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Showing posts from January, 2011

This weekend on my run

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My last blog post probably made it sound like the Susitna 100 is the most dreary race in the world and I'm training for it in the most dreary way possible. The truth is, I don't believe that in the least. The only reason I race is so I have a valid — or at least good — excuse to train, all the time. A couple of weeks ago, I read an article in Time Magazine about a scientist who is working to develop a pill that gives mammals all the benefits of exercise without actually having to go to the trouble of exercising. I asked myself if I would take such a pill, and decided with confidence that I would not. In all honesty, the supposed benefits of exercise fall far behind the simple fun of pursuing an active-adventure lifestyle. I mean, really, how many adults have an "excuse" to strap a 20-pound sled to their hips and press into blinding white-out with illusions of Shackleton and South Pole exploration swirling through their endorphin-buzzed imaginations, and not be labele…

Training for tedium

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This has become a weekday routine for me, the Rattlesnake Corridor, dragging a heavy sled that sounds like a far-away airplane as it grinds over the icy snow, punching footprints in the soft slush until my legs sink to my knees and I can hardly move anymore. This forced stopping point always happens at nearly the same distance, 5.5 miles. I leave at 5:30 p.m. under the last gray streaks of what feels like hard-earned January daylight, which fades imperceptibly to dark gray and then black above the thick tree canopy. At first I can run "fast" at nearly 6 mph but as the trail deteriorates I "run harder" for a quad-and-hamstring-burning 3.5 or 4 mph, and then, as most trail use fades, finally a full-calf-and-ankle-shredding-1.5 mph slog.

It is the most tedious three-hour workout I have ever done. There is nothing to see but a dim circle of white light on the punchy snow, or the dull orange glow of distant city lights against the clouds. The narrow canyon and thick tree…

Footprints

When I was a senior at the University of Utah back in 2000, I carried a full course load in English and journalism, worked 25 hours a week at a retail art supply store, and burned 20 more hours a week as a reporter for the Daily Utah Chronicle. With whatever free time I had left — minimal at best — I was fairly active in environmental causes. I contributed to the Terra Firma Club and campus recycling projects. I traveled to Southern Utah to document ATV abuse in wilderness study areas. I helped drag deadfall over illegal trails. I researched the destructive influences of the beef industry on the Utah desert. I campaigned against the Legacy Highway. And every Wednesday afternoon — my only day off work — I planted trees with Vaughn Lovejoy.

Vaughn Lovejoy is the founder of Tree Utah. In the spring of 2000, his big project was planting native species in the riparian zone of the Jordan River near 106th South. It was one of the few patches of land left in the Salt Lake Valley that hadn’t be…

Freedom of the hills ... and wheels

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"Wait, the race is on Sunday?" I asked.

"Yeah, it says right here. Sunday. Good thing I checked," Beat answered.

"Huh," I said. "So what are we going to do on Saturday?"

I had returned to California for yet another warm January weekend. It wasn't that I was avoiding Montana's winter, it's just that Beat had a really busy month at work, and it meant I had to briefly switch places with him on the frequent flyer airport circuit. I do a lot of my blog reading at MSO these days. I have become a connoisseur of the different varieties of packaged sushi at Sea-Tac. I breeze through Salt Lake City International more often than I'm willing to admit to my close-by family. I'm starting to understand just how hard Beat has been working for the past three months. It's a strange, sort of detached existence where I fall asleep in a white and gray night and wake up to a moist green morning. And on Saturday, the first thing I noticed was Beat…

Sledding

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Lately, during my evening runs in Montana (and yes, I do still occasionally run in Montana), I have been dragging a sled along for the trip. The sled is a harsh necessity of the Susitna 100, which requires every competitor to carry at least 15 pounds of survival gear, including a sleeping bag rated to -20 degrees F (mine is rated to -40), a bivy sack, a closed-cell foam pad, 3,000 calories of emergency-only food (i.e. you're not allowed to eat it), a stove, a pan, fuel, and whatever else you feel like bringing.

This is my sixth year preparing for a winter ultra in Alaska, but my first attempt to compete on foot (all the others have been by bicycle.) I have mixed feelings about the Susitna 100's required gear. I understand the harshness of the environment and that the race directors have liabilities. However, I also feel that people who are bold enough to sign up for a race like the Susitna 100 should be smart enough to know what they need. The White Mountains 100 takes place…

The heart of a crewperson

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Beat halted in the middle of the trail. The forest was black, with the jungle canopy masking the moonlight and blotting out the starry sky. The air was as thick as hot chocolate, oozing down my lungs like warm syrup. The trail was just as sticky, coated in a thin layer of dew-saturated mud that grabbed your shoes and sent them skidding toward the dark oblivion of the forest. Beat didn't say anything. His head continued to face forward, held slightly limp by his drooping shoulders. I stood behind him and waited for a reaction. I expected him to tell me his feet were killing him or his legs were tired or he too was choking on this wretched humidity. But the silence lingered. Finally, I said, "Are you asleep?"

A small cough. "Um ... no ... I don't think so."

To figure out where you are, sometimes you have to go back to the beginning. My first trip to Hawaii also came about because of the HURT 100. It was January 2009, and I was vacationing and crewing with my th…

Pictures of the HURT 100

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The HURT 100 stands for Hawaii Ultra Running Team, but no one who races the course thinks of the name that way. HURT hurts. By running five laps on a 20-mile course, HURT 100 racers have to cover 100 miles and 25,000 feet of climbing on a course that is 99 percent slick, rooty, technical and steep singletrack, in temperatures in the 80s under 92-percent humidity. The HURT 100 is only in Hawaii by literal location; the bulk of the race takes place in a dank, dark place of pain and fatigue. But it is a beautiful place yet - as green as the most brilliant moments of early spring, punctuated by the chatter of birds and waterfalls, and embraced by a community of truly enjoyable people.

I had the opportunity to participate in a larger spectrum of the experience this year, as a crew-person for Beat, traveling between the checkpoints, then as his overnight pacer, where I ran 27 miles of this brutal course with him between 1 a.m. and 10 a.m. Sunday. I'll write more about the experience lat…

The difference of a day

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Thursday night hike to the University Beacon with Bill, Norman and Josh. We slogged through slush, climbed up the wind-blasted ridge and made futile efforts to balance on the wind crust as tiny shards of ice whipped up around us. During the descent, Bill accidentally stepped off a snow shelf and hyperextended his knee. Suddenly, a simple Thursday night hike became a half-rescue effort. With no police officers in sight, we had to fashion walking aids out of sticks and walk with a pain-stricken Bill as he picked his way down the mountain. At the slower pace, sweat and fingers started to freeze. A reminder that even casual outings have a sharp edge during the winter.


Friday on a jet coasting over the Pacific Ocean for hours, too many hours, landing in the strange and alien land of O'ahu. Beat, being the jet-setting ultrarunner that he is, was signed up for the HURT 100 and let me tag along for a regrettably short weekend trip in Hawaii. I am here to serve the role as crew/pacer. We we…

Weeknight adventures

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My foot plunged deep into the dense snow and sunk to my knees. I lifted my leg up and punched in the next, groping for some kind of platform on the weak trail. Frustration crept around the edges of my mired body. I let out a sigh, thick with condensation in the cold air, and looked at the valley ahead. The Rattlesnake Mountains rose like tree-studded fortresses above the narrow canyon. The moonlight cast a bright glow on the snow, infusing the corridor with a depth and texture that was different — but in a way, more brilliant — than daylight.

I turned off my headlamp and took a few more heavy steps. Behind me, my sled floated easy and free on top of the crust — a crust I had mistakenly thought would be strong enough to hold me. Every so often I glanced back to make sure the sled was still upright. It followed me like a faithful pet, its pole wagging like a tail against the tug of my harness. I couldn’t help but laugh, and feel a strange sort of affection for my sled. It held everything…

Pacifica

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It was the kind of weekend that just kept getting better. After the 50K race we went out for a celebratory sushi dinner, at this nondescript yet fantastic Japanese place in Mountain View. I'm not a foodie and more often than not feel bewildered about why people make such a big deal out of particular types of food (meanwhile, I just like food ... lots of it ... preferably sugar.) But every so often I eat a meal that truly blows me away, and this was one of them. The kind of beautifully rendered, perfectly nuanced, savory and satisfying meal that you take pictures of, so you can post them on Facebook, so all your friends can wonder what the big deal is anyway.

Then, on Sunday, I woke up and I wasn't sore. I really wasn't. A little stiff in the calves maybe, but no blisters, no shredded quads, nothing. Six hours on my feet — like some of my medium-length hikes in Juneau — used to take a lot more out of me, at a lower level of overall effort. So I took it as a good sign that I …