Underestimating the La Bohn Traverse

“I may have underestimated this” I thought, forcing a reluctant chuckle as I fought uphill on a scree field at 5,200 feet in the Central Cascades.

I was all by myself for miles, but I felt like speaking aloud would be soothing. I wasn’t scared or panicking at this moment, but I was definitely managing my emotions and started to take account of my resources. A Gu shot, Outdoor Research Helium hard shell, gloves, hat, water filter, iPhone…

The "fun" part of the run had ended hours ago and now I just needed to get home safely.

For the past 11 hours I had been running, trekking and stumbling solo from the East Fork Foss Trailhead off Highway 2 southbound towards my goal of Snoqualmie Pass. There my buddy Laura would pick me up, we’d share high-fives, toast drinks and enjoy a feast at Commonwealth. My problem was I was still miles away, and hours late.

As I climbed up over the notch in the trail close to Lunin Peak I didn’t have to look at my watch to know it was between 24-25 minutes past 7 pm. I hold no innate, supernatural ability to calculate the passage of time, but I could tell from the sky that the sun was setting and knew it would be lights out at 7:30. I was now facing the night with just a micro emergency headlamp and was low on calories, water and clothing. Yes, I did underestimate the La Bohn Traverse Ultrapedestrian Wilderness Challenge.

How did I get here?

It started in a running shop five months earlier at the local favorite Seven Hills Running. There the ultrapedestrian couple themselves, Ras and Kathy, and their wild compatriots introduced the newly selected UWC routes for 2016. I was inspired.

Among the night's presenters local mountain runner and alpinist Arya Jonathan Farahani described the La Bohn route, showing PowerPoint slides of the run he had charted the season before.

As an alternative to the longer, but 100% trail PCT, Arya’s route linked well-maintained trails with six miles of off-trail travel and extremely rustic routes to make a 30-mile course with 9,000 ft of climbing.

Imagined or true-to-life I recall Arya promoting the sights, adventure and ease of the experience over and over. Probably in reality he guaranteed vistas, but also warned against the tough terrain and route-finding. I guess I was too drunk on the promise of the outing, to yield his warnings.

“Wow. I could do this” I thought while seated at Seven Hills.

“Instead of depending on a race, I get to make my own adventure” I thought.

I had never attempted a UWC route, but from Arya’s brief description of the point-to-point run it seemed like a lovely weekend outing. Fast forward to last week, I knew I had a weather window that looked promising and a buddy who could crew me for the P2P run. Saturday was my “go” day so I announced my plans on the UWC Facebook Group (because FB makes it real), updated my Delorme InReach and watch with maps, and geared up my Ultimate Direction Wasp pack.

While picking up Laura on Saturday morning I realized I forgot two pieces of gear I normally bring on off-trail outings: 1) shoe gators to keep twigs and rocks out of my Hokas and 2) Black Diamond Z-poles. Laura didn’t have the gear to lend and I viewed those as nice-to-haves anyway, so I just picked her up and headed north.


The East Fork Foss Trailhead is just a mile or so off Highway 20. While the parking lot was full, Laura was just dropping me so it didn’t matter. We hugged and then I headed south into the Necklace Valley as she pulled away with my dog Luna wagging in the back.

The thing about the Ultrapedestrian Wilderness Challenges are that they’re unmarked courses and come with only general route information—no course markings or lovely detailed GPX files. You depend on your fellow runners to share local knowledge and trail beta to ensure you’re bringing the right gear, have accurate maps and know where to turn. The routes often link together trails, but in many instances the phrase is used in a very loose fashion. Some of the paths see more goats than people. And the people who do try them are mostly goat, anyway.

For the first six miles I ran on the Necklace Valley Trail, rolled through lush forest and aptly-named Jade Lake.  I encountered a handful of hikers doing loop and out-and-back hikes. Everyone was in good spirits. The sky was bird blue with a few puffs of white for accent. Just past Opal Lake the route takes a hard left and changes from defined trail to goat path. The only way I knew to go this direction was because I had downloaded multiple GPX files from other UPC runners. Within a few minutes I was cairn-finding on a rock field that ascended up to the namesake La Bohn Gap.



My body felt great and I was excited to get the off trail section done as early in the day as possible, but as I climbed the blue skies now were replaced by heavy cloud cover that hugged the very mountain I was traversing. Within just a few minutes of climbing on a bolder field the intensity went from run-in-the-park to PAY ATTENTION AND BE PRESENT. The sky darkened. The air was dry but the wind picked up as I climbed to the pass, a flattened ridge of slab stone and ponds wrapped in heavy white clouds.

The ascending wasn’t the hard part, staying on “trail” was. As I topped out on the pass I knew I had to make a series of turns up and around ponds and rock outcroppings, but the fog was so heavy that I couldn’t run for fear of going off course, or worse, falling off a drop. This was bonkers and I immediately knew I made a mistake by not bringing a physical compass, and instead depended on my watch and InReach electronic devices to tell me direction. If they failed, I could easily get turned around in these conditions. I was eating cloud soup and rocks, and dining solo.


At mile ten I hit was looked like the far side of the pass I was excited to a see a bolder field that descended out of the weather. Seeing color, not just black and white, also brought me a boost of confidence. Whew. The climb down was slow, but I didn’t want to make a speed record. I figured if I broke my ankle on the descent, no one would happen across me so I took each step with intention.


Finally, at mile 12 I connected back with the trail at Williams Lake. While the path wasn’t runnable, every step had confidence—a big relief. From there I connected with the Dutch Miller Gap Trail and rolled next to the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie. This is where I put in my fastest miles and also where I chatting up a few hikers who were doing multi-day outings.

After crossing the river I made my way to Goldmyer Hot Springs, a place of hippie respite and sulfuric springs. I stopped and chatted with the camp host and got my pack filled with water. In my mind I knew I was running way behind schedule, but thought that I had the hardest part behind me. I knew I had to ascend up to Snoqualmie Pass, but hey, its just trail. No big deal. That’s when I checked my printed instructions again and GPS map stored in my InReach.

Wait, I’m not really taking the trail up…it looks like I’m just going up the side of the mountain. Ummm…

At mile 23, you leave Goldmyer at 1,800 feet and immediately begin climbing on the long, long forgotten, forsaken "trail".

How bad is this trail? Let’s personify a storm. Mr. Storm, ate bad take-out food of trees and vegetation. Later, in the middle of the night Mr. Storm spend hours and hours taking trips to the bathroom (aka scamble up from Burntboot Creek) defecating and vomiting plant material everywhere on an already poorly kept lavatory.

This is my way of saying that the trail was a mess with dozens of huge blowdowns and lots of route-finding. Only when you get to about 3,700 feet does the trail become less dense and reasonable, but at this point I was tired and concerned about how much light I had left in the day.

So there I was.

I made it over the notch next to  Red Mountain and now was descending towards Red Mountain Lake where if the trail description was right would bring me to the coveted PCT trail. All I focused on at this point was using the last few moments of glow in the sky to get to that trail.

I squinted to see the rustic trail in front of me, but finally reluctantly strapping on my emergency Black Diamond headlamp. This was admitting that I was both in a worse situation that I expected, and also that I hadn’t prepared for this run properly—that I should have starting earlier and brought the right gear.

The one tool I did bring that proved immensely beneficial was my InReach Explorer. It allowed me to share my location with friends in real-time and also to message Laura letting her know I was safe, but hours behind schedule. I knew if things got bad, or if I got lost I could also use it to get help so that significantly tamped down my anxiety level, too.

After death marching for a few miles and down 2,000 feet I finally made it to the PCT. I was close to home. However, my GPS trek routed me to the Old Commonwealth Trail, instead of the PCT for the last mile of the run, so I spent a good 15 minutes wandering in the total darkness, now navigating entirely by the light of my iPhone. #Fail.

I was SO close, but couldn’t find the trail anywhere due to a half dozen fallen trees. Just bog, tree and me making circles. Laura messaged me "Getting close?"

I finally get my whereabouts and make it to the parking lot where Laura was waiting for me. Sure, I was happy to survive this more-intense-than-expected outing, but I had more pressing concerns when I hoped in the car. It was 9:30 and the Commonwealth was closing in just a few minutes.  We needed to make it there STAT!


Yah! I survived, got to enjoy a meal at Commonwealth before they closed, and learned an important lesson about route research and gearing for wilderness adventures. (Just do it.) I hope to never make the mistakes I described above ever again.

Thank you!

Huge thanks to Laura for crewing me, Arya for designing this route, Jessica Kelley for offering route guidance, Ras & Kathy for dreaming up and hosting the UWC concept, and to the ultra community for just being a group of awesome goats.

Finding My Inner Ultrapedestrian at Chinook Pass

img_9070While it was one of last year’s Ultrapedestrian Wilderness Challenge routes (trails don’t go out of style, right?), Chinook Pass looked to me to be the best place to dip my toe into the UP water. Or really, both feet. While I had heard of these tough, self-supported routes for some time, and have known Kathy and Ras for years, I had never attempted one of these running challenges. The Chinook Pass route looked the like the perfect introduction. The 31-mile loop route is easy to access from just outside of Rainier National Park in the Wenatchee Forest, is entirely on marked trails and includes a trek on the PCT.  Triple win!

[tweet https://twitter.com/joelwho/status/787125941193498624]

The night before the run I loaded the GPS track into my watch and filled my pack with essentials—water filter, 2-liter water bladder, cliff bars for hours, etc. The weather looked perfect—one of those goldilocks days—not too hot and not too cold with a bonus of sun for miles. After telling my roommate where I was headed and who to call in case I never returned, I walked my pup Luna a little past 6am and then drove out to the backside of Mt. Rainier. At the trailhead I met another skinny old man wearing Altras and a race vest (a twin of how I sometimes view myself).


This mountain runner sported a hydration pack and Altras, so I knew he’d probably spent a few miles on the trails. A quick conversation with him confirmed my guess. John and I shared pleasantries for a minute, then he headed off in the opposite direction and I proceeded to cross a bridge that arches across highway 410 before dropping down at the start of the trail. As I headed out in the morning air a touch of fog rolled over the pass and burned off in dramatic fashion. The air—so fresh and so clean (start humming Outkast in 3…2..).

Now because this was a loop trail you could either experience the course in clockwise or counter-clockwise directions. John suggested I go in a clockwise direction so I took his advice and began the loop floating down the rolling trail. Instantly I was rewarded with beautiful meadows, mossy trees and alpine lakes, and I had yet to even enter Rainier National Park. The first six miles or so were all in the national forest. I knew this for certain because there were a half dozen other hikers out on the trail and they trekked along with dogs, something that is prohibited at most locations in the park. (Luna, I’m sorry, we’ll have to come back. If I knew, you’d join me on a lovely out-and-back.)


The miles just flew by mostly because for the first few hours the route descended in a series of steps. The pass is at 5,800 feet but by the time you hit mile 19 I was at 2,200—my type of running. I stopped for plenty of photos and to enjoy the scenery. Moss, trees and sky--this is why I love trails.

One of the most attractive qualities of the UWC concept for me is the fact that it’s not a traditional race. If this was a 50k competition, or really any distance, I would feel pressured by my own internal persistence to limit my snack breaks and chit-chat. Instead I would push myself to get across the finish line as fast as possible—giving up sightseeing just to shave a few minutes off my time.

For me this practice really makes no sense because I’m not going to win any races or grab endorsements, but races just do that to me. The Ultrapedestrian Wilderness Challenge though is different. I had permission to meander, to investigate lakes and to pause for photos. I wasn’t racing anyone else, especially myself.


At mile 20 I began to climb—up, up, up. Around this time I also ran into a few hikers completing the same loop I was running, but they were hiking over three days instead of fitting the miles into a single push. Both were engineers with Boeing. As a group we reflected on the day—remarking on how perfect the weather was, how scenic the vistas were and how lucky we were to enjoy the day outside. When I wrapped up my break and began pressing on the couple offered me a quick, but ominous warning.

“There are lots of blow-downs in the last five miles—like 50!”

“Thanks!” I called back, but as I took in the number they shared I didn’t fully believe their count. So far the trail had only a scattering of trees crossing its path.

“It’s probably like a dozen and they’re just being dramatic”, I thought.

In reflection, this mental note did not take into account that the couple were trained ENGINEERS—as in people known for their expert precision and attention to detail. Soon I’d learn the truth.

Miles 20-25 climbed, but at a reasonable grade. Just a little past mile 25 I turned onto the Eastside Trail and began to encounter fallen trees. First, just a handful of branches—easy to step over. Soon thereafter smaller, young trees also crossed the path. Within a half mile I began to enter the meat of the blow-downs. Yeah, so this is what the hikers were talking about. Tree after downed tree. Each required me to climb up and over, down and around, or if I'm lucky, duck under.


There were fallen trees that dropped parallel onto the trail to obliterate any discernible way forward. I crawled, climbed and scrapped my way over each mountain of branches, dirt and roots. Each one I passed, I made a mental note, “5….6….7”. The Eastside trail was definitely not loved by the Forest Service. They might just have a vendetta against this section of dirt because it was obvious no one had cleared it in years, NAY!, decades.

img_9114After it was all said and done, I counted exactly 52 blown downs on the trail making the final five miles of the Chinook Pass Ultrapedestrian Challenge a beasty affair. All in all, the day was perfect. I got to spend it outside in a beautiful place, challenge myself on the trails and made it home in time for beer and pizza with my pup.

Thanks to Jessica Kelley for intel on the trail, and of course to Ras and Kathy for finding special outings around the region and for promoting the practicing of exploring the outdoors.


How to Destroy Your Legs Running the Cactus to Clouds Trail

IMG_6139 Video / GPS

We laid down on the deck outside of the Round Valley Ranger Station. With my body splayed out on the wood planking, I felt the full warmth of the brilliant sun shining down from above. In the cool mountain air the rays felt…GLORIOUS!


The previous five plus hours were spent laboring up eight and a half miles and 7,000 feet of ascent from the desert floor of Palm Springs on the Skyline Trail (AKA Cactus to Clouds). It was midday when we arrived at the ranger station, our last checkpoint and water source before topping out.

Instead of immediately pushing on through the final five and half miles to the summit of Mount San Jacinto, my comrades Andrew, Rhea and I took an impromptu nap on the deck. Meanwhile Sawna, our fourth adventurer, went inside the ranger station to inquire about future wilderness training opportunities she had just heard about. Sawna was obviously feeling a bit more energized that I was.

A park ranger walked out and observed us while we rested our eyes.

“Are you ok” he asked while staring down at our prone bodies laying on his deck.

“Yeah. We’re just…sleeping.”

I replied in a tone that implied that it was an entirely normal time and place to be dead asleep...in public. It wasn’t on both accounts, but hey, we weren't exactly caring about social norms at that moment. We were just tired.

After dismissing the khaki authorities we caught a few more z’s until Sawna came out and poked us awake. Touching my hand, she declared “It’s time to go". Reluctantly my deckmates and I opened our eyes and obeyed, pulled on our packs and readying our bodies for the final ascent through the snow.


As I mentioned above, my day had started much earlier. Sawna and I had left her home in Hollywood a little after 2:30am Friday morning (yes, I was a little slow and might have caused a late departure). Coffee, tunes and excitement powered us on our drive down to Palm Springs where we met up with Rhea and Andrew—friends from LA—who had stayed in the area the night prior. Dawning headlamps and chock full of almond butter and excitement we began the climb upward from the desert floor at just past 5am, following white spots painted on the dry boulders.


Within a few hours the sun rose, warming the air and painting colors across the landscape. The setting was gorgeous, but the climb was unending. Unlike most trails that have some undulations, rolling up and down even as the trail overall climbs, Cactus to Clouds absolutely did not. Every step was up, up, up and the hours took their toll.

By the time we got to the Round Valley Ranger Station, my climbing muscles were spent. Too tired to even move my arms, my trekking poles dragged by my sides. We were all showing some amount of exhaustion. Lacking poles, the rest of my party even took up sticks to help with the climb. These were both used as ascending tools and played double-duty as pokers to probe holes in the dry grown filled with snakes/rats/scary-things  as we labored upward.

(We didn't really harass wildlife, we just joked about it.)


Quiet Joel

While our pace was slow, my lungs still felt underpowered. I did my best to put on a good face for the rest of the team. The truth though was that I was hurting.

I think Sawna caught onto my suffering because she noticed that “Quiet Joel” had come out to make an appearance. You see, when I’m really hurting I don't complain outloud and  mouth-off. Instead I stop joking or talking entirely, and focus my energy on putting one foot in front of the other in silence

"Just keep moving" I told myself.

By the time we got to the Round Valley Ranger Station, I had spent at least an hour pondering if I had the energy to continue on to the summit. “Am I slowing them down? Should I just stay here and let them go ahead?”

Luckily, water food and some good 'ol fashion deck sleeping did its wonders. After my quick nap, I felt I had what was needed to climb the last five plus miles to the 10,834' summit of San Jacinto Peak.

It's Snow Time IMG_5987.jpgWithin a half mile after departing the ranger station we were now at over 7,000' and were trekking fully in snow. Luckily the conditions were perfect.

The snow underfoot was neither too soupy to be mush or too cold to be slick ice. We just told stories, admired the view and kept trekking on. Andrew brought his GoPro and occasionally asked us to run for an action photo or video clip. As soon as the shutter closed, we reverted to our slower trekking hike. Luckily, we were still making progress.

On the final ascent up the ridge a PCT backpacker caught up to us. Melissa was a badass Canadian hiker sporting pink spandex shorts and well-worn Altra Lone Peaks. She was taking a day trip with fellow Pacific Crest Trail thru-hikers to top out on San Jacinto before returning to their noth-bound hike (what a "rest" day?!?). Melissa, (watch the video below to discover her trail name) not only caught up to us on our climb above Round Valley, but did so while carrying a full 60lb+ pack.

Looking for a challenge and a great story Sawna offered to carry her load to the summit, however Melissa respectfully declined. She didn't want to loose face in front of the other hikers (or her reputation for being a badass).

We all took one final brief rest below the ridge and grabbed a sip of water before making the final climb to the top.

The summit was windless and scenic--amazingly so on both accounts. The alpine air was cold, but otherwise the conditions were perfect for a few group photos and for taking a moment to revel in what we had achieved. We had just climbed over 10,000' in less than 14 miles, all straight up. Wow!

After a few more photos, we reversed course down to the Round Valley where we stopped at an oasis-like resort. Sawna's promise of a bar and food were spot on. Our party of four downed pints of frosty, well-earned beer while snacking on humus. Today was a good day.

Instead of running the final stretch of trail down to the valley below, we paid $12 each and took the sky tram to the Palm Springs below. The ride was thrilling, and didn't require us to run or climb, so I was all smiles. It was the best money I've spend in years.

Thank you to Andrew, Rhea, and Sawna for allowing me to tag along on their adventure. It was the perfect mix of suffering and joy, and with the best people.



Rebirth & Heartbreak at Zion 100


As the daylight faded at the Zion 100, I paced down a dusty gravel road atop Gooseberry Mesa. Having logged the last dozen miles looping back and forth on the 5,000ft mesa, I was happy to now be away from the cliffside and to be on a safe, downward-pitched road leading off the rear of the mountain. Despite my more stable ground, I was still in trouble.

Having run 50 miles over the past 12 hours on hard-packed desert clay and slick rock, the bottom of both of my feel were now blistered and swollen. They ached in my crumbling Hokas and each step sent white hot electric waves of pain up my tired legs. I had done what I could to prevent this—changed socks, avoided puddles, rested at each aid station, massaging my chronically crushed little toes, and as a last resort, popped Ibuprofen. Still, I was in this situation…again.

You see while running my last 100-miler—the aptly named IMTUF (Idaho Mountain Trail Ultra Festival)—I was stopped at mile 52 and for the same reason: wrecked feet. Was this going to be another failure? Another DNF?

When I first started running ultras back in 2010 I set a personal goal of earning ten buckles, the awards given to 100-miler finishers. Within a few years I earned finishes at Lumberjack, Cascade Crest (2x) and Southeast Washington’s Badger Mountain 100. At the time I was on a roll. However, my last completed 100 was now almost three years ago. Zion was supposed to restart my mission towards ten. Unfortunately with every step further right now my body told me I would have to wait for my fifth piece of runner "jewelry". Crap!

My troubles didn’t start atop Gooseberry Mesa. I knew something was off miles earlier.


Zion 100 is a race held in the sweeping desert landscape of Hurricane, Utah, just outside of Zion National Park, and a few hours drive from Vegas. I had traveled here with my buddy Nick, a wickedly-fast Ohio transplant who now trained by doing 4x Mt. Si climb repeats and other brutal training outside of Seattle. The day before the race he and I hiked the surprisingly intense Angels Landing in Zion National Park. Clinging up chains bolted to the cliffside, we skirted past crowds of visiting students out on spring break. Nick and I drank in views of the arid desert, but also pondered what the next day's weather would bring.


For the two weeks prior the race director Matt Gunn and his team had messaged runners warning us about a weather forecast growing worse by the day and even offered to transfer anyone's registration to next year if desired. Rare desert rain was expected with the potential to turn clay dirt hills into dangerous vertical slip-and-slides, requiring course-rerouting or worse, event cancellation. Nick and I just put our hope in the gods and kept our race plans for Zion. The evening before the race I went to bed early at our AirBNB in Huricane, Utah, just a town over from the race start. Fingers crossed for tomorrow. And shoes laces bowed for luck.

On race morning we woke early and began getting ready. I didn’t tell Nick that my legs felt dead, still sore from the Angels Landing climb the night before. Bad juju. It was 4am and instead of feeling energized and excited for an outing in the hills, I felt depleted. Knowing that things can change throughout a day of ultra running I just went through my normal routine: coffee, clothes, car, bus, race start. Ok, let’s do this.


It's Go Time

No briefing in the morning. The course had been explained by the race director the night prior. At a hair past 6am, Nick, myself and a few hundred other runners headed out into the darkness, a mixture of 100-mile and 100k runners. And so we ran and climbed.

For the race I wore my Petzl headlamp strapped to my forehead, an Ultimate Direction pack on my back and size 12 Hokas on my feet. The morning desert air was cool and the sky was a mix of clouds and with a few rare patches of blue. While rain was forecast, the race director said “There’s only a 40% chance. We just don’t know if that means there’s a 4 in 10 chance of precipitation or that 40% of the area will get hit.” Yikes.

The first hill up was the joyous sounding Flying Monkey. I was a middle link in a chain of runners working up the climb. Just one step at a time, I slowly made progress on the climb. Our lamps painted a snake down the trail in the early morning light. Beautiful.

The first 15 miles went as expected. I watched my pace, made sure I drank plenty to counter the dry desert air and started to see miles tick by. None came easy as they normally should during the first section of a 100, but then again I just thought my body needed time to warm up after a long plane and car ride.

To everyone’s benefit, the rain held throughout the morning.

Things started to change for me around mile 18. As we climbed up a hill called guacamole, my body started complaining (and no, not avocado hunger pains). First I noticed my breath become slightly labored and then my legs started to ach. This isn’t uncommon for me during a race, but my suffering was coming WAY too soon, as in 60-miles-too-early. I can death march into a finish sure. I shouldn’t START a race feeling like this.


While I expected climbs to take effort, I was surprised by another challenge: slickrock. The guacamole section of the run involved running on this terrible surface, bounding up and down on stone as the trail wove around mounts of cooled lava. You can never get into a rhythm and while the cumulative elevation change wasn’t huge, I began to tire from high stepping constantly. This was less than 20% into the race and I was struggling to keep my chi in check. What was going on?

I hate guacamole

I trotted into the guacamole aid station with the best faker face on. "I’m ok", I told myself. "I’m just going through a moment", I thought with an effort to reassure. At the aid station a kind volunteer gave me ice that I tossed under my hat to cool my head (physically and figuratively). I rested for five minutes in a folding chair while refueling with electrolyte drink and cubed cantaloupe. Still not feeling revived, I banged down a half can of Mountain Dew. That should do SOMETHING?

I left the aid station at mile 25 and put in my headphones. I thought, “music and caffeine: DO YOUR MAGIC!” Finally, some momentum came to my legs and I picked up speed descending the hill. I could run again and leaned into the miles. Rihanna’s “Work” played on my shuffle as I bounded down the fire road. Finally I felt more in control. And it was perfect timing as I pushed towards the biggest climb of the day, the satirically-named Goosebump.

Was I reborn? We’ll see.


The ascent up Goosebump is steep, as in 2,000’ up in less than four miles. But honestly compared to the mindless loops on Guacamole, seeing progress in vertical feet climbed, and new views achieved wasn’t that bad. Mountains—I live for this shit!

The last section of the climb involves grabbing hold of fixed ropes that race organizers placed for protection. The lines were welcomed tools, but honestly optional in the dry conditionals. If it rained though the ropes would be the only way to get up, and more importantly, down. This could get scary.


After grabbing food, water and massaging my feet at the Gooseberry aid station, I started my Goosebump loops. This is like Guacamole on steroids—more climbing and descending on slickrock and looping past sheer cliffs, all the while following faint white markings painted on the stone slabs. It was both a mental and physical challenge to make sure you were headed in the right direction. Once again, my body started giving me signals.

You’re tired. You’re unmotivated.

Your feet hurt even thought its just 40 miles into the race.

You aren't made for this. You should try golf instead. 

I was my worst enemy.

After finishing two winding loops atop the mesa, the day was getting long. I refueled at the Gooseberry aid station, and headed out on a ten mile out-and-back to the "cemetery". Aptly named.

As I started down the dirt road, I waved at runners coming in from the opposite direction. I tried to put on a smiling face, but my feet were screaming. Blisters had sprung up on the front and rear of each foot meaning all I could do was walk, and gingerly at that. I had the energy and my legs felt ok, but my feet were a mess. This was IMTUF all over again.

I pushed myself two miles down the road promising myself that something would change. It didn't. After a few more minutes, I knew what I had to do. I turned and headed back to the aid station. I planned to drop from the 100-miler and instead finish the 100k course.

The wind kicked up and cold rain dropped from the dark clouds above for about 20 minutes. How fitting?

"This sucks!" I exclaimed for no one but myself to hear.

I put on my jacket, zipped up to my chin and cinched the hood tight around my face. Wasn't the desert supposed to be warm and dry?

Turning Around

On my return to the aid station, NW ultra runner Kevin Karr and I passed on the trail. Kevin looked a little tired, but his will was unyielding. I explained that I was dropping to the 100k.

"What? No, keep going!"

He encouraged me not to, but my mind was set. "I can't. I'm dropping. It's done."

With that Kevin pushed on towards the cemetery, while I reversed course to finish out the 100k course. I was disappointed with myself.

The end of the race was what you'd expect. Hard.

The descent down the Goosebump climb was expectedly steep. The run out to the Virgin Desert aid station was literally the longest eight miles I could imagine. I climbed up and down mountain bike trails with other 100k runners and made chit-chat to help the hours go by quicker.

Along the way I met Jim, a father from just outside of Chicago and we shared complains about how long the miles felt. From our rear a set of friends from California joined us their lights dancing in the darkness. The sun had set so we all wore headlamps and searched the landscape for aid station lights. Nothing.

Eventually we did get to Virgin Desert. After fueling up on soup and soda, my new Chicago friend and I headed back out into the darkness. The trail to the finish wove around a canyon and included plenty of cliffs to avoid. No time to doze off!

The Finish

We spent two miles on a fire road and then finally had another four on trail before weaving back to the race start/finish. Emotionally I was spent. While it was now past midnight, race organizers were still up. The generator hummed, powering the lights and inflated finish line arch. I crossed the finish with a few labored steps, then searched for a seat. After over 62 miles of mesa running, I was done both emotionally and physically.

And damn did my feet hurt.


So, what did I learn?

  1. Figure out my feet. This means how I tape them, what socks I use and what shoes I lace up in. I can't keep beating my feet into bloody pulps and having them fail me 50% into a race.
  2. More 100s? I LOVE trail running. It is one of my favorite activities to do, and races lasting 30, 40 or 50 miles all still seem reasonable. But something happens when you aim for 100. It means that instead of suffering for maybe 10% of a run or race, I suffer for 40%. That's not actually something that I enjoy and can't say if its even worth it. Why not just have more fun, and forget my buckle goal? We'll see. I'll make a decision in a week or two.
  3. It's not always about elevation Both Zion races, the 100k or 100 miler, didn't have that much elevation gain. The 100 miler had less than 12,000' of climbing—nothing when it comes to ultras held in the Western U.S. And yet, it wasn't the big mesa climbs that got me, but the tiny up-and-downs that I found challenging. For my next race I'm going to explore the course description more to understand that the challenge isn't always vertical gain.

My next race on the books is the Beacon Rock 50k, a loved race and course on the Washington side of the Columbia Gorge. It's a race I've run before and enjoyed. Let's hope that I have a more successful run with less suffering. And yes, I'm buying new shoes.






Forget a Big Breakfast, It's All About Calories

English breakfast

This is interesting. According to a new study out of Germany the whole "start the day off right with a big breakfast" is not going to keep you trimmer than holding eating later in the day. In reality, a bigger breakfast, just means you're adding to your daily caloric totals.

As the NY Times reports:

For both groups [in the research study], a large breakfast simply added to the number of daily calories they consumed. Whether they ate a large breakfast, a small one or none at all, their nonbreakfast calorie intake remained the same.

My take-away from this is to listen to your body. If you are a morning person and enjoy eating earlier in the day, do that. If you enjoy bigger dinners, post-workout, go for that instead. Work with your body and know that the total caloric intake will be what determines your fitness and weight-management.

The article includes a quote from the senior author of the study, Dr. Volker Schusdziarra, that I thought was helpful.

"Whenever someone comes to me for dietary advice and says, ‘I never eat breakfast,’ [Dr. Volker says], ‘Keep doing what you’re doing,’ ”

So, as always, there aren't any short-cuts. For success in a competition or in the race to stay fit, match your diet with your training routine and listen to your body.

Is this article wrong? Add a comment and tell me what works for you.

Is My TV Killing Me? Report Says: Yes

Family watching television, c. 1958

Attack of the killer TV. Sounds like some terrible B-movie, right? No, its for real.

According to a recent study published in The Journal of the American College of Cardiology, T.V. has such a devastating impact on one's physical health that even daily visits to that gym cannot undo the damage.

As the NY Times reported:

The study followed 4,512 middle-aged Scottish men for a little more than four years on average. It found that those who said they spent two or more leisure hours a day sitting in front of a screen were at double the risk of a heart attack or other cardiac event compared with those who watched less.

Scary, right? Well, it gets worse. This backs up a study from last year that found that even those who hit the gym regularly, but spent a lot of time in front of screens or stuck in a car, were more at risk to die from heart disease than those who were less active, but didn't spend as much time in front of a TV.

Yes, athletes who love their boob tube might just keel over.

The take-away: Keep screen-time to a minimum.

What do you think?

Fend Off Disease as You Age: Walk

PET scan of a human brain with Alzheimer's disease

Want to keep your mind and body strong? A new study from the University of Pittsburgh reveals that walking can reduce the risk for Alzheimer's disease and slow cognitive decline in adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

As Sciencedaily.com reports:

"We found that walking five miles per week protects the brain structure over 10 years in people with Alzheimer's and MCI, especially in areas of the brain's key memory and learning centers," said Cyrus Raji, Ph.D., from the Department of Radiology at theUniversity of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.

Encourage other to stay active their entire life. You'll look, feel and think better because of it.

The Effortlessness of the Uberathlete

A match between Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu blackbelts...

Do you find running, cycling or swimming hard?

I don't know if I fullly agree with this quote, but you might find Danaher's comments interesting. A New Zealand-born Brazilian Jiu Jitsu expert, John Danaher is a teacher at the Renzo Gracie Academy and has trained many MMA champions including George St. Pierre and Matt Serra. In addition to being a champion mixed martial marts practitioner, John also holds a Masters Degree in Philosophy from Columbia University.

"The single definitive feature of the uberathlete is a sense of effortlessness in a world where most men grunt and strive and scream.  It comes easy to the best, and what creates that?  I think it's a sense of play.  No fear or anxiety about their performance." -John Danaher, MMA trainer

For me, endurance sports are not effortless. Every push on the pedal, lap in the pool or mile on the trail takes determination. This may simply mean that I may not be an uberathlete. However, I've spoken with plenty of champions after races who limp on swollen feet and pant, trying to catch their breath. Some have even admitted anxiety at the start line because of the competition or course. This does not take away from their uber-ness.

I think what defines a great athlete is the internal balance one finds when he or she is in the middle of a competition or adventure. For me, I love the feeling of peace and quiet when your legs and lungs are pushing you forward and your muscles are pumping like an engine. You're in your element, you're exactly where you should be.