Monday, January 27, 2014

2014 Bridle Trails

Mired In Mud: The 2014 Bridle Trails 50k 

photo by Kathy Vaughan
By Kathy Vaughan

     It's not very often that the offer of a paid entry into a race, with a stay at the local Hyatt House afterwards comes my way, so I said "yes" as soon as the words came out of Ras' mouth. A fellow friend, ultra runner, and all around warm-hearted guy offered us this kind gift. The offer came a week before race day, but I felt ready to run a 50k; the Bridle Trails Winter Running Festival, put on by Northwest Trail Runs and the Seattle Running Club. Eric Sach of The Balanced Athlete was the race director. The start time was 3:00 p.m., which meant most of the race would be run in the dark, on trails I've never run, which have a reputation for being very muddy. The race's slogan is "I survived the mud." The forecast called for 100% chance of precipitation with wind gusts as strong as 33 m.p.h. This forecast could only make the trails live up to their reputation and the run itself more exciting. I was game.

     The course was a 5.2 mile loop and had a choice of distances available: 5 miles, 10 miles, 50k relay teams or 50k solo. Ras and I would be running the 50k solo option, but we would run it together. I prefer to run with someone at night, Ras and I enjoy running together and he wanted to help pace me to a decent finishing time. In looking at the past year's race results, we could see the course was fairly fast, despite being a night time run. I hoped to finish in 7:30, which would be my second fastest 50k finishing time so far. Ras didn't have any specific expectations for himself other than to have a good time running, so he decided he would run this one with me.
photo by Takao Suzuki

     When we arrived at the race start area in the Bridle Trails State Park in Kirkland, branches were breaking off of trees and scattering themselves around the parking lot. The parking volunteers were bundled up and smiling, keeping the mood positive. The wind was howling, the rain was pelting against the car and the clouds looked ominous. There were no signs of the storm lifting and yet cars were pouring into the lot. Trail runners are not the kind of people to back out because of a little storm in the area.

     Around the race start, Eric was busy talking with one of the park rangers. The ranger was leaving the decision to Eric about whether or not to continue with the race in the stormy conditions. Trees breaking and falling over the trails were a big concern. Runners got checked in and got their bib numbers; visited with each other; cracked nervous jokes about how the night would play out; and  any ultra runner in the crowd was secretly wishing that they were running the 5 mile distance instead.

photo by Takao Suzuki

    Fellow Seven Hills Running Shop team members Matt Urbanski and Ras met each other and visited under the shelters. Ras announced that he felt like he was the guy in the Sesame Street song "One of these things is not like the others, one of these things is not the same"  Joking with Matt, he said "Let's book end this thing! You take the front, I'll take the back!" Luckily, with a few ultras under my belt now, its not always a given that I will DFL (Dead F'ing Last).  Since Ras was running this one with me, it was going to be up to me to make sure it didn't happen this time.

     Eric postponed the race by about a half an hour as runners huddled underneath the Easy-Up shelters to stay dry, crowding as close to the propane heaters as they could get without burning tech fibers. When the smell of burnt hair wafted through the tents, Ras announced "Uh oh, I smell burnt hair. Someone just got a free Brazilian." Finally, Eric announced that the race would start in 5 minutes and that he would decide after each 5 mile loop whether or not to have runners continue.  Instead of staggered starts for the different distances, he said we would all start at once. There were over 100 runners, and we lined ourselves up according to paces. Ras and I got in the back as he joked about how we would officially lead the 15 minute pace group. 

photo by Takao Suzuki

     The rain did not let up for us, but we all funneled onto the single track to start the mudfest that would be Bridle Trails 2014. Some of the runners at the start were timid about getting their feet wet, but finally someone hollered to them to get over it, and the pace of the lemming line picked up as it wound through the trees for the first of the loops, the only one I would run entirely with some light still in the sky. The rest were all in the dark, with city lights as a back drop, my headlamp and sternum light leading the way for hours.

     I really like the way the trail was rolling and winding. It was always changing. The puddles were big and deep and the mud pits were the same. Living on the east side of the Cascades, rain and mud are seasonal and rare. Sometimes in the spring, when the snow first begins to melt down to the bare ground, mud will form. Usually, the moisture just evaporates and the mud doesn't last long. I don't have many chances to practice the art of running in the mud. I ran Chuckanut 50k 2 years ago, and the mud was tough. I've let it's memory hang over my head and thus, I've had a hang-up regarding mud. My goal was to get over it, quick, with this race and act as if I knew exactly how to handle it. I ran through it without letting it slow me down and I did not waste energy trying to avoid it when I got to the big pits. It was fun getting muddy and splashing through the puddles. I am stoked afterwards to look back on the improvements I've been able to make in running in the mud.

photo by Takao Suzuki
Mike Kuhlmann navigating the mud in the 10 miler

     There were only a few short, steep climbs on the loop and the first of these came about 1/2 mile in. It was super muddy and had been covered over in straw to help absorb some of the moisture. My first time up the climb I did okay and didn't notice anything too difficult about it. My second time up it, I almost came to a crawl and Ras asked "Is something wrong?"  My hamstrings felt so tight, that it was hard to push fast up the climb. I was worried that they were only going to tighten up more and the few climbs there were, would get even harder & slower. This would not be good. I told Ras my hamstrings felt tight and I was going as fast as I could but that I was worried about how I would hold up. I did not want to quit, but I didn't want to slow him down or have us both moving slowly along in a suffer fest. 

     He said he could help me, but I would have to do what he suggested. I needed to change my technique on the climbs and get my mind in a better place. He suggested I start counting my foot falls in threes, like a waltz, which would keep my foot turn-over up and keep my mind distracted. Ras said if I just did that and focused on good form, the rest of the race would run itself. I was willing to give it a try. "One, two three; two, two, three; three, two, three", and so on.  It helped amazingly well and before I knew it, I was cruising along happily, like a waltz. When I got to hills, I took shorter steps and focused on powering up as fast as I could.

photo by Takao Suzuki

     I kept sipping on my Hammer Perpetuem and snacking on Gu Chomps. I was using caffeinated products for this night time run: Cafe Latte for the Perpetuem and Blueberry for the Chomps. I didn't want to get sleepy. As it turned out, I didn't get sleepy and running in the dark was not nearly as much of an issue as I had thought it might be beforehand. The aid station was a welcome spot in the night. The 5 mile loops seemed to go by quickly. A string of Christmas lights over the trail could be spotted from a distance. They were about a mile from the aid station/start/finish area and it was always great to see them. I was usually able to pick up the pace and run well to the aid station after seeing this brightness in the dark forest. There was a nice gentle descent into the aid area; a great way to finish off each loop. Friendly volunteers filled water bottles, offered hot vegan black bean soup and gave encouraging words each time I passed through. After hitting the aid station, runners had to run a short stretch to pass over the timing mats and get to the drop bag tents. After some loops, I changed into dry layers. Most of the time, I headed out before Ras and he would catch up to me. Mentally, the loop format made the race seem easier. Five miles is a good distance to run with just one water bottle and a few snacks. Before you know it, you are back around to the welcoming cheers, lights and layers. Its not hard to head out for the next loop, knowing you'll come back around to this spot in another hour or so. 

photo by Takao Suzuki

     The last 2 loops of the race went really well. I kept up a steady pace for the last 10 miles and it felt good to cross that finish line in under 8 hours (7:51), my second fastest finishing time in a 50k distance. Finishing before 5 other runners, made it so that Matt and Ras did not book end the race. Eric greeted us at the finish with a royal blue horseshoe for each of us, a bright surprise at the end of a muddy, dark night on the trails. Takao Suzuki was there taking photos. He'd been out on the course and at the aid station throughout the night, capturing images of the runners when they least expected it. I love the photos of the wet and stormy scene, pre-race, with runners and volunteers trying to stay warm and dry; psyching themselves up for the muddy run; bracing themselves against the winds that had blown branch debris all around.

photo by Takao Suzuki
With Eric Sach, Race Director and proprietor of The Balanced Athlete

     Normally after a race, Ras and I end up camping out in a tent afterwards; going on a long, uncomfortable car ride to get back home; or staying at a relative's home, arriving dirty, cold and wet with sweat, expecting to be fed right away. After Bridle Trails, we arrived instead at a wonderful hotel, fancier than anywhere we have ever stayed. The brand new Hyatt House hotel was only a 5 minute drive away. We were able to use a cart for our bags, take an elevator and hobble down the hallway to our fancy room, getting there around midnight ready to take full advantage of the comforts. I called 1st shower, grabbed my Knudsen Grape Recharge Drink, and headed for the pristine white bathroom. I set the plastic bottle on top of the shiny toilet lid to get ready for showering and before I knew it, the purple beverage was spilling out onto the tiled floor. Every surface in this wonderful room was waxed, shiny and beveled. The drink slid off of the toilet top so fast and the lid shattered in a millisecond.  The perfect setting was now a disaster area. Unable to bend over, squat down or move very effectively any more, after having just ran 31 miles, I now had to mop up a floor. I was determined to have it back to the pristine, perfect whiteness I had first laid eyes upon, before I showered. Ras brought me a roll of paper towels from the kitchenette. Twenty minutes later, I stood under the hot water and rinsed the mud, sweat and grape drink from me. 

     This run was an awesome experience in so many ways. I am thankful to the  friend who made the whole weekend a reality. (May many blessings come your way!) I learned that I can run a 50k at a last minute notice. I learned that I actually love running in the mud when I don't see it as an obstacle to avoid on the trail. I discovered that I can run in the dark just as fast as in the daylight with good lights and confidence. And lastly, I got a taste of what this season has in store for me as I head into it as an ambassador for Altra Running. As I ran through the rainy darkness, pushing up hills and gushing through mud pits, I thought often of the Lone Peak trail shoes on my feet and the company who I feel happy to represent. Being an ambassador for them, gave me the strength and motivation I needed to push on during the low moments. The rugged tread, zero drop platform and lightweight feel of the shoes themselves helped me get through the conditions without a fall or rolled ankle. Now when I set forth on all of my trail running adventures, my accomplishments will not only speak well of what I can do and what other human beings are capable of doing, but of what a shoe company can do to make these goals a reality.  

       This past month, I have been inspired by two ladies very close to me, my daughter Angela and my adventure partner Lisa Eversgerd. Angela ran her first 50k in October, Baker Lake in Concrete, Washington. She has continued to run on Seattle trails while she attends the university there. Ras and I got her a pair of the new black Lone Peak 1.5's and she's been running in those all month. She asked me to write up a training plan to help her get ready for a second 50k and she's been sticking to it. She's deciding on which 50k to run and also looking towards possibly running her first 50 miler, Sun Mountain in May. She has a hiking and backpacking background, but she is taking off as a trail runner. Young, strong and having grown up on the trails, she's a natural. 

photo by Ras
Bonaparte Mountain adventure

     My friend Lisa and I have done some great trips together, including ultra distance  cross-country ski adventures; the 46 mile Devil's Dome Loop in the Pasayten Wilderness as an all day hike for the UltraPedestrian Wilderness Challenge; and summitting Haley Mountain in single digit temperatures in the early part of this winter. She works as a trail crew supervisor for the Forest Service and has spent countless hours on the trails with tools and a heavy pack. Lisa had not been able to run for about 3 years due to knee pain. After some work with a physical therapist and learning about natural running form, she began to run again. The final change that made a return to running a reality for Lisa was running in the Altra Lone Peak 1.5's. She is now pain free and loving every minute of it. She has been doing regular runs of up to 14 miles on dirt road; a mountain running adventure in the snow with over 2,000 feet of elevation gain in 2 miles, plus the descent; and a 9.5 mile technical trail run in mixed, snow, ice and rocky conditions.  Before the Bonaparte Mountain running adventure, she messaged me and asked what I'd be wearing on my feet. I knew we'd be postholing through deep snow all day and doing lots of climbing and descending. My answer back was "Lone Peaks!"  With warm wool socks, gaitors and wool handmade leg warmers, they were perfect shoes to have on our feet. She followed my lead.  Lisa, Ras and I were all wearing them. Team HARDcore (Highlands Altra Running Dorks) representing! My other good friend and running partner Shona is part of this team and will join us for our next appearance, a Mary Ann Creek run.  Lisa's husband Jason is just waiting for his to arrive in the mail.

photo by Lisa Eversgerd
Jason Llewellyn & Lisa Eversgerd

     Special thanks to Takao Suzuki of for the use of his photographs.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Coconut Butter: My Secret Weapon For Endurance Fueling & Recovery

Coconut Butter: My Secret Weapon For Endurance Fueling & Recovery

Secret Training Techniques Of UltraPedestrianDo, Part Two
(The Way Of The UltraPedestrian)

photo by Chihping Fu
by Ras

     You may never have heard of coconut butter before, but it has become widely available in recent years. Coconut butter differs from coconut oil in that it is the whole meat of a ripe coconut finely ground into a paste, similar to peanut butter or almond butter. Coconut butter is in no way related to cocoa butter, which is made from cocoa beans. Coconuts are the fruit of a variety of palm tree, whereas cocoa beans come from the fruit of the cacao tree, a relative of cotton and okra.

     Coconut butter is extremely palatable and flexible as a food (try stirring two tablespoons of coconut butter and two teaspoons of curry paste into simmering veggies and serve over rice). But my interest in it is as a fuel. I have been eating coconut butter for two years now, and it has helped fuel me for my biggest accomplishments, including my Double Wonderland and Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim to Rim to Rim to Rim to Rim adventure runs.

     Medium Chain Triglyceriedes The main benefit of coconut butter as a fuel for endurance athletes is its fats, which are Medium Chain Triglycerides. MCTs are a unique form of dietary fat that impart a wide range of positive health benefits, including helping control appetite, boosting immune function and purifying blood (due to its lauric acid content), stimulating metabolism, promoting calcium absorption, and regulating blood sugar levels. 

     But the most important thing about MCTs for endurance athletes is that they are immediately metabolized and used by the body, not stored as fat, as Long Chain Triglycerides are. According to Ward Dean, MD, and Jim English, "MCTs are an especially beneficial supplement for fueling physical exertion, given their high energy density content, rapid rate of absorption and quick metabolic conversion into cellular energy. Additionally MCTs can be quickly mobilized in the post-exercise recovery phase to rebuild muscles and prevent the breakdown of proteins (catabolism) that can occur when the body is putting a maximum demand on the body’s energy reserves." (From

     Training Your Body For Fat Fueling This makes coconut butter an ideal food for training your body to metabolize fat. I make an effort each morning to make the first thing I eat high in healthful fats in order to switch on my body's fat prioritization. A couple spoonfuls of coconut butter is perfect for this because it is palatable and easy to eat. It can also be spread on toast in place of butter, or stirred into hot cereal or oatmeal, among myriad other uses.

     Low Oxidation Rate Because coconut butter oxidizes slowly it does not go rancid. It can be  stored unrefrigerated for up to two years. Coconut butter lasts and carries well for extended backpacking trips, and will easily survive an extended stay in a drop bag or food cache.

     Very Low Cost Per Calorie Perhaps the best news of all regarding coconut butter is its incredibly low cost per calorie, as little as $8.00 for a jar containing over 2800 calories. Compare that to specially marketed energy gels, where $8.00 will buy you at most 600 calories. For shorter runs I package a 200 calorie serving in small baggies or plastic wrap, twist the top shut and seal it with a small piece of tape. For multiday efforts I melt the coconut butter and pour it into a resealable plastic jar and eat it by the spoonful directly from the container. 

     Coconut butter is readily available from any natural foods co-op or health food store, including the big chains. It can also be ordered from natural food retailers on line, or made at home from scratch. Artisana has recently started packaging it in single serving pouches, which are convenient for short trips.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Fartlek Fridays: Strongly Speedwork For Fine Tuning Those Fast Twitch Muscle Fibers

Fartlek Fridays: Strongly Speedwork For Fine Tuning Those Fast Twitch Muscle Fibers

Secret Training Techniques Of UltraPedestrianDo, Part One
(The Way Of The UltraPedestrian)

photo by Chihping Fu
by Ras

     Despite the humorous english homonymics, the Swedish term "fartlek" means "Speed play". Goodness knows I enjoy a play on words, as evidenced by my use of 'strongly' instead of 'weekly' to refer to doing something once every seven days. But the importance of speed work is serious, even if my choice of terms has an amusing sound.

     If you want to get my attention, using the word 'fart' is a great strategy. I admit it. I'm an overgrown manboy who still believes a scatological reference is the best way to maximize a statement's comedic potential. And I'm no where near mature enough to overlook a syllable in a foreign language word that has a potty-talk phonetic analog. (As an example of just how immature my sense of humor is, please note that the word 'analog' contains both the word 'anal' and the word 'log'. I rest my case.) So when I happened upon the term fartlek, needless to say my interest was peaked.

     'Speed play' just plain sounds fun, and it's supposed to. 'Workout' has the word 'work' in it, which carries burdensome implications, and it also describes a long and uncomfortable process of coming to terms with a situation. 'Speed play' sounded like the perfect way to work out my issues with speed work, so I decided to give it a go. 

     Speed work can train the body and mind to move more quickly and do it more efficiently. Your physiognomy can adapt, producing increases in aerobic threshold, lactic acid processing, and fast twitch muscle fiber recruitment. This information is easy to find with any web search, and difficult to avoid in running magazines. But it never seemed applicable to my running until I read Adam Lint's trip report for his Wonderland Trail FKT in 2011. Nearing the end of his 93 mile run he says:

Next began an intense 4ish mile climb up to Mystic Lake.   This is where I began to feel the distance that I had put on my legs as it felt like an 8 mile climb.  Since my fast twitch muscle fibers were still fresh I decide to do 30 second intervals (sprints) with a one minute break in between just to get my ass to the top of this climb.

     I had never done speed work of any sort until a year ago. I run simply to enjoy running. I don't have a formal running background, so speed work was something foreign to my experience. I would read articles about its importance, and the science and reasoning made sense. But as soon as a work out would be described in mathematical seeming terms, my mind would just wander to another topic. (In high school I had a math class in a room that was painted light blue and it would put me to sleep just about everyday. As a result I seem to have a conditioned response to fall asleep when I see numbers.)

     I began Fartlek Fridays the beginning of January 2013. On March 30 I set a 100 mile PR of 27:17 an improvement of almost two hours. Two weeks later I again improved my 100 mile Personal Record by running a 26:44. A week after that I set a 50k pr of 5:35. Then a world record at the Grand Canyon. Then a 200 mile PR. You can read all the details in my 2013 Year In Rear View. But the only thing I was doing different in my training was running Fartlek Fridays. 

     Kathy pointed out to me that these claims are correlative and anecdotal. I pointed out to Kathy that this article was for publication by, not PLOS ONEIn the interest of full disclosure I should state that I am a high school graduate and junior college drop out. I do not have a background in medicine, nutrition, kinesiology, biomechanics, physical therapy, or anything else that would grant credence to my words. My background is in doing what I dang well please and not being overly concerned with how other people feel about it. But I do monitor and evaluate my performances, and I attempt to replicate my successes.

     Here's my basic fartlek workout:

15 minute warm up, running very easy

10 sets of running a hard & fast interval for 90 seconds, then running a very easy recovery interval for 90 seconds: 3 minutes total = 1 set
1 bonus set of super skips for 90 seconds
15 minutes cool down, running very easy

     Important Note: I do not push or force myself during the hard & fast interval. I focus on perfect running form, and allow the technique to produce the speed. My goal is tall, engaged posture; completely relaxed legs, ankles, and feet, everything from the knee down; forward lean at the ankles, not the waist, to produce what is essentially a long, controlled forward fall; and very rapid foot turnover, 180 strides per minute, resulting in a rapid and light footstrike. During the hard & fast interval, all my mind is doing is going over the above mental checklist and counting strides. I count strides like a waltz: one-two-three, two-two-three, three-two-three, four-two-three. If you build this technique, the speed will come. 

copyright Altra Zero Drop Footwear

     Super skips are essentially just what they sound like: skipping by means of a technique designed to propel you as high and far as is reasonable. This is accomplished not by pushing hard off the ground with your back leg, but by swinging your front leg and the opposite arm up to a 90 degree angle explosively. Again, use your mind to guide your body in letting the technique do the work.

     My Fartlek Fridays are actually rather rigid in their structure, but I enjoy it and it works for me. The same session could be done without a watch, using landmarks and self awareness. Pick a tree or powerpole or fencepost and run the hard & fast interval to it. Then run very easy until your heartrate and breathing level out. When you feel ready to make another concerted effort, look ahead and pick the next landmark. Or perform a quick internet search and you'll find a wide variety of different fartlek sessions.

     Beyond their very definition as play, fartleks are somewhat free form in nature, allowing me the flexibility to customize my work out each week according to my needs, physical condition, and mood. On days when I don't feel 100% or am lacking motivation, fartleks aren't intimidating. I tell myself, "It's just fartleks. Go out and do what you can and have fun with it." But I invariably end up doing my full session as well or better than usual. 

     I instituted Fartlek Fridays because I like alliteration, but it turns out that Friday is the perfect day to do speed work. Since most races are on Saturday or Sunday, I can easily skip a Friday work out immediately before a race without throwing my entire schedule off. And five or six days later, when Fartlek Friday rolls around again, I'm recovered enough to push myself, but can allow myself the flexibility to back off my effort as my body demands, all while still fulfilling my training goals.

     Future articles will explore the overall application of alliteration as the basis for a training plan. Here's to hoping that Mixed Martial Arts Mondays and Trials Bike Tuesdays will reap as many benefits as have Fartlek Fridays.


Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Myth Of Health Risks In Ultrarunning

The Myth Of Health Risks In Ultrarunning:

Are Ultrarunners As Healthy As Corporate Media Outlets Are Biased?

by Tim Mathis

     On January 8th, sports medicine researchers from Stanford and UC Davis published initial findings from one of the first longitudinal studies on the health of ultrarunners. (A longitudinal study tracks a group of people across a long period of time – 20 years in this case.) It is published online here, which is awesome because anyone can access the data while they’re drinking their morning coffee or scanning their iPhone on their morning run. (It’s actually pretty readable, as far as scientific studies go.)

     Ever the faithful stewards of the public interest and proponents of healthy living, NBC News Health quickly picked up on the story and had an article about the study online by the end of the day, delivering the bad news. In their article, "Ultrarunners Aren’t Always Ultrahealthy”, they noted the study’s findings that sometimes runners get running related injuries like stress fractures and knee problems. Also, ultrarunners in the study report higher rates of asthma and allergies than the general population. Sorry ultrarunners – you’re doomed to a life of wheezing and splintered shin bones. Good news if you want to spend your day on the couch reading and rereading the NBC News site though – and no reason to stop being smug in those online comment threads about how healthy people are destroying their bodies doing healthy things!  

     But darned if the focus of the NBC story wasn’t exactly the opposite of what the researchers focused on in their conclusions! While it is true that they point out an increased rate of running related injuries, and an increased rate of allergy and asthma among ultrarunners, their general tenor is: Hey great news!  

     Some of their key conclusions were that:

       1) Among ultrarunners “there was a low prevalence of serious medical issues including cancers (4.5%), coronary artery disease (0.7%), seizure disorders (0.7%), diabetes (0.7%), and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection (0.2%)”   

       2) "Compared with self-reported data from the general population, the prevalence of virtually all chronic diseases and mental health disorders appeared lower in the ultramarathon runners"

       3) “[U]ltramarathon runners have fewer chronic medical conditions…tend to miss little time from work or school due to illness or injury, and make limited use of the medical care system.”

     Aside from the part about not missing work much (averaging 2 days/year vs. the general population’s 4), NBC forgot to mention all of those points. To their credit, they did at least note (as the researchers did) that there’s a reasonable explanation for the allergy thing – spending a lot of time outside exposes you to a lot of allergens. They didn’t say that the increased rate of asthma among ultrarunners is small (3%), and is most marked in relation to exercise-induced asthma – because of all of the pesky exercising. They also didn’t note that injury rates were comparable to shorter-distance runners, or that the average number of days of work lost to those injuries was zero. It also didn’t talk about one of the more intriguing findings in the study, that older runners were actually less likely to report injury than younger ultrarunners. The adage that ultrarunning is an old person’s sport seems to bear out.  

     Media stories actively and unjustifiably discouraging healthy activities (and promoting unhealthy ones) aren’t anything new, of course. Everyone knows by now that you shouldn’t run (KNEES!), play team sports (CARDIOMYOPATHY!), or do Crossfit (TRAUMA!), but that wine and chocolate are nature’s greatest health foods. It’s also kind of predictable – if you want to generate clicks 1) piss some people off and 2) reinforce common prejudices and preconceptions. But it still seems like a weird, irresponsible phenomenon in an era where people have a hard enough time making healthy life decisions without media assistance.

     The good news is, media reports can be ignored. Data suggests that reality is still in favor of engaging in traditional human activities like moving through nature on your own two feet.  

Tim Mathis lives in Seattle and has been running trails with his wife Angel for a couple of years.  One time they ran across Spain fueled mostly on pastries and espresso.  He blogs occasionally at and has contributed to and Trailrunner Magazine.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Early Winter in the Highlands Part 4 of 4: Black Diamond Lake Lollipop

Early Winter in the Highlands Part 4 of 4:  Reflections in the Frozen Canyon 

photo by Ras
By Kathy Vaughan

     Shona, Ras and I met in the Whistler Canyon Trail head parking lot on a late November morning to run the 9.5 mile Black Diamond Lake Loop. Starting in the Okanogan River valley, the single track trail climbs quickly up through the canyon walls. The morning was cold and I could hear and see our breath as we all set off up the trail.  I warmed up quickly as the climb continued. I took in the deep scent of the sage, the sweet fragrance of the tall, dried grasses and looked all around me at the rock formations. I have heard that there are Native American petroglyphs on some of these rock walls. Rock climbers enjoy some bolted routes in here. Big Horn Mountain Sheep roam year round, rattlesnakes have dens in the crevices and cougar have been seen along the trail.

photo by Shona Hilton

     I like the thrill of going into territory rich with wildlife. Ras and I had been studying the difference between canine and feline tracks in the snow before this run, so as soon as we got to the first set of tracks we could see along the snowy route, we stopped to examine them. Ras drew a big circle around the tracks with his trekking pole, and began the lecture. We could see a distinctive cross mark, separating the pads of the animal's feet. The top pads were nested into the bottom pads. These were all distinguishing marks of a canine footprint. We were likely seeing coyote tracks.  We had learned that the prints of a cougar, bobcat or lynx would have an arched pattern to its pads instead. It was fun to talk about the tracks and share any knowledge we all had together. Shona accidentally stepped into the circle of tracks, we all cracked up laughing about how she had ruined our lesson, then we took off running again. 
photo by Kathy Vaughan
Top left: Canine print, circled to accentuate the shape, taller than it is wide. Bottom left: Circle demonstrating the overall shape of a feline track, wider than it is tall (no track, just a circle to demonstrate). Right: Right foot print of a human female wearing Altra Lone Peaks.

     At a little over 2 1/2 miles up the trail, the Black Diamond Lake Loop trail takes off to the left, from the 100 trail/Whistler Canyon trail. It first crosses a small wooden bridge over a creek that flows powerfully in the early spring, trickles in the summer, but was now dry. The trail was covered in snow, but easy to follow. The temperature was cold enough that the snow was dry and not slippery. It didn't make the running any more difficult and we moved along at a good pace. The trail climbed very gently at first and then steep sections were mixed in as it took us closer to the lake.
     We all settled into the climb, and soon Ras was out of sight ahead of Shona and I. I thought maybe he was powering up the hill ahead of us, intending to stop at some point and wait for us to catch up to him. Not putting too much more thought into it, Shona and I visited and pushed our way up the steep climb. All of a sudden, Ras appeared from behind us, and as most trail runners might assume, I figured he had to step of the trail for a few minutes because of nature's calling. I was wrong. In studying the differences between canine and feline prints, Ras had learned some interesting things about cougar behavior and he had decided to try it out on Shona and I, unbeknownst to us. He had laid down on the frozen ground, hiding in tall grasses and barely visible behind a trail sign. Lying still, he watched Shona and I pass him, without having any idea that he was there. So yes, his thought that we had probably passed by cougars before on the trail without us realizing it, had now been proven. 

photo by Kathy Vaughan
Regular readers should recognize Shona Hilton by now.

     Another set of tracks appeared and our lesson in canine and feline differences did us no good now. These were clearly black bear tracks and it had gone the same way we were headed. It was cool to follow these interesting prints in the snow.  Ras went off trail to follow the bear's prints down to the frozen lake. The bear had meandered down to the lake, to frolic around.  We were all surprised that this bear was not asleep in its den somewhere. This bear was clearly awake and even seemed to be playing around in the forest. We could see its tracks climbing along downed trees and scrambling over big rocks. Of course, it could have been hunting rodents.

photo by Ras
Right foot bear tracks, rear at top, front at bottom. As with Felines and Canines, the front prints are wider and heavier than the rear. The head and shoulders counterbalance the animal's rump, so their back end is fairly light when moving. Most of the animal's weight is on the front paws. When striding the rear foot lands in front of the fore foot.

     Ras was feeding off the wild animal energy of the bear prints and the joy he was feeling running this fun route on a glorious day. He scampered off trail again to climb to a high point and I whispered to Shona, "He's pretty hyper today!". Sometimes hard of hearing, he had heard this, but didn't bring it up until later in the run at a more opportune time, sneaking it in to the conversation and cracking Shona and I up once again. Having fun with your running partners is awesome. It's distracting, motivating, helps create lasting friendships and most importantly, helps work our abdominal muscles while we are running. Laughing is good therapy any way you look at it.  

photo by Ras

     We ended up following the bear tracks around most of the loop.  This may or may not have spawned a conversation between Ras and Shona about their old punk rock days, but it was fun to hear their chatter behind me as I enjoyed running downhill through the soft and forgiving snow. All of the roots and rocks were blanketed over in soft snow and it was a blast to bound downhill over the top. I don't use any traction devices on my Altra Lone Peak 1.5's. The lug pattern on the trail running shoe itself works great. On the trail behind me, I could hear "Bad Brains" this, "Dead Kennedys" and "Seven Seconds" that. Sometimes I heard a lyric being sung by one or the other; Shona's Scottish accent getting thicker with some of her anecdotes; Ras' knowledge going back to a time well before I knew him, when he was a part of his local punk rock scene in Oxnard, California, called "Nardcore".

photo by Shona Hilton

     We completed the 4 mile loop and were now back on the 3 mile descent of the lollipop stick portion of the trail, back through forest, at first alongside a frozen creek and then back into the canyon walls. The terrain gets rocky underfoot as the trail works its way through the canyon again. I like practicing technical footing in this area and I was feeling awesome so it was easy to settle into a comfortable rhythm. Going back to this trail over time, I get to gauge how I am doing on this kind of rocky trail. I am finding that so much of it is how I feel on the inside, my confidence level. If I can relax, it all flows. If I'm nervous, I brake and stumble. Its so fun when it all synchronizes. I'm still slower than many other runners when I'm feeling my best, just cruising downhill through snow, or dancing through the rocks. I remind myself that I'm a unique individual. We are all unique. As trail ultra runners, we all have our specific histories, talents, age, gender, influences, health~so many factors contribute to how we run. After reminding myself of this,  I feel blessed to be able to be out on the trail, yet again.

photo by Kathy Vaughan

     "There has never been another person like you since time began, so there is no one to compare or compete with."   Louise L. Hay

     The 9 1/2 mile Black Diamond Lake Lollipop Loop offers everything I like in a trail run. It is so scenic that you can run this loop over and over again, each time having something new to see. There are distant views of the river valley and the orchards below. The cliffs and rock formations are intriguing and I like to scan them for wildlife. The route offers a great mix-cruisy, downhill running; technical trail; twisty, curvy paths through the trees; rocky climbs; running alongside deep draws; passing by frozen lakes; a glimpse into the area's history; diverse ecosystems; and all of the solitude one could want on a trail.

photo by Ras

     Ras and I want to keep this trail open all year by running it once a week. As snow continues to accumulate, we can keep packing a path. It will be worth it. As winter deepens, snow shoe hare will hop around, moose will wander and the elusive lynx that hunts the hare exclusively, may make an appearance. I plan on being out there to see all of the wonders the quiet season of winter will provide.        

photo by Shona Hilton

photo by Ras

photo by Shona Hilton

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2013: The Year In Rear View

2013: The Year In Rear View

photo by Chihping Fu
by Ras

     I couldn't have asked for a fuller or more rewarding year than 2013. It was an amazing year to be a human being. I achieved epic wins and suffered epic fails, exceeded my own expectations and fell short of my own goals. It was a year of extreme highs, yet it was a year of balance. There were corresponding lows that maintained equilibrium.  

     This year I began learning the value of failure. Not to embrace it, not in the least. Failure will never be met by me with a resigned handshake. Failure will always get my fangs and claws. I will only enter into it with kicking and screaming and flailing; with wailing and gnashing of teeth. But in those instances where my best efforts fail to ward off defeat, there is so much to learn; about myself as a specific individual, and about us, humankind as a whole.

     And in many ways failure is the goal. The only way to know for sure that I am pushing the boundaries of my own capabilities is to occasionally overstep those bounds and plummet into the abyss on the other side. So along with detailing a year of incredible triumphs, I will tour you through a few desperate chasms, as well.

     Being chosen as an Altra Ambassador really helped take my running and adventuring in new directions. I had discovered Altra Zero Drop Shoes by googling various descriptions of the features I was looking for in running shoes, and Altra kept coming up. I bought a pair of Lone Peaks and have run in nothing else since. The support and confidence Altra showed in me, a quirky back of the packer, was both humbling and inspiring. And it showed the broad-minded vision of the company's leadership, which includes sponsoring thru hikers as well. And I'm stoked to be representing Altra again for 2014.

     It was only my second time ever attempting the 26.2 mile distance when I ran the Fort Ebey Kettles Trail Marathon on February 17th. Leading up to Fort Ebey I had been running fartleks every Friday, the first time in my running career I've ever focused on speedwork of any sort. My finish time of 05:29:53 for 10th Men's and 12th overall seemed to show that Fartlek Fridays were reaping benefits. Here's the complete race report: Fort Ebey Kettles Race Report 

     I surprised myself with a 100 mile PR at the Badger Mountain Challenge 100 Miler on March 30th. My finish time of 27:17 was a big improvement over my 29:02 PR at the 2011 Cascade Crest 100 Miler. Matt Hagen insists that the course at Badger was a few miles short this year, but I took a wrong turn and added a few miles (with a steep climb), so I know mine was a legit 100 regardless. Here's the complete race report: Badger Mountain Challenge 100 Miler
Kathy gives a Crew & Pacing Report on the Badger Mountain Challenge in episode #001 of the UltraPedestrian Podcast here: UltraPedestrian Podcast Episode #001

photo by Greg Manciagli

     Two weeks later, on April 13th, I set another new 100 mile PR of 26:44:00 at the Lumberjack Endurance Runs 100 Miler. Kathy gives a Crew & Pacing Report on the Lumberjack Endurance Runs in episode #003 of the UltraPedestrian Podcast here: UltraPedestrian Podcast Episode #003

     Seven days after Lumberjack, on April 21st, at the Spokane River Run 50k I set a new 50k PR of 5:35:08. Fartlek Fridays start sounding a little less silly at this point.

     A fortnight later, on May 4th, I began the 68 hour and 10 minute odyssey that was my World Record Rim to Rim to Rim to Rim to Rim to Rim to Rim, that being the first ever sextuple crossing of the Grand Canyon. One of the hardest and most enjoyable things I've ever done, the R2R2R2R2R2R2R got me noticed on a level that I was not expecting. It was not as difficult as my 2012 Double Wonderland, but the Grand Canyon is a bigger stage. And just a couple days after I completed my run, Rob Krar blew the collective mind of the trail running community with his stellar Rim to Rim to Rim Fastest Known Time, further focusing public attention on The Big Ditch, as many are want to call it. My complete trip report is here: Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim to Rim to Rim to Rim to Rim
The complete recording of my talk at Seven Hills Running Shop about my Grand Canyon Triple Double Crossing is here: UltraPedestrian Podcast Episode #002
The interview Tim Mathis conducted with me is here: Ras Vaughan's Unsupported, Sextuple-Rim-to-Rim
The article is here: Trail runner is first to complete sextuple Grand Canyon crossing
Ken Michaels interviewed me for his podcast Running Stupid, direct download here: Running Stupid CXXIII (Ras Jahson Ites Interview)
And Ian Corless interviewed me for Talk Ultra here: 
Talk Ultra: Episode 36 - Ultrapedestrian Ras, Calitz, Kremer, Davies, Cardelli, Browy

photo by Alvin Lubrino

     Two weeks after finishing my Grand Canyon run I ran the Sun Mountain 50 Miler. I was still very tired and only partially recovered from the triple double Rim to Rim, but I wanted to run this race as part of a two race project that I was calling the Sun Pig Mountaintails Challenge 250, which entailed running the Sun Mountain 50 Miler on Sunday, May 19th plus the Pigtails Challenge 200 Miler starting Thursday, May 23rd, for a total of 250 miles in one 7 day period. I struggled all day, was DFL for a number of miles, then managed to pass two people in the last two miles of the race to finish in 12:45:01, my slowest 50 mile finish ever. For comparison, in 2011 I finished this same race in 9:45:53.

     Three days later I started the Pigtails Challenge 200 Miler. At this point I was 1/5 of the way into my Sunpig Mountaintails Challenge 250 miler, and 1/3 of the way (mileage wise) into my attempt at completing the WA Super Slam. This was another long-term project of mine, running all the longest distances at all the 100+ mile races in the Washington Grand Slam With Ham. So my goal was to run the Badger 100, Lumberjack 100, Pigtails 200, Cascade Crest 100, and Plain 100. I had run the Pigtails 200 its first year, in 2012, and was one of only two finishers from the first year returning, Ken Michaels being the other. Unbeknownst to me, I had contracted giardiasis from drinking tainted water in the Grand Canyon (completely my fault, and a risk I knowingly took at the time). 

     It hit me for the first time about 4 of 21 loops into the Pigtails 200. I completely lost my appetite, and my digestion seemed to stop working. A very small amount of food or liquid would make me feel immediately stuffed, and would produce ridiculous amounts of gas from both ends. My stomach was bloated and distended and felt over full all the time. Throughout the rest of the 67 hours and 27 minutes total that I was on the course I ate very little. When I tried to lay down and rest on two occasions I just tossed and turned for an hour and a half or so, never getting any quality rest or relaxation.

     When Allen Skytta joined me as a pacer on lap 20, I was filling my water bottles with half Coke and half water, which was all I could manage to take in as a calorie source. At this point I was in 4th place overall with 
Francesca Carmichael in front of me, putting me in 3rd place for the Men. This would be my first podium finish ever. Then about halfway through lap 20, the second to last loop, Ken Michael appeared out of nowhere from behind us and with George Orozco pacing him. They passed us with Ken giving his trademark "All Day!" greeting. I watched their headlamps disappear ahead into the night, and it just didn't sit right in my mind. Not only was Ken breezing past me to take away my first ever (and possibly only ever) podium finish, but he was being paced toward that goal by a good friend. I suddenly found myself thinking, "No." I turned to Allen and said, "Let's not let those two out of our sight," and started running, trying to match their speed. Allen grinned and slapped his hands together, and the race was on.

photo by Takao Suzuki

     We turned off our headlamps so Ken and George wouldn't be able to tell exactly where we were and caught up to within about 50 yards of them, then just hung on. We discussed strategy for the turn around. I planned on dropping my trekking poles, refilling with Coke and water, and getting back out as quick as I could. Allen told me Ken and George would be doing the same. We were both in and out of the main aide station within a minute or so. Allen had to get ready to take over the midway aide station, so I was on my own.

     I was able to keep about the same 50 yards back from Ken and George for the first two miles of the 9.6 mile loop, on a couple of occasions stopping behind bushes in well-lit areas in hopes of keeping my two friendversaries literally in the dark about how far behind I was. As we were nearing the first real climb of the final clockwise loop, I found myself catching them up without meaning to. I tucked in behind them and matched their pace, running quietly and not knowing if they knew I was there or not. Finally George said, "Nice work, Ras," and I speedhiked behind them, matching their pace as they jogged up the hill. George said to Ken, "If we don't do something now, when we get to the downhill he's just gonna take off and we'll never see him again," but at that moment Ken didn't seem to have anything to answer with. After a minute Ken said, "Ras, I guess we can run it out and cross the finish line together."

     I said, "Well, I don't mean to sound like an a******, but I don't think that was your plan a few minutes ago, so let's just see how it plays out," pulled around them on the left, and ran off up the hill at about 98% effort, and into the rolling section where George know I would make up time on the downhills. Ken and George had doused their headlamps as well, so now I couldn't see how far behind they were. I was running all the downhills and flats as fast as I could and even running many of the uphills. At the midway aide station Deby Kumasaka refilled my Coke & water mix, and I sped on. She later said she could see the fire in my eyes and knew something was up.

     Throughout the rest of miles 195 through 200, I would catch the occasional glimpse of my pursuers in the form of a silhouette on the crest of the hill behind me. I was passing friends heading the other direction so quickly that I couldn't recognize them in time to say hello. I know I startled a couple of people emerging suddenly out of the darkness and disappearing again into it just as quickly.

     I have spent a lot of time running in the dark without a headlamp, to a great degree by feel, so the ambient light of the city of Kent was plenty for me to see by. And although I was haunted by fleeting glimpses of my pursuers, in the end I took that final podium spot with a 1:55 final lap to Ken's 1:57. This gave me a finish time of 67:27:00 to Ken's 67:29:00, and a new 200 mile PR for me by just under two hours.

     The Pigtail Challenge was also Kathy's first 100 mile race. Her complete race report is here: 2013 Pigtails Challenge: My First 100 Smiler

Race Director Van Phan's Race Director's Report is here: Pigtails Challenge 2013
James Varner's 100 mile race report (including a sighting of my and Ken's 21st lap battle) is here: Race Report: Pigtails Challenge 100

photo by Trey Bailey of

     After Pigtails I was incapacitated by giardia. My weight plummeted to 170 lbs. I usually walk around at about 190. Even in the UltraPedestrian Video that Tim Cash made for us, you can see that I am abnormally thin. For all of June and July I was unable to run. If you look at my Altra Ambassadors Page you can see that I had to pass up at least four Only Known Time attempts I had planned for 2013. To this day I still do not feel 100%.

     I only got in two or three short training runs before August 11th and the Angels Staircase 60k, which was to be my final tune up race before the Cascade Crest 100, and the Plain 100 three weeks after that, the final two races in my WA Super Slam attempt. I love this course, and had a great time, but my running was labored and forced and difficult, and I wasn't all that happy with my performance. And it didn't bode well for the two 100 milers I had coming up. I finished with a time of 10:22:51, 45 minutes behind last year's time.

     On August 24th, I struggled through every step of the Cascade Crest 100. I am a very meditative runner. I usually float along for miles, for HOURS, in a zen endurance fog, moving easily, almost on autopilot. But not this time. Every stride, every minute, every step of the Cascade Crest 100 miler was an effort. It was never easy or cruisy or floaty or zen. It was work and pain and exertion and a constant sensation of moving through a viscious fluid, or against elastic bonds. I finished, and I made the 32 hour cut off, but not by much. I turned in my personal worst 100 mile time of 31:38:30 and took home my third CCC buckle in as many years. And I had completed 500 of the 600 miles of my WA Super Slam. But I was not feeling optimistic about the upcoming Plain 100, and I only had 21 days to be as ready as I could be.

     On September 15th the Plain 100 became my first Did Not Finish. It's easy to brainstorm a long list of excuses, but they don't change the fact. I failed to complete the Plain 100, thus failing to complete both my personal WA Super Slam and the official Washington Grand Slam With Ham. It's okay to say it. I failed. Yes or no, did I accomplish what I set out to do? No. Fact.

     The supreme challenge of the WA Slam is that the toughest race, the Plain 100, is the final race in the series. And it is just two or three weeks after Cascade Crest, the second toughest race in the series. This year, when it counted, I was unable to meet that challenge. I did, however, still qualify as the only finisher of the 2013 Washington Grand Slam Hold The Ham, that being completing four out of the five 100+ mile races held in Washington state. Here are the complete results of the Washington Grand Slam With Ham: WA Grand Slam With Ham

     Over the summer we hosted the first annual UltraPedestrian Wilderness Challenge, an adventure blogging contest we dreamed up as one step in the ongoing UltraPedestrian goal of Democratizing Trail Culture. Read the complete results here: 2013 UPWC Complete Results & Awards

     October 5th my entire family ran the Baker Lake Ultras. I ran the 100k and Kathy and Angela both ran the 50k, it being Angela's first organized race of any sort. I came in at 16:20:26 for my first ever 100k finish, Kathy ran an 8:24:23 for a PR on that course, and Angela finished her first ultramarathon in 7:36:11, officially making us an Ultra Family. Kathy's complete race report is here: 2013 Baker Lake 50k Trail Run: Third Time is a Charm

photo by Angel Rossi Mathis

     On October 18th Kathy and I set out to attempt a North to South to North double traverse of the Kettle Crest Range via the Kettle Crest Trail No. 13. Due to significantly more snow that we had hoped, 100+ blow downs across the trail, and significantly more elevation gain than we knew of, we called it quits at 6:43AM on October 19th after 46+ miles, 23 hours and 56 minutes on the trail, and the Garmin measuring 19,000 feet of elevation gain (although I find this number suspect). However, our North to South Traverse of the Kettle Crest stands as the Only Known Time for the complete Kettle Crest Trail No. 13. Kathy's complete trip report is here: Kettle Crest Traverse: North To SouthThe Fastest Known Time page detailing our attempts on the Kettle Crest is here: Fastest Known Time: Kettle Crest Trail

     The Second Annual Highland Halloween Hundred Trail UnRun, aka H3, was hosted by Kathy and I on October 26th. Distances of 42 miles, 84 miles, and 126 miles were offered. This was another of our efforts to redefine endurance and build new paradigms of hominid locomotion. Kathy's complete Race Director's Report is here: H3 2013: The Second Annual Highland Halloween Hundred Trail UnRun 

     November 18th Kathy and I ran the Baker Lake Fat Ass 50k. Our goal and intention was to run the 100k, but after 50k in 4 inches of fresh snow, rain all day long, standing puddles on the trail, temperatures in the upper 30s, rising winds, plummeting windchill, and 11 hours and 12 minutes on the trail, we tapped out. Terry Sentinella was kind enough to give us a 50k finish. Kathy's detailed trip report is here: Baker Lake: Take Two

     On December 15th Kathy and I ran the Deception Pass 50k together for the third year in a row and the third year of the race. Kathy and I finished in 8:21:05 and 08:21:06, respectively (yeah, she outkicked me by a second at the end there).

photo by Glenn Tachiyama

     In December it was a further blessing to have choose Tim Mathis' interview with me as #3 in their top 10 best stories of 2013. Read all ten top stories here: Best of Inside Dirt 2013

     Also in December, I won a Grimey Award. It was an honor to be selected as one of the honorees for the first annual Washington Ultra Grimey Awards. Thank you to Tim Mathis, also to Trey Bailey of And I'm in excellent company. Read all the awards here: 2013 Washington Ultra Grimeys

     What an amazing year and what a Blessing to be alive! Give Thanks for Life!