Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Bozeman Adventure Weekend

The description of this epic weekend often began with the word "only."  I would answer "it's only 20 miles" to the distance and when asked why I was driving I said "It's only 6.5 hours."  The answer was "only," simply because after the 10+ hour massacre that was Speedgoat the week before and putting 30K miles on my car in the one year I've had it, with routine 12-14 hour drives lately, 20 miles and 400 miles, respectively, seemed pretty short!

(I'll throw in a disclaimer here, the last time I have actually run 20 miles continuously was in 2007 at Big Sur, so while it was only 20 miles, it certainly would not be a cake walk.)
The Ridge to be run
Photo Credit http://www.winddrinkers.org/BRR/pictures/BridgerRidge.jpeg
Jenny and I first found the Bridger Ridge Run, I think, in 2006 or 2007, and it was instantly on the list!  At the time however, we decided that it was not the optimal race to do while training at sea level and tapering for a half-ironman after reading stories of the race like this or this.  We never got out acts together and the timing right to be able to swing it, but several years later after my move closer in distance and in elevation, I decided to enter the lottery and go for it.  A few weeks later, I received my confirmation e-mail, I was in!

We can skip the pre-race training, or in my case lack thereof, as I'll just refer you to my Speedgoat post for that!  If you really want to know how to prep for an ultra, maybe listen to this guy, he seems to be winning a lot of awesome lately. The next two weeks were spent recovering/tapering filled with lots of shorter runs with brutal elevation in Millcreek Canyon and lots of awesome yoga, just to keep the body loose and moving.  Before I knew it, it was Thursday and I was off!  

always include as much green in your route as possible!
I had never been to Bozeman before and since I decided to drive and camp the whole weekend, I'm going to invite you to share the awesomeness of the entire road trip, not just the race.  I got excited on the drive up as I came off I-15 on to US-20, the Tetons came into view, about 70 miles off in the distance.  I made the 400 mile drive slightly slower by stopping to take pictures way too often.  You can find the whole flickr set here, but for reference, the drive up through Targhee NF, through West Yellowstone and into the Gallatin NF had stunning views along the lines of this:
After learning I was missing out on the Mountain Man Rendezvous in W. Yellowstone (no joke! The gas station clerk tried to convince me that it would be more fun that my other plans), I made my way north along the Gallatin River to my campground for the evening.  I was worried about spots, but I managed to snag an awesome one right on the river.  Made friends with the fishermen from Salt Lake at the next site over, cooked an awesome dinner and settled in for the night.
Greek Creek Campground on the Gallatin River

Herbed salad with artichokes, tomatoes and avocado
Handmade Sweet Potato Pappardelle from Pike Market with Smoked Salmon and Sage

I woke up the next morning in search of an easy trail run to shake things out and was directed to Lava Lake, a nice woodsy trail that climbed 3 miles to a lake rumored to be beautiful and a fantastic fishing hole.  Due to self-imposed limits, I wasn't going to run or hike the 6 miles roundtrip the day before a race, so I wandered up and back down to get about 30 min. in followed by a stretching/yoga session by the river.  (In hindsight, it probably wouldn't have made any difference if I had ran the whole thing, ah well.)  
eager to run!
Post-run, I ventured into town for breakfast at the Cateye Cafe (thanks Jenny!), some coffee and to walk around the cute downtown area.  It didn't take much for me to decide that I liked this city!  Surrounded in almost 360 degrees by Mountains, streams, rivers was an obviously bike-friendly town full of awesome looking food, breweries, grocery co-ops, and not a Starbucks in sight!  For Friday and Saturday, I found a tent site at an RV resort campground just on the outskirts of town, it wasn't ideal, but not terrible either.  There is a campground, Fairy Lake, at the start, but for the first time, I didn't want to risk needing something last minute and wasn't too excited about having to find a ride to drive the hour back to my car post-race either.
Looking at The Ridge from my campsite
Montana Sunset over Gallatin Valley
When we were at Rainier, Grayson asked me if I had done any Alpine starts, I hadn't really, but told him there was a mountain race start, which I was quite familiar with.  Without fail, BRR also involved waking up at 4 am; this wasn't all that difficult since the obnoxious twenty-something baseball team camped out next to me was just starting to call it a night when my alarm went off.  If you never fall asleep, you really don't have to worry about waking up!  The 4 am routine follows with coffee, oatmeal and bananas, more coffee, gatorade, etc.  I ate and drove over to the finish to find myself a ride to the start.  The start is a 27 mile drive North, the last 7 of which are on dirt, washboard roads up to the campground and trailhead.  In pitch black, hoards of ultrarunners, all wearing dark clothing of course, lined the road with our thumbs out as those who decided to drive to the start picked us up.  On the drive up, the comments from the RD at the pre-race meeting sprung up in my head:

"Oh, there's not really a trail, what fun would that be?"
"Well, its hard to get lost really.  The mountain is pretty much just a big pile of rocks, and you can always see town from the ridge.  So if you get lost, you either go back to the ridge or just run down the mountain and into town; which people have done by the way.  If you do run into town, please call just to let us know where you went."
Waiting around at the start was also a typical trail run, seeing bits of sunrise with ultra runners in every imaginable piece of race gear, shirts claiming how hard core they were and a bunch wearing the new crazy space shoes (I still don't get it, but hey).   Organized in wave starts, 5 minutes apart, to avoid congestion on the trail, the race was off.  I was in the third wave and was off with a run.  All in all, the traili up wasn't actually too bad to start, we ran for a bit, but then someone in front started walking, so we all were walking.  It was technical single track, where there was trail, for most of the race, so any passing, ever was at a minimum and here, people certainly weren't willing to let you go by.  They always say not to go out too fast, but I have never had the problem of going out too fast at a trail race; rather I get more tired being forced to run/hike at someone else's pace.  Nevertheless, I settled in as cleared out of the trees and got our first views of where we were headed.  The first 2 miles is over 2000' gain up to Sacagawea Peak, the switchbacks were consistent and make it a reasonable start (no calf burning yet!)
On our way up to the first saddle, Sacagawea to lookers left
Motoring on up!  I made it to the peak in 42 min, helloooo 21 min./miles!
After checking in at Sac, we began the traverse of the ridge.  Here is where all the warnings you here and the stories you read become real.  It was a solid mile of traversing and descending, what clearly was a "big pile of rocks."  I hesitated and ran scared, and turned my crappy ankle under twice in this section, moving slower than a snails pace, letting people pass me by and thinking about whether I really would survive this.  I will say, if you think about dropping out, it's pretty useful to know that from many places you could drop, you will likely travel a good 4-10 miles on foot in the same crappy terrain to be able to do so.  Unless you have an open fracture, I would highly suggest continuing.
Traversing the Ridge Trail

And by "trail," I mean scree
Just when I thought the world was ending, the "trail" dropped down onto a beautiful section of fairly level single track and any thoughts of bailing I had were left on the ridge.  The only thing to do now was run, and not turn an ankle again, and wouldn't you know it, a guy in front of me proceeded to turn his ankle and fall, and then he did it again 3 more times right in front of me.  Not a great motivator.  I moved past him and was able to mostly run the next few miles.  I will say, when the "trail" was not imminently life threatening, it was really run-able and pretty fun.  Quickly, I was at Ross Pass, long before the time cutoff I was worried about, but that's where the running stopped.  Now it was time for another 2000' climb back onto the ridgeline, the true ridge this time.  There were definitely several points in this race where I was almost literally balancing on the knife edge.  For the next 4 miles, which was a sold 1.5 hours we climbed a few "no name" peaks, which were described as the hardest climbs in the race.  Following almost no trail except that it was just the ridge itself.  These bits were not as hard as I had anticipated, because you really had no choice, faster wasn't an option when you climb through waist high boulder fields on an incline that bounced between a 35-55 degree slope at times.  If you had someone in front of you with a good line, you clung to them, if not then you hoped you had a good path through.  Once it would level out, a trail tended to emerge and the race was once again a run.
It appears here that slightly left of the giant knife-edged rocks is the route of choice
Reaching the top of No Name No.1, looking at the ridge to come 
At least they trick you into not realizing how tough it is with all the beautiful views to distract you (and make you fall off the side of the mountain!)
I was excited and relieved to have a real trail that led us back down to the Bridger Bowl aid station at mile 10.  The ski lift was self-identifying from far away, and it was nice to finally reach it.

Resort base down below
Bridger Bowl Aid Station; 1/2 way point
From here there was one more really big climb, up to Saddle Peak, and then it was more or less small rollers and a downhill trend.  Saddle Peak was a steep calf-searing slog with a lose rocky equally steep and miserable downhill.  I was just warming up, except that the downhills were starting to kill my ankle when they didn't scare the crap out of me.  Chatting with another girl, we both kept discussing that we were STILL seeing blood spatter along the trail, (it had first shown up about 4 or 5 miles in), and it continued to look fresh.  Who was bleeding that much, and what on earth did they do?  You would think that they were setting a PR if they couldn't stop to get a bandage.  We must have been distracted following another guy, because all of a sudden, we were clearly not going the right way, and about to walk over a 15 foot sheer drop.  Somehow the guy still continued off course, not sure how he managed that one or where he went from there.  About 5 minutes of backtracking and we found people and a slightly more beaten path, it turns out you can get semi-lost.  Zig-zagging back and forth from the ridge, away from the ski area, we made out way down towards Baldy.
More "trail"
Looking back from where we came 
Blood spatter that accompanied us for about 15ish miles; learned the following day from a guy at REI that a 60ish yo woman ran with a giant gash and blood dripping from her arm, but she wouldn't stop at the aid stations to let the EMT's bandage it.  (maybe this was hers?)
Seriously, I don't think death is strictly tied to avi danger here....
The final drop to Baldy and the finish; overlooking Bozeman and the Gallatin Valley
All down hill from here, about 4 miles and 4000' of down to be exact, turns out that was the bad news of the day.  While feeling good at the last aid station, thinking I could snake in at just about 6 hours, I started downwards and every bit of happiness left in me was sucked out as if by vacuum!  Ouch!  I'll tell you now, if you don't like running downhill, you will probably hate this race, and if you are like me and do like running downhill, you'll probably still be pretty miserable for this last bit.   You'll recognize here that even if you drop at this point, you still have to get down, and short of being airlifted or hiked out in a litter, the only way down is down the trail, and the fastest way down is to go faster down the trail.  I say this because after 4 or 5 falls, sliding down ridiculously and steep dust and gravel on my arse, I was thisclose to not caring if I finished.  I trotted down, relieved for the flats and the slight ups that I came across, walking/sliding down the steeps; my left hamstring felt like it was going to curl up into a tiny ball and die and my right ankle felt as though it might self-amputate (I'm sure there is a connection here).  90 min later, I made it down to the finish that felt like it would never come; I assure you, I could have done the reverse climb faster!  I was awarded with some much needed ice for the ankle, a t-shirt and a finisher's poster.  I lingered around what was a pretty good post-race gathering, swapping war stories with other runners, and then feeling like death, headed back to shower.  The race crew was generous enough to organize a post-race BBQ and party at a local hot tub supplier, I hung out for a while, met a ton of very nice locals.  Then a few other out-of-towners and I went to grab dinner at Montana Ale Works (thanks to the suggestion of a friend), after which I promptly curled up in my sleeping bag and passed out.  
This is what I learned today: Stop running races at ski resorts!
Post-race grub, Montana Ale Works

The next morning, I had hopes of exploring the area on bike.  Heading up Hyalite Canyon, I was in search of a trail with enthusiastic reviews up to Emerald Lake.  Upon arrival at the trailhead, I learned that the trail was closed to bikes on Sundays, which I had not been warned about.  Set out to do something, I did what any ultrarunner would logically do, I decided to run the 9 mile out-and-back instead.  (Don't worry, I am sure that all ultrarunners have a neurological deficit that leads them to make the same decisions).  What's funny is that I felt great.... kinda amazing what happens when you actually have a real trail.  I even held a pretty good pace considering the 2000' climb, reinstalling some self-confidence after the previous day's miserably slow pace.
Real trail! 
Emerald Lake
I hung around town long enough to get pizza, coffee, some local beer to smuggle back in Utah with me, and to snap a photo for Ali; whose dog not only has a ski resort, but an entire forest!
Do you think he'd really run 16 miles for his food though?!
NF, in Western WY, flanking the west side of the continental divide and the Wind River Range 
I'll try to keep the drive short, since this was a book already; however, I should add if you have the chance to drive through this area, it is well worth the detour.  Inspired by the far off Teton-vista on my way up, I decided to tack on 100 extra miles and take Route 89 south through Yellowstone, Tetons and Jackson on my return trip.  I can post tons of pictures, but here is the gist...

Yellowstone River
Sunset from camp in the park
Yellowstone Lake
Yellowstone Lake 
Teton NP
The Teton Range

If you've never drive through Jackson Hole and Bridger Nat'l Forest, this sums it up right here.  The Snake River, beautiful green forests and peaks up into 11000' 
And now, I'm back to my mountains!

Post-writeup addendum
I did a first for me in this race, which was use something new, without any trial.  In packing for this race, I got worried after last-years reports of blizzarding snow on the ridge, as the blog suggested to be prepared for anything.  With the thought that I might very well want gloves, a hat, and something waterproof up top, as we all know mountain thunderstorms show up at any time without warning,  I started looking for a pack to cary.  I hate belt packs and generally hate camelbacks, even when biking, so I generally cary two hand bottles and have enough pockets to carry the rest of the gu and food I need.  In the event that I had to carry a rain shell up, around my waist clearly wasn't going to be ideal.  I had heard good reviews about the Nathan products, particularly that the Women's Intensity Vest is cut really well, so I tried it on and was happy enough.  Race day came and there wasn't a blip on the radar with a forecast for high 80's.  I didn't need the pack, but decided to run with it, sans water bladder, just to see what I thought.  I am a fan.  This thing fits like a glove and doesn't bounce around at all.  I stuffed my camera, phone, a shirt, and all my snacks in it and it did really well.  If you're looking for a new way to carry gear/food/water while running or fast packing, this is one to look at.  All the other ones I tried on, had straps that fit awkwardly, especially around your chest, and really just weren't designed with runners in mind. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Helmet Cam!

I hope everyone enjoyed Jeanni's fantastic guest post.  Since she lives in the mountains, I decided the alpine crankypants blog should live vicariously through her epic 50k.  While Jeanni was huffing a puffing in the mountains I was reclining in an airplane on my way back to the swamp.  I arrived back in the swamp in time to drive to the coast to pick up Anneke, one of my awesome friends from college, who was flying into the Jacksonville Airport.  With a little convincing from Anneke, I ended up buying a helmet cam, and fun was had.  If you are considering buying a helmet cam, I highly recommend you do so when Anneke is visiting, because she will teach you everything you need to know about how to edit an amazing film.  Step 1 of course is to have a glass of wine or a beer, which makes the editing even more fun!  On Monday I took the day off work, and Anneke and I headed to St. Augustine to explore.  Check out our version of an afternoon in St. Augustine, condensed into 98 seconds.

st. augustine with avk from spike on Vimeo.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Speedgoat 50K (aka running on faith)

Guest Posting by Jeanni

Did you know that ski resorts have steeper slopes in the summer than in the winter?  Really, I am not kidding you!  I ‘ran’ The ‘Bird this past weekend and I promise you that someone physically moves the mountain and re-angle it, adding 7-10° inclination to any given slope after the snow melt.

Going backwards to how I ended up so intrigued by the changing of the slope angle on some silly ski runs…

Sometime, in March, when there was still a sizeable amount of snow on the ground and my runs were limited to 10 miles max on the road, I was hunting around on the interwebs and found a race in Salt Lake, at Snowbird no less.  It was a 50k!  Can’t be that bad, right?  I mean, I’ve done 9 Trails and 50 milers, so this can’t be that bad, and plus I’m living here now… and I am in desperate need of an ultra trail race.  I actually did start to train, long runs amongst my pack hiking for Mt. Rainier training 1 month prior.  Then, I sprained an ankle.  3 weeks later, I sprained it again.  Running turned into biking and babying it, so that I could go to Rainier and not let Jenny and her 'A Team' down.  Two long runs in 100 F heat and I thought that maybe, just maybe, I could actually pull this off.  Some advice for you here (listen closely, it's important): it is not a smart idea to ridiculously sprain your already permanent cankle 19 days before the race you already doubt your fitness for on a routine 6 mile easy trail run.
perhaps if i put a runner on the other foot too, i'll stop damaging it!
And again, my running turned into biking, and babying, and wishing and hoping, and I turned into Jenny, sending my friends pictures of swollen appendages.  Enough rest and some good old pavement running convinced me that I was healed enough to try for the race.....errr... hike.  Naturally, I went to visit my sister and thought trying CrossFit for the first time, with one week to go, would be a great idea.  The next 4 days of my life were spent complaining about the fact that it hurt to move, sit, stand, walk, etc. and my entire goal for every day became to avoid screwing with the ankle.  Which leads me into my race day mantra...

....I will not break an ankle, I will not break an ankle, I will not break an ankle.  Repeating over, and over again in my head as I climbed down THIS 3 hours into my race.
Photo credit: Mick Jurynec (thanks for sharing these!)
Waking up at 4 am, getting coffee-ed, fed, hydrated and more coffee-ed to drive over to Little Cottonwood Canyon, I knew my drop out options were slim in this rugged race.  
Dark and early, driving into Entry 1

pre-race briefing, ultra runner (ie crazies) central
We were briefly briefed that this was going to be TOUGH, that we could pretty much only drop out at the Hidden Peak, and that we would more than likely be butt sliding back down Little Cloud Bowl at the end of the day.  Then, we were off!

Evidently this was going to be the theme of my race.  We quickly dispersed up the cat tracks, winding up Gad Valley, quickly learning that this fire road of a trail was an easy groomer which I had finished many days cruising very slowly down when the slopes were snow covered.  If I barely moved on it in the snow, how on earth did it get so steep when reduced to dirt?!
We chugged up, up, up as the field quickly thinned itself out.  As we found ourselves halfway up the mountain we jumped over to some pretty sweet single track, pretty sweet until I realized we were making our way over and down towards the Tram.  Suddenly we switched gears from downhill back to STEEP uphill mode and the name of the game became HIKE.  I wasn't alone though, a group of about 25 runners were all hiking the same pace, tightly following each other, feeding off the momentum in front of them.  Getting a decent portion of the way up, we traversed over and slightly down again to Mid Gad. From here on, it got sloppy.  Trekking through fast moving runoff, steep muddy edges and significant patches of snow turned what may have been reasonable fire road into a larger effort.  

Soon enough I was slogging up Little Cloud Bowl (but not before a detour back downhill), a stretch over 1/2 mile on snow with hand lines.  Needless to say, soft snow on a warm day does not treat one's messed up ankle very well.
Little Cloud Bowl
Going up the snow we looked like little ants falling in line,  but it wasn't as tough as I thought and before I knew it we were up  and past the traverse at Hidden Peak Aid Station.   This was 2:36 in and about 8 miles into the race... it was going to be a looooong day.  From there it was down a ridiculous drop  along the spine, a drop that I don't even like skiing down, it was worse with loose dirt and jagged rocks.  I settled into a good pace and  got myself up along the spine to Baldy, we dropped down the spine on the other side into Alta, on the way encountering the first "I will not break my ankle" section above, about a half mile down a gully of a trail on the spine with steep, giant drops and loose rock skittering down; complete with hand lines to help lower on.  For the next 7 miles as we drop down into Mineral Basin and climb up and over down to the Pacific Mine aid station, thoughts of dropping for fear of ending up with a broken ankle resonated through my head; it is amazing how much repeating 'just a little further' gets you!  The rumors of popsicles at the 15 mile aid station on the backside were indeed true and a welcome treat after the sun came out while I was faithfully praying for my ankles (and sanity) during the 4 mile trot down a ravine of boulders and loose rock.  These were not run-able downhills!  5 hours in, it was time to move, so I settled back into the chugging through uphill.  Amazingly with a almost a 2 year break from racing, my body remembered how to motor through.
The climb back towards the ski hill was reasonably graded, mostly fire road and surrounded by flowering meadows and aspens.  I was quickly passing people running out of gas as I went through the run until it gets too hard, walk until it gets too easy drill.  
Finally making it up
and afforded spectacular views of the Wasatch backcountry
It was here, that I knew I was going to make it.... this is a brutal course, I think the harder they are, the more beautiful they are.  The routine is back down to go back up, repeatedly and it was clear that the RD was having fun in making this miserable.  To climb out of Mineral Basin up to the Tunnel, we suffered up a mountain steep course, over 400' in 0.18 miles!  This was the type of climb that reminds you that you do in fact have achilles tendons as they burn going up up up.  Short and sweet, it was over before I knew it, it was through the tunnel.
No, the belt wasn't moving (and it goes the wrong way!)
From here, I foolishly thought it was an easy job back up to Hidden Peak and on down to the finish.  That would be too easy, on his quest to make this the hardest 50K, RD Karl designed the course to wind down Chip's run, about 2/3 the way down to the base.  I realized my fate as my quads slammed down on my femurs trying to make time getting down under Peruvian, watching the top of the tram rise higher and higher above me.
Peruvian Gulch from the traverse.  Beautiful!
A long descent down and an even longer slog back up Cirque Traverse, the end was in sight!  It was a traverse over to Little Cloud and then a rather cold glissade down a half mile of snow - maybe my favorite part!  Down, down, down we wound up on some sweet single track and the end was really in sight, multiple times. With the finish line and Creekside in view, we traversed back and forth 3 times before finally being brought in.  He certainly made us work for it.
I proceeded to tell Jenny that it was harder than Rainier, and I think I still stand by that.  Medal in hand, the day was a success, no broken ankle and my body even remembered how to do this, despite my lack of appropriate pre-race prep. 10 hours and 40 minutes later, I was done.  Luis Escobar calls Santa Barbara 9 Trails a "heinous course" and until Saturday I had assumed 9 Trails would be the hardest thing I had run in 50 miles or less.  Speedgoat has now taken that honor.  It's funny how these ultra race distances work... Sunday I was saying I wouldn't do that again, this morning I'm thinking that I know I could do it faster next year.  But that's next year...  We'll see what the Bridger Ridge Run has in store for me in two weeks!