Trail running and ultramarathons have taken me to beautiful locales and introduced me to new friends, colorful stories, and welcome surprises. Spending the weekend in Bozeman, Montana to run the Devil's Backbone [Pictures], also known as the Gallatin Crest, certainly opened my eyes wide to how majestic the Big Sky country can be. The people were warm and friendly, and they are blessed to live among such a dramatic landscape.
I flew into Bozeman on Friday and immediately headed to the Community Co-op to buy some vittles for the weekend. Great store - nutty, crunchy at its best - serving a grateful community.
Then I headed over to the new public library to use the computers, internet and email. Sarah's company helped fundraising for the library. It's stunning and has lots of space inside making it serene both to read or just hang out in.
At dinner with the other runners at the RDs house, we heard that the normal course could not be accessed since the snow still hadn't cleared from Hyalite Peak and its approach. Instead we were going to start at the turn around, tackle much of the crest, and add some miles on an additional loop.
My ultra-brief race report: I postholed into the snow at mile 7 and hyperextended my right ankle. Not bad. But at mile 8 I postholed really deep with my left leg and harshly sat down on my right ankle hyperextending it again. Bad this time. I packed some snow around it for a few minutes and then just made my way forward walking as best I could. Eventually it loosened up, but I never felt comfortable running on it until the last mile into the aid station at mile 25, where I dropped. It's the only aid station, and the only place to drop. There is being unlucky and being extremely unlucky. In a run like the Devil's Backbone you don't take unnecessary chances. There is no easy way off the ridge. You either leave on foot or in a helicopter.
All in all, I had a most humbling (sea-level creatures at 10,000 feet feel this way) and thrilling time. I'll be back next year to do the traditional course.
A special thanks to Tom and Liz, the RDs for their hospitality (the run hosted a pre-race dinner and a post-race breakfast) and on-the-fly planning. Great job in a difficult situation.
I'd also like to thank Ali and Roman who hung out with me on the trail when I was going slow. Ali continued on when Roman and I stopped at the Windy Pass Cabin - mile 25. He finished with the sweep, the RD Tom, at 1 am in the morning. The course is simply that tough. 19 hours for 50 miles. Heck, the winner, a mountain goat himself, Matt Hart, took 9:49 to complete the course, with the second place finisher, John Hallsten, coming in about two hours later.
This course is hands-down the most beautiful course I have run in the last five years. It's also the hardest. It is right to call it a mini-Hardrock. Except Hardrock has course markings and aid stations. If you're going to Bozeman next July, sign up early, there are only 35 runners permitted for the 50 mile course. Then again, it was only $30.
A few years ago I was celebrating a friend's birthday dinner, and the discussion turned, as happens with ultrarunners, to the summer's upcoming races. Stan and Lisa mentioned that they were going up to Montana to run a race outside of Bozeman - minimal aid, no course markings and all at altitude. Since I had finished the Bighorn 100 earlier the year before in Wyoming, I had been looking for another run to explore some of the vast, gorgeous country up in the Big West that I had only recently discovered.
The Devil's Backbone 50 Mile seemed like just my kind of run. Only 30 people are allowed to run. You only get aid at the turn around, mile 25, and it's a self-guided course mostly all at 10,000 feet. When I saw some of the pictures from the race, I was set. So this year I made it my main traveling 50 miler in summer.
The website describes the DB50 as "a graduate level run (yes, like Hardrock)". In fact, it's often referred to as a mini-Hardrock, run the same weekend in Silverton, CO. You must carry all of your own gear, food and hydration with some opportunities to fill your bottles/hydration pack with snow or stream water. They recommend you carry a water filter, and -- yes -- bear spray since there are grizzly bears often seen on the course. You're out in the very wilds of Montana after all. Here's a race report from 2007.
July 2008 Snow on Hyalite Peak
The route takes you up Hyalite Creek and its valley, steeply ascending Hyalite Peak before settling into the long ridge that makes up the Devil's Backbone. Crusing along at 10,000+ feet, the going is noticeably slow, especially for us coastal folks. The air is thin, but the views are rich.
I have a small issue with running at altitude. I tend to get cramps and an upset stomach if I go out too fast. As such, my plan was to go slowly and consciously pace myself to a meager start up through the peaking of Hyalite Peak. Then I could assess my adaptation and set a more settled pace for the rest of the race. I was hoping to finish the 50 miles in 13 hours, which on a normal year would put me in the top third of runners. I should mention that I have never run a 50 mile race that slow, but given all the factors this would be a slow and steady run for any but the fittest, best acclimated runners.
In the last few days the runners have received emails from the RD, Tom McGoff-Hayes, telling us that the route up to Hyalite Peak has too much snow still covering the ascent access. They are still working out alternative routes for the run. I trust they'll come up with something worth while.
On Friday I'll be flying out to Bozeman, Montana to join the other runners. I'll let you know how things go. It should be a wonderful run with panoramic views and great adventures. More pictures to come.
At the 50k half-way mark, Jean Pommier was a minute or so ahead of Jasper Halekas, who in turn was just a minute or so ahead of Graham Cooper. Jean finished third in 5:11:21 and Graham finished second in 5:05:04, which itself broke Andy Jones-Wilkins previous course record of 5:10. Kim Holak ran strong to finish fifth overall.
It was a warm day out at Diablo with temperatures upwards of 90 degrees on some sections of the mountain.
A nice half marathon trail race in the East Bay hills is the Lake Chabot Trail Challenge. This year is the 25th year of the event, and the fourth year I've run it. When I first ran it in 2003, in 2:01:27, I had never run 13.1 miles up to that point. Now I use the race to see how my training is doing, and how fast I can run the loop around the lake.
In past years, I have run as fast as 1:48 on this hilly course. Since I regularly run around the lake, often on Tuesday night runs, I felt I could pull off a better time this year, even though I don't technically do any speed work. And since a friend gave me some grief for going out slow at Miwok 100k, and then passing dozens of runners the last 40+ miles, I thought I would properly warm up with a few miles before the race, go out at a strong pace, and run as fast a time as I could manage. Well, it worked fairly well. I finished in 1:41:10, or 7:43/miles. I haven't seen the results, but that's sometimes good for top 5 in my age group. Not bad for a lllloooonnnngggg distance runner.
Perhaps I'll come back another year and see if I can get under 1:40.
Update: Here are the results. I guess my run was good enough for 24th place out of 243 runners, and fourth place in my age group.
It's obvious I haven't been blogging for some time. I have discussed why with various friends, and will now explain the reasons briefly here.
At heart, I am a private person, so I don't have a desire or need to expound on my experiences. I didn't realize this about blogging until I did it for awhile. So I'll blog in the future, but quite infrequently.
After Crossing the Sierra in Winter, I realized I don't care much for writing about my ultra experiences, if only because what I experience in traveling long distances on foot just doesn't come through in the written word. This is true almost universally, whoever is writing. If you want to know what it's like to run 100, 50 or how ever many miles, running it and reading it are wholly different understandings. One is visceral and somatic, the other cerebral and reflective. Some runners/writers spin wonderful tales of their adventures. I particularly like some of Scott Dunlap's and GarettGraubins' (often found in TrailRunner Mag). It's just not where I get any satisfaction. Perhaps I should take up haiku race reports.
I write most all day long: reports and letters for work, emails to friends and family, and a personal journal. I struggle for time for everything in my life, so I just didn't need one more task to keep up on. Like a lot in running, you don't realize some things don't work until you try them.
I enjoy running and the adventure. There are plenty of blogs that will give 51 flavors of the experience. As a friend said, if you don't have fun at it, don't do it. Or More Fun. So I'll focus on my adventures, and if I feel like sharing some of it, I will. If not, well, I won't.
Stay tuned if you wish. It may be a sporadic ride.
My next organized run is the Diablo Marathon on April 12. This affords me the excuse and motivation to run my weekend long runs out on Mt. Diablo, near where I grew up. With the early and sustained rains this season, the sprouts of green have lushly appeared, and now the small flowers have begun to appear. In the best of years, this burst of color will peak just in time for the Diablo Marathon and 50 Mile Runs.
The next six to eight weeks are my favorite time to run on the mountain. It reminds me of many childhood memories, and, with stunning views, the blessing we have to live in such a majestically beautiful area with an abundance of trails.
On March 8th, Wendell Doman and I set off from Squaw Valley to cross the Sierra on snowshoes. We were going to follow the Western States Trail to Robinson Flat and then head to China Wall where Sara Spelt and Aaron would meet us. It was there on the Foresthill-Auburn Road that the snow-plows stopped their plowing. It would be almost 40 miles of snowshoeing and take us over 17 hours.
Not many have crossed the Sierra in winter - only a few in the 20th and 21st centuries. People often think of the Donner Party debacle in 1846, which took place in fall, not winter. Still, if you’re well prepared, in good shape, and know what you’re doing, it can be an enjoyable, safe, and memorable trip. It was for us.
We arrived in Squaw Valley around 4:30 am on Saturday, March 8th, and prepared our gear. After I filled my bottle at Plumpjack, we headed to the bottom of the ski-lift and started our ascent for Emigrant Pass at 5:18 am. Even though the first four miles were straight up the mountain, an elevation gain of 2,550 feet to 8,750 feet, it wasn’t that difficult since we followed the well-groomed service slope. It started out dark, but by the time we reached the pass the early morning light had cracked the black sky. Lake Tahoe lay below decked out in grays and blues. The weather seemed like it would be quite fine during the day (it would reach a high of 50 or so), but at the pass the strong wind made it very cold. We looked over the pass and saw the snow covered mountains in the distance. It looked daunting and inviting. It promised a whole lot of fun.
We descended the steep slope, heading right toward the saddle where we would join the Lyon Range. It was here that the angled slope would torque our ankles continuously for the next few hours. It tripped over my snowshoes a few times in this section, but other the frustration, it was rather soft falling in the snow. It just took a lot of effort to get up in soft snow.
One of the truly comforting aspects of our trip was that I didn’t really have to consider directions or know where I was going much. I simply followed Wendell’s tracks. He has done the crossing twice before and is a stellar orienteer. Even when I lost a sense of how we were getting from Lyon Ridge over to the Red Star Ridge, I knew Wendell did. We stayed fairly close to the Western States Trail, but often we struck through trees and I lost sight of Wendell. Still I could simply follow his tracks. It was peaceful, quiet, and still. The snow was only broken by rabbit or deer tracks.
Having been out in these mountains in summer it was a real treat to see them in winter. Especially memorable was when we approached Cougar Rock, a distinctive Western States 100 landmark. The pictures below show me ascending it. That last ledge was quite an effort. It’s the one area that’s harder in winter than during the race. And later we headed up Elephant’s Trunk, which was probably the steepest and longest soft-snow ascent of the entire trip.
Another treat was getting five bars of reception on our cell phones from Cougar Rock and eventually Robinson Flat. I was able to call Sarah and Pete to tell them where I was. It’s good to share, after all.
We reached Robinson Flat at about 5:00 pm. From here it’s a 14 mile haul down a snow-covered paved road. Snow-mobiles and back-country skiers had been down the road in the last few days. So we set out, still not seeing anyone in the next five-plus hours. I especially enjoyed walking in the dark of the night, looking at the bright stars fill the sky. On the hill-rises you could also see the bright lights of the Sacramento.
As much as I enjoyed myself the whole trip, I was so glad to see Sarah and Aaron – and the car. I needed to get out of my snowshoes and sit down for a bit. The last few miles down the long road I thought about how lucky I had been that day to have such an adventure with such fine weather. Thanks to Wendell for leading it, and taking all the pictures posted here.
Sorry for the sporadic nature of posts the last few weeks. I've had both technical difficulties and a busy schedule.
The technical difficulty centers around my tweeking the way my posts display, only to find that I totally screwed up the way pictures and video show up. Essentially, not at all. And since I'm more likely than not to have my eyes glaze over when I'm looking at HTML code, I tend to make the situation worse when I try to move code around. Yet, I finally got it straightened out.
Lastly, two months of posting daily has shown me that I don't wish to do so anymore. I was creating most posts on Sunday, and then posting them throughout the week. Sundays just don't afford me that much time anymore. I'll post around the weekend, when I have an adventure to report on, or some comments to make about my training.