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

January 2006

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all of you! I'm planning on kicking off 2007 with another great adventure!!

On Jan. 9th, I'll be flying to Mendoza, Argentina where soon after, I'll be attempting to climb Mt. Aconcagua. It is located in the heart of the Argentine-Chilean Central Andes. Ackon Cahuak, or "Stone Sentinel" is one of the Seven Summits (the highest mountain in South America)... and stands proudly at almost 23,000 feet... and is actually the highest mountain in the world outside the Himalayas. It is an incredible mountain of rock, ice, and massive faces, and the 35 mile approach is surrounded by beautiful 21,000 foot high peaks. I've been training hard for this specifically for quite a few months. I'm expecting this to be my hardest challenge yet, and since I've completed Ironmans, run 135 miles through Death Valley, 140 miles through the Sahara, and climbed the highest mountains on two other continents (Africa and Europe), that's saying a lot!
(apparently, my psychiatrist and medication AREN'T working....JUST KIDDING....but probably not a bad idea!)

The climb itself will last about 14 days depending on mother nature... and she can be quite angry on this mountain. With the famously fierce and unpredictable winds called "viento blanco" or white winds, that can reach 100 miles per hour, and temps dropping to well below zero, things can deteriorate incredibly fast to become quite deadly. The high altitude makes any number of altitude sicknesses a very real possibility, and at this height, such menial tasks as feeding yourself and dressing can start to seem more like writing a computer program. We will be taking the less technical route (meaning "EASIER"... thank God), but with the extreme altitude, severe winds, and cold temps...this ascent by any route will be incredibly challenging!!

But if we make it...and that's a BIG "if"...what a view we'll have! If it's a cloudless day, we'll be able to see almost 100 miles straight through Chile, to the big blue Pacific...what a moment that will be!! It's actually THAT vision that is already motivating me to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Even though I've been training very hard and feel ready, there's really no way to predict how your body might react at this height, so I'm still quite nervous....ok, maybe scared is a more accurate description! I've spent months training, and endured many strange looks and finger pointing as I've prepared by running marathons with my backpack on, and spending countless hours on the stair master in the gym dressed in full gear...yes, looking ridiculous...but hopefully my intense training will pay off and my determination will enable me to make it to the top... but more importantly...back down again!!

One of members of my climbing group is a writer for Men's Journal, fitness trainer, and running coach and he will be sending daily dispatches to his blog where anyone can follow our progress. If anyone is interested you can follow along at

Frank Fumich
Express Catering, Inc.

Also, my trainer is friends with the man and woman that have just recently been on the news as being lost, climbing the remote mountains of China. She has asked that I include the info since the elderly mother of the missing woman is collecting funds to pay searchers to look for the lost couple. After watching all the coverage of the missing climbers on Mt Hood, and all the people searching, you can imagine how it would feel to have a loved one lost in a remote part of China where there aren't really any authorities to even conduct a search.

Frank & Chelsea Get Married in Maui 10/3 2006

It will come as no surprise that I spend so much time in the gym. Whether in hard core training for an upcoming event, or simply maintaining fitness, sometimes I feel as if I should just bring a cot with me and just spend the night there. And so I guess it would also be no surprise that's where I first saw Chelsea. Of course anyone doing jump rope in the middle of the workout room, would grab my attention, but factor in a gorgous girl doing that, and well....I almost dropped the weights on myself as I "pretended" to lift near I could get a better look at this new-comer to my second home.

I'm the type of guy at the gym, that actually doesn't go up and talk to people, and especially women. I like to think of myself as being aware enough to know, that 95% of women in the gym do not like to be bothered by testosterone filled guys, hitting on them. And besides, I myself, don't even liked to be bothered, but rather get my workout done and get out of there. With that being said, she was just too pretty for me to keep my mouth shut and so I managed to catch her at the water fountain and of course say soomething totally stupid that we still laugh about today. But of course when she brings it up, I remind her to look at her it must have worked...eventually!!

After about 10 hicups in my attempts to take Chelsea out, we finally did. Although it was actually at my dad's funeral, where things really turned into something real. I'm not sure if he changed her heart from heaven or what, but after that, we really started a strong bond that only continued to build. And the rest is history.

I don't have my login for the galleries you created so all the pictures are the first ones.

Marathon des Sables... 150 miles through Morroco 2006

I just returned from what proved to be the most difficult Marathon des Sables in its 21 year history. Of the 731 starters, 146 dropped out due to the incredibly harsh weather, where temps over 110 degrees, high winds, brutal sand storms, and unusually high humidity levels, created conditions that were down right dangerous. Over 60 athletes required IV fluids. I witnessed runners not just quitting, but dropping unconscious right in there tracks, emergency flares that I never thought would be used were being shot up like the 4th of July, and people being rescued by helicopters and flown to hospitals....2 of which were in comas. The medical tents looked like a war zone...people sprawled out everywhere, on the ground, on cots, cured up in balls.... the authorities almost running out of IVs, with one of my tent mates getting 9 bags at once!!!....incredible!! It was no longer a race, but a quest to simply survive...EPIC!!!

The one thing about this experience that I still can't believe, and will never forget, is the comradory amongst the competitors. All the pain and struggle, and the doubt and despair, only seemed to strengthen our bonds. No matter how incredibly miserable we were, we always had each other and seemed to find a way to laugh at ourselves each night in our tents. Knowing we were all in this together, served to only make us grow closer. I feel like I made friends for a lifetime.

On the fourth and longest day, since it took me over 15 hours to complete, I was fortunate enough to witness one of those moments when I say "yes, this is why I do this!" As the sun began to set, the temperature lowered, and a cool breeze began to blow. I looked around and just couldn't believe that I was actually the middle of the Sahara Desert, amongst these incredibly huge and beautiful sand dunes. The sun set, and I felt like I was living inside a movie I'd seen, or a book I'd read. All the things I'd imagined before coming here, all the plans I'd made, training hours logged, things I'd sacrificed, the things I'd hope to see.... it had all come true....and it was all worth it....all the pain and was worth it....even for this one small moment of clarity. Here I was, so happy to have made it this far...and actually getting stronger now, and for the first time the miracle of my surroundings was allowing me to feel the first glimmers of hope and optimism. Even if I didn't make it, I was witnessing what so few people ever get to see. A few years ago, I probably never would have guessed I'd be in the middle of the desert in Africa, let alone in a 140 mile race in the middle of the desert!!! I'll never forget it...the things I felt, the things I witnessed, and the friends I'd worth it!!!

Well I sure didn't set any records, and I have swollen and blistered feet to show for it, but a few days later, I sure as hell made it across the finish line, and completed the race!!!!!!! The last stage, I ran hard and finished strong, placing 199 out of 585 remaining runners. I finished just over 400 overall in a starting field of over 700, with many of the 146 dropped runners leaving the course on stretchers. Many of the runners in my group had incredible times a placed much better than I did, and I'm amazed at their heart and hat off to all of them!!!

I recommend that if anyone ever gets the chance to see this place, don't pass it up....but trust me, do it in a Land Rover, not on your feet....they get many more miles to the gallon, and no blisters!!!!

PS attached is a video clip of a sand storm before the race.

Frank Fumich

Frank Meets Chelsea 2006

In 2006, Frank met beautiful Chelsea. Nothing changed -- see Chelsea's very nice thank you after Frank ran the Sarasota Marathon 2006:

Hi Annette:

Frank and I wanted to thank you for having us as your guests. We REALLY enjoyed relaxing with you, Bill, and Scott. You made us feel so at home, sometimes we forgot we were even in someone else's house. Something nice and relaxing is exactly what Frank needed for his race...and the weather sure didn't hurt either. Thanks again and we hope to see you again soon.

Chelsea and Frank

And then just weeks later another adventure!

For my close friends that would rather gag than read another one of my emails, this is where you should probably hit...DELETE. For others who may be interested in hearing about my next adventure: On April 7th, I'll be competing in the 21st Marathon des Sable "Marathon of the Sands" in Morocco (North Africa). It's a grueling 7 day, 150 mile run through the Sahara Desert. Racers can face 120 degree days, cold nights, brutal sand storms, and encounters with scorpions. But what makes this race especially unique is that (with the exception of water and tents) it's totally self supported....meaning each runner will have to carry a pack containing EVERYTHING needed for the WHOLE week...all clothing, gear, sleeping bag, food, and drinks during each day's stage run and after, and emergency equipment such as compass, flares, flash light, etc. With the extreme distance, the excessive sun and heat, weight of a pack, and endless sand dunes...this will be quite a challenge. There will be about 800 athletes from over 30 countries competing, so I'm looking forward to meeting some new and interesting people from all over the world, and seeing a beautiful desert that I've only read about!!

The official web site is:

Frank Fumich

Adventure Update August 2005

Hello Everyone:

Well, it seems quite a while since my last adventure. It's coming up on almost a year since I summited Mt. Elbrus, in Russia. I continue to receive emails asking me when my next race is, and if I'm still doing these type events. Even though I run marathon distance or slightly longer races pretty often, I like to do REALLY difficult races, or mountain climbs, only about twice a year because they're so hard on the body. I was scheduled to run an ultra marathon through the Sahara desert this past April, but chose to pull out just a week before the race because my catering company had just landed a contract to expand to the Charlotte airport. I didn't feel comfortable being in Africa for 2 weeks while my company had just began catering 300 flights a day in CLT. So the answer is YES, I'm still doing this, but it's sometimes difficult to fit them in a busy life.

As the gun goes off at 4am on August 20th, so begins my next race, a brutal one called the Leadville 100 Mile Trail Race...."The Race Across the Sky." Leadville Colorado is the highest incorporated town in the United States, at 10,200 feet. The race is 50 miles out and back in the midst of the rugged Colorado Rockies. The lowest point is 9,200 feet and the highest point is Hope Pass, 12,600 feet. The majority of the race is on forest trails...some that don't seem like trails at all. The commulative elevation gain is about 14,000 feet. Besides the exhausting distance, the excruciating climbs, and the bone crushing descents, weather is another major hazard. Racers in the past have had to endure dangerous storms...severe lightening, rain, sleet, even snow...temps that could dip into the 20s and 30s on the high passes, and still be quite hot lower down.

Training for this type of a race is extremely time consuming and all encompassing. For most people, it requires a lifestyle change, and a total commitment above all else. I've always taken pride in never quite giving up my fun lifestyle, and still being able to finish. During this training, I've developed a whole new appreciation and admiration for those people who are married, and have families, and still make the time to hit that road and log in those crucial training miles. The past 4 or 5 months, I've been lucky enough to be in a great relationship. I wouldn't trade it for anything, but wow, it's been so much harder to stay motivated for training, when I have so many more enjoyable things to do than working out so hard. Let's see.....I could lay on the beach here, with my beautiful Chelsea...or get up and run 5 hours solo on the highway in the 100 degree heat???...hmmm...choices, choices.... I'm afraid that on more than a few occasions, I chose to keep my butt right where it was, and blow off my runs. To her credit, Chelsea actually ran quite a bit of my smaller runs of 6-10 miles with me, but I don't know anyone that would run 20-30 miles once a least nobody with any kind of sense. So for this race, training has been extremely difficult, more so in motivation than in the actual physical aspect.

I've finished every single race that I've ever entered...from 5K to 135 miles...summited each mountain I've attempted....from over 14,000 feet to almost 20,000 feet. I'm not being dramatic by saying that I'm really afraid that I'm not ready for this race. I'd hate to think my streak could end, but DC and the beach are not the ideal places to train for a mountain race at altitude...not to mention the fact that I haven't even run enough flat miles of training. Nevertheless, I believe that I have the ability to suck it up, and block out the pain, and I'm capable of simply putting one foot in front of the other when it's all on the line. I believe that my heart can take over where my skills leave off, and that I can continue on, even when my body is past it's least that's what I'm banking on, and soon enough, I'll find out again. But like I've said in the past, if I was sure I could do it, then what would be the point. It's that unknown that makes the challange so alluring!

So once again, if you can keep me in your thoughts and prayers, I would really appreciate it....because I'm gonna need every bit of positive energy sent my way. At midnight on the 21st, as most of you are comfortably sleeping (or out on the town like I wish I was doing), I'll have been running for 20 hours straight hours....,and I'll still be running right through the cold night, with nothing but my small headlamp lighting the path for my stumbling feet to follow. It's during this time that I'll need all my mental strength to make it to sunrise. We've got 36 hours to finish, and I imagine I'll need just about every minute of that 36 hours to get across the line... if my body holds out that long!

Many of you that have read my previous race emails, know that I've dedicated many of the races to my father. The greatest moment of my life was when he was standing on the finish line, with outstretched hands, as I finished the Hawaii Ironman. I'm sad to announce that he passed away suddenly in his sleep a few months ago. He was 87 years old. He was a WWII veteran, POW, Silver Star recipient. He was a great man, who had a great life with no regrets. He was my hero and I'm going to miss him dearly. It was my dad who motivated me to finish a lot of my events. I know that he's no longer with me physically, but I'm confident that he's still right here with me spiritually. I have a strange feeling that I'll be talking with him when things get really rough in Leadville....I hope so...

To all the pilots and flight attendant on my email list:
I hope you're pleased with what my company has done in Charlotte and although I can't mention it yet, I hope to be taking over another big city airport in a couple months!!!

below is a link to something my dad and I were involved with:

also attached is photo of my dad and I at opening of the WWII Memorial


Frank Fumich

September 2004 Mt. Elbrus Mount Climb - Russia

The following is my account of the accident we had on Mt. Elbrus in Russia. Although it's a bit long winded, with our near disaster on the mountain, it was pretty difficult to keep it short. I urge everyone to save it for a moment when you're not busy, but try and find 5 or 10 minutes to read it because, although a very amateurish version, it's somewhat similar to what happened in "Into Thin Air" (the famous Everest tragedy book) just minus 10,000 feet or so...except that it's about ME! And we couldn't have gotten out of that country any faster....the 2 planes crashing from the same airport, the same kind of planes, and going in the same direction, the bomb in Moscow that killed ten people was less than a mile from our hotel, and the hostage crisis was within a couple hundred miles from where we you will see, I think somebody was looking out for us!

Hello Everyone:

I'm thrilled to announce that I'm alive and well, NOT that I summited the highest mountain in Europe. I never expected that this challenging climb would turn into a life and death struggle, but that's exactly what happened.

Let me first give a quick background on this particular mountain. Mt. Elbrus, at over 18,000 feet, it's certainly a formidable mountain. For you and me, and probably 99% of the population, it would rank at the top of the hardest thing we would ever do in our lifetime. However, for the serious mountaineer, although still requiring peak physical conditioning and endurance, it's considered to place on the easier side of the difficulty scale. I'd love to say that it's the most brutal climb around, but that's simply not the case. On the other hand, I can't stress enough, that if the weather turns bad, so does this climb...and in a major way! Bad weather can turn Mt. Elbrus into an extremely dangerous place and one where most all of the deaths have occurred. Unknowingly, and trusting our guides, we were walking into a storm, and we never should have been on the mountain that day. We almost paid the ultimate price for this misjudgment.

Now let me say a few words about our Russian guide service. Even though you can't really trust the weather, you should be able to trust your least we thought so! Our main guide was a German woman named Liza who speaks Russian and English also. The other guide Albert, was her Russian brother-in-law, who didn't speak a word of English...or if he did, he never uttered one, and certainly didn't act as if he understood any. I was a bit leery about being roped to a person who I couldn't communicate with. My group came to believe that safety was very low on their priority list and the phrase "don't worry, you'll be fine" came to be her famous catch phrase. We would eye each other and smirk every time she said it. On our acclimatization day (basically our day off on the mountain) we spent about 30 min on crampon techniques, about 15 min on rope techniques, and ZERO on ice ax self-arrest techniques (clearly the most important). Myself and one of my friends Alex have been instructed on this before and we felt relatively comfortable (although I'm sure we could have used a refresher course) but my other friend Gokhan (Turkish) and a German guy Lawrence, that they paired us with, had no training whatsoever. They had never even held and ice ax in their hands and when they asked if they should put their hand through the strap on the ax to secure it in case of a fall...the response was of course "no, don't worry, you'll be fine"....(crazy). I'm still kicking myself for not voicing my concerns or mentioning that I had received the opposite advice on Mt. Rainier.

OK, now with me skipping a ton of details as to not write an entire book here, we'll fast fwd to about 6.5 hours into the climb. What our guides had described earlier as "not the greatest weather, but shouldn't get any worse"....slowly became very much worse. What started out as partly cloudy (we even saw a beautiful sunrise at about 15,000 feet) and a bit windy, had turned into nearly whiteout conditions with howling winds. I was becoming very concerned and would've had no problem turning back if I had been told to do so. Our order in my rope team was Albert (our guide) 1st, myself 2nd, and Gokhan 3rd. We were about 1.5 hours from the summit and Gokhan was literally collapsing behind me. He kept yelling that he had to stop and I kept encouraging him, even as simply turning my head back and yelling, was consuming precious that I didn't think I had to give. When he finally yelled up ahead that he was going to fall and kill about an attention grabber!! When I heard those 3, I passed the message up through the group to Liza that Gokhan needed to rest, but of course the response was just a variation of her norm...."don't worry, he can make it..tell him to keep going." This was so opposite of the care and attention that Mt. Rainier guides gave to us on that climb. There, they were totally attuned to our remaining level of strength and drive to continue. At each break, they completely evaluated us before proceeding on. Here on Elbrus, we were barely even taking breaks...scary!

Now I'll forward to about the 8 hour point of the climb... the summit. Oh yeah, I almost forgot, WE DID MAKE THE SUMMIT!!! at about 1PM on the 24th. But because of what was to come, it doesn't seem quite so important now. On summit day, every ounce that is carried in the backpack, should be important. Of course with me, and since I was envisioning sunny skies and no worries, like an idiot, the beer I lugged all the way up to the top, seemed important enough!!! Hey, a toast on the summit, a few pictures to remember it by, a couple hugs of congrats....seemed like a good idea to me....NOT! It was blowing so hard that we literally had to crouch and craw the last 40 yrds or so to the top. I didn't even entertain the idea of popping open my beer, or grabbing the camera out of my pack. Gokhan's camera was more accessible hanging around his neck under his jacket but when we tried it, it was frozen solid...oh well. So we just managed to muster up a hug and said "let's get the hell off here"!

Now I'll forward just about 30 minutes or so from leaving the summit.... to the first major steep section. The wind and snow were now hitting us square in the face and the effect had created an ice sheet on my glasses so was I virtually blind. I was afraid to take them off for fear off frost bite, but fearing falling more, I went ahead and pushed them up on my forehead. What I was about to see is something I'll never forget. About 50 feet in front of us (just at the edge of visibility) were two climbers un-roped that we didn't know. I began to step along the very edge of the drop off, and was saying to myself "OK Frank, take it slow and easy...stay calm...maybe this seems totally insane to me, but maybe our guides are more used to this" Just as I said that, one of the climbers fell.... just fell right off the mountain! I don't know whether he slipped, the wind blew him off, or the edge simply gave way. It took my brain a half a second to actually register what I was witnessing. I just remember him tumbling down out of my view....gone! Now I said "Jesus Christ, this is serious shit we're in"!!!!!....and it was about to get much more serious. About 30 seconds later, all I remember is a hard and sudden jerk on my waist and the next thing I know, I'm falling down the mountain. As it urns out, Gokhan had fallen behind me and he simply yanked me right off. By the grace of God, I have no idea how I found the strength or presence of mind to get my ice ax into the slope. I remember trying to orientate myself and then saying "please God, please God, please God...let the son-of-a-bitch stick. After what seemed like an eternity, but in reality of course, only a few caught! I pushed all my weight on it and felt a heavy, but oh so welcome, pull on my harness as Gokhan's fall was arrested and his weight hung from my body. It took a few moments of panting and gasping for breadth, where I tried to asses what just happened to us and our situation. Here I am, in the middle of nowhere Russia, hanging off a mountain at over 18,000 feet, in near whiteout conditions, wind howling, slow blowing, hungry, thirsty, and freezing, presumably next to a guy on my left who speaks no English, and over a guy who may or may not be injured....OK, well it doesn't take a genius to asses THAT situation, just like it didn't take a genius to get myself into this mess. Why was I not enjoying the last few weeks of the summer, sitting on the beach catching some rays?? No, my ass was instead catching my friend from falling off of a mountain!

As I would soon find out, although thankfully unhurt, Gokhan had dropped his ice ax (flash back to "no, don't worry, you'll be fine"), and so without it, it would take him about 20 some minutes to inch his way back up to me. During that time, I had a few moments to think. And what's a good ol' Catholic boy do at a time like this?....PRAY...and pray I did!!!! I rattled off Hail Mary's as quick as I could. I prayed for the wind to stop... I prayed for the snow to quit... for Gokhan to be OK...I prayed for my idiot Russian guide to miraculously start yelling directions in English (NOT)...for the nonexistent helicopter to fly us off...for the nonexistent rescue service to climb up and help...I prayed that if I made it home that I'd take up fishing instead of this crazy shit...I prayed that my parents would survive when they heard I was dead, and for some reason that they would find out I made it to the top...but mostly just that we would somehow get off that damn mountain alive!! I wasn't just wasting time during this period (in case some consider prayer a waste of time). I decided that my job at this moment was to make sure that my ax didn't come out of the slope. I wasn't sure of a lot of things at this moment, but I can tell matter what Mother Nature threw at me, or what my body was telling me, no matter if my hands were freezing and my energy failing.....but I was SURE my ax was not slipping out! I assumed that my life and Gokhan's depended on it.

When Gokhan finally climbed back up and reached me, using only his crampon points and his finger tips digging into the ice, I'll never forget what he said. In his classic Turkish accent that usually cracks me up, he yells "thank you my friend, you saved my life!". And I said something to the effect that "we're not even close to out of this yet buddy." At this point I was finally confident enough to let go with one hand so that I could once again remove my glasses, as they had fallen back over my eyes in the fall. Amazingly...again, what I saw, I couldn't believe. It certainly seemed as if taking off my glasses continued the trend of seeing really bad things. Events were once again getting worse before they got better. I looked over to my right past Gokhan and saw that our second rope team with Liza in front, my friend Alex second, and the German third...had apparently fallen also and were actually even a few feet lower than we were. Lawrence had fallen and had taken the whole team off with him too. They also had managed to stop their fall, but now, ALL SIX of us were hanging on for our lives...UNBELIEVABLE!!

Fortunately at this point, the downward spiral of our luck would finally bottom out and things would slowly begin to improve for us. When we finally got the message across to Liza that Gokhan's ice ax had been lost, to her credit (finally) she gave him hers, and we were able to slowly and carefully inch our way back to where we fell from. In total exhaustion, but on heightened alert, and with a strange feeling of getting a second chance, we began what would continue to be our brutally long descent off the mountain. Skipping many other harrowing moments (and believe me, there were plenty ...actually losing our way twice in the snow) over five hours later, we made it back to our wooden hut at 12,500 feet. With nothing more than some minor frost bite and very rattled nerves, we were down!!

I was never so relieved and thankful in my life. And I'm not embarrassed to admit that I shed a few we all did. I think I felt just about every emotion a person could feel...excited, exhausted, scared, terrified, hopeful, relieved, happy...... As I look back, I keep asking myself...was it as bad as I thought it was?...OK, so you fell, but you stopped it, and you climbed back up, and then went down...what's the big deal? Well, when you've never been in that situation before...hell you've only climbed two mountains before. You could hardly see, hardly hear, you were exhausted and cold and scared. You couldn't communicate with anyone in charge. You knew that the weaker of the climbers was roped to you from behind, so that at any moment, he could fall again and the whole thing would start all over again. And you knew that there were no rescuers on the mountain. You either got yourself off or you didn' YEAH, it was THAT bad!!

I've been fortunate enough to cross quite a few finish lines and reach a few summits, and as awesome as those accomplishments feel, nothing comes close to knowing that you were so close to getting killed, but you made're alive! I'm not going to make any grand declarations, like the grass looks greener and the food tastes sweeter, etc.......but I will definitely say that...THANK GOD, IT FEELS GREAT TO BE ALIVE!!!! I'll never forget waking up the next morning and going out to the latrine in time to see the very beginings of the dawn light just beginning to show its color against the black sky. I remember not even feeling the urge to stay awake and see the actual sun break the horizen, like I usually would feel. Instead, just seeing that first glimmer, and knowing I was here for another day...was all I needed! Even though it was feezing out, I thought I could actually feel the warmth of the light in me!!

In the extreme events that I've done, I've always done them to test myself, to see if I had what it takes to fight through the pain and suffering, and push myself physically and mentally onward to the finish... to my goal. So far, I've passed the tests. I wish I hadn't had to go through this, and I sure don't want to again, but now that it's over and I DID do it, I've learned that I can survive a life and death test. Tripping in a race and you've got a skinned knee, tripping in this situation, and you could be dead...quitting a race and no big deal, someone just picks you up.... quitting here, and you ARE dead!! I love to read books about endurance and survival and always wondered (even though I may be able to run 135 miles) would I be the survivor of a ship wreck, or lost in the desert, or an accident on a mountain??....Would I have what it takes to do ANYTHING I needed to in order to survive? I think I found the answer to that at 18,000 feet up Mt. Elbrus. Although our accident was no where near an epic multi-day fight for survival, it was sure enough... life or death, and I was mentally prepared to spend hours hanging there, or days sitting in a snow cave, or whatever I had to do to make it...and I'm proud of that!

Now it's time for me to step back and take a deep breath, and decide if climbing mountains is something I want to risk my life doing. I have such a great life, and an incredible family that would miss me greatly if I didn't return. It's a lot to risk. I can tell you that I've canceled what was to be my next climb in Feb. I need to at least slow down a bit and not rush into something so serious and in maybe in a year or so, I'll start thinking more about it. For now at least, I can cross another big one off my list and enjoy the thought of keeping my feet a little closer to sea right in the the's much easier there!! The only endurance events I have planned for the next few months are the ones that I REALLY excel at...Redskin tailgate parties!! As I sit here and write this, I have next to me the actual beer I carried all the way to Russia, to the summit, back down, and home again. Of course now it's been chilled by my frig instead of the cold wind of Mt. Elbrus. But I guess now is as good a time as any to pop that bad boy open! So here's a Summit!...and a toast to what really DOWN AGAIN!!!! CHEERS!!!!

....stay tuned for the book!!!

I hope everyone has a SAFE and happy fall to you soon enough! If anyone would like to see some of the great pictures of the trip, let me know and I'll send them when I get the best ones together.

Frank Fumich

Opening World War II Memorial 2004

An email from Frank after attending the opening of the World War II Memorial with George, his Dad.

Hi Annette:

We just got back from there. It was an UNBELIEVABLE experience. I'm downloading the pictures now and I'll send them to you. It is absolutely beautiful. And the weather was perfect. Hell, everything was perfect! My dad had people coming up to him thanking him. A leader of a boy scout troup asked him if he could introduce his troop to my dad, and he told them stories....was awesome. My father was very moved and so proud to be there. And we talked about how we finally did everything we set out to do in the essay I wrote. He was waiting for me at the finish line, and I was waiting for him at the memorial....perfect!


Kimber Oliver

In January 2004, just four months after the Ironman, Frank was in Amsterdamn at an internet cafe with co-winner of the 2003 Degree Essay content, Kimber Oliver. Kimber and Frank were preparing to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and goofing off. I was lucky and Kimber sent me an email:

Annette, I know it has been such a long time since I have talked to you, well, since Hawaii in October. But, I am now.
Frank and I are sitting in Amsterdam on the internet since we have a layover here returning from Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. I am sure you are aware that we were going there to climb Mt Kilimanjaro?
We were successful thankfully! We also went on a one day Safari yesterday. How amazing it was to see all the sites in Africa.
How have you been? I am sure the weather is wonderful in Florida? CA has been nice. I will welcome the 65 degree weather again and the clear (pollutionless, if that is a word) weather.
Let me know how you are doing and what is going on in Florida!
Hope you are well!
Take Care,
Kimber Oliver

Ironman 2003 Kona Hawaii

In 2003, my son, Bill Smith, called me and said "Mom, we're going to see Frank in the Ironman in Kona, HI. I thought it was a dream but little did I know that I would be participating in a dream come true. Frank's dream!

Frank Fumich is a handsome, intelligent, crazy (I could pull a lot of adjectives here) young man who I met when he was in college at West Virginia University. He is full of life and plans to live it to the fullest! I've seen Frank graduate from college, at footbal games pulling for the Mountaineers with more than normal intensity, parties, weddings and as my son's roommate. Frank is as passionate about life, his business, his family as anyone I know. Frank's dream of finishing the Ironman with his Dad, George Fumich, waiting at the finish line and being with George at the opening of the World Ward II Memorial is best told in Frank's own words.

These words written by Frank were submitted for a place at the 2003 Ironman competition. Frank won a lottery for spot in the 2003 competition and was one of three winners of the Degree Ironman Essay Contest: "The Road to Kona" along with, Kimber Oliver, initiating the beginning of his dream. Frank's friends tease him about his "Fifteen Minutes of Fame." We are all in awe!

Dear Ironman:

When Tom Brokaw wrote "The Greatest Generation", it was men
like my father he had in mind. Mydad rose from humble beginnings, worked in the
coal mines to put himself through college and law school,moved to Washington,
DC, and rose in office to rub shoulders with presidents and men of great

Before college, he courageously volunteered to fight against the
great evil of his day in WWII. Hefought in the European campaign and received
military honors including the Silver Star, and was captured and held as a POW.
He never asked anything of his men that he wouldn't ask of himself.

My father didn't speak much of his war experiences, but as time passed, it eased the tight grip on hisclosely held memories. He's now entering the twilight of his life,
and has begun opening up about hisexperiences, both horrific and heroic. Many
aren't easy on him, and as emotion wells up in his speech, I'mmoved that he
feels comfort in telling me. I've learned what I'd always felt, that my father
was an incrediblystrong man in body, will, and faith. It's this combination that
brought him back from the battlefield alive andprepared to tackle life. As time
passes, his body loses strength, but his will and faith only grow stronger.
It'sthis strength that has enabled him to succeed in his career and raise a
loving family.

My father has been attacked by colon, prostate, skin cancer, and a brain tumor, but has beaten themall, just as he beat the enemy in WWII. It was his strength that got him through these scary times.

I've been fortunate not to have struggled through life. I sometimes wonder why I push myself to the extremes of physical and mental toughness. Maybe it's because I want to struggle. I want to work hard. I want to prove to myself that I can be as strong as he is that I can fight through pain and despair, and can persevere to reach
that seemingly unreachable goal. He is proud of my accomplishments in sport,
business, and most importantly, in my faith.

At eighty-five years old, with many of his fellow solders laying down their arms and leaving this world,there are two increasingly urgent things that would mean the world to us both. One is to be waiting for him atthe long awaited WWII Memorial currently under construction; and second, for him to be waiting on me atthe finish of the Ironman Championship in Hawaii, the pinnacle of endurance sports achievement.

If God'swilling, we'll do both. As I train along the Potomac River, I see all
our beautiful monuments that strongly symbolize thegreat freedoms that my father
and all the other soldiers of past and present have fought for, many giving
theultimate sacrifice, their lives. My father is my hero. God bless our country,
and God bless my dad. I'm sure he already has!

Frank Fumich

Frank, thanks for sharing your adventures with all of us. We'll just live those adventures through you! This blog is created for you with love to share with us so we don't have to get those long emails anymore! Get busy, go somewhere and then post!

Annette Ashley Smith, your friend