Friday, August 23, 2013

On to the PTL

Biking the Grizzly Flat trail with Liehann on Sunday. 
Well, it's time. Late last year, I got this inclination to plan something more "nutty" for 2013. Something that went far beyond the edge of my comfort zone to those untested outer limits where anything can happen. 2012 had been a fun year, full of challenging events. But none of them were beyond my known abilities, and I ended the year hungry for an outlandish goal.

Many athletically inclined people prefer to take incremental steps forward. I like to take big leaps over chasms without knowing exactly how far I can jump. In most aspects of life I'm a fairly conservative person, but there's a primal allure in physical endeavors that shoves all common sense aside. I want more of it, and have ever since before I understood anything about what "it" is. Case in point: The very first race I signed up for — as in first competitive event of my adult life — was a 100-mile winter bicycle race in Alaska that took me 25 hours to finish. Contrary to popular opinions on the matter, I didn't attempt this for accolades — back in 2005, you really couldn't find a more obscure sport than snow biking. No, I just suddenly got an itch to try something big, and went for it. I've taken three similar leaps since — the Iditarod Trail Invitational in 2008, the Tour Divide in 2009, and the Susitna 100 on foot in 2011 (a big jump because I was technically not yet a runner when I signed up five months before the event.) And now, another rather insolent launch into the unknown — La Petite Trotte à Léon.

Why take these leaps into endeavors where chances of success are slim and even failure falls on the favorable side of the spectrum of possible outcomes? I seek them because of the intense experiences they promise. Much more than failure, I'm afraid of becoming complacent, of coasting through each day without even noticing how much life is passing be by. Scary goals fire up all of the synapses and rejuvenate passions that tend to become wilted over time. I am never more alive than I am on the precipices of livability, mind and body stretched beyond the cusp of who I thought I was, grasping toward something more.

Although finishing is not my sole aim in such endeavors, I do make an effort to increase my chances. Ever since that fateful after-midnight Facebook conversation with Ana back in January, I've kept a singular focus on PTL. In March, I raced the Homer Epic 100K on foot with a sled — when actually I was in more of a snow-biking mindset at the time and came close to switching to the bicycle division at the last minute — because a sled-dragging 100K would provide solid mental training for PTL. I ran the Quicksilver 50 in May so I'd be better prepared for the Bryce 100 so I'd have a good base for Racing the Planet Iceland, which happened to be well-positioned for a high-mileage "peak" three weeks before PTL.

I had some setbacks during training, as most do. Pain in my left shin kept my mileage low for most of the spring. The elevation at Bryce hit me hard and I did not recover well from that race; trying to run the Laurel Highlands 70-miler one week later was a poor decision (great mental training, but my confidence and health took a hit.) Then there was the San Lorenzo 50K faceplant debacle in June and mysterious knee injury (speculated to be a minor MCL tear) that limited running and hiking for a month. Actually, broken down like that, it was a terrible year of training. What have I gotten myself into?

Racing the Planet Iceland went well, though. I don't feel like spotty training undermined my enjoyment of that race in any way, so perhaps my fitness is not as inadequate as I fear. Despite my satisfaction with RTP, it was inevitable that anxiety immediately took over. The two weeks we've spent in California after returning from Iceland have been a whirlwind of unpacking, work catch-up, planning, stress, packing, and low-level panic.

I've been taking the taper quite seriously, and along with recovery from RTP Iceland, my stress-relieving outdoor time has been limited. I did make an exception for one wonderful mountain bike ride up Steven's Creek Canyon with my friend Liehann last Sunday. It was a surprisingly tough ride; temperatures climbed into the low 90s and my heat acclimation had taken a substantial hit in Iceland. My two-liter bladder of water was gone by the top of the climb out of Grizzly Flat. At Skyline Ridge, mile 16, Liehann continued on to more fun trails while I reluctantly held to my "no-more-than-four-hour ride" halfway cutoff, and turned around. My throat was dry, my water bladder was empty, and my quads were nicely toasted from hard pedaling — and still, I was itching to stay out for a much longer ride. Endurance cravings are high right now — which gives me a small spark of confidence, because at least there's something there for PTL to beat into submission.

Also this week, I turned 34. Besides feeling the usual unease about the relentless march of time, I had a quiet birthday mostly spent working on newspapers. It was nice — a kind of tranquil, bland milestone to buffer these two big international adventures in August. I'm meeting friends tonight to actually celebrate the thing, and then tomorrow (Saturday) we fly to Geneva en route to Chamonix. La Petite Trotte à Léon begins at 10 p.m. Monday (1 p.m. California time.) I wrote a bit more about what PTL is for my Half Past Done blog, but I wanted to include the links where folks can follow the race here:

More information about PTL is available at this link.

A Google Earth tour of the entire course is available at this link.
(To my dad: I hope you can get this link to work; I think you will enjoy this.)

PTL updates during the race will be available at this link.

Updates from my team.

Updates from Beat's team. Use the icons in the upper right to switch between elevation, list and map view.

My team is called "Too Cute to Quit." I know, I know. It was a flippant name given our original status as a "girl" team. Giorgio joined on later and got stuck with being "Too Cute" as well. Ana is technically the team captain and as far as I know, the only one actually incapable of quitting. Beat recently lost one of his team members, Daniel, due to a death in Daniel's family. His team now consists of himself and Dima Feinhaus, a Russian friend who Beat met at the Tor des Geants — also where Dima earned his nickname, "Crankypants." We'll likely be far behind Beat and Dima, which is a shame, as the two of them together are sure to provide comic relief in tough times.

It's unlikely I'll post again before the race starts. I wanted to say thanks to those who check in on this blog, especially anyone who was around in the early days of "Up in Alaska." For all of my strange leaps over the years, I've really enjoyed sharing adventures here, and I appreciate the connections that form. Thanks for reading.


  1. Good luck, Jill! May you have an awesome sufferfest. :^)

  2. Oh my gosh! It's time already for the PTL? Best of luck and take lots of pics :)

  3. Happy trails to you - and safe travels

  4. Thank you for writing! My husband and I tour the world vicariously through your adventures. Have a great race!

  5. Good luck Jill! I will be over there, but likely won't see you before the start. I'll be getting in Monday, but heading over to Val Ferret near Courmayeur for a couple of days to chill. Hope to see you afterwards to have a celebratory beverage. Enjoy the journey! I'll be thinking of you out there.

  6. More specific tracking links:

    Jill's team. Use the icons in the upper right to switch between elevation, list and map view.

    My team is

    Right now I wish we were "Too smart to start" :)


  7. Just like you I've always tried to stretch out of my comfort zone. I signed up for my first Ironman triathlon having never run a 5k (I was a swimmer & recreational cyclist). In October I'm attempting the Presidential Traverse, never having done any serious mountain hiking before. I'm pretty sure I have the fitness, but my balance and steep up & down hiking strength will be tested. I'm trying to keep a mindset that it will be a long day of low HR training for the NY Marathon in November. I'm not entirely convinced that will be the case.

  8. I too travel along vicariously and often ponder: "What would I do?".

    For sure there's no quitinya. Go Long and Prosper.

  9. Thank YOU for keeping your blog going! I love reading about your adventures, and I've turned several of my friends onto your blog as well. :)

  10. Have a great time both of you! Right now I really miss Mont Blanc!

  11. Happy Birthday Jill!

    This looks like the perfect nutty thing for you to do this year :-). The Google Earth flyover of the course in those French Alps shows an absolute gorgeous mountainscape! The PTL sounds no muss no fuss, comparatively speaking.

    Thank you for sharing these "physical endeavors that shove all common sense aside", and for all the posts in between. You do a very nice job of balancing journalistic professionalism and personal experience and your writing skills and photography have kept me coming back for years now. I cannot see you turning off this outlet for years to come so I guess we are going to be long-term virtual friends JH.

  12. Have fun! Cant wait to read about it when you get back!

  13. Thank you, Jill, for sharing your life of adventure! I'm twice your age, and you have inspired me more than anyone else ever has. After reading all of your books and blogs, I invested in a recumbent trike, and have ridden 2000 miles on rail trails this summer.

    Have a great week. I'll be following.


  14. 20 minutes to the start of PTL. Live video feed at

  15. Jill, your dream cycle

  16. I have been following since Up in Alaska. Thank you for continuing to write throughout the ups and downs,the trolls, and the silence of lurkers like me who seldom comment but who really do appreciate your words and images. And especially your effort. Here's to those who always try hard, whatever their course is.
    ~Tracy Zhu

  17. Still reading your blog since 2005...I enjoyed your account of your latest endeavor. I will never truly understand why you take the risks you do, but I know how much you think about and feel what you do! Rock on, Jill....we are growing old together, methinks! Hey, really loved all your photos from the last race. Don't know how you took so many under those conditions...esp. the very dark ones. Really good stuff!!!


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