Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Zion traverse- Pacing Craig Lloyd on his Zion double with Craig, Matt Williams, MattVH and Josh Greenwell:

The Zion traverse is a 48 mile run across Zion National Park and it has become a popular destination in the last few years for ultra runners that want to test their skills in some of the most scenic and difficult terrain in Utah. Last year our crew attempted the traverse, but we were forced to bail out after about 20 miles due to heavy rain and snow. This year we got our revenge and there was a twist- Craig would be doing the first ever double traverse. There are several things that make this run challenging. There is significant elevation gain and the climbs are steep and tough. Of the 48 miles I would say at least half of them are on technical trails. Some are rocky and rugged and there is several miles of beach sand that is almost impossible to run in. There are also several rivers and streams to cross as well.

We spent the night in Cedar City in a quaint little place with character... ok really it was a dive, but we weren't there for 5 star amenities we were there to tackle the traverse and a positive- I got to share a bed with MattVH. I enjoyed it. I actually slept better than I thought I would, but I still only got about 5 hours of sleep and since I had been traveling for work all week I didn't have a lot of sleep in the bank, but that didn't matter, once the alarm went off my adrenaline kicked in and I knew I would be fine.

Craig, MattW and Josh started at the Kolob (west) entrance at just after 6:00 am on Friday. MattVH and I would drive the car around to the Hop Valley trailhead where we would meet them at mile 13. After getting gas and a bite to eat we were at the trailhead about 25 minutes before Jun showed up. We ran down the trail a few hundred yards to see if we could see them and soon Craig approached looking strong. I took his camera to snap a few pictures and while trying to run, turnaround and get a good picture at the same time I tripped into a pile of soft sand and also a cactus. I got sand in the camera and it was out of commission for the rest of the trip. Craig filled his bottles and ate some food and after about 15 minutes there was no sign of the others, so he asked Matt to gear up and run with him and after a few minutes Matt was ready and they took off. I waited and waited and after almost an hour after Craig arrived MattW showed up looking trashed. He has been dealing with the flu all week and he just didn't have any energy. He was shocked that Josh hadn't arrived and he said that he had been behind both guys, so we started thinking that he probably missed the Hop Valley turn and after talking with a few other groups that had been on the trail we confirmed that.

We talked with a park ranger about an hour later and he gave us the number to call for dispatch in case we needed to call out SAR. We were pretty confident that Josh would be ok, but we had no idea where he was. About two hours after Craig had left some horsewomen showed up with a horse trailer and we talked to them and they told us they would look for Josh and we gave them my cell number. At 11:30 I was all geared up to run in to look for Josh and Matt was going to leave and go meet the other guys at the Grotto as they would be expecting us there around 1:00 with supplies. Just as I was about to leave one of the horse ladies called me to let us know they had come across Josh and he should be there soon. I decided to run out and meet him and run him in. He indeed had missed the Hop Valley trail and spent a few hours trying to find the right trail. He ended up with 26 miles and he was pretty sure he was done. We were relieved to have him back.

We went to the Grotto to meet the guys and I kept my running clothes on and prepared to go in case something happened to MattVH. When Craig arrived he looked terrible. He was dehydrated and it was about as bad as I have seen him look. He laid down and we went to work getting him food, water and taking care of a small blister on his foot. After a long rest he limped into the bathroom with his head down and looking pretty bad. About 5 minutes later he appeared with a smile and a new bounce in his step. He was back. Matt VH arrived about 10 minutes after Craig and he was feeling good, so I wouldn't have to start running until the east entrance at mile 48.

After the guys left we made our way over to the east entrance where the trail was closed and there was a sign that said: Trail closed for prescribed burn. WTH? We were trying to figure out what to do and a ranger showed up to remove the sign and told us that they were postponing it indefinitely because of dry conditions- Whew! We then waited for well over an hour for the guys to show up. They both looked pretty good. Matt was done and Craig took a few minutes to eat, drink and rest and then we started together on his second traverse.

The East Rim trail in Zion is probably the most scenic trail I have ever run on and once again it didn't disappoint. Craig and I chatted away the whole time. We got into a really good groove, running all of the flats and downhills and power hiking the hills, although we did run up several of the rollers and Craig looked strong. We stopped to fill up some water at the spring around mile 5 and saw a large wild turkey run across the trail. Awesome. The run down to the Weepig Rock trail was incredible and just as cool as I remember it from the year before. I tried to take a lot of pictures and Craig was looking good running all of the downhills strong.

Down in the canyon we got into a good running pace and took it into the Grotto where we were surprised to see that the guys were not there yet, so we sat down for a rest and after about 15 minutes we started to get worried. We could not go any further because the guys had our warm gear for the night and I needed more food and gels. After 17 minutes they finally showed up on the bus and had some much needed supplies. We were surprised to learn that MattVH had decided to climb Angel's Landing and he was probably on his way back down. After downing a sandwich, chips, cookies and some Pepsi I was ready to go. I also put on my tights and long sleeve shirts because I had become chilled waiting for the guys to show up. After about 5 minutes of hiking I realized I was too hot and probably shouldn't have put on the tights.

Just after starting up the Angels Landing trail we ran into MattVH who had just gone up to the summit and was now on his way down. He's an animal! Most people would be crashed out in the back of the van after running 35 miles, but not Matt. He can't pass up the chance to tag a cool summit. I love it. Craig pushed a hard fast pace all the way up and he looked really strong. It seemed like we were moving up as fast as we did last year and Craig had an additional 48 miles on his legs. Awesome. The next several miles of the trail are mostly uphill and the climbs are relentless. We pushed a really good pace for several miles, but eventually Craig started having some tummy issues and that was the only thing that could slow him down. At one point he laid down on the trail and I told him to take a couple of minutes to rest. I knew he was feeling like shite because I have never seen him lay down during a run. I knew he needed it. After a few minutes he got up and both of us agreed that he would just take it easy, but as long as he was moving forward it would be better than laying down. After about 10 minutes he was able to shake it off and he was back. About that same time I started to feel quite sick. I could easily have puked, but I tried really hard to keep it in because I new I would need the calories later in the night. At mile 17 for me and 65 for Jun we stopped at a spring to fill up our water and I put in 60 ounces. I thought for sure that would be enough because it was now pretty cool and we wouldn't see the sun for several hours.

Just after the spring stop I told Craig I needed to stop, so I sat down on a log and tried not to puke. I was sitting there shivering and feeling like total crap and I was thinking this is hell. Finally I decided that I just needed to get up and get moving, so we walked for a few minutes and then I started to run. I figured I would be feeling crappy whether I was running or walking, so I might as well be running. Luckily after about 5-10 minutes my stomach came around and I felt great the rest of the night. We think that eating the big dinner and then pushing all of the hills just didn't sit well with either of our stomachs.

The next 10 miles on the West Rim trail seemed to go on forever. We would run all of the flats and downhills and then hike up the steep stuff. We were both moving well and we chatted away most of the time. It was a real grind though and the miles weren't easy. At one point we came around and we could see the lights from St. George way in the distance. It was cool and reminded me of our remote condition. Speaking of remote other than seeing a few people at the Grotto and two groups on the Angel's Landing trail we hadn't seen another soul on the trail. How incredible is that?

Eventually we came to the end of the West Rim trail and we stopped to take a break. I had two gels left and about 20 ounces of water and I knew I would run out of both going the next 9 miles to the crew car at the Hop Valley trailhead. I had a gel and we took a few minutes to rest and then we were back at it moving toward the connector trail. This was one of my favorite sections because it was slightly downhill for a few miles and we got into a really good groove, but eventually the trail became really rocky and annoying and it slowed us down a lot. We had to walk in several places where there were just too many rocks and we were stumbling every few steps.

We got on the connector trail and Craig did an excellent job of keeping us on it. He was still moving very well and I was amazed at how good he looked with so many miles on his legs. We didn't talk much on this section. I think we were both so ready for a break and it was a total grind the last two miles. This section is tough. We had to go 23 miles between crew stops and I was now out of water and gels and feeling like I needed both. After what seemed like an eternity we came onto the road and it was a short run to the trailhead where the guys (minus MattVH) were waitng for us to take care of us. We both sat down and MattW and Josh took care of everything for us. They got our packs ready and got us food and drinks and took care of us. They were great. MattVH had left several hours earlier with his remaining 13 miles for the traverse. He thought we would catch up to him and he thought we would make it in a lot sooner.

After a pretty long stop we put on our warmest clothes and took off on the final 13 miles to complete our traverse. The first few miles of the Hop Valley trail are tough. It is basically like trying to run in soft beach sand. It fills your shoes and makes it almost impossible to run. I had to stop and dump sand out of my shoes countless times during the traverse, but it is particularly bad on this section. Eventually we came out into one of the prettiest meadows I have ever seen. We had to cross the creek several times and there was no way to keep from getting your feet wet. After a few crossings we noticed someone a few hundred yards ahead in the meadow wandering around. I thought it was another runner coming from the west entrance because I could see the hydration vest. As we got closer I noticed that it was MattVH. WT?? He had become lost in the middle of the night, got confused and thought he was on the wrong trail. He had been wandering around for hours and was very happy to see us. He looked really tired. I was starting to wonder what else could go wrong before we completed this thing. Matt was happy to join us and we continued on making a few more creek crossings and eventually making our way to the trail junction.

We had to cross the stream here and then we were on the final stretch of trail that would take us up to Lee's Pass and the finish. We stayed together for a few miles, but as soon as the trail turned north Craig put it into a gear that we couldn't match and I watched as he moved ahead and there wasn't anything I could do about it. I tried to stay with him, but I just didn't have the legs. Wow. I also dropped Matt about the same time. The next three miles were just hell. HELL! The worst part was me thinking I was closer to the pass than I really was, so around every bend I kept thinking I would see the cars. I wanted to be done and it seemed like the last few miles went on forever. The last one was particularly bad, probably the longest most cruel mile of my life. I was starving and kept thinking about burgers, fries, pizza and donuts. Oh man! I wanted so much to be DONE. I finally heard the boys yelling at me and it gave me a bit of a boost and I kicked it into the finish. What an amazing run. The views along the entire trail are some of the best I have ever seen. The pictures just don't do it justice. Congrats to Craig for finishing a double, he is in amazing shape right now and he should have an excellent Wasatch 100.

April training:

April was a horrible training month for me. The day before we ran the "Wedge" in February I ran up Lake Mountain with my friend Nate Greenwood. We had a solid day and I pushed it pretty hard, but on the way down I felt some tightness in my hamstring. It was tight and sore the rest of the day and I thought about bailing out on the Wedge run, but I just couldn't do it because I wanted to run with the boys down there. On the Wedge run it was tight almost from the start, but it didn't start hurting until about 5 miles in and from there it got progressively worse until I took some Ibuprofen around mile 20. The Ibuprofen really helped and I was able to run it in strong, but my hammy has been bothering me ever since. In March I ran 31 miles on Antelope Island and then paced Matt 28 on the Buffalo run, so that didn't help it, but it never seemed to get worse. I did take it easy for a few weeks in April and it seemed to help it a lot, but it still hasn't gone away.

At the beginning of the year I made a goal to run at least one ultra (over 31 miles) distance every month for the entire year. I just wasn't able to pull it off in April, so I'll have to make up for it by doing two in one month at some point. I have also switched back to running in the Brooks Cascadia. While I really like the Altra Lone Peak, I did notice that I was injured in some fashion almost the entire time that I was wearing them (lower back and hammy). While it might not be related, I had to go back to Brooks to see if that would help. So far I have been really happy with the switch, although I could go back to the Lone Peak at some point because I think it is an awesome shoe.
March 24, 2012- Pacing Matt Van Horn on the Buffalo Run 100:

I had an incredible experience pacing Matt on his first 100. I met Matt Williams  out there about 8:00 pm on Friday. We had to get out there early because they closed the gate to the island at 8:00 pm. On a hunch we decided to check the aid station near the fence (about mile 44ish) and remarkably Matt was just coming up to the road when we got out of the car. We walked with him for about a half mile and had a good chat. Then we went over the the campground a few miles away to cheer him on again. After that we went back to the start/finish to wait for him to come in. We got to chat with several runners and crews and eventually Matt came in looking good.

MattW went out with him to pace and I hung out in the tent helping other runners that came in. Eventually a friend of Craig and MattW (Tyler) came in looking like crap. He is 18 and this was his first 100. He couldn't keep anything down and had been puking and was dehydrated and cold. His Mom and supporters told him that 50 miles was good enough and they started to tell him to quit. I went over to offer some advice and tried to be positive with him. I spent the next hour with the aid station doctor talking with Tyler and his family. I told him to warm up, get some food and water down and try to get moving. Two of his friends showed up and offered to pace him the rest of the way. I thought he was going to give it another shot and I wished him luck and then went to my car to catch a little sleep. I found out later that Tyler never got back out and DNFd. I am sure it was a great learning experience for him.

I tried sleeping in the back of my car, but it was tough and I was restless. I finally dozed after about 45 minutes and I was able to get about 90 minutes of rest before Matt knocked on my window about 2:30 am. I got dressed and drove over to our meeting spot (the short out and back on the east side of the island). I waited for about 15 minutes and they finally showed up. Matt was still looking good, but I could tell he was tired and he said he needed to walk for a bit because his stomach was unsettled. For the next 11 miles we would walk for a few minutes and then run for a few. A couple of times we kept the pace going for about a half mile and before the Frary aid we actually ran for about 3/4 of a mile without stopping. We laughed a lot. I tried to joke around as much as possible and even though Matt was feeling like shite we were having a blast.

We tried to keep the aid stops as short as possible. We would try to get Matt everything he needed and then kept moving. We hit the ranch aid just before sunrise and Matt was getting cold, so he put on some warm clothes and I rubbed out his legs. We had the two aid station workers laughing pretty hard. So far we had not been passed by any runners, but about 10 minutes after we left the ranch we saw the first runner and he was looking strong. Matt started to bonk a bit over the next 5 miles and for good reason. He was over 85 miles in and had been awake for 24 hours. I tried to get him to run as much as possible and eventually the guy that we passed came into view. He obviously didn't spend much time at the ranch. I kept telling Matt they were coming, hoping it would motivate him to move faster, but I could tell he was just wrecked. He did pick up the pace just enough to stay ahead of the other runner to the Frary aid station. We stopped there and ate pancakes, sausage and Coke. Mmmmm. After a brief rest we got moving again. The sun was up and it was definitely getting warmer. About a half mile out of the aid and we could hear and see the runners high on the hill for the other races. There wasn't anybody within a mile of us, but I still tried to keep Matt moving fast. We joked and laughed some more and the next 5 miles actually seemed to go by pretty quick, at least for me, but I am sure Matt would disagree.

The 50 mile runners started coming into view and they looked fast and fresh. We saw Bryce and he was looking strong. I think he finished 7th in the 50. Awesome! There is a nice little hill after the fence line aid station and we grabbed some food and walked the hill. I could tell that Matt was really feeling it here. An older guy passed us and he was moving well. After you get to the top of the hill you make your way over to Buffalo Point. It seemed like Matt was really having a hard time and I just tried to stay positive and make him laugh. For the most part it worked.

At the campground aid (mile 96) we saw Matt's mom and Dad and I could tell that it lifted his spirits a lot, but I think he was looking forward to seeing his wife and boys. Going around the point was slow. I took in the incredible views that I didn't get to look at too much a few weeks ago because I was trying to keep up with Craig and Matt W. What an amazing part of the island. As we rounded the point I tried to keep pushing Matt as much as I could, but he was very fatigued. Eventually we saw a runner coming from behind and he was looking strong. He was closing the gap quick and I told Matt we needed to beat him in. The next 2-3 miles to the finish were the most exciting of the whole race. After prodding Matt for a few minutes he came to life and started to run. It was a 12 min pace and soon became 11. A few more minutes and we saw the 10's for the first time in hours. I would yell out our pace every time we broke another minute barrier.

The other runner seemed to be gaining for about a mile, but eventually our pace was strong enough that he wasn't making up any ground, but I didn't tell Matt that. I told Matt he was still coming and looked strong. It was fun to see Matt pushing it so hard at mile 99. We came to a pretty decent hill with less than a mile to go and I told Matt to hike it strong and he did and we ran hard on the dirt road back to the finish. I finally told Matt the hill killed the other runner and I could see the relief on his face and we both knew he wasn't going to get passed. One more quick walk break to catch his breath and then we ran it into the finish. We passed Eric Jeppson who had just finished the 25K and said hi and then Matt's wife and kids were there with posters to welcome him in. It was pretty awesome and I am just happy I got to experience part of it. Congrats to Matt for finishing his first 100 in under 24 hours (23:20).

March 9, 2012- Antelope Island 50K with Craig Lloyd, Matt Williams and Josh Greenwell

I had the most enjoyable run out on Antelope Island with the crew. We started at White Rock Bay and our goal was to run the 25K course with the out and back added on for 19 miles and from there see how much time we had and hopefully get in a 50K. It was a touch cool at the start, but we were all wearing shorts and it was almost perfect weather for running. It was really fun for the first 5 miles just chatting with the fellas and running at a nice easy pace. Everyone pushed it up the hill to the Elephant Head aid area and I dropped to a power hike to save my legs. From there we dropped into the valley and we spread out for the first time. Jun took the lead and I tried to keep pace while Dors and Jsh were just behind. We were all running about a 7:30 pace and it felt easy.

Climbing out of the valley on the switchbacks was really fun and we were all moving well. We all ran the entire way up and that was the first time I have ever run that section without hiking. At the top I stopped to pee and Dors and Jsh never came, so I went back to see what was up and Jsh was cramping, so we slowed for a bit so he could stretch it out. There was a bit of mud and snow over the next half mile, but nothing to slow us much. It was really the only place we encountered any mud all day. Back at Elephant Head Jsh decided to go back to the car because of his cramps and sore ankle and we continued with the out and back to Elephant Head. On the run out I stopped to pick up an S-Cap and the other guys got a little bit ahead and I just tried to keep up. It was really fun and the views are incredible. At the turnaround I was still a little behind the guys and they slowly put some distance on me and I would be running by myself all the way back to the car.

My hamstring that has been bothering me started getting tight and I slowed down. After the Elephant Head aid area you run down a pretty steep hill and at the bottom I stopped to take some Ibuprofen. I was able to get back into a pretty solid pace, but the other guys were about a half mile ahead. I just cranked up my tunes and had a nice run back to the car. After a few more miles my hammy seemed to be getting a little better, but it was still tight. I made it to the cars (mile 19) about 8 minutes after Jun and Dors and I had to hurry and cram some food in as fast as I could. French toast, sausage, V8 and Pepsi. Mmmmmm. We left the aid stop and ran west around Buffalo Point. My legs were a bit stiff at first, but they slowly came around and felt a lot better.

Jun pushed a pretty solid pace and I really enjoyed the views going around the point. Incredible! The views all day were unreal, but I really enjoyed this area as I had never been over there before. When we came around to the north side we picked up the road and ran over to Buffalo Bay. Jun kept a solid pace and again put some distance on us. Matt wasn't far behind, but they dropped me a little there. We picked up the trail that goes south to the Ranch and ran that back to the fence where we turned and headed west again in the direction of the cars.

We hiked up the steeper hill there for a few minutes and hit our 26.2 point. At the top we decided to go to the top of Buffalo Point or I should say Jun decided that. Dors and I were looking up there and thinking it was really far and high up, but we thought we could give it a shot. The run on the road over to the point was awesome. We were all feeling great and we had a very solid pace. To get to the trail to the point you have to run up a very steep road and all three of us were strong all the way to the top. I kept running when we got to the trailhead and tried to catch Jun who was ahead. We ran about 3/4 of the trail all the way to the summit. Awesome! We were all feeling great. We hung out on top for a while and took some pics.

The run down was fun. We kept a strong pace all the way and even pushed it at times. When were were coming close to the cars we decided to take the longer route to get a full 31 miles for an ultra distance. When we got back to the parking lot I had to run zig zags and some circles to finally hit exactly 31, which I hit at the car door. What an incredible day with great friends. It was one of the best runs I have ever had. 5:28 minutes total time.