I can't recall how or why we started the new year with the “see ya Tuesday at 9 at the lake”—two ultra-distance trail runners meeting midweek for a paved, flat, easy loop. I needed a friend, a counselor, a reminder of the best, most humorous and ...

 

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Tuesdays With The Rocket: A Special Start to 2017

Until I left California a few weeks ago and transitioned to Colorado for the summer, nearly every Tuesday of 2017 went like this:

I run 2.5 miles from my house to the edge of Oakland’s Lake Merritt to get there at 8:52 a.m., because The Rocket always arrives early to our 9 a.m. date.

While I stand and stretch near the tall columned structure called The Colonnade, Errol “The Rocket” Jones, 67 years young, runs up sporting a trim-fitting shirt neatly tucked into shorts, looking dapper even in running clothes. His skin is smooth and shiny, except for some wrinkles around the eyes, and his thin, sculpted legs look like those of a champion East African runner.

“Rocket, I’m tired today,” I admit as soon as I see him.

“Honey, I am so glad to hear that! You and me both.” He throws his arms around me in a sweaty hug, his laughter loud enough to turn heads. Passers-by see our contrast in age, gender and race, and a few must wonder, what gives? But most probably don’t think twice, because this is Oakland, and the lakeside pedestrians look as representative as the UN.

A typical Tuesday morning run with The Rocket.

I tell him, “I feel like your ’79 Cadillac, you know? I’ve got the potential to look good and run well, but I’m old and rusty.”

“Well, I had the worst run you can imagine yesterday,” he tells me (because we have fallen into the habit of one-upping each other with worst-ever stories like this). As we begin stiffly running clockwise around the lake, dodging geese and walkers, our talk takes on a confessional tone. He relates how he drove to Skyline Gate in Redwood Regional Park to run 7.5 miles out and back to Pinehurst Gate, but he felt so lousy, and the trail was so storm damaged, that he cut the run short. “It didn’t even end up being 5; it was 4.8, but it was still above my prescribed daily 3.”

Rocket’s “prescribed daily 3” is his minimum requirement to maintain a streak—that is, running every single day of 2017, in preparation for redemption at the 100-mile distance. He’s committed to finishing the Heartland 100 in Kansas in early October.

Today, a Tuesday in late June in Colorado, I’m not missing too much about California, except The Rocket and “the big dance” happening this weekend. I keep dwelling on the Western States 100-mile Endurance Run, which takes place Saturday, and flashing back to my experience one year ago—those 24 hours that lived up to the hype and turned out to be everything I hoped it would be. Errol, helping as my crew and mentor, was a big part of that day. I wish I could be part of this year’s excitement around States and hang out with The Rocket again.

Heading out from the Michigan Bluff aid station in the late-afternoon heat with Errol “The Rocket” Jones during the 2016 Western States Endurance Run.

Savoring and rehashing the 2016 Western States 100 experience at the finish.

I can’t recall exactly how or why we started the new year with the “see ya Tuesday at 9 at the lake”—two ultra-distance trail runners meeting midweek for a paved, flat, easy loop. I only recall the feelings of vulnerability and anxiety that settled in my stomach toward the end of 2016.

Nervous about the imminent publication of my book, worried about my kids’ personal struggles, daunted by a crazy weeklong race I committed to train for, doubtful I could prove to myself that I could take the entire month of January off from drinking alcohol (when a single night of abstinence, pre-race, felt like a struggle)—the combination of these and other stressors, including the specter of Donald Trump, made me feel close to hopeless and powerless.

It’s fair to stay The Rocket started the year a little stressed, too, haunted by DNFs at a couple of 100s and determined to fulfill a running streak. He transitioned from semi-retirement to return to work as a carpenter, taking on a tough remodeling job. He felt fatigued from race-directing and volunteering. He kept shaking his head in disbelief and dismay about current events, the clock turning back on civil rights.

I needed a friend, a counselor, a reminder of the best, most humorous and resilient sides of the human spirit. We both needed a conversational-pace easy run with no expectations of distance or speed, a chance to rejuvenate a few days after a depleting weekend long run.

Each Tuesday, we learned a little more about each other. For example, one time, he told me about running trails solo in Mexico in January (where he, along with his close friends Tropical John Medinger and Lisa Henson, traveled during the inauguration week to get away from it all), and I asked, don’t you ever worry about your safety while running unknown trails solo in a foreign country?

He gives me a look, like, don’t I know anything? “Honey, I was a point man in Vietnam!” He launches into a story that transports me from Lake Merritt to a jungle where I visualize him dressed in camo holding a rifle, forging solo into the unknown to flush out enemies and other threats, making it safer for troops to follow.

Another time, I tell him about how my weekend long run got all screwed up by a mid-run phone call with my mother and her caregiver. I had stopped running and caught a chill while trying to get through to my confused mother, who no longer possesses the cognitive ability to remember the four-year anniversary of my dad’s death. Errol listens sympathetically and describes his mom as a saint, his dad a philanderer. We get to talking about siblings—the good and the bad—since I’m the youngest of five and he’s the oldest of seven.  “It’s life. You can’t choose who you’re related to,” he reminds me.

I don’t need a psychologist to recognize that in this midlife phase, lacking parents who are healthy, strong role models, I seek out older mentors who on some level fulfill paternal or maternal roles and who cheer me on, inspiring me to be better and stronger while at the same time accepting my aging, imperfect self.

But mostly, Rocket and I talk about running, because there’s always running.

When he tells me his plans for the Ohlone 50K in May, I ask if he ever considers doing the Silver State 50 near Reno on that same weekend, as an alternative. Again, he looks at me like, don’t I know anything?

“Back in the day, some of us would do Silver State and Ohlone,” he says, because one event is Saturday and the other is Sunday, making a back-to-back race possible. “We were warriors! Today, you’re all creampuffs!” We laugh so hard, more heads turn.

Then The Rocket grows subdued and recalls when he used to run the Ohlone 50K in the early 1990s in close to 5 hours, placing near the front, not in the 6 to 7 hours it takes now. (On May 21, a brutally hot day, he finished the Ohlone 50K in 8:05.)  “I had something then, I wasn’t just a has-been,” he says more to himself than to me. I remind him that he has a daily streak and a 100-miler on the calendar, and that’s not a has-been.

“That’s right, and after three months, I’m really feeling the payoff” of this year’s training, he says with more characteristic cheerfulness.

It’s been 35 years since Errol “The Rocket” Jones ran his first ultra, the American River 50—and since some other trail runner in the Oakland hills gave him the nickname that stuck by referring to him as “the black guy rocketing around” (a story recounted in this UltraRunnerPodcast episode)—and he’s run more than 200 ultras since. His 100-mile time dipped below 20 hours in his prime. Now, he anchors his goals on getting out and finishing, pure and simple.

He writes a column called “Rocket Rants” for UltraRunning magazine, and in last month’s issue, he described friendships nurtured through ultrarunning. “Sometimes life happens, and we need a go-to person or persons, those you can always count on to be there in your time of need,” he wrote. “If you’re lucky you’ve developed a similar relationship with a someone, or a group, in the sport, who can share your pain over 40 to 60 miles of rugged trail and drag your wretched behind to the finish line. Or get you over whatever hump is blocking your way in life.”

I agree completely, but it’s funny how I also found that to be true on a gentle three-mile loop around Lake Merritt.

Taking a break outside the Lake Merritt boathouse.

If you haven’t seen it, check out this short video about Errol “The Rocket” Jones, which I helped the filmmaker develop in late 2015 (and I’m seen running briefly with him in it).

 

Good luck to everyone chasing their dreams this weekend at the Western States 100-mile Endurance Run! Here’s the lowdown & links from iRunFar on how to follow it.

 

2017 Mauna to Mauna Report: A Week of Striving & Slogging Over Hawaii’s Harsh Hills

Celebrating at the finish of the 155-mile, six-stage Mauna to Mauna Ultra with my tentmates: Danny of Wales, Ian of Quebec, Melanie of Florida, Christopher of Wales, Christopher of the UK, and Cecile of France. The flower leis I’m wearing came from an old friend who lives in Kona and met me at the finish with them.

I didn’t mean for a full month to pass before I blogged about the May 14 – 20 Mauna to Mauna Ultra stage race, but it took that long to carve out the time and head space to piece the week’s stories together, and to obtain the event’s professional photos. Strangely, I didn’t want to think much about the Mauna to Mauna; I just wanted to recover from it and transition to summer life with my kids in Colorado.

Have you ever returned home from a long, tiring trip, dumped your luggage in the entranceway, and let it sit there for far too long because you didn’t want to unpack? I kind of felt like that. I’m finally getting around to unpacking last month’s stage-race experience along with everything else.

A lot of people already heard an audio version of this race report, because UltraRunnerPodcast.com host Eric Schranz interviewed me the day after I got back. You can listen to that episode here. My son Kyle listened to it as we drove together from California to Colorado, and he said things like, “Geez, Mom, did you have any fun? Why did you do that?” (My 16-year-old son is rarely that interested in my running or in my point of view.) Others had similar reactions to the podcast—one said, “That sounded so crazy and tough, not the kind of week in Hawaii I’d want to spend!” I subsequently joked that the URP interview functioned as a kind of trauma therapy, during which I processed the challenge and stress of that inaugural six-stage, 155-mile race, which featured over 22,000 feet of vertical gain through extreme weather and highly variable, unpredictable terrain.

This pretty much captures how I slogged through drenching rain, deep puddles and rocky footing in the first three stages while carrying a saturated 20lb. pack, until we transitioned to the dryer side of the island …

… one foot in front of the other. (This photo and others, unless otherwise noted, are from the Mauna to Mauna Ultra’s event photographers.)

It felt GREAT to reach camp at the end of each stage! This was Stage 3, when I ran through howling winds and rain with that cheap poncho flapping loudly. But that thin plastic layer really helped me retain body heat.

So to set the record straight and to balance out that earlier report, let me say up front, yes, I did have fun at times!

First and foremost, I had fun talking and sharing gallows humor with the other 71 participants, who hailed from 20 different countries and had mind-blowing stories to tell about their global travels and prior ultra experiences. I reveled in the spa-like experience of soaking my achy body in the warm, clear ocean water of the beach where we camped the final three nights.

The blissful beach where the event set up camp for the final three nights (Spencer Beach Park near Waimea, north of Kona) …

… and our beachside tents where we dried out our stuff.

I experienced a strange kind of enjoyment and fascination hanging out in the medical tent and getting to know the outdoorsy, accomplished doctors who chose to spend a week of “vacation” working this event and treating runners’ ravaged feet and chafed skin. I loved being at the finish line to witness and cheer when other exhausted participants finally made it to camp.

At the Stage 5 finish cheering the arrival of Chris and Chris (second and third from left), who struggled from heat and injury. Also pictured are my tentmates Danny and Ian.

And, although it hurt and stressed me out, I had “fun” or rather the thrill of truly competing. I haven’t raced and pushed that hard since the 2016 Western States 100 (see report), but that was different because it was a single-stage ultra, and I was racing to beat a certain time on the clock. Here, I got caught up in the challenge of trying to beat or at least keep in sight Sharon Gayter, an extremely accomplished ultrarunner from the UK with whom I leapfrogged in the 2012 Grand to Grand Ultra. (She ultimately won the 2012 Grand to Grand, and I slipped to third.)

Sharon Gayter, tough as nails, finishing Stage 2. She ultimately placed 2nd female and 12th overall.

This time, I paced off Sharon for the first four stages, until I struggled and she gapped me at nighttime in the long stage (details below), so she ultimately came in 2nd with a cumulative time of 37:52, and I was 1 hour and 11 minutes behind her. Neither of us could come close to the impressive Sylvia Ravaglia, who finished 1st woman and 8th overall in a cumulative time of 34:32, four-and-a-half hours ahead of me; a very experienced ultrarunner and triathlete, Sylvia is a Big Island local who trained on the Mauna to Mauna’s terrain and consequently was highly adapted for the event, although this was her first self-supported stage race. She’s really good! See full results here.

Then, after Stage 4, I unexpectedly found myself fighting off a challenge from a mid-packer who surged from behind midweek and came on strong, Mirjam Barrueto, a Canadian living in Switzerland.

Mirjam and me racing together through the high heat, tall grass and lava rock of Stage 5 with Mauna Kea in the background. I’m in the green shirt behind her, struggling to keep up.

I don’t know why I felt so passionate about fighting for this third-place podium spot, but I did—and I’m glad and proud I did. It would have been so much easier and perhaps more enjoyable not to care, to simply get from the start to finish of each stage and pay less attention to my time and my spot relative to others. But I got caught up in the race. For this, I thank Sharon and Mirjam, along with a handful of other women and men with whom I frequently shared the trail because we ran a similar pace.

At camp, both Sharon and Mirjam (like all the participants I met) proved friendly and gracious; only good vibes existed between us. This, perhaps, is my fondest memory of the Mauna to Mauna Ultra: the experience of the oxymoronic “friendly competition” in the best, truest sense. At times, on the course, it felt to me alternately like we were stalking each other or pushing/pulling each other along.

At camp, I appreciated discovering a warm, wise side to Sharon that I hadn’t gotten to know five years earlier at the Grand to Grand Ultra. As we passed idle hours at camp with nothing to do but talk, since we all unplugged from technology, she and I chatted like two weary travelers hanging out at a pub. Mirjam, meanwhile, won me over with her cheeky personality. After Stage 5, she wagged her finger at me and teased, “I wanted to make you work!” I wanted to hug her and say, “Yes, thank you!” (but instead, I just laughed).

Hanging out at camp involved good conversations and time-consuming foot care. This sunny camp, where we stayed for the second half of the week, was much preferable to the rain-soaked, mud-bog camps of the first three stages.

Many friends followed daily updates I wrote during the race from camp (where we had a communal laptop to share for outgoing email), which I emailed to my sister, and she posted them on my Facebook page. This report mainly features those daily diary entries, along with some additional notes. For context, see earlier posts on my training, and my food and gear, for this event. (Note: I updated the food/gear list post-event to annotate what I would have done differently and what worked well.)

My Mauna to Mauna Stage Race Diary

Stage 1: 26.7 miles, 3560 feet of gain

I’m writing Sunday afternoon at Camp 2, located somewhere outside of Hilo in a grove of tall, vine-covered banyan and some kind of towering, leafy eucalyptus. I finished stage 1 in 5:39, 2nd F and 13 overall (there are 72 starters, 44 of whom did the Grand to Grand Ultra in one of the past four years) just before another torrential downpour hit. I was lucky to be the first one in our tent so I could strip off my soaking-wet clothes and change; the runners who arrive at camp hours later will have less time to recover and dry out. Not that any of us will dry out, however; everything is soaking wet! Inside the tent is cozy and dry enough; but, this tent is on lava rock so there’s nowhere smooth to lie out—unlike last night, Camp 1, which was amazing and cushy, on private property at the Volcano Winery on a big open lawn, near the Volcano Park. (We got to drive to see the Kilauea Volcano glowing and erupting last night after dinner – wow!)

But about stage 1: I’ll make this quick since I’m on a 15 min time limit using the camp’s laptop.

The starting line of the Mauna to Mauna Ultra. I’m standing in the middle, in a green shirt, next to my friend Melanie Papatestas, who has a rainbow coming out of her head. RDs Colin and Tess Geddes are squatting in front wearing neon yellow jackets.

Start: lovely, scenic, upbeat mood, rain and rainbows. I had the treat of two Bay Area runner friends, whom I met thru SF Team RWB at a trail running clinic I gave last year, show up to cheer me on and take pics, which was very uplifting. My throat tightened with emotion seeing all the country flags and such a collection of runners from around the globe, knowing we are participating in the first event of its kind in Hawaii.

One gear fail: At the start, everyone pulled out their backpack covers to keep their packs dry in the downpours. Everyone else’s pack cover is tight fighting and trim. I pulled out mine—for the first time, bad move not trying it out ahead of time! It was the backpack cover my daughter got for her big pack and never used. Turns out it’s green and giant, like a shower cap big enough to cover an elephant’s ass. I put it on my pack, and it made me look like a turtle with a huge turtle shell. I did not want to look like a turtle in the starting line photos! So I said screw it and put it away; everything in my pack is in plastic compression sacs and will stay dry. Now I can use the turtle shell pack cover to put my sleeping bag on in the damp tent, thankfully.

First stretch: along the waterfront and up through a lovely farm called OK Farms. We climbed through a plantation—very scenic. But very humid. I felt good. Lower back started to chafe from pack so I lubed up at the first check point. Did the classic Sarah move of running out of the checkpoint in the wrong direction, realizing my error after about 50 meters and turning around. Short technical section in here was very rooty, muddy, lots of tangled vines and fallen tree trunks to climb over; but for the most part, the early and middle parts of the stage were quite runnable (but “runnable” is hard with a 20lb pack!).

Me with Susan Riggio during Stage 1

Middle stretch: through Hilo. As Colin the RD said, “the biggest risk today is the traffic”—we had to run on the shoulder of a highway with a lot of cars very close—a bit stressful! Plus, the sun came out and reflected off the asphalt, making it hot and humid.

Last stretch—tough! We went off road through knee-high and sometimes armpit-tall grass, thorny brush, ankle-deep swamp—this tall grass felt relentless. Parts were scenic with vines and some wild orchids; but, sadly, lots of locals use this back track as a place to dump used mattresses, old TVs and other household debris, so at times we ran past trash. I rolled my left ankle twice and fell head first onto both hands with about 3 miles to the finish, because the footing was so booby-trapped and difficult to navigate. I recovered (nice soft landing thanks to all the tall grass) and my ankle is OK.

Happy to finish the marathon-length Stage 1 in a time of 5:39, 2nd F and 12th overall for the stage. That’s a slow marathon time, but the pack weight, humidity, terrain and rain slowed us all down.

My 15-minute time limit is up for using this computer, so I need to get off. Thanks for everyone reading this! I feel fatigued but OK; my feet are a pruney mess, but so are everyone else’s.

Stage 2: 19.1 miles, 3592 feet of gain

Update from Stage 2—19 miles—wow, this is tough and WET! Finished 2nd F again quite a ways back from Sylvia who definitely is good on this island terrain.

We woke up in the tent to downpours; everything, everyone is wet. Several competitors bemoaned soaked sleeping bags (mine is OK, just damp). Our tent is funky but cozy. I made a decision I’m going to be wet and not worry about it; hence, I did not fuss with a poncho, or fresh socks or anything, because I knew it would be futile. Sure enough, 20 meters from the start line, we ran through a calf-high puddle.

Soaking wet from dressing in the prior day’s wet running clothes, we waited to start Stage 2 while the rain came down heavily. I’m on the left in the green shirt.

Participants take off at the start of Stage 2, about to encounter calf- to thigh-high puddles.

You would not believe the swampy puddles we ran through. Seriously, at least 50 calf- to thigh-high puddles, full of chocolate-brown water so we couldn’t see the wobbly rocks or mud underfoot. It was pretty hilarious actually. I realized early on that two things would be awful: falling in the puddle and submerging my pack, and/or having the sucky mud suck my shoe off in one of the puddles. I concentrated on having neither of those things happen, and I did pretty well. The first half of the route ended up being like an interval workout with 30-second strides: surge and run as best you can, then ford a puddle for another 30 seconds. I tried to do the best I could with the puddles by taking big, long steps. This part of the route was much more scenic than yesterday’s route; we slogged and jogged under a jungle of fern and trees. And, it rained.

Three main things got stuck in my head during this stretch: two songs that were played at camp in the morning, CCR’s song with the line “Gotta Run Through the Jungle” and, God help me, Hall and Oates “You’re making my dreams come true”—I could not get that out of my head. I also kept repeating the little kids’ book, “We’re Going On a Bear Hunt” with the line, “we can’t go over it, we can’t go around it—oh no, we have to go through it!”

We went up, up, up and after about 10 miles, the course popped out above the rainforest to a lunar-like lava field. We had many tough but starkly beautiful (and rainy!) miles over lava rock very reminiscent of Rocky Mountain alpine talus fields. I was grateful for my experience of going over Oscar’s Pass in Hardrock, or over Imogene, because it’s similar footing—endless swath of loose rock varying in size from golfball to softball, very difficult to do any running on. I just concentrated on doing the best I could and not rolling my ankle.

We followed a rough trail through lots and lots of this type of lava.

I made it to camp in just under 5 hours and focused on staying warm and getting into dry clothes. Some people will struggle with the cold. I am grateful I have not gotten chilled (yet)! Overall I am in good spirits. A significant number of complainers are focused on how miserable the weather is, and how our packs are heavier because they’re saturated. To which I inwardly am reminded of a great line that David Roche had in a Trail Runner article: “Excuses are like genitals—everyone has them, but you shouldn’t go around showing them off.” I have no real complaints other than packing a musket big time LOL (David Sedaris fans and my husband Morgan will know what I’m talking about).

Gotta go, time is up! I’m having a blast and an adventure!

Stage 3: 28 miles, 3005 feet of gain

We are back at the same camp for the second night on Tuesday, facing the 48-mile long stage with 11,000 ft elevation gain tomorrow. Today, we did 28 miles in a big loop, finishing at the same camp we started. It took me about 6:20 and I finished second female but just barely. I’m not gonna sugarcoat it: it was TOUGH and I struggled.

On Stage 3, we ran many miles through and next to the softer-looking lava flow from 1984’s eruption on Mauna Loa.

The route went straight up 3200 ft from 5000 ft to 8200 ft in elevation—in driving rain and extremely strong winds. Imagine going up Mt Diablo but at elevation, with a loaded backpack, in rain, on terrain that was busted-up lava rock—and on limited calories. Honestly, it was harder than I imagined, and I was running low on energy. I definitely could have used more calories; I didn’t anticipate my body needing more fuel in the cold weather and altitude. But I got through it.

After we ran to a high point on Mauna Loa, we ran down this paved road through strong winds and downpours.

The second half of the route was downhill on a paved road; then the final 7.5 miles were stressful insofar as we ran next to a highway, but we were not allowed to run on the pavement (or if caught, we’d face a one-hour time penalty); we had to run on the rough, uneven lava shoulder, into a driving headwind and rain. I put on my poncho for warmth and kept my head down, and ran as best I could, taking walking intervals but trying to steadily run. My main recollection is not only how tiring it was, but also, how deafening loud—the sound of the wind, and the flapping sound of my poncho. I kept repeating the Hardrock motto, “wild and tough”!

I’m still in second place among women (no chance I’ll catch local Sylvia, who mentioned that she trains on the long-stage route all the time)—she is very well adapted and very strong. I have stopped caring whether I will hold onto second place; I am in survival mode. The thought of 11,000 ft of vert, at altitude going over 9,000 ft in elevation, is daunting; I have to concentrate on taking care of my body, rationing calories, not getting too cold, and not falling.

My spirits are lifted by my tentmates—Danny from Wales, with whom I shared a tent at G2G in 2014, and he’s got a wicked dry humor; Christopher, also from Wales; another guy also named Christopher from the UK who’s in the British Navy and says this experience feels like a military exercise; Cécile from France who is a writer covering the sport like I do, but for European publications; Ian from Quebec (so he and Cécile talking French is rekindling my high school French); and Melanie—wonderful Melanie from Florida, with whom I shared a tent at G2G in 2012, and now she is hiking determinedly and maintaining an incredibly tough, matter-of-fact attitude. When I remind myself of my rule, “no pity parties,” I think of Melanie and how she will be on the route so much longer, and she doesn’t complain. I’m also happy whenever I see my Facebook friend Derrick Lytle from Utah on the course, who’s here photographing the event; he’s really nice, and I appreciate having someone cheer from me.

A photo of me with my tentmates (not pictured: Cecile). I used safety pins to hang up and try to air out my running clothes after every stage. (Photo by Payge McMahon)

All the volunteers are incredibly supportive and have such a hard job, especially the camp crew who have to drive tent stakes into lava rock! This is a soggy but stoic group, and gallows humor reigns. OK, time is up, I have to get off the computer now. I will be on the long stage well into the nighttime, Wednesday into Thursday early morning; it is “only” 48 miles but will feel like a 100-miler because of the cumulative fatigue on my legs from stages 1 – 3 and the altitude. Let’s do this!

Stage 4 (the long stage): 48 miles, 10,975 feet of gain

This morning (Thursday) I am at a beachside camp north of Kona, having arrived around 3 a.m. following the 48-mile long stage. After a swim in the ocean and shower—what a luxury, being able to use the shower on the beach!—I am feeling better in spite of very beaten-up muscles and a painfully infected toe.

I don’t know when Stage 4 results will be posted, but I have good news/bad news. Good news: an unforgettable 15+ hours and one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, maybe THE most challenging. Bad news, I slipped way down in the rankings, though I don’t know how much yet.

For the long stage, I started in the 11 a.m. start wave with the 14 top men and 3 top women (me being one of them; Sylvia and Sharon the others). In hindsight, oh how I wish I had not raced so hard in the first three stages, so I would have entered the long stage in 4th or lower place and thus had the regular 8 a.m. start, because I really could have used those extra three hours of daylight!

I found it very challenging to wait around all morning until our wave could start at 11 a.m. I felt hungry and tired before we even started—not a good sign!

Here I am waiting for Stage 4’s 48-mile route to start at 11 a.m. with the small group of frontrunners (most of the participants started at 8 a.m.). I looked as excited and energetic as I felt.

In spite of feeling less than energized for a long, hard stage, I diligently stuck to my dynamic stretching routine at the start, which did help make me feel better.

To cut to the chase: I did well and pushed hard to the summit of 9000+ ft, on the lunar landscape above treeline on the R1 jeep road up Mauna Kea; but, I suffered mightily on the way down and slowed way, way down after dark. The 48 miles out and back were extremely tough, like San Juan Mountain tough—the terrain was similar to a jeep road above Telluride, like Imogene Pass, with chunks of loose rock and high altitude. The overall elevation gain was approx. 11,000 feet (whatever 3345 meters translates to) on a very “spiky” course, constant up and down. And oh, how I wished I had brought my trekking poles! I didn’t need them in the first three stages, but I paid for it yesterday and would have done so much better with poles.

This is a shot of me hiking up one of the earlier miles of Stage 4.

But the real problem: shortage of calories. With my elevated heartrate in the altitude, and pushing hard, plus the cold—at nighttime, the temp dipped to the mid-30s with wind and mist—I was burning calories like a furnace but had a very limited supply. After dark, about 9.5 hours into it, I did the math about how far I had to go and how long it would take me, at least 4 to 5 hours; I realized I only had one Honey Stinger waffle (160 cals), one recovery drink mix (about 200), one hot chocolate packet (100), and half a leftover ProBar (about 160 cals), and that was it for the remainder of the night. My stomach was growling as I ran. Consequently, I got quite lightheaded and had to hike to keep from passing out. Of course, Jackson Browne’s “Running On Empty” got stuck in my head.

It took me just under 7 hours to get up to the summit, but over 8 hours to get back down, and I finished in 15:19. I have no idea how that compares to the other competitors, but Sylvia and Sharon were hours ahead. But, I wasn’t alone in suffering—there was major carnage on the course as people suffered from the altitude, flirted with hypothermia, rolled ankles, and fell asleep for long naps at checkpoints.

But this does have a happy ending! I had one of those moments—like the Tim Olson-on-a-discarded-matress-midway-thru-Hardrock moments—when you are totally liberated from competitive pressure because you care only about finishing, and you commit not to quit, and that is at the heart of ultrarunning. That, and the friendships you make.

With 10.5 miles to go, at the penultimate checkpoint, I hooked up with two Aussies—a young woman named Ruby who’s 26 and a doctor in training, and an older man named Peter. We made a pact to stick together and share each other’s light (good thing, because mine was dim). Ruby—who started in the 8 a.m. wave, so she finished in 18:19 with me—motored along and was the best pacer for me; she really got me moving again. My entire being focused on not losing Ruby and Peter. The three of us passed the final hours together, swapping stories (actually, I was still too out of breath and lightheaded to talk, so I would ask a question and listen to them answer), “running” i.e. shuffling as best we could. The starry sky looked magnificent, and after midnight, the moon rose. Experiencing that camaraderie at the end, and digging as deep as I could, made it worthwhile. But my god, that was a hard course.

Tomorrow is the last regular stage—29 miles, mostly downhill (ouch! I don’t know how my feet and quads will handle that) and then on Saturday we have a short “sprint” of 5 miles to finish at the host hotel. I have been offline all week so I haven’t seen any messages, but I greatly appreciate my sister sharing this and people following along, if you’re reading this. We have cell coverage here at the beach but we incur a big penalty if we turn our phones on and send anything out. I treasure this break from technology and the way everyone is sitting around talking. And, it’s sunny! We finally feel we’re in Hawaii, after a week of such unusually heavy rain and cloud coverage near Hilo and Mauna Loa. Now we have the ocean and birdsong.

Stage 5 (29.1 miles with 515 feet of gain and 6233 feet of descent); and Stage 6 (5 miles, 590 feet of gain)

I started Stage 5 on Friday very worn out and sore from the 48-mile long stage, though having all Thursday to recover helped, although I was so hungry all day. (Thursday was a non-run day because back-of-pack participants had all day Thursday to finish the long stage.)

Getting ready to race the final two stages.

Stage 5 on Friday was 29 miles, downhill, which sounded relatively manageable—and for the first 11 miles it was blissfully gentle, on spongy grass on the shoulder of the road from Mauna Kea to Waimea. I had a little more than 30 minutes total time ahead of Mirjam (from Switzerland but lives in Canada); she had dominated the long stage and was running so well! Having raced hard to stay close to Sharon for the first three stages, then falling behind and in survivor mode in the Stage 4 long stage, I was holding onto 3rd place with a not-too-comfortable margin.

We ran many hot miles through this grassy, rocky pastureland in Stage 5.

Mirjam and I ran together for the first part of Stage 5. But then, the day’s route completely changed, and not for the better! We had to go cross-country (i.e. no trail) 7-plus miles through open ranch land, which consisted of lava rock and thorny brush, and the brush obscured the pink flags. I slowed way down, and meanwhile the temp heated up uncomfortably.

Mirjam showed her prowess on technical terrain (helped by poles—I had pole envy!) and steadily went ahead of me, while I concentrated on navigating the rough terrain. For much of the way we followed a barbed-wire fence line, and several times I stumbled and automatically reached for the fence, then quickly stopped myself from grabbing the barbed wire. It was ugly.

Struggling from heat and fatigue in Stage 5.

But the real problem was that I started to experience signs of heat exhaustion as I ran out of water about 3 miles from the next checkpoint—prickly skin, parched mouth, throbbing head and disorientation. I would get to a pink flag and have to pause and look around to find the next one, at one point getting off course and wandering around aimlessly. Needless to say, I lost a lot of time.

When I finally reached the checkpoint about 5 miles from the finish, I told the volunteers that they really needed to add a water drop or else runners could have heat stroke (they later added a water drop between checkpoints). I was in rough shape, barely able to run, but water, salt and my last VFuel gel helped.

The rest of the course was less than scenic, to say the least. We had to run by a construction site with beeping heavy equipment, and then we popped onto the Hapuna Golf Course track—truly surreal to run a golf cart path, at one point leapfrogging with a golf cart! One man pleasantly asked, “You running a marathon?” to which I screeched like a cat in heat, “No, 155 miles!” Worst part was, I missed a sharp turn to transition from the golf course to the highway, so I ran further on the golf cart track—losing a couple of minutes—before realizing my mistake and backtracking.

Then, with about 3 miles left, we runners crossed the busy highway (with the help of course marshal), and I lost another 1 – 2 minutes waiting for a break in traffic. Finally I was on the home stretch toward camp—but it sucked, and I was in a wicked mood! Heat radiated off the asphalt as cars zoomed by, and the heat must’ve been in the high 90s. Finally, I made it to camp and went straight to the beach to dive into the ocean.

Thank god I survived Stage 5—but my lead over Mirjam had shrunk to 7 minutes. In the past days, we had traversed 150 miles over nearly 39 hours, and the final ranking would come down to a 5-mile sprint. Argh, I didn’t really want to go through the suffering of racing hard, but I knew I had to really race on the final stage to keep third place. Mirjam seemed stronger and fresher than I was. I could barely walk due to a wound on my toe and cramped quads. (Did I mention I was hungry?) OK, enough whining!

So this morning (Saturday, May 20, the final stage of the Mauna to Mauna) dawned, the beautiful birdsong waking us up around 5:30a.m., and just like on Wednesday’s long stage, runners in the late start wave had to wait for what felt like forever until starting in the 11 a.m. wave. The slowest started at 9; midpackers at 10; front runners at 11. We hung around patiently, dumping any unnecessary items out of our packs to make them as light as possible, finishing up our last bits of food, and getting psyched for a fast-paced finish.

By 11 a.m., it was quite toasty out. We faced “only” 5 miles, but when you have to race on beaten-up quads and feet, with only a 7-minute cushion, 5 miles feels very stressful! Finally we started. My spirits were lifted by the truly friendly camaraderie I had with Mirjam and everyone else—we were racing, but all in good spirits, bringing out the best in each of us.

The route went straight up from the beach on asphalt to the highway. Mirjam kicked ass, hauling up the hill, while I tried to make my non-responsive legs find a gear. Oh, this was gonna be ugly! She and Sylvia immediately got ahead of me by at least 30 seconds, and then when we got to the main highway intersection (the “T” where you go straight to Waimea or right to Kona), I lost another 30 seconds waiting for a break in traffic. I was totally stressed out and overheating!

I ran as hard as I could down that highway, barely keeping Mirjam in sight, until about three-quarters of a mile down the asphalt we jumped through the bushes and cut through to the f***ing golf course. God help me, we had a very sizable hill to climb. I lost site of Mirjam; it was bizarre, skirting putting greens and puzzled golfers while my legs went all higgledy-piggledy from quad cramping.

I was on the verge of giving up, feeling my 7-minute cushion evaporate like sweat, but I kept going. “It’s not over til it’s over,” “go down fighting” etc … clichés like that went through my head. At last we entered the hotel road with a nice, soft grassy shoulder. I let it all loose and ran absolutely as hard as I could until I finally heard the finish line cowbells.

I felt overjoyed to be finishing. Best of all, I spotted my best friend from high school and college, Leah Daniel, at the finish line with her daughter to cheer me on, and to give me two homemade leis! When I saw her cheering for me, I felt overcome by emotion.

I couldn’t contain my emotion and tears as I approached the finish line.

I fell into her arms and literally burst into tears, with big heaving sobs—I haven’t cried like that at a finish line since Miwok 2014—it was just such a pressure cooker and hurt so much in those last 5 miles, and all week long, that I had to let my feelings out.

Just what I needed: an old friend at the finish line to comfort me.

When I crossed the finish line, my watch read 49 minutes and change. I thought—I hoped, but wasn’t certain—that I finished this stage about 5 minutes behind Mirjam, meaning my cumulative time for the whole race was still about 2 minutes ahead of her. If I ended up keeping third place, I worked really hard for it! But if she got it, she totally deserved it—she’s an amazing runner and saved her energy for the end of the week.

A few hours later, I got the official news: I had hung onto the podium spot, finishing 3rd female and 14th overall, in a cumulative time of 39:03:36, just 2 minutes and 11 seconds ahead of Mirjam. If I had let the fatigue, heat or cramping get to me in that final 5-mile sprint, I would have lost it. I can’t recall a time when I worked so hard physically to achieve something when my body and mind argued with me to ease up.

We all reveled in the finish line celebration and gave hearty thanks to the RDs Tess and Colin Geddes, and to the army of volunteers who made the event possible.

I got choked up with emotion again when RD Colin Geddes congratulated me and presented me with the finisher’s buckle.

Colin and Tess presenting me with my finisher’s buckle at the finish line.

At the celebration banquet on Saturday night, Tess and Colin presented award winners with tiki trophies, and Colin gave a heartfelt apology that the race course route wasn’t what they had intended. The story behind this story is that the race organizers had to make several difficult logistical changes to the route and the campsites in just a couple of weeks before the start, due to permits falling through and one campsite becoming unusable. As a result, the 155-mile route became a series of disconnected segments on the island, with more shuttling of runners to different locations, and more roadside running, than anyone wanted. It wasn’t the point-to-point Mauna Loa to Mauna Kea route that the RDs originally envisioned. But, given the eleventh-hour challenges that cropped up—along with rainfall that was worse than anyone predicted—the race organizers and volunteers deserve a great deal of praise for carrying out the event as successfully as they did.

Race directors Tess and Colin Geddes presenting me with the women’s 3rd place award at the Saturday night banquet.

Endnotes

I sincerely thank Colin and Tess Geddes, and all the volunteers and medical staff, for their tireless work before and during the inaugural Mauna to Mauna Ultra (check out the event’s website and its sister event, the Grand to Grand Ultra, for more info). I hope Hawaiian locals will welcome this race in future years, and allow for an improved course route.

I am indebted to my husband Morgan for his love and enthusiastic support of my training and our travel for this event; to my sister, Martha Lavender, for supporting me by updating my social media platforms during the week I was racing; and to my friend Leah Daniel for being on the Big Island to make my week there and the finish-line experience even more special.

Many thanks to my sponsor Ultimate Direction for supplying my pack and other gear; and to my sponsor VFuel for their gels and drink mix.

I also recommend the host hotel where Morgan and I stayed before the race, and where all the participants stayed at the end: the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel.

If you’re interested in learning more about stage racing in general, and about the Grand to Grand Ultra or Mauna to Mauna Ultra in particular, then read the archives in this category on my blog.

Finally, I’m pleased and gratified that I raised over $2200 for Free to Run while training for the Mauna to Mauna Ultra. Many thanks to the 40 donors who supported my fundraising campaign (please click through to learn about it and consider making a donation!).

Thanks for reading this far! I’m now in Colorado for the summer and shifting to mountain running. I’ll blog more regularly now that I’ve recovered from the Mauna to Mauna.

Please check out my updated page about media and events related to my new bookThe Trail Runner’s Companion. 

Happy times: Me with Morgan, a day before the race started, showing off the touristy shirts we bought (mine from the local running store, his from the local brewery).

 

My 2017 Mauna to Mauna Ultra Food and Gear List

[Updated post-event to annotate this list with notes about last-minute changes to gear/food and also to comment on what worked well and what, in hindsight, I would do differently.]

From May 14 – 20, I’ll be one of 72 competitors, who hail from 20 countries*, embarking on the inaugural Mauna to Mauna Ultra adventure—a six-stage, self-supported, 155-mile race that crisscrosses the Big Island of Hawaii.

As I did when I ran the Grand to Grand Ultra in 2012 and 2014, I’m publishing a gear and food list for those stage racers who may want to learn about the gear and caloric combination that I recommend. Additionally, this list may be useful for anyone interested in fastpacking (i.e. lightweight, faster-paced backpacking).

(*The participants’ countries: Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, UK, USA, Wales. The international aspect of this type of stage racing is one of the many special things about it.)

First, some context:

How to Learn About Stage Racing and Follow the Mauna To Mauna Ultra

  • Basic info about the event is available through its website. To follow updates on the race during the week of May 14, I suggest you like the event’s Facebook page and also follow my FB and/or my twitter @sarahrunning because my sister will post updates to my accounts. (The participants will have access to shared computers for a limited time at camp each afternoon, on which we can send an outgoing email, so each day I’ll try to bang out a couple of paragraphs about how the day went, for my sister to share.)
  • For background on training and racing this type of stage race, I invite you to check out the archived articles in this category on my blog and read a recent Trail Runner article I wrote, “Five Ways to Know If a Stage Race Is For You.”
  • Please check out my last post if you’re interested in my training and also the campaign I’m running to raise awareness and support for the nonprofit Free To Run.

I don’t know the Mauna to Mauna’s exact route, because the day’s route is revealed on the morning of each stage, but I can share the description and elevation profile published on the website:

Participants will encounter a mix of terrain, including trails through lush rainforest, rugged lava trails, mountain climbs (not technical), open grassland, river crossings, coastal beach trails and sand. The starting line is at sea level on Coconut Island off the east coast of Hawaii Island. Camp 1, which is your campsite on the evening before the start of the race, is situated close to the crater of Kilauea at an altitude of almost 4,000ft (1,219m). The finish line is on the west coast of Hawaii Island. … Since Hawaii Island possesses 11 of the world’s 13 climate zones, be prepared for extreme changes in weather throughout the week of the race. You will experience most of these climates from wet-tropical to cool temperate to arid. 

Post-race update: The course changed significantly in the final weeks before the event; find out more about these changes in related race report and UltraRunnerPodcast interview. Instead of gaining approx 16,000 feet total elevation, the course we ran gained over 22,000 feet. The long stage (48 miles between Camps 4 and 5) ended up being a lot more challenging than this profile below suggests.

Elevation profile for the Mauna to Mauna Ultra, showing 5103 meters (16,742 feet) elevation gain and roughly the same amount of descent.

The event divides the mileage the following way (although this, like the elevation profile, is subject to change; we haven’t received a final race briefing about any route changes, which are always a possibility—especially in a first-year event).

Post-race update: The mileage for the six stages ended up being: 26.7, 19.1, 28, 48, 29.1, 5.

So, What Am I Bringing To Get Through the Race?

Glad you asked :-). Obviously, it behooves competitors to carry as little as possible, because every pound of weight slows us down and saps energy. But, given the climate and terrain variability, I can’t go too light or get too hungry from lack of food. I’ll take a couple more pieces of clothing than I did during the Grand to Grand Ultra, because I anticipate being wet almost the entire time (from rain showers and sweat, and stuff won’t dry out due to humidity), and then I’ll need dry layers to stay warm at the higher-elevation camps.

After much deliberation, I narrowed the contents to the following. Remember, participants are entirely responsible for their food, clothing and gear during the week; the race only provides water, hot water at camp (so we don’t need to pack a stove), communal tents, and electrolyte pills (which I prefer not to take, so I’m getting adequate electrolytes from my food supply). If I forget something, or if I don’t pack enough food and feel weak from calorie depletion, that’s my problem; I will have no access to any extra supplies during the week, except some medical supplies from the team doctors in case of emergencies.

(The medical briefing we received mentioned dangers such as poisonous centipedes, wild pigs, and a virus carried by animal urine that may be present in the puddles we run through, which can infect open blisters on our feet … yikes! Previously, I thought all I really had to worry about was cutting myself on sharp lava rock.)

My pack, with both containers full of water (the water weighs 2.4 pounds) totals 20.5 pounds. It will lighten up each day as I eat through the food supply.

Food

For most of the stages, I have 2300 – 2400 calories, except on the final stage when I’ll be down to 840 calories for breakfast and snacks while running; on the last day, we have just a 6-mile “sprint” to finish by lunchtime. My calories total 14,850 for the week (14,000 is the required minimum). This is slightly less than I brought to the Grand to Grand, but I feel I’m more fit and experienced now and need slightly less based on my training. Lord, I hope that sentence doesn’t come back to haunt me!

I tried to pack a good balance of macronutrients (complex carbs, protein, fat), a lot of electrolytes given how much I’ll be sweating (salty foods, and electrolytes in the drink mixes and gels), and enough but not too much quick-burning simple carbs to prevent bonking (gels, chews, drink mix).

A typical day’s food: ProBar (360 cals) for breakfast, along with a packet of instant coffee and hot cocoa mix (100 cals) to make a mocha; food to eat on the trail (the equivalent of “lunch”): VFuel drink mix (200), 1/2 cup trail mix (280), a mix of Honey Stinger and Clif Block gels (170), one or two VFuel gels (100 ea) depending on the stage, a Honey Stinger Waffle (160). Food for late-afternoon recovery at camp: a packet of almond butter (190) and a packet of Gu Recovery Drink (190). Dinner: a dehydrated backpacker meal (the ones I brought range from 560 – 620 cals each).

Stage 2’s food supply: 2440 calories. Stage 2 is 21 miles, and from the elevation profile, it appears we will climb at least 3000 feet uphill that day.

I have one extra-hefty mac & cheese meal for midweek that’s 960 calories. I also have a special treat for midweek of vacuum-packed smoked salmon (140 cals). I’m packing extra trail food for Stage 4 (the long 49-mile stage), and then the day after that—when we have a non-running recovery day—I have a different menu for variety and recovery (e.g. freeze-dried granola with milk & berries, 620 cals, for breakfast in lieu of a ProBar).

Here’s how all the food looks when rationed into baggies. I will squeeze the air out of these baggies, and use masking tape to make them as compact as possible, before putting them in my pack.

 

Post-race update on food: It turns out, I would have brought more calories and in different form. The course was more difficult than anticipated due to cold, wet weather in first three stages, and high altitude and cold in long stage. I felt hungrier and more bonky than I should have, especially on the long stage. For that high-altitude long stage, I wish I had packed more liquid calories such as more packets of VFuel drink mix, and then soup with ramen noodles for nighttime (when the checkpoints provide hot water). It was difficult to eat the bars and trail mix I brought because I was breathing so hard in the high altitude, and racing so hard competitively, and my mouth was very dry. See more details in the related race report. I also would have packed more fattier nuts, like macademia and cashews, rather than only the almonds I brought. Overall, however, I was happy with the dehydrated meals and the breakfast choice.

Gear

(* denotes mandatory equipment)

* backpack: Ultimate Direction 30L Fastpack, 24.8 oz. I went with this choice because the roll-top design, like a dry bag, allows for more capacity, and then I can cinch it down as I eat through the food and the contents reduce. Post-race note: I ended up liking this pack and would recommend it. Ultimate Direction has a new version with a removable waist belt that some people might like.

* water containers: 1 Ultimate Direction  20oz Classic water bottle, 1 Ultimate Direction Flexform 600L bottle, and 1 Ultimate Direction Body Bottle 500ml. I have a variety of bottles because I want the classic for use around camp (I like how it stands up), I like the way the Flexform one feels, and the soft, collapsible Body Bottle is an extra that I can fill only if and when I need extra fluid between checkpoints. Post- race note: I did not need the third collapsible Body Bottle. The two water bottles were enough.

* sleeping bag: Mont-Bell Ultra Light Super Spiral Down Hugger #3 (I purchased it in 2012 for my first stage race, and it’s held up great; I don’t see it for sale online anymore), 21 oz.; plus, Sea to Summit brand 6.5L waterproof compression sack for it.

* sleeping pad: Kylmit Inertia X Frame (I also got this in 2012 for my first stage race, and it’s worked great; I can’t find it for sale online anymore.)

My super-light inflatable pad, which I put inside the ultralight sleeping bag to sleep on. It provides just enough padding under my hips and head, but it means I have to sleep on my back for comfort, rather than on my side.

* pack rain cover: Ultra-Sil Pack Cover Post-race note: I screwed up by not testing this beforehand. It was too big and floppy for my pack; others had tight-fitting pack covers that worked better. But my pack cover ended up being a handy thing to sit on and to keep my stuff in to stay dry when everything was so wet, even inside our tent, from the heavy rain.

* compass (also has a built-in thermometer)

* knife

* signal mirror

* whistle

* space blanket

* two headlamps: I’m using 1 Black Diamond Spot, and in lieu of a second headlamp, my favorite lightweight flashlight, the Fenix PD32. I like a combo of headlamp and hand-held flashlight for nighttime running.

* red flashing light (to go on back of pack during nighttime long stage)

Amphipod Pouch that attaches to pack’s sternum strap (provides a small pocket where I’ll carry the race map and other small items) Post-race update: I ended up not taking this; I found it annoying to deal with while fastening my sternum strap, and I didn’t really need that pocket space after all.

spork and collapsable plastic bowl for meals lightweight camping mug. At the last minute, I decided to pack the mug instead of the bowl (which is shown in the photo below), because I have room in my pack; I want the “luxury” of enjoying my morning mocha in a real mug, not a plastic-tasting bowl!

small roll of duct tape (to repair torn pack zipper or hole in gear, for example)

All my gear for sleeping, safety, hydration and eating.

Clothing

Post-race update: I had forgotten about—and then remembered—a good stage-racing trick, and that is: Bring a “disposable”outfit to wear to the first night’s camp (where you stay before the race starts the next morning), so that you can wear comfortable old clothes and then put your race outfit on fresh the first morning when Stage 1 starts. I wore a shirt and comfy old yoga pants. Then, I decided not to dispose of this shirt or the yoga pants; given the rain and cold we encountered, I was grateful for these extra layers. Also, I carried extra food with me from the hotel to the first night’s camp—an apple and extra bar—so I had that to eat on the first morning, which was useful.

(* denotes mandatory clothing layers for safety)

The basic outfit I’ll wear daily while on the course:

rabbit “hopper” style shorts

Salomon short-sleeve shirt made of their “Advanced Skin Active Dry” fabric

* country patch (USA flag) sewn on sleeve

bra: Instead of a regular sports bra, I’m going with an ultra-thin option, a simple “bralette” from Gap Body. I realized this is a good option because I’ll likely be wet most of the time (from sweat/humidity and rain), and I don’t want a thick-fabric bra that never dries out and feels horrible to put back on in the morning when damp. Plus, wearing a backpack eliminates almost all my chest bounce because of the pack’s straps, so I don’t really much bra support. post-race note: this bra choice ended up working really well and was comfortable.

hat

sunglasses

Buff for neck

socks (my favorite: Drymax Trail Running 1/4 Crew High Turn Down Socks) Post-race note: I ended up bringing three pair of socks and was grateful for each one; they got soaked and muddy in the rain, so I was glad to put on a new pair midweek. Then, I kept the third extra pair to wear at night so I’d have dry, clean socks at camp to keep my feet warm. I used this third pair in the final two stages.

Hoka Challenger 3 shoes Post-race note: These are an excellent choice for this event. You want thick, cushioned, sturdy shoes because of the miles of sharp rocks that the course traverses. Participants who wore thinner-soled shoes regretted it, because they really felt the rocks.

simple watch (showing time of day, not GPS enabled)

Extra layers for rain protection and warmth, and comfort items for camp: 

* lightweight down jacket: Sierra Designs Gnar Lite (I’ve had this for several years and not sure Sierra Designs makes it anymore)

* water-resistant rain jacket: Ultimate Direction Women’s Marathon Shell. This is my favorite water-repellant windbreaker and weighs next to nothing.

* poncho: cheap one that’s a thin layer of plastic. Update: I just bought a second one now that I’m here in Hawaii and realizing how much rain we’ll encounter. One of these plastic ponchos likely will rip and fall apart after a couple days’ use, so I bought a second one. They weigh almost nothing, but the layer of plastic provides significant protection from rain and wind. Post-race update: I ended up needing and using both ponchos!

arm sleeves that provide both warmth and sun protection

base layer of long underwear and long-sleeve wool top to sleep in (I’m expecting it to be pretty cold at nighttime at two of the higher-elevation camps)

gloves Post-race update: I was grateful for gloves given the cold nighttime temperature of the long stage. Many participants grew dangerously chilled during the first three stages.

underwear for camp

one extra pair of Drymax socks, thinner and lighter weight than my main pair (see note above re socks)

Ooofos flip-flops: These are my big luxury item, and so worth it! In the 2012 Grand to Grand Ultra, I forgot to pack flip-flops for camp and realized they’re essential because you need to clean and air out your blistered feet after running all day. For the 2014 G2G, I packed super thin, cheap flip-flops. This time, I’m making room in my pack for lightweight yet bulkier flip-flops by Oofos because they feel so good and provide arch support. Additionally, I’m concerned that we will be camping around sharp lava rock, so I want thicker soles to avoid cutting my bare feet. These sandals fit well in the outer mesh pocket of my pack, as I discovered during the Diablo 50K, which I ran on April 15 with a fully loaded pack to practice. (I pinned on that sign to deal with the inevitable “What’s in your pack and why are you carrying it?” questions from others in the race.) Post-race note: These Oofos flip-flops were a godsend, and I highly recommend them.

My pack, with the flip-flops in the outer pocket, and a handy explanatory sign at the April 15 Diablo 50K.

Toiletries and Misc.

mini tubes of sunscreen, Aquaphor, regular lotion, toothpaste

compact toothbrush

earplugs (I’ll share a tent with seven others; chances are, at least one will snore!)

small plastic comb and hairbands

3 spare AAA batteries for my headlamp

mini baggie with easy-access first aid to carry in pocket while running: a couple of BandAids, alcohol wipes, safety pin to pop blisters, a strip of fabric tape for pack chafing, an Aleve, some Tums for nausea; self-adhesive bandage for ankle wrap (in case of rolled ankle)

more substantial blister & med kit to use at camp: nail clipper, mini surgical scissors for cutting tape, alcohol wipes, two types of tape (one for blisters, one for chafed spots), needle for popping blisters; meds: Imodium, Aleve, emergency antibiotics

Trail Toes: my favorite anti-friction lube, created by stage-racing pro Vincent Antunez, whom I met at the 2012 Grand to Grand Ultra and who’ll be at Mauna to Mauna Ultra. Buy this stuff, it works great! Update: Sadly, Vince can’t make it to the M2M. A US Army Major and physician assistant, Vince is in service to his country on a mission (I won’t reveal where, but suffice to say it’s a lot less desirable than being Hawaii), and he can’t get away to participate in this event. I greatly appreciate his service, and his sponsorship of the Grand to Grand and Mauna to Mauna events, and I encourage people to try his product and learn more through the website.

toilet paper in a baggie

ballpoint pen and mini composition book to take notes

iPhone: I will keep it turned off, in a baggie for water protection, buried in my pack, to use only occasionally in “Airplane mode” to save battery life and take photos; and, so I can contact my family at the finish line.

talisman: a one-inch-square carved stone buffalo that my brother and sister-in-law gave me before the 2012 Grand to Grand Ultra with the note, “The Zuni were an ancient people who lived in the area through which you’ll be running on the G2G. They had talismans—’fetishes’—that represented different values. This buffalo was meant to symbolize endurance to overcome, and was a provider of great emotional courage to those who possessed it.” I suppose for this island race I should have found a talisman that has to do with Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire, but this charm got me through the prior stage races so it’s coming to the Big Island!

A lucky charm.

Notable Things I Decided Not to Bring

trekking poles: more trouble than they’re worth, I decided Post-race note: I did not need or want poles during the first three stages, but on the long stage and on Stage 5, I really wished I had poles. The loose rock on the steep terrain made the footing very difficult to navigate without poles. In hindsight, I wish I had brought my poles and carries them folded in my pack for the first three stages, and then used them in Stages 4 and 5.

gaiters: ditto, and I don’t want to fuss with them or have them trap heat and inhibit access to my shoelaces Post-race note: I did not regret this choice; gaiters were not necessary.

GPS watch: without the ability to recharge it unless I carried a solar-powered recharger (and I don’t want to add that weight), and with GPS tracking prohibited (to keep the exact route unpublished), I am simply wearing an old Timex Ironman stopwatch

Final Thoughts

I think that’s it! I’m ready and savoring these days in Hawaii with Morgan, trying not to over-indulge on good island food and beer.

I can’t wait to unplug and have a truly adventurous week! I re-read this Trail Runner essay I wrote in 2014 to remind myself why I’m doing this. Does this kind of week appeal to you, too?

Thanks for reading this! If you’d like to show your support, please learn about and donate to Free To Run.

 

Getting Closer to Fulfilling Two Stretch Goals

Quick update on a couple of my time-sensitive priorities—and I promise, in the next blog post, I won’t write in this tone of an announcement bulletin! 

Getting Over a Peak in Training

Four weeks ago, I wrote about peak training for the Mauna to Mauna Ultra, which starts in less than two weeks (May 14). Good news: the training is in the bank. Not close to perfect, but good enough. I might give this recent phase of specific training a grade of B+, with bonus points for staying healthy and injury-free.

I did everything I set out to do: increased duration and vert, pushed hard with weekly speed and hill work, trained several times with a loaded pack, suffered through sessions in a steam room (more frequently this week) for heat/humidity adaptation, kept up effective strength conditioning, and ate healthy (enough). I wish I had done a little more of certain aspects of training, but oh well, too late. Now it’s taper time.

Looking at the past seven weeks since March 13, I see that five of the weeks went over 60 miles total; one hit 80. I averaged 65 miles and 11,800 feet of elevation gain weekly for this period. And that doesn’t count increased walking during the day (such as walking to errands more, rather than driving, and after-dinner walks to adapt to more time on my feet). It’s not super high mileage by the standards of top-tier long-distance runners; but getting in a groove of consistently running 50 to 60 a week, and then going longer during peak weeks, is still a stretch for me.

About a third of the way into the April 15 Diablo 50K, with those two peaks in the background still to summit, running and hiking with a 20lb. pack for stage-race training.

My bar chart since January looks like this, intentionally allowing for easier weeks of reduced volume for added recovery or for weeks when real-life complications like travel make long runs difficult. (I have stats on Training Peaks that could produce some cool data visualization with one click, but I think a hand-drawn bar chart is pretty cool too. An old-fashioned log will always serve as a beloved backup to tech tools.)

But, I’m still not ready. I have to scramble in the next couple of days to prep and pack all my food and gear for the weeklong race; plus, get ready for a board meeting presentation in Ojai during the second half of this week. I am fantasizing about arriving in Hawaii on Sunday afternoon, May 7, for six sublime vacation days before switching into Mauna to Mauna Ultra mode. I plan to write a post that week detailing my gear (as I did in 2014 and in 2012 when prepping for the Grand to Grand). I’ll also share in that post some links in case you want to follow the event from May 14 – 20.

Now, let me tell you about something really important!

A Sports Camp Where It’s Really Needed

If you read my post in February, “All Women Should Be Free to Run: A Campaign For Those Who Face Violence and Repression,” then you may recall that I’m raising money for Free to Run. I’m excited to share that the money raised will be used specifically to help fund a week-long summer camp for young women in Afghanistan to experience sports and the outdoors, in the process promoting self-confidence, empowerment, gender equity, and a greater understanding between the country’s different provinces.

Free to Run can’t share details about this summer camp’s planned location or dates, due to security concerns. But, the organization put on the first camp of this kind last year, and made the following video about it. I hope you’ll watch it; the woman who speaks in English midway through is named Zainab, and she’s the Kathrine Switzer of her country, the first female to run a marathon in Afghanistan in 2015 (inspiring many more girls to run a 10K in 2016; see prior post for details).

 

Zainab says in the video, “It’s important for the girls to experience these expeditions because they will be aware of their rights; they will know that women and girls have the right to go out of the house, to travel alone and with a team, not just with their father or brother. In Afghanistan, it’s a new idea to bring women and girls out of the house and teach them—show them—that there is another world outside of the home.” Through the camp, she said, “they learn life skills.”

The last girl to speak, whose face is blotted out for security reasons, is 15 years old and participated in Free to Run’s camp last year. “I had never had a trip where I could share my idea with other girls,” she says. “I’d like to meet more people from different provinces and share our ideas and experiences.”

I sincerely hope you will make a donation to my campaign through this link.  To be clear, all money I raise will go to Free to Run; I am not using any of the fundraising to offset my race and travel expenses (which some charity runners do). I am fundraising around the Mauna to Mauna Ultra only to raise money and awareness for a budding nonprofit that I believe strongly in, and that will expand its impact with our support.

Oregon-based ultrarunner Amy Sproston, a Free to Run ambassador, participated in the camp last year as a mentor and witnessed the impact that coming together, hiking in the mountains, and engaging in physical activity had on this group of some 20 young women and teens. “Most of these girls have never done anything like that before,” Amy told me. “To be alone with 20 women in the mountains is kind of unheard of. It created opportunities for them so they can see what the possibilities are.”

Amy developed an interest in Afghanistan after traveling there three times during the mid-2000s as part of her work for a U.S. aid contractor (she now works for Mercy Corps). “In a place like Afghanistan, you can’t just go out for a run as a woman. You need to have some kind of group you can meet up with, in a park or somewhere that’s secure,” she explained.

The sports camp sparks a greater interest and awareness among the participants about running, outdoor recreation and other sports; then, many of the young women return to their communities as ambassadors and advocates for starting a running club locally.

Free to Run’s coordinator in Afghanistan, Taylor Smith, said in an email to me that the positive ripple effects for change, starting with the girls Free to Run mentored and sent to sports camp, are spreading and making waves. Two Free to Run ambassadors started running clubs in their communities, “one of them mixed gender, which is a huge first for the country of Afghanistan. We also managed to expand the team’s sports activities to ice skating, skiing, self-defense and hopefully soon, rock climbing. A few of the running club members are now starting their own running clubs in their schools.”

This year, Free to Run (founded in September of 2014) is working with about 100 girls in three provinces of Afghanistan, and is poised to reach more. Please join me in supporting their efforts by making a tax-deductible donation. I still have a long way to go to reach my fundraising goal of $10,000, but I believe that with time and commitment, I will raise that support!

Free to Run has a foothold in Iran, too. I love the caption on this Instagram:

One last thing …

I made a new page on this blog, labeled “Schedule” in the menu bar, to share info about my book launch. I invite you to check it out.

 

        

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Q&A With the Guys Behind Mountain Outpost, the Craziest Sh*t To Happen In Ultrarunning

A few months ago, I interviewed the trio behind one of my favorite YouTube channels, Mountain Outpost, for a Trail Runner magazine assignment. Host Jamil Coury, sidekick Schuyler Hall and creative genius Michael Carson launched Mountain Outpost when they released their debut show, “Mystery Drop Bag Challenge,” nearly one year ago in late May of 2016.  

The magazine published a very abridged version of my conversation with these guys in the April issue. I decided to use this forum to run a fuller version of our Q&A, along with screenshots from several episodes.

I did a little happy dance when Mountain Outpost released a new installment today, shot last weekend at the Lake Sonoma 50 (linked at the bottom of this post). Jamil’s weekly newscast, Mountain Outhouse, continues to run, but the Outpost Challenges have become sporadic special reunions, since Jamil and Schuyler no longer live near each other.

The Q&A follows this intro, which I wrote for the magazine. Enjoy!

Three-quarters through the 2016 Quad Dipsea, a 28-mile rain-soaked mudfest on the famed Dipsea trail north of San Francisco, Jamil Coury, 31, of Phoenix, Arizona, and Schuyler Hall, 28, of Walnut Creek, California, hammer down the trail while holding two gilded, dog-sized faux reindeer adorned with bells and holiday ornaments. Coury also holds a camera on a selfie stick to film them.

Earlier in the race, which takes place two days after Thanksgiving, Coury and Hall had paused at key junctures to gulp pumpkin-spiced lattes, consume entire cans of pureed pumpkin and choke down pints of vegan mushroom gravy. They filmed their antics and the digestive discomforts that ensued while offering colorful commentary along the way.

“The climbing is brutal,” a wet, miserable Coury says. Switching the camera angle to film the back of the reindeer’s head running down slick singletrack, he adds with forced cheer, “It’s Prancer’s first Dipsea!”

Days later, they transfer the footage to their colleague and ultrarunning friend Michael Carson, 30, of Tempe, Arizona, at the Phoenix headquarters of Aravaipa Running, the trail-racing company that Coury heads up. Carson, the company’s videographer, adds a Muzak soundtrack, inserts goofy graphics with pop-culture references and uploads the 11-minute video—dubbed Quad Dipsea Holiday Challengeto their YouTube channel Mountain Outpost.

A comedy show about ultrarunning, Mountain Outpost has gained a cult following since its debut in May 2016. The show has hooked fans like ultrarunner Jimmy McCaffrey of Hamden, Connecticut. “Mountain Outpost is to trail running what Caddyshack is to golf,” he says. “It both celebrates and spoofs our culture, reminding us it’s really awesome but not to take ourselves too seriously.”

Schuyler and Jamil doing a Mountain Outpost donut challenge.

Their first video, Mystery Drop Bag Challenge, features Coury and Hall simulating a four-lap race on a mountainous trail in desert heat while using stuff from random drop bags that ultrarunners had left behind three months earlier at an Aravaipa event.

Before each lap, Coury and Hall open a bag, consume whatever edibles the bag contains and apply whatever clothing or medical aids they find inside. They become progressively overheated while running in layers of ill-fitting clothing, and sick to their stomachs while eating melted, sugary snacks and gulping warm, expired drinks.

Jamil, doubled over wearing a purple sweatshirt from a drop bag, and Schulyer, hunched at the aid station table, during “Mystery Drop Bag Challenge.”

The team also produces a weekly newscast, called Mountain Outhouse, which opens with Coury’s signature line: “I’m your host, Jam Jam, and this is the craziest shit to happen in running this week.” Wearing reflective sunglasses to conceal the fact he’s looking down to read a script, Coury anchors a news show as informative as it is satirical.

Jam Jam anchoring a typical Mountain Outpost newscast. Michael Carson creates the background graphics.

Coury started ultrarunning in 2005 and, in 2015, completed what he nicknamed the “the Slam of the Damned,” four of the hardest 100-mile races: HURT, Barkley (finishing four of the five loops to become the last man standing), Hardrock and Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. In 2017, he’ll race Barkley and Hardrock again. [Update: Jamil made it through three loops of the Barkley on the first weekend in April; you can watch his cool 20-minute vlog about it.] Hall, a speedy runner on roads, transitioned to trails in 2014 through Aravaipa’s Arizona-based events. His claim to fame is a world record of 1:48 in the “beer half-marathon,” drinking 13 beers over 13 miles, set in December 2015 at Aravaipa’s Across the Years ultra.

Q&A with Jamil, Schuyler & Michael

Me: How did Mountain Outpost get its start?

Jamil: It’s fuzzy in my mind how the show came to be. What it is now is an evolution, and Mystery Drop Bag Challenge was the first concept.

Michael: Now I remember! We had a previous show called Trail Talk, which is a serious talk show for Aravaipa Running, and in an episode, I put in a little picture of an owl when Jamil said something, and it was kind of ridiculous. There was this “ah-ha” moment of what Mountain Outpost could be.

Jamil: That’s right—he edited in this goofy random thing, and it made me laugh.

How did Mystery Drop Bag Challenge happen after that “ah-ha” moment?

Jamil: It just popped into my head to try to use these old drop bags, and I thought, “It can’t be just me. I have to do it like a race and race someone.” I thought, who would be up for that? Or who would be good in this type of show? Schuyler.

Why was Schuyler the first person who came to mind?

Jamil: He was an Aravaipa ambassador, really involved with our group runs, and someone who’s funny and pretty much up for anything. He’ll rally at 3 in the morning and go do something. Probably, too, because he did the beer half marathon—I knew he had that “it” factor, I guess.

Schuyler: I said, “I’m in, just tell me where and when and let’s do it.” I’m relatively new to the ultrarunning scene, so I didn’t really understand how crazy some people got with their drop bags. That made for some legitimate anxiety and for those very real reactions from when we filmed it.

Were you surprised that Mystery Drop Bag went viral?

Jamil: Yes and no. When we were doing it, we knew it was ridiculous. Haley [Pollack, president of Aravaipa Running] and Michael could not stop laughing while we were filming it; they had to put their hands over their mouths to keep the laughter out. When we first watched it in the office, we couldn’t stop laughing—we were almost on the floor and all in tears.

That’s a tough act to follow. Did any subsequent episodes go viral?

Jamil: Well, it was a bit of a reality check. We kept making things, and sometimes we would pour so much time and energy and money into an episode, but it wouldn’t get any comments and hardly any views. Sometimes it’s discouraging, but fortunately, we’re doing it because it’s fun and we love it. We know that if you keep doing it, you’ll have some successes, even surprise ones. Chasing Walmsley was our biggest surprise. We never expected it to be our second biggest video.

Describe Chasing Walmsley

Jamil: Schuyler and I dressed up as [champion ultrarunner] Jim Walmsley and tried to mimic his outfit from Western States, with holes in our shirts. We went after two of his Strava records in the Phoenix area. We didn’t get the first one, but we both beat the second one.

Schulyer and Jamil wearing their Walmsley-inspired shirts.

The episode US Sky Drinker completely cracked me up, with its over-the-top, retro-style video game spoof. It looks like you guys were having so much fun. How did that episode, which you shot in Silverton, come to be?

Jamil: It was insanely fun, probably the most fun I’ve ever had making a video. The idea came together in a day; we were all up in Silverton, and we just grabbed a few friends and it came together that afternoon. We saw that Patrick Sweeney did a Hope Pass Beer Mile, where he ran back and forth and called it something like Skyrunning Beer Mile. We thought we should do a true Skyrunning race, going up and down a ridiculous avalanche. We grabbed whatever cameras we had, and just filmed as much as we could, then literally dumped it in Michael’s lap.

Michael: I wasn’t there, and there were a lot of technical issues. That whole video, I would say, is the biggest diamond in the rough and my personal masterpiece. There’s no original audio; it’s completely wiped, completely redone. That’s like my life work, my childhood, things that I lived through—it’s all there in that video.

A scene from the episode US Sky Drinker

Struggling to eat large amounts of food while running is a recurring theme in Mountain Outpost challenges. What was one of the most difficult things to choke down?

Schuyler: The most difficult challenge for me, bar none, was the Chipotle Challenge [which involved running to several Chipotle restaurants in 103-degree heat and consuming a burrito at each]. I love Chipotle, but that day, in those temperatures, and with my minor brush with heat stroke, was the hardest.

Midway through the Chipotle Challenge.

While filming, have you ever had to take a time-out and say, “This isn’t funny anymore; I could seriously hurt myself”?

Jamil: Yes. The Chili Pepper Gu Challenge. We had a four-lap race and ate chili peppers mixed with unflavored Gu before each lap—a 300-foot climb up a mountain and back down, on a super-hot day. We ended with the Carolina Reaper, the world’s hottest pepper. I almost died out there. It took me almost 40 minutes to do the last quarter mile; I was hunched over, and Michael had to come find me. I thought something serious was going to happen because of the pain in my chest and body.

Schuyler: It helps that Mike is sort of the resident parent of the staff, so a lot of the time, even before we do it, he’s the one who’s concerned and asking, “Is this actually a good idea?” It helps to have him on site when we do some of the more idiotic maneuvers.

How would you describe the Mountain Outpost mission?

Michael: In this sport, there’s so much seriousness, so just to see some fun is awesome. We make things that we’d want to see, and it’s great that people enjoy it.

Michael Carson, left, is usually behind the scenes for Mountain Outpost, filming and editing. Here he’s getting ready for a holiday shoot.

Jamil: For me, this is an outlet to kind of be crazy. In other parts of my job, I have to be more serious in the role, and this is something where I can literally do whatever. Actually, that’s not entirely true; we have two videos we had to take off the Internet because we broke some laws.

What were the videos you had to take down about?

Jamil: One was The Beer 10K, where we did a 10K trail run and each of us carried a six-pack, and you could drink the beers anywhere you wanted in the six miles, as long as you were done with them by the end. We did it in a mountain park where you needed a permit to drink alcohol, and we didn’t have one, so we got busted. Then there was one called Aid Station of the Future where we used a drone and flew snacks and booze to Schulyer out on a trail in a mountain park. We weren’t busted, but pre-emptively took it down.

How did the weekly Mountain Outhouse newscast spin off from the Mountain Outpost challenges?

Jamil: After Schuyler moved [to take a job in California], we wanted to continue the consistency on the channel. The very first one was a complete shit show. It was me reporting on the beer mile championships over the summer, and I decided to do a beer mile newscast where I would drink four beers and tell four news stories. I was poking fun at Sage Canaday, because on his old YouTube channel, he did this fake “nip tips” infomercial, with nipple guards made out of tin foil. So I ended the newscast just wearing foil, and it’s total sophomoric humor to the maximum. The show has evolved since then, but you gotta start somewhere. Now, every episode is scripted, and Michael does an absolutely fantastic job of editing. I come up with the script and delivery of the lines, and he takes that and amplifies the humor in it.

A scene from the first Mountain Outhouse newscast.

Going forward, what is ripe for skewering or shining a light on in our sport?

Jamil: Anything where someone is taking themselves or the sport too seriously, or anytime there’s a controversy. When I don’t agree with something happening in the sport in general, I like to say something about it. I don’t necessarily want to offend any people or make them feel bad, but sometimes I feel it is my duty to call them out.

Viewers want to know, what’s your relationship status?

Schuyler: I am uncomfortably single, mainly because I have to talk about Mountain Outpost early on in the dating process, because I’m going to get googled, and Mountain Outpost is gonna come up and I’ll need to explain it.

Jamil: I’m single as well. A little-known fact about me is that I have a child. It’s not something hugely public, but I’m no longer with his mother. He’s almost 11 months old [but since this interview was conducted early in the year, he’s turned 1 now]. Once I have more custody and time with him, he’s going to be an integral part of my life. It’s been a hard process, and I’m still working through it. I’ve had a few starts and stops with some people, but that’s currently the status.

Michael: I’m the married one of the bunch.

Are you guys making a profit? 

Jamil: Currently we’re not. We do turn monetization on our videos, but I don’t know if we’ve made more than $10 a month. We’ll probably spend, easily, $100 an episode on props and things. For now, we love doing this, and we’re fortunate that Aravaipa is keeping the lights on and paying some of the bills.

Jamil shopping for the Mountain Outpost Stocking Stuffer and Ultra Fashion challenges last December.

If Mountain Outpost isn’t generating income, then what makes producing it worthwhile?

Jamil: It’s a creative outlet for me. The way I was raised may have something to do with it; I always enjoyed business, but I kind of got pushed into an accounting type career path, and maybe there’s more of this artistic, creative side of me than I knew even existed when I was younger, and this is a way to explore that. I love the creative process of coming up with an idea, and then making it a reality, and then hearing the reaction to it. Making people happy, and making them laugh—that’s really rewarding.

I genuinely appreciate the levity and commentary these guys bring to the sport. I’m glad the Mountain Outhouse newscast is continuing, and I hope Jamil and Schuyler can work their travel schedules to produce more Outpost challenges. Their latest episode is “Real Aid, Fake Arms,” about working an aid station at the Lake Sonoma 50. (But if you haven’t checked out Mountain Outpost, then I suggest starting with the episodes linked above, along with this classic one below, “Ultra Fashion Drop Bag Challenge,” which I like because it showcases running in the Marin Headlands as well as their irreverent humor.)

You can subscribe to the Mountain Outpost YouTube channel and follow @MountainOutpost for updates.

 

Personal Postscript

I’m stoked my book will ship in mid-May, and Scott Dunlap—to whom I provided an advance copy—wrote this great review. You can pre-order a copy of The Trail Runner’s Companion: A Step-by-Step Guide to Trail Running and Racing, from 5Ks to Ultras; and, anyone who preorders this month can fill out this form to be in a drawing I’ll do May 1 to win a coaching consultation with me. I have a book launch planned May 31; you can find out details about this and other events on this page.

 
   
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