction of the loops was set as;

1. clockwise

2. counter

3. counter

4. clockwise

5. choice

The Second Lap - Counterclockwise

I put in a good push to get up and over the first climb, claiming book #13 (or the first book going ccw). As I dropped down the first off trail section of lap two I thought it about the right time to pull out my headlamp. The weather, as had been predicted, was setting in and it was foggy, cold and starting to rain. They were calling for up to 30mm of rain. The “weather event” had begun.

I clicked on my headlamp but nothing happened. I tried again…nothing. Tried one final time, but still zero. I always carry two primary headlamps of 350 lumens, the Princeton Tec Apex rechargeable, and a third emergency light of just 100 lumens, the PT Remix.

I attempted to fire up my second Apex light but it too was dead. This had never happened before. I pulled out my backup, backup light and turned it on. There was no way in hell that this emergency light was sufficient for navigating in the dark, and I didn’t even have spare batteries for it. I was far too far out of camp to head back and fix this. The sun was all but gone, the fog had rolled in, and my race, was about, to end…

“GUILLAUME! ALLY! GUILLAUME!! ALLY!!”

I knew they’d be close, but if I was unable to locate them I’d be hooped as there were no other runners close to us at this point.

Thankfully Guillaume started whistling back to me and we worked towards each other through the dense laurel brush.

“Oh my god, thank you! My headlamps are both dead, do either of you have a backup main light?”

Neither did but both offered what they did have. Nothing added up to a working solution though (extra batteries specific to each lamp) and I was forced to continue with my “AAA” powered Remix. I need to explicitly state at this point that my headlamps were not malfunctioning. It was not a product issue but a user mistake. We as a crew made an error and learned a valuable lesson in real time. The lamps were both dead, but through no fault of the manufacturer.

Myself, Guillaume and Ally were a team again, whether they liked it or not 😊

I lead us to our second book and as we made our move towards the third book a pack of runners headed our way at the end of their first lap. I asked everyone if they had any light source or “AAA” batteries to spare and a TN runner was kind enough to spot me his emergency light which was also “AAA”. This would at least get me closer to being able to cover the 12hrs of darkness we were now confronted with. (if you are reading this please message me so I can get your light back to you)

As we navigated towards our next book the epicenter of the storm started to unleash on us. We had curtains of rain rolling over us and visibility was down to about a foot or two at most. Neither Guillaume nor Ally had ever been on the Barkley course at night before, this was their first counterclockwise loop, we were in a rainstorm, on a pile of mud, in the Tennessee wilderness, with temperatures in the single digits, and their fearless leader had 100 lumens of light to work with.

The death by a thousand briar cuts had begun.

We blew this book in significant fashion and by the time we did locate it we were all soaked through to the bone and on the cusp of hypothermia.

“Guys, put on every layer you have, this is not going to get any better and we won’t regret it if we somehow end up being a smidge too warm on the next climb up Rat Jaw.”

I was now wearing a long sleeve merino wool base, a short sleeve tech shirt, and hooded wind jacket, a waterproof jacket, a buff, a toque, I had a second thicker pair of gloves that I switched into, I had on a short pair of tights under a full pair of tights, and now pulled on my waterproof pants. On the bright side, my pack was now much, much lighter.

Guillaume Calmettes is certainly one of the most positive people you’ll ever meet, and he exclaimed with a smile, in his thick French accent, but with perfect English “ADVENTURE!”

Ally Beaven possessed a great sense of humour, the ability to tell a good story, and most importantly he understood the golden rule of not complaining out loud.

I would have classified us squarely in the middle of being a “Dream Team” and “The Three Stooges”.

We dropped down towards the prison in the most deranged conditions I’d ever witnessed on this slope. It was like the ground was no longer solid but had somehow decayed into a foreign, much more malleable surface. If I could not visually process that I was moving across a supposedly solid slope I would have guessed it to be ice and snow underfoot. Each time we slipped, and we slipped plenty, we’d go for a ride downslope of about five to six feet before coming to a halt, often against a rock or tree, and then we’d be forced to pick ourselves up and attempt a few more feet of actual forward progress. It reminded me all too much of this:

I mostly nailed this descent, placing us just a tiny bit south of our intended target. We claimed our book and proceeded to the prison tunnel.

I have done the prison tunnel and Rat Jaw ten times in my first two years, this was now my 12th pass of the tunnel. Down the center of the tunnel is a cement strip that’s about five inches wide and six inches high. If you are not wearing a headlamp you loose site completely for about 25% of the tunnel in a complete blackout. Jared called this one of his Barkley games, to see if you could navigate this while essentially blind and I’ve adapted this game. On lap one I’d make it through the tunnel without falling off and getting wet, now on lap two, by headlamp, I was presented with something new to me. The tunnel no longer offered a slab of concrete down the middle as an option. There was one steady stream of water flowing through the tunnel, seven plus inches deep throughout. We still tried to stay on the concrete as the water was only an inch above this, but unbeknownst to me there are “inflow” pipes up above and at one point a rather vicious waterfall from above forced us to hug a sidewall. We were essentially fording a river, through a tunnel, at night, under a prison. It was right about then that I started questioning where I’d gone wrong with my life? Up until that point I'd mostly believed that I'd made reasonably good decisions with my life, but in retrospect, my epiphany was that I’d just managed a positive spin on a series of really bad decisions. I do really stupid things, and I do them with stunning regularity.

Anyways, not like I'm making any big life changes at 41 year's old, might as well forge ahead as is...at the exit of the tunnel there was genuine concern for not getting washed over the edge, into a five plus foot drop.

“ADVENTURE!”

We cleared the tunnel and heaved ourselves up Rat Jaw, crawling through the mud and briars every step of the way.

John freaking Kelly was waiting up top yelling encouragement at us through the fog. There’s a fire tower up top and I couldn’t help but picture Lieutenant Dan in the Forrest Gump film, sitting on the topsail yelling out into the storm,

“IS THAT ALL YOU’VE GOT!?”

John informed us that we had at least another six hours in this weather, but that it should start to ease through the night and, as forecast, it would blow through and the next 48 hours were in fact promising. He also admitted to me later that he got lost in the fog, on maintained and sign-posted trails, while heading up to the fire tower to cheer us on. I was uncertain in that moment who was more miserable, us, while plodding through this thing, or John, wearing every layer he owned and standing out in this mess awaiting our arrival.

We were effective through the next few books, skiing down a mountain of mud on both Rat Jaw and then Testicle, and fording the New River to start up what’s known as Stallion Mountain and the back-half of the course going CCW. I couldn’t help but think of Blake Wood, a true legend of the sport and Barkley finisher who during one particularly rough year found the New River impassable on lap five due to heavy rains, and he subsequently was unable to finish that year through no other reason than he didn’t have a boat with him. Laz instituted a workaround for any future years should this happen again, with a prescribed reroute, so we couldn’t even claim that this was the worst year on record, though we were later informed that it did rank right up there.

We made good time all the way to the top, snagged our book page and then turned to descend towards our next book, dropping through a feature known as Cougar Rock.

Guillaume was on lead, he was near perfect through this section in daylight on lap one, but this was a different beast entirely at night. In hindsight, I became a passenger, and it cost us dearly. When you’re dealing with conditions like we were it hinders your judgement, there’s no time to stop and reset because stopping for even a moment leads to a deep shiver that originates in your core. To move is to stay warm, to stop is to freeze. If you start shivering you might not be able to recover from it, so you push on. It is not until we are fully cliffed out that the severity of our situation overwhelms us. We’re in a bad spot, we’re lost, we’re bleeding time, and a misstep by any of us could lead to a serious incident. We retreat, we reset, we work together to figure things out, but the damage is done. We right the ship, find Cougar Rock, nail our next two books through what’s known as The Garden Spot, and find ourselves correcting for a small error on the third to last book.

We’re now down to the final two books and our best case scenario for this lap is 13hrs – high.

The lead is back to me and with limited light I struggle. I’ve already gone through two sets of batteries for my own headlamp and am now borrowing Guillaume’s backup light. A major marker I’m searching for is a sign off the side of the trail, it is less than two feet from the trail, I know this, I am looking for it, I completely proceed right past it and start down an unfamiliar trail and am confronted by a sign I’ve never seen before that reads “legacy tree”.

“F#@K.”

I scream back up slope to Guillaume who is third in our line,

“Did I miss the sign!? Can you see it?”

“Yes, it’s here!”

We retreat, reset, and then struggle with this descent. For the second straight lap, I snap my pole in pretty much the exact same location. We are anything but smooth and the clock is ticking. We eventually locate the second to last book and start up the second to last climb of the lap.

In the fog mistakes are made, I miss by a few degrees and we’re once again scrambling. I have a deep pit in my stomach. This feels fatal.

We locate the trail right at daybreak and I ask the guys if they’re okay with me pushing onward, saying every second is vital right now. They’re totally cool and off I went, somehow feeling like I was up against the clock on lap two, instead of lap five.

I got chased off the trail a short time later by four wild hogs but no harm was done. I get up and over “Checkmate Hill” snag my page and absolutely careen down into camp. Lap time was something like 14h30m. My entire body is numb, not from pain, but from fear and frustration.

The weather has passed and the forecast for the day is nice. I did a full gear change and bathroom stop, but there was a lot to address after that loop.

To add insult to injury I was up against the absolute worst chafing I’ve ever experienced in my life. My Squirrel’s Nut Butter had more than done the trick on loop one, but something went wrong on the second lap. I was continually reapplying but things were getting worse. It was not until I stripped down that I could spot the cause. I was caked in mud from head to toe, and we were so cold overnight that removing gloves just wasn’t an option. Every time I relieved myself I was inadvertently introducing mud into my tights and I’d created a sandpaper grit effect. I was officially no longer having any fun, though at least I knew it’d help keep me awake from here on out.

Linda learned to make sushi in the months leading into the race. If you want an idea of how all encompassing this race has become for our family, Linda spent months this year helping me with my food options for race weekend, and Reed has a tattoo across his shoulders that says “My Daddy has made it further in the Barkley than your Daddy.” Of course this means we can’t hang out with John Kelly, or Jared Campbell, or Blake Wood, or David Horton, but that’s besides the point, this thing never really leaves us alone for too long at a time. Linda stuffed a sushi burrito into my hand and walked me to the gate for my third lap.

I got out of camp before Guillaume and Ally arrived, and it was once again daylight. There was 12h15m left on the clock for the 36hr cutoff to begin my fourth lap. I knew I could manage an 11h30m lap if I pushed hard, and if I was calculated and focused. This wasn’t over yet. I also finally established my favourite direction of travel, clockwise, which would be the direction of the final two laps should I make it that far. In the CCW direction the “handrails” into books are a bit subtler than in the CW direction, and I am therefore faster and far less prone to errors going CW. I just had to lay down an 11h30m lap and to leave 12h45m on the clock for lap four. I believed in my heart that going clockwise was faster and that this was still within reach.

“I can do this, and I will do this.”

 

Lap 3 - Counterclockwise

I ran out of camp and focused on going fast when things were certain and slowing right down when they were not. I tripled checked everything, and though this lead to a few more minutes being eaten up, it subscribed to the “go slower to go faster” race plan.

I arrived a Rat Jaw a full 40 minutes quicker than lap two and there were a ton of people there to cheer me on. I was getting into some eating issues now, as I approached 27 hours of continual movement. I’d find myself dry heaving a bit here and there, but was thankfully still keeping things under control. It is a fight to keep the calories coming, and if you’re not dedicated to the fight than you’re all but done. At one point I opened an Endurance Tap maple syrup gel, sucked it into my mouth, but realized I was going to dry-heave again, so I promptly spit it right back out, but I spit it back into the resealable pouch, got over my dry-heaving, and then sucked down the vital 100 calories on my second attempt. I actually patted myself on the back for that one. “Nicely done” I thought, “that’s a first”.

I dropped off Rat Jaw and had legs. I was moving well and the rains were behind us. I just had to keep pushing and stay focused.

I made great time through Armes Gap, across the New River, and back up Stallion. A small bump once again near where we messed up one lap earlier, but I was triple checking things so my small mistake stayed as just that, a small mistake.

Howie Stern Photography - descending Testicle Spectacle

The next few books were uneventful and I have ten pages in my pocket. I was doing some math and figured I was on pace for 11h45m at worst. I would have 7-10 mins camp time and be out on lap four with maybe 12h20m or so to work with. I was thinking about a lot of things, about if it were possible, about how this had gone wrong, about what it would mean to finish under these circumstances, about how fortunate I am to have such a wonderful family, my parents, my wife, our beautiful son. I was thinking about how much I wanted this, how much me and my wife have invested into this already, how much a finish would mean to us, forget everything else, that’s all white noise, this is for us. I’ve dreamt of becoming a Barkley finisher for ten years now. I was thinking about how good I felt overall, now having eclipsed 32 hours. This is probably the best I’ve ever felt at this point, though I was already on loop four by this point in my two previous attempts.

I was thinking about so much and getting into a nice running rhythm, I was thinking about absolutely everything BUT the one thing I should have been thinking about, book three.

There are varying levels of difficulty between books and some are considered “a gimme” compared to others. Book three is a gimme so you can often treat it as such…

“Whoa, did I miss Bald Knob!?”

I continued around the corner, seemingly confirming in that moment that I had gone too far, then I backtracked and headed up to claim my page.

I was about ten minutes up the slope when things started not adding up so much…

“Did I f@#K this up!?”

I pulled out my map, confirmed direction, moved up slope about another minute, and there it was, the Emory Gap Campground site…

“F@#K! F@#K! F@#K!”

Jared and I ended up here two years ago, at least I knew where I was. I shot a bearing and went to work on correcting my mistake. Maybe ten minutes later I pulled my page from the third book. This error, in and of itself was shitty and detrimental, but not fatal, it’s what happened next that buried me. I somehow dropped down off of Bald Knob too far North, thinking I was West. I thought I’d missed a prominent trail intersection and that I was South of where I needed to be. It’s at this point that I should point out that I’ve never gone more than 31 hours at the Barkley without sleep. I didn’t feel like I was necessarily sleep deprived, but this entire thought process is rather inexplicable to me post-race. I ditched another fifteen minutes piecing this back together, then really wanted to puke when I did a time check.

“GO, for f@#k sakes Gary, GO!”

I ran to my next handrail and then did something I’ve always struggled to do, I got the CCW descent into book two absolutely perfectly. I was still in this thing! About a quarter of the way down I spooked a dozen hogs of varying sizes though, and they continued down the exact line that I was. The last thing I needed was a standoff or a charge from one of them so I made as much noise as possible and after what felt like an eternity they finally dropped off of my line and to the west.

I ripped my page from book two and leaned into the second to last climb in the CCW direction. The sun was setting and my headlamp, which we’d figured out, was back on my head and shining brightly, all 350 lumens of it.

I made good time up Checkmate Hill and ripped my final page. I know my best case time from here to the campground and it didn’t look good. I had to get up and over England in record time and then lean into the descent to camp like my life depended on it.

I got over England, found the trail, hooked a left, and flipped my watch…I double checked the math, then triple checked it…checkmate.

Even if I found another plain to exist on for the next few miles I’d still come in about 90 – 120 seconds over time. I took my time dropping down into camp, not wanting Linda to worry about me once time expired, but also not wanting to rush the inevitable. I wasn’t ready to step aside, I hadn’t even gotten to the hallucination phase of the race yet. I trained for a 60-hour effort, not a 36-hour effort. “I’m not even going to lose all my toenails” I thought. Is there a greater indicator of failure at the Barkley than NOT losing all of your toenails? Probably not.

 

 

The Barkley Marathons is a personal goal that I am dedicated to. To finish, is akin to breaking a course record at a lot of other events, things have to go right, and some years it can feel like the odds are stacked against you. I want to go on record right now as saying the race was doable this year, I have no doubt of that. If you look back through the history of the event there is a higher likelihood of a finish when two knowledgeable veterans are able to work together through four full laps. Just one year ago John and I formed a great team in which we were continually correcting each other’s errors to prevent any small mistakes from becoming big ones. Having said that, the course has been completed numerous times by an individual, Jared being just one of them, and I believed that I had the skills to do that myself as well. I have the physical capabilities to outwork many of my mistakes, but until I eliminate those “zone outs” and “passenger periods” for 60 full hours, a finish will elude me, for as John Kelly so eloquently stated,

“The Barkley will find your weaknesses, and it will exploit them.”

I had described the experience going into this year like I was a prize fighter. One year ago, after being decisively ahead on the cards going into the 12th and final round, the Barkley got me with a lucky punch and left me TKO’d. It was the hardest defeat of my life and I’ve had to wait a full year for my rematch. This loss is more shocking, but somehow slightly less devastating, since I never even made it to the championship rounds.

As I sit here typing this I have but one “Barkley toe”, not ten (a completely numb toe). I will likely loose but three toenails, not the full set. I am tired, but not obliterated. I am sore from head to toe, cut up by briars, and flush with the usual unique recovery issues post-Barkley, but I will probably head out for a short run sometime this weekend. I did a 36-hour race, not the 60 hour event I’d set out to, and I am unsettled and rife with emotion.  

A Barkley finish likely means more to me than it should at this point and there’s been a crescendo through three years now that would have made for a perfect storybook ending this year, but that’s not how life works sometimes. I simply cannot express my true gratitude to everyone who has followed along and sent well wishes and words of encouragement along the way. This is my purge, please understand that this is my way of telling my story, and it is my preference to not have my life and every single interaction become about the Barkley Marathons. This has evolved into so much more than it should have. There was one goal, it was not accomplished, I’m proud of what I did do, but finishing a Fun Run is not even close to finishing the actual race. I don’t want to be “picked up from this”, that’s the reality and that’s where motivations are forged from. If I was okay with this already I would question how much I really wanted it to begin with. I will stand tall again when I am ready to, but right now I am processing my shortcomings and this is as valuable as any BCMC mountain lap repeat I’d perform in training. This is a period for introspection.

I will return for a fourth go, but honestly we don’t know when that will be. This is not like a year ago where we knew we were going again the following year but we didn’t want to talk about it, we really don’t know when we’ll go back and a decision won’t be made until well into the fall. I’ve missed my skis quite a bit this winter. I’ve missed having more days to teach my son to ski. I’ve missed having more adventures with my wife on a day to day and week to week basis. There are a lot of variables here.

In the grand scheme of things, this is just a race and these are trivial matters. My wife and I have our health, we have our happiness, and we have each other, and in the end, that’s all that I’ve ever wanted or needed. I will say that in three years the Barkley has brought us closer together and for that I’m forever thankful. Linda and I have always been a team, but we’re a tighter more cohesive unit than ever before, and our son Reed will reap those benefits throughout his life. Linda said this to Laz before we departed the park;

“In the end this is just a stupid race, put on by a funny man.”

True dat babe, true dat.

You can’t put yourself out there without expecting to fall flat on your face from time to time, sometimes literally. Life is not easy and pursuing the limitations of who you are will certainly be wrought with unforeseen challenges, but as long as you keep your head up and keep pushing onward towards your truth, towards your belief in who you can be, you will learn to enjoy and cherish the journey, to find positives where others only see negatives…even if you end up reaching your ultimate goal a little later than you may have expected to. Even if you find yourself at that destination a few years further along than your planned arrival time. 

GR

To Guillaume and Ally, I have no idea what either of you said at any point in time (that whole French and Scottish accent thing), but I did enjoy your company, and I really enjoyed your headlamps. Well done out there! Very impressive first go for both of you. 

To the Kelly family, John, Jessi, kids and John’s parents and cousin: Thank you for extending your home to us and for taking such great care of my wife, son and parents while I was on course. You’ve taken a race that’s already special to us and brought it to another level.

To the Barkley family, Laz, Sandra, Rawdog, Kathy, Dave, Ed, Gail, Keith, Rich, Mike and on and on, and all of the runners from around the globe. You are what make this so special. You are why we keep coming back. You are why we as a family will return again, at some point, because believe it or not, we really like you guys 😊

To my sponsors, thank you for believing in and investing in me. Salomon, Suunto, Princeton Tec, Drymax Socks, Trail Butter, Endurance Tap, Squirrel's Nut Butter.

and supporters: Fortius Sport & Health / Matt Thompson RMT 

To my parents, I love you so much and I'm so happy you were there and that you got to establish such a wonderful bond with Reed throughout the week. (this is but the second time my father has seen me race and the first time my mother has been to one of my races, given that we live over 7000km apart and I didn't start running till I was long free of the nest.)

To my son. You'll regret that tattoo when you're older.

To my wife. I'm sorry you learned to make sushi for nothing, maybe we should have relied more on the ketchup this year. #backtoketchup20??

Photo Thanks to Michael Doyle / Canadian Running Magazine

The following eight images are thanks to Howie Stern Photography

These final eight images are some of my own from the week

55 Comments

About 50% of What I Came For at CSP118 Spain

8 Comments

About 50% of What I Came For at CSP118 Spain

Well shit, that didn't exactly go as planned. 

There were so many great things about today that it's hard to believe it ended in a DNF. 

I was fit and ready, tapered properly, acclimated to the heat (after a week in Mexico + a week sauna training), injury free (even some small tweaks I've been working through for about eight weeks were fully at bay today), my nutrition was dialed, and most of all I ran a really intelligent race.

8 Comments

4th Place at Rockyman Brazil

Comment

4th Place at Rockyman Brazil

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.

Comment

7 Comments

Finding My Way, at the Cascade Crest 100


Pre-Race

When I signed up for the Cascade Crest 100 miler it was with the full knowledge that attempting to run 100 miles just six days after directing three trails races over two days, plus a film festival component was never going to be easy. The Squamish 50 is my baby and I’d never do anything to compromise the race day experience, so I went about business as usual and waited until the show had concluded on Monday to take stock. Nine hours of sleep was what I’d managed over the three days of the race and in all honesty that was more sleep than I’d expected and right in line with what I was hoping to pull off.

The week leading into Cascade involved unavoidable daily naps flanked by pulling course flagging and attempting to tackle all the post-race logistics. Our very close friends Eric Purpus and Kelly Bolinger had rented a cabin (house) in the forest just fifteen minutes from the starting line of Cascade Crest and on Friday Linda and I drove down to Easton, WA. Around dinner time I realized I hadn’t run at all in four days and thinking that couldn’t possibly be good prep for running 100 miles the following morning I hopped out the door to run up and down the service road for twenty minutes.

“That should just about do it. Alright body, you ready for this?”

“Not at all.”

“Perfect! Nothing could possibly go wrong.”

Cascade Crest is a race that Linda’s been trying to get me to do for quite a few years now. The only reason I hadn’t yet targeted it was due to the timing surrounding UTMB. Having gotten sick in France last summer and failing miserably in my attempt at a top ten finish I was starting to wonder if it were possible to direct a high level and highly stressful event just a few weeks before a big goal race. Cascade Crest was an experiment in timing as much as a test of fitness and resolve. Given that the start/finish is all but a six hour drive from our door in North Vancouver there was little to lose, at least in terms of the financial investment surrounding international travel.

Race morning came early, though with a 10am start time it’s quite a civil environment. The CCC (Cascade Crest Classic) has a strong family feel to it, especially for us given that Linda is from Washington and has run the race herself before. The RD, Rich White was in Linda’s wedding party and most of the aid station captains and volunteers are good friends of ours. We arrived on site about an hour early and simply got wrapped up in social hour, which is quite pleasant in contrast to the stress that normally prefaces such endeavors. In hindsight, I realized that I only drank a few cups of coffee prior to the 10am start, as in no water, no other fluids and a very slight breakfast. Fatigue and dehydration were about to become the themes of the day.

That National Anthems were sung and off we went. A competitive field had gathered which included pre-race favorite and recent 2nd place Western States finisher Seth Swanson (15h19m!). In all honesty, my goals going into CCC were to shoot to better the course record time of 18h27m (Rod Bien) while also recognizing that barring injury, Seth was sure to better this mark himself. Secondary goals included shooting for sub 18 hours and attempting to be within fifteen minutes of Seth with twenty miles to go.


Go Time

After a few flat and easy miles the race climbs over 3000ft through Tacoma Pass. I told myself going into this race that I’d be certain to start off slow and easy and I’d successfully done just that over the first sixty minutes. Seth was leading away with Matt Hart in 2nd and myself, feeling comfortable in 3rd. A pack of runners including Phil Shaw (former winner), Jeff Hashimoto and Andy Reed trundled along just behind us.

Two and a half hours passed without issue. I’d let Seth and Matt pull away slightly as I stuck to my “take it out super easy strategy” and I found myself running alone in 3rd. We started into what appeared to be our first sizeable descent and it was evident very quickly that things were off, way off. My legs started cramping up. It was a warm, sunny day with temps getting up into the thirties, but it was also the end of August and I’d been running in these temps all summer long. It was mid-day and the sun was beating down, but this was very abnormal pain. I started the self-assessment, where had I gone wrong? What did I f#$k up already? I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I hadn’t take it out too hard. I was on top of my calories and fluids. Was it just pure fatigue from the weeks leading into the race? I had no idea, but I went about rectifying it in the only way I could, I slowed down further and ate more.

By three and a half hours in it had only gotten worse as my legs were fully seizing up on me. I’d only had this happen to me during a race twice before, in the 2009 Western States 100 and the 2011 CSP115 in Spain. At Western I was 80 miles in and at CSP I was half way to the 115km finish line. In both instances I sucked it up and walked my ass to the finish line. In both races race day temps were pushing 40 degrees.

I was now forced into a full walk on any downhill terrain as my legs were completely tweaking out on me. I could power-hike uphill just fine but could not run uphill. Flat terrain was runnable but not without shooting pain in my quads. WTF was going on?

Stampeded Pass is at mile 33 / kilometer 55 and I was death marching my ass there with what seemed to be a certain DNF awaiting me. This angered me to no end. I had DNF’d UTMF back in April with a foot injury and UTMB one year prior after falling sick on race day. Prior to that I’d never DNF’d a 100 miler in my life and for a brief period in time I was convinced I never would quit on myself in a 100 mile race, yet here I was, about to quit for the third time in my last four 100s. There wasn’t a monkey on my back; there was an ape that had me in a headlock. How could I be so weak? What has happened to my resolve? Who am I and what’s happened to character I used to know as being stubborn and tough enough to finish anything no matter the cost? Why, just why?

As I slogged my way towards Stampede runners started streaming past me. Canadian Andy Reed was first to do so and I patted him on the back and told him to have a great run and to make Canada proud. The towel had been tossed. My day was done and the self-loathing had already begun.

“I’m done with this sport. I suck at this. I’m too old for this shit. I’m a quitter and I’m okay with it.”

“Are you Gary? Are you really? Does any of this sit well with you?”

“F#$K no, of course not!”

“Then find a way. You used to be really good at just finding a way.”

“The finish line is still over 110 kilometers away.”

“How much time do you have left to get there?”

“All damn day, 24 hours or so.”

“Then let’s go just go for a walk and see what happens. You can do that right?”

“Yeah.”


 “Sometimes the moments that challenge us the most, define us.”
―Lewis Gordon Pugh


I had to let it all go. Ego, expectation, hope, every single goal I’d had for CCC save for one. Just to finish.

As I approached Stampede Pass good friend Phil Kochik from Seven Hills Run Shop was out cheering runners in.

“G-Rob! Yeah man, good stuff!”

“It’s not my day Phil.”

“Sure it is! Still lots of race left to go buddy!”

I stumbled into the Stampede Pass aid station. my crew consisted of my wife Linda Barton-Robbins, Justin Jablonowski (5th CCC 2013), elite WA based runner Maxwell Ferguson who was to meet up with us later in the race, and Ben Gibbard who ran my SQ50k race in 2013.

This was the second time my crew had seen me, and even a few hours earlier they knew that my day was not progressing as we’d all hoped. As I arrived plenty of friends were cheering me along, but I stepped aside to chat with my crew and I asked to sit down. Aid station captain James Kirby looked at me in disbelief,

“YOU DON’T SIT DOWN! YOU CAN’T SIT DOWN HERE!”

It was the tough love that any great aid station captain should deliver, but Linda gave him a solemn look and he understood immediately.

“What can we get you Gary?”

“I don’t know, watermelon I guess.”

Ben darted away only to return a few seconds later with the lowest chair in the history of mankind. I sat down all of two inches from the ground and questioned if I’d ever get out of the thing under my own steam.

I ate, I drank, I sobbed internally and maybe even a bit externally. Runner after runner came through, spent less than a minute on site and continued on. Linda, Justin, Ben and now race director Rich White were all gathered around attending to me. Time stood still for me but not for anyone else and twenty minutes had passed before they were all attempting to get me out of there. James Varner of Rainshadow Running came over in his coconut shell bra and frilly grass skirt. James has been a good friend for years.

“What’s going on Gary?”

“I don’t know, my legs just aren’t working; they’ve seized up solid over the last few hours. I can’t run at all and it’s gotten to the point where even walking downhill is painful.”

“What have you eaten? How much fluid have you consumed? How’s your electrolyte intake?”

“Lots. Lots. Not much actually.”

“It’s pretty hot out here today, here take four of these electrolyte tabs now and two more every thirty minutes for the next little bit. What’s the worst that can happen right?”

James’s words rang out like an air raid siren in my head. Had I really made a rookie mistake like this? I know electrolytes are a “hot topic” of debate these days, but on a personal level I’ve always needed a regular consumption of electrolyte tablets to race cramp free, especially during hotter races.
James Kirby came over to check on me and give me a nudge that it was time to get out of his aid station. He saw what was going on and had heard everything I’d said. He asked me point blank:

“Do you want to finish this race?”

I looked at him, “Hell yeah I do.” And I did. I didn’t care how. I just did.

While I was downing my electrolytes and going over things in my head my crew were up in my face mocking me to no end, in that loving “you need to get the f#$k outta here way.”

Justin “Do you need to poop? Maybe you just need to poop?”

Rich “I always feel better after I poop. You should poop.

Linda “Don’t poop your pants?”

Ben “Pooping your pants would be bad, you should poop.”

Me “FUCK YOU GUYS! I’M OUTTA HERE!”

Having the right crew saved my ass, from poop. They got my poopy pants off and got me moving again. I walked outta Stampede in 8th or 9th place, but at least I was moving again and I now knew that no matter what, I was going to finish the damn race, even if I had to walk the damn 110km to get there.

Maybe the heat was getting the better of me. Maybe fatigue from race directing the week before had taken it outta me. Maybe my lack of actual water consumption prior to the race had dehydrated me. Maybe I just gaffed on my electrolyte consumption. Core body temperature can also be a factor in cramping, so on top of adding in regular electrolyte consumption I started detouring to every water source on course to get myself cooled down.

Go Time - Take Two

Within thirty minutes of departing Stampede, I started to rally. I had honestly given up on much of a turn around and was just content to continue working towards an actual finish, but all of a sudden the seizing ceased. My legs started to work again. The damage had been done, however. My quads were fried. I felt every single step in each quad muscle, but something wonderful was also occurring: it wasn’t getting any worse. I started to up my cadence a bit and shortly thereafter I passed a runner. This simple act of passing one person completely triggered my compete level again.

“Maybe it’s not over just yet.”

Mile 38 and I passed Phil Shaw who was also suffering from what appeared to be cramping. I offered up what I had but he said he was “fine” and he cheered me on as I ran past. Gotta love the comradery of ultra running.

By mile 40 I was feeling better than I had all damn day, minus the quad tightness, but again, it had gotten no worse. I resolved myself to the fact that I’d feel every step all the way to the finish line; however, not only would I reach the finish line, I would do so while competing and attempting to salvage my race.

At the mile 40 aid station I congratulated Ultra Pedestrian Raz on his then recent accomplishment of a fully self-supported traverse of Washington State, though in the moment the details eluded me and I spit out something along the lines of,

“Raz, congrats on your, uh, thingy-mer-bob. Nicely done and stuff.”

To which of course he laughed. My crew were here including my dog Roxy and I went about my new mission of eating each aid station out of soup. After about five minutes I was politely ushered out.
At mile 47, Scott McCoubrey of Seattle Run Co. and White River fame was taking care of business, as he does every year.

“You look great! You’re in sixth. Second through sixth are all within ten minutes of you. Second looks terrible and is likely gonna be the first to falter.”

“What! Really?”

“Yeah man, they’re all within striking distance.”

“What about Seth.”

“Off the front.”

“Figured as much.”

I delved into the soup and spent far too long at the aid station, but I knew that my body was still fickle and the best way to ensure success over the final 53 miles was going to be utilizing the aid stations and not rushing through them.

“Time for you to go Gary!”

“Yeah yeah.”

Hyak Lodge is the virtual mid-way point of the race at mile 52. You arrive at Hyak via a decommissioned rail tunnel that’s two and a half miles long! Hyak was but five miles away and the pack were about ten minutes up on me. I wanted to get back on board while I was feeling well and I told myself I’d close that gap now before it became too late and in case things started to truly go sour again. I pushed harder than I had all day, a little too hard however for as I was clicking out the flat miles through the tunnel at slightly under seven minute mile pace my entire left chain, from calf to hip, completely lit up. I hadn’t experienced pain like that since my first 100 miler at Stormy back in ‘08, but I didn’t even care. I felt like I’d already been through too much to give it a second thought and I grimaced as I plowed through. I knew that the flat running was brief and it seemed to be aggravated by flat more than anything.

Hyak Lodge, the mid-way point. My full crew in attendance including Max as he was now ready to jump in and pace me. They erupted.

“You look amazing! One guy hasn’t left yet, he’s still sitting in a chair. The rest have only been gone five minutes and they all took their time getting out of here. You definitely looked the strongest coming in just now.” (minus Seth who for all intents and purposes won’t make an appearance in this write up again until the finish line, much like on race day :)).

I took this with the grain of salt that a parent compliments their child, but outside of the shooting pain in my left side, I did feel great. My head was in a wonderful space and I was 100% back in the race and shooting for 2nd, 1st if Seth faltered at all.

“Okay, headlamp, soup, electrolytes. Let’s GO!”

I had scouted the CCC course with RD Rich White in early July and knew what lay ahead. Fifteen miles of service road with a few thousand foot climb at the apex. I thought there was no way I’d have the legs to run this, but with my music in one ear and chatting and singing with Max we collectively lay into this climb. We picked off a runner after about twenty minutes to put me in 5th. Ten minutes later we caught good buddy and my former teammate while I ran for Montrail, Matt Hart. Matt definitely looked rough and in that moment I didn’t think he would finish. I said hey and cheered him on as we ran past but he said little in response. Post-race he says to me,

“I had so many things I wanted to say to you there, most of them really funny, jokes, but my brain wasn’t fast enough and you were gone before I knew what’d happened.”

Post-race I say to him “Nice work on toughing it out. You looked like you were in a rough spot when I passed you.”

Fourth.

Max and I pulled into the Kacheelus Ridge, mile 60 aid station just as Jeff Hashimoto and Andy Reed were departing.

“Hey guys.”

“Gary! Nice rally.”

Max to me: “You just ran the fastest split for that section in the history of the race.” (1h27m) (at which point we did not know that Seth was faster still 1h20m)

“You’ve gotta be shitting me!”

“We’re crushing it, man.”

I had just made up an eleven minute gap (splits from aid station to aid station), in eight miles. Game on! The sun had since set and after taking down another half-liter of soup, we were outta there and chasing two beams in the darkness.

I dialed it back a notch on the descent into Lake Kachess aid station. Lake Kachess prefaces The Trail from Hell. In my pre-race course scout this was the one section where I knew conclusively that I would outpace everyone else. The Trail from Hell is a five mile stretch in which the fastest times in the history of the race are all about ninety minutes. It’s non-stop undulation with short steep climbs and descents that are littered with highly technical roots, rocks and natural obstacles, and it’s run at night after 70 miles are already on your legs. In my scouting run, I’d knocked it off in 45 minutes. I hit the aid station at mile 68, continued on my soup mission and after another five plus minutes, Ben and Linda were pushing me outta there. I walked the road through the campground while finishing the cup of soup I took to go, then I looked at Max. After my soup consumption mission at Kachess and my walk through the campground 2nd was 10+ minutes up and 3rd was 7+ minutes up.

“Whadaya say we go about getting back into 2nd place right now?”

I devoured the trail, dropping Max three times in the process as I danced through the nastiest bits of the route. Max would push hard on the less technical to catch back up and by the half-way point we caught up to Andy and his pacer Simon Donato.

“Nice work, Andy.”

“Great job, Gary.”

And then a perfectly timed high-five from Simon as we flew past, into the darkness and into 3rd place.

Jeff Hashimoto was no slouch on technical apparently and it took right up until the final mile heading into Mineral Creek to catch him. Turns out Max knew him and they started chatting as we all hit Mineral Creek collectively. Two miles from Mineral Creek you’re allowed to have your crew drive in to meet you. I was switching pacers here between Max and Justin, so we simply tagged the aid station and continued up. It was the horrible grade in which you’d run if you had the legs and you know that others around you are running it and gaining time on you. I’d put forth the effort I’d hoped to on The Trail from Hell and bettered the fastest times by over ten minutes at 1h19m, and I even gained ten minutes on Seth in the process, not that that was going to change anything in the running for first though :)

As I walked the two miles up the road to my crew, Jeff cruised on past like it was nothing. My brief stint in 2nd lasted about twenty minutes but I still held hopes of regaining it again before the finish.
Max and I reached the crew and I decided to sit down for a minute to get some hot fluids and calories into me. This proved to be a terrible idea though as the warm day had given way to a very cool evening and within minutes of taking a seat I started to shake, eventually violently. Shit, I thought, this is bad. Linda and Ben threw a blanket on me as I took down the final calories. Max’s pacing duties were done and Justin was in. He was sporting a blue wig I’d worn to pace Linda at Grindstone and a crazy mish-mash of brightly coloured clothing, including some insane print tights. I put on every layer I was willing to carry to the finish and as I shakily stood up to depart, I turned to Andy Reed’s family and crew, teeth fully chattering:

“Be sure to tell Andy I looked like a million bucks when I left here, okay? :)”

Justin and I headed out on a painfully long six mile uphill walk. I knew that the final 20 miles are almost all single track while going over what are known as the Cardiac Needles. Smack dab in the middle of that you reach your highest point on the course, Thorpe Mountain at around 8,000ft and there is a 4,000ft descent into a flat final four miles to the finish. Like is the case in most 100’s, the race doesn’t even really begin ‘til mile 80.

Seth was gone and he was all but guaranteed to smash the course record. Jeff had passed me before I sat down so he was likely closing in on a ten minute gap ahead of me and Andy was just minutes behind me. It appeared that I was fighting for 2nd, 3rd, or 4th. I really wanted 2nd, but also really didn’t want 4th, so I started playing a bit more defense rather than offense.

Up, up we went. Justin almost begging me to run.

“I need this. I’ll run the final 20, promise, but right now I need the physical and mental break until we get to No Name AS.”

Good friend Laura Houston manages No Name year after year and this year another good friend, Besty Rogers joined her. Less than a mile from the top there is a quarter mile long sweeping switchback in the service road. All of a sudden my light was shining directly down towards Andy’s, him being all of a few minutes behind me now.

Hi to Betsy and Laura, more soup and more soup to go and Justin and I were out. It was now back to offense for the remainder of the race and I got my mind locked solidly into catching back up to 2nd place.

At Thorpe Mountain there is a one mile out and back. I crossed paths with Jeff just as he was completing his out and back and Andy crossed paths with me just as I had completed my own. We were all about evenly spaced in ten minute intervals. This meant that I had made up a few minutes on both Jeff and Andy over the last few miles.

French Cabin is the second to last aid station on course and Eric Purpus told me that if you’ve got the legs, it’s less than two hours from there to the finish. I arrived in about 17:03. Sub 19 hours was somehow still in range and that became my only goal. If I could close out in under two hours I’d happily take whatever position that gave me, whether it was 2nd, 3rd or 4th.

I absolutely thumped down the final 4000ft descent with a complete disregard for the now excruciating pain my quads were suffering through. Nothing else mattered and I simply cranked up my music and let gravity do its job. I still held illusions of catching 2nd as I knew I was moving incredibly well.

Along with Justin, we came screaming into the final aid station. I didn’t even ask for splits I just grabbed some chocolate and started in on the last four miles to the finish. The barn was near, the result all but certain. Neither Jeff nor Andy were anywhere in sight, but I wanted this thing over, and I wanted my sub 19 hour finish time.

Justin to me: “If I knew we were start sprinting for the finish at mile 95 I would have packed my track spikes.”

I felt no pain, only pride. Some twelve hours earlier I had my head in my hands, anger in my heart and my butt in a really low chair. The finish line wasn’t just in doubt at that point, it felt like mission impossible, yet here I was about to snag 3rd while closing out with a faster pace than I’d sustained all day long. We made our way through Easton and the finish line came into view. Emotions swelled up inside me and I damn near sprinted across the line.

18h54m. 3rd place and the 7th fastest time in the history of the race, and somehow, all of this after facing demons, doubt, cramping, crying and having my crew use the word poop no fewer than a dozen times. It’s a funny sport this ultra running. Just when you think you know something, it’s time to step back and remind yourself that you know nothing. No two days are alike, no two races are alike. Show up, put your heart into it and don’t quit on yourself. Sometimes you might just surprise yourself with the outcome and the resolve you find.

Race Director Rich White handed me my belt buckle and almost immediately it lept outta my hands and onto the rocks below, getting dented and scratched all to hell in the process.

“Shit, do you want me to get you another one?”

“No. It’s perfect. Just like my race.”

GR

Some Splits


Gotta throw a huge shout out to the best crew ever.

Linda Barton Robbins, Maxwell Ferguson, Justin Jablonowski and Ben Gibbard. I honestly have no idea how I would have finished this race without all of your contributions to it. Thank you so much for helping to make this race such a special experience for me.

Sponsor Shout Out:
Salomon – Sense Pro / S-Lab Adv Skin 5 / S-Lab Light Jacket / Start Tee / Trail Short
Suunto – Ambit2
Princeton Tec – Apex rechargeable
Hammer – Bars, gels, endurolytes, seat saver
Drymax – Maximum protection trail running
Moveo Sport and Rehab – for keeping my body from breaking down on me and allowed me to start these races in the first place.





7 Comments

Transkarukera 120km, Guadeloupe - Follow Along

2 Comments

Transkarukera 120km, Guadeloupe - Follow Along

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?

2 Comments

4 Comments

The Fine Line Between Race Successes and Failures

There's a Japanese proverb that goes "He who climbs Mt. Fuji is a wise man, he who climbs it twice is a fool."

Photo Credit Yuma Hamayoshi
Why did I return to UTMF this year? What were my true motivations in travelling around the world to run a 100 miler in which I'd already had my day and already experienced the journey around Fuji? The answer is simple, it was to run against a perceived deeper field of runners and to ideally have my day on what was going to be a much more public stage this year. That was the main driving factor in my choice to return. After Krissy Moehl won UTMF last year she gushed "Wow, this is a huge breakout race for you!"

I felt the same. I had shown, at least to myself, that I could run with and even ahead of such great runners as Seb and Julien as I found myself in second place at mile 85. I definitely faded before the finish, but snagging fourth simply felt incredible. It was one of the absolute highlights of my 2013. Upon returning home however, I was surprised to see how little attention UTMF had gotten. If you weren't directly paying attention or emotionally invested in the race, you likely didn't even notice. My main motivations in returning this year were rooted firmly around simply replicating my 2013 run in front of a much more engaged ultra community. Though these motivations are not flawed per se, they are fairly far removed from the usual driving factors that draw me to international events. By no means am I saying that I did not want to return to Japan for all that it offers outside of the race itself, just that I very likely would have waited at least another year before returning, had I not seen just how competitive the race was going to be and as such just how much of a following it would garner.

I've struggled to move past what transpired at Mt. Fuji for UTMF, primarily because I know that even though I was forced to drop out when a foot injury flared up, I was in no way shape or form having the race I was capable of having on that day up until that point in time. Even if I had managed to continue to rally and to have somehow fought my way back into the top ten, I would have been left wondering how and why I was unable to have pulled off a near top five performance on the day. I was fit enough, I was rested enough, I was primed for a great race. So what went wrong, before it all went wrong? What could I have done differently? How much was beyond my control and how many small consecutive errors had I made to eventually bring down the ship?

Photo Credit Yuma Hamayoshi
I watched a documentary once about how the average plane crash is not caused by one major failure, it's caused by up to a half a dozen small errors that when combined can lead to tragic consequences. It raises the question of how many near misses are we never aware of? To parlay this into ultra running, and my own ultra running, how many mistakes did I make in Japan? How many mistakes are maybe typical and preventable going forward? Are there some that have become habitual, yet in their own right have not lead directly to race failures? Basically, it's time to slice and dice things a bit more as these thoughts won't be put to rest in any other manner. 

I figure the best way to do this is to take my five best efforts and contrast them with my five worst, my DNF's and "I should have DNFeds"...yes, that's a word.

First and foremost though to dispel one thing in regards to UTMF 2014 vs 2013. I did not start off any faster this year than I did last year. In 2013 we had the lead runners blasting off the front at near sub six minute mile pace. I held back in 12th or so in six minute thirty pace. This year the lead guys weren't blasting off quite so quickly and when I found myself mimicking my 2013 start I was much higher up in the field at the very start. Through the first mile I was in second place, high fiving all the spectators and attempting to take in as much positive support as possible. I continually referenced my watch to ensure I wasn't getting carried away and as I stayed on a high six minute mile pace eventually a few more runners caught up to and surpassed me. My first two miles in 2014 were about ten seconds faster than my first two in 2013. I did not start out faster than I had already proven I could upon that course. But is there still a lesson to be learned here?
Also worth mentioning is just how well the returning top ten runners from 2013 did in comparison to the much more famous group of runners that showed up this year. Outside of myself, Hara and Seb, the rest of the top returning runners all had similar or better performances than they did just one year ago. I show this to make a point, that this year's race, outside of Francois D'Haene's simply astonishing run, was no faster than last year's field. The race was a bit deeper, but if I had even come close to my race from one year ago I would have been right where I knew I could have been, and that was fighting for a top five finish.


So here we go: Best Five Races vs Worst Five Races (I settled on six races in the end)

Worst six are relatively easy as all but one are a DNFs. Listing DNFs in this format is to explore the idea that these DNFs could have been prevented with a better race day and pre-race strategy 
-UTMF 2014
-UTMB 2013
-Speedgoat 2012
-Knee Knacker 2012
-Miwok 2010
-49th place finish at Western States 2009

Best six results
-UTMF 2013 - 4th
-HURT 2013 - 1st CR
-Knee Knacker 50k 2013 - 1st
-HURT 2010 - 1st CR
-WS100 2010 - 6th
-Mountain Masochist 50m 2009 - 3rd
-I purposely left out more top local and close to home results in an attempt to get a better cross section

How best to assess the similarities and differences in these races and these results? I've come up with a standard list of questions and a point score associated with them. A lower score is better. The highest/worst score would be 41 while the lowest/best score would be 14, though that would only be possible by running a local race that you've run before while having zero expectations and zero stress, both internally and externally. Pre-race is the combined sum of the eleven questions posed that can be answered before you even line up, and Race Day is the combined sum of the three questions surrounding your own race day decisions.

The questions and associated points:

Travel/unknown and unfamiliar surroundings 
(1: no travel 2: continental travel 3: international travel)
Jetlag / time change 
(1: no jetlag 2: different time zone 3: proper jetlag)
Familiar with course / run it previously 
(1: run it before 2: trained specific to terrain 3: no course experience)
Internal stress/pressure/expectations 
(1: low 2: med 3: high)
External stress/pressure/expectations
(1: low 2: med 3: high)
Motivations / what lead to the choice to run that event 
(1: new area/beautiful course/travel 2: mix of travel and competition 3: competition, to compete against best)
Environmental, heat, elevation, fast, mountainous
(1: similar to home 2: slight challenge 3: major challenge)
Competition, how deep was the field of runners
(1: not super deep 2: reasonably competitive 3: internationally recognized runners)
Pacing, specifically pacing in the first 30 - 45 minutes of the race
(1: started slow 2: started reasonable 3: started fast)
Own race vs getting caught up
(1: throughout 2:  reasonably influenced by other runners 3: completely influenced by other runners)
Fueling during race
(1: wasn't an issue 2: some issues 3: major issues)
Training leading up to race
(1: solid training block 2: average training block 3: low training block)
Tapering into race
(1: normal taper 2: abnormal taper)
Confidence
(1: overly confident 2: reasonably confident 3: self doubt)
Music during race
(can't effectively assign a number ratio to this, I have become a big believe in the benefits of music while racing and simply have this here as a personal reference)

The Findings
A full list of more specific race breakdowns is below should you care to delve further. The results are interesting but not surprising, and all around fairly predictable, though it's much more meaningful when you lay it all out like this.


My best races have a statistical overall score of about 17% lower than my worst races.
My best races have a statistical pre-race score of about 15% lower than my worst races.
My best races have a statistical race day score of about 35% lower than my worst race.

What does it all mean?

The very first conclusion to draw from all of this is of course the glaringly obvious race day mistakes. In all but one of my best races I had a score of about half that of my worst races. Race day mistakes, by and large, are the number one contributor to race day disappointments.

My best races also have a pre-race correlation to success. There is an obvious link that can be drawn here between lack of major travel, and lack of true depth of the fields. The further you travel, for the more competitive events, the higher stresses you place on your body and mind. Knowing this in advance of the races may allow you to address things differently or at the very least to anticipate things better. If I'm going to travel to the ends of the earth for competitive races, I'm going to need to give myself ample travel time, and to learn to deal with all the additional stresses that come with big time events. Gaining course insights in advance of a race is also hugely beneficial if at all possible.

I think the biggest thing I'll take away from this mini-study of my own racing habits is just to know that I have rarely had racing disappointments around events where I've run my own race and started conservatively. To compete in ultra running today you absolutely have to take some chances and to lay it all out there from time to time, however, going into my future events I am going to reel myself in a bit at the beginning. There is very little detriment to starting conservatively, especially when you're looking at races with average finishing times of over fifteen and close to twenty-four hours.

I think my UTMF 2013 race had an anomaly in it in terms of the fact that I started off fast and still had success. I think I took a race day chance and it paid off, though I took that information to mean that I could always successfully start 100 milers at six and a half minute mile pace. Even if this information contains some truth to it, it is still not an effective racing strategy. I need to slow it down a bit off the start in my upcoming 100s.

Not readily available within this small data sample is just how difficult it is to run your own race while lined up at super competitive events. A primary example is UTMB. These races start off far too fast for 90% of the runners, yet everyone just gets towed along for the ride. The level of confidence in one's own abilities and racing strategies to start conservatively at such events is one of the hardest skill sets to attain in ultra running. A fairly unknown runner by the name of John Tidd is a master of this. In 2013 he finished 6th at UTMF and 10th at UTMB, both times coming from way back in the race to snag top ten positions. If the average runner had as much insight and confidence into their own abilities as John does they'd end up with better results across the board. I possess this insight and confidence, but I seem to have temporarily misplaced it.

I want to continue to show up and compete at the most competitive of mountain ultra races, but I am ready to turn a corner in my own racing to start running smarter, to own my results, and to move past these race day debacles. I'm glad I took the time to look at this a bit further. It's exactly as I'd expected, but it just hammers home the point so much more while looking at it all in this light.

So, what race day mistakes do you seem to continue to make?

What strategies do you have in place to prevent race day errors?

What questions would you have added or removed from my personal assessment above?

Have you ever broken down your successes and failures in this manor? If so what did you find and did it allow you to address it going forward?

Full list of race assessments below.
GR
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

BEST RACES



UTMF 2013
4th, 20h20m
Score 31/41
Pre-race 24/32
Race Day 7/9
Travel: (3) / Jetlag: (3) / Familiar: (3) / Internal: (3) / External: (2)  / Motivations: (1) to run in Japan on a course that was known to be techincal / Environmental: (1) a beautiful spring day / Competition: (3) a very deep field of European runners / Pacing: (3) I started way faster than I usually do / Own Race: (2) / Fueling: (2) some issues eating later in the race / Training: (2) was pretty much sustaining fitness off of HURT / Tapering: (1) / Confidence: (2) I was stressed but confident in what I could do / Music: yes, for five hours during the night
Assessment: I stared off much faster than I normally would, and I was rewarded for it with a strong race. In hindsight though, this is against my normal running strategy and likely against my best interest. In comparison to my other best races this race was the one where I took the greatest chances early on. Taking chances like this can go either way though, especially over the 100 mile distance, and the best racing strategy, for me at least, likely resides somewhere slower than how I started here and a step faster than how I have started at other races.
I faded significantly late in the race and dropped from 2nd down to 4th, while 5th was closing ground on me. I believe that had I started slightly more conservatively I would have been rewarded with a stronger finish and potentially a higher placing. I believe this one off, though not blind luck, would be the exception to how I should run and may have contributed to me believing that I could and even should be starting faster in my longer races. I have not come to terms with this until just now as I've only looked at this race as a successful template and not critically assessed it prior to today.

Knee Knacker 50k
1st, 4h41m
Score 24/41
Pre-race 19/32
Race Day 5/9
Travel: (1) / Jetlag: (1) / Familiar: (1) / Internal: (3) / External: (3)  / Motivations: (2) / Environmental: (1)  / Competition: (2) a very talented albeit local field of runners / Pacing: (2) / Own Race: (2) / Fueling: (1) / Training: (1) was in the middle of my largest training block ever / Tapering: (2) I didn't taper at all. I ran 120m the week prior / Confidence: (2) I had questions going into the race around if I'd simply not taken enough/any recovery time leading into the race / Music: yes, for full second half of the race
Assessment: A unique race in the fact that I did very little in the way of tapering. The week prior I ran 120 miles and the day before the race I had my hip seize up and briefly make me question if I'd even be able to start. A low stress race on home turf allowed for very intelligent race day decisions. Lack of external variables such as travel, unfamiliar terrain, external pressures all allowed me to completely run my own race and to not make any race day mistakes.

HURT 2013 
1st CR, 19h35m
Score 22/41
Pre-race 18/32
Race Day 4/9
Travel: (2) / Jetlag: (2) / Familiar: (1) / Internal: (2)  / External: (2)  / Motivations: (2) I broke my foot on the HURT course and this was a very emotional and pure journey. I wanted CR but just finishing would have been a success / Environmental: (2) a fairly hot and humid day / Competition: (2) I ran within six minutes of Jason L for 85 miles / Pacing: (1) / Own Race: (1) / Fueling: (2) / Training: (1) / Tapering: (1) / Confidence: (1) I was in a very good head space heading into this race / Music: yes for final 20 miles
Assessment: The perfect day. A comeback race over the very course that I broke my foot on, while running toe to toe against the runner who'd won the two years I was away. I doubt I'll ever see another 100 mile race go as smoothly and almost as effortlessly as this one did. It's probably best to assume this race was a one off in all the positive ways a race could possibly go. 100 milers should be and almost always will be tougher than how this race played out for me.

Western States 2010 
6th, 17h06m
Score 29/41
Pre-race 24/32
Race Day 5/9
Travel: (2) Yes / Jetlag: (1) No / Familiar: (1) yes, I'd finished 49th one year prior / Internal: (3) yes, I was looking to prove to myself that I could succeed in high pressure, highly competitive environment / External: (2) yes and no. I was there as a part of the Montrail team but had recently suffered from overtaining symptoms and DNFed Miwok 100k/ Motivations: (3) To run the race I knew I was capable of against one of the deepest fields or runners/ Environmental: (3) a very hot race, and overall a very runnable course / Competition: (3) as per usual, the most competitive 100 in NA that year / Pacing: (2) I started off conservatively and worked my way up throughout the day / Own Race: (2) / Fueling: (1) Very good. I was on it from the start and all day long / Training: (2) After DNFing Miwok I didn't run a step for three weeks. In the month of May I ran less than 100 miles, while everyone else in top ten ran at least 400-500 miles / Tapering: (2) kind of a reverse taper, I ran everyday for the two weeks leading up to the race, though most were short runs / Confidence: (2) I knew the course and I'd prepared for the heat better, but I ran very little in May after my Miwok DNF / Music: yes
Assessment: I had a very questionable final seven weeks leading into the race but a very strong year of training otherwise. I had nothing but top ten aspirations but was still very much an underdog on the day. I ran an intelligent race while allowing the lead pack to separate as I forced myself to stay calm and to work myself into a good race pace. It was a very solid race for me but in all likelihood I was helped along by my Miwok DNF and therefore eliminating an element of expectation both internally and externally.

HURT 100m 2010
1st CR, 20h12m
Score 21/41
Pre-race 17/32
Race Day 4/9
Travel: (2) / Jetlag: (2) / Familiar: (2) the HURT course is identical to our North Van terrain/ Internal: (2) I was shooting for and attained Geoff Roes CR / External: (1) absolutely nobody knew who I was / Motivations: (2) to run in Hawaii / Environmental: (2) some heat issues / Competition: (1) there were some very talented runners but from 20m to the finish I ran alone in the lead / Pacing: (1) / Own Race: (1) / Fueling: (2) / Training:  (1) I had a then best ever training block heading into the race / Tapering: (1) / Confidence: (1) nothing to lose and everything to gain. I felt very quietly confident heading into this race / Music: no
Assessment: I was so confident that I'd have a good day on the HURT course, in just my 3rd ever 100 miler, that I let everyone go off the start and just did my own thing. I need to get back to this. This is the only way you should ever start a 100 miler.

Mountain Masochist 50m 2009
3rd place 7h00m28s
Score 24/41
Pre-race 20/32
Race Day 4/9
CR before Geoff Roes killed it on that day was Dave Mackey 6h48m
Travel: (2) yes / Jetlag: (2) not noticeable, three hour time change / Familiar: (1) yes, I'd run it the year prior and finished 2nd, though with a slower time / Internal: (3) yes, I was shooting for top two and auto WS entry / External: (2) yes, I had finished 2nd one year earlier / Motivations: (3) WS entry, to improve upon 2009 time, to run sub 7hr / Environmental: (1) very runnable course, cool fall day / Competition: (2) / Pacing: (1) I started off conservative as I did with all my races at the time / Own Race: (1) / Fueling: (2) I remember struggling with calories in final two hours but fudging my way through it / Training: (2) Not crazy, I took down time in months leading up to race, but I knew course was all runnable and trained more for running all of my long runs / Tapering: (1) I don't recall, likely two weeks / Confidence: (1) I knew the course and had trained more specifically for it. I knew I was fit enough for my race goals / Music: no
Assessment: I had a great day and came within 29 seconds of breaking the seven hour mark, something only a handful of other runners had done. I completely ran my own race from start to finish and that's why I had success.

**Miwok 2008 (I fully accidentally assessed seven races. I'll leave this in since it only help to reaffirm the overall findings)
12th place 9h22m
Score 23/41
Pre-race 19/32
Race Day 4/9
First question might be why I'd chose this as a top result. This was beyond the unknown for me at the time. I'd only run a handful of 50k races plus one 67k race. I had calf issues in the months leading up to the race and spent two full months training only on a bike. I would have run sub nine hours and finished in 8th place if I had not taken a full five kilometer detour. The top four runners that year were Dave Mackey, Jon Olsen, Geoff Roes and Scott Jurek. I knew none of them. I knew f#@k all and yet I ran an incredibly well balanced race while up against a fairly deep field at the time. If there was ever a race I'd run where I would have had every excuse to mess it up, this was the one, yet I pretty much nailed it right out of the gates.

Travel: (2) yes, first time to San Fran / Jetlag: (1) no, same time zone / Familiar: (3) not at all / Internal stress: (2) I had expectations of myself by zero pressure / External: (1) nothing / Motivations: (1) new challenge, new area, travelled with great group of friends / Environmental: (1) a very runnable course on a hot day in May / Competition: (2) very competitive but I didn't even know / Pacing: (1) I started off way slow as it was such an unknown distance for me / Own Race: (1) /  Fueling: (2) I don't recall the specifics / Training: (2) I trained hard but a lot of it was on the mountain and road bike / Tapering: (2) I was kind of rushing to get time on my feet, off the bike in the weeks leading up to the race / Confidence: (2) I was scared but excited, confident but hesitant, it lead to holding back just enough early on and running a very smooth race / Music: no
Assessment: I was too inexperienced to make the mistake of trying to do anything I didn't already confidently know my body could handle. I ran my own race from start to finish and had a great 100k debut.


WORST RACES
Photo Credit Glenn Tachiyama
Western States 2009
49th, 23h07m
Score 32/41
Pre-race 23/32
Race Day 9/9
Travel: (2) / Jetlag: (1) / Familiar: (1) / Internal: (3) / External: (2) / Motivations: (2) / Environmental: (3) / Competition: (3) / Pacing: (3) / Own Race: (3) / Fueling: (3) / Training: (1) / Tapering: (2) / Confidence: (3) / Music: no
Assessment: I ran a dumb race on a hot day and paid a price for it. I got caught up in the hype and by the third mile my fate on the day was likely sealed. I'm still incredible proud of even being able to gut this one out just to claim a finish. My kidneys were shutting down and I was peeing blood. It took me over a month to recover from this one.

Miwok 2010 
DNF around 50km mark
Score 29/41
Pre-race 21/32
Race Day 8/9
Travel: (2) / Jetlag: (1) / Familiar: (1) / Internal: (3) / External: (3) / Motivations: (2) / Environmental: (1) / Competition: (3) / Pacing: (3) / Own Race: (3) / Fueling: (2) / Training: (1) / Tapering: (1) / Confidence: (3) / Music: no
Assessment: I set out to run a race I was incapable of running, and I pretty much knew it all along. If I had set out on a more reasonable 8h45m'ish run pace I very likely would not have DNFed and not ended up getting the blood work done that told me I was having iron deficiency issues. The bad with the good I guess.

Knee Knacker 2012 
DNF after first climb
There's little need to dissect this race as I woke up with a fever on race morning and shouldn't have even started.
Assessment: Shit ass bad luck

Speedgoat 50k 2012 
DNF around 40km
Score 36/41
Pre-race 28/32
Race Day 8/9
Travel: (2) / Jetlag: (2) / Familiar: (3) / Internal: (3) / External: (2) / Motivations: (3) / Environmental: (3) / Competition: (3) / Pacing: (3) / Own Race: (3) / Fueling: (2) / Training: (3) being sick all of July didn't help things / Tapering: (2) was hardly training and just attempting to get better / Confidence: (3) being sick more of July let me know I wasn't fit enough for what I was hoping for / Music: no
Assessment: I did just about everything wrong for this race and it started with signing up for a super competitive race at altitude and just hoping for the best on race day. Though I made race day mistakes at Speedgoat there is very little, if anything I could have done differently to have prevented this DNF due to severe altitude sickness

UTMB 2013 
DNF after 30kms
Score 34/41
Pre-race 27/32
Race Day 8/9
Travel: (3) / Jetlag: (3) / Familiar: (1) / Internal: (3) / External: (3) / Motivations: (3) / Environmental: (2) / Competition: (3) / Pacing: (2) / Own Race: (3) / Fueling: (2) I was already struggling with calories by the time my race ended / Training: (1) / Tapering: (2) directing the SQ50 less than three weeks prior throws a kink into things. In two years of directing I have yet to sit down for over 40hrs on race weekend / Confidence: (2) / Music: no
Assessment: I managed to get sick around race day but there's still a part of me that thinks I could have at least finished the race even while being under the weather. I headed in with high hopes and plenty of self imposed and perceived external expectations, though I was fully confident in my fitness and abilities. I still think of this as a lost opportunity to perform on a big stage. I had top ten fitness but was was likely still shooting for a result just beyond my fitness level. I should have gone into this with the goal of finishing 8th, 9th or 10th, not 4th, 5th or 6th.

UTMF 2014
DNF after 105km
Score 32/41
Pre-race 25/32
Race Day 7/9
Travel: (3) / Jetlag: (3) / Familiar: (2) I knew the course but it being run in the opposite direction made it slightly less than completely familiar / Internal: (3) / External: (2) / Motivations: (3) / Environmental: (1) / Competition: (3) / Pacing: (3) I started out at the same pace as last year, though I think started slower would have been beneficial to my overall race / Own Race: (2) / Fueling: (2) / Training: (2) / Tapering: (2) I had some funky issues with my legs after Salomon's Advanced Week / Confidence: (1) I had already succeeded on this exact course / Music: yes, for twelve full hours and it's all that kept me alive and from dropping out of the race early on.
Assessment: I was equal parts stressed and excited, but I never would have expected to not be in the mix for top five. I absolutely had it within me to be in the top five mix. If I could attempt the race all over again tomorrow I would start slower and just do my own thing. No matter the foot injury would have stopped my race, but at least I would have likely been having a better race when that all occurred. I was incredibly proud to have fought so hard to make it to 105km. This is one of the few positives to take away from the race. There's an element of misfortune and confusion over why my climbing legs / hamstrings never seemed to show up on race day though. I was doing great on the flats, the downhills and even the gradual grades, but the super steep terrain felt impossible on race day.

4 Comments

2 Comments

Alpental, WA - My First Ever Skimo Race

The after party and the fresh snow goodness
The Sport

Ski Mountaineer racing, or Skimo for short, is by no means a new sport having even been a part of an Olympic Games way back in 1948. The European Skimo circuit is thriving and has produced a cross over athlete who's taken the trail and ultra running world by storm over the last few years, that person of course being Kilian Jornet, a multi time World Ski Mountaineering Champion.

Skimo racing in North America has been slower to catch on, and as observed by Kilian himself via an early season tour of some US ski resorts, not widely understood or accepted. It was completely shocking to him that the majority of US ski resorts had strict rules in place that prevent skiing up the mountain, whereas in Europe this is apparently the standard with resorts having a set 'skin track' area (you use climbing skins on your skis to ascend the mountain).

It would appear that the North American Skimo scene is ripe for a bit of a boon in the next few years as the reverse scenario to Europe seems to be occurring, that being trail and ultra running stand outs now converting to Ski Mountaineering and Skimo racing during the winter months. Names worth mentioning in this regard include recent UROY winner Rob Krar, Colorado based Skyrunning Champion Stevie Kremer, Canadian speedster Adam Campbell, and as of this past weekend Oregonian Max King. I would be remiss if I did not mention one of the few North American, ski mountaineering to ultra running crossover athletes Luke Nelson, as he was the US National Champion in 2012.

With many of these known trail and ultra runners coming into the sport, with strong established racing and endurance backgrounds, it seems only a matter of time before at least some of them dedicate themselves towards figuring out the intricacies of the sport of ski mountaineering. The presence of these athletes alone however is granting Skimo racing a social media presence in front of an active audience that it seemingly has failed to connect with to date. It'll be interesting if the North American version of the sport can experience a long overdue growth cycle and if in fact the current push to attempt to bring Skimo back into the Olympics (currently a push is on for 2018) can ever materialize.

Skimo is similar to trail running in that you basically race up and down a mountain as fast as you can. Skimo is very different from trail racing in terms of how that's accomplished and the skill sets necessary to do so at an effective race pace. To be an elite level racer you must possess equal parts of aerobic capacity, a finesse at technical ski climbing, and a confidence that borders on reckless abandon at the high speed descents. I possess two of these three skill sets, having been an endurance sports athlete since 2004, and having established a firm grip on reckless abandon style skiing via many years as a ski bum in Banff, AB in the late 90's and then Whistler, BC in the early 2000's. Of all these skill sets I would say that the downhill skiing is certainly the hardest to develop from scratch and as such the sport certainly favors those with at least some background in skiing specific sports, whether that be nordic or alpine.

As a gear intensive sport Skimo is certainly not a cheap endeavor. A top of the line race kit will cost you north of $3000, and that's just for the skis, boots, bindings, skins and poles. Tack on a racing pack, mandatory helmet, spandex racing suit or whatever works for you to not line up in your birthday suit, goggles, gloves etc, and you'll be toeing the fine line of what you want, what you need, and what you can actually afford.

This being my first season of looking at the sport of skimo, and a kind of reentry into skiing in general after an absence of six years, I already owned much of the 'this'll work if it has to' style gear. My goal was to get into the sport on the cheap this year while acquiring gear that would ideally allow me to get a feel for it all without going broke. I lucked out in early October with a pair of 'last pair in stock' sale skis at M.E.C. for just $150. They were a few levels below a racing ski but light enough to race on. I used some wedding present R.E.I. gift certificates for my touring poles and I found a pair of bindings on Craigslist, again just below race caliber gear. Lastly I invested in a year old pair of boots for a great deal from a friend for $400. The boots new would be nearly $1000, and yet again the gear was a few levels below top of the line racing gear, in which the boots alone can crawl north of $2000 for brand new off the shelf. I passed on the $300+ spandex racing suit in favor quiver I already possessed in the form of some Salomon tights, a lightweight breathable pant, a merino wool top, and my Salomon S-Lab Light Jacket. Salomon also set me up with some ski goggles and when all was said and done I had found my way into the sport for JUST $775.

The Race

I'm 4th from the left


The race was at Alpental, WA, which is located at Snowqualmie Pass, about an hour out of Seattle. The race course consisted of two climbs and two descents with vertical numbers of approximately 4200ft / 1300m over a distance of about 8m/13km. Alpental has apparently always attracted quite a few recreational skies to the race and as such the race director announced that they were the largest skimo race by attendance in the US. I have not confirmed this information but with nearly 150 people around it certainly made for a great atmosphere.

Three of the four guys I've been ski touring with, and learning the sport from this winter were also in attendance, and all of them were podium threats. They have generously offered up racing tips and advice over the last four months and as such when the gun went off I knew we supposedly had to sprint out on our skis for position before the race fell into a single pace line. This effectively felt like running a 100m sprint race before then settling in for back to back 10k race pace efforts that were somehow split up by a bobsled ride down a mountain, to create a visual if you will.

White helmet, green pack


The race was all of sixty seconds old and I already had that nice metallic taste in my mouth that you can experience at near maximal efforts, BUT I found myself settled nicely into 8th place, with a pretty stellar field of experienced guys ahead of me. The pace settled and I felt good as our group started to pull away from the field within the first five minutes of the race. As the terrain steepened it necessitated switchback style climbing. The guys would say to me after the race this this Alpental course was one of the more technical courses on the circuit. I was nailing my kick-turns, which made me happy since I didn't even know what a kick-turn was just a few months prior (picture taking a tight singletrack turn with two extended planks on your feet, your lower leg turns into the turn leaving you V legged, you then have to kick your heal into your upper slope ski to force it to pivot up towards your toe and hence to swing the ski up and over the snowpack above you so that you can get both feet around) but I was starting to slip and loose traction on the climbing between the corners. The terrain was effectively just a smidgen steeper than I was comfortable with and balanced on, and after multiple small slip steps backwards the worst case scenario unfolded. I slid back with both skis, toppled to one side and ejected from a ski. I looked up as the lead pack left me in their snow dust. I fumbled about before realizing I needed to get both skis off. I clicked out and then boot packed my way up to a flat spot to place my skis back on. Lost spots = three as I had recovered just as the next group of skiers caught up to me, so I was now in 11th. This scenario unfortunately unfolded a second time just a bit further along and I was in 15th before I knew what had happened. My lack of experience was glaringly evident.



I was now behind guys that were moving slower in general, but who weren't making any mistakes as they went. I kept looking uphill for when an opportunity might present itself to pass some people and it appeared we were coming upon a wide ski run where the terrain flattened out a bit. I put in a push as soon as the trail opened up and I immediately passed and gapped three guys while pushing hard over this wide flat section of the course. I was back in 12th. We skied past a chairlift, back into the forest, took a hard turn to the right and started in on some switchbacks again. I stared up at the next group of guys who were four corners ahead of and went to work on closing the gap. Thankfully with the fresh snow falling, and now being further up the mountain, the icy conditions of the lower part of the hill were behind us. I was no longer struggling with traction and as we approached our first bootpacking section (skis off your feet, onto your backpack, as you climb what are effectively stairs in the snow that are cut out from ski boots, IE very steep terrain) As we removed our skis for the bootpack I caught up to the guys who'd passed me after my first mishap lower down the mountain.


I knew by general time in my head that we must be on the upper reaches of the first ascent and just a few minutes later I was able to peer up into the now blowing snow above and see where our transition area to the descent would occur. I could see two people pulling their skins, two more just arriving, and there were two guys immediately in front of me. Sixth place was effectively within site. We all pushed the pace up to the transition area and I was completely stoked over my transition as I out transitioned one of the guys who'd arrived ahead of me and I departed down the slope immediately behind the other racer I'd arrive with. I was now in 11th and I was now in my element.

I made short work of the descent, successfully toeing the line between recklessly in control and yard saleing. I scooped up 10th in our first rutted out bowl, 9th as I kept my speed through the following steep section, 8th as we found ourselves on the bottom half of the descent as the snow became icier again, and 7th on the final approach into the start/finish gate. Game on!

The Bell Lap

I had a great transition back into my climbing skins but made a critical error. I had been advised that a single set of climbing skins would not last a full race. Meaning that eventually the glue that adheres the skin to the ski would fail due to the careless way in which you have to rip and store your skins while racing, getting them covered in snow and effectively causing the skin to freeze up. I KNEW I should reach into my back pocket of my pack and switch into my backup skins. I got caught up in the moment of the guys I'd just passed coming in behind me and I threw my slightly compromised initial set of skins right back on the skis. I raced out of there with but one guy getting ahead of me and as the now 7th and 8th place racers we created a gap over the guys behind us.

This side of the course was much different in that the climbing was not only steep but much of it was done through fresh snow, meaning there was a 'loosness' to things if you will. The guy ahead of me faltered and I for once made up a spot due to someone else's struggle. This was not to last long however as I could now see the back 1/4 of my right skin wasn't even attached to my ski anymore, it was dangling off to the side and with each step up I was loosing additional tack between my skins and my skis. I slipped backwards, I fell over, and I went about my Bambi snow show as I clicked my skis off. I then bootpacked in knee deep snow up to a flat spot, and made the hard but necessary call to do a full skin switch. I attempted to zone out and focus on the task at hand, but my peripheral would not grant me this luxury. 8th - 9th - 10th - 11th all went gliding by and in that span I managed to get rattled and loose focus. I simply could not get my one ski boot to click into my bindings. Every time I stepped on the ski it shifted in the snow, click - miss - shit, click - miss - shit, click - miss - shit "C'MON GARY!" on my sixth attempt I got my ski back on. There was no one in sight above me, and no one in site below me, and we were all of about fifteen minutes from being done.

With the new skin on I found the necessary traction and fell into a nice rhythm, clicking out kick-turns and gaining elevation towards our final transition. As the upper part of the mountain presented itself I could see one skier up ahead of me. I pushed towards the turnaround, transitioned faster than him, and found myself in 10th. Nothing but downhill ahead. I had no idea of where any of those who passed me on the climb might now be but I leaned into the descent with fleeting hopes of finding one or more of them.

Half way down as my quads were screaming at me I hooked a ski. Instinctively I raised my leg to sweep my ski back around to center before it could catch on the snow below and send me for a tailspin. I chuckled to myself. This sport is awesome I thought. Just a few minutes later I flew through the final turn of the race and a ski patroller directed me down the last straight stretch to the bottom. I could just make out a racer half way down so I straighlined it in the hopes of catching him, I made up all but three seconds on the guy, but it turned out he was in the short distance event. Oh well, 10th place in 1h44m and my head is reeling from all that I learned on the day and all that there is still to learn. I can't wait to do it all over again!


Huge congrats to Nick Elson for placing 2nd, Eric Carter for 3rd, and Stano Faban for 5th. Stano was just bettered by a few seconds by some guy named Max King (a life long skier, 2h14m marathoner, World Mountain Running Champion, famous ultra runner and now first time Skimo racer as well). It's an exciting time for Skimo in North America, here's hoping for plenty of growth within the sport in the coming years.

Fuel: 200ml water mixed with one Hammer gel and a half dozen scoops of snow.

GR

If you find yourself free and with nothing better to do this Tuesday night, Feb 18th, you should swing on by the Salomon West Vancouver store and check out some films and slides while I wax poetic about ultra running. Link here

2 Comments

8 Comments

UTMB - Postmortem


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.

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

UTMB 2013

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.

Race 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.

I'll have lots of positive memories from this, my second trip to France, but unfortunately the race won't be one of them. This one stings and will continue to do so for quite sometime. That's just the reality of the situation. With your greatest pursuits can come your greatest victories, and indeed your greatest disappointments.

GR

8 Comments

7 Comments

UTMB - The Trail Runner's Mecca

Five days in and I finally managed one full night's rest. It's been an eventful trip thus far and as is always the case while visiting a trail mecca like Chamonix it can warrant a hefty dose of self control.

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 4 - Sleep well till 4am but am up for an hour till 5am before sleeping again till 6:45am. Brendan and I, with my Aussie friend Gretel who's running Trans Alp, head out to Les Contamines to recon the second and longest climb of the race. We only go half way just to get a feel for it before very slowly returning the way we came and stopping on a patio along the trail to sip espressos in the sun and chat about the differences in race permitting and sanctioning in Canada vs US vs Aus. A fun day out with very little stress on the body, and while we were sipping joe Nuria Picas comes flying by on the climb and then once again on the descent as we're basically trotting our way out.




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!


GR

7 Comments

45 Comments

Win A Pair of Salomon Shoes!


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
All you have to do to enter is:

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.
GR

45 Comments

6 Comments

Knee Knacker - Battle Royale

The 25th anniversary edition of the toughest 50k* (30 mile) trail race in Canada had attracted one of the deepest men's fields in the history of the race. The starter's list, though short a few key names due to injury in the end, was still five deep with guys who could legitimately push the pace at the front and potentially challenge the stout course record of 4h39m52s, held by good buddy Aaron Heidt.

In planning out a much more streamlined year of running which is designed to allow me to train more successfully I have only registered for six races this year, three 50k races and three 100 milers. My last race was a 100 miler in Japan at the end of April, and once I'd taken my requisite three weeks of downtime I laid into my training harder than I ever had before. My body has responded better than I could have hoped for and in the 42 day stretch prior to KK week I'd managed a full 1,000km / 621m of running. Almost all of my training has been on trail and it was capped off by a near 200km / 120m week with 9,000m / 30,000ft of climb and descent. My week of KK plan was to still get forty miles in advance of the race so that I could hit eighty miles on the week which would keep me at 200 miles through the first two weeks of July, in the hopes of eclipsing another 400 mile month of training. It's a numbers game leading up to the biggest race of my year, that being the UTMB in France on August 30th and although the KK was a goal race for me I have found it impossible to focus on anything other than the biggie in France. As such I was consistently pushing aside thoughts of "this isn't smart for the KK" and "you're gonna be pissed if you have a bad KK next week". As has been the case when I'm 100% focused on a big race goal it usually takes an injury to slow me down.

I knew I'd been toeing the knife edge of injury for a few weeks with a constant dull pulsating pain in my left hip. Since this specific pain is nothing new to me I successfully pushed it aside day in and day out. On Wednesday however I awoke to an acute pain that was only bearable while standing or laying down. To sit was completely excruciating and like nothing I'd experienced before. I was nearly certain I'd be one of the causalities of training and forced to the sidelines with a few of the other pre-race favorites. The disappointment of this seemingly inevitable outcome was nearly unbearable for me, especially after I'd dnf'd the Knacker just twelve months prior with an ill timed head cold that wiped out most of my July. On top of this, Linda was attending a family wedding in Minnesota in which I'd been granted a 'hall pass' because of just how much the Knee Knacker meant to me this year. I headed straight to Moveo and thankfully they were able to squeeze me in for not only an ART treatment but also an acupuncture treatment and I spent the rest of the day on my back while stretching as much as I could tolerate.

Thursday was promising as the intensity of the pain had subsided but it warranted another full day off. On Friday Geoff and I headed to Squamish to place signage on the SQ50 course and the time on my feet did me a world of good. I covered 20km but at a hike/run pace which not only got the blood flowing in my legs but allowed my mind to refocus on the task at hand. One more Moveo ART treatment after package pickup that night and I was confident that this '24 hour injury' would have zero bearing on my race outcome. These '24 hour injuries' are somewhat common when you're knocking out as much mileage as your body can handle and thankfully I have experienced a few of them now and I can talk myself off the ledge pretty quickly. In the end this was likely the best thing that could have happened to me on race week as I lined up on Saturday morning with fresh, trained legs that were ready to lay it all.

The Race


The Knee Knacker starts off with a near 4,000ft vertical ascent of Black Mountain up and into the Cypress Mountain ski resort. This is just one of the things that make this race such a classic, and so hard to nail your best time on the course. Come over the top just a few minutes faster than you physically should and you'll suffer the consequences all day long, come over the top a few minutes slower than you should and you'll be playing catch up all day long. It's a fine line and after our group of four let local mountain goat Shaun Stephens-Whale get off the front I settled in with Canadian Skimo racer and recent training buddy Nick Elson and road speedster Graeme Wilson (31min/10k). The guys were letting me lead and as I continually fell back into a power hike over the steeper terrain I was expecting them to pass. I sometimes underestimate my power hiking abilities and when we came through the first aid station in 1h19m45s it was not only a few minutes faster than I thought I could crest the climb, it was a few minutes faster than I'd hoped to crest the climb. I had intentions of challenging Aaron's CR but I knew I'd need to improve upon his second half time as his first half time seemed at the upper limits of my climbing abilities. IF I were able to push his CR I knew it would be by mere seconds and not minutes. The fact that Aaron set this time on a snow year and with no one within twenty minutes of him at the finish is another story. He attributes it as one of his best ever ultras and it's not hard to understand why.

Shaun was exactly one minute ahead of us as we entered Cypress and as a group of three we managed to close that gap in under ten minutes. From Cypress Mountain down into Cleveland Dam is a highly technical stretch (not that any of the course really isn't) and we could see Shaun's limiting factor exposed over this section as we eventually spit him out the back of our pack. I knew Nick would handle the technical downhill through here with ease but I didn't expect Graeme to be holding tight with us. He was a faster runner than both of us, but after a recent 3rd place finish at the Iron Knee (pretty much half the KK course) I'd assumed the technical trails would slow him down a bit more.

Coming down Hollyburn Chutes was fun for me because after all the early race stress of pushing so hard up and over Black Mountain, and slightly questioning my pace the entire time, I'd now fallen into the groove I'd hoped to. I kept preaching my same mantra that I stuck to during the HURT 100 in January, "don't judge your race on the uphills Gary, only assess how you're feeling and how you're doing on the descents".

I was on a descent, I was cruising along nicely, and I was leading the race, I felt great! I honestly had no expectation of leading the race at any point prior to the final stretch as I thought the strongest climbers would have their way with me early with my own endurance and pacing catching them late. I was mentally prepared to be fighting from behind all day long, yet now that I was in the lead and with two other less experienced ultra distance, though maybe more talented runners than myself, I had to play with some strategy. I knew I had another gear on the descent and I was fairly certain it would not take its toll on me later. The hope was that it might put the hurt on these guys earlier than they'd anticipated and as such I kicked it up a notch. I created a small gap which they quickly closed and together we went careening down the mountain together.

My own strategy nearly backfired though, for as we crossed the creek further down and were confronted with the steep staircase on the opposite side my quads flared in pain and started to seize. "Unbelievable" was all I could think to myself. I'm f#@king toasted. How the hell could I be cramping this early? It's not a super hot day, it's been nice for weeks and I'm as trained as I've ever been.

I had in fact cramped in this exact spot during the 2009 Knacker which I raced after death marching my way to a sub 24hr Western States finish just fourteen days prior. I never should have lined up that year yet here I was four years later on what should have been fresh legs and I was facing the same issues. I finished the 09 KK in 5h22m but in that moment four years prior, on those exact stairs I thought I was heading for a DNF. Experience is a wonderful thing and it's amazing the strength we can draw from the lowest moments we've come out on top of. I'd been here before. It was all too familiar and although I now seriously doubted my ability to win the race I simply accepted what was happening and attempted to work through it in a rational manner.

The one thing I'd made a pact with myself over in advance of the start was that I would not quit on myself at any point in the race. I promised myself that I'd not succumb at any point to the self doubt that can pervade while you're pushing yourself to your limits. All the way up Black Mountain I had successfully kept this at bay and now on these stairs all I wanted to do was to pull aside and wave the guys on. If I did this my race would be over and I knew it. I would spend minutes recovering from the effects of letting these guys go and even if my body manged to rally it'd be too late to get back in the mix at the front again.

Fake It Till Ya Make It

I've been training with Adam Campbell on a fairly regular basis this year and besides just being a fun person to run with he's really helped me to realize that I can push much harder earlier in a run than I ever thought I could handle, while still holding strong hours later. A typical run with Adam would have our day starting with a 3,000 - 4,000ft / 1200m climb in which I'm barely hanging on, yet time and time again as our long runs progressed hours later I'd still have reserves and the ability to push the pace on the descents. Adam said something at a presentation we once co-hosted along with Nicola Gildersleeve and Ryne Melcher. "In the end we're all just collecting data on ourselves. I have over 20 years of data on myself so I know what I can and can not do" or something to that effect. My 2013 has been about not only collecting data on myself that I have not yet possessed but also about rewriting some of that data that I had held tight to over the last 5+ years. I'm a different athlete than I was five years ago so I need to let go of some of those beliefs that I can't do some things as well as I'd like. This was new data. This was what I came for. The challenge of figuring out the rest of the day and managing my body had officially begun.

Calories. Electrolyes. Fluids. I was already on top of my nutrition but I'm continually learning that more calories can fix almost anything in ultra running, so I started choking back what I had on me while continuing to lead our group of three down into Cleveland Dam. I had managed to rally my quads in under a minute. A minute that had I let go of it would have had me off the front and in no position to catch the leaders. The cramping had been pushed aside just as rapidly as it had appeared and we continued our pace down into Cleveland Dam together.


The three of us arrived in unison in a time of 2h18m49s just eleven seconds slower than Aaron's CR pace. I knew that none of this really mattered just yet though, for the real race was about to being and as Aaron had pointed out before, he'd reached the Dam in sub 2h20m three times before, but only once had he managed to hold onto his pace all the way to the line.


My awesome one man crew of James Marshall was here to hand off another loaded and ready to go S-Lab 5L pack though I knew that Coke was now going to be integral to my day. I detoured to the aid station to down a few cups and while doing so Nick pulled into the lead and Graeme charged on just behind him.

I could see that Nick had already gained a minute on me while we climbed the 200 vertical meters over one mile up into the Grouse parking lot, and Graeme was pretty much perfectly splitting our gap in half. Once again I was prepared to lose some time to Nick over this section and I forced myself to not assess my race, instead I focused all my energy on calorie and electrolyte consumption via Hammer gel and Endurolytes. A mouth full of gel washed down by a mouthful of water, repeat, repeat, repeat until 100 calories at a time I was topping up my deficit.

From the Grouse parking lot the trail gets steeper still and is rife with rocks, roots, bridges and obstacles. It was near the top of this approximate twenty minutes of climbing, since departing the Dam, that early race leader Shaun ran past me while saying,

"C'mon, let's push hard and catch the leaders together"

He had the right fighting spirit, but I knew if I was going to win this thing it was going to be on the downs and not the ups. I stayed patient and once I crested the climb I managed to bring Shaun back to me in about five minutes. Just a minute further along and I passed Graeme and I was now back in 2nd place again. I was approaching the most familiar parts of the course for me. Living just down the street from here. The stretch between the bridge across Mosquito Creek and the water fountain at Mountain Highway is the one section of the course I'd run more than anywhere else. In training I can knock this section out in under twenty minutes, in the race I managed 22m30s and when I hit the aid station on Mountain Highway I knew I was moving well and that I was right where I needed to be.

The Last Quarter

Staying focused and pushing hard I came into the aid station near The Gazebo (the 3/4 mark of the race splits) and James told me I was 1m45s down on Nick. I was slightly more flustered than I had hoped to be as I scrambled between grabbing my pack from James and attempting to get more Coke and now watermelon into my system. This is about the time that people started relaying information ahead that "Gary is looking rough". Accurate to say the least. I was three minutes off of Aaron's CR pace. Could I do it? Could I really run the last section three minutes faster than his 1h14m44s? Could I even catch Nick for the win? Could I make it to the finish without seizing up completely? Could I stay on the podium? Could I please just shut up and run...yes, yes I can do that. Thank you brain now please go back to just asking me for sugar and stop wasting your time on actual thinking, something you struggle with at the best of times.

I now had a time. I now knew what I had to do to win this race. There is another aid station just fifteen minutes away and after a torturous climb that feels about ten times as long as it actually is I got another split from Nick's good buddy Eric Carter (thanks for the great race pics btw) "You're pretty much exactly sixty seconds behind Nick"

Alright I thought, that's it, he's cooked. He's a better climber than me and I just made up nearly a minute on him in fifteen minutes of running predominantly uphill terrain. Just keep doing what I'm doing and I should see him by the Seymour Grind.

I had had my music in since the half way point and was now focusing on completely zoning out and keeping everything else at bay. As I was approaching another aid station ten minutes later I took out one ear bud and started listening...cheering...time check...push on...45 seconds is the gap. Patience.

This aid station actually kinda blew my mind. I had my game plan in place which was gonna be to fill some water, down some coke and watermelon and sprint on outta there, then they said the magic words

"You want a Mr. Freezie?"

DO I WANT A MR. FREEZIE!!??

Mind = BLOWN

No water, no coke, no watermelon but I had a Mr. Freezie and I was about the happiest creature on this green earth. I think I even peed my pants a little in all the excitement, though my bodily functions may have been shutting down on their own as a means of self preservation.

I was in a state euphoric confusion, what with the Mr. Freezie coursing through my glycogen depleted veins, the sugar rush in full affect as it was lighting up my cerebrum, and this song on my playlist when a figure appeared in the forest. He looked strikingly familiar and was cheering me on, saying something like "your cadence is great, you're looking strong and killing this" to which all I could muster was "Adam?"

For a very brief moment I thought I'd dreamt him into being, but I didn't have time to figure that out. My brain needed sugar, me legs needed distraction and my friend Nick needed to be caught before he crested the Seymour Grind. You can smell the finish line from the top of this climb as it's less than thirty minutes away and almost all downhill. Funny things can happen to our bodies when we effectively smell the barn and I knew it was in my best interest to have a gap on him before the odour managed to rally his legs.

Sure enough and right on time I spotted Nick just as soon as the trail steepened. Slowly but surely I picked away the distance and on the flat bit near the top I put in a push and got my gap. Nick asked me if anyone was with me and I said no, I hadn't seen anyone since Mountain Highway, some sixty minutes earlier.

In all my training runs that had involved the Seymour Grind, which is a 400 meter / 1300ft climb less than 10km from the finish of the race, I had envisioned catching the leader, whoever it might be in exactly this position. Now it was unfolding just the way I had dreamed and hoped it would. I crested the top and laid into the descent that would take me to the finish in Deep Cove. A quick reference of my watch told me that Aaron's CR would stand at least another year and somewhere in the process of determining this and knowing that Nick was on the ropes I managed to shut it down ever so slightly. Instead of killing myself I was running 'conservatively hard' under the guise that the race was all but over. My mind had started to accept something that hadn't yet occurred, and inevitability that was not yet inevitable and in that minute degree of letting my focus slip everything started to hurt again. I was grunting and groaning my way down the trail, allowing the suffering to have a voice that it had thus far been denied. I turned up the music to drown out my own weakness.

I crossed Seymour Road and snagged a piece of watermelon from the final aid station. I knew the finish was less but fifteen minutes away. Just around the corner from here as you proceed to drop elevation through the forest there is one switchback that's longer than the others. With my music thumping I had zoned out, yet something inside me told me to look back up the trail, just to be sure. What I saw nearly brought tears to my eyes. Mike Murphy was coming in HOT. Mike is such a damn talented runner and when we ran the first half of the course together just a few weeks prior he had mentioned to me that his plan was to stay conservative early and simply hammer past people late. I had not seen Mike since about half way up Black Mountain, almost four hours prior. I had all but forgotten about him and simply assumed he'd played it too conservative on the day, yet here he was, noticeably out pacing me and just seconds away from blowing my doors off and leaving me to pick up my own emotional pieces from the dirt beneath my feet. Getting passed like this so late in a race, and completely unexpectedly is near impossible to recover from. By the time the hunter catches and passes the prey, the prey is left with a soiled diaper in a state of confusion as to what exactly just happened.

DON'T YOU DARE QUIT ON ME GARY!

That was all I could think to myself as I pushed my chest forward and leaned into the descent like I never had before. I'm either going to cramp up and fall flat on my face, or I'm going to win this race, but I am not conceding anything yet.

We popped out onto Indian River Drive together. This is a downhill stretch of about 400 meters of pavement less than two miles from the finish, and as such fewer sections are more painful. I absolutely knew that Mike was right behind me and pushing as hard as he could, and the only thing more challenging than how deep I was pushing myself was in fact forcing myself not to shoulder check. To even turn my head a degree towards the rear would sacrifice how hard I was driving away from him. To turn and acknowledge your hunter is a sign of weakness. It is to concede to yourself as much as to them that they will indeed catch and pass you. I have caught people out like this before and when they turn their head towards you it's all but over for them. I was being haunted by a Medusa, and my legs would turn to stone should I so much as glance in his direction.

I hit the trail post to take us off the road and back onto the BP and I simply unleashed into the terrain. The next quarter mile stacks up as one of the most technical quarter mile stretches in the full thirty miles. There's a pile of rocks before a staircase and as I thumped my way through this I had a brief recognition of the fact that if I bailed I might not make the finish, as there were major consequences to being so reckless. The Medusa trumped all of these fears and afforded me temporary reprieve from my lactic laden limbs.

There is an open stretch of trail just past here known as Quarry Rock. As I stammered through here, limbs flailing in all directions just to keep me perpendicular I implored myself to look. I had a gap and I could feel it, the Medusa's gaze was no longer searing into my veins. A microsecond flinch of my neck before focusing on the rocks that seem to arise from the vegetation encroaching upon track below. I had my gap.

For a downhill finish the final mile of the Knee Knacker is not bashful in its attempt to extend your suffering just a little while longer.

Stairs, roots, rocks, downhill, bridges, uphill, roots, rocks, hikers, tourists, down, up, down, up, me yelling

"HELLO! GOOD MORNING! HELLO! HELLO!"

In my head, 'Please move. Please God move. MOVE PEOPLE, MOVE ASIDE DAMMIT!"

With one group it was like I was a running back attempting to break through a defensive line. Thankfully most people were too astounded to move and they simply became pylons in my obstacle course to the tape.

The last descent appeared now and I rolled through it like a raging river. I hit the stairs at the bottom and took them two at a time. I was spit out onto the road where the volunteers were directing me to my right but my momentum carried me further left and in doing so I ended up with an impromptu hug from good friend Kathy McKay. She apologized and if I had time to laugh I would have, I put my head down and cranked up the tiny incline towards the finisher chute. I finally let myself accept what was now, finally, inevitable...






Mike ran the fastest closing 1/4 in Knee Knacker history. I ran a 1h13m37s split which would have been the fastest ever, but Mike laid down an astonishing 1h11m38s final leg!

I've never been tested like this in an ultra before and when the top three guys finish just 2m39s apart it's pretty obvious that there was zero room for error on the day. Congrats to Mike and Nick who were both making their Knee Knacker debuts and are surely poised to stand atop the podium in this race in the coming years.

As always, thanks to the incredible volunteers and race organizers, and congrats to all who toed the line on Saturday. We are so truly blessed to have the Knee Knacker in our community and to be such a driving force towards inspiring people into trail and ultra running for two and a half decades now!

Last but not least, I was incredibly fortunate to have numerous good friends make their way out onto course to help cheer me on throughout the day. You know who you are and I hope you truly know how much I appreciated it. Your energy always inspires me to push harder in those moments.

Gear
Salomon Sense Mantra
Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab 5
Suunto Ambit2
Hammer Nutrition
Drymax Socks

Full run stats via Movescount

CR splits: 1h18m01s / 1h00m37s / 1h06m30s / 1h14m44s = 4h39m52s
My hope: 1h21m / 58m / 1h08m / 1h12m = 4h39mXXs
Actual: 1h19m45s / 59m04s / 1h09m04s / 1h13m37s = 4h41m28s

Full Results
GR

6 Comments

8 Comments

A 100 Mile Journey Around Mt. Fuji

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 first climb of the race held approximately 1600 feet / 500 meters of elevation gain and it began just two miles in. After nearly decapitating a few teammates due to some non-breakaway tape on the starting line, I narrowly avoided being stampeded by the nearly 1000 runners behind me who were also tackling the 100 miles around Mt. Fuji. Staying controlled over the first few miles was no easy task and even while hanging back around 12th place overall I still managed a few back to back 6m30s miles to open my 100 mile journey. (If you want a good laugh FFWD this video to 1m47s and then freeze frame it through the start)

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.

Shinpei Koseki
After twelve miles of racing and the aforementioned 1600 foot hump I'd had nine miles of running at seven minute mile pace or better under my belt. That's not the kind of running you'd expect to do in a mountainous 100 miler. The next four miles, which took us to the sixteen mile aid station, were covered at an approximate 7m30s pace over undulating terrain. Immediately following the aid station we were finally into the steepness I'd prepared for. The trail underfoot on was an approximate 30% grade which is very comparable to the grade I did the bulk of my training over. The first 16m/26km of the race, had been covered in just over two hours.

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.

Shinpei Koseki
I train on steep-ass terrain. I LOVE super steep unrunnable terrain that forces you into a power hike, bent at the waist, hands on knees, straining to breath just to sustain twenty minute mile pace. I excel at this discipline though I'd never seen anything quite like what I was staring at before. It was the lack of noticeable switchbacks that really accentuated what I was confronted with, but the next single mile was going to climb 2600ft / 800m at a maximum grade of up to, including, and slightly over 50%. For reference a double black diamond ski run will often be in the 30-40% range. Because there were blinking lights on the flagging tape going up the trail it felt as though you could look straight up, like you should be able to see stars but instead they were flashing and you knew you had to pull those stars out of the sky under your own power. I reached forward in the dark to grab any solid object I could find to help pull me up the trail. A friend described it best when he said, "and then the trail was right in front of your face"

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.

Shinpei Koseki
I hit the aid station in fourth, thirteen minutes behind defending champion and pre-race favorite Julien Chorier, 4m30s behind Cyril, and now one minute behind Hara. The race was six and a half hours old and I was exactly where I was hoping to be. Heading to Japan I had every faith in my abilities as a 100 mile runner over mountainous terrain, and after training with last year's second place finisher Adam Campbell I had every confidence that I was strong enough and healthy enough to challenge for the lead and a hopeful podium finish. The race was still in its infancy but I felt like I'd dodged a bullet with my quad issues, and once I saw my amazing Salomon support crew and they provided me with a triangle of rice wrapped in seaweed it only served to confirm my earlier findings. My quads had started to seize from a lack of overall calories on the day, not a lack of per hour racing calories, and getting solid food into my stomach was like riding on the wings of a unicorn...or at least how I'd envision that to feel. My spirits were buoyed by a simple 300 calorie reward and my legs seemed to forget that they'd threatened to leave me for dead just an hour earlier. (I've been told that if I don't correct Unicorn to Pegasus that I won't be getting married in Sept...OR Unipeg, greatest creature ever not created)

The next twenty-two miles of the course, bringing us up to the midway point, were predominantly paved and with a continual slightly uphill grade. This was the longest sustained runnable section of the entire race. Adam had told me about the UTMF course and how sections of flat'ish pavement were interspersed relentlessly with super steep mountain terrain. In training I'd run a 50km road run on a near weekly basis for the last few months. This wasn't as much about developing any additional foot speed as it was about training my mind to handle the monotony of this task at hand. I needed to learn how to zone out and click off kilometers for hours on end without a single excuse to walk, hike, or stop for any reason. This training was now paying dividends for as much as I continually wanted to stop and walk this section of the course there was simply no physical reason to do so.

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"
"Okay thanks"

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.

Shinpei Koseki
I just kept trucking along as the terrain grew in steepness and technicality. I kept my head down and went to work and a funny thing happened. No one caught me. I shoulder checked repeatedly and it wasn't until I arrived at the next aid station unscathed that I had managed to regain some of my confidence in how well I was moving. I just never ceases to amaze. You are moving at a set pace of 10km/hr for arguments sake. You catch the runner in front of you and you naturally speed up and feel amazing. The adrenaline catches a hold of you and you can't believe how FAST you're running. Reverse the scenario, going the exact same speed, in the exact same initial head space, yet getting caught yourself you somehow suffer a massive letdown and your mind gets the better of you. I was thankful that I had yet to deal with the latter and was hopeful that I'd soon be dealing with the former.

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,

"Walk Only"

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
The next 6m/10k was almost all downhill while losing about 2,000ft of elevation. I departed ten minutes behind Julien for 2nd and arrived at A7 - 105.3km just eight minutes in arrears. The volunteers at A7 actually told me that I was eight minutes behind BOTH runners. BOTH runners! I thought, that's it Hara has cracked and Julien hasn't been making any ground on me. Looking at the somewhat inaccurate course profile I figured this was my best chance to put in a bit of a push and to get myself within striking distance of the lead.

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!!"
Shinpei Koseki

Shinpei Koseki
Feeling the sun rise over you in a race that takes you non stop through the darkness of the night all by yourself is a bit like the warm embrace of a loved one that you've gone far too long without seeing. It's all at once foreign and familiar and comforting beyond reason. I was now wide awake and alive by every possible definition of those words, and not five minutes later this happened (fast forward to 1m45s for the sunrise shot and what follows)

I came around the corner and he was right in front of me. I had no inkling that I was so close to Julien
Shinpei Koseki
and that I'd taken back the eight minutes he had over me in half the distance that I though it would take to gain just five of those minutes.

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.
"REALLY!?"
"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
4th place.
20h20m.
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


GR

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!

8 Comments

4 Comments

Up To Here (PhotoBlog)

The last six weeks have gone really well. Though I've wanted to blog a bunch and I have numerous postings written in my head, the untold story of being a race director (especially of multiple events now) is that you just generally spend a lot of time working on your computer. Given that I've never held a desk job or anything remotely close to a job that forced me to sit down for any extended period of time, it's been quite the adjustment. I have found that spending so many additional hours working online has effectively quelled my blogging and other 'online for pleasure' ways...ummm, that can be read many, many different ways...being online now for five, six or seven hours a day is effectively three, four, or five hours longer than I'm used to. The motivation to then sit in front of a screen afterwards is lacking to say the least.

March was a great month of training. With a late push of 123 miles in the final week I ended up with a 402 mile month.

I raced the Chuckanut 50k to a 10 minute PR in the middle of this. Though I was pretty happy with my 4h02m run time, as I was shooting for sub 4hr, I just didn't have my climbing legs with me on the day. My leg turnover held up throughout the race on the faster stuff, my descents were solid as always, but my climbing legs evaporated within the first mile of the first climb and I just had to slog it out and stick with it. I found myself with a pack of runners with about ten miles to go and in the end I finished 14-15 minutes ahead of this group, as the climbing was effectively behind us. It was rewarding to have felt terrible very early on and yet to have stuck with things and plodded through to a respectable result. A result that I can actually celebrate, especially when DNF thoughts nearly overwhelmed me from miles 7-15. I wasn't having my absolute best day but to fight it out and still be satisfied with my overall result made it very rewarding.

Last weekend, the week following my 123 mile effort, I managed to shave five full minutes off of my Diez Vista 50k course record from 2010. A race report is imminent...I hope.

From my last blog posting up to here, in pictures;

How much is that doggy in the fence?

Another day atop Dam Mountain. A favorite local route

The Green Room

A weekly endeavor, Dam Mountain ascent

Sometimes in a slightly different light,
you end up seeing things in a completely different way

A section of my new race The Cap Crusher 8k/13k

Ben Gibbard at WWU

Awaiting our annual training terrain melt out

The logo for our new race held on 03-23

Running on Chuckanut with Linda

A three bridge training run

Linda on the more technical bits of Chuckanut

BCMC a weekly route for me

As much as running in the rain can be challenging,
it also leads to some of the most beautiful runs

Colinoba birthday scavenger hunt in Seattle

Cougar Mountain outside Seattle

Logo for our next Coast Mountain Trail Series Race,
Buckin' Hell on May 18th

Happy Pi Day!

My Chuckanut PR

Happy Saint Paddy's Day from the Diez Vista trail

Another Dam ascent

Starting line of Cap Crusher

No gold

Dam Mountain

Grouse Mountain Snowshoe Grind,
ie Dam Mountain

Cleveland Dam with The Lions in the distance

A surprise gift, the new glow in the dark Canadian quarters!

Hiding on a trail in Squamish

The Dream Wizards are responsible for all that is great in
the Squamish trail networks

View from Survival Of The Fittest course in Squamish

Dam Mountain

A 50k PR on a training run

Dam Mountain with Adam Campbell

A city turned upside down in the ocean

Happy Easter!

Squamish

Roxy testing her new gear

Linda with sunshine coming out of her bum

Logo for Coast Mountain Trail Series race,
Survival Of The Fittest 13k/18k

View of Garibaldi from Stump Lake in Squamish

Congrats from Salomon West Van on DV CR

A new course record

Coming up quick!!

A trot in Stanley Park

Where the sun eventually broke through

How to get noticed at Whole Foods

A walk in the city after an all you can eat sushi
night entertaining friends from out of town
We fly out for Japan and UTMF in just four days time!!

GR

4 Comments

10 Comments

My New Mantra

New for 2013, Salomon Sense Mantra - my favorite!
A mantra I started using in late 2012 was 'fight'. That's it. Just that one word. Fight.

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

I had my very first run in these shoes today, and I absolutely loved how they hugged my midfoot while giving me ample room in the toe box. This is known as ENDOFIT which is a Salomon exclusive technology. It's an internal fit sleeve designed to hug the forefoot and improve feedback and foot wrapping. Along with this the drop is but 6mm, which I'm a big fan of. 16mm in the rear and 10mm in the front. This is not a minimalist shoe but I'm not a minimalist runner.

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:)



GR

10 Comments

15 Comments

HURT Follow Along + Current Course Conditions

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
-------------
20h12m

Sections

1) Start to Paradise / Manoa
1h22
1h22
1h28
1h34
1h42

2) Paradise / Manoa to Nuuanu
59m
1h01m
1h10m
1h11m
1h15m

3) Nuuanu to Nature Center
1h19m
1h19m
1h26m
1h30m
1h34m

Wish me luck,
GR









15 Comments

2 Comments

The Numbers Don Lie V2.0

Back in Sept I posted a blog called "The Numbers Don't Lie". It ended up being more of a self justification as to why I hadn't done better at UTMB, and throughout 2012 in general. I seemed to find resolve in reminding myself of just how little I was able to run in the nearly full year that I was sidelined.

Through further reflection however I realized that I was also making some race day nutritional gaffes along the way. I've since addressed these via the handful of races I've run since Sept. Primarily this involved not consuming enough electrolytes during my races. Yes I've heard of Tim Noakes, yes I've read his electrolyte theory, yes he's much smarter than me, and no his theory does not work for me in particular.

After returning from UTMB in early September I was carrying a bit of a hip/glute med injury around with me that pretty much shut down my running for the better part of three weeks. I was however able to hike, and since the fall in the Pacific Northwest is usually the best time of the year we enjoyed plenty of stunningly beautiful treks. Such as this:


and this:


By October, and thanks to Moveo, I was finally back to running again and I've been on a bit of a constant progression since then. In fact this December goes down as the single biggest running month of my entire life, and by a decent margin. Factor in that we had some of the earliest low level snow that I've ever experienced in my nine years on the coast, and a decent chunk of the running was completed on microspikes and/or snowshoes.

As I sit here tapering for the HURT 100 miler in just two weeks time it is with an air of confidence that I simply have not possessed in three full years, since exactly this time in 2010. There are of course absolutely no guarantees with racing, especially 100 milers, but I've put in the work and I'm ready to wear my result come race day. 

By the numbers. I ran over 1000 miles / 1635 km between October 1st and Jan 1st.

I managed to eclipse 3000 miles for the year, with a very late push. 

After the first five months I had covered less than 1000 miles as I was strategically worked my way back from injury.

In December (well technically from Dec 2nd till Jan 1st) I managed over 450 miles / 730kms. Included in this were two 50km races. At my first, the Deception Pass 50km on Dec 8th, I managed my first ultra victory in nearly three years. I ran under four hours in setting the new course record, during a 92 mile week. I was very happy with that. 
Photo Credit Glenn Tachiyama
To close out 2012 I knocked down 300km / 185m of running in just nine days time. From Christmas Eve until and including New Year's Day. 

I ran the NYD Fat Ass 50k, a 'fun run' that always seems to draw a pretty fast crowd near the front. Again I was very happy with my run as I shaved the better part of thirteen minutes off my best time at this event with a 3h47m06s effort to snag 3rd place. 

In 2012 I was only allowed to run 10k on NYD. In 2011 I 'ran' 10k on my crutches. In 2010, leading up to HURT Hawaii, I ran 3h59m55s after knocking down 300km in ten days. I really like where I'm at right now. I haven't felt this strong in, well...ever.
Photo Credit Mike Palichuk
The numbers don't lie and hopefully this means what I think it means come race day on Jan 19th.

2012 as a whole

Running 
x 320 individual runs, not running specific days, of which I have no real idea
4835 kms / 3005 miles
661 hours
168,000 meters / 551,000 feet

Biking 
x 68
1650 kms / 1025 miles
78 hours
25,000 meters / 115,000 feet

Running by month

Dec - x 31 / 730 kms / 80 hours / 24,000 meters - feeling fitter than I ever have before
Nov - x 27 / 490k / 68h / 19,000m - feeling like finally back to peak fitness
Oct - x 24 / 415k / 64h / 17,000m - getting back to good again
Sept - x 31 / 300k / 68h / 12,000m - hip injury forced mostly hiking
Aug - x 23 / 461k / 76h / 21,000m - utmb
July - x 24 / 261k / 52h / 10,000m - sick + back to back dnf's
June - x 34 / 650k / 73h / 22,000m - one of my best ever mileage months
May - x 27 / 376k / 48h / 15,000m - allowed to start back on mountainous terrain
Apr - x 25 / 363k / 36h / 10,000m - still following strict mileage limits
Mar - x 30 / 361k / 45h / 9000m - building consistency
Feb - x 23 / 265k / 33h / 6000m - slow controlled build
Jan - x 21 / 163k / 18h / 3000m - fresh off of injuries

GR

2 Comments