Altra co-founder Brian Beckstead is a man of many talents and a man with many buckles on his belt. After countless races, one still remained unchallenged until this year: the Ultra Trail du Mt Blanc. Read from Brian’s personal account of his amazing trip to Charmonix and tackling of the UTMB trail.
And if running one 100-mile race wasn’t enough for anyone, Brian is currently running the Wasatch 100. Two 100 mile races in two weeks. To say Brian takes the #ZeroLimits lifestyle literally is an understatement.
2015 marks the 10th anniversary for my ultra running career. I ran my first ultra as a 23 year old clueless young inexperienced runner. Since that time I’ve completed over 50 ultra trail races, managed 2 running/outdoor shops, graduated college, started a shoe company (Altra), had 3 kids, and moved 8 times. It’s been a wild ride! I’ve also closely followed the expansion of the ultra community that I have grown to love. Over that time, it became clear to me that despite my experiences there was one race that had established itself as the premier ultra event in the world, the Ultra Trail du Mt Blanc.
UTMB is a 105 mile race boasting nearly 34,000 ft of vertical climbing and an equal amount of descent starting and ending in Chamonix France. During its circumnavigation of Mt Blanc it traverses through glacially carved valleys, up and over mountains, traverses exposed ridgelines, and generally takes you through a mountain running paradise. The aid stations are made up of remote outposts, ski lodges, and small cobblestoned Alp villages in France, Italy, and Switzerland. In its 13th year, the three country journey now has over 2,600 starters from an astounding 87 countries!
Despite running several difficult 100 milers over the years including Wasatch 100, Ultra Trail Mt Fuji, Bear 100, and Cascade Crest 100, I was still rightfully intimidated. My summer was filled with running more of a growing business than mountain running but I found a healthy balance. I made sure I had plenty of time for my highest priority- family. My wife and youngest daughter even got to tag along to France! I was ready and excited to tackle this monumental challenge!
Race week came quickly and was filled with press conferences, expo working, and athlete meetings. Altra is picking up steam in Europe and we were well represented during the expo. We worked with Polartec to launch our “Better than Waterproof” Lone PeakNeoshell at the event to much acclaim! I rested when I could but business called. Soon it was time to take care of business from the running end and by 5:30 pm August 27th I was in the town square with 2,600 other runners ready to tackle this epic event. I made a tactical decision to start in the back. I wanted to start slow and feel good through the race. The race festivities were unparalleled with an estimated 70,000 people cheering us on, music blaring, and bells ringing.
At 6pm sharp, the gun went off. I waited…and waited…and finally I took my first step! It took me 5 minutes just to get to the starting line! With the throngs of people the race funneled quickly but the feeling was electric. Within a mile the race widened and I was able to start passing people. I was slow and methodical but the first 20 miles went quickly. I even ran a few miles with local friend Kendall Wimmer! Soon the headlamp was turned on and the first night began.
The string of headlamps extended as far as the eye could see both in front and behind me. It added such depth seeing where we had to go and how far you’d come. Having a full moon only added to the beauty! The mountains, and particularly the glaciers, where illuminated beyond belief. The miles quickly flew by and before I would have imagined the first glimmer of light shown in the east. I was so happy and it sparked what would become the greatest 10 hours of running I’d ever experienced!
The descent into Lac Combal will never be forgotten nor would the sunrise at Arete du Mont Favre. I stopped there for 5 minutes just soaking in the moment. In my wildest dreams I’m not sure I could have created a more beautiful place or perfectly timed moment.
The descent into Courmayeur was long but being on such a runners high I backed off trying not to get more of an adrenaline rush. I floated down and did a full analysis of my situation. The Courmayeuar aid station (Mile 48) was full of chaos, people, drop bags, and….my crew! Frank, Altra’s European Manager, and Colleen, ICON’s PR Director, were there to help me get through efficiently. I was about an hour slower getting there then I wanted but I wasn’t worried, as I felt great with no issues. Having started at the back of the pack cost me that hour but I was ready to push on. New clothes, food, and optimism followed me out the door!
Temperatures were beginning to rise into what would become the hottest UTMB on record. I climbed strongly out of Courmayeur knowing that I was only half way. I LOVED the section of trail from Refuge Bertone to Refuge Bonati. The views and trail were spectacular. I felt strong. I had a rag, which I dipped in every stream possible, soaking my body in cold water. This section was exposed and becoming hot but I moved well and soon was descending into Arnuva.
Once at Arnuva (Mile 59) I didn’t want to eat anything. After 10 hours of the best running I’d ever had, the heat and distance were catching up. I now had to tackle the biggest climb on the course in the heat without much to eat. I forced fed myself what I could and started the climb to Grand Col Ferret. I struggled. I was hoping the descent was better but it didn’t help much. I was still moving but I was so hot and couldn’t eat much.
It finally started to cool off and entering Champex-Lac I was relieved. My crew AND my wife were there. I had struggled for the last several hours and I needed help. They quickly began force feeding me…and my stomach didn’t rebel! I also got a massage for 20 minutes on my quads while letting the food settle. I switched into the new Olympus 2 shoe, put on a dry shirt and left feeling totally refreshed!
I was originally worried about the second night but I was feeling back like myself. I knew I had 3 stout climbs and descents of this last 30 miles. I found a grove and began pushing. I felt like I was picking up steam! I clicked through Trient quickly and flew down into Vallorcine! I couldn’t believe how good I was feeling! I got a little drowsy leaving Vallorcine but with 1 climb left I was determined!
I’d heard the last climb was the steepest but wow it didn’t disappoint! It was brutal but I was happy with my methodical approach. Just before the top I saw a glimmer of light to the east. I couldn’t believe my luck that upon arrival to Tete aux Vents the first ray of sunshine hit Mt Blanc!! I was on such a runner’s high and this time I didn’t hold back but pushed harder then ever feeling like a million bucks.
I flew down the mountain weaving through the last of the nearly 2000 people I’d passed in the race! At this point I was thoroughly enjoying the final miles of the race. With ½ mile remaining I throttled back and emotionally jogged through town listening to the cheers of the town and contemplating my accomplishment. I couldn’t believe the high I was experiencing as I saw the finish line and crossed in 38 hours, 29 minutes. 518th place out of 2,600 starters and 1,600 finishers.
Happy Happy Happy! This was such a great race for me and truly the pinnacle of ultra running. As I recover, I prepare for Wasatch 100 which begins less than two weeks from the time I finished UTMB. Living my dream, finding the balance, and trying to enjoy every second of it!
Hi, my name is Gary Reinl. I am a long distance runner (50 plus years; logged more than 50,000 miles), and the author of ‘ICED!’. And, I am a passionate member of the ALTRA club.
In “real” life I work with many professional and other elite athletes and their trainers, therapists and doctors and represent a muscle recovery device called MARC PRO. I have been doing this type of work for more than 40 years. That said, this blog post isn’t about me. Instead, it’s about you and your relationship with ice and your ability to recover after a hard workout. If you don’t use ice, you will likely find the following, at the least, interesting. If you do use ice, read carefully and feel welcome to contact me with questions, comments, etc.
Have you heard that the godfather of the ice age (Gabe Mirkin, MD) has publicly, and repeatedly, recanted his recommendation to ice damaged tissue? Below is a direct quote from Dr. Mirkin in the second edition of my book, ‘ICED! The Illusionary Treatment Option’:
“Almost 40 years ago, I coined the term RICE (Rest. Ice. Compression and Elevation) as the treatment for acute sports injuries (The Sportsmedicine Book. 1978. P94). Subsequent research shows that Rest and Ice can actually delay recovery. Mild movement helps tissue to heal faster, and the application of cold suppresses the immune responses that start and hasten recovery. Icing does help suppress pain, but athletes are usually far more interested in returning as quickly as possible to the playing field. So today RICE is not the preferred treatment for an acute athletic injury”
-Gabe Mirkin, MD (the godfather of the ice age), August 2014
Why did Dr. Mirkin recant? Icing damaged tissue simply does not facilitate recovery. In fact, it does the opposite; it delays healing, it increases swelling, it causes additional damage and it shuts off the signals that alert you to harmful movement.
So if you shouldn’t ice, what should you do?
Active recovery is a recovery technique that relies on a specific type of rhythmic muscle activation to expedite the movement of nourishment and waste. Passive or inactive recovery is, well, passive. Both ways work. If you do nothing (e.g. sit back, relax, and wait), you will, if you are otherwise healthy, eventually recover. If you do something (e.g. the proper amount and type of muscle activation), you will, assuming all else is equal, also eventually recover. That said, the main differences between the two recovery techniques are not measured by the “end” result. Instead, the focus of the comparison is the difference in how you feel during the recovery process and how long it takes to fully recover.
Consider this. Have you ever finished a race or hard training session and immediately entered a crammed space such as a car, bus, train, or plane and remained there for several hours? Yes or no, the result is always the same: your muscles will feel more tired andor sore at the end of your trip than they did at the beginning.
Why? Simply put, remaining virtually motionless in a crammed space for several hours post-exertion (ultra-passive recovery) stifles the flow of nourishment and waste. Net result: you feel worse.
Want a better outcome? Before you get into that dreaded crammed space, spend about twenty minutes doing, with less intensity, whatever you did to get tired and or sore. Then, once per hour for at least 10 minutes or so, get up and move all of your tired and or sore muscles (active recovery).
Too Much or Too Little of a Good Thing
It is very important to avoid over activating your tired and or sore muscles. Doing so will actually prevent recovery and could easily lead to an overuse injury. Conversely, if you under-activate your tired or sore muscles, you will marginalize the potential related benefits. Either way, you lose.
So, what is the key to finding the sweet spot between too much and too little? Always remember that this is a recovery technique, not a training technique. Thus, if your quads are tired or sore from running, go for an easy jog. Likewise, if your glutes are tired or sore from cycling, go for an easy ride. And so on. Never do anything that hurts. Focus your effort on activating the muscles in need of recovery (e.g. if you activate the muscles in your left foot, it won’t help the muscles in your right hand). And always . . . always, expend the least possible amount of energy to achieve the desired result . . . don’t waste energy!
The goal is to appropriately activate your tired or sore muscles until the desired result is achieved. Sounds good, but . . . you just finished and you do not have the desire to jog or go for a light ride or perhaps even stand upright. Besides, your knee and hip are bothering you and you know from experience that “stressing” those joints under those conditions just noted is categorically a misguided and potentially injurious idea. Similarly, if your traps and lower back muscles need “activation,” jogging or going for a light ride are, once again, not a viable option. Why? Jogging and cycling do not provide the needed rhythmic muscle activation. In fact, those activities usually create more trap and lower back tiredness and/or soreness, not less.
So, what’s the best recovery technique? That’s easy. Use a high-end powered muscle stimulation device to activate your tired and/or sore muscles until the desired result is achieved. There are many of them out there, but I recommend the MARC PRO® to all of my clients . . . it’s easy to use, feels good, and works great.
If you still want more information, In my book “ICED!”, there is a whole chapter regarding proper recovery.
If you find all of this a little hard to believe . . . you are not alone. On the other hand, if you “get it” . . . you are also not alone (a soft estimate is that more than 1,000,000 people have joined the “anti-ice” movement).
Over the weekend, we saw two of our athletes podium at the Leadville Trail 100 in Leadville, Colorado. This grueling race sets runners on a 100-mile out-and-back course with elevations ranging from 9,200 feet at its lowest to 12,600 at its peak – lungs beware.
We send a huge congratulations to our two winners, Ian Sharman (1st overall, 16:33:50) and Kyle Pietari (2nd overall, 18:16:02). This year’s race marks Ian’s second win at the Leadville Trail 100 and third consecutive Leadville race completed under 17-hours. No small feat.
“I’m so happy with how my Altra Lone Peak 2.5s performed at my second win at the Leadville 100 – I can trust them to cushion any type of terrain and feel good so I can focus purely on the running.”
– Ian Sharman
High-tech, maximum sun protection running apparel hat—previously available at the thrift store near my house. Great for long runs!
By: Kyle Pietari
I am in the best shape of my life and am ready to race the 2015 Leadville Trail 100. Only once before have I managed to fit truly high-level training into my schedule before running an ultra—two summers ago, when I placed fourth at Leadville. My goals this year are to make the podium and finish under 18 hours. Just 21 runners have broken 18 hours since 1983.
I have a daughter of less than two years, and my son is less than two weeks old. I was a busy student at Harvard Law School the past two school years, and spent this summer working in Denver at a top-tier law firm. None of this is conducive to racing ultramarathons, but in reality, nearly every runner who finishes an ultra has a story to tell about the challenges and rewards of fitting training into a busy schedule. I was honored when Jeremy Howlett—one of the co-founders of Altra—asked me to write a blog post about my training and the upcoming competition at Leadville. Here are some highlights from my story, as well my thoughts about the 2015 race.
Heavy Summer Training
July was my best training month ever. I exceeded my goal of running 400 miles, and included ample speed workouts, hill interval workouts, morning long runs on an empty stomach, afternoon heat runs, and back-to-back long runs on Saturdays and Sundays. I capped off my training with 20 miles on August 1 and 27 miles on August 2. My son was born August 3—the first day of my very thorough three-week taper!
My longest run was a 33-miler in the mountains with no food that day until after I finished. My hardest workout was the Leadville Trail Marathon in June, at which I won my age group to earn a qualifier entry into the Leadville 100.
Finishing the Leadville Trail Marathon to gain entry into the Leadville Trail 100
High-tech, maximum sun protection running apparel hat—previously available at the thrift store near my house. Great for long runs!
On August 7 and 8 I got in some good, final training miles with my law firm’s team at the Colorado Ragnar Relay. Team “Run Like a MoFo” is an annual participant, and I’m already excited for next year!
Note: My law firm, Morrison & Foerster, has embraced the moniker MoFo.
By the time you begin your final leg at a Ragnar Relay, the shirt you started in has been worn for far too long, and you are glad to run in the clean shirt that came in your race packet.
Run commuting has been the foundation of my training for the past four years. I generally run with a backpack twice daily, carrying my dress clothes, lunch, laptop, books, and whatever else I need. This year, in four months, I ran between Harvard Law School and my apartment in Boston about 100 times. During June and July, I ran between home and my law firm’s office in Denver about 60 times. In total, I averaged about 90 run commute miles per month over the past six months.
Run commuting is a free, eco-friendly time-saver! With a cheapie poncho or a trash bag, I can do it in any kind of weather. This year, I upheld my commitment to run commuting through Boston’s snowiest winter ever, and through a summer in Denver while working at a law firm where I was expected to uphold the highest levels of professionalism. For tips on run commuting, see the end of this post.
Boston blizzard run commute. Backpack with laptop under the poncho.
On this day, I ran to work carrying dress shoes and a dry-cleaned suit jacket rolled up in my pack.
Reading In The Gym
Law school involves a lot of reading. During the school year, reading while hiking uphill on a treadmill or climbing on a stair stepper machine was the only way I could fit in significant vertical training while keeping up with my school work. I got in about 30 gym reading workouts during the spring semester. I usually listen to audio books during runs outside, and have finished about 12 audio books so far this year.
I frequently completed ~3,000 feet of vertical while reading for my patent law class.
Baby jogger & Baby Hiking Pack
These are invaluable training tools. I don’t run with the baby in the hiking pack, but can hike stadium stairs, do lunges, and go for long walks with it on!
This is a good place to thank my wife. Without her support and willingness to often do more than a fair day’s share of the childcare, I wouldn’t be running Leadville this year. Thank you!
Laps around Sloan’s Lake in Denver
Hiking the stairs of the Harvard stadium with the Boston November Project.
The 2015 Leadville 100 Competition
The men’s race will be dominated by two runners: Altra athlete Ian Sharman and former Olympian Michael Aish. What makes the showdown between these two pros so exciting is that their show down last year was so eventful. Mike passed Ian in the final miles and beat him by only three minutes! (They finished 2nd and 3rd behind winner Rob Krar.) However, the year before that, Ian won the race, finishing eight minutes faster than Mike’s best time. Both now have multiple years of experience running Leadville. Both rank among the best ever at it. In an interview with the race organizers this year, Ian mentioned that he would like to break 16 hours—which has only been done once, when Matt Carpenter set the course record of 15:42 in 2005. When Mike first entered the world of ultra running in 2012, he set the ambitious goal of achieving a win at Leadville. With no real competition except each other, I expect that Ian and Mike will be willing to push each other to their limits for the win this year. The pace could be blazing, especially if Ian feels strong enough on race day to attempt to break the 16 hours mark. I look forward to seeing what these two incredible athletes are capable of!
Unfortunately, I don’t have any news about the women’s race, except that Ellie Greenwood has decided to delay racing Leadville until a future year, since she felt that her body needed more recovery time after a recent race. Considering Ellie’s Western States 100 course record, and her many other accomplishments, she clearly stands out as one of the only runners who would have a decent shot at breaking Ann Trason’s course record of 18:06, set in 1994. I would love to see Ellie take a shot at it next year!
As for me, I aim to put my training to the test and run strong for third place, well behind Ian and Mike. I will race in the Altra Superior 2.0s, of course.
Tips On Run Commuting:
• Always have at least two layers of plastic between your clothes and food inside your backpack
• Leave a full set of clothes at your workplace for those days when you forget to pack something, such as socks or an undershirt
• Keep important papers in a plastic bag if there is any chance of sweat seeping through the back of your backpack
• Carry a sandwich baggy to protect your phone and wallet if it starts raining
• To remove wrinkles, sprinkle water on your shirt and hang it up before stepping into the shower at your workplace
• Exclusively wear wool running socks, because any other material will smell bad
• In a pinch, a trash bag makes a great poncho that can cover your pack and yourself
Western States is right around the corner! We reached out to some of our Athletes to give their input on what Western States means to them. We’re very excited for this weekend’s race and hope to see our Altra crew finish strong! If you aren’t around Squaw Valley, you can keep up with the race this weekend by following #WS100 and all the live streams from Ultra Sports Live.
“I am thrilled for the opportunity to take part in Western States! I am drawn to the tradition and caliber of all of strong runners participating. It is so inspirational to toe the line against such great runners. It also doesn’t hurt that the course is absolutely beautiful!”
“It’s in my blood. I love the dirt, trees, canyons, rocks, and views. The history of the race and the community that has evolved from it are central to my core.”
Top 10 finisher at WS past five years
Best finish: 4th place
Fastest time: 15:47, 6th place (2014)
“This is my sixth Western States 100 and it just gets more exciting every year. I love the history of the race and the fact it created a new style of race back in the 1970s – the 100-miler on trails. It includes such varied terrain, from the High Sierra Mountains to the canyons and the single track through to the finish. But probably my favorite thing is the chance to race against the very best in the world, where the competition keeps getting hotter each year. That’s what drives all the runners to push themselves to new levels and see just what’s possible, myself included.”
“Western States means a lot to me. I’ve trained hard for this from the day of the lottery (beginning of December). I have spent the last two months here in the US with my family, preparing for Western States. This trip has been amazing! I’ve run in Flagstaff, the Grand Canyon, in Ashland and on the WS course. It has also been time for two summit attempts on Mt. Shasta. I am very excited for Western States!”
As the 27th of June gradually approaches every fan of ultra running has the countdown set to that Saturday morning. If you are among those that are not in or around Squaw Valley and Auburn California you will be sitting down to your morning cup of coffee and indulging in the various viewpoints of race coverage of the famed Western States 100 mile endurance run. Many twitter apps will be set to watch the hashtag #WS100 or following the great feed from iRunFar or also having the various live streams up on their computer from Ultra Sports Live.
A race that begin many years ago as Gordy got off his horse and believed that he could finish the 100 mile horse race on foot and then went back to do it all on foot is now one of the most famous challenges of human will and determination. A win at Western States is what puts you on the map as one of the most revered ultra runners of the year and in history. There are many hundred mile races out there, but still there are few that can come close to the Western States 100 that starts in Squaw Valley off of the Tahoe rim of the Sierra Nevadas and rolls through to finish on the track in Auburn, CA.
At Altra we are specifically stoked for this years event. We have some amazing athletes that are looking to take part in the competition this weekend.
Ian Sharman – Ian is back for more at Western States after placing in the top 10 in each of the past 5 years. Posed with a passion and desire to take on the course once more we are expecting great things from Ian. Ian has posted some really fast times at the hundred mile distance and is gunning for a win this year. Having put in a good strong start to 2015 with completing his 100 and 101st marathons Ian has the speed to finish the race with a strong kick.
Nicole Studer – Nicole is a first time attendee to Western States she comes from missing it last year due to injury and is looking for a place on that podium. Nic0le has started out 2015 on a tear with getting back to Western with a strong 2nd place finish out at Bandara on a muddy and wet day and then 3 weeks later crushing the course record at Rocky Raccoon with the fastest time ever run on trail by an American woman with a time of 14:22:18. Coming into a great season and joining the Altra team we are excited to see what Nicole can do on this stage!
Sondre Amdahl – Coming over from the Canary Islands and Norway Sondre is looking to compete at America’s most revered ultra. Starting out the year with a 2nd place finish at the Hong Kong 100k and then a strong 4th place finish at Transgrancanaria Sondre is poised for a strong run. He is certainly accustomed to training with vert and at elevation so it will be great to see what he can do through the valleys of California.
Ford Smith – The young up and coming phenom is ready to take on the big boys on a big stage. Ford has been looking forward to putting it all to the test against some of the sport’s top names at Western States. This kid has a lot of potential as we witnessed him pull to a convincing win at a hot Black Canyon 100k. If he can deal well with the heat and overcome youthful experience we could all witness a great race by this young kid!
Meghan Arbogast – Age and experience all come together as Meghan is back again at Western States. She is poised after an overall win last month at the Quicksilver 1ook to get in the mix at Western States. Having placed in the top 10 last year to assure herself a spot at this years race we won’t be at all surprised to see her accomplish something very similarly.
Thomas Lorblanchet – One of the newest members to the Altra team Thomas is coming from France to take on the challenge of Western States. With a win at Leadville in 2012 he certainly has some experience racing in the U.S. An experienced cyclist turned ultra runner he certainly has the fitness. It will be great to see what he can do on this stage after a quiet 2014.
We are looking forward to great performances from Altra athletes out on the course at Western States. It is going to be an excellent weekend!
This Father’s Day weekend, we would like to honor the fathers who have inspired us to run, to work hard, and to believe in ourselves. We reached out to our Athletes and Ambassadors to ask them how they have been inspired by their fathers, and how some of them have inspired others as fathers themselves.
“I’ve been in love with running since I was a little kid and that’s all because of my dad. He was my original running buddy and even coached my track team from 6th – 8th grade. I can remember running the 200 meters in the city meet in 8th grade and him on the infield cheering me on. The biggest thing that he taught me is that it didn’t matter if I won or lost, as long as I gave 100% every time I went out there he was proud of me.”
“My dad introduced me to running. From the day I was born, I was always at his races and at four I was entered in the kids race while he ran a 10k. Most of our weekends were spent running, especially when we lived overseas, as it was a great way to meet people and see new places. As a family we would join the Bangkok Hash House Harriers for runs through the cities and trails of Thailand – it was wild. When I started joining my dad in his weekly training groups at eight years old is when I learnt the most. I can still hear the tips in my head: “drop your hands,” “relax your breathing,” and every now and then the smell of fall leaves will spark my memory of being dropped by the group doing tempo work. That feeling of trying to keep up and being completely lost on my own along the banks of the Elbow River in Calgary, a lot of hard work and “toughening up,” provided a foundation and base for me to live off of. Now that I am a father of two young girls, I can see the excitement running gives them through the freedom and adventure of the sport. If running does not become their main passion as it is for me that will be fine, but I hope they are inspired by my own efforts to go after what they love and find a connection of their own to this world.”
Heather Anish Anderson
“My dad is a man of few words, but his actions have taught me so much. As a child I never realized the scope of his sacrifices and how hard he worked to care for our family, but it was always obvious that he did. It didn’t matter whether there was 5 feet of snow on our dirt road or not, he’d figure out how to get to work anyway. On his days off he spent his time tending the 1/2 acre garden from which we were fed, or cutting and splitting the timber on our property which kept us warm, or doing the million other things around the farm that needed doing. I never heard him once complain about how hard he had to work. He demonstrated by his actions that you can’t sit around and wait for things to happen. If you want it, you’ll have to work your tail off to make it so. I can remember him often saying to me, “He who hesitates is lost.” When I took up hiking and running I realized that if I wanted to reach my goals then I was going to have to work for them. Nothing was going to come my way by me sitting on the couch–and there would never be anything gained by complaining. It’s hard to achieve lofty goals because they take dedication and perseverance. Thankfully, my father provided me with an incredible example of both. Thanks Dad!”
You can always dig deeper
A stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet
You are never too old to reinvent yourself
You are never too old to try new things
There is nothing better than a yellow beer after a run
“A father is the one who typically shows you the correct line to walk. The right way to live your life and be a good person. My father taught me that just because you aren’t pursuing the “right” way doesn’t mean that it is wrong. He passed his innate curiosity about the world and it’s lesser explored terrain on to me and gave me the desire to traverse the wild. He encouraged me to seek happiness in the journey by way of foot. Taking to the worn down pavement or dirt paths, I now run my way into the undomesticated soil with nothing to prove just more knowledge to seek. Thanks Dad!”
“I’ve tried to teach my daughter Olivia that running is something you can do your whole life and that if you do it right, being consistent, taking care of your self, that the places running can take you are limited only by your imagination.”
“My Dad has been my biggest fan for as long as I can remember. In eighth grade, I was determined to break the school record at the mile during my district meet. Each Sunday in anticipation of the big race, my Dad would religiously drive me to the track and call out my splits as I ran a practice mile around the track. My mile splits certainly improved, but more importantly, I knew my Dad was there to support me no matter what the outcome. Happy Father’s Day to all the dedicated Dads who teach their children the value of hard work.”
Asked by his two daughters, “Why do you have to run so much?” Leon explains . . .
“When I run and especially when I run long and far, all that I’ve come to know (or think I know) of the world washes away and I am better, much better, for it. The connections that came so easily at four and six years old, connections that seem nearly impossible to make at 39, become quite possible. Not only do they become possible, Lil, they happen. Bodies that would pass wordlessly on a city street or a suburban neighborhood engage effortlessly in comfortable conversation. Laughter, genuine heart-happy laughter, is the norm amongst ultrarunners and occurs without the reservations of political correctness or the shadowy assessment of present company.”
The Bell brothers in jerseys from their father’s alma mater after finishing the Santa Barbara International marathon
“My dad was an all state cross country runner in high school and went on to run at Notre Dame. When we were growing up, he wasn’t much of a runner any more due to multiple ankle injuries, but he used to tell us stories about running through the snow in shorts in northwest Indiana and about making a wrong turn during a cross country meet but digging deep and still finding a way to get back on track to pull out the win. His stories led to a continued appreciation of running throughout my life. In 2009, two of my brothers and I contacted his high school alma mater to get jerseys to run the inaugural Santa Barbara International marathon. It was great having him out there supporting us along the path he got us started on while representing the place where his journey started.”
“My dad’s love for the sport of running sewed the seeds of my own infatuation with this beautiful discipline. Growing up, I watched him throw himself into all roles within the sport with oblivious passion and excitement: he was/is an athlete, a coach, an event director, a fan, and eternally a student of all things running. Despite this fervor, my dad quizzically and admirably never once pushed the sport on me. From a pretty young age, I found myself lacing up trainers and racing flats under my own volition and excitement. Though we may share some similar genetics and/or experiences that predisposed us both to this crazy fanaticism, it was his joy for the running world that lit a similar flame of enthusiasm in me. Besides passively gifting me with this love for the run, this triangle between him, myself, and running taught me a broader, more beautiful lesson: passion is contagious!”
“My dad was my first running partner. He was new to the whole running thing when I started – although he did run a marathon in 1987 in cut-off jeans! He was a pitcher in college, so his focus was on alignment and proper form, so together we worked on our stride, hands, the position of our bodies and breathing. More than anything, he taught me to have fun. Runs with him had no shortage of snot rockets, what he called, “barking spiders” and yells out of nowhere, because we often ran in the mountains where nobody could hear us. My dad is my favorite. Here is a story I wrote a while back about him.” – www.TheSpectrum.com – Honoring My First Running Partner
“My dad Howard Falker taught me running is for everyone. He was never a runner . . . then at 65 started training for and completed his first race – a trail half marathon. When asked why not start with a 5k, he said, “you don’t even get warmed up in 3 miles.” “
“Always remember there was nothing worth sharing like the love that let us share our name.” – The Avett Brothers
For the fourth consecutive year I returned to the trails of Forest Park in Portland, Oregon for the annual Memorial Day Trail Factor 50K. Trail Factor was one of the first ultras I ever ran and the people who direct, volunteer, and participate in the event have played a big part in my love for the sport and continued participation in it. I’ve run it every year since because when I run the trails of Forest Park with members of the Portland Trail Running community I feel like I am among family.
Trail Factor was the last race I ran before moving from Oregon to Flagstaff, Arizona just over a year ago and was my wife’s first ultra. I was grateful for the opportunity to run with her and introduce her to my trail and ultra family.
As with most changes, this past year presented a number of challenges and opportunities to grow. We left Oregon so that I could work with my mentors, Greg McMillan and Ian Torrence – two of the best coaches in the sport – while enjoying the flexibility necessary to be the kind of father I need to be and furthering my education. The appeal of the trails and diverse running community of Flagstaff certainly appealed to us, but once I began studying full time at Northern Arizona University and coaching full time for McMillan Running, training took a back seat and essentially became a form of transportation to and from school throughout the week. Then I’d try to get in some volume over the weekend either by racing or joining others in town for a long run.
Savoring every moment we could spend out of the classroom and in the mountains.Photo by Anna Lee Landin.
My brother, Tommy Rivers Puzey, who also moved to Flagstaff to chase his endurance dreams and continue his education in Northern Arizona University’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program, has had a similar schedule and training routine: bike, run, or walk commute to and from school each day with the occasional lunch, evening, or weekend swim, run, or ride.
Doing a little climbing on our favorite trails.
Weekend long runs were a welcome reprieve from the regimented class schedule.
My brother got fit after about a year of training in Flagstaff before beginning his course work, but was sidelined last Spring when his tibia fractured after racing repeatedly to cover the costs of a second child. After several false starts when he was cleared to run and the bone re-fractured, he was finally feeling fit. We had a brief window between the Spring term and the beginning of our Summer studies. When we realized we might be able to fit in a race between terms we jumped at the opportunity. The Trail Factor 50K seemed like the perfect way to celebrate our freedom from classes.
Course Map based on GPS data from Strava Run.
Over the past few years the race has gone out conservatively and then the pace has picked up toward the end or the early leaders have faded. The course is an out and back lollipop with a bit of a net uphill on the way out and a net downhill on the way back. Despite starting and finishing near sea level, the course climbs over 5,000ft over 50K so there really isn’t ever a point where you get a break.
Course profile with pace in blue and heart rate in red. Data from Strava.
My brother and I figured we’d fly in to Southeastern Washington, visit family in Northeastern Oregon, drive down to Portland, visit with some friends and then wake up and go for a long run through Forest Park. If we were feeling well, we’d get a chance to stretch our legs and test ourselves at sea level – something we hadn’t done for a while. That’s essentially what we did. We flew into Pasco, WA near where we grew up in Northeastern Oregon. Then we drove home with our parents and visited with them before retiring to bed. The following morning I was able to join my friend and former co-cross country coach, Marty Beauchamp, for an easy shake out run on the grass before attending church with our family. Then my brother and I drove the 200 miles through the Columbia River Gorge to Portland. We had a delicious meal with the Paul and Jocelyn Nelson Family and then did some interviews and filming with Paul Nelson for an upcoming documentary chronicling the adventures that running has afforded my brother and I.
Filming a documentary about our lives as adventurers with Paul Nelson.
Then we drove to the course to measure how long it would take us to get there from our hotel. Unfortunately, my brother and I are on opposite sleep schedules. He wakes up early to study before his kids wake up while I tend to stay up after my family goes to sleep to read, write, and work. He had to tolerate my nocturnal tendencies as we prepared our Nathan hydration packs with First Endurance fuel for the long run.
We decided to go with hydration packs rather than handheld water bottles because the course was closed to crews and we figured we could save time if we carried all we needed in one pack. I started with a full 2.0 liter bladder and an empty 18 oz. bottle in one front pocket as well as a front pocket full of First Endurance EFS liquid shot flasks and salt tablets.
Getting our watches ready for the start. Photo by Paul Nelson.
Our plan to do an easy, supported long run through the urban rain forest in the heart of Portland changed when two of the fastest 50K trail runners in the country, Mario Mendoza and Ryan Bak, decided to sign up at the last minute. Unlike previous years, Mario took it out hard and charged the early climbs.
Mario Mendoza and Ryan Bak leading early to the first aid station. Photo by Paul Nelson.
Despite now living at altitude, climbing at such a pace still caused my heart rate to spike and by 5K we were already running faster than I had anticipated. The trails undulate enough that I was able to let the pack pull away on the climbs and then I’d catch them on the flats and descents without spiking my heart rate beyond my threshold.
My brother Tommy and I leading the train at about mile 10. Photo by Paul Nelson.
Mario and Ryan were using handheld water bottles while my brother and I were carrying our fuel with us on our backs so we were able to make up a little time at each aid station. The lead pack of my brother, Tommy Rivers Puzey, Mario Mendoza, Ryan Bak, and Tyler Green had dropped me around 10K, but as they stopped to refill at the first aid station I was able to catch and pass them on the long descent. It was about the only part of the race I actually felt good and it was fun to let my legs go and bomb the firelane. I jokingly commented to Ryan as I passed that I was really only interested in setting Strava course records for obscure descents.
I led for a bit once we hit Leif Erikson until Ryan caught me. Whereas long straightaways like Leif would normally be where I’d be able to pull away from other trail runners, my relative road speed didn’t do any good against Bak’s superior track and road wheels. We ran together for a bit until we regrouped with the others. Then we took the Wiregate Trail back up toward Wildwood. At this point I let my brother by and we charged back up the hill.
Tommy Rivers Puzey pulling away from Mario in the final miles. Photo: Paul Nelson
Not much later, the pace was more than I could sustain and I backed off in hopes that I wasn’t the only one ready to blow up. I didn’t see the top four again until I reached the finish in the same time I’ve won the race with before, but only good for fifth this year.
A celebratory chest pounding. Mario Mendoza and Tommy Rivers Puzey. Photo by Paul Nelson
Apparently, my brother maintained the lead until the final mile when Mario finally pulled away. Despite not winning the race for the first time in four years, I was pleased with my effort and even more pleased with the breakout race my brother ran.
Paul Nelson captured the action well.
Paul Nelson capturing every stride.
In his first race back in over a year and his first 50K ever my brother ran with the some of the best in the sport. Not only did he run with the best, but he made them earn every step they ran with him. Like us, Mario and Ryan showed up hoping to get in a quality, aided long run in a beautiful place, but I don’t think any of us was expecting to have to throw down for the entire 50K. Kudos to Mario, Ryan, Rivers, and Tyler for making it a race.
A stout top three. Mario Mendoza, Tommy Rivers Puzey, and Ryan Bak.
Thank you to Paul Nelson Photography for taking the time to capture the race and for spending additional time to feed and film my brother and me. Thank you to Go Beyond Racing for putting on another great event and letting us partake.
Thank you to the volunteers out on the course and at the finish line, before, during, and after the race so that so many could enjoy the trails of Forest Park.
Thank you to Territory Run Company for showing us your new digs and embodying the essence of adventuring in your apparel line.
Thank you to Altra, Swiftwick, First Endurance, Nathan, and Trail Butter for your support and for making products that enable us to do what we love.
Thank you to our parents for housing us, feeding us, and transporting us to the race.
A slight contrast between the rain forest in Forest Park and the sage country from where we hail.
I found myself glissading on my rear down a snowfield with only one good pole, the other I’d snapped in two at the handle a mere 10 minutes after getting it from my drop bag 4000 feet below. As I neared the bottom of the incline to glissade onto the glacier, I noticed a crevasse in my path. Whoah!I jammed my pole handle into the wet snow, dug in my heels and popped to my feet just in time to step across the foot-wide void. That got my attention.
Wow, it wasn’t marked — a wake up call. I needed to pay attention a little more. I’d been running for nearly 14 hours and that shot some much-needed focus into my fatigued body and mind. I moved more carefully for the next 1/4 of a mile to get off the glacier and back on solid rock. The course went straight off the glacier and into a class 3 scramble over wet exposed rock for another 1/8 of mile to drop me onto a saddle above a moraine lake.
The terrain I’d been moving through was more wild than anything I’d come across in the last 15 years of running ultramarathons. My 21st 100 miler and this course was throwing it at me. I had to keep pushing. Just after getting above treeline, I made a move to get away from Chilean Emmanuel Acuña running a series of off-camber rocky scree drainages and up a rockfall snow chute to gain a notch before the snowfield climb to the pass. I’d pushed hard. We’d been running together swapping the lead and pulling away from the rest of the pack for nearly 60 miles. I needed to get a gap and finally had a small one. I couldn’t see him anymore and knew I had at least a 5-10 minute lead and needed to increase it even more before we got out of this wild terrain 20 miles down a drainage I was trying to find.
When I heard about Ultra Fiord, it was via a Facebook message from ultrarunning acquaintenance, Nico Barraza. He spends some time in Patagonia and the rest of his time in Flagstaff, AZ. The new race was looking to bring down around 20 international runners for the various distances (30K, 70K, 100K, and 100 miles…actually turns out it was 108 miles) and he thought I might be interested in the 100-miler. I had just made a trip in December with a team to film Mile for Mile documentary and was excited to check out another section of Patagonia Chile, the southern tip.
Due to some business conflicts I was only able to be gone for 9 days (which really means 5 days on the ground with 2 days of travel on both ends). But, I wanted to race in Patagonia and knew it would be wild and remote compared to our U.S. races.
We had a required gear list, very similar to Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (100 miler in France) and after my December adventure run in Chile, I thought this would be a good tester for carrying UTMB-like gear/pack, since I was heading to UTMB in August. I also knew the Patagnonian weather could be gnarly and chage quickly after my previous trip. I also suspected (and expected) that a first year race in Chile might have some glitches and not as deep of support at aid stations that we’re used to in the states. I came prepared mentally and technically to run from drop bag to drop bag (3 key checkpoints) and not really rely on aid stations too much.
I would have some folks I knew coming down to run too. Willie McBride from Portland, my long time friend and practically an adopted sister, Krissy Moehl. They were both running the 100K and then other running folks I knew from the ultra scene in the US, but hadn’t really hung out with them before this trip: Kerrie Bruxvoort, Nikki Kimball, Candice Burt and Britt Dick.
After getting picked up at the airport we stayed a night in Punta Arenas and then caught a shuttle bus to Puerto Natales the next morning where the race would be staged. We immediately felt welcome and I fell in with The North Face’s Enzo Ferrari, who lives in Santiago. Enzo spent a couple years in New Zealand and his English is excellent. We had a great time hanging out and I was able to communicate everywhere with his help — and my limited spanish. We had a great time.
After a day of checking in, hanging out and getting final gear prepped, the race bussed us to the start about 30 minutes drive north of Puerta Natales for the midnight start. We were dropped on a lonely dirt road with a large starting banner and under a starless, overcast sky we headed out into the night.
The first 60K is a combo of crossing some estancias on old 4wd roads and across some old horse/game trails before eventually popping out onto a paved road by a lake, then back onto some old overgrown grass doubletrack and singletrack. It started raining a couple of hours after the start, which would continue for the next 10 hours. A light mist that would utterly soak to the bone, making all the underbrush wet and further saturating the already saturdated ground.
Our first drop bag spot was at Hotel Del Paine, a camp with a nice dining hall. I had been running in the top 5 and eventually caught each guy before this checkpoint and finally reeled in the leader, Emmanuel Acuña, a friend of Enzo’s, on the descent into the checkpoint and we arrived together in the dark at 6:23am.
The two of us ate, got resupplied and got into drop bags. I was done first and Emmanuel followed me out. We met the 3rd place running a few minutes out of the aid station. Emmanuel doesn’t speak much English and I don’t speak more than 15 words of Spanish, so we just ran quietly together in the dark knowing we had a major river crossing 3K ahead.
We arrived the first major river crossing and ran up the shore to the fixed rope line tied to trees on both sides. As we stood there, Emmanuel called across to the volunteers on the other side in spanish, they called back. We were standing 2 feet from each other and I gestured with my hand “how deep?” and Emmanuel being shorter than me, indicated up to his neck. I let out a loud “Umpf” and took my waist lamp and hiked it up around my neck. I offered my hand in the overhand chilean hand shake style…we shook hands in an unspoken “alright, let’s do this!” and I plunged into the dark cold river. It came up to my armpits while on my tip toes. Side note: After the race I asked him what he said to the volunteers, He had asked, “How deep is it?” They replied, “150 centimeters” (and he’s 160cm!)
Once I was across the other side, I ran off into the night grunting and yelling to get some adrenaline kicking to warm me up and get the blood flowing again.
The next few hours slipped by as dawn arrived after 8am. I hadn’t seen Emmanuel after the river crossing as I was just concentrating on the gnarly trail. The trails were some of the muddiest trails I’ve ever dealt with. Mud bogs mid-calf deep, moss-covered rocky technical terrain that never let up. Everything was a sloppy mess. The week of unseasonable rains southern Chile had received the previous week had everything fully saturated. Some sections you didn’t have a choice but to simply hike through a mid-calf mud bog. I had slowed a little through this section as dawn finally arrived between 8 and 9am. I was cruising along when Emmanuel caught back up to me and blew by me on a technical downhill section. He was cruising.
Whoah. I decided I better keep him in sight, so I picked up the pace so he wouldn’t drop me. I kept him in sight for a while before I had to do some pack and gear adjustments and I lost sight of him. Soon I was running along and passed him doing the same. From here on out, we ran together all the way to the 90K checkpoint at Hosteria Balmaceda. We were both soaked to the bone, it had raining a steady mist on us for 8 or 9 hours and we both got into our drop bags at the same time, ate in the food tent side by side, chowing down potato chips and soup and hot chocolate.
We left Balmaceda together with our poles out and ready to make the ascent up through what the race director had coined “The Fortress” — a 25 mile off-trail section over the high point of the course. Within a few minutes the course veered off the trail and straight up a brushy mountain side. Within 10 minutes, I caught a toe in the brush and fell onto my hands and broke one of my carbon fiber poles at the handle. Ah man! Useless equipment I still have to carry! I had no choice but to fold it up and stash it in my pack and use one pole.
At this point I just tucked in behind Emmanuel and had a little low point feeling sorry for myself. I only had one pole and I was soaking wet and cold. I perked up a bit when we hit a ridgeline in a stand of beech trees and Emmanuel pointed behind us and we were above the clouds that were sitting on the fiords below with a giant snow covered mountain range towering out of the fog. It was like a scene from Lord of the Rings. Truly specatular.
As we gained this high ridge, it was really windy and I was soaked and shivering and decided I better situate gear layers before we went any further up, as we were approaching treeline. He continued on hiking up and I stopped in the stand of beech trees which offered some protection and dug out some gear. I got out my Patagonia Nano Puff and got it on under my M10 waterproof jacket, put on a dry Cap 4 beanie and Houdini wind pants, shouldered my pack and took off running through the brush to catch up to Emmanuel and get my core temperature up.
After pushing through some beech shrubs and through a few small water-filled grassy basins, I topped my water bottles off at a snow melt stream coming out of the rocks above. As I jogged through the rocky, off-camber terrain we were on, I noticed Emmanuel was hiking and not running much. After getting more layers on I was feeling good and decided this might be a good time to make a move. I jogged by him and around a rocky point and glanced over my shoulder to see he was still hiking 40 meters back. As I rounded the corner, the route traversed a series of rocky, scree drainages for a half mile or so before dropping into a rocky basin. I picked up my pace and ran all the drainage downhills hard — 20 to 50 meter sections hard and power hiked up out of each. As I got to the basin, I ran through it, splashing across a creek and up the basin.
The route started up a steep grade of mixed jumbled rock fall and small snow fields to gain a notch above. I hiked it hard and got to the top fully sweating and warmed up. I quickly took off my nano puff and houdini pants, stuffed them in my pack and glanced back down to see Emmanuel was still in the basin. I had a good gap. I took off over the notch and up the rock field onto the snowfield wall that loomed ahead towering a quarter of mile above me.
I got into a nice hiking rhythm on the snowfield making my way to the saddle above. I soon gained the saddle and looked back down to see Emmanuel was just reaching the snowfield. I had at least 5+ minutes on him. I needed more.
I took off traversing the saddle before the route descends a steep snow slope down onto the glacier. I pulled my jacket over my rear and plopped down onto the snow to glissade down the steep incline. This is where I ran into the unmarked crevasse. Bam, I just got up off my rear to step across it. That was close. After I got across it and up and over the class 3 scramble, the course markers started to get hard to find, they were spread out and some clouds were moving in to cause a little fog. I stood on the saddle above a moraine lake trying to see which way to go. Finally I spied a blue marker down by the lake. I plunged off the saddle toward the lake.
The slope was a 40-50 degree slope of jumbled rock and snow. At this point, I would just glissade on my feet the 20-30 meter snow sections and jump off to dance through the technical rock field to the next small section of snow and repeat.
Below the lake, I ran out of markers. I hiked around the rocky hillside trying to find the next marker. After a little panic session and some praying, I found the next marker traversing up the rocky drainage, not down like I thought it would. It went against the grain and wasn’t the natural route. Easy to miss.
I soon traversed up and into an upper large flat basin and came to another stand still. I ran back and forth across the basin trying to see another marker. More praying. Finally, I spied another marker on the far end of the basin going up and over a rocky rise. I took off hard to get to it. I was worried all my effort to get away from Emmanuel were going to melt away with all the desperate searching I was doing trying to find the course. As I hit the rise and looked back, no one was in sight.
I started dropping down a drainage and could see the beech forest below me. It looked like I was heading down the prominent drainage in front of me. Sure enough, the route traversed a mossy, slick, off-camber hillside where water was everywhere. It was like traversing a 45 degree icy slope. I must have slipped and slid in the mossy water 3 or 4 times in 50 meters. Super sketchy.
Finally, I hit a rushing knee-deep stream crossing with a fixed rope and gained a very technical, faint trail. I started descending in earnest and came into a minimal aid station. Two dudes with a ziplock bag full of peanuts and some nalgene bottles they were filling in the creek to fill my water. Handfull of peanuts, topped my bottles and I was off.
The next 15 miles down the drainage was some of the most gnarly, technical terrain I’ve been on. It was muddy, slick, rocky, rooty and just constantly steep up and downs. Hard to get a rhythm. Mud bogs, peet bogs. The course just kept coming at me. Throwing every obstacle it could. More creek crossings. A wild bull sighting. Crazy and wild.
This section that evenutally drops you at Estancia Perales (mile 81) seemed like it would never end. Finally I arrived at the banks of a wide river and plunged in to cross the knee-deep river. I got into Perales at 6:47pm and quickly adjusted gear and resupplied from my drop bag. I got my headlamps on again, ditched my poles, dumped mud out of my shoes and ate a half sandwich, cup of soup and drank a coke. I was eager to get out of there before Emmanuel showed up.
I headed out of the aid talking with Max, the intern from Belgium who had been coordinating tons of logistics for us the previous days and was very helpful. I noticed Stjepan, the Race Director in the yard and told him this is a HARD course. He simply smiled and said “good job.” So, I took off up the dirt road hill out of the estancia and settled into the long dirt road marathon I had in front of me.
After about an hour it was dark again, and I kept looking back whenever the road afforded me a long view trying to see if any headlamps were on the road — nothing. I tried to get some idea from a few passing vehicles where the 2nd place runner was, but my limited spanish and the drivers lack of english kept me in the dark.
Finally with about 12 miles to go, a van passed me with Brazilian Manu Vilaseca (women’s winner of the 70K). She speaks Portugese, Spanish AND very good English and I heard someone say, “Good job, Jeff!” and I yelled at the open window, “WAIT, WAIT!” and ran up next to the van and asked them about 2nd place’s status. She said I had a HUGE lead and not to worry. Come to find out that Emmanuel had slipped descending out of the high alpine section and banged his knee and would end up dropping at mile 81 later in the night. Bummer, but thankfully he’ll heal up. I got a chance to hang with him after the race and go out for a few drinks post-race and we had a good chat with Enzo as our go-between.
At this point the fatigue really hit me. I knew I just needed to keep plugging along and I had a win, but my feet were absolutely destroyed I could tell. All the mud and grit and wet for the past 24 hours were taking their toll. I wish I would have brought a few pairs of shoes and changes of socks. But I just had what I started with, nothing I could do put keep plugging away.
I soon was hitting the last 6K of paved highway on Ruta 9, complete with a police truck behind me with red lights flashing and another truck with flashers on in front. Kinda cool and allowed me to just run down the middle of the highway’s right lane back to Puerto Natales. I came into the town square to complete Ultra Fiord’s 108 miles in 24 hours, 25 minutes and 39 seconds. Kind of weird to finish with TV cameras and lights and microphones in my face. A little different than in the U.S.
After some fatigued-induced comments to media, Stjepan the RD escorted me to Nunda, a store/cafe that was staying up round the clock to serve finishers and act as race headquarters. They made me 4 eggs and a big steak. Man, good stuff after such a long race. After a ride back to the hotel, I showered and slept. My feet are still hammered after over a week.
The race was such a beautiful, wild course. There were definitely some first year bumps, but I feel like they’re open to good constructive feedback from all those who came down. They want to continue to fine tune the race and slowly establish an official route over the 40K off-trail section. This race has tons of potential and I think they’ll continue to improve it each season.
A big thanks to the Stjepan, Max, Camilia, Sam and all the interns and volunteers that made Ultra Fiord happen. Coordinating 20 athletes from different countries is a logistical undertaking. I’m amazed how much they get done with such a small staff. Also thanks to my wife and 3 kids who support and pray for me while I’m out there in the wild. I love you guys. And many thanks to my awesome sponsors: Patagonia, Altra, GU, Ultraspire, Barleans, Rudy Project, and Black Diamond. I also have to give credit to the Big Man Upstairs, as always, keeping my path safe and getting me to the finish line in one piece. Giddyup.
Patagonia Duck Bill Hat
Patagonia Cap 4 Beanie
Patagonia Cap 1 SS Jersey + Arm Warmer Sleeves
Patagonia Strider Pro Short
Patagonia Nine Trails Jacket
Patagonia M10 Rain Jacket
Patagonia Nano Puff Pullover
Patagonia Wind Shield Gloves
Patagonia Houdini Pants
Calf Compression + Cycling Leg Warmers
Altra Lone Peak 2.5 Shoes
Black Diamond Icon and Storm Headlamps
Black Diamond Z-Poles
Ultraspire Titan Pack
Rudy Project Zyon Glasses
66 Gels, 4 large packets of Trail Butter, 1 Omnibar, and few other misc bars, soup and peanuts.
I’ve lived in the US for five years now and only missed one Rocky Raccoon 100 in that time. There’s something really fun about having a big winter target while most runners I know are just starting to build back up to get fit for Spring.
Why do I keep going back? Well, it feels like it’s one of the classics of ultrarunning and is one of the older 100s (this was the 23rd year) with many outstanding performances over the years and a lot of top level runners have given it a shot. The five 20-mile loops also allow for a lot of social interaction with out-and-back sections and less loneliness and solo running than on point-to-point courses. It always feels like a big social catch-up too, like the way I ran much of lap one with Liza Howard (one of the coaches at Sharman Ultra and a two-time winner – here’s her very amusing race report on getting 2nd place) and James Elson (RD of Centurion Running in the UK and a good friend – here’s his race report from running a sub 15hr race this year). It’s also impeccably organized by Joe and Joyce Prusaitis plus their team.
Undoubtedly RR100 is a fast course, but it still has small rolling hills throughout and has significantly slower terrain than flat road or track running, especially during the night sections. That potential to run a quick time draws in a lot of runners aiming for a PR (myself included) and a lot of first-time 100-milers, but it can also be deceptive and cause runners to forget some of the basics of ultra pacing and instead aim for fast splits no matter what.
I had high hopes of running well and hopefully having a shot at my 2011 course record of 12:44, but knew that I couldn’t really gauge that until maybe 30-40 miles into the race. After a shortened build-up after fracturing my foot back in July on Mt Whitney, I’d lost a lot of fitness before restarting walking at the end of October. However, I felt fit and the foot seemed to have healed, allowing me to run approx 300 miles/month for December and January, including some decent speed work by late December.
Starting in the dark for the first hour of running, the weather wasn’t too cold and it remained very pleasant all day, between about 43 F and maybe 60 F, but without last year’s humidity. Frankly it was perfect weather for speedsters. However, I was surprised at the end of the first 20-mile loop to find I was 12 mins back from the leader who set a lap record of 2:19 to my 2:31 (the CR split was 2:29) and I was in about 8th, just ahead of the first two women.
It didn’t worry me since I was running at a fairly comfy pace and I know the last two laps are the ones that count and that small differences in early laps make little difference overall. That next loop was gradually harder and I could tell I didn’t quite have the endurance I’d hoped for. I hadn’t run too fast early on, I just hadn’t had enough time to build up my endurance. So there’s only one sensible thing to do that early in the race – adjust the pace and focus 100% on looking after my body and making things sustainable.
Lap two was marginally slower in 2:34 so I was happy it wasn’t too much worse despite making things easier for myself. Things got fairly bad in lap three and my stride was shortened, I felt tight and I had to concentrate hard to stop myself focusing on negative thoughts like how slow the last loop could end up being. I was extremely tempted to drop, cut my losses and continue working on my fitness for the rest of the season. The one thing that stopped me was that I wasn’t injured and was moving forward fine, it was just harder and slower than it should have been. That’s not a good enough reason.
Lap three dropped to a 2:49, making sub-14 hours less likely if the slow-down continued, although the early leader had dropped by this point and I wasn’t far from the podium, now in 4th. I made sure I ate more (especially the new savory Clif Bar Organic Energy Food pouches, which I used at WS100 and Leadville last year too) during that loop and near the end I started to feel a little more normal. Then the wind was knocked out my sails when I saw several runners right behind me at the turn around, including female leader Nicole Studer. They all looked better than I felt, but that’s fairly meaningless since some runners look great when they’re struggling and others look like the walking dead when they’re actually cruising.
Mentally I switched gear after that third loop and starting thinking about how mile 60 was the start of the real race, the important part that separates the runners at the front. I’d not pushed too hard to this point and had spent 20 miles trying to sort out things, so it started to pay off. Paul Terranova caught me a couple of miles into the loop and we ran together with his pacer and chatted. Back in 2011 he’d paced me on loop 4 for a 2:35 loop, so the quirkiness of having him there to ‘pace’ me again at the same stage felt like a good change and a nice mental boost. Half way through the loop I started feeling genuinely good and gradually pulled away from Paul, catching 3rd and 2nd over the next 10 miles and getting to within two minutes of the leader since about halfway, Marco Bonfiglio from Italy, a winner of numerous 100-milers in Europe and 4th at last year’s Spartathlon.
Marco had looked great all day but he was around 12 mins ahead at mile 60 so the two min gap was very encouraging for me. Lap four was an improvement on lap three, in 2:46, but the more important factor was that I was running freely and felt like a new man. The uphills were easy when I’d had to hike some of them on lap three. I had no doubt I’d catch Marco and I did so after about four miles, making sure I passed strongly to get out of sight within a couple of minutes. Now the adrenaline was flowing and I knew it was completely within my control whether I won or not.
As the light faded I sped up, knowing the dark would force slower running with the roots and occasional bumpy terrain. I turned my headlamp on around mile 91 and kept pushing to avoid any chance of getting caught. That’s a lot easier to do when you’re in the lead and have a bigger incentive to push, plus I felt much stronger than 50 miles earlier. It looked like the tortoise’s slow and steady tactics were going to pay off. Those final miles were surprisingly comfortable, although I fell twice more in the dark (total for the day was four full-on trips). So the final loop was 2:50 for a finish of 13:32, 48 mins off the record but still respectable for a winning time.
Nobody else broke 3:15 on that last loop, reaffirming my belief that to really race a competitive 100-miler well, it’s mainly about getting to the latter stages in good shape then being able to hammer it to the finish. Just in 2014 there were two perfect examples of this – look at Kilian’s last 25 miles at Hardrock 100 or Rob Krar’s push from mile 62 at Western States 100. Those guys weren’t leading in the first half of those races but dominated at the end.
I feel this was probably the best race of my life, not because of the time or my fitness level, but because I really got the most out of my body and stuck to my tactics throughout, despite being over 30 mins back near halfway. It’s certainly the most satisfying and I’m now ecstatic that I didn’t give into the demons mid-way through and drop out pathetically. It gives me a lot of confidence that with a few more months of training and getting fitter, I can hit the summer races as hard as possible, especially Western States and Leadville. After all, I only ran a little over 750 miles between the injury and the start line so tripling or quadrupling that (over a longer build-up) would help a lot. Frankly, I’m really excited for what 2015 has in store.
One comment I made post-race was that longer ultras are 20% physical and 80% mental. That doesn’t mean you don’t need to be fit, just that fitness will only get you so far. Grit is important, but that’s not the full meaning of the mental side and it also includes the tactics, pacing and ability to plan for and react to issues mid-race.
Here’s the Strava data, including HRM data – this was the first time I’ve worn a HRM for an 100. Note it shows the course is 96 miles due to the constant tree cover and cloudiness. I wore two watches as an experiment to see which was more accurate, my old Garmin 910XT and my new Garmin Fenix 2. It wasn’t even close – the 910 worked throughout and kept a better signal while the Fenix 2 dropped signal in the trees frequently and just stopped recording after 58 miles because it couldn’t regain the signal.
This is the beautiful trophy for the win (always something unique from Tejas Trails races), plus the coveted sub 24-hr colored silver buckle:
Full results here and the USATF National Champions are Paul Terranova (3rd man, behind a Brit and an Italian who don’t count) and Nicole Studer with her new 100-mile trail best of 14:22, taking 23 mins off Traci Falbo’s 14:45 last November. Plus loads of photos and a great write-up from Scott Dunlap here.
Also, here’s the post-race interview with Ultrasportslive.tv who covered the race superbly:
Thanks and congratulations to everyone involved with organizing the race, the volunteers, the runners themselves and everyone for your kind messages post-race, as well as Mark Kenney for crewing me. Also, I always know I can count on the following companies to provide me with what I need at races: