Sep 14, 2014

Iceland Traverse

I'll start by stating that my preferred backpacking terrain is mountainous.  Iceland was a 170 degree turn (the 40 km of the hilly Laugavegur salvaged the final 10 degrees) and I was debating for a while with The Onion if it was something I wanted to commit to.  Well, after 40+ emails we made it official and headed over to Reykjavik.  Our plan was to follow Jonathan Lay's route he came up with in 2006 and we had Trauma's 30+ detailed maps with us but turned out to be completely useless weight in my pack.  After spending a day in the capital mailing re-supply packages via bus to Myvatn, Nyidalur, and Landmannalaguar I took a small propeller plan to Akureyri to meet Onion.  After meeting at the bus "terminal" we bussed it to the whale capital of Iceland, Husavik, in the hopes of catching a ride to the "official" starting point of Hraunhafnartangi.  I got restless after an hour of failing to get a hitch that would probably take us another day so I convinced Onion to start from Husavik which is still on the Greenland Sea and hike east until we meet the original route.  Instead of a blow-by-blow account, I'll talk about what was unique and I'll let the photos and videos below paint a picture.

It took us a little over a day to reach this beautiful canyon while hiking in a seemingly endless cloud to reach this canyon and meet back up with Ley's route.  The route hugged the cliff side and we were awarded with a great views with the culmination of a great waterfall.

 Dettifoss, at the end of the canyon, was a powerful waterfall filled with black sediment.  A sight to behold.

After our first re-supply, we finally start heading into the barren Highlands of Iceland.  Nothing exists here except glacier, rock, and volcanic ash.  A black desert exposed to the harsh weather of erosion: wind and water.  

Another characteristic of the trek that was unique was the 24 hours of light.  For the entire trip I never once saw darkness so items like an eye cover were critical to get some sleep.  The natural rhythms of light and dark usually dictate when to start and stop hiking.  Without darkness as a guide we usually got late starts, starting between 8-9 and usually didn't stop until 9-10.  The below clip shows what it would be like at 3am.  And there was nowhere to hide from the wind and rain.  Protection for our shelter were hard to come by.

Headwinds with pelting rain seemed to be more common as we ventured further south.  Sometimes it would be quite piercing as it would coming off the massive glacier of Vatnajökulsþjóðgarður.  Good luck with that word.

The character of the landscape changed almost suddenly, as the Highlands gave way to beautiful colorful hills where the popular Laugavegurs northern terminus is located.  We would actually be on trail for the next 40-50km.  It was the most spectacular section of the trek. 

Several times during the trek we encountered steaming vents that had the odor of sulfur.  The entire country is a breeding ground of geothermal activity but none was so visible to us then on this section of the trek.

If we ever hang out you can ask me about the last day of the trek and what hell we went through to get to the North Atlantic Ocean.  It was certainly the worst weather (hurricane headwinds, sub-freezing temps, sleet for 7 hours) by far I've ever encountered and it involved getting lost, saving a French couple, and being close to hypothermia.  When Onion had a chance to pull out his camera he took some clips.  They don't tell the full tale but they're fun to watch.

The final walk to the North Atlantic was a time of reflection on the journey and what the trip was about. 

Another main reason why I did this trek was because I didn't think I would ever get a chance to again.  It's something I had no interest in doing alone and I honestly don't know any other person that would do this besides The Onion.  I'm glad to have taken advantage of the opportunity to walk across a country unlike most others I will probably ever see. We heard that some volcanoes were ready to go and hoped they would hold off until we left.  It turns out a volcano under the massive glacier we walked several kilometers from decided to erupt several weeks after we left.

To see the full photo album, click here.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to The Onion for convincing me to go on this trek and for providing good company, some extra food, and the videos above.  

Stats: The route was around 300 miles but it's impossible to get an exact number and it took us 12 days and change to complete it.  I brought a low amount of calories, roughly 2000/day, and it took a toll on me and my body, especially being 1 week post Western States 100.

Gear:  I used my regular 3 season gear with a few exceptions.  I used a synthetic quilt by Enlightened Equipment Prodigy that proved light and useful in the wet conditions, the ULA Circuit: a larger 68L pack than I'm used to using to accomodate the extra gear, Marmot Scree softshell pants that proved to work quite well for the trip.  My gear list for this trip without the weights.

Aug 7, 2014

Western States 100

Squaw Valley. Start of WS 100 Photo: KMF
The training leading up to this race wasn't great.  I got hurt after Leona Divide 50 that kept me on the sidelines for a month, finally being able to run by the end of May, just in time for WS Training Camp.  The rest of the buildup was "meh" at best but I had a good base since February so I thought I would be fine to achieve my "A" goal, which was sub-24.  After a couple of nights at Squaw taking in the scene and hanging out with several friends who were running/crewing we were off before dawn up to Emigrant Pass.  Hiking all of the way up, a beautiful sunrise greeted us while being surrounded by bright yellow wildflowers.  Then the descent started and got stuck behind a congo line of runners who were so keen early on up the climb but didn't have the same adeptness to go downhill.  So after a lot of "Excuse me, on your left" talk I finally got some running room and developed into a good rhythm.  I altered my running gait to keep my stride short, thinking it would keep me conservative, but it would later be the culprit.  After getting through mile ~30 at Robinson Flat and seeing my crew (Marshall and Megan) for the first time I knew what was ahead. Lots of open and hot downhill.  I felt good and kept an easy pace until mile 40 and that's when signs of alien life entered the back of my knee. It felt like a small strain and it had me concerned knowing full well how small things become gargantuan things later in a 100.  However, it didn't really affect my running so I got a quick (albeit, ineffective) massage at the mile 40ish aid station hoping it would help.  It didn't matter at this point anyway because I started to get a drop in energy.  Feeling this way on the climb up Devils Thumb sucked and I plopped in a chair once I got to the aid station and started the caffeine train.  I got a small pick me up and was able to get to Last Chance feeling pretty good.  Then the climb started to Michigan Bluff and the feelings of crap came rushing back again.  Now my knee started to bother me a little more.  So I got to the aid station and had some medical staff help me.  I told them what I thought it was and a fellow PT tried to help me out.  Nothing really worked and I was still feeling like crap.  So I got some food down, saw my crew, and got out of there to the final canyon.  I started to feel a lot better going down Volcano Canyon but slowed on the next climb to Bath Road.  I saw Garret, picked him up and we made good time to Foresthill, where I was in better spirits.  After a fun pit stop we continued down the infamous Cal Street.  It took me a little while to get into a rhythm.  At Cal St 2 Aid I finally let out a large belch and instantly felt better.  Now I was ready to run.  We made great time to the river where I met Marshall and Megan.  Garret really helped push me on this section and I finally came back to life a little.  I sat down, took down some calories (I think), and picked up Marshall.  We had plenty of time to get to the finish for a sub-24 buckle.  I got up and my knee was even worse now.  We crossed the bone-chilling river and started the slog up to Green Gate.  It's not even steep and I felt bad just barely walking but the back of my knee and feet were killing me.  This is where my gait started to be affected.  I couldn't run normally anymore but I could "shuffle-limp" so I did that.  I wasn't taking in calories either so that compounded things but all I could focus on was my knee. Actually at this point, "stupid knee" is how I referred to it.  The next 12 miles were a blur and we arrived at mile 90 and I was completely spent.  I sat down and tried to eat something but I became really nauseous at anything I took.  Hal Koerner helped me a bit and seemed too excited for me. I wish I felt half as enthusiastic.  10 miles seemed an eternity but I had a comfortable 3.5 hours to do it in.  And it was an easy ten.  Simple right? I got up and knew instantly that the back of my knee could take no more.  I couldn't straighten it and I couldn't bend it without pain and trying to run was laughable.  So I limped out with Marshall and was pretty discouraged.  I knew it wasn't going to get any better.  On top of that the lack of calories caught up and I stopped in the middle of the trail.  I couldn't go anymore.  After arguing with Marshall on how I wanted to go back or take a nap "right now" he finally allowed me to rest and reset mentally.  After 15 minutes of lying down I got up and felt better.  But it was a slow limp walk and it was pretty pathetic.  Knowing that my "A" goal would not be achieved this close to the end and knowing I could hurt myself more considering I had a long backpacking trip in a week I had the intention to stop at Hwy 49: mile 93.5.  I got there, dejected, and asked Megan if I should drop.  I didn't know.  The injury now had affected my entire leg.  The back of the knee was swollen as well as the rest of the leg on down.  An MD looked at me and thought I tore a calf muscle.  So I lay in the cot contemplating whether it was worth continuing or not.  30 minutes passed and I was still unsure.  I got up and tried to walk but that was really hard to do.  The look of concern on Megan made me aware that I didn't look good either.  As I walked more though the knee started to loosen up, just enough.  I called out to Marshall and gave a quick nod toward the trail.  We would limp it on in.  The next 6 miles took forever and I finally made my way around the track and to the finish.  26:46.  The last 10 miles took me 6 hours.  The feelings of jubilation for making it and completing this historic race weren't there.  I felt sad on how this race ended and even bitter.  I didn't even want the buckle because it would only remind me of the way that race ended.  What it did leave me with is a hunger and need to run another 100.  And run it well.  I'm over slogging it out.  It gets old quick.  It's not how I want to race and I have no more interest in finishing races like that.  Little did I know....
My crew and pacers were great out there, dedicating their weekend for me.  I'm disappointed I couldn't put it together in the end and get the silver buckle for them, but I promise that won't be the case next time.  The community and support of Western States is huge and unlike I had ever seen.  Maybe one of these years, if I should be so lucky, I'll return and do this race some justice. 

Off to Robinson Flat Photo: ULTV

May 28, 2014

Leona Divide 50, Auburn, Iceland...oh my

I'm writing this a second time because my computer decided it was going a different direction.  Without further ado...The plan has been going as hoped with the LA Marathon back in March serving as my first prep race in which flat road speed would be my primary focus.  For Leona, I wanted to start my long training runs early in the season and avoid playing catch-up, as I normally seem to be doing before 100s.
But as soon as my name was miraculously plucked from a hat in Auburn back in December I knew I had to put in my due diligence.  How many chances does a runner get to run Western States in this evolving world of ultrarunning? The straight answer is not many. 
Fortunately, I have an awesome group of local ultrarunners that are always willing to spend a whole day running and the mountains to boot. 
The last 25 meters of LD50
My birthday on 3/29 kicked off my first long run of the season, a 31 miler (to commemorate turning that age) on the old Ray Miller 50km course (on a side note, pleeeaasse bring back Ray Miller 50!). The subsequent weeks leading up to LD50 saw long runs in the San Gabriel mountains in uncommonly cool temps.  This is some of the best prep I've done for a 50 and it showed on race day.  I entered Leona in the hopes of running in the heat and I chose the course because of its runnability.  However, due to permitting issues the RD, Keira Henninger, had to re-route the course.  Usually, that ends up making the course redundant and less scenic.  The opposite was true for this race.  On an unusually cool day, the race began.  My intention was to run via my HR and use it as a tool to understand if I was going too easy, too hard, not taking enough calories, and overall stress levels.  Also, the goal for this race was to run splits as even as possible, allowing for a +10 minute split on the second half.  But with that I broke one of the cardinal rules of running: don't try anything new on race day.  To hell with it though, this was a WS trial run.  I used a utility belt (UD SJ Essential) and new gels I've never tried (V-fuel).  Overall the race went as about good as I was hoping.  Almost exactly even splits between the first and second half of the race while running about 95% of the time.  I thought I could finish under 8 and the final time of 7:58(PR) was on the mark, earning me an 11th place finish.  I finished the race on a high and drove 2 hours home.  As soon as I got out of the car I started limping because of severe pain in my R quad region.  I took the next 4 days off with mild improvement in the pain but there was still no way I could walk, let alone run.  So I tried to self-diagnose (after all I'm a PT) but the pain was so diffuse and I couldn't perform some of the tests on myself that I went to a couple PT colleagues.  Turns out it's most likely an adductor magnus GII strain/tear.  So I decided to stop running for 1 more week hoping that going to gym, getting some massage therapy, biking, hopping on the elliptical (which were all pain free) would help improve the healing process.  Well, it helped but still not enough where I could run.  Anytime I would try I'd had shooting pain when I landed and so my gait started to change.  Walking hurt.  So now 3 weeks had passed and I hadn't done much.  With WS approaching and training camp only 5 days away I started to worry: that basically involved watching Unbreakable and moping.  As a last resort I tried a local acupuncturist, hoping dry needling would live up to the current research.  It worked.  Maybe not in that moment but in 3 days I was able to run, with no symptoms, the 70 miles of Western States training camp in 3 days.  It was such a blast. 
Volcano Canyon (photo: Chris Price)
The WS organization knows how to put on an event.  Having perfected logistics, they have incredible aid stations and great volunteers.  To me it felt like what sleep-away camp would be for trail runners; running, playing in the creeks and rivers, and hanging out.  I was sad to see it end and had a great time with my carpool buddy Prizzle and the rest of the SoCal gang: Keira, Jesse, Dom, and Katie.  The town of Auburn certainly has a special appeal and now I understand the mystique of Western States 100.  It's not so much the course itself but what surrounds it: Easy going, friendly locals, who open up their home to you (thank you to the Curly's for putting up two strangers), legends of ultrarunning taking no qualm in asking what you need at aid stations, and runners with a common interest of letting things go in the surrounding wilderness.  Now that I'm back home, the training will continue in the form of long runs, sauna time, and strength training with the hopes of being as prepared as I ever have for a 100 and producing my best run yet. 
M7 (Jesse Haynes), Keira, me, Prizzle (photo: Chris Price)
On a quick note I've decided to backpack across the entire country of Iceland (north to south) in July with my backpacking and ultrarunning friend, The Onion.  We will be following J. Ley's route right through the heart of the country with the intention of experiencing some of the most unique and strange wilderness this world has to showcase.  Further details in another post.

Jan 2, 2014

The Year in Review: 2013

This is one of my favorite times to write on this blog.  A healthy reflection on what the past year encompassed and the exciting unknowns of the upcoming year.  Exactly one year ago, I ran up and down Mt. Wilson and got injured at the end of the run.  That lingered and affected the first half of the year (running-related) for 6 months afterwards, mostly due to my procrastination in dealing with it.  I was determined to start this year on a different note.  First a look back on 2013:
-I stopped working at the orthopedic clinic I had been a part of for the past year and continued full-time with home health allowing me to dictate my schedule and allowing for time to be spent elsewhere.  That is something that I treasure above most things.
-An underwhelming effort at the Los Angeles Marathon in March, and subsequent passing over of the Backbone Trail race I was signed up for a few weeks later.
-The realization that not everything you read or see gives the whole story.  Megan went to Sri Lanka after the marathon after soundly beating me and I didn´t want to because I didn´t think it was worth it.  After she told me about the trip and I saw her photos, I was dead wrong.
-I payed off all my student loans on my birthday.  It took less than a year of work and that was a major victory for me.  Thanks to the low tuition of the Cal State system (although now the tuition is MUCH higher), FAFSA grants for easing the burden throughout the years, and the ability to be extremely frugal with money.
-I turned 30.  Looking back on my 20´s, I can say without any doubt it included the biggest turning point in my life.  I went from being lost, out of school, and working odd jobs to discovering my passion in life and working hard (along with the fortunate doors that opened at the right time) to allow myself to live my life through those passions.  Maximizing the time that I have on this earth became priority and I intend to continue that trend.
-Pacing my good friend, Marshall, to his first sub-24 hour finish at Zion 100.  Running that Guacamole Loop with him was like a slow version of Space Mountain ride in Disneyland. 
-Spending the late spring and early summer hiking, running, and hanging out with friends in my most favorite of mountains: the Sierra Nevada.
-Backpacking the JMT for the 3rd time, and the quickest for me so far, with another good friend, Chris.  I suffered quite a bit at times, but it was wonderful to share these mountains with another mountain-lover.
-Pacing Chris the final 18 miles at Hardrock 100.  That was one of the most fun pacing jobs I´ve ever had.  He had enough confidence in me to give me that privilege and he ran a spectacular race.
-Having amazing friends that flew and drove from all over the US to crew and pace me at Leadville Trail 100.  On top of that I was able to come away with the sub-25 buckle.  However, still loads to learn and actually implement in regards to running and training for 100´s.  Those same friends are coming out for my Western States 100 attempt in June and I cannot wait to be in top form for them.
-Backpacking ¨The Walker´s Haute Route,¨ a 115 mile trail from Chamonix, France to Zermatt, Switzerland.  Mile for mile the toughest trek I´ve been on, with 43,000 ft in climbing (same amount descending too).  It was a highlight-filled trek that included day hike/runs in both Chamonix and Zermatt.  Simply spectacular.  Highlight of the year.
-Able to break 3 hours (2:57:45) in the marathon for the first time at CIM in December.  This was my fifth marathon (in 6 attempts).
-Spending 5 weeks in Patagonia; first with my original backpacking partner, Joel Peach, and soon with my girlfriend, Megan.

As I ran along Punta Arenas´ version of a boardwalk and looked out into the windswept ocean I was able to contemplate what 2014 will shape up to be (in no particular order):
-Run WS 100 as well as I could possibly run it.  I have a goal time in mind and with the right lead up and perfect race it can be achieved. This includes a nutrition plan, training plan etc.
-Backpack a long-distance route solo in the Arctic Circle.  I am super excited about a particular one.  It will be revealed when plane tickets are confirmed.
-Break my marathon PR.  I'll probably attempt one in the fall, but not too sure yet. 
-Backpack the splendid Sierra High Route in its entirety in August and in one push.  I have backpacked most of it (200 miles) but broke it up into 2 seasons.  It´s the big brother to the JMT.  Mostly above 10k ft, with 20+ passes, and 75% off trail.  One of the best I´ve ever backpacked.  This years trek would mark my 10 year anniversary/love affair with backpacking.  An idealistic kid with dreams of the wilderness in the Sierras back in the summer of 2004. I owe a lot to that solo experience.  This would be an appropriate way to celebrate it.
-Finally, run the length of the Backbone Trail.  I´ve been ignoring the one long(ish) trail that´s in my own backyard!
-There are a few other backpacking and running trips this year but they are not set in stone quite yet.  Probably some 3 dayers in spring and potentially a thru hike. Maybe introduce some friends to what backpacking is all about?
-Sub-24 at Angeles Crest 100.  Not really my style to run two 100 mile races close to each other so this might be the only year I do it.
-Be a more thorough therapist.  I occasionally see runners at my place from time to time and I usually give the basic stuff but I frankly think it needs more day to day evaluation and treatment.  In light of that I´m going to start seeing patients weekly until I feel their issues are either resolved or I´ve given my best effort.  I´ve received way too much good in this short life so far to not give back.  I can only take a couple at a time to be effective with my current schedule but it will be pro-bono.  So contact me if you´re interested.  I´ll start at the end of the month.
-And one more thing I can´t reveal quite yet.  Hopefully soon though.

So a great morning run with no injuries.  Just cold wind, skeletons of rusted ships right on shore, and the first rays of light of 2014. Alright, time to get on this.  Happy New Year!

Denali Expedition Recap

Summit Ridge I won’t be writing about the day to day as that was succinctly put in the twelve “Denali Transmit” posts which you ...