Tuesday, September 9, 2014

On Running, Dying, and Raising Backyard Chickens

It has been a busy few weeks.  Most notably, this past weekend Bethany was the first woman in the 2014 Wasatch 100 in 22:21:47, a new course record, and 9th place overall.

The friday preceding that at 5:30pm CEDT I lined up to run the 105 mile Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc which starts in Chamonix, France and encircles the Mont-Blanc massif via Italy and Switzerland.

And then a few days ago I killed Flower, one of our chickens, upon waking up on our first morning home to discover that he is (was), in fact, a cockerel.

I'm again in the bizarre position of reporting in great detail on mediocre running exploits - in this case a DNF - while my wife sets the world on fire and offers nary a boast.  But hey, it's my blog. 

Pre-race plans were somewhat altered given that on day 1 of our trip I sprained my R. ankle quite badly descending Serles in Innsbruck, Austria.   Within an hour of landing on the runway we were off with our friend Tracy ascending this iconic peak that rises 7k vertical feet from the valley floor above Innsbruck.  Sleep-deprived, jet-lagged, edematous, and clumsy, I misjudged a turn on the rocky and rooted technical descent and laterally rolled my size 13 Hoka-clad foot.  The ankle immediately swelled up and the next few days were pretty much touch and go insofar as ambulation and ligamentous integrity. The difficulty weight bearing and swelling put into question the sanity of running 105 miles a mere 9 days later and it wasn't until a few days before the race that I was confident I would at least line up and give it a go, goals modified to simply completing the circuit.

Nonetheless we had a fantastic time, driving our rented mini Fiat from Austria to Cortina, Italy to play in the Dolomites, to Courmayeur, and finally to Chamonix, all the while fueled by bread, cheese, sausage, and plentiful red wine.

Race day finally arrived and I taped up my bum wheel and hung around nervously until the 5:30pm start.  As has been well-described elsewhere, the energy, electricity, crowd density, and excitement of the UTMB start is truly remarkable.  Coming from the U.S. where running 100 miles through the mountains is a bizarre, niche sport shared by only a few other highly idiosyncratic nut-jobs who line up at low-key, minimally attended events, when standing on the UTMB start line one is struck not just how mainstream the sport is in this part of the world, but how embedded and assumed this form of long distance mountain travel is within the culture.   Of course, this cultural identification, when coupled with high population density and proximity to the mountains, makes for a very different 'wilderness' adventure than you expect in the US: the trails are well-traveled by everyone from the very young to the very, very old and there are multiple opportunities to break up your run with an espresso at various rifugios.  One does not run UTMB to have a pristine and wild wilderness trek.  One runs it because it is the most iconic and competitive celebration of the 100 mile distance.  And in this sense it is an ecstatic experience.

That's not to say I felt particularly ecstatic during much of the run.  In fact, I've never felt this poorly for a 100(+) mile race before.  Seemingly from the get-go I felt off. While my ankle had numbed up nicely to the point of minimal pain by the time I hit Les Contamines (in the pouring rain, 3:28 into the run), my quads were already protesting- in large part, I assume, due to the fact that my running was noticeably wonky and favoring my R. foot.  Knowing that even a slight re-tweak of my talofibular ligaments would immediately end my race, my downhill running was more of a slow, syncopated skip with the use of my poles- a pattern amplified by the wet conditions, poor visibility, and steep terrain.  Unsurprisingly, this took its toll over the 22 sum odd hours before I dropped in Trient (mile 84 or so), the journey from Champex-Lac having been so horrific that by the time I met Bethany in the aid station (itself a small village of cured meats, cheeses, locals, bells, music, hoots and hollers, broken runners) there was not a moment of contemplation or indecision to be had.

The narrative here is predictable fare insofar as how these 100 mile races seem to go at times: legs increasingly useless, stomach rebelling (1), forward progress a delirious, desultory, hypoglycemic fun-house enactment of Zeno's paradox. I laid down on the trail somewhere in Switzerland for about a half hour.  The ground was wet, fecund, and smelled slightly rotten- a stark contrast to the desiccated rock of the Wasatch.   I could feel insects crawling on me but could not bring myself to brush them away.   Yes, there would have been an overlay of portentous Werner Herzog narration here were it not for the fact that I was wearing compression socks.

Of course now in retrospect I feel fairly wimpy about it all and find myself wondering if it was truly as bad as it felt at the time. 

It's not to say we didn't have our suspicions about Flower.  The week prior to our departure for Europe there was the growing sense that perhaps we had misjudged genitalia.  Having been a docile chick cowering in subservience to our larger hens Oscar and Danny (the third, christened 'Poopy Danny' by Ada, had mysteriously died within hours of arriving at our home, a fact that did not enhance our confidence at urban backyard chicken raising), Flower seemed to be sprouting a suspicious looking comb and had seemingly overnight developed a previously uncharacteristic brazenness, jumping out of the fenced in enclosure with a smarmy, testosterone fueled indifference, beady eyes inscrutable, small feathered head thrusting imperiously into the soil.  Of course there was also the bewildering fact that we had twice seen him forcibly mount Oscar, our largest and oldest hen. Awakening- as certainly a number of our neighbors did- on the first morning of our return from Europe to his earnest and early crowing, we formulated the plan.

Not a symbolic atonement for my ultrarunning sins, nor a deliberate parallel trope of simultaneous vigilance and betrayal, the act itself was simply a practical necessity.  A necessity which, nonetheless, has offered ample existential material to discuss with Ada, our four year old, who- absorbing the hard and astonishing fact that, as human beings, we can make the decision whether or not to end the life of an animal so as to consume it-  queried whether we would then kill, skin, and eat GG, my sister's dog.  Sound, if horrifying, logic.

In an uncanny turn of events, literally within seconds of off-ing poor Flower, Animal Control showed up on our front step given complaints that morning from neighbors about the crowing.  I'll spare you gentle readers the grisly details of the scene (suffice it to say that I had to lie down after the whole process was completed).

So I'll ice and wrap my ankle- itself fairly nonfunctional at present time.  I'll eat some chicken soup, if not for my soul at least for my body.  And I'll think back on Mont Blanc with pleasure, astonishment, inspiration, and a touch of regret. 

(1) I'm attributing the GI distress I experienced to the fact that I was foolishly trying to make up for slow downhill running by pushing the uphills too intensely past a reasonable threshold for maintaining gut integrity as well as the fact that I was unacceptably lax about hydration and developed a significant fluid deficit over the first 7 hours of the run.

Bethany, Tracy, en route up Serles

Serles with Tracy and Bethany

Summit of Serles, ~7k above town of Innsbruck

Ankle pre race.

Flexing in the Dolomites. A test hike.





UTMB course en route to Rifugio Bonatti

Icing the ankle.

Gran Col Ferret

Start line

Chamonix seen from Mont Blanc massif

Vantage from Aguille du Midi

Where we stayed

Ankle, post race.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Sierra Trip

I have clearly not adequately prioritized my blogging.  Photo dump from our trip to the Sierras with the Adler family in early July.

Sky Pilot / Polemonium


Watch your step.

2 families, Ruby Mountains

Ruby Mtns.


Peter, Cloud's Rest

Jason T, taking a  knee.


Polemonium / Sky Pilot

Monday, June 9, 2014

Scout Mountain and Squaw

This past weekend Bethany and I raced the Squaw Peak 50mile and the Scout Mountain 100k (formerly Pocatello 50), respectively. While this combination involved impracticality, higher financial burden, and larger CO2 emissions, it did presumably reduce the possibility on my end of getting (unfortunately resorting here to that chauvinistic and distasteful term) 'chicked'.  So, probably worth it on the whole.

As I've pointed out elsewhere, there are limited occasions when it is acceptable on one's own personal running/adventure blog to mention the accomplishments of others, even if those accomplishments far outshine your own: namely when you can bask in the reflected glory and thereby gain status, meaning, and existential authenticity by affiliation.  

As such, Bethany ran through bronchitis to a solid win in the Squaw Peak 50mile in about 9:20.  She didn't have too much to say about it other than it was hot and that she coughed a lot.  Amazingly, she did not even consume any CPT during this effort.

It should also be mentioned in this section that Brent Kious notched a solid run in Pocatello in the 60k despite the rigors and limitations imposed by a medical residency.  He also refused to eat any CPT which in and of itself is mindblowing.

Getting back to myself, I returned to Pocatello this year for another stellar event put on by Luke Nelson and his group of diligent, savvy, and friendly volunteers.  I've now been at this run at least in some capacity- running, volunteering, or supporting- each year since its inception now.  The event now offers 3 different distances: 100k, 60k, and 35k, all on the same terrain through the beautiful Bannock and Pocatello mountain ranges and overlapping in time.  As a result runners from all distances are crossing paths out on the course which lends a nice comraderie to the run.  This fortunately resulted in some running in the latter half with the gracious and talented Emily Sullivan who was crushing the 60k course.

I managed to run 10:28 in the 62.7 mile distance for 2nd overall, in the process getting handily beaten by an 18 year old.   Happily, getting beaten by someone half your age is increasingly acceptable for me with each passing year now. Recent sickness and only a couple of efforts longer than 2 hours had me a bit nervous for this one but I managed to stay fairly consistent and move up in the field through the race.  In my mind, the absence of longstanding achilles pain is more than enough to make up for a lack of fitness and training (knock on wood). Nonetheless, my current state of decrepitude has me wondering why, exactly, this race (in its various forms) is so difficult.  I believe there are (at least) two primary factors at play here:

(1) Despite the relatively forbidding elevation change numbers, the Scout Mountain 100k / former Pocatello 50 is eminently run-able.   There are a couple stretches where you are power hiking some steep ups but otherwise the ascents are perhaps best characterized by the (similarly unfortunate) descriptor 'douche-grade'.  It's hard to use that term without the derogatory connotations and, to be clear, the course itself is beautiful and decidedly non-douchy.  You are just quite often on long graded uphills that continually nag at you to trot rather than hike which has biomechanical, metabolic, and psychological implications for a race of this length- particularly if you spend a majority of your training time hunched hands-on-knees grunting up steep stuff.

(2) It can be hot and at this point in the season the majority of folks are not heat acclimated.  Having had legitimate heat stroke twice in my life this is a tough one for me, and a factor I took seriously this year in my strategies to thermoregulate.    

The increased motor recruitment and aerobic cost of (1)  both necessitates a certain level of metabolic expenditure as well as facilitates escalation of that expenditure while (2) ensures a milieu where that escalation has increasingly significant ramifications in terms of performance.

It's a fine line.  And I'm happy this year to have avoided skewing off of it too significantly.  Thanks to Luke and his merry band of helpers for another great weekend in Pocatello.

Dr. Kious and myself, pre race.  Brent ran the 60k.

Ada, gamely camping with aunt Zoe and uncle Billy while her crazy parents destroyed themselves.

Cool hats this year.

Bike riding day after the race.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Some Bodies in Motion

I've been meaning to make a compilation LEWIS! video of some 'running' footage of the past year for some time now.  The combination of warming temps, clearing trails, and happily compliant connective tissue have left me inspired and excited and I finally put it together today, accompanied by a new tune I wrote for banjo and piano.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Death Valley

Falls Canyon

We had a nice family camping trip to Death Valley National Park over the last several days.  Camping at Wildrose Campground allowed quick access to both Telescope Peak and Wildrose Peak, both of which offer stunning views of the immense and imposing desolation.  My camera died but I was able to snap a few shots early in the trip.  Jason Thompson drove out from San Francisco to meet up for some iconic trail running.


Falls Canyon





Jason Thompson on Wildrose Peak

Wildrose Peak

Towards Telescope Peak.

Long day.