Monday, September 27, 2010

The Big Picture: Goat Lake from Standhope Peak

On borrowed time before snow starts to close things down, my wife and I made another trip to the Eastern Pioneers this weekend. Goat Lake viewed from the scramble to the top of Standhope Peak (elev 11,890 ft)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Nabbing Hyndman Peak, Feeling Like a Trail Runner

Yesterday afternoon I set off for Hyndman Peak like a mafia informant being whisked away to the witness protection program.  It's been one of those weeks where it wasn't at all clear when or if I'd be able to get in a good run - between soccer coaching duties, regular weekend tasks, and a sickness running rampant through the household.  So when a window opened up unexpectedly in the late afternoon, I checked the weather forecast, packed up and was out the door in five minutes, speeding to the trailhead.

If you live in the Sun Valley area, Hyndman is one of the anchors of the landscape.  It's one of the small number of Idaho 12er's (elev 12,009) and the tallest peak in the close-in Pioneer range. It beckons.  Always.  Six miles trailhead to top, with about 5,000 feet of vert, there's a lot of steep hiking, including a talus scramble up the last 3/4 mile, but much of it is pretty runnable.  

I can't say exactly what it was about yesterday's outing - that I was feeling good, that the trail on the return was feeling soft and fast, that it was a windfall long run - but for the first time since my knee went south last winter, I felt like a trail runner.  I felt like myself.  It was a great afternoon.

Autumn hitting its stride
Looking at Hyndman from near the Pio Yurt
Heading up the Hyndman Basin, looking at Cobb Peak
Halfway up the talus scramble. Cobb Peak in background.
Looking back at the basin
From the top, looking down on Old Hyndman Peak (right) and Cooper Basin (left).

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Talking Trash, and Other Things, in the High Lonesome

AJW, Mike, Brad, and me - top of Summit Creek Trail, Idaho
I've been keeping to fairly low mileage since my six weeks off in early summer, just giving my knee some rest through 2010, and it's only been recently that I've logged enough miles to be able to take part (even partially) on the classic Gang of Four group runs in the Sun Valley area - occasional and often masochistic outings with Brad Mitchell, AJW, and Mike Stevens. 

This past Saturday, they charted a 17 mile (7 hour) "run" (read: bushwhack across five major drainages on new snow) on the northern end of the Pioneer Mountains high line route, and I was able to meet them at the top of the final climb for a victory lap run-in to the trailhead.  It was short, but rich as always in trash talk and gossip, and tales of races and training runs past.

It really reminded how hard it is to beat the shared experience of a good run with good friends on backcountry trail.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

RJ Review: Nathan Synergy Hydration Pack

A beefed up version of Nathan's race vests with room for pretty much anything you'd need for those epic runs in the backcountry.

Testing the Nathan Synergy hydration pack for the first time on a multi-hour run was a lot like visiting the beer aisle of the local grocery store and being pleasantly surprised to find that your favorite hand-crafted ale now comes in larger 22 ounce bottles. Most of the time, the regular 12 ounce bottles are perfect, but some special occasions just call for the big boys.

It's the same with the well-crafted Nathan packs.  For most decent distance runs and even 100 mile races, the sleek Nathan HPL #020 hydration pack will fit the bill perfectly (see RJ review), but for some longer training runs and unsupported outings, you need just a bit more. Enter the pleasantly surprising Nathan Synergy hydration pack.

The Synergy, so called because of its dual-chamber 3-liter bladder - one side for water, the other for sports or electrolyte drink, is basically a larger, very close cousin of the Nathan HPL #020, with a few improvements.

While the front of the pack has the same adjustable sternum strap, tube clip, and slightly small dual front pockets (one zippered) just big enough for half a peanut butter sandwich, a camera, or a handful of gels as the #020, the rear is where the differences come to light.

First off is the size.  The larger 750 cubic inch main compartment is perfect for unsupported runs in the 4 hour plus range.  The pack can fit a full 3 liter bladder and still have plenty of room left over for a SteriPen, just-in-case clothing, and a lot of nutrition.  Packing for such outings with my bursting #020, I often had to make a choice in the end between my camera and my SteriPen because there just wasn't enough room (guess which item won out).
Fully packed Nathan Synergy on Mt. Borah
Other improvements include a more secure outside bungee cord and the addition of a secure light mesh outer sleeve for stowing items like food or a jacket that you'll likely need easy access to.

The Synergy also has two mesh side pockets that ride above the hip.  They can each fit a water bottle, but I found my elbows rubbed against them, which could just be an oddity of mine.  They worked great, though, for bulky food items (sandwiches), a small map, and, my favorite use, the baggie I use for my spent gels.

Despite it's extra size and weight, it fits like most Nathan packs with the "2-Way Propulsion Harness," which is to say that when you first put it on you'll think it doesn't fit quite right - since it lacks the locked and loaded feeling of most classic packs - but after the first few steps you'll hardly notice it.

The Synergy does trap more heat than its stripped down cousin #020, but compared to similar larger packs - like the Go Lite Rush - it's certainly airier and cooler.

On what for many may be the main selling point of the Synergy - the dual chamber bladder - I'm a bit more neutral and not just because the side by side clear and orange tubing hint at the Borg Collective.  The system certainly functions as advertised.  There's a large chamber for water and a smaller chamber for sports drink or electrolyte drink (with a total capacity near 3 liters), and the potency dial allows you to choose what percentage of each you want going though the nozzle.

I was surprised, though, that the bladders were different sizes, since I like to drink equal amounts sports drink and non-calorie electrolyte drink when I run long.  Having equal-sized chambers would seem to have also made it easier to figure out how much you might have left of each as the hours march on.  As it is, it required even more guessing than usually goes along with bladder hydration.  The dual-chamber bladder is also a bit harder to remove and fill than a standard bladder.  This isn't a real problem in the kitchen before a training run, but at a race it could be a real aid station show-stopper.
Synergy heading up Big Basin in the Pioneer Mountains, Idaho
Of course it's easy to pop out the dual-chamber bladder and replace it with a standard bladder if you feel like going with simplicity and saving a little weight, which I did on one occasion, and no graft vs. host rejection resulted.

I know the Synergy may run counter to the current minimalist zeitgeist of sticking one's bottles down the back of one's shorts,  but if you're looking to carry enough fluids, calories, clothes, and the odd electronic accessory for an unsupported multi-hour run in varied conditions, it just may be the pack for you.

Sometimes it's really nice to have the 22 ouncer, even when the 12 ouncer would do.

(Sample provided by Nathan Sports)

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Results: Jones-Wilkins takes 2010 Grand Teton 100 in Record Time

At the 2010 Grand Teton 100, Andy Jones-Wilkins (Patagonia, La Sportiva) showed his typical closing ability, finishing first in 18:35:23 and demolishing the course record of 19:19:51 set last year.  

Despite small numbers toeing the line, the lead end of the race featured two big guns, Andy Jones-Wilkins (AJW), winner of the 2010 Vermont 100 and perennial top 10 at the Western States 100, and Duncan Callahan (Vasque), winner of the Leadville Trail 100 in 2010 and 2008.  The two basically stayed head to head through halfway, with some small lead changes after that.  The final selection took place on the fourth-lap climb and descent of Fred's Mountain between miles 75 and 81.  AJW took the lead and never gave it back. Callahan finished a strong second in 19:03:58, also under the 2009 course record set by Ty Draney. (results)

Keri Wheeler of Jackson, WY took the women's race in 27:20:40.

This year is the swan song for the Grand Teton 100, though the other distances will continue.  The GT100 races over a 25 mile clover leaf course in and around the Grand Targhee Resort, with about 5,000 vertical feet per lap.

2010 Grand Teton 100 - Top 5 Overall 
  1. Andy Jones-Wilkins 18:35:23 (cr)
  2. Duncan Callahan 19:03:58
  3. John Carroll 23:52:43
  4. Steve Bremner 27:05:11
  5. Kerri Wheeler 27:20:40 (first female)

Thanks to DC's crew for the Twitter updates @DuncanCallahan

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Mid-Race Results (Mile 50): 2010 Grand Teton 100

Update (9-5-10):  Report on final results

In what is the swan song for the Grand Teton 100 (the other distances will continue), 2010 Leadville 100 winner, Duncan Callahan, and 2010 Vermont 100 winner, Andy Jones-Wilkins, have run to a near draw halfway through, with Callahan taking a slight lead heading out for the closing 50 miles (live results, lagged).

Ty Draney's 2009 course record of 19:19:51 is on the line (as are eternal GT100 CR bragging rights) on what is turning out to be a warm day at the Grand Targhee Resort.

The GT100 races over a 25 mile clover leaf course, with about 5,000 vertical feet per lap.

Mile 50
1. Duncan Callahan 8:30
2. Andy Jones-Wilkins 8:31:30

Thanks to DC's crew for the Twitter updates @DuncanCallahan

Friday, September 3, 2010

Partway to "Why?" - Love for the Lonesome Outdoors

While I may not be the most "outdoorsy" of ultra-runners, falling closer to the "Green Acres" category than "Man vs Wild," I think I fall pretty high on the scale when it comes to shear appreciation of the great outdoors.  So it's been great this year to watch Ken Burn's The National Parks: America's Best Idea and read Timothy Egan's The Big Burn - both of which trace the creation of the National Parks as well as the field of conservation.  Each is filled with quotes from Roosevelt, Pinchot, Muir, and others that capture what so many of us feel when we're cresting Longs, Handies, Catherine's, Devil's Thumb, or Nordoff.

On cue to put a cap on another fantastic, if much too short, summer in the high country, is another typically beautifully written piece by Egan in yesterday's Times online - called My Summer Home - which chronicles his long love affair with the National Parks and public lands across the west.

As all ultra-runners are, I'm asked much too often the question: "why?."  I feel strongly that it's really unanswerable - at least to a satisfactory level - since it's so tied up in the motivation, experience and emotion of training for and making it to the finish (or not) of a 50, 100 mile run. But pieces like Egan's and Burn's capture, at least for me, one of the amazing draws of ultra-running, the grandeur of the lonesome outdoors.  They don't really answer the full question "why?," but they certainly provide a guidepost in the right direction.

Photo taken in the Salmon-Challis National Forest