Thursday, March 10, 2016

Lessons Learnt On BBT Adventure

Quick list of takeaways from the trip and the actual run last weekend on Santa Monica Mtn's Backbone Trail.  I wrote a bit about the actual adventure here:

1) when the most reliable way to get back to rental car/starting point involves thumbing a ride from a random German tourist after walking a few more miles down the canyon road, arriving to Hwy1 and cell phone reception, dialing and getting a ride from an old stoner pal who is just the same dude he's been since way back when (complete with him blazing a bowl all the way down Hwy 1 just like the good ol days), and THEN signing up for an Uber account and getting 1st Uber ride ever for the final leg YOU KNOW YOU'VE NAILED ALL THE PLANNING.

2) follow your bowels: we accidentally nailed one not so obvious turn (unmarked per usual) by succumbing to our bowel movements. we saw a trailhead parking area and bathroom, ran down the access trail to destroy some toilets only to then see a sign right next to it reading "Backbone Trail".

3) bring TP/napkins:  They don't weigh much and when wet grass is the only natural alternative it's just, well, wet and grassy.  if there are bathrooms they are probably locked when you need 'em.

4) print the maps and study them. both people. multiple times. adventure partner MM seemed so on top of it (and he was, especially compared to me) printing little intersection maps and such that I got really relaxed and.... didn't do anything really.  oops.

5) technology is pretty cool but not when your screen and fingers are all wet. the BBT feels quite remote and some parts actually are (sort of) but it's all in LA for the most part. so i thought, like any Hollywood superstar, there wasn't a problem my cell phone couldn't handle/get me out of.  i spent more time fighting dropped pins in Cuba (google maps would zoom way out and drop pins wherever a little drop of mist hit the screen) than i wanted to.  this really boils down to #4 above.

6) the trail running world is tiny and friendly. we came up on a group of 3 runners to: "are you guys the ones running the whole thing today?" how did they know?!  they helped us not get lost 3-4 times until we really out did ourselves and got too lost for them to be able to reel us in.  we later learned that they were Ellen (a fellow SWAP "teammate") friends.  cool catz.

7) having a conversation about quitting is hard for some people to do within their own mind.  try doing it with another person (even someone as awesome as MM). 
"what'dya think?"
"I don't know man" (translation: we should stop here)
"it's gonna be late and dark and all..." (translation: we should stop here)
"ok, let's just go a little more" (translation: we should stop here)
"you feeling good" (translation:  I am a bit tired)
"yeah, I am alright" (translation: I am fucking tired)
"I don't know how good the phone reception will be" (translation: we should stop here)
"yeah, hitching a ride in dark is no bueno" (translation: we should stop here)
"ok, well, let's just keep going" (translation: we are stubborn grown up men)

8) more time in shoes=more funky smell. i always assumed there was some maximum level or funk that a shoe could possibly hold that was attained after 2 hours or so. wrong. it get's worse. way worse.

9) safety's numero uno. it's true just like mom always said. use your head.

10) even "incomplete" (because there's no such thing as "failed") adventures get BURGERS AND BEERS.

11) Airbnb profile pics (both host and digs) can be a bit misconceiving. Just an observation. The cats were real though. She forgot to mention sweet nighttime sounds of domestic disturbance across the narrow alley from time to time.

12) a pho place in the back of a run down convience store is actually a really good place to get a pre-adventure gut load up. so, just keep going past the tampons, cat food and Twinkies and order up!

13) you can try to run when you are (or have been) sick but be prepared for some revelations about your condition. it's just part of life though, no reason to stress about it. just kick back and go see a doctor every now and then (like once every 5-10 years?)

14) if you only have one car/ride park it at the finish and figure out how to get to the start... wait, actually just have 2 cars for the point to point adventure.

15) more time. we were under the gun to get in and get out. more time (had it been available) would have been super cool whether that time was spent prepping for the run or just going for a swim in the ocean it sure would have been nice to have.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Adventures on the Backbone Trail


Three years ago I wrote up a big ol' training plan to run the Backbone Trail ( -- good info and maps but the race is unfortunately now defunct) in Southern California while I was down there for Christmas.  I got off to a good start with the plan but eventually the training fizzled, I got back into my usual routine, and I ran a series of winter races culminating with a 5k dressed as Santa Claus on the flat streets of Palm Springs (versus 68 miles in the Santa Monica Mtns.)

I'd put the Backbone on the back burner since then.  Life's changed a lot in the past 3 years and it seemed that eeking out a respectable 50k finish was about as much as my further limited training schedule was going to allow me to accomplish.

But sometime last fall I just got on this adventure running streak and it led me to believe that maybe I could get in more long runs over the winter months and go for something bigger.  With that, the Backbone Trail plan was resurrected.

I wanted more time to adequately prepare but March 5th was as late as I'd be able to push it off before getting too far into nursery harvest season at work.  The months of March, April and May are perennially a very tough time for me to make much headway when it comes to training as it's exhaustingly busy, long days and I am typically wiped out and short on time.

With a course and a set date things were coming together.  My wife Kattie was not fond of the crewing idea once she learned that crewing would consist primarily of sitting in a car on the side of a canyon road all day long (not too far from beaches with restaurants and such).  She also was not keen on the idea of me going all alone.  So I mentioned to David Roche that perhaps another SWAP "teammate" would be interested in coming along.  It wasn't a half hour after mentioning it and Michael McGraw, an accomplish ultra (like 100 miler level) dude living in Augusta, GA was onboard.  I was pumped.

We sent dozens of emails back and forth and even had a 50 mile training weekend together as we prepared for the adventure ahead.  We were both aware of the FKT set years ago by M. Hartell and thought that on a good day and with a good effort we may be able to get within earshot of accomplishing a slightly lower time.  While that was good motivation to train a bit harder it was never a priority over finishing, having a good time, and just getting out and exploring a beautiful new area.

Planning was pretty straightforward: we'd fly into LA from our respective locations (PDX and Pasco, WA--MM had relocated to Joseph, OR in the interim), rent a car, stash water and limited supplies along course at major road crossings, sleep in an airbnb, run the trail, get a ride back to rental car, sleep, fly home.  Accomplishing all this between Friday morning and Sunday morning put us on a tight timeline but with work winding up for me and a new job for MM it was the best we could do.  We were determined to make it happen.


And for the most part, we did make it happen.

We flew in, stashed water (and got to see some of the incredible beauty along the route), slept in our airbnb, got up and ran.  But it was there that the adventure took a different turn.

By different turn, I mean the wrong turn.  The Backbone Trail is a remarkable trail that makes a pretty logical line across the canyons and ridgelines of the Santa Monica Mtns.  I'd be remiss if I didn't admit that the trail is even in really good shape and offers a lot of diverse running terrain ranging from smooth buffed out trail, rocky technical trail, shaded woodlands and exposed vistas.  But it is also a menagerie of trails, roads and fireroads that together form a series of tricky, unmarked or poorly marked intersections.  While we had prepared somewhat for this our lack of expertise in the area cost us quite a few wrong turns and several minutes of standing around.  We'd get some momentum going and then realize we'd missed yet another turn or have to stop for a minute or more and see which way was the right way and all the  momentum would have to be built back up again.  We kept our spirits high (and were even doing well on time despite our costly mistakes) but it kind of felt like just starting a 4 am workout over and over and over again.  A bit creaky and not a lot of flow (which is important to running a good run, to me).

We eventually made it to Kanan Rd. (mile 36.9) and by then had long recognized that we were going to be finishing long after our planned time.  This would have been fine but there were additional problems/challenges associated with a 7 o'clock finish.  Our ride back to the car was far from secured at this point as various options had fallen through somewhat last minute (one while we were on the trail).  Finishing in the dark with no extra clothing and not a lot of extra calories without a secure ride out of a pretty remote area with questionable phone service did not seem like a worthy pursuit--in fact it seemed foolish.  So when we got to Kanan we decided to keep going... but fully recognized that we'd likely not be taking on a whole lot more than the next section or so.

We arrived at Encinal Canyon TH which is mile 43.4 with ~48 miles on the GPS (though it was pinging at a low, low rate and was therefore probably around a couple miles shy of the actual distance we covered given all the switchbacks and poor service areas we'd gone through) and decided there that it was likely the last easy place to thumb a ride down to Hwy 1 and get back to the comforts of the rental car, burgers and beers.

I wanted to finish what we had set out to accomplish but I was fully okay with the decision made.  I had to admit to MM back at mile 25 that this wasn't my day, that I hadn't been feeling really good.  I'd been feeling pretty sicky all week long and during the past 2 months I have been quite sick with a series of colds and infections (cough, sinus/head, cough, sinus/head, repeat).  I made the best of it and did the best I could to train through it all with this goal on my mind but I could feel its effects and while I felt strong I had low energy levels and my breathing was especially laborious.  MM was a bit of tough one to read as we discussed pushing on a little more or heading down the canyon with our thumbs out.  I mean, I know he's a mentally tough dude who doesn't give a shit about a little discomfort or even a little risk but I think he was satisfied with the effort we'd put in and knew that getting to La Jolla Canyon/PCH at 7 or later with nothing but a soaking wet t-shirt and cars going by at 70mph was not a good place to be at any expense.

I learned a lot from the adventure and I hope to share it soon in another post.

Cheers!  And thanks for all the support!!  Dream a big dream and go for it because if you don't you won't!!!