I had a great time running the Cuyamaca 100k. The course was beautiful, difficult & really well marked. A huge thanks to Scott Crellin & all the volunteers who make races like this possible.
I work for FXPAL, a Silicon Valley research lab that’s owned by FujiXerox, a large Japanese company. Recently, I spent a week working with my colleagues in Yokohama. I was able to add enough time to the end of the trip to attempt the roughly 55 kilometer run from a seaside park to the top of Mount Fuji and then back down the mountain to a bus stop. As far as ultra-running goes, 55K isn’t a huge distance. This course is unique in that there is almost nothing flat or downhill until the 45k mark at the top of the mountain. As luck would have it, the only day I had to attempt the run was during the remnants of a typhoon.
Summiting Mt. Fuji is yet another one of those ‘bucket list” things people of a certain age feel compelled to do. Apparently I’m of a certain age, because I’ve ticked off two of these “life experiences” this year. At least this nonsense is cheaper than a Corvette.
I wanted to find a route to and up Mt. Fuji that would let me experience as much of the area as possible. I followed the "The Mt. Fuji Tourism Climbing Route 3776" from a seaside park to the top of Mount Fuji. It’s about 30 (unrelentingly uphill) miles from the start to the top, with another 5 or 6 miles back down the mountain to a bus stop. This is meant to be a four day trek, but my goal was to finish the course, and get back to my hotel, in under one day.
I arrived at the Shin-Fuji Train station at about four o'clock in the afternoon. After a hearty lunch I caught a cab to Fujinokuni Tagonoura Minato Park, the start of my run. The rain made it hard to see, but this is a pretty park with nice views of Tagonoura bay and a cool old boat.
Finding the park was easy enough, actually finding the starting point for the 3776 route was harder. After explaining myself with the help of Google Translate and a picture of the 3776 logo, this park attendant helped me find the starting point. After sizing up my gear he also gave me a cloth to blot sweat and rain from my head. Running long distances alone is a strange thing to do... it's hard to express how meaningful that gesture became late at night when I was tired, wet and just a little bit lost.
I should probably spend a moment on the weather. It was generally pretty bad. The start was hot and humid with sporadic rain showers. That gave way to rain and very strong winds. Below 5-6 thousand feet it was pretty standard bad weather. As I began to really climb the mountain, things took a noticeable turn. Besides being much colder, the wind was now capable of pulling small objects out of my hand. I ended up using my trekking poles for stability. Luckily, the worst of it came in waves, with periods of relative calm in between.
I don't have a lot of pictures from the first 10-15 miles of the run. Partly because I was making good time, partly because I took them with a GoPro that was lost (more on that later).
Once it got dark and I slowed down, I did take a few pictures with my phone—with the intention of sharing them on Instagram. I’m glad that I did. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have any pictures at all and people would just have to take my world for it that I made it to the top of Mt. Fuji.
I covered much of this run at night. My goal was to get to the top of the mountain by dawn. It's true that you miss a lot of the sights at night. However, there is a beauty in the way the world is revealed to you in shallow vignettes. You can peer as far as your lights will allow, and no farther. Everything else is a mystery. This was especially true on this trip because of the rain and fog. There were times that I could barely see my own feet on the trail.
I have no idea what this sign actually says. In my imagination it said "You aren't even close to the top". I was still about 19 KM from the summit at that point.
The first third or so of the 3776 course is very easy to follow because of these markers. They were a huge confidence boost. Nearly every turn was well marked. Until they weren't. At some point these signs just stopped appearing.
After seeing this sign, I heard a terrifying scream. Like legitimately scary. Later, I was told that a local deer makes this noise.
I filled up my hydration pack at the Green Camp Site. This turned out to be a really good idea. A few miles later, the road section ends very abruptly. The slow climb to the sixth station was on the steep and technical Mt. Fuji Natural Recreation Forest trail. I'm sure the rain made it worse, but I was surprised by how difficult this section actually was. Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures from this section. They were all taken with the GoPro that was lost. The wind and rain were intense. The camera was literally ripped from my hand by a particularly powerful gust. When I'm running I have a habit of picking up trash, I did it on this run too. Hopefully that goes some small way towards balancing the ecological scales. Mount Fuji is a beautiful place, I feel terrible that I've diminished it in a small way. Hopefully, some lucky hiker finds and keeps the camera.
I added an in-line filter to my hydration pack. Because of this, I was comfortable refilling my hydration pack with water from a rain catch at the sixth station. It was still dark when I arrived and the vending machines were turned off. I didn’t expect this. I had to make do with the food I was carrying for much longer than I had anticipated. After a hot and humid day, the air was getting noticeably colder. I wore my wool base layer from this point on.
It wasn't until after sunrise that I got a sense of how high I was. The view from the various stations above the sixth are amazing.
The trail markings became extremely easy to follow. There were arrows every few feet and very few places to make a wrong turn.
The stations began to open as I reached the top of the summit. I was able to buy some breakfast at station 8. I was still the only person climbing when I reached the 200 meters to go sign.
The weather took another turn for the worse as I approached the summit. Visibility was so poor that I couldn't actually see my goal in the distance.
I was almost surprised when I actually reached the summit. I walked around a bit, but the visibility was so bad that I couldn't really see most of the sights.
I met a family that told me that they had been stranded at these mountain-top huts for three days because of the weather. It was pretty miserable & I'm not sure that I'd want to hike through a mountain top storm with my child. But still, three days? Later, I found out that the busses and shuttles that casual hikers use weren’t running during the storm. Maybe that’s why they were stuck waiting? Anyway, they were very nice, as was the guy who was chain smoking and taking our pictures.
As luck would have it, the weather got finally better just as my journey came to an end. The fog rose and revealed the beautiful Japanese landscape.
Apparently, hundreds of people were waiting at station five for the weather to improve. Once it did, they all began to hike up the trail at once. It's hard to see in this picture, but there is hardly a section of trail without crowds of people hiking.
As the trail became easier the weather became nicer. It was blue skies and sunshine by the time I approached station five, and the bus that would take me to the train that would take me my hotel.
Mount Fuji wasn't done with me yet! I took a comfortable bullet train from my hotel directly to the start of my run. That train wasn't running for my return trip. Instead I had to change trains several times. Some of these trains were local enough to have absolutely no English spoken or written. Luckily Japanese trains are so punctual that I could use the schedule to know when a stop was approaching. Still, that was way more work than I was expecting to do.
By the time I got to finally take my shoes off, my skin had been wet for nearly 24 hours. This takes it's toll. I didn't have any significant blisters, but the wet skin was painful, especially as the adrenaline wore off.
I spent the night at a 9 hours capsule hotel. This was perfect. I showered and went straight to sleep.
And then I flew home. I'm glad that I went on this journey. The Mt. Fuji Tourism Climbing Route 3776 is meant to be a four day undertaking. Doing it in less than one day is a physical challenge, but maybe not the best way to experience Fuji. The entire area is beautiful. The bus I took covered much of the course I ran. I missed many beautiful sights by running so much of the course at night.
At the start of my attempt, I submitted a “challenge plan”. I was a little worried because my plan was a bit different than the trek the “Fujisan Tourism & Communication Bureau” had in mind. I also submitted my proof of completion. Again, I wasn’t sure if my version of the trek would be counted as an official finish or not. It was! A few weeks after I got home this certificate and finisher’s pin arrived in the mail. This really is a fantastic course! Go and enjoy all or some of it at whatever pace works for you.
The Grand Canyon R2R2R (or R3) is a bucket list run for most trail runners. The idea is to start at one rim, run across the canyon to the other rim and then to run back without camping. The milage, however you do it, is around 50 miles. The effort required is much greater than the milage would indicate. Our group of runners can usually finish a 50 mile trail run in 10 or less hours. We expected to spend around 12 or 15 hours completing the R2R2R. It took us 17.5 hours.
So, what happened? Weather.
It's a little hard to tell from the picture, but with headlamps glaring off the falling snow, visibility was only a few feet. The temperature was in the mid 20's Fahrenheit.
We picked one of the last heavy snow falls of the season for the day for our run. On the South Rim, above 3000 feet, there was about 3 inches of snow over a layer of ice. Bright Angle Trail was reasonably passable, even in these conditions. Our biggest issue was ice buildup on the micro-spikes we were wearing over our shoes. No amout of scraping and scuffing would prevent it.
As we descended the conditions improved dramatically. Which was great, but it meant shedding layers of cold & wet gear and stuffing them into lightweight backpacks. That process ate up a ton of time. I'm not sure how much we could have improved things on an unsupported run. Shedding layers is a pain, death from exposure is worse. I assume.
The flat sections on either side of Phantom Ranch were very runnable. We made fairly good time there. It's hard to overstate how beautiful this place is. Indian Garden, basically at the base of the south rim climb, would be a great place to camp—if you're planning a multi-day trip. We only spent a few minutes there. From Indian Garden it's about five miles to Phantom Ranch and Bright Angel Camp Ground.
It's worth remembering that Phantom Ranch is the best water spot and the only possible resupply spot on the entire trek. This is even more true on the off-season, as many of the water spigots are shut off for the winter. It's around 13.5 miles to the North kabob trailhead (the turn around). So you might have about a marathon's worth of out-and-back trail to cover with only the gear you're carrying. Cary water, bring a way to purify river water and pack lots of food. We got lucky and found water at potable Manzanita. That was ONLY because a work crew was there. Otherwise the spigot is off until late spring/early summer.
A few miles outside of Phantom Ranch we encountered a family of Big Horn sheep.
At some point the North Kaibab trail begins to reveal the North Rim destination in the far distance. It's all very Lord of the Rings
Gaining elevation again also brings back snow. This side had about a foot of it. The deep snow provided good traction. I'm a pretty cautious runner, but even I didn't bother with spikes here. There were a few icy patches, but poles provided more than enough extra grip. To be sure, falling would completely suck. Maybe for the last time. So, do whatever makes you comfortable.
Like repair manuals always say: "reassembly is the reverse process". By the time we reached the South Kaibab trail, and our final seven mile climb out of the deep canyon, it was pretty dark.
This last photo is from our breakfast the next morning.
I haven't run the R3 in heat. I would guess that runners are more likely to finish the R3 in the off season. Snow will slow you down, but dehydration is less of a problem. It was 17º F when we finished, so heat was definitely not an issue for us. The lack of it wasn't always fun, but it was manageable. Without the right gear, hypothermia and slipping are pretty likely. With it, we spent a great 17.5 hours in one of the most beautiful places in the world.
"You will not cross that finish line by yourself [...] You sacrificed time from your job. You sacrificed time from your family..."
Every race is longer than that stated distance too. Miles and miles longer. That's part of the time Ken is talking about — not just the day or so it takes to run 100 miles in the Colorado Rockies, but all the miles spent training.
Every single one of those miles feels a whole lot longer when you’ve got a chronic injury. Running with an injury doesn’t promote anything close to good form. Training with poor form yields poor results. You end up training yourself to run badly. In my case, bouncing around on an injured foot also caused damage to my hip. Damage that I’ll probably just have to live with.
Eventually I did see my doctor and then a specialist. The treatment appears to have worked pretty well. I wrote about that experience in an earlier post. Like most runners, I chose to undertake an "active recovery". I swam, biked and lifted weights, but I didn’t run a step for about a month and a half. Well, that isn’t quite true, I did go for an 8 mile run about two weeks in. It was a huge mistake.
Once it was more or less medically advisable, I began running again. At first I did a few miles here and there interspersed with lots of cross training. Once I felt fit enough, I set up a training schedule.
- Mon: 8-10 miles at medium/high intensity
- Tue: 8-10 miles at a lower intensity than the day before
- Wed: Weight training plus bike or swim
- Thu: 4-6 miles at a higher intensity than Monday
- Fri: 5-10 miles, any intensity
- Sat or Sun: Rest
- Sat or Sun: Long run, any intensity or Weight training plus bike or swim
As you can see, Monday's effort determines the intensity for rest of the week. I stuck to this schedule fairly well. I definitely missed a few days, Strava (the GPS app I use) doesn’t lie. Anyway, I used this schedule to build up a reasonable fitness base. After 5 months, I decided to enter a 50k. It went pretty well. I was 3rd overall. My foot, on the other hand, didn’t do so well. After the adrenaline wore off, it hurt quite a bit. I kept running anyway, and my performance started to fall off over the next three races (6th, 12th and then 17th overall).
I enter the Western States lottery every year. I haven’t been selected since 2013. Every year that a runner isn’t selected they get extra entries for the next year’s drawing. There’s a catch. To enter the lottery, you have to run a qualifying race. If you don’t run a qualifier, you can’t enter. If you don’t enter, you loose all of those extra chances. In my mind, I had to run a qualifying 100 mile race — hurt foot or not. I chose Rio Del Lago. RDL is the last qualifier of the year.
I was more than a little nervous about running 100 miles again, given how difficult 50k races had become. Actually though, it went pretty well. I finished in plenty of time to qualify for the lottery (and wasn't selected). About a month after that, I ran fairly poorly at a 24hour race. The race had an aggressive first six hours or so. That ended up hurting everyone during the night. By morning I was 3rd overall — more through stubbornness than anything else. My foot didn’t feel great. I ended up having stomach problems too. It’s funny how one ailment always seems to bring on more. Anyway, I ran another 50k not long after that. It wen’t badly enough that I decided to stop trying to race and really concentrate on training and rehabilitation.
This time around, I really bought into the idea that I may not be running another race anytime soon. The experience of just running was actually pretty cool. It had been years since I didn’t have a single race planned. I increased the intensity of every training run. I started to set little personal goals for myself. I would run up a particular hill faster, or try and complete a route at a certain pace. Strava's iPhone app became a huge part of my training. Every training run became a personal race made up of several smaller personal races. In a way, I reconnected with the fun of running fast (well, relatively fast) for its own sake.
For those who aren't familiar: Strava is a GPS enabled application that allows runners to track their progress and give feedback about pace, heart rate and etc. It has social features that let you compare yourself against other runners. You can also give and receive encouragement. All in all, it’s a pretty cool app. I found it because Strava was at Leadville the year I finished it. I’m not sure how unique Strava is, but most of its best features are free. Anyway, I like it. FWIW, nobody at Strava knows or cares that I’m endorsing the app.
Running better made me want to eat better. I cut out most of the bread and fruit juices from my diet (beer isn’t negotiable). I even reduced my salt intake. Over a four month period I dropped my average running pace by around a minute.
I’ve completed two 50k runs since then. I was 6th overall in both. I should explain that most of the races I run are local and fairly small. I’d be completely annihilated at a larger national event. Anyway, I do have a big challenge looming. I recently signed up for the Rio Del Lago 100 miler again. I need that “last chance of the year” Western States qualifier for this year. I feel fit, but I’ll know for sure when I cross the finish line.
Heel spurs suck. In my case, the pain is actually from plantar fasciitis and Achilles Tendinitis. The spurs are small bony growths where all these tendons attach to my heal bone. The spurs irritate the tendons, the tendons tighten, causing the spurs to grow, irritating the tendons more...
I put off dealing with this for nearly three years. It took a very slow and painful Tahoe Rim Trail 100 finish to get me to really take this seriously. Over the years I had gotten used to running with some amount of pain and at a slower pace. I jokingly called it "getting older". TRT took everything to a new level.
As it turns out, my heel spurs were also aggravating a groin pull that just wouldn't heal (no pun intended) completely. My doctor described my stride as "pogoing" off the good foot, putting an awkward strain on my hips and groin muscles. Anyway, by the time I lined up for this years running of the SF New Years Eve 24 Hour Run I had already seen a doctor with the intention of scheduling surgery. That run was a disaster, I dropped out after about 30 miles.
I was eventually referred to a podiatrist in Stanford's sports medicine department. He recommended Extracorporeal Shockwave Therapy. I had a few treatments. They ranged from not bad to fairly painful. It's non-invasive and the recovery time after each session is pretty short.
Did it work? I'm honestly not sure. I never felt "instantly cured" as some claim. I am definitely much better. While undergoing the treatment, I stopped running and increased my cycling and weight lifting. What you might call "active rest". I roll out my calf muscles and my heel a few times a day. I use a frozen water bottle as the roller. I'm not sure which percent of what thing has contributed to my recovery.
Ultra running takes up a lot of time. Time I had to fill with something. I chose mixed drinks. Even slightly buzzed the truth is pretty obvious. Putting off dealing with this injury cost me a few years of quality running and a few months of recovery time. Learn from my fail: When you hurt, go to the doctor.
"A glimpse of heaven, a taste of hell." The race's motto says it all. This is the race that made me admit that I needed to get my heel looked at by a doctor. Over the course of a few years I'd gone from a sub-24 to a 30 plus hour 100 mile runner. I got a buckle that day, but only just.
"The race across the sky." I live at sea level so the altitude was a huge factor in this race. The highest point is 12,600 feet. The average elevation is 10,200. All that climbing may have been tough, but the views were amazing. This is a race, IMO, where all the usual pacing advice is wrong. You have to haul ass for the first 50 miles & then hang on until the finish.
The actual town of Leadville is really cool, with an interesting history. The surrounding mountains are fantastic. This is definitely a destination race.
"The world's oldest and most prestigious 100-mile trail race." This was one of the toughest runs that I've ever done. The temperature was over 100 degrees for most of the day. It was even warm at night. By the end of the run my stomach and feet were a mess. I did come away with a shiny new belt buckle & an even greater respect for Gordy Ainsleigh.
I intend to run this race again. I want to finish stronger, not necessarily faster (that would be nice), but more "under my own steam". I'd also like 50% less blisters and 100% less vomiting.
The course was a 2-mile loop on an asphalt path. Running on a looping course for 100 miles is fairly difficult mental challenge. This course includes a small hill, making it tougher than I expected. Still, I did managed to come in fourth overall (third men's) with a time that was under 24 hours.
The course is only 1.061 miles long. The goal is to complete as many laps as possible within 24 hours. The views of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco's New Years Eve fireworks display are pretty amazing. These images were taken during my best finish: 108.2 miles.
This was a very difficult 100 mile race. I don't have any pictures from along the course but it's as beautiful as it was challenging. The finish rate was only 59%. This was my first international ultra and my first run in the English countryside. I was able to raise nearly $1000.00 for the Prostate Cancer Foundation
I completed every Headlands Hundred from 2007 to 2011. Every iteration of this course has been surprisingly challenging. My best best finish was 22:59 and fifth overall.
It's a San Francisco tradition! I've run it a few times. I was even the Spider-Man in the "S" in the race's logo for a few years.
It took me two tries but I completed the 200 mile course in 2010. Five of us attempted solo runs of the entire 200 mile course that year. Four of us finished (including 2 of my close friends). At the time, none of us knew what to expect. We'd never met anyone who'd run 200 miles. We knew that Dean Karnazes and Yiannis Kouros (the best athlete you've never heard of) had done it.
The distance was 100 miles farther than I'd ever run before. The last 25 miles took nearly a day of constant effort. In all, I spent just under 68 hours on the course.
My friends and I managed to raise about $1500.00 for Organs-R-Us. The last 4 photos are from the actual 200 mile run, the rest are from training runs along the course.
Always a cool experience. I've run in Paris, Barcelona and Rome. This is an amazing way to feel local for a few hours.
By Sam Whiting, San Francisco Chronicle. This was written right before my first attempt at running 200 miles.