Sep 30, 2009

Steve's Bucket List: Grand Canyon R2R2R

This is part of a series of posts where I discuss items on my "bucket list." the introduction to the series is here.

Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim: Start at the southern rim of the grand canyon & run to the opposite side. Then turn around and run back.

47 miles, 11K feet of climbing, wide temperature variations, limited water sources, and difficult rescue.
Rim-to-rim hikes or even day hikes from rim to river and back are strongly discouraged by the National Park Service. Rescues are frequent. People overestimate their abilities and underestimate how strenuous such an adventure can be. Another key factor is the hot temperature of the canyon. Temperatures in the lower canyon are typically more than 20 degrees hotter than the rim. Many hikers end up suffering from heat exhaustion. - Davy Crockett
No, it's not something I'd take lightly, and so I probably will not attempt it until I'm a much more experienced ultrarunner - that is, I'd hopefully have a couple of 100s under my belt before attempting this. This can't be an effort where the objective is to "prove I can do it." Rather, the goal would have to finish it comfortably, which means starting it well-trained, fit and confident.

I've never been to the Grand Canyon, and I'm sure just being there is going to be an awesome experience. But, as those of you who know me can attest to, "just being there" is rarely a satisfying end for me in any place worth visiting, and I have to make a challenge out of it - a part of me believes that I can't attain a meaningful experience from the tourist's viewing platforms, rather I need to be "in" it - go down into the wilder parts of it and go ahead and let it challenge me, and possibly spank me. It's for this reason I want to return to Yellowstone. It was totally cool to see the volcanic activity, but the whole time I was there I wish I could have strapped on my running shoes and gotten out on those trails. So with the Grand Canyon, I'd like to stand on the rim and marvel with the crowds at the giant hole in the ground, but if that's all I did, I'd feel like I wasted a trip. Much better to go down in that hole, see what's down there, and see how it can challenge me.

New entries for Steve's blog are published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10:00am NY time and can be seen at

Sep 28, 2009

Hike Report: Mt. Marcy, NY - state highpoint #31

While Alex and Joe were out of town, I took the opportunity to take a quick daytrip up to the adirondack mountains of new york to climbg Mount Marcy, which is the highest in New York State.

For those of you who don't know, I am a card-carrying member of the highpointers club, which exists solely for the purpose of
promote climbing to the highest point in each of the fifty (50) states; provide a forum for education about the highpoints; aid in the preservation and conservation of the highpoints and their environs; provide a vehicle through which persons with this common goal can meet and correspond with one another; maintain positive relationships with owners of highpoints on private property; assist in the care and maintenance of highpoints; and support public and private efforts to maintain the integrity of and access to state highpoints.
I maintain a separate web site about my highpointing adventures, here to see it.

Anyway, I had been to 30 state highpoints, including all but three east of the mississsippi. I've gone on roadtrips of thousands of miles and slept on sides of roads several times to grab highpoints in remote parts of states that I'd otherwise have no reason to visit. I've hiked in the rain, the snow, the ice, and the heat to grab highpoints. Yet I had not been to my home state's highpoint, and as of this weekend hadn't bagged a new highpoint in about a year, so I figured now was about as good a time as any to go grab it.

That was the longest introduction to a report I've ever written. The actual report will be shorter. I'll include lots of photos to make up for it. (:

Grabbed my traditional bagel-with-lox-and-cream-cheese pre-long workout breakfast and hit the road at 4:15am, and made it up to the Lake Placid area in about 3½ hours. Started hiking, jogging the flats and downhill areas, which there weren't many. After 2 miles I reached Marcy dam and had 5-6 miles to go, where the trail got both steep and very rocky. I powerwalked all the way to treeline until bonking a bit and dragging my sorry ass the last 500-feet to the summit. I took a bunch of pictures, called my wife in california, and started back down after a half hour up there. Total time trail-head to trail-head was just a hair over 6 hours. Got back in the car and drove home, making a stop at cracker barrel in albany for a pancake dinner. Love the pancakes there. (:

Enough of the report. Here are some photos. Enjoy.

help us out, shlep a rock

trail register

Lots of this in muddy parts

Marcy Dam

Lots of this on the trail

And a tremendous amount of this. Literally miles of it were like this.

Nice view, still a ways to go

1.2 miles to go

Approaching treeline

summit always visible now

this is how you know you're at treeline, merely 5000' high in this part of the country.

Thought the trail was tough before?

Rock shlep complete

Made it!

From what I could tell, that little rock next to the puddle was on the actual highest point of the state. that little puddle next to the rock was the highest puddle in new york state.

dorky summit plaque shot, taken by the forest ranger paid to hang out on the summit. what a job that must be.

Nice view. I could see a lot of clouds.

To be fair, this direction had better views

The summit. plenty of company up there.

Marcy Dam, coming back

closer look at the dam

Mt. Marcy, from the dam

Typical trail at lower elevation, below the dam

More trail below the dam

More trail below the dam

And, in case you're wondering, the only two highpoints east of the mississippi i have left are now maine (Mt. Kathadin, big mountain) and virginia (Mt. Rogers, not quite as big.)

New entries for Steve's blog are published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10:00am NY time and can be seen at

Sep 25, 2009

Race Preview: VT 50K

Last year I entered the Vermont 50-miler, a month after DNFing the Grand Teton 50, with little hope of finishing. As expected, I was pulled, by race officials, about 4 hours into the race, for not getting to the mile 19 aid station in time. It's a shame too because I was running my own race and felt great, and it's a shame I never got to the mile 35-40 range to see how i'd feel then. At any rate, I came home empty-handed and was lukewarm about that race. It had been described to me as a mountain bike race primarily with a running component added almost as an afterthought, and I could definitely see why people would say that.

still, it's a pretty cool race in terms of scenery. the course is very serene if that makes sense. enjoyable singletrack, new england dirt roads, fall foliage. for months after last year's dnf, every time i saw a photo of a country road lined with colorful trees, i thought of the vermont 50.

while the vermont experience from 2008 has taught me to not enter any races where i'll be chasing a cutoff - all of that beauty wasn't enough to get me to go back to do the 50k, a corresponding race i know i can finish. the reason i decided, only a couple of weeks ago, to enter the 50k was i was invited by multiple friends to carpoolup on saturday, run the race & drive home sunday night. it should be fun. and even though i won't be running with any buddies (everyone i know will be running the 50m), i'll be content to enjoy those colorful serene new england dirt roads for a sunday in october.

New entries for Steve's blog are published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10:00am NY time and can be seen at

Sep 23, 2009

One Small Problem with Push Gmail for iPhone

Here's an unfortunate consequence of Google's own push implementation of gmail: It relies on the built-in microsoft exchange support on the iPhone. The problem is, if you're already using the exchange support for work, you cannot use gmail push because, with the iphone, you're only allowed to set up one exchange profile at a time!

Official Gmail Blog: Push Gmail for iPhone and Windows Mobile

Thanks anyway, google. I appreciate the effort.

New entries for Steve's blog are published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10:00am NY time and can be seen at

Sep 21, 2009

On typing

yes, typing. (:

This one is going to be easy, and it's going to be short. And, since I can type (hehe), it'll only take me 5 minutes to write.

This is not an article about ultrarunning. Sorry. Lots of stuff in the queue on that front, I just have to "write" it, which is different than typing it. This note, which is about typing, is already written. It's in my head. I just have to type it.

Allow me to back up. An acquaintance of mine, Dane Rauschenberg(met him at a race two weeks ago, nice guy), posted a link to an article on facebook about how some school in West Virginia doesn't teach students cursive anymore, except for one year, third grade, such that by the time the kid gets to the eight grade they don't know cursive and can't sign their name. That was the article's anecdote, and it's point was that kids aren't taught cursive anymore, isn't that horrible.

Immediately the pragmatist in me remembered all the years learning cursive I had in grade school and the single semester I had in typing my entire time in school, which I believe was in the 8th grade, ironically enough.

Then, I remembered one of my favorite programming articles of all time, written by Steve Yegge, formerly of Amazon, now of Google. The blog post, intended for software programmers but applicable to all, is called "Programming's Dirtiest Little Secret" (warning - atrociously horrible & mean four-letter words) and is just riddled with epic truths and amusing anecdotes and wonderful quotes.

Wonderful quotes like this:
Touch typists can spot an illtyperate programmer from a mile away. They don't even have to be in the same room.
Here's the deal: everyone is laughing at you. Or if they're your close friend, they're just pitying you. Because you suck. If you really think refactoring tools are a substitute for typing, it's like you're telling us that it's OK for you to saw your legs off because you have a car. We're not fucking buying it.
Hell, if you're having trouble, just email me, and I'll give you a personalized pep talk. I can afford it. I type pretty fast. Plus your email will be really short.
It's long, but well well well worth your time to read. After you've read this, of course. I'll do you a favor and make this short, even though I don't have to. I can type, after all.

My whole point in writing this is this: writing letters to friends in cursive is an awesome ability to have, right up there with writing letters to friends in calligraphy. Every single one of us is sentimental to a degree and we love all that squishy stuff. It makes us feel warm in our hearts. On the other hand, typing is a cold, hard medium that doesn't make us feel warm at all. It makes us feel cold. That would be the opposite of warm.

But.. let me quote our friend Steve Yegge again:
If you are a programmer, or an IT professional working with computers in any capacity, you need to learn to type! I don't know how to put it any more clearly than that. If you refuse to take the time, then you're... you're... an adjective interjection adjective noun, exclamation.
I would extend that to say ANYONE (not just IT professionals) who'd work with computers in any capacity, needs to learn to type. That would include every eight grader in this country. Sorry, sentiment. If it's between warm fuzzy cursive and cold hard typing, well, perhaps there's an after-school program for cursive. It's right after the calligraphy after-school program.

Told you I was going to keep this short. Well, short relative to Yegge's posts anyway. You should still read this one. It's excellent.

This post has been influenced by Steve Yegge. To be fair, it took me longer than 5 minutes to type this. It actually took me 13 on a Saturday night (blogger will publish this on Monday), including proofreading (poorly) & collecting the quotes.

New entries for Steve's blog are published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10:00am NY time

Sep 16, 2009

Race Report: Grand Teton 50 Miler - 17:16:17

I took care of some unfinished business on labor day weekend by returning to Wyoming and completing the Grand Teton 50-miler in 17 hours 16 minutes. In 2008, I attempted this same race and failed to finish it, succumbing to my own fatigue after 14 hours at mile 36. That kind of disappointment really occupied my thoughts for the last year; there hasn't been a day that I've not thought about going back and finishing this race.

(if you can't see the above video, please click here.)

After flying into salt lake city on Wednesday night, we drove up the next morning and arrived at the race around lunch time on thursday. i quickly noticed the altitude at 8000' with some shortness of breath sitting in the lobby of the hotel. thankfully, it wasn't a significant problem at the race, a mere day and a half later.

eating tacos out of a converted bus in driggs, idaho - the closest town to the race

we hiked halfway up fred's on thursday afternoon.

This is a doozy of a course. It's a lap-course, with each lap having two 5-mile legs and a 15-mile leg. the first 5-mile leg is a quick ascent and descent of fred's mountain, a 2000' climb to the top of grand targhee ski area. the second leg is the 15 mile, where you further descend down the mountain down to 6000' and come back up a much less steep but relentless climb to 8500' before descending back to the 8000' bast. the last 5-mile leg, called rick's basin, is a 5-mile loop through gentle rolling hills with about 500' of climb. the total there is 25 miles and 5000'; do it twice and you've got yourself a 50-miler.

"The Teton races are KILLER and those mountains will squash your soul to a bloody pulp." - Meredith Murphy, comparing Tetons to another race I was running.

We drove up from SLC on Thursday and arrived Thursday afternoon. Upon arrival, we met up with fellow NYer Tony Portera, as we had planned to hike up Fred's that afternoon. As it turned out, Alex needed a nap and Joey came with us; we made it about halfway up before turning around. Pretty good for a 5-year-old! On the walk down, we ran into Chirag Mehta (who I referred to as "florida" for the balance of the weekend) and his pacer Arthur. Chirag was in town to do his first 100! A little further down, we encountered none other than Sean Meissner (who is one of the nicest guys I've ever met), effortlessly bounding his way up Fred's like how I run downhill. It was inspiring to see. Sean was entered in the 50 miler and was a contender to win.

Later that afternoon I had the pleasure of meeting Tony's family, as well as Jen and Lane Vogel, who had come out from Georgia to run. Jen, earlier that summer, had won the keys 100 and was a hopeful to win the 100 here, too. Lane was competing in the 50 and would have a top ten finish. All of us; Chirag and Arthur, Sean, the Vogels, the Porteras, and the Tursis, would enjoy an outdoor dinner at the resort. It was a genuinely great time - the kind of thing that keeps me coming back to these things.

Race Start
My strategy was simple: go slow, finish. I would have been perfectly fine with a dead last finish, and actually kind of expected it. So, when ascending Fred's, I pulled ahead of a few people and immediately became worried that I was going too fast. I felt very comfortable, however, and resolved not to compare myself to them, just as I wouldn't compare myself to the front-runners.

Coming off Fred's for the first time

I reached the top and descended briskly, entering section B in 5th to last place. This is the part of the course where I hit a wall last year. Its 15 miles long, and the second half of which is a gradual but relentless climb that, frankly, intimidated me. I made sure to go extra-easy, and time went by quickly this early in the race. The way back up was uneventful, and before I knew it I was back in the main aid station at mile 20 feeling pretty good. I went out into Rick's, and finished that 5-mile section comfortably.

Coming back from Rick's, halfway done.

The second ascent of Fred's was where I went from bad to worse last year, and I've been really worried about repeating that again. I came off the mountain in a really bad way and was convinced that I was going to drop. This time, however, went really well - I went nice and slow and actually made it up to the top pretty comfortably - tired to be sure, but with plenty of gas left in the tank. The promise of the day becoming very bright upon ascending Fred's for the second time came through and I was in very high spirits for the next 14 miles or so.

I was very happy to be there. Alex and Joe took the ski lift up and met me there.. that was awesome.

I made sure to walk most of the way down Fred's, trying to save my legs - yes I felt great but still had 20 miles and 3000' to go.

Joey met me coming off Fred's.

Mill Creek intimidated me the first time, and I was really not looking forward to doing it again. Last year, it was the second time at the bottom of the hill, after dark, where I dropped from the race and I was determined not to drop again - but I also knew it'd probably be dark before I returned to the main aid station and was a little disappointed by this - I had a semi-secret goal of getting into Rick's by dark just because I the woods in Mill Creek were spooky enough in the daylight.

Leaving for Mill Creek, take 2

The run down was uneventful, I spent a lot of the time trying to shoot video with my little flip video camera (the results of which you can see above). It's hard holding that thing steady! It was at the bottom, where woman's 100-mile winner Ashley Nordell, along with her pacer Jamie Donaldson passed me on her way to smashing the course record, and also in the video above there's a brief shot of the two of them walking up the asphalt road shortly after passing me.

The 3.3mile asphalt road is a constant uphill and can get hot, so is considered a pretty tough proposition by a lot of people. However, the two times I've done it before (once in 2008 and earlier in this day), I tended to have a pretty easy time there - I just kind of settle into a zone and power-walk the thing. Took me a hair over an hour the first lap, and now, in this second lap, I would ascend it in 59 minutes - a negative split. I didn't realize how fast I was going, and by the time I got to the top, 39.6 miles into the race, I was just starting to feeling pretty beat up. The sun had set and I only had 30 minutes tops before I'd be in complete darkness - but still, it was here at this aid station, at 7:36PM, that I sat down for the first time all day. I just was not looking forward to the next section.

After five minutes I pulled my sorry ass out of the chair and started turning my stiff legs over until they loosened up after a quarter mile, and chugged along the section where, last year and in the previous lap, I hit a surprisingly early wall. Darkness descended agonizingly slow, but I was making decent progress and there was still a bit of twilight when I reached the "stick" of this lollypop-shaped section - where I'd find oncoming runner traffic. Saw a couple of 100-mile runners, and, interestingly enough, also saw all but two of the 50-mile runners behind me - I thought they were less than 6 miles behind but apparently I was wrong. Before I knew it, I had passed the cat skiing hut and was ascending "lightning ridge", as I believe it's called, which is relatively short (~500 feet of gain) but just as steep as Fred's and, as it turns out, extremely hard for being 43.5 miles into this race. At this point, I was toasted. Completely dark outside, a couple of 100-mile runners coming down the hill would encourage me (notably, Hans-Dieter Weisshaar said some very kind words here), while I was bent over in exhaustion on the hill. I took close to 45 minutes to complete this single mile. Once on the ridge, it was largely downhill all the way to the main aid station but I was just too tired to run. Here, Bob Grove, the only male 50-mile runner behind me who was still in the race, caught me and we walked that last mile to the aid station. He was doing his first 50 and dealing with some issues of his own, blisters (Thankfully, that never became a problem for me.) It was good to talk to someone for a little bit of the race.

Coming into the main aid station. I was all smiles because despite my fatigue, I only had 5 miles to go and knew I was going to make it.

when I reached the main aid station, I sat down for the second time of the day and enjoyed some pizza, which the race organizers brought in. Last year, Co-RaceDirector Lisa force-fed me pizza was part of what got me back out on the trail when I was sure I would drop at mile 30. It didn't seem appetizing until I had a bite, and then I ate three slices. Figuring that my fatigue at this point at mile 45 was simply history repeating itself, I helped myself to three more slices of pizza before returning to rick's basin for the final 5 miles.

pizza was in the microwave.

Three slices of pizza.. was a mistake. It wasn't very long into that last section when my stomach started to churn as the gas pain built up. What little running I would have done pretty much became impossible. On the contrary, at least three times I sat down on the side of the trail, the first time from the stomach pain, and the last time from pure exhaustion. The split for this section - 1:40 in lap 1, 2:15 in lap 2, tells the story. But, at this point, there's not much you can do but make it to the next aid station - which happened to be the finish line!

So, 16 minutes after midnight, my wobble turned into a weak stride as I ran down the hill and finished the Grand Teton 50-miler! I received hugs from Co-RaceDirector Jay Batchen and Sean Meissner and promptly flopped down on a tarp, with only enough consciousness to use my own drop bag as a pillow.

I could have stayed there all night

This was the hardest thing I've ever done, it made ever other ultra I've finished look like chicken feed. And apparently, it was really important to me that I finish this - as I experienced an unexpectedly high level of satisfaction for a few days after the race.

What's next for me? I have a very busy 3 weeks coming up, where I'm going to go on a bit of a 50K rampage. Starting with Vermont, then a Team Slug event, then Blues Cruise, and finally Mountain Madness. Four 50Ks within 20 days, three within 8 days, and in the case of slug and blues, two 50ks in two days. Afterwords, it's all about ramping up for the Umstead 100-miler, which I successfully registered for this week.

I want to briefly mention Sister Marybeth Lloyd, 50-something years old, who completed the 50-mile event, while wearing her Habit, in 21:21:41. She was out there from 7am until 4:21am to raise money for kids who were orphaned by AIDs. Check out the charity's site.

Here are some other folks who graced the tetons with their presence, and who I wanted to give a shout to:

Byron Powell, of

Sarah Thomsen, fellow back-of-the-packer in the 50-miler

Dusty Hardman, who, along with Tony, ran both the 50-miler and the marathon the next day - they're the only two people ever to do this! She's also just a ton of fun to be around..

Sep 1, 2009

Race Report: Self-Transcendence Marathon 2009 - 5:43:59, PR.

If you, dear reader, happen to like long race reports with lots of photos, I'm afraid I'm going to disappoint you today. Brevity will be the name of the game for today's edition of steve's blog. For most of you, that's probably a good thing.

When I registered for this marathon, the most intriguing thing about it was the fact that it's on a tuesday, making it possible for me to run the marathon in the morning and go to work in the afternoon. Interestingly, this wouldn't be the first time I did this; when I ran this marathon in 2007 I went to work afterwards too - with one major difference. In 2007, I telecommuted. in 2009, I got dressed and went into the office.

What I didn't anticipate when running this race was the fact that, three days prior, I'd be doing a 15 mile hike with 3500' of climbing in the adirondacks - and that two days prior, I'd be doing a fast hike up bear mountain, which is 3 miles with about 1200' of gain.

I showed up with tired legs and low expectations. Met up before the race with some internet running friends, notably Linda, Staci, Tammy, and Andy. Staci, also a local, was more interested in having company during the marathon rather than running a fast race, so she was more than happy to accompany me for most of the race. She is a fantastic running partner and I really enjoyed hanging with her. It was awesome.

This marathon consists of 8 3/4 3-mile laps of picturesque rockland lake. It was a very nice day to run a marathon, a little humid for my tastes but you can't complain in august. I ran 95% of the time during the first 5 laps nice and slow, 12:00 MPM, before walking 20% of the 6th lap, 50% of the 7th lap, and 90% of the 8th and 9th laps. Andy had caught up to Staci and I by the last 10K, and the three of us walked together for a few miles - however, I was really hammering, walking at a 14:30 pace or so. It was really tiring and hard to keep up that pace, but I knew a PR was possible and I wanted to really put a good effort in.

I reduced my marathon PR from 5:49:46 to 5:43:59 on worked legs, and I completely attribute that 6-minute drop to the pace at which I was walking, as I didn't run any faster. My legs were trashed - even now, 7 days later, I'm still feeling that marathon in 'em. Hung out for no more than 15 minutes after finishing and got in the car and drove to work.


PS - staci has a blog, too! click here to read it:

COMING SOON ON STEVE'S BLOG: trip report to Mt. Marcy, something from Wyoming at the Grand Teton Races, and more bucket list stuff! yay!