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

The Ups and Downs of Dream Team USA

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- 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

 

 

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. 

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.

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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

God’s Country- Another Day in the Mountains

With ski slopes bare and the day off work, I decided to spend the day with friends in the Cathedrals of Northern California.  Sunny and a balmy 65 degrees;  Wearing a shirt simply wasn’t an option.  

Awesome Shoe. Nike Zoom Wildhorse

So Cal weather in Nor Cal

Going up was much easier than going down…

After a few days of recovery from Bandera 100k I had to get back in the groove of training.  In Texas I learned I was a total amateur at technical running. The rocky trails of Castle Crags allowed me some practice.  Snowless Mt.Shasta in the background.  Tough winter for the Ski Areas.

Monterey 1/2 Marathon

I’v got to say it was a rough race, but there isn’t a prettier course to have a tough day on.

Central California Coast

“In football, you might get your bell rung, but you go in with the expectation that you might get hurt, and you hope to win and come out unscathed.  As a distance runner, you know you’re going to get your bell rung.  Distance runners are experts at pain, discomfort, and fear.  You’re not coming away feeling good.  It’s a matter of how much pain you can deal with on those days.  It’s not a strategy.  It’s just a callusing of the mind and body to deal with discomfort.  Any serious runner bounces back.  That’s the nature of their game.  Taking pain.” – Mark Wetmore

Race recap:  Beautiful weather, great field, awesome course, slight rolling hills.  Race went out fairly comfortably, 9:47 through 2 miles, the lead pack dropped the pace significantly after that and things got really hard really fast.  By the end I was running a little over 5:10 pace, and finished in 67:28 for 12th place. Definitely expected a faster time today. Hope the taper before CIM results in some fresher legs. The last 10 weeks have been a pretty solid buildup for the Cal International Marathon.  I’v been really happy with training feel like I’m on track to get at it on December 8th.

In other and much more interesting news, Got to do a little sight seeing in Monterey.

Athlete coordinator told us this was the Steinbeck made famous Bear Flag building, I later discovered (awkwardly) it was actually about a block North.
Athlete coordinator told us this was the Steinbeck made famous Bear Flag building, I later discovered (awkwardly) it was actually about a block North.
Cannery Row, with the flags of The Bear Flag Building in the left corner. Unfortunately for me and my post race melancholy I was about 75 years late.
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Great shoe for exploring coastal trails and tide pools

Congrats to all who enjoyed the rolling hills and waves of the Big Sur Half Marathon this weekend! Thanks to all volunteers, Greg Mislick and Steve Butler for doing so much for the athletes competing.