Tuesday, October 15, 2013

JB Benna's Unbreakable FKT

JB Benna not only makes beautiful movies but he throws down when it comes to thru-hiking and trail running.  His list of races is extensive and he’s even managed to rack up a few wins along the way.  In 2006, he filmed David Horton’s 2,700 mile FKT on the Pacific Crest Trail.  He filmed Dean Karnazes run 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days in 2009—an epic feat for anyone involved.  Then in 2012, he gave us ultrageeks a sweet little gem—Unbreakable: The Western States 100.  It’s effect on the ultra community is undeniable.  It’s a great flick that makes us believe that anything is possible and inspires us to go outside and run into the sunset and maybe, just maybe…keep running until the sun comes up.  Most recently, JB bagged an unsupported FKT on the Tahoe Rim Trail (174 miles) with a time of 58:43.  I spoke with him after a week of healing and time with his wife and daughter. 

AM: How ya feeling now?
JB: Pretty good, I guess.  Pretty satisfied.  Tired.  My knee was pretty swollen up after that.  Swelling is just kinda going down now.  That and a bunch of blisters were my only real physical issues. 
AM: Tell me about the last person who held the Tahoe Rim Trail unsupported FKT.
JB: Michael “Mish” Popov. 
AM: Was he a buddy of yours?
JB: Yeah just an ultrarunning acquaintance.  We kind of just hit it off right off the bat.  He’d seen my film The Runner about David Horton’s record on the PCT and he himself had done a speed record around the John Muir Trail, so we’d always chat whenever I’d see him.  That was 2007 or 2008.  We saw each other at different races and different events.  He passed away last year in Death Valley on a solo run.  It’s still kind of a sensitive subject but I felt inspired by his feats.  I wanted to go out and honor that and test myself as well.
AM: Yeah, it seemed like you wanted to pay tribute to him rather than go out and beat his time.  
JB: Yeah I didn’t want to say I’m going to go out and beat your time.  It’s a solo pursuit of just pushing yourself to your limits rather than beating someone else’s time.  I did feel his inspiration and his spirit while I was out there hallucinating for twenty-four out of the fifty-eight hours of the event. 
AM: Wow.  So how tough did it get out there?  How bad was it?
JB: Well from about mile 110 till the finish I was fairly convinced that I was hiking not only with another person but that my feet, my poles, my legs and my hydration pack were all individual characters. 
We both laugh.
JB: So every time something happened with one of those items it was a conversation with that item, telling it to get itself together so it could keep up with me.  Every thirty to sixty minutes I would snap out of it and realize I was hallucinating and that I was out there alone.  I realized that was an easier place than reality for my mind to be at that moment.  It was interesting, I mean, I’ve had some mild hallucinations while running hundred milers where I’ll be running down a trail and see some-thing, I think it’s a voodoo doll, or an animal or something and it turns out to be just a stump but nothing to that extent where it was continuous and I was having conversations with my foot about why it wasn’t fixing my blister. 
AM: And these hallucinations went on for a long time?
JB: Yeah, at least twenty-four hours.  The second night and then ten hours and fourty-three minutes on the third day.  I didn’t sleep much.  I didn’t even sleep the first night, I just lied down for about twenty-five minutes but it was so windy that I don’t think I actually fell asleep.  The second night I was trying to sleep for ninety minutes but I only fell asleep for thirty minutes and I was lying down for forty-five to an hour the whole night.
AM: I know it was unsupported but did you have any friends out there at all?
JB: Well at the very end, I wanted at least one person to be there to verify.  I had this photographer guy come out at mile 150 and then at the last minute my wife also decided to come out with him so there would be two people there to verify that no one handed me anything.  They didn’t even give me a hug or touch me in anyway.  That was the only person I saw that I knew.  There were probably only ten or twelve people total because it was so windy, so there weren’t many people on the trail.  Plus it was a weekday.  I saw a few people and told them to tweet me or Facebook me to say that they saw me.  Someone took a picture of me so I’m hoping I hear from these people in the next few days.  Overall, I didn’t see too many people because it was 60-70 mph winds.  It felt like it was gonna rip my backpack off my back at certain points.  That forced me to change my direction of travel at the very last minute.  Two hours before I left, I switched from going counter clockwise to clockwise, which kind of threw my mental game off a bit.  I’d been thinking about the other direction for so long and then all of a sudden was going the opposite way but it was kind of necessary with the conditions and the chance of rain.

                                             Photo by Jennifer Benna

AM: Do you know what he weight of your pack was?
JB: It was at about 4.9 pounds.  With my food about 13-14 pounds and then with my water for the first stretch, which is one of the longest, was about 20 pounds.  Then with my clothes and poles it was 23 pounds of total weight.
AM: And you just filtered water along the way?
JB: Yeah, only natural water sources.  I think I only stopped for water like five or six times, probably every twenty miles, thirty miles.
AM: Were you mainly eating gels?  You’re not stopping to cook food, are you?
JB: I actually did cook two meals.  I ate four meals, two of them were cooked.  The rest was quite a variety of foods.  I had gels, bars, peanut butter M&M’s, Justin’s peanut butter, beef jerky, Wheat Thins, dried fruit, Vespa, electrolyte tabs.  Stuff like that.  I had two hot cooked backpacker type meals and then two granola and milk breakfast type meals.  Definitely variety helped under the circumstance.  One downfall is the harder, more solid food will sustain in the long run but it’s harder to chew.  My jaw was actually very sore for the last twenty-four hours. 
AM: I know you’ve done some thru-hiking and fast packing.  Does that sort of thing appeal to you more than races?  We’ve seen your wife at races this year and you’re usually there supporting her. 
JB: Yeah, we’re just gonna focus on her races.  Over the last few years I’ve done some shorter trail runs.  I’ve had some success.  I’ve won some races but just not in the ultra world.  It’s just different.  The thing that appeals to me is running is about the simplest thing you can do.  At a semi competitive event you can test your limits but you’re completely on your own.  There’s no aid stations, no fellow racers, no crew, no pacers, nothing.  Kind of an extreme of that simplicity.  I don’t want to become a trail hermit because I really do enjoy the camaraderie with the trail running community and the ultra community.  I find that they’re really amazing but I think it’s nice to strip it down to bare essentials and just be out there with yourself and see how you can perform.

Eva, JB and Jen Benna on way to crew Hal Koerner and Mike Wolfe on John Muir Trail FKT attempt, after a 6000 ft climb up rugged Taboose Pass in the High Sierra.

AM: Yeah, I couldn’t agree with you more, man.
JB: There will be more FKT’s but Jen’s going to take the year and I’ll be there for support. 
AM: Hey, I’m a big fan of Unbreakable, as well as your other films, what’s next for Journey Film?
JB: You know I’ve been working on a women’s ultra film.  The working title is Ultrabeauty.  It’s kind of a bio pic about five or six different women throughout the course of a year or so.  It’s a little different than Unbreakable.  It’s has more character.  It’s still kind of coming together.  I’m not sure when it will be released.  That’s kind of my tentative plan.
AM: Well again man, congrats on the FKT.
JB: Yeah man, I didn’t know if I could do it, I figured I’d just give it a shot.  I honestly thought this would just be a test run this year and next year I’d give it a more experienced go but I’m pretty thrilled with the outcome.
AM: Did you film any or all of this big adventure?
JB: Yeah, I filmed with my iPhone.  It was just a little talking into camera sort of thing.  The guy that came out to take pictures also filmed some of it from Mount Rose Meadows and the finish.  Between the stuff I shot and the stuff he shot, maybe a short blurb or something could come out eventually. 
AM: But it won’t be the next Journey Film?
JB: (Laughs) No, I think that would have taken away from the experience.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Hundred Mile Real Talk with Jason Schlarb

I have to admit, I didn’t know that much about Jason Schlarb when I first Googled him.  I’d watched him stay positive all day and win the Run Rabbit Run 100 convincingly.  We’re talking about running a hundred miles faster than Karl Meltzer and Timmy Olson.  How does one pass those guys and have the mental fortitude to stay positive and close in on the finish?  I had to know more about this guy.  I wanted to know his secrets.  Fortunately for us, Schlarb keeps no secrets.  I had the chance to catch up with him fresh off his big win.    

AM:  Hey Jason, how are you?
JS:  Good, just enjoying Saturday.  How bout yourself?
AM:  Oh, about the same.  How are those legs feeling?  (At the time of this interview, it was exactly one week since Schlarb destroyed the Run Rabbit Run 100 mile course in 17:15:20)
JS:  Ah, you know, they’re not hurt, they’re not sore but when I try and run they are pretty much uh…not happy.
AM:  It’s that deep down soreness and fatigue that hangs on.
JS:  I thought that five days would be good but I had a whole bunch of school work to do. I thought I may recover better if I do something a couple of days after (the race) but yesterday I went and ran with a buddy and it was a terrible (inaudible dialogue) seven miles with him.  It was terrible.
AM:  Run Rabbit Run race was a qualifier for UROC (a mere two weeks after RRR).  Are you running that race this year?
JS:  No, I’m not doing that.  I would really like to but…
AM:  It’s just so close…
JS:  Yeah, maybe there are guys that can do relatively okay after a hundred mile but if I’m going to show up with those guys there I want to feel like I’m ready to do my best.
AM:  Yeah. 
JS:  Where are you located?
AM:  Oh, I’m right next to Boulder in Louisville, Colorado.
JS:  Nice, how long have you been in Louisville?
AM:  I’ve been in this area for a year.  I just moved here not long ago from the Midwest, from Wisconsin.  But I love it here.  How often do you make it out this way?
JS:  Well I’m a Coloradan.  We moved out of Boulder last June, I think, did a year of traveling and then ended up in Missoula. 
AM:  Now you did some traveling in New Zealand last year?
JS:  Yeah I did, we bike toured like 2,000 miles…
AM:  Yeah I wanted to ask you about that.  That sounds crazy—especially with a kid!  (Jason, his wife Maggie and baby boy, Felix, bike toured around New Zealand for four months!)

Photo:  Jean Tiran

JS:  It was awesome.  It wasn’t as terrible or challenging as one might think.  You have to be adaptable but we had traveled before and spent all of last summer traveling through North America in a camper and um, he (two and a half year old Felix) was kind of okay with that and okay with the tent.  We would have breakfast and take a hike or run and he would take a nap through the first few hours of hiking.  We’d stop for lunch where he could play in the park or river and he would jump in and play around.  Then he would just kind of chill out and we’d be done by 4, after starting at 11.  So it wasn’t too terrible and we’d just do like 50k or 80k, take days off here and there.  It was a cool life man.  We were just out there camping and biking for four months man.
AM:  Wow, that’s my dream life.  That sounds awesome.
JS:  It was good, it was really good.  We miss it and it comes to mind more frequently than I thought it would.
AM:  And Montana is home base now?
JS:  Yeah, Missoula is where we’re at.  I’m doing some classes in preparation for a doctorate of physical therapy. 
AM:  Oh great!
JS:  Yeah, (laughs)  I don’t know why dude…I’ve got a couple of degrees and I’d really like to be a physical therapist but I’m really starting to question another four years of school.
AM:  Yeah, it’s a big commitment, especially when you’re pretty much in the peak of your running career.
JS:  Yeah, the opportunities to not work are great right now and I’m out there in school.  It’s not terribly difficult but…processing over the last few days after that bench mark run has been fun. 
AM:  I bet!  Hey, if you wouldn’t mind, could you just tell us a little bit about yourself and how your running career all started?
JS:  You bet.  I grew up a soccer player in Colorado.  I played soccer pretty competitively in leagues while I went to a private high school.  We went to state in the D1 league but I kinda burned out.  Switched over to cross country and walked onto a D1 program at Montana State University.  That’s where I kind of got serious about running and ran there for five years doing indoor track, outdoor track and cross country.  I loved running trails.  We did a lot of our long and medium runs on the trails.  I also really enjoyed that aspect running but I really enjoyed competing.  After college, I was commissioned as an officer in the Air Force.  I took an assignment out in Boston and ran for the Air Force team.  Branches of the military have teams that they compete against.  It’s mostly post collegiate athletes that get together and run or play soccer or whatever the team happens to be into.  I ran on a cross country team and a track team and eventually a marathon team.  I got to travel around the world a little bit and train as a semi professional level athlete.  And I really liked the trail running scene but I also liked the fact that I could compete on a really high level on the roads and cross country.  Back in 2004-2008 I ran a really…I wasn’t super competitive on the trails.  I trained on trails but raced on the roads.  I did that for a while and ran a 2:27 marathon…
AM:  Wow.
JS:  I wouldn’t say I was completely committed.  I was working full time but I was into it.  Then I got introduced, or…I don’t know how to say it…I was pressured into doing an ultra by one of the guys who was on the Air Force team in San Fransisco and he was like, “you should do it, you should do it”.  In 2010, during my last marathon in October, right around Halloween time, I quit cold turkey on the roads and started my first trail running regimen for a couple weeks, getting ready for North Face (the North Face 50 mile championship) and came in 5th behind Dave Mackey and Dakota and never looked back.
AM:  Did you even know who those guys were at the time?
JS:  Um, that summer, late summer, early fall I started looking into the trail running world.  I started looking at Anton’s blog and Dave Mackey.  I knew about Dakota Jones but I only knew about a half dozen names.  It was fun, I did well, I ran conservatively and I passed and passed and passed and then kind of fell off but it went well.   So I trained through the winter and won the US 50 mile trail championships in Texas with a 6:20 something.  Shortly after that, I deployed for six months.  So that was 2011 and then came back a few weeks before North Face.  I’d been running on sand at night during the summer, ran North Face once again.  Last year, 2012, was my first year of focused running.  Had some success and then I kind of ran too much.  Then I went to New Zealand and kind of killed myself on the bike.  That was a hard challenging start to this season but from June on, I feel like I’ve been getting a lot stronger. 
AM:  Challenging due to injuries?
JS:  I was just fried.  My off season was a couple of races in New Zealand, biking everyday and running so I kind of went from a long, tough season in 2012 to just a continuation and it left me...in Tarawera (100k in New Zealand), I walked for twenty miles of that.
AM:  Mmm.
JS:  I recovered in April and May and then got back to running shape and then had some long races in June and July that really went well. 
AM:  When did all the sponsorships come in?  Was that last year?
JS:  Um, you know I got an early start with Hoka and some other sponsors—largely in part to Dave Mackey.  You know he plays a big part.  He helped me get in touch with Hoka, he sent me a pair when I was in Iraq.  I tried them out, super skeptical.  I just fell in love with them due to recovery time and just the ability to train at a high level without injury.  I started with those guys in 2012, so I guess it’s been a year and half with them.  Vitargo came in later in 2012 and then Injinji, so last year I started to gain some sponsors. 
AM:  Now, just a quick question…do any of your sponsors decide what races you do, or…when you sit down at the beginning of the year to plan races, how does that go?
JS:  That’s 100% up to me.
AM:  Ok.

Photo: Anthony Prichard

JS:  Hoka is a unique company.  They’re owned by Deckers, and they are starting to sponsor some more runs like JFK.  We’re looking at Western, and Run Rabbit Run but to this day, I decide 100% and the other sponsors have no influence. 
AM:  Nice.  So for Run Rabbit Run this year, I was there and I didn’t have such a good day.  You had a great day and it seemed to me that you were strong all day long.  Did you have any low points…where you felt like you were in trouble…or…walk us through the day a little bit.
JS:  I tried out the Run Rabbit Run 100 last year and you know, I got lost…
AM:  That’s what happened to me this year!
JS:  Oh, I’m sorry to hear that, that’s a bummer.
AM:  Yeah, it was unfortunate. 
JS:  Yeah, there’s nothing worse than that.
AM:  Well, you came back and conquered in a big bad way so, I gotta hear about this!
JS:  Yeah well, I’d done some 50 milers and my whole strategy was to just stay comfortable and conservative during the first half and um, I’m much happier to be passing than holding on.  The acceleration and velocity in the second half is a mental boost.   The hundred mile distance…I just didn’t know what it was all about and last year the 50 milers I’ve run I learned that you’ve really got to be mentally strong and sound to pull it out because it’s so dang long.  I went to Grindstone 100 and it was absolutely miserable.  Terrible.  Slow and just…depressing…going bad places from like, the beginning of the race, like mile 15 till about 50 I was just…this is the worst thing I’ve ever done.
AM:  Wow.
JS:  It was a race that started at 6 pm and it was just bad, bad, bad.  So I took away that experience and decided I have to really, really stay positive and have a good outlook on this race—build momentum and keep expectations to a minimum in the first half and so I did that and this year wasn’t like last year, um…last year, Tim and Dylan and Karl and a couple of the guys just RAN up that ski slope dude, like literally that last pitch, up to the gondola, it was just silly.  This year it started out a little bit more conservative and there was some power hiking going on, which wasn’t going on last year.  I just took it totally easy and racing was going to start no earlier than 60.  I stayed comfortable and stayed positive.  I let people pass, didn’t worry about it.  Dave put 5 minutes on me early.  Josh Arthur passed.  Karl had passed me at the beginning of the race and it was all good.  I was in a great place mentally and I was talking out loud to myself in a positive manner and even forcing myself to laugh.  There was something I read (inaudible) it emulates certain messenger chemicals in your body of happiness and positivity when you laugh and when you smile and I purposely did that throughout the race and kept all the talk positive and did that and it really helped.  I kept in that frame of mind, even when it got dark, almost in religious kind of way.  I was just focused on that and that was all I let myself to think about.  How good things were going and how fortunate I was just to be in this race, in shape, healthy, a professional athlete, doing this as a job and just kept that focus and once it got dark and I found myself in the lead, I was not worried about it or who was behind me.  I was just doing my personal best and I even…I purposely never look back.
AM:  Wow.
JS:  And after mile 70, when you’re at Spring Creek aid station, is the last time there’s any, kind of, overlap with guys.  So from 70-98 I made damn sure I didn’t worry about those people.  I thought, if they pass, they pass but it’s going to be my day and my game.  Lo and behold, I didn’t know that I was putting 20-50 minutes on those guys and I think at the top (of Mount Werner) I think I was an hour ahead of Karl. 
AM:  Unreal!
JS:  So later on, I did the math, I think it was every 40 minutes, I’d take in a hundred calories so that’s two and a half thousand calories for 17 some hours and no stomach problems.  That’s way less calories than most of the other guys take in and that’s largely in part to the grain free, kind of low carb diet since April. 
AM:  Oh, okay.
JS:  Yeah, my body is just burning the fat, man.  I didn’t have to take a lot and didn’t have to have a stomach full of carbs, just running on fats.  It’s a huge key to my success and I think it’s a huge key to Tim’s success.  And there are other athletes playing with that nutritional strategy.
AM:  Myself included!
JS:  I want to keep it my secret!  (we both laugh)  It’s no secret, Tim’s the one who told me about it and it works.  So that was the nutrition situation.  I never had any aches, or limps or strains…but nothing had occupied my attention to any degree I just kept comfortable just, go, go, go and kept getting stronger and stronger all the way up to mile 90 or so.  That’s when I started looking at my watch for mileage and was ready to get up to the top of Werner.
AM:  I bet.  At that time you had crew, right?
JS:  Yeah, I had two guys crewing for me, both really good crew.  One guy, Kendrick, he’s an ultrarunner, um, really good and paying attention to detail kinda guy and he also ran with me on those four mile sections on the road which were huge.  And the other guy has been one of my best friends since high school and he is kind of a cheerleader guy.  He walks me through some visualization before all of my races.
AM:  Oh yeah?
JS:  Yeah, like a meditation, visualization thing for 10-20 minutes.  He was there and the support was perfect.  They gave me my Ultimate Direction vest at about mile 60.  Everything was cool, everything was spot on.  I had everything I needed.  I was cruising.
AM:  And at that point, did you know you had the race in the bag, or…was there any “running scared” going on?
JS:  Yeah.  You know, honestly there was some running scared going on.  I saw Karl at mile 70 age station…
AM:  No way.
JS:  Yeah and he was…well, you know I ran in, hit the aid, run out (inaudible) so he was approximately 8 minutes behind me.  That’s NOTHING.  This is Karl and with his strength, he can just steamroll during the second half.  And you know Josh Arthur was 15 minutes back, Dave Mackey was 35-40 minutes along w/ Browning.  At that point, there was no certainty. 
AM:  Not with those guys.
JS:  Yeah, everything was good.  Everything was going well but I had to be 100% on my game to NOT worry about it and to keep it off my mind.  When I hit mile 90ish, I started to count the miles because I was ready to be done.  My body was tiring and my energy levels were lowering.  I was starting to not be able to communicate well at the last two aid stations.  When I got up to the last aid station, I did start looking back.  I kind of got out of that super positive self talk, the kind of talking to God stretch of the race.  I really began to just kind of think about the finish and allow myself to look back and indulge in the idea of winning.  I refused to fantasize about crossing the line first, or the ten thousand bucks until after mile 70.  And then it was like, hey—this is going to be awesome if it does happen.  Then on the way down, the last 4 or 5 miles, I was finished.  I was ready for it all to be done. 

1st place Run Rabbit Run 100 Photo: Bryon Powell / iRunFar

AM:  What a great race, Jason.  Just fantastic.  You’ve got some inspiring stuff there.  Thanks for sharing with us and sharing all of your secrets because people want to know man!
JS:  Yeah, cool.  I appreciate your time and talking with ya. 
AM:  No problem at all.  Do you have any races you’re signed up for, or…is this kind of the year end for you?  What are you looking at?
JS:  Um, it’s kind of a season end but my beloved North Face (50 mile championships) is in December 7th and I want to go back to that and do that for the third time.  But it’s pretty easy now, I may do some jogging next week.  Easy to moderate till middle of October and then start doing real workouts. There’s some hill climb races in Missoula but besides that, North Face is the next big boy.  Then, Patagonia in January…I’m going out there with a buddy for ten days of running.
AM:  Nice.  You’re living the dream man, that’s beautiful.
JS:  Thanks, it is a dream come true, it’s been a great ride and I enjoy the lifestyle and the success and traveling and being out in the mountains and racing is, it’s pretty sweet. 
AM:  Yeah, it doesn’t get any better than that man, most of us are working 40 hours a week, wishing we were living like that!
JS:  (Laughs) I was with ya for the last few years, this is a new thing for me.
AM:  That’s great.  Hey, how can we find you?  I see you have a blog, do you use Twitter or anything like that?
JS:  I do Twitter (@JasonSchlarb).  I do Facebook.  I’ve got the blog, JasonSchlarb.com…I try and get on there a bit but I’ve got a two and a half year old boy and school, so I don’t always get on there as much as I’d like to.
AM:  Well I appreciate your time, Jason and congrats on a great race and a great year and we’re all looking forward to seeing what you’re going to do in the future, man!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

17 year old ultra phenom, Logan Polfuss!

Alpine Goals:
Going long with Logan Polfuss

When I first met up with Logan Polfuss at what would be his new living quarters for the next month in Boulder Colorado, he had already found his way up Green Mountain, Bear Peak, and scrambled up the first and second flatirons several times—by himself.  I had known of Logan for a few years.  I’d seen him running ultras and I was shocked to find out that he was only 16 years old and he had already run several hundred mile races.  Now only a year later and he’s emailed me to tell me he’s coming to Boulder for the month of July to look at colleges.  He’s about to start his senior year of high school and he just wants to spend the month in Boulder, climbing and scrambling the trails.  And somehow, he’s talked his mom into letting him come out.  No stranger to her sons exploits, she had crewed for him at almost all of his hundred milers.

Logan on top of Green Mountain.

The seventeen year old had taken a bus to Boulder with enough money to pay the rent and eat cheap.  He’d found an apartment on Craigslist with three other roommates, skyped with them and worked it all out on his own.  Once in Boulder, he bought a $40 bicycle to get around town (which he also sold on Craigslist on his last day in town for a $1 profit).  And he was going to cap the whole trip off with another ultra, The Grand Mesa 100.  It will be a sweet redemption for a DNF he’d had on the same course when he was fifteen.  I thought back to what I was doing when I was that age.  I was nothing like this kid.  He’s possessed, inspired.

When I picked him up, he had a little more hair on his chin than the last time I saw him.  His dread locks were longer and more sun bleached than ever.  He was (almost always) shirtless with only a pair of running shorts on and a water bottle tucked into his shorts.  He was smiling ear to ear and happy to be living free in Boulder.  That night we ran up Green Mountain and at the summit I asked:
"Do you want to try and bag Bear too?"
"Sure, that would put me well over 5,000 feet for the day" he said enthusiastically.
"We don’t have food or headlamps" I reminded him.
"Well then we better hurry" is all his said with a smile.
With that we ran the combo.  The whole time we ran, he talked.  His voice was a contradiction.  He had the graveled voice of a seasoned mountain man with the lisp of a young boy. 
He was enthusiastic about trails, climbs, different routes and different ways up various mountains.  His main obsession was Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park.  He had gotten a membership to a bouldering gym and was spending anywhere between three to eight hours running or climbing in the mountains everyday.  His tan skin and taught muscles showed it.  He didn’t seem like any other seventeen year old I’d known.  He was inspiring me!

Logan’s love for ultra running began at age 14 when he paced his friend’s dad, Scott Meyer, through rain and lightning to finish the Kettle Moraine 100.  One month later, Logan ran the Dances with Dirt 50 miler, in Baraboo, Wisconsin.  When he was at mile 45, someone told him he was in 14th place.  Top 10 rang out in his head and he ran the last five miles hard. These five miles are the toughest of the race, sending you up and down the relentless Devil’s Head ski hills.  He made the top 10 in his first ultra at age 14.
“I’ll never forget those last 5 miles.” is all his says with a big smile. 

Logan tried his first 100 miler the Grand Mesa 100, at age 15.  Grand Mesa is a tough mountain course with a lot of elevation gain and descent—a far cry from the flat cornfields of Wisconsin where Logan trains.  Unfortunately, not many race directors would let him into their races because of his age, so he had to take what he could get. 
After getting lost, he missed the time cutoff.  It felt hopeless and he dropped. 
“I was done.” says Logan “I just couldn’t continue but I learned a lot that day.  That DNF brought me months of misery.  I became so depressed I didn’t know if I ever wanted to run again.”
So what does a 15 year old kid do?  Play video games?  Chase girls?  Hang out with his buddies?  No.  He picked up the pieces by contacting nearly all the race directors of hundred mile races in the country to see which ones would let him toe their starting line.  While most of them turned him down, the Ozark Trail 100 said yes.  The race was right after cross country season and he was completely untrained for that kind of distance.  Sure, nearly every mile he’d run in the last couple of months had been sub six minute miles but the longest he’d run since Grand Mesa was 12 miles. 
Logan was as tough as they come at age 15.  After a hard day and night, he found himself nearly in tears as he and another runner did the math and realized that, at the pace they were moving, they wouldn’t make the 95 mile cutoff in time.  After a slow and depressing hike into the 95 mile checkpoint, they were told it was daylight savings time and they still had an extra hour!
“Finishing was mind blowing” recalls Logan “because just five miles earlier, I didn’t think I was going to make it!  I just couldn’t believe it!”

In 2012 Logan was 16 years old and did not one but three 100 plus mile races: Zumbro 100, Kettle Moraine 100 and the Tuscobia 150!  Tuscobia is a self supported winter ultra in Northern Wisconsin in December.  The runners pull a sled with all the essential gear to hike and sleep in sub zero weather.  No crew and only four aid stations. 
At one point, Logan had been alone for a long time and needed a nap.  He hunkered down for a nap and about twenty minutes later, two racers came along and asked if he was alright.  He said he was fine, just napping, and the two runners pushed on. 
“I’d been alone for the last thirty miles.” he said. “I suddenly decided I’d get up and go with them for some company.”
Logan started busting out mile after mile to catch them.  He couldn’t see any sign of them.  No headlamps or anything.  He figured these guys must really be moving fast. 
“That’s when I realized, maybe those people weren’t even real” he says with a laugh.  But at this point he’d been sweating so much trying to catch these imaginary friends that his base layers were completely soaked—a potentially deadly predicament in sub zero weather.  Without panic, he stripped his clothes off and crawled into his warm sleeping bag to stay warm and take a nap. 

Earlier that year, I was running my first 100 mile race, the Kettle Moraine 100.  I’d met Logan a few times at this point.  I’d seen him shirtless and on level 12 of a few starting lines.  When I hobbled into an aid station in the middle of the night, Logan was there on a cot with blankets wrapped around him.  He opened his eyes and acknowledged me when he saw me, but that was about it.  He was in massive pain due to cramping issues.  I had to get my foot taped up, but I could tell Logan’s issues were serious.  His pacer sat patiently by his side. 
“There’s no way that poor kids going to finish” I thought. 
The next morning while looking at the race results, I was stunned to see that Logan Polfuss came back from the dead and finished the race in sub 30.  I barely knew this kid and I was telling all my friends about him.  This crazy 16 year old with long dreads is about the hardest dude I know.

Living in the moment!

In 2013 Logan started off the season with another shot at the Kettle Morraine 100.  An ankle injury nearly DNF’d him again but after spending a couple of hours at an aid station, he rallied and finished with the aid of trekking poles.  He also checked the Zumbro 100 off the list for a second time.

Fast forward to now.  It’s the summer of 2013, and Logan is riding his bike up to the Chautauqua trailhead everyday where he runs up and down the mountain trails or scrambles up nearly anything that he can.  He’s supposed to be out here looking at schools.  He’s looked at one but he hasn’t missed a day in the mountains.  Every time I join him, he knows more trails and climbs than I do and it’s obvious that he is putting all of his spare time and energy into researching all the trails in the Boulder area.  He knows the FKTs and who set them on all of the trails.  He’s a smart kid.  Next year, he wants to study wind turbine technology.  Or maybe wildland firefighting.  He’s not sure but he’s got the time to think about it.  But basically the mountains are calling and he must go.  He only has another year to wait.  After this month of freedom in Colorado, Logan has to go back to one more year of high school and he’ll have to start incorporating more speed into his training for cross country. 
“I have to go back to running in muddy cornfields!” he says “It’s gonna suck!”

Before he had to leave, I really wanted to get Logan up Longs Peak.  Longs Peak is the northernmost fourteener in Colorado and the Rocky Mountains.  It is 14,255 feet high.  It’s the highest peak in Rocky Mountain National Park and Boulder County. We got a few people together and on July 18th and took Logan to the mountain he says he’s been obsessed with for over a year.  He carries minimal gear ( a jacket around his waste and two water bottles tucked into his shorts).  I’d been up the standard keyhole route several times before.  But Logan had studied every route up and knew the pitches and the difficulty of each one.  The whole time he muses:
“Is that the Diamond?”
“I wonder if that’s the Kieners route?”
“I betcha that’s the lamb slide!”
“Is that Broadway up there?”

Cassie Scallon pauses to take a picture of Logan on our way up the keyhole route.

The kid had done his homework.  He scrambled faster than all of us.  He would disappear way up ahead and fifteen minutes later we’d see him perched on a rock, happy as can be, waiting for us.  Other climbers watched his scrambling abilities with awe.  He was part mountain goat, part spiderman.  When we made it to the summit of Logan’s first 14er, he was more interested in talking to other guys who had come up different routes.  He was completely possessed!  When we descended, he would Killian it down, down, down until twenty-five minutes later we’d bump into him, smiling and yet again, waiting patiently for us.  When the rain and hail moved in on our way down, he literally disappeared down the mountain faster than any of us and took shelter in the Rangers station where he studied and memorized every map of Longs Peak that hung on the walls. 
After we all changed into dry clothes and started the drive back to Boulder, he was the first one to fall sound asleep. 

At the end of July, Logan ran and finished the Grand Mesa 100, getting redemption for his previous DNF.  Not only did he finish but he placed 6th overall.  He spent hours hiking in downpours but was determined to gut it out. 
“I can’t believe my legs feel so good!” is what he texted me the next day.  He hasn’t even discovered his potential yet.  Where is he going to be when he’s 22?
Another hundo complete!
The next weekend was the kids last in town.  He wanted to find an epic finish to the summer before his twenty-two hour bus ride back to Wisconsin.  On Saturday, he and I biked ten miles one way to do some scrambling on the first and second flatirons.  He knew all the proper routes up and the downclimbs.  He recognized I’d climbed up a dangerous water gulley (once I’d already done it), and knew how to talk me down after my panic attack and being stuck with nowhere to go for over four minutes.  After our adventure, we were tired and dehydrated.  He took me to his usual spot in Boulder after a long day—Wendy’s.  It wasn’t for food (Logan is vegetarian) but for a dollar soda with all the refills we could handle. 

The next day we decided to hit Longs Peak one last time.  It was Logan’s last day in Colorado.  After carefully studying the north face route, that was the way we decided to try.  Parts of it were harrowing but it was all a cakewalk for Polfuss.  When most of us decided to take the keyhole route down for safety reasons, Logan took the cables route, stopping to carefully check out the camel and Keiners route.  We all ran down at different paces in the rain and laughed and spoke of our adventure on the ride back.  It was his last day in Colorado and he was completely in his element.

Before we bro-hugged goodbye and before Logan got on his bus to go home, I asked him if he had any idea what races he’d be doing out here next year.
“I haven’t even thought about it” he said.  He was present and didn’t spend much time thinking about the past or the future.  We could all learn something from this seventeen year old ultra prodigy.  Where will this kid end up?  Will he be leading the ultra race scene at age twenty-one?  He doesn’t seem to care.  He just wants to be outside and in the Rocky Mountains.  He lives in the now and now it’s time to go back to high school and focus on his senior year and cross country season.  But look out Colorado, he’ll be back next year.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

parakeet drummer

parakeet drummer
knows Life is
a bummer
especially last summer
when his back was
in pain
constant angst
and sometimes hard rain
the flame
the knife's edge
standing on the ledge
thinking not of Life
but Death
holding his breath
longer than
trying to love Life
but always needing
miniscule brain
precision accuracy
and speed
are what you
to get by
w/out being high
w/out a sigh
w/out the parakeet drummer
going for a fly
and forever saying
  bye bye
     because it's easier to lie
        than to face a
            room full of people
                 or the gd steeple
                       after another lowbrow
                                full of sin
                                     plastic trees and
                                                the hours
                                                           ultra fast
                                                                  and cast
                                                           the dismal vibe
                                                     over the side
                                              of the fallen down bridge
                                        on that late winter night
                                  after a long long walk
                          that left you

out of sight
that the parakeet drummer
even has
the glow in the dark drummer
to buy him a hummer
when spring turns to
but he still can't
keep a

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Western States 100

I’m putting one foot in front of the other, scrambling up Michigan Bluff.  My hands are on my knees and sweat is coming off my nose almost in a steady stream.  It’s 4:30 in the afternoon and we’ve been battling the heat all day long.  Some have fallen victim, others are somehow still moving.  I’m about 54 miles in and I know there is an aid station at the top of the climb.  I haven’t seen my crew for a long time.  They missed me at my last check point so this time, I need everything.  New socks, water and ice in my hydration pack and my water bottle, Carbo-pro, Nuun electrolyte tabs, calories, encouragement.  I’m struggling but I knew I would be by this point.  Devil’s Thumb and Michigan Bluff are the two big climbs of the race and they both start way down in the hot, hot canyons.
Keep moving forward. 
Get comfortable being uncomfortable. 
Thank you God.
So hum.
Just a few of the mantras that I’d been mentally repeating to myself to keep me moving up this seemingly endless climb.  And then I hear cheers.  Finally.  I’m getting close to the Michigan Bluff aid station.  I’m confident my crew will be there and everything is about to get better.  First I have to weigh in.  I’m two pounds down.  The doctor asks when the last time was I peed. 
About an hour ago / I lie.
You feel okay?
I feel great, that was just a massive climb to get up here.
But I don’t feel okay.  I’m trying not to slur my words.  I’m trying not to sway back and forth as I talk w/ him.  I feel drunk.  My stomach is in knots. 
Okay, keep drinking lots of fluids, make sure you’re eating too / the doc says.
I tell the crew I need everything and they know what that means.  They hustle around and do all the work for me.  God bless them.  It’s over a hundred degrees and I suddenly feel like I’m about to simultaneously puke and pass out. 
Sit down Adam, you need to sit down / someone yells at me as I fall into a chair.  I’m going in and out of consciousness and a doctor is asking me questions I suddenly can’t answer.  I know I’ve got 45 miles to go.  How will I ever make it?

At 4:30 am of that morning, it wasn’t quite that warm out yet.  My best friends in the whole world surround me w/ positive energy and easy laughs.  They take pictures and tell me good luck.  I tell them I love them.  I tell them / Whatever it takes!   And there is a shotgun blast and we all take off up the big climb out of Squaw Valley.  I’m already are in love w/ this mountain.  I ran it two days ago by myself but now I am running it w/ world champion runners and mountain climbers.  People I’ve only seen in magazines and on the internet.  It takes about 45 minutes to get to the top and when I do, I turn around to view Lake Tahoe, off in the distance.  It’s beautiful.  The sun is just beginning to crest.  There is a layer of clouds lingering on the mountain town I started at, way down below. 
96 miles to go / someone yells and snaps me back to reality.  Here we go.  Western States 100.  Only the most iconic race in all of ultrarunning.  The oldest and most prestigious ultra race of all.  Somehow I am here.  Somehow I am fully trained and fully rested.  Somehow I have a crew of friends that flew out here, ready to do whatever I need them to do to get me to the finish line.  How did I get here?  Through all the good and bad things that have happened over the last year, how am I running a hundred mile race?  Through all the bad roommates, bad women, financial problems, cops, false charges brought up against me…through all the sleepless nights and moving in the middle of the night and all the hours of work, countless hours of driving through the mountains…through all the stress that comes w/ moving to a new place and not knowing anyone…through somehow managing to run 75 mile weeks w/ 40 on the bike…through the stress of not having a real job lined up and having to take whatever I can get just to get me on my feet…through countless hours at the gym, just to get away from my living situation…through police reports of complete lies against me from people I thought I knew and trusted that turned on me just so that they don’t look bad to their peers for their poor decisions…through all night training runs that ended up being more of a spiritual experience than a workout…through roommates from Craigslist that beat my dog for eating the pizza they left on the counter…through schizophrenic roommates that go away to hospitals, only to escape and come home so that I have to call the cops to come and take him back to the nuthouse…somehow…somehow I’m here running a hundo in hundo degree temperatures.  I laugh out loud.  Life is funny that way, sometimes.  I’m thankful for everything.  I’m thankful I’m here.  Here is all that matters. 

I run w/ Andy Jones Wilkins and his posse for about 15 miles.  He’s moving a little faster than I’m comfortable w/ but I enjoy his loud voice as he talks details of the course and the race in years previous.  He is a walking encyclopedia of Western States information.  He compares this year to 09 and 06 in terms of heat.  I’m moving good.  Running everything and power hiking up every other hill or so.  Aid stations come and go.  I rush through them, stopping only to refuel and ask how far to the next aid.  You can’t think of the 80-some miles ahead of you.  You have to break it down to / Alright, 5.5 miles to the next aid.  I can do that.  I run 5.5 half asleep on an empty stomach all the time.  5.5 is easy. 

Someone asked me after the race, at what mile does it start to hurt?  That’s easy.  Mile 10. 
10?!  Well then how do you do it? / they asked.  I could tell, that wasn’t the answer they were expecting. 
I’m not superhuman.  I haven’t trained myself for it to not hurt until mile 80.  That’s impossible.  I’m just like any runner.  Things start to hurt at about mile 10.  Mile 15 the legs are sore and ready to be done w/ the day’s workout.  But you keep pushing.  After a marathon, full blown leg pain is in effect.  You just can’t really acknowledge it b/c you have three marathons to go.  By mile 35, you realize it’s going to be a long, long day.  By mile 45 your body begins to accept what’s happening to it but then by mile 50 you are destroyed and trying not to think about the fact that you are only halfway there.  And by mile 60, everything hurts.  Stomach, shoulders, hair…everything.  That’s when you turn inward and find strength you didn’t know you are capable of.  You go through pain you didn’t know existed.  Pain you didn’t know you could manage.  That’s when it almost becomes out of body.  You are looking at yourself, suffering through heat and stomach problems and many levels of ups and downs and even you are surprised. 
I can’t believe I’m still running / becomes an accidental mantra that I hadn’t planned.  It just keeps popping in my head.  At mile 60.  I can’t believe I’m still running.  Holy crap, I can’t believe I’m still running.

I somehow turn it all around by the Foresthill check point.  Mile 62.  100 kilometers.  That is where I can pick up my first pacer.  I was back to running and my stomach issues had cleared up after taking a Tums and walking a mile or two.  Saint Marty was supercharged and grinning when I found him.  I’m always happy to see Marty but this time, I’d never been happier.  I doubt that I showed it.  I doubt I even smiled.  But thank God, Marty was there to run w/ me.  Most of the runners on the field hadn’t been talking much throughout the day, myself included.  Everyone was saving what little energy they had to keep moving and fight the heat.  I needed someone to talk to.  Or to talk to me.  I needed someone to start doing the thinking for me.  To tell me when to eat and take salt.  I couldn’t think anymore.  All I could do was put one foot in front of the other.  Marty ran 20 hard miles w/ me.  My crew knows me and how my body works after 60 miles.  They’ve been here for me for every hundred miler I’ve run. And Marty is the patron saint of ultrarunning.  He took me all the way past the river crossing and up to Green Gate.  We had some great conversations and we had some great moments of silence.  At Green Gate, I switched pacers and Jessica took the reigns.  She had some work to do.  Really, I did but I was putting it on her to get us to the finish in under 24 hours.  If I put all the responsibility on her, then I knew it would just come back to me.  I would let her lead me throughout the night.  My headlamp would be pointed directly at her feet and I’d watch nothing but her Saucony Peregrines and the trail for hours and hours.  We had to move.  We had to move fast. 
I don’t want no junk 30 hour buckle / I told her / I want the silver buckle / Just saying that made tears well up in my eyes. 
We’re going to make it / she said / we just have to keep running. 
Aid station volunteers told us we were cutting it close to the 24 hour mark.  They told us we had to work harder than we ever had b/f.  They even kicked us out of aid stations just to keep us moving quickly. 
Now go get us that silver buckle! / one aid volunteer yelled at me.
I will / was all I had to say for those tears to well up in my eyes again. 
Jessica put up w/ a lot from me.  Was I a drama queen?  It felt like it.  I couldn’t talk.  I could only grumble. 
Are you doing okay? / she’d ask.
Ugh / is all she’d get for a reply. 
How do you feel?
Like shit / I’d reply and she’d laugh.  But it wasn’t funny to me.  My feet were complete hamburger.  Every step hurt.  Every rock I stepped on was torture.  When we hit 90 miles, the remaining 10 miles seemed impossible.  I was so close but 10 miles?!  I’m done, man.  There’s NOTHING left in the tank.  How am I ever going to make it 10 miles? 
I can’t believe I’m still running / snuck into my head again.  I was.  Well, more like a shuffle but I was at least jogging.  How?
At No Hands Bridge, I was so disoriented I didn’t even realize my crew was there until they were hugging me and telling me I had made up 20 minutes of time and I was going to make it under 24 as long as I kept moving.  Tawnya was dressed and ready to run me into the finish.  I switched pacers for the last time and suddenly we are running 7:30’s.  
Why are we running so fast Boos? / I asked.
We have to get you to the finish / was all she said.  She wasn’t slowing down.  She was firm.  We had a big climb up and out of the woods and finally reached pavement.  I knew what that mean.  1 mile to go.  I’d run 99 miles.  Through all the craziness of the last year, the most important thing was coming into fruition.  Spectators cheered and said / Way to go! / and / You look strong! / and in 23 hours and 48 minutes I crossed the finish line.  12 minutes to spare.  I couldn’t have done it w/out them.  I wouldn’t have wanted to either. 

The emotions of the weekend didn’t really hit me until after we’d eaten and drank, celebrated, slept and flown our own separate ways.  It didn’t hit me until I was back in Boulder and picking up my dog from where she’d been boarded.  As soon as I saw Roxy, I broke down like I was at a funeral.  Only I was at Pet Smart.  Uncontrollable bawling. 
I guess you’re happy to see your dog / the worker said, looking strangely at me. 
Never been happier / I said through tears of joy.  I don’t cry much.  This was hilarious to me, I couldn’t stop / Never been happier…