So what the heck is a ¾ year in review? It’s a legit question. My desire to write this now is twofold. First, I haven’t written a single race report this year, so this is my last ditch effort to share my experiences from this year’s races before they escape my mind completely. Secondly, I’ve come to a resting point in my running for the year. I’ve been training and racing consistently for the last seven months and needed some time away from running to rest the body and recharge the soul. I plan on running North Face 50 in December, so I’ll wait until October before ramping up running specific training.
Injury – The start of 2015
I spent the first couple months of 2015 training in the gym. In October I fell into a ditch during an early morning tempo run and bashed my knee requiring eight stitches. What I thought was going to be a week or two away from running turned into 3 months of little to no running. Some tendonitis had developed in the knee and it bothered me when I ran, so I did the elliptical and quad strengthening to try to get myself back to running. Finally in February, I was able to run consistently again with the knee pain relegated to more of the nuisance level versus being a hindrance.
New Zealand – March
After delaying the trip for a month due to my knee injury, I was finally able to feel confident about an intense two week running trip in March. I flew into Christchurch and met up with my best bud Jason Schlarb and familiar friends and videographers Joel Wolpert and Bobby Jahrig who would be filming the trip.
Schlarb and I ready to embark on the 33.5 mile Milford Track requiring a boat ferry on each end. Photo: Joel Wolpert
The next two weeks were a whirl wind of big days running on breathtaking trails and rallying in the motor home to the next trail head by night. We were fortunate to run in perhaps the most geographically diverse place or earth, with the likes of Anna Frost, Grant Guise, and Vajin Armstrong giving us the locals tour. The Kiwi Tracks film turned out to be a visually stunning portrait of New Zealand trail running. You can catch the 28 min feature film (paid) and 5 min Kiwi Tracks Bromance Edit (free) at schlarbwolf.com.
This year was one of transition for me in the world of ultra-running. In my first two years at the ultra distance, I’d never raced longer than 50k. This year I made the move towards longer distance ultras by racing 50 mile and 100k races. My main motivators for selecting races this year were driven by two factors. First, race in high profile and competitive races. I want to see how I stack up against elite fields and have great support from Hoka One One encouraging and allowing me to travel to such races. Secondly, I selected races in locations where I wanted to run, places that inspired me. Last year I raced the U.S. Skyrunning series and I found myself running races just because they were in the series and I needed to run them to earn points. Towards the end of the series racing felt forced, and that’s never a great motivator. So the criteria this year was basically, competitive, inspiring location, and enough time to recover from the previous race. This also meant that I would be moving on from Speedgoat and The Rut for a change of scenery after racing both the previous two years.
Lake Sonoma 50 mile – April
With two months of running under my belt it was time to toe the line at my first 50 miler. Lake Sonoma is arguably the most competitive 50 miler in the U.S. and unfortunately I didn’t feel like I was coming in with my A game. The start line was a who’s who of the ultra-running scene. It was good to catch up with four of my Hoka teammates and spend some miles racing with Mike Wardian and Karl Meltzer. The course is an out and back along the rolling hills surrounding Lake Sonoma.
Karl Meltzer, me, and Seth hanging at the start line. Photo: Myke Hermsmeyer
My plan was to go out conservatively and hopefully be able to pick off the carnage on the return trip to the finish. The speedsters took the race out quickly and I settled around 18th place for the first 25 miles of the race. After half way I was feeling good and one by one started passing guys who were paying the price from a fast start. By the mile 38 aid station the carnage was becoming apparent. Both Rob Krar and Mike Aish were sitting there having called it a day and I left in 12thplace and each mile now becoming the farthest I’d ever run. Unfortunately at this point I started to get some strong cramping in my right quad which shortened my stride and slowed me down. Also at this time, I was passed rapidly by the first female Stephanie Howe and Karl Meltzer. As those two pulled away, I focused on drinking liquids and taking salt pills in hopes of getting rid to the quad cramp. Luckily, it subsided and I was able to pick up the pace passing Karl and another runner with 5 miles to go. With about a mile to go I caught a glimpse of Stephanie and pressed hard and passed her with a half mile to go. I finished in 11th place and was pretty elated with my debut 50 miler. I was particularly pleased with how I battled late in the race and was able to finish strong.
Lake Sonoma offers up a bunch of smooth rolling singletrack. Photo: Myke Hersmeyer
The entire Lake Sonoma weekend was amazing. Traveling there from Missoula with Seth Swanson, stopping by Hoka headquarters with my teammates, staying at a guest house in a vineyard were some pretty big highlights outside of the race itself. I certainly look forward to returning to Lake Sonoma in 2016.
Had a blast racing with a my Hoka One One teammates. Brought me back to my team x-c days.
Don’t Fence Me In 30k – May
It’s always nice to have a competitive trail race just down the road from home. As part of the La Sportiva Cup, Don’t Fence Me In annually fields top runners from Montana and a couple elite out of state runners competing in the Cup series. An added benefit to this years race was the Trails in Motion film screening the night before the race where I got to introduce Around Patagonia and field questions from the audience.
Being a runnable 30k, the race goes out hard from the start. I settled into 7thplace and hovered around there for most of the race. After a big climb to start the race, the field bombed down the first downhill section of single track. As I got rolling I quickly noticed an ache feeling in both knees. The ache wasn’t necessarily slowing me down much, but it was enough to provide some mild discomfort.
I was looking forward to using my finishing time from this race to gauge my fitness relative to my 3rd place finish in 2013. With 2 miles to go in the race I faced an awkward sight of three race runners headed back up the trail towards me. They informed me that that course sabotage had occurred at the last trail junction and we’d ran over a half mile off course. As we worked our way back towards the junction a couple more runners came running towards us. As a group we remarked the flagging at the junction, removed the log someone had place over the correct trail, and continued toward the finish. Collectively we decided to jog across the finish line in the order we were when we went off course, so that meant I would be finishing in 6thtoday. As we jogged down Mt. Helena, the aching in my knees was intensifying and I was glad to not be bombing down at race pace. It ended up being a fun day on the trails, but the knee issue set me back and ended up keeping me out running for over a week and the Pengelly Double Dip a few weeks later.
Eiger Ultra Trail 101k – July
As much as I tried to wrap my head around running 63 miles with 22,000 ft. of elevation gain beforehand, I really couldn’t understand those numbers until I was in the thick of it. And by understand I mean more like how I underestimated those numbers.
I had spent most of June and July hiking up steep mountain trails using hiking poles opposed to running them. I knew I’d be relying on my upper body to propel me uphill just as much as my legs, so I wanted to get those muscles and coordination built up beforehand.
Met up with Schlarb in Switzerland. He would go on to crush this race, whereas this race crushed me.
On race day the field lined up in the town of Grindelwald for a 4:30am start. The iconic Eiger was towering above. Off into the darkness we went and as the hiking poles came out for the first steep ascent my headlamp shined on a familiar mullet. Jason Schlarb and I spend the next couple of miles together as the morning light started to reveal the giant peaks surrounding us. As Jason took off towards to lead group, I hovered comfortably around 15th place until the 20 km mark. At this point, my energy levels hit a low and I was relegated to walking both on the uphills and downhills. Over the next 45 minutes 20-30 runners passed me as I contemplated dropping out of the race. I continued to consume gels, but they just didn’t provide a boost to my energy levels. I finally decided to consume some real food and pulled an Omnibar from my pack and ate it. Instantly, my energy level started to sky rocket and I was able to return to running. Ok, so maybe I could finish this thing. The goal was no longer a competitive finish, but rather just get to the finish.
The scenery was spectacular but it was hard to enjoy it when I just wanted this race to end.
14 hours after starting and in 20th place, I crossed the finish line located back where I’d started the day. The announcer asked me how I enjoyed the course and if I’d be back next year. With a microphone in my face I said “No way am I coming back, I don’t want to suffer like that again.”
Looking back on that race, I am proud of just finishing. On a day where early on I knew it wasn’t going to be my day, I continued to press on one step at a time through some of the most beautiful yet demanding terrain I’ve ever been on. Questioning why I run ultras crossed my mind many times especially since I wasn’t enjoying the experience. I can’t say I have a great answer, for me it’s not about pushing through adversity or finding my limits. What this race did do for me was build confidence leading into other ultra races. Knowing that I had Squamish 50 mile in 5 weeks didn’t seem very intimidating knowing that I could push myself for 14 hours straight.
Snowbowl 15k – August
Running this race was a game time decision and I’m so glad I did. Runners Edge does a great job supporting the local trail running community and I wanted to support their inaugural event at Snowbowl ski area just 20 minutes from town. It is always amazing to see the high quality competition that shows up to a local Missoula trail race.
At the start line with some strong local talent. Photo: Mom
As we charged up the dirt roads to the top of the mountain, Jason Delaney and Mike Wolfe pulled away out of sight. After 45 minutes of slowly grinding uphill I crested the ridge and hopped on the single track descending back down to the base of the ski hill. The next 4.5 miles would prove to be the most fun running of the year. A gradually descending trail and a knee that felt healthy allowed me to fly down the trail without caution. I literally had a smile on my face the whole way down enjoying the windy single track. I crossed the line in 2nd place, but more importantly I felt rejuvenated with running. That decent reminded me why I run. Flying freely down the trail through the forest is one of my greatest pleasures in life and one that has eluded me since my injury. I left this race with a renewed joy for running and excitement for the upcoming 50 miler two weeks away.
Squamish 50 mile – August
Heading into 2015, Squamish was the one race I knew for sure that I wanted to run. The photos I’d seen of the course showed lush rain forest and technical trails that just called to me. I knew it would be an environment that I rarely get to run in and was excited to toe the line with a competitive field of US and Canadian runners. The timing of this race was ideal allowing me to leave the smoke laden air of Missoula behind.
As had been a welcome theme to my 2015 races, I was racing with a friend from Missoula, this time Mike Foote. Mike and I spent the first couple hours running a relaxed pace with a lead group of four other runners. We were letting out cheers of excitement as we made our way into the lush winding single track that surrounds Squamish. The lead group steadily pulled away from me and I played leap frog with a few runners behind me throughout the rest of the day.
High fiven Smurfs and Dragons with Mike Foote on a not so glamorous section of the course. Photo: Bryan McCurdy
The kick in the but I needed was jogging into the last aid station with seven miles to go, I heard the volunteers cheering for “the first female” as I turned to see Cassie Scallion right behind me. I quickly put down some watermelon and orange slices and left the aid station with revitalized energy and motivation to run hard to the finish. I held my position and crossed the finish line in 6th place giving race director Gary Robbins a high five. It was great to see Gary out on the course throughout the first half of the race cheering on the runners and getting a firsthand account of how his race was playing out. He puts on a top notch event with a great base of volunteers and unbelievably thorough course marking that never left me wondering if I was on course.
Sections like this boardwalk through the ferns are a true gem of the Squamish 50 course. Photo: Bryan McCurdy
Overall 2015 has been a year where my stoke for running has burned a little less bright. I think having a slight, yet nagging injury throughout the year has had something to do with it. That being said, I am extremely grateful to my family and Hoka for providing me the opportunity to travel to far off places to run. After all, it is my hobby and what I love to do. I’m glad that they get to join me on some of these journey’s and look forward to the day of when I’m running with my daughter Autumn. Now after a month of very little running I can feel the stoke for hitting the trails burning brighter as the temperature dips, the colors change, and fall rolls around.