Saturday, May 31, 2014

North Shore Triple Crown

I think Adam was the first one to tell me about the wonderful/stupid idea to do the Knee Knacker start from West Vancouver over Black Mountain, but instead of following the Baden Powell, to then summit Grouse, drop down and do a final summit on Seymour before finishing in Deep Cove (we did two peaks in January). It wasn't until last week that I created the route in Strava to try and get a handle on the approximate undertaking that it would be.

Today, I did it.

It's a doozy, and it pretty much beat me up.

Granted I took some tough trails on Seymour that I knew would be shorter, but a bit more difficult (technical) than some of the main established trails. A full trail list is below.

Eagle Bluffs pano
Top of Black Mountain. From here down to the lodge currently is 50% snow
Pano from Black Mountain
Garibaldi, Tantalus Range, Sedgwick
Top of Grouse; two down (up?), off to Seymour
Looking over to the three peaks of Seymour from the top of Grouse; how far away is that!?
A couple awesome cedars on CBC trail (also pictured on Gary's page if you can't tell what a monster this is)
Snow slog starts about 1/4 mile out of the upper parking lot on Seymour; very soft, slushy, taxing
Looking east, on the way to Pump Peak; Coquitlam, Golden Ears, Robie Reid?
East again, from Pump
That feels better

  • Knee Knacker start over Black Mountain, Baden Powell down to the dam and up Nancy Greene to Grouse.
  • BCMC up, up to Grouse Peak, Mountain Highway and Baden Powell to Lynn Headwaters, Headwaters Connector, Twin Bridges over to Seymour.
  • Powerline to TNT (awesome, very wildernessy and no people), somehow got off TNT and onto Lola's (very cool, but slow), CBC, Seymour Road and trail to Pump Peak, return to Seymour Road.
  • Old Buck off of the road, Three Chop (fun and technical) and spur MTB descent to Indian River Drive, Baden Powell to Deep Cove.

If you want to run this, wait a few weeks until the snow conditions on Seymour are better. Still glad I got out to do it, though. Driving home, it was the first time in awhile that I got emotional about a run...

May totals: 266.1 miles, 44,225' gain

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Pack for the long haul

How do I carry everything I need for 60-plus miles? Is it better to use bottles? A bladder and bottles? Bottles and flasks? I've carried a handheld for two 100km races, do I want to do it for loop one of Plain?

These are some of the questions that make me pause over the photocopy machine, staring off into trail-mind space.

For a year I was able to get away with only using my Ultimate Direction SJ vest for adventure runs in the 30-50-mile range. I often packed fairly light, not taking extra clothing, food or emergency supplies; things I would have done if I had been hiking or climbing, and carrying a day pack.

Even before I signed up for Plain, I had a couple of long routes penciled into my summer schedule that I knew I would need a larger pack for (I'm trying to justify use of my Visa card...).

Over the winter some Salomon packs went on sale and I picked up the S-Lab 12L (2013 version).

Even though I like the UD pack, and the new ones just had been announced, there were a few advantages I saw in the Salomon pack that I may not use every time but I wanted for greater flexibility:
  • I'm fairly slender and every time I've tried to carry a 20oz bottle in my UD vest, it hurts my ribs. The Salomon pack has great open (but with a draw cord on top) pockets in the vest part that connects the pack to the front. I can carry a 20oz+ bottle on each side without feeling them and easily reach them. Bottles are easier to fill from streams than a bladder.
  • On the rare occasion that I do use a bladder, if I have to refill it I can do it without removing it with the Salomon. UD really needs to create a top zipper to do this, which they did not. I always found it quite difficult to remove the bladder from my SJ vest to refill it. 
  • SPACE; the Salomon pack easily can be a two-night pack with a lightweight sleeping bag. Even when I over pack it I still have lots of space. I tried on the larger Bakwin vest and it seemed to have less usable storage space than the Salomon (though still was quite good!).
Testing my setup in the North Cascades: in this picture I have 2,000+ calories, two 20oz bottles, one 25oz soft flask (full), headlamp, jacket, gloves, hat, phone, camera, emergency blanket, small first-aid kit, aquatabs, maps and a ton of room to spare!
The XS/S Salomon fits me well and has a generous amount of play depending on how many layers I'm wearing (or if I gain weight!). I did reverse one of the front chest straps though for an equal configuration of three points of contact on each side rather than the four-two that Salomon sets it up with.

After doing a few long runs, I feel like I have an initial setup that will work for my upcoming adventures.        

Monday, May 26, 2014

A day on Chuckanut and Blanchard

Graham got to play tour guide for me and Matthew on Saturday and showed us some cool trails around Chuckanut and Blanchard that we'd never run before.
  • Rock trail: many steps passing Chuckanut sandstone boulders and cliffbands, connecting Lost Lake up to the top of Chinscraper; impressive trail building! 
  • Crazy mountain bike descent: cuts off of Fragrance Lake at main junction near the bottom of Chinscraper, on the north side, and is very steep with multiple 4-to-8 foot drops, including one directly after a hairpin turn. Ends on the Interurban about .6 miles north of the Fragrance Lake trailhead.
  • Connector from clear cut to DNR roads and Blanchard: steep, dropping down through loose dirt, rock and branches, some brush and mud in the trees after the clear cut, a pretty darn fun trail (minus the zooming dirt bikes, unfortunately).
A fun time-on-legs day with good vertical gain...

Pausing along the classic Chuckanut Ridge trail
Rock Trail
Back at the clear cut, after 30 miles and 8,700' of gain, before the final descent to the cars
San Juan Islands

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Big Beaver - North Cascades National Park

The Big Beaver Valley runs northwest from Ross Reservoir toward the most rugged mountains in the North Cascades: the Picket Range. Being a low-elevation valley trail, it's a perfect place to go while the high country is still holding snow. It's been on my list for some time, and I was very happy to get out and do a big chunk of it today, from the trailhead at Ross Dam out to Luna Camp and back.
Big Beaver Valley in Google Earth
Huge marshes, 1,000-year-old cedars and Doug fir line the trail. Definitely not a bad place to spend a day...

The trail is in fantastic shape by North Cascades standards. There is a handful of easy hop-over/duck-under blowdown, but only one that requires a little work, and really isn't that bad (see photo below). There's almost no mud, all creeks except the last two before Luna Camp are easy to cross while staying dry and patches of snow don't start until about one mile before Luna, and total about 200 yards. I think those will be completely melted out in a few weeks.

Please pay attention to your exposed skin! I found (as soon as they bit me) two ticks, both in the first 10 miles. Obviously, there also are many bears in the area as well (~50 scat piles along the trail, mostly from the marshes around mile 9 onward, as well as multiple prints).

I saw three parties, all within the first five miles of the trailhead, and otherwise had the whole Big Beaver Valley proper to myself.
Crossing Ross Dam. 
Happy Creek spilling into Ross Reservoir.
Ross Dam trail toward Big Beaver.

Pierce Creek
Thanks NPS! Trail clearing in progress.
Cedars in lower Big Beaver.
The one bad section of three blowdowns together, in between Big Beaver and 39-Mile camps.
Same blowdown section from the other side.
One of many.
Great old-growth along the valley bottom.

Doulgas Fir with weird (?) scraping?

Nice Black Bear track.
A couple miles on from the other print.

Eastern buttress/ridge before Luna peak (hiding in the clouds a few miles back ).
First ford before Luna Camp; about calf deep and cold.
A few patches of lingering snow, however the trail remains easy to follow.
Second ford before Luna; a little deep in places, stronger than the other one.
Luna Camp, where I turned around; ~16 miles from Highway 20.
One of the north-facing sections of the Stetattle Ridge-Elephant Butte complex.
Heading back toward 39-Mile Camp.
North-facing sections of 6,607' and surrounding peaks, I think.
Looking up Ross, Desolation Peak in center background.
Finishing up for the day.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Miwok 100k report - 2014

I guess not really knowing what to say is a good thing.

At Miwok last Saturday I ran a steady race. I had a couple lows, a couple highs and many miles in between of just moving through the Marin Headlands. After Gorge the 100km distance didn't feel intimidating, so I didn't have any pressure to perform or race in a competitive way. That's not to say I wasn't excited or nervous, but I felt much more "casual" about it. Finishing, so I could use Miwok as my Western States qualifier, was pretty much the only thing I wanted to do.

And maybe that's the best way to do it..?
Not exactly roughing it: my view from the VRBO rental in Muir Beach.
Dave and I ate dinner together the night before the race, discussing the usual pre-race topics of game plan, who would win and how different Miwok was from most of the Rainshadow events we do. This led to Dave's keen observation: "Luke, tomorrow you're going to run with over 500 people and aid stations every 5-7 miles, and then go to Plain, with only ~50 people and one aid station after 60 miles." That might possibly be why I didn't have expectations for Miwok: I don't consider myself a strong "runner," and Miwok definitely is a runner's course.

On the start line the crowd was quite substantial and Miwok has to have the most comical trail ultra start in history. You run 75 feet on a road, and then hit tight singletrack where it's extremely difficult to pass for the first six miles.

Want proof?
Many people in the 30-person group I got stuck in started darting out in the tall grass and sprinting past since the people in front wouldn't step aside, and I tried to stay calm and just think about how easy it would be to roll an ankle doing that. And a few miles into a 100k, was a minute or two really going to make that much of a difference? A turned ankle sure would...

After moving pretty slowly along the Coastal Trail on Bolinas Ridge we got into the trees at six miles and the trail opened up. I passed the people in my group and started to cruise a bit better, not stopping at the first aid station a little over 10k in. The dirt road along the ridge to the Randall aid station was rolling downhill and a nice way to ease into the day. The leaders started to come back and I got to see Dave climbing back up as I descended; he was about a mile and a half ahead of me and made a pleasantly foul remark about an impending BM. One minute at the aid, 13.1m in, and I was out and heading back up toward the ridge.

The sun was breaking through the low fog, which was lower than the ridge, and it was probably my favorite moment of the day. My legs felt like I'd already run 50k (similar to Gorge in that regard that I felt bad early on), and when I came up to someone and learned he was from Redmond, WA, it was nice to spend a couple of miles together talking about northwest races. It turned out to be Stanislav, but unfortunately I went through the aid at 19.6m quickly and didn't see him for the rest of the day.

Between Bolinas and hitting Cardiac for the first time I ran alone, passed a handful of people and someone caught up to me and introduced himself: Ryan from Reno. It's always hard to tell how long you're actually going to stay the same pace as someone else. Luckily, I think, we ended up running about 28 miles together through the middle of the day.

The usual race chitchat carried us through the next fifteen-plus miles until we were coming into Bridgeview and came up to a runner in a white shirt, Pearl Izumi N2 shoes and no hat: DAVE! We'd crossed coming in/out of Muir Beach at 32m, and Ryan and I had been about a half mile or so back. He immediately said he wasn't feeling good, and we ran for about a hundred yards into the aid together. I asked him to latch on to us, but he said to just go on.

It was tough to see him not feeling well, especially as he'd been running ahead of me all day.

This was about the time where I pretty much stopped eating food as well. Even just a little heat this early in the year does it to me, and I went almost entirely to one bottle of water and one small bottle filled with coke from every aid. It took me two miles to eat two pieces of licorice: a slowest ever record for me. I think over the last 25 miles I had a maximum of 300 non-Coke calories.

Ryan and I were slowing down a bit as we hiked up Rodeo Valley and he picked up a pacer at Tennessee Valley at 48.5m. We headed down the valley and up toward Pirate's Cove, now a group of three, but it only lasted for the first climb. Ryan started to slow a bit and urged me to push on, which I did.

Greg and I had run this section during our 30k race over a year ago, and I got a little boost and ran a bit up toward Glenn, who was waiting to capture a perfect moment at mile 52:
Coastal Trail above Pirate's Cove; thank you Glenn, one of the few race photos I really will cherish.
In and out of Muir Beach I headed toward the last climb of the day: Deer Park up to Cardiac. This section is a killer. A couple miles of endless road, followed by a nice short trail section with some streams to cross, leading to the last climb.

I wasn't bonking, but I definitely could feel the lack of substantial calories in me. The problem was eating made me feel worse than being hungry, so I just thought I only have a few more miles and I can push through. It was a hard section for me, but I felt way better than the last climb at Gorge.

Jorge greeted me at Cardiac, wisely standing next to the trail with water and preventing runners from going over to the aid station to slow down. He had a ten-gallon hat on, coupled with his million-watt smile.

"2.8 miles and it's all downhill!"

The downhill hurt, and surprisingly I felt better on the Dipsea stair sections than I did on the trail portions. Maybe all those North Shore stairs helped?

Approaching a trail junction I saw a guy in a blue jacket, who yelled some words of encouragement. I assumed he was a marshal and muttered a barely-audible, "thanks."

"Luke! It's me!"

I knew my good friend Sir-Hikes-a-Lot was going to be waiting for me at the finish, wanting to spectate his first ultra, but I never thought he'd be out on the course. It was a wonderful surprise and we ran the last mile and a quarter in together.

I finished in 12:05, 51st overall. The webcast, which tracked the place runners were in as they came through aid stations, is great for seeing how you paced the race. While I definitely faded in the last 10 miles, most people did, and I'm very happy that I essentially held my place for the last 25 miles.
Not perfect, but pretty good pacing.
Very quick muscle cool-off in the Pacific at Stinson Beach. 
Back at the finish with Sir Hikes the ultrahiker.
After getting changed I looked at my phone. A text from Dave arrived, and with a severe case of race brain, I was wondering how he was texting me from the course. Then I read it: drop at Tennessee Valley return (48.6m); argh!

I started to get some food and fluids in and as I was waiting for dropbags to come back, Adam rolls in. We were primary training partners all winter and spring, talking about Miwok every Saturday on the trails. He was ecstatic to finish and get his Western States qualifier, and it was nice to see his family celebrate with him. He's been planning (semi-obsessively) for this race since December, and I couldn't be happier for him.

While Miwok probably isn't a race I would do again, I had a really nice day with everyone I got to share trails with. The volunteers were great and congratulations to everyone else who went out there and participated.

I feel like I accomplished my goal of being steady and just trying to run well.

  • This race mostly is held on dirt roads. Maybe 20 miles of singletrack, 5ish of pavement and 35+ on dirt roads. Not necessarily a bad thing, but something to be aware of. It means...
  • ...that it's really runnable! And it is, if you have legs, like the fast people. I actually brought road shoes and was debating up until the night before which ones to wear. Road shoes would be perfect on the second half; no need for trail shoes.  
  • The course is pretty; no debate there. I definitely took a few moments throughout the day to look at the view and appreciate it, especially along Bolinas, Muir Woods, Pirate's Cove and the Dipsea.
  • The Bay Area runners really show up to support the race. The Bridgeview aid station is one of the best I've been to. I believe a local running club was in charge of it. 
  • GEAR: Pearl Izumi Trail N2, Drymax Trail Lite, TNF Long Haul shorts, Pearl Izumi top and visor, UD SJ vest, Nathan handheld, Black Diamond headlamp. Second time wearing my Trail N2 for a full 100km race without any problems. 
  • Food: PBJ squares, chips, Honey Stinger chews, Clif bloks, banana pieces, gummy bears, licorice, Pocketfuel choco haze, 2x20oz Perpetuem, ~30oz coke, 80oz water (?), five Saltstick caps. I had a bunch of gels with me but didn't slurp a single one...
  • Recovery: sore, but after Sunday I started to feel pretty good. Not sure why? I already did a jog and felt great, with almost no soreness. Adam said similar; totally bizarre... 
Thanks to everyone for their support. 

Time to step away from races and head into the mountains for the summer...