Thursday, September 26, 2013


Exactly seven years ago today I crossed the border into Canada, completing my 5-month, 2,650-mile journey from the Mexican border on the Pacific Crest Trail. I had hiked from the parched deserts of southern California, carrying 7+ liters of water at a stretch, to the snowy 13,000+ ft passes of the Sierras, ice axe in hand. Through the baking canyons of northern California, around the glacier-clad volcanoes of Oregon and southern Washington, and deep into the remote forests of the northern Cascades. I had seen spring turn into summer turn into fall. I had hiked through endless sunny days, epic thunderstorms, blizzard-like snow, and seven days straight of rain. All my worldly possessions were boxed up and in storage. Forgotten. No mortgage, no job. The trail was my home. I carried everything I needed on my back. I hitched into countless towns to resupply. I made many good friends along the way. On the top of Mt. Whitney, I proposed. With a smile, she accepted. My hiking companion became my fiancee, became my wife.

I knew nothing of ultra-running at the time, despite intersecting many famous courses along the way (and wearing Montrail Hardrock shoes for almost the entire journey-- I had no idea what "Hardrock" referred to). Running was still many years in the future for me. Thru-hiking will always be my first love. There is no substitute for the deep sense of peace that comes from living so simply for so long. It takes about six weeks on the trail, I'd say, for a "vacation" to turn into a "way of life". Your mind empties and your cares slowly melt away. There's nothing else like it.

1,000+ miles on a single pair of Montrail Hardrocks.
Though I didn't really think of such things at the time, I often wonder how my fitness after a thru-hike would compare to my running fitness at peak training today. Though it's done at a much slower speed, thru-hiking numbers completely dwarf any ultrarunning training plan. I was regularly logging 150-mile weeks for months at a time. My monthly average was well over 500 miles/month. The total elevation gain for a northbound hike of the PCT is roughly 750,000 ft. That works out to an average of 150,000 ft of vertical per month. More than three times what I generally log during peak training now. I remember calculating that there was a two and a half month stretch-- from Tuolumne Meadows to the Canadian border-- where I averaged over a marathon a day. For two and a half months! Crazy. My training stats for Leadville seem laughable in comparison. Obviously, everything is done at a much slower pace. But hiking is all you do from sunrise to sunset. There are no competing responsibilities. My longest day on the PCT was 42.5 miles. A 30+ mile day was notable, and 25+ miles a day became the norm. We intentionally slowed down in the Sierras, in respect to the difficulty of the terrain and the gnarly early-season conditions, but also because it was just so damn beautiful. Why rush it? Recent FKTs on the JMT are impressive, and a worthy pursuit in their own limited way, but to me... they kind of miss the point. They merely scratch the surface of what is possible to experience in that terrain. Obviously though, quitting your job and carving out 5-6 months to simply "walk the earth" is often not a realistic option.

And so, when I returned to "real life", I eventually discovered ultrarunning. (I suppose with living in Leadville it was inevitable!) Running gets me out the door and into the mountains, while still allowing for a house, a job, and kids. (Barely!) I am grateful for that. In a way, running is more balanced, more integrated, and more sustainable than thru-hiking. You get a taste of the epic without having to completely disrupt your modern life.

Still... the Continental Divide Trail beckons. Completing the Triple Crown is near the top of my life's to-do list. Another long walk from Mexico to Canada, this time through the Rockies. Maybe once we're retired, and the kids are in college, my lovely hiking companion and I will shoulder our packs once again and head out on the trail to rediscover the beauty of simplicity; to rediscover ourselves. I can't wait.

Hope Pass is a walk in the park.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


Four days after finishing the 100 we were on a plane headed for Europe to visit my in-laws and enjoy a relaxing two-week vacation. Our first stop was my wife's childhood home in Switzerland-- a small village just outside of Geneva. Our second stop was her father's house, situated in the rolling hills of southern France near the Pyrenees, just outside of Lourdes. It was a wonderful trip. Very, very relaxing. Christina's parents were amazing hosts; and the kids had a ton of fun playing with their grandparents.

I arrived with swollen feet and a tender spot on the top of my right foot (due to my crazy, ill-advised Powerlines descent), but in pretty good shape. With some compression, icing, and plenty of rest my feet more-or-less recovered a week after the race. When all was said and done, I think I recovered from this year's 100 more quickly than any previous year. It seems unfair that the less time you're out there, the easier it is. Not being on your feet for a full 30 hours really makes a difference.

After about two weeks' rest, I started going out on short, 5-mile runs in France. I felt pretty good and I was actually able to set a PR for the distance-- due to all the oxygen at sea level, of course. I was ravenously hungry during the entire vacation and ate and ate and ate. Such good food. When we finally returned to Leadville, I stepped on my scale and weighed in 6 lbs heavier than my race weight just three weeks prior! Aw, yeah!

I'm headed to Steamboat Strings this weekend to pace my friend Alex for 60 miles. (Yikes! We'll see how that goes! Hopefully I haven't lost too much fitness...) He's running the Run Rabbit Run 100 mainly in an effort to preserve his qualifying status for the Hardrock lottery. I definitely owe him for pacing me at Leadville this year. It should be a lot of fun. I'm really looking forward to it. I think it'll be great to be immersed in the energy of a race again, but without worrying about my own performance or selfish goals. Instead, I will be solely focused on helping a friend. That will be a very healthy change.

Other than that, I've got a business trip to Boston coming up, and then I'm thinking of running the Devil Mountain 50 in Pagosa Springs the last weekend of September. I ran it in '11 and it's a small, low-key, very mellow race-- basically the opposite of the Leadville 100. Beautiful terrain and plenty of vertical. A good opportunity to enjoy some time in the mountains before my summer fitness disappears.

I've updated my LT100 race report with some pictures. I'm definitely feeling some post-focus-race aimlessness. So much training, so much planning, so much obsessing and now it's over... Sure, I'm starting to tentatively think about possible goals for next year, but more than anything I'm looking forward to four months of down time-- of just running when I feel like it, for the hell of it.

A view from the backyard of Christina's childhood home over the adjacent vineyard.
Grandma, Sierra, and Aunt Carolyn. Lake Geneva and the Alps in the background.
Chamonix and the UTMB starting line! Two weeks is enough rest, right???
Mer de Glace. I was very proud of Sierra hiking the 400+ steps to the glacier without complaint.
Grandpa's pool was obviously a big hit with the kids-- well, everyone really!
Momma and Ethan enjoy lunch at Grandpa's.
A view of the Pyrenees from Grandpa's front yard.
The whole family at Biarritz, France.
Sierra dragging me into the Atlantic.