Monthly Archives: September 2015

An afternoon run.

As I begin running the trail quickly begins to slope upwards. My footsteps are silent as I travel the forest path beneath the canopy of trees. Within minutes my heart is racing from the effort. In the first mile I gain 453 feet in elevation but this is just the beginning. The trail dips and I run hard, but in control as my pace speeds up and slows as the terrain dictates. The forest gives way to allow glimpses of some of the surrounding mountains which fills me with joy. My pace quickens eager with anticipation. After several miles the forest thins out to give me full view of my destination. The mountains’ jagged peaks lift skyward, sharp, jagged edges in the blue sky.

Broken Top

The trail once again turns back into the forest and again goes upwards. Ever upwards. I drink greedily as I try to quench my parched mouth and brush the dripping sweat away from eyes and face. I don’t have to go this fast but the effort seems right for a place like this. Being in special places in the natural world should come with effort and pain. Helps me appreciate the astounding beauty all the more. The hard effort also helps dissipate my own inner pain. With every step, every mile ,every foot of elevation gain my spirit is lifted higher and higher and the healing within intensifies. The trail is open now as the trees fall away. Still it rises even steeper now and I slow to a fast hike.

Bent over I lean into the hill with hands on my thighs. I feel them burn with fatigue as I try to keep up the pace. After some six miles I reach my destination. My effort rewards me with a cathedral created by nature. As the setting sun shines its light down between those jagged peaks and spires I hear the sound of the ice cold mountain lake lapping against the rocky shore.

This soothes me and my heart beats in rhythm with the water. Calm and slow now I walk along the shoreline. I find a rock and sit to try and take it all in. I can feel the wind bite my face and the mountain casts its shadow across the landscape. I am just a fleeting visitor here. As I leave I turn for one last look, one last listen to the stillness of this mountain scene.

I draw in one more breath from this rejuvenating place before heading back down the trail. I let gravity pull me.  Down the steep trail letting go of fears and inhibitions. I feel like myself again as I gain more and more speed. I let the terrain dictate my pace and feel at peace once again.

Advertisements

Running against anxiety and depression.

September 2015 is suicide prevention month and I thought this is a good opportunity to touch upon the topic of mental health. I got involved with running 6 years ago without any intention of doing ultra marathons. My main reason was for the mental health benefits it provides. Let me back track a bit. Eight years ago I began coming down with some physical symptoms that no doctor seemed to have an answer for.  I had a battery of tests done over twelve months, saw two Mds, a cardiologist and neurosurgeon and still had no definitive explanation. It was at this time my current Md suggested I might want to see a mental health specialist. After another twelve months of denial (as I thought this could not be the answer) I finally was at my wits end and asked for some referrals. I was soon at a mental health professionals office and was diagnosed to be suffering from anxiety and depression.

Over time I found that in addition to therapy and medication there were other things I could do to help myself. The biggest aid for me was exercise. It was not a cure for my health issues but it has helped immensely.  In recent years there has been more and more evidence showing how excercise can help mental health.  13 Mental Health Benefits Of Excercise. As running was my favorite form of exercise I soon turned to trying to run on a regular basis. For it to be of greatest benefit for me I found I needed to run regularly so I began to sign up for races. Having these events on the calendar motivated me to get my butt out the door to train.  I started out with one or two races a year but found myself taking weeks and even months off at a time with almost no training after the races and as my running dipped so did my mental health.  So I added more races onto the calendar and increased the length and difficulty of the races.  In time this  led me into running ultra marathons.  In the process I’ve made new friends, had longer periods of good mental health and get a reminder that I was capable of much more then I realized. I share this with you today because you or likely some you know also suffers from depression and/or anxiety as I do and they might not be aware of the benefits exercise can be to them. Along with helping improve my mood and reduce stress running has given me more confidence and better self esteem. I also found the courage to publicly speak about this for the first time after being inspired by two other well known ultra marathoners: Rob Krar and Nicky Kimball.  In a unique video called Depressions Rob Krar  talks about depression and its relationship to him and his running.  I was fortunate to see the movie Finding Traction  with Nikki Kimball in attendance to talk and take questions afterwards. She spoke a bit about her depression and I had the opportunity to personally thank her for coming out and sharing her personal life with others.  I also had a chance encounter with another individual after one of my 100k races this year. Although he could no longer run ultras because of some physical limitations he still employed exercise in other forms to help himself with his mental health too. Making these connections with other runners I suddenly felt for the first time not so alone in my problems. There are others out there very much like myself, doing the same things and finding running to be a huge benefit to themselves. And these people have the courage to speak out about this to total strangers has spurred me on to do the same.

A Good Weekend.

The sun was out with crystal clear blue skies and the mountains were freshly powdered with snow. How could I resist going for a nice run in the high country. After receiving texts filled with images of my wife’s hike with her friend in the back country the previous day I got the itch to do so myself. I intended to do an out and back from Todd Lake to Golden Lake, but as I approached Broken Top it just called out to me.

Approaching Broken Top.

Approaching Broken Top.

Although there was a bit of snow accumulation I thought I’d see how high up I could get to the summit. Got pretty close before heading back down. The effort was worth it as the views were tremendous.

image

Climbing Broken Top.

Climbing Broken Top.

Three Sisters in the background.

Three Sisters in the background.

Snow play.

Snow play.

The following day I volunteered at a local race called the Flagline 50k and Alpine Half. It was fun to be on the other side for a change during a race. To be able to give a little back to the running community. It was fun to also see and hear some of the personal stories of other runners in those brief minutes they stopped at our aid station. From the seemingly effortless running of the leaders to the fierce determination of mid and back of the pack runners. More then one saying with each step they took it would be the farthest they’ve ever run. Inspirational they all were.

Aid station.

Aid station.

UTMB race report by Denise Bourassa.

A great race report from Denise Bourassa on running her first and hopefully not last Ultra-Trail Du Mont Blanc.  She’s an example of one of many great runners living in my town of Bend, Oregon.  In particular I liked her mental preparation she wrote about as I personally believe that plays a huge role in ultra marathons.

Ultra-Trail Du Mont Blanc: Why 103 miles…because 100 miles won’t get you around the mountain!

Time and time again I am reminded as to why I am drawn to trail running and ultra trail racing.

UTMB– Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc. This race has been on my radar for a few years and because of the fan fare that follows this race it landed on my wish list of races to run.
What is the UTMB? It is a 103 mile race that takes place in the Alps across France, Italy and Switzerland. It boasts 30,000+ feet of climbing and it takes you ALL the way around Mont Blanc.

Continue reading here : link.

Flash sport photo

Waldo 100k 2015 Race Report


My last race of 2015 was the Waldo 100k. From their website:

The Waldo 100K Ultra marathon is a challenging 100K loop-type course starting at Willamette Pass Ski Area (70 miles east of Eugene, Oregon) at elevation 5120′, climbing up several mountains including Fuji, The Twins, and Maiden Peak before returning to the ski area. The route is mostly single-track trails with some fairly remote sections and has many incredible views of pristine Waldo Lake. It is not a beginner-level ultra and participation in the race should not be taken lightly.

The last sentence was in bold for a reason. This is a tough as it is beautiful course. Coming in I was confident I would finish the race, after all this would be my third 100k race this year. Having bettered my finishing time from my first to second 100k I hoped to continue that trend here. But it was not to be.

The ride from my home town of Bend, OR to the ski area was a pleasant short drive. I shared a ride with friend and fellow runner Brian Frankle. We took a back road which offered less traffic and more scenery. We engaged in pleasant conversation and as we neared our destination he pointed out several of the peaks we would climb during tomorrow’s race. They looked beautiful and I was excited. However upon arrival my troubles soon began. Something I ate at home before departing did not agree with my stomach and I soon had to find the nearest restroom. Then while setting up my tent I aggravated my back which was just coming around after I injured it a couple weeks ago. Little did I know these were to be just two reoccurring issues effecting me throughout tomorrow’s race.

The morning was on the chilly side and I quickly made my way into the ski lodge for a little warmth to await the 5 am start. Headlamps were worn by all as we made our way to the starting line.

Long Run Picture Company http://gallery.longrunpictures.com/Ultras/Ultra-Trail-Races-2015/Waldo-100K-2015/

First climb comes pretty quick.

Soon after we headed out and in no time came to our first ascent of about 1,100 feet in the first two miles. I reminded myself not to hurry and for the most part didn’t get too anxious. This first climb would soon be over and we would get to run down hill until we reached the first aid station at mile seven. I had taken my running shell off as I had heated up quickly on the ascent. As we made our way to the aid station I dropped off my headlamp and grabbed some watermelon and water. I was so focused on running I forgot a couple of friends were there helping man the aid station until one of them noticed me. I always find it rejuvenating to see a familiar face during a race. As I left to continue on I saw a bathroom available and went for it. Once inside my stomach let me know all was still not well. After what seemed like ten minutes I was back on the trail. We made our way towards the next trail that would lead us up Mt. Fuji and a 2,000 ft climb. As we left a road and got onto the trail I simultaneously heard a buzzing coming from behind a downed tree next to the trail and then felt a sharp pain in my right shin. Dang! Got stung by a bee. Luckily I’m not allergic but I’d feel some pain from the sting the rest of the race. As I settled in and tried to get back into a rhythm I started to get gas pains. Sheesh. If its not one thing it was another. Despite these nuisances I was able to focus on running and the forest scenery. I maintained a steady pace, took in my nutrition and drank from hydration pack. So far so good. As we approached a trail junction I saw two race volunteers sitting in sleeping bags waiting for runners to come to make sure they went in the right direction. I can only guess at what ungodly hour they had to hike up there to be ready for the first runners. I am always so thankful to the volunteers as without them these races wouldn’t be possible. The volunteers at Waldo fantastic. Offering encouragement, humor, and help if needed.
Somewhere after the second aid station at mile 12.4 I began seeing some of the early starters and front runners coming down. I saw my friend Brian during this stretch coming down and he looked composed and running well. I briefly wished I was farther along but then reminded myself I was right where I had hoped to be. My previous two 100k races I did the first half of the race too fast and I was determined not to let this happen again. I had a goal of reaching Charlton Lake aid station between 6 ¼ and 6 ½ hours. My goal if all went well was to shoot for a race time of under 13 hours.
As I approached the top of Mt. Fuji the wind was blowing hard and the views were spectacular in the morning light. Thankfully smoke from various forest fires elsewhere were being held at bay from the winds. I took a moment to take in the views at the top. I pulled out my camera phone to take a few pictures but it seemed not to be working. I played around for a moment with it but I quickly put it away as I was in a race after all. Time to head down.

Near the summit of Mt. fuji.

As I made my way down Mt. Fuji and eventually aid station 3 Mt. Ray we would lose all the elevation we had just climbed up. I usually try to hammer down downhill sections as best I can but I decided to hold back a bit as I figured there was still plenty of miles left to run so it was best to conserve my quads. Even so, more issues started to creep up. My back started talking to me. No sooner then it seemed to go away it was replaced by tight glutes and hamstrings, then the bottom of my right foot started hurting. It seemed all the aches and pains from the running season started to rear their ugly heads. Any one of these by themselves was not a game breaker, but to constantly have one after the other come up and I was only a quarter of the way through the race started to wear on me mentally. Was this how it was going to be the rest of the way? I just didn’t feel right and I wondered maybe I wasn’t totally over a cold/virus I had just the week prior. For the first time ever I seriously was considering dropping out of a race and I hadn’t even reach the half way point.

Despite the various discomforts I made it to Charlton Lake aid station. As I approached I could hear the crowd gathered there. Even as I smiled seeing the first spectators in my mind I was debating if I should continue on. As I entered the aid station I was greeted by a pleasant surprise. My wife Julia had come with our two children. Seeing them always lifts my spirits and today was no exception. But as I grabbed my drop bag and told her of my troubles she asked if I wanted to drop as we both new the second half of the course would be more isolated and if I dropped out there getting out would not be easy. Despite having my doubts if I could finish I was determined to try. Worse case scenario I figured I could always hike out if need be. With a quick kiss to my family I was off again.

Carlton Lake

It was just over five miles to the next aid station and it helped that this section had a slight loss in elevation. It was still tough going mentally and physically, but the farther I ran the better my frame of mind. By the time I hit aid station six I was feeling better then I had in some time. However not long after departing this aid station I had to soon pull off the trail as my stomach issues once again returned. As I was taking care of business the stillness of the forest was suddenly interrupted by what I’d describe as a loud primeval sound. I heard it again, closer this time and then realized it was another runner who was having problems of his own. He was throwing up repeatedly. I thought to myself I was lucky as things could be worse for me. The next seven miles the trail steadily climbed up as we made our way towards The Twins peaks. At this stage of the race some of the other runners were running a similar pace as I was. I’d focus on one ahead of me and do my best to try and catch up to them. Other times a runner would pass me by and I’d try my best to keep pace. A few of us would seesaw back and forth that way as the miles wore on. On one occasion as one guy passed me as I was struggling with my pace. We exchanged a few words of encouragement as he went by. He slowly disappeared from my view as he continued on but I was to see him again. This section of the race was extremely difficult as I’d be forced to slow down to a walking pace at times. Regain some strength to run at a slow shuffle to again be forced down to walking pace. This continued all the way to the Twin Peaks aid station.
After refueling as much as I could I headed out towards the next aid station at the foot of Maiden Peak. When running long races such as this I find it helpful to focus on one section of the trail at a time. Just think of getting to the next aid station, getting over the next incline and sometimes just picking out a spot on the trail a few yards ahead and focusing on reaching that goal. If I think too much about all the miles remaining I’d never get it done. This next section of trail we’d lose about 1400 feet in elevation over the course of 5 miles and this is probably part of the reason I was able to pick up my pace a bit. I passed another fellow runner who a few miles back had passed me up. He stepped aside to let me by as I was now the one going much faster as he struggled along. I said I had gotten a second wind and was going to ride it for as long as I could. He joked that maybe I’d get a third wind later as well and we both laughed out loud. I ran as hard as I could and these five miles seemed to go by fairly quickly as I reached the Maiden Peak aid station. The volunteers here were great, taking my hydration pack to fill it with water and one told me they had popsciles. Oh yeah! A prior aid station had some as well and this was a great way to help cool off and rehydrate before hitting the toughest climb of the day. I was immensely greatful these volunteers where out here in the middle of nowhere and I told them so. As I got ready to leave the guy I had passed previously came in. This helped get me back on the trail heading up as I used other runners as motivation.

For whatever reason making it this far into the race I now knew I would be able to finish. No doubts lingered anymore in my mind. I had no clue how much longer it would take but I knew I’d be able to do it. Climbing Maiden Peak was a real challenge. It had a similar gain in elevation as Mt Fuji at about 2,000 feet, but doing it after running 50 miles made it way harder. As I moved along I found myself slowing down more and more as the elevation went up and up. Soon I heard my fellow runner from earlier coming up behind me so I stopped to let him by. We offered encouragement to each other again and joked again that I could get a third wind. Not likely on this steep trail section. Soon he was out of sight but in time I saw another runner ahea.  I tried to focus on catching up to him. He was a shirtless, bearded, grey haired man who looked much older then me so I assumed I’d catch him in no time. But at some point I stopped gaining and we maintained an equal distance apart. Damn this old guy was fast! As we got closer to the top I lost sight of him through the trees and wouldn’t see him again until after the race. As it turns out this “old guy” was the legendary Gordy Ainsleigh.  And by calling him old I don’t mean any disrespect as I can only hope 20 years from now I’ll still be racing like him. For those who don’t know he is he’s the first person to run what we all know now as the Western States 100 mile ultra marathon in 1974. When he ran it this event was a horse race, not a foot race.  Some say this is were modern ultra marathons began. You can learn more at Where it all began.

Eventually my slow plodding got me to the top of Maiden Peak. I was greeted by three volunteers who where there to be sure people made the full climb up before descending down again. One of them offered to take my photo.

Maiden Peak

Top of Maiden Peak.

 

Maiden Peak panorama

View from Maiden Peak.

After taking in the views and getting a boost of positive energy from being up there it was time for the home stretch. At first it was slow going as I encountered lots of rocks on the trail but eventually it gave way to a nicer trail. I couldn’t really go as fast as I wanted but eventually reached the final aid station at mile 55. Just seven miles to go. I got a warm reception and lots of encouragement at this last aid station. One volunteer who had finished the race already had come out to cheer people on and told me there were just a few more inclines and then I’d reach a downhill stretch to the finish. This indeed was the case, but as I ran along those short hills they seemed to be more numerous and longer and steeper to my tired legs. Along this final stretch there were several lakes offering a bit of respite with their aesthetic views.

Eventually with about three miles to go it did start to go downhill and I picked up my pace.  I was motivated along by a runner who came up behind me. I asked him if he wanted to pass but he said this speed was good for him. We soon passed other runners including my buddy who shouted you did get a third wind! As my competitive spirit kicked in and I didn’t want this runner behind me to pass I ran even harder and harder. In time he dropped off and I ran alone again. Soon I could hear a truck driving on the highway.  Then I heard the announcer on the PA system. I was almost there. Suddenly I was at a clearing and I could see the finish in the distance. I also saw three figures and one of them came running towards me. It was my family awaiting me. Soon my son Leonardo was running along side me and what has now become a tradition we crossed the finish line together.

Finish line

Finish line!

My official time was 15 hours 10 minutes and 10 seconds. Two hours later then What I aspired for but I did complete my other goals. That is to finish the race and have fun. Although this race presented many physical and mental challenges I did enjoy myself along the way and am left with the great satisfaction of completing the event. I highly recommend this challenging race to anyone and I myself will one day return to try to better conquer it again.

A trail racing season comes to an end

With the completion of the Waldo 100k race my tired body will get a rest from any more long races this year.  This race was my third 100k race of 2015.  The Gorge Waterfalls 100k being the first and Quick Silver 100k the second.  If I include The Siskyou Out and Back 50 miler I completed my own personal grand slam.  Not even close to the Grand Slam of Ultra Running which entails running four tough 100 mile races in one year, but I am proud of my own accomplishment  regardless.  This being just my second year running ultras I almost bit off more than I could chew.  But that’s what drives many of us who run these challenging races.  To test ourselves physically and mentally.  To see what are limits are.

Trudging up a steep, rocky section during the Quicksilver race. So fun!

Trudging up a steep, rocky section during the Quicksilver race. So fun!

I’ll spend the coming months reviewing how my races went and try to figure out what went well and what didn’t. For example was my fueling strategies adequate, how was my running pace, do I need to concentrate more of my training on hills etc.  It is a good time to reflect not just on the past year but also what the future may hold.  I will start considering what races I may try to get into for next year.  Two races on my bucket list are Western States 100 miler and the Lavaredo 119km in The Dolomites of Northern Italy.  The stars will need to align just right to make either of these happen, but who knows. That’s the fun part of race planning. Imagining oneself taking on even greater challenges in new locales.

The Dolomiti along the Lavaredo ultra.

The Dolomiti along the Lavaredo ultra trail.