Saturday, January 27, 2018

1/29/18 Fall & Winter 2017 / 2017 in Review

Well that’s a wrap for 2017!  First off, I haven’t posted in a while but was fortunate enough to have a few amazing running adventures this fall even with the post-UTMB downtime.  Here are the 4 highlights:

Italian Alps / Aosta Valley
Two weeks after UTMB and while still recovering, I had a work trip to Europe that put me in Warsaw on Friday and Frankfurt on Monday.  After some careful Google maps inspection, I naturally found a way to get to the Italian Alps over the weekend.  I decided to explore a new area in the Aosta Valley that is home to the epic Tor des Geants race I hope to finish someday (206 miles and 80,000 feet of climbing).

A flew into Milan Friday night and made my way on Saturday morning to a little village called Gressoney that is nestled in a valley surrounded by massive peaks on both sides.  Gressoney is the fourth of seven “life bases” in the Tor des Geants, so I set out to explore some of the course.

The rough plan was to run part of stage 4 backwards.  I would run up to the Col Lazouney mountain pass, down to the village of Niel, stop for lunch, and then run it back.  The weather was spectacular with sunny skies and perfect temperatures for a mountain run.  The run was pure joy other than a harrowing off-trail rock hopping / sliding / hanging-on-for-dear-life adventure after missing a turn and then foolishly trying to avoid backtracking (note to self – don’t do this again).

I stopped at a little refugio in Niel that the Tor passes through and had some very delicious ravioli for lunch.  With a full and happy stomach, I trudged up the steep climb back to Lazouney and cruised my way down to Gressoney for 20 miles and over 8K vertical feet.

I stayed at a charming hotel called the Romantic Hotel, which I highly recommend, but let’s just stay that being there by myself with trail running as the main focus led to some awkward and hilarious moments!

The next day I chose a route with a steep 9 mile, 5.5K foot ascent up to the Rothorn peak.  The views were staggering all the way up and featured wild mountain goats running around and snow-capped mountains after the storm the day before (oh yeah, I got caught in this on the way down the day earlier).  Rothorn looks right out on the Monte Rosa massif, which we have seen from the Swiss side over Zermatt.  From my perch up at 10,000 this was quite a special spot.

After bombing down the steep trail I cleaned up, found a great spot for lunch, and then was off back to the real world to head to Frankfurt.  Not a bad diversion for a few days!

Marine Corps Marathon
After taking some recovery time, I spent 1.5 weeks before MCM trying to cram some speed back into my legs.  I was able to do a few track workouts and a few tempo runs and figured I’d banged together enough fitness for a 3:10ish finish, though I was fully prepared for a blowup and slower slog if necessary.

I really love the Marine Corps Marathon and fully enjoyed it yet again this year.  They really stepped up their game in the pre-race ceremonies with these guys that were paragliding from above but with jetpacks on and doing tricks. 

I’ve run this race so many times that it is like clockwork for me.  I ran a pace that would take me through halfway in about 1:31 knowing the second half would be a big wildcard.  My legs were already not feeling great by mile 6 or 7, probably a combination of lack of fitness and cramming training before the race.  But I hung on and the big crowds pushing me through the first national mall section, and I hit halfway right on pace.

The fatigue in my legs was growing, and my hamstring was also really bothering me with the lingering injury from July.  But I stubbornly just kept holding pace and even sped up through the next section.  As each mile ticked by I was shocked to continue holding to 6:40 to 6:50 pace, and I had a blast running up and then back down the national mall.

By mile 20 I was really feeling it and was running well beyond my abilities.  But I had such a huge amount of endurance (I guess that UTMB training was good for something …) that I kept muscling through and holding pace.  The last miles painfully ticked down, and I was incredibly thrilled to finish in 3:00:42.  While it would have been awesome to break 3 again, this was way beyond my wildest dreams, and I can certainly say I left nothing out there!

It is amazing how much fitness you can have from consistent training and building volume.  I was pumped to run my 3rd fastest marathon ever and already can’t wait for MCM next year! 

Cape Town, South Africa

In November I found myself in Cape Town the weekend before Thanksgiving for a work trip (don’t ask …).  Cape Town has many epic and legendary mountains, and I looked forward to exploring them with a co-worker and fellow ultra-runner.  We settled on a route called “the 3 peaks challenge.”  There are 3 major mountains in view from Cape Town, so why not tackle all 3 in one go?

First up was Lion’s Head.  This is the most popular one for people to climb and was certainly busy when we were there.  The beginning is mellow and then the top is steep and technical, featuring ladders and some via ferrata.  As we went up the clouds were nice enough to burn off, and we had stunning views of Cape Town as well as the next two peaks we’d be tackling.

We descended Lion’s Head and then had a short climb up to a traverse across the base of the iconic Table Mountain.  We made our way over the gorge that features the route up to the top, which was a super steep ascent climbing about 1,800 feet in just 1.25 miles.  I felt very strong going up and was having a great time and soaking in the views.  At the top, I explored a bit to take in a few of the vistas looking out over the Cape. 

Then I bombed down the technical, steep trail and start the traverse over to peak 3, Devil’s Mountain.  This climb was similar to Table Mountain, aka steep and tough.  The top in particular was overgrown, steep, and technical.   When I got to the peak, I was able to bum some sunscreen off people (as it was my neck got horribly burned).  The views were again incredible, and you could see over to both Table Mountain and Lion’s head, giving you a great view of the whole route.

After a snack and a break I started descending down and heading back to the hotel.  Unfortunately, I was out of water despite bringing about 3 liters with me.  It was just so warm and sunny!  I’d be fine to get back to the hotel, but it was a bit of a slog.  But then like a mirage out of the desert I came upon the bottom of the cable car up to Table Mountain.  There was a little kiosk that took credit cards so I was able to get water and a Fanta.  Hallelujah!  I easily could have been in a Fanta commercial at that moment.  Recharged, I made quick work getting back to the hotel.

It was an amazing adventure spanning about 20 miles and 7,000+ feet of climbing.  I enjoyed the afterglow at dinner with some Belgian beer, fresh seafood, and views of the mountains we just ran up and down.  Cape Town is an amazing place, and I hope to make it back someday!

This year was my 6th MGM 50K, the annual VHTRC holiday run / race.  The forecast called for cold and snow, so it promised to be an interesting day.

I ran the first 8-9 miles in front with Brian before he turned around to call it day since he was still recovering.  From there on I kept hoping to have someone to run with but was solo in the lead for the rest of the day.  I navigated the Do Loop flawlessly (maybe a first?) and then pushed hard over the last 12 miles for no apparent reason. 

They lengthened the trail on the last stretch before Fountainhead, so it would run 1+ miles long from prior years.  Given that, I was very happy to finish under 5 hours in 4:57.  This was the first time in the race’s 26 years that they had an award for winning, so I was pumped to take home the handmade VHTRC ornament.  A major award, I tell you.

Boyer’s Furnace 40
This was my 5th straight year at Boyer’s Furnace.  It takes place between every year between Christmas and New Year’s and is another favorite of mine.  It is a perfect time of year to get in a long run, and 40 miles is definitely the right distance for me in the Massanuttens.

I nearly bagged the race due to minimal sleep and waking up to freezing cold and a layer of fresh snow.  I was soooo tempted to go back to sleep, but sheer stubbornness and stupidity got me reluctantly in the car with an extra helping of coffee. 

I’m really glad that I stuck with it.  The bright side of the snow was that it was really beautiful out there.  The footing was tricky up on the ridges for the first 17 miles and then miles 23-31.  It was especially tough going from 23-31.  The rocky trail was deeply covered by leaves and topped off by snow to make for an 8 mile slip and slide.

I ran with a few people over the first few miles and then was pumped to have Brad catch up to me around mile 13, and we ran the rest of the way together to the finish to tie for second (along with George who caught us at the end).  The aid stations were amazing, with tons of hot food along with soup, fresh baked goods, and various treats.  There was a bonfire at the end with fresh quesadillas, and life was good.

2017 in Review
I had an unreasonable amount of fun while running in 2017.  I think it was all in all the best year of running I have ever had.  I ran 9 races, and 8 went well with the only exception being the early season George Washington Birthday Marathon back in February that was a slog.

Here are some of the highlights:
  • ·       3,248 miles run (not my highest but up there)
  • 488K vertical (WAY more than I’ve ever done)
  • 2 race wins (OSS CIA 50 and MGM 50K)
  • Dream race at UTMB in 30:17
  • 3:00 flat at MCM
·        Incredible runs in Utah, Cape Town, Aosta Valley, Swiss Alps, French Alps, Australia, Marin Headlands, the Balds in North Carolina, the Shenandoahs, London, and the list goes on!

I’m already very excited for 2018.  The first big challenge coming up will be the Hellbender 100 in North Carolina.  I just signed up for the Mozart 100K in the mountains near Salzburg, Austria.  It is a Western States qualifier, gives you 5 UTMB points, and looks scenic and amazing.  Then we’ll see 
what the rest of the year holds!

On the way to a sub 8 hour Bull Run 

Post Bull Run finish and having fun with the family! 

Chamonix ... 

 ... it's one hell of a place 

 Me and Connor loving life 

Oh just another 8 mile and 4K+ foot vertical run in ridiculously beautiful mountains 

Hey,  Mont Blanc 

Hiking with the family, living the dream 

Liam digging the great outdoors 

Start of Trail Verbier.  Super sick but not about to let that stop me. 

Les Grands Jorasses

This was the lake I missed first time I ran TVSB because I was too tired.  Sure didn't miss it this time! 

Liam showing some fine trekking pole form 

Brief vacation hiatus to go to work in Norway 

Best couple's date on earth while Grandma / Grandpa were in town 

Yep, that'll do

Exploring the UTMB course.  Next I'd come through here  it was almost dark and I was nearly dead, so glad I got to enjoy it! 

More UTMB recon! 

That is a very big glacier 

Hello, more big glaciers 

A man at ease after many weeks running in the Alps

The cuteness is unbearable! 

Mer de Glace from above 

More family adventure 

In Zermatt now.  Lunch on top of the world with glaciers coming to meet us. 

Face melting steep trails with waterfalls to distract me!

Hello, goats! 

Matterhorn at dusk.  Yup, pretty great. 

Crazy happy guy post-UTMB 

Mastercard office in Warsaw! 

Making some downtime in Europe not so down by running the TDG course in the Italian Alps. 

More of the glorious Aosta Valley. 

Must come back here ...  

Cape Town, South Africa! 

Melbourne, AUS earlier in the year 

50K in MD back in March.  Very fun run and glorious fire at the end. 

Hiking to ski off piste at Park City 

Fighting jetlag by running early in the morning in London

Boy they have some fine tulips there 

Hometown run in SNP with some early season flowers 

My very beautiful wife in Zermatt 

Ready to go and represent VHTRC at UTMB 

Dawn coming up from Courmayeur 

Val de Ferret.  Worth running 60 miles to get to. 

77 miles down. Feel like a million bucks.  Let's go ... 

UTMB finish line kiss 

Fresh coat of snow on Mont Blanc  after the storms during  UTMB