Monday, October 29, 2007

RR: 2007 McNaughton Park 100

“The secret to success is often in the ability to accept how long it may take
to be successful.” ~Richard Schick

“To complete a marathon, runners must traverse 26 miles; battle mental and physical fatigue and sometimes-extreme weather conditions, and probably be in the best shape of their lives. Are you exhausted yet? No? Then try running two marathons, or three, four and five, nonstop. Now add freezing temperatures, blustery winds and a course full of mud, fallen tree branches and whatever else Mother Nature can conjure up.” ~ Local Pekin, IL paper.

Hans Bauer and I flew into Peoria, IL together where we met up with race volunteer Mike Halovatch. Mike brought us to McNaughton Park on Thursday night where we met up with Race Director and good friend Andy Weinberg. We all went out to eat before Hans and I tented out at the Start/Finish to keep watch over the race equipment all ready present. As Friday came, many runners began showing up and setting up their tents, campers and tarps for the weekend. It finally began to sink it what I was about to take part in. 

The McNaughton Park Trail Runs is a series of runs of varying distance that all take place on the same 10-mile loop in McNaughton Park in proud and gorgeous Pekin, Il. 150 Mile runners were to begin running at 6pm on Friday evening while the 50 and 100-mile runners were to begin Saturday morning at 6am. A few 100-mile runners began Friday night in order to give themselves some extra time to finish the race that officially ended at 6pm on Sunday night. Each 10 Mile loop sported 1,600’ of elevation change per loop with hills of varying distance and difficulty (mostly short and steep). Each loop also had two 20-yard creek crossings. One crossing was knee deep the other was shin deep. Ten ten-mile loops adds up to 16,000’ of elevation change in all the hills you can handle plus 20 cold creek crossings. 

As we all gathered around for the pre-race meeting, the 150 milers began their final preparations and took to the starting line. I had the opportunity to meet many of them over pasta dinner and pre-race festivities. Brad Compton is a runner who looks like Jesus and we’ve both run to Wakely Dam in New York. David Goggins came in 5th place in the 2006 Badwater Ultra-Marathon, this supremely chiseled man appeared to be a completely impenetrable machine. Phil Rosenstein, Jeff Heasley, Ryan Dexter, Uli Kamm and many more. The cast of characters in the 150-mile was not only impressive but intimidating, to be in their company and share the same trails as them was a privilege and an honor. 

These runners have accomplished great things as individuals. In the crowd of 150 milers was a 48-hour champion at Across The Yearswho ran 177 miles. A mother who ran 270 miles across the frozen tundra of Alaska. Runners who have run across the Gobi Desert and recovering addicts. Everyday people, who have jobs and families yet had pushed themselves to the limits of LIVING and accomplished great things. They now toe the start/finish line of the longest continuous distance race in the entire western hemisphere. What a thrill it was to be a part of something as great as this single event. 

Just before the start of their race, all of us present from Team Sherpa Ultra-Running gathered around for a group photo. Hans had flown with me from New Hampshire and was ready to go on his 150 mile adventure. Chrissy Weiss from Los Angeles flew in to run the 150 also. Jeff Genova drove up from Arkansas to run the 100 with me and as we stood arm in arm at the start line, we smiled gleefully in thinking of the journey we were to take. 

A surreal electric feeling was in the air as the meeting ended. People cheered and whistled. We clapped and jumped around as the start was given and these warriors were off on their personal journey to persevere. As they bounded down the first hill, the crowded shifted to an adjacent field where we cheered the runners on at mile 1.38 of the loop. As they ran through the grass they gave high fives to spectators and small children. Everyone had a smile on his or her face and a few “faster runners” had a look of extreme seriousness. God bless them as they disappeared into the woods. 

Back at the start/finish, Jeff and I met up with Karl Meltzer. I had been e-mailing with Karl in the weeks before the race seeking advice. As we stood and spoke Friday night, we talked about race strategy, nutrition, and life in general. He was by far the coolest guy and a real class act. But even more surreal was the fact that here I was talking to the “Tiger Woods” of Ultra-Running, it was a moment in my journey that I will never forget and I take his advice to heart. I even got to speak to 2nd place finisher of the 2006 Badwater race, Akos Konya and he too was one cool and funny guy. As the day came to a close, Jeff and I had prepared 
for race morning as the 150 milers went round and round and round. 

Saturday, April 14, 2007 – 6 AM
McNaughton Park
100 Miles

I woke up and finished my pre-race prep. Socks, shoes, gaiters, band aids in trouble areas, body glide, bundle up, and watch the snow flurries fall in the pre-race air. It was a crisp morning with fresh first on the course. 150 Milers were coming in after a few loops on the course and looking good. But as we prepared for the run, snow flurries quickly turned to light rain showers. We were warned about what rain would do to the course, we would now simply pray for the best. 

It all happened so quickly. I hardly even noticed I was about to run in a race. I continued to mingle with friends new and old, joking, laughing and having a great time. After another quick pre-race meeting and glancing over the 50 Mile runners, we all huddled behind the starting line and the signal to GO! Was given. “Oh my god… I’m going to run… HOW FREAKIN FAR?!” 

Loop 1 : Miles 0 – 10: 
We bounded down the first hill of the course which was a mess of slick mud and an area of washout. It emptied us out in a large field of what we did not know, but we did know we had to run around the circumference of the field. Back into the woods and up a short steep hill, we come out into a grassy area where a bag piper played. His song was enough to choke me up as many spectators and crews cheered us on, it finally sank in. Sank in that I was going to be running a distance that not too long ago, I never knew humans considered running. We continued to feel out the course as mile 1.5 through 3 led us through a myriad of steep ups and downs. This section of the course ended up being the toughest in my mind with very few run able areas. And at mile 3 was the totem pole Aid station 1. Special thanks to these volunteers for putting on their smiles for 2 days straight and supplying us with a great aid station. 

From here we headed out down trail towards the first river crossing. Course markings led us over a 2 foot embankment jumping into 3 feet of water, which rumor has it was what Karl Meltzer did. The rest of us took a 20-foot side path to an area of knee-deep water to cross in. No matter what I tried, my feet got drenched here and I was thankful to have caked Vaseline on them to try and protect them from damage. The water was cold, but if you kept moving on the other side, they were quick to warm up. After some flat run able sections, we come to the “rope hill.” This short steep “hill” was equipped with a rope for runners to grab while climbing. I saw it and giggled a little at how silly it was. After all the hiking I’d done in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, I thought of all the trails could use this rope. But I decided to make a personal challenge to myself. See how many loops I could do without grabbing the rope. Up I went and across to the ridge, we then ran along another section of steep ups and downs. 

We then got dumped out into more fields of what… we still did not know. The tight grooming and row placement made it evident that it was a farm of some kind. After running down hill and past the cemetery that Jeff mentioned he’d be in later… we arrived at Heavens Gate aid station. These folks were super. Fellow Ultra-Runner Tracy Thomas did an awesome job of keeping me in the game and making me feel strong. I loved her support as it kept me fueled. From here we did a quick 1 mile loop in the woods along the creek, head back out through the farms, back into the woods for some more hills, back out into the farms… one more ankle deep stream crossing about 20 feet wide, followed by more hills and back to the start finish. The course had been checked out and was soon to be memorized. 

Loop 2 : Miles 10 – 20: 
The second loop got interested. After the first mile and a half was ran into David Goggins and Ryan Dexter who were on their 5th or 6th loop. These guys were running the 150 and were in rough shape. The trail had turned into a horrendous and torturous mud slick. It was in rough shape… nothing I had ever seen. Those who were short could navigate the mud just fine.. but those who were 6’6” like Goggins couldn’t lower his center of gravity enough. In effect he began slipped all around the place. The man that is a machine.. was now being revealed as human. But he still very much had machine qualities in him as he plodded along in mud caked shoes. Ryan Dexter teased him as they went along by saying, “Come on Dave, we have to run when we can.” No Ryan… there was no running right now… just sliding all over the place. We ran into Chrissy later who, like many others, was now dropping from the 150 to the 100 given the new course conditions. 

Jeff started to get frustrated. When we could run we got too warm and when we walked too cold. The mud messed him all up as he had a tender ankle he hadn’t fully healed. He told me to screw my 22-hour finish goal and my 24-hour as well. I wasn’t happy with that but knew either way I had to just keep going. We entered totem pole and got some food, we left together then he stopped to pee… I never saw him again for quite some time. Karl Meltzer lapped me and we gave each other a quick nod as he went by. Very cool. 

Loop 3 : Miles 20 – 30: 
The trail was now all out Armageddon. The massive influx of runners from only forty 150 milers to now over 200 runners on the trail with light showers caused the trail to turn into pure mud the entire way. Runners had to get off the single track and run in the moss and wild flowers to get ANY traction. Mud in most places was anywhere from 8 to 12 inches deep. Runners were losing shoes. ON the hills, every 5 steps up equaled sliding 3 steps back in the mud. I saw Akos Konya as he breezed by me. Bundled up and muddy I asked him, “Akos, how ya doin!?” His reply was funny, “I no like, very cold, too much mud, hilly.” Akos is a very funny guy and I hope to see him again. 

I ran the first 2 loops in 2:20 but this loop had turned into a 3 hour nightmare. As I pulled into the start finish at mile 30, I stopped to re-grease my feet and change my socks. They were pruned and not looking good. 

Loop 4 : Miles 30 – 40: 
There aren’t many folks my age running these ultra-events these days. And even fewer as young as 18 years old Steve Halstead. Steve was the youngest entrant in the 100 miler and I knew at last check that if he dropped I’d be the youngest out there. But as I rounded a corner before Heavens Gate, I saw him bent over on the side of the trail. He started the night before, and after 14 hours of running I asked him how far he’d run… 45 miles he said. One hell of an effort. I asked if he was ok and he told me he was done and waiting for a ride. I shook his hand and tapped his shoulder. After a hell of an effort I couldn’t believe he was dropping. I told him to keep going if he could, or go lay down and come back out… word had it he went home, hopped in bed and couldn’t move. I have a tremendous amount of respect for his guts and determination to have run through the night. 

We noticed that quite a few folks had dropped out of the race after 2 or 3 loops and by loop 4 it was rather lonely out there. The masses were now gone and unfortunate for them, fortunate for us, the trails conditions started to improve. The mud was now no longer slick in many places but sticky. Getting down some steeper slopes still proved to be a trick yet, easier than before. But please don’t be fooled… we still have sections of 8-20 inch deep mud that would stay until the very end. 

Loop 5 : Miles 40 – 50: 
Back at the start finish, every time runners would come in, they’d get our number and our name would be announced over the loud speaker. Andy would yell, “Sherpa John, From New Hampshire, 40 miles and still going.” We would later begin referring to the start/finish as “The Game Show.” It was great to run in and get a huge hug from Andy, high five and some smiles. He was such an inspiration to me. His energy is contagious. 

Back out on the course I ran into many of the 150 Milers. Chrissy Weiss was still hell bent on going only 100 miles but after the last time I saw her, rumor had it she dropped at 90. Phil Rosenstein was still going strong and he told me Hans was a lap ahead of him. At totem I ate some twizzlers and ran off angry. A fellow runner asked me what was wrong and I explained how I was pissed to have to chew my food… too much energy is wasted in chewing. I was grumpy yet laughed after listening to myself go nuts. 

Then I ran into Corey from the Adirondaks of New York state. He knew who I was yet I had no clue who he was. We talked, “So your training for the 48 record has brought you here, very cool Sherpa.” I had no idea how he knew about my ambition to break a record in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, but in talking to him, I learned how he had similar ambitions to break Cave Dogs record in New York. We had great conversation about hiking places in the Northeast and even giggled over the Illinois “hills.” It was great to have his company for a time as I began to feel like I was at home. As I made it back to “The Game Show” it echoed through the woods, “Sherpa John, halfway done his 1st 100 miler.” Andy stuck the microphone in my face, “How does it feel to be doing your first 100?” and I replied, “Awesome!” 

Loop 6 : Miles 50 – 60: 
I continued to run around the loop and wondered where Jeff was. Would I lap him or see him at all? Where the hell is Hans? The sun will set soon and I should have stayed with Jeff since it’s going to get mighty lonely out here. A small bout of depression began to fall over me and I prayed to god. It was now that I finally started to dig deep down inside me, to find what it is that I’m made of. I’ve never run more than 60 miles before. Before I set out on this loop I received a call fro my friend from home “Mt. Drew” who called as I changed my socks. At home my hiking friends were receiving their awards for hiking all of New Hampshire’s 4,000 Footers. I was missing the celebration and them. I have many fond memories of them all and wished I could be there. Instead I was in Illinois, alone, wet, muddy and searching for inner hope.. and then, I was taught a lesson from above. 

Before the rope hill I saw a German couple squabbling in German. It was Uli Kamm. His wife had joined him for a loop. As they talked he video taped the course with his camera explaining he was here for the gorgeous wildflowers. (they were not out yet). They let me pass and as I went up rope hill (still no rope use), he said, “you should have washed your legs to make them look better!” I had a good chuckle. 

As I kept running I ran into a young man wearing a pair of brooks and a white bandana. He was walking with a group of friends when I heard him say, “Gee, I thought I was the youngest out here, what the F$^!” I turned back to look at him and he said, “Hey, how old are you?” I told him I was 25 and I thought according to the registration page am the youngest out here in the 100 since the 18 year old dropped. “No.. I’m 21, I’m the youngest,” he barked. I was taken a back by his tone. Of course in various races I have taken some pride in being the youngest to finish the given race. Though I’m sure it wasn’t his intent, his tone came off as boastful and in a rather attacking manner. I responded with, “Oh.. ok.. well.. hey, good luck man.” 

Shortly after, he ditched his friends and caught up with me. He told me, “this is my first 100. I’ve never run more than 9.8 miles in a training run. I ran 33 here last year as a pacer and thought I was going to die. I’ve yet to change my socks shoes or shorts for that matter.” He went on and on about his greatness of the day and I simply listened. And then he came out with, “my first lap was a 1:20!” WOAH! I responded, “Karl Meltzer didn’t even run a 1:20 for his first lap. What are you thinking? You’re going to blow up!” “Well, I had a crappy pacer and one of my other loops was 4 hours because of him. I was pissed.” Now I was truly puzzled by this guy and I said again, “You’re going to blow up.” “Well… if I was gonna blow up I’d have done it by now I’ll be fine.” I ran ahead of him and began to think to myself if this was a hallucination. I saw no bib number on him and he was running fresher after 50 miles than anyone else on the course. Was god trying to teach me a lesson in humility, boastfulness and humbleness?? I chalked it all up as yes and this young man didn’t exist. A simple hallucination and a lesson from above. I felt terrible and finally learned what so many had been trying to teach me. I left him by saying, “Good luck kiddo, I think you should have done your homework though, it’s a long race and strange things happen at night.” 

Shortly before the sun set I found Hans! We ran together into Heavens Gate and continued on to the finish area. Hans said, “I hope we see some more wildlife!” I replied with, “Yeah… I’ve seen 5 deer so far.” Hans – “Really?! I Saw a giraffe!” I was now well aware that Hans was way beyond the realms of sanity. As we reached the start/finish area, we found Jeff in the tent laying down feeling like crap. We all gathered our stuff, and headed out for another lap. 

Loop 7 : Miles 60 – 70: 
My feet had been growing progressively sorer since about mile 30. As they wrinkled they started to form chasms near the ball of my feet that felt as if they were splitting open. I could feel some huge blisters on the bottom of my big toes. My pinky toes sore as hell.. things were going down hill fast. We all headed out for loop 7 which quickly turned into a death march. As we walked together through the night, Hans ran ahead with a fellow 150 runner he knew. Jeff and I suffered behind. I finally used the rope on the rope hill. My feet progressively worse, running turned into a shuffle. My shins hurt and my hips. I was tired, spent, and emotional and even shed a few tears. I started getting tunnel vision and felt like the darkness of the world was crashing down around me. Even though I was with Jeff and Hans up ahead, I was very alone. I was broken. At Havens Gate.. Tracy was gone as I looked for her motivation. I sat in a chair around their fire and drank chicken soup. I felt reenergized and we tried to run.. but Jeff hurt now and was feeling terrible. I carried on down the trail and started hallucinating. I saw a bush baby on the trail… and they are NOT native to Illinois. Things got very cloudy, I forgot where we just were and had no clue where we were now. I just kept moving. Took a few wrong turns and then Jeff started to vomit.…When we got back to the start finish I felt as if we’d been walking for 6 hours on the last loop… and it was really only 3 1/2. It was 1 am… I had gone 70 Miles in 19 Hours. The only part of my body that hurt was my shins and feet. I took my shoes and socks off and remained in agony. I had never felt so much pain in my life. 

Jeff laid on his bed and fell asleep in less than 2 minutes. Hans told me to lay down and re-stock myself and head out again later. He’d be back. I hobbled around to the fire, dried my feet, put new socks on and crawled into my sleeping back with all of my clothes and 2 jackets on… I fell asleep. 

When Hans returned it had been 3 hours. I told him to tell Andy I was done.. he went to find Andy and told him to get my ass out on the course. Andy came over to talk and asked what was wrong. I told him my feet killed and I could barely walk on them they hurt so bad. I cried… he left.. and came back with a pair of Injinji Toe Socks. 

At sun up I woke up and I put them on with my old running shoes. As I walked around the start/finish area, I saw what looked like a battlefield. Runners had dropped all through the night. Many others had slept, many had packed up and gone home. Larry the chef cooked me an awesome ham and cheese sandwich. I walked over to the time clock and saw the buckles…. There was no doubt what I was going to do now. 

I had been broken down to the absolute lowest point of humility and sanity. I was going crazy, scared, cold, tired… and I woke to a new day, a new rising. I told Jeff… “Hey… 3 more laps… lets go.” And this, is when I learned who I was.. and what it is to persevere. 5 miles across the course Hans was still running when he heard echo through McNaughton Park, “Sherpa John, 70 Miles, heading back out to finish his first 100 Miler!” Hans told me later how excited he got ad he kept running. We were off… for 3 more laps.. the clock still rolling.

Loop 8 : Miles 70 – 80: 
It felt so great to be back out running on the course. The toe socks worked great and my feet felt fine. Jeff and I ran together laughing and cracking jokes all around the park. “Have you been to McNaughton Park??” Yeah.. and we’ve seen ALL of it and then some. More mud please, more hills please. I hadn’t had enough. I felt so alive and I choked up thinking of finishing this damn race. As we neared the start/finish we heard “The Game Show” and knew we were the next contestants. We ran this lap in 2:40 

Loop 9 : Miles 80 – 90: 
Before we head out I see two young guys standing together looking at me with their arms crossed. I was having a hard time seeing but as I leaned forward and focused in on one of them I asked, “Hey… weren’t you the 21 year old I saw last night!?” He was wearing jeans and looking rather clean. “Yeah, I dropped at mile 72.” I stood up and smiled… and asked, “So you blew up?” “Well basically what it came down to is I started too fast.” I commend this young man and if he ever reads this report, I hope he will take some time to learn about this sport and what its about. I commend hi for his courage and his ability to have run as well as he did for 70 Miles. He should have finished the race as he had plenty of time. Perhaps he will return and try again. But now I knew… I was aiming at being the youngest finisher of the 100 miler. 

As we left the start we saw David Goggins down in the first field. The man who I envisioned as a machine was now a walking mess. As he shuffled along the course with Mike Halovatch as his pacer, he looked like hell. I looked up to Goggins for his amazing abilities as a runner and because he is indeed a machine, but he inspires me more now than ever since I have seen that he is indeed every bit as much a human and a man of courage. As he shuffled along, I thought for sure I may have seen some drool. 

We saw Ryan Dexter out at Heavens Gate.. another 150 miler who was delirious and on cloud nine. Bundled up wearing a balaclava I ran up to him and gave him a huge hug. His encouragement is a large part of why I continued to run. Thanks Ryan, I owe you big time. We saw Phil Rosenstein and judging by his slurred speech, we were glad his race was almost over as well. We ran a short distance with him before pulling away. We began to slow a bit near the end, yet still made it back to, yup, “The Game Show.” And all we heard was, “Sherpa John… he was down and out last night… 90 Miles! ONE LAP TO GO! Jeff and I refueled and got ready to go out for the last lap in McNaughton Park. Running around in circles, through all that mud that was STILL there and after 18 creek crossings… it was all ready way beyond a bad nightmare… just one more time. 

Loop 10 : Miles 90 to 100: 
Jeff and I stripped off some layers as the sun had begun to warm up the course. Many places were now dry but soft and there were still some huge mud pits around. But it was as we were preparing to leave the start finish for the last time that I began to feel at peace. Andy Weinberg came up to me and said over the loud speaker, “Sherpa John… I’ve got two words!” He leaned over and whispered them into my ear. No.. they weren’t expletives, but what he said lit a fire under my ass like no other… It was time to go. As Jeff and I smiled at each other, we headed out to cheers and applause, and then.. we saw Karl Meltzer. Karl won the race, he ran 100 Miles in 17 Hours and change setting a new course record by more than an hour. Karl had risen to his feet as he clapped us and he yelled, “Come on, lets go! GO GET EM!” Man… we were dumb founded. What a class act. He finished the race, went home, showered, slept.. and instead of golfing the next day, he returned to the course to cheer everyone on. It was a proud moment for Ultra-running to see this display of sportsman ship and this single gesture.. Is why I love this sport so much. Karl is one of my heros, and he was cheering me on. An awesome moment in time. 

Jeff and I ran out onto the course pumped up and way too fast. We quickly blew up. I couldn’t run anymore. My shins and hips hurt bad. My feet sore once more, we opted to power walk the last 10 as fast as we could. It didn’t matter, it was almost over. We enjoyed the last loop on the course. There was no one left at the 1st aid station. The guys at Heavens Gate were all but packed up. We waived and yelled for Phil Rosenstein, who was on his last lap of the 150, to finish! We stood in the creek crossings to cool our burning feet down. The trail was starting to spin again, tunnel vision slowly returning, I was glad to be finishing. Jeff and I talked about how proud we were of each other. 

Across the last creek crossing, through the mud, up the last hills and into the home stretch. I broke off into an all out sprint. Adrenaline took over and I could run again. I wanted to cry but couldn’t get the tears out. Andy Weinberg over the loud speaker at The Game Show, “Sherpa John, 100 Mile Finisher! HERE HE COMES! IS HE FOR REAL NOW SJ?! Youngest finisher!” I crossed the finish line and hugged Andy. A HUGE hug followed by my first Belt buckle. I lifted it high and smiled proudly. Jeff and I hugged… we did it. 34 Hours and 15 Minutes later. 

There was no “places” in this race. Karl and Akos came in first and Second, but the rest of us simply survived. The course was a mess, a horrible nightmare of mud and cold. I personally learned a lot about the science behind energy during the races. I need to look into this more so I can better fuel myself during the race. Also, how to care better for my feet. 

But the biggest lesson was what I learned about perseverance. “Perseverance is the ability to rise again after all is lost and realizing that in the end, you can do anything.” Hans said it best with, “You are the ultra until the ultra is over.” I still cannot believe I ran 100 Miles. And despite all of the torture, the pain, the mud, the cold, the wet… I cannot wait to do it again in Vermont in July. Which reminds me that this journey is hardly about me.. its more about the 7,000 people who were diagnosed with diabetes during the time it took me to finish McNaughton Park. 

So now I rest my swollen feet and try to re-collect myself from within. I learned a lot about myself and truly believe that I was changed this weekend, forever. Life is good, but of course, many will never learn how good, until they have died. 

One year ago to the day my grandfather died from cancer. He was my best friend and the most influential man of my life. He lived the last 14 years of his life in a wheel chair. I live my life for him. Thanks Moe… the buckles for you. 


- A little over 40 people started the 150 mile event, 9 finished. 
- Over 70 peopler started the 100 mile event, 21 of us finished. For one of the lowest finishing rates in ultra-running history. 
I'll post the exact numbers as they come available. 
-Thanks to RD Andy Weinberg and his army of volunteers for an amazing race. 
-Words cannot really describe this experience, I left a lot out I know. It was the best adventure of my life. Disappointed I slept for so long, wished I had finished quicker. But overall pleased. 

Remember guys... YOU CAN DO ANYTHING! 

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Endurance Athlete, Philanthropist, Documentary Film Maker, Motivational Speaker.
John Lacroix is a twenty-nine year old philanthropist, motivational speaker, documentary film maker, professional guide and endurance athlete from Boulder, CO. Known worldwide as "Sherpa John," he started his endurance career as a peak-bagger in New Hampshire's rugged White Mountains. In 2004 John completed hiking New Hampshire's list of 48 Four-Thousand Foot peaks entering himself into the Appalachian Mountain Clubs Four-Thousand Footer Club. During the same time, Sherpa John released a documentary film he wrote, edited and produced titled "48: A White Mountain Documentary Film." He sold and donated over 800 DVD copies of his film to various individuals and organizations; all the while raising over $20,000 for the American Diabetes Association Research Foundation. In March of 2006, John completed hiking the same list of mountains during the winter season, becoming one of only a few hundred to do so. His peak-bagging continues as Sherpa has completed the list of 48 peaks a subsequent five additional times and is also the youngest person to ever complete The Trailwrights 72 Peak-bagging list and only person under 50 years of age to have done so.

In 2005, Sherpa John entered the world of endurance running, completing his first marathon at the Vermont City Marathon in Burlington, VT. Two short months later, he completed his first 50 Kilometer Ultra-marathon at The Damn Wakely Dam Ultra in Upstate New York. Since then, Sherpa John has completed dozens of Ultra-Distance events across the country ranging anywhere from 1 Mile to 124 Miles; all the while raising thousands of dollars for various charitable causes included The American Diabetes Association, The LiveStrong Foundation, Conservation NH, and The Make-A-Wish Foundation of New Hampshire. In 2008, Sherpa became the first person in history to run across New Hampshire, 124 Miles from the western-most point to the eastern-most point. He repeated the journey in 2009. Sherpa is also the former race director and founder of The New England Ultras 200 Mile Ultra (Now the McNaughton in Vermont Race)

John graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a Bachelors of Science in Kinesiology: Outdoor Education; with a concentration in Hospitality/Recreation Management. As a philanthropist he has raised over $40,000 for charitable organizations on a local and national level and he continues to inspire through his various endurance accomplishments.

Sherpa John has been featured on WMUR TV's News Magazine: NH Chronicle as well as WMUR News 9. He has also appeared in various publications including Ultrarunning Magazine, The Manchester Union LeaderThe New Hampshire Sunday News, Nutfield Times, The New Hampshire, The UNH Campus Journal, The Derry News, The Portsmouth Herald, Fosters Daily Democrat, The Boston Globe-North Edition, New Hampshire Public Radio's Morning Edition and National Public Radio's Weekend America.

Some Of The More Memorable Pieces:

Sherpa John is a product tester for Nathan Human Propulsion Laboratories and is sponsored by  PowerBar, Headsweats, Osprey Packs, NEMO Equipment and Team Animal Camp.

Sherpa John's Career Highlights
Youngest Finisher in the:2006 Vermont 50 (VT)
2007 McNaughton Park 100 (IL)
2007 Grand Teton 100 (WY)
2007 and the 2008 Pittsfield Snowshoe Marathons (VT)

2nd Youngest Finisher in the:
2005 Wakely Dam 50K (NY)
2006 Wakely Dam 50K (NY)
2006 Breakers Nifty Fifty Miler (RI)
2007 Pittsfield Peaks Ultra Challenge (VT)
2008 Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 (VA)

Youngest Male finisher of the:
2007 Stonecat Ale 50 Miler (MA)
Noteable Events/Finishes:
2004: Completed Hiking NH's 48 Four Thousand Foot Mountains

2005: Wakely Dam 50K (NY): 7:57

2006: Completed Hiking NH's 48 Four Thousand Foot Mountains in Winter
2006: Rachel Carson 35 mi.(PA): 8:04 (3rd Place Finish)
2006: Wakely Dam 50K (NY): 7:02
2006: Vermont 50 Miler (VT): 10:32
2006: Breakers Nifty 50 Miler (RI): 10:05
2006: JFK 50 Miler (MD): 9:47

2007: Disney's Goofy Challenge 39.3 mi.(FL): 5:59
2007: McNaughton Park 100 Miler (IL): 34:15
2007: PIneland Farms 50K (ME): 5:35 (PR)
2007: Pittsfield Peaks 50 Miler (VT): 16:02
2007: Pemi Loop Challenge 50K (NH): 10:14
2007: Vermont 100 (VT): 23:19 (PR)
2007: Grand Teton 100 (WY): 30:44
2007: Vermont 50 (VT): 10:06
2007: Manchester City Marathon (NH): 3:37 (PR)
2007: Stone Cat Ale 50 MI (MA): 10:34
2007: One of the four fastest People on record to hike New Hampshire's Belknap Range: 8:11

2008: McNaughton Park 100 Miler (IL): 33:33
2008: Massanutten 100 (VA): 32:09
2008: Pittsfield Peaks 50 Miler (VT): 12:20
2008: Vermont 100 (VT): 23:37
2008: Pisgah 50K (NH): 6:31
2008: Vermont 50 Miler (VT): 8:58 (PR)
2008: Ran Across New Hampshire widthwise 124.4 Miles - 1st Ever: 31:50

2009: Pittsfield Snow Ultra 52.4 Miles: 15:07
2009: McNaughton Park 100 Miler (IL): 36:15
2009: Massanutten 100 (VA): 33:35
2009: Pittsfield Peaks 50 Miler (VT): 12:27
2009: Breaks own Belknap Range Record with Two Others. New Time: 6:35
2009: Vermont 100 (VT) 23:27
2009: Becomes Youngest Person to Complete The Trailwrights 72 by more than 25 years
2009: Vermont 50 (VT) 10:14 - Survives another mudfest
2009: Ran Across New Hampshire widthwise 118.48 miles - 2nd Time: 34:26

2010: Finished 1 loop (22 Miles) of the arduous Barkley Marathons Course: 12:25
2010: One of the three individuals to successfully complete the Cross Rivendell Trail in one day. 10:25
2010: 8th Place Overall (50 Starters) - Pittsfield Peaks 54 Miler 11:22
2010: Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run (CA): 28:29
2010: Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run (VT): 28:58
2010: Youngest Entrant in the 2010 Grand Slam of Ultra-Running (DNF @ Leadville)

2011: One of four athletes to start the Snowshoe 100 Mile Race (VT): 22:22 (DNF @50K)

Friday, October 5, 2007

Ultra-Running: How I Got Into It


Now seems like a great time to speak about how I got into Ultra-Running. Everyone has their own idividualized stories and the following is mine. So, while I recover from the VT50 and start to get into the swing of things again, sit back and enjoy my story of how I became and Ultra-Runner (aka. Crazy).

It All Started With The Discovery Channel

It was the Fall of 2003. Sarah and I had just finished repainting my bedroom when we began watching a program on the Discovery Channel called, "Architechture and Design of Man and Woman." "Watch as men and women mature and push their bodies to athletic extremes to demonstrate how biological differences impact physical performance and even mental agility. However, our differences have evolved not to answer challenges in athletic contests, but to provide advantage in the game of life." Watch we did and we were absolutely facinated by the program.

In the program, female Montrail ultra running athlete Francis Conte is profiled while she runs in the Badwater 135. The program was inspirational to me and veen brought back memories of watching many Eco-Challenges with my father and step-mother a few years back. I remember telling Sarah that I wanted to be an adventure racer and I started to do a little research. A few months later I went out and bought a DVD at EMS on the Primal Quest - San Juan Islands. We sat down and watched the DVD in its entirety, including the part where an unfortunate accident occurs and an athlete dies which descending a technical section of loose rock. The idea of me becomming an Adventure Racer was immediately squashed.

So Sarah and I took up hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Every weekend we'd hike multiple peaks in my quest to complete the list of "48." On some of the tougher days, we'd reach a summit and Sarah, who at the time had no interest in completing the 48 herself, would sit and wait for me to bag an additional near by peak. I'd drop my pack and take off running to the next peak and return. I immediately began falling in love with trail running during our peak bagging activities.

I also happened to be making a movie at the time on hiking the 48. One day as we were driving to the trailhead to hike the Wildcats, I asked Sarah a question that would change my life forever, "Do you think anyone has ever run all of the 48 peaks?? You know... the fastest?" We both agreed that this notion was inconceivable to us and shrugged it off as a joke. Later that day, after traversing the Wildcat Ridge, we were convinced that there was indeed no way in hell anyone had run these peaks.

But my curiosity got the best of me. I went home and started searching the internet for any trace of a formal speed record in hiking New Hampshire's White Mountains. To my surprise, I discovered that not one... not two.. but a whole slew of crazy folks had done the feat before. I found the info on a hiking website operated by Mohammed Ellozy. Here I discovered that the current record holder was a Tim Seaver from Vermont. Tim had set the record in July 2003 by going to the top of each of the 48 peaks in 3 Days 15 Hours and 51 Minutes. My jaw simply dropped to the floor in absolute awe. I continued reading about Ted "Cave Dog" Keizer who held the record before Seaver by doing the feat in "ultra-marathon style" in 3 Days 17 Hours 21 Minutes. And the record was fromally set in the mid 1970's by 2 young men from Massachusetts, the Fitch Brothers, who did so unsupported in 6 Days 15 Hours and 30 minutes.

I had to know more as I wanted to profile these guys in my movie. So I contacted Ted "cave Dog" Keizer via e-mail and he gave me some great information and photos. Ted told me how I could possibly get in touch with the Fitch Brothers and I e-mailed them. I then contacted Tim Seaver through his website. Before I knew it, I had photos from Cave Dog, and a day planned in November 2004, during the editing of my film, to meet with George Fitch and Tim Seaver in the same day. I met with both men and interviewed them on camera about their achievements. However it was during my interview with Tim that I began to question him about this "Ultra-Marathon Style" that they spoke of. Tim told me a bit about ultra-running and what it takes, "being able to put up with a lot of pain, patience and training." Sarah and I elft Vermont that night in an ice storm, and on the slow drive home I told her... this is what I want to do.

I wanted to become one of these ultra marathon runners and I wanted to challenge Tim's record. I wanted to be one of those gifted few who find their names on Mohameds website as a "hiking" legend here in New Hampshire. I had been running for a few months all ready, mainly since we had finished hiking the 48. My love of running had me going at home. When I started, I couldn't run a mile without walking for rest. It was a sad sight but now in November of 2004, after having met with Tim and George.. I knew that running was about to become a huge part of my life and hiking was always going to be.

So... from here.. I started training and the road to becomming a young Ultra-Runner.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Vermont 50 New Course PR!

Vermont 50 Mile Endurance Run
Brownsville, VT - Ascutney Mountain Resort
50 Miles - 10:06:26
"People should learn endurance; they should learn to endure the discomforts of heat and cold, hunger and thirst; they should learn to be patient when receiving abuse and scorn; for it is the practice of endurance that quenches the fire of worldly passions which is burning up their bodies." --Buddha

I woke up shivering after a restless night’s sleep in the upper parking lot of Ascuteny Mountain ski resort. We rushed here Saturday after attending 2 weddings in one day, pitched a tent and got as much frigid rest as we could for the next day’s impending adventure. I told Sarah that I wasn’t feeling 100%, 85% or 90% at best. It has after all only been 29 days since my last 100 miler and now I’m lining up for a tough 50.

The Vermont 50 is, in my opinion, one of the premier events in new England Endurance Sports. Mountain bikers of all ages, divide up into classes to take on the 50 Mile course. At the starting line we even spotted a few tandems! Then there is a 50K, 50 Mile relay and 50 mile solo running events which saw over 400 runners register for this year, making it the largest field in the events history. I was pumped as after all this is one of my favorite races to run and for various reasons. The course is challenging and the scenery is gorgeous. Cool temperatures combined with the changing colors of the leaves, make for one surreal experience.
34 Degrees was the temperature at the start of this year’s event. The sun rising in the east allowed us to see the fog nestled into the many valleys surrounding Ascutney Mountain Resort. The bikers took off in waves, one after another as I assembled myself for the race. Paul Kearney, who was on my spectacular crew during the VT100, was running the race today as his 1st 50 Miler on the road to his very own VT100 adventure. We started the race together and headed off down the main road talking to a few friends I had made at this year’s Pittsfield Peaks Ultra Challenge.

As we found ourselves running past the first aid station and heading up the first hill on the trail, we settled into a great group of guys. Bikernate, Jeff from CT, and a guy from New Jersey whose name escapes me right now. The course was now run on mostly single track for the next few miles. Fog had lowered itself into the woods as we ran through cracking about as many inappropriate jokes we could think of. We even started to talk about favorite movies and tv shows. It was really rather enjoyable. We came across a female Mountain biker who was being carried out by medical staff. She had crashed her bike hard and broke her hip. As she rivaled in pain, she explained that it hurt worse than child birth. We all thanked the medical staff and lent some encouragement to the woman being carried away.

Soon we emerged onto the flanks of Garvin Hill. The fog was now actually BELOW us and this display of undercast was simply amazing. We watched as the clouds danced through the valleys below and it was turning out to be a simply gorgeous day. The sun now shone brightly for the remainder of the race, warming us up to a cool 65 degrees at best, and perfect running weather! As we looked back down the hill, we saw Nate and Jeff now behind us, we harassed each other a bit before taking off on our own pace.

Paul and I reached Smoke Rise Farm in 5 hours and 29 Minutes into the race. The mileage to here is just over 50K which made the time good enough for a 50K pr for me (5:35). I knew we were going way too fast but also that the next couple of miles was a long uphill section. We got our aid, watched a biker jump into the bond and continued on up the road at a good clip. Part of what makes the VT50 a tough course is lack of handler access. I saw my crew 3 times between the start to finish and I could have used them more. After Smoke Rise, I would have a difficult time staying “with it.” My hamstrings were really sore, the back of my left knee hurt and I knew I was falling apart. I put my head down and pushed as best I could from here to Dugdales which was still 2 aid stations and a lifetime away. I just needed to make it to my crew.

At Dugdales I found Sarah, Dad and my step mom Helen waiting for me.. and of course DREW. I got all the aid I needed and then some. I watched John Holt run ahead of me.. he looked so strong. Paul even left the aid station before me and it took my step-mom saying, “quite wasting time” for me to get out of the station. I felt a lot better with Boost, 2 gels, 2 S! Caps, a fig newton and water in me and a recharged bottle of Clip 2 in my hand. My wrist hurt from running with my hand helds today, I’m not entirely sure why.. I feel like I’m falling apart. However, I knew that if I was to make up for any lost time or to try and get ahead of the game, between miles 35 and 48 was the time to do it. So I once again put it to the me and the earth.

Somewhere in the woods around Mile 38, I lost Paul. He was mentioning feeling fatigued and I knew he just needed some time to snap out of the funk. So I took off ahead of him in the hopes that he’d catch me. I on the other hand, was having an amazing time running all of the single track and switchbacks on this section of the course. Shorts up and downs, we wind over and around various hills, cross roads, follow streams.. it really is an amazingly beautiful course.. quite peaceful even. At Mile 40 we popped out of the woods onto a dirt road where a group of spectators had gathered to cheer runners on. I became confused when I saw this because I thought it was the mile 42 aid station. I slowed down and started searching for the food tables.. then I saw Sarah and my Dad snapping photos.. “What is this?” Sarah told me nothing and to keep going.

I moved my legs as fast I could. My quads were finally starting to feel a bit tight. I was cramping up a bit and took some S! Caps to fix the problem. Like clockwork the cramps went away. I couldn’t remember if 42 was a handler station but I put my sights onto making it there. Jeff from CT came up behind me and we ran together until the station. This kid was great! 21 years old and full of immense energy, running his first 50 Mile race after having shattered his knee cap months ago. His energy was contagious and I really enjoyed his company. Upon reaching the station I was out of it.. I didn’t know what I wanted or what I needed. I felt a hand on my shoulder and it was my buddy Pete. He said Hi and I just stared at him.. he said, “John.. its Pete.” I had to think for a moment if I knew any Pete’s.. and then I came to. He got me some gummy bears off the aid table as I filled my bottles. Nate had caught up to me so I decided to wait for him before taking off thinking we’d run together.

Not long after we left the station, it was evident to me that Nate was in great shape. He was moving much faster than I and sounded a lot happier. I knew I was struggling and I let him take off. I hung back with another guy who had run Pittsfield Peaks. We talked a bit before we began to leap frog one another for a few more miles. Johnson’s was the next station and I knew Sarah would be there waiting with the rest of the crew.I got excited and moved as best I could down the winding trail. I was tired but still giving it all I had to try and break 10 hours like I had wanted to. Then came the signs that told us 5 miles to go… 4 miles to go… this played serious tricks on your mental game for sure. I saw a mountain biker who was companioned of cramps and told his buddy he was done. With 5 miles left, I handed him my S! Caps and told him to “Finish the damn thing.”

We come out of the woods and onto a dirt road, as we turn the corner to run through a local farm, Mount Ascutney appears before us and it looks huge! I knew I was almost home and tried kicking it in a bit more, but only to feel a couple of twinges in my legs. I was on the verge of more cramping and I was a bit frustrated. An entire year of racing, training and studying for this sport and I still don’t have it entirely right.. But I knew what I did have a lot of and that’s Heart… I had some left. I ran back into the woods and out onto the next road where I could hear traffic from the cars on Busy Rte 44. I glanced up ahead and saw Drew and Pete waiting for me at the corner. “Lets go Johnny!” They ran with me into the station where I tried to quickly refill with the absolute essentials. My crew was now Huge.. it consisted of Dad, Helen, Sarah, Pete and Bekah and her friend Carmen… I had 30 Minutes to run the last 3 miles to the finish and break 10 Hours.

I ran out of the station and hurried along as fast as I could up through Johnson’s farm. Paul came flying out of nowhere and passed me like I was standing still. Then came the biker I helped get back into the race.. he thanked me for the help and I congratulated him on his efforts. The last 3 miles seem to go on forever as we climb up Ascutney and run across parallel to the valley below about half way up. I started passing other runners and vowed to not let anyone else pass me from here to the end. I dug deep, reach down into my soul and kicked it in one last time looking for sub 10 hours. I turned the corner and started running down the ski slope. The crowd cheered and I happily crossed the finish line where I thank Zeke Zucker for his hard work… 10:08… DAMN! I put my head down and walked up the chute with my medal on. Sarah gave me a hug and congratulated me as did the rest of my friends and family.. but I was disappointed. 8 minutes too long..

I set a personal best on the course by bettering my time from 2006 (10:36). 30 Minutes off. I was 19 minutes longer than my 50 Mile PR (JFK 50 2006) and this now became my 3rd fastest 50 Mile time yet behind the JFK50 and 2006 Nifty Fifty in RI (10:05). Stonecat is my next Ultra… I think I’ll start training with some time off.

Notes: Great to see and meet so many great people again. Many thanks to you all for your continued encouragement and friendship: John Holt, Nate, Paul, Jeff from CT, that guy from NJ, The guy from Canada, Dave Delebec, Josh in NH, Chris Wile, Charles Dona and Leigh Schmidt. I also have to thank my crew and friends once again for come out to check out ultra-running. I only hope they have a better understanding of why I do what I do.

Click HERE for Pictures