The Wilderness Within: Washington’s Issy Alps 100

It is pitch-black dark in the woods, just past 3 a.m., when I see the eyes. They catch in my headlamp beam, yellow and beady and low to the ground, about 15 feet in front of me. My legs freeze while my heart turns into a jackhammer.

I can now see the full body of the mountain lion as it shifts, slowly and silently, from a lazy crouch to standing on all fours. Though I have no previous experience with mountain lions to draw from, I sense that this one is more curious than aggressive. A gentle breeze stirs the leaves of the trees around us.

For the better part of the past two days, I’ve been plodding through these mountains in a solitary reverie. It is my second night out in the woods, and I’m less than two miles from my finish line—the High Point Trailhead and terminus of the Issy Alps 100, an unofficial course wending through the mountains east of Seattle.

I back slowly down the trail while adrenaline continues its frantic gallop through my system. As I ponder the possibility of not finishing this very arbitrary thing I’ve set out to do, I shake my head and think, Damn you, George.

It isn’t the first time someone’s cursed his name in these mountains.

I’d originally met George Orozco at a fatass-style 50K in this very place, Tiger Mountain, five years earlier, in 2011. We’d become fast friends, bonding over our mutual love for the trails. It wasn’t long after that that he began poring over maps with the idea of creating a 100-mile linkup of local mountains and foothills. His vision was to create a “sea-level Hardrock,” a route with some 30,000 to 40,000 feet of vertical climb that anyone could go attempt anytime, independent of lottery luck, financial resources, altitude adaptation or travel constraints. For many runners with full-time jobs and families (like Orozco, who once told me having two full-time jobs was “good sleep-deprivation training for ultras”), such an opportunity immediately piqued local interest.

As he worked out the details of connecting various peaks, he often invited others along on his bushwhacking explorations.

“I probably feel the most kidlike when I’m running with George,” says Jenn Hughes, 38, of Issaquah, Washington, and a longtime friend and training buddy of Orozco. “He’s always scheming and dreaming, and there’s just so much excitement over discovering the trails.”

Because he and I both mistook the other’s sheer enthusiasm for mountain running to suggest more experience than either of us possessed at the time, most jaunts I accompanied him on turned into what climbers call “an epic.” We’d forget to pack food; we’d descend into the wrong drainages; we’d ensnare ourselves for hours in blackberry briars. But, mostly, we laughed. We chalked up our foibles to “a Barkley day,” and marveled at all the simple, exquisite pleasures that running in the woods afforded us.

If you’d asked him a decade ago, Orozco, now 40, never could have imagined he’d someday be a runner. He grew up in eastern Washington, where he’d participated in Boy Scouts and played basketball and baseball. But after high school, he lost interest in sports and the outdoors altogether.

“One thing led to another, I got out of shape, made bad decisions and got into a downhill spiral,” he says. By the time he reached his thirties, he weighed 340 pounds and had been smoking a pack a day since he was 18. When he and his wife at the time had their first of three children, Orozco got motivated to make changes: “My kids were the best things to ever happen to me, because they got me back on the straight path.”

Several years later, he read Christopher McDougall’s book, Born to Run, which inspired him to sign up for a 12-hour trail race near Seattle. Still pushing 250 pounds on race day, he showed up in a gray baseball shirt and basketball shorts. He nearly bailed as soon as he arrived. Everyone was wearing what he remembers as “really funny outfits, with knee-high socks and different colors and really short shorts. I felt so out of place.”

But the race directors, Christina Ralph and Tom Ripley, went out of their way to introduce him to the other runners. He spent much of the day getting passed on the loop course, but recalls the way so many people patted him on the back as they went by, telling him, “Keep it up. You’re doing great!”

Those words motivated him to keep putting one foot in front of the other for 12 hours nonstop, no matter his pace. When the race clock ticked down its final minute, he’d covered 44.44 miles. His feet felt as though they were fractured in every bone. But he also felt overwhelmed with the sense of accomplishment and the friendliness of this new community he’d stumbled into.

Orozco and Jenn Hughes share a laugh during fatass-style run on Tiger Mountain in 2013. Photo by Jerry Gamez.

Another book soon piqued Orozco’s curiosity: Bone Games, by Rob Schultheis. Written in 1984, the book introduces a cadre of colorful characters, ranging from climbers to mountain runners to shamans, who all, in their own ways, use “risk, exhaustion and so forth to break through into more intense, potent states of being.”

The stories in Bone Games immediately intrigued Orozco. Schultheis waxed poetic on the ability of solo endeavors in the wild to “break down the everyday consensual reality most of us never escape.” He wrote of the way “magic becomes a kind of habit after we do the difficult, the near impossible, over and over and over again,” and of how emotions like pain and fear “could be alchemized into blissful, sublime confidence.”

In service to that quest for transcendence—the “bone games,” as Schultheis dubbed them—Orozco began training for and running progressively longer ultras. In 2012, he applied to run the Plain 100. A low-key, self-supported race near the unincorporated town of Plain, Washington, it has no course markings and no aid stations or water stops. Pacers are not permitted. For the six hardy souls who showed up to run the first year, in 1997, Plain provided nothing but paper maps and directions. No one made it to the finish.

In more recent years, the 100-miler (a 100K option was added in 2014) usually sees about a dozen finishers per year, give or take. Those who find success are often the same sorts of people drawn to similarly demanding events such as Hardrock, the Barkley Marathons and Italy’s Tor des Geants—quiet, social-media-eschewing legends of the greater ultrarunning community.

When Orozco applied to run Plain, the race directors at the time—the same couple who organized the 12-hour race he’d done—apologetically told him no.

“They said, ‘We feel like you’re a liability,’” says Orozco. “And I understood. I told them, ‘Thank you for being honest with me.’ Plain is a very remote course and everyone’s on their own. I probably would have gotten lost, and it would have been a bad thing.”

But the rejection lit a fire within him to develop his map-reading and route-finding skills, and to get more comfortable venturing out alone. When he got accepted into Plain a year later, his 100-mile bid ended with a DNF. The next year, he signed up for the 100K instead, returned more motivated and better trained than ever, and won it outright.

Running Plain that year, he’d experienced a deep sense of ease and mind-body connection, teetering on the edge of the kind of spiritual transcendence Schultheis had described in Bone Games.

George Orozco is all smiles at the 2016 needles 50K in Easton, Washington, an event that debuted as an informal, fatass-style run. Photo by Glenn Tachiyama.

“Issy Alps” is short for the “Issaquah Alps,” a nickname given in the 1970s to the mountains east of Seattle by the cantankerous conservationist and prolific writer Harvey Manning. The role Manning played in the preservation of public lands in Washington cannot be overstated. Breathtaking places ranging from the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area to North Cascades National Park to the Issaquah Alps themselves (where Manning lived in a cabin) might not otherwise exist as they do today without his fierce advocacy.

No doubt, his christening of the term “Issaquah Alps” was tongue-in-cheek; compared to their jagged, glacier-covered eponyms in Europe, the Issaquah Alps are modest, no more than 2,000 to 3,000 feet in elevation. Their trails are dark mazes through towering old-growth forest and moss-coated rocks, frequently damp with the dew, drizzle and fog so characteristic of the Pacific Northwest.

Though Orozco’s Issy Alps route spends about two thirds of its mileage within these foothills, its first 30 miles bag a series of more prominent peaks to the east. The rocky summits of Mailbox Peak, Mount Teneriffe and Mount Si pop out above the trees and, on a clear day, offer spectacular views of the glaciated Mount Rainier more than 50 miles to the south. If you squint, it’s also possible to glimpse the Seattle skyline, tiny and silhouetted against the backdrop of Puget Sound and the snow-capped Olympic Mountains looming beyond.

Beautiful rock cliffs and a waterfall on the northwest flank of Mount Si. Photo by Jim Reitz.

Despite feeling remote at times, the Issy route does not sit in the secluded backcountry or vast wilderness areas that blanket other parts of the state. While many sections traverse long-forgotten footpaths grown over with stinging nettles, other stretches pass through residential neighborhoods and utilize crowded hiking trails.

It is practically a rite of passage for Seattleites to hike up the first mountain on the Issy route, Mailbox Peak, so named because someone hauled a literal mailbox to its summit in the early 1960s. The well stickered, graffitied mailbox is stuffed with an ever-changing supply of tchotchkes, and the summit is nearly always bustling with hikers. (Over the years, the mailbox has been replaced numerous times—once, for a while, by a newspaper distribution box consistently and mysteriously stocked with up-to-date copies of Seattle’s alternative newspaper, The Stranger.)

In recent years, a gently graded trail to the summit has been built, partly in response to the sheer volume of search-and-rescue calls from those lost or injured on the mountain. However, the Issy Alps route uses the old, unmaintained trail to the top—a mercilessly steep slog up the mountain’s flank that climbs 4,000 feet in two and a half miles.

One of the trickiest sections to navigate of the entire Issy route is a faint path, largely swallowed in blackberry brambles, between Rattlesnake and Tiger mountains. It lies beneath a network of power lines and towers, and crosses a river directly beneath a noisy highway overpass. During my own attempt, I lost the trail for hours there. Like someone flailing in quicksand, I couldn’t move either forward or backward; in trying, I slipped again and again on slick, exposed roots and plummeted into briars that gashed my legs into a bloody mess. It was a strange juxtaposition—my own lonely reckoning in a landscape while the clamor of civilization buzzed overhead.

Manning had a name for these semi-urban wilds. He called them “the wilderness within.” And, as he once advised in a 1996 profile in Backpacker, they’re every bit as valuable as more remote places; in them, he said, “A person can walk along for hours with a pleasing internal dialogue, undisturbed by the outside world.”

Jess Mullen finished the Issy 100 in 2014. Photo by Glenn Tachiyama.

By Orozco’s own rules for Issy, you must declare your intentions prior to starting. The route now has four options: the point-to-point 100-mile, 100K and 50K courses, plus the “100K Hard” option, a yo-yo of the 50K course. Unless you complete the precise distance you stated, it doesn’t count. (No one has taken the brunt of this rule’s harshness more than Orozco himself, who’s attempted his 100-mile course twice and quit both times 100K in, but never credited himself with an official 100K finish.)

Despite his own obsession with doing the route solo and self-supported, Orozco says the community aspect of Issy is also what makes it special. After all, it was the support and kindness of other runners at his first trail race that really sold him on the sport in the first place. Since then, he’s been on a tireless mission to pay it forward.

The course’s online watering hole is Orozco’s “Issy Alps Ultra(s)” Facebook group, where runners frequently post their intentions and GPS tracking links. Photos are shared and advice is sought. Those who choose to run Issy supported are often showered with beer, pizza, milkshakes and other assorted “trail magic” sundries, delivered unexpectedly along the way by friends and fellow group members.

“To this day, it’s one of the most fun running experiences I’ve ever had,” says Jenn Hughes, who finished the 100-miler in 2014. “You get this crazy, out-of-body adrenaline feeling, and the whole freaking community is there to cheer you on. It makes you want to be that kind of person who’s out here for people. And George brought that all together.”

The original iteration of the Issy route made its debut four years ago as a casual 100K group run. The next year, Orozco upped the ante, designating the new and more grueling 50K, 100K and 100-mile courses.

One morning in early May of 2013, 18 people set out to tackle the new Issy. Deep snow put a stop to everyone’s efforts that day. Two months later, Van Phan, 45, of Maple Valley, Washington, returned and became the first finisher of the 100-mile route. Her time (supported) was 37 hours 58 minutes. She was the only one to complete it that year, and to date is the only person who’s finished the thing four times, including once in reverse.

Van Phan is the only four-time finisher of the Issy 100. Photo by Glenn Tachiyama.

Phan is a Northwest legend in her own right, nicknamed “Pigtails” for her signature long, black braids and quirky affection for pigs. Tough as nails and a self-described sufferer of “ultra-compulsive disorder,” she’s completed more than 400 races of marathon or ultra distance, 50 of which have been 100 miles or longer. At finish lines, her signature post-race outfit is a bathrobe and slippers.

“Van is all business when she’s focused,” says Orozco, who began running with her years ago. “She took me under her wing without even knowing. I felt like a rag doll being dragged from switchback to switchback. If you want to go out for a leisurely hike, you can do that. Just not with Van.”

Hughes says what really stirred her interest in doing Issy was reading Phan’s recap: “She wrote about almost crying, and I thought, ‘Anything that can make Van cry, I want to do.’”

Phan works full-time as a physician assistant in orthopedic surgery. In 2012, she wanted to try a 200-miler, but didn’t want to travel across the country to do so. So she decided to organize one in Washington called the Pigtails Challenge. (Shorter distances were also offered; 100-mile finishers got buttons that said, “I only did the half.”) The first year, she crossed the finish line in third place overall, and was the only female 200-mile finisher.

Phan takes a moment to enjoy the views atop Mount Teneriffe. Photo by Glenn Tachiyama.

Orozco was among the eight other 200-mile finishers that year, along with Ras “UltraPedestrian” Vaughan. Vaughan, whose formidable dreadlocks distinguish him in any pack of runners, is a vocal proponent of tackling ambitious “projects” that combine elements of ultrarunning, fastpacking and occasionally mountaineering.

In March 2014, Vaughan, now 45, set out to try to put up the first men’s and first unsupported time on the 100-mile Issy route. He was enticed by the additional challenge of navigating through heavy snow on the course. With a fully loaded pack of gear including Microspikes, an ice axe and  a GPS, he set out alone.

“Don’t get me wrong; I love races,” he says. “It’s tons of fun following bright ribbons through the woods and being handed snacks and beverages by your friends every few miles. But for someone like me, who comes from a backpacking background, has spent years living off grid and working and playing in the woods, the race paradigm is a very narrow way to approach the trail. If I’m not self sufficient, I feel like I’m cheating. It just feels too luxurious.”

It took him 67 hours to complete his unsupported winter Issy. The days and nights of postholing through snow, getting rained on, struggling to navigate and shivering in the cold took their toll. But at the end of it all, says Vaughan, “It was a huge expansion of my perception of my abilities and what I considered possible.”

More recently, he teamed up with another local mountaineer and ultrarunner, Gavin Woody, to tackle the “Rainier Infinity Loop.” The 120-mile route comprises a double summit traverse and circumambulation of Mount Rainier in a single push. Legendary climber and Washington native Chad Kellogg first conceived of the loop, but never had a chance to do it himself due to a fatal climbing accident in 2014. Vaughan and Woody were the first (and currently only) people to complete Kellogg’s masterpiece.
Outdoor aficionados in the Pacific Northwest have a long tradition of devising rugged challenges for one another through their local wilds. Generally, such grueling lines through the mountains offer no set dates, no formal aid stations, no course markings and no finisher swag. And yet, for all their arbitrariness and self-induced suffering, they’ve become an irresistible magnet for many runners.

One of those runners is Jeff Wright, 55, of Burien, Washington. Though a runner since childhood, Wright’s foray into the ultrarunning scene was via skiing and alpine climbing, and the realization that he could move even faster and farther through the mountains by lightening up his pack. After a familiar progression through increasingly longer race distances, Wright found himself curious about the realm beyond supported races. He signed up for Plain.

“That made me realize I could be self sufficient,” he says. “Before Plain, I kind of relied on aid stations and directions. Doing research on how to do it was no different than planning a weeklong backpacking trip—just all sped up, in fast-forward motion. It created a mind shift for me.”

Though he still runs some formal races, increasingly Wright feels himself drawn to other challenges. On a rainy spring day in 2016, he snagged the unsupported FKT on the Issy Alps 100K course (since broken by John Barrickman, another disciple of many of Washington’s gnarliest, below-the-radar challenges).

“Finishers’ buckles are nice when I get them,” says Wright. “Now they collect dust on a shelf in the corner of my office. I feel the experience I had during the run means more to me than any token award. Running events like Issy Alps grounds my soul and helps me be the person I long to be.”

Ras Vaughan is an Issy 100 finisher and architect of other below-the-radar challenges in the Northwest. Photo by Glenn Tachiyama.

In recent years, Ras Vaughan and his wife, Kathy, have also established an annual, informal series of adventure routes. New challenges are designed by local runners and introduced annually. This past year, the UltraPedestrian Mind/Body Challenge had three components: cover an 86-mile route through the rugged North Cascades, tagging the Canadian border between back-to-back summits of the 6,100-foot Desolation Peak; read or listen to one of Jack Kerouac’s works inspired in part by a summer he spent alone on Desolation Peak in the 1950s; write a trip report tying your own experience to Kerouac’s literature.

Another of the 2016 UltraPedestrian Wilderness Challenges was a 56-mile route traversing Washington’s Olympic Coast. It was designed by Heather “Anish” Anderson, the self-supported FKT holder for both the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail. At first, even Anderson herself wasn’t certain it could be done in a single push because of the complexity of the tide patterns; at high tide, swaths of the route disappear. Barrickman was the only one to pull it off the first year without getting hung up overnight by the whims of the Pacific Ocean.

“There’s a real sense of competition and community as multiple people try to figure out a giant puzzle,” says Tim Mathis, 36, of Seattle, an Issy Alps 100K finisher.

After the tides forced Mathis and a friend to call it quits halfway through their Olympic Coast Wilderness Challenge attempt, he reflected on his blog, “You know what they say: If you haven’t DNFed, you haven’t been trying enough of the crazy-ass shit that Ras plans.”

And when it comes to trying crazy-ass shit, there may be no better poster child than Richard Kresser, whose first big ultrarunning achievement was completing RAGBRAI—an annual, 416-mile bike ride across the state of Iowa—on foot. A former US Army engineer, the 31-year-old Kresser is liberally bearded and rarely without a grin on his face.

Richard Kresser and his van. Photo by Joel Ballezza.

“We get addicted to ultramarathons, because they make us feel things we could never feel in our daily, normal lives,” he says. “I’ve constantly broken through barriers I once thought were impossible, and that has given me the confidence to chase other dreams in my life, such as quitting my job and living out of my van.”

For him, setting the supported FKT on the Issy Alps 100-mile route last March was “spring training” for some of his other 2016 ambitions, including three 200-mile races. Of those, he won two outright; the third, the Tahoe 200, he and a friend acted as course sweepers from start to finish while, just for the hell of it, drinking 50 beers apiece. His other big project for the year, which he dubbed “Dick’s RASH,” entailed summiting and circumambulating four of the Northwest’s major volcanoes—Rainier, Adams, St. Helens and Hood—in less than a week. (Two-hundred-forty-seven miles with 74,000 feet of elevation gain, in case you were wondering.)

“Races like Hardrock and Tor des Geants really would provide that challenge too, but are so tough to get into,” he says. “In the meantime, while I am waiting for lotteries, I need to go elsewhere and seek out harder stuff to keep me entertained.”

Beyond Issy, Orozco also devised something several years ago that he calls the Harvey Manning Peak Challenge—a solo, no-pacers-allowed, choose-your-own-route peak-bagging quest to summit 18 mountains in a single push. (It probably merits mention here that Manning himself, a staunch believer in the sanctity of moving slowly through the backcountry, once referred to trail running as an “act of war.” Nonetheless, there’s nary a trail runner in the state of Washington who hasn’t benefitted from Manning’s tireless advocacy work.)

So far, the Peak Challenge has no finishers.

[Editor’s note: over July Fourth weekend, Washington runners Ras Vaughan and Seth Wolpin became the first people to complete the Harvey Manning Peak Challenge, in 78 hours 36 minutes. Read about their accomplishment.]

Rattlesnake Lake at Sunset. Photo by Jerry Gamez.

Last June, I made my own unsupported attempt on the Issy route. Forty hours in and smelling the barn, I’d gotten lazy about making noise in the dark woods to alert animals to my presence. And so abruptly, to the surprise of both of us, the mountain lion and I came face to face.

Ultimately, it was not this sighting that stymied my Issy effort, but a simultaneous navigational error and a brief, unsettling encounter several minutes later with a stranger in the woods. In retrospect, the man was probably harmless—perhaps just someone like me, enjoying a solo amble in the pre-dawn shadows. But in the fog of my exhaustion, fear got the best of me and I simply lost my will to finish. My friends’ house in Issaquah was an easy bailout, so I went there instead.

Still, I had a rich sense of satisfaction with the whole experience. Outside my bedroom window, birds began chirping, anticipating the sun. As I drifted at last into a deep, blissful sleep, a passage from Bone Games echoed through my mind.

“There is a peculiar joy to planning and putting together an expedition, even the smallest, most quixotic one,” wrote Schultheis. “It is a child’s idea of what adult life is supposed to be like, really … It is how we should live all the time—full of naiveté, innocence, a sense of profound, playful importance—and almost never do.”

And, with a faint smile, I thought, Thank you, George.

Yitka Winn is a contributing editor for Trail Runner. In hopes of redemption, she attempted to cover the final mile of the Issy route two months later, only to run into a bear. Someday she’ll make it to High Point Trailhead.

Jared Campbell, Luke Nelson Set FKT on Utah’s Uinta Traverse

On July 7, 2017, Jared Campbell and Luke Nelson ran approximately 60 miles over 19 summits in Utah’s rugged Uinta Mountains, logging 22,600 feet of ascent. Their time of 32 hours 50 minutes 28 seconds was a Fastest Known Time (FKT).

“You wouldn’t really call the Utah 13ers a trail-running objective per-se, because it is third-class boulder-hopping for 30 hours,” says Campbell. “It helps to have a background in both climbing and trail running.”

Jared Campbell making time crossing a snowy ridgeline. Photo by Luke Nelson

The Spark

Both Campbell and Nelson are veterans of the backcountry and the alpine. Campbell, 37, of Salt Lake City, Utah, has finished the Hardrock 100 10 times, and won the race outright in 2010. He has also finished the notoriously difficult Barkley Marathons three times (the only person to do so) and, in 2012, completed the Nolan’s 14 challenge in Colorado’s Sawatch Range.

Nelson, 36, of Pocatello, Idaho, comes from a climbing background. Before turning to running, he was a  mountaineering guide, a semi-pro snowboarder and, in 2012, he was the U.S. Ski Mountaineering national champion.

Nelson has placed well in a number of high-profile ultras, most notably a first-place finish at the 2014 Bighorn Trail Run 100. FKTs in particular, he says, “add a little extra spice to an adventure. I like being able to do something that has a little bit of a competitive element to it, in a place where you could never have a race.”


Campbell looks out on the seemingly endless expanse of scree and talus. Photo by Luke Nelson


Campbell and Nelson met through Idaho’s Pocatello 50. Campbell was one of the initial race directors and Nelson, who raced the 50-miler as his first ultra, is the current race director. Since becoming acquainted, the pair has laid claim to the FKT for Idaho’s 12,000-foot peaks, which sparked a desire to run the Utah 13ers.

Located about 45 miles (as the crow flies) from Salt Lake City, the High Uinta Wilderness area is Utah’s largest designated wilderness, and contains all of the state’s 13,000-foot peaks, including 13,528-foot King’s Peak. The Uinta Traverse is a relatively new route, established in 2015 by Jason Dorais and Tom Goth, who completed it in 36 hours 18 minutes 58 seconds. Most of the route is off-trail on scree, talus and exposed ridges.

For both Campbell and Nelson, it was attractive precisely because of how few people know about it. “In Colorado, the 14ers get so much attention,” says Campbell. “But […] in Utah, surprisingly, only a small group of people even know where all the 13ers are […] they are a really underappreciated mountain range in the States.”

In 2016, Campbell had made a solo attempt, which ended prematurely when a boulder fell and sliced his finger. “[It was] the middle of the night and my finger [was] open all the way down so that I was looking at tendons,” says Campbell. “I had to bail. It was 24 miles out on foot just gushing blood.”

Determined to go back and give the route another go, he reached out to Nelson, who readily agreed.


The Adventure

Mostly out of necessity, the pair decided to make their attempt unsupported. “There really isn’t an easy way to do [the route] supported, because pretty much anywhere if you decided to bail, it would be 15-plus miles to a trailhead,” says Nelson.

Anticipating snow up high, they packed their bags on the safe side: down jacket, down pants, ultra-lightweight bivy sack, gloves, rain jacket, pants, traction devices, ice axes, food and water.


Packing for the big day. Photo by Jared Campbell


“Just three weeks prior to when we did [the Utah 13ers] you probably could have skied most of [the route],” says Campbell. “We were doing recon online, searching ‘Kings Peak, Uinta Mountains’ and all we saw was pictures of people skiing.”

The pair set out at 5:40 a.m., at the West Fork of Blacks Fork trailhead, 52 miles from Evanson, Wyoming, the nearest town.

As it turned out, the snow was a benefit, not a hindrance: they ran up snow-free south-facing slopes and down the snowy north-facing slopes. “Some of the snowy descents were able to save us a lot of time, probably on the magnitude of hours, because the terrain is normally so slow to travel on,” says Nelson.

A couple of mountain goats, a herd of 60 elk and a few people near the trailhead were the only signs of life that Campbell and Nelson encountered.

“It’s really loose. Everything you step on teeters, which made travel exhausting,” says Nelson, a first-timer in the Uinta mountains. “Jared told me it was going to be scree or talus essentially the entire time, but I underestimated how difficult this particular range is.”

As darkness enveloped the peaks, a full moon helped to guide them. For Nelson, the darkness held a certain familiarity. As a father of three and a full-time physician’s assistant, Nelson’s training runs often happen in the wee hours of morning or late at night. Yet running into the night still posed challenges.

Just before midnight, on the “really steep and very loose” scramble up East and West Gunside, fatigue and hunger began to kick in. Then came the thunder.

With a forecast of 40- to 50-percent chance of thunderstorms, both Campbell and Nelson had gone into the trip skeptical that they would make it very far. “I envisioned us going out there, getting a few peaks in and then just sitting out underneath a rock in a rainstorm for 15 hours and then bailing,” says Campbell.

Against all odds, the thunder rolled around them and then past them, without incident. So they kept moving.

“If you do something this long inevitably you are going to have highs and lows,” says Nelson. “Jared and I have been doing this for long enough to know that when you are in a low spot you just eat some food, tuck in behind your partner, put your head down, one foot in front of the other and keep going.”

After 32 hours 50 minutes the pair emerged at the Swift Creek Trailhead—the end of the route—just as the raindrops began to fall.


Photo by Jared Campbell



From 13ers to 14ers

Next on both Campbell and Nelson’s plates is Nolan’s 14, the challenge to summit 14 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado’s Sawatch Range in under 60 hours. Campbell, who has already completed the challenge in 2012, will be heading out this weekend for his second time on the route, with Gary Robbins, who currently holds the FKT for Canada’s West Coast Double (West Coast Trail and Juan De Fuca Marine Trails) and also famously missed a finish at the Barkley Marathons with a wrong turn two miles from the end.

“[Gary] put so much training into Barkley and it didn’t work out the way we all wanted it to for him,” says Campbell. “So I would love to see him get a high level of satisfaction out of Nolan’s.”

Celebrating at the finish. Photo by Jared Campbell

In early September, Nelson is also hoping to attempt Nolan’s 14. “At this point in my running career I enjoy these types of adventures more than racing,” says Nelson. “I see a lot more people and different attitudes starting to enter into the sport, but I think the old-school ultrarunning feel is still [present in] FKTs and big adventure runs. We don’t take ourselves so seriously.”

Campbell and Nelson also have plans for linkups of Wyoming’s 13ers and Montana’s 12,000-footers.

“My suggestion for people who have never thought of the Uintas is to look [them] up and head out there,” says Campbell.  “I think as a group we [trail runners] get goal oriented. We read about something and everybody gets obsessed over the same projects. That is all well and good, but I encourage people just to grab a map, maybe a mountain range they haven’t heard of and start scheming things to do there.”

12 Spring 2017 Trail-Running Shoes, Reviewed

A shoe can make or break the trail-running experience and, rightly so, we trail runners demand a lot out of our running shoes. We want protection, but also ground-feel; cushion, but also agility; support, but also flexibility; light weight, but also durable materials; mud-worthy tread, but also a smooth ride. Everyone has a different definition of the perfect trail shoe. But one thing is universal: our expectations are lofty … some might say unrealistic.

Yet, somehow, trail brands have managed to turn our complex demands into real, trail-ready shoes. From cushioned-yet-nimble maximalists to lightweight-but-protective mountain racers, here are 12 of the most exciting shoes on the market this spring.


Editors’ Choice
Scott Supertrac RC

Price: $150

Weight: 8.8 oz

Drop: 5 mm

The Supertrac RC is the lovechild of a racing flat and an aggressive mountain-running shoe. It is the lightest shoe we tested, but, compared to other shoes in the same weight range, the Supertrac offers a shocking level of protection and security over slippery, technical terrain.

Traction was the biggest selling point for our testers, who all remarked at the confidence they felt charging steep, muddy downhills and loose, rocky singletrack. The aggressive, chevron-shaped lugs are oriented in a unique circular pattern, which affords traction for sidehilling, banked turns and tight, winding singletrack.

True to its low profile and racing pedigree, the Supertrac is stiff—though, again, well-cushioned compared to other shoes in its weight class. Rocker in the forefoot provides a smooth ride, avoiding the “slappiness” typical of such a rigid shoe. The foot-hugging, tightly woven upper does require some wrangling to slip into—and may limit breathability and drainage—but, once laced, it provides a reassuringly secure fit. The tongue is un-gusseted, but the ribbed padding keeps laces in place.

Fit: Performance fit, with a narrow toe box.

Bottom Line:  Ideal for fast, technical mountain runs. The stiff midsole and minimal cushioning might be uncomfortable for longer distances.


Hoka One One Challenger ATR 3

Price: $130

Weight: 9.5 oz

Drop: 5 mm

The Challenger ATR 3 is the same reliable all-arounder it’s always been—just faster, stiffer and more adept on technical terrain. The ATR 3 retains its most identifiable features, including modest (relatively speaking, to, say, the Mafate) stack height, a sparse lug pattern with exposed midsole foam and characteristic rocker that makes for a smooth ride on both trails and pavement.

But thanks to a stiffer midsole and an updated, narrower fit, it is more supportive and more agile than the ATR 2. This is especially noticeable when sidehilling. Despite hefty cushion, the ATR 3s do not compromise on ground feel, and grip admirably on rock, scree and hard-packed snow.

The upper mesh is more tightly woven than earlier iterations, reinforced with delicate, crisscrossed overlays that enhance durability and support without adding weight. The toe bumper has also been reinforced.

Fit: Narrower than previous iterations of the same shoe.

Bottom Line: This is a fast, stable and agile shoe good for long distances over technical terrain. Not ideal for mud.


Brooks Caldera


Price: $140

Weight: 9.9 oz

Drop: 4 mm

As one tester described, Brooks’ Caldera is the Subaru Outback of trail-running shoes: stable, protective and reliable in all conditions. The shoe is generously cushioned, with moderate forefoot flexibility and torsional stiffness, for a nimble, responsive and lightweight ride. Testers found themselves reaching for this shoe on a daily basis, for its supreme comfort, sticky outsole and ability to tackle technical terrain.

The textured lugs are more grippy than their low profile might suggest, particularly noticeable on rocks and in wet conditions (however, after 100 miles, testers were disappointed to find the lugs ripping off the outsole). With a relatively low heel-toe drop, the Calderas manage a decent amount of medial support via increased midsole density under the arch, which over-pronators will appreciate.

The upper is light, with durable toe and heel bumpers and prominent overlays across the midfoot. Some testers had trouble with the laces loosening.

Fit: True to size, with a roomy toe box.

Bottom line:  An ultra-distance mountain runner that’s so comfortable you’ll want to keep it on for post-run drinks.

With regard to the lugs ripping off, Brooks’ product team made this statement: “Over the course of the shoe’s development, we discovered the outsoles in a specific batch of prototypes were not properly bonded. We know runners expect the highest quality from Brooks, and we resolved the issue for the final round of shoes so that runners can have the confidence they need to tackle the trails.” – Jena Winger, footwear product line manager. 

Editors’ Choice
Salomon Sense Pro Max


Price: $150

Weight: 10.2 oz

Drop: 6 mm

Cushion-lovers rejoice: there is finally a Salomon Sense shoe for you! This new addition to the Sense line features a stiff, amply cushioned midsole, with a wider toe box than traditional Salomon models. With the added cushion comes some added weight, but don’t let the shoe’s beefed-up appearance fool you. The Sense Pro Max is surprisingly light, agile and responsive, toeing a healthy balance between protectiveness and “spring.” The mid-sized, diamond-shaped lugs are equally at home on technical mountain terrain, dirt and paved bike paths.

Testers unanimously remarked at how comfortable the shoe felt out of the box. The upper is airy, with a thin, gusseted tongue that wraps around the sides of the foot.

Fit: True to size, with a roomier toe box than a typical Salomon Sense shoe.

Bottom line:  Jack-of-all-trades, this shoe is ready for a long day in the mountains or a jaunt through the park.


Adidas Aggravic Speed


Price: $120

Weight: 9.2 oz

Drop: 8 mm

This barely there shoe features a thin, un-padded upper and minimally cushioned midsole, with low-profile lugs that transition well from pavement to trails. Adidas makes up for the small lugs with an uber-grippy Continental-rubber outsole that lends an unexpected degree of confidence on rock, wet slabs and other technical surfaces (though is not ideal in thick mud). The midsole is quite firm—some testers felt it was too firm—with adequate flexibility in the forefoot.

Testers’ favorite feature is the stretchy, neoprene-like inner-sock liner, which wraps snugly around the foot for a fast-feeling, performance fit. This inner liner is strategically perforated—even so, it is not as breathable as typical mesh.

Fit: Narrow, performance fit.

Bottom Line: This shoe is ideal for short and fast missions, for those who don’t like a lot of cushion.


Altra King MT


Price: $140

Weight: 10.2 oz

Drop: 0 mm

The Altra King MT is sleek and fast, but surprisingly aggressive. With a stack height of just 19mm, the low-profile King MTs don’t look like much … until you turn them over and look at the outsole, which is equipped with a tight pattern of six-millimeter lugs. The midsole is minimally cushioned, and reinforced with a midfoot rock plate. The combo of an aggressive sole and a rock plate doesn’t compromise flexibility or ground feel, though some testers said the King MT felt less cushioned than their other Altra shoes.

In place of supportive midfoot overlays, Altra has added a unique Velcro strap, and testers appreciated the added security it offered through the midfoot.

Fit: True to size, with a roomy toe box.

Bottom line: This shoe is good for technical, sub-ultra runs.


La Sportiva Akyra


Price: $140

Weight: 11.4 oz

Drop: 9 mm

The Akyra is a rugged mountain beast, ideal for technical mountain running where precision and grip are of the essence. But despite its bulky appearance, this shoe is surprisingly agile. The moderately stiff midsole and aggressively lugged, sticky outsole transition seamlessly from singletrack to a mid-run scramble session, lending confidence on smear-y slabs and small, technical features. These shoes are also exceptionally stable, with substantial medial and lateral posts.

Traction and run-hike-climb adaptability aside, testers were particularly enamored of the shoe’s secure fit, especially through the heel. The tongue is gusseted and comfortably padded, while the upper is breathable, with hefty protective overlays that lend a certain degree of protection against water. Said one tester, “I stood in a stream for a full minute before my socks felt wet.”

Fit: True to size, with a high, supportive ankle.

Bottom line: This is a rugged mountain shoe that runs well and lends confidence on technical, rocky terrain.


Scarpa Spin

Price: $130

Weight: 8.9 oz

Drop: 4 mm

Runners who want total ground feel will love the Scarpa Spin.
This shoe is on the minimal side, with a thin, flexible midsole and low cushion. The shoe does have a rock plate, though several testers remarked that they were able to feel the contours of everything on the trail, including pointy rocks. Ground-feel aside, this shoe performed well on technical terrain and was surprisingly stable for its minimal construction, though noticeably lacking in arch support.

In contrast to the minimal midsole, the outsole is on the burlier side, with lightly textured, medium-depth lugs. The upper is moderately padded, with a thin, gusseted tongue.

Fit: On the long and narrow side, with a wide heel counter.

Bottom Line: This is a capable mountain runner for those who prefer ground feel over protection, and a great dirt/grass/gravel runner for everyone else.



Under Armor Horizon KTV

Price: $130

Weight: 9.8 oz

Drop: 7 mm

The Horizon KTV is ready to take whatever the trail dishes out. A stiff, relatively dense midsole wards against roots and rocks, while mid-sized lugs grip loose surfaces. Despite its rigidity, the Horizon KTV is surprisingly lightweight. An aggressive heel counter and plush Achilles cushioning make for a dialed fit through the rear, with a snug sock-like liner in the forefoot.

The upper features broad TPU overlays, in particular over the toecap. This enhances the shoe’s durability, water resistance and ability to keep out debris—but might also limit breathability in warmer temps, or quick draining after stream crossings.

Fit: True to size, snug in the heel and forefoot, with an average-size toe box.

Bottom Line: This is a tough, protective, durable shoe that is surprisingly light for its size.


Topo  Terraventure


Price: $110

Weight: 10.4 oz

Drop: 3 mm

The Topo Terraventure is a minimalist shoe that all runners—even non-minimalists—can enjoy. With a max stack height of 25mm and a 3mm heel-toe differential, this shoe hits a sweet spot between ultra-distance cushion, zero-drop minimalism and barefoot-style ground feel. The midsole is plush, and the outsole is thoughtfully laid out, with aggressive, 6mm lugs concentrated in the forefoot and heel. Presumably in a weight-saving effort, Topo has left a section of raised, uncovered foam in the midfoot. The result is protective, cushy and grippy with the flexible feel of a barefoot running shoe.

Testers found this shoe to perform exceptionally on technical terrain, particularly on rocks and softer, loamy surfaces (though not so in sticky mud). The upper is thin and breathable, with cushioning in the heel and an extra-wide toe box. The well-fitted heel and midfoot TPU overlays offer support and keep the foot from sliding around.

Fit: True to size, with an extra-wide toe box. Secure through the heel and midfoot.

Bottom Line: This is a good all-around trail shoe for runners looking to transition toward minimalism, or minimalists looking for a bit more cushion and stability for the long haul.


New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro V2


Price: $125

Weight: 10.6 oz

Drop: 4 mm

The New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro V2 is an ideal road-trail crossover for runners who like a lot of cushion. The shoe pairs a stiff, Vibram outsole with a thick, soft midsole made of New Balance’s proprietary Fresh Foam. Despite its heft, the Hierro runs surprisingly lightweight and bouncy, though ground feel is compromised. While it holds its own on technical terrain, testers found that the closely spaced, low-profile lugs struggled on slick surfaces and performed best on dry trail and road.  People who are accustomed to a high stack-height may be more comfortable taking this shoe on technical, rocky terrain.

The seamless upper is extremely comfortable, with a roomy—but not overly so—toe box and an elasticized tongue for a dialed fit.

Fit: Snug and secure, true to size.

Bottom Line: This is a good crossover road/trail shoe, for door-to-door missions on pavement and dry singletrack.


Inov-8 Roclite 305

Price: $130

Weight: 10.6 oz

Drop: 8 mm

The Roclite 305 is like an uber-grippy exoskeleton for your feet. The shoe is stiff, snug and prominently treaded, with a hardy midfoot rockplate and decent midsole cushion. The 6mm lugs perform admirably in even the slickest and stickiest mud, but thanks to their large surface area, they also track smoothly over harder surfaces.

Perhaps one of the shoe’s most unique features: the tongue is not gusseted, but sewn directly into the upper, so that there is no layer of overlapping fabric, which enhances the shoe’s form-fitting feel. The midfoot features a densely woven mesh reinforced with vertically oriented overlays, while the toe consists of a lighter, more flexible mesh.

Fit: Narrow to medium.

Bottom Line: This is a technical mountain-running shoe, good in sloppy conditions.

WATCH: Jamil Coury’s Hardrock Journey

The Hardrock 100 is famous for it’s brutal yet beautiful terrain, freak weather and crazy mishaps. This year was no exception, with a hail storm that left many runners shivering and covered in welts.

Jamil Coury, owner of Aravaipa Running, ran his way to an impressive ninth-place finish. On the way, he documented his run. The result is an honest look at the complete Hardrock experience.

“I get to see and experience so many amazing things [during these trail ultras] and its really fun to be able to share with people who may never run a race like the Hardrock,” says Coury. “I hope to inspire, entertain and move people to do positive things all while having fun along the way.”

Avoid Comparison to Get The Most Out of Your Training

No matter who you are and what you do, you can feel inadequate if you put your mind to it.

Teddy Roosevelt is often quoted as saying “Comparison is the thief of joy.” This is appropriate, since he was also famous for being a trail runner back before trail running existed (he would often romp through what is now Rock Creek Park outside Washington, D.C.). What Teddy understood is that if you look hard enough, you can always find someone better than the current version of you, and get discouraged as a result.

Running falls victim to the comparison trap more than almost any other endeavor because of the cold, hard calculus of the watch. I coach middle-of-the-pack athletes who are in the 95th percentile for fitness among the general population, but feel inadequate because they aren’t at the front of the pack. Even some of the elite athletes I coach—athletes who are among the best in the world—lament that they aren’t the very best.

Unless you’re a self-obsessed narcissist, comparison is a game you will virtually always lose if you zoom out far enough. When you compare yourself to other people, cracks start to form in self-esteem. These little leaks can eventually spring into massive existential crises. Comparison doesn’t just make running less fun—it can ruin running careers. So here are four tips to drop comparison and find self-acceptance on the trails.


1. Accept your limitations in the present and your decline in the future

The rarely talked-about reality of running is that the very best trail runners usually start with fortunate genetics. All champions work hard, but the reason that certain athletes’ hard work translates to world-beating race results is, simply, that they chose the right parents.

The goal of running training should always be to get what you can from trail running, constrained by the genetic hand you were dealt, along with your life circumstances and goals. As tweeted by Bradley Stulberg, author of Peak Performance, “Those with the longest, healthiest careers do care about results, but are not defined by them.” If you start defining yourself through comparison to others, you may be disappointed—often by factors outside of your control.

The comparison trap also applies to self-comparison. Trail-running fitness does not follow a linear progression. Instead, it follows something more like the flight path of a drunken duck that swerves and then crashes into a lake. You’ll progress, you’ll get a bit worse, you’ll progress some more and then you’ll decline gradually with age, before eventually dying. At some point in that trajectory, you’ll peak without really realizing it, only to have an epiphany one day that your best is behind you. In the face of a chaotic trail-running journey, embrace the present, no matter where it is. Entropy will win eventually, like it always does, so resolve to enjoy the game while it lasts.


2. Train by effort, not pace

During that drunken duck flight, your pace will change. Eight minutes per mile might be a sprint one year, and then a jog a few years later and then a sprint again a decade or two down the line, due to changes in training, stress, age and countless other factors. It’s extremely difficult to remove self-judgment from pace splits, both over the long-term and even over the course of a single training cycle.

Last week, an athlete I coach was crushing her workout. She was on interval eight of 10 and loving life. Feeling good, she lapped out her watch to check her pace. Her heart sunk when the number wasn’t what she wanted. On interval nine, a great run turned into a terrible slog.

The point I tried to make to her is that for trail runners, pace within a workout barely matters. Our races involve hills, rocks and streams, with hundreds of variables impacting pace. Besides, “fast” workouts don’t necessarily translate to fulfilling races. My worst races often come after my fastest workouts, because in my fastest workouts, I am running too hard.

Training by effort (easy, moderate and hard) removes the option to judge your pace during runs, making sure you stay in the moment and focus on the correct stimulus. You might not be able to run eight minutes per mile every day—or every decade—but you can always put in a good effort.

It’s okay to check out your pace afterward (or during) if you are able to not take it too seriously. But for some Type-A personalities, even checking after-the-fact may be too much feedback. I encourage many of the runners I coach (including many pros) to not use a GPS watch at all. GPS feedback is like fire—it can be fuel, or it can burn you alive.


3. Take pride in keeping your easy runs slow

Eventually, almost all runners with longevity in the sport learn that easy runs are sacred. Getting caught up in what others are doing (or in what you do on days you feel perfect) often leads to running faster than you should on relaxed training days. Too much intensity causes injuries, burnout and fatigue. It also causes your workouts to suffer. Running fast at the wrong time can make you slow all the time.


4. Only race when motivated by the process, not the results

If you make a living from running, disregard this point. Results might help a pro (or an aspiring pro) put food on the table.

For most of us, though, race results are not what let us afford pizza and beer. For us, racing can be motivated by lots of things—self-exploration, adventure, the joy of inconsequential vulnerability. But if motivated primarily by results, racing can be a slippery slope to inadequacy.

So step back and ask yourself a simple question: “Why am I running this race?” There are two main kinds of answers: those that are results-based and those that are process-based. If your “why” requires you to finish in a certain time or place, your motivation to race is results-based. Almost any other kind of motivation, from wanting a goal to train towards in the first place, wanting the most out of the months of training you’ve put in or experiencing fun trails, is process-based.

If there’s anything coaching has taught me, it’s that results-based justifications for trail running can be dangerous and often result in existential crises. If your goals have a finish line, what happens when you get there? For some, the results-based approach is sustainable. For others, it results in post-race blues with both bad and good races.

Reframe races as a step along a journey as opposed to a destination, and the pressure lifts. Little by little, removing comparison as a means to define success in training and racing can help some runners find unconditional self-acceptance.

In the process, the goal is never to use training and racing to answer the question “Am I enough?” Instead, the goal is to trail run joyfully knowing “I am enough, no matter what.”


David Roche runs for HOKA One One and NATHAN, and works with runners of all abilities through his coaching service, Some Work, All Play.

Why Fueling With Real Food Matters

Food is food is food, right? Well, not quite. Runners tend to be highly aware of what we put in our bodies. We know all about carbohydrates, fat and protein, and how many grams of each to consume throughout the day. But numbers do not tell the whole story. In fact, they’re just the tip of the iceberg.

What you eat is just as important as how much you eat. An avid runner training six days a week needs somewhere between six and 10 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight. For a 150-pound runner, that means around 400 to 680 grams of carbohydrates per day.

But is 400 grams of pasta the same as 400 grams of dark leafy greens? If we just concentrate on the number and not the quality of food, we can trick ourselves into thinking we are eating healthier than we actually are.


When you hear the word carbohydrate, do visions of pasta, bread and potatoes dance in your head? If so, congratulations—your carbohydrate-food-associating skills are on par with 99 percent of the population.
However, although pasta, bread and potatoes are indeed carbohydrates, they aren’t the type to emphasize in your day-to-day diet, because they don’t give you much besides energy. In contrast, fruits, vegetables and whole grains (oats, rice, kamut) are carbohydrates and chock full of vitamins, minerals, fiber and water. These foods give you more bang for your buck compared to the processed, refined, nutrient-devoid version.

The Almighty Protein

For some reason we’ve had drilled into our brains that it is really difficult to get enough protein. This is simply not true. The average endurance athlete requires 1.2 to 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. That means our 150-pound runner needs about 80 to 95 grams of protein per day. Those grams add up fast.

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. There are 21 amino acids in the body used for building protein. The body can synthesize several of these amino acids on its own, but nine of them—the essential amino acids—must be obtained through foods. A protein’s quality is a reflection of its biological value in the body.

The best sources of protein are found in real, whole foods. Picture this: one cup of protein powder versus one cup of lentils. Which one do you think is better for your body? If you answered lentils, you are correct. One serving of protein powder typically contains 15 to 20 grams of protein, but contains a long list of unrecognizable ingredients. And the taste … oh, the taste. Of course, processed powders pack a lot of protein into one serving, but such high amounts of protein are unnecessary.

Lentils, on the other hand, contain plenty of protein, along with other vital nutrients like fiber; vitamins A, B-complex, D, E and K; calcium, copper, magnesium, iron, phosphorus and potassium, to name a few.

In general, animal products like turkey, chicken, beef and dairy are easy sources of high-quality protein. They contain all the essential amino acids.

Does that mean animal proteins are essential for healthy nutrition? Not at all. As our cup of lentils demonstrates, it’s easy to meet your protein needs through a plant-based diet, although variety becomes even more critical to get all the essential amino acids. High-quality plant-based protein sources include quinoa, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and edamame.

However, be wary of supposedly “healthy” plant-based proteins like tofu and “alternative meats.” These fall in the processed, refined-food category and lack all the same things that a piece of bread lacks. Instead, aim for plant-based sources that you can recognize as real food.

Embrace the Fat

We used to be afraid of fat, but it’s starting to make a better name for itself. Fat is one of the most important nutrients for an athlete. Well, all nutrients are essential, but because we’ve shunned fat for so long it’s vital to highlight its importance. Fat is involved in everything we do, from growth, immune function and recovery to absorbing vitamins and minerals.

The same rule of thumb applies: focus on real-food sources, such as high-quality olive oil, nuts, avocado, cheese, full-fat yogurt, coconut oil, whole eggs and even butter … gasp! Yes, butter is perfectly fine. It’s a naturally occurring fat, and our bodies require some saturated fat in moderation—especially the endurance athlete, for whom overeating is rarely the issue. If you limit the number of foods you eat out of a package, you will naturally improve the quality of fats in your diet.

All of this can be summarized in three words: eat real food. Prioritize the kind of food you put in your body, rather than the amount of food. Shop local, get to know your farmer and treat food as a precious commodity …  because good food is. We can’t thrive without it.


The Danger of Focusing on Numbers

Both sample meals below yield the same number of carbohydrates (80g), and, on paper, look the same. But the food quality is quite different.
Example A is made up of processed foods, while example B focuses on real foods. The higher-quality foods in example B mean more vitamins and minerals, along with fiber and water for greater satiation.

Example  A 

Turkey Club Sandwich, 6”    42g
Tortilla chips, 1oz    19g
Granola bar, chewy chocolate chip    19g
TOTAL Carbohydrate:    80g

Example  B

Brown Rice & Vegetables, 1c    37g
Apple, large raw    31g
Broccoli, 1c cooked    12g
TOTAL Carbohydrate:    80g

Stephanie’s Real Food Smoothie

You don’t need protein powder to make a delicious post-run recovery smoothie. I make one with lots of protein, but it comes from real food. It’s better for your body and your wallet.

½ c plain, full-fat Greek yogurt
½ c frozen blueberries
¼ c quinoa
¼ c sweet potatoes
1 T nut butter
1 large handful of greens
½ c milk or choice (or kombucha) to taste
Ice, if desired
Add to blender,
turn on. It’s that simple.
The author has a PhD in Exercise Physiology and Nutrition. When not geeking out on nutrition, she can be found on the trails in Bend, Oregon, with her dog Riley.

WATCH: Pacing Hardrock

In 2015, 27-year-old Kevin Douglas was the youngest person to finish the Hardrock 100. His pacer, Salomon athlete Jeff Pelletier, captured their experience at the race. Through Pelletier, we feel the excitement of race morning and the air of anticipation at each aids station as crew members eagerly await the arrival of their runners. We see race leaders Kilian Jornet, Mike Foot and Adam Campbell. We experience the beauty of the San Juan mountains through sleep-deprived eyes.

WATCH: An Ode to the Hardrock 100, Rap-Style

On Friday, July 14 at 6:00 a.m., 145 runners set off from Silverton, Colorado for the annual 100-mile journey through the San Juan mountains. Often referred to as a giant ultra-family reunion, Hardrock is one of the toughest 100-milers in the U.S. and has one of the most devout followings of any U.S. ultra.

This rap video, by Run Steep Get High, celebrates the race, its traditions, its iconic peaks and its beautiful scenery.

This Little-Known Peak-Bagging Challenge in Washington Will “Kick Your Butt”

Over July 4th weekend, 2017, Washington-based ultrarunners Ras Vaughan and Seth Wolpin became the first people to complete the Harvey Manning Peak Challenge, a route linking 18 peaks in the Issaquah Alps outside of Seattle.

The challenge, which involves roughly 95 miles with around 40,000 feet of elevation gain, was designed by George Orozco, who is a fixture of the Seattle running community and engineered the locally famous Issy Alps 100K and 100-miler challenges.

“It’s almost like Barkley,” says Vaughan. “You don’t really ask, ‘Why?’ You just do it because [Barkley race director] Laz said so. Or, in this case, because George said so.”


Origins of the Harvey Manning Peak Challenge

The Harvey Manning Peak Challenge is named after conservationist and hiker Harvey Manning, who is responsible for protecting many of the Seattle area’s most iconic wild spaces. The challenge is reminiscent of Nolan’s 14, in the sense that there is no set route—merely a requirement to tag the summit of 18 specific peaks. Start and end points are specified, but what happens in between there and the 18 summits is up to each runner.

Orozco specifically chose these 18 peaks because they are rarely—if ever—visited. After spending time on the Seattle area’s more popular peaks, he says, “I started exploring the south side of the I-90 corridor in hopes of finding new peaks to tag, and what I found was challenging summits that offered just as rewarding views as the north side but with much less foot traffic.”

Many of the peaks on the route have “faint trails” to their summits. Others have no trail at all. “Reaching many of the summits […] requires the person to do a little homework and study maps,” Orozco says.

To date, only two other people have attempted the route. Even Orozco has never given it a go. “I am not that crazy!” he says. “I have tagged most of the peaks in the challenge. Just not in one go.”

Vaughan (left) and Wolpin (right) at the start of their attempt. Photo by Seth Wolpin



Both Vaughan and Wolpin were well acquainted with the Issaquah Alps, both having completed Orozco’s other major Washington peak-bagging challenge, the Issy Alps 100, in solo, unsupported fashion. (Only one other person has done so in this style).

Vaughan, better known by the nickname “Ultrapedestrian,” has earned a reputation for quirky, obscure “Only Known Times” (OKT), like a covering the 93-mile Wonderland trail around the base of Mount Rainier in both directions in one push—what he calls the Double Wonderland.

Wolpin is a professor of public health at the University of Washington, and spends most of his free time leading fastpacking trips and running a non-profit in Nepal . He has held FKTs on the Annapurna Circuit and the Manaslu Circuit, and an OKT on the Kathmandu Valley Rim Trail, and finished one lap at the 2016 Barkley Marathons.

“Harvey Manning had been in the back of my mind since George first announced it,” says Vaughan. “But I always have way too many projects going on.” He had initially been planning to attempt a double Issy Alps 100 over July 4th weekend, but his pacers fell through.

Wolpin, who had been doing recon on the Harvey Manning route for the last month, invited Vaughan to join.

“Our main goal was just to do it,” says Vaughan. “It was such an obvious OKT, ripe for the picking. We decided that no matter how bad things were, we would just settle in and embrace the grind, even if it wasn’t pretty.”

Vaughan and Wolpin took a photo at each summit, holding up fingers to denote the number of summits passed. Photo by Ras Vaughan /


78 hours

The Harvey Manning Peak Challenge contains everything from well-maintained forest-service roads to boulderfield scrambles and bushwhacks so overgrown it takes a few minutes to move a few feet.

“Early on, we realized that our initial goal of 60 hours would come and go long before we were done,” says Vaughan.

The most efficient way to connect many of the peaks was via steep, tree-covered ridgelines. “The detours would have been 10 or 12 miles and 3,000 to 4,000 feet,” says Wolpin. But the ridgelines weren’t necessarily an easy way out.

“There were two ridges in particular where we were battling thick trees,” says Wolpin. “Imagine 10 Christmas trees packed into a five-foot-by-five-foot room. Now imagine trying to walk through that room wearing a pack with an ice axe strapped on.”

Despite being below treeline, the exposure on these ridges was extreme, and fall potential was high. “It would have been easy to bust through the trees and tumble down,” says Wolpin. “I did Barkley in April, and certain sections [on the Harvey Manning route] are harder and more dangerous than anything you’d find in Barkley.”

The crux of the linkup came on the traverse from Green Mountain to Mount Teneriffe.

Wolpin had scouted the connection, and thought he knew a way to access the ridge between the two peaks. But when he and Vaughan got there in the dark, he grew uncertain. A short, vertical 5th-class section, which had looked doable during daylight, now seemed too dangerous. “I climbed 10 or 15 feet up, and I realized that if I fell, I could have died,” says Wolpin.

He retreated, and led the way down a scree chute that skirted under the sketchy ridge. “It was dark, and we were traveling by headlamp with this huge runout below us, which we couldn’t see,” says Vaughan. “You would kick a rock down and hear it falling and crashing somewhere very far below.”

The traverse was saving Vaughan and Wolpin thousands of feet of climbing, but both had doubts about whether it would go.

“We were just grabbing onto weeds to keep from slipping,” says Wolpin. “Ras took his ice axe out, even though there was no snow. It was that steep. And we didn’t know if we were going to get cliffed out.”

After two hours, they reconnected with the trail up Mount Teneriffe. The “hard” part of the route—the off-trail navigation—was done.

They ultimately reached the Rattlesnake Mountain Snoqualmie point trailhead in 78 hours 36 minutes, three days after they set out.

“I got full-body goosebumps and a huge smile on my face,” says Orozco, of the moment he received a message about Vaughan and Wolpin’s successful run. “Perhaps even a little teary-eyed. Finally, [Harvey Manning] got the attention it deserved, and who better to have completed it than Seth and Ras.”

“It’s great to have other people looking for unique ways to make their mark on classic trails,” says Vaughan. “[Harvey Manning] is such a cool route. It touches on a unique pocket of Washington history. It’s not Rainier, or the Olympic Peninsula—it’s not any of those classic Cascade routes—yet you find these challenging local crags that will kick your butt.”