Monday, December 8, 2008

The Last Desert Race...Antarctica

As I sit in my hotel, safely back in Ushuaia, Argentina, I can hardly believe that my memories are real, rather than just a crazy, cold white fantasy that I´ve conjured up in the far corners of my imagination. Have I really just returned from Antarctica...what I had spent the last few years looking forward to, and striving for? I have another scroll through the memory card of my camera to make certain one last time, that it really all happened...and wow, it really did!What an amazing trip it was!

It was filled with such highs and lows, as they normally are. But this trip, the crests seemed even higher and the troughs even lower...and believe me, I mean that literally as well as figuratively. I arrived in Ushuaia a few days early to meet up with my good friends and Team Trifecta teammates Mike Hull and Pete Wilson of Australia. And after a few nights of toasting to our past adventures and boosting our egos, I couldn´t remember if we were actually here for a race, or rather one big party! But we were brought back down to earth hard, when given the news that a hole was discovered on our boat's hull. But after some moments of reflection, I realized the sinking feeling in my gut was better than the sinking of the ship...and with luck on our side, the ship was fixed a day later. After hearing horror stories of the Drake Passage, I was armed with enough medication to sedate a small army, but this was one of the most calm crossings our expedition leader had ever experienced (at least on the way over that is). We were also treated with a truly rare sighting in the middle of the Drake, of humpback whales who actually seemed to delight in our visit to their neighborhood...and gave us all quite a dancing show! But other than than, it was a crossing filled with anticipation, trepidation, excitement...the checking and re-checking of gear, and trying to get in the proper mind-set for what we were preparing to do. I was sitting in my bunk when I heard the call come over the loud speaker... that land had been spotted. My heart skipped a beat, and I raced to the deck. The cold air hit me hard, but I looked to the left through the misty clouds and there it was, these magnificent white peaks bursting out of the slate gray water! It was then that I realized it wasn´t just a beautiful place, but a scary one as well...and to run on it?. .are we lunatics!

Our first stop was Culverville Island, and as we boarded the zodiacs to take us to shore, my stomach was twisting with the uncertainties of running in snow, and deep snow at that. It was a cool day, but with the sun blazing down and reflecting off the snow, I was actually sweating profusely...but it only took one quick blast of the cold Antarctica wind to remind me where we were. And if not the wind, then a quick glance at the sparkling iceberg filled bay, was a spectacular reminder of just what an amazing spot we were standing on. And I would have to say that it´s the first time in a race that the crowd cheering, were penguins....amazing! Our team ran steady as we always do, but only covered a mere 11.56K in 2:42 time, due to the incredible snow fall.

We didn´t get to enjoy the accomplishment of one day behind us for very long though. They decided to make another stop the same day in order to make up for the lost day, when the ship was in repair. So it was off to bed for a few hours of rest and then the next stop was Neko Harbour, on the mainland continent. It was another stunning view with our ship anchored amongst huge icebergs, hundreds of penguins, and even a big Leopard Seal was in the grand stands for the event (although he didn´t show any of his nasty reputation and slept through the whole stage). It was another tough run through deep snow and our shoes were soaking wet by the time we finished another 13.6K in 3:50 time.

We awoke for the 3rd stage at Pertermann Island, and our lifetime concerns seemed to get a more narrow focus, and this morning´s one was hoping that our shoes had dried overnight. And once again, not much goes as planned, because we were expecting another day of mild temps and wet, melting snow...but were instead greeted by much more typical Antarctic weather with a cold wind, blowing snow, and temps dipping to 15C. This would be more of a long cold slog for Team Trifecta as we basically just put our heads down and plodded forward, lifting them only to watch the many Adelie Penguins who enjoyed sharing our course, or running along, or across, or over...whether waddling on their two feet, or pushing on their stomachs, I was starting to view these little funny creatures, dressed in their finest tuxedos, as the true endurance heroes of the land!! We ended up waddling ourselves for 16.9K in just over 4.5 hrs.

Our 4th stage would be run at Dorian Bay, a cove on the northwest side of Wiencke Island. This was to be another slog in very deep snow. But after walking around the course for about half the stage, Team Trifecta came to realize it might even be easier to run it, so we pulled up our sleeves and kicked up the pace..and the snow. We managed to only cover 12.7K in just over 2:30, but we were still pleased that we made the decision to speed up, and were actually able to do so in the conditions, which none of us had ever run in before.

As it turned out, that would be the last stage and the race would be called off early. It was due to a truly a brutal storm that halted all efforts to find a safe landing for a final race stage. After failing to reach Deception Island we sailed for Half Moon Bay, but with the ship being battered by ferocious winds and monster waves, there was simply no question of risking our lives in the zodiacs. I remember being on the lower front deck of the ship and literally holding onto the railing for dear life as freezing waves crashing against the ship, spraying in my face. Fortunately, I stumbled back into the shelter of the boat, and about 30 seconds later, a monster wave swept over the boat, and I only learned about it from the others watching from the captain´s bridge...WOW, what an adventure!

More than anything, my Team Trifecta friends Mike and Pete and I, came into this Last Desert Race knowing that it was much more than a running race. It was a lifetime adventure and whether we completed the full 250K distance or not, we were going to be satisfied for engaging the unknown, fighting elements that were almost primeval, and coming out the other end just as close friends as when we started. We experienced things that we had only imagined before. We saw places with our own eyes that we had only seen in pictures before. We met many new friends and made many new amazing memories. The only thing that we were wrong about, was that we would end the trip just as close friends as when we began...because instead, we´re even closer!!!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Antartica and the Last Desert Race

On Nov 24th, I'll be competing in 's "The Last Desert" race...a 6 stage, 150 mile foot race through the ice and snow of Antarctica. My Australian teammates and I, will be competing along side 24 others from a number of countries and varied backgrounds. After completing similar races through the Sahara Desert in Morocco, the Gobi Desert in China, and the Atacama Desert in Chile, this will be my 4th desert, and thus will have taken me to the driest, hottest, coldest, and windiest places on the planet..and tested my limits both physically and mentally.

We'll be boarding our ship in Ushuaia Argentina, and making the often harrowing, two day sail across the famous Drake Passage, which is home to some of the world's roughest ocean waters. When we're not hanging our heads over the side with sea sickness, we'll be anxiously scanning the gray horizon for our first glimpse of the amazing white continent!

Antarctica is classified as a desert because it's interior averages only about 50 mm of precipitation a year...less than the Sahara. The very little snow that falls there, stays there, because there's so little evaporation. But it frequently appears that blizzards are occurring because the ever present winds are picking up, and blowing around snow that has already white-out conditions are common. Antarctica is the coldest and windiest continent with the lowest recorded temperature ever, at minus 128.6 degrees F!!

At this point, I'm used to the scorching heat of the "regular" deserts, but this cold is a whole new beast to wrap my mind around. It will surely be another great test of what we are able to grin and bear it...and trudge on through. It will require a lot of new gear that we aren't so familiar with, but which is vital in protecting us from the cold and wind. The folks at Mountain Hardwear have been nice enough to deck all three of us out from head to toe in the their latest gear, which is a HUGE help..and I want to thank them for that!! But once again, having my teammates along to lighten the darker moods will certainly boost our attitudes and hopefully make it another incredible experience. We had many moments of hilarity in our desert tents in the past, as we laughed at our shared pain and misery. I expect that "boat life" will be quite similar...but hopefully a bit cleaner!!

My teammates were just featured on the Australian Wide World of Sports and their TV spot is a great way to understand what it is we do, and why we choose to do it. Here is the link (might take a couple min. to load):

And once again, it's a real pleasure to be raising money for my charity as well.... St. Jude's Children's Hospital. It's a very worthy charity and it gives me quite the motivation to think about what these kids are going through when I feel like quitting myself. But please don't feel the pressure to donate because I know these times are tough for everyone. But if you feel that you can afford a few extra dollars for a great cause, this is it:

I have read many books about this far and forbidding landscape, and still can't quite believe I'm going to be experiencing it first hand. This land of such great explorers like Capt Cook who was the first to cross the Antarctic Circle...and Amundsen who was the first to the South Pole...and Scot who died coming back from there...and Shackleton's incredible survival story...all make this place seem like a fantasy world. In reading these stories, their brutal adventures came to life on the pages that I read growing up, in the warmth of my home. Most of us are "armchair adventurers", reading all about the farthest reaches of the planet, while sitting in our favorite chair in front of a gas fire that we can turn on with a simple push of a button!! It's tough to really imagine what these men must have felt while truly living these incredible, and many times brutal adventures...when we're enjoying such cushy lives. (but don't get me wrong...I'm not apposed to reclining chairs and roaring fires!!) But for me now, to actually go there and see some of what they saw, and feel some of the cold that they is beyond amazing!!!

You can read about the competitors, learn about our journey there, and follow the race at

Monday, November 10, 2008

Washington Post Article

During my running of the Atacama Crossing in Chile, a Washington Post reporter, Lauren Keane, came down and followed my progress and wrote a nice article in the Post. Here is the link:

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Mountain Mashochist 50 Mile Trail Race...Nov 1, 2008

About Mountain Masochist Trail 50 Race:

“Lynchburg is the place for “real” mountain runners to be in October. But MMTR is not for everyone. If you are slow, as this reporter now is, the cutoff times are brutal. At my speed, you have pressure all day. Also, you need a sense of humor. If it bugs you that a course is longer than advertised, you don’t want to do MMTR.”
“Many people, this reporter included, repeatedly forget that the bottom line about MMTR is that it is tough. There are many uphills, not all steep but several are long and frustrating. The two trail sections are tough, technical, and beautiful. To finish MMTR is a significant accomplishment.”
“Masochists is a brutal reality check. If you are not prepared for it, David’s course will slap you around. Such a reality check is a very good thing. It’s just not always fun!”

Anstr Davidson

This past weekend, I completed the "painful" Mountain Masochist 50 Mile Trail Race...and what you read above is ALL TRUE...too bad I didn't read that until after I did it!! I think the name speaks for itself and you won't get any argument from me there!! It's widely regarded as one of the toughest 50 milers on the east coast and once again, no qualms with that claim as well.

I had just run the MCM the week before...and as I mentioned in the post before, fortunately I took it easy there. The MMTR had been full, but just at the last minute, some spots opened up and so I only got into it about 4 days before the race. I'm heading to Antarctica in a few weeks for another 150 mile stage race, and since I had gotten a bit lazy in the last couple of months, I thought it might be a good idea to kick it up a notch, and do some back to back long runs... so I decided to go for it.

The weather was once again perfect, although a bit chilly in at the 6:30 start. The 260 or so runners had to board buses at 5am in Lynchburg, Va in order to be transported to the start of the race. The gun went off and I was anxious to get moving in order to warm myself up since it was about 40 degrees and I was in shorts and a sleeveless shirt. I always warm up fast and run hot, so I deal with the cold early in the race because I know I'll warm up and don't want to have to shed clothes and carry them for miles and miles.

I carried my big Camelback which can last me for about 4 hours. So I never stopped at any aid stations for the 1st 4 hours or so and made steady progress. I wanted to run a smooth and steady race, and my only goals were to get a good workout, finish, and not injure myself and thus screw up my upcoming race that I had paid a small fortune to get into. I felt great up until about mile 31 when in a span of about 10 minutes, I went from feeling strong, to feeling like someone just poured concrete into my legs. This race has 9,200 feet of elevation gain and 7,000 feet of loss. After being in Leadville, Co., these hills didn't seem steep, but certainly were never-ending and finally after going up and down and up and down, I finally got to another up-hill and my legs just didn't want to move. From about 31 miles to near 40, I REALLY struggled and cycled through a number of different pains, coupled with having no energy...and once again I questioned my decision to ruin another perfectly good weekend by running a 50 mile race!!

After a few hours of gut checking, I managed to re-group and find some reserves of power, and kicked it back into gear for the remainder of the race. The last 5 miles or so, I really ramped it up passing about 15 or so people, and finished very strong. It's still amazing to me how the human body can come back from such lows and rebound while still being stressed, to feel strong again. But when you're at such lows, it's always hard to imagine feeling good without quitting... but quitting is never an option, so you just have to keep plugging along and remember that if it doesn't hurt, than it's not worth it!!

I finished in 10 hrs and 37 min and in 79th place out of about 260 people. After the finish, since the race was a point to point race, we all had to board the buses, and rode an hour and a half back to the hotel, and then I had to hop in my car and drive the 4 hours home...NOT FUN!! Although I still have swollen ankles from all the beating they took, I seem to be recovering and hopefully I didn't do any damage that might jepardize my Antarctic race!!

Marine Corp Marathon...Oct 26, 2008

The Marine Corp Marathon is a great "first-timer's" marathon, and even though I have done it a few times before, I keep coming back for more. Since I'm often flying to different marathons, I'd almost feel guilty for not running the one in my own back yard so to speak. I did have some motivation though because a friend of mine, David Kay, had recently made a full recovery from an agressive form of skin cancer. He had been a runner for a few years, but was stricken with this disease only recently. David had to go through a pretty agressive treatment including chemotheropy and had only just started running about 2 months before this race. It was quite inspirational to see him come back so fast and strong after being so sick. His wife Margaret is also a runner, and a fast one at that, with a PR of 3:20. The MCM was sort of his "coming back" party, and his wife was running with him, and I was honored that they included me to make up our trio!!!

Margaret and I were going to stay with David throughout, and even though we probably could have gone a bit faster, time wasn't our goal today...but rather just to finish and be together to celebrate being healthy again, and ALIVE...THAT was the goal!!! It was a perfect day to run...bright sunshine, nice temps, cool breeze...and TONS of spectators cheering everyone on. We had a great run and David enjoyed it (except maybe for the last 2 miles..but he had plenty of company there) and he finished in a very respectable 4:18!! Way to go David!!! (and as side note, he and Margaret went on the very next weekend to complete the NYC Marathon).... pretty HARDCORE and an amazing accomplishment for anyone to do 2 marathons in 2 weeks. But for someone who had been so sick so recently, it was incredible!!!!!

Dogfish Dash 10K..Sept. 15th, 2008

It's not often when I can run a race with my lovely wife Chelsea, who is smart enough not to run much more than a when we heard about the little Dogfish Dash 5 and 10Ks in Rehobeth Beach DE, we decided to sign up together. Out neighbors and good friends in Ocean City, MD...Frank and Denise Meekins signed up as well at the last minute. Denise and Frank have both run half marathons before and I had done the Eagleman Half Ironman with Frank back in June.

Chelsea did the 5K and the rest of us did the 10k. It was a perfect day and I was excited to run a nice and slow, easy paced race with no stress, for a change. Everything started off easy enough and Frank, Denise, and I pretty much were at the back of the pack. But it's amazing that no matter what I enter, it turns into an extreme event. Only a few miles into the race, the course veered off onto a little trail through a wooded area, when all of a sudden we heard shouting and commotion coming from up ahead. We all rounded a bend and saw a group of runners screaming and yelling and swatting in their hair and clothing and all around. I thought to myself, what the hell are these people doing, because we couldn't really see anything. And then as we got closer, we first heard the buzzing and then saw these big insects flying around attacking everyone, now including us!!! They turned out to be huge hornets that were obviously irritated that our lovely race had invaded their hive and so the realization of this hit me right about the same time as i felt a serious sting right on my back!! OUCH..I think we all got stung, but that sure kicked up our speed ...and we swatted and BOLTED the rest of the way through the woods.

Fortunately none of us were allergic, and besides some serious welts on us and some stinging, we all survived with at least an interesting story to tell, since our performance brought us to pretty much last place. Of course I was happy to run with some friends, but after finishing the 10K and giving Chelsea a kiss, I decided that 6 miles just wasn't enough of a challenge, hornets or I decided to just run the 20-some miles back to Ocean City!!! So at the end, THAT WAS one hell of a 10K!!!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Leadville 100 Mile Trail Race "Race Across the Sky"

I had been thinking about this race almost daily for 3 years now. It had grown to a full blown obsession since that day in August of 2005, when for the first time, I had given up on a race. I tried to tell myself that I hadn't actually quit, since I had made it to the 60 mile aid station with 2 minutes to spare, and knew I'd never make it that next 10 miles in time...well, that is after I spent 20 minutes throwing up and in the "john" doing the same out of the other end. I had actually taken off again though, in hopes for some miraculous recovery...but only about a mile of slow slogging, did I come to the shameful realization that I wasn't going to make it. THAT'S what I remember from that day...that sad and pitiful walk BACK to the aid station, where I took off my wrist band, and told the race officials I was DONE. I remember thinking to myself...had I really just uttered those words "I'm done"...could I have actually said that? They had seen many people say that that day, probably over 200 or so, and surely that didn't think I was a coward....but in my heart, I sure felt like one. Regardless of the fact that I WAS truly sick and had thrown up and jumped in the bushes for miles and miles, getting rid of my insides...and that I was probably lucky to have made it THAT far...but still I felt like a failure that day, and it was THAT thought that I have thought about, brooded over, hung my head in quiet self shame, for the last 3 years.

Well this year would be different!!! I had made a promise to myself that no matter how bad I felt, no matter how sick I was, no matter how much I hurt, or ached, or behind in time I was...I was NOT giving up unless they had to literally carry my off on a stretcher. Leadville though, had morphed into this almost mystical beast in my head. It was this monster that I thought about in my sleep and absolutely dreaded going through again. But this time, I had trained longer, harder, and smarter. I was as ready as I could be. I had improved my climbing skills and had much more confidence than before. Instead of thinking "how can I ever finish this" I was thinking..."how could I possibly quit this time....never!!!". My wife Chelsea has encouraged me too and has seemed to have more confidence in me finishing this time than I did. Sometimes she would seem so certain and act like it was a forgone conclusion, that I wasn't sure if she really felt that way, or just being a loving and supportive wife and just saying it to boost my once deflated confidence.

I went out to Leadville about 5 days early to acclimatize. I stayed with my friend Marshall Ulrich who is quite possibly the most hard-core man on the planet. I'm not sure hearing his laid back attitude helped me or made me more nervous. He was also running Leadville but showed little concern for the mountainous and grueling 100 miles...maybe because he's done it an INSANE dozen or so times before. Marshall lives at 10,400 feet and so I was positioned perfectly to not only rest and sleep there, but hike up through the mountains in his virtual backyard. We did an acclimatization hike together for a while one day, but he had to get back to meet someone, and so pointed me in the right direction to continue on. I had only planned for about an hour or so and didn't want to overdo it before the race, as I tend to do sometimes. Of course with the incredible mountain scenery beckoning me, and feeling energized with the fresh mountain air and the bright sunshine, I made the mistake of seeing and getting fixated on a summit up in the distance. Of course I knew that it was quite a bit further away than it looked, and would take me considerably more time to reach it...going much longer than planned, I simply told myself as long as I went slow, I'd be ok.

I ended up meeting a group of 3 others who were hiking to the top...Mt. James was the peak...and they seemed to have been a having a bit of trouble staying on the trail and so I actually felt as if I was in charge of our new group. And with me now encouraging them, I certainly couldn't decide NOT to go all the way...what kind of example would that be. So I ended up getting to the top about 3 hours after beginning the hike! I had one bottle of water and that was it, and I still had to make it down. At this point I just figured the quicker I made it down and rested, the better off I'd be. So I said goodbye to my new friends, hoping that they would send me the picture of me on the summit they took (they did) and I was off...running down the mountain and reaching Marshall's house an hour later.

So fast forward a few days legs had JUST stopped aching from my not so smart, mini climb, and we were in Leadville...myself, Marshall, and my friend who flew from LA to crew me...Mike Artino. I had met Mike in the Marathon des Sable in Morocco and Mike is quite and endurance guy himself. He had suffered an Achilles injury about a year before and was just getting back into things and since I knew that Leadville was on his "list", I thought he might enjoy crewing me in Leadville.

As the days got closer and closer to the race, the weather reports got worse and worse...a massive cold front was heading our way and rain was coming with it. My level of anxiety continued to grow as the reports kept coming in. I'm a fair weather runner and sadly when it's going to rain..or in the winter in DC, I'll just choose to run on the treadmill rather than get wet or cold. I don't even own any rain gear (that is until the day before this race). So waking up at 2am race morning, and pulling the curtains open on the hotel room to see rain and about 30-some degrees, I had an overwhelming desire to skip out the back door and get the hell out of there. But of course I was there to run this thing...not run the opposite direction. So with Mike's encouraging words, I started to get myself ready...organizationally and mentally!!!

The 1st 50 I was very strong and steady and was feeling great about myself because I knew how much further I was compared to when I did it previously and so I knew I was doing well. I powered up the mts and was actually passing people and I've only been doing that in the last 6 months but still didn't think I'd be able to do it at Leadville. Of course on the steep downs, I was very cautious and didn't want to blow my quads out and so kept the brakes on and that's where a lot of people would pass me. But those Colorado runners are from another planet. I think about 90 of the 186 finishers were from CO. Either they were incredibly strong, or total idiots...not sure which one, but I wasn't going to get caught up in that and get knocked out of my plan, so I just watched them run on by. As far as I was concerned, I was the only person on the trail!!

Anyway, my very first down moment came at about 48 miles but once I hooked up with my pacers I came out of it and made a strong climb back over Hope Pass. Rich and Robin weren't supposed to meet me until mile 60, so I was pleasantly surprised but had been mentally ready to cross back over on my own...never-the-less, I was damn glad to see them. I had actually never even met them before this. They both live in CO and are quite the hard care duo themselves. Rich has finished the famous Hardrock 100 mile race in CO a number of times (which I believe is even harder than this!) and I think Robin has as well, but at the very least I know she has paced Rich at Hardrock for the last 50 miles. And 50 miles at Hardrock is probably even harder than some 100 milers. And I owe them a HUGE thanks!!!! They are the kind of people that will show up on 2 days notice, in horrible weather, to pace a total stranger (me) for 50 miles...just to help me amazing is that!!!

The weather did amazingly break during the both my crossings of Hope Pass, which was great...of course the trails were a disaster...but it didn't take long for it to start raining again. My stomach was making some noise for most of the race, but I was determined NOT to start crapping until well past when I did last time. I made it to almost 70 miles when the flood gates finally opened and then I had a hard time getting my calories in, and then things started to get pretty tough, then really tough, and then well beyond tough. After about 80 miles, we had a 2 hour climb at about 1am and it was cold and raining and my clothes had been soaked for hrs....I was really having to grab my St. Christopher Medal and ask for strength!!!...and was asking myself "what the hell am I doing here...this is INSANE". I usually am such a wuss when it comes to being wet and having clothes to change in, but I was already so miserable and wet and knew that any change of gear would only be dry for a few minutes, I actually sucked it up and figured what would be the point. So I'm kind of proud of myself that I never changed a stitch of clothing the entire time...not shirt, socks, shoes, nada!!! And I never sat down once, never stopped at the aid stations for more than a couple minutes...some not even for a few seconds...just walked in, and said "588 IN and OUT".

Then the last 13.5 mile section I was totally done. All previously, I kept warm by just moving even though it was cold, but at that point I was starting to shiver and freeze, and EVERYTHING hurt. My feet were killing me, my quads were screaming, my ankle (pulled the same tendon at Atacama and did the same thing again) was killing me and swelling up, and the tank was just totally empty and it was took everything I had to keep moving. Don't get me wrong, I never considered NOT moving, but it was just so excruciating! I couldn't believe a human would voluntarily put themselves through so much pain. And it started to sleet again, and the wind was blowing right off the lake straight into our faces and I was literally biting shut my hood to protect my face....holy shit, it sucked!!! It was the longest 4 hrs ever...but I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, of course with my buddy Mike Artino pushing and PUSHING me. I honestly don't know how long it would have taken me to finish if it weren't for Mike staying on me... and ON me. I think at one point I wanted to strangle him because he kept telling me to see if I could run..and I would try for about 30 seconds and then give up, back to my brisk walk. I wanted Mike to feel what I was going through, but of course he was doing his job, and an INCREDIBLE job he did. No pacer could ever really feel the pain, but he has been there plenty of times himself and he knew what I needed, and it wasn't a shoulder to cry on, it was whip to smack me in the ass to make me shut up and keep moving. I owe him a ton...THANKS Mike!!!...and I managed to break the 28 hr mark (27:54).

But I'm SOOOO relieved to have done it and although I'd never pick that kind of weather, now I'm glad that I overcame my worst fears as far as conditions and the race, and I DID IT!!! I think about 560 signed up, about 446 showed up, and only 186 I'm feeling damn lucky to be among the 186!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Rattlesnake 50K, Charelston, WV July 12, 2008

On July 12th, I competed on my 2nd Rattlesnake 50K in WVA. This race has about 5,000 feet of elevation during it's 31 miles. My BIG race goal this summer is the Leadville 100 Trail race in Colorado, and in preparation for that, I decided to do this race. It's got 10 brutal climbs, which is exactly what I needed to get ready for Leadville. And the year I DNFed at Leadville, I also ran this race, and so I was anxious to compare both performances in hope of gathering some more confidence along the way...that is, as long as I was to do better as I expected...i wasn't going to entertain the idea of actually going slower this time!!!

I flew in the night before and stayed with the Tweel's, the parents of a good college buddy. It was great to see them, although time didn't permit much interaction as I had to prepare for the race, and try and get a decent night's sleep.

It was a hot day, about 90 degrees, but since most of the race is under the cover of the forest, it didn't seem so bad to me. I started out slow and steady and quickly got the the 1st climb...and was amazed that I was already passing people on the way to the top. I have never actually passed people before on steep inclines, and I was afraid that my performance at the Mohincan 50 miler might have been a fluke. But I've trained really hard on my climbs and I think it is finally paying off. I had remembered this race from 3 years ago and having the most brutal climbs, and it seemed to take more forever to reach their tops. This time, I was amazed that they didn't seem as long, nor did I have to bend over, almost hyperventilating, trying to catch my breath. I was good and steady and gaining confidence with each step.

It wasn't until about mile 20-some that my stomach started to feel a bit queasy, but I wasn't so worried about it since I knew it wasn't much longer and the fact that this was only a training run. I ended up finishing about 25 minutes faster than my previous attempt, and even though I had hoped to better it by a little larger margin, all and all, given that my stomach REALLY went south towards the end and I stopped drinking much, I was pretty happy with the results!!!

From the time i finished, it was only a couple of hours and I was already back on a plane to home. I was under a very tight schedule, since the very next morning I was flying out to Vegas where I was on the crew of a good friend of mine, Alex Nemet, who was running the famous Badwater Ultra, in Death Valley!!! Little did I know at as i sat on the plane with sore legs, that in about 2 days time, I would start what would add up to be about another 70 miles of running next to Alex!!! WOW!!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Mohican 50 Mile Trail Race...June21

This summer, I have a number of races planned, and they are all geared towards getting me trained and prepared to try and tackle the Leadville 100 mile race in Colorado in Aug. Leadville is the ONLY race where if you look at the results page, you will find a big fat DNF (Did Not Finish). Needless to say, that has been a monkey on my back...well, more like a gorilla, for the last 3 years. So this weekend, I flew to Cleveland where I ran the Mohican 50 mile race, as another great training run.

And for all these races, THEY are not the end result, Leadville the goals aren't to necessarily do as well as I can, but rather to go out and get a great workout in, and come out of them uninjured.

I met my good friend Alex Nemet, who lives outside of Cleveland, and we drove the hour or so to the race site. Alex, his wife, daughter, along with their new infant, were nice enough to allow me to crash in their hotel room the night before the race.

Alex and his friend Cole, were planning on doing the 100 miler, while I was content to not push it too much and stick with the 50. We all three started out together but it quickly became apparent that what they needed for their 100 miler, was to go out nice and slow, and I on the other hand needed to push the pace a bit, in order to get as much out of it as I could. So rather soon into it, I went ahead on my own.

I went out nice and easy, warmed up, and did my thing. The temps were pretty warm, but nothing too crazy. I ran most of the flats, and power walked HARD on all the ups. I was supposed to run part of the up hill sections and then slow to a power walk. But I found that I was feeling so well, many times I just kept it going and ran many of them. I felt strong throughout the race, up until about mile 40. Even then, I didn't fall apart, but kept it together even though I was starting to feel it. Even though time wasn't my goal, as usual I found myself chasing the clock and realized I had the potential to break 10 hours. So I pushed it at the end, ran many of the hills, but a combination of the miles, and the sun coming out strong, made it more and more difficult to keep up the pace. With only a few miles to go, I finally realized I was JUST going to miss it if I ran it out, and so I slowed down, met a friend and just jogged, walked, and chatted my way in but came in with a very respectable time of 10:16 and finished 11th out of 51 starters!!!!!!!!

Eagleman Half Ironman..June 14, 2008

Well, my half Ironman wasn't too impressive but let me tell you, it was damn HOOOOT! Even for me to say that, it was hot! It was 100 degrees (very unusual for this early in the summer) and really high humidity. And the swim, as I expected, sucked for me...I think I swam about 1.8 miles instead, due to my zig zagging...(even had a boat come up and tell me to move back in). I breast stroked about 5 minutes, my goggles (bought them at the race expo) were killing my eye sockets, and I had absolutely no rhythm throughout, which is what I figured for swimming twice since Hawaii in 2003 (literally). I still can't believe I didn't swim and told that to a guy next to me and he just said..."yeah, right" did sound unbelievable. But I just didn't think it would be quite as miserable feeling as it was. And my full wetsuit was like a 5 mm and I was sweating like crazy, for about 30 minutes before the gun even went off. I thought I was in an earlier wave and so put it on too soon....I know, being unprepared....SHOCKING. But the strange thing is that I placed myself at the end of my age group so I wouldn't be run over, but I kept running into in.... ME catching up to my THEM. I guess since I don't swim, I don't really know how to pace properly and was actually swimming faster at points, than others in my group....of course it was more like flailing than swimming, and that's probably why I was breathing hard and my heart rate was the 1st 5 minutes I was almost feeling like I was suppressing a panic "what the hell am I doing here" kind of thing. I never made more than 20 strokes before I'd have to pull up and see where the I was, and inevitably going off to one side or the other, and then adjust myself again and frustrating. But I managed to get out of there eventually...but not before tasting boat fuel coming from either the boats or jet skies in the water and sort of puking a bit....46 minutes.

I took my time at the transition because I really wasn't in a rush and didn't really have much of a plan....and the bike leg, I actually thought I did ok...I never really ride on open roads and I'm always having to stop and doing balls out again was something knew. I tipped down my bike seat before the start (without trying it 1st) and that wasn't smart because I was sliding forward the whole time and a lot of my weight was on my forearms trying to keep myself in the seat...and so I was uncomfortable and always trying to figure out a comfortable position, rather than really being about to concentrate on strong peddling. And mentally I felt like I sucked though, because so many people passed me (at least the 1st half of it) but I went between 18 -21 or so mph the whole way....except when I drank, because I forgot my damn aero drink bottle in the hotel, so I had to keep grabbing my bottle from between my legs and that always got me out of rhythm trying to grab them.....I kept saying to myself..."I can't wait to get off this damn bike and pass all these a-holes that are lapping me"....haha...2:58

And then I started running and was like THIS what I was looking forward to??....I was wiped out...and so did 8/2 (plus sometimes walked at aid station) on the way out of the run (6.5 miles) My water bottle I was carrying started to feel like a 15 lb weight pretty quick, so I chucked it....and then about 1 hr into it, I started to recover and kicked it up and didn't walk on the last half and REALLY started to kick it up and the last 3 miles (especially the last mile) I was MOVING!!! I didn't get passed by ANYONE the last 6.5 and must have pasted a couple hundred people and finished in a at least I can feel good about the way I finished and rebounded, but it was way tougher than I thought...I guess it was the heat. 2 out of my 3 friends that did it, ended up in the medical tent, which looked like a war zone...there were bodies laying everywhere and even spectators passed out in the heat...crazy!!! And 142 people dropped out....and not so sure, but I think that's a shit load for a half distance. SO, THAT'S how it went!!! But oh well, it was a great training day and better than running 4-5 hrs on my own...something different....2:13 or so...wish I could find the difference in my time from the 1st half compared to the second, and I DO remember going over a timing matt at the half way point where I kicked it up...but they didn't give a half way time, so I don't know...either way, a 2:13 is not good.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Atacama Crossing 150 Brutal Miles

I recently returned from my latest adventure, the Atacama Crossing which once again proved to be an experience I will never forget. In the past, on returning from my trips, I usual burst with emotion and the words flow out of me easily. The races themselves prove so brutal and difficult, that it seems effortless to put the experience into words. This time however, and I'm still not sure why, the race went very well for me and with the exception of a few not so low "lows", I felt incredibly strong and full of energy throughout the event. So upon return, I've spent most of my time thinking about how great it was, but lacking a bit of the emotion of "hitting the wall" and "peering over the edge mentally and physically" that usually comes with running 150 miles in one of the most unforgiving places on the planet.

The Atacama Desert in Chile is one of those places. It is noted to be the driest place on earth, and is basically a rainless plateau made up of salt flats...and these salt flats which we crossed many times, are excruciatingly uncomfortable in that they are sharp and rough, provide enough stability "sometimes", but not enough of the time to be any more certain than you are of a coin toss. So you have no idea whether your foot will stay on top, or break straight through up to you shins. And trudging through this type of terrain for miles and miles, with nothing but a lunar landscape to help relieve your mind of it, proves to be quite a challenge. But it's not just the salt flats....throw in 6 days, an average elevation of 10,000 feet, monster sand dunes, rocky terrain, slot canyons, wind, temps near 100 during the day and about 40 at night...and oh yeah, carrying in upwards of a 20 pound pack...and no matter how "great" it goes, it's still tough as hell!!

A new experience for me this time around, was running the race as a team, with 2 Aussie friends I had met in a previous race in China...the Gobi March. Along with my teammates Mike Hull and Pete Wilson, was a couple other friends from the Gobi, Pete Bocquet, an Aussie living in Singapore, and a Brit named Jimmy Elson...and we would all be in a tent together. We had all been corresponding for months and as the time kept getting closer, we kept getting each other more and more amped up for our reunion in southern hemisphere.

Two months before the race, I had developed a stress fracture from the obvious pounding incurred running with my pack on for training...but probably more specifically from the a marathon I ran with my pack. So I was ordered by my doctor to not run for 3 months, but with the race only 2 months away, I had to cut that healing time short. So going down to Chile, I was quite worried that my leg would either slow our team down, or quite possibly get worse or even fracture, and I would ruin it completely for us. Pete and Mike are great athletes and well accomplished Ironman triathletes, both completing about 10 Ironmans each. I was quite burdened by the thought of being the weakest link. This was quite a lot of pressure to be thinking about and I did in fact call up the boys and give them an out, if they felt they wanted to do the race on their own. To their credit, and as an example of their character, they both expressed surprise that I would even consider the thought that they might want to bail on me.

In a race this extreme, and in a location as remote, there's always a very limited number of people who will sign up...whether it's the physical aspect, the mental hurdle of the thought of 150 miles through a desert, the monetary price tag, or simply the amount of time needed to prepare, or take off from work for the actual race...only about 70 hardy souls signed up to participate. And of that amount, there was only one other team that we would battle for the top team spot...but it would prove to be a very talented Chilean team...much more so than us. The organizer of their team, had other runners from the country apply to join the coveted spots. He chose 2 men that were incredibly fast, and on paper it looked as though we had little chance to compete against such strong and experienced runners...not to mention that they had the 'home field advantage". But speed was not the only factor that mattered...teamwork would prove to be a much more important aspect, and what our Team (Team Trifecta) lacked in skill, we more than made up in teamwork, camaraderie, drive, and friendship. During the 1st 4 days of the race, we went back and forth with the Chileans, but each day the 2 faster members of their team, pushed the 3rd way past his ability and literally drove him to tears. They went out hard, while we looked on and stuck to our plan...nice and easy...strong and steady. We operated with military precision, with me literally keeping the clock, down to the seconds, letting my teammates know when to run, when to walk...sometimes mostly encouraging, but sometimes having to yell and cajole with some harsh words...words that they knew weren't meant to be mean spirited, but none-the-less, strong enough to get them going when they thought they'd had enough. I'd tell them that they'd thank me for it later, and I'm pretty sure they did. After the 4th day, the Chileans disbanded their team, so that the 2 faster fellows could go on their own...obviously the term "teamwork" was a concept they didn't understand. One of the moments of the race that I will always remember was...on the 4th day, with the Chileans ahead, and gaining about 15 minutes of our overall lead at every checkpoint...on the second to last section, we got word that they were beginning to slow. This news was like a lightening bolt striking a shark smelling blood in the water..I felt the adrenaline flowing and I told the boys "let's go!!". Even though we promised to stay with our game plan, and managed to do that for most of the time, I have to admit (and I was denying then) I was totally obsessed with catching them and drove us on a bit harder than we planned. We were certainly the underdogs and it was sort of like the tortoise and the hare...and the satisfaction I felt when I saw them up ahead....and the look on the face of the big, cocky Chilean as he saw us coming up from behind, and was helpless to stop us as we passed....was PRICELESS!! That was one of the most satisfying physical achievements I can remember and surely won't forget!!!!

On the long day, we also followed our plan...went out slowly, almost in last place, and slowly but surely, reeled racers in one after the other. We likened it to catching fish....we see one ahead (getting a bite), establish our pace (setting the hook), and the reel them in!!!!! Up until the very last 10K of the 46 mile day, we were right on...and then we hit a bit of a speed bump...Pete felt we needed to walk, Mike was being a good team member and didn't mind complying, and it was only me that really wanted to finish strong, like we had done all day. Looking back on it, I think I was a bit harsh, but I knew that they could both still run, but were letting their minds take control and trick their bodies. However I was actually having some leg pain at the time and so even I didn't push the matter as hard as I would have liked. Honestly, I had convinced myself that I had developed another stress fracture in my other leg, and was so paranoid, I was afraid of doing some harm that would ruin my plans after this race. It turns out that my "broken" leg, ended up being a torn tendon, and would only sideline me for a month. (As a side note, in all three of my 150 mile desert races, I have NEVER once even stepped into the medical tent for as much as a piece of blister tape) But with Pete saying "I've snapped my tendon" (which we are still laughing about) and Mike not putting up much of an argument, we walked much of that last 10K until I told them we WERE running it over the line...and we did, coming from almost last, to finish that day in 15th place!!

All in all, Team Trifecta got along incredibly, and worked together like a well oiled machine. I would never hesitate to run another race with the boys...and I'm sure they feel the same way!!! Our tent life was one big laugh after another and I think my abs hurt more from laughing for a week than my legs hurt from running. Even when the day's stage was rough, we all knew we had the evening to relax and recuperate...and commiserate!!!! The phrase misery loves company is certainly true in the middle of the Atacama Desert, where shared pain is forgotten as quick as the first joke flies!!! There's just something about knowing your mate is going through the same pain as you are, that eases that pain! When one of us was low, we always had the two others to pick us up or push us on!

The scenery through this epic event was magnificent....lunar desert landscapes, mountainous sand dunes, incredibly blue skies during the day, heavenly star filled skies at night, amazing canyons, barren salt flats for as far as the eyes could see...all surrounded by souring snow capped volcanoes looming in the distance...almost too much for the eyes or brain to comprehend. More than a few times I would look around ain amazement that I was actually there...and doing something that ten years ago I would have thought impossible. And what is always more amazing than even the landscapes, are the friendships that are formed and the lifelong bonds that are formed. I always tell people that spending a week of pain and suffering in the desert with these guys is equivalent to years of friendship back in the real world. And getting that medal at the end is fulfilling, but the real rewards are the friendships made...knowing that I could visit any one of them and be invited into their homes in any number of countries...and knowing they are all welcome in my home...THAT'S the real reward....although that "bling" (the medal) doesn't look so bad on my wall either!!!!

I'm so thankful for stumbling into this "extreme" world, for it has taken me to places I never dreamed I'd ever visit, introduced me to interesting people I never would have met, and made strong friendships I am sure to keep!!!

Preparing for Atacama Crossing Competition 2008

Hi everyone!

It's almost time for anther incredible adventure. On March 30th, along with about 80 other competitors from 18 countries, I will be competing in the Atacama Crossing...a 150 mile, 5 day, self-supported race, through the Atacama Desert in Chile. The Atacama Desert is the highest and driest desert in the world....15 million years old, and is 50 times more arid than California's Death Valley. In some areas, no human has ever recorded a single drop of rain, and the dry river beds haven't seen water in 120,000 years...amazing! Altitude will be a huge factor, since the entire race will be held at least one mile above sea level... with the first stage starting at over 11,000 feet. The entire race will cover the distance required to make a horizontal crossing of the country of Chile....with the first 4 days all being more than 25 miles each, and the last day close to 50 brutal miles!!! The temps will reach 100 degrees during the day, but much more comfortable during the nights. And once again, I'll have to carry everything, except for water, that I'll need for the entire week...all my food, drink mixes, all clothing for both hot and cold temps, sleeping bag and pad, emergency equipment, etc. This time I'll be running as a team, with 2 Aussie buddies. I'm excited for the company, and know the comradery will help us along, as we will surely struggle through the challenge...but probably also have our share of "misery laughs" along the way!!!

I am running this race in support of St. Jude's Children's Hospital Charity. It's an amazing cause and I'm sure I will reflect on the struggles of these childrens' fight for their lives... as I fight to make the finish line. It's their daily struggle, that really puts everything into perspective. I'm hoping that when I want to stop, and bitch and complain, I can gain strength from knowing what these amazingly strong and innocent little competitors go through every day of their lives. I've attached the fund raising page.... please help the cause. If you know any family, friends, or co-workers that might also like to make a donation as well, please fell free to pass this along.

The only foreseeable problem....well, far from the only one, but the one most on my mind is the fact that I have a stress fracture now, and haven't actually run in about a that might be a bit of a problem. My doctor is not so thrilled with my decision to go for it, but I'm hoping that with all the non-impact cardio training in the last month, my shin bone (tibia) will hold up.

And lastly, you can learn more about the race, follow our daily progress, and even send me an email during the race, through the web site. It's hard to believe with modern technology, that even though I'll be in the middle of a desert, I can still receive email...never too far away!!!! The race site hasn't been updated yet, but at some point you should be able to scroll across our names to see our bios, see our teams, and the charities we support.

I'm looking forward to another incredible visit another amazing, beautiful, and remote corner of the meet new friends, and hang out with old ones!!!

Thanks for your support!!!

Frank Fumich

Gobi March Completed 2007

I'v just recently returned from racing in the Gobi March in far Western China, where I competed along with about 180 people from 23 different countries. It was another unforgettable experience and I find myself still trying to process all that I witnessed with my own eyes, and all I felt with my body and mind. There was such a huge range of conditions and emotions throughout the event....I sure as hell got my money's worth! That's right, I actually paid to run 150 miles and not shower for a week. We ran along a river, with monstrous rock walls towering above us for thousands of feet, in cool.. almost perfect running temperatures. We saw dry and desolate, flat terrain that looked and probably felt like Mars with temperatures that felt like we were baking. We ran across sand dunes where we felt like we were truly in a desert. We also ran by many a little green oasis, where we'd round a bend flanked by huge mountains, and tucked back behind a corner we'd see a lush green sanctuary....with a family tilling a small field, or someone walking a cow down a path, or a mother nursing her child, or the many children playing. It was amazing!!

When I heard the Gobi Desert, I thought of sand dunes and oppressive heat. Of course throughout my thorough planning, I didn't seem to think there would be a need to add extra weight in my pack with a silly rain jacket or anything even close. Surely we'd be going to the desert where the chances of rain are too remote to even worry about. And even if it did actually rain, it would certainly feel great, wouldn't it?? Not so fast!! In reality, the first 3 days were high in the mountains, and rain was actually quite a factor and the temps were cold at night and quite chilly in the mornings. It rained each of the first 3 nights, and during most of one of the stages. As a matter of fact, as our luck would have it....or MY luck would have it since others seemed to have THOUGHT a little more.... this mountain region was experiencing the most rain it's had in 50 years!! Our running path that was to cross dry riverbeds, many times turned out to be pretty close to a raging river and on more than one occasion, we had to hop on a donkey cart to be carried across....but most of the time, we just trudged right on through. I for one, didn't bring ANYTHING water proof and found myself running off the top of a 13,000 foot mountain trying to beat the weather. I was successful in beating out not rain, but SNOW. That's right, many of the slower people had to deal with a snow storm, sleet and hail. I didn't totally miss the fun however, and instead had to endure hours of soaking cold rain where we were nearly hypothermic when reaching that stage's end.

We spent a very cold night and as I tried to sleep in my tent, I kept thinking repeatedly of the freezing wet clothes that were soon to return to my body. That vision was just more than I could take! So I resorted to my people skills which are sometimes more important than running skills, and certainly better. At about 5am, I tip-toed down to the mess tent where the locals had been employed to provide hot water to the camp, and bribed the head cook with 100 yen, which was about $15....WELL less than I would have paid, and still probably more than he made in quite a few mornings of work...and so convinced him with a flurry of hand and body gestures trying to convey my cold plight. After a few seconds of "negotiations" I was huddled around the hot gas burners with all the locals, with all my wet, cold clothes and shoes, draped over the hot pots where they were rendered a toasty warm in no time!!! I even managed to "over-cook" my shirt with some black burn marks...oh well...better well done than rare!! I also even chipped in on some of their early morning cooking chores, and helped load eggs in the pots and cut some chicken for them. I had to laugh at one point, as I suddenly realized the ridiculousness of my I am before dawn, "working" in a tent, 5 miles from frickin' Kazakhstan, huddled around a fire with a bunch of Tajikistan locals, with Chinese guards trying to hand me early morning smokes, and patting me on the back....CRAZY!! and I wouldn't have traded it for even more Yen!!!!!!

Once again, I met some of coolest people you can imagine!. I had great tent mates who are all incredibly accomplished people in their regular lives. I made friends with people from other countries that I know will remain my friends. What we all shared is a desire to get a little more out of life than what we find in our own neighborhoods, or towns, or corner of the world! In THAT we always find common ground, no matter how different we may be in the "real" world. But believe me, nothing is more real than the world these local people live in. Despite the fact that we might have been in a sketchy part of the world, the people there greeted us with wide smiles and open arms. And unlike many of the 3rd world places I've been, I was struck that those open arms weren't outstretched in order to get something from us. I was NEVER approached and asked for anything or never once did I find a beggar motioning for anything from us. Strangely, these people who didn't look anything like Chinese by the way, seemed to be content and actually quite happy. As we ran by a little settlement, we'd witness them dressed in colorful clothing, and sort of walking through life at a very leisurely pace. We'd run by them and wave, and they'd smile and wave back, the men would rise up as a sign of respect and courtesy. Some would be going about their everyday duties....farming, herding their animals, child rearing... and they would greet us...many would clap as we ran by. And no matter how tired I was, I made sure I smiled and waved, and said hi to every single person I saw for the whole week. Sometimes, it was exhausting ...when I was miserable and just wanted to trudge on and look straight down at my feet. To look up, wave, and smile seemed like a herculean task, but I still made sure I did it so as to leave them with a feeling of good we, strangers from a different land running through their lives. And even though most had no electricity, no running water, and only little huts for shelter, they seemed to have just about everything they needed. That might be a lesson for us all!!! And so as I think back to this trip, even though the faces of the mountains were awe inspiring, it was the faces of the local people and especially the young children that will be etched in my mind forever!!

And as far as my actual performance went, I faired much better than I ever imagined. Things were very tough, but went very well right up until our 50 mile stage. We believe we drank some untreated water and so about half of our tent got sick. It was my turn (at midnight on the night before our big day) to be running from the tent on quite a few occasions to have BIG problems from both ends ....if you know what I mean. After dealing with that all night, the LAST thing in the world I wanted to do was run 50 miles....or walk for that matter. The stage started out with a monster climb up and over a mountain in the very first mile. I was literally DEAD LAST getting to the top of that mountain. And as I've used the word "we" through my summary here, I was not only speaking generally about everyone, but more specifically about my buddy Alex, who was running with me as an unofficial team. And since it was "unofficial", he certainly could have left me there when I was just above a crawl, but like the good wingman he was, he stuck with me...cajoling me enough to keep my feet going (barely at times), but not quite enough for me to say "the hell with this %#@*" which I wanted to say for hours upon hours. Honestly, it was pretty agonizing and certainly had to be in the top 5 most miserable days I've ever had. I managed to slowly and literally to gag down a few calories, but mostly just drank water and slowly recovered...and over the next 15 hours, we managed to pass well over 100 people.....INCREDIBLE!!! It was a truly EPIC day... one that I had to continuously dig WAY down and find a reason to keep going. And I never came up with any philosophical answers no matter how hard I tried...but simply...I just didn't want to quit!!!!! Of course I don't think I could have done it without Alex driving me crazy with his ever annoying optimism!!! I owe you one Alex!! But we made it and finished tied for 29th place overall and were the 2nd Americans to finish!!! not bad!!!!

Thanks so much to everyone who sent me emails and tracked our progress!

I also attached a few pics

Frank Fumich

Planning for the Gobi March 2007

On June 17th, I'll be competing in another epic adventure...The Gobi March...a 6-stage, 150 mile self-supported foot race through the Gobi Desert in northwest China. By self-supported, I mean that everything needed for a week (clothing, food, sleeping bag, first-aid, etc), except for water and a tent, must be carried for the entire time. The Gobi is the largest cold winter desert in the world, that stretches throughout 500,000 square miles of China and Mongolia. That fact is a bit misleading since we can expect temps to top 100 degrees during the day and dip below freezing at night.

The journey will begin in remote Kashgar, China along the highest paved international road in the world, the famous Karakoram Highway. It connects China to Pakistan through the Khunjerab Pass at 15,397 feet (by far the highest paved international border crossing in the world). The race will begin within a stone's throw of Pakistan and Tajikistan (also nearby are the "stan" countries...Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan) The terrain will be a mix of snow capped mountains (the 1st few days of running will be over 8,000 feet and topping out at 12,400 feet), rocks, grasslands, salt flats, rivers, and of course sand dunes. Even though the Gobi contains less sand than the Sahara, we can, at times, still expect 1,000-foot high dunes!! We can also expect to see some of the most stunning and remote scenery in the world....and when we're not staring at our own feet slogging along, we will even catch a glimpse of K2, the 2nd highest mountain in the world.

Our campsite on one night of the race, will be spent in a village where we'll be able to interact with the local Tajik people, an experience that few outsiders would ever get. One of the reasons I love these types of challenges is not just the obvious physical test, but to visit a remote region that few people will ever see with their own eyes, and to meet far away people, that you might only see from your TV screen. This will surely be a once in a lifetime cultural experience as well as a brutal physical and mental challenge!!!

Our progress can be followed at

Frank Fumich

Mt. Aconcagua Climb

For those of you who don't have the time to read a long winded account to learn if I made it....I won't tease you by leaving the outcome for the last on January 24th and about 3:15 PM, I reached the summit of Mt. Aconcagua....the highest mountain in the world outside of the Himalayas.!!!

video clip

It was certainly by far, the most mentally challenging thing I've done in my life. And although most of the daily climbs were very hard, the summit day climb itself was the most physically overwhelming experience I've ever had.

Our expedition began with 3 days worth of hiking where we gained roughly about 6,000 feet of elevation. We hiked with light day packs while the local help (donkeys) carried the brunt of our loads on their backs. I watched the donkeys with envy as they allowed themselves to be loaded up to the hilt with all our gear.....never complaining, never seeming to strain, just doing what they do, day after day, and asking little but for some grass grazing and a sip of water here and there.....Wow, if only I could hope to behave and perform as our trusted four legged friends would do!!

Throughout our 20-some mile hike towards the mountain, we were surrounded by incredible vistas....beautiful mountains on all sides, a picturesque river, and incredible blue sky and warm weather. It was hard to believe that what we were embarking on was anything other than just a nice scenic hike! On about our 3rd day of hiking, we finally got our first glimpse of Mt. Aconcagua and it was only then that I realized all the pictures I had researched, had done nothing to show the magnitude of this rocky beast that was unfolding before my eyes....and the first thing....well second thing that came to my mind (the 1st being....holy shit, how can I get out of this) was WOW, how in the hell are we going to get to the top of THAT!!

We made the base camp at about 13,700 feet and settled in for our first rest day. The plan on climbing a mountain of this size is to SLOWLY gain in altitude and allow your body to react to it (acclimatization). It was during these "rest" days that I found it especially challenging. The physical days I liked because time passed so easily as we sweat and struggled up the mountain. But it was during the slow rest days that I struggled to rid my mind of those nagging feelings of self-doubt and instead fill it with positive thoughts. It's during this time that most members of my team seemed to really relax and rest, and enjoy our surroundings. Most of them though, are the hardest of the hardcore.....myself excluded, they had dozens of Ironmans under their belts, well over one hundred 100 mile ultra marathons, dozens of adventure races all over the world over the last 20 years, and many other mountain climbs including Mt. Everest by our leader. You KNOW you're in a serious group when more members than not, have their own athletic web sites....scary.... (here's a couple) , My stories at home that usually invoke wonder and awe, elicited little more than yawns in this circle. I learned quickly to keep my mouth shut for fear of having to live up to my stories somewhere high on the mountain. I started to wish I had never mentioned ANY athletic pursuits before I had arrived at the base of this THING!!

So during these rest days that were so nice for my body, my mind was totally occupied with worry and self doubt....with uncertainty and homesickness....with "can I do this" and "what am I doing here!!!!" As it snowed and my teammates wondered at its beauty saying "look how incredible the snow looks"....I would say things like "oh no, how are we going to climb in THIS" and when they described going to the bathroom outside in the freezing temperatures as "becoming one with nature"....I called my same forays, "a pain in the ass". One of the woman would go out in -20 degrees and actually enjoy the experience....while I would pee in my pee cup in the tent if it was 40 degrees...haha

I real punch in the stomach came when my tent mate Rich, a 57 year old shoe salesman and ultra-runner from New York, walked out of our mess tent one day and approached me and said "Frank, I really hate to do this to you, but I'm done!!" He had expressed the same feelings of doubt and home sickness as me, but the difference was he was actually throwing in the towel. We had really bonded over our mutual fear and discomfort, had laughed together about our lack of camping experience, and had even broken out a few shots of whiskey in our tent to calm our nerves and toast to what lay ahead. I felt like the one person on MY level whom I had come to rely on, was leaving me and although I understood his decision and would miss him, I knew I had to continue on without him and even use his memory as motivation for me to get to the top for both of us. I actually ended up using his hiking poles and told him I would take them to the summit for him....and fortunately I actually filmed them with me on the summit to show him that I didn't forget my promise.

So it was obvious that I was in sort of my own league here, well under the experienced and adventurous group members that I had found myself with. Now don't get my wrong, I knew I didn't sign up for an all-inclusive 5 star beach resort weekend, with waiters bringing me fruit on the pool deck (not sure why I hadn't signed up for that) and I knew it would be rough and tumble and that's what I was ready for....but didn't really enjoy it by any means. I kept most of my thoughts to myself and gutted it out just as well as the next guy....or gal. Hell, I've done my share of uncomfortable things....and down right painful and brutal ones too...but I'm just saying that I don't actually enjoy that type of thing as much as they do. I signed up to climb this mountain not because I thought I'd necessarily enjoy it, but because it was as great a challenge as I could think of and I did NOT know that I'd be able to do it. If you asked other members of our group if they expected to summit, and most (at least out in the open) would say they certainly had no doubts of the outcome. I, on the other hand, would readily admit doubts as to my outcome, and THAT was why I was find out if in fact I could make it. I knew that I would give it my all, but would that be enough....would that get me to the summit...well that I wasn't so sure....but THAT was exactly what I sure as hell intended to find out. Hell, if I knew for sure I could do it, than I certainly would have spent my hard earned money on that 5 star vacation where I would be more concerned with whether I was tanning evenly on both sides or not!!

Our plan of acclimatization included climbing up to our next camps and then dropping supplies off there, and immediately returning down to spend the night lower. These "carries" they are called, get you in shape by lugging heavy loads (1st carry was about 50 pounds) and breathing the thinner air, only to return down and sleep lower where the air is thicker. We'd then take another "rest" day or in my case "mental worry" day, and then finally move up to the higher camp for good the following day. Our base camp was just under 14,000 feet, camp 1 was about 16,200 feet, and our high camp was at 19,000 feet. Now many of you have probably read about the effects of altitude on the body and mind but I can tell you now for sure since I've read just about every mountaineering book at there, that there's a big difference between knowing and understanding what it's like, and to have actually experienced it. I've read how exhausting everything gets the higher one goes up, but to actually be out of breath and really gasping for air because you just leaned over to tie your shoes, is quite different....and SCARY. To realize that you are in fact totally out of breath from doing something as mundane as brushing you teeth or putting your jacket on, is quite a wake up call when you consider that you're there to spend about 10-14 hrs climbing to the summit....not gasping for air because
you just rearranged your clothing! And then there's the constant feeling in your body that something's just not quite right. Maybe it's the little headaches or the slight nausea, or just general feeling of blah. It's sort of like having a hangover and if you felt this way on a Sunday at home, you probably wouldn't walk out of your house, or get off the couch for that matter. But up here you don't have that luxury, and it's really a struggle to stop this feeling from creeping into your mind and affecting your confidence.

So gradually...up we went, and each day that I kept up with the group and actually felt strong, I gained confidence. I even started mentally positioning myself in the pecking order in relation to our group as a whole. I sure as hell didn't have myself in the front of the group, but I was feeling much better knowing that I probably wasn't in the back either. Of course as far as our actual real physical positions went in our daily climbs, I DID place myself in the back generally, because I felt more comfortable there without the pressure and all the eyes on me. Plus I know the human mind and what can happen when you put yourself up front, and that you tend to go harder and faster than you normally would. And I had no intention of turning this into some sort of a that I would probably lose. I was here to FINISH the race, not to win it by any means...and here, believe me, finishing IS winning!!

Well I'll fast forward to reaching and staying at our high camp at 19,000 feet on January 21. By this time I felt physically ready to go for the top the next morning of the 22nd. Of course probably most of your summit success comes from Mother Nature and at this height, it's always a roll of the dice and we were soon to start our first losing streak. Not soon after reaching camp and setting up our tents (which by the way I had never once actually done in my life....little embarrassing but true) did the wind begin to blast and the temperature drop. I laid awake most of the night knowing we probably weren't going at 5AM the next morning because of the freight train wind that was trying to destroy our tents. But it wasn't until our guide Tincho actually stuck his head in our tent around 3:30 and officially told us so, that I was able to finally let me guard down and relax. We had winds at around 50 mph and temps about 30 degrees below zero.....BRRRRR!

So the waiting game this altitude, the body starts kind of shutting down and one of the first things to go is the appetite. I was already getting quite sick of our food, even though our cooks did a great job of trying to keep it varied, and our stomachs interested...but at 19,000 feet there's only so many ways you can make freakin noodles and frankly I was just "sick" and "tired" (figuratively and literally) of the food, and the water, then of the waiting, and the staring at the inside of the tent, and the peeing in my pee bottle.....well, you get the picture. But the not eating is something that can really cause a problem because you HAVE to eat, and you have to drink as much water as you can. The trouble was that I was just OVER it and only had about 3 bowls of soup during the 2 and a half days we were stuck at high camp....and I was over drinking too. I had drank about 4-8 LITERS of water a day up to this.....and that's A LOT of water....I was so tired in the tent, and sick of having to get up to pee, that I just pretty much stopped. I rationalized to myself that I had done enough of it and would be able to slide through ok...and maybe I just barely did!!!!

Well summit day was quite an insane experience and it was certainly the hardest, and most brutal thing I've done..... truly almost inconceivably hard. Not to mention not eating much, I had stomach problems waiting at 19,000 feet (that I don't think I need to describe) So when the morning came to start on the 24th, I really didn't have any energy and was feeling very sluggish....not what you want before climbing almost 4,000 feet to the summit. Our plan (that we actually all sat down together to come up with) was to all start together and then eventually we planned to naturally fall into different groups with one of 3 guides watching over, and staying with each group at all times. Of course all good plans can fall apart, and this one seemed to get screwed up before it even started. About 2/3s of the team just basically left before myself or David (and Demetri) were ready. I had woken up on time, and was slowly and methodically preparing everything, but time seemed to be flying by already, and our start time seemed to be spinning closer on my watch like some kind of crazy episode on the Twilight Show...I was in a slight panic....ok, maybe more than slight, when I finally emerged from the tent just before we were due to leave....because I couldn't get my crampons on my feet since my hands were frozen in the balmy minus 20 degrees with 15 mph winds. It's virtually impossible to do ANYTHING with the big gloves on, let alone something so intricate as getting those damn crampons on the bottom of my boots. So I took my gloves off to try and get them on, and then in about 30 seconds I had 2 frozen claws attached to my wrists. It's amazing how useless fingers and hands can become when frozen. I would just stare at them trying to power them to accomplish what I wanted, but they just looked back at me. So when I finally managed to somehow secure my boots, I hunched over gasping for air, clutching my hands under my arm pits.....looking up only to see the others were already moving ahead. I think I yelled a "hey, wait for me" in vain as it seemed my words just drifted off in the wind....and I saw the headlamps slowly shuffle off in front of me. The funny thing I remember thinking, was that everything was happening so fast, yet it seemed in slow motion, and everyone was unrecognizable in all our gear. It was impossible to single out who anyone was, in order to single any particular person out and make a more personable plea to wait for my panicked and unorganized self. We all had on so many layers, with gloves, huge down jackets, and hoods, that the only thing you could see was a light beam being shown out from some astronaut looking head. I felt like I was on another planet, encountering beings whom I knew were friendly, but couldn't seem to communicate with. I noticed to my amazement though, that there were two other "beings" who seemed to have been left behind as well, and it was only about a few seconds before I latched on to their sense of being left behind as well.

I knew I was in trouble when not 5 minutes into clanking over the rocks in our crampons, trying to even FIND the snow route, our guide Gwoody told us we needed to "hurry up". Jesus, I was still hyperventilating from GETTING FREAKIN DRESSED, everyone has thrown our game plan out the window, and now this prick is telling me to hurry. If I hadn't spend so much energy putting those damn crampons on, I would have taken them off and hit him over the head with them. The first 3 hrs were SOOOO incredibly miserable....I had no energy, was scared, and couldn't believe that I was feeling THIS bad THIS fast. The other problem was that I had put my gels on the outside of my down jacket and so had pretty much frozen so I couldn't use them for energy. Well, as I staggered along so early in the climb, my confidence hit an all time low. It took everything I had to keep going and I wanted to turn back. I managed to switch them to the inside of my pocket so they would thaw. And BTW, while all this was happening, we were ALONE without a guide. Don't ask me where, why, or how...but after being left by our group, it seems we had also been abandoned by our wonderfully supportive (NOT) Gwoody...whose only departing words were "hurry up". This latest setback actually might have done some good for me, because I think the anger of him leaving us alone in the pitch dark, on a snow traverse on Mt. Aconcagua, in minus 20 degrees, on our summit push....actually began to fuel my steps so I could ring somebody's neck when I found out what the hell was going on. Those first 3 hrs were one of the darkest and most alone moments I've ever felt. I was SO tired that every 20 minutes I'd fall to my knees and say God, I can't believe I feel this way...and gasp for air. It was all I could do to just barely place one foot in front of the other. Throughout this period, it was David who encouraged and waited for me. It was truly a moment when I felt a strong connection in misery and thanked him over and over for sticking with me. Demetri was also there but being the silent type, he simply provided silent comfort in his presence and the feeling of comfort in numbers.

Well I finally started forcing the gels into my body and PRAYING. David even got the 1st one out for me since even taking my gloves off again was way too traumatizing and energy consuming for me to bear. They then began to thaw a bit and I also started forcing myself to drink, and amazingly I started to rebound. At first it seemed that I wasn't really getting better, just finally not getting any WORSE...maybe it was just because I couldn't get ANY worse. And then I just thought it was a fleeting feeling that I certainly couldn't put any faith behind. But then sure enough, I started getting the faintest feelings of energy, and the earliest and most incredible faint hope and optimism started to seep into my being. I was actually began to step in rhythm and climbing steadily without thoughts of giving up at every step....oh my God...I began to think I might be able to do this!!!

Well just like in my race last summer in Morocco, when I met up with a friend when we were all in trouble and ended up staying with him even after I felt better.....I felt that David helped me so much, I would stay with him as well, and repay him in kind. Just because I seemed to have miraculously recovered, I wasn't about to just say "well, thanks Dave for your help, but I'm feeling great now so I'll just catch you later". He had previously had a bit of trouble on other days and so I knew that now I was the one who had to be the strong one and push him and encourage him....and I sure did. I felt so good to help him and I even physically pushed him on more than a few occasions when he was falling back.... and I don't believe he even knows that today....I never told him.. Demetri, the other making up our 3 person desperado, finally decided that our pace was too slow and he bailed out on us. David didn't know how well I was feeling all of a sudden, and it wasn't until our guide finally showed up and started giving us really dire time ultimatums instead of encouragement, that I first entertained the idea of leaving Dave behind. Ol' Gwoody showed up again, but instead of offering encouragement, help, and guiding steps....he would pop up out of nowhere, give us some kind of ridiculously depressing time constraint, and then fly off ahead only to sit on a rock and wait for us way up on the trail. We'd make it up to him in a slow but steady fashion, and instead of him giving us any kind of positive words, he's offer up another negative comment on how slow we were and then trot off again.

Meanwhile, David and I had undergone a complete role reversal. I would encourage him, make him eat, and he would improve for a short time.... but only to laps back into another slump. I would tell him that it didn't matter if we were going slow, we'd sure as hell make it to the top. Off course, these were indeed optimistic projections, many of which I didn't really believe myself, but as I tried to convince him with limited success, I was actually starting to believe these words that my optimistic, alto-ego was coming up with. We got to one section where it was barely even an incline, and he was taking the slowest steps.....I wanted to jump over him and run....that's how much I was ready to go.....of course I didn't....but it was THEN that I realized in all it's finality, that David wasn't going to make it and neither was I if I stayed there any longer.

When our guide told us we would have to turn around if we couldn't speed up, I told David to keep pushing forward, but that I had to go ahead or it was over for me. Our guide didn't really want us to go on because HE didn't really want to go on and up all the way, we think.....and so I was so afraid and down right paranoid that he was going to try and turn me around. So I decided I was going to stay right on his ass as he went up the mountain to show him I was strong and capable. Every step he took, my boot was right in the spot his foot had left...when his right foot took a step, my right foot filled the void, when his other foot stepped, so did mine....when he turned around to see where I was, he almost bumped into to me because I was right THERE. I noticed Gwoody was actually taking breaks because HE needed them, not because I did. I felt like every time we stopped, I was auditioning for the right to continue. I kept saying " bueno" and pointing to myself and them at the top of the mountain. I kept saying "Vamos"!! It was like a really bad Spanish class and I was the eager student who didn't speak very well but was excited to prove to the teacher that I was ready to learn anyway!!

Finally Gwoody must have decided that if one of us had better be left alone, I was sure in better condition to move on by myself that David, so he decided to go back for David and ushered me off on my own .....and they called another guide to come back for me. So during my 10 hour ascent, I basically was without any guide for about 5 hours of it including the 1.5 to 2 hours completely alone and climbing at over 21,300 feet. I wasn't scared then because I had energy and I was damn determined, and because it was a bright, sunny day and the trail was obvious with many others on I was passing up all the people that passed me earlier and was feeling pretty damn impressed with myself, and thanking God for giving me the strength. Instead of taking longer breaks like I knew my team was up ahead, I was taking 5 to 10 min breaks, or no breaks at all, to make the summit before it was too late. The way the guide made it seem was that our team would be coming back down sometime rather soon, but in reality, they were not even there yet and I was actually gaining on them. It was during this time that I looked around and realized what I was accomplishing and how far I had come....from that scared and frozen rooky starting out in the dark frozen the confident, energy filled soul who was streaking up the mountain on his own, on a beautiful day, and feeling confident that success was waiting for me on top!!!!

I got to the last and most notorious section of the mountain because of it's steepness and the irregular steps needed, called the Canaletta ....where it seemed like every single step required 5 breaths. I was working so hard and expending so much energy that steam was rising off my body like a steam engine. Well, every good thing must come to an end and here so did my energy finally fail. There is only so many calories you can get in up there, before the amount you are withdrawing from your bank, exceeds your deposits and that was the point that I just ran head first into....HARD!!! One minute I was feeling full of energy and optimistic, and a second later I felt the world had just dropped out from under me. I was SOOOO DONE and had 2 hrs left and about 1,200 feet to go of the hardest yet....dear God did I struggle...I was working so hard that I actually was sweating and even took off my jacket and had ONLY one single base layer shirt on and that was IT. I would take a step and lean over on a rock and gasp and gasp for air and energy. The other guide finally met me about 30 minutes into it and I gave him my jacket and water bottle to hold. I was sooooo tired and he would say in his accent "Franko, you have climbed for 15 days my MUST NOT give up now that you're so close" I would say "OK Pinky (his nickname) I will not give up"! Boy, it was then that I talked a lot to all my relatives that had passed away and that I knew were watching me...I told my dad that I knew he were watching me and that I needed his and all their help, but that I wasn't ready to see them again yet. But my body was telling me other things however. I had become incredibly dizzy like I had never felt before and would have to rub snow on my face to keep from spinning. If I closed my eyes for more than a second, I felt myself going....and would have to shake my head like you do when you}'re falling asleep in the car or something. My vision in the right eye was becoming faded and my lower back was aching like from the kidneys when you're severely basically, I was scared shitless that at any moment I was going to drop and then be in a whole lot of trouble. But I kept praying and telling myself to keep it together....I kept taking one step,then another step, then another step. The route seemed to be coming to and end, and then when you got close, you'd see it veered further away and higher to the was SOOO excruciating. But I kept at it...and I said "son-of-a-bitch....I'm not stopping until I make it, I'm not stopping, not stopping...." Then I heard someone call my name from the top and it made me feel so good to know that they saw me and were cheering for me. Even with about 30 ft left, I almost sat down in sheer exhaustion and said "This is it, I've gone as far as I can go".....but I didn't....I walked the last few steps....I made it and into the arms of my our guide Tincho and a couple of the women in my group and sobbed the most relieved, exhausted, and tired tears!!!! Thank God....and then of course I looked and saw and damn dog sitting up there next to the cross and said "what the hell"...yes, and dog had just trotted up there and I was so delirious and freaked out that I thought for sure I was seeing things. I went over to the famous cross on the summit and knelt down and said some prayers.... and then hell, as soon as I had gotten there, it was time to leave. They had all been there for a while and so I had only about 10 minutes and of course I wasn't going to stay longer by myself....I had had enough of that.....

Throughout most of the climb up the Canaletta, I was convinced that I was already physically way past overdue...and still kept going. I was so damn determined to make it...and I did! I'm really proud of my accomplishment, but getting down was a nightmare and I´ve learned that what I always tell my family isn´t necessarily true....that if I feel in danger, or I've gone beyond my limit, I´ll turn around. I believe I thought that in the back of my head, that I'd be safe and conservative, but now I know the reality is that my determination and stubbornness are too much to overcome, and that I´m not quite mature enough to make the logical decision under those circumstance. I was literally apologizing to my wife and family in my head, and thinking that as soon as I passed out, I was really in BIG trouble. It seems I was relying on God or fate to determine my future and almost tossing a coin and waiting to see which side of the lifeline it would land on.....not relying on myself and MY "plan". I had actually said to myself, "well if I'm meant to survive, I guess I will, and if I don't, then it was meant to be." But that's not exactly what I had planned on and I never thought I'd feel like I came so close. Now maybe the severity of it all was in my head and I wasn't THAT close to real trouble, but the fact is.....I'll never REALLY know....but I sure felt like I was!!! So, of course getting to the top was the greatest thing and I´m so proud of myself for digging so deep, but I´m afraid the misery and danger of the sport might have to keep me grounded either for a long time or permanently!!...and keep events closer to sea level!!

So for the forceable future, I'm hanging up the climbing boots (or actually sending them back to my friend whom I borrowed them from ...haha) and keeping my ass down closer to the ground!!! Thanks again to everyone for their emails and support!!!

Frank Fumich