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Shades of fun

For a much better written post about this race, check out Jill’s blog post.

Friday, 11/5/2010. Over the Edge Sports

I shake Dave “Fixie” Nice’s hand.

“You can rent a bike with the small wheels or a 29er”.
“Um, what would you recommend?”
“I’d take the 29er”

I’m taking it for a 1 minute spin. It’s a Rocky Mountain Altitude. Feels ok I presume. I’ve barely ridden a 26er, never a 29er. I get back into the shop. “Feels great!”.


The bed’s a mess. Our race gear is spread out, and mine doesn’t look pretty. I am packing a random assortment of stuff, lots of IcyHot gel, patches, bandages, even some hand braces one would usually use for office related repetitive strain issues. I was so focused on my anticipated back, butt and hand pain that I forgot armies, anything for the head, my windblock baselayer … all those bike clothes I do have. At home.

hotel mess

Fortunately Jill got distracted shortly after this shot and forgot to break up with me over my poor organization. Close call!

Jill, on the other hand, has everything under control. She’s in her element.
Our food selection, however, shows a shared tendency for chaotic spur-of-the moment planning – five bags of sour gummies, candy bars, goldfish, peanut butter, bagels with salami and cheese, baked chips (yeah because we’re healthy eaters) and (thank god) some fruit. Everything is assorted in a few plastic grocery bags. We’re not totally naive or ignorant – when you’re doing very long ultras, you tend to get a variety of food that actually tastes good rather than stuff engineered for performance that makes you throw up after eating it for two days …

Undoubtedly I am annoying Jill with my pre-race jitters, but she stays sweet and upbeat as always. She’s a little excited herself, due to no “real” training for a few months (apart from 5 hour after-work rides …) – but of course she can do this off the couch in her sleep. I on the other hand feel a strange muted panic – what I am about to try is so unknown to me I have a hard time being specifically scared, but I do have a somewhat vague knot in my stomach and my excitement is growing. Having Jill there significantly reduces my fears though, although by design she won’t be able to actually help me out on the course – we will be alternating laps. “You’ll probably dump me after this!” she jokes. I laugh, “Really YOU are trying to get rid of me. Murder attempt #3.” I reply, referring to our previous adventures “but you won’t succeed that easily!”. I hope.

Saturday, 11/6/2010, Race venue

We park next to Bill’s car and unpack. I know Bill is very competitive and very good, but he’s really low key and fun, nothing obvious hints at the aggressive will to win inside. People walk around with very expensive looking bikes. Everyone looks way fitter than me, and this time, I can be certain of it, too … I feel very out of place, an impostor. Jill and I have matching Google outfits, and we go under the team name of “Swiss Miss” which I shamelessly stole

Race venue at sunset

from my friend Roger (with his blessing though). Ben, Bill’s strongest competitor, has his station set up next to us – it looks like a pro aid station. His highly pregnant wife is supporting him much to all of our amazement – she’s really nice and supplies us with even more candy during the race. Bill’s setup is more low-key but very well thought through. It reminds me of my own running setup which I tuned over many races, although even there I tend to chaos, which always costs me probably 20 minutes in each race as I search for stuff (then again drop bags are a bit harder to organize).
I walk with Jill to the start of the race … it’s a running start, a few hundred yards to the bikes, to disperse the field somewhat. Some racers are moaning about the distance, which amuses me a bit as I grasp for any straw of confidence I can find. I joke I should do the start, and I almost consider it seriously, just so the wait is over. The RD announces the start … everyone runs for their bikes. The race has started, but it is strangely anti-climactic for me, as I have to wait for another hour or so for Jill. I feel very insecure, I don’t even know how the handoff is supposed to work, and I have no idea if the course is marked in an obvious way. I presume I’ll find out. Everyone tells me the course is very easy, and not to worry. But easy by whose standards?

I have a good chat with Ben’s wife and the time goes by very quickly, as do the fast riders. I am for now merely a spectator, outside all of this. As I get ready to go to the timing tent I panic – I can’t find my bike gloves!  Flustered, I grab my alternates … I am in a state of heightened fear now. I later find them in the pocket of my backpack … I push my bike over to the timing tent and wait for Jill. She comes in after an hour and 15 minutes, a bit earlier than she thought, with a big smile on her face. “The Virgin Rim trail is quite rocky, you probably want to walk your bike there. But it’s only 2 miles, otherwise it’s really fun”. The timing person says I can go … I say quickly goodbye, go to my bike, and start pedaling, caught up in race mode.

The climb

The course has three distinct (in my mind) sections – the climb, the singletrack descent on the Jem trail, and the Virgin Rim rock disaster. The climb is almost all road and fairly easy – some steeper sections, but nothing that would tax even my limited abilities (at least on fresh legs). In some ways it is the part of the course I can relax and I am looking forward to it, as opposed to almost everyone else except for Jill. The section has a few little descents on which I gain some confidence in the bike and its suspension. Only at one part I hit an unexpectedly deep little rut at the bottom of a descent and I feel a bit out of control due to my failure to pull up the bike, a harsh reminder that I really don’t know how to ride at all. Otherwise I have the opportunity to lose myself admiring the majestic rock formations and scenery. I catch up to another rider (admittedly a solo rider on his second lap), who points out the start of the singletrack. It looks innocent enough.

The Jem trail

My excuse for being a total wuss. Another scar on the other side ... two operations, plates and screws. Cycling is fun!

“You go ahead” I tell him, “I’ll be slow”. Indeed, as soon as we hit the singletrack he pulls away. It’s pretty easy flowing stuff. Still, I lack confidence in my ability to turn and clear obstacles, so I tend to go only as fast as I can scan ahead instead of dealing with stuff as it comes. After about half a mile the trail seems to disappear at an edge – I slow down and roll towards a fairly steep (for me) drop. To be clear, things that are scary to me are at best fun for an experienced biker – I like to blame a compound fracture of my arm I got in a bike accident when I was 15, but really I am just a chicken. In previous training rides I would have probably walked it, especially as there was a little rock drop-off in the middle, but I am so afraid of other riders seeing me (and crashing into me) that I keep going. I start down the trail and experience a wave of fear at the unfamiliar angle – fortunately I learned previously that the front brake tends to be a sure way to catapult yourself over the handlebars so I locked my rear wheel for a few yards and then let go – the bike smoothly went over the rocky drop-off and I had ample time to reduce my speed again at the bottom. Ironically it would probably feel a lot easier if I would go faster … I feel a mixture of exhilaration and fear – I made it, but I’ll have to make it many more times! I ride on, and after a short distance the trail disappears again on a ledge – this time even sharper. It really looks like there is a cliff … I roll slowly towards it and there is a rock step, maybe 6 inches high, followed by a steepening descent ending in a turn. I am terrified, and for a moment ponder if I should stop – but in a race I always tend to take more risks than otherwise, mostly because it feels like you’re supposed to do this and thus it should be safe, and again – I don’t want anyone to crash into me. Ignoring the fact that mountain biking indeed has lots of technique and that you really can crash if you don’t do things right, I simply roll off the edge. Fortunately for me this drop is indeed easily doable in this fashion, and as soon as both wheels are on the ground I lock the rear and skid down towards another small rock step before I let go and speed down … The same feeling of exhilaration and fear overcomes me, just much stronger, and I almost feel a bit reckless and guilty. The final obstacle in this section is preceded with a mandatory dismount, and I run it happily, despite almost smacking the bike in my back – clearly I could not have ridden it, with a few hairpins and rather rocky steepness. After that, the trail becomes flowing, fast and fun, and I gain speed, still being overtaken quite a bit – I try to move actively aside as to not hold back my co-riders, even if it means I almost fall over bushes and off-trail rocks. Despite my relative slowness I feel a pleasant rush of speed, and even have time to admire the incredible setting of the southern Utah desert with its impressive colors, and I almost forget I am racing. But as opposed to running I can’t really get lost in thoughts too much, as things happen fast … with a twinge of regret I keep focused on the trail.

Rocky disaster

Eventually I get to the Virgin Dam trail – the section Jill has warned me of. It contains a long rock garden and various technical up and down – I manage to ride all the down, often skidding down rocky steps with the rear locked or braking, tensely gripping my handlebars, almost all of the ups (with great effort, I presume the 29ers help in some ways but definitely feel somewhat less nimble in picking a line, not that I’m any good at it anyways) short of two or three steps, and the whole flat rock garden section (just barely). Things are much more twisty and technical but it’s slow, so I can enjoy the fun of trying to keep going – at least when I’m not looking at a nearby cliff, which invariably evokes images of me tumbling down into the gorge followed by my bike, even though we never get really close to any drop-offs. It is also exhausting, and even Bill later concedes this is a strenuous section (well, especially when riding it 20 times …). Fear, adrenaline, beautiful scenery, frustration, strain, fun and focus all mix together to a fantastic and intense experience … Finally I see the timing tent which fills me with relief and disappointment at the same time, and find myself extremely pleased with a 1:12 lap – the same speed as Jill! Just as I walk into the tent she comes running in, expecting me later … “I survived!!” I say with glee and child-like excitement “I rode almost all of it! But I was way out of my comfort zone.”. “You rocked it, I didn’t expect you back so fast. Awesome.” she replies with a huge smile. We walk together out of the tent and I feel regret that she has to leave. Although the lap was strenuous, I barely feel it physically, but the mental effort and impact is huge – and I feel a slight twinge of racing spirit creep up, I ponder how I can do better, what I can improve, how to be faster on the next lap. I look around, at the wonderful desert, with new appreciation. Life is good.

Lap 2

The wait between laps is not long enough to take a nap nor short enough to not get sleepy … but soon enough, Jill emerges from her second lap with an even bigger grin on her face. She finally gets the hang of the course … “I love biking” she tells me excitedly! This time I stay a bit with her, since we’re here for fun after all. After a few minutes though I take off … my legs are a bit tired on the climb, but not terribly so, and I am able to keep up with some riders and overtake others. The descent on the Jem trail feels much faster as I know what’s coming, although the two obstacles seem just as disconcerting as the first time around … still, I speed up and feel good! I almost lose control at a very shallow drop into a wash, sort of inexplicably, and Jill tells me later she almost crashed in the same spot. Otherwise I’m going strong, and even on the rock garden I do okay, although disappointingly my new confidence seems to translate in a less carefully picked line and thus in more occasions where I need to put my feet down. Still, when I get to the timing tent, Jill is not there and only meets me as I push my bike out. “You were flying!”. I think she humors me a bit with her encouragement, but still it feels good.

Beautiful views ...

Lap 3

This lap teaches me a lesson … getting tired has two distinct effects, just like in running. If you’re not afraid, you get looser and sometimes better, especially on downhills. But if you’re afraid, you can get really insecure and shaky. Especially on the Virgin Dam trail I felt less capable and more shaky especially on somewhat exposed sections. And in biking, as you slow down, things actually get more difficult – yet although I would have the strength I am unable to get past my mental barriers. On the rock garden section there’s a photographer and it takes all my strength to get over the trail without stopping, although I must have surely looked like the bloody beginner I am, with my “line” resembling the path I would take on foot after half a bottle of single malt whiskey. This after only three laps – not good. In addition the cloud cover put a gloomy atmosphere over the desert in the late afternoon, and for a while I miscalculate and assume I might end up getting to the timing tent in the dark, but fortunately I realized my mistake soon enough. I end up in the tent somewhat less upbeat.

Sunset over the Hurricane cliffs

Lap 4

I love running at night. I learned doing so during my first 100 miler, I gathered almost everything I needed to know in the first 30 minutes of my run, and it’s been my favorite running environment ever since. I have two night biking experiences, one rather scary one going down technical trail using only a running headlamp, and one fun one with proper state of the art lights on easier trails, and given I know the course I am excited about my first night lap – this should be fun! I can go slower without feeling bad, and it’ll be a wholly new trail! This holds mostly true for the first two sections of the trail … although I find out that the other riders don’t slow down nearly as much as I thought and I keep having to get out of the way. The dam trail proves to be a formidable challenge for me. My slow speed makes the rocky descents feel much more rocky and dangerous, and on the rock garden I keep missing the line and losing contact with my platform pedals, leading to occasionally painful near-castration scenarios, bruises on my shins and knees, and I even manage somehow to tear a hole in my bib. Frustration and fear wash a wave of discontent over my mood, and I wonder what I am doing here, and why the hell I bought a mountain bike … I reach the timing tent dissatisfied and beaten. My time is not as terrible as I thought, and Jill is giving me encouragement before she takes off on her lap. “You don’t have to go out again if you don’t want to, it’s just for fun! You already did awesome.” But I feel like I have something to prove. While mentally I am very exhausted, physically I feel fine – tired yes, but I know exactly that I can maintain this state for a very long time – a discrepancy which only adds to my frustration. All my math adds up to me doing a lot of night laps if we keep alternating, which doesn’t sound good to me at all, and I am planning on letting Jill take a few double turns.

Lap 5

Jill returns from her night lap excited like a little child. “Biking is sooo much fuuun!”. I am tense and linger around before I finally leave. The climb now seems harder but still doable, however my back is hurting quite quickly (due to some bad discs and insufficient core muscles I am prone to some exquisite back pain – usually most of my lower back goes numb on the surface and radiates dull pain inside – especially on climbs and when it’s cold) and my hands are tired from gripping the bars and breaks in fear. Still, surprisingly this lap goes better than the previous one – mostly because I finally resign myself to two things: a) it’s ok for me to be the weakest technical rider in the whole race. Who cares? and b) “Fuck this. I’m walking” – makes for a much more fun (and sometimes faster) strategy than to keep trying … I end the lap in a better mood, but due to tiredness I feel that I am becoming dangerously unsafe given this course feels so at the edge of my abilities. When I get back, Jill tells me to take a nap and she’ll do two laps. In the cool night, I get deeply chilled very quickly once inactive, and I set up in our tent but have a hard time actually sleeping and am more dozing – my mind wanders around the course, I have a hard time warming up, and I keep hearing voices and wonder if it’s Jill already returning.

Lap 6

After dozing for a while I wake up more rested and toasty warm and for what seems like an eternity ponder if I can get myself out in the cold and face another lap, and I am on the edge of turning around and going back to sleep. With great mental effort I get out to find Jill, who quietly let me sleep and has done three laps. She’s in an extraordinarily good mood. “I should really do a lap, huh?”. “You really don’t have to. I’m having fun. You really don’t need to do any more laps if you don’t want to. “. Still I know I would feel very bad about myself if I didn’t try. “I’ll go out, and I’ll take a very long time, you should get some rest!”. Starting up after sleeping is tough – my legs feel more sore and I am even more shaky throughout the lap – but with my newly acquired strategy I am doing ok. When I get back, I find Jill snoozing in the tent, and I crawl in. At this point our second place is guaranteed, so I suggest we just snooze for a while, but after a short time she slowly wakes up, feeling nauseated from all the candy we ate as race food. I feel bad for making her go out again, but I feel done – I did three day laps and three night laps, and while I have a lot of physical energy left, mentally I am ready to concede – after all I’ve got a lot of races coming up soon, and I really can’t hurt myself, and I want to give Jill the opportunity to finish 10 laps, and …

Jill finishes 10 laps, the last one with Bill. We have another hour to spare, and I try to talk them into going out for a final lap with me, but Bill is shattered from an aggressive battle with Ben, and Jill never really recovered from her nausea (although you couldn’t tell) and we decided we were all done. I quickly ponder running one lap but reject the idea to avoid putting the bikers (and myself) in danger, although it would have been great fun (and I think I wouldn’t have needed much more than 2 hours).

Monday, 11/8/2010: Rancho San Antonio park, California

It’s 7:30pm, dark, and I am running my usual short 12 mile round in the park, with about 2500ft of climbing in 4 miles. My legs feel strangely stiff and tired, and my knee is pretty sore which makes me think it was good to stick with 6 laps, but it’s getting better as I run on. My mind wanders, trying to synthesize the experience of Frog Hollow, reconcile my mental accomplishment with the lack of the physical drama I had expected, feeling inadequate and not quite happy with what I had done and how little I had challenged myself. Jill keeps telling me I did great, but I think she is just being nice, and secretly expected more – after all I had done insane running feats this year, many orders of magnitude harder, both physically and mentally. Still, I find myself missing biking, the technical challenge, the rush and the fun as I slog up the steep hillside. I try to find parallels between running and biking, running equivalents to the “commit” of taking a technical downhill, most akin to steep muddy hillside running which I love so much. Running allows you to enjoy the lack of control, slipping and sliding at the edge and beyond, and I wonder if I will ever feel like this biking. I feel slow and stiff, and on my way up I can’t feel but disappointed by the lack of excitement when running, even though it allows you to reflect and lose yourself in thoughts, and briefly I regret the loss of excitement in my favorite activity … but as soon as I hit the top, I start flying down the trail, dancing, tethering at the edge of my maximal cadence. I come to the realization that both biking and running are simply different shades of fun, and I just opened a whole new world of experience and wonder, and I figure I just doubled my enjoyment of life and nature. When I get back, I see with satisfaction that I was as fast as ever, with no apparent slowdown from the weekend activity. Good news. Good news indeed.

Many thanks to Dave Nice (who raced the course on a fixed gear bike – with the only concession to sanity being a front brake. I cannot even begin to fathom how one can ride a fixie over this terrain!!!) and Bill Martin (the animal!) for helping me, encouraging me and showing me a generally awesome time. And of course infinite thanks to Jill for putting up with me!


So here I am at Oakland airport, waiting for my flight to Salt Lake City where I’ll meet up with Jill (yeah!). I am still in denial of the upcoming plans … even as a duo, a 25 hour mountain bike race is so far out of my comfort zone I still have a hard time believing I actually signed up for this. Jill properly chronicled the the process here, the only thing I would like to add is that I was NOT drunk or otherwise intoxicated beyond the usual Jill-induced euphoria.
I am currently utilizing my biggest strengths – ignorance and naivety – to tackle this race, and consequently I have not trained for it one bit, based on my firm assumption it won’t make any difference either way (I am however tapering and over-eating!). The last time I have spent any significant time on a (road!) bike was in 2003 training for my one and only (and very slow) Ironman, and believe me, that’s all gone … and remembering back it won’t be my legs that will go first, but my butt, hands and – quite possibly worst of all – my screwed up back will probably induce exquisite levels of pain (then again, my legs will probably chip in soon enough). Of course I will also feel extremely silly when having problems with the simplest technical aspects of the course, which leads me to think about attaching a fake beer bong to my helmet as an obvious excuse. The original rationale – finish one lap and I finish – sounds comforting at first, but my ego and desire to maximize my experience (especially with Jill) probably won’t let me quit unless I really have to …
If anyone has a few bottles of ibuprofen and a spare kidney or two, please let me know. I’ll need all the help I can get …

But in all seriousness, I love the feeling of the unknown, the fear, anticipation, not knowing how far I can get – but being certain that it will be intense and unforgettable, beautiful and unique. Really, it’s life at its best – and doing it with Jill makes it just so much better.

I also will try to work on my TDG report in the times I am waiting for Jill – if I am able to – which, as she pointed out, may lead to some strange passages: “I went up this extremely steep pass, amazed by the view of the Gran Paradiso massif – ouch my ass hurts! –  and then …”.

Firetrails 50

(note: I’m working on my TDG report, but it’s slow … it was a big thing, and there’s lots to put together …)

Originally I was going to skip FT because I am on-call for work, but I figure I could just bring my laptop and in the unlikely case of getting paged, whip it out … I figured that wouldn’t happen.

Saturday morning 3:30am …. I wake up surprisingly ok, and figure maybe my cold isn’t so bad. I take some sudafed just in case, since my nose is still a bit stuffy. After putting my bladder in my race pack I start to have doubts though – this is REALLY heavy (I weighed it afterwards – 13 lbs! Mostly laptop and water – need smaller bladder!). But there’s no turning back now … I head up to SF, pick up Danni and Cheryl, who both don’t look particularly happy or awake, and we head to the start, trying to find some coffee for them along the way, which only succeeds at a gas station. At the start there are tons of familiar faces, people ranging from great friends to good acquaintances to runners who’ve run with me and remembered me (unfortunately that is not the case the other way around, most often).
With my ridiculous pack (most people have one or two bottles), people already look at me with curious expressions, and I prepare myself to do a lot of explaining. I am on-call. It’s a full-size laptop. Yeah it is heavy. No, Google won’t let me use a netbook. I repeat those words very often. Sometimes I just say “it’s good training”.
The early miles are going fairy well – the straps of my pack cut into my shoulders, but it doesn’t feel too much like a burden yet, except for the stares and questions I get, but I presume I was asking for it. Early attempts to keep up with Steve don’t hold, and I learned that everytime I do that (in a shorter race) I end up paying a terrible price anyways.
We soon climb up on a ridge, and the views are beautiful – lakes and hills to the east, with Mount Diablo standing not-to-tall but prominently in the landscape, and hints of San Francisco and the peninsula to the west. The early morning light is beautiful, and it will be a perfect running day – not too hot, and not a cloud in the sky. It may not be as high and mountainous as some other places, but there is definitely something special about this place.
The run has a lot of flat runnable sections – which makes the uphills unexpectedly steep, not what I expected from the 8000 ft gain over 50 miles. Still, my legs are doing ok, yet early on I feel I should not push it too hard, as when I hit my limit I feel a bit strangely affected, like on my run with Steve earlier this week, maybe still an effect of my cold. We hit a section of surprisingly nice singletrack, and climb up through a trail on a watershed, which is basically untouched.
I don’t really expect to be paged during this run – the only instability in our system was changed to page only during business hours, since it wasn’t really important – or at least I thought it was. However, as we near the top of the watershed, I receive the dreaded text message. And then three more. The system then issues a call by “telebot” that lets me at least acknowledge the page (which prevents it from going to my backup) – however instead of calling me in sequence, it calls me in parallel, with me ending up with calls on hold and a generally confused phone mess. Once I get through this, I find a log, break out my laptop connect it to the phone, and log on to work. The process is slow and arduous, especially with the limited speed data connection of my phone. People pass me in disbelief “I thought you were full of shit!”, “Updating your facebook status?”, “Can I send an e-mail?” as I impatiently try to set the paging system to ignore the bogus pages. I am almost there … and the connection drops. I change my phone into a different mode, and hold it up for better reception with my arm stretched out to the sky, laptop on my lap … someone snaps a picture. I look around, and it is surreal. I am in a race, and the time loss feels like a rubber band being constantly stretched, causing increasing tension, I am in a beautiful place, I am at work, all at the same time. I laugh, and continue … I have to reboot the laptop since the dropped connection caused the system to lock up, and start over again, but it is so slow I am not getting anywhere. Craig passes, then Danni, and finally I just give up, close the laptop, put it back in my pack, and move on, leaving this place as if nothing ever happened, just a log besides the trail. I send an e-mail requesting the pages to be silenced, answer the daily test page, and carry on, hoping to catch Danni.
A bit further I finally do, and I slow my pace and we chat. Danni is in a bad mood, she says “I don’t want to be here, I could be somewhere beautiful!”. I give her a hard time for making me miss Montana in general and a particular part of it especially even more, and soon we hit a trail with a full-on view of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands and the bay filled with sailboats, far away, and even Danni has to admit that it is spectacular. I am smiling at the views, happy to be out here and able to experience it. She tells me she’s glad Jill likes me because she thinks we’re both cool people, which is awesome because it’s rare people call me cool (apart from the much much bigger awesomeness of Jill liking me, of course). That’s about when we hit the final downhill before the turnaround, and I pull away and run. In the second half, I keep overtaking people because I feel both strong and am a bit behind the runners that would usually be about my speed. My feet, which had hurt basically since the start, keep hurting in more places, and I am pretty glad I decided not to do Javelina. I need a break. Lots of people are impressed by my ability to run with this huge pack … towards the finish I even catch up with a number of people I’ve run with before I took the break, which makes me feel good. I run for a while with Craig to listen to his crazy stories, until I pull away on a downhill. After mile 35, I pass a grove, and almost think I am hallucinating – there is a small wedding party. But they’re there, surrounded by trees, and the late afternoon light is perfect and the scene looks quite beautiful. I slow, try to be quiet, and the contract of me being in the race with the event is – again – surreal, two seemingly completely disconnected strands of life, brought together in this place.
In the end, I even overtake Jochen, another friend of mine who would usually be closer to 9 hours but is having a hard time, which gives me some speed and I put in a strong final 6 miles to the finish. My shoulders hurt, my back aches, my feet burn, but I am totally and utterly happy, at least given you cannot be there, which would of course have been great.
After we’re done, have beer, eat, talk with lots of friends, we drive to the city, shower, and go to the Fairmont. The tonga room makes us wait, and the music is very 80s?, which strikes me as odd, since I have a completely different picture in mind. The people going in seem older, and I wonder. When we enter, it’s a very cheesy bar, with a live band (which is admittedly pretty good at what they play) in a movable tikki hut, a dancefloor surrounded by real ship’s sails and relics, and the strangest mix of dressed up older and younger people, some of them on the dancefloor being in various states of seriousness about their dancing (Steve later tells me the Tonga room is famous for exactly its cheesiness). The menu shows overpriced same-sounding drinks, we order two, which turn out to taste like overly sweet fruit juice, which Danni claims is ok to have after an ultra. I have very little since I need to drive and just watch people in amazement, I just can’t figure quite out what they are doing here, and why. Danni and Cheryl laugh about various things including a friend of theirs who is into Jesus-kitsch, which makes the whole scene even stranger, and for some reason I start to feel a bit uneasy, the memory of the run tainted a bit, and I wish I could be out there again. It makes me wonder though why I couldn’t find the same enjoyment in this as Danni does, who obviously thinks it’s extremely hilarious, but also says it makes her happy. I should ask her about this sometimes. I ponder if this is a deficit on my part or if I should like my reaction, when we decide to leave …

Headlands 2010

Saturday, 3:50am – I am rudely awakened by an alarm. There it is – the decision. Stay in bed, or get up and try to run? For a while, my mind starts ligning up reasons why I shouldn’t go, and there are plenty of good ones, actually. My shin still hurts a lot from bruising it at Swan Crest last weekend, and come on – I can only lose, right? But still, due to some no longer retraceable sequence of events I feel like I have to go … and yeah, I made plans for Harry to pace me. Can’t let him down, right? And if I couldn’t handle this, what business would I have at TDG (of course this is the dumbest argument of them all)? No turning back now …

6am, Rodeo Beach. Sitting in my car trying to contort myself so I can tape the remnants of my deep heel blister with leukotape, a second skin moist patch and benzoine tincture. It’s cool outside, foggy. Lots of friends though. Nervous.

0m – 7am – start … bringing my ultralight poles to see how they feel on the pack, much to the confusion of my fellow runners. Taking it slow I think – aiming for maybe a 6-7 hour first 25 mile loop. Shin hurts, but it doesn’t get any worse. The new out and back to the golden gate is fun – you come around the hillside and first catch a view of the city on the other side of the bay, alcatraz, the bay bridge and then the golden gate, in all its glory. However, once you get to the vista point parking lot, there’s a little surprise – you continue on the road and drop all the way to the base of the bridge! It’s a solid hill, but how cool is that?

Best crew ever

25m – First loop is done in a little under 5 hours – way too fast! Probably a bit short of 25 miles, but with 5k gain. Must slow down. Quads feel totally empty, hurt on downhills. Not promising. It stays very cool and overcast.

30m – My right ankle seems to have enough, very disconcerting, injured it at Bighorn. Prepaing to drop or for deathmarch. That’s what I wanted to do though, see if I can manage it. I re-tie my shoes – voila, it works. I feel strangely detached from my run – like a training run. My emotional mind is like a floating baloon away from my body, only connected with a thin string of pain. Or maybe more like an observer, intently analysing what happens in my legs, taking notes and calculating adjustments.

Down to the Golden Gate

50m – 10:47 50m split – I had planned for 12 hours originally in the best case. Damn am I happy to see Heather (the best Crew ever, she adopted me for this race, fortunately for me her runner Roy is always close by me) and Harry! My legs feel seriously beaten up. My mind refuses to think about another 50 miles, it seems so repulsive an idea.

Golden Gate Aid Station

I can think about 25m for now, so that’s what I’ll do. 25 more. I change socks, and Harry and I leave before the 11 hour mark … I had promised live FB updates, but it’s cold and wet, which doesn’t work well with the capacitive touchscreen and takes too long. Gotta go.

50-75m: My legs hurt. My other ankle starts to hurt. My heel blister develops another heel blister underneath. It’s good to have Harry there, he keeps me going. I’m still going ok on the uphills though, don’t really feel too fatigued. I’m starting to make a little time on Roy, but not much – Norbert is
pacing him, and they are quite noisy. The weather is cold, the fog so thick it’s almost rain, and on the ridge to the golden gate you almost get blown off, it’s hard to run in a straight line. Still, I feel strangely detached from everyhting. Don’t really have any emotions, different from other races, except for the aid stations, I’m just always happy to see Heather with her professional-level crew station.

Pirate's Cove

People from the alps are strange. Norbert and I at mile 50.

75m: I’m trying not to think at all, just get out and once I’m on the way, I guess I’ll be too lazy to turn back. We’re still doing reasonable time. It’s so cold you can’t linger at any spot for long, which is good. I’m totally wet. My legs really hurt, my feet hurt, but I can imagine the finish now. For some reason I don’t feel fatigued, and I am starting to push it a little harder.

85m: The finish is in reach … I’m pushing it on the downhills. We are overtaking people who walk, Harry later tells me about the disappointment in their faces.

Harry and I, mile 54

But I have stopped thinking, now all I want is to finish. We’re overtaking people both up and downhill, and I feel like I could go on like this forever, at least energy wise. I bark “good job” at other runners when I pass them, but I don’t really see them, I’m totally focused, totally concentrated. My left ankle hurts, but I keep it just under control. It’s sort of fun, this crazy rush, I won’t let is linger at the aid stations, hurrying. In those last 15 miles we overtake 11 or so people. Harry and I talk about getting under 25 hours.
100m – 24:13: I can’t believe it’s done. My time and place are much better than I expected, but somehow I don’t really feel anything. Did this even happen?

Splits: 4:55 – 5:51 – 6:43 – 6:44

Who knew!


Coming from Europe, I didn’t know much about Montana. Former lack of speed limit, good hiding place for people with unwholesome hobbies, that sort of thing. So when I saw the Swan Crest website with some pretty nice pictures, I was intrigued. Was there more to that place? Later I actually met Danni, one of the RDs for Swan Crest, a month before Swan Crest at Bighorn, and she claimed there were some of the most beautiful trails she knew. Well then!
The race itself was for some time in danger of cancellation, due to it stumbling in the focus of an ill-informed self-proclaimed environmentalist who tried to use it in his apparently never-ending fight against the forest service, proclaiming our little event would bring hordes of highly-powered vehicles and mass tourism to the wilderness, destroying everything in its path (I can tell you the only thing that was destroyed were current or former body parts of the runners). But fortunately the RDs proved more resourceful and flexible, and it was ON.
My good friend and travel mate Steve and I got up at a fresh 3:45am or so on Thursday to catch the flight to Kalispell. That airport turned out to be quite a bit bigger than Sheridan in Wyoming, somewhat to our surprise, but soon thereafter we knew we were in some pretty remote mountain areas. After checking in at the cabins where the race would finish (always nice) we headed towards the Hammer headquarters for check-in and mandatory bear video.
The check-in was very low key. Things were sort of self-serve, donate for the bear spray (damn those things are big & heavy), pick up your own goodie bag, and pick your way small? t-shirt … which turns out to be the woman’s, so next table, to the feminine looking v-necks – yep those are ours. So far the organization looked “promising”, just maybe a notch over the Bear’s, which is about as low key as it can get, and certainly not as organized as say Plain! Towards the end of the check-in period Danni finally shows up straight off work – in business outfit and high heels, I don’t even recognize her, coming from a “deposition”, which for sure is a lawyer euphemism for ripping someone’s head off and pouring salt on the remaining stump, but off work she’s really nice. None of the RD’s seemed to be in any particular stress, or even hurry, or, well, doing anything really, which was slightly disconcerting, but as it would turn out my worries were completely ill-advised. The race briefing was short, with the highlight being a heartfelt apology for what was to come after mile 10, the Lost Creek trail. Well, how bad can it be. Avalanche destroyed the trail? Yeah ok, no biggie right?
After watching the video, which would along with much presumably good advice also recommend to avoid being out in the woods at dusk, dawn or inbetween, much to the nervous amusement of the racers, my main question about if I should shine my light into a bear’s eyes if I met one in the dark or not remained unanswered.
The most disconcerting thing of all though was to see that Steve and I were pretty much the most out-of-shape looking and feeling people there. Everyone looked ultrafit, experienced and strong. I recognized multiple Hardrock and Plain finishers. I already mentally resigned myself to finishing pretty much last.

At least we got a good night’s sleep, actually being able to fall asleep at 8pm, and sleeping rather well til about 4am the next morning. Pure luxury!

The Race

The start was rather chilly, but before we knew it, the wait was over and off we went, 44 starters altogether. The field started out at a pretty solid pace, but Steve and I took it easy and fell behind. After a little bit of road, the course veered off on a fire road, very reminiscent of Plain. After a while, a gal with a backpack that looked bigger than her passed us with a friendly smile. I didn’t see a race number and thought she wasn’t part of the race, but it was Eva Pastalkova, who had forgotten to change the timezone on her watch and started like 20 minutes late. She would end up in 5th place … I felt a little tired at the beginning, not breathing as easily as I usually would, but things were still ok.

After about 10 miles, the first aid station finally came into view, and after it started the difficult trail section, the Lost Creek trail. We veered off the fire road onto some nice single track, which soon got more and more overgrown, until only my head would be above the bushes – basically running blind, since one could barely see the trail. I was still following Steve, or at least what could be seen of him, namely one inch of his head above the bushes. Fortunately for Steve there was a shorter woman ahead of me who completely disappeared, allowing him to maintain at least a little dignity. After a while of this, we got to the debris field – it was basically a forest which was downed by an avalanche, leaving broken trees randomly strewn over the hillside, and some arbitrary ribbons placed in it. Navigating it was treacherous at best, often one would have to step on questionable branches since the ground was too far below, broken off branches were just waiting for some runner kebab. Steve and I swapped dignity quickly in this mess, when I was over-cautiously trying to climb over a tree, making a perilously and ridiculous almost-split when he simply leaped over me, much to his amusement. I was still trying to free myself when Steve long disappeared cackling in the distance … I seriously over-exerted myself in that field, and kept stumbling and catching my feet until I got a full-blown cramp in my left calf. After that little treasure which would accompany me for a few hours, I managed to smack my pre-race injured right ankle so hard against a tree-stump it made my toes tingle and hurt, which caused me to break out in a well-rehearsed stream of swiss german expletives, something that usually is reserved for intimate toe-to-rock encounters in the late stages of a race.

The next few miles I tried to simply regain some rhythm and recover a little, while a lot of the few runners behind me started overtaking me. By the time I got to the 19 mile Napa Point aid station, I felt like I had run 50 miles, and had strange troubles breathing, something I don’t usually get at this altitude. Of course partially this was because this course was just incredibly spectacular – after the Lost Creek trail passed the avalanche field, we climbed onto a ridge with simply amazing views. Danni hadn’t promised too much, I could already tell … The ridge itself was at times partially very narrow with step drop-offs to both sides, almost a little Hardrock-ish and a real treat.

At Napa Point I saw Danni. While I realized I wasn’t all too far behind, since I saw many runners including Steve on the out and back section coming from the aid station, I was still far back in the field, and looking at the time I started to worry if I could finish this race within the time limit.

The next section was the longest without aid (26 miles), and had a long stretch without water as well. The scenery reminded me a lot of Plain, just with more rugged trails, but similar meadows, wonderful lakes and views of snow-covered mountains in the distance. The section looked rolling on the elevation map but there surely seemed to be an awful lot of climbs in it, and I was slower than I hoped. As it turns out the things I initially thought were flies were actually mosquitoes, just waiting for you to try to grab some water from a stream, making it a rather awkward and painful slap – fill – slap – keep balance exercise. Well, at least it kept you moving … and there’s nothing like ice cold mountain water to quench your thirst, so the effort was well worth it. The trail was also laced with downed trees, which required increasing effort to slide under or step over, especially tiring and disruptive on downhills. After a long slow section that was increasingly filled with worries about the time limit, I finally got to the Sixmile mountain station, where I saw Jon Burg and Steve much to my surprise, since the climb to the peak and back from there is just about 1.5 miles. This gave me some confidence and worried me at the same time, since in my estimation it meant that a lot of people would have trouble finishing. The climb up to Sixmile was short and rewarded with a breathtaking 360 degree view of the mountains. I forced down some gels (I hadn’t eaten much at all during the race and Montana Huckleberry Hammer gel was all that I could easily stomach, although swallowing it made me almost throw up) and tried to enjoy the views just to find that those damn mosquitoes were even at the top of the mountains. I quickly made my way down, starting the long and for me worrisome (due to my ankle) descent to Quintonkon – about the halfway point.

After heading down from the aid station, I easily found the posy trail (the course markings were very good at intersections, but otherwise extremely sparse, by design). It was getting dark, but I was testing a gps application for TDG on my android phone, which combined preloaded Topo maps with the gps of the phone and the built-in tilt compensated compass to an overall extremely accurate navigation solution. It was fairly idiot-proof with an arrow indicating the direction of the phone on the map, usually at an intersection you could just point and see which way to go. The posey trail however became more and more overgrown and seemed rather unmaintained and I started to wonder if I was going the right way. A quick check of my phone showed me not far, but clearly off the course, however no other trail was marked on the topo map, which may not mean much. So I backtracked for almost 3/4 of a mile back up the hill, hoping to see someone else – but nothing. I searched around but finally decided that the topo map must be misaligned and went back down, frequently checking my assumption on the phone and wasting a royal amount of time. I was sufficiently distracted that I became so careless I slipped on the trail and folded my left leg under myself, basically sitting on my shin muscle, bruising it nicely. Cursing I carried on, and finally found a confidence marker as the trail opened onto an abandoned old road that ended in a T intersection. I remembered clearly from the maps to go right at the bottom, but the markers pointed to the left. Somehow I thought someone might have moved the markers and I decided to trust my phone map and started heading down to the right, but the lack of markers made me turn back again. Flustered and distracted I managed to fall over a bunch of branches, but I finally saw on the paper maps we received at the race briefing that the course had been changed. A little later down the road something suddenly grabbed my foot and I fell flat, my foot being held firmly in place. This time I sprained a finger and bruised my knee, and now I was in a really bad mood. My shoelace had married a strong but flexible root, and I had to scooch back to free myself. Now cursing in german-swiss-english and an attempt at hindi, I carried on. The section seemed to go on for a long time, going back and forth, crossing the Quintonkon until I got to the main road. The aid station was supposed to be 6 miles from the previous aid station, but it was moved up this road and the distance was closer to 8 miles (shortening the following section) – however even figuring this out the fact that the section took me much more than 3 hours on a downhill had shaken my confidence even further.

Brad, one of the RDs, was at Quintonkon, and he reassured me it would be possible for me to finish, although I was very worried. I lingered only briefly to have some soup and food and was on my way, another 16 mile stretch without aid. At the beginning of this section I realized what the real issue with bears would be – not that I wouldn’t know what to do and how to behave, but that I most likely just wouldn’t give a crap anymore if it came to it, I was so beaten up. Fortunately that remained a theory since no runner had any bear encounters. I don’t recall much else of this section in the night, there was a lot of climbing and descending, and some wonderful views of the towns in the valley with a clear sky, until I finally reached the Broken Leg aid station in the morning. The following section was road and flat, and ironically it was much cooler in the valley than it had been on the ridge during the night, where warm winds kept me sweating at all times.

At the Strawberry Trailhead aid station – mile 74 – I was in 19th position, as it would turn out pretty much second to last at that point. I got rid of some clothes and went on for the last long 24 mile stretch of no aid. I actually started feeling somewhat better and overtook one or two runners during the steep climb to the ridge, when a thunderstorm passed over us and it would rain heavily for the next few hours. Fortunately I had my exhibitionist-style long ultralight raincoat with me, which turned out to be highly functional, leaving me dry and comfortable. I continued to gain ground on other runners, catching up with Mark Heaphy (a 13 times Hardrock finisher or so), and we ran for a while together. I thought now finishing was possible, but if the downhill was as technical as before, it would be very tight, so I felt I really had to push the pace. I still was able to muster a little gesture of help to a fellow runner who almost fell off the ridge twice, not being able to stay steady on his legs. This was highly dangerous and he was very lucky to be able to catch himself hanging off the ridge, so I forcefully ordered him to sit down and gave him a payday bar. He told us to carry on which we did despite a bad conscience since I didn’t think it was really wise to leave him alone. Fortunately the bar worked like a new battery and soon he was flying by us, as we continued on on the

My navigation application. I marked the worst uphill on the course.

endless seeming ridge. Fortunately I knew more or less what to expect thanks to my gps, and a little last hill on my elevation map turned out to be not there due to some inaccuracies in my data (actually looking at it now there was no hill on the map, I just thought so, but it made me happy anyways and that’s all that counts), which was better than finding an ice chest filled with popsicles, although that would have been extremely nice as well.

The final downhill turned out to be a very steep but extremely well groomed trail, unlike the rugged tree-carcass infested trails from before, and I could open up and make very good time. I knew there was one more uphill, but after the trail flattened out for a while I figured it was another inaccuracy of my map, until I met a crew person for another runner, who was very happy to see I was doing well and said she’d call the aid station to announce my coming. “45 minutes I think” she said. I thought I was almost there and figured she must have meant the time to the finish. THEN the hill came (marked on the picture) – increasingly steep, and seemingly endless. There is nothing worse than a hill at the very end you don’t expect and you don’t want, it seemed tenfold its real size, and I got more pissed off than I’ve been in a long time. It basically broke all my willpower, and after I eventually got to the final downhill I just was cursing all the way to the aid station, glad no one was around to witness my meltdown.
The last 2 miles on the road I could no longer muster the energy to run, the hill having crushed my finishing spirit, and having plenty of time I just walked it slowly. Although I had overtaken numerous people on the downhill I thought they should catch up any minute with me being so slow, yet noone was in sight behind me. It was so excruciatingly hot I got a bit worried I might pass out, and I had to spit water over myself to cool myself down (camelback …). After backtracking a little since I was again unsure about being on the right road, I finally came to the very last stretch and faked a little finish run.
Right after I finished I found myself talking to a very cool, very nice and VERY cute volunteer who turned out to be a few levels more crazy than me on the mountain bike, trying to convince her that running is fun and all and she should sign up for a 100 miler right away. Admittedly the fact alone that no broken-off tree branches were protruding from her body trying to skewer me seemed extremely appealing, but that should not take away from my description and the fact it was a worthy post-finish activity. Mercifully I do not remember a single word I said, as it undoubtedly ranged from incoherent to painfully embarrassing interlaced with outrageous lies, with Steve not really helping much either, as he let me happily carry on talking shit. After that I took a shower and promptly used Steve’s laptop to sign up for HURT, all of which even in hindsight seems like a proper order of priorities to me, although I probably should have swapped the last two, but I really was pretty out of it. In the end I finished in 13th place from 20 finishers, a very satisfying result in a strong field and an outstanding and very hard race. Steve, being almost 3 hours faster, came in 10th, a job extremely well done. Everyone was bruised and beaten up, but very happy to have finished, or tried. The race organization ended up being excellent by any account, but especially for a first-time race, and I will definitely be back, hoping the avalanche debris can be preserved. Kudos to all the RDs and helpers and especially lovely Danni (sorry Brad) for putting on an instant classic and a new favorite race of mine!

Coyote 2 Cold

Wet and cold at the second Rose Valley visit

Wet and cold at the second Rose Valley visit

What can be said about Coyote 2 Moon? It’s a joke, and the runners are the punchline. This year the RD posted results from other races (?) under his chosen nicknames for the runners. Mine was Meat. I don’t really know why, nor do I want to.

C2M is – normally – quite hard. It has like 26k ft of climbing, starts sometime at night, and took me last year just about 32 hours to finish. This year the RD decided that was too “boring” for me, and put me in a start group with an absolute time limit of 31 hours. With people who are much faster than me.

Wendel having too much fun

Wendel having too much fun

I’ll just briefly describe the main highlights of this race.

– 3am start. Better than 11pm, if you can believe it.

– the day was freezing cold. Rain, hail, and 2 inches of fresh snow fell during the race. I was freezing for 29 hours.

– Parts of the trail became a big mudslide without much traction

– To stay warm, I had to run more, and finished in ~29:30

– The 100m had a finisher rate of <40%, and the 100k of <20%

Anyways, the pictures say it all …

Jochen running through fresh snow during the last 6 miles ...

Jochen running through fresh snow during the last 6 miles ...

Hurt 2010: Wine and Cheese

Hurt time again … one of my all-time favourite races. A tough, painful and rewarding race, with 5 loops that seem to grow exponentially in length …


  • Pre-race hypochondria and paranoia: check.
    With not enough training due to my sprained ankle from a few months ago, I also came down with a cold the Sunday before the race to boot! Fatigue, congestion, etc. A shame to my education, I decided to try everything possible, from homeopathic “stuff”, zinc lozenges, massive amounts of vitamin C, silver-based nasal spray (I sort of get what that’s supposed to do, but it’s gross).  Anyways, friday I spent with noticeably elevated heart rate for whatever reason (probably nervous), but my cold seemed to be on its way out again .
  • Heat training: check
    Try Bikram Yoga in a fleece and in sunny spot on the heater side of the room. Don’t think about the fact that all the women think you’re the grossest person ever, given not drops, but streams of sweat flow to your towel … That and the good ole sauna suit … moron time!
  • Weight: fail
    10 lbs over what I want to be. What’s even more depressing though is that Mark Gilligan can run faster than me weighing 200+ lbs. Thank god he’s a total wuss (more later).
  • Chewing off passenger’s ear on the flight: check
    Poor Amy. Even worse, she might try trail running. Little does she know how much this actually sucks .
  • Traning: fail
    I don’t know what that “trining” is that other people appear to be doing, but it seems to work for them. Maybe I should try it.
  • Friends: check
    Not only would I meet my usual gang of HURT friends (Alex + family, Jeff, the whole HURT gang, Jamshid, Catra, Andy, Kevin, …) but we’d have a solid showing of bay area crazies this year (Wendell, Phyllis, Mark, Nathan Yanko!, Brett …)


I’ve written a bunch about HURT, so I’ll stick to the highlights this year:

  • Beat is a moron
  • Mark is a wuss
  • Wendell isn’t too smart either
  • Phyllis needs a stairmaster
  • Nathan needs to tell me what he’s doing
  • Monica Scholz RULES (and otherwise is completely insane)

Ok, the long version:

  • Lap 1: Feel sluggish, goes ok. 4:45 or so. It’s so dry, it’s dusty. And somehow the course isn’t really that much easier. It’s hot, I am drenched in sweat within 20 minutes, wearing only one thin short-sleeve layer at the start.
  • Lap 2: I actually feel better than on lap 1, even though I run out of water halfways through the first leg (toasty!). Catch up with Mark Gilligan (the boy added his girlfriend’s weight since last year and hasn’t trained in 4 months. Still he’s moving well. Jackass.) I think I’m going too fast, but am happy to get the two laps done in good time (about 10:30 I think). After the lap, I am HUNGRY. My strategy to eat only Chomps and gel blocks works ok so far, but I want some solid food. I mentioned many times: if I eat something solid before a massive climb, I get sick. Keeping this OUT of my  mind, I chow down a pork sandwich (greasy and oh so good – at that time) which I’ve never tried before.
  • Lap 3: After 10 minutes on Lap 3 I know I did it. Stomach is completely and utterly gone. My legs feel like lead, I am nauseated, and I don’t think I can finish this. I even try to stick my finger DEEP down my throat, but I can’t throw up much. The wretching makes me feel better though (yeah). Still, I’m going slow, and solid food is off the menu. At mile 49? I see Wendell and Phyllis coming down: they’ll quit at Paradise Park on loop 3. He can’t deal with the heat (no heat training -> tsk tsk). She can’t walk downhill, quads are completely busted. I am trying to get Wendell to go on, but he’s doing 7 miles in 3.5 hours instead of 2.5 (which is slow already) – not good. The rest of lap 3 is slow. 7:10 or so for this one. It gets a little cooler, and dark.
  • Lap 4: I’m moving – slowly but surely – ok now, food intake limited to a can or two of ginger ale or coke and half a bag of chomps or such. No wonder I’m not going too fast … Monica Scholz catches up with me. I am thankful for her, because her insanity (she’ll attempt to run 30! 100-milers this year) makes me look very normal, and secondly because she’s a smart and unbelievably consistent runner and makes me actually run faster as I stick with her. Monica doesn’t seem to leave anything up to chance, and I understand why she’s able to do the things she does. I’m in awe. Anyways, we have a good talk to boot.
  • Lap 5:  On the way up Hogsback I meet Mark Gilligan and Cindy coming down – Mark decided to QUIT because “his feet hurt” and he fell apart or so. I overtake Alex on the way down to Paradise Park. He’s been an hour ahead of me, but he has some NASTY blister/toenail problems, and he’s not moving fast. I’m pondering sticking with him, try for a while but the pace isn’t doing me any good – knees are complaining. So I try to catch up with Monica again, who is now 10 minutes ahead – alas, all I accomplish is totally spend myself. On the way up from Paradise Park I meet Mark, paced by no other than Tropical John! Turns out he decided to go on after all. He ponders quitting AGAIN, and I promise to buy him a Mai Tai if he finishes – but he has to buy me a Ferrari if he quits. He agrees to the bet (witnessed by John). The rest of the loop is ok, and I finish 21st – still slower than 2 years ago, but I’m happy.

My lap times: 4:48 5:25 7:12 7:41 7:01 (note the time at the start/finish counts to the next lap time, so lap 1 always seems a little shorter) which amounts to 32:18.


Wine and Cheese

Wine and Cheese Award

Fortunately this time I stayed an extra day, allowing me to hike from Waikiki to Diamond Head for recovery – on top of which I meet Nathan and Brett + company! They were mildly impressed by my ability to move well, while they were limping, but of course Nathan was a full 10 hours faster than me … ah well. He was still over 2 hours behind the winner and new course record holder, Gary Robbins (in a mind-blowing 20:12). The award ceremony was fun, and I win the “Wine and Cheese” award, which all of you who know me is totally and utterly unfounded because I never complain and say stuff like “it’s not my day” or “I’m not feeling it” or “I am sooo unprepared” or the like. Jeff sure thinks he’s funny. Well since I never stayed for an award ceremony I had it coming.

As for Mark, he’s the one guy I know who quit TWICE in a race – not far from the finish – and all because he had some blisters and his feet hurt. EVERYONES feet hurt at HURT! AND his girlfriend AND parents were there! He won’t live that one down. And I’m still waiting for my Ferrari. I think it should come any day now …

Despite the perfect conditions, the finisher rate is still under 50%. To make up for the lack of mud, I ran Pacifica 50k a week later, which was a total mudfest thanks to a solid week of rain here 🙂

Plain dumb and somewhat lucky

Plain is one of my favorite races. It’s very tough, remote, beautiful and overall a really fun event. This year there were also a number of friends at the race – all the more fun. But alas, I hit a little snag.

Sunday, September 6: I am going for a nice short training run on my regular house route. About a mile from home, it happens – I roll my ankle outwards (like so many times) and hear a bit of a crunch. For a few steps I think I will just run it off like always, but those steps are all it takes for a flood of pain to enter my foot … within a minute, there’s an ugly swollen bump on it, and it becomes harder and harder to put weight on my foot. The mile home is excruciating, I am limping it slowly, every step more painful. At home, I immediately apply ice, but at this point I am only able to hop on one leg. Plain is out, Javelina probably too.

Later this day, at a barbeque, I chat with Rick Gaston, who looks at my ankle with little sympathy. “Scott Jurek won hardrock on a turned ankle, he put an aircast on. As long as it’s not purple and bruised, you might be ok. You’ll know in 2 days”. My foot is pretty swollen, but I am able to limp instead of hop by this point, after icing a lot. And so the seed is planted …

Foot on Wednesday

Foot on Wednesday

The next day I feel much better. I limp, but can put much more weight on my foot, and the swelling is down. However, I now see a nice bruise developing. What hurts almost more than the ankle itself is the side of my foot, as I seem to have bruised that as well. I get busy and order two different kinds of aircasts, get a massage and keep icing like I’ve never iced before. I was regaining hope … by Wednesday I know I’m going, and even buy hiking poles to support my ankle.

What made me nervous though was that the initial fast healing progress had not continued – my foot still was tender, and while I could walk fairly normally, I would usually have opted to wait at least another week before even thinking of running – with a doctor’s visit inbetween to boot. Instead I was going to attempt one of the hardest hundred around.

Blood pooling making pretty colors.

Blood pooling making pretty colors.

The pre-race meeting on Friday was fun as usual – lots of joking, old war stories, scared faces and grim determination. It’s definitely the lowest-key event I’ve done so far … I show people pictures of my foot maybe in order to excuse myself from dropping already ahead of time. I have not run more than 50 yards since Sunday, and honestly don’t expect I will make it more than two or three miles.

My pack turns out to be massively heavy, in stark opposition to my roommate John’s pack, which seems so slim I wonder if he’ll starve during the race. But I can’t get myself to remove anything from my pack, since I might have to stay out there for a very long time in the worst case.

After a good night’s sleep, we are all ready to go. The aircast is fairly comfortable but I still wonder what it’ll do to my foot, and putting on my shoe actually hurts since the foot is still tender to the touch. I start to realize how unwise this is.

Finally, we start. I run, slowly, focussing on how my foot feels. Harry and Steve stick with me, although we’re in the back of the pack (unlike last year where I was running much faster). Soon we’ve lost most runners with only a few behind us. I fall into a walk soon enough on a slight uphill … the foot doesn’t feel great, but it’s not disintegrating either.

We make it up to Maverick Saddle – 2000 ft climb and 6 miles down! Since we’ll hit some downhill and singletrack soon, I break out the poles. However, it turns out that

  1. I have absolutely no upper body strength. It’s truly pathetic.
  2. I have no clue how to place the poles on the downhill. It’s just confusing to me to have to place 4 things instead of two.

About three quarters up the way to Klone Peak I am fairly exhausted from using the poles and not running normally, and wasting tons of time on the downhill – so I decide to put them away and use them only if needed. We still managed to catch Jeff Huff’s group, which gives me some boost. After a bit over 5 hours we make it up to Klone Peak, with the most spectacular view of the course. The first significant climb is done, but I feel much more tired than usual. Now I would see how this downhill would go for me – the real test was ahead!

The downhill was tough. I placed my feet very deliberately, and went very tentatively on the more technical sections – all of which turns out to put a lot of tension in the legs – exhausting and painful. At the bottom of the first downhill I manage to wipe out, but fortunately I land in the softest dust possible and don’t hurt myself at all. When I finally get to Entiat River, I am much more tired than last year.

The climb up to Signal Peak was – as usual – brutally hard. I had 150 oz of water with me, expecting it to be very hot (which it didn’t turn out to be due to plenty of shade), and I also developed some nice heel blisters due to failing shoes … still, I make it up there with Steve and Harry in tow. The following downhill they both pull away, and I get more and more tired – I am extremely cautious by now, having hit my foot a few times against rocks (nothing unusual) and feeling my ankle injury in various ways that didn’t inspire much confidence (although overall it was ok). The last downhill is very technical, and I grind to a slow walk, trying to find level places to put my foot. Once I’m at Mad River, it already starts to get dark, and I can just not run much. The following downhill from Maverick Saddle I try to run some, but soon resign myself to a walk, which is marked by extremely tight legs and rather nasty pain on the bottom of my feet. It is during this downhill that I basically decide to drop at Deep Creek.

I make it to Deep Creek in 17:30 – two hours slower than last year, and MUCH more exhausted. Harry and Steve had left the only aid station only minutes before I got there. At this point, I was thinking:

  • There’s no reason to expect I would get any faster, since the issue was my running very carefully and unnaturally
  • The night would be very risky, and 20 miles are an awfully long way to walk with a truly hurt ankle
  • I would probably make poor decisions and take undue risks on the downhills when feeling pressed for time, which I most definitely would be.
  • This was absolutely no fun

And so, after pondering 30 minutes, I called it quits, even although I would have had enough time to make it. I was in good company – Tim Stroh was there, and Michael Popov (who generously lent me his jacket and a blanket), both had to drop (Tim because of some tendon issues, and Michael due to some very nasty blisters under his feet).

In hindsight I think it was foolish to start (even if I would have finished), since this course is REALLY remote. I also think it’s very neat to test yourself against a hard course and overcome bad spots, or battle with a problem that arises on the course – but to basically run against an injury is pointless. Even although I get some kind words from John Fors and Tim Stroh, I think it wasn’t my brightest moment. But hey, I got it out of my system. This has been a pattern for a lot of my runs lately – poor preparation, poor recovery, shitty mood and poor performance – I’ll have to change this. Time to learn some new stuff!

Very positively, John had an amazingly strong race, Steve did very well as always and Harry achieved 100% redemption from his DNF at Western States by pushing through some extreme lows to finish!

2009 Hardrock 100

7/4: walking up 2 flight of stairs to room. out of breath, panting, hard. argh.
7/5: trail marking w Olga @ Virginius. 4WD Drive to Gov Basin from Ouray (part of course) takes 50 minutes?!? Once on the pass, turns out to be fun though. No problems w/ breathing here. Good? Getting worried about trail finding though. Why are there like a dozen people here who tried Barkley before? Are they all crazy?
7/6: checking out Grant Swamp Pass. Still ok. Very pretty.
7/7: checking out Porcupine-Cararact w/ Julian. Legs feel sore and tired. Panting a lot. Worse than yesterday, shouldn’t I get used to this?
7/8-9: sore. tired. lots of panting up the stairs. Very close to panic.
7/10-11: get up 3:30am
0m: everyone is running. Why?
2.3m: first stream crossing. No more dry feet for the next ~40 hrs
3m: Jamil, Kirk Apt overtake me. Wendell falls back, won’t see him again (Wendell considers Hardrock too easy and thus never acclimates to make it a little bit of a challenge …).
7m: first 3840 feet of climbing done, life is good. Run down with celebrity Diane
16.3m: another 3100 feet of climbing accomplished. This ain’t so bad. Coming to Pole Creek. Curious marmots wonder what this crazy huge family is doing out here. 2 magnificent elk. Field disperses, and I don’t see anyone ahead/behind me for a while.
25m: Olga said at race start she’d overtake me at mile 25. Not if I can help it. I keep wondering when she’ll show up.
28.7m: Sherman! A marathon done, with ~9000ft of climb! Not bad, but barely a quarter done – in over 8 hours! I feel tired. This aid station has to be the best equipped one I’ve ever seen. Little “flower” arrangements with gels & goodies on each table, my bag is unpacked and sorted on the table, someone taking my food orders from a long menu! Why leave here? I feel rushed, don’t eat enough, change socks.
30m: on road going up to catch the trail to Handies Peak. I don’t feel terribly strong now. Raining.
34m: Fredx finally overtakes me, with his usual ease. Those legs! He gives me some bogus “yeah you’re on 36 hour pace”. I noticed I didn’t eat enough early on. I am paying, slowing down. More people overtaking me.
36m: The climb to Handies gets steeper and steeper. I can barely move, legs are empty, stopping and panting every few steps now. I start to feel sick – no headache though. Blake Wood+Billy Simpson overtake me, both will finish hours ahead of me.
36.8m: I’m the highest I’ve ever been, first time >14k. The views would be amazing if I didn’t feel so crappy. Blake taking pictures. How often do you meet a legend on a 14k summit? Surreal.
39m: there is another damn climb? I sit down, try to eat, have to wretch. Blake long gone, as are many others. Just get to Grouse, where Chuck is waiting. Snail pace, even downhills are slow.
42.1m: Grouse Gulch. only 14500ft of climb so far, still 20000 to go, and >50m. I feel bad – done. Pondering quitting, but I am far too much ahead of the cutoff. In a regular hundred feeling like this, I’d have 10 miles with 1000 ft of climb to go. I try to remember similar exhaustion so early. Nope.
47.2m: Engineer Pass. It just got dark. The road was easy enough, time passes quickly with good company, we overtook one runner (Chuck calls it trailkill?).
48m: I hear a yelp! Chuck stepped into a hole on a steep grassy cross country downhill. He overbends his knee, says something’s torn. I have a bandage, we apply it. Ouray will be then end for him, miles ahead, he can’t drop earlier. Julian overtakes us, I don’t recognize him.
51m: Every step sounds like walking on broken china plates. Easy runnable downhill? I’m walking. Bear Creek trail scares the hell out of me. The river rushes very far below us, yet closeby. If the darkness makes this easier, I’ll wear diapers during the day. Even walking, I catch one foot behind my other, stumble, almost fall into the dark. Idiot!
56.6m: Ouray. I catch up with Julian, who is taking time with a good refuel. His pacer stops here as well. We leave together, I only feel so-so. Still can’t eat enough. Chuck reassures me I’m on good pace, some number starting with a 3. I don’t even know if I can make it. He does some funky math, but really I know how fast I went in the beginning, and how much I slowed down. It just doesn’t seem to add up …
59m: I don’t remember any of this! The road just goes on and on and on. I feel sick. Julian goes on, I stop to eat, try to get back some energy. We’re not even at the part yet that I remember from driving up here. What?
64.5m: Governor Basin. Must. Eat. Julian leaves ahead of me. Every aid station now has a few exhausted ghosts wrapped in blankets sleeping or just vegetating.
67m: Daylight. Virginius snowfields are frozen, much harder/scarier to climb than before. Tent stakes help! The last pitch has a traverse or a straight rope up. Rope looks cooler, I take it. My god this is hard.
67.7m: Got to be the craziest aid station ever @ 13000ft. The pass has only a few square feet of space. I get a hot chocolate.
71.6m: Catch up with Roger Wrublik (or he catches up with me)? Good times. Steep downhill, but easy footing. He warns me of Oscar’s Pass. Hot. Long. Doesn’t look like anything on the elevation map?
76m: Oscar’s pass ascent. It’s hot. It’s steep! It’s long!! Julian and I are walking together. Not talking much.
77m: We’re not at the damn top yet? What? False summit. I want to scream.
78m: We have to sit down. This is bullshit. Where’s the top? We’re totally spent. Hours of almost complete exhaustion, I am nearing a state of angry despair.
79.2m: Oscars Pass. This was the hardest climb so far, even exceeding Handies. We go down a road – or so they call it. It’s a joke. I wouldn’t drive a jeep up something this steep and ridiculous if my life depended on it.
80m: The snow field across the road is thankfully not very wide. Otherwise I’d soil myself. The drop-off looks deadly, the snow is slippery and hard. Wendell said this scares him the most. Now I know why.
82.4m: Chapman. We hook up with Mark Heaphy, a ten-times veteran and super-nice guy. I look forward to Grant Swamp, the scramble, the lake view. Another runner later will see it and decide to quit. It looks frightening. But it’s doable. I think.
85.3m: The climb was tough, now the final pitch to Grant Swamp Pass. Runners do switchbacks. Mark does, too – he’s smart. I’m not – I want to prove a point and do just one, then go straight up. Takes a lot of energy. Don’t look down. I make it. On the other side, after depositing my rock at the memorial, I start descending the initial pitch my butt. I’ve lost my downhill confidence? Damn.
88m: On the Kamm Traverse. Julian and I did good downhill time. We think 41hrs is possible. KT is scary as I remember it, but thankfully, soon enough, it opens on a wider ledge. Someone at the aid station says he’ll try to go sub 40. Nah.
89.6m: Julian is much stronger on the uphills. I am struggling. No energy. I tell him to go. He will be 30 minutes ahead of me at the finish.
93m: My throat feels like I drank hot acid. I spit up crap. I gasp and wheeze. I am spent. I can barely move. Finally the ridge – downhill from here. Dan Curley moves up behind me, says he wants to break 40. Seems possible now … I overtake him back, stronger on the downhill. We run together, fast (not really, it just feels fast), start overtaking people. He has no flashlight, I give him my headlamp, I have a good handheld. It’s still light and will be until mile 97.
94.9m: Putnam aid station. They say it’s 6 miles (should be 5.7?). 1h45m to go sub 40. No problem? Mark (who we overtook) says it’s very hard. He finished 10 times. Hmmm. Hurry. I only grab a cup of coke, and go. No food. Bad choice.
96m: I run as hard as I can. The trail gets technical, opens up on a traverse of a very steep scree field high up. I’m scared. I walk very fast, run parts of it. In my mind: “you’re the biggest idiot to risk your life to try to get under 40”. I have no good answer for myself. I just keep pushing. I smack my foot against a rock, toenails will be gone. So what?
98.3m: We’re finally at the crossing. Damn this thing is wide. John DeWalt has a bad fall later on here. The current is very strong, but not terribly high this year – just thigh deep. Still it wants to sweep you from your feet angrily. After crossing the freeway, another climb up to Nute Chute seems to go forever. I am spent like I’ve never been spent before. I feel faint, strangely ill. My heartbeat feels funny. We get onto the flat part and Dan says “We have to hurry. We should run”. I want to just lie down, but I run, slowly. It takes forever. Another scree field we traverse. Scary. I thought this was over?
99.7m: The road to the shrine goes on and on. Dan gets worried about the time. We have 9 minutes left. I think he wants to run. If I run, I will die. I feel like fainting. All that keeps me going is that we’re close. But I know when I finish I won’t feel good for a long time. I’m not looking forward to it.
100.5m: 5 minutes to spare below 40hrs. Dan and I run in together – neither of us would have had the determination to go for sub-40 alone. Still, all I can think about is that if I don’t eat and drink I’ll end up in a hospital.

Julian, amazingly strong at the end, finished half an hour before me. Fredx has a great run, coming in at 37:30ish.

This year the course conditions were among the best ever in this race.

Essence of an ultra athlete

What’s the story? In this marathon, I accompanied our family friend Peter. His goal was to finish a nordic walking marathon within the time limit of 7:45, which is an unheard of feat. Why?
Peter, aged 68, used to be an excellent marathon runner – 2:22 personal best, to be exact. He used to train up to a sustained 190 miles per week (here’s one reason why we’re so goddamn slow …). And he ran his last marathon like 30 years ago.
Then what? Peter also used to be a heavy smoker. This is until 4.5 years ago, when he, prompted by severe pain in his legs at night, went to the doctor. The diagnosis: Smoker’s leg – or in medical terms “severe peripheral arterial occlusive disease”. Basically his main arteries into his legs were COMPLETELY blocked, with only one side artery providing a little blood. His diagnosis: amputation! You might wonder why, in this day and age, one can’t just put in a stent and be done. However, the issue is that over the long progression of this disease, very large amounts of blood vessels become so degenerated, that you just can’t put in enough stents. And even if you did a bypass, the issue is: bypass where to? His legs were a typical case heading towards amputation.
At this point, Peter could not walk even a few hundred yards without sitting down.
In his situation, there is one common course of the disease, without exception: people keep smoking, and get their leg amputated. It is also to note that this kind of disease is very painful, often making it impossible to sleep at night. Imagine your legs after a hard 100 – every night.
Peter, however, took action and attempted the impossible: he stopped smoking, and started an intense training program, walking as much as possible every day, and going to the gym as well, to try and improve the circulation in his legs. After about 2 years of excruciatingly intense training and 3000 km of walking, he was pain-free! The few secondary blood vessels had improved the blood supply, and new vessels had formed. His doctor was stomped.
Peter didn’t stop here – he set his goal to do a marathon, and to eventually be able to run again. After 2.5 more years, in his last checkup the doctor could not believe his eyes – he had never seen so much progress in building new blood vessels, and his leg had new life. As a matter of fact there are no documented cases of this ever happening, and Peter will be written up in a medical paper. What he did is a medical impossibility. Today Peter is walking far more every day than I run. Oh, and he also lost like 45 lbs as a little side project …
When he told me he would attempt to walk the Biel night marathon I said I would accompany him. His plan was pretty aggressive – he could sustain a pace of about 1 hour 45 minutes for 10km, which would allow him to finish in about 7:23. The longest he had walked however was 20km. His pace plan all in all was to finish with only 9 minutes to spare before the cut-off, relying on a mostly even split!
Walking with him was a lesson in both perseverance and humility for me. The night walking marathon is just a small discipline in the well attended (1300+ runners) Biel 100km race. Only 42 or so people started the night walk. From the very get-go, we ended up being the very last walkers (and people on the course), walking just before the “broom van” (besenwagen) – the sweeper. It was mentally quite hard for me not to run the 100k, and the reaction of some of the spectators was nothing short of humiliating and infuriating. I can sort of understand if kids or drunk people make stupid comments, but some of the snide remarks we got from regulars were just very upsetting. Fortunately we left the little town soon enough and walked before the sweeper van. The pace was a pretty stiff walk (I’ve also never used walking poles before, which was interesting). Despite the slow pace your feet and legs still hurt quite a bit, I have to say (actually my feet were worse than after Diablo 50k for sure!!!).
I pushed Peter a little ahead of his planned pace, which I think ended up being good because the course was about 500m long (according to both of our GPS watches, and it also felt that way) which, with 9 minutes to spare, is a very long distance! In the second half we started overtaking a few people (who ended up dropping missing the cut-off in the end). Sadly being the last people the aid stations started to shut down, and I could swear some were already closed when we passed – we didn’t even have enough to drink. At 12k left, I found we were running very tight, and I pushed Peter hard to his limits. At this point, he was suffering a lot. One may wonder why it is so hard to walk, but realize – there is only the fraction of the blood supply in his legs than in mine! In a great effort he managed to pull through and we finished just 1 minute past his original goal.
I have to say I am only full of admiration for Peter – in my view he is many times the ultra athlete that I am, and truly does what attracts me about ultras – to do the impossible. What an amazing accomplishment!