I hope the weekend was good! This week’s Coach Tip is fundamental to optimizing run performance:
RUN EVERYTHING WITH A QUICK CADENCE.
Always running with quick leg turnover will do three things for you: you’ll spend more time in the air with less impact forces all while being less likely to take a header and eat dirt. So, it stands to reason you’ll not only save a TON of energy over the long haul ’cause your efficiency high, but you’ll also arrive to the finish line FASTER, wondering why in THE hell you haven’t made cadence center-stage years ago. It’s a little thing that makes a BIG difference.
I define “quick cadence” as something in the neighborhood of 180 steps per minute (spm). That’s 90 left foot-strikes per minute, or like I tell athletes, ~15 left foot-strikes per 10sec. Count how many left foot-falls you’re getting in 10 seconds, sometime. Probably best to measure cadence on a smooth surface. Some GPS watches measure cadence. You can even go so far as displaying it on your watch but after playing around with 180spm and getting a feel for it, I’d have you focus on internalizing what 180 feels like rather than obsessing over a number on a screen.
I’m most interested in cadence after progression runs and RACES. I do check it out after long runs but notice it’s always under 180, because long runs are NOT races! I do want to see ~180 or higher in my progression runs and races at 100k or less. After a 50k in the Marin Headlands last month, my average cadence (according to Suunto) was 186. That DID feel right too, since my goal, even on the climbs, was to keep steppin’—a little above 180 on the downs, a little under 180 on the steepest, most technical ups, and right at 180 on the flats, which had to be less than 5% of that course.
So, if cadence is constant then STRIDE LENGTH is variable. On the flats, stride length is relaxed and smooth. On the ups and downs, all you have to remember is that cadence is the constant and therefore VARY stride-length accordingly. If you’re running down a technical descent, keep those legs turning over! If you’re on a long climb, shorten that stride length to the degree that you’re hitting about 15 lefts/10sec while keeping you’re breathing in check. The fitter you are the more of those climbs you’ll be able to RUN, maybe even going from a 15-18min/mi pace on the ups to a 12min/mile pace or faster. Think of what this optimized cadence is going to do for your run times!
A quick, relaxed cadence will keep you in the air longer and that’s what we’re looking for. We want to maintain momentum and capitalize on the free speed that gravity offers on the downs. An object in motion tends to stay in motion. Inertia, baby!
As it turns out, a quicker cadence actually works to accumulate LESS physical stress on the body. This seems somewhat counter-intuitive, I know. For example, my 186spm over a 5hr 50k with 16,000′ of elevation change, netted me some 56,000 total steps for the event! It stands to reason that leg turnover was something I was clearly focused on throughout that entire race. I’ve also been wondering to what degree my shoe choice affects overall running economy. When you’re committed to a fast run cadence you can go with a lighter shoe (7-8oz) since you’re more lightly striking the ground at the mid-forefoot. Fast cadence + light shoe = optimized human locomotion.
Another BIG bonus for always running with a quick turnover is you will fall LESS, simply because you’ll catch yourself quicker. For example, when you catch a toe, your other leg will already likely to be out in front of you. I’m not saying you’ll never fall again, but I’ve noticed that I fall less when I’m ENGAGED with my running and high engagement means high cadence. You have a big engine. Keep those pistons pumping!
In conclusion, I’d like to remind you to take any cadence data with a grain of salt. Relax. As long as you’re checking in with your cadence regularly, that’s a powerful thing you can do for your running. The fitter you become the more climbs you’ll be able to run, albeit with a much reduced stride-length! In the meantime, we accept the fact that a lot of our runs we’ll see an average cadence under 180spm, especially when we’re trail-running. I know I’m hiking a lot these days on my easy runs. For race-day though?! I’m putting on my dancing shoes and trying to RUN everything I can, especially if the race is 100k or less.
Man, it took a while getting to the start line of the first big race of the year! Last fall, it looked like it was going to be another wild ride, chasing golden tickets all spring, but the universe… yeah, she had other plans. I’d had deferred entries into Bandera 100k and Black Canyon 100k and, for one reason or another, ended up bowing out of both. I bowed out of Georgia Death Race (GDR) as well and set my sights on Sean O’Brien in Feb. I was pumped to race this one again! Then, in November, the Woolsey Fire torched much of the course above Malibu and just like that, Sean O’Brien 100k was cancelled. Family stuff popped up in February and March and my race plans continued shifting to the right. Canyons 100k it would be.
This would be my third go-round after being the runner-up in 2016 and winning in 2017. I regretted not racing it last year, as build for Western States. I felt like I made up for it to some degree by racing Overlook 50mi in September though. Racing on these trails never fails to light me up!
It was going to be a different ball-game at Canyons this year though. With the cancellation of Sean O’Brien, it was decided that Canyons would get—and keep—the golden tickets into Western States 100. This would all but guarantee a faster race on the front. Furthermore, with the heavy snow-pack in the Sierras this winter, the course had to be altered and Devil’s Thumb down to the turn-around to Swinging Bridge and back was out. At mile five, a faster out-n-back section was added this year to make up the difference. Here we go kids!
There was no 50k starting with us as in previous years, but it felt similarly fast, blasting off into the dark, up to the first turn on Bath Rd. We were clipping right along under 7min pace. Within 30min, there was enough light to turn lamps off. Once we started descending the modified section of the course, down to Gorman Ranch, there were quite a few young guns off the front, while Ryan Kaiser, Ryan Weibel, and I found ourselves chatting it up while taking full advantage of the “free speed.” Once we hit the bottom, Kaiser shifted into another gear and soon climbed outta sight. The rest of the Canyons 100k field poured down while I made my way back up to the main trail.
No ultra is ever complete without a bit of drama. Once back on the Western States trail, I made my way up to Michigan Bluff and was excited to see a big cheer squad. Bottles full, I hit the turn and made the left to take me up the dirt road to the Western States Trail. Cruisin’ along I soon realize I’m off course. WTF?! When I hit a fork after Michigan Bluff, I had veered left onto Turkey Hill trail instead of right. I lost about 12 minutes. I berated myself for a while but soon got back to the task at hand. Once back at the split, I took a second to determine how in the F I could have gone off course. Aussie pro, Kellie Emmerson, approaches and cheerfully informs me, “You go this way!” Thanks Kellie.
Pace, eat, drink, smile. Momentum in the moment. Up to the turn-around through Eldorado Creek and we start making our way back to the half at Foresthill. On the way back I catch up with with a few guys and come through the half in around 10th. My race-plan going into this one was simple—take the first half to warm up and race the second half. I take off down Cal St. as runners from the 25k were finishing up their races.
Running the Cal St section in Canyons 100k is such a delight (compared to the horrors of running it during Western States). Here it is, the end of April, temps are reasonable, the aroma of wildflowers in the air, small streams still run over the trail, and the American River is full and flowing. It is something to behold!
I’m starting to feel really f*cking good. Might as well trash these quads on the way down since it’s mostly climb on the way back up! Through Cal 1 aid on to Cal 2. I catch up with Damian Hall (5th at UTMB, 2018) and he asks what place he thinks we’re in. I guess around 7th. Through Cal 2 and it’s 7.5 to Rucky. It was forever before the leaders start to appear, making their way back up Cal Street. A quick fill up at the Redd Antler aid-station where it was fun seeing all my Sonoma County friends. It’s on—the turn for home!
One of my favorite memories at Canyons this year was this good size pool of water I submerged myself in—coming and going—between Cal 2 and the Rucky aid-station. It felt AMAZING. On the way back up, I was sitting in there and a couple young guys, heading down, bounded by. I was yelling at them to stop and cool off. They protested, saying that they were in a hurry. Rubbish!
On the hunt, it took what felt like forever to reel in 50k speedster, Scott Trummer, who had been reduced to a walk but was in great spirits and getting the job done. He encouraged me to keep pushing and try to catch more guys by the end. I’d catch up with another 50k master, Robert Ressl-Moyer, and that would be about it. I knew Ryan Kaiser was up there somewhere, and I’d sure like to get him too so I could win it for the Masters division.
Through Cal 2, with just 3.5 to go, my buddy, Luke Garten sneaks up behind me while I’m hiking and taking in my last GU of the day. Luke’s out spectating and yells, “There’s no walking in ultrarunning!” I laugh. I’m still feeling amazing and pick up the pace. We run it up to the pavement. I make the final right turn home and book it to the finish, securing 5th place overall at the first golden ticket event, ever, on the actual Western States course.
Jimmy Elam, 31, and Brian Condon, 32 ran brilliant races and surely earned their entries into States this June. New York’s Tyler Wolfe, just 23, ran a gutsy race and managed to hold onto 3rd. Ryan Kaiser, father of three, beat me—yet again—to the finish line of another golden ticket event and brought it home for the Masters.
I was on cloud 9 at the finish; so encouraged by how strong I felt coming up from the river. It was one of those magical days, where I didn’t want the race to end and caught myself wondering if I could keep this magic flowing, like the American River, through the summer racing season. We shall see…
I’m coming off Canyons eager to get back to training. Next up is a redemption run at Bighorn 100, after getting my ass handed to me in 2017. When things go well there, the plan is to run Tahoe Rim Trail 100 five weeks later. It will be 10 years since I ran my first 100 here in 2009. I’ve got to get that 5-year belt buckle from George Ruiz sometime! Then, I’ll roll the 100mi fitness into Castle Peak in August, which is essentially a 100mi worth of work in a 100k! If I can stay on course, it should all go swimmingly! > > > 😉
A heartfelt note of appreciation to my beautiful and highly supportive wife, Amanda. | Thanks to all the athletes I coach who inspire me with their passion and dedication to this crazy sport. Shout out to Bert Braden and Adrian Ramirez who ran well and showed guts when it was needed. It’s always such a treat to be out there on these race courses with my athletes! #point_positive | High Fives to Salomon Running for the S/LAB Ultra Pro. This was the first time racing in it. It was clearly #timetoplay! | Thanks Healdsburg Running Company for the continued support! | Gratitude to BUFF USA for keeping my head warm during all those dark, chilly mornings this winter. | Thanks to Drymax Sports, for making the most comfortable, durable socks out there. | Squirrel Nut Butter Elite Team in 2019! | It was GU and “Summit Tea” Roctane ALL day out there. Nothing else. #guforit | Thanks to Dave Townsend at Santa Rosa Physical Therapy for taking great care of my athletes. It’s reassuring to know I have someone I trust to go to when shit hits the fan!
What ever happened to my 2018 New Year’s Resolution of writing a blog-post once a month? Hmm. I’ll have to get back to that. Let’s knock one out now…
Nature’s all about balance and the final 1/3 of 2018 is proof of that, with equal ups-n-downs. My fourth showing at Run Rabbit Run was tough but I gutted out another top-10 finish, when half the Hare (and Tortoise) field dropped. I did a bunch of Hypoxico sessions on the bike leading in to the race but it didn’t seem to matter once I got over 10,000′ in the brilliant mountains inside Routt National Forest in Colorado. Living in Sonoma County, at 125′ above sea level does, sometimes, have its drawbacks. Since the high elevation essentially put a governor on my effort, I simply wasn’t able to get the most out of my body on the day. It was frustrating. My legs always felt amazing but a bad belly from 40-60 really set me back. I got that shit done though and I’m thinking about making another go in 2019. Why the hell not? That race is BEAST.
In 2018, the Overlook Runs from Epic Endurance Events were only two weeks post-Run Rabbit instead of three like the previous year. And to make things even more interesting, Overlook added a 50-miler to the mix. Uh-oh… So, my thinking was, less time to recover and then run the 50mi instead of the 50k. Let’s go! With me coming off a 100-miler, just two weeks prior and Chris Denucci returning from injury, I figured we were pretty evenly matched. Chris is a buddy o’ mine and a former teammate, but I was out for blood after not being able to run to my potential in Colorado. I enjoyed running with Chris for the first 50k but then I just buried myself to the finish. That was a satisfying day of racing.
Chris encouraged me to come run Rio Del Lago 100mi with him in early Nov. After a week or so it started seeming like a better and better idea. Ha-ha. It’s a GU sponsored event so I could just run it from aid to aid and crush. With Chris and I pushing each other we could run a really fast time. I signed up.
Soon thereafter, the wave of fitness I’d been riding finally crested, and things came crashing down. I got this fairly sharp pain in my left soleus, below the calf but above the achilles. I rested a bit and, three weeks out from Rio, I tried to do a long run at Lake Sonoma. After 2mi, I had to turn around and limp/jog back to my truck. Then, to make matters worse, I got a nasty head-cold that hung around for 10 days or so. Total shit show. Looking back I’d clearly gotten a nice bump in fitness from Run Rabbit and that allowed me to run really well at Overlook 50mi two weeks later. That doesn’t mean I was 100% recovered from Run Rabbit. That big effort, two weeks post-100, put a fork in me.
Yeah so, I took myself out of Rio del Lago about as fast as I’d entered it. In training, I’ve made three-weeks-out a “training barometer” of sorts. I want something BIG in the tank at that specific point in the going. I NEVER want to half-ass a 100mi. Confidence is everything so making the decision to bow out was easy. In hindsight, the decision was clearly the right call. I was happy to see Denucci did have some competition late in the going at Rio and managed to push hard to hold on for the win. I now have $375 invested in the event, so guess what race I’m finishing up 2019 with? I prefer the mountain 100s but in 2018 I continue to find that I still absolutely LOVE to run FAST >>>
After the smoke from the Camp Fire finally dissipated and my head-cold cleared up I had just enough time to put up a 75mi week for Peacock Gap 30k, to be held in early December. Three weeks out I was sittin’ pretty. Health returned and fitness followed. Off the wet start line, no one goes with me, not even the leader of the half-marathon. It turns into a 2.5hr time-trial. It felt good to push outside my comfort zone the entire way. Running in the 7oz Hoka One One JAWS EVO I flew over the course. Since running in this shoe for all my 30k and 50k events since summer, I’d been contemplating making a change in running shoes since I’d been having some struggles with Hoka anyway. Peacock Gap was a honest effort and I pushed that sucker to the finish. It was a nice speed session for Woodside 50k two weeks later. >>>
I’ve been enjoying these “race phases” throughout the year, where I keep overall run volume low so I can regularly crush some 30k and 50k events, taking full advantage of the Bay Area trail-racing scene. At Woodside, Chris Denucci and I were again shooting the shit before the start. I told him there was at least one guy here that was gonna blow us out of the water today, since that seems to be the regular trend at these shorter, faster events. That runner manifested at Colorado’s Matt Daniels, a former sub-4min miler and all around wicked fast dude. Soon after the start, Chris asked me as we were dicing back-n-forth in the early going, “You think we’re gonna see him again?” To which I replied, “No way. That guy looked solid.” After the race, when I found out Matt would be at Bandera 100k with Chris, I laughed and joked, “You’re gonna have your hands full with that.” Chris and I finished within 4min of each other. Matt beat us by over 30min. Just incredible. Chris makes a good point though—all that speed and power doesn’t necessarily translate to the longer distances. Nonetheless, I’ll be experiencing serious FOMO on Jan 5th, when Bandera goes down.
Note: Word just went out that the Bandera course is completely changed for 2019. Sounds like they moved it an hour and half away. ??? Folks will need to flexible and just roll with the changes. As I tell my athletes going into every race, “Expect nothing and be prepared for anything.”
Dissonance. After the fires in the fall of 2017, here in Sonoma County, with half my training grounds burnt to shit, not to mention, closed, I’d bowed out of both Bandera and Black Canyon 100k’s in 2018. Since I had deferred entries to both I re-scheduled them both for 2019. Chasing Golden Tickets into Western States 100, after all, has become my national pastime. I love it. Travel’s expensive, as we know, and my fall finances have been a little tight. Hoka informed me in early Dec that I’d have no travel allotment for 2019. Fine. I just could’ve used that information about two months earlier, for planning purposes.
I needed to slow my roll into the new year, so I asked Bandera, Black Canyon, and Georgia Death Race (GDR) to take my name off their start-lists. I got myself into Sean O’Brien 100k though; travel would be more affordable, the course plays to my strengths, and the Feb time slot would be excellent. Mojo was high to run it again too; the full course this time. Then the goddamn Woolsley Fire scorched the hills above Malibu and the 100k was canceled, just like that. The tickets would roll into Canyons 100k at the end of April. I was already planning on being there for that one. But what the hell was I going to do leading up to it? I needed to work on shoring up some financial reserves so I could get myself out to Bighorn 100 in June and to some other mountain 100 in September. That was the plan.
Since I’d been running a lot, and doing well, in that minimal Hoka JAWS EVO, and I’d only be getting product from Hoka in 2019, I started thinking, what if I ran for someone else? My time with Hoka had run its course. I came onboard in 2013 when the maximalist movement had gained some good traction in the trail-running world. Before that I was a Salomon guy; my weapon of choice was the original SPEEDCROSS. Let’s be real: Salomon makes sexy trail-running shoes. The quality is next to none. I’ve been struggling with shoe-fit over the last three seasons too—and a M8.5 from Salomon fits my foot better than any other shoe out there. In wet conditions though, when you stop and cinch up your Salomons with that sweet lace-lock system?! Nothing feels better. Or faster.
If I’ve learned anything with Hoka, it’s to go after what you want. Nothing’s gonna happen if you don’t make it happen. You have to put yourself in the position to win. Thus, if I started up a new relationship with anyone it was going to be Salomon. I mentioned my interest to friends at Healdsburg Running Company, connections were quickly made, and just like that, I’m on Courtney’s team. The sport takes care of its own. I’ll be putting my full weight and six years’ worth of experience supporting a shoe company, behind Salomon. David Goggins’ book, Can’t Hurt Me, reminds us that new beginnings are essential to staying in the flow of life; always building new skills to meet new challenges. Literally, and figuratively, Salomon represents a damn good fit!
It’s important to acknowledge everything Hoka One One has done for me over the last six seasons. The support allowed me to spread my wings and put myself in the mix of so many of the country’s toughest, most prestigious, ultra-marathons. I met so many great people along the way, whose friendship I continue to cherish.
So, sitting here on Jan 1st, things are lookin’ good. I’m on a new team and my coaching roster’s coming together nicely. On winter break from teaching, every day’s been meeting with ultrarunners, phone calls, and setting up season plans. My teaching year’s about 185 days while the remainder of workdays on the calendar gives me plenty of time to take good care of my athletes. Armed with a growth mindset, the teaching–coaching–running lifestyle keeps me in the flow, happy, and evolving. I like that notion that all we need to be happy in life is something to be excited about. I know that’s true for me.
I might be a day late and a dollar short to run Bandera 100k but I’ve put my name back on the start-list for GDR. After all, that course has gotten into my bones having raced it the last two years. It’s where I earned my Golden Ticket into Western States in 2018. And I know I can go well under 12 hours on that gnarly course. I mean, hell, I’ll be in Salomons. That’s 30min right there! > > > 😀
I’ll be happy to race my heart out chasing Golden Tickets in Georgia and then back here at home at Canyons 100k at the end of April. If a ticket doesn’t pan out? Oh well, I’ll have had two more amazing ultra-distance race experiences. And, I’ll see you at Bighorn 100. In 2017, I had a 30min lead on the field by mile 65, before succumbing to hypothermia and dropping. I learned stuff, like a Gore-Tex rain-jacket is a nice thing to own. Fun memories but I’d like to set the record straight. So, if no Western States then it’s gonna be a summer of love—Bighorn followed by Tahoe Rim Trail 100 in mid-July (I’d like to get my 5-year belt buckle). Rocking these two hundreds will prime the body and mind for another Run Rabbit Run 100 in September. With the spectacularly updated course and the fierce competition, it’s not hard to imagine doing this one again, although I’ll have to buckle down (no pun intended) and save my pennies to make the trip possible. Then, in early November, I’ll wrap up my season with Rio Del Lago, where I’ll shoot to lower my 100mi PR and try for the overall win. I think I can sustain some good speed over the relatively fast course. Never given; always earned! Let’s party.
A heartfelt note of appreciation to my beautiful and highly supportive wife, Amanda. | Thanks to all the athletes I coach who inspire me with their passion and dedication to this crazy sport. It’s always such a treat to be out there on these race courses with you! #point_positive | Thanks to Hoka One One for all the support over the last six seasons! | Thank you to Salomon Running for bringing me onboard for 2019. #timetoplay | Thanks Healdsburg Running Company for helping me connect the dots with Salomon! | Gratitude to Casey Rolig from BUFF USA for the continued support and friendship | Thanks to Drymax Sports, for making the most comfortable, durable socks out there. | Squirrel Nut Butter Elite Team in 2019. I’m ready to slide into this! | GU gels and “Summit Tea” Roctane continues to fuel ALL my efforts—Faster. Than. Ever. #guforit | Thanks to Dave Townsend at Santa Rosa Physical Therapy for taking great care of my athletes. It’s reassuring to know I have someone I trust to go to when shit hits the fan!
“It was important to score points today and I went for them with my guts.” -Richard Virenque, retired French pro cyclist, known for his long, lone attacks in stage races like Le Tour de France, held annually in July.
While on vacation in Tahoe at the end of June, I got the itch to race something short and fast with nothing to do but go hard from start to finish. I signed up for Tahoe Rim Trail 55k, to be held on July 21st. Of their three events—the 100mi, 50mi, and 55km—I’d never done the 55k before and thought that doing something even shorter beforehand would serve as a nice tune-up. I searched for a race two weeks out from TRT 55k and found one from Coastal Trail Runs. Perfect!
July 7th. Golden Gate 30k. I’d basically been doing nothing but working on my tan and drinking beer since walking in the final 20 miles of Western States 100 on June 23rd. So when I was doing my warm-up the morning of Golden Gate, it was obvious—my legs were crazy fresh and I was ready to rock. It felt amazing to just tear off this sea-level start line and just sit on what I perceived to be my sustainable 30k intensity. I’d just gotten the new Suunto 9 a couple days before and this was the first race in quite while for which I’d worn a watch. To add to the fun, I knew the CR pace was about 7:40/mi so I’d check in with that a little later in the going.
Two young guys went with me and we’d dice it up for a quite while before I’d work to pull away in the final miles of the race. It was a super fun event and exactly what I needed to clear my head after Western States. Cruising on the road into the finish line, I end up snagging the win and lowered the 2012 course-record by four minutes (7:28/mi pace!). 2nd place, Terence Hurley (31), also went under the old CR, now on a slightly harder, longer course. And 3rd place, David Elk (22), missed the CR by only a couple seconds. This is the power of competition. We pushed each other so hard out there and because of it we all ran at—or damn close to—our full potential that day. So fun.
I’d traveled down to Golden Gate with a buddy and athlete I coach, Andy Manaster, and it was cool to hang out, cheer on folks, and wait for him to finish the 50k, where he snagged the age-group win and 5th overall in a competitive field. Just a great day. I was flying high!
July 14th. Salt Point 26k. After Golden Gate, as stated, I wasn’t planning on racing again until Tahoe Rim Trail 55k on the 21st, but new Pacific Coast Trail Runs RD, Greg Lanctot reached out to me early in the week and invited me to come out to Salt Point State Park on the coast, and experience the new, improved PCTR. I told him I couldn’t do the 50k ’cause I had TRT 55k the next weekend but, after some thought, said what the hell and told him I’d come run the 26k. I hadn’t raced out at Salt Point since 2011, when Leigh Schmitt left me for dead in the 50k there. I’d been trying to have my cake and eat it too with regards to straddling two sports, ineffectively I might add—long-course triathlon and ultrarunning. I was just coming off Full Vineman, looking ahead to Ironman Hawaii in October, and thought I had this 50k in the bag until I met Leigh out on the trail, for the first time that day, and discovered he was the real deal. We’d end up training together for a while before he’d pack up the family and move to the Bahamas, of all places!, where he still teaches with his wife there, at The Island School. Hard to believe it’s been seven years since we’d raced each other out there. Time goes by like course ribbons in a 26k!
Healdsburg Running Company’s, Luis Quezadas, 19, would be my primary competition and he led us out. I bashed my head into a downed tree trunk, saw a few sparks in my field of vision and kept cranking. Gawd. I’d decided to wear the 7oz HOKA ONE ONE, EVO Jaws for this race, and even did a fun, 4:40 downhill mile the evening before to really prime my legs for some aggressive downhill running out at Salt Point the next morning. As was the case back in 2011, experience paid off, and the veteran moved in to 1st on the early climb up the ridge. I kept my foot on the gas around the first loop, across Route 1, onto the bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, then back out to crank out the second, shorter loop of the 26k, back across Route 1, onto the bluffs, to the finish. Stunning views!
Because PCTR was under new ownership, I hadn’t thought to look at the existing CR for this course. I just kept cranking away in the race. Toward the end, I felt like breaking two hours would be possible but I didn’t want to kill myself, since I’d just raced 7 days before and I would be racing the longer 55k at elevation in 7 days, so I put in the effort to win it and came across in exactly 2 hours and change. Nate Seltenrich, 36, crossed the line in 2:06:32, with Luis rounding out the podium, just 20 seconds later. Luis’ time was the 6th fastest time ever run on the 26k course, dating back to at 2004.
The next day, I looked to see what the deal was with 26k CR and saw my old nemesis—and good friend!—Gary Gellin, holds the CR from 2008… less than a minute faster than the time I’d just run (of course!). First place in the 50k with a brilliant performance, was Vincent DiMassa, a talented multi-sport athlete, who took about 90 second’s off Leigh Schmitt’s 2011 course-record. We’re not just racing each other out there, we’re often racing ghosts!
Turns out I cracked my head harder than I thought I did. Soon after finishing, someone informed me my head was bleeding pretty bad. The medical staff for PCTR was super concerned, while acknowledging it couldn’t be all that bad since I’d just raced all out for two hours. I was more bummed my white Squirrel’s Nut Butter hat appeared to be ruined (turns out, nothing a little Shout couldn’t handle). I changed into my black SNB hat to throw off the persistent medical staff, which really didn’t work, ate a lot of great Mexican food, and enjoyed hanging out on those beautiful bluffs above the Pacific Ocean. Three weeks later, my head’s still healing…
July 21st. Tahoe Rim Trail 55k. With these two short, fast efforts in my legs it was off to Tahoe. My calves were sore for days after Golden Gate and then less so after Salt Point. The body was getting into a weekly rhythm of race-recover-prime-race-again. It’s a haul from Sonoma County over to Spooner Lake, on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe. It took forever to get over there. But I finally arrived around dinner time, got in a quick run, found some friends, ate some food, and went to sleep in my truck.
4:15am wake up call to see the 100-milers start at 5am. So much nostalgia associated with this race, given the fact it’s my 7th time racing here. Motivation for these shorter events never waned and I knew I’d made a good decision to run the 55k today. We were promptly off at 6am. Again, two guys went with me as I launched off the start. Turns out one of them was racing the 50-miler.
Reno’s Ben Tedore, 39, won the 55k the previous year, where we also ran together in the early miles when the tables were turned and I was racing the 50-miler. Today, miles and miles were going by and Ben was right there. Through Hobart, Tunnel Creek, to the little Red House aid-station. Later, after Ben finished we shared with one another what we’d been thinking at that moment. I told Ben I thought I’d been running too slow ’cause I was with the leader of the 50-miler and he shared that he was questioning whether he was going too fast since he was with the leader of the 55k. Runner psychology…
Having done the 100mi four times and the 50mi twice, it was a unique experience to get back up to the Tunnel Creek aid-station and NOT turn right/north toward Diamond Peak. Instead, I got to legally “cut” the course, heading back south toward the finish line at Spooner Summit. Some 50mi runners still coming up thought I was leading the 100 and gave me lots of cheers!
Since the EVO Jaws from HOKA had worked out so well at Salt Point and I’d heard that there were folks who’d run up to 50k in them, I’d decided to race in ’em again today for this 34mi event. Light, fast, with good grip on generally soft surface, I’d maintain an average of 92 left-footstrikes-per-minute, according to my Suunto 9, over my approximate 5-hour race-time. I was pleased with how well my feet held up and how fun it was to race in this shoe over shorter distance races! I’ll continue to use it in these type of events.
I’d looked back while on top of Snow Valley Peak (9000′) to see if I could see 2nd place anywhere. I’d no idea how much of a lead I had. I was putting out honest effort, though I was thinking about the fact this was race #3 in a row, and I still had a tough 30k to do next Saturday. As I descended the 6mi down to Spooner, I also thought about how Rory Bosio caught me here last year in the 50-miler, with 4mi to go. “Keep pluggin’,” I thought to myself. It wasn’t until the final 100yds of the race it was clear that I’d held on for the win. Emily Richards, also of Reno, came across the line a few minutes later, breaking the 55k course-record for the ladies, set all the way back in 2001, the first year the Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Runs were held. Eight of the top 14 finishers in the 55k were woman. Fierce!
TRT was pretty fun from a coaching perspective too, as I had a guy in the 55k, the 50mi, and two in the 100mi. As more friends started finishing the 55k, it was fun to hang out at the athlete lounge on the lake, eat burritos, and share war stories from the day. Eventually, I transitioned up to the “Stonehenge” aid-station around mid-afternoon. This is the half-way point of the 100-miler. I found more folks to sit with and chat away about stuff. It was fun to see friends in so many roles: racer, pacer, and crew. Ominous clouds threatened thunderstorms but all we got all day was a couple drops of rain. The guys’ race was pretty tight and it was far from clear who was going to win. The ladies’ race was exciting too, with Bree Lambert tearing out of Spooner Summit, in pursuit of leader, Jenny Capel.
In the late afternoon I headed up to Diamond Peak to hang out and eventually catch the leaders coming through mile 80. As the evening and night wore on, more and more runners and crew showed up. Words of encouragement were shared. Broth was consumed. Shoes were changed. Pacers were exchanged. And the march up the ski slope began. Once I saw Todd Bertolone come through I eventually headed out of Diamond Peak, got on the road, and started the long trek home. I made it as far as a rest stop outta Truckee before stopping and getting some sleep, ’til the rising temps in my truck woke me up around 8:30am. I made my way to the in-laws in Loomis for a much needed shower. Needless to say, it took me a few days to recover from TRT. Three races down with one to go!
July 28th. Lost & Found 30k. While we were on vacation in Tahoe, post-Western States, I couldn’t help but look ahead to my next opportunity to run 100 miles—at Run Rabbit Run in mid-September. I’d only raced once leading up to Western States this year, and to some degree, I felt like this hurt me. Knowing that some of my best results have come in years where I’ve raced quite a bit, I decided to put a big race in my build for Run Rabbit Run—Castle Peak 100k, four weeks out from Run Rabbit. I messaged the RD, Peter Fain, stating that I needed to “toughen up,” asking if I could still get in the race. One Ultra Signup invite later and it was a done deal.
I’d been encouraged by quite a few folks who’d run Castle Peak to ensure I got up to run on the course to see what it’s all about. One friend told me, “You don’t want race-day to be the first time you run on the Castle Peak 100k course.” I found out there was a training run but I was already signed up for a race that weekend. If I was gonna make the haul all the way over there, why not race?! And as it so happens, the inaugural Lost & Found 30k was just moved due to permitting issues, from 7/7 to 7/28. I love it when a plan comes together! I reached out to Chaz Sheya at Epic Endurance Events (the same fine folks that put on The Canyons 100k and Overlook 50k) and I was in. Of my four July events, I knew this one was gonna hurt the most!
For the fourth straight Saturday in the row, it was time to step into the arena once again. I’d gotten up to the start/finish venue on Friday evening, even getting a nice little 4-miler in, previewing the last bit of the course, which is just stunning throughout. That evening, we all hung out and shot the breeze. Peter Fain told me this guy, Patrick Parsel, just signed up and that I’d have my hands full with him as well as two-time Castle Peak 100k champ, Erik Schulte. At 44 and a bizzillion races in me I don’t waste any energy getting anxious over my competition. Simply put, they help me get the most outta myself. Just put a runner in front of me on some mountain trails, and I’ll be happy chasing all damn day!
No way were the EVO Jaws going to fly on this course, so I ran in a well-worn pair of Speedgoat 2s that probably have over 400 miles in them! They feel amazing, eating up anything a technical course like this throws at ’em. That Vibram sole is the bomb!
As I’ve done for three Saturdays in a row, I launch off the start line, fearless, notching right up to my perceived 30k, sustainable red-line. I knew I’d have to show more guts in the early miles of this event since the first half is mostly climb before circling around, with a lot descending late for me to try to catch guys in the second half of the race. Lost & Found definitely does not play to my strengths, as a shorter trail race, starting off with a lot of climb, at elevation. I wasn’t ashamed to have my competitors hear my loud huffin-n-puffin in those early miles. I’m vulnerable. Here’s my belly. It’s a 30k in the mountains and I wanted to limit the amount of time that competitors put into me on the way up so I could catch as many of them as I could on the way down!
The views were absolutely incredible. Running along the backbones of these epic mountain ridges was so inspiring. I was grateful to all the volunteers that humped water up to these remote aid-stations. So much work had gone into making this rad little 30k possible.
Lost & Found was the last event in a string of Saturday events in July. I wasn’t necessarily feeling TRT 55k and I was pleased to be working hard and running well, totally stoked to be healthy and out here ripping around these awesome trails. The legend, Tim Twietmeyer, iced down a bottle for me around mile 15. I had GU Roctane “Summit Tea” in there and the icy mixture tasted amazing. I threw down a Roctane GU as well to fuel the final 5mi. I was happy to be back on offense and stoked to run down as many runners as I could! I caught one at the final aid-station, where I still had about 80% of my bottle left, so didn’t need to stop there, just kept motoring, trying to remember I was allowed to run this hard, given the fact it wasn’t an ultra and I basically had license to kill. With a mile remaining, I passed one last runner, who turned out to be a Schulte doppelganger! I didn’t have much hope I would catch Patrick since I was so quickly running out of real estate. When I finished I slowly realized I finished in third (not 2nd) with the real Erik Schulte, 13min up. Patrick Parsel beat me by a whopping 21min! Had I not raced TRT 55k, perhaps I could cut that down by a couple minutes. Honestly though, it was just great to race these guys. That’s what this month was all about—aggressive racing!
To be certain, racing puts the tiger in the cat. These shorter, intense races in particular are about one thing—guts. Just showing up and work your ass off for 2-5 hours, which was the range of race times for me in July. Reflecting now, on my four races, all were successes. I didn’t necessarily get faster as the month wore on, but I didn’t break down too much either. I listened to my body in the days in between, heeding Pam Smith’s brilliant thumb-rule, taking one day off of running for every 10mi raced. In addition to many complete-rest-days, I threw in an increasing amount of cycling as well. I didn’t get much faster over the Saturdays, but I got tougher, in both body and mind. After Golden Gate, for example, my calves were wrecked from running really fast for over two hours. They were still sore when I ran at Salt Point a week later. I was worried about that. But nothing locked up and I fueled and replenished conscientiously. After Salt Point, then, my calves hurt less by the same point in the week. Naturally, I started to adapt to the racing. Mentally, I’d just flip the switch and tell myself, “It’s just another day at the office. Be proud of the work you do here.” At the end, I’ve been using the Paul Tergat quote, “Do you have more to give? The answer is usually, Yes.”
In the string of Saturdays, I just got into rhythm. Saturday’s coming… Gotta get the body ready! By Tuesday or Wednesday, depending, I’d be back on the trails again, some Wednesdays turning into double-days, because I found myself wanting to run twice, get myself feeling loose. Thursdays were always complete rest days, since I also take off the day that’s two days out from race-day. Fridays were typically a Fartlek—what I call a “Play”—session in the morning, then travel, with a short run upon arrival to the race venue.
During this racing phase, designed to build in speed, strength, and mental ferocity, I stacked up 90 quality miles of relatively intense racing. According to ever-generous Strava, I ripped up 18,500′ of climb in these events. My fastest average pace was at Salt Point (a two hour, 16mi race) with a cumulative pace of 7:19/mi. My slowest go was Lost & Found, averaging 9:20/mi pace over the approximate 20mi, on that mountainous, technical course. All in all, four successful race experiences, with three 1st place overall finishes, one CR (at Golden Gate) and one 3rd place finish, where I got smoked by Patrick and Erik. If I was lost after Western States, I’d find myself by the time July came to a close.
Castle Peak’s on August 18th. Lost & Found served its purpose very well. I’m so inspired by the terrain up there and can’t wait to experience it again, in “slo-mo” compared to the 30k intensity. As Lost & Found was to Castle Peak, Castle Peak, too, is a tune-up for Run Rabbit Run. Let’s see if I can keep the psychological and physiological momentum going through mid-September. As the Castle Peak 100k motto defines: “Indomitable. Unafraid.”
A heartfelt note of appreciation to my beautiful and highly supportive wife/agent, Amanda. Thanks for putting up with a month of Saturday races. I love you mucho! | Thanks to all the athletes I coach who inspire me with their passion and dedication to this crazy sport. It’s always such a treat to be out there on these race courses with you! #point_positive | Thank you to HOKA ONE ONE for producing the best trail shoes out there—#EVO Jaws #Speedgoat_2 #timetofly | Thanks Healdsburg Running Company for all your effort to support our local running community | Gratitude to Casey Rolig from BUFF USA. | Thanks to Drymax Sports, for making the most comfortable, durable socks out there. | Squirrel Nut Butter every Saturday, everywhere, never chafe! | GU fueled these 4 consecutive podium finishes. Iced down Summit Tea FTW! #guforit | Finally, thanks to Dave Townsend at Santa Rosa Physical Therapy. I haven’t been in to see you in a long while, bud. Let’s keep it that way! It’s good piece of mind knowing you’re out there doing great things for us [over]active folks. Any time my athletes need a PT, you know where I’m sending ’em! | Finally, heartfelt thanks to Coastal Trail Runs, Pacific Coast Trail Runs, Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Runs, and Epic Endurance Events. Running events add so much “life to our days,” and vitality to our lives! I’m grateful to have these opportunities to test myself, grow stronger, wiser, cultivating a healthy, evolved, and sustainable relationship with running and competition.
I’ve been an athlete my entire life. A wild childhood of rippin’-n-tearin’ around my neighborhood, either on foot, or on my bike, paved the way for a lifetime of adventure. I’m happiest when I moving. I’m an athlete today, and I’ll still be an athlete thirty years from now. To quote Dr. George Sheehan, “Running is my self-renewing compulsion.” We’re made to move. Daniel E. Lieberman, a paleoanthropologist at Harvard University says we evolved to move over vast distances, in pursuit of prey. With a superior cooling, i.e., sweat, system as compared to other mammals, homo sapiens evolved to be the ultimate endurance creature. So cool. Still, modernity makes it tough to take Emerson’s advice, “First, be a good animal.” Eat well, sleep well, and exercise. Knowing and doing are often two very separate things. “Compared with what we ought to be,” wrote Henry James, “we are only half awake.”
Running and racing, then, gives us a context to want to become fully awake. To be the best animal we can be; to get out there, moving gracefully over uneven terrain with both speed and power. In a race, we get to experience something so primal—the thrill of the hunt, juxtaposed with the the terror of being chased down by a predator. Running also represents a temporary escape from the confines of modernity; it’s freedom; if only for an hour a day. Indeed, if you run, you know that the compulsion—although an investment in both time and energy—allows us to live at the top of our powers, allowing us to give more of ourselves to our work and others. I like to say it’s the closest thing we have to the fountain of youth. “Running may not add years to your life,” wrote Sheehan, “but it will add life to your years.”
I’ve had dreams my entire life. Many dreams have come to pass and some haven’t. But like Pete said in the movie, Rudy, “Having dreams is what makes life tolerable,” and more interesting for that matter. When pursued in earnest, they put us in situations that are inevitably uncomfortable. When there’s struggle; there’s change; there’s learning. And, there’s growth. It’s not linear though. Success in running is messy stuff. It’s full of ups and downs. Preparation. After narrowly earning my golden ticket into the Western States 100 at Georgia Death Race (GDR) on March 31st (race-report), I took a couple weeks off, let a cranky rib and ankle heal up, and volunteered again at Lake Sonoma 50. From there I jumped back into training mode. GDR had given me a nice template to build upon for “States.” The trick, as it always is for an A-priority event, is getting as fit as you possibly can but without getting injured. And that’s no easy task, when your dream is going Top-10 at 44 years young.
My longest outing for GDR had been a successful 50mi training run at Lake Sonoma, with 10,000’+ of gain; roughly the same elevation change per mile as Western States itself. I’d done this same run four weeks out from GDR and found, in that race, I could keep going to the well late in the going, so I was excited to try and duplicate this fitness for States. Instead of doing it four weeks out though, I thought it wise to play it a bit more conservative, and do this monster training effort five weeks out from Western States (the log below shows my training block). This was my best 100mi prep yet while working full-time as a teacher and part-time as a running coach. Week after week, I’d grind it out and was happy with the culminating performance. Based on this work and all the discipline that went into it, I figured I deserved to have a strong race. Five weeks to go…
June hit and I was pretty shelled from the training but also concluding what was my most challenging year as a teacher. To a fair degree, I was emotionally drained. But, I still had plenty of time to bounce back! Volume was dramatically reduced and I did a few sharpening sessions. Every day a trip to the sauna to prep for the heat at States. Every evening an AltoLab session to prep for the elevation in the high country. On June 10th, I had a great run at Hood Mountain in Santa Rosa, 14mi with 4000′ of gain. It felt a little too great. In the back of my mind I remember thinking, “you’re peaking too early.” Perhaps, perhaps not. “It’s better to come in 10% under-trained,” as the saying goes, “than 1% over-trained.” The fear of failing to get to the start line healthy, having earned a golden ticket into the race, still weighed heavy on my mind. Come hell or high water, I’ll arrive to the start line fresh!
The Race. Fresh indeed. The morning of the race I was pretty chill. We had a vacation rental in Tahoma and made the 30min pilgrimage to the start-line in Squaw Valley. Two years had gone by since I’d last toed the line. What even happened in that race? It was a new day. A new opportunity. Let’s see what it has in store for me. 5am: Go-time!
I didn’t feel bad ascending to Watson’s Monument at almost 9000′. As with GDR, I again chose to not wear a watch and just go off feel. I would hold back to the degree necessary to keep my breathing and heart-rate in check, “preserve the future,” and run as steady and controlled as I could.
It was great rolling through Lyon Ridge at mile 10 and seeing everyone from Tahoe Mountain Milers, the fine folks that put on Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Runs. Then it’s over to Red Star Ridge where I dropped my arm-warmers and grabbed some more nutrition.
At Duncan Canyon (and at least one other aid-station), I was psyched to get crewed by the pros—Paul and Meredith Terranova. I’m on HOKA ONE ONE with Paul and we’ve raced each other quite a few times over the years so we’re all friends. Frustratingly, Paul had to bow out of Western States the day before the race due to stress fracture in his femur. Crazy, right?! The silver [buckle] lining was that his spot went to a runner on the waitlist, Sean O’Connor, who despite getting in just one day before, ended up going 22:55:49. Amazing!
On the way to Robinson Flat, at mile 30, the plan was to take in a couple GU Stroopwafels, a few GU gels, and a sleeve of GU Chews. I started with a water-only bottle and would bring a second bottle into play at Robinson, one with Roctane “Summit Tea” energy drink. Also at Robinson, I’d grab my BUFF cooling sleeves and my ice-bandana. This seemed like a good plan. I wanted to lay down a foundation of calories early, while I was fresh and the belly was happy. Going with water-only and all de-caffeinated GU products for the first 30 seemed like the smart play since I wanted to delay the use of caffeine until later when it would pack a bigger punch, but I also wanted to be nice to my body—my stomach in particular—and not get to Robinson, already jacked up on Roctane and possibly be pushing too hard too early.
I wanted to enjoy running in the high country more than I was. There was no point in my run on June 23rd where I was feeling like the running was light and easy. It felt too much like work and I kept backing off the intensity to the degree that would keep my breathing in check. Perennial top-10er, Ian Sharman, was already up ahead and out of sight. My masters compadres, Jeff Browning and Jesse Haynes, were in front of me as well. Jesse was only a minute or two up on the way over to Robinson and I continued to get glimpses of him all morning. I was already on the back of the lead bus but still running my own race. Given the work in the bank, I should be able to bridge up later. Just stay positive. “Feed the good wolf.”
At Robinson I was grateful to see my crew for the first time and soak in the energy from all the people there. It’s just amazing. It was warming up and was sure to get my cooling sleeves and bandana on. I took off from the aid-station and soon realized I was missing a bottle. Whoops. I’d grabbed my Roctane bottle but forgot my water-only bottle. I needed both! I jogged back and quickly snagged it from my crew. I lost a minute. No big deal. Good wolf…
After Robinson, I chatted for a bit with my buddy, Luke Garten, who was out spectating on his mountain bike. I was cruising but still feeling kind of shitty in the high country. Later on, I caught up to Chris Brown (eventual M10) and joked about how much oxygen there was “down here,” since we’d finally descended a few thousand feet. After the race, Chris shared with me that this was a tough patch for him and he just kept me in sight through Miller’s Defeat, Dusty Corners, and Last Chance aid-stations. I can’t remember where he got in front of me, but from what I knew of Chris going into the race, I had a hunch he was going to be competitive late in the going. Look for him to move up in the overall next year!
After Last Chance, you dive down another 1000′ to Swinging Bridge, which is the first turn-around for The Canyons 100k, an event I’ve done twice, though not this year. Mentally, for me, this is a big milestone inside Western States, since I’m back in more familiar territory, on trails where I’ve historically run well. Mo-jo! Before starting the ascent up Devil’s Thumbs, I submersed myself in the stream at the bottom and just laid there, calm for 10-15 seconds. I remember this moment so clearly. The cool water felt fantastic. So much was still in front of me. Anything was possible.
In both my Western States experiences, I’ve really enjoyed climbing up “The Thumb.” I eventually reeled in women’s leader, Lucy Bartholomew, who went out hot in the early going and the effort seemed to be catching up with her. “Once we’re up on top,” I said, “we have some fun-running after that.” To which she replied, “But it’s all downhill…” She’d catch up with me again, at the bottom of Bath Road, before the Foresthill aid-station, so would a few other runners, like Courtney Dauwaulter, and Zach Bitter, who gave me a quick shout-out. While I was splashing around in the water, they were all streaming by, sites set on cresting Bath Rd. enroute to crashing the party in Foresthill.
My pacer, Louis Secreto, met me climbing up Bath and hands me a cold La Croix. It tastes awesome. The carbonation’s refreshing. I’m in good spirits. Once we’re up top, running down the road to the aid-station, I ask him the time of day. I’m about 45min back from where I was coming through the same point in 2016. I remember being a little disappointed with that but I also knew the wheels had come off on the way down to the river in that race, so I felt confident that since I’d run so much more conservatively this time around, I’d surely be running well, late in the going, this time around.
We cruised through the aid-station then down to where my crew was, where I received the full-service treatment—fresh bottles topped off with ice, a fresh ice-bandana, ice in my arm-sleeves, and cold water on my head, neck and torso. Ready. To. Go.
A hundred yards down Cal Street, I ran through the tunnel of Healdsburg Running Company folks out cheering on all the runners. “Okay, Let’s do this.” Take-#2 from two years ago. “This is gonna be a tough section down to the Rucky Chucky at 78,” I thought to myself, “but you’re gonna manage yourself better this time, get across the river, put on some lighter, faster shoes, and motor it on in.
The Fizzle Reel. I definitely felt better getting down to Cal 1 than I did in 2016. Louis and I are communicating and we’re dialed in, just running aid-station to aid-station. Steady. No surging. I’m drinking iced-down Roctane while using my water-only bottle to pour on my arm-sleeves, face, and neck. I take some sips from the water-only bottle as well. I’m still taking a salt tab after every aid-station.
We roll through Cal 2, where Eric Senseman’s sitting in chair, looking like a prize-fighter 8 rounds deep. “Carnage,” I’m thinking. “I definitely don’t wan’t any of that action.” We’re clear of Cal 2, running along, when Karl, “The Speedgoat,” Meltzer goes bounding by and says “Keep it up! We’re almost home.” Speedgoat’s a competitive dude and this is the second time in the last year I’ve had the honor of racing him in a 100-miler. I’m patient though and let him go. He was running the downhills better than I was. Later, I’d start to catch back up on the climbs. After Cal 3, we moved by him. I thought, for good.
Lucy was still up ahead. She’d wisely taken more time in Foresthill. She’d gone by us with pacer, Sally McCrae. When I was feeling good we’d inch back up to her. I told Louis, we’d just hang out and not pass them since they’d probably pass us back. Let’s get beyond the river before we start thinking about getting in the passing lane. Stephanie Howe Violett goes cruising by. “Well,” I remember thinking, “The ladies are really crushing it today.”
About a mile out from Rucky Chucky aid at mile 78, we’re finally next to the river and I stop and throw up. It’s all liquid—always a pleasant vomiting experience! I’m thinking, “Wow, that kinda came outta nowhere, but no worries, I’ll “puke-n-rally” and get back to it. I felt like this was good timing—just about to the river. I’d simply reset, get across and still have about an hour and a half of daylight running to go. I was justifiably optimistic, given my experience with the puke-n-rally “method.” I resume taking little sips off my bottles. The sun though… Ugh… It felt like kryptonite on Superman. Soon I had to stop and bomb again. Uh-oh...
I made it to the damn river… I’m still committed to my race-plan, but the 16 miles on Cal St. have shredded me like parmesan cheese on a grater. I’m more depleted than I should be. I just need to reset. I’ve been here before…
Beware the chair. Louis is running around getting stuff for me. So is Amanda. Medical folks check in with me. I’m sucking pretty bad. I try to take in some water, saltines, and the like, only to puke everything back up and dry-heave all over again. Things aren’t improving. After an hour or so, the cot’s looking increasingly appealing. Runner’s are catching up, moving through the aid-station, and the sun slowly sets. Amanda’s wrapped me up in blankets on the cot. From the outside looking in, it looks pretty hopeless. But sitting there, in my head, I go to the cookie jar…
In my first 100 miler at Tahoe Rim Trail in 2009, I pushed the pace on the front with Erik Skaden until my belly stopped processing at about mile 50 and I started puking. By 67, I was a worthless pile of shit. The crew at Tunnel Creek nursed me back to life, then coached me back onto the damn trail. Later, I’d come bounding back through the same aid-station, charging forth to an eventual 6th place finish in 22:44, even after the 3-hour ordeal at Tunnel. That’s a cookie you pull out and eat when things get real.
So, even though it looked pretty bad at the river, I knew, it was just a matter of time before I’d turn a corner, keep some calories down, and move on with my day. No doubt, it was a really craptastic place to be—you’re 78mi into Western States and you’ve been stuck at the river for some two hours already, barfing, and generally hating life. The sun’s going down, you’re wrapped up in a bunch of blankets on a cot, daydreaming about resuming your vacation with your wife up in Tahoe, all the while knowing the only way out of this suck-fest, is through, to the goddamn finish in Auburn.
And it’s not like I just have to get up, give some high fives, and start walking outta there. Noooo, I gotta strap on a life-jacket and cross the cold-ass river… in my pathetic, emaciated state. To the same degree that I’m trying to recover and get my belly back, I’m also slowly mustering the courage to do it—Cross. The. F_____g. River.
Castle Peak 100k, Tahoe 200 champ, and good friend, Suzanna Bon rolls in to the aid-station and jump-starts my incipient resurrection. She’s got pacing duties but sees me laying on my cot and her eyes get big. I almost pull my space-blanket up over my head and hide. She runs over on a mission, ripping my security blankets off, giving me the tough love I asked her to give me the day before (why oh why did I do that?!).
I try. Suzanna’s soon off, shouting words of encouragement, as she’s crossing the river with her runner. Okay, gotta do this. I’m on my hands-n-knees again and—again—fill a plastic bag full of my stomach contents. But, I can tell things are turning around. Amanda finds Ken “All Day” Michel and asks him to have a little chat with me. Talk about the right guy in the right place! Ken’s not messing around. More tough love. He coaches me on how I’m going to get through this nightmare. I take two Pepto tabs then and there. He hands me a ziploc baggie full of Jolly Ranchers.
Note: I still loathe Jolly Ranchers from my high school wrestling days, sucking on them, spitting in a bottle, while in the sauna, in my sweats, all to lose weight for an upcoming match. I don’t bring it up with Ken. I want him to keep talking so I can stay at the aid-station a little longer. Ken seems to catch on that I’m basically just procrastinating at this point, so he—and everyone else—are now willing me to get my weary bones up and moving once more. It’s kind of like this beater car I had in high school that my friends would have to push, get it rolling, I’d pop the clutch and we’d be off. Everything seems to have come full circle. Except when I was this sick in high school, it wasn’t from running excessive miles in the heat. Although the hangover’s are just as bad now.
The water level was pretty low by the time I actually started crossing. They regulate the flow on race-day and it only ever came up to about my waist. Thank God. I’m such a baby when it comes to cold water. If it weren’t for wetsuits, I wouldn’t have spent ten years in triathlon. No way. We get across the river to my drop-bag where I have a fresh pair of HOKA Torrents waiting to go, you know, the ones I planned to put on three hours ago, so I could run a quick final 20 miles to the finish. “Dude,” I told Louis, “Those shoes aren’t gonna make any difference at this point.” I’m sticking with the Speedgoats I have on. Let’s just go. Rucky Chucky erupts in cheers as we depart. I’m grateful for them and to be moving once more.
It’s a long slog up to Green Gate in the dark. I’m sucking on the hard candy and taking sips of water. My engine’s shot though. I just need to be patient. At Green Gate the only thing that looks remotely appealing is watermelon. Louis gets me some slices and we jam them into my vest pockets. We’re off. There’s a lot of walking involved. I start taking in the watermelon. Soon, we’re back to jogging. It’s good. My spirits lift. We’re talking and I’m cracking jokes. We start talking about breaking 24 hours. Silver buckle, baby! It looks totally doable. Eventually I run out of watermelon and am reduced to a walk once more. Walk. Walk. Walk. The belly’s talkin’ to me. Stomach’s doing its best. I’m belching a lot whenever I try to run. I chew up a couple Tums and chase them with some water. Better. Relentless forward progress…
Finally, we arrive to Auburn Lake Trails. I’m kind of pissed that after all the damn work to get here and I’m greeted at ALT with a sign reading, “Mile 85.” Holy. F*cking. Sh*t. This is taking forever. Louis loads me up with more watermelon this time. I’m reluctant to leave but breaking 24 is still the objective. The long slog to Quarry Rd. (mile 91) begins. “Aid-station to aid-station.” That was the plan going in. Just break up the daunting distance into more manageable pieces. As we’re walking and I’m melon munching, I start pretending I’m just out on a long hike, like on the Pacific Crest Trail or something. Hiking’s slow. But people do it. And they go long distances! I got this. There’s less and less jogging. More and more people are passing us. We ride a train of 24 hour folks until I eventually get spit out the back. It was fun while it lasted. I run out of watermelon. Where are those contemptible “Jolly” Ranchers?!
At Quarry Rd., Louis comes back from the aid-station table with a gallon ziploc of watermelon. “Is this enough?!” “That should do it,” I laugh. I grab it and stuff it in the back of my vest. Motor on. Step off the trail. Let pacers with runners-in-tow shuffle by. Try not to get sick. Pockets of warm air have us shed clothing while pockets of cold reduce me to shivering until I have to put my jacket on again. The waxing moon’s setting behind the mountains.
It was great to see Amanda and Linn at Pointed Rocks. By this point it was all about just getting the job done. I hear an aid-station volunteer shout over, “You have an hour to break 24. You can do it!” I wholeheartedly appreciated the encouragement and vote of confidence and offer a thumbs-up. But, there’s no way in hell that’s happening, given my physical state. I’d be hard-pressed to run 10min miles to the track when I was fresh, given all the climb up to Auburn. On the way out of Pointed Rocks, I hear Amanda shout, “If it doesn’t take courage, it’s not worth doing!” A calm determination is restored.
Headlamps go off, the sun comes up, and we slog it over to No Hands Bridge. I stumble down to the aid-station. I don’t want to sit. I just want to get this done so we can all just go the hell to sleep. Amanda joins us for a memorable stroll across the iconic Western States 100 milestone. We stop and take in the view. “Okay, let’s go,” I mutter, “before I start to cry.” No thoughts of jumping off No Hands enter my mind. It’s a good sign.
A few runners catch up and pass here and there as we make our ascent to Robie Point and into the town of Auburn, on our way to the finish line at Placer High School track. I look back occasionally to see if Scott Mills, a venerated veteran ultrarunner, and race-director for the San Diego 100, on his mission to complete his 18th Western States 100, is behind us. I know he’s back there, gettin’ the job done somewhere. Inspired at the thought, I shuffle upward with a bit more gusto. We crest Robie and my crew joins back in. I’d said to hell with eating anything hours ago. My crew of course, wants me to start jogging. I do want to finish with some dignity. We hit the track and I feel happy to be there. I jog it in and hear Andy Jones-Wilkins on the mic sharing some of my trials-n-tribulations at the river. He’d been down there with me, with words of encouragement. With 10 Western States finishes himself, I was proud to look up and see him step out of the booth and give me a thumbs up and flash that big AJW smile. It wasn’t the day I’d dreamed of, but I had one helluva adventure out there!
Perspective. Hindsight, always being 20/20, I can only imagine what I will do differently next year, should I find a way back in. First off, I feel like I need to race once or twice more before the big day. I know my fitness responds well to races; they put the tiger in the cat! I had it in my head that I needed to be more conservative with racing and just slog out the lonely miles in training, and stay injury free. It worked for GDR. I’m wondering how things would have gone had I raced Canyons 100k at the end of April and/or Silver State 50mi in May. I think this would’ve kept me a little more in touch with my fitness going into June. I’m in the process of reconciling my fear of injury going into big races. If I want to perform to my potential and be aggressive on race-day, I can’t start tapering 5 weeks out from the event. To be certain, half the battle is showing up healthy. I’m great at doing that, in most instances.
Still, there’s two sides to every coin. Had I raced and gotten injured, there would’ve been no 2018 Western States 100. I would hands down prefer to have the experience I got rather than have had no experience at all. This was only my second time at States. It’s not like I have a decade’s worth of cherished memories from the event. The big positive from my crash-n-burn experience is that I connected with so many people in my lowest moments. Ultrarunning’s humbling. If you can’t laugh at yourself, you’re not going to be around very long.
Fall down 7 times, stand up 8. Six-time Ironman Hawaii champ, Dave Scott, is famous for saying “Do the training that gives you the confidence you need on race day.” I look back now on to a successful Tahoe Rim Trail 100mi in 2014, I’d been super aggressive with my spring build up, doing Marin Ultra Challenge 50mi, Lake Sonoma 50mi, and Silver State 50mi. Feeling invincible, I kick off my first training week in June, seven weeks out, with a 190-mile week. I’m not suggesting I’ll be going bonkers like that again, but reminiscing on that time, I do recall how confident I was on the start-line of the 100-miler in mid-July. Healthy, sustainable, training and racing is, of course, all about balance. Life looks different than it did back in 2014. I’ve avoided burnout and love competing now more than ever. Since that time, I’ve been knocked around quite a bit. I’ve climbed back in the ring, time and time again. Failure’s been one helluva great teacher. And man, are they right when they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. In more ways than one!
In the mix. As I look ahead to Run, Rabbit, Run 100 in Sept, I imagine myself not sucking there. For all the wonderful, kind words from friends and so many strangers on my experience from Western States this year, it’s my feeling that sponsors aren’t impressed, in the least bit. I get it. I do. And I want to continue earning the privilege of having their support. There’s nothing like a bad race to show you exactly what you need to work on moving forward.
This month I’m jumping into some shorter races, to work on my speed, and I have to say, it feels damn good to race all out after only training for and racing ultra distances this year. Last Saturday in the Marin Headlands, I had the great fortune to battle a couple of guys for 30km (18.6mi) and surprised myself with how strong I was after absorbing a lackluster Western States, not to mention almost two restful weeks up at elevation. It was such a thrill and was the perfect way to reset after States. We pushed each other so hard, two of us went under the course-record set back in 2012, with 3rd place just seconds outside the CR. Fierce and fearless. I want to get back to that kind of mindset, all while keeping the ego in check and listening to the body when it’s telling me to rest.
I’ll continue to use racing to help me sharpen my fitness for Run Rabbit in September. The big test, which I hope to pass, will be Castle Peak 100k, four weeks out from Run Rabbit. Castle Peak, with it’s inspiring tag line, “Facing the brunt of fate. Indomitable. Unafraid.” With the base I’ve laid this year, some shorter, fast stuff in July, I’ll have time for a quick build for Castle Peak, but nothing long enough to dull my edge. Ultimately, Castle Peak will be a training race for the 100mi just four weeks later so I want to practice my refined process from States so I go into Run Rabbit firing on all four cylinders. I’ll do well in the overall, but I’m going in with zero outcome goals. I want to experience the course, race at elevation, and build some monster fitness for September.
Press. Here’s some fun digital artifacts from my Western States experience. I’m grateful to Kerry Benefield, from the Press Democrat for covering my journey from beginning to end. She did a great job capturing the spirit of the event. I’m equally grateful to Eric Schranz and Sarah Lavender Smith for having me on UltraRunnerPodcast after the race. Not that I like having shitty races, but I’ve gotten a lot of messages from people saying how much they enjoyed the episode because of what went down. It got real out there. And it sucked pretty damn bad those last 22 miles. If there’s a next year, I hope I’m back to being “boring,” and have little else to say other than, “I felt great after the river.”
A heartfelt note of appreciation to my beautiful and highly supportive wife/agent, Amanda. I love you mucho! FYI: Here’s Amanda’s Essential Oils Facebook page. You should definitely contact her and get yourself some Deep Blue Rub for your weary post-race legs. It’s the bomb. I’ve been using it for years! | Special thanks to Linn Secreto for teaming up with Amanda to crew. I really appreciate it. Sorry to keep your man out all damn night, “partying.” | HUGE thanks to Louis Secreto for pacing me, yet again, at Western States. We’ll always have Pine to Palm 2015. And yes, I know, I owe you A LOT of beer. | High-Tens to all the volunteers at this year’s Western States 100, especially you fine folks down at the Rucky [up]Chucky aid-station. I knew I’d get outta there, eventually. Thank you!! | Thanks to all the athletes I coach who inspire me with their passion and dedication to this crazy sport. #point_positive | Thank you to HOKA ONE ONE for producing the best trail shoes out there—#Speedgoat_2 #EVO_Mafate #timetofly | Thanks Healdsburg Running Company for the HUGE cheers along the way. You guys CRUSHED it in Foresthill. That was amazing! | Thanks to Jeff Boggess from Trail Butter for sending out some yummy goodness before the race. I love using Trail Butter right before a long run or event. Amazing flavors. Slow burning calories! | Much gratitude to Casey Rolig from BUFF USA. Those cooling sleeves are the bomb.com | Thanks to Drymax Sports, for the sweet Hayden Hawks signature edition socks. Those socks inside my Speedgoats, I never had any foot issues (and I was out there a while, lemme tell ya!) | Squirrel Nut Butter. A liberal application at 2:30am on Saturday morning and I never had any chafing issues out there. And that’s saying something at Western States! | To the GU crew: My stomach may have revolted at the river but it had everything to do with me and my lofty ambition and nothing to do with my sports nutrition. My 30k CR last Saturday was won on Roctane Summit Tea and 3 little ol’ Roctane GUs. I’m psyched about my nutrition moving forward. #guforit | Finally, thanks to Dave Townsend at Santa Rosa Physical Therapy. I haven’t been in to see you in a long while, bud. Let’s keep it that way! It’s good piece of mind knowing you’re out there doing great things for us [over]active folks. Any time my athletes need a PT, you know where I’m sending ’em!
Do people still write race reports? Better yet, do people still read race-reports? These days it seems I only have time to write training plans, grade math tests, walk dogs, and run. It’s been a while since I’ve even done a blog post ’cause my laptop crapped out at the end of 2017, kind of like my race season did with North Face 50mi. The fires here in NorCal had taken their toll and I’d gone through my own various stages of grief, having only been affected to the degree that the fires ravaged many of my beloved training grounds. Having not put in a solid training block for NF50, I was reminded of how much it sucks when we write checks in an ultra that our body can’t cash. Unclear when parks would reopen and riding a low in December, I bowed out of both Bandera and Black Canyon, two golden-ticket races for which I’d registered way back in mid-2017. I just needed to open up some bandwidth.
I’d put it all on Georgia Death Race (GDR) at the end of March, clearly my best shot at a golden ticket. It felt good to relax in December and have a ton of time to do things right for GDR. The focus of the training block was simple—do quality work over a long period of time. And, keep it simple stupid.
Once mid-January hit, my weekly volume started coming back up. I hit one of the best training grooves I’ve experienced in a long time. Thursdays it was a 20mi tempo run at sub-6:30/mi pace, which seemed to supercharge my run economy, not to mention confidence. Then, 72 hours later I’d get my ass up to Lake Sonoma before sun-up and bang out progressively longer long runs on Sundays, culminating with a 50mi run, four weeks out from GDR. It was all business at Lake Sonoma for 12 straight weeks. I imagined building fitness for GDR that was “too big to fail.”
March hit and things got a little rocky. I’d picked up a chest cold, which was more of an annoying inconvenience. The first thing to go was the Thursday tempo session, in order to preserve the quality of the Sunday long run. With so much in the bank already, I didn’t worry too much about having to take more time to rest. The good thing about getting sick was it forced me to go to bed earlier. As a result I started waking up earlier. I got into this beautiful sleep cycle all the way into GDR, where I was in bed by 9pm and waking up without an alarm at 5:30am. I also started running again in the mornings, which to my surprise, felt amazing. With the three hour time change to the East Coast, I wanted to be getting up as early as possible here to encourage minimal negative effects on race-day due to the difference in time. You should pick up the book, Why We Sleep sometime. You’ll learn some shit you didn’t know and have a new appreciation for all the benefits of a full sleep cycle.
Then, just like that, it’s St. Patrick’s Day. Two weeks out from GDR. And I crack a rib…
Yeah, so I went to local regional park I’d never been to before, just to hang out with friends and participate in a fun, St. Paddy’s Day trail run. It was wet, rainy, and foggy. Since I was getting close to race day I decided against racing to the top of the mountain with the fast folks, opting to just jog the alternate, easier route to the top. Wise decision. Ego in check.
At the top, there’s about 30 of us standing around, bullshitting. There’s festive beads and Guinness Stouts floating around. The view’s non-existent today with all the fog. Before heading down, there’s a surprise announcement that the first person down will have $100 donated to the Regional Parks in their name…
Uh-oh. Pulling at my heart strings… I wouldn’t mind donating another $100 to the parks…
[enter ego stage left]
You wanna race me—downhill?!
I’ll be your huckleberry…
Starting off, no big deal, I’m [over] confident in my downhill skills. I’ve run 800 miles since Jan 1 and somehow have managed to not fall once. That, however, is about to change. Within the 1.5-ish mile descent I slip and fall three times, chasing this obstacle-course racer dude, who’s taking insane risks, at one point even trying to jump a wooden fence, but slipping and just crashing through it. I stop to see if he’s dead. He gets up and continues ripping downhill, a man possessed. This isn’t even the route I took to the top. I have no idea where I am. I try desperately to remain upright. The third time I fall, it’s on the steepest section and my legs come out from underneath me. The mountain makes contact, like a heavyweight champ delivering a forceful blow to my rib cage. OOOMph…
The situation I’ve gotten myself into is ridiculous, I agree. But, it appears insanity is contagious. I must see it through to the finish! Plus, I’m not losing to this dude. But every time I slip-n-fall, he pulls away.
Where’s the goddamn finish?! I’m up and running full speed again. All out. Through the fog ahead I see the gate to the parking lot. I’m closing hard. Flying. I touch the gate first. Jesus Christ. WHAT was that all about?
I just got a glimpse of what’s been brewing under the surface these last three months. Clearly, I was ready to go into battle and take this ferocity 72 miles farther.
It goes without saying I could’ve done without this ridiculous incident. As the days passed, it was clear I had some kind of rib injury. A teacher friend recommended arnica, which seemed to help. Amanda got some roller balls with essential oils going. I lambasted myself several times a day. A lot of ibuproven got shoveled in. I watched YouTube videos on how to tape up broken ribs. It was kind of a welcome distraction before the race, ’cause this was all I was thinking about. Since I had no time left run long and assess how the rib felt after 3-4 hours, how the hell was it going to feel after 8-10 hours into GDR? “Expect nothing and be prepared for anything.”
The stars aligned this year, with my 6th graders Outdoor Education experience being the same week as GDR. On Wed, I taught my 7th grade math class 1st period, went over and hung out at camp then went home and packed for Georgia. On the other side now, I’m on spring break, so really great timing. In stark contrast, last year after the GDR, I was back in the classroom on Monday morning, without a golden ticket and being dragged into a social media shit-storm. This year, much improved experience!
At the start line, feeling relaxed and ready to rock, we’d see what the day would bring. I’d done a mountain of work for this race. Just relax and stick to “The Process.” What will be will be. Right now, it’s all in front of you. You’re gonna get the race you deserve. Just let that shit happen.
In the early going it’s rolling, just like Lake Sonoma. Up, down, up, down. Guys are already jockeying for position. At one point on a climb, I stepped off the trail and let seven or eight guys go by. By the time the sun’s up and I’m running the out-n-back off the ridgeline to Skeenah aid at mile 21, Andrew Miller’s already got a commanding lead. That’s fine. All I need is 2nd place, and there’s miles and miles left to be run. Anything can happen. Who will have legs after Jake Bull at mile 50, when the party really gets going.
GU Energy products have been working so well for me these days. At aid-stations, I’d dump a packet of Roctane into my bottle and fill ‘er up. I was supplementing with Campfire S’mores and Toasted Marshmallow GU along with chews the entire way. Not even soda late, which is typical for me. No nausea or vomiting since I kept calm and steady throughout. I’m much better at this whole running off feel now, being careful to not let the “water” get too “muddy,” if you’re familiar with the metaphor. Weather conditions were ideal.
I’d done most of my training in the Hoka One One Speedgoat 2 and I had a brand new pair, fresh out of the box, strapped to my feet today. Problem was I wasn’t running at Lake Sonoma and I’d forgotten how easy it is to roll ankles on this highly technical course, particularly my right one, which I’d twisted badly in training a year ago. So, here we go. I rolled it not once, but some four times in the first half, where the pain became more acute with each successive roll. It was basically a repeat of last year. I should of taped it up before the race, but since it wasn’t an issue in training it just wasn’t on the radar. I stopped and tied the right shoe tighter and that definitely felt better. Having the shoe too loose on my foot was contributing to the problem.
The good news though, with my side KT-taped up, I had no problems with the rib during the entire race. I did fall a couple times and felt it but just tried to take the impact on my left side and shield my right side. After years of BMX/freestyle as a kid and mountain-bike racing in my early 20s, I’m glad to see I’m still good at crashing, rolling out of falls relatively gracefully and quickly restoring forward momentum.
This ankle issue though? It was really cramping my downhill game. Hurting like hell on the long descent from Winding Stair on the way to Jake Bull, I wasn’t pleased to be overcompensating and blowing up my left quad in order to relieve stress on the right ankle.
As a general rule, I’ve stopped taking pain-relievers in races. I’ve just had some scary experiences I’d rather not continue repeating. But, because of the rib, I’d brought a couple ibuproven tabs with me today in the event that I was clearly in contention for a golden ticket and my rib injury was so painful that it would put the ticket in jeopardy. Serendipity. Wishing I’d done it hours earlier, I popped just one ibuproven tab (thanks, Hal Koerner’s Field Guide to Ultrarunning) and rather quickly, the pain was dramatically lessened and I found my effective downhill running much restored. How effective that one tab worked was uncanny. It is an anti-inflammatory after all, and it combated the inflammation really well.
Note: NSAIDs can really mess up your kidneys when taken in a dehydrated state. When I took this single tab I did so after hours of managing increasing pain and a significant degradation in my aggressive downhill running. It’s important to point out that the temps were mild and my hydration status was good. Just that single ibuproven tab was consumed during the race. Please be careful with your own use of NSAIDs. I try to be smart about them and remember that when it comes to such things, that “borrowing strength builds weakness.”
Jake Bull aid-station’s at mile 50 of the race. As planned, I got here in good spirits, a happy ankle, a happier rib, and apparently in 3rd place (there might have been some off-course shenanigans too, on the way over from Winding Stair, when I was crying about my ankle and not focused on the trail and course-ribbon. I’d lost about 10min, and Caleb Denton, a friend and GDR veteran, had cruised into 2nd place while I must’ve been popping ibuproven tabs, listening to a banjo in the Georgia back country.
When I left Jake Bull, they told me the next runner was only 5min up. I settled in. This is typically my favorite part of the race: the final 25%. It’s 11 miles from Jake Bull to the final aid-station at Nimblewill, with a gnarly 4mi mile climb on switch-backing fire-roads for good measure. Last year, it was warmer, I ran outta water, and was vomiting on the side of the road, thinking I might actually die in the Georgia Death Race.
Because of the time change, I started this race at 2am PDT. Thus, I wasn’t ready to poop before the race. I purposely ate less food the night before and, late in the race, it looked like I might make it through the the entire race without having to go.
Starting up the long climb up to Nimblewill, nature called. I hopped in the bushes and when I hopped out of the bushes feeling like a new man with a new lease on life, ready to tackle the world, I spied Matt Thompson climbing toward me. Like a switch, it was back to race-mode and climbing at a strong, sustainable pace. Settle into this climb and hope to put some distance between myself and Matt. And while I’m at it, Caleb better come back to me…
When I pulled up even with Caleb, he noted, “I thought you were in front of me?” I informed him I’d been off course for a few minutes. He replied, “Didn’t that happen last year too.” I’m like, “Yeah,” shamefully pulling ahead and only looking back when the mountain switchbacks offer a clear glimpse of the fire-road way off to my right-hand side. “Too big to fail,” I reminded myself of all the work that went into this one day. “Even I can’t f*ck up this day.” Clear the mind and get back to task at hand.
I desperately wanted to reach Amicalola State Park, with a good [enough] gap on 3rd place; whether that was on Caleb, Matt, both, or a band of wolves, barrelling down on their prey, just minutes ahead. My living nightmare would be to get passed on the damn stairs going up the falls with a mile-n-change to run to the finish. The RD, Sean “Run Bum” Blanton captured my reality after 12 hours of racing:
Unless you were Andrew Miller, the golden ticket was never “in the bag” here at GDR. Even on the final, nasty descent to the finish line, I was looking back up, ready to blast off, like a wily and reckless obstacle course racer. Heading in to this race, as always seems to be the case, I imagined it coming down to who wanted it more. In the weeks leading into GDR, I questioned myself, “So, how bad do you want it? Why do you want it? How deep are you willing to dig to get it?
Like the Boston Marathons and Hawaiian Ironmans I’ve raced my way into in years gone by, it was clear in my 20th year of competitive running, that I may actually fall short of my goal of racing my way into Western States. I think the trick was becoming okay with the possibility of failing. It would be okay. I’d failed before. I’d fail again. But, I wasn’t going to fail again without upping the ante in terms of my preparation. I made GDR a priority this spring. I didn’t race anything else. I trained smart, checked my ego, and listened to my body, not getting too worked up that I never hit weekly mileage numbers in the 90s or higher. It made a big difference here. I had good power all day. My mind was engaged and I was in my element, having fun doing what I love—mixing it up with great competitors in an event that plays to my strengths.
“While everyone else is crying doom, the athletes are caught up in Teilhard’s continually accelerating vortex of self actualization.” -Dr. George Sheehan
In 2018, I’ve been at this competitive running game for 20 years now. A lot of the guys I look up to now are younger than I am, by a lot. Andrew Miller’s 21! A lot of the runners I draw inspiration from aren’t guys. How cool is it that competitors from such different walks of life can converge at an event, and elevate one another to higher levels of athletic achievement? We’re among the lucky ones; to experience these great and grand enthusiasms; the intensity of the moment; hurling ourselves down the trail; rapt.
March went out like a lion, to be certain. But now it’s April and the party’s over. The ankle’s on the mend. The rib’s angrier after GDR than it was before. It’s twelve weeks to States. I’ll start off by giving the body two week’s rest before resuming structured run training. If I need it, I’ll have to take all of April. Rib’s are a pain in the ass to heal. To run how I want to at the end of June, I definitely want to be firing on all four cylinders once May arrives. I have a ton of work in the bank. GDR is exactly the experience I wanted to have in my legs and mind moving forward. I’m looking to shave a couple hours off my time at States. I believe it’s in the cards this year. Believe. Believe. Believe.
A heartfelt note of appreciation to my beautiful and highly supportive wife/agent Amanda. I love you! FYI: Here’s Amanda’s Essential Oils Facebook page | Thanks to all the athletes I coach who inspire me with their passion and dedication to this crazy sport. | Thank you to Hoka One One for producing the best trail shoes out there—#speedgoat2 #timetofly | Thanks Healdsburg Running Company for the cheers from afar and always sending out the kick-ass vibes! | Thanks Inside Trail Racing for hosting so many great events in the Bay Area and beyond. | Cheers of gratitude to sponsors BUFF USA, Drymax Sports, and Squirrel Nut Butter. | GU… You’re killing it! My nutrition’s never been more effective (or tasty!) #summit_tea #toasted_marshmallow #stroopwaffle | Thanks to Dave Townsend at Santa Rosa Physical Therapy for helping me manage all of my “old man issues” and keeping me moving down the trail! >>> 🙂
Seriously though… I had a little score to settle with Run Rabbit Run after last year’s race where I was handed my first legit DNF in my two decades in endurance sports. Furthermore, I had yet another score to settle with this DNF’ing business at Bighhorn 100 back in June. Ergh! At RRR ’16 I came in over-trained and then went out too hot, chasing splits from the previous year. “Yeah, great idea.” By mile 50, at 10,000′, I was mildly hypothermic and vomiting. Things had really gone to sh*t. At Bighorn, I thought I was ready for any weather conditions buuuuuut… Mother Nature threw cold rain in the mix overnight and despite all my efforts to run a brilliant race, I blew a 30min lead running too fast trying to stay warm, using fuel that wasn’t quite working the way I needed it too. Thus, at mile 78, I ended up curled up in a space blanket, on the side of the trail, in the mud and rain, at 2am, until runners/pacers started coming by concerned about my well being, suggesting—as my best option at the moment—I hike the 2mi back to the previous aid-station to get warm. That dark, slippery, shivering walk-of-shame was pretty sh*tty, to say the least. But, I did finally get my cold, wet clothes off and into a nice, warm pair of Carhartt’s, which I would remain in for about 6hrs until the race would eventually poop me out, back at the finish line around 9am. Ugh! Suffice it to say, these were not my finest moments in our illustrious sport, though they did produce a lot of great—and funny!—memories, which I’m happy to never (that is, ever) repeat, thank you very much).
Here at RRR 2017, temps were lookin’ mild (though I didn’t trust ’em!), the skies looked generally clear once the sun started to set, and with every time we line up, comes new opportunity to do things differently, to execute better, in an attempt to evolve as both a runner… and maybe even as a human being. As Brad Stulberg, one of the authors of Peak Performance, says, “Strip away ego, awards, and stupid forums—and endurance sports are the stuff of spiritual growth.” Without further ado, here’s 10 of my favorite things about this year’s journey to the RRR finish line, and 3 things I’d do differently (but probably wouldn’t) if I could have a a do-over.
I. “Headspace” a.k.a… “meditation for dummies.” I have this working theory that as I get older I can maintain my edge as a competitive runner by evolving my mental game, and that will somehow offset some (all) physical degradation. I never would of thought a phone app would’ve had such a dramatic and positive impact on my life but Headspace has proven a powerful tool for personal growth this year. After doing the initial trial and using it with some athletes I coach, I invested in a year subscription. During the summer, off from teaching, I had the luxury of doing 20min daily meditation sessions. Now, with school back in, I do 10min sessions as soon as I boot the kids out for lunch; legs-up-a-wall, then get some walking in after, as well as my veggies and plenty of water. For the race I did Headspace’s 10-day “Competition” package, which helped get my head in the right place for race day. During the race I continuously re-centered my mind on the present moment, relaxed, and maintained a “soft focus” on negotiating the section of trail on which I found myself. “Let go” and “Patience is everything” were mantras that were both bouncing around my head for the first 70-80mi.
II. Watchless. This aspect of my running continues to evolve as well. In racing, I find that there’s not much of a downside to running sans watch. Though, the last two times I’ve raced, I’ve forgotten to ask time-of-day at the aid-station I wanted to, late in the going, in order to get a sense of my overall pace relative to my target finish time. Each time I forgot though, and just said “screw it” and ran on, blissfully unaware of my cumulative speed. I simply don’t miss the watch in racing, since there’s so much else to focus on, namely my P.E.D.S—pacing (by feel), eating, drinking, and smiling!
Balance in all things, right? So I still greatly enjoy using my GPS watch in training and stacking up some big weeks of running volume/elevation on Strava. Thus, my annual numbers do not include my races (oh, and quite a few training runs, especially during down periods and tapers). I dig not being a slave to the tech! The tech works for me. You do it your way. I’ll do it mine. But you should really try racing without a watch sometime. It’s liberating!
IV. The Revenant. Daniel Barnes came to me many months back with a dream—to finish his first 100mi run at Run Rabbit. He’d done some Ironmans, including the double-ironman at Ultraman, so I knew he had the head and heart required to train for and race Run Rabbit. Living in the heat-n-humidity of Louisiana, Daniel made some long weekend trips up to Arkansas to find some mountains on which to prepare. We even got him out to California in July to do a long, hot, hilly Santa Barbara 100k, where his legs and mind got a little more seasoned to the demands of MUT running.
A couple weeks out from RRR, I watched Leonardo Dicaprio in The Revenant (again). Next time Daniel and I got on the phone we chatted about it. Quickly, it became a central theme of our upcoming adventure in Steamboat Springs. Memes and gifs were texted back-n-forth, Facebook posts referencing the Dicaprio’s grizzled character, Hugh Glass, were exchanged at an obnoxious rate. Daniel’s twin brother, Derek, jumped in the game on Thursday’s pre-race meeting and gave Daniel and I bear-claw necklaces, which we wore on race-day. Inspiration’s everywhere!
V. The male hare masters race. Prize money at Run Rabbit Run goes seven places deep for the men and women. This year, the top male and female overall each received $12,500. There’s an extra $1000 on the line for the top male and female master’s runner (40-49). This year it looked like I’d be duking it out with “Speedgoat” Karl Meltzer, and perennial Western States Top-10er, Jesse Haynes, for top master honors. By Cow Creek at around 50k in, I’d reeled in Jesse and together with another guy, we knocked out the 10mi section back up to Olympian Hall at mile 42. When Jesse and I ran out of Olympian we picked up Speedgoat, ran through downtown Steamboat, and back up to the Fish Creek Falls trailhead. Running with these guys was a big highlight of my day (and year). It was way better running this section with them than running it alone as I’d done in years past.
Once at the FCF trailhead, I let those guys go, while I took the time to put on a base-layer and some arm-warmers. Recall, the reason I dropped from RRR and Bighorn was because I couldn’t keep myself warm. Temps were looking pretty mild but I didn’t want to take any chances! All the way back up Fish Creek Falls, I was pulling back tortoises—who had a four hour head start on us, while amazed I wasn’t catching back up to Jesse and Karl. Once back up to Long Lake aid, I found Jesse, filled up my bottles and noted the seat at the fire where I’d planted myself the previous year, ultimately dropping out after several hours of shivering and vomiting. I felt fantastic this year, here at 10,000′, but we weren’t really even half way yet! I spied Jesse across the aid-station and took off, thinking maybe I could get out of sight, then… out of mind. As I motored outta there, I had to poop. And as I’m squatting 15yds off the trail, a few lights bounced by in the darkness.
Once I caught back up with Jesse, he informed me that Karl put some 8min into him on the climb up Fish Creek Falls, showing that, even at 49, he’s not called “The Speedgoat” for nothing. Jesse and I pressed on for hours and hours, always within about 10min of each other. About the time the sun was coming up, well after 80 miles in, I caught Jesse and eventually Karl, moving into first place for the “old guys.” My sense of it at the time was Karl was probably not coming back since he’d put in such a valiant surge earlier, moving all the way up into 5th place overall, then sliding back a few places. Jesse, on the other hand, I knew was surely tired but likely had preserved himself for a race at the end! Not to mention he has the confidence—and fitness–from just earning another top-10 performance at Western States. He’d been very steady and when I ran by him, he tried to give me the sense that my pass was for good, though I sensed he was setting himself up for the win, waiting patiently for the final 4mi descent from the top of Mt. Werner.
The guys knew my quads were not doing well on this day. My downhill running was basically sucking, which made sense since I didn’t make it a priority in training, choosing instead to focus on strengthening my climbing, fast running on the straightaways, overall muscular endurance, and the mental game. I wanted to avoid another stress related injury in my left leg, my left ankle, or my left knee, all of which have been in some state of suck over the last 3 years or so. Given the amount of climb and descent I’d amassed in training I was quite surprised that my quads starting hurting at mile 40 though. At that time, I was wondering how-in-the-hell I was gonna run over 100 kilometers farther. Well, you just do. Would Hugh Glass bitch about some sore quads?! Are you kidding me?! No, he’d suck it up and press the hell on! So, this was the moment. I needed to put some time into Jesse whilst we were still in the high country.
It’s about 6ish miles from Summit Lake to Long Lake aid-station and about the same distance from Long Lake aid over to Werner aid at mile 102. Jesse later reported that Long Lake told him I’d gained 6min since Summit. I’d been knockin’ back Toasted Marshmallow GUs, chasing them with—-fittingly—-“Summit Tea” flavored GU Roctane, and ran that section really strong.
Jesse only had that 6-7mi over to Werner to shut me down, otherwise there was a chance I could stay in front of him on the final, long descent to the finish. I, of course, was completely oblivious to where I was relative to him so I just pressed on, concentrating on my PEDS, especially the eating! I’d been taking some cups of chicken broth at aid-stations for hours. Holding it together. Relaxed. Focused. In the flow. It seems slamming a lot of water, pacing conservatively early, and throwing in a few salt tabs here and there kept my quads happy enough, as they seemed to be one twitch away from total seizure for hours upon hours. Gotta work on that.
Yeah, so late in a 100-miler may not the optimal time to try and gap Jesse Haynes. He’s strongest at the end, and with the indomitable will of say, Hugh Glass, he ran me down and sat on me as we neared the Mt. Werner aid-station. I finally puked from pushing so hard up high. Epic racing. I knew then I’d been bested by one of the best in the biz. My quads were toast, so as Jesse jetted off down the fire-road to the finish line four miles away, I filled up my bottles one last time, re-centered my mind for the ten-thousandth time of the race, smiled, and seized the moment—“Chase Jesse (’cause a race isn’t over ’til it’s over) and I was now likely in about 7th place overall—still in the money—but had no idea where Karl was and now, running downhill, I was most vulnerable to being caught. If I got pushed back to 8th in the hare division, I’d be out of the money. Furthermore, I wanted to ensure I finished well within the top-10. It’s not done ’til it’s done.
VI. In the light of day. Getting to see more of the course in the light was a big delight from my race. The obvious sign I was significantly slower than my race in 2015 was that the sun came up quite a bit earlier, casting radiant energy on me and illuminating sections of the course I ran through in darkness two years ago. So, not only was I immersed in the racing from Summit all the way to Werner, but I was also basking in some of the sweetest trails I’ve ever run on. And they were a lot drier than they were during the 2015 race to boot. No shoe-sucking mud!
VII. Mild temps up top. As it turns out, most of the sh*t I carried from Olympian at mile 42 to the finish at 106, I never needed. But it served its purpose: it provided peace of mind. Once I had my sleeveless base layer and arm-warmers on, I was set for the night. Gloves had been put on and taken off a few times but the hand-warmers, beanie, puffy jacket, tights, as well as all the warm gear stowed in gallon Ziplocs inside my drop-bags, went totally unused. But, like they say, “better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.”
VIII. Reaching a hundo finish line. Upon finishing I never took notice of my finishing time, only interested in confirming I was 7th in the men’s hare division. I pushed so hard racing Jesse up high I really felt like death warmed over at the finish. I knew I’d run slower than 2015 but I figured it was only by about an hour. A day later when I woke up to an email from Ultra Signup with the results, I realized I’d run almost two hours slower than my run in ’15. WTF?! It’s not hard determining where that time went considering how conservative I was running in the early going, how much more time/care I was taking in the aid-stations, and the fact that it was fairly hot running in the afternoon on Friday.
There is no failure except in no longer trying. I’d redeemed myself from DNF’ing last year. That’s a BFD for me. After that blemish on my record last year, I started looking at things a little differently. I feel like I’ve made some good growth as both a runner and in other areas of my life. My word for 2017 continues to be “courage.” I’ve tried to weave that into the fabric of this year’s season. Simply finding the courage to train hard, say “f*ck it” and just believe in my abilities, put myself in the high-stakes arenas whilst I still have a little youth left in these legs, and simply execute as brilliantly as I can on the race-day. In this journey, I sense I’m on to something, and am excited to keep doing the inner work necessary to keep myself where I want to be—up high. There are never any guarantees of success. At mile 70 of Bighorn, I thought there was a good chance I’d run away with the win. We were at course-record pace at the half, even with the horrendous conditions. Yet, those conditions would go on to crush me.
Confidence in the 100mi is hard-earned. It’s taken a fare share of courage to keep lining up at these mountain races when you’re just another working masters runner who lives at sea level. Man, I love racing on these courses though! With this finish at RRR, I now have some good momentum to roll into 2018. Karl Meltzer ran an astounding 18:30 here at RRR when he was 45 years old. I’d really like to shoot for something similar to that next year. It’ll come at a price though…
IX. Friends. I read somewhere the other day it’s not the races we’ll remember in old age, but the people. It’s always a grand ol’ time getting to hang with my tribe at these events, even if some of them are taking pictures of me in the low moments and sending them to my wife to post on Instagram. All the highs that training for and racing this event produced made the post-event lows totally worthwhile, or at least more tolerable. So many great memories…
X. Attitude of Gratitude. Due to solid prep for this year’s run and running a smart race, I didn’t really have any significant lows all day. I really had my head on straight for this one. Even projectile vomiting at the end wasn’t much of a low; quite the opposite—it was thrilling! The Hoka One One Speedgoat 2 was clearly the ideal shoe for the course and running in Speedgoats with The Speedgoat was quite the treat! Nutrition has really come together, having been inspired by Magda Boulet’s consumption of 18 bottles of GU Roctane, Summit Tea, at Western States back this year. I think I put down about 16 bottles here at Run Rabbit, along with quite a few Toasted Marshmallow, S’mores, and Tutti Frutti GUs, and even a few GU Stroopwaffles. Boo-YAH! The Roctane worked so well I never felt the need to take supplemental caffeine or Coke at any point in the race. GU products are the boss applesauce (maybe that can be a new flavor name…). I’m grateful the weather held out too, the forest fires and smoke didn’t ruin our day, the awesome race direction headed up by Fred Abramowitz and Paul Sachs, the amazing volunteers, led by Brady Barnett Worster, the 7000 pics snapped by the official race photographer, Paul Nelson, and the awesome field this race always draws, which pushes me to be the best I can be out there.
Stepping out of life for 5 days to do Run Rabbit Run is no small task. I’m grateful to Amanda for holding down the fort, though I was bummed to not having her there to see me rock the course this year after witnessing my craptastic DNF last year. I’m grateful for Point Positive Coaching and all the athletes I have the privilege of working with. Without you I’d be traveling to race nowhere this year. I’m grateful I had the same strong sub for my classes while I was out Wed-Fri of race-week. I’m also grateful Back-to-School Night was not held during race-week as it was last year; I hated missing that. I’m grateful for the race format of Run Rabbit Run, that the Hares are not permitted pacers or poles, and that there’s money on the line, including $1000 for the masters. I’m grateful it’s a high stakes race that, given my reality, I can make happen with a little hustle. I’m grateful I can just sign up and show up for RRR. And no, before you ask, my performance at Run Rabbit Run does not get me into Western States.
Run Rabbit Run 100 – In the rear-view: 3 things I might have done differently:
i. Too conservative for too long. After his record breaking run at Lake Sonoma 50 a couple o’ years ago, Alex Varner blogged something to the effect, “Whether I go out easy or I go out hard, it still hurts like hell at the end.” Thus there’s a good case to be made to going out a little harder, taking some measured risks, and seeing where the chips fall late in the game. Much of one’s fortune, I believe, is tied to the age-old notion: “Know thyself.” I suspect I could’ve ratcheted up the pace a bit earlier but who knows how that would’ve panned out. Maybe 21-ish hours was all I had in me on the day, especially given how my downhill legs were feeling…
ii. Quads. I was #66 again this year and that number symbolized the number of miles I managed my exploding quads. Next time, assuming my knees are cooperating, I’ll be sure to prep the quads with some carefully placed, long, fast, downhill training sessions.
iii. Carrying too much sh*t. It’s not like it weighed a ton, but the pack I picked up at Olympian at mile 42 was a little weighty. Because of my struggles to keep warm in recent 100s, I just needed to have stuff with me on this run. I think I’ll be more comfortable next time just using my drop-bags effectively and staging warm, dry stuff all over the course. And if there’s any chance of rain, I’ll be sure to have an actual rain-proof jacket with me.
A heartfelt note of appreciation to my beautiful and highly supportive wife/agent Amanda. I love you! | Thanks to all the athletes I coach who inspire me with their passion and dedication to this crazy sport. | Thank you to Hoka One One for producing the best trail shoes out there—#speedgoat2 #timetofly | Thanks Healdsburg Running Company for the cheers from afar and always sending out the kick-ass vibes! | Thanks Inside Trail Racing for hosting so many great events in the Bay Area and beyond. | Cheers of gratitude to new sponsors BUFF USA, Drymax Sports, and Squirrel Nut Butter. | GU… You’re killing it! My nutrition’s never been more effective (or tasty!) #summit_tea #toasted_marshmallow #stroopwaffle | Thanks to Dave Townsend at Santa Rosa Physical Therapy for helping me manage all of my old man issues and keeping me moving down the trail! >>> 🙂
In the words of Indiana Jones, “It’s not the years… It’s the mileage.” This season, I’m really enjoying getting back to the racing frequency I thrive upon. But, to hold it together I gotta do a lot more “stuff”—in the time between all those training runs and races—than I used to. It’s clear, if I don’t keep myself tuned up, I’ll easily drive myself right into the ground and onto the injured list. Consistency is king and not just with my running—quality sleep, time on the yoga mat, walking/hiking, and meditation have come to represent the very oil that keeps my ’74 diesel engine humming right along.
Sleep’s the big one. Unlike yoga, hiking, or meditation, you can’t just choose not to sleep. Simply put, if you’re living in the year 2017, you probably need more quality rest. Like at least 7-8 hours every night. And if you’re in training mode, you’d likely significantly benefit from 9-10 hours. As my own coach I’ve fought myself on sleep for years, trying to do things like two-a-day-runs (one in the early morning before work and another in the evening) but I always find myself draggin’ ass by late in the work-week. Yeah, I might’ve hit my totally arbitrary mileage goal but everything suffered as a result (yes, the running too). The lack of optimal sleep catches up with all of us. Every year in June, after the school year ends and my life slows way down, I marvel at how healthy I start feeling, consistently getting 8-9 (sometimes 10!) hours of Zzz. As coaches are fond of stating, sleep is the greatest performance enhancing drug there is. And, it’s free! Oh, and legal!
“Live like a clock.” Ideally, we want to maintain routine sleep patterns. That’s a tough one with a wife who works a different work schedule than I do. In the end, we do the best we can. For me, the trick seems to be starting the bed-time routine early enough that I’m in bed, asleep, at a time that gonna yield 8 hours of quality rest, before getting up for work. Bagging that extra REM-cycle from an additional 90min of sleep can really super-charge your day, your workout, while keeping your immune system strong. Living like a clock may not be sexy or fun, in that it requires a fair amount of discipline, but the body does thrive on the predictability, having the same bed and wake times; and workout time for that matter. Live like a clock and appreciate how your body just starts humming along…
Tender Loving Care. All of the athletes I coach are used to seeing “TLC” as part of their daily training plan. This is an informal session that I like to see placed at the opposite end of the day from an athlete’s formal training session. If an athlete generally works out in the evening, then they choose a morning TLC activity that most supports their current state of run recovery. Yoga, foam-rolling those hots spots, walking, hiking, cycling, legs-up-a-wall, and meditation are all great TLC activities that effectively complement our running. They can be as short as 5min or as long as you like. Commit to daily TLC. As my athletes will attest, your body will thank you!
My appreciation for yoga was born out of my experience taking classes during the period of time my wife worked part-time at a local studio. I was fortunate to have had a skilled and mindful instructor who helped me make some serendipitous connections between yoga and my ultra-running practice. Specifically, more conscious and consistent engagement with my breathing as well as developing an evolved ability to deal more effectively with discomfort, which is at the heart of being successful at achieving our goals in endurance sports. If you’ve never done much yoga, I suggest you ask around in your area where the best instructors are then take a few classes to get the basics under your belt. You want a level of proficiency in your practice at home. Taking a few classes not only teaches you how to do poses correctly, they also help you internalize how to flow through poses while remaining connected to your conscious breath. Trust me, you’ll be a better runner for it.
These days, I no longer take classes but, nonetheless, I try to get on my mat daily, for at least 15-20min. Moving with my breath, I like to deliberately flow through the classic poses—downward and upward-facing dog, the various warrior poses, sun salutations, tree, happy-baby, etc. all the while mixing in some core work like side-plank and boat. Depending on available time—like right now during my summer vacation—I’ll transition into my foam-rolling routine immediately following yoga. And after this, roughly 10min routine, I’ll move into meditation. It’s like a zen triathlon—yoga, foam-roll, meditate!
“Mind is everything. Muscle – pieces of rubber. All that I am, I am because of my mind.” -Paavo Nurmi
Next up is hiking. No lollygagging! Currently I’m designing a training plan for myself where I will rarely—if ever—run on consecutive days. I mean, I’m old. I’ve been at this endurance sport game for 20 years. I don’t need to be running around all the time. The base is well established. “We are what we repeatedly do,” says Aristotle. I need to focus on crushing it, when I do run, ’cause that’s what I’m trying to do in racing. All the running I do this next training cycle will be of the highest quality—no bullshit runs. I’m taking the notion of “keep your easy days easy” to the next level by always making my easy days fast-hiking days, since fast-hiking is something I’ll want to be especially proficient at in Colorado come Sept. To become truly proficient at anything, you must consistently engage in deliberate practice.
These sessions are gonna be awesome active-recovery too. I anticipate most hikes will be done in a 20lb weight vest. My rule for the vest is no running while wearing it, but emphasizing effective fast-hiking/climbing. Hiking in the vest will make my body stronger, allow me to get out into the woods on my non-running days, and build my climbing strength, without all the run-specific impact of doing a so-called “easy runs.” I’ll reap the benefits of all my fast-hiking in my Sunday long runs, as well as during my 100mi of running through the Routt National Forest of northern Colorado.
As a side-note, walking, in general, is something we should be mindfully seeking to do, as often as we can. I think runners generally have the “take the stairs” mentality already. I like to get out walking a dog or two fairly regularly, as time permits. I walk to and from work regularly and find time to go on walks with my wife, Amanda, as well. I appreciate how walking slows things down and I can absorb more of the subtleties of the world around me.
In closing there’s a new TLC practice I’ve recently adopted—meditation. It’s been a long time coming. I’ve needed some training wheels, so to speak, with getting some consistency going with an effective meditation practice. A while back I heard Rich Roll on his podcast, plugging the Headspace. Rich smooth-talked me into doing their free trial—ten 10-min, guided sessions. Earlier this year I shared the Headspace app with some athletes I coach, and it was one of them that inspired me to keep revisiting it. I have to say I’m sold on the value of meditation and have now worked up to daily 15-20min daily sessions. Curiously, the practice does indeed seem to create a little more “head-space.” It’s encouraging greater productivity and creativity—the desire to be more productive; more creative. I’m even handling set-backs in a more mature, care-free way. My personal intention for doing meditation is to be at peace with myself, outside and inside the athletic arena. With a quiet mind, I’m free to perform at my potential, whatever the activity. As with my running, I’m excited to stick with meditation, for the sake of continued spiritual growth.
For years, the banner quote on my blog has been from one of my favorite thinkers, Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, from his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, “Control of consciousness determines the quality of life.” It’s pretty clear: we either consciously work to control the mind or, we’re slaves to it.
To me, Robert Frost’s idea that, “Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence” is the ideal to which we should all aspire, although I continue to fall short time and time again. Fall down 7 times. Stand up 8, right? The practice—or art—of meditation creates some space in our heads; some room in that human prefrontal cortex to proactively respond versus merely reacting to stressful stimuli. The potential for an increase in overall quality of life though?—priceless.
Engagement with the present moment is powerful stuff that adds more richness to all aspects of our lives. In their new book Peak Performance, Brad Stulberg and Steve Magnuss write, “It’s another example of how achieving excellence in seemingly distinct pursuits—running and meditating—ends up having a lot in common.” Therein lies the magic of connecting the dots between one “self-renewing compulsion,” to quote Dr. George Sheehan, and another. The act of trying-to-evolve in one aspect of our lives lends itself—more than we may realize at first—to becoming more evolved in another. So, I encourage you to make regular deliberate efforts, to sleep, pose, hike, and meditate yourself toward becoming the best version of yourself possible. Let it not be about perfection, rather, let it be about mindfulness and ultimately, equanimity.
In closing, I’ll share with you how I’m managing to squeeze in all this activity, in addition to my run training during my normal 40-hour work-week. The secret is mindfulness and frequency—maybe a little discipline—not duration. Just think, if you do 10min of meditation every day for a week, you did an over an hour of meditation that week. Keep it up and you’ve got four hours a month you’re now investing in your own mindful practice! Could this increase the overall quality of your life?
Sleep. If you’re getting to bed early enough, avoiding caffeine after noon, and getting your electronic devices out of the bedroom, you should generally wake feeling refreshed and ready to take on your day. If not, it’s back to the drawing board. Waking feeling truly rested is habit numero uno! Realize that your running, yoga, meditation, etc. will all encourage restful, quality sleep. The only time I don’t get good rest is when I shoot myself in the foot by doing something dumb—like drinking a cold-brew coffee at 2:30 in the afternoon!
Yoga. Soon as I wake up I do my morning routine then soon roll out the yoga mat. I always start out in child’s pose and begin the work of quieting my mind. During the work-week, I’m usually on the mat for 15-20min before I have to start getting ready for work. It’s important I leave time to fuel my day with a healthy breakfast. Recall, I’m not doing these things because I want to, I’m doing them because they energize both my work-day and my run training.
Meditation. I’m finding that lunch is the best time for me to do this during the work-week. I’m only allotted 35min so I have to proactively stick to a routine—eat lunch, respond to some emails, then with 10-15min before kids come back for 4th period, I put my legs up a wall and meditate, using the Headspace app and my ear-buds. Boom! I’m recharged for a productive afternoon. Note: Sometimes, I just take my lunch outside and walk-n-eat. I try to remember to drink a bunch of water upon returning to the classroom. I find that drinking adequate water throughout the day really has energizing effects and really encourage higher quality running after work.
Hike. About 4pm to about 6pm during the week is prime-time for training. As I’ve stated, I’m alternating between high quality fast-running and weighted hikes. Again, the hikes serve to both help me actively recover and prime the legs, as well as strengthen my body. Don’t run in the weight-vest, especially down hill. I like to wear my Hoka One One Speedgoat 2’s, as they offer superior protection/cushioning for my feet.
Foam-roll. After a robust dinner with plenty of time to relax, I’ll roll out the yoga mat again and roll out my back, glutes, IT-bands, calves, and achilles. Sometimes, I’ll just bang this out while we’re watching Netflix ’cause sometimes I get too tired to do it right before bed. When I’m lacking in motivation to do it, I remember, “5 minutes. Just do 5 minutes.” When I spend more time—like 10-15min—on the foam-roller, I’ll zero in on any hot-spots I might have at the time, like an angry achilles, or a tight glute or IT-band. I certainly know where my problem areas are and staying on top of those every single day generally keeps my run-legs pretty darn happy.
A heartfelt note of appreciation to my beautiful and highly supportive wife/agent Amanda. I love you! | Thanks to all of the athletes I coach who inspire me with their passion and dedication to this crazy sport. | Thank you to Hoka One One for your continued support, innovation, and producing the best shoes out there—#speedgoat2 #timetofly! | Thanks Healdsburg Running Company for the cheers on-course and always sending out the good race vibes! | Thanks Inside Trail Racing for putting on so many great events in the Bay Area and beyond. | Thanks to Dave Townsend at Santa Rosa Physical Therapy for helping me effectively manage all of my issues and keeping me out there pluggin’ away! >>> 🙂
Soooo, it only took me three years to make it to this start line. Two years in a row I had to email the RD, Keira Henninger, and let her know that I’d be a no-show due to injury. So as 2016 came to a close and I was laying the groundwork for Bandera 100k on 1/7, the idea of being injured for a third consecutive January haunted me.
The prep for Bandera ended up going very well and by the time race-day came around I was ready to rock. It was one of those race-mornings where, upon doing your obligatory warm-up jog, you’re delighted to find the legs feel fresh-n-loose right outta the car. But of course, things went south for me in the great state of Texas. But, had they not and I’d earned my Golden Ticket into Western States there then I wouldn’t have raced Sean O’Brien (SOB) 100k, instead focusing on building in a longer rest period before starting my prep for Georgia Death Race (GDR) in early April. Thus, the silver lining of being directed off-course at Bandera was that I now had the opportunity to finally race SOB and get a solid 100k in me before the build to GDR.
I was eager to race again post-Bandera, not just because I wanted—and needed— redemption but also because I wanted to capitalize on the fitness I’d built in the fall. And I was still pretty fresh (I’d only raced about 40 of the 62mi at Bandera before dropping). I would now, however, have to s t r e t c h that peak fitness another four weeks to SOB. Truth be told, the disappointment coming off Bandera affected my running mojo for a couple weeks before I finally got my head on straight. I felt robbed not getting to run that final 20mi; a wonderful opportunity just plopped to the bottom of the ol’ port-o-john.
If anything though, we have to be resilient in this sport. On 1/22, I was pleased to put up one of the best mountainous long runs I’ve ever done here at home, just two weeks out from SOB. One session doesn’t make or break a race, but it served as a reset and restored both my passion and confidence. Before I knew it, it was time to “taper” again.
The plan going in to SOB was to simply roll with the challenging course and execute the most effective 100k I was capable of on the day. The competitive field would be deeper here than at Bandera so I programmed my head to do what Speedgoat Karl Meltzer always does so well and just “do my thing over the first half and then work hard to not get passed in the second.” The misting, muddy, 5am starting conditions here at SOB were about as inviting as the 20deg temps that greeted us at the start in TX. Oh the joys of racing ultras in the winter months! The sun couldn’t come up fast enough for me on Saturday. And once it did, I instantly felt more at ease—being able to see the trail—and course markings—a helluva lot more clearly. Naturally, after Bandera, the last thing I needed was to go off course again.
At the start, Keira informed us of a slight course change due to the recent rains that would ultimately shave off about 4mi, as well as omit one of the toughest—if not the toughest—climb on the course. This was a bit of a bummer given the fact I need all the miles and mountains I can get in these Golden Ticket races to help me level the playing field. Of course I was grateful too we didn’t all show up race morning only to hear the race was canceled. Somehow, Keira convinced the park folks just hours before the race to let us run with just that small change to the course. Game on.
About an hour in there was enough light to run without a headlamp. Immediately my mood started to improve and I began enjoying the running more and more. Soon thereafter, I reached the Kanan Rd. aid-station where I knew I’d see Amanda for the first time. I cruised through and heard her note on my way out, “Chris is right there…”
Chris Wehan has been my Inside Trail Racing (ITR) teammate, fellow competitor, and compadre for several years as well as pacer-extraordinaire at both my Tahoe Rim Trail 100 in 2014 and San Diego 100 in 2015. Additionally, Chris placed 4th here at SOB in 2015, which ended up being just one “hard-luck” spot away from his Golden Ticket into Western States. In 2016, after earning entry into States via the lottery, he bested his coach, Ian Sharman, at American River 50mi, earning a 2nd place finish only to end up with a frustrating injury that ultimately sidelined him, putting his dream of running States on the back burner once again. At the end of 2016, Chris came roaring back to post a 2:35 marathon PR at CIM. And now, at 35 years young, I felt he was poised to run to his full potential here at SOB. Indeed, I had a front-row seat to watch Chris run one of his strongest races to date.
Through the Kanan aid-station I spied Chris’ orange-n-gray ITR kit up ahead and noted how quickly the gap between us was opening up. He was seemingly floating up-n-away on the climbs, and then out of sight. I’d never seen him climbing so well. It was early though and his climbing pace was simply faster than my current fitness was capable of sustaining in order for me to have an effective second half. Later in the race we’d see what the time separation would be and then I’d try my hardest to give him a run for his money.
It was a sloppy mud-fest heading down to the Bonsall aid-station at around mile 20. This section was supposed to be part of the original lollipop portion of the course with spectacular views of Malibu and the Pacific Ocean. It was changed to an out-n-back with the Bonsall aid-station arriving about 1.5mi earlier (we still got the views!). Thus, on the way down, I got to see everyone in front of me coming back. I was pleased they weren’t that far up.
Bend’s Ryan Kaiser was firmly in the lead, looking comfortable working back up the slippery slope from Bonsall, then Chris, and then a handful of other guys, including another ITR teammate, Airik Sorenson who just recently posted a 6:38 at North Face 50mi in December, earning him an 8th place overall in that highly competitive field. Airik and I had just raced each other at ITR’s Mt. Tam 50k back in November; both of us knocking our noggins on the same downed tree at mile 26. He edged me out there but I was hoping at this longer distance I might be able to reel him in later…
On the way back up from Bonsall it was a true mud slog like I’d never run in before. It added a fun element to the already challenging course. It was truly laughable. Mud was caking up on the bottoms of our shoes and we were all doing the best to knock the mud off while trying to stay upright. It was pretty much an exercise in futility so we just rolled with it. I caught up with Airik and we chatted a bit. He wasn’t feeling great but was in good spirits nonetheless. On we slogged in our heavy, nature-fashioned mud boots.
Up and up an up… and the half-way point finally arrived. I made my usual mental switch from pace-mode to race-mode and shifted over to race-pace on my watch, seeing what kind of average speed I’d stacked up over the 30mi we’d run thus far. I was surprised to see I was right at 9:00/mi average, a round number I thought was curious given that my pace at the half of Bandera four weeks ago was exactly a nice, round 8:00/mi average, showing just how much many muddy mountains [in mud boots] slow you down! I was psyched with the speed since I knew I’d probably have to average around 9min pace in order to be in contention for a Golden Ticket here at SOB. But… now the course was shorter—with a big climb omitted—and my intuition told me I’d likely have to be significantly faster, like sub-8:30/mi faster… We do what we can. “Full effort is full victory.”
Arriving at the second half of an ultra is something I live for. It’s finally time for me to start building to that finish line >>>. Coming back through the field, lot of words of encouragement were shared and it was great seeing so many SoCal ultrarunners in the race and out spectating; folks that I don’t get to see very often outside of social media. The mud factor made things even more fun since we were all slippin’-n-slidin’ out there, trying to get past one another without taking each other out. Lots of laughs out there on the course, to be certain.
Back at Corral Canyon Rd. then some fire-road switchbacks descending down to the Bulldog Rd. aid-station, and then to the turn-around. No one was in sight behind but, more concerning, no one was in sight ahead either. A pit in my stomach grew. “Was there some out-n-back that had been added on after the course-change in order to tack on some distance?” I thought? “Did I miss hearing about it when it was announced at the start?” “Well, you’ll find out soon enough.” “Please let those guys still be in front of me…”
The road eventually flattened out and I knew the aid-station was getting close, yet no one was coming back. A lot of folks were out hiking and biking. I refrained from asking them if they’d seen any other runners come this way. I didn’t want to know. I wanted the racing to last as long as possible.
I’d never been so glad to see the first place runner coming back at me from a turn-around before. Chris had passed Ryan Kaiser at some point and was looking good. We exchanged words of encouragement and I was relieved that we were all still in it to win it.
Along came Ryan in 2nd, looking just as relaxed and smooth as he did when I saw him hours earlier climbing back up from Bonsall (must be all that time on the treadmill up in Bend!). Amanda surprised me when I saw her at the turn-around, which, turns out, was actually less than mile from the Start/Finish. With fresh bottles from my drop-bag, I started after Ryan and Chris. I’d loosely pegged myself for about 5th place here today but, yet again, I found myself in contention for one of those ever-elusive Golden Tickets. No one else was coming back my way so I knew I likely had at least 3rd place locked up unless I tanked in the final two hours left of racing. It’s been a while since I’ve had a successful ultra beyond 50k.
I knew from friends that the Bulldog Rd. climb was going to be a b*tch, since it comes late and you’ve got a lot of miles in the legs. About an hour passed before I finally reached the summit. I ran a lot of it early and power-hiked more of it as I got closer to the top. It was uplifting being on the receiving end of so much encouragement from runners barreling down at me! I wasn’t as strong as I would’ve liked to have been on this section but all things considered I was happy I was moving well, staying present, and thoroughly enjoying the racing.
By the end of the race I’d taken in some 2000cal inside 200oz of fluid over my 8 hours and 49 minutes of racing and I was still moving pretty well at the end though just a little bummed it was over. I’ll take that as a good sign for all that lies ahead. >>> 😀
As they say, we’re only as good as our last race. It’s satisfying to have earned a spot on the podium here at SOB, even if it’s in the so-called “hard luck” 3rd place position. I’m proud of the effort and had a helluva lot of fun out there on Saturday. Plus, I stayed on course so that’s always a big win!
Going into my fourth year now as masters runner, I’m surely still “fumbling toward endurance,” to a use a term coined by Geoff Roes. My desire to keep trying to figure sh*t out remains alive and well. As we age, we’re going to inevitably acquire some chinks in our armor. For example, I went for some 15 years in endurance sports without incurring a serious injury; then I hit 40—Chink! Sometimes we have to tackle our egos when our vulnerabilities are on display for others to see. Whatever we do we gotta keep moving that ball downfield, so to speak. When life sacks us, we fall back on our core beliefs, or principles, or religion, or mission statement, or code we live by, whatever you happen to have. Just have something in place that gives you the courage to persist in the face of adversity, negativity, and cynicism. Dr. George Sheehan stated it best in his book Running & Being, “There’s no excuse for not playing good defense.” Like Superbowl LI we just witnessed over the weekend, you just never know what can happen in the second half. It ain’t over ’til it’s over so keep on pluggin’!
A heartfelt note of appreciation to my beautiful and highly supportive wife/agent Amanda for jumping through the 10,000 hoops we needed to clear to make this trip possible. I love you! | Thanks to all of the athletes I coach who inspire me with their passion and dedication to this crazy sport. | Thank you to Hoka One One for your continued support, innovation, and producing the best shoes out there—#speedinstinct #timetofly! | Thanks Healdsburg Running Company for always sending out the good race vibes! | Thanks Inside Trail Racing for putting on so many great events in the Bay Area and beyond. | Gratitude to Victory Sportdesign who produce the best drop-bags in the biz! | Thanks to Dave Townsend at Santa Rosa Physical Therapy for helping me effectively manage all of my issues and keeping me out there pluggin’ away! >>> 🙂