The Beginning

A couple weeks ago, a lot of my friends in my Facebook Feed were popping up with comments and results from the Colorado Marathon up in Fort Collins. It reminded me that, hey, I ran that race once. And that, holy shit, it was 10 years ago! In retrospect, that 2004 marathon—my third, at that point—and that spring in general, was a harbinger in a lot of ways for where my running has taken me 10 years later. There were two main themes to my running that spring: 1) a shift to minimalism and barefooting in my footwear choices, 2) a frustration with track racing and speedwork and subsequent turn towards the longer distances.

One meets a lot of influential people in college, and for me, Kiran Moorty was one of those people. In early 2004 this talented freshman runner (I was a junior) started experimenting with wearing shoes that were light, flexible, and had little to no drop between the heel and forefoot. He even started running barefoot on a regular basis, and later that spring would do 400m repeats on the track in aqua socks. Kiran had a pretty deep interest in primitivism and indigenous cultures and one that he mentioned—the now-famous Tarahumaras of Mexico—tripped my memory of some 1970s running literature I’d read in high school about this tribe in Mexico that would spend days kicking a wooden ball. The article I had seen had focused more on the age-longevity that resulted from active, calorie-restricted lifestyles, but it had piqued my interest, nonetheless. How could anyone run along kicking a ball for multiple days, I wondered. Additionally, I’d sustained 12 stress fractures in the previous six years, and a lot of what Kiran (and our internet sources, mostly anecdotes from the Letsrun message board, as I recall) was saying about shoes, running mechanics, and injury prevention was making sense.

Kiran Moorty running to an All-American finish at Div III NCAA XC Nationals. Barefoot.

Kiran Moorty running to an All-American finish at Div III NCAA XC Nationals. Barefoot.

For Spring Break that year, Kiran and I went on a backpacking trip together along the Buffalo River in northern Arkansas (the better to spectate at the NCAA Indoor Track Champs that same week in Fayetteville—Alistair Cragg and Kim Smith dominated the distance events that weekend) and during this trip I started experimenting with “minimal” footwear myself. This meant first simply removing the stiff, fiberglass orthotics that I’d been wearing since I was a sophomore in high school. Over the next six weeks I got rid of the orthotics completely, started doing a little barefoot running on grass, and gradually started wearing road racing flats for my daily running instead of the motion control shoes I’d been in for the past six years. Kiran was even the instigator for my first foray into shoe modification: we would buy pairs of the New Balance RC240 racing flat from the Colorado Running Company for $40 and hack the heels off with bread knives to achieve the desired zero-drop effect.

I would put easily 1000mi on a pair of these.

I would put easily 1000mi on a pair of these puppies.

Meanwhile, I was having an increasingly frustrating track season, trying to run fast for the 1500, 5000, and 10000. A typical week of training was in the 100-110mpw range, with a Monday long run (15-20mi) on trails, Tuesday and Thursday high-intensity interval sessions on the track, and Saturday races. Looking back, it’s pretty obvious why I was racing so poorly—going too hard in workouts trying to run with faster teammates, running too hard on the “easy” days in between workouts, all while running some pretty high mileage—but at the time I was unwilling to change anything, probably because I thought if I just tried hard enough, things would certainly improve.

At this point in my running life, I was at the peak of believing that running was very much a sport that would reward you proportional to what you gave it. If I ran more, and at a higher intensity, of course I would be compensated with improvement, PRs, the realization of my lofty goals. In the classroom, I was splitting my time between Physics and Philosophy. I quickly latched onto the Continental Existentialists’ dictum that life’s meaning was the individual’s responsibility. Meaning required self-creation; there was no place for chance, luck, or fate. I saw running as an apt avenue for practicing this belief (my thoughts on this have…evolved…over the last 10 years).

Of course, I was overtrained. The nadir of my disappointment came in late April at Grinnell College in Iowa, where I raced a desultory 36:55 10k in the humid morning, followed by a just as bad 17min 5k in the brilliantly warm, spring afternoon. My Dad had driven over from Nebraska to spectate, and I remember being baffled talking with him, trying to figure out how I was running so poorly. The Grinnell track meet held a sort of magical aura for us Colorado College athletes. It was oxygen-rich, low-altitude; the vibrant, lush spring-time green-ness of the Midwest was always an inspiring departure from the more arid environs of Colorado Springs; and the track had short straightaways and long, gentle curves, making for what felt like shorter, faster laps (of course, they were still 400m). Personally, in 2001, I had almost accepted my entry there instead of attending CC.

After that meet, I was fed up. On the interminable, through-the-night, 16hr bus ride back to the mountains, I resolved to quit caring about track and instead focus on running the Colorado Marathon in Ft. Collins in three weeks time. Despite having raced 15k on the track the day before, spending all night on the bus, and not getting back to my dorm until 5am Sunday morning, I slept only 3hr, got up, and went and logged a 20 miler through the Garden of the Gods and the COS foothills. I was happy with my decision; long runs just felt right.

The next day, I talked with my coach, who, much to his credit, agreed to let me substitute the team interval workouts with tempos and long runs but still run the last meets of the season with the team. The following weekend I made my first true foray into the “ultra” distances (I’d run the 25mi up and down Pikes Peak a couple of times, which was longer on my feet, but technically not further than a marathon) with a 30mi out-and-back training run on Colorado Springs’ central trail along Monument Creek. The challenge of the unknown distance inspired me, and, much to my surprise, I felt better and better as the run went on, averaging 6:40s the whole way and finishing up with an almost accidental sub-6min final mile. I ran the last 10km faster than the 10k I could muster on the track in Grinnell.

Page from my training log the week I gave up interval workouts.

Page from my training log the week I gave up interval workouts.

I was quite taken aback. In contrast to trying to run fast on a track, this felt so right, so effortless, really. Natural, empowering, restorative and strengthening rather than the seeming stress and destruction—both mental and physical—that resulted from interval workouts. I’d been running for nine years and never had an aspect of it come so easily to me. I had, obviously, always worked very hard—and loved putting in all that work—but I had never really felt any sort of tangible, quantitative, performance pay-off for it. Suddenly, it seemed obvious to me that I needed to forget about 5k’s and 10k’s and focus on long stuff, the fun stuff, marathons and farther. I was even more excited to head to Ft. Collins in two weeks time and race a marathon.

Before that, though, I had one more track meet left in the season, in Albuquerque, NM on May 1. With my coach, I decided to race the 1500m and 800m, instead of the usual 5k. And with a marathon only a week later, I was no longer emotionally attached to my results on the track; I remember I doubled the day before the meet and even ran an early morning 5mi shake-out before the afternoon races. Again, much to my surprise, two weeks after substituting long runs for speedwork, I PRed in both the 1500 and 800. My times were flagrantly mediocre–4:25 and 2:11–but, hey, they were the fastest I’d ever gone (and remain my PRs to this day), and that’s always fun.  Five days later, on May 6th, the 50th anniversary of Roger Bannisters first sub-4min mile, I set a PR in the mile of 4:42 (at 6000′ in COS) in a celebratory time-trial with some of my teammates.

Another three days later, I PR’ed in the marathon, running a 2:47:18 for 3rd place in Ft. Collins. The night before, Kiran had driven up to FoCo with me and we bivied in sleeping bags on the infield of CSU’s track before the early wake-up for me to catch the shuttle bus to the start in the Poudre River Canyon (we were sure to scope out a spot free from sprinkler-water). I’d been running nine years, I was 20 years old, and finally it felt like I was taking my running in the right direction. I didn’t win—I mean, I was nearly a minute per mile off the pace!—but I felt good about what I was doing. Running fast for that long was exhilarating and new and best of all, satisfying. Not to mention, I’d PR’ed across the entire spectrum of race distances since cutting out formal speedwork.

Obviously, college is all about trying new things, finding out what is important to you, developing a personal set of values, discovering your passions and talents, but it is still striking to me just how enduring the constellation of revelations and new experiences I was having in the spring of 2004 have been 10 years onwards. Sure, things have evolved for me in those 10 years, and it would take me another full two years after my race at the Colorado Marathon before I got around to racing my first ultra, but there’s no denying it’s role in nudging me towards the things I do today. Maybe I’ll have to go back and race it again next year.

EDITORS NOTE: ANTON SWORE OFF INTERVALS – WHAT ABOUT YOU??  WE LIKE YOUR COMMENTS.

The Royal Arch Loop – Grand Canyon

It’s 5am on April 17, when a Ford F250 pulls into the dark parking lot. Peter Bakwin and I say hello to Elaine, who fills us in on local lore while driving an hour and half out to Pasture Wash, where we are dropped off by an abandoned cabin. We shoulder our packs and navigate straight west across the flat and featureless plateau until the abrupt vertical cliffs. Vertical indeed – it’s 6,000 feet down to the Colorado River – it’s not called the Grand Canyon for nothing. We’re looking for a very interesting way down thru the Toroweap sandstone, called the Point Huitzil route, a hidden route that we turned up while researching on the Internet. This connects with the Royal Arch Loop, way out on the west end of the Park, which I’ve been wanting to do for decades. Then we’re going to walk the Tonto Rim back to Hermits Rest. Total distance: about 70 miles. 2.5 days. We just have to make it the next few hundred meters.

“We have an unknown distance yet to run, an unknown river to explore. What falls there are, we know not; what rocks beset the channel, we know not; what walls ride over the river, we know not. Ah, well! We may conjecture many things.”

- John Wesley Powell, 1869

Rim

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Dark Needles Loop

Spring is in the air. This can mean many things, but for Peter Bakwin and I, spring means, “go to the desert!”

This year we were going for full value: a 3 1/2 day, 110 mile backpacking route starting from the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, thru the very remote country of Beef Basin and Fable Valley, and down into the bottom of Dark Canyon. Then back again (can’t forget that part). Backpacking allows us to get into the really remote places, to watch the sun come up and watch it go down again, to see the stars, and to experience the desert environment up close and personal.

“Lawrence, only two kinds of creatures get fun in the desert: Bedouins and gods, and you’re neither. Take it from me, for ordinary men, it’s a burning, fiery furnace.”

“No, it’s going to be fun.”

- Lawrence of Arabia

11Peekaboo

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Zioneering – the Temple Throne Traverse (not quite)

March 14, 6 AM, Canyon Overlook Trailhead

Jared Campbell and I are in Zion National Park. It’s a cool starry morning, and we immediately are enjoying scrambling up the white and red sandstone in the total darkness, our headlamps illuminating tiny circles in the smooth rock. Hey wait, it isn’t supposed to be dark … we timed our 6 AM departure based on when “Civil Twilight” was supposed to start.  Hmm… we keep climbing up the bare rock … then both realize that it’s not going to get light for another hour because I forgot to adjust for Daylight Savings Time. There are a few more things we should not have forgotten as it turns out… JaredMorning

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From New Zealand – Team UD Wins Motatapu Adventure Run

Grant Guise from New Zealand is our Guest Blogger this month – here’s his report.

The inaugural Motatapu event was held in 2005, with marathon and mountain bike options, and attracted around 1000 competitors. Fast forward 10 years and the event has over 3700 people taking part in over 5 different events – the original marathon and mountain bike, an Xterra Tri race, the 15km “Miners” trail running race and the “Adventure Run”.

New Zealand Landscape for Ultra Running Race

New Zealand Landscape is Unreal! Photo Chredit: Jim Pollard

The Adventure Run tackles the true high country, traversing steep country, rough animal tracks and often no track at all, for 49km with over 3100m of ascent.  If the terrain was not unique enough, it’s also a team race, where you must race with your teammate for the duration, side by side.

New Zealand Running Trails

Motatapu Trail. Photo Credit: Jim Pollard

 

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Meet Our Adventure Running Ambassadors

We’ve put together a crew of runners from all over the country to help us test and represent Ultimate Direction. We are proud to have these talented ambassadors on board and want to wish them a great season of racing and adventuring. Keep an eye out for them on the trails!  We’d like to introduce you to the class of 2014 –>

Ultimate Direction Ambassadors Team

Ultimate Direction Ambassadors Team

Find us on Instagram @UDHydrates

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A Beginner

For the first month of 2014, I’ve been injured, again. Back in the first week of the year, I aggravated a hip flexor while shuffling my way up a mountain, and a month later it’s finally showing signs of health. Injuries aren’t unfamiliar to me, but after 19 years of running, they are no less frustrating. Especially when seemingly induced by an activity (skinning uphill) that, by all accounts, should be the perfect, low-impact  winter complement to my summer pursuits. A year ago, I wrote a post about dealing with injuries, so I have no desire to re-tread that ground.

With skiing (skinning) and running off the table, I’ve been attempting to remain physically engaged in the only other activity that holds serious interest to me: climbing. Except that it’s the dead of winter here in Boulder and the local crags are typically wet, if not fully encased in snow and ice. Other than a week in mid-January when I was able to get in three days on proper granite and sandstone, this means that I’ve been climbing plastic, in the gym.

Rewritten, Eldo Canyon. Photo: Caroline Treadway.

Before the cold snap in January. Rewritten, Eldo Canyon. Photo: Caroline Treadway.

This has very much been a first for me. Prior to this winter, I had roped up in a gym exactly once before. But, I have some modest climbing-ish goals for the summer season (mostly a couple of moderate but long and tricky traverses/link-ups in Wyoming) and getting stronger and improving my technique will make those go a whole lot more efficiently, hopefully. And especially with the winter conditions, the easiest way to be consistent, improve, and lay a base for the summer is to hit the gym. At the first of the year I finally committed to the indoors by buying a pass to Movement Climbing+Fitness and have been going four or five days a week.

The climbing gym (especially in Boulder, CO, where there is a pretty astounding concentration of climbing talent) is an eye-opening place. First, I’m not a good climber. Outdoors, I’m a below-average climber; in the gym, I’m a rote beginner, both in terms of strength and technique. Second, the vast majority of my climbing outside has been of the traditional variety, meaning that I’m placing my own removable protection (stoppers, cams and the like) on lead, or seconding beneath a belay constructed of same. Third, while well-placed cams and nuts are fully capable of holding a fall—but, really, who wants to unnecessarily test this?—I generally subscribe to the maxim that the leader does not fall. As a result, almost everything I climb outside has been fully within my abilities, which doesn’t offer up much opportunity to really push myself and get stronger.

The first week in the gym, I was barely able to climb. After maybe 30-40min, my grip strength was completely exhausted and I could barely untie my shoes let alone continue clinging to a hold. To counteract this, however, is the totally ridiculous but still nice ego-boost one receives by rocketing up grades that I typically wouldn’t even consider outside. Even if one factors in the generally safe, controlled environment of a gym (pre-hung draws, top-ropes, extreme unlikeliness that a hold is going to break or a rock is going to fall on your head), gym ratings still seem outrageously inflated. In the gym, I typically warm up on a grade that is at my leading limit outdoors. Fun! And after six weeks, endurance is rarely the limiting factor for me anymore; I can usually climb with decent technique for almost all of my typical 2-2.5hr session.

Any inflation in my confidence is very short-lived, however. The simple fact is that I am a horrendous climber. This is not annoying self-effacement. This is fact. Much like how in running, the track and stopwatch don’t lie, in climbing, one’s pure strength and technical expertise (or glaring lack thereof) is laid out quite starkly in the gym. Essentially, all the heady intangibles of actual climbing—wind, loose rock, run-outs, lichen, wet rock, poorly-placed protection, etc, etc—are removed and all that is left is pure performance, the movement. My chosen gym is aptly named, I’ve found. Just like there is no denying that I’ve never run faster than a 4:42 mile, in the gym there’s no denying that in my current state, I will almost certainly fall off a 5.11b.

On any given day, I am pretty close to being the worst climber in the gym. Again, this is no exaggeration. Thanks to the previously mentioned, prominently posted grades, it’s really easy to see how easy or hard everyone is climbing. And everyone climbs harder than me in the gym. Women twice my age. Dudes with beer bellies. Tiny girls a third my age. Fellow weakling runners, who, given their technical trail skills outside (or lack thereof—I’m looking at you, Trent :-)) I would never expect to excel in the vertical world. So, it is deeply humbling. The ego is deflated.  It turns out that being able to nimbly scramble a flatiron in running shoes (or ten in a morning), or launching up a multi-pitch climb in Eldo with no more than five cams and a set of stoppers (climbing gear is expensive!) has absolutely zero bearing on one’s ability to crush in the gym.

But, the flipside of this is that my curve of improvement is pleasantly steep. In running—especially in the mountains—I’ve felt competent, even accomplished, for many years. My improvement in that arena continues to go up, but it occurs in predictably incremental steps. And to continue to improve, I have to keep paying attention to smaller and smaller details.

Conversely, after only six weeks in the gym, I can tell that I have made significant gains, if only because I started so pathetically low on the spectrum. Most of the improvement comes from simple consistency and from realizing that there is usually an easier way: rotate your hips into the wall, move your feet up, read and anticipate the sequence, don’t hold on so tightly, quickly move past the bad holds instead of stalling out on them. It’s all pretty basic stuff, but, like most things, is also easier said than done (at least for me).

While applying myself with commitment to something new is inherently fresh and exciting, it is also frustrating. Since my goal is improvement, it seems that working towards that on a climbing wall inevitably means struggle and failure and an overall feeling of incompetency. Because of the cush, controlled environment, it doesn’t take long for laps on easy routes in the gym to start feeling like complacency instead of training for endurance. So in striving to improve, a lot of my time is spent falling off of routes that are at the very edge of my current ability. This is frustrating, especially when you can feel yourself doing it wrong—climbing with poor technique—but somehow feel powerless to do anything about it.

Because I’ve been running for 19 years, being outside, moving quickly and efficiently in the mountains has become the main thing in my life where I feel competent. I feel reasonably skilled, effective, a master of meshing my effort and abilities with the terrain and covering ground quickly. If indoor climbing is supposed to be my physical outlet right now, in almost every way it’s an awfully poor one when compared to what I’m usually able to do outside.  But that’s okay. Growth only comes through challenge and failure, so I’ll take my lumps. And, eventually, hopefully, it’ll have a positive effect on my experiences out in the mountains.

More noob activity---top-roping ice in Clear Creek Canyon this week. Photo: Joe Grant.

More noob activity—top-roping ice in Clear Creek Canyon this week. Photo: Joe Grant.

Deanne Buck Shares – A Member Of The Women’s Collective

Deanne Buck is the Executive Director of the Outdoor Industries Women’s Coalition and was apart of the UD Women’s Collective that helped design and test the new Jenny Collection.  We got to sit down and ask her a few questions about the experience.

Deanne Buck - Avid Runner. Member of the UD Women's Collective

Deanne Buck – Avid Runner. Member of the UD Women’s Collective

How long have you been into running?

I started running when I was 4- playing kick the can with my neighborhood friends. I stopped running for about 10 years in my teens and early 20′s and started back up when I was 22 years old- over half my life time ago. . .ummm, did I just paint myself in a corner?

 What is your sweet spot for weekly distance?

Sweet spot is anywhere from 25 miles – 40 miles depending on how I am feeling, time of year, and what else is going on in my life. My sweetest runs these days are out my back door (which abuts National Forest land and trails) with my 15 year-old running companion, Sequoia (dog).

How did you enjoy being apart of the UD women’s collective to create the Jenny Collection?

On many runs, I dream of designing the perfect product, one that meets my every needs. Being a part of the Jenny Collection allowed me to live out that fantasy. I felt like queen for a day.

Now that the products are actually ready for the public which piece would you recommend most? The Handy 10oz is great for everyday use.

Working on UD designs

Working on UD hydration designs.

Now that you’ve gotten to see the “insides” of the design and development process what was the most eye opening part of it?

The thoughtfulness that went into every aspect of the final product.

 Where was the last place you ran that really made you go WOW?

I live at 8,200 feet and have trails and mountains out my backyard. Pretty much every run is a WOW run for me. . . and, it is not lost on me on how lucky I am.

What is your post race/run treat?

Sushi – a complete food: rice, tuna, seaweed, and wasabi.

Prodcut Testing the Women's Collective

The Women’s Collective Product Testing!  Susan, Jenny, Deanne, Marily, Elizabeth and Michelle.

Shop the whole Jenny Collection!

The Signature Series 2.0 is Coming!

Take a peek at the 3 new product videos about the new and improved 2.0 versions of our 3 Signature Series running vests.

Anton Krupicka’s Race Vest 2.0  -  Watch Now

Scott Jurek’s Ultra Vest 2.0  - Watch Now

Peter Bakwin’s Adventure Vest 2.0 –  Watch Now

anton krupicka, peter bakwin, scott jurek, ultra running vests

Updates to the Signatures Series Vests are coming!

The next generation of our Signature Series arrives soon! The vests Scott Jurek, Anton Krupicka and Peter Bakwin designed were incredibly successful, but the boys thought of some great ideas for improvements, so here they are: Signature Series 2.0.

For additional durability, we switched the Cuben Fiber for Silnylon 66, beefed up all the mesh and bungy cords, and added edge binding to the stretch pockets on the three vests. For easier sizing and a better fit, we added lateral adjustment straps on Scott and Peters, and for easier access to an internal bladder those two vests now have a third access zipper. Anton’s vest is more streamlined without the pockets at the bottom of the main compartment. And everything has been updated with our new color and logo.

The vests stayed virtually the same capacity — they are just stronger and tuned to perform better.

AK Race Vest: $99.95 – (weight w/o bottles 7 oz)
SJ Ultra Vest: $129.95 – (weight w/o bottles 11 oz)
PB Adventure Vest: $159.95 – (weight w/o bottles16 oz)

Also stay tuned for our NEW website!