Sunday, August 29, 2010

UTMB Final Thoughts

Rather than doing a race report for my abbreviated UTMB race I thought I'd do a list of the top 10 reasons why this trip over here was totally worth the time and money even though the race was cancelled after 3 hours of running:

10. Most of the cost of my trip was covered by my sponsors

9. The food. I'm actually kind of sick of the food here (I kind of just wish I could find somewhere to get a $2 burrito, a single slice of pizza, or a coffee to go), but I have had some pretty amazing meals. A good example would be the Pike Dumpling w/crayfish sauce and Risotto that I had for dinner the night before the race. I also had an amazing Monkfish w/garlic mashed potatoes dinner one night.

8. Being at the start of the race. This was simply amazing. People lined up in the streets 20 feet deep for the first half mile.

7. Watching the almost full moon rise of the Aigiulle Du Midi the first night I was in Chamonix. It was cloudy when I got here so you couldn't see the mountains but then just as the moon was coming up the clouds cleared off for the most amazing mountain moon rise I have ever seen in my life.

6. Running from the finish about 7 miles back on the race course to watch the lead runners come through in the "day after" UTMB. I was really excited to see Jez Bragg and Mike Wolfe running out front. I ran with each of them for a brief moment. It's certainly more fun to be in a race than to be a spectator, but it was kind of fun to be a "fan" for a day.

5. Chamonix. I don't know that I would ever want to live in this town but it is certainly a really special place. I used to think that we had some towns in the U.S. where people are really into outdoor recreation (Boulder, Moab, Bend, all the Colorado mountain towns, etc), but Chamonix makes all of these places seem like they're filled with a bunch of couch riding, overweight Americans.

4. Running through St. Gervais during the race. Mike Wolfe and I ran through St. Gervais together (about 12 miles into the race). You wind through town for almost a mile and the entire way there are people lined up shoulder to shoulder cheering, jumping up and down, and overflowing with excitement about the race. It's unbelievable. Small children. 80 year old folks. And everyone in between. If you have run through St. Gervais in the UTMB you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't I really don't know that any words can explain it.

3. Meeting and spending time with many of the most enjoyable and most talented (in many cases) ultra and mountain runners in the world. Not limited to, but most certainly including: Karl Meltzer, Mike Wolfe, Scott Jurek, Nicolas Mermoud, Kilian Jornet, Jez Bragg, Tracy Garneau, Rickey Gates, Scott Mason, Cory Johnson, and Bryon Powell.

2. The spectators all along the 20 miles of route that I ran before they stopped the race. I already mentioned the start and St. Gervais, but what was even more amazing to me were all the people out in the more remote areas of the course. This is a very social event in the small villages here. There are stretches where you run through neighborhoods and almost every home has people sitting on the front steps or up in the balconies and they are all cheering with genuine enthusiasm. In the U.S. it seems like many people would be annoyed by the clamor and disruption of having 2,300 runners race past their front door. Here though it seems like these people have such a deep and genuine respect/regard for all the racers. I kept thinking about how I wished I had the time to stop and make sure each of them knew how deep and genuine respect and regard I had for them.

1. Even though the race got stopped I still was able to run almost 60 miles (with almost 20,000 feet of total climbing) in the mountains in the 5 days that I was here. Some of the most enjoyable and beautiful mountain running I have ever done.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

And Then Almost Again

I'm in Chamonix. Several of the UTMB runners are now out racing a last minute 98k version after the actual UTMB was canceled last night.

The decision not to run this new race was actually pretty easy for me. I didn't find out for certain that this race was happening until 7:30 this morning and the race was set to start at 10:00. I had not slept at all as there had been so much conflicting information all night as to whether there was going to be another race. I was receiving calls, texts, emails, race website info., and even messages slid under my hotel room door and the information in all of these things was completely conflicting. At one point the race website even clearly stated that no decision would be made until 9am. Finally something that seemed definitive and clear. I could at least sleep until 9 and then see what was happening. 30 minutes later I got another message "confirming" that there would be a new race, buses leaving Chamonix at 6:30 (this occurred at about 5am) It eventually became hard to trust anything. I had no way to be certain that once we got over to Courmayeur (where the new race was reportedly going to start) that there would actually be another race. I guess the race organization sent out a text message sometime early in the morning (6 or 7am) confirming that there was in fact going to be a race at 10am. I for some reason never got the text. The race website had nothing about this new race until around the time that it actually started, and the weather (which had stopped the UTMB as well as the CCC and the TDS) had not really changed much overnight. It is supposed to be clearing sometime later tonight and into tomorrow but as I write this at 3:30pm it's every bit as cloudy, foggy, windy, and rainy here in Chamonix as it was last night when they stopped these three races.

At any rate, despite all of these confusions and uncertainties there are hundreds of runners (including perhaps half to two thirds of the top level runners) out there now running this new race. For me though, I came here to run the UTMB. The cancellation of the UTMB provided me with this huge amount of extra physical and mental energy to pore into something else over the next several days/weeks. Had the race organization been able to put together a more definitive alternative race without all of the confusion and question marks that ensued (not blaming the race organization here in any way. Rather just touching on the difficulty of what they were dealing with), and in a more timely manner then it is likely that this alternative race would have been where I would have used this extra energy provided to me by the cancellation of the UTMB. The way it was though, with no sleep and with the threat of weather stopping the "new" race, it was a really simple decision not to invest this energy into this. Now that I have slept and I begin to read the reports of the race that is going on out there now it's hard not to want to be out there, at least a little bit. But I certainly don't regret my decision. As I said it was actually a really easy decision for me. In the meantime I'm having fun thinking about where in fact I am going to focus this energy?

And there's this sky running marathon in Italy tomorrow that I mentioned in a post last night, but I don't think that's going to happen for me because it's 4 hours away and my means of getting there are now all out running this revised race that is occurring right now. So for me? I get to wander around Chamonix, eat some great food, and wait for the racers to arrive here later tonight. And then tomorrow when the weather is actually cleared up I'll go out for a nice long run, ride the tram up to the Aiquille Du Midi, and feel really glad that I'm not laying in bed wasted from running a "consolation" 98k race in which I had not slept for almost 24 hours at the start of the race.

Friday, August 27, 2010

But Not Quite...

Wow. This is going to take awhile to sink in. 3 hours (about 20 miles) into UTMB and the race was canceled due to severe weather. I was running smooth and feeling great, right where I wanted to be about 5 minutes behind the leaders. We didn't have any bad weather where we were but apparently in the higher areas up ahead there was heavy rain, wind, and fog.

I guess the plan now is to go run a marathon in Italy on Sunday. Not any old marathon though, but rather the sky running marathon world championship race. A race that has about 13,000 ft. of climbing over 26 miles! A marathon that will take the winners 5+ hours! Should be a blast.


Chamonix has been treating me very well. Yesterday was a great day of relaxing with some friends, new and old, and now it's almost time to get on with this other thing that's been looming on the horizon for a few days now:

UTMB is set to start here in Chamonix in 5 hours. I'm feeling good going into this one. I've slept 30 hours in the three nights that I've been over here and the weather has turned much cooler and a bit wet today. As long as it doesn't rain too much to create insane amounts of mud on the trails I think this weather will be perfect. I don't at all mind wearing a bit of extra clothing to stay warm, something I've been doing about 350 days a year in Juneau for the past 4 years.

For those interested in following along here are a couple places to start looking for info. as the race unfolds:

The race website's "live" page:

Also Bryon Powell is over here doing coverage that he'll be posting on his blog:
Be sure to check out the links in irunfar's sidebar because Bryon will likely be posting to his twitter page which is linked on the sidebar of his blog.

Also, the race will be giving the top ten runners through La Fouly (about mile 70) a GPS tracking device which will then track the remaining 35 miles of the race in virtual realtime (I think there might be a 3 minute delay or something like that). So be sure to look for that somewhere on the race website as the race unfolds. Perhaps I'll even be fortunate enough to be one of those top 10.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

You Know You've Made It As An Athlete When...

... You get drug tested.

Apparently when the UTMB said they were going to do random drug testing they meant random drug testing of top runners. Not sure how that qualifies as random. Nonetheless I guess it's a good thing. I'd like to think that it's overkill and there's no need for the testing, but maybe I'm being naive.

On a lighter note: It's weird being in such a novel and majestic place, but feeling so alone at times. My time thus far in Chamonix has felt like a strange dream. When I first got here yesterday I was so tired and hungry that I couldn't think straight. I grabbed some lunch and then went to my hotel room and fell asleep while writing an email to my girlfriend. I didn't wake up for 6 hours. I stumbled out into the streets of this foreign town and found myself some dinner. After dinner I returned to my room and fell asleep for 6 more hours.

When I awoke today I felt like I stepped out into a completely different world than yesterday. Today the sun was shining bright and the mountains hung over the town like nothing I have ever seen before. Unless you have been somewhere that has an 11,000 foot difference between the valley floor and the top of the mountains that loom above it's just hard to imagine. In Juneau the mountains rise straight up from the coast, but those mountains top out between 3,500-5,000 feet. Here the mountains rise up just as steep but they go up over 14,000 feet (the valley floor is at about 3,500)!

Anyhow, after drinking some coffee (strong coffee... yum) and eating a huge breakfast I met up with Karl to run the last 10 miles of the course. Fairly uneventful run. We climbed about 2,500 ft. and dropped about 3,500 back down to Chamonix. The section of trail we saw today was really nice to run on. Much more smooth than I expected. These trails have mostly been around for a very long time so to say that they are well worn in is most certainly an understatement.

And so I am checked in for the race. Drug tested negative. And now I just need to wait two days before we start. My hope now is to be able to sleep about 20 of the next 45 hours. And when I'm not asleep I'll be eating or laying around resting.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


About to take to the air tomorrow morning to fly over to Europe for UTMB.

Just got settled in here in Colorado and it's off on another adventure.

I've been really happy here in Nederland so far. The weather is amazingly nice and I've been finding all kinds of fun trails to run on. I haven't been able to find anything nearly as challenging as the trails I run on in Juneau but I'm sure I will find this in time. Right now I just keep finding a lot of trails that go up really high (have been up as high as 12,000 ft. so far) but they take their sweet old time getting there. Not Juneau style in which you just go straight up the side of a mountain. With how tough the altitude has been at times I guess this is probably a good thing.

I feel good and ready for UTMB. I haven't really thought much about it until I packed my bags today. I'll have 3 days over there before the race and I figure that is more than enough time to focus my mind on this one. It will be the toughest race I've ever run as far as terrain is concerned but I'm definitely making a choice not to put the kind of mental energy into this one as I put into Western States in the weeks leading up to it. In this case (as I do with most of my races) I'm just planning to show up and run, saving all of my energy for the race itself. There's always the worry that this will cause something really important to be overlooked, but with having run 20 or so ultras in the last 3 years I feel like I have enough experience to instinctively remember all the necessary things. I guess we'll find out next weekend if this is the case.

This said though, I'm really excited to run in Europe. From everything I've heard this is one of the most beautiful race courses in the world. I'm excited to race against the insanely top notch competition that will be there, and in some ways kind of scared (in a good way) to see just what Kilian is capable of on his home turf (in a sense) and on a course that he's already raced twice before. It's a long tough race, and a lot of things can happen, but I saw enough of his ability at Western States to know that he is capable of making this one a race for second place. That said I'm planning to be out there keeping pressure on anyone who is out ahead of me, and hoping to find a late race surge as I've been able to in so many of the races I've run in the past year.

This will be a fun one to see how it plays out. More than any race that I've run in quite some time I really don't know what to expect. There are enough strong runners and enough unknowns (to me) in this one that I could easily have a good day and finish behind a dozen or more runners. I'm kind of excited for this aspect of this race. It will make it very easy to show up and focus on simply having a fun day of running. Something that I intend with every race I run but sometimes it's not as easy to do when you line up for a race knowing that you "should" win it if you have a good day. With those feelings it's easy to start feeling like you need to win it to have a good day - not a mindset I like to go into a race with. At UTMB I know that I won't be feeling any of this and that's certainly a much easier place to come from going into a race which is already ridiculously hard no matter how much extra performance pressure you put on yourself.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Hitting The Road

I'm leaving tomorrow to drive southbound to Colorado. Have gotten some great UTMB training in the past two weeks. Lots of wonderful mountain exploration. Sure am going to miss the mountains here around Juneau but I hear Colorado has some mountains too.

Going to stop in Skagway for a day and run the Chilkoot trail on Monday. 6hr. 47m. is the fastest time I know of on this trail. I'm sure someone has probably done it faster than that. I intend to do it a fair amount faster on Monday. We'll see. I need to finish by 2pm to catch a train back to Skagway, and with how late I am to everything I do I'll probably be needing to run it in record time just to catch the train.

I'll be getting to Colorado in about a week. I'll then have about a week there to get settled in before heading over to Europe for my jaunt around Mount Blanc. I feel a bit overwhelmed with how much stuff I have going on right now, but I sure am super excited about all of it too.