Running the canyon.alt

Far away from the corridor trails and over-populated tourist area of the Grand Canyon is the wild and remote Bass Trails. You get here by a 30 mile and 2 hour drive on roads passable only via 4x4 high clearance vehicles. The trail is rugged single track at best and river bed drainage at worst. Roughly 42 miles and 11,000’ of elevation gain await. There is no bridge, to run from the south rim to north rim and back, you swim the 46 degree Colorado River twice. The trailhead and trail it’s self is simply remote, rugged and wild.

IMG_7926.jpg

I wanted to pull this off as a quick 2 day trip to avoid being away from the family for too long. Morning flight to Vegas, rent a truck, drive to trailhead, sleep, run the trail, head back for a red-eye flight. The speed record is 12 hours, 20 minutes. I had two GPS units to help keep me on the rustic and wild trail but I kept finding myself slightly off the route. The canyon can bounce GPS locations off the walls during steep descents and while I was never “lost” I did lose 15-20 minutes of backtracking and second guessing the route. In the light of a headlamp, with some of the spots so thick with vegetation around the trail, it was just slow going.

IMG_E7925.jpg

I arrived at the Colorado River right at dawn and an unfortunate 30 minutes behind my planned time. I quickly downclimbed the first access to a very small beach just west of the Bass Rapids. I quickly pulled out my emergency floatation and dry bags and filled them with air. My plan was to get my safety set up and then just go. The water was moving at swift pace just past half way but was surprisingly calm the first half of the swim and the last 10-15 meters. I hit the beach I was aiming for at the early possible spot as I didn’t drift as far as I thought I would. Maybe it was adrenaline but the water wasn’t as cold as I imagined, I just attacked it. I tore off the wetsuit upper and quickly got into my hydration vest and started running.

IMG_7935.jpg

I ran across the river plateau and then 500’ up a ridge and back down to gain access to the Shinumo Creek. The views of the river at sunrise were spectacular. This section is some faint trails and some just running up the creek drainage. My GPS didn’t update my location until I had already passed the turn off to climb the canyon walls and I found myself running down the white creek drainage. This is a variation of the route that I took because of obvious cairns but longer, harder and mostly off trail. I exited back to the main route via a tough 4th class climb. It was really fun but I had to have lost 30 minutes of time taking this route and that exit point. Taking the correct route on the way back was 10x easier and more runnable. Live and learn.

IMG_E7931.jpg

I took at least 4 wrong turns which I would quickly realize but lose maybe 5 minutes each time. Those add up and the trouble with mile 2 and the White Creek variation made the speed record unlikely. I couldn’t have another route finding issue. The trail was great for a while and I was able to cruise before it became a creek bed again. I got less than 100 yards off trail but in my attempt to just go straight up I encountered some rough vegetation and cactus. It ended up being 100 yards of Barkley if you had to go over thick and razor sharp vegetation. I probably lost 15 minutes and ended up cut up pretty badly. This was definitely the epic adventure I wanted but as I finally reached the trail again it was clear I had lost too much time. The views of these little side canyons and giant cliffs were just unreal. Special.

IMG_7938.jpg

My goal was a 6 hour Rim-to-Rim time with 6:30 as a hard cut off if I was falling behind. At 6 hours and 22 minutes, I still had a mile to go. While this part of the trail was perhaps the best maintained part of the entire route, I wasn’t going to get the record and this was now just a fun run. I decided to turn around and just try to make my flight vs. finishing the whole route.

IMG_7942.jpg

I filled my 1.5 liter hydration pack and took off. It ended up being much warmer than forecasted, so I took off my long sleeve shirt and opted for some more vegetation cuts vs. overheating. My arms and legs look like I lost a fight to a dozen baby mountain lions. Scratches literally everywhere. It was so hot I ran out of water before reaching the river. The Cottonwood trees turning yellow around the creeks were stunning.

IMG_7943.jpg

The return trip across the river was the most fun of the day. I swam about 200 yards down river along the southern banks/rocks to find a better exit climb and because it was fun. The initial shock of the cold wore off fast for me and the wetsuit upper kept me good to go. I did go a little too far down and my route back the the true South Bass Trail involved some pretty rad climbing on the cliffs above the river which was also super fun but very slow going.

IMG_7947.jpg

Between the White Creek variation, 5-6 small wrong turns and the long river exit climb, I was simply so late it didn’t matter, I decided to just have a leisurely stroll up the south rim at sunset. It was incredibly disapointing to loose hours due to routefinding. My body felt descent and I was never wildly off route other than White Creek, so just frustrating in the sense of a speed attempt. That said, there is no bad day in the Grand Canyon.

IMG_7949.jpg

The route is 42 miles. I turned around a mile before the north rim, my watch died a mile before the south rim and my total mileage still said 42. So I went at minimum 3 extra miles, all of which were not easy trail miles but cactus laiden drainages, sidehills and straight up climbing. I had filled up my 1.5 liter pack at the Colorado River but still ran out before the rim. My water and nutrition had been off all day due to the route issues and wamer than expected temps. I reached the rim and the real adventure began.

I had left my key fob on the wheel. I wanted to take no chance it got ruined in the Colorado crossings and this trailhead can go weeks without humans. My key was gone. I’ve heard of animals eating wires and disabling cars at trailheads, it’s even happened to me this year, but I’ve never heard of one deciding to make a chew toy out of a key fob. I spent an hour trying to find it. No dice. I was low on food, water and warm clothes and it was already near freezing. No one would be coming for days. Time to figure this out on my own.

IMG_7950.jpg

First, I made the decision to try and break in my car. $100 insurance deductible for the window as was worth food, water and warm clothes. I could survive just fine in the truck and try and find my keys in the light of morning. No dice. I had only rocks and the log above with a spike through it. Neither did anthing other than scrape the shatter proof windows no matter how hard I hit that window. I am against hitting my SPOT tracker SOS (a helicopter will come pick me up) at all costs unless it is truly the last option. So I decided to walk/hike/jog the 5 miles to the ruins of the old park ranger station to see if water and blankets were there.

The building is empty. Can’t stay here. It’s another 6 miles to the small shack where the Havasupai Indians have a gate across the land for the entrance fee. At 12:45am I knocked on the door. I could hear snoring through the door but no one stirred no matter how hard I knocked or spoke. The door was slightly ajar, so I went in. Even when my headlamp shone on them, they stayed sleeping soundly. I recognized them from when I passed through the gate the previous night. I didn’t want to startle them, so I sat down on the floor of the cabin, heated by a wood stove and chilled out until someone woke up.

IMG_7951.JPG

An hour later, Fletch woke up to put wood in the fire. I told him my situation and he said I could sleep there and gave me some blankets. He turned on a generator and put on a Ziggy Marley tribute video. We sang along to music, ate frozen bananas and drank whiskey until 5am. The three guys in that cabin were simply amazing and I view them as friends now. They offered to drive me back to the trailhead in the morning and see if we could find the keys.

Rap, who is by trade a tracker and guide who leads hunts, speculated the animal who took my key fob may have moved it further inside the under carriage of the vehicle. Sure enough, on top of a harness, 6 inches above the wheel well was my key fob. Little teeth marks in the rubber. I was overjoyed to not have to figure out a rescue for this vehicle at a trailhead so remote only a few specialized services could have retrived it. I got everyone’s address and asked what they could use (everything from a pre-paid phone to McDonalds gift cards) so I could repay them with a care package for their kindness when I returned home.

IMG_7956.jpg

I got all the adventure I could handle on this trip and more. Swimming rivers, cactus attacks, climbing walls, dancing to Ziggy at 4am and spending the morning with the Havasupai in their canyon. 54 total miles. I’m bummed I didn’t make it all the way to the north rim as this would have been only the 2nd known solo run across this route in one day (backpackers have done this solo but taking shelter, food and taking days is a different sport). I’m bummed route finding was poor and I fell completely short of my goal. I’ve added up the time I feel I lost at each major backtrack and definitely think I would’ve gone sub 13 with a very legit shot at 12:20.

I try and learn from failure. One thing I have realized is that while I am not elite, I am kind. And if arrogance is the price of elite, I’m good with my badass adventurous life being regionally good. The one person I am not kind to is myself. For me, the only way to have a successful day was to break the record. A record on one of the most remote and difficult trails in the country, held by 3 of the most elite professional ultra trail runners alive. I have to learn to be more kind to myself and my expectations.

I’m also proud of how I handled adversity all day. Nothing went right. Not a single thing and I just rolled with the punches. I didn’t lose hope with losing time, I just kept grinding. When I was faced with having to get physically hurt (cactus and desert shrubs while off trail) I took it like a man and did what I needed to do. When things got dire, I figured out plan after plan until it worked out without having to hit the nuclear option of using my SPOT rescue. I am not elite, not a drop of elite blood runs in my viens, but I am tough as f*&^% and the one thing I will never lack is guts.

The first 27 days of Autumn

The leaves turning colors in fall is one of my favorite times of year.  The metaphor is powerful.  The leaves are essentially being starved to death by lack of light and colder weather and in their darkest hour they become their most beautiful.  They paint their masterpiece. 

english+church.jpg

My goal of completing 24 epic runs in 2019 to have the best year in running ever is not lost in the metaphor.  I’m constantly racing.  Sometimes ultra-distance race efforts are mere days apart.  My body is being pushed to the brink over and again for the goal.  For the chance to look back and see the colors of yellow, red and orange on an autumn landscape canvas of my life and know it’s my masterpiece.   

uk5k+england+run.jpg

The first 27 days of Autumn were possibly the most epic of my life.  I packed what some would call a lifetime of adventures into just under 4 weeks.  I completed 5 of my 24 epic runs in those 27 days and those stats don’t tell the most important story… the memories and friendships made on the way:

Nat Geo spreadsheet October 20th.png

* 22 of 24 complete! I added a 25th because I don’t believe any of my 13 FKT’s are top 5 *

The stats of my first 27 days of Autumn: 211 miles run, 8 national parks, 7 states, 6 countries, 2 running records, 2 ultra-marathons & 2 FKT’s.

A brief timeline of the first 27 days of Autumn –

Day 1 – Drive to Wisconsin, dinner with whole extended family and best grilled salmon I’ve ever had.

Day 2 – Set a new FKT on the Ice Age Trail (write-up here).  34 miles that left me nearly unconscious.

ice+age+5.jpg

Day 7 – Fly to Zion, climb the west rim trail, see the greatest view of my life.

Day 8 – Run a record 7 national parks in one day (write-up here).  A top 10 life moment under the stars.

Day 9 – Climb the Incline in Manitou Springs on the commute home.

7+grand+canyon+sunrse.jpg

Day 13 – Race the “Thru the Leaves” 50k ultra-marathon.  Break previous course record but finish 2nd.

Day 19 – Board a flight to London after a super crazy 1.25 mile run from Economy Lot G to Terminal 5.

Day 20 – A taper jog around the Queen’s house before dinner with 13 of my new closest friends.

ukfkt end.jpeg

Day 21 – Set a new FKT on the Thames Down Link in the craziest mud I’ve ever run through.

Day 22 – First to ever run a 5k in all 5 of the “Home Nations” on the same day in the UK (write-up here)

Day 23 – Quick shakeout jog before joining a members only casino in Britain so we could drink all night.

Day 24 – An 8 hour plane ride that honestly wasn’t long enough.

Day 27 – A win and course record at the Broken Toe 50k to get redemption as well as my fall win.

7+zion+scouting.jpg

Two of my biggest goals of the year came to fruition during these 27 days.  I won an ultra-marathon in each calendar season and I broke a record 12 FKT’s in one year.  My spreadsheet of 24 epic runs filled up to 22 completed runs.  I added a 25th race to this list because I haven’t given myself a chance to accomplish one of my two stretch goals:  FKT of the Year (5 are selected each year).

race+director+broken+toe.jpg

(One of the few things that hasn’t gone right this year was my quest for Nolan’s 14 which I had to delay until next year for scouting purposes.  I also wanted to go after the Trans-Zion FKT but a rockfall has closed a section of the trail for months.  So, I added the Grand Canyon-Alt FKT.  A fire is threatening that FKT as well but it won’t dull my sparkle.  I need my signature FKT of the year and I’ll find a way to throw down one way or another this fall.)

7+bryce+1.jpg

While this was statistically the most action packed 27 days of my life, what I’m really going to remember is the people along the way.  I wanted to write about these 27 days to truly process what a wild running adventure these days were.  But more importantly, I wanted to write at least one thing to each new or old friend that played a part in making these 27 days possibly the best of my life…

7+airport.jpg

Robert Hill – After a brief meeting during a race, you went out of your way to hook me up with ECT&U podcast, which ended up being one of the most fun parts of my year.  It’s really rad that you take time out of your day to do cool things for other people.  You’re a good dude. “CATTLE GUARD!”

Adam Dorband – Life has thrown you a few lemons this summer but no one could’ve guessed on our trip with your positive outlook.  All the video work you did to make a special documentary on our trip was incredible.  Your daily vlogs continue to show even the ordinary days can be awesome.

Bob Emmert – It was great to share some of those late miles in the National Parks with you as we pushed for the goal of a full 5k in each park.  You’re tough as nails and I’d bet on you any day. 

7+capital+road.jpg

Crystal Howard – You are one of the most overwhelmingly positive people I’ve ever met.  You dream big, smile more and always stay positive.  It’s awesome to be around!

Lindsey & Eric – I love your sense of adventure and persistence to run through an injury and make the most of your day.  Coming straight from a musical festival proved you were definitely the cool kids on the trip and I’m so glad you came to balance out my intensity with your chill and fun demeanors.

Kelly Nicholson – You are one tough lady in the outdoors!  You and the Bob’s were the only folks I couldn’t catch up Angel’s Landing after parking.  I loved hearing your stories of trails and running and appreciate your adventurous spirit (moving to Montana being my favorite example).

IMG_E7109.jpg

Lori Money – You are one of my biggest supporters and a constant source of encouragement.  I love that you got to experience this trip with your son.  I promise you I will get you both up a 14er.  You are one of my favorite people and always a bright and cheery addition to our trips.

Rachel Telder – You crack me up always.  There is never a dull moment with you and you definitely made all those hours in the van a lot more fun.  I’m sorry I told you that you looked like a trail runner and jinxed you so badly… and your eye… it was all so much more fun because you were there!

Samantha Struck – You are so sweet and fun!  I love that you powered through the tough final sections of the incline and never gave up.  It was super cool to have to parent/offspring teams on this trip!

7+arches+group.jpg

Scott Struck – Meh.  It was kind of fun having you there.  (You’re one of my favorites and always a fantastic source of encouragement and wisdom in my life.  I greatly appreciate you!)

Kathy Roschek – Oh Kathy, the adventures we’ve had this year.  I believe you to be the most rad 72 year old in history.  I know I can’t scientifically prove that, but I’ll believe it til the day I die.  You are as kind as you are adventurous.  Let’s go to the beach a few times this winter and have a chill “no-adventure” day!

Adam Feinberg – You were the best roommate!  Thanks for making the van time so much more fun, introducing us to Pimm’s and especially the thoughtful gift of the signed UK5K hat.

IMG_7458.jpg

Aly Wolfe – You are one of the coolest ladies I’ve met in a long time.  You even laughed at my NAFTA jokes.  Oliver is so lucky to have such a cool mom who closes down Irish dance clubs and climbs mountains.

Carolyn Willis – You were such a great addition to our trip!  Thank you for sharing your birthday with us and helping to make our van the cool van

Erin AufderHeide – You are not only hilarious but have the best running form!  Thank you for all the laughs, bringing “Scotty” to life and convincing me to wear a wetsuit in the river.

uk5k+ireland+group+photo.jpg

Gena & Chad – You are such a fun couple!  Thank you for picking up my tab at least a few times, for all the great laughs, stories and memories.  We are definitely doing a yoga inspired trip in 2020!

Jacob Akley – Bro, the trip was so much better with you.  Thanks for all you did to document it all for us.  You are a constant source of positivity in everyone’s life you enter. 

Jacqueline Reuveni – You have personality for days and it was so great to meet you and get to know you through 24 hours in a van together!  You definitely made van 1 the place to be as we trekked through 5 countries!

england+group+photo.jpg

Lisa Brady – I’m so glad you spent your birthday with us!  It was great to hangout in Europe with you and you definitely had the funniest text of the trip “Oh the humanity!” (in response to finding out the 2nd Ferry didn’t have VIP access)

Queen Jessica – My Queen, Look, a castle!  Hm, must be behind the trees.  Anyways, did you bring your grinding jeans, cuz’ we’re going clubbing.  Also, your such a fun mom bringing popsicle cutouts of your kids.  Oh hey, do you want a cookie?

Kyle Fraser – My dude, your masterful driving on the wrong side of the road was second only to all the good times closing down pubs, clubs and casinos.  Only a few more months until our next big hurrah!

drunk+photo.jpg

Laura Beth – Thank you for dinner and a show!  I’m pretty sure we now own the record for most countries run in a single year by siblings.  Next year we’ll iron out our Rockettes line performance.

Dad – I’m guessing you assumed your days of driving me around would end when I got my license at 16.  Thanks for picking up the slack 20 years later and driving/crewing me all around the Midwest as I race every other weekend (or more).  You’re the best!

IMG_7618.jpg

Non-Friendship Statistics for the first 27 days of Autumn, 2019:

211 miles run in 19 days (11.1 miles per day average)

8 days completely off running for recovery  

8 national parks run

7 states

6 countries

6 hard race efforts of 16 miles or more (3 were 30+)

2 ultra-marathon podiums (one win, one runner-up)

Mileage by State:

MI - 73

WI – 33

OH - 31

UT – 28

CO - 7

AZ - 3

IL - 1

Mileage by Country:

United Sates - 176

England – 23

Scotland – 3

Wales – 3

Ireland – 3

N. Ireland – 3

Running Accomplishments:

Ice Age Trail – FKT (34 miles)

Thames Down Link – FKT (17 miles)

Fall Ultra-Marathon Win – Broken Toe 50k (31 miles)

Fall Ultra-Fail (beat old CR but got 2nd) – Thru the Leaves 50k (31 miles)

Most National Parks Run In A Day – 7 parks (23 miles)

First to ever run in all “home nations” in a day – 5 countries (16 miles)

5 days in the Kingdom

Bessie Coleman Drive doesn’t have a sidewalk and the shuttle buses blow by perilously close to the curb.  So, when running with a 22 pound bag from Economy Lot G to Terminal 5, it’s imperative to “side-hill” it by running on the grassy embankment.  I find throwing your bag on the uphill shoulder side greatly helps reduce the uneven terrain.  Running an 8:17 mile on that wet grass with a 20+ pound ruck on my right shoulder was probably one of my better runs.  I made it to check-in with nearly 15 minutes to spare thanks to Chicago’s epic clustercuss of a traffic problem which is surpassed in bureaucratic inefficiencies only by O’Hare’s “people mover” Tram construction project which is years behind schedule and forces 30,000 folks a day onto shuttle busses.  But hey, I made it!  Now the only problem was Aly’s 3 hour delayed flight.

IMG_7626.jpg

Our crew consisted of 14 adventurers who were setting out across the Atlantic to become the first humans in history to run in all 5 countries of the “home nations” in the same day.  The Home Nations is the term designated to the United Kingdom when Ireland is included for certain sports.  The plan was to run a 5k in Scotland just before dawn, then England and Wales before a ferry ride across the Irish Sea to finish with a 5k in Ireland and Northern Ireland.  All in the same day.  Three of our crew flew direct from New York and 3 had connecting flights to meet us in Chicago.  All of the connecting flights were delayed due to weather but none worse than Aly’s 3 hour delay. 

IMG_7623.jpg

Our airline only allows check-in at the front desk.  Upon landing, Aly had only half an hour to work her way across the entire airport.  I had dropped all the Michigan crew off before parking and stayed back to wait for her.  At one point her shuttle bus had to stop on the tarmac and wait for a plane to drive by.  Seriously.  A plane crossing.  When she finally arrived at terminal 5, I thought she would be coming in the main entrance, unaware that she didn’t need to go back through security and was already near the gates.  As the clock struck 8:05 and check-in closed, my heart sunk. 

IMG_7503.jpg

I had never met Aly in person as she was part of a Colorado 14ers Facebook group I was in and she trusted me to get her to the United Kingdom.  I had never failed to get the whole gang to our destination on any trip and I was just crushed.  I went through security while looking up the next available flights to London, convinced I could talk the other 13 adventurers into all pitching in a few bucks to cover a new plane ticket (this airline didn’t fly to London again until 48 hours later).  When I got my phone back after security check, I saw a text that she made it to the gate just as they were closing and gave her the boarding pass even though check-in had technically ended 10 minutes prior.  I was so happy I could’ve cried.  We had all made our flights.  These trips pack a year of adventure into a few days, so why not get started in the O’Hare terminal?

IMG_7630.jpg

We landed in London, secured our two rental minivans and checked-in to the hotel.  The group split up but most of us ran around Buckingham Palace and then met up for dinner at the Marquis of Westminster.  I parked the van in a covered parking garage with less than a millimeter of clearance (actually gently scraped the clearance sign, which was gratefully a millimeter lower than the actual ceilings).  We went to see Hamilton or Wicked and lived it up in London.  I wanted to go for my 12th FKT of the year in the morning, so drove back at 11pm to sleep for a few hours.

thames+down+start.jpg

This would be a slightly more complicated FKT but I enjoyed the logistics.  I got up at 5am, ate a breakfast of a Snickers bar and can of Pepsi and hailed an Uber to drive me 45 minutes down to the Surrey countryside.  I misplaced my watch, so I’d have to use Strava on my phone for GPS verification of the record.  I brought a small handheld eTrex GPS unit with the course map loaded because the Thames Down Link utilizes many trails and occasionally a few blocks of road, so I had to have directions to stay on course.  I ran out of gels, so I fueled with really terrible hotel chocolate bars.  The eTrex didn’t pick up satellites correctly in England, so I had to throw it in my handheld pouch and use the Google Maps waypoint directions created by the English trail maintenance website.

IMG_7432.jpg

I was worried my phone might die in the cooler temperatures when I was using it for both GPS tracking and Mapping.  My iPod died about 2 minutes into the run.  The hotel chocolate bar basically just stuck to the roof of my mouth and I somehow perfectly timed trying to eat a chunk right as a I turned a corner to see a giant hill, literally every time I took a bite.  The mud was basically consistent with an obstacle course trap except it extended for miles.  It was exactly the kind of experience ultra-runners describe as ‘romantic’ while all other normal humans just mutter ‘WTF’. 

IMG_7434.jpg

The sun started to rise just as I was going up and over the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  I kind of wish we Americans would rename our National Parks “Outstanding Natural Beauty Areas” but whatever.  The hills kicked my glutes pretty well as I was clearly not recovered from the Ice Age Trail FKT or 50k race the previous week.  Without my watch, I had no true data on perceived effort or speed, so I had to just push the pace hard.  There are also conflicting reports on how far this trail is.  The previous two FKT holders had it between 16.75 and 17.25 miles with the official website number being 16.5.  I didn’t want to take any chances, so I pushed it the whole way.

thames+down+path+yo.jpg

The trail is kind of ridiculous in a fun way.  When it gets more urban, the trail runs directly behind homes with hedges and fences on either side.  I would occasionally find myself trapped in someone’s back yard and have to hop over to the correct side of the fence.  Then came the muddy sections.  It was slippery British mud that we don’t have here in America (probably).  The mud was deep, the mud was wide, the mud was all encompassing.  I pushed as hard as I could through miles of it as my stabilizers and hamstrings started to burn and ache.  Mercifully, the last section of the route was paved and I could turn on the jets and try to make up for lost time. 

IMG_7440.jpg

I flew across streets, trying to remember which direction traffic was coming from in this country, turned a corner and sprinted to the finishing bridge with a time of 2:05 which broke the previous record by 11 minutes.  Mud was everywhere.  EV-ER-Y-WHERE.  I caught an Uber back to the hotel and tipped the driver extra cash as a thank you for driving my muddy butt 5 miles.  I had only one pair of running shoes with me, so I took them into the shower and spent 10 hot and steamy minutes removing mud from myself and my shoes.  It was a good first 24 hours in the UK.  I drove the rest of the crew downtown for brunch and it was off to the Scottish border.

IMG_7442.JPG

An important thing to know about me is that I am literally the worst on earth in terms of speaking in an accent.  When I try to talk in a Scottish/English accent, it sounds like an Australian pirate who just made out with a bumblebee.  It’s really bad.  I’d like to think my van-mates really enjoyed the drive to Carlisle.  We had dinner in this super sweet underground cellar room with aged barrels and secret tunnels that led under the streets.  We headed to bed to get sleep before the 5am wake up call to start our record run the next morning.

IMG_7458.jpg

We met in the hotel lobby at 5:45 and took the short drive to Gretna, Scotland.  Because it was still dark out, I wanted to run the city blocks and residential areas with lots of streetlights and sidewalks for safety.  My middle name is Safety.  Due to routing, we couldn’t venture too far from the border to find a more scenic route and it was dark anyways.  Gretna is the marriage capital of the world and I could smell the romance in the air… although it turned out to just be some elderly Scottish man’s vape. 

IMG_7463.jpg

We documented our Scotland 5k with a photo and took off for a quick potty stop at a northern England interstate service plaza.  I’m normally not a connoisseur of gas station pastries but the English don’t screw around with their tea or biscuits, even at truck stops.  Our England 5k would be just after sunrise in the hilly countryside of Yorkshire Dales National Park.  I had used Google Earth and Google Street view to pick out a quiet little road that ran along the valley floor with views of the mountains all around.

IMG_7469.jpg

When we arrived, pockets of fog socked in a few of the peaks above as sheep and cows grazed behind stone wall fences.  It was quite literally perfect.  The early morning views of the countryside were exactly what you picture when you think about what the northern English country looks like.  I found myself running alone for a mile and I put on the Braveheart soundtrack because I needed to hear some bagpipes while running these hills.  We got some great photos and took off for our longest drive of the day at just over 2 hours.

IMG_7468.jpg

The route for our Wales 5k would be a paved bike path right on the coast of the Irish Sea.  It would normally have been my favorite run, if only the English countryside hadn’t been so terrific.  There was a rock formation that we all took turns jumping off to get a good photo op.  It was a really fun run and even better, we didn’t get any rain on any of our first three runs despite rain being in the forecast every single day leading up to this run.

IMG_7578.jpg

I had given us a timeline of finishing the Welsh run and getting to the Ferry with 90 minutes to spare.  I didn’t want anyone to have to wait until 2:30pm to eat lunch, so the plan was to order pizza ahead and pick it up for a van pizza party.  The only place open was Domino’s.  I’m not sure the Welsh are known for their pizza but it did feel a little lame to venture across an ocean that used to take 6 weeks to traverse by ship, with risk of pirates and storms and half the crew dying of scurvy… just to order take out at Dominos. 

wales+rock.jpg

But if you know me or Jessica Hoho, you know that those 6 week journeys were far less perilous then when we are hangry.  I had to park illegally 2 blocks away, check out took forever and I ended up running back to the van with 4 pizzas.  I just don’t get enough credit for how good I am at running with 4 large pizzas in my arms.  Karnazes gets all this credit for calling ahead and ordering a pizza on a run one time, I do it all the time and run with 4.  Suck it, Dean. 

uk5k+wales+group.jpg

We arrived at the Ferry with tons of time to spare.  As a precaution, in case we were running late, I paid for priority club class which included expedited boarding for the vans.  As a very financially conscious middle class individual, it was amazing how quickly I turned on the peasants once I arrived at club class deck and began consuming sorbet’s and fine baked goods.  There mere thought of the “standard deck” below made me nearly as ill as the turbulent Irish Sea rocking back and forth.  I’m fancy now. 

irish+ferries+boat+UK.jpg

We arrived in Ireland at the Port of Dublin to do our run through the city streets.  Physically making it to Ireland by 5:45pm meant the goal of running in all 5 nations in the same day was almost certain and I felt very relieved and sense of calm. Traffic in the city was crazy so we parked a mile away from our initial planned location and instead did a running bridge tour of Dublin. 

uk5k+dublin+bridge.jpg

The River Liffey cuts direction through Dublin with a half dozen bridges between our parked vans and the famous Ha’Penny Bridge.  The sun was beginning to set and the lighting was perfect as the city started to light up.  Everyone met along the river for our group photo after finishing their 4th country of the day.  In preparation for the great European half marathon in 13 countries last spring, I couldn’t find any record of anyone running in 4 countries in one day.  So, this mostly likely meant that everyone on this trip was now tied for 2nd most countries ever run in a day.

ireland+group+photo.jpg

We arrived in Belfast, Northern Ireland a little later than planned to finish our goal of a 5k in all 5 home nations.  I found an open restaurant and secured a table under the agreement everyone would be seated and order by 10pm when they close the kitchen.  We ran past the Salmon of Knowledge and across the bridges along the river. 5 kilometers later we had finished our goal to become the first in history to run in all the Home Nations in a single day. We celebrated with Fish n’ Chips and Pimm’s.  After checking into our downtown hotel, we headed to the Crown Bar, the oldest bar in Belfast.

uk5k+ireland+group+photo.jpg

What happened next was the Belfast equivalent of “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”.  I can confirm that we closed down 3 different Irish bars, finding one open later each time last call occurred.  We found ourselves in a hidden bar with some incredible Irish folk band playing violin unlike I’d ever heard live.  The last place was definitely a straight up club and yes, I do dance like a white boy from the Wisconsin cornfields.  Rumors of a Rockettes dance line may or may not be substantiated. 

drunk+photo.jpg

We headed back to Dublin first thing in the morning.  One of the great parts of this trip was how awesome the time in the vans was.  It was a lot of driving but we had such a fun time.  Laughing so hard our cheeks hurt for the majority of the drive was standard.  We had lunch at the oldest pub in Ireland, the Brazen Head, dealt with an hour long Ferry delay on a stupid Ferry without club class and made the drive to Birmingham, England while I told the van story after story of my 2019 running adventures. 

IMG_7645.jpg

The last night in England meant going out for drinks.  There was only one place open after midnight on a Tuesday and it was a members only casino.  So, we all joined.  There was a lot of Pimm’s, the Queens gin, Kyle cleaning up in blackjack and Laura’s epic story of bear macing herself in Denver.  At 3am, I announced I was out and needed to go to sleep but not before taking a walk around the block to digest everything that had happened over the past 5 days.

IMG_7606.jpg

The tree lined streets and their yellow leaves of autumn were illuminated by the orange glow of streetlamps.  A mist gently fell in the cold English night as I walked next to the stone walls covered in ivy.  It was a moment that was nothing short of romantic.  My heart was full from spending so much time with so many lovely people.  We had accomplished something truly adventurous that no one had ever done before in the world of running.  It was truly a magical 5 days in the kingdom. 

IMG_7676.jpg

7 National Parks, 1 Night Sky & 14 Modern Day Explorers

When I was a growing up, I used to have camp outs with my friends in the back yard.  We had a field behind my house in the backwoods of Wisconsin and it got no better in the summer than a tent, friends, campfire and six pack of Jolt soda.  We would lay under the stars in the middle of night and talk about all the ridiculous things middle school boys talk about.  One by one my friends would eventually comment about how the vastness of the brilliant night sky made them feel small in an endless universe.  I never felt that way.  Yes, I was just some average AF, lower middle class kid from the middle of nowhere who had never been east of the Mississippi River.  But I was looking at the same stars that everyone who ever captured greatness in their life looked at when they were kids.  The same stars we all dream under.  Infinitely small, sure.  Infinite possibilities, absolutely. 

Hoover Dam from the plane

Hoover Dam from the plane

There was a wise business guru who once challenged his readers to ask themselves why they couldn’t do their one year plan in 3 months.  I loved that idea.  And I love that idea in a sense way beyond business.  What’s preventing me from doing my 5 year plan in one year?  So, I made a list of everything I wanted to do before turning 40 (I was 36) and decided to do it all in 2019.  I quit my cushy corporate job and started doing contract work, side hustles and my own businesses to free up time to travel and run more but also be more present for my 2 and 4 year old boys.  I went all-in on having the most adventurous year in running ever.  The result was a spreadsheet of 24 epic runs.  5 races (win an ultra in each calendar season and podium at my debut 100 miler), 7 adventure runs (most countries, states, national parks in a day, etc.) and 12 FKT’s (breaking existing speed records on long distance trails across the country). 

Me, Scott, Sam, Rachel, Lindsey, Robert, Crystal, Lori, Kelly, Kathy, Bob, Adam, Nick & Eric

Me, Scott, Sam, Rachel, Lindsey, Robert, Crystal, Lori, Kelly, Kathy, Bob, Adam, Nick & Eric

This weekend I attempted adventure record number 5 of the year.  The goal was to run a 5k in 7 National Parks in one day.  There is no known account of anyone visiting even 5 parks in a day, let alone running a 5k while there and doing 7.  I created a Facebook event and asked if any runners wanted to join me for an epic record run in the southwest.  We would fly into Vegas, rent a passenger van, drive to Zion National Park, hike all afternoon, get some sleep and head to the Grand Canyon for sunrise.  Our first 5k run would be while watching the sunrise on the Grand Canyon, we’d then head to Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands and Arches National Park for sunset.  After a quick dinner in Moab, Utah we would head for the 7th and final park, Mesa Verde National Park and run under the dark night sky.  13 fellow adventurers signed up for a nearly 900 mile drive that would pack 5 years of family vacations into a single day.

Zion National Park’s West Rim Trail (Looking down on Angel’s Landing)

Zion National Park’s West Rim Trail (Looking down on Angel’s Landing)

 We all met up in the hotel lobby at 3:45am to start our drive.  Fueled by some epically terrible hotel coffee and the excited nervous energy of attempting the most ambitious national parks adventure ever seen.  We reached the first park and fueled up the van just as the very first glow of sunlight appeared on the horizon.  We had 30 minutes in each park and everyone in the group could run as far or as little as they liked.  A few of us opted to attempt a full 5k in each park and others decided to run a little less and soak up a little more. 

7 grand canyon mnt.JPG

Our Grand Canyon running trail was the bright angel point trail.  We reached the scenic vista before sunrise and watched the canyon walls appear in purple, brown and red as the sun rose.  We stayed a few minutes past our departure time because leaving the Grand Canyon at sunrise before you’ve had a few extra minutes to breath it in is a felony in Arizona (probably). 

7 gc group.JPG

The drive from the Grand Canyon to Zion involved a quick call ahead coffee order to a mobile coffee trailer in Kanab, Utah.  The two lovely Mormon ladies working the coffee shack threw our latte’s together in record time so we could be on our way.  When we arrived at the Zion gate there was only one lane open and about 20 cars ahead of us.  Luckily, the trailhead to the East Rim Trail was immediately inside the gate, as was a much needed bathroom.  So, most of the van jumped out and used the facilities and got started on their runs while I got the vehicle in the park. 

7+kelly+zion.jpg

The East Rim Trail is the sandy, rocky and slightly uphill start to the Zion Traverse.  I’m attempting the FKT for this route next month and I was pumped to log a few miles on the trail.  We startled a mule deer, got some great photos in the early morning light, took a group photo and were on our way to Bryce Canyon.  Zion National Park remains my favorite place in the United States.

7+Zion+group.jpg

The plan was to arrive in Bryce Canyon shortly before noon.  Everyone would run along the canyon Rim Trail and I’d run up to the Valhalla Pizzeria, place an order for 4 pizza’s, then quickly run to the rim and get my 5k in before running back to the pizza place to hustle the pizza’s back to the van before the clock strikes 30 minutes. 

7+bryce+1.jpg

The Rim Trail from Sunset Point to Sunrise Point is one of the more epic miles of trail in the country.  The burnt orange hoodoos spiking up from the canyon walls is other worldly.  We met back at the van for our group photos, grabbed the pizza’s and had a van pizza party on the way to Capitol Reef.

7+bryce+group.jpg

Most of the parks are fairly close together.  Zion and Bryce as well as Canyonlands and Arches are only a 60-90 minute drive.  Capitol Reef was the one longer drive in the middle of the day as it’s about 2.5 hours after Bryce and 2.5 hours before Canyonlands.  The trail we ran in Capitol Reef was the Hickman Arch Trail. 

7+capital+arch.jpg

The arch trail gains 400 feet in the 1 mile up to the arch.  It felt great to get out of the van and run, even if it was hot and hilly.  The jog up to the arch was slow and we still needed to get in another mile and half to reach the 5k distance, so we ran down the road as it cut through the canyon.  The warm fall breeze seemed to push me up the road.  We snapped our group photo, over halfway to our goal of 7 parks, and raced the sunset to Canyonlands and Arches.

7+capital+road.jpg

Halfway between Capitol and Canyonlands we stopped to get gas, snacks and restrooms.  Stops are always a wild card when you have 14 folks in a van.  You want to keep on schedule but you also need time for everyone to take care of their business.  I requested everyone try and be back in the van within 10 minutes.  They made it 9 minutes.  Efficiency is my love language and I’ve never loved a passenger van of 14 folks more. 

7+canyonlands+2.jpg

We arrived in Canyonlands National Park as the sun was getting lower and started the run up the canyon road.  To the left the magnificent canyons appeared purple and maroon in the light.  To the right the deep slot canyons shone a brilliant shades of brown and cream in the direct sunlight. 

7+canyonlands.jpg

I was a little bummed we didn’t have time to make it to Mesa Arch and still get to Arches before nightfall but the magnitude and scale of the canyons on our running routes as the sun was setting was nothing short of spectacular.  We took our 5th group park photo of the day and raced the sun to Arches National Park, just a 35 minute drive away.

7 canyonlands group.JPG

We pulled into Arches National Park at twilight and took our group photo first while we still had light.  There is a 10 minute drive up the canyon wall to reach the towering rock formations above.  We ran the trails and roads as darkness fell upon the park.  The giant rock formations cut the twilight as the stars and crescent moon appeared. 

7 arches dusk.JPG

It was about as magically stereotypical as a southwest sunset could get.  The night air cooled as we finished our 5k in the park and it felt amazing.  All we had left to fully realize our dream of running in 7 national parks in one day was a quick dinner stop in Moab and drive to Mesa Verde for a night run under the stars before midnight.

7 arches group.JPG

We pulled into Mesa Verde just after 11pm and began our run up the point lookout trail.  I had run over 20 miles with 2,500’ feet of elevation gain while driving nearly 15 hours at this point.  As the trail got steeper, I decided to take it easy, head back to the road and finish my 5k there.  There are almost no lights in Mesa Verde as they try and keep the night sky as bright as possible.  Being on the road allowed me to turn off my headlamp and just run under the stars.  The rest of the group continued up to the point a little longer and it gave me a few minutes alone. 

7 mesa v josh.JPG

As my eyes started to adjust to the total darkness, the stars started getting brighter.  The milky way became visible and brighter than I had ever seen it.  The stars were so bright that constellations I had never seen before started to appear.  The entire universe opened up in front me, the heavens burned bright and I remembered… I remembered that little kid laying in that Wisconsin field over 20 years ago.  I turned and saw the flicker of 13 headlamps high on the ridge above me.  13 modern day Magellan’s, the new wave of explorers who dared to seek out greatness.  I was gripped by the moment.  I had the conscience realization that I was living out in the moment one of the greatest moments of my life. 

7 mesa stars 1.jpg

We were under the same stars that everyone who ever captured greatness in their life looked at when they captured it.  The same stars we all dream under.  I once wrote a song lyric “the stars are the brightest when they fall”.  I watched as several shooting stars flashed across the sky.  I was wrong.  The stars are the brightest when you seek out their light.  I spread my arms out like wings and flew down the canyon road.  Running has taken me places that even that little boy in a Wisconsin field could have never dreamed up.  Sure, I’ll never win a medal in the Olympics but I can tell you exactly how it feels. 

7 mesa v group.JPG

Capturing greatness means drastically different things to different people.  For me, it was running a 5k in 7 National Parks in one day with 13 of my closest friends.  We didn’t do anything that 99% of people aren’t capable of.  But we did it.  That moment in this infinite universe was ours.  If I could tell my 2 and 4 year old boys one thing it would be this:  Whatever greatness means to you, seek it out.  Worse case scenario, you become a falling star and burn with a brilliance most will never know.  Best case scenario, the entire galaxy appears before you, and in that moment, it’s all for you.

“we are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars” – Oscar Wilde

FKT #12 – The desolation of Scuppernong

Sweet mother of pearl.  My attempt for a new speed record on the Ice Age Trail: Kettle Moraine ended up being a total clustercuss of epic proportions.  The trail is a 33-ish mile mix of runnable rolling hills and rocky technical ascents and descents you struggle to believe exist in Wisconsin.  There is somewhere around 3500-4000’ vertical gain.  Let’s begin with all the mistakes I made.

1.       Under-estimating the technicality of the trail because it’s Wisconsin, not Colorado.  

2.       Chasing professional ultra-runners Strava segments early in the run

3.       Choosing the day of the attempt based on low temps, not high temps

4.       Not bringing enough water because there was no way I’d burn through 70 ounces

5.       Running east to west because I could sleep 20 min longer and get home 20 min faster

I fully admit that starting my running career 3 years ago from a mountaineering background has left me with a little bit of a warped perspective when it comes to somethings difficulty.  When the average trail runner tells me a trail is ‘technical’ I usually nod my head and roll my eyes a little inside.  Sure Karen, it’s totes technical because there is a rock on mile 2 and tree root on mile 4. 

ice age 1.jpeg

 I think Mt. Marcy in NY is technical, I think some of the alt routes in the southern Sawatch Range in Colorado are technical and I think less than 2% of the Appalachian Trail is technical.  That’s my threshold.  If there’s not an element of violence or you can’t literally rip your ankle apart with one wrong step, I’m not calling it technical.  A few midwestern folks told me this was technical and I dismissed it as similar to the Potawatomi Trail.  I badly underestimated how difficult this trail was going to be.  Shame on me.

A few miles of this trail are part of the Ice Age Trail 50 and The North Face 50.  The IAT has been the trail national championship a few times, so some of the Strava segments along the middle of this route are held by the best of the best.  Naturally, I wanted to try and chase a few of these segments.  That was dumb.  Don’t do that.  I realized this quickly when my heart rate was way too high early due to underestimating the trail conditions, so I stopped chasing segments but there’s no doubt the additional effort in miles 2-4 didn’t not hurt me later (sorry, I enjoy double negatives even if two wrongs don’t make a right). 

ice age 2.jpeg

It’s been ridiculously hot this month and I chose this date because it was the one day with a low temp in the low 50’s.  The first hour or two was nice.  I suck in the heat and it was mid 60’s and low 70’s the last two hours.  Lame.  It was a good thought to go on a chilly morning but this was supposed to be a 5 hour effort and not giving consideration to how quickly it would heat up was sad.  Due to scheduling, I would still pick this date in hindsight, but would’ve paced myself differently, carried more water and brought Hylands leg cramp pills (among other things).

Underestimating the heat and trail led to draining my water far sooner than usual.  Despite 70 ounces of water normally lasting me 31+ miles easily, I ran out shortly after hitting the marathon distance.  Because I was just SO sure that I wouldn’t run out, I didn’t research creeks or springs along the way where I could get water if I was low.  Seriously, you’d think this was my first rodeo. 

ice age 3.jpeg

 The northeast trailhead is only 20 minutes from my Aunt’s house and the southwestern trailhead is 15 minutes shorter drive home to Michigan.  Purely for an extra few minutes of sleep and quicker drive home, I chose to go east to west, which literally no one does on account of that direction sucking.  Instead of getting the first 15 miles of tough technical terrain and the majority of vert done in the first half while I was fresh, I chose to cruise the easy half first and then get annihilated by the significantly more difficult half after I was already beat up, running out of water and temps were hot.  Nice. 

I went through the first 16.5 miles in 2:22 and proceeded to run the final 16.5 miles in 2:51.  I slowed down a full 20% on the 2nd half once I hit the technical hills and heat.  I completely fell apart.  I mean, that’s kind of impressive. I began to get cramps around mile 27 and severe cramps the last 3 miles.  I was running through them and avoiding the debilitating full seizure cramps that would’ve wrecked the attempt.  It became a game of calculating how much time I had and how slowly I could go up the hills to try and avoid my hamstrings or calves completely blowing. 

ice age 4.jpeg

There is a relentless 150’ hill a mile from the finish and I swear I’ve done 1000’ ascents that were easier.  At this point, I was over 5 hours into my run, my heart rate had been too high for over 3 hours, the temperature was 73 degrees, I hadn’t had water in 45 minutes and didn’t take gels during that time either because I had no water to wash them down with… my shins, quads, calves and especially hamstrings were on the verge of completely blowing and I started to get nauseous to the point I wondered if I’d pass out.  I got up the hill embarrassingly slowly and realized I was only a few minutes from the end.  I ended up finishing with a time of 5:13:57 which broke the previous speed record of 5:16:08 by a mere 2 minutes and 11 seconds.

While the run was rough, it was the few hours afterwards that might have been worse.  I struggled to maintain consciousness and couldn’t regulate my body temperature.  I was constantly nauseous.  Nearly 90 minutes after finishing we stopped for food and I’d be boiling hot in the 75 degree sun and shivering uncontrollably within 30 seconds of going into the air conditioned restaurant.  If I stood for longer than 30 seconds, I’d be on the verge of passing out.  It was nearly 4 hours until the nausea, chills and general sickness went away.

ice age 6.jpeg

One of the few bright spots is that despite the poor run and terrible aftermath, my muscles felt mostly recovered the next day with minimal soreness.  I created Vitamin Runner last year because what I wanted didn’t exist.  I 100% believe that if this had been last year before I started taking VR, I would’ve been incapacitated by cramps during the run and would’ve been walking slowly sideways down stairs for three days.  Who knows if the product will make it to the mainstream or not, but it’s working like a charm for me and I view days like this as vindication for the countless hours poured into this vitamin. 

It’s rare that you have a learning experience and get your ass kicked like this and still come away with the win.  I’m very thankful for that.  While it was a comedy of errors and rookie mistakes, I got the speed record because I’m in good shape and tough as hell when it turns into a good old fashioned throw down.  Here are my 2019 statistics concerning FKT’s and my overall goal of 24 epic runs this year (5 races, 7 adventure records and 12 FKT’s)

Most FKT’s broken in a single year (excludes “only known times”)

11 – Josh Sanders (2019)

6 – Anton Krupicka (2012)

6 – Ben Nephew (2014)

6 – Jason Hardrath (2019)

Most overall FKT’s set in a single year (includes “only known times”)

18 – Jason Hardrath (2019)

12 – Josh Sanders (2019)

12 – Anton Krupicka (2012)

12 – Ben Nephew (2014)

Most adventurous year in running spreadsheet of 24 runs (updated):

Races: 3 of 5 complete

Adventure Records: 4 of 7

FKT/Speed Records: 11 of 12 complete

Overall: 18 of 24 complete (75%)

Times for each segment of the IAT: Kettle Moraine -

Scuppernong Segment – 47:50 (5.6)

Eagle Segment – 46:30 (5.6)

Stony Ridge Segment – 26:40 (3.1)

Blue spring lake Segment – 1:12:00 (7.1)

Blackhawk Segment – 1:10:00 (7)

Whitewater Lake Segment – 50:00 (4.6)

Up Next:

September 30th – National Park Record Run

October 5th – Fall 50k

October 14th – UK 5k Record Run

There's no crying in ultra-marathons

Baby, where do I sleep?

Feels so good but I’m old…

2,000 years of chasing, taking its toll

And it’s coming closer

-          “closer” by Kings of Leon

There’s an old saying “whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right”.  Well, I think I can go top ten at Western States, set the FKT for the Appalachian Trail and do a bunch of other crap that the statistician in my brain understands has an actual probability of less than a fraction of one percent.  So, what do you do when your own fragile grip on the reality of what your body and mind is capable of is warped AF?  First, make good friends with disappointment, failure and pain.  Let’s take a fun look at what’s underneath my dozen or so FKT’s and records this year:

Failed to break the Syncline Trail FKT by 7 minutes and still have scars from wiping out on the boulder fields on my shins.  Failed to break the Potawatomi Trail FKT not once, but twice and badly sprained my ankle, complete with ruptured blood vessels, when I finally got it on the third try.  2 broken ribs on a collision with a boulder on the Black Mountain Crest Trail FKT.  A torn meniscus on my spring 50k race victory.  Heat exhaustion in Panama that reduced me to human rubble.  A 2nd place finish in a race I took a gamble on winning and paid a heavy price for a loss. 

The physical side is well documented.  The emotional is what most never see.  Trying to balance dreams of “the most interesting year ever” with also being the best dad possible to two little boys.  Doing runs in the heat of afternoon or after bedtime.  Scheduling trips around their schedule.  Going with less sleep.  Planning record trips, inviting your friends and then having them refuse to reimburse you for the plane tickets.  Running sick and tired.  Trying to balance finances and always provide by doing your own endeavors and contract work to make a year like this even possible.  The hardest was the choice made last week.  To let go of my biggest project of the year…

 

My goal this year was to complete 24 epic runs.  5 races (win an ultra-marathon in each calendar season and place at my first 100 miler), 7 adventures (Most states in a day, most countries in a day, fastest trans-continent run ever, etc.) and 12 FKT’s (breaking existing records, no “only known times”).  The stretch goal was to get nominated as one of the 5 FKT’s of the year.  Nolan’s 14 was going to be that capstone for me.  I’ve spent dozens of hours planning, breaking it down into 27 pieces, studying everyone else’s routes, reading the books, trip reports and going over topo maps. 

 

The plan was to rent a house and spend 3 weeks in Colorado with my family while scouting all 90+ miles.  Unfortunately, my youngest just isn’t at a good point in his little life for that 3 week adventure.  It would be hard him, hard on mom and hard on me.  So, I tried to fit 3 weeks of scouting into a 3 day weekend and it didn’t work.  A simple mistake of staying on Princeton’s ridge for ¼ mile too long was a stark reminder that I have no chance to beat the legendary times on that route without putting in the time on the ground.

 

It’s hard to put into words how I felt when I made the choice to push Nolan’s to next year.  It was unquestionably the right move.  Attempting a Nolan’s FKT with 1/3 of the hardest off-trail spots un-scouted would be an exercise in speed record suicide.  But I had my heart set on this route.  It was my misogi, my chance to shock the world, to make a mark, to re-validate my ability above 14,000.  It was the only thing this year that truly scared me.  It’s not just that my heart was set on it, it’s that I felt I needed it.  When I cancelled it this year, I lost that part of my 2019 dream, I felt lonely and hollow.

 

Sometimes doing the right thing can feel very wrong.  A huge storm below over the mountains and a fog enveloped my car as the rain and hail pelted the windows.  I broke down.  On the trail, I am fierce.  All I’ve ever asked for was the chance to fail.  The chance to throw down on a fraction of one percent chance.  In those moments, I find out who I am, what I can do and there is only the fight.  But when the fog clears and there is no big impossible proverbial mountain to climb… it’s empty.  I’ve long since made friends with failure and pain.  This week I’m courting disappointment and she is a cruel mistress. 

4 ultras in a month

Intro: In preparation for my Nolan’s 14 attempt and to hit my ridiculous goals for the year, I needed to have a killer July. This means pulling off the 50 states 5k (a 157 mile stage race over 6 days) and then running 3 ultra-marathon distance races/FKT’s in a 14 day period. Probably shouldn’t try this at home.

***A sidenote: Injury prevention is my number one goal when attempting this. I took 5 days off after the 157 mile stretch in 6 days. I took 4 days completely off following the first 50k and did only active recovery and shakeout style light jogs between the FKT and final ultra. Ice baths, foam rolling & clean eating were constant companions during the recovery phase.***

Ultra #1 - The 50 states 5k event. Running a total of 157 miles over 6 days and 7 hours in all 50 states of the USA was nuts. The temperature was often over 90 degrees, there was no time to warm up/cool down and sleeping, eating and living in a van for days takes it toll. I wrote a seperate blog post for this event here: https://www.joshsanders.net/blog/50states

Ultra #2 - The Dirty Burg 50k Ultra (2nd Overall) The course is 5 laps which each conclude by running up and down the ski hill. The plan was to drop after the second lap if I wasn’t feeling great. The race start was exactly one week post 50 states 5k. Felt pretty descent through 2 laps and was 30 seconds off the lead, so I just kept going. It was stupid thing to do. Quads ended up getting sore around mile 15 after 2 gnarly descents of the ski area. After the 4th lap, I was hurting. I used the race as a hot weather practice race. Did pre-cooling with a frozen towel while warming up and used ice in different methods on the back of my neck and head. That part of my race was great. Didn’t feel over-heated. I love ice like Sven.

66793088_157026958766450_6902241246489048008_n.jpg

The last lap I was 15 seconds off the lead and just trying to survive on dead legs when I badly re-sprained my left ankle. I first injured the ankle, complete with ruptured blood vessels, 3 weeks earlier during the Potawatomi Trail FKT. This re-sprain was worse. Could barely limp for a few minutes. Ended up losing by 4 minutes. Thanks for setting a new PR in this race, Jake (j/k… Jake run with so much guts and 100% deserved this win). You win some and you lose some. My legs were wrecked and I technically “shouldn’t” have raced and ultra this soon after the biggest mileage week of my life… but I regret nothing. You have to take chances to do big things and I need an ultra-marathon win in each calendar season. I think I won a $10 Gazelle Shoes gift card but kinda just left without my finisher medal as I had to run home to ice bath before going on dad-duty with the boys ;-). My goal of a ultra-marathon win in each calendar season this year would have to wait.

tvt sunrise.jpeg

Ultra #3 - Twin Valley Trail FKT - 4:37:32 (New Speed Record). I took 5 full days off after the 50k to get my legs back. Did a few very easy recovery jogs and then one decent 90 minute run with Jordan at CSGA on Sunday. Took a very easy day Monday and went for the speed record Tuesday. Put the kids to bed (#DadLife) at 8pm and drove to Ohio (4 hours) and slept in my car in a rest stop area… dreaming of when Wisconsin beat Ohio State under the lights on Saturday night football to ruin their chances of a title #OnWisconsin

Woke up at 5am, drove 45 min to the trail and got on my way. The history of the attempt was self-supported. I prefer unsupported but usually just follow the history of the route, so I left myself some coconut water at a junction. Kept my heart rate super low and did the gnarly sections first. There was pretty poor footing due to erosion. Ugh, Ohio.

tvt+rocks.jpg

The heavy rains the last week left the trail muddy. Some parts were easily the most mud I’ve ever run through in my life. It was soul sucking mud. There were a few pretty rad ascents on both sections, so that was cool. I guess Ohio isn’t all bad ;-) Legs got really tired around mile 18. Low point at mile 22 was solved with 2 gels. Took off at mile 25 to try and get KOM for a segment and badly re-sprained my left ankle AGAIN. I had to completely stop moving and scream a few profanities before gingerly limping the next mile.

tvt river.jpeg

Luckily, I had this ranked as the 2nd easiest FKT to break in the midwest, so I was still able to break the old record by 39 minutes. What I learned: Even at efforts that aren’t full race pace the whole time, I have to keep up on nutrition, even small lapses lead to low points. Also, it’s crazy how the sections that are supposed to be easiest turn out to be hard. It’s like we know we should just crush those sections, so we relax or delay things like nutrition and the chill parts end up sucking. Also, Ohio rest stops aren’t great for sleeping.

tvt josh smirk.jpeg

Anyways, I also have to figure out this ankle thing. 3 nasty sprains in 4 weeks means it’s just not healing between runs. I’ve managed swelling fairly well and the brusing is gone by the time I’m attempting another nutso run but dang. Saturay’s 50+ mile is on less gnarly trail, so hopefully without the gnarly descents and crazy rocks/roots, I can rock and roll.

Ultra #4 - Loopty Loop 8 Hour Ultra (1st Overall, Course Reccord). Last year I ran the 4 hour race at this event and won a super sweet chair and got my first course record. This year I decided to go for the 8 hour race as a final long run before Nolan’s and to take one more crack at getting my summer ultra-marathon win. As a fun bonus my college roommate Kyle Fraser came from Milwaukee to run his first ultra in the 4 hour event.

loopty1.jpg

The course is a 6.5 mile loop on mostly single track mountain bike trails through the woods. Not a ton of elevation gain but lots of zig-zags and a few little hills. My legs were tired by the half marathon point but I had planned on a 50 mile day and was only stopping if something structural started acting up. The shade kept the temps slightly lower than the mid-80’s in the sun. Kyle got the win in the 4 hour and broke my course reccord from last year. Super pumped he crushed his first ultra!

The last 2 loops (13 miles) weren’t really fun but I was incredibly grateful for the chance to run on truly wrecked legs and get some great practice in for Nolan’s. I tried some ultra-lite fueling (potato chips, protien cookies) to test for Nolan’s where I’m trying to keep 10,000 calories under 5 lbs. The last two laps were slower but I managed to break the CR by 22 minutes.

loopty3.jpg

In the 28 days from June 30th to July 28th… I ran 322 miles and in all 50 states. I completed one of my major adventure records for the year, broke another FKT, captured my summer season ultra-marathon win and extended my streak of podiums at an ultra-marathons to 11 (you know, providing you throw out the 2018 Hennepin 50k, which was my 2nd ultra of the day ;-)

loopty2.jpg

2019: A 1/2 year review

On this day 3 years ago I decided to be a runner.  I started with a half mile run and with a goal of a 2,190 mile run (Appalachian Trail).  I mean, if a journey of a 1,000 miles starts with a single step, than a journey of 2,000 miles starts with a half mile, right?  I figured it would take 10 years of training to be ready for the AT.  This is my 10 year master plan and the first half of year 3 has been pretty rad. 

1st Run.jpg

1,350 miles isn’t a lot of miles for a competitive ultra-runner to log in the first half a year.  Miles have been lower to spend additional time recovering from racing so many FKT’s, ultra-marathons and long distance adventure races.  But man, the places these legs have taken me the first 6 months of 2019.

50 states & 16 countries run, 7 FKT’s broken, 6 national parks run, 3 logistically complicated speed records set, 2 ultra-marathon race wins & 1 continent traversed.  I’ve also broken 2 ribs, torn cartilage, ruptured blood vessels, sprained multiple joints, battled heat stroke, smashed my face up and taken so many ice baths to reduce swelling that I no longer flinch or hesitate when entering the ice. 

My 2019 litmus test is National Geographic Adventurer of the Year. If something would help my resume for that nomination, I do it. If it doesn’t, I don’t. I made a spreadsheet. I’m roughly on pace if I can knock out a few more FKT’s and get my summer race win over the next 6 weeks. Nolan’s looms in the distance.

My 2019 litmus test is National Geographic Adventurer of the Year. If something would help my resume for that nomination, I do it. If it doesn’t, I don’t. I made a spreadsheet. I’m roughly on pace if I can knock out a few more FKT’s and get my summer race win over the next 6 weeks. Nolan’s looms in the distance.

Since it would be impossible to write an accurate review of the past 6 months with anything short of a book… here are my 10 favorite photos from the first half of my year (caption included for each photo for the sake of additional context).

Deep Freeze FKT: The 28 mile ‘Adventure Hiking Trail’ on the Ohio/Kentucky border is one of the most gnarly trails I’ve run. It was nearly zero degrees, the trails goes directly up the bluffs, it was awesome. The speed record was previously held by Troy Shellhamer who won the inaugural Tunnel Hill 100. I started off frustrated with un-runnable sections, getting off course twice and complications from the freezing temperatures (frozen feet, fingers and water lines). But once I let go of expectations and just ran, I was able to enjoy the beauty of this untamed land. It ended up being possibly my favorite run ever.

Deep Freeze FKT: The 28 mile ‘Adventure Hiking Trail’ on the Ohio/Kentucky border is one of the most gnarly trails I’ve run. It was nearly zero degrees, the trails goes directly up the bluffs, it was awesome. The speed record was previously held by Troy Shellhamer who won the inaugural Tunnel Hill 100. I started off frustrated with un-runnable sections, getting off course twice and complications from the freezing temperatures (frozen feet, fingers and water lines). But once I let go of expectations and just ran, I was able to enjoy the beauty of this untamed land. It ended up being possibly my favorite run ever.

The North Rim: The Grand Canyon’s Rim-2-Rim-2-Rim has become an annual pilgrimage each January. This year I took a few friends and we crossed the canyon in 2 feet of snow. Caleb’s brilliant take on a Simpson’s episode was the turning point in my decision to shift from races to FKT’s and leaving behind the comfort of a high paying salaried job with nice benefits for the ultimate freedom and adventure of the great unknown. Who are you trying to impress? The people who matter or the weirdo’s at the worm store?

The North Rim: The Grand Canyon’s Rim-2-Rim-2-Rim has become an annual pilgrimage each January. This year I took a few friends and we crossed the canyon in 2 feet of snow. Caleb’s brilliant take on a Simpson’s episode was the turning point in my decision to shift from races to FKT’s and leaving behind the comfort of a high paying salaried job with nice benefits for the ultimate freedom and adventure of the great unknown. Who are you trying to impress? The people who matter or the weirdo’s at the worm store?

Canyonlands Fog: The FKT attempt on the Syncline Trail in Canyonlands National Park proved that all is fair in love, war and FKT’s. The previous record was absolutely smashed the day before I made my attempt. While I was able to run the fastest clockwise loop ever, I still fell a few minutes short of Liam’s time from only 24 hours previous. There is no second place in FKT’s. There is ony the knowledge you threw down the best you could, left nothing on the course and the experience of these epic places. There is no failure in these places. Trophies rust, records are broken and muscles atrophy… but the experience is forever.

Canyonlands Fog: The FKT attempt on the Syncline Trail in Canyonlands National Park proved that all is fair in love, war and FKT’s. The previous record was absolutely smashed the day before I made my attempt. While I was able to run the fastest clockwise loop ever, I still fell a few minutes short of Liam’s time from only 24 hours previous. There is no second place in FKT’s. There is ony the knowledge you threw down the best you could, left nothing on the course and the experience of these epic places. There is no failure in these places. Trophies rust, records are broken and muscles atrophy… but the experience is forever.

Carolina Climbing: The Black Mountain Crest Trail is the highest elevation trail of any east of the Mississippi River. It’s a gnarly trail so technical there are fixed ropes. My motto for this year has been “every second counts” and it was never more evident than when I broke the ascent record by 3 seconds. I broke 2 ribs on the descent as I ran out of control down the mountain on my way to breaking the round trip FKT by over 15 minutes. I’m not elite and I never will be but this FKT proved I can compete and was a huge confidence booster. This record will always have a special place in my heart as 6 years ago it’s where I rekindled my love the outdoors which eventually led to ultra/trail running.

Carolina Climbing: The Black Mountain Crest Trail is the highest elevation trail of any east of the Mississippi River. It’s a gnarly trail so technical there are fixed ropes. My motto for this year has been “every second counts” and it was never more evident than when I broke the ascent record by 3 seconds. I broke 2 ribs on the descent as I ran out of control down the mountain on my way to breaking the round trip FKT by over 15 minutes. I’m not elite and I never will be but this FKT proved I can compete and was a huge confidence booster. This record will always have a special place in my heart as 6 years ago it’s where I rekindled my love the outdoors which eventually led to ultra/trail running.

The Starting Line: The 2019 Get Lucky 50k started just before dawn on a freezing and perfect day. The starting line “corral” was the board walk along the lake. I love the start of races. There is always so much hope, adrenaline and energy. I came away with my spring ultra-win goal as well as a torn meniscus and 10 days off running. All things in balance as they should be.

The Starting Line: The 2019 Get Lucky 50k started just before dawn on a freezing and perfect day. The starting line “corral” was the board walk along the lake. I love the start of races. There is always so much hope, adrenaline and energy. I came away with my spring ultra-win goal as well as a torn meniscus and 10 days off running. All things in balance as they should be.

Bus Stop Devastation: Running trans-continent across the country of Panama in the 90+ degree heat and humidity was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I tried to hit time goals instead off paying attention to how much the heat/humidity was breaking me down. I had scraped snow of my windshield on the way to the airport. I love this photo. I love it because it shows the brokeness that succesful photos seemingly ignore. Some see success and assume it comes easily or naturally. It comes at a price few are willing to pay.

Bus Stop Devastation: Running trans-continent across the country of Panama in the 90+ degree heat and humidity was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I tried to hit time goals instead off paying attention to how much the heat/humidity was breaking me down. I had scraped snow of my windshield on the way to the airport. I love this photo. I love it because it shows the brokeness that succesful photos seemingly ignore. Some see success and assume it comes easily or naturally. It comes at a price few are willing to pay.

3:59am: Running in a record 13 countries in one day wasn’t necessarily a special athletic feat but it was easily the most complicated and logistically difficult endeavor of my life. From spending hours reading rental car contracts to make sure they were allowed in every country to planning the routes in unknown territory, this was a bear. When we somehow arrived in the Netherlands at 3:54am after a series of crazy setbacks, I ran a 5 min/mile to get a mile in each country in under 24 hours. I had one minute alone in the Dutch night to soak in that moment. It was my favorite moment of the year so far.

3:59am: Running in a record 13 countries in one day wasn’t necessarily a special athletic feat but it was easily the most complicated and logistically difficult endeavor of my life. From spending hours reading rental car contracts to make sure they were allowed in every country to planning the routes in unknown territory, this was a bear. When we somehow arrived in the Netherlands at 3:54am after a series of crazy setbacks, I ran a 5 min/mile to get a mile in each country in under 24 hours. I had one minute alone in the Dutch night to soak in that moment. It was my favorite moment of the year so far.

Kentucky Mountain Sunset: Running in a record 18 states in one day was an epic experience and whirlwind. While the “athletic achievement” wasn’t necessarily special, the pushing for 24 straight hours to finish just a few minutes before the clock struck 24 hours was epic. Most epic was Coree joining us after I randomly DM’ed him from the Outback Steakhouse bar while drinking a Diet Coke and eating a mashed potato as my weird form of self-care.

Kentucky Mountain Sunset: Running in a record 18 states in one day was an epic experience and whirlwind. While the “athletic achievement” wasn’t necessarily special, the pushing for 24 straight hours to finish just a few minutes before the clock struck 24 hours was epic. Most epic was Coree joining us after I randomly DM’ed him from the Outback Steakhouse bar while drinking a Diet Coke and eating a mashed potato as my weird form of self-care.

Sunrise in Pinckney: The Pinckney State Park has been my nemesis the past year. From having to drop out of the Run Woodstock 50 miler due to RD error to two failed attempts in the previous 5 weeks on the Potawatomi Trail, I just couldn’t get a win on these trails. This sunrise over the lake was spectacular. The conditions were perfect. I attacked the trail and true to the old saying… 4th time was the charm.

Sunrise in Pinckney: The Pinckney State Park has been my nemesis the past year. From having to drop out of the Run Woodstock 50 miler due to RD error to two failed attempts in the previous 5 weeks on the Potawatomi Trail, I just couldn’t get a win on these trails. This sunrise over the lake was spectacular. The conditions were perfect. I attacked the trail and true to the old saying… 4th time was the charm.

Racing the thunderstorms in Montana: For years I’ve been planning the “50 states 5k” adventure to break the speed record for visiting all 50 states while also running a 5k in each state. I broke the record for most miles run a week (156.9 miles in 6 days), dealt with excessive heat, massive sleep deprivation and the stress of nearly having the whole trip blow up in my face over cancelled flights to the starting line. But in the end, it was executed in spite of obstacles and the dream was realized. This photo encapsultes the entire experiece. The storms were coming but we always fought to stay ahead of them.

Racing the thunderstorms in Montana: For years I’ve been planning the “50 states 5k” adventure to break the speed record for visiting all 50 states while also running a 5k in each state. I broke the record for most miles run a week (156.9 miles in 6 days), dealt with excessive heat, massive sleep deprivation and the stress of nearly having the whole trip blow up in my face over cancelled flights to the starting line. But in the end, it was executed in spite of obstacles and the dream was realized. This photo encapsultes the entire experiece. The storms were coming but we always fought to stay ahead of them.

1/2 half of 2019 statistics:

1,361 - Total miles run
10 - States I’ve run at least 26.2 miles in
50 - States I’ve run at least 3.1 miles in
16 - Countries I’ve run at least 1 mile in
7 - Established FKT’s broken this year (most ever in 1 year)
2 - Ultra-Marathon wins

The 50 states 5k

6 marathons in 6 days.  It’s been done before but never like this. The great American road trip meets the great American ultra-marathon stage race.  We called it the “50 states 5k”.

DJI_0008+%282%29.jpg

The idea was simple.  Break the speed record for “fastest to ever visit all 50 states” but also run a 5k while in each state.  Yes, this would make it more difficult to say the least.  We’d have less than a week as the record was 6 days, 17 hours and 31 minutes.  We would run 157 miles along the way. 

The planning was not simple.  Over 100 hours of work to find the optimal route across the country, the best places to run the 5k along the way and which flights would work the best as well as logistics of 5 people living in a van for a week while traversing America.

We arrived at the airport to find our flight delayed and eventually cancelled which jeopardized the entire trip.  Not getting to Hawaii by 7pm would mean our flight to Alaska and Seattle would be missed as well.  United Airlines, the worst airline currently in operation, decided instead of cancelling the flight, to just delay it 6 hours.  We were able to book a new flight from San Francisco to Honolulu and other than being set back $259 and losing our 5 hours on the beach, the trip would go off as planned.

It would be impossible to truly tell this story this big in a single blog so instead I’ll summarize each day by state with some of our best photos. 

Day 1 – Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, Oregon & Idaho

We ran the trails of the Kaka’ako waterfront park along the Pacific Ocean at sunset.  It was beautiful.  Then, we quickly Uber’d back to the airport and hopped on our flight to Alaska. 

We had a pretty tight window in Alaska, only 2 hours between landing and boarding, so our 5k had to be efficient.  We caught an Uber to the ocean which was only two miles away and ran the Coastal Trail with views of Anchorage and the mountains.  I could have run here forever. 

In Seattle my dad had rented the van, grocery shopped and gotten everything set for us to simply walk to the arrivals gate, grab the keys and go.  It was a gorgeous day in Washington, sunny and 80 across the whole state… except for the Snoqualmie Pass where we hit 50 degree hail, lightning and downpour rains on the Iron Horse Trail. 

Next up was Oregon and the trails of the McNary wildlife area along the banks of the Columbia River.  It was 90 degrees and the sun dried our previously soaked running clothes within minutes.  The dam and lock were magnificent to watch as we ran along the river trails.

Night had fallen when we arrived in Twin Falls at the snake river gorge and Evil Knievel’s jump sight.  The canyon rim trail ran along the river and we came within feet of a skunk and racoon.  This was the one place we visited at night that I was really bummed I couldn’t see in the light.  The river roaring below, deep inside the canyon, surely was an incredible view.

4,215 – Miles flown

644 – Miles Driven

15.75 – Miles Run

2hrs, 1min – Time ahead of WR pace

Day 2 – Utah, Nevada, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas

We rolled into Utah in the middle of the night.  Our route took us past the Enola Gay hangar and the city streets of Wendover.  It was uneventful as you hope the night runs are.

Just after sunrise we pulled into the Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada.  The trails ran past the lake with the desert mountains in the background.  We beat the heat on this run and were off to California.

Our California run was located between the Mojave Desert and the dead mountains wilderness area.  Even in the mid-morning it was over 100 degrees and this was our first highway run.  Much less fun than the cool trails of the first 6 runs.  Still, the desert landscape with mountain backdrops was a spectacle. 

Next up we rolled in Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park and ran along the rim overlooking the vast canyons of red, orange, black, purple and so many other shades of colors.  The heat index was again over 100 but the views from the top were among the best of the trip.

Our New Mexico planned route was to run in the El Maipais National Conservation area but we needed food, an easy route and restrooms as one of our team was sick.  So instead we ran the city streets of Milan which had food options and restrooms and was a flat route.  I finished the 5k first and then bought Subway for everyone while Brandy filled the tank and we were off.

We ran Texas in the middle of the night.  There was a farm road on the extreme NW corner of the state but it ended up being more of a tractor path in a farmer’s field.  Either way, it was in the state of Texas, so we ran quarter mile repeats by headlamps to finish out our day.

1,447 – Miles Driven

18.9 – Miles Run

3hrs, 20min – Time ahead of WR pace

Day 3 – Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota

We ran Oklahoma in the small town of Felt where the city streets would be safer at night than a busier road or trail.  Turns out there are dozens of loose dogs in this tiny town that charged us and barked at us the whole way.  I still can’t believe no one was bit but I’m very thankful for that fact. 

We arrived in Kansas just after sunrise and ran the farm roads overlooking thousands of acres of wheat.  It was one of those “amber waves of grain” moments in the early morning light.

Colorado is known for the Rocky Mountains but our route took us to the extreme eastern side of the state where it’s mostly prairie.  We ran the city streets of a charming little town and off we went. 

Nebraska was supposed to be running trails in the state forest but I was concerned with the high heat and humidity and general fatigue in the car that the elevation gain on that trail would hurt more than the views would be worth.  So, we ran the city streets up to the college in Chadron.  We were able to park in a gas station parking lot and get food and fuel with minimal downtime.

Wyoming was another state we barely clipped and limited time.  We ran the Little Missouri River Road in the vast prairies of the eastern side of the state.  Cool views but tough heat and headwind.

Montana came after a sketchy 25 mile gravel road traverse but we were rewarded with amazing mountain and valley views as we ran the trails Wickham Gulch.

We managed to outrun the severe storms to the state line of North Dakota.  We ran the high hills overlooking the Little Missouri River as dark storm clouds flashed lightning in the distance.

912 – Miles Driven

22.05 – Miles Run

5hrs, 41min – Time ahead of WR pace

Day 4 – South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana

Our original plan was to run the Badlands National Park in South Dakota but it would be dark when we got there and possibly in the middle of a severe thunderstorm.  So, since there would be no views and to avoid the rain, we drove a few hours further east run along the Missouri River in the town of Chamberlain.  The bridges and levees were really fun to run at night.

We hit Iowa in the middle of the night and ran the farm roads from the state line into the Iowa farm country.  We had only our headlamps and fireflies to light our way.

We arrived in Minnesota and the Myre-Big Island state park at sunrise.  We ran the park trails and roads as the sun came up over the water and deer grazed in the fields.

In Wisconsin, we ran along the Mississippi River just inside the border.  This would give us a 6+ hour drive to relax and not run for awhile before our home state of Michigan.

Michigan was our resupply state.  An amazing group of a couple dozen people showed up to run with us and help switch out coolers and get new supplies.  It was a nice boost after several long travel days.

45 minutes later we were in Ohio and ran through the town of Edon.  As we ran past the track, we figured we’d do a little speed work and did several laps around the track.

We arrived in Indiana shortly before midnight and ran the trails along the Wabash River.  The crushed limestone was a nice reprieve from the pounding of pavement the previous few states.

1,442 – Miles Driven

22.05 – Miles Run

5hrs, 23min – Time ahead of WR pace

Day 5 – Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, Alabama

In Illinois we ran across a bridge over the Rend Lake next to Wayne Fitzgerrell State park.  We saw some baby racoons and deer via headlamp. 

The fastest route into Kentucky was to run a small gravel road just inside the border but it was underwater due to flooding.  We instead had to run on the highway which had no shoulder and a lot of traffic, even at 2am.  State Troopers guarded the van and took our state photo with us.

We ran Missouri in the middle of the night and it was still mid-80’s and humid.  We ran the city streets instead of the cool trails of the Mississippi River to play it safe.  Exhaustion was setting in.

Sunrise hit right as we arrived in the Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas.  Running the dirt roads and trails as the first light of day hit the trees and water was amazing.

We ran the trails along the Mississippi River in Memphis where a 5k race was being run for the 4th of July.  The trail, river and race made us forget about how it already was at 8am.

In Mississippi we ran the Lefluer Bluff State park roads and trails.  A kind gentleman paid our 50 cent entry fee.  The bluffs, rivers, ponds and trees growing in the water were as Mississippi as Mississippi gets.

When we arrived in Louisiana mid-afternoon the heat index was over 100.  We ran in the Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge but were able to park in a gas station parking lot to get ice and cold drinks.  Running a 5k in those temps is brutal.

Florida wasn’t any cooler when we arrived in the late afternoon but we found a side road just inside the border that had some huge trees providing shade and had a nice 5k run.

We hit Alabama just before sunset.  The original plan was a trail in downtown Montgomery but would hit fireworks traffic, so we instead just ran the city streets to avoid losing time.  The bridge views of sunset made it worth all the elevation gain in this hilly little town we chose. 

1,135 – Miles Driven

28.35 – Miles Run

6hrs, 38min – Time ahead of WR pace

Day 6 – Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York,

Georgia just after midnight started our day.  The plan was to run the trails of the Mill Creek Nature Center but ran our night route along the mall instead.

South Carolina and the Lake Hartwell state park had a ton of elevation gain but it was fun to bomb down the steep park roads in the middle of the night.

Sunrise hit just as we arrived at Lake Norman in North Carolina.  We ran our 5k along the banks of the popular lake.  The clouds kept the temperatures a little lower which was nice.

In Virginia we ran the trails of the Claytor Lake state park with views of the lake in almost all directions.  The mountains loomed in the distance and we settled in for our last longer drive of the trip.  After we would arrive in West Virginia, there would be no less than 90 minutes between runs.

In West Virginia we ran along the Appalachian trail and it was one of my favorite runs of this trip.  I didn’t want to stop.  This part of the AT ran along the Shenandoah River with incredible views in every direction. 

In Maryland we chose to run city subdivisions instead of the Patapsco state park to give us more options to avoid traffic going through Baltimore.  Sometimes you sacrifice views for time.

Delaware was another excessive heat warning as we ran from the state line down to the University of Delaware and back.  We use our stop to get dinner, fuel and I even managed to quickly shave in the sink.

Our Pennsylvania route had us run in the shadows of all the major sports stadiums.  While I will always prefer the trails to the city, it was pretty cool to run along the huge sidewalks with the stadiums.

We arrived at the New Jersey side of the Hudson River right at sunset.  The trails along the river gave incredible views of the George Washington Bridge and Manhattan skyline.

New York’s route was in Rye, NY where we could see the ocean as well as the giant Ferris wheel while lit up at night.  Finishing New York was our 10th 5k and meant 50k for the calendar day.

 1,034 – Miles Driven

31.5 – Miles Run

7hrs, 15min – Time ahead of WR pace

 Day 7 – Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont  

 We ran across the Connecticut river and down the trails to the city to get our first state of the last day.  There wasn’t much of a view from the bridge due to nightfall but it was nice to be on our last day.

 We hit Rhode Island and ran a 1.55 mile out and back on a quite country road.  There was a light mist that felt great to run in after several days of excessive heat.

Due to running at night, we decided to run the city streets of Worcester to knock out Massachusetts.  It turned out to be the sketchiest neighborhood in the city.  And hilly.  Oh well, only 3 states left!

We arrived in Maine just as the sun was coming up and ran across the river to Badger Island.  The bridges had incredible views of the ocean inlets and the tide going out.

New Hampshire’s route was a run along the Merrimack River.  The huge mature trees masked the view for most of the run but we were able to get a few good photos.  Then off to the last state.

IMG_E6143.JPG

We crossed the Vermont state line at 8:56am to set a new speed record for fastest to visit all 50 states.  Then we just had to park and run the bridges across the White River.  We ran loops over the river via the Hartford and Bridge St. bridges until we hit 5 kilometers to break the record for fastest to run a 5k in all 50 states.  The records had fallen and all that was left was to drive home and sleep in our beds.

334 – Miles Driven

18.9 – Miles Run

9hrs, 33min – Time ahead of previous WR

IMG_6151.JPG

“Official” record times:

6 days, 7 hours, 58 minutes – New speed record for running a 5k in all 50 states

                (1:30am EST Sunday start to 9:28am Saturday finish)

6 days, 5 hours, 16 minutes – New speed record for physically visiting all 50 states

                (3:40am EST Sunday start to 8:56am EST Saturday finish)

Most States Run In A Day

A brief timeline & written history of Josh Sanders, Coree Aussem-Woltering, Christina Bray, Steve Miazgowicz & Lori Money’s record breaking run for most states run in one day: 18.

2:08am - I’m up. It’s early. The next 36 hours ought to be a real fun whirwind.

4:34am - We’ve picked up Coree. There is apparently a chicken broil in Manchester, MI. And from the signs, its THE chicken broil. Guess we’ll have to come back for that?

5:03am - Longest security line I’ve seen in Detroit in years. Actually took 19 minutes to get through. This airport isn’t that bad.

5:29am - McDonald’s isn’t open. This is the worst airport in the history of the world.

5:36am - McDonald’s opened. Apparently at exactly 5:36am. Gonna have to change the hours on Yelp. I feel better eating here when I’m with Coree, I mean, it’s working for him.

8:53am - Brief layover in Charlotte. There was Starbucks for everyone. Caffine is beautiful. I think it’s what unicorns are made of.

IMG_5155.JPG

11:07am - On the ground in Atlanta after one of Hartsfields world famous “20 minute taxi’s” on the runway. If you’ve flown into the ATL you know exactly what I’m talking about. Thanks for the memories American Airlines. Flight over, time to drive.

12:44pm - We’re in the rental minivan. Coree is my co-pilot. The ladies are ruling the middle seats while birthday boy Steve has the back bench to himself and his Steven King novels. Over 1,500 miles of driving coming right up!

IMG_5166.JPG

2:30pm -START! Ended up starting 30 min later than planned but I’m sure this will in no way haunt us when we arrive in NYC traffic closer to rush hour. Ran a mile in Georgia right on the border of SC on the banks of Lake Hartwell. Got bit by a fire ant while taking the finisher photo. Fire ants would make a horrible pet.

4:04pm - South Carolina was finished with a lovely mile run down the Jones Gap State Park road. I’m 2 for 2 in planning scenic routes and 2 for 2 in planning routes with enough elevation to get a few snarky comments from the gang. 1hr, 34min elapsed. 2 minutes behind 24hr pace but don’t you worry, we’ll run faster from now on.

4:41pm - State #3 is finished as we ran a mile in Asheville, NC along the banks of the French Broad River. 2hr, 11min elapsed. 1 minute ahead of pace. I TOLD YOU we would run faster.

5:43pm - Are you from Tennessee? Cuz’ your the only 10 I see. Anyways, this is the 3rd straight mile we’ve run in mountains and I’m a happy camper. I’m glad I wore a maroon colored shirt because both Coree and Steve wore blue and it would just be too awkward if we all matched. 2 minutes behind pace but we lined up Domino’s Pizza in two hours in Virginia, so I smell a delicious comeback.

6:29pm - I’ve made several hilarious jokes that no one laughed at. I’m going to make them all run straight up a mountain pass on the Kentucky border next… we’ll see whose laughing then.

7:31pm - Kentucky is finished! I would like to apologize to my 4 running compadres for the extreme elevation gain of my Kentucky route. Love you! 5 states and counting…

7:33pm - “Virginia is for lovers” - Coree. “That’s cute, it should be a billboard” - Christina (Coree points to billboard that states “Virginia is for lovers”.)

8:58pm - Ran a mile into the western Virginia sunset. I filled up the van while Coree ran to get pizza and then we sprinted our miles to save time. I love efficiency. It’s more important than trust in any successful relationship and you can put that in the bank. 6hr, 28min elapsed. 5 min behind pace but now that we have pizza, we’re gonna crush this long drive to WV.

1:43am - West Virginia, Mountain Mamma, take me hooooome… State #7 is done. Ran across the Shenandoah River bridge on the Appalachian Trail route. This is the first of only 4 runs to be done at night. 11hr, 13min elapsed and a 7 minute lead on record pace.

1:47am - Super effecient fuel stop. Filled the tank, bought coffee and coke and were back in the van and on the road in less than 4 minutes. Efficiency. It’s sexy.

IMG_5305.JPG

2:30am - Chose a Maryland route before Baltimore to allow multipe routes through the city based on least traffic. It meant running a mile in the boondocks. Didn’t realize there was a hill there. I’m a little worried about a possible mutiny since I’ve somehow managed to pick the most hilly places in all 18 states to run. I have to remind them of the old Chinese Proverb: “Hills build character and character builds efficiency and efficiency is sexy.” - Unknown

IMG_5311.JPG

4:01am - My Delaware route not only had NO hills but ran directly past an open Dunkin Donuts. I sprinted into the store mid-run and ran the last 1/3 mile with a dozen donuts. Thinking about creating a Strava Segment that involves buying donuts. We’re 5 minutes ahead of pace.

IMG_5321.JPG

4:47am - The Pennsylvania route was pretty awesome. Ran along a huge sidewalk that linked all the major sports teams stadiums. Pancake flat and urban cute. Rumors of a mutiny are subsiding. The donuts helped. Nearly 15 minutes ahead of record pace now.

5:28am - Somehow got turned around in Philly and lost 6 minutes of time. Then managed to take the wrong exit and lost another 5-6 minutes. Philly isn’t efficient and I’m sad about it.

6:15am - Gave up our sweet New Jersey running route on the Husdon River due to traffic getting bad in the city. Ran a mile in a lame subdivision instead. I guess sometimes efficiency isn’t sexy. Sun is up and it’s a lovely day though! Taking fastest route through NYC now.

7:34am - Ran to the ocean in Rye, NY. Parked in a gas station parking lot that had an adorable little coffee/bagel place attached to it. Ordered coffee/food while driving to pick up to go. We’re 10 min behind pace after hitting NYC traffic but have enough fuel to finish without a pit stop and enough latte’s to finish without a mutiny. The ocean was beautiful.

9:09am - Ran a mile in Connecticut by running on a bridge over the CT River. I’m getting really good at updating this website, uploading Strava, pulling up directions to the next stop and FaceTiming the boys while running a mile in a random state. One day I’ll meet someone who values efficiency as much as myself and we’ll start an LLC and probably rule a kingdom within 3 weeks.

10:11am - I thought it would be fun to run to the highest point of Rhode Island since it was literally right on the border where we would drive to. I described it as a “little hill” and was just told that if a hill is over 100’ high, I can’t call it little. I’ve been given an A+ for picking the most scenic routes on the trip and a solid D- for picking easy and flat spots. Still ten minutes behind pace. No margin for error.

11:17am - Massachusetts mile is done. Abandoned planned route to try and save 1-2 minutes. Parked immediately off the exit and ran our mile. Just under 21 hours elapsed and still sitting nearly 10 min off pace to finish all 18 in less than 24 hours.

IMG_5397.JPG

12:23pm - Mile in Maine is done! Sad to abandon our planned route of running across Badger Island but it saved us at least 2 minutes to run the first turn off the exit. It was a little half mile road and it has a Strava segment. Coree set a new KOM on the segment and I kind of hope whoever had it previously knows who he is and wonders why in the literal heck Coree Woltering drove across the country to stop in Maine for 7 minutes to break a segment.

IMG_5411.JPG

2:05pm - We made up a ton of time the last two stops by running at the first safe place to park the van and hitting zero traffic. Finished New Hampshire with a 2 minute lead on record pace after being over 10 minutes down just 2 hours ago. The originally NH route was to run along a river but was faster to stop at the park n’ ride which featured a huge hill. New goal is to also get a vertical kilometer of gain on this trip. That goal makes me happy. The girls may slap me at the finish line.

IMG_5425.JPG

Google Maps is saying we’ll arrive in Vermont to complete our last mile with 12 minutes left on the clock. There is a lane closure on the border causing delays. As long as those delays are less than 5 minutes, all of us will get this done before the clock strikes 24 hours.

2:19pm - Arrived in Vermont. We have 11 minutes to run this mile and make it happen.

2:25pm - Finished my mile to complete 18 states with at least 1 mile run in 23 hours and 55 minutes with Coree. Everyone was finished by 23 hours, 58 minutes. 24 hours of driving and running and hills and we reached our goal by a few minutes. Every. Second. Counts.

3:13pm - Big Fatties BBQ in White River Junction, VT is legit. Celebratory beers for all.

Statistics:

18 - states in 24 hours with at least 1.01 miles run
1,398’ - total elevation gain of all 18 miles/states run
18.67 - Total distance run in 18 states
6:24 - Fastest mile run (Vermont)
8:16 - Slowest mile run (West Virginia)
7:23 - Average mile pace for all 18 miles/states run
1,348 - Total miles driven between state 1 and state 18
23:55 - Total hours/minutes of entire trip start to finish
2:18 - Total hours/minutes spent running
21:37 - Total hours/minutes NOT running

IMG_5166.JPG
driving+route+18.jpg