Monday, March 30, 2009

Ready For April

March has been a tough month for me. I'm glad to see it go. It started out with a disastrous Iditarod Invitational attempt and then I was pretty much feeling sick for the rest of the month. Over the past 10 days though I have finally been feeling very healthy again and am back up to a normal training load. I've still got some work to do to be ready for the Miwok in one month but in the past week or so I have felt quite strong on most of my runs. Yesterday I did a 24 miler in which I felt better than I have on a 20+ mile training run in at least a couple months.

Over the next few weeks I'm going to try to focus on getting in some good speed work as well as some good hard downhill running (as well as my usual tough uphill runs that I typically do every third or fourth day). The trails in the Marin Headlands are some of the most scenic trails I have ever run, but they are also some of the most hardpacked trails I've ever run. In the two races I ran there last year I developed significant quad fatigue due to the downhill pounding on the hard surfaces. This time around I hope I can build up a bit more tolerance to that type of surface by running lots of downhills on roads here in Juneau. I also want to try to focus on eating, hydrating, and sleeping really well in the next few weeks. Maybe I'll even try to drink more water than Pepsi and beer.

Friday, March 27, 2009


The wall of wind has followed me since I left home, only now I have crossed to the east side of the channel and changed direction so that I'm heading south and directly into the wind. A few minutes ago it was snowing popcorn sized snowflakes but now it has turned back to rain. I lower my head and push against it, lucky to maintain 9 minute mile pace. I hit the point where I'm planning to begin my "tempo" run and am blasted with such fierce winds that I can only lower my speed to about 7 minute pace. My legs feel weak and as soon as I hit the first small uphill my lungs start a serious struggle of their own.

And somehow the wind seems to keep getting stronger. For some reason I continue on, eventually moving a bit faster. I find a way to stabilize my heart rate at a little faster pace. I'm now down to about 6 minute per mile pace, still ridiculously slow for a tempo run, but so much faster than I was running just minutes ago that I feel like I'm flying. I hit a few gradual downhills and am able to speed it up even more. Eventually some of the wind is blocked by a row of trees and I'm able to maintain 5:45 pace, even as I head back uphill.

The rain is much heavier now. I'm wet to the core and heading into the wind I'm beginning to get chilled. It's such a strange feeling to be working my heart rate so high but my body still can't keep itself warm. If I were running this hard at 20 below zero I would be toasty warm and wouldn't need any more clothing than I'm wearing today at 40 above.

I hit the point where I plan to turn around. 8 miles from home and 2.5 miles into the "tempo" portion of my run. The wind is now directly behind me and the rolling hills will trend toward more downhill than up for the next couple miles. With the tailwind my body warms up almost instantly and now 5:30 pace feels easier than 6:30 pace did just 15 minutes ago. On the first downhill I'm able to lower it to 5:10 pace and that's where I stay for the next 2 miles. I feel my legs moving very quickly, but the tailwind makes for a pretty comfortable effort.

As I ease up into my 5 mile "easy" cool down to get me back home I feel like I could have maintained the 5:10 pace forever. In a few moments though I cross the channel once again and begin to head south toward home. The wind blows at my face. I become chilled again and my pace plummets. I shuffle along feeling like the 2 miles to home might take forever.

Once I'm finally showered and heading off to work I wonder why I would ever go out and run in such horrible conditions. Even more odd is that I would try to run so fast in such horrible conditions. At the time it somehow seemed to make sense, but it all seems so ridiculous as soon as I'm removed from it and getting on with the rest of my day. 5 weeks from tomorrow It'll make sense again. I'll be 40 miles into The Miwok and very glad to have such a "horrible" run in the bank, waiting to be withdrawn.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


I've lived in Juneau, Alaska for over 2 1/2 years now. For most of this time I have constantly had one foot out the door, always certain that my time here would be coming to an end sooner rather than later. It is a very tough place to live. The weather is often horrible and it's extremely isolated (only access is by air and water). I still can't really imagine a scenario in which Jill and I stay here for too long, but over the past several months my foot that is rooted here in Juneau has become much more deeply rooted. When the weather here is nice it's the most beautiful place on Earth and the isolation becomes less of an issue once you really start to find your place in the place that you are isolated to. I still feel myself often thinking of where to go next, but more and more I find myself also thinking about all the reasons that I'd love to stay here in Juneau.

Next month Jill and I are leaving the state for at least a couple months. We'll be hanging out in the lower 48 (mostly Utah), running, biking, hanging out with old friends, and enjoying some sun. Sometime in July we'll likely be making our way back to Alaska, and more and more it seems like we'll be coming back to Juneau, at least for some period of time. 6 months ago I would have been really frustrated at the thought of still being "stuck" in Juneau at the end of 2009, but now the thought of being here at the end of this year seems more comforting than bothersome. Funny how that can happen. I guess only time will tell what actually does happen.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Mountain Masochist

The newest shoe in the Montrail line is the Mountain Masochist.

I got my first pair of these a couple weeks ago and have put about 80 miles on them so far. The first real test won't come until I get a long run on them (currently 17 miles is the longest run I've done in them), but so far I like them a lot. They feel a little bulkier and heavier than the Streak (even though they are actually an ounce lighter), but they also feel like they provide more support than the Streak. As much as I love the Streaks, I do get a bit of fatigue in the balls of my feet if I do too much training in them. I think the Streak will still be my racing shoe of choice but if the Mountain Masochist continues to make my feet happy I might give them a try in the Miwok.

If you're looking for a pair of lightweight (10.8 ounces) trail running shoes that will give your foot the support and protection that rugged trails demand I highly recommend checking out the Montrail Mountain Masochist. Best new shoe I've tried out in over a year.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Interview With Jeff Oatley

I know I said a couple posts back that it would be my last post about this year's ITI. I lied. This post won't have anything to do with my entirely disastrous race experience though. Instead a look inside Jeff Oatley's (this year's winner in the race to McGrath) much more successful race experience. Jeff is one of a handful of racers who has come to define the ITI. He has amazing physical strength and endurance, but even more importantly he has unbelievable mental strength and endurance. In short he is one of the most bad ass ultra endurance cyclists out there. He has completed RAAM (fastest American finisher the year he did it), the ITI 5 years in a row now, and he holds the race record for both the 200 and 400 mile versions of The Fireweed 400.

Here are a few questions he was kind enough to answer that give a good look into his race this year. Even though he won the race to McGrath this year this was his slowest finishing time ever. This gives a pretty good indication of just how bad conditions were out there this year. His accounts below paint the picture much clearer though:

Q: In your mind did you approach the race any differently this year than previous years? With Pete on skis, Rocky not racing, and Jay riding with Tracey you had a pretty clear cut edge in experience and previous ITI accomplishments over the other bikers heading out onto the trail this time around. Did you go into the race looking to be the one riding out in front of the pack or is that just the way it ended up playing out?

A: I definitely didn’t approach the race any differently. I just try to get myself mentally prepared for this race and to get my bike and gear dialed. And honestly I did a multi-day trip with Pete and Ed on ski’s (and myself on a bike), and I talked to Pete a few times about his skiing before the race and I figured there was a 50% chance he’d be on a bike at the start line. I’ve been at or near the front of the race every time I’ve done it except for last year when it was more of a tour for me and my friend, Tim. So it wasn’t new to be in front. But it was unusual to get such a large gap.

Q: I was shocked when I got to Yentna at 4:20 AM to see that everyone except you was still there. Even more shocked to discover that you had left Yentna before the next racer got there. From there until Puntilla your lead kept growing steadily and you continued to leave each checkpoint well before the next racers got there. If my math is correct you probably went 150+ miles without seeing another racer. Is this correct? If so, what was your mindset leaving Puntilla without having seen another racer since presumably an hour or two into the race?

A: I went from Seven Mile Lake to Rainy Pass Lake without seeing another racer. I think that’s about 170 miles. The race started pretty slowly with a group of 6 or 8 bikers tooling along. That was fine with me. I gave myself an hour to get warmed up and then put a little bit of an effort in to see who would come along because I was okay riding with a couple people, but I didn’t want to be in a pack. I was shocked when I was able to walk almost all the way across Flathorn Lake and still never see another racer behind me. At Finger Lake they told me that I had a 6 hour lead (as of Skwentna). I’d taken an hour and a half nap at Skwentna and really felt great leaving Finger so I was riding hard, the trail was good, and I felt like I had a good rhythm going. But I’ve been through Rainy Pass enough to know that nothing really matters until you get to Rohn.

Q: Any details you want to share about the stretch between Puntilla and Rohn would be interesting. How long were you holed up with Bill? (and how many times did you think about slitting his throat? :) Did you attempt heading out over the pass on your own or only once other racers got up there? Did you have any food left when you got down to Rohn? etc, etc.?

A: I got to the Rainy Pass Lake cabin at about 11:30am. I’d passed Bill’s snowmachine and followed his snowshoe tracks until the wind and snow washed them away, so I was expecting the worse at the top. But I was hopeful the trailbreakers would be there from the north side. When I got there my first thought was that I would continue on breaking trial by myself and hoping that I met the trailbreakers before too long. But I quickly discounted that option as being too risky. I knew that if need be there was no way I could break the ~10 miles of trail to the Tatina River by myself. So with no information as to what the status of the trailbreakers was it would have been reckless to try that. I pretty quickly realized that my best option was to get some good sleep and be ready to go whenever the trailbreakers got there or we had enough bikes to attempt to break trail. It ended up being the later. I had been there for about 12 hours (I think) when the next bikers showed up, and 21 hours when our group left the cabin. I think Phil, Jay & Tracey P and I left together, and we were quickly joined by Chris Wrobel, James Leavesly, and Alec Petro. Not sure this is completely the correct order, but before long this was the group. It was a terrific group of people to do this with. Very positive energy and very good humor…which became pretty key as the trip just got more and more absurd. I never had any doubts that we would make it. But I couldn’t even guess how long it might take. I suppose I really imagined us meeting the trailbreakers, or finding their trail, much sooner than we ultimately did. Obviously, after the fact, this was the highlight of the trip for me. The amount of work it took to get to the Gorge (where we finally hit the snowmachine trail) was absurd. We were just wallowing in snow, struggling through willows and alders, and constantly breaking through the ice on the creek…sometimes into water and sometimes not. At one time or another I think each of us hit our limits mentally, but the group spirits stayed high and a joke or funny comment always came at just the right time. Everybody in the group brought something to the table. It was a pretty unbelievable group effort. Cory caught and passed us I’d say within two or three miles of leaving Rainy Pass Lake. I thought we’d never see him again. He looked like he was really moving. But many hours later we ran into his tracks and could tell he was bogged down too. It was so funny when Ed Plumb passed us. We were in deep snow…probably more than waist deep so we were really low. Ed was more or less on top of the snow so he looked like he was about 10 feet above us and he just had this look on his face that was a mixture of bewilderment, pity, and something like contempt. He said something like “That…that looks…horrible…”. Ed is a good friend of mine from Fairbanks and I was really happy to see him and see that he was doing really well with the situation. But we didn’t really get a chance to talk much and he skied on and left us. I’d have given anything for a video of that interaction. But like Cory, Ed soon got bogged down too and we all sort of ended up in the same situation at almost the same location After about 17 hours of pretty steady and somewhat intense effort we bivy’d. It was not the most comfortable bivy because we were all somewhere between damp and soaked. It had been about 50 hours since I left Puntilla Lake and my food supply was low so I ate one piece of bacon before I went to sleep and had a couple more for when I woke up. When I got up I gave Jay some bacon and he gave me some Pringles and I think some chocolate. The previous day I’d given Alec some crackers and I think Chris (it may have been Phil) hade given me some candy bars. It was the type of cooperative effort that probably only happens in like…shipwrecks and the ITI. I really hope I never have to do that exact thing again. But at the same time that is the sort of thing that really makes this race special. I’ve done this race five times and in several of those trips there have been times when the conditions just dictated that we put the race on the backburner and focus on dealing with the conditions together.

Q: How much frustration did you ever have about being forced to squander such a large lead? Obviously you couldn't dwell on this for too long but there must have been some period of time that you had some frustration about it.

A: Honestly I don’t think I was frustrated by the situation at the top of the pass at all. There was plenty of frustration with the trailbreaking that followed. This race is about these types of situations…although they aren’t usually quite as large as this one. I think I made the right decisions at Rainy Pass. I know I would not have made it to the Tatina on my own. I got a lot of good rest and was able to make a pretty big push from there to the end. After the bivy above the Dalzell Gorge I made it to McGrath on one 90-minute bivy with probably less than half of that time sleeping. Plus, the re-grouping made it a pretty good race…at least in my head. At Nikolai I knew (from a snowmachiner) that I was about 2-3 hours ahead of Cory and the trails were absolute shit so I was in full-on race mode. Believing that I was being chased by a world-class skier on a mostly unrideable trail from Bison Camp to McGrath led to a pretty epic last 24 hours for me. I would never have pushed myself that hard if I had reached Rohn with a 12+ hour lead. Yeah, it turns out that Cory took a break in Nikolai so the chase was sort of broken off, but I didn’t know that. I remember that by about 6am on the morning I reached McGrath I was toast. I was so tired I could hardly walk. I’d mostly stopped eating and drinking and I was having a hard time keeping warm. I’d turned my headlamp off because the little circular spot was making it even harder to stay awake. I was basically asleep on my feet. But I was still checking behind me at the end of every straightaway and every time I didn’t see a light back there I tried to push a little harder to hold on. It felt epic to me. That’s what I’m after in this race. Its really funny to me now because if I wouldn’t have thought that Cory was behind me I probably would have done something like imagined a world-class skier was chasing me to try and motivate myself through those hours before daylight…which is really what I was doing anyways. If that makes any sense…that’s the sort of thing I do sometimes. I’m not saying it makes sense, but it doesn’t make much sense to push a bike through a blizzard for 2 days either.

Q: Did you have any notable physical lowpoints during the race? Mental?

A: Well, by the time I got to McGrath my physical condition was not exactly optimum. I mean, I knew I was on a course that was not maintainable for too long. My lower legs and feet were really taking a beating from all the pushing through deep snow. And I was having trouble with my feet because I had been in overflow quite a bit on the Kuskokwim. I’d say my physical condition bottomed out about the time I hit the hardpack road into McGrath…maybe a couple miles before that.

Mentally I had a bit of a low trying to get across the Farewell Burn in a pretty good ground blizzard. It was tough because the trails had finally gotten rideable about 15-20 miles before, but this storm came up and the winds kept getting stronger and stronger and visibility intermittently got pretty bad. About 6 miles beyond Bison Camp the trails were gone…I was in the middle of the Burn and a crosswind was just abusing me. I kind of had to lift the bike to the top of the snowdrifts and the wind was strong enough that it was catching the bike and trying to pull it out of my hands. I fell over the bike about a 100 times during this period. The footing was bad, I was awake, but physically very tired, it was ridiculous.

In these conditions I probably would have stopped sooner but I had a very weird encounter with a lynx on the trail that energized me a little bit me and kept me going for a bit longer. Visibility was very low and all of a sudden I saw eyes glowing real close to me. At about the same time the wind died a bit and a lynx was standing right in front of me, probably 25 or 30 feet away…very close. It quickly bounded out of sight. It was really cool and sort of woke me up for an hour or two. But at about 6:30am I finally just gave up and had to bivy, but there was very little cover around there and I was moving so slow that I knew it was pointless to try and get to cover so I just kicked out a hole in the snow and curled up in my bag for 90 minutes. It was totally mental. I just didn’t want to be out there in that anymore. The wind is weird in that it can really turn your head inside out. Cold by itself doesn’t really have that effect on me. When I got up I was still mentally pretty whipped until I got to Sullivan Creek, got out of the wind for a few minutes, refilled my camelback and ate some food. Then I picked it up again.

Q: How many times have you now finished the ITI (in how many attempts)?

A: I’ve finished the ITI five times in five tries and the Iditasport once in one try before that.

Q: Does arriving in McGrath become any less sweet now that you've done it several times?

A: Rolling down the road into McGrath is always sweet. The first time I made it to McGrath I had tears in my eyes as I soft-pedaled down the road. It’s that kind of trip. If I get jaded to that feeling I hope I have the sense to quite doing the race. This thing is hard. It’s hard for the people at the front and it’s hard for the people at the back. Getting to McGrath is an accomplishment for anybody that sets out to do it.

When you combine that sense of accomplishment with how unbelievable Peter and Tracy are to everybody that shows up at there house, its pretty tough to think of a race that has a better ending. Hanging out in McGrath, sharing trail stories with other racers is a HUGE part of the experience.

Monday, March 16, 2009

One Week? Screw That

For whatever reason I've had a lot of people in the past few weeks ask me for tips about training for ultras. The problem is that I don't really have a set training plan that I follow from race to race. There certainly are general guidelines that I stick to but I almost never actually plan specific workouts more than a day or two ahead of time, and even that's pretty rare.

One general guideline that I do use that tends to be different from most people is that I never break my training down into one week cycles. A one week cycle makes sense from a schedule standpoint, since so many other things in our lives revolve around weekly cycles. From a training standpoint though a one week cycle doesn't really make sense to me. Often I just train on a linear path that never seems to cycle back around, but when I do break my training down into cycles I usually do either 10 or 12 day training segments. The problem with a one week cycle is that you don't have enough space in there to make fine adjustments. A lot of people seem to do weekly cycles in which they do one long day, one day off, 1 speed day, 1 hill day, and the other 3 days as active recovery days. The problem with this is that running a long run once every 7 days is too much, as is a rest day once in every 7 days. One speed day and one hill day is probably not enough but if you added in another day of either of these it would probably be too much. By using a 10 or 12 day cycle you can add or subtract a day of a certain type of workout and it isn't such a drastic increase or decrease. A typical 10 day cycle for me would consist of 1 long day (about 20-25% of my total mileage of that 10 day cycle), 2 hill days, 2 speed days, 2 cross training active recovery days (weights, bike, ski, etc.), and 3 active recovery running days (sometimes one of these days completely off if I'm feeling unusually tired or busy). With a longer cycle like this I can adjust things to more closely fit the work that I think I need at the time without feeling like I'm making a drastic change to what my body is used to. I know this isn't a huge difference from a one week cycle, but for me it's enough that I couldn't imagine ever again breaking my training into 7 day cycles.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Breathing A Little Easier

I think I'm finally coming around a corner with this stupid respiratory illness. I was even able to run 7 miles this morning! My longest run in almost 2 weeks!

I didn't end up seeing a doctor because the 3 that I called all said their next available time to take a new patient was sometime in April. My most logical option seemed to be the emergency room, but that seemed a bit ridiculous considering that all I almost certainly have is a very slow moving sinus infection. I guess I need to try to become more unhealthy so that I have myself a "regular" doctor that I can actually get an appointment with in less than a month.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Two Week Bug

I can't seem to get rid of this illness. I think this might be the longest that I have ever been sick. Going on 13 days. Ran 4 miles on the treadmill tonight. That wasn't good. My lungs are completely wrecked right now. The mornings are the worst. Each of the last 3 mornings I was a complete disaster until at least 10:00. Today I didn't even try to deal with it, but instead just went back to bed for an hour after breakfast, even though I had slept for 10 hours already. If I'm not feeling better by Friday I'm going to go get it checked out to be sure I don't have bronchitis or anything that should be treated with antibiotics.

Between Jill's frostbite and my respiratory illness we're a pretty lame duo right now. She has tomorrow and Friday off from work and I have Friday and Saturday off. Luckily we got 3 Netflix movies in the mail today because with our running and biking on hold right now, and with the weather as horrible as ever this week in Juneau it really could be a long weekend.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Miwok Prep.

This head cold that I came down with the day before the ITI has sure taken it's time moving through my system. At least I don't have to deal with having any regrets about pulling out of the race. I have felt so crappy since last weekend that there is absolutely no way I could have continued on to finish the race. I finally was feeling good enough today to get out for a short ski, but up until that I have done nothing but rest for 6 days.

Looking ahead I'm hoping to be feeling 100% healthy by the middle of this week and begin my Miwok training by the end of the week. I still haven't really decided just what my focus will be in leading up to the Miwok. I need to run more downhills than I did in preparation for this race last year but I know I also need to mix a little more speed into my runs, as I pretty much haven't done anything fast since before The North Face race in early December. I should be able to get myself into better shape than I was for the Miwok last year when I was also focusing on trying to build biking base to prepare for the GDR. For most of this year it's going to be all about the running, with only bits of biking for fun mixed in. I just need to be careful not to burn myself out with too much running. Should be fun though... if I could just kick this damn illness.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

What Is My Future With The ITI?

Jeff Oatley has made it into McGrath as this year's ITI winner. Congratulations Jeff. I know there were a lot of people rooting for Jeff to win, especially after he was forced to give up a huge lead while waiting for a couple days for a trail over Rainy Pass.

I've spent a lot of time since Monday thinking about my plans in regard to if/when to try this race again. It's a very difficult thought process for me right now. On one hand I keep thinking that I am not going to pull the plug on this race just because I have now had two horrible attempts at it in a row. On the other hand though lies the fact that this race really isn't a "race" but more of an expedition. Perhaps I would be wise to focus on racing while I'm still able to perform at or near my highest potential and come back and tackle this one in several years when, as Paul Dewitt said, "I'm old and slow." This isn't a new thought to me. I've thought a lot about this for the past year. Last year I took up a huge chunk of my time focused on two multi-day adventure/expedition style "races" (ITI and GDR). I don't regret this at all but I do realize that had I not dropped out of both of those races early I probably would not have been able to run Miwok or Wasatch, at least not with the success that I did. If I continue to do the ITI every year it absolutely will cut into my potential in my "short" races.

The thing though about the ITI is that being out on that trail has a way of making one feel so intensely alive. I get a huge rush from almost all races I run, but only this race gets into my blood in this way. It's more than just the magnificent challenge of it, although that is a huge part of it. Also there is the simplicity of it that is so appealing. There are almost no rules. The course is not contrived to be a certain distance. You have a start point and an end point, you can take whatever path you want to get from A to B. It is certainly one of the most dangerous races in the world and there is always more you can learn about how to make it safer and more efficient. In short, this race is 100% the real deal. There is no pretense. There are no shortcuts. There is no way you will ever make it to McGrath if you don't have your shit 100% together. The fact that a few people each year go all the way to Nome is still too much for me to even comprehend.

I have a few options that I'm throwing around in my mind:

-Keep banging my head against the wall in hopes it'll finally break through.
-Put this one on the back burner until I'm "old and slow" and likely in a much better place mentally to have success in this race.
-Try it on bike next year and see where that takes me. Bikes have proven year after year to be the most efficient means of travel in this race. A successful race on bike could be a great learning experience to help me conquer it on foot.
-Take one year off to really focus on 100 milers (still could run either the susitna 100 or the arrowhead 135 to get a nice snow race in next winter) and then give this one another shot in 2011.

There are pros and cons to each of these options. I've got a lot of time to think about it. I am leaning toward one of these options right now but I'm not going to decide without taking at least several weeks to think about it and talk with some friends and fellow ITI racers about it. I'd be happy to hear some of your thoughts on it. It's of course my decision to make, but it's always helpful to hear what other people, who maybe don't have so much emotion tied up in a decision, might think.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

There Was Some Good With The Bad

One last post about my 2009 ITI experience:

In almost every way it went poorly for me. I have never had anything (race or otherwise) that I have put so much effort into go so ridiculously bad. Through most of the lead up to the race and my one day out in the race things went so bad that I kind of just felt like I was stuck in a bad dream.

There was however, a lot of good out of this "disaster". First on this list would be all the great people that I got to meet and spend some time with as part of this event. You don't get a chance to get to know very many of the racers because things tend to separate pretty quickly almost as soon as the race starts, but in the two years that I've done this race I have very much liked everyone that I got to know on the trail. This year Jill and I were fortunate enough to fly out of Yentna with Riccardo Ghirardi and Isabel Lopez. I got to know them as well as one who speaks no Italian and very little Spanish might get to know people from Italy and Spain who speak very little English. Luckily our friend Amity who we all stayed that night after we dropped out speaks Spanish so she was able to act as translator. The thing about Riccardo and Isabel though is that you don't have to speak their language to understand that they are great people with amazing stories to tell... ahh, if only I could understand them.

Several other friends, new and old, are out on the trail still pushing toward McGrath (too many to list here) and it's been fun these past few days following their progress online. Jeff Oatley seems to be riding the strongest out there this year and he's pretty much one of the nicest guy you could ever meet. He's had amazing success at this race in the past, but I don't think he's ever won it. I'm certain I'm not the only one at home on their computer pulling for Jeff in this one.

Another great thing was that even though only on the trail for one night I feel like I learned a lot out there. It dropped to 20 below zero (colder by some accounts) that night and there was a stiff breeze the entire time. This was the coldest weather that I've ever been out in for any period of time. It was great to find out just what clothing combinations were working best for these conditions. Next time I do this race I will be just a little more prepared having spent this night out in windchills around 40 below zero.

And then there is the benefit that at least I'm not crawling into McGrath a few days from now facing weeks of recovery before I can even begin to think about moving on to my next race. I had hoped more than anything to finish this race, but I knew doing so would greatly compromise my ability to perform at a high level at the Miwok 100k on May 2nd. Now though the reality is that I should be able to go into the Miwok as fresh and ready as I have for any race in over a year. I've got a bone to pick with those Marin Headlands trails. I had decent races there in the Miwok and the North Face 50 last year, but neither one of them were great races, and I had very low periods in both of them. This time around I'm going to be looking to run strong from start to finish and dropping out of the ITI so early might just be a huge stepping stone toward that goal.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Dead Man Walking

Sometimes things just don't go your way. I had been anticipating this year's ITI since I dropped out of the same race one year ago. This was to be "my year." This is what I told myself for the past 12 months. I was determined to go into the race as ready as ever to have a successful race. That's not the way it played out though.

Everything was good through the end of January but then when I got sick and injured my calf in early February I was slightly thrown off in my race preparation and never got fully back on track. The last week before the race I was feeling like my legs were a bit "off", but I still felt like maybe I could pull it all together and make it happen. Then Saturday, one day before the race the sore throat started, followed by headaches, congestion, and overall body fatigue. Sunday morning I felt pretty horrible, but I didn't let it get me down too much cause I knew there was nothing I could do about it? I knew that starting one of the toughest races in the world in the midst of an illness was not at all a good thing, but certainly after a year of preparation I wasn't going to pull the plug without giving it a shot.

I thought maybe, just maybe, I could grind out a tough day or two, sleep a lot at the first two checkpoints, and maybe be able to recover enough to basically "restart" my race feeling healthy by Tuesday or Wednesday. It was pretty much the only option I had.

The 60 miles I was out on the trail were long and hard. I had almost no energy and I just couldn't bring myself to take in enough calories and water. I basically felt too weak to eat as often as is necessary. The temperatures dropped to about -20 during the night and there was a stiff wind most of that time. It was the coldest weather I had ever been out in for that much time. I was able to keep plenty warm though and was able to make it to Yentna Checkpoint (mile 60) in just over 14 hours time. This was almost all walking. I would try slow running to warm up and to try to cover ground a little more quickly but I just didn't have the energy to run for more than 20 or 30 minutes at a time. The trail conditions were slow with lots of windblown snow drifts but more than anything I was just not feeling good.

My plan upon arriving at Yentna was to eat as much "real" food as I could and sleep as long as my body needed and then get up and move onto Skwentna (mile 90) and do the same thing there. First I ate and then I was getting ready to sleep when Jill woke up and told me she had fallen through ice on Flathorn Lake and had likely frostbitten her toes. At that point she was still deciding whether she could continue on or not (we both knew she couldn't but that's something that takes some time to sink in). Either way we knew she couldn't do so without getting her wet boot dried out so we decided to try to sleep on it for several hours and deal with it all when we woke up. Neither one of us could sleep. Her toes were finally thawing out, causing horrible pain, and I was so congested that I felt like I was constantly choking and gasping for air. Multiple times in the night I moved to open a window in the room we were in before remembering that it was 20 below zero outside and that it wasn't the window keeping oxygen from getting into my system but rather my congestion.

I guess I got about an hour of actual sleep. I felt even worse when I woke up. The typical body aches that you get when you have a good head cold become pretty severe when you spend 14 hours dragging a 30 pound sled over 60 miles of snow covered trail at 20 below zero. Imagine that. My back and neck were throbbing, my head was pounding, and I felt like I hadn't had anything to drink in days, even though I drank about a gallon of water just in the time that I was "sleeping". On top of this my left knee which had been bothering me a little bit out on the trail had stiffened up quite a bit while I was sleeping and seemed like it would also likely be a concern as I moved forward down the trail. The reality was slowly sinking in that my chances of making it almost 300 more miles in this condition were very near zero. Even more important was the reality that enjoying hardly any of these miles further down the trail was even closer to zero.

Jill had decided that she was dropping out and was planning to get a flight out of there as soon as possible to get her foot checked out. I could have pushed on to Skwentna, becoming even more miserable, in hopes of somehow turning pain and weakness into strength. I decided instead to finally accept the writing on the wall and fly out of there with Jill and Riccardo Girardi who was also scratching with a knee injury.

I still can't really believe how many things just didn't seem to work out for me in the lead up to this race. Getting sick on Saturday and then feeling as bad as I did on Sunday just kind of seemed like a joke at the time. A joke that I thought would go away if I ignored it. Not so.

I still have lots of thoughts to process about this race, and more specifically my future with this race. Mostly I feel like I just need to let this race lie dormant for awhile and maybe give it another shot in several years, but the thought of not giving it another shot again next year seems to be a tough pill to swallow right now.