Sunday, May 31, 2009


I am not even sore! Okay. Yes. Yes, I am reasonably* sore. For recovery day, I think it is a brilliant idea to do this. I do not realize that when a hike is listed as being a crowning achievement for avid hikers, that means it is probably difficult. Like, REAL fucking difficult. So when you ask me if I want to hike half dome the day after running a 34 mile race, I will say no.

I want to RUN that shit.

I mean really, it is just more efficient. The 17 mile trek is supposed to take 10-12 hours. 10-12 hours?! And only covering 17 miles?!! Screw that noise. We did it in about 7.5 and that included a 45 minute storm break at the base of half dome and a good half hour chilling at the summit. It was the jam. I'm going to attempt a recap, but even with my supreme wordsmithing abilities and excellent photography on the shittiest digital camera ever, justice could never be served to the grandiose of all that is Yosemite. Seriously. You had to be there. But you weren't, so I will try...

We had about a 90 minute drive to Yosemite Valley (in the RIGHT direction, thank you) that was largely filled with me looking at a sparkly river and singing The Fray at the top of my lungs out the window. I feel confident that this was appreciated by both Dom and the squirrels. We parked at Happy Isles, loaded our gear (completely self-sufficient - nowhere to refill) and headed out to hit the trailhead. Of course, we got lost in the first half mile and ended up running a loop around some nature trail shit. Whatever. I AM IN THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PLACE EVER! HOLY AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This guy LOVES it.

Once order was restored, we decided to head up the Mist Trail to Vernal Falls. Now, when they say "mist" they mean "millions of large ass drops of water that soak you to the core." Just an FYI. Here's me at the top, looking like I'm in a Bob Ross original...

We're going to use a fan brush, and put down a happy little tree here. That'll be our little secret.

After that, things got steep. We passed a bunch of people that told us we were crazy for running, a broken man getting carried out on horseback and numerous dudes very obviously looking at my boobs, which I now realize were put on a nice little display by the chest strap of my hydration pack. There were these things too:

Pretty awesome, right? I know. So then, we get all the way up to the base of half dome and just as we begin the long ascent up to the saddle the sky decides to get all ominous again. Look to the left: black ass clouds. Look to the right: black ass clouds. Look straight ahead: black ass clouds. Basically, three storm cells were converging upon us right as we were preparing to grab hold of metal cables and climb up a giant exposed rock. No one that we passed hiking down thinks this is a good idea. This website does not think this is a good idea. (Scroll down to the part where it says NEVER HIKE HALFDOME IN A THUNDER STORM preceded by an unnecessary animated graphic). One man and his son in particular do not think this is a good idea at ALL. Said man went so far as to tell us we would, in fact, die should we choose to continue to the top. Well, OK then. We choose life and head back down to the forest to try and wait it out with a few other groups. After about 15 minutes of this, everyone else left, concerned about getting back to the valley before dark. Again, normal people would have said, "Oh hey. Everyone else is heading back down. We probably should go too." But as previously indicated, we are not normal. We are ultrarunners and we very logically reasoned that if we ran pretty legit on the way down we could wait awhile longer and still make the climb. So in the meantime, we hung out with this weird bird thing that was looking for some weird bird thing ass:

NOTE: I googled the shit out of this bird/bird-type item and can't find any indication that this thing is real. Therefore, I am only left to conclude that I have either a) founded a new Ornithological species; or b) seen a fucking dinosaur.

Eventually, we reasoned/convinced ourselves that the storms were passing and that we should head back up to the saddle. So we hit the steps for round 2. At the base, we had to make a choice. Of course that choice was GLOVE IT UP.

Now here's the thing about climbing halfdome when everyone else has left. Um, there are no people. First of all, this is awesome. Second, it provides a great challenge should you choose to look down while you are halfway up a 400ft nearly vertical rock. At this point you will realize that the only thing standing between you and imminent death is 8,000 feet of fall time to think about it. This guy knows all about that. He went up 2 weeks after us.

If you just clicked on that link, you're probably thinking, "WHAT?!!! Why the hell would you want to climb that shit?" Well, here's why...

And if that's not enough, let me add that there was snow involved...

The good news is that it started misting again on the way back down a giant slab of rock. And the better news is that my 2140's were AWESOME for gripping a slippery, dangerous surface. Moral of the story: I didn't die, so let's just leave it at that.

After the amazingness that was halfdome, we started running pretty hard. This was pretty great because we had both previously expressed the need to work on our technical downhill running and now we had over 8,000 feet in which to practice. While exhausted. This obviously turned into some parkour shit, which was enjoyed by both hikers and deer.

We took the John Muir trail back down - a little longer, but with different views and more runnable. (sans slippery death steps) We got to run under a waterfall and that was pretty fucking cool. I took this shot as the sun began to set and it's one of my all time faves from the crap camera:

We ran legit all the way to the end, blowing past lots of folks that thought we were nuts-o for our skills over the rocky terrain. Funny thing is all I could think was: there are people that do much crazier shit than this. This is nothing.
Although I digress, it definitely was something.



Said imminent death.

And the best part is that the amazing and challenging weekend was capped with this view, set with some nice and wildly appropriate Coldplay in the background. Talk about epic.

VITALS via Mr. Garmin:
17.76 miles
14,195 feet of climbing

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Big trees = Big fun.

On May 10, 2009, my friend Dom sent me an email suggesting that I run the Shadow of the Giants 50k. I said, "okay." On May 29th, I was in a car enroute to Fish Camp, CA. Yes. That is a real place.

I wish there was a more epic story of how I got into ultrarunning. But really, that's it. Arguably, I had been interested in ultras for years. And arguably, I had already done the 50k distance on a training run/birthday present to myself. But I had yet to enter an official ultramarathon. As you will soon learn, I can be very easily talked into just about anything. Just take a look at my "training schedule."

So anyway, one fateful Friday morning I hopped in a Volvo and cruised up to the southernmost tip of Yosemite to lose my ultra virginity. (There are way too many 'that's what she saids' in that sentence to even comment.) It was an absolutely beautiful drive and I was completely overwhelmed by the majesty that is northern California. Arriving with the hot late afternoon sun, we headed straight to Fish Camp to pick up our race numbers and meet the most awesome guy ever - Baz Hawley. Big Baz is the RD for Shadow and all the other "magic" races. He is what my grandpa would call "quite the character." How fortuitious, because I LOVE characters. I also love huge ass pinecones that I find on shake-out runs.

FYI: posing for this picture = irrevocable sap hand.

To get the true "ultra" experience, Dom and I stayed at the Miner's Inn in Mariposa. So, the thing about Mariposa is that it looks really close to Fish Camp on the map. It is not, in fact, actually close to Fish Camp. It is not even in the vicinity of Fish Camp if you decide to drive the opposite direction on race morning.

Yeeeaaahh... so that happened. I probably should have known when I asked where the sun would be rising, and Dom pointed behind us. Hmmmm... that's weird, I thought as I laid my head back against the window and closed my eyes. See, I didn't get much sleep the night prior. And by 'not much,' I mean 'zero.' So in lieu of paying attention, I tried to doze off for the hour ride to the starting line. And by 'hour,' I mean 'two hours.'

Anyway, at some point Dom realized that we were in the middle of the great fucking plains rather than the mountains and made an executive decision to stop the car. Good idea because the mountains were behind us. This race was at 5-6,000 feet elevation. We were at, like 2. And so began the 90 mile an hour race to Fish Camp. Thank goodness we had our food and bottles all organized and ready to go.


Regardless, we arrived at Green Meadows Outdoor School about 10 minutes before the start. There was a mad dash to mix bottles, stash food and pee. I left the trunk with 2 amphipod handhelds - one full of gatorade and one of water and a back pocket full of cola gel blasts and salt stick. Good. Enough. Really, I was just glad we made it in time to hear Big Baz's pep-talk/calling everyone a dickhead.

We are the two people that are not 57. (Photo: Mark Haymond)

The start was pretty anti-climactic. We lined up behind some hopscotch chalk on the blacktop. I think someone blew a whistle. And then I started running up a giant fucking hill. Said hill went on for about 5.5 miles, and honestly I started getting a little concerned. No sleep, no coffee, no preparation, nothing but gel blasts and some nondescript bar i found in the trunk of Dom's car for breakfast, no race directions, no idea where i was or where i was going or how long this race even was. I heard it was 50k-ish.

And then I saw a waterfall. Apparently, large amounts of cascading water = me being the happiest person ever, because my day took a turn for the awesome. From that moment on, a smile never left my face. When it started to hurt, I only smiled bigger. Well... maybe this isn't exactly a smile...

Quite possibly the best picture of me ever taken. (Photo: Mark Haymond)

In my defense, this stream was like negative 90 degrees. My feet felt like someone was jabbing a goddamn shiv through the tops of my somewhat impervious shoes. Regardless, I rocked climb after dusty climb - passing many folks who did not take the initial ascent as conservatively as I. I learned that I kind of suck at hiking, so I figured I should just keep running.

This proved to be an excellent idea, as my legs started to burn like hell around mile 16ish. Actually, more than that - my arms were really tired from carrying two 16oz handhelds. I usually only carry one and alternate arms (much to the chagrin of my training comrades who love to scold me for not eating/drinking enough). On this day however, I was fueling properly - bag of unmarked pills (salt stick) every hour, food every 45 minutes and the water and gatorade was flowing like wine. At one of the aid stations, I ate a graham cracker. Do not for any reason eat a graham cracker when you are above 6500 feet altitude. Dry air + lack of oxygen = three miles of trying to get the graham-gatorade paste off your tongue. Delicious.

So like I said, I was just over the halfway point, I was hurting and my little positivity parade was just about to be disbanded. But then... THEN I hit the Big Trees aid station and decided to taste the real thing. Ice cold Coca-Cola Classic. Fuck yeah. Feeling inspired* I prepared to roll out, but an angel appeared and told me these words: "The next loop is only about a mile sweetie. You can leave your bottles here." After briefly considering adopting a life of bisexuality, I headed into the trees for the namesake loop. Yep. I literally ran in the Shadow of the Giants. It was all prehistoric and shit.

From there, I totally zoned out and accidentally abandoned walk breaks for well over an hour. This just happened to be during a long gradual climb for about 10 miles and next thing I knew I had dusted everyone and was completely alone. I also realized I hadn't seen a course marker in about a half hour and began doubting that I was still on track. See, by showing up to the starting line with only 10 minutes to spare I not only missed coffee and Baz's legendary cookies, but also the course briefing. i.e. when I would have been informed what the difference between an orange piece of tape and a blue piece of tape means. Five miles prior, I had chosen orange, mainly because I thought orange looked like a more fierce color and reasoned that since the 50k-ish distance was more hardcore, it would obviously follow the more fierce color. I completely made all of this up. An hour later I was pretty sure I was a liar. Actually, I started to get a little scared... and then HOLY SHIT I saw a bear. Oh wait. No, that is actually a tree stump. Then I saw miniature ponies pulling old ladies in hats. Oh wait. No, that is actually miniature ponies pulling old ladies in hats.

You SO wish i had a picture of that don't you? Yeah. i don't. You know why? Because shetland ponies are fucking weird. You are not a horse. You are a horse-type item and you creep me the fuck out.

Whether or not I went the right way, I eventually ended back at the hypothermic stream crossing. At the aid station, I caught up to the next group of runners and shared some cola gel blasts. Subsequently, I became this one dude's instant BFF. It was kind of funny. And then it was really creepy. So I ran until I hit some giganto random concrete hill. Gross. I actually hiked a good portion up backwards to give the ole quads a break and this was probably the most excellent idea I had all day or ever in life. This super nice and totally legit old man told me I looked strong. I felt strong. So then I started running up a big hill again.

Jackson Road. Mile 27.5. Nature is a total MILF. (Photo: Mark Haymond)

The sun was shining and life was grand. I was in my element. Ahh nature... the trees, the air... the shiny silver Corvette in the middle of the trail. Yep, I'm confused too. Additionally, I am confused that I am quite sure there are about 3 miles to go and out of nowhere, the sky turns black. And I'm not talking a couple clouds in the sky. I'm talking some seriously ominous shit. In a mile, I get to the last aid station and am informed that I actually have 5 additional miles to go... give or take... because no one seems to be too sure how long this race is. They heard it was 50k-ish. Whatever. All I know is that the sky looks like it is about to crack the fuck open. So I cracked open an ice cold Bud Light, and.... no... no, it was a Coke. But that would have been cool though.

And with that, I took off on a mad dash for the finish. And with that, the sky really did crack open and I found myself in a grand old thunderstorm of epic proportions. The thing about thunderstorms in Yosemite is that you don't just see them or get caught in them. You feel them. Big drops exploded in my face as I cruised at an average 7:30 clip down a technical descent and felt the thunder rumble up through the ground. At the risk of sounding like a total douche, I felt that thunder in my soul. Each crash only ignited the fire inside of me even more and I pushed myself harder and harder and my smile grew wider and wider. I felt like I was in some Jurassic Park shit and I was velociraptoring the crap out of that hill. And I counted my prey. In that last section I passed over 15 people. The weird thing was that 3 of said people I had passed around mile 16 and never saw again until now. I figured they missed a time cutoff, but later I looked at the results and they were listed as 50k finishers. Maybe I did take a wrong turn somewhere? Who the hell knows.

All I knew is that I flew out of that forest at a dead sprint and have never felt more alive.

After the race, Dom and I headed into the cafeteria a bit for some food. Dom ate. I, on the other hand, chose to stare at a plate of potato salad and a Bud Light for about 10 minutes. Then I began to cry into said potato salad. I maintain that I was just trying to salt my food. We stretched for a bit, thanked Big Baz for a wonderful experience, and then decided to roll out back to Mariposa. After 20 minutes in the car, we made the executive decision to stop at Bass Lake and make me sit in a stream for a bit to get some lactic out of my legs. See, the Adventures! (I use punctuation wherever I please) were only half over at this point and there were still a lot of miles and a lot of climbing to be done the next day. Dom had sat in a stream at the finish, but when I rolled in about an hour later - sitting in a stream meant possible electrocution. Sounds like the jam, but that shit is for Benjamin Franklin; not for Katie deSplinter. By now, the skies had started to clear so we blindly hiked down some random trail in the middle of nowhere and found a random stream. It was really cold and I got bitten by roughly 211 mosquitoes. See how happy (and gnome-like) I look...

Chilling in a stream after my first official Ultra. No, literally. CHILLING.

Back in Mariposa, we found a pizza place with the tagline "we toss 'em, they're awesome" and obviously ordered a delicious pineapple pizza to go with our large Arrogant Bastard Ales. We also found a stuffed cat attacking a stuffed bird in a store window. Mariposa is awesome.

We are in Hawaiiiiiiiiii! Watch this.

55k, 6:41:32.
Mr. Garmin has aggregate climb at 13,053 ft
Elevation: low-4,940; high-6,422

This was the longest I have ever run. I may have went out a little conservatively, and probably could have run faster. But that was not the goal. The goal was to finish and have a fucking epic time. And that I definitely did. Baz thinks it was epic too... check out his race recap here.