Thursday, November 12, 2015

Official Bigfoot 200 Mile Endurance Run Race Trailer

As the weather turns cold, wet and snowy in the Pacific Northwest, we can sit back and enjoy this new trailer for the Bigfoot 200! Happy trails!

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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Why 200 mile Athletes Do Not Quit

Koichi Takeshi is greeted enthusiastically at the finish of the 2015 Bigfoot 200. His 2nd Destination Trail
200miler, he has the notoriety of being the last finisher (making the final cut off time by just 4 seconds!) of
the inaugural Tahoe 200 (2014). Photo by Howie Stern. 
Here I attempt to answer the question that so many ask when they hear how high our finish rates are as well as going in depth into why I think some races have low finish rates. First I will explain why I think we have a high finish rate. Second, I will explain what I feel are the common causes of a low finish rate in ultra marathons.
Kerry Winston Ward insisted we do a yoga pose at the finish of the
2015 BF200. That's after running 203.8 miles. 
200 mile runners bond during the year through social media and then
on their long journey during the race. When you feel connected, you
have more fun and are less likely to quit. Photo by Howie Stern
Are 200s harder than 100s? This is impossible to say for sure, but my experience is that 200s are harder. There are more variables and more things that can go wrong. Like any distance when compared in toughness to another distance - it really depends on the athlete's approach to the race, preparation and abilities in regards to said race, and less about the race itself, assuming the event is well organized. That being said, some races have obvious and gaping problems that will create artificially low finish rates despite athlete's preparations.

Why do Destination Trail​ 200 milers have such a high finish rate? We have a 77% finisher rate for Bigfoot 200 Endurance Run​ and an 85% finisher rate for the Tahoe 200 Mile Endurance Run​.

1. Commitment: Athletes who have committed to this distance commit overall more than any other distance of shorter length. Let me explain: In general, these athletes put more into training, train longer in general, invest more money into gear, entry fees, training races, travel expenses and even coaching, in some cases than 100 mile racers.
Koichi Takeishi, finisher of the Bigfoot 200 2015, traveled all the way from Japan!
2. Finishing a 200 is a Big Freaking Deal: Many of us have finished a 100, but how many have finished a 200? 200s are still at their inception. When someone signs up for one, it's so new and epic that there is extra reason to finish, to distinguish oneself, to not let down crew/family/friends who have also invested more time and funds into the event. You have more to lose if you quit the longer the race, and more to win, if you finish.
Geoff Quick coming down the final stretch of the Bigfoot 200, 2015 by Howie Stern
3. A Different Kind of Athlete, the Risk Taker: The kind of athlete who signs up for a 200 right now is unique even in the sport of ultra running. They are willing to put adventure ahead of competing in a more historical or commonplace ultra like Western States or another iconic race. Not to say that the runner who signs up for a 200 doesn't want to run one of these more established races, but they are willing to take a risk on a new adventure, rather than a tried and true one. So when things come up in the race as they always do, they don't easily quit, after all they have proven themselves to be bigger risk takers than other ultra runners by signing up in the first place.
Bull Dozier running the inaugural Tahoe 200 (2014). Dozier is in the running for the
world record this year for the most 200 mile events completed in one year.
Photo by Scott Rokis.
4. Good Race Organization & Markings: We have impeccable course markings (except for a few cases of vandalism), excellent aid & lots of real food, amazing volunteers, and great organization. I have an entire team of people that help me organize from Logistics,to Volunteers to Communication to Medical. Details are important to us. We design the race to get as many finishers as we can by having a 28+ page runner's manual, providing all the aid we promised and having good medical support. One more thing to add: when the course is all original, no multiple loops or major out-and -backs, runners (no matter how tired & sore) still want to see the rest of the course, it's that cool! When you are required to repeat parts of a course you've already done, it's much harder mentally to continue on.
Tina Ure holds a Bigfoot finisher glass after her 3rd place finish, 2015.
Photo by Howie Stern
5. Fair Cut off Times & Time to Sleep: When you have to rush to make cut off times, your will to finish will slowly dwindle away or you may miss a cut off time and have to drop out. The Tahoe 200 & Bigfoot 200 rarely have to cut runners off. We have sleep stations. Sleeping really rejuvenates your body and mind. Sleeping is not so much an option for most runners in a 100 mile race as there just isn't as much time and rarely, if ever are their accommodations to sleep in a 100.

Photo Howie Stern
6. Community Feel: 200 mile runners bond during the year through social media and at training races they do in preparation for the 200. Many of these athletes do multiple 200s and meet other people doing the same. During the event, many athletes end up teaming up and running large sections together (even the entire race in some cases!). This sense of community keeps runners going. When you have fun and support you are less likely to quit.
Bigfoot 200, 2015, Photo: Howie Stern
Now we have an idea of why some 200s have a higher than average finish rate. Why do some races have such low finish rates? I'm going to go over a few of the main factors I see in low finish rates in 100 mile and longer events:

1. Extreme Weather: Extreme hot, cold, wet, mud... any of these things can cause a low finish rate as they tend to be unexpected and difficult to train for. These factors can also make a race dangerous...fatally so. So quitting may be the best option.

2. Poor Course Markings: You all know the feeling of getting off course, running a couple extra miles (or more!) and your spirit is crushed. Sure, you're running an ultra, but you didn't expect to get off course. If you are afraid markings are going to be bad later on too, you might just quit fearing that you will continue to get lost.

3. Bad Race Organization: Serious danger can arise when a race does not provide what they said they would provide, whether it is a lack of aid stations, missing water stations, certain kind of course markings, or if the distance of the race is longer than advertised. This is unfortunately more common that one might expect. All Race Directors make mistakes, and sometimes trucks break down and aid stations cannot be delivered or other hard to control circumstances, however emergencies should happen few and far between and race's should have controls in place so that major problems are minimized.

4. Race Courses with a multi-loop layout or many out and backs: It's easier to keep going in a race when you're excited about what is coming up, when the adventure of new terrain is there. HURT 100 is a very well organized event. They have a low finish rate I'd attribute to the brutal nature of the five 20 mile loop set up. It's mentally really tough to keep doing these loops when you know how hard they are and you have already experienced them.

5. Lack of Qualification Standards: I see nothing wrong with this necessarily, but when runners have fewer experiences that match what they are coming up to in a race, they may be less prepared. This is debatable, as I see many runners who even finish my 200s that wouldn't be traditionally qualified. The difference is that I still require the "non-traditionally qualified applicants" to send me an essay explaining why they feel that they are qualified. This task in itself I'm sure weeds out many folks who aren't totally committed to the race, so it serves its purpose.

6. Tough Cut Off Times: Speaks for itself. Some races have cut off times more geared for the faster runners. These races will have lower finish rates, inevitably.

* Note on DNFing, quitting, and missing cut offs: There is a time to continue on and finish and suck it up. There is a time to quit. Either way, I respect each runner's decision to DNF. We must all follow our heart and make the best decision we can. A DNF does not mean we failed. It is a unique experience and deserves to be recognized as such. I have DNF'd my fair share of times... for good reasons and for poor ones. No judgement here. Read my humorous write up on 10 Reasons to DNF an Ultra Marathon if you need a laugh.

Comments: Please add what you thing helps or hinders finish rates in 100s and 200s. Do you know of any resources that document finish rates of various ultra distance events? Please comment and let me know what you think!
The ecstasy of the finish, celebrating with family and crew, Tahoe 200, 2014.
Photo Scott Rokis
Last finisher in the BF200 this year was escorted through the finish by Bigfoot himself.
Photo Howie Stern
Photo: Howie Stern

Buckles are all handmade and each one is unique. Photo: Howie Stern
Photo: Howie Stern

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

What company do you work for?

I get asked this question all the time. As many of you know, I am the race director of the first two non-repetitive 200s in the US, the Bigfoot 200 & the Tahoe 200. These races are such an extreme distance that many people are understandably shocked. Usually when people hear the distance, they want to know, What company do I work for? At first, I found this question amusing and enjoying the surprise I saw on their face when I told them, "My own," it did not bother me to be asked. As time has passed, however, the novelty of giving my answer has worn off. I wonder why people would be surprised that I would be the one to create these races? Is it that I am a girl? Or that I seem more like a trail running dirtbag than a CEO? Or is it that the distance of these races is so great that it must take an entire Board of Directors & company to create and execute them?
Fastpacking the Bigfoot 200 course
Truth is, I've always worked for myself. I just happen to be someone who makes my own work. Part of this comes from a desire to set my own schedule, the other part comes from an inability to do anything I am not passionate about. The latter of which has caused me some pain and suffering despite its idealistic sound. Shouldn't we all aspire to only doing what we are passionate about? When you cannot tolerate doing normal, everyday kind of shit, it's hard to feel settled. When passion must fuel your work, it's difficult to fit in, impossible to work for anyone else, and it is hard to even do the monotonous work you need to do on daily basis.

To illustrate how my passion fuels my work, let me explain how I created the Bigfoot 200 in less than a month. Last year (September 2014) I had never run or explored any of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest where the Bigfoot 200 is located. Less than a month after visiting Mt. St. Helens for the first time, I turned in a 15 page permit application for the 2015 Bigfoot 200, a point-to-point 200 mile footrace that would be the first of it's kind in the world. During that time I fast packed 200 miles of the course (part of which would change as the permit was finalized), mapped the route and created a 28 page Runner's Manual for the event. It was a whirlwind of excitement and things moved very quickly as they do when an idea is supposed to become reality.
Mt. Adams, one of the many volcanos on the Bigfoot 200 course
Less than a year later, my crew of organizers and I were organizing the first point to point 200 mile footrace in the USA. It was also the biggest one in 2015 with 79 runners at the start line. Amazingly, we had a 77% finish rate and 69 of those 79 runners finished. I can only thank my numerous volunteers, my volunteer & logistics Coordinator, my medical team, finish line coordinator and many more key people who together created quite the incredible, fun, and challenging event. See photos from the event.

The Tahoe 200, a single loop that circumnavigates Lake Tahoe was also created almost identically to the Bigfoot 200: a gust of inspiration made me believe I could map out this dream race course, get permits, and pull it off. The difference with Tahoe was that I was familiar with many of those trails ahead of time, it just took a couple years to realize I could actually pull the race off. In an almost identical timeframe to the Bigfoot 200's creation I mapped the route, made the Runner's Manual, and presented the event to the world. In January of 2014 when registration for the first Tahoe 200 opened, I had almost 200 applicants. The race hosted runners from 10 countries and 28 states. It was an exciting time!
Last minute words of encouragement for the runners before they embarked on the inaugural Tahoe 200.
When people ask me who I work for, I really should say I work for you. The person who dreams big, who wants an adventure of epic proportions, who wants to move into the extraordinary. I believe an event can do this if it's created right, if within its framework the artistry of nature and weather is highlighted, with all the support promised, more information that you'd care to ever read, and a desire by the race management to improve each year. This is what I promise to bring to the table.

I'd like to at this point to highlight some of the differences between my two 200 mile races. They are so different, it's hard to explain in a short summary, but I'll try! Oh and before I close, do stay tuned, I have many more adventures up my sleeve. Or maybe they are blowing in the wind on their way to me!
Photo: Howie Stern Photography
Description: Terrain varies considerably in this point to point adventure in the Cascade Mountains: volcano desolation zone, mountain ridges, thick canopied rainforests, exposed cliffs, cross country off trail travel, log hopping, all the while enjoying views of Washington's largest and most active volcanoes: Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier, and even Oregon's Mt. Hood. This 200 has the most climbing of any 200 miler in the USA and runs through storied Bigfoot territory.

Distance: 203.8 miles


Dates: August 12th-16th

Style: Point to point

Cut off: 105 hours, 4 days 9hrs

Closest City: Cougar, WA and Randle, WA

Number of Entrants: 150

2015 Finisher Rate: 77% of runners that started the race also finished!

Elevation: ~50,000 feet of ascent and 46,000 feet of descent

Terrain: Single track: 184.8 miles single track, 4x4 road/dirt
Roads: 6 miles, Paved 13 miles 


Description: The Tahoe 200 was the first non-repetitive 200 in the USA in 2014. The route circumnavigates iconic Lake Tahoe from the Tahoe Rim Trail exploring the alpine environment that makes Lake Tahoe such a world class destination. Participants will trek through rock gardens of giants, past countless sparkling alpine lakes, explore the dusty Rubicon, all the while circling the largest alpine lake in the US on trail.

Distance: 202.5 miles


Dates: Sept. 9th - 13th, 2016 (100 hour cutoff)

Style: Single loop course

Closest City (start location): Homewood, California

Number of Entrants: 140

2015 Finisher Rate: 85% of runners finished. That's higher than most 100s!

Elevation: 39,800 ascent and 39,800 descent

Terrain: Single track: 170 miles/ 273.6km of 
single track (84%), Paved Road: 11 miles/17.7km 
(5%), 4×4 dirt roads: 21 miles/33.8km (10%)

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Training Journal 10/19-10/25

Running the Klickitat Trail on Tuesday

Monday, October 19 - Sunday, October 25, 2015: This week I headed out to the Cascades to do some scouting on the Bigfoot 200 course and to climb Mt. Adams. In the process I got a lot of night running in, something I want to continue to do in preparation for HURT100. The trip included lots of driving, unfortunately. This week cumulated a whole 40 days of no drinking! I've had no alcohol for more than a month now and I've been feeling great as well as getting closer to race weight. Next week I'm looking forward to sticking around Bham and getting in massive amounts of yoga and getting more sleep. I've been staying up too late in general and Sunday I felt very tired most the day. Sleep is so key when I'm gearing up my training!  
Climbing Mt. Adams with River on Wednesday 

Monday: 1hr yoga in West Seattle. Long drive down to Mt. Adams.

Tuesday: 18 mi with 4300 gain & 4300 loss on Klickitat 7 Trail. With a heavy pack. Tough route. Ran several hours in dark. 

Wednesday: 15 miles, 5000 ft ascent/5000 descent. Climb up Mt Adams. Ran several hours in dark. Carried heavy pack for training. 

Thursday: 1hr 15 min yoga. 7 mile run. 800 ft ascent in Bellingham. CU*

Friday: 1hr 15 min yoga. 1 hr bike ride, indoors. CU

Saturday: 1hr 15 min yoga AM. 3 mile run in AM N. Chuckanut. 7mile run in PM (in the dark) around Sehome Hill. 1100 ft ascent. 1 hr indoor bike. CU 

Sunday: 15 miles in the Chuckanut Mtns with ~3000ft of climbing/3000 of descent. Legs felt very tired. 2 hr bike indoors in PM. CU

Running 65 miles with 14,200 ft ascent
Yoga 4hrs 45min 
Indoor biking: 4hrs

*CU: Core & Upper body workout focusing on push-ups, yoga sit-ups, and other core work. Usually 15min-30min
Camping out Monday and Tuesday. 
Carrying a large pack Tuesday and Wednesday for training. 

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Sunday, October 18, 2015

Training Journal 10/12-10/18

Monday Oct 12- Sunday Oct 18This week began right after a massive effort to organize the Bigfoot 120mi/100k race at Mt St Helens. I am still feeling a bit exhausted from it. I only got a couple hours of sleep all weekend of Oct 10-11. I also marked the entire Bigfoot 120 course with Garrett Froelich's help the week previous, so I didn't do much running this week, instead I focused on biking and finally FINALLY got back to daily yoga classes! Getting stoked about riding the Tour Divide! Reminds me of how I felt when I first got into ultras. There's an excitement that hasn't been there for a few years for me.

**CU= core/push-up, pull-up, sit-up, sometimes kettle bell session usually around 20-30 min, I do it almost daily. Usually 100 -200 push-ups, 200 bicycle sit-ups, 150 "other core", plank & side plank, 10 pull ups. 

Monday : course sweeping for the race (ie: slow, carrying lots of weight), 21 miles, 6500 ft descent, 5600 ft climbing, 6hrs. Got to run a large portion in dark. Good training!

Tuesday: climb at Mt St Helens 10 miles, 5000 climbing, 5000 descent. Good difficult effort. Legs pretty wiped out from yesterday. Drove home second half of day. Long drive. 

Wednesday: 1hr bike, indoors. CU

Thursday day off. Still did lots of core, push-ups, kettle bell. CU. Just still so tired from organizing the race! 

Friday 45 min bike on road, hard effort. 1hr 15 yoga. 1hr 15 indoors on bike.

Saturday: 2 hr indoor bike session, moderate effort, 1hr 15 power yoga (felt hard). Sore from yoga on Friday. Full CU. 

Sunday: 1hr 30 min bike indoors easy, 1 hr 15 power yoga. CU 

Running: 31 miles, 11,500ft descent/ 10,600 ft ascent
Biking: 6.5 hrs (road bike, mostly indoors) 
Yoga: 3hr 45min power yoga

Saturday, July 18, 2015

How to go from Half Marathon to 100 Miler in 6 Months

"If you run at half marathon pace for 100 miles you will definitely win." I said jokingly to Garrett, a 41 year old recent transplant from Lake Tahoe, California after he finished the Bellingham Trail Half Marathon in 2nd place. I said it because he had looked so calm, comfortable and happy after his first ever trail race. Like he just had a grand time romping through the trails, not racing his guts out for 13.1 miles. 
Garrett had surprised everyone except me by getting 2nd place that day for not being a runner and after working all week to help organize the event. He had recently started working as Race Logistics and Volunteer Coordinator for my growing Event Management company Destination Trail and with some encouragement he had agreed to run the half marathon despite being as far from a runner as one could expect of a dirtbagging-rock-climbing-skateboarder. 
Garrett center in green shirt in the Bellingham Trail Half Marathon
Two months earlier, not long after Garrett and I first met in South Lake Tahoe, I told him that he needed to start running. I've been running for almost 18 years (8 years competitively) and I've been in the running industry for 5 years. With this experience and an intuition as sharp as the Matterhorn, I just knew he would be good. Maybe it was that he hadn't even broken a sweat on a run we did up the Powerline Trail on the Tahoe 200 course (1,500 feet in less than 1.5 miles) on a hot August afternoon or maybe it was his natural athleticism. He considers himself a skateboarder before anything else, "Skate or Die" etched in his self-built Honda motorcycle, and when I met him he was a rock climbing fiend whose outdoor lifestyle left him perennially fit. 

Garrett's hands were coarse like granite and he talked about thinky crimp holds, nut spots and bomber pieces. He was free soloing a bunch of climbs around Lover's Leap out of Strawberry, CA. Not knowing much about climbing I mentioned that I thought that sounded much better than having to deal with all those knots and ropes and shit. Just that spring I had taken a week long course on rock climbing in Red Rocks, Nevada and although I liked the challenge of climbing, all the safety precautions, knots, and equipment of climbing was overwhelming. I think he had expected me to chastise him like everyone else, but I didn't see anything wrong with courting a little danger. 

I've never been one to shy away from what I want to do, consequences be damned. Because of my spontaneity and stubbornness, I've suffered from time to time when it comes to reaching my goals. I've even overestimated my abilities in the outdoors, but these traits have also paid off in ways that would have never been possible had I given into my fears instead of my passions. Danger be fucked. But trail running "danger" is a lot tamer than free solo climbing danger. That much was clear from my brief encounters with rock climbing.
Credit Chris Edmonds
Garrett was no stranger to living his passions either. He had spent the last 10+ years in and near Lake Tahoe to feed his need to be outdoors, always exploring and playing. Winters were at ski resorts managing the building of world class snowboard parks while other parks tried to recruit him, smoking weed and backcountry snowboarding with his furry wolf-dog Marvin. Marvin is an unidentifiable mutt so handsome that strangers often exclaim loudly and ask his breed upon meeting him. Usually to their dismay, when they hear he is a mutt. There's no replicating the MarvDog.
MarvDog has an affinity for large sticks. Credit Ashley Hutchinson
For Garrett, summers were spent in a dirtbag RV, the American Clipper, parked on a remote forest service road with killer access to climbing. This meant occasionally being kicked out of the forest "for the rest of the year" for overstaying his welcome. Forest Service regulations in California only allow for 14 continuous days in national forests. No matter, his quiet and kind demeanor meant that it was easy for him to make friends and he was able to park the Clipper in Strawberry, a few short miles to world class climbing, part of his summer commute being accomplished on a green cruiser bike. 
Credit Jason Hogan
When he wasn't on Lover's Leap climbing in cut off jeans and a red bandana, he was in South Lake Tahoe. Time in South Lake meant skateboarding, once every 2 week shower and laundry trip, and frustration at the endless road construction that is Tahoe in the summer. In those moments of waiting in the city to get back to his beloved rocks, he could most definitely feel his life slipping away as construction waged on and time in the outdoors was cut short by others' need to travel from one casino to another. 
Credit Jason Hogan
Garrett Froelich, address: Strawberry, California. Summer in Tahoe backcountry far from bustling South Lake, meant shooting cans in his underwear, crashing weddings at the Strawberry Lodge as the week’s major social activity, and drinking IPA of a quality that a beer snob would heartily approve. He was a fucking anomaly. You couldn’t quite stereotype him as anything. 

He certainly wasn’t a jock, he just didn't care enough about competition or what others thought of him. Yet he was too talented physically and committed to honing his skills on rock, snow, and concrete to be a true slacker or bum. He was too humble to give a shit about sponsors or fame. Who was this man who didn’t care that grown ups were supposed to work toward a degree, get a 9-5, own a home, get married, have a family ... to settle for the American Dream? It was possible this anomaly of a man might actually be crazy enough to pull off a 100 miler with no real training.
Credit Ashley Hutchinson
How does one go from racing a half marathon to a 100 in 6 months? There must have been a special kind of potion mixed in that moment that I teased Garrett about racing a 100 at half marathon pace that stirred his emotions and excited him. I'm pretty sure one of the ingredients of that potion was helping put on the first ever single loop 200 miler in the USA, the Tahoe 200, just a few months earlier. The Tahoe 200 was my debut 200 mile event and it was my opus. I'd travelled from Washington to Tahoe a month early for organizing the event. I was there to put everything I had into what I saw as the beginning of a race that would become an icon in the industry. The Tahoe 200 was everything to me and having Garrett's help had been integral that first year.

Surely the tremendous accomplishments Garrett witnessed at the Tahoe 200 by the athletes as they circumnavigated the largest alpine lake in the USA had affected him and influenced him to do a 100. The Tahoe 200, combined with the glorious feeling of crushing your first ever trail race as a rock climber/skater were likely key factors in his decision to take on such a massive challenge. Whatever it was, and however many ingredients went into it, Garrett had clearly fallen for the intoxicating allure of the 100 mile foot race. A race so long it was guaranteed to be epic.

Course marking for the Tahoe 200 in September
Six short months after that successful Half Marathon debut, I am at the Grand Canyon to crew and pace Garrett for his first 100 mile run. I’m giving him a 70% chance of finishing, but I don't tell him that. I am on his side, I'm just not totally convinced he can pull it off. I acted as an unofficial coach the past 6 as he watched me train, race, and recover from three 100s. He would occasionally join me for a run and more often than not he was at Mt. Baker backcountry snowboarding, skateboarding in town or working for me organizing races in the Bellingham Trail Running Series
Best friends, MarvDog and Garrett. Credit Ashley Hutchinson
In usual Garrett fashion, he hadn't bothered to follow a training plan or worry about his fitness leading up to the race. The longest training run he completed was in March. During one of our local Bellingham Trail Running Club’s Pine and Cedar Hill Repeat days he logged his longest run to date and finally became an ultra runner. He had completed 9 repeats on the steepest hill in town: 36 miles with 14,000ft ft climbing, enough to log the most repeats that day. It was a solid effort, but not a particularly long training run for a 100 mile race. I was scared for him and he was a mixture of nervous excitement, too naïve to know better, and scared shitless.
The day before Garrett's first 100, checking out the views on the course.
The Grand Canyon 100 was one of Matt Gunn’s soon-to-be Southwest classics that blended old school cool with intensely beautiful terrain. Gunn's finisher buckles for his events are handmade in Utah with resin and plants from the course and pre race often consists of local cuisine and guests telling stories of about the area’s history. Matt is part of a small group of race directors that are artists more than businessmen/women. 
Matt Gunn, center, directs volunteers for the Grand Canyon Ultras
Matt is handsome in a mountain man kind of way with his Carhart overalls, wild red beard and trucker hats. He has a gentle, humble way about him that is instantly enduring even after you go off course 2 miles due to confusing markers while in 1st place during one of his races (yes that happened at me at the Zion 100 in 2014). He is more comfortable exploring in the outdoors than giving a pre race speech, yet here he is putting on another race and like any great artist, the message, the artform, becomes too great to not share it. Gunn's races seem to be his way of sharing his gift for exploring and love for the outdoors. 
Just 2 days before the race it snowed. Who would’ve known it would freaking-snow-6-inches before the May 16-17 Grand Canyon 100?! This is Arizona after all and although it’s at moderately high elevation (6,000-9,000ft), it is May. Last year it was 80F, one man said as we joked about 100s being a big enough challenge without 6 fuckin inches of snow dude. I told him I was crewing/pacing my friend who was going from half marathon to 100. We laughed at the absurdity of that… all buried in snow as it was. Damn hilarious, but seriously, he asked, what is his chance of finishing?
It was a statement more than a question, and I smiled and thought, His chances are pretty damn good, it’s that anomaly shit. You’re gonna think you’ve pegged him because he must be a naïve idiot or experiment gone wrong, but in reality he had you the whole time. It’s the same reason he wears cut off jeans while free soloing past roped up climbers like they are standing still and shoots his deceased dad's gun in the backcountry in underpants with IPA in a coozy. I was thinking he might have an 80% chance based on that imagery alone. Who knows what's in his heart? A good dose of passion perhaps? Maybe enough passion to get that finish.

Had he trained for the race I’d be pondering whether or not he would win instead of the probability of him finishing. I’ve raced enough 100s to know that experience trumps both unpreparedness and inexperience. Every single time. That's why Karl Meltzer with 35+ 100 mile wins under his belt passed every young gun in the Run Rabbit Run 100 on his way to winning the staggering $10,000 prize purse a couple years ago. You can be fast, but can you pace yourself? Can you be patient? Can you play the game of training smart, tapering just right, hydration, nutrition, pacing, and the biggest piece of the puzzle: mental toughness? Garrett still had so much to learn. Badassery was on his side but not experience. That's why it was good he had me as his crew. I was prepared to let him know that all those painful experiences during his first hundo are normal and to stop being a pussy. Although I doubted he would need me to call him a pussy.
The race started in the mud and snow with hand rubbing and too many layers and for once I wasn’t jealous of the runners, I was happy to be sitting this cold, wet one out. Brave fuckin souls. Or stupid? Or crazy? Eh, it could’ve been me at that start line, or me looking in a mirror. No matter which it was, I was certainly one f the crazies, whether I ran or crewed. It was time to drive out one of the long Forest Service roads in the snow to meet my runner, fingers crossed the aid stations would be accesable with all the new snow.
Glad to have 4-wheel drive, I rallied through the deep mud lakes and snow that the forest service roads had become. The day went by quickly with Garrett running smart, making it look easy in the top five or so runners smiling all the while. I heated him some soup at mile 15 when the aid station never showed up and he took it all in stride. It didn’t bother him in the least that the aids station wasn't there, after all he hadn't even known what to put in a drop bag, I think for him, no aid station was like seeing a log over the trail and using it to get some air. Many of the other runners weren't so chill and I could see the lack of an aid station (even when they had crew) taking a toll on them mentally.
Then, like in all good ultras, everything went to shit. Somewhere around mile 55 I could see the fatigue hit him. He was still strong but there was a vulnerability that hadn’t been there before a strain in the eyes and a stiffness of gait. On an out-and-back he slowed noticeably and a runner passed him. Here comes that lack of training I thought, but he kept trucking. Despite an injured Achilles from running the Ultra Fiord in Patagonia, I was set to pace him from mile 80 to the finish and even with a slightly slowed pace, it was looking like he would make it. I saw that finish in him and it just became a question of how long would it take?
Mile 80 and I'm ready to pace: I’m chatting with DJ, a new-ish ultra runner who is signed up for one of my races, the Bigfoot 200 in August. He is the aid station captain at mile 80 as well as the only aid station worker at that location. He can clearly get shit done being a one-man crew and I think that his chances for finishing the Bigfoot 200 are good. I am impressed by his commitment to health and pushing boundaries of what is possible in ultras, racing 200s, he'd recently hired a coach, changed his lifestyle for more healthy options and his race finish times had improved drastically the past 6 months. A story that was rather common in ultra running circles. To get through 100+ miles, you have to know how to slay some dragons.
pacing duties
Garrett came into mile 80 looking better than he had at 15 miles earlier and ahead of two men that had passed him earlier but his fatigue was palpable. I'd been worried about his foot which had become quite painful, but he made no mention of it, so neither did I. We started out no the trail, making good time to the next aid. A few miles down the trail, he slowed again, the stiffness in his legs was catching up with him and I reminded him to keep eating, that would help of the extreme fatigue. At the next aid station he plopped into a chair and I warned him that if he wasn't eating we were leaving as I handed him a cup of soup and a coke. He obliged, although not happily. It was just after this aid station as he hobbled out, his legs like glass after having sat for 10 minutes, that he finally doubted himself. 

"What if I can't make it?" he asked just 20 feet down the trail from the last aid. 

"You will," I said. I could see he was worried about getting too far down the trail with this kind of stiffness. I knew though that even mile 87 stiffness dissipates just enough to get it done. Might not be pretty, but there was no other choice at that point.
The shoes, the bib, the buckle. Congrats G-Man
Rather than detail out the onion peeling that is finishing a 100 miler, getting that shit done, kicking your own ass, icing the cake, experiencing your own self demise, nirvana, there’s-nothing-in-the-world-that-compares, crying from joy, masochistic masturbation, let me just say he did finish his first 100 and I fucking cried. I’m pretty sure he did too. But I didn’t let him know I cried I just shot photos from the finish as I paced him to the end as though this shit happened every day.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

What Happens when you stuff 3 men into an RV: Fastpacking Bigfoot 200

The crew of the Bigfoot 200 went out this week in 4 days and mapped the Bigfoot 200 Endurance Run Course. Our brand new Course Marking Coordinator, Ben Mayberry, a surprisingly perfect match for the job (he not only works for the Washington Trails Association, he also can fastpack 30-50 miles a day), Richard Kresser our Logistics and Volunteer Coordinator and adventurer extraordinaire, Garrett Froelich Race Organizer, and myself (Race Director). Throw in 2 kids and 2 wolf descendants and you have a PARTY in the American Clipper RV. Or at least lots of funky smells and ravenous eaters.

Garrett, kids, and I acted as crew most the time and alternated running the course with Ben and Richard. We recorded miles, ascent/descent, water sources, aid station directions, and other key notes along the way. It was very important for me to have my crew know most (if not all) the Bigfoot course. This is both for safety reasons and so that each person can do their job that much better. I've already run most of the route and I am tapering for the Colorado 200 so I did about 30 miles total over the course of 4 days. Here are photos from the sections I ran including some fun(ny) crewing photos.

You just can't take the excited out of this guy. 
River cools off in the, er, river. the entire 4 days were hot, HOT, HOT
He will eat anything.  Anything gross. I swear it was a poop baggie.
Mt. Adams

Can't take the mountain out of the goat. 
Ben is just too perfect. Gotta like that. He's going to maker my job as RD much easier. 

Rock Porn
Ultra runners will sleep anywhere

Mt. St. Helens

Mount Margaret backcountry
Bagging Mount Margaret, on the Bigfoot 200 course

Richard really does love Mt. Rainier. Kissy - kissy

"Let's go bag a peak"

View from the top of Ellis Peak on BF200 course

It's a little dusty out here
Amazing section of trail