Dreams

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I completed my first ultra-distance trail run (or rather, speed hike) in August 1989. I started at 4:00 am at Carter Notch Hut, the eastern-most of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s system of mountain huts in northern New Hampshire, and started to run westward toward the Presidential Range, Zealand Valley, Franconia Range, and finally, Lonesome Lake Hut near the range’s western end.

I remember watching the late sunset from the summit of Mount Lafayette, only 6 miles from my 52-mile goal, exhausted, but knowing that I would probably make my goal. When I reached a cold and windy Lonesome Lake Hut about 21 hours after I started, it was the single longest hike I’d done by at least 30 miles.

I was 18 years old.
In Leadville, Colorado only 6 years before, Ken Chlouber and Merilee Maupin had the creative idea to refocus some of the town’s energy into a traverse of some of the beautiful mountain trails on and around the foothills of the State’s highest summits.

I can still remember seeing some TV coverage of one of the Leadville 100’s early editions as a young teenager, and something about that — about running through the day, into the night, and into the next day — about running seemingly forever — found its way deep into my blood and remained there, fueling my adventures for years to follow.

I entered the Leadville 100 lottery for the first time in December 2014, thinking that I could complete the race a month after returning from my run across Iceland in 2015. That turned out to be a bit presumptuous…

After a year’s deferral,  I entered the 2016 race and toed the line with more than 700 other runners just before 4:00 am on August 20th, silent, solemn, and nervous, listening to the final refrain of the National Anthem before we set off, westward into the darkness.

I was 45 years old.

 

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The starting line

 

“How was it?” People ask.

Well, what is it like to realize a dream?

There were some difficult parts of the race, for sure — climbing 12,600 ft Hope Pass *twice* –leaving the relative comfort of the Twin Lakes aid station at 8:00 pm to climb the shoulder of Mt. Elbert — pushing through the night from midnight to 4:00 am on Sunday over another 11,000 ft pass — following my brother, Michal, who paced me for the final half-marathon stretch to keep a relentlessly consistent pace — all of these were harder than nearly anything I’d done in long-distance running before.

As the runners thinned out after I crossed Hope Pass for the second time at 55 miles, I felt like a different race had started. First, I’d never covered more than 55 miles in one day (on day three of my 2015 Iceland traverse), and second, I was more alone on the trail and I began to find a rhythm that I felt might actually lead me to the finish line.

I stopped in Twin Lakes for about 10 minutes for a change of shoes and socks and some chicken broth and ramen for supper before heading back up into the woods for the final 40 miles, most of which would be in the dark. Jen, who paced me in for the last 100 yards to Twin Lakes, was surprised I didn’t stay longer, but I knew that the longer I stopped, the less excited I would be to get going again, and the harder it would be to find my rhythm again.

 

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Twin Lakes looking southwest

 

 

The hours between 8:00 pm and 12:00 am are a little blurred — I remember the miles, the steep single track, the dirt roads, the poplar leaves in the light of my headlamp, and a few miles on grazing land in the moonlit valley below Mount Massive. I remember mostly the rhythm, the feel of feet against the ground with each step, the dropping temperature.

12:00 am to 4:00 am exist in a little sharper relief, maybe because this 10-mile stretch included a climb up the notorious Powerline trail to a pass at 11,000 ft. I remember, again, the rhythm of the climb, passing several runners with their pacers, solo runners, and cresting each false summit only to be discouraged to find another climb beyond.

 

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Coming into the Outward Bound Aid Station at midnight

 

Someone had a bugle. At 2:00 am, at 11,000 ft in the middle of the woods, someone was blowing a bugle that echoed through the canyons and among the trees all around me. I knew they had to be at the top of the climb, so I just kept on until the sound grew more distinct. At the very top, I was surprised by a brightly lit, glow stick bedecked ad-hoc aid station staffed by the most energetic folks I’d ever met at that time of night. They promised a downhill run to the last aid station, Queen May.

 

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A quick stop at Queen May

 

Another shoe change and some blister repair later, Michal and I were off on the last 13.5 — a relatively flat, though deceptively challenging section after nearly 90 miles of running. Michal kept our pace honest and consistent, guiding up past other runners nearly the whole of the way around Turquoise Lake, down into the lowlands, and then back up the 800 ft climb into Leadville. The sun rose as we passed the midpoint of our last section. With 6 miles left to go, I started to think that I might actually make the finish. I remember saying that to someone we passed — I think they were as delirious as I might have been, so I’m not sure if they understood, but we shared a sentiment: we were finishing something. Something significant.

Michal steered me off the dirt road onto the final climb up West 6th Street toward the finish line, and me needing to ease off our pace on the climb — It only figures that the 100 miles would finish with a 3 mile uphill. It was on that last stretch that the heartfelt “congratulations” started. It seemed like everyone in town came out to give their sincere congratulations to all the runners who made it to the finish line.

They could each look into our eyes and they knew where we had been and what it meant.

At barely a jog, I crossed the red carpet of the finish line and into the arms of Merilee and Ken, who chided me for smiling too much — “they’re going to think this is easy!” he said.

It was not easy, that’s for sure. But it was the realization of a dream many decades in the making, and that’s certainly a reason to smile.

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I don’t yet know what’s next, but you can be pretty sure that something big is on the horizon😉

Road to Leadville: Dispatch #4

 

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Looking north from Hope Pass

On Wednesday, Jen and I hiked up the Sheep Gulch Trail from near Winfield to Hope Pass, which at 12,600 ft, is the highest point on the Leadville 100 course. Runners cross the pass at mile 44.5 and again at mile 55.5 as they return from the turn-around point at Winfield.

The climb and pass were as spectacular as I’d imagined. We were entirely alone on the mountain, and as the wind picked up on the final switchbacks, the world opened up and invited us in.

 

This was that Earth of which we have heard . . . . Here was no man’s garden, but the unhandselled globe.

The very crest was marked with a tangle of wind whipped prayer flags, sun-bleached and twisting in the spitting rain.

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The mountains are indeed the world’s sacred places, and I am humbled to be among them.

 

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North from Hope Pass toward Twin Lakes and beyond — the last 45 miles of the race laid out before me. 

 

 

If you’re interested in the race course, check out the full-size map linked to the one below:

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Road to Leadville: Dispatch #3

Finally, Leadville!

I took a short (6.5 mile) acclimatization run on Tuesday afternoon along the Leadville race route on the north shore of Turquoise Lake. At almost exactly 10,000 ft, the lake trail was a great run to start getting used to the thinner air here.

We scouted a few key spots on the race route — Powerline, Fish Hatchery, Twin Lakes — all place names I’ve heard many times but have only just now put them in a real, tangible context. I’m looking forward to seeing them all again on Saturday — and *really* early on Sunday🙂

On the Turquoise Lake run, at first my heart rate spiked and I was panting through the first 100 yards. After that, I eased into a moderate pace (a fair bit faster than the 14 min/mile pace the race officials use to estimate the slowest possible pace for a 30-hour finish), and even ramped up to a 9 min/mile on the run back — Of course, I felt like I was pushing a 7:30 pace. Thanks, Altitude!

Road to Leadville: Dispatch #2

 

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Hiking around in Chautauqua Park, Boulder, CO

After only 48 hours, it already feels as though I’ve been in Colorado for weeks.

 

Although I haven’t kept track, I think this is my 12th trip to Colorado as an adult — and 13th if you add my family’s cross-country van trip in the 1970s.

Over the years, these mountains have come to feel like a second home. I’ve learned at least a little of what to expect, though I’m still always excited to explore new places and circling back to familiar ones.

Somehow, ever since I was young, I’ve been drawn to Leadville’s Race Across the Sky. I remember, too, stopping at a Leadville gas station in 1997 and suddenly really realizing where I was. That moment is so indelibly written in my memory, I remember the colors, the feel of the elevation, the snowfields still on the higher peaks, and even what t-shirt I was wearing (!!).

Now, nearly 20 years later, and probably about 30 years since I first heard about it, I’m super stoked to be headed back again.

Later this morning, we head up to Leadville for some high mountain miles and maybe some exploring in the Sawatch Range, just to the west of town, which includes several of Colorado’s highest peaks. The forecasted temperatures for the rest of the week look remarkably cool — highs in the low to mid-60s and lows in the mid-30s. Perfect for running, though it could make for interesting conditions if we get some rain early in the race on Saturday.

 

Road to Leadville: Dispatch #1

 

Running the Walker Ranch loop trail

The Walker Ranch loop trail, Golden, CO

“Why are you going to Colorado?”

 

“To run in a hundred mile race” isn’t really a great answer.

It’s much more complicated. And much harder to explain.

In the week leading up to the Leadville Trail 100 (which starts at 4:00 am Mountain Time on Saturday the 20th), I’m going to explore some of the paths that have led me to run this particular race.

More than one person has suggested that “this will be the experience of a lifetime.” Of course, that’s true, but in some way, nearly ever training run, every race, is the experience of a lifetime.

On the first of a series of annual trips to Colorado, in 2011, I had registered for the Leadville Heavy Half 15 mile trail race. I drove the 35 hours to Colorado from Vermont not really knowing what to expect from the race, but I fell in love with the town, the people, and the idea of racing at higher elevations in the mountains started to take hold. After I completed the run–from 10,000 to 13,000 feet and back–with a top-20 finish, I knew I would come back.

In the five years since then, I’ve finished 4 50ks, 2 50-milers, several marathon-length races, a 150 mile run across Iceland, countless shorter events, and thousands of miles of training with dogs, friends, and solo in mountains around the world.

All of this has brought me here.

And every part of it has changed my life.

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Ecology as a Model for Teaching

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I love it when synergy happens. And in my world, it seems to happen all the time. Like this, for example — I’ve proposed a workshop for the SXSWedu Conference and Festival next March that integrates my love of teaching, ecology, design, systems, and of course running!

The talk will “outline the essential methods and tools necessary to integrate ecological systems thinking into curricular and instructional design.”

In a nutshell, it’s all about how to integrate *what* we teach about–like the natural world, ecology, and climate resilience–into *how* we teach about it.

Want to know more?

You can find the proposal  — and, most importantly, vote for it — here!

Climate Run is a 2016 SHIFT Adventure Athlete Award Official Selection

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I am super excited to have been chosen by the great folks at SHIFT (Shaping How we Invest For Tomorrow) as an official selection for the 2016 SHIFT award in the adventure athlete category for my work with Climate Run.

Central to my ongoing work with Climate Run is to reframe the conversation about climate change as one of resilience — rather than our prevailing narrative of resistance — and build coalitions of athletes, outdoor professionals and enthusiasts, students, and teachers to make meaningful change in the ways we talk about and respond to climate change.

SHIFT works to “unite natural allies around the common goal of protecting our public land,” and I am proud and honored to be recognized as one of this year’s SHIFT adventure athletes!

 

Vertical Weekend

I inevitably miss the weekend’s long runs in the early days of each week. Particularly this month, as I steadily ramp up weekly miles ahead of the Leadville 100 in late August — and particularly this week, as I still feel the weekend of the Whiteface Vertical Weekend in my legs.

I’ve tried to explain (to those patient enough to listen — so, to my dogs, mostly😉 ) what the races were like. Both Saturday’s VK and Sunday’s Sky Race were terrifically fun, Sunday’s 25k Sky Race was a course & race like no other.

For the second year in a row, the Sky Race has been a slippery, muddy, and rain-soaked loop over Whiteface Mountain’s highest ski trails (at about 3,300 ft of vertical gain on each of two loops on the mountain plus about 5 miles and 1,400 ft of gain on neighboring mountain bike trails).

The uphill course followed the same route as Saturday’s Vertical K — 2.4 miles and 3,300 vertical feet — which meant that, with each successive runner, the trail only got more muddy, more slippery, and more…interesting.

Much of the uphill course followed the 1980 Olympic Men’s Downhill ski course, and most of the downhill run was on the Men’s Giant Slalom course. Each course has an average gradient of between 28 and 29%. For comparison, the Mount Washington Auto Road Hill Climb averages 12%, with the last 50 yards at 22%.

 

By far my favorite section was near the top of the climb on Cloudspin, which on its own has a 41% grade over a quarter mile labyrinth of moss-laced talus, grassy hummocks, and unyielding krummholz ready to reach out and grab unsuspecting runners whose stride gets a bit ambitious.

On Sunday’s second lap up the mountain, I got into the rhythm I’d been looking for from the race’s start. The field had thinned, and I passed only an occasional runner on the lower slopes, a few more on the start of Cloudspin, and then I was on my own in the clouds, often steadying myself against the slope in front of me — often reaching for a tenuous hold on a muddy tuft of grass, pulling on a granite slab, or high stepping across snowmaking pipes and rain-slick rocks.

This was what mountain running is meant to be.

We’re still waiting for a full set of photos from the weekend, but here’s a video from Saturday’s finish of the VK that gives a sense of the terrain.

Thanks to Ian, Red Newt Racing, and all the volunteers for a terrific race. I can’t wait for next year!

 

 

Movement & Mindfulness

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The Movement and Mindfulness Labyrinth at Sterling College

I had the great pleasure of facilitating an intensive class called Movement and Mindfulness at Sterling College over the past two weeks. As part of the course, the students and I participated in on and off campus meditation sessions, moving conversation, Feldenkrais, Tai Chi, rock climbing, rowing, walking, event mappingJapanese forest bathing, walking meditation, running, yoga, yoga trance dance, labyrinth building, and lots of reflection. Nearly every day found us in a different place or thinking and moving in space a different way.

When I took on the course at the last moment, I had little idea of what to expect, and even less of an idea about how much an impact the course would have on me. I needed only about 15 minutes to decide to facilitate the class — mostly because it seemed a natural extension of my own expression of mindfulness through running over the past few years — and more so even since Climate Run: Iceland a year ago.

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Community Rowing at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center

Over the past two weeks, our goal was simply to be open to exploring the embodiment of mindfulness through a broad range of physical, meditative, and reflective activities. What we actually did was far more significant and I anticipate much longer lasting; we learned to leave space for one another, we learned to find and trace the limits our ourselves, we learned to draw strength from the place where mind and movement intertwine.

There could hardly be more important lessons in any class.

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Event mapping at Barr Hill, Greensboro, Vermont

Just before we closed class with a final session of Tai Chi out on the lawn beside our newly opened labyrinth during a reprieve from the day’s rain, we shared our definitions of key terms from the class. I was given Perception as Action, which could hardly have been more appropriate. After a couple of days thinking about Perception as Action, I came back to  the work of Matthew Tiessen (as I have elsewhere), who I think helped to ground the essential focus of our class:

Each of us is a site-in-process, a crossing, where forces come to play.

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Rock climbing at Mount Wheeler, Sutton, Vermont

Perception

An early season run up the steep woody slopes of nearby Smuggler’s Notch on Monday was a perfect solitary sojourn to balance the weekend’s racing with our team in southern New England sunshine.

Both were glorious.

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And each reminded me of why I run — to set aside the quotidian and revel in the rhythm of an ever changing perceptual present.

Like many runners, I love to pick through my running data, looking at averages, highs and lows. From the past year, for example — cadence: 155 strides per minute; heart rate: 139 beats per minute; stride length: 1.09 meters; ground contact time: 308 milliseconds — all of this has meaning for me, but mostly in hindsight — to see trends, explore anomalies, and set training goals for the future.

What these numbers do not show is what is actually happening —  when I am most focused in the moment — when there is nothing between me, the moment, and the syncopation of shoes on stone and snow and dirt.

A lifetime can happen in 308 ms, and I don’t want to miss any of it.

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