Friday, March 24, 2017

Chuckanut 50K

Chuckanut 50K Map
In regards to the SAID principle, conditions could not have been more perfect for the Chuckanut 50K. My body had adapted to a specific weather pattern – 40 degrees and rainy. The perpetual cloud that has descended upon western Washington this year allowed me the opportunity simulate race day conditions on a regular basis. The slick mud and endless puddles on the trail were a welcome reminder that I was right at home and in my comfort zone.

Chuckanut 50K Elevation Profile
In addition to the weather tolerance preparations, I believed that my 840 miles and 128,000 feet of vertical would prepare my body for the imposed demands of the race. With about a dozen long runs/races over the 20 mile distance and two 50K races under 3:30, I was certain that I could tackle Chuckanut in under 4 hours regardless of the conditions. Unfortunately the end result of my race was nowhere near my goal, and I found myself in 20th place with a time of 4:15:17.

11 Training Weeks in Graph Form
Although I only made it up to Larrabee State Park once to preview the course, I believed that my backyard served as an adequate substitute. Both Cougar and Squawk Mountain Parks served as my daily training grounds. Each weekday I would run roughly 10 miles with 1300-1800 vertical feet and on Saturday/Sunday I would run 20+ with 3000-6000 vertical feet. I found myself doing very little speed work, but thought the hills would be a sufficient substitute. Ironically in the race, my speed on the flat sections seemed to far outshine my atrocious performance on the hilly midsection of the course.

Larrabee State Park (Spring 2016)
At any rate, my experience at Chuckanut was exciting and enlightening, but also miserable, and demoralizing. Ultimately, my emotions in regards to the race were a net positive. The race was exciting due in large part to the concentration of elite competitors from all over the nation. It was enlightening to discover the pace needed to keep up with those elite competitors. The misery was due in large part to Chin Scrapper and the pain it inflicted in the latter stages of the race. The race results were a little demoralizing, simply based on the effort/performance ratio. However, if I only ran for sake of finishing among the top echelon then I would have hung it up years ago.

Larrabee State Park (Spring 2016)
I will always keep lofty goals that are far out of my reach, it gives my training purpose and keeps me focused. I came up a few places short of All-Ohio in high school cross country and track, I imploded in my senior year of college and never toed the line at Nationals, and my trail/ultra career continues to fall short. However, this is all fuel on the fire to continue training harder (and maybe one day smarter), and as long as I have the capabilities of controlled falling I will not stop.

The Race

My Race Splits from buduracing
The race started at a park in Fairhaven, and I tried my best to latch onto the lead group that were clicking off 5:40 miles with ease. I was detached but managed to run my first 10K in about 41 minutes, and bank away some time that I would certainly loose on the hilly stretches. As soon as we hit the single track section and began ascending I lost a few spots, but picked back up a few on the down hills. On the Cleator Road ascent I felt like I was getting my second wind and tackled the incline quickly, but once I hit the ridge trail I realized how deficient I was on slightly more technical terrain.

Larrabee State Park (Spring 2016)
The trail toward Lost Lake was very runnable and I swapped positions with a few runners, but Chin Scrapper buried me in a hole I could not dig myself out of. After a pathetic 17 minute climb, I tried my best to use gravity to my advantage on the long descent. The biggest problem with the last 10 miles was motivation… I knew I was not going to break four hours and I knew I was way out of the top ten. It was encouraging to see Apryle at the final aid station, and I decided to finish out the race with a strong kick. Someone said it was a battle for 20th place and in my head I was thinking who cares, but in my heart I knew I had to hold that position.

At the end of it all I took home four positives from the race.

The Vest Debate
1.     My nutrition was on point – I decided to wear the UD pack, even though I far prefer to take a handheld. Most of my long runs were 25 miles and a little over four hours and I got away with the handheld but I did not want to risk it for the race. I could not help but think of the scene from Superbad where McLovin is having a nervous breakdown about not wearing his vest… I carried 1.8 L of water mixed with 800 calories of Tailwind and finished off 80% of it in addition to one gel worth about 90 calories.
2.     I didn’t bonk - I actually finished the race at a semi-respectable pace, despite starting out a little too quick and struggling through the hills.
3.     I didn’t pack it in – Even though I was upset with my performance, I put forth an effort that I was proud of and finished strong.

4.     I have an amazing and supportive wife – This is perhaps the most important takeaway… She was there cheering me on at the 1st, 4th,  and 5th aid stations and at the finish. Unfortunately I was either too out of it or too focused to even see her at the 4th aid station, but I am sure my subconscious was excited…

Training Stats

Mileage Time Vertical
82.97 11:37:13 10423
89.65 12:26:18 8147
74.26 12:53:51 12612
74.7 11:02:11 11109
58.52 7:54:53 6679
92.62 13:08:08 11068
82.63 12:37:58 16837
92.07 15:50:54 18888
79.82 12:20:53 15371
74.5 10:54:34 11073
68.18 9:25:36 10502
869.92 130:12:29 132,709

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Peru Part 5: Miraflores & Los Pantanos de Villa

Inca Tern
To finish out our great Peru adventure, Apryle and I decided to relax in the ocean-front capital city. After a 600 kilometer overnight bus ride we arrived at the bus stop rested and ready to take a taxi to Miraflores. Based on advice from our friend Liam, we booked a room at the 151 Colon Hostel, which was only a half mile jog from the Pacific Ocean. 

Apryle & Zach in Miraflores
We experienced a culture shock as we entered a neighborhood more akin to Waikiki Beach in Honolulu than what we came to expect in Peru. Miraflores had an artificial tourist feel which was pleasant in some ways after a long trip of sleeping in tents and buses, but sad in other ways because it represented the start of our transition out of Peru. 

Entrance to our Hostel
Upon arrival, Apryle and I went for a run along the sheer Cliffside overlooking the ocean, which paralleled the Circuito de Playas. This was a paved trail that was alive and active, with cyclist zooming by, masses of people aimlessly walking, and parks with playing fields every kilometer.  It was a perfect stretch of trail to knock out some miles and enjoy endless ocean front views. The last three days in Peru I took to this trail and tested my living at elevation speed. In addition to my daily Circuito de Playas jaunt, Apryle and I explored our surroundings, including the extravagant outdoor mall Larcomar and the Barranco Districts unique architecture.

Apryle at Villa Marshes
On our second day in Lima, we made our way down to the Los Pantanos de Villa Wildlife Refuge, which is a birding treasure. This 263 hectare protected wetland is one of the last remnants of natural coastline left in Lima and is surrounded by encroaching civilization on three sides. 

Many Colored Rush Tyrant
While in Lima or any city in Peru really, we were hard-pressed to find a tree, plant or anything green, so Villa Marshes was a refreshing site.  The refuge is home to over 208 species of birds and features several walking trails, observation towers and lagoon view points.

Tower at Villa Marshes
Even though it was only 14 kilometer to Villa Marshes from our hostel it was no easy feat to reach the obscure destination. We took a bus to Chorrillos (neighborhood of Lima) and then walked the remaining distance from the downtown area along Av. Huaylas. The walk was uncomfortable, Chorrillos represented a more typical Peruvian city with stray dogs, trash strewn streets and rundown buildings. 

Trail around Villa Marsh
Additionally, it required us to walk along a four lane highway past a vicious dog fight and past people that did not seem to like seeing us strolling by. The disparity in wealth in Peru and within Lima from a superficial prospective appears astronomical. Most of the towns consist of crumbling brick/clay buildings with rebar sticking through the roof tops, but in Miraflores, there are skyscraping hotel buildings, expensive retail outlets, and houses watched over by doormen.

Common Moorhen
We arrived at the entrance gait and continued down the road until we reached a visitors center where we paid a small entrance fee and started on our adventure. There were three main stops: 1. Sendero Tradicional, 2. Sendero Laguna Marvilla, and 3. Sendero Laguna Genesis

1. Sendero Tradicional
Black Vulture
This is simply the traditional path that includes some reed strewn trails that meander around Laguna Mayor. Within this section there are two rather tall observation towers that provide a birds eye view of the refuge. Although we arrived in a birding offseason (we were told November is the best time for birding),  we were still able to identify an Andean Coot, a Many Colored Rush Tyrant, a Common Moorhen, and a Neotropic Cormorant.

Zach & Apryle at Villa Marsh
2. Sendero Laguna Marvilla
This was the most difficult section to find because there is no signage it was a paved road not a trail that we followed to arrive at this quadrant. The street was called Alameda Las Garzas Reales and it led to a gated community called Surco. We showed our ticket to the men guarding the entrance and followed the road past houses that were more upscale than the ramshackle plywood and corrugated aluminum chanteys across the highway. 

Snowy Egrets
After passing by a walled-off country club we arrived at the lagoon we were searching for. This was a birding buffet and because the lagoon was situated only a narrow sandbar from the ocean we were able to see both wetland and shore birds comingling in the same location. Here we identified: a Great Grebe, a Snowy Egret, a Cinnamon Teal, an American Oystercatcher, a Grey-Headed Gull, and a Franklin’s Gull.

Striated Heron
3. Sendero Laguna Genesis
This was our last stop on the circuit, and an excellent way to cap off the trip to the Villa Marshes. At the visitors center, we purchased tickets for the canoe ride around the Laguna Genesis with the intention of paddling ourselves. However, included in the price of the ticket was a canoe guide who pointed out every species of bird we encountered. 

Great Egret
Although I typically prefer unguided tours, this was actually quite fun and our guide appeared to be having as much fun as us after he took about a 100 photos of the Great Egret we spotted along the way. This leisurely paddle looped around a shallow lagoon that was bordered with tall reeds. Within the reeds we spotted several species including: a Black-Crowned Night Heron, a Striated Heron, a Lessor Grebe, a Great Egret and many others already identified.

Black-Crowned Night Heron
After our birding extravaganza we taxied back to our hostel, I ran a quick 10 along the Circuito, and then we enjoyed some ice-cream in the park as we peered over the cliff at the vast expanse of ocean. Our final day in Lima was a little stressful due to the difficulty of finding a cab that would take us to the airport. Once we did finally find one, he had to drop us off on the highway because he did not have the correct permits to get into the airport, but it all worked out. 

Apryle in Las Vegas
Six hours later we arrived in Mexico City where customs confiscated our avocados, our dinner… We slept in the airport and caught our connector flight to Las Vegas. We had some time to kill, so Apryle and I walked along the strip, and though it was fun for a few hours we found it surprising that it was such an appealing destination. The final flight dropped us in Seattle in the early morning, bringing our Peru trip to a close.

Zach at Villa Marsh

Apryle & Zach on Canoe Ride at Villa Marsh

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Peru Part 4: Cordillera Huayhuash & Cordillera Blanca

Hiking near Rondoy Pass
The decision to honeymoon in Peru was due in large part to Machu Picchu; however, after reading into the various mountain treks in the country, Apryle and I quickly became engrossed in planning other adventures. After ample research by Apryle, we landed on the Cordillera Huayhuash trek as our apex adventure. 

Our Huayhuash Trek Provisions
We poured over various trip reports, purchased the Alpenvereinskarte map, and plotted out our own journey. Logistically, the easiest part of the trek would have been the trek itself. This was due to the amount of planning that was required in regards to obtaining enough food, coordinating transportation, and carrying enough supplies to handle the harsh weather of the Andes.

After our time at Machu Picchu and Ollyantaytambo, we flew from Cuzco back to Lima, then took a bus from Lima to Huaraz. Huaraz served as our launch point for the trek, we purchased food and supplies and organized ourselves before making our way to the starting point in IIamac. Because our packs and gear were rather bulky it did not leave much room for all the calories we would need to consume. In the market many of the vendors were laughing at the quantity of spaghetti and oats we were purchasing, but it was the best we could find in Huaraz.

Apryle on Huayhuash Trek
Hauraz is a the capital of Ancash and is home to over 100,000 people. The city sits at an elevation of about 10,300 feet. Hostels are around 40-60 soles per night and many will store packs for the day. There are plenty of grocery stores and market places throughout the city that offer a relatively limited selection for long trek foods. The town is easily navigated, but many of the downtown streets look similar and it is very easy to loose a nondescript hostel, so take note of memorable signs and landmarks. In terms of entertainment, Apryle and I were fortunate enough to sit in on Inkafest, which is a mountain film festival and also see an organized street breakdance battle in the downtown.

Hiking out of Llamac with Victor and Guide
Once our packs were loaded to the brim, we coordinated our busing to the start of the trek. The first bus is easy to get tickets for at the local bus stop but it only goes as far as Chiquian, 111 kilometers to the south. From Chiquian we caught a bus that stops most mornings and also serves as transportation for many locals, which appears to be subsidized by the tourists. 

Pampa Llamac
This bus took us on a precarious 27 kilometer road to the town of Llamac, which is the traditional starting point of the Huayhuash trek. As the bus nears the city, foreigners must sign into a registry book and pay a small fee, then a few locals guided us out along the first few kilometers of the trail.

Day One of the Huayhuash Trek
Apryle and I set off on the trail with a Peruvian friend we met in Chiquian named Victor with plans to camp in Incahuain that evening. It was a warm day despite being upwards of 10,300 feet and in the middle of winter in the southern hemisphere. The first few miles of our hike were slow going, there were dozens of switchbacks and our packs were about 25 and 15 kilos respectively. 

Grandfather Cacti
We were treated to our first views of the glaciated peaks after cresting Pampa Llamac (14,015ft). From this point we descended along a forested trail that eventually spit us out into a meandering valley floor. The meadows were inhabited by livestock and there were make shift stone walls and huts dotting the landscape. However, my favorite part of the valley was the prevalence of my favorite plant – Cephalocereus senilis or Grandfather Cactus.

The View from Incahuain
Overall our first day on the trek went very well, we covered 8.5 miles in 4:12:16 with 4,268ft of vertical gain and 1640ft of vertical loss. We kept a leisurely pace and were able to appreciate our surroundings. Our first night on the trek was a nightmare… The wind was whipping down through the canyon so aggressively that the tent was barley able to stay up right, the temperatures dipped below freezing, and on top of that, there was a midnight confrontation just outside our tent walls. 

Andean Geese
When we awoke our friend Victor informed us that his boots were stolen in the night. He said that his guide was able to gather all the other guides together and locate the thief. Unfortunately for Victor, this incident ended his trek for fear that the thief would attempt to take revenge on him and his guide at a later stage in the circuit.

Day Two on Huayhuash Treks
After learning of Victor’s evening confrontation and his abandonment of the hike, Apryle and I debated whether we should continue for fear of our own safety. Ultimately we decided to continue to press onward. The second day started with some great birding, we saw a Ruddy Duck, Andean Geese, Mountain Caracara, and Andean Ibis. The first 5 kilometers transitioned quickly from valley floor up a steep gulley toward Sambuya Punta at 15,551 feet. After 1,729 feet of ascending we stopped to eat some packaged papas fritas and drink some iodine treated water. 

Ascending from Incahuain
The next stretch was about 4 kilometers of snaking along a scree strewn ridge line, followed by a series of gradual switchbacks back into a valley. This was a beautiful stretch of trail, but also a little scary with the wind gusts threatening to send us off the ridgeline due to our large pack altered center of gravity. We toped out at 15,584 feet when we passed over Rondoy Punta; the highest we had ever been.

Day Two on Huayhuash Treks
It was also during this time that a local farmer lead us down the difficult to discern trail that meandered through pastures and over rambling streams. We stopped to refill and treat our water before following a dirt road for 3.5 kilometers to our next campsite – Quartelhuain. When we arrived here we decided to camp near a little stone hut with a thatched roof. It was still early in the day, so we decided to cook down some of the weight in our pack. It seemed however, that we were loosing our appetite for some reason…

Cordillera Huayhuash
The camp was filling up with guided tour after guided tour, and it seemed that this was the spot that most started the trek. Personally, I could not imagine missing out on the stretch from Llamac to Incahuain; but I understand logistically it is probably easier. As darkness engulfed our tent, we tried to get some rest before our next segment that would lead us to either Mitucocha camp or Carhuacocha camp (depending on ambition).

Day Two on Huayhuash Treks
Unfortunately the night was anything but restful, nausea and diarrhea set in making sleeping impossible. When we began to pack up the next morning we were so fatigued that it took twice the time to even pack up the gear. After recharging from the strenuous packing, we decided to start out down the trail and see if we could overcome the extreme fatigue that comes with our suspected ailment – giardia. Unfortunately we only made it a quarter mile before we realized that our trek was over. 

Quartelhuain Campsite
We descended back to the hut and this time set up our tent inside. We rested the whole day and ran through scenarios that could have caused us to ingest the parasite. Although the streams were the obvious culprit due to the burro and cow feces, we treated all of our water with iodine, so this was improbable. We eventually landed on the fact that we probably contracted it from a restaurant where the vegetables were washed with dirty water.

Llaca Lake
We decided to stay another night to see if the symptoms would miraculously resolve, and when we awoke the next morning we were even more fatigued. So we were in one of the most beautiful places on earth, unable to move more than 200 meters at a time, it was like a cruel prank. We began to worry about how we would get back to Huaraz and how we were going to recover in such an inhospitable place. 

Hiking Churup
We got extremely lucky, a German family that spoke both English and Spanish offered to give us a ride to Huallanca. When we arrived, our first stop was to a pharmacy to buy some Ciprofloxacin, and fortunately in Peru there is no prescription needed. We then purchased our bus tickets back to Huaraz, and though this was an extremely sad end to our trek, we were so sick and so relieved to be returning to a hostel that we did not even focus on the negatives.

Churup Hike
The bus ride from Huallanca to Huaraz was the most scenic of my life, the views of the high Cordillera Blanca that popped up after each bend turned the depressing bus ride into an adventure in itself. The next two days in the hostel consisted of more nausea and diarrhea, movies dubbed over in Spanish, and much needed recovery time. We were still sick but we were chomping at the bit to get back out to the mountains, so on the fourth day after the onset of our symptoms we took a cab up to the Hof Hostel.

Fixed Ropes on Churup Hike
Apryle read about the Hof prior to the trip and thought it looked like a great place to stay for day hiking. However, since we decided on the Huayhuash trek instead, we did not plan on staying at the Hof. But due to the unforeseen, we were glad we had the back-up plan. The Hof Hostel is a Sustainable Eco-Hostel complete with huts, a kitchen/common dining area, compostable toilets, gardens, chickens, and campsites. We elected to save money and camp as opposed to staying in one of the huts. During our stay we met many interesting travelers from English speaking countries, which allowed us to more easily share our stories. Most evenings consisted of dinner and games which was a fun and different alternative to the previous couple of evenings.

Apryle on Churup Hike
We spent six days total at the Hof and went on three rather long hikes that led us to the base of some of the Cordillera Blancas highest peaks. On the off days I typically ran along the stone roads that carved through the high mountain ecosystem. Although I put in some good mileage, I was still fighting off the extreme fatigue that comes with giardia. In the six days I managed about 81 miles with about 12,000 vertical feet, all above 12,000 feet in elevation. The three main hikes were: Laguna Churup, Cojup Canyon, Llaca Lake.

Laguna Churup
Mileage from Hof Hostel: 8.4 round trip

Laguna Churup
This is actually a very short hike from the trailhead which is manned and requires a small entry fee. But since we were staying at the Hof we just hiked up the stone road - Interoceanica to the entrance. The first mile or so is up a series of stone steps that climb about 800 feet. 

Apryle and I at Churup
Then a more natural dirt trail covers the next kilometer before approaching a series of fixed rope climbs. The fixed rope section was my favorite part of the hike as these cables line nearly vertical rocky walls. Once atop the fixed rope section there is only a short distance to the turquois Laguna Churup. The hike is quite easy, but if you want an added challenge I recommend contracting giardia and loosing about 20 kilos.

Cojup Canyon
Mileage from Hof Hostel: 17.0 round trip

Cojup Canyon
This distance is somewhat arbitrary, Apryle and I simply walked up this road until it became a trail, then took the trail until we felt that we got the best view of the mountains in the background. This hike was somewhat impromptu as well, we were both starting to feel more energized and decided that we would go as far as we felt comfortable. 

Cojup Canyon View
Essentially we took a small ridgeline from the Hof until it spit us out on a stone road that parallels the Cojup through a narrow canyon. After a few miles the wide road gave way to a single track trail, unfortunately it appears that this trail is to be widened into a road (large tractor was parked here).

Cojup Canyon View
The single track cuts through a myriad of native flora along an undulating path that crosses the occasional rambling stream. Unfortunately, like every other mountain valley in Peru, it is full of cattle and there feces in the creeks. After 8.5 miles and with picturesque views of Palcaraju Oeste, Palcaraju Este, and Chinchey in the background, we decided to make our way back to our camp. A leisurely 5.5 hour hike in the Andes that could not be beat, until Llaca…

Llaca Lake
Mileage from Hof Hostel: 17.5 round trip

Tit-Like Dacnis
From the Hof, we took the ridgeline to the road that we took to Cojup Canyon, except at the canyon entrance we made a left and followed the switchback in the road. The walk up the road is relatively peaceful until it meets up with another road coming up from Huaraz. 

Apryle on Llaca Hike
At this point a steady stream of taxis begin the ascent and kick up dust and exhaust fumes that make the ascent a little more challenging. Luckily there was a point in the road where we jumped onto a single track trail that continued for a little over a mile before emptying us back out onto the road. If my memory does not escape me, the trail picks back up again and crisscrosses the road a few times.

Most of the trail carves through fairly dense Polylepis trees (genus Polylepis; not sure of the species), adding to the high mountain tropic mystique. As usual, the only mammals present were cows… but there were several unique bird species along the way. In addition to the birds themselves, we also met a Hauraz local who attends Cornell University and was quite interested to share his ornithology knowledge with us! The final push to Llaca is barren, there is glacial silt strewn about and a faint trail that leads to a large glacier near the base of Oeshapalca. The eerily blue waters and backdrop of the glaciated peaks make this an unforgettable destination.

Llaca Lake View
After our last big hike I did a two-a-day and reveled in the last hours in the Andes. It was at this point when a new friend and trail runner, Liam O’Donnell told us about the Ultra Trail Cordillera Blanca in which there was a 75K run. Ultimately, Apryle and I had already made plans to return to Lima, and that along with our continued battle with giardia, led to the decision not run the race. 

Llaca Lake View
In order to return to Huaraz, Apryle, Liam and I walked down a unique trail that descends through many small neighborhoods into the city. Over six miles we lost 2,000 vertical feet and arrived in town thirsty and ready to crash in a hostel.

Llaca Lake Glacial Silt Field
After enjoying Inkafest Mountain Film Festival, fresh avocados in the park, and the random breakdance competition, we were back on a bus headed for Lima. Overall, I was psyched about our time in the Andes, despite the giardia, we were still able to see two incredible days worth of the Huayhuash trek and take three memorable day hikes in the Cordillera Blanca. 

Llaca Lake with Apryle
In my opinion, the trip was salvaged, however, not finishing the Huayhuash trek has stayed in the back of my mind for months. Depending on which offshoots we take and how much we want to push it, I believe Apryle and I can fast pack it in 2 to 3 days. If my measurements from the map are correct, we have three options ranging from 69.3, 87.3, or 99.3 miles to complete the circuit. 

Llaca Lake with Apryle
Although the terrain is challenging, I do not believe that the elevation gain is that much different than the IMTUF 103 mile race I completed in 27 hours back in September. I would love to return to Peru to focus solely on the mountains, knocking out the Huayhuash and perhaps doing a more technical mountain climb with a guide.

Trip Maps

Llamac to Incahuain (Huayhuash Trek Day 1)
Incahuain (Huayhuash Trek Day 2 Part 1)

Rondoy Pass (Huayhuash Trek Day 2 Part 2)

Quartelhuain (Huayhuash Trek Day 2 Part 3)
Hof to Laguna Churup
Hof to Cojup Canyon
Hof to Llaca Lake