Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

March 30, 2015

Behind the Rocks 50k, Moab Utah, 28 Mar 2015

Brutally hot and sandy.  That just about describes this year's Behind the Rocks race, put on by Mad Moose Events.   We had been watching the weather in Moab all week, hoping that the forecast was wrong, but sure enough that 85 degree day came to pass.   The rest of the week it had been cooler, but....

I was signed up for the 50k, and Jim was doing his longest race at 30k, but we both got more than we bargained for...the actually distances were more like 53k and 33k.  Ooops...like we wanted to go any further in that heat!

The name of the race says it all, the event was held behind a huge cliff overlooking the town of Moab.  It was mostly on jeep trails, which meant quite a bit of sand.   And with start times of 8 am and 9 am for us, it was getting warm even before we started running, and just kept getting hotter.

The scenery got a lot better on the 50k when I dropped down into Hunter's Canyon on the rim trail.   Here it was single track, with beautiful views down into the canyon.   The final drop down to the road and the aid station was really steep and really awesome...and it was nice to arrive at the shady aid station, too!   I downed a few glasses of soda, and filled my water reservoir up knowing it was a long climb out again to the plateau.    This was just past the halfway point of the race, which I passed at 3 hours, but the long climb, high elevation, and high temps would take their toll.  It would take another 4.5 hours for me to do the slightly shorter second half.

A few people got more than they bargained for in that section, and ran out of water.  I had been getting dry mouth constantly, and kept taking sips of water until my stomach sloshed when I ran.   I even shared my dwindling supply with a guy who was carrying nothing more than a bike bottle for the whole race.

10 miles of climbing and the midday sun brought me to the 3rd aid station, which was stocked with ICE (yay!).   Everyone there was downing glass after glass of cold soda and filling up with water.  There may have only been 7 miles left in the race, but we all knew it would take a while to walk it in the heat.  I pulled out my sponge and soaked myself with water as much as I could...it dried almost instantly but felt really nice.   Oddly enough, after drinking a few small cups of soda, my stomach was no longer sloshing...think I just had too much plain water in it for a while.

At any rate, I got through the last bit by constantly sponging water on my head...think I poured more on myself than I drank.   I even stopped for 5 minutes under a small, shady tree...it felt really nice but I knew I had to keep going.   Jim had a tough race as well...the 30k didn't get to the nice single track and so he was on really sandy trails most of the time.  He came upon a woman who had fainted in the heat, and walked back with her to the finish to make sure she got back ok.    We were both considerably dehydrated afterwards and drank multiple glasses of liquids for the rest of the day.

Hot and dirty by the finish line...too hot to run the final stretch!
I've gotta say that heat, sand and elevation sure make it hard to run in a race like this.  I was looking forward to running the final downhill stretch, but by then I was down to a power walk.   Physically I felt pretty good...less aches and pains now that I am getting longer runs under my belt.  But speed is limited by the body's ability to cool itself, and heat and dehydrations are a double whammy to limit athletic performance.   Since in hot weather, blood is forced to the skin to produce more sweat, there is less blood going to working muscles.  And dehydration means that there is less blood volume overall, further limiting the amount of oxygen carried to the muscles.  Add 5500 feet of elevation into the mix, with some soul sucking sand underfoot, and it was tough.   20 degrees cooler and we would have breezed through it.  Literally!

Results are HERE

Enjoying the last cool moments of the day before the start!
RV neighbors Marty and Bill left us a surprise for the race...easter eggs filled with Jelly Belly's!!

Footprints in the sandy trails

March 28, 2015

Meet the Girl Who's Taking on the Guys


Reposted from Red Bull X-Alps: 

Dawn Westrum is a former US soldier and, along with Yvonne Dathe, is the first woman in 10 years to compete in the Red Bull X-Alps. In this Q&A, she tells us what she has over the boys.

What have you been up to? Over January and February I was down in Colombia, where I competed in the FAI World Paragliding Championships, finishing seventh in my class. Then I did another month of free flying and trying to go for distance. I was also hiking 14.5km up to launch with my gear every two or three days. I flew about 85 hours down there so I got plenty of airtime! Since then I’ve been back at home in Utah. I'm running in a 50k race here in Moab in a couple of days.

Nervous? It’s been a dream of mine to do the Red Bull X-Alps since I first heard of the race. It’s the Olympics of paragliding, and I’m lucky enough to get an entry! I don’t have anything to prove – I just want to see what happens.

Can you really keep up with the boys?When I was competing in the 2012 Adidas Terrex Expedition Race, a five-day adventure race in Scotland, I came close to keeping up with my guy teammates. If a girl can do that, people say it’s time for her to find new teammates. I know the guys are going to kick my butt on the Prologue because they’re faster on the shorter races. But what I know is that I have the endurance to challenge them on the big race. I can do the long stuff and can prove women can just keep going and going. I’m not sure if I can do it, but I’d like to find out. The real challenge is the Alps are their backyard, not mine.

You have plans to fix that?I’m coming over late April to train and hope do a lot of flying between then and the race. That gives me a couple of months to work on everything, but the truth is it’s not enough time. I will do my best, but it’s not going to be enough. I’ve flown in a lot of different places now and realized that wind and clouds act like wind and clouds wherever you are. There are no massively crazy differences. If you can fly with that understanding, you can fly anywhere.

What about the complicated valley winds in the Alps?I flew in the Alps last June and July and someone there explained the valley winds to me. I have an understanding of them, but now I need to test that understanding, which is why the local training between April and the race will be important. I have also hiked and driven a lot in the Alps so there is some familiarity with them that will serve as a base. But the fact remains that I don’t have the home court advantage.

What advantages do you have?For this race I don’t want to leave anything on the table. I have the time, finances, and freedom in my life right now to train so I have the best chance of getting all the details correct. I don’t have any commitments this spring other than training for the Red Bull X-Alps. So I’m free to prepare and train as much as I am able. I know it’s very difficult to balance fitness with rest and recovery, the right mix of training with a healthy diet, getting all of the nutrients I need without bonking during training. I’m sure most of the other athletes can’t give the time to training and prep as I can. That’s my advantage.

We hear you're into mapsYes, my favorite part of the whole project is using maps to figure out which way I’ll go, and what alternative routes I’ll take depending on weather conditions. I’ve looked at the route online and will order paper maps in the coming days. For the first stage alone I’ll be ordering about 15 to 20 maps so I can get a close view of the route options I have.

How do you think your time in the US military has prepared you?It gave me my start in map reading and navigation! In the army you don’t get to say you’re tired and you don’t get to stop. You keep going until you get there, wherever “there” is, and then you set up camp and complete your mission. So along the way, it’s important to manage your energy reserves, take care of your feet, eat when you can, and sleep when you can. The army really taught me that I could go a lot further and do much more than I first believed.

What is your greatest fear for the race?Easy. Being eliminated. It would be terrible to train this hard and to race for three days only to get kicked out. I just want the chance to see how far I get in 12 days.

What’s your training schedule look like that the moment?For me, training is more about quality than quantity. If you go hard everyday you don’t give yourself the time to recover properly. I’m doing big back-to-back days, 10 to 12 hours on each, hiking with my pack. Then a week or so to recover, speed training, and more prep, and then another two big days. I’m also doing laps up and down my local training hill. It’s boring, but makes for good training, I can really dial in my gear and make sure that my transitions from flying to hiking and back again, are as fast as possible. Hopefully that will save me a lot of time in the race. There are also plenty of great hike and fly spots near my house. Then, I’m coming over to Europe in late April for more specific, local training.

Favorite inspirational quote?You can always do more than you think you can.

March 27, 2015

It's not ALL Training! Jeeping in Moab...

I guess it's just not right to drive a Jeep to Moab without taking it on at least one off-road trail, right?   Jim just put a high-performance GM engine into the Jeep, and we wanted to see how it would perform on some real terrain.

So in between proper training days, we hopped in our ride for a chance to enjoy the slickrock without sweating.  Sweating from nervousness doesn't count, either...  I must admit I'm not a great passenger.  I was a little white-knuckled until I realized that 37 inch tires make those the rocks seem really flat.  I guess I'm still looking at these rocks from a mountain bike perspective, which makes them seem scarier.   With the Jeep barely breaking a sweat, we crawled up and over some sections that I could not have walked up...they were too steep!  Jim even let me drive...for about 200 meters, that was enough for me.  Still, I enjoyed getting out and running alongside taking photos more than actually riding :) I think I prefer my own two feet to this motorized transport.   Although the photos don't do this terrain justice...it's actually much crazier in real life!

The Fins n Things Trail is high above Moab and a great spot to get an intro to off-road riding.  At least, as long as you are driving a vehicle that can handle big drop offs, steep climbs and lot of sand.   Fins are the long fingers of sandstone sticking up above the sand, and sometimes they are just wide enough to drive up and over and down again...but don't go over the side!

Jeep Safari Week starts in a few days here in Moab, so I'm sure we'll get to see a lot more jeeps and other off-road vehicles on the trails.  It is pretty fun to watch them all maneuver through the obstacles...some of them look impassible!

March 26, 2015

7UP Mountain Bike Trail, Moab

You might be able to tell from the slickrock that we are down in Moab!   Southern Utah is our new favorite home away from home, and we finally made time to dig out our mountain bikes and go for a ride.  
Moab is known for its highly technical mountain bike trails.  (In fact they used to sell T-Shirts saying "I survived" if you could ride the trails here and still walk away at the end).   Luckily in the last few years, new, purpose-built mountain biking trails are springing up all over the Moab area.  And some of them are even for beginners.  :)  

The 7Up trail is considered an intermediate trail, but much of it is just a jeep trail which runs mostly down hill.  There are a few nice obstacles, and lots of slick rock.   I've done this trail before, as the last section of the Moab 24 Hour Adventure Race last fall.   I figured if I enjoyed it after 22 hours of racing through the night, I would really enjoy it on fresh legs! 

Jim and I got a shuttle up to the trail head to save us riding about 20 miles of uphill.  Our shuttle driver got a flat tire on the way up the hill, but eventually we got a spare on, and still arrived at the trailhead.  From the top of the plateau, we could see in all directions, but then dropped into the 7Up trail.  From there we were looking at the ground more than the sky.  The trail wound around a few small canyons, with plenty of nice scenery around.   

This was Jim's first bike ride in a while, and my first since that Adventure Race, so we weren't racing.  The blue marks painted on the trail showed us the way, and Jim led out on what was a mostly downhill, mostly rolling course.  Nothing too technical.  Although I still did get off my bike a few times.  Less than during the race though!  
After 10 miles of trail, we ended up on the highway which runs down from Canyonlands National Park.  From there it was another 15 miles back into Moab.   I'd say those miles were mostly downhill (and they were), but with a steady headwind up the canyon past Arches National Park, it was hard work getting back.   

Now that we're back in the saddle, maybe we'll head to some more technical trails.  Hmmm...  

Here's some info on all of the Mountain Bike trails in the Moab area: http://www.discovermoab.com/biking.htm

March 25, 2015

Icaro2000 Helmet: X-Alps Sponsor!

My search for a lightweight paragliding helmet for the X-Alps has gone on for a while.   I really wasn't able to find much information about this type of product on paragliding forums or anywhere.   Finally a fellow competitor sent me this link, and voila!   I have my helmet!

The Transalp Helmet only weighs 390 grams, which is hundreds of grams lighter than a regular certified helmet. Plus it's very durable...check out the video below of the guy pounding the polycarbonate helmet into concrete!  Not a scratch or dent!?!  It is EN 966 certified, I believe the lightest one on the market, at least that I can find.

The outer shell seems to be one size fits all, and the inside padding is then fitted to size for your head. Make sure to do your measurements correctly when ordering a helmet, in centimeters as this is an Italian company.   At €120, it's a great price, especially with the euro exchange falling right now.

The helmet seems to fit pretty well, and there is a wheel on the back (much like a bike helmet) that can be used to cinch down the fit so it stays where you want it.   Bottom line, it's light and that's less I have to carry up a lot of hills during the race!

Thanks Icaro!  


March 20, 2015

Red Bull X-Alps Fan FAQ


Everything you ever wanted to know about the world's toughest adventure race. What is it, when is it, why's it so tough – and why you need to follow live!

The toughest huh? Really?
Shoulder a 10kg rucksack, hike 2,000m up a mountain, fly for several hours through complicated weather systems and over treacherous terrain. Land, now run for 30km and climb another 1,000m. Repeat every day for almost two weeks. Tough? We think so for this reason – no other race is as physically demanding and also requires such a high level of expert technical skill for such a sustained length of time.

Ok, we believe you! What are the details?Athletes hike and fly across the Alps from Salzburg to Monaco, navigating their way up and over the mountains via 10 set Turnpoints. It's a straightline distance of 1,038km but athletes can expect to cover double that during the race. One thing that is fixed: every kilometer must be covered either on foot or by paraglider.

Not a walk in the park then? 
It's a formidable challenge that requires expert paragliding skill, years of mountaineering experience and an extraordinary level of endurance fitness. It's not uncommon for athletes to hike up to 100 km in a single day. On top of that athletes must be mentally strong to make good decisions under stress, when they're tired and in difficult mountain situations. 

Woh! So not everyone can do it? Absolutely not. The athletes who take part are the toughest, fittest, most talented and daring adventurers and paraglider pilots of their generation. These are men and women who know when it's time to put the foot on the gas and when it's right to come back another day. To take part, they go through a rigorous selection process.

What's faster, flying or hiking?It all depends on the weather. In 2013, incredible flying conditions meant top pilots could fly 80% of the distance and a new record time was set as well as a record number of athletes making Monaco. But when there's bad weather, that means hiking and running. You can still do well on foot though. In 2011 the Romanian running legend Toma Coconea managed to come 2nd, despite hiking over 50% of the way.

Do most athletes reach Monaco? No! 2013 was a record year, seeing 10 competitors (a third of the lineup) make it to goal, but on average only 12% of competitors make it to the float in the Mediterranean sea, the traditional finish.

What must they carry?Athletes must carry their paraglider and mandatory equipment at all times. That consists of an emergency parachute, helmet, mobile phone, GPS tracking device and a distress flare as well as other items. Add to that emergency mountain weather clothing, food and water and that equals a rucksack weight of around 10kg that has to be carried at all times.

Sounds tiring?Yes. In the early days athletes could race non-stop but since 2011, a mandatory rest period was introduced between 23:00 and 04:00 to let them sleep. In 2013, the break was extended by 1.5 hours, from 22:30 to 05:00 for safety reasons. Anyone caught trying to gain ground in those hours is subject to a 24-hour time penalty.

Any exceptions?Yes. 2013 saw the introduction of a ‘Night Pass’, which allows athletes one opportunity to hike through the night. It can provide a strategic advantage, but all depends on when athletes choose to use it.

Official supporters are just cheering them on right?Wrong. Every athlete has an official supporter and they are the unsung heroes of the race whose job is almost as challenging as doing the race itself. Job description includes driver, chef, nurse, psychologist, meteorologist, race strategist, coach, mentor and probably a few others as well...

Where does the race go?The route traditionally begins in Salzburg and crosses the Alpine regions of Austria, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and France before ending in Monaco. Every edition sees a different route across the Alps. This year's can be seen here.

Okay, so first to Monaco wins?Yes. The first athlete to touch down in Monaco wins. The race then officially ends 48 hours later but not before 12:00 local time on July 17th. Athletes who have not reached goal before the clock stops are ranked according to the distance left to Monaco. Confused? Check out the rules.

So all the action's at the front?Actually no. The 'battle at the back' can be just as fierce as athletes seek to avoid elimination. After three days and then every 48 hours the last team is pulled from the race.

How dangerous is it?While every effort is made to ensure the Red Bull X-Alps is a safe race, every athlete has to appreciate the race takes place in the mountains and accept that inherent risks are involved. Thankfully there have been no major disasters. At the start of 2013, Japanese athlete Kaoru Ogisawa crashed into a tree shortly after take-off. Fortunately most of the damage was just to his pride.

Who’s the mastermind behind all of this?That would be Austrian pilot, Red Bull Air race champion, BASE jumper, mountaineer and adventurer Hannes Arch. He developed the concept for the Red Bull X-Alps when he saw a TV documentary in which German pilot Toni Bender hiked and glided his way across the Alps. The first Red Bull X-Alps was held in 2003.

How did it go?Seventeen athletes braved the 800km journey from Austria’s Dachstein glacier, but only three managed to make it all the way to the finish in Monaco. Kaspar Henny, a 35-year-old Swiss grabbed an early lead and held onto it for 11 days and 23 hours for the win.

The Swiss seem to have a knack for this thing?Seems so. Swiss domination has continued ever since, with Alex Hofer claiming victory in 2005 and 2007 and then Chrigel Maurer in 2009, 2011 and 2013.

So who is this Chrigel guy?Christian Maurer, known by everyone as Chrigel (and by fans as Chrigel 'the Eagle') is a three-time Red Bull X-Alps winner and by far the most accomplished athlete the competition has ever seen. Famed for his meticulous planning and Swiss efficiency, he set a new course record of 6d 23h 40m in 2013, averaging an incredible 263km in the air every day. 

Who else should I look out for?As Chrigel himself acknowledges, anything can happen in a race of this magnitude. Look our for Frenchmen Clément Latour and Antoine Girard. Their battle for 2nd place in 2013, in which they swopped leads for almost nine days straight was a gripping highlight of the race. Austrian Paul Guschlbauer is another contender. Fan favorite is the Romanian running legend Toma Coconea. Famed for his ability to clock incredible running distances – in 2011 he hiked and ran 981km – he has competed in every single edition of the Red Bull X-Alps.

What about the girls?Yes, for the first time in a decade there are some female athletes, Yvonne Dathe (GER2) and Dawn Westrum (USA3).

What are their chances?“Paragliding and long distance trekking are two sports where men and women can compete almost equally.” So says Dawn. A former US soldier with over 500 races under her belt, Dawn is going into the race as a rookie but anything's possible. As for Yvonne, she's been flying nearly every day for the last eight years. We wouldn’t bet against them. Check out their profiles here and draw your own conclusions.

Anything else new this year?Yes, for the first time in Red Bull X-Alps history there will a one-day Prologue around the mountains and lakes of Fuschl am See, Austria – an area instantly recognizable to fans of the Sound of Music, which was filmed here. The first three athletes will each gain five-minutes on the main race start and an additional Nightpass to use during the race.

How can I follow the action?The Red Bull X-Alps is uniquely suited to following live. Thanks to Live Tracking, you can see all the action unfold as it happens, follow your favorite athlete, check out their distances, rankings, 3D flight tracks and more from July 2nd.

Ok sign me up!To ensure you don't miss a beat of the action, head over and like our Facebook page, follow us on Twitter and sign up for the newsletter on our homepage. And put July 5th in your diary now. That's when the start gun fires.

March 19, 2015

Turnpoints for the Red Bull X-Alps 2015!

The Route Is OUT!  

I haven't had time to really check it out, but some of the turn points look...challenging!   Plus, there's a prologue?!?    

For full photos and info on the route, see http://www.redbullxalps.com/info/route.html

And for updated rules (including the prologue), http://www.redbullxalps.com/info/rules.html

The Route at a glance

Prologue Route (On July 2)

Start : Fuschl Seebad
Athletes must walk through a Red Bull gate positioned in front of Seebad Fuschl.
Coordinates: N47.793291° E013.299367°

TP1 : Zwölferhorn
Athletes must fly or walk through a cylinder centred at the summit of Zwölferhorn
Coordinates: N 47.742466° E 013.351535° Cylinder: 50m radius.

TP2 : Schafberg,
Athletes must fly or walk through a cylinder centred at the summit of Schafberg
Coordinates: N 47.776399° E 013.434060° Cylinder: 50m radius.

Finish: Fuschl Seebad
Athletes must walk through a Red Bull gate positioned in front of Seebad Fuschl.
Coordinates: N47.793291° E013.299367°
Athletes must use the mandatory landing area, which is outside the zooom office.
Coordinates: N47.795403°, E13.301746°

In case of bad weather conditions turnpoint TP2 might be removed from the prologue route.

The three fastest athletes of the Powertraveller prologue will each be rewarded with an additional Led Lenser nightpass and extra 5 minutes head start at the main race start on July, 5.

March 17, 2015

Jordan River Trail Marathon

A week later and it's time to explore more of the Jordan River Trail.  Last week I had done 15 miles starting from Utah Lake, carrying my paraglider and taking a slow look at the trail.  This week I was on the run, carrying just enough water to get me through 26 miles (I hoped).

It was about 4 miles on trails and roads to get to the trail from my house.  Then I had an amazing stretch of finished trail for the next 22 miles...I never had to cross a road or take a detour for the rest of the run.   Nor did I pass anything commercial...no stores, just houses and trail.  Even a stretch that hadn't been finished a year ago was done!    The trail was more or less signed, although a few times I had to look at an Interactive Map on my phone to stay on the main trail rather than spur trails.

It was a good day to be heading north, as the south wind was blowing pretty strong at my back.  It helped to keep me cool as the unseasonably warm weather heated up the valley.   The river was running strongly as well, compared to almost nothing a week ago.  I'm sure the rain this week and the melting snow from the mountains have got it going again.

I finished in about 5 hours, which was fine with my legs.   Considering I did it self-supported carrying  1/2 gallon of water to start, I'm pretty happy with that time.   Actually I got pretty tired by the end and walked almost the whole last hour...with temperatures climbing into the 70s I wasn't staying hydrated enough and my heart rate was climbing.  After drinking 4 liters of water and eating a few snacks, I still weighed 3 pounds less than I started when I got home.   It's hard to drink enough in the heat to stay hydrated.

Amazingly for my journey, at exactly 26.2 miles, I left the trail and walked a couple hundred feet to the Green Line of the SLC TRAX station!  The station was called "River Trail", which seemed appropriate for the day.  A train came within a few minutes, and then a quick transfer to the Blue line to get me all the way back home.  Ok, not quite all the way, the TRAX in Draper left me 2 miles short of the house but Jim was willing to come pick me up!

Here's the maps shown below: http://jordanrivercommission.com/jordan-river-parkway-trail-map/

For an interactive map, check this out even on a smart phone! http://www.myjordanriver.org