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.

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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.

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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

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Bandera 100k Race Report

Usually I start these things with some failed sarcastic joke and end them by thanking the race director, organizer and volunteers. Today, we give thanks first.

On Saturday morning temps at the Hill Country State Natural Area outside Bandera were below freezing.  Freezing rain and ice covered the ground, tarps and cars. The temperature rose little over the course of the day, and I assume it dropped once the sun went down. The cut off time for the 100k is 24 hours, meaning volunteers spent all night in the cold cooking food and warming soup for the runners.  Thank you for being out there.  With out you all (or should I say ya’ll) I’d likely be shivering under some ice covered cactus, swearing I was never going to run again. Thanks to Joe Prusaitis, Tejas Trails, and all those who worked hard organizing and executing this great event.

Photo from Kim Wrinkle
Photo from Kim Wrinkle

 

Now here’s what happened out there. The first 5 miles were pretty slow and cautious as no one wanted to risk an early spill on the icy rock.  Once we got out on the smoother sections the group split up quickly.  Paul Terranova and I ran together, off and on, for the next 30 miles or so, chatting shoes and GU flavors. Neither of us was in any hurry to push the pace. By the second loop the rain and foot traffic from the 50k and 25k, as well as the other 100k’ers  had turned the Texas dirt into a thick muddy paste that stuck to anything it touched. Within minutes my shoes and back of legs were fully coated in mud, pebbles, and sand. The slop made running on the “easy” sections of the course very challenging.  I tried to stop and scrape the sludge off a few times but the process was a waste of time.  I started looking forward to the last 15 miles, where the mudfest gives way to rockier trails with less shoe coating mud.  The last 5-10 miles flew by.  Cold temps made eating and drinking easy. Usually the body has to work hard to cool itself down and blood goes to the extremities, I’m guessing with less cooling work to do my stomach was able to digest much better.

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Photo from Kim Wrinkle

 

Well, I got my ticket to Western States, won my first USATF national trail title and got really cold and dirty doing it. Now…time to hibernate.

Photo from Kim Wrinkle
Photo from Kim Wrinkle

Nike Trail Mug Giveaway

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This time of year people start looking for a hot beverages on cold mornings. With all the folks asking me how to get a Nike trail mug I figured I’d do another contest.  So here is the deal, I have 2 of the classic mugs left.  Here is how to win one.

1. Carve a pumpkin.

2. Tweet, instagram, email, snail-mail me a picture of it.  I don’t care how you show me your carved pumpkin creation, just get it to me. If you use twitter or Instagram just @davidlaney12 in the comment so I will be able to find it.  If you leave the pumpkin you have carved on my front porch with a note you might be disqualified or you might automatically win…Haven’t decided which yet.

3. Carving tools are sharp…Don’t accidentally cut yourself.

4. I’ll decide which stands out as most humorous, creative, awesome and let those two winners know.  Winners will be informed on Halloween and mugs shipped the same day.

 

Morning at Sparks Lake

 

The Big Day- Trinity Alps Edition

“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.


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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.

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photo 3 (2)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.  photo 3 (1)

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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.

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Here Ghelfi and I decided to abandon the summit attempt of Sawtooth (pictured dead center)

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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.

photo (3) 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.

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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.

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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.

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If you want to read another account of the day here is Ghelfi’s Blog ryanghelfi.com

 

 

Flagline 50k

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Start of the Flagline 50K

Sundays Flagline 50k was a grind from the start, not sure why, but it was one of those tough days on the trail. Just glad to have reeled in a few guys over the 2nd half of the race and pull off a 3rd place finish. (AKA It was 50K, There was some dirt, I got 3rd place.)

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Coming into Aid Station 1. Ghelfi handing out bottles.
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Bringing it into the Finish

Huge thanks to all the volunteers out on the course, Race Director SuperDave, and all the folks out on the course!

Finally, Congrats to Tim Tollefson for winning the US Trail 50K and setting a new course record! The days of going out and cherry picking your local 50k are over people.  The growth of trail running and lack of incentives on the roads will lead to greater numbers of “track guys gone rogue” that can show up and throw down on a trail race like a veteran.

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Ryan Ghelfi, Myself, David Roche and Nike Trail Elite manager and Trail Boss Pat Werhane.

Photo credit to USATF Mountain/Ultra/Trail Richard Bolt

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.