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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!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

White Rim Trail Unsupported FKT: Alone in the Desert


"You gain strength, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do." -Eleanor Roosevelt

I won't hesitate to acknowledge my fears, nor will I avoid ownership of my failures. Both of which are numerous. Attempting a 100 mile, unsupported FKT was a fear that held great promise to become a failure. But in my chosen sport, and the way that I choose to compete in it, accepting failure has become an inevitable reality. Accepting the high likelihood of failure serves to abate the fear, which opens the doors to all kinds of ridiculous opportunities.

In March of this year, I ran the White Rim Trail and set a new record for the supported FKT. You can read that post herehttp://www.slippingslowlyintopain.blogspot.com/2014/03/white-rim-trail-fkt.html

The White Rim Trail favors my running style and it's the type of course that I can find a lot of success with. Even during that initial run, I was plotting a return visit to attempt the unsupported FKT. The current record was 27 hours and was held by John Stamstad. John set the record by pushing a modified baby jogger filled with his essentials. After running the White Rim, I couldn't fathom pushing a jogger over that terrain for 100 miles. I started planning...

The White Rim Trail is a big destination for mountain bikers and the majority of the online information is geared toward that sport. Because who would run a 100 mile mountain bike trail? Here's an excerpt from one of the websites:

"Most riders spend 3 or 4 days to ride this trail, spending the night at campgrounds. (Two days = Monster. One day = Lunatic.)"

So...riding this trail in 24 hours is lunacy...
The big concern is water because the course doesn't come equipped with any sources for replenishing my supply. This means I have to carry every ounce with me. In consideration of that, I began to track my water consumption during all my long runs and races, accounting for weather, terrain and effort. I used those numbers to determine my required volume and ultimately, the weight that would burden my effort. 

Next, I had to figure out how to carry all my essentials. The solution came in the Osprey Rev 12 hydration pack. I already run with two of their smaller packs, so I was comfortable with the product. The Rev 12 provided enough storage for my water, nutrition, extra gear and all the emergency supplies I would need for running 100 miles through the desert. Assuming the weight didn't crush me in the process.



My Fully Loaded Pack Weighed 22.6 Pounds

Here's a list of the contents:
- 285 ounces of water (3 bladders and 4 bottles)
- 30 Hammer Nutrition Gels
- 4 Hammer Bars
- Flashlight
- Batteries
- Light jacket
- Gloves
- Headlamp
- iPod

My success was completely dependent on my ability to run with all that weight on my back. I spent time working with my gear and finding ways to get comfortable with the weight, well in advance of the run. The pack rode well and gave me the confidence I needed to go after the record.

I planned to begin my run on Friday afternoon, late enough in the day that I wouldn't be exposed to the sun for long. My hope was to do my most meaningful, and fastest running at night when my burden was greatest. By sunrise, I wanted to be deep into the 100 mile trail and carrying a much lighter load.

This Sign Marks the Beginning

Fully Loaded and Ready to Go!

Ready...Set...

GO!!!

As a 100 mile loop, I can start my run anywhere I want, and over the years, different FKT's have started and finished in several locations. I chose to start in the same spot I had used when I set the supported record back in March. I did this because it was familiar, but also because it gets the worst climb out of the way in the first few miles.

The First Climb

Running up the ascent was futile with the load I was carrying. I power hiked (a term ultra runners use to make "walking" sound more epic) my way to the top. Once I got back on flat ground, I was able to run well and I was making good time.

My route took me out of Canyonlands National Park and down the paved road to Mineral Bottom Road. This is a wide dirt road with a few rollers and a fair amount of vehicle and ATV traffic. I ate more dust than I care to have in my diet.

Mineral Bottom Road ends with a wild descent on tight switchback. The weight of the pack pushed through my body and showed itself in my burning quads.

At the bottom of the switchbacks, I jump on the White Rim Trail and re-enter Canyonlands National Park.

It was dark by now and the weather was comfortable for running, but it was a bit warmer than I had hoped for. I was sipping water from my bladder, being mindful of rationing. I made a point to adjust clothing and pace to minimize sweating. I needed to find a balance between too fast and too slow in order to make good time without running out of water and calories. It was a steady, mental battle.

Even though I had only run this trail once before, I fell right into a rhythm, recognizing landmarks and different characteristics of the trail. It was comfortable and I was running with a broad smile and I was feeling great.

I was fueling exclusively on Hammer Nutrition gels. I didn't have a strategy for timing my intake, I just gobbled one down whenever it felt right. I had considered incorporating HEED or Perpetuem into my fueling regimen, but they both need to be mixed with water during the run and I didn't want to take the time, nor did I want to run the risk of spilling water in the process. I had prior luck with gels over this distance, so I had confidence in the decision.

Around midnight, I ran past a couple as they were setting up camp alongside the road. Here's how that conversation went:

Man: Going for a little nighttime run?
Me: YUP!
Woman: How far?
Me: About 100 miles.
Them: (silence)
Woman to Man: Did he say 100 miles?
Man to Woman: I'm sure he was kidding.

Shortly after passing the camp, my headlamp caught glowing eyes right off the trail in front of me. As I got closer, I could see the eyes were tracking me and the animal wasn't moving. It was just laying low in the brush right next to the trail. When I got closer, I could clearly see it was a Bobcat crouched down, believing itself to be invisible. I stopped on the trail, 10 feet from the cat and stared. The cat stared back, turning its body toward me. I went on my way, glancing back a few times, watching the glowing eyes as they tracked my progress. That cat was a creepy little bastard.

About 50 miles into the run, I became very drowsy. I had been up since 3:30 AM, worked a full day and travelled to Moab for this run. My head was foggy, and the hallucinations started.

For me, hallucinations aren't terribly uncommon, but they're usually very mild. During this run, it was a nonstop barrage of insane images and sounds. There were animals darting across the trail that weren't there. Bushes and trees were leaping from the edge of the trail, trying to trip me. Loud, ringing cowbells nearby, despite the lack of cows...and supporters. People talking loudly nearby and the occasional 1940's radio show playing in the distance. It was maddening and I couldn't shake it.

Late into the night, my lower back began to hurt a bit, so I stopped, pulled my pack off and laid down in the middle of the trail to stretch myself out. Some time later, my snoring woke me up. I had fallen asleep as soon as I laid down! I jumped up in a panic, wondering how long I had been there. I strapped my pack on and ran down the trail. When my watch buzzed as I finished another mile, I glanced down to check my split time. It was 10 minutes slower than what I had been running, so I assume that was how long I was out. I could spare 10 minutes and I felt alive again, refreshed and ready to go!

I eventually made it to Murphy's Hogback, a dreaded climb with an even worse descent on the backside. I knuckled down and powered to the top. The wind was blowing and it was cold, but I had to stop and make some adjustments. My main bladder was dry and I needed to make the swap. My bladders have quick connect couplers, so I just unhooked the tube and connected to a full bladder. I was on my way in a few seconds, slipping and tumbling off the mesa.

The sun began to make its regularly scheduled appearance around mile 70. As the sky lit up, I could see there was a lot of cloud cover, which is what I was hoping to find. Without it, the day would have been unbearable as I tried to make the last 30 miles without shade or cover of any kind. I definitely got lucky!

Good Morning Canyonlands!

At this point, I still had one 50 ounce bladder and two 24 ounce bottles, along with plenty of gels to get me to the finish. I had survived the night and was well ahead of schedule for the record. I took the time to enjoy my run and revel in the experience.

The last several miles are mostly flat, if not, a gradual descent headed toward my finish. It was easy running, but despite that, I chose to walk on several occasions just to have a chance to settle down and relax. I had plenty of time, so I took advantage of it.


In my last FKT on the White Rim, I started just before sunrise, and this run began just before sunset. As a result, I was able to run in daylight, through the areas that had been dark on my last visit. It was cool to see the scenery I had missed during my first visit.


Around mile 85, it became abundantly clear that I was going to beat the existing record. I had been harboring a hidden goal from the onset, but I consider it bad luck to share this type of information. My real hope was to finish in under 24 hours, and now, that goal seemed well within my grasp.

I Even Had Time for a Hammer Promo Shot!

And a Selfie!!

I was clearly dehydrated, so I started drinking my remaining water as I got closer to the finish. I took my list sip of water at mile 98. All three bladders and all four bottles were dry!

The last mile is a rolling descent to the bottom of the Schaffer Trail, where I had started the previous day. I could see my truck parked at the bottom, along with my awaiting bride. Armed with a fresh smile, I pushed the pace to the end.

Finishing in 21:52:12!

With my added burden, my time was 4 hours and 5 minutes slower than my supported FKT. My secret calculations suggested 5 hours, so I was pretty pleased!



Prompt Rehydration is Critical!!

This will most likely end my relationship with the White Rim Trail, and I'm at peace with that. After two successful runs on this trail, it makes sense to end on a high note. Until one of my records is broken, but we'll cross that bridge when it's time.

This effort marks the first time I have ever run an ultra distance without my wife crewing for me and caring for my every need. She has been a mainstay in everything I have ever done in this sport, but she had to sit this one out. That was tough for both of us, especially because there's so little cell service on the route. I know she dreaded watching me run into the desert alone for 100 miles and her concern weighed on me through the night. It was great to be successfully reunited at the end.

Aside from thanking my wife for her patience and understanding, I need to also thank Hammer Nutrition for being such an amazing sponsor. They always step up for me and care about my success. They're a great company with a great product.

I also want to thank Osprey Packs. They're always right in line when I want to do something idiotic, and this run was no different. I definitely had the right gear to get this done and I owe that to them.

And, thanks to all of you that follow and support me. It means more than you'll ever know. Thanks for reading about my adventure!