Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Grand (Canyon) Weekend

Sometimes running isn’t about the races or the training but about where you are and who you’re with when you go for a run.

Last weekend I had the opportunity to go to the Grand Canyon and do a rim-to-rim-to-rim run again. This would be my fourth time doing a double crossing. I also had the opportunity to go with a group of running friends from the Ogden area. I can’t think of too many other things I would have rather done than do a run in this spectacular place with a bunch of friends. We had a great time. Doesn’t get much better than that.


We began planning this adventure last year and all sorts of people said they were going. What I’ve found out is that when the date gets closer, most people end up dropping out and the group ends up being two or three people. This time we had ten total runners that did all or part of the journey. For several, this was their first visit to the Grand Canyon as well as their longest run ever, by a long ways. Since I had done this run a few times, I became the defacto tour guide.

On Friday afternoon, most of us were able to get in a view of the canyon with me pointing out where we were going. There were several “wows”, “what did I get myself into”, “this is kind of scary” comments, but everyone was still up for the run. We agreed to start at 4am so that we would hopefully avoid most of the heat of the day in the inner canyon.

The last supper


We ended up starting at 4:20am on Saturday morning. The air temperature was about 32 degrees but there wasn’t any breeze. Generally a pleasant morning and we were excited. Since it was dark, no one could see the trail from the rim, let alone the canyon. One of our party went down the trail a ways so she could get pictures of the headlamp train coming down.

After about an hour we came to Indian Gardens. This is about half way to the river and is a campground, water stop, etc. We took a short break to refill on water, eat a little something, take some pictures, marvel at the scenery.

According to this sign, we’re all going to die if we attempt to hike to the river and back in one day

After that we kept going down and down and down. Finally we saw the river and began the short run to the silver bridge. Along the way us guys had to stop and throw rocks into the river trying to hit a large boulder. It’s a guy thing. We trotted across the silver bridge and a few minutes later came to the Phantom Ranch. Here we stopped, filled up on water, ate some, took a break and let everyone catch up. Everyone agreed that this was an awesome place to go for a run.
The motley crew at the Phantom Ranch

We began the run up Bright Angel Canyon as the sun was just hitting the upper walls of the canyon. The run up was pretty uneventful, just going along, marveling at the scenery, enjoying every minute of it. Eventually we got to Cottonwood Campground. Last year I did this run the same weekend and the water was on. This year it wasn’t. A few people were concerned, but I mentioned that the caretaker house was just a mile or two up the trail and the water was always on there. Sure enough, when we got there, the water was on and we were all able to tank up. By now our group was starting to spread out and I went most of the way to the north rim with a fellow R2R2R runner from San Francisco. I got to the north rim by 12:30pm.
Speedgoat at the north rim

Felt great and took about a 30 minute break waiting for the others to show. A couple of the faster guys in our group had already headed back down. Eventually I decided to head back down because I wanted to get back to the Phantom Ranch before they closed at 4pm and buy some lemonade. So Jerome (the runner from SF) and I headed down. We had to push fairly hard to make it before closing and we managed to do just that. When I walked into the Ranch, I was the last customer. I put down a $20 and told them I wanted to buy as many lemonades as I could. I ended up with eight and as each runner in our group came in, I handed them one. That was some good stuff. I ended up spending two hours at the Ranch waiting for people to come through. Jerome and I finally took off for the south rim at 6pm with a few of the others following a few minutes later.

As we went up the Bright Angel trail and the skies got darker, the frogs really started to croak. Huge sounds echoing off the canyon walls, but coming from these tiny little frogs about two inches big. The bats started to come out as well and would fly extremely close to us snagging bugs. We made it to Indian Gardens a little after 7pm, took a short break and pressed on. I was still feeling very good other than getting hungry. I was out of food and worried about bonking. I’ve bonked before going up this trail and it’s not fun. Next was making it to the 3-mile resthouse. That took us 45 minutes and based on that I told Jerome that it would take us another 1.5 hours to get to the top. We must have picked up the pace because we made it to the 1.5-mile resthouse just 35 minutes later and 35 minutes after that we were coming out of the canyon. So, after some 17 hours in the depths of the Grand Canyon, I was finally out. I ended up waiting at the trailhead in my car until 12:45am when the last person finally made it up.


As friends finished, several swore they would never do that again, it was the hardest or worst thing they had ever done. However, by the next day, most were ready to go again. Some of us spent Sunday just hanging out enjoying the scenery, watching the California Condors and eating, rather than driving home. It was a nice way to relax and relive the experience.

For me, doing this run was a reward for the training that I do as well as a break after directing the Buffalo Run. Doing it with a bunch of friends just made it that much more special.

I was a little worried about how I would do given my seeming lack of running, but I think the biking and swimming I’ve been doing more than made up for it as I felt great the entire day. I wish I had taken one more 1st Endurance flask for the calories. Next time.

I wore my La Sportiva Crosslites and they worked perfectly, but I think they’re ready for retirement as the coolest lawn mowing shoes on the block. I know I’m ready to go again. Maybe try some different trails next time.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Umstead 100 by Beth and Larry

Based on what we had heard, we thought the hardest thing about Umstead would be successfully navigating the entry process. Wrong!!

Umstead is in eastern North Carolina and consists of eight 12.5 mile loops on a crushed granite path. We selected it because the smoothness of the trail wouldn't affect Larry's tendency to get double vision at night. We had heard that the course was much easier than Rocky Racoon, which we recently ran too. The 8000 ft. elevation gain over the course of the race came in a few climbs each loop that were much longer and steeper than those at RR, but certainly do not compare to the mountain 100s that we are used to. They tricked you into wanting to run them, which caught up to us as the loops added up.

Beth's goal was first to break 24 hours and maybe even set a PR while Larry's goal was more ambitious, wanting to see his first sub 20 hour finish. The weather cooperated as we started in the dark and low 40s. The sun popped out during the afternoon, but didn't exceed the low 60s.

Despite the recent rains, the trail was dry and hard packed and in many places felt no different than pavement. We both wore our Wildcats and didn't change shoes or Drymax socks the entire race. (thanks LaSportiva and Drymax!) Neither of us had a single blister.

Beth missed her goal of setting a PR, her lap splits were fairly close and she ran her fastest 100 in 3 years, finishing in 23:27.

In order to reach my goal, I had hoped to run the first 50 between 8 and 8.5 hours. That came and went without a hitch. The wheels began to fall off soon after. I didn't think I had gone out too fast, as I felt comfortable the first 50. Maybe it was the lack of a good taper or just too many races recently. At the end of the 5th loop, a sub 20 still looked possible, but by 75 miles that dream was long gone. The quads and hip flexors simply stopped working and I have to attribute it to the constant running with no real uphill walking breaks. The remaining 25 miles morphed into a sufferfest as it took 8 hours cover the distance. Not only did I not break 20 hours, but that 14 hour last 50 miles also prevented me from setting a PR, finishing in 22:19. I was very disappointed, but hopefully a lesson to be learned on other future "easy" 100 mile courses. Perhaps taking a lesson from my wife's steady pacing would be in order!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

2011 Goat Skins

The Speed Goats will be wearing Patagonia skins this year.  The design has been finalized and we'll be sporting them on the trails soon!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A little different race report

This is a little different race report. I won’t have any results, breathless blow by blow accounts of the men’s 50K race, even though it was pretty exciting. You can read that stuff in Ultrarunning. This is from the race director’s side of the fence.  Also, no photos, I was too busy to take any.


I usually begin planning for the Buffalo Run shortly after the previous race ends. As I put away gear, inventory leftover food before taking it to the rescue mission, and generally clean things up, I make notes of what went right, what went wrong, what needs improvement. I talk with my wife, my volunteer coordinator, friends who ran the race and will tell me the unvarnished truth. The planning really goes into gear about November. By then race registration is open, I can gauge how many are going to enter based on previous year’s entries.

At the end of the year, I place my order for shirts. I also start going to sponsors to see if they will sponsor for the next race. I also start going to new sponsors to see what I can get. I really dislike the sponsor hunting part of directing. I’m not good at hitting up people or companies for free stuff, even though it’s for my runners. I also never hit up for money. Since I treat this race as a business, I feel that it should be able to make it financially on its own without outside financial help. What I look for from sponsor is stuff I can put in goody bags or raffle prizes to give away.  Stuff for runners. 

Usually in January I start buying any gear I need. Over the years I’ve purchased most of the gear I need for the race. Renting is way too expensive, and I don’t like to rely on borrowed gear other than water jugs. Buying gives me more control and I’m a control freak with my race.

February sees me beginning to figure out how much in supplies I need to buy, food, expendable supplies, more equipment, etc. Since I’m an Engineer by training, I try to calculate what I need. For example, how much water does a runner consume in a 50K on average? 20 oz.? 40 oz.? Multiply that by number of runners, how many times they go through an aid station, etc. How many bananas does the average runner eat during a 25K or 50 mile? I had no idea a couple years ago. I have a better idea now.

Based on the leftovers from the previous year, I know what food stuff to buy. I know after this year that granola bars are not a big hit, but Oreo cookies are (both were new this year). GU? I bought one per person for this year. I need more as I ran out.  Cheeze-its are good, pretzels are not.  Potatoes are always in demand, ramen noodles for the night.  Hot broth.  Sports drink.  All of tis needs to be figured out.

I buy food as far in advance as possible, but end up buying the fresh fruit and bread just a couple of days before.

I start prepping aid stations supplies about three weeks before the race. I divvy up stuff like utensils, first aid kits, canopies, cups, etc. I put everything into plastic storage bins to better organize and then label with the aid station location.  Makes it a whole lot easier when the volunteers show up to get their aid station supplies.  They can grab and go.

Race Week

By Wednesday I have my lovely wife’s horse trailer packed with the first load to take out to the island. The park lets me store the stuff in the maintenance shed for a day or two. BTW, I’m getting a utility trailer this year to store and haul my race stuff in.  the horse trailer is not nearly big enough.

Thursday I haul the load out, unload and then go out to mark the trail. This takes most of the day. I would love to find someone to mark as well to save time, but that’s hard to do. Meanwhile, race check in is going on at Striders Running Store. They are gracious in allowing me to do check in for two days prior to the race.

Race Day

Friday found me out on the island bright and early with a crew for setup. This year we had to setup in a hurry and the weather was horrible, driving wet snow while trying to set up canopies. Not fun. Meanwhile 100 mile runners were starting to show up, so I’m directing parking, unloading supplies, organizing aid station stuff. Pretty wild. I was lucky enough to have my son and son-in-law to help plus a couple others as well.  We still didn't get done in time.  I'm setting up Thursday next year.

At noon I sent the 100 mile runners up the hillside into the snow. I had already sent out the Elephant Head aid station crew with their stuff, so no worries there. Shortly after the start, I sent out the drop bags for that location. Meanwhile, we continued to finish the setup.

All afternoon Friday we worked to finish setting up, sending out other aid station supplies and personnel. Finally about 5pm I was able to relax a little. Everything was running reasonably smooth, runners were starting to come off the White Rock trails and head over to the Mountain View trails. Since I had some time I took a drive over to the Lower Frary aid station just to see how things were going. Quite well at that point. I went back to the start/finish and saw that people camping for the night were showing up and things were going well.

At 6:30 or so I drove back over to the Lower Frary aid station. I was going to pace a good friend of mine for about 12 miles through the early evening. Meghan usually heads up my Elephant Head aid station and does a great job, however, she wanted to run the 100 this year. The chance to get out and run for a few miles through the night was welcome. A great stress reliever and bonus, in all the years I have been out to the island, I had never run out there at night. It was pretty cool. The stars were out, it was kind of cold but a pretty good time.

I got back to the start/finish at about 10:30pm and things were quiet. People were finishing the first half and heading out for their second trip around the course. By around 3am, everyone had either passed through the half way point or had dropped. The front runners had passed through the start/finish for the third time (70 miles) and were well on their way to a finish. I managed a short nap, but then back up and working. Finally at 3:30am, the men’s winner (Dan Vega) of the 100-mile event crossed the finish line. About 30 minutes later Karl Meltzer finished.

At about 4am, I found out that the remaining goody bags were in the main tent and needed to get delivered to the main gate so runners could check in there. Out to the main gate I went, then in to town to WalMart to pick up a few more supplies.

Shortly before 5am, 50-mile runners started showing up for their race. By then, I had the services of the volunteer trail patrol and they handled the parking duties. At 6am on the dot I sent out about 110 50-mile runners. As they trotted up the first hill, there were a few 100-mile runners coming down. No major collisions, thank goodness.

Now the main race day was getting into gear. Volunteers started showing up, my lovely wife got there with our daughter and grandson (the highlight of my day). Meanwhile, 50K runners started trickling in to the race headquarters, 100-mile runners were coming off the White Rock trails (70 miles in) and heading east to the Mountain View trail.

At 8am on the dot, I sent out roughly 200 50K runners. After that, the 25K runners started showing up and at 9am I sent out almost 400 of them, many attempting their first trail run.

The remainder of the day was a mix of harried answers to the many questions of runners, making sure aid stations were manned and supplied, getting drop bags back, handing out awards and just making sure things ran as smoothly as possible.

The last runner, a 50-mile runner, finally crossed the finish line at 7:30pm, one hour after the cutoff, but because I’m a nice guy, I didn’t pull her earlier. She was doing fine, just slow.

At around 6pm, we began the laborious process of tearing stuff down, just as the weather started to turn again. We originally had a volunteer crew that was supposed to show up just for tear down. One person showed. That made the teardown process last a little longer and we didn’t get off the island until around 9pm that evening.


I had a lot of mixed feelings about this year’s race. I didn’t feel it was nearly as well organized as it usually is, and for this geeky Engineer, that bothers me….a lot. It was lots of little things that happened that shouldn’t have, volunteers that committed to being there and didn’t bother to show, or left early. Not enough volunteers to begin with. A park vehicle that I paid to rent was taken away from me mid-race and that really put a dent in getting drop bags back in a timely manner.

This year’s race grew by over 200 entrants from last year. I only had 150 runners the very first year. It’s no longer a quaint little trail race. It’s hit big time status as far as trail races go. I’m not sure that’s what I want. I never thought that this race would grow to the event it has. Almost 800 runners signed up? Wow! I do know that with the event being as big as it is now, the way it’s managed must change. I need to find capable, competent, people to help me manage it. I have to structure the volunteers differently. My attention to detail has to increase. I have to start planning much earlier than I ever have. So, lot’s of stuff to do over the next 12 months. Anyone want to help?


Since I always include a gear report with my race reports, here it is. For the first part of the race on Friday I wore my La Sportiva Raptors. I figured I’d wear them since they would probably keep my feet a little drier during the little storm we had. For my pacing duties and the rest of the race, I wore my La Sportiva Crosslites. I love these shoes, light comfortable, almost like slippers. Never wore my Nathan pack or used any 1st Endurance products, but I did get some buffalo stew and one of my homebrews for lunch on Saturday.

Jim Skaggs
RD Antelope Island Buffalo Run
RD Mountain View Trail Half Marathon
RD Antelope Island 100K

A Mountain Goat in Grasslands

Grasslands 50M was exactly what the name says: Grasslands. This land is grass, short shrubs, sand, sand, more sand, and heat in the open. It was a complete and utter suffer fest…

All photos are curtesy of Carina Cervantes

I was feeling flat all week. Whether I am burnt out with hard training, or just with hard life, I don’t know, but my workouts were lousy even for a taper week. I was not excited to go race at all. But when I showed up at the start to get my package, and everyone was so thrilled and happy, and even though I felt lonely, quite a few happen to say hello…well, you know, I felt guilty for my negative emotions and decided instead of going for a crappy race to put in a great training run. It’s all about attitude…

The race is 1 out-n-back correction trail and 4 various size loops. All I knew is that every loop is about a mile shorter than the previous. Yeah, I wasn’t into it…but I was ready to go. I was in a pleasant frame of mind…until I got off course a mere mile and half into the run. Now, I have to admit, that those horse trails were perfectly marked and color-coded, but it was dark at the start, I was looking down and running in no-man’s land: 4 guys far in front, and everybody else quite far behind. So, I ran off to some lake, asked fishermen if they saw anyone, turned around and caught on a bunch of trains of runners mid-field. While I didn’t care much (common, it’s only took me 3-4 minutes!), the adrenaline still pumped and the heart was too fast. I told myself to calm down. Not the first time happened, not the last time for certain…

Before the race RD Kevin said it’s going to be upper-80’s and in the open will feel like a 100F. At 2M in I took my shirt off. I never – NEVER – raced with no shirt. Now, I learned to run on training runs in TX wearing only sports bra, but this is only when nobody I know would see me. It was a race! I could care less – I needed to let my body breathe and cool off. Speaking of breathing, thankfully first 3.5 hrs we had mostly clouds and a breeze!

But back to the course. Once on a first loop, the warning (I wish I knew before signing up) were sand, sand and more sand. Fine sand, dust, coarse sand, an inch high, a couple, ankle deep…into your shoes, can’t run, hard to walk…am I on California beach???

But, I was out for a training run, and although I knew I am running up front, I was calm and quite positive, asking names of guys around, taking out my map at various intersections to make sure I am on correct color-coded loop, looking for markers, opening and closing the horse gates (which were so high up, I either reached standing on my toes, or couldn’t no matter what and crawled under). And I kept plowing forward.

At 11:30am the sun burnt up the clouds, and the heat came full force. Soon after I reached an AS I figured was roughly soon after half-way, and a volunteer, commenting on my being first female said some name and “she may still catch you”. Now, I may not be in a race, but I surely hate the idea of being passed by anyone in second half. At that time, despite feeling every small muscle from my anatomy book due to sliding in the sand, I was feeling rather strong and moving well. Second big loop was done, and it turned out to be a whole mile further in a distance than I thought – 31.1M instead of 30! Amazing how little I was prepared – and how little can get you excited. I went on loop 3, more sand – and the running was over…couldn’t. Zapped. Done. But the powerwalking was still good…apparently, since I pulled up on a few guys. What meant even though I am falling apart, others are not fairing any better (I know, it sounds bad, but it does help to keep moving). I did run big parts, so it was not all lost. And my mental state was pretty serious - get it done, and get it done soon! Last 3 miles on that one-before-last loop a guy I caught up with took off, running on testosterone (well, he did look strong, he was just hanging out with his struggling buddy). He wasn’t getting chicked, my man Steve. That was ok. I came to loop’s end and saw him there, and exhaling “last 9M, 2 hrs” left ahead.

And – the energy didn't magically appear for that final "kick". OK, I said, I powerwalked whole Palo Duro, I can make it with 9 miles. I was baking, dehydrated, hot, with chills under my skin and goosbumps under my hair. When Steve passed me once again, I told him to go ahead. Mentally, I was still ok, but in true ultrarunning style things change in a second. I was walking and telling myself: 8 miles left, 7.5, 7, 6.5…I remember distinctly being happy when number 6.5M came up…and literally a few seconds later I repeated 6.5M left – and was horrified. It seemed like an eternity. That I will never ever be able to make it that far. Amazingly, I started to add running bursts, in 20 seconds or so at first, then a bit longer. But the mind was done. I came to the last AS to see Steve again and told him I hate him for being able to run so well so late. Refilled my bottles with ice and water – and left before him. Of course, he caught me in a minute, than we walked together through like a mile stretch of sand. And then I was jogging. Then he was. I was walking faster, he was running stronger. We played leap, and eventually with 3 miles left I let him go. As he disappeared, the dark clouds of dehydrated fried mind came over. I was an emotional ball on the verge of tears. I didn’t want to be passed. I was afraid to look back. I never asked at any of the AS if anybody of the ladies was close, because I was petrified I would have to race – and now was mad. Getting passed in the last 3 miles would break me. I was vividly picturing if that happens. I wanted to cry and couldn’t – no water, no energy. I wanted a hug. I wanted to be home. I was telling myself, now that the last 50M course in TX is done, I don’t ever, never have to run another ultra here. Heck, I may never run another ultra, period! Then I thought I might be looking like zombie. I felt like one. I had my mouth open, eyes with blank stare, face unmoved – a photographer would have been thrilled. Somehow I was still throwing in lots of short runs. There was so much angst and pain in me, when I popped up, I hardly realized I am a bit off the other side where I had to be.

I finished about 40 seconds behind Steve. While I was congratulated and given something into my hands, I couldn’t speak, smile or react. It took me quite a few minutes to say I am ok. Apparently, I won and was 5th overall (officially 4th since one guy ran as a bandit and was DQ'ed) in time of 9:52… I think I am still not reacting properly. I think my neurons short-fused and fried.
There was a lot of filth and dirt in my clothes - and in my shoes - but I do have to give a shout-out to La Sportiva shoes and Drymax socks – with all the sand and dust and sand, no gaiters and no changes, I had not a single blister (and I've seen a few at the finish line). The built-in protection in the shoes and technology of the sock was flawless.
My dry report doesn't do justice to a race and it's organizers. It was done perfect, the single track was great, the marking awesome, and volunteers were angels. I really, truly loved how it was done. I am just not a heat runner... I am surprisingly not sore at all, in any places - while it was challenging to run on sand, the softness of it prevented from DOMS. I was kind of traumatized by the burning heat and sinking sand during a 50 miler:)

One more thing to add. Racing in Texas at anything above 50k is all about surviving skills, not the speed. Being fast is all good when you go 3-4-5 hrs. Then it's about taking care of yourself, knowing your body, drinking and eating and taking salt...and in this part I did as good as possible. May be that's why I survived the quickest:)