I. DID. NOT. FAIL. Hunter Gatherer Survival Run 2014

I I stumbled through the rocky juniper brush in the dark Texas night looking for a good place to build a survival hammock. It was after 10pm. The race was to start in less than 6 hours, though it felt like it already had. I had never built a hammock out of p-cord and a piece of canvas but I was confident it would work. After losing Josue’s maniacal packet pickup game (more on that later) the losing team was forced to sleep out on a hill with only our allowed race gear; meaning no camping gear, and I wasn’t going to sleep on the rocks. I found two suitable trees and started stringing up my p-cord and canvas. A scorpion crawled under a rock right beneath me. My hammock was kind of like an envelope anchored out at the top corners. After tying my best knots I weighted it cautiously. I slid into my canvas cacoon and it was pretty comfy. It had a small slit opening above me for air. I seriously hoped it wouldn’t break and send me falling down onto the sharp rocks (and scorpions) below. After some intermittent sleep next thing I knew I heard our 2:45am courtesy wake up call.

I knew I had to bring my “A Game” to Texas if I wanted to stand a chance at the Hunter Gatherer Survival Run. I wanted it.  After last years failure out there, I wanted it bad. I was so close to getting all the medals last year; I could taste it, but it was out of my reach. Only one person finished last year, an Animal named Shane McKay. Here’s my report from last year. This race was a calling to me. It combined so many passions of mine.

Camp Eagle. Hills Country Texas. It all starts here. photo: Jeffrey Genova

Camp Eagle. Hills Country, Texas. It all starts here. photo: Jeffrey Genova

Hunter Gatherer Survival Run was once again to be held at Camp Eagle in the beautiful Hills Country of central Texas. This year the Survival Run would be a 50k distance with a 24 hour cutoff. You never know what you are getting into at a Survival Run which is an element that I really enjoy and it’s a bit unnerving at the same time. Josue, the race director, gives a minimal gear list with things like a knife, fabric, headlamp, first aid kit, water purifier, etc. And if it’s not on the gear list it’s not allowed. No shoes, no GPS, no trail map, no extra layers, etc. He also lists some skills that you should practice and everything else is a surprise.

In the weeks leading up to the race I methodically trained the skills listed. I ran through the thick woods of the Pacific Northwest slinging rocks with a traditional sling at targets on cedar stumps and building deadfall traps down on the rocky river banks. I practiced archery at the Luna shop after work. At home I did bow drill friction fire with difficult woods just to build muscle memory. I ran along the forested shoreline of the Puget Sound in the rain and mud, slinging rocks out into the water at floating drift wood. I felt like I was 10 years old again. When I was a kid my favorite thing to do was to explore the semi-wildlands near my house, the fields, abandoned train tracks, and ponds. I would throw rocks, play with knives and sticks and bows and bb guns and all that good stuff that wild boys (and girls) love to do.

Every Survival Run has a packet pickup challenge the day before the race. This year it was a team travois challenge. We were divided into two teams of ten, then told that each person must build a travois (basically a wooden sled) and as a team we had 2.5 hours to haul rocks up a hill and pile them up. Who’s ever team had the bigger pile won. The losing team would sleep out there. After putting probably too much effort into the travois games my team lost. It was a lot of energy and effort to be using the day before the race. Losing hurt my pride, but the thought of sleeping out there didn’t bother me much.

Dragging my travois.

Dragging my travois. Photo: Tom Norwood.

Photo by Jeffrey Genova.

Photo by Jeffrey Genova.

The Start.

Standing there barefoot in the dark at 4am at the starting line with 19 other crazy people, I felt prepared and determined. After the travois games and a night in my hammock this thing had already begun. After a countdown we ran the 20 feet to our supplies for sandal making, our first challenge. We (Luna Sandals) sponsored the race and supplied the sandal making material that everyone would be crafting into sandals to run the race in.

Sandal making. Luna Sandals.

Sandal making. Luna Sandals.

I hadn’t made sandals with a knife since last years race and it was harder to cut out the rubber sole than I remembered. My sandals didn’t turn out as good as they were last year but I was fully confident they would work. Shane was the first one done (again) with his sandals and off into the dark in a shockingly short amount of time. Shawn, one of my best friends, was second. And I was third. It felt good to finally get started. I was running in the cool night air. This was it. I had 24 hours to complete this course.

In the early morning hours we had quite a bit of runnable terrain and I was excited to get some mileage under my belt early while it was still cool. After almost getting lost I ran into Shawn and Curtis who were also a little confused but with our heads together we were able to make it to the first challenge which was to search a cliffside for arrows tucked deep in the nooks and crannies. With a little bit of climbing I luckily found my 4 arrow shafts quickly and was on my way.

Shane looking for arrows. Photo by Jeffrey Genova.

Shane looking for arrows. Photo by Jeffrey Genova.

A few miles into the race I reached the cave. I remembered the cave from last year. Shane and Curtis were just finishing up in there as Shawn and I crawled in. We were to crawl back into the depths of the cave to retrieve three different arrow heads. A volunteer, Nick Hollan, informed me that an area that I was squeezing through he had seen a large copper head snake there shortly before and to be careful. I imagined worming over a crack to be staring  eye to eye with big ole snake. But it never happened. Shortly after that, and after rumors of other snakes in a different part of the cave, Shawn almost put his hand on another Copperhead. This was a cave full of venomous snakes! Luckily I gathered my arrow heads and was getting out of there. Nick, moved the arrow heads to closer and safer locations to avoid the areas with snakes for the runners coming after us.

Me coming out of the cave. Photo by Jeffrey Genova.

Me coming out of the cave. Photo by Jeffrey Genova.

By the time we were done with the cave it was light outside. Shawn and I were running together and Shane and Curtis had maybe 15 minutes on us. The directions from the cave were to self-navigate to the zip line tower on a distant ridge. It was a freeing feeling to be racing and able to navigate as we please without having to keep an eye on trail markings. At the zip line tower we were instructed to get out our feathers and fletch our four arrows. Shane and Curtis were just wrapping up as we got started. I pulled out the vulture feathers  we had pulled off a road kill vulture on the drive into Camp Eagle. We were able to trade our feathers for already split and cut fletching feathers, so I did. We fletched our arrows and were off again.

Me and Shawn fletching. Photo by Jeffrey Genova.

Me and Shawn fletching. Photo by Jeffrey Genova.

My biggest game plan going into this race was to take my time and to focus on performing the challenges as well as possible. After almost getting lost again Shawn and I rolled into the archery station where we would be making bows, bow strings, and shooting our first archery target. Shane and Curtis had already left when we got there. They had put a lot of time on us since the last station. Curtis, was an unknown and new to the Survival running community. He had done a few 100′s, a 24 hour GoRuck, was a bow hunter, and seemed like a strong tough dude. I suspected he would do well and here he was neck and neck with Shane out in front. Shawn and I were still in 3rd and 4th place with no one close behind us. Shawn was very prepared for the race, was in great shape, and had been in great spirits all morning about doing well and pushing hard. I was excited we were running together.

Me and Shawn. photo: Jeffrey Genova

Me and Shawn. photo: Jeffrey Genova

I stepped into the woods and started hacking a branch off a juniper tree that would make a suitable bow. I chose a long straight 6 foot section so I could make a full sized long bow that would be as close to possible to the bow I shoot at home. I hacked it down with my survival knife (SOG Force). I made my bow string with the provided artificial sinew. I did the Flemish Twist method but my strands got a little tangled and it turned out sloppier than the practice one I did at home but I knew it would get the job done. While I was working on my string Shawn had finished his and was taking his shots at the first archery target, which was a 3D Bear target on the ground that you had to climb a big oak tree and shoot the bear from about 12-15 feet up this tree. I heard Shawn talking to the volunteers as he took 3 of his four allowed shots at the bear. He missed all three. Then he missed his 4th and last try. And just like that he was out. Not totally out of the race but out of his chance to ‘complete’ the race. I couldn’t believe it. It was a huge bummer. He was so prepared and was shooting so well on the practice shots. He was disappointed, to say the least. After some practice shots I climbed into the tree with my bow and arrow. It’s a little awkward to climb a tree with a long bow and arrows in hand. I got into position and took my first shot and nailed the bear. It was so satisfying and exciting to make a bow and arrow on the spot, climb into a tree, and shoot a target first try earning my first ‘FAIL’ medal. After shooting I realized as a lefty I had an advantage on that shot from the tree because the positioning was more awkward for a right handed shot. The medal this year was a copper covered wood medallion with four quadrants. When each challenge was completed we would get a symbol to carve into the copper. After hitting the bear I completed the first 4 challenges and my first quadrant ‘FAIL’.

Working on my bow. Testing the flex.

Working on my bow. Testing the flex.

Shawn decided to continue on despite missing the challenge. It was warming up and we were entering some serious bushwhacking sections. I had my bow and arrows in one hand, a water bottle in the other hand, and my rolled up pack slung over my shoulder. This year my pack was a much simpler and quicker pack design. It was a large military bandana (Schmog) with all my gear rolled up in it and it just slung over my shoulder. It was surprisingly simple and effective. I could run without it bouncing too much and it was quick to pack and unpack. Last year my pack took way too long to pack and unpack making my transition times frustratingly long. But this year my transition times were quick. Leaving the archery station I forgot to fill up my water bottle. I only had half a bottle. oops. A single mistake in this race can make or break you. It was imperative to focus at all times. Another big challenge was just staying on course. Most of the course was bushwhacking through brush and trees, up and down steep rocky hillsides. It was marked well but it was just so winding and rugged that if you missed a marker you could find yourself wandering around aimlessly trying to decide which way to go.

The next challenge was at an old rustic cabin. At this station we were to make a sling and do a sling distance challenge and another archery test. My first throw with the sling on the distance test was a wild throw that wasn’t very straight but was well past the distance marker. The archery challenge was an uphill shot at a 3D deer target. I hit it second try. I was having fun! (Great job setting up the archery challenges Tom!) Part of each challenge is a balance of calming my nerves and staying focused at the task at hand. And then a flood of relief and excitement at completion. After drinking a bunch of water and refueling I was off and headed towards the next checkpoint, the Tipis.

Coming into the teepees. Photo by Corinne Kohlen.

Coming into the teepees. Photo by Corinne Kohlen.

By this point it was hot and the sun was directly over head. I regretted not putting on sunscreen before the race. I was told to gather the plants algerita, mullein, and prickly pear before the next checkpoint. After a lot of rough bushwhacking I arrived at the Tipis with plants in hand. First thing I was told to do was to find a nice flat rock (had to be 15-20 lbs.) suitable for a deadfall trap. They told me I would be carrying it to the next checkpoint so I tried to choose wisely. Next, was bow drill friction fire time. I gathered a suitable bow and top rock and started carving a set from the sotol stocks provided. I got setup and was really close on my first attempt. I started a new hole and got it on my second attempt. I dumped the coal into the juniper bark ‘birds nest’ and blew it into flames. It always has and always will feel good to start a fire with sticks. Next, I was to take my prickly pear cactus pad, make a cup out it, fill it with water, put it in the fire and bring it to a boil, add the mullein and algerita herbs, and then drink the tea. While my water was heating in the fire I went over to do the 3rd archery challenge, a flying pig. They had a 3D pig target setup on a sloped line so the pig would slide down the line and you had to shoot it while it was moving. I got ready and the volunteer let the pig fly. I nailed it first try. I went back to the fire and almost burned my hands and spilled my tea in the fire but got it done and took a sip. Not bad, except for the cactus hair spines I somehow got in my tongue. Four symbols earned and my second quadrant “I”, done. I got out my chisel and hammered them in.

By the time I was done at the Tipis Shane and Curtis were way far ahead of me. Shawn was still struggling with the bow drill when I left and struggling with deciding if he should continue or not. I grabbed my deadfall rock and left the checkpoint. I started out carrying it on my shoulder. After only a few hundred yards I knew I had to find a better way to carry it. I had my bow, arrows, and bow drill bow in one hand and my water bottle strapped to my ‘chest strap’. Shortly into this section I figured out that since my rock was nice and flat and long I could tuck it into the pack strap on my side. On level ground the rock would stay there on its own and going through brush i would cradle it like a football while letting my pack strap carry most the weight. Having the rock setup like that was a saviour for me even though it put a lot of pressure on my trap muscle from the upper shoulder strap and I dropped it several times almost smashing my feet and toes.

Gardens of hell. Photo by Jeffrey Genova.

Lots of bushwhacking. Photo by Jeffrey Genova.

The section, from the tipis to the windmill, was about 6 miles of hell, no joke. It was the full heat of the afternoon and almost all rugged, steep, winding bushwhacking. I was getting tired, hot, and was falling into a slump. I knew I had to go slow bushwhacking with my bow and arrow and rock in the heat but it felt SO slow. It felt like I was going 1/2 mile and hour. I was cursing at the course. It would wind up a steep bushy slope then wind back down to just within site of the teepees making me feel like I hadn’t made any progress. At one point it winded up a hill to a ridge that I thought the windmill was on and I got my hopes up that I was almost there and then instead of going along the road to the windmill the trail just dropped over the other side down some steep brush heading away from the windmill. I prayed for a road or trail to walk on. Over and over again. “Please give me a road!”. But no road, just another steep rocky gully. David Kalal eventually caught up to me and it was great to have some company. We hit a section where the trail was hard to follow. For about half an hour I had a lot of anxiety that we were not going the right way. David had missed an archery challenge so wasn’t direct competition. As far as I knew there was no one even close behind me. I was solidly in third place. And there was also no possible way I was going to catch Shane or Curtis of my own effort. If I was going to beat one of them it would be by one of them making a mistake. Going along the trail I would see pieces of fletching on the trail that one of them lost from it catching on a tree. Each piece I saw was a little piece of chance that maybe one of them was capable of making a mistake.

After many hours of dragging my ass through the gardens of hell I made it to the sanctuary that was the windmill checkpoint. As the sun was setting I took a quick break and soaked my feet in the spring fed pool. I got hydrated and ate some food while I soaked my now tender feet. My mantra for the day was “Stay present. Stay focused. Take care of yourself.” The first challenge at the windmill was my last archery shot. I had to shoot a 3D coyote from a crouched stance and a bit further distance than the other shots. First shot I grazed the side of it. Second shot, dead center! The volunteers cheered which felt good. Next, was the accuracy shot with the sling. It was a propped up log triangle about 15 yards away I had to sling a rock through. This one I was a little worried about. First shot missed. But second try my rock stayed true and magically went right through the center. I was ecstatic. It was getting dark and I just needed to build my deadfall. I  got my figure four deadfall setup and the volunteer came over and tripped it. Quadrant 3 complete, I earned my ‘Did’ symbols. After finishing these tasks it dawned on me that I might actually be able to finish this race! All day I never let that thought get inside my brain, I just focused on the task at hand and getting to the next station. But now I had done most of the challenges and at 100%. Something was welling up inside me, pride, anticipation, excitement. I felt like a freight train, I had power and nothing was going to stop me.

Except maybe the next section of the course. Which was designed by Barkley 100 winner Nickademus Hollon. And with that I re-entered the gardens of hell. This time in the dark. It seemed the course was getting progressively more difficult. Shortly after leaving the windmill I couldn’t find a trail marker. I would wander through the brush fanning out looking for it then back track to the last one I had seen and start over. It was slow going. Several times I had to do this backtrack and search routine to find the trail markers in the dark. I wished I would have brought my bulkier but much brighter headlamp. The trail lead out into the dark deep corners of the area. It felt remote and lonely. I suspected no one would be following behind me, David dropped at the windmill, and Shane and Curtis were hours in front of me.

While pushing through a brushy drainage on some bedrock I felt an incredible pain in the arch of my right foot. My mind raced with the possibilities. Cactus thorn? no, too painful. Bee sting? no, too painful. Scorpion sting?!?! I quickly stepped away and looked around. Right where I had stepped was a hay colored scorpion that looked pissed. I must have stepped right in front of it giving its stinger the perfect angle to sting the arch of my foot. I had a moment of panic. I hoped this wasn’t one of the super poisonous scorpions. But I had been stung by a scorpion when I was a kid and new that if it wasn’t a super poisonous kind then I would be fine. The pain was worse than a bee sting but not unbearable. I moved on knowing there was nothing I could do but move forward. I didn’t put weight on the arch of my foot for a few minutes. I hobbled on the outside of my foot. But the pain subsided and quickly my focus was back on the rocky juniper jungle blocking my path.

At some point on this dark and remote stretch I had the realization/feeling that if I got lost I would be fine. I could setup my p-cord hammock, like I did the night before, anywhere and be fine. It felt liberating and empowering to realize that I felt comfortable surviving in that dark wilderness and all I really needed was some p-cord and fabric.

But as I battled the bushwhacking another fear entered my mind. The Swim. I knew I wasn’t going to finish this thing without a swim. I suspected it would be up the river. The thought of swimming up the river intimidated me. Last year we swam the mile down the river with a log. Which ended up being fine because the log gave me a feeling of security. But what was I in for this time?

I shined my light up to a pair of eyes staring at me about 15 feet in front of me directly on the trail. I froze. Badger? No, just a porcupine. It eventually waddled off to the side and puffed it spines up and let me pass. After a few hours I eventually emerged from Nick’s evil trail section and made it to the cave. From the cave I was to self navigate to the cliff face next to the river where we left our travois’. When I arrived they told me to pick a travois and strap my bow and arrow and pack to it. I would be swimming up the river about 1/2 mile with it. I prepared myself mentally as I strapped my stuff too it. I picked a beefy travois in hopes that it would provide buoyancy. I also inflated my collapsable water bottle in my pack to give a little more float.

Tying my bow and arrow to my travois. Photo by Josue Stephens.

Tying my bow, arrow, and pack to my travois. Photo by Josue Stephens.

I dragged the travois down to the waters edge. Nick was there in a kayak to guide me up the river and presumably to report to the others if I died. I got into the water with my travois. The water was cool but not too cold. I wanted to make sure I maintained a good pace that wouldn’t overexert myself but wouldn’t leave me in the water for too long to just get too cold in there. Shortly after getting in I was wading through the duck weed that was tying up my legs and I lost a sandal. I pulled my other one off and tied to my travois. Nick told me Shane had also lost a sandal in there. I paddled the travois like a body board; keeping a nice kick going and a breaststroke style paddle. The wind was in my favor but the duck weed conspired to keep me in that water forever. Nick made jokes and suggested good paths. I slowly but surely made my way through the water, pulling the duckweed off my travois as we went. Nick complimented my swimming style and progress saying I was swimming as well as an injured seal. I appreciated his company. Here I was, in the dark, swimming up a river in Texas with a travois, 30+ miles and 20 hours in, with one of my greatest running inspirations guiding me through the black water. It felt surreal. At one point I could see a headlamp in the distance which Nick said was the end of the swim. I was getting cold but I could make it. I knew it.

The black water and duckweed of death. Photo by Jeffrey Genova.

Coming out of the black water and duckweed of death. Photo by Jeffrey Genova.

An entourage of friends greeted me at the waters finish. I dragged my travois out of the water, tied on my one sandal, and tied my shirt around my other foot. I just had to drag this thing across the finish line about 1/4 mile away.

I was doing it. And I did it. I DID NOT FAIL. 3rd Place.

Made it! Photo by Jeffrey Genova.

Made it! Photo by Jeffrey Genova.

I dragged my travois across the line in 20 hours and 45 minutes. It’s hard to say how it felt. I was exhausted and it felt surreal and exhilerating. I completed a race designed for everyone to fail. I was now a part of an exclusive group of 7 people. Only 7 people have ever finished a Survival Run. I am honored to say the least.

Done. Photo by Josue Stephens.

Done. Photo by Josue Stephens.

Shane and Curtis finished at least a couple hours ahead of me. Shane just ahead of Curtis. They stayed neck and neck all day. What a showing; they are incredible athletes. I was 3rd place. And last place. No one finished after me. No one made the cutoffs at the windmill. I feel like the course was harder this year, more rugged and more bushwhacking. Last year several people finished the distance. Also this year there was no room for error. You either completed all the challenges 100% or you failed. It’s an element that sheer grit and determination won’t get you through. You also have to focus.

Me and my medal. Photo: Jeffrey Genova.

Me and my medal. Photo: Jeffrey Genova.

Curtis, me, Shane. The three finishers.

Curtis, me, Shane. The three finishers.

This race built up my confidence in myself. It helped me realize, as cheesy as it sounds, that when I am completely determined and focused I am capable of a lot. I also thought about it in the perspective of a recipe. I put together a plan (a recipe for success), I trained the elements and skills, I prepared my gear and kit, and I prepared my mind with the determination to win. And out there with the scorpions, snakes, and darkness I did win. I won against that course and against myself. And it feels damn good to win.

Prizes and my medal!

Prizes and my medal!

prizes

Congratulations to everyone who was out on the course. Survival Runners are an amazing bunch of athletes. Congrats Shane and Curtis on a inspirational performance. I love being part if this tribe. Thank you Josue, Zach, Brad, Tom, Nick, Corrinne, Mathias, Colin, Jeff, Jason S., Jason R., Amanda, and all the volunteers and friends who made it happen!

I know I said it last year but I’m really thinking about finally going to Nica for Fuego y Agua Survival Run 2015 in February. I hope to see y’all soon.

love!

-Scott

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Hunter Gatherer Survival Run 2013

Hunter GathererI never knew Texas could be so beautiful. The rolling green hills carpeted with Juniper and Oak stretched into the distance. Broken limestone and prickly pear cactus littered the ground. I was at a private campground called Camp Eagle in the Hills Country of central Texas. I was standing around anxiously awaiting our packet pickup for the Hunter Gatherer Survival Run. I knew there would be some challenge to pass before we could get our bib numbers. Josue, the race director, said to show up at 5pm with your knife for packet pickup.

Hunter Gatherer Survival Run is a first of its kind event. It is a primitive skills themed 100k (or 50k) ‘obstacle’ race with challenges and obstacles based on hunter-gatherer lifestyle. I was in love with the idea from the very first time Josue mentioned the concept to me. This was my dream event. It combined so many aspects of passions of mine; ultra-trail running, primitive skills, climbing, wilderness, etc. And then Josue asked me if Luna Sandals would like to sponsor it and have all the participants making and running in Luna Sandals. And that just topped it off, dream event come true. Race director Josue Stephens is creating a new line of events called Survival Runs. They are a completely new type of ultra-distance wilderness themed natural obstacle race. These events are dangerous. They are not for beginners. They are by application only. The risks involved are very real.  Often the most rewarding things in life have risks. And I accept the Survival Run (and Caballo Blanco Ultra) motto: “If I get lost, hurt, or die, it is my own damn fault.”

The first Survival Run was on a volcanic island in Nicaragua back in february with some seemingly ridiculously hard and unique challenges. Check out this video to get an idea of what it’s about. These Survival Runs are bringing together the ultra-running community and the Obstacle racing community. Its really cool to see the two different cultures coming together and something unique emerging. At Hunter Gatherer there was a nice mix of die hard obstacle racers and ultra runners mingling into a new breed of wilderness athlete.

Finally Josue got on the mic and directed the 30 or so survival runners to a pile of logs that we would be carrying 2+ miles to the top of a big hill, carving our bib number into it and returning to the start. I was one of the last to pick a log. Luckily at the bottom of the pile was a perfectly smooth and long log that figuratively had my name on it. I hoisted the 75 lb. log onto my shoulder and started on the journey. Carrying heavy things was one of the tasks I felt the least prepared for. Most of the other runners were crossfit training obstacle racers with a lot more strength training than me. I got into a good rhythm and decided the quicker I can get to the top of the hill the sooner I can get this log off my shoulders. I also tried hard to keep a positive attitude about the log and keep smiling. It is easy to get sucked into the ‘this sucks, this is so brutal’ masochistic attitude. I cruised up the hill switching shoulders and trying to keep good posture. Soon enough I was at the top of the hill and I believe I was the 4th person to the top of the hill. Which it wasn’t really a race to the top but it was a huge confidence builder to complete this strength challenge without too much trouble.

Hunter Gatherer Survival Run

That night we tried to go to bed early but shortly after turning the lights out in our little cabin  a teenage dance party started raging in the bathhouse about 50 yards away. Luckily that only lasted about an hour. But even after it ended I found myself lying in bed unable to fall asleep. My alarm went off at 2:30 am. I probably got 2 to 3 hours of sleep. We wondered over to the Start for our pre-race gear check.

At 4:30 am the race began in a way I don’t think any race has ever started. Everyone grabbed some sandal making materials, sat down, and began making the footwear they would be wearing for the race.

Hunter Gatherer Survival Run

Luna Sandals supplied the sandal making materials. I prepared it and brought it down with me. Technically that gave me an advantage because I knew the material we would be using and I am very grateful that Josue and everyone let me race anyway. In reality I knew it wouldn’t be much of an advantage. Before the race I tried to share as much as I could about sandal making and encouraged everyone to practice a lot. Making sandals is pretty simple. Learning to tie, adjust, and run in them is what takes more practice.

Hunter Gatherer Survival Run

I got to work cutting out my sandals. I took my time and made them well. Shane McKay was done and the first off the line in no time. I finished my sandals and started making my pack. We were not allowed to bring a pack. We had to make one. I made mine out of a buff, a bandana, and some p-chord. I had practiced my method and was confident in it. I got it all packed up and was off the start line into the darkness. I ran through the dark camp with a huge smile on my face. The first stop was at the top of the hill where we left our logs. I picked up my log and put in on my already bruised and torn up shoulder from carrying it up there the day before. I carefully made my way down the steep rocky slope toward the river.

At the river we were instructed to tie a life jacket to the log and swim down the river with the log. Since it was dark we were required to put a glow stick on so that people could see us swimming down the river. I threw my log into the water and started wading down the river. Swimming in the dark, in the wilderness, with a log and glow stick felt surreal and kind of freaky. There was a lot of duckweed catching my legs and holding me back. The river had two dams to go over. At both dams I lifted my log and tossed it over the other side. Swimming is something I am not very strong at. I was relieved with the nature of this swim, though it was over a mile, it wasn’t very deep in some places, the shore was never too far away, and I had a log to hold onto. The swim was awesome. It felt really cool to do.

I'm in the background trying to lift my log onto the dam.

I’m in the background trying to lift my log onto the dam.

There was no aid stations at this race. You were expected to filter your own water. I have been drinking unfiltered water for years, but mostly from mountain streams and desert springs. So I was hesitant about risking it in Texas. But when I heard that the river pops right out of the ground only about a quarter mile up stream I was sold on taking the risk. While I was swimming I would just open my mouth and drink. That felt really strange to do and I kind of liked it. It was so simple, just open your mouth and drink. By the time I was done with the swim we were just starting to get some pre-dawn light.

Carrying my log out of the water after the swim.

Carrying my log out of the water after the swim.

I was back on the trail running in the morning light. Much of the course turned out to be off-trail bushwacking. Going up and down steep rocky hills pushing through juniper and oak and trying not to kick a prickly pear. The prickly pear were land mines waiting to ruin someones day.  I got to the next challenge, which was a 2 foot wide hole in the ground leading down into a cave. In the cave was 6 petroglyph symbols in 3 caverns we had to find and memorize. Most of the cave was belly crawling and squirming over rocks and through cracks. It was more tiring than I was expecting. In the cave I saw bats, bugs and even a snake. After finding what I thought was all the symbols I came out and took the test where I had to point them out on a paper. But somehow I was missing one. I only knew five. So back into the darkness i went. During my second trip into the cave my legs started cramping a little prompting me to take my time. I found my last symbol, got out of there, and passed the test. For passing this challenge I received the first medal which simply read “FAIL”.

Cave entrance. Photo by Zac Wessler.

Cave entrance. Photo by Zac Wessler.

It felt good to be back on the trail. Now after having stopped at several points I was realizing that though my pack was super comfortable and didn’t bounce while I was running, it was taking way too long to unpack and pack up. I felt like I was wasting a lot of time just packing up my pack. After several miles was the next challenge station. A quick medicinal plants quiz, aced it. Make a water container out of a prickly pear cactus, no problem. Carve a throwing stick and hit a target 3 out of 7 tries, piece of cake. Ok, that was an exaggeration, it wasn’t a piece of cake, it was challenging and I was super excited to hit them.

Back on the trail (or not a trail at all) it was starting to get hot. I was trying to stay hydrated and to eat plenty of food. The next challenge station was at mile 15. It was midday now and you could tell people were feeling the brutality already. This challenge station was to start a bow drill friction fire (fire with sticks). This was one thing I felt super confident at. I used to teach bow drill fire at a wilderness therapy company I had worked at in the past. I love doing bow drill. I used to be good at hand drill too but i was out of practice with that. I gathered the materials for my set and got down and busted a fire. It still feels so cool to start a fire with sticks. It is so satisfying. It takes planning, preparation, patience, skill, and a good physical effort.

Tyler busting his first fire ever!

Tyler busting his first fire ever!

Hunter+Gatherer+%2713+-+TeePee-1-2818227535-OIt felt great to bust a fire and get my second medal; “I”. Now my medals read “I FAIL”. But before leaving this station I had to do another throwing stick challenge. Which was to knock two rocks off a stump. I just needed to get 2 out of 7. I did a few practice throws then went at it. After a couple misses I knocked one down. Then I hit the other one and it wobbled and was so close to falling down but stayed standing. I failed that one. I didn’t get the bead for it. I had no idea what failing that challenge meant but I didn’t worry about it too much and headed down the trail.

More bushwacking, cactus dodging, and feeling like a wild fucking animal running through the woods.

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I was instructed to collect some juniper and algerita before the next challenge station.

I arrived at the next station with my plants. At this station we had to take another medicinal plants quiz and make cordage out of yucca. I did both of those without a problem. Before we left we were instructed to make a bow. So I went out into the brush, found a good juniper and cut me down a nice piece for my bow and started carving. I probably spent too much time carving my bow but it was so much fun.

Back on the trail with my bow in hand the carnage was apparent. Many were dropping out or skipping obstacles. It was still pretty hot and had been a long tough day. I was definitely feeling it. On the trail I stumbled upon a rattle snake with its head and rattle cut off. Its body and head were still moving and squirming around. Written in blood on the rock next to it was “HG”. It was a hardcore scene. I built a little cairn next to the head so people would see it.

The next challenge was at mile 24 or 25. First we had to climb a big oak tree to retrieve 2 arrows.

Hunter+Gatherer+%2713+-+Shooting-2817988961-OThen the archery test. We only got 5 practice shots with our bow then had to hit 3 out of 7. Getting the feel for it, I missed all five of my practice shots. But I could tell my bow was good enough. I hit 3 out of 4 during the test. I was so excited. I was literally jumping up and down with a huge grin on my face when I made each hit of the target. Next we had to do a distance shooting test and shoot 3 out of 7 arrows into this range about 50 yards away. That one went great and I received my third medal which read “DID”.

Success!

Success!

By this point it was well into the evening and the idea of doing another 50k loop seemed more and more insane. Time cutoffs were becoming a real concern. And word was getting around wondering if anyone would start on the second 50k loop. But as ultras have taught me, you just have to take it one step at a time. You can’t worry about later until you get there. The next task was to build a travois, load it with 120 lbs. worth of rocks in bags, and drag it 2.5 miles. I got working on my travois.

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As I was building it I saw several other people finish theirs and give up on pulling it before getting 20 yards. I was determined though. I finished it as it was getting dark and started pulling that thing down the dirt road. I could pull it 50-100 feet then I would have to stop to rest. I turned on my headlamp and started to dig deep but with each pulling session my spirits sank more and more. I was realizing it was impossible. And I felt that if I didn’t complete the challenge there would be no way I would technically ‘complete’ the race. I pulled onward and only made it maybe 1/3 mile. I ran into Zach the photographer and he recommended ditching it and trying to make the approaching time cut off. Giving up on it felt so wrong. The momentum I had built all day by completing so many of the other obstacles felt like it was crashing down along with my emotional state. I finally accepted that I would have to abandon the challenge after spending a long time building and pulling that thing.

Hunter+Gatherer+%2713+-+Finish-1-2818081898-OFree of the travois I was determined to make up some ground quickly. The cool night air was refreshing and my disappointment turned into a determination to run fast. As I was running I was following a set of tracks of a travois. The trail turned into a narrow winding rocky single track going up a hill. I was amazed that anyone got their travois that far. I thought maybe it was Shane. I knew he was in the lead. I kept following it and eventually came upon Corrine still pulling her travois. I was blown away. I couldn’t believe it. What a badass. She pulled that thing so far. I kept my pace up running in the night. Seeing the trail I would have had to pull my travois through I was so glad I gave up when I did. It would have taken hours or been impossible. Maybe there is a more efficient travois technique but I didn’t know it.

After several miles in the dark I could tell the finish was near. I ran faster and ran into the finish line at the pavilion to cheering people. I was glad to be done. No one had started on the second loop and only Shane had made it before the 17 hour cutoff to head out on the second loop but decided not to go out. Josue dropped everyone in the 100k to the 50k. I learned that I needed 6 out of 7 beads to get the final “NOT” medal. I only had 5 beads. If that wobbling rock I hit with the stick would have fallen over I would have gotten my 6th bead… But what-ifs and hind site don’t change the past. I was beat and satisfied. My medals read “I DID FAIL” One of the slogans for the race was ‘you will not finish’. And Josue was right. No one finished the 100k. Though it felt good to technically have finished the 50k, and in 6th place. Though, I didn’t ‘complete’ the race. It took me 17 hours and 53 minutes.

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That sealed it. I am addicted. Josues Survival Runs are taking things into a whole new realm. I’m so excited to see where it goes. At this point I don’t think I can miss the next Survival Run which is the Fuego y Agua Survival Run in Nicaragua in February.

There is so much more story to tell but I’ve already told you way more than you probably wanted to read anyway. I didn’t even get into how amazing and great all the other participants were. I feel like I’m part of a unique new tribe of people just as crazy as I am. I am honored to have gotten the chance to run with you all. Congrats to Shane McKay on being the winner and only one to ‘complete’ the Survival Run, to Steff for 3rd place overall in the ultra event, to Shawn for placing 3rd in the Survival Run, to Tom of Luna Sandals for placing 2nd in the Men’s division in the ultra, to Tyler and Gabi on getting their first bow drill fires, to Corinne for being a badass, to Christian for finishing the Survival Run in possibly the most unique Luna sandals ever made, and to all the other runners! There are too many great accomplishments to name them all. Thanks to Josue, Zac, Brad, Amanda, Sam Coffman, and all the volunteers for rocking it and putting on a great event. Well done!

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See you in Nica,

Scott

Hunter Gatherer Training Video

Wildness has always intrigued me. I love learning about and practicing some of the skills that humans have used to survive for hundreds of thousands (or millions) of years. I love trying to connect with what it means to be a wild human animal. Which is one of the reasons I am so excited about participating in the first Hunter Gatherer Survival Run in Texas on October 5th, 2013. This race is a 100 kilometer(or 50k option) primitive skills themed survival run. It is, as far as I know, the first race of it’s kind. It mixes the worlds of ultra running, obstacle racing, natural movement, survival training, and primitive skills. As an ultra runner and primitive skills enthusiast this event calls to me strongly. To say that it is going to be challenging is a gross understatement. I have no expectations other than to train hard, give it 100%, and to have no regrets.

I made a video of my training after Josue, the HG Race Director, posted on facebook asking  for submissions for personal training videos. I love working on cinematography and am always  looking for new projects so I was excited to have one to do. I also made the song in the video. Music production is another hobby I’m picking up but I haven’t named the song or my music project yet. Someday.

Here’s the video. I hope you enjoy it.

Born To Run Ultras 2013

Majestic Oak trees were scattered across the rolling hills of dry grass around us. The marine layer was burning off and the morning sun was greeting us as we finished breakfast and lounged around camp. After some frisbee, a game of whiffle ball developed quickly as more people wanted to join the fun. There were no rules or teams, or maybe the rules and teams were made up and changed for each individual at every new moment of the game. Sometimes first base was at the porta-potties, sometimes there were no bases, sometimes you could throw the ball at someone to get them out, sometimes you could bat 5 times in a row, sometimes it turned into tag, and sometimes you had someone blowing bubbles behind you while you bat. We all were smiling, running around, and deeply engulfed in one of the best sessions of full on child-like play I have been in in a long time. It felt good. The game went on for hours. I couldn’t imagine a better way to kick off what was to be an amazing weekend of play, running, partying, and all kinds of shennanigans at the 2013 Born to Run Ultras.

Born To Run Ultras 2013
Born To Run Ultras 2013
Born To Run Ultras 2013
Born To Run Ultras 2013
Born To Run Ultras 2013

The Born to Run Ultras are put on by the one and only Luis Escobar; Mas Loco, ultra-runner, and photographer extrordinaire. Located in Santa Barbara County, California, the BTR Ultras are among beautiful rolling grassy hills on a 4000 (?) acre private ranch. Participants are encouraged to camp on the ranch right at the starting line for the entire weekend of festivities including races of distances of 10 miles, 50k, 100k, and 100 miles. There was also Tarahumara style bola races, an unofficial beer mile, live music, a giant bonfire, blasting mariachi, delicious food, and much more. The course was basically a figure-8 of two different ten mile loops. After each loop every runner would be coming through camp and the start.

After whiffle ball on friday morning I began setting up the Luna Sandals booth where I would be selling Lunas. More and more people were arriving throughout the day. The first (unofficial) event of the day was the Beer Mile at 4pm hosted by Luna-tic, and beer mile champ, Patrick Sweeney. A beer mile consists of running a mile and drinking 4 beers. Drink a beer, run a quarter mile, and repeat until a mile and 4 beers are complete. People were excited for the beer mile. They gathered their beer (or root beer for a few) and lined up at the starting line of the quarter mile out and back as Sweeney explained the rules. Luis started the race with the shotgun. Patrick was first out of the gates. I sat out and took pictures and cheered on the runners. At this point I was noticing there was a lot of people in Lunas. It was really exciting for me to see so many people in them. The beer mile was fun to witness and looked like a blast for the participants unless you were one of the unlucky to puke on the course and have to run an extra quarter mile. Sweeney, of course, came out the winner.

Born To Run Ultras 2013
Born To Run Ultras 2013
Born To Run Ultras 2013 Born To Run Ultras 2013
Born To Run Ultras 2013

After the beer mile was the Tarahumara style Bola races. Luis brought wooden balls from the Copper Canyons. It would be 10 or so heats of 5 participants racing a quarter mile-ish each kicking a wooden ball. Luna was donating a pair of sandals to the winner of each heat and all the proceeds (10$ each runner) went directly to Norawas, the non-profit that benefits the Tarahumara. Since Luna was sponsoring the Bola races I was handing out gift certificates to the winners and starting each heat with the shotgun. For me shooting the shotgun for each heat was just as fun as participating. Mariachi music blarred from the speakers, people raced, and people cheered. It was a great time.

Mas Loco Lunatics! Kelly, Sally, Lola, Mike, me, Patrick M., Caleb, Guadajuko, Maria, Luis, Sweeney, Shawn, Steph.

Mas Loco Lunatics! Kelly, Sally, Lola, Mike, me, Patrick M., Caleb, Guadajuko, Maria, Luis, Sweeney, Shawn, Steph.

Luna Booth

After the Bola Races people hung around the camp and bonfire. A couple live bands played on the stage. People were dancing and hoola-hooping into the night. I manned the Luna Booth, sold some sandals, and met some great people. The night ended early so that we all could get up early the next morning for the start of the race.

At 4:15 am our wake up call was 5 shotgun blasts followed by loud Mariachi music filling the dark campground. The race had sold out for a total of 450 people signed up to run that day. People lined up at the start, Luis made some course announcements, and I had the shotgun ready to start the race.

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3. 2. 1… Bang! We were off. I handed Luis the shotgun, grabbed my water bottle and was off running down the dirt road in the crowd of runners. The course is a mix of dirt roads, two track, and some single track. It is a relatively easy course with about 1100 feet of elevation gain per 10 mile loop and not too technical. It is a very runnable course. I was running the 50k and I was excited to push my limits a bit at that distance.

Gregorio, Sweeney, and Tyler killing it. Congrats guys!

Luna tribe’s Gregorio, Sweeney, and Tyler killing it. Congrats guys!

I ran with so many friends, old and new. The Luna Tribe was strong and in full force. So many people were wearing Lunas out there. I felt so honored and special to be part of such a great group of people. As well as the usual suspects of Mas Loco Luna-tics and others, there was also a lot of Luna-tics who have been customers and supporters for a long time that I finally got to meet in person. It was exciting. I’m am so grateful for all you!

The miles flew by as the sun slowly rose above the horizon. The course was beautiful. On the second loop there is an awesome section of single track atop a long ridge with great views all around. I was feeling really good. Towards the end of the second loop my hamstrings started to get a little crampy for whatever reason. I made sure to eat some salt and drink water but my legs stayed crampy off and on through the race. But it wasn’t bad and I felt very strong otherwise. By the third loop the sun was getting higher and it was starting to get hot. It probably hit about 90 degrees. In the last 2 or 3 miles there is a big gradual downhill so I let it loose and ran my fastest miles of the race. I came through the start/finish at mile 30 and just had a 1/2 mile out and back to be done. I ran it in and got my amulet finishers necklace made by Hawaiian ultra runner AcaBill. I crossed the finish line in 5 hours and 35 minutes which was my new personal record by a long shot. I was very happy with that. I was finally feeling like I could push my pace at  the 50k and 50 mile distances instead of just trying to survive. It felt good to be noticing progress.

Greg, Me, Tracy, Bryan, and Sweeney. Post race.

Greg, Me, Tracy, Bryan, and Sweeney. Post race.

I was curious to see how others did and were doing. It turned out that Patrick Sweeney won the 50k again in 3 hours and 49 minutes. Team Luna runner Gregorio Ponce placed 2nd in the 10 miler in 1 hour even. Congrats guys! That made Pat the triple crown winner; he won the beer mile, his heat of the bola races, and the 50k. We grabbed some food and lounged around cheering on all the runners as they came through. That evening was a fun evening of hanging by the bonfire, watching Anthony shoot the pinata with the shotgun, push up acrobatics, human pyramids, and watching all the runners come through. I really wanted to stay up and watch all the runners come in but got tired and went to sleep. I was bummed I missed Tyler coming into the finish for his first 100 mile finish in 23 and half hours! Congrats Tyler, you’re a beast. James Bonnet ended up winning the 100 miler in 15 hours and some change and took home the surf board prize. Congrats to Jess on the 100k and to Dawn Marie on her first ultra. Congrats to Jim on his first 100 miler and so many others that ran strong and had fun.

Luna tribe. I love you guys.

Luna tribe. I love you guys.

What really makes this event special is the great community of people involved. I came away from the weekend feeling like I had just participated in something very special and unique. The feeling and vibe at the event really only reminds me of the vibe of one other event I’ve been a part of and that is the Caballo Blanco Ultramarathon. It is hard to describe the vibe of these two events. I’m not going to try anymore here. Go do them, you won’t regret it.

Thank you everyone involved!!! Thanks to all the Lunatics out there for your support. Thanks to Sweeney for driving and letting me stay at your house. Thanks to all the volunteers and wonderful people cooking those delicious burritos. Congratulations Luis on putting on such an amazing event! I will definitely be back next year!

Josue’s Gym

My friend Josue took me and Tom to one of his favorite training spots in Austin, TX. His training method is an awesome blend of natural movement; wilderness parkour, running, bouldering, climbing, and strength/endurance training with natural objects. You can call it whatever you want but there is no doubt that it is one of the funnest workouts I can imagine. I decided at the last minute to try to film some of this. I wasn’t really prepared and we didn’t have much time so I didn’t get the kind of quality filming I would have liked to, but this is what I got. Enjoy!

Josue’s Gym from Luna Sandals on Vimeo.

I also made the music for this video. I realized it is actually kind of hard to find good music to use in videos that is legal, reasonably priced, or not owned by huge record labels. So I decided I would make my own music. This is the first electronic song I’ve made and I’m working on several others now since making this one. It is really fun. I’ve been a musician…  that sounds wrong… I’ve played the guitar since junior high and have played in a couple bands and messed around with some other instruments. I was expecting the beginners learning curve for electronic music software to be much harder than it was. I have been working on learning the piano/keyboard for the past couple years so that was super helpful. I can’t wait to finish some more songs! Now, if only I could sing…

The Bear 100: A 100 mile vision quest in Luna Sandals

I sat slumped over in a camp chair by the fire. It was dark and cold in those mountains in the wee hours of the night. I was tired, delirious, and defeated. I was at mile 68 of the Bear 100. As we neared the aid station I told Sweeney, my pacer, that I was done, that I was dropping out at this aid station. When I told him tears welled up in my eyes at the verbal admission of defeat. I was glad that the darkness hid my face. I held it in and tried not to cry.  I wasn’t ashamed to cry but I didn’t want to completely fall apart out there and I was on the verge of falling apart. I sat there trying to make excuses in my head, trying to justify my decision. I  laid my head down in my lap and dozed off for a few minutes…

The Bear 100 is a 100 mile point to point trail race in the Wasatch mountains of Utah and a little bit of Idaho. It has 22,000 feet of elevation gain and is 70% single track, 30% dirt road.  I chose the Bear as my first 100 because I love the Wasatch Mountains, I grew up there, and that its point to point, mostly single track, has a lot of climbing, and would be really tough. And because of all that it was an appealing and exciting event for me. Plenty of other 100′s would have been easier for my first 100 but none excited me as much as this one. When I told Shawn I was thinking about signing up for the Bear it seemed like a joke. It seemed a little too crazy. But the more I looked at it the more I rationalized it and I signed up. I’m so glad Shawn was crazy enough to sign up too. He always is.

elevation profile

A week before the race I flew out to Utah and spent a few days acclimatizing in the canyons and mountains of southern Utah. We gathered pine nuts, made primitive pottery, and went on some hikes. (More on that in a later report.) Once back in Salt Lake I picked up Patrick Sweeney from the airport and the usual crew started assembling. We stayed with our good friends Shawn and Stephanie. The day before the race we drove to Logan, Utah, checked into our hotel and drove out to the mountains to check out some of the course.

The Three Amigos

Sweeney, Me, and Shawn.

The fall colors were in full effect. It was so beautiful. The aspens and oaks were bright red, orange, and yellow. It was pretty unimaginable to think that I would be trying to run 100 miles the next day but the gorgeous mountains got me excited. I had been nervous all week. Not too nervous consciously but subconsciously I think I was. I hadn’t been sleeping well the whole time in Utah.

I had done most of my physical training for the Bear in the Cascades of Washington.(training video) Mentally I had been visualizing the course and my run for weeks or months. Visualizing is an essential part of getting mentally prepared for me. I imagine different sections of the course, what the weather could feel like, how fast I might be moving, how I could be feeling, and I try to visualize myself moving light, smooth, and effortlessly through the mountains. I try to visualize my realistic goal pace. For the Bear I really just wanted to finish but I would have also really liked to finish in under 30 hours too. And so I visualized myself on pace for a 29:00 hour finish, floating up the mountains in the dark,  or coasting down the hills in the aspens. But as hard as I tried to visualize the night and second day were pretty hard to imagine.

That night the entire crew assembled for dinner. Me and Shawn would be running the next day and our absolutely amazing crew was Sweeney, Steph, Eric, Izzy, Rebecca, Conner, Jesse, Melodie and Jackie. We ate Thai food that night though it probably wasn’t the best choice for the night before the race, but what is? I couldn’t think of anything better. We scrambled to get our things together and our crew instructed that night and got to bed by about 10:00-10:30. I didn’t sleep great but I didn’t expect to so it was fine. We woke up at 4:30 and were off to the start. It wasn’t as cold as I was expecting in the dark morning. I was so glad the weather was forecasted to be sunny and clear. Here we are just before the race:

I would be testing a new unreleased trail Luna model called The Oso. Which means ‘the Bear’ in spanish. I had been training in them for the last couple months and thought it would be the ultimate final test to test ‘The Bear’ at The Bear.

In the dark morning 250 or so runners embarked on a 100 mile journey. After a quarter mile through a sleepy neighborhood we were on single track climbing up the first big mountain. Shawn and I ran together in the dark chatting about who knows what. Excitement was in the air and time and distance flew by. Before we knew it we were at the top of the first climb, about 4000 feet of elevation gain, just in time for the sunrise. It was so invigorating and beautiful. This picture doesn’t even come close to doing it justice but gives you an idea. That’s Logan, where we started, down in the valley.

With the first big climb done and now in the beautiful morning light Shawn and I were anxious to pick up the pace. We sailed down the mountains in the red oaks and golden aspens. We were still chatting and time was flying. Before we knew it we were at the mile 20 aid station and the first station were we would see our crew. I felt super fresh and we were 30 min ahead of the 29:00 finish pace I had figured out. We grabbed some snacks and water and excitedly gushed to our friends about how awesome it was so far.

We left the aid station and had just a short 3 mile stretch to the next aid station at mile 23. We didn’t really stop there and pushed onward into the next big climb. It was heating up and of course we were slowing down. The mountains were still beautiful though. Somewhere around mile 28 I started to not feel very good. I was getting a little nauseous and having a hard time eating. At the 30 mile aid station I ate a little and used the bathroom. But still felt sick. By the time I got to the aid station at mile 36 I was feeling really sick and out of it. The crew said I was acting drunk. Part of me was still having a great time and another was miserable.

I was getting really nervous. To say “64 more miles seemed like a long ways” is an understatement. My crew took great care of me. They were so good to me. I changed socks, got a foot massage, and ate some food. It felt very weird to have a bunch of people feeding me and massaging me and pampering me. Thanks guys! After a long rest I finally got up and back on the trail. I still felt sick but I was moving forward. We climbed more. We climbed a lot. Shawn moved on ahead of me with Conner pacing him. At this point my focus became just to make it to the next aid station. Finishing was a pipe dream. I tried hard to eat, take salt, and drink water. I reached the mile 45 aid station pretty sick and tired. But my crew was now getting their groove with this whole crewing thing. I just sat there and probably mumbled incoherently as they prepped me and fed me. And somehow I was ready to get back on the trail after another long break. Through all this I was having all kinds of highs and lows emotionally and physically.

The sun was setting as we embarked on another big climb. 3000 feet of gain. I was still climbing well. On this stretch I picked up my first pacer; the wonderful Isabelle. We chatted and the climb was very pleasant. Beautiful color in the golden hour light. But the light left and we entered the darkness again. We dawned headlamps and moved forward. Still all I could imagine doing was just getting to the next aid station. With the temps having gone down my stomach started feeling a little better but the toll of not eating well and being sick and running 50 miles was still a giant load. We rolled into the 51 mile aid station at Tony Grove. I was getting even more nervous. I didn’t feel like I could even make it to the next aid station let alone finish. My spirits were pretty low but my crew beat some life into me with massages and warm food and magic.

My brain was definitely not functioning properly. I felt drunk. I sat for a long time not wanting to think about going forward. I had caught up to Shawn at this point and he was struggling here as well. I put on some warm layers and Sweeney got me up and we headed into the night. Onward. Sweeney would be my pacer for the next 25 miles. I was seeing a pattern here. I leave an aid station feeling pretty good for 2-3 miles then suffer for 3-4 miles then get to another aid station and need a long pit stop to recharge. Somewhere on this stretch my bowels started to give me trouble. I had to venture out into the woods to take care of business every half hour. That was not fun. Especially after running out of wet wipes and having to use pine cones and rocks which did not feel good on my cheeks that were already pretty raw and rashy from running 55-60 miles. I know, that is probably TMI but that is all apart of ultras. I had been lubing my cheeks with vasoline since mile 36. Sweeney kept me going well. I trudged along. On top of being tired, sleep deprived, and sore, my bowel troubles seemed to be the straw that was breaking the camels back.

…In the wee hours of the night I decided I couldn’t go anymore. I finally reached the mile 68 aid station and was set on dropping out. I rested my head and dozed off for a few minutes by the fire. This aid station was not crew accessible. Otherwise things might have been very different. I sat by the fire and listened to a woman who had hit her head, may have had a concussion, seemed way more out of it than me and she was debating whether or not to drop out. Another guy was sitting by the fire who was dropping out. As I sat there I realized I was in better shape than they were. Also, a big factor was that I didn’t want to have to ask a stranger for a ride at 4am to go find my crew who were at the next aid station waiting for me. (no cell service up there.) That seemed so embarrassing. I just wanted to lay down. But to lay down without freezing to death meant I needed to get to my crew. So I thought, what the hell, I guess I’ll just go the 7 miles to the next aid station and my crew and drop out there. That whole time Sweeney was very encouraging. It was so hard to leave that fire and get back out there.

So I got up from that warm fire and we entered the darkness again. I didn’t have much pep in my step at this point because I was in the mindset of dropping out at the next aid station. Sweeney would coax me into running runnable sections and I would think ‘why run if I’m just dropping out’. And if you didn’t know, mountain hundred milers are a lot of hiking. As time went on Sweeney and I were joking and having some good conversation that was surely of the bizarre sleep deprived drunk kind. Sweeney found me a hiking stick and we named it Poley Moses. And then it started to get light. A little bit at a time. It was so gorgeous in those mountains. It hit me that this was the second sunrise I was seeing since I had started the journey over 24 hours previous. That seemed so powerful to me. I had gone over 70 miles through the mountains. And with the dim pre-dawn light came a hint of hope. As it got lighter I realized I was feeling better. It was crazy. The new morning was a new day and my body was ready to start over. By the time we got to the Beaver Lodge aid station at mile 75 I was beaming inside. I had gained hope of actually finishing and I was feeling better than I had since mile 20. This was a true miracle. A miracle of the body and mind that I am so grateful for. I had no idea that bodies in general, let alone my broken body, were capable of that kind of recovery on the go. Thinking about that sunrise and breaking through that wall and the experience of that morning makes the emotions well up inside my chest. Thanks for getting me through the night Sweeney.

At Beaver Lodge I used a real bathroom, got cleaned up, fueled up, and picked up my next pacer Jesse. Who had only been running a few months but had recently ran his first race which was a 3:30 mountain marathon for 8th place. He was definitely Eric’s brother.  They are both insanely talented runners. I would have to pick up the pace a lot if I wanted to make the cutoff. Shawn was 30-40 min. ahead of me. Jesse and I left the lodge and logged some fast miles. I was feeling great. My legs and feet were of course sore but overall I was determined and excited. I was cruising the uphills passing people and then they would pass me on the down hill as I gently pitter pattered down. I didn’t have the agility to dance down the rocks anymore so I had to go pretty slow down hill.

Another thing I was experiencing by that point was hallucinations. They weren’t crazy trippy hallucinations but I was definitely seeing things once in a while that weren’t there. Mostly I would look up and think that I saw an aid station tent in the trees and think ‘oh awesome, I’m already to the aid station.’ Then I would look up again and it would be gone. Once I thought I saw Steph on the side of the trail. I thought I was seeing cabins in the woods. At the time it seemed completely normal. It didn’t even register that I was hallucinating until later. At the time I would just think ‘dammit, where did that aid station go.’

Jesse and I cruised through the mountains. The aid station stops were short and sweet. The day warmed up again and I was so excited to be feeling great. When I hit the Beaver Creek Campground aid station at mile 85 my crew was so excited for me because I was coming in faster than they expected and Shawn had just left right before I got there. I still felt the urgency of making the cut-off so we didn’t dawdle and were out of there quick. After climbing some more mountains and moving at a determined optimistic pace we made it to the last aid station; Ranger Dip at mile 92. Just as I was coming up to the aid station my crew was cheering for me from a hundred yards away. Shawn was getting ready to leave. I hadn’t seen him since the previous night at mile 50 or 60 something. It was so good to see him. Everyone was so excited. I felt so happy and proud. After all we had been through we both new at that point that there was no way we weren’t going to finish.

I enjoyed my last quick round of massages and pampering and was back on the trail. Everyone was all smiles.

Bear 100

Immediately out of Ranger Dip is the steepest hill of the course. It was just about going straight up the mountain. At the top we were above 9000′ feet and that was the last climb of the course.  All I had left was a 4000 foot descent in six miles. I would have loved to cruise the downhill but my legs just weren’t up for it. There was some rolling portions through the aspens that I was running but a good bit of the downhill was too steep and rocky for me to run. So I slowly made my way down. Bear Lake sprawled across the valley below with the tiny town of Fish Haven hugging the lake at the bottom of the mountain. It was steep rocky and dusty and just when you think you are getting to a smooth road of Fish Haven, Idaho the trail turns and goes up another little hill. But the smooth road came and I started trotting. As I got closer I got more excited and ran faster. I crossed the main highway and turned into the final stretch of driveway to cheers and the finish.

Crossing the finish line felt so good. I hugged Shawn and the rest of my crew, sat down, and ate some food. We did it. I couldn’t have done it without my crew. Thanks everyone! My official time was 34:51.  I got the Black Bear belt buckle. I’m proud to have my first 100 mile buckle.

Running 100 miles felt like a vision quest. It altered my mind and destroyed my concepts of my boundaries and limits. It changed me and the experience was stuck in my brain for days afterwards. A week after the race Shawn sent me a message that he couldn’t stop thinking about the Bear. I felt exactly the same way. The experience was just so powerful, it wouldn’t leave me. I have never experienced something like that before. Thinking about that second sunrise with the shining golden aspens and my body and mind magically recovering blows me away. There are all kinds of interesting aspects of running 100. Our friend Andrew Labbe mentioned that you get a lifetime of varied emotions compressed into 30 hours. Others say running 100 is like running three 50′s. But for me it was just so different I can’t even compare it to a 50. Several times during the race I experienced ‘breaking through walls’. Which I had hit walls in previous races but nothing like at the Bear. I’m excited to run another 100. At this point I think I may be addicted to running. : )

‘The Oso’ Lunas held up and performed amazingly. They were enough rock protection, great traction, very secure, and comfortable. I didn’t get any blisters or bruises. I love that about Lunas. Though after the race I did notice that the tip of my left big toe was numb. but no big deal, you can’t expect to walk away completely unscathed after 100 miles. I was sore for a couple days but not as bad as I expected. I was capable of running a few days later.

I’m already scheming and planning for my next runs and races. I will definitely be going back down to the canyons for the Caballo Blanco (Copper Canyon) Ultramarathon in 2013.

And, as always, there is a ton more I could talk about but that is it for now.

Thanks to everyone! Shawn congrats and thank you! Thanks to Sweeney, Steph, Rebecca, Conner, Eric, Jesse, Melody, and Jackie. You all are the best crew and friends. Thanks to the Luna crew at the shop. Thanks Leland and all of the volunteers at the Bear. It was a great event! And again, thanks to the wilderness and its beautiful existence.

Until the next adventure.

Alpine Lakes Wilderness

This summer I felt like I can finally call myself a mountain runner. I have spent as much time as I can up in the Cascades running as deep and far as I could get in a day. As well as running in the mountains in Utah. Here is a video I made for Luna of me running in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and below I continue with my exploration.

Run and Play: The Alpine Lakes Wilderness from Luna Sandals on Vimeo.

 

I sat on a big flat rock overlooking a small deep green lake tucked away in the backcountry of the Cascades. A slight breeze stirred the Hemlock and Fir trees causing the occasional creak and groan. It was silent otherwise. The trailhead parking lot,  eleven miles away, was overflowing with cars yet I hadn’t seen a single person in the last 4 or 5 miles. Spiderwebs crossed the trail indicating I was probably the only person to come to this lake in the last few days. The deeper you get into the wilderness the more real, vibrant,  and magical it becomes. There is something that can be felt, and it gets stronger the further you are from the life cords of civilization. Especially when you are alone. I love that sensation of diving deep into the depths, holding my breath, and trying to take in as much new experiences as I can before I have to go back to the surface for air. What new creatures and plants will I find? What challenges will I face and how will I learn to solve them without our modern safety net? It feels so refreshing.

The wilderness draws us in. Its undeniable. It’s immediacy, simplicity, and beauty are very appealing. When in the wilderness your mind, body, and senses are usually engaged in the tasks at hand and experiencing an environment that is completely out of your control. When it rains you have to keep yourself dry or be prepared to deal with the consequences of being wet. It helps keep you present and being present is a healthy state of mind, especially in a culture that often lives for the weekend, vacation, retirement, etc.

Anyway, I’ve been really enjoying these long solo runs in the Cascades. The Cascades are beautiful this time of year. The window for snow-free access is not very long so when it is here I feel like I have to take advantage of it and get out there. See you in the mountains.