The Road (Ultra) Not Taken

What draws you to the trail?  The fresh air, the mountains, the night sky chalk full of stars?  Are much of your thoughts (conscious or not) consumed by a particular mountain?  Why?  What draws you to the trail?
Following a younger life of intensely competitive sports, I started triathlon back in 2002-ish, then decided to just run, did some road stuff, waddled my way to a 1:30 half marry, got hurt and ended-up on the trail.  For good.  Discovering the mature trail/mountain running culture was a little mind-blowing.  Running up and down mountain trails seemed so logical.  But why?  It’s not that way for everyone, as you all know.  In my case, the appeal started when I was a kid.  A few church camping trips turned into more camping trips.  Then I joined the Boy Scouts.  We hiked the Grand Canyon 2-3 times, hiked the Onion Valley to Mount Whitney route, consisting of about 5 x 10 miles a day, topping out at about 14,500ft.  We had numerous other trail adventures to solidify my “natural” appreciation for the wild.  But that’s just me.
What draws YOU to the trail?  Do you feel like you possess a particular mountain, or ever feel like a mountain possesses you?  I am reading a book right now, Mountains of the Mind, by Robert Macfarlane, that explores this concept.  After all, the author reminds us, they’re just rock and dirt and ice.  What is so alluring about that?  The book’s argument explains that we have made the mountain meaningful through our own perception; we’ve infused massive rock formations with parts of our imagination.  That’s what makes them, makes the trail, so captivating, which has been enough to die for.  I can more or less trace my own life’s meaningful relationship to the trail and mountain.  Macfarlane and others have traced the relationship in much broader strokes.  His study begins in 1624.  George Mallory’s letters to his wife Ruth during a 1921 reconnaissance expedition to Everest are certainly part of Macfarlane’s proof.  One particular day started at 3:15am and finished at 8pm.  The men climbed across miles of glacial ice and rock, witnessed massive breakages of ice, the men transfixed by the scenery that would surround Mallory’s death three years later.  He ended this particular day writing a letter to Ruth, describing the day’s exploits and saying at one point, “Everest has the most steep ridges and appalling precipices that I have ever seen.  My darling . . .I can’t tell you how it possesses me.”
Indeed, this is a story about humanity.  This story of trail and mountain obsession has no borders or boundaries, no particular citizenship; it discriminates not at all.  Likewise, trail running and racing is about the human condition, and we have talked a lot about the international ultra and mountain running culture (that has been around for a long time). I have gone out of my way to make a case for the most recent wave of international competition that is taking place, especially in big events, the ones most of us eagerly anticipate, and follow, where most likely the various established trail and ultra media outlets are perched and ready to tweet.
So how long has this popular sport of American trail and mountain running been around?  We know, right away, that the American version of the sport is not very old.  In fact, the American trail ultra is a fairly new phenomenon.  That’s what I want to explore here in the rest of this article and perhaps more in the ensuing discussions.  What prompted the collective move to the trail in this country for ultra racing?  In terms of American off-road racing, everything else we’ve all been talking about – increased corporate sponsorship, international competition, awards and championships, governing bodies – is a corollary to what is happening at the most basic cultural level.  Specifically, what prompted the move to the trail?
To be honest, the Chicago Lakefront 50 and reference to Bruce Fordyce’s world record there in 1984 got me thinking about the road versus trail culture and the fact that in all of these discussions of the best ultra runners, etc., the road ultra (what’s seemingly still breathing) is severely subordinate to the trail and mountain ultra in the public’s perception.  I wasn’t compelled to undertake a significant research project, but I thought I’d do a little poking around to learn more about the road ultra.  Besides, I had wondered why there aren’t more road ultras that at least make the “headlines,” the discussions “we” all have.
Again, I’m talking primarily American, specifically north American.  There doesn’t seem much to deny this trend.  You have to find this a little puzzling, don’t you?  Unless you’re resigned to say that money is the root of all evil 😉
The road up until the 1990s seemed to dominate much of the North American ultra race calendar.  That’s interesting.  Just looking at the records compiled by UltraRunning Magazine for each of the popular ultramarathon distances creates a pretty clear chart of the popular American ultra running culture.  The 100 mile records for men and women were set in 1997 (Andy Jones 12:05) and 1991 (Ann Trason 13:47).  The 100k records for men and women were set in 1995 (Tom Johnson 6:30) and 1996 (Trason 7:00).  50 mile records were set in 1980 (Barney Klecker 4:51) and 1991 (Trason 5:40) and 50k records were set in 2011 (Josh Cox 2:43, which broke a 35 year-old record) and 1983 (Janis Klecker 3:13).   By the way, I am aware that the magazine refers to these numbers as “bests,” and that I have only included the more typical ultramarathon distances that we see on the “race calendars.
Most accounts I’ve heard suggest that as the trail began to see more race organization (we might just say as a general growth in the sport), runners almost immediately made the migration and the road ultra was soon left to wallow in the mountain trail’s shadow.  Amongst the fairly constant off-road chatter, I have heard fans practically yearn for a designed return to more road ultras on the premise that this surface facilitates a more even playing field, a better test of sheer running speed and endurance.  The mountain or trail, as the argument goes, integrates other variables that benefit certain kinds of runners and vice versa.  I suppose one could simply point to Josh Cox’s 2011 50k “best” to suggest that more of these records would fall if the track stars and marathoners would line-up to take a shot at a few of these long-standing records.  But the money is at the 26.2 distance and below.  Be that as it may, money or no money, if someone mentions the word ultra these days, he/she almost certainly is referring to a mountain/trail ultra.
Race directors can certainly comment on the inherent cost of road race logistics.  Population and sport growth make this kind of event very costly.  Imagine organizing a 100 mile road race in and around even a smaller to medium-sized U.S. city.  Given that so many people are riding the wave of ultra marathoning, a company would need to block traffic for upwards of 30 hours; police costs alone could apparently exceed $200,000.  Is this logistical and financial difficultly what pushed ultra racing off-road?  Or was the migration more meaningful, calling to mind a genuine love and (now trendy) appreciation for the environment?  No doubt, the pull of the mountain is for real and people have been getting pulled to its bosom for generations.
So, back to the original question: What draws you to the trail?  This has to be one of the more interesting questions posed to a demographic getting abused daily by a mountainous addiction.  Secondly, what happened to American ultra racing that it so definitively moved from the road to the trail about 20-25 years ago?  The mountain and trail has captured our collective human imaginations for centuries.  The mountain and trail ultra race seems to have captured our American imagination for a better part of a quarter of a century.  Is the story not quite that simple?  Am I overlooking some significant pieces to this puzzle?  Sure.  But often a mere glance is enough to give one a sense of what is happening, even at a deeper level.

Chicago Lakefront 50 Race Profile

This weekend is the Chicago Lakefront 50/50 fall edition.  The current 50 mile World Record of 4:50 was set on the Chicago Lakefront by Bruce Fordyce in 1984.  This course is flat.  This course is fast.  On the current certified course, a 12.5 mile out and back repeated four times on concrete, Oz Pearlman owns the course record of 5:25, set in 2009.  In fact, he holds the fastest four finish times run on this course.  Ann Heaslett holds the women’s course record of 6:53, which she set in 2006.  True mountain runners need not apply; this event is for pure speed and a lust for concrete underfoot.

The only thing that may slow runners in any given year is the weather.  This is Chicago after all.  That won’t happen this year as the forecast is near perfect with highs in the low 50s and clear.  Like last year, Oz Pearlman isn’t on the entrants’ list this year, so the door is open for veteran 50 mile specialist, Mark Lundblad from North Carolina to make waves along the Lakefront.  A Browsing of the entrants, nicely provided to me by Race Director, Pat Onines leaves me to believe Lundblad will have his way with a solo effort.  He is, in fact, a mountain and trail specialist, to be specific.  However, he’s shown great speed on the road and flatter courses with runs at JFK and Tussey Mountainback that illustrate his flatland speed.

Mark Lundblad. Photo from his Facebook page

Connie Gardner during her 2009 winning run. Photo: event website

For the women… I’m going with Cathy Becker for the outright win and Rachel Arthur from Tennessee in her first ultra nipping at her heels until near the end.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have a female write about the female predictions?

Bear 100 Preview: The Utilitarian Playground

Bear 100 Elevation Profile. That first climb is a grunt and that last descent, well, hope your health insurance is up to date.

If one yearns for the grassroots, rustic 100 miler of yore, then look no further than the Bear 100.  The bare nature of Bear is by design.  Race Director, Leland Barker, is old school and likes his race that way too.  Leadville, especially under new management, seems to cradle the runners, providing everything, short of carry them to the finish, for a fairly easy out-n-back jog.  Bear is a stark contrast and I, for one, love it.  The Bear 100 began in 1999 with 17 starters and zero sub 24 hour finishers.  Last year there were 157 starters and a record 17 sub 24 hour finishers.  You may get the idea that it’s a tough course and you’d be correct.  The course begins in Logan, Utah and, after an obscene amount of climbs and descents, it finishes at Bear Lake in Idaho.  It’s both stark and harsh.  Did I mention I love it?

The whole production starts with the no nonsense website that provides the essentials (schedule, location, important updates), then moves on to the race briefing, with the emphasis on “brief” where participants have the pleasure of characters like Errol “Rocket” Jones, Phil Lowry, and Leland Barker casually mentioning things like, “The course should be marked well enough to follow” and “watch out for herding cattle”.  I literally had just found a spot on top of a picnic table to plop down and the briefing ended with, “We’ll see you folks at 6am.  Thanks for coming!”  A short, funny story of how laid back this whole thing is:  Last year’s Bear was my first 100.  I was nervous (scared) but confident enough that I bought a belt, ready to attach my new finisher’s buckle.  I was so excited the day before the start and could barely relax long enough to think straight.  At the end of the pre-race briefing Leland wraps up then says, “Oh yeah, I forgot to order the buckles.  I hope you all understand.”  I received my buckle on the verge of Thanksgiving, six weeks after the event, fat and lazy from taking a month off of running.  My custom belt barely fit but I wore the buckle proudly for a week, then realized it was fairly uncomfortable wearing a heavy, brass buckle and stiff, leather belt.  That’s an indication of the relaxed nature of the event.  The whole experience is such a bright image in my memory that I was one of the first to register again this year.

Me coming into Tony Grove aid station, mile 52, at last year's Bear 100. Photo: Aric Manning

The course is marked well enough, save for the errant and angry ATVer who may re-route or otherwise vandalize sections (extra adventure at no cost).  Frankly, the difficulty and beauty of the course overshadows any worries about race organization.  The race begins with a hands-on-knees, 4,000 ft climb at which point you top out close to or just after sunrise and are rewarded with an amazing view of Logan, UT way down where you began the day.  The first 50 miles take up roughly 15,000 ft of the 22,000 ft total climb.  It’s a nice thought when you’ve reached Tony Grove aid station at 52 miles, knowing you’ve completed so much climb and ‘only’ have 50 miles and about 7,000 ft climb left.  I won’t go into the hideousness of the final 9 miles of the race.  Let’s just say, aspirin and ice will be your ankles’ friends for a while.

On to our predictions we go:


Nikki Kimbal – From Bozeman, MT.  The women’s record at bear is 23:37, set by Rhonda Claridge, who is the only woman to run under 24 on the new course (since 2009).  Only two women in the history of the race have run under 24.  Look for Nikki to run two hours faster than that.

Jane Larkindale – From Tucson, AZ.  If Nikki takes too long to sneeze on the course, Jane will pounce.  After running undefeated in 2010 with impressive times at such races like San Diego 100 and Zane Grey 50, she hasn’t laced up the trail racing shoes this year.  She’s either going to be incredibly fresh or stale, no middle ground.

Ellen Parker – From Seattle, WA.  Ellen should round out the top three.  She ran to a 4th place in 26:18 at the tough Pine to Palm 100 last year and has had a light year of racing in 2011 with a 3rd place at White River 50 in July.

Men: (Note that part of tradition for the race is that the Race Directors, Leland Barker and Phil Lowry run the course to drop markers but start an hour earlier than the rest.  Leland is damn fast and is regularly in the top 5.  I don’t count him in the results due to the different start times)

Nick Pedatella – From Boulder, CO.  After a two year hiatus from the top step of the podium, this is Nick’s race to stand tallest at the awards ceremony.  His true potential competition would’ve been Karl Meltzer but after a bold run at Wasatch earlier this month, Karl is resting his back injury and will be at the Bear in the capacity of crew for Mrs. Speedgoat.  At just 26 years old, Nick has built solid experience, including eight 100 mile finishes; not just finishes but solid performances: 5th at Hardrock, 14th at UTMB, 6th at Leadville, 6th at Wasatch, and 2nd here at Bear 100 where only Geoff Roes crossed the finish before him.  Even when he has a bad day, he seems to hold it together for finishes most runners would kill for.

Todd Gangelhoff – From Morrison, CO.  I’m going out on a fairly sturdy limb here in this pick.  Karl and others will likely disagree and place some of the untested speedier guys in front of Todd but, as I mentioned to Karl, Todd reminds me a lot of Erik Storheim in terms of running style, speed, and toughness.  Those are the ingredients for success at Bear.  I did a big 6.5 hour run at 12-13,000 ft with him two months ago and he lead the way with an impressive base of fitness.

David La Duc – From Oakland, CA.  David’s put together a big season, capped with an 18:01 run at Western States.  He’s a quick guy and prolific racer.  It’ll be interesting to see how he runs in real mountains.  I’m obviously guessing he’ll do well.

Mick Jurynec – From Salt Lake City, UT.  At some point in the picks, I have to go with someone familiar with the area and Mick is the hometown guy.  A couple of key indicators are his runs at Wasatch 100 last year (5th in 22:21) and Squaw Peak 50 this year (3rd in 9:25).

Gary Gellin – From Menlo Park, CA.  Gary is full of speed.  Way Too Cool in 3:35, Firetrails 50 in 6:43, Quicksilver 50 in 6:29, White River in 7:11… the list continues.  One thing that stands out as a 22,000 ft speed bump in his way is the lack of any race beyond 50 miles.  100 miles isn’t just double 50 miles.  It’s a different world and it’s impossible to extrapolate, for both the spectator and the runner, what will happen.  Giving him 5th here on this course, with these experienced guys is giving him the benefit of the doubt.

Tim Long – Boulder.  It seems odd giving myself odds but, looking at the entrants objectively, I have to give myself a place in the mix somewhere.  This will be my 5th 100 miler since June (San Diego, Hardrock, Grand Mesa, Leadville so far).  This has also been the longest break between 100s (five weeks), so I’ve been able to get into a real training block following a two day rest after Leadville.  I ran 23:05 for 9th overall here at Bear last year.  It was my first 100, so I was cautious, made mistakes, ran off course, and enjoyed the day like nothing I’ve ever experienced.  So, my enthusiasm, fitness, and focus on this particular race has to count for something, right?

Me, JT, Rick Hessek, Scott Jaime, Don

Links and Thoughts on UTMB

Krissy Moehl and gang pre-UTMB. (photo:

As race reports and articles come across the wires, a clearer picture is coming into view; but that doesn’t mean that additional questions aren’t raised.  The difficulty of the scheduling changes, the course reroutes, the way in which organizers communicate to participants can cause frustration at varying levels.  Some handled it well (exceptionally well), like Lizzy Hawker, Darcy Africa, Mike Foote, and Nick Pedatella.  Some, like Scott Jaime, handled it the best they could and grinded through the course, teeth gnashing, legs burning.  Others, like Hal Koerner and Roch Horton, had the shell of their pride torn away and made it to the finish in nearly twice the time of the winner, thus revealing a brighter and bigger sense of pride and due respect.

Here are some of the writings that have emerged in the few days following last weekend’s epic race.


Geoff Roes, UTMB DNF Team Montrail

Geoff Roes’ year has been a stark contrast to last season.  Not finishing the two biggest ultras this year leaves one wondering whether it’s a matter of being tired, physically run-down, or something more mentally derived.  He’s raced and run harder and more in past seasons and dominated.  It’s difficult to speculate from what he’s written in his report but we certainly hope the best for him.


Nick Clark, UTMB DNF Team Pearl Izumi

When I heard Nick Clark had dropped from UTMB, I assumed one (or both) of his legs had simply detached and fallen off. Aside from Dave Mackey, I consider Nick the toughest guy out there.  This is one person I’m certain will rebound quickly and, frankly, I feel sorry for the competitors at the next event in which he chooses to race.  What made UTMB different for him?


CCC 2nd place, Adam Campbell, Canadian  Team Salomon

Adam Campbell might not be a name recognized by many in the ultra world, but he is the Canadian 50 mile national champion, running 5:44 for the distance.  The CCC (98k) was the first run he’s done longer than six hours.  He captures the culture and energy of this particular European event well in his report.


A piece on the comparison between elite US and European ultrarunners written by a Greek fan

There are some good points in this article.  It’s nice to see that Americans aren’t the only ones who sometimes have narrow or limited views of other cultures’ approaches, athletes, and venues.  Matt and I both have trouble with a couple of this article’s major points.  We’re interested in what others have to say about it.


Dave Mackey, Waldo 100k Win and CR Team Hoka

Even though it took place last week, we want to reference Dave’s run at Waldo as an example of an American ultrarunner with both race day laser focus and season race scheduling focus.  Dave chooses his races carefully, and rarely, if ever, “jumps into” any event longer than a half marathon.  With course record splits written on his arm, he surgically picked the course and the competition apart to break Erik Skaggs’ CR from 2009.  It’s also worth mentioning that Dave is 15 years older than Skaggs was when he set the record.  Speaking of Mackey, SF Bay area resident and impressive adventurist Leor Pantilat ran and dominated another trail 50k at the Tamalpa Headlands though he came-up short of one of DM’s many CRs.  Reference to the question we posed last week, will we see another runner like Mackey dominate the way he has (variety and longevity)?  By the way, we see Mackey’s stock going up here at the end of 2011 and surging through 2012.

The runners who dropped at UTMB knew early in the season they’d be competing there.  Did they take it too lightly?  Did they assume that fitness from the first part of the season would carry them across the finish in Chamonix?  What is the key to performing well there for Americans?

We’ve been thinking about the attrition at UTMB and have come to a couple of distinct conclusions, which we’re happy to share, but we’d like to hear some other opinions from fans.


Tomorrow we’ll share an interesting write-up and interview we did with a trail industry insider.  Stay-tuned!

2011 Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc Aftermath

Like a cog train steadily grinding up one of many summits, the Salomon team gets the job done. (photo: The North Face)

Tim:  First, believe it or not, there were other events taking place this weekend, besides UTMB.  I have to mention Cascade Crest 100, where Rod Bien broke the course record set last year by fellow Oregonian, Jeff Browning.  Rod finished in 18:27.  Top woman finisher was Shawna Thompkins in 21:15.  Big props to those solid runners.

Nick Pedatella fueling up en route to 14th place overall (photo: Meghan Hicks)

However, if you listened carefully anytime on Saturday, you could hear a rumbling, like an approaching double, sometimes triple, engine train.  That would be the Salomon Express at the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc, roaring over single track trails, leading some 2,300 runners over France, Italy, and Switzerland.  The difficulty of the race is evident in part of an email I received from my friend, Nick Pedatella, 14th place finisher, “The course is brutal, unbelievably steep climbs and downhills. The rerouted course had 34-35k of climb so definitely was pretty beat by the end.”  The rerouted course was necessary due to storms that also delayed the start until 11:30pm local race time.  For those with short attention spans, the two big stories that lie before us post race are Salomon’s dominance and the startling number of Americans who dropped from the race (DNF).

Lizzy Hawker finishing her dominating run (photo: The North Face)

It wasn’t all Salomon.  In fact, arguably the most impressive run of the day came from The North Face’s Lizzy Hawker, who took the lead early and continually built on it, finishing in 25:02 (13th overall).  The 2nd place woman, Nerea Martinez (Salomon), wouldn’t cross the finish line for nearly three hours afterward (27:55).  Pearl Izumi’s and top female American, Darcy Africa took the third step on the podium in 28:30.  For the men it was the Salomon two engine train of “King” Kilian Jornet covering the lengthened course in 20:36, Salomon teammate, Iker Karrera 2nd, and Sebastien Chaigneau rounding out the podium in 20:55.

Matt: There were other “events”?  Definitely, congrats to Mr. Bien.  Nice to see him continue his very productive season.  He seemed like a pretty cool customer at this year’s hot SD100 where he finished tied for second.  A nod to team Patagonia.  And, of course, we haven’t forgotten about the Trans Rockies.  Last year Max King (and Andy Martin) of Team Bend outlasted Jason Wolfe (and Eric Bohn) of Goretex/Salomon/Run Flagstaff.  This year Wolfe equalized with a solid win in the men’s open division with new partner Mike Smith, the pair representing Run Flagstaff.  They beat King and his new partner Ryan Bak, still of Team Bend.  Someone might want to tell Jason Wolfe to try his craft on the ultra circuit, the one that has a kind of consensus world championship starting and finishing in Chamonix, France.  Tracy Garneau and Nikki Kimball of The North Face won the women’s open at Trans Rockies and Rickey Gates and Anna Frost of Salomon won the mixed division.  So, some solid runners certainly had fun out there in what one competitor called a “great time.”  Mr. Teisher went on to say that the race actually, “felt more like a hash weekend with a few epic ballbuster trails than an actual race.”

On that note, let’s turn to the business at hand.  There’s so much that still needs to be flushed-out on blogs and internet rags, etc.  But the superficial “results” are in, and their pretty consistent with what we started talking about last week.  Only the news is worse than expected.  Last week, we simply remarked that a few trends are developing on the mountain/ultra running circuit.  I pointed-out Salomon Running’s dominance here in the states.  I also wondered what American runners might be ready to competitively meet this considerable collection of (primarily) European elite mountain runners over the next several years.

Going-in to TNFUTMB 2011, I picked Geoff Roes to win.  Indeed, I need to accentuate that.  I picked Roes.  I absolutely wanted the excitement of an American bucking this international trend, of that low-key Alaskan ultra spirit rising up and unleashing serious carnage on the world’s best around Mont Blanc.  Definitely this was a wild card and nothing of the sort transpired.  I’ll just get it out of the way here: the perception of American ultra running continues to take a digger.  Denying this is silly.  Granted, the world is not ending, nor does one even have to invest in the very competitive vibe that surrounds the sport (focusing instead on the love of mountainous exhaustion in the heart of nature’s fierce beauty); but for those paying attention, the trend is undeniable.

The blogs are on fire with this competitive banter, and some of it’s become down-right nasty.  So, let’s do the right thing, here and now, and remind ourselves that there’s more racing on the horizon.  Our elite’s just need to get back to work, shake it off, have a beer, and onward and upward.  TNF50 San Francisco in December is a great place to start (or end, however you want to look at it since that’s where it all started).  That’s where the Salomon reign began; let’s stop the bleeding there, regardless of whom shows-up.  Yes, this is only getting started, readers, and we’re not just talking about Inside Trail.

Tim:  I hear you on the hopeful pick in your preview.  We’ve seen a range of emotions and shoot from the hip comments either bashing Americans for burying their heads in the ground or looking for reasons (excuses) for dropping out of a race most knew would be brutally competitive.  The blaming of race organization is not the way to go.  The winners and the ones who finished ran the same course under the same rules.  The complaining and sandbagging (as you know) is a sour spot with me.  I’m tired of reading that “I have jet lag.”  “I’m a little tired.”  “My training hasn’t been perfect.”  I have noticed that many of the international runners (specifically, Miguel, Kilian, Julien and Ryan) we’re talking about seem to be pretty upbeat, admit they are ready and excited, never complain.  It’s like it’s become a chore to race for some of the American runners we follow.  If you’re not into it, then don’t bother showing up.  It’s harsh, but as a runner and fan it’s aggravating when you want to get behind these guys and support them and they drop from the most competitive race they’ve been pining for all year.  Sure there are legitimate reasons in some cases to drop, but the list of “elite” American DNFs at UTMB is pretty incredible.

On a bright note, I want to call out to my buddy, Nick Pedatella who moved up throughout the race, starting in about 100th position and finishing in 14th overall.  Same goes for Mike Foote and Mike Wolfe who grinded it out with the top 20 and flirted with top ten finishes.  And, what about Hal Koerner?  39 hours to finish.  Got it done and deserves respect.  Jack Pilla, 52 years old and finishes in 27:35, dominating the V2 (over 50 category) by three hours.

Matt:  That’s right; there are some great results from some runners that unfortunately weren’t in the spot-light, per se.  Nick Pedatella and Mike Foote are fantastic outcomes for the Americans.  Jack Pilla finished 22nd!  Darcy Africa podiumed and finished 31st overall.  Congrats to perennial stud Scott Jaime (40th), Helen Cospolich (51st), Jason Poole (81st), Hal and Rock, Todd Hoover and Rob Stafford, Colleen Ihnken, Mark Christopherson, Chad Piala.  Of course much respect to all who participated, who got themselves into position to face the music under some pretty severe conditions.  It appears that these conditions had something to do with the DNF bug that took a bite out of the American squad; that’s what has the blogosphere a buzz, for sure.  Geoff Roes, Scott Jurek, Joe Grant, Nick Clark, Dakota Jones, and Krissy Moehl come to mind.  On the surface it’s very disappointing because the American contingent seemed very well represented.  These runners make headlines all over the 50 states in ultra results that garner tons of praise and accolades.  Fierce competitors, all of them.  And now the fall-out of a different kind of trend.

This is huge debate, the DNF, whether or not finishing a race like this hurts a runner’s trail cred.  We talked about this when I brought-up the idea of mountain ethos on another blog and how maybe if conditions get too risky like in HR100 2011, a DNF might be absolutely acceptable (to even the hardcore enthusiast) because continuing on is a literal health hazard (breathing problems, stage 5 rapids, lightning storms, etc.).  I finally reconciled that by saying that dying on the mountain is probably what the true hardcore mountaineers include in their approach to adventure objectives.  The real mountain genre, so to speak.  There’s a bit of humor in that, but also a genuine read on much of the “logic” that develops in the wild.

The answer to the question of what’s right or wrong about DNFs can be answered and debated all day and night.  There are great anecdotes and race reports that probably best put this thing in perspective.  The Matt Carpenter 2004 Leadville report is one way of looking at it.  Here’s a runner with tons of pride, much success in his running career to that point (2004).  He decides to take a break from Pikes and take a shot a 100.  At his first attempt, he fails.  He suffers and feels a lot of embarrassment crossing the finish line, wrecked, humiliated.  He could have quit.  He had every reason to DNF; this isn’t for me, fuck it, back to Pikes and some 50 milers.  But he endured and I have read him say that finishing 2004 (no DNF) fueled his epic CR in 2005.  At the same time, you’ve heard stories about DNFs fueling redemptive comebacks, as well.  To each his own.

Be that as it may, the number of DNFs on the American side is just going to linger for a few fans and athletes who follow this sport.  There is the amateur comic that someone linked in the comments on this very site, yesterday (it seems to be surfacing in several places).  I call that a drive-by, meaning it’s only meant to hurt, is pretty cheap, and who knows who orchestrated that cheap-shot.

No way does Inside Trail condone those kinds of views.  However, we do support the open and honest discourse about this sport we love.  And it’s those kinds of views that can fuel the competitive juices we’re all looking for in some future epic trail races.

Tim: I like the focus on the future.  But to do that you have to understand the past.  Ezra Pound wrote, “Make strong old dreams; lest this, our own world, lose heart.”  DNFs are a separate issue than the dominance of non-American runners this year (beginning late last year).  I’ve personally DNF’d and felt disgusting afterward for quite a while.  I feel that ego has a lot to do with it.  For some reason, both voting in the Ultra Runner of the Year and sites like don’t seem to value DNFs in gaging performance.  Say a runner wins 4 races and drops out of 2 others; ultrasignup has his “score” or ranking as 100%.  It’s like DNFs don’t exist.  Of course, a valid reason to drop, like a serious health issue is understandable for most.  Simply because you’re getting manhandled in a race is not a valid reason to drop, in my opinion.  Moving on…

Kilian’s new name needs to be King Kilian.  Those who don’t like it can try to take him down from his throne (good luck with that task).  Really, the performances of him, Iker, and Sebastien are special.  Business-like, with heart, twisting the valve of training depth to full-on.  Regardless what backwoods view some may have that “them damn foreigners are takin’ over the sport,” these guys and gals are tremendous athletes who have the focus and training to perform when it counts.  There are no excuses for those who want to compete but don’t for some reason or another.  They need to shut up, look at what works, and emulate the process.  Jogging around in the woods when you feel like it isn’t going to get it done against these guys who are showing us how to do it at every race.  Give credit where and when it’s due.  And it is due, now.

Matt: I agree with you on the credit that is due.  But let’s reiterate: these results and even the subsequent trash talking should only spur the competitive fire in our elites.  At the same time, since there really isn’t a solid, organized race circuit, or even an official championship, you’ll have runners focusing on their own goals.  That’s where this is definitely different from much more organized sports where defined rivalries can develop through scheduled competitions.  Who knows who gets in to many of the lottery-based races.  And something tells me that UROC won’t quite have the feel of a championship race.

To finish with some thoughts on the UTMB (what many are calling a kind of mountain ultra world championship), big props to Mr. Jornet.  His desire to run seems only matched by his natural talent.  One of the comments from yesterday mentioned Kilian’s seeming denial of a taper, of a willingness to “rest;” he just loves to run, literally “training” or running right through organized races.  Granted, it does appear that the young king of the sport is running amok all over everyone’s previous perceptions of what is typical of a competitive mountain short and long course athlete, but we should assure ourselves that his program is organized and being executed to perfection.  I don’t think Salomon would have it any other way.

His win this weekend along with his WS100 win has to raise questions about the UROY award as it’s now defined.  The sport is clearly international (there is no need to have to explain that).  So, why have an award that only recognizes a North American man and woman?  But I digress.

Iker Karrera Aranbaru’s incredible 2nd has to be keeping the Salomon grin shiny, as well, especially given the quite tumultuous Mont Blanc race that saw so many runners fall off the front for good or DNF.  Karrera’s 2011 results at the Transvulcania, Citadelles and Zugspitz ultras had many believing in this guy.  Salomon’s Miguel Heras succumbed to knee issues, but Karrera was able to stay with Jornet for the entire race.  The pictures blasted across the interwebs often showed 2-4 runners in Salomon white galloping off the front.  Karrera only adds to that team’s international supremacy.  And kudos to Tony Krupicka who really sold Karrera’s stock going into the weekend’s festivities.  Of course, the Frenchman Sebastien Chaigneau’s 3rd just enhances his UTMB portfolio and certainly makes The North Face team proud.  This year’s brilliance adds to his 2nd to Kilian in 2009.  Hungarian Nemeth Csaba did well for himself, too, by improving upon his UTMB 7th in ’09 to finish 4th.  Again, congrats to all of the runners and fans who certainly witnessed quite a mountain running scene full of volatile weather, massive culture and the unbelievable beauty of the 2011 Chamonix Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc.

Where do we go from here?

Left to right: Sebastien, Kilian, Iker. (photo: The North Face)

Leadville Trail 100 Run – The Inside Trail Chat

Start line of the 2010 Leadville 100 Run

There is a lot of blogging going on regarding the Leadville Trail 100 Run, so, instead of just rehashing much of it, we here at Inside Trail thought we’d roll out some back and forth commentary that is typical of the hours we spend in our respective “offices” researching and discussing with one another every day.  We obviously would love to have some insight from readers following the event and participating in it.  Looking at past results of racers to gauge ability is one thing but who knows exactly how an individual is feeling about his/her chances in the days leading up to the big event.  Regardless, it’s still fun to discuss.  From an altitude standpoint, Leadville is a monster, undoubtedly earning it’s inspiring nickname, “The Race Across the Sky”.  The massive start, with roughly 1,000 runners adds to the excitement and personality of Leadville, making it more reminiscent of the European ultra events where one gets goosebumps from the energy at the start line.  I will be racing it myself and my crew will be covering the race for Inside Trail via our twitter account.  Hope you enjoy this race preview format in today’s post and remember, please share your opinions!

Tim: Of course, this week’s Pikes Peak is a big deal in terms of mountain running in the US (our preview coming on Thursday) but just over the hills, in the highest incorporated town in the US, is the Leadville 100 taking place the same weekend (4:00AM Mtn Time, Saturday, Aug 20).  You’ve looked over the start list, Matt, basking in glory from your accurate prognostication last week that Marco De Gaspéri would beat Kilian Journet and the field at Sierre-Zinal; so, who stands out in your mind to take the win at Leadville?

Matt:  Yes, Pikes.  I look forward to that preview in a couple days.  My take on Leadville is going to be pretty haphazard compared to the 31k Sierre-Zinal.  I’m completely relying on blogs and talking to runners like you who have endured these beasts, as well as studying results.  Then there’s that gambler’s intuition, which I’m sure has been informed by my own competitiveness.  I’m torn right now.  Part of me likes to see Ryan Burch have a break-through race — a lot of people acknowledge this.  I think his recent FKT of Longs Peak (3hr 26min) is good news for the Burch camp.  I think anyone associated with Nick Clark means business (and I think Nick likes Burch’s chances at PB); but in this case the results don’t support a Burch win, I’m afraid.  But who the hell am I?

His 2011 is a Collegiate Peaks 50 course record win, Pocatello 50 4th, and 5th at American River 50 among a few other results.  His 100s are: Grand Mesa 2010 (1st, 23:26), Ozark 2010 (4th 21:49) and Leadville twice (’08 26:58 and ’09 20:51). He did win the Leadville marathon in 2010, I think, but I just don’t see enough to pick him to win, other than the “break-through race” factor.

So, before I get to my picks, what do you think of Burch?

Tim Parr, Duncan Callahan, Ryan Burch (photo: Rob O'Dea)

Tim:  First, nice job on your prediction at Sierre-Zinal.  Marco made a statement in that near course record win.  I agree with much of what you’re saying on Burch, mostly.  But, something seems different this year.  His times at American River, 6:09, just 14 mins behind winner, Dave Mackey and Collegiate Peaks, where he set a course record at 6:37 give me the feeling he’s moved to another level, like we’ve seen with other runners (Roes in 2008 and Nick Clark in 2009).  A win for Burch would certainly confirm that.  My gut feeling is Dylan Bowman for the win.  He’s young at 25 and just started running ultras two years ago but has steadily improved and shown tremendous maturity in races.  I’m sticking with him, even with the stacked field.  Other contenders after Bowman for top 10 in my mind are:

Parr, Gorman, Callahan, Burch, Sandes, Browning, Vega

I only have eight listed because there are probably 10 other guys who could legitimately sneak in there.  South Africa’s Ryan Sandes is my dark horse pick for the win.  Those guys coming from adventure racing backgrounds are monsters in ultras.  The women’s field is scarce with the omission of last year’s champion, Liza Howard (just beginning to ramp up her training after a broken foot).  I have to go with Jenny Capel from Reno, NV for the win and Leila DeGrave from Evergreen, CO for second.

Dylan Bowman giving the thumbs up at San Diego 100

Matt: Indeed, Burch seems to keep raising his game, but running a low 17hr Leadville 100 seems a tall order.  That’s a big leap.  Roes and Clark are great examples of this kind of improvement, but I guess the big tell-tale for me is the experience at 100.  Roes and Clark have been gobbling those up for a few years now.  Redundant and final note on Burch: waiting to see him put 2 50milers together in spectacular fashion.  I’m certainly rooting for the guy.

I like your picks.  Tim Parr seems a bit of a mystery to me.  But he’s won before.  Here’s a case for Dylan Bowman: He just set a CR at SD100, finished 2nd at CP behind Burch and won the Antelope 50.  In 2010 he finished 3rd at Leadville, running 18:36 (I think that was his first 100?!).  But the kicker is this guy’s ability to improve, to learn from the experience.  3rd at Leadville, then CR at SD100, which, as you point-out, is a tough 100.  Lastly, he ran a 7:45 Silver Rush 50 in 2009, but then ran 6:52 to finish 2nd last year.  Huge jump and he’s running 100s and he’s podiumed at Leadville.  I like Dylan Bowman, too, unless Tim Parr is mysteriously coming out of “nowhere” and running everyone into the ground.

Gorman looks pretty impressive, too (2011: 16:16 at Old Dominion 100 in June; 2010: 2nd at Wasatch and 4th at Leadville)

Callahan has to be considered top 5 since he seems so consistent, especially at that race, and he just finished 8th at HR100.

Personally, I don’t see Browning in the mix for a win.  Other than a 2010 Cascade Crest 100 win, which has 20k vert but sits ~5k elv., I see lack of high altitude running (despite the tent) and age (sorry) playing a factor.

Bowman, Parr, Burch, Gorman, Long (partly because of the Brownie factor)

Tim:  Ha! Unless Brownie brings bags of steroids for me, I won’t be doing much other than running my own race.  Timmy Parr, like the last time he ran LT100, will probably run people (who go with him early) into the ground for the first 70 miles, then the wheels get wobbly.  The difference is there will be a larger group of others ready and capable to pounce this year.

Neal Gorman was my boy last year!  Setting the Grand Slam record in impressive fashion with consistent fast times and high placings.  I think by Leadville last year his hip was hurting him and he still ran a fast race, so he’s a tough nut to crack.  This year he seems more focused on the individual efforts and it’s showing in his results.  He’ll definitely be in the mix for podium in my mind.

Neal Gorman with his fresh Grand Slam trophy after Wasatch 100

Poor Duncan Callahan gets overshadowed again at Leadville.  Let’s see whether he can stay patient as usual and sweep in to tag the red carpet first once again.  He owns the race – he’s the returning champ, but this year is packed with competent competition.

Rod Bien is insistent on Jeff Browning.  Says he’s been “in an altitude tent for the last 6 weeks…”  Browning is one tough, fast guy that I would never want to tangle with (if I were at his level) in 100 mile races.  He’s a fierce competitor.  I would be surprized, though, to have someone living below 5k feet win Leadville.  Like we discussed, it’s what makes Leadville difficult compared to true tougher courses like San Diego 100 (the new course where Bowman just ran 18hrs flat for the win).  Someone, like Bowman’s (living at 8,000 ft) time can be extrapolated from San Diego’s relatively low altitude course and a projection of performance can be made for Leadville because altitude is a non factor for him.  So, Bowman at 18hrs at San Diego equals 17hrs at Leadville.  Browning at 18:31 (screaming time) at Cascade Crest 100 equals 19hrs at Leadville because of the altitude.  Does that make sense?

Jeff Browning thumping the course record at Cascade Crest 100 (the crowds are electrifying!)

Matt:  Yes it does though I certainly couldn’t have come to that myself.  Another reason to like Bowman’s chances.

And I do agree with your sentiments toward Callahan.  I’m rooting for Callahan because, like you said, he seems overshadowed and he’s won the damn thing twice.

One of the guys casting a big shadow is the South African Ryan Sandes.  I don’t have too much insight here.  He’s with Solomon, he finished 3rd in the North Face 100K race in Australia that Kilian Jornet won prior to winning WS100.  I guess the problem I see here is related to experience: at the 100 mile mountain distance (not exactly a multi-stage adventure race) and at that altitude.  The guy looks impressively togged, running in a variety of exotic locations and racing quite successfully.  But experience seems a big factor.

Granted, he did some high elevation climbing recently at The Zugspitz Ultra, where he finished 3rd.  This takes place in the German Alps with, I think, about 17k ft. of vert.  However, in one report I read Sandes admitting, “There were a few times when running up a 1200m climb that I thought to myself bring back the heat, sand and flat of the deserts.”  I hope he was kidding!

So, officially I like Parr for the win and Bowman and Gorman filling out the steps.  That’s with my head.  Burch is my dark-horse in dramatic fashion!

What do the rest of you mountain running fans have to say about this big race?  The forum is open!

Remember to follow @Insidetrail on twitter for live race day coverage at the Leadville Trail 100 (#LT100).

Leadville Trail 100 Run

Ryan Burch

Dylan Bowman

Duncan Callahan

Neal Gorman

Jeff Browning

Ryan Sandes

Julien Chorier Interview: 2011 Hardrock 100 Champion

Julien after winning the 2011 Hardrock 100 (Photo: Bryon Powell)

Julien Chorier wasn’t a common name in American ultrarunning, until the Hardrock 100 last month.  On a longer course (by 2-3 miles) and under extreme conditions of higher snow, severe thunder and lightning storms that prompted Race Director, Dale Garland to say, “In 20 years of directing Hardrock, I’ve never seen it this bad”, Julien Chorier ran the third fastest time ever in 25:17 beating the next closest competitor in second place by nearly two hours.

Of course, not being widely known in the US doesn’t mean he has been unknown elsewhere.  He placed 3rd overall at UTMB in 2008 and has won several high profile European races.  His highlights may be seen on his website

Julien was kind enough to give me a thoughtful interview, in which he basically provides a race report on Hardrock (it’s the first time he puts the experience to words for anyone).

The interview was in French, so we’ve provided my English translation first and then the original French version following it.  We hope you enjoy it.

En anglais ici. Le français est après.

  1. Julien, first, thank you for taking the time to let us get to know you better. You come from a competitive cycling background. Tell us a little about your cycling career and any other athletic endeavors that lead you to running trails and ultras.

JC:  I began the sport in 97 for fitness, then raced bikes competitively from 98 to 2006.  I road in all categories of the ffc moving me almost solely towards the cyclosportives (distance road racing like Gran Fondos) the 2 last years (the mood and the distance suited me better).

The mood in trail running is more relaxed and friendly than in bicycle.  I think that the fact that in trail running one cannot hide behind a team, relying on oneself, favors the good mood.  The level must be similar between the big trail races and the big cyclosportives.

With my school studies and work, the cycling took up too much time.  In May 2006, I hung up the bicycle.  In September, I did the turn of the lake of the Bourget with friends.  Next, someone asked me to do the Sainté on a team.  I accepted, but the wasn’t good at uphill running.  I decide therefore to do the Sainté solo.  This is my first “big” race.  Evidently, as my first experience, I went out too fast but I was able to finish strong.  I got the bug for trail running/racing.  I registered for the CCC in 2007 with the Turn of the Vanoise in prépa.  And then everything followed after that.

  1. Do you compete in any other sports besides trail running such as skiing?

JC:  No, I do other sports just for fun and enjoyment.

  1. Can you briefly describe your typical racing season from the last few years? For instance, have you been active in the Skyrunner World Series and the Skyrunning European Championships?

JC:  I’ve never ran in skyrunning.  I target my season on 2-3 big objectives and participate in 3-4 shorter races for the preparation.

  1. Tell me briefly about the competition. Are there a lot of talented mountain runners competing regularly in Europe?

JC:  Yes, the level is mostly amateur in Europe until the last 3-4 years.  There are very few pro racers but a good group of twenty or so very strong racers.

  1. What is your impression of American ultra and trail running? How is it different or similar from the European runners and races?

JC:  The level of the racers is similar to Europe.  For the only race that I know personally in the US [Hardrock], the difference is the altitude, the number of racers [fewer], the less course marking, the absence of mandatory equipment and less amount of runner safety/support.

  1. You have a wife, two small children and a full-time job. How do you find the time to train? What does a typical training week look like for you? How many hours do you spend training per week?

JC:  6 training sessions [per week] of which one on bicycle.  On the 4 running sessions, I train 1h30 – 2hrs, then one track session (in the spring I’ll do 15x500m, more in summer) and sometimes specific sessions.  I rest on Mondays.  The schedule with my job of engineer is difficult, per week I sometimes train 6hrs to 12hrs, sometimes up to 19rs… On average 10 hrs per week.

  1. Does working with Solomon provide you enough resources to train more and work a little less?  How beneficial has it been working with Solomon?

JC:  The expertise of salomon allows me by far to progress and to have the equipment enabling me to reach my full potential.

  1. American ultra runners obviously know him but now you’ve burst onto the scene (here in the USA). Do you have plans to race in the USA again? Are you coming back to Hardrock next year? Any other races here that interest you?

JC:  I wish enormously to return to the US.  For the moment it is too far to say it but I do not think so.  I would prefer to compete in one or other races (in mountain nonetheless). I know not very well the American races, which ones do you recommend?

Julien crossing Mineral Creek mile 98 of Hardrock

  1. You’re just coming off probably the most impressive win at Hardrock 100. With the weather, high water, and snow conditions, it was an epic race. How did the race go for you? Did you plan to take the lead and keep it all day?

JC:  The race went very well:  Despite (or because of) the low number of participants, the mood before the start is very warm and friendly.

I was talking and not paying attention at the start, so I started in the middle of the field.  It wasn’t a big deal, the race is long.

The course is 160k and 10,420m climb.  Early in the beginning, Daniel Levy (one of the 3 French) takes the lead of the race.  After some miles through the forest one attacks the first long climb on a 4×4 road heading for Little Giant.  Three of us are together, 3 French-speaking ones:  Daniel, Joe Grant, and me.  The pace is moderated, not wishing to follow the pace of other racers, I take the lead of our small group.

It passes near an old mine. This passage marks the end of the main trail, cut by a large snowfield. I continued straight ahead.

First mistake, it was around the snow patch by a small path …

I see a course marker on top, I find myself in grass up to 4 feet to reach the trail. [Julien made the same mistake several runners did by going down the wrong side of a drainage ridge and had to climb back up to the top and down the correct side]

I end up with Dakota Jones and my two buddies who are turned around 50m behind.

The end of the climb is, as usual here, very steep and technical. We just made the first 1200 meters in altitude in about 1:30. I exchange a few words with Dakota before returning to Cunningham, the first “aid station” or crew (assistance) are allowed. I am alone at the beginning of this descent, maybe wishing Dakota was there to lead the correct way. After a few slides, snow, grass, boulders here I am at Cunningham (7:50am [1:50 into the race]), to access the supplies, just a river to cross …

I quickly changed my bottles before leaving directly for additional 1000m towards Green Mountain. The view from the top in the meadow lets me see below (2-3min) Joe, Daniel and Dakota.

The next section, about twenty km profile will be more down but still two climbs to nearly 4000m, mostly overall running on trails or waterlogged meadows, crossing numerous streams. I pass through the next two aid stations quickly Maggie (9:22 [3:22 into race]) and Pole Creek (10:08). I’m always slightly ahead of my most optimistic expectations, reassuring? Disturbing?

The marking being light enough, I had to twice check out the map to make sure I was following the right path though. I was reassured at the second aid station where I found my crew at 11:48. I’m just in my split predictions. Sherman is the supply just before the rise of Handies Peak, the highest point of the race with 4311m [14,144 ft]. So I get the trekking poles for the climb of 1500m. The beginning is very steep in the forest and then undertakes a long 4×4 path (about 6km) where I force myself to jog. It is surrounded by huge peaks, all far away. Which one is ours?

Gradually things get clearer, I recognize the top to reach and take assess of the magnitude of the task. I spent a little more than 2:20 in the climb. The last 200 m to over 4000m will be really hard. It is 2:13 p.m.. I am relieved to get lower towards Grouse Gulch (3:19 p.m.).

The aid station is on a 4×4 road that leads us up to Engineer Pass. This portion will be the least enjoyable of the race for me, just over eight switch backs and 700m in altitude over a wide track very popular with 4×4 and quads. It precedes the long descent (1600m) to the low point of the race, Ouray (2400m).

After a few hundred meters down from snowfields and meadows in the middle of the forest is aid station Engineer, it is 5:05pm. I’m starting to get a little behind my split predictions. This next descent is very impressive, it takes a long trail on the side of a canyon for several miles with the river rumbling over 100m below. Mistakes are not allowed.

The end of the descent is marked by the passage of a tunnel that connects Ouray to Silverton by road. I am very reassured to get to this point without any problems. This is a bit of similar halfway point you can compare to Fouly at UTMB or Cilaos at the Grand Raid de la Réunion.

Ouray also marks the point where pacers are allowed in the race. This is primarily for safety and company. The “Muling” is forbidden, any exchange of equipment, supplies with the pacer is prohibited. So I leave with Ryan Sandes from Ouray at 6:26. I am now almost 1 hour behind my predictions …

So we start to climb more than 1600m [5249 ft) in 17km [10+ miles]. The exit out of Ouray goes through a small tunnel where you have to keep your head down and then is along a giant Canyon.

Following is less bucolic: 10 turns on an endless road.  Ryan’s mission was to force me to run. Mission accomplished. We arrive for fueling at Governor basin aid station that marks the end of the road. The first storms broke, the summit is lost in the mists, we will still have to go. With night beginning to fall, increased by the stormy weather, darkness is catching up quickly. The last 600 m in the direction of Kroger’s [Virginius Peak] are typical of the peaks for this race. Climb right into the slope on a frozen snowfield. Steps were cut and fixed ropes to climb to the top. It is pleasant and unlikely to find a refueling like this perched up there, with pancakes, hot soup, luxury. A cozy place that feels good after almost 3 hours of climbing in which half of it is with the storms (9:23 p.m. [15:23 into race]).

I always have fun in downhill races and run down to Telluride. In the descent I regret a little my excess food intake at the last aid, I feel bloated and starting to have trouble eating and drinking.

At Telluride, we reach a familiar and comfortable setting. The whole team is there to greet us. It is 10:12 p.m.. Change of shoes to make it up Oscar’s Pass via a path that entails Veil Falls.

The first kilometers are flat on the road before committing to a long climb to the hydraulic unit [old building with hydro-power equipment]. Following the usual conditions all day, here it is many more snowfields to the top of Oscar’s Pass.

The beginning of the descent is a path with many rocks, we must be careful. After crossing the two snowfields marked by the course, running up the path we come to Chapman aid station.

It’s 1:40 [19:40 into race], I was told 45 minutes ahead of Nick and Dakota. Despite my sore belly morale is good and I’m ready to go with my new pacer, Rickey [Gates].

The climb is really nice, the road winds through the woods before reaching the end. After a few passages of snow without difficulty, we find ourselves at the foot of the last wall [the final pitch of Grant Swamp Pass]. The final slope of loose earth and small stones, traction is difficult to find. You have to go up on hands and feet the last 100 m elevation.

With the night you cannot enjoy the beautiful view of Ice Lake Basin. I slipped on the descent of a snowfield and ended my slide in the gravel, the skin is shredded but nothing serious, we can resume our journey to KT. The descent is long but enjoyable. The final section takes place on a balcony of a path and is slightly downhill.

At the aid station of KT, I find it difficult to eat and drink, I start to feel tired. It is just after 4 am.

I learn about gap between us and 2nd place. I was told about 10 minutes! I think that I misunderstood and asked Rickey to ask the question. It gives me the same gap. Damn, I just relaxed in the last part and Dakota must have still be in good  shape. I’m a little worried. I leave in the last big climb with “rage” but without much force …

The first part goes well, the second part ends with a steep grassy ridge for the last 100 m [Putnam]. I literally climbed to the top. There is now only the descent to Silverton. I turn around, but don’t see headlamps…

Speaking of headlamps, mine shows some signs of fading and flashes. Fortunately the day is coming and I would not be embarrassed.

In the descent we cross a race official, I ask spreads on 2nd place and he told me that at the last point, KT, I must have 5-6 min. Damn, quite a blow to morale. After 90 miles in front and all the personal and family investments made to prepare for this race it seems to me inconceivable to me to be caught now.

I pass the gap of us over 2nd to Rickey and he throws me into the descent as fast as possible.  With fatigue, some dehydration, I trip regularly on the rocks, roots, I am more scared but remain on the trail. The approach of the last river crossing is a relief and the finish is close. I keep looking back and see no sight of Dakota.

At the river, wanting to take the rope, I fell forward and narrowly avoid plunging in. I calm down a little because getting through the current is very important.

On the other side of the river the whole Salomon team is there to encourage me. They inform me a gap of almost 2 hours, I cannot believe them. I leave at a run on the cliff-side path that will dive onto Silverton. I just begin to feel reassured and start to consider the victory and I feel overwhelmed by emotions.

I go through Silverton with euphoria accompanied by Rickey and Adam. The line is near, I did it.

Last mile, the rock is in front of me, I love it the site of it, I kiss it. Dale (Hardrock Race Director) handed me the medal and finisher t-shirt.

  1. What was the most difficult part of Hardrock for you?

JC:  Apart from the last km, the long 4×4 road climb up Engineer pass.

  1. Does it compare to any races you’ve done in Europe such as UTMB?

 JC:  One of the biggest differences is the technicality of the various ascents in the latter half. Very technical and involved. Then the altitude of the course makes things much harder (min 2400m [7874 ft] avg 3500m [11,483 ft] max 4311m [14,144 ft]).

In contrast there are also parts of very long climbs.

The course marking is much lighter and a lot of concentration (and map) are required.

  1. You took 3rd at UTMB in 2008. How do you feel leading up to UTMB this month?

JC:  This year I did not wish to participate at UTMB. A break will allow me to return to the race with more desire.

  1. Which Europeans do you feel have the best chance at top 10 at UTMB? What about the many Americans coming to the race this year? Of them which do you feel have the best chances?

JC:  They are very many. My list below have a chance at the top 10. There may be some surprises:

Jez Bragg

Miguel Heras

Iturrieta Zigor

Kilian Jornet

Karrer Iker

Nick Clark

Joe Grant

Michael Foote

Dakota Jones

Scott Jurek

Hal Koerner

Karl Meltzer

Geoff Roes

Mike Wolfe

Csaba Nemeth

Tsuyoshi Kaburaki

Kenichi Yamamoto

Yokoyama Minehiro

Ryan Baumann

Jean Yves Rey

The French:

Sebastien Chaigneau

François D’Haene

Pascal Giguet

Vincent Delebarre

Saint Girons Thomas

Antoine Guillon

Pascal Blanc

  1. Julien, thanks so much.  We so appreciate your time and insight.  Again, congratulations on an epic win at Hardrock and best of luck at your next race.

JC:  Thank you and see you in the US in 2012.

Bursting down the Hardrock finishing chute.


En Francais

1. Julien, d’abord, vous remercier d’avoir pris le temps de nous laisser aller à mieux vous connaître. Vous venez d’un milieu du cyclisme de compétition. Parlez-nous un peu sur votre carrière de cycliste et de tout autres efforts athlétiques qui vous mènent à l’exécution des sentiers et des ultras.

JC:  J’ai débuté le sport en 97 par une année d’athlétisme, je suis ensuite passé au cyclisme de 98 à 2006. J’ai couru dans toutes catégories ffc pour m’orienter presque uniquement vers les cyclosportives les 2 dernières années (l’ambiance et les parcours me convenaient mieux).

L’ambiance en trail est bien plus détendue et conviviale qu’en vélo. Je pense que le fait qu’en trail on ne puisse pas se cacher favorise la bonne ambiance.

Le niveau doit être similaire entre les gros trails et les grosses cyclosportives.

A  la sortie des études, avec le travail, le vélo me prenait trop de temps. En mai 2006, je raccroche le vélo. En septembre, je fais le tour du lac du Bourget avec des amis. Ensuite, on me propose de faire la Sainté en équipe. J’accepte, mais l’équipe ne peut se monter. Je décide donc de faire la Sainté en solo. C’est ma première « grosse » course. Évidemment je suis parti trop vite pour une première expérience mais je  termine au courage.

J’ai pris le virus. J’inscris la CCC à mon programme  2007 avec le Tour de la Vanoise en prépa. Et voilà, tout s’est enchaîné ensuite.

2. Avez-vous concurrencer dans tous les sports autres que le trail running, comme le ski?

JC:  Non, je pratique les autres sports justes pour le plaisir ou l’entrainement.

3. Pouvez-vous décrire brièvement votre saison de course typique des dernières années? Par exemple, avez-vous été actif dans les World Series Skyrunner et les Championnats du Skyrunning européenne?

JC:  Je n’ai jamais couru en skyrunning. Je cible ma saison sur 2-3 gros objectifs et participe à 3-4 courses plus courtes pour la préparation.

4. Dites-moi quelques mots sur la concurrence. Y at-il beaucoup de coureurs de montagne de talent concurrentes régulièrement en Europe?

JC:  Oui, le niveau est de plus en plus élevé en Europe depuis 3-4 ans. Il n’y a Presque pas de coureurs pro mais une bonne vingtaine de coureurs très forts.

5. Quelle est votre impression de l’American ultra trail? Comment est-elle différente ou semblable de l’coureurs européens et les courses?

JC:  Le niveau des coureurs est semblable à l’Europe. Pour la seule course que je connais aux us, la différence est sur l’altitude, le nombre de coureurs, le faible balisage, l’absence de matériel obligatoire et la faible sécurité.

6. Vous avez une femme, deux petits enfants et un emploi à temps plein. Comment trouvez-vous le temps de former? À quoi ressemble un entraînement typique semaine pour vous? Combien d’heures passez-vous d’entraînement par semaine?

JC:  6 séances dont une en vélo. Sur les 4 séances course à pieds, il y a une sortie nature d’1h30 – 2h, une séance de piste (au printemps du type 15x500m, plus en été) et une séance de spécifique (travail en côtes : 30/30). J’essai de garder le lundi comme jours de repos.

L’organisation avec mon job d’ingénieur est difficile, je m’entraine soit à 6h00 soit à 12h00 soit à 19h…

En moyenne, cela fait 10h par semaine.

7. Le fait de travailler avec Salomon vous fournir assez de ressources pour former plus et travailler un peu moins? Comment at-il été bénéfique de travailler avec Salomon?

JC:  L’expertise de salomon me permet de beaucoup progresser et d’avoir un matériel au plus proche de mes attentes.

8. Parlant de Kilian, American coureurs d’ultra évidemment lui faire savoir, mais maintenant que vous avez fait irruption sur la scène (ici aux USA). Avez-vous des plans pour la course aux Etats-Unis à nouveau?

JC:  Je souhaite énormément recourir aux US

Allez-vous revenir au Hardrock l’année prochaine?

Pour l’instant il est trop tot pour le dire mais je ne pense pas. Je préférerais découvrir une ou des autres courses (en montagne quand même)

Allez-vous revenir au Hardrock l’année prochaine? Toute les autres races qui vous intéressent ici?

JC:  Je ne connais pas très bien les courses américaines, lesquelles vous conseillerez ?

9. Vous êtes juste se détacher sans doute la victoire la plus impressionnante au Hardrock 100. Avec le temps, l’eau élevée, et les conditions de neige, il a été une course épique. Comment fait la course aller pour vous? Avez-vous l’intention de prendre les devants et le garder toute la journée?

JC:  La course s’est très bien passée :

Malgré (ou grâce) au faible nombre de participants l’ambiance avant le départ est très chaleureuse et conviviale.

Je discute et ne fais pas attention au départ, je dois partir en milieu de peloton.

Pas bien grave, la route est longue.

Après la course j’ai 160km pour 10420m de dénivelé.

Dès le départ Daniel Levy (un des 3 français) prend la tête de la course.

Après quelques miles qui serpentent en forêt on attaque la première longue montée sur une piste à 4×4 en direction de Dives-Little Giant. On se retrouve à 3 francophones : Daniel, Joe Grant et moi. L’allure est modérée, ne souhaitant pas subir le rythme ou les à-coups d’autres coureurs, je prends la tête de notre petit groupe.

On passe à proximité d’une ancienne mine. Ce passage marque la fin de la grande piste, coupée par un gros névé. Je continu tout droit.

Première erreur, il fallait contourner le névé par un petit sentier…

Je vois une marque de la course en dessus, je me retrouve à monter à 4 pattes dans l’herbe pour rejoindre le sentier.

Je me retrouve avec Dakota Jones, mes 2 compères ayant fait demi-tour sont 50m derrière.

La fin de la montée est comme souvent ici, très raide et plus technique. On vient de faire les 1200 premiers mètres de dénivelé en environ 1h30. J’échange quelques mots avec Dakota avant de repartir vers Cunningham, la première « aid station » ou les crew (assistance) sont autorisées. Je me retrouve seul dès le début de cette descente, Dakota souhaitant peut être « assurer » dans ce début de course. Après quelques glissades, sur neige, herbe, pierriers me voilà à Cunningham (7h50). Pour accéder au ravitaillement, il y a juste une rivière à traverser…

Je change rapidement mes bouteilles avant de repartir directement pour 1000m supplémentaires en direction de Green Mountain. La montée en lacets dans la prairie me laisse voir en contrebas (à 2-3min) Joe, Daniel et Dakota.

La portion suivante, une vingtaine de km sera à profile plutôt descendant avec quand même 2 remontées à presque 4000m. Une partie globalement courante sur des sentiers ou prairies gorgées d’eau, on traverse de nombreux ruisseaux. Passage express à Maggie (9h22) et  Pole Creek (10h08). Je suis toujours légèrement en avance sur mes prévisions les plus optimistes, rassurant ? Inquiétant ?

Le marquage étant assez léger, j’ai du à 2 reprises sortir la carte pour vérifier que je suivais bien le bon chemin. J’arrive rassuré à la seconde aid station ou je retrouve toute l’équipe à 11H48. Je suis juste dans mes prévisions. Sherman est le ravitaillement juste avant l’ascension d’handie Peak, point haut de la course avec  4311m. Je récupère donc les bâtons en vue de cette montée de 1500m. Le début est très raide dans la forêt puis on s’engage sur une longue piste à 4×4 (environ 6km) où je me force à trottiner. On est entouré de sommets immenses, tous très loin. Lequel est le notre ?

Petit à petit les choses se précisent, je reconnais le sommet à atteindre et prends mesure de l’ampleur de la tâche. J’aurais passé un peu plus de 2h20 dans cette montée. Les 200 derniers m à plus de 4000m seront vraiment durs. Il est 14h13. Je suis soulagé de me lancer dans la descente sèche en direction de Grouse Gulch (15h19).

Le ravitaillement se situe sur une piste à 4×4 qui nous permet de rejoindre Engineer Pass. Cette portion sera la moins agréable de la course, un peu plus de 8 bornes et 700m de dénivelé sur une large piste très fréquentée par les 4×4 et quads. Elle précède la longue descente (1600m) vers le point bas de la course, Ouray (2400m).

Après quelques centaines de m de descente entre névés et prairies j’atteints un ravitaillement au milieu de la forêt. Engineer, il est 17h05. Je commence à prendre un peu de retard sur mes prévisions. Cette descente est vraiment impressionnante, on emprunte une longue sente à flan d’un canyon sur plusieurs km, on entend gronder le torrent 100m plus bas. Le faux pas n’est pas autorisé.

Une belle photo de Nick traversant un des nombreux torrents.

La fin de la descente est marquée par le passage sur un tunnel qui permet de relier Silverton à Ouray par la route. Je suis très rassuré d’arriver à ce point sans aucun problème. Il s’agit un peu du bilan de mi-course qu’on peut faire à la Fouly à l’UTMB ou à Cilaos au Grand Raid de la Réunion.

Ouray marque aussi l’entrée des pacers dans la course. Il s’agit d’accompagnateurs autorisés principalement pour des raisons de sécurité. Le « muling » étant interdit, tout échange de matériel, ravitaillement avec le pacer est interdit. Je repars donc d’Ouray accompagné de Ryan Sandes à 18h26. J’ai presque 1h de retard sur mes prévisions…

On part donc pour plus de 1600m de grimpette en 17km. La sortie d’Ouray passe par un super Canyon et un petit tunnel où il faut baisser la tête.

La suite est moins bucolique : 10 bornes de piste sur lesquelles Ryan avait pour mission de me forcer à courir. Mission accomplie. On arrive en trottinant au ravitaillement de Governor basin qui marque la fin de la piste. Les premiers orages ont éclaté, le sommet est noyé dans les brumes, il va quand même falloir y aller. La nuit commence à tomber, accentuée par le temps orageux, l’obscurité nous rattrape rapidement. Les 600 derniers m en direction de kroger’s sont typiques des fins de sommets de cette course. Grimpée droit dans la pente sur un névé gelé. Des marches ont été taillées et une corde fixe permet de se hisser vers le sommet. Il est agréable et improbable de trouver un ravitaillement perché là-haut, avec crêpes, soupe chaude, le luxe. Un endroit chaleureux qui fait du bien après presque 3h de montée dont la moitié sous les orages (21h23).

Je prends toujours beaucoup de plaisir dans les descentes et dévale vers Telluride. Dans la descente je regrette un peu mes excès alimentaires au ravitaillement précédent, je me sens ballonné et commence à avoir du mal à boire et manger.

À partir de Telluride, on arrive sur la partie déjà reconnue, c’est confortable. Toute l’équipe est là pour nous accueillir. Il est 22h12. Changement de chaussures et c’est reparti pour Oscar’s Pass en empruntant une variante qui passe par Veil Falls.

Les premiers km sont à plat sur la route avant de s’engager sur une longue piste jusqu’à la centrale hydraulique. La suite comme d’habitude devient plus technique avec de nombreux névés jusqu’au sommet, Oscar’s Pass.

Le début de la descente est un sentier avec de nombreux blocs, il faut être vigilant. Après la traversée des 2 névés « sécurisés » par l’organisation, le chemin devient roulant jusqu’à Chapman.

Il est 1h40, on m’annonce 45 min d’avance sur Dakota et Nick. Malgré mon mal de bide le moral est bon et je suis prêt à repartir avec mon nouvel accompagnateur, Rickey.

La montée est vraiment agréable, le chemin serpente dans les bois avant de déboucher sur la dernière partie. Après quelques passages enneigés sans difficulté, on se retrouve au pied du dernier mur. La dernière pente est en terre et petits cailloux, l’adhérence est difficile à trouver. On monte à 4 pattes les 100 derniers m de dénivelé.

Avec la nuit on ne peut pas profiter de la superbe vue sur Ice Lake Basin. Dans la descente je glisse sur un névé et fini ma course dans les graviers, le cuir est râpé mais rien de grave, on peut reprendre notre route vers KT. La descente est longue mais agréable. La dernière partie s’effectue sur un chemin en balcon en légère descente.

Au ravitaillement de KT, j’ai toujours du mal à boire et manger, je commence à me sentir fatigué. Il est un peu plus de 4h du matin.

Je me renseigne sur les écarts avec l’arrière. On m’annonce environ 10 min !!! Je me dis que j’ai mal compris et demande à Rickey de reposer la question. Il me redonne le même écart. Mince, j’ai un peu relâché dans la dernière partie et Dakota doit avoir encore la grosse forme. Je suis un peu inquiet. Je repars dans la dernière grosse ascension avec la « niaque » mais sans trop de force…

La première partie passe bien, la deuxième partie se termine par une pente herbeuse très raide sur les 100 derniers m. Je me hisse littéralement jusqu’au sommet. Il ne reste que de la descente jusqu’à Silverton. Je me retourne souvent mais ne voit pas de frontale au loin…

En parlant de frontale, la mienne donne quelques signes de fatigue et clignote. Heureusement le jour approche et je ne serais pas gêné.

Dans la descente on croise une personne de l’organisation, je redemande les écarts et il m’annonce qu’au dernier point, KT, je devais avoir 5-6 min. Mince, je me prends un sacré coup au moral. Après avoir fait 90 miles devant et vue l’investissement perso et familial pour préparer cette course il me parait inenvisageable de me faire rattraper maintenant.

Je m’explique à Rickey et me lance au plus vite dans la descente. Avec la fatigue, une certaine déshydratation, je tape régulièrement les pieds sur cailloux, racines, je me fais plusieurs frayeurs mais reste sur le sentier. L’approche de la dernière rivière à traverser me soulage et annonce l’arrivée proche. Je me retourne toujours et ne vois pas revenir Dakota.

A la rivière, en voulant prendre la corde, je tombe en avant et évite de peu le plongeon. Je me calme un peu et traverse surement malgré le courant très important qui m’emporte.

De l’autre côté de la rivière toute l’équipe Salomon est là pour m’encourager. Ils m’annoncent un écart de presque 2h, je n’arrive pas à les croire. Je repars au pas de course sur le chemin en balcon qui va plonger sur Silverton. Rassuré je commence juste à envisager la victoire et me sent submergé par les émotions.

Je traverse Silverton euphorique accompagné de Rickey et Adam. La ligne est proche, je l’ai fait.

Dernière ligne droite, le rocher est face à moi, je l’aime, je l’embrasse. Dale (Hardrock Race Director) me remet la médaille et le t-shirt de finisher.

10. Quelle a été la partie la plus difficile du Hardrock pour vous?

JC:  En dehors des derniers km, la longue ascension d’ingeneer pass, longue ascension sur une piste à 4×4,

11. Est-il comparer à des courses que vous avez fait en Europe tels que l’UTMB?

JC:  Une des plus grosses différences est la technicité dans la dernière moitié des différentes ascensions. Vraiment technique et engagé. Ensuite l’altitude du parcours rend les choses bien plus dures (min 2400 moy 3500 max 4250).

A l’opposé il y a également de très longues parties sur des pistes à 4×4.

Le balisage est beaucoup plus léger et demande beaucoup de concentration (et une carte).

12. Vous avez pris 3ème à l’UTMB en 2008. Comment vous sentez-vous menant à l’UTMB ce mois-ci?

JC:  Cette année je n’ai pas souhaité participer à l’utmb. Faire une pause va me permettre de revenir sur cette course avec plus d’envie.

13. Quels Européens ne vous sentez avoir la meilleure chance au top 10 à l’UTMB? Qu’en est-il beaucoup d’Américains à venir à la course cette année? Parmi eux, qui vous sentez-vous avoir les meilleures chances?

JC:  Ils sont vraiment très nombreux la liste ci-dessous contient le top 10. Il peut y avoir des surprises :

Bragg jez

Heras Miguel

Iturrieta Zigor

Jornet Kilian

Karrera Iker

Clark Nick

Grant Joe

Foote Michael

Jones Dakota

Jurek Scott

Koerner Hal

Meltzer Karl

Roes Geoff

Wolfe Mike

Csaba Nemeth

Kaburaki Tsuyoshi

Yamamoto Kenichi

Yokoyama Minehiro

Baumann Ryan

Rey Jean Yves

Les français

Chaigneau Sebastien

D’Haene François

Giguet Pascal

Delebarre Vincent

Saint Girons Thomas

Guillon Antoine

Blanc Pascal

  1. Julien, merci beaucoup. Nous apprécions votre temps et votre perspicacité. Encore une fois, félicitations pour une victoire épique à Hardrock et bonne chance à l’UTMB et au-delà.

JC:  Merci et rendez vous en 2012 aux US