Thursday, November 5, 2015

Canyonlands 101

Over a week ago I had the privilege of heading down to Canyonlands with Jared Campbell to do a spectacular 2 day route highlighting much of the park.  I say 'much' here but the reality is that one could spend months here and just scratch the surface.   Drawing on the beta from Buzz Burrell's and Peter Bakwin's similar route a couple weeks prior, as well as borrowing their 1.5lb packrafts, we set off from Island in the Sky.  We descended to the Colorado off of Gooseberry trail with an approx. 80 foot rappel to get down to the river.  We then inflated the (quite delicate) rafts and paddled 18 miles down the Colorado to Spanish Bottom where we ascended a sneaky little route that took us through the Doll's House to Chimney Rock.  From here we descended into the Maze where we slept out under the stars right beneath Chocolate Drops.  Rain earlier in the week allowed for multiple water refill options here.  The next morning we hiked out through the circuitous and dramatic Horse Canyon.  Improbably, this veritable highway ends only a stone's throw from the edge of the Green River with a large and impassable pour over.  Bypassing this and heading north is a sneaky alternate route that beautifully drops you off just upstream.  We plopped in the Green, paddled 8 miles down to Stove Canyon and then began our hike up White Crack trail which eventually intersects the White Rim and brings you back to the foot of Island in the Sky.  From here ascending back up to the mesa looks improbable, to say the least.  Buzz gave us clear direction however for a tricky ascent through cliff bands on the southeastern aspect- the "Government Trail."  We ascended with headlamps after sunset to finish up our 2 day, approx. 80 mile trip.
Mr. Campbell himself.

Where's the water?

Infinite playground.

Mini me.

I know what I'm doing.

No fun to be had here.

Pool toys.


Big walls, Horse Canyon


Turn. Green River: exiting at Stove Canyon.


Places not to be lost. 
Feeling on edge.

Make me a road from here to there.




Appeasing the dermatologists.  
"Government Trail" (improbable looking weakness in the cliff right above Jared's head)

Monday, September 28, 2015

A Millwood 100 Attempt

This past weekend Bethany and I attempted the Millwood 100- a 100 mile mountain circuit in the Wasatch designed by Jared Campbell.  As one might expect from Mr. Campbell, the route is pretty tough with over 40,000 feet of climbing on gnarly terrain with only 3 previous finishers in one push (to my knowledge): Erik Storheim, Matt Van Horn, and Jared himself.  This was one of Bethany's major goals of the season and we figured it would be a unique experience to do this as a husband and wife duo.  With Bethany's mother in town to watch Ada, it seemed like a nice opportunity for a long date in the mountains.  (I do recognize here how lucky I am that this also constitutes Bethany's idea of a 'date'.)  Not all the stars were perfectly aligned however.  Bethany had torn her medial quad a little over a month back at the Fat Dog 120 and had done minimal running since that time.  A few tests drives suggested the whole circuit was worth a go so we set out at 3am on Saturday morning from Neffs Canyon, intending to do the route counterclockwise so as to complete the trickiest sections first during the day.

The day before we had planted drops with food and water at Thayne's canyon, S-curve, Mineral Fork trailhead, Brighton, Bear trap fork, Spruces campground, Terraces, and Church Fork.  Peter Adler met us at Alta and Brian Kamm was generously intending to meet us in the middle of the night at Big Water with supplies.  

It was a beautiful, if warm, fall day with spectacular colors and - save a few hair-raising sections around Kessler where we went off course and spent considerable time clinging to rotten, chossy cliff bands- we had a total blast.  I was pleasantly surprised to be feeling quite good despite very little focused training since Hardrock.  

Comparisons don't generally make much sense with this sort of thing but I found myself thinking that relative to other tough 100 mile courses I've done (Hardrock, UTMB, Ronda dels Cims) this route was definitely the most consistently difficult.  As such, (for most mere mortals such as ourselves) a successful completion likely demands treating it as an A-race goal rather than an end of the season add-on.  

By the time we were descending off Kessler into Cardiff Bethany had developed a noticeable limp and our downhill efficiency was slowing considerably.  We made it into Alta and met Peter, slogged up Hidden Peak and then Baldy but by that point- 16 hours and 45 miles in with approx. 20,000 feet of climbing, it was clear there was no way her body was going to sustain this kind of effort for another 55 miles.  We bailed out of Albion basin and were kindly picked up by our friends Peter and Zoe who drove us home where we ate some bacon, kissed our sleeping daughter, and went to bed.   All in all, it was a great way to spend a day together.

3am start at Neffs Canyon

Sunrise towards Mill B

Descent to S-curve.
Lake Blanche trail.

About to descend into Mineral Fork.

Looking into Cardiff from Kessler.

Cardiff pass with Peter Adler.

Heading up Hidden Peak.
Peruvian Ridge.

Impromptu seat on some pallets.  


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Fat Dog 120 Race Report... By Bethany Lewis!

As I've mentioned previously, there are times as a serious trail running blogger when it is appropriate or even advisable to mention the accomplishments of others: namely, when you can bask in their reflected glory and/or gain status by virtue of affiliation.  This, my friends, is one of those very special times and I have below a race report by my wife and ultra running phenom Bethany K.H. Lewis.  This is unprecedented: our arrangement heretofore has involved Bethany crushing races and me crushing the blogosphere.  However, the anticipated quadrupling of my blog readership by posting this below clearly outweighs the potential role disruptions at hand. Without further ado...


This report is dedicated to Jen Jurynek’s jacket, whose taped seams were vital to my keeping my fingers.  

The Fat Dog 120 hasn’t developed an oversized reputation yet, but it inevitably will.  I heard about it first through the colorful, liquor-tinged tellings of Roch Horton at a mutual friend’s annual Christmas party.  He sold me on it within 10 minutes with tall tales of thick-trunked trees, mossy cross country underfooting, fist-sized mosquitos, expansive views, homemade smoothies, and an off-the-radar but rowdy Canadian “eh” vibe.  I immediately signed up for it as a back-up race to Hardrock.  I then proceeded to forget about it.

In December I was 14th on the newbie waitlist for Hardrock.  Over the spring I diligently converted myself into a butt-swinging speed hiker in order to get myself Hardrock-ready.   Second on the waitlist as the gun went off in Silverton, I tried to feel some satisfaction as best-trained pacer on the course.  My mind trick apparently worked as Ben and I had solid symbiosis from Grouse to Chapman as he rocked the San Juans in his habitual understated, high-socked, short-shorted fashion.  

Following our Colorado trip, the combination of a 6 week bronchitis and frustratingly prolonged reactive airway issues (as anybody timing the Speedgoat Vertical Mile will attest to), a lot of call shifts at work, a certain foolhardiness that came from having “conquered” part of Hardrock, and likely a healthy dose of denial all prevented me from taking a serious look at what I was in for at Fat Dog until the week before the race.  This meant I had no crew, no pacer, ragged lungs, and no hotel arrangements.  That, paired with the prospect of 120 miles, was enough uncertainty for me to be pretty jiggly on the insides.  This may have been the “back-up” for Hardrock but it sure as hell was going to put me outside my comfort zone.  Little did I know that simple logistics were going to be the least of this race’s ability to give me the middle finger.

Fast forward to the start line:  mild mannered mentions of rain at the start line, no clouds in sight, we take off.  I’m mid-pack and we are casually walking because the crowd can’t cram easily onto immediate single track.  My butt’s wagging happily.  It was easygoing to my first and, ultimately, last mountain view during the race, at mile 9.  The Fat Dog is somewhat Hardrock-esque in it’s gonzo ascents and descents:  in the case of the first section, 9 miles of ascent followed by equivalent descent.  I successfully keep myself in check on the moderately technical downhill I adore.  When not in eyesight of other runners, I let my arms out like wings and feel that 100-mile flow I’ve craved since the Bear 100 two years ago.  Ashnola aid station at mile 18 now reached, I take my time because that is what no crew and no pacer means:  relishing any human contact at aid stations.  I’ve even got a few quips for folks, suddenly the extrovert when no crew awaits me.  The volunteers are lovely and the cheeky race co-director Peter fills up my water bladder for me – incredible service.  I walk out with a chatty and brute-strong appearing artist from Ontario, Peter, and we quickly get lost on – of course – the dirt roads that lull us into complacency.  We lose 15-20 minutes but aren’t too fazed.  The next ascent will be my last in which one can discern the surrounding landscape and appreciate it.  Wildflowers pepper grassy fields with burned out aspen creating that Manet-style juxtaposition of black and color that gets my mind dancing.  I can’t help but start singing aloud some TV on the Radio’s “Seeds” album that is blaring in my headphones.  These few hours, in retrospect, were my 100-mile-bliss moments, and I feel simultaneously so invincible and so insignificant.  That’s one powerful cocktail of feelings, right there.

Then, poof!  Feelings of invincibility are pulled out from under me as the first storm hits out of nowhere.  There is seemingly an immediate downpouring requiring first a windbreaker stop and then, as the severity sinks in, an arm warmers stop.  That’s all I had in my pack, gear-wise, and it was on and barely enough as I worked my way into more exposed terrain called Flat Top mountain, a cross country section that headed straight into the eye of the storm.  Hail, sleet, lightning, and thunder broke above me, around me, and seemingly underneath me as the trail turned to icy ankle-deep water.  I made the amygdala-driven decision to push forward despite the lightning, bending over to make myself small, running like a hunchback over the mountain’s crest until I had descended into tree cover.  Wind hit on the descent and it took several miles of semi-frantic downhilling to shake the numbness out of my hands.  I reached Calcite aid station and spent 10 minutes there drinking broth, warming hands, thanking volunteers with an edge of desperation, and witnessing but trying not to register the first carnage of the race.  I consciously pushed the thought out of my sodden mind that this was only mile 35.  Fat Dog 120, you were turning into more than I had bargained for.

Knowing mile 41 Bonnevier aid station was close and warm nighttime gear awaited me there, I pushed on.  A mudslide and river crossing later, I arrived warm and sopping wet, ready to get my game face on for the night.  In my peripheral vision and hearing, I detachedly absorbed the image of somebody’s arm being set from a break and overheard tales of dislocated shoulders from the mudslide.   I gathered strength, in twisted fashion, from this new understanding as to how hardcore this race had become thanks to the weather.  It took 20 minutes to get compression socks, capris, and arm warmers on over squeaky wet skin.  I changed out packs and made sure I had all the mandatory night gear which included a waterproof jacket, gloves and winter hat, wind pants, emergency blankets, and 2 headlamps:  no more messing around in this weather, lesson learned.  I set off happily, energy good, still trying to rework the math in case I happened to be anything other than 1/3 done.  No deal.  I was only 1/3 done.

 The next ascent was over 10 miles to Heather aid station and a total blur.  The rain intensified yet again, to the point that my 15-year-old Timex Ironman watch flooded and I lost any sense of time of day or pace.  Gale force winds added a unique surreality, and I was thankful for my homie-sized wind pants lent by my husband as they added just enough warmth (and, let’s be honest, style) to keep me unpanicked.  I reached Heather aid station where more shivering runners under blankets looked stricken and miserable.  Volunteers were overwhelmed trying to keep their makeshift aid-station tarps from blowing over.  I needed help opening up a 5 Hour Energy here as my hands were dumb with cold.  Given the roaring of the wind around us it was impossible to get warm at this aid station and so I left quickly, desperate to keep moving, worried that if I stayed I’d end up zombie-looking as well.

At this point the fog rolled in thick with horizontal rain, just in time for the long descent to mile 73 Cayuse Flats.  My headlamp reflected back in my eyes, blinding me, and I almost ran off a cliff close to Heather aid station in a very eerie, eroded section that resembled sand dunes were I not in – where was I?  Oh yes, freaking middle of nowhere British Columbia.  Once I dropped into the trees again, the wind slowed down but the trail frequently returned to ankle deep stream.  I yo-yo’d with nameless male racers, all of us struggling and silent, all of them kind despite duress, and reached Cayuse Flats in one piece.  Unable to see the trail very well during this long 20 mile descent I had my quad-brakes on the entire time which, later on, would prove to be the likely reason behind my physical unraveling.

Cayuse Flats then a happy switch of terrain with two steep humps over to Cascades aid at mile 78.  Cascades was presumably “the point of no return” according to co-director Peter whose comments at the pre-race meeting inexplicably held traction for me.  I am a born skeptic, so part of what I love about these long races is how malleable I can become with enough physical wear and tear.   I somehow took his advice as mantra and thought, “wow, I’ve made it!” once I reached this 78 mile point.  But I still had 40 miles to go, and the weather was only going to get worse.  Thank goodness for a healthy dose of gullibility.

At mile 80 Sumallo Grove I could sense dawn and overheard a volunteer (incorrectly) say it was going to be 28 degrees (C) that day.  The combination of light’s downstream effects on my incredibly sensitive pineal gland (thank you, intern year) and this optimistic weather news made me feel brand new.  The flattish Skagit River Valley portion of this race, from mile 80-100, is both revelatory as well as potentially race-ruining, thanks to its runnability.  I broke out my running stride and had a blast, thinking of all the dripping gear I was going to dump at Shawatum aid station, mile 90.  Somewhere in this section, however, my right medial knee started to ache as did my IT band.  Ache turned to sharp pain the more I ran so I took a tiny dose of acetaminophen, then, very reluctantly, a whiff of ibuprofen in an effort to minimize the pain.  I figured if I could reach Skyline intact then the rest was hiking or downhilling, manageable activities without a functioning knee, or so I thought.  By Skyline, however, the pain had turned to limp, I was out of NSAIDs, and the aid station had no acetaminophen.  Based off of the weather news I’d overheard earlier that morning, I dumped most of my wet gear at Skyline and changed into some dry shorts, giving the volunteers an unfortunate eyeful.  I thankfully kept my jacket, soaking wet beanie hat, and gloves, mostly out of a sense of new but profound distrust of BC weather.  I also picked up my poles here, in a race-saving but completely serendipitous move.  

The final 21 miles from Skyline to the finish consists of a large 5000+ foot ascent followed by the endless ups and downs of 6 false summits and a final 6 mile descent.  Although most found it particularly cruel to insert this type of terrain at mile 100 of a race, I actually thrilled at hiking instead of running, hoping my knee pain would improve with a change of terrain.  I power hiked manically, energy fantastic for being over 100 miles into the race.  I quickly realized, however, upon reaching some runnable sections, that my knee had now swollen to a point that flexion was reduced to about 30 degrees:  no more running for me.  This was highly frustrating as I had some serious energy reserves stored up from being forced to take it so easy overnight.  I reached Camp Mowich aid station at mile 107 and the rain, again, intensified to a constant downpour just as I reached more exposed terrain.  Given my tattered knee I couldn’t keep a pace that would keep me warm; cold truly started to settle into my bones and fear of hypothermia took root in my brain.  Downhills were exquisitely painful as I was reduced to side-stepping and the trail had turned to a blur of yellow-brown slippery mud stream.  

I reached Sky Junction aid station, mile 112, increasingly anxious that I wouldn’t be able to manage the descent at such slow pace and still keep warm.  This aid station was exceptionally minimal:  tarp over the trail, gummy bears and Pringles available to eat.  There was a dog there, as I recall, starting at me most uncaringly.  I had the obliging volunteer get out my emergency blanket and wrap it around me, stash my poles in my bag so I could stick my hands in my armpits, and I left Sky Junction aid in the company of a very generous 30 mile racer who stayed with me over the next 2 miles of exposed ridgeline despite my pitiable grunts and moans with each downhill step on that right leg.  The last 6 miles of descent were a testament to the instinct for self-preservation over self-respect as I hobbled down below treeline, tied my silver emergency blanket cape in a knot around my neck, got out my poles, and hiked as rapidly as I could using my poles to propel my unbendable right leg forward.   I finished, hobbled, objectively crazy-looking, with all reference points in terms of space, time, and bodily proprioception obliterated over the course of this Fat Dog 120 business.  No pacer or crew from whom to ask sympathy.  No watch as time gauge.  No scenery for direction sense.  And, finally, 30+ frustrating miles battling a breaking body (it turns out I had torn my vastus medialis) with bottled up energy and cardiovascular capacity for some serious wheeling.  In typical and wonderful 100 mile fashion, I was reduced to a mere crumb of my athletic self although, as it turns out, I had broken the course record by over 3 hours.  I hardly registered this fact as it paled in comparison to the other challenges I had overcome without complaint… if moans and grunts don’t count.  

I’m here writing my first official race report primarily out of gratitude and respect for Heather and Peter, race directors of a fabulously managed scenic race, and their crew of volunteers on whom I relied heavily.  A race run in conditions like this gets no facile Instagram-able love (as who in their proper mind would bring their selfie stick in that outrageous weather) and means zip in Stravaland.  My watch is in the trash and I have a sum total of zero pictures to share.  This race provides a story, and provided me with little left at the end but…me.  Rock out, Canada.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

2015 Hardrock 100 Race Report

It is 5:40am race morning and both Bethany and I are suited up ready to run the Hardrock 100 mile Endurance Run.  It's a chilly morning and the surrounding peaks are shrouded with fog.  Bethany is 2nd on the wait list, having moved up from 14th in the weeks leading up to the race.  She has prepared diligently.  Her drop bags are out and she is raring to go.  I've been awake since midnight, too excited to sleep.  It has been a while since I've been this amped up for a run.  5:50am, every runner has checked in, and it is now clear that I'll be the only Lewis in this family (Suzanne Lewis being unrelated but a badass nonetheless) making the iconic circuit through the San Juans. I study Bethany's face and can see the active mental reconfigurations projected about her eyes and mouth.  She grabs my arm and smiles, now transformed into my pacer.

The Hardrock 100 Mile Endurance Run is a 100.5 mile alpine loop through the San Juan mountains of Colorado with 33,992 feet of ascending and 33,992 feet of descending at an average elevation of over 11,000 feet.  The course is unrelenting with 13 passes above 12,000 feet with a high point of 14,048 feet over Handies Peak.  Each year the course alternates direction: this year was counter-clockwise, thought to be the slower of the two directions given the long ascent ramps.  The run is highly selective with only 152 entrants this year and involves a complicated lottery system.  My chances of getting in this year were 9%.  A first-time applicant has around 1.5% chance.

I watch the slow countdown on the starting line clock.  The crowd counts down from 10.  The moments hangs in the air seemingly indefinitely and then impossibly, inevitably, off we go down the dirt streets of Silverton.  I am resolved to a mellow first 50 miles and the first climb up Dives-Little Giant feels luxurious.  I hit Cunningham at about 2:05 and lose a few places with an inefficient resupply but am untroubled.  The pace continues to feel easy and unforced up Green Mountain and Buffalo Boy ridge.  I go back and forth through Pole Creek with Jared Campbell, Karl Meltzer, Jason Koop, Scott Jaime, Brandon Stepanowich, right around 10th place or so.  I move through Sherman quickly and prepare mentally for the long climb up Handies Peak.  This is the only stretch I listen to music on and I'm immediately reminded of how potent an ergogenic aid it is.  Having forgot my own gloves I'm wearing Bethany's hot pink gloves which are tight and small on my hands, now swollen from the altitude and dependent edema.  Climbing up Handies I catch up to Anna Frost and Karl Meltzer and we summit together.  Given my proximity to Solomon super-star Anna Frost I'm immediately surrounded by the Solomon commercial film machine - seemingly incongruous in this wild space- and I can't help but chuckle to myself at the thought of an anonymous, disheveled, shit-kicker with a homemade jersey and pink gloves sharing the silver screen.  Anna smoothly descends the steep slope, hair flowing, caught in 200 high-definition frames per second.  I smile toothily into the unblinking camera, blotched white with sunscreen, brown malodextrin remnants smeared on my lips, already chapped from the exposure.

While perhaps the most aesthetically compelling 100 mile run in the world, the Hardrock 100 Mile Endurance Run also captures the tensions and contradictions of the current state of ultrarunning.  This dynamic has played out in the increasing competition to gain access to this event which was once a completely off-the-radar niche mountain enterprise.  A sport in rapid flux, trail ultrarunning for the most part continues to explicitly endorse a value system centered around collaborative experience, the outdoors, and appreciation of the amazingly simple act of putting one foot in front of the other for long stretches of time.   With its simple race format, limited number of entries, and lack of prioritization of elites, the Hardrock 100 is renowned as sticking true to these core values, as witnessed by the language often invoked in describing the race: "family", "tribe", "egalitarian," "authentic," "soul" etc.  And yet it is impossible to walk down the street in the small town of Silverton in the days leading up to the race without running into various corporate representatives, scores of commercial photographers, sponsorship banners and advertisements, and film crews.  (This tension also plays out in the range of other unfortunate, non-deductive, odd, and seemingly soft-headed, social-media amplified associations that seem to come into play in the trail running community including pseudo-spiritual moralizing about nature, philosophical pablum about mountains, vociferously self-satisfied in-grouping validation, and (amazingly non-ironic) breathless scrambling for arbitrary corporate sponsorship.*)   This is all sociologically interesting but peculiar nonetheless for a sport that requires essentially nothing for participation, holds dear to its renegade, fringe, counter-cultural roots, and avers a largely opposing set of values.  Of course, it is also a testament to the fact that for many folks this is no longer simply an avocation but a way to make a living.  A host of interesting practical and conceptual questions are raised: how do you maintain core values when those have been assessed, ingested, deconstructed, and re-packaged for you to consume in commercial fashion? how can you tell the difference between those original values and their repackaging? is there a difference? how do you maintain a family when literally thousands of people are vying for limited access? what high-tech-maximally-minimal naturally-wicking over-priced and odor-resistant fabrics best convey the sort of mountain-hardened authenticity we want?

At 14,000 feet you feel strangely distant from your own feet, interoception is disrupted and there is a strange delay between your movements and your apprehension of those movements.  This gradually normalizes as I plunge down from Handies peak to Grouse gulch.  At the aid station I kiss Ada and Finley, say hi to Zoe and Billy, grab some logo-emblazoned, overpriced and fancified malodextrin as well as my beautiful wife and we start to make our way up the dirt road.  Ada's arm is in a sling as she broke her arm diving off the couch 2 days before the race.  I feel the same fresh visceral pang as I recall the event now.   As we crest Engineer Pass a thunderstorm erupts around us. My hands are numb and we run quickly cross-country down towards Ouray.  I feel great, the effort continues to feel easy, and I now have 60+ mile under my belt: for the first time I allow myself the thought that I may have a good run here.  Another resupply, this one aided by Vivian and family and we're off on the 10 mile climb to Virginius Pass.

Caloric intake slows down considerably from this point on and I rely entirely on liquid nutrition, which makes for less than 100kcal per hour for the remainder of the run.  Nonetheless we make quick work of the long climb to Virginius, in the process passing Anna Frost and catching up to Karl at the top of the 3rd step, Kroger's Canteen.  It is indeed a special place.  Pirogies go down the hatch and we drop down the techy switchbacks on the flip side towards Telluride.

Collecting data points on how to run 100 mile races is tough.  There are a huge number of variables at play: aerobic fitness, race nutrition, response to altitude, mental resolve, race day conditions, course details and differences, navigation.  And most of us are limited in how many of these events we can do in, say, a calendar year.  This makes decision making as to race strategy and fueling strategy difficult.  Each 100 mile race I've done has felt radically different.  Strangely and improbably, this one felt the easiest.  I'm not sure there are any conclusions to be drawn from this fact however.   In certain ways you walk a finer line at Hardrock than other 100 mile races.  The persistently high altitude makes forward progress slower and caloric ingestion that much harder to maintain.  Yet with these external limitations, once one wraps one's head around simply being out there for a longer duration of time and burning primarily fat for the 2nd half of the run there are ways in which this race is much 'easier'- if these words make sense with this sort of thing.  On the whole you are moving slowly throughout the race.  All but the most gradual uphills are done at a strong hike, regardless of how fit you are as a runner.  More so than in any other race, it seems that if you can simply keep moving forward over the last 30 miles you will hang in and do alright.  Given the slower overall pace and huge fraction of the time spent hiking there is overall less acute musculoskeletal trauma sustained and the overall lower intensity of the running is much more solidly aligned with fat-burning capabilities.

We're in and out of Telluride smoothly.  I'm having a blast and it is an absolute pleasure to see folks and be feeling this good so late into the run.  As we climb up Oscar's Pass it begins to rain heavily.  It is the middle of the night and now quite cold.  We find ourselves wandering around seemingly endlessly on a large snow-filled saddle, at times post-holing up to our thighs.  There are no trail markers to be found in any direction.  Periodically we stumble across footsteps and follow them but they always diverge in different directions.  We are clearly not the first party up here to be lost.  The previous placid and serene surface of my mind has ripples now.  Bethany is carrying my iPhone with the GPS track of the course- it takes us too long to pull this out but once we finally do we are quickly navigating back on course, catching up to Brandon and his pacer and traversing some sketchy exposed snow fields.  With one particular short traverse I'm surprised they don't have a fixed rope.  The fixed rope up to Virginius was almost superfluous but here a misstep on the icy snow steps could be fatal.  I hand Bethany one of my poles.  I'd never before done the descent off of Oscar's.  It involves a fairly heinous dance down loose talus precisely when you are hoping to bomb quickly down to Chapman from the pass.  Once we hit Chapman instead of being 15 minutes up on my projected splits we are now 30 minutes behind, having lost about 45 minutes with this difficult navigation.  This is nonetheless less time lost than other runners, including Killian.  Here I pick up my buddy Jason Thompson who will pace me in for the last stretch.  With the recent wanderings on Oscars Pass, the painfully slow descent, accumulated fatigue, and now a switch in pacers my headspace is less peaceful and I never quite recover the blissful relaxation characteristic of the first 70 miles of the run.  At first this change bothers me quite a bit.  But this is the reality of these events: they demand adaptability, even to your own emotional states.  There is a limited pocket of factors you can control, for the vast remainder you are along for the ride.

The last 20 miles go by slowly.  Things never get a whole lot harder but I'm increasingly ready to stop moving as the miles roll by.  Steep uphills feel excruciatingly slow now.  We crest the ridiculously steep and loose Grant Swamp pass as the sun rises.  You have to be there to understand this kind of terrain.  There is a lot of stop and go as we scan the open surroundings for stray course markers.  This halting progression mirrors the new turbulence in my mind.  The terrain remains spectacular, rich, and extravagantly littered with wildflowers.  I'm still able to appreciate the beauty, although notably less so than earlier in the run.  This, too, is okay.  There are many ways of being and this one also has advantages.  One of these is the absolute bliss upon finally reaching the rock and finishing, which I do at 27:55, 7th place overall, completing what is undoubtedly the best mountain running event I have ever taken part in.

Thanks to my generous wife, Jason Thompson and family, my family, my friends, all the volunteers and members of the race organization.  I can't wait to come back.

* Perhaps the best example of this bizarre state of affairs is the apparent recent partnership of runners and beer companies.  The relationship here is complex: I will support your product, help you make money by selling a substance to other runners that can only be said to impair actual running performance (and likely fosters at least some degree of unhealthy relationships to alcohol in others), in exchange for a beverage I enjoy and which contributes in tangible ways to my personal brand (insofar as my personal brand conforms to the stereotype (that we have mutually established in commercial fashion) of trail runner as laid back, beard-stroking, IPA-toting, outdoors person).* The runner here has apparently ingested the corporate marketing and now spits it back out as though it sprang from some genuine personal wellspring.  I suspect this is largely an unconscious process, which makes it even the more insidious.

                                                                *This coming from a hairy guy who assuredly enjoys a good IPA even more so than your average 'trail runner'.

-shoes (very large)
-shorts (very short)
-CPT Jersey
-water bottle carrying mechanism
-kcals (various malodextrin permutations)
-jacket, pink gloves, hat, warm hat, arm sleeves
-long, tight, white socks.
-poles, last 40 miles.
-fancy watch
-contact lenses

Someone can't hold their rum. @Montanyas.
Family portrait.

Little known talent of bad-ass Jared Campbell: singing Little Mermaid songs.
Future Hardrocker?
The major injury of the trip.
Pre-race with the kiddos.
The Hard-Block race.


Race morning.  Matt Hart, me, Jared Campbell.  Nice kit.
Dropping into Grouse aid station
Somewhere around Pole Creek.
Coming into Ouray.

Ouray.  Looking like proper ultra runners.

Jason, pre-race, exploring Grant Swamp pass.


Ada and Phoebe.

Monday, June 8, 2015

2015 Scout Mountain Ultra Trail Race Report

This marks the 7th year I have travelled out to Pocatello in early June, meaning I've been at this race in some capacity since it's instantiation in 2009, whether running, volunteering, or supporting.  That alone makes me feel fairly old at the moment but I suppose is a testament to the quality of this event, now run by Luke Nelson and a solid band of volunteers from the Pocatello area.    

This one is worth checking out guys: the course, a rugged 100k circuit through the Bannock and Pocatello mountain ranges (60k and 30k options as well), is bar-none for beautiful, runnable single-track.  The entire first leg and the descent off of Scout Mountain in the latter third of the race showcase the kind of terrain best referred to as running porn: buttery single-track turns in pine forest, lush meandering ridges, spring wildflowers, soft and tacky trail.  It is an ecstatic sensory experience.  It is also easy to get carried away given the sheer amount of runnable terrain, as my hamstrings will attest to today.

I ran 10:26:26 (unofficially) for 1st place in the 100k, about 2 minutes faster than last year.  The experience was vastly different however.  Last year I went in with limited fitness, only a couple runs longer than 2 hours, and basically destroyed myself to run 10:28 for 2nd place (  This year, with Hardrock on the calendar in a little over a month, my first goal was to not kill myself and run controlled so as to get in a good long effort without disrupting training too much, which I succeeded in doing, I think.  Despite a rocky last 6 weeks with a calf strain and then a resprain of my bad ankle my fitness was much better going into the run this year.  I ran the first leg at what felt like a very easy pace, keeping my heart rate in the 140s, and rolled through the first 2 legs a couple minutes slower than last year feeling very relaxed.  Without a lot of action at the front of the race there wasn't a lot of incentive to push hard for the last sections of the race which made for a very calm and pleasurable run on the whole.   Nonetheless, running 63+ miles will take its toll and I felt appropriately walloped upon finishing.     

Of course, the biggest news of the day was that for the first time in my relatively short tenure as a so-called ultrarunner I broke down and employed the dandy-cowboy, cliched ultra-running technique of tying a wet/ice-filled bandana around my neck.  This, along with my self-designed Chocolate-Peanut-Butter-Treat (CPTTM) jersey, exceptionally short shorts, bleeding nipples, and an ankle brace ensured the very pinnacle of ultra running haute couture.   As seems to be the case for cliches in general, this turned out to work quite well practically speaking (the bandana that is) and I've decided to keep doing so indefinitely, whether running, working, or otherwise, self-conscious cynicism be damned.

Thanks to Luke Nelson et al for a great weekend and another opportunity to run these beautiful trails.

Benjamin R. Lewis, MD, Ultrarunner.

Jeff Bertot, Chris Helfer, Matt Vukin pre race.
Camping out at Mink Creek campground

Helfer the Manimal after finishing the 100k.
Unrelated good run over Black Mtn. with my buddy Jeremy Howard visiting from Maine!
Bethany winning the Jemez 50 miler in May.  She should get her own blog.   

Stamatios Dentino MD, 2nd trail run ever, Living Room 6/8/15.
Bethany crushing the BST marathon.

Ada's first bike ride up Emigration Canyon.  

Peter Adler, Jeremy Howard.

Jeremy Howard, Ben Lewis, reliving Mt. Blue H.S. track and cross-country glory days.