Saturday, August 30, 2014

Andy Anderson Snags Mt. Whitney FKT

Andy Anderson has been kind enough to share his account of breaking the Mt. Whitney FKT (Fastest Known Time.) Andy is also the owner of the Long's Peak FKT and the Grand Teton FKT (see those links for his accounts of those records.) Nice work, Andy! The words below are his:


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“Those look like old man shoes,” joked my friend Ann as she printed out my day permit for Mt. Whitney.  

“Well, I'm almost 40, my forehead keeps getting bigger, and my beard is turning grey. I am an old man,” I replied.
This was my third trip to Mt. Whitney this summer. When I ran up it for the first time in July, I spent a little more than five hours exploring the Mountaineer's Route looking for the fastest variations. On my second trip, on August 6th, I tried to go fast and ended up at the summit in 1:50 and back at the car in 3:13. While I managed to get the ascent record, my downhill time remained too slow for the overall record.
This time I hoped I could actually run fast enough down the mountain to break Brett Maune’s existing record of 3:06. While I am pretty sure-footed when climbing and scrambling through steep technical terrain, I am also adept at crashing when cruising down seemingly benign terrain. On my second attempt at Whitney, I sprained my ankle coming down a smooth section of trail and had to hobble for a while; and just 11 days ago, I crashed hard enough to possibly have broken a rib during the Marlette 50k Trail Race here in Tahoe (Ed. Note: Andy won by 10 minutes). During the race it didn’t really hurt. The next day after a short run and some hard rock climbing (maybe not the best idea - but hey, I thought a little cragging would loosen up my sore rib), everything I did - breathing, sitting up, rolling over, everything - hurt. I haven’t gotten it x-rayed, but I figure if it heals in two weeks, it was just bruised. If it takes six weeks to heal, it was probably broken.  
Due to the rib injury, I ended up with a week of rest. On Tuesday, nine days after that 50k, I ran a bit, and my rib felt ok. It still hurt, but I could ignore the pain. More important, it did not seem to slow me down. I decided that I could give Whitney another try. If my rib hurt too much, it would just be a training run. If not, maybe I could break three hours. I drove down Hwy 395 the night before listening to Meb Keflezighi’s inspiring autobiography, Run to Overcome. 
In the morning I went to the ranger station and got a Mt. Whitney day permit. After chatting with Ann, I headed up to the Whitney Portal Trailhead where the Mountaineer's Route starts. I had to stop at McDonalds to use their Wifi and download some exciting music for the drive to the trailhead. Meb’s high school exploits reminded me of high school cross country and those memories meant cranking Jane’s Addiction. I pulled into a parking spot at the trailhead, filled my pockets with Clif Bloks and Clif shots, did a warm up lap and a few strides, and headed up the old Mt. Whitney trail.
Some might think that the loose, scree-filled, oh-so-steep gully above Iceberg Lake is the hardest part of the run, but the first 30 minutes of the climb up to Lower Boy Scout Lake works me over. There’s scrambling, route finding, and it is unrelenting. In addition, old men like me take longer to warm up so the first part of a run is always harder. Each of the three times I have done this climb, I have thought about turning back somewhere in those first 30 minutes. Luckily there are usually some people in this section who think I’m crazy, and well, crazy people don’t turn around -- they are too crazy.
By the time I scrambled past the ledges and up to Lower Boy Scout Lake, I settled into a rhythm: just running across the scree and rocks and climbers trails until I whacked a large rock with my knee. Needless to say the rock did not notice. At least it wasn’t my rib or my still swollen ankle.
Running up the granite slabs towards Upper Boy Scout Lake, inspiring scenes from Last of the Mohicans flashed through my head. I made it past the lake and across the scree and sand to Iceberg Lake in about 1:13. Then came 1600 feet up that steep, scree-filled gully. Did I say this gully wasn’t as hard as the start? Uh, yeah, well, maybe I was wrong. It’s steep. After climbing up this gully, I made it to the col just below the summit and scrambled as quickly as I could up the final mostly-3rd-and-sometimes-4th-class chute to the summit plateau. A quick tag of the summit at 1:49:10, and I started back down.
I am not a speedy down-climber. Consistently my downhill splits are slower than those of others who try these things. I knew I would lose time on the downhill. I down-climbed the upper couloir and started screeing down the loose gully back towards Iceberg Lake. For those unfamiliar with screeing, it’s akin to skiing except in running shoes on loose gravel, dirt, and rocks instead of on snow. Falls hurt a little more, and it is a bit more out of control… but it is a speedy way to descend a scree filled gully.
Back down at Iceberg Lake, I stopped and spent two minutes emptying rocks from my shoes and socks. With lighter and more comfortable shoes I ran down the climbers trails, through the boulder fields, and down the slabs. Time was running out for the sub three hour mark.
Just above Lower Boy Scout Lake I slowed down as my quad started to cramp. I had forgotten to eat and drink enough, focusing too much on running faster and not falling, and not enough on fueling. After consuming a package of Clif Bloks, a Clif Shot, some water, and an electrolyte pill, I sped up and my legs felt fine.
2:40 - 20 minutes to go. I was back at that first steep section of the route where I thought about turning back. I heard Johnny Cash’s deep sonorous voice in my head singing “20 more minutes to go” over and over again. People thought I was really crazy now: a sweat and salt streaked, shirtless runner with a lopsided smile and crazy eyes careening down a mountain muttering “come on, Andy, faster, faster, faster,” to himself as he goes by. At least that’s how I pictured myself. The reality probably looked more like a middle aged, balding, uncoordinated, gangly, skinny guy muttering to himself while picking his way clumsily down the mountain with a lopsided smile and a crazy gleam in his eyes. The smile and the crazy eyes are consistent.

“12 more minutes to go” sang Johnny. Down, down, down. I made it across the main trail and over to the old trail. “Two more minutes to go.” Go, go, go. Making tire screeching noises around the switchbacks (playing cars with my four year old has reminded me just how much fun sound effects are), I hit the three hour mark with a little more than a quarter mile to go. One lap to go. A quarter mile takes fast runners only about a minute on the track. My last quarter mile took a little under three minutes even with the sound effects. I rolled into parking lot and stopped my watch: 3:03:05. Not under three hours, but it is a new record. I jogged around a little, changed clothes, and drove back down the hill to have lunch with my ranger friend. She treated me to a burrito at the local taco truck, then I headed back home to my family in Truckee listening to Meb.
Splits:
Trailhead: 0:00:00
Lower Boy Scout: 31:00
Iceberg Lake: 1:13:20
Summit: 1:49:10
Iceberg Lake: 2:10:43
Lower Boy Scout Lake:  2:40:14
Trailhead 3:03:05
Gear:
Food:
  • Clif Bloks
  • Clif Shots
  • Hammer Endurolytes
  • Creek water - Hope I don’t get Giardia.
Link to my run on Movescount: http://www.movescount.com/moves/move39367473
Link to a shaky video of me screeing down a slope in the Dolomites several years ago with my sound effects: http://youtu.be/UaVjxlKJIGE
photo of me and the post run burrito taken by Ann Piersall:


Thursday, August 21, 2014

On the Runner's Dissatisfaction

Looking back upon the time that I was running hard, the thing that strikes me most was how little satisfaction I took in my fitness.

The drive to train can be cast in a positive light as a sort of drive to athletic perfection, a noble quest to be better today than we were yesterday. Each run a testament to the high-school coach's simple minded but effective euphemisms about work, practice, effort, will. Yes, we take pride in our discipline, and the lean and honed body of the runner reflects it and displays it.

But -- but, every runner who has really given himself over to the sport knows that the intensity and effort of training is also fed by darker and wilder motives and impulses. Driving through a set of quarters in the dripping August humidity, rolling steadily on tired legs through yet-another 10 miler -- this is not the stuff of cheery euphemism. If I remember correctly, it was hardly ever the thought of improvement that got me out the door. Dissatisfaction, though -- that did the trick.

Indeed, it is possible to generalize on this point. Runners are a dissatisfied lot. We want more, almost always. Yes, PRs or the occasional great race brings feelings of joy and accomplishment. We use these moments as justification for all our suffering, and perhaps spouses and friends over for dinner parties see the occasional running trophy or marathon medal as evidence that we do it for the moments of triumph. There is a reason, though, that running trophies are made out of cheap plastic: they reflect the value of satisfaction in relation to the rest.

Nice as they are, these moments of satisfaction are fleeting in relation to the time spent brooding and pondering, mulling workouts and strategies, wracking our brains for what went wrong in the last training cycle and what might, this time, go a bit better. We run a great workout and then want the next one to be even better. We run a great race and within the hour have ramped up expectations for the next outing. Yesterday's dream hollows out into the bare fact of what we've done, which is not enough.

For me there have always been two well-springs of motivation. The first is simple bodily immediacy: the joy of being outside, the glut of sensation, the intimacies of cold and heat and rain and breeze, the tireless and animal feelings of the well-trained body -- all of these immediacies that every runner knows. These feed and fund us as runners, outside of any thought of purpose or goal.

The second spring of motivation is the more consistent, and it this feeling of dissatisfaction I've been discussing. The thought that I could always be better was not the reason I ran; it was a reflection of an even deeper, almost metaphysical dissatisfaction. This dissatisfaction is no choice or attitude, no thought or mantra: it was the reason for, not the consequence of, my choices and attitudes towards running.

Please don't be confused: it's not that I was unhappy. Dissatisfaction is quite different from unhappiness. Unhappiness is not an active state: its pain is passivity. That said, to be dissatisfied is not a pleasant feeling, and I am not even sure it leads to pleasant feelings or can be justified that way. The dissatisfaction I remember lies outside this sort of economy of exchange.

This sort of motivating dissatisfaction is more like the drive or hum of a heavy diesel engine. It works and hums and labors in us without end, like the beating of waves against the sand and the bee hives that have buzzed a single note since the beginning of time, connecting the runner to the endless churning dissatisfaction of the world itself.
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