Running in the Olympics

Hoh Rain Forest, Olympic National Park, WA

Hoh Rain Forest, Olympic National Park, WA

For nine years, a great deal of my time and energy was focused on one running fast and turning left. Track and field, especially at its upper levels, is all consuming and requires steady effort. It can take quite a bit of time to return to form after even a couple days off. When my back started acting up over the last three years of my running career, I denied the reality as long as I could, but eventually needed to confront my own limitations…I simply wasn’t consistent enough to perform at a higher level. It took a while to be comfortable leaving running behind, but I see my ability to carry a pack and move fast in the mountains as a sign that I made the right call to drop the 90 mile weeks. Now I’m a happy member of the cheering section for my friends and former teammates as they chase the dream.

Elliott and Garrett Heath. Elliott (L) had a great showing at World Cross Country this year. Garrett won the US road mile and recently ran a 3:53 in Europe.

Elliott and Garrett Heath. Elliott (L) had a great showing at World Cross Country this year. Garrett won the US road mile and ran 3:53 earlier this summer.

A few days ago, we wrapped up our fieldwork in British Columbia and I found myself with about 36 hours of freedom in Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. I quickly schemed up a plan to climb Mount Olympus. No small undertaking, Olympus is one of the most remote peaks in Washington, requiring 45 miles and over 8000 vertical feet of elevation gain. My only exposure to what was possible on the route was coming from my friend and speed fiend Leor Pantilat, who holds the record at an insane 11 hours, 6 minutes. Leor is still the only partner I’ve ever had to leave me in the dust on the trail, so I knew I was in for a big trip.

Ranger station along the Hoh River

Ranger station along the Hoh River

I started out a bit late, around 5:30PM and got to running up the trail. I went as light as I thought I really should…no tent, just a small sleeping bag and pad, just a few clothes, minimal food and of course crampons and ice axe for the crossing of the Blue Glacier. The route ascends the Hoh River valley, through spectacular rainforest.

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My campsite in the morning

My campsite in the morning

I ended up not making it quite as far as I’d liked…about 15-16 miles in, before I found a nice bivy site and settled in for the night. The next morning, I realized that my alarm had died in the night so I didn’t have the alpine start to my advantage. Needing to be back at the trailhead by late afternoon or so, I realized I simply didn’t have enough time to finish the remaining 30 or so miles of the route, so I slept in before hiking and running back down to the trailhead. Mountains aren’t the same as track, but I’ll take these Olympics any day.

Running along the Hoh

Running along the Hoh, crampons, ice axe and bivy gear in tow

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