Friday, August 31, 2012

Inca Runners Ultra Running Camp

This summer I had the opportunity of a lifetime fall into my lap. Hugo Mendez of Inca Runners asked me if I would be interested in serving as the cook for the Inca Runners Ultra Running Camp. I'm not a professional chef. In fact, far from it. Back in college I slung grub as a prep cook at a couple of local joints. Like most runners I like to eat and I do enjoy creating in the kitchen. But serving as many as a dozen or more runners three squares a day? I'm used to cooking for a family of four that includes two kids. The request was not without some intimidation. What if I sucked? You see, Hugo is my friend too. And this was his first running camp. We had talked about the camp through the months as he planned and organized it. I knew how much work had gone into putting it together. The last thing I wanted to do was something to jeopardize it being anything but a resounding success. I could hear the whispers... 

"Yeah, the camp was cool but the food sucked." 
"Who does that guy think he is?" 
"Black beans in a brownie? Moron!"
Could I pull it off and help make it work? And did I mention it would be held at Grand Teton and that Krissy Moehl and Luke Nelson and Bryce Thatcher would be there? And that a fine group of strangers would put down their hard earned money to be there?

No pressure. 

The sponsor table, thank you Patagonia, First Endurance, Flora/Udo's Oil and UltrAspire

I called my brother in law for advice. Martin is not only a stud athlete but an absolute whiz in the kitchen and possesses some serious skills in my opinion. And he has an ability to digest things in his mind that I sometimes lack. He's the kinda guy that could open up your fridge, browse your pantry and regardless of the pickings, serve up a 4 star meal that would make your eyes roll back into your head. In short, he can make you feel like a retard. I was kinda hoping he would insist on going in my place. He didn't. With Martin's help a game plan was set and I found myself accepting the offer. He then joked with my luck there would probably be someone that was a gluten-free, sodium restricted, vegetarian. 

This was our playground

Creating a menu plan was a bit tricky. I know what I like to eat but will a bunch of hungry strangers feel the same? Will there be any vegetarians or vegans? There is one. Damn. Love ya Clive! Oh, there's a budget to stick to also. I need to cut my food expense by 30% now? You get the idea. For someone who has never done this it required some thinking. Eventually a menu plan was set and I was now only half scared. As the weeks went by I used my family as a testing ground for the recipes. Kids are great because they don't pretend to like something if it doesn't taste good. They simply say things like "That's gross dad" or "Eewww". And if it is tasty they don't say anything at all. They just leave a "happy" plate for me to wash up. That was the goal, happy plates. 

Mandatory meeting the day before camp

Travel plans were made, the menu refined and I was ready to head to Boulder to meet Hugo. The next day we would make the 8 hour drive to Jackson (elevation 6,200). But not before sneaking in an hour trail run near the Boulder Reservoir (5 miles 500 ft vertical 50 minutes). For the record there is a whole lot of nothing in the drive between Boulder and Jackson. Except a big statue of Abraham Lincoln. Weird. That evening Hugo and I held a mandatory planning meeting at the Snake River Brewery. The next morning we hit the trails above town on the Elk Refuge for an hour "constitutional". Two and a half miles up and back (5 miles 1,100 ft vertical 1 hour) .On the way up we passed a couple that looked to be in their 70s out for a hike on the trail. That was inspiring. Breakfast smoothies, showers and then the short drive over to the camp base where we unloaded supplies and made room for a visit to the grocery store. Buying food for twelve is a workout in itself. Prepping the meals solo was, at times, hard work. Who knew one could get a good burn in the forearms by shredding carrots and zucchini by hand for sweet breads? Thank god my wife forces me to watch The Food Network so much. Amazing what you can pick up there. 

Hurricane Pass (photo by J. Mollosky)

I won't bore you with all the meals in detail. I will say that my goal was to keep things simple, fresh, tasty and healthful. Meals ran the gamut from burgers to fish tacos to asparagus and mushroom pasta. There was always plenty of fresh salad and desserts (at Krissy's request). The most requested recipe was for the black bean brownies. Seriously, it was. If the serving bowls came back empty I took that as a good sign. I have to say that throughout the week there were countless offers to assist in prepping meals and cleaning up afterwards. I owe a debt of gratitude to all of the fellow runners for their help in getting meals served and their patience when things were slower than expected. On the night before the big run we had, I think, 17 mouths to feed. After I finished and the food had been served, I just sat quietly and watched. It was a good feeling to see everyone smiling and not throwing up. I guess I was OK there. 

Jay the Gentleman (Photo by C. Miskin)

On Saturday I was able to get out for the run through Phillips Canyon. As expected, I was a back of the packer. I neither had the base needed (coming off the injury) nor the lungs (being a flat lander). It was my longest run since February and it showed. The climbs were a challenge and the final descent was pretty ugly as I got fatigued and the temperature warmed. I took a few minutes at the last stream crossing to cool off. But I got it done. 17 miles, 3,500 ft vertical and 3.5 hours. I was hurting. Jim offered up his services and took to my sore muscles using his magic stick with a vengeance. I wasn't sure if I should shake his hand or poke him in the eye. Sometimes it hurts to feel better. Thanks Jim. 

Alpine Meadow at Alaska Basin (Photo by C. Miskin)

There were to be two runs daily. A longer run in the morning used as a workout and shorter evening runs to serve as mini clinics by the coaches. The clinics would cover things like uphill and downhill technique or core workouts. After every run Krissy or Luke would take time to explain some aspect of trail/ultra running. One day it was eating for recovery and another day it was a round table discussion on gear. One of the highlights of the camp was the circumnavigation run of Grand Teton. Mountain ecstasy for some and agony for others. It was the only other run I would make at the camp. I knew that 34 miles was out of the question for me as things stand. I opted to join the group about 10 miles in from the start at Jenny Lake along the way to Death Canyon. The day would find me climbing high mountain passes, traversing scree falls and boulders, crossing snow fields, running along mountain streams and waterfalls (and drinking the cold, clear water), through fields of wild flowers, getting lost (thanks Luke) and passing beautiful alpine lakes. And I ran out of film about 3 hours into the run. I was moving along pretty good until the final climb when I got hot and the stomach went south. The final 10k was rather tough for me. One of the campers, Jay, took pity on me and stayed on my hip until I reached the banks of Jenny Lake. Jay had spent the first half of the run helping another camper climb to the top. Now he encouraged me to fuel and hydrate and to keep moving. Thank you Jay. We walked when I needed to and jogged along when I could. I have an entirely new appreciation for covering long distances at elevation that include big climbs and descents. Before I was impressed. Now I am in awe. For the day I covered 24 miles, 7,000 ft of vertical and just over 6 hours. Three passes exceeding 10,000 ft. I climbed through Death Canyon, over Buck Mtn Pass, through the Alaska Basin, over Static Peak Divide and Hurricane Pass and back down to Jenny Lake. I was totally and completely worked over. The group eventually met up at Jenny Lake and a good soak in the cold water was is order. After that we headed over to Teton Village for dinner. Thankfully I did not have to prepare a meal  that evening. It was all I could do to chew my food. I was totally spent. 

Photo by C. Miskin

The next morning folks would be packing up to head back home. Email addresses would be exchanged. Handshakes and hugs were passed around. And we had made it through the camp without any major screw ups. Although running out of gas for the grill on grilled fish taco day came close. The coaches, Krissy Moehl and Luke Nelson could not have been more helpful. They provided insight and direction every step of the way. From Day 1 they each offered themselves up as open books to all of us. And if that wasn't enough they brought top notch sponsors on board for the camp. Patagonia, First Endurance, Udo's Oil & Flora and UltrAspire. Campers received a free pair of Patagonia trail shoes (I love my Tsali 2.0), numerous samples of First Endurance products (I found I really like EFS Liquid Shot), we had a case of Udo's Oil and Flora chocolates (made with Udo's Oil these chocolates are fantastic) and a free UltrAspire handheld bottle. In addition, we had the chance to demo the line of belts and packs from UltrAspire. In the past I have used CamelBak and Salomon brand packs. Hands down the UltrAspire was more comfortable and practical. UltrAspire guru and Grand Teton record holder Bryce Thatcher made an appearance the night before our big run. His lovely wife and 3 great kids joined him. After breaking bread together Bryce discussed his background in the outdoors and his 29 year old FKT (fastest known time) for the ascent/descent of Grand Teton (3h06m  >6,000 ft vertical and about 15 miles). His record, that stood for such a long time, would be broken not once but twice in the following month. First by Kilian Jornet (2h54m) and 10 days later by Andy Anderson (2h53m). The Thatcher boys even helped clean dishes after dinner. Without being asked to do so. Good kids. Meeting Fred and Betsy was cool too. 

Photo C. Miskin

But the thing that has stuck with me more than anything else is the vibe of the camp. I could not have imagined a diverse group of strangers coming together and clicking as well as we did. Helping one another without asking or hesitation. Meeting simply as fellow trail runners one day and parting ways five days later as kindred spirits. I realize as a whole that trail runners are a friendly tribe and we all share something in common but this was special. As I told the group Monday night it is a good thing to realize personal success but seeing somebody you care about succeed by having a vision come true is something worth embracing. I'm proud of my buddy Hugo. I consider myself fortunate to have been asked to play a role and it is a blessing to have shared it with my friend Hugo and an incredible group of runners. I will never forget the adventure with Hugo, Krissy, Luke, Kim, Becky, Maria, Jay, Clive, Cam and Jim. 

Thank you one and all. 

At the top of Hurricane Pass (Photo by K. Moehl)
Click here  for the official Inca Runners Ultra Camp Grand Teton video by Hugo M. 

Click here for a camp video by runner Cam H.

Click here for a camp video (Part 1) by runner Jim M.

Click here  for Part II by Jim M. 

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