Ultra-Trail Du Mont-Blanc – 170K Of Big Free and Maybe Pain?

“Running is like getting up every morning and shooting yourself. You know that you are going to put yourself through something really painful, but you also know how much strength and speed are going to come with it. The passion of a runner is to force forgetfulness on that pain and embrace the benefits that will without fail make you a better person.” -Mark Wetmore, coach of University of Colorado XC team

They say Everything’s Bigger in Texas.  Well it turns out everything is bigger in Chamonix as well.  (except the food sizes, I’m convinced the French have stomachs the size of grapes) When I arrived at my Air B&B two weeks ago I was greeted by the biggest Newfoundland I’ve ever seen, a 130 pound pup that looked more like a bear than a dog. Her name was Guaya and judging by her smell, she avoids baths like…well like a dog, who hates baths.  Within an hour of my arrival in Chamonix, my teammate Ryan Ghelfi and I were headed out to run the Vertical Kilometer from town up to the top of Brevent (A Vertical Kilometer is a trail that has 1000 meters of ascent in a distance under 5k, the Brevent VK climbes the 1000 vertical meters in 3.8k) Over the course of the week we climbed a ton of vertical, saw massive glaciers and huge, jagged peaks of the Mont Blanc Massif.  We got to experience a taste of the suffering we would without a doubt swim in during the following weeks race. photo 1 (25) photo 2 (23)

Two days before the race I wrote in my training log, “BATTLE READY. Race of attrition. Hammer last 50k”.  When race evening came I didn’t have the usual pre race jitters.  I was really calm, relaxed and ready to run a really relaxed 50 miles, followed by a really hard 50 miles.  I felt very prepared for the tough climbs as well as the technical descents as I had spent the entire summer training on similar terrain in Mammoth Lakes, The Wallowas, The North Cascades and various other ranges and volcanoes in the American West.

The first 50 miles were really chill, treating it like a training run I was able to relax, enjoy the mountains and stars and preserve my energy for the later stages.  The moon was huge, stars were bright and crowds were ecstatic.

passage-de-l-americain-david-laney-a-notre-dame-de-la-gorge-il-termine-troisieme-de-l-utmb-2015-photo-dl-greg-yetchmeniza

At Grand Col Ferret I started rolling a bit, and by Champex-Lac (122 Kilometers in) it was hammertime.  With a conservative strategy early, this was the time to take a BIG Texas sized risk.  I was focused, hungry and attacking every step. Every climb I was able to hike and run strong, the flats and descents smooth.  My summer focus on technical downhill was paying off in a big way.  For the first time running steep technical downhill was fun, rather than stressful. I was jumping off rocks and roots, sprinting the smooth sections and charging through rollers.  The experience felt more like skiing than running.

TrailUTMB

Every runner I passed gave me a huge surge of energy.  On the final climb up Tete aux Vents I was finally in 4th and both hunting and running scared.  I knew I was redlining and it wouldn’t take much to blow up and spend an hour in an aid station.  Every time I came to what I thought was the top of the climb it would continue another few 100 meters up.  My mind was totally focused on grinding up to the top, and then hammering back down.

At La Flegere I was finally done with the 10,000 meters of climbing, and I started blitzing down the final descent.

When I finally hit the pavement of Chamonix with under a mile to go I saw teammate Zach Miller (Previous days CCC 100k Champ) he had fire in his eyes and was yelling that I needed to sprint to the finish.  Finishing any race is hard, but kicking from a kilometer out in a 105 mile mountain race is…Well, I honestly don’t remember.  I imagine that it was painful because such an act usually is painful, and it has been 4 days since the race and I’m still sore.  So I have to imagine the finish was pretty hard, but I think my brain could only process so much information and I believe it decided to remember the screaming fans rather than the pain. Thanks brain!

Coming down the final stretch was surreal.  The crowds, hands outstretched waved us home into the finish line.  Huge mountains, dirt, hills, rocks, cows, mud, sweat, sunrises, sunsets, chaffing, blood, coke-cola, and 105 miles make a trail race, but the fans are what make this trail race an experience truly unique and memorable.

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Mountains and emotions are bigger here.

Thanks Chamonix. I’ll be back; soon.

Thanks                                                                                                                                Huge thanks to the amazing fans, volunteers and organizers! You all made it an awesome experience. Thanks to Bighorn Bistro (THE place to eat in Cham) for keeping us well fed all week. Thanks to the Ghelfi Family for coming out and supporting the team, Thanks to everyone back home cheering, and Bryon and Megan of IRunFar.com for being all over the course and providing great coverage of the event! Thanks also to Like The Wind Magazine for hosting two great social events before and after the race.   Thanks to all the Nike Running crew who came out to shred the trails and cheer us on! Thanks to Billy Yang Films for documenting the weeks adventures. Finally, huge thanks to Trail Boss Pat Werhane for regulating like Warren G, keeping food in our stomachs and shoes on our feet.

UTMB Gear List                                                                                                                 Nike Zoom Wildhorse 3                                                                                                     Nike Kiger Jacket                                                                                                               Gu, Sport Beans and UGO Bars                                                                                        Simple Hydration Bottles (email me at davidlaney12@gmail.com for a 35% Off Promo Code)  Check them out at SimpleHydration.com

Chuckanut Number 3. Two Years on the Trails

My first Ultramarathon was Chuckanut 2013, two years ago.  At the time I didn’t really know what the marathon plus world did to a person, the highs and lows of each race and season.  It’s hard to believe that I’ve only been doing this thing two years, it (like the last two miles of last weeks race) feels much much longer.

Going up Chinscraper at my first Chuckanut
2013. Going up Chinscraper at my first Chuckanut
The pack heading out the Interurban at the 2014 Chuckanut
The pack heading out the Interurban at the 2014 Chuckanut, my second Chuckanut running.
2015 Chuckanut, Here, at Sugar Bonk City, with about three miles to go, things started to fall apart.
2015 Chuckanut, here, at sugar bonk city, with about three miles to go things started to fall apart.

Trail running isn’t exactly easy. The sport destroys feet, wrecks digestive systems, frys mitochondria and occasionally sends the mind into a tailspin. But what’s pretty cool is at then end of the day there is always somebody to lift you up.  You may have had a rough few miles, or rough day on the trail, but the runners, the support system, and the family is what makes the sport amazing.  Thanks to everybody out there who knows way to much about GU, trail shoes and reads IrunFar daily, and an even bigger thanks to those people out there who don’t know much about trail running but care about it because its important to someone they care about it.

When it comes down to it, I’ve enjoyed the trails and been inspired and freed by the mountains. I’ve been strengthened by the difficulties,and toughened by the challenges. In two years I’ve learned much more than simply how to run fast in the mountains. I still have a lot left to learn.

 

Another Summer

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. 

Mt. Ashland Hill Climb

Over the past year the dirt road up to the Mt. Ashland Ski Area and I have become quite well acquainted.  This route, has seen me at my best and my worst.  I’ve ran hard, easy, powerhiked, limped, and flew up and down just about every section of the road, as well as the trails that weave in and out of this major artery.  Just for clarification, by major artery I mean, you might see one person on any given morning.  Needless to say its often just you, the mountain and a few stray vultures.

Almost to the top.
Almost to the top.

The Mount Ashland Hill Climb is a 13.3 mile footrace from Lithia Park to the summit of our 7,532 foot peak, for a total of 5,600 feet of climbing.  The idea is pretty simple, start in the heart of Ashland and go up to the top of the highest mountain that you can see from town. As an employee of Rogue Valley Runners for the past two years, and a resident of Ashland since 2007, I feel a certain sense of pride for our trails and local mountains.  The hills and trails you train on really define you, as a person and a runner.  I’ve watched the seasons change in the Ashland watershed, and I think I’ve taken a lot more than stronger heart and tougher legs away from those hours and days on the trails… or maybe not…

Usually I want to win races because of a goal I have set, my competitive spirit, or the fact that I hate to lose.  Surprisingly none of these reasons really played a part in Saturdays race.  I wanted to win because Mt. Ashland is our local ski hill, its our place of freedom, its the highest peak in the Siskiyou’s. I thought somebody who lives at the bottom of the mountain, who eats at Ruby’s, shops at the ShopN’Cart, and ice baths in Ashland Creek ought to be the first to the top.

The race is special because on any clear day finishers can look upward and see those chair lifts and that weather station, and know they got to the top on foot.  The race may have taken all morning and runners may have decided to never do it again, but a lot of folks got there, and fast or slow that is a pretty cool accomplishment.

Thanks to all the amazing volunteers!  HUGE thanks to first year race director Joseph Chick, he organized and executed like a veteran.  The event has been, was and continue to be a challenge and a success in every aspect.

Summit
Photo of the summit orb, Courtesy of SummitPost.

I’d also be interested in opinions on how far this ball at the top of the mountain would roll if a particularly large gust of wind were to blow off the top of the mountain… In case you were wondering what I think about on my way up.

Transvulcania

Off the coast of Morocco lie The Canaries.  A group of rugged volcanic islands whose peaks rise straight out of the clear blue Atlantic.  Once a year long distance runners from around the globe gather on the Island of La Palma for one of the most beautiful, challanging and exciting footraces in the world.

As I’ve only been running trails for about a year and I figured it was time to figure out really how different racing in Europe is compared to the races in the United States. In short, European Mountain/Ultra/Trail racing is VERY different than the Mountain/Ultra/Trail (MUT) scene in the United States.  Climbs and descents are steeper, trails more rugged, and competitors much more adapted to power hiking and navigating technical trail, the enthusiasm of spectators is unrivaled.

Pat, Me and Ghelfi
Pat, Me and Ghelfi

I like big climbs and descents, what I was not accustomed to is descending 13,600 feet through fields of jagged lava rock, uneven cobblestone paths covered in loose rock and dry river beds.  I probably looked like a 90 year old man as I navigated my way down into the small town of Tazacorte.  The way Euro mountain runners descend technical terrain is unbelievable, its like they are dancing their way through a field of cotton candy.  Technical descents will definitely be a focus in my training this summer, it will take a lot of specific training to be able to hold my own on this type of course.

The Caldera
I took this pic of the caldera on a training run a few days before the race

The people lining the course from the start in Fuencaliente to the finish in Los Llanos were beyond enthusiastic.  Spectators were yelling “Anima!” which I learned basically means soul or spirit. The excitement of the people was thick, the race had a definite Tour de France feel.  The final kilometer was ridiculous, Thousands of people were crowding the street, yelling, taking pictures, high fiving. It was an experience I wont soon forget.

I usually take races really seriously, I prepare diligently, leave nothing to chance, plan exactly what I am going to eat and where, know the exact mileage between aid stations, etc.  This time due to a variety of circumstances I decided not to plan.  I put two gels in my running shorts, filled up my waterbottle and headed out to race through sand, volcanic rock fields, green forests, banana groves, dry river beds, back alleys and city streets. I had a great time.  Obviously time and performance are very important and very quantifiable variables.  I like measuring my abilities against those of others in a clear and direct manner, but I have found evaluating ultramarathon performances on a more dynamic criteria usually leaves me with a sweeter taste in my mouth. There are 3 things that I think are valuable and strive to get out of every race.

Learn

Suffer

Be Free

I like to learn, love to suffer and believe freedom is the greatest of virtues.

I gained a lot of experience from this event.  I discovered gummy peach rings are far superior fuel than gels. I spent a good amount of time in the pain cave, I’m not ready to go back to the dark caverns yet, but I will be ready and eager to really suffer on June 28th. For 73 kilometers I had the sun on my face and the wind at my back and that is a pretty good way to spend a day.

Thank you to the hospitable, friendly people of The Canary Islands, for sharing your volcano with me and letting me attempt to speak terribly broken spanish. Thank you to Skyrunning and the Transvulcania organizing committee.  I hope to race on La Palma again. It was awesome to get to know the contingent of American runners and the international runners as well.

Here is a video of last years event, really gives a cool perspective of the race                        2013 Transvulcania Video

Photo from Ian Corless

DreamTeam television will be putting out another video of this years race in the coming weeks.

 

Nike Trail Elite Team / Rogue Valley Runners

Until this past weekend, November 20, 2011 was the last time I ran a race as a member of a team.  On that day the men of Southern Oregon University won a National Cross Country Title.  Granted the university is a part of the relatively unknown NAIA, but that minor detail didn’t matter to the 7 of us who had spent years preparing for those eight kilometers of grass, mud and hills.  The success of that day was exciting, fun and depending on your philosophical beliefs possibly even meaningful. By the evening the feeling was gone.  The enjoyment of the win was fleeting, This was my last collegiate cross country race, and the emptiness I experienced knowing it was over clouded my mind.  For years of weekday afternoons and weekend mornings, I spent my time training with the guys that I had the privilege of calling teammates and friends.  We ran together, lived together, spent painful hours in the university’s training room ice whirlpool together.  Needless to say it was a pretty tight group.

xcchamps

I don’t have allusions of grandeur.  I know collegiate cross country is a special thing that occurs for a special time at a special place in a young runners life.  When its gone, its gone.  Trying to get that experience back has probably ruined a few good years for many a runner.  That being said, their are many benefits of a team that any runner can experience. I can’t guarantee that this will make running more meaningful (as that is up to you and your demons) but teammates and friends will make running and racing more fun.  From the outside it looks like just a bunch of dudes (or ladies) wearing matching shirts and shoes, sporting the logo of whoever pays the bills on their chest.  In some instances I’m sure this is true, but just as the Grinch discovered that Christmas meant more than presents, teams mean much more than uniforms and sponsors.  Point: Traveling and racing with friends is more fun than alone.  And as juvenile as it sounds, wearing cool matching shirts actually makes people feel more together.

Nike Trail Elite

This weekend part of the Nike Trail Elite Team got together to run the Chuckanut50k.  We didn’t do a pre race chant, braid each others hair or cross the finish line holding hands.  We warmed up together and each ran our own individual race, individuals as part of a greater whole.  We pushed each other, encouraged each other, sat around after the race together debriefing and getting fired up for the next time we all get to spend a few tough hours running on the dirt together.

Chuckanut Bay and Bellingham aerial from Southwest
Chuckanut Bay and the Chuckanut Mountains

Nike is a company built around and for long distance running.  Its pretty special to be working with a company that values the voice of the athlete as much as Nike does.  I’m excited about what the Nike Trail Elite Team has done so far and I know there will be many more huge successes in the future. Rogue Valley Runners makes a huge impact in the local endurance community as well as greater trail running community.  I’m proud to have both The Swoosh and the Rogue Valley Runners logo on my chest.

Can’t wait to get down to the Sonoma 50 Mile in a few weeks and have much more of the Nike Trail crew together!

Nike Trail Elite

Getting Ready For the BIG One

Every time I go to the Western States 100 Website the race day countdown in the upper right hand corner gives me a reality check. Seriously? 134 days. Oh boy.

Foresthill WS100

Canyons

As I write this I’m sitting outside Old Town Pizza in historic downtown Auburn, CA.  I came down to the course yesterday morning to get a glimmer of an idea of what I had gotten myself into, and more importantly how to get ready for it.

The Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run has been a dream of mine since I was about 10.  Somehow the Oregon Public Broadcasting station created a documentary that was captivating for a 10 year old.  During my formative years I knew the race would be a major part of my life. Now it is.

This weeks trip to the course consisted of driving, running, camping, waking up to an unreal sunrise, eating too much candy, getting lost, more running, more driving, and generally a lot of exploration.  I had the luck of running into veteran racer and WS100 race director Craig Thornley, and WS100 veteran Meghan Arbogast at the Placer High track.  I  twisted my ankle, found a place to buy ice, found a place to buy pizza, found a curb to sit on, got inspired.

The road to Western States started 15 years ago.  And if I may be metaphorical, I’m hardly out of Squaw Valley.  The road ahead is hot, rugged, tiresome, occasionally lonely and altogether pretty freakin awesome.  I guess this is where adventure begins.

Woke up to this beautiful sunrise outside my tent.  Snow covered mountains in the distance.  One of the most beautiful scenes I have ever witnessed.
Woke up to this beautiful sunrise outside my tent. Snow covered mountains in the distance. One of the most beautiful scenes I have ever witnessed.  Unfortunately my camera battery died, and my phone is terrible, so I took this with my computer web cam… Sorry for the poor quality.
No Hands Bridge
No Hands Bridge
Finish at Placer High School
Finish at Placer High School