Thursday, October 23, 2014

100-Mile Lessons

When I started running ultramarathon distances, I had no idea what it would take to be successful in this sport. After a few years of these things, you have no idea how gratifying it is to truly understand that nobody really knows what they're doing.

For everyone fabulously chasing things that scare them, here's a few tips I've picked up along the way.

1) Training and recovery are nice to minimize the suffering of a 100-mile race, but if you're willing to suffer a bit, neither are required to actually finish. Worried that you're undertrained? That you didn't taper enough, or tapered too much? Stop it. Worrying can't help you. You are where you are. No matter where that is, know that you can finish. Be confident in that fact.

























2) If all else fails, when you can no longer run, a brisk hike and limited aid station time will get you to nearly every finish line in time. No joke.

3) During the race, only think about the distance to the next aid station. Once you're at that aid station, only think about the distance to the next aid station. If anyone ever tells me, "You're halfway done!" at 50 miles, I'm going to punch them in the nuts. The thought of doing ANOTHER 50 miles after you've already done 50 miles is horrible, but thinking about going 5 miles to the next aid station feels like an easy, daily run. You can always go 5 miles.

4) Throwing up alone should never end a race, and actually gives you a nice few-minute endorphin rush. Sure, if you're not processing anything, your top end may be gone, but you can still run downs and flats. A bad stomach just makes things uncomfortable--not impossible. People go days without drinking and weeks without eating. You can make it 30 hours.

5) Most pain isn't real. It's merely your body telling you that it doesn't think you can sustain what you're doing. Don't listen to it. You can ignore that kind of pain. Jared Campbell gives that pain to an imaginary friend. I've convinced myself I didn't have feet before. This stuff works.

6) Accept your current conditions as they are, then make the best of things. That's the key to happiness in life, and it works beautifully in these events. It's raining? So what? That's just how it is now. You've been wet before. You dried. Keep going. Things aren't going the way you planned? So what? Change the plan. Keep going. Fallen off your pace? So what. That wasn't supposed to be your pace. You have a new pace now. Keep going. Feet hurt? That's just how they are now. Keep going. Quads shot? That's just how they are now. Keep going. Adopt the mantra, "This isn't hard. This just is." Unless there's a significant risk of permanent damage, keep going. You'll figure it out.


7) Fake it until you make it. If you pretend like you're having a good time, pretty soon you'll find yourself having a good time. When people ask you how you feel, and you actually feel horrible, lie to them. Tell them you feel great. Smile a lot. Offer encouragement to others. It all helps.

8) Get all negative thoughts out of your head, and distance yourself from everyone that's being negative. Constantly remind yourself how awesome it is that you're doing a 100-mile race. Someone around you talking about dropping? Get away from them. Negativity is more contagious than yawning.

9) If you're falling asleep, sprint for 30 seconds. Seriously, the momentary rise in blood pressure will wake you up, and engaging different muscles for even a little bit will loosen you out of that 100-mile shuffle you've been suffering at all day/night.

10) Remember that we're the lucky ones that even get to attempt these things. There's people that would kill to be able to take 3 steps on their own, let alone run 100 miles. If you can take one more step, take one more step. To not take that step is an insult to everyone who physically can't. Do it for them.

11) Never make any decisions during the race. Your brain wants you to stop. Of course it'll come up with 1,000 reasons to quit. Don't ever give it the opportunity. If you're not cut off, keep going. You will always eventually find a second wind. Things never always get worse.

12) Don't ever do math during the race. You're probably wrong, and will just scare yourself. If you can keep going, keep going. Simple as that.

13) Remember, at the start of the race, that you're entering a tunnel, and there is no way out other than the other side.















14) "Courage. We all suffer. Keep going."
The greatest battle is not physical but psychological. The demons telling us to give up when we push ourselves to the limit can never be silenced for good. They must always be answered by the quiet, steady dignity that refuses to give in. Courage. We all suffer. Keep going.- Graeme Fife
15) You are marvelous. These things we do are fantastic. We're choosing to live life, to cheat death. How can we not laugh, smile, and giggle the entire time?
Your life is your life,
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
Be on the watch.
There are ways out.
There is a light somewhere.
It may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
Be on the watch.
The gods will offer you chances.
Know them.
Take them.
You can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes,
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
Your life is your life.
Know it while you have it.
You are marvelous.
The gods wait to delight
in you.
- Charles Bukowski, The Laughing Heart
16) You are so much more than the outcome of any race. Don't ever forget that.
I have learned to take the falling short with the successes, and no longer let this sport so narrowly define who I am. I am so much more than that.
- Jason Husveth

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Registration Adventures, version 2015


Registration periods for the big 2015 winter ultras have long passed, but the rest of the 2015 season looms. If you're anything like me, keeping track of registration procedures for my must-do events is difficult. If you weren't aware, you've already missed your chance of registering for Angeles Crest 100 for next August. Before you miss any more...

















My big list of interesting 2015 races and their application procedures:

The "You're already too late" races:
HURT, Race January 17-18, Application July 20-27, Lottery Aug 3
Arrowhead 135, Race January 26-28, Registration Veterans Sept 1, Rookies Oct 1 (don't ask)
Angeles Crest 100, Race Aug 1-2, Registration first-come, first-served (FCFS) starting Monday following the previous year's race (sells out in minutes)

The "There's still time" races:
Tuscobia 150, Race Jan 1-3, Registration open until Dec 24
Barkley Marathons, Race March 28-30, Application ???, Condolences ???
Zumbro 100, Race April 10-11, Registration Nov 1, FCFS
Trans Iowa, Race April 25-26, Applications (Vets) Nov 3, FCFS
Kettle 100, Race June 6-7, Registration Jan 1, FCFS
Bighorn 100, Race June 19-20, Registration open, FCFS
Western States 100, Race June 27-28, Application Nov 8-15, Lottery Dec 6
Black Hills 100, Race June 27-28, Registration Dec 1, FCFS
Hardrock 100, Race July 11-13, Applications through Nov 23, Lottery Dec 6

(The August/Sept GLUT)
Bigfoot 200, Race Aug 7-11, Registration Nov 1, FCFS
UTMB, Race Aug 24-30, Application Dec 17-Jan 6, Lottery January 14
Cascade Crest 100, Race Aug 29-30, Registration Jan 1-Feb 12, Lottery Feb 14
Superior 100, Race Sept 4-5, Registration opens in March
Plain 100, Race Sept 11-12, Registration opens this spring (capped at 35)
Pine to Palm 100, Race Sept 11-12, Registration opens this spring
The RUT 50k, Race Sept 12, Registration opens in Jan
IMTUF 100, Race Sept 19-20, Registration opens this spring
The Bear 100, Race Sept 25-26, Registration open, FCFS

The "Someday" races:
Iditarod 350 2016, Race Feb 28-March 8, Registration Vets April 1, Rookies April 8 ($1,400 application)
Tor des Geants 2016, Race Sept 6-13, Registration Feb 1-14, FCFS (capped at 660)




















If I ever get into Western, or into Hardrock right off the draw, the additional silliness of race series becomes a question. There are three big series:

The Grand Slam, consisting of:
Western States 100, Race June 27-28, Application Nov 8-15, Lottery Dec 6
Vermont 100, Race July 18-19, Registration Jan 5, FCFS (sells out FAST)
Leadville 100, Race August 22-23, Registration Dec 1-Dec 31, Lottery in Jan (Grand Slam priority)
Wasatch 100, Race Sept 11-12, Registration Dec 1-Jan 4, Lottery Feb 7 (Grand Slam priority)

The Rocky Mountain Slam, consisting of 4 out of the following 5 races:
Bighorn 100, Race June 19-20, Registration open, FCFS
Hardrock 100, Race July 11-13, Registration open through Nov 23, Lottery Dec 6
Leadville 100, Race August 22-23, Registration Dec 1-Dec 31, Lottery in Jan (no priority)
Wasatch 100, Race Sept 11-12, Registration Dec 1-Jan 4, Lottery Feb 7 (no priority)
The Bear 100, Race Sept 25-26, Registration open, FCFS

The Original 6 Hundred Challenge, (must decide more than a year in advance due to Angeles Crest 100 registration) consisting of:
Old Dominion 100, Race June 6-7, Registration open, FCFS
Western States 100, Race June 27-28, Application Nov 8-15, Lottery Dec 6
Vermont 100, Race July 18-19, Registration Jan 5, FCFS (sells out FAST)
Angeles Crest 100, Race Aug 1-2, Registration FCFS starting Monday following the previous year's race (sells out in minutes)
Leadville 100, Race August 22-23, Registration Dec 1-Dec 31, Lottery in Jan (Grand Slam priority)
Wasatch 100, Race Sept 11-12, Registration Dec 1-Jan 4, Lottery Feb 7 (Grand Slam priority)




















Before 2015 rolls around, though, don't forget the crown jewel of the 2014 race schedule, the one and only December 6th Donut Day 25k!

If donuts and running alone don't excite you, the Donut Day 25k has a history of getting its runners through the Western States 100 lottery, and this year, Hardrock's lottery also falls on December 6th.

Last year, Joseph Altendahl and I pulled tires for the 25k. I'm considering a 50k, donut-decorated, tire-pulling effort this year.

Anyone in?


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Arrowhead 135 Race Mis-Management

I ran Arrowhead 135 last year, January 2014. It took me a while, afterwards, to really wrap my head around the experience. It's not that the race was bad or poorly put on or anything, it just wasn't what I expected it would be, which was surprising, as I'd read every report and everything ever printed about the race prior to signing up and being selected.

During the race, I broke a race rule. I got in a car at the Skipulk checkpoint to warm up instead of warming up in their heated ice shacks. I didn't intend to break a rule, there was some miscommunication with a race official, but I did break a rule. Thankfully, instead of DQ'ing me, they let me finish, tacking an hour penalty onto my 55:56 finish time.

After the race, the race director (RD), Ken Krueger, started aggregating race reports and photo albums on the Arrowheadultra.com website. I wrote Part 1 of my race report in March, and after I finished Part 2 on July 18, I sent them both in to be posted.

The reports were up on their site for two weeks when the RD, Ken Krueger, emailed me in August saying that he had deleted the race reports from the website, but would re-post them if I changed the reports. I replied that he could keep the reports off his site, that I didn't want to censor them, and that frankly, that I was taken aback by his demanding that I change them. I attempted to have a conversation about what it was that he didn't like, and whether or not my not changing the report would impact my future applications, but he wouldn't respond. Now I'm banned indefinitely from the race because of my race report. As far as I was able to determine, I was the only veteran denied entry to his race.

It's his race, and he can do with it as he pleases, but now that I see how he runs the thing, he can keep it. I'm done. I can't support RDs bullying entrants.

The full communication chain is below. If you're really interested, start with the original race reports.

2014 Arrowhead 135 Race Report, Part 1: Into the Cold
2014 Arrowhead 135 Race Report, Part 2: Time Slips Away

I sent the reports in on July 18th using the "Contact Us" page on Arrowheadultra.com. The next day, July 19th, a race volunteer replied:
Thanks.  Nice write-up.  Added to the ‘galleries n blogs’ article.  Hope to see you next year.
On August 3rd, the RD, Ken Krueger, after the reports had been up on the site for 2 weeks, wrote:
Thanks Edward, 
Hope your training is going well and you are having a nice summer.  I've posted your race report. 
Ken
3 hours later, Ken wrote again:
Hello Edward, 
I wanted to let you know that I deleted your race report from our website.  I will re-post it if you delete each non-complimentary reference to our race VOLUNTEERS. 
Ken Krueger - AH 135 Race Director
I replied:
Which comments would those be, Ken?
Ken replied:
Those related to Melgeorges, ski pulk, and the penalty.  Those volunteers spend a lot of time, effort, and their own money to make our race a success. I will not have them insulted/offended.  I have completed this race 7 times and some of my fondest memories are of the help and encouragement I received from the volunteers. The two paragraphs below are from the race rules. 
"4.  No outside help except other racers or race officials. This means no support crews of any kind, no pacing, and no rides/tows accepted from snowmobilers, trains, planes, automobiles, llamas or other vehicles except of course in emergencies. If you take a ride, you are disqualified but hopefully still alive. Participants encouraged to help each other. Buddy system good way to race dark and cold. We encourage spectators but no assistance allowed any time, no teams greeting you at every possible spot. Arrowhead is about you, the wilderness, your inner dogged spirit and self-sufficiency. Camera crews not allowed to follow the race on Snowmobile except within 1 mile of checkpoints.  Racers can be penalized due to actions of their camera crews." 
"3rd and final checkpoint: SkiPulk Tent along trail at about mile 111 ~2 miles before last big WakemUp Mtn. Water and emergency personnel here. Spectators allowed, but do not crowd our tent please. Racers do not plan spending significant time here unless camped outside."
I replied, still August 3rd (this one's long):
Ken, 
I honestly don't view any of these comments as offensive or insulting towards your volunteers. If I choose to leave the comments, with that affect my application for AH135 in 2015?  
At Melgeorge, I wrote that there were, "understaffed, tired aid station workers." There were. I saw racers at Melgeorge having legitimate medical issues, one hypothermic and shivering uncontrollably, others in pain with black fingers and toes, and none of them were getting any medical attention at all while I was there. When I walked into the cabin, a volunteer was in the middle of yelling at people. It was quite a shock. I asked that same volunteer for a second grilled cheese, and she ignored me. When I saw them handing them out to others that asked after me, I asked again, only to get a, "You've already had two." They weren't going to give me another sandwich. When I told them, "No, I haven't," she said, "Oh. Then you can have one." She wasn't going to give me another sandwich. She purposely skipped me and wasn't going to give me another sandwich or tell me that she wasn't going to give me another sandwich because she'd thought I'd had enough. That was infuriating! I tamed it down considerably for my report. I didn't mention anyone by name, and I refrained from putting all of those details in my blog in deference to the race. I understand that people get overwhelmed and tired, but it's all true, Ken. It may not be flattering, but I published the tame version.  
If anything, calling the volunteers "understaffed" and "tired" is more offensive to the race than the actual volunteers. Is that why you're taking offense? 
Also, please help me out, as I have no idea what's offensive about the ski pulk description.   
As for the penalty and the rules you pasted again above, I read those rules backwards and forwards before the race, and then afterwards after talking to Jackie and Russ about my penalty at the finish. Russ was sympathetic. Jackie was not. She got quite upset at me for telling her that it wasn't clear to me that getting into a vehicle at a checkpoint was "outside assistance." She then told me that she wanted to ban SPOT devices, and that she didn't want families up at the race at all. I purposefully refrained from saying anything negative about that interaction.  
At the pre-race dinner, you gave the example of someone getting into a car and getting driven closer to the trail as grounds for disqualification. You didn't say, "It's against the rules to get in a car." You said, "It's against the rules to get in a car and have it drive you closer to the trail." There's a huge difference. If a racer has a newborn in a car at Gateway, and they get into the car to kiss their kid, would they be penalized? What if they lean into the window of the warm car to kiss their spouse? I mean, they got warmth from a vehicle during the race. Is that "outside assistance"? What if they lean against a vehicle during the race? That's outside assistance? Would a DQ or time penalty be imposed for leaning against a vehicle? I wouldn't think so, but you're arguing that it should be. The only thing I said about the penalty is that it wasn't clear to me. Your rules, as written, are still not clear to me.  
So, this is where it gets interesting, Ken. Between the two posts, 1200 people have already read what I wrote. I don't need them up on your site. This isn't my livelihood, it's just a diary of these things I do. It's more for me than anything else, but I also think it's important for others to get honest accounts of what these events are like. If someone would have done that for me, maybe I wouldn't have been so surprised about how the race is actually put on. When I wrote that, "The organizers want a remote, solitary challenge between you, the other participants, and the trail," I think that's entirely true--but nobody explains what that means. I knew that John Storkamp and Jason Husveth's families don't come up for the race every year, but I never knew why. Now, based on my experience, I think I do (though I haven't talked to either of John or Jason about this). Do you really want everyone else to learn these things the hard way? 
I really don't want to upset anyone, Ken. The last thing I want to have happen is any of this to affect my ability to enter your race; I really think you put on something quite unique, and I'd like to do it again. I want to be very, very clear here; I honestly didn't intend to personally offend or insult anyone with my article, and even scaled purposefully scaled back my comments in an attempt to give an honest perspective without upsetting anyone. One thing I understand more than anyone, though, is that it doesn't matter what I intend, it matter's how I make people feel, and that I have no control over. If I personally offended any of your volunteers, please let me know, and I'll personally apologize to them. Really, I will. I understand that the race cannot happen without them, and that many of them are donating their time truly out of the goodness of their hearts.   
I don't know if you're asking me to lie about your race and say everything was great and all the volunteers were happy and helpful and smiling when they weren't, or if you just want me to censor every bad detail about the race, but in either case, I'm really taken aback by it. You haven't even tried to talk to me about any of these things, you've just said taken my posts off your site and told me, "Delete each non-complimentary reference to our race VOLUNTEERS." It's your website, Ken, and you can post whatever you'd like. I thought it was really neat that you'd aggregated all the blogs about the race, but now I have no idea which blogs you've put up and which have been taken down because they have something in it you don't like.  
I'm more than happy to chat about any of this, Ken, but at this point, I'm going to kindly just let my blog not be posted on your site. 
Again, and this is most important to me, and I'd really like you to respond: Will any of this affect my application for AH135 in 2015?
A week goes by with no response. On August 9th, I wrote:
Ken, 
I would really appreciate a response.
On August 10th, Ken replied:
Hello Edward, 
We are taking veteran racer applications starting 9-1-14.  We limit the roster in order to maintain the solitude/survival aspect of the race.  We do not, can not accept all of the applications we receive. Feel free to send in your application. 
Thanks,
Ken
On August 11th, frustrated with the non-response, I wrote:
Ken, 
This is frustrating. You entirely neglected my actual question, whether or not my race report will affect my entry into your race, and failed to respond to any of the other issues you raised with my "insulting and offensive comments" in my report. 
I'm sorry you didn't like my report, but I'm not going to censor it to make it more flattering to you. 
I'm trying to figure out if this difference will affect anything else, and hoping it won't, but when you ask the question I asked, and you get a, "we can't accept everyone" in response, you're posturing like it will. 
I know that putting on this race must take enormous amounts of effort. Running them does as well. The gear, hotel, travel costs and time investments are huge, and being able to plan for them is a big deal. Similarly, if you're going to keep me out because of your thoughts on my race report, I'd like to know now.
I got no response. Unsure of where any of this stood, I applied for the race in September. On October 10th, I received the following letter:


At this point, I wasn't sure why I'd been denied. It could have been the August race-report nonsense, but maybe I'd just gotten my application in too late. I posted the letter on my Facebook wall with the status, "Was just turned down for Arrowhead." I wrote Ken:
Ken, 
What's the selection process for admission to Arrowhead? Is there a reason I wasn't admitted? I'm trying to not find the letter I received today odd. 
Please do me a favor and explain this for me.
The next day, Saturday, October 11th, I hadn't received a reply, but their website said they'd have the roster up that weekend, so I wrote again:
Ken,  
Could you please elaborate on Arrowhead's selection process? For qualified applicants, is it first-come, first-serve? If you have an abundance of qualified applicants, is there a lottery? Do you have entry quotas for veterans and rookies? Are finishers given any deference? You had applicants list experience in cold weather and long distance events. When there is an abundance of qualified applicants, are the difficulty of those races considered? Or does that only provide weight for qualification? How do you make roster decisions? 
I was notified that I was not selected this year, but I wasn't given any reason for not being selected. I'd like to know why and also what I can do in the future to improve my odds of being selected. I imagine others, especially others that didn't make the roster, are curious as well. If the answer's as simple as, "Get your application in sooner," then fabulous. It'd be nice for you to share that information. Just please let us know. The website doesn't offer any guidance.
On Monday, October 13th, they posted their roster and made some comments on Facebook. With still no response, I posted my last inquiry on their wall.


On Tuesday, October 14, with still no response to anything since August, they deleted the above post from their page. At that point it was pretty clear--and I'd gotten some other confirmation. Frustrated, I posted the below on my Facebook wall:


The response to that post has been pretty interesting. So many people are missing the point and focusing on my breaking the rule or are thinking I have a problem with the rule itself. It's not about that at all. Ken, the RD, called my race report insulting/offensive, took it down from the race website, and tried to force me to change it. When I tried to talk to him about it, he wouldn't respond. Now he's keeping me out of the race because of this. I think that's wrong.

Like I said in my post, he can keep his race. Now that I see how he runs the thing, I'm done. I've spent way, way too much energy on this. I just thought everyone should know that this is how that race is managed.

Time to focus on something more positive.

Friday, July 18, 2014

2014 Arrowhead 135 Race Report, Part 2: Time Slips Away

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” - T.S. Eliot

I started Part 1 of this report alone, in the dark, out in the cold, at 3am on the second night of Arrowhead, losing the battle to stay awake.

"I’d come to, standing on the trail, staring into the woods, shivering, not knowing how long I was out or which way I should be going. It was frustrating; standing still was dangerous in that cold, and I was in a race! A quick look at my sled and the tracks in the snow would point me in the right direction and I’d start moving again, with purpose, trying to warm up, chiding myself for slipping mentally. Then, out of nowhere, I’d come to again, staring into the woods, shivering, colder than before, not knowing how long I was out or which way I should be going. It took a few times to realize that I always turned to the right. In hindsight, I should have bivied, hopped into my bag and slept for an hour, but I hadn't had food or water for hours, I was cold, and the Skipulk checkpoint at mile 110 should have been just around the corner.
I’d seen Divesh at the shelter at mile 98. He took off a few minutes before I did, but was nowhere to be found. I took my mitts off long enough to look at my watch; 3am. I should have been to the checkpoint by now. Was I on the right trail? Had I ventured off somewhere in one of my dazes? I looked for tracks—I saw a couple, but wished there were more. Were they on the right trail, or were they as lost as I was? Who was I following alone into the darkness?
The shapes in the woods were driving me mad. Every time I looked up, I’d see a person bivied next to the trail, a shelter, an LP tank, a garage, or a mailbox. I kept worrying that the imaginary figures next to the trail needed help, but every time I got closer, the figure was just a mound of snow, the shelter was just a branch, the mailbox just a tree. After a while, I gave up looking; I couldn't trust my eyes, I couldn't trust my brain. I’d spent over 40 hours pulling that sled without sleep and was too cold to stop, so I just pointed my headlamp at my feet and kept moving.
Then I'd come to again, even colder than before."

It took me a while to realize, after the race, that those imaginary figures I hallucinated, bivied next to the trail, those people I was worried about, that was me. I was worried about me. That floored me; it put a whole new perspective on the experience.


Part of me knew that I should have been bivied next to that trail, that I should have been sleeping, that I should have been warming up in my bag. I don't know if it was the exhaustion, the sleep deprivation, or something else that kept pushing me along that trail. I knew I wasn't safe, but I didn't think I was in danger. Could I take another step? Yes. So I pointed my headlamp at my feet and kept going.

But the hallucinations.

When people hear that we hallucinate during these events, I imagine they picture "Alice in Wonderland" or "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas"-type hallucinations. In reality, though, the best way I can describe it is that, at a certain point, it’s easier for your brain to insert something familiar, something convenient, something close, than it is to process what’s actually there.

First, you start noticing things that really shouldn't be there, like a house cat along the trail, or spectators off in the distance where no spectators should be, but when you look a second time, they’re gone—just a wild flower, a bloom in a tree, a rock, or a shadow. They start so mundane, you really have no idea how many things you thought you saw before that weren't really there. Your brain needs glucose to function. When it gets low, it starts shutting down higher-order processes, like comprehension, computation, etc. At a certain point, you start having trouble figuring out simple things like pace and time.

Then, if you keep pushing, things get really weird. At Superior in 2011, Ben Bruce and I got so bad that we started sharing hallucinations. Ben knew that a bridge marked the end of the trail, and we kept worrying that we were lost. I’d ask Ben, “Is that a bridge over there?” He’d reply, “Yeah! I see it!” We’d get a little closer, and it’d just be a downed tree or a ridge. We saw hundreds of bridges. I was losing it. I needed that bridge that marked the end of the trail to be there, so I saw it, over and over. Alicia was pacing us in. She was trying to talk to me, ask me how it was going. I could hear every word she said, but I couldn't put the sentences together—it was too hard. I could feel myself slipping away.

Melgeorge's to Skipulk

I left the carnage of Melgeorge's, roughly 70 miles in and 26 hours removed from International Falls, on the morning of the second day. It was still well below -30ºF, but it was light out and I was awake. I'd eaten and I'd seen my people, Alicia and Tucker, albeit, outside in the cold.


Alicia snapped this pic on the short section of road between the cabin and the trail. The name of the game was steady as she goes. For the most part, that second day was a blur. It went by so fast. The sun was out and the forest was beautiful. Every few hours I'd see a snowmobile. A quick wave was what most wanted--just enough to ensure I wasn't in need of help. Sometimes they'd stop for a few seconds. I imagined how strange it must have been talking to some random, crazy stranger out walking around in the middle of the woods at -30ºF when you couldn't even see an inch of their face.

Chris Scotch passed me somewhere in there, then Helen, then Divesh. Before I knew it, it was dark again, and, like the day before, I really hadn't eaten anything. My hands were brutally cold. Using the poles led to numbness, then pain, so I'd stow them and bunch my hands up in the main part of the mitten. When that wasn't enough, they'd go, mitten and all, into the down-lined pockets of the Nilas jacket. When that wasn't enough, they'd go down the front of my pants, by my groin and my femoral arteries, which made for even slower hiking.

A while after nightfall, I'm not sure what time, I saw Divesh for a minute at a shelter around mile 100. I was tired, starting to doze on the trail, and wanted to eat. I tried, but it was so cold, even in the shelter, that I couldn't bare to use my hands for anything but a few chocolate-covered espresso beans. I had water in my pack, but getting the hose to my mouth required taking off my mitts and unzipping my jacket and top layer to get to, so I'd grab a huge drink only when I had to take the mitts off for something else.

Back on the trail, the hills were surprisingly steep. I had no energy to pull hard on the climbs, but at least they warmed me up a bit. I tried to keep a nice, quick cadence with little steps, but when I slowed too much, I started falling asleep. I'd wake up shivering, standing in place on the hill. It was infuriating! Getting angry helped, though. I'd get a few moments of haste before settling back down and losing it again. For a while, the crest of every climb just led to an immediate, steep downhill, which led into yet another steep climb where I'd lose it all again. I'd come to, just standing there, shivering. Over and over.

Then the hallucinations picked up.

I started seeing mail boxes, LP tanks, sheds, driveways.. at one point I was on a road. I honestly don't know if any of it was real or not. I know it all couldn't have been, but maybe some of it? I didn't know what the checkpoint would look like, but I desperately needed it. Was I on the right path? I should have been there by now. Everywhere I looked, I'd see things that shouldn't be there, so I just looked down at my feet. I looked for footprints, bike tracks, anything that'd confirm I was going the right way, anywhere to stop seeing the things I knew weren't real. But looking down aimed my breath into my coat. Before I realized it was happening, my coat was frozen shut. I fumbled with it for a second, but it wouldn't budge, and my hands were too cold to fix it. Just like that, I couldn't eat or drink again--even if I'd wanted to. And then I'd come to, shivering, staring into the woods, staring at imaginary people bivied in their bags.

After a while, the lone remaining skier, Ben Shillington, caught up. That was nice. It snapped me out of that vicious cycle for a while. We chatted for a spell, even see-sawed for a short stretch before it flattened out and I lost him. When he was out of sight, the cycle started again. I don't know how far we were from the Skipulk checkpoint, it couldn't have been more than a handful of miles, but he made it there an hour and a half before I did.

It was a vicious cycle. I needed that checkpoint.

Skipulk

I figured I'd hear the generators and see the lights a ways out from Skipulk, but I didn't even know I was close until I was standing right next to it. It was the strangest thing--but damn, I was happy to be there.

I told them my number and said that I needed to warm up and get some sleep. There were two ice-fishing shacks with heaters. The volunteers told me that the second one was crowded, 3 or 4 people inside, and the first one had two bikers that had been there a while. I had him open the door to the first one. The shack had one cot and one chair, each occupied by a biker, and they had their gear strewn everywhere. No matter. I grabbed a corner of the cot and started to knock the ice off my gear, but before I even got my coat off, I heard Alicia's voice outside, talking to the volunteer.

Man I love seeing my people.

I asked where she was parked, because I hadn't seen her on my way in, and she told me the parking lot was just up the hill. I asked how far, and the volunteer said just a few yards away. I told him I was going to warm up there, and he said that was fine. He gave me directions and even helped me put my harness back on. Nice guy. I pulled my sled to the truck and hopped in. Tucker was adorably excited to see me. I got all my frozen stuff off, wrapped up in a sleeping bag, and finally ate the pocket full of food I'd been carrying around all day. It was fantastic! I told Alicia I needed an hour of sleep. She set an alarm. I was out before my eyelids closed.

"BANG! BANG! BANG!"

I was startled awake by someone pounding on our window. My heart rate tripled in three beats! Was I late?! Had I overslept?! What time was it?!

Alicia cracked the window.

"Is there a racer in there?" The man asked.

"Yes. #51. Sandor. He's in the back." Alicia replied.

"He can't be in a vehicle. It's against the rules. He's going to be penalized."

Shit.

I asked Alicia what time it was; I'd gotten 45 minutes of sleep. Better than nothing.

I started putting my gear back on, grabbed another bag of food out of my pack and started shoveling cookies, Kit Kats, Fritos, anything I could find into my mouth. It took me a minute to get everything on and packed up. I pulled my sled over to the fire.

I didn't know the race official that woke me up, but I tried to tell him that I didn't intentionally break any rules. The volunteer told me how far away my truck was, held the door for me, helped me put my harness back on, and pointed me towards my truck. The volunteer knew I where I was going and what I was going to do, and not once did it occur to him that I was going to break a rule. The rules clearly state that you cannot accept outside aid, but it's not clear that means you cannot get into a vehicle at a checkpoint just to sit when the warming houses the race provides are full. At the last checkpoint, I could have rented a cabin, taken a hot bath, made a pot of coffee and soup, and watched a movie under a down comforter in bed, but here I couldn't even get into my Suburban?!

The official told me that I'd probably get penalized an hour or two, that it wasn't a big deal, and that I had plenty of time, but still...

With nothing to do about it but get going, I sighed, said "Thanks," and went on my way.

Skipulk to Fortune Bay

For the first few hours, I was doing alright. I left Skipulk at about 6am. It was dark, and my headlamp was essentially dead, but it was going to be light soon, and I didn't want to take my hands out of my mitts to try and change the batteries. Not too far up the trail there was a huge hill with a shelter at the top. I looked for bivied racers, but it was empty. Company would have been nice, but there was barely anyone left. Before I knew it, it was light, and the day was just scooting away.

I took out my maps when I came to a T in the trail. The signage and tracks were pretty obvious, but being this far in the race, I wanted to make sure. Peeking ahead at the map, from here, the trail went east for a long ways before turning south just a bit before the finish. From that point on, I was gunning for a right turn.

Big mistake.

The trail is really straight as an arrow for miles at a time towards the end. Every time I'd get to a turn, I'd hope for that hard turn south, but it never came. Over and over, there'd be minor corrections, just to head east again.

Then the miles caught up with my a tendon in the front of my right leg, and I was hobbling.

The one saving grace of that last, flat section to the end was that the temperature finally warmed up a bit--above zero even! So much, in fact, that I took my Nilas jacket off for the last few miles to the finish--the first time since Gateway.

The finish area was perfect, with Tammy, Alicia, and Tucker waiting for me. I got to the banner and promptly laid down in the snow. I'd finished. I could stop now. What a trip.


Fortune Bay

A wonderful finish-line volunteer congratulated me on the run and guided me upstairs to the hospitality room where a handful of other racers/finishers were hanging out. I stopped to take my shoes off for the first time in 56 hours--and they were perfectly fine. One pair of Drymax Cold Weather Running Socks and a pair of Montrail Mountain Masochists Outdry (their Gore-Tex-like material)--the same combination Geoff Roes wore for his ITI350 win--had worked wonderfully.


I got my picture taken in front of the banner with my trophy.

Then Jackie Krueger pulled me aside to discuss my penalty. What I gathered from our conversation was that Arrowhead would rather not have spouses/families follow the race, not at checkpoints or using Spot devices. I accepted my 1-hour penalty, but pressed that it wasn't clear that sleeping in a vehicle at a checkpoint was against the rules. It was clear as day that getting a ride in a vehicle was against the rules, but not simply getting into a vehicle, especially at a checkpoint that offers heated shelters.

My takeaway is this:

In every ultramarathon I've participated in, aid stations are places for loved ones to welcome their runners a brief reprieve from the rigors of the trail. Arrowhead is not this place. The organizers want a remote, solitary challenge between you, the other participants, and the trail. It's their race, and I respect their decision to have it be however they want it to be, just don't make my mistake and go in expecting it to be something it's not.

The best part of my race, of every race, is seeing Alicia and Tucker. I was alone for a vast majority of the 56 hours of this race. The moments I got to spend with my loved ones was more than worth any penalty they could have given me (while still allowing me to finish). I don't want to break the spirit of the rules, but I want to see my people. I can see them without penalty outside at checkpoints, which, in the future, is exactly what I'll do. Oh--and I'll be very tempted to rent a cabin at Melgeorge's for my hot bath, down comforter, movie, and bag of popcorn mid-race. If anyone want's to split a dog-friendly cabin, let me know.

Will I do this race again? Yes.

Why? Because I want to get good at it before I take a shot at the ITI350 in Alaska.

Why do I want to try the ITI350? Because it seems just outside my reach, and I'm not sure I can.

Friday, March 21, 2014

2014 Arrowhead 135 Race Report, Part 1: Into the Cold

I’d come to, standing on the trail, staring into the woods, shivering, not knowing how long I was out or which way I should be going. It was frustrating; standing still was dangerous in that cold, and I was in a race! A quick look at my sled and the tracks in the snow would point me in the right direction and I’d start moving again, with purpose, trying to warm up, chiding myself for slipping mentally. Then, out of nowhere, I’d come to again, staring into the woods, shivering, colder than before, not knowing how long I was out or which way I should be going. It took a few times to realize that I always turned to the right. In hindsight, I should have bivied, hopped into my bag and slept for an hour, but I hadn’t had food or water for hours, I was cold, and the Skipulk checkpoint at mile 110 should have been just around the corner.

I’d seen Divesh at the shelter at mile 98. He took off a few minutes before I did, but was nowhere to be found. I took my mitts off long enough to look at my watch; 3am. I should have been to the checkpoint by now. Was I on the right trail? Had I ventured off somewhere in one of my dazes? I looked for tracks—I saw a couple, but wished there were more. Were they on the right trail, or were they as lost as I was? Who was I following alone into the darkness?

The shapes in the woods were driving me mad. Every time I looked up, I’d see a person bivied next to the trail, a shelter, an LP tank, a garage, or a mailbox. I kept worrying that the imaginary figures next to the trail needed help, but every time I got closer, the figure was just a mound of snow, the shelter was just a branch, the mailbox just a tree. After a while, I gave up looking; I couldn’t trust my eyes, I couldn’t trust my brain. I’d spent over 40 hours pulling that sled without sleep and was too cold to stop, so I just pointed my headlamp at my feet and kept moving.

Then I'd come to again, even colder than before.

Why?

My first ultra was the Zumbro 100 in 2011. When the race started and we headed out of camp onto that first glorified deer trail, I thought, “Oh boy.” I had no idea what I’d bitten off.

Not knowing if I was ready for a hundred started my obsession into the blogs reading about what people did to prepare for these races. The race director at Zumbro was a young guy named John Storkamp. He’d set the course record at Zumbro before becoming race director. The guy was very fast at 50-miles; annually one of the top runners at Voyageur and Door County, and a top-twenty placing at JFK. There was this other race on his resume, though, that he’d won a handful of times: Arrowhead 135.

Looking at that race, I’d never seen anything so silly. The race had 60-hour cutoff! The organizers made you carry survival gear, including a -20ºF sleeping bag, but warned that you were silly not to carry a -40ºF bag! One year there was only one finisher on foot! The more I looked into it, the less appealing it seemed. People lost fingers and toes! I hadn’t even finished a hundred yet. Arrowhead seemed so far out of my comfort zone that I had zero interest in even considering it.


Then I finished some races, and as I got to know the people that do these things a little better, I started to get a little more curious. In 2012, Geoff Roes ran ITI 350, and I was hooked. I combed over every item on his gear list and read everything I could find about his training before the race. When the race started, for a solid week, you couldn’t pull me away from Twitter or Facebook. I inhaled everything ITI. The feat seemed inhuman. The following season, John Storkamp ran Tuscobia 150, Arrowhead 135, and ITI 350 in a 6-week span, Tim Hewitt went unsupported in the 1000-mile version of ITI, Jason Husveth finished Arrowhead, and Joe Grant started blogging about his 2013 ITI 350. The fire was stoked. I was getting dangerously close to thinking about trying this type of race.

The tipping point was Zumbro, 2013. We had a hard spring with a late melt. Mid April felt like early March. Two weeks before the race, the course was a flooded, icy mess with knee deep water everywhere. The water went down a touch before the race, but it snowed the night before, and we started the race with several inches of snow over a wet course, turning to mud, then ice, then melting again. I was laughing, 15 hours in, when I asked, “Is there anyone still in this race?!” The course was merciless. There was a 33% finisher rate. At 28 hours and change, I finished 4th—not because I was fast, but because everyone in front of me dropped out. At the finish line, John Storkamp—who’d just finished the insane trio of Tuscobia, Arrowhead, and ITI—said, “Now you’re ready for Arrowhead.” I didn’t know if I could do it or not, but I knew I was ready to try.

I started buying gear in June.

The Race

Alicia, Tucker, and I left for International Falls through a snowstorm early Sunday morning, made it through gear check by noon, and headed to Coffee Landing with wunderkind Logan Polfuss for lunch. At the pre-race briefing, the race director joked that more people were going to win swag in the pre-race drawing than finish the race. There was nervous laughter, but for good reason.

We woke race morning in the dark to a brisk wind and a temp of -27ºF. The reported windchill was -50ºF as we headed to the start. I knew the bikes started at 7:00am, skis at 7:02am, and sleds at 7:04am, and thought I was fine on time, but when I pulled my sled through the parking lot and over to the trail, I was greeted with to a herd of blinking red lights in the darkness a quarter-mile up the trail. I knew I’d never be first, but I didn’t want to be last! No matter. A few minutes in a 60-hour race aren’t such a big deal, but I was still surprised to see everyone gone. That first mistake, showing up late, was a small one; the second came 10 minutes later, and wasn’t so small.

Getting dressed that morning, I’d decided on 4 layers up top: Nike dri-fit base; Patagonia Piton 100-weight half-zip fleece; Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man Grid 200-weight full-zip fleece; and Mountain Hardwear Effusion full-zip hooded shell. The race was cold enough that I never wanted to take off the Patagonia fleece, so I put my Salomon S-Lab 5 hydration pack on top of it, under the top two layers, figuring I had enough over it to keep from freezing, which I probably did, at the time.

International Falls to Gateway

Leaving the start line a few minutes behind everyone, I was on the chase. 10 minutes in, I started getting warm. There were a handful of options: slow down; open my coat; take off my hood; etc. I decided to stop and take off my outer second fleece—my second mistake. Taking off the layers, I cooled down fast. As I packed the fleece into my sled and put my shell back on, a handful of familiar faces strolled past, including John Storkamp and Chris and Helen Scotch. That settled my nerves about starting late a bit. I got everything situated and started behind them.

Thirty minutes later, I went to take a sip of water from my hydration pack and the neoprene-covered hose had already frozen where it leaves the bladder on my back. I was essentially wearing a 5-lb weighted vest. I still had 2 liters of water in my insulated Nalgenes in the sled, but I never expected them to stay thawed until Gateway in that cold. When I went to take a drink of water from the Nalgenes, they were already starting to ice up.

Going into the race, I planned on eating 1000 calories every 3 hours. At 3 hours and change, I took off my Black Diamond Absolute mitts and fumbled with my first 1000-calorie zip-lock baggie of food in my pocket, leaving my fingers in just my RAB fleece liners. To eat, I had to pull my mask off my face, but it was stuck, frozen both to the buff around my neck and to my beard. I tugged the mask off my face, pulling out a bunch of beard hair, but it wouldn’t come free of the buff. It was a challenge getting anything into my mouth. By the time I got a few mouthfuls of food in, I couldn’t feel my fingers. I gave up my 1000-calorie goal and focused on getting feeling back in my fingers. They wouldn’t warm up in the mitts. It took a long stretch of hiking with my hands down the front of my pants to get feeling back in my fingers. That scared me enough to give up on eating on the trail. I figured that people go weeks without eating; at a 20-minute pace, it’d only be 12 hours to the first checkpoint. No big deal. I’d just eat there.

After I got feeling back in my hands, I tried to take another drink of water, but both Nalgenes were frozen solid. I laughed at the thought of how worried I was about the weight of my gear, yet, at that moment, I was probably carrying 10 pounds of ice. Oh well. People go days without water. I could go another 8 hours. I’d just fuel up at Gateway. In fact, doing the math quick, I figured, worst case scenario, I could do all of my eating and drinking at the checkpoints.

I pulled into Gateway (35 miles) 10:21 into the race just before nightfall.

One thing these events have taught me is that the most important things in my life are the people that choose to share these experiences with me and support me on my crazy endeavors. At mile 80 of a 100-mile race, my job, my house, my clothes, my bank account, none of it matters; I’m just thinking about making it to that next aid station, and if I’m lucky, seeing my people. It was fantastic seeing Alicia and Tucker in the parking lot of Gateway when I pulled in.

Gateway was fabulous; Kit-Kats, Snickers, vegetarian chili, Gatorade, Doritos, hot chocolate, and mac & cheese galore! The employees and volunteers were wonderful! I tucked into the restroom and re-body glided, unfroze my pack and my Nalgenes, refilled everything, and even laid down to relax for a minute before bundling back up. This time, I put my thawed hydration pack under my second layer, over just the Nike base layer, and, on top of the Effusion shell, I pulled on my totally awesome 850-fill down Mountain Hardwear Nilas jacket. I planned on only keeping the Nilas jacket on until I warmed up a bit, but that jacket didn’t come off for another 40+ hours. I loaded a pocket full of chocolate covered espresso beans smuggled in from Costa Rica (thank you, Dan LaPlante), kissed Alicia and Tucker goodbye, and headed out for the night. I’d spent 1:05 at the checkpoint. At 6:26pm, it was already dark.

Gateway to Melgeorge's

My pace was slow leaving Gateway, but with a belly full of food and liquids, I was fine with that. Matt Long passed me pretty quick into this section. It was fun to chat with him for a second, but I had no hope of keeping up with him—that man can hike. For 99% of this race, I was alone, and this section was no exception.

Whenever I started dozing too much, I ate a mouthful of espresso beans. I made it a point to take a sip from my pack every so often. Even though it was getting colder, dipping down below -30ºF, my water was staying water; it was even warm, which was actually nice. By 3am, I was dozing pretty badly, and Michael Nichols and two others caught up to me. I walked with them for a bit and chatted a touch, which started to wake me up, and I pulled ahead again. Mike came with me for a while, but when he stopped to eat, I put a gap on him. He caught up again a bit after daybreak on the trek across Elephant Lake to the second checkpoint at Melgeorge's. That was the coldest moment of the race; daybreak, -34ºF, into a 20 mph headwind—the windchill must have been at least -65ºF.

Mike’s wife Kamie met us on the shore of Elephant Lake and walked the last few hundred yards to the checkpoint cabin at Melgeorge's, where Alicia was parked outside. It took me 14:42 to travel the 35 miles to Melgeorge's (mile 70) from Gateway (mile 35), and I pulled in a bit after 9am. I was freezing, starving, and needed to get inside to thaw out, so I asked Alicia to come into the cabin with me so I could see her.

That didn’t go so well. The checkpoint was chaos, but maybe not for the reason you’d think. As soon as Alicia walked in, they kicked her out. Sure, there were some racers in the cabin, but coming from outside, who cares! We’d just spent the entire night walking alone in the darkness. It had just gotten light outside, and we’re finally able to come in out of the cold. I wouldn't care if I have to sit on a floor, I just want food, warmth, and the happy, smiling faces of my people! Worse than kicking out our crew, though, was the fact that there were hypothermic, frost-bitten racers, shaking and in pain, getting no attention from the understaffed, tired aid station workers! I was trying to get warm calories, but it was difficult. My request for a second grilled cheese was met with disdain; apparently they thought I’d already had two, but who cares if I had! I’d spent 26 hours on the trail! Who cares how many sandwiches I’ve had! I grabbed chips and nuts off the table, filled my bottles, and got out.

I spent less time at Melgeorge's than every other racer on foot, not because I felt good or was full, warm, or rested, but because I wanted to see my wife and puppy, and to do that, I had to go back out in the cold. But out in the cold with my people was better than that cabin, by far, so I bundled back up and went on my way.

Monday, April 29, 2013

"You can't beat death, but you can beat death in life, sometimes."


Reading Amy Rosenbaum Clark's fabulous article All in the Mind in April's Upper Midwest Trail Runners newsletter this morning, I was reminded of a quote I read in Travis Wildeboer's 2013 Barkley Marathons race report The 60-hour day that Andrew Thompson, the 8th finisher of the Barkley in 2009, said to Jonathan "Jonboy" Basham on their drive to the race in 2010 before Jonathan became the 9th finisher of the Barkley,

“You're entering a tunnel Jonboy,” said Thompson, “and there is no way out other than the other side.”

That's how you finish an ultra; you go into a tunnel and you don't come out until the finish. Come race day, after all the training is over and your kit is packed, it's all mental. During these events, that old mantra, "This isn't hard. This just is," constantly flows through my head. Though recently, that's morphed into everything: "It's raining. That's just how this is now." "My feet are wet. That's just how they are now." "My legs hurt. That's just how they feel now." Somehow, accepting my current conditions as they are with the mentality of, "So what? This is how it is now. Keep moving," really helps me keep going through that tunnel to the other side.

This mentality has seeped into every other aspect of my life. Life's hurdles and challenges that once seemed so daunting don't seem so big anymore. These events have taught me so much about life, about myself, about what's truly important.

I don't often remember my dreams, but thinking about that triggered memories of mine from last night. In my head, I was deep into loop 3 of the Barkley with a few faceless others, scaling a wall onto a thin ledge high above the valley, too extreme, too dangerous, even for the Barkley, watching the clock, knowing it was time to leave the others behind and keep going through that tunnel to the other side.

These things we do are fantastic. We're choosing to live life, to cheat death. How can we not laugh, smile, and giggle the entire time?

"your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you."

— Charles Bukowski

Sunday, March 31, 2013

2013 barkley marathons

(in honor of laz, the completely sane and charming race director of the barkley mararthons, this post is absent capital letters)

buckle envy
"you do realize that the losers in the barkley lottery are the ones who get chosen, right?" -laz

i spent a large portion of my weekend glued to the twitter feed #bm100, a feeble attempt to feel "out there" from afar.

there's a record amount of media covering this year's barkley marathons, from ny times articles to a documentary to facebook pages to twitter feeds to functioning (gawk) real-life web pages! for good or bad, more details are available than ever before. i've read it all. the race has consumed me. i've written about this thing i desire here and here.

2013 did not disappoint, as laz, the idiot king, conjured up another doozy. rain. fog. mud. cold. carnage.

the conch blew at the respectable hour of 8:04am, and an hour later, at the lighting of a filtered camel, 35 brave souls ventured "out there."

21 made it out for loop 2, but only 5 survived to leave camp for loop 3. (in contrast, the 350-mile iditarod trail invitations in the brutal alaskan winter amazingly had 48 finishers out of 48 starters this year--different races entirely, but still)

the barkley bugle
the 5 that left for loop 3: travis wildeboer (unsupported superior and long trail fkts); nickademus hollon (22-year-old ultra boss, badwater finisher, arrowhead finisher, hurt competitor, 2-time barkley fun run alum); the abbs (bev and alan, tough mfers and multi-time barkley fun run vets); and one of last year's record 3 finishers, jared campbell (barkley alum, hardrock winner, and nolan's 14 buff).

earlier in the day, jared came in first from loop 1 like a boss in the ultimate direction sj ultra vest and euro-capris, more than an hour before travis and nick and 2 before the abbs, making it look easy.  

euro capris, barkley-style
but it's never easy. on lap 2, the barkley happened, and jared reportedly lost 7 hours off course and was the last of the 5 to leave camp for loop 3, just minutes before cutoff. 

laz and the infamous, now-secret results book in camp
nick hollon was the first to finish loop 3 for his third consectuive fun-run finish in 32:56:15 (seconds fellas? for the barkley? really?). travis wildeboer finished loop 3 just under an hour later, in 33:50 (thereabouts), and the two left together for loop 4 at 34 hours and change, less than 2 hours under cutoff for a loop 4 start. 

as the pace slows in the later hours of the barkley, the suspense grows with everyone eager for another runner to appear back at camp. the downtime is never quiet, though. this year, western states rd craig thornely (aka, lord_balls), crewing the abbs, kept laz busy, discussing race management, perhaps? to think what laz would do to western states is frightening. 

jared broke up talks of making western states more "barkley," coming into camp as 2013's third fun-run finisher at 35 hours, but the 7 hours lost on loop 2 had taken it's toll, and with one hour to leave camp for loop 4, he voluntarily tapped, refusing to continue (rtc). just like that, the alum were none.

the abbs were next into camp, finishing the fun run in 39:09, over the 36-hour limit to continue onto loop 4. they don't make them any tougher though, with alan's 4th fun-run finish in 4 tries and bev's second fun-run finish, making her quite possibly the toughest woman on the planet.

loop 3 page count
rumors filled the air that, on the top of rat jaw on loop 4, travis and nick were in good spirits, laughing and singing, seemingly taunting the course.

rat jaw at day
nick came in from loop 4 at 46:50 with travis just 5 minutes from his heels, but travis turned it around quicker in just 13:13, getting out of camp 5 at 47:09 and choosing a forward, final loop 5. nick left camp 5 minutes later for his backwards loop 5.

nick getting his loop 5 page from laz
travis prepping for loop 5
in the end, nick made it back to camp in 57:41, becoming the 13th finisher of the barkley marathons, the 14th barkley finish (brett maune has two finishes, 2011 and 2012).

nick flying into camp for his loop 5 finish
lap 5 page count
at camp, nick joked about going out for another loop, but when laz offered to let him hit the "easy" button, he refused, opting for "no" instead.


travis finished loop 5 an hour later at 58:41, becoming the 14th barkley finisher, adding to the barkley's rich history of thru-hiking/peak-bagging alum.

travis coming into camp for his loop 5 finish
the fifth and final touch of the yellow gate
lap 5 page count and a well-deserved smirk
really, the only non thru-hiker alum are jared campbell (even though he's done nolans 14) and nick hollon (i'm not sure about mark williams). it seems the right kind of crazy for the barkley is that which can manage a small amount of hurt for a large amount of time without completely losing your shit. the mental aspect of the task seems bigger than the physical, surprisingly, and it takes a special kind of nut not to crack.

epic indeed.


travis wildeboer and nickademus hollon, barkley alum

telling stories in front of the yellow gate, "no shit there i was"
brett maune, jared campbell, john fegyveresi, travis wildeboer, nick hollon, and laz
with "frozen ed" furtaw, the first official finisher of the 3-lap barkley marathons

someday i'll get there. until then...
unending unease
another year of comfort
still yearning to fail

*the pictures above were taken from others and are used here without permission. to those i borrowed from, thank you. to those that want their's down, no worries, just ask.