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.

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