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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!



                

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