Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Family vacation

The morning after: The start/finish of the Hardrock 100 in Silverton, Colorado
I get the hint that the remnant readers of my blog don't really care about my UTMB training. This makes sense, of course, and I thought I'd give fair warning that August 2012 may contain little else. Just in case anyone was looking to clean out their blog reader ...

 With the exception of my first showing at the Iditarod 350, I don't think I've ever felt so insecure about one of my goals. Even my first Susitna 100, when I had never even entered a race before, my attitude was "Why shouldn't I be able to ride my woefully inadequate mountain bike on slush trails for a hundred miles?" And then there was Susitna 2011, when I was still struggling to eke out seven-mile "practice" runs, and when I was so bad at running that I sprained my ankle while jogging along a perfectly smooth, flat trail — I still held onto the delusion attitude that "I already finished this with a woefully inadequate mountain bike. Why shouldn't I be able to do the same without the bike?"

 But UTMB is a different monster. I'm frightened, because I realize that any training at this point isn't going to add much padding to my armor. I pretty much have what I have, which feels like woefully inadequate legs and soft feet that are really going to miss the cushioning effect of snow after ten or so hours, which, if I'm extremely lucky, is only a quarter of the time I'll be out there.

Alas, I'll stop myself before I write another of what Beat calls "whiny" blog posts. Yesterday and today I had one horrible and one pretty good training run, eight and nine miles respectively. Monday's run was horrible because I ate some Asian dumpling leftovers for lunch and ... let's just say I had to fight with them for six of those miles. Today I felt much stronger and tried to push the pace on the descent, only to have my shins protest painfully. My main problem with running fast downhill is that I strike with my heels. My normal stride is midfoot, and I climb on my toes, but I can't seem to quicken my stride on descents without pounding those heels. I haven't yet figured out how to avoid this, and it's obvious my shins can't take it. Not that I'm planning to run any of the UTMB miles "fast," but I do have many issues with my form that I'd eventually like to correct.

I am excited for this coming weekend. Beat and I are making a quick trip to Utah to hike the Zion Narrows with my mom and dad. The canyon itself is worth the trip, and sharing this spectacular outing with Beat and both of my parents is a unique opportunity. In my family, my dad and I have long been the "outdoorsy" ones. My mother and younger sister are more tolerant than enthusiastic; they enjoy outdoor excursions but don't seek them out. My youngest sister is less tolerant; I'm pretty sure she'd choose a few of the recognized methods of torture over my hobbies. This is fine; we've been on family vacations in the past where my dad and I went hiking and my sisters and mom went shopping. The outdoors is something we don't often bond over, as a family.

But my mom loves the Narrows. She actually hiked the entire canyon a few years ago and suffered substantially. I was surprised when she expressed interest in going back, and this year she vowed to train for it. She joined my dad for a series of training hikes in the Wasatch Mountains that culminated in a "test" on Mount Timpanogos. Her stipulation was, if she didn't make it to the top of Timp, she wasn't going to join us in the Narrows. This plan made me nervous for my mother, who until recently only embarked on hikes once or twice a year. The climb up Timpanogos is fifteen miles round trip, with 4,500 feet of elevation gain. It's a good trail but I wouldn't consider it a "beginner" hike by any stretch of the imagination. But my mom must have rocked it because she and my dad made a celebratory cell phone call from the summit — interestingly while Beat and I were sitting in the Hardrock 100 pre-race meeting. When I called back a few minutes later, my mom's voice rang with elation as she recounted their climb. I was so proud of her accomplishment ... it felt cathartic after all those times that my dad and I used to call her from "some peak" in the Wasatch. (The "some peak" phrase is a long-standing family joke, because my dad and I once called home from the top of the Broads Fork Twin Peaks — at age 19 it was my hardest climb yet — and my youngest sister, then 12, answered the phone and called out to my mother in a derisive tone, "Dad and Jill are calling from some peak again.") Now my mom was calling from "some peak" of her own.

Anyway, I'm really excited to share the Narrows experience with all of them on Saturday. And even better, it will probably keep my mind off of UTMB for a few more days. 


  1. Jealous ! I hiked the Zion Narrows back in 2011. In fact we were in there all day on 9/11, and didn't hear about the terrorist attacks until we came out at 8pm that evening. I wouldn't do it again, but one I WOULD do would be the Subway hike. Have you tried that one? At one point, we had to swim under water to clear some boulders. I hope to do it again someday. Have fun !

  2. Jill, I also meant to say that I ran the section from Chamonix to Courmayeur as part of my recent week of training. The memory is still very fresh. The section from Courmayeur back to Cham is imprinted on my brain having raced it twice and reccied it twice in the last 2 years or so.

    So, whilst I know you have a very valuable resource at home in Beat, if you have any questions about the course, or the race organisation that you want to ask, just email me. morganatmorganwilliamsdotorg

    And stop worrying. It's supposed to be an adventure!


  3. Jill, this is not another whiny post. I've been reading your blog for a while now (and pouring through your archives too) and I have not ever come across a whiny post. Lately you seem a little insecure about your writing, or posting frequency, and now your training and prep for UTMB. Dude, I want to hear ALL the details you are willing to share. None of it has ever come across as whiny. You write so beautifully and I enjoy reading about your adventures, even though some of them make me think you're a wee bit insane.

    And I think you are going to rock UTMB because you have crazy determination.


  4. Hi. Love you blog. I would give my left arm to be able to have enough time off my demanding medical job to fly to beautiful France and run/walk/crawl/whatever it took to do UTMB. Enjoy every moment of it. Every good and bad moment and just reveal in the experience that so many people dream of doing. Do not be scared the mountains will take care of you.


  5. The beginning of your post makes it sound like you are a bit down on yourself lately. I read the blog for your adventures, and your UTMB training is part of those adventures. Keep living the dream for those of us who can't!

  6. I just drove through Utah for the first time the other day and absolutely need to come back and explore it for awhile. It's a beautiful place, that hike sounds really fun.

    Have you tried any barefoot running? I'm not suggesting you run UTMB barefoot or make any drastic changes now, but it really helped me make corrections to form that have let me run longer, even if I don't do every run that way. Specifically for downhill, bending my knees way more than seemed necessary and relaxing/letting gravity do the work instead of tensing up has helped a lot with not slamming my heels. Also, I know you've mentioned trekking poles as unconventional downhill but for me they do dramatically reduce strain on my legs and help me run faster/are just fun. But I'm not any great runner, so just suggestions, ha. Anyway, it sounds like an incredible experience so just get everything you can out of it.


  7. I'm interested! Keep posting. Like some others have mentioned, this is a great opportunity that many people can't have because their lives have gone different ways. Even if you (gasp) don't finish, what a once in a lifetime trip. To quote a cliched phrase I am trying to live up to, it's about the journey. Enjoy and don't suffer TOO much...

  8. The family Narrows hike sounds like a blast!

    How about going back to those Hokas to help your shin? I live in a rocky high mountainous area, and all the serious trail runners here rely on Hokas.

  9. It's funny to me that this post had the fewest pictures, which I love to see, but I grinned when reading about your family. Congrats to your mom, hope you have a great time bonding with those you love, and I can't wait to hear about all the times you throw up in France.

  10. Jill,

    I check your blog practically every day looking for new posts. Reading about your adventures is very inspiring. I cant wait to read about your experience at UTMB. My only advice, since you brought it up earlier this week, is to go into the race with no expectations.

  11. I saw your tweets about your blog yesterday, and I just want to say please keep posting and don't change a thing! I think you have a lot of readers like me who mostly lurk and don't comment much (as someone who feels proud after waddling 5 miles, I don't feel like I have much to add to the conversation) but love reading about your adventures and your training.

    My husband jokes that I should get a WWJD (What Would Jill Do) bracelet to wear when I'm feeling down since you've inspired me to get out of my comfort zone so many times. :o)

  12. Jill, still love you, girl! Ups and downs happen. We get injured, sick, scared. It's all part of the reality of life - and ultra-endurance in particular. You are always real on your blog, and I appreciate it in both the triumphant highs and the testing lows.

    Have a great trip! Wish I was going hiking, too.

  13. I sometimes feel like nobody is reading my blog too (although I'm sure I have far fewer readers than you), but you should always keep your blog tailored to what you want to write about, not what you think others want to hear.

    I'm interested in your UTMB training, how does one trail for 100s anyway? I've found that not many runners blog about it because they're too busy running to reflect and document it all.

    I also sent you a Facebook invite for something. If you're free, please tag along.

  14. I agree with everyone who said there's no need to be down on yourself and you should write all you want about whatever you feel moved to write about! I'm not an ultra-runner or ultra-cyclist or an ultra-anything, really so I have no comments to offer on your training. But I've been reading your blog for years and years, and I love it not because you win or even finish every race you start, but because you start them at all, and because you reflect so beautifully and thoughtfully on the whole experience that it makes me think differently about my own (decidedly not adventurous) life. So thanks! And keep 'em coming! I'm looking forward to hearing all about the UTMB!

  15. I know all too well the insecurity you are feeling about your goal. I have not felt strong on my bike since May physically. And it has been plaguing me in the form of insecurity going into the CTR and my huge goal on Monday. No real point to this comment I suppose except I love reading your blog and look forward to more of your thoughts and experiences leading up to the UTMB!

  16. Congrats to your mom and have fun hiking the Narrows. And GOOD LUCK at UTMB. It will be, what it will be. And I know you will find something in it no matter what happens to you.

  17. I agree with what's been said above. I love reading your blog, haven't found you to be whiney and enjoy and all details you are willing to impart. I myself am quite insecure about my fitness and honestly I find it reassuring that someone as obviously committed and hardcore as you also has moments of similar feelings.
    I hope these comments are helpful to you. I really take a lot of inspiration from your writing.

  18. You just gained a new subscriber because of your UTMB deets, so keep spilling! I'm going to go do some back reading too and I'm excited to learn more about you. Thanks to Karen for directing me to your site. I'm going to be helping support my brother-in-law at the UTMB, so I hope to see you and give you a good cheer, let me know if there's anything I can do to help you!! My husband and I went to the Narrows as part of our bachelor/bachlorette party with friends. It was so beautiful, a cousin was there recently and said the crowds were pretty significant so be prepared for that.

  19. Been reading your blog for quite a long time, but this is the first time I've posted. Mainly to address the "whiny blog post" comment :). I second what Lisa said about having never seen a whiny post from you.

    You're not whiny. You're just honest about how you're feeling. There's not enough of that, I think, in the ultra and outdoor sports world in general. Good to know about someone's tough month or bout with hopelessness and the "i totally suck" episodes. In real terms and in real time, not just addressed as "I had a tough month" and then on with the training stats. Keep it up. Protect the honesty and "you-ness" of your blog. I totally perk up when I see a new post from you in my feed reader, and I've been feeling that way since I started reading your blog in the Alaska days.


  20. Thanks all. I promise I wasn't trolling for comments with my initial statement but I appreciate the notes. And I don't mean to sound ungrateful for my opportunity to start a big beautiful race in France. I am excited for the experience no matter what happens. I'll fight for success with everything I can but I already know I don't need success to emerge with good stories, which is really my aim anyway. Ha!

    Karen ... I have no idea how to train for a 100-mile race. I think the point is so few people (relatively) have successfully run one that there's still no map for such an endeavor. Most of the prominent 100-mile distance runners have wildly different ideas about training strategies. Last year I held onto the delusion that hundred-milers were untrainable and that I could just keep doing what I was doing (lots of biking) and run Tahoe Rim Trail on my endurance and 20 miles of running a week. That proved to be a failure. I only made it 40 miles before I was in extreme foot pain, and then limped all the way to 80 before I timed out. I do believe my feet are tougher this year. They remain my biggest unknown.

    As for the Narrows, we actually have a permit to start from the top of the canyon. Last year when I hiked it with my dad, the canyon was extremely quiet up until the last three or so miles, which is when you begin to see people who hike up from the bottom. Even then, it wasn't a real circus until about a mile from the end. It's actually a bit upsetting to end such a great journey in that kind of setting, but what can you do? You have to go in the cold winter months to really escape the crowds.


Feedback is always appreciated!