All posts by Philip Krooswyk

Hardrock Hundred Mile Trail Run Silverton

Trail Running on the Hardrock Hundred Mile Course, Silverton, Colorado

My wife and I were less than 48 hours away from our frontier road trip when I realized it. We were meeting up with her sister in Colorado and I was perusing the itinerary. On the way to Colorado, we would stay in Boise, Idaho and Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Then we’d all meet up in Grand Junction, Colorado. Ok, this is wine country, which is nice, but aside from a riverfront trail, there aren’t any publicized great running trails within running distance of the motel. What’s next? Silverton, Colo…

Silverton, Colorado! I was shocked. The tiny victorian mining town where the Hardrock 100 Trail Race starts and finishes every summer – was this really that place? A quick review of our reservations and I realized that it was indeed that very place. No, we wouldn’t be there the same weekend as the race, but we would be there within 3 weeks of the race finishing. There was never a more pleasant surprise than realizing that we would be staying just a couple blocks from the start/finish line.

Just a few weeks before, Killian Jornet and Anna Frost had set course records here. Granted, I wouldn’t be there for all the excitement of the race, but there was another bonus. I was going to get to run on portions of the Hardrock 100 course. I looked up several maps and put together a Garmin GPS map for my Fenix 3. I got the lay of the land online and mentally ran the course over and over. This was going to be fun. I wasn’t going 100 miles. My wife and I would probably only put in 5 miles or so, but it isn’t every day you get to run in the footsteps of legends.

We drove into town from the north end and stopped at an overlook to check out the old mining facilities. We saw tons of deer on the way into town, so if you decide to visit, drive carefully. The steep drop-offs on the side of the highway don’t look like any picnic either.

Silverton Hardrock Trail Run Blair Street

We stayed at a little motel above a bar called The Bent Elbow. Supposedly, this place used to be a brothel. It was actually very cozy and had a patio with a great view of Notorious Blair Street, formerly known mostly for gambling, booze, and prostitution. Only one street in town is paved and the place has a great feel. We must have visited every bar and restaurant in town in the one night we passed through. At some point in the early evening, while we were wandering around, I spotted it. THE Hardrock.

Hardrock 100 Mile Trail Run Silverton Colorado

Fully geeked out and prepared, my wife and I left early on a Thursday morning to adventure on the trail. Just getting out of town was difficult. The town is in a valley, so even though the runners reverse clockwise and counter-clockwise every other year, there’s still a brutal ascent in the first mile, no matter what direction they go. We made it up the single-track trail, almost as high as the miner’s memorial, and then dipped onto an area with fewer brutal elevation changes. There were still some flares up from the race, which helped us a bit with navigation.

We started out on dirt and gravel road and wound up on dirt double-track. Eventually, this became single-track and we emerged from the forest into an unbelievable expanse of huge, orange and red rocks. The footing was tricky, but fun, and we had a great time running through the low-hanging clouds and generally blasting along on terrain the likes of which we had never experienced.

Before too long, we turned around and headed back to town. We had to meet up with the rest of our traveling party for breakfast and the drive down to Durango. We would still travel out to Mesa Verde on this day. We packed a ton into this short trip to this tiny town, but we would do it all over again.

Silverton stuck with me after this trip. Whether I ever get the opportunity to run the Hardrock Hundred Mile Endurance Race or not, I hope to return to Silverton any time I pass through this area. And someday, I’m going to take advantage of that Durango-Silverton steam train too!

Check out some footage from our run below.

Jenny Lake Grand Teton Trail Running

Trail Running in the Shadow of the Grand Tetons

A while back, I read a book called The Cool Impossible by Eric Orton. I picked up some great running and training tips, was inspired to re-read Born to Run, and enjoyed the personal tone and feel of the writing. But the biggest takeaway from this book, was a desire to visit Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Every time I tried to tell my wife or anybody else about Jackson, I received blank stares. Wyoming is probably the least visited state in the country. Nobody seems to know anything about it at all. After reading The Cool Impossible, I knew exactly what I would find there: a wonderland of hiking and running trails, horseback riding, pleasant people and tons of wildlife. My wife and I were already planning a trip to Colorado to meet up with her sister. I talked her into adding Jackson Hole to the itinerary.

We actually stayed in Teton Village, just to the south of Grand Teton National Park. From our AirBnB, it was a quick drive to the entrance of the park, followed by another short drive through the park to Jenny Lake. After stopping to watch a herd of elk cross the road for a few minutes, we made it safely to our destination.

There’s really very little that I can say about this run. Low elevation gain, easy single and double track all the way around. The lake itself is spectacular. The mountains surrounding it are awesome. The waterfalls around it are a great bonus. I can’t explain it to you. You need to see it for yourself. Everybody should. But go early and try to go on a weekday if possible. This can be a crowded trail later in the day and on weekends. We were fortunate to be some of the first people on the trail and didn’t run into much traffic. See our course GPS below and feel free to download it for your own Wyoming adventure.

And check out the video below to see some beautiful shots from the run.

Trail Running Boise, Table Rock

Running in Boise, Idaho

I can’t tell you what I used to think of when I heard someone talk about Boise, Idaho. I never knew much, to be honest. Recently, my wife and I took a road trip that circled through 6 high west frontier states. On night one, we pulled into our hotel in Boise somewhere around 11pm. We didn’t really see too much on the way into town. We were mostly concerned with getting to the hotel, enjoying a beer in the room, and turning in for the night. Other than a run scheduled for first thing in the morning, Boise was merely a pit stop for the larger trip. I pointed out a gigantic lighted cross way up in the hills on the outskirts of town and jokingly told my wife that’s where our run would take us in the morning. She didn’t think it was funny at all and with my pride somewhat bruised, we drifted off to sleep.

At first light, we grabbed our running gear and headed for our starting point, about half a mile from the hotel. We stayed directly on the Boise River, which splits through town. We would start running on the multi-use path that follows the river and end at the top of Table Rock, then return for a total of around 8 miles.

My wife and I enjoy watching college football, but we’re not super fans. Whenever we see Boise State’s blue field on television, we yell “blue rug!” We don’t have any affiliations with the school or know anything about it, really, other than the fact that they play on a crazy blue and orange field. I had a hunch my wife wasn’t aware how close we were to the university and as we approached our starting point, she saw the stadium and realized what we were walking toward. “Blue rug!” We walked to the stadium and snapped some photos. We started running on the path directly in front of the stadium.

The first 2.5 miles of the run were spent on concrete and asphalt multi-use path as we winded along the river. Soon we arrived at the Old Idaho Penitentiary Site, which is now a museum and garden. The penitentiary also marks the beginning of the non-paved trail to the top of Table Rock. There are tons of trails on Table Rock, but we chose to take the #15A Old Pen Trail to the #15 Table Rock Trail. Somewhere around mile 3, we realized two things:

  1. The elevation estimate I got from Garmin was totally inaccurate and we would be climbing many more feet than we thought
  2. That giant lighted cross was sitting at the top of Table Rock

There was a surprising amount of foot traffic on the trail, but we slowly made our way up. With my wife cursing me frequently throughout the run, I paused occasionally to sneak peeks of the view of downtown Boise. I could see our hotel and, right next door, the Boise Color Run kicking off in a cloud of multi-colored effervescence. We arrived at the summit finally and soaked in the views. After 899 feet of elevation gain, we were ready to take in some nutrition and rest for a few moments. We originally anticipated the run to end in an hour and thirty minutes. In total, we spent 1:52:47 in motion.

We started down the trail and moved at a great clip. Surprisingly, we ran into more traffic on the way up than on the way down, so we were able to really make up some time. As usual, running proved to be a great way to enjoy the city of Boise. Now, when I think of Boise, I’ll picture a city that blends with nature. The river winds through it and it’s seemingly surrounded by protected wild lands. From the river to Table Rock, to watching firefighting airplanes take off to aid in the effort against rampant forest fires, we never once got bored on this run. The Strava course GPS is below in case you want to experience this run in person the next time you’re in Boise.

And check out some photos and GoPro footage from the run in the YouTube video below.

Wildwood Trail Forest Park Portland Oregon

30 Miles on the Wildwood Trail: My First Ultra Run

Milestones are funny things. I’ll never forget the elation and exhaustion I felt after my first 5k race. My first 10k race felt more like a building block than a spire, but I still enjoyed the pride that came along with pushing myself beyond a previous boundary. My first half marathon distance run was sadly punctuated by my first realization that I needed to either wear better shirts, strategically place band-aids, or lubricate certain, ah, sensitive areas of my upper body. Finally, there was my first marathon, whereupon finishing, I had to take several minutes to compose myself as the combination of pure joy and raw emotion nearly overwhelmed me. I may be more sentimental than most, but in the world of running, I have plenty of company.

The past year has found me acquiring a new obsession with trail running. Almost by association, I have also discovered a passion for ultra running. That may sound strange coming from somebody who has only finished two road marathons so far and whose longest trail run up to this point was 16 miles, but I assure you, the eagerness to run far is real. I have learned many lessons about when and how to slowly build up distance in my training. I recognize that I have plenty more work to put in before I can call myself a true endurance athlete, but after this past weekend, I feel comfortable identifying myself as an ultra runner.

The Wildwood Trail in Forest Park is described with awe by many who have traversed it. I have read endless accounts from runners and hikers extolling the beauty of this singletrack wonder. I myself have run the southernmost 8 miles of the trail on previous occasions, but I had never been north of that on this 30-mile trail. Knowing that the trail was well-marked and having the course mapped out on my trusty GPS watch, I felt encouraged setting my sights on Wildwood for my first ultra run.

I prepared myself on the morning of September 19, 2015 with coffee and dry cereal (Peanut Butter Panda Puffs, if you must know). I had already loaded up my hydration vest with 2.5 liters of water. I also loaded up a 1/2 liter handheld bottle with water. One of the 1/2 liter soft-flasks on my hydration vest also contained an electrolyte tablet. Other nutrition consisted of various GU gels, GU chews, salt tablets, and three slices of Sizzle Pie Raising Arizona pizza. Don’t judge me. 30 miles is a long time and when I get down, I crave pizza. Do not knock it until you try it. When I was satisfied that I was fully prepared, I ordered up an UBER cab.

The driver had been waiting around the corner at Stumptown and showed up in 15 seconds. I was surprised, but eagerly snatched up my gear and stepped out the door. At that moment, I realized I was still wearing my slippers. This was a fortunate catch. I grabbed my Altra Lone Peak 2.0s and bounced down the stairs toward the car in my socks. Michael, my driver, apologized for the quick arrival (which wasn’t really a problem at all) and away we went.

I chose to run the Wildwood Trail from north to south. I recognized that this would mean a difficult climb between miles 25-27 and 3,000 feet of elevation gain overall. I’m training for the Silver Falls 50k on November 7, which has 4,000 feet of elevation gain, so it was important to me that I test my mettle before that race. I wanted a baseline to provide myself with a goal to shoot for in November. The drive to the trailhead took about 25 minutes and required one u-turn to find the trailhead, but it was all good. Michael was an interesting person with great stories and I got to watch the sun rising over Mounts Hood, Helens, and Adams. Plus, any day I get to see the gorgeous St. John’s Bridge is a good day.

I jumped out of the car and walked for about 50 feet before finding the actual sign for the trailhead. I quickly stuffed my jacket in my pack. The weather felt much warmer than 55 degrees and I was happy to strip down to shorts and t-shirt from the start. I triggered the activity start on my watch and dropped into the forest.

I didn’t bring my GoPro on this run. I had my phone with me in case I needed to get in contact with my wife, but I wasn’t shooting any photos or video on this run. I also wasn’t listening to headphones. I wanted this to be a pure running experience with no distractions. More so in trail running than on the road, the sound of my breathing is cathartic to me. I feel more in tune with my body as minor aches and pains pass through from time to time. I am more prepared to make adjustments to my form and stride when necessary. As I began my first descent, I immediately noticed the stillness of the forest. My next realization was the greenery. The colors and thickness of the forest were spectacular. This place felt as remote as any hike I’ve ever done. And it’s in the city.

The next thought caught me by surprise. I skipped over a few roots and stones and hit the first foot bridge. Looking up, I saw the blue diamond spray painted on a tree marking the Wildwood Trail. A few feet above that was a sign that read “30 Miles.” For a split second, I felt actual dread. I wasn’t expecting this. I was excited for 30 miles. I was prepared for 30 miles. There was no problem. Something in the far reaches of my mind jolted me for a moment. I shook my head and smiled. There was only one other car at the trailhead and my UBER was long gone. I was on my own. The panicked part of my brain had no choice but to sit down, shut up, and hold on for the long, arduous ride for the next several hours. The dedicated part of my brain that has been pushing me on my running journey for the last 2 years took over and during the next mile, I calmed down and settled into a comfortable rhythm.

Soon enough I had a new issue. There are markers on the Wildwood Trail nearly every quarter mile with a blue diamond and a mileage marker. It wasn’t long before my GPS watch was underestimating my distance. If not for the markers, I don’t know that I would have made it. At mile 5.5, my watch was off by more than 2 miles. As time dragged on and mileage increased, it would have been really discouraging thinking I was at mile 18 instead of 25. Identifying the issue, I shrugged and persisted. This is always a possibility with trail running and the blue diamond trees were going to guide me home.

My plan was to eat every 45 minutes for the first few hours. Knowing my nutrition history, I would begin to detest food somewhere around the 3.5 hour mark. At that point, I would only be able to eat something every hour. After 45 minutes, I ate a caffeinated gel. After 1:30, I went after one of the pizza slices. But I had made a miscalculation. The slices were from a large pizza. A small would have worked better. I unthinkingly devoured the entire slice and kept running. In the end, I don’t regret eating the pizza, but it did throw off my nutrition plan. I felt full and sluggish for a mile or two, and I couldn’t eat again for over an hour. Despite my nutrition schedule getting off track, everything was going great. I resolved to move back to my every 45 minutes eating routine and avoid the giant pizza slices unless I craved them later on.

There are myriad feeder trails throughout the Wildwood Trail and plenty of people as you move south along the trail. In the first 6 miles, however, I only saw 4 other people… and 3 dogs. None of the dogs were on leashes and all were more than 20 feet ahead of their owners. I’m all for having dogs on the trail and all of these dogs were well-behaved and posed no threat, but there are signs everywhere on the trail requiring leashes. When you’re totally alone and come around a corner face-to-face with a huge dog, it takes your brain a moment to register what sort of animal this is. It takes a moment to see the people trailing way behind and breathe a sigh of relief. Even for someone who loves dogs like myself, it’s a disconcerting feeling. There are so many people who have had unfortunate run-ins with dogs that leave them with a debilitating fear of all dogs. Irrational or not, this is a note for dog owners. No matter how well-behaved your dog is on this trail, put it on a leash. The next runner, hiker, walker, or bike rider you meet may have been attacked by a dog in the past. Please give that person peace of mind by having your animal on a leash. It’s not only common courtesy, it’s the rule in this particular park. And not to harp, but the two dozen bright plastic bags of dog refuse littering the trail did very little to improve my view of dog owners on this day.

Back to the run. It was around mile 15 when I first started to feel fatigued. I didn’t have any major aches, but there was a dull pain beginning to set in at my major joint areas. I was still moving at a good clip. I did some quick calculations and realized that I was a little behind on water consumption. I was planning to refill my bottles at Pittock Mansion, which lies around the 27-mile mark of the trail. I resolved to drink more water over the next several miles to get back on track.

Mile 17 marks a comfortable downhill stretch followed by a 350-foot hill climb. I was cruising down this stretch when I caught my toe on a root. I thought it was a leaf when I saw it so I didn’t hop over it as aggressively as I should have. I began to tumble to my left and started to roll to prevent a major collision with the ground. Pressing my handheld water bottle into the ground, I braced myself for impact. Instead of rolling, I awkwardly smashed into the dirt, which gave way completely and sent me several feet down into a small ravine. My shoulder had taken the brunt of the impact, but I had knocked the wind out of myself as well. I stood up and brushed myself off, climbed back up, and walked until my breath came back to me. Strangely, just as I fell, another runner 50 feet in front of me caught a root and hit the deck as well. It was the only other fall I saw all day. He landed much harder than me and was covered in dirt, but was no worse for wear. We congratulated each other on our good fortune. We would leapfrog each other from this point on for the next 6 miles. Unfortunately, this marked the first big uphill climb of the day and the fall had taken all the wind out of my sails. I wound up hiking nearly all of the climb before reaching level trail and breaking into a run.

Somewhere around mile 23, my wife called me. She had parked at the zoo/Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial where the trail ends. The plan was for her to run to Pittock Mansion and back, with the intent that I would finish my run somewhere around the same time as her. I was moving at a good clip at this time and I was feeling pretty confident. I encouraged her to run the 3 miles from Pittock to the zoo and I would catch up to her at the parking lot. I advised her that I was pretty sure that I was approaching the stone house on the trail and would be beginning the major 700-foot ascent from there to Pittock Mansion. We hung up and I cruised along the descent to stone house. On my approach, I was struck by how many people were hanging about. I scanned the crowd nonchalantly until my eyes settled on a familiar figure.

My wife had run all the way to stone house, 5.5 miles from the zoo. Completing the circuit back to the zoo would make this her longest trail run. I could not have been happier to see her. This was the best surprise I could have received and it took me a moment to say anything (see above where I talk about being a bit of an emotional wreck when I push my physical limits). We ascended together on the steep trail to Pittock Mansion, running when we could and power hiking when we had to.

Somewhere around mile 21, I had taken a salt tablet. It seemed to help a lot and I should have taken one right before this ascent, but I decided that I was done with food at this point, which included salt tabs. This was a mistake. Any food at this point would have been advisable and I should have stuck to the plan. I took on another gel around mile 26, but it was too late. It did some good, but didn’t have the impact it might have a couple miles earlier. Lesson learned. Eat before the going gets really tough. Stick to the plan.

My wife had brought me enough water to make it to the end and I was happy not to have to stop to refill any water bottles as we passed Pittock Mansion. Reaching the trail on the other side of the Pittock parking lot, we finally began to descend again. After 27 miles and all that elevation gain, I found descending to be extremely painful for my knees. I spent the first 1/4 mile getting my footing back and adjusting to the new terrain and finally was able to run intermittently when the trail was either gradual downhill, level, or gradual uphill. At this point, I stuck to power hiking on steeper hills and gingerly toe-tapping down steep descents.

I was excited to be back in familiar territory by this point and I know these last couple miles well. I was somewhat nauseous. I controlled that by maintaining a slow jog or walking when necessary. Beyond the challenge of crossing Burnside Road without becoming roadkill, this part of the trail went smoothly. Honestly though, a 45-mile per hour road with 4 lanes passing through a forest with no lights, no bridge, no tunnel. Come on, Portland. Figure this one out before somebody gets killed here.

After a moderate uphill the last 1/2 mile was level and mostly downhill. After a couple false starts, I was able to improve my pace to a full run and finish strong. I crossed the finish line exactly 6 hours and 31 minutes after I started. Specifics of the run are below.

I could not have done this without my wife’s support. I could not have done this without such a beautiful trail right here in my backyard. In another post, I’ll detail how I dealt with the mental and emotional side of running these distances without company. Loneliness on the trail is very real. How you react to loneliness has a great effect on the success or failure of your run.

As accomplished as this milestone makes me feel, I recognize that it is simply another building block. Still, it feels pretty spectacular to call myself an ultra runner for the first time. Hopefully, on November 7, I’ll be able to call myself an ultra race finisher at the Silver Falls 50k.

Julie Smiling Half Marathon

Oh, Be Joyful!

I was speaking with a runner yesterday about a recent 10k race. After a difficult week emotionally and physically, she ran her fastest 10k ever. She started the race with the intention of accessing all of her pent up emotion and frustration and unleashing it on the course. But a funny thing happened.

She left the starting line at an aggressive pace. Her first two miles were flat and fast. She knew there was a tough hill at mile 3. The excitement of the race buoyed her until she reached that hill. She carried a full head of steam into the start of the hill, but it was unsustainable. Her run soon become a power hike, which became more of a brisk walk. It was during this stretch that she expected to fall back on her reserves of pent-up frustration to carry her through. But as she started to sink physically and emotionally, she didn’t focus on anger. She didn’t focus on the professional sleights of the previous week or her emotional suffering. She started to think of the support she had received.

Her friends and family were there for her during her most trying moments. Listening, helping, caring. During the difficult days leading up to the race, she wasn’t alone. And when the going got tough on race day, her mind drifted to those people who loved and supported her. That’s when the engine started to turn. She attacked the hill, roasted the downhill, and turned in the performance she’s so proud of today. Her son was waiting for her at the finish line. They shared a wonderful embrace while she was wiping away tears of joy.

Joy is a powerful tool in the runner’s arsenal. So much is made of the runner’s high, but I wonder how many runners truly understand the role that unbridled happiness can play. Whether you’re squeezing in a 5k on your lunch hour or working through a 20-mile training run on the weekend, you can put the power of joy to work for you. Everyone seems to have different ways of accessing and harnessing positive emotions, but here are some of the methods that have worked for me.

Visualization

This is something I started putting into practice while training for my first marathon. I didn’t even realize that it was a recognized tool at first. On my longest training runs, I would inevitably go to dark places emotionally. I would feel the grind of so many miles taking a toll on my legs and I would begin to wonder if it was all worth it. “All these weekend hours that I could be spending with family and friends. Or sleeping. If I was this dedicated to starting a business, I’d probably be a massive success by now.” Whenever these thoughts would start creeping in, it seemed to trigger an automatic response buried deep in my brain. I would picture myself in the home stretch of the marathon. Crossing the line with a smile on my face and having a medal draped over my head. These images in my mind were so powerful that I would sometimes feel emotional to the point of tears welling up in the corners of my eyes. Many times a smile would flash across my face and I had no power to stop it. When you’re at mile 14 out of 20 on a rainy Sunday morning while the rest of the world is just waking up or heading to brunch and you’re grinning uncontrollably like an idiot, you’re starting to understand the power of joy.

Mantras

In the past couple of years, I’ve become obsessed with reading books about running. It isn’t enough that I spend 30% of my waking life running. I have to spend an hour every night laying in bed reading about it as well. There are many common threads that seem to run through every running book, autobiographies in particular. But the thread that’s important to this conversation is mantras. This may seem like new age silliness to many people, but I can assure you that I am not a spiritual person and I have used a mantra with great success. Sometimes a mantra is a single word or short series of words that people will repeat internally. I’ve heard other people muttering mantras to themselves during races. However you choose to use them, mantras can help bring you back into the moment and elevate your mood. Scott Jurek’s powerful mantra is a great lesson for all of us: “This is what you came for.” We have chosen endurance running as our preferred sport, or hobby, or lifestyle. When the going gets tough, we have to remember who made that decision. Timothy Olson tends to focus on the here and now. Like many runners, he doesn’t stick to just one mantra, but he uses whatever mental tricks he has at hand to power through. One he has mentioned is from Thich Nhat Hanh which says, “I have arrived. I am home. In the here. In the now. I am solid. I am free. In the ultimate I dwell.” That’s way more than I’ll be able to pull out of my memory banks when I’m mentally exhausted during a race or long training run, but I like the premise.

Whether you’re owning your suffering like Jurek or living in the now like Olson, you can find joy in tough circumstances. Using a mantra to free your mind of negativity is a powerful tool in the runner’s arsenal.

Meditation

There are several preconceived notions to dispel for many people when they think of meditation. Most envision some sort of religious chanting monks clanging giant gongs or hippies handing out flowers at an airport. The truth is, while some forms of meditation do focus on spiritual awakening or enlightenment, meditation can help you clear your mind. You train your mind to focus more, which means you can begin to zero in on positive thoughts more frequently and hold onto them for longer periods of time. One variation of meditation that I utilize is called body scan. Body scan is about sitting still for a period of time and focusing on every part of your body. When nothing else is clouding your mind, you can truly feel what’s happening in every part of your body. And whether you like to visualize a ball of light traveling to injured areas or you prefer to “breathe into” a tight muscle group, body scanning can be an effective recovery tool. I won’t get into this too deeply. If you want more information, you can download an app like Calm or Headspace. You may not be meditating during a run (although I’m pretty sure there are people who could), but you can train your mind to release negative thoughts. Keeping negative thoughts at bay will free you up to focus on the positive.

And Yes, Runner’s High

Alright, alright. Yes, I’ve experienced it many times. I have felt the endorphin rush, speed burst, energy spike throughout my running life. I would caution you about relying too heavily on such a thing. I experience it less and less these days. It’s also woefully unpredictable. You cannot count on it to pop up when you need it most. While you may burst into song or smile like the Joker for a quarter mile, runner’s high is neither dependable nor long-lasting. For best results, look elsewhere.

At 4am on the morning of the San Francisco Marathon last month, my wife asked me if I was still happy I signed up or this race. “I get to run through the streets of San Francisco for the next 4 hours. How could I not be happy?” Sadly, there are many people who will never know the joy of running. They either decline physical exercise in general, have other priorities, or are physically unable to run. When I think about those people, I appreciate every run that much more.

Do I suffer at times? Absolutely. Can even the shortest run feel like an eternity from time to time? Sure. But I choose to suffer joyfully. I have the ability to run, the perseverance to overcome difficulties, and the determination to finish each race with whatever strength I have left. That gives me pride, confidence, and perhaps most importantly, joy.

SF Marathon Medal

2015 San Francisco Marathon Race Report

When you first start running, you tend to think small. Maybe running around the block is your goal. Perhaps running an entire mile without stopping to walk. Eventually, you start to think a little bigger. Maybe you train for that first 5k. Maybe a 10k. And for some people, that is enough. But there are those ambitious enough to start eyeing a half marathon. And if that goes well, the possibility of a full marathon comes into view. At some point, you get comfortable on long runs. You find a rhythm and pace that feels like cruising and you realize that distance is no longer the challenge. Your new enemy is time. There are so many great races out there; so many incredible places to see. Deciding on a race can be overwhelming. But there are those destinations that make the decision easier. Places so spectacular to visit that they top the list of any vacation plans, let alone a destination marathon. San Francisco easily fits that mold.

My personal relationship with running can likely be characterized as obsessive. Nothing clears my head at the end of a workday like a hilly 10k. No weekend is complete without at least a half marathon training run. If I’m exploring a new trail, cruising along a river, or tackling technical trail to find an expansive mountain view, even better. But when injuries crop up that prevent me from running, I’m nothing short of distraught. I feel aimless. I get cranky. That’s the position I found myself in two short weeks ago.

I stepped off a bar stool and my right leg locked up at the knee. The pain was excruciating. I could barely ride my bicycle home that evening. Six months ago, I had put the San Francisco Marathon on my calendar. Now it was 9 days away and I could barely walk. I was fortunate to get an appointment with my physical therapist, who rubbed, massaged, poked, prodded and beat on my leg until I was able to perform various exercises satisfactorily. I felt mildly better after the appointment and improved greatly over the following days. Once I had my confidence back, I was able to continue with my taper week running, although I missed out on an 8-miler that would have been my last somewhat long fitness run before the race. I asked my PT for a couple sentences on just what in the heck happened to me.

Your tibia/fibula joint was “jammed”, likely due to a mild strength imbalance in your hip extensors. The speed work increased the demand on these muscles and the stability of the joint causing it to get “sticky” and when you put your foot down quickly, the joint stuck, or jammed, and as a result, you also got a muscle spasm of the popliteus/plantaris, the muscles that unlock the knee from extension. When you increase the output demands on your body, the mildest imbalances can get highlighted and cause “alignment” issues.

Right. So that hurts about as badly as it sounds. On the bright side, by the time the race rolled around, I had no lingering effects and I was excited to get out there and set a new marathon record for myself. Even though San Francisco features double the elevation gain of the Portland Marathon, I am a much stronger runner than I was ten months ago for my first marathon. I felt that I had every reason to be optimistic.

My wife and I arrived in San Francisco Saturday, one day before the race. We headed to the expo to pick up my race bib and various other swag. We got settled into our SoMa AirBnB and went out to The Flying Pig for dinner. If you happen to be gluten intolerant, you should seek this gem out for everything from breakfast to late night fare. The food was fantastic. Because my wave 3 start would leave the starting line at 5:42am, we decided to turn in early. Unfortunately, our home for the night turned out to be a door-slamming factory of some type. I estimate that I slept less than an hour all night. On the bright side, I didn’t need my alarm because I was already awake.

We ordered an Uber and rode to the starting line for a few quick photos before I headed to my corral. The weather was very mild and the temperature was comfortable in the low 60s. There was some issue with the audio technology and nobody could hear the emcee barking out instructions near the starting line. Before we knew it, our wave was being shuffled to the front. A quick countdown and we were off. We left the starting line right on time, while it was still dark outside.

SF Marathon Phil Krooswyk

I was a little disappointed at mile 1 that the darkness and fog prevented a view of Coit Tower. I didn’t dwell on it too much, as I knew there would be many landmarks still to come. I made quick work of the first 2.5 miles, passing Fisherman’s Wharf, Fort Mason and the first aid station at a 7’28” pace. Unfortunately, my smartphone GPS had failed me. I had no idea how fast I was going. My goal pace was in the neighborhood of 9’40” per mile. According to my Nike+ feedback, I was hovering close to 9’30” per mile and I was feeling confident. Soon, I found myself buzzing through Crissy Field on the way to the first real climb of the day. A guy behind me tripped and fell flat out. Fortunately, he had a handheld bottle and he slid on that for a few feet, dragging his legs behind him. He quickly gathered himself up and moved on. Close call.

SF Marathon Golden Gate Phil Krooswyk

From the Presidio, I passed through mile 5 and up to the Golden Gate Bridge. The sun was up now, but the fog showed no signs of lifting. The bridge looked like a haunting goliath waiting to destroy my pace, but up I went. The elevation gain here wasn’t as bad as I thought. I pulled out my GoPro and shot several videos while crossing over the bridge. I was happy to see that Alcatraz was in plan view from the bridge. Once across, I hit the aid station for a package of Gu Chomps and hustled back out to recross the bridge. While crossing the bridge for the second time, I heard my GPS announce that I was at mile 9.75. This was curious, because I was staring at the Mile 9 course marker. I knew my GPS was way off now, but it seemed to be swinging wildly from underestimating my distance to overestimating it. I had no idea what my actual pace was. I started listening for my total time and measuring that against the miles I had already covered. I’m not great at math in my head. Particularly when hurtling through San Francisco at breakneck speed trying to avoid other runners and stay vertical on wet pavement and metal beams that hold the bridge together. By mile 11, I figured out that I must be under 8’30” per mile. I started to relax a little bit on the hills.

SF Marathon Phil Krooswyk Park

Between miles 10-13, the course featured a great deal of vertical climb heading into Golden Gate Park. My wife had planned to meet me at the halfway point, but because my pace was so far ahead of expectations, I got there before her Uber arrived. She called me and we agreed to meet up at mile 16. I continued on my way through the park. I was excited to see the bison paddock and was still feeling strong around mile 15. That’s when I noticed a curiously familiar pain building up in my right leg. My tibia injury was back. At first I jostled the leg while running, hoping to just pop it loose. By the time I reached my wife, I was in agony. There would be no quick fix on this run.

All this time, I had been carrying a whole lot of gear. I had a portable charger for my phone. My phone battery had barely survived the previous marathon and I didn’t want to take any chances. I removed that and handed it to my wife. I also unloaded the GoPro. I wasn’t in any mood to shoot additional video. Finally, I got rid of my sunglasses. Had I taken any time to view a weather report before the race, I never would have taken them along. Down to only the essentials, I hobbled toward the last ten miles of the race.

By mile 17, my pace had risen to 9’09” per mile. I didn’t know it at the time. All I knew was that each step was proving very painful. I was also hungry. I can only eat so many Gu gels. My wife had offered me a Picky Bar, but I was craving real food. Bacon and eggs. Maybe some pancakes. Something. I entered Haight-Ashbury during the breakfast hour and the smells caused my stomach to rumble. I swallowed another Gu gel and did the best I could to ignore the aromas.

SF Marathon Phil Krooswyk Haight Ashbury

From here on in, I walked the aid stations and alternated between water and electrolyte drinks. I was surprised by how much of the second half of the course was uphill. I knew that miles 15 through 17 were tough, but 18 through 20 didn’t seem any easier. Frustrated and in pain, my pace continued to rise. By mile 23.5, my pace was up to 9’32” per mile. I actually stopped at one point to eat a gel and rest my leg, but the pain became worse. I tried to walk for a stretch. The pain decreased at first, then increased. As painful as it was to run, it was the only way to consistently keep the pain down. Somewhere near the end of mile 24, a man held out a tray of watermelon. I scooped up a block of it and hungrily destroyed it. It was the coldest, most delicious thing I could imagine at that moment. Only one aid station had cold beverages, and that was very early on. I had run out of water in my handheld bottle around mile 20. There were plenty of aid stations, but I was still running low on fluids. I don’t know that I was ever in danger of overheating, but I tend to be wary of that sort of thing.

One thing that made this race even more difficult was a lack of mile markers. After mile 19, I didn’t see a single marker. With my GPS acting screwy and no idea of my actual pace, I became totally frustrated. During long races and big efforts, it’s easy to go to dark places mentally. Every race is an opportunity to practice your response to these dark places. I had shared my Nike+ run on Facebook and I was receiving cheers every time someone liked my post or commented on it. I was glad I shared. Some of those cheers were the reminders that snapped me back to reality. I told myself to live in the moment, take one step at a time, and just get this done.

Finally, at mile 25, I arrived at AT&T Ballpark. I had run here one time previously when I visited San Francisco in 2014. The familiarity of it was encouraging and I felt a bit of confidence for the first time in many miles. Maybe I was delirious from pain and lack of nutrients. It didn’t matter. I perked up a little and would run from here on in. No more walking. Perhaps it was hobbling. Or stumbling. It didn’t matter. Running is moving forward. Good enough.

SF Marathon Phil Krooswyk ATandT Park

Just past the aid station at mile 25.5, a man behind me tripped and fell. I stopped at first to help him up. I saw his head raise and then slowly drop back down. It was immediately apparent that he was unconscious. Several other runners and spectators were already surrounding him screaming for a doctor and running toward the aid station for help. Realizing there was nothing I could do, I moved on. It’s a frightening thing to see. I had seen this twice in the Portland Marathon as well. People falling and knocking themselves out. Just three days before the race, a friend bragged to me that she thought she could finish a marathon, no problem. She isn’t a runner, but she claims to be in decent shape and doesn’t see what the big deal is. I immediately thought of her when I saw this man fall. He was in great shape. But things go wrong. Maybe his nutrition was off. Maybe he was dehydrated. Maybe he did everything right, but just happened to catch his toe on a manhole cover. Whatever the issue, marathons are not to be taken lightly. Don’t ever let anybody tell you otherwise. Marathons are a test of will. They push you further than you ever thought you could go and they will destroy you if you don’t respect them. I encourage everyone to try one someday, but prepare yourself physically and mentally for one of the toughest challenges of your life. Pulling myself back together, I turned for home.

SF Marathon Phil Krooswyk Home Stretch

As I passed under the Bay Bridge, I finally saw the finish line. I could have cried. I was passed frequently in the final quarter mile by runners who saved something for that last home stretch. Unfortunately, I had nothing left. I just kept my pace and crossed the line safely, happy to be done. I shut off my GPS and headed back to the AirBnB. We had to check out in an hour. Later on, I checked my official time on the marathon website. I finished in 4 hours and 15 minutes with a pace of 9’46” per mile, 4 minutes slower than my Portland Marathon time.

SF Marathon PK Finish Line

I was so depressed with my leg situation and my finish time, that I didn’t even take the time to enjoy finishing the marathon. It wasn’t until several days later that I started to appreciate the effort. My wife and I spent a couple days recuperating in Napa. I found a hot tub at the hotel and in less than 10 minutes, my leg pain disappeared. Apparently, bubbles are the key. Either way, I will be seeing my PT again very soon.

Now, I set my sights on the Chicago Marathon in October. Chicago has virtually no elevation change. And I have plenty of time to heal before then. I suppose I better get to it. I really want that marathon personal best. Training begins now.

Enjoy some of the GoPro video and sights from the marathon in the video below.

Chicken Feed Hood River

Trail Running East Fork Hood River #650

My wife and I recently took our first trip to Hood River, Oregon. The reason for the trip was two-fold: run a trail together and tour Hood River’s breweries. Mission accomplished on both fronts.

We left early on a Saturday morning in the first week of June and headed for the Polallie Trailhead. This was a quick, 80-minute drive from Portland. The trailhead does require a Northwest Forest Pass. Ours had just expired, but we lucked out because apparently this was a no-fee day. There is a ranger station down Highway 35 where you can scoop up a pass, so be sure you’re up-to-date before you arrive at this trailhead.

We headed across the street to the actual trailhead and started uphill. We were aware of a certain amount of elevation change, but the first mile alone included a startling amount of elevation. We quickly switched to hiking mode on uphills to save our energy. It was a very hot day and we didn’t want to overdo it. To add a bit of interest to our run, we decided to visit Tamawanas Falls. This added a couple of miles to the run, but was well worth it. The trail in and out from Tamawanas Falls is generally wide and easy to run. Most of it is single- or double-track dirt, with just a few areas of technical, rocky terrain.

Away from the falls, the trail was single-track dirt and gentle, undulating hills. For beginners or professionals, this is a fun, relatively easy trail. The elevation gain wound up being a surprise, but didn’t cause any great difficulty. Our goal for the day was 10 miles total, so when we were satisfied that we had gone far enough, we took a side trail to the river for a quick bite to eat while enjoying the lazy river flowing in front of us.

After closing out the remaining 5 miles of our out and back run, we headed for Parkdale, Oregon. We wound up hitting Solera Brewing, with it’s spectacular beer garden view of Mount Hood. After a quick beverage, we went to Apple Valley BBQ for a very hearty lunch. From there, we headed for our AirBnB, which happened to be on an amazing little farm, where the owner let us hang out and feed all the animals. Beyond that, we headed for downtown Hood River and wandered from coffee shop to brewery to shops to restaurants. We spent a fair amount of Sunday copying our routine from Saturday, including a stop on the Washington side of the Columbia River at Everybody’s Brewing. Again, this is a stellar place for a beer and some food with a spectacular Mount Hood view from the patio. I highly recommend the quick trip to White Salmon, Washington for this brewery.

This was a terrific two-day trip that could easily have been a single-day running adventure. But if you’re going to drive to Hood River for a trail run, do yourself a favor and spend some time in this lovely city. It’s worth your time. See the video below for some shots of the trail and the farm.

Powell Butte Trail Run

Trail Running Powell Butte

It’s no secret that the Pacific Northwest is a trail runner’s paradise. From mountains to rivers to the coast, there are innumerable routes to choose from. Portland, in particular, is home to many terrific running trails. On this occasion, my friend Grant and I headed to far southeast Portland to explore Powell Butte.

This is a beautiful nature area featuring hills, forest, rivers and small waterfalls. There are several criss-crossing trails so you can run here over and over and never get bored. There is varying terrain as well. We experienced everything from asphalt to dirt single-track to gravel roads to rock paths. When we arrived, we found a fair amount of the park closed off because of a new water line project that is underway, but there was still plenty of trail to explore.

There is a large parking lot and restrooms at the trailhead. From there, have a quick look at the trail map and choose your adventure. The hilltop has no trees, so it gets warm quickly on a hot day, but the views are spectacular, all the way to Mount Hood and into the Columbia River Gorge. In fact, we were fortunate enough to see Air Force One descending through the Gorge on the way to PDX.

Powell Butte Trail Run Map

On this day, we ran a little more than 5.5 miles and mostly explored the outskirts of the park. On future visits, I’m sure I’ll explore many more trails. Considering the park’s close proximity to downtown Portland, this is a quick trip for any Portlander or visitor to the city. Have a look at the video below for a better look at some of what we experienced on our run.

River Running Eugene

Pacific Northwest Half Marathon 2015 Race Report

While my physical therapy is going really well and I’m getting stronger all the time, I still lost too much training time to make an attempt at the full marathon in May, as I had previously planned. This was meant to be my “A” race this year, but the race organizer was very cool to allow me to switch to the half marathon when I realized a full marathon was out of the question. I was excited to check out this race for a number of reasons.

First, this would be my first trip to Eugene. All I ever associated with Eugene was the University of Oregon and a burgeoning craft brewery scene. Both of which turned out to be amazing. If you get the chance to visit the sports complex, take advantage of it. That football stadium, in particular, is something else.

Second, this was the inaugural running of this race. I don’t make a habit of seeking out the newest races, but reading how this would be “flat and fast” by design was enticing. I say this pretty often, but running a race in order to tour a new city is always appealing to me. This was a nice opportunity to tour a new place at a comfortable pace and still score a PR.

Finally, my wife had signed up for the half marathon. This was to be her first half marathon and I was psyched to see her accomplish her goal. At first, I was disappointed to give up my full marathon hopes. When I realized that I would get to pace my wife, I perked right back up. Watching her achieve her goal would be just as rewarding and I always enjoy running with her.

We rented an AirBnB about two miles from the starting line. There was ample parking near the race. We joined everyone else in the empty first floor of a newly-constructed building to stay warm. The call eventually came to form up on the starting line, final instructions were read, and we were turned loose.

Throughout the race, the instructions were all very clear. Cones, sidewalk chalk, volunteers and warning tape were placed well and liberally to ensure nobody got lost. There were several quality aid stations to take care of everyone. One station in particular was stocked with more energy gels than I’ve ever seen before. We topped off our energy with bananas, water, and sports drinks throughout the race.

There had been some route changes in the weeks before the race. We thought we’d get to run along the rivers more often, but it turns out we only had about 1/2 mile of riverside running in the entire race. That was too bad, but it was still a beautiful, sunny day and the flat nature of the race made for an enjoyable cruise through several neighborhoods.

My wife and I had decided that 2 hours and 30 minutes would be a good goal for our race. My wife is the most consistent runner I’ve ever seen. It’s like she has an internal clock that she runs to. I’ve never been a super consistent runner when it comes to pace, but she was incredible even at total exhaustion. In the end, we wound up finishing in 2:20:52 at a 10’31” per mile pace. We were both thrilled with the result.

Finish Line Pacific Northwest Marathon

I was very impressed with my wife’s resolve throughout the race, but particularly at the end. The last three miles, she couldn’t eat any food and was struggling to keep it together. She never walked and we finished at a strong run, hand-in-hand, and smiling. The crowd at the finish line was tremendous. I have never heard more cheering at the finish of a race. I don’t know if it was the home stretch between rows of tall buildings that allowed the noise to echo or if this crowd was particularly vociferous, but it was a very uplifting feeling. After finishing the race, we filled up on finish line food and enjoyed some post-race treatment from the readily available massage therapists.

After the race, we spent a fair amount of time brewery-crawling and exploring. We brought home a whole mess of beer and cider from the Bier Stein and devoured their nachos, pretzels, beer cheese soup and more. This was a great place to celebrate a successful effort.

Bier Stein Pretzels

In the end, I highly recommend this race. The race shirts and medals were well-designed and while it was obviously a small organization in charge of the race, they gave it a personal feel and worked very hard to make it a success. If you’re looking for an Oregon race that also happens to be a Boston qualifier, you’d be hard-pressed to choose a better race than the Pacific Northwest Marathon.

Jackson Square

Running the Big Easy

I recently had the opportunity to visit New Orleans with a group of friends from back home in Chicago. My physical therapy has been paying dividends and I’m back to putting in decent mileage and comfortable speeds without too much worry about my ankle. I have been to New Orleans before, but I had never run there. I was excited to see the riverfront and explore a little bit.

My wonderful triathlete friend Jen joined me for the first run on the morning of our second day. I love running with a companion and we enjoyed a comfortable conversational pace. It’s always a strange feeling waking up and cruising party central so early in the day. The bizarre combination of smells struck me as the ghosts of the night before. Some good, some bad, some horrible.

We started running as we passed Bourbon Street, heading for the Mississippi River. Almost immediately, I stepped into a crater on the sidewalk and twisted my ankle. I managed to stay upright and was shocked to find no residual pain or weakness. This physical therapy stuff really works! We continued all the way to the riverfront. There was a small wall lining train tracks. If you are in this area, be extremely careful. It is difficult to see the trains coming until you look around the wall.

We crossedNOLA Run to the levy and started on the path. The riverfront path is busy. Like, always busy. Between walkers, runners, cyclists, homeless wanderers, and oblivious tourists taking selfies, awareness is critical. The path is made of mostly slate tiles, so running can be a bit treacherous here as throughout the city. If you try to run on roads, you’ll find many potholes. Some of the streets alternate asphalt and old brick. The sidewalks are all tiles, many of which are broken. I found it best to take my runs slowly, enjoy the scenery, and soak in the city.

The riverfront path is quite short. I am not even sure it was a full mile. We wound up circling from the end of the path, back to the aquarium area, and back several times. The breeze off the river was wonderful and it was fun to see so much maritime activity so early in the day. At some point, a very long freight train pulled through the area and blocked our access back to the city. We simply continued to run until it was clear.

Getting back to the hotel was a bit of a chore because of the hoards of beignet-devouring tourists waiting to get to the riverfront in the other direction. We jogged through Jackson Square and snapped a couple photos before winding through a few more blocks home.

NOLA Run 2On our last day in New Orleans, I went out early in the morning for a solo run. I pretty much followed the original path to begin and started cruising down the riverfront path once again. A disheveled-looking man and woman were sitting on a bench as I passed by. The woman croaked at me, “Hey man, you can’t run away from all your problems!” I quickly responded, “How do you know? Have you ever tried?” We all laughed and I continued on my way. This was typical of New Orleans on both of my visits. Everyone I met was really friendly and outgoing.

I thought I would extend my run a little bit, but wound up getting lost somewhere near a casino. I accelerated my pace because time was getting tight and I was concerned about getting to the airport on time. With a little GPS help, I found my way back and everything worked out fine.

Though I don’t find New Orleans the best city for a run, it was relaxing enough. It was strange to run on flat land again after so much time spent in the Pacific Northwest. I am curious about outlying areas. I never did locate any off-road trails or parks to run in. I’m sure we’ll go back soon and I look forward to exploring a bit more. Any suggestions on where to run are certainly welcome.