NF50: Shooting From the Hip

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Finish #5 here at North Face Endurance Challenge. Photo Credit: KC Hope Kennedy

Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change. Post Run Rabbit Run 100 in Sept, I felt pretty content with my season and decided to DNS Javelina 100 in October. There just wasn’t enough time to recover and do Javelina the way I would like to do it. Plus, the mojo to keep training just wasn’t there and the body niggles were. With the primary objective still being finding a way into Western States for 2016, I knew I’d likely be targeting Sean O’Brien (SOB) 100k in Feb and Gorge Waterfalls 100k in Apr, as my “golden ticket” opportunities. So, my plan for the fall was to keep things pretty loose before resurrecting the dedication needed to really excel at those two golden opportunities. Also, remaining injury-free has been very high on my list o’ priorities. With solid endurance in the bank from two successful 100mi campaigns this year, I wanted to give myself some solid racing experiences. These have come in the form some shorter, fun, fast, and competitive efforts—Sonoma Trail Marathon, Mt. Tam 30k, Peacock Gap 30k, a trail turkey trot, and North Face 50. All of these events have really pushed me outside my comfort zone and I’m excited for all that lies ahead.

Luckily, on Nov. 19th, Tahoe Mountain Milers punched my States ticket for me (see previous blog-post) and the tables were turned; I no longer have to race my way into States. I now have the option of doing SOB and/or Gorge. If I’d known earlier that I’d get in, I would not have signed up for SOB in early Feb and made North Face a higher priority. One cannot always have his cake and eat it too. So, the final 5 weeks before NF, I was averaging 30mi weeks total volume, but giving myself some rich racing experience needed to sharpen for the spring. I was also hoping I’d have decent enough fitness to achieve two objectives at NF50—win the Masters division and set a personal best for the course. All things considered those goals seemed reasonable.

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Start line. 5am. Fully caffeinated.

I really didn’t know what to expect from low volume training weeks while having two hard 30k’s in my legs (Mt. Tam 30k on 11/14 and Peacock Gap 30k on 11/21) along with a fast little 3.5mi trail turkey trot in my legs on Thanksgiving (hey, it was legit!). Confidence, however, was fine because all my events this year, I’ve demonstrated I can always gut out a decent second half when I have to. At North Face, I wanted to explore the edges a little and see what kind of race I could put together. I had nothing to lose here so I wanted to let it all hang out and learn more about myself.

Climb out of Muir Beach. At least it wasn't muddy.

“Learning about myself” on the climb out of Muir Beach. At least it wasn’t muddy this year.

The race plan was simple: give some attention to pushing the heart-rate for the first 30mi and then switch over to average race-pace at mile 30 and tough it out to the finish. My average HR from a previous NF50 was 142bpm. My avgHR from those two November 30k’s was each 153bpm. I wanted to keep my foot on the gas and run at the higher limits of my aerobic zone and see what I could pull off. My avgHR through the half was 150bpm. I knew it was likely unsustainable, but this was unchartered territory for me. I’d never done so much intensity leading up to a 50-miler either! I was learning and the learning will lend so much to my 2016 season. This experience was about finding a way to continue evolving as an ultrarunner. “Only those who go too far…”

Six miles in, I saw Jorge Maravilla and Dylan Boman float way on a climb while I rode my personal red-line, pacing at the limits of my aerobic potential on the day. Once the sun came up, a train came by, with conductor Jason Schlarb on the front. I wanted to go, but I couldn’t answer the call. Norway’s Sondre Amdahl had been hanging out a minute or two ahead of me all morning and I knew he was likely in the lead for the Masters. We met at the Western States Training Camp this year and I’ve been following his adventures on social media ever since. I slowly reeled him and and encouraged him to keep on pluggin. Hoping I was now the top Master, I knew Paul Terranova would likely be the next 40-plusser I’d run into, so I’d have to stay focused and in front of him, at all costs!

Looking forward to making the switch in mindset from aggressive pacing to “racing” I looked at my Suunto and it was creeping slowly up to 30 miles. Up some switchbacks it read 29.95mi, and as I rounded another 180deg turn, I spied Terranova… right behind me. We hit some rolling flat, my watch rolled over 30mi, I switched to avgPace and saw 8:19/mi total race pace. Man, if I could only hold that, I’d go under 7 hours here. That’d be awesome! Would those 30k’s actually trump the big volume weeks I normally do? My legs are already starting to cramp. Need more salt.

Yeah, so it was a rough last 20mi but NF50 served its purpose—help toughen me up for 2016. I did manage to accomplish my two goals, though barely. I was only 4min in front of Paul by the finish and only improved my best time on this course by 1min. All things considered, it’s been a great month of racing.

The warm embrace of the NFSCA finish line.

The warm embrace of the NF50 finish line. AvgHR of 144bpm…

With North Face in the books, I’m taking 3 weeks off from running to rest up, do some cycling, strength training, and yoga. I wanted to navigate this fall season smart so that I’d arrive at the door of 2016 injury-free, and maybe just a little bit tougher. I still am planning on SOB 100 in early Feb with my sites set on racing Gorge Waterfalls 100k in early April to the very best of my ability. I have a score to settle with that event. Looking at the big picture, my thinking is that executing well at both SOB and Gorge will really set the stage for a strong showing at Western. One step at a time…

Parting Shot: With the Hoka Family at Tamalpie in Mill Valley post-race.

Parting Shot: With the Hoka Family at Tamalpie in Mill Valley post-race.

Faster than Twitter, thanks to my beautiful, loving, and highly supportive wife Amanda for her thankless job [even from afar] as “First Responder.”  |  Thank you to Julbo Eyewear for the beautiful, functional, and comfortable sunglasses. It’s GREAT to be working with you!  |  Thank you to Hoka One One for your continued support and producing the best shoes out there—#LetsGoHoka!  |  Thanks to Inside Trail Racing for offering so many fantastic races in great places.  |  Thanks to Vitargo for the steady energy and SIMPLIFYING my nutrition.  |  Thank you Healdsburg Running Company for all the wonderful support. HRC rocks! | Victory Sportdesign produces the best drop-bags in the biz! 

Western States & North Face

2015 Western States 100. Lyon Ridge Aid-Station (mi10) with Tahoe Mountain Milers.

2015 Western States 100. Lyon Ridge Aid-Station (mi10) with Tahoe Mountain Milers.

The year is winding down and there’s already lots of buzz about the 2016 season. Names are starting to trickle down onto that coveted Western States 100 entrants list. And much to my surprise and delight, I’m on it! I volunteered with Tahoe Mountain Milers (TMM) this year at States and that put me in their raffle for a shot at getting into States. Each aid-station gets to send one representative. Last year, I think TMM had just two entrants and I wasn’t one of them. So, on November 19th, the day of the TMM drawing, they had five entrants in the raffle, which makes sense, considering the growing interest in the event. TMM helps run my beloved Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Runs, including the Tahoe Rim Trail 100, my first 100-miler back in 2009 and where I fell in love (became obsessed) with the 100 mile distance. I would go on to run TRT100 again in 2010, 2013, and 2014. This year, after running San Diego 100 in early June, I ran TRT50, then got “coerced” into pacing a friend in the 100. So it seems, I’d built up enough trail karma to have my name drawn on that Thursday night after 9pm.

Photo Credit: Tahoe Mountain Milers

Photo Credit: Tahoe Mountain Milers

Running with the gale force of TMM in my sails will be a huge motivator in the prep for States as well as running smart and strong on race-day. To come through the TMM aid-station at mile 10 and see the folks that made my race possible… well, I imagine it’ll be challenging to keep myself composed. Until June though, the focus will be on integrating all I’ve learned from the seven 100s I’ve trained for and raced, then do my best to nail the States prep and execute to the best of my ability on that big day in June . Excited for the opportunity and grateful I get to run Western whilst I’m still at the top of my game. As can be expected, I do have some lofty goals planned.

Inside Trail Racing Mt. Tam 30k (11/14). Photo Credit: http://www.letswanderphotography.com/

Inside Trail Racing Mt. Tam 30k (11/14). Photo Credit: http://www.letswanderphotography.com/

Backing it up to where we are now on the calendar, it’s a mere 5 days out from yet another North Face Endurance Challenge 50-miler. The difference a year makes! Twelve months back I was out-of-commission with a compression fracture sitting on my ass in Auburn, biting my nails at the Western States Lottery. I remember thinking to myself the whole time: I wish I were racing North Face… I wish I were racing North Face…

After Run Rabbit Run 100 in September, the idea of putting up 80mi weeks for North Face in December didn’t seem like a good idea. Nor did it seem like a lot of fun. Once October hit and I started getting back to running, I figured endurance was in the bank and that what I really was getting jazzed about was shifting gears and doing some faster stuff. After establishing some base miles post-Run Rabbit, I went out and did two Inside Trail Racing 30k’s, on consecutive Saturdays in November, hoping that the experiences would do something special for my North Face 50 on 12/5.

ITR's Mt. Tam 30k with the Bearded Gull, Travis Weller, and Alex Varner (pre-Quad Dipsea CR fame)

ITR’s Mt. Tam 30k with the Bearded Gull, Travis Weller, and Alex Varner (pre-Quad Dipsea CR fame)

I enjoyed the 30k’s more than I expected. I believe that had something to do with the fact I’d been doing hard sessions all year long, so the 30k intensity wasn’t so overwhelming. I typically run a 50miler around 142bpm and both these 30k’s averaged out to be at 153. I’m hopeful I can push the HR at NF a bit higher than normal for the first 30mi and still feel controlled, since I’ll have these bad boys in my legs!

Mental toughness must be mined and I recognize these guys down in Marin have it in truckloads—getting to push one another on a basis that’s as regular as they want it. Thus, the task at hand at Tam was really racing (like running fast for a change) and fighting hard over the whole 2.5ish hours, and still come in down the results list. The whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts!

Inside Trail Peacock Gap 30k (11/21). Photo Credit: http://www.letswanderphotography.com/

Inside Trail Peacock Gap 30k (11/21). Photo Credit: http://www.letswanderphotography.com/

A week later, at Peacock Gap, at China Camp, Ukiah’s Ewe Ferrara was again racing after edging me out by quite a few minutes at Tam. Seems like I can catch him in a 50k or longer but just can’t hang at shorter distances, like those totaling some 19-ish miles. When he worked his way around me after a couple of miles, I took advantage of the opportunity and pushed pretty hard just to keep him in sight for some 10 painstaking miles. I like I think I can run downhill well. I was bested toward the end of the race when Ewe dropped me on a long, technical downhill. I definitely got was I was looking for by racing on these two occasions. At 29, Ewe’s getting stronger and tougher with each race. I am hoping to pay him back though at North Face on Saturday!

Healdsburg 3.5mi Trail Turkey Trot on 11/26. Photo Credit: KC Hope Kennedy

Healdsburg 3.5mi Trail Turkey Trot on 11/26. Photo Credit: KC Hope Kennedy

To get one last shot of speed in my legs, I had to go do the Turkey Trot, put on by Scena Performance and sponsored by Healdsburg Running Company and Nuya Nutrition. This NF prep’s been a dramatic break in how I normally train for ultras, but I do feel that there’s a time for all things under heaven, so to speak, and sharpening with races seemed like what my body and mind were up for, whereas, so often, the urge to keep stacking up big weeks seems as much or more appealing. In the end, my hope is that I’ll get through NF actually having placed less cumulative stress on my body while getting to the start-line on Saturday with greater fitness than if I’d just continued running big miles. Time will tell.

That turkey trot though? No joke. Turns out Scena decided to make it a pretty sweet little trail race of about 3.5mi in distance. Thankfully, I had those two recent 30k’s in my legs and head, ’cause I needed every bit of fitness to race this hard from beginning to end. Funny too, ’cause I’m in this NF50 head-space and just treated this turkey trot like it was an A-Pri event. The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in war.

I arrived a good hour before race start at 9am. Temps were hovering around freezing and I had on all my cold weather clothes from Run Rabbit Run back in Sept. (I had washed them). I was still feeling Peacock Gap, five days earlier. My legs were slow to warm up. I ran the majority of the course twice during the warm-up. Pretty funny since most races I run, there’s no way you’re going to see the whole course in the morning before the start, let alone run it twice. What a treat! Anyway, the warm-up and course knowledge helped me form a plan of attack to try and stay in front of the youngsters. After summiting the final little climb—at about mile 2!—it was downhill running on some technical stuff then a return to flat black-top to the finish. Strava said I was doing 5:03 pace that final half-mile to the finish. Crazy fun. The technical downhill helped me open up a gap. I edged out 2nd place by a whopping 32 seconds. Again, super fun to run fast. I need to keep doing more of this kind of stuff—at least the 30k’s!—to build some rockin’ leg speed for States, while being very mindful of over-racing and increasing chance of injury.

I’m hoping I have that extra gear over the final 20mi of North Face this weekend. I’m more fired up for this one than any of the other 4 I’ve done. Not having raced last year certainly has contributed to the stoke!

Parting Shot: Nothing like bringing home a puppy to ensure a quiet, relaxing race-week!

Parting Shot: Nothing like bringing home a puppy to ensure a quiet, relaxing race-week!

Faster than Twitter, thanks to my beautiful, loving, and highly supportive wife Amanda for her thankless job [even from afar] as “First Responder.”  |  Thank you to Julbo Eyewear for the beautiful, functional, and comfortable sunglasses. It’s GREAT to be working with you!  |  Thank you to Hoka One One for your continued support and producing the best shoes out there—#LetsGoHoka!  |  Thanks to Inside Trail Racing for offering so many fantastic races in great places.  |  Thanks to Vitargo for the steady energy and SIMPLIFYING my nutrition.  |  Thank you Healdsburg Running Company for all the wonderful support. HRC rocks! | Victory Sportdesign produces the best drop-bags in the biz! 

2015 Run Rabbit Run 100

“So as he rose for the shot he concentrated on trying to do something he had learned skin diving: not to care. Underwater he had learned to be detached, because to be in a constant state of concern was to be using oxygen. You have to make yourself not care, he would say when people asked how he did it. Not caring was why it was so easy to make these shots in practice when it didn’t matter and so easy to miss them in games when it did.”   –From Racing in the Rain, by John L. Parker, a prequel to Once a Runner

One race season leaves indelible footprints on the next. 2014 was the first time I raced two 100-milers in a single season—Tahoe Rim Trail in mid-July and Pine to Palm in mid-September. All things considered, I felt there wasn’t quite enough time—for me—to both absorb TRT and properly prepare for P2P. So the way 2015 panned out, having San Diego 100 in early June and Run Rabbit Run 100 in mid-Sept really seemed to open up some breathing room and do things right. RRR being my seventh 100, I feel this one was truly a synthesis of experience, where I was able to employ so much of what I’ve learned in my time in the sport to produce the result I knew I was capable of in a so-called high-stakes race. The ups—but particularly the downs—I’ve experienced in the last 18 months really paved the way for a magical race in Colorado. I’ve always liked doing September races. There’s just somethin’ about ’em…

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Crunch-time! Hammering out last-minute details before depositing the drop-bags the day before the race. Invaluable tips from Hoka teammate, Karl “Speedgoat” Meltzer helped sealed the deal.

The build-up to Run Rabbit Run 100 was so busy, there wasn’t much time to get nervous. I knew who was gonna be there and fully embraced the opportunity to race against the best. The competitive factor has become a huge driving force in fueling my training mojo as of late. With the training I had in the bank and my success at the distance, I ensured the self-talk stayed positive, believing that I was just as deserving of a strong result here as anyone else on the entrants list.

I hopped a flight outta Sacramento Wed morning, got into Steamboat in the early afternoon and just focused on resting up and setting my mind to the singular, monumental task of running this mountain-100 to the best of my abilities. With a quick rainy run on Thursday morning, the skies cleared, sleep was in the bank, and soon enough it was high noon on Friday and time to get the party started.

With Pine to Palm 100 course-record holder Becky Kirschenmann at the start. Photo Credit: Kevin Deutsche

With Pine to Palm 100 course-record holder Becky Kirschenmann at the start. Photo Credit: Kevin Deutsche

Holding back, letting people go—with great expectations of reeling them in later—was the name of the game. I figured that since the use of heart-rate has been so successful for me in previous 100s, why try to fix what’s clearly not broken.

With some solid run prep, including 7 weeks of using Hypoxico altitude training gear, I figured I was as prepared as I could be for the specific challenges this race presents. I just had to ensure I operated inside my optimized limits and focus on really nailing the execution.

Photo Credit: Paul Nelson Photography

The start of the 2015 Run Rabbit Run 100 (Hares). Photo Credit: Paul Nelson Photography

Heading up to Mt. Werner in the opening miles, I watched about 20 runners just float away from me. According to “the plan” I wanted to average about 142bpm for the first 30-40mi. I figured that target HR, like it has in the past, would set me up for a strong finish. But by the time I reached the summit, my avgHR was at 147. Well, there ya go. What to do now? Just flow with the course. Knowing that Run Rabbit Run 100mi course-record holder, Jason Schlarb, was in the mix again this year—along with so many other talented runners—I expected the folks on the front would go out pretty hard. I was counting on it!

Even with seven weeks sleeping in an altitude tent and doing 23 intermittent hypoxic sessions on the trainer, I was still surprised to see how the higher elevation—in contrast with my heart-rate at the same intensity back home at sea-level—was clearly pushing my heart to beat faster in order to supply needed oxygen to working muscles. Pacing off heart-rate early ultimately allowed me to optimally pace, conserve energy, process calories, while freeing up my mind to appreciate the exquisite beauty of the Routt National Forest, which was a big draw for me when signing up for this event.

Photo Credit: Paul Nelson Photography

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul.” -John Muir.  Photo Credit: Paul Nelson Photography

The early miles are always glorious smooth sailing. It was in here patience was already starting to pay off, with a few runners came back to me just by running within myself. I filled up a water bottle at Long Lake aid-station, saw a couple runners there, including, Timmy Olson, and took off wondering if I’d be seeing him later.

It was great getting to run with Boise’s Mark Austin, for a good stretch. Mark was one of the few athletes I knew coming into the race. I’d expected to see him at TRT50 in July but he didn’t make the trip down. Last year, at the tough Silver State 50, in the mountains outside Reno, Mark caught me with a mile or two to go and snagged 2nd. This year he won it. Mark knows how to pace and always closes like a champ. Yet another guy to worry about here at Run Rabbit…

Photo Credit: Paul Nelson Film & Photography

Photo Credit: Paul Nelson Film & Photography

On the way down to Fish Creek Falls I was happy to dice it up with Michelle Yates, who was looking strong over this technical section which leads us out to the road back into town and then to Olympian Hall at mile 21. Once I hit the road, I felt the force flowing from the four tempo sessions I did on soft surface back home in prep for this event (I mean I signed up as a hare after all, gotta run quick when ya can!). Just lean into it and let those legs do the job they’re well conditioned to do…

Photo Credit: Kevin Deutsche

In the light of day. Photo Credit: Kevin Deutsche

At Olympian, I picked up my first of nine 300cal bottles of VitargoS2. After all these years I’m finally content with how I use hydration bottles in ultras. Two Amphipod bottles, a yellow one for Vitargo, and a clear one for water (and chicken broth late in 100s) really works well for me. This was the first race I’ve used a Flipbelt, and it helped secure the bottles in my waistband, even when full. The low temps made the distance a lot more enjoyable and to drink relatively cold Vitargo all day was definitely a treat. This was by far the coolest 100 I’ve run and it was great to have steady energy all day with no nausea or vomiting!! Can I get another exclamation point?    !!!

On the long descent down to Cow Creek I was excited to catch up with Nick Clark, who looked like he took a few nasty spills (I’d have one late in the race as well). So gradual, is this process of catching up to competitors in a 100. I’d started to catch folks in the tortoise division some time back so it was always so awesome to see other hares. Nick and I settled into a good downhill rhythm, chatted a bit about our displeasure with the tricky descent, and made our way into the Cow Creek aid, where I grabbed a Tikka RXP headlamp, with a spare battery. In the event something was off, I didn’t want to be without a headlamp so I’d stashed one in my mile 30 drop-bag as well as mile 42.

Photo Credit: Run Rabbit Run 100

Delicious single-track. Photo Credit: Run Rabbit Run 100

Talking with the occasional pack of tortoises, it was slow going back up to the water-only aid-station at mile 38, which I’d heard rumored may be dry since mountain-bikers like to help themselves to the runners’ refreshments. As so it was—bone dry. I’m glad I made the last-minute decision to definitely use two bottles. I knew it wasn’t that far back to Olympian Hall, so I rationed a bit but with the cool temps, hydration wasn’t the critical issue it is when the mercury’s through the roof. Just hang tough and ride the line…

Arriving at Olympian Hall in good spirits. Mile 42. Photo Credit: Kevin Deutsche

Arriving at Olympian Hall in good spirits. Mile 42. Photo Credit: Kevin Deutsche

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Average heart-rate coming into Olympian at mile 42 was about 144 or 145bpm. That was a bit higher than I’d expected, or wanted, but considering the temps, great fitness, perceived exertion, and solid fueling, I felt the risk was worth it. Besides, my ace-in-the-hole was having a fully-absorbed San Diego 100 in my legs from June. This day, I felt bulletproof. I swapped out my short-sleeve race jersey for a base layer and long-sleeve jersey here and picked up my second Tikka RXP headlamp and another spare battery. I was fully charged to run through the night. Bring it on! >>>

Photo Credit: Kevin Deutsche

Let’s Go HOKA!! Photo Credit: Kevin Deutsche

And now the sun was setting, which was a foreign place for me to be and not have the race be even half over—strange sensation indeed. We started at noon, versus 5 or 6am like I’m used to, so I had to do some on-the-fly reprogramming of my head so I wouldn’t push too hard during sunset, as has been the norm in other 100s when I’m around 80mi in by sundown. I’d heard I was running in 4th and it wasn’t even mile 50 yet, so I just kept yelling back to enthusiastic spectators, “Hey thanks! And there’s still so much racing left!” I was having a blast, clicking off some street miles back up to the rugged Fish Creek Falls section.

vitargoSlog. Slog. Slog. The trail goes up to Fish Creek Falls aid while the temps go down. By the time I got back to Long Lake it was a gettin’ chilly. I grabbed a fresh bottle of Vitargo, a beanie, some gloves, and stuffed some hand-warmers in them to help keep my hands warm and functioning. Glad I remembered those bad boys. I found them at the bottom of a drawer before leaving home. They’d been left over from some cold winter when I was doing a lot of cycling. Nice thing to have them for the night-running here.

Up at Summit Lake (mi58) I heard my wife’s voice in my ear: “The time you spend putting on warm clothes you’ll gain back, and more!, since you’ll keep yourself warm and comfortable.” There’s always some unknown variable that she’ll focus on intently, then go to work on my head to ensure I take the issue seriously and proactively address it. I’m grateful.

In the days leading up to the race, Amanda got in touch with an old friend she danced with as a kid. Her husband works for Smartwool, which is based out of Steamboat Springs, and this guy’s friend has run the 100 here before. Amanda was on my case to call this guy—Alex. So I gave Alex a ring the day before and much to Amanda’s delight—and my own—he gave me a ton of great information that really helped me dial in my drop bags, and get a better sense of how, when, and where the temps would affect me over the race. It was then great catching up with Alex, pacers, and other tortoises on some climb out there in the night. Hoppin’ along the bunny trail exchanging cheers of encouragement with the tortoises is a very cool aspect to this event. Amanda also ensured I got in touch with Speedgoat, Karl Meltzer, before the race to get more insights on race-day strategy. No surprise, his wise words aided my race strategy.

Summit Lake to Dry Lake. After subjecting some poor guy at Summit aid to help me don a pair of especially tight tights, I threw on a couple more layers, left the bustling warmth of the aid-station, and started one long-ass descent down to Dry Lake en route to the turn-around at Spring Creek Ponds. Shortly after departing Summit, I look back and spy a head-lamp a couple 100 yards back. Then it was 100. Then 50. And then Nick Clark went by me.

As Speedgoat had suggested, I needed to be patient in this section because I really wanted strong legs for the challenging duration of climb out of mile 70 and ultimately for the final third of the race (when moving well matters most). Now I had just been passed by Clarky, which not only put me back a position but knocked me back to second Master (over 40). I’d gotten a good feel for Nick’s pace coming down to Cow Creek earlier and it was still inside my comfort zone, although now there was a bit more pep in his step. And, of course, I wasn’t forgetting who this guy was. Freakin’ Nick Clark. They don’t make ’em any tougher. So h*ll yeah, I thought to myself, what an honor to run with this guy. I’m stayin’ on this train. Honestly though, I’d written him off after Cow Creek, since he’d fallen a few times and seemed too quiet, maybe frustrated—understandably—so I was surprised and inspired to see him back killin’ it down to Dry Lake. And it was just too cool to pass up the opportunity to work together.

Faster together. We pulled into Dry Lake and the folks were just awesome. I was flying high, in good spirits, crackin’ jokes with volunteers and as we grabbed what we needed before gettin’ outta Dodge and getting back to the task at hand. Nick was in full on race mode. The night running was goin’ good. Every tortoise we’d catch, they’d know Clarky. No one had a clue who the h*ll I was. I wasn’t in California that was for sure. Eventually, we made our way up to a dark, slim figure walking on the right side of the road, 20 year-old, Jared Hazen, 3rd place overall at both Lake Sonoma 50 and Western States this year. He boldly ran with Jason Schlarb for some 65mi before the wheels came off. No shame there. I have former students older than this kid. Young, talented, and fearless.

Now running in 2/3, Clarky—5th here last year—and I kept up a good clip for a few more miles before we saw Jason Schlarb running back up. We exchanged some encouraging words and hightailed it as best we could down to the aid-station at Spring Creek Ponds. Upon arriving, I finally got a laugh out of Nick when I said, “Man, it sounds like a cowbell orchestra here!” All the energy at the aid-stations was so great.

Since Summit, Nick and I had ample opportunity to get a good sense of how strong/confident the other was feeling. Mile 70: this was the point in the race I’d been waiting for all day! I had no reason to doubt Nick would be strong for hours to come and suspected he was at least as decent on the ups as he was the downs. As we pulled the u-turn down into the aid, I zoomed to my drop-bag, snagged a fresh bottle and moved like h*ll back outta there and started moving quickly back up the climb. It was time to cash in on the 90,000′ of elevation gain I had in the training bank since August 1st! I wanted that Masters win so I needed to get out of Nick’s sight for a while or at least get some damage control goin’ on this climb so that once we got back to Summit Lake at 82, I wouldn’t be too far behind him. That, of course, along with the other obvious fact…. There was a growing presence behind, now in front, closing at a relative speed of sub-6min/mi pace. I hit my lap button and said a little prayer…

Challenger ATR -- Greatest. Shoe. Ever.

Hoka One One Challenger ATR — Greatest. Shoe. Ever. I had a fresh, fly pair locked-n-loaded for Run Rabbit, with just 20 little miles on ’em just to ensure they were perfect.

Now not-so-firmly in 2nd place, with 1st way off in the distance, there was 50k left to go and anything could happen. It was time to move with increasing purpose while being steady, getting in calories, and keeping my mental game crazy positive. Eight minutes and 30sec later, the next hare I spied coming down was Germany’s Marco Sturm. We’d diced it up a bit earlier in the race and I was impressed with his smooth, strong running over the technical stuff. [Marco got off course after Dry Lake and added about an hour to his time.] I rounded the 8:30 to 10min, doubled it, and gave myself a not too generous 20min lead on him. Not a lot. There would be no more Hollywood breaks at toasty aid-stations from here on out. With Nick right there, Marco some 20min back, I kept up my fast-hiking and waited with much anticipation to see who who’s headlamp would blind me next—Jacob Puzey? Tim Olson? One of the Colorado boys? Josh Arthur was 2nd here last year; he’s gotta be makin’ his move. Then there’s Boulder’s Andrew Skurka. And then there’s the leading ladies… Almost a year to the day, Becky Kirschenmann, was running me down at Pine to Palm 100 to place 2nd overall, nailing the 5th best ultra performance of the year from a female. She again has her TransRockies experience in her legs. And I gotta be on the lookout for Yates and Kimball…

Somewhere out there in the night. Photo Credit: Ultra Sports Live

This is the moment we train for. What I dream of as an ultrarunner. And the memories created here I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. The choice to answer the call, have the extra gear be there, and motor to that finish line is exciting. What an amazing space to be: alive and thriving, so raw, and so rare a moment in this modern world of conveniences. It’s after midnight, and I’m on some mountain top in Colorado, some 20mi to the finish line of a 100mi trail race. This is living…

Six hundreds paved the way to effectively deal with the otherwise overwhelming weight of distance and time. Don’t think just run. Smile. Laugh. Encourage. Keep the head positive. Above all else, maintain momentum in the moment. Second place at Run Rabbit Run is a pretty cool place to be. Don’t blow it.

Finally to Summit Lake, back up above 10,000′. This section from mile 82 to 97 was the reason I rented Hypoxico equipment in the first place. Now it was time to see if the 45+ nights in the tent and 14+hrs sucking rubber on the trainer was worth the investment.

I’m up high. I got competitors in front and behind, I’ve got over 80mi in my legs, and I’m puddle-jumping/weaving like a madman shifting focus from trying to catch 1st to dwelling on how far behind is 2nd back to “not caring” and just trying to recapture my now elusive flow-state I found myself in for so much of the earlier miles.

I take a hard fall. Back up. My light goes out. On goes the spare. Energy’s depleted. Chug more Vitargo. The hot chicken broth from the last aid is burning my right ass cheek. Take it out and carry it for a while. It’s so warm in my hands. My headlamp lights up my breath in front of my face. Hallucinations imminent. Was that a mudpuppy I just saw in that puddle? Indulge and have another look. No, it’s a slimy log. Are you sure? Snap out of it. When’s the sun gonna come up? Only 0.3mi to next aid at Long Lake…

In-n-out of Long Lake I zip down the trail and remember the serene water from the daylight now to my left with trees opposite reaching to a blue, cloudless sky. Signage ahead: “To aid-station 3: Fish Creek Falls”. Think. Does this take me to Werner? Yes. I don’t know. F*ck. 0.5 back to Long Lake to ask. I’ll go down this trail and see. Maybe not. D*mmit. It has to go to Werner. You can draw the map by heart. Think. Is it the trail or not? Sh*t, I can’t think very well right now. They’re catching you. Alright, I’m running back, f*ck it. It is what it is. I’ll just have to outrun anybody that catches me because of this little setback. Better safe than sorry. Get your effort down. Relax…

Back at Long Lake I get the attention of a knowledgeable volunteer and I inquire about the signage and whether it leads to Werner and the finish. He graciously runs with me back to where I was. We take the turn and run down a short connector to a fork in the trail, one leading right to Fish Creek Falls and the other going left to Mt. Werner (the final aid-station before the finish).

D*mn, that sucked. No one caught you there, you were lucky. No harm no foul. You weren’t lost, you were clarifying. And more importantly you didn’t just flush $6000 down the toilet. Smart. Now run your ass off to the finish! Full effort is full victory. Thanks Einstein.

Daylight breaks. Headlamp off. But the headlamp really illuminates those reflective course ribbons. Headlamp on. What if someone’s a couple 100yds back? They’re gonna see your lamp and catch you. Headlamp off. Catch a toe on a rock. Headlamp on. It’s light enough now. Headlamp off. Step in a huge mud puddle and leave shoe stuck in it. Really? Headlamp on. Find shoe in mud and slip back on foot. Oooo, that feels good. Love these shoes. Hmm, Injinji socks are cool too; like little gloves for your feet. Focus! Put hand over lamp and look over shoulder. Someone’s back there. Wait, doesn’t look like it. How’s that Kinks’ song go again?…

(yea, it goes like this, here it goes) paranoia, they destroy ya
(here’s to paranoia) paranoia, they destroy ya
(hey hey, here it goes) paranoia, they destroy ya
(and it goes like this)

Mt Werner – Mile 97. It’s all downhill to the finish. I’m a great downhiller. No chicken broth. Ergh. Fill ‘er up with Coke. Thank-you! Sorry, I’m cranky!!

I suck going downhill. Holy God this is awful. What kind of long-term damage am I doing to my legs right now? Switchback. Holy h*ll, I think I see my hotel room window. Look over shoulder to see if there’s a runner. Pounding. What meniscus? Each step must be taking months off my life. Pain is temporary. Pride is forever. How many more years before hip replacement surgery? Sun’s up and it’s a glorious Colorado morning. Savor this… beauty. This sucks. Switchback. See mountain-bikers. Ask if they see anyone behind me. “No.” “Thanks.”

Guy goes by in a Hoka kit. Hmm, nice jersey friend. “Hey, good job.” Other runners coming up the maintenance road. Wow, must be coming up to watch us finish. Hmm, more runners. You idiot, they’re running the 50mi. They started at 6am. I knew that. Cheers. More cheers. Hey, long night. Thumbs up, thanks. Hey, cool. More runners. Look over shoulder to see if Clarky’s coming. Smile. Wave of euphoria hits. Another. Start cheering for the 50milers. High-5s. See my buddy Kevin Deutsche from home. Another high-5. Wow, that was great seeing all those runners. Mile to go to the finish. Let’s try to stay on course. Atta boy. Get this sh*t done.

Photo Credit: Paul Nelson Film & Photography

Photo Credit: Paul Nelson Film & Photography

Brought it home for 2nd place overall and first place Master in a time of 19 hours and 13min. This stands as the 9th fastest time in the four-year history of the event. The co-RD said that Run Rabbit’s typically not nice to Californians. I can see why with the altitude and the low temps. I was more than happy to prove him wrong. Three guys from Cali, including myself, did manage to find the finish line. Upon crossing the finish line, we were immediately lookin’ for a heater and our flip-flops!

And as it panned out, Schlarb was over an hour ahead of me by the finish and I was exactly an a hour in front of 3rd. So funny how things go out there. You just never know what’s going to happen in a 100mi footrace at elevation, that starts at noon, has 20,000′ of gain and loss over technical terrain. Naturally, I’m wondering how I could’ve gotten an hour back to bridge the gap to 1st. I’ve come up with about 30min so far, including that little navigation snafu back at mile 90. Schlarb’s got a lock on this race, to be sure, having set the course-record, of 17:15 in 2013 and having been at the event, in some capacity the last four years. Rob Krar was here last year and won in a time of 17:40. Jason’s a professional mountain runner living in Durango, CO who’s spent some good time this year training up high in the mountains. Tough guy to beat!

All things considered, I executed pretty well. Naturally I’ll get sh*t for my course confusion and someone always chimes in that if I hadn’t worn the HRM I could’ve won, but I’m betting Denver dollars to Dunkin’ Donuts that I would’ve ended up on the long list of DNFs had I not worn HR in those early miles. A DNF is never an option, especially in an A-Pri event like this. Too much time, energy, sacrifice, and benjamins went into it to throw caution to the wind early and run wild. I took calculated risks and followed some of Speedgoat’s key rules for running 100s, namely, do your thing out there to stay within yourself, manage your issues effectively, so you can be there in the final 25% of the race. Eastern religion tells us that the middle road is often best. I like to apply that mentality to 100mi racing. It’s gotta be a balance of brains and balls out there. Doesn’t it?

In the money! Not a bad yield for an old school teacher with a mortgage.

In the money! Not a bad yield for an old school teacher with a mortgage. Photo Credit: Amanda Misiak

You know another golden nugget of wisdom from the Speedgoat? Here it is: “You’re always faster the second time you do the same 100.” Thinking back to my four Tahoe Rim Trail 100 times… 22:44, 19:57, 18:03, 17:38. I believe in that idea, wholeheartedly. Afterall, Karl Meltzer did go 18:32 here at Run Rabbit in 2013 at 45 years of age…  :D

Run Rabbit Run 100 – Strava Activity – I finished with a 3% battery charge!!

Complete Results from Hallucination Sports

1st place, Vitargo athlete, Jason Schlarb’s ultrasportslive.tv interview

1st place, Hoka One One athlete, Emma Roca, ultrasportslive.tv interview

3rd place, Andrew Skurka’s usl.tv interview. Listen to him talk about heart-rate!

Optimal Pacing for an Ultra-marathon | Q&A with Bob Shebest

Parting Shot: Sonoma's Suzanna Bon, 51, running Tahoe 200, a week earlier. First female and course-record in 68hrs. 4th overall finisher. Three over-nights. Two 20min naps total. My muse for RRR100.

Parting Shot: Sonoma’s Suzanna Bon, 51, running Tahoe 200, a week earlier. First female and course-record in 68hrs. 4th overall finisher. Three over-nights. Two 20min naps total. My muse for RRR100.

Faster than Twitter, thanks to my beautiful, loving, and highly supportive wife Amanda for her thankless job [even from afar] as “First Responder.”  |  Thank you to Julbo Eyewear for the beautiful, functional, and comfortable sunglasses. It’s GREAT to be working with you!  |  Thank you to Hoka One One for your continued support and producing the best shoes out there—#LetsGoHoka!  |  Thanks to Inside Trail Racing for offering so many fantastic races in great places.  |  Thanks to Vitargo for the steady energy and SIMPLIFYING my nutrition.  |  Thank you Healdsburg Running Company for all the wonderful support. HRC rocks! | Victory Sportdesign produces the best drop-bags in the biz! | A final BIG thanks to Dylan Bowman at Hypoxico for the support with my first experience using the gear. It was fun throwing this experience into the training mix!

Summer 2015 – In the Mix

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2015 Western States 100, mile 10, Lyon Ridge, 6am. Tahoe Mountain Milers aid-station!! Photo Credit: George Ruiz

2015 continues to gain steam as the pages are torn from the calendar. Summer’s kept me pretty busy with a 100 miler in San Diego as soon as the school year finished up. Then it was off to Tahoe for a vacation/Western States double-header. Soon as we got back it was time to prep our new house while packing up the old one. Then a little 50-miler back in Tahoe in July before getting into August and a return to 100-mile training and the start of a new school year. Like The Cars sang about summer, “It’s like a merry-go round.”

Since I’ve yet to actually run the Western States 100, the next best thing was to volunteer for it, and maybe get some good mojo going in my direction. Volunteering with Tahoe Mountain Milers (TMM) running club seemed like the best aid-station for me to work with since these folks are the backbone of the Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Runs, events that continue to be near-n-dear to my heart.

The TMM generator fired up at 5am at our Lyon Ridge aid-station at mile 10 of the Western States 100mi course. The evening prior, a handful of us got to run the 5mi from Lyon Ridge to Red Star Ridge, checking ribbon along the way and soaking in the breathtaking high country. We stayed up pretty late shootin’ the breeze with some brews so the 5am wake-up call was a bit rough, as was sleeping in my poor man’s “altitude tent” at 7000′ in warm temps. Ugh! But when that generator started up, a surge of adrenaline went through me; not because it was time to get up and volunteer but because the gun just went off in Squaw Valley, 10mi to the east of us—the race was underway!!

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Front-runners at Lyon Ridge (mi10):  Alex Varner, Seth Swanson, Dylan Bowman, and Rob Krar.

I’d never had the pleasure of being at Western States in any capacity so this year’s been a year of firsts—hitting the training runs in late May, volunteering, and spectating. I definitely got as close to the race as one can without being an official entrant. Typically in June, I’ve been up to my heart-rate monitor in training for TRT100, held in mid-July, so being at States was a big treat for me. In the back of my mind, I always expected my first experience with States would be in the context of athlete rather than side-liner, but that’s how the the cookie crumbled this year. Run Rabbit Run in Sept will be my WS100 for this year. And, of course, I’ll try my hardest to gain entry for the 2016 running.

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Snagged this pic of Rob Krar from the Placer High School bleachers after his second Western States win.

Working the Tahoe Mountain Milers’ aid-station was a blast, once again confirming the ultrarunning tribe is the one to which I belong. We had a great time and it was indeed exciting as h*ll to see the best of the best come motoring through our aid-station in the early morn. As the front-runners cruised through, I felt my soul smoothly exit my body and give chase, down-trail, and clear out of sight.

Foresthill, like so many know, is about the 100k point of the race and a great location from which to spectate since you get to see runners on the long stretch of road through the center of town. And d*mn was it hot out. If anything, I got to experience that heat firsthand, and see its effects on runners. Throughout my Western States adventures, I’ve been taking vigorous mental notes, in hopes the learning will come in handy 12 months down the trail.

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Catching up with Inside Trail Racing teammate, Luke Garten, at Placer High School. No beer on the field Luke!

After Foresthill, Amanda and I went down to her parent’s place in Loomis and hung out a while. I was pretty wrecked from doing the Montrail 6k Uphill Challenge the day before in Squaw, then running 2hrs the previous evening, staying up late, getting up early, volunteering, and roasting under the afternoon sun in Foresthill. I did, however, feel compelled to get back up to the finish line at Placer High and pay my respects to the top-finishers, as well as hang out with friends. Plus I had to pick up my vacated soul…

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Had to stick around to see Hoka teammate, Paul Terranova, seal the deal, and secure his M10. Photo Credit:  Gary Wang

Being at the finish to witness the top men make their way around the Placer High School track to that magical finish line was more powerful than I ever imagined. I soaked up the inspiration and, bonking from my own taxing efforts from the last 36 hours, called it a day and headed on down the road back to Loomis, leading us back to our Tahoe vacation, which had been displaced by the Western States action. My soul reunited with body and mind, the time had come to tear June off the calendar and all mixed emotion that came along with it. It was July and there was things to be done. Set the stage…

I asked Amanda to not spend a ton of $$$ on 6/26 WS2016 raffle tickets while we were bumpin' around Squaw Valley the day before the race. So she bought 125 (up 25 tickets from 2015). And not a winner in the mix. #nausea

I asked Amanda to not spend a ton of $$$ on 6/26 WS2016 raffle tickets while we were bumpin’ around Squaw Valley the day before the race. So she bought 125 (up 25 tickets from 2015). And not a winner in the mix. #nausea

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Little Miss Raffle Ticket. Our Post-Western States festivities. Vacation time at this sweet cabin in Lake Tahoe. The R&R did us good.

Having run San Diego 100 in early June, I was still somewhat on the mend by the time States weekend came rolling around. Not my favorite place to be—in limbo land after a 100; and not really dedicated to any real structured training for fear of injury and/or burnout. I wanted to try and truly absorb SD100, while still having enough in the bank to have a decent Tahoe Rim Trail 50mi event in mid-July, before returning to true structured training in August. The plan has worked out pretty d*mn well, as plans go.

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Met up with the newlyweds, Evan and Hayley Schmidtke, at Tahoe Mountain Brewing Company. Evan is running Pine to Palm 100 on 9/12. We were staying close by and they were on their honeymoon so it was fun to hook up for some brews quick!

Amanda and I spent some more time relaxing, and binge watching a lot of HGTV shows like “Love It or List It.” before returning back to Sonoma County and starting the early stages of the moving process. Vacation went by too fast but I was getting fired up for TRT50. Always exciting thinking about that next event on the horizon…

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The final steps of the Tahoe Rim Trail 50. Photo Credit:  Scotty Mills

With San Diego 100 in early June and Run Rabbit Run in mid-September, I found myself nursing a serious case of FOMO around mid-May, regarding the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) runs in mid-July—a seemingly great time to squeeze in a hard 50-miler. From a training standpoint, I just wanted to use TRT 50mi as a means to an end—maintaining my race/base fitness for the 100mi training coming in August. The 50 gave me the opportunity to see this great event from a lot of different perspectives.

Since I was recovering from San Diego 100, naturally, I couldn’t put in the specific prep for a 50-miler that I would otherwise. I figured I could get away with running this tough 50 on SD100 fitness as well as some scattered quality efforts I’d conducted between SD100 and TRT50.

Having run TRT100 four times, it was certainly a treat to only have to make one loop of this challenging course. I showed up early to the start and saw the 100-milers off in the dark, being somewhat nostalgic for my runs in yesteryear. An hour later we were off in the 50mi and I zoomed up the trails with the two leaders of the 55k. Why not? I’m just out here to have fun, and keep my mental game sharp. I can keep this pace up, right?

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Cruising through Tunnel Creek. One of the best and most robust aid-stations in ultrarunning. Photo Credit: Scotty Mills

I’d let the 55k guys lead me up the climbs, but I’d reel them in on the descents. When we got to Tunnel Creek around mi12, I grabbed a fresh bottle of VitargoS2 and dropped down into the Red House loop, checking my pace only to realize I’d set my Suunto to current pace rather than average pace. I still felt good so just kept on turning over. This resulted in a Strava CR for the Red House section, I was to discover when I uploaded my race a few days later. I more than paid the price for this early speed, later on, starting up the ski slope at Diamond Peak at mile 30. The wheels—they were a comin’ off. It was a grind all back down to the finish at Spooner. Upon finishing, RD George Ruiz pointed out that my 8:09 finish time was only a minute faster than my 50mi split in the 100 from the year before. I’d been loosely shooting to best the 50mi course-record of 7:52 set by Thomas Reiss in 2008. I’d even talked with Thomas about his TRT50 CR at Foresthill during Western States about how fast he thought I should be able to run it. We both agreed 7:30 was possible. That was if I was in top form, which I wasn’t.

In hindsight, I see only contrast between an B-priority race compared to an A-Pri event. We can’t always be sharpened to that A-pri point. The edge dulled as I cut through San Diego 100 and the subsequent recovery. I raced TRT50 like I’d raced any 50mi in the last 12 months. I felt, to some degree, that San Diego was still with me, and the last 20mi sucked bad. In the end I imagined the suffering giving me an edge in the final 20mi of my next 100 in September. And to some degree, it will. And, if things pan out in 2016, perhaps I’ll take another crack at that TRT50 CR. I think I can get it if I play my cards well over June, July, and into Angeles Crest in August. And, as I write this, perhaps that wouldn’t be such a wise idea…

Shane James, snagging his sub-30 buckle at Tahoe Rim Trail 100 in July.

Shane James, snagging his sub-30 buckle at Tahoe Rim Trail 100 in July.

When Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Runs volunteer coordinator, Kati Bell, ask me if I’d pace her beau, Shane, in the 100, I thought she was off her rocker. I told her it wasn’t that I didn’t want to but that I couldn’t guarantee I’d be in any shape to pace after racing the 50. She basically said I’d be fine and it would be fun. Since I’d run the 100 a bunch of times, wanted to put Shane in the best of hands. I got it. So, finishing up the 50 around 2pm, I licked my wounds and found my way back up to Diamond Peak at mile 80, to hang out, cheer the 100mi runners through this tough part of the race, and wait for Shane to come through.

Back in June, Shane was one of the runners who I ran the 10mi with from Lyon to Red Star Ridge and back when we were both volunteering over States weekend, so we’d gotten to know each other a bit. I’ve never met an Aussie I didn’t like!

On Diamond Peak, I was in store for more inspiration in the form of runners starting their ascent up this notorious ski slope. At various points during the evening, I started up the big hill with a handful of friends—and strangers—until the caffeine wore off and I had to take a nap in the back of my Subaru from about 1-3am. Upon rising, the lodge at Diamond Peak was all hustle-n-bustle. I connected with so many folks I normally only get to interact with on social media, so super fun just hanging out with the tribe here at what’s been a very magical spot for me in my year’s running TRT100, adding to the many great memories.

Shane came in with his pacer in good spirits, eager to start the climb. I gave my car to his former pacer to drive back down to the finish at Spooner. She’d done a great job pacing him over the last 30mi. I chased Shane up Diamond Peak, catching him about 3/4 of the way up. My legs were pretty trashed from the 50, but it was cool sharing the mountain with folks in the 100 who were slaying their demons and getting the job done.

By the time we reached Bullwheel, back on top of the ridge line, the sun was coming up. We were moving well and it was a treat getting to run on the beautiful Tahoe Rim Trail in the early morning. I ran into John Trent and Lon Monroe back at Tunnel, ordered a coffee-to-go at Hobart, and took in the breathtaking views on Snow Valley Peak. We encouraged runners as we passed them, and a few hung with us for quite long whiles as we maintained good momentum to the finish. Ultimately, I’m grateful it’s impossible to say no to Kati Bell, psyched about my first pacing experience, and that Shane’s one tough Aussie, who achieved his goal of running under 30hrs—he’s got the belt buckle to prove it.

k Back at home, we sealed the deal on our first home. Although a ton of work, it couldn’t have come at a better time, me being out of school and in between TRT50 and the training for Run Rabbit Run. So, we cranked out the prep and move into our new place and are jazzed with how things continue to come together. It’s only about a mile from where we were living and it’s nice to finally own a home in our beloved Sonoma County. Just 10 years back, after picking SoCo off the US map as the place I’d like to call home, I’d arrived broke as h*ll after graduate school, and ended up renting a room from a hypnotherapist. I’d go four and a half years without a car while getting my teaching career of the ground. Endurance events have been the thread through my life since leaving the Navy in 1998. Gotta keep it goin’! >>>

Centrally located, our new place gives me three local parks to train on trail throughout the work-week, while offering great long run locations 25mi to the north and south, like Lake Sonoma and Sugar Loaf Ridge State Park respectively. And the house is just a 15min walk to my classroom, but not on top of my school like our last place—too close for comfort! Those school bells and alarms going off at all times of the night were making us crazy.

With Healdsburg Running Company's James McCanne, after his Boston Marathon Qualifier at last weekend's Santa Rosa Marathon. Photo Credit: Ruby Barzaga

With Healdsburg Running Company’s James McCanne, after his Boston Marathon Qualifier at last weekend’s Santa Rosa Marathon. Photo Credit: Ruby Barzaga

Coaching continues to keep me on my toes. I continue to enjoy working with highly motivated adults on pursuing their racing dreams. Having coaching in the mix keeps me plugged in to effective training/racing strategies and has definitely helped me evolve in a number of ways. I really enjoy the relationships I have with the athletes I have the pleasure of coaching. It’s a natural extension of my passion for education, and in this context, my students are all very motivated to learn—a teacher’s dream!

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Ready or not, here they come!

And just like that, another school year’s begun. 130+ names to learn and new Common Core math curriculum to become familiar with and effectively teach. Life is never boring. About three weeks in, I’m thoroughly enjoying my new batch of 6th graders. After 10 years working with them, I still never tire of working in their company. I’ve always felt that teaching keeps my running fresh while running keeps my teaching fresh. And the daily grind to bring my A-game to my five classes—especially in the midst of 100mi run training—must count for something, in specific regards to the mental fortitude required late in ultras. I have to believe it.

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Two-week training block for Run Rabbit Run 100. August 2015. We reap what we sow.

Q_ RRRprofileAnd here it is, September already. Run Rabbit Run 100 just 13 days out, my second 100 miler of 2015. Things are looking good. I’m much happier with how this prep’s gone as compared to my Pine to Palm 100 prep last August, when I was coming off TRT100. Last August, I just couldn’t motivate. TRT100 shelled me. This year, with San Diego at the beginning of June, and July’s TRT50 to maintain an edge, August, even with the positive stressors of buying a house and starting a new school year, went surprisingly well, with only a couple meltdowns here and there, for good measure. I’m pretty happy with putting up 100+ mile weeks with 25,000′ of gain each week while doing some quality cross-training to boot. S_40miler_12

The long hill intervals on Tuesdays may be my least favorite session, but the physical and mental strength derived from a handful of these workouts will pay off in Colorado on Sept. 18th. My mantra for each of my 8-10 seven min intervals is “make this one count.” In the midst of an interval, I’m constantly asking myself, “Does this suck?” If the effort doesn’t suck I’m not pushing hard enough. This is the only session for which I’m using my HRM. I see HR in the high 140s starting off, then in the 150’s for the majority of the workout, then, if I’m feeling strong, I’ve been able to push into the mid-high 160’s. Always a balancing act during these quality sessions to effectively preserve the future and not compromise the quality of the tempo session on Thursday.

Thursday tempo has evolved to flat trail surface at a local park where the entire focus is on tempo-specific speed. This is not a threshold run but rather a Zone 3 effort, whereas the Tues hill session is mostly Zone 4. I think of it as 50k race intensity. That’s what it feels like to me. Obviously it’s a dramatically different stress on the body than is the hill session, and the weekend, Zone 2 long runs for that matter.

Weekends were made for long runs. And depending on the event for which I’m training, I’ll mix up the locations to place me on trail that most characterizes the upcoming event. In this case, I’ve found myself at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park—adjacent to Hood Mountain Regional Park—most Sundays. It’s all ups-n-downs here, so hoping the time spent here will be a my lucky rabbit’s foot in Colorado.

I’m fond of referring to Sunday as my “proper” long run, whereas Saturday, just 48hrs post-tempo, is my “fun” long run, where I like to hit my Warm Springs loop at Lake Sonoma to see where my legs are. On Friday’s after work, I’m usually pretty frazzled, so after a relaxing Friday evening, and sleeping in on Saturday morning, the weekend long runs have been going very very well. I’ve been enjoying ever-new sensations on the trail, while dialing in my 100mi process. Still some finishing touches, but I’m about as ready as I’m going to be.

Hypoxico altitiude equipment. A twist on my 100 race-prep.

A twist on my 100 race-prep. #altitude

Having talked with a buddy who’s done Run Rabbit Run 100 a few times, I took to heart his experience of suffering through the final 20mi of this race, all above 10,000′ and losing places because all he could do was power-hike or walk due to the high elevation. Curious—as both athlete, coach, and science teacher—I figured it’d be a good idea to give Hypoxico altitude equipment a try. About five weeks in now, using both the tent and the mask for intermittent hypoxic training, or IHT sessions, I’m optimistic the equipment’s going to help put me on an even playing field with athletes who live, train, and race at much higher elevation than I do living at sea-level.

While really taking to the IHT sessions on the bike trainer, the tent’s been a whole different story, but only because the summertime temps have made sleep difficult and it’s generally best to have sleep temps between 68-72deg. We’ve rigged up a variety of cooling hacks and overall, I’ve been very consistent with both tent and mask. Now that the run training’s in the bank, I’ll be doubling down on the IHT sessions, to further optimize my acclimatization. At least I won’t be going into mile 80 without having done anything to help me deal with the altitude effects. It’ll suck regardless. But hopefully, the body will be better equipped to deal with the high elevation.

The Run Rabbit Run 100 hare division is shaping up!! Course-record holder, Jason Schlarb is returning this year along with Run Rabbit veterans, Nick Clark, Duncan Callahan, Timmy Olson, and Josh Arthur. Other familiar names include Jacob Puzey and young-gun Jared Hazen, who was just 3rd place overall at Western States in June. The women’s field is equally stout if not more so, with the likes of Michele Yates and Nikki Kimball toeing the line.

This will be the most competitive field I’ve run with for 100mi. I’ve got enough 100mi experience to know how to shoot myself in the foot and have a sh*tty final 50k. I hope to not suffer that result, so I’ve tried to do everything I can, given my busy reality, to ensure I have a strong race, ’cause God knows how many more fast 100s I’ve got left in these 41y/o bones. I’d love to execute as close to perfect as possible while knowing that doing so at a 100-miler you’ve never run, is more than a little unlikely. But, if you listen to your body and run your own d*mn race, you might just find yourself in the mix with 20 to go. And that’s what it’s all about for me—I wanna be in the mix, for just a little while longer…

Parting Shot: Raced TRT50 and then paced a buddy in the 100. Who says we get smarter with age? ;-)

Parting Shot: Raced TRT50 and then paced a buddy in the 100. Who says we get smarter with age? ;-)

Faster than Twitter, thanks to my beautiful, loving, and highly supportive wife Amanda for her thankless job [even from afar] as “First Responder.”  |  Thank you to Julbo Eyewear for the beautiful, functional, and comfortable sunglasses. It’s GREAT to be working with you!  |  Thank you to Hoka One One for your continued support and producing the best shoes out there—#LetsGoHoka!  |  Thanks to Inside Trail Racing for offering so many fantastic races in great places.  |  Thanks to Vitargo for the steady energy and SIMPLIFYING my nutrition.  |  Thank you Healdsburg Running Company for all the wonderful support. HRC rocks! | Victory Sportdesign produces the best drop-bags in the biz!

2015 San Diego 100

SD100_9

Free. Your. Mind.  >>>>>> Photo Credit:  Paksit Photos 2015

In the days leading up to San Diego 100 I kept thinking about that famous Frank Shorter quote, “You have to forget your last marathon before you try another. Your mind can’t know what’s coming.” The event was feeling a bit more ominous than it should have. Two weeks out I had to basically shut down the running and concentrated on a strong finish to the school year; the most challenging one, in terms of classroom management, in my ten years teaching. Throw in coaching and training for a 100mi run and no surprise that my soul’s check-engine light came on. Thankfully I had a week to catch up on rest and get my head on straight before the big day in SoCal on June 6th.

Let's just EASE into this... Photo Credit: Josh Spector

Let’s just EASE into this…   Photo Credit:  Josh Spector

Nice to have a direct flight down to San Diego on Thursday before the Saturday race. I got out on the course a bit on Friday to preview the start/finish after a huge night’s sleep. The race started to feel less threatening and more like it should—an epic adventure on brand-new trails! First thing I realized was I needed some gaiters to protect my ankles and feet from the plethora of pesky foxtails that were in over-abundance due to recent rains. I’d pick some up at registration later that day and in tandem with a brand-spanking new pair of Hoka Challengers, I’d have zero foot issues for 100 miles. BOO-yah!

Challenger ATR -- Greatest. Shoe. Ever.

Challenger ATR — Greatest. Shoe. Ever.

I’d posted a question on Facebook a few days before the race about what settings to use on my Suunto Ambit 3 Peak and an illuminating conversation thread ensued. I ended up using the 1sec recording interval with “best” GPS accuracy. For this race, I chose not to use heart-rate, not merely because it saves battery life, but because, this time, I wanted to race a 100 without it. Suunto note:  upon finishing I had 20% battery life remaining. My back-up Suunto never left its mile-80 drop-bag. I was happy that the Peak’s band didn’t bother my wrist all day, as it had been doing in training. I prefer the Sport’s band since it’s softer, but the Sport doesn’t have the Peak’s robust battery life.

With Spokane's Ben Bucklin. Photo Credit:  Paksit Photos 2015

Yukkin’ it up early with Spokane’s Ben Bucklin, who would go on to win the SD100 solo division.

Racing aid-station to aid-station was the plan from the start; chunking the mind-numbing 100-miler up into bite-size pieces is, for me, mentally advantageous. Thus, I had three pieces of data on my Suunto the entire race: lap-distance, lap-time, and lap-pace. Upon departing each aid-station, I was sure to hit the ol’ lap button and do my best to live in that “space” from aid to aid, a task that would grow increasingly difficult as the race wore on and my weary mind would drift to how much racing was still left…

2015 SD100 Aid Station Splits (Strava.com)

2015 SD100 Aid Station Splits. Click to enlarge. (Strava.com)

 2015 San Diego 100 – Strava Activity

Photo Credit: Billy Yang

Rollin’ on the PCT. 23mi in, averaging 8:35/mi. Sunrise Aid-Station. Photo Credit: Billy Yang

On this day, running “within myself” found me in first position after about 15 miles. I can’t say I was psyched to be there with so much racing to go but I’ve learned that I need to run my race at my pace, and this was the reality. I pressed on all day long, thinking about this-that-and-the-other, but returning to Karl Meltzer’s sage 100-mile advice, “You gotta be there in the final 25% of the race.”

Todd's Cabin. Mile 40. Photo Credit:  Scott Mills

Todd’s Cabin. Mile 40. Don’t know if Todd was there. Photo Credit: Scott Mills, RD

Photo Credit: Chris Wehan

Mile 51. Meadows Aid Station. Double-Butt-Bottling it, DeNuch style. Photo Credit: Chris Wehan

Race director, Scott Mills, his staff, and volunteers run a tight ship; one BIG reason I chose to run San Diego this year. Communication with athletes in the preceding weeks was excellent. Course-marking was dialed, including confidence ribbon every 3-5min, flour arrows with extra flagging at turns, signage, and critical junctions were often manned with volunteers to ensure weary runners didn’t make any knuckle-head mistakes. I previewed the finish route the day before. I could roughly sketch the entire course from memory, including all the connector out-n-back trails. Scott reinforced through multiple email communications, and again at the pre-race briefing, the importance of keeping your head in the game and doing your due diligence with regards to knowing the course. Bottom line for me:  I feared getting off course more than anything. Every ribbon spied was a small victory, all day long.

Even at this race, with so much vigilant course-marking happening—before and during the race—there was still a longish stretch, somewhere there in the middle miles, where I’d been running too long without seeing a marker. I knew there’d been no other way to go yet I was starting to get nervous. Down-trail, I saw a wadded up bunch of orange ribbon thrown between some bushes. “Ohhh, sh******t”, I thought. Right there, on a log though, near the displaced ribbon, I spied one lone ribbon that had a SD100 note attached to it, explaining to passersby that there was a 100-mile trail-race going on, imploring them to not remove the ribbon, etc.

It appeared to me that someone had found this particular downed ribbon, read the note, recognized its significance and thoughtfully placed it on that log as an act of goodwill. I imagine notes like that appealing to people’s humanity, discouraging vandalism on one hand and encouraging others to lend a hand and replace down ribbon. Yet, I didn’t fully trust the course-markings for a mile or so, scrutinizing over how each one was attached to a branch, tree, bush, sign, or rock. Vandals had sent us on a wild goose-chase at mile-20 at Gorge Waterfalls 100k in March. Once bitten, twice shy baby. The ribbon thankfully led me to the next aid-station, where I shared the news with a concerned aid-station captain.

Photo Credit: Debbie Jett

It wasn’t the hottest SD100 on record, but it got pretty toasty during the afternoon. Photo Credit:  Debbie Jett

Upon reaching Pine Creek aid-station I was about 100k in and still averaging about 9:30/mi pace. I’d been riding the line with nausea for hours. Before departing Pine Creek, I asked the volunteers, how far to the next aid. They reminded me, “Eight miles. All uphill.” My spirit took a hit. I lingered a bit longer there, drank another 12oz of water, cold-sponged myself, and set to the task of climbing. I would lose about 30sec/mi off my average race-pace by the time I reached the Sunrise 2, at mile 72.

Mile by mile, I was grateful for previous experiences like climbing up Diamond Peak at mile 80 in Tahoe Rim Trail 100 and ascending Peavine Summit from mile 33 to 39 in Silver State 50. In the words of educational theorist John Dewey, “All experiences live on in future experiences.” One foot in front of the other. I knew if I didn’t suck it up on this section, someone—back there—would happily reel me in, just like the flyin’ Frenchman, Jean Pommier, did last year at Silver State.

IMG_9683Somewhere about mile 7 of 8, up this godforsaken climb to Pioneer Mail 2. I was out of water and calories, even after rationing best I could. Both bottles now bone dry. I thought about this hilarious “100 Mile 101” pic my wife shared with me a few days prior. At this very moment I knew I just moved from #2 to #3—“This is shit.” What was curious about it was there was something in the back of my mind that now found the situation somewhat comical. The power of these “steps” though wasn’t necessarily the lighthearted humor, but the promise of getting to #5 and ultimately #6. I knew I still had to get through #4 though…

Photo Credit: Debbie Jett

#3: “This is shit.” With pacer Chris Wehan. Photo Credit:  Debbie Jett

At the top I was greeted by pacer extraordinaire, and Inside Trail Racing teammate, Chris Wehan, who told me, “I’m bored,” so he was jumping in early. Fine by me! We’d planned on teaming up at Sunrise 2 (mile 79). It was good to have some company. “Soooo… you’re walking?, he said.” I was having a moment. I soon got over it and started running again. Chris never fails to fire me up. Whether pacing or racing against him, he always brings out my best. At an Inside Trail 50k in Woodside in late April, we were hitting the early, soft downhills there at 4:45/mi pace. We would both subsequently blow sky-high later in the race. Friendly competition at its finest! I found myself thinking how nice it would be to run at 50k race pace to the finish, and get this bullsh*t over with asap.

Chris and I got into a rhythm and I grew quiet, struggling now with fatigue and nausea. Thinking I had at least a 20-30min lead over 2nd place, my mammalian brain attended to its job of slowing me down, since I believed there was no threat from behind. Nausea turned into vomiting. I’d reached #4 – “I am shit.” Back moving. Get in calories…

The secret sauce---VitargoS2.

The secret sauce—VitargoS2.

Besides a Picky Bar in the first 10mi, I’d only taken in calories from VitargoS2. I’d premixed nine bottles, each with about 300cal/bottle and placed them in drop-bags that I’d basically hit at every other aid-station throughout the day. Each time I picked up a bottle, I had a 280cal packet of Vitargo rubber-banded to it, to use at the aid-stations in between, where I would not have a drop-bag. As the race wore on, and my stomach was less and less cooperative, I found I had to dilute my 300cal mixture with water to reach a concentration that my gut could sustainably handle. Once beyond 70mi I also started using a 50/50 mix of water and chicken broth in what had been my water-only/cooling bottle (aka: bottle #2). From this point on, I’d use the “steady-drip” method of fueling/hydrating, taking little hits off the diluted Vitargo, chasing it with bigger gulps of delicious, life-giving chicken broth.

Predator-Prey. Ben Bucklin on the hunt, rolling through Pioneer Mail, mile 72. Photo Credit:  Billy Yang

Predator-Prey. Ben Bucklin on the hunt, rolling through Pioneer Mail, mile 72. Photo Credit: Billy Yang

Like the song goes, “When the lights go down in the California town / People are in for the evenin’.” Not the ultra-runners. We’re out there with all the critters that come out at dusk. As Chris and I shuffled up on the PCT to Sunrise 2, we watched the shadows grow long and spied several fox, deer, and later, closer to the finish, we had to run past a juvenile skunk, which evidently sprayed us a bit, since folks at the finish said I smelled kind of skunky. While chasing the sunset, I told Chris about the rattlesnake I almost stepped on in the heat of the afternoon. Biggest rattler I’d ever seen on the trail; coiled up, and rattling to beat the band. I’d given that guy a wide birth and told the RD, upon running into him again at the next aid. I guess I could go without seeing snakes, but all the wildlife throughout the day, added to the wildness of the experience.

SD_100_map

I’d been silently dreading Chambers 2 aid-station at mile 88 since about mile 12, when I hit it on the way out. It’s tough because you’re 88 miles in and you can see the finish from across the lake, that is, if you look left, which I didn’t. Chris said what I was thinking, “Let’s get in and out of this aid-station fast. You can see from the map that Chambers has an out-n-back connector. We wanted to be back-n-forth before 2nd place came in. And we almost made it.

As we were just about to turn right to head up the first of two climbs to the finish, 12mi to go, we see a headlamp moving along the trail to our left. Without someone ahead to keep me “in the hunt” I’d simply slowed too much, or so I thought. Turns out, Ben Bucklin had been making a charge for hours, getting feedback from aid-stations that I wasn’t looking too hot, inspiring him to give chase. With 12 to go, the race was ON!

The adrenaline surged, the temps were dropping, the stomach immediately righted itself and two miles of climb later, we were averaging 10:30/mi pace. Push. We ran everything I could. 5.1mi to the final aid-station at Paso Picacho, where we topped off my bottles, and quickly moved on down the trail. 7.1 brutal miles to the finish. Anything could happen. I had to push on the climbs, stay steady, try to keep calories coming in, and ride the line as best I could. I remember Chris reporting 10k to go, then later 5k to go. How I longed to be running my open 5 or 10k pace at that moment! Get this sh*t over with!

The final two miles into the finish are brutal. Lots of loose, large rocks that make running quickly all but impossible, especially in the dark. Every time we start to push, we’d stumble, or twist an ankle. Adjusting pace, we moved more carefully through this section, sometimes rewarded with a smooth stretch, where I’d open up the stride, imagining increasing the gap to 2nd by a few more seconds. Keep that cadence quick!

Careful to stay on course, we finally arrived at Highway 79, crossed, and made the hop-skip-and-jump to the finish. I was psyched to see 17:09:28 on the official clock and shake Scott Mills’ hand. I wanted to be under 17:30 here at San Diego since my 100mi personal best, set at Tahoe Rim Trail 100 last year, was 17:38. I also didn’t want to let Scott down by making any major knucklehead navigational mistakes, considering how much energy he and his staff put into marking the course so well.

Ben Bucklin came in a few minutes later, winning the solo-division (sans pacer), the first year this division was offered. I was counting my lucky stars that my pacer, Chris, happened to be visiting family in Los Angeles this same weekend, and so graciously offered up his time to hobble around in the dark with me, while I vomited, stumbled, farted, grumbled, and belched. Bucklin ran a solid race and pushed so hard to close the gap down to within 8min at Chambers 2, at mile 88. His efforts to bridge and get within sight of 1st, put the fear of God into me, which made me dig deep, find another gear, and work so hard to the finish. Competitors will always push us harder than we would otherwise push ourselves. Because of Ben, that final 12mi brought out my best and produced some powerful, and cherished memories. Long live sport.

With Gabe Wishnie (3rd) and solo division champ, Ben Bucklin. Photo Credit:  Scott Mills

With Gabe Wishnie (3rd) and solo division champ, Ben Bucklin. Photo Credit:  Scott Mills

San Diego 100 – Full Results

With ultrarunning LEGEND, Scotty Mills, SD100 Race Director. It was an honor to win his race and shake his hand at the finish.

With ultra-running legend, Scotty Mills, SD100 Race Director. It was an honor to win and shake his hand at the finish. Thanks to Scott, Co-RD Ang Shartel, and the army of amazing volunteers that make up the awe-inspired event that is The Official San Diego 100mi Trail Run.

breakfast

Parting shot. Nothing in the world like the breakfast after a 100-miler! With pacer extraordinaire, Chris Wehan.

Faster than Twitter, thanks to my beautiful, loving, and highly supportive wife Amanda for her thankless job [even from afar] as “First Responder.”  |  Thank you to Julbo Eyewear for the beautiful, functional, and comfortable sunglasses. It’s GREAT to be working with you!  |  Thank you to Hoka One One for the their continued support and producing the best shoes out there—#LetsGoHoka!  |  Thanks to Inside Trail Racing for offering so many fantastic races in great places.  |  Thanks to Vitargo for the steady energy and SIMPLIFYING my SAN DIEGO 100 nutrition.  |  Thank you Healdsburg Running Company for the awesome show of support for SD100. HRC rocks!!  |  Thanks to my friends at Nuya coconut water for the optimal way to replenish after a long (long) run.

San Diego 100 Prep

Seventeen little days now to San Diego 100 and I’m taking a bit of comfort knowing I’ve pulled this off before, that is, preparing for a hundo while in the midst of the school year and juggling all my other life pursuits. Pine to Palm 100 last September came about eight weeks post Tahoe Rim Trail 100 and well into the first month of school; the desire to train was no where to be found and I ended up running that one off summer/100mi fitness. This time around it’s been a lot better. One hopes…

Cinderella 50k - Photo Credit: Foggy Bottom Photography

Cinderella 50k, Oakland, CA (5/9/15) – Photo Credit: Foggy Bay Photos

Gorge Waterfalls 100k in March messed with my head a bit due to the comedy of errors in the final 8mi of that race, resulting in a lost opportunity to qualify for Western States in June. Even though outward appearances suggest a failure, I was quite pleased with my fitness in Oregon, considering I was just coming back from injury. Sucks though to not secure the result you know you’re capable of. Gotta keep movin’ on down the trail…

The heart of my San Diego 100 preparation.

One of my two-week training blocks for San Diego 100 + a rest week. Credit: Strava.com

Setbacks, in my experience, always seem to have a silver lining. Injury forced changes to my training, which have actually made me a more balanced runner. Go figure! All my runs now have purpose. In Oregon, I felt increased power and speed and have kept up with my evolved training program while building up for San Diego, continuing to reflect on each week and make tweaks here and there. Training for a 100 miles though, versus a 100k, I’ve toned down the intensity some for the sake of increased volume and maintaining overall life balance (thank-you Dr. Maffetone). The number of hill intervals have increased and gotten longer in duration. The speed of the tempo run has slowed a bit but has lengthened as well. And the weekends have been dedicated to double long runs, with Saturday being more about enjoyment, leaving Sunday to do a proper long run, focusing on “programming” the mind for the incipient battle that starts at Lake Cuyamaca on June 6th at 0600 hours. “A quiet mind is a powerful mind.”

Hill repeats from 5/14/15. Credit:  strava.com

Gritty “Hundo” Hill Session: My 12 x 425′ hill repeats from 5/14/15. Credit: Strava.com

After soaking up some great motivation at Lake Sonoma 50, I put down a high quality two-week training block with lots of climb, then took a rest week to really absorb it. That Friday I found myself feeling good, and with my birthday the next day, I started surfing the web for a race. Why not?! It felt like the right thing to do. It is the Bay Area after all, and I was delighted to find a nice little 50k down in Joaquin Miller Park in Oakland.

Checking the entrants list, I saw Chris DeNucci was also racing. So that sealed the deal—get to race on my birthday against at least one competitor who I knew would push me from start to finish. And that’s all it takes—one other runner to keep you honest and working to your potential on the day. As it turned out, there were plenty of guys rocking it on the front, including Chris Castleman and Alex Ho. It won’t be too much longer before I won’t be able to stay in front of these guys for 50k!

Like Edgar Allan Poe wrote, “Without a certain continuity of effort, without a certain duration or repetition of purpose, the soul is never deeply moved.” That right there is why I’m crazy about ultra-running. When I came through the start/finish (for the second time), I knew I had to string together just 4 more miles of continuous effort to complete the final loop to make it 50k. I found myself thinking of Travis Macy’s dad, from the book I just read called, Ultra Mindset. In it Macy talks about what the guys from his Dad’s era of ultra-runners had instead of comfy Hokas and super-fuels like Vitargo—-and that’s grit, plain and simple. And grit is what we need in abundance to run 100 miles. Winning a small, local 50k in course-record fashion on one’s birthday feels good, to be certain, but honing one’s ultra-running mettle for an upcoming hundo is priceless when we find ourselves at mile 80.

The following Tuesday, Amanda and I went down to support Michael Wardian in his 50k Treadmill World Record attempt, where he successfully lowered his own record of 3:03:56 to 2:59:49. Hoka One One made Iron Mike a literal centerpiece at their two-day sales conference held at the Claremont Hotel in Oakland (no pressure Mike!). Hoka folks got to jump on an adjacent treadmill and run “with” Wardian for a few miles (or minutes). Toward the end, I jumped on after Magdalena Boulet, who had the pace set to 9mph, which I found quite brisk! Mike was running 10.4mph at the time. After a mile or so, I briefly bumped it up to match his pace. I quickly felt the effects from my own 50k from a couple days prior. Volunteers started asking if I was okay.  ;-)

Much respect for Mike’s stout record. He’d just run a 70+ mile race in Australia 10 days prior and just arrived from “down under” that day. Jet-lagged or not, Mike made running sub-6min/mi pace for just about three hours look pretty easy. Smooth and efficient. And talk about “ultra mindset.” Mike said after that in order to stay focused he had to go “somewhere else.” He said he was “in” his basement back home in Virginia. I had a heaping pile of delicious gourmet food and left for the evening with a heaping pile of inspiration. #LetsGoMike

IMG_5451Okay, so I’ve shared the basic components of my 100mi prep:  training, the mental game, inspiration, and what else?… Oh yeah right, strength. I’ve been trying to be consistent with a modest strength circuit routine I can do during the week but that won’t compromise my quality run sessions. It basically encompasses four exercises (which I vary depending on what’s sore that day) that I like to do 3-4 times through. These include some basics like sit-ups and pull-ups as well as some full body stuff with 8lb dumbbells and the TRX. I try to keep it simple and it’s no surprise I’m stronger after a recovery week and less strong when I have a lot of miles in me. My feeling with strength training is that a little goes a long way. That’s my hope here in 17 days—go a long way, strong. Hold form together so you can “fake it until you make it.”  !!!

Looking ahead now, I’ve begun hittin’ the sauna with two 20min sessions in the last few days. I’ll do this all the way up to San Diego. Temps have been way too cool here in wine country so far this spring, so a little sauna training better go a long way as well! This week’s the last structured training week prior to San Diego, which I’ll cap off with the Western States Training Runs this Memorial Day weekend with another Hoka teammate, Paul Terranova. I’m hoping to bank 50k of sweet trail running bliss on Saturday and follow it up with 20 on Sunday. And that’ll do it. I’ll stay sharp with a handful of short runs, work on my race-plan, keep studying the course, strategize, get great sleep, limit my caffeine and alcohol intake, hydrate, stretch, foam-roll, and keep visualizing how I want things to pan out on game-day.

SanDiego100LogoSo, about the San Diego 100 course-record… I’ve been lucky enough to meet and chat with two past SD100 champs in recent months—Jeff Browning and Karl Meltzer—and hear about their experiences on a course that has evolved over the years due to things like forest fires. I contacted RD, Scott Mills, and received a very detailed, appreciated, and fair account on the history of the race, which has helped me create some realistic goals:

The SD course is in its 14th year and over that period we have had 4 major course changes that make records only applicable to the years that it was run over those particular courses.  The first 7 years was the easiest as an out and back on the PCT and it was held in Nov.  Karl holds that record at 15:48. The next two years was a double loop in the Cuyamacas….it too was an easier course and comparable to Karl’s course record so I always considered Karl’s time as the course record for this route as well.

Then 6 years ago the race underwent a major change when I inherited the event and we ran a much tougher and more varied course.  Over those first 4 years, Jeff Browning won the race twice and held the course record of 16:39….a very solid and impressive time.  I feel Browning’s time was pretty much comparable or better in terms of difficulty to Karl’s record on the old course and it was run in June when it is significantly hotter than the Nov time frame of Karl’s.

Then two years ago (just after the 2013 race, a devastating wild fire destroyed our race venue and many of the trails we use so we had to yet again change the course.  Last year’s and this year’s courses are very similar (only a very minor change) and I believe this variation of the course is the toughest of all past variations.  Jeff Kozak won last year’s event in 19:24 and that is the current course record that you would be competing against.

As you know 100 mile course records are so dependent upon race day conditions and in our case upon route changes.  I think this year’s course winning time will be below 19 hours but again, too many variables to predict. I will add…the SD 100 course is “sneaky hard”  By this I mean it looks very runnable for the entire course but there are some very technical and hard sections that don’t appear so on paper.  The dry air, wind and low humidity need to be watched closely as well with regards to dehydration.

I’m looking forward to this special opportunity to execute to the very best of my abilities in this long-standing and challenging event. Hopefully I’ll have packed enough grit to see me through. #seeyouinsandiego
Photo Credit: Amanda Shebest

Parting Shot:  Just hangin’ out in Mike’s basement. Credit: Amanda

Thanks to my beautiful, loving, and highly supportive wife Amanda for her thankless job [even from afar] as “First Responder.”

Thank you to Julbo Eyewear for the sweet looking, functional, and super comfortable sunglasses. It’s GREAT to be working with you guys (and gals!).

Thank you to Hoka One One for the their continued support and producing the best shoes out there—#LetsGoHoka!

Thanks to Inside Trail Racing for your offering so many fantastic races in great places.  |   Thanks to Vitargo for the steady energy and SIMPLIFYING my SAN DIEGO 100 nutrition.

Thank you Healdsburg Running Company for opening up in my ‘hood. Love the new store and the weekly group runs. It’s great to be building community with you! 

Wolves in the Arena

gorge

It’s about a quarter-mile to the turn-around in the 2015 Gorge Waterfalls 100k, and, in some intensely serendipitous turn of events, I’ve found myself in the front group of four guys, including Justin Houck, Ben Stern, and Chris DeNucci. As we descend into the Wyeth aid-station at mile-31, I’m pleased to find that my heart-rate’s dropping to 123bpm. THIS is exciting sh*t!! >>>

2013 Western States 100 champ, Pam Proffitt-Smith, is graciously crewing for me this morning while Inside Trail teammate, Chris Wehan, is popping up everywhere along the way, further stoking the fire in my belly. Since I’m fueling the entire race with bottles of VitargoS2, I slam some while taking a moment to internalize my good fortune—I’m gunning for a Western States 100 spot, of which there’s two on the line today. I’m 50k into this sucker and there’s no one in front of me. I find myself departing Wyeth, happy, in control, and now leading the race…

Photo credit: Chris Wehan

Mile 31 turn-around – Wyeth aid-station with Pam Proffitt Smith and Ben Stern. Photo credit: Chris Wehan

 “Nature’s arena has a way of humbling and energizing us.” –Scott Jurek

Photo credit: GlennTachiyama

Stacked field at the 4am start of the 2015 Gorge Waterfalls 100k. Photo credit: Glenn Tachiyama

In this month’s Ultrarunning Magazine, Errol “Rocket” Jones writes, in an article entitled, Whiners and Winners, “Get the most you can from your running, because a setback is coming. Injuries or overuse will happen if you stay with it long enough. It’s part of the equation in long-distance [ultra]running and racing. You’ve got to take your lumps […].” I preach to athletes I coach that it’s not the training we can do that’s going to make us faster, rather, it’s the training our bodies can actually absorb. There is a distinct difference. From Nov-Feb, I had to take a big dose of my own medicine. And the spoonful of sugar was the opportunity to race well at Gorge Waterfalls 100k in March.

After a successful 2014 campaign, where I was able to achieve my #1 goal of defending my 2013 win at Tahoe Rim Trail 100, in course-record fashion, and back it up with a repeat win at Pine to Palm 100, eight weeks later, I knew I was incredibly fortunate to be enjoying such consistent good health, largely in part, I thought, to strategic planning of both my races and high-volume training, and of course, training/racing in Hoka One One running shoes. Still, I know nature has a way of keeping us in balance, and my “lumps” came in the form of a stress-fracture of the navicular bone in my left foot, as confirmed by MRI just before Thanksgiving.

This setback didn’t weigh too heavily on my mind, as 2014 came to a close, since I felt I had time to make a full recovery. Sean O’Brien 100k, unfortunately, had to be tossed out the window since I would not have the preparation required to be in the mix for a Western States slot, and would likely just re-injure myself. Thus, all the chips had to placed on Gorge Waterfalls 100k at the end of March.

Coming back to full health was frustrating as hell. Re-capturing my confidence has been the toughest part. The foot would be fine one day, and throb the next. More and more days had to be taken off. I was forced to dramatically change the way I trained. In hindsight, it appears I was able to ride that fine line just well enough to not hurt myself again, while harvesting enough fitness to race well at Gorge. With my fastest 50k trail-run in the Marin Headlands just two weeks earlier, I felt I was ready to race a 100k, but barely. Fortune favors the brave, right?!

All smiles early in the going. Photo credit: Chris Wehan

All smiles early in the going. Man, how I dig ultrarunning! Photo credit: Chris Wehan

At the end of last year, when I was considering my options for “racing” my way into this year’s Western States 100 in June, I studied the 2015 Montrail Ultra Cup qualifying events. Ultimately, I chose two of the longest races, that both inspired me and seemed like they would play to my strengths. As I’ve stated, I had to bow out of Sean O’Brien 100k in February due to injury but the other event, Gorge Waterfalls, seemed like a good bet since it was in late March, was a 100 “K” versus 50 miles, giving me something like two additional hours to reel in some carnage in the final 12 “bonus” miles, increasing the likelihood I could move into the #2 or #1 spot, securing one of the “golden tickets” for Western. The fact that Gorge would be very technical, with 12,000′ of cumulative ascent remains very attractive to me. If only it was a 100 miles…

For the record, it’s quite disappointing to me there’s not a 100mi option—my strongest distance—offered through the Montrail Ultra Cup series. Western States is 100-miler after all. Seems to me like we’d want to put the most qualified 100-milers on the starting line there, rather than the fastest 50mi + 100k guys and gals. But, that’s not the current reality, and at the end of the day, I’m just a Masters guy trying to do the best with the cards I’m holding. My ace-in-hole is my endurance; a card I’m left holding at the end of a 50mi or 100k. As an athlete who’s spent a decade in Ironman Triathlon, chasing entry into that sport’s “Big Dance”—the Hawaiian Ironman—for which I’ve worked hard, focused, and qualified on four occasions between the years 2002 and 2011. I’m hard-wired to qualify for the Big Dance by earning entry at a qualifying event of equal distance.

Photo credit: GlennTachiyama

Delightfully brutal course. Photo credit: Glenn Tachiyama

After departing the turn-around at Wyeth, it wasn’t very long before Houck and DeNucci caught up with me. A great memory from the day was running together, headed back west, toward the finish, as 100k runners were making their way to the turn-around. “We have ourselves a race!”, one runner exclaimed. Soon though the pace was a bit more than I wanted to tolerate, as we were only about half-way through. This day, I vowed to be patient, present, and positive, and I was sticking to my plan. Also, my heart-rate was giving me good bio feedback that I needed to keep holding back, at least to mile 36-40, with plenty of running to do from there. Just be patient. One, or both, of them will come back to you. Believe…

Earlier in the day, at mile 20, the front-runners had been directed off course by some hooligans who had vandalized the course. That incident tested my resolve but ultimately Yassine Diboun had gotten us back on track. It ended up adding about 2mi to my race, which I used to stay positive, and get additional calories in. Since we’d gotten off course not too far out from Cascade Locks aid-station at mile 22, I soon ran out of Vitargo but fortunately always carry emergency calories in the form of gels. We just rolled with it, and as soon as we found our way back on course, it was almost like we’d never been off course, with everyone quickly resuming his position in the race. I tried to make light of the situation and said to myself, “Well, more miles, more smiles.” I might just get to qualify for States at a “100-miler” the way this day is going!

Leading into the race, I’d been thinking of the Cherokee legend, the Tale of the Two Wolves. As the miles went by, I kept listening to my body, getting in good calories and “monitoring” the growing battle between the two wolves loose in my mind—the good wolf and the bad wolf. I kept trying to “feed” the good wolf by reminding myself to be present, in the moment, and believing in my potential to reel in at least one of the guys in front of me. At times now, the bad wolf was getting stronger; more ferocious. The good wolf was sent scrambling through my subconscious, scavenging for any scrap of confidence it could find…

Good Wolf: “You’ve just had the highest quality 8 weeks of ultra-run training you’ve ever done. You deserve to be in this position. Stay the course!”

Bad Wolf:  “Pine to Palm 100 was half a year ago old man. You’ve got a crack in your foot. You’re broken. You don’t have the iron in your legs that only racing gives you. What the f*ck are you doing out here?!”

Good Wolf:  “You just ran your fastest 50k in the Marin Headlands two weeks ago. You’re stronger than ever! You have plenty of time to reel in 2nd place. You own this race!!”

Bad Wolf:  “You shouldn’t have run that 50k dumb*ss. Your insecurity is your greatest weakness. Besides, that 50k was only four hours of racing. You think that’s gonna help you in this 10-HOUR smack-down?! WTF are you thinking? You know better.”

Photo credit: GlennTachiyama

Holding some good form together around mile 58. Photo credit: Glenn Tachiyama

Nowadays we have runners who want a course so well marked that Stevie Wonder or Ray Charles could make their way through it, solo.   -Errol “Rocket” Jones,  from “Whiners and Winners,” Ultrarunning Magazine, April 2015

 

Arriving at Yeon at mile 49, I picked up an additional bottle of VitargoS2, departing that aid-station with about 600cal to fuel the final approximate half-marathon to the finish. Unbelievably, it had come down to the scenario I’d imagined in the days leading up to Gorge—-I was in good position to run down my Western States slot!!

Aid-stations are always a sure-fire way to feed our good wolf, and I left with a boost of confidence that, with 2nd place only 3min up, I had plenty of time to catch my prey. Beyond 50mi now, it was time to shine. With no one in sight, ahead or behind, the struggle with mind and body to continue pushing ensued, often glancing at my heart-rate as my honest assessment of the effort I continued to invest in the endeavor. I popped out onto a half-mile stretch of paved road. I see the red of 2nd place’s jersey ahead, turning back into the woods. Skip Brand is standing at the entrance. I harness some strength and imagine lopping another 20sec off 2nd place’s lead. Skip gives me some encouragement and I head back up the trail. A wave of nausea hits me from the effort I’d just put in on the road. I wretch a few times in the bushes, marveling at how smooth VitargoS2 is coming back up. I recover quickly and press on, soon able to again consume and process calories.

As the race progressed from here, more and more hikers lined the trails, out on this beautiful day, taking in the marvelous spectacle that is the many beautiful waterfalls in the area, including Wahkeena Falls, Fairy Falls, Multnomah Falls, Oneota Falls, Dry Falls, and Ponytail Falls. Getting closer now to “No Name” aid-station at mile 56, I started to get glimpses of 2nd place up ahead, now 90sec up, according to Chris Wehan. Patience was the biggest challenge now. Keep the calories coming in. Be steady.

Photo Credit: Chris Wehan

Photo Credit: Chris Wehan

I found myself running several switchbacks and arrived at one where several hikers fanned out across the crook of the 180deg turn. I thanked them and quickly made my way passed and down a section of trail that led to a paved road. I looked left and right for a  life-infusing trail marker. I asked a guy with a dog if he saw two runners go by or any pink ribbon. He said no. Back up the trail, I ran into the hikers I’d just passed. I asked them if they saw any ribbon to which they replied they’d seen some not too far back. Dammit, I cannot f_____g believe this just happened… Are you F______G kidding me?!!

I’d only been off course for about 2min and as it turned out, when I caught up with these hikers and passed them in the crook of that switchback, none of us realized that I was supposed to continue straight through, rather than around the switchback in the direction they were all headed. With the four of them fanned out as they were, I didn’t even realize running straight through was an option. I tried my best to own the mistake but wished there’d been some alternatively colored ribbon, indicative of being off-course at a trail junction. How could any runner in my position not want that? Whatever. What’s done is done. It’s my responsibility to know the course. Suck it up buttercup.

When I hit No Name, at mile 56, a panic was starting to build within me. The bad wolf was eating me alive. I knew 2nd place’s lead had now grown to about 4-5min and my hope of earning my spot to States was now slipping away. Panic slowly started to morph into apathy. A warm justification for a 3rd place finish was gradually washing over me like a nearby waterfall; its spray of indifference like a shot of morphine. The good wolf now silent.

With two miles to go, I’m trying to rally while stomping down this super touristy section of black-topped switchbacks, seemingly enroute to nowhere. I didn’t realize until later that day that the biggest mistake I made here at Gorge was choosing to not go to the Start/Finish in the daylight the day before. Because it was race-morning registration, I had no clue what the route to the finish looked like. As I’m hobbling down this steep section, I more concerned with who might be catching up with me than who is ahead. To my horror, I see a guy in black who looks so fresh I can’t believe my eyes! Note: I later discover this was Ben Stern’s pacer (no wonder he looked so fresh!). Anyway, this sends the biggest shot of adrenalin into my system I throw it into high gear and start taking the remaining switchbacks as aggressively as I can. I open up a good gap and don’t see the track star anywhere behind me. I hit the road at the bottom to find Skip Brand standing there with a front-row seat to all the unfolding action. I’m disappointed in myself for failing to secure a Western States spot, but 3rd place today is not bad, right? At least it’s still a podium finish even if, technically, 3rd place is the “first loser” at this event today.

Before darting off, I ask Skip, “How far to the finish?!” He replies “less than a mile. You have to over a bridge.” I look up ahead and see what appears to be a bridge in the road, but then there’s two more up farther ahead. I slam the rest of my Vitargo, see a pink ribbon, know that I’m on course, and blast through this busy intersection where it’s wall-to-wall tourists. I take a hole-shot through a bunch of pedestrians at a cross-walk, and with some 65miles in my legs, lay down a sub-7min mile… to nowhere.

As I get farther and farther from the chaotic Visitor’s Center, I see some runners up ahead. I ask them if they saw any other runners or pink ribbon anywhere. A motorcycle cop rolls through and I yell and whistle loudly at him. He pulls over and I run up and respectfully inquire where the entrance to Benson State Park is. I blast off back in the direction from which I came. Arriving back at the Visitor’s Center I stop and do a slow 360, trying to figure out where to go. I see a foot-bridge, lined with tourists. Pink ribbon! I head down a path. Dead-end. Not the right direction. WHY isn’t there a race volunteer anywhere? Fumes for fuel. I’m so horrified by this turn of events I consider running back to my hotel in Troutdale rather than be seen at the finish. I’ve let everyone down—my wife, my friends, my sponsors. 600 miles of training since January 1, for this race. 100,000′ of climbing. Dedication to some stupid ideal. For what? To blow it at the end and not even secure a podium position. Chris Wehan meets me with a few 100yds to go and runs me in. I do my best to hold it together but I’ve never been more disappointed in myself at a finish line. Afterward, sitting in the grass alone, I can only think about the Theodore Roosevelt, Man in the Arena quote, and what lies ahead at San Diego 100 in June…

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Yet, I ask myself, am I just one of Rocket’s “whiners”? I do think it’s very reasonable, in a “high stakes” Montrail Ultra-Cup event like Gorge Waterfalls 100k, to at least have one knowledgeable volunteer, there at the end with two 90deg turns to the finish, offering some much needed support to all those runners on the “struggle-bus”. Or, at least an arrow to go with the pink ribbon that says something like:

<<< To Finish

Admittedly, I’ve had more than my fair share of getting off course in trail-races (who hasn’t?!), but I’ve worked on it and the results have shown. In the end, I found myself scraping together every last ounce of energy I had, with close to 66 miles in my legs, running as fast as I could, doing my best to honor both myself, my friends and competitors. Seems like sometimes, there’s a fine line between a winner and a whiner, wouldn’t you agree Rocket? I’m left feeling more like the latter as I tap out this race report.

Justin Houck and Chris DeNucci ran f_____g great races (not to mention Ben Stern and Gary Robbins who did, in fact, find the finish line before I was finally able to). Had I not gotten off course at all, I still may not have been able to reel Chris in, (and definitely not Justin) but what eats away at me is how random circumstances took the opportunity to try, away from me. At the turn-around I was in a dream scenario that should not have manifest in the way it did; many of the top names dropped or never started Gorge 100k for one reason or another. I’d been given a kick-ass opportunity, but failed to make good on it. That’s how the cookie crumbles.

There’s still the Montrail “Last Chance Promo” that has about 30 runners that entered and finished the 100k on Saturday. One of those names will be drawn and will receive an entry into this years Western States 100. Naturally, the odds of me getting in are actually less than the 4.7% chance I had in last December’s general lottery. Still, a chance is a chance. I’m not whining! Otherwise, I’m setting my sights on Jeff Browning’s San Diego 100 course-record in June. Also, I’m revising my event schedule and likely omitting Cascade Crest in August as well as Javelina in October and putting all the chips on Run Rabbit Run 100 in Colorado in September. Seems like the right thing to do. In the words of another Roosevelt:

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

In closing, I’d like to share how incredible I think the Gorge Waterfalls 100k course is. As of today, I’m definitely coming back next year, with as many friends in-tow as possible! This course is right up my alley, and with the course-knowledge from this year, I’ll easily shave 30-45min of my time, given similar weather conditions and NO course vandalism!! :D

Thanks to my beautiful, loving, and highly supportive wife Amanda for her thankless job [even from afar] as “First Responder.” Thanks for fixing my stress fracture!! I LOVE YOU VERY MUCH.

Thank you to Hoka One One for the their continued support and producing the best shoes out there—#LetsGoHoka! The CHALLENGER was THE shoe for the job at GORGE WATERFALLS 100K

Thanks to Inside Trail Racing for your offering so many fantastic races in great places.  |   Thanks to Vitargo for the steady energy and making MY GORGE WATERFALLS 100K nutrition easy.

Thank you Healdsburg Running Company for opening up in my ‘hood. Love the new store and the weekly group runs. It’s great to be building community with you! THANKS FOR BEING OUT THERE SKIP BRAND.

MUC50k – Miles Falling Like Dominoes

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With Marin Ultra Challenge 50mi champ and Hoka teammate, Paul Terranova, who won both the Bandera 100k and Rocky Raccoon 100mi in January of this year. Photo Credit: Nate Dunn

Driving down to Marin County on Saturday morning at some ridiculously early hour, I counted six months since I’d last raced at Pine to Palm 100 last September. Furthermore, I got to thinking how it didn’t seem like a whole year has passed since I last ran today’s race (the 50-mile version). So cruising down the 101, I likened life to the “Happy Pi Day (3.14) Domino Spiral” video I shared with my students on Friday—the speed with which the dominoes fall increases as you get closer to the center. Time moves pretty fast…

With my accelerating stream of consciousness bending both time and space, I soon found myself under the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, at the Start/Finish of the 4th edition of Inside Trail Racing’s Marin Ultra Challenge. I enjoyed some great training these last few weeks, after getting on the other side of a fairly mild, but nonetheless, frustrating stress fracture.

Then just as soon as I had my best training week, I’d come down with some flu-like symptoms at the start of last week. The plan was to hit one more bigger week of training, to cap off my prep for Gorge Waterfalls 100k, here on March 28th. So I show up to my Tuesday hill session, park the car, think about doing hill repeats and… put the seat back and fall asleep. When I wake up, I drive home. I try again the next day. I didn’t even make it to the park; I just put my running stuff in a cupboard in my classroom and went home. The next day, I start my hill workout and get two intervals done before jogging around the park before heading back to the house. By Friday, I was effectively tapered, feeling much improved, and instead of doing the long runs I’d planned, the thought of running the 50k at MUC sounded like a the perfect cherry atop my Gorge 100k prep.

4-MUC-Base-Print-197x300The 50mi and 50k start together at around 6am and the young-guns took it out a lot harder than last year. In 2014, running the 50-mile, I found myself leading both races by mile 2. Not having raced in a while, this was a wake-up call, especially running up this steep road under the Golden Gate Bridge to get to trail-head. Legs felt as heavy as the concrete buttresses holding up the damn bridge.

Once we got up top, I got the intensity back under control, and running over to Rodeo Beach, three became two. Within a few miles, I had to let #1 go because he was runnin’ like he stole something. I had a feeling he’d come back later.

There was a good number of guys chasing, including 2014 Rocky Raccoon 100-mile champ, Matt Laye, who’s now returning to solid form after a dealing with a frustrating hamstring injury for many months. Back in December, we’d both been injured and volunteering at a Inside Trail event and got to hang out so it was great to be experiencing this race with another runner who you know is especially grateful to be back in the mix.

Having done the MUC 50mi last year, and probably from the back-to-back long runs I’ve been doing in training, my perception of the 50k was… interesting, to say the least. It seemed to fly by. Not having raced in so long, I found myself completely in the flow of the race—trying to catch as well as trying not to be caught. Predator-Prey. Eat or be eaten. Indeed, I missed these primal feelings. Completely absorbed in the running, spiraling further down into the present moment, everything else melts away.

No race, however, is without its drama, and the front runners got a little jumbled as we came back around to Muir Beach on our way back to Tennessee Valley somewhere around mile 23. As it turns out Matt and another guy ended up shaving off 0.7mi from a short out-n-back to the aid-station, just about the time I’d caught 1st at the Muir Beach aid-station. So, after some clarification on which direction to run, thinking myself in 1st, I motored back the 0.35mi to the turn home, soon to realize at least two guys were up ahead. Great. That’s trail-racing—just like a box o’ chocolates.

I got up to the gate at Gulch to see Matt running back toward me. He realized he’d cut off the short out-n-back and proceeded to right the wrong, which resulted from some confusion at that dubious trail junction. Volunteers are doing the best job they can. Kudos to Matt Laye for being a stand-up guy. If he hadn’t been aware of the error, or chose not to correct it, I wouldn’t have been able to reel him in by the finish. That’s what we call sportsmanship.

Onward I go, all the way back to mile 26 at Tennessee Valley, where I have a fresh bottle of VitargoS2 waiting to refresh and power me up Marincello and to the finish line. I now know there’s one guy up ahead. He’s not local and isn’t aware he shaved off the 0.7mi out-n-back. And, after working my tail off to this point, ending up 2nd doesn’t doesn’t sound very good at all.

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View from the trail of the last few miles of the Marin Ultra Challenge. No finish line beckons like the Golden Gate Bridge. Photo Credit: Jeremy Bardell

Close to the top of Alta, I was finally able to reel in 1st, after not really having it the whole race. It was pretty much pedal-to-the-metal to the finish, and running the steep stuff back down, under the GG Bridge, was a lot less miserable than it was a year’s worth of dominoes ago, finishing that beast of a 50-miler, which Terranova had the honor of winning this year. After returning from injury, it’s been a challenging road back to race-fitness. So naturally, it feels damn good to out there again mixin’ it up with the boys (and girls as is so often the case).

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Yeah, so the hope is that MUC50k will serve as a solid tune-up for Gorge 100k, here at month’s end, permitting just a bit more sustainable abuse in those later miles. I’ll be going up against young bucks like Nike’s David Laney & Ryan Ghelfi, ultrarunning vets like Gary Robbins and Yassine Diboun, and dark horses like Chris Wehan and Nathan Yanko. I’ve stopped looking at the entry list on UltraSignup; it wasn’t doing my confidence any favors.

I’m expecting nothing less than a full-on suffer-fest in the second half of Gorge. I’ll show up prepared and run a smart, strong race. That’s all we can ever do. There’s only two Western States 100 spots and Laney already earned a spot earlier this year, so even if he won, for example, the WS slot would go to 2nd and 3rd place, unless one them declines, then slots roll down as far at 5th place. On paper my odds don’t look good. Fortunately we don’t run on paper. Like my high school wrestling coach used to say, “Anybody can beat anybody on any given day.” You keep up that honest effort all the way to the finish.

logo_colorIn the submarine world, where I worked for a few years, you have back-up systems for back-up systems. So I’ve done my best to navigate my 2015 event schedule to ensure something awesome happens this year. So if no Western States, then I’m already in at San Diego 100 at the start of June. And if I do San Diego, instead of Western States, then I have three additional weeks in between it and Cascade Crest 100 at the end of August, which will scratch my itch to race in the mountains since I’m not running my much beloved Tahoe Rim Trail 100 in July (though I hope to be there in some capacity other than running!). There might even be a little Javelina Jundred action thrown in come Halloween time, if things are goin’ well and I find myself hungry for something other than Snickers Bars and Milky Ways. I’ll get out to more ITR races as well. There’s so many good ones on their event calendar!

I recognize that the gold standard in ultra-running is still a Top-10 performance at Western States and I’d surely love the opportunity to run against the best there to see how I stack up. The 100mi is my best event because that’s the distance that speaks to my restless soul. Not to mention there’s a fair amount of downhill running from Squaw to Auburn, and I really like running the downs. With four Hawaii Ironmans in me, I know a few things about running well in the heat, and some of that proficiency has come from failing to run well in the heat. In the grand scheme of things, it’s just another race, but I’d be bummed if I didn’t get to do it while I was at my best. I’m no spring chicken.

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Random parting shot with Amanda and Nuya founder, Ted Neal, at Healdsburg Running Company with the Montrail Ultra Cup, in house for the upcoming Lake Sonoma 50mi in April. Photo Credit:  Skip Brand

Thanks to my beautiful, loving, and highly supportive wife Amanda for her thankless job [even from afar] as “First Responder.” Thanks for fixing my stress fracture!!

Thank you to Hoka One One for the their continued support and producing the best shoes out there—#LetsGoHoka! 

Thanks to Inside Trail Racing for your offering so many fantastic races in great places.  |   Thanks to Vitargo for the steady energy and making training/racing nutrition easy.  |   Nuya is perfectly natural hydration that combines electrolytes and carbohydrates to properly hydrate and fuel your body. I love it as a recovery drink!

Thank you Healdsburg Running Company for opening up in my ‘hood. Love the new store and the weekly group runs. It’s great to be building community with you!

Running with Purpose

“If your target is top running performance, then to overtrain means to apply more force than is required to hit that target. In fact, overtraining may literally obliterate your target, or at least leave you without the will to pursue it.”  -Jack Daniels

Well alright! We’re into the swing o’ things here in mid-January. We’ve probably got at least the spring events lined up and we’re now doing the specific work to prepare for that first big race, which is comin’ up fast! >>>

Running coach, Jack Daniels, suggests that every run we do serve a purpose. In 2015, I’m making this idea the centerpiece of all plans I create for athletes, as well as for myself. Since all the athletes I’m currently working must have superior muscular endurance to be successful in their events, then the long run is the most important session of the week. Therefore, we must take great care to arrive to our long runs mentally and physically fresh to accomplish this steady-state effort with a high degree of mindfulness.

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In general, the long run should remain a Zone 1-2 (RPE easy to moderate) effort throughout. The habits internalized in this endurance session are the ones we bring into racing, thus we want to be thinking about our pacing, nutrition, hydration, use of gear that encourages comfort and efficiency, etc. In addition, the long run is the place to create the conditions for “flow,” a state of mind where your running may be described as fluid and effortless. Be smooth, be efficient, and as Matt Fitzgerald writes, “Practice running beautifully.” Beautiful running, as corny as it may sound, is efficient running. Relax, and let it happen on those long efforts…

The next most important session would then be the Tempo run, or perhaps alternated with Tempo Intervals, where we work in Zone 3 to low Zone 4 (RPE mod-hard). Tempo serves a variety of purposes to include the development of leg-speed, which is a critical component, all the way out to Ironman, the 100mi trail run, and beyond (Victor Ballesteros!). Awareness during the Tempo run should be placed on progress from a lower RPE/HR to a nice plateau where you seek to find that place where you are uncomfortable, yet the effort is sustainable. We derive so much quality from training approx once/week at tempo, especially when the long run is conducted appropriately. Lastly, the tempo run gradually develops our ability to suffer (or deal with discomfort—vs. dealing with pain).

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Hills. Generally, the hill session, in my mind, is third in line, behind the long and tempo runs. When we arrive at the doorstep of this session, it’s good to get a nice, long warm-up, get that “Green Light” from the body, before asking our bodies to work in Zone 4-5 (RPE hard). On a side note, hills conquered during our long sessions develop the capacity to climb efficiently. Hills repeats, on the other hand, build power, thus the reason for the relatively short interval (1 or 2min up a steep climb with plenty of recovery between each permits effective recovery.

Begin with the end in mind. When I prescribe a hill session for an athlete, I do so by asking the athlete to run a range # of intervals. It’s their job to be honest with themselves, in the moment, to determine what # of intervals is optimal for them on the day. So, if I write 5-8 x 1min Hard, then they would hit the first interval thinking of the last interval. They should progressively increase in intensity, SEEKING to make the last one their strongest. This doesn’t always happen and some sessions might simply be terrible. Accept it and move on with your day. The next quality session might just be the best you’ve ever done! Our energy ebbs-n-flows. Go with it >>>

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You should always complete any quality session with more to give. Again, be honest with yourself and never judge yourself. Be objective. And that means knowing yourself. Remember the rule: “Never do a workout from which you cannot recover in approximately 24 hours. Doing so will encourage your capacity to string together weeks—and months!—of quality training, where you enjoy the gradual increase in fitness while optimizing health. Recall that presence of mind encourages optimal performance.

Finally, is the active recovery run. We can do a lot with these, including doing a single, easy 30min session, or even two short, easy sessions in a day, to best facilitate optimal active recovery. The purpose of active recovery, is to keep the effort parked in Zone 1 (RPE easy). when your active recovery session are truly easy, then this allows your body to flush the “junk” out of your legs, promoting awesome circulation, and encourages your ability to bring more quality to your long, tempo, and hill sessions. You can’t hear it enough: Keep the easy days EASY so that the hard/quality days actually CAN BE of the highest quality. If your easy days are not easy then your hard days cannot be as hard as they should be, and mediocrity ensues, blending everything toward the middle. No bueno! This phenomenon is an affliction from which a lot of endurance athletes suffer. I have. We all have! Bottom line, give yourself permission to simply enjoy running easy on these days, knowing that doing so could very well be a game-changer for your quality efforts.

Deriving great satisfaction from your quality sessions builds on what Fitzgerald refers to “psychological momentum.” This state of being is the training/racing “sweet spot” in which we’re empowered, excited, and may—from time to time—feel almost like we’re being “pulled” out-of-doors to train, relishing in our movement. Strive for nothing less in your training. Not quite there? Sleep more.

The rest day is an opportunity for the mind and body to absorb the quality training you’ve done. It’s during the rest days—and recovery weeks—where we actually grow stronger. Never underestimate the power of rest! Trust this principle of training. It’s oft misunderstood!

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Cross-training should be based on the individual’s preference for other aerobic-based sports, like cycling or swimming. Triathletes have it easy since they really don’t have time to injure themselves running since the bike demands so much of their time. The bike being a highly effective means of continuing to develop the aerobic fitness they’ll need for the season. Triathlon’s been called a “haven for the running wounded.” That’s how I got into it (and stayed!) for a decade! Cycling, for example can always be done in place of an active recovery run; athletes never have to ask me to supplant an active recovery run with a bike—the answer’s always “Sure thing!”

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Strength. Since running’s the priority (and swimming/cycling for the triathletes) then committing to strength sessions is challenging, since a regular, longer strength session can negatively impact training for our primary sport(s). Thus, I’ve become a big fan of “peppering” in strength as I have energy and opportunity, which, if I’m creative, I have in abundance. For example, I’m now doing short, morning strength/stretching session every week-day morning where I do some combination of yoga, TRX, kettle-bell, and a wide variety of body-weight exercises, including the classics: sets of push-ups, sit-ups, planks, pull-ups, squats, etc. I listen to my body and work on stuff that’s not sore! Some days become all yoga while others are more pure strength. I printed out a calendar from a spreadsheet I made, leading up to my next race and have it up in the garage, so I can hold myself accountable and fill in something on Mon-Fri. Sessions range from 10min to 30min, approx. Experiment and see what works for you. A strong body is more inclined to hold on to good form late in quality sessions and races, leaving us less likely to suffer an injury brought on by some variety of over-compensation caused by muscular fatigue. Again, don’t judge yourself. Strive to be objective and realize, when it comes to strength, less can very well be more. Even 15 ten-minute sessions a month adds up to something considerable. That 2.5 hours goes a long way. Pepper it in. See what happens.

What we do outside of training is more important than the training itself, especially once the overall weekly volume is over 10-12hrs. Sleep, nutrient-dense foods, and plenty of water will truly allow you to consistently perform at your best. As Einstein so famously said, “The definition of insanity is doing things the same way and expecting different results.” So, make sure you have explicit plans in place to evolve both your training process and your race-day execution.

Keep the purpose of each session in mind whenever you head out the door. Keep yourself in balance, and above all else, place your health above fitness. I’ll strive to do the same.

Thanks to my beautiful, loving, and highly supportive wife Amanda for her thankless job [even from afar] as “First Responder.”

Thank you to Hoka One One for the their continued support and producing the best shoes out there—DEMAND MORE! 

Thanks to Inside Trail Racing for your offering so many fantastic races in great places.  |   Thanks to Clif Bar for fueling my training and racing.  |   Nuya is perfectly natural hydration that combines electrolytes and carbohydrates to properly hydrate and fuel your body. I love it as a recovery drink!

Thank you Healdsburg Running Company for opening up in my ‘hood. Love the new store and the weekly group runs. It’s great to be building community with you!