This summer there were some major successes and major failures, or nicely put, learning experiences. From these experiences I learned a lot of lessons that made me, and will continue to make me a better runner. I think a couple of them can make you a better runner too. I’ll share a few and hope that they will be applicable for anyone running a mountain ultra distance trail race.
- Chill in the outdoors: I spent most of the summer training, eating, reading, working and sleeping outside, usually in big forests and near big mountains. Using lakes and creeks to shower, sleeping at trail-heads and, having plenty of time to chat with strangers at Laundromats, makes you a little more flexible and little less reliant on consistency. Making yourself better at adapting to change on the fly and rolling with challenges in normal life with make you better at rolling through big ups and inevitable dark points during an ultra. Our Air B&B host in Chamonix named Mihai was always saying “tranquilo” or “It’s chill” his attitude is imperative in ultras. Sometimes things get gnarly in the mountains, you run out of water, you get sick, roll an ankle, things start to go downhill fast. You always have time to catch your breath, realize you trained for this, hit the mental reset button, and get back after it. Spending a lot of time in the mountains allows plenty of opportunity for this practice.
- Eat fat: This summer I ate a lot of fat, cause french fries taste good and are cheap, Ok ok in actuality I ate a lot of nuts, avocados, and all that stuff people consider “healthy fat” in addition to french fries. I didn’t notice a huge difference in daily life, what I did notice was the ability to spend really long days in the mountains with very little food, and without getting that “bonk” feeling. I could feel my body utilizing fat as the primary energy source. I’m not a scientist but as the average pace in the mountains is much slower, I think relying on the slower burning energy is beneficial. The ability to use fat more efficiently allows you to not only carry less food and water but allows blood to be used in the running muscles as opposed to stomach for digestion.
- Roll with your nutrition plan: Nutrition depends on conditions, not only on race distance but also on pace, temperature, technical aspects of the course and hydration. Nutrition is super dynamic, fueling during an ultra is like bowling on a canoe during a hurricane, the variables are constantly changing. If you don’t account for the changing variables and choose to simply follow your prescribed 400 calorie an hour plan you might end up in a rough place. Quite often mountain races are slower and cooler than most ultras, often this allows runners to eat more than they normally would. Have a tentative plan for eating, and have plenty of food options, but let what you actually eat roll with the race.
- Be battle ready: Having the right gear is vital. Be prepared for anything the mountains throw at you. I live pretty minimally, in fact everything I own fits comfortably in the back seat of my car. After being under prepared and under dressed at this years Chuckanut 50k I over packed my pack for much of this summers adventures and runs. UTMB requires a ton of seemingly unnecessary gear, but at 2AM when its 40 degrees at 6000 feet and blowing wind the gear suddenly feels really really necessary. Be ready for whatever might come your way.
- Geek out on tech: Run the most technical trails you can find. Find steep rocky mountain ridges and steep rugged canyons that mirror the course you plan to race on. Get to a place where you can roll through really rooty, rocky or steep downhill sections. Find those trails that allow you to practice the more technical aspects of running. Do them again and again and again, pretty soon running downhill feels like skiing. That’s when things get really fun. Yeah you’re probably going to roll an ankle a few times. I know I did more than once, run within your limits. Ankle rolling is one thing, falling is another. Be careful.
The mountains are big and free and wild and powerful. Use those emotions to inspire your next race through the alpine. Good Luck!
If you have a free weekend get over to Mammoth Lakes. If you don’t have a free weekend then make a weekend free. If you can’t make a free weekend then quit your job and move into your car (ill advised advice not recommended…)
There is a lot of big, steep, wild country to explore our here. Hundreds of crystal clear lakes are scattered around the area. Each lake is surrounded by steep granite walls and most are easily (relatively, considering most are at 10,000ft) accessed by the 1000’s of miles of trails that criss cross the Easter Sierra. Just a few minutes drive from downtown Mammoth Lakes you can be on the PCT and a few miles after that you can connect with the John Muir Trail. These are some of the best trails I have ever run and the accessibility is unbelievable.
Here are a few brief runs I would recommend that Nike Trail teammate Tim Tollefson and Gnar Boss Hayden Teachout helped me discover.
Duck Pass– Park at Cold Creek Campground. I did an out and back but can be a loop as well. Strava link
Agnew Meadows to 1000 Island Lake– Park at Agnew Meadow (before 7AM to avoid shuttle) Make this a loop if you have time. Here is a link to my strava segment, basically just lots of lakes and beautiful views of The Minarets. The JMT section is much more challenging, rocky and technical while the PCT is super plush runnable trail. Strava Segment
Mammoth Mountain Via Dragon’s Back- Short, steep and technical but pretty awesome and ends at 11,053. Strava Link
For a complete list of awesome running in the area check out Sage to Summit
Here is a picture gallery from the weeks running, but don’t waste your time looking at my pictures. Get out there and take your own.
Gear that kept me alive during the week of training
As we drove the curvy mountain roads toward the starting line at 2:30 Saturday morning the van was pretty quiet. Especially quiet for a team that had been chatting constantly all week about everything from GU flavors to training plans. My mind was still a little fuzzy (as it usually is at that hour). As we got into Annecy and got closer to the starting line, the years of dreams about competing for Team USA started becoming clearer…and scarier. I started thinking, “I’ve never climbed 17,000 feet in a day before, I’ve never run with a pack on before, I’ve never eaten real food during a race before! This terrain is far more technical than anything I’ve ever run. How much blood did they take for yesterdays drug test? Will that effect me?! Did I eat too many baguettes yesterday? Did I eat enough baguettes yesterday? This could be a very rough day…” But as we got to the start line, put on our head lamps and stripped off our USA warm-ups the worry melted away, and I remembered, This IS GOING to be a rough day. That’s what ultrarunning is; rough. Expecting anything less than getting your bell rung is a mistake. The sport is a marriage of freedom and suffering that will make you extremely tired but also unbelievably free.
The starting gun went off at 3:30 A.M. We ran through a tunnel of fans holding fireworks and flares, down the boardwalk on Lake Annecy, and then began the first climb up Semnoz. The trail was dark, wet, and fairly quiet. Near the top of the climb the trail popped out in a campground complete with large expedition tents, campfires, and huge geo-domes lit up with purple and green laser lights. The place looked like it had been the scene of a pretty spectacular alpine party the night before, but maybe that’s just how people camp in France. From the campsite to the top of Semnoz the trail was lined with flaming torches, it made for a pretty spectacular sight. From the top we descended down through the ski resort on a fairly rocky jeep road, and continued down to Saint Eustache. On the way we passed though many tiny towns where spectators were cheering and ringing bells. From there we went back up and down 5 more major climbs and descents from which I will spare you the details. Here are some pics from the day.
On the ascent up Col de la Forclaz I started hearing the ringing of cowbells in the distance. I was pretty hungry and thirsty and was looking forward to an aid station, or at least a town to fill up a bottle. The higher I climbed the louder the bells got, and the drier my mouth got. I was really looking forward to an aid station. As I crested the hill, I looked down to a green valley full of cows eating, bells swinging in the wind…It was not from the encouragement I was looking for but in its own lonely way, it was far better.
Over the final climb up Mont Baron I ran out of water, got hot and started bonking pretty good, it was really motivating knowing my teammates were counting on me to power through the hard sections, and it was really inspiring knowing they were doing the same thing. In the end the US men’s team took home the silver medal. Here are a few post race photos.
Here is a brief summary of what I used during the race. -Ultimate Direction AK 2.0 Pack – 3 Simple Bottles- Great hands free bottles that fit in pockets, waist band or pack(message me at davidlaney12 at Gmail.com for a 35% off promo code) simplehydration.com – 2 UGo Bars- Really good, fast and easy to digest, Check them out at UgoBars.com -Special Edition Nike Zoom Kiger 3’s. You can buy them soon at Nike.com/Trail – A bunch of GU, Shot Blocks and Coca-Cola.
Thanks to Bryon Powell and Meghan Hicks of IRunFar.com for their coverage of the event for friends, fans and family around the world. These two do an awesome job and are all over the course taking pictures and tweeting standings/updates.
Thanks to Team Coach Richard Bolt for being an awesome support system, crew, and manager while in France, and thanks to Nancy Hobbs, USA UltraRunning and ATRA.
Finally a HUGE thanks to Trail Butter for creating a “TEAM USA” flavor and supporting us with the proceeds from sales of that flavor. It is amazing to see a small Oregon company volunteer big support for the team. Without support like this the elite component of trail running would not survive. The small companies that give back to the sport in a big way are necessary for dreams to come true, and to you we are all very grateful. Check them out at TrailButter.com
And for those of you that are still reading, here are a few more pics from the event.
My Sophomore year in High School I got a tibial stress reaction, not a full stress fracture but basically an injury from repetitive stress on the tibia. If I continued to train on the injury a stress fracture was likely. The doctor told me to take 6 weeks off from running. Those were a rough six weeks, but I biked, swam, did 100’s of sit-ups, pull-ups and push-ups daily. I did just about everything I could imagine to get ready for the fall cross country season. When the fall came I was fit, but far from fast. Our first time trial of the season was a disaster. In an all out effort I came across the line clocking a 6 minute mile, slower than I was 5 years earlier as a 5th grader… saying I was discouraged would be an understatement.
Galen Rupp, The Central Catholic High School Alum and 2012 10,000 meter Olympic Silver Medalist, occasionally dropped clothes and shoes by practice. Usually it was USA gear, outgrown shoes, shorts, sweats, etc. At the end of practice we would dig through the box of treasure and take a few things. The next day at practice we would all proudly wear our new clothes. The day of the discouraging time trial a box of clothes was delivered to the track, as it was a particularly good box of gear, CCHS Coach Dave Frank had us guess numbers for who got to choose an item first. Whether Dave knew I could use some encouragement, or if I really guessed the right number I’ll never know, But I went home with a new USA track warm up jacket. It was dark blue with red piping, USA stitched in big white letters on the back, and the winged USA emblem on the chest. I don’t think I took it off for a month. I was so excited to have a USA jacket (earned or not) that I went home and started researching the USA cross country team. I came across an article about Dathan Ritzenhein, I read about his history of stress fractures and injuries, and his ability to come back, get healthy, train smart and run fast again. I figured if someone can come back from three stress fractures and many other injuries, I can comeback from a few more trials. This planted the idea in my head that someday I could make a world cross country team.
That decision was a realization for me, that distance running was going to be a roller coaster. There are major ups, and long, dark, drawn out downs. The ups will excite you, but coming back from the downs is what inspires others.
12 years later I’ve passed the USA jacket on to someone else who found inspiration from it, And I’ve earned my own USA team gear. I’m very thankful to have the opportunity to represent The United States of America.
For the last month I’ve been increasing my training load. Doing a lot more running in the mountains on steep, technical trails and preparing for the IAU World Trail Championship. On May 30th I’ll put on the Red, White and Blue and race 86 kilometers through some very rugged country. Not exactly cross country… but it will do.
Thanks to all those who have cheered me on over the mountains and through the valleys of long distance running.
“The Big Day” is known well by Steens Mountain Campers as a day of endurance; an opportunity to, as Harland Yriarte says, “overemphasize to trivialize”. Campers are led on a 28 mile journey down, through and out of the glacial cut gorges on the Steens Mountain. For many of them it allows an opportunity to be pushed to the edge of their boundaries, mentally and physically. The experience undoubtedly shapes participants for the rest of their lives. I know this adventure and ideal has shaped my life significantly. Every few months I get out in the mountains, alone or with friends for a “big day” of my own. Here is a brief account of yesterdays.
Nearly asleep in each of our sleeping bags, I realize Ghelfi and I both threw down our bags in the middle of the parking lot right next to my car… Realizing that late night campers could be driving through the lot, we quickly moved to a slightly more out of the way area…once we were finally settled down a heinous odor become quite oppressive and we realize the trail head pit toilet was about 10 feet away… needless to say decision to stay put led to a restless night of sleep.
We got up in the morning, packed quickly and hit the trail running. 30 minutes in my head lamp burnt out…Luckily my night vision has improved greatly since Waldo 100k, and a full moon helped guide my feet. 10 minutes later Ghelfi’s head lamp went out… After both taking some big spills we decided to simply hike until the sun came up. Just as the sun began to come up we arrived at the creek that we planned to follow up to the top of the ridge line. With no trail on the map and thick underbrush ahead, it was clear that a major bushwack was in store.
The underbrush was thick and climbing the slippery rocks up the creek bed was a struggle to say the least. I know we both took a few big falls. Shins, knees and elbows all have the marks to prove it.
Needless to say by the time we reached the granite rock band where the creek bed petered out we were ready to do some real climbing. And we got more than we anticipated. Luckily the cliff band was pretty low skill and we were able to muscle our way over it.
After finally getting to the top of the ridge we descended into the beautiful granite basin below. More sliding and falling, and all things that go with falling. This is the point where things got tough. Backtracking was a very unappetizing option, it was clear that the Sawtooth we intended to climb was above our pay grade for the day and the route we hoped would lead us to the top was more technical than anticipated. We decided to climb the ridge, to the right of me in this picture, and attempt to loop behind the Sawtooth mountain and drop down a steep rockfall into L Lake, then hopefully pick up the Canyon Creek Trail and head 9 miles back to the car. This was all a big hope… a granite cliff could easily force us to abandon the entire loop and have to head back down the way we just came.
Here Ghelfi and I decided to abandon the summit attempt of Sawtooth (pictured dead center)
We descended the rocky ridge line about 1000 feet before the entire boulder field became choked out in thick underbrush…picture above is the route we plowed through… Ghelfi deemed it, “A great route! Basically a highway” Clearly we have different opinions of what a “great route” is. Unfortunately this picture doesn’t show that this “path” of rock and brush is actually quite steep.
Relieved to be back on an actual trail, and not totally sure how we just got down the section I’m looking at. Its amazing how much security a simple path of dirt provides after blazing our own trail for the past 6 hours.
Finally we came to a clearing and picked up a bit of a trail which took us about a mile and a half down to the Canyon Creek Lakes. After swimming, eating and getting water we headed 9 miles down plush alpine single track through alpine meadows and past some stunning fall colors back down the trail to the car.
The wilderness is a place of major risk and major reward. Untamed land provides a canvas on which exploration, struggle and freedom shape who you are, in a way not possible in the flatlands. I’ll leave you with a quote from one of the fathers of wilderness Aldo Leopold, “…I am glad I shall never be young without wild country to be young in.” This land is out there, open and free for you. Explore it.
If you want to read another account of the day here is Ghelfi’s Blog ryanghelfi.com
Ferris: Cameron, what have you seen today?
Cameron: Nothing good.
Ferris: Nothing – wha – what do you mean nothing good? We’ve seen everything good. We’ve seen the whole city! We went to a museum, we saw priceless works of art! We ate pancreas!
The summer always ends, and when it does I never feel like I got enough done.. There are 1000 things I wish I could have done. Looking at the summer as a whole paints a better picture; and here are some of them in no order. Luckily there is still a little summer left. I’m gonna use it.