Friday, May 3, 2013

Grand Canyon R2R2R
Date: 4/27/13 
Stats: 42 miles; ~13,000’ elevation gain

Time: 12:15 

Background Info
The Grand Canyon Rim-To-Rim-To-Rim has been on my radar since I started trail running a few years ago. It's certainly a "bucket list" run for any trail runner, and I wanted to check it off the list sooner rather than later. Ideal conditions are found for about 1 month in the spring (usually April) and 1 month in the fall (usually October). This provides runners with moderate temperatures, lack of snow at the rim (usually), easy access to water in the canyon, and long days that allow for the entire trek to be completed in daylight. 

Kyle, Drew, Zach and I left Denver early Friday morning. The excitement overshadowed the long drive and the 11 hours went by rather quickly. We stopped at a few of the lookouts on the South Rim, checked in at the visitor center to get updated info on water access, and then headed to our campsite at the Mather Campground. We discussed our plans over a couple beers and got to bed early, as the alarm clock was set for 3:50am.

map of the main corridor
mileage and elevation info

first views of the canyon on Friday

dinner at the campsite

The Run
After a quick breakfast we made our way to the visitor center where we would catch the 5am shuttle to the South Kaibab trailhead (parking was not allowed at the TH). The temperature was already 40 so we left the jackets behind. We took a few minutes to enjoy the views and take some pictures, and then shoved off at 5:30.


waiting for the shuttle

S. Kaibab trailhead

first section of the S. Kaibab trail

S. Kaibab TH (South Rim) to Phantom Ranch
The S. Kaibab trail is one of the most amazing trails I've ever been on. We kept the pace casual as we didn't want to pound the legs too much in the early miles. The trail descends to the Colorado River, dropping about 5,000 feet in 6.5 miles.

Ooh Aah Point (seriously)

we did not plan on wearing matching shirts

held up for a few minutes by the mules

the Colorado River below

Phantom Ranch to Roaring Springs
The trail along the bottom of the canyon parallels Bright Angel Creek for approximately 7 miles. The overall trend is slightly uphill, but for the most part this entire section is run-able. We talked to a many other people who were also doing the double crossing.

it's heating up

Roaring Springs to N. Kaibab TH (North Rim)
The climb to the north rim was beautiful, with much of the trail falling off steeply to the canyon below. The sun started to get intense and the temp rose significantly in this section.

north rim

N. Kaibab TH (North Rim) back to Roaring Springs
The descent of N. Kaibab was much more run-able than the descent of S. Kaibab. We were quickly back at Roaring Springs to top off our water and cool off.

Roaring Springs back to Phantom Ranch
The 8ish miles back to Phantom Ranch was fairly uneventful. We definitely started to feel the heat and mileage on our legs. The overall downhill grade to Phantom Ranch helped us keep moving.

cooling off the vitals

Phantom Ranch back to S. Kaibab TH (South Rim)
Our original intent was to ascend the Bright Angel Trail. The BA adds 2.5 miles to the ascent, but is a more shallow grade and supposedly more run-able. However, we had already been on the trail longer than expected and decided to ascend the shorter, albeit steeper, South Kaibab.

enjoying the last few miles

almost done

we navigated some "very dangerous trail"

zach and me after the trek

drew and zach in the home stretch

zach: "what did i get myself into??"     drew: "why do I keep doing this?"

Closing Thoughts
The R2R2R is a must-do for any trail/ultra runner. I don't think anyone would argue with that. The Grand Canyon is an amazing place and I look forward to visiting again soon.

me, kyle, zach and drew

our route

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Hardrock 100 Race Report

Date: 7/13/12-7/14/12 
Stats: 102.5 miles; ~33,990’ elevation gain
Results: 29:04:00; 10th overall (out of 140)

Background Info
It’s hard to believe that I completed my first ultra (also my first trail race) less than 1 year ago at Leadville and now I’m running Hardrock. That’d be like climbing El Cap within a year of learning how to climb. Or swimming the English Channel shortly after learning how to swim. Alright, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but Hardrock is serious stuff. It’s the grand daddy of North American ultras. You’ll understand why I say this when you look at the elevation profile, historical finishing times and pictures of the course.

The course is a big loop through the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado, which starts and ends in the small town of Silverton. The course also takes you through the towns of Telluride and Ouray. However, most of my time at Hardrock was spent on remote trails many miles from civilization. This is the allure of Hardrock.

Hardrock was first run in 1992 to commemorate the gold and silver miners from the 1800’s. The course follows the foot trails, burro trails and wagon trails which the miners used to transport materials to and from the mining sites. This year the course was run in the clockwise direction. It switches every year, with odd years being run counter-clockwise. A couple extra miles were added on near Telluride to bypass some private land. 

The total elevation change for the 102.5 miles is just shy of 68,000 feet…that’s over twice Leadville, and easily the most of any trail race in the U.S. The average elevation for the course is 11,200’, with the low point being 7,680’ (Ouray) and the high point being 14,048 (Handies Peak).

course profile
Jess and I made the drive to Silverton on Wednesday, giving me a less than desired 1.5 days to acclimate. Coming from Denver, as opposed to sea level, definitely helps. But the thin air was definitely noticeable when we stepped out of the car in Silverton at an elevation of 9,300’. My Dad and Candie would be coming down on Thursday. I really appreciated them making the trip from Pennsylvania to spectate and to help Jess with the crewing duties.

I was definitely nervous going into the race. I had been dealing with tendonitis since Quad Rock in mid-May, which limited my running to less than 20 miles in the six weeks leading up to Hardrock. I cross trained a decent amount; a little swimming, a couple bike rides a week, and time on the elliptical during my lunch break (don’t laugh; it can be a good workout). On top of this, I was probably one of the most inexperienced runners in the field. I had only one prior 100 miler and two 50 milers under my belt. My tendonitis also caused me to cancel my recon trip which I had planned for mid-June, meaning that I was unable to see any of the course before the race.

The good news is that I got in some great training for the six months leading up to Quad Rock. I had a solid aerobic base and spent a lot of time on steep, gnarly terrain to simulate the Hardrock course as much as possible. As long as my tendonitis didn’t flare up too badly I knew I would be capable of finishing in a respectable time. I also spent a lot of time with Dr. Jeff Stripling in the prior month. The active release therapy really seemed to help and I'll continue to use ART to help speed up recovery.

I didn’t tell many people, but I had an “A” goal of sub 30 hours. Looking at past results I knew that this was a lofty. I knew that my fitness was good enough to do it, but there are so many other variables that need to be factored in to the equation…weather, altitude, injury. Also, getting lost is a very real possibility. The course markings are notoriously sparse and people get lost every year. This was a major concern when I started researching the race. The Hardrock runner’s manual states that “there are sections where the runner will go for several miles without seeing a marker…we shall continue our trend over the past few years of less intense course marking with fewer flags along all course sections.” Luckily, my pacer, Andy Gisler, had paced at Hardrock multiple times. I was in good hands, which was a huge relief.

scouting the course on Thursday
Race Day
I enjoyed the relatively late (6AM) start. I woke up at 4AM after a solid 6 hours of sleep. Jess, Dad, Candie and I walked the few blocks from our motel to the high school gym where I had to check in one last time. The weather was perfect and I was able to wear just a t-shirt and shorts. I got goosebumps as the race director counted down the final 10 seconds to start…not because I was cold, but because I was so excited. I had been looking forward to this day since my name was drawn in the lottery over 8 months ago.

Silverton to KT (mile 11.5)
11.5 miles, goal 2:45, actual 2:46 (“Goal” based on a 30 hour finish. “Actual” includes time spent in the aid station.)
I just got into a rhythm and tried not to let my excitement get the best of me. A few miles outside of Silverton we crossed South Mineral Creek and started to climb up Putnam Basin. The views were already amazing and I knew it was only going to get better. I eventually settled in with a small group of guys including Ted Mahon and Jason Poole, two solid runners with Hardrock experience. We chatted a bit about our expectations for the day and before I knew it we were rolling in to the first aid station.

climbing up Putnam Basin

Putnam Basin

I love running on terrain like this

I came from top left of the photo

KT to Chapman Gulch (mile 18.1)
6.6 miles, goal 1:55, actual 1:44
This was one of my favorite sections of the course. From KT the route climbs steeply up Grant Swamp Pass. The trail traversed high above Ice Lake Basin and then eventually led us past Island Lake, one of the most beautiful places I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. I could not stop thinking how lucky I was to be a part of this race. Reaching Grant Swamp Pass afforded great views down Chapman Gulch and across the valley to Oscar’s Pass. I took a few seconds to let it soak in and then slid down a few hundred yards of steep scree towards an actual trail that led me to Chapman aid station.
Pics 8-15

climbing up towards Ice Lake Basin
Island Lake

Island Lake (photo: Brendan Trimboli)

(photo: Brendan Trimboli)
Grant-Swamp Pass
Jason Poole sliding down Grant-Swamp Pass
Dropping down into Chapman Gulch. Darcy Africa is the runner you see in the bottom center of the photo.
Chapman Gulch to Telluride (mile 29.8)
11.7 miles, goal 2:30, actual 2:35
The flies in Chapman Gulch were really annoying. I could not wait to get into the sun just to get away from the flies. After getting above tree line it was cool to look back over my shoulder and see Grant Swamp Pass. The field was already getting thin and I only saw one other runner on the 3,000 foot climb up Oscar’s. Upon reaching the pass, the sky opened up and it started to hail. The hail soon turned to rain, and it rained for most of the 8 miles down Bridal Veil Basin into Telluride. Luckily it was warm and there was no need to break out a jacket. I was really excited to get to the Telluride aid station, as this was going to be the first time since Silverton that I’d get to see Jess, Dad and Candie.

Looking back at Grant-Swamp Pass in the top center of the photo. Ophir Pass road on the left.

Starting to look ominous on the way up Oscar's Pass
Running down Bridal Veil Road towards Telluride
Bridal Veil Falls

Arriving at the Telluride aid station

Dad crewing at Telluride

leaving Telluride
Telluride to Kroger’s Canteen (mile 34.7)
4.9 miles, goal 2:00, actual 1:50
This was the toughest climb to this point in the race…4,400’ of ascent in less than 5 miles. I caught up to Adam Wilcox and Jason Koop and we climbed the last mile together. Kroger’s is the coolest aid station you will ever see! It’s perched up on a tiny ledge on top of Virginius Pass. I was feeling strong and was really happy with my climbing to this point in the race. I was definitely taking it easy on the descents, trying to save my quads as much as possible.
approaching Virginius
Jason Koop on the climb up to Virginius
approaching Virginius Pass

approaching Virginius
the steep descent from Kroger's Canteen aid station (photo:
Kroger’s Canteen to Governor Basin  (mile 37.9)
3.2 miles, goal 0:35, actual 0:33
The descent off Virginius is really fun. I just leaned back and slid a couple hundred yards down the scree. It’s very similar to Grant-Swamp Pass. I cruised this short, downhill section and didn’t stop at the GB aid station.

the road section to Governor Basin

making this road was hard work
Governor Basin to Ouray (mile 45.9)
8.0 miles, goal 1:15, actual 1:15
This was the most run-able section of the course. I let a few guys pass just before Kroger so I could use the bathroom, so I wanted to push this section a bit and try and make up some time. Halfway down to Ouray I caught up to Adam Campbell, 2010 Hardrock champ. For the last 4 miles I ran by myself down to Ouray, where I would get to see Jess, Dad and Canide again. Andy would also be starting his pacing duties at Ouray. I took my time at the aid station, changing my socks and making sure I got down a bunch of calories.

Ouray aid station. The crew was hard at work. Andy is ready to pace!
Ouray to Engineer (mile 53.9)
8.0 miles, goal 2:35, actual 2:23
This was another tough climb. It was 8 miles and 4’600 feet of ascent to the aid station. Unlike the climb out of Telluride, I ran some short sections. Within a couple miles I caught back up to Wilcox and Koop. I kept up a good effort and eventually pulled away from them. It was nice having Andy as a pacer. We chatted on the climb up to Engineer and talked about how lucky we were to be in such a beautiful place. It was a good feeling to top out on Engineer Pass while there was still some daylight. Some guy also drove up to the top to cheer on the racers and he pointed us to a well stocked cooler of beer. Pretty cool, but I wasn’t really craving a beer at this point. Maybe later.

leaving Ouray

catching up to Adam Wilcox shortly after Ouray

Adam running on some "don't fall" terrain
Engineer to Grouse Gulch  (mile 60.4)
6.5 miles, goal 1:45, actual 1:38
I wanted to push this section down to Grouse Gulch so I could get to the aid station before it was dark. The first couple miles past the Engineer aid station are uphill through an alpine meadow. It was a beautiful place to be hiking as the sun was setting. Eventually we got to a jeep road which would lead us 4 miles downhill to Grouse. The grade is low enough that I maintained a good pace without pounding the quads too much. I could see another runner a few minutes ahead. This is always motivating. At this point in the race the field is so dispersed that it’s nice to see other people.

the climb from Engineer aid station to Engineer Pass

nearing the top of Engineer Pass

Andy is excited to be pacing

Grouse Gulch aid station
Grouse Gulch to Sherman (mile 73.9)
13.5 miles, goal 4:35, actual 4:16
I spent a few minutes in Grouse Gulch. Jess, Dad and Candie were waiting for me here. This would be the last time I’d get to see them until Cunningham aid station the next morning. I picked up my headlamp and some warm clothes for the night section of the race. I managed to get out of the aid station before Scott Jaime (he was the runner I saw from Engineer Pass). I think I was in 8th place leaving the aid station.

This next section was tough. From Grouse we climbed 5 miles and 4’000 vertical feet to the summit of Handies Peak (elevation 14,048’). We turned on our headlamps shortly after leaving the aid station. About 1/2 way up the climb we reached Grouse-American Pass, dropped down 500 feet to the basin and then started climbing again up the south ridge Handies. I was bummed that we had to drop back down only to re-climb all that elevation. I was about 65 miles into the race and it was really the first low point for me. I think it was a combination of the darkness and the thin air. We soon passed Timmy Parr and I could tell that he was at a lower point than me. Duncan Callahan was trying to coax Timmy up the mountain. Andy and I cruised by (at about 2 mph) and were soon at the summit of Handies.  I just wanted to get down to a lower elevation. All day I had been really good about eating a gel every 25 minutes. But the altitude caused me to lose my appetite and I was slacking big time on the calories. On the descent down to Sherman I made a point to get back on a more regular schedule.

As we descended to Sherman the air became thicker and my energy levels rose. The lights in the Sherman aid station were a welcome sight. It had been over 4 hours since Andy and I left Grouse Gulch. I had been moving for 19 hours and was still feeling solid. Bryon Powell let me know that I was only 11 minutes behind Nick Pedatella. It was motivating to hear that we made up some time during the difficult section from Grouse.

Sherman to Pole Creek (mile 82.8)
8.9 miles, goal 3:10, actual 3:03
The climb along Pole Creek was uneventful. Eventually we got to an open meadow and had to focus on route finding. For the most part, the flags were easy to spot. However, we did spend about 10 minutes walking in circles at one point. I could see Nick’s headlamp ahead of us and a couple more headlamps behind. We arrived at the Pole Creek aid station and were told that Nick had left 7 minutes before we arrived.

Pole Creek to Maggie Gulch (mile 87.1)
4.3 miles, goal 1:30, actual 1:38
I was ready for sunrise. I was a little sleepy and I knew that I would get a second wind at sunrise. I also missed seeing all of the beautiful scenery. Lack of energy means no pictures...

Maggie Gulch to Cunningham (mile 93.2)
6.1 miles, goal 2:20, actual 2:57
This section felt much longer than 6.1 miles. I was pretty exhausted and the pain and fatigue was starting to get worse. On a positive note, the sun was up and we were treated to some amazing views. The last 2 miles into Cunningham is steep and technical. At one point I felt a sharp pain in my left knee. I took a few pain free steps and then I felt it again. Maybe it was my body’s way of telling me that it had enough abuse. I tried running through it but I was reduced to a hike. It was frustrating having to walk down the hill. It took a long time to limp in the last mile to Cunningham. I was passed by Ted Mahon, Adam Wilcox and Scott Jaime and quickly went from 7th to 10th place.

Jess, Dad and Candie were a little concerned as I checked in to Cunningham. I was happy to see them, but was bummed that I was unable to run. I was 10 miles from Silverton…just one more big climb and one more descent. But I knew that I needed to address my knee pain before I left the aid station. I took a 29 minute break at the aid station, taping my leg and waiting for some pain meds to kick in. Just as I was getting ready to leave Darcy Africa checked in to the aid station. She told me to hang in there and just take one step at a time.

climbing out of Maggie Gulch

climbing out of Maggie Gulch
climbing higher

the beautiful sunrise as we approach Cunningham
taking in the beautiful views of the Grenadier Range

Jess, Dad and Candie watching me limp in to Cunningham aid station

slow progress down to Cunningham

Jess and Dad assessing the situation

29 minute break at Cunningham...hoping for a second wind
Cunningham to Silverton (mile 102.5)
9.3 miles, goal 2:50, actual 2:26
I left the aid station about a minute after Darcy. She seemed to be moving well. The sight of her ahead of me would be a good motivator. Right out of the aid station we were faced with a 2’700 foot climb to the top of Little Giant Pass. This was actually a blessing…I was still climbing well and my knee was only painful on the descents.

After about 90 minutes of climbing we arrived at the top of the pass. I was happy to have kept Darcy in sight. Now it was only 7 miles of downhill to Silverton...all run-able, if my knee would allow it. I started jogging, slowly at first. I didn’t want to overdo it. But I soon realized that I was feeling great. I took advantage of the second wind and cruised down the dirt road. Within a mile I was passing Darcy into 10th place. She seemed surprised, given my bleak condition in Cunningham.

The last 2 miles to the finish line were flat/rolling and it was more difficult to maintain the strong pace. I walked a couple uphill sections. We passed the Kendall Mountain Ski Hut and I knew we were home free. Andy and I finally made it to the streets of Silverton. 

Running down that finisher chute was so gratifying.

running down the finish chute

kissing the rock
I feel lucky to have been a part of this event. I only had an 8% chance of being chosen in the lottery (I know people who have been trying to get in to Hardrock for 5 years, and I managed to get chosen on my first try). Everyone involved with the race is so dedicated to Hardrock. I can see why people come back year after year to run, volunteer or spectate. The scenery is so beautiful. I will have to try and not compare all my other races to Hardrock, because they will certainly seem bland in comparison.

me with race director, Dale Garland

it feels so good to sit

huge thanks to Andy for pacing 57 miles!

Me, Dad, Candie

Jess and me relaxing post race