On the Road to the Leadville 100 – Approaching Risk and Deflecting Doubt

Life is often lived in hindsight. In the moment of a big decision, it is often hard to fully understand all the factors that go into what you are thinking at the time. And it is nearly impossible to know what the impacts of any given decision will be until it plays out. You can research, plan, and try your best to predict all the possible outcomes. This is what one should do when taking risks. These risks are calculated, and not reckless. But with any big decision, there will be uncertainty and doubt.

I signed up for the Leadville 100 trail run.  Yes, I did this!  I was able to secure a spot in this race by signing up for one of the limited training packages, which also means I am working with a running coach for the first time in my life.  For those who may be unfamiliar, the Leadville 100 trail race entails 100 miles of beautiful, extreme trails in the mountains of Colorado, from elevations of 9,200 to 12,600 feet and a total of more than 18,000 feet of climbing – all in a 30-hour time frame or less. It is one of the absolute classic races of ultra-running. It is hands-down one of the biggest challenges I will be taking on in my running life, if not my life in general, so far. Did I agonize over this decision for days on end before I did this? No, I did not. Did I fail to think this through before I did this? No, I did not.  What I did do was make a conscious decision to approach risk, as opposed to deflect risk. So much of truly living, to me, is exactly that, approaching risk versus deflecting risk.

To me, approaching risk often looks like this: I get an idea. I get really excited about this idea (probably over-excited) and convince myself it is a good idea. I set a plan in action of how to implement or set on the road to making the idea actually happen.

Basically, when approaching risk, I decide to live my ideas.

Part of approaching risk is deflecting doubt. When the doubts are internal, I tend to try to talk to someone who can provide me with real-life experience on the matter. I often seek out someone I know who trusts my decisions and thinks positively.  And someone who really knows me and supports my BIG ideas. When the doubts are external, I recognize that it might be easier for some to deflect risk.  In most of the “unconventional” challenges I have taken on in my life, the majority of the responses have gone something like, “I would never do that ….How are you going to make that work?” In the case of the Leadville 100, typical reactions also include “You’re nuts” and “That sounds awful.”

These responses surprise me because challenges are exciting! And I can think of less responsible things than taking on challenges and following a passion through. In any event, anyone can do anything for a day or two! Remember, these risks are calculated, and not reckless. I clearly see the value in encouraging those taking calculated risks in our world…just the other day my friend said to me, “If anyone can conquer the unconquerable it is you!”  The outcome will remain unknown until the race, but I certainly appreciate such encouragement over the alternative.

The one thing you can never predict when approaching risk is the reality of how you are going to feel. This risk, the unpredictability of how you are going to feel, is the true risk… yet the one that holds the most potential for growth and rewards. All of the other risks are just doubts that can be resolved one way or the other.

I am sure the road to the Leadville 100 will be a true range of experience, both positive and not so positive.  The perfect opportunity to…

Approach risk.  Deflect doubt.  Live my ideas.

Ilene Bloom is an evolving ultra-runner, mother and lawyer who lives in Denver. In conjunction with training for the Leadville 100, she is raising money for the American Cancer Society at this link: https://www.crowdrise.com/leadville-trail-100-run-for-cancer/fundraiser/ilenebloom.  If you have any questions or thoughts about this article, Ilene can be reached at ilenebloom@hotmail.com.

In An International First, Surfer Chris Bertish Conquers The Atlantic Alone On A Paddleboard : The Two-Way : NPR

Chris Bertish set out from Morocco to become the first to make the crossing alone on a stand-up paddleboard. On Thursday, after 93 days, he paddled into the West Indies, with a whole ocean behind him.

by Colin Dwyer, NPR

In the span of 93 days, Chris Bertish crossed more than 4,050 nautical miles of Atlantic Ocean — and he conquered this lonely crossing standing up. When the South African surfer entered English Harbour on the island of Antigua on Thursday, he was riding the same massive stand-up paddleboard that bore him from Morocco’s Agadir Marina roughly three months ago.

Still, if Bertish’s equipment wasn’t much different from when he started, his place in the record books now certainly is: On Thursday, Bertish became the first person in history to make a solo trans-Atlantic journey on a stand-up paddleboard.

“Across the entire Atlantic Ocean and I am finally here,” Bertish wrote Thursday on Facebook. “I don’t need to be strong and keep it together any longer; it’s been 93 days and it’s done and I let it all go… I am home!”

By the time he made it to the West Indies, battling fittingly windy and rough conditions,” SUP Magazine reports he had already faced down “shark encounters, equipment failures, unfavorable trade winds, loneliness and huge swells.”

At one point, conditions were so rough — and rough for so long — that he and his navigational systems were “just really embattled to just make it through and survive,” Bertish told SUP Magazine in a phone call about halfway through his trans-Atlantic paddle.

“My craft was taking on water, I couldn’t open my hatches, I was underwater most of the time and I don’t think most people understand the severity of that kind of problem,” he continued. “I have a sea grass growing on my entire deck because it’s underwater the entire time.”

But it wasn’t all hardship. There were high marks, as well: Bertish says he smashed the records for longest distance paddled alone across open ocean, and for the longest distance paddled alone in a single 24-hour span — 71.96 nautical miles, nearly doubling the previous mark.

He says he paddled about 60 miles in his last full day on the water alone.

Now, as we noted in December, Bertish’s vessel isn’t exactly your granddad’s stand-up paddleboard. The 20-foot-long behemoth — which he calls ImpiFish — boasts satellite weather forecasting equipment, handheld radio and GPS, solar panels and a tiny cabin where he could sleep at night. And he’s been sure to relay updates to landlubbing supporters on Facebook.

A Surfer And His Paddleboard Embark On A Lonely Trans-Atlantic Voyage
Those same supporters helped Bertish in his quest to parlay his paddling into charity. He says that as of Thursday, his journey had managed to raise more than $490,000 for Signature of Hope Trust, The Lunchbox Fund and Operation Smile.

“Bertish aims to raise enough money to build at least five schools in South Africa, provide monthly dividends to feed and educate thousands of children and pay for surgeons to carry out life-changing cleft lip and palate operations,” CNN reports.

“I pretty much ate exactly the same thing every single day for 93 days,” he told a crowd assembled to greet him Thursday, as he was settling down to his first meal on land in quite a while. “A lot of the kids we’re doing this for don’t even have enough money to go to school.”

Bertish added: “Every time I’d look down at the same packet of food I was going to have to eat another day in a row, I tell myself: ‘Shut up, you’ve actually got food to eat.’ These kids have nothing.”

He reminded the gathered crowd just how lucky they were to have anything to eat at all … until, his reminder spoken, the crowd politely told him to shut up and just eat his burger — his first after an ocean’s worth of paddling.

Source: In An International First, Surfer Chris Bertish Conquers The Atlantic Alone On A Paddleboard : The Two-Way : NPR

American Woman Reaches a New Milestone in Rock Climbing

“It goes, boys”

Nineteen-year-old Margo Hayes has taken a huge leap in shrinking the climbing world’s gender gap.

by Andrew Bisharat, National Geographic

Throughout the 1980s and much of the 1990s, when rock climbing was very much a fringe activity, women were rarely spotted up on the rock. Even fewer were performing at a cutting-edge level.

The notable exception was Lynn Hill, who in 1993 became the first person (male or female) to free climb the 3,000-foot Nose of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. Free climbers ascend without falling or using gear to rest or aid upward progress. Hill’s feat cemented her status as an action sports legend and proved in the biggest way possible that women could climb just as hard as, if not harder than, men.

“It goes, boys,” she boldly stated after her big achievement.

Before climbing the Nose, Hill became the first woman to climb a route with a difficulty grade of 5.14a, which was considered a world-class level at the time. In 1990, Jean-Baptiste Tribout, the leading French sport climber of the time, infamously stated that year that “no woman would ever climb [a 5.14a].” Hill proved Tribout wrong that same year by completing a 5.14a sport climb in France called Masse Critique.

Best of all, she completed the route in fewer tries than Tribout.

In a similar breakthrough, Margo Hayes, 19, of Boulder, Colorado, has achieved a new milestone in the sport. On February 26, 2017, she climbed La Rambla, a sport climb in Siurana, Spain, that is rated 5.15a. This achievement makes her the first woman to reach this level of difficulty, which is very close to the highest levels ever achieved by top-performing male climbers.

“Over the last few years the gender gap has really narrowed,” said Hayes in an online video interview last year. “There’s going to be a big change—there’s more women and more young girls coming up in rock climbing. Watch out, boys!”

La Rambla is a 150-foot tall yellow and blue limestone route. It overhangs by 30 degrees the whole way, making it an unrelenting challenge. It has been climbed by only a few of the best male climbers in the world and is considered solid for its difficulty rating.

The holds on La Rambla, particularly on the blue patina of limestone near the top of the route, can be razor sharp, making the climbing not just difficult but downright painful as the rock chews through fingertips like dog toys.

“Margo’s effort was unprecedented,” says Jon Cardwell, a top American sport climber and one of Hayes’s climbing partners during her historic trip. “She was bleeding from her fingers every day. That route is a bloodbath now! But never once was this an excuse. Extraordinary character in that girl.”

One sign of the changing times in rock climbing is Hayes’s presence at a world-class crag in Spain with perhaps the two strongest American climbers right now, Jon Cardwell and Matty Hong—all of them climbing as equals. The three live in Boulder, Colorado, where they climb and train together.

Hong, in fact, successfully completed La Rambla just two days before Hayes. Cardwell, who is also “projecting” the route, is expected to achieve his own success any day now.

“I am overwhelmed and humbled by the support I’ve received from the climbing community, and my family and friends near and far,” Hayes wrote on Instagram. “None of us achieves our dreams alone, we do so together, and build on those who have come before us.”

Indeed. The question of whether a woman would reach 5.15a was never one of “if” but of “when” and “who.” Over the last decade, the best female climbers in the world have been pushing right up to that 5.15a level.

Climbing grades are subject to a community-wide consensus of difficulty, so women have climbed routes that were first considered to be at a 5.15a difficulty level but were retroactively downgraded after consensus was reached.

With those shifts in mind, the climbing community has awaited a female ascent of 5.15a sport climb that is widely agreed to be a benchmark for the grade. Hayes’s ascent of La Rambla meets that criteria.

Here’s a timeline of top achievements in female sport climbing that have led up to this moment:

1990: Lynn Hill climbs Masse Critique (5.14a) in Cimai, France, a route that J.B. Tribout once said “no woman would ever climb.” The route takes Hill fewer tries than Tribout and her ascent makes her the first woman to climb a 5.14a.

2002: Josune Bereziartu, a Basque climber, becomes the first woman to climb a 5.14d when she ascends the Bain de Sang in St. Loup, Switzerland. At the time, the hardest route in the world was only one grade higher at 5.15a. She was also climbing two or three grades harder than any other woman.

2004: Bereziartu climbs another 5.14d: Logical Progression in Japan.

2005: Bereziartu achieves her hardest route yet: Bimbaluna in Switzerland. The route is given a “slash” rating of 5.14d/5.15a, meaning it might not be difficult enough to be considered a full-fledged 5.15a, but compared to all other routes with 5.14d ratings, it’s a tough one.

2011: French climber Charlotte Durif climbs PPP (5.14d) in Verdon, France. Some European climbing magazines dispute the veracity of her claim and refuse to publish the news.

2011: Sasha Digiulian, from Virginia, climbs Pure Imagination (5.14d at the time) in the Red River Gorge, Kentucky. Subsequent ascents of the route, however, land the consensus grade at 5.14c.

2012: Digiulian climbs Era Vella (5.14d), in Margalef, Spain. Again, subsequent ascents suggest the route might in fact be slightly easier.

2013: Murial Sarkany, from Brussels, Belgium, climbs Punt X (5.14d) in Gorges du Loup, France, at age 39. This makes her either the second, third, or fourth woman to reach the 5.14d grade after Bereziartu, depending on whether Durif and Digiulian’s ascents are considered valid.

2015: Mar Alvarez, a full-time firefighter, climbs Escalatamasters (5.14d) in her home country of Spain.

2015: At age 13, Ashima Shiraishi, the phenom climber from New York City, takes a spring break trip to Santa Linya, Spain, where she climbs a potential 5.15a called Open Your Mind Direct. However, other climbers agree to a consensus that the route is, in fact, only 5.14d. The community still awaits a female ascent of an undisputed 5.15a.

2016: Margo Hayes climbs Bad Girls Club (5.14d) in Rifle, Colorado.

2016: Laura Rogora, a 14-year-old climbing prodigy from Italy, climbs Grandi Gesti (5.14d), in Italy, making her the second youngest person to climb that grade.

2017: Rogora continues her tear and climbs another 5.14d: Joe Blau in Oliana, Spain.

2017: Margo Hayes climbs La Rambla (5.15a), becoming the first female climber to reach this level.


Source: American Woman Reaches a New Milestone in Rock Climbing

There is No Need To Rush – The Javelina Jundred 100k

On September 12th, I signed up to run my first 100k, the Javelina Jundred in Arizona, to take place Halloween weekend. Hmm, I guess at the time I completely forgot that every fall feels a little like what I most attempt to avoid in my life – CHAOS. School starting, kid sports and activities starting, work and work activities ramping back up after the summer – so of course I’ll just sign up for my longest race to date! As expected, the fall was full of chaos, albeit a happy chaos, but chaos nonetheless. So, by the time the week of the race came, I was feeling a little blank about the whole thing. I was a bit on autopilot that week, and had been fighting a cold, and then next thing I knew, I was leaving my house in Colorado and making my way to Arizona. This helped, because traveling sustains me, and no matter where I am going and no matter what I will be doing there, the actual acts and movement of traveling feel natural and exciting to me.
Still a little on autopilot…arrived in Phoenix, got my car, headed over to Fountain Hills to get my race number and back over to my hotel to unpack, ate dinner at 5 pm so I felt like a senior citizen instead of an extreme runner, watched part of the Cubs game and was off to sleep by 8 pm.
Now, more on staying in a hotel before a race. The past few races I have stayed in a hotel while other runners I know camp. Now, as much as I love camping, I also am generally sleep deprived as the parent of two young children, so I have this idealized vision that a hotel bed will serve me better than sleeping on the ground the night before an ultramarathon. However, the last two races I was kept awake by loud and inconsiderate hotel neighbors and told myself I may as well have camped and saved money in the process! But apparently I either do not learn my lesson or I am extremely adept at blocking out negative things that happen, so here I was in another nice hotel room. So basically I could only laugh at myself when at 1:45 in the morning, my hotel neighbors were….I don’t even know what the hell they were doing, but it sounded like they were moving furniture.  The difference this time was that I decided if I get too mad or anxious, that will keep me from going back to sleep. Pillow over my head, some ruminating over how bizarre people are, and back to sleep for what amounted to a full night’s sleep. Hurray!
The race was taking place on three loops of trails in McDowell Mountain Regional Park. I made it to the start line and watched the sun rise over the Sonoran Desert. Little did I know that I would see the sunrise the next morning as well….which was not part of my plan, but 62 miles of running in the desert leaves many unknowns. I did not know anyone else running the 100k distance at this race (there was also a 100 mile distance) so I was just milling around when I saw my friend Kevin from Denver, which is always a good thing to happen before a race. I also saw the Tarahumara runners from the Copper Canyon in Mexico, some of the world’s best runners and the subject of the book Born to Run. It was about this time that I realized, Huh, it is 7 am, and it is already really hot! The weather was supposed to be in the 90s, unseasonably warm at this time of the year, even for Arizona. I was worried about the heat, but the aid stations were not too spread out, so hopefully heat would not be too much of an issue. It was actually a little confusing to me throughout the morning…because it was so hot, it felt like it was the middle of the afternoon.
The race encouraged costumes and my friend Andrea had loaned me some fairy wings, you know, so I can float through the race…so I wore those along with a sparkly skirt. I was thankful for them, because Andrea is one of my ultra runner inspirations so they seemed like they would be good luck or something. It was fun having this get up on, although I wasn’t really interested in trying to attract conversation about them either which seemed to happen a lot.
Everything was going great for the first 18 miles…I was cruising through the desert and having a great time and most importantly, feeling great. Then, just as altitude sickness can come on suddenly, something was happening to me in the form of heat exhaustion. I had just run 18 fast miles in the Arizona desert with no shade and no cloud cover and the temperature was in the 90s. I was so dizzy I had to sit down. Luckily for me, a group of other runners was around, and they were looking out for me. It was four miles until the next aid station which was also the headquarters where the medical tent was…and these amazing people said they were not going to leave me and literally marched me in to the end of the first loop at mile 22. Think about this – complete strangers who are trying to accomplish their own 100k race, stuck with me to make sure I was safe. They all said, “Oh, we are doing this for fun, and you would do the same for us. You’ll be fine after you hang out in the medical tent for a bit.” One in particular, Esmail, a gentleman from northern California, kept making sure I was staying hydrated and offering me sips of his liquids. Esmail delivered me to the medical tent and went on his way after I gave him one too many hugs. I never saw him again, but he did find me on Facebook and I was able to thank him!
So, here I am in the medical tent at mile 22. It was at this point that I knew “There is no need to rush.” I could even stay in the medical tent until later in the afternoon when it might get cooler and still have plenty of time to finish the race. Lucky for someone like me, the time cutoffs were incredibly liberal. The medics were awesome – my vitals were fine, pickle juice apparently is the end all be all for dehydrated people, but my body temperature went up to 100.5 and they were not going to let me leave until it went down. I think I wound up being there for about two hours. I ate some food, joked around with the medics, my friend Kevin came to visit me, I was texting with several people to keep me going, and kept trying to tell the medics I was fine.
There is no need to rush, except for one reason. I HAD TO GET OUT OF THAT TENT! I was in the best shape of anyone in the tent, and frankly, I was seeing things I did not want to see. So, I knew I had to rally. So, this was the first time I rallied! I am sad to say that someone had to get airlifted out that day, someone was taken away in an ambulance and many, many people dropped out of the race, approximately 50 percent of the runners.
Off I went again into the hot Arizona desert… I had ice in my hat, ice around my neck, ice in my backpack, and I wasn’t too worried. I decided not to push it during this next stretch because it was still hot and “There is no need to rush.” I listened to music and was having a good old time again. La La La La La. I even ran into some guy I had met in Fruita last year when running the Kokopelli Trail. It’s so fun seeing random people you know on the trails! The sun was starting to go down and the light and the colors of the desert were changing, so beautiful. As I was approaching the big aid station at my mile 30, called Jackass Junction, I started to feel a little weak again and was looking forward to settling down for a bit at the aid station.
Unfortunately, I got there, and started shaking somewhat uncontrollably. I had no idea what was going on. Here we go again. So…the awesome people there sat me down with a plate of food, covered me in a sleeping bag, and basically told me I wasn’t leaving the aid station until I ate all of the food on the plate… but I was eyeing the massage table and thinking, “Actually I am not leaving here until I get a massage.” Oh, they made me drink more pickle juice of course! Eventually I did feel better enough to consider continuing, although it may have felt questionable for a bit. But I rallied, and then started calling myself the Comeback Kid. I really felt like if I could rally twice, I could get this thing done. Plus I still had a ridiculous amount of time to complete the race.
Oh wait, did I mention there was a full blown party happening at this aid station? Dance floor (with hanging skeleton of course), loud music, full bar I think, etc. I would visit this aid station again in the middle of the night and I think the party just got bigger. This is the aid station where a volunteer lent me part of his Run-DMC costume – which for whatever reason I thought was completely hilarious. Although really it’s another example of the awesome people I have been able to come across in my running travels.
So, it was hard to leave this fun station, because, really, there is no need to rush. I kind of got kicked out of the aid station, which was probably a good thing. One of the guys, “Mojo” who gave me a lot of time and attention, basically told me I had spent too much time at the aid station and it was time for me to go! He suggested I keep moving and not spend so much time at any of the aid stations in the future. Also, I was hoping my dear friend Bry would be at the race headquarters to accompany me on my last loop! So off I went into the desert with a Run-DMC jacket on and my headlamp. It was pretty cool to see all the runner headlamps in the night in the middle of the desert. I had about 11 miles to conquer at this point to get back to headquarters and start out on my last loop. My feet were hurting and I knew I had some blister issues, but I continued on into the night.
There is something special about being on your own in the middle of the desert under a star filled sky, even if you’re just walking when you should probably be running. I think I really did think about the word “tough”, because even though I know I have been “tough” in my life (I’ve even been called “scrappy” before), I have to say this might have been the first time I felt tough after getting through two potential medical situations and continuing on in the desert. With a Run-DMC jacket and a purple sparkly skirt!
When I arrived at headquarters, I could not find my friend Bry. I gave her a call and it winds up that she had gone out on the course to look for me and unfortunately had not gone the right way. So she was headed back, but would have already put in 8 miles by the time we even started out together. I felt bad about this, and proposed a few scenarios, because I know she was not planning on running/walking 27 miles that night, on top of the whole thing already being delayed due to my lingering in the medical tent and the aid stations. But Bry was up for starting out with me at Mile 42 and seeing where that would take us.
At this point, I didn’t feel much like running, and I was so excited to see her and catch up and talk (which can be difficult to do when I am running) so we walked to the next aid station, catching up, telling stories, laughing, and on. You can learn a lot about a friend when you’re hanging out at night together in the middle of the desert. At the next aid station, I knew she wanted to run faster than I was capable of at that time, so I told her I thought she should go on. She toughed out the 27 miles and was able to go home to her family before sunrise. Many, many thanks to Bry.
It was 6.5 miles until I would make it back to Jackass Junction aid station, the party in the middle of the desert, and I was getting tired. I did some calculations in my mind and figured I could take a nap there for about an hour. There is no need to rush. However, I thought I would never get to the aid station. NEVER. It took forever. It is not like you can see the aid stations from two miles away. It is actually like they are not even there until you are upon them. My GPS had died by then too, so I had no frame of reference. And I learned not to ask people how much longer to the next aid station. One, I am sure that’s annoying, and two, no one seemed to really know the right answer anyway. Plus two miles can still seem like an eternity! But thinking of a cot and sleeping bag and ramen noodles can keep you going when you’ve been going for almost 50 miles, it’s the middle of the night, and your feet hurt BAD.
I arrived at Jackass Junction again (party scene with the loud music) and headed straight to the cot…the volunteer asked me when I wanted to wake up. I told him one hour although “I doubt I’ll be able to sleep” and he says “Oh, you’ll be surprised”. Even though I thought I probably shouldn’t be stopping like that, I can’t tell you how good it felt to take off my shoes and just lie down for a bit. I only stayed 15 minutes after all, and steeled myself for the last 11 miles of the entire race!! Less than a half marathon to go!
There was no need to rush…I think I had close to 8.5 hours to finish the 11 miles. The first place 100k runner, a woman from Colorado, ran the entire 100K in that time! I got this! Many 100 milers were passing me! It’s almost over! I can relax for sure! And relax I did, plodding along, running and walking. I joined another runner who had a pacer and marched along with them for a bit to the last aid station. It was there that I ran into someone who had seen me during the miles 18-22 march to the medical tent. He asked – were you the one wearing wings earlier? Yes, that was me. “What? I cannot believe you are still going. I can’t wait to tell my friends that you are ok and that you finished.” Definitely made me feel tough.
3.7 miles to the finish. Wow. It’s really happening. I got to witness another beautiful sunrise while running in my life.
I could hear the music from the finish line. I practically feel like crying while I am writing this. I ran into the finish, got my first buckle (which is typically a 100 mile race reward), and basically burst into tears. Good ones. I am not sure I have ever finished a race and not known anyone at the finish line. And I did not know this until later, and thanks to text miscommunications, my family thought I had quit the race the night before at mile 32 and had no idea I was running through the night in the desert! Crazy! So it was pretty great when shortly after finishing, I received a text from my friend saying “How’d the race go?!! How ya doing?!” The timing was perfect since I was on my own. Many, many thanks for that.
Mother Nature did not disappoint me during this race (except the heat was a little much). I love the mountains, but have a newfound appreciation for the desert as well. I have never run in the desert, day or night, and the scenery was beautiful and calming.
I didn’t leave this race thinking about signing up for a 100 mile race. That would take another race with ridiculously liberal (hey, like me!) cutoffs and some serious speed work and training. But you never know what is going to happen.
I was excited I could celebrate my birthday the next week (halfway to ninety!), not only with HUGE quads and calves, but with a sense of accomplishment that I can tough out 62 miles in the desert. I want to thank everyone who played a part in this accomplishment, including my family, friends, running family, all of the volunteers…and there are too many to name here because I am one lucky person. Many, many thanks.
I am happy that I kept telling myself “There is no need to rush” because I was truly able to relax and savor the experience. There is really no need to rush anything in life. And do not forget to be tough.
Ilene Bloom is a mother/evolving ultrarunner/lawyer who lives in Denver.  Despite what she said in this post, she does plan to run 100 miles someday. Ilene can be reached at ilenebloom@hotmail.com with any questions about this article.

It Really Did Happen – The Lake Pueblo and Surrounds 50-Miler


After two summer 50 mile races I did not finish, I had been toying with the idea of trying to run 50 miles informally. It seemed like a good idea, really. Races have a lot of benefits of course, but they often also entail a lot of planning, travel, cost, along with the added pressure of time cutoffs. Why not just plan to run 50 miles one day and keep it simple? I can live without another t-shirt or a medal. I am capable of hoarding some junk food in my running pack to eat. I can do it! I will do it! I did not tell too many people about my plan and was thankful when a couple checked in the day before to see if I actually was going to go through with it. Of course, once I get an idea, I prefer to follow through. More on this trait of eagerness later.

I really thought I had 50 miles in me. I’ve never been especially sore after running 50K or 55K (mainly because I don’t push it hard enough to truly break down my body) and I really wanted to do it. I ran a marathon distance in Greece two weeks earlier – and despite the conditions being somewhat brutal – high heat, all road, no shade, a ton of traffic – I really felt like I could have continued on if I had more time to spend running that day. I realized then that I really should try this soon. The fire was well lit.

I also really felt like everything was going to come together for me to try it the last weekend in August. I was traveling to Pueblo for a family event, which meant there was some built in child care, and the weather looked almost perfect – 70s and sunny. Plus I have run the trails at Lake Pueblo State Park before and knew I would enjoy the scenery. Many of the trails have views of the Sangre de Cristos, the most beautiful mountain range in Colorado in my opinion, and they overlook a reservoir. The trails wouldn’t be in the mountains, and would mainly be flat with some rollers, but again, what was really important to me was to conquer the distance. To increase my confidence level so as not to feel like all my training efforts towards this 50 mile distance were in vain. Plus, I really do want to persevere in a real 50 mile race someday!

I did not think too much about the fact that I would be running all 50 miles by myself. In hindsight, after talking to a few people, I realize that perhaps this added to the accomplishment in some way. Although I was clearly born an extrovert (actually kind of an uber-extrovert, “the General”, according to Myers-Briggs) I have spent a lot of time by myself in my life. I lived by myself in Chicago for seven years, I basically sit by myself in an office all day long, and I have spent many miles running by myself. Luckily I can have a good time by myself and enjoy being in my own head. So it didn’t really cross my mind that this could or would be problematic.

The main thing I worry about before a big run or race is sleep. I realize I need to get over this, because sleep is generally elusive before a big race or run and there is nothing I can do about that. And as expected, sleep proved to be elusive on Friday night. I set my alarm for 4:15. I remember feeling like I hadn’t slept at all when the alarm rang and thinking “%*$#*, I guess it’s go time.” I was on my own at my brother and sister in law’s place and was happy that they were all up early too. So after answering my sister in law’s question “Why 50 miles?”, filling up my pack with food, water, and various sugary running aids, I left downtown Pueblo and set out on my way in the dark towards Lake Pueblo State Park.

A nice, rolling 7.5 miles to get going. The air felt perfect and I was excited to see yet another sunrise while running. I saw some people setting up for an outside event along the road, which wound up being the state 4-H Archery competition. Ok. I made a mental note that they had a ton of Port-o-Potties. Then I passed a decrepit looking barn that was gated off and crumbling, with big signs saying “Save the Barn”. After further research, I have learned that, according to someone, the barn is “one of the most important historical structures in the American West” and part of the headquarters for the Goodnight-Loving cattle trail, one of the most traveled upon trails in the West and an inspiration for the series Lonesome Dove. Who knew? Pueblo is an “interesting” place. Ok, enough history.

After arriving at Lake Pueblo State Park, I scouted out where I wanted my family to leave my cooler, which had Coke, Gatorade, water, ice, pistachios and chocolate covered goji berries in it. I wasn’t sure what my exact route was yet, but I knew if I had a stash I could return to from time to time throughout the day, I’d be happy.

The trails in Lake Pueblo State Park are fun to navigate. I think they are mainly used by mountain bikers and have names such as “Broken Hip” and “Skull Canyon”. You can kind of get lost in there and I didn’t mind that. I spent the next 8 miles or so wandering around the trails, running around the reservoir, enjoying the blue skies and feeling strong and excited about the day ahead. I came around a corner and one guy was sitting above on a ledge, and shouted “Beautiful day, isn’t it?” I thought maybe that should be my mantra. A few moments after that, I saw some birds feasting on a huge animal, I think it was a deer. All sorts of nature.

Around mile 15, my family dropped off…an amazing breakfast burrito! Usually when I am in Pueblo, I get this same burrito and it is smothered in green chile. If you didn’t know, Pueblo is known for its green chiles. Last year I even placed in a 5K race during Chile Fest! Ha, see, Pueblo has many redeeming qualities! But I digress. Basically I am writing about the burrito because I laughed all day thinking about the fact that I had a burrito in my backpack. Not only did the burrito make me laugh, it made me happy every time I took it out and ate some. Around this time, I also got a text from my son Hayden which was encouraging. He honestly really was interested in me finishing.

At this point, I wasn’t sure where I was headed next. I could have gone back into the state park….but the mountains were beckoning. Basically, the road outside of the reservoir leads to the Sangre de Cristos. I really had no idea where the road led to, except I could see the mountains. I understand that running on the road may not have seemed ideal, but I decided to head west. The road had a lot of rolling hills, the sky was entirely blue and I just kept running…I saw some bikers, who said various iterations of “Good job!” to me and at one point, in the middle of nowhere, I saw a lone woman walking on the other side of the road who was blasting music. We waved at each other and I continued on. Even though I was probably another 30 miles from the actual mountains (I think I would have come to Westcliffe eventually) the mountains seemed like they were accessible to me. The open road and the mountains. And I still felt great, although it was getting hot. Of course I forgot a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen…

My memory of the entire run up to this point is that anyone who saw me must have wondered what I was so happy about. I was running literally that entire time with a huge smile on my face, or a stupid, silly grin, depending on your perspective. Thank you to endorphins, blue skies, a strong will and body, and music. I don’t always listen to music when I am running, but I think it was integral to my happiness on this particular run. Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem, Wilco, to name a few, and a bit of Bon Iver, Iron and Wine, and Gregory Alan Isakov when I was feeling mellow.

I started to tire of the heat a bit around mile 23, so decided to take a break, take off my shoes, pull out my burrito and relax. It was at this point that I also thought about the fact that I was close to halfway and still was in great shape. Usually when I am running and hit the half way mark, I feel like I am done, because I just have to head to the finish at that point. Not sure of this logic, but it works for me. I pretty much felt like I knew I would finish at this point too and then set my sights on getting to mile 36, which is the farthest I have ever run before this day. At mile 25 I did a little jump. Halfway!

Eventually I figured out that I should probably turn around and head back so I started dreaming of Coca-Cola and my stashed cooler at what would turn out to mile 34. Miles 30-34 were hot, and my feet were sore, but I kept moving. Found the cooler, took off my shoes, chugged my coke, ate some burrito and relaxed.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next. In hindsight I think I should have gone back to the trails at the reservoir where it was peaceful but I started thinking I should head back to town and complete the run on the Arkansas River Trail. The sun was blazing, I was totally sunburned, and did I mention that my feet hurt? Some couple stopped and offered me a ride back to town. No thanks!

Mile 36 – another little jump because I was surpassing my longest distance run ever! It was around this time that got another text from my son with a dozen emoticons and started getting texts from my friend Lizzie who was on a boat on Lake Dillon and was checking on me. She was sending photos of them toasting me with wine and really this was hilarious, so it gave me some extra energy. A remote crew to make me laugh! Awesome.

Made it back to downtown Pueblo and had 9 miles to go. I can do this! I will run 4.5 miles and 4.5 miles back on the Arkansas River Trail. There was a lot of walking at this point…I soon realized that this plan probably wouldn’t work either. Although in theory the river trail should be a great place to run, and I am not particularly intimidated usually, there were some sketchy people on the trail including an obvious tweaker. I ran about 4 miles in and knew I had to figure something else out so I cut back into downtown although now I would have to figure out more mileage. At this point I started thinking about who I wished would show up and start yelling at me to get it together. I see my friend Andrea filling this role at some point in my running future, and she probably wouldn’t let me stop in a bar. Because, at this point, I was also dying for a cold Sprite and stopped in a bar. That was funny. The bartender wondered what I was doing and when I told him I was at mile 45 of a 50 mile run, he responded with, “Wow, you look pretty fresh for having run 45 miles.” Well, thank you!!! Told him I might come back later for a beer (yeah, right), left the bar and ran around the Pueblo Riverwalk a bit.

Oh yes, it is Saturday night and families were enjoying the stroll around the Riverwalk and I am finishing up my 50 mile run. Right. Eventually I made it to mile 50 and to my finish line which was a stairway that was all lit up. No, I wasn’t crawling up the stairs. Frankly, I felt like I could have run longer, although I had already told myself that I wasn’t going to run one more step over 50 miles. I actually think I ran around 52 due to forgetting to turn my GPS back on twice. And that was it. I did it.

But why did I do this? So many reasons, probably a never ending list of reasons. I love running. I love challenges. I have a lot of energy and I need a lot of stimulation to get by. Once I get a big idea in my head, I will try hard to make it happen… And lastly, I think it comes down to the fact that I am an eager person. This is not a bad trait, although I have certainly seen my eagerness be misinterpreted in my life. I am eager to do many, many things. I am eager to have new experiences (I am definitely an experience junkie), I am eager to make new friends, I am eager to maximize my time, I am eager to live it all. I was eager to train for and run 50 miles. And now it’s done. I did get a medal at the end.


Ilene Bloom is a mother/evolving ultrarunner/lawyer who lives in Denver.  She plans to deal with cut-offs again in the upcoming Javelina Jundred 100k. Ilene can be reached at ilenebloom@hotmail.com with any questions about this article.

Skiing the Hardrock 100?

What do you do when one of the hardest mountain races in the United States just isn’t hard enough for you? Do it SkiMo style of course! Check out this INSANE video from Schlarb-Wolf Productions on Vimeo for a taste of the challenge Jason Schlarb, Paul Hamilton and Scott Simmons put themselves though!

Skiing the Hardrock 100 from Schlarb-Wolf Productions on Vimeo.

Dispatch Radio makes news, ‘competes’ in an adventure race

Nick Brogna, representing Team Mandragoras/Dispatch Radio along with Cory Feign, waiting at the finish line to cheer for teams that actually knew what they were doing.

Adventure racing is a unique endurance discipline that requires careful strategy. The winner is the team that reaches the most “control points”, locations set by the race director throughout the course area, and returns to the finish line under the 24-hour time cutoff. If multiple teams “clear the course,” or reach every possible control point, then the race comes down to who crosses the finish line first. [Olof] Hedberg and his Team Knifesquirrel teammates, Whitney Hedberg (Olof’s wife) and [Dispatch Radio regular] Erik Sanders, had taken an early lead in the race, which involved running, paddling, mountain-biking, open water swimming and backcountry navigation. They lost the lead when, late in the night, they decided to pursue a control point at the top of 12,296 foot Parkview Mountain.

Source: Grueling adventure race criss-crosses the Three Lakes | SkyHiDailyNews.com

Nepal prepares to blacklist Indian couple from mountaineering

Nepal has initiated a process to cancel the Everest summit certificates issued to Indian police couple and impose 10-year ban on them in mountaineering after it was discovered that they had digitally altered another mountaineers’ photographs which had been uploaded to Facebook making them look as though they were own. The couple in question had planned to be the first Indian husband and wife team to have summited Everest. Their 10-year Himalayan climbing ban should give them plenty of time for them to brush up on their Photoshop skills in preparation for their next expedition.

Source: Nepal prepares to blacklist Indian couple from mountaineering

Kayaker Lands a First Descent on 150-foot stretch of PA Waterfalls

Raymondskill Falls is the crown jewel of whitewater kayaking in the Delaware Water Gap of Pennsylvania. At a combined 150 feet, the three-tiered waterfall is the tallest in the state (by comparison, Niagra Falls is 167 feet).

Source: Kayaker Lands a First Descent on Raymondskill Falls | Outside Online

14ers ThruHike – A walk to all of the Colorado 14ers

While Eric Lee hitches rides from friends in an attempt to beat the record for climbing all of Colorado’s 14ers, here is some background on a similar feat completed in 2013, without cars…

Between July 20th and September 29th of 2013 two Colorado hikers summited all 58 of the state’s 14ers by walking from each peak to the next, unsupported by a crew. Here’s a map of their travels.

Source: 14ers ThruHike | A walk to all of the Colorado 14ers