Wolves in the Arena

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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!

Pine to Palm 100

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So I had this crazy thought last year:  do two 100s in 2014 to celebrate turning 40. This reminds me [now] of a Navy buddy who had a coffee cup that read, “I had a bad idea.” What the h*ll, it’s ultrarunning after all, so it’ll probably suck for while but then you’ll have some great memories and stories to share. Game on!!

All things considered, things have gone pretty darn well this season. I can’t complain [too much]. With the full 2013 season in my legs, I feel I’ve navigated the 2014 race season fairly well—got some speed in the bank early in the year, culminating with a fast 50k in February, hilly 50-milers in March, April, and May. A huge block of run training in June not only set me up to do well at Tahoe Rim Trail 100 in June but also allowed me to recover properly from it so that I could sneak some August training in between the two 100s, which were only 8 weeks apart.

About that August training. Well, it was total fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants. I started back to school, and that stress, pushing 150 kids through my classroom everyday—learning names, establishing routines, and the like, really took a toll on the available energy [and desire] to train for another mountainous 100 in September. So, I had to trim the fat—lots of days completely off, some cycling thrown in, concentrate on getting good sleep [so AM running went out the window], a mid-week tempo session, along with a quality weekend long run. Bare bones. At the end of the day, Pine to Palm (P2P) was about experiencing a different 100-miler (a mountainous and beautiful point-to-point race) and celebrating turning 40. I knew I wouldn’t be as bullet-proof as I was in July, but what do they say? Sometimes you have to let yourself be a little vulnerable. Just go out there, run smart, and do your thing.

With all the stress of stepping out of my life for a few days to go run 100 miles in the forest, I was carrying a fair amount of guilt with me; guilt for leaving my students for two days, guilt for sticking my wife, Amanda, with the dogs the whole time, and guilt for just generally being 40 years old and still chasing something, out there on the race-course. Why?…

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I guess it’s because I believe in the late Louis Zamperini’s words—we should get out there and do the things we find fascinating so that we can feel most alive. The day before the race, I found a card Amanda had stashed in my race-gear. She’d included the Louis Zamperini quote about experiencing as much as you can in life. Amanda and I became fans of “Zamp” through Laura Hillebrand’s book, Unbroken, which comes out in theaters this Christmas. In both TRT and P2P, in those darker moments, I imagined myself sitting in the theater, watching ol’ Zamp’s movie, thinking back to my summer struggles in these two great events, my own [tame by comparison] tests of will and perseverance. On some level, I just wanted to be worthy of that moment in the future; sitting there, still, relaxed, and enjoying a movie on the big screen with Amanda, with a level of pride for having risen to the occasions, doing something I find fascinating and for which I have great enthusiasm. I imagined getting the silent nod from Zamp, as if my long-distance running efforts in Tahoe and Oregon were my way of honoring his life. In the spirit of Viktor Frankl, my imagining a moment in the future gave great meaning to the present moment, when all our bodies want to do is stop running, stop pushing…

With Eric Litvin, outside Rogue Valley Runners, the day before the race.

With Eric Litvin, outside Rogue Valley Runners, the day before the race. Photo Credit: Chris Jones

Amanda’s full of good ideas and suggested I get a head start on the weekend by driving half-way up to the race and stay in Redding on Thursday night, then drive the rest of the way up the next day. lnside Trail Racing team-mate, and TRT100 pacer, Chris Wehan, threw his hat in the race and would be one of my main competitors. We’d meet up in Ashland on Friday, where I’d drop my car off near the finish. Chris, his pacer Stephen Wassather, and I jetted off to the race-meeting in Williams, deposited drop-bags, and headed back to our hotel in Grants Pass where Chris’s girlfriend, Melanie would later join the party.

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Race Morning with Chris Wehan (left) and Kevin Chan (right). Photo Credit: Stephen Wassather and Chandra Farnham respectively.

Chris and Mel were at P2P last year so it was awesome having the gang back together after our fun times just two months prior in Tahoe. They knew all the ins-n-outs of the event, including how to get us to the starting line in the morning. I was super grateful.

It’s all fun-n-games race morning, bumpin’ around, takin’ pictures, really just not thinking about what’s really ahead. I’d made a bracelet with distances from aid-station to aid-station and that’s what I kept telling myself in the days and minutes before the 6am start—“Just run aid to aid. Nothing else exists.” Chunking in this manner really is a highly effective strategy to get through the day.

Since I was in unchartered territory here in Oregon, running my second 100 in eight weeks, I didn’t think I had it in me to get close to Tim Olson’s course-record (CR) of 17:19, set on a different course in 2011. That didn’t stop me from plugging 10:23/mi into my Virtual Pacer. At mile 28 I was 30min ahead of CR pace, but that moment was the only instance I looked at it. I’d need near perfect preparation and execution on race-day to get close to the CR, not to mention not having a CR 100mi performance just 8 weeks prior.

According to Ultra Signup, my main competitors were thought to be Chris Wehan (32), Andrew Miller (18) 3rd place in 2013, and Lon Freeman (39). In the months leading up, I was sure the competition on the front would grow, especially since P2P has become a Western States qualifying race. I’m sure other events the same weekend—Run Rabbit Run 100 in Colorado, The Rut 50 in Montana, etc.—drew speedy speedsters away from P2P. Oh well, not complaining!

The race went off without much fanfare. You have to love the start of a 100mi. It’s like, “Okay, the race started, let’s shoot the sh*t with some buddies we haven’t seen in a while.” Red Bluff teacher, and long-time ultrarunning bro, Joe Palubeski found me in the dark in the opening mile and we chatted it up for a bit. Then I realized I hadn’t wished Chris good luck so found him. Then, slowly, it was drifting into the moment at hand—running a 100 miles to Ashland. It was all goosebumps and smiles…

Two-time defending champ, Gerad Dean, who I had the pleasure of meeting at the TRT100 Training Runs and running with on race day in July, executed a great race here at P2P last year. So much so that I based my race on his 2013 ultralive.net splits since I felt that’d be the most valid guestimate of my first performance here. This proved invaluable on race-day, especially with regard to nutrition and getting from drop-bag to drop-bag, since Amanda wasn’t here to crew me, though Chris’s girlfriend Mel, was beyond awesome in helping me out wherever she could [all day] while crewing for Chris.

The first 28mi to my first drop-bag to Seattle Bar is a blur. I knew one thing coming into this race: I didn’t want to get off course. There were a few occasions where I just happened to be looking in the right direction and caught course-ribbons at the last minute. But not getting off course all day in this point-to-point 100-miler was pretty great. P2P race-director, Hal Koerner, told us at the race briefing that we’d have to try pretty hard to get off course. Still, I didn’t trust myself. Note: I talked to a woman at awards on Sunday; she’d gotten off course four times.

We were running with a group a four, which included Juan De Oliva, who I was talking with while we were all running up some switchbacks early. There was one occasion where we all thought we were off course (but weren’t) and another where I was running in the back and happened to spy a ribbon off to my right, going up another switchback. The gang had gone straight, so I gave a holler, and they turned around and followed me up the next stretch. Juan gave a great big smile ’cause we just avoided excess miles. A little team-work through this section proved valuable.

Next thing I knew I was enjoying chatting with Ethan Linck (23) from Seattle who was running his first 100 here at P2P. We were putting down some low 6’s running down some fire-roads and eventually caught up and quickly passed first place. I had on my trusty HRM and was keeping the effort parked in the low 140s. It was curious at that moment how it was more challenging to keep my HR down on the descents than on the climbs. I guess, instinctively, my mind wants to push the downs since that is a greater strength than the ups. Or, it could be that I just have more fun running down and just want to enjoy the sensations of running fast and free.

The downhill continued and through Steamboat Ranch at 22, I looked to just another 6mi to my first drop-bag at Seattle Bar. Winding fire-road. I heard Ethan behind me and then I didn’t any more. Relax and run…

I quickly weighed in at Seattle Bar (150lbs) emptied my drop-bag’s contents, downed 20oz of coconut water and grabbed a 20oz bottle of Vitargo and a 20oz bottle of water, for what was advertised as a nasty section up to Stein Butte at mile 33. I took off my shirt expecting hot temps and hightailed it outta Seattle Bar.

We were close to 50k in and the temps weren’t living up to their reputation. It appeared the smoke from recent forest fires was insulating us from the sun. Good thing too, was the smoke, albeit light, wasn’t affecting me in the least. This section, turned out to be very enjoyable and, for some strange reason, I kept imagining I was running on my home trails at Lake Sonoma. This would happen all throughout the race, where it was all-too-easy to imagine running at Hood/Sugarloaf or on the trails at TRT100. Regardless, it was clear that I was well-adapted to the sometimes technical nature of the P2P single-track stretches.

Within two miles, I almost step on a juvenile rattlesnake [who was thankfully rattling plenty loud for me to hear] and then my Garmin HRM craps out on me (perhaps the spike from the rattler scare short-circuited my HRM?).

P2P is a ultra-run designed for ultrarunners by ultrarunners. You get four great opportunities to assess the situation behind you—at Squaw Lakes (41.5), Hanley Gamp/Squaw Peak (52), Dutchman Peak (65), and finally at Wagner Butte (87). And that keeps things interesting.

At Squaw Lakes, I cruised in, dropped a bottle, and ran around the 2mi circumference of the lake, anxious to get a bead on the competition behind. I was wondering when the kid, Andrew Miller, was going to make his move. I knew he’d just won Waldo 100k on August 16th. He had to be tired from that huge effort. Not to mention his P2P course knowledge, after placing 3rd here last year. Like Speedgoat Karl says, “you’re always faster the second time [you run the same 100]”. Yeah, so I get back around to the aid-station, see my old Santa Rosa friend Chandra (who lives in SoCal now, with her boyfriend Kevin, who I’m currently coaching) who’s run out from the aid station. She gives me some encouragement and I ask her how far back 2nd place is. She says not too far back and I ask her who it is. She doesn’t know. Well, what does he look like? An ultrarunner.  :-)

Back at the Squaw Lakes aid-station, Chris’s girlfriend Mel and Chris’s later-in-the-day pacer, Stephen, have my drop-bag at the ready. I’ve begun feeling the effects of the last 50 miles. Plus I’m a little cold. What happened to all that crazy heat we were supposed to get Hal? Mel said, “You’re doing great, Chris is about 15min behind you.” I said, “Chris is in 2nd?!” Mel replied, “Yeah, he’s moving up.”

Running out, I’m thinking either Chris did a lot of secret training I don’t know about, or he’s writing a check his body can’t cash (which is good and bad depending how I’m thinking about it). My next thought, was who better to be chasing me than a buddy, who just paced me at TRT100, who’s girlfriend and pacer were helping me along in the race since it was just me and my drop-bags up here in Oregon. Still, it was a race and we were now pushing each other in earnest. Perfect.

At Hanley Gap (50/52), Celeb-RD Hal makes you run up to the top of Squaw Peak to retrieve a flag pin. I love it. When I got up there I found myself standing and staring at a concrete slab. No flags in sight. WTF Hal?!? I looked up and saw this little building up on top of some rocks. Ah-Ha! I found some little stairs to climb and beheld the coveted flags. On the way down I was filled with ambivalence, seeing Chris climbing up. I told him about the path up to the little flags. He said he knew. And I remembered he’d done this race last year—advantage Chris.

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Was that woman with the trekking poles wearing a race number?!? — Coming down from Squaw Peak around the half-way. Photo Credit: Melanie Michalak (aka: President of the Rebecca Kirschenmann Fan Club).

As I polished off the out-n-back, and arrived back at the aid-station, Mel threw me my calorie bottle and sent me on my way. I’d seen a woman starting up Squaw Peaks as I was coming down and was trying to wrap my brain around whether she was really in my race. Did I actually see a bib # on her right leg? She looked like she was all business with those trekking poles… Hmm… I’m really starting to feel this race… I have an idea…

I had a coin purse in my back shorts pocket. I refer to it as my mini medicine cabinet. For P2P it included a few Tums, Pepto Tabs, some anti-nausea pills, and a few acetaminophen (500mg) capsules. Since I knew the hardest part of the day was coming up—mile50 to approx 65—I decided to pop a couple acetaminophen to take the edge off. I figured I’d done a good job hydrating and eating up ’til this point and the body was in good shape, it should tolerate the acetaminophen just fine. Umm, wrong.

Shortly thereafter, my stomach started to go south. I’ve only had problems with vomiting in 100s, not with other end of the digestive track. My stomach was doing full-on doing somersaults. “This f_____g sucks!” Damm*t, I should’ve only taken ONE of those acetaminophen capsules. Sh*t!! I visited the side of the road a few times, getting some practice on my cat-hole digging skills. “If I could just work out this pain in my gut.” My lead is shrinking. They are coming. Suck it up… Keep moving.” I massaged my stomach and could no longer keep my hand-helds tucked in the small of my back since the belt I had on to secure them was not helping my stomach distress.

[Excerpt from Pine to Palm’s race-director’s new book, entitled Hal Koerner’s Field Guide to Ultrarunning: Training for an Ultramarathon from 50k to 100miles and Beyond]:

Pain Relievers

Pain relievers might ease discomfort or offer a helping hand a a low point in the race, but they should be approached with caution. Most studies point to NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen—or “vitamin I,” as it is affectionately called among ultrarunners—as being a poor choice of pain reliever during a race. For one, it can mask the muscle damage you are inflicting. Also, studies indicate it can contribute to a condition called rhabdomyolysis, which can result in renal failure […]

Aspirin, aspirin creams, naproxen, and acetaminophen, on the other hand, do not present similar problems for the kidneys and are generally good go-to choices of pain relief. I apply an aspirin cream preventively to my calves and around my knees prior to an event because I have found it help reduce inflammation and manage pain. I might take a single acetaminophen during a race, at mile 50 or so, to obtain a degree of relief when I need it most. However, I limit my intake to just that one. That may be excessively conservative but, personally speaking, I just don’t want to rely on it. I am uncomfortable with the idea of masking pain, perhaps running myself into the ground with an injury. Sometimes, when the analgesic wears off later, you make the unpleasant discovery that you would have been better off listening to your body instead of muting its signals! Thus I recommend a conservative approach to pain relievers (p.97).

I wish I would have read this prior to Pine to Palm. I did know better than to take ibuproven (NSAIDs) in an ultra. If I’d only taken ONE acetaminophen capsule instead of those two I would have likely avoided a lot of unnecessary discomfort (and slowing!). Live and learn. Bottom line: I need to be less of a baby. Like they say, borrowing strength builds weakness.

Smokey day. Photo credit: Stephen Wassather

Smokey day kept the sun off us. #godsend — Photo credit: Stephen Wassather

On and on and on it went, up the longest, god-forsaken fire-road, smoke hanging low in the sky and a red sun burning on the horizon. While my stomach was giving me fits, I remember trying to dwell on what was going right. I was grateful for how well my legs were doing beneath me—just clicking over in their Hoka Stinson ATR‘s without a care in the world. “Come on stomach, let’s pull through this. The legs are ready to dance…” The top of Dutchman Peak could not come fast enough.

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Arriving on top of Dutchman Peak. Photo credit: Linn Secreto.

Up on top of Dutchman, something shifted, I could see Chris on one of the several switchbacks below. He was only about 10min back at that point. Then I looked at the incredible views to my left as I approached the summit. All of a sudden I felt myself starting to get choked up [with emotion]. Up a bit more I saw Mel up to my right on an overlook with her camera. She called down with some encouragement and said, “Amanda liked her flowers!” This added to the emotion. Note – I thought it’d be cool for my wife to receive flowers from me while she was at home, hitting the refresh button on ultralive.net all day, whilst I was in the belly of the beast in Oregon. Next, I see this guy with his arms up and realize it’s my pacer, Louis (which, by the way, is a great name for any pacer of mine, being a Louis Zamperini fan and all).

"Man, I'm I glad to see you." With Louis Secreto. Photo Credit: Linn Secreto

“Man, I’m I glad to see you.” With Louis Secreto. Photo Credit: Linn Secreto

Dutchman Peak was hands-down the turning point of the race for me. Running up to the summit to retrieve my drop-bag, the American Author’s song, Best Day of My Life blasted out of huge speakers. For a moment, I thought Amanda was actually up there, somehow choreographing the whole scene; that song’s been a favorite of ours all year (the bulldog version of course). Yeah, so Louis and I get our sh*t together and get outta Dodge, running back down to the primary trail. We soon pass Chris, who says to me, “Let’s not do this again next year.” Cracking up, I wholeheartedly agree him. Then, just a bit back from Chris is the first-place female, Becky Kirschenmann.

I would come to find out that Becky was the women’s defending champ, and used Trans Rockies (a multi-day, 120mi trail run with 20’000′ of vertical, held this year from 8/11-8/16) to help prepare her for Pine to Palm. It was probably best I didn’t know these things as now she was within 10min of me at mile 65 of a 100mi run.

Departing Dutchman, we connect with the primary trail again, leading to some of the most delightful single-track running of the day. We pass a sign, “7 miles to next aid.” Things were again good. There was some hoot-n-hollerin’ goin’ on as Louis and I enjoyed the beginning of our journey together. Both of us transplant Pennsylvania boys who drive the same Subaru Outback Sport, live in Sonoma County, and only met by chance just two weeks prior. Louis’ runner came up injured and Louis, thankfully, offered his pacing services about a week out from P2P, much to Amanda’s relief. With what felt like a new lease on life, it was great to be on some very runnable terrain again, with the rising red moon in front of us. Five miles from Dutchman now, watching the water and calories. Six miles… 7miles… Where’s the aid-station?! 8 miles. Going dry… 9 miles… “Did we miss it?” We’re seeing blue ribbon. Boom, there it is. Whew. Long John Saddle.

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Stephen and Chris departing Dutchman Peak in hot pursuit. Photo Credit:  Melanie Michalak

I put on a tank-top, which was perfect with the current temps, grabbed two fresh bottles and we were off. No sign of any body behind. We got a mile out and couldn’t hear anyone back at the aid-station. We trust though that Chris and Becky are in pursuit. Don’t let up. This sh*t is getting exciting! At TRT I was chasing a CR so that’s what kept that race fun. Here, I was way off the CR but was feeling fortunate to have two runners closing in behind. This is what it’s all about. The simplicity of racing is often a great joy

Mile 80 (Wagner Butte). My mind was still playing tricks on me, given the conditioning it’s received from its four Tahoe Rim Trail 100s. Mile 80 sounds close to the finish, but at TRT100, you’re at the bottom of Diamond Peak, with a lot of hard running left to do. “Don’t think. Just run from aid to aid.” Curiously lucid, I got some great information from the aid-station captain. He said, it’s 3mi to the turn that takes you to the out-n-back up to Wagner Butte to retrieve the flag-pin. It’s 1.7mi from the trail to the top and 1.7 back. you’ll take a left at the bottom, then it’s 3mi down to Rd 2060 aid-station. Game on.

Louis and I discussed the possibility of getting up and down Wagner Butte before Chris and/or Becky arrived to do the out-n-back for the flag pin. I knew with how close they were at Dutchman, even with our strong push since then, we’d likely not opened up a big enough gap.

I’d been taking splits leaving each aid-station all day, keeping track of the distance from aid to aid, to carefully ration water and calories. From Wagner Butte aid, I took a split and watched the one piece of data I had displayed on my watch (since HR crapped out at mile 34) which was Lap Distance. 1mi. 2mi. 2.3mi… 2.8… Boom—3.0, and there’s the ribbon signaling the left turn up to Wagner Butte and the second flag pin of the race.

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At this point, I knew I was going to see some competition on the way back down from Wagner Butte Summit. The question was, how much of a gap had we created from Dutchman? Uphill over technical terrain to the summit we went. Once on top, we both searching around in the darkness with our headlamps flashing here and there. No flagpins. WTF Hal?!? Then I remember Squaw Peak. Look up. OMG, another elevated structure up there, atop these huge, sharp boulders. Louis starts up. “I’ll get it,” he says. I’m like, “I’m the runner, I’m coming along too.” I throw my hand-helds down right under a reflectorized race ribbon so I can easily find them later. Hand over hand I follow Louis up to the top. “What color do you want?” “What colors do they have?” We take a moment to enjoy the view of the city of Medford, lit up like Christmas to the north. I hoot-n-holler some more and we decide we need to take it easy coming off the rocks and back down the 1.7mi to the main trail so neither one of us breaks his neck. Once down I grab my bottles and take a split.

Smooth and steady. Run quickly when we can. Distance and time. Distance and time. Bam, there’s Becky. 0.7mi. So, we’ve got 1.4mi on her and she needs to climb up and down the mass of boulders for the pin. Pacerless, she steps aside to let us run through. We tell her to be careful on the rocks. She agrees. I yell back to suggest she should stay up on top for a while and enjoy the scenery. No reply. I tell Louis I don’t think she appreciates my humor. He’s not laughing either. We settle back into the task…

The 3mi after the out-n-back is pure murder on the knees and ankles. Hal told us he believes the only time this stretch actually gets any action is during Pine to Palm. Louis said while we were running down this technical, steep, and switch-backy descent, “This is insult to injury” [for the participants]. As we’re getting toward the end of this section we see a bunch of young dudes hiking up toward us. One cheers, “We’re aid-station 2060!!” I’m thinking to myself, “If you guys are Road 2060 aid-station, who the h*ll’s manning aid-station 2060?” Turns out, one of the guy’s mom was manning the station, alone. Poor lady. As she was helping me mix up a bottle of water/broth she was talking about killing her son when he returned. Louis and I eased on down the road… 10mi to go…

Somewhere in there, I stopped to pee. My headlamp happened to light up my urine stream and I found it oddly colored, like cranberry juice. “Hey, Louis, I’m peeing blood.” We got running again. Silence. “So,” Louis said, “Has this happened before?” “Umm, yeah, after a hard 50k in the Marin Headlands last fall.” [I’d taken ibuproven before the race]. “What do you want to do?” “Just stay steady.” I sure didn’t want to mess myself up but I still wanted to finish this race strong. Body seems okay otherwise. A little discomfort from my kidneys on both sides but nothing painful. Easy does it. Keep the calories and water/broth coming in. Steady energy input… Steady energy output…

Louis lets me know when it’s 4mi to go and I try to show some backbone. We we averaging between 7:30 and 8:00/mi pace up ’til that point. I suddenly get it in my head that we’re going to make a strong push to the finish. Now we’re running in the 6:00/mi range down smooth fire road, booking it pretty good. Louis is rocking it right by my side. A quarter mile later we’re back to 7:30pace. It was fun while it lasted…

This rolling, pain-in-the-@$$ mountain-bike section comes up and Louis says, “This trail sucks.” I whole heartedly agree with him. The trail’s anything but smooth and I’ve got no idea how I haven’t kissed the dirt yet. Thankfully—or not so much— we hit the super steep black-top and begin the final mile (death march) toward the finish line in Ashland. A couple 100yds down Louis spies a ribbon off to the right. I run over and study this “trail.” There’s another ribbon. It looks like some local riff-raff messed with the course-markings. There’s a big pile of green waste in the center of the trail. Louis runs down the road to try and find more ribbon. I’m thinking to myself, “this doesn’t look right. I thought we run down this steep, paved road to the finish. I know we do.” I start making my way down to Louis, when I hear him call up, “Here’s a ribbon. This is right.” I take a look uphill and see if I can spy a first-place female descending without her headlamp on. I catch up with Louis and a truck goes by us. It’s Hal, out spray-painting arrows on the course to the finish. We tell him about the riff-raffed ribbon. He gives us directions to the finish. We’re confused. He offers to drive us in, speed up enough to stop, open up his door, leans out, freshens up a spray-painted arrow from yesteryear’s Pine to Palm, and gets moving again before we catch up to him. Especially nice to see the inflatable arch and lots of folks hangin’ out at the finish.

We did it Louis. And I didn't die on you. Photo Credit: Linn Secreto

We did it Louis. And I didn’t die on you. Photo Credit: Linn Secreto

It sucked not having Amanda at the finish but I was in good hands having friends to keep an eye on me. This was the first 100 in which I didn’t vomit, during or immediately after. So that was nice, ’cause I got to enjoy the company of all the folks at the finish. Louis’ wife Linn let me use her phone to [eventually] call Amanda (it was a team effort to remember my wife’s phone #). Craig Thornley, aka: Mr. Western States, aka: Mr. UltraLive.Net, aka: Joe, was hanging out and I suggested, in my post-100mi euphoria that because I’d purchased 100 tickets for the last WS raffle—and didn’t win—I should at least get a Western States refrigerator magnet. I don’t think he was amused. Soon thereafter, an exhausted Melanie Michalak appeared and we started on the idea of transported my old bones over to their hotel, as per the master plan. I felt like a helpless 4y/o with my mom. “Umm, I’m cold.” “Can I take a piece of pizza with us?” Meanwhile, Becky Kirschenmann was back in the kitchen talking with folks about the day, looking really no worse for wear. l told Nate Dunn, who was in the cot next to mine. “I think she’s the terminator. I kept looking back expecting to see red eyes in the darkness.” At the end of the day, she finished up only about 30min back, shaving over 2hrs off her own Pine to Palm course-record. I’m confident that even if a handful of the most recognized female ultrarunners showed up and ran this course, they’d have a tough time besting Becky’s record. She’s set the bar high (and again, without a pacer).

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Greatest Breakfast Ever — Races & Pacers:  Chris Wehan, Stephen Wassather, and Louis Secreto.

I’d love to come back and do this one again. In the event I get into Western States 2015, it’s nice to have a point-to-point 100mile event in the books. All things considered it was a really amazing race, and even a week later, continues to dwell in my consciousness. It was special indeed to have every step taken all day be on a course on which I’d never stepped foot. And like all prior 100s, there were challenges to overcome and awesome friends with whom to celebrate the good times. Thanks to Hal, and his Pine to Palm crew for doing a bang-up job on race-day. And thanks for marking that course so well. Thanks to Mel and Chris for all the logistical team-work and full-on crewing/hand-holding/shuttling etc. And congrats Chris on slaying the P2P beast!! Looking forward to seeing what you two do at Javelina. Your best 100s are in front of you both. Thanks to Louis and Linn Secreto for huge support out there. Amanda was right (again) that I would’ve been screwed without a pacer. Thanks to Becky for keeping me honest and making me work my @$$ off from Wagner Butte to the finish. And big thanks to my wife, Amanda for giving me a pass to go do this. Your love and support is so appreciated.  :D

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Sunday Awards at the finish line in Ashland. With the “celeb-RD” Hal and women’s winner Rebecca Kirschenmann. Photo Credit: Linn Secreto.

Pine to Palm 100 Strava Data

ultralive.net webcast

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

Thank you to Hoka One One for the their awesome support and producing the best shoe in ultrarunning—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 Heart-n-Sole Sports for your continued support. Thanks to Brian and the awesome instructors at Paradise Yoga, a brand new yoga studio, right here in my hometown of Windsor. Yoga’s definitely helping my running. Namasté!   |  Thanks to the folks at Akoia Day Spa for the painful sports massages I get a few days post-event. Bringing me back to life!

 

‘Feelin’ Good’ at Tahoe Rim Trail 100

“It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.”  -Muhammad Ali
“The water is clearer than the air, and the air is the air that angels breathe.” – See more at: http://greatworldgetaways.com/californias-lake-tahoe-the-air-is-the-air-that-angels-breathe#sthash.pJlPdPgf.dpuf
“The water is clearer than the air, and the air is the air that angels breathe.” – See more at: http://greatworldgetaways.com/californias-lake-tahoe-the-air-is-the-air-that-angels-breathe#sthash.pJlPdPgf.dpuf
Spooner Summit. 5am. Photo courtesy of Ken Michel.

Spooner Summit. 5am. Photo courtesy of Ken “All Day!” Michal.

Back in the ring, to take another swing at the indomitable Tahoe Rim Trail 100. Trying to squeeze just a little more out this glorious event, in hopes of snagging the course-record that evaded me in 2013 due to a too conservative first half and excessive afternoon heat. With Einstein’s definition of insanity in the back of my mind, I duplicated—and beefed up—last year’s TRT June prep, logging over 500mi and 100,000′ of vertical, including a nice 50mi run at the TRT Training Runs. Wanting to bullet-proof my mission, I started off my June build with a 190mi/40,000′ week. And I have to say I thought about that week during the race, quite a bit—it provided a great deal of confidence.

“No limits. Just epiphanies!”

race_planTRT Like 2013, I geeked out on some spreadsheet scenarios, which would give my race some structure. Because the course-record was 17:47, I wanted to give myself some cushion, so I finally settled on a target race time of 17:20. After running the 50mi course during the training runs in June in about 8:30, I figured running the first half, on fresh, race-day legs, in about 8:10, seemed pretty reasonable (as long as I was at 140 beats/minute, +/- two beats). I also estimated that if I could run about 8:10 over the first loop, then I’d plan on the inevitable slowing to be no more than 12-15% over the second half.

I definitely felt the target on my back as defending champ, and it was tough not gunning it from the start. Still, I went from a first mile at 120bpm last year to an opening mile at 140bpm this year, thus establishing an early rise to an average HR of 140. By the time a small group of us arrived at Tunnel Creek (mile 12.7) I’d put down about 700cal in CLIF Bar bites that I’d rolled up and packed in a zip-loc bag. I figured it was a good idea to lay a foundation of calories, early in the going when the temps were low, the pace easy, and the stomach functioning properly. All of us bounded down into Red House, myself clocking my fastest mile of the day at 6:10. Easy does it…

Two-time Pine-to-Palm 100 winner, Gerad Dean and I, were the first to emerge from the 6.3mi Red House lollipop. As I grabbed some fuel from my drop-bag, Gerad had already weighed in and shot north toward the Bull Wheel aid-station. I moved with purpose, across the timing-chip mats after him. Following in his shoe-prints in the sandy single-track, I arrived at the Bull Wheel aid-station even before the water did. Asking repeatedly for some H2O, one of the volunteers sacrificed his own agua from his personal bottle into my hand-held (I’ll hope to pay this favor forward someday) and I continued north on one of my favorite stretches of the event—up toward the turn onto the Tyrolian downhill, a local favorite of mountain-bikers, whips and winds down and down (and down) to Diamond Peak Ski Resort, where I’d see my wife, Amanda, for the first time of the day—and catch up to Gerad.

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Fresh-n-loose. Rollin’ through Diamond Peak the first time, with Bay Area friends, Rose Repetto (blue) and Liz Bernstein (pink). Photo credit: Gary Wang

Amanda had me out of aid in a minute flat and Gerad and I spent the next 30 working together and occasionally chatting whilst we were still relatively fresh and the going was easy. We knew we’d opened up a nice gap and now, back on top of Diamond Peak at the Bull Wheel aid-station, we were happy to find the water had now arrived. Fill ‘er up! >>>

First Loop. Heading back down to Tunnel Creek from Bull Wheel. Photo courtesy of Tropical John Medinger

First Loop. Heading back down to Tunnel Creek from Bull Wheel. Photo courtesy of Tropical John Medinger

There’s nothing better than having a “home-court” advantage, and having run this race three times prior, I felt entirely comfortable bookin’ it back to Tunnel Creek while being sure to keep one eye on my trusty HRM. Metronomic cadence, breathing, focus. Just a cruise back down south to the half as the day was heating up.

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Buh-Bump. Heart-rate data from the first half of TRT100.

I came into the half in around 8:10, right around 9:45/mi pace. I’d gained back some good time on the switch-backy descent from Snow Valley Peak. This was a pretty quick first half as compared to 2013’s 8:28. Average HR was 141bpm, as compared to last year’s 139bpm. As I was coming into the half aid-station, I referred to a scenario chart I’d laminated to the back of my salt-tab’s coin purse. Since my target race-time was 17:20, I would now have to run no less than 11:00/mi pace for the second half in order to hit my finish-time target. I was pleased when I flipped over to Virtual Pacer on my fresh Garmin and saw that I had plugged in exactly 11:00/mi pace the day before, knowing instinctively that would probably be the pace I’d have to run. Now, all I had to do was run it…

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First half pacing.

stravaHRdata

Leaving the 50, I asked Amanda if she had any idea where guys were behind. Since there was a new timing system in place, I figured she might have some info from Snow Valley aid, but coverage is spotty at Spooner (even with race direction’s best efforts to improve it) so she didn’t have any info for me. No worries…

Leaving my HRM strap behind, it was time to “embrace the suck” and knock out this second 50. I had two bottles of ice-water and knew I’d run out on the way up to Hobart aid, some 7mi north, a lot of which is uphill. A couple of miles later I tripped and fell. I was beginning to feel that 8:10 first half. My feet weren’t coming off the ground like the were hours earlier. I reminded myself how we get muddy water clear—by doing nothing. Slow it down Shebest. Get back into your comfort zone. Clear like Lake Tahoe. Let go of the performance goals and get present. It’s okay to walk. Finally, it flattened out, and I found myself at Hobart. Whew, rough stretch.

Out of Hobart, some miles down-trail, I crashed hard, bloodying both my palms and my right knee in the process. I popped back up and quickly regained my rhythm, surveying what was only minor scrapes and scratches on a now bloody, sweaty, dirty body. Black shorts are great to wipe the blood away, and the memory. Today, I planned on three things happening that I’d not anticipated. Two of them came in the form of falls. The first one was pretty minor. This second one took the wind out of my sails for a bit. Rhythm. Rhythm. Rhythm. Let it go.

Back down into to Red House loop for the second time of the day. I noticed the temps were going in the opposite direction I expected—DOWN! Compared to all three of my previous second-half race experiences down in Red House, this one was the most mild. Temps and revamped nutrition helped keep the belly happy. But 60mi is 60mi and the going was getting tough. I’d read a couple books on U.S. Navy SEALs coming into this race in hopes of picking up some good mental coping strategies.

Having been a Navy Diver myself, I find great inspiration from our SEALs and the tremendous mental strength these guys have to make it through the grueling six months BUD/S training, including the infamous “Hell Week.” Anyway, I picked up a mantra that SEAL candidates sometimes use in school when in an “evolution” and forced to “embrace the suck.” They say to themselves, “Feelin’ good. Lookin’ good. Oughta be in Hollywood.” So, anytime I found myself in the suck on Saturday, I just busted out that gem, and imagined my SEAL brothers in the sh*t in some foreign country, getting shot at, and generally enduring a reality much more demanding than mine, at an ultra-running event in beautiful Lake Tahoe. “Don’t be a cupcake,” a running buddy, Leigh Schmitt, once said to me.

Once I got back to the stick of the lollipop of the Red House loop, there was a first-aid guy on a mountain bike. I’d worked pretty hard getting back to this point in hopes of seeing just who was behind me. The first-aid guy informed me, “You got the whole loop to yourself, nobody has come down yet.” Music to my ears. I proceeded up and soon found Mark Austin, of Boise, descending. I asked him if he was #2 and he said, “I am now!”, which meant he’d caught up with Gerad, whereabouts unknown.

Polishing off Red House and arriving back on top of the ridge, Gerad was sitting next to weigh-ins dealing with the “Hell” part of the TRT motto. I told him I’d been in exactly the same place my first time out at TRT and told him to hang in there. I’m psyched for him—and impressed—he did. I was off, up the long stretch, past Bull Wheel and up to the turn onto the Tyrolian Downhill. This stretch took forever. “Feelin’ good. Lookin’ good…” >>>

Diamond Peak weigh-in (mile 80 weigh-in). Photo courtesy of Gary Wang.

Diamond Peak weigh-in (mile 80 weigh-in). Photo courtesy of Gary Wang.

Diamond Peak. Mile 80. Pit-Stop with Amanda. Photo courtesy of Gary Wang.

Diamond Peak. Mile 80. Pit-Stop with Amanda. Photo courtesy of Gary Wang.

As I arrived into the Diamond Peak parking lot and looked up onto the first landing there at the lodge, I didn’t see a soul. I was feeling pretty vulnerable as I made the turn, unsure I’d see my people. “Please be there…” Boom, there was Amanda, who’s eyes got as big as saucers when she saw me rounding the corner. It was awesome to have my rock-star Inside Trail Racing team-mates, Chris Wehan (with his Western-States-running-girlfriend, Melanie Michalak) and Luke Garten, there for support. These fun-loving young guns inspire me.

Heading out of Diamond Peak with pacer, Chris Wehan. Photo courtesy of Gary Wang.

Heading out of Diamond Peak with pacer, Chris Wehan. Photo courtesy of Gary Wang.

After a quick weigh-in and bottle swap with Amanda, Chris and I were off to tackle the final 20mi of the race, starting with the 2000′ climb out of Diamond Peak, with Luke running alongside us on our way out, reminding us we were on record-breaking pace. We had about 3:45 to run the final 20mi to be under the course-record of 17:47. I said I’d do my best. I knew there would be no guarantees, but I also knew I’d been in this same place three times before, but this time was unique—I’d never been at this point as early as I was now. “Feelin’ good. Lookin’ good…” >>>

Team Inside Trail Racing in full effect starting up Diamond Peak from mile-80. Photo credit to Luke Garten.

Team Inside Trail Racing in full effect starting up Diamond Peak from mile-80. Photo credit to Luke Garten.

Chris immediately set the precedent that negative talk was not an option, so after getting out of Diamond Peak we just settled into the work of getting up the climb. Running into Myles Smythe, from Michigan Bluff Photography, definitely added some fun to the otherwise dismal prospect of climbing a godd*mn ski slope with 80mi in your legs. He shot some film and I tried to look less like a zombie and more like a bad*ss mountain runner. Umm, right…

photo(7)

Photo courtesy of the awesome Myles Smythe, Michigan Bluff Photography. More Myles, more smiles.

Running this event three times prior, I’d never experienced this relentless pressure to keep my foot on this pedal of madness. All for what?! Was it even worth it? Hell, I’m 40. WTH business do I have trying to break course-records? As I arrived to the top of Diamond Peak I was a full 30min behind my Virtual Pacer, who was running his murderous 11:00/mi pace. Earlier, when I arrived at DP aid-station, the Tyrolian Downhill helped me get all my time back but I knew I’d need every minute I could get, since the DP climb essentially puts a bear on your back, slowing the average pace down considerably. Now on top, it was time to get some time back, to recall what I’d done a year earlier, to run my race, and work with Chris to just stay steady and keep some calories comin’ in. Easier said than done, right?!

The first 10 of 20mi to the finish were still in the light and it was way cool to get all the way down to Hobart aid-station with some light still in the sky. We lit our torches and headed out of Hobart.

I probably should have just stuck with what worked all day but I started taking soda at mi80 and then hit the Coke at aid-stations from there. Stomach wasn’t havin’ it. And as Chris caught up to me just out of Hobart, he found me bent over, retching in the bushes. Everything came up. And here it was, the third unknown of the day. Deal with it. Don’t be a cupcake. I remembered an athlete I coached to Western States this year, Todd Bertolone. He had more than is his share of nausea and vomiting at States. I thought of him, and got my *ss moving again. Todd had his goals at Western, and met them. “Feelin’ good. Lookin’ good…”

Man-oh-man, that last ten was not what I envisioned. I’d mindfully built in a 27min cushion in high hopes that I wouldn’t need it, but d*mn the man, it was looking like I’d need every last minute. And now, Einstein’s relativity was working against me; time was slowing way down, the next aid-station, an almost hopeless eternity away. Chris helped me claw my way up to Snow Valley Peak, the highest point on the course at 9000′. I was now 32min behind my Virtual Pacer. I knew the course-record was still within reach, since it’s a long way down from Snow Valley, and downhill running is my thing. At this point in the going, my climbing legs were sh*t, as was my aerobic system; my glycogen matches long struck out. At Snow Valley aid, I grabbed a cup of chicken broth, and that alone is what fueled the final stretch home. I found myself wishing I’d put chicken broth in my hand-held. Warm. Nourishing…

What a pacer I found in Chris Wehan, 2013 Rio del Lago 100mi champ. In 2013, before I knew him, we duked it out at Lake Sonoma 50, where he eventually dropped me with some 10mi to go in the race. Later, we became Inside Trail Racing team-mates and I got to know him a little better. I’ve been so impressed with his athletic prowess as an Ironman triathlete turned ultra-runner. I’m super grateful it worked out with his work schedule that he could come up and pace. He did his homework on the race, had the splits written out on his arm, poured on the positive reinforcement, and worked tirelessly getting me to the finish. I ate it up. This was one guy I did not want to let down!

In full-on zombie mode, we made the right turn over to Spooner Summit. Lighting up the trails along the lake, we ran into Luke Garten, who had run a mile back to greet us. He shouted, “You have 16min to run one mile and you’ll break the course-record!!” Elation. All I said was “F#%k YES!”

It’s funny how all the grand, booming finish-lines I’ve experienced at big marathons and Ironmans seemed to pale in comparison to this modest, little finish-line next to a quiet lake, under the cover of darkness, with only Amanda and a few friends to share in the moment. It was this imagined snapshot in time, over those final miles, that created the desire to keep on moving forward until the deed was done. Pain is temporary. Pride… is forever.

Finish Line! Photo courtesy of Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Runs.

Finish Line! Photo courtesy of Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Runs.

Over the moon to have reached my goal, I was happy to be back with my Amanda, who had done such a wonderful job crewing me all day. Also grateful that she had some company while I was out there bumpin’ around in the forest. Chris, Melanie, and Luke made the experience that much more exciting and fun. When you have folks in your corner, it makes it a lot easier to stay in the fight and keep swinging. Also exciting was to later learn both athletes I’d coached to TRT100, Tina Borcherding and Eric Litvin, both braving thunderous lightning storms, reached the finish line as well. This was Tina’s first 100mi run. Inspiring performances from these two.

Want to bullet-proof your next ultra? Run in shoes from Hoka One One. My Stinson EVO’s have allowed me to run more training miles than I ever have in my life. In both my victories in 2013 and 2014, I’ve been so grateful to run all day with zero foot problems. The proof is in the pudding.

If you’re looking for an absolutely wonderful ultra-running experience, that gets better every year, TRT Endurance Runs has one of the best events in the country. Outside Magazine puts TRT Endurance Runs on their Trail Runner’s Bucket List. My advice would be to do the 50mi as a stepping stone to the 100, especially if you’re unsure how you perform at higher elevations. So, put your name in the lottery this year. You can’t win if you don’t play!

Breakfast at Fireside Lodge, in South Lake Tahoe, the morning after.

Breakfast at Fireside Lodge, in South Lake Tahoe, the morning after, with Melanie, Chris, Luke, and Amanda

Photo Credit: Doc Tanaka (500mi TRT buckle owner)

Later, at a very wet Spooner Summit. Photo Credit: Mark Tanaka (500mi TRT buckle-owner)

Since Amanda and I were spending the next week in Tahoe anyway, we headed back up to the scene of the crime on Monday morning, to spend a few hours helping to break down the finish at Spooner. Somehow, RD, George Ruiz, was still upright and in good spirits. Spending the morning with a few volunteers, in the muddy aftermath, was a perfect way to end this chapter in my athletic career. Thanks for all the memories!!

Race video from TRT Endurance Runs and Ultra Sports Live

Complete Strava data

Tahoe Daily Tribune: “Thunderstorms Make for Exciting Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Runs”

Any thoughts on Pine to Palm in September?

Any thoughts on Pine to Palm 100 in September?

Thanks to my beautiful, loving, and highly supportive wife Amanda for her thankless job as “First Responder.” Look at my toe!

Thank you to Hoka One One for the their awesome support and producing the best shoe in ultrarunning—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 Heart-n-Sole Sports for your continued support. Thanks to Brian and the awesome instructors at Paradise Yoga, a brand new yoga studio, right here in my hometown of Windsor. Yoga’s definitely helping my running. Namasté!   |  Thanks to the folks at Akoia Day Spa for the painful sports massages I get a few days post-event. Bringing me back to life!

TRT 100 Training – Week II

photo(3)Ahhh… back at sea-level now, decompressing from this weekend’s adventures at the TRT Training Runs. Inspired by Matt Fitzgerald’s book, Brain Training for Runners, I continue to build on last year’s TRT100 preparation. In Brain Training, Fitzgerald writes about the essential nature of doing in training—as close as possible to—what you’d like to do on race-day. Okay, so he only offers training up to the marathon-distance, but I’m adapting it a bit for my own intents and purposes. It’s my working hypothesis that, for me, there’s great value in covering the 50mi course at the basic intensity at which I’d like to work on game-day, with the same race process (gear, food, hydration, etc.). Having this experience fresh in my “brain” as well as my body—assuming I absorb all this nonsensical training, I’m hopeful I’ll be able to execute the way I’d like. We’ll see…

Last year at the same training runs, I’d done about 43mi on Sunday, choosing to exclude the infamous 6.2mi Red House loop and keep the day more manageable. This time around I simply threw in Red House for good measure. With the 2013 ultra-running season, as well the 2014 spring race season under my belt, I was excited to cap off my week with these runs up on the course I’ll be racing on on July 19th, confident I could “get away with it,” without significant injury risk. I’ll be honest, these last two weeks I’ve been more than stretching myself in order to create the opportunity to see exactly how fast, i.e., how efficiently, I can cover the entire 100 miles come July. Tahoe gods willing…

WOLplan

The above was my loosely-laid plan to follow up on last week’s 190mi training week with 40,000′ of gain. Initially, I was hoping to hit 150mi, but I had to go with my gut and ensure I trimmed the fat in order to preserve health. Monday became a rest day and I took advantage of that by using one of the massages my wife, Amanda, got me for my 40th birthday. The massage therapist wasn’t exactly impressed with what I’ve been doing to my body, imploring that I must return to many follow up visits! Thus, it was a fine way to start the week. Then, slowly easing into it with two active recovery runs (to see if the body was going to allow me to continue running).

To address the issue of diminishing leg-speed with all the Zone 2 training I’ve been doing, I added a 100mi-specific tempo run to the mix on Wednesday, again listening to the body, waiting for it to give me the “green-light” to work harder. It took a full 1.5hrs on Wednesday’s run at Lake Sonoma for that to happen. A cool motivator was doing the tempo from Wulfow aid-station on the Lake Sonoma 50mi course back to the finish line. Considering what I had in my legs from the previous ten days, I had to be happy with a sub-9min/mi pace for those 17mi. I’m hopeful that this Wednesday, I’ll see that pace improve a bit, at about the same intensity.

dpclimb

Preceding Sunday’s 50mi training run, I was pleased to make good time to Diamond Peak on Saturday, arriving there at about 2pm. I’d wanted to stash some water for Sunday and do the big ski-slope climb there a couple of times. Out of the car, I slowly made my way up to the top. I descended back down, had a breather and a gel, and did another ascent at about—what I felt was—my 5k race intensity. Just dying on the last bit that really pitches up, I arrived at Bullwheel having averaged only 13:09/mi for a bit over 26min of work (hey, it’s a ski-slope!). This little bit of intensity, coupled with Wednesday’s tempo, put me in an appropriate fatigued state, to run on Sunday. After all, running on tired legs is what running 100mi is all about, right? The reward for that “all-out” effort up Diamond Peak? Some solid active-recovery running from Bullwheel over to the Tyrolean Downhill, back to my car. An efficient 15mi effort with 4000′ of gain. And I got my water stashed!

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Training Log for 09June2014

Yeah so, pleased that the body is somehow holding up (knock on wood) and I was able to hit almost 150mi w/ just about 30,000′ of elevation gain for the week. The key, for me, surely, was having those training runs on the weekend to look forward to, since my motivation does wane in the midst of this once-a-year, insane, 3-week training block. Now, just one more week to go until a joyous recovery week!

junemts

Strava’s June Monthly Training Series (MTS) continues (for only one more week for this old man). As I stated in my last post, I use the MTS only as a motivating tool, being cautious of the very real tendency of mine to do too much (understatement, yes, I realize that). Still, I like the challenge the MTS presents and getting to follow—and sometimes chat—with other like-legged runners from around the globe. Hey, normally when I participate in any other month’s MTS—if I actually check—I’m in 3,567th position, or thereabouts. Like I’ve said, we want Strava to work for us, not the other way around. Know thyself and above all else, keep it fun! :D

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Photo Credit: George Ruiz, TRT Race Director

A HUGE thanks to George Ruiz and his awesome crew for again hosting the fantastic TRT Training Runs. The volunteers at the aid-stations and the finish are enthusiastic all-stars! ALL I could think about those last, long 4mi, as I descended from Snow Valley Summit back to Spooner, was the promise of hamburgers and beer at the finish. And within minutes of stopping my Garmin, that’s just what I had. Maybe THIS should be my nutrition plan on race-day…

:D

TRT 100 Training – Week I

“Running to him was real; the way he did it the realest thing he knew. It was all joy and woe, hard as a diamond; it made him weary beyond comprehension. But it also made him free.” ― John L. Parker Jr.

In John L. Parker’s book, Once a Runner, the protagonist, Quentin Cassidy, first breaks the 4-min mile at the track, by himself, after sunset. No fanfare, just moving passed an imaginary line in the sand without thinking too much about it. I’ve always remembered that in order for the magic to be there on race-day, you’ve got to put in the work. And if you aspire to go beyond what you’ve done in the past, eventually, you’re going to have to start doing things that my be considered, say, a little unorthodox. One thing’s for sure though, we get out of this running thing just what we’ve put in. No shortcuts. How hard you throw yourself into your training must largely determine how high you peak come race-day.

2014 marks my fourth start at what has become my hands-down favorite race of all time—the Tahoe Rim Trail 100mi Endurance Run. Never have I been more challenged and in awe of an event. And no other distance to date, captures my imagination like the running 100mi, inside such a stunning venue as Lake Tahoe.

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Albert Einstein famously stated, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing the same way and expecting different results.” Every time I’ve done TRT I’ve gotten a little better at it. God knows I have an intimate appreciation of the race’s motto: A Glimpse of Heaven and a Taste of Hell.  I know, as I stand before it once more, that I must, indeed, be getting to a point of diminishing returns. But, there’s a fire inside that burns to improve over what I was able to do, just last year, on the hottest day the race has ever seen. So, with evolved training and race process, I’m looking to do in training, what’s necessary to shave another 30-60min off my best. No Challenge. No Change.

Anticipation being the heart of wisdom, I’m essentially duplicating what worked so well from 2013, just beefing it up a bit so that I can expect different—and hopefully improved—results. The body, being like a sponge, should be relatively “dry” coming into a big block of 100mi run training, so that it has a chance to really soak up the volume. Here’s what I did for the last two weeks of May, immediately following Silver State 50miler in Reno (a highly specific event for TRT 100 in July):

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With no real structured training since Jan/Feb, I rolled into the spring with two 7-hour, top-finishes at both Marin Ultra Challenge and Lake Sonoma, just the 3-4% gains I was targeting over last year’s 50-mile race times. Then, life intervened, and sadly, I had to make an unexpected trip back East for my father’s funeral. This, indeed, took the wind out of my sails. With poor motivation, I contemplated not doing Silver State, but rallied and did a hilly, hard 50k at Armstrong Redwoods, two weeks out from Silver State and did not feel great. The one event wasn’t enough to replace two weeks of quality training. Insufficient prep, coupled with experimenting with different fuels and gear, resulted in going from running myself into 1st at mile 27 to getting run down by two better runners that day, for a disappointing 3rd place finish, a full hour slower than my 2013 time. Whatever, I still had a great experience (mostly after the race that is!).

Silver State was, actually, just the reality check I needed coming into my June build-up to Tahoe Rim. To be certain, running a 100 miles is not child’s play by any stretch of the imagination. My respect for the distance was reaffirmed. I used the final two weeks of May to not only recover, but finish my school year, enjoy my students and the relationships cultivated over an entire school year, and generally “dry out my sponge” out for the incipient June training.

Here’s the plan for Week I (I was tweaking it since January!):

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My strategy last year was come into June fresh and do my biggest week first. Last year, I’d just starting using Hoka One One’s Stinson EVO trail shoe and was delighted to discover I possessed (it seemed) some kind of super power in these shoes, namely the ability to recover quickly and put up 150mi with over 30,000′ of gain, and back it up with two more weeks of balanced run training, both over 100mi. So, in Einsteinian fashion, I had to make the plan a bit more robust this year, shooting for a 180mi week with about 35,000′ of elevation gain. With a “go-til-you-blow” mind-set, I just threw myself into it. Here’s what I was able to (somehow) do last week:

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 Here’s my training log from 02June

As you can see I clearly employ the “Hard-Day/Easy-Day” approach. Hard days defined as developing the muscular endurance needed to not simply run 100mi, but also attending to the desire to be generating a reasonable amount of power over the second half of the event. Recall that the ultra-running contest doesn’t go to the fastest, it goes to the one that slows down the least.

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Strava adds another layer of motivation to the week, that if existed a decade ago, would have ensured I was constantly injured. Last year, new to Strava, I participated in their “Junedoggle,” a monthly training series that informally pits ultra-runners from around the world against each other by seeing who can rack up the most run volume in a month. Game on!!  I think some folks on there don’t actually race anymore! Sometimes looks to me they just put up big miles to try and stay on top of the MTS (Monthly Training Series). It’s damn addictive, I’ll admit. But, I’m planning to stick with it for two more weeks then drop so I can do a proper recovery week, just as I did last year. My advice for folks using Strava as a motivational tool, is that to remember that’s just what it is—a tool. Make Strava work for you, not the other way around. I thoroughly enjoy it and am aware of the potential pitfalls, related exclusively to my ego.

If you’re going to sign up for a 100mi run, you’re best served by choosing your battle carefully. You want to pick one that inspires you; that alone will fuel your fire in training. In my case, I keep going back to TRT100 not just because it’s such a great event, but also because it’s just a good fit for me as a teacher. I can take full advantage of the month of June, being now out of the classroom, to do the required work that will allow me to see my potential on race-day. For Western States, in the event I ever got in, would present significant challenges, balancing my primary life roles as husband, teacher, coach, and athlete.

I’m fortunate to have both Lake Sonoma 50 and North Face Endurance Challenge in my “backyard,” both events having that star-studded field that really lets me see where I stack up against the best in the sport. With a top-10 finish at Lake Sonoma this April, and the fact that the longer the race, the better I do, I know that given different life circumstances, I could likely top-10 at Western States. But personally, I have all that I need—a beauty of a course in Tahoe, in July, that affords me the ability to test my mettle, against others, but more to the point—against my former self. And, the fact I’m living another athletic life as an ultra-runner is not lost on me. Before ultra-running there was Ironman Triathlon, and the Western States of triathlon is the Ironman World Triathlon Championships in Kona, Hawaii. And having been lucky enough to qualify, go, and finish strong on four occasions, I don’t want the fact I haven’t done Western States feel like some failure. If it happens it happens. I’m just happy to be still improving—at some athletic pursuit—at the ripe young age of 40.

So, in conclusion, here’s a few things I learned last week, running 190mi w/ 40,000′ of elevation gain, a few runs being in some pretty high temps:

1.  Hydration is no joke. Taking in adequate water before, during, and after sessions is HUGE and not to be discounted. You’ll recover for the next session way faster if you stay up on your H2O.

1A. In excessive heat, you gotta keep yourself wet. Evaporative cooling is your best friend when you’re dealing with infernal race conditions.

2.  HOKAS are the bomb. I rotated three newer pair of Stinson EVO trail shoes all week. They take the abuse so my body takes less. Again, it’s ALL about the recovery!

3. Allow your training/racing process to evolve. This week taught me that experimenting with different gear combinations is essential so that things can be both simple and sustainable on event day.

4. Sleep fixes all. Now that I’m out of school, I can wake without an alarm clock. If you want to boldly go where you haven’t gone in the past with your training, I highly recommend you create a context in which you have the time to get the sleep your body needs, understanding that your body will innately sleep more when the training volume is high. That of course is a directly proportional relationship.

5. Being psyched to do the week is key. I purposefully set up my year so that I’d be far removed from any structured training, come June, so that I wouldn’t find myself struggling to get out the door come Saturday, already with 100mi in my legs for the week. By the time this week started, for example, I hadn’t been up to Lake Sonoma—one of my bread-n-butter training runs—since the race there on April 12th.

6. Having a variety of training venues keeps the fire burning. For Tahoe Rim Trail 100, I’m looking for runs that set me up for success, namely runs that have a lot of elevation gain. I also like loop training run courses. At Lake Sonoma and Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, for example, I can do 20-26mi courses and bank 5-7k feet in vertical. Plus, they’re both beautiful courses, that I don’t seem to get tired of doing. I believe it’s their challenging, majestic (by Sonoma County standards) nature that keeps me coming back.

7. Finally, I learned that the passion for improvement is still there. And at 40 years of age, my capacity to enjoy and absorb the work, I feel is necessary to improve, is still there. I’m especially grateful to have this opportunity and all-too-aware that, inevitably I’ll start down the other side of the mountain, but having the knowledge that I made full use of my time and did, with my modest gifts, all that I could, without fear, and full of passion.

Let’s see what Week II has in store for me. Looking forward to this weekend’s training runs on the course. Looking forward not to just running on the course, but seeing lots of friends out there too. Always a good time.  :D

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Thanks to my beautiful, loving, and highly supportive wife Amanda for her thankless job as “First Responder.” Look at my toe!

Thank you to Hoka One One for the their awesome support and producing the best shoe in ultrarunning—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 Heart-n-Sole Sports for your continued support. Thanks to Brian and the awesome instructors at Paradise Yoga, a brand new yoga studio, right here in my hometown of Windsor. Yoga’s definitely helping my running. Namasté!   |  Thanks to the folks at Akoia Day Spa for the painful sports massages I get a few days post-event. Bringing me back to life!

Flying Home… (to Boston??)

usairwaysGreetings from 10,000′ (or thereabouts). Making my way back to Pennsylvania for a funeral this week. Didn’t start the day off well, missing my flight out of Oakland by two lousy minutes, which had me sitting around grading science tests for three hours hoping that I’d snag a seat on a connecting flight in Phoenix on the hot-standby list. If that TSA line just wasn’t so dang LONG checking in in OAK!! Or, if I hadn’t stopped at Starbucks on the way down. ERRGH!!

tsa-cartoon-10I made the 90min flight to PHX so it was back on hot-standby for me for a few more hours while the US Airways guy, Dave, juggled passengers around going to Pittsburgh. It was looking really good there, up to the absolute final moment, and boom, I’m not going anywhere. Stupid stand-by. Stuck in Phoenix?! Steve Miller Band’s “Keep on Rockin’ Me” annoyingly playing in the back of my head.

This day’s like a good ultra gone bad: I’m on-course, then miss a turn, then back on again, but behind. Then Super Dave, tapping away furiously on his keyboard while talking with 26.2 people at once asked me if I wanted to go to Boston, AND if I could run fast.

I had 2min to fly over to another gate (but didn’t have time to sync satellites on my Garmin, so no Strava upload, sadly). I think I had a good sub-6 pace going through the terminal, (kind of like trail-running, with all the bobbing and weaving). I even got some claps, compliments on my form, and a few “Go Runner!” cheers from limping, “Boston-Strong”-clad runners/new arrivals, just off the plane from the Boston Marathon. So that was pretty cool to have that additional support. Could’ve used some cow bell though…

Yeah, so about 800mi out from Boston now I am. Haven’t been there since crossing the finish-line in ’03, the same year I moved to CA. Did not have a good day (the slowest of my three Bostons). Some days are better than others. Like my grandmother used to say when I was pouting about something as a little kid, “Cheer up. Better days are coming.”

Chloe-OBrian-24-Season-8Amanda’s been home, at CTU Headquarters, tracking bags, making calls, booking hotel rooms, and generally doing what Chloe O’Brian from “24,” does for Jack Bauer, (when HE misses a flight by 2min). Sh*t Happens (saying coined by Forrest Gump, you’ll recall).

Flexibility, you may realize, is huge in our training and racing. In fact, it can be THE reason we’re successful or not. As in life, in the middle of a hard training week, or in the middle of a A-Pri event, we sometimes have to adjust our goals to best suit the day, we have to listen to our bodies and effectively deal with issues as they manifest themselves, inevitably, in one form or another.

With the help of our support teams we’re better able to maintain faith that things are going to work out, eventually. I saw a quote on Facebook when I was eating a $250 salad in the Phoenix airport today. It read, “Being positive won’t guarantee you’ll succeed. But being negative will guarantee you won’t.” When I first saw that this morning I dismissed it with a few choice words in my head, while knowing full well how true it is.

bostonstrongMaybe I can run around the tarmac tomorrow morning since I’m staying at the hotel at Logan International tonight. It’d be nice to capitalize on all this “Boston Strong” energy and get a workout up on Strava before catching my flight to Pittsburgh, where of course, I first qualified for the Boston Marathon, all the way back in the 20th century (circa 1999). Things are coming full circle (with a few tangents thrown in for good geometric measure) as I write this forming an arc over the US.

In conclusion, remember that flexibility is key, and remaining positive when under the gun of adversity may ultimately encourage stronger performances in the future. A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor. Probably made an angry, frustrated sailor, on the way to being skilled.

Also, trust that things are going to workout. In the middle of an Ironman, or an ultra-run, sh*t can look really bad. Listen to that inner athlete in your head, and not what your body’s telling you. The body will always want to quit. Trust things can turn around when/if you get present, take a mental inventory, point positive, and keep on gettin’ down the road, trail, or sky as the case may be.

Plus, always remember that the most challenging days always produce some funny stories we can share with our friends while at 10,000′ (or thereabouts).

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