Multiples of Seven

“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.

Sea Level. Golden Gate 30k start, Rodeo Beach, CA. Photo Credit: Coastal Trail Runs

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.

Uphill start from Rodeo Valley. Felt good to red-line it.

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!

Salt Point 26k, Salt Point State Park, CA. Photo Credit: Gig Hitao

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!

Salt Point 26k finish line with Luis Quezadas.

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…

Facchino4

Tahoe Rim Trail 55k. Photo Credit: Facchino Photography

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.

“Hey, I know Ben’s leading the 50-mile and everything, but can I get some sports drink too?”

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.

Tahoe Rim Trail 55k. Photo Credit: Facchino Photography

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!

Once again, I found myself at another TRT finish line, with friend and TRT RD, George Ruiz. Thumbs way up!

With Emily Richards. Tahoe Rim Trail 55k, Spooner Lake, NV.

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.

Diamond Peak aid-station (mile 80). 3:15am. Todd Bertolone (right) with pacers John Tarantino and Carrie Peterson Kirby.

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!

On the start-line. Lost & Found 30k, Donner Lake, CA.

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.

With Erik Schulte in 2nd and Patrick Parsel in 1st (center).

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!

Stress + Rest = Growth

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.

2018 Western States 100

Well, you know what my dad always said, ‘Having dreams is what makes life tolerable.'”  –Rudy (1993)

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.

The early miles. “Everybody’s fast when it’s easy.” — Photo Credit: Facchino Photography.

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.

High country running. Followed by Chris Brown, Kyle Pietari, “CTS(?),” and Michael Owen, I believe. — Photo Credit: Facchino Photography (???)

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!

Sean O’Connor and Paul Terranova. Sean (and his fitness) made the trip out from NJ, hoping he’d get off the waitlist. PS: I like those HOKA Slides, brother!

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.

Cruising in the high country. — Photo Credit: Facchino Photography

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.”

Smile for the camera. — Photo Credit: Let’s Wander Photography

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…

Robinson Flat with Louis Secreto. — Photo Credit: Let’s Wander Photography

Robinson Flat, mile 30, with Amanda. — Photo Credit: Let’s Wander Photography

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!

Back on familiar ground. Going up… #Canyons_100k

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.

Step into the ring, to take another swing. Feeling good coming up Devil’s Thumb.

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.

Rolling through Foresthill, mile 62. In sync with pacer, Louis Secreto. — Photo credit: Bob MacGillivray, Drymax Socks

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...

Arrival at Rucky Chucky aid-station, aka: “The River.” Mile 78. Check-Engine light’s ON.

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…

Wretch Fest 2018. W.T.F. — Photo Credit: Swiss Ultra Trail

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.

I don’t know about this Louis… You look WAY too excited, buddy. Why’s everyone SO goddamn happy? I’m gonna go back up and get some more broth, okay? I need to see if Ken has anymore watermelon Jolly Ranchers. Be right back! — Photo Credit: Helen Martin

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.

Pulling ourselves out of the belly of the beast. — Photo Credit: Helen Martin (???)

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.

Pointed Rocks with Amanda and my patient crew. Mile 94. I’m not the only one cracking jokes…

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.

Fumes. — Photo Credit: Louis Secreto

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!

Sweet relief! At the Placer High School track in good ol’ Auburn, Calfornia.

Up for 31 hours and she looks fresh as a daisy. I love you Amanda! Thanks for putting up with a different bunch o’ bull today. We’re officially back on “vacation.” — Photo Credit: Gary Wang (thanks for all the great shots Gary! Especially this one).

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.”

Press Democrat article, by Kerry Benefield. Pre-Western States 100. 6/21/18. 

Press Democrat follow-up, by Kerry Benefield, Post-Western States 100. 6/27/18.

URP:  Bob Shebest  |  Everyone Has a Plan Until It Falls Apart – 6/28/18

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!

Parting Shot: Until we meet again Western States. Thanks for everything.

2018 Georgia Death Race

2018 GDR Sfinish G-3038

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.

Screen Shot 2018-04-06 at 8.34.22 AM

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.

F*CK!!

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.

Wrong.

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.

Screen Shot 2018-04-05 at 2.58.21 PM

East Coast Trail & Ultra Podcast – Georgia Death Race 2018

__________________________________________________________

 

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! >>> 🙂

Run Redemption Run

Turtles & Bunnies Registration. Photo Cred: Paul Nelson

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).

Running in 1st (for 25 yards). Photo Credit: Paul Nelson Photography

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!

III.  The Aspens. I love them. The aspen groves all over the course—and town—are simply beautiful. The groves we run through along the course always pump me up!

5min before high noon, with fellow hare, Daniel Barnes. Photo Credit: Derek Barnes.

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.

The race for top master. Aka: chasing Karl and Jesse. Summit Lake Aid—Mile 80-ish. It’s on! Photo Credit: Paul Nelson Photography.

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.

With “M8,” Jesse Haynes, at the finish line on Saturday morning. He put 10+ minutes in me by the finish, capturing the top spot for the masters men in the hare division; we went 6th and 7th respectively in our division. We’d both dropped last year and came back and put things right. It was a 57% finishing rate this year for the bunnies. Photo Credit: Mark Gilligan

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…

The aftermath. Saturday morning after a long night “partying.” Photo Credit: Amanda Shebest (via Linn Secreto). Lol.

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.

Parting Shot. It was a long work-week nursing my 100mi hangover. I’ll be nursing a proper hangover tomorrow… Cheers friends! Photo Credit: Carlo (no S) Piscitello.

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! >>> 🙂

Strike Two in Malibu

sobSoooo, 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.

sobprepI 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.

Pre-dawn running on one of my favorite parts of the course. Photo Credit: Howie Stern

Pre-dawn running on one of my favorite parts of the course. Photo Credit: Howie Stern

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.

With 2mi to go. Photo Credit: Howie Stern

With 2mi to go. This felt goooooood on the legs and feet. Photo Credit: Howie Stern

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. >>> 😀

With the Golden Ticket winners, Ryan Kaiser and Chris Wehan. Photo Credit: Amanda

With the Golden Ticket winners, Ryan Kaiser and Chris Wehan. Photo Credit: Amanda

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’!

Complete Sean O’Brien 100k Results

View my SOB100k on Strava

Parting Shot: Amanda earned this trophy dealing with me over the past month!

Parting Shot: She earned this trophy dealing with me over the past month!

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! >>> 🙂

Shot Down At Bandera

bandera_2014_buckleThis was my first time going to Bandera, TX, aka, the “Cowboy Capital of the World.” I’ve wanted to run the 100k here for a long time. Race weekend was book-ended with high temps firmly in the 70’s, but over the weekend the temps plummeted. It was gonna be a cold one! This warm-blooded California cowboy purposefully trained in a few chilly dawn mornings at home but not with temps quite as low as we’d see on race day. On Friday’s shake-out run from my hotel, I quickly made the decision to run in tights—with shorts underneath—and dialed in my layers up top so I could shed as it slowly “warmed up” to the predicted high of 42. If you’re comfortable, you’re happy, and if you’re happy, you’re going to be moving well out there. There was an REI nearby and I picked up some some other stuff to help keep me happy during the first loop, hoping to further encourage energy conservation for later.

With Stephen Wassather seconds before the start. Photo Credit: Maggie Tides

With Stephen Wassather seconds before the start. Photo Credit: Maggie Tides

Heading out on the loop #1 there was a good group of us that stayed together for a long while. Mario Mendoza set the pace and we were all happy to be cookin’ along and keeping warm. It’s always magical to be running on trails you’ve never run on before, especially after a long December build for an early Jan event. It was tough taking in the scenery though since the course is crazy technical with rocks galore. You’re doing your best to remain upright. I was having fun dancing over those rocks and trying my damndest to not hotdog it too much. There was some hootin’ and hollarin’ though. I mean, it’s Texas after all.

The miles go by and Mario slowly puts some distance between himself and the chase pack. I’m pacing the first half off heart-rate and I’m being mindful of both it and perceived exertion. I take advantage of what flat stretches and downhills I can get to open up my stride and take advantage of any paths of least resistance. My mantra today, “Quiet mind. Execute.”

Soon I find myself alone while catching glimpses of Mario up ahead. This is my first Golden Ticket opportunity of 2017 to try and gain entry into Western States 100 in June. It’s hard not to run outside myself early. I feel a little numb but the legs are solid. And, I’m right where I want to be in the race. Relax and just enjoy the ride…

As I’m running down a section of trail I see three spectators up ahead at a clearing. I clip a toe and start to go down. My hand-helds cushion the fall and I find myself doing a somersault that puts me right back up on my feet. Whoa, easy does it cowboy, I think to myself. I get composed and press on, keeping that HR right where I know it needs to be. I’m grateful at that moment my bottles didn’t explode, ’cause they have all my calories in them.

Soon enough a marathon of miles has passed by and I know it’s gonna be a great day because the skies are clear, the sun’s warm, and the running’s easy. And the time’s flyin’ by too. And before I know it, I’m about two miles out from the half-way point, back at the Start/Finish. I’m deliberating—hard—about exactly what pieces of clothing to shed. I decide I’ll ditch my nylon shell and my gloves. I’ll keep on my long-sleeve pull-over. Later, I may ditch the pull-over and go down to just my short-sleeve jersey. I’m eager, not only to discard the clothing, but also to get in-n-out of the half-way as quickly as possible since I’ll have the opportunity to see who’s behind me, how they look, and how much separation there is between them and myself. It’s a pivotal moment in the race. A turning point. The moment where I go from pace-mode to race-mode.

I soon see Mario blazing back toward me, returning from the turn-around. We pass one another while we sharing words of encouragement. I kick it up a notch. >>>

Running back from the timing chip mat at the turn-around. Psyched to get some layers off! Photo Credit: Maggie Tides

Running back from the timing chip mat at the turn-around. Psyched to get some layers off! Photo Credit: Maggie Tides

Who better to have crewing for me this day than Meredith Terranova, recent UltraMan competitor and long-time endurance sports veteran. Her husband Paul, a former winner and perennial beloved favorite here at Bandera 100k, was racing the 50k today and she was crushing crewing duties.

Cruising back out, the empty bottles and gloves hit the ground. The jacket comes off. Meredith hands me two fresh bottles of VitargoS2. Knowing the chase group is coming, I bolt back up the same way I came in to go out on lap #2. It’s ON!!

Soon thereafter, I get back to the point where I saw Mario and runners are pouring out onto the dirt road. “Settle down” I’m telling myself. Quiet Mind. Execute. With the changes from last year’s race, I knew the course was a little longer. I was hoping to hit to do the lap #1 in about four hours. When I hit the View button on my Suunto to switch over to race-pace for the first time I was happy to see exactly 8:00/mi average. My average heart-rate for lap #1 was 140bpm. Now the game I would play with myself over lap #2 would be fighting to hold as close to this average pace as possible. I was excited to get to the “Nachos” aid-station at mile 42, with 20mi to go to the finish, because that would represent about one-third of the race remaining. I firmly believe that in racing ultras, “You must save half your energy for the final third of the race. I felt I’d saved enough to make a valiant push to the finish.

Something felt off though and dread started to slowly creep in after Mario and I had passed one another. I was still seeing course-markings. And that volunteer did say, “100k runners this way!” I know I didn’t miss a turn. There wasn’t any other trail to take. Right?

Here’s what I posted on the URP Daily News thread about what happened next:

urp_daily_news“Expect nothing and be prepared for anything.” I came prepared but the devil? Yeah, he’s in the details.

So who’s to blame? The URP Daily News thread offers a lot of thoughtful dialogue about this all-too-common occurrence in trail-running—athletes getting off-course—for one reason or another. Full disclosure though: this isn’t my first rodeo. I’ve been bucked off the bull and have found myself off-course more times than I can count. It just comes with the territory. I do buckle down and study course maps for every race I do. For Bandera, I’d printed out the provided race-doc from the website months ago and started studying the course. I drew by hand, over and over again, for example, the Crossroads aid-station because the website stated that some runners “will” get off course here since there was four ways out of this aid-station and you must be paying attention. I was dialed and said to myself, “Relax, it’s Bandera. They’ve been doing this event for years. It’s a Golden Ticket event and it’s the USATF 100k National Championship. They’re going to take good care of you. Then, I pressed the “I believe” button in my head and just hoped for the best.

Naturally, in the days leading up to Bandera I discovered there’d been some course changes and I was nervous about the fact that we weren’t running on the exact same course as last year. The Crossroads aid-station route had been completely changed around. A new version of any ultra-marathon course has vulnerabilities. It’s simply untested. I’m not a huge fan of the course map provided on the Bandera website. It makes me a little crazy, having to zoom in and out to even read aid-station names, which I didn’t even know were correct or not. Still, trusted friends had told me the course is very easy to follow and I trusted that things would flow smoothly and I could concentrate on the task at hand—RACING MY HEART OUT.

Racing on the front sometimes comes at a risk. We’re the first runners to arrive at the various aid-stations, intersections, and the like. Some front-runners will arrive before an aid-station—or even a finish-line!—is ready for them. I’ve run by aid-stations before that weren’t even there yet! It’s a huge challenge for race-directors to successfully orchestrate the myriad tasks that come along with organizing an event over vast distances and accurately predict when racers will first arrive. I volunteer at the occasional event myself. I recently pulled a 12hr shift at a cold, rainy Inside Trail Racing event. It’s definitely given me more empathy for the job race organizers do. In ITR’s case, do all the time, all year round.

I’m not in the habit of finger-pointing and after today I’m done bitching. Athletes and event organizers assume good will toward one another. After all, the people putting on all the events are life-long runners themselves! They know the deal. Athletes racing on the pointy end of the race don’t plan to f*ck up their races by missing a turn and race organizers don’t purposely try to sabotage us. There is, however, a lot of emotion on both sides when things go south. As a front-runner at Bandera on Saturday, with high hopes of earning my way into Western States, I’ve shared herein all that was going on in my head right up the time I went off course. I shared this final comment on the URP thread:

urp2I did the best job I could on the day. A navigation issue hasn’t significantly impacted my racing performance in two years. I was executing the event to the best of my ability and thriving on a challenging course and day. Sh*t happens. Two years ago, at Gorge Waterfalls 100k, an absolutely wonderful spring event held in Oregon, the front-runners were lead astray early as a result of course vandalism. We rallied, figured some sh*t out, helped one another, and got back to the task at hand—racing one another! Later, with the “help” of band of happy hikers, I went off course again for about 4min, thereby putting myself out of contention for a Golden Ticket. I owned the mistake. I rallied and fought hard in hopes of still getting on the podium. With less than a mile to go, and 4th place hot on my tail, I saw a course ribbon at a crowded visitor’s center intersection—no course monitor in sight—and shot straight through it, running on fumes after 60 some miles of racing, going for broke. I ended up way the h*ll out in BFE and had to flag down a motorcycle cop and ask him where the state park was and had to turn around and run back, losing another two places by the time I hit the finish. I f*cked up that race bad. The race-report was emotional in nature. I feel that what I wrote in that report as well here and in my URP comments are both fair and accurate. Some races just go sideways.

Still, many races have gone my way, and for them I’m most grateful. At San Diego 100  later in 2015 I was flying blind for several middle miles before finding a waded up ball of course ribbon some tortured soul threw in the bushes. I got lucky there. Some race directors have moved their 100s to Fridays in part to increase the likelihood that course markings aren’t tampered with.

At the 2015 Run Rabbit Run 2015, I found myself at mile 85ish at 3:30 in the morning, debating whether or not to run down a trail that didn’t feel right and that hadn’t been marked as well as it could’ve been. I looked at my watch and saw it was 0.5mi to the last aid-station. With thousands of dollars on the line, I made the tough decision to run back to aid-station and ask for clarification. A proactive volunteer ran me back out to the turn and told me that I needed to run down a bit and there’d be a left turn in about a quarter mile. I thanked him and went on to secure a top finish. Sadly, the guy that was in 3rd missed the turn and ended up adding an hour to his time. Crushing! Sometimes things pan out in your favor and sometimes you come home with a big fat DNF. I try and remember to dwell on the good races and let my “buddies” dwell on my shortcomings! Like I’m fond of saying, It only takes one “Oh Shit” to undo ten “Atta Boys.” Much to my dismay, folks remember all the “Oh Shits.”

banderaprepAs you can see from my training log leading into Bandera, I’ve been hard at work making my dream of racing well here a reality. There will be other races. Above all else I want to fiercely protect and preserve my passion for this great, great sport of ours. We are truly living at the top of our powers when we’re out there “gettin’ after it.” A recent Rich Roll podcast with former Navy SEAL, David Goggins, really hit home when Goggins shared that his journey as a Ranger and then a Navy SEAL, as well as his participation in endurance events, has really been about being “proud of who I am as a human being” and that what really matters in life is courage, honor, and respect.

Tropical John Medinger brought tears to my eyes last year before Western States when he told us that our fighting to that finish line in Auburn brings honor to ourselves, our competitors, and everyone involved. Sometimes, when setbacks occur it’s all to easy to forget these grand ideals, and take the low road. Here at Bandera, I began practicing a mental strategy Goggins used to finish a raw, excruciatingly painful Badwater 135: envisioning the finish line and “how I would feel [once I crossed it]” On Saturday, the thoughts of how I would feel at the finish line continually buoyed my spirits over a bitterly cold first lap. In 26 days, I’ll step into the arena once again, envisioning that finish line, and do my very best to honor myself, my fellow competitors, and everyone involved, whatever the outcome.

Congratulations to all the finishers at Bandera. Congrats to fellow Hoka One One athlete, Paul Terranova for winning the 50k. Thanks to Meredith Terranova for crewing and having breakfast in the fridge for me when I got up at 4am to catch my flight out. And thanks to all the folks at Bandera 100k for putting on a such a beautifully brutal event. I hope to come back and put things right.

New friends that stayed at the Terranova Ranch over the weekend, Jason Zeruto and Troy Bertram. Both guys fought hard and finished the 100k. Inspiring performance fellas!

Parting Shot: New friends I met over the weekend who stayed with us at  Terranova Ranch, Jason Zeruto and Troy Bertram. Both guys fought hard and earned that 100k belt buckle. Inspiring performance fellas!

A heartfelt thanks to my beautiful and highly supportive wife/agent Amanda for her thankless job as “First Responder” and always picking me up after I’ve fallen.  |  Thank you to Hoka One One for your continued support, innovation, and producing the best shoes out there—#speedinstinct #timetofly!  |  Thanks to Vitargo for the steady energy and SIMPLIFYING my nutrition.  |  Thank you Healdsburg Running Company for all the wonderful support from the HRC/H-Burg crew!! | Thanks Inside Trail Racing for putting on so many great events in the Bay Area and beyond. Your course-marking sets the standard in the sport.  |  Victory Sportdesign produces the best drop-bags in the biz! |  Thanks to Dave Townsend at Santa Rosa Physical Therapy for helping me manage all of my issues and keep on runnin’ down my dreams >>> 🙂

Race Until the Fitness Wears Off (or you hit a tree)

Sonoma ULTRA 50k

#1: Sonoma Ultra 50k on 10/1. Photo Credit: Amanda Shebest

Everything’s come full circle since a year ago. Health and fitness are finally back to where they should be. With a hefty spring racing schedule lined up, I was feeling some shorter, faster fall races were in order to build up some racing fitness for the spring as well as go have some fun here locally whilst I still can.

As I wrote about in my last post, Sonoma Ultra 50k was an opportunity to dust off my 50k fitness and clearly showed me I needed to work on my “top-end.” I really tanked at the end of that race but still enjoyed most of it, getting to push harder and faster than at any other point this year. As is the case with most races: it’s fun… until it’s not.

14589776_10154704923081812_3378229548280321765_o

#2: Coyote Ridge 50k on 10/16.

About 10 days of chillaxin’ after Sonoma Ultra 50k, I found myself excited to race again. I looked online to see what was coming up that weekend and found Coyote Ridge 50k, out of Muir Beach. As extra motivation I targeted the course-record. Although the day brought muddy conditions I brought better fitness and was able to even-split the course and snag that course-record by only a minute! This was my first satisfying ultra of 2016. Being injured, then under-trained, then over-trained, I finally felt like I was back at the top of my powers. To have that extra gear during the entire second half was just fantastic.

race_3121_photo_48171964

#3: Healdsburg Half-Marathon on 10/29.

The Healdsburg Half-Marathon was next up, two weeks post-Coyote Ridge. On the weekend in between these events I did a practice run on the H-Burg 13.1 course and finding I was sore from running at a good clip on the road for about 12mi. That seemed to be a reasonable effort in between the 50k and the 13.1.

14883405_10154748580316812_4007372133974428769_o

4-Time Olympian, Meb Keflezighi, greeted athletes at the finish of the 13.1. I raced with a phone for the first time so I’d be most likely to get a pic with the champ! NYC 2017 will be his final marathon.

The half-marathon was interesting. In a way it felt like coming home because of all those years I spent as a road-runner and a triathlete. At the start, I stood behind the four guys that had chosen to register as elites. I was there to have some fun and see if I could hold 6min pace for 13.1 and grab the Masters win so I just hung out behind the road rabbits. Once we started, two guys quickly pulled away, going on to run sub-1:10, while a young guy from out-of-state, slowly drifted away, only finishing 2min up by the end. I was happy to run a 1:18, which was just one minute faster than my last road half-marathon at 1:19, off-the-bike in Vineman 70.3 back in 2012.

With the HRC gang. Local boys bringing home the bottles of vino!

With the HRC gang. Local boys bringing home the bottles of vino!

Looking back, the half-marathon was fun, but it didn’t pack the fitness punch that running another 50k would have. Who knows? I found myself continuing to ride the fitness wave from the last block of solid training I’d done in August. How long would it last?…

Final bloody miles of Mt. Tam 50k. Photo Credit: Let's Wander Photography

#4: Final bloody miles of Mt. Tam 50k on 11/12. Photo Credit: Let’s Wander Photography

Coming into the fourth and final fall race, Inside Trail Racing’s Mt. Tam 50k last weekend, I’d been racing every other weekend for eight weeks straight, with not very much running in between. The week leading in kinda sucked ’cause I was nursing a pesky chest-cold. The election results put me in a slump as well. I still felt a desire to race. What the hell?!

As far as local races go, Tam’s pretty competitive. And the fast start isn’t helped by the fact that the 30k runners start with the 50k. The intensity in the early miles was pretty hot. I was glad I wore my HRM to help me keep things in check. Being four weeks removed from Coyote Ridge, I was curious to see how my body would respond to this 50k. Right off the bat I had to let quite a few guys go ahead of me, stepping off to the side of the trail numerous times to let guys by, but thinking, “Just be patient. You’ll see them again in the second half.”

The second half comes and I’m moving up from 9th to 7th, to 5th to 4th. I’m closing pretty good. Better than I expected. Then WHAMMO! Trying to run fast under a recently downed tree, I smack my forehead hard into the tree’s obscured trunk. I underestimated how low it really was. The impact lands me on my back. My legs instantly start cramping (I should’ve been doing a better job with hydration). I get up, get around the the damn tree, and get moving down-trail once more. I take my hand away from my forehead to discover a lot of blood. Dammit. As I’m running down to the last aid-station, blood’s running down my face, kit, and legs. I’m not in any pain though, I can see straight, and I’m not dizzy, so I polish off the rest of the race, holding onto 4th place—and 1st Master—to the finish.

The most memorable part of my Mt. Tam experience, is that my ITR teammate Airik Sorenson also collided with the same downed tree while he was racing in first. In second at the time, was Paddy O’Leary, who found Airik on the ground and stopped to ask if he was okay. Airik’s fine and Paddy leaves him with a bottle and bounds down to the finish for the win. So, that’s right—a tree was Paddy’s greatest ally in helping take the win. To be fair, Paddy’s a hellava runner and likely would’ve earned the top spot with or without the help of the tree. He’s prepping for North Face 50mi and with this 50k, put up more than 70mi for the week. So, it was basically a fast training run for him. Adding to the comedy of errors was first place female, Penny MacPhail, who earned herself not only the win for the ladies, but also a black eye… from the same downed tree.

img_5869

Saturday, Bloody, Saturday. Mt. Tam 50k, with race winner, Paddy O’Leary, and runner-up, Airik Sorenson. A memorable day on the trails!

A heartfelt thanks to my beautiful and highly supportive wife/agent Amanda for her thankless job as “First Responder” and always picking me up after I’ve fallen.  |  Thank you to Hoka One One for your continued support, innovation, and producing the best shoes out there—#speedinstinct #timetofly!  |  Thanks to Vitargo for the steady energy and SIMPLIFYING my nutrition.  |  Thank you Healdsburg Running Company for all the wonderful support from the HRC/H-Burg crew!! | Victory Sportdesign produces the best drop-bags in the biz!Thanks to Dave Townsend at Santa Rosa Physical Therapy for helping me manage all of my issues and keep on runnin’ >>>

There Is No Finish Line

rrrAs we headed up the ski slope to the top of Mount Werner I wondered how I felt at this point last year. It wasn’t quite the same route up but I arrived at the top about a minute earlier. We then zipped over to Long Lake aid-station at mile 11. I filled a bottle, having all my calories in my vest pockets today, versus going with liquid calories from start to finish. I had an alarm set for 20min intervals and I’d fuel with decaf gels-n-chews to about mile 42, then gradually transition to all Vitargo by the final third of the race. Having just pure water during the warm afternoon seemed like a good idea. I had a lot of “good ideas” going into this event.

jadrunning

Team Hoka on the first climb. With Sage Canaday and Chris Price. Photo Credit: JAdRunning

Heading down Fish Creek Falls I hopped, skipped, and jumped from rock to rock. After leaving one of my favorite parts of the course we arrive to my least favorite—the four-mile road section that connects Fish Creek to Olympian Hall and the next lollipop section of the course. On the way into Olympian I catch up with a few runners and we all end up waiting together at a traffic light for a minute. Heading into Olympian Hall at 21 I see Amanda for the first time. I instantly confess, “I’m really tired.”  What I really want is to get myself above this mind-fog and into an effective racing head-space. “C’mon body. Let’s get with the program.”

On the way up-n-out of Olympian, I continue to feel sluggish but know that’s just part of the game sometimes. “Get up this climb and roll the descent down to Cow Creek.” Since the hare division started at noon, the afternoon was wearing on and it wouldn’t be too long before the sun would set. Knowing my splits from last year, I chose to not have a drop-bag at Cow Creek, knowing I’d make it back to Olympian—and my lights—before sunset.

At Cow Creek, I filled my bottles and drank 20oz of water before departing. It’s 12.5mi back to Olympian with no aid and that takes me a good two hours so I wanted to ensure I left this aid-station topped off. It was warm enough that I doused myself with water a few times on the way back. The noon-start throws a nice monkey wrench into your 100mi race psychology because at this point in the day I’m usually a hell of a lot farther into a 100-miler. So it was a tough realization at Cow Creek—given how I was feeling—knowing I was only 50k in. “Things’ll turn around. Just hang in there.”

I was starting to catch up with a lot of runners in the tortoise division by now as well as a hare, here and there. The exhaustion I was experiencing was really wearing on me so I took at caffeine pill and hoped that would help lift me out of my funk. I wasn’t even 40mi into the race. Catching up and talking with James Walsh, who was running his first 100-miler, we were joking around about how 100-mile racing is so radically different than racing Ironman (both of us having raced Ironman Hawaii together in 2011—and finishing within minutes of each other while not knowing who the other was. “I haven’t seen another hare in three and a half hours!,” he tells me. Commiserating with another runner buoys my spirits and we run on for a while enjoying some sweet Colorado single-track.

More time and tortoises on the trail and the relentless grade—just gradual enough that you feel like you have to run. Josh Arthur and I lament this fact when I catch up with him. When I spy him up ahead, I yell “Josh! Hey man, how’s it going?!” To which he replies “This is the best day of my life…” in a tone that mildly suggests otherwise. We shoot the breeze for a bit before space and time separates us once more. Josh has done really well here, so you never want to count him out.

I summit and begin the descent back down into Olympian Hall. At some point, the indomitable Jeff Browning goes by. I say, “Hey, I’ll run with you back to Olympian.” I’m hoping this opportunity might be the turning point in my race. Another “good idea” of mine here at Run Rabbit.

At Olympian (the second time), Amanda was on the ball. Just as I’d done the year prior, I put on a sleeveless base-layer and a tight long-sleeve zip. I grabbed my lights and I was outta there. Browning was in-n-out even faster and was already completely outta sight. But, I reminded myself, the racing doesn’t begin until mile 70. From that point, I’d still have seven hours to race to the finish line…

Now it’s back through Downtown Steamboat Springs and eventually starting to climb back up to the Fish Creek Falls trail-head. Paul Nelson, of Paul Nelson Film & Photography, is out there on the side of the road and asks me how things are going. He’s filming and I’m one of the athletes he’s following today. I tell him I came through Olympian in like 7th place and last year I came through in 5th so things were looking good. “And, we’re not even half-way yet.” Which, I’m thinking in my head, really kinda sucks ’cause I feel like like shit. “Whatever, I’ve done the training, I’ll be fine,” I tell myself. Paul gives me a pep talk and the words really resonate. The long stretch up to Fish Creek Falls begins. The sun sets and darkness begins to fully envelop the day.

rrrprepThe prep for Run Rabbit Run this year included 30% more run-specific volume in the month of August than last year. Since I wasn’t using Hypoxico altitude equipment I had more time to run than last year when I was doing supplemental, hypoxic sessions on the bike as part of my altitude acclimatization. Returning from injury this spring and being under-trained for Western States 100 truly sucked so I vowed to be back to my bullet-proof self for Run Rabbit in Sept. And to justify going faster than my 19:13 from last year, I felt I needed to train even harder. It’s worked before…

One thing about the race this year was that in addition to the underlying fatigue, I wasn’t having that much fun from the start. The race-director, Fred Abramowitz, would say that I’m not supposed to have fun during a 100-mile run but by “fun” I guess I mean full and total engagement with the process—that joyous flow state that’s created when the mind and body meld into one when fully engaged in the act of racing an ultra. Anyway, I was still waiting for that switch to be flipped and for the fun to start…

I’d been flip-flopping with 22 y/o Daniel Metzger all day and while I’d taken a little detour for a couple minutes, going straight on a switchback in the dark, he’d moved up ahead of me. Catching up with him once more, he shared that some other guys moved ahead as well. “Great.” I just wanted to get up to Long Lake at mile 53—the true half-way point of the event. It was now starting to get really cold. The slog up Fish Creek Falls continued, laboriously.

Jesse Haynes catches up and, moving at a reasonable pace, I hike/run with him for quite a while. Jesse’s had a big year with a Top-10 at Western States and a win at Tahoe Rim Trail 100 just a month later. “I don’t know if running three hundreds in a year was a good idea,” he says. I agree, but what the hell; this was Jeff Browning’s fourth 100 for 2016. Notably, I’ve never done more than two 100s in a calendar year.

Long Lake aid-station is less than two miles away. We hit 10,000′ and the temps have dropped into the 30s. I feel clammy. The last thing Jesse hears from me is my distant wretching as he floats away, up ahead into the frigid darkness.

joegrant

Olympian Hall, early in the going. Photo Credit: Joe Grant

Puke-n-rally. Tortoises moved by me and try to console. Then another wave of nausea hits and I’m on the ground, dry-heaving. This time on all fours. I just want to lay down on the trail like Karl Meltzer after 1600mi on the Appalachian Trail. “This sucks. Get up.” When I do, I start shaking uncontrollably.Less than half a mile to Long Lake. Start moving or you’re really gonna be screwed.”

Hugging my body with my arms while running I feel ridiculous. Every step, I’m digging myself into a bigger hole. Finally… the sound of voices again—life-saving aid. I see the fire with many runners—in various states of carnage—around it; camp chairs looking all-too inviting. I stand before the flames for quite some time. My nutrition alarm goes off. Another wave of nausea hits. “Wow, this race is not panning out similar to last year, at all…”

I hobble over to the drop-bags and a volunteer helps me locate mine. I grab stuff and quickly make my way back over to the raging fire. I put on my nylon shell over my base-layer and long-sleeve. I put on a beanie. I have my gloves and hand-warmers at the ready. What I really need is a puffy jacket and tights but alas, they’re at mile 70, and I didn’t plan for this shitty scenario at mile 53. I packed my drop-bags similar to how I did last year—with the assumption I’d be in a racing mode and not in a survival mode.

And then it happened—I sit down in a camp chair. Later, a volunteer recognized I was a mess and brought a blanket for my legs. “I’ve painted myself into a corner here,” I thought to myself. “Dammit!!” I haven’t been this messed up since my first 100 at mile 67 at Tahoe Rim Trail in 2009, except this time, I’m cold. Really cold. I’m not considering moving at this point but wondering how in the hell I’m going to get over to Summit aid-station, 5.5mi away—higher and colder…

Time passes. Runners come and runners go. Familiar faces. Words of encouragement exchanged. I barf into a large ziploc bag for a while. I eat some soup. That comes up. Ginger ale: no dice. 10,000′ is not being kind this year. Just as someone puts another log on the fire I put my head in my lap, groaning under the aid-station hustle-n-bustle. Runners are sharing their stories from the day. Tortoises and hares, males and females, are strategizing where they plan on dropping. And some will drop while others’ destiny will somehow see them to the finish line. A young guy, racing as a tortoise is trying to pull it together. He says his fingers are cold and stiff. He’s clearly still in the game. I give him my hand-warmers and urge him to get outta here. After a time he’s gone and some new desperate face arrives.

An hour and a half has gone by. Food still won’t stay down and I’m still shiv-shiv-shivering. Finally, a guy comes up to me and asks what I’m going to. “Ah, good question,” I think. I tell him I want to continue but given my physical state, I have no idea how I’ll get outta here. Shit or get off the pot. Matter-o-factly, I tell him my day is done. In a while another volunteer comes over and cuts off my wrist-band. “Well,” I think to myself, “There’s a first time for everything.” Some time passes and the guy finds me again and let’s me know he’s taking some other runners off the mountain soon. I get up and ask him if I can take this blanket with me. “No.”

At the truck I see about four other drops inside. I open up the back cab, throw my stuff in and tell them, “I’ll be back in minute.” I then drop to the ground for one final wretching session, all the while reassuring myself that continuing on was simply not in the cards today. Over two hours after arriving at Long Lake, we start down the road with the heater on high. It feels good to be moving again, even if it’s no longer under my own power.

What makes this DNF pill a little easier to swallow was the fact that I’d had the opposite experience here last year. I’d run myself to a 2nd place overall in what’s still one of the fastest times on this course. Because of this I came in this year and broke one of my cardinal rules—“expect nothing and be prepared for anything.” 2016’s been a bitch with injury and struggling to come back and continue trying to live up to my insane expectation that I must continue improving, season after season after season. Seems like the sport’s been trying to teach me something this year and I’ve been too busy obsessing about splits, finish times, and podiums to notice. “Everybody has a plan until you get punched in the face.” Yep.

Hands down, the most fun I had at Run Rabbit Run 2016 was after I dropped. We barreled over to Summit aid-station on this roller-coaster of a fire-road, where we picked up my Hoka One One partner-in-crime, Sage Canaday. Sage had been pushing the pace all day and—like me—was looking for a little redemption from a tough day at Western States 100 in June. Sage was in good spirits and we all found ourselves sharing the day’s trials and tribulations.

The process of dropping out of a mountain ultra like Run Rabbit Run is no easy task. Back at Long Lake, around the fire, a guy told me “This is not a good place to drop. You should drop at Dry Lake (about mile 66) ” I thought to myself, “Well, I wanna jump outta this chair and continue racing but if I can’t take this fire with me, then my ass stays right here.”

We transition from the truck into the back of a Subaru, about 5 of us packed in the back like toes in an Injinji sock, for the ride down to Dry Lake and then on to Spring Creek Ponds where I’d meet back up with Amanda. On the way down we shared some stories and LMAO’d the whole way. Someone handed me a thermos of hot coffee. We talked about DNF’g races and I shared this was my first legit DNF. I wondered if feelings of guilt and shame would eventually surface around my decision. Sage just laughed and said he once DNF’d a 3k on the track and the everyone burst out into laughter once more.

At Spring Creek Ponds, the moment had arrived to find a phone and call my wife and tell her we’d come all this way so I could drop out of the race. She’s now seen it all—running my first 100, a handful of Ironmans, winning 100s, setting course-records, failing, succeeding, and now adding the DNF experience to the list. She’d been back at the hotel keeping track of my progress online, and since I hadn’t come through Summit or Dry Lake yet, she made the smart call to stay inside. It’s not that far from the resort over to the mile 70 aid-station, as that’s a low point of the course (literally in elevation terms and figuratively for the runners I suppose).

Spring Creek Ponds is one of the amazing aid-stations along the Run Rabbit Run course. Last year I was in-n-out of there so fast I didn’t really get to appreciate it. This year? I more than made up for it! Down from high elevation, I was feeling back to my normal self. A decision had been made and no significant feelings of remorse had surfaced. Sometimes you’re the hammer and sometimes you’re the nail. I made the most of the moment, yukking it up with the likes of Zach Miller, Ford Smith, and even Nick Clark, who, volunteering this year, was who I ran with into this very aid-station last year. My how things change.

Amanda was on her way and the runners who were still in the mix that I’d been with at Long Lake started arriving and departing. Jesse Haynes lingered for a while while Keira Henninger gave him a good dose of tough love and saw him off. The competitor in me stirred but my day was over. Keira and I talked a bit and she was super positive about looking ahead and getting back to kicking ass soon. For sure.

Hindsight is always 20/20 and I’ve had some time to objectively reflect on the factors that led to this DNF. If the simplest answer tends to be the right one then the reason why I failed to have a repeat strong performance here is most likely due to being somewhat cooked from the training I did in August. By the end of the month I’d been averaging 112mi a week running with a ton of climbing. The training was enjoyable and it was the first time this year where my body was at 100% so I was really fired up to “go big” in training. Perhaps the taxing training load coupled with resuming a 50+hour work-week mid-August (teaching and coaching) took its toll. Quality of sleep was impacted and I simply started accumulating a lot of fatigue, which I felt would be remedied with a bit longer taper than last year. Everybody has a plan…

Training aside, the altitude and the cold really seem to be the one-two punch that knocked me out of the race. Last year, using Hypoxico altitude equipment, I was so elated that I was not the least bit nauseous for the entire duration of the race. So initially, I blamed my DNF on not using the Hypoxico equipment, but after getting my blood labs back from the doc a week ago and seeing values higher than they’ve been in years suggests that the AltoLab equipment I did use effectively prepared me for the high elevation (even if it felt like it hadn’t). Honestly, I don’t know. Granted, running 100 miles is tough enough without coming from sea-level to the mountains of Colorado to do it. In the end I never was able to shake the fatigue going into the race. Unlike last year, there was just a lot of resistance everywhere I turned. C’est la vie.

After an up-n-down year of being injured—and then a fear of re-injuring myself—I’d have to say I’ve lost touch—-to some degree—-with the art of racing and have instead spent too much time dwelling on expected outcomes. It appears you’re never too old, or have too much experience, to repeat mistakes you’ve already made and supposedly learned from.

Moving forward I’m setting some hard-n-fast racing ground-rules for myself:

  1. Expect Nothing and Be Prepared for Anything
  2. Keep It Simple
  3. Execute In the Moment
  4. Patient + Positive = Power
  5. Know Thyself
  6. NEVER Start Pushing Until AT LEAST the Half-Way Point (of ANY distance)
  7. NEVER Run With Splits (mine or otherwise) 
  8. Liquid Calories Is the Way To Go
scena

You’re only as good as your last race. Sonoma ULTRA Trail 50k on Oct 1st. 2nd place and first “old guy.” Photo Credit: Amanda Shebest

This year I was not planning on running Scena Performance‘s Sonoma ULTRA 50k, as I had done last year. I’d signed up for pacing duty instead, which I knew would ensure I didn’t race it, since it’s only two weeks post-Run Rabbit Run. Then friends suggested I “dust myself off” [i.e., from my DNF] and race the 50k on my favorite training grounds here at home. Everyone was on-board—and I was fresh—so what the hay. It would allow me to work on getting back in touch with really racing.

After Run Rabbit, I eventually got back to running, but decided to start leaving the watch at home. It felt light and right. With intuition guiding me, I got to race-week in a healthy groove of running a bit every morning and chilling during the hot afternoons. I arrived to the start line feeling like I would’ve wanted to for Run Rabbit—fresh, loose, and overjoyed to be racing. I bounded, effortlessly off the start-line.

On the first 2000′ climb I reminded myself: “Expect Nothing. Be Prepared for Anything.” l’m never as pumped racing off the front as I am racing with a fellow competitor. It only takes one other runner to make a race. Half-way up the climb, I was taking it easy and keeping my breathing in check. “Never Start Pushing Until AT LEAST the Half-Way Point.” I was happy to have some company. Racing strategically, I eventually let the guy pass, his breathing more labored than mine, I’d let him wear himself out. At Panorama aid, we started the descent to the Ranger Station, I was descending very well and the running felt easy. Down to the turn-around 2000′ and back up another 2000′. Half-way back up, there he is again. Eventually, I step off the trail and let him pass. I’m not getting sucked in to working too hard too early.

Over to Goodspeed in Sugarloaf State Park, I leave the aid-station, 1min back. This is exactly where I wanna be. We head up into Sugarloaf to Suzanna Bon’s aid-station at Gray Pine (the halfway point). I get some Coke, say hi to Suzanna and start thinking about catching this guy on this lollipop section that heads up the ridgeline and back down to Gray Pine.

sonomaultra

Sonoma ULTRA 50k. October 1st, 2016. 10,000′ inside 31 miles. Dang! http://www.strava.com

Steps upon steps up to the ridge. No sign of the front-runner. With Napa Valley to my left and the Valley of the Moon to my right it was time to descend. In a mile, 1st came back into view. We hit Gray Pine together and introduced ourselves on the way out. Yuri Gonzaga, 26, did his first trail race at Mt. Diablo two weeks earlier to place 3rd. Yuri tells me he’s really feeling the effort at this point in the race. I tell him he’s running very strong and just keep doing what he’s doing. The encouraging words seemed to work; maybe a little too well…

We make our way down to Goodspeed, grab nutrition from our drop-bags and start the final ascent back up Hood Mountain. Armed only with endurance, I quickly reach my threshold while climbing. The cumulative four hours of this peppy pace has finally caught up with me. I let the kid go. Maybe I can catch him on the final descent…

It’s not about racing anymore, it’s about courage, to be honest with myself and do my best. I remind myself, “there’s no excuse for not playing good defense.” The technical, rock-infested climb up to the top of Hood is awful. I reach the top and am so thankful. I descend the rocky, twisty Summit Trail down to Panarama, where I slam a full 12oz Coke for the push to the finish.

With 3 miles to go. Photo Credit: Adrian Ramirez

Coke: the world’s greatest energy drink. 3 miles to go. Photo Credit: Adrian Ramirez

Energy’s still great but pushing the pace results in some nasty leg cramping. I’m out here for some fun and having Yuri out here made my day. I’d certainly rather go head-to-head with a fellow competitor and get second than win easy. Looking at what I did last year I figured I’d run about 5:20. I crossed the line in 5:15. Yuri broke five hours in 4:58, going to show, once again, how much time you can save if/when you can run strong over the final 25% of an ultra.

Indeed, I’ll be chasing a Golden Ticket into Western States next June where I’d like to again compete for that top Masters spot as well as running about two hours faster than I did this year. It only takes a couple Jorge Maravillas though, to knock me out of Golden Ticket contention but I’m not worried about it. In fact, worrying about it makes it less likely that I’ll race well enough to earn an entry.

Accept your limits to move pass them. Instead of obsessing over outcomes, I’m just gonna keep it simple and focus on my health and well-being; coming into events fresh-n-loose, and executing brilliantly. I believe with the learning I’ve amassed the last four seasons, I’m poised to now have the breakthrough season for which I’ve been dreaming.

kona2011

Parting Shot: Race rig from Ironman Hawaii 2011. Sub 5-hours for 112mi. Watching the race on Saturday, I’m grateful for the four occasions I raced in Hawaii, in ’02, ’04, ’07, & ’11. I’m also grateful for the second “career” I now have as an ultrarunner but sometimes, I do miss that bike…

A heartfelt thanks to my beautiful and highly supportive wife/agent Amanda for her thankless job as “First Responder” and always picking me up after I’ve fallen.  |  Thank you to Hoka One One for your continued support, innovation, and producing the best shoes out there—#speedinstinct #timetofly!  |  Thanks to Vitargo for the steady energy and SIMPLIFYING my nutrition.  |  Thank you Healdsburg Running Company for all the wonderful support from the HRC/H-Burg crew!! | Victory Sportdesign produces the best drop-bags in the biz! | Thank you to Julbo Eyewear for the beautiful, functional, and comfortable sunglasses.  |  Thanks to Dave Townsend at Santa Rosa Physical Therapy for helping me manage all of my issues and keep on runnin’ >>>

2016 Western States 100

headerWith a wink to my wife Amanda from the start line, a shotgun blast was heard and timer started. I’m grateful I did Run Rabbit Run last year, with its uphill start, giving me a better sense of how to negotiate the escarpment here at Western States. I kept tabs on my exertion and heart-rate, but really I was just soaking in the electric energy all around me. Joy alone seemed to buoy me up the mountain and I was sure to take in the panoramic view up on top. I spied the Nevada mountains to the east that cradle my much beloved Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) 100 course that, seven years back, first crushed my body but left an indelible imprint on my soul. I’ve been coming back to the 100 ever since.

PaulNelson

Everybody’s fast when it’s easy. Photo Credit: Paul Nelson Photography

Tahoe Mountain Milers, the folks that host the TRT Endurance Runs, also run the Lyon Ridge aid-station at mile 10.5 here at Western States. I volunteered here a year ago, which led to my gaining entry into this year’s race. So at Lyon it was sweet to see TRT race-director, George Ruiz, and some other folks and give them some quick hugs and high-fives, before continuing on toward Red Star Ridge.

Through Lyon Ridge aid, heart-rate and perceived exertion were right where they should be at this point in a 100-miler. Calories and fluids were going in just fine. I felt calm, relaxed, and simply happy. The Hoka One One Speed Instinct’s were eating up the technical terrain and were quickly proving to be the best shoe for the job. Like Indiana Jones, I had “chosen wisely.”

Click here for my Hoka One One Speed Instinct shoe review

To add some more structure to my race, I’d brought along Mike Morton’s 15:45 masters course-record splits from 2013 (the second hottest WS100 on record). Today was not supposed to be as hot, and if things really came together, who knows, maybe I could get close to his time. Ultimately, I figured, if I ran to my potential I’d arrive at the Placer High School track somewhere in the 16-17hr range.

GaryWang2

Red Star Ridge. It’s all in front of me. Photo Credit: Gary Wang

Rolling into Red Star I was around 14th place and running comfortably. Naturally, I enjoyed the cool morning in the high country. The bliss wouldn’t last all day to be certain. I always think of the TRT race motto: “A Glimpse of Heaven and a Taste of Hell.” Often times that’s the 100mi racing experience in a nutshell. When we do the work in training we usually get more “Heaven” than “Hell,” but there are no guarantees, especially if you’re working to your potential. A quote I used all through my run here at Western was, “Embrace the pain and use it to fuel your journey.”

Down to Duncan Canyon, with about a quarter of the race already completed, I was happy to already find myself right where I wanted to be—right around 10th place and no worse for wear. I remember arriving to the aid-station, people everywhere. I’d abbreviated all the aid-station names on my pacing chart and was expecting to see Amanda here but looking around I didn’t see her then later realized that this “DC” was Duncan Canyon and not Dusty Corners. Duh. Western States rookie mistake.

For the rest of the morning I was running with or near Ian Sharman and if anybody in the race knows how to run himself up into the Top-10 it’s Ian. Through Robinson Flat and Miller’s Defeat aid-stations I settled and appreciated Ian’s tips on the race, like wanting to push harder at certain points but continuing to exercise restraint (and try to stay upright on the rocky terrain). It was all new to me and yeah, it was hard continuing to hold back and watch my HR drop into the high 120s. But hey, if I can get to Foresthill with an avgHR lower than what I’m used to in 100s, and be in the mix for Top-10, sign me up!

I’d run Canyons 100k seven weeks prior to States and I was excited to get to familiar ground that I’ve recently run. Last Chance dropped me down to the swinging bridge and I had arrived at the Canyons 100k turn-around. Climbing legs were good and this ice-bandana I’d picked up from Amanda earlier was really working out. I had shared with Ian earlier that I was actually feeling cold. He said that was a good thing so I just rolled with it.

The run down to El Dorado Creek wasn’t as fast-n-fun as it was at Canyons 100k, since I was so fresh by comparison (and it was 52 degrees that day). I was in disbelief to discover the 2015 Ultrarunner of the Year, David Laney, at the El Dorado aid-station. We left together. David had volunteered at Canyons and I picked his brain about States. I knew he’d put in a ton of work into this race and by the looks of it took some risks early in the going. And why not? Nothing ventured; nothing gained. We shook hands as we started the climb up to Robinson Flat and I encouraged him to keep pluggin’. He did and we stayed together for the first mile or so. I yelled back some encouragement once more and knew he was likely in for a long slog to Auburn. I hoped he’d gut it out.

I’d moved up to 8th or 9th and that sounded beautiful. Arriving to Michigan Bluff, I was in high spirits and saw two athletes I coach, Louis Secreto and Francisco Benevides. Louis was crewing and pacing for me today. On an absolute high, it was great to see these guys here. And now, only a hop-skip-n-jump to Foresthill. Settle in and relax…

At about 3pm it was getting to be about the warmest part of the day. Arriving at a stream crossing before the climb up Bath Rd. I did what you’re supposed to do at Western States and that’s lie down in the streams. This is the first time in the race where I started feeling the cumulative effects of the day starting to wear on me. I needed to cool off. The primal brain, however, absolutley loathing every second spent stopped while the reasoning centers urging me to remain still. I lasted about 60 seconds and it was time to emerge. And to whom am I greeted, coming up from behind, seemingly licking his chops, just as I start my ascent? Bronco Billy himself—Jeff Browning.

I didn’t know what to expect from Browning at Western States. I knew he’d won HURT 100 in January and was also doing Hardrock 100 a month after States. I wasn’t surprised to see him but I wasn’t happy about it either. He passed me up quickly on the climb with a cordial “Hey Bob.” and he was out of sight pretty quickly. This would be Jeff’s twenty-fourth 100-miler. He got in on a sponsor slot from Altra and from the looks of it, he was making the most of the opportunity, not being phased in the least bit about running Hardrock in July. I stayed within myself and made my way up Bath Rd, where I knew I’d see my pacer for the first time.

Melanie

With Jason Riddle (left) and pacer, Louis Secreto. Photo Credit: Melanie Wehan

I’d told Louis before the race, I’d like him to jump in after the river crossing at mile 78, but now, after 100k of rugged trail-running in me, I said “Hey, I’ll probably be faster down to the river if you’re with me. Wanna jump in now?” Louis has huge passion for Western States and the sport and was all-to-happy to start pacing duties early. I was grateful both he and his wife Linn were out here so Amanda wasn’t all by her lonesome all day. They are the best.

Photo Credit: Lorna Doone

Amanda and recent SD100 finisher, Maggie Tides, help cool me off in Foresthill (mile 62). CHILLY!  Photo Credit:  Jenna Ballesteros

Foresthill was absolutely magical. I’d been there a year ago—spectating—for the first time. The energy is palpable. For a lot of runners, Foresthill represents a significant milestone in the race—the point where the push to the finish begins; the infamous run down to the river. I’d pushed this section pretty hard at Canyons 100k, attempting to bank some last-minute quad-crushing descent to prep the legs for States after a frustrating spring nursing a cranky knee back to health. Now was the time to see whether my body would cash the check I wrote in the first 62 miles of the race.

IMG_4118

Amanda, dropping me on Cal St. Photo Credit:  Melanie Wehan

Here at my first Western States there was one true goal and that was Top-10 or bust. I was very reasonable in the first half trying to keep up with Morton’s masters’ record splits. I was down 16min by Foresthill and I didn’t care at all. It gave me some structure early and I’d only stick to them if they happened to align with HR and RPE. I’ve run enough 100s to know that to perform the best you can—on the day—you must run within yourself. By doing so, I stayed cool, processed calories, and most importantly: kept my belly happy. I’ve come to understand that if I’m nauseous and vomiting in an ultra, I’ve put myself in that compromised position by running outside my abilities.

Past the Cal 1 aid-station, I wasn’t surprised to feel some exhaustion starting to creep in. Considering the lighter training load coming into the race, I expected—if I’m being honest with myself—to have to suffer more than I typically do to reach the finish line. I hoped it wouldn’t get too ugly, but because the style of my training looked so different from what I typically do, I couldn’t predict how my legs would feel in the final third of the race.

Through Cal 2 I was still in 9th place. It’s 8mi to the river crossing at Rucky Chucky and I can’t say with any degree of enthusiasm that I was psyched to run it, since the experience of doing so was fresh in my mind, having running it 7 weeks ago at Canyons 100k. One thing was for certain: I wasn’t running the way I should be at this point. The quads and calves were really starting to talk to me. I just couldn’t do anything about the slowing.

I hear Louis say, “Hey, we got company.” Hoka teammate, Chris DeNucci, and his pacer, Mario Fraioli, come by. I asked them how far back the next guy is. They say the spaniard, Tofol Castanyer, isn’t too far back but he’s looking bad, which doesn’t really buoy my spirits because I know I’m sucking and it’s going to get worse given how my legs are feeling. It was inspiring to see Chris. His upward trajectory in the sport over the last two seasons has produced some amazing results and with the lessons learned from last year’s Western States, it came as no surprise to see him running well at this point in the race. He’d come through Foresthill in 12th, 10min back. Denuch pushed me back to 10th and I was feeling like I was on a high-wire with no safety net; one place away from moving into “bust” territory. Deal with it. Sh*t will turn around. It always does. Get to the river…

Photo Credit: Gary Wang

Photo Credit: Gary Wang

I love the Mike Tyson quote, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” That pretty much symbolizes the final 3 miles down the river—like a giant Gordy Ainsleigh in ginormous boxing gloves reached down from the sky and socked me right in the face. It was becoming increasingly clear I would not get to play the role of predator this day. No, this day I would not have the privilege of reeling in any more carnage—-I slowly and painfully realized that today… I am the carnage. FML.

By the time I got to the river crossing I was already cold. I’d never raced with the ice-bandana before and should’ve taken it off earlier than I did to warm up a bit before the river crossing. I wasn’t running well so I wasn’t generating much body heat. I was wondering if I did too good a job with my heat training? Wasn’t this Western States? Aren’t I supposed to be hot? Gordy with another icey blow to my glass jaw.

The river crossing sucked. I was completely oblivious to my surroundings and seemingly helpless. A little kid helped me buckle my life vest. Volunteers standing in the water keep telling me to to hold on to the rope with both hands. Both Hands! Okay, okay, I’m doing it. Do I get disqualified if I only do one hand? I had no idea Jim Walmsley had given everyone a bit of a scare earlier trying to swim across and getting swept a bit downstream by the strong current.

What the hell is wrong with my body? My legs are seizing up in this cold-ass water. Dammit, I’m f*cking freezing. Who the hell put these boulders in here? Gordy! This race is totally kicking… my… ass! The boulders are f*cking slippery. Never feeling more vulnerable in a race situation, I’m super psyched to see the paparazzi on the other side capturing my feeble attempts at pulling myself toward them. Fake it. Try to at least look like you have some semblance of control.

Somewhere in the Rucky Chucky “experience” I saw Amanda. I heard her words echo in my head for a while after Louis and I started the climb up to Green Gate, “You gotta get moving.” I realize that honey, I thought to myself. I’m in 10th. Louis knows my race is going sideways. He asks, “What do you think you have left for the run from Green Gate to the finish? I don’t even remember what I mumbled.

Running Top-10 at Western States is the gold standard in the sport of ultra mountain running. Since the start of the year when an MRI revealed some nasty sh*t going on in my knee, I’ve fought to keep the dream alive. Plan A for the spring prep went right out the window and Plan B went into action, starting with a full month off from running. Health became the focus instead of an emphasis on increasing fitness. Training was overhauled and so much attention was paid to ensuring the full health of my knee without having to take drastic measures like a cortisone shot. Uphill and flat running was emphasized over aggressive downhill running. At mile 80 as we moved passed Green Gate, the dream was still alive. I’m currently in 10th place at the Western States 100. What an honor it’s been today to mix it up with some of the best 100mi runners in the world…

In the five miles to Auburn Lake Trails I lose 5 places. And I don’t give a sh*t. I have little left, the internal dials locked on damage-control mode. I sit down at the aid-station and thoroughly enjoy the volunteers there. I get some chicken broth. We’re yucking it up. Louis wants me to go. I’m bummed we have to leave. I was just getting comfortable. I’ve never DNF’d an ultra but am starting to get mighty curious how I’m going to get to the godd*mn finish line. Well, you’re walking just fine. I look at the chicken broth in my bottle. Suck it up.

My legs are cooked in a way I’ve never experienced before; my quads and calves have never been so jacked up. The training account for this race is long since overdrawn. “What do you expect? You injured yourself by bombing the downhills in late season short-course races. Then you pussyfoot around the descents for 5 months leading up to a 100mi run with 23,000′ of net down. What did you really expect?

The downward spiral of negativity persists. In my head I’m thinking, “If I can’t Top-10 then being 25th or 45th at the finish is all the same thing. Whatever. I’ve pretty much given up on nutrition and hydration as well. I’m just over it. I catch a toe on rock and fall off the trail into some bushes/briar patch. My legs seize up. Awesome. Louis tries to help me to my feet. Falling off the trail feels like insult to injury. What a f*cking disaster this has turned into. Cool cut on my shoulder though. That’s something.

Louis tells me “The girls will be at Highway 49.” I wasn’t expecting to see Amanda there but I wanted to see her now more than at any point in the day. Arriving at the aid-station and seeing her I felt ashamed I was so shattered and no longer running for a Top-10 finish. We hugged and as I was leaving and she let me have it: the Mahatma Gandhi quote I often share with athletes I coach, “Full effort is full victory.” As we starting making our way to No Hands Bridge the Ghandi quote floated around in my stream of consciousness, leading me all the way back to 1999, when I first read George Sheehan’s book, Running and Being, in which he wrote “There is no excuse for not playing good defense.” Dammit George, even Steph Curry has rough days. You should’ve seen Game 7.

I’d lost 4 more places by the time I dragged my weary bones into the 93.5mi aid-station at Hwy 49. My running was in the crapper and the miles were going by so slowly; aid-stations seemed like they were 15mi apart. This is the maddening difference between running 5-6mph versus running 3-4mph. I was now in 19th but imagined it more like 34th. “Full effort”. DE-FENSE!! Let’s get the ball back and try to sink some 3s…

No Hands Bridge. Photo Credit: TRT pacer and best man, Michael Cook

No Hands Bridge. Photo Credit:  TRT100 pacer and best man, Michael Cook

In the weeks leading up to States, I had friends and athletes I coach bring up the competition at States, particularly, Jim Walmsley, who set stout course-records at both Bandera 100k and Lake Sonoma 50 earlier this year and put up 140/140/120 mile weeks before his two-week taper. Now I know when I’m out-classed and realize Walmsley’s in another league. He’s a super inspiring runner. Jokingly I started telling people I was going to catch Walmsley at Robie Point (mile 98.9) and go on to win the race, thinking to myself, “Ha-Ha. Wouldn’t that be something?!”

I wasn’t having a lot of fun on that nasty climb up to Robie. I was beginning to think Louis didn’t know where the hell he was going anymore and was just screwing with me. But I was a helluva lot more happy climbing than descending by this point in the going. Arriving at the aid station I look over at the table and Jim Walmsley standing there, still in his race kit. WTF? I’d heard he’d gotten off course around Hwy 49 but assumed he’d made it to the finish line already and was simply back out for a cool-down and to cheer on some runners. As Louis and I were closing in on the finish, I would later come to understand why so many people were asking me the same question, “Hey, are you Jim?”

Photo Credit: Gary Wang

He made it! Photo Credit: Gary Wang

The last mile was good and I did my best to stay in the moment and appreciate the final minutes of a truly special day, regardless of placing and finish time. Louis, Amanda, and I ran into the Placer High Stadium together. I joked around with Amanda that we needed to be in Lane 1. I saw fellow Tahoe Mountain Milers, Kati Bell and Shane James and gave them hugs and high fives. If it weren’t for Kati’s encouragement, I wouldn’t have had this amazing opportunity. I was pretty elated to see that finish line. Nothing feels more satisfying than getting to the finish of a 100mi run. It’s nothing short of incredible what the human body can endure.

After a “full victory” squeeze from Amanda, another Hoka teammate, Paul Terranova, put my finisher’s medal around my neck. And since he’s known for his push-ups at the end of ultras, I spontaneously offered to crank some out with him, reminding us and everyone that we always have more to give out there, we just have to find the inspiration.

Amanda

Rickey Gates said in a recent Instagram post about Monday’s Mountain Marathon in Alaska, “Racing is about doing what you can do on that given day.” I didn’t like the cards I was dealt this year at all but I played them to the best of my ability because I wanted to honor myself, my competitors, and the Western States 100. Laying on the infield after finishing, feeling like death warmed over, rolled up like a burrito, and occasionally vomiting into a cardboard box, I couldn’t help but smile each time I heard Tropical John’s voice announce the names of fellow competitors as they entered the stadium, tough-as-nails athletes, some who’s day had also gone south but found it in themselves to soldier on when the lofty goals they’d set for themselves were blown up hours before.

Feeling like a soldier of the Great War myself at that moment, having awoken half dead in a trench on the front lines, I think of Teddy Roosevelt’s words about “faces marred by dust and sweat and blood,” the valient striving, the “great enthusiams, the great devotions.” And the “daring greatly.” All of us, one crazy family, strung out from from Squaw to Auburn, spending ourselves in this worthy cause, none possessing a cold or timid soul. Courageous. Bold. And maybe a fair amount of stubbornness and straight up stupidity as well.

One way or another I’ll be back to States again next year, hopefully to race, as I have some unfinished business, or volunteer and/or pace. In the meantime, I’m excited by the fact that I had no issues with my knee during the race or subsequently. I was late getting this race-report out because we stayed up in Tahoe for a week after States and I didn’t do sh*t. Back home now, I’m excited to be running everyday and hoping I have no issues with the knee moving forward. Fingers and toes crossed.

I finally ran the numbers yesterday and my run-specific training volume for States was a full 20% less than my build for Run Rabbit Run in August last year, which would make sense because had I had that 20% in me going in, it likely would’ve made the difference between being ready to rumble—versus being ready to crumble—at mile 80. I tried to make up the difference with cycling but nothing’s going to supplant the muscular endurance needed to pace the first 60 and push the final 40 of a 100 mile run.

A heartfelt thanks to Western States Race Director, Craig Thornley and his amazing team of staff and volunteers for putting on one helluva race. If I never have the opportunity to run it again, I know I made the most of my day and, along with a silver buckle, I have many wonderful memories I’ll cherish for a lifetime. It feels good to be part of the club!

13557868_10154379664696812_6962943801841384551_nA HUGE thanks to my super awesome, beautiful, highly supportive, rock-star wife, Amanda—always full of great ideas—for embracing the full Western States crewing experience along with her partner in crime for the day, Linn Secreto. It’s pretty cool having support out there and I appreciate you two running around all day helping to keep me going.

Louis Secreto, thanks for jumping in early buddy! That’s all I could do on the day. Thanks for helping me up-n-out of that briar patch. Looking forward to 50mi of pacing at your Tahoe Rim Trail 100 later this month. It’s going to be spectacular (at least for me). Hope your coach knows what he’s doing.

Thanks for all the support from friends and fans near and far. I actually didn’t start putting my name in or trying to race my way into Western States 100 until 2015 because we, as athletes, have to pick our battles carefully and the fact that Tahoe Rim Trail 100’s in July, affords me, as a school-teacher, the time to put up some big miles in June for this July event. But after running it four times and accomplishing all that I wanted to on that course, the time arrived to branch out and experience other 100s. All trails seem to lead back to Western States though. Now I see why.

One thing’s for sure: It’s getting more challenging to stay healthy and train/race for these crazy things. I’m grateful for all the encouragement and kind words I’ve received. I hope to be on that starting line again next year, do it better, and make good on that dream of a Top-10 finish. It’s right there…

IMG_4023

Parting [shot] is such sweet sorrow. With Amanda. She got hugs. Paul Terranova got push-ups. Photo Credit: Linn Secreto

Thank you to Hoka One One for your continued support, innovation, and producing the best shoes out there—#timetofly!  |  Thanks to Vitargo for the steady energy and SIMPLIFYING my nutrition.  |  Thank you Healdsburg Running Company for the sweet #74 trucker hats. I appreciate all the wonderful support from the HRC/H-Burg crew!! | Victory Sportdesign produces the best drop-bags in the biz! | Thank you to Julbo Eyewear for the beautiful, functional, and comfortable sunglasses.  |  And a BIG 100 mile thanks to Dave Townsend at Santa Rosa Physical Therapy for helping me keep the dream alive. You helped me understand what course of action I needed to take to have my cake and eat it too this spring. You rock!

NF50: Shooting From the Hip

KC_Hope_Kennedy

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

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

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

635850252448505537

Start line. 5am. Fully caffeinated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The warm embrace of the NFSCA finish line.

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

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

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

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

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