Ultrarunning Through 2012: My Year in Point Form & Video

Today I was going through my old photos and I was really taken by how filled this year has been with so many firsts, and so many amazing adventures. Here is my year in point form, and in photos.

January

* Started the year with a new distance PR at Across the Years: 100K
* Completed the Disney Goofy Challenge in January (half marathon followed by marathon the next day)

February

* Ran my first 100-miler at Rocky Road 100
* Completed my first mud run (Spartan Race)
* New marathon PR at Surf City

March

* First DFL at Rodeo Valley 50K (four-way DNF with friends–the best kind!)

April

* Beat Shacky for the first time at Oriflamme 50K
* First of many Mount Baldy summits

May

* Grand Canyon R2R2R
* First of many shared miles with ultra legend Gordy Ainsleigh
* DNF at PCT 50 (Grand Canyon legs)
* Slowest 50K ever at Born to Run 50K (failed barefoot attempt)
* Second 100-mile attempt at Nanny Goat 100 (dropped at 55 miles)
* Quit my job to focus on running and writing

June

* First pacing gig at San Diego 100
* Met Scott Jurek and got my Kindle autographed
* Shopping for a Rialta RV
* Got my dreads :)

July

* Training runs with Gordy Ainsleigh on his stomping grounds & Western States course

August

* Bought the RV!
* Transrockies 6-day Challenge (120 miles)

September

* Course PR at Noble Canyon 50K
* Volunteered at inaugural Mogollon Monster 100

October

* Completed inaugural Cuyamaca 100K
* Visited and ran in Zion National Park
* Summited Arizona’s highest peak, Mt. Humphrey’s
* Finished my second 100-miler at Javelina 100

November

* Ate my way through the Krispy Kreme Challenge (Lite Division)
* Ran the last few days with Rae on her Run Across American
* Completed my third 100-miler at Chimera 100, my first mountain 100
* First Zion 100 training run
* Ran with Colby on his first marathon

December

* Cheered friends at their first ultra at Ridgecrest 50K
* Multi-day Noble Challenge (5 summits in 5 days, 100 miles)
* Next up: Across the Years 72-Hour

Transitions

* From barefoot running to minimalist running (and sometimes Hokas!)
* From some roads to all trails
* From flats to mountains

* From 50Ks to 100 milers (still haven’t run a 50 miler!)
* From racing everything to racing some, and volunteering more

Highlights I’m most proud of:

* From zero 100-milers, to three in one year (should be four at Across the Years!)
* Finished my first book, to be released in 2013 titled The Summit Seeker: Memoirs of a Trail Running Nomad
* Ditching the daily grind and moving into the RV to explore, write, and run

May your 2013 be filled with joy and adventure. Happy Holidays!

Ultrarunning Through 2012 Video

Direct YouTube Link HERE

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Annual Performance Self-Evaluation Assessment for Hobos

Hobo
It’s that time of year again. All the spiffy worker bees are filling out their employee self-evaluations, looking back on a year of growth and progress. Meanwhile, I’m sitting here in my dreads with the cat attacking the string on my hoodie. I may or may not be wearing any pants.

But fear not Team Hobo! This year will be different. This year we can measure our progress. This year… we have self-evaluations.

Last year, my boyfriend Shacky and I walked away from our office jobs to move into a Rialta RV with our dog Ginger and a stowaway kitty who appeared on our doorstep (pregos!) as we were getting ready to leave. Our life since then has been one trail adventure after another, and we are very much enjoying a life free of the 9 to 5 grind followed by the 6 to 10 chores and housework.

Here are some videos to give you an idea of what our life is now like:

RV Living and Traveling in the USA

Direct YouTube Link HERE

Quitting Our Jobs to Live in a Rialta RV

Direct YouTube Link HERE

Trail Running Adventures In Utah

Direct YouTube Link HERE

Although we are carefree, we are still growing and learning. When our days become a blur of mountains and beaches and furry animals, it can be difficult to measure our progress. Especially when we don’t know what day it is.

Here to help, are six main categories of hobo living, followed by a series of statements to help with our self-evaluation. I would like to tag the following hobos and invite them to fill out this evaluation on their own blogs:

And you can fill it out too! If you’re at all interested in living simply, embracing minimalism, and love to travel, feel free to see how you stack up and post on your own blog. Find out if you’re ready to join Team Hobo! Any suggestions for additions or edits to the evaluation are welcome too.

My answers are included below.

FYI: We loosely define “hobos” as people who have either given up their homes or their jobs (or both) to pursue travel, a simpler life, and/or financial freedom. The “hobos” we know are nomadic, free thinkers, open minded, and are always grateful for a hot shower and a cold beer. They have all chosen this lifestyle.

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The Self-Evaluation Assessment for Hobos

Please give yourself a letter grade (A, B, C, D, F) for each of the following six categories, and briefly describe your evaluation.

1. Embracing Minimalism

A – We have gotten rid of 95 percent of everything we own. Our RV is small enough that we can’t keep anything that doesn’t serve multiple purposes, even if we wanted to.

2. Feeding Hobbies

A – Our lifestyle revolves around trail running, our only major hobby.

3. Managing Expenses

D – Being new to hobo life, we spent the first couple of months eating out a lot. We now eat most of our meals in the RV and are learning where to buy cheap fresh fruit and veggies. This last month has been a huge improvement, but our annual performance overall is still low.

4. Learning New Things

B – I’m learning a lot about trail running, but I’m not reading as much as I’d like to on different topics. I have many unread books on my Kindle that I’ve been meaning to get to.

5. Personal Growth

A – The hobo transition has taught me so much about who I really am, and what I love to do. I’ve learned to stay true to myself.

6. Balancing Relationships

B – We have had the amazing privilege of developing new relationships and spending time with people we previously only knew via Facebook. We can still do better with this though. Both Shacky and I love our solitude as well.

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Now for the following statements, please rate yourself as:

  • Below Average
  • Satisfactory
  • Above Average
  • Superior

Briefly explain your ranking.

I know how to discreetly steal toilet paper.

Satisfactory – It’s easier when you carry a purse, which I rarely do.

I prepare meals in under five minutes.

Satisfactory – We are eating mostly raw, which cuts down drastically on meal prep.

I always know the location of the nearest spot I can spend the night.

Satisfactory – Shacky is really good at this, but we’re still nervous about getting “kicked out”. We’ve only been kicked out once, from a Walmart.

I manage to find a hot shower at least once a week.

Satisfactory – When hot showers are unavailable, rivers and creeks and trailhead faucets are great substitutes.

I know who my boss is.

Superior – Kitty is boss. She sleeps wherever she wants and we dare not kick her off, even if our legs are cramping up.

I set and meet weekly goals.

Superior – Mileage and climbing goals for us. I track my goals weekly and monthly, hitting at least 200 miles/month. My mileage has been increasing for the past six consecutive months. Woo!

I know what my benefits are.

Superior – Fresh air, freedom, the open road, travel, adventure, and exploration.

I give back to my community.

Satisfactory – We are looking forward to even more volunteering in the coming year. We love to help out at races and fatass events.

My workload is realistic and achievable.

Superior – I only work on things that I love.

I have mastered the art of dumpster diving.

Below Average – We have yet to try this. But we’re intrigued!

I know where to find an electrical outlet.

Satisfactory – We can find outlets, but the trick is to find one where we don’t feel obligated to buy anything. Haven’t mastered that last part yet.

I know where the nearest wifi is at all times.

Satisfactory – We have a cool app that helps us out, and we continue to improve. Libraries are great, and we were thrilled to learn that the beautiful and quaint Old Temecula has city-wide wifi.

I keep every plastic bag I come across.

Superior – We use these these for garbage, dirty clothes, and plastic wrap. Easily reusable as well.

I re-use tea bags.

Satisfactory – I like my tea relatively weak, so it’s not much of a problem. But drying them out is a pain.

I don’t pay for salt and condiments. Packets are free at Taco Bell.

Satisfactory – The little packets are so cute! We’re still working through some older stuff from the house as well.

I don’t pay for forks and knives. They are free at Taco Bell.

Below Average – We still mostly use our own cutlery.

I raid Lost and Founds.  

Below Average – We have yet to do this! Seems a litttle like stealing to me though…

I always use public toilets to poop.

Satisfactory – We rarely poop in our own RV. Porta-potties, coffee shops, McDonalds… all fair game.

Actually, sometimes I poop in the woods.

Superior – Guilty as charged.

Thank you for time, hobos. You may now continue doing whatever you want, all of the time.

Coming Soon: My friend Margaret is having Team Hobo T-shirts made. Stay tuned!

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10 Surprises at GORE-TEX® Transrockies 6-Day Race

When Shacky and I were offered the opportunity to run in the The 6th annual GORE-TEX® TransRockies Run from August 14th-19th, 2012, we jumped at the chance. Traveling from Buena Vista to Beaver Creek, CO, we would join the migration of the “Trail Striders” as we wove through Colorado’s spectacular rocky mountains.

Trail and ultra runners at heart, Shacky and I had no idea what to expect from this more-expensive-than-what-we’re-used-to event.

Shacky and I were interesting participants at Transrockies this year, because we’re normally less social and more independent. We love the challenge of supporting ourselves. We crave the solitude of trail running—just the two of us and the dog, as simple as possible. With the entry fee money, our first thought would be to spend it on living off the trail for several months instead of trying an event like this.

But Transrockies this year gave us the opportunity to do something we never had the chance to before—push our limits on the trail with no concerns over running out of supplies, and competing against other very fit and talented running teams.

Shacky and I are used to running together, but never as a team against other teams. It was more of a competitive vibe than your typical ultra, and I enjoyed pushing myself. We bonded amazingly well where some other teams bickered and fell apart. I felt validated in our training and impressed with our positivity and chemistry with each another on the trail. I learned that chemistry like this is rare.

Never at any other race have I seen more of a payoff from our training. This was place we could push our limits among a different crowd of competitors. It was big wake up call for us as far as what our bodies are actually capable of (much more than previously thought). We are very proud of ourselves.

  • Distance: 120 miles
  • Time: 32 hours
  • Team Rank: 16

Here are some surprises:

1. “It doesn’t get easier, you just get used to it.”

In the shuttle to the packet pick up, we chatted with the volunteer driver who was local and accustomed to living and running at elevation. He mentioned that we shouldn’t be too concerned with the elevation. The truth is that everybody pants while running. Everyone feels like there’s less air. People who run there are just used to it.

This is true for mountain running as well. Running up a mountain is always hard. Running down is always technical and rocky. But the more you do it, the more familiar your body feels with the difficulty of it. It doesn’t get easier, you just get used to it. This knowledge allowed me to feel less disadvantaged and more competitive.

2. “If I could sleep as long as I wanted, I could run 50 miles every day.”

Ultra runner Michael Arnstein once said this, and after this week I fully believe him. Sleep is the key to consecutive days of long distance trail running. Except for one night, I slept well and was feeling 100% at the start line. The one exception was a night I kept waking up, and I felt sluggish and fatigued all day.

Everything rejuvenates while we sleep. You may be able to pull off a couple of good days on poor sleep, but to be at your best on a stage race, you need to highly value your sleep. If you want to be stronger runner in general, make sleep a big priority. And don’t be afraid of naps.

3. “We’ve got nothing but time…”

One of the biggest benefits of quitting our jobs for trail running and RV living is that Shacky and I have all our time back. This is a tremendous edge when it comes to training. The challenge of the high mileage week is not physical—it is practical.

While people generally assume that it takes a certain athletic prowess to run a 100-mile week, I believe anyone can do it if they have the time. Ultimately, training becomes more a question of priorities than physical skill.

4. “Why are we on a road again?”

About 50 percent of this race was run on roads, mostly dirt ones. This was a disadvantage for us, since we’re much more competitive on single track. We’re great climbers and strong technical downhill runners. But the road running slowed us down, as we were highly unmotivated to run these sections.

Every day, we had to run anywhere from two to eight miles to get to a trailhead. On top of that, we would often finish the run on at least two miles of road. Shacky and I walked these sections and let people pass us.

I hate how my trail shoes feel on the road, and I just plain don’t enjoy running roads. However, the majority of our competitors were road runners, and this was a big edge for them.

5. “It’s all in your head.”

I decided to not record any altitude or GPS on these runs. Instead, I recorded the elapsed running time to help me estimate mileage and speed. Basically, I didn’t want to know how high I was at any given moment, or how far I had gone.

Before this race, the highest we had ever climbed was 10,000 feet. This race capped out at around 12,500 feet, spending quite a bit of time around 11,000. I knew that there probably wasn’t much difference between 10 and 12 thousand, but I also knew that if I was aware I was running that high, I might be overly cautious about symptoms of altitude.

I wanted to go completely by feel, and that strategy worked. I figured if I was sick, I was sick. But it wouldn’t be because I knew in my head that this was all new territory. I wouldn’t get nervous as soon as I knew I was higher than 10,000.

Not knowing the mileage also made the runs go by so much faster. The 20-mile days seemed short and the aid stations came up quick.

6. “Races are won on the downhills.”

I believe this quote was said in reference to ultra runner Killian Jornet, and I really embraced it this week. Shacky and I did a lot of hill training for this event, and it worked. Going uphill, speed was unnecessary to stay ahead—just endurance. As long as we didn’t stop to gasp for air, we could keep a good pace.

But coming downhill was where we could easily pass 20 to 30 runners with very little effort. It’s actually much easier to run downhill faster than it is to run it slow. We passed many very cautious downhill runners.

Of course, you don’t want to run any faster than what you’re comfortable with… but training hills made Shacky and I comfortable quick stepping those descents, and it was a tremendous payoff. We built such a huge lead on the dowhills that even though we walked around two miles to every finish line (roads), many runners would not catch up.

My strongest asset was secure footing. The descents we had trained on were much rockier, technical, and steeper than what we raced. So running down these trails felt like a roller coaster. My footing was secure and I could let my legs loose and allow gravity to do the heavy lifting. I ran between six- to 10-minute miles downhill, bounding along for several miles at a time.

7. “In running and in life—choose your partner wisely.”

There was a lot of drama, in-fighting, and bickering among running teams at this race. That was a surprise because Shacky and I never do that. I think we often take our chemistry for granted, and it was interesting to see just how rare it was to find a well-functioning team.

Some of the drama was due to mismatched skill levels, or different running goals (one wanted to compete, the other wanted to have fun). Plus other things like hunger and fatigue were making people snap. One husband told Shacky that he had to stay two miles ahead of his wife at all times, because he was afraid that she would kill him if he got any closer.

The rules of this race were that each team had to check in together at each checkpoint, and could never be more than two minutes apart. So you were essentially running very close to your partner for six days.

Shacky and I had a good system going. He would usually pass me on the uphills, and I would pass him on the downs. If one got ahead of the other, we waited at the checkpoint. The longest wait at any time was 10 minutes.

Often, I would be running thinking Shacky was further behind me only to find him right on my ass. Neither of us had any goals other than to run our best, and we both did.

I pushed Shacky by staying ahead of him when he was struggling (he’s motivated by me NOT passing him), and he pushed me with data (how many miles left) and edging me on to run to a shorter distance target (like the next marker) when I was feeling low. An advantage for us is that we train together all the time and enjoy each other’s company more than we enjoy competing.

8. “Why won’t you run with me?”

There was a lot more competition among the mid-packers at this race than I’ve ever seen in an ultra. Instead of catching up to someone and enjoying a chat, teams would try to build new leads. This wasn’t always the case, but usually it was.

You were much less likely to get a good conversation here than at an ultra. These runners were more focused and driven to pass you, not run with you. At first it was a little strange, but later I was just as happy to compete… and got a kick out of watching people’s expressions as we tore past on the downhills with a friendly greeting.

The crowd was primarily made up of road runners, not trail runners, and many times had a road marathon vibe. A lot of people running trails for the first time, and quite a few triathletes.

9. “We are a family.”

The Transrockies staff and volunteers put a lot of effort into trying to build a close-knit family-like camping vibe. Although they partly succeeded, it was frankly not as strong of a bonding vibe as you feel at a trail ultra marathon or even an ultra timed event.

Some runners were only running the first three days, and these were usually the most goal-focused individuals. There was also a lot more whining and complaining that what any ultra RD would generally tolerate. The vibe shifted to a little more homey on days four to six, but still not anywhere close to what is felt with smaller trail running groups.

If you are a social butterfly, you might actually prefer this since there are more people to make the rounds with. Shacky and I bond better in smaller groups, so we made a couple of new friends, but generally prefer a tighter-knit atmosphere. We make fewer friends, but hold them much closer.

10. “You don’t want to wait until you’re 80 to see this shit.”

This is what I said to Shacky at one of the summits. The beauty of these trails, the quality of the climbs, and the scenery from the single track were all spectacular. Shacky’s favorite was Stage 5 where we realized how grateful we were to be able to experience all this while we were still young and able-bodied.

I loved Stage 4 where during a brutal climb the runners behind me were bitching loudly. Although my legs were stinging and lungs were burning, all I could think of was how much I love this.

Don’t wait to retire to see the world. Take vacations. Downgrade your life. Cut your expenses to get out and see these things. The views are free, you just have to get your ass there. You won’t regret it or forget it.

Is Transrockies worth the money?

Yes, if…

  • You’re a very social runner and you love being surrounded by new people to meet
  • You like to be catered to, encouraged, surrounded by support
  • You’re used to dropping larger race fees (triathlons vs ultra running events)
  • You’re a newer trail runner and would appreciate some extra support
  • You love organization and work well with schedules
  • You like to compete with other teams at your level
  • You want to push your physical limits in a safe trail environment

Maybe not, if…

  • You’re happier running in solitude through the mountains, unsupported and with no agendas to follow
  • You’re a seasoned trail or ultra runner and you already train high mileage weeks
  • You dislike the camping experience
  • You don’t like to be fussed over or aided
  • You have all the time in the world to explore these trails on your own

Shacky and I found out that Colorado has a state law where you may park your RV anywhere that is not private property, and you don’t have to move it for 13 days. We plan on coming back to Colorado soon for more running—more mountains, more mileage, less roads, and less aid.

We were so grateful for this opportunity. The biggest thing I learned was to highly value our partnership and the lifestyle we’ve chosen. It puts us at the top in both running and life, and it’s extremely rare.

For many, this can be an epic, once-in-a-lifetime adventure. But this week we also realized—this can be our everyday life. Just the two of us and the dog. Just the way we like it.

Experience the GORE-TEX Transrockies 6-Day Running Adventure from Vanessa Runs on Vimeo.

GORE-TEX Transrockies Race Freebies from Vanessa Runs on Vimeo.

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10 Ways Transrockies Compares to a Trail Ultra Marathon

How to Choose Your Partner for Transrockies

How to Train for a Multi-Day Stage Race

Why You’re Not an Elite Runner

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