Chapter I: Getting Back on the Horse
In spite of my deep familiarity with the race and the course, uncertainty defined my approach to this year’s Chuckanut 50k. The latter half of 2012 was a running disaster for me with two ignoble drops in 2 months time - drops that that more likely should have been DNS’s. Life in Missoula is fantastic, but I’ve been running in a new climate, with new folks (great folks who happen to be exceptional and even world class runners), with a new job, and on top of that, the last 4 months have been almost exclusively run on snow and ice. Hard to know what’s in the mind and body. I’ve also been investing considerable time and effort in strength training, logging two hard circuit sessions per week at the now infamous Momentum Athletic Training. One of the most thrilling aspects of running is entering the unknown. Most often that experience takes place during the 100-mile distance, but as I toed the line for this “mere” 50k, I had no idea what to expect.
I’ll spare you the typical race report drama as there really was none. I felt strong, steady and positive all day. Peeps go out way fast at this race and I rolled into aid station 1 in about 30th place. From there I just clipped along, never feeling too good or too bad, and worked my way up to about 15th by the last aid station. The final 10k was my strongest segment and I worked up to 12th, finishing in 4:06, a 3-min PR (first time I’ve negative split the Interurban Trail segments). This race just gets faster and faster! Huge congrats to David and Jodee and all the other runners who toed the line and had the courage to push themselves. Well done. A huge thanks to Krissy, her Ma and Pa, and the incredible crew of volunteers. This is a soup-to-nuts first class event, but more on that in Chapter II…
Great thanks to Patagonia (especially George and Mark) for supporting me for so many years. The best gear, made in the best possible way. Also thanks for PowerBar, UltrAspire, Rudy Project and Nuun. And no report would be complete without recognizing the enduring support of my most important sponsor, Maggie. Thank you!
Gear List: Patagonia Gamut Short Sleeve, Patagonia Strider-Pro Shorts, Patagonia Ultralight weight Merino anklet socks, Adidas Adios, Buff coolmax headband, UltrAspire Isomeric Handheld bottle.
Fuel: PowerBar Perform sports drink, PowerBar gel, grape Nuun, Base Amino, water.
Chapter II: The REAL Story of Chuckanut
Changing behavior is perhaps the most difficult thing we can do. If you doubt that, try changing your own and see how it goes. We are creatures of routine and get set in our ways. Regardless of your politics, belief or non-belief in climate science, or your religion, I’d hope we can all agree that trail races, though they present a wonderful opportunity to engage with nature, generate incredible amounts of waste. Trash. Many races have done a great job with recycling, composting, carbon off-sets and the like, but what Krissy has done with Chuckanut is currently beyond compare and deserves widespread recognition.
Again, changing behavior is difficult and often you have to force the change. At our UltrAspire retreat last year, Roch Horton floated the idea of improving the available options in portable cups - cups able to meet the mandatory gear requirements at races like UTMB. Bryce took the idea to the lab and came up with a fantastic solution, and Krissy decided the cup was so good that she could take the giant step of declaring Chuckanut, a race with 400 entrants, completely cupless.
Think about that…no cups at the start, no cups on the course, no cups at the finish, and most importantly, no cups in the trash! Carry this easy-to-carry cup and/or a water bottle, or you’re out of luck.
To keep the ethic consistent, Krissy also cut out coffee cups, plastic bowls, utensils and all such disposable supplies at the finish. A 50k, particularly one of the largest in the country, generates a lot of hungry folks. These folks tend to get grumpy when they can’t immediately get what they want - FOOD! And lots of it. Krissy had some great food, but you had to bring your own plate, bowl or mug to enjoy it. She gave fair warning and delivered on the promise/threat.
So if you were there, you did not see overflowing bins of garbage. You did not see volunteers struggling to keep up with that overflow. What you did see what runners changing their behavior. You want nourishment? Bring your own supplies. Behavior changed! That takes vision, commitment and guts and Krissy proved she has all three in spades. She put her race on the line for something she believes in and made a real impact. Let’s hope her leadership, innovation and courage can become a model for other race directors…and (dare-to-dream) policy makers as well.
Just back from 4 spectacular days in the Beartooth Mountains. I was lucky enough to be included in a Patagonia alpine design team retreat. Thought I am certainly not an expert skier, I do extensive testing of baselayers and shells that overlap significantly with the alpine line. Walker graciously extended the invitation and I jumped on it. So glad I did. Those mountains are spectacular!
We worked with Beartooth Powder Guides out of Cooke City, MT. Ben and Bo run a first-class operation and the center-piece of their offering is a beautiful high country cabin that the two of them hand-built last summer. It’s situated on an old mining claim within the Gallatin Wilderness and accessible only via human power.
Some wonderful times with fantastic people. I continue to be amazed and inspired by the dedication Patagonia has to making the best product. They are without a doubt “committed to the core.”
Check out some of the pics:
Woody Creek Cabin
Skinning up the Woody Creek drainage
Working up the ridge
Richard assessing the route
Refueling before the crux of the route
Randy, Evan and Walker ascending said crux…
Blowing like stink on the ridge…so we boot-packed.
Bo keeping us all in line
Best medicine for the caffeine DTs? Dawn patrol in the season’s first snow.
(Note: I started this post while sitting somewhere in the Narita Airport…then finished it today in Missoula)
I’m enjoying a brief gap in flurries of travel. I could catch up on work and writing and all that, but since the ups and downs of my last few days are consuming my thoughts, I figured I’d do some documenting.
This really should be two blog posts, so I will offer two separate reports of my experience with Japan and the Shinetsu 5 Mountains run.
Chapter 1: The Amazing Race No One Knows About
The Shinetsu 5 Mountains Race is a world-class event. The organization is spectacular and the attention to detail stunning. Hiroki and his crew, with a ton of support from Patagonia Japan and ART Sports, do an unbelievable job and offer a product that transcends any race I have done stateside. And very few have even heard of it! Patagonia has made a strong effort to change that, bringing Krissy over is 2010 and Jenn in 2011. Outside of that, however, few if any Westerners have any clue it exists.
But in the white-hot world of Japanese trail running it’s a big deal, with an emphasis on deal. For a mere $180 entry fee, runners get 3 exceptionally catered meals, a flawlessly marked course with 1 or more volunteer course marshals ON EVERY TURN, 8 well-run aid stations, drop bag service, transfers between start and finish and award ceremony locations, and a reasonable helping of race swag. Consider that value in the context of prices charged for US races. Makes you wonder a bit. There are even tents with chairs for the spectators at every aid station!
The course – at least the parts I managed to see – is beautiful. The mountains in and around Nagano are rugged, lush and surprisingly remote. It’s quite challenging and travels a winding path through the various peaks – mostly ski areas – in the Nagano region. It is a good mix of technical ups and downs, roots and rocks, flats, exposed, shaded, remote and developed: 110k and 4,000 meters of climbing. It always fascinating to think about how a trail system’s layout can reflect the agricultural and industrial development of a culture and this course offered plenty of that – rice paddies and terraces, remote shrines, train tracks, river dams, ancient irrigation systems, roads…you name it. Some really interesting stuff to look at and think about.
What makes this event truly special, however, is the people. The runners, the race staff, and the volunteers share an inspiring passion for the outdoors, running, and this race. Everyone I encountered was incredibly kind, welcoming, and enthusiastic. I would 100% recommend the event to any runner. It’s got support, hoopla and prize money for the elites, as well as a top-notch experience and value for everyone else…. and it’s a fantastic way to experience a wonderful culture in an active, adventurous manner. Go check it out…I can’t wait to go back myself and have a better day…
Chapter 2: Lost in Translation
Well that’s a pretty cliché title, but it fits. When Josh and Fuji approached me in early July about participating in the Shinetsu 5 Mountains race - Hiroki’s race - I jumped at the opportunity. The chance to represent Patagonia, compete in a foreign country and experience a new culture was a no-brainer. A no-brainer, that is, when evaluated in isolation. But if there is one thing I’ve learned this year, it’s that no action or decision can be considered in isolation. Life is a complex system of interconnected decisions, actions, consequence and chance. In my younger days, this system was easier to manage, but as the equation of life has swelled to include an increasing number of variables, solving it has grown difficult. And to exacerbate this reality, the system’s capacity to endure strain seems to diminish with age as well. This isn’t just some verbose way of saying “I feel old;” It’s more of an admission, or confession really, that I’m coming to grips with my own limits.
I should have seen this season coming a mile away. The load of life stress was building steadily through 2011 and erupted over the winter. In the span of 6 months, we made the decision to move to Montana, welcomed the arrival of Charlotte, lost Maggie’s father, lost McMahon, engaged in two real estate transactions and defended a dissertation. A chance solid run at Chuckanut, perhaps fueled by the stress, tricked me into thinking I was gaining fitness. Then a win and CR at the podunk Squak Mt 50 reinforced this myth. What I should have listened to, however, was my own thoughts during the last 10 miles of the Sun Mountain 50. Running in second place, on PR pace, I felt empty. Apathy. That’s a shitty (and for me quite rare) feeling and it should have told me something.
At that point, I should have bailed on Angeles Crest. Instead, I not only persisted, but doubled down by making a half-assed attempt to attend Scott’s and Jenny’s wedding. AC was a junk show at the expense of both family and friends.
We moved to Missoula the weekend after AC. In many ways it felt like a system reset. We have a great spot in a super town and I love my new faculty position at UM. All great stuff. But I have not felt strong since moving to MT. I tried to fake my way through a couple of long runs with Seth, but I was struggling. 20 mile training runs should not feel like 50-mile races.
Then the wildfires came and with them, the smoke. Since 9/1 the air quality in Missoula has been marginal to unhealthy. All of us have felt sick…sore throat, burning eyes, and nausea after runs. And yet I persisted…running in the smoke like an idiot.
As the Japan trip approached, we decided to get Maggie and the girls (Ainslie 2.5 and Charlotte 9 mos.) out of the smoke. So instead of flying to Seattle, I drove the family over the day before flying to Narita. I rationalized that the 8 hours in the car were worth the benefit of a night’s sleep in cleaner air. Kind of like a couple of nights in the high altitude of Boulder would help me at AC. Kind of like the logic of an addict, really.
The flight to Japan was what it was. No way around that. The bigmistake was arriving the day before the race, but how else could I fit everything in? The life equation does not include variables for leisure time, adaptation or even rest. I played some mental tricks to get excited for the run. Easy to do with all the great organization and fanfare around the event. But once I was alone in the woods, the truth emerged. I was tired to the core. 10 miles of running felt like 50 and after 20 miles I was staggering as if I had run 80. Not normal. I tried to rally, but the tank was empty. After 30 miles, all systems were failing – legs seizing, back locking up, and guts exploding. Then I stopped, and in a similar fashion as my drop at AC, I didn’t even have the mental energy to get pissed about it. This is not a great place to be…
And so began the long process of unraveling the trip – 7 hours in the car back to Kamakura, a few trains to Narita, the long, sleepless flight to Seattle, a quick lunch with Maggie and the girls, and finally, the drive home to Missoula so I could teach the next day. (Note that it was just lunch with the family…with the poor air persisting, we decided to keep them in Seattle). It’s been a week and I am now finally starting to dig out of the hole.
So it’s time to reset and find equilibrium again. I’ll find it, but I suspect it will take some time and some looking…
It was truly an honor to be given the opportunity to try the Shinetsu 5-Mountains. My sincere thanks to Patagonia, Patagonia Japan, particularly Hoshi, Jiro, Taka, Seiji, Kenji, and Fuji, my family and my new employer for enabling and supporting this crazy trip. I greatly appreciate it.
Nana Korobi - ya oki: Fall seven times, get up eight.
Quick update here…I made it to Japan for the Shinetsu 5 Mountains Race. With the fire smoke in Missoula getting worse, we loaded up the family and drove to Seattle on Wednesday after class. After a nice evening with family and morning jog with Maggie (our first jog together without the kids in over 2 years!), I hopped a 1:00 PM flight to Narita (Tokyo) on Thursday, arriving at 3:00 PM Friday. 6 more hours, 3 trains and a wild car ride later delivered me to the race site quite ready for some sleep. Fortunately, the hotel obliged and a logged a solid 9 hours. I work up feeling great, zipped off a few emails and was reminded by Jakki that chasing two little girls around has perhaps inoculated me from sleep deprivation….who knows? We’ll test that theory tomorrow!
I’m enjoying a nice, relaxing day today, getting myself organized for tomorrow. A field of 800 runners is registered and it clearly feels like a big deal. No idea what to expect, other than 110ks of running. Feeling good and ready to go!
The website is all in Japanese, but opening it with Google Chrome and using the translator function is helpful…have a look if you’re interested.
Short story: This past weekend I tried to do to things - Jerker’s and jLu’s wedding and the Angeles Crest 100 - and I did both of them poorly. I didn’t fully engage in the wedding of two great friends and AC was a complete bust.
Longer story: I should have seen this coming. Life has been thick these last few months: the loss of Maggie’s father, McMahon’s death, finishing up and defending the dissertation, travel, illness, real estate transactions, move prep…not to mention keeping up with Ainslie and Charlotte. The wrong time to attempt a 100, yet I somehow thought I could thread the needle. Truth be told, I probably didn’t think I could do it and that ended up being the problem. 100-milers will find your weakness and while my body was strong, perhaps as strong as ever, my mind was tired and weak. When it came time to crowd all else out and zero the the focus, I was not up to the challenge and was left shattered and uninterested in suffering any further.
Sure, I probably could have stumbled through the night to eek out a finish, but that would have left me completely shattered. We are moving this week and prospect of being a crappy husband and father for my family was not an option. The choice to drop was not really a choice at all. The choice to start, however, is the one I regret. I did not respect the distance, my limits, and my own family and that is the part the hurts.
So the focus is now squarely where it should be - Maggie, Ainslie, Charlotte, Piper, Montana, UM and setting the stage for a successful new phase of life.
I’ll run and race again, but not until there is ample space.
Great thanks to George and Matt for enthusiastically supporting my exploration of futility and of course to Maggie, for being there when I got home.
Perhaps it’s a function of the endless winter weather here in Seattle. Every year I somehow arrive at July 4th wondering what happened to the Spring. It still feels like March outside…
This year the Spring has been particularly blurry. Lots going on, mostly good, but keeping this blog, let along my own consciousness, up to date has fallen by the wayside.
So let’s review:
April 21-28: Family reconnaisance trip to Missoula. With the help of the grandparents to watch the girls, we were able to look at many neighborhoods and houses. Found a great place in the Rattlesnake area. Ran with Mike Foote and Seth Swanson and was hugely impressed by the immediate access to great trail. 6 trail runs over the week without the use of a car!
May 3: Dissertation defense. Maggie surprised me by organizing a great group of friends to attend the presentation and post-func. The support of friends was quite touching, though it did seem to distract me a bit during my presentation. In the end, I passed and my dissertation was accepted for final submission.
May 20: Sun Mt 50-Miler. Great weekend in Mazama with the Hugnuts. I had a solid run, placing second behind Seth. I stuck with him for about the first 10 miles, then he surged and I knew his pace was above my level. I ran steady and felt pretty strong, but I did suffer some mental fatigue late in the race. The brain is a bit tired…
May 23-25: Patagonia Off-Site in Bend. Great conversations with all the key players. The product is really taking off and it’s exciting to be a part of that. Great run along the Deschutes River Trail with the full group and a tour of Smith Rock with Bronco. Excellent to get some trail time with him during his final build up to SD100 (which he smashed!).
May 26-28: Jurek Bachelor Party in Las Vegas. Solid group and a good time. Got to check out Mt Charleston, an incredibly impressive 12,000 peak just outside of LV. Super cool 17 mile loop that definitely ranks among my all time highlights. Evening activities were appropriately inappropriate.
May 30-31: Patagonia video shoot in Olympic National Park with Bryan and Tim from Reel Water Productions. Really fun project and I think the final product spots will be quite compelling. I went into this starting to feel a bit under the weather, and by the time I got home, I was sicker than sick.
That sickness set me back big time. I spend several days in bed, unable to do much of anything. Worst illness since mono back in high school. It wasn’t until late June that I finally felt close to normal.
June 9th: Graduation…great to have family in town to share in this milestone. It was a big one.
June 23: Crew and pace Krissy at Western. An historic day at WS and Krissy was right in the middle of it. After a sluggish start, she got stronger and stronger all day and her last mile was no doubt her fastest. I was along from Green Gate to the finish and it was a blast…steadily moving up the field and passing both Nikki Kimball and Lizzy Hawker in the last 5 miles. Inspiring effort!
June 27: Closed on the sale of our house in Seattle.
July 2: Closed on the purchase of our new place in Missoula.
Maggie is now done with work, the move is staged, and our focus shifts to starting our next phase of life in Missoula. We are very excited. But before we skip town on 7/30, there is the not so small matter of the Angeles Crest 100 on 7/21. Stoked to be going back this monument.
There is a void in our home. It’s most salient in the early morning when Piper nags to be fed. Before Charlotte and Ainslie and Piper, McMahon was my wake call. His raspy and incessant howl would give way to an equally powerful purr the moment wet food touched his bowl. Nourishing that little guy every morning was such a routinized component of my existence that suddenly not doing it feels awkward and wrong.
McMahon died on Saturday. He stopped eating on Wednesday and by Friday it was clear he was in a bad way. Listless, finding odd places to lie, sullen, not himself. The vet ran a bunch of tests on Friday and signaled her deep concern. Concern laced with hope, however. By Saturday morning the sedation was supposed to have worn off, but he still seemed under. Disturbingly weak. His refusal to eat continued in spite of an appetite stimulant and a heartbreaking variety of options placed before him. As Saturday evening gave way to night, I started to imagine Ainslie - the first to rise in our home - waking up to an unbearable scene. He began to howl a howl like nothing I’ve ever heard; he was telling us to take action. Jeanine arrived to take care of the children. Erik and Britt to tend to Piper. We loaded McMahon and headed to the emergency vet. 5 minutes after we arrived, he was gone.
In 1998, McMahon turned me and Maggie into a family. He was unique from the start, a lone tabby in a Siamese litter. From the Novato Humane Society, he came home to our 300 square foot apartment in Mill Valley. In the years since he would visit 22 states and live in 10 different places. He remained remarkably flexible, adapting to Piper, then Ainslie and then Charlotte. He wasn’t always nice about it - truth be told, many would consider him downright mean, perhaps even evil - but he loved us and let us know at just the right times. For 14 years he was a constant in the chaotic and wonderful equation that is my life with Maggie.
His death has been hard on all of us, harder than I expected. Too much loss. Explaining death to a 2 year old is no fun at all. In the last 4 months Ainslie has lost her Opa, her wonderful neighbor Jim, and now McMahon. It feels like too much because it is.
Thank you McMahon. Thank you for teaching us how to care for something other than ourselves and each other. Thank you for making us laugh, holding us accountable, letting us know who’s in charge, and showing us what persistence and stubbornness really is. You were one of a kind. We love you and miss you.