Gain/Loss: 2018

Victories, challenges, lessons, and changes

It’s approaching two years since my last entry. Ten months passed between my summit and circumnavigation of Mount Rainer and the publishing of that mission’s story. It hasn’t been procrastination which has delayed my writing, but rather an eventful period which has kept me offline. That time has been an adventure full of highs, lows, and changes.

I’ve plotted points along that oscillating curve in two parts. This first begins just before the Rainier mission and ends on New Year’s Eve of 2018. The second part picks up in 2019 — a year full of major life changes. These entries are intended to be a personal journal made public for those who may be trying to gauge from others how often things go right and wrong.

July 4, 2018: Foot Traffic Flat Marathon on Sauvie Island

In my article titled “Overcoming”, I had written of my goal to run the Boston Marathon. While I had technically qualified for Boston despite a horrendous race at the BMO Vancouver Marathon, I needed a wider margin to actually make it through registration. I signed up for the Foot Traffic Flat Marathon on Sauvie Island on July 4.

After a successful period of recovery and training, I pulled off the ambitious Bull King’s 21 mission in late June. It was likely that a bad water draw on that run resulted in a crippling illness which left me weak and seven pounds below my desired weight. Symptoms ceased five days before the race. I worked hard to eat and train, recovering about half the weight by the time I toed the line.

Knowing I didn’t have the race I wanted in me, but needing to lower my qualifying time, I aimed for slowest sub-3 hour marathon I could manage. The course was rarely actually flat, but gently rolled along with the slightest climbs and descents. I ticked off 6:50 miles one after the other, waiting until the final mile to pick up the pace. The increased effort after such consistent running immediately put a cramp in my right hamstring. I managed to beat the cramp out of my leg quickly for a final mile at 6'23" pace and an official 2:59:21 finish. I took first in my age group, second in masters, and eleventh place overall without actually trying to compete. More importantly, my entry into Boston was guaranteed.

August 3–4, 2018: Avoiding Hectic at the Cascade Lakes Relay

In 2013, I joined my work’s Hood to Coast team. I had only been running for a few months and didn’t know much about van relays. While I had fun at the time, the idea of dedicating nearly two days of my life to three short runs and waiting in traffic had lost its allure as I took up ultra trail running. A few years later, I started running with NAC, when I had begun to outpace my usual running partners. NAC’s Bill Aronson shared my frustrations with van relays and put together the team, “6 Runners Avoiding Hectic”, for the Cascade Lakes Relay.

The term “avoid hectic” was spawned from a bad English translation at the Berlin Marathon in a recent prior year. The goal of the team was to avoid all of the pitfalls of van relays. Namely getting stuck in traffic at the major exchanges — where team members in one van pick up where the other has left off — and having a runner arrive at an exchange before their teammate due to the congestion. The team would have six runners in one van instead of twelve in two. Some runners would run two legs in a row to skip past major exchanges. The improved logistics worked. In 2017, 6RAH took third place overall — which was rare if not unprecedented at the event — and set the course record for an ultra team.

By 2018, I was sold on the idea and jumped at the opportunity to join. Five team members were NAC affiliates. We picked up our sixth member, Samantha, from the race’s terminus in Bend, Oregon. We stayed at her house the night before heading to Diamond Lake in the morning for a late start. Teams which estimate faster finishes start later. Leveraging my long distance trail experience, I volunteered to take up the most miles and run the only leg which has its own medal for completing it: Leg 2 — The Mount Thielsen Challenge. I would also run two consecutive legs to skip a major van exchange.

The entire team brought their A-game. Leg after leg, everyone was just on fire. The course was gorgeous, moving from forest into the high desert past Fort Rock, and back into the trees and mountains while providing a varied mix of terrain underfoot. We had a well-pressurized shower built into the van which we would use to cool down our teammates under the scorching August sun. Getting out to run more often made for a significantly more enjoyable experience than the usual twelve-person configuration.

The relay wasn’t without its setbacks. Towards the back half of the race, one of our runners, Filip, was injured and had to drop. We quickly reassigned legs to evenly distribute his miles across the remaining five runners. I had accidentally left my warm clothes in my car. The chill overnight prevented me from ever sleeping. My final run had turned into two legs to make up for our dropped runner. Bursitis began to swell in my hip. I pushed through for a solid performance, but could barely walk for days afterwards.

Filip rebounded and stepped in to run his last leg at a blistering pace. Our ringer, Aaron, tore through the final miles before meeting us to cross the finish line together. 6 Runners Avoiding Hectic once again took third overall against a stacked field of twelve-person teams, and lowered the course record to 24:56. My family met me in Bend for a short vacation afterwards. Unaware of how appropriate it would be at the time, my wife had a cake custom-made to celebrate the event.

September 15, 2018: Wy’knot? A DNF of my own design

Wildfires ripped through the US west in 2018. The Plain 100 course was not spared. The race was canceled. Scott Martin and I were both planning to run it again and didn’t want a summer of hard training to go to waste. We considered the new Teanaway 100, but didn’t have time to meet the trail work requirement. As Plain is an unsupported race, we opted to just run a 100-mile back-country route on our own. Christof Teuscher had recently issued the Wy’cool challenges and the 100-mile distance had yet to be completed. We planned to take it on.

Days before we were to set out, tragedy struck two miles from the route’s start. A woman was killed by a cougar on Hunchback Mountain. More than a third of the Wy’cool 100M route was closed to hunt down the offending animal. I hopped onto Gaia for some last-minute route planning. I started the route across the highway up the Zigzag Mountains, connected it to the top half of the Timberline Trail, then headed east into, for us, unexplored territory in the Badger Creek Wilderness. The course would head over Barlow Ridge to the Timberline Lodge, returning through Zigzag Canyon. The distance was close to 110 miles with about 25,000' elevation gain and loss.

Mimicking Plain, we started at 5am on race day. The Zigzag Mountain Trail breezed by. After a steady climb in the dark, we were treated to all the visual wonders of the ridge as the sun rose. Expansive views, high lakes, and the ever-growing Mount Hood. After a few steps on the Paradise Park Trail, we turned left to run the north half of the Timberline Trail.

We flew effortlessly down to and across the Sandy River, then through the crowds up to Ramona Falls. The climbing picked up again towards Bald Mountain. I opted to map the Wy’knot over the Top Spur cutoff to save half a mile and some vert from an already burly route. The long, steady ascent through Cairn Basin came easy. We were both feeling strong and making great time for what seemed like minimal effort. After we passed Elk Cove and hit the rolling, burned out, and somewhat technical section between Elk Cove and Cloud Cap, my feet began to feel sore.

We pushed on. Crossing the Eliot Branch was not the usual harrowing experience. The water was relatively low and we were able to rock hop through without missing a step. We climbed the scree out to Cloud Cap and left the Timberline to head towards Tilly Jane for a brief pause. I took off my shoes to empty them of sand and pebbles, only to discover why my feet were feeling sore — there were no insoles! I had washed my shoes recently and failed to put back the insoles. I put on the thick, winter socks I had brought for the forecast morning blizzard. They saved my feet.

The navigation east of Tilly Jane is tricky. We followed a cross-country ski trail away from the mountain, which in the summer is just a bushwhack following a ridge line. The trail emptied out at a service road for the Cooper Spur Mountain Resort. We took a moment to climb and play around on the unattended lifts. The route took us through the resort and out to the highway for a brief stretch before setting foot back on trail. To our surprise, we found ourselves in the midst of summer wedding. As we ran through, I shouted, “We made it!”, as if we were invited guests who’d opted to travel on foot through the bushes.

We followed Cooper Spur Road out to Highway 35, crossed, and ascended one of the route’s gnarliest climbs up Zigzag Trail (unaffiliated with Zigzag Mountain Trail) to Surveyors’ Ridge. The daylight began to fade as we entered an area entirely foreign to both of us. The scenery, climate, and even the texture of the trail underfoot bore an uncanny resemblance to much of the Plain 100+ course. The complicated, unmarked navigation had us feeling like we hadn’t missed Plain at all.

Our headlamps came on as we ran a brief road section before entering the Lookout Mountain area. The wind picked up and cool moisture appeared in the air. We were prepared for blizzard conditions and geared up accordingly, though prematurely. The forest provided cover and we shed layers fast. Every tree in the woods creaked as though it was about to snap against the gale force winds. The recent cougar attack had us on high alert. Every pair of eyes glowing in the dark brought undue stress as we exerted more energy than we should have making ourselves loud and frightening to potential predators.

I began to feel discomfort in my gut unlike anything I had felt before. The discomfort turned to pain. Like most things do on an ultra run, I assumed it would pass. We pressed on through a black night. Over Lookout Mountain. Then Gunsight Butte. And Bonney Butte. My mind was alert… knowing exactly where to find the scarce water sources I had committed to memory without having to check my map. My body was getting weird. We crossed the icy White River, removing our shoes and socks to prevent them from freezing our feet in the anticipated blizzard. By the time we had put them back on, I was done.

I had an awful pain coming from my lower left side. I could barely tolerate walking. I tried to tough it out. We decided to modify the route to take road 3530 to the Pacific Crest Trail, rather than make the climb over Barlow Butte. I still believed I would come back from it. We made it the PCT just before dawn. I stopped my watch. We began strategizing how to bail.

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My hero.

A woman showed up with her sled dogs and offered to give us a ride to Government Camp. I waited at the rest stop while Scott struck out on his hitchhiking premiere using a sign provided by an ODOT employee who insisted I was not allowed to sleep at the rest stop. Scott made it back to his car, picked me up, and I drove home humbled.

Two days later, I saw a doctor as the symptoms worsened. It turned out that I had had a somewhat severe bacterial infection. It was most likely underway well before the mission. I’ve improved my gut-health and related habits since, but I was doomed that day. We will return for our second attempt in the summer of 2020.

November 12, 2018: Wy’cool 50k FKT

The infection which lead to my Wy’knot? DNF was the beginning of a host of gut-related medical issues. Following a week of recovery, I began my training for CIM. After a solid month of nailing long workouts, I had a bout of diverticulitis which derailed my training. I barely ran for the following month.

Earlier in the year, Scott Martin and Taylor Spike set the Fastest Known Time for the 50k distance in the Wy’cool series. At the time, I thought I might be able to lower it. On a lark — and with a few extra pounds and weeks of atrophy — I decided that going after the FKT for a 50km route with roughly 10,000' elevation gain and loss on technical terrain would help reboot my training. Of course, I invited Scott along.

We met at the Hunchback Mountain Trailhead and waited until we could run without headlamps before starting. We carried almost nothing on us. We hammered the climb of thousands of feet up to Devil’s Peak. We flew past without taking in the scenery. It’s a stunning route, but that day was about speed. We sprinted down the Kinzel Lake Trail at a pace we didn’t think possible.

When we hit the Salmon River Trail, arguably the easiest part of the route, the cold and my lack of fitness caught up and I began to cramp. I punched out a hamstring cramp and limped back into my stride to make decent time. We only made one water refill stop near the Salmon River trailhead. We tore down the road and started the climb back up Hunchback Mountain via Green Canyon Way. I continued to experience cramping fits, but I just pushed through. We were flirting with a sub-6h finish, yet Scott, being the man that he is, waited for me when I slowed.

The technical descent down Hunchback Mountain and back to our cars wreaked havoc on my quads and hips. We made it to the parking lot with 6:07:57 elapsed. We had crushed the FKT by over an hour. Had Scott gone ahead of me, which I encouraged him to do, he likely would have made it in in under six hours. However, sharing the FKT and turning in that performance — despite everything which had worked against me in the month leading up to it— was exactly the kick I needed to get back on track.

December 2, 2018: California International Marathon

I signed up for CIM the day registration opened. My NAC teammates had sold me on the experience. The course yields about 600' of elevation gain and 1,000' of loss. It’s fast, but not “cheater fast”. It’s a runner’s race with a deep field. It was where I wanted to attempt to run a marathon at sub-6'00" pace. The recent health issues and sporadic training put that goal well out of reach. The trip was quick, cheap, and easy from the Portland, Oregon area, so I stuck with my plan to race.

I joined a large contingency of Portland and former-Portland runners; starting with dinner, on through the race, and in the celebration after. I bunked with my friend, Dr. David Harmon, in an Airbnb with way too much space for just the two of us. It was conveniently located next to a wonderful Mexican restaurant. Dinner, sleep, and the pre-race morning routine were spot on. I had made new friends, Paul and Lydia McRae, through a snafu where I would be arriving after I was able to pick up my registration packet and bib. Strangers to me, but friends of friends, had picked it up for me and handed it off as I boarded the bus to Folsom Dam.

I had set my goal at 2:50 with a stretch goal of 2:45. After a warmup in the frigid dawn air, I found my NAC and Six Runners Avoiding Hectic teammate, Ved Gund, who had a similar goal. The race began. I stuck with Ved. I was surprised at how easy it felt to stay under 6'20" pace. Mile after mile, I stayed well below my goal time. As each hill climbed, and as my calves would just begin to burn, it would crest and I’d be turning in closer to 6:10 miles on the downhills.

After seventeen miles, Ved began to pull away. I was slowing, but only slightly. I felt great, but my lack of training was taking its toll. I stayed focused and hydrated. By mile 20, I was over 6'30" pace, but I had put enough time in the bank to make my 2:50 goal. Then, with roughly three miles remaining, I felt hints of cramping and had to slow down to prevent a total seizure. I ran the rest of the race at about a 7'00" pace, missing my goal with a 2:50:49 official finish. It was still a PR.

The resulting statistics weren’t what I wanted, but I felt I had ran the race as well as could given the training and all which had lead up to it. It was just about the best race I could have turned in that day.

December 21, 2018: Sub-4 Wildwood

Every New Year’s Eve, scores of Portland, Oregon area runners take on the Wildwood Trail. It’s a 30.11 mile point-to-point trail with a little over 3,000' of elevation gain and loss—contained entirely within the city of Portland. I had dreamed of running the trail in under four hours, and if not for a couple long stops in 2017, I would have made it. I had trained well following CIM. So I decided to go for it with Chris Hardesty.

Bill Aronson and Holland Smith joined us for the first twenty-one miles of running on trail at sub-8'00" pace. Tom Skiles shuttled us up to the northern trailhead and joined for a medium-distance out-and-back. I had set a goal of 3:54 to give us a buffer. That goal time also made it easier to pace out five mile sections — the trail is lined with blue diamond markers every quarter mile — to whole numbers in minutes.

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The crew.

The first half breezed by. I carried one liter of water and had barely touched it when we skipped past our first water drop around mile 14. Bill and Holland hung on until mile 21. Chris and I continued without a pause as they wished us luck. My legs began to stiffen as we barrelled downhill towards Balch Creek, but they never fully cramped.

At the foot of the steep climb through mile 25, we had about six minutes in the bank. That was enough time to let us save our legs and power hike up to Pittock Mansion. The difference in time to the top hiking was negligible relative to a run effort, but the decision allowed our legs to recover. We bombed down the final four miles, with only occasional climbs, into the Vietnam Veterans of Oregon Memorial with 3:52:18 elapsed. And only 700ml of water consumed.

Calibrating Growth

The second half of 2018 was a year of calibration for me. It was about finding limits and feeling the pain of exceeding them. Rather than back away from a boundary, I’ve tried to do what I need to cross it successfully the next time I meet it. That is growth. Growth is one of the most fulfilling and worthy endeavors in life. But there is an art to finding just the right amount of pain to grow without knocking myself out of the sport and regressing.

Written by

Wilderness athlete, technologist, and family man.

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