Thursday, July 18, 2013


The knee issue was puzzling. When it comes to injury therapy, I can be skeptic. I don't believe in miracle cures. But there was no denying that I'd been struggling with limited mobility for three weeks; then I took an accidental and painful fall, and suddenly everything felt a whole lot better. I wasn't sure what to think; I called my doctor to possibly schedule an appointment, but he is out of the office until July 20. Because of lingering concern about stability, I went for a run on Monday to test things out. The joint felt markedly more stable than pervious weeks. There was no pain when I tried the higher kicks that are typical of a full run (rather than the ultra shuffle that I admittedly prefer.) With this new boost of confidence, I even increased my pace on the descent. Nothing. No pain, no wobbliness.

Today I went to see a massage therapist in Los Altos that Beat and I really like, Angelo, who works with a system of orthopedic therapy called the Hendrickson method. As much as I don't believe in miracle cures, he's helped me work out some nagging pains I've had in the past. Angelo worked around my joint and said he could detect thickened tissue that would indicate scarring on the side of the knee cap. I explained the fall I took on Twin Peak — my right foot slid out but my left foot remained anchored against a rock, resulting in considerable pressure on my left knee as it was forced into a hard bend. Angelo explained that similar motions are common therapy for breaking up scar tissue — a physical therapist applies torque to manually range the knee. He speculated that my limited range of motion was likely a result of scar tissue, which tightens up as it develops. Feelings of instability can be a symptom of a medial collateral ligament tear — which can result from a direct blow to the knee.

I am still considering consulting my doctor, but I can't say I even have any complaints to relay to him. Angelo said he couldn't detect any inflammation, and I don't have any points of pain. Even the superficial soreness has diminished. Although I resolved to take it easy for a few more days, I couldn't resist an urge to go for another run on Tuesday, just to relish in this new freedom of motion. Eight miles went flawlessly — it felt like my best run of the summer.

I could still have issues with this knee. If there is scar tissue as Angelo speculated, that means there was some initial tearing, which can be easy to re-injure, especially if I take another jarring fall. I plan to get re-acquainted with a more aggressively supportive (even if chafing and ouchy) knee brace for my long hauls.

But for now, I am embracing an optimistic outlook. Which means I can finally start looking to my two big summer events as though they're not going to be complete disasters. Finally, the scale between stress and excitement is tipping in the right direction.

In early August, we leave for Reykjavik to participate in Racing the Planet Iceland. This is a semi-supported stage race on foot, traveling 250 kilometers over six stages in seven days. The race organization supplies water drops, hot water at camp, and group tents. We're required to carry everything else we want over those seven days, including food. I like to look at it as a fun group backpacking trek in a beautiful northern region that I have wanted to visit for most of my life — with the added bonus of big miles. I love big miles. There are two 25-mile stages, two 28-mile stages, one 42-mile stage, and a final six-mile easy day. If I'm feeling good and my knee is strong, I want to put a good effort into this race — meaning I do plan to run within reason. But it is possible to be deathly ill and hike it out and still finish. That's effectively what I did during the 2011 Racing the Planet event in Nepal, when I came down with the worst stomach bug I've ever had during the night before stage one. I couldn't keep any calories down for the first two days, ate minimally for the remaining five, and still eked out a mid-pack finish. I suspect it will take a lot for me to feel worse in Iceland than I did in Nepal.

The weather in Iceland is likely to be ... Juneau-like. It could be beautiful, or it could rain non-stop for the entire week. Temperatures in the daytime will probably range from 45 to 65 degrees, with nighttime temperatures near freezing. Snow is possible. Sleet, likely. Rain — seven straight days without rain in that region is almost unfathomable. We are preparing to be cold and wet. I used to be really good at these conditions, but I am woefully out of practice.

Beat and I are both using Go-Lite Jam 50-liter packs. The capacity will sound enormous to most stage-race enthusiasts, but what can I say? We wanted our packs to be fully versatile for non-racing backpacking, and we also don't like to tightly condense our stuff. Our packs look big but they're not *that* heavy. Part of the required gear is a 35-liter drybag for clothing and sleeping gear.

Without going into too boring of a gear list, some of the notable things I'm packing are a RAB Quantum Endurance 25-degree down bag, RidgeRest, synthetic puffy pull-over, fuzzy fleece hat and mittens, mitten shells, extra shirt and tights (dry layer for camp), extra Drymax socks, warm wool socks, and Frogg Toggs rain jacket and pants. Why Frogg Toggs? They're cheap (given the nature of this race — running with large packs in wet and muddy conditions — our outer layers are likely to be semi-destroyed by the end). They're light. And they provide excellent rain and wind protection even if they don't breathe. (When it comes to rain gear, hard efforts, and long hours in heavy precipitation, I do not believe in waterproof breathable. I think it's better to bolster wind protection and accept that sweat will happen. There are several manifestoes about this in my blog archives from my days in Juneau.) I will have a spare down coat for camp.

I plan to wear a long-sleeve synthetic shirt, wind-proof tights, Drymax socks, hiking gaiters, a buff, and my beloved Hoka Mafate shoes. Actually my "new" pair is about as worn out as the pair I replaced in January, so it will be a challenge to squeeze 155 more miles out of them. But I plan to do so because I have a feeling this race is going to a shoe destroyer, and I don't want to take a brand new pair (which I'll need for bigger and badder terrain at the end of August.) To save my "race" Hokas, I've actually been training with my old shoes (which I made fun of back in January) since mid-June.

And I can't forget the Black Diamond Ultra-Distance Z-Poles. Effectively my favorite piece of long-distance trekking gear. I would probably give up Hokas before I gave up these poles. I've gotten pretty good at running at a good clip while using them. They help me manage my balance and footing on technical downhills, and help me "pull" on the climbs. Call them crutches, I need them. As a runner I secretly wish I was a four-legged animal, and these are as close as I'll ever get.

Food we're keeping fairly simple. Each night is a bland but filling Mountain House dehydrated meal and a hot chocolate, with packets of Lipton soup as appetizers. After Nepal, I wasn't even able to look at any form of dehydrated meals for about a year, but I've come around on about three or four varieties — the more bland the better. I like Chicken and Noodles, Chicken and Rice, Mac and Cheese, and if I'm feeling zesty, the Veggie Lasagna. Breakfast is coffee with creamer, a granola bar, and peanut butter. Daytime is a variety of granola bars, energy bars, trail mix, and gummy candy. After Nepal, I learned that trail food really is the most versatile form of calories to have during endurance events — bars or candy are the one thing I can usually force down even if I'm feeling considerably crappy. One week is not enough time to become woefully malnourished from lack of fresh foods. The calories will probably amount to about 2,600 a day. (The spreadsheet adds up to 18,500 calories. But we will not need many for the final day, so it's actually more along the lines of 2,850 a day.) It seems minimal for the effort we'll be expending, but I've learned that I'm unlikely to eat more. I do expect the cold weather to demand additional energy. We'll have to see how it goes. We'll be hungry. It will kind of suck, but I really don't want to overpack food. Again, I carried at least 5 pounds of food that I never ate in Nepal. I probably managed an average of about 1,200 calories a day. My digestive system was so angry, but beyond that, I was fine. My performance did suffer. ;-)

The packs with two liters of water will probably be in the range of 25 pounds. I might pack it up this weekend and actually weigh it, and I'll post if I do.


  1. Jill, I am envious! I have been dreaming about visiting Iceland lately . . . if I could make Alaska happen, I can make a visit to Iceland happen. I look forward to your pictures and descriptions!

  2. Iceland sounds awesome! I'm not big into Mountain House but the mac and cheese was surprisingly edible.

  3. Have you tried flavored mashed potato packets? They're light and surprisingly filling for the calories/weight (though not super nutritious). 4 cheese is my fav, you can also slightly over-hydrate them for a creamy 'soup'.

  4. had a somewhat similar issue with my Achilles tendon. I tore it a bit without realizing it while playing basketball and the next day I couldn't walk. I babied it for almost six months (it didn't bother riding a bike or xc skiing and I don't run much it wasn't an issue) until I went in for a physical. The Dr. said to give it more work, to stretch it out as the scar tissue from the tear was really the issue. Now, to more I use it and the less I baby it, the better it is. I was nervous I'd do more damage than good, but not the case all the time.

  5. I'll see you there! I have been struggling with what to pack. Your list helps. I was balking at the new requirements for an extra poncho on top of a rain coat! And the extra set of gloves. Seems like overkill to me. It's summer! It can't be that bad. Your post makes me reconsider a little, though.

  6. Hmm, mashed potato packets. Good idea.

    Steve — awesome! I didn't balk at most of that extra required gear, because most of it would have ended up in my pack anyway (I admittedly don't see much use for a poncho but they are light and a good emergency later.)

    I tend to be super paranoid and overpack for wet and cool weather because the most painful bouts of hypothermia I've had all involved rain and temperatures in the 30s and 40s. Seriously — even for all of my Alaska winter trips, it's these conditions that make me the most nervous. Two times on the Tour Divide was so painfully cold that I was frightened, and this involved temperatures that may have even been in the low 50s. So I most definitely pack my insecurities when I expect wet weather.

    Extra gloves are nice to have because you will get the first pair wet. Hopefully you can dry them out before the second pair is soaked, too.

    I'll see you there! Let me know if you want to chat about gear. I'd be curious to hear what you're bringing.

  7. Jill, I've done some fast backpacking, but only for two days or so. I made one trip into the South San Juans in Colorado for two overnights with a 10-pound pack, food, bag, tarp. I was able to run with that kit. This trip I can't really see running though. I've run stage races before: Costa Rica Coastal Challenge three times, and I'm running it again next year. They schlep your gear (all of it!) from camp to camp. I didn't really know what I was signing up for with this race and when I found out I had to carry just about everything I almost backed out. I've since decided that this will be a good means to assess how to really do a lightweight backpacking trip for 6 days, so it's useful. I'm into light! In my future I see long distance trips on the Continental Divide Trail or AT, probably on foot, but the possibility of Mtn Bike also is there. Read your excellent account of your record breaking trip. I'm just a novice on the mtn bike--broke my collarbone last year on the Leadville 100 mtn bike race.

  8. Like you, I aspire to longer fastpacking trips, but I've also never attempted any serious running with a 25-pound pack. I intended to train more specifically for RTP Iceland, but little injuries (shin and knee) got in the way of trying many loaded runs. I expect, at least effort-wise, that it will be similar to running with a sled. With sleds (25 to 35 pounds) on packed snow, it's definitely a case of diminishing returns. I can run, but 5 mph demands near-anaerobic effort, and even a 4 mph shuffle takes considerably more energy than a 3 mph walk.

    With the little running I tried in the later stages of RTP Nepal, I noticed that the pack didn't slow me down too much on the descents (the poles helped) and probably didn't make much difference in my overall speed on the climbs. But running flatter terrain, which I think Iceland will have more of, will be an interesting experiment. I expect I'll return home with impressions similar to my sled running — I can run, but the effort is too draining and hard on my body to be sustainable over long miles, or even more than a few miles.

    I also agree it's a bit strange that RTP doesn't shuttle gear given how much support they already provide. I guess it's part of the game. I enjoy the challenge, and think it will be a useful learning experience for future self-supported efforts and even sled-running.

  9. I guess RacingThePlanet must be very prestigious events? I browsed their web pages and found out how much they charge (US $3,700!!). That plus airfare and not much support (no food and 10 people per tent) just seems ridiculous to me, having done a very well supported 9-day MTB race in India ($700) and the 7-day BCBR with FANTASTIC support and some of the best food I had for $2700 (probably will never be able to afford a race this expensive again). Again, don't know much about ultra-running stage races but MTB races in Europe tend to be lot cheaper than USA/Canada (~ 500 euros /week). Iceland must be worth it even if you go hungry for a week, best luck!

  10. Prestige has nothing to do with those events. They organize their races very well, and setting up a race in a different location every year is not a simple task to pull off. It definitely is on the expensive side, and it's not for everyone, but I am not sure if they're vastly overpriced for their business model either (it's probably a lot easier for a local outfit to set up a race ... but then again, this can go all sorts of ways:). As far as adventure vacations (which to me this is) go, it's super fun. Definitely beats a cruise, or a four seasons hotel resort. They've gone out of their way to get you to places you don't normally see (like restricted areas in Vietnam or Namibia).
    Relative to what I could spend on house/car/... I have yet to find an athletic event that's not worth the money to me ... (except Badwater maybe :P).
    If, however, I gave myself a tighter budget, I would probably do other things. Also depends on what other events are being held in that area of course.

    Steve, the poncho should be ~1oz - almost nothing. Weather seems like it might be like I had it in RTP Vietnam, a bit cooler probably. Let's just say it was pretty miserable at times, and I was extremely glad I had brought a fairly heavy primaloft coat ... not for when you run. For when you don't. There probably will be fires where you can warm up though. But don't underestimate cold and damp. Brrrrrr.

  11. Jan — in a way, I see it that way, too, but I also view things like this relatively. In 2007-2008 I was pulling in about $500 a week on a small-town journalist's salary. Tax time came around and I figured out I dropped close to $2,000 for entry fee, travel, food, and a few unpaid days off for the ITI, and more than $2,000 for my gear (bike, sleeping bag, bike bags — all stuff I used again, but bought specifically to race the ITI.) Effectively, I dropped 1/6th of my annual income to race my first Iditarod event. The kind of percentage most people pour into their mortgages. Ridiculous? Definitely. But worth it? Absolutely. ;-)

  12. Iceland is beautiful! You'll love it.

    I'm having a hard time eating any of those prepackaged meals these days, the only one I can eat right now is mashed potatoes with vegetarian bacon bits from Backpacker's Pantry. I can eat that one no matter how crappy I feel...but I have a four-day trail work trip coming up, and I'm pretty sure I'll be sick of those potatoes by the end of it. Maybe I need to invest in a dehydrator.

  13. I went shopping this evening for freeze-dried food. Bought three MaryJanesFarm, Bare Burrito, Red Pesto Pasta, and Black Beans and Rice; five Backpackers Pantry, Pad Thai, Organic Spinach Puttanesca, Peanut & Raisin Oatmeal, Chana Masala, Cuban Coconut Black Beans and Rice; one packet of Seabear Smoked Sockeye Salmon.... I'm going to fill in the rest with Larabars, Shotblocks, gels, GORP, Pro-octane powder, soup packets, and pocketfuel.


Feedback is always appreciated!