Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Paatuwaqatsi Run - Water Is Life 50K

The Hopi Reservation is located smack dab in the middle of the Navajo Reservation in the northeast corner of Arizona.  For centuries the Hopi people have made their homes in villages atop three narrow mesas named, from east to west, First Mesa, Second Mesa, and Third Mesa.  These mesas and their 600-foot cliffs, have provided the Hopi with water from reliable springs and protection from enemies.  The Hopi keep in close touch with nature, actively farm their land and have developed a rich ceremonial life that maintains balance and harmony with their surroundings and one another.  

In an effort to strengthen community involvement, keep the ancient trails open and keep the villages alive the Paatuwaqatsi Run or Water Is Life Run was created.  The run is a conduit that allow the Hopi to share with other cultures their values and the role that water and running play in their lives.

The Hopi Reservation

First Mesa in the early morning light.

The Hopi village of Walpi sits atop First Mesa and dates back to the 13th century.  Even today the village lacks electricity and running water.  The race course would skirt below the village's walls.

A portion of the intrepid few:  Torrence, Tinder, Andy (your story teller for the following blog) and Liz Roth and Rebecca Valenzuela Franklin

My very good friend Andy Roth traveled from northern California for this, his third Water Is Life Run.  It was Andy who inspired me to join him and the many other ultrarunners, 3-person and 6-person relay teams for an event that's been in existence since 2003.  He sent me his story on this year's run.  His words capture the event so well and I'd like to share a few excerpts with you here.  Thanks to Philip Stark, Michael Skeer and John Douglass for the photos used herein.

"Looking toward First Mesa as Bucky Preston completed his pre-race instructions, I noticed a Hopi woman standing near him, straight, still and focused.  Her formal posture led me to expect that she was waiting to sing, to send us on our way.  But when Bucky finished his instructions, he explained the start signal and, with a wave of his arm in each of the four directions, we charged down the trail, through mud and puddles from last night's intense rainfall."

Bucky Preston, the race founder, sent us off into the desert with a pre-race prayer and a wave and toss of this shirt.

The race lived up to its name this year.  Friday's deluge left some of the course muddy but luckily solidified much of the loose sand that would have other-wise slowed us significantly.  Large puddles and sticky mud awaited us here at the start line.

"A little over five hours later, I came across the woman again, standing the same way, on a berm about a mile from the finish.  My run was going well, but I was tired and getting impatient to reach the finish line, which had been visible from miles away but never seemed to get any closer.  As I ran past, she told me to run with courage and to be grateful to be alive.   I thanked her for the encouragement and ran on, eventually crossing the finish line in just under 5 hours, 16 minutes, as the 16th ultra-runner. 

Waiting for the awards ceremony to begin, I went to refill my water bottle and came across the woman a third time.  I thanked her again for encouraging me during the last mile of the run, and explained that her words had helped recharge me at a low point.  She told me she had run for thirty years herself, and that running was a 'moving meditation.'  She wasn't running today, but she wanted to be out on the course to see the runners." 

Heading uphill between the rocks of First Mesa.

Typical course terrain and desert vegetation.

"She told me she'd seen many dragonflies along the berm, and that this was an auspicious sign:  The Hopi hold dragonflies in esteem because they start "from humble origins" and attain beauty.  I nodded and told her that I also had seen them along the course.  We introduced ourselves by name, and I thanked her again for cheering me on, thinking our exchange complete.  Looking me in the eye, she told me that she'd gone out to the berm to watch the runners shift from earth, to air, to water, and back to earth.  She told me she could see each of the runners who passed her transforming like this.  From previous experience at Hopi, I knew that when an elder begins to explain, it is important just to listen, not to ask questions or to be over-enthusiastic in agreeing.  She emphasized again that each of the runners that she'd seen pass had transformed from earth, to air, to water, and back to earth, before her eyes.  When we run, she told me, our spines are energized and our breath goes out, around the world four times before it goes out to the entire universe, blessing all of it.  Before we parted, she asked me to give her greetings to all of my family.  I thanked her and told her I would imagine her running the trails around First Mesa."

Ancient foot trails.

Climbing up mesa.

"As much as day's events encouraged all of us visiting Hopi land for the run to understand that "we are all one," my exchange with Janice made me realize that she, and others who hold firm to traditional Hopi beliefs, inhabit a different world as well.  Sharing her vision of our dynamic, elemental form, she offered me a glimpse of that world."  

Looking down and across to where we must go.

Atop First Mesa.

"This was my third time running the Paatuwaqatsi ("water is life") ultra, and I keep coming back for these glimpses.  The grandmother and granddaughter from a home outside of Polacca, below First Mesa, are there every year, handing out cups of water, and giving thanks to the runners.  Since 2008, I notice that the granddaughter is getting taller.  Soon she'll be taller than her grandmother.  In front of Polacca's general store, another old woman sat in a chair, showering water on each passing runner as she called Askwali!, thank you."

The final unrelenting hills as we closed in on the finish.

"The generosity of the Hopi, hosting this race and making visitors like myself welcome on their trails, is truly extraordinary.  The material poverty that many of them endure is evident to anyone who runs around First Mesa, but this does not keep them from extending every kindness, from the encouragement and gratitude of volunteers and spectators all along the course, to the traditional meal served afterwards, to awards that would make the directors of other, more commercial ultra-running events green with envy.  I'm grateful to have had the chance to participate again, and I look forward to returning next year."  --Andy Roth

An authentic Hopi post-race meal - mutton stew and watermelon.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Gore-Tex TransRockies Run 2011

Words can't describe my experience.  It was a mixed bag of humble pie, adrenaline-charged excitement, tear-jerking pain and glorious, almost sinful pleasure.  I was lucky enough to team up with my good friend and fellow Pearl Izumi teammate Timothy Olson (from Ashland, OR) for this year's Gore-Tex TransRockies Run.  Our plan:  Have fun and do a lot of running.  We achieved both goals.  Tim, who's a league above me in fitness, had just completed a stellar White River 50 Mile and was in the midst of training for the Pine to Palm 100 Mile Endurance Run, a race he won last year.  It was a good time for him to relax and enjoy the event's atmosphere as I did my best to keep us within the top ten spots in the Open Men's Division.  Will I return next year?  You bet!

Special thanks and credit to those who took the photos used in this blog:  Erin Strout, Timothy Olson, Klaus Fengler and Chris Hunter.  The videos herein were filmed and brought to you by Timothy Allen Olson.

Team Pearl Izumi/Nathan with jerseys...

...and without.

Ian Torrence and Tim Olson (Team Pearl Izumi/Nathan)

Stage One:  Buena Vista to the "Railroad Bridge"
20.8 miles, 2,500 feet of gain

This stage was brutal.  Lots of runners discovered that a 75 degree day at 9,000' can really feel like a 90 degree day at sea level.  Repercussions of an ambitious start would haunt some teams for the rest of the event.  This was the only stage that race management didn't require runners to carry the mandatory team space blanket, jacket, gloves and hat.  We soon found out why.  The course looped around in the high desert hills east of Buena Vista.  Though the scenery was breathtaking this stage had the latest start time of the event, 9am.  We were exposed to the sun all day and the late start didn't help matters; just really hot and dry.  The final four miles of the course ran down a road that never seemed to turn or end.  You could look forward and back and see runners stretched for miles.  Tim and I instituted a walk-run strategy in these closing miles and still managed to pass several teams on the way to the finish line.  The cold soak in the Arkansas River at the finish was just what the doctor ordered!

Pausing during our warm-up above the Arkansas River in Buena Vista.

The sun is getting higher...can we please start already?

The first steps of a six day journey.

Not much shade on this, hot, sandy.

Rolling along the railroad grade with Buena Vista and the Collegiate Peaks in the background.

The tunnels signal the final miles.

Andreas Santiago entertains the ladies at the Inov-8 Regeneration Tent.

Recharging the Garmin

Stage Two:  Hope Pass
13.4 miles, 3,200' of gain

I had ambitions of running up Hope Pass.  What was I thinking?  I was familiar with the climb as I had done it several times while running and pacing at the Leadville Trail 100 Mile Run, but I had just forgotten how steep that trail truly was.  I never found my groove on this stage and struggled the last five miles to the finish along the shores of Twin Lakes.

The expression is priceless.  Mark Thurston eats Hope Pass for breakfast.  Or was it the other way around?

Views down valley from below Hope Pass.

Jason Wolfe leads Mike Smith (Team Run Flagstaff) up Hope Pass.

Ladies in Pink:  Cynthia and Ashley Arnold (Team Trailrunner Magazine) make Hope look like a joke.

Views continue to improve as you continue to ascend.

Eric Bohn and Sara Wagner minutes before the finish line.

Winners!  Max King, Ryan Bak, Tom Owens, Ricky Lightfoot, Jason Wolfe and Mike Smith collect the day's loot.

Discussing the day's events over dinner in Leadville's 6th Street Gym.

Tent city in Leadville.

Stage Three:  Leadville to Nova Guides (Camp Hale)
24.3 miles, 2,700' of gain

We were lead out of Leadville by police cars, but soon found ourselves off the pavement and thrust upon Zion Grade, a steep 4x4 road that definitely raised the heart rate.  The second, more gentle climb took us to Ski Cooper and Tennessee Pass where we gained the Colorado Trail, some of the best single track running of the entire event.  I was quickly reminded of the time I spent on this section of trail back in 2003 when I ran along side Hal Koerner as he went on to set the then Colorado Trail Fastest Known Time.

The pack heads out of Leadville under police escort.

Looking back on Turquoise Lake from Zion Grade.

Descending into Tennessee Park and the first check point of the day.

Rolling over the final miles of the Colorado Trail.

Getting ready for a well-deserved shower.

Erin Stout, finisher in the RUN3 race, is so happy to not have to run tomorrow.

Claire Lears and Anna Kobb (Team Gore Running Wear) show off their pink jerseys and smiles.

The Trail Loving Bastards of the Extreme (Andres Santiago and Mark Thurston) take the stand.

Liz Davis and Chris Purslow (Team Dominachix) pass the time with a game of checkers.

Mixed Open winners:  Eric Bohn, Sara Wagner, Rickey Gates, Anna Frost, Zac Violette and Stephanie Howe.

No parents used to own a green Gremlin.

Congratulations to Flagstaff RUN3 finishers Janel Lanphere, Rob Hall and Erin Strout.

Nova Guides (Camp Hale).  Our home for the end of both Stages Three and Four.

Tent city at Nova Guides.

Stage Four:  Nova Guides to Red Cliff
14.2 miles, 2,800' of gain

My ears perked up when Mike Smith said it's the steepest thing he's ever run.  He wasn't fooling, but how did he run it?  This was another "short" stage, like Hope Pass, but the grunt to the top was out of this world!  However, once on top we were rewarded with an awesome ridge run that afforded views of Mount of the Holy Cross and the remaining top of Colorado.  It was on this decent that I had a tumble, the only one of the entire 120 miles, but one that shook my foundations and bestowed upon me some of the best trail rash I've ever had.  The half-mile+ run through Wearyman Creek (3 miles from the finish) took my mind from my throbbing and bloody palms to my frozen feet.

Ready to go as the sun rises on Camp Hale.

Elizabeth Davis ready to tackle the day!

Max King and Ryan Bak (Team Bend) charge the long climb on Day Four.

Zac Violette and Stephanie Howe (Team Gore/We Might Be Crazy) work their way up the steep climb.

Finally on top and running across Hornsilver Mountain.

Trying to push at 11,700'.  Mount of the Holy Cross sits mid-photo.

Angela Mudge works her way through a road turned stream.

Splashing through Wearyman Creek.

Finally out of the COLD water.

Skies darken at the finish line in Red Cliff.  Mango's (Red Cliff's token restaurant) provided the perfect recovery sanctuary post run.

Just a wee bit bloody.  My reward for the day's toil.

Rock and Roll.  Joel Axler and Mark Williams find their stride.

Just glad to be done icing the legs in the frigid waters of Red Cliff's Turkey Creek.

Three-quarters of the Flagstaff contingent at Nova Guides.

Awards time!  Excitement is in the air!

Brianna Torres and Jenny McCarthy "smile" at their winnings:  shampoo and conditioner.

Tim figures out the route for the following day.

Stage Five:  Red Cliff to Vail
23.6 miles, 4,100' of gain

They promised that the first aid would be at 7.9 miles, but when it finally arrived at 8.6 miles I was in no mood to debate.  I thought this day was going to be worse than it was especially if I was complaining already about a 0.7-mile inconsistency.  But after getting off the roads and onto the single track my mood and body changed for the better.  We spent a solid 10 miles at or above 11,000' on this stage.  The views from the ridge line were incredible and the long ~3,000' descent into Vail on single-track was as sweet as sweet could be.

Anxious at the chilly Red Cliff start line.

Eric Bohn and Sara Wagner work the tow rope.

Katie Caba (along with her husband Jeff Caba) competed as the Caba-nators and ruled the 80+ Mixed Division.

Cruising along at 11,000'.

Robert Steele and Joebob Armstrong (Team Gore Running Wear) finish day five.

My best stage...

Hands up ladies!  Team Arcteryx (Amy Golumbia, Rosmarie Gerspacher), Team Trailrunner Magazine (Cynthia and Ashley Arnold) and Flagstaff's Jenny McCarthy and Brianna Torres.

Stage Six:  Vail to Beaver Creek (The Finish)
23.6 miles, 5,000' of gain

With 5,000' feet of gain on the last day and the first 5K on flat bike path through Vail I knew the faint of heart would not enjoy this stage.  We were lucky as we had cloudy skies and rain in the afternoon.  On any other day I could see this being a repeat of Stage One; a very hot run as many of the trails and roads were exposed and on south facing slopes.  All teams used what they left in their tanks, pulled all the stops and ran for the win on this final stage.  With the exception of the round-abouts outside of Beaver Creek's Walmart, this stage was chock full of gorgeous, aspen laden and runnable single-track.  The last climb (new to the event this year) seemed to never end, but it was all good, because beyond it the finish line awaited!

Sara Wagner's expression says it all.  "Thank goodness I don't have to race tomorrow!"

The start of the stage six...the first and only uphill starting stage.  This got us warmed up in a hurry!

You've got to love a single track through the aspens!

Yes, finally leading the Inov-8 boys : )

The coveted finish line in Beaver Creek, Colorado.

"Flagstaff's going down!"  Down to the bank to collect their prize money.  
Congratulations to Flagstaff's Jason Wolfe and Mike Smith.

The come back kids.  After a wrong turn on day one and a tough stage two Sara Wagner and Eric Bohn created a myth of their own.

Hands and heads held high!  Tim was a the best partner a guy could ask for!  Thanks man!

Where'd these ladies come from?  Brianna Torres (right) and Jenny McCarthy reinvent Flagstaff running!

Podium!!!  Joel Axler and Mark Williams put the icing on the cake.

Max King, Ryan Bak, Jason Wolfe, Mike Smith, Ricky Lightfoot and Tom Owens enjoy what's rightfully theirs.

 Go Flagstaff, it's your birthday!

Beaver Creek from The Pines Hotel.

My favorite photo from the week!

Tim, Stephanie Howe and myself are all smiles at Beaver Creek.

Rickey Gates (one half of Team Salomon along with Anna Frost) shows off his finishers shirt.

Your Moment of Zen

The theme of the week:  Where the frick is Ian?
Tim Olson on his way to make the infamous cell phone call.

Full and final results can be found here.
More TRR race photos can be found here.