Location: Squaw Valley, CA
Time: 7AM June 17th, 2018
Course: 26K, 5279' Gain & Loss
Result: 2:16:03, 5th Overall, 5th Fastest time in the history of the event
Where have you been?
Seeing as this is my first post in years, I owe it to everyone to share some of what I have been doing since I graduated from Richmond in the Spring of 2016. Here is an extremely condensed list of moves I've made in my life from then till now.
- May 2016 - Graduated UR
- July 2016 - Drove across the country with my A Runner's Eye brothers to photograph the Olympic Track & Field Trials in Eugene, Oregon
- August 2016 - Took a job at Box, Inc. in Austin, Texas... moved my life there
- May 2017 - Without any semblance of training, attempted a 50K at Bear Mountain in New York... placed 13th
- August 2017 - Quit my job at Box, got my puppy Banks, and moved home to Southlake, Texas
- August 2017 continued - Started a chip timing, event management, and apparel printing business out of my old room in my family home in Southlake
- November 2017 - Returned from a week long trip to Spain with my girlfriend Natalie, decide to start running again and hired a coach, David Roche
- March 2018 - Moved to Glenwood Springs, CO to train
- May 2018 - Ran my first (real) race since Fall of 2015, Collegiate Peaks 25 Miler (25.7 actually), winning in 2:59:49 and setting the course record
- June 2018 - Broken Arrow 26K... keep reading for more info on that ;)
Needless to say, I left out a lot of details from this list but these are some major events in my life, and more specifically my running life, up to this point. It hasn't been an easy journey, as I've been trying to find my identity over these few years. Often I feel pulled in many different directions. I'll be the first to say I've been anxious about my purpose, my relationships, and my internal desires. Still, the pressures I feel are mostly self-imposed. Should I be doing this? Why am I going after that? Am I being true to myself? This won't be a cathartic post, because I've found a lot of what I needed to release has been released in my own way, on the trails. This post is mostly a race recap, a story, and some context as to what the rest of my summer running looks like.
What the hell is Skyrunning?
If you know me you probably know I run - up and down mountains, on trails, maybe on some roads? It can get confusing, especially when you hear about mountain running, trail running, marathons, ultra-marathons, obstacle races, and even skyrunning? What the hell is skyrunning? Well for a while I didn't really know how to differentiate it from mountain and trail running. But now, as I just completed my first skyrunning race, I am totally an expert on the characterization of these insane races.
The International Skyrunning Federation defines skyrunning as: mountain running above 2,000m over extremely technical trails. Three disciplines define the sport which are not just based on distance, but vertical climb and technical difficulty: Sky, Ultra and Vertical. In other words, hard as hell and high as hell. In this case, the race started above 6,000 ft. elevation and climbed to nearly 9,000 ft.
When compared to a good ole mountain race, ones that I raced for Team USA (Junior and Senior Teams) back in college, skyrunning looks down on those short little races and laughs. Not to belittle those races, they are extremely competitive, and are seeing more and more non "mountain runners" attempting and succeeding at them. Mountain races are usually short, 10-12K, fast, and have steeeeeeep uphills.
Now trail running and ultra running are often used synonymously, which is fine because usually that's the case. A trail run is "ultra" distance. Ultra-marathon is what is says... it's for ultra crazy people who don't think the marathon is long enough and decide their masochistic selves need to run 30, 50, 100 miles at a time to laugh at the peasants who run road marathons. No, people really aren't like that, but running an ultra is legitimately crazy, and I've only done a 50K aka 31 miles aka barely considered an ultra in the ultra world.
Clear as mud.
What was it like?
Leading up to the race I worked with my coach to do runs that would include hard climbing and descending. Even with training runs specific to getting my mountain legs under me, it is difficult to truly mimic the intensity of the course I experienced on the day. Taking place at Squaw Valley Ski Area, there couldn't be much better of a setting for such a race. Due to the unusually dry winter around Tahoe, the jagged peaks seemed naked, more exposed as their harsh lines reached up into the sky. The trails, which near the start were nice, dirt single-track, turned into rocky scree once I passed above the tree line. The scenery was beautiful to behold from the hotel, and even more so once I found the strength to conquer it.
Race Morning - I felt a definite sense of calm heading into this race, which is somewhat unusual for me as I am someone who tends to get deeply intense and nervous going into competition. I felt at ease for a few reasons. First, I knew that the race was going to hurt like hell whether I was leading or DFL, so I accepted that. Second, I knew that I hadn't skimped on the preparation, and thus my run would reflect my current fitness as long as I went out there and had fun. Finally, even though it was her first time to see me race, my girlfriend Natalie was there to support me. She instilled a sense of calm and excitement in me for what I was about to do, and I was simply happy that she was there to see me do what I love.
No music. No hyping myself up. No crazy chants or shouting.
One tangible difference in the trail, mountain, ultra world that I have experienced is that people aren't high strung, they aren't hyping up themselves or others, and they sure as hell aren't giving everyone around them dirty looks like they want to destroy everyones lives. Everyone seems to understand and acknowledge that we will all be experiencing tremendous pain, tremendous mental battles, and at the end of the day everyone relishes the fact that they conquered the mountain, the distance, and themselves. People smile, people are happy to be there, happy to share this experience with everyone else brave enough to toe the line. I think in all of that positivity and energy we all find strength and contentment with ourselves. As I started this race, I was happy and excited to share this experience with all of these people, even if I did desire to win.
A Tale of Three Sections
First Section - I broke the course down into three "manageable" sections. The first would be about 6.5 miles where there were a few shorter, tough climbs. The trail was mostly runnable and the pace would be pretty quick. If you want to reference the map above, this first section was basically from the start until you see the huge f*cking climbs ahead after the Easy Street Aid station. I told myself that I needed to stay in control and not attack those climbs too hard or else I would be screwed for the later 2/3s of the race. Well... I'd give myself a B- for staying in control. I found myself in second right behind the eventual winner, Max King, for the first 2 miles of the race which included a climb right off the bat. I felt good and my breathing wasn't too labored but what I didn't take into account is that I had all this adrenaline in my body. This really deceives you into thinking you're feeling better than you are. That being said, I calmed down in a single-track section that was relatively rolling and settled into third. As the first big climb of the morning approached at around mile 3.2 I had a controlled attack of the mountain, mixing running and power hiking as most do in order to conserve energy while maintaining a good pace. Sometimes it's just too steep to run... or so they say.
Second Section - After bombing down a steep hill to finish off the first section, I was working hard but didn't feel like I had put myself out of it, I just had to put my head down and grind these next steep sections. Damn they were a grind. You know how if you're doing squats and you get to a point where your legs are burning so badly and they begin to stick no matter how hard you push... that basically describes the feeling of running up a 1,300' climb in just over a mile. You're moving your legs but they don't seem to propel you far, and they are basically numb from the lactic acid. It's a kind of burn I relish.
I won't completely romanticize the experience though, it takes a lot of training and time running up inclines to become efficient and successful in races. I'd give myself an A- for my climbing on the day. I had a solid tempo, I picked my lines fairly well, but I just need a little more spring in my legs to really crush the uphill. In this section I was already closely pursued by two other runners, and they passed me as we reached the peak of the final climb. Currently in fifth, I still felt in it mentally but physically I was redlining.
Third Section - This one was all the fun. I'll be the first to admit that I am not an expert downhill runner. I am more cautious than not and I have a lot to improve when it comes to footwork on technical trails. But once I got to this last section, which has one last climb and then all downhill from there, it was hard not to put a smile on my face and let it rip. At this point I was still in fifth place, about a minute behind third and fourth as I was told when I reached the last peak.
"Dude, you're the only one actually running this final uphill" said a man who I recognized as Ryan Ghelfi "Hey, you always gotta crush the last climb" I said as I finished working my way up the man-made stairs carved into the snow.
As I began the long and winding descent of about 2,000', I knew that fifth was where I would stay. I ran as hard as I could, on the technical portions as well as flying down the final mile on the fire road, but I felt that even pushing myself beyond what my legs were telling me on the downs was both reckless and futile. I do have more races to come, and as I finished this race I felt happy knowing that I had run to exhaustion, but mostly had run within myself and current fitness level. It felt amazing flying down the last turn and jumping to run the cowbell, signaling my completion of this beast of a 16+ mile course. With Nat there to give my a kiss in my finishing stupor, it was an amazing experience.
What's next, crazy man?
After a bout with what I like to call "my stomach hating me post-race" (cured by some In-N-Out) I am continuing to train for my next race which is the US Mountain Running Championships at Loon Mountain in New Hampshire on July 8th! I'll be racing the best in the country (Canada and Mexico included but not competing for a US Team Spot) for a spot on the US Mountain Running Team competing at the World Mountain Running Championships in Andorra. If you don't know where or what that is it's okay I didn't either until recently - it's a country of 77,000 people and 181 square miles right in between France and Spain in the Pyrenees Mountains. Think of it as a country club for all the big countries nearby, with golf courses, nice hotels, and of course mountains.
After that on July 28th I will be running the Pikes Peak 30K in Colorado Springs, CO - which is the US 30K Trail Championships (who knew that was a thing?).
Then I will be hopping on a plane to ITALIA for some more skyrunning! Justin Britton and I will be heading to Malonno, Italy where he will be photographing and I will be running the Fletta Trail 21K Skyrace on August 5th. Shoutout to Scott's Cheap Flights for some, you guessed it, cheap flights, and the race director in Italy who decided to take a chance on helping me come to the race to get some European running exposure! See the photo below for what I have in store with that race.
If you read this far, thanks! This is my first race report in what seems like a lifetime, and I can't wait to keep posting more about my running and creative pursuits!
Jordan Robert Chavez