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Trip Report - Cypress Peak Scramble (near Whistler)

I'm going to attempt to be better at this so here's the first of a few recent trip reports.



Cypress Peak - 2083m / 6834ft
10-25-13

Party: + Paul Romero

Conditions: Unseasonably warm and sunny. Temps from 10 degrees in the shade and nearing 20 in the late afternoon sun. Some snow above 1700m / 5500ft still remained from a late Sept storm system.

Timing: 2h14m to the top and 1h45m down for 3h59m return. We spent approx fifteen minutes of stop time on the summit.

Total Distance: 5m / 8km

Total Elevation Gain: 1050m / 3500ft

Pace - Easy/Honest/Intense: Honest. A steady pace up with a few short breaks. An easier pace down with some additional time spent enjoying the sun and the views from the ridge.

Gear Used: Trail running gear with some emergency supplies

To The Trailhead: Drive time from Lonsdale in North Van to the trailhead was approximately 90 minutes

Access: Though the scrambles guide which was published in 2005 describes the road in as having waterbars and needing a high clearance vehicle one only needs to check their website Cairn Publishing for the addendum which as of 2008 accurately states:

The access road has seen some changes recently. Reportedly the road access is now accessible by a 2wd vehicle. In addition, the road now continues beyond the end described in the guidebook. 

We drove all the way to the trail in a Honda Element with only one small hill near the very end offering any suggestion of needing an AWD vehicle.

The Route: The first glimpse of some peaks that you spot on your left seems to line up with the images in the Scrambles Guidebook, when in fact this is the drainage that stares up at Tricouni Peak. You need only assess the water features for a second to realize you're not scrambling up that side. Tricouni is accessed from the Squamish Valley FSR on the opposite side of the range. Continue to the next drainage and there is a small pullout area on the left to park at. There is actually flagging tape on the left side and a maintained trail down to the Roe Creek crossing, which has even seen some very recent chainsaw work. From here you're on rock and in the alpine immediately. There are rock cairns guiding you initially but as they peter out you simply stay to the right of the glacial tongue you first encounter.

Route find your way into the basin above and then stay to the right of the glacier itself to gain the ridge crest. You'll be veering away from your target as you do this. Once you gain the ridge crest you have a straight shot along the ridge and up to the summit. The crux is a moderate 10m section at the base of the ridge. Everything beyond this is pretty straightforward.

Summit views are nothing short of spectacular. The slightly higher Tricouni 2122m / 6962ft prevents sightlines down Howe Sound but otherwise the views are seemingly endless with glaciers in abundance, as is always the case in the coast mountains. Dramatic peaks such as Pyroclastic, Vulcan's Thumb, Cayley and Fee present themselves to the North. As you pan clockwise you scan across Wedge, Blackcomb, Overlord, Black Tusk, Table, Garibaldi, Tricouni, Mt. Tantalus, Pelion, Ossa, etc.

Assessment: A very worthy objective and though you may spend more time driving (from Vancouver or further) than you actually do on your feet, the route is fun and has a wild flare to it as it is without the standard long forested approach that most peaks on the coast demand.

GPS via Movescount: click here

Pictures:











GR

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The Pain Puzzle - My Two Year Chronic Pain Journey

I did something absolutely incredible earlier this month, I completed a gym workout, a full body gym workout.

Notice I said complete and not that I simply went to the gym for the first time in very a long time. You see it's been well over two full years since I've been able to engage my upper body in any way shape or form that involved lifting, contorting, or even just sustained support of my own body weight, such as sitting and working long hours on a computer. I have carried with me a significant secondary injury from the eight and a half months I spent on crutches, which itself spanned throughout late 2010 and most of 2011.

Some people may remember that during my time on crutches I was still working hard with a strength and conditioning coach and completing workouts such as this one at least a few times a week. During my time on crutches I had greatly increased my upper body strength and was approaching my pre-running days, which at one time saw me regularly in the gym with the upper body strength to bench press over 200lbs and do at least 50 consecutive push-ups. This was many years back but the point being that the muscle memory had already been established which always makes the task of regaining that strength that much easier if you stay dedicated.


In May of 2011 I course directed the Burnaby MOMAR race. I had just returned from Hawaii where I'd managed this, my second break, and was back on the all too familiar metallic sticks. I had progressed through my first break and the resulting four months on crutches without any secondary issues, in fact I even 'ran' 10k on them on Jan 1st. I had progressed enough in my crutching experience to challenge myself on a continual basis to not use either leg at all. This is to say I had the balancing ability to hop around on nothing but the two skinny sticks for up to a few minutes at a time. At one point during the first break I was at a party where a friend was DJ'ing and without even questioning it I single legged jumped off the stage, which was a meter high, onto the dance floor, landing tripod style before hopping up onto my sticks to dance without legs for the next sixty seconds. I called this 'embracing' the crutching experience though certainly in hindsight it could be seen as rather reckless.


Once I ended up back on crutches for the second time I continued and even upped my antics. After course directing the MOMAR on crutches I spent many hours on the dance floor that night, continuing to stress my upper neck and back, though at the time being blissfully unaware of the forthcoming consequences of my actions. The following week while at Curb's gym doing a standard workout things felt a little off. There was tension and sensitivity in my neck where none had presented itself before. I cut my workout short and called it a day. One week further on would prove to be my final time in a gym for the next 27 months. I had aggravated something in my neck / upper back region that rest and stretching was not helping to resolve. Each day become slightly more painful as the ability to fully rest this new injury was in fact impossible since my only means of getting around was to load the exact muscles / region that were in protest. I had acquired a chronic injury and it was about to plague my life.

Initial attempts to treat the injury were met with worsening symptoms. My upper back and neck were effectively responding like a smoldering fire. The pain was ever present, a shooting sensation predominantly on the right side of my neck and a tension right across my upper shoulders. It was akin to whiplash. Anytime treatment was sought it reacted like high winds on embers and would send me into hours and even days of an increased pain cycle. Eventually the theory that was settled on was 'wait till you're off crutches and this'll fix itself'. This made sense of course, so instead of seeking treatments that only seemed to make things worse I rested and stretched the area as much as possible. To use my crutches only seemed to aggravate things further so I became very good at hopping around on one leg. My crutches were only used when I would leave my apartment and I became very good at hopping around since my injury was of the 100% non-weight bearing kind.

Eventually September rolled around and I found myself in walking boot for the back half of the month. In October I was free of any hindrance to my bipedal ways, and the waiting began. A week passed, a month passed, a few months passed and before I knew it it was 2012. Nothing had changed. The pain was just as prevalent as ever, even after removing the most likely variable in the equation which of course was the crutches themselves.

In this time frame arose the reason that this has never been publicly broached before, I expressed my pain and frustrations to my mother in a phone call after a road ride which itself also set off an increased pain response. One week later I was informed that my mother had lost five pounds. My mother has eternally stated that she 'just needs to lose five pounds' even though she's stayed at a consistent weight for seemingly her entire adult life. She did not discover a new fad diet, she was literally worried sick about me. My mother and father are balanced people and this response was beyond out of character for her. After living the whole twice over broken foot thing right along with me this was the apparent breaking point for her. Of course parents worry about their kids but after seeing me in some form of pain for a calendar year at that point she seemingly couldn't stand the thought of me not just being happy and healthy again, so I gave her that guise she so desperately needed and I went about quietly working my way through one of the most complex puzzles of my life.

Break a bone = 6 weeks
A more complex break = a few months
Most standard injuries = a set time frame to recovery

Even while in jones fracture hell I knew there would be an end to it all. Whether I could get back to competitive running or not was then up for debate, but I knew I'd get off of crutches around a set date and then be able to go back to normal day to day living. Some injuries last longer than others, but land yourself in chronic injury pain territory and it's a whole other ball game.

2012 included

X-rays
An MRI
A month on Lyrica
Acupuncture
A yoga therapy assessment
A.R.T. treatments
A chiropractic adjustment
Electrostatic treatments via a device called the Hivamat 200

The Hivamat 200
I was exhausting any and all options at my disposal, and in doing so I was working with some of the absolute best people within their fields. Each Doctor had their own incredible resume including working for the Olympics directly, working on and with Olympic athletes, working solely for professional sports teams such as the Toronto Blue Jays, the actual person who opened the MRI lab at my local hospital, etc, etc. There wasn't a single person I met with who wasn't the rock star in their respective field, and yet my issues managed to confound each and every one of them. It had gotten to the point where my wife Linda was reading textbooks on how to work your way out of a chronic pain cycle. If no one and nothing is able to diagnose an actual root cause of the pain than it must in fact be psychosomatic, and as such I had to accept that to get better was to continue pushing through the pain and effectively ignore the pain response my body was producing. This of course proved to be one of the more painful and disheartening months throughout the entire process.

Now I must clarify at this point that throughout all of this my running was fairly immune to these secondary issues I was dealing with, in fact the more time I spent upright the better I did feel. The main triggers throughout 2012 were time spent on my computer, driving, stress, and any upper body movements that weren't specific to forward movement. I had my work space around my computer addressed and then purchased a tablet so that I could effectively work while laying on my back. Laying supine and sometimes in the fetal position were the only effective resolutions of a spike in pain on many occasions. Running helped things, although seemingly simple additions to my running such as wearing a pack and using trekking poles did not. I was racing UTMB in 2012 and I was doing so with a backpack (of course) and trekking poles. Some workouts hurt more than others, though nothing from the waist down was ever compromised so I continued to regain much of my lost fitness.

2012 bled into 2013 and nothing but my level of frustration with the process had altered. When you feel like you've exhausted every possible option, what do you do beyond living with your circumstances as though they are your new normal. Pain cycles increased around stress levels and work loads since my work is now predominantly online. The funny thing about making your living off of events is that from the outside looking in it appears that all work is done out in the wilds and on trails while loving every second of it. In fact I spend more time staring at a bright screen now than I ever have in my life, usually answering questions like "What will the weather be like on race day in eight week's time?" or "How do I find this piece of super important information that is conveniently hidden on your home page" or "Will I encounter squirrels during your race?"

Joking of course but there is a lot of online work involved in what I do and I have never, in my entire life, ever once had a job that involved sitting down. I believe this is one element that allowed me to successfully start ultra running from complete scratch in my late twenties and to have a modicum of success, but that's another blog posting entirely.

Computer time = pain. Sitting = pain. Stress = pain. Not running = pain. The most painful week of 2013 for me was immediately following my run at the Diez Vista 50k (1st CR) and just prior to flying to Japan for UTMF (4th). I had been training hard and staying upright, but in the week following DV I had an absolute boat load of online work to tackle and I didn't run a step for five straight days. It had been just shy of two years since this whole neck debacle / pain issue had begun and this was one of the absolute lowest points in the entire journey.

As I revisited the previous two years and all the failed attempts at a resolution to this problem that truly affected my day to day life, I could not help but to be enveloped in a fit of depression. This had somehow become my new reality. I was going to be living in pain for the foreseeable future. My body was seriously damaged and there was no ready solution, no sensible answer. This is what chronic pain is like. You feel completely helpless and at ends with your own physical being.

"Tell me what's wrong so I can fix it body. Work with me here dammit! WORK WITH ME!"

Little did I know that all was about to change, the answer was about to find me and though I'd slowly but surely given up all hope it would take take one person's conviction to convince me otherwise.

A successful race in Japan was followed by three weeks of downtime. Early in the year one of the more experienced chiropractors in town had given a presentation at a run clinic I was then overseeing for our local run shop. He was renowned, hence his selection as a presenter, though we had never officially met. He said I should swing in sometime just to get an assessment. I had finally decided to take him up on his offer now that I found myself with so much free time following my second 100 mile race of the year. The interesting part about this first assessment is that I recall him asking what issues I had and I responded with none. My running was going great and outside of the standard post 100 soreness that was present I felt fine. He talked further, asked more questions and as an after thought I said,

"Well there is this neck thing, but I've already exhausted all avenues in search of that answer."

His face lit up. It was a mix of 'you've got to be kidding me' and 'this sounds like a fun problem to fix.'

I of course stated that the answer was not to be found in modern medicine, I would likely require a complete neck and back transplant that would not be covered by Canadian health care for at least another thirty years, and we'd likely need to shut down government to figure it all out. He poked and prodded my spine and was somehow convinced he could help.

"But I've had an adjustment and it just seemed to make things worse. I was in pain for two full days afterwards."

"But did you have multiple adjustments? Did you stick with it for an extended period of time?"

"No. It was incredibly painful and very early on in the process. It was easy to write it off back then, nearly two years ago. I haven't had an adjustment since."

"Commit to coming to see me for a month, twice a week. Recognize there will be increased pain throughout this process but trust me when I say that I believe we can fix this."

So to be completely honest here's where my feathers go up. I don't have much in the way of disposable income as it's usually invested in adventures and travel. Chiropractic care is not covered under our health care system, nor was the A.R.T, the acupuncture, the Lyrica, the yoga assessment or the Hivamat treatments. I had basically invested equally into each of these theories, giving them one month to procure results. I was a few thousand dollars into exploring solutions and was none the better for it. Now I was staring at another $400 - $500 investment into a treatment theory that was no greater than any other and in fact something I had attempted, though very briefly, very early on in the process.

"I'll think about it."

I had a lengthy conversation with Linda and we basically came to terms with the blatantly obvious 'this has been going on for far too long and isn't going to resolve itself. If we don't invest in this now I'm going to be living with it indefinitely and I'll have completely discounted someone who is rather confident in his findings.'

"Let's do it."

I started in on twice weekly adjustments throughout late May and early June. It was not a whole lot of fun and through the first few weeks I would often find myself in an elevated pain cycle for the entire three days between adjustments. It felt like regression instead of progression but my Doctor was convinced he was getting results. I wanted to cut my losses and save my money. I am incredibly thankful that he did not allow me to do so for in the third week I finally felt like we had gotten somewhere.

Cautiously Optimistic

Week four saw further noticeable improvements, primarily the ability to work on my computer for extended periods without needing a supine break and some tablet time. Week five saw me attempt a few push-ups, just to specifically strain my upper body a bit. There was still a pain reflex, but it was fleeting. I was finally convinced we were getting somewhere.

After about seven weeks of treatments I became overwhelmed with my racing and race directing schedule and before I knew it I found myself directing the Squamish 50, which much like the first year did not allow me to sit down whatsoever for the better part of forty hours, then I flew to France, then I got married, then we had a honeymoon, then I had an out of town event contract and then it was October.

"How's your neck doing honey?" asks my now wife

"Huh?"

"You're neck? You know, that constant source of pain and aggravation for the duration of our relationship."

"My neck? My neck feels really good actually. I've hardly thought about it, save a few high stress days, since? Since July maybe!"

"Do you think you could handle a gym workout?"

"Yeah, I'm going to take it super easy but yeah, let's test this thing out."

Three weeks and six gym sessions later, here I sit, finally, finally confident enough to complete this blog posting.

I am very nearly back to 100% for the very first time since I first snapped my foot, which happened on October 25th, 2010. Holy f#@king shit. I am only now myself realizing that that is nearly three years ago to the day.

Here's to health and well being. Don't ever take it for granted when you're fortunate enough to have it, and fight like hell to get it back when it's somehow taken from you.

What did I learn from this process?
That the answer is always there. There is a solution to any given problem. The bigger problem is finding the person or people who are most likely to have the answers to your specific problem. The more questions you ask, the more open you are about your process, the more likely you are to solve it in the shortest possible time frame.

How could I have solved this sooner?
Having never experienced anything like this before I spent far too much time in between exploring different types of treatment simply buried in a negative "I'll never solve this" head space. Pain has a funny way of getting the best of you sometimes. Financial stress incurred due to sourcing different treatment methods doesn't help either of course, but if I were to start all over again I'd simply attack this problem relentlessly and likely have found an answer in half the time or less.

Does this change anything in terms of my training and running fitness?
I'm simply excited to get back to an all body fitness for the first time in far too long. My running fitness came a long ways this year but I'm now excited to be able to add in more in the way of cross-training and core strength training programs. I feel very fortunate that throughout all of this my running seemed immune to the pain and in fact was more of a relief than anything, though I firmly believe that an all body fitness and training approach will always trump a singular, repetitive style of training.

I'm excited to be back, almost all the way back to pre-injury all body fitness. What a crazy ride it's been.

GR

Doctor's Notes
On your intake form you said you had no specific problems! Just "high mileage" issues...however, as we talked you then began to tell me about the chronic upper back pain that had been nagging for some time, the MVA in 2012, crutches from stress fractures and acceptance of your life with pain.

Anyway, your upper thoracic spine was significantly 'kyphotic' - a rounded upper back, the mobility was very limited in extension - backward bending motion - as well as loss of rib joint motion, and moderate to severe tightness of the neck and shoulder muscles.

We began a course of spinal manipulation to restore normal vertebral and rib joint mobility. You were sore and a little wary after the second visit, a normal flare-up, but felt committed to get better and your pain diminished significantly after 5 treatments. On the 7th visit you had logged 400 miles and worked 4 events in 3 weeks, then a little relapse, then voila you won Knee Knacker with no flare-ups! You told me that on July 18th and then I didn't see you until the other day Oct 19 and you had run the gauntlet of racing, travel, marriage etc...you now realized something had changed very significantly. Great story for us both!

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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

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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

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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

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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

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About Hanes Valley - Safe Backcountry Run Travel


I had the good fortune of completing one of my favorite local routes yesterday, the Hanes Valley traverse. This typically makes for a great trail running adventure around mid summer. You can create a full loop via either Grouse Mountain or Lynn Valley. My preferred direction of attack is Lynn Valley as you get to start out with the relatively flat warm up out towards Norvan Falls first. Once you crest the backside of the mountain and come through Grouse Resort you are then left with a plethora of options to return back to your can in Lynn Headwaters with the easiest and most direct being a jaunt down Mountain Highway.


I have always loved the wild feel of this route yet always desired to link it into a bigger outing. Yesterday I did just that by adding in an additional mini-climb to the Top of Grouse after contouring Dam Mountain, then a descent of BCMC (17m30s) followed by a return to the Top of Grouse via Jetboy/The Cut. I then proceeded down Mountain Highway to intersect with a climb to the top of Fromme, followed by a descent down Peer Gynt to Mountain Highway, to Lynn Headwaters, and then a climb up to the first lookout point on Lynn Peak to hit my goal for the day which was to acquire over 10,000ft / 3,000m of climbing and descent. It was my best training day in many years and happy making all around. I've since posted the pictures to my FB athlete page (where I host all my running content and photos now) and am getting numerous inquires about the route, and rightfully so of course.


Here's what you need to know before attempting the Hanes Valley circuit though:

This is not a beginners route. There is some rock travel and a minimal amount of navigation involved. The route looks to have been freshly flagged last year but there are still mini gaps in the flagging which could send you off route if you're not familiar with proper route finding.

There is still a sign up once you cross the suspension bridge at Norvan Falls saying this area is closed. It's there for a reason even though many experienced runners/hikers have started making their way through there already.

There is a heli-pad in the valley. It's there for a reason.

There is a permanent North Shore Search and Rescue cache in the valley. It's there for a reason.

This was probably my sixth time doing Hanes Valley and the first time I've done it completely solo (without at least Roxy as a companion). You will feel how isolated you are on this route because you really are in the backcountry. There are consequences if something goes wrong while in the backcountry and if you're not prepared for this possibility than you shouldn't be back there to begin with. Hanes feels safer than it really is because it's flanked by two of the more heavily trafficked areas of our local trail system, those being Lynn Headwaters and Grouse Mountain. Once you cross that suspension bridge at Norvan and until you find your way back down to Grouse Mountain Resort on the far side however, you are on your own. If something goes wrong out there it's going to be a lengthy and challenging extraction that will likely involve a helicopter ride. From experience, though it looks like and is certainly fun for the limited time you are in the air, waiting for the helicopter to arrive and dealing with the aftermath of a serious injury will be low lights of your year. I can guarantee you of that.

Snake bite kit not needed in these parts thankfully
Hanes Valley should be enjoyed by every experienced trail runner and I'd highly recommend the route, with a few caveats. If you've never been through there before, don't attempt it until all the snow has melted out. There is still a decent amount of snow on the high point around Crown and Goat mountains. If you lose your footing on this stuff you're sliding all the way to the bottom. You're not going to die but the propensity to injure an ankle or foot in this circumstance is high. The lingering snow also blurs out the route and can make navigating the area difficult for those who have never been through before. The safest time of year to enjoy Hanes Valley is still a good 2-3 weeks away. It'll usually a mid to late July opening.

Trip Plan: Even though you're only 'off the grid' for an hour or two while back there you are completely off the grid as there's little to no cell phone reception. I left a full trip plan in place with Linda which included exactly who to call and when should I not check in with her by our specified time. I would never go back here without leaving a trip plan because if something does happen to go wrong you can rest assured that people know where you are and are coming to help you within a few hours. You could sit tight and confidently wait for help to arrive vs the highly stressful task of attempting to get out a call for help and hope that someone finds you before nightfall.

Safety Gear: I brought a lightweight jacket, a space blanket, sunblock, a knife, a whistle (you will never be able to yell as loud or create as shrill a sound as a whistle will. If you fall off trail or down a slope a whistle can literally save your life), a fire starting kit, and a spare battery for my phone (in case I did get signal I would prefer to have access to two full phone charges vs just one). If it were later in the season or I had left it later in the day I also would have packed along a lightweight headlamp. Everything all in weighed next to nothing and packed into a side pockets on my Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab 5L.

There is simply NO REASON to ever venture back into areas like Hanes Valley and Coliseum Mountain without these bare essentials. On longer routes like the Howe Sound Crest Trail I pack additional supplies such as an emergency bivy sack. I pack my phone on every single run that I do, whether I expect cell service or not, after watching the unfortunate passing of a trail runner on a group run a few years back after taking a wrong turn. In that circumstance a phone would have been his greatest survival tool.

Enjoy these summer routes as they are truly spectacular, and another reason why North Vancouver really is one of the best trail destinations in North America.

Think before you head out there though, as you'll never regret the extra few ounces of gear should something actually go wrong, and in the end, on bigger routes, it might just save your life. Know the Ten Essentials, own them pack them down into a small carry sack and have them ready to go at a moments notice. I have effectively crammed all of my emergency supplies into the stuff sack that comes with the emergency bivy, including of course still having the bivy in there. *If you've ever had to spend a night under a space blanket you've been left longing for an emergency bivy instead*

Stay safe, play safe, and get out there and explore your backyard this summer. It's truly one of the best playgrounds in the world!

What say you? Any other suggestions? Any piece of kit you won't venture into the backcountry without?


Run link on Movescount
GR

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For Shits and Giggles - WS Podium Predictions


Looks like it's going to be a barn burner down at Western this year, both literally and figuratively as the mercury is set to climb over 100 for the first time in numerous years. "The Real Course" as many would call it, is about to be run.

Many have asked me if I'd return to WS after my 6th place finish in 2010 and the answer is a resounding YES, but not for at least a few more years as I'm really looking to focus my energy and finances towards big mountainous races in the next few years. I'll be putting in for the Hardrock lottery this year and we'll take it from there.

SO, given that the heat will play a MAJOR factor in tomorrow's run. Here are my picks for top three men and women.

MEN

1) Mike Morton - living in Florida, knocking out sub 13h30m 100's like it's nobodies business, smashing the US men's 24 hour record, and having won the race once before in a staggering sub 16hr run before most of us knew what ultra running was. The story lines are too intriguing to not be pulling for him. I think he takes it and it becomes one of the stories of the year in the ultra scene.

2) Timmy Olson - hard to slot Timmy into second, especially after a great year to date in which he also showed he could handle the heat with a stout 4th place finish at Transvulcania last month. The course record holder will have his hands full with Mike and in the end I think Mike's living in the heat full time will be the deciding factor.

3) Hal Koerner - everyone overlooks Hal even though he's won it twice and both during hot years. Like Hardrock last year he's managing to fly just under the radar this year. I think the heat works to Hal's favor and we end up with the first ever podium full of previous champions, a story in and of itself.

Guy hardest not to pick for top three: Rob Krar

WOMEN

1) Cassie Scallon - Cassie was injured for almost all of 2012, but right before she went down with a stress fracture she was crushing records in 50 mile or under distances. Cassie runs FAST and she's in top form this year as evidenced by her annihilation of the CR at the recent Ice Age 50. She bettered a 15 year old women's record by 18 minutes and in the process bettered 2nd place, previous winner and competitive runner Denis Bourassa by over an hour!

2) Rory Bosio - Very, VERY difficult not to pick Rory for the win after all she's done on the WS course in the last few years. Rory is also a very smart runner so expect to see her make a late push while others are fading in the heat.

3) Emily Harrison - Speed is what wins WS and Emily displayed this in spades while pushing Ellie Greenwood to a new CR at the JFK 50 late last year. Emily was testing the waters then with it being her first 50 miler as she will be now with this being her first 100, but as she's coached by the legendary Ian Torrence, I'm fairly certain she'll have a proper race day strategy in place and she'll be hard to beat if she runs a smart race and handles the heat alright.

Woman hardest not to pick for top three: Amy Sproston

What say you? Who are you picking for the podium tomorrow?

Best wishes to everyone for a safe and successful race!
GR

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WIN your way in - Red Bull Divide & Conquer - June 8th - North Vancouver

The second annual Red Bull Divide and Conquer will be taking place on Vancouver's North Shore next Saturday, June 8th. We had an absolute blast in year one and we're stoked to bring this top notch international event back to North Van again in 2013! Check out how much fun we had in the rain and mud last year.



Divide and Conquer is a relay styled event that begins with a mountain run, follows up with a mountain bike, and concludes with a white water kayak down Capilano Canyon, finishing just below the iconic Lion's Gate Bridge in West Vancouver. It's a wild ride for each participant and true mountain race in every sense of the word.

We currently have a few out of country kayakers who are heading this way to participate but they're shy a few teammates, predominantly a mountain runner, but also a mountain biker.

This contest is open for any runner OR biker to claim the free entry and join an established kayaker in helping to form a team of three.

The free entry can be used however you chose though, if you have your own team of three than you can use your individual free entry towards the team entry price. Even better, if you have a run-bike combo in place than you'll complete your team with our visiting kayaker (they might even be famous in the kayaking world)

We'll also be drawing for a 2nd place prize of $50 off an individual entry, and a 3rd place prize of $25 off an individual entry.

All you have to do to enter is to leave a comment on this blog posting prior to Sunday, June 2nd at 6pm. Winners will be drawn on Sunday night. Good luck!

1st - FREE individual entry
2nd - $50 off individual entry
3rd - $25 off individual entry

Full Info

GR

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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!

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Run Real Fast At UTMF - Music That Matters


The Great Buddha Kamakura - Age 761 Years - Height 13.4 meters - Weight 121 tonnes
I've gotten into the habit through my last few long distance runs, usually of 100 miles in length or more, of making a play list called "Run Real Fast At (insert race/fkt attempt here)"

Music is a powerful motivator and since 'discovering' its true benefits while running, more specifically during my final 20 miles at Western States 2010, I've set out to become a more educated and engaged listener.

I posed the question on Facebook just 24 hours before we departed for Japan,

"Name ONE SONG you currently love to run to"

There were almost 100 responses and some great insights into what can drive and motivate people while they're out there slogging along. It's clear the majority of us not only love to run to music but we love hearing what others love to listen to as well.

I simply ran out of time to even YouTube all the suggestions, let alone download/purchase/upload new music to my UTMF playlist.  In the end I added a few newbies to my personal playlist and will look to add more in over time.

In the interest of a music sharing style posting I'll continue to do this prior to other big races throughout the year. Hopefully you'll find some new tunes to run to, and please do share your own personal favorites for future reference as well.

I should preface this playlist by saying that there's a decent amount of music in here that I'd really never listen to otherwise. Songs such as Gangnam Style, I Know You Want Me, Barbara Streisand, and Welcome To The Jungle may pump me up late in 100 mile efforts but I'd likely turn towards something more along the lines of Alt-J, Tame Impala, Local Natives, Stereophonics, Phoenix, Imagine Dragons, or Mumford & Sons on a daily basis right now.

Monarcy Of Roses - Chili Peppers
A Tattered Line Of String - Postal Service
Junk Of The Heart - The Kooks
Juliette - Hollerado
Home - Philip Philips
Sergio's Trio - DJ Champion
Marching Bands Of Manhatten - Death Cab For Cutie
Radioactive - Imagine Dragons
Burn It Down - Linkin Park
Ten Thousand Hours - Macklemore and Lewis
ABC Theme Remix - Pendulum
Highway To Hell - AC/DC
Barbara Streisand - Duck Sauce
Time To Run - Lord Huron (thanks Melanie Sakowski)
What I Got - Sublime
I Will Follow You Into The Dark - Death Cab
This Too Shall Pass - OK Go
Under The Bridge - Chili Peppers
Can't Hold Us - Macklemore and Lewis (thanks Luke and Laura and Anita)
You Shook Me All Night Long - AC/DC
Enter Sandman - Metallica 
Bohemian Rhapsody - Queen
On Top Of The World - Imagine Dragons
Love Like A Sunset - Phoenix
How You Like Me Now - The Heavy
Thrift Shop - Macklemore and Lewis
Stronger - Kanye West
Anna Sun - Walk The Moon
One More Mile - Paper Tongues (thanks Douglas)
The Funeral - Band Of Horses
It's Time - Imagine Dragons
Money Maker - The Black Keys
Reno Chunk - Hollerado
Bloodbuzz Ohio - The National
In Your Light - Gotye
Keep On Ridin - DJ Champion
Invincible - OK Go
The House That Heaven Built - Japandroids (thanks Ross)
Little Lion Man - Mumford & Sons
Otherside - Chili Peppers
Gangnam Style - PSY
Connected - Stereo MC's
Bodyrock - Moby
Aeroplane - Chili Peppers
Fire - Kasabian
Entertainment - Phoenix
Sacrilege - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Violins and Trambourines - Stereophonics
Walk This Walk - Aerosmith & RUN DMC
We Are Young - Fun
Somewhere Only We Know - Keane (thanks Josh)
We Got The Love - I Mother Earth
Madness - Muse
The Pot - Tool
I Know You Want Me - Pitbull
King Eternal - TV On The Radio (thanks Ed)
Typical - MuteMath
Well Thought Out Twinkies - Silversun Pickups
Welcome To The Jungle - Guns and Roses
It's Tricky - RUN DMC

Incense Offering To The Great Buddha

3 days 12 hours and 30 minutes until we head off into the night around Mt. Fuji!

GR

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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

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Music To My Ears

I was recently interviewed for Talk Ultra and it went live on Friday. Here's the link with full podcast details. As it lists in the Show Notes I pick up the mic at around 2h30m into the show.

I've never been one to train or run with music, though I love music, strive to discover new artists on a regular basis and attend at least five or six live shows a year. Music is a big part of my life, yet it has never effectively made it into my running on anything near a regular basis. The main reason behind this is that I've simply never had success in any of my running with music experiments. The last time I recall running with music prior to 2013 was during the final 20 miles of my WS100 2010 run. The music made a huge difference in helping to block out the pain and I do believe it allowed me to close out stronger than I would have otherwise, yet my setup was still marginally frustrating and it never migrated into my regular running routine.

Heading into the HURT 100 last month I really wanted the ability to zone out over the final 20 mile loop and I knew from experience what an asset music could be in this regard. I started searching through online running with music forums and write ups and sure enough there has been a slight technological shift in how you can effectively run with music these days. My primary issue in the past has always revolved around the wires and how to effectively cut down on the annoyance of the bouncing and frustration of the tangling.
Though we don't yet have hoverboards in our daily lives the integration of bluetooth technology has slightly revolutionized the listening experience. After a few hours of disseminating information I made the decision to break the golden rule. I was going to purchase new items that I wasn't going to get a chance to train with. I was going to effectively trust in the reviews I'd read and head into my final lap at HURT with a completely new system that I had yet to properly test. (it arrived the day before we departed for Hawaii and I ran with it for a total of 30 minutes in advance of the race)

The Jaybird Freedom bluetooth headphones promised a lifetime warranty against sweat, but more importantly they offered up to 6 hours of battery life and cost less than $100. The reviews were pretty much unanimous that these were leading the way in the bluetooth headphone charge.
I didn't want to simply carry my bulky smartphone, so next I sourced the smallest bluetooth enabled music player and it didn't take long to settle on the brand new iPod Nano, even though I had recently happily migrated away from Apple based products. At $149 for 16gigs it seemed reasonably priced and it was incredibly compact and exactly what I was looking for.

I rather blindly trusted that my own research combined with the manufacturer claims, along with the reviews I'd read, would be accurate enough to at least get me through my final HURT lap without any major issues. Sure enough and thankfully so everything performed amicably on race day and I got away with my breaking of the cardinal rule in ultra running.

Since HURT it's been a bit of a treat to incorporate music into my personal running experience as I've always  desired to do. Typically right now I'll use music on one or two of my runs a week, usually on days where motivation may be lacking, or on days where I'm looking to run at a hard pace and where I know music will help push me along.

Today I got to listen to my first Talk Ultra podcast while running and it worked perfectly as a distraction tactic to help me focus on my twenty mile run more than the shitty-ass weather of the day. I was almost an hour into my run before I even looked at my watch or processed that I was already sopping wet with a few hours of running left to go.

Music and podcasts are a highly effective way to keep motivation high or help bolster motivation when it may be lagging far, far behind you.

So I'm curious, do you listen to music or podcast when you run? If so what kinds of music or podcasts and what type of setup do you use or prefer?

I hope you enjoy the interview. I really like what Ian and Talk Ultra are doing for the sport and it was an absolute pleasure to get a chance to tell my story a little in front of what I know is a very diverse international listener base.

As a side note, some other long term ultra running goals that I failed to touch on near the end of our talk include:

-FKT attempt on Wonderland Trail around Mount Rainier
-A possible larger volcano based multi day running journey in WA State
-FKT attempt on entire Pacific Crest Trail which stretches from Mexico to Canada and finishes/begins in the park where Linda and I are getting married later this year
-FKT attempt on the Stein Valley route in BC north of Whistler
-Hardrock 100
-Tour Des Geants in Italy
-Grand Slam of Ultra Running


GR

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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

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Hibernating 101

After three full weeks away from running I'm chomping at the bit to get back at it again.

Why three full weeks off this early in the season you may ask?

Well basically my season breaks down to HURT which happened on Jan 19th, then UTMF which at 156km is all but 100 miles, on April 26th, and finally UTMB at 168km on August 30th. My goal is to do well at all of these races, to stay healthy throughout the year, and to learn from past mistakes.

After HURT in 2010 I went straight back into training the following weekend as I was riding the high of a successful race. Within the month however I got sick, and I stayed sick for the better part of four weeks. When I recovered from that flu I hit it hard in preparation for the 2010 Miwok 100km on May 1st. I was unknowingly well on my way to my first ever DNF and a forced month off of training as I was suffering from over training symptoms and iron levels that were border line anemic.

Tracking back further than this, while trying to establish a pattern here, in 2007 after my adventure racing team returned to Canada from a successful expedition race in Baja, Mexico, where we'd slept just 90 minutes in 72 hours before snagging an unofficial 2nd place overall (a much longer story as to the unofficial part). I was also riding a high from that experience and I got back to serious training within days. Three weeks later and I was so sick that I ended up with bronchitis which seriously compromised the following two months of training and impacted my entire summer.

As I sit here closing in on the end of my forced three weeks of downtime I am indeed fighting a minor head cold, though minor being the main word here. Had I not scheduled in this downtime I would surely have ended up decently sick for a month or more. I can't afford to lose time to illness this year, just as I can't afford to lose time to injury. Dare I say that I might just be learning from past experiences here.

Following HURT my body surprised me in the fact that it was definitely the best I've ever felt post 100 mile run, heck I didn't even lose any toenails this time, which I was almost looking forward to:) I very easily could have gone about training within six to seven days and though I know better I could have successfully raced the Orcas Island 50km race on Feb 2nd, where I decided to volunteer and drink beer instead. 

Jamshid showing off the greatest ping pong table ever made

The view from atop Mt. Constitution

Starters shot

In the 19 days since my 100 I believe I've run a half a dozen times, and 50% of those have been with my run clinic that I help coach at NSA on Tuesday nights, which is to say I didn't have a say in the matter:) My longest run has been all of five miles and my total mileage is probably 30 miles...actually it's less than 30 miles, wow. All that to say, I ain't kidding when I write that I've effectively shut it down for the better part of a month.

I am confident I've made the right decision though, and for a few reasons, predominantly because I'm pretty fired up to get back to training again. As of Monday Feb 11th there will be exactly 75 days until my next 100 miler, the UTMF in Japan. I'll likely start off with a 50 mile week to ease back into things and follow that up with 60 and then 75-85 mile weeks depending on how things progress. All in all I feel great right now and am somewhat impressed with myself in the fact that I put a plan to paper, in terms of scheduling in this rest period, and I've actually stuck to it without issue. 

It's time to get back to work again though, and I couldn't be more excited about the path that lays ahead. It's time to start dreaming about racing in Japan!!

GR

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Guest Speaker - VIMFF Sunday Feb 10th

This Sunday February 10th I'll be a featured speaker at the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival's "Trail Running Show"

Gary Robbins: Fueled By Cheese – Trail Running in the Alps

VIMFF Trail Running Show
Sunday, February 10, 7:30 pm (doors 6:30 pm)
Centennial Theatre MAP
Buy Tickets Here - www.VIMFF.org

The Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc (UTMB) is a 168km lap around the 4800 meter Mont Blanc, the highest summit in the Alps. Along the course runners have to overcome more than 9600 meters of elevation gain and loss while travelling through three countries to beat a 46 hour cutoff. With 2300 runners from 60 different countries, the UTMB is often referred to as the default world 100-mile running championships. It has continually attracted the best runners on the planet since its inception in 2003.
In August of 2012, North Vancouver ultramarathon runner Gary Robbins went to Chamonix, France to compete in the UTMB.  In his 20-minute presentation, Gary will share his ups and downs and detail why he feels that the loop around the Mont Blanc massif is a journey that every fit and adventurous soul needs to add to their bucket list.

Tickets are still available and are $19 in advance and $21 at the door, however, consider yourself warned that last year's trail running evening did sell out in advance of the night.

It would be great to see you out if you happen to be in town. Check out the full line up of films on the evening. It's sure to be a fun one!

GR



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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









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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

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BCMC Descent FKT - 15m52s

It's rare that I have a run where I celebrate it like I've just won The Stanley Cup. Today was one of those very special days.



With perfect conditions on the local BCMC trail, which is listed as a 3.3km / 2 mile trail that loses 853 meters / 2800 feet over an average grade of 25-35%, I leaned into it and held on (stayed upright) all the way to the bottom in less than sixteen minutes.

Just last week I ran a 19m29s descent in which the conditions were a bit more complex, and I commented afterwards that I thought I could break nineteen minutes. That was my goal today. That was all I expected to see when I clicked the lap counter once I'd reached the gate at the bottom. Seeing a time of 15m52s sent me into a flurry of leaping around like an idiot.

Now this run will certainly have to be noted as a snow assisted descent, though you still have to cover the terrain underfoot. By perfect conditions I mean that there is a decent snow pack over the top portions of the route so you can really stride out over what is normally very technical terrain. The mid portion however is a bit of a slushy slip and slide and my downhill ski experience certainly contributed to keeping me upright as I slid as much as I ran through this section.

The bottom was a mix of snow, ice and then the normal rocks and roots. I managed to rip my microspikes off my feet in about six seconds flat and refused to pause my watch for any reason as I didn't want to compromise the GPS file.

I pretty much turned myself inside out on this run. I made but two missteps in the snow which cost me a few seconds and had just two hikers who refused to relinquish the trail and forced me into the knee deep snow on the sides of the trail. All in all people were incredibly accommodating, and I attempted to give them as much heads up as possible with friendly "hellos" as I approached. The run really couldn't have gone any better. My only regret is that I wasn't wearing my GoPro for the whole thing:)

What really makes this an extra special run is that I've been training my tail off in preparation for my first 100 miler in two and a half years, that being the HURT Hawaii on Jan 19th. With 115 miles / 190km in the last six days I don't get much more tired than I've been as of late, but thankfully the body has stayed strong and my mind is simply being strung along for the ride right now.

Enough blogging, it's time to convince my mind that it wants to go for yet another run already.
GR

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