By Erik Storheim
My alarm went off at 3:30 am. I slowly rolled out of bed as my wife mumbled something incoherent about getting up so early again. I clearly heard her remind me to be sure and be home by 9. In what has become a fairly common Saturday morning routine – my weekend was starting off with a few lovely pre-dawn hill repeats on Grandeur Peak, an iconic summit of the Salt Lake City Wasatch Front. Since Jan 1, knowing that I was #11 on the Barkley Marathons wait list, with a good chance of getting in, I have adopted Grandeur as my Barkley training ground. Up and down, again, and again, and again….
The West Ridge trail is 4.5 miles round trip and gains 3300 ft. It’s steep, technical and perfect. The wind likes to howl out of neighboring Parley’s Canyon in the early morning so that every time it snows, I am guaranteed 3-4 trips of laying a fresh track along the wind blown ridge. It can be raining at the bottom and snowing at the top. During a few miserable weeks in January and February, Salt Lake experienced its annual winter inversion giving the valley the most polluted air in the nation. While the trailhead was socked in with lung searing smog and temps in the teens, within 15 minutes, you could climb out of it to warmer temps, crystal clear skies and fresh air.
Occasionally, if I feel the need to mix up my routine, I will take a hike or 4 up Mt Wire, another well traveled summit above the University of Utah, boasting 2200 feet of gain in just under 2 miles. Up and down, again, and again, and again…. To top off my quiver of runs, if the day doesn’t give me the chance to get out, or I need to pretend to keep an eye on the kids, it’s an early morning or late evening in the garage, on the treadmill, for an hour or two. Alternating between 6% and 15% incline, I’ll go for a mind numbing trot. Some days it’s a combo of all three: Grandeur, Wire and the treadmill.
Since Jan 1, this is as varied as it’s been. Grandeur, Wire, treadmill, repeat. Sounds boring, right? That’s the plan, it’s part of the strategy, and I hope it works. Barkley will be long, it will be mind numbing, it will be repetitive. I will spend hours, even days, with no one but myself for company. By running the same trails over and over again, mostly alone, the idea is to embrace monotony. Similar to the phenomenon of how a prisoner comes to have empathy for his jailer, I have come to love the monotony, the familiarity, the repetitiveness of Grandeur Peak. I have come to know individual rocks and stumps and which offer the best footing for a particular section. I have come to expect the same folks on their weekly pilgrimage to the summit. Susan with her leather mittens, Dallon carrying his heavy coat over his arm, Jennilyn on her 3rd or 4th lap, and the other familiar faces that haven’t acquired a name yet.
Barkley will be hard. It will tax me in every aspect that I can think of, and most likely way beyond what I can even imagine. But the idea isn’t to go out and have an “experience”. It’s not to do one, two, or even three loops, and say that it was tough, that I gave it my all, but that Barkley won. The idea is to finish. The goal is 5 loops, and there’s really no room for any thought other than that.
Reflecting back on the past couple months of training, a familiar pattern has evolved, that goes something like this. Monday I have a late evening date with the treadmill. Tuesday is an after work lap up Grandeur. Wednesday is an early morning with Ben for 2-3 trips up Wire, with another trip up Wire on my lunch break. Thursday evening is an hour on the treadmill. Friday morning is an early double Grandeur before work. Saturday is a 3:30 am wake up call. Out for 3 laps and home in time for Brooke to work out, allowing Saturday to be a normal Saturday. That’s not every week exactly, but it’s the basic idea. It’s repetitive. It’s beautiful. I’ve embraced the monotony. Maybe I’ve become too comfortable, and comfort isn’t a word that goes well with The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats It’s Young. I think this weekend it’s time to get uncomfortable again.