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Thanks for visiting my blog. This is where I document and share all of my running adventures with my friends and fellow runners. The good, the bad, and the unquestionably painful. All for your entertainment! Enjoy!

Monday, January 27, 2014

2014 Coldwater Rumble 100: Sun, Sand and Single Track

"The desert, when the sun comes up...I couldn't tell where heaven stopped and Earth began."- Tom Hanks.

I've always enjoyed running in the desert and I have found that it has a calming, relaxing effect on me, even when I'm faced with the daunting task of running great distances. 

I enjoy bearing witness to the living things that forge an existence in such a harsh environment. To survive in that landscape requires strength, intelligence and tenacity. The same qualities that can be found in any ultra runner. It's a natural connection. 

Jo and I returned to the Sonoran Desert so I could run the inaugural Coldwater Rumble 100 mile trail race. Coldwater Rumble had existed previously, but the 100 mile distance was new and the course had been totally changed from previous years. After running the 50 mile race last year, I was intrigued by the idea of a 100 mile event on that trail network. I was the first person to jump on the chance to register. 

Coldwater was being paired with the Javelina Jundred, and together, they became the Sonoran 200. A chance to run both desert 100's and compete for the best accumulative finish times. A very cool concept and something that I couldn't pass up.

CW100 Buckle and Sonoran 200 2nd Place Trophy

Like a lot of the Aravaipa races, Coldwater is run on a loop course and several race distances are available. The 100 miler consists of five 20 mile loops. The terrain and trail conditions have tremendous variability. There are several brand new trails that are smooth and flawless, but also sections of very loose sand, rocky scrabble, slick rock conditions and rutted, beat down, nastiness. There's something to appeal to every runner, even those with the most discerning tastes. 

The elevation gain is mild but there are a lot of sharp, steep inclines that will take their toll, especially if you plan to run hard. 

This Looks MUCH Worse Than it Really is

Time to Go!

The race started at 7:00, just as the sun was beginning to poke over the horizon. It was about 52 degrees with a promise of reaching 76 by midday. For a lot of Northern runners, this was going to prove to be a problem.

Mile 0.001!

After a short stretch of asphalt, we turned onto some single track and began a steady climb. I was running somewhere in the top 10 and the competitive juices were flowing up front. No talking, no dirty jokes or laughing...nothing but business as we made the climb.


After finishing the ascent, we made a gradual descent into the valley. The pack was shuffling as we all fell into our groove. I passed a few runners, slowly catching them, settling in behind them for a while, then making my pass. Still, no talking.

These guys were taking this shit seriously. Or maybe they're not morning people.


I fell in behind Christian Rios, an Aravaipa Running Teammate. Christian is notoriously fast so I thought it would be useful to shadow him for the first loop. We came into the first aid station at mile 4.5 and Christian stopped for aid. I hadn't planned to stop that early but I was shadowing the dude, so I stopped too. I grabbed a piece of banana and waited for Christian to roll out. When he reluctantly left the aid station, I urged him to get back in front and he obliged.

We were making an ascent as we left the aid station and Christian just stopped and began to walk. I wasn't sure if he needed to hike or if he was pissed off that I was following him. Either way, it wasn't good, so I made my pass and found myself all alone for the first time during the race.


I had run this section of the trail in training during the winter and was familiar with it. It's fast, scenic and a lot of fun.

Until I hit the sandy wash...

Initially, I thought it was a short crossing and I would be out of the sand quickly. Then it drug on...and on...and on! I've decided that running in loose sand requires a certain technique. A technique that I DO NOT possess. I find it maddening and mentally exhausting. I plowed on as best I could.

The second aid station came at mile 11 and I was in and out without stopping.

This section of trail drops in and out of several washes, has long winding single track and a couple of steep climbs. This is my favorite section of the course and I was having a blast!

I passed through the final aid station at mile 16.7, grabbed a Coke and powered on.

First Loop Done!

I finished the first loop in 3:10 and I felt great. My race plan called for 3:15, which I felt was conservative. I was right on schedule.

When I got into the start/finish area, I dropped my hydration pack and Jo handed me another, fully loaded and ready to go. I strapped it on, got a kiss and headed back out for loop #2.

Yeah...we all go THAT WAY!

It was getting really warm on the second loop and my pace slowed significantly. I wasn't being passed, so I assumed it was the same for the rest of the runners. I was sweating heavily, so I paid close attention to hydration. As usual, I was using the Hammer Endurolyte Fizz tabs in my hydration pack, as well as drinking water and Coke at the aid stations. I was covered in salt, but seemed to be staying ahead of dehydration.

Finishing 40 Miles in 6:51:15

I was a bit off my mark for the second loop, but I wasn't worried. I hadn't expected the heat, so it was better to play it safe early on.

Taking a Minute to Hydrate at 40 Miles

Heading Out for Loop #3!

I was beginning to feel the effects of the heat and the rolling terrain on the third loop. I was running fast enough that I would still be under a beating a sun for several more hours, so I continued with a cautious but determined pace.


Most of the other race distances had finished and the trails were less crowded. While I enjoyed the freedom of empty trails, I also missed the camaraderie of the other runners.

I was walking more of the hills on this loop, taking more time to hydrate and fuel at the aid stations and also trying to soak in some of the warmth and beauty of the desert. The field was totally spread out now and I had a true sense of solitude. I was happy.


The sandy wash section was beginning to grate on my nerves at this point. I ran what I could but eventually relented to the madness of it all and walked some of this section. After hours of being beaten up by runners, the wash was in pretty miserable shape.

I finished the third loop much slower than my race plan had suggested. I was beginning to feel a bit deflated, but I was still in good spirits and having fun.


Heading out for my fourth loop meant that I needed to prepare for night running. I switched to my larger hydration pack and Jo had it loaded with all my essentials. I had a few extra clothing items, extra fuel and my headlamp.

As the sun began to set, the temperature dropped quickly and I had several miles of very comfortable running ahead.

At this point, I was walking all the hills. I also noticed an uptick in the number of rocks I was kicking and my lack of patience for the loose sand. I was beginning to lose my sense of humor about some things.

Yet...I continued to plod on....

The sun set and I donned my headlamp. I love running at night and I felt refreshed. The cool air helped reinvigorate me and I was looking forward to a strong finish.

At mile 77, I began to get really cold. I was wearing my OR waterproof jacket and it wasn't fighting off the cold as well as I had hoped. No matter how hard I ran, I was uncomfortably cold. I decided it wasn't the air temperature, but something wrong with my body. I routinely run in much colder weather without a problem. I pretended to not be concerned, but it weighed on my mind as I wrapped up my fourth loop.

When I came in to the start/finish area for the final time, I took some extra time and bundled up for cold weather running. I swapped my shorts for tights, added heavier gloves and swapped my OR rain shell for my heavier Patagonia soft shell with a hood.

All of this time came at a price and I was passed by another runner while I made my adjustments. I was regretful at first, but soon realized it didn't matter. I wasn't leading the race, so I had little to lose. Comfort is KING when it comes to running 100 miles.

My fifth and final loop took forever. Partly because I was slowing down to talk to the runners that I was lapping, and partly because my ass was thoroughly kicked by this point. I was probably just using the other runners as an excuse to slow down and walk. That fact just occurred to me as I was typing this...

I thanked all the volunteers at the aid stations as I passed through and said my goodbyes. I spent an unusual amount of time staring at the sky and finding wonderment in the stars.

I was tired and ready to end this.

I made the final descent toward the finish and was happy to be running well. I was grateful for the gift and I spent the remaining minutes of my run being grateful. It wasn't a great race but I had fun, felt good and was about to finish another amazing 100 mile adventure. I had no complaints.

Finishing!

20:21:13...7th Overall!

My conservative race plan called for a 20:30:00 finish, but I had secretly been hoping for another sub 20 hour finish. That wasn't in the cards for this race, but I was still very satisfied.

Staying Warm and Telling My Tale to Nick Coury

Being Greeted by the #1 Crew Chief in the Business!

Bonus Swag for Finishing the Sonoran 200! A Tasty IPA!

2nd Overall for the Sonoran 200

After an appropriate amount of socializing, Jo and I headed back to the hotel for a shower and few hours of restless sleep before returning to the finish line.

I never miss an opportunity to watch the late finishers of any 100 mile race. It's the perfect display of guts and tenacity. I find far more inspiration in those athletes than I do in any finish by an elite runner. These people are digging deep to tough it out far longer than I ever could. It's an amazing spectacle of courage and strength.

I also got an opportunity to cheer on friends and provide support and encouragement to all kinds of runners. Despite being beaten, battered and exhausted, I found it to be an invigorating experience.

My Friend Matt Hagen, Always Happy and Encouraging

Matt's Lovely Bride, Betsy Rogers, Getting it DONE!

I've had an amazing winter running in Arizona while enjoying that time with my beautiful wife and amazing friends. It has been a blessing to have the time to devote to the things that bring me physical and mental health and having a chance to share that time with the people I love.

Coldwater Rumble was a great way to bring all those things together. I was able to run an amazing race, surrounded by great friends and we all shared the adventure together. It was a perfect weekend of running and camaraderie.

Friends

Coldwater Rumble is destined to become a popular race. Partially because of the course and the time of year, but mostly because it's an Aravaipa Running event. These guys do races better than anybody and they deserve all the success that is destined to come their way. The course was perfectly marked, the aid stations are quite literally the best in the world and the volunteers are amazing.

I'm thrilled to have been one of the first people to ever finish this race and I highly recommend it to anybody that wants to try a runnable, but challenging 100 miler. The beauty of the desert in the winter is a great way to reinvigorate yourself for the upcoming race season.

I want to thank the entire Coury family for the incredible experience and I want to thank my amazing wife for getting me through another 100 mile adventure.

After a short break, we'll be headed to Moab for the Red Hot 55k! I hope to see many of you on the slick rock!

Happy Trails!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

My Date With the Big Ditch: A Solo Winter R2R2R on a Whim

WARNING: Do not attempt to hike from the canyon rim to the river and back in one day. Each year hikers suffer serious illness or death from exhaustion. 

 Said No Ultra Runner Ever!

I had always planned to run the famous Rim to Rim to Rim adventure run in the Grand Canyon. I think it's one of those things that I feel compelled to do, just so I can check it off the list as being completed. I always envisioned sharing this adventure with a few close friends so we could encourage and support each other along the way. Maybe a Boys Weekend...some male bonding mixed with intense trail running. That plan sounded pretty appealing.

But that's not what happened.

After spending a week of trail running through Moab and then into the Phoenix area, it was time for Jo and I to load up and drive back to Ogden, Utah. I was still itching for a bit of adventure, pondering another stop on the way home so I could hit some new trails. Suddenly, and with absolutely no fanfare, I blurted out, "HEY! Let's stop by the Grand Canyon so I can run the rim to rim to rim before we go home!"

Like with most of my adventure ideas, my loving bride looked at me, holding my gaze for a few seconds before saying, "Sure. I'll get us a hotel near the rim."

It's fair to say that I really didn't know anything about this run before I decided to tackle it. I wasn't even sure it could be done in January. I got online, read a few reports from runners of varying skill and ability levels, and decided I had gained sufficient knowledge to determine that I could get it done in a reasonable amount of time.

We drove directly to Tusayan, checked into our hotel, and went into the park to get some maps. While eating some overpriced pizza and drinking a few overpriced beers, I laid out my plan for the next day.

The weather was forecasted to be 12 degrees on the south rim when I planned to start my run and a high of 54 during the day, so I assumed it would much warmer deep in the ditch. I planned my clothing strategy accordingly.

We woke up at 3:00 AM so I could get my gear assembled and we were at the South Kaibob trailhead by 4:50. I could see that my bride was a little nervous at the thought of me dropping over the rim in the dark, all by myself. I gave her a few words of encouragement, a soft kiss and then dropped into the canyon at 5:00 AM.

My descent is best described as a moderately controlled free fall. Getting to the river fast was a key element of my plan. My feet skidded along the terraced trail, slipping on rocks, bouncing off water bars, and kicking the occasional mule turd. It was very dark and as my headlamp peered over the edge of the canyon, there was nothing but emptiness to be seen. I focused on staying upright, and most importantly, on the trail.

The fine, powdery dust was my biggest problem. The trail was very dry and my feet were kicking up a dust cloud that swarmed around my body like Pigpen. My headlamp caught the dust more than the trail, which made it very difficult to see my feet. I tripped and stumbled a few times but managed to stay upright.

When I arrived at Cedar Ridge, the trail spilled out into a large open rest area. I wasn't here to rest, but couldn't find where the trail made its exit. I started to circle the perimeter in a counterclockwise circle until I found my way out. I continued my descent, a little miffed that they didn't have the trail marked a little better. But maybe they don't expect trail runners to bomb down to the bottom of the canyon in the dark.

I paused briefly at Tip Off to adjust some gear and I heard a new sound. My ears strained to pick it up but I instantly recognized it as the sound of rushing water. The Colorado River! I was close! I started running with renewed enthusiasm...into the void.

After a few tight switchbacks and some steep downhill, I found myself running through a tight tunnel carved through the stone. The moon and stars were temporarily lost, along with the sound of the river. When I emerged, the sound of rushing water was intense and I found myself dashing across a long suspension bridge. I was in the bottom of the canyon!

I crossed the river and turned onto a nice section of flat, well groomed trail. It felt great to be running on the flats again. I picked up my pace, feeling a bit exhilarated. It was still totally black as I ran through Phantom Ranch. I was struck by the number of cabins in the bottom of the canyon. It wasn't what I expected. It was somewhat surreal running through this small community in such a remote place. There was some light coming from a few of the cabins and I could hear the constant hum of a generator somewhere in the distance. I sailed through this little village, totally unseen.

I was making great time through the bottom of the canyon, enjoying some decent leg speed on flat ground and launching myself over the low rollers along the way.

Shortly before I began my ascent up to the north rim, the sun began to make its appearance in the canyon and I could finally switch my headlamp off and take in the sights.



I had started my run with a down jacket, which I shed before I reached the river. That left me with a light rain shell for warmth. I finally shed that as well, as the temperature and physical intensity rose.


The canyon was tight and it was difficult to grasp where I was running. The rim wasn't visible from below. I felt like I was being swallowed by the steep walls.




The trail was comfortable and runnable for the first 16 miles and I was making excellent time. The last 5 miles before the north rim started to bog me down a bit. There were some steep climbs and a few fast sections sprinkled in. I was able to power up the ascent fairly well, but I was also focused on reserving some energy for the return trip. I kept a cautious but strong pace to the top.




As soon as I reached the top of the north rim, I touched the trailhead sign, turned around and began the return trip. I didn't want to linger and risk getting cold at this point and I was eager to get back to the river.

The decent went much better than my run down the south rim. That's likely the result of having daylight to help me along my way, but I also found this trail to be more runnable. I really enjoyed the fast trip back down but my quads were beginning to protest well before reaching the bottom.

I was back to the bottom of the canyon much faster that I expected and my legs were beginning to revolt a bit. I decided to walk for a half mile while my legs took a break and I got some calories in my belly. I ate some Hammer peanut butter gel, a Hammer Bar and spent some time getting my fluid levels back up. After a few minutes of restful walking, I was feeling renewed and ready to push the pace again.

I encountered my first hikers about a mile before getting back to Phantom Ranch. With an early January start, I had been able to selfishly enjoy the trail all to myself up until this point. I flashed a big smile and greeted the hikers as I sailed by them. I'm sure I left some curious thoughts in their minds as I cruised down the trail.

Returning to Phantom Ranch in the daylight was a highpoint of the trip. The ranch is really cool and I wish I had more time to explore what it has to offer. I kept moving but tried to soak it all in as I did.


Before exiting the camp, I saw the famous mule train arriving for their daily supply run. I had planned my trip in hopes of seeing the animals, but I was trying to avoid sharing the trails with them. My timing was perfect, as they were peeling off the trail just as I came along.


I had considered returning to the south rim via the Bright Angel trail. It's about 2.5 miles longer but its supposed to be an easier climb out. I was very tempted to head down that trail but I wanted a "pure" out and back experience, so I continued toward South Kaibab.

Turnoff for the Bright Angel Trail


I soaked up the last bit of flat trail as the Black Bridge came into view. I knew once I crossed it, it would be nothing but climbing for the rest of my day.



Running across the bridge was really cool. I had missed all the scenery earlier in the day due to the early morning darkness. I was in awe of the powerful river that took its precious time carving this amazing canyon.


As soon as I exited the tunnel, I was greeted by a steep climb. I pointed my toes up the trail and settled into a strong power hike.

I was alternating between hiking and running. I only attempted to run when the ascent, trail conditions and my lungs were inclined to play along. I was making good time back toward the top but I wasn't having much fun at this point.

I was getting warm and I drank from my pack liberally. I felt tired, but well hydrated. I was nailing my electrolytes and fuel intake.


The ascent provided me the opportunity to see all the details that I had missed on my way down in the dark. I was a little surprised by how much exposure there was in some sections of the trail and I decided it was probably best to be unaware during the descent. If I had known, I would have been far more cautious and it would have been a much slower trip to the river.

Sometimes, ignorance is bliss.



The emergency phone at Tip Off was piquing my curiosity. I slowed down and desperately wanted to figure out how this thing worked all the way down here but I decided to press on, wondering how many calls are logged on that thing each year.



I found a few stretches of prolonged running and took advantage of every bit of it. The skies were cloudless, the sun was out and the temperature was perfect for running. I couldn't have picked a better day to be in the canyon.


During the ascent, I decided every airline must route their planes directly over the Grand Canyon so their customers can get a glimpse of this natural wonder. There were never less than eight planes flying overhead at any given time. I enjoyed the distraction they provided.








When I reached Cedar Ridge, I knew I only had 1.5 miles left to the top. I stopped and found a perch on a rock so I could take a minute and enjoy the remaining moments of my time below the rim. I reached into my pack and grabbed my last Hammer bar. I engulfed it in a few bites, knowing I would need the energy for the last steep swtchbacks. I reached back in my pack and brought out a PBR that I had saved for this exact moment. I quietly celebrated a personal victory in the making. I polished off the beer, loaded my trash into my pack and headed back up the trail.





After leaving Cedar Ridge, I began to encounter a lot of hikers. Most of them weren't dressed or equipped to be below the rim. Many of them were in street shoes, jeans and weren't carrying water.

I realized the warning sign was designed for THESE people.


After a short while, I began to hear voices echoing off the canyon walls and realized I was hearing people at the rim. I looked up and the edge of the rim was now visible. I hunkered down and ran the last 1/2 mile to the top.

My feet struck asphalt on flat ground and I ran to the trailhead sign, finishing the Rim to Rim to Rim in 9:21:57.

When I erupted from the canyon, I expected to be hugged by my bride. She wasn't there. My grin faded as I looked around and confirmed she wasn't in the parking lot.

CRAP!

I dug my phone out of my pack and learned she was waiting down the road, beyond the gate to the trailhead. The road to the trailhead is closed to public traffic, but we had ignored that when she dropped me off in the morning, Now, with the presence of Park Rangers, she wasn't welcome to park in the lot.

I buckled my pack up and ran the mile to the end of the access road where she was waiting. That is where I got my hug and we celebrated another successful adventure!

I was left with a feeling of accomplishment, but I was also slightly deflated. Running in January means I had limited daylight, so I missed some perspective that I would have otherwise had. I was mostly disappointed because I didn't wait for a time that I could share this experience with a group of friends. It's really an adventure that should be shared.

R2R2R is now checked off the list!

Here's a list of all the gear I took for a winter R2R2R adventure:

- Running tights
- Short sleeve tech shirt
- Long sleeve tech shirt
- Smartwool socks
- NB 1400 shoes
- Outdoor Research Helium II waterproof jacket
- Outdoor Research Transcendent down jacket
- Running gloves (2 pairs)
- Kahtoola Microspikes
- Osprey Rev 6 hydration pack (1.5 liter)
- Hammer Nutrition peanut butter gel (2 flasks)
- Hammer Bars (5)
- Hammer Endurolyte Fizz Tabs (1 tube)
- Candy bars (3)
- Cell phone (airplane mode to preserve battery)
- Trail maps
- PBR

Thanks for checking out my story. I'll be resting in preparation for the Coldwater Rumble 100 mile trail run on January 25th. More fun and adventure in the Arizona desert!