Trail junkie for Hoka One One; 2014 U.S. 50k Trail Champion; Physical Therapist, Mammoth Performance Lab Director; Coffee addict; Powered SRA Elite and GU; My wife and I have an open relationship with running…
Let me start with an enormous THANK YOU to EVERYONE, stateside and in Europe, that sent me well wishes and positive energy before, during, and after the race. Being part of this loving community is so much more important than the trivial finish time or place attached to ones name. So thank you from the bottom of my heart!
As I finish my second year of ultra running it has been neat to reflect on many lessons pulled from the inevitable highs and lows that come with this sport. Here is a link to the UTMB recap podcast just published with Eric over at Ultrarunnerpodcast.com. Not sure I’ll ever get around to actually writing a report so if interested, open up your ears and let me into your brain!
Finish but not finished: Photo Credit Maggie Zhang
Tim Tollefson chose UTMB as his first hundred mile attempt. Set on a giant international stage in the French Alps, UTMB is arguably the biggest trail ultramarathon in the world, and it’s at this race that Tim executed a well-paced run that landed him on the podium.
Course scouting the week before in Italy: Photo credit Fernando De Samaniego Steta
The race went out as expected with Nike teammate Zach Miller setting a blazing pace and European elites giving chase. Back in the pack, Tim Tollefson held strong, running calm and controlling his emotions until the right time to strike. You’ll have to listen to the interview to hear how it all went down in the last 50 kilometers.
Will run 105 miles for Peanut M&M’s: Photo credit Vincent Lyky-Jogging
In the interview, Tim also discusses how and why he chose UTMB for his first hundred, his specific training going into it (downhill repeats!), and his strategy to stay calm amidst all that goes on at a race of this size. He also talks about his plans for the future, and how he expects to stay competitive for many years.
[Reproduced from an interview with my alma mater, Chico State. Thanks, Nick!]
Tim Tollefson chatted with a hiker on a bus bound for the John Muir Trail early one morning this summer. The man planned to make the 28-mile journey from Tuolumne Meadows to Agnew Meadows in three days. His eyes widened when Tollefson said the route would take him about four hours.
These days, Tollefson is used to that kind of reaction.
“I get a lot of blank stares, open mouths and people asking ‘Are you crazy?’ ” Tollefson said. “And it is crazy. It just happens to be a crazy that fuels my passion.”
A former steeplechase and cross country star at Chico State, Tollefson discovered a passion, and talent, for running ultramarathons. Ultramarathons are any foot race longer than the traditional marathon (26.2 miles).
Tollefson was the 2014 USA 50-kilometer Trail National Champion and took second at one of the most unique and prestigious ultras in the world – the 2015 Courmayeur Champex Chamonix, a 101k race stretching from Italy to France. He’s also signed on as a Nike-sponsored athlete as a result of his running achievements.
This isn’t something Tollefson jumped into overnight. He’s risen through the distance ranks, spanning half marathons and marathons, 8ks and 10ks in college and three-mile courses in high school. Along the way, he’s had his fair share of trials and tribulations within the sport.
Before any of that, Tollefson just wanted to stay in shape for soccer.
Career as a ‘Cat
Tollefson wasn’t recruited by Chico State, partly because he only ran one season of cross country at Rocklin High School. He ran in middle school to stay in shape, but dropped the sport in high school to focus on soccer. At one point, though, Tollefson’s running ability surpassed his pure soccer skills. He had to be persuaded to run cross country during his senior season. He didn’t know it at the time, but that is where Tollefson’s journey to the upper-echelons of the world of ultramarathons began.
Tollefson’s year of high school running wasn’t exactly imbedded with awards and accomplishments. He didn’t qualify for the state meet, and he wasn’t recruited by any college. He had potential as a runner, though, and his high school coaches convinced Chico State Head Coach Gary Towne that with an opportunity and training, Tollefson could make an impact on Chico State’s distance program.
Towne let him walk onto the team in 2003, but he had to hit the ground running – literally. His weekly mileage bumped from 35 in high school to almost 90 at the collegiate level.
“His first year here, there weren’t a lot of shining moments as far as performances,” Towne said. “But he had a couple that gave me hope that he could be a competitive runner at this level.”
Slowly, Tollefson began to feel like he belonged. He handled his workload as a college runner, and positive results soon followed.
In track and field, Tollefson was introduced to the steeplechase. Towne saw him as a natural hurdler and knew enough about his running ability to give Tollefson a shot. It led to Tollefson’s first breakthrough in college, a 9:09 steeplechase performance.
“It became the focus for me athletically,” Tollefson said. “Along with that came more success. That makes things more enjoyable.”
Tollefson won the California Collegiate Athletic Association steeplechase championship in 2007. He became a three-time NCAA Championship qualifier in the steeplechase and a two-time NCAA Championship finalist. He found success in cross country, too, taking third in the 2007 NCAA Western Regional. Despite his pedigree in the steeplechase, Towne views that as Tollefson’s defining moment.
“When you reflect on it, this kid barely made our team,” Towne said. “Now he’s third overall in the West Region. There’s a lot of performances that were up there, but that regional race stands out quite a bit.”
Chasing the marathon
Accolades aside, both Towne and Tollefson felt there was unfinished business by the time he wrapped up his senior year. Tollefson fell one spot short of All-America status three times in his career, and that left a bad taste in his mouth. Tollefson wanted to continue working, and it was Towne who encouraged him to make qualifying for the Olympic Marathon Trials his next goal.
“He had such a limited background when he got here. He was really just starting to find himself as a runner,” Towne said. “He knew and I knew that he had it in him to run at that level.”
The training wasn’t a huge change for Tollefson, who credits Towne and the Chico State program for preparing its athletes to make a transition to running outside of college.
Tollefson’s biggest challenge was readying himself for the toll marathon running demands.
“I had to harden my body and mind,” Tollefson said. “It takes a lot emotionally and physically out of you.”
Tollefson qualified for the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials, finishing just under the 2 hour, 19 minute standard. The next year, however, the Olympic qualifying mark was lowered to 2:18:00. It created a new challenge for Tollefson, who had just snuck under the previous standard with a personal best 2:18:26. Even when he felt fully prepared as an athlete, variables like weather conditions and varying competition levels got in his way.
“It’s a huge challenge chasing a marathon. It’s not an event where you can restructure your focus and do another one the following week,” Tollefson said. “It’s something that you don’t take for granted. You don’t know when you might get another opportunity, so when it goes well, it’s something you really cherish.”
In December 2013, Tollefson missed the qualifying mark by 30 seconds. The next spring, he went to work preparing for another shot at the standard in June. He missed it by a minute.
Tollefson hit a breaking point. He was frustrated by his marathon performances, and felt like he needed to take a step back from it all. He decided he would revisit the marathon later, and instead took the opportunity to explore the hundreds of miles of trails that surround his home in Mammoth Lakes.
As focused as he was on marathon training, Tollefson had never taken the time to explore. When he finally did, it opened a new avenue in the sport for him.
Hitting the Trails
The first logical question to ask Tollefson, as least in this writer’s head, was: how do you wrap your head around running so many miles at once?
Photo credit: Peter Morning
“You have to be a little insane,” Tollefson said. “But I tell people it’s all about the preparation. If you’re doing what’s necessary to prepare the body and mind, then the hardest thing is mentally accepting that the body can do this.”
Tollefson ran his first ultramarathon in September of 2014 at the USA Track and Field 50k Trail Championships in Bend, Ore. Prior to the race, he focused his training on overcoming the drastic changes in elevation. He would find the mileage wasn’t much farther than the marathons he was used to, but Tollefson’s first ultra featured single track trails and 4,000 feet of climbing. He needed to prepare accordingly.
Tollefson won the championship in record time, finishing in 3:24:24, three minutes ahead of the previous course record.
“It was like running a cross country race that never ended,” Tollefson said. “We were hammering corners, up and down. It was pretty enjoyable.”
Nike took notice of Tollefson’s successful debut and quickly signed him to the Nike Trail team. After years of running on his own with little outside assistance, Tollefson was back to something he truly enjoys: being part of a team.
“It’s a huge achievement and I’m very grateful,” Tollefson said. “That’s always been a dream of mine.”
Ultramarathons aren’t all fun and games. Tollefson learned that the hard way. After stepping up in distance and taking eighth place at the North Face 50-miler in Marin, Tollefson was humbled in his second 50-miler ever. Twenty-two miles into the race, Tollefson was ready to give up. He had hit a wall, and he could already start to feel himself physically shut down.
He found a way to stay in the race for the final 28 miles, and after a little under seven hours of running, Tollefson finished seventh. For him, the key was continuing to push mentally and reminding himself the pain is only temporary.
“The pain of quitting lasts so much longer than the physical pain you have after a race,” Tollefson said. “Pulling the plug and giving up is something that haunts you.”
Performances like that give Tollefson motivation to make it through dark patches in races, where mental demons can get the best of runners. He understands he’ll hit lows spots mentally. Having something positive to focus on during ultras helps him survive the waves of a race.
This September, Tollefson took on the Courmayeur Champex Chamonix, a 101-kilometer trek through Italy, Switzerland and France that includes five major mountain passes and over 20,000 feet of climbing. At just under 63 miles, this marked his first attempt at anything over 50, but the competitor in Tollefson was pushing for a win.
After 12 hours of running, Tollefson crossed the finish line in second place. It felt like a win. An hour and a half after the race, Tollefson couldn’t get up and down stairs. But at the race’s finish, even after all of those grueling miles, an adrenaline-filled Tollefson bounced up and down in pure excitement, waving and blowing kisses to the crowd that lined the streets.
“It still kind of gives me chills,” he said. “It’s a very emotional and raw experience, and it’s hard to describe without actually going through it. I didn’t win, but in a lot of ways it feels like a victory.”
Marking his Miles
Growing up in the Sacramento Valley, Tollefson was well aware of the Western States Endurance Run, a 100-mile trail race from Squaw Valley to Auburn. Back then, he couldn’t understand why people would want to run 100
Lindsay winning the 2010 Long Beach International Marathon: Photo Credit LBI
miles. He never imagined he’d be the runner tackling those kinds of distance races. But here he is.
Tollefson will be the first to say he’s taken an interesting path. For a college walk-on to scale mountains in Europe with the fastest ultramarathoners in the world has been quite a journey.
Of course, he’s had his fair share of challenges along the way. All-America status evaded him during his Wildcat career, and Tollefson spent years chasing a marathon standard that remained agonizingly just out of grasp.
Those struggles eventually gave way to some of the best moments of Tollefson’s career. He regards running his first NCAA qualifying time in the steeplechase at Chico State as one of the highlights. And he’ll never forget what he overcame to stand on the finish line in France.
Moving forward, Tollefson plans on taking another shot at the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials. He’s excited to get back into some 8k and 10k races, and he’d even like to get back into the steeplechase that started his success as a Wildcat. There’s a lot he still wants to do, and his coach at Chico State understands.
“That’s him in a nutshell,” Towne said. “He still has that fire in him to prove to others and prove to himself what he can do on the big stage.”
For now, Tollefson will keep running at home in Mammoth, where he works as a physical therapist and physiologist at the S.P.O.R.T Center and Performance Lab. The center specializes in outpatient orthopedics, treating a diverse population of athletes. Tollefson’s main clients in the performance lab are runners, cyclists and skiers.
Outside of work, Tollefson has endless trails to train on and the ideal running partner in wife Lindsay (Nelson) Tollefson, another Chico State product who took third place at this year’s USATF 50k Trail Championships. She also qualified for the 2016 Olympic Trials Marathon after reaching the standard in January 2014.
When it comes down to it, running ultramarathons fuels two of Tollefson’s greatest passions: spending time with his wife and exploring the majestic mountains he calls home. He wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Just being able to go out and get lost in some amazing wilderness is something that brings me great joy,” Tollefson said. “Having that opportunity every day, it seems unfair that I get to do this.”
Hi. My name is, Tim, and I like big mountains, sunsets, and running ridiculously long distances.
Just over a week ago I was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to France with many close friends to take on the CCC, a 101km sister race of the iconic Ultra-Trail du Mont Blonc.It would be my first attempt at anything over 50 miles and likely 5-6 hours longer than anything I’d ever done.
It would also be just 11 months since my first ultramarathon.And with the honeymoon phase about to end, I feared a possible post-nuptial shutoff in our blossoming relationship.
101km through Italy, Switzerland, and France, boasting 5 major mountain passes and over 20,000ft of climbing and equal amounts of descent.
Being my first 100k, just finishing was high on the list.
But, the competitor in me wanted to win.And my coach, Mario, and I were confident that my preparation in Mammoth over the summer had positioned me to do just that.
I arrived 2 days prior to the race and after a couple of shakeout runs, a photo shoot with B. Yang, press conference, extensive gear check, drug testing, product talk with Nike shoe designers, and enough French food, cheese, and croissants to send me into cardiac arrest, I was ready to detox and hibernate. I mean race.
Lunch with teammates atop La Flegere; 93k of the race.
I awoke to a text from Linds: “Remember the only thing I ask is to come back with a positive attitude and with all your limbs. Do your best and run smart. That wins races”
She still thinks this trail running business is dangerous.Like I might fall and need stitches or something…
The start line was electric.Hundreds of people lined the course as music roared and the Italian locals danced in the streets. I looked over at Zach and said, “Let’s run this like cross country. Every point matters.”
Kaaaaay go! Photo credit: UTMB
The pace early felt easy, as any ultra should. Despite the conservative approach, I found myself in 5th position, acting as the caboose to the Zach Miller train.
It was forecasted to be one of the hottest races to date and even with cool morning alpine air, I could feel the temperature rising. My MO was to drink and eat early and often.
On the first climb I decided check my ego and let a few guys nipping at my heals pass rather than raise my effort to match that of theirs.
This strategy meant I’d yoyo between 15-60 seconds from the lead group, gaining more on the flats and descents as I’d open up my stride and prime the descending legs.
Photo credit: Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc
The first summit came around 10k and my legs felt fresh and ready to roll.I reconnected with Miller and the others as we navigated a sharp serpentine stone laden descent that led into a few miles of rolling single track.
85km to go
I now really felt the heat and continued to drink more than I typically do.
I was in 3rd and tucked in behind Japanese athlete, Ruy Ueda. After nearly being trampled by a heard of cattle on the course, we began the climb to Grand col Ferret, the highest point of the race at 8,284ft.Midway up he stopped to let me pass and a few switchbacks later he was gone.Based on his labored breathing I figured he had finally redlined and blown a fuse.
Towards the top I spotted Miller maybe 2 minutes up and heard a roar as he crested. As I grew closer I spotted a grip of American fans including Brett and Larissa Rivers, DBo and Harmony, and Topher and Kim Gaylord.Their english cheers chilled my overheated body. I’m pretty sure Topher’s head exploded with the excitement of two Americans leading the race.I was tempted to rip down the other side in a fury but 9 hours of running still remained…
I was almost dry on fluids and Kim said the next station was about 4 miles downhill.
As the heat sunk in, I began to hike mellow hills and could tell my body was flirting with dehydration.Little muscle groups began to intermittently cramp and ease, something I’ve never experienced in training.
In the first major aid station, I refilled all my bottles, ate a few oranges, and race directors strapped my wrist with a GPS tracker.
So happy to find fluids.
I left feeling fair and began to run quickly along the easy gravel and dirt trail that covered the next several miles despite continued threats of muscle cramps.
Zach eventually came into view around mile 29 and after a low 6 minute mile I made contact and we ran into a small village together.
I had planned to meet up with our support crew here so foolishly I decided the skip the water fountain Zach had found in town.Turns out I was wrong.
The crew access wasn’t until 55k and a climb still lay between us and Champex Lac. I was now dry, the sun beat down hard, my quads, calves, and adductors were all cramped, and Zach motored up the trail alone.
As I painfully walked up the trail with no power in my step, the live TV crew conveniently latched on and documented my misery for several minutes.
I felt like a celebrity being hunted by the paparazzi after a juicy new scandal.Things were shitty, my body was shutting down, and I really wanted to be left alone in my despair.
When I finally stumbled into Champex I was at a low point mentally and wanted a reason to drop. Pat refilled all my bottles and food as I sat dazed and tried to eat a banana.
Trying to decide which of these was the banana… Photo credit: Billy Yang
I knew things were grim as I struggled to run the next couple of miles that were a mix of paved and smooth dirt descents.
Billy was along this section and yelled at me, “Remember Tollefson, this is an ultramarathon not a marathon. Just keep moving forward through all the shit!” I hated him for saying this but it became the only positive thought in my head.Just keep moving forward.
Entering the darkness despite plenty of light. Photo credit: Christophe Aubonnet
The next climb was rough. It kicked me in the balls.Really hard. Multiple
Every muscle in my legs continued to cramp.I completely drenched myself at each creek crossing and it wasn’t long before third place caught and passed me at mile 39. It was Nico Martin, a Frenchman, and he looked fantastic and nimbly bounded up the steep climb with the audible “click clack” of his poles striking rocks. A failed surged to stick with him lasted no more than 30 seconds before he was out of sight.
I finally reached a bit of reprieve in the trail and attempted to run the buffed out flat single track.My right calf cramped and I tumbled into a bush. I lay there for a bit, massaging the muscle until it finally eased.
I stood up, pissed blood, and turned to see 4th place not far behind. At that moment I hit an extreme emotional and physical low.My race was done.
Visions of falling out of top ten were vivid and I just wanted everything to end.It was decided that I would drink and eat everything in my pack over the next quarter mile and abandon in Trient, about 4 miles ahead.
I walked and jogged the rolling terrain and waited for 4th, and 5th, and 6th, and so on to catch me.But they never came.
Over the next hour my body began to rebound and I started to run the descent pretty well into Trient.I told myself, “just keep moving forward”.
I got in and out of the aid station quickly.An American spectator commented that I looked better than runners 1 and 2 and that reengaged me into race mode. I was determined to regain contact with the leaders.
Num num num. Photo credit: Billy Yang
With the cooling temps of evening setting in and more shade along the course, I could feel my stride strengthen with each step. My quads and calves continued to cramp on the uphills so I was cautious to not raise my effort too high, but, the flats and descents were getting easier.
At the top of the penultimate climb I could see Zach and Nico for the first time in hours and I was confident that I could close the gap.
25k to go
Entering the final crew access point in Vallorcine, I was just 2 minutes down from Nico with the hardest climb of the day left up to La Fregere.
A few switchbacks in I had regained contact with Nico and it was apparent that he was struggling by his staggered gait and heavy breathing. I surged ahead to ensure no counter attack would be made.
The climb had several painful false summits, a good mix of high and technical steps, and intermittent hand holds.Despite total body fatigue, I begun to enjoy the race again.A dozen or so horned ibex littered the trail and bound around effortlessly as if to mock my slow pace.
As I crested the summit of La Tete aux vents I was reminded of home.
11km to go
In my mind I was looking at the Minaret Range.
I have run up Mammoth Mountain to watch the sunset over the Minarets, and bombed my way down Dragons Back many times.Months of hardening my body to simulate this very moment.
As I watched the same sunset over Mont Blanc across the Chamonix valley, for the first time in hours, I felt nothing but joy.
I was confident that despite fatigued legs I could navigate the technical descent and hold onto second position, but, accepted that Zach was out of reach.
Donned with a headlamp I entered darkness and the final 2700ft drop from La Fregere.“Just stay on your feet”, I told myself as I navigated the root and rock laden trail.
Finally down, the turn onto the river path in Chamonix was magical.Fans lined the streets and patrons of the local restaurants and cafes gave cheers and a standing ovation.
After a few turns and hundreds of hi-fives, I stared at a finish line that I had given up hope of ever seeing between Champex Lac and Trient.Overcome with joy, I turned to thank the crowd before crossing the line and kissing the ground.
Although I didn’t come in first, in many ways it felt like a victory. Photo credit: @lepapeinfo
I think they designed Chamonix after Disneyland… Photo credit: Billy Yang
I have an incredible support system and couldn’t be more thankful to you all. Photo credit: @lepapeinfo
Enormous thanks to our crew boss Pat and film maker Billy, Nike Trail, SRA Elite, GU, and Ugo Bars for keeping me fueled, fitted, and motivated along the way. Huge congrats and thanks to Zach for running a hell of a race and leading the charge. Being able to share it with him made it that much more special.
Thank you to Catherine Poletti, Stephane, and the UTMB officials and volunteers for hosting this grand event and executing it seemingly flawlessly.
Thank you to Mario for prepping me to tackle everything the Alps threw at me. Except the heat 😉
Thanks to my Mom and Ron who travelled out in support, my teammates who make suffering that much more fun, the dozens of Americans that were running around the valley all week, and the many friends, family, and coworkers back home that were yelling at computer screens while at work.
Finally, thank you to Lindsay who juggled many fronts stateside to allow my trip to happen and still managed to take 3rd at the USATF 50k Trail Championships.I both love and am proud of you Linds!
A few months ago I had the idea of connecting two local breweries via the San Joaquin Ridge. No surprise that every runner this was mentioned to salivated with the idea of an excuse to drink beer and spend countless hours in the mountains.
Unfortunately, many of my local running friends also think it’s cool to run 100 milers and were either running, recovering from, or tapering for said events.
But there was one guy. Despite a personal best and near sub 20 hour finish 2 weeks ago at Western States, Jeff Kozak, needed a proper excuse to binge drink prior to a dinner party later in the evening with his Mrs.
We left Mammoth Saturday morning at 6:20am on the YARTS bus to June Lake. This trip cost us a steep $4 for the one way trip (30 miles) and we were dropped off at June Mountain Ski Area. It is about 1 mile back to June Lake Brewery and the trail head from that point.
This big blue drink of water has become my best friend.
With Jeff’s dinner plans later that evening our start was a bit early for a usual pub run. Since JLB was closed, this precluded us from starting with a few brewskis. This was also a beta collecting mission to refine the route for easier success for future group runs.
The start at Yost Trailhead, across the street from June Lake Fire Department; 7,774ft
The air was brisk as we hit the trailhead a little after 7am so we both decided to start with light wind shells. The initial 4 miles switchback up about 1700ft as we crossed over June Mountain Ski Area and approached Yost Meadow beneath the Negatives.
Switchbacking above Gull Lake and June.
June Mountain Ski Area crossing; 8,900ft
June Mountain Ski Area.
Yost Meadow; 9,272ft. Now came the decision of how to get on top of the Negatives.
From Yost Meadow/Trail there is no trail, as far as I know, to the top of the Negatives and the San Joaquin Ridge. Jeff and I decided to just pick a line and start to climb (our route was up the next couloir right of the picture shown)
Reprieve halfway up the scramble, as I kicked scree and talus towards, Jeff. June Mountain in the distance.
First contact with the ridge; 10,539ft
After a 1300ft scramble up 1/2 mile to the top of the ridge we paused for a few minutes to take in the picturesque views and pick our line to San Joaquin Mountain.
The wind was ripping and cold so we re-donned the jackets. Mt. Ritter and Banner Peak in the distance.
From initial contact with the ridge, only about 1.5 miles and 1,000ft of climbing were between us and San Joaquin Mountain. Although no real trail, route finding is incredibly easy and we traversed a mixture of pumice, talus, and scree. After the summit it was difficult to leave. Those views. Unreal.
Looking north from San Joaquin Mountain summit; 11,555ft. Mono Lake in the distance.
Looking west, Minarets, Mt. Ritter, Banner Peak, Garnet Lake and Middle Fork San Joaquin River drainage.
Looking south from the peak Mammoth Mountain is framed in by Two Teats.
Looking east, Glass Creek Meadow (headwaters of Owens River) and Obsidian Dome.
For those that know, Jeff, you can appreciate how much he loves to write.
They may need a new register…
Jeff’s commentary of my register entry: “These 100 mile runners are really $#@!in slow. Dips moo…”
Writing with frozen hands is a difficult task.
After we left San Joaquin Summit, all that lay between us and amazing beer and eats was 14 miles of singletrack trail.
Jeff in the foreground approaching Two Teats.
The ridge towards Mammoth Mountain.
(An older photo of Jimmy Elam running the same ridge)
Singletrack trail porn.
Contact with the jeep road that takes you to Minaret Summit.
The single track of San Joaquin Ridge eventually gave way to a jeep road for the final few miles to Minaret Summit. There, we picked up Mountain View Trail on the left and dropped for several miles through heavy forest to the Earthquake Fault. We stepped foot on pavement for the first time in 18 miles as we crossed the road and picked up Uptown Trail. The final two miles are pristine singletrack and terminate at The Village. Just 1/4 mile lay between us and a 3 hour beer garden hangout.
With the exception of the 2 mile cross country exploration between Yost Meadow and San Joaquin Mountain, this run has 20 miles of sweet singletrack, 5000ft ascent, 4500ft descent, one mountain summit of 11,555ft, and endless views of the Eastern Sierra. It could possibly be the greatest Pub Run in the country.
Logistically it can also be done during operational hours of both breweries as YARTS runs later in the day each way. Next round it’ll be required to have a round on each end.
Strava Data (actual run is 20 miles, I doubled back several times for Jeff)
A summer goal of mine has been to explore more of the Eastern Sierra that surrounds my home in Mammoth. With hundreds of miles of backcountry trail headed in every direction, sometimes it’s a struggle to decide which route to take. Not really the worst problem to have.
Cover the classic John Muir Trail between Tuolumne Meadows (Yosemite National Park) and Agnew Meadows, which is just 4 miles from Mammoth Mountains Main Lodge. A total of 26-28 miles with roughly 4100ft ascent/4500ft descent, the route climbs over two Sierra passes, has a maximal height of 11,056ft, and circumnavigates numerous high alpine lakes with unforgettable views. Typically it’s run south to north, with a finish in Tuolumne, but, I didn’t have all day to play in the Valley.
The route. Photo red: thebesthiking.com
I awoke at 5:45am and had my usual breakfast and coffee before a short walk to catch the YARTS bus (Yosemite Area Regional Transit Systems) about a half mile from my house. For just $9 you can take this charter bus from Mammoth Lakes to Tuolumne Meadows (48 miles) which includes your Yosemite Parks entry fee and a very scenic commute; around June and Silver Lake, through Lee Vining, up and over Tioga Pass and into Tuolumne Meadows.
On the ride over I chatted with another local headed to the Valley floor and a backpacker that planned to hike the same route I was about to run.
When I told him I was to run from Tuolumne to Agnew he curiously asked how long it would take.
“About 4 hours”, I replied.
“What?!” He responded with wide eyes. “I’m doing it in 3 days…”
I departed the bus and walked the half mile or so from Tuolumne’s General Store to the JMT trailhead at the back of Tuolumne Meadows Campground. As campers stirred and the smells of bacon and coffee drifted through the campground, I packed 1L of water, 3 Roctane Gels, and a Wanderlust UgoBar into my pack and I was ready to head home.
JMT Trailhead from Tuolumne Meadows Campground.
A recent series of thunderstorms had given way to a perfectly crisp alpine morning and I comfortably ran with a light jacket the first few miles. The trail parallels the river through Lyell Canyon on perfectly packed 12-18 inch wide single track evident of many years of foot travel throughout the Eastern Sierra. You quickly forget being in the high country as there is hardly a blip of elevation change throughout the meadow.
Lyell Canyon Meadow.
As I ran, a dozen or more deer glanced up and gave me the ocular pat-down before they returned to their breakfast. Several small groups of hikers headed both north and south along the trail, many looked worn down and ready for reprieve.
Halfway up the climb to Donohue Pass.
The first climb
Around 10 miles you begin the ascent from 9,000ft to over 11,000ft in less than 4 miles towards Donohue pass. The pass also marks the boundary between Yosemite National Park and the Ansel Adams Wilderness.
It doesn’t take long before power-hike mode kicks in. High steps line the granite staircase that lead upward towards the sky and the local marmot population begin to litter the trail with great frequency. This would be my slowest mile of the day.
The last alpine lake prior to Donohue Pass.
One of the final staircases towards the pass.
As I crested the pass there were more than two dozen backpackers congregated into small groups catching their breath. 24 hours ago, they would’ve served as lightning rods for a natural July 4th firework show.
Donahue Pass; 11,056ft.
Without a stop, I darted down the eastern slope as the hikers joked about how I needed more weight in my pack. The next 4 miles drop nearly 2,000ft over very rough, joint pounding granite steps before a reversal into the short and steep climb over Island Pass.
A wildflower meadow before Island Pass.
Thousand Island Lake
Thousand Island is an iconic backcountry location in the Eastern Sierra and you reach the eastern end of the lake around 19.5 miles. This is where the JMT and PCT split, and you choose your fate as to which descent you will take into Agnew Meadows.
Banner Peak and one of the half dozen log bridges traversed along this section of the JMT.
Banner Peak and the lower section of Thousand Island Lake.
I opted to stay south and continue on the JMT towards Garnet Lake. After a quick pass of Emerald Lake and switchbacks up and around Ruby Lake, you take a sharp and steep 1 mile rocky descent towards Garnet.
View from Garnet Lake towards the PCT across the valley.
As you cross the foot bridge along the eastern end of Garnet (about 21.6 miles in, and 3:19 into my run) I regretfully decided to branch off of the JMT and take a “new” trail that I had spotted. This use trail descends abruptly along loose talus as it directly parallels the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River. Probably used only by game and foolish runners/hikers like myself, my run soon turned into a bushwhacked and tree scramble festival.
However, no more than a mile later did I stumble upon 4 people stationary in an open meadow, phones in hand. I quickly noticed their running packs, moon-shoes, and knew they were of my own kind.
Turns out this group of 4 Santa Barbara Running Co. folks were quite lost and nearly 6 hours into their attempted run from Mammoth Pass to Silver Lake. They were very far from Silver Lake.
So I paired up with them, lead the final 4 miles out of the dense forest, back onto the JMT, around Shadow Lake, and into Agnew Meadows where the five of us caught the bus back up to Main Lodge and into Mammoth ($7; or you can run/hike the final 3 mile climb to Minaret Vista and be picked up there. Free shuttles run from Main Lodge throughout all of town) .
Made a few friends on the trail.
Bucket List Run
An absolute must for any runner on the Eastside interested in a long High Sierra run. The logistic ease of doing a point to point 45k run over mountainous backcountry terrain is next to none. But don’t be fooled, the mixture of high altitudes, steep climbs, and technical terrain make for a high difficulty overall.
That said, you will be hard pressed to find a more rewarding route.
Just a couple of dudes doing sports. Photo credit: Billy Yang.
Huge thank you to Tropical John, Lisa, Alex, HRC, our Nike Team, GU, UgoBars, SRA Elite, SFRC, Schranz, Billy Yang, iRunFar, the Flagstaff Lumbersexuals, Max, Jorge, Ethan, Ian, and the many volunteers and other competitors on the course. Once again the entire weekends experience was top notch!
M.H. Bread & Butter. Seriously legit.
An “Aha! Moment”
I’ve had the opportunity to hang around my fair share of finish lines over the years. But as I stood at the finish of Lake Sonoma 50 I connected in a different way then ever before. Perhaps this was because for the first time I too experienced mental defeat early on and had to find a deep intrinsic motivator to continue pressing forward.
As each runner crossed the line, there were so many different expressions displayed. Everything from joy and heartache, to strength and utter exhaustion, each runner seemed to be completing an internal battle that only they truly understood.
Personally, not replicating the gratifying success of my first 50 miler allowed me a much greater respect for what our sport and its’ athletes endure. I felt I had one of those, “I get it”, moments.
You can find something victorious in each finish despite your quantifiable time or place.
Just One Of Those Days
I had moderate expectations for Lake Sonoma 50. I knew I was fit, had a good nutritional plan, and wanted to run a very conservative race hoping to have a better second half, capitalizing on the carnage of a predictably hot early pace from the leaders. Check out Billy Yang’s teaser film here.
After a casual opening few miles with Max, Jorge and Gary Gellin, I began to fear we were in a for a long day. By mile 7 my legs felt flat and were already struggling to respond to the unrelenting rolling hills.
My good friend, teammate, and eventual victor, Alex Varner (and new CR holder!) told Lindsay and I on race morning that the Lake Sonoma 50 course is a “Death of 1,000 cuts”. No particularly large climbs or descents, but it covers the 10,500ft of ascents in constant little rollers that break you of your rhythm. And this mantra played through my mind about 1,000 times… My strava data And HUGE congrats to Ryan Bak for taking 2nd in his first ever 50! Really proud of you, Ryan.
I love this man! Epic run Alex.
Misery Loves Company
Jorge, Max and I all ran within 1-3 minutes of each other through 22 miles until Jorge began his eventual move up in the field and would end up 4th. Great work, mi amigo! Despite a conservative start, my legs were not having it on the day and I shifted out of race mode and into a mental survival state.
It was a very depressing place to find myself. Knowing there were 28 more miles and hours to be run, I looked for any and every excuse to drop out at the next aid station.
My right hip flexor had become irritated from the abusive ups and downs but I knew it was far from a true injurious state and I couldn’t use that as my reason.
Could I roll my ankle and start limping? Don’t be foolish.
Perhaps I could stop and wait for Lindsay to catch up and pace her into the finish? No.
After meeting Jarrett and our Nike crew at the mile 25 turn around, I decided to at least venture onward to Eric Schranz’s “Golden Shower” at mile 30 where I could likely get a beer and ride to the finish.
Golden shower for a couple of golden boys. Photo credit: URP
I was having a hell of a time running downhill the next few miles and walked a lot of the uphill. When Max regained contact I thankfully latched on and we meandered along together.
We exchanged leads half a dozen times over the next 15 miles, both taking turns conducting our derailed train up and down the roller coaster course. We were treated by many cheers for “Go Max!” and “Nice hair-fro!”. You can probably guess who the latter was for…
Photo Credit: Gary Wang
On one climb Max “accidentally” dropped his salt tablets and I dumbly stopped and picked them up for him. After struggling to stand up from cramped hamstrings, he jokingly said, “that was all part of my plan”. Rookie mistake, Tim…
We eventually caught up with Rob Krar who was walking his way towards the Mile 38 aid station and made sure he was doing okay. As we entered the next aid station I noticed Michael Aish had just been seated in a chair and looked pretty terrible. I grabbed a bean and cheese quesadilla, some more fluids and Max and I slowly departed on our final 12 mile journey.
Although we had both long shifted from race mode, it was still an enormous mental and physical battle to continue onward. The thought that the final 12 miles may take us 2 hours was really mind numbing.
After a few more miles of slogging along with one another I eventually pulled ahead a little. As I told Max, “I’m not trying to run away from you, I just need to keep moving or I’ll sit down and never finish”.
At the final out and back aid station I crossed paths with Seth Swanson for the first time and wanted to tell him, “Don’t worry, I’m not coming for you” but I figured he probably didn’t care at that point anyway.
Finishing this race was the biggest mental win I’ve had in running after 17 years in the sport.
Yes, physically I was tired. That is to be expected after running for nearly 7 hours. But, when mentally I was ready to give up at mile 22 yet kept moving forward, I will always cherish that.
Really happy to be done. Photo credit: iRunFar
I thought a lot about how people in the sport talk about these moments being pivotal in overall growth and learning. How you can find out things about your character, it can make you stronger long term and you can learn from these failures.
I also thought a lot about the other athletes on the course. After the turn around it was great passing the runners still heading out, especially Brian Tinder and his bare ass! “I was instructed to moon anyone that looked like a tennis ball”.
Their cheerful and congratulatory words kept me moving forward. I thought to myself, all of these athletes are going to finish, what give me the right to drop out?
Although I didn’t accomplish any greatness in this race, crossing that line is now in my top three proudest athletic moments. Only behind my Olympic Trials marathon qualifier and first NCAA DII steeplechase qualifier.
Of my 5 ultramarathons, over the past 6 months, for the first time I had a nutritional plan that was executed correctly.
A recent partnership with GU made all the difference. I consumed 1 GU Energy Gel every 3 miles and sipped on GU Brew the entire way. Unlike my TNF50 mishap, I did not have any GI distress or need for bathroom breaks.
I did pee twice, however. One of which was while running uphill. I am very proud of that feat!
Final Time: 6:47:15. 7th Overall.
Lindsay and I. Photo credit: iRunFar
Lindsay Is A Baller
Lindsay completed her first ever 50 miler in 8:06:55 and took 6th in a very competitive field. She said afterwards, “That wasn’t that bad”. Hahaha oh how each experience can be so different.
She has a pretty great race recap but unfortunately she will never write one. But from head butting a low hanging tree and almost blacking out to going dry from mile 38-45 and screaming into the empty forest for help it would make for a good one…Regarding the dry spell, she reports that when she finally found a hiker that was, “loaded with food” and asking him for something to drink or eat, he graciously said, “I don’t have anything”.
She ended up running 16 miles the following day to “shake out” her legs. I think there is some real potential for her should she stick around long enough to discover it…
Mid race with an unfiltered sunset over the Minaret’s, Mt. Ritter, and Mt. Banner. Photo Credit: Peter Morning
Thank you Bill Cockroft, Caroline Casey, Peter Morning, and all the many volunteers and employees at Mammoth Mountain for putting on a spectacular event.
And congrats to Tess, Jennifer, Carolyn, Gabe, Andy, Deena, Lara, and the many others that finished! And thank you Ariel!
With no surprise, the inaugural Ezakimak lived up to its’ hype and April 4th, 2015 will forever be remembered in the muscles of the many people that took the challenge. Hundreds of spectators were also treated with lasting images of the beautiful suffering that the runners, snowshoers and skiers endured while they tackled Mammoth Mountain underneath a full Spring Pink Moon.
As a fantastic night cap, a Pink Moon Party was held at Eleven53 and plenty of beer and food was enjoyed by all.
DJ Gondola. Photo Credit: Peter Morning
Skiers led out 1 minute prior to the runners, who were then followed 1 minute later by snowshoers.
Ski start. Photo credit: Peter Morning
Run start. No matter than race, there will always be “That guy”… Photo credit: Peter Morning
Snowshoe start. Photo credit: Peter Morning
Ezakimak climbs just over 2,000 vertical feet over the five kilometer snow filled course (my strava data) from 9,000ft to 11,053ft. There are perhaps 2 level sections for no more than 100 meters and we were greeted by strong zephyr winds, icy groomed trails, and repeated bouts of sand blasting to the face.
The first of several spines waiting in the background… Photo Credit: Peter Morning
The final climb to 11,053ft. Photo credit: Peter Morning
Mainly secondary to poor planning I didn’t fashion any additional traction to my Kiger 3’s. The smart racers, like Deena Kastor, had microspikes reinforced with lightweight crampons. She could’ve gone into battle with those weapons… But other than a few icy sections that I had to walk after nearly face planting, my shoes ripped it on the course.
Mario and I discussed not going too hard in this race as we both knew nothing would be gained just one week out from Lake Sonoma 50. But “too hard” is a relative term when you are running up a mountain…So I kept a steady effort the entire way, looking back several times to ensure the great Deena wasn’t reeling me in too much (she will make a badass MUT runner if she ever so choses).
11,053ft of pure bliss. 5k Time: 35:31. Photo Credit: Peter Morning
Deena came in a few minutes later in second overall. King and Queen of the Mountain!
Runners prevailed victorious 🙂 Photo credit: Peter Morning
Over the next hour skiers, runners and snowshoers continued to summit the mountain via headlamps and glow sticks.
Competitors finished late into the evening. Photo credit: Peter Morning
I think 3rd place died on the slopes so Woolly filled in for him. Photo Credit: Peter Morning
If you did not partake in this years race, you MUST join us in 2016. It was truly one of the most excitingly beautiful events I’ve ever been a part of.
Perhaps people would love to see a Summer Ezakimak?!