Saturday, February 28, 2009

ITI Links

For those of you interested in following along over the next week or so here are some various links that will enhance the "viewing" experience:

My SPOT satellite tracker shared page

Iditarod Invitational Home Page

Iditarod Invitational "latest news" page

Iditarod Invitational Leaderboard

Iditarod Invitational "Message board"

Recent ADN article about race (very much worth your time)

Recent NY Times article about race

Jill's blog which should be updated throughout the race by Scott Morris.

Evan Hone's blog who might be doing some race updates and interjecting some of his often tongue in cheek commentary over the next several days.

Friday, February 27, 2009


My past year of racing has had many highlights but more or less all of the training and racing that I have done since I dropped out of the Iditarod Invitational last year has been with an eye toward being ready to tackle this race again this year. It's a weird feeling to have this race finally come back around. I'd like to say that with another full year to prepare that I'm much more ready for it then I was last year, but the reality is that I'm a serious procrastinator and I'm pretty much in the same place right now as I was one year ago. What I have this time around though is a better understanding of just how much this race has to do with mental strength and how little it has to do with physical strength (provided that you have the basic physical fitness required for a race like this). I have several doubts about whether or not I'm really ready for this race, but more and more over the past couple days I'm finding a higher level of optimism and excitement about giving this a try once again. More than anything though I'm just really excited to be out there on the trail living the simple life of just moving forward one step at a time whenever possible.

Thanks everyone for the comments and emails of support.

I'll put up a post tomorrow, or Sunday morning, with all the relevant links for those interested in following along with my "race".

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

This Aint Gonna Be Easy

After feeling pretty crappy on back to back 20 mile runs over the weekend I've decided to take my last week before the race easy and try to be very rested up by the race start. I didn't run at all yesterday and then did just 30 minutes on the treadmill at the gym today. Tomorrow I'm going to do a 60-90 minute hilly trail (snow) run in the morning and then I'll probably do 10 or so flat miles Thursday morning before I fly up to Anchorage. After that I'll take Friday and Saturday completely off and then the race starts at 2:00 pm Sunday.

I would have loved to go into this race feeling more confident about everything than what I am. I generally feel pretty good about my gear and logistical preparation, but physically I just can't find the confidence that I would like to have. Running on the treadmill tonight I just didn't really feel like a runner. I felt like I had plenty of energy but I felt like I was running for the first time in months, even though I've run almost 600 miles so far this year. I'm concerned that I have something "off" in my right leg. I really can't pinpoint specific discomfort anywhere but I felt kind of like my entire right leg from the knee down is just kind of "off". It might be all in my mind and/or it might all just feel fine with a nice very mellow taper week this week. At any rate this has me doubting, among other things, my shoes (can't I ever run a race where I actually know what shoes I'm going to wear before the day of the race?), my training, and my chances of really doing this thing.

More than anything I'm just keeping in mind that there's really nothing I can do about it at this point. I'm going to start my race on Sunday with every intention of pushing on for however long it takes to get to McGrath. I think I went into this race last year with too much confidence, perhaps going into it this year with very low confidence will be just the thing I need.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Feeling Bad, A Good Thing?

How I'm feeling in my training runs at a particular time has always been an ebb and flow. I think of my running much like the weather. There are trends and patterns, but a specific period of time can always sway quite a ways in either direction from the "normal." I ran a 20 miler today and a 20 miler yesterday and felt pretty crappy on both of them. I don't however feel like I'm in a longer term trend or pattern of not feeling good. Up until yesterday I've generally felt steadily stronger and in better shape ever since recovering from my minor calf strain almost 3 weeks ago. I see little reason to get over concerned about how I've felt the past couple days. Instead I'm going to take the zen like approach that this is actually a good thing because if I have swung in the direction of not feeling very good the past couple days I should be swinging back the other way just in time for the start of the ITI one week from tomorrow. This is my theory and I'm sticking to it. Plus it's not like I have any time to do anything about it at this point.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Ghost Trails - An Insider's Thoughts

I suspect that just about everyone who reads this blog is also a reader of my girlfriend Jill's blog. Her blog has everything that mine doesn't: Great photos, consistent posts (at least 4 a week most weeks), and great writing. For these reasons she gets about 5 times as many hits on her blog as I do here on mine. Basically she's a blog celebrity. More than once I've had people in the lower 48 respond to me when I tell them that I'm from Alaska with, "do you know that girl Jill who rides her bike all the time?"

So by now I would also suspect that many of you have read Ghost Trails, the book that Jill self published last fall.

Ghost Trails is the story of Jill's 2008 Iditarod Trail Invitational race in which she competed in the bike division. More importantly though it's a story of personal development. A look at how someone, who just 6 years ago didn't even know how to ride a bike, become someone in the midst of competing in one of the toughest bike races in the world.

My first response when I read the book was, "gee, it kind of makes me look like an ass-hole." And I'm certain to many random readers who don't know Jill or I personally (see comments on this book review) this is a common assumption when reading the book. Jill jumps back and forth between chapters about the race last year to chapters about events in her life as a young adult that molded her into the person who was then out in the Alaska Interior in the dead of winter trying to "survive" her way along the Iditarod trail to Mcgrath. Almost all of the non race chapters included stories about various camping, biking, hiking, rafting, and road trips Jill and I had been on together, often with several other friends, between 2000 and 2005. Very quickly the reader can notice a trend in these chapters of Jill always being left behind by me to fend for herself in some dangerous situation. This is what bothered me when I first read the book. I thought, "gosh, was I really always leaving her behind?" Of course I wasn't or we would not still be together more than 8 years later. After thinking about it more it made perfect sense to me from the standpoint of Jill writing a story about her development as an individual and not our development as a couple. When she was out in the middle of The Iditarod Trail last winter it wasn't the 3,000 miles that we rode bikes across the country in 2003 in which we were no more than a few bike lengths apart that helped her become a strong enough individual to tackle that race, but rather the 100 or 200 miles on that trip in which we were separated and dealing with our own individual struggles. The 4 days of flat water leading up to Cataract Canyon in which I taught her everything I knew (although she probably only paid attention to half of it) about river safety so that she would be prepared when we got to the rapids probably didn't help her become who she is today as much as the first two seconds did after I flipped the boat I was rowing about 20 minutes into the whitewater. You get the point. This story is about her and not about us. It just so happens that I tend to have been the one there through most of these "personal development adventures" that she points to in this book. I'd be the first to admit that Jill and I have been on dozens of potentially dangerous trips together that were my idea, but, as the book makes quite clear, without these experiences she would not have been out there on the Iditarod Trail last winter tackling something with more potential for danger than anything her or I had ever done.

If you haven't yet read the book and you're interested in doing so you can get it in three places:

-directly from her
-directly from the printing company

Monday, February 16, 2009


With 13 more days until the start of the Iditarod Invitational I feel like I'm pretty much as ready as I'm going to get. I just got my new Mountain Hardwear Ghost -40 sleeping bag in the mail today. I've got a few other last minute minor gear upgrades I'm planning to make and I'll certainly put in several more good days of training between now and March 1st, but the race could start tomorrow afternoon and I'd more or less be ready to go. I still have lots of doubts about various things. I have no idea what caused my ankle and back of knee pain that forced me to drop out of the race last year so I have no way of knowing for sure that the same thing won't happen again. I've never been out for any extended period of time in weather colder than 20 below zero so I really don't know for certain that the gear I have chosen will get the job done if the temperatures dip to 30 or 40 below. I feel confident in my physical strength and in my gear, but until I get out there and push beyond my current limits I have at least some level of doubt. These doubts if kept at their current level are, I think, a good thing. The key though is to try to find a way to not let these doubts create too much anxiety between now and the start of the race.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Susitna 100 Preview

Race Update (6pm on Sunday):
The top three foot finishers are in. Dave Johnston took the victory in 27 hours 25 minutes. Rorik Peterson was about an hour back and Laura McDonough was third overall and the women's winner once again in just over 31 hours (has any other women ever won this race besides Laura?). Looks like Evan dropped out at about mile 44 and Julie and Eric did not start.

As the race unfolded yesterday I began to notice that the skiers were generally moving faster than the bikers. This is a very bad sign for the runners. Soft snow conditions slow bikers down the most and skiers down the least so that comparison is where you really can tell what the trail is like out there. My hunch was confirmed a couple hours ago when I got an email from Dave telling me that he pretty much ran in at least a few inches of soft, wet, punchy snow for the entire race! The trails that this race are on can be set up super hard and fast but if they're not it can be a serious slog out there. Sounds like this was definitely a slog year, which makes Dave's 27 hours VERY IMPRESSIVE. Had it been a hard smooth surface like it was for me when I set the Susitna course record two years ago, perhaps Dave would now have that course record. For comparison, Laura, who seems to be about as steady and consistent as they come, ran exactly 6 hours faster two years ago than she did this year. Take 6 hours off Dave's time and he's more than 15 minutes faster than the 21:43 I ran. You the man Dave.

Tomorrow is the Susitna 100 / Little Su 50k.

I was planning to run the 50k as a training run for The Iditarod Invitational but once a stomach bug and a calf injury delayed my training by almost 10 days a couple weeks ago I decided that it would be smarter to use all of my time before March 1st preparing (mentally, physically, and logistically) for my focus race and not waste time on another "training race" which I would probably end up running harder than planned like I almost always do.

The Susitna 100 is shaping up to be a good race this year. The bike division is always competitive and hard fought, but in the past there have been some years where the foot division didn't have very many strong runners at the front of the pack. I don't think this will be one of those years. Here's the way I see it playing out:

Rorik Peterson (last year's winner and 4th place in a strong field the year before last) has to be the favorite. I put him at 3-1 odds.
Julie Udchachon has the most speed of anyone in the field but rumor has it she wasn't at the "mandatory" pre-race meeting last night. If she's in the race I'd list her at 5-1
Dave Johnston I think will be very hungry and motivated for this one after pulling out of HURT. I put him at 6-1
Evan Hone I would normally put with (or ahead) of Dave but he won't likely be as hungry for this one as he wasn't even planning to run it until a few days ago. Lucky for him Dave talked him into it. He weighs in at 7-1
Laura McDonough has won this race more than anyone. If conditions get bad and it turns in to a 30+ hour affair she could out last them all and add yet another susitna win to her resume. I put her at 10-1
Eric Johnson won the Arrowhead 135 last month and is running The Iditarod Invitational. I'm sure this is more of a training run for him and he doesn't have the kind of speed that most of the others ahead of him have, but this is a race that doesn't have a whole lot to do with speed. If the conditions turn horrible it could become a battle between Laura and Eric to see who can endure the longest. I put him at 12-1
I'm sure there are others on the roster who will battle near the front of the pack as well it'll be fun to see how it plays out.

Monday, February 9, 2009


With The Iditarod Trail Invitational now less than 3 weeks away I thought I would answer some of the most common questions I get when I talk to people about this race.

-How many miles will you do each day during the race?
A typical day will probably be somewhere between 40-75 miles, but I'm sure there will be some atypical days that will fall outside of that range - it all depends on trail and weather conditions (as well of course as my physical condition).

-How much do you sleep?
My hope will be to get about 4-7 hours of sleep per 24 hours. Most racers try to go with less sleep than this but I prefer to move faster than most when I'm moving and then take a bit more time to sleep.

-How cold will it be?
I wish I knew. The weather in interior Alaska has such a huge potential range. We could easily see temperatures as low as 40 below zero, but we could also see temperatures as warm as 40 above. An average day would likely be around 10 degrees during the day and down to about 20 below at night, but the odds of it being average for all of the 5+ days that I'm out there are pretty much zero.

-How do you carry your gear?
Drag it on a pulk (sled) behind me. See this post from last winter for a detailed description of my sled.

-What do you wear on your feet?
Here's a photo to best answer this one:

Starting from the inside out: A liner sock; a standard synthetic hiking sock; neoprene socks; Montrail Wildwood TR shoes 1 size larger than normal to accomodate the extra socks; NEOS overboots; snowshoes; commericial strength trash bags (not pictured) used when encountering open water or overflow deeper than the NEOS. I also have a pair of insulated vapor barrier socks on order that I will likely use. Under the most extreme conditions I could actually be wearing all of these things at once, but if it's warmer than about 10 below and there isn't new snow I will only be wearing the first two pair of socks and the shoes. I may or may not actually bring the snowshoes with me at all. I'll probably make that decision on the trail conditions and weather forecasts the day before the race.

-Why are you doing this race?
I haven't come up with an answer for this one yet.

Any other questions?

Saturday, February 7, 2009

One More Saturday Night

Sticking with my now 2 week old tradition here goes another Saturday evening post with a bunch of unrelated random thoughts:

First an update on my calf. I've been able to run every day since Monday. I still had a little bit of pain through Wednesday but I've now done about 35 miles in the last 3 days with no pain at all. I'm pretty confident that won't be bothering me anymore. I'm planning to do about 20 miles tomorrow and then try to get in about 90-110 miles total this coming week. If the calf feels fine through that then all should be good.

I've got another pair of shoes that I'm never going to use so I want to give them away like I've done with a couple other pairs in the past several months. They are Inov8 Mudroc 290. I have worn them on exactly 2 runs so they are pretty much in new condition. They are just too narrow for my foot. They are a size 10.5 but I think they run about a half size small so they really fit more like a 10. And as I said they are quite narrow.

I'm going to do this one a bit different though. Rather than just giving them to the first person to email me for the cost of shipping I'm going to raffle these ones off instead. For $5 you'll get a chance at the shoes. Larger amounts in multiples of $5 will give you one more chance to win per $5 increment. The La Sportivas I gave away last month seemed to generate about a dozen or so people interested in them. This time around I would suspect no more than that so your odds will be pretty decent of winning them, especially if you send me a couple hundred bucks :) Doing it this way will give someone the chance to have "free" shoes for half of the actual shipping cost and I might even be able to recoup a good portion of the money I spent on them in the first place. Click here to go to a paypal page where you can get in the raffle. I'll do the drawing next Saturday (Feb. 14th) evening.

New Subject. What's wrong with this picture? (I call it, "PR gone wrong"):

Moving On. The weather here has been horrible. It has either been raining or snowing for about two weeks straight and today a huge avalanche buried the road directly on the other side of the channel from our house. Those who live out that road (which is a dead end road) are pretty much stuck at home for however long it takes to clear the snow. Sucks really bad for those who live out that road but were in town when it happens. Not being able to leave your house for a couple days is bad enough, but not being able to go to your house for a couple days would be much worse.

This weekend is the Rocky Raccoon 100 mile race. I can't find any live updates but hopefully sometime tomorrow some results will start to be available. Andy Jones-Wilkins and Jamie Donaldson have great shots at being the male and female winners. Check out their blogs (linked in my sidebar) in the next few days to read about their races.

Several years ago I had a VW Jetta that I drove until it had 313,000 miles on it. I now have a Honda Civic that has 313,000 miles on it. Funny thing is that I don't think it's going to make it to 314,000. It pretty much has no brakes now and I really don't plan to put any money into such an old car when I don't even drive more than once or twice a week anyway. When I do need a car for something I can easily use jill's car or ride the bus. I think I'll put my car in the paper tomorrow for $50... or maybe I could raffle it off, although it's not worth as much as the shoes so I might not get any takers on the $5 raffle ticket.

That's all. Hope you're all having a nice weekend.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

It Must Be A New Week

After a week to forget today was a much better day. As many of you pointed out in comments I am #14 on The Hardrock wait list. That's not as good as being drawn into the race but I'd have to think that being at #14 on the list I will have the opportunity to do the race if I'm willing to keep that open as an option for a few months. That's good news. I'm still not sure if I really want to try to fit Hardrock in to my race schedule this summer and this essentially gives me some time to decide and see how other things fall into place - namely whether I qualify for Western States or not. I've been toying with the idea of running both Western States and Hardrock (provided that I actually get myself into both of them), but I've still got to decide whether that's really a logical option or not.

The other positive part of my day today was that my calf is feeling almost 100% healed. I skied about 75 minutes this morning and felt no pain at all. Then tonight I went to the gym and lifted weights, rode the bike, and ran one slow mile on the treadmill. I could feel a bit of pain while I was running but this time, unlike the last time I tried running on Friday, it loosened up and felt better as I kept going. I saw no reason to push it beyond just one slow easy mile, but by the end of that mile it felt very loose and almost entirely pain free. I should take one more day off from running and try getting back at it on Tuesday but we'll see if I can actually keep myself from giving a few miles a try tomorrow morning.