The Interval, 7/11/18

I was in Fresno last week for a family gathering.  I was born there and moved away when I was 13.  It was strange to run in the neighborhood where we lived, near Fresno State University in the northeast corner of town.  I remembered the street names and it had the same overall appearance:  wide streets, dead flat, nothing taller than 2-3 floors, green lawns.  The main thing I felt was that Fresno hadn’t changed much.  Austin has changed more in the 12 years I’ve lived here than Fresno has in the 40 years since I left.  It’s easy to forget that most of the US isn’t growing like Austin.

It’s been a few weeks since the last Interval and I have a bunch of short items.  You should read (or just scroll) to the end for a great report on the River of No Return ultra by the indomitable Fred Riethmiller.

The first of the four annual Cap’n Karl’s trail races was on June 23 at Pedernales Falls State Park.  A few highlights:  Margot Swank won the women’s 60K and finished in 3rd overall, Colin Hagan dominated the men’s 30K, and Camden Vicknair, age 14, finished in second in the men’s 10K.  Full results are here.  The next Cap’n Karl’s is this Saturday at Muleshoe Bend.

David Fuentes competed in the US national championship for mountain running.  He placed third in the Loon Mountain Race in New Hampshire, a 6.6 mile course with 3200 feet of climbing at grades of up to 48%.  David will again represent the US at the World Mountain Running Championships, this year held in Andorra on September 16.  Full coverage here.

Matt Hanlon is in Denmark to compete in the Aquathlon World Championships.  His event, 35-39 age group, is tomorrow, and starts with a 1K swim followed by a 5K run.  Here is the Armadillo interview following Matt’s participation as part of Team USA in the last world championship event in Canada.

As you all know, I’m an unabashed Walmsley fanboy (ask to see my Coconino Cowboys socks!), so it was exciting to follow WS100 this year as Jim torched the field and set a new course record.  Much has been written and iRunFar had excellent coverage, here is their page with links to articles and interviews.  A couple of my friends did well, Joe Cooper and Billy Satterwhite.  Paul Terranova was a late scratch.  He was dealing with some leg pain and decided that his spot should go to the next person on the wait list- a classy move and a smart decision, it turned out that Paul had a stress fracture in his femur.

Kilian Jornet has recovered quickly from a broken fibula he suffered earlier this year.  Last week he won the Marathon du Mont Blanc for the fifth time.  A few days later he set a new FKT on the Bob Graham Round.  This route in North England hits the 36 peaks over 66 miles with nearly 27000 feet of climbing.  Check out this video for an appearance by Bob Bland, the previous FKT holder.  I hope Jornet and Walmsley go head to head in the next couple of years.

A couple of FKTs on the Nolan’s 14 route in Colorado.  This linkup of 14 14,000 foot peaks covers about 100 miles and 44,000 feet of climbing.  Alex Nicols set a new supported FKT in 47:40.  Joe Grant set the unsupported FKT in 49:38.

If you’ve been watching Diamond League races, you’ve seen the impressive late race form of Shelby Houlihan in the 1500 meters.  She’s outkicked top fields in Eugene and Lausanne in addition to beating Jenny Simpson in Des Moines.  Coverage by Letsrun.

A couple of veteran US runners won the Peachtree 10K in Atlanta on July 4.  This was also the US 10K road championships.  Stephanie Bruce won the women’s race with a late charge and set a new PR of 32:21.  Bernard Lagat at 43 can still motor.  He improved upon his fifth place finish from last year and won in 28:42.  Coverage by Letsrun.

I’m not sure how useful this information is, but here you go.  If, like Joey Chestnut, you eat 74 hot dogs then you’ll need to run enough to burn off 22,000 calories.  Chestnut runs about 10 miles per week and at his weight it will take about 117 extra miles to compensate.  From Runnersworld.  (H/T to Andy Bitner)

I’ve run the Kalalau Trail in Kauai and it’s on my list of top 5 ever trail runs.  Beautiful, wild, remote, difficult.  This Daily Beast article plays up the “danger” aspect a bit too much, but you get the idea.

The coffee stand in the same building as Rogue and RunLab has a new name, Empowered Coffee, and new owners.  I like their style.  All of the staff have physical or intellectual differences.  Check it out, coverage from CultureMap.

Upcoming Races

The second edition of the Back the Track meet is July 14 at the Austin High track.  Last year they had just one event, the Austin Mile Challenge.  For 2018 the list of events includes 50m, 100m, 200m, 400m 800m, one mile, and long jump.  Sign up is available until midnight tonight.  Help support improvements to the most used track in Austin.

The second of the 4 Cap’n Karl’s races is on June 23 at Muleshoe Bend.  These 10K, 30K, and 60K races all start on a Saturday evening and go through the night.  Heat, humidity, rocks, hills, cacti, varmints, fun…

Race Report


My Favorite Ultra – The River of No Return

Fred Riethmiller, July 2018

The Race

For the past four years, I have enjoyed taking a little break in the middle of June to travel to Idaho to run my favorite ultra, the River of No Return.  If you’ve ever run more than a few miles with me, or shared stories over beers after a Capt. Karl’s race, you’ve probably heard me spouting off about how tough and beautiful this race is.  My story with this race starts back in late 2014 when an old high school friend had invited me out to stay with her family in a small town of Challis, Idaho and take on what she described as a “bad-ass ultra”.  And boy was she right!

This ultra is a relatively new race that has been put on each year since 2014 by an experienced RD named Paul Lind, and his family.  Some of you out there may know of Paul.  He is the son of the late Dr. Bob Lind of Western States fame and his son, Cody, is an elite ultra-runner in his own right.  Challis is a wonderful little town in central Idaho where the people are very friendly and go out of their way to welcome the runners each year for the event.  One of the things I really like about the River of No Return is that even though it’s a well-organized race with excellent aid stations and top-notch swag, it still maintains that mom and pop, small-town, ultra-feel that a lot of us runners find so appealing.

Photo: Trail briefing in Challis, Idaho 2017

While the 50K and 108K courses share the first 17 miles, the 108K is the one that really takes you deep into the remote Idaho wilderness.  While it’s torturous climbs test even the most seasoned runners, this course rewards you time and time again with breath-taking mountain views, crystal-clear streams, and majestic, flowered meadows.

The 108K

This course was actually introduced in 2014 as a 100K but was altered the following year to add an additional trail section bringing the total mileage up to 69 miles.  Paul always reminds everyone at the trail brief that the 108K runs more like a “100 miler”.  While obviously 31 miles shorter, I would tend to agree with this analogy.  You need to train, prepare, and execute this race just like a hundred miler.  This course is that demanding!  And while the 108K is hard, the strategy isn’t.  To have a good chance at completing this race, you need to temper your effort till later in the game (about mile 35 – 45).  Just looking at the elevation profile shows that getting through 3 out of the 4 major climbs before making your move would probably be a good idea.  Based on my experience, limiting your output early in an ultramarathon always seems to pay dividends at the end.  This is especially true for the RoNR 108K.

108K Elevation Profile from

The following contains a description of the 108K course with a mix of personal anecdotes and some pictures that I have gathered over the years.  My intent is help the reader gain an appreciation of this unique mountain ultra.  My hope is that a few of you might even consider attempting the RoNR 108K. To better describe the course, I have conveniently divided the race up into seven segments that I found on Strava.

Segment 1 (mile 0 to 16):

Section 1 – Start to Bayhorse

The initial 16-mile section of the course represents the first of four major climbs in the 108K.  From the start, you progress down along an ATV trail that borders the two-lane highway out of town for about three miles.  Considered an easy warm-up, you are then vaulted up the Lombard trial into the mountains.  As you progress up moderately difficult switchbacks, you start to notice the views looking back toward the town and the surrounding mountains.  It is important to take pictures, take it easy, and save your legs on the steeper sections.  Keep in mind that there are several short downhill and flat segments where you can pick-up the pace and make up a little time.

View 1- Looking off toward the Sawtooth Mountains during the ascent to Keystone Pass (2017)
View 2 – Plenty to look at during the ascent to Keystone Pass (2017)

Another thing to watch out for are the forested areas just past the Birch Creek Saddle (mi. 9) and Keystone (mi. 12) aid stations.  Both are heavily treed and contain some of the steeper climbs of the early morning.  The first year I ran the 108K (2016), I remember blitzing up these sections.  What a mistake!  Just after the final ascent past the Keystone Aid Station, you eventually cross over Keystone Pass at about 8,300 feet.  By now, your legs should be sufficiently warmed-up.

Once over this beautiful pass, you drop sharply along a very runnable trail for about 4 miles.  Again, you could bomb this downhill to the next aid station but you’re going to need your quads later.  The trail winds downward about 2,000 vertical feet into the old, abandoned ghost town of Bayhorse.  If you have a crew, this will be their first opportunity to support you.

Coming into Bayhorse at mile 16 (2016)

The Bayhorse Aid Station here is outstanding!  The diligent volunteers work extra hard making sure each runner is ready for what will be their hardest, longest climb of the day.  This is true for both the 50K and 108K.  Make sure you take time to fuel up and catch your breath for the next big section.

Segment 2 (mile 16 – 25.5):

Section 2 – Start to Bayhorse

At over 5,000 vertical feet of climb in less than 10 miles, the ascent to the top of Ramshorn is one you (and your legs) won’t soon forget.  From Bayhorse, you trek back up the trail for about a mile.  This thankfully represents the only two-way traffic you will deal with the entire day.  Here the 108K turns and begins the first set of switchbacks toward Ramshorn.  For the 108Kers, this is where things get interesting!

Looking [back] down into Bayhorse (2016)
After ascending for 2,500 feet with some stunning views of the surrounding mountains, the switchbacks finally end.  At this point you are treated to a 500ft downhill reprieve before returning to yet another 2,500ft ascent.  Here, the climbing on this part of the trail demands even more from you.  Several sections ascend directly up steep ridgelines that will leave you breathless and force a few “mandatory climbing breaks”.  You’d be able to enjoy more of the beauty up here if you weren’t working so hard just to breath. This is where you start to ask yourself questions like, “I actually pay money to come do this?”.

Wonderful views on the way to Ramshorn (2017)

After a total of 3 to 4 hours of climbing, your patience and perseverance is finally rewarded as you clamber over the snow and scree to get to the top of Ramshorn Mountain.  While more of a rounded-ridge top, Ramshorn doesn’t disappoint.  Here the 360-degree, panoramic view of the mountains is worth the price of admission.  Despite the wonderful views afforded from this location, the air is a good bit thinner here and it’s recommended you don’t hang around.  Down you go!

With my buddy, Joe Schramka, on top of Ramshorn at 10,000ft (2017)

Segment 3 (mile 25.5 – 30.5):

Ramshorn to Juliette Creek

Running over the top of Ramshorn, you descend sharply 2,500 feet for 5 miles, first by trail, then double-track, and finally by forest road to an aid station.  Again, saving your legs should be paramount on your mind.  I would recommend gradually increasing your effort / speed as you descend in altitude.  In 2017, we had to contend with an extreme amount of snow on the mountain and it was here during this descent where altitude sickness set in.  At the Juliette Creek Aid Station at the end of this section, be prepared to be confronted by the medical team and possibly an oxygen sensor.  The race’s medical staff are true professionals and will be checking you out to make sure you are fit to continue.  In 2017, my O2 saturation level here was 84%.  I was in bad shape and I was not allowed to continue until it came up to 90.  Leaving the aid station, your immediate mission is to ford a large creek and then ascend the Juliette Creek drainage up to Buffalo Ridge.  Get ready, your feet will be wet for the next several hours!

Segment 4 (mile 30.5 – 38.5):

Juliette Creek to Bayhorse Lake

After what your body just went through getting up and over Ramshorn, this lushly forested climb with several rapid creek crossings is more of a challenge than it should be.  Depending on the conditions, this trail can also be a muddy mess in places, which will demand more effort than you’re willing to give at this point in the race.  Remember to take it easy.  Gradually over the next couple miles of moderate climbing, you come to a beautiful meadow that rises sharply up to Buffalo Ridge.  From the base of the meadow, you slowly ascend following course flagging and cairns up to the top.  In 2017, the heavy blanket of snow that covered this meadow really compounded the difficulty.

The slow, steady ascent to Buffalo Ridge (2016)

After reaching the top, however, your work is far from done.  Skirting along the ridge, you begin a gradual descent through wide open meadows, around several ponds, and finally down to a creek.  After the crossing, you turn left onto an access road and run/hike uphill for approximately a mile to the Bayhorse Lake Aid Station.  For many, this will likely be your last aid station that allows drop bags before darkness.  Plan to have warm clothes, a trusty headlamp, and a hat and gloves – you will need them!

Joe and I picking up our pacer [friend and excellent host] Cherie Strand at Bayhorse Lake (2018)
Segment 5 (mile 38.5 – 47.6):

Bayhorse Lake to Squaw Creek

Leaving the Bayhorse Lake Aid Station refreshed with additional calories and fluids, you are in for a real treat.  This next section hits you with a mile of climbing.  However, you are instantly rewarded with beautiful meadows filled with all sorts of flora and fauna.  Any aches or pains you may have been dealing with will likely fade as you soak it all in.  It is in this section of the course where you start feel like you’re far out into the wilderness, and you are!

Plenty of flowers (2016)

The view of the all the colorful flowers comes to an end at about mile 44 as you exit the forest and turn left, travelling several miles down a winding dirt road.  It is here, on this road, where you can safely start to make your move.  If you’ve done things correctly up till now, your legs should be fresh enough to allow you to run.  Travelling downhill you eventually intersect with Squaw Creek road where you’ll make a turn north (right).  After another mile on this road, you will arrive at the Squaw Creek Aid Station.

Segment 6 (mile 47.6 – 55):

Squaw Creek to Buster Lake

After getting a hot cup of chicken soup and snacks, you head out on your last big climb of the day.  Here is where “fresh legs” matter.  Being able to keep up a constant power-hike (or jog) as you stair-step your way back up to 9,000ft, is critical for success and an on-time arrival at the finish line.  The temperature will also begin to drop in the late evening and you must be prepared to keep warm while soaking your feet crossing several creeks.

One of several creek crossings around mile 50 (2016)

This year (2018), Joe and I really performed well on this section.  We kept things moving the entire time and when it poured rain for several hours with temps dropping down in the mid-30s, we seemed to fare better than a lot of the runners around us.  It’s also important to note how critical poles can be in this section of the course.  Not only are you starting to get tired, it’s also getting dark.  With several steep, muddy sections, any rain here will cause you to slip and slide as you fight for traction.  While this ascent seems to go on forever, you will begin to see more and more meadows as you get closer to the top.  This culminates with one of the largest and most beautiful meadows of the day.  Once across, you begin a mile-long descent, that can be tricky in places, to the Buster Lake Aid Station.  Here you will likely find a warm fire and volunteers to help you get ready to take on what is the final section of the course.   If you’ve planned correctly, you should also have a drop bag here with a change of clothes and some dry socks for your wet feet. Take stock in what you’ve accomplished, your climbing is done and it’s all downhill from here!

Segment 7 (mile 55 – 69):

Buster Lake to Finish

Leaving the Buster Lake aid station in good order is critical to finishing the race.  We saw several people drop at this point due to hypothermia this year.  Even if you are cold, wet, and tired… just get moving, you’re going to warm up along the way.  Luckily, this 3,000ft descent is all on forest access road and it will afford you the opportunity to make very good time all the way to the finish.  One note of caution here: don’t travel this initial section alone.  This year, Joe and I got separated leaving the aid station and he had the unnerving experience of hearing a mountain lion growl just a few feet off the side of the road.  Despite being freaked out, Joe still had the presence of mind to start blowing his whistle on his ultra-vest before taking off on a mad dash.  Apparently, one CAN put down six-minute miles at the end of an ultra!

Feeling strong at the Custer Motorway Aid Station – mile 64 (2016)

After getting through the final aid station at mile 64 along the Custer Motorway, you head-out for the final 5 miles of the course.  Keeping it moving down the road is what’s important here.  Eventually you begin to see the lights of the Challis’ Main Street appear.  As your foot finally hits pavement you know you’re on your last mile.  After a quick tour through the downtown you take two left turns where Paul and crew will be ready to announce your finish.  Wow!  What a race!  You made it!

Race Summary:

The River of No Return offers challenging 25K and 50K courses but it is the 108K that really shines.  With extremely challenging ascents/descents, diverse technical trails, at a decent altitude, this course will test anyone crazy enough to take it on.  And, when you add in the uniquely beautiful Idaho wilderness, you’ve got a gem of race.  That is why the RoNR 108K has been, and will probably continue to be, my favorite ultra-event.

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