Tuesday, June 30, 2009

new plans

OK--I've decided to blow off Philly and Avalon and actually train for a while. Last week I rode my bike 250+ miles and ran over 20 again for a second week in a row (the running anyways). this week the plan is 300/30 plus some decent swimming--almost like a real triathlete again. I'm not saying no to racing but yes to training...besides I've got 5 wins and 2 summits in the bag so far this year so why not!

Further out, anders and I are beginning to crystalize a climbing plan that includes Shasta (either July or August), Whitney (October) and hopefully Cerro Aconcagua next January--very exciting stuff.

Also, strangely enough, both Anders and I won the lottery and have been selected to race for the USA at the Duathlon Short-Course World Championships in September which we think we'll do--should be good for a few yucks....

more latter but it's great to be training again.....


St. Andrews' Sprint Race Report

St. Andrews’ Sprint Triathlon
Race Report #8: 6/21/09


After a good eight hours of sleep I awoke at 4:30 feeling pretty stiff and sore from the prior day’s activities down at Parvin State Park. I was up early to compete in the 22nd edition of Delaware’s best triathlon and to complete my first triathlon “double”—two races in one weekend.

This race is my favorite sprint triathlon and I would be competing in it for the seventh year in a row—more than any other race. Prior to this year I’ve enjoyed three 1st place AG finishes, one 2nd, one 3rd and in my first attempt, one 4th.

My main competitive focus for this race was Paul Schlosser. Paul has been competing in triathlons for well over 20 years and has raced in most of the prior versions of this race. He was the first AG competitor that I remember being aware of as he was a perennial All-American and dominated his AG in this race (and many others) through the years. Over the last few years I’ve managed to close the gap between us and as we entered this race, our head-to-head record in this race stood at Schlosser: 3, Christofferson: 2. Here is how we have compared through the years:

Year Christofferson Schlosser Delta

2003 74:53 69:14 (5:07)
2004 73:46 71:47 (1:59)
2005 71:21 71:42 +0:21
2006 71:14 68:47 (2:27)
2007 69:54 DNF
2008 70:50 DNS

So while I was only behind 3-2 coming this race the more in-depth perspective would tell you that Paul had killed me 3 times and I barely beat him once and he DNF’ed another time.

But not to worry! My expectations about my performance were low but I was very pumped to race this great race again. While I did not expect to be able to hang with Paul, I was still excited to jump into the fray and give it my best shot!

The Swim

Race morning looked ominous and it seemed that there was a good chance that more than just the swim would be wet. It was pleasant temp wise, but there was a noticeable wind blowing in connection with the front that was moving in—I knew it would definitely be a factor on the bike (which of course is to my advantage).

The water in Noxontown Pond was about 74 degrees and we were all in wetsuits. The swim is a simple out and back in the shallow weedy waters. The RD, Wayne Kursh, has always had an “elite” wave and because of my three prior AG wins here I was afforded the honor of being in that first wave. This is an advantage for sure due to the traffic that back-up on the swim as well as early in the bike if you’re in wave five (where I would be if I was with the majority of the 50-54 year-old AG). Paul was also up in this first wave as well as my good buddy Dave Spartin. I didn’t think that Dave would be able to hang with Paul and I but I figured he had a good chance of grabbing 3rd (or better if we had problems).

I positioned myself way to the left off the buoy line and tried to stay out of the congestion of the 60 or so folks in the first wave. In this I was generally successful. I saw Dave off to my left as he was definitely pursuing a solo route—despite the longer swim path he seemed to be having no trouble staying with me.

I knew Paul was up ahead as he is one of the best swimmers in the overall field. In the past my task in swim versus Paul has been to try to keep the gap as narrow as possible. As I have improved through the years I’ve been able to do better and better at that. Here is how my swim disadvantage to Paul has trended through the years:

2003 (3:11)
2004 (2:32)
2005 (1:57)
2006 (1:38)
2007 (0:41)

I didn’t expect to do as well as 2007 when I was working with Pete as my coach but I hoped to at least keep the gap less than two minutes. I thought I swam pretty well but it seemed like the course was longer this year. I exited the water in 8:37, which is quite slow. I was 31 seconds slower than last year but in looking at folks who raced both years, most folks were 15-25 seconds slower so it seems my swim was fairly decent. My HR averaged 153 bpm, which is typical for me so I know I gave a good solid effort.

Competitively, I was 43rd OA (84.3 %-tile) and 3rd in our AG (87.5 %-tile). Most importantly I had only lost 1:21 to Paul—my second smallest gap to date—and I had given myself a chance, with a very good bike, of beating him. Here is where we stood after the swim:

1. Schlosser --------
2. Faccenda + 0:48
3. Christofferson + 1:21
4. Spartin + 1:25

Transition One

As I made the very long run up from the pond to the transition area I could feel my HR spike. The fatigue from yesterday’s race was very evident. My total transition time was 3:16, which is very slow indeed. In the six years prior my T1 times have ranged from 2:44-3:18 and this year was my 6th slowest of the 7 years. I had been under 3 minutes in each of the last 4 years so my guess is I probably threw 30 seconds away here.

As I reached my bike Dave came right in behind me. I knew he was close on the swim but to see him here was quite a surprise. Not only is Dave typically a lot slower than me in transition (something I bug him about) but he also claimed before than race to have a stress fracture and wasn’t even planning on running the last leg of the race. He had about 4 pounds of tape on his leg and ankle to back this suspicious claim up. In any event, since he clips his shoes to his bike and puts them on while rolling he was able to leave T1 a few seconds before me. Geez! I knew I was going to get some grief from him after the race on this (which I did) but more importantly I had to get moving—I was sure Paul was well up the road already.

I soon caught Dave on the St. Andrews road as he fiddled with his shoes—as I went by him with at least a 10 mph advantage I yelled: “Nice transition—until now!”. Dave and I have had this debate about the efficacy of clipping your shoes in and putting your feet in on the fly. Dave feels that this is cooler and it makes you faster. I’m not sure about the former but for us dinosaurs, I’m highly confident that he is wrong about the latter. In any event, it was time to put the hammer down.

The Bike

I felt surprisingly good very soon into the bike leg. I expected my legs to be stiff and weary from yesterday’s race but the stiffness quickly dissipated and I was seeing some pretty decent power numbers. For the first half of each lap we had the wind helping and I was seeing some healthy high 30 speedo readings. I was into the racing and starting to have a good time.

I passed quite a few folks and around five miles in I believe I passed Paul. I wasn’t certain but in retrospect I think it was he. He tried to stay right on my tail (a little too close in my opinion) and I waved him off and simultaneously stood up and created a sustainable gap. It was a little silly throwing a 500-watt surge at that point in the race but I didn’t want any one hanging around my rear wheel for any length of time.

The wind on this section of the course was significant (I’d say 15-20 mph) and combined with the hills made things a bit challenging for all. I kept at it and felt pretty good. I could tell my power was off 10-15 watts from yesterday’s effort but I was feeling optimistic. Especially to catch Paul this early—I’d normally expect to catch him in the second lap, if at all.

I went through the first lap in a little under 21 minutes so I knew this was going to be a very slow bike leg (I had never been over 40 minutes for the whole ride before). I knew the wind was a big part of this so I tried not to worry about it.

The rest of the ride was more of the same, although the wind effect was stronger on the second lap, and I eventually dismounted my bike with a split of 41:48. I knew this was very slow but right in front of me was Rich Brokaw who had out rode me just a couple of weeks earlier at Pocomoke so I knew my ride couldn’t have been that bad. I averaged 237 watts and a 164 bpm HR. This is about 15 watts and 4 bpm low and probably a reflection of the fatigue in my legs. My cadence was quite low at 77 rpm and I averaged 22.32 mph over the measured distance of 15.55 miles.

Competitively I recorded the 7th fastest bike split (historically I’ve had the 6th-9th) which I’m very happy with. This is at the 97.8 %-tile. I was fastest in my AG and most importantly put a very surprising 3:16 into Schlosser. This was by-far my best relative showing to Paul as the data below illustrates:

2003 + 0:22
2004 + 2:17
2005 + 2:07
2006 + 0:19

Looking at last year’s results everyone was a lot slower this year due to the conditions. I was perhaps a little more slower than others but not really that bad of a ride, especially in the 2nd race of a double:

2009 vs. 2008 bike splits

Faccianni + 2:12 + 5.5%
Brokaw + 3:21 + 7.8%
Sauer + 3:12 + 6.9%
Holmes + 4:00 + 9.1%
Christofferson + 4:01 + 9.7%

The best news of course was that I had now opened up a nice lead heading into the final leg of the race:

1. Christofferson --------
2. Schlosser + 1:55
3. Dana + 2:15
4. Spartin + 3:40
Transition Two

I really pushed it in T2 and I was out of transition in just 38 seconds, which I’m pleased to report, was my best T2 at this race to date. I left in a group of young guys that included Jeff Strojny who was on his way to a race best 15:27 run.

The Run

The kiddie corps blasted away from me astonishingly fast. The relevant question for me of course was: Did I open up enough of a gap on Paul to be able to hold him off. Paul has usually easily outran me here in the past as this data shows:

2003 (2:41)
2004 (1:44)
2005 +0:11
2006 (0:52)

I of course didn’t know how big a lead I had or how much I needed but I guessed it was probably about two minutes given my fitness and fatigue. Due to the shape of the run course I did not expect to see Paul until either when he passed me or towards the very end of the race. I just had to go as fast as I could and hope for the best.

I noticed very quickly that my legs felt very leaden and tired. I had a very poor run the prior day at Parvin and my legs did not improve from that effort. I had a deep muscle soreness/tightness in my left glute and I was a little worried I might have to walk. I felt like I was running slowly but no one was catching me and the young studs in front of me were long gone.

The cross-country course was a little sloppy from all of our recent rain and one point we had to get around a large tree that had fallen during the storms. I kept plugging along and with about a half mile to go I turned around and there Paul was (or at least I thought) about 75 yards or so behind me. I put my head down and decided to give it everything I had. If that was indeed Paul I was determined to not lose to him in the final few steps of the race.

I pushed hard, really running better than I had at any point prior in the race and eventually crossed the finish line at 76:59 for a run split of 22:39. And just eleven seconds latter Paul finished his race. His first words were: “Damn, I really wanted it but I couldn’t catch you”. I was frankly as surprised as I was thrilled. I had managed to eek out a close victory in my second race of a double, with questionable fitness. Very satisfying! Also, it was my fifth win of the year, more than I’ve ever recorded in a season.

Overall I had the 82nd fastest run (69.8 %-tile) and the 4th best in my AG (81.3 %-tile). Here is how we stood at the finish:

1. Christofferson --------
2. Schlosser + 0:11
3. Dana + 1:43
4. Spartin + 4:22

I was 21st OA in the race, which was good enough for a 92.5 %-tile.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Parvin Sprint Race Report

Parvin Sprint Triathlon
Race Report #7: 6/20/09


Back at the shore in New Jersey, and mostly recovered from our Mount Rainier exploits, I was ready to get back to the sprint triathlon scene. While the expedition had necessitated about a 20 day departure from normal triathlon operations, I was none-the-less excited and fairly optimistic about the weekend’s agenda. I decided that this weekend would be my first Saturday/Sunday triathlon double—two races in one weekend. First the Parvin State Park sprint on the 20th and followed the next day by the Marathon Sports sprint triathlon at the beautiful campus of St. Andrews. These were to be my 80th and 81st triathlons of my career but they would be just my first triathlon double—I was psyched but had no idea if this was a good idea or not.

I came into the weekend with 4 firsts, 1 second and 1 third in my AG races this year. I’ve never been able to win five times in a season and I was hopeful that I could get the job done this weekend—maybe even go two for two. First up was Parvin where I won last year by holding off Mickey Syrop in a close finish. The rematch was on and I was especially motivated to do well since Mick had taken me down at Hammonton three weeks prior. In that race I had a bad day after just getting back from Australia and I was hopeful I could give Mick a better challenge on this Saturday morning.

My legs were returning to a semblance of normalcy after the post Rainier recovery period. My legs still felt a bit heavy but I thought that maybe I would benefit from the training effect of the Rainier climb. The whole not-Tri-training was a bit of a worry but I was anxious to find out. Race morning dawned in the low 70s and overcast with little wind. During the run it would rain a bit but it was a very good day to race and so we did!

The Swim

So this is just your basic little NJ lake swim. A little right hand (clockwise) swim in a 70-degree lake that is reasonably clear. Since Chuck Sellers was running the race, us old guys were once again in the last wave—number 5. I started way right, on the buoy line for a change. I was able to stay there out to the first turn using my natural left-side breathing pattern to keep track of developments. I felt good about the early swim though it was evident to me that I was a bit back in the pack—not unexpected given my training.

The rest of the swim was uneventful—while we had to swim through the slower folks in the waves ahead of us I felt it did not really affect my race. When I exited the swim at 8:11, I was a bit disappointed because in the past my swim times were in the 7s at this race. My heart rate ended up averaging 152 bpm, which seems to be my comfortable sprint energy level. I was soon to learn that everyone’s times were slower than prior years so it seems that the swim was a bit longer this year. Anyways, I dropped 25 seconds to Mickey, which is on the lower side of my expectations about my disadvantage to him. As it turned out I was 45th out of 264 for an 83.3 %-tile—which I’m fine with. I was 3rd out of 13 in my AG for a 84.6 %-tile...again something I’m happy with given my fitness. Here is where we stood after the swim:

1. Krick --------
2. Syrop + 0:31
3. Christofferson + 0:56

Transition One

So business as usual here. Mick kicked my butt in T1 and I took down everyone else. Overall I was 30th (89 %-tile) in the transition but because Mick is so good I lost 16 seconds to him but passed Krick who seemed to be focused on making sure he looked good as opposed to being fast (my T1 time was 1:27)! Here is where it was after T2 (btw my HR averaged 168 during T1):

1. Syrop --------
2. Christofferson +0:41
3. Krick +0:48

As I left T1 I saw Mick leaving and glancing at my watch I figured I was about 35 seconds behind him— this was a bit optimistic but a reasonable estimate. In any event I was pleased with this as I thought if I brought my “normal” bike split that I’d leave myself with a reasonable chance to push him on the run. Anyways, off we went!

The Bike

I felt real good right away on the bike. As I looked down periodically at my SRM I saw very happy power numbers. I was motivated and energized. I had come into this race thinking that I needed a very fast bike leg to have a shot at beating Mick and I proceeded to try to give it everything I had.

I hoped to pass Mick by the 4th mile or so. I figured that this would translate into a 90-120 second lead coming off the bike. In fact I caught Mick at about 4.4 miles and as I powered by him I thought that I had a reasonable chance to take him down today.

The rest of the ride was uneventful but I was conscious of always pushing it—probably too much so. I jumped off the bike with a 30:36 split. This was good enough for 11th OA (96.2 %-tile), which is a bit disappointing. The last three times I’ve raced here I’ve had either the 2nd or 3rd fastest. Oh well. Power-wise I averaged a respectable 251 watts—probably a little high given my current fitness and all the downtime associated with Rainier. My HR was 168 bpm, which definitely implies I was a little hot on the bike. My cadence was 81 rpm so I was probably guilty of trying to grind through too large a gearing in my drive to open up a lead on Mick. For the 12.125 miles I ended up averaging 23.74 mph.

I was able to open up a nice gap on my AG competitors. I had the fastest bike split and was 1:56 and 1:50 faster than Mick and John respectively. Last year I put 2:27 on Mick so this result is not surprising. I had a pretty decent bike but so did Mick and as a consequence, I was only 1:15 ahead as I hopped off my bike and raced into T2:

1. Christofferson --------
2. Syrop + 1:15
3. Krick + 1:57

Transition Two

I pushed hard through transition (my HR averaged 168 bpm) and was able to get running in just 0:53. Mick and John were both marginally faster than I with 49 and 51 second T2s respectively. My T2 was the 4th fastest in the AG (76.9 %-tile) and 33rd OA (87.9 %-tile). Here is where we stood as we ran out of T2:

1. Christofferson --------
2. Syrop + 1:11
3. Krick + 1:55

The Run

As I started the run I was feeling pretty good about my chances of holding Mick off. I thought that my bike was pretty solid—I was hoping I might have as much as a two- minute lead at the start of the run. Had I known that I was only 1:11 ahead I would have known that I was probably not going to prevail. Especially if I had known this 100 yards into the run when I realized that my legs were absolutely dead. I can’t remember a sprint race when they were this fried—probably a combination of my fitness, Rainier and an overly optimistic bike ride.

I was chuckling to myself at how slow I was running—there wasn’t anything I could do about it—I could either run slow or slower. I tried to remain optimistic. I was hopeful my legs would come back at some point and after all I was still in the lead. Maybe if I could get to the turnaround with a 45-60 second lead I could hold Mick off.

It seemed to me that we ran up the road considerably further than we had in past years—maybe my blinding speed was playing havoc with my perceptiveness. Soon the moment of truth arrived and I made the turn and lo and behold, right behind me was Mick! So much for holding him off. I could only chuckle and wish Mick well as he sped by. To amuse myself I tried to stay with Mick for a while but I steadily fell off his pace. Little did I know that Krick was also closing on me although not at the pace Mick did and he would ultimately run out of real estate and not close the gap.

I struggled home with a run split of 25:29 and an average HR of 168 bpm (a good honest effort). This sounds slow (and of-course it really is) but perhaps not as slow as it seems. Last year Mick ran 20:45 and I ran 21:53. This year Mick ran 23:11 so he put an extra 1:09 on me this year. I’m guessing based on this and a look at other comparable runs that the course was about a quarter mile longer this year. In any event Mick finished the race with a 65:29 which was 1:06 faster than my 66:35. I was able to retain a 65 second lead on Krick.

My run was an embarrassing 104th (!!!!) or 60.9 %-tile OA and I was 5th in our AG (69.2 %-tile)—pretty sad. In addition to finishing 2nd in our AG I was a middling 35th OA (87.1 %-tile).


I’m not going to get too hard on myself about this race. I raced hard and as fast as my fitness allowed me. Rainier was a bit of a factor but the reality is I was beaten by a stronger triathlete this morning. I did a much better job than I had done at Hammonton several weeks ago. As I did at Pocomoke at the end of May I raced hard but ultimately had to settle for second.

I drove home satisfied but sore and wondering what I would have left in the tank for the 2nd game of the twin-bill down in Middletown, DE. We would soon find out. On this evening I grabbed some pasta and crawled into my bed at 8:30 to await the 4:30 a.m. alarm.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Rainier Slide Show

Up on utube--check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yb1azyFc-UI

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Mount Rainier Summit Climb

Mount Rainier Summit Climb
June 3-6, 2009


Anders and I met at the Seattle airport on the morning of Wednesday, June 3rd, gathered our belongings and jumped in our rental car for the two-hour drive to the town of Ashford, WA. We arrived and checked into the Whitaker Bunkhouse, which is situated at the Mount Rainier Base Camp. Also at the Base Camp were Whitaker Mountaineering, which was useful for last minute climbing needs and Rainier Mountaineering Inc. (RMI), which was the guide service we were using during this adventure.

We were here to climb Mount Rainier. Mount Rainier is arguably the most coveted alpine peak in the lower 48 states. At 14,410 feet (4,392 meters), it is the 3rd highest peak in the lower 48 with Whitney, as the highest, being just 84 feet taller. Rainier however, is a far more demanding challenge. With over 35 square miles of glaciers, Rainier is the most heavily glaciated peak in the lower 48 states. Rainier has 6 times as much glacial area as the next most heavily glaciated peak, Mount Adams. In fact, Rainier has more than 3 times the glacial area than all of Glacier National Park and over 60 times that of all the Rockies of Colorado. Rainier has recorded as much as 93 feet of snow in a one-year period. Rainier has many defenses including steep glacial ice, huge crevasses, high altitude, and challenging weather. The mountain was first climbed in 1855 and by 1900, 160 people had made the summit. Today some 8000 people attempt to summit Rainier each year with about a 45-50% success rate.

Rainier is an impressive and imposing mountain. It dominates the skyline for hundreds of miles around. As I flew into Seattle, it’s shear mass and relief from the surrounding area was startling. One of the most impressive things about Rainier is off-course its extensive and afore-mentioned system of 25 named glaciers. Rainier has about 156 billion cubic feet of ice (enough to fill a line of dump trucks, bumper to bumper, from the earth to the moon, and back again. Eighteen times!) Rainier is perpetually snow and ice covered for thousands of feet all around its broad flanks.

Anders and I have enjoyed each other’s company on many great adventures through the years. Most recently we have been partners in many fun triathlon adventures including four Ironman triathlons (Western Australia, Wisconsin, Florida and Austria), racing for Team USA at the World Long-Course Triathlon Championships in France, and probably an additional 40-50 smaller races. We have also enjoyed weeklong bicycling sessions in Spain, France and Arizona. Over the last year we began to discuss the possibility of a new type of adventure and last November agreed to try to tackle Rainier together in the late spring of 2009. While we were clearly novices at mountaineering and arguably it was a stretch for us to go for Rainier as our first mountain adventure, we hoped that our extensive triathlon experience and the physical conditioning it affords would help us achieve our goal. I for one was thrilled at the anticipation of being reunited with my adventure buddy, as we had not been on a race or cycling trip together in the year since Anders moved to Los Angeles.

Day One: Classroom

We selected RMI’s four day Ingraham Glacier Summit Trip. RMI is the best known of the guiding services on Rainier. In 2009 they are celebrating their 40th anniversary. Through the years they have put thousands of climbers on the Summit, including newbies like Anders and I. RMI has a storied lineage including the most famous family in American Mountaineering, the Whitakers (Lou being the first American to climb the North Col of Everest. Lou’s twin brother, Jim, was the first American to summit Everest back in 1963). Their current roster of guides includes Ed Viesturs, arguably the most successful American mountaineer of all time whose resume includes successful ascents, without oxygen, of all 14 of the 8000-meter mountains in the world as well as the Seven Summits. Other guides include David Hann, who has climbed Everest 14 times (more than anyone else who is not a Sherpa) and Peter Whitaker (equally impressive climbing resume). These three had just rolled back into town having just completed another successful Everest ascent.

After sorting out our gear, our first activity was a three-hour classroom session at Base Camp. Here we met our lead guide, Dave Conlan, who was attempting to summit Rainier for the 68th time, and the other members of our climbing team. There were nine of us in our climbing team. In addition to Anders and me, there was another father and son team, Larry and Jack, both doctors and two of their friends from Michigan John and Tom). Jack was 26 and the other three were in their late 40s/early 50s. These four had recently climbed Mount Shasta, another 14,000+-foot peak without a guide. There was a husband and wife team in their fifties (Gary and Nancy) who were attempting to climb the highest point in all 50 states. Rainier was to be their 43rd such summit. Lastly, there was a Minnesotan named Jared, who was on a quest to climb Denali. Two years ago he had been 300 pounds but after deciding to make a major lifestyle change and training intensely he was a very fit looking 185 pounds. Anders and I were clearly the least experienced.

After introductions, Dave reviewed all of our climbing equipment and clothing choices. He was very helpful in his suggestions, and in quite a few cases told members of the group they had to make changes or else they would not be allowed to climb. Anders and I scored straight A’s on this part, as our strategy had been to procure exactly what RMI recommended on it’s website. I’ve always been oriented to having the best equipment for my passions, and I think it’s especially important when it comes to alpine mountaineering as your safety and physical well-being are fundamentally dependent on your equipment and clothing.

We then went through a session where we learned a variety of important things including how to don our crampons and gaiters, layering strategy, how to operate our avalanche transceivers, and how to pack for our climb. This was immensely helpful for Anders and me given our novice nature. As an example, Anders and I debated about whether the spike of an ice-axe points up or down on your pack. I asserted it was down because I couldn’t see how to secure the axe if it was upside down. However, Anders proved to be correct, as a nifty little procedure was all that was required to secure it spike up.

Dave said he had three objectives for the climb: 1) we all return safe and sound to the base camp on Saturday; 2) we all remain friends; and 3) if possible, that some or all of us summit Rainier. This seemed right to me and certainly in the correct order. Unlike triathlons, I was certainly OK with a DNF—or more accurately a DNS (did not summit) if the conditions or my fitness dictated that. For sure, we were planning to get back on the plane and fly home come Sunday.

After the equipment check we went into RMI’s Mountain Hut and had our pre-climb talk and reviewed a slide show of the route we were likely to take. Dave started our talk with the statement: “Rainier is NOT a safe climb. There are many substantial objective dangers on the mountain including crevasses, avalanches, rock and icefall, steep slopes and weather. These objective dangers are inherent in climbing Mount Rainier and should not be taken lightly. That said, we at RMI, have extensive experience in climbing Rainier and we follow a climbing protocol that is designed to mitigate against these objective dangers and to make your summit trip both as safe and rewarding as possible”. The talk and the slide show were both exciting and a little sobering.

After the classroom session, Anders and I headed down to the Copper Creek Inn restaurant, which we were told had the best food for miles around. We had disappointing fish (Halibut and Trout) but did enjoy our bottles of Rainier beer.
We repaired to our room at the bunkhouse and readied our packs for our Mountaineering Day School, which was to begin early Thursday morning.

Day Two: Mountaineering Day School

One of the most attractive features of the RMI program to Anders and I was our Mountaineering Day School session. We awoke at 6:30 am and after a quick breakfast boarded the RMI van at 8:15 for the 40-minute ride up to Paradise, in the Rainier National Park at the foot of the mountain. Paradise is at 5400 feet (Base Camp was at 1600 feet) and is where our climb would start in earnest the next day.

We assembled in the parking lot and met the second of our three guides Mark Falendar; another experienced guide. We were very fortunate to have two such strong guides. Dave is a bit of a superstar at RMI who leads climbs at Denali and Aconcagua as well as Rainier. Mark had just been promoted to lead guide and was to begin leading climbs on Rainier after our trip. We were in very good hands. Dave described the day ahead of us and we soon were off.

Mountaineering Day School takes place on the slopes above Paradise mostly around 6000 feet. It took close to an hour to reach the “classroom” and we were soon at it. The first task was to learn the proper way to climb up, down and across slopes without crampons and axes. This was a bit more difficult than it sounds as several of the team members slipped and went into lengthy uncontrolled falls/slides. Anders and I did pretty well at this part. It was fun and it was partly cloudy so Rainier kept peaking in and out of the cloud cover—it truly is an impressive looking mountain from this close in!

Next we learned about two critical mountaineering skills: rest stepping and pressure breathing. Rest stepping is a way of progressing up the mountain where you lock out your back-knee and momentarily pause between steps to take the weight off of your leg muscles and place it on your skeletal system. It seemed a little awkward at first, but we were soon to learn how critical it is to summiting a mountain like Rainier. Pressure breathing involves taking a very deep breath and forcibly exhaling it trying to create pressure in your lungs. The objective here is to try to increase the pressure of oxygen in your lungs to counteract the loss of oxygen partial pressure encountered at altitude. As with rest stepping, this technique was absolutely vital to our climbing.

Next we donned our crampons and grabbed our ice axes and practiced all these techniques with crampons (especially cross over stepping and duck walking). We then learned the proper way to carry our axes (self-arrest position on the up-hill side of the slope) and how to handle them in case of a fall. Then we practiced for a couple of hours how to self-arrest in case of a fall. This proved to be very difficult and awkward. Basically the idea is that in case of a fall to bring the axe up from the self-arrest position (down at your side) up to the space between your ear and shoulder blade on the up-hill side of the mountain while rotating the axe 180 degrees so that the pick is pointed out from your body. Meanwhile the opposite hand slides down the shaft of the axe and covers the spike (so that it doesn’t do something bad like jabbing into your abdomen). Next you have to roll over onto your stomach (this assumes you’ve fallen to your butt; there are different techniques if you are falling face first on your back or stomach) and drive the pick into the snow while levering the axe with your opposite hand and placing the weight of your body on the shaft for additional leverage. Meanwhile you have to aggressively drive, several times with both feet, both of the front points of your crampons into the slope below you. If done right, you arrest the fall with the pick of the axe buried in the snow, the shaft angling upward at a 45 degree angle under your upper body, both feet firmly planted below and no other part of your body touching the snow. If it seems complicated in print but it is more so on a slippery mountain slope.

We practiced this innumerable times and with many different scenarios. When we fell we had to scream “Falling!” at the top of our lungs and then go through the above. Some times we would be walking up a slope and one of the guides would call falling and down we would all go. Other times we would start sliding down the slope on our butt or stomach and then the guide would yell falling and we’d have to stop ourselves. When the axe was on the left this required a different set of steps (though mirrored) than when it was on the right. Still other times we’d start with no axe and as we slid by the guide, he would hand us our axe and we’d have to control the axe and initiate an arrest while in an uncontrolled slide down the slope.

Anders proved to be a very quick study and soon was differentiating himself from the rest of the team. He quickly mastered the self-arrest; which is the most critical skill of all in alpine mountaineering. I, sorry to say, was not so fortunate. It took me a long time to get it right. I always seemed to do one thing wrong. A typical error for me was to reach up the slope with the axe as I was sliding and thus lose the leverage of my body in setting the axe-pick. Eventually, I learned enough to pass, albeit with an average grade.

The school lasted some six hours and we broke every hour and a half or so for “maintenance breaks”. These are vital to success as a climb like Rainier involves burning some 9,000-11,000 calories and combined with sweat from the exertion, eating and drinking enough to make it through the climb are crucial. This would be a constant theme pounded into us by our guides. Anders and I felt ahead of the game here with our Ironman experience. Coincidently, the caloric burn in an Ironman is of a similar magnitude.

The last major portion of the school was learning how to travel roped together as a climbing team. Above Camp Muir, on the upper mountain where the greatest objective dangers exists, we would always travel roped together. This provides added security against falls or crevasse collapse and other such things. This is a lot harder than it might at first appear as the rope is held in one hand and the axe in another and as you change from one traverse direction to another (which happens frequently in a climb) you have to switch both. We also learned how to progress past anchors, which the guides might set in particularly sketchy sections.

Our biggest focus was practicing team arrest of a falling rope member. Any falls we might face were most likely on the more extreme terrain of the upper mountain when we were roped together. We learned how the team needed to react in a variety of different fall situations. Our final test occurred when after we had set our arrest positions Mark grabbed the rope behind us and tried to individually yank each of us off the slope. When he came to Anders, Mark tried particularly hard throwing his whole weight down the slope. Anders yelled, “Bring it on!” and the Mark gave it everything he had until dissolving into a fit of laughter. “All right, I’ll climb with you guys” he said after he stopped laughing.

This was a light-hearted moment. But it was also an important one. The guides are constantly evaluating the climbing team for climbing fitness (skills, physical stamina, and mental attitude) and are prepared to pull someone off the team if they don’t think they can cut it. This is a critical thing you pay for in a guided climb as the last thing one wants is to be allowed to climb or to be roped to someone when his or her climbing fitness isn’t there. We were constantly reminded of this and to hear we had passed this test was good news indeed.

Soon class was over and Dave reviewed some of the important details for the next day when our Summit attempt would begin and then we boarded the bus to head back to Base Camp. Back in our room, Anders and I excitedly reviewed the day and talked about how cool it was to learn all the things we had been reading and thinking about over the last eight months. We were finally going to do it! After dinner and an early repair to our beds, I couldn’t help but lay there thinking through all that might happen to us over the next two days—the good and bad. I was juiced for sure but did finally manage to eek out a few hours sleep.

Day Three: Paradise to Camp Muir

We awoke at 6:30 am for a quick breakfast at Base Camp and then loaded up our packs and joined our climbing team at 8:15 for the van ride to Paradise. Paradise lies at 5,400 feet and the route RMI had selected is called the Ingraham Direct. It involves first climbing to Camp Muir at 10,100 feet and then on up to the Columbia Crest Summit at 14,410 feet—a total elevation gain of just over 9,000 feet. The plan was to climb throughout the day on Friday, rest at Camp Muir for a few hours, and then set out for the Summit in the early hours of Saturday the 6th. After reaching the Summit, we would return to Camp Muir, collect our gear that we didn’t need for the Summit push and return to Paradise some 30 hours after our departure. The trip would entail some 18 miles and over 18,000 feet of net vertical altitude change (with the ups and down along the way the total gross altitude change is considerably greater).

After unloading our gear in the parking lot we gathered together and met our third guide, Tim Hardin. Tim was a 21 year-old “junior guide” who despite his age had extensive climbing experience including 7 summits of Rainier. Dave told us the plan for the climb to Muir and what to expect and concentrate on. At Paradise we were engulfed in clouds—really pretty much of a white out. Dave said the weather forecast was “iffy”. The forecast called for increasing cloudiness, a chance of rain and snow, colder temperatures and increasing wind with the combination of a low front approaching from the south and a marine layer moving in from the west. Saturday’s forecast at the summit was for 13 degrees and 30 mph winds (these are average conditions). He said he didn’t know for sure but he thought it worth a shot to climb to Muir and then wake up Saturday morning and see if it was climbable. My heart sank a bit at this. Objectively, I knew with a big alpine mountaineering trip like this one, the weather was a major factor in determining whether or not one could summit, but in my dreams we always seemed to be blessed with great weather. Hearing the prospect of not being able to go for the Summit was a little discouraging. None-the-less, Dave ended his pre-climb talk by turning towards the beginning of the route up and saying, “Let’s go climb Mount Rainier.” Indeed. Lets! Anders and I smiled at each other and we were finally at it.

The total Ingraham Direct climb involves 14 distinct climbing segments—nine on the way up and five on the way down. Our climb to Camp Muir on this day involved the first five. We left at about 9:45 am and were to climb for about 1:00 to 1:15 at a time before we would take 10-15 minute “maintenance breaks”. The climb to Muir involved 4.5 miles and 4700 feet of altitude gain.

The early part of the climb took us past the area where we had our mountaineering school. For the most part, we ascended through soft snow and soon were above the tree line. We traveled together in a single line practicing following in each other’s footsteps (a skill that is important when there are crevasses about). The climb to Muir is not very technical and we climbed with our heavy-duty plastic mountaineering boots and trekking polls eschewing crampons until the Summit push.

There was very little chatter and some fairly heavy breathing as we ascended to about 6400 feet. Anders was towards the front and I was at the back. I tried to focus on my rest-step and pressure breathing techniques and felt very much in control. I would guess my heart rate was around 120 bpm or so—an easy aerobic pace for me. The guides were trying to pattern the pace we would need to follow in order to make it to the Summit in the desired timeframe. Of course, as the slope got steeper and the air thinner this was likely to become increasingly difficult, but in the early stages it was quite manageable.

We reached our first break and drank (Gatorade for me) and ate (Mojo bar) and peed in the snow. We replenished our drink bottles from snow (not the same snow) and our guides reinforced yet again the importance of fueling ourselves. I was very thirsty and I had completely sweated through my base layer (we wore just one layer top and bottom). It was warm (probably 70 degrees) even on the snow and very humid with the cloud cover. I should also point out we were carrying fully loaded packs—I guess mine was 55-60 pounds and Anders’ was maybe five pounds lighter. This probably seems like a lot but with our guides counsel we had been ruthless about eliminating everything we could. In any event, as I rested I took my shirt off and sat on my pack during my maintenance break “working on my tan” as the sun had broken through. Soon it was time to move on and I put my thoroughly soaked shirt back on and hoisted my pack.

Anders convinced me to move towards the front of the group and this proved to be sage counsel. The second section had some more technical sections on rocks and along cliffs. The group began to separate a bit as difference in fitness levels of the team became apparent. About half way through the climb, after Anders and I had crossed an invisible snow bridge, one of the Michigan team, John Micallef, at the back of the group, fell through into a hole and as his lower body fell in he tipped backward and significantly strained one of his quadriceps muscles. He was in a fair amount of pain and stuck in the hole. Mark hurried to dig him out and he decided to push on. This opened up a big gap as the group that Anders and I were in moved more quickly up the mountain.

Soon we reached our second break at the bottom of the Muir snowfield at about 7500 feet. The Muir snowfield is a huge expanse of snow that climbs more or less directly all the way to Camp Muir. It’s technically not a glacier although it flows like one and has crevasses as our unluckly teammate had discovered. We sat under the relentless sun (we were constantly applying spf 70 and lip balm) and admired the views of the Rainier massif to our left. The Nisqually headwall and glacier were very prominent. Dave admonished us to stay closer together as a team as it was good practice for Summit day when we were to be roped. He said that he was setting the pace we needed to follow and everyone should stay together. Anders looked at me knowingly and I knew I owed him one.

We were soon on our way and very quickly a gap opened up once again. Anders and I were in the front group along with the father and son team from Michigan (Lenny and Jack) and Jared. The climbing was not difficult (in my view) but the sun was relentless and the slope was steeper (20-25 degrees) and seemingly never ending. As we climbed higher the sheer mass of Rainier became more and more evident.

Soon we stopped for our 3rd maintenance break at 8500 feet. It was a beautiful day and quite warm and sunny. At this point I had consumed over 2 liters of fluid and an impressive amount of food (energy bars, jelly beans and a big turkey sandwich). When I peed my urine was still fairly clear so I felt like I was doing a good job of hydrating to this point.

Lenny, the other father was not. Dave started getting on him because he was not drinking enough. He said he was having trouble getting fluid down. Dave said he had to drink even if it made him throw up. Without aggressive hydration, Dave said Lenny would suffer on the Summit push.

Up again 10 minutes later we kept putting one foot in front of the other. The climbing was a little harder here but both Anders and I felt great. The scenery was impressive and the weather perfect. It was now a little cooler at the higher altitude, which was greatly appreciated. We saw several skiers and snowboarders carving big sweeping turns down the slope above us. Apparently its possible to get as much as 10,000 vertical feet of skiing on Rainier.

We separated yet again as the increasing altitude and pitch was evidencing different fitness levels in our group. Anders and I were happy in the front group feeling confident that the guides would have seen enough from us to give us the green light for the Summit. Our last rest was at about 9400 feet. At this height the various structures of Camp Muir were clearly visible to us and I felt very excited as we neared this day’s objective.

We were on our way shortly latter and about 40 minutes or so rolled into Camp Muir at 10,080 feet. It was about 3:45 in the afternoon so our climb had taken about six hours. This was slower than our target of five to five and a half hours and I had the sense that we would have to push harder during our Summit attempt.

Camp Muir sits on a ridge above the snowfield and below the Cowlitz glacier. It has outstanding views of a number of mountain ranges and in the distance great views of Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens. The Camp has several separate structures including a first-come-first-serve public sleeping shelter, a guide hut and RMI’s very basic shack (which we were grateful for). Also there were several tents pitched on the close in portions of the Cowlitz.

Our first order of business was to organize our stuff into dinner things, sleeping things and those items we were taking to the Summit. We left our packs, polls, axes and crampons outside due to the limited space inside the hut.

After about 90 minutes of taking care of business, Dave came into the hut and gave us our pre-Summit talk. His description of the climb ahead was quite sobering. He talked at length about the dangers of the climb to the Summit and told us that on the second section of the Summit push we would encounter “real climbing” with numerous crevasses and rock and ice fall. It was hard not to be a little apprehensive.

He told us what to bring and how the departure would work. Mark and Tim brought us both hot and cold water (a real luxury) and we soon set about eating. I had two cups of soup and a delicious pasta primavera. Everyone was pretty focused and quiet—I think we were all thinking about tomorrow morning and what it might bring.

The hut we were in was very small and basic. Just bare wood with no insulation. It had three levels of wood boards and could sleep (snugly) about 18 people. It was only about 10x20 feet so you can imagine how tight it was. With nine of us it wasn’t that bad and Anders and I took the “honeymoon suite” on the 3rd level where the two of us would sleep next to each other in a space that was about five feet across.

After dinner people were in and out making our last preparations. John said that he was going to have to make a game time decision about his leg but he was doubtful for the Summit. Nancy, from the husband and wife team, started crying and said that she just couldn’t do it and she was going to stay behind.

A quick aside here about fitness. It is absolutely essential to be as fit as possible for a climb like this. Not just raw aerobic fitness but mountain climbing specific fitness (as I was soon to find out). The climb to Camp Muir, while challenging, was well within Anders and my fitness levels. This made it very enjoyable and we were able to look around and talk to our fellow climbers as well as focus on the climb itself. Others in our party were continually stressed by the pace and as a result, their experience was much less fun. Success, safety and enjoyment are all fundamentally driven by fitness level. It’s hard to stress this enough.

Back at Camp Muir, Anders and I were able to get Judy on my cell phone and we had a nice talk. She was relieved to hear of our progress and wanted to talk with us for a lot longer than we could. It also seemed like the cold was having an effect on my battery life so we said goodbye after 10 minutes or so and told her we would try to call tomorrow if we could.

Anders and I sat outside together for 15 minutes more or so and enjoyed the view together. We looked down on a vast sea of clouds at about 7000 feet with mountaintops peaking through. Although it was now past 6:30 it was still quite bright out. We talked about how fantastic the trip was so far and about the prospects for tomorrow. We were both optimistic about our chances. We also spent some time wondering who would be roped with us—the plan was for three teams of 1-guide/3 climbers. We knew that this was a critical issue both from a safety and summiting success point-of-view. We talked about Lenny and how he was behind the hydration curve and Anders predicted that it was already too late for him—no matter how much he drank tonight. With the lack of clarity about who was even going to attempt the Summit, we decided it best to let it go and try to sleep.

We all lay down around 7 pm knowing that the wake-up call would come sometime between 12 midnight and 3 am. The departure time was a function of the anticipated weather. If it was going to be clear and the weather good we would leave earlier. This “alpine start” is designed to get the team on the Summit in the early morning and than back down off the glaciers before the heat of the day made things on the glacier unstable. If the weather was bad or uncertain we would delay the start—or perhaps call-off the Summit push entirely.

This was just one of a million things that went through my mind as I uncomfortably lay in my sleeping bag in the light of the early evening and tried fitfully to sleep. I was certain that I did not sleep but Anders told me later that he got up around 9:30 and went outside to pee (another luxury here was the solar powered outside toilets). I never heard him so I must have slept some. I know Anders slept a bit as I heard him breathing in a comfortable sleeping rhythm a couple of times.

Dave had told us to hydrate but not to drink so much that we had to run outside in the dark all night (not much fun in my view). So I went sparingly on the water and in retrospect this was probably a mistake. Soon, I looked at my watch and saw that it was 11:54 pm and I knew the moment of truth was soon to arrive. I was hoping to hear Dave very soon as that would mean the weather was good and that we were on.

Day Four: The Summit Push

Shortly thereafter the door opened below us and a light came on—it was 12:05 am—yes! Dave said, “good morning mountaineers. It is a beautiful morning with a clear sky and a full moon. The wind is light and we have a great day to climb. So get up and attend to your breakfast and packing. We recommend that you wear a base layer top and bottom and that you wear just one layer on top of that—your climbing pants and your soft-shell. So let’s get to it and we’ll try to leave around 1:15 am”. Then he left. Anders and I looked at each other and raised our eyebrows and smiled—we were really going to do this thing—I almost couldn’t believe it.

The first discovery of the early morning was that in addition to Nancy electing to stay at Muir, both John and Tom from the Michigan team had elected to stay as well. John’s quad unfortunately had tightened during the night and he didn’t think it made sense to attempt the climb and end up slowing everybody down. Tom said he just wasn’t fit enough. I admired them for making what were tough, but absolutely correct decisions. We were now down to three guides and six climbers—three groups of three. This meant that just Anders and I would be roped together with a guide—we were quite excited by this prospect.

The hut was a beehive of activity as the six of us busily prepared for the challenge ahead. I kept looking at the three that were staying behind and felt a pang of guilt—I was so excited and they must feel so bummed! I had to let it go because I had a lot to do and I had to do it correctly.

We ate breakfast (pop tarts, a cookie and coffee) and made several trips outside to stuff our packs. I made three trips to the outhouse just to make sure I wouldn’t have to worry about that latter when it might prove more inconvenient.

It was a breathtaking morning! A clear sky lit-up by the full moon and a very bright Venus. It was cold—I’m guessing about 25 degrees, but there was just a breath of wind. Perfect really. It was surreal looking around as people walked to and fro all over Muir with their headlamps beaming, getting ready for the climb ahead.

Anders and I secured our packs and then efficiently donned our crampons—this was one skill we had mastered. The guides came down and we learned that we would be roped with Tim, the newest of the guides. We were cool with whichever guide we were roped to as they all three seemed very competent. We were to be the second of the three teams. First was Dave as the lead climber roped with father and son, Lenny and Jack. Then our team followed by Mark with Jared and Gary (the husband of the husband and wife team). Although they did not say why they chose this configuration it was pretty clear what they had concluded. First, they had decided that Anders and I were the strongest climbing pair of the three pairs. Strongest in this case is defined by the weakest person in each team. In our case that was clearly I. They judged me stronger than Lenny or Gary so they had the stronger guides with the two weakest climbers. Also, I was to be in the middle between Tim and Anders. This was where the weakest person on the rope goes. It was the same with the other two ropes: guide up front, over 50 guy in the middle, young buck at the back. The guides had decided correctly in my view.

Dave checked to make sure we were all good to go and Mark came and examined our crampons. Next we clipped in and Dave said: “Let’s do this” and he led the first rope team into the dark. My heart was pounding.

The push to the Summit and back entailed seven sections; four up and three back down to Camp Muir. The most difficult section and the real crux of the climb was up the Ingraham Glacier and through the icefall under the glacier’s headwall. More on that latter. The Ingraham Direct Route (ID) that we were taking this morning is the preferred route to the Summit up through late May and early June when the crevasses and ice/rock falls begin to make the path impassable. Then, most folks move over to the parallel Disappointment Cleaver Route (DC), which is to the right side of the Ingraham Glacier on a rocky ridge. The guides had debated which way to go but ultimately decided that the ID route was still stable enough for us to give it a shot.

The Ingraham Glacier, on the eastern flank of Rainier, covers an area of about 1.5 square miles. It contains about 7 billion cubic feet of ice. At the bottom it merges into the upper Cowlitz Glacier and together they melt into the Cowlitz River. In the past (35,000 years ago) they have flowed as far as 65 miles down from Rainier.

I should digress here to talk about safety. RMI has been guiding on this mountain for 40 years. During this time they have had three accidents on their trips that have resulted in fatalities. In 1981 a massive section of the Ingraham Icefall broke away and swept eleven climbers into a crevasse where they remain today. This remains the worst mountaineering accident in North American history. Prior to that, in 1977 a 47-year-old woman died when her rope team slid 1500 feet down the upper Ingraham. Last year a 29 year old man was killed when loose snow knocked him off the Disappointment Cleaver route. RMI typically guides over 3000 people a summer on the ID and DC routes. And as I mentioned earlier, they have been guiding here for 40 years. There is danger, but from a statistical basis the probabilities are small. Those are the facts.

Anyways, that part of the mountain was a ways ahead of us as we headed out. The first section of the climb involved traversing the Cowlitz Glacier under the Cathedral Rocks and then up and through the Cathedral Gap. Then, a short trek to the lower section of the Ingraham Glacier at 11,100 feet, which is called the “Flats”. This section was expected to take us about 70-75 minutes.

This part of the climb was magical. I was almost giddy with excitement. Anders kept saying “Look Dad” or “This is so awesome”. Ahead you could see the reflection off the snow of other climbers’ headlamps, including groups who had left ahead of us. The Cowlitz Glacier is heavily crevassed but the path was well defined and the guides seemed pretty mellow. As we progressed higher we would look down to our right aware of a pretty steep slope that was dimly illuminated by the moon. It was surreal.

Mostly the only sound was the rhythmic crunching of our crampons into the icy-hard snow. After about 30 minutes Dave yelled back that we should all be alert and listen for rock fall. This kind of snapped me out of my reverie and back into the reality of what we were doing. In case of hearing ice or rock fall we are all to try to see it and then try to point it out to everyone. Then we have to listen to Dave to tell us what to do. The options were basically: do nothing as it will miss us; watch it and wait until the last second to dodge anything headed directly at you, walk forward or backward as a team; or turn around and crouch down in an attempt to have your pack cushion the blow. I reviewed these options while listening for the rocks and ice that never came.

Soon we scrambled through some loose rocks (which is a challenge in crampons) and exited through the Cathedral Gap (10,640 feet) onto the Ingraham Glacier proper. The Cathedral and Gibraltar Rocks were now to our left and we were in a very mellow part of the mountain. Despite the altitude, this was very pleasant climbing as the slope was quite mild. I was very comfortable in my two thin layers—it’s amazing how little you need to wear to stay warm when you’re climbing. I felt strong at this point of the climb. I looked up into the night sky and was stunned to see several small groups of lights moving in unison impossibly high up in the sky. When I looked more closely I could see the slightly darker hue of Rainier itself on which the climbing parties were pushing upward. I knew if all went well I would be there soon—it was a little mind-boggling.

We reached the first rest point just a few minutes behind schedule. Here we took off our packs (which thankfully only weighed about 25 pounds now) and laid them onto the snow. We took out our big down parkas to stay warm and quickly ate and drank. I wasn’t that hungry but ate a frozen Snicker’s Bar and drank too much of my Gatorade—I was feeling very thirsty. In no time at all we packed up, stripped down and were on our way for the crux of our Summit attempt.

This second section involves climbing directly up the face of the Ingraham Glacier weaving our way through the crevasses and icefall debris all the while under the overhanging seracs of the Ingraham Headwall. Our guides admonished us to move very quickly through this section. I felt a little anxiety with their tension and the increased physical stress of the pace and growing altitude.

It was still very dark but soon I became aware of huge masses of fallen ice and large gaping trenches all around. Some of the blocks of ice were easily several times my height. The moon cast enough light that you were aware but not altogether certain of the typography around you. Several times I called out to Anders to look at some thing and he invariably answered: “I know”. I think he was a little spooked too.

The pitch began to ratchet dramatically upward and with the increased incline came many more, wider and deeper crevasses. At first we would weave around them. Then we would come to distinct, fairly small “snow bridges” precariously spanning the chasms. Here we would slow and Mark would issue commands, as the three of us would cross in turn. As we did this I felt myself becoming more intensely focused. I was not afraid, just completely in the moment focused on executing.

It seemed like we had to wait a lot, which physiologically I was thankful for as it allowed me to control my breathing and heart rate which were beginning to race a bit at times with the exertion. Still in the back of my mind I knew we needed to be moving faster. It seemed like the team in front of us was having trouble.

As the pitch increased again we had to resort to a lot of cross over side steps. This was very demanding and I found myself taking a breath with each rest-step, advancing just 4-6 inches with each methodical step. The crevasses now were completely open and we had to walk to the very edge and then leap across as our rope team partners maintained appropriate tension on the rope. Thankfully, for the most part we could not see down into the black abyss below us although from time to time the moon illuminated some of the cracks and I was conscious of their shear size—some where 30 feet or more across very near where we were. At one point, a crevasse was in our path that was about four feet wide and the other side was five or so feet higher. To surmount this we climbed an aluminum ladder that had been previously anchored to the ice across the chasm. I’ve seen this move on Discovery Channel and was very anxious about it but it proved to be easy to do—even with crampons.

We were now slowly approaching the headwall itself. We were closing in on 5 am and with the nearing dawn I could begin to see more clearly the topography around us. I looked up and saw hanging seracs that were several times bigger than our house sitting on a 60-degree slope several hundred feet above us. I was aware that it was certain these blocks would fall-some day—but I was not frightened at all. Every time I looked at or thought about them the loss of concentration would cause me to slip or trip a bit and so I decided to just not think about them anymore. I guess it’s like driving a car. Sure someone at anytime could swerve across the lane and hit you but you don’t think about it because it’s extremely unlikely and it’s better to focus on driving well.

Finally we gained enough altitude to cross over above the top of the Disappointment Cleaver. We had one final obstacle to pass before we would reach our second rest stop. Here the most dramatic event of the climb unfolded. At the bottom of a slight decline directly in front of us and clearly visible in the growing light, Dave had made a hard left turn about 20 feet above a huge crevasse that interrupted a slope of about 40-45 degrees. He climbed up and set his feet and called down to Lenny to come up. This part required a step up of about three feet and as Lenny tried to step up he fell and slid a foot or two. Dave yelled at Lenny to focus and to hurry and try again. Lenny tried 2-3 more times and appeared unable to surmount this obstacle. Dave was increasingly forceful in urging Lenny to do it. He tried and slipped again and Dave yelled: “Lenny, you can not fall there. Stay there, don’t move, don’t move at all.” I wanted to look back at Anders but we were hanging out on a very steep slope so I just put the weight on my locked back leg and waited to see what was going to happen.

Dave took out an anchor and buried it. He unhooked from the rope and tied Lenny to the anchor. He then free-climbed, un-roped down to Lenny and hastily cut several steps into the ice for Lenny with his ice axe. He quickly climbed back up and re-roped leaving the anchor in place. This all happened in about 2 minutes—it was amazing to witness. With these freshly cut steps Lenny was able to make it and right behind him the rest of us soon followed.

We climbed a couple of hundred feet higher to 12,300 feet on a ridiculously steep slope (probably 50 degrees) and to my amazement Dave announced that we would rest there. Every move had to be carefully thought through and executed. We drove our ice axes into the snow and short roped to them. We carefully took our packs off and took out our down jackets and I grabbed some warmer gloves. I zipped my jacket with my crampons digging in below me and my back to the slope behind me. Soon I had my drink and food out and turned around to admire the view.

What a spectacular view it was! The sun had just popped up above a thick cloud layer that probably was at 8000 feet or so. Directly in front of us was Little Tahoma (11,138 feet), which is the third highest peak in Washington. Many smaller peaks were also visible and to our right was the top of the DC and the Gibraltar Rock. As I looked down between my feet I saw a shear slope that fell away at least 2000 feet. Strangely, I was comfortable enough perched here that I asked Dave if I could shoot some video, which I did—it’s amazing stuff. While we were sitting there, Jack dropped his water bottle and it shot down the slope and quickly disappeared from sight. Yikes!

Dave announced that Lenny and Gary had decided to turn back and that Tim would un-rope from Anders and me and lead them back to Camp Muir. Mark came forward to lead our team and Jared joined Jack, who now would climb without his father, on Dave’s rope. We were now down to 4 climbers and 2 guides on 2 ropes. We had taken almost two full hours to master the second section-much slower than desired. The good news was that we were likely to be able to move quite a bit faster going forward. The bad news, from my perspective, was that I was now the weakest climber as everyone left was in their 20s and evidently fitter than I. Dave said we needed to make up some time and we would go harder. The good news was that the rest of the route was fairly straightforward. He said it would still be hard as it was relentlessly steep and of-course altitude was becoming a factor.

We set off in the growing light and we basically cross-stepped with a crossover traverse every now and then. At the crossovers I had to step both feet over the rope behind leading to Anders, switch my ice axe to my other hand without dropping it (no leash) and then re grab and tiddy up the rope behind me so that Anders wouldn’t have it at his feet as the slack increased as I traversed above him. I was increasingly fatigued but we generally did this very well. Occasionally Anders or Mark had to remind me to shift my axe grip or take better care of the rope. I was aware that Anders was increasingly thinking about taking care of and watching out for me. It was very comforting to have two stronger climbers on the rope with me. At the same time my ego was driving me to live up to their standards.

Most of this part of climb was side stepping up the mountain, one foot over the other with one’s body perpendicular to the fall-line. Each time you placed your foot down you had roll your ankle down the hill to make sure to engage as many points of the crampon as you could. I focused on rest stepping and pressure breathing and I thought I had pretty good technique. In reality I was fatigued and not as precise as either Mark or Anders and this was creating a feedback loop of increasing fatigue and more sloppiness. Mark urged me several times to focus and be more precise as I would occasionally have a clumsy step or two. This section was extremely difficult as my HR was constantly elevated close to my anaerobic limit. I was very conscious of how hard I was working but mostly I was just absorbed completely into the task. I could not tell you what the view was like although every time we would reach what I thought was a crest a new, equally steep section was revealed stretching away to the sky above us.

All of a sudden I was surprised to see Dave taking his pack off at a mellower section, which was our 3rd rest stop at the “High Break”, which is at 13,500 feet. This was very good news indeed. I really had to focus on getting my breathing under control—the air was very thin. I couldn’t drink very much as I was running out of water, having consumed about 75% of the two liters I had brought. I really could eat just a couple of bites as I was working too hard now and my appetite was fading.

As I sat there in the quiet of the team, I seriously pondered if I had enough to make it up to the top and then all the way back down again, not just to Camp Muir but to Paradise. I didn’t want to endanger myself, Anders or anyone else on the team. I was pretty certain I could get to the top but I wondered about the descent—I just didn’t have any real experience to judge this with. It was probably a moot point anyways because we were pretty much committed to the top now, which was just 650 vertical feet above us (the east rim of the Summit Crater).

Very quickly it was time to make a final push for the Summit and Dave said the 4th segment was just like the 3rd except with less oxygen but it was notably shorter. He thought we should be to the rim of the crater in 30-40 minuets or so. And so it began again. This time, probably because, it was half the length of the 3rd section, I soon saw Dave coiling in the rope of his team as they all paused—evidently at the summit crater. It was just 60 feet away. Then 30. And finally I looked up and saw Rainier’s Summit crater. We were now at 14,150 feet. Mark smiled and said, “good work”. Anders soon joined me and we smiled through our fatigue. We short-roped down through a tricky section onto the crater itself and we took our packs off and donned our parkas. We high-fived and took pics and video.

Dave said it was ok if we just stayed here but if we wanted to we could all walk across the crater and up the 260 feet to the true Summit. He said either was fine because in his mind we had made it. Anders and I had talked about this before and I just pointed at the Columbia Crest and the others all said let’s go.

We un-roped and left our packs and took our axes and walked across the crater—it was about 500 yards across. As the slope steepened on the other side I stopped to rest in the thin altitude for a few seconds. Mark urged me to keep going saying we did not have much time. We climbed up a rocky patch and Dave dug out the Park Service Summit Register that we all signed. I signed it “Randy Christofferson MIOGA”. We took some more pictures and Dave announced we were now official.

Of course we really weren’t as we still had a few hundred more feet to go to get to the true Summit. Dave said, “Should we finish this off?” No one said a thing but we all started slowly trudging up the final slope. It was one slow step after another. With each step the view became ever more beautiful with a full 360 degree panorama opening up. I saw Dave shake Anders had ahead of me and soon I joined them. We had summited Mount Rainier! I hugged Anders and said, “We did it!” It was 8 am, 6 and a half hours after we had left Muir, and some 22+ hours after leaving Paradise. I looked nervously out at another peak that looked even higher and wondered if we had to go further but Dave said that it was Liberty Cap which was actually a couple of hundred feet lower (Rainier has 3 distinct summits with the Columbia Crest where we now stood being the highest and official Summit at either 14,410 or 14,411 feet, depending on what source you read).

We stayed for about ten minutes enjoying the view and the sense of accomplishment. I was thrilled and very proud of Anders—what a fine and multi-talented young man he has become! We were all notably subdued—no dancing or overt celebrating as we still had a descent of 9 miles and 9,000 vertical feet in front of us. We took more pics and videos and soon it was time to go.

Day Four: Back to Camp Muir

We went fairly quickly down to the crater floor and across to where we had left our packs. There is a lot to explore on the Summit of Rainier including tunnels, wreckages of a plane crashe, various volcanic effects but we had none of that. I was very much in game-on mode wanting to get down as quickly and effectively as I could. I sensed it was going to be a tough sled down and I was a little apprehensive. The attitude of the team was all business.

We stripped down and hoisted our packs and climbed back up out of the crater and began the descent. We broke the climb up into 4 sections but on the way down we planned to consolidate the highest two sections into one—stopping just above the Ingraham.

It was great to have no more indecision. At this point the only thing that mattered was to get down safe and sound. I was pleased to find that descending, even on very steep terrain was both much easier and faster. My HR was under control and I began to look around a bit to see what I had missed on the way up. At one point, just below the High Break I clipped my crampons and fell to my knees on a pretty steep slope. I stopped right away and there was no damage done. Mark looked at me and asked what happened. I told him I lost focus and he told me to stay focused. No doubt he was right. But the truth was that I was now quite dehydrated and beginning to bonk a bit. My quads were beginning to tighten quite a bit and it was hard for me to constantly extend them down the slope and easily arrest my “controlled fall”. Instead, especially with the weight of the pack I tended to slam down from several inches above the snow surface. It was much more jarring than it needed to be and with the steep uneven terrain, difficult to always properly balance. When we would stop for several seconds, my legs began to vibrate and shake from the fatigue. I knew I was locked into a pretty tough fight for the next 4-6 hours and I wished I had done much more mountaineering specific training—especially walking downhill with a heavy pack. From this point on, my aerobic fitness was generally not an issue but my muscle strength, specifically in my quadriceps was. Anders for his part, while working very hard, was well within his comfort zone.

Eventually we made it down to the place we had stopped earlier above the DC at 12,300 feet. I was fairly thrashed at this point and basically out of water and with no appetite for anything solid. I knew the next 1200 feet of descent was the key barrier between a great trip and something worse. I was into positive self-talk and when Mark, Dave or Anders asked how I was doing I told them I was on it. I did so in a monotone and without my earlier enthusiasm—it was all I could muster.

We then dropped into the Ingraham Glacier just below the headwall. Revealed in all of its beauty and horror in the daylight I was amazed that we had been through this place just a few hours before. The upper glacier was riddled with many significant and a far greater number of lesser crevasses. Above, to the right, were massive seracs hanging ominously over a 50-60 degree headwall. Strewn all across the glacier were the remnants of recent and some cases, massive icefalls. Mark turned to me and said we had to move very quickly and effectively through this section. The sun was now beating down and I began to sweat as everything was heating up—amen to moving fast!

About halfway down, on a steep slope some 30 feet above a deep crevasse I made my worst mistake of the climb. I was very fatigued in my quadriceps and I moved my legs too close together as I down stepped at one point. This caused me to catch a crampon on my other leg and just like that I fell forward somewhat perpendicular to the fall line. Immediately and above me, Anders fell into a self-arrest position and I, at the same time was able to quickly control my fall. I stopped after sliding two or three feet. All was silent for a second and I said, “I’m fine and I’m sorry”. I felt embarrassed with such a mistake. Mark looked at me and said, “don’t do that again—what happened?” I agreed with him and basically said I lost focus and I wouldn’t let it happen again. The truth is that I was losing the ability to precisely control my down steps.

A ways further into the descent through the icefall, Mark reversed our rope structure and put Anders in the lead. This was, I think, due to two things. First, Anders was climbing exceptionally well and Mark had a lot of confidence in him. Second, while at the back of the rope, Mark was above me and could see me and more effectively set an anchor if I fell again. He probably thought this was a safer position. It was. That said, I was bringing 100% of my focus to make sure I didn’t fall again and in this regard I was successful.

At one point Anders told Mark that the route he wanted us to take wasn’t as good as one some 20 yards to his right. They discussed this for a minute or two while I gratefully sucked Os to try to get back to steady state. Eventually they decided that Anders was right and we successfully moved past yet another crevasse. We down climbed the ladder as we mostly retraced our earlier steps. At long last, about 10:30 am we were safely past the most dangerous part of our climb and in the Ingraham Flats. Here we digressed into a long and very interesting discussion on a wide range of mountaineering topics. The tension in my body just released and I had no doubt that while the rest of the climb was going to be demanding, I had more than enough to make it home. I loved our chat—especially because it allowed me to recover a bit. All my water was now gone and Dave made sure that I ate some of his sandwich. I did and a bit of an energy bar. We looked back up at the glacier above us and marveled at its massive chaos. I blew it by not taking a picture or some video here. Frankly I was too busy living it to remember to record it.

The final slog back to Muir was painful (on my quads), hot and wearying. I was sweating to death and Anders kept trying to get me to speed things up. I resisted because I felt if I went any faster then I would fall.

Finally, we made it back to Muir at 11:30—some 10 hours after we left. The other members of our team were here and they warmly greeted us. We made sure that they knew that we appreciated their decisions and reinforced that they had made the right calls. Anders said I was in post-triathlon mode when I wanted to talk to everybody about our shared experience. It was great but I only had an hour before we were to be off again for another 4700-foot descent to Paradise. I finally got all packed and stripped down to lighter layers. I wish I had more time to eat and hydrate but at this time I was content to focus on just getting the climb over.

Day Four: Back to Base Camp

We prosecuted the slog down to Paradise in two lengthy sections. The first from 10,080 to 7,500 feet and the second to the parking lot at 5,400 feet. Soon after we left Muir the clouds closed around us and we were in white out conditions. I found that I was now one of the slower people on our team as everyone on the team was either younger than me or had had done considerably less climbing today. We were pushing straight downhill in slushy deep snow with our trekking poles but no crampons. With every step you slid several inches and the task became one of controlling the slide without tumbling over with the full 60-pound pack I was now carrying.

In a few places we actually got to glissade down short hills on our seats, but it hardly seemed worth it, as then I would have to struggle to my feet with my full pack on. Right before the final break my glasses were so badly fogged and the clouds were so think and moist I could barely see anything.

At the rest stop I switched over to my amber ski goggles and everything was much better as I could see again. It was very tiring and monotonous trudging but finally we reached the parking lot at 3:30. After 30 hours, we had successfully summited Rainier and returned safely to the base of the mountain.


We endured an up beat but fatigued 40 minute ride in the van back to base camp. We unloaded and Anders and I each took a much-needed shower. We finally sent e-mails and called Judy to tell folks we were safe. We had to cut it short, as we had to meet with the group. We reassembled as a team and Anders and I received our certificates documenting our successful Summits. I felt so proud of both Anders and my efforts and performance. We said our goodbyes and promised to stay in-touch (now as I write this its two days latter I have already sent the team a bunch of photos with more to come).

Anders and I hit the Base Camp Grill and now feeling very hungry each ordered our own very large pizza. We also grabbed a pitcher of draft Sierra Nevada—we were in heaven. Jared came by and chatted with us for away. Soon some scruffy local climbing dudes came in and we gave them our pizzas as we could only each eat a slice and a half or so. We talked about our climb and all the other possibilities that this earth provides. I think both Anders and I felt proud that we could now legitimately say we were Mountaineers.

I’m not sure where this all goes now. I’d like to climb again but obviously I’ll need to do a better job at preparation. I will not do something as tough as Rainier again without a lot more, highly specific training. I was strong enough to get the job done but I definitely will want a lot more fitness cushion if there is a next time. There are a lot of great mountains to climb and trails to trek in the world and most of them are far easier than Rainier. I’d like to climb some of them—hopefully with Judy and other friends and family. That said, there is a certain mountain in South America that has caught my eye—and the good thing about that one is that it’s far less technical than Rainier (although it is a little bit higher!).

It was awesome to “ride” again with my adventure buddy Anders and we once again helped and encouraged each other to achieve a pretty significant objective. I learned and confirmed a lot about my self and my inner will and courage to get the task in front of me done—no matter how tough. It is a privilege to be able to receive such a lesson.

I am lastly most thankful for the support of my wife and family. This was not an easy one for Judy or them. In a lot of ways this thing that Anders and I just completed did not make sense. But they stuck with us and sharing the struggles and joys of this adventure is very sweet indeed. I arrived home last night (Sunday the 7th) at 8 pm and ended up staying up to 5 am writing much of this history and creating a slide show of our trip. Judy came down at 2 am wondering where I was and we ended up watching the slide show and talking until 5 am. Much that she heard was unsettling but I think she sensed how much this experienced energized me.

Life is great—thanks for reading!



Pocomoke Sprint Race Report

Pocomoke Sprint Triathlon
Race Report # 6: May 30th, 2009


After the decidedly unsatisfactory results of the week before at Hammonton, I headed down to the eastern shore of Maryland looking for a little redemption, or at the very least a bit of a rebound. I had heard good things about this small, old school triathlon run by the folks at the Pocomoke YMCA.

After registering and driving the course late Friday afternoon (my father’s 75th birthday), I made my way 20 miles south to my hotel on Chincoteague Island. I dropped my gear off and headed across the short bridge to Assateague Island hoping to see the famous wild horses. I did not succeed in that endeavor but did manage to see quite a few of an apparently endangered type of squirrel during a very pleasant run.

It was absolutely beautiful out and I was feeling considerably better than the week before. I felt ready for a good race. I grabbed some pasta, which I ate back in my hotel room. I watched a spectacularly violent storm sweep across the bay in front of my hotel and repaired to bed early.

I awoke at 5 am to a power outage but was able to get everything down in the car and I was on my way back north to the race site by 5:45, having scarfted down my pre-race PB&J and banana. The weather had cleared after the storm and it looked like a good day for racing.

The Swim

Exactly 300 people started the swim separated into 5 waves. I started in wave 4, six minutes after the first wave. I was to learn latter that there were 17 people in my AG. I only knew about the 9 of them who had pre-registered and was mostly concerned with one competitor, Bob Huber, Sr.. He looked like a pretty good triathlete who ran sub 19 5Ks in open road races. Coincidently, he had showed up at Registration the same time as me so I knew what he looked like. He seemed to also perk-up when he heard my name—perhaps the race was on! As for the others, I really didn’t know who they were and since there was no body marking, I had no way of identifying them out on the course. It was going to be a tactically blind race.

The swim was advertised as a half-mile in small spring fed pound. It was shallow, murky and surprisingly warm—76 degrees. I found my full wetsuit a bit uncomfortable by the end of the swim. I started to the right side, away from the buoy line once again. I was over by Rick Brokaw a good buddy of mine whom I’ve raced with many times (I’ve only beaten him once—at White Lake in 2007). I swam nice and steady and stayed out of trouble in what was a crowded swim. With only 2 minutes between waves we soon began to weave through a ton of slow, breast and backstroking stragglers from the waves in front of us. This required a lot of heads-up swimming and course changes. I seemed to do this pretty well.

I kept my HR under control and felt pretty good about the swim. That said I had only been in the pool 3 times in 15 days due to my Australia trip so I suspected I was going to be quite slow. After climbing up on a little Island and jumping back in, I hit the beach in 11:18 for what was clearly a short swim (probably something like 0.4 miles). My HR averaged 155bpm, so I worked pretty hard. After the race I was not surprised to find that I was 70th OA (77th %-tile) and 4th in my AG (82.4 %-tile). This is really not that bad considering everything. My swim fitness is declining with my estrangement from the pool and it’s likely to get worse with the Rainier Expedition this coming week. I’ll have to put some significant time in when I return from Rainier to get back some decent swim fitness. Here is where we stood after the swim:

1. Graham ----------
2. Horsey + 0:50
3. McGagahin + 1:32
4. Christofferson + 1:35

The good news was that I had opened up a 55 second lead on Huber. The bad news was Douglas Graham, whom I never saw during the race, who turns out to be a very experienced and accomplished triathlete who just aged up into my AG, was way out in front. As it turns out he has posted some impressive IM times and has qualified for Hawaii where he did very well.

Transition One

The transition involved a modest run across a grass field (during which I passed a lot people) to the racks where I had secured the prime position (having been the first to arrive at the race site). I felt pretty slow in transition but eventually got everything off and out on my bike. My T1 split was 1:34 and my HR averaged 169 bpm—I was definitely pushing it! As it turned out I had the fastest T1 in my AG and was 26th OA (91.7 %-tile). All in all, an excellent T1 for me! Here is where we stood:

1. Graham ---------
2. Christofferson + 1:24
3. Horsey + 1:48
4. Paul + 2:20

The Bike

After the initial pass through the gravel parking lot of the local Elk’s Club, the bike was contested on basically flat but in a lot of places, twisty and winding backcountry roads. The course was fun, a bit like a video game and in marked contrast to last week, I felt pretty good right from the start. I was seeing a lot of 240-260s in terms of power and early on a lot of 25-27 mph. I suspected there was a westerly tail wind in the first part of the course (which makes sense given the front that went through the night before) as it didn’t seem I should be that fast.

I passed a ton of people but of-course had no real sense of where I stood. I felt pretty positive and was able to keep good pedal pressure all the way through to the finish. I dismounted the 14.3-mile course (which is what they advertised) in 36:55, which works out to 23.2 mph. The back half of the ride was definitely impacted by a solid head wind. More importantly was my power, which ended up averaging 242 watts with an 83 average rpm. While, this shows my lack of fitness, it clearly is a return to current form and I was definitely very pleased with the ride. My HR averaged 164 bpm, so I clearly gave a good honest effort.

Shockingly, I was out split on the bike for the second week in a row, although this week it was just 2 seconds (I was 17th OA or 94.7 %-tile). Graham was the real deal and proving to be too much for me. If I was in the prior couple of year’s form I might have been able to open up a bit of lead on him but it would take a lot more fitness and a perfect race for me to beat him. The good news is I put a lot of time on everybody else and entered T2 in a strong position:

1. Graham ---------
2. Christofferson + 1:26
3. Huber + 7:58
4. Horsey + 8:24

Transition Two

I efficiently dismounted and sped through transition feeling very satisfied with my ride and on top of my game. My T2 split out at 0:58 and my HR averaged 164. Graham was two seconds faster so I had the second fastest T2 in my AG. OA I was 43rd or 86 %-tile. While I was now racing for second, I did manage to build a little more cushion on my pursuers:

1. Graham ---------
2. Christofferson + 1:28
3. Huber + 8:30
4. Horsey + 9:05

The Run

The run course first traversed an open field for about 500 yards and then we made a left turn onto a quite flat out and back paved course. I felt pretty descent—certainly as good as I would expect with my current run fitness.

I motored along for a while and hit what looked like the 1st mile at 7:37. The lead runners started coming the other way and I looked carefully for anyone that might be in my AG but saw no one (I’m still not sure what Graham looks like as he did not show at the awards ceremony). I saw Mark Facciani laying down the 2nd best run split (!!!!!—way to go bud!) on his way to an impressive overall win. I hit the turnaround around 11:50 and I began to think the run was probably short of its advertised 3.5-mile distance (or else somehow I was now running 6:45s!).

I saw Huber a bit after the turnaround and figured I was about 4 minutes ahead or so—more than enough—I settled into a nice groove and chugged home towards the finish. I was passed by a guy who looked like he could be in my AG (turns out he was 45) about 800 yards from the end and I hung with him and then re-passed him. I tried to pull away but when we hit the open field he turned it on and I had no answer. I smoothed it home with a 23:37 split and average HR of 170 bpm—again, a good solid effort. I ended up with the 4th fastest run split in the AG (82.4 %-tile) and 64th OA (79 %-tile).

This was good enough for 2nd, about 7 minutes behind Graham and 3:21 in front of Huber. I finished 24th OA (92.3 %-tile). This was my highest OA %-tile of the season to date. I felt great about my race—like I did everything I could and that even if I had been in the best shape of my tri career I still would have finished 2nd.

So I have this to build on as I turn my attention away from the triathlon world for a while. On Wednesday I meet Anders in Seattle for our prime objective for the year: summiting Mount Rainier. I am hopeful but as a novice I don’t know quite what to expect. I’m sure it will be a memorable experience!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Hammonton Sprint Race Report

Hammonton Sprint Triathlon
Race Report #5: May 23rd, 2009


I returned to Hammonton for the 4th time in my race career on a 4 race AG win streak but suffering no illusions about my fitness level. I had been somewhat lucky to grab four victories but this week I was up against my old pal Mickey Syrop who is quite an accomplished and experienced triathlete. We have raced many times together and over the last few years I have been getting the better of our competitions. Last year I was able to beat Mick by 2:10, which is about 3.4%. I’ve estimated that I’m about 5-7% slower this year with my lower key focus on training so I thought it would be close. Historically at Hammonton, I’ve won my AG both times I raced as an individual and also won in a relay (the only one I’ve ever done) with Judy, nine days after I separated my shoulder in 2005.

The swim is in a small murky pond and generally is fairly close to the advertised quarter mile. The bike I’ve repeatedly measured as 12.7+ miles is a straightforward out and back (with seven turns) and a couple of shortish hills. It usually has a head wind on the way back and for some reason has never been a particularly fast course. The run used to be on trails but now is an out and back mostly on pavement, although the first 400 yards are so are on a dirt path in the park where the race is held. I’ve not measured it but I believe it to be short of 5k—probably just 3 miles.

Race morning was beautiful—cool and clear and it didn’t seem like the wind was going to be much of a factor. I got up early and found myself the first to arrive and racked my bike in a prime spot in the newly positioned transition area (more on that latter). During warm-ups I felt very tired and sluggish. I hadn’t felt that great since returning from Australia earlier in the week and I was wondering if perhaps all of my recent travel had finally caught up with me. I got reacquainted with the NJ gang and soon we were all ready for the 7:45 am start.

The Swim

Once again us old farts went off in the last wave. I had 11 guys in my AG and in total 254 triathletes would start (there were also 52 duathletes). These numbers were comparable to last year (238 total and 12 in my AG).

I started way to the right, off the buoy line as I am generally of a wimpy orientation these days on my swim. Mick was to my left and as we started he readily swam away from me. I thought I did a pretty good job tactically throughout the swim and reached the turn buoy clean enough. I was constantly aware of the high-end “cap” on my swim fitness and I was on guard against going too anaerobic, even for this short distance. Last year, I had out swum Mickey (for the only time in my career) by 5 seconds and I knew this year was going to be different. I was hoping to limit the damage to 20-30 seconds.

I exited the water in 7:23 versus a time of 7:10 last year. I can’t report on my HR as I left my monitor home (not on my “A” game I guess). Competitively, I was 24 seconds behind Mick and a lackluster 5th out of 11 in my AG (versus 2nd last year) and 55th OA (78.7%-tile) vs. 36th LY (85.3 5-tile). Obviously, a significant fall-off from last year but really about what I expected coming into the race. The standings after the swim:

1. Grout --------
2. Syrop + 0:40
3. Kovar + 0:56
4. Stedman + 1:00
5. Christofferson + 1:04

Transition One

As I mentioned above, the transition area was moved further away from the swim exit this year due to construction. As a result I knew that T1s where going to be slower and that the bike was going to be a bit shorter. I estimate the additional run involved with this new set-up to be about 500 feet or so or about a tenth of a mile. As a consequence (at least in part) my T1 was 2:16 this year vs. 1:39 last year. This was 45th OA (vs. 35th LY) and it was second only to Mick in our AG (same as LY).

Mick has excellent transitions and last year I was somewhat pleased to only lose 21 seconds to Mick. This year I lost 25 seconds and rather than being just 16 seconds behind Mick, I was now 49 seconds behind. As I was doing my thing in T1 I saw Mick leave transition and glanced at my watch. As I left T1 I glanced again and correctly concluded that I was about 45 seconds behind him. I knew I had my work cut out for me. Here is where we stood after T1:

1. Syrop --------
2. Grout + 0:16
3. Christofferson + 0:46
4. Stedman + 1:39

The Bike

The bike is like my “Hail-Mary” play in football. Invariably, if I am to win my AG in a tri I need to both make up a swim deficit and build a big enough cushion to hold off stronger runners. In fact, of my 21 AG wins, I have always posted the fastest bike split. I knew this as I started trying to erase the Mickster’s lead. Last year I was 3:33 faster than Mick and that was more than sufficient to wrap up the win for me. I figured that Mick could be as much as 2 minutes faster than me this year on the run so I worked out that I had to put 2:45-3:00 on him on the bike this year to have a decent chance to win. This works out to 14-15 seconds per mile, so I knew I probably needed to catch Mick by mile 3 or so.

I quickly put it into the hurt zone—I don’t know what my HR was but I was pushing it. My speed seemed pretty good but every time I looked at my SRM I was seeing numbers in the 200-240 range, not the 230-270 watts I would have expected. This did not seem right but every time I pushed my wattage up into the anticipated range my legs revolted. I began to think something was a bit off on this day.

As I approached mile 3 I saw no sign of Mick and I hit the average switch on my SRM and saw just 215 watts and 77 rpm. Early in a race these averages tend to be a little understated due to the time one spends getting mounted and up to speed. Over time and distance that effect is minimized (and I can correct for it for the purposes of these reports) but I definitely knew I was in a great deal of trouble. Soon, I could tell we were approaching the blueberry factory where the turnaround is and I still hadn’t caught Mick. Finally I did, just short of 6 miles and to add insult to injury, several seconds latter Mick came back on me to pass with a big smile on his face—he knew I was in trouble as well. My ego kicked in and I surged ahead and managed to open up about a 5 second lead at the turnaround. Given I had averaged about 7 second faster miles than Mick at this point, I projected about a 45 second lead after the bike. This combined with Mick’s faster transition skills led to the inevitable conclusion that I was cooked.

I felt very sluggish—no zip in my legs. I could not generate the leg speed to spin at my target 85 rpm in the correct gearing and my wattage remained mired just below 220 watts. I frankly considered sitting up and just soft-pedaling in because I knew I was having a very bad ride. I rejected this notion as I felt I owned it to Mickey to give it my very best shot.

I kept trying to push it all the way back—in fact I’d rate my level of effort as a fair bit stronger on the way home—but my low power output would not change. At one point, around 10 miles I passed another guy in our AG and I was momentarily stunned—“wow I’m having an incredibly bad day and may not even finish in the top 3”. However, I correctly surmised that he was a duathlete and I choose to ignore him.

The wind, what little there was, must have been a crosswind. As a result, the bike was much faster this year and combined with a measured distance of 12.6 miles (vs. 12.7 miles) most competitors registered faster bike splits. For example, this year Mick achieved a 34:06 split versus a 35:35 last year. I also was faster, though only by 7 seconds, as I finished the bike with a split of 31:55. This works out to a respectable 23.7 mph (over 12.6 measured miles) and represents a course record for me but the power data shows how misleading speed is as an indicator of performance from year to year (due to changes in conditions and the course). Last year I averaged 254 watts (and wasn’t happy about it) and this year I barely managed 220 watts. My cadence was just 79 rpm.

This power information is worth analyzing a bit. My three races this year (not counting the off-road tri) had the following power outputs:

Smithfield: 253 watts over 9.9 miles
Bumpass: 241 watts over 12.5 miles
Devilman: 244 watts over 21.2 miles

Even with my current fitness level I should have been able to average 245-250 watts today. This 25-30 watt shortfall means I rode with 11-14% less power output than I was capable of. This means my average speed was from 5.5 to 6.6 % slower and my bike time was some where between 1:45 and 2:05 slower than it should have been. These are huge numbers, especially when considered from the competitive context.

As it turned out I was able to put 2:07 on Mickey in this bike leg (vs. 3:33 LY and 3:52-4:22 as calculated above). Thus I entered T2 with just a 1:18 lead (vs. a more comfortable 3:03-3:23) and given the current state of my run, that wasn’t good enough. Compared to the field, last year I was 9th OA (96.6 %-tile) and this year I slipped to 15th (94.5 %-tile…. the 9th place guy this year was 1:06 faster than me). More significantly, I did not have the fastest bike split in my AG. A fellow named Steve Meddaugh easily out split me as he put 49 seconds into me on the bike.

This was without question, my poorest bike split of my triathlon career. I am hopeful that it is not indicative of my new fitness levels but rather represents an off day, probably as a result of my trip to Australia and the jet lag. Time will tell. In any event, here is how we stood after the bike:

1. Christofferson ---------
2. Syrop + 1:18
3. Meddaugh + 1:55
4. Grout + 2:49

Transition Two

I thought I did a pretty decent job in T2 clocking 1:05, vs. 1:09 last year (though it’s hard to compare the two years). I was 40th OA vs. 75th last year and was 2nd to Mick by 6 seconds (versus 12 LY). As I ran out onto the course I glanced back into transition and I could see Mick storming in—I new it was very likely I would be caught. Meddaugh, by the way did a horrible job in transition losing 37 seconds in T1 to Mick. This combined with the 1:30 he lost in T2 effectively threw the race away for him. He easily would have beaten both Mick and I with halfway decent transitions. Here is where we stood after T2:

1. Christofferson --------
2. Syrop + 1:12
3. Meddaugh + 2:26

The Run

The run was more of the same. My legs were completely fried. I tried to push it on the off chance Mick was having a bad run. I hit the turn and saw I was about 30 seconds or so ahead of him—not good enough. Little than either Mick or I know, Meddaugh was gaining on us both. With about a mile to go the inevitable happened and Mick assumed his rightful place in the lead. I backed off a bit now as I knew I wasn’t coming back and I assumed 2nd was mine. Shortly there after Meddaugh steamed past me although I didn’t know it at the time.

I pushed through to the end and ended up with a 22:22 run split. This compares to the 21:15 I did last year and equates to a 7:27/mile average—yuck! I was 6th in the AG (vs. 2nd LY) and 94th OA vs. 60th. I ended up losing to Mick by 47 seconds and to Meddaugh by 23 seconds. My unlikely short-course winning streak was over at eight races.

I finished at 1:04:59, which is only 1:42 slower than 2008 (and almost 4 minutes faster than 2004), which on the surface doesn’t seem that bad. I was in 34th place versus 21st LY. However, the above narrative tells the real story. It’s clear I have a lot of fitness to regain and I’ll need to bounce back to more normal standards in my race next week!