Monday, September 4, 2017

Seeing the "original world" on the Alice - Toxaway Loop in the Sawtooth Wildernress

"I wanted to see the original world."  Those words passed through my ear buds while I was listening to the New Yorker Radio Hour podcast around mile five of my 19 mile outing this Saturday around the Alice-Toxaway Loop in the Sawtooth Wilderness of Idaho. Though the writer, Jon Lee Anderson, used those words to describe what drove him to visit isolated and largely unchanged-by-time tribes in South America in his younger days, they nevertheless seemed to explain at least part of the reason I was at that moment climbing a rocky trail, out of breath yet moving forward with determination, and all the while trying to take in, enjoy, and be a small part of my striking surroundings.

As I've written about before on Run Junkie,  the Alice -Toxaway loop is one of my special runs.  I try to do it once every year, and whenever I fit it in it feels - as some of my friends tire of hearing me say - a bit like Christmas morning.  I know I'm in for a special day filled with jaw-dropping views, stout trails, and a good amount of miles that always feels longer than the Garmin says, no matter how fit I am.

And even on a Labor Day weekend when parking at the trailhead spills into a third auxiliary lot - and you come across groups of hikers and backpackers every few minutes - the landscape is always elemental, always a part of the "original world" Anderson was talking about.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Breakfast of Lupine & Hill Repeats

If it's Thursday morning, it's time for speedwork.  This week, the usual suspects settled on hill repeats and took to the dirt road that climbs up the backside of Colorado Gulch here in Hailey, Idaho.  Instead of the usual sprint up/jog down repeats, we did 30 seconds on and 60 off, continuing steadily up the climb all the while trying to enjoy the lupine-carpeted hillsides along the way.  (With varied success).

We did 12 repeats altogether, eventually cresting into the sun on the very steep and rough final section on the Gulch's north ridge - and gathering nearly 1,000 feet of vert by the end.  

Pretty nice way to start the day.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Rumination: Early-Evening-Into-Twilight Miles

Tonight in Quigley Canyon.
Often the hardest time to get out for a run for me is the very end of the day.  After finishing work, after shuttling kids, after shopping, and after making dinner - and sometimes even cleaning up.  It's strange that it can be so hard, because this time of year, as the days extend toward the equinox, those early-evening-into-twilight miles can be the most rewarding of all. The normally busy trails are quiet, the spring winds have calmed to a breeze, and the light is soft.  It almost always feels perfect on some level.  And that is what I need to learn.

RJ Review: Ultimate Direction PB Adventure Vest 3.0

If you run long - really long - and in varied conditions, it'd be hard to go wrong with the Ultimate Direction PB Adventure Vest 3.0.  It's light; it's comfortable; and with its 16L capacity and 12+ pockets, it can carry everything you need (and then some) for an all-day training run over five mountain passes - and likely back again.

I've been running in the PB 3.0 (MSRP $169.95) since last summer and recently raced with it at the Gorge Waterfalls 100k.  During that time, I was able to test it over hundreds of miles - on dry and hot high-desert jeep trails, pine-needle carpeted Pacific Northwest singletrack, and snow-covered Rocky Mountain roads.  And apart from a few quibbles, the PB 3.0 has performed exceptionally well, doing exactly what a good running pack should - carrying your essential items in as comfortable and seamless a way as possible.

Apart from a few quibbles, the PB 3.0 has performed exceptionally well, doing exactly what a good running pack should - carrying your essential items in as comfortable and seamless a way as possible.

The PB 3.0 is a beast at carrying water. Its reservoir pouch can hold up to a 3L bladder, and, it has room for two bottles (soft or hard) on the chest - one in a holster, and the other in a bottle-compatible "burrito" pocket (more on that later).  This puts total capacity at over 4L, which even on the hottest days can carry you more than a few miles before you need to find a creek and break out the Steripen.

Having tested and raced in a number of running packs over the years, I've almost always been frustrated with their pockets.  Those failings usually fall into three general categories: 1) lack of pockets, 2) lack of a variety of types and sizes of pockets, and 3) poorly located pockets.  And while I can grouse a bit about the difficulty of accessing one or two pockets of the PB 3.0, the vest really suffers from none of the shortcomings I've experienced with other vests.

The PB 3.0 has small pockets up on the clavicle that are perfect for your electrolyte caps, a large "burrito" pocket on the left chest that can hold 2,500 calories or a 22 ounce water bottle, and waist pockets that are great for a camera, phone, sandwich, or collapsable cup.  And there are multiple large pockets on the rear - one zippered and one with bungees - that can hold cold-weather clothes (even a puffy) for when the weather takes a turn. And, of course, there's more than one snug-fit iPhone-compatible pocket for when you just can't leave Terry Gross or your Instagram followers behind. With 12+ pockets in all, you're much more likely to forget which pocket you put your PB & J in than to wish you had more room for your essentials.

Poles/Ice Axe
Depending how far afield you're going, or what season or sport you're training for, the PB 3.0 has dual ice axe and trekking pole loops.  Good or bad, you'll no longer have the ultrarunner excuse of heading into treacherous conditions unprepared for self-arrest because of your pack wasn't fully-featured.

Comfort and Fit
When not packed with 3 liters of water and 3,000 calories of food, the vest is surprisingly lightweight (13.3 ounces).  And even when weighted down with the essentials, it is well-balanced and comfortable. The PB 3.0 comes in three sizes - and getting the correct size seems important.  While the vest is certainly adjustable, allowing for tweaks to fit, it is not a one-size-fits-all vest.


  • Comfortable
  • Lightweight
  • 16L volume
  • 4L+ water capacity
  • Minimal bounce when fully packed
  • Large number and variety of pockets
  • Trekking pole/Ice axe loops
  • Included soft bottle


  • Cost (MSRP $169.95)
  • Sold without bladder
  • Selected poorly placed pockets

Overall Run Junkie Impression
Being a bit of a pack rat on both training runs and races, I love the capacity of the PB 3.0.  It allows me to pack for all the nutritional and environmental eventualities my-worst-case-scenario brain conjures up, and to do so in a manner that doesn't feel freighted or awkward.  While the PB 3.0 is not for the half-bottle & one-gel set, for runners going really long with little support, or who will be racing in wide-ranging conditions, it is a vest worth considering.

The author and PB 3.0 in action in the closing miles of the 2017 Gorge Waterfalls 100k. (Photo: Glenn Tachiyama)

Thursday, May 18, 2017

"Holy sh##! They're sprinting!" - My Return to Speedwork

Enjoying the cool down after the shock of Colorado Gulch hill repeats.

With five weeks behind me since my slow-but-generally-positive-finish at Gorge Waterfalls 100k, I'm starting to re-build the volume and address some of the weak areas the early season has highlighted. The two most pressing both have to do with speed - or lack thereof: descending pace and flatland pace.

Never a fantastic descender, I nevertheless used to be able to tap out some pretty effortless downhill miles at a decent pace.  But that sensation has really been lacking lately. At both the White River 50 last summer and Gorge this spring, I was never able to enjoy the descents.  They felt more like a chore than anything else, which is a sad thing to write, let alone experience.  Not surprisingly, when you can't relax on the downhills of a race, even in the early-going, it can make things feel like much more of a grind than they really should.

How did this happen?  I think it's likely a combination of factors.  I'm getting older, of course. But I think that's largely an easy excuse.  The bigger issue, I think, is simply a lack of speedwork.  With spotty, at best, trips to the track for at least 5 seasons now, I've just lost the speed that makes it possible to bomb the downhills in training that can make for great cruise-control descents in races.

So, today, I officially started working on re-awakening those fast twitch fibers, meeting up for hill intervals with a new-to-me group of Thursday morning stalwarts.

Off the line for the first repeat, all I could think was: "Holy sh**! They're sprinting!"

You have to start somewhere.

Friday, June 24, 2016

That Good Tired

Descending toward Summit Creek from Phi Kappa.  Pioneer Mountains, Idaho.
It's been a while since I've had that good, tired feeling -- the kind you get from a big training block, from pushing things maybe just a little bit too far.  And I'm settling into it nicely. Yes, waking up is that much slower, and the lawn grows that much longer before I get to cutting it, but it all feels right.

Strava week.  Slow and steady.

Recover hike up near Grays Peak.  Pioneer Mountains, Idaho.

Friday, June 10, 2016

More Elemental

There's something more elemental this season -- as if each stride I take is newly weighted with meaning that I don't completely understand.

Photo: Fox Creek loop, Sun Valley, Idaho

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Running the Touchstone Alice/Toxaway Loop in the Sawtooth Mountains

Twin Lakes from Snowyside Pass
It was in September of 2008 and shortly after my humbling DNF at the Grand Teton 50 (or Teton 45, as it is now indelibly and often referred to) that I first ran the Alice/Toxaway Lakes loop in the Sawtooth Mountains.  With a sense of urgency, Brad Mitchell, AJW, and I had wanted to get together for a long run in the high country before the passes were shut down with early season snow.  

On AJW's suggestion, we settled on Alice/Toxaway, and since that chance introduction it's become one of my touchstone runs.  It's not the longest loop (19.4 miles) nor one with the most vert (3,200 ft), but it's filled with ample rewards:  the rock-hewn notch at Snowyside pass; stunning views of alpine lakes large and small; and technical trail that makes for a wonderfully challenging morning no matter how good you're feeling. In a word - perfect.

I try to run it at least once a year, and if a season goes by when I don't fit it in - because of injury or weather or harried family life -  I feel like I've left a birthday present unwrapped.  So when things fell into place this past weekend for a solo outing around the loop, all felt right with the world. 

On the 2008 inaugural with Brad and AJW, we did, in fact, hit snow going up and over Snowyside pass - not much, just enough to chill the feet and put an edge on things. But this past Sunday, the weather was stunning - a warm, crystalline day - and every step a gift.

Route notes:  The Alice/Toxaway Lakes loop starts at Pettit Lake in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, near Stanley, Idaho, about 45 minute's drive from Sun Valley.  The loop is best run counterclockwise - first passing Toxaway Lake, up and over Snowyside Pass, past Twin Lakes, and then Alice Lake.  Strava details:

Alice Lake
Alice Lake

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

With Fall (and Potentially Snow) in the Air, a Trip Up to Hyndman Peak

With snow having dumped once already this summer in the high peaks and basins, it seemed that if I were going to fit in Hydnman Peak this season (elev 12,008 ft), it needed to happen sooner rather than later.  So when the opportunity opened up Labor Day morning, I packed my Houdini, a PB and Nutella, and SteriPen, and headed for the trailhead.

Though the outing isn't epic in distance - or vert, for that matter - it's a stout trip, regardless.  In about 6.5 miles, you gain 5,000 feet, and while the first 3 miles are easy-grade and runnable, the rest is an on-and-off hike/jog with the last half mile a pure talus scramble (class 2) to the narrow peak.  Then, of course, you come down.

For the trail runner looking to season the quads, nab some good vert at altitude, and just do something a bit different, Hyndman is perfect.  And at the end, you can pat yourself lightly on the back.

Until, that is, you remember that just two weeks ago, Luke Nelson and Jared Campbell tackled Hyndman at 1:00am using the much more technical Wildhorse Creek approach on their way to setting a heroic FKT for summitting all nine of Idaho's 12ers in a single go.

Oh, well.  It was a beautiful day, just the same.

Friday, August 29, 2014

A Meditation on Filling Bottles (20-second Video)

We all have our special spots in the backcountry.  Those places that speak to us at some elemental level, and though we may not fully understand why the place is so special to us, we simply know - simply feel - that it is.  

This little pool on the North Fork of Hyndman Creek is one such place to me.  There are thousands just like it throughout the Valley, but to me it is singular.