Jemez Mountain 50

Mile 10ish of the Jemez Mountain 50 mile course. Still feeling good... Elizabeth Riley photo.

Mile 10ish of the Jemez Mountain 50 mile course. Still feeling good… Elizabeth Riley photo.

“Go toward your fears.”Dean Potter

“The essence of warriorship, or the essence of human bravery, is refusing to give up on anyone or anything.” – Chogyam Trungpa, Shambhala

After twenty miles of technical, rocky trail running at the Jemez Mountain 50 mile race in Los Alamos, New Mexico, this past Memorial Day weekend, I realized that this race was probably not going to end the way that I wanted it to. Although at that time I still felt relatively good, I was obviously slowing down. This fact wasn’t observed by marking split times on my watch, but instead by the steady stream of runners passing me one-by-one and slowly pulling away into the distance. For the first four hours I had run fast and strong near the front of the pack, but with my position continually declining and over 30 miles of running left to go, I could see that this race had all the makings of a classic death-march.

A “Death-March” in an ultra-running race is the very unpleasant effect of having not correctly paced yourself for the distance you are trying to cover, and thus reaching a point of physical degeneration that is exquisitely painful and can seem to persist just about forever. It is a condition from which there is no recovery, until you choose to quit moving and sit down, that is. Running long distances inevitably causes muscular damage, and running faster causes the damage to happen sooner. Muscles break down and begin to tighten up. Tight muscles cause limited mobility, ruining proper running form. A heap of accumulated miles induces pain – in the joints, in the connective tissue, and in the muscles themselves if they start to cramp. Add the pain and the limited mobility together and you get an ever-decreasing running speed, until running stops being an option and you are simply walking. But even at a walk the pain doesn’t leave, it persists as strongly as ever, and the amount of time you must endure to the finish only increases as your pace gets slower and slower. Staring down a trail that is twenty miles long, that will take a seeming eternity to finish, with jolts of pain at every step and smarter runners jogging past making you look silly… This is the Death-March.

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Black Canyon Ascent

Near the start of the Black Canyon Ascent. Elizabeth Riley photo.

Near the start of the Black Canyon Ascent. Elizabeth Riley photo.

As the dense grey clouds slowly lowered over the rim of the Black Canyon, signaling immanent rain on a quiet Saturday morning, Jan Peart, face adorned with a gigantic smile, began banging on a giant round gong. The peace now sufficiently disturbed and the few people milling about alerted to the arrival of the first runner, the way was paved for Peter Maksimow to come sprinting across the finish line to win the 2015 Black Canyon Ascent.

Sitting inside around frosty beer mugs and a blazing warm fire on the evening before while the rain and intermittent snow dumped down outside, Elizabeth and I wondered what we should do the following day. The forecast called for more of the same dreary weather that had kept us inside and restless with pent-up energy for the last week. The prospect of another Saturday spent trying to get in a long run through freezing rain was not inspiring. Hungry for more writing and photography opportunities, and figuring the worst-case scenario was we would meet some new people, we came up with the idea to check out the Black Canyon Ascent race outside of Montrose the next morning. Our plan was to take some photos and write an article and see if we couldn’t find a place to get them published. So the next morning found us scouting locations to take photos and watch the race on the road up to the Black Canyon.

This year marked the 40th running of the Black Canyon Ascent, making it one of the oldest running races in Colorado, and the second oldest on the Western Slope (the Imogene Pass Run is in its 41st year in 2015). It starts at the corner of US 50, just outside of Montrose, and the East Rim Road, which climbs for six miles to the entrance to the Black Canyon National Park. The road is paved the entire way, but the climb is continuous and rises over 2,000 vertical feet to the finish. Only in the last half mile, once inside the national park, does the road dip slightly on its way to the first parking lot where the finish line is located.

On this Saturday morning the light was perfect and so were the running conditions. The rain had ceased, but low lying clouds and fog hanging in all the nearby valleys made for quite an impressive scene. Although more rain was in the forecast, the sun decided to peek out from behind the clouds at just the moment that the race started, enhancing the already perfect setting. The runners quickly dispersed into a long line of very brightly clad dots along the road as they all settled into their own pace for the climb.

Peter Maksimow after his successful race. Elizabeth Riley photo.

Peter Maksimow after his successful race. Elizabeth Riley photo.

Immediately gapping the rest of the field were two Colorado Springs mountain runners Peter Maksimow and Simon Gutierrez. Maksimow was looking to defend his title from the previous year and hoping to challenge the course record, while Gutierrez was also a former champion. They were running neck and neck by us at our first photo perch roughly one mile up the road. Continue reading

Seek Adventure

Island Lake and the peaks of the Ice Lakes Traverse in the distance.

Island Lake and the peaks of the Ice Lakes Traverse in the distance.

wow, haven’t posted in a while. Here is a story that I wrote in my journal about an adventure last summer…

 

“Seek Adventure” – Micah Dash, Alpinist

Death beckons me as I look between my legs at the empty space below. That’s why I’m here in the first place. A man died up here a few days ago. He was an ultrarunner, a brother who takes inspiration from these mountains the way that I do. I had never met him, but his death of course saddened me. I ran up here to the ridge crest above the Ice Lakes to see where he had died. And to think about death.

For about the last year I have worn a bracelet on my left wrist composed of a string of tiny skulls carved by hand out of yak bone. I bought it in Namche Bazaar in Nepal, on a cloudy and rainy day. At the time I was reading The Tibetan Book of the Dead, which inspired me to spend quite a bit of time contemplating the nature of death.

When people say things like, “I was contemplating the nature of death,” our culture usually reacts by thinking that they are prone to committing suicide. Our culture, to me anyway, seems to be in no way curious about death, instead we are neurotically afraid of it. It seems that at our most fundamental level our culture strives to be entirely deathless–we will do anything to fight against our own and other people’s death. The Tibetan Book of the Dead instead taught me that death is another step in the process that is life, a transformative step. It told me that there is opportunity in death, there is a moment when our souls get to choose whether to be reborn into this world once again, or to realize that we have experienced enough and that we can instead escape it. The message to me was clear–escape the fear of death and you are truly free to live life to its fullest. I did not want to forget this epiphany, as it feels like I so often do with other sudden realizations and insights, so I bought the bracelet of yak bone skulls, and still wear it to this day to remind me to live my life without fear.

The beginning of the ridge that forms the Ice Lakes Traverse, Pilot Knob in the distance.

The beginning of the ridge that forms the Ice Lakes Traverse, Pilot Knob in the distance.

Most of the greatest people I have known in my so-far short life have seemed to possess the ability to live their life without fear. I suspect that the man who died by falling off of Pilot Knob, near where I now stood, was one of these rare and blessed individuals. He was up on this jagged, loose, and magnificent orange-tinted ridgeline trying to complete a route known as the Ice Lakes Traverse. It is a somewhat well-known, although rarely completed, linkup of many beautiful mountain peaks that surround the famous Ice Lakes, although one typically only undertaken by ultrarunners, who have the speed and endurance to complete such an arduous task. I heard that he had even completed the traverse himself one time before. The Ice Lakes Traverse had in fact been on my list of objectives, or ultrarunning adventures, that I wanted to complete during the summer and his untimely death was unfortunately a perfect excuse for me to wake up early and finally tackle it.

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