Saturday, October 22, 2016

Nolan's 14 2016 Trip Report

At 4:17 AM on Sunday, July 3rd I was shivering in a moderate snow storm on the top of Mount Huron. It was my fourth 14,000 foot mountain in 20 hours, and fourth time I had precipitation above 14,000 feet in the last 20 hours. I think I am going to take up scuba diving in the Caribbean.
Summit of Mount Huron
The story on my Nolan's 14 attempt this year starts well before 4:17 AM July 3rd. For starters, I ran part of the route back in 2014 as a reconnaissance for an attempt. Unfortunately a key bridge was out, and I ended up with a very different route than I intended. Still, it was a really good experience and I made three summits I had not done prior.

Fast forward two years, to the completion of my second Everest expedition, and summiting Everest. Hiking from 10,000 feet up to 14,000 and running back down just to repeat it all, requires that a person is acclimated. Hence, not living at altitude the best time for me to attempt this route is in the two months after an 8000 meter expedition, while I still have some of the extra red blood cells in my body. Another consideration is that I have very little vacation until March of 2017, thanks again to using 10 of my 13 days on Everest. (And six weeks of unpaid leave of absence...) So the long July 4th weekend in 2014 and 2016 have been prime time to go. Plus, being so near to the summer solstice means having a lot of light and not as much dark, which is a huge plus when tackling off trail routes.

I mentioned attempting this a few times to my sister and parents. After my last attempt, I learned carrying all of my food and equipment for two days was very heavy and slowed me down. Being required to purify all of my water was inconvenient too. Having a support crew would solve many of my challenges. It would allow me to change clothing if (when) I got wet, take only the equipment and food I would need until the next "aid station", and not have to purify water most of the time. Plus, a crew allows for the X-factor. For example, I was hungry for some hot food and ordered Chinese food Saturday night for when I arrived at Winfield. Which is a long way of saying, this is now the third time my sister has crewed at an ultra for me and the second time my mom has crewed at an ultra, although my mom has taken care of me before and after a number of road races and track races in the past. My family is awesome! They may not think they are a great crew, and we all certainly have more to learn about ultra running, but I would say they are excellent support crew!

So I suppose I need to actually talk about the attempt. I left work just after 3 PM on Thursday and drove to Denver. Note: not a whole lot of coffee shops are open between here and Denver after 5 PM on a Thursday, but Wichita and Salina do have Starbucks open until at least 6 PM. The drive was uneventful. It was really nice, under 9 hours of driving, but closer to 10 hours with stops. That's a welcome change from the 13-14+ hours from Dubuque to Denver. I arrived after midnight to my dad's cousin's condo and after some short greetings and some conversation, fell asleep.

The next morning we woke up and had breakfast with the relatives, who just insisted on cooking for us. Yeah, I'm definitely staying at their place again! Eventually we made our way to the airport and picked up my sister. Them my mom, my sister and I headed to REI for a huge purchase of gear and food. I bought a new sleeping bag and a pair of rock climbing shoes. Neither of which I used on this trip, although I was prepared to use the sleeping bag if necessary.

After Everest, after actually climbing to the top of Mt. Everest, there is a certain element of not waiting to live my life any more. I delayed purchases, neglected to keep up with the Jones, and lived a spartan life to be able to afford the adventure of Mt. Everest. Now that it's over there is a question of what am I saving for? Thus the hundreds of dollars I spent at REI in less than an hour.

We headed up I-70 around noon, and since none of us were particularly hungry, we ate snacks in the car, stopped at Walmart in Evergreen for water and potato chips, and drove to Leadville. We checked into the Motel 8 and then headed off to check out trailheads. My mom and sister were not the most confident in their navigating skills. Fortunately my dad created a folder with detailed driving instructions from trailhead to trailhead and I circled all of the road crossings, or "aid stations" on a topo map as a back up. I've learned from previous experience that trying to meet up can be a huge challenge as schedules change or there are multiple trailheads, or trailheads are hidden from the road. So we scouted several road aid stations under overcast skies.

View of Mt. Massive from Leadville on Friday.
Dinner at Qunicy's, of course. Seriously, for the price, it's hard to get a meal that good. I had the prime rib... delicious. By the time we finished eating, it had been a long day and we headed to the hotel and went to bed.

5 AM came plenty quick on Saturday morning. Getting ready was pretty standard. Sometimes I am nervous before what is certainly going to be a long day, but I wasn't really. We had coffee and pastries at the only place open at 6 AM in Leadville and then were off to the Fish Hatchery!

Getting started I floundered around getting onto the Highline Trail. There are so many trails around the Fish Hatchery that it can be a bit confusing trying to take the shortest route. Eventually I got onto the right trail, and then the Colorado Trail and then the Mt. Massive trail and I just cruised up it.

My sister asked a great question, "How do you pace for an event this long?" Well, I just try to keep it slow enough, a low enough effort, that I can keep going. If I overexert for a time, then I try and slow down. I think I was pushing a little too hard up Massive, I was breathing pretty hard on the ascent. Certainly that's part caffeine and part adrenaline but a little overconfidence too. I felt so prepared for this attempt, I thought it was going to be a breeze. That's an understatement of course, but I did think it would not be too hard.

Mt. Massive was easy, even though it was raining lightly most of the time I was above 13,000 feet. I even descended the south face really fast despite not trying. Around 13,500 feet I tripped and fell and whacked my left knee and skinned my hands. Tripping while running down a mountain is a huge risk. I was well enough that I returned to running, but my left knee did begin to swell up.

At the halfmoon trailhead I met my mom and sister to restock my food and refill my water bottles. I ended up only eating 100 calories in the 4 hours it took me to go up and over Massive, which is not much, but eating is always hardest at the beginning, and it was cool and rainy, which also doesn't encourage hunger. For example I wore tights and long sleeve the entire first four hours. It was a cloudy, cool and wet day.

After an excellent transition I headed up Elbert, and I nailed it. In 2014 I headed up the ridge on the right, and you need to head up the ridge on the left to avoid a few minutes of back tracking. When I made the top around 1 PM I was the only person on top, with clouds and rain but no lightning. That's the second time I've been on top of that mountain in the afternoon alone in stormy weather. Yet it always works out well for me.

Descending Mt. Elbert
I headed down the ridge and that is distinctly an unpleasant little jaunt at a decent altitude, despite my smile above. Especially when it is misting. However I headed south enough and met up directly with the Golden Fleece Mine, which again saved me some time over my 2014 run. Once picking up the trail it's a solid trail down that is very runable.

My mom and sister were cruising up and down highway 82 because the trail I came out of was branched off a driveway and they didn't find it. So when they came past I handed them my backpack and I jogged to the La Plata trailhead. After a quick restocking I was off again. I was pretty excited at this point because it was still early afternoon and I had done the two highest mountains and I felt good, although my knee was still bothering me a little.

The hike up La Plata was uneventful, until about 13,500 when the clouds rolled in and there was a little mist and light rain, for the third time that day. Fortunately this whole part was on a nice trail. It was my first time summiting La Plata, despite four summits of Elbert just to the north. I was on the top around 7 PM I believe. I headed down the south ridge and again there was a faint trail not well marked but certainly easy to follow. Around 13,000 feet it solidified and was quite clear all the way down to Winfield.
View of La Plata Descent
The down hills were hurting my knee more than the uphills and I was starting to struggle. On the way down La Plata around 12,000 feet you go through a very wet section around a lake, a bog sort of, with chest height bushes. It was draining, it almost sucked my shoes off a couple times, fortunately it did not. Once down into the tree the trail was better, and then it turned into a road and I ran down into Winfield, making it there near the end of twilight, using my iphone as a flashlight. I struggled to find my mom and sister, eventually finding them on the south side of the creek near a campground. I had texted them from La Plata to get me some Lo Mein if possible, and they totally came through! I sat there, shoes covered in mud, knee hurting, tired, and oh it tasted so good.

I had not made concrete plans ahead of time about my schedule, like when to sleep and where. The reason being, it is a hard call, and I still don't know what is best, even writing this three months later. Winfield is the perfect place to camp, because it's accessible by any vehicle. Also, there are seven mountains between it, and the next two wheel drive accessible "aid station". So using a minivan as the support vehicle the options are basically, plush camp at Winfield early in the 14 mountain adventure, plush camping at Avalanche Gulch after 10 mountains, which seems extremely difficult, or hike into Rockdale, which if (or when) I try this again, I think I will push for that. However, while I appreciated my family hiking into the Halfmoon trailhead, but that was during daylight, without camping supplies, and Rockdale would be in the dark with camping supplies, unless you had all wheel drive then you could drive in.

Point being, after eating I decided to sleep for a little over 3 hours and wake up at midnight or 12:30 AM. I took an ibuprofen and after a few hours of sleep my knee felt much better. A few minutes after I left my headlamp battery died, because I hadn't changed it from my Everest summit push, so I had to turn around and get new batteries. Then I was off, passing all of the people sleeping in their vehicles on the road to Huron. The ascent of Huron went well, but again, about the time I made it to 13,700 feet it started snowing. I was wearing everything I had with me, and I was shivering. My shoes were slipping a little on the rocks and again, I had never climbed Huron, so route finding took a little longer than it might for someone who had been there. Eventually at 4:17 AM I made it to the summit. After a scant couple minutes I headed down the hardest part of the route so far. A roughly third class descent on either an unmarked trail or extremely poorly marked trail. I don't really know because the fresh snow and darkness was obscuring everything. It was not a fun descent. But, it doesn't have to be fun to be fun!
Summit of Huron
Eventually the sun came up and I made my way across an unstable boulder field (not fun or fast) and then down an old mining or deer trail (again, not fast because the trail kept ending and restarting) and then I made it to the river crossing, which did not have a bridge. I had still not warmed up from the snow storm, and this river was significant enough I didn't want to wade through it, even though that's what I ended up doing. It only came up to my knees, but it was enough I stopped and wrung out my socks after crossing.

I made my way east, wandering through a couple empty campsites before picking up the trail. The trail up the west side of Missouri was really good. After the nightmare adventure of the east descent of Huron I was tickled to have a trail not marked on maps to take me up Missouri. However, at this point I was quite tired. I had been moving slowly for hours due to the technical nature of the last couple miles and as I ascended Missouri the thought of doing six more mountains until the next "aid station" was overwhelming. At the top of Missouri, or perhaps a little before I decided that would be all for me today. It didn't help that it was misting while I was on top of Missouri, making it five precipitation events and five times above 14,000 feet. It wore me down. I did Oxford and Belford in 2014, so I knew that part of the route, doing those two mountains, to say I made it half way was not that interesting.

The sun came out and my mom and sister hiked up to meet me and the three of us hiked back out to the Missouri Gulch trailhead. I changed in the bathroom and we headed back to Leadville for a late lunch, and then down into Denver for the night. Everyone else stayed up to watch fireworks, but I went to bed. I covered right around 50 miles, and that's what it felt like, a 50 mile race. I was very sore, but I could walk.
GPS track of my Nolan's 14 2016 Attempt
What lessons were learned?
  • Weather doesn't need to be great, but it needs to be better than snowing. I had precipitation on every summit, and mentally that was not easy, physically it didn't help shivering either.
  • My family is really good at crewing, better than they think they are. They can also navigate just fine, despite what they think. 
  • I need to do every step of the route before I do it all in one go. I had no idea the descent of Huron would be that hard. Which means, I'm going to have to do a few one or two day runs out there, I can do solo and unsupported for those, to research the route better. I know this route can be done in under 48 hours, there just isn't time to be wasted figuring out a descent.
  • La Plata is easy, except for the muddy patch, the descent on Huron is hard, but the ascent is easy, and Missouri is easy. All three of those mountains were first time summits for me.
  • While I doubt anyone would want to climb a mountain in the dark with me, that's where I could use some company. I rarely run in the dark and that's because I end up hiking a little more defensively, worrying about bumping into a big unhappy animal, rather than the offensive speed which I move with during the daylight. Someone who could simply follow me in the dark would be a huge help. 
  • Hydration and nutrition went just fine. I typically carried two 20 oz. bottles on my chest and a 16 or 20 oz. bottle in my backpack for each mountain. So about 2 liters per 3.5-5 hours and one mountain. 
Selfie between Huron and Missouri (Just kidding, I wasn't feeling that good between Huron and Missouri, this is the South Col on Everest on May 20th, 2016.)
The View Descending into Winfield (Just kidding again, that's Lhotse, Camp 4, and the South Col on Everest May 21st, 2016.)
Thanks for reading! There are some videos too, but I'm not sure when I will take the time to edit those into one video.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Sufficiently Bored

Being bored can be a good thing. If a person is always busy, rushing from one event to the next there is no time to contemplate long term goals or what the point is to these activities. I'm not quite there yet, but since moving into my house and taking an indefinite break from running, I'm getting there. I'm almost bored enough to start unpacking, haha.

Seriously though we need rest. I don't know how parents do it. I've been averaging just over nine hours of sleep per night, and I haven't been exercising outside of maybe 8000 steps a day. I come home from work and lay on the couch or in bed until I get up to cook supper. 

This is where the motivation starts. I just took a little walk after supper and the nice cool fall air felt so nice I wanted to break into a run. I wanted to have that feeling of running a good pace in training or a race. There were other things I was considering too, like unpacking, and I didn't do any of them yet because that's part of the secret. When a person is deprived of something or restricted from having it he or she only wants it more. When it comes easily it is not valued. By not running when I have the urge to run when I finally run I will have a fair amount of pent up mental energy to run, which I will need as it will inevitably hurt.

After Everest in 2014 several people assured me I would go back weeks and months before I decided to return. What they understood that I did not is that by being kept from my dream the fire burned hotter. That is also why goals need to be big and difficult. Easy goals are too easily accomplished and the flame is snuffed out. 

Getting back to being bored, I don't have cable or Internet at my house (sorry future visitors). It leaves this hole in my evenings where I might watch some DVDs or read a book or play with my smartphone. All of which are nice, but a little more boring than something like running or blogging. Oddly it is that boredom that helped my blog flourish the last five years. It is especially something that helped my running get to the level it has. And I'm starting to get a little bored, that's why I'm blogging tonight (and not running). It's a good sign for my future productivity. I might even finish unpacking before Thanksgiving...

Friday, October 14, 2016

Contemplating Retirement (From Competitive Running) and the Decision to Quit

Within three weeks of running 100 miles as I embarked on this serious rest of mine someone told me I should at least do some jogging so I don’t get "flabby". Thanks. I spent the last ten years tearing myself apart running and climbing and the first time I take organized down time more than two weeks people tell me to stay active so I don’t get flabby. Great. Way to not understand just how difficult my physical endeavors have been.

Here’s the reason people quit when they quit: when you’ve seen the top of the mountain it’s no fun to hang out only a 1/3 of the way up knowing you won’t make the top again. Sure, it can be a different sort of fun, but it’s not the same. You can't call that competitive. 

One of the most powerful decisions we can make about any activity is to quit... or to engage, to do. Here’s the reason why, when you have the option of quitting, and you decide to do it, to stay, you are deciding to see it through the long haul. You had the option to quit, and you didn’t. One of the reasons youth sports can be uninspiring is because many of the kids don’t want to be there. Their parents put them in the sport and the kids don’t feel they have the option to quit, or it wasn’t their choice to play. Even in college sports some people are there because they feel it’s what is expected of them. There is often less passion. That’s one of the really nice things about post collegiate competitive running, or about 8000 meter mountaineering, by that point the group has so self selected that everyone wants to be there. People will literally die, or shorten their lives to achieve whatever it is they are seeking. 

Almost four weeks into my break from running now and I’m feeling better, not so run down. I’ve had the urge to run and bicycle a few times, but I haven’t acted on them yet. A few simple walks have sufficed. Still my legs have had waves of tiredness, or soreness, and my joints have been a little tired, like they are regenerating. I know that's ridiculous to say I can feel my joints regenerating, but that's what it feels like. On a different note, it’s quite interesting because I don’t feel the fire like I have other times in the past. Of course, I know that the fire feeds on progress, and getting into shape, and having good workouts all perpetuate the motivation. 

In 2004 I quit competitive running. I finished my high school track season, ran a 5k on July 4th, and then didn’t run for six months. I thought my competitive running days were over. But after a nice January and February of jogging, I missed the team atmosphere, and joined for outdoor track at WPI in the spring of 2005. I was dead last in three of the four races I ran. Strangely, the season ended with me having quite a bit of motivation for cross country, and that December, I ended up breaking through with my first sub 5 mile, a 4:59.85. A year before I had no idea that would happen. I probably would not have believed you if you had told me I would run sub 5. 

I am really thinking about calling it a running career. But a part of me knows what is possible, and how close I have been to my limits. A 2:30:20 marathon still stings five years later. Oh how a 2:29:59 would have been so much nicer! Of my ultras, one went well, the other five have been less than I am capable of. God has given me this gift to run long distances and I just have to figure out if my past is all there will be, or if there is more? It’s a question no one can answer for me. You don’t have my body. Really the particularly worrying thing is that I have DNF’d my last two major races with the same complaint, muscle damage. It's like the 2015 24 Hour Wold Championships hurt me so bad when I get to the point in a race where my legs are damaged my brain sends more pain signals than necessary to prevent me going through that experience again. If I try again, and my legs can’t take it, why bother in the first place? I don’t know.

I read Tim Noakes Lore of Running Chapter 7 "Avoiding Overtraining" a few days ago. Wow, it's enlightening. Noakes may give generally mediocre or even poor training advice, but as a doctor his medical analysis is fantastic! He tackles a topic that frankly we don't understand. When I was in college I came to realize that it was really "over living" and not "over training" because it is the sum total of the things happening in your life that determine your burnout and not just how many miles you run or race. It's quite interesting the number of runners, especially ultra runners with especially short careers. There is so much no one still knows about over training or over living. For additional reading material Geoff Roes now four year struggle is illuminating

What I will do in the future I don't know. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

I Bought a House for $40,000!!

I bought a house! Does that mean I'm a real grown up now?
I bought a house!
Yes, I did in fact buy a house for less than many of my co-workers buy a car or truck. Now, you're probably thinking, 'it must have be a run down, falling apart house, with terrible crime in the neighborhood, and on wheels.' However, that's because everywhere I have lived the last 12 years has a decent housing market where houses always cost well into six figures if it isn't falling apart, and it's not uncommon for houses to sell for more than the asking price. Rural America is different.

The Dining Room and Living Room
Independence, Kansas had 9483 people in the last census in 2010 and my guess is it will be under 9000 people for the next one in 2020 due to some recent business closures in the last few years. That will be the smallest population in the town since 1910. Montgomery County peaked at over 51,000 people in 1930 and has been on a slow and steady decline since then to an estimated only 33,000 now. A huge driver in housing costs are population growth, or decline. The house that you can get in this county for $300,000 is incredible! On the one hand you can get a nice sized three bed two bath house a little older on 80 acres, or a newer four bed four bath 3000 sq. ft. show home monster on a half acre, or what about this five bed five bath on 20 acres! Did you see the kitchen in that last one? It's incredible. Point being these houses were built and haven't really appreciated in value, many even depreciated, so your dollar goes a lot farther.
Master Bedroom
Point being, you can buy a house in move-in-ready condition for a fraction of what that same house would cost in other parts of the country. That doesn't mean everything is perfect, but it does mean that overall you can save lots of money versus housing in a more aggressive market.

I want to dispel a myth, that houses are investments. Investments are things expected to go up in value, preferably faster than the rate of inflation, such as owning stock in a company or a bond. Expenses on the other hand are the things paid for to sustain your standard of living, such as rent, or car payments. In between investments and expenses are something I like to call hedges, or insurance, and that's where a house falls in my opinion. You can't really look at a house as an investment because it could easily go down in value, and you may have to put a lot of time and effort into the house to keep it in decent shape. On the other hand, if you live in the Bay area, your house's price could double in less than a decade, like a very good investment. The biggest difference between rent and a mortgage is that if you fail to pay your rent you can be kicked out in a month, but in a bad situation you could use the equity in your house to enable you to stay in it longer without paying your mortgage. Certainly an undesirable situation, but owning a house is a nice hedge against that sort of bad situation.

Maybe I should say I Stole a House?
So there you go, my mortgage details. Can you believe I got a 2.5% interest rate? What about a mortgage of only $35,000? Something interesting I discovered, on a mortgage below $50,000 you can't get a fixed rate mortgage. Which initially I was a disapointed about, but my adjustable rate mortgage is so good, fixed rate of 2.5% for five years and max of 7.5%, and it's only a ten year loan. It's the lowest interest rate I've ever heard of someone having in person, although online people have had even lower interest rates

My mom came down to help paint and move my stuff in, which was great! There are some things I have to do, the detached garage is leaning and there is no dishwasher, so those are high on the to do list. It is a small house only 1000 square feet, two bedrooms, one bathroom, and a small basement for tornadoes, and with a 1.9 car detached garage. It's a nice little house.

Monday, October 10, 2016

The New Place Struggle

At a bar in Sheboygan in April 2011 I confessed to the bartender I was nervous about moving to Dubuque. She told me to stick it out for six months, because I could always move again. She also told me to take American Family for motorcycle insurance. 

Well, my water was turned off today. Ironically I got home about 5:05 PM today, so after government offices are closed, on the first business day I have actually inhabited my house. And my toilet would not flush, and my sink would not flow water. Mystified I sent an email to the foreman asking for water and how to pay my bill. Then I did a search of my 15,000 unread personal emails and found the one saying I needed to come into the office with my drivers license and social security card (which I have no idea where that is). So yes, the email was in my inbox, it's my fault the water is turned off, and the bigger question is why do I have to go to the office in person?

I struggled this summer running in the heat. It was demoralizing. It contributed to my poor performance at North Coast 2016. Small town life is not feeling as accommodating for me now as it did 12 years ago. They shut my water off!? Seriously?! No waiting until I was 30 days late for my payment, no letter, no phone call, and just 10 days after I close, and half of that time I was in Brazil and 40 percent of it was a weekend. Seriously!!

While I am venting, I don't know of any place other than McDonald's with WIFI after 5 PM. No place to go pound a keyboard, or socialize without alcohol. Similarly, when Wal-Mart has the best vegetables, and best selection of unprocessed foods, it's hard not to cry. 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The World Moves Fast

I'm in Brazil this week, returning to the USA soon. In my free moments, and before I go to bed I've been checking the news, and even watching part of the vice-presidential debate. Sometimes it seems like the world is just blazing by. Space has been all over the place the past two months, with rockets exploding and people declaring humans will go to Mars. The biggest hurricane in over a decade is beginning to strike Florida as I write and the medical field is seeing it's fair share of news.

The interesting thing about seeing USA news from another country is that is seems less pressing than it does when I am in the USA. It's like when I am home I expect us to change and grow, but from afar, it is just happening, not good or bad or even interesting, it just is. I'll get back, and nothing will have really changed, but for some strange reason it feels like I might have missed out. Although, don't fool yourself, I've had a great time here in Brazil!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Tired: Confirmed

Strange feeling today, my legs were tired. This has happened every three days or so since the North Coast 2016. The might not sound strange to you, but here is the rub, I haven't run in two weeks! Why are my legs still tired?

I'm left to the most logical conclusion, when I said I was tired, I wasn't kidding and it's taking some time for my legs to recover. I will always be a runner as long as I can, but is this perhaps my retirement from competitive running? I don't know. This is uncharted territory for me, I've never DNF'd two ultras and climbed Mt. Everest and moved to a hot climate all in six months before now. So we will see what happens.