Cayuga Trail 50

19 06 2015

Pics from Cayuga Trails 50.   Paul took 3rd in the US Track & Field 50 Mile trail Championships.  Kick-ass, Paul!

Going fast

Going fast

Getting Wet

Getting Wet



Beer in hand on the winner's stand

Beer in hand on the winner’s stand

Paul’s Most Awesomest Tour du Mont Blanc

18 09 2014

    Paul Hooge
    Ultra Tour Du Mont Blanc 2014


    I hate race reports, especially my own.  An ultrarunning race report is often ultralong and ultraboring. This one is no different. If you are like me or a veteran ultrarunner here is the Cliff Note, “I started and finished UTMB. For me, it was hard.” 
    If you insist on continuing, here is my report complete with the requisite elements and hyperbole.  The common elements of a race report are cited in parenthesis.

    Background: (So tough you will never “get it” element of story.) 


    The Ultra Tour Du Mont Blanc (UTMB), is a single stage 105 mile, (by my Garmin 109 mile) foot race starting in Chamonix, France and circumnavigating Mont Blanc through 3 countries, France, Italy, and Switzerland.  There is 31,500 feet of climbing and equivalent descent. It is widely recognized as one of the most difficult and competitive races of it’s distance in the world.  If there is a single race that represents a World Championship of Ultrarunning most would agree UTMB is it.  UTMB has minimum qualifications with a point system based on certain races completed over the last two years then a lottery. This helps assure a qualified field and some of the better Ultrarunners from 77 countries. If you are one of the “lucky” ones you will finish within the 46 hour limit.

    Trail Runner Magazine summarizes the 2014 race:  “This race started in a downpour that soaked runners and spectators alike to the bone and made a challenging course even tougher. The point is that UTMB is no ordinary 100-miler. It’s not even an ordinary extremely challenging 100-miler. Take one of the toughest courses in the world, with one of the most talented fields in ultrarunning, and add adverse weather and a start time that guarantees you’ll run through the night, and it starts to make sense that seemingly anything can happen at this race – just ask the American men.” (Half of the top US runners dropped). 

    My UTMB. 

    It would be easier for you to run it yourself than have me painfully describe each mile, consequently, I’ve focused on some key points allowing you to fill in the blanks. 

    After qualifying for two years and being turned down, I wired one million dollars to an unknown Swiss Bank account and I was in.  I ran a lot over the preceding year to train for it. Enough to take me to the moon and back something like 12 times, but not really.  I gathered all the required gear excruciatingly measuring every ounce and mortgaged the house to buy gear that saved a few grams. I then boarded a plane for Chamonix, France.

    (Runner faces big adversity element of story.) 


    In the month leading up to the race signs of overtraining were taking their toll. I was tired. I started having physical problems such as some serious back pain with radiating numbness and weakness in my legs – not a good sign. The radiation resolved, but the back pain persisted and got worse a week before the race. Also, I was having acute right knee pain that left me hobbling on occasion.  Lastly, I got a cold with a sore throat and cough the day before the race. Normally, I find the best strategy is to ignore pain and just move on, but the importance of firing on all cylinders was essential here. It seemed cheesy and hedging to mention it to anyone. The bottom line is that in a race like this no one cares about your problems, not the mountain, organizers, or racers. They have thier own and those are many. Worse yet, my bride, Robin, who is my secret weapon for finishing any race was unable to join me. After spending all this effort, time, money and announcing to everyone this perceived superhuman thing I was about to do, you can’t avoid varying degrees of trepidation about what the hell you got yourself in to. Robin calmed me down and convinced me to forget about all that and focus on the task at hand.

    (My race was harder than your race element of story.) 

    On August 29th, at 5:30pm, I found myself in Chamonix, France, at the start line with roughly 2434 runners and exactly one billion spectators proudly wearing my Team Alchemist kit. There is a lot of hype, music, cheering. After being dry for the few days preceding the race, like clockwork, 10 minutes before the race start and as if it were giving us the finger, Mont Blanc bent over and unleashed a huge black cloud upon us and a downpour ensued. Thankfully I had carefully selected my gear to keep me warm and dry in the planet’s harshest conditions.  So much so that in an hour I found everything to be completely soaked and twice as heavy. My new race rain strategy now is to dunk all my gear in a bucket of water before the race so I can quickly focus my attention on what I can actually control.


    As we ran the flat trail out of Chamonix I got my first taste of a primary theme for the the next two days. Forget that you are in one of the unimaginably scenic places on the planet, your view will be confined to the runners muddy SHOES in front of you. The reports from the elite runners always sound so dreamy: “As I was running down the beautiful valley inspired by the spectacular views I spotted Joe ahead…”  For the rest of us it was almost always a conga line of runners.  If you fell down you were sure to have many Hoka or Soloman (all anyone wore) shoe prints on your back. 
    As we approached the first climb I cowered as suddenly all around me runners brandished their running poles. It looked like the French Revolutionary war.  I was on the battlefield, defenseless with swords flying in every direction.  Hence the second theme of the race, POLES. I never knew that the skinny appendages sprouting from my torso that had become evolutionarily less functional since my legs doubled in size from ultrarunning could be used for much more than squirting a GU into my mouth.  The poles foreshadowed what was to become two days of dozens of near misses and several hits along with the constant intimidating clacking of these weapons around you.
    As we began to descend the first climb it was a mud wrestling match of epic proportions. By the bottom there was carnage of mud covered runners everywhere.  Having no poles I saw my opportunity to pass in the form of some thick green grass just off the mud chute trail. Smirking at the other tools, alone, I sprung into action and planted my size 14 ski shoes onto the steep grade at full speed.  I quickly discovered this might as well been green ice. What happened next is hard to imagine and harder to admit.  I went down so forcefully on my ass that I completely popped back up into a midair running position, legs flailing, searching for solid ground and my backside hurting worse than I can remember since the paddling from my third grade teacher, Mrs. Vogt, that left me standing for a couple days. I worried that I had just injured myself out of the race in the first 10 miles. Bruised and deflated I returned to my position in the mud with the others. 

    And so goes the third primary theme for the race, MUD, frequent, slippery, sticky, mud.  You would try to step around it, but inevitably, like running barefoot in a dog park, you where going to end up ankle deep in it. For two nights and days I ran in wet socks bathed in mud. I imagined myself getting trench-foot and at the final aid station undergoing amputation WW1 style.

    Fantastic start Paul!  After completing the first 10 miles and the easiest climb of the day, I was wrecked. For the next 35 hours it was to be, shoes, mud, poles, pain, shoes, mud, poles, pain…

    The climbs were straight up and endless.  You looked up, fooled by a mirage of stars, only to realize it was runners headlamps.  I was not used to how serious the Europeans were with ultrarunning. No talking, even with each other.  I would try some small talk and get a blank stare and it wasn’t the language barrier. At the finish this was quite different as cheerful finishers patted me on the back and engaged me in conversation.

    The last climb was a 3000 foot very cruel joke up a cliff.  It was foggy and dark, but two clues gave it away, one was that I was having to use my hands frequently and the other being you could see the faint street lights directly below you.


    There were a couple of brief exciting moments worth mentioning such as being slapped on the butt by cute French girls on two occasions after scanning my number at a checkpoint. The crowds in the towns were amazing and really lifted your spirits. The race aid stations, organization and support was unprecedented in any other ultrarunning race I have seen. Oh, and the best part, the last 10 miles…


    (Runner overcomes adversity element of story.) 



    Normally a fast descender, I had spent the last 35 hours stepping aside every few minutes on the downhill while many others descended obscenely fast (for this race distance). It was that or risk getting pushed aside or impaled with a pole, both of which happened. I would pass many of them on the uphill only to be passed again. A fire had been building up in me for two days until suddenly I could not stop my legs from taking off and leaving my brain behind.  Subconsciously, I guess I wanted to send a message to the other racers, and as childish as it was, it felt so good. I started blasting through groups of runners that had tormented me for two days. No solid contact, but they felt the brush of my clothing or the wind. Some yelled out as I flew by them, cheers or cursing, probably both, I couldn’t tell. Some tried to chase me, but I was feeling so energized that anyone that could catch me had long finished. I had started around 800th place and had slowly moved up the field but remained in the same relative position, around 500, for the second day. In the last 10 miles I ran faster than 98% of the starters and passed over 100 in the process. In retrospect I’m lucky I did not injury myself and blow my finish, but I really quit caring about my body after the first day. 


    (False modesty element of story.) 


    In a a race of 2434 of some of the toughest experienced ultrarunners alive, this nothing special poleless old man with an aching back, hobbled knee, sore throat and cough, somehow shows up at the finish line in the top 15% of starters with a time of 36 hours 55 minutes, over 9 hours ahead of the cutoff and a grin bigger than Mont Blanc.

    An ultrathanks to my Wife for being the one that really made this dream a reality. She reposted my status on line and support me from home the entire distance. Also, thanks to friends and family that really went out of their way to show support and if for nothing more than my personal embarrassment added an element of motivation that I essentially needed to finish. 

    (In all seriousness.)  

    I can’t hide the pride that I finished this, but really, I know I’m no superman and this is just a race. Success has no universal standard. It is different and relative for us all and we decide what that is.  Thanks for reading about my success and congratulations on your successes this year as well! 

    Paul Hooge

    Boulder, CO

Paul’s Leadman Video

6 04 2013

“Make Friends with Pain, and you will never be alone.” –Ken Chlouber

Paul playing in his front yard

Check out Alchemist Athlete, Paul Hooge.  He rocked the Leadman last year, finishing in the top 10 in a stacked field.  Leadman, for those of you who don’t know, consists of a series of trail races in Leadville, Colorado.   Marathon, 50 mile run or bike, 100 mile bike, 10k run (the day after the 100 mile bike), and finishing with a 100 mile run (the week after the 100 mile bike).  It’s kind of a big deal.

Strong work out there, Paul!

Paul’s Boulder to Longs Peak Roundtrip Run

7 12 2011

Long Peak’s Roundtrip Run from Boulder
Share your Adventures with SpotAdventures
In a previous post (Team Alchemist News), I mentioned Paul’s record-breaking Longs Peak run.  Downtown Boulder, to the top of Longs Peak, back to downtown Boulder, on foot.

Stats:  Just over 90 miles and 10,000 feet of climbing.  23 hours 17 minutes
It was on the the Trail Runner Magazine Website

Here’s his account of that ridiculous feat and some additional pics and stats.

Paul's Long's Peak Run

Run, Forest, Run!

Here’s the entire article.  Hilarious and inspirational.

Long Day

After being waitlisted for Hardrock along with exactly one million runners, I
thought it might be fun to make it a year of independent runs. I made up several
little challenges in the form of 50 milers on trails and roads around my home at
Walker Ranch outside Boulder. Up and down Flagstaff 5 times, Myers Gulch
10 times, 50 miles across my basement (treadmill) where I had my wife pass me
off bottles while I yelled out things like, “Retrieve the blister kit!” to simulate

Many years ago when I first climbed the Keyhole route on Long’s Peak I was
convinced I had just conquered Mt. Everest. Now it seemed the next logical
step was to do the alternative, long approach, from Boulder. I did some Internet
searches to see if this had been done. Google introduced me to the “Fastest Known
Times”, a forum administered by Ultrarunning Legend Peter Bakwin that as best I
can understand was developed to nurture pathetic people like me with their illness.
Indeed, I discovered that Paul Pomeroy ran a 115 mile mostly trail version of
this route in 28 hours 44 minutes. After reading his report I understood this was
just a fun run for a runner of Paul Pomeroy’s stature that he did on a lark in 2003.
Something like, “Should I go to a movie or run to Long’s Peak and back?” I knew
right then it was my time to pounce and go for the FKT.

I have heard of too many ultrarunners eventually being unable to distinguish
between their spouse and a roving aid station and the subsequent DNF of
their marriage. I have not quite reached the point where I look into my
wife’s eyes and see only GU’s, powdered drinks and electrolyte tablets. When I
suggested I would be making drops to self-support myself along the way, Robin
my wife, insisted she be there. I was touched initially until she informed me,
sure she was willing to toss me the occasional bottle, but more importantly she
had tickets, popcorn and a front row seat to watch me suffer. She was not about to
miss this full day matinee, help or not.

With my extensive and supportive crew in place and all the confidence that I could
at least walk to the “Leaving Boulder” sign, I announced my intention on the FKT
website. I would take the most direct public roads and trails to the top. I decided
on the Pearl Street Courthouse, Old Stage, Jamestown, Peak to Peak, Highway 7
to Long’s Trailhead then the Keyhole Route. This came to a little over 90 miles
and 13,000 feet of ascending round-trip. For planning purposes, I consulted my
algorithm. The run calculated out to around 11 blisters, 3 breakdowns of “I can’t
go on”, and 1.37 vomits.

At 8:00 p.m. on Monday, September 12, 2011, I left downtown to the roar of
cheers from my own mouth and the irritation of passerby’s. As the website
suggested, I had been training for this since I took the first steps in my mothers
womb and I should document it as verifiable as possible. I had announced it on
the website, had witnesses, carried cards to pass out for independent verification
and wore a SPOT tracker. I also saved all my GU wrappers, lost toenails, and
bronzed my running shoes immediately afterwards.

I love the night. I work nights. Cool and calm, just like me, I thought. With
my torch in hand I glided through the evening out of Boulder. As usual, at
about mile 3 I hit the wall and stayed squarely pinned against it for the next 87
miles. Curiously, I discovered dogs don’t like people running by at night. They
all sounded like some mountain hillbilly’s Pit Bull /Wolf breeding experiment
with dinner held. As I scooted along I wished I had brought a gun to shoot
myself before they tore me to bits. I had the occasional thought about mountain
lions as well, but took comfort knowing that no matter how far it dragged my
disemboweled carcass, I would eventually be found with my SPOT tracker on.

I gained Peak to Peak Highway. It was surreal as I ran though the night. There
were spectacular views all around me with Pink Floyd now drowning out the
rare sounds of the night. I was astonished that only TWO cars passed me for the
next 15 miles on the highway. Robin crewed me from the window of the car
and sometimes drove next to me for extended periods while we talked. I love
Colorado. I love being able to run. I love being so ignorant to do this.

For 37 miles I averaged just under 12 minute miles with the difficult to watch,
shuffle, wobble, limp, thing I like to refer to as running. I had arrived at the
trailhead. Now a simple tag of the summit and I can skip home.

I passed out verification request cards to a few people along the way to the summit.
This was a little awkward as we both felt like I was a guy hawking free dinners
at a strip club on the streets of Vegas. I made my way up the Peak. Everything
was harder than I remembered. I was going so slow I was convinced I was going
backwards. Fortunately everyone else was going backwards faster than me and
I passed about 20 people. A thick black cloud descended on the peak. It started
snowing and the wind began to blow hard. I kept moving taking comfort in
the wise decision I had made to leave some of my critical warm clothing at the
trailhead. After achieving the keyhole the next couple hours is a blur of freezing,
hypoxia and exhaustion. I was the first that day to make it to the top. I took a
couple pictures with my phone and made an “X” on the register using the numb

stump at the end of my wrist and headed out the only way I could go, down. I had
made the summit in just less than 12 hours and was happy to be headed home.
Soon after I made it off the top, the clouds turned into sun and the wind all but
disappeared. I passed about 40 people on the way down. Word got around as to
what I was doing and everyone was very supportive. The rangers even took my
picture when I made it to the bottom. As I hit the trailhead again, I changed into
shorts and a t-shirt, grabbed my bottle, and headed out.

Did I mention I love the night? This was day, sun and cars. I was quick to realize
that the most dangerous part of this trip was not me stumbling along the narrows
on the face of Longs, but the 90-year-old lady that barreled past me in her truck at
1 second faster than the speed of light while drinking a beer and text messaging.
Eventually, the traffic lightened and the shoulder widened. I got into a rhythm; eat,
drink and pity myself. At the turn off to Jamestown I could not take it any more. I
sat down, put my feet up and enjoyed 180 seconds of pure bliss before returning to
my fate.

Robin was amazingly supportive, often stopping after just a mile. I would yell, “1
salt pill, 1 of the orange bottles, no sick of orange… I’ll try the lime one, and a
plain GU. I think maybe a Cup O’Noodles at the next stop.” It would have been
impossible without her.

I made it over Old Stage and was surprised by my friend Drew Geer greeting
me on his bike with his large camera. He followed me all the way into Boulder
snapping pictures. The break from my pity party was appreciated and he got me
in. About a mile out Peter Bakwin joined me. It was great talking with Peter and
we finished to my wife’s cheers back at the courthouse. The time was 7:18 p.m.
The run had taken me 23 hours and 18 minutes, comfortably under the 24 hours I
had hoped for. I had consumed just over 6 gallons of water and 10,000 calories.

An ultrathanks to my wife who made this possible, my friends cheering me behind
their computers watching my SPOT locations and Peter Bakwin for providing a
forum to encourage these personal challenges.

You can see the route along with pictures and download the KML or GPX
file from SPOT Adventures at:


Paul Hooge

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