Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 Wrap-up/2015 and beyond...

Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.  -Helen Keller

My apologies for being off the radar since August. The birth of my son Toshi, as well as the flotsam of life in general, has kept me pretty busy as of late. First off, I gotta do a quick 2014 recap, but mostly I  want to get my intentions for 2015 out in the world.
2014- I have had a fantastic year of adventure and new beginnings.
March- Antelope Island Buffalo Run 50 mile.
April- Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon
May- Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 mile.
June- Bighorn 100
July- Ronda dels Cims 170k.
August- Toshi!
September- Teton Crest Trail+
October- Old Goat 40ish mile
2015- I am gonna be so stinkin' busy. Between family obligations, school, work, etc. I have bitten off a pretty big chunk of awesomeness.
March- Grand Canyon running camp with Team PRS FIT (more on that in a bit).
May- Cruel Jewel, a 108 mile trail race in Georgia with 31k feet of gain. I have every intention of gunning for a podium finish on this one.
June- Bighorn 100. I will be going for a third consecutive sub-24 finish.
July- Crewing for Mike Evans at Hardrock and playing in the San Juan's.
August- FKT attempt on a double Wonderland Trail Loop (186 miles). Currently held by Ultrapedestrian Ras Vaughan at 89h, 35m. My goal is 60 hours.
2016- Something a bit outside of the usual.
February- Patagonian Expedition Race. Yup, in Chilean Patagonia. Biking, Trekking, Paddling. Cold and death-y, just how I like it. I have been selected by Team PRS FIT to be a member of the team for the 2016 Patagonian Expedition Race. More on this later, but suffice to say it will be legen... wait for it...

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Old Goat on the Wonderland Trail

-The following is the account of Old Goat's (aka my Dad's) two day, solo circumnavigation of Mt. Rainier via the Wonderland Trail. I have yet to experience the fabled loop but, after hearing the tales and seeing the pictures, it is definitely on my bucket-list.- AdventureBoyMan

The Wonderland Loop

   The last time I visited Mount Rainier was 1982.  Then, it was a climb up to the summit via Liberty Ridge.  It was all an adventure should be; physically bashing, visually stunning, and difficult enough to be entertaining.  Thirty two years later and I guess it’s about time for another Rainier adventure!

   The Wonderland Trail goes around instead of over.  It is a 93 mile circumambulation of Mount Rainier.  It climbs and descends over 45,000 feet, up and down endless ridges radiating out from the peak.
Map of the Wonderland Trail
 The optimum ultrarunning season is ridiculously short, from mid August to mid September.  Even then, if the forecast is rain, just go back home. Paradise, on the south side of the mountain averages 53 FEET of snow annually.  Late summer/early autumn frequently has a window of bluebird sky days.  The scenery on those days is stunning, paralyzing; all you want to do is stop and stare.  Then there is the wildlife.  You will likely see black bear.  There are lots.  Other runners have been stalked by mountain lion.  You may not see one but they will be watching.  Gives you something to think about, running alone in the dark woods!

   Most hikers do the loop in 10-12 days, staying overnight in one of the 18 reserved trailside camps.  Though it has been done in less than a day, two to three days makes for a more enjoyable run.  A dependable crew and roadside campgrounds eliminates the need for an overnight permit.  Road access divides the loop into about thirds; Longmire/Cougar Rock Campground (southwest side), Mowich Lake (northwest side), and White River/Sunrise (east side).  So as to not overly stress my excellent crew/wife, Pat, I planned on a two day, counterclockwise jaunt.  Day one; White River Campground to Cougar Rock Campground, 60-ish miles.  Day two; Cougar Rock to White River, 30-ish miles.

Sunrise on the mountain.
I left our White River camp about an hour before daylight, singing “no bears out tonight”.  The sun hit the upper mountain as I cruised the ridge beyond Sunrise Camp.  Wow.  On around to the north side of the mountain.  My old friend, Liberty Ridge in the center of the north face.
Looking south at Liberty Ridge (center).
Down the chaotic Carbon River, originating from the foot of the glacier.  What a run!  Stark mountain vistas contrasting with deep, verdant forests. 

Carbon River.
One of many falls.
Mowich Lake
   A turn to the south and I was on the long climb up to Mowich Lake.  Then past the west side of the mountain; long, cruising downhills and longer, endless switchbacking climbs.  I took many pictures, chatted with some amazing backpackers, and gorged on humongous handfuls of huckleberries.  I also sidestepped several purple-stained piles of bear poop.  Near sundown, just beyond Klapatche Park Camp, I rounded a corner and startled Momma Bear and Cub, stealing my huckleberries.  She “woofed” loudly and fortuitously took off the other direction with baby in tow.  It got dark.  I got tired.  My stomach rebelled at gels and electrolyte drink.  The miles got longer.  Finally it was the long downhill and into Longmire, then another mile to Cougar Campground, well past midnight. Pat was waiting with real food and a warm sleeping bag.
West side of the mountain.

Reflection Lake.
A too short sleep, sunup, more hot food, and off again.  Across logs spanning the Nisqually River, then up the buffed trail to the pass and Reflection Lake just beyond.  What a privilege  to be traveling by foot through such majestic country! Waterfalls, huge evergreen trees, moss covered hillsides.  A big 1,500 foot drop down Stevens Canyon, knowing the elevation would need to be regained on the next climb.  Pat jogged up the trail and ran back with me the last few miles to the car and road crossing at Box Canyon.  We had a good aid station feed and rest, then I took off alone on the last leg of the loop.  Another forever climb up towards Cowlitz Park.  Once up out of the wooded canyon and on the ridge, the views were
Happy Tramper!
amazing, my favorite of the entire trip.  If I do go to heaven, let it be Cowlitz Park!  One final canyon to drop into and climb out of at Panhandle Gap, then all cruising downhill past Summerland Camp.  I rolled into White River Camp at dusk, glad to be finished, sad to be finished.  Don’t know when, but I’ll be back!  Just hope I don’t wait another 32 years.
Spectacular Cowlitz Park
Looking north to Panhandle Gap

Headed down to Summerland Camp.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Ronda dels Cims 2014

 “Why is it that when one man builds a wall, the next man immediately needs to know what's on the other side?”
George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

* A few disclaimers-The Ronda dels Cims is a brutally tough yet immensely beautiful race that gets surprisingly little attention here in the United States. This is my account of the race that started on July 11th, 2014. While this piece centers around the race, it should be noted that it was just a small part of our European adventures but a full write-up would be way too long. Big thanks to my family for their continued support. I truly could not do it without them. Thanks to the Worthington's, Dwight and Marita for all their support and encouragement. All photos were taken by myself, my wife Tawny or one of my parents Dan and Pat Spurlock. Be forewarned that this is a rather lengthy post. If you just want to look at the pretty pictures and get the quick and easy version, scroll through to the bottom for the highlights.*
Typical scenery of the Andorran countryside.

Andorra is a small country nestled in the Pyrenees between Spain and France.  With a population of just over 85,000 it boasts a thriving tourism industry, world class skiing, the worlds third highest life expectancy rate and more cured pig-leg than I ever imagined existed in the world. It is an eclectic mix of high-end boutiques and discount liquor stores, shopping districts and massive outdoor wilderness playgrounds. It felt a bit like Jackson, Wyoming on steroids.
Yep. Pig-leg flavored chips. For the record, not too bad.

 It is also home to a little race series known as Andorra Ultra-Trail Vallnord which hosts several races on the same weekend including the 10k Solidaritrail, 42k Marato dels Cims, 83k Celestrail and the 112k Mitic. The centerpiece of the series, however, is the 170k Ronda dels Cims which both myself and my father participated in this year. We had been turned on to this race by ultra-legends Roch Horton and Jared Campbell who had participated in last year's race which was run on an altered course due to late spring snow. They had only great things to say about the course and the country surrounding it although they had both done their best to give ample warning about the difficulty of the course. I should have listened, considering the source. It did not disappoint. 

The Ronda dels Cims runs roughly around the northern 2/3 of Andorra for 170 kilometers (105-ish miles) and measures approximately 26k (85,300 feet) of combined climbing and descent. For the sake of comparison, Colorado's Hardrock 100 measures in at 67,984 total elevation change. The race traverses 14 passes or mountain summits over 7,800 feet with a highpoint of 9,652. Most of the route is mid to very technical single-track with a generous amount of off-trail, cross-country and scree-scrambling and a dash of road to connect it all together.

Some sweet RdC single-track.
The final cutoff for Ronda dels Cims is a generous-sounding 62 hours. Initially, while perusing the race online from the comfort of my couch, I thought 62 hours was a bit ridiculous, even considering the amount of gain. Was it to ensure a higher finishing rate than a typical U.S. ultra? Nope.This year 185 of the 310 starting field finished for a finishing rate of less than 60%. Turns out this puppy has some serious teeth. 

Approximately 200 meters into the race. This is the best I will feel for the next 47 hours, 29 minutes and 47 seconds.

The race started on Friday morning at 7 A.M. from the small town of Ordino. It was nothing like any ultra I have ever been to before. The atmosphere was charged with energy as 310 runners filtered into the starting corral. There were drones flying overhead, spectators lining the street, a drum-line thundering in the background and announcers making what were probably very important announcements in languages that I do not understand. The race started with fireworks, literally, and the herd took off at a pace that would seem ridiculous mere hours later. 

The first couple of miles wound through town to thin the crowd before hitting some fun yet steep single track. I was enjoying the cool morning and feeling well enough as we made our way up to the first of many summits. The scenery was fantastic as we made our way through shady pine forests, meadows filled with wildflowers and finally the scree of the high mountains.

Topping out on the first of many climbs.
The first aid station was Sorteny at about 21k and was my introduction to European aid stations. There was some of the usual ultra fare as well as a fine assortment of cured ham, sausages, cheeses and melons. Many of the runners seemed to be really taking their time and enjoying all that the aid station had to offer, which I would come to find as relatively normal for many of the participants. I would soon learn to take advantage of the awesomeness also but at this point I was still feeling relatively fresh and in "race" mode so I chugged some Coke and motored on. 

See the upper-left corner? That's where things started getting real.
It was shortly after Sorteny that I started feeling "less than fresh". I don't know if it was the cumulative effects of running Massanutten in May and Bighorn just three weeks prior, starting out too fast or if it was just because RdC is wicked and determined to suck your very soul but I started feeling worked pretty early on. The next climb up Portella Rialp was steep and by the time I reached the top I was beginning to wonder what I had gotten myself into.

Portella Rialp somewhere up there.
The descent off of Portella Rialp was steep and it seemed like I was getting passed left and right like I was standing still. In retrospect, I think that these runners probably paid for this later  but I was getting frustrated because I felt like I was working way too hard but still getting dropped by a lot of guys on this section. By the time I saw Arcalis in the distance I had abandoned my initial goal of sub-40 hours and resigned myself to just finishing. 19 miles in and still a long way to go.

Dancing into Arcalis. Umm.... I think we actually went the other way.
 I met my crew (wife and mom) at Arcalis and took about ten minutes to collect myself and get some food. Thinking back, this was probably the lowest point of the whole experience. I would certainly suffer more physically later on but mentally speaking I was in a bad head space and dwelling on a lot of negative emotions. I had never felt so worked that early into a race and I was frustrated with how slow I felt. I left Arcalis in a bad mood, secretly hoping that maybe I would break a leg or pee blood so that I would have a valid reason to stop. 

About a mile out of Arcalis I decided that I had had enough and did what any reasonable person would do when having a rough spot in a race. I laid down and took a nap. I didn't sleep for long, but it was enough to put my mind back on track and remind myself that this was something that I should be enjoying rather than suffering through. I came to terms with the shift in mentality from racing to just experiencing and started feeling much better. Good thing because it just kept getting tougher.

Looking back down on Arcalis. See that rock at the bottom? It's a great spot for a nap.

The next several miles were absolutely gorgeous and even had a few runnable sections of fun single track. There was a fantastic glissade, gorgeous fields of wildflowers and a well stocked aid station. I didn't realize that I was coming up on the monster known as Pic Comapedrosa, a 3000 foot climb up waterfalls and death-scree. The next 3k took me well over two hours.

The start of Pic Comapedrosa. 

Death-scree. Good times.
After Pic Comapedrosa I was expecting to see my crew again but had miscalculated and still had one more pass to go over before I would get to see them at Botella. I came to terms with this fairly easily, resigned to the fact at this point that I should let go of expectations and not be thrown off by whatever the course threw at me. I decided that I would take a short rest at Botella and was relieved to finally see the aid station from the top of Port Negre. The descent into Botella seemed to take a very long time, probably because I was really looking forward to seeing some friendly faces and getting a little break.

Mountain athlete, hard at work.
I took an extended break at Botella getting in a 45ish minute nap. I knew that the next section would take me into night and included a brutal 5000 foot descent. I left feeling refreshed and in good spirits. The trail leaving Botella was fairly runnable and was one of the rare sections where I felt like I was actually making decent time. The climb up to Bony de la Pica was enjoyable. Although the sun was getting low and the temperature was getting chilly, I was determined to make good time while it was still light. I topped out on Bony de la Pica just as the sun was setting and a full moon was rising, creating some unbelievable views. 

Bony de la Pica is a fin of rock that drops off steeply on both sides and gets thinner and more technical near the end as you progress toward the drop-off into Margineda. By the time I started the descent I was a bit chilled and glad to be on the leeward side. The drop in to Margineda was just as gnarly as any of the climbs and included sections with chains bolted into the rock face to hold onto. It was here, just at the start of the descent that I broke a pole. I was folding it so that I could traverse a cliff section when it "malfunctioned", leaving me with one pole for most of the plunge. I was glad to still have the one pole though as many spots in this section made Wasatch's "Plunge" and "Dive" look pretty tame in comparison. Fortunately I had the foresight to pack an extra pole but I would not get to pick it up until Margineda.

The view from Bony de la Pica. Its a looong way down.
Margeneda was one of the race's two major aid stations and is located in Andorra la Vella, the largest town in Andorra. Outfitted with cots, showers, manned massage stations and more it was a welcome sight. My wife and mother were there to greet me with a Hawaiian pizza. I ate ravenously and laid down on a cot to try to get some sleep. As tired as I was, it was difficult to sleep with all the commotion and I really didn't get much rest. My dad came into the aid station about an hour behind me looking fairly good considering what the course had thrown at us so far.

I left Margineda a couple of hours later at about 2 (?) in the morning, not feeling much more rested than when I had arrived. (I also abandoned my camera at this point so most photos following this were likely taken sometime on the first day.) About an hour later I found myself laying down on the side of a mountain to try to catch a little more sleep. I think a couple of people passed me as I laid by the trail but nobody tried to wake me. I'm thinking it must have been fairly common to sleep along this portion of trail because the guys at the next checkpoint told me that I shouldn't sleep until I got to the aid station at Coll de la Gallina where there would be a sleeping area. They were either lying or misinformed as the aid station was sparse and offered only water and a kind word. It seemed to take forever to reach the next aid station (I have no idea what it was called but it was set up in a quaint, tiny town on the side of the mountain) where I managed to get about an hour of decent sleep. My dad came into the aid station with the same idea and laid down for a nap just before I got up.

I was still a little groggy but the sky was getting lighter and the promise of sunrise motivated me to get a move on. I navigated my way through Andorra la Vella and started the climb up to Pic Negre which was over a mile above. This was one of the easiest climbs, technically speaking, but it was still a mile up and seemed to go on for a very long time. The next couple of passes were a bit of a blur. I was focused on forward movement and trying not think too much. The scenery was majestic and helped to take my mind off of just how exhausted I really was.

About an hour before the next major aid station at Pas de la Casa I started chatting with a chap named Drew from England. This was really a treat because there were so few English-speaking runners in the race and I hadn't spoken much to anyone for about 34 hours. He enlightened me on the particulars of fell running and the outcome of Hardrock as we made our way into Pas de la Casa. I met my crew rather abruptly as I was navigating the streets of Pas de la Casa and nearly ran straight into them as they were coming out of a pastry shop/bar (hey, crewing can be rough work!). My wife went off to grab me some food as I made my way into aid station, planning on getting in one more nap before nightfall and the final push to the end.

I was again having trouble sleeping due to the commotion and was surprised to see my dad come in not too far behind me. He laid down as well and I hoped to get a bit of rest and get out before him. I suppose that I should point out here that while I was by no means in competition with my father, I had every intention of finishing ahead of him. His finishing time at Hardrock last year is about 15 minutes faster than my time from 2011 and I am reminded of this on a fairly regular regular basis. I figured that as long as I left Pas de la Casa before him that I should be able to finish either with or ahead of him and save myself considerable reminders later on.

I was finally able to get a little sleep and drifted off for a short while. I awoke to my wife and mother giving me a rather sheepish look, as if something were amiss. I looked over to where my dad had been sleeping and he was gone. This was all the motivation to get moving. I got myself put back together and headed out into the evening, hoping to finish before sunrise. I knew it was going to be a test of will and determination to get through the second night. It did not disappoint. 

I caught up with my dad within a couple of miles. He was moving steadily along but looked like he was hurting a bit. I chatted with him a bit and decided to pull ahead while I was feeling motivated. I rather enjoyed the climb up to Pas de la Vagues, watching a wall of fog roll into the valley as the moon once again rose to light up the sky. I topped out in what seemed like no time and began the long and rather cold descent into Incles. I was really hungry and had a veritable feast at Incles that included pig-leg, soup, melon, coffee and coke. Fortunately, I had no idea what awaited me on the next climb.

Cresta Cabana Sorda was a kick in the teeth. It had expected another difficult climb but this was painfully steep and just kept going. Every time I thought I was nearing the top the mountain seemed to grow another summit. I was glad it was dark because I could tell that several parts of the "trail" dropped of dangerously. Although I began to really and truly hate this particular climb I seemed to be passing a lot of other runners on this section which helped to keep me motivated. I was also treated to some light snow which amused me for some reason. Between my state of mind, the terrain and the snow, I was acutely aware of the absurdity of the situation and couldn't help but enjoy it. After a section of particularly rugged, slippery and dangerous side-hilling I reached Coms de Jan. This was a big mental victory for me as there was only one climb remaining and 13 miles total to the finish.

The last climb to Collada Meners did not disappoint. Ronda dels Cims does not let you forget where you are and the grind up to Collada Meners was one last reminder that that this race hands you no easy miles. I stopped for just a moment on top of the last climb to reflect on where I had been over the last two days and was almost a little sad that it would soon be over. In a way that I have a hard time describing, this race had given me as much as it had taken. I managed to push hard to the last aid station at Sorteny and left fairly quickly, eager to be finished. Most of the last seven or so miles was either asphalt or easy trail but I slowed considerably as I was feeling really nauseous, a first for me in any race. 

Whats next?
I finished in a total of 47 hours, 29 minutes and 47 seconds and the 73rd finisher out of 310 starters. I can say without a doubt that this is the hardest race that I have ever done. I have the utmost respect for Hardrock, HURT, Wasatch and all of the other runs that I have finished but Ronda dels Cims is truly in a league of it's own. It is a true mountain race that will test even the most experienced of endurance athletes. It is also the most beautiful course I have ever had the privilage to experience. The race organization was top notch and the country of Andorra was a spectacular outdoor playground. My only regret is that I didn't get to see more of the surrounding country. All the more reason to make the Ronda dels Cims again....


-Thanks to ALTRA Zero Drop Shoes for their continued support. I wore a single pair of Lone Peak 1.5's for the entire race and never had any issues, even after 47 hours of rugged mountain running.

-Special thanks to Roch Horton for sharing his enthusiasm, insights and map. Venga! Venga!

-I cannot verify but I would bet that this race is longer than the advertised distance by several miles. If you choose to do this race, and I highly recommend that you do, be prepared to work for every inch!

-Things I would do differently if I were to do it again-
    1. Treat the course with due respect. I knew it would be tough but I was cavalier and paid for it. Ronda dels Cims was my third 100+ mile race in an eight week span and I think it will be quite some time before I am fully recovered.
    2.  Not worry about time so much. Pace at a race like RdC cannot be compared to other races and I let it get into my head without taking it in context.
    3.  Devise a sleeping strategy. Knowing just how long this course can take means being proactive about things like sleep and having a plan to deal with fatigue and sleep deprivation.
    4. Take more pictures!

Monday, June 30, 2014


The only Zen you can find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there. ~Robert M. Pirsig
Bighorn shenanigans.
I am not going to write a 2014 Bighorn 100 race report. At least, not in the usual sense. Sometimes you just have to be there to fully grasp the essence of a thing and I don't think I have the words to take you there. Suffice to say I suffered, I endured, I suffered some more and ended up with a respectable 23:15 finish. Rather, I would like to paint brief a road map of how I got to Dayton at 10:15 A.M. on June 21, 2014.

In the days and weeks leading up to my first 100 miler, The Bear in 2008, I was of the mindset that finishing something of such magnitude would somehow change my life. I had a sense that, if and when I finished, there would be some sort of tangible change. A switch would be flipped and I would be a new Aaron in a new phase of my life. I would be better and shinier somehow. Angels would trumpet and the sweet smell of success would linger about my general vicinity. But it did not happen that way. 

I finished, got my buckle, celebrated with the other runners and enjoyed the rest of the weekend. And that was about it. At work on Monday a few people said congratulations, a few shook their head in confusion as to why someone would do such a thing. And then it was back to life. I still had to go to work, take out the trash, pay bills and deal with the minutiae of existence. It was all rather anti-climactic and it certainly did not change my life in one definitive moment.

It took me some time to come to terms with this. Outside of our little tribe there is little merit in doing what we do and running 100 miles does not translate well into the popular definition of success. But I am a slow learner and my expectations always seem to outweigh reality. For a long time I had the notion that if I could capture the perfect race I would come out the other side a changed person.

Fast forward to 11 A.M. on June 20th, 2014. Since then I have run a dozen or so 100's,  run several other races and logged countless miles on roads, trails and through back country wilderness. Some runs are forced, dreary slogs pounded out for the sake of future fitness. Some are unexpectedly sublime romps through some of the most amazing places on the planet. Throughout it all there has never been an "aha" moment for me. No blazing impression of crossing some finite threshold. However, I am no longer the same animal I was when I started running. That is undeniable. 

When I started the Bighorn 100 this year, there was never a moment of nervousness, doubt or apprehension. I knew that I would be able to deal with whatever challenges I met on that day. I knew that I would have low points that would challenge my resolve. I knew that I would balance smart decisions with calculated audacity. Most of all, I was perfectly comfortable throwing myself into an uncomfortable situation with confidence, running or otherwise.

As I closed in on the finish line of the Bighorn 100 this year I was acutely aware that I have changed to a discernible measure over the last several years and that seeking out big challenges has a lot to do with that change. It is not crossing an arbitrary line that makes us who we are, rather what we do every day that changes us into something more.
What are you doing today?
Shoot for the stars. PEW! PEW!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

One tough Nut

Weather forecast for tonight: dark. -George Carlin

Reckless confidence helps. Photo by Jared Spurlock 

As I'm sure is the case with a lot of competitive athletes, I have a bad habit of trying to predict how things are going to turn out by micro-calculating every detail leading up to race day. I spend way too much time weighing nonsensical variables, assigning numerical values to arbitrary factors, figuring those same asinine values with entirely made up systems of calculation, and basically working myself into a tizzy over details that will likely have very little bearing on what actually occurs. For example:

"If I extrapolate my long run cadence trajectory by a factor of exponentially decreasing stride efficiency, multiplied by a projected finish time based on (my Ultrasignup ranking (minus DNF's)) x (the Kilian "what if" potential actuator), add two minutes for drop-bag rummaging, minus (minutes per missing toenail) x (chafing factor of temperature/humidity), = The Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs?"

Pretty deep stuff. But, most of the time I somehow end up being wrong anyways, and going into this years MMT100 I made a mindful effort to let go of all expectations concerning the outcome of the race. I spent a good portion of the last six months recovering from, and attempting to train through, a persistent back injury. I really didn't know how things were going to hold together for 103 tough miles so I focused on getting in quality miles as well as I could, eating well (lots of chocolate), and getting some decent sleep in the days leading up to the race. I would have liked to have gotten in a few more miles earlier in the year but sometimes you just gotta go with what you got.

I was relaxed and rested on the morning of the race. My dad was running as well, looking for his sixth MMT finish. 4am and we were off. I ran with my dad for about a half mile before losing him in the herd. He would end up finishing his day at Camp Roosevelt, 63 miles into the race with stomach issues. Like the old saying goes: Some days you get the get the tiger by the tail and some days the chicken crosses the road to rough you up for your lunch money. Or something...

The area had been drenched by rain showers meaning we would be looking forward to a wet course but cool weather. I was trying to take it out a little slower than usual, in an attempt to have a more consistent race than last year. My feet were soaking wet within the first two miles, a foreshadowing of what the course would be like for the next 100 miles. What were dry stream beds and trails last year were shin deep runoff and mud holes this year. I was comforted in knowing that everyone would be enjoying the same fine conditions.

Photo by James Williams
My brother was crewing for me and was ready as I came into the first aid station, 12 miles in at Edinburgh Gap. He informed me that I was only five minutes behind the lead runners, which meant that I was starting out much faster than I had intended, but I felt like I was running easy so I tried not to worry about it too much.

The next twenty or so miles to Shawl Gap is one of the most technical sections of trails anywhere. Last year I fell here many, many times. I skillfully avoided most of my falls this time around by instead rolling my ankle, many, many times. Ouch.  About a half mile or so before Elizabeth Furnace fellow Altra athlete Angela Shartel snuck up behind me and we cruised into the aid station together. This would be the last I would see of her as she would leave Elizabeth Furnace before me and go on to crush the womens record and take seventh overall.

My brother Jared was waiting at Elizabeth AS with a swig of Ultragen. and a fresh pack. I took a quick minute to collect myself there and pose for a sweet picture (see above) before heading out and promptly having a full-blown meltdown. I had been keeping on top of my nutrition and fluids but all of a sudden I had that "maybe I should fall down for a little while" feeling. I sat down on the side of the trail and actually set 10 minute a timer for myself in case I ended up falling asleep. I don't know how many people passed me as I sat there but it was several.

I didn't feel well at all but I willed myself up just before my timer went off and tried to focus on just moving forward as fast as I could without putting myself deeper in the suck. I put down a caffeinated gel just before the next aid station at Shawl Gap and eventually started to come around. I don't know if it was the caffeine or just part of the ebb and flow but I really started to feel strong for the next few hours. I used the momentum to pass other runners on the road sections and maintain a steady pace on the climbs.

At Camp Roosevelt AS (mile 63) Jared was waiting again with a flask of Ultragen and some fresh gear. I took the time here to change my socks, not because they were wet but because they were packed with dirt and sand from the numerous creek crossings. This would prove to be a futile effort as the next three miles was literally a slog up a creek in shin deep water. Good times.

I got into the Visitor Center AS (mile 78) at almost exactly the same time as last year, just before sundown. I had purposely avoided knowing what position I was in all day so that I would be more inclined to run my own race. I was feeling good and ready to knock out the last 25 miles so I asked my brother what spot I was sitting in. "11th overall including two women." Dang. I knew the competition was a notch higher this year but I was gonna have to work if I wanted to break into the top 10. Time to go.

That would be the last time I would have any support on the course so tried to focus on the world in my headlamp beam and shut out the pain that always seems to creep in during the night. The climb up to Bird Knob went by quickly but the next "six" miles to the Picnic Area AS were the longest of the day. The section never seemed to end. The sounds of traffic let me know I was getting close to the Picnic Area AS when I saw headlamps ahead of me. I got into the aid station at the same time as the legendary Eva Pastalkova. She was looking tired but she barely took a minute in a chair before she was up and going again. Shit. No rest for the weary.

I had leapfrogged for several miles with Eva earlier in the day and I knew that she was the faster runner but that I could put some distance on her on the uphills. Fortunately, the next section was one of the biggest climbs of the course. Unfortunately, it was more like swimming than running. By the time I reached the top of the climb I had taken a full plunge in one of the several cold (so cold) stream crossings. But my uphill push had been successful and over the course of the next 15 miles I gained exactly an hour on Eva who would be the next finisher.

Can I please stop now?
The last three miles of road was more painful than it should have been but I had no idea how far behind Eva was and I had every intention of fighting until the end. I rolled into Camp Roosevelt 22h22m53s after I had started and I was beyond ready to be done. Massanutten wears you down from the start and I was mostly just happy that I didn't have to run over any more rocks. F#@k those rocks.

With a week now to process the whole affair, I really couldn't be any happier with how it all turned out. I got to spend a weekend with my dad, brother and extended running family that I haven't seen since last year. I cut about an hour off my time from last year. I finished a tough hundo without crippling back pain. I managed not to take a nap along the way. I got to stop running over those relentless rocks!

And maybe somewhere along the way I have learned, if just a little, to stop second guessing myself and what I am capable of. Maybe I will stop obsessing over the minutae and trust in my training and experience. Maybe sometimes it's just running and that's all it needs to be. I'll have to do some calculating...

The Spurlock boys.

Thursday, May 1, 2014


Every time I've raced my shadow
When the sun was at my back,
It always ran ahead of me.
Always got the best of me.
But every time I've raced my shadow
When my face was toward the sun,
I won.
~Shel Silverstein

I had intended to write a race report following the Antelope Island Buffalo Run 50 mile back in March but it just never found it's way to the surface. I performed well enough and enjoyed visiting with friends but honestly, after some reflection, I found that any feelings I had about running there felt forced to me. Jim Skaggs puts on a fantastic series of races and the island itself does have a certain stark beauty about it. I have always enjoyed being there in the past. But I felt as though, this time, I was there to fulfill some sort of contrived and fabricated notion. I was there to race my perception of others expectations. That is not why I run.

Fast forward to mid-April. A trip to Bryce and Grand Canyon. No contrivances. Simply a bipedal animal moving through an immense landscape. My art is movement and my inspiration must be genuine or else I am a fraud. No finish lines or buckles or crowds to affirm my expression of being. Move swiftly because the rocks and trees and sun are unforgiving and do not compromise if my technique is insincere. This is why I run.

Monday, March 17, 2014

First-World Problems

I want an Oompa Loompa NOW! -Veruca Salt


With my first race of the year less than a week away I am faced with certain realities. I have been dealing with an injury for over six months now and, while I have been seeing steady improvement, it is likely that it will be several more months before I am back to my pre-injury level of running fitness. I have not been able to train at the intensity or volume that is necessary for meeting the kind of goals that I was setting for myself a year ago without doing further damage to myself. I have come to terms with this, though not without going through the stages of running-related grief:


Denial: The crippling pain in my back and hip is normal. I'm just being a sissy. It will surely go away after a few twenty mile tempo runs and a smokin' fast track workout!


Anger: WHY ME!?! I deserve better than this from the Ultrarunning Gods after all the toenails I have sacrificed and gels I have choked down over the years! F*<# you and your PR! I don't care, I hate running anyways! I want my money back!


Bargaining: Maybe if I just run hard on the odd days of the week, warm up real good first and wear my lucky arm panties...


Depression: Imma eat this whole cake cuz I'll probably never walk again. 


Acceptance: I am injured and it will take some time to get better. I will have to stretch and do the exercises that my physical therapist prescribed. I will have to work on my form and focus on other aspects of fitness while my body heals. I cannot eat a whole cake because I will not be able to fit into my lucky arm panties.


Most importantly, I have had some time to realize just how lucky I am that I get to do what I do and that it is okay to have a "building year". I might not finish this year's races as fast as I have in the past but I still get to run in some of the most beautiful and exotic places in the world with an amazing group of people. 


Even injured, I am more fit than 99% of the population and that is priceless. So, I will run as best I can while I continue to heal and not feel as though I am being "cheated" or missing out on "what could have been". The reality is that I am pretty damn privileged to be traveling the world, running hundreds of miles for fun. Fast or slow, I am going to enjoy that privilege.