2014 Cedro Peak 45

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Tijeras, NM
April 12, 2014
6:59:37, 45 miles
1st (out of 42)

Start in the DarkCTS AthletesA Rose Between ThornsFull Durango Mob

 

Three hours from the nearest interstate and situated amidst a playground of mountains, mesas, canyons and hills, it takes a worthy cause to venture away from Durango, Colorado in our beloved corner of southwest Colorado. April, as it turns out, provides just the excuse: mud and ice that keeps us Durangotans from enjoying our favorite high country trails. The escape? Go south!

So south to the desert we went. Last Friday a record fourteen Durango ultrarunners arrived in Albuquerque to take on the third annual Cedro Peak Ultramarathon. The event offers two distances: a 45 kilometer out-and-back and (for the gritty) a 45 mile “lollipop” on often technical single-track through rolling pinion and juniper. The latter features around 5,600 feet of climbing, a memorable stretch of power line, two summits of Cedro Peak, and a net uphill second half, all aspects making the Cedro Peak 45 tougher than one might first suspect.

After a 6:00am start, we ran the first few miles by headlamp before twilight enabled us to discard them at the first aid station. I quickly found myself out front with my good friend Jeremy Duncan (of Carbondale) and we chatted, sharing plans and dreams for the coming summer. Around mile five he paused for a pit stop and I never saw him again. What followed was a long, peaceful run in near solitude through the New Mexico desert, a chance to put forth a steady effort and iron out the early season kinks in my hydration and nutrition.

I first ran Cedro Peak two years ago in similar conditions finishing third in about 7 hours and 21 minutes. Hence, this would be a reasonable gauge of my fitness having spent five winter months since October focused on ski mountaineering (“skimo”) and only the last five weeks on running. Fortunately the transition has gone well. I managed to hammer the final five miles for a sub-7 finish and chalk up my second consecutive win (the last being at the Canyon de Chelly 55K six months ago).

The day, however, was not without imperfections: persistent cramping in my hip flexors, glutes and IT bands (perhaps not being sufficiently heat acclimated), tight laces pinching my right forefoot, and an early wrong turn resulting in some bonus mileage. That said, five years of ultrarunning have taught me patience. Perfection is illusive and mistakes will be made. How we handle and adapt to them determines our mastery of the ultramarathon distance. This race sets me up well for my spring focus: the Miwok 100K in San Francisco, just three weeks distant.

What I’m most excited for are the thirteen other Durangoans who ran commendable performances at the Cedro Peak Ultra: Brett and Missy, Jenn, Braz, Ben and Zoe, Drew, Erica, Ernie, Leah, Scott, Katherine, Steve and Martha. I never thought I’d get to share a race experience with so many hometown friends.

Does it indicate a movement? Is Durango the next ultimate trail town? Maybe so, but one thing is certain: I have a mob with whom to scheme up incredible routes and adventures through the San Juan Mountains this summer, and what could be better than that?!

 

2014 Grand Canyon Boucher-Tonto-Bright Angel

posted in: Non-Race Reports | 0

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
March 22, 2014
9:00:02, 37 miles

Canyon Shenanigans (Credit: MK Thompson)Boucher TrailThe Grand Canyon at SunriseBoucher TrailInner GorgeGnarled WoodGrand Canyon at SunriseHermit Creek Water StopYuccaHermit Creek

For some of us Durango runners, the five hour drive to the Grand Canyon has become a biannual pilgrimage of sorts. It’s the perfect shoulder season escape when our hometown trails are thick with springtime mud, or when the alpine sees its first autumn snow, enough to make running unpleasant but not enough to ski on. These occasions tend to coincide with the time change (late March and early November) and typically ideal weather at the canyon—not too hot, not to cold.

Last month when Leah proposed yet another trip to the big ditch, I couldn’t refuse. Even after four visits in two years, the mighty gorge mesmerizes me each and every time. So eight of us divided ourselves and our gear between two vehicles and departed on a Friday afternoon, arriving at the rim-side Mather Campground shortly before sunset.

Nowadays it’s almost assumed that a troupe of motley ultrarunners bound for the Grand Canyon has intentions to run from “Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim”, but in fear of developing apathy the iconic route by running it for the fifth consecutive time, I vowed to seek out something new. Thus I consulted a map and discovered that the canyon has more to offer. Much more.

4.5 million tourists flock to the Grand Canyon each year, but only 1% of them bother moseying below the rim. And I’d wager that only a small fraction of those intrepid souls stray from the heavily trodden arteries: the Bright Angel and Kaibab Trails. Most have no knowledge of the alternate (albeit more primitive) routes linking the South Rim to the Colorado River, trails with names like South Bass, Boucher, Hermit, Grandview, Tanner and New Hance.

So Paul (my housemate and running partner for the day) and I selected the Boucher Trail (pronounced “boo-shay”) with plans to link up to the Tonto Trail and follow it upstream until we reached the Bright Angel Trail, which we would ultimately climb back to the South Rim, thus closing the thirty-something mile loop. The next morning we rode the rim shuttle to Hermit’s Rest where we embarked at sunrise on our journey.

Boucher rarely sees travelers, a fact that is immediately evident in the indistinct path as it twists, rolls, meanders and drops over loose rock through red, yellow and white cliffs. One must possess intense focus to avoid kicking a prickly pear, gouging his eyes out with a low-hanging pinyon branch or spearing his thigh with a sharp yucca. The narrow path does not support mule traffic meaning runners enjoy a more technical, rugged route without choking on clouds of dust and mule piss. Finally, Boucher is remote. In the first five hours we encountered not a soul, just curious ravens, skittish lizards and various florae in progressing stages of spring.

Our plunge down the Boucher took nearly two hours before it tied into the Tonto, a trail running the length of the canyon upon the Tonto shelf situated a good thousand feet above the river. Again the trail is faint, snaking in and out of sub-canyons with limited protection from the midday sun and few opportunities to fill water. Our first such opportunity came at Hermit Creek, about 14 miles in. There we spent several minutes in the shade dousing our limbs in the creek and fumbling our attempts to purify drinking water with a “Steripen” (I guess we should’ve done our homework). Ultimately we gave up and drank the damn stuff anyway.

From there, we opted for the two mile jaunt down Hermit Creek to the Colorado River while we still felt relatively fresh. The river roars through the gorge with incredible force, an emerald green cascade contrasted against a dry, desolate environment, inspiring awe in anyone who spends a moment at its edge. Just upstream of the rapid we removed our shoes, took a quick dip in the icy waters, then returned up the creek to the Tonto shelf and resumed our original route.

For the next fifteen miles we followed the Tonto upstream, exchanging few words as our minds wandered the vast landscape, liberated from the stress of routine back home, and enjoying the simplest, purest form of mental therapy—the kind of therapy that money can’t buy. As the afternoon hours slipped by, so did the miles, and though my bottles ran dry, it didn’t seem to matter. I felt at peace, harmonized with my surroundings.

The sudden company of hikers as we approached Indian Gardens shook me from my reverie and reeled me back into reality. Here, the Tonto intersects the Bright Angel trail before proceeding another 56 miles east to the Little Colorado River. Though my heart longed to venture further, we had only budgeted enough food and daylight to bring us this far. From here, we would grind out the final five mile climb back to the South Rim, sacrificing the solitude we’d enjoyed up to this point. Now we would have to share the trail.

Nine hours and 40 miles from our departure, we returned to the rim satisfied, humbled, renewed and fulfilled. Completing the Boucher-Tonto-Bright Angel loop prompted me to ponder the plethora of route possibilities the canyon provides. I now know the objective for my next five trips to the Grand Canyon: explore the paths less traveled.

2013 Grand Canyon R2R2R #4

posted in: Non-Race Reports | 2

2013 Grand Canyon R2R2R #4
October 26, 2013 — Grand Canyon NP, AZ
7:43:13 — 44 miles

R2R2R FuelTrusty ShoesSouth Rim Sunset

This past weekend I returned to the Grand Canyon for what has become for me a routine pilgrimage. Though this marked my fourth visit in twenty-four months, the canyon never fails to blow my mind and humble my ego. During my recent trek through the Alps, many Europeans asked me how to see a land as vast as America, and always I’d reply, “Start at the Grand Canyon; there’s simply nothing else like it in the world.”

I first made the trip two years ago—November 2011—as part of an impromptu journey of fools yearning for adventure, an adventure we lived in the form of a freak snowstorm on the South Rim and witnessing Dakota Jones set the fastest known time for running from rim-to-rim-to-rim (a record that has since been broken). With each return, the canyon presents a new challenge: snow, scorching heat, thick wildfire smoke. On this fourth trip, however, I’d create the challenge myself: I’d run the 45-mile route alone, driven purely by my own will, and see just how fast I could complete it. I’d run it “balls out,” as they say.

~~

Saturday morning I stepped from the rim shuttle and, without hesitation, plunged into the Grand Canyon at first light, following the South Kaibab trail toward the Colorado River. I had split times in mind, but my strategy would remain simple: push hard all day. Having always been a conservative runner I tend to “stay within myself” for fear of an epic blowup, but in five years since my first ultramarathon I’ve learned lessons in pacing, fueling, responding to various feedback from my body and transcending self-imposed limits. Why not test myself? Despite less-than-fresh legs and a forecast for afternoon heat, I’d channel my inner Dakota Jones and fly across the canyon and back with laser focus.

I reached the river in fifty-eight minutes then proceeded north. Seventy minutes later I reached Cottonwood Campground (mile 14), took some salt to keep the aches at bay, then grinded out the climb to the North Rim arriving in 3:45, fifteen minutes ahead of schedule. Without looking up I stuffed 200 calories in my mouth, reversed directions and began my return to the river. The descent grew warm (as per usual) and I passed dozens of oncoming runners bound for the North Rim. I almost felt guilty ignoring all the stunning vistas, but I was an automaton, a perpetual motion machine.

The last few miles to the river hurt, but I forced the distraction from my mind. Focus!  I nearly cheered when I reached Phantom Ranch, but instead kept my emotions in check. Focus! I filled my bottle, drank it down, then filled it again before proceeding. A two-hour, 5500 foot climb through sizzling heat is a long way to go with just a single 20-ounce handheld (a gamble my former, cautious self never would’ve risked), thus taking care of myself had become key. Previously I’ve lacked patience for such self-maintenance, often deteriorating from the effects of poor hydration, caloric and electrolytic intake. But several hundred-mile efforts later I am wiser and more attune to the consequence of neglect.

I climbed through layers of white and red, the sun reflecting from the rocks roasting me like some sort of solar oven. I refused to let it phase me. Focus! Two hours in the pain cave is nothing compared to discomfort I’ve endured at Bighorn and UTMB. It’s all relative. The last few wiggles of South Kaibab came into view and I glanced at my watch. I’m going to finish before 3:00 pm. Rad. I pushed the final stretch and finished just 7 hours and 43 minutes after I’d begun—more than two hours faster than any of my previous attempts.

~~

I’ve had a significant 2013 season. It began with a surprisingly strong fourth place finish (and 40 minute PR) at the Moab Red Hot 55K in February. I then committed to speed-based training which led me to a huge PR of 2:34 at the Eugene Marathon in April. Despite getting dehydrated, hypothermic and lost at the Jemez 50 and Bighorn 100 in May and June, I finished both races learning valuable lessons from each. August took me to France where I placed fourth American at the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc, then returned home and won the inaugural Canyon de Chelly 55K in early October. Finally, this: my Grand Canyon PR.

Running for the Pearl Izumi Ultra Team this year has been an enormous privilege. The E-Motion shoes rock and keep me injury-free, and the apparel is comfortable as heck (I love those Ultra Shorts!), but most importantly the team has introduced me to many tough, talented, inspiring individuals. Their feats put mine in perspective, but provide peace of mind knowing that there are rewarding returns on this crazy investment of time and energy known as ultrarunning. I don’t second-guess myself as much anymore.

So what now? My running season is wrapping up and, as snow falls in the San Juans, I’m letting go of my urge to run hard day after day. Time to give my body the rest it deserves. Having dealt with two rounds of serious iron-deficiency anemia, I know the consequences of overdoing it, a crime nearly every ultrarunner is or has been guilty of. This winter I’ll ski, and I plan to do it with the same enthusiasm I have for running. I’ll broaden my skills, meet new people and challenge myself to grow proficient at a different endeavor. My randonee racing schedule will stretch into March, then I’ll return to running trails with a fresh mind and body, and exciting goals and adventures on my mind.

The Grand Canyon is a bucket list run for many (and rightfully so!), but for me it has become a benchmark. I can visualize myself on that first trip standing amidst swirling snow on the South Rim, eyes wide, freaked out. Never would I have imagined that, in two years’ time, I’d return to rip over the same route so systematically. I’m no master but I’ve come a long way, and that’s encouraging. I can strategize and I can respond intuitively. I can regulate and I can maintain. I can suffer and I can focus. Maybe someday I’ll truly find my limits?

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