Monday, August 31, 2015

Observation Point in Zion National Park (Twice)


The Wasatch 100 is NEXT WEEK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


For my last kind of long run before the race I headed to heaven. No, I'm not talking about Cheesecake Factory. I'm talking about Zion National Park.

I decided to run to the top of Observation Point a few times. It's pretty much straight up or straight down the whole time. Here's a minor buzz kill....getting in 17 miles of straight up and straight down is drastically easier than 100 miles of straight up and straight down. (Ahhhh!!!!)

When I got to the top there was one other guy there. We talked about nerdy things like cameras and running nutrition. Then we offered to take a picture of each other. We almost hugged before parting ways.

After making it to the top I headed back down the narrow trail to the bottom. I'm a little bit afraid (okay, terrified) of heights. There are only a few sections of trail that make me just a little nervous.

Parts of the trail are literally cut into the mountain:

The trail goes through this cool slot (which also happened to be the only section of the trail that wasn't nine jillion degrees).

On my way down I passed people going up. Every single one of them did a double take when they met me again on their way down as I was going up for the second time. Three people asked why I was going back up. A trail this awesome is worth doing twice. (And when I told them I was training for a 100 mile race they thought that was the dumbest idea in the world.) I'm just a squirrel trying to get a nut.

Summit #2 was just as splendid as the first.

I felt good for all 17 miles. It feels like everything has come together for my Wasatch training and I'm going in as well prepared as I could hope for. Even being well-trained I have no doubt the race will chew me up and spit me out. I never take a finish line for granted. I sure hope I find that finish line. I can't wait for next week's adventure!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

My Favorite Running Motivation Article

I can barely remember what I ate for breakfast yesterday. But I still remember an article I read in the March 2013 issue of UltraRunning Magazine.

That article was written by John Medinger who owned and wrote for the magazine for many years. I got to know John and his wife Lisa through the magazine and have always respected his instrumental role in the growth of ultrarunning. It was great to catch up with him on the trails while running the Bryce 50.

I think his article stuck with me through the years because I realized that I was right in the middle of "the good old days". I realized that I had started to take running for granted. I started to get more focused on a destination instead of enjoying the journey. Now I work really hard to make sure that doesn't happen.

John has very graciously allowed me to reprint his article here. I hope you love it as much as I did. May we all focus a little less on the destination and instead enjoy the journey! Here is John's article:

It was a sweet spot in time; we just didn’t fully realize it then. If no other specific plan was made, the default was to meet at the usual trailhead at 8 a.m. on Saturday, ready to run 20 or 30 miles.

We were an eclectic bunch: a building contractor, an Algebra teacher, a chef, a corporate executive, an English literature professor, a banking regulator, a physical therapist, an artist who paid the bills by working as an electrician. At first we shared little in common but a love for ultras and all being approximately the same speed. But there’s lots of opportunity in the long gray miles between the start and finish of a six-hour run. We shared running tales and talked of sports, books, movies, and everyday life. And then, eventually, more personal stuff: politics, problems at work, relationship issues, hopes and dreams.

Others would often join us, but the core group of regulars was unusually reliable. The Oaktown Gang, we called ourselves – we weren’t a club, or an insular group closed to others. We just were; you earned your membership (such as it was) by simply showing up.

We traveled to each other’s races to crew, pace, and support. We shared in the experience, cheered each other on, celebrated the finishes and yes, sometimes joined in the bitter taste of failure. None of us were a threat to win anything. We were merely competent, typically somewhat faster than the middle of the pack. We set our own personal goals, which were usually immaterial to everyone else. We did the best we could.

Bonds were formed. Bonds that quickly ran strong and deep, of a type not commonly found among casual friends. We soon came to know each other’s hot buttons, and – like siblings – pushed them regularly. We teased each other mercilessly, but took umbrage if someone outside the group dared to do the same.

We shared the nervousness of competition, a heightened sense of adventure, a passion for achievement. We shared the thrill of the mountaintop and the dark abyss of never-ending miles in the middle of the night. The joy was in the process – the slogs through the mud, the hot, dusty descents, the frozen nighttime miles high in the mountains. The finish line was merely a dividend.

Now, nearly two decades on, we are still the best of friends. Not without changes, of course, change being inevitable. A couple of us moved away, a couple of us got married (no, not to each other, but – no surprise – to other ultrarunners). We all still run, but only a couple still regularly run ultras. Age takes its toll, injuries mount, desire wanes, life intervenes.

To those of you reading this who find all of this somewhat familiar sounding – and I know there are many of you who do – take a moment to reflect on your situation. Many of you are in that sweet spot in time right now. Savor what you have, relish the moment. This is really good stuff and it’s not going to last forever. For you, these are the good old days.

And for the Oaktown Gang, there is but one thing I can say: one tribe, y’all.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Our Baseball Near-Death....I Mean Near Diabetes Experience

Recently I took Jackson to some major league baseball games in Phoenix for his birthday. He wrote up this summary of our experience.

It was just a casual Monday night. I had just gotten home from doing stuff with my friends and had settled down to rest after a long day when my mom yelled that she wanted to talk to me. My natural instinct was “What am I in trouble for this time.” However, when I got down to their room and was expecting the worst, my parents suddenly told me that I was getting my birthday present a few days early. My dad handed over tickets to two baseball games. Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Colorado Rockies. I was more than excited and simply couldn’t sleep well the next two nights before we left for Phoenix. I was so grateful to be able to go to an MLB game. Even though I’m a Chicago Cubs fan, I was ecstatic that I would be spending some time at Chase Field over the next few days.

When we arrived at our hotel, I fell onto the bed. Our drive was horrific. There are two ways to get to Phoenix from where I live. My dad chose the wrong one. My dad and I resolved that it would be a good idea to take a quick nap before the game. The idea didn’t work so well. I was just much too anxious to sleep when I was just hours away from attending my first Major League Baseball game. Eventually, we forfeited the idea and decided to go the game a bit early.

When we got to Chase Field, we went up close and took some pictures, watching batting practice, etc. I even managed to get on the scoreboard! Unfortunately, the cameraman cut my dad out of the picture. Just prior to the first pitch, we headed up to our seats which were in possibly the best section in the entire stadium. Section 221, the All-You-Can-Eat section. With seats in this heavenly area, fans can consume unlimited amounts of hotdogs, chips, peanuts, popcorn, and soda.

Towards the end of the game, my dad decided to post a couple of pictures from the game on Facebook. By coincidence, a fellow ultra-runner, Chad, who follows my dad was also at the game. My dad thought it would be cool to go over and meet him. When we got over to his seats, he was so kind and offered me a game ball he had gotten during batting practice before the game. I was jumping up and down when he plopped the ball into my hand. It is now sitting in my room in a protective baseball case.

After meeting with Chad and his family, we watched the final few innings of the game and then headed back to the hotel. Diamondbacks ended up crushing the guests 8-1.

Back at home before we left for the trip. We wondered what we should do the entire day before the second game. We came to an agreement to take some tours. First we took at tour of Chase Field. The tour was amazing as we were allowed to go in the interview room, the press box, and even into the Diamondbacks dugout!

After a quick lunch break at Chipotle, we headed over to the University of Phoenix Stadium, home of the Arizona Cardinals. The stadium was huge, holding just under 75,000!

Something interesting we learned was that the field is always outside except on game days. We got to go into the locker rooms and onto where the field would be. The field is outside so it can get sunlight and then is rolled onto the field for games. Very clever engineering.

After a quick pit stop at McDonald’s, we made our way back to Chase Field for the final game of our stay. We took some tips from Chad and came right when the gates opened in an attempt to get a ball from batting practice and maybe an autograph or two. I patiently waited next to the Diamondbacks dugout hoping to get an autograph on my game ball while my dad sat in left field trying to obtain a ball. I got extremely lucky as Dbacks outfielder, Danny Dorn, decided to give a few autographs. I was one of the few who got his signature. After my dad waved the white flag, I continued waiting until less than 10 minutes before first pitch. The players had come out to stretch. This was the chance to get another autograph. As time ticked by, a few players strutted towards where I was standing. The first to grab my ball, arguably the second best Dback, David Peralta. I was amazed to have his autograph. BUT WAIT… then the enjoyment got even better. All-star first baseman, Paul Goldschmidt, took my ball. I can’t believe I got three signatures with one of them being from an all-star. The long wait had payed off in the end.

We then ventured to our front row seats along the third base line. We were so close to the action. This game ended up being much closer than the one the previous night. With it being 3-3 in the 9th, we prepped ourselves for extra innings. After the Rockies failed to score, the Diamondbacks had catcher, Wellington Castillo, on third base in the bottom of the tenth. With only one out, Cliff Pennington, hit a sac fly deep into left field bringing the winning run in. It was a very entertaining game. I thanked my dad for giving me such a great birthday present. It was a brutal ride home the next day, but it was all worth it to be able to see my first Major League Baseball game.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Jackson failed to mention that on the second night we each ate something unique to the Arizona Diamondbacks ball park: THE CHURRO DOG. This insulin-destroying gut bomb includes a churro inside a doughnut covered by frozen yogurt, chocolate, and caramel. Thank goodness they went with the healthier option of frozen yogurt instead of ice cream. Otherwise this would have been utterly indulgent and ridiculous. I believe the two goals of the Churro Dog are 1) To give you diabetes, and 2) Make you hate yourself.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

What I DON'T Want To Do After Running 100 Miles

You know your friends have issues when they finish running a 100 miler in Colorado, then, on the way back home to California and Vegas, email asking if you want to show them around a cool trail on their way through town.

This is NOT something I have any interest in after 100 milers. The day after a 100 miler you will find me curled up somewhere in fetal position sucking my thumb. My body hurts too much to even talk. I only communicate with my eyes. One blink = yes. Two blinks = no. Or something like that.

But then there is Colleen and Kristin. They are much crazier than me.

I decided to take them on the fairly mild and highly beautiful More Cowbell Trail.

I enjoyed hearing about their race experience over the previous few days.....and about how crappy their motel room was the night before.

I introduced them to the cowbell for whom the trail was named. I informed them of the importance of ringing the cowbell as they passed by. If you don't ring it, you anger the trail gods and the music of Justin Bieber will haunt your sleep every night. Which is pretty horrible. So just ring the bell.

As we were finishing up, the sun arose and it was time for me to go to work and time for them to get back in the car (ugh) and drive for many, many hours to get home. (Double ugh.)

I asked if they wanted to take a jumping picture even though they just finished running 100 miles. One blink.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

I Burned 17.6 Ice Cream Cones

17.6 ice cream cones.

My last long run before the Wasatch 100 was 17.6 ice cream cones long.

I ran 30 miles. If you burn around 100 calories per mile, that gives me 3,000 calories burned. And a McDonald's ice cream cone is 170 calories. So I burned 17.6 ice cream cones. I love McDonalds math.

I wanted to get in one last long run before the Wasatch 100 in 24 days. (I just threw up in my mouth when I typed "24 days".) So I headed out the front door as the last light of the day was disappearing.

Fast forward a few hours. Getting two McDonalds ice cream cones in the middle of a 30 mile run seemed like a good idea. I was hungry. And hello, ice cream is delicious. Unfortunately I failed to remember was that even at 11:00pm, it is still eight jillion degrees in southern Utah. So one moment I’m cheerfully double fisting ice cream. The next moment I’m covered in liquefied goo. My brilliant idea left me with sticky hands and a Mcstomach ache.

It was a unique experience to see a bustling world, cars everywhere, stores opened, to a world gone to sleep with no cars anywhere, to a world waking up, lights going on in houses, cars driving to work....all in the same run.

My run happened to be during the peak of the Perseid meteor shower. Many times I would turn off my head lamp and run down the road in the dark watching the sky above me. (Thankfully I turned on my head lamp again just in time to miss stepping on a dead rabbit that didn't make it across the road in time.)

A few times I sat down on the curb of the sidewalk and just watched the shooting stars. My friend Jeremiah Barber is an incredible photographer. You should check out his website HERE. He was out shooting on the same night as my run and shot this:

The other noteworthy run last week was a jaunt on the More Cowbell Trail on Saturday. I am deeply, madly in love with that plot of dirt in my backyard. You can't argue with views like this:

I seriously regretted sleeping in that morning. The late start meant that I felt like a chicken at KFC running through a rotisserie oven.

It was a good week of running. I felt a little better about my preparation for Wasatch after getting in that all night run. And I still owe my body another 15.6 ice cream cones.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Wasatch 100 in One Month - Am I Going To Die?

The Wasatch 100 is in less than a month. It is the hardest race I've ever entered. And after last weekend I've accepted the reality that the race might kill me.

On Saturday I had my very first experience running a section of the course. We ran Big Mountain to Elbow Fork (around 19 miles). I know those names mean nothing to you. They mean nothing to me too. I don't know anything about the logistics of the race. So when veterans start telling me about certain parts of the course I notice myself zoning out and thinking about how Kenny G gets his hair so curly.

What I CAN tell you is that the section we ran was really, really difficult. And pretty beautiful too.

I was joined by my good friends Jared and Catherine. For the life of me I truly can't understand why, but both of them are eager to pace me at the Wasatch 100. I think they must be wanting to see my inevitable brokenness and trail-side sobbing. Regardless of their reasons, I am infinitely appreciative of their willingness.

My sister Hollie also joined in on the run. This was her longest run in years and she tackled it like a champ. When people see my muscles they often mistake me for Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Jared has run the Wasatch 100 so I am putting our friendship in his hands with the expectation that he won't get me lost in the middle of the race.

The section we ran was really technical with a heavy dose of steep, relentless climbing. We only hit an occasional section that really felt runnable.

My favorite part of the trail was climbing to the top of a mountain and then having this beautiful single track weave us through aspens down to the bottom.

While on the trail we happened to come across our friends Mike and Francesco. I wanted to punch Mike right in the kisser when I asked how that section of the trail compared to the race course in general. He said "That section is probably a little easier." It took all the self control I possess to not unleash my inner Arnold Schwarzenegger. And Francesco, well, that guy has the cutest kid that has ever been spotted on a trail.

It was like an Altra family reunion out on the trail.

I admit, those 19 miles made me more excited for the race. It helps to get a taste of what I'm in for. Those 19 miles also made me really, really scared.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Tushar Sky Marathon Race Report - 2015

I told Catherine to let me know before she barfed. I wanted to make sure I had my camera ready. She was, in the same sentence, praising Matt Gunn for designing an extraordinarily beautiful race course, and cursing the existence of Matt Gunn for designing a course so difficult that it made her want to barf.

And so we begin the Tushar Marathon race report.

Matt Gunn is the hero...and torture mastermind behind Tushars and his slew of other Ultra Adventures races. When it comes to putting runners in stunningly beautiful places, there is no one better than Matt. I am so thankful for the friendship we have built over the years.

Everyone I talked to leading up to the race was nervous. The course was reported to be crazy difficult. Nerves go away the moment the race director gathers everyone up and says "Okay. Go."

I've run lots of races with my friends Clair and Catherine. It's a challenge to run the entire race with people because each person has highs and lows at different times. Maybe that's why we are such good friends. We've all seen the good, the bad, and the ugly in each other.

The race started off with a huge climb.....and just kept going up. So. Much. Up.

As we were going up a trail we came around a ridge and this incredible landscape opened up in front of us. Without a word each of us stopped running. It would be downright criminal to run past a view like this without stopping for a minute to appreciate it.

Around every turn wild flowers were enveloping the trails. Every mile took us through a kaleidoscope of colors.

After a couple hours of running I could tell that Clair wasn't feeling good. He had a hard time catching his breath and was worn out. He kept moving though.

After a while I'd turn around to see how he was doing and he'd be hunched over, feeling yucky, and trying to catch his breath. This is what a day of hard trails in thin air can do to you.

Clair looked like he was on the brink of meeting his maker. I started looking for places along the trail that would make a good burial plot. Because that's what friends are for. But he got a second life, a new burst of energy, and some fresh legs.....then proceeded to fly across the trails. Way to not die Clair!

I believe it was around mile 11 when we reached a trail that was so steep I was worried that if I stood up straight, I would tip over backwards and roll into a bloody mess at the bottom of the hill. Each step was a challenge. Catherine considered barfing. I had my camera ready just in case. Because that's what friends are for.

At some point along the way we were 12,000+ feet above sea level. Spoiler alert: there is NO oxygen up there. NONE. ZERO. It wasn't like trying to breathe through a straw. It was like trying to breathe through a toothpick. And you say "Cory, duh, you can't breathe through a toothpick." My point EXACTLY!

The lush green fields felt like we were running in Ireland. Not that I have even the slightest idea what it's like running in Ireland. Catherine was upset that the race director hadn't clarified that training for the race should be done in an unpressurized airplane.

As a photographer, I was in pure heaven. I'm perfectly happy to lay down on the dirt, rocks, and weeds (in the middle of a race might I add) to get the picture I want. I'm so happy with how this shot turned out.

The wild

Clair hit a low spot again. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if he heard angels around him telling him to move toward the light. Shortly after taking this picture he agreed to borrow some trekking poles from Catherine to get up the mountains.

After miles of climbing in 0% oxygen we reached the highest point of the course - Delano Peak.

Then out of nowhere Clair darted past us and cruised down the mountain. He caught another breath of life. He clearly has more lives than a cat. He even had my trekking poles with him. Catherine and I were convinced that we had just been played.

My friend Jared is a manly man and ran the 93k race. I regret not getting a picture with him. (I'll have plenty of other opportunities though because he graciously volunteered to pace me at Wasatch.) So my wife and Jared's wife were out on the course throughout the day shuttling crew and pacers. It was great to see Mel in the middle of a race. I am thankful for such a supportive wife.

The last ten miles were challenging, but much less difficult than the first sixteen miles. The views remained absolutely insane in the membrane. Insane in the brain.

The scariest part of the race for me was getting to this log we had to cross to get over a river. I'm about as coordinated as a filing cabinet and was convinced I was going to end up in the river. Somehow we all managed to stay dry.

Some friendly cows greeted us on the other side of the river. Oh, what they must have been thinking.

A quick shout-out for the gear I used during the race. I'm so thankful for the support, encouragement, and sweet shirt from St. George Running Center. As always I used Tailwind Nutrition for fuel, tested out the new UltrAspire Astral pack, and wore some Altra Lone Peak 2.5 shoes right out of the box that were awesome. The traction on the shoes was a lifesaver in this race. I snacked on a few Picky Bars and 2Toms SportShield for blister protection. Camera was a Panasonic Lumix. These last few aren't sponsors but their stuff is awesome.

Here is an indication of how challenging the course was - the marathon took us almost ten hours. I loved every single minute of those ten hours surrounded by jaw-dropping views and great friends.

They had something new at this race - a white board where they wrote people's sentiments as they crossed the finish line. Hilarious!

Thankfully my legs weren't yet destroyed so I headed back out on the course in hopes of meeting up with Jared to pace him to the finish. We didn't get together because he waived the white flag after a difficult 50 miles. I ended up getting in almost 40 miles for the day which helped build my confidence a little bit for the upcoming Wasatch 100.

If by chance you like any of the pictures in this race report, believe me when I say that the pictures don't do justice to just how amazing this area is. Tushars is destined to become a destination race. The torture master and beloved running hero Matt Gunn created a masterpiece of a race. While I was out alone on the trail, night quickly fell on the runners still out on the course. I sat down on a rock and admired the last fading light of the day. I tried to enjoy it the way I know Matt would want it enjoyed. Because that's what friends are for.

I put together a video clip with some more views from the race. You can check it out here: