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.

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.


  1. beautiful nature

  2. Great post. This article helped me mentally deal with all the latter race stuff and finish my first 100.


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