Joshua Ebert

Trail Runner | Misadventurist | Storyteller

Tag: Ultrarunning

Unicorn Dance Parties, 100-miles, and a Cult of Yetis: Yeti 100 Race Report

On the edge of the trail sat a fat, five-foot long alligator. My eyes widened and I glanced at it again with my headlamp to reveal rocks and sticks. Of course there was no alligator, I was running down a mountain in western Virginia and it was below 50-degrees outside.

“Terry, I’m hallucinating,” I said.

“What?” he replied without breaking stride.

“I just saw an alligator on the side of the trail.”

“Well, at least you know it was a hallucination,” he chuckled.

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We first met in Italy, you were in your second incarnation as the SpeedCross 2’s, and I was a budding half-marathoner. I fell in love with your aggressive outsoles and rugged rubberized lugs. You were the perfect temptation for someone with trail runner aspirations. I bought you even though you were a half size too small. I crammed my feet into you and loved you anyways.

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Together we toured Italy, ran a race in Davos, Switzerland, and then tackled the rugged mountains of West Virginia. Even though you were too small I was happy with your performance. I converted to your brand and then I started experimenting with the rest of your Salomon family. There were packs, shorts, t-shirts, and more shoes. For over five years we’ve had an on and off relationship, sometimes I saw other shoes, but I always kept a special place in my heart for you.

Then you reinvented yourself as the SpeedCross 3, a lighter, new and improved version of your old self. I was over the moon and did not think things could get better. I continued to order you as I spent at minimum 500-miles with each pair of you. You carried me through my first ultra marathon, the Triple Lakes 40-miler. You were part of every ultra I ran after that. Frozen Sasquatch twice, Leatherwood Ultra 50-miler, Uwharrie Mountain Run 40-miler twice, and most recently the entire Mountain-to-Sea Trail (MST) 50k.

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It was during the MST that I started to think about our relationship. It’s not you it’s me. For these past 6-years, I have been making myself fit into you. This is not how a relationship with a shoe is supposed to work! You are supposed to fit me.

I found my feet hurting a lot, more than I think they should during an ultra, so I started to question if you were actually right for me. Yes, my feet will always hurt, but maybe another shoe would make the hurt less. I’m not mad. I just think it is the time that we both move on.

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My last pair of you is circling the 500-mile mark and I do not think I am going to reorder you. To be honest I’ve already started looking around to see what my options are.

I want you to know I will not badmouth you to my friends or other runners I meet. I will just say that we both moved on. It will be difficult at first because for so long I’ve told people I’m a SpeedCross guy. It will be a major change of my identity. No longer will I be Josh the SpeedCross runner. It will be hard because I would always tell people there were no better shoes, and to me, this was true because I did not stray much from you.

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Going forward I will be judging all future shoes by your technical capabilities. I just need to find a pair that fits me better. I hope it will not be awkward when we see each other at races or REI.

Thank your for all the miles and adventures but I must look out for my feet.

P.S. I hope you do not mind but I plan to still see your sister, Sense Mantra. She will never replace you, but she is great for an easy jaunt.

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Fastest Known Times or FKT’s have recently surged into popular culture after this past summer when Scott Jurek and Heather “Anish” Anderson both set separate records on the Appalachian Trail. FKT attempts and records are set all the time and most people never hear about it unless you are actively following them, but because of Jurek’s celebrity from “Born to Run” and the epic distance of the Appalachian Trail it drew in more people than usual.

For years, runners have been actively pursuing FKT’s on famous routes like the Grand Canyon’s Rim-2-Rim-2-Rim or Colorado’s Nolan’s 14. Their unofficial record keeper, Peter Bakwin, of the Fastest Known Times ProBoards, started maintaining all these records around 1999 after he and a friend set the FKT for the Colorado and John Muir Trail. Now it has grown into a full Internet community where people can see what is being run around them and if maybe they can set the new fastest record.

For those ultra runners who aren’t drawn to the “fortune and glory” of actual races (we all know of the untold fortunes the top ultra runners make) it’s a way to prove yourself in a new way. Some may see it as being a purer form of ultra running. It is a way to compete in a realm without aid stations, race organizers, and to face down the trail within your own mental arena.

Some of the benefits I see to FKT’s are you have more control over when you challenge the course. With races, you have to accept the conditions on the course and how you feel or wait till next year. For an FKT you can say, ‘I don’t feel it today, maybe next weekend or next week’ (Of course this is if you did not have to travel to the course). You can also attempt it more than once in a year and determine which conditions you found more favorable.

Lastly, I think FKT’s are a great thing because not many sports are set up for such a DIY element and it gets back to that root of racing, “I bet I can do it faster”.

Have you pursued an FKT? Are you thinking about pursuing an FKT? Please share your thoughts and comments, thank you

…But Are You Hearing Your Adventure?

But Are You

Popping in earbuds and going for a run seem to go hand in hand. A great up-tempo playlist will keep you cranking out the miles at a solid pace. I know that I really enjoy bombing down a technical hill while listening to the bombastic melodies of The Shell Corporation or Billy Talent, but on those runs am I really connecting with the natural world?

In the running community, the headphones debate will rage on for all eternity (or until implants replace headphones). I definitely see the merits of both sides of this debate because I have rules for whether or not a run is a headphones run. For me if I am running somewhere new, then I will definitely not wear headphones. Not only does it help me feel as if I am truly experiencing a place, but also it makes me more receptive to what is going on around me.

When I was visiting Portland, Oregon a few months ago I went for a short pre-dawn run (Like 4 a.m. pre-dawn) and started to enter an unlit park. As I started winding up a hill I started hearing voices and laughter coming from ahead of me. I stopped and moved into the shadows of some trees and waited. The laughter continued, like in a horror movie, but I could not exactly pinpoint where it was coming from ahead of me. Ultimately, I could not decide if those ahead of me were a threat or not so I turned and silently jogged back towards the lighted city streets. If I had been listening to my headphones I would have probably ran right into whoever was out there ahead of me.

I do listen to music though when I run around my neighborhood or when I’m alone in Umstead State Park. These places are familiar to me and I relatively know what to expect around each turn. For me these are the times when I experience the music the most, my mind focuses on the lyrics and the arrangements. It is during these runs that I use the music to tune out the monotony of a run I have repeated so many times (or road running).

One place I do not believe headphones should be is in trail races. I know, “run your own race”, but to me, it’s skipping out of a part of the race. The toughest battle you face on a run is in your head and music is tuning that out. I am not putting music in the same category as PEDs, but in my opinion, you are not facing the entirety of the run.

Another thing is you are shutting yourself out from meeting new and interesting people. The one thing I tell people about the trail and ultra community is that it is made up of some of the best people. I know one of my favorite parts of racing is getting to meet the people you are pacing with. I like hearing where people are from, why they run, and how they got here. I see us as a small interconnected community, so I value when I get to meet people of my same tribe. This is also the place where I can talk about my passion for ultra running without coming off as a bragging or getting asked the typical mental health screening questions that non-runners like to ask.

Finally, I’ve seen people blow through aid stations with their headphones on and “forget” to thank the race volunteers. DO NOT BE THAT PERSON! The volunteers having given up their weekend to support us and if you cannot be bothered to thank the volunteers then you don’t need to be out there. These people are as bad as those who blast music from a Bluetooth speaker as they run, go run a Rock & Roll Marathon you’ll fit in better there.

Sorry, it turned into a bit of a rant but I guess I have some strong opinions on this topic. Also after reading one of Mid-Pack Zach’s rants I was kind of inspired (he has a great running blog). Thank you for reading and feel free to comment with your opinion.

 

This post originally appeared on my running blog, “The Distance and the Pain“.

Last year Uwharrie defeated me. I had a terrible finish, so, of course, I wanted to go back and do it again. This time, I signed up for the series (three races hosted by Bull City Running) along with several of my friends. Uwharrie is the second race in the series.

The Race

The Uwharrie Mountain Run takes place on the Uwharrie National Trail, a 20-mile point-to-point hiking trail that runs north to south in the Uwharrie National Forest. The race has three distances you can choose from: an 8-miler, a 20-miler or a 40-miler. I was doing the 40-miler.

Pre-Race

One of my favorite parts of this trip is getting to go camping with my friends Ben and Terry. On Friday afternoon, we drove out to Uwharrie to find a place to camp. We found a nice spot at the West Morris Mountain Campground and set up as the last rays of sunlight died. Ben made burgers over the fire and we kicked back to recount stories while enjoying our beer. Then it was off to bed (later than I would have liked) because we had to be up at 4:30 am to tear down camp.

It was around 20-degrees outside when I awoke to my alarm. I quickly changed into my running gear, layered up and crawled out of the tent to make a quick breakfast of ramen noodles and instant coffee. As I poured water into my pot I watched it freeze into slush. I put it on my stove and started heating it. Once Ben and Terry were up, we started tearing down the camp and tossing it into the back of my truck. It was time to head to El Dorado Outpost to check in.

The First Half

The race starts on a steep climb that goes up to a ridgeline. By the first ¾ of a mile, your legs are already screaming. The nice part is you hit the top of the ridge just in time to see the beautiful sunrise. Then you follow along the ridgeline and start descending down again.

Terry and I were pacing up together until we hit the steep technical descents, then I would slow. I had foolishly decided to change my inserts before the race and had yet to get my shoes dialed back in. So where I previously would be dancing down the steep, technical descents while chortling with glee I was instead cautiously picking my way down the hills. This I did not like.

Another change I was trying to make was to avoid the siren song of the aid stations. They typically are staffed by the best people lauding you with praise and offering all sorts of foods. Unintentionally, they become like the mermaids of lore beckoning the weak willed to disaster. My challenge was to keep hustling through the aid stations as fast as possible.

I did a great job of that through the first half with my longest stop being to refill my water bladder. I also found myself in a competition to beat my friend Terry. Terry is a strong runner who drops me with ease on most training runs, but for some reason I somehow best him on race day. The friendly competitiveness between us became a theme on the trip out to Uwharrie and during the race.

Finally, after the first 20-miles, we made it to the turnaround, and that is where everything changed…

The Second Half

Terry bested me out of the turnaround. The entire first half while I lead he was never far behind me, haunting me like a ghost. Ben, who was acting as our crew, was trying to go between the two of us at the turnaround. A nice volunteer stepped forward to get me soup and HEED (sports drink) as I struggled to change my socks, shoes, and shirt then re-lube for the return trip.

Terry was gone and when I realized it, I think I yelled some profanity in front of children.

I took off catching glimpses of Terry’s Ultimate Direction race vest ahead but never closing the distance. During this time, I saw several runners I knew coming in. First was Scott, who was pacing himself through the 40-miler. Next were several runners from my running group, the Raleigh Trail Runners. I saw Pete, then Carla, Alana, Jeff and Kelly. We passed each other shouting quick greetings and encouragement.

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Then I started to fall apart…

At the turn around I switched to a more minimalist shoe, the Columbia Conspiracy Razors. I went from poorly dialed but well-padded shoes, to shoes that could feel the entire trail. This had its positives and negatives. On the positive side the smaller shoes improved my agility as exhaustion made my footwork sloppy, but on the negative side my feet hurt like hell.

I plodded along in a walk/run style until Scott finally caught up to me. The year before it was I who picked up Scott who was really struggling and ultimately dropped out of the race. This year Scott returned the favor and buoyed me through till the final 8-miles.

Coming into the 32-mile aid station, I was struck with the immediate need to make a BM. After I hustled across the highway, I was met not only by Ben, but also by all the 20-miler runners who had come to cheer us on. I felt awkward as they greeted me and encouraged me to keep running but I dropped my pack, grabbed some baby wipes and darted for the port-a-john.

With my business concluded and a cup of soup downed, Ben and the others sent me off to complete the final 8-miles of the race. Through this section, I internally recreated the scene from “The Empire Strikes Back” where Luke fights himself. The punk song by Hear the Sirens “Reason to Run” began playing in my head. I was alone, evaluating what I was doing and why. I will not say that I discovered the meaning of life or answered my own question, but at least I have a few ideas that I can attempt to flesh out in later blog posts.

I finally finished the race in 9 hours, 27 minutes and 26 seconds. I did beat my previous time, but not as well as I would have liked. Currently I have no plans to return to this race because it is time to move on and find the next challenge.

Closing

All I want to say is that I recommend this race. It is one of the toughest races I have run, it will test you physically and mentally, but for all your suffering you will be rewarded with a well-organized race and amazing volunteers. So get out there and run!

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