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High elevation adventures

By on October 25, 2020 in Outdoor Fun with 0 Comments

with Peter Graf — a man on the run

Peter Graf and his son, Bishop, enjoy on the top of Mount Bryant on Poet Ridge.

By Sarah Shaffer

I had heard that Pete Graf runs all over the place, up high mountain peaks (that I have hiked and they are steep) and that he can run for hours. 

So we wanted to learn more about Pete, what running accomplishments he has had, what his interests are, and what is the best thing he has seen on the trail. 

Question: Pete, please tell us a bit about yourself.

I am originally from Illinois, but I moved west as soon as I could and have never looked back. I love the mountains and try to get out running, biking, or skiing as much as I can. 

These days the highlights of my outdoor life are with my son Bishop, 8, and daughter Stella, 7. They love skiing, biking, camping and really any adventuring outside, so my job is to get us out the door and let’em loose.

Question: What do you love about running, and how did you get started with it? 

Answer: As a family, we often have debates around the dinner table over which is our favorite sport; biking, running, skiing, hiking, etc. 

As a general rule, skiing is No. 1. But for me, it’s hard to top running because of the freedom and simplicity it offers. I love running from the front door, unencumbered by gear or roads or trails.

I wish I had discovered running earlier in life. I started running in 2013 when we moved to Wenatchee. 

Prior to living here, my wife and I were really into racing bikes, mostly on the road. But we had Bishop and road racing no longer seemed like a great idea for us. It was too much time, and I kept ending up in the emergency room. 

So I started to run for the exercise. Three mile runs turned into five miles, then 10, 20, etc… 

The foothills and mountains in our area were my inspiration to keep running farther. I’d run to the top of Sage Hills or Castle Rock and look west and want to keep going. So I just kept going to see more and explore. 

Once I got comfortable running for four-plus hours everything changed: I felt like I could go anywhere on foot and see some really amazing places.

Question: Do you train year around for your runs? Do you do ultra-races?

Answer: I run year around, but much more in the spring and summer. In the winter I’m trying to ski as much as possible, but I keep running because it’s become a morning routine that I don’t like to break. Plus I’ve learned as I get older that if I stop running, starting up again is really rough. 

I do race ultras (races from 35 miles upwards to 100 miles and more) occasionally, maybe one or two races a year. It’s motivating to have something on the calendar to build toward. I try to pick an event that looks interesting or is in a location that the family would enjoy and make a little trip out of it.

Question: What is the longest run you have done in a day?

Answer: My longest run was a 100k (63 miles) race near Lake Tahoe with about 16k in elevation gain. It took me about 13 hours to finish. 

It was a great run, a really difficult course at high elevation with beautiful views of the Sierra Nevada mountains.

 The good news was that I felt awesome for the first 50 miles. 

I had a plan to take it easy for the first 20 miles, then start to pick it up and really race the middle section hard, and then hope it all worked out in the end. 

The plan mostly worked. I made a big move at mile 25 and was feeling great, but the middle section was all at high elevation, around 9,000 feet, and I started having trouble getting calories in. I just wasn’t hungry and everything tasted gross. 

It caught up with me at mile 50, and I really struggled from there. I was a mess. 

My wife, Cody, joined me at mile 50, so she got to witness my meltdown. I got it done, but wish I would have finished stronger.

Question: What kind of diet/nutrition do you keep while training? 

Answer: I don’t have a strict diet. I’m an omnivore. I eat a lot of veggies, and I avoid sugar because I don’t have a sweet tooth and it really affects my blood sugar levels. I try to start all my runs on an empty stomach and then fuel from there. I bonk really easily, and starting my runs on empty seems to help keep my blood sugar stable.

Question: What does your weekly training consist of? 

Answer: It varies with the seasons, but generally I try to run six days a week. My normal morning runs are about one to one-and-a-half hours (I tend to track by time rather than distance because some runs are flat, some are steep hikes). 

In the spring and summer, I try to get a long run on the weekends, which is typically around three to four hours, sometimes hard, sometimes easy.

In the summer and fall, I mountain bike as well, and in the winter I ski at Mission and in the backcountry. 

When the biking or skiing is good, I back off the running. I also lift weights about two days a week for joint stability and injury prevention.

Question: What is your favorite piece of running gear.

Answer: My wife would probably say shoes, because I have a lot and can’t seem to part with any of them. But I’d say mini water filters. There are a number of different brands available, I’ve used a Sawyer and Katadyn. They are great for grabbing water from streams or lakes while on a run. 

One of these small filters, plus a few bars, all fit in my shorts pockets and I’m good to go for hours, no pack or running vest needed.

About this photo, Peter said, “It was on a ledge below the final pitch to the summit of Mount Stuart and my feet were killing me. “ I’m happy to run and scramble on mountains, but true rock climbing really isn’t my thing. I don’t own rock climbing shoes so I borrowed a pair from my friend Kate Bonnett. She swears they were the right size for me, but I guess my feet are not accustomed to being jammed into climbing shoes (or they were three sizes too small, which seems more likely to me). “At this point in the climb I just wanted to get it done and get those shoes off. “Fortunately my climbing partner, Zack Hambleton, is an experienced climber and led me up the whole way. He also kindly allowed me time to rest my feet on this beautiful ledge.”

Question: What has been the most memorable thing you have seen or experienced while running in the mountains?

Answer: I ran a 10k trail race with my son when he was 6 and he crushed it. On that run I saw an inner drive and competitiveness that I had never seen from him. 

I also saw a sense of accomplishment and something like a glow or bliss that I feel after a really long, hard run. That too was something I hadn’t seen in him, and for him something I don’t think he had experienced before. 

I was so happy for him, and proud of him, and it made me so excited for a future where I can do these things I love with my kids and experience it with them. 

Question: What is your favorite run to do around the Wenatchee foothills/mountain areas?

Answer: I love running up Devils Gulch from the trailhead on Mission Creek Road. It always feels cooler and moist back there. It’s a great summer respite run and has easy access to water for me and Pronto, my four-legged running partner. 

Further away, I think Poet Ridge above the Little Wenatchee Basin is a really special place. It has great views with an intermittent trail and great scrambling opportunities. 

Question: Favorite life quote?

Answer: I have a pre-adventure quote and a during adventure quote. Before adventure: “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for,” and during adventure: “I’m going where the climate suits my clothes…”

This story also appears on Wenatcheeoutdoors.org — the site covers such topics as hiking, biking, climbing, paddling, trail running and skiing in the region.

Sarah Shaffer is the Executive Director of WenatcheeOutdoors.

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