The Ultra Experience

Here's to the adventures of my life which are usually ultra marathon trail running or backpacking but may include other trips, experiences, thoughts, opinions, or pretty much whatever I want. As co-founder of Altra Footwear my life and adventures seemingly revolve more around developing and promoting the best footwear in the world...and I love it!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

UTMB 2015

2015 marks the 10th anniversary for my ultra running career.  I ran my first ultra as a 23 year old clueless young inexperienced runner.  Since that time I’ve completed over 50 ultra trail races, managed 2 running/outdoor shops, graduated college, started a shoe company (Altra), had 3 kids, and moved 8 times.  It’s been a wild ride!  I’ve also closely followed the expansion of the ultra community that I have grown to love.  Over that time, it became clear to me that despite my experiences there was one race that had established itself as the premier ultra event in the world, the Ultra Trail du Mt Blanc. 

UTMB is a 105 mile race boasting nearly 34,000 ft of vertical climbing and an equal amount of decent starting and ending in Chamonix France.  During its circumnavigation of Mt Blanc it traverses through glacially carved valleys, up and over mountains, traverses exposed ridgelines, and generally takes you through a mountain running paradise.  The aid stations are made up of remote outposts, ski lodges, and small cobblestoned Alp villages in France, Italy, and Switzerland.  In its 13th year, the three country journey now has over 2,600 starters from an astounding 87 countries!

  Despite running several difficult 100 milers over the years including Wasatch 100, Ultra Trail Mt Fuji, Bear 100, and Cascade Crest 100, I was still rightfully intimidated.  My summer was filled with running more of a growing business than mountain running but I found a healthy balance.  I made sure I had plenty of time for my highest priority- family.  My wife and youngest daughter even got to tag along to France!  I was ready and excited to tackle this monumental challenge!
  Race week came quickly and was filled with press conferences, expo working, and athlete meetings.  Altra is picking up steam in Europe and we were well represented during the expo.  We worked with Polartec to launch our “Better than Waterproof” Lone PeakNeoshell at the event to much acclaim!  I rested when I could but business called.  Soon it was time to take care of business from the running end and by 5:30 pm August 27th I was in the town square with 2,600 other runners ready to tackle this epic event.  I made a tactical decision to start in the back.  I wanted to start slow and feel good through the race.  The race festivities were unparalleled with an estimated 70,000 people cheering us on, music blaring, and bells ringing.  
  At 6pm sharp, the gun went off.  I waited…and waited…and finally I took my first step!  It took me 5 minutes just to get to the starting line!  With the throngs of people the race funneled quickly but the feeling was electric.  Within a mile the race widened and I was able to start passing people.  I was slow and methodical but the first 20 miles went quickly.  I even ran a few miles with local friend Kendall Wimmer!  Soon the headlamp was turned on and the first night began.
The string of headlamps extended as far as the eye could see both in front and behind me.  It added such depth seeing where we had to go and how far you’d come.  Having a full moon only added to the beauty!  The mountains, and particularly the glaciers, where illuminated beyond belief.  The miles quickly flew by and before I would have imagined the first glimmer of light shown in the east.  I was so happy and it sparked what would become the greatest 10 hours of running I’d ever experienced!
The decent into Lac Combal will never be forgotten nor would the sunrise at Arete du Mont Favre.  I stopped there for 5 minutes just soaking in the moment.  In my wildest dreams I’m not sure I could have created a more beautiful place or perfectly timed moment
  The decent into Courmayeur was long but being on such a runners high I backed off trying not to get more of an adrenaline rush.  I floated down and did a full analysis of my situation.  The Courmayeuar aid station (Mile 48) was full of chaos, people, drop bags, and….my crew!  Frank, Altra’s European Manager, and Colleen, ICON’s PR Director, were there to help me get through efficiently.  I was about an hour slower getting there then I wanted but I wasn’t worried, as I felt great with no issues.  Having started at the back of the pack cost me that hour but I was ready to push on.  New clothes, food, and optimism followed me out the door!
Temperatures were beginning to rise into what would become the hottest UTMB on record.  I climbed strongly out of Courmayeur knowing that I was only half way.  I LOVED the section of trail from Refuge Bertone to Refuge Bonati.  The views and trail were spectacular.  I felt strong.  I had a rag, which I dipped in every stream possible, soaking my body in cold water.  This section was exposed and becoming hot but I moved well and soon was descending into Arnuva
Once at Arnuva (Mile 59) I didn’t want to eat anything.  After 10 hours of the best running I’d ever had, the heat and distance were catching up.  I now had to tackle the biggest climb on the course in the heat without much to eat.  I forced fed myself what I could and started the climb to Grand Col Ferret.  I struggled.  I was hoping the decent was better but it didn’t help much.  I was still moving but I was so hot and couldn’t eat much. 
  It finally started to cool off and entering Champex-Lac I was relieved.  My crew AND my wife were there.  I had struggled for the last several hours and I needed help.  They quickly began force feeding me...and my stomach didn’t rebel!  I also got a massage for 20 minutes on my quads while letting the food settle.  I switched into the new Olympus 2 shoe, put on a dry shirt and left feeling totally refreshed!
I was originally worried about the second night but I was feeling back like myself.  I knew I had 3 stout climbs and descents of this last 30 miles.  I found a grove and began pushing.  I felt like I was picking up steam!  I clicked through Trient quickly and flew down into Vallorcine!  I couldn’t believe how good I was feeling!  I got a little drowsy leaving Vallorcine but with 1 climb left I was determined!
  I’d heard the last climb was the steepest but wow it didn’t disappoint!  It was brutal but I was happy with my methodical approach.  Just before the top I saw a glimmer of light to the east.  I couldn’t believe my luck that upon arrival to Tete aux Vents the first ray of sunshine hit Mt Blanc!!  I was on such a runner’s high and this time I didn’t hold back but pushed harder then ever feeling like a million bucks.
I flew down the mountain weaving through the last of the nearly 2000 people I’d passed in the race!  At this point I was thoroughly enjoying the final miles of the race.  With ½ mile remaining I throttled back and emotionally jogged through town listening to the cheers of the town and contemplating my accomplishment.  I couldn’t believe the high I was experiencing as I saw the finish line and crossed in 38 hours, 29 minutes.  518th place out of 2,600 starters and 1,600 finishers.

Happy Happy Happy!  This was such a great race for me and truly the pinnacle of ultra running.  As I recover, I prepare for Wasatch 100 which begins less than two weeks from the time I finished UTMB.  Living my dream, finding the balance, and trying to enjoy every second of it!
Now go run!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Boston 2015

I've now been to the Boston Marathon 4 out of the last 5 years.  It has become not only an annual occurrence but a ritual!  I have such a deep affinity for the Boston Marathon.  Perhaps it's because Altra was launched here 4 years ago.  So every time I arrive it reminds me of packing up my Suburu and driving across the country starting my company.  Seeing the fruits of those labors is very gratifying.  I expect myself and Altra to be in Boston for many more years to come! 
Busy Busy Altra Booth
It could be that I love Boston because of the history of the race.  All these Boston Qualifiers are here because of what they've worked and sacrificed for.  The energy is so apparent it seems to permeate every meal, conversation, or thought.
3rd Row Seats to the Red Sox
Maybe I'm so connected because of all the amazing experiences I've had.  Although many of the races I have done are much more difficult, the Double has this special wrap around my heart.  I can't quite explain it but I seem to glean all sorts of positive life lessons every time I come. This year the theme was perspective.

This year, the experiences that stuck out to me the most all framed around the humbling concept of perspective.  I was thoroughly humbled and it made me more grateful for my spoiled life.  The first was around mile 11.  I see two runner's ahead of me walking. I think "Those guys look like they are doing the double too!"  NOPE...they were doing the QUAD!  David Clark was at mile 64 and ready to do 40 more.  Zero Limits all the way!  Read more about his incredible story of overcoming addiction here:
David Clark doing a Quad Boston!
12 miles later I went through my first and only low point.  I probably hadn't eaten enough, it started raining, and the road became steeper.  It was the first time in all 3 attempts where I thought "Seriously why am I doing this?!" My thoughts drifted to my busy and stressful life.  I felt under-trained and overwhelmed.  Then like a freight train, it disappeared.  Boston gives certain people an early start to avoid commotion and allow them a bit more freedom from the throngs.  As the first of these runners arrived, I was firmly put in my place.  Tears welled up in my eyes and my life's problems dissolved (see below picture of my inspiration). From there to the finish, 29 miles later, I don't think I had another negative thought cross my mind!  I couldn't and wouldn't allow it.  Life is good, no other thought is worth entertaining.
I arrived at the starting line in 3 hrs 54 min.  My feet felt incredible in the new Altra Torin 2 despite the now pouring rain.  I grabbed a blanket that one of the elites had ditched and headed into the local convenient store to eat a protein bar, 2 banana's, a bag of potato chips, and a couple of Gatorades.  After an hour I headed out to brave what had turned into quite the rain storm.  The next 26.2 miles seemed to float by rapidly.  I was caught up in such a positive flow of energy that it carried me to the finish line in 3 hrs 45 min.  I was happy, inspired, and grateful.  "Good times never felt so good!"

A few more Reads:
KSL article about myself and 5 other Boston Experiences

Monday, March 2, 2015

Top 10 Fish of 2014

Looking back this past weekend on the top 10 fish of 2014.  It was probably the best year of fishing I've had in my life.  Arguably the summer of 2004 in Alaska is the only other year that compares.  Using a complex algorithm based on the below criteria points, I have created my top 10 of 2014. 1st- How big was the fish?  2nd- In what method was the fish caught? (sight, sip, fly, etc) 3rd- How beautiful is the picture capturing the moment?

So, here you go.  Enjoy and fish on!
#10--  19 inch FAT brown trout.  Watched this guy come from the shadows to nail this size 4 Zonker.  Great start to the year!
#9-- 18 inch Cutthroat.  Watched this beauty slowly rise for a size 8 Salmon Fly! One of the most beautifully colored fish of my life.  It was indescribable!
Honorable mention.  $1,000 catch of a lifetime.  After an unsuccessful home attempt of slicing and line pulling, my wife took my ashamedly to the ER.  It went to the bone..couldn't believe how painful this was.

#8-- Happens to be a 21 1/2 incher caught on a size 16 Stonefly on top.  Its an interesting hatch which I've become fond of.  Its feels more like a BWO hatch but its during the hot summer.  This guy didn't hesitate as he slowly sipped it up!
#7-- As I was walking up river I saw a rise out of the corner of my eye and way closer then I would have wanted.  I froze and did a short roll cast above the rise.  Just happened to be a 19 1/2 inch pig who slurped up my size 10 Grasshopper!!

Honorable Mention.  2 for 1!!  Pre-Drake hatch I was fishing a large Drake with an emerger 24 inches below.  The 17 incher took the Dry Fly and then he made a heavy run leading me to believe he was much bigger than initially thought.  Nope...just a 2nd 12 incher that took the emerger.  2 for 1!!
#6-- 24 1/2 inch Tiger Trout.  Caught this guy sight-fishing on a size 18 green midge.  Lucky but I gauged the depth of my fly, saw his mouth open and close, set the hook and wallah!  In the mouth and what a big fish!
#5-- 19 inch Brown trout caught with a size 18 PMD 6X tippet at dusk!  I watched him for 10 minutes before carefully placed this perfect cast.  He was in slow shallow water and I had to make it across river with no drag.
Honorable mention.  Wow I hit the Green Drake hatch perfectly this year!
#4--  This 21 inch beauty was landed sight fishing in shallow rifles.  Size 12 Green Drake.  It was the 5th of 6th 19+ inch fish I caught that day!  Most epic Drake hatch I've ever been in.
#3-- Fish of 2014 was this pig of a Rainbow Trout.  A football 23 1/4 incher that took me 100yds downstream.  Strong and beautiful, I landed this guy on a size 16 Brassie.
#2-- This 23 inch HUGE Brown Trout was caught sight-fishing during the spawn,  Hit my Copper John and I missed him!  I was devastated.  I watched him for 10 minutes then cast again and he hit it hard! Took me way downstream as I fell in getting soaking wet.  After an epic fight, I finally landed him.  It was every bit of River Runs Through It!  My joy turned to devastation as he couldn't recover.  I feel terrible that he didn't survive.  One of the biggest fish of my life and I killed him...but man was it amazing.
#1-- Fish if 2014 was a 24 inch Brown Trout caught on a size 16 Brassie!  He was incredible in color, size, and strength.  I was giddy with excitement bringing in this beautiful fish!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

2015 Race Calendar

Looks like the 2015 race calendar is more or less finalized.  Should be a solid year with most races being close to home this year. Pretty excited for the challenges ahead and I may squeeze in another local race if time/schedule permits.
  • Antelope Island 50k- March 20
  • Boston Marathon- April 20
  • Zion Traverse- May 2
  • Squaw Peak 50- June 6th
  • Capital Reef 100- July 10-11
  • Quest for Kings- August TBD (please not the 8th...!)
  • Wasatch 100- September 11-12
  • Runner's World 1/2- October 18
Combined with business trips to San Francisco, Amsterdam, China, L.A., Austin, and probably a few more, its going to be a busy year!  I'll also will try to catch as many fish as possible...

Thursday, January 15, 2015

2014 Wasatch 100 Recap (much belated)

Only 6 months belated but since sending in my application and the pending lottery, my mind has wandered back frequently to my 2014 Wasatch 100 experience.  After my epic DNF of 2013 I was out for a little revenge.  Needless to say I had an absolutely amazing experience.  I ran various sections with some amazing people.  My tactical conservative approach to the race was perfect.  I used only 4 dropbags with no crew (wife and 6 week old baby Kate met me at Lambs).  Had no pacers.  It was just me vs the race and I came away feeling triumphant!  Truly one of the more spiritual experiences of my life.  Some races bond friendships others are personal lessons in life.  The 2014 Wasatch 100 was the later.  A run of joy.  Below are some pictures and videos documenting some of my experiences.  Looking forward to many more Wasatch's!

Altra now sponsors Wasatch100.  What a dream

Excited at the start

Chin Scraper

Matthew Van Horn!  Classic

Mile 41sh


Happy as a Lamb

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Belated Squaw Peak 50 and Timp Trail Marathon 2014

So a very late double posting of my two hometown races.  Both of which I love!!  We'll start with Timp Trail Marathon:

My only goal was to go under 4 hrs.  Weather was good and the field was stacked.  From the start the lead group took off.  I intended to start out faster than usual but I lasted less then two miles with those guys!  I found myself in 8th place which is where I stayed for the first half of the race.  The run to Grove Canyon always goes by quickly.  Its basically the run from work to I do it all the time.  Turns out that I was moving pretty quick on race day though.  I downloaded and used Strava for the very first time and set the course record from Dry to Grove Canyon!  

 I moved up Grove Canyon better then ever before (this was my 4th time running this race).  I was feeling confident about my sub 4 hour finish but found myself still in 6th place.  Up and over the beautiful meadows and down Battlecreek I go.  I purposely backed off heading down Battlecreek knowing that I had two more descents.  Curly Springs was as muddy as ever..yuck.  Slip and slide and up I went.  Once on top it was time to put the throttle down!  But I couldn't get my legs moving...  Stomach was fine, energy was fine, but my legs were dead.  I'm not sure if it was the fast start or fatigue from UTMF but I didn't have it.  

I pushed where I could and gave everything I had from the rock pile to the finish but alas I finished just shy of my goal at 4:02:39.  I was surprised to not see a single runner from the top of Grove to the finish.  Nobody caught me and I didn't reel anyone in.  With the 9th fastest time EVER on the course, I finished 6th.  Fast year with some great runners.  I'll be back next year and probably every year after!  I'll get my sub-4 there sooner then later.

Squaw Peak 50:
8th time running this race.  Its an annual pilgrimage for me now.  I'll need to explore other races at some point but its so convenient being 15 minutes from my house and such a beautiful course.  Having run only 8-9 times in the previous 2 months (nearly all races-- Antelope 50, UTMF, Timp Trail), I didn't have super high expectations and was planning on just cruising along for a fun run.  I enjoyed chatting with the front pack for the first two miles but made sure I was well behind once we hit the singletrack.  I made my way up to Hope Campground with ease taking it easier then ever.  I wanted to run sub-10 hrs but with no watch I just was having fun and listening to my body.  I found myself in 15-16th place heading down into rock canyon but by the time I hit Horse Mountain it seemed like I passed 3-4 people.  I chatted with nearly everyone and encouraged all the early starters.  I was having such a good time! 

The long descent into Hobble however was tougher then usual.  I'm typically pretty smooth and quick on the descents but i wasn't feeling it.  Story of the day, if you aren't feeling it, back off and save it for later!  The road was miserable.  I definitely wasn't feeling it over that 4 miles of asphalt.  By the time I got to Sheep Creek, Mile 30, I was a little frustrated.  I started slow and had still felt terrible from mile 20 to 30.  Whats up with that?!  I ended up sitting down for 5 minutes and just ate a bunch of food and chatted with the always awesome Addict II Athlete guys.  Finally I left and within a mile was feeling much better.  Ended up running strong into Little Valley, Mile 33, where I ate and drank for another 5 minutes.  The spring was not flowing at Windy Pass so I tucked away an extra bottle of water behind my shorts and was off.  I was feeling better then I had all day!  I seemed to be picking up momentum leaving Little Valley and easily ran almost every step of the initial climb.  By the time I got to Bozung Hill I was flying and passing people.  Bozung Hill seemed the easiest of my life (see Tenshi Mtns from UTMF) as I put my head down and powered through. 

I entered Windy Pass, Mile 41, feeling like a million bucks!!  Lots of friends and familiars there that kept me pumped.  Those last 9 miles I flew!  I couldn't believe how good I felt.  Ended up passing 2 more people on the trail down.  I was super happy with my time and effort as I ended up running 9:28.27 for 5th place (3 guys in front of me took a wrong turn at mile 34...).  Ran in Altra's new Paradigm.  Yes its a road shoe but at 34mm stack height and only 9 oz, it is awesome.  I loved this shoe for Squaw.

Another year another Squaw.  Happy happy happy.  Now time to do some fishin' before I get ready for a new baby Beckstead and then Wasatch 100.