Archive for June, 2014

Over the weekend, I completed my first race over half-marathon distance, the River of No Return Endurance Runs 25k. I had a blast!

The race was well organized, from the pre-race communication through email and Facebook, to the pre-race meeting and bib pick-up, to the race-morning timing chips and start, all the way through to the well marked trail, smooth-running aid station (only one on the 25k course), and finish line refueling / relaxing / celebration.  Race swag included a great shirt (“Run Fast, Everything Else Here Does”), day-glo technical fabric hats, and a unique sandblasted finishers award.

I rolled into the little town of Challis, ID (pop. 1081) and found the high school just a hair before the 6pm start of the pre-race meeting on Friday night. Race directors Paul and Neal talked us through the particular challenges of the course, the dos and don’ts, timing, and logistics while including some “wolfish” humor.  It seems that the pre-race communications contained enough teasing about the carnivorous canine inhabitants of the River of No Return Wilderness that a few runners asked if they could pack heat during the race!! Paul assured us that no such protection was necessary, but that you could consider yourself lucky if you saw, even for a moment, one of the notoriously elusive wolves now known to be established in the far hinterlands of the race area.


Following the pre-race meeting, I had a nice steak and potato dinner with a fantastic apple dumpling dessert at the Y-Inn cafe. I’m not sure that the townspeople of Challis were quite ready for a herd of hungry runners storming into town, but the service was quick and efficient and the food delicious.  I swung back by the high school,  picked up my race packet, and got intel from a local runner on camping areas near town. I ended up camping along Mill Creek on the Custer Motorway, right alongside the final stretch of the 100k course. It was cool, clear,  and dark at elevation which made for some great stargazing before turning in for the night. I must have imagined hearing the howling of wolves over babbling Mill Creek as I drifted off to sleep…


Campsite along Custer Motorway in Salmon-Challis NF

Campsite along Custer Motorway in Salmon-Challis NF

Sunset from Pine Summit in the Salmon-Challis National Forest.

Sunset from Pine Summit in the Salmon-Challis National Forest.











I awoke early the next morning and broke camp feeling rested and ready. After driving to the race site, I downed a bowl of oatmeal with a banana and coffee, picked up my timing chip, and made final preparation for my run. I only had about 5 mins to spare so I was really thankful to have packed my race vest prior to leaving home. I had time to fill my handheld water bottles and, before I knew it, the mortar sounded (yes, a real mortar) and we were off.


Wait for the mortar… yes, you heard that right!

Early: We did a 3/4 lap around the Challis High school track and then off down the pavement for a short bit before switching to an ATV track alongside US 93 highway. I had to battle my impulse to run fast – there was so much energy running in the group. I kept trying to dial it back, dial it back, knowing that the hard stuff was soon to come and if I ran too hard early it would be tough to control my heart rate during the climb.

After three miles we entered the Lombard Trail system, a set of ATV trails run by a state and local partnership. At this point the trail began to climb steadily, entering a canyon. I followed my pre-race strategy of walking the steeper hills, though despite this strategy I soon found my heart rate exceeding my aerobic zone threshold. There were a few runnable stretches here, and I made the most of them before climbing steeply for a mile to leave the canyon behind and entering a bowl-shaped valley. Ahead was a steep climb, wrapped with a switchback nearly 1000 feet up.

Looking up at the switchback nearly 1000 feet above.

Looking up at the switchback nearly 1000 feet above.

Middle: It was on this climb that I actually passed a few other runners. I was able to keep my heart rate down by power hiking the grade, over a mile at about a 20min pace. Halfway up the climb, we passed the turn off back to town and began the “out and back” portion of the course.  I ended up falling in a with a husband and wife team, Jordan and Laura, and made good time hiking and chatting a little. The heat was getting intense and it was getting to lots of runners. Once up on the switchback that I had seen a few miles earlier, I was able to resume running as we finally climbed over a saddle in the ridge and into the next drainage.

Looking down from the switchback at the trail 800' below.

Looking down from the switchback at the trail 800′ below.

Once over the saddle, the trail sidehilled in an undulating sort of way along the northeast slope of Blue Mountain.  Finally, there were occasional trees and shade! I cruised into the shaded Birch Creek aid station and munched on a few m&ms and had a piece of banana.  The aid station was really well stocked with all manner of performance foods. The nice volunteers offered to fill my bladder bag, but I declined the offer, “knowing” that I had enough water left for the descent (oops).  I headed out of the aid station after no more than a 2 minute rest, eager to begin the descent.

Back on the downhill section from the saddle I began refilling my handheld flask with water.  I had been measuring from my bladder bag into a pair of 8oz flasks; one for plain water, and one for Nuun.  This approach lets me monitor my fluid consumption- otherwise you have no idea how much is left in your bladder bag.  However, running must really sapp my math skills, because it didn’t occur to me that 2×8 + 4×8 = 48 ounces of water… out of a bag filled to the 60 oz line, that didn’t leave much left. I found my bladder emptied with only 4oz of plain water and 7oz of Nuun, and 5 miles to go. Not dangerous, but inconvenient.

Downhill to the finish: Blame it on the altitude, or the heat, but I really struggled with the last 5 miles.  I only got passed once in this section, and really didn’t see many other runners, but I had lots of problems keeping my heart rate down, and had to stop for brief walk breaks often. Mile 10 wasn’t unpleasant, it was flat and well marked, but I was feeling gassed. Miles 11 and 12 consisted of “goat trail”, steep, narrow single track and crumbly-rock ridge descents. It was a mental exercise to watch foot placements through this section. Once at the bottom, it was all paved road downhill into town.

Narrow single track down with Challis in sight.

Narrow single track down with Challis in sight.

At this point I was trashed enough to have to take walk breaks on a gentle downhill paved road, which was a little demoralizing. I took to running until my Garmin buzzed at me having a heart rate over 170, then walked until it descended into the 150s, then beginning to run again.  Funny enough, the only person to pass me on the pavement was the eventual winner of the 50k. He was running around 6:00 mile pace when he passed me, I bet- but he was taking walk breaks, too! That helped me feel a bit better.  The walk-run strategy, plus energy from a few cheering residents as I ran through downtown Challis got me through the final few miles until the announcer’s voice calling out in the stadium helped me power through to the finish.

Everyone at the finish was great. Someone handed me a water, a finisher’s hat, and directed me to the water fountain to douse my head. Afterwards I got to pick out my finisher’s trinket, a sandblasted river rock.  Watermelon and cantaloupe made great immediate refreshments, and the BBQ chicken was awesome. I met some great folks from Stanley, chatted with Daniel from California (still doing long distance trail races at 70 years old), and tied in with some friends from the Boise Trail Runners facebook group as we cheered the finishers from the 25k and 50k for the rest of the afternoon.


Next Time

Prepare better: I’m sure the elevation had something to due with my heart rate staying higher than I would have liked, but I think I needed to have slept and rested a bit more going into this one too.  I targeted the Sun Valley Half Marathon just two weeks prior to this race as my spring goal race, and it may have been a bit of a stretch to tack this burly race on so close on the heels of Sun Valley. I was pretty light on my running the week prior to this race (just 8 miles) but ran 42 miles the week following Sun Valley. In addition, I just didn’t do a good job managing my schedule at home, and probably averaged close to 6 hours of sleep during the previous two weeks. Fix that, and I bet I go into the race with a more rested, more capable body.

Start slower: For these longer races, I’m going to need to do a better job of watching my HR, keeping my pace down early, and saving energy for effort on the downhills. Allowing my ego to run the first 3 miles isn’t going to help deep in these longer races.

Get Stronger: Hill climbing requires strength, and so does maintaining form when tired. I started the year with plans to focus on core strength, but as my running picked up, I dropped the strength portion of my plan. I plan to take a running break here in mid-summer, but will add strength training back into my routine. When I do resume a training plan for the fall, trails and hill repeats are going to be a much greater part of the plan than they were in the spring.

The Wrap-Up

The River of No Return 25k was every bit as tough, and as fun, as promised. I am thrilled to have completed it in just a shade over 3 hours. It’s safe to say that I’ve been on a bit of a runner’s high for the last few days.  Next year’s River of No Return Endurance Runs are scheduled for June 20th. Now I just have to decide if I’m headed back for the 25k, or will I step up to the 50k?

2014 River of No Return Endurance Runs 25K (6/21/2014)

Official race results
Chip Time: 3:02:31
Age Group (30-39M) 9/16
Gender Place: 26/46
Overall Place: 42/113

Other Race Reviews From This Event: (all J names?)

Jeremy Humphries won the 100k: StayVertical

Jayk Reynolds Lived this 100k Ultra

Jeff Black remembers the 100k

Jodi and friends ran the 25k with me


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