Silverton 1000 Race Entry Giveaway

Silverton-1000-Website-HeaderI am honored and excited to offer one free entry to the Silverton 1000 in Colorado at the end of August.

The winner will receive a free entry to the race option of their choice. Choose from: 24 Hours, 48 Hours, 72 Hours, or 6-Day Challenge. Value = $145 to $400.

This race takes place at Kendall Mountain Lodge in Silverton, Colorado where race director Mark Hellenthal is doing an amazing job at drumming up excitement for things to come.

Some perks include:

  • Quality shirts & beanies
  • Free Hokas to the winners
  • Trail Runner magazine subscriptions up for raffle
  • Mind-blowing 400- and 500-mile belt buckles for the truly insane!
  • … and don’t forget the automatic entry to the 1000 Mile Challenge for all 6-day runners (you’ll have 18 days to cover 1000 miles)!

Learn more on the UltraSignUp Registration page HERE.

Visit the race website HERE.

Visit the race Facebook page HERE.

TO ENTER

Simply leave a comment below answering the following question:

“What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you during a race?” 

For additional entries, share this post on Facebook, Twitter, your blog, or anywhere else online. Each additional share = one extra entry. For example, if you comment below as well as share on Facebook and Twitter, that’s 3 entries. Remember to mention where you shared in the comments below.

The winner will be chosen at random on July 19th and contacted directly.

Happy Trails!

silvertonrun

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Answering Patagonia: A Wild Call to an Untamed Land

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Before Alaska and before moving into the RV, there was Noble Canyon. It was while running down this much-loved, familiar trail with my good friend Christine Bilange that my eyes were first opened to Central and South American possibilities.

Christine urged me to not disregard my Central American roots so easily, to reconcile and re-connect with my father and my family in El Salvador, and to seriously consider the possibility of returning south for a cheaper and more natural life.

When my legs are tired, my mind is open, and I had 60ish miles on my legs that week. I went on to run a 100-mile training week at Noble Canyon, summiting every day for five days, and spending several of those miles thinking about what Christine had said. Before that day, I had envisioned myself living in the US for the rest of my life. Why not? We had everything here.

I had even scoffed at Shacky’s suggestion months ago that we look into Central/South American living. “Why would I want to go back there??” I demanded. “My parents worked so hard to get us out…”

But I knew that South American living was cheap, I knew that the land was still rugged and raw, and I felt a strong southern pull on my heart.

“We’re moving South!” I exclaimed to Shacky when I met up with him at the bottom of the canyon. He raised his eyebrows.

Instead, we drove north.

And we continue north—toward Alaska. But the South/Central American seed is still there. Shacky has begun following blogs of American expats who are living full-time in South and Central America. He has come up with places to visit, and spots to camp.

I have begun reading in Spanish and following a blog about El Salvador. We have discussed running across El Salvador (only 160 miles!), and I even had the brilliant idea of running from the northernmost point in Alaska to the southernmost point in South America. This would take us three to four years, but Shacky still needs some convincing (maybe include the PCT?).

This month, my dad is in El Salvador looking into charities and logistics to support a run across that country (this would be the first time it has ever been done). He’s doing the legwork as far as security and supplies, and I’m back in touch with him after almost two years of silence.

Many weeks after Noble Canyon and Christine, I found myself sitting in a Volkswagen dealership in Arizona when a Skype call from Nick Barraza came in. He wanted to talk about the Patagonian International Marathon (ultra distance available), the conservation efforts in Chile, and the Patagonian Ambassador Program. His timing was impeccable.

Listening to him describe Patagonia, I knew we had to go there. Nick took me on as a Patagonian Ambassador and I got this lovely profile page, alongside some awesome names like Krissy Moehl and Dylan Bowman. I am truly honored.

But what excites me the most is Nick’s descriptions of the conservation efforts in Chile, and the mountains there. I have a vision of us spending several months in Chile, working first-hand for this cause, and running those mountains.

I asked Nick for an interview to try to express the lure of Patagonia. Perhaps you will also feel drawn to this wild land.

Interview with Nick Barraza

NickBWhat is it that calls you to Patagonia?

As with any natural area of beauty and wonder, Patagonia speaks to the adventurer in me. The biodiversity, pristine lakes, breathtaking glaciers, and majestic rock formations make this region extremely special. In short, my inner-coyote howls for Patagonia.

How did you get involved with this race?

Now that is a long story! After completing the inaugural marathon in 2012 I had accumulated a handful of ideas along the run. Wanting to aid Nomadas International Group SA (NIGSA) in their quest to promote and aid conservation in the Patagonian region, I initiated contact with the company and offered my support and work in any form possible.

What do you hope that runners will gain from this experience?

I hope runners are inspired to come down to Torres del Paine, Patagonia and partake in this collective and international effort to spread education and inspiration around the conservational efforts taking place throughout region.

Runners will not only be able to see one of the earth’s most precious landscapes, but also dip their feet into Chilean and Patagonian culture. This event connects local Chilean runners with runners from all around the world and brings people together to celebrate the culture and preservation of Patagonia.

How have you been involved with conservation?

Studying and researching as an Environmental Scientist has always led me, in one way or another, to a conservation project.

However, it was not just my degree and path of study that led me to participate in various aspects of local and global conservation. In fact, most of my involvement with conservation has been through volunteering within local communities.

What is your favorite memory in Patagonia?

Ah, now this is wonderful question, and a very special one too! As a result of running the race in Torres (and a long story to follow), I met my amazing girlfriend and partner in crime in the heart of Patagonia.

Little did I know that three months after the race we would both end up leaving our respective jobs to set out on a three-month backpacking excursion through Chile, Argentina, and Peru.

Our journey changed my life in ways I would have never thought possible. The magic of Patagonia is responsible for harboring our initial connection and for that I am eternally grateful.

What is your favorite Patagonia wildlife and why?

Well, I am a big fan of foxes, that’s why I have a dog that looks just like one! However, I am going to go with the region favorite on this one and say guanacos. Let’s just say they have very intriguing personalities and tend to showcase these personalities through spitting at passing trekkers. They are very amusing creatures! Google them!

Besides attending the race, how can people get involved?

For people that cannot make the event, we invite you to join us in our quest to spread education on the sustainable initiatives taking place in the Patagonian region. Connecting with the event on Facebook, Twitter (@PatagonMarathon), and helping us share and promote the race and organizations the event supports.

Also, we invite anyone and everyone to post blog entries, pieces in magazines, local newspapers, etc., to help get the word out there. If you do decide to do this, please let us know, so we can feature your piece on our site and social media networks!

We have also created the Patagonian Ambassador Program. Which seeks to partner with runners, writers, filmmakers, and any one else who is inspired and passionate about our event and conservation in Patagonia. You can view the program HERE.

If you are interested in becoming a part of this amazing team of ambassadors please get in touch with us at info@patagonianinternationalmarathon.com

Patagonian International Marathon Video

Direct YouTube link HERE

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Seeking Dispersers: A Call to Embrace A Wild Life

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A few months after quitting our jobs and hitting the road, Shacky and I have had the unique experience of meeting many people and noting their reactions to our new lifestyle. We are carefree, scruffy, and drawn like magnets to the most remote and off-the-grid locations. We don’t shower often and are sometimes mud-splattered. Frankly, we expected some disdain from civilized society. But these have been the reactions:

One older gentleman stared at Shacky from afar, then approached him and said, “You look like you lead an interesting life.”

A weed-loving hippie spotted us at a trailhead, and greeted us warmly like life-long friends.

A couple of young men hover around the RV and try hard to look inside. When they see that we own it, they yell, “Well done!”

People say we are living the dream. Not the American dream of working hard and building a comfortable life, but the other dream of wandering the planet with little possessions and no plans to speak of. When people hear of our lifestyle, their eyes light up.

Are we all drawn to a nomadic life?

A few months ago I read a great article by Mike Miller about our genetic disposition for high risk and high reward. Suddenly, everything made perfect sense.

Miller begins by telling the story of seven of his friends whose lives ended early. Many reaped some amazing rewards in their short lives, but walked dangerous ground. Miller then goes on to examine our own human draw to a lifestyle of high risk.

He tells it better than I can, so here is his article:

By Mike Miller

I’ve had a lot of time lately to reflect on Micah’s life and death. I’ve shared some of those thoughts in other venues but I’ve also had the opportunity to step back and ponder the bigger picture, because for me, Micah was not the first larger-than-life, charismatic, dynamic, inspirational man to enter my life, change the way I think, and leave again far too early.

For me, he was the seventh.

There are many commonalities amongst all of these men, and I’ve been thinking about things like:

  • What makes for a well-lived life?
  • What makes for a good death?
  • Why does it seem like the best among us leave far too soon?
  • What is it that made these men who they were?
  • And what drove them to do the things they did?

I would love to tell you stories about all these great men, because there are amazing stories to be told, but I don’t think I have eight days to speak so I’ll try to keep it brief.

I’ll tell you about a biologist friend of mine who studied the world’s greatest carnivores, grizzlies and Siberian tigers. In the end, he was killed and eaten by a bear at age 49.

Another friend was one of the world’s best mountain climbers. He was killed in an avalanche at age 40.

Another was an endurance athlete who didn’t own a car, but rather rode to races on his single speed road bike. He was a Hardrocker, and a finisher of a race where he ran 700 miles in 12 days. He died in the last mile of the Tucson marathon at age 40.

My own father was born into an Amish family, but when he was 12 his neighbor took him for a ride in his plane. Four years later, my father left his family and the Amish community to pursue his dream of being a pilot. When he died, he was a pilot for a commercial airline, captain of the 747. He was killed in the crash of a plane that he wasn’t even flying at age 58.

These five men all died doing the things that they loved. Every one of them however, had taken great risks in their lives. In the end, they died doing things that for them were relatively easy and safe.

For most people, the things they were doing would have been impossible, dangerous, physically demanding, lonely, and frightening. But for these men it was what they did every day of their lives. They were doing what they loved, but that’s not what killed them.

They died not because their activities were dangerous, but because they spent so much time doing those things that pure statistical probability made it likely that they would be doing them when their time came.

That’s beautiful, man. I hope we all live lives like that.

I miss all these men greatly and would gladly give a year of my life for one more week with any one of them. But they led amazing lives and died well with no regrets. I cannot feel sad for them, only for us who have been left behind.

But I said there were seven and I’ve only mentioned five.

Another friend who had also been a grizzly bear biologist left that field and became a computer programmer because he thought it would be a more secure future. He chose safety, but he always regretted that decision. He used to tell me “Bart and Alex are out there making a life and I’m stuck here making a living.”

He was making plans to move to Alaska and join his friend Bart, but instead died in front of his computer late one night of a brain aneurism. He was 45.

Sure, Bart got eaten by a bear and Alex died in an avalanche. You might think they died because they lived risky lives. But they had no regrets and they outlived my friend who had chosen safety and regretted it. That is truly sad.

Safety is an illusion, my friends. It doesn’t exist.

We cannot control the timing or manner of our passing, but we can control our lives. The lesson of this is to live the best life we can and not get so caught up being afraid of death.

The seventh one pains me most of all. Another spectacular, larger than life personality. He grew up in Jackson Hole in the 50s and became a mountaineer and skier, putting up many first ascents and first descents.

He had to move to Canada because his conscience wouldn’t allow him to fight. When he came back to the States many years later, he became my friend. We skied and climbed together for a couple years before he was diagnosed with Stage 4 Colon Cancer and given six months to live.

He beat that by three years and we got to climb a few more mountains together, but in the end he suffered a long, painful death that was terrible to watch, fighting with insurance companies and kept alive by drugs and machines.

Although he lived longer than any of my other friends, I would not have wished that on any of them. It would have been a fate far worse.

I’ve thought a lot over the years about these men and what made them different. As a biologist, I can tell you that in every population of animals there is a small segment of the populations that are prone to disperse.

These dispersers don’t stay at home and fight for a territory to defend. They head off into the unknown by themselves. Many of them die lonely deaths in wild places, but occasionally one succeeds. They find another population or an empty patch of habitat where they can be wildly successful, spreading their genes far and wide. That keeps the dispersal gene from going extinct.

It is a high risk, high reward strategy, but it is critical. Without these dispersers, populations would not be able to expand, or adapt. They would become inbred and stagnant and eventually extinct. Dispersers keep populations vital by connecting them.

Humans have a dispersal gene too. Throughout history, humans have struck out in search of new lands and new people, undaunted by the risk they take. In today’s world there are no undiscovered lands, but there are still empty places in the world and people to connect to.

Dispersers are out there climbing the peaks, studying the wildlife, flying the skies, running the trails, and connecting with new people. They can’t help it. It’s in their genes.

Unfortunately in today’s world, there are fewer and fewer outlets for dispersers and many of them end up stuck in cubicles trying to shoehorn themselves into a life that somehow never seems to fit. They have an innate, deep-seeded need to get out, so they go outside before or after work.

They dream of travelling the world and seeing new places and meeting new people. Their non-disperser friends will never understand why they can’t help themselves.

If you are a Disperser, there are some qualities that you’d better have if you’re going to be successful:

1. You better be strong because you are going to encounter some hardship and you may have to defend yourself.

2. You better have a positive attitude because you just have to believe that the grass is greener on the other side.

3. You better persevere because you have a long way to go.

4. You better be comfortable alone, because you’re going to be alone a lot.

5. You better be smart so you can adapt to changing situations.

6. You better be peaceable because when you get to where you are going, it will be you against everyone else.

7. You better be charismatic because you’re going to want the people you meet to like you.

8. You’d better have love in your heart because the whole point is to spread genes, right?

Have you ever watched nature shows on TV? You’ve seen the dispersing wolf trying to ingratiate themselves into a new pack. They don’t come in aggressive and belligerent. They come in humble and submissive, wagging their tails. You see the same thing amongst children on a playground or musicians entering a picking circle at a bluegrass festival.

This too is a trait of dispersers and I suspect that if someone had been there to observe it, it would have been the way that Micah approached the Raramuri, humble and submissive and wagging his tail. It works.

We know what Micah did for the Raramuri. The race provided food and money to many but Micah didn’t want to just give them handouts to meet their material needs. He also wanted to show them that they were respected and honored by many other people and that they should be proud of their culture. That is not a lesson that they heard very often. The Raramuri responded.

Micah did the same for many of us. Us Dispersers. He gave us a name. He called us Mas Locos, and when the world was at war he brought us together in peace at the bottom of a canyon in Mexico, because that’s what Dispersers do. They connect us.

He taught us, like the Raramuri, that we are not alone. That there are others out there like us who have never really felt part of this modern world. He provided a venue where we could express all the innate qualities we share: strength, perseverance, peace, love, humility. He instilled in us a sense of pride in who we are, and we went home changed people.

Now that Micah has left us, I hope that we will take his lessons to heart and we will disperse out into the world with peace and love in our hearts and strength in our bodies. I hope we will find ways to make it a more connected and vital place.

Micah showed us one way, but there are many others. It’s up to us to find them. While we are searching for our own path, I hope we keep in mind one last trait that all of my friends have shared: They gave back far more than they ever got out of the world, and they never bothered to collect much in the way of material wealth.

Instead, they collected experience and relationships. When they died, they were wealthy and happy men. It’s a high-risk strategy, but the rewards are also great. Giving is more powerful than getting.

I’d like to finish with a word to the non-dispersers out there:

You will never understand us. We know that, just as we will never understand you. The things we do seem risky and frightening to you. You are going to give us advice like:

  • Never run alone.
  • Always tell someone where you are going.
  • Be prepared for anything and always carry a massive pack loaded with rain gear, warm layers, extra food and water, a huge first aid kit, a flashlight, a cell phone, a GPS, and a SPOT.

It’s good advice and we should probably take it, but often we will respectfully ignore you because we are Dispersers. Our destiny lies in places beyond the reach of cell phones and search parties. We have to travel light, and we have to be free to adapt to changing conditions.

We are comfortable being alone and we are comfortable with a little risk. The things we do are not frightening to us. We don’t do them in order to face fear. We do them because it is what fuels our spirit and recharges our soul. We can’t help ourselves. It’s in our genes.

Sure, some of us will die out there in the lonely wild places, but we are OK with that because we are more concerned with living than dying.

Dying in the woods does not frighten us. What frightens us are cities and paperwork, car crashes, and sitting on a sofa watching TV. We fear dying a long, slow death trapped in a bed, and becoming a financial and emotional burden to our loved ones.

I’m not here to tell you to be stupid, take risks, ignore safety, or be unprepared. But nothing in that advice would have kept my friends from dying. It may have shortened the search, but it wouldn’t have saved their lives.

Ultimately, everyone is responsible for assuming the level of risk they are comfortable with, and there is nothing wrong with being safe. But there is nothing wrong with an occasional calculated risk either.

If Micah had listened to that advice, he would never have gone to Guatemala in the middle of a civil war and would not have gotten the name Caballo Blanco. He probably would not have become a trail runner because there were no other people to run with in those days.

He would not have met the Raramuri in Leadville, traveled to Copper Canyon to live with them, and he would never have started his race. Many of us would not have been inspired and the world would have missed something beautiful.

If Micah hadn’t done these things, he would never have met Maria or Guadajuko. His last few years might have been lonely and sad rather than full of love and peace and joy. I want to say a special thanks to Maria for providing that to him in his final years.

So please, let us go.

Let us explore, connect, and inspire. Head off into the wild, lonely, empty places with wild abandon. Let us go beyond the range of cell phones and search parties. We know what we are doing; we are listening to out hearts and following our destinies.

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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

Are Ultrarunners Narcissistic and Self-Centered?

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My friend Jason recently posted a heartfelt and honest article about his journey with ultrarunning. Jason has just started working for UPS, a physically demanding job that has left him embarrassed about the self-centered aspects of his running.

His post brought to light several points that I have tried to make on my own blog over the past few months, so I thought it was worth a reply.

Read Jason’s post about The Narcissism of Running.

Here are my five thoughts on the subject:

1. You can tell who the narcissists are.

People come in all shapes, sizes, and intentions. Yes, there are people who run with a “Look at me!” attitude. But there are others who do it humbly, graciously, and with a giving spirit. It’s easy to pick out the narcissists:

  • A narcissist will tout his own accomplishments. A humble runner will call out the accomplishments of others.
  • A narcissist is all about bragging on social media, and will hijack the posts of others to report their own (irrelevant) mileage. A humble runner will use social media to inspire and encourage others toward their goals.
  • A narcissist will speed by his competitors whenever possible. A humble runner will encourage the people he passes, and motivate them to follow.
  • A narcissist will be eager to offer you advice you didn’t ask for, and assume you are much less accomplished than they are. A humble runner will relate to you on your level.
  • A narcissist will make excuses for their failures. They will blame the course, the volunteers, the RD, or just say they weren’t trying very hard. A humble runner learns from his mistakes.
  • A narcissist says “Look what I did!” A humble runner says, “If I can do it, so can you.”

A few examples:

a) At Ridgecrest 50K this year, my friend Shawna was having a low point when Raul passed her. Raul kept waving her along, gesturing her to follow him, and that’s how they got to the finish line together. Shawna PR’d her 50K that day.

b) Ed Ettinghausen runs countless 100s and is always on hand to wait for and cheer the last runner on the course. Those who have run 100s know how gross and tired you feel after you cross the finish line. All you want to do is change your clothes, take a shower, and pass out. You’re suddenly cold and miserable. Everything hurts. Now imagine sitting around for hours after that, in your own filth and fatigue, waiting for the very last runner to come in. Imagine cheering for them loudly and genuinely, a person you don’t even know. That’s Ed.

c) At the inaugural Mogollon Monster 100 this year, the winner of the race, Jamil Coury, was trotting along when he came across an elderly couple on the side of the road with a flat tire. He stopped running to make sure they were OK, and ended up taking several minutes to change their tire in the middle of the course. The couple was later shocked to learn that he was racing, since he took his time to make sure they were cared for and never complained about the delay.

d) Jesse Haynes was in first place (and went on to win) the San Juan 50K this year when he passed Shelly and me. We were lost and obviously in the wrong place ahead of him. He stopped dead in his tracks to help us and offer directions, not hesitating to break his stride for a couple of clueless runners.

e) At last year’s Ridgecrest 50K, I was crashing in the final miles. I was walking and feeling sorry for myself when Catra Corbett powered past me and yelled, “Let’s go, girl! We got this!” I ran after her. I crossed the finish line right behind her with a new PR, a sub-6 finish. And I got an award for first in my age group.

2. Ultrarunning is a community.

As cheesy as it sounds, we are a family. That’s why for Shacky and I, it’s important to attend races even when we’re not running. This is where volunteering, trail work, and cheering/crewing/pacing play an important role. There’s always work to be done at an ultra, and there are always runners who could use some motivation.

It doesn’t matter if it’s not your race. It’s somebody’s race. So you show up for them. You show up for the race directors who have too much to do. You show up for the volunteers who are tired, cold, and sleep-deprived. You show up for your friends who are running. For the runner whose pacer didn’t show. For the newbie without a crew. You just show up.

Although Shacky and I love to joke about sitting around drinking beer at ultras (and there’s a lot of that too), it’s equally important to me that we jump when there’s work to be done. I was proud at one race when Shacky had to drop out at an aid station, and ended up hanging out there to volunteer, pack up the aid station, and lift all the heavy objects because he noticed the volunteers were older than he was.

When I think about this sport, I imagine the passing of a baton. So many of these older guys have put in their time. They have forged the trails for us (sometimes literally). They have put in the hours of trail work, the volunteer time, and have set a humble example for us. Now we are the ones who are young, able, and on fresh legs. It’s time to get off our asses and make these events happen.

3. It’s not really about the running.

I totally agree with Jason that the running itself is pretty unimpressive and pointless. But it was never really about the running. It’s about the way a runner feels when they finish their first ultra. It’s about that realization when you cross the finish line at a 100-miler, that you actually are capable of anything you set your mind to.

It’s that sense of accomplishment, self-worth, and empowerment that spills over into every other aspect of your life. It makes you hold your head up higher, gives you courage to shed those toxic relationships, inspires you in your career, helps you raise your family better, and motivates you to live healthfully and happily. That’s why I run ultras, and why I encourage others to do so.

The physical act of covering random mileage is indeed senseless. But knowing for a fact that your body and mind are capable of far more than you thought—that is life changing.

4. You’re not as awesome as you think you are.

The runners with the most experience tend to be the most humble. That’s because they know that no matter what, there’s always someone who is faster. Someone who has run further, or who is injured less.

With ultrarunning, you never know who you’re talking to, so never brag about yourself. For all you know, the person you’re talking to runs your weekly mileage in one day. Or they’re a world record-holder. You can never tell by looking at them. So avoid looking like an idiot, and shut your mouth.

5. “I chose this.”

At Javelina Jundred, I came up with the mantra “I chose this,” to express a lot of what Jason is talking about. So many people in this world suffer to support their families. To put food on the table. Just to survive.

Some people suffer aches and pains to give their children a good life. If I suffer aches and pains, it’s because I’m running in the mountains. If I’m sore, it’s because I spent all day doing something I love. I am fortunate beyond belief, and appreciating that is so important. I chose this.

3 RDs to Give Back To

If you want to give back but don’t know where to start, here are three Race Directors who have embraced the humble spirit of ultrarunning, and could use a few extra hands.

1. Steve Harvey: California

Steve is a well-loved and important part of the ultra community in Southern California. He directs Chimera 100, Old Goat 50, and Nanny Goat 100/24Hr/12Hr. If you want to hang out with the best runners and the best volunteers, these are the races to hit up. Don’t worry if you’re a new volunteer. You will learn far more than what you can possibly contribute, and the experience will be rewarding.

Here is my race report from this year’s Chimera 100.

Race website:

2. Matt Gunn: Utah

Matt is the Race Director for Zion 100 and Bryce 100. He is a talented runner, down to earth, and eager to share his love for Utah’s spectacular trails. For jaw-dropping beauty, it’s hard to beat the trails that Matt plays on.

Last year was the inaugural Zion 100 run for Matt, and this year (April 2013) the course is even better. Shacky and I are both registered.

Newer races are always in need of help, so there are countless ways to volunteer for these. One thing Zion 100 was short on last year was pacers. Because so many people were coming from out of town, there was a huge need.

Pacing is single-handedly the most rewarding way to “volunteer”. Truthfully, you get far more out of the experience than you can give back. Zion 100 allows pacers as early as 30 miles, and I’d strongly recommend the pacing experience.

Here is a great article on how to be a good pacer: Part I, Part II

Race websites:

3. Jeremy Dougherty: Arizona

This year, Jeremy launched the inaugural Mogollon Monster 100. We had the privilege of helping out at the race and saw first-hand Jeremy’s passion and work ethic. Jeremy is a younger race director, eager to give of himself to put on an unforgettable event.

Like many new RDs, Jeremy took a financial loss to put on this event. It was a true labor of love. He describes the logistics of Mogollon here—a recommended read.

The Mogollon is a beautiful but brutal course in need of some helping hands. It’s worth getting involved with this one.

Race website:

So What’s the Verdict?

Are we really all just a bunch of attention whores?

Perhaps some of us are.

But in this sport, there is just as much opportunity to be giving, humble, and truly make a difference in someone else’s life.

RELATED ARTICLES:

7 Reasons You Think You Can’t Run an Ultra (When You Can)

3 Things That Rocked the Mogollon Monster 100

Why You Should Stop Rationalizing Running

Chimera 100 Race Report

The Chimera of Greek mythology is a ferocious, fire-breathing beast made up of part lion, part serpent, and part goat. She is a terror, but also swift-footed and strong. She sprints the mountain trails of this course, devouring runners and claiming her victims one DNF at a time. On this race of incessant climbs and quad-shredding descents, you have only two choices:

Fall prey to the Beast. Or run at her side.

When I first signed up for Chimera, I knew this race was out of my league. But I knew that if I trained hard, I had a chance of finishing. And if I didn’t, at least I challenged myself and hopefully learned something.

For a few weeks, I approached Chimera with a “race that I will try” mentality. But the Beast smells fear from miles away, so I knew I had to change my mindset. I adopted a new approach:

  • Do or do not. There is no try.
  • You don’t have to be fast, but you better be fearless.
  • Are you a Mexi-CAN or a Mexi-CAN’T??!

I would finish this race no matter how bloodied or broken. Quitting was not an option. This is the story of how I survived.

****

When I ran Javelina 100 at the end of October, I overheard a runner encourage another by saying, “It’s only one 50K in the morning, one in the afternoon, one at night, and then a short 10-mile loop.” That made sense to me, so for Chimera I broke down the race into three parts:

  • The first 50K I would run as the Serpent.
  • For the next 50K I would be the Goat.
  • And in the final push I would be Lion.

1. Serpent

“I don’t know about tomorrow. I just live from day to day. I don’t borrow from its sunshine, for its skies may turn to grey.” – I Know Who Holds Tomorrow

The serpent is one of the oldest symbols in mythology. One of the first things I ever learned was the Biblical story of Adam and Eve falling prey to the crafty serpent. The serpent is shrewd and cunning. And that’s what I need to be early in this race.

I remembered a Bible verse I had learned in my childhood from Matthew 10:16: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

Strategy in a 100-miler is everything. The key is to hold back as much as possible and preserve your body. I did this by keeping my body loose, slowing down, and not bombing any downhills. I made sure I never felt like I was exerting myself or breathing heavily. In fact, the first time I actually pushed myself to run was at mile 70+, when the sun came out on Sunday morning.

I love downhill running on single track, so I really had to make an effort to slow down and not fly these sections. I knew that I would need my quads later on. Tons of people passed me early in the race as well, and on every out and back I noticed that there were less and less people behind me. I was in the back of the pack.

2. Goat

“To some it’s the strength to be apart. To some it’s a feeling in the heart. And when you’re out there on your own, it’s the way back home.” – Katie Melua

Before I left for Chimera, I posted on my Facebook status: How can a goat be afraid of the mountain? It is his home.

That’s how I felt going into this race. I had no jitters–just excitement. This would be my first mountain 100, and although I had never run this far in the mountains, I knew I belonged in the clouds.

As Sarah Duffy points out on the Chimera Facebook page: “The course description includes 16 different terms for UP.” Some include:

  • Steep Up
  • VERY Up
  • Decomposed Granite Up
  • Truck Trail Up
  • Uphill Danger
  • Rolling Up
  • Generally Good Footing Uphill

There are also 15 different terms for DOWN:

  • Steep Technical Down
  • DANGER Down
  • Rolling Down
  • Very Rocky Downhill
  • Short Rocky Down
  • Slight Down Rocky

Sarah continues: “It was a purely physical challenge. I finished a climb and there was another one. I got to the bottom and I had to turn around and go back up. I rounded the bend and the hill continued on. I am still overwhelmed by the sheer physical demand of all that climbing, but I’ll recover happily knowing the monstrous fire-breathing creature didn’t eat me alive.”

Fabrice Hardel won Chimera this year with a mind-blowing time of 16:52:06. He broke the course record from last year (which was also his). After Cuyamaca 100K, Fabrice gave me the following advice for Chimera: Find the steepest hill you can and run up and down, over and over again.

He was dead on.

Climbing

I channeled my inner goat and embraced these climbs. Rather than seeing them as something outside of me that I must conquer, I imagined myself playing in my own living room. The hills were not strange, nor foreign. They were a part of who I was. They were hard, relentless, and beautiful. Just like me. I tried to remember that I wanted to be here. Even if there were no race, no buckle, no accolades. I would still want to run.

Positivity was crucial. This I learned at Javelina, and made sure my mind was clear and positive the entire distance. To me this means not allowing myself to get caught up in the stress of the race. I don’t allow myself to think of the cutoffs. I don’t wear a watch so I can’t stress over my pace, and I eat consistently. When I’m having a dip, I stop and mentally address it.

Something like this:

  • I’m feeling grouchy right now because I haven’t eaten enough. I will stop and eat at the next aid station.
  • I’m feeling worried right now because I don’t think I will make the cutoff. I have plenty of time.

Stress can lead to physical pain if I don’t put a stop to it. It’s a wave of desperation and exhaustion that hits all at once and makes everything suck. With every race I do, I’m learning to control it more and more.

Sidenote: My inexperience as a 100-mile runner showed when I realized at the end of the race that I pretty much missed all the hot food. I heard there were burgers, quesadillas, and pizza, none of which I saw. I was told I was supposed to ask for it. Oops.

I had also mistakenly assumed that most of the course would be single track. When I realized it was a lot more fire road (where cars could drive), I switched into my Hokas the first chance I got at mile 50, and they truly saved my feet out there.

Coming from a background of minimalist running, this was my first time racing in Hokas and by far my longest run in anything this supportive. What I found with the Hokas was that I could run more of the course with minimal pounding on my feet. My form didn’t change–I was still running light and my feet still felt strong from the minimalist training. But they gave me a break as far as watching all my footfalls late into the night. I also had to do less jitterbugging with my legs (especially downhill) in an effort to maneuver around any rocks that might trash my feet.

Although I love my minimalist shoes, I can’t deny that I owe much of this race to my Hokas. My feet after the race were immaculate. There was no blistering. No broken skin. No swelling. I almost feel that my minimalist training combined with using Hokas to bring it home created a perfect storm. I had all the benefits of minimalism, combined with the benefits of protection.

The biggest criticism I hear about Hokas from the minimalist viewpoint is that there is little flexibility at the ankle. So if you step on a rock, your ankle is more likely to roll. This wasn’t an issue at Chimera since the rocks were not the trickiest I’ve maneuvered. It was more straightforward terrain than what I have been training on, so by keeping my form light, I avoided any ankle issues.

The more I run, the more I realize that success has very little to do with what brand of shoes you wear, and so much more to do with specific terrain, combined with personal preference. Hokas might have felt terrible on another course. On this course, my minimalist shoes felt terrible, although I’ve had great success with them at other races.

In the meantime, my good friend Patrick Sweeney ran the entire thing in Luna sandals. He signed up the day before, with zero training, and came in 8th place. To me, that goes back to show how irrelevant footwear can be. All that matters is what feels good to YOU.

I also feel that 100-milers are an exception. When you’re talking shoes with someone, they’re probably not planning to run 100 miles in the pair they rave about. Distance can really change your perspective on things like this. The Hokas worked for me, and I always vote for whatever works in the moment. Right now I’m seeing some value in training minimalist and running the later miles of a 100 in Hokas. But I’ll keep experimenting.

I also brought my iPod to help me out in case I needed a push through the night or in the later miles. That helped me at Cuyamaca 100K, as well as Javelina. I even had a backup iPod in case my battery died. While the iPods worked, my headphones busted early on, so my music was useless. I’m sort of glad that happened because I still really enjoyed myself and now I know that it’s not the end of the world if I don’t have an iPod or an audio book with me.

I learned that I really enjoy the solitude and silence of being out on the trail. I’m very comfortable with the passing of the hours, with no distractions and only the shuffling of my own feet to accompany me.

3. Lion

“If you fall, pick yourself up off the floor. And when your bones can’t take no more, just remember what you’re here for.” – Gym Class Heroes

Having “preserved my body” for the first 60 miles, it was now time for beast mode. I pulled into an aid station about 30 minutes before sunrise, and was informed of a new danger:

“Do you have a pacer?” a volunteer asked.

“No.”

“We recommend that people run with pacers, because there is a mountain lion from here to the next aid station.”

“Oh. Ok….”

I still didn’t have a pacer.

I remembered my mountain lion encounter at the Grand Canyon and decided it would be best to avoid this new obstacle. I tried shining my light into the bushes where the lion might be hiding, but that was useless. My light was only strong enough to illuminate my next few steps, so I wouldn’t see any mountain lions until they were on top of me.

Instead, I decided to sing loudly to the lion. Surely my terrible singing voice would terrify him and send him fleeing into the mountains. It must have worked because the sun came up and I never saw any other lion besides myself.

As soon as the sun rose, I started running. I ran into the Indian Truck Trail aid station, and was greeted warmly by what looked like all my friends!

I was thrilled to see Trasie, Elizabeth, Julius, and Trisha, among others. They were so eager to help and I got star treatment. I also had a cup of the most delicious homemade butternut squash (vegan) soup with avocado. It was my first time seeing any hot food vegan options, and I was immediately energized. Refueled, I ran the seven miles down Indian Truck Trail to meet my pacer Holly.

Running into Mile 80

At the bottom of ITT, I changed my socks, got into some dry clothes, re-taped my foot (preventative), and grabbed some gaiters. It was such a relief to see Shacky again. The last time I had seen him was at mile 20, after the first single track loop. The day before.

Even Ginger and Momma Cat came out to say hello. Ginger licked all the salt off my face while Kitty demanded to know why she had not been recently petted. I gave her a quick pet, but I couldn’t stay long–we still had a lot of climbing left, and I started hiking back up the hill with Holly.

Ginger was waiting a really long time for me to come down the trail…

Climbing again…

Holly and I made it to the top of ITT, Mile 90

It has been said of Chimera that “even the downhills feel like uphills,” and that is certainly true in the last 10 miles especially. As soon as you hit a downhill stretch, you realize that you have no quads left. Thankfully, I had worked so hard to preserve mine, that I had some leeway to run or at least walk comfortably downhill.

I was in such high spirits chatting with Holly. The mountains were beautiful, we were moving through the clouds, and Shacky had packed me a large ziplock bag full of watermelon, apples, avocado, and grapes. We also picked up some clementines at Trasie’s aid station. I almost ate the entire fruit bag.

It’s impossible for me to be sad on the mountain. I’ve been in San Diego for a year now, but I still feel like a tourist when I run at these spectacular elevations. It never gets old.

The downhill stretches were tricky because they were so steep that it was harder to walk them than to run. But running this late in the race is hard to do as well. There were no comfortable options.

I had to remember that the Lion doesn’t represent comfort. It represents strength and power. And with the blessing of the Chimera She-Beast, I ran it in. As sick as it sounds, I was almost sad to see it end. I was having such a great time with Holly and I knew that stopping would be more uncomfortable than running at this point.

I finished in 31:52:31. I didn’t realize it at the time, but finishers who complete the course under 30 hours get a silver buckle. I’ll be back another year to claim my silver buckle and play in the mountains with my old friend Chimera.

Yes, she is as vicious as they say.  She haunts these mountains because she can be herself here: crafty, fearless, and strong. She does share her trails, but only with other beasts.

Me crossing the finish

With RD Steve Harvey at the finish

The Aftermath

My recovery is going great. I’m stiff when I sit for too long, but once I’m walking I feel pretty good. I also feel good when I sleep. Ha. I’ve been craving so many fresh fruits and veggies, and I don’t want to look at aid station food for a very long time.

My weight feels about the same, but I have no scale to confirm. I haven’t tried running again–I believe recovery is a crucial part of training. I want to take a really easy week, and hopefully be running again by next weekend. We’re headed to Zion to preview some of the Zion 100 course over Thanksgiving.

I told Holly as we neared the finish that this is the buckle that I will treasure the most, for many reasons. First of all, it’s my first mountain 100. Second of all, it’s the only 100 that I actually trained for. And finally, it was the only race that I seriously believed at the time of registering that I couldn’t finish.

The swag

The Course

Elevation profile

Shout Outs

Shacky

Besides crewing me, Shacky was a huge part of my training. He has been taking me across state lines to the steepest, rockiest mountains to train on. He has given me tons of time and space for long runs, and then longer runs. He has supported me in signing up for races as “training runs”, and has crewed me for those events as well. I could never have done this without him.

Here are some of Shacky’s highlights:

  • Hanging out and having a beer with Karl Meltzer the night before the race
  • Seeing Fabrice smash the course record
  • Seeing Pat Sweeney ape Vanessa by signing up for a hundred at the last minute and bringing home a buckle (8th overall)
  • Seeing Wes Edell run his first hundred and finish it in 7th overall
  • Being weirded out by the strange church near the aid station I hung out at all night

Holly

My pacer made the last 20 miles of this race downright fun. I never once felt sad or sorry for myself. We shared some great conversation, she kept me eating way after I had forgotten, and she wouldn’t let anyone pass us. She even made sure my shirt was on straight (I left the aid station with a backwards shirt). I’m so grateful to her.

Jason

Jason Robillard took me under his wing as my coach after I signed up for Chimera months ago. He kept me on track as far as mileage, speed work, and general training. He gave me great advice and I was able to learn quickly. Jason is now organizing a boot camp in San Diego for ultra runners. I would strongly recommend his training style. You can learn more about it here.

Congrats to all the beasts who conquered this epic race!

RELATED ARTICLES:

7 Reasons You Think You Can’t Run an Ultra (When You Can)

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Javelina 100 Race Report

7 Reasons You Think You Can’t Run an Ultra Marathon (When You Can)

Photo: Ice Spike

The thought of running an ultra marathon can be daunting. It’s a terribly long and intimidating distance. If you’re a newbie, you have no idea what to expect and ultra runners seem like super heroes. But many people have it in them to run an ultra. Once you desmystify a few key aspects, it’s a very achievable goal.

Here are a few key aspects of ultra running that are most commonly misunderstood, and may be preventing you from taking the plunge into the wonderful world of ultras.

1. Hills

The majority of trail ultras are hillier than your typical road marathon. They are always exceptions, but the one thing that can be intimidating is the elevation profile of some of these races. One common misconception is that ultra runners are actually running all of these hills. While some of them do, most of the runners do not.

One of the tricks to ultra running is to conserve energy as much as possible so you can endure to the end of the race. Running uphill tends to burn energy fast, so many runners find it’s more efficient to power walk uphill. The time you lose is minimal, but the energy you conserve is significant. And as far as exertion, it’s much easier than running uphill.

While a lot of ultra runners may appear to be mountain goats, hill training is hard for everyone. We all feel the same pain on a steep climb. Yet so many reach these breathtaking summits, and so can you.

2. Speed

Some runners believe that because they are not fast, they can’t compete in an ultra. But the ultra is more about endurance than speed. It’s also about troubleshooting problems and pushing yourself mentally. Yolanda Holder is a Guinness world record holder and has finished countless ultra marathons. Yet she has not run a single step.

Yolanda is a power walker, and even at her “slow” pace, she not only finishes these challenging events, but passes several runners. At an ultra, slow and steady finishes the race.

3. Distance

When you plot a 50K or any other ultra distance on a map, it seems “crazy”. But your perspective of distance changes at an ultra. Distances seem much shorter when you’re chatting with a friend (slow and steady means you’re not panting for breath). You can also break the mileage down by running from one aid station to the next. Aid stations are generally five to eight miles apart. It is a manageable distance that you can focus on, and you’ll be capable of more than you realize. Besides, if you’ve already run a marathon, a 50K is “only” five more miles.

4. Exertion

Unlike a 5K, 10K, or even a half marathon, you are not going all out as far as exertion when you run an ultra. As mentioned, the key is to preserve energy. Although it may feel like you’re going slow, this will pay off greatly in the later stages of the race and carry you to a strong finish. I actually find a 5K much harder on my body than a 50K. On a 5K, I am pushing hard. It’s a significant physical challenge. On an ultra, I am trying not to overexert myself. I am preserving energy. And it feels easier.

5. Terrain

If you’re used to road running, you may be familiar with a whole host of injuries that creep up over and over again. The pavement is unforgiving on a long distance runner. When I switched to trail ultra marathons, my recovery was significantly faster and the impact on my body was much less than a road marathon.

Some runner are hurting so badly after a road marathon that they can’t imagine running even longer. But the trail doesn’t hurt as much. I feel infinitely better after a trail 50K than after a road marathon. Not only is the ground less forceful, but you are also using a variety of muscles as your footfalls vary. Your pace also varies, and so does your gait. So when you’re finished, there is no one particular body part that is killing you. While I would spend days recovering after a road marathon, after a trail 50K I can run the next day.

6. Pain

The anticipation of pain can be scary. Again, if you’ve ever felt pain at a road marathon, you may imagine that going longer will hurt even worse. In the same way, if you’ve run a 50K, you may imagine that a 50 miler would hurt more, and a 100 miler would be infinitely painful. But the body doesn’t work that way.

Your body will hurt up to a point. After that it gets better and then bad again in waves, generally separated by several miles. Just as you hit a second wind during a marathon, during an ultra you will hit third, fourth, and even fifth wind, depending who far you’re going. Pain and exhaustion will be there, but not getting worse for the entire race.

7. Mind

While mental focus and willpower is important for all races, in order to finish an ultra, you have to want it. In many of my races, I have reached a point where I have enough excuses to drop out. I’m very sore, or my blisters are acting up, or I just threw up. Many runners experience these things, but those that finish are the ones that press on. An ultra is a race where you are likely to feel like quitting, and nobody would blame you for dropping out. So the only thing keeping you on the course is your own stubbornness and will to finish. Develop that irrational determination, and you will find success in ultra running.

Why Should You Even Try?

Ultra running may not be for everyone, but there is something life changing about finishing a goal that you didn’t think you could accomplish. Whether or not that is running an ultra, challenge yourself to take on that one thing you really want to do. Climb that mountain. Sign up for that race. And surprise yourself. You’re stronger than you think you are.

RELATED ARTICLES:

How to Train for Your First Ultra

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12 Things I Learned at My First 100K Race

Why You’re Not an Elite Runner (Yet)

12 Reasons Handheld Bottles Are Better Than Hydration Packs

Photo: Jared Busen

I used to be a die-hard hydration packer, now completely converted to a handheld bottle holder. For hydration packs, I have used the Nathan and a few different models of UltrAspire. I now use either Nathan or Ultimate Direction handhelds, combined with UltrAspire products.

While hydration options are a matter of personal preference, here are the reasons that personally convinced me to make a switch, and never look back:

1. More Fluid Choices

While a hydration pack will only hold one type of fluid at a time, I love having the choice between two drinks. I never have the same drink in both of my bottles. I vary between:

  • a carbonated drink like Coke or Gingerale (helps settle my stomach)
  • water
  • an electrolyte drink
  • some type of juice
  • ice
  • coffee (during a 100 miler)
  • soup (during a 100 miler)

The two-fluid option is a flexibility I’ve really enjoyed. I usually keep water in one bottle, so if the mix in the second bottle is too concentrated, I can always dilute it. This is super helpful in races where I’ve filled up at an aid station and the mix isn’t quite right.

At my last race, I asked for half Coke, half ice in one of my bottles. I was a mile down the road when I realized that they had only given me half Coke. The Coke taste was too sweet for me, so I diluted it with water from the second handheld. Problem solved.

2. More Visual Reminder to Hydrate

I drink more from handhelds, because I can see my fluids in front of me. When I’m wearing a pack, it’s easier for me to forget to drink. Plus I never know how much I’ve had to drink, or how much water I have left when I’m wearing a pack. With bottles, it’s all right in front of me.

If I know the mileage to the next water stop, I can monitor exactly how much water I should drink, or how much I need to conserve so I don’t run dry unexpectedly. It also helps any race aid station volunteers gauge whether or not I’m drinking enough. Because hydration is such a key aspect to running success, this is a huge benefit for me.

At the Cuyamaca 100K I crossed the last aid station in a daze. A volunteer grabbed my bottles and asked me if I had been drinking, “Um… I think so…” I couldn’t really remember. He took a look at my almost-full bottles, and immediately handed me more fluids. I left that aid stations with a fresh drink and hot soup. Enough to get me to the finish line.

3. More Minimal

Because I have significantly less room to over pack with handhelds, it has changed my mindset to a more minimal approach. I take only what I will absolutely need and this has really helped de-clutter my mind as well. I’m not obsessing about what I may have forgotten to bring with me, and I’m not carrying unnecessary gear.

The first couple of times it’s a little scary because you’re carrying much less that what you may be used to in a pack. But after a few runs, you realize that you need much less than what you previously thought. It’s a freeing realization.

4. More Dog-Friendly

Some people teach their dogs to drink from a hydration pack straw, but mine doesn’t know how. So when we’re on a trail and I’m not carrying a doggie dish, bottles allow me to stop and give my dog a drink quickly and easily.

One trick I use is to take a clean doggie poop bag (weighs nothing to carry), make it into a dish-shape, and pour water into it, holding the bag in place while she drinks. I have also dug a small hole or indent in the ground, and placed the bag over that. The water pools in the hole, held in place by the bag, and she drinks from there. I can then cover the hole back up and move on.

5. Less Injury From Falls

Handhelds reduce hand scrapes and wrist/arm injuries when you’re going down. You can use them as a barrier between you and a rock when you’re reaching out to catch yourself. They work essentially like gloves. I have scrapes on my water bottles from a few falls or stumbles, but my hands have remained untouched. By comparison, when I would fall with my hydration pack, my hands were the first things to get scrapped and bloodied.

6. Less Overheating

On a hot day, a hydration pack would cause my back to sweat uncomfortably. I would try to combat this by filling my pack with ice, and enjoying the cooling sensation on my back. But this strategy would only last for a short time before the ice melted and I was sweating again.

Switching to handhelds drastically reduced this feeling of overheating. There was more air circulation, and it was easier to stay cool. I could also fill my handhelds with ice, and enjoy that cooling sensation on my hands.

If that weren’t enough, I could use a bottle to physically pour cool water on my head and neck from any stream. I have filled up an empty bottle with cold stream water, and carried it with me to pour on my head when it got too hot. Handhelds made a tremendous difference in temperature control.

7. Less Chaffing

Unless you have a perfectly fitting pack, you run the risk of chafing. And many of us know how tough it can be to find that perfect fit. It’s easy to go through countless packs in search for one the works for us, and a lot of money can be wasted on packs that we can’t use. Handhelds are much more universal, and there is no chafing at all.

I’ve found that even if the pack itself doesn’t chafe, the sweating on my back and lack of air circulation through wearing the pack sometimes causes my sports bra to chafe against my back over long distances. I figure the less chafing potential, the better.

8. Less Weight

I’m a bit of a pack-rat when I’m wearing a hydration pack, and I weigh myself down with things I don’t need like extra food, water, or clothing. The handhelds are significantly lighter and that weight difference is a big deal when you’re running long. I feel more “free” in handhelds. I feel lighter, and it’s feels easier to run and move around.

9. Keeps Your Form in Check

Running with handhelds is a great way to assess your running form and keep it in check. The first time I ran in handhelds, I was surprised by how much my water was sloshing in the bottles. I was waving my arms around too much, wasting energy. I quickly learned to adjust my form and run in a way that didn’t slosh my bottles.

I kept my back straighter instead of hunched over, and kept my shoulders back. I also learned to keep my arms loose and relaxed, instead of clenching my fists or gripping my bottles. As i started getting tired, the sloshing of my bottles was a great way to make sure I was keeping good form, allowing me to exert less energy and run further.

10. Keeps You Moving

If you’ve ever worked at a race station, you know that handhelds are much quicker and easier to fill up compared to packs. If you add up the time it takes to remove your pack, check it for water, open it up, fill it, close it up again, adjust the bladder in your pack, and put your pack back on, the minutes add up significantly over several aid stations on a long trail race.

Not to mention that some packs and bladders are tricky to maneuver, so aid station workers need an extra minute to get them open or closed. Often, my bottles are filled up and I’m out of an aid station while others who arrived at the same time are still fiddling with their packs.  I try to be in and out of aid stations as quick as possible, and I’ve seen first hand how every minute adds up.

In between aid stations, my handhelds also keep me moving because I know that if I take too long, I will run out of water. If I have 6 to 9 miles to the next aid station and it’s a climb, I know that if I’m not running I have to hike fast to make sure I don’t run out of water. When I had a pack, I was much more likely to dawdle or walk slowly. Getting to the next water refill is a great motivation to keep you moving. It also helps you focus on only getting to the next aid station, instead of thinking about the entire race distance and becoming overwhelmed.

11. Keeps Your Upper Body Strong

The first couple of times I used handhelds, my arms and shoulders were sore the next day. I have a weak upper body, but I’ve noticed that carrying handhelds has improved my arm strength over an extended period of running time. It also brought my upper body weaknesses to my attention, and helped me address it.

12. Keeps You Looking Like a Runner

Over time I’ve noticed that many runners near the front a race tend to be using handhelds, while runners in the back of the field tend to prefer packs. I don’t have any stats on that and it’s just a personal observation, but I did start to wonder whether the elites were picking up on something I was missing with a hydration pack. This inspired me to try handhelds.

I feel that with handhelds, I LOOK more like a runner instead of a hiker with a heavy pack. This may sound completely shallow, but sometimes when you dress the part, you start to feel and perform the part as well. It’s a little bit psychological. When I think I look faster, I run more and perform better.

Troubleshooting the Negatives

1. Running Out of Water

The first argument I always hear against handhelds is that they carry too little water. For longer training runs where I don’t have the support of aid stations or water refills, I sometimes carry a bladder-less pack that will hold an extra bottle or two on my back. This is still much lighter and more minimal than a hydration pack, and very comfortable.

There are the three packs I have used that I would recommend for this purpose:

The UltraAspire Spry

The UltrAspire Kinetic

The Hydrapak E-Lite Vest  (I remove the bladder.)

2. Feels Funny at First

Many pack users don’t like the feel of handhelds, and they do take some getting used to. The first time you try handhelds, you’ll probably hate the feel. The second time is not so bad, but still weird. By the third and fourth times, I was comfortable with them.

Don’t let the transition deter you from giving handhelds a fair shot. I would encourage any hydration packers to try handhelds for one week, and see how you feel. Ultimately, stick with what works for you and keeps you drinking.

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3 Things That Rocked the Mogollon Monster 100 | Trail Running Club

Photo: Andrew Pielage

Here is my race report from the inaugural Mogollon Monster 100:

3 Things That Rocked the Mogollon Monster 100 | Trail Running Club.

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7 Tips on How to Run Noble Canyon 50K as Your First Ultra


Noble Canyon 50K was my first trail ultra in 2011, and is popular among newbie ultra runners. It’s a very challenging course with some tough climbs, but an amazing accomplishment for all who finish.

I raced Noble again in 2012, and shaved five minutes off my finish time. I also had the honor of watching many of my friends complete this as their first 50K. I strongly recommend this race for any trail lover. Here are some tips for a strong finish:

1. Train Hills

Hill training is your best friend for this race. Hit up as many inclines as you can. One friend of ours did most of her training on a treadmill at steep inclines. So not having hills in your area is no excuse!

I found that training at a steeper grade than Noble this year made the course seem more “runable”. One popular training run is to run up and down Noble Canyon, a total of 18-20 miles on the most technical part of the race.

2. Conserve Energy

The real trick to Noble is to keep your legs fresh for the final upper loop, after you come out of the Canyon. A lot of this section is runnable, but by the time many runners get there, their legs are so shot from the climb that they’re walking.

The race starts at the top of Noble and runs down into the Canyon while you’re fresh, so it’s easy to start fast and blow out your legs. By the time you get to the bottom and turn around, the ascent can really take it out of you. Walk the inclines that you can’t run on the ascent, and focus on conserving your energy as much as you can.

I was doing a slow jog for most of the upper loop, and passed about 15 people who were doing a lot of walking. Some of them had been way ahead of me, flying the downhill. Run smart and save your energy.

3. Run Cautiously

The Noble Canyon trail is very technical and rocky. It’s not worth flying the downhills if you’re going to turn an ankle or take a bad fall to knock you out of the race. Learn and practice good downhill running form. Strong footing will go a long way here.

Practice descending technical trails as much as you can, and don’t go any faster downhill than what you’re comfortable with. Sometimes falls just happen, even to the most experienced runners. Try to roll into a fall and loosen your body to lessen injury.

4. Soak With Ice Water

Every aid station at Noble has a bucket of ice water with sponges in it, so you can soak your head and the back of your neck to cool down. Take a minute to do this every chance you get! It’s well worth it, and goes a long way to improve your performance. It feels amazing and can perk you right up!

5. Be Flexible

If this is your first 50K, there are so many factors that are beyond your control, so try to roll with the punches on race day. Some years it has been over 100 degrees in the Canyon, and temperature makes all the difference. When it’s hot, the Canyon has “heat traps” in some sections. You can literally feel like you’re running through an oven. Be flexible with your goals, and be patient with yourself. This is not an easy course.

6. Hang Out

I love the friendly and supportive atmosphere at Noble. Most finishers hang out at the finish line for hours, cheering on the other runners. Bring a cooler with some beer and hang out to chat. There’s chili at the finish line!

7. Celebrate

If you finish this race, that’s an amazing accomplishment! This is a true trail race, with all the best qualities of an ultra. If you can’t run it, consider volunteering or just coming out to cheer and support the runners. I was thrilled to be part of this race. And FYI: the Noble tech shirt is my favourite race shirt. Wear it proudly!

Here is a video of this year’s event:

Direct YouTube link HERE.

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Noble Canyon 50K Race Report

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