Sunday, March 27, 2016

Spring Ahead and Lessons Learned

Spring is marching on and April marks the beginning of the spring trail running race season.  With the Gorge Waterfalls 100k race only a week away, I must shift gears and set my sights on the running season ahead.  With a full list of trail running races once again in 2016, I am focused this year on staying healthy and running strong.  Unlike past winters where I ran through the entirety of winter with an occasional ski day here and there, the winter of 2016 was centered around skiing.  While I still ran a few days a week (including one long run of 15-28 miles), my focus was on the newly discovered sport of skimo racing.  Originating in Europe (as most good things do), skimo is short for "ski mountaineering" and includes skinning uphill, boot packing uphill, skiing downhill, and occasionally using ropes and technical mountaineering skills to navigate a variety of winter terrain.  Thanks in large part to the local organizational efforts of a few Missoula skimo enthusiasts (Mike Foote, Alan Adams, and Josh Gimpleson) 2016 was the inaugural year of the Montana Snowbowl Rondo Radness race series.  For six weeks, the Snowbowl rondone races brought skimo racers of all ages and abilities together for some fun competition and invaluable experience.  Not only was I amazed by the turnout at these races, but I was also surprised by my post-race level of fatigue!
Half way through the Snowbowl Rondo Radness series, I traveled to sunny southern California to compete in the Sean O'Brien 50 mile trail run.  Set in the Santa Monica Mountains overlooking Malibu and Zuma Beach, the 80 degree temperatures and 12,000 feet of climbing seemed like a foolish idea.  What sounds like a great idea in October, often results in "registration remorse" a few months later.  I felt strong from skiing, but ran 28 miles and 25 miles five and three weeks prior to the Sean O'Brien race.  On Thursday, February 4th I raced the Rondo Radness race and two days later I stood on the start line in 31 degree darkness in the Santa Monica Mountains.  The race began at 6:00 am and I knew right away that my legs showed up to run.  I paced myself for the first third of the 50 mile course, getting a feel for the single track, fire roads, and warming temperatures.  I ran alone most of the race, but got a glimpse of the runners immediately behind me around the half way mark at the Zuma Beach aid station.  I realized I was running in third place and felt both euphoric and panic struck as I wondered how my legs would hold up.  The heat of the day accompanied me on the long 5 mile climb out of Zuma Beach to the 30 mile aid station.  Not only did I catch the runner in second place, but I also ran out of water and began seeing black spots for several minutes.  At the 30 mile aid station I tanked up on water, orange slices, and salted potatoes and soldiered on.  I would remain alone the final 20 miles of the race as the I was in second place for good.  The runner in first had 40 minutes on me so I settled into my own rhythm and picked off 50k race competitors for miles.  The long, hot descent to the finish line took a toll on my quads, but a higher running cadence and relaxed upper body lessened the impact as my speed increased.  I arrived at the finish line 27 minutes behind race winner Karl Stutleberg in a time of 9:15 with a combined feeling of satisfaction and surprise.  I had just run my fastest 50 mile time (given the 12,000 feet of vertical and 82 degree temperature) with the least number of training miles in my legs.  I credit skinning, skiing, and strength training with my moment of success.  I am convinced of the benefits of skiing (nordic, skimo) for winter cross training.  The cardiovascular efforts and power required to ascend are contrasted by the reduced joint impact of descending while skiing.  The concept of building the durability required for trail ultra running during the winter off season resonates loudly with me.  I look forward not only to a rigorous spring and summer running season, but also to a challenging skimo season next winter.  Train hard, train smart, and be safe out there!
John Fiore, PT
(Teton Pass skimo race: winter 2016)
(Sunrise on the Santa Monica Mountains: Sean O'Brien 50 mile)

(Salty finish line shot: Sean O'Brien 50 mile)

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Climbing McDonald Peak: Fall in the Missions

Fall in the Missions
By:  John Fiore, PT

On an October Saturday which was arguably the most spectacular fall day in western Montana, I returned to the Mission Mountains.  I have spent many hours exploring the unique alpine terrain of this rugged range in 2015.  On each outing, the impressive bulk and majesty of McDonald Peak (9,800 feet) was evident but just out of reach.  McDonald Peak is located in the Mission Mountains Tribal Wilderness.  It lies within the grizzly bear closure zone which means it is off limits to humans in an effort to preserve wildlife habitat and reduce human-bear encounters.  The grizzly bear closure area allows the bears to feast on ladybugs and army cutworm moths without human disturbance from July 15th-September 30th each summer.  Mission Valley residents have described viewing the bears through telescopes glissading on snow fields and feasting on ladybugs and army cutworm moths.  With clear skies forecasted and the grizzly bear closure period passed, our window to climb the peak was now.
I met Justin Angle and Jeremy Wolf at 5:30 am at the Eastgate parking lot for the drive to the Swan Valley.  We chose the eastern approach to climb McDonald Peak due to the early runnable terrain and beauty of the Cliff Lake basin.  We arrived at the deserted Glacier Lake trailhead at before daybreak and were running by 7:20 am.  The round trip distance for the day would be 24 miles which made daylight hours precious.  The first 4 miles passed quickly beneath our feet until we reached Heart Lake.  The summit of McDonald Peak appeared framed in the notch of Sunday Pass.  From Heart Lake the trail deteriorated to a hiker’s trail followed by a game trail. 
From Sunday Pass, McDonald Peak was reflected in the waters of Cliff Lake below us.  We descended steeply to the shoreline and weaved our way up to Iceflow Lake.  From here the terrain changed.  Grassy, boggy meadows and aromatic hemlock and fir forests gave way to bus-sized glacier-strewn boulders.  When we reached 8,600 feet in elevation, both the summit ridge of McDonald Peak and the Ashley Lake drainage on the western side of the Missions were visible.  Justin, Jeremy, and I plotted our final ascent up the loose, rocky bowl and continued climbing. 

The view from the summit ridge was magnificent.  The Mission Valley was 7,000 feet below us and the ridge from West McDonald Peak to the true summit was pure as any ridge I have traveled.  Once on the summit, a light breeze kept us comfortable in shorts and T-shirts.  To the south, Glacier Peak, Mountaineer Peak, Lowary Peak, East St. Mary’s Peak, and Grey Wolf Peak formed an imposing spine.  To the north, Mount Calowahcan and multiple unnamed peaks blended into the horizon.  After imagining how spectacular it would be to descend McDonald Peak’s the south face on skis, we began our return journey.  Two aged boot prints were the only sign of human presence we encountered during our brief visit through the Mission Mountain Tribal Wilderness.  I have never experienced a feeling of alpine isolation and purity as strong as I did that October.  When we returned to the trailhead 8 hours later, cars were in abundance, but the experience and contentment associated with physical effort endured.  Preserving wild, uninhabited areas such as the Mission Mountains puts our role as humans in perspective.  We too are visitors on this planet.  The mountains endure and they warrant our respect.
The Mission Mountains Wilderness was officially designated as such in 1975, the boundaries for the Tribal Wilderness were set in 1979, and made official in 1982. Prior to the official designation of the Mission Mountains Tribal Wilderness, the tribes had fought the designation of the area as a national park, and after much discussion voted against timber harvesting in the lushly forested area. Both circumstances would have led to increased tribal profits, but it was decided such was not to be the priority.

In 1982... No legal definition for tribal wilderness existed then, but much of the language for the tribes’ definition of wilderness matches the language found in the 1964 Wilderness Act, with one significant difference: the primary purpose of the Mission Mountains Tribal Wilderness is the preservation of tribal culture. In contrast, in the federal wilderness on the other side of the Mission Divide, visitor use and private interests play leading roles in management objectives.
(PJ DelHomme, Forest Magazine, Fall 2006 – Summit Post)

John Fiore, PT

Thursday, July 9, 2015

John's Bighorn 100 Run


Bighorn 100 Race Report


John Fiore, PT

Sapphire Physical Therapy


As I sat in Dayton Park listening to the pre-race briefing, I felt strangely calm.  Just two hours before the start of the Bighorn 100 and I just wanted to get started.  The presence of fellow Missoulians is always reassuring at Bighorn.  JB Yonce, Dan Pierce, Todd Bachman, Babak Rastgoufard, Randy Tanner and I discussed strategy, discussed the weather, and waited in anticipation for the 11:00 am start on the Tongue River road.  My primary goal was to cross the finish line in Dayton 100 miles down the trail.  After Three consecutive 100 mile DNFs due to injury and illness, my training and nutrition underwent an overhaul and I finally felt ready to charge.  

At 11:00 am sharp we were off.  Over 300 runners moving up the Tongue River trail was an impressive sight.  Awe was soon replaced with reality as the temperature climbed proportional to the 4,000 foot climb to the Dry Fork aid station at mile 13.7 where my crew was waiting.  My “crew” consisted of my closest friends (Allison Onstad and Kevin Twidwell) and my son Bridger who for some reason did not want to miss the adventure.  After a brief stop for water and orange slices, our direction shifted north towards the Little Bighorn Canyon and the Footbridge aid station at mile 34 or so.


Settling into a rhythm in the heat, the wildflowers and vistas reminded me of why I came to the Bighorn Mountains to run 100 miles.  The race course is known for its beauty, technical sections, runnable sections, unpredictable weather, all wrapped up in 17,000 feet of climbing.  Babak, Todd, and I were all within a few minutes of each other, and Dan was up the trail a ways.  The hours ticked by and we descended “the wall” and crossed the Little Bighorn River where the Footbridge volunteers were buzzing.  Kevin Davis of Livingston, MT filled my hydration bladder and got me moving.  

From Footbridge, an 18 mile trek to the turnaround at the Jaws aid station began.  The route climbed nearly 5,000 feet and despite being evening, I was glistening with sweat.  Power hiking the steep hills and running the flats and mild inclines became my mantra.  I was ready for the sun to set and the air to cool.  As I crested the ridge one mile from Jaws, I was greeted with a twilight display of the crescent moon accompanied by Jupiter and Venus in the western sky.  I let out a howl and waited for the echo in the night.


Inside the Jaws aid station tent the mood changed.  My crew ushered me to a chair and asked what I needed.  As I barked instructions, I noticed my crew’s facial expressions.  “Man,” I thought, “I must look like hell!”  Kevin picked me up to crack my back, Bridger encouraged me to “stay strong,” I grabbed by trekking poles, and Allison and I took off for a run in the night.  Pacing is both and art and a science.  An effective pacer knows their runner’s strengths and weaknesses.  An effective pacer is selfless but must take care of their own nutrition and hydration needs.  An effective pacer must push their runner and basically just keep the runner moving.  I attribute my race success to my pacing crew.  


Running through the night reduces running to its primitive form.  Your world is a 6 foot radius illuminated by the beam of a headlamp.  The heat of the day left my stomach nauseous and I consumed only broth and orange slices through the night.  Tums tablets kept my stomach in check, and Allison reminded me to sip water, try to eat a gel, and kept us moving.  Footbridge aide station came and went at mile 66, and Steve Brown joined us for the trip up “the wall” toward Dry Fork.  The eastern sky began to illuminate the coming of the sun and the star-filled sky was replaced with dawn.  I began talking (I actually was not talking much at this point) in anticipation of a spring up the trail.  At the spring I washed my face, hands, gulped water, and filled my bottle.  A brief encounter with vomiting (oh no, not again!) due to a gag reflex from a pine needle in my water left me heaving for a moment.  Gathering my composure we headed towards the Dry Fork aid station at mile 82.

 Allison paced my up the final climb to Dry Fork where Kevin and Bridger were waiting.  I felt spent but 18 miles seemed totally within reach.  More Tums and some help with my nausea thanks to Amy Brown and we were off.  Kevin would pace me to the finish line.  Kevin had accompanied me through the night twice last year during 100 mile races I had to drop at mile 75 and 86, respectively, due to unrelenting vomiting.  Not fun, yet here he was taking up the pace again!  Kevin told me he would push the pace a bit and instructed me to “hold on the best you can, and if you need me to slow up just say so.”  At mile 90 we crested the final significant climb and began the descent of the Tongue River Canyon.  I was amazed to discover my legs were fresh and I could run fast and furiously after Kevin!  We flew down the canyon laughing and talking about our kids, our friends, and truly enjoyed the last two hours of the race.  


The final 5 miles of the race is a long windy not completely flat dirt road.  Bridger and Allison met us on their bikes and together we clicked off the final miles.  The Missoula contingent was camped beneath the Run Wild Missoula tent and we exchanged high-fives with 100 meters to go.  The finish line was shaded and once across, I walked directly into the Tongue River to wash away the dirt and grime accumulated over 26 hours.  


Completing my first 100 miler is satisfying and I will always treasure the experience.  The emotion which remains, however, is gratitude.  Running is a solitary sport, but running 100 miles would not be possible without my friends and family made it their mission to get me to the finish line.  


John Fiore, PT