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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year, New Balance

Happy New Year! The commencement of 2014 brings some exciting developments and adventures in my life. My family is preparing to welcome "Oh Yeah Baby," the name my daughter Jude has given her little sister who arrives in March. I am excited to have joined the New Balance outdoor ambassador team. February 15th marks my return to racing after a 16 month hiatus from competition. And 2014 will be my fifteenth year teaching middle schoolers. All this means I have to find that evasive balance that will afford success in each of these spheres. What more important area to begin with than family?

Molly and Jude zipping down in the orange toboggan!
Family! The most important people in my life, the biggest supporters of my running habit, are my family. Every member of my family has contributed to my running success, from the unending support of my parents to the vociferous cheers of my siblings; but it is my girls, Molly and Jude, who tolerate the many hours I spend in mountains, endure my incessant whining about aches and pains and smile at me when I geek out about running. This spring we are adding another little girl to our family! I feel so fortunate to be building an amazing family, and while this new addition will impact the time I have to train, the joy she will bring will far outweigh any inconvenience in my training schedule. My trusty treadmill and new head lamp will help me find the time to run, regardless of the hour. My family's willingness to help me be the best runner I can is amazing!

Jude helping me limber up

Criss-cross applesauce
New Balance! Another huge support for 2014 will come from New Balance. I have the honor of joining the New Balance  Outdoor  Ambassador Team for the upcoming season. After years of running unattached, I have already embraced the support that New Balance has extended. I look forward to joining a very talented group of runners sponsored by an outstanding company. I have been wearing their 1210's (Leadville's) for the better part of the past year and I love them. They are an amazing ultra shoe. The quiver of other models New Balance has to experiment with and choose from excites me. I want to thank, in particular, Monica Morant for making this relationship happen and the New Balance team for giving me this opportunity. You can bet I'll be sporting the Leadville's at the Leadville 100 in August. Thanks NB!

Casey Weaver heading up Midnight Mine Rd.
Training Again! The final month of 2013 was a surprisingly good month of training for me. In my last post, I bemoaned the trials of training in Basalt, CO during the dark, cold, snowy days of December. While there were certainly trying days that made it difficult to motivate, there were also some quintessential bluebird Colorado days. Additionally, I had a breakthrough on the treadmill that I owe to Matt Carpenter. I have traditionally loathed treadmill miles more than any other type of training I have done. However, upon reading an interview of Matt's where he described his own treadmill training, I discovered a way to make the treadmill more palatable: intervals! I have always used the treadmill on my easy days, often attempting to watch TV as a distraction to no avail. In his interview Matt said he only did interval workouts on his treadmill. I tried it and found minutes and miles zipped by with greater ease than just mellow aerobic running. This realization has already proved invaluable to my training.  Below are some shots of a few great December runs that reflect the best of what the Elks have to offer in the winter months.
Richmond Ridge - Top of Aspen Mt.

Jeason Murphy on Prince Creek Rd. - Mt. Sopris looming in the background
Runner's Set! The second race of my ultra career was the 2008 Moab Red Hot 55K. To say it did not go well would be a gross understatement. A better way to describe it would be, "the worst race of my life!" So it is with great anticipation that I return to this race six years later, seeking a little redemption. Red Hot marks the start of my 2014 season and it should be a blast. Many friends and ultra enthusiasts will be at the race and I look forward to the run. Last year I stepped away from racing for the entire season in an attempt to keep the priorities of my life- family, work, running, in that order. While my return to racing fills me with excitement, I imagine my results will benefit from keeping my priorities in that order. Cheers to stellar 2014!!!

Motivation for this year's race!

2008 Moab Red Hot 50Km 

                                PLACE NAME HOME TOWN Age TIME 
                                ===== ====================== ================== === = ===========
                                1 Kyle Skaggs Glenwood, NM 23 M 04:03:02.54 
                                2 Tony Krupicka Colorado Springs, 24 M 04:03:03.26 
                                3 Justin Ricks Pueblo West, CO 28 M 04:04:57.18 
                                4 Duncan Callahan Gunnison, CO 25 M 04:13:56.08 
                                5 Johannes Rudolph Boulder, CO 42 M 04:22:28.69 
                                6 Ian Torrence Ashland, OR 35 M 04:24:39.72 
                                7 Karl Meltzer Sandy, UT 40 M 04:25:59.69 
                                8 Susanna Beck Eugene, OR 39 F 04:28:21.81 
                                9 Scott Jaime Highlands Ranch, C 38 M 04:30:00.11 
                                10 Anita Ortiz Eagle, CO 43 F 04:34:30.93 
                                38 Zeke Tiernan Aspen, CO 32 M 05:37:36.07 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Lessons from the Italian Stalion

Of all the Rocky movies, none so captured my competitive emotions as Rocky IV. Upon its release in 1986, I was an impressionable eleven year old, the perfect age to dream big. I would venture to my snowy backyard and trounce up hills carrying logs and rocks, emulating Rocky's rustic training methods. The classic film pits the past-his-prime Balboa against the formidable and menacing specimen of human power and fitness, Ivan Drago, a young Russian fighting machine. While the youthful Drago has access to state-of-the-art training facilities and tools, and he is attended to by a cadre of sports scientists as he trains for the international throw-down, the aging Rocky secludes himself somewhere in the Siberian hinterland, training only with the tools of a frontier man. Rocky conditions himself for the fight by chopping wood and charging up snowy peaks. In the end, the old guy with the primitive training equipment wins.

I recently returned from a Thanksgiving holiday in the Bay Area, where I had the pleasure of sharing some enjoyable miles in the Marin Headlands with my friend Dylan Bowman. Cruising the buff trails, while taking in the brilliant views of the Pacific coast in shorts and a t-shirt, was not only luxurious, but it also enabled me to run fast, something I have been struggling to do in the current conditions at my home in the Colorado mountains. The onset of the truncated, dark, snowy and downright cold days of December upon returning to CO strangely reminded me of my boyhood fascination with Rocky IV. Somehow, if I imagine myself as a running Rocky, it helps entice me out the door into the wintery evenings. I liken my powdery slogs in knee deep snow to Balboa's triumphant climb up his own snow capped peak.

Prior to my trip to CA, I had recently allowed the idea that I was starting to regain some real fitness to slip back into my mind. Chasing my friend up the hills surrounding Mill Valley caused my to reevaluate that notion. I supplanted the idea that I was gaining traction with the idea that training in the central Rockies was a disadvantage. I thought, "How can I compete with runners who train in places where running fast is always an option? If I spend my winter slowly slogging through snow and ice, frequently in darkness, how will I have to ability to generate the leg speed to run among the elite?" It was in this moment of self doubt that I remembered what "The Champ" had taught me long before I started running: There is a silver lining in training under less than ideal conditions. It hardens you!

There must be some training benefit to slip-sliding at 20 minute mile pace on a moderate grade hill. Something is surely gained when I force myself to run in the frigid sub zero temps and blustering snow. Perhaps that something is mental resolve, a vital asset to employ at mile 86 of a tough hundred. Certainly, living at sea level in a hospitable climate, and training on runnable trails would benefit my neuromuscular system more than running in the winter conditions of the Elks. Knowing that, it is essential to my confidence that I see some benefit in training at the pedestrian pace forced upon me by the icy paths of the Colorado winter. Rocky's defeat of his menacing Soviet adversary, after training under spartan conditions, inspires the hope and optimism in me that helps me lace up to stride into the wintery nights. Here's to hoping that Hollywood doesn't lie!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

My White Whale

Call me Ezekiel. Some years ago - six years ago precisely - having little ultra experience, yet nothing particular to interest me in the traditional running scene, I thought I would make an attempt at the Leadville 100. It seemed like a way of driving away unhealthy habits and improving my circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mind, drizzly November in my soul, whenever I find myself infused with gloom, and losing sight of my true values, and especially whenever my demons get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from falling into unrecoverable funk, and methodically self sabotaging - then, I account it high time to run as soon as I can.  This is my substitute for dour self pity. With a philosophical flourish I throw my melancholy on the sword; I quietly take to the trails. If they knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, could cherish nearly the same feelings towards ultra running with me. (Sound familiar? This is an ultra  runner's take on Melville's classic opening paragraph)

Ahab had Moby Dick. I have Leadville. Leadville is my white whale, and while it has been the source of immense happiness and success for me, it has also become a great obsession. Therefore, just as Ishmael set sail for his epic journey, I now embark on my personal voyage of 266 days. After a 14 month hiatus from dedicated training and racing, I have now taken to real training in preparation for my return to competitive running in 2014. After a year of going, "out to pasture," as my college coach used to call unstructured running, I feel rejuvenated and hungry to compete. My year off was highly satisfying and thoroughly enjoyable, but I can't ignore my desire to toe the line; therefore, the upcoming season excites me!

My road to my fourth running of Pb begins just 84 days from the writing of this post, in Moab, UT, at the Red Hot 50K. I will be looking to bust out the rust, bang heads with some super talented athletes and gain redemption. Red Hot was the scene of what I would consider the worst race of my life. After chasing Kyle Skaggs and Tony K in the early going of the race, I suffered a blow-up of epic proportions. I was fortunate just to finish. I plan to be in far better fitness for this attempt.

Following Moab, by far the most exciting and meaningful event of my journey through 2014 will occur; the birth of the newest member of team Tiernan! Saint Paddy's day will take on new and far greater significance for my family as we welcome a new little girl into our home. I feel so incredibly fortunate that my wife supports my crazy running habit, especially with a fourth member of the family arriving. One of my favorite parts of racing ultras is the emotional boost I receive when I see my wife and daughter at aid stations, and I can't wait to have a new little person to cheer me on when I roll up through Twin Lakes in mid August.

May will find me on the Colorado front range running the Quad Rock 50. In March of 2012 Ryan Burch was gracious enough to let me crash at his pad and he and Nick Clark took me on a tour of Horsetooth and Lory state parks where Quad Rock is run. The terrain was great and the company was even better. I look forward to this effort, as I am sure that Nick puts on a fantastic race.

Ironically, just this morning I received an enticing invitation to a late June race in Silverton, CO, which could be the perfect event to fill out my summer race calendar. Having spent a few days watching the Hardrock 100 in 2012, I too caught the San Juan bug that has infected so many mountain ultra runners. The Sliverton Double Dirty Thirty, a new event for 2014, sounds like a hoot of a time and I will likely make the start list.

My July effort will be a virtual sprint for an ultra guy like me, but I hope to channel my inner Kenyan and put forth a solid effort in a local 14 mile race, the Mt. Sopris Runoff. However, this is no ordinary 14 miler; it will be the stage of the next running of the Tiernan Cup. The Tiernan Cup is a brotherly battle between my brother Alex and me. He is one of my favorite people in the world and the greatest pacer on the planet, but when we race, it's fiercely competitive! The standard distance for the Tiernan Cup has been 5k, but since I haven't held the cup in many years, I finally convinced my brother to run a longer race. Being 12 years his elder, keeping up with him has proved impossible, but maybe the extra 11 miles will play into my strengths. Oh, how I wish to drink from that coveted cup!

August in my main event, Leadville. Five years ago I ran the iconic 100 and managed to sneak onto the podium. Since then I have garnered a pair of runner-up finishes. The race has a grip on my soul, mostly because of the outpouring of love I get from my hometown fans, but also because, deep down, I harbor the hope of taking home the massive ore car awarded to each year's champion. Winning Leadville will not alter my life, nor will having a poor performance, but I would be remiss if I said I do not dream of being the first to break the tape. Leadville is my white whale, but I hope I don't suffer the same fate as Captain Ahab!    


Saturday, September 21, 2013

Summer Runnin'...Had Me A Blast!

Mt. Sopris

A year ago I pledged,  "I will not: run any races, wear a watch, keep any kind of running log, or plan any workouts.  However, I will: jump lots of sagebrush, splash in many a stream, glissade as much as possible, and only run when I feel like it. I want to run for running's sake." Since the year has expired, I feel compelled to reflect upon the how well I adhered to my intentions and what the results were. Looking back I can honestly say this was the greatest summer of running I have ever had. Without the obligation to race, there were no tapers or recoveries, I could run freely, and I did! I shared many a mile with a cadre of fellow ulta hounds and saw amazing country. It was a special summer, spent enjoying the Elks with some stellar people. Below is a highlight reel of a few runs I took this summer.

"Uncle Al" on The Woody Creek Trail

Woody Creek Trail - I kicked off the summer with a retracing of one of my first ever long runs as an ultra runner, the Woody Creek Trail. I shared an early season venture into higher country with my brother Alex Tiernan, Megan Lizotte, and Travis Baptiste. Not to be thwarted by the large stores of late snow, we post holed our way to the southern exposure of the highest ridge before descending into the beautiful Hunter Creek Valley. This seldom used trail is a blast to run!

Joseph enjoying the views of Hay Park 
Hay Park Trail - For the last two years I have joined Joseph King in running from his house up Capital Creek to Carbondale, via the Hay Park Trail. It's a net downhill run with spectacular views, both great reasons to run this route! Only minutes from my house, running this trail reminds me how fortunate I am to live in the Elk Mountains. 

Megan charging toward a foreboding sky!

Arbaney-Kittle Trail - On the other side of the Roaring Fork River from the Hay Park Trail lies the Arbaney-Kittle Trail. A stout six mile climb along a rugged jeep road gives way to a pristine ribbon of single track accented by seas of wildflowers and dramatic ridge running. The fact that the run finishes at my front door is a bonus.  Interestingly, both times I ran this route this summer, the shuttle driver left their keys at the start, making the shuttle back a little tricky. This could be an amazing segment of an ultra event
South Maroon Summit
South Maroon Peak - The Maroon Bells are iconic mountains that are rumored to participate in more photo shoots than any other peaks in North America. Their allure is inescapable and that is why I try to reach their summits each summer. This year I never made it up North, but I had an enjoyable run/hike/run attack on South with my good friend, Dave Bowman.

The boys (Dylan Bowman, Pete Gaston, Alex Tiernan) enjoying some good banter atop Buckskin Pass
The Four Pass Loop - Sage Canaday recently lowered Ricky Gates FKT for the Four Pass Loop. His 4:27 is an outstanding accomplishment! My running of the four pass loop this summer was all about camaraderie, not about speed. Dbo, Uncle Al, T-Bap and I rolled over the four passes that encircle the "Bells"laughing along the way. I love this Aspen classic!

Jonathan and Leora Jordan
East Maroon - Gothic - West Maroon - I can vividly remember when Jon Garcia was a senior in high school, he confided in me that he had a crush on a sophmore 400 meter runner name Leora. I encouraged him to pursue the relationship and over a dozen years later I found myself sharing some trail miles with the happily married couple. Running East Maroon trail to Gothic, one of my favorite singletrack trails in the Elks, and back over West Maroon Pass, I understood why so many tourists have ventured these same paths.
Jeremy Duncan watching the clouds roll in from Daisy Pass

Ragged Loop - My biggest run of the summer was a long and rugged loop that dove deep into to the Ragged Wilderness Area. The appropriately named wilderness is wild and sparsely used, giving it a truely remote feel. Navigating this route with my great friend Jeremy Duncan made for an epic run!

Alex Tiernan, Michael Barlow and Alex Huger stride toward Mt. Sopris

Mount Sopris Ridge Loop - Extending from the eastern false summit of Mt. Sopris is a long ridge that eventually connects to Capital Peak. I have long eyed this ridge as an alternative route up Sopris and this summer I finally ran it. It was an awesome ridge!

Snowmass Mountain Summit

Snowmass Mountain - "Who has two thumbs and is a wimp when it comes to heights....this guy!" That is exactly what I was saying when the above photo was being taken. I have always had a discomfort with exposure, but somewhere between my marriage to my wife Molly, the birth of my daughter Jude and aging toward fuddy duddy, I have become downright scared in high places. That is why I almost missed out on a spectacular run over Snowmass Mountain (the 14er, not the ski resort). Thankfully my fear subsided as we made our way up the peak and I was able to enjoy an awesome point to point run that took us from Marble to Maroon Lake, right over Snowmass Mountain. This unique route made for a great day in the mountains. 

Gazing at an Elk Mountain Canvas from my perch on Avalanche Pass

Avalanche Pass Lollipop Loop - Most people who grow up in Aspen, Colorado undergo a rite of passage known as 8th Grade Outdoor Ed. This school trip takes 8th graders on a pack trip though the Elk Mountains. My own 8th Grade trip constituted a seminal moment in the development of my early love for the mountains, especially the Elk Range. For the last several years I have run out to meet my wife as she guided students through the Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness. This year my wife sat out the backpacking portion of the trip, but luckily for me, Jeremy's girlfriend Lyssa was leading a group. He devised a monster run for us that included a visit to his girlfriend's camp. Even though we spent a good two hours off piste, whacking our way through the bushes, it was absolutely spectacular!

Jer negotiating the broken bridge crossing of No Name Creek 

No Name Creek to Mitchell Creek - The Flat Tops Range that lies directly north of Glenwood is a vast trail running playground that I have only just begun to explore. This highly intrepid route, due to difficult trail finding and massive overgrowth, was an outstanding run, even with the oceans of stinging nettles that we were forced to wade through. It was a great equinox run, capping off an amazing summer of running. 

With the commencement of fall, I can look back and see that I was free this summer to run solely for the joy of it, and for that I feel truly blessed. Thanks to all the wonderful people intrepid enough to run with me, cheers to the mountains that host me, and love to my family that supports me! 
Run On!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Runnin' Ragged!

Yule Pass
My summer of running culminated with an epic loop through the Raggeds Wilderness of the West Elk Range. After a rather dormant winter and spring, I picked August 18th as the ideal day for a long adventure in the mountains. It fit perfectly, as it was the day after the LT 100 and just prior the the first days of school. It marked a close to summer running and the beginning of next year's quest! Lucky for me, my good friend Jeremy Duncan is always foolhardy enough to join me on these notoriously intrepid adventures. We anticipated a 40 mile jaunt that would take something like 8 or maybe 9 hours. What we got was 12 solid hours of "ragged" trail that chewed us up and spit us out! But it was worth every hour! We ran over spectacular mountain passes, down into enchanting deep ravines, traversed steep canyons, trounced through quaking aspen groves and frolicked in giant fields of ferns. This was wild country, wild enough that we came upon a herd of mountain goats just minutes into our run. I feel incredibly lucky to have these lesser used mountains just a short drive from my house, and to have such a great training partner to share them with.

Raggeds Wilderness Boundary
The Raggeds proved they were aptly named. While this range offers some of the most stunning vistas I have ever seen, the paths that connect them are twisted, rocky, overgrown, steep, loose, muddy, loggy, and often faint. The organization, Colorado Wilderness, describes the Raggeds by saying:

"no more descriptive name exists in Colorado than the Ragged Mountains...the polished rock flanks of the Raggeds soar to a jagged, knife-edged ridge. Complementing these inaccessible peaks, the Dark Canyon of Anthracite Creek roars below, carving a deep and mysterious gorge through surrounding benchlands of aspen and spruce. Colorful peaks and prominent intrusive dikes of the Ruby Range angle north through the area's eastern end, perpendicular to the Raggeds. Capping the diversity of landforms in this area, the Oh-Be-Joyful Valley, one of Colorado's loveliest glacial valleys, sweeps out from the range toward Crested Butte and the Slate River."

our route began in Marble, Colorado and we were graced with a sensational sunrise, albeit, the sunrise created the red morning light that gives warning to sailors. Thankfully, the storms stayed clear of us for much of the day. From Marble, the trail climbed sharply until we reached the summit of Anthracite Pass. This sub alpine pass (10,200 ft.) was the gateway to North Anthracite Creek which the trail paralleled as it descended 3,000 ft. over the next seven miles, dropping further and further into the belly of the wilderness area. It was along this descent that we discovered vast fields of massive fern plants, but nary a sign of human activity, save the trail itself, and even it disappeared from time to time. The view of the Anthracite range to the south was impressive, and we jogged merrily through the wild woods.

Ferns in North Anthracite Creek
North Anthracite Creek confluences with Middle Anthracite Creek, the drainage that forms Dark Canyon. From this point (7,200 ft.) we faced a 10 mile, 4,500 ft. climb to Oh-Be-Joyful Pass. The long uphill began with the Devil's Staircase, which definitely climbed steeply, but the switchbacks were easily runnable. The staircase was followed by a long ridge that meandered through aspens and scrub oak. Eventually the route reached the base of the Ruby Range and it began to contour, first through Buck, and then Swan Basin, before turning abruptly upward and climbing the steep slopes of Oh-Be-Joyful Pass (11,700 ft.). Standing atop the pass, we were treated to views of the Elks, Ruby Range and Anthracites. 
Cruising through Buck Basin

Oh-Be-Joyful...For Views Like These
Some ominous signs of weather, namely dark thunderheads and distant flashes of lightning, hastened our stay on Oh-Be-Joyful, and we quickly descended into Democrat Basin, scurried across the tundra and power hiked up Daisy Pass (11,600 ft.). It too was steep, and offered similarly stunning views. The descent into Poverty Gulch followed sharp switchbacks along a very rocky trail that eventually intersected with an old mining road. We had run 25 miles through gorgeous wilderness and seen no one until we hit the jeep road when we exited Poverty Gulch.

Atop Oh-Be-Joyful Pass with Daisy Pass Directly Behind
Descending Daisy Pass

The final climb of the day was our ascent from Poverty Gulch to the top of Yule Pass (11,750). Along the road to the pass we bumped into our friend Dustin Simoens, a Crested Butte resident who went to college with my brother. We had intended on meeting Dustin on top of Oh-Be-Joyful, but due to our ridiculously slow progress, Dustin had decided to negotiate the Ruby Range Traverse to Yule Pass, and he was descending from the pass when we met up with him. By his description, the route was "epic" and would be a great twist to the loop Jer and I ran. The rough terrain had taken its toll on us and we struggled up the road to Paradise Divide, which marks the beginning the Yule Pass trail. Yule is essentially a two mile traverse along the steep wall of Purple Canyon. It is spectacular!

The Yule Traverse (Yule summit is right above the snow at the top of the photo)
The red sky warning that greeted us in the morning finally came came true in the early evening. Cresting Yule Pass, dark clouds rolled in and unleashed their fury. Making our way down Yule was a cold, wet affair as the rain turned to hail. The willow infested trail drenched us and slowed our downward progress as we wrestled the thickets of willows to find each foot plant, giving us both a literal and figurative slap in the face. However, by the time we hit the road, three miles from my car, the sun had returned and our spirits had livened. We happily clipped off the final miles, amazed at what we had seen, unsure as to how it had taken us so long, but thankful that we got to experience such beauty and such an amazing run. This run capped off a summer of awe inspiring runs and it reminded me of the reasons I love to run in the mountains; the beauty, the challenge, the folks I get to share adventures with, and most of all, because it's fun! 
What a Hoot!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Ultra Runners: A Cool Breed

I love running in the mountains for the views, the solitude, the wildlife, the aesthetic appeal and the challenge, but perhaps the best part of mountain running is the people. I recently asked my friend Gina Lucrezi what her favorite thing about running in mountains is. Without hesitation she exclaimed, "Oh, the people - by far!" It seems that a certain breed of folk are attracted to running around in the woods; and that certain breed is cool! That's right, trail runners are a cool breed, and my recent travels have proven this point. It seems that no matter where I venture, I find myself in the company of some amazing ultrarunners whose hospitality astounds me, which says much about the sport I love! Below are several short tales to demonstrate this point.

Phoenix, Arizona
October 28th, 2012
I first met James Bonnett in Silverton, Colorado where we had converged to see the madness that is the Hardrock 100. Being the consumate reggae fanatic that I am, I immediately liked James solely due to the fact that he was sporting some sweet dreads. We enjoyed some spectacular miles, over Little Giant pass, as the leaders were finishing out their races. James seemed extremely fit as he pushed me up the steep climbs and I was glad to have met a new friend. But, it was in his hometown of Phoenix that I truly got to know James. I had travelled to Phoenix to pace my buddy Jeremy Duncan in the Javalina 100, and in an act of frugality, I choose not to rent a car, instead relying on the good nature of the ultra community. James stepped up to the plate. Not only did he offer to drive me from the race site to the airport, but he insisted that we go for a run on the way. 
James Bonnett 
The October day, though likely average by Phoenix standards, felt hot to my Colorado blood. Our route was a classic desert climb up a red sandstone laden outcropping that climbed steeply. Given the fact that I was in a period of little running, the pace felt rigorous and I huffed to the top of the climb. The prominent hill spouted right from the city's sprawl, thereby offering a 360 panoramic view of the Phoenix metro area. The run was rewarding and demonstrated how it has been possible for James to become such an excellent ultrarunner living in an environment I had previously deemed inhospitable to achieving just that. Though over a decade younger than me, James has substantially more ultra experience than I do and his career is still in its youth. Following this visit, due to James' benevolence and his amiable nature, the two of us struck up a genuine friendship, proving the automatic kinship shared by ultrarunners all over the country. I look forward to many more years of running and corresponding with James. Thanks James!    

Pocatello, Idaho
March 17th, 2013
Pocatello Vistas
Driving to the local coffee shop, Mocha Madness, on a blustery March Sunday, it occurred to me that I didn't know what my tour guide, Pocatello's Luke Nelson, looked like. Luckily for me, there was only one car in the parking lot, Luke's truck. Out he popped, sporting white rimmed shades, a black ball cap, and an orangeish-red mico puff jacket. Though I had never met Luke, I instantly felt comfortable upon shaking his hand. This experience is indicative of the ultrarunning ethos; an ethos that propels ultrarunners to care about helping other athletes have fun in the mountains, as much as they do about winning. I had called Luke the previous night on a whim. En route to visit my dad in Montana, cruising through the northern Utah night, I remembered that my friend Jeremy Duncan had spoken very highly of Luke, and decided to track him down and see if he was interested in running the next day.
Luke Nelson

In true ultrarunner form, Luke responded to my late night call regarding running the next day. Though he was not able to join me for a run, he agreed to meet me for coffee where he generously dished beta on the most runnable trails that Pocatello has to offer in early spring. Without even letting me buy him a cup of joe, he gave me a hand drawn map and then drove me to the trailhead. Considering that Luke has two young ones, his generosity was all the more impressive. "Not many runners stop here to run," he said. "They all seem to drive through Pocatello." Well, they are all missing some excellent running, because the trails he pointed me to were stellar. Smooth, undulating single track that meandered through junipers as the trail contoured some foothills that overlooked the south end of town. I didn't see a soul, save dozens of deer that seemed to scamper at each new ridge I crested. I sure am glad I stopped to log a few miles in Pocatello. Thanks Luke!

Missoula, Montana
March 20th 2013
Ominous Skies over "Zootown" (Missoula, Mt.)

Ten years ago I drove through Missoula on my way to Glacier National Park, without so much as grabbing a bite to eat. My dad moved up to Montana about 18 months ago and I figured it was high time I visit him. So, I rented myself a nice little Nissan Versa and headed north. Two days later I pulled into Missoula ready to explore. I expected that I would enjoy the trails Missoula had to offer, but what really impressed me about this Montana college town was the people I ran with. I had two tour guides in Missoula, a friend of my dad's, Ryan Archibald, a third year law student who ran cross at the University of Montana, Billings, and the "Wolfe" himself, North Face athlete Mike Wolfe. Thanks to these guys I was able get a small taste of trail life in "Big Sky Country".  

Ryan Archibald on Blue Mountain (Missoula, Mt.)
Although my two running liaisons had never met each other, they shared some significant traits. Both were involved with law, both were soft spoken and humble, and both loved to run. The difference was Ryan is training to run his first 50 and attending classes that precede the bar exam, while Mike is a world class ultrarunner who has already passed the bar. Ryan gave me a tour of the trails around Blue Mountain to the south of town. They reminded me of the Mesa Trail system I ran during my tenure in Boulder, only Blue Mountain is significantly lower than Boulder's Green Mountain. The trail was thoroughly enjoyable and provided a great view of Missoula, but of course it was the company that most impressed me about the run. Ryan was a gracious guide who took time out of his busy law school schedule to run with me. He provided great conversation and listened to my rambling babble without complaint. While Ryan is new to ultrarunning, he has already embraced the friendly, helpful culture of our sport. Thanks Ryan! 

Mike Wolfe atop Mt. Sentinel (Missoula, Mt.)

Simply said, Mike Wolfe is an awesome dude and fantastic ambassador of ultrarunning. I sensed this during our brief conversation over the opening miles of the Western States 100, but that fact was solidified during our run on the hills that surround Missoula. Unfortunately, our conversation at the "Big Dance" was cut short when we took an inadvertent detour and had to squeeze the throttle past my conversation pace to reestablish our place in the race. Luckily for me I had mentioned the fact that my pops was living in Missoula, and he opened an invitation to run together if I made it north to visit. Mike not only ran with me, but during our tour of a small portion of the runnable terrain just minutes from his door, Mike also revealed his friendly, selfless nature and gregarious attitude. A runner of his stature could easily be pulled the way of arrogance, but not Wolfe. His outlook is refreshing, though as I was certainly discovering, characteristic of many ultrarunners.
Looking at Mt. Sentinel from Mt. Jumbo (Missoula, Mt.)
"Meet at 8:00 at the "M" parking lot." Fittingly, the "M" lot is the lot directly below the gigantic "M" on the hillside overlooking the University of Montana campus. Like most colleges, the campus parking near Grizzly Stadium was highly restricted, forcing me to park in a 60 minute spot. As Mike jogged up, I crossed my fingers and hoped that I would not receive a ticket during our 2-3 hour jaunt. The run started with a nice, but brief warm-up along the old railroad grade that parallels the Clark Fork river, leading us to a trail that climbs up the backside of Mt. Sentinel. It was a fantastic trail through a pine forest that ascended at a moderate, runnable grade. Upon topping out, we were treated to beautiful views of the Missoula area. Mike excitedly pointed out the vast network of trails that he could run from his house and suggested I return to run more of them when the snow cleared. We descended down the front of the mountain, passing the oversized "M". We ran right past my car on our way to nearby Jumbo Mountain. Here the climb seemed slightly steeper, but that might have just been Mike and I running a little faster. There was no vegetation, save yellowish grass, on this side of the peak and a steady Montana wind blew in our face as we powered up the hill. Again, the view was awesome, and we ran off the snowy north side of Jumbo before looping back to town and my ticket free car! It was the perfect little tour of Wolfe's training playground and left me wanting to visit again soon.  Thanks Mike! 

Los Angeles, California
March 23rd, 2013
LA Views from the San Gabriel Mountains
I made Erik Schulte as the runner I was supposed to meet from at least 100 meters away. He had the look of a trail runner; scruffy beard, thin build, cool headband, trail shorts, and of course, the dead giveaway handheld water bottle. Erik, an employee at Patagonia, had agreed to guide me into LA's San Gabriel Mountains, despite the fact that he'd never met nor heard of me two days prior. At the suggestion of our mutual friend, Dominic Grossman, Erik and I hooked up for a rather enjoyable spin through the San Gabriels. During our run I was to learn that Erik, like all the other runners I have imposed on to take me trail hunting across the country, was gracious and excited to show off his stomping grounds. Soft spoken, Erik didn't waste words, instead allowing the the trial to do the talking. He was preparing for So Cal's premier spring 50, the Leona Divide, and judging from my vantage point, 50 feet (or more) back for most of the run, he seems pretty ready for the test. 
Erik Schulte

The initial section of trail we covered was chalk full of weekend hikers, bikers, walkers and gawkers. It was smooth and fairly wide, so passing was easy as the trail began to wind upward. It climbed for a few miles before entering Castle Canyon, where the grade became steeper and my heart rate spiked. We topped out to a nice overlook that gave views of LA to the west and our next destination, Mt. Lowe, to the east. The climb to the summit of Lowe was enjoyable and the views were excellent. A quick decent and short jog across a broad ridge brought us to the trailhead for San Gabriel Peak. Another fun climb put us on top of the peak at an elevation of 6151. It seemed pretty high since I had woken up two blocks from the Pacific Ocean. The overall elevation of the San Gabriels impressed me, as did Erik's ability to descend. I chased him off the peak and back down through the gauntlet of people enjoying the sunny southern California day. Again, I had been treated with characteristic trail runner hospitality that I have now come to expect, and I was also treated to some impressive miles of trail. I can only hope that these amazing runners and hosts will come knocking on my door someday soon so I can repay them by showing off the Elk Mountains I so love. Thanks Erik!
San Gabriel Peak
Mt. Baldy Views
Three Cheers to Trail Runners!


Monday, March 18, 2013

Zeke Tiernan Coaching

Announcing.....Zeke Tiernan Coaching
Running has long been my passion and I love sharing that passion. Do you have an audacious running goal that you're not sure how to tackle? I can help you. Check out the description of my coaching service on the sidebar to the right of this post for more information. Contact me at if you are interested. Happy running!

Snowy Elks

Of all the majestic mountain ranges I have had the pleasure of playing in, from the San Juans to the Sawatch, all the way to Ecuador's Avenue of the Volcanos & The Bolivian Andes, none hold more sway over my heart then central Colorado's Elk Mountain Range. The reason - I was born and raised among them, and I continue to spend my days running, skiing and climbing along their many peaks and valleys. And while winter snows blanket a majority of the trails, the smattering that remain runnable, make for a trail runner's playground. This homemade video, filmed entirely on a simple Flip camera, hardly does these mountains justice, but it's fun all the same. I hope you enjoy.

Watch the Video Here: Snowy Elks

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Stuart Smalley Had It Right

"I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and, doggonit, people like me!" 
- Stuart Smalley

A few evenings ago I found myself midway up the steepest hill of my favorite snow-covered trail, gasping for air, while my training buddy sped away from me. Between breaths a series of downwardly spiraling thoughts infiltrated my thinking. They took me from contentment, to frustration, and ultimately to thoughts of total surrender, nearly as rapidly as my heart pounded from one beat to the next. In the parking lot I had felt joyous anticipation for a beautiful evening run. Laughter and boisterous chitchat filled the crisp February air as we bounced up the initial section of trail. Then the first steep hill slapped me in the face and my friend pulled away from me like I was walking. The problem was not that he was dusting me; the problem was that I was comparing myself to someone else. For me, comparing is a dangerous game, one that is certain to end in one of two ways: a sense of grandiosity or self-deprecation. Max Ehrman said it most eloquently in his 1927 poem, The Desiderata,

"If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for there will always be greater and lesser persons than yourself." 

The dangers of comparing that Ehrmann warned of became all too evident as I grudgingly trudged up the snowy hill, fixated on the fact that my friend was faster than me. Before I knew it, I was telling myself that my fitness was so poor, that running the Zion Traverse in a couple of months was out of the question. That thought was immediately followed by the thought that I may as well quit running altogether. The whole mental digression took upwards of five seconds; all because I compared myself to someone else. I can say with certainty, that, had I been running alone my reaction as I tackled that hill would have been drastically different. Had I been running solo I surely would have been thinking what a total badass I was to be powering up such a stout hill with so much vigor, and that nary a soul could match my fortitude. However, just like my feelings of utter defeat, that thinking would have been misguided. Had been honest with myself I would have realized that my training partner was a great runner who was very fit, and that's why I was unable to keep pace. For me, comparing, with real or imagined competitors, is the unfortunate name of the game. This habit has some serious liabilities, both in running, and in life.

Take the first 30 miles of last year's Western States Endurance Run. Had I not spent the days and weeks leading up to the race, along with the first several hours of the race, comparing myself to others, I may not have been stumbling with blurry vision as I approached the Robinson Flat aid station at mile 30. Wanting so badly to crack the top ten, I had envisioned and re-envisioned the caste of characters I would need to hang with in the early going of the race, if I were to achieve this goal. Caring only about who I was running near, completely disregarding my own sensory data, I suddenly found myself in third place. Enter vanity! Although I was over my head, and running too fast, I was in third place in the country's most prestigious hundred. Clearly I was awesome and destined for glory. So I continued on foolishly, running an unsustainable pace.

As fortune had it, my rough patch came early enough in the race, that I was able to readjust my expectations. I ceased comparing my status to the other runners in the race and focused instead just on finishing. Miles later, feeling infinitely stronger, I found myself back in the top ten, running strong. By "running my race" I was able to salvage my effort and have a successful run. I nearly made the same mistake eight weeks later at Leadville, but again I backed off the lead pack early in the race, leaving enough fuel in the tank to have strong finish. When I don't get caught up in comparing myself I race much better.

As with many of the principles that guide my running, so the principle of avoiding comparisons transfers into real life. I make comparisons in my profession vacillating from thinking that I'm the world's greatest teacher to the belief that I'm the world's worst. Likewise, at times I compare myself to other parents, thinking of myself either as super-dad, or chump father, depending on how I compare myself. Yet the truth is, if I let go of the comparisons and shoot for humility, I am a more successful parent, teacher, runner and person. And, most importantly, I am happier. Good old Stuart Smily, the classic Saturday Night Live persona, had it right when he uttered his daily affirmation, "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggonit, people like me!"


Friday, February 8, 2013


Many prominent runners tout the practice of racing 100's sans pacers. Matt Carpenter even attributed part of his record setting performance at the 2005 Leadville 100 on the fact that he ran without pacers. Some races, such as the Run Rabbit Run 100, even require that runners complete the course alone. I am curious about the metal state that solo racing might entail, but I cannot imagine running as such, because I love having pacers so much. The synergetic effect of having a pacer has propelled me to success in all of my 100 mile races, but more importantly it has brought me much joy while running these races. This post is an ode to the folks who selflessly sacrificed to aid me in my selfish quest to run far, fast.

The calming effect that my college teammate Jay Pozner had when he guided me through the fifty-first mile of my first Leadville cannot be overstated. I anxiously stated to Jay, who has previously finished second in the race, as we strode away from the Winfield aid station, that each step I was taking was a personal best in distance, and I still had fifty miles to go! He assured me that I was OK and guided me over Hope pass, chuckling each time I claimed I would never run another 100. He rightly replied, "Zeke, we have short memories."

Coach Jay Johnson 
The first time I met Jay Johnson, he told me how much he enjoyed backpacking around the Maroon Bells and I smugly remarked, "yeah, that's my backyard." Lucky for me, Jay overlooked my youthful arrogance, and my ridiculous lamb chop sideburns, and we became dear friends. The running knowledge Coach Jay Johnson imparted upon me while he paced me from Twin Lakes to Half Moon during that first Leadville, was instrumental.

Zach Hancock is a natural born story teller; likely a reason he in an ordained minister.  I barely even noticed the pavement miles between Treeline and the Fish Hatchery as Zach retold the vivid tale of how legendary mountain man John Colter was chased by the Blackfoot Indians, ingeniously managing to outmaneuver them and survive. The miles flew by and I was sad to loose my entertainment when we hit the pacer exchange. 

Team Vickers
Carrie Vickers took time off the international steeplechase circuit, where she even ran on the U.S. team at the World Track and Field Championships, to pace me around Turquoise Lake. Her orange wig and knee-high socks looked utterly surreal through the blurry lenses off my 85 mile eyes, but the look and her motivational dialog bolstered my spirits and kept my feet moving until she passed me off to her husband, my friend of 30 years, Matt Vickers. His innovative words of encouragement, "good job Zeker, look'in good," combined with his presence and love, powered my soul and psyche, and led me to a third place finish in my first 100!

Noah Hoffman is a phenomenal athlete and an outstanding human being. When I met Noah, he was 15 and could already run four or five hour adventure runs with me. Noah and I are notorious for underestimating time and distance, and getting lost on most of our runs. He epitomizes the gentleman athlete and is an amazingly comfortable pacer to run with. The day Noah retires from the Nordic World Cup circuit there will be a new star in the ultra world!

After race directing the Aspen Mountain Uphill in the morning, Chis Keleher met me at Twin Lakes to take me to the Half Moon aid station, only the relief pacer had made a wrong turn, so he was kind enough to escort me all the way to the Fish Hatchery.  Exhausted, dehydrated, and calorie deficient, Chris began to fade just prior to the aid station, stating that he was, "going through a rough patch." However, after some liquids and gels he rallied, bringing me to the aid station with a significant gap over the runner who had entered the last aid station with me. Chris is a great friend, outstanding coach, gutsy runner and a stellar person.

My friend Zach Woodward has been to all my 100s, working his way from casual fan, to assistant crew chief, and then pacer. In my first 100, he reminded me that it was, "just for today," words to live by in an ultra, and in life. Zach was my first pacer at Western, elevating my mood with banter from the classic movie, Caddysack. His company during my last running of the Leadville 100 made the miles role by with ease, not to mention speed. Zach is a confidant and true friend. 

"Don't worry Zeker, you still have a long way to go!" Those were the words of encouragement my friend Jeremy Duncan offered up at the midway point of last year's Leadville 100. While initially disheartening, that ironic advice ended up being all too true, as I improved my position dramatically during the second half of the race. As my primary training partner over the last five years, few people know me better as a runner than Jer, and that makes him invaluable as a pacer. However, its Jeremy's natural tallent at delivering good bad jokes that makes him irreplaceable.

Matt Fields is not really a runner at all, and yet, he has helped pace me to two second place finishes at Leadville.  Matt knows me on an emotional, mental, and spiritual level like no one else, save my family. It also doesn't hurt that he loves to compete, as was evident when we found ourselves suddenly thrust into second place at Leadville, with 20 miles to go. He was so excited by the possibility of winning the race, that when I looked up only moments later, he was 50 meters ahead of me wondering why I wasn't right beside him. I am lucky to have called Matty my best friend for over three decades and thankful for his efforts as a pacer.

The Closer
"Methodical Baby! Methodical!" That was the mantra my brother repeated to me over and over as we rolled the last twenty-three miles of the Leadville 100. My brother is the best pacer in the world. Heck,  not only does he shave racing stipes into his head on race day, he even has a yellow shirt with a picture of an AMC Pacer on it that simply says, "Pacer!" There is no one in the world I would rather run with, and certainly no one I would rather have by my side in the final miles of a long race than my brother. He is funny and knows exactly what to say, and when to say it. He waited until we hit Robie Point to tell me that we could break 16 hours at Western, knowing that by then it was close enough that I would believe him and go for it. "Uncle Al", as he is known by my daughter, always inspires me and brings out the best version of Zeke.

"The Closer" sporting racing stripes before Leadville

Long distance running is said to be a lonely endever, but an amazing cadre of pacers have made my 100's easier, faster and way more fun! The synergy that occurs when the right person selflessly aids me in my crazy quest to race the hundred mile distance, enables me to reach a deeper level of courage, but most importantly, they bring me great joy. I am lucky to have such great friends and family. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Bad, the Ugly and the Good

Ultrarunning Cover April 2008

One of these things is not like the others,One of these things just doesn't belong,Can you tell which thing is not like the othersBy the time I finish my song?

Did you guess which thing was not like the others?Did you guess which thing just doesn't belong?If you guessed the guy in the blue hat is not like the others,Then you're absolutely...right!

No experience has taught me more about racing well than the 2008 Moab Red Hot 50k. It was my second ultramarathon attempt, and one of only two 50Ks I have raced. The cover shot above was snapped during the opening miles of that race, and yes, the guy in the blue hat is me. You know, the one wearing the wool turtleneck, long pants, and dark sunglasses. I'm "not like the others" because of my wardrobe choice, but more importantly because I am undertrained, rebounding from a heinous bout of flu, and I'm suffering from a total lack of humility. In the end, I ran, undoubtably, the worst and most painful race of my life, but the take-away was more than any other race I have run.     

The Bad

I would love to tell you that this dismal race performance was a direct result of the three days I spent in bed, vacillating between bouts of convulsive shivering and profuse sweating, just five days prior to the contest, but that would be a lie. I certainly blame the gas station microwave sausage and egg burrito, clearly a bad pre-race meal, as a contributing factor to my 50k suffer-fest. Bad luck was to blame for the untimely arrival of my ailment, and bad choice of cuisine undermined my efforts in Moab that crisp February morning, but there was a far greater bad working against me. Bad training will yield a bad race every time, as was the case that fateful day.  I had spend the majority of the winter nordic skiing four to five days a week, while running the remaining two or three. I could skate ski from the Aspen to Snowmass golf couses with relative ease, and my cardio fitness was excellent. However, I completely ignored a basic tenet of the training philosophy that I learned as a youthful harrier under the tutelage of Mark Wetmore...SPECIFICITY! For me to run fast, I have to run. Cross training gets me Crossfit, but running gets me Fit! Similarly, to run far I have to do long runs, something I neglected to do in the build-up to the Red Hot 50k. The importance of the long run in my training cannot be overstated. It has been the cornerstone of my training, whether I am prepping for 1600 meters or 160,000 meters. So when I lay in the fetal position, begging for pain killers to assuage the pain, during the hour that followed the race, the Jimmy Buffet refrain, "I know it's my own damm fault!" was all too fitting.        

The Ugly

Bad luck, bad choices, bad training and an ugly uniform left me weakened, unprepared and looking like a rookie out for a jog while I attempted to chase the country's best ultra-marathoners during the Red Hot 50k. However, an ugly lack of humility, another Wetmorian principle, was the biggest culprit in my putrid performance.  How many times had I heard, "run your own race", "relax,", "be cool Zeke!" Yet, when I toed the line for this race I arrogantly said to myself, "none of these guys has run a sub-thirty minute 10k."  With this in mind I hammered from the gun, ignoring my body's sensory signals that were screaming, "slow down!" I ran too fast, couldn't hydrate or fuel and disregarded my lack of training and weakened body.  I desperately hung on to the leaders, none other than Hardrock record holder, Kyle Skaggs, and two time Leadville champ, Anton Krupicka, for the first five miles, running far faster than I should have.  Soon other runners passed, and by mile 17 things were ugly! Lacking calories and liquid, I slowed to a snail's pace, walking huge chunks of the course.  Instead of being humble regarding my competition, the race course and the distance, I had cockily tried to beat the best, running their race instead of mine.  The last miles were beyond ugly, and the only reason I finished was that it would have taken far longer to have been evacuated from the remote desert course than it was to crawl my way to my waiting girlfriend (soon to be wife) at the finish. The ugly affair was punctuated by some a-hole hitting our car, causing $2,000 worth of damage.   

The Good

While I pledge never to return to the Red Hot 50k, a good lesson was learned that day; stick to my principles. One principle is, "good training".  For me, proper training means specificity, or running training runs that emulate the target race. It also means don't cheat the long run; it's the most important run. Another principle is "good eating".  I need healthy breakfast and proper fuel during the race. But, the most important principle is "good humility". My status quo, when it comes to running and life, is either arrogance or self-deprecation. I either do what I did in Moab, assume that I am way fitter and faster than anyone in the race, or I think that everyone will beat me.  Since this race I have worked hard at just being Zeke and running my own race, trying not to compare myself to my competitors.  When I am able to be, "right sized", achieving some measure of humility, I have good races.  My bad preparation and ugly arrogance led to a terrible race, but they crystallized some good lessons.