Back to School

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Fun week last week! Started back to school on Tuesday, in my 9th year teaching math-n-science to sixth graders at Windsor Middle School. Learning names, establishing routines, and basically just getting back into the swing of things with teaching. I was looking for the time between Tahoe Rim Trail 100 and this race at Headlands 50k as a major transition phase in the year. When I signed up earlier in the year, I’d anticipated being motivated to jump back into training a bit earlier and with more gusto than I actually had since TRT in July. Still, just listening to my body allowed me to run well at Headlands, all things considered.

So, this C-priority race represented the official breaking-the seal-on-the-fall-trail-running-season. After having the same old problems in training this month with my Garmin 910XT’s heart-rate monitor, I just decided to ditch it and go down to Headlands and just run by feel, and keep this one simply relaxed and fun, since I was basically going off fitness I’d established in June and July. So, no HRM, and also, no water bottle, which was a first for me in a 50k. I’ve always wanted to run a hard 50k trail-run with no bottle. So, looking at the weather forecast, I figured what the hay, I’ll do it. And, as it turns out, it wasn’t a big deal at all. I love running unencumbered and the time I took to drink at aid stations was about the same time it took for guys around me to fill their bottles. I was getting down about two cups of water at each aid station. Toward the end, one of those cups was sports drink, and then cola. A successful experiment. I’ll definitely do it again for 50k, when the temps cooperate of course. Now, I’m still trying to figure out if I have the cojones to try it for a cool 50-miler… Maybe not…

After the start of Headlands, enthusiastic speedster Alex Varner, was soon out of sight and it seemed a race for 2nd. There were a lot of us together for quite a while over the first half of the race. I felt I could easily end up in 5th or 6th. Since I had zero idea where my fitness was but knew I was likely not going to be as fast as I was earlier in the year when I last went under four hours for 50k, I had looked up Leigh Schmitt’s winning time from last year and found it was 4:12—about 8:07/mi pace. Thus, I set my Garmin’s Virtual Pacer to 8:07 and went to work, stayed smooth, and really tried to enjoy the ride.

I guess I felt as expected, neither superhuman nor too terribly out of shape. The climbs felt a little harder than I’d like but the downs were really coming easy and I was bombing them in my trusty Hokas. I continue to love these shoes for all the protection they offer on rocky courses with a lot of descending. I’d save heart-beats on the climbs and just motor on the downhills. Good, good fun!

Somewhere around 2:30 in, I’d been concentrating on keeping the power on and basically just working my ass off to put a gap between me and whoever was behind—due diligence. As we were getting back north on the Dipsea Trail, I was surprised and not too happy to hear someone coming up from behind. I pushed a bit harder. Still there. Who IS that?, I thought. Finally, I turn around to see Jon Olsen, who was running a smart race and would soon overtake me. Anyway, I have a lot of respect for Jon and was pleased to have someone to now work with a bit. That is, before he would inevitably drop me.

I probably kept Jon in sight for some 20min or so and it was sweet running just working hard and giving chase on those delightful trails. I stayed with him to Stinson Beach where I was about even with virtual Leigh Schmitt. But, by the time the stairs and ladder climbs had had their way with me, I was some 10min down on virtual Leigh. Back to work to the finish. Since I wasn’t looking at distance at all during the race, and just virtual pacer and race-time, the miles seemed to go by quick. The sensation also likely inspired by the lingering effects of a long day running 100mi just a month ago. Anyway, it was nice to have the miles not weigh heavily upon my mind. But, they ran out before I could get all my time back, and by the finish, I was about 5min back on virtual Leigh. Had I just kept up with him I may have stayed in front of Olsen for 2nd.

Varner, with a new course record at 3:41, was in another zip-code by the finish. I’ve since read he was 26th at the Boston Marathon this year with a time of 2:21. So, with my best at Boston being 2:39, back in 2000, I didn’t feel so bad. Over beers, post-race, Alex was psyched about the event and his CR though I urged him to return promptly to racing exclusively on the road.  😉

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My hamstrings started really protesting with about a mile to go, which I was quite pleased did not happen earlier in the run. I was then immediately impressed to see how strong Jean Pommier ran, coming across the line just a minute later in 4th. Good times of course hanging out after, basking in the afterglow of day’s honest and taxing effort, drinking a few Sierra Nevadas, eating great pizza, while chatting up my ultrarunning brethren. This is what it’s all about. After than, it was over San Francisco Running Co. for a visit before heading back up the road to Windsor. Sunday was fun, cheering on runners at the Santa Rosa Marathon/Half-Marathon/5k. Good to just limp around and hoot-n-holler. After that, got my athletes’ plans done, spent some quality time in the classroom before my wife brought home our new French Bulldog, “Sam Axe,” named after a character on one of our favorite shows, Burn Notice. Hello puppy training! >>> 😀

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2013 Tahoe Rim Trail 100

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Well, third time’s a charm at the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 miler! I haven’t competed in this glorious battle of body and mind since 2010, but, for one reason or another, it’s been calling me back ever since. TRT has everything a growing trail runner needs: three different distances from which to choose, majestic beauty, amazing aid stations, and the signficant challenges that come with running at elevation, with lots of climbing, and as it turned out this year, some nasty high temps.

From a coaching perspective, the race really is the easy part. The hard part then lies in the preparation. In training, I like to dwell on the notion that “the more we sweat in training, the less we bleed in war.” Therefore, I’d like to share some of the key things I’ve learned over recent months that directly contributed to a two-hour personal best at this demanding event.

Learning. To stay in the “flow” in racing, training, or life itself, it seems to me we have to keep pushing ourselves forward, and specifically, acquiring skills to meet new challenges. Ever since last December at a demanding but rewarding North Face Endurance Challenge 50-miler, I’ve been uploading ultra-running knowledge like Keanu Reeves’ character, “Neo” from the movie, The Matrix. Learning these days comes in the form of podcasts, training with North Face athlete Leigh Schmitt and other experienced local ultra-runners, reading blogs and books, coaching athletes, homestaying Aussie triathlon legend Luke Bell and witnessing his complete and dialed event process, and simply applying valuable lessons from my own training and racing. All of these things contribute to the “how to” effectively pace the first 75 miles of a 100mi running event, and as Karl Meltzer preaches, “be there in the final 25%.”

At Lake Sonoma 50m in April, I learned a few things, starting off with I really don’t want to run without salt tabs, no matter what Dr. Timothy Noakes has to say about it. Perennial frontrunner, Gary Gellin, thankfully sorted our Lake Sonoma results by how much athletes slowed over the second half of the race. Winner, Sage Canaday, slowed by 12%, while I slowed by 18%. It then became my mission to improve my performance on the backside of ultra events, which included an immediate return to taking salt! Duh.

Since 1998, I’ve heard time and again, “Listen to your body,” and “Race your own race.” As with pretty much all of us, I’m still learning just how to listen and how to race. Gary inspired me to throw on the heart-rate monitor, this time for Silver State 50m in May, where I learned, yet again, that my aerobic system has a lot more to offer than my leg muscles. At SS50, I set up heart-rate zones in my Garmin 910XT that were based on an average heart-rate of 142bpm at my 50-miler in December. In the final miles of SS50, I struggled to keep my HR inside my assigned lower limit–my muscular endurance needed some work. I needed to be doing longer training runs more often. Gary, for example, has shared that he likes to do something longish every other day.

TRT Pacing. So, if Sage slowed by 12% in the second half of Lake Sonoma 50m and I slowed by 18%, I thought it reasonable  to shoot for some reasonable middle ground of about 14% slowing in the second half of TRT. I wanted to better my time from 2010, win, and possibly establish a new course-record (CR) in the process. The existing CR, established by Thomas Crawford in 2010 is 17:47 (10:40/mi). Throughout the month of June, I started playing around with possible CR scenarios that could pan out at Tahoe Rim, pink being what I felt would be the ideal splits, i.e. “pace difference:”

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“The race is long, but in the end, it’s with yourself.” Gary Gellin’s use of heart-rate zones in ultrarunning events is just plain smart, especially for less experienced ultrarunners and/or for folks who are seriously committed to performance gains. I feel I fall into both categories in the context of racing the 100mi distance. Pacing by heart-rate (HR) then, especially in the first half, makes the entire experience more exciting because it gives you a good deal of control out there, granting you “permission” to honestly run your own race, and encouraging a strong final 25%. Up until this point, I’d only used HR zones on the 112mi bike portion of the Ironman Triathlon, in order to hold enough back to run an effective marathon (see Maffetone). Simple principle really—what you hold back early is there for you later.

In order to run the second half of TRT and slow no more than 14%, two things had to happen: One, I’d need to be able to run approximately 9:50/mi over the first half and have that effort be at a HR less than 142bpm (my avg HR for two relatively recent 50mi events). And two, I’d need to have the muscular endurance to hold at least 11:30/mi over the second 50mi. June training was designed to attend to both of these issues.

Note: running even splits of 10:40/mi did not seem like a good idea because my entire event takes place over the span of a day, where temps rise and fall with the sun. Physical and mental fatigue accumlates. Therefore, running “economically fast” in the cooler morning, slowing to keep the HR down in the warmer afternoon, will set you up for plenty of faster running for those cooler hours before sunset. Darkness may naturally slow your finishing pace, depending on the terrain, and your night-running abilities. Know thyself.

TRT Training. If you’re interested in reading more about my TRT training, please read my previous post from June 12, entitled, “Pump Up the Volume.”

A snapshot of my first three weeks of TRT training is provided below. During June, I was fresh, running well, having fun, running in a good variety of trails, keeping it healthy, while chasing Dominic Grossman on Strava’s “Junedoggle,” where thousands of runners worldwide logged their June runs to see how much volume they could rack up. This virtual competition, of course, can be a little dangerous. After one too many corrupt Garmin files, I bowed out of the Junedoggle. I needed to take a rest-week anyway! I think I would’ve ended up in 5th (behind Dominic). Anyway, the Junedoggle served its purpose. Keep it healthy and fun, and Strava can be a highly effective training tool. Know thyself!

juneWe do the most training we can absorb. June is the month where I have the time to train most effectively since I’m off for the summer. I can do and absorb more training since I have more time to do all the things that effective recovery involves, like sleeping more, preparing and eating nutrient-dense meals, making smoothies, foam-rolling and stretching, taking ice-baths, relaxing, etc.

I ran 500 miles during the month June with 82,000′ of climbing. I’ve never done this much volume before, even when I was preparing for road marathons. This 90 hours of predominantly trail-running is what most directly contributed to my performance at TRT on July 20th. It’s important to note that I arrived to July healthy, definitely “feeling it” and ready to taper, but with no problems to speak of. The two primary contributing factors to my sustained high, quality volume were, a.) training entirely in Hoka One One trail-running shoes and b.) supplementing my pre/post workout nutrition with Master Amino Pattern (MAP), amino acid tablets that promote a higher level of protein synthesis within the body. I highly recommend you try MAP for yourself during your next phase of bigger volume run training. Speaking from direct and successful experience, you will recover more effectively. And when you’re able to do more quality training, performance results are inevitable.

map100UltraRunnerPodcast (URP) – Master Amino Acid Pattern (MAP) Review

Endurance Planet – Ask the Doc Special: Your Guide to Understanding Master Amino Acid Pattern (MAP)

Interested in a 20% discount on MAP? Just click on the MAP bottle or BodyHealth logo on the far right side of this site. Find MAP, order that amount you’d like, then as you move through the checkout process, ensure you do the following:

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A word on technology. Leading up to TRT I was having constant headaches with my Garmin 910XT’s heart-rate monitor strap, to the point that I’d just about committed to racing TRT without HR. My heart-rate data, on two different straps, was intermittent and therefore affecting my average HR, which is the piece of data I most want to count on in racing. After trouble-shooting with various Garmin devices and changing the straps’ batteries, I took my two faulty straps to Echelon Cycle & Multisport where I soon learned that Garmin released a new strap with beefed up sensors; a third sensor on the left to more reliably read HR (remember folks, our hearts reside in the left side of our chests (think Pledge of Allegiance). Thank you to the intelligent folks at Garmin. Game on!

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The Ultimate Direction AK Race Vest continues to be indispensible for any event I do, 50mi or above. I prefer to use Amphipod bottles with the vest. The various pockets are incredibly handy for stashing gels and the miscellaneous items we like to carry during ultras. The vest not only frees up my hands for more efficient running and power-hiking, but also frees up my short pockets for trash. Bottom line, this vest allows me to optimally manage my sh*t, so I can concentrate on the important things, like not falling.

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“Oh God, what have I gotten myself into here?”   –Photo Credit: Janet Siva

Pacing the First Half. So, assuming we would have reasonable temps, I believed that if everything else fell into place, I might have a shot at lowering Crawford’s 2010 CR. Ultimately, the pace of the first half would be decided by the pace run between the high and low limits I set into my Garmin, which at the start were 125-135bpm. Within the first hour, I soon realized a change to those zones was in order. I’d never run a 100mi event with HR before, so I wasn’t very dialed with my zones, thus I set them up conservatively to start. So, I reset my zones to 130-140bpm. At this effort, I felt entirely within myself especially since my breathing was controlled. I continued to monitor both my current heart-rate and average heart-rate, displayed on my watch. I played the game of running between this HR floor and ceiling. When I was above or below, my watch would simply vibrate (no audible alarm) and I would adjust accordingly.

After a few hours, with my HR still well below my average 50mi event HR of 142bpm, I decided to change the zones one last time to 132-142 and ran in these zones to the half-way point back at the start/finish at Spooner Summit. Along the way, I slowly moved from 6th place up to 3rd by about mile 45, where I spied recent 2:30 marathoner, 2013 Silver State 50 and Quicksilver 50 champ, Chikara Omine, inside the Snow Valley Peak aid station. Snow Valley was all hustle and bustle with 50k runners and I shot out of there with full bottles of water, hoping to open up a gap on Chikara while still staying within my dialed HR zones.

Because I’d changed my zones, I’d arrived, earlier, to the Diamond Peak aid station at mile 30 before my crew (aka: my wife, Amanda). The same thing happened in 2010. Totally my fault, I scrambled to find some de-caffeinated Clif Shots. Since there were only caffeinated Shots on the aid stations table, I threw myself at the mercy of the spectators. My new hero, Jason Riddle, among others, handed me some Razz and Chocolate Shots and I was on my way up-n-over Diamond Peak and back down to Tunnel Creek aid station, where I had an emergency stash of gels in a drop-bag. No ultra is complete without a bit of drama!

Amanda was there to meet me at mile 50, handed me a big bottle of water to guzzle, replaced my Amphipods with two fresh bottles, stuffed my vest pockets with Shot, handed me an icey hand-held Amphipod to use solely for cooling, and gave me a fresh Garmin 910XT for the second half of the race. We ran out together, her offering words of encouragement while also reminding me to run my own race and be smooth. The last thing I heard was a guy shouting, “You’re in second place but you have 50mi to catch him! Settle in. Back to my mantra: “Steady. Relaxed. Breathing.”

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Tahoe Rim Trail 100 – First Half (Strava data)

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Tahoe Rim Trail 100 – First Half (Strava data)

Racing the Second Half. Perhaps it’s more: continue-to-pace-well-in-the-third-quarter. It was mid-day and the temps were up there in the high 80s to low 90s. It’s 2000′ and just under seven miles back up to the next aid station at Hobart. With over a mile to go to Hobart I was completely out of water and had to conserve by slowing the pace. Grateful to arrive at Hobart, I took on plenty of fluids and departed with about 52oz of water. Not wanting to carry a bottle, I stashed the hand-held in my vest’s back compartment and reached for it regularly to splash my head, face, and neck.

First place runner, Josh Brimhall, had come into—and left—the 50 quite a bit before I’d arrived. Now sandwiched between him and Chikara, I certainly had the motivation to keep my head in the game, though the inner demons were awakened with the mid-day sun. Mental and physical fatigue was on the rise as well. Josh had bested me at Lake Sonoma by some 20min. Chikara had run a smart race at Silver State the month before, and dropped me on a long climb up to mile 40, ultimately winning by 13min. “Steady. Relaxed. Breathing.”

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The third quarter of any endurance event is tough, for obvious reasons. Tired of my watch vibrating, I took off my trusty HRM strap and stowed it away. At the half, I saw that my average pace was 10:06/mi. That wasn’t the 9:50/mi I dreamed of running but it was hot and this pace was close enough to start me thinking once more about the possibility of besting that course-record. To arrive at the finish in 17:47, I’d have to average 11:14/mi. I set my Garmin’s Virtual Pacer to 11:14 pace and continued on.

Climbing somewhere between Hobart and Tunnel Creek, while imagining Josh an hour ahead and Chikara a minute behind, I looked up and spied Josh walking with his pacer. The time had come for a predator-prey role reversal. As I moved passed Josh and his pacer we exchanged words of encouragment. I pushed the effort a bit to open up a gap and get out of site. From about mile 55 or so, I would be in new territory at TRT, that is, on the front.

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With the day’s real-life competitors in my rear-view, it was time to chase the ghosts of TRT past, namely, Thomas Crawford. Anyone else with a faster time on this course was fair game too. The Tunnel Creek aid station was pumping out music and cheers as I again weighed in, filled up, and descended into the infamous 6.5mi Red House loop, which descends east off the ridgeline and loops back up to the Tunnel Creek aid station. The legs were protesting on the steep, sandy descent. Then, at about 2mi into the loop, nausea set in. Before I had time to decide what to take (Tums, or Pepto, or a ginger-chew) I found myself vomiting on the side of the trail. It wasn’t, however, the complete bodily shutdown I’d suffered through at my first TRT in ’09. This upchuck episode lasted only a minute or two. Once purged, I found myself once again moving down-trail toward the aid-station, situated in the middle of the loop.

Through the aid station, I probably walked and power-hiked most of the 3mi back up to the top of the ridgeline. On the way up, Chikara was coming down. As a competitor I was not sad to see I had a good lead on him now, and at the same time I was glad to see that he’d not dropped. Anything can happen in a 100 miles. Just keep moving >>>

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Amanda with Michael’s son, Dylan, hangin’ out at Diamond Peak aid-station — mile 80. Can you spy the bulldog?

Now that I tossed my cookies and the thought of gels was repulsive, I knew the time had arrived to go to Coke. Filling up one bottle with soda and the other two with water at Tunnel Creek (mile 67), it was time to get up to the flume trail and swoop down to Diamond Peak to meet Amanda and my pacer—best-man for the job, wedding or otherwise—Michael Cook.

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Photo Credit — Myke Hermsmeyer Photography

On the way down the 4mi flume, I’d made up some ground on virtual Thomas Crawford. He was now only 15min up. But, I was at the bottom of a 2000′ climb and naturally, I was pretty exhausted from the day’s 80mi effort. Out and up we went, Michael pouring on the encouragement as we climbed the sandy Diamond Peak ski slope. Looking up-slope was demoralizing, so I chose to keep my head down and focus on sandy foot-holds, determined to just get the job done.

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Don’t think, just do. — Photo Credit: Michael Cook

Boom! Once back up on the ridge, we cruised with some good light left in the day. Down through a rowdy Tunnel Creek—where I wouldn’t have minded sitting down for a few minutes. In between Tunnel and Hobart, the headlamps went on and the arduously simple task of moving forward was stark before us. My trusty mantra “Steady. Relaxed. Breathing.” now too complex to employ, was re-tooled to one word: FLOW.

It ain’t over ’til it’s over. I had a sense of where Chikara was, but really no idea how Josh was doing. I’d looked over my shoulder more than once on the way up Diamond Peak expecting to see him charging up after me. You just never know…

Finally arriving at Snow Valley Summit, Michael got some chicken broth into me. I filled up with some more Coke, and it was go-time down the fairly technical, switch-backy descent to the finish. I’d picked up my iPod at Diamond Peak but hadn’t used it yet to this point. With one earbud in, I jammed to some Springsteen, Imagine Dragons, Cash, and U2, yo-yo-ing back-n-forth between complete elation and complete exhaustion. Following Michael’s cues to slam more Coke, I was making full use of my downhill running speed, keeping the turnover high so as not to face-plant into a rock and knock myself out. From the top, I was some 24min behind virtual Crawford. By the finish, I’d got back only 8min. Not enough. But, I was totally stoked to have run 18:03, now the second-fastest time run for the Tahoe Rim Trail 100-miler. Until next time Crawford, virtual or otherwise!

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Tahoe Rim Trail 100 – Second Half (Strava data)

Results. First half in 8:27 (10:06/mi). Second half in 9:35 (11:26/mi). I came up short on the CR but reached my goal of running the second half of the event 14% or better. I was 11.8% slower over the second 50. That’s for you Gary Gellin!! Thank you.

Endurance Planet, Ask the Ultrarunner podcast (7/25/2013): The Pooping Runner, Habits of Ultrarunners, Using HR for Ultra Pacing, Ultras in Heat, and More

Mountain Peak Fitness

In recent days I’ve tried to express my sincere gratitude to all those folks that followed along on Saturday, all the folks associated with the Tahoe Rim Trail 50k/50mi/100mi, the spectators, friends near and far, the Cook family, Inside Trail Racing, and my lovely and supportive wife, Amanda. Running well in an “A-Race” means quite a bit to a runner. And at 39, who the h*ll knows how many of these I got left in me! All the support along the way helped create my masterpiece, if you will. What I’ve written here, is my attempt to educate—and maybe even inspire a little—those of you chasing your “Cool Impossible.” Good luck out there and stay in the flow >>>

Silver State 50

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Photo by Patrick McKenna

Confidence was high coming into Silver State this time around. I’d raced here once before in 2009 as prep for my first 100 at Tahoe Rim Trail. It was hot that day and I suffered through an 8.5 hour ordeal it took me four years to [almost] forget. Recovery from Lake Sonoma last month went well—I rested up for a stretch, put in a monster week culminating with a 35-miler with lots of climbing, then used a little reverse-taper action inspired by Galen Burrell’s Lake Sonoma blog-post. I’d never run so much the week of a 50-miler before but if you don’t try new things, how the heck can you figure out what works best for you? My feeling is that it did, in fact, work better than a more traditional taper.

A lot of things became crystal clear after Lake Sonoma. I need to continue developing my muscular endurance for ultra running, so that I’d have some decent power to continue pushing my heart-rate over the final 25% in events. There’s so much great information out there now with blogs, social media, podcasts, and the like. Gary Gellin had sorted the Lake Sonoma results and determined the average runner ran the second half of that race 20% slower than the first. I’d run the second half 18% slower while winner, Sage Canaday, slowed only 9%. Anyway, Gary’s big on heart-rate and that got me thinking.

According to Phil Maffetone’s “Maximum Aerobic Function,” or “MAF” as it’s commonly called, my heart-rate “sweet-spot,” at 39 years young now falls at about 146 beats per minute (bpm). I’ve used MAF, on and off, since 1999, when I first read Maffetone’s book, Training for Endurance. Note: If you want to learn more about MAF, just listen to Endurance Planet’s Ask the Ultra-Runner podcasts. With about 20 Ironman triathlons under my belt, I’ve always tried to ride the 112mi bike leg at right around my MAF heart-rate and no higher so that I can get off the bike and run an effective marathon. I’d dabbled with MAF in ultra-running years 2009 & 2010. I did jump back into the Ironman game for two years, then hit North Face 50 last December, and wore my trusty heart-rate monitor, really just to help me hold back in those critical, early miles.

At the start of NF last year, I was cueing off of Leigh Schmitt and Hal Koerner as two guys I’d like to be near–or in front of!–at the finish. As the race got started, I soon found my heart-rate up at 147bpm and let those guys go, and, as Gary says, “just ran my own race.” I didn’t have any limits set on my heart-rate monitor (HRM) though, I just kept my breathing in check and did my thing. By the end and still running strong, I was only about 3-4min behind Leigh and Hal. That race totally rekindled my passion for the sport of ultra-running and ultimately inspired a return to the grueling, badass challenge of running crazy distances in the woods.

So, my average heart-rate at NF50 turned out to be 142bpm (the legs still need a bit more “iron” to maintain ~146 the whole way). Fast forward to Silver State. I set up some heart-rate zones into my Garmin 910XT. I set the low-limit to 140 and the high-limit to 147. When I fell below or rose above those limits my watch would simply vibrate (the audible tone drives me crazy Gary!) as well as give me a message indicating high or low out, although you can sense pretty well which is which.

So, as we ascended the 12 miles up to Peavine Summit at the start of Silver State, I just stayed right there in my zones, took gels and drank, and enjoyed the scenery. Chikara Omine floated up and away. A bit later, three fit dudes cruised on by too. My HRM was buzzing so I stayed back, my average heart-rate then reading 144, two beats above NF50 average but I was climbing to 8000′ so I felt I was within myself. Soon, all three guys came back, and a few miles later, there was Chikara.

Chikara and I diced it up a little and I was right where I wanted to be. I knew he was coming off Quicksilver 50 just a week before so it was reasonable for me to think he’d still be fatigued from that effort. But, I also know that you just can’t underestimate someone who shows up on the starting line of a 50-miler the week after they won a different 50-miler. So, I just went with the flow, ran smooth, and really savored the experience of running on the front with this talented young-gun, and a guy I’ll face again at Tahoe Rim Trail 100 in July.

I wanted to hit 50k in good shape. We descended to River Bend aid station at mile 33. I’d picked up fuel at mile 27 aid station so I only needed some water while Chikara headed to his drop bag. I started back up the climb in no particular hurry, knowing full well this was the moment where we were going to show our cards. Just a moment later, Chikara came by and that was that. He was motoring, and continued to open a gap all the way back up to Peavine Summit, six miles away. Still racing my own race, I could only hope I could catch him on the 10-mile descent back to the finish. Rule #1 in ultra-running: Never Give Up!!

Miles 30-40 in any 50-miler are tough. It was on this climb that I was tested most. The term, “hot mess” comes to mind if I had to characterize myself on this ascent. It was getting more difficult to keep my heart-rate up inside my established zones. The muscular endurance was better than at Lake Sonoma but I was starting to really lean against my limits here. Keep pushing. Stay positive. Breathe. Get there.

My right hip’s been giving me fits since 2008 and is one big reason I headed back to triathlon in 2011. I surely want to be doing this stuff for a long time to come and I wasn’t yet convinced ultra-running was for me, especially with the hip pain/discomfort. Running in Hokas seems to really be helping. Silver State was the first time I was racing in them. Once back up to the top, it’s a long, long way down to the finish. It really was “Time to Fly.” With these beefy bohemoths strapped to my feet, I bombed the next 10, trying to keep my stride-length long and take full advantage of the shoes. In my opinion, there’s not a better shoe choice for this course, especially if you often feel like an old lab with sore/tight hips!

I was still struggling to push the heart-rate to the low-limit of 140bpm, so… I f___ing lowered it, down to 135 and just worked from there for a while. With about 6miles to go, I said to hell with it and moved my data display over to just show average pace. It showed 9:00/mi. I was pleased. I’d not looked at average pace the whole race. But now, closing in on the finish, it seemed like the perfect motivation to keep me pushing (focus on heart-rate was simply no longer empowering).

My target time for Silver State was 7:15 (about 8:40/mi average). Over the final 10k it was good fun to watch the pace fall to 8:50, 8:48, 8:45, and so on. The last I looked before finishing it read 8:41. A good decision it was to focus on average race pace–It kept me working hard. I crossed the line in 7:18 and change (although the race results are still a bit off and have Chikara and I about 5min slower. Chikara won it in 7:05. Very impressive from my “front row” perspective. Two 50mile wins, a week apart. That’ll do something for your confidence. It’ll be awesome to dice it up with Chikara, Josh Brimhall, Thomas Reiss, and many others for 100 miles on the Rim Trail in July.

Some quick other things that went right. The Hokas, as I said, were great. They’re definitely keeping me “in the game.” Also, this was the first 50miler I raced with Ultimate Direction’s AK race-vest. I used two Amphipod 16oz bottles and this system worked very well for me.

Overall, between Lake Sonoma and Silver State, I’m eager to finish up the school year next week, and start TRT specific training. The volume will be down until then, though I do hope to get out with Leigh a few times whilst he’s still in our neck-o-the-woods (Leigh Schmitt is moving back East this summer, sad to say). I’ll be up in Tahoe for the Sunday TRT training run on 6/16. The goal now is to do the 50mile course that day.

Here’s some Strava data from Silver State. Ultra-running is a work in progress. All the down-hill running at the end made it especially challenging to keep the heart-rate up. In the end, my average heart rate for the event was 141 beats per minute, just one beat below the average at North Face 50. Everything really came together out there—pacing, nutrition/hydration, the mental game, gear selection, I didn’t get lost thanks to excellent course-marking and attentive volunteers. What a blast! 😀

silver state strava

American River 50 Race Report – by Richard Hunter (visually impaired athlete)

Hunter Bob Halpenny Embrace, Compliments of Lisa Chalstrom It wasn’t long after registering for the American River 50 Endurance Run when well-intended and caring friends privately started questioning why I would consider signing up to do something that ran a great risk of injury. At one point my wife, Heidi, came to me and asked if I had really thought this one through. Friends had told her about the dangerous terrain and sheer drop offs along the trails. After all, after losing most of my vision, I have had zero experience running on single track trails. I just recalled how much I enjoyed running on trails while in the Marine Corps 24-years ago.

To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t worried at all about those things that seemed to make others question my sanity. I would routinely say, “Sighted people do 100 mile races in the dark, so why can’t I run 50 miles during the day with the help of a guide?” Another common refrain was, “It is more likely for me to twist an ankle than others, so I’ll only train as much as necessary on trails and do the bulk of my training on solid surfaces.” After finishing a full Ironman, I knew I had the capacity for a long endurance event. I wasn’t sure, however, how my legs would hold up beyond a marathon distance since I have had plenty of cramping experience in my earlier running days. The prospect of a locked up hamstring as I stepped up and over big rocks late in an uphill race was admittedly a little daunting.

The first of many blessings came the day before the 2012 California International Marathon when I accompanied New Zealand blind marathoner Rob Matthews and his guide Matt Bailey to Sacramento Fleet Feet Sports to get the most for their currency exchange rate. They were receiving Nordstrom-like service from a woman by the name of Diane Forrest who was incredibly knowledgeable, had exceptional communication skills, and was extraordinarily patient. When I found out she had finished the infamous Western States 100, I asked her if she would have any interest in guiding me on some trail training runs. Fortunately, she isn’t the type to shy away from a challenge and loves folding new people into trail running. Diane was a natural guide. I came to the conclusion that trail runners have a special knack for guiding because they have to be very in tune with the surfaces themselves. The key was to speak what was normally a thought. Diane is also the one who introduced me to her friend and co-worker, Bob Halpenny, who shared her skill, experience and passion to volunteer.

California International Marathon (CIM)

AR50 Training Highlights:

When I set the goal of AR50, I told my coach that the December California International Marathon was not going to be my “A” race. I was using it as a build race to ensure I was logging miles to have the proper base for AR50. Instead of leading up to a marathon with speed work, I was instructed to train my body to run WAY slower, ultimately that meant running 1:30 to 1:45 min/mile slower than marathon pace for all my training runs. He threw in a few fartlek runs a few weeks out from the CIM and told me my body would remember how to run fast. Boy was he right! I ended up setting a personal best at the CIM, finishing in 3:17, despite driving rain causing isolated flooding and 35 mph headwinds during the first half of the race.

Humbled by Snowy Hills:

A few weeks after the CIM, I was back building mileage. We spent the New Year break outside of Klamath Falls, Oregon and the training plan included a 20 -mile run. It was cold and the roads were covered in snow and ice.  I was in luck. I learned about the Linkville Lopers running group and they had scheduled a 20-mile training run and they were willing to guide me along. When I heard that some were ONLY going to be running a 9 min/mile pace, I said I’d have no problems keeping up. Well…needless to say, to date, AR50 and Ironman included, I have NEVER gone for a run in which my cardio and legs suffered so much! Similar to trail running, the roads and sidewalks had no bold color contrasts to keep me in line, so it was incumbent for me to stay behind someone and listen to cues. As we left town and found ourselves on a country road, I quickly realized that I had embarked on a challenge I wasn’t sure I was up for doing. Not only was the altitude around 4500 feet, this run included some very long uphill climbs. It was slick and steep enough for my feet to slide back 6 inches with each step. My heart rate soared! I was humbled by the ease at which they ran up these hills. I couldn’t even talk at many points and was starting to wonder how in the heck I’d get back. I was growing colder and more exhausted as time went on. I became keenly aware that there was NO way Heidi could come and pick me up. She would have needed a 4-wheel drive with snow tires. I was too aware of the dwindling side roads and lack of structures. At one point, I recall asking if there were houses out that far. I was nervous that I didn’t have an “out” and was embarrassed by the prospect that this Ironman was going to crap out on a 20 mile run.  I had never been stressed about a run in my life, and kept it to myself because I didn’t want to alarm these kind people that the blind guy was going to become a casualty. My spirits lifted when we turned around. Every step would be closer to civilization. While I slowed down my new friends a little, they were now friends, so I allowed myself to walk a little more, let myself fall a little farther behind on the hills, and had shed my pride and arrogance long ago. My spirits started to lift on the way back, and I kept at it, feeling like a wimp the entire way. I was beyond relieved to see Heidi’s car at the finish, exclaimed “Thank God!” loud enough for everyone to hear, and watched my friends extend the 20-mile run as we drove off. This was not the confidence builder I was hoping for. I could rationalize that I had just ran a marathon and wasn’t used to running at altitude, but my goals this year included a 50-mile uphill endurance run and an Ironman at 6000+ feet of elevation. I had a great wake-up call and realized I had a ton of work to do!

Linkville Lopers

Running Wild:

I’ll never forget one of my early runs with Diane Forrest and her Fleet Feet running buddies; it also happened to be the first time Bob Halpenny took a turn at guiding me. We were planning to run the first 14 miles of the AR50 trail section from Beal’s Point to Rattlesnake Bar, which included the infamous Meat Grinder. We didn’t finish where we had planned, and it had nothing to do with me getting hurt. With about an hour to go, a young fawn slowly ran towards us. Bob first questioned if it had rabies because it was foamy at the mouth, panting, dehydrated, and not behaving like a wild animal. It came right up to us and sniffed at us as though it were a dog. Diane’s motherly instincts kicked into over-drive, and leaving the deer behind wasn’t sounding like an option. I kept my mouth shut. After all, I was along for the run, and these caring people obviously extended their humanity to more than just blind guys.  I recall thinking, “There is no way this is going to end well!” I was trying to imagine dragging a deer out of the forest for several miles and trying to fit it in the back of a car. Or, we would eventually have to leave and my new friends would be grief stricken.  My own thoughts revolved around the injustice of survival of the fittest, and knew that this poor little dear was going to be cougar food. Again, I kept my mouth shut and let things evolve, and evolve, and evolve.

As good fortune would have it, a couple of women on horseback came along and informed us that there was a fawn rescue nearby. I must admit that my only contribution here was my iPhone. It sure sounded more promising than initial calls to people with trucks. I just couldn’t wrap my mind around where that one would lead. As Diane made calls and wandered around the immediate area for the best cell connection, the fawn followed. We were in luck! The fawn rescue lady could meet us at Horseshoe Bar Road, but it was well over a mile away. “WHAT, I’m thinking, isn’t there going to be some sort of team extraction?” Unlike the rest, I wasn’t feeling that we were much better off than before. In fact, now survival was clearly an option if we could get the deer out of there without scaring it off which would certainly result in its peril.   First a lasso was fashioned but that was not appreciated by our new companion. Someone suggested, “Let’s just start running and see if the deer will follow.” After all, it seemed to be anxiously sticking close by. What a sight we must have been!  We started jogging along the single track trail, and wouldn’t’ you know it, that deer got in line, and ran right at our heels, moving up and down the line. Someone would call out, “Richard, it’s coming up behind you,” and I’d feel little hooves clipping at my shoes as though it was trying to give me a flat tire, and then it would run up along my side, and I could extend my hand and brush it’s big floppy ears with my fingers. Crazy cool! Our savior greeted us at the road and informed us that she couldn’t get her truck started, and Plan B started taking form in front of my eyes.  I was dumbfounded. “What? We miraculously got this deer to its final destination. Bring in the back-up, the back-up vehicles,” all of which was internal heartless dialogue. Plan B was to run back to where we were and then negotiate the terrain off trail to find the rescue off road. At this point, I turn off my brain, recognize that Diane and crew are going to live and die in those woods for that fawn, and I was just going to roll with it with great skepticism and admittedly great respect for those I was with.  About the time we got back to our starting place, the iPhone rang, and we found out the truck had started. So… back we went. Now, about 4 miles with deer in line, you’d think I’d have a little faith, but I’m a stubborn soul.  When I saw the crate for the deer, I could not keep my mouth shut. “How in the heck are we going to get that deer in there?”  It was a canvas crate that resembled a large dog kennel. She responded, “I don’t know, but keep walking past the kennel.”  Wouldn’t you know it, that fawn walked right into that box without incident!

fawn

Out of water and hours behind schedule, we asked for a ride to the car. First, however, we stopped at the rescue to drop off our little fawn.  At that time, I didn’t know my new friends very well, but I gained a ton of respect for them and had no doubt that I was in trustworthy hands. I’m forever in debt to them for creating this experience, and I’m humbled by their resolve and willingness to tackle a problem when a clear solution was not in sight.

How do I run on trails?

Retinitis Pigmentosa is a degenerative eye disease with progressive vision loss which can result in total blindness. While my missteps and mishaps occur with greater frequency, I’m still able to run by myself on familiar paved surfaces by following painted lines, the edge of a path with clear contrasting colors, and flow of the landscape. Since it is getting more difficult for me to visually discern the contrast of surfaces, I have been growing my own network of running partners, even in familiar places. I do not run in unfamiliar areas by myself and it would be impossible for me to run on trails on my own. On trails, the colors are all washed out and I have no depth perception. The landscape is a foggy wash. I couldn’t even walk on a trail solo without feeling my way, expecting at any moment to crash through the thinly veiled surface of an icy pond. In many places, only the feel of my feet distinguishes the trail. I think you get the picture. Running on trails requires extra special attention, especially when one has to negotiate areas with names such as “The Meat Grinder.” I tend to run about 6 to 10 feet behind my guide as they call out the obstacles they are negotiating. I can see the movement of their body and know when to anticipate steps as they call out things like “big step up,” “tight wire, tight wire, tight wire, stay behind me,” “root,” “stepping over a rut,” “running over the crest,” “quick feet.. land on your toes… technical,” “smooth runnable trail,” When there are gnarly and slippery, steep, or high risk areas, my guide stops at the obstacle, I put my hand on their shoulder, and I feel for the ground as I take a step, pretty much negotiating the section as a toddler. I don’t look down. I always look at my guide’s upper back.  If I look down, I can’t see them at all due to the extent of my peripheral vision loss. At times, I close my eyes as I negotiate very difficult steps so all of my focus and energy goes to the feel of my feet.  I quickly learned that the greatest challenge was going to be in staying focused. I must stay in the present and no amount of daydreaming is an option. One misstep could be the one that puts me on the ground.  Consequently, I’m very slow on trails which ironically take off some pressure because it isn’t about how fast; it’s a matter of just doing.

ar50_clif

Race Day:

Quite uncharacteristic for me, I had no serious setbacks in my AR50 training journey. More often than not, I normally spend several months in physical therapy while simultaneously building for a key event. I credit slowing down and a relaxed mindset to the difference. I discovered a new level of joy in running through my regular running partners Diane, Bob, and Matt. Even 20-mile runs began feeling routine and my weekly mileage entered new territory with no issues.  2-weeks out, however, my youngest daughter caught the flu and had a 104 temperature; I did what anybody would do, I gave my little 6-yaer-old the love and comfort she needed, started taking more vitamins, and crossed my fingers. Then my wife and oldest daughter caught a bacterial flu, accompanied by a rather nasty case of pink eye. I even told Heidi that, if I was going to get sick, it better happen early in the week, so I’d have time to recover. Then, on Monday of race week, I started showing the same early signs of the same flu, and the doctor prescribed antibiotics sight unseen. It must have been perfect timing, because my double pink eye didn’t go anywhere else, and I was feeling close to normal race morning.

Since injury and illness would not be standing in the way, negotiating technical trails safely, mental toughness and my ability to diligently follow my nutrition plan were going to be the keys to success. My friend and Ironman sport’s nutritionist Sheila Leard crafted a plan that was much different than my triathlon plan. My calories were coming from solid rather than liquid sources, but I had plenty of time to practice this so we could tweak the plan if necessary. She calculated the amount of fluids, calories and electrolytes I’d need and we set up a “feed” schedule. I set my Garmin to send me an alert every 15 minutes, and with the help of my guides, they’d let me know if we were on the top or bottom of the hour, because clock position meant different things and my mental clarity would deteriorate.

About the same time that illness took hold in the Hunter household, I started getting a few race jitters. This is the same time other ultra runners were reminding me that I’d learn a lot about myself that day, that I’d suffer, question my sanity, perhaps feel that I couldn’t continue, but that this feeling would pass, and I’d come through the other side.  Suffer? Coming back from the dead? That was not part of my mental imagery. My image of success, branded into my mind by Diane Forrest, was that I’d be one of the few running up Last Gasp, which is a long 1000 foot elevation climb at the very end of the race.  So, the jitters resulted in an unpleasant picture of ominous clouds in the distance as I ran with ease during the first 30 miles.  I had to fight to rid myself of that negativity and remind myself how much fun I’d been having running in recent months with people exploding with positive energy. By Saturday morning, my brain was in the right spot. I was now repeating the mantra I had heard months ago, “Don’t be an idiot the first half, and don’t be a wimp the second half.”

After an expected amount of sleep on the eve of AR50, which means between 15 and 30 minutes for me, my alarm sounded while I was awake at 3AM. “No problem!” I didn’t sleep a wink before Ironman and I was fine.

A couple of weeks before the race, Bob introduced me to Erik Escher, also from Fleet Feet. He was tasked with helping me negotiate the logistics of the dark start and guiding me the first 14.5 miles. We stayed right on track with our pacing plan and he handed me off to my good friend Matt Linderman who had been running with me weekly for several months. While Matt only had to guide for just over 12 miles, he also had the responsibility of getting me through the first 4 mile section of trails; a misstep that early in the day would not be good. Having never run a trail race before, one thing I hadn’t given much thought to was how your relationship is so much different with other participants. When people pass you, you end up having a quick one-on-one connection with each person. Since I was wearing the word “Blind” on the back of my hydration pack, everyone coming up behind me saw it, and more often than not, gave me words of encouragement, even while standing still as packs of runners blew by us on technical sections. I was surprised how many people knew who I was, and complete strangers would shout out, “Richard, I heard your interview on Ultra Runner Podcast.”  Some had questions as they jogged behind, and I quickly realized that my attention would be divided throughout the day, and I had to be extra vigilant.

Hunter AR running

Matt got me to Beal’s Point at Folsom Lake incident free, and Bob Halpenny ran up alongside to direct us to my pit crew to change into my trail shoes, refill my hydration pack, and replace my electrolyte water bottles. My pit crew included my wife Heidi and 3 daughters, Kiersten (16), Lindsey (12), and Makenna (6). They were all a great help. I felt great at mile 27 and knew I might not look so great at mile 40 when I saw them again. My longest training run was 30 miles and I knew I’d have to get through the gnarly section of the Meat Grinder before the next pit stop at Rattlesnake Bar.

Now, a little about Bob… For those of you who have read the book, Born to Run, Bob, 63, exudes the same positive love of running and has the ultra runner charisma that is involuntarily injected into your soul. He is a Western States 100 finisher and has helped a lot of people reach their running goals. He’s a student of form, diet, and kettle-bell. Bob would later tell my wife that he has never talked so much while running in his life. My wife laughed as she knew I bend many ears, but Bob didn’t throw me under the bus. While I’m sure the former was true, Bob had to constantly talk as he ran to keep me safe, and he took that part VERY seriously. I trust Bob implicitly because of this and didn’t have to waste an ounce of energy worrying about the terrain. It was impossible to take away the risk, but Bob knew how to make it manageable.

Although I had ran nearly all of the trail sections of AR50 while training, and knew that I’d be going slower than my real fitness level, I still got a little frustrated by how much slower I was than other people. It was the only way, but it was a tad frustrating nonetheless. We had to stop and clear the way countless times as packs of people would go streaming past. Bob would say, “Don’t worry about that. We’ll catch them later.” But, later didn’t seem to come fast enough. Even though the others also had to hike through and up the steep, rocky, slippery sections, I was much slower still. On top of that, it was exhausting. I was breathing harder and my heart was pounding faster on these sections than when I was running. It took an intense amount of focus and each step was uncertain which added to the fatigue. This went on and on and on… Risking sounding negative and a little whiny, I said aloud, “Geez, this is going on forever!” Bob quickly responded, “Stay in the present!” As an experienced ultra runner, Bob knew I couldn’t worry about the grandness of what lay ahead. I also had the benefit, however, of having countless words of encouragement from Bob about how “powerful” I was running, which meant a lot to me as I wasn’t feeling like that.

Hunter Almost there

It’s also important to note that I had an additional benefit that others did not. All of those people streaming past me were saying things like, “You are my inspiration for today.” Others would call out, “You two make a great team!” I had a steady flow of angels passing me and lifting me up on their wings, so the frustration of going slow was trumped by these endless one-on-one quick encounters. One runner was so enthusiastic about my participation that Bob directed him to the podcast (linked below) if he wanted to learn about my story. At this point, Bob knew I was starting to struggle staying directly behind him and my attention could not be divided. Good man!

As we were approaching mile 40 for my 2nd and last crew stop with my family, I started becoming emotional. I knew two things:  I knew I could finish and I’d be seeing my family, well behind schedule, in a few seconds. My throat constricted and I could barely breathe. My eyes welled up and some audible sobs escaped my mouth. Instead of entering the aid station with a smile, I was starting to look like a train wreck as though I was struggling much more than I was. Heidi later told me she had texted a friend saying she wasn’t too sure what would happen because I wasn’t looking very good.  I sat down on a chair as they went through my pre-prepared check-list, and I simply tried to focus on my throat opening up so I could breathe. It wasn’t until we’d gone another half mile that I relaxed to the point that I could breathe easy.

We were anticipating smooth sailing and catching those who had passed us over the next several miles. Yet, we quickly realized, that while there were many areas of runnable surfaces, there were still sections we had to negotiate that felt like downhill river beds. We’d start to catch a group of people, heightening Bob’s enthusiasm, and then we’d be back at the side of the trail watching people stream by in packs.  I was looking forward to Last Gasp, while I’m sure others were not. I had run that section a couple of times and knew that they were access roads, not single track trail.  I thought of Diane’s expectation for me that day, and it strengthened my resolve.

The last several miles are a steep uphill climb. When we left the aid station at the bottom of Last Gasp behind, I was absolutely determined to run up that doggone hill. Bob knew it, and at this point started calling out, “Come on horse!” He lengthened his lead to the edge of my foggy vision and plowed ahead. Those around me were all walking up that hill. I thought about Diane’s words and I thought about the “Blind” sign on my back. Out of sheer respect and admiration for all my visually impaired and blind friends, I told myself, “Everyone I pass will remember a blind guy was running up Last Gasp and never stopped running.” That act alone, in my opinion, might change a few people’s perception of those with vision loss. I didn’t take pride in beating them up the hill necessarily as each one of them had said kind things to me as they had passed me earlier in the day. Bob continued to yell out “horse” and I kept plowing along. I was admittedly tired, but nothing was going to stop me from running up that infamous section.

I was greeted by the shouts of friends and family as I approached the finish. My swim partner Tom Leard jogged a stretch alongside us. Not only did I live out the vision of my finish experience, I crossed the line with my dear friend Bob in 10 hours 24 minutes and 35 seconds.  My family and more friends were there to congratulate me and I received my AR50 finisher’s medal and jacket. Real race closure for me, however, didn’t happen until I sat in church the next morning, weeping once again, thanking God for those who helped me accomplish this goal and for the memories that will last a lifetime.

Hunter AR finish

Links to Recent Interviews of Me:

Ultra Runner Podcast Interview:  http://ultrarunnerpodcast.com/richard-hunter/.

2013 USABA Military Sports Program Video:  http://youtu.be/438tcN6cgEw

 

If inspired, please help me in my goal to raise funds for visually impaired and blind runners taking part in the USABA National Marathon Championships, Sponsored by VSP Vision Care, by making an on-line donation at: https://usaba.myetap.org/fundraiser/runforareason/individual.do?participationRef=849.0.255528971.  I started this event, am the volunteer program coordinator for the USABA National Marathon Championships, but this is the first time I’ve ever asked my friends to give to this cause.  You can also mail checks made payable to USABA to me at the address below. Each dollar counts, so please consider helping even if you can only afford $10.00.

Filled with gratitude,

Richard Hunter

Visually Impaired Ironman, Marathoner, and now… ULTRA RUNNER

988 Palmer Circle

Folsom, CA 95630

rhunter988@att.net

Tahoe Rim Trail 2010 – Redemption

“I really focus on just taking care of my body and mind. As soon as I start to struggle in a race, I immediately stop focusing on what everyone else is doing. I just keep eating well and keep hydrating. I try to keep my mind focused on the fact that my race isn’t going to improve at all if I can’t take care of my own body.”  -Geoff Roes, 2010 Western States Champ, and undefeated after seven 100mi races.

My second attempt at the 100 mile distance went a whole lot better than ’09. The difference 12 months makes! After a great build this year, including the Annadel Half-Marathon, Sequoia 50k, Lake Sonoma 50miler, Miwok 100k, and some good 100mile-specific weeks in early June, I was also given the great gift of knowledge that came pouring out of the epic battle that was this year’s Western States 100, which went down at the end of June. Pouring over Geoff Roes and Anton Krupicka‘s blogs in early July, I mined some valuable nuggets of wisdom, which I applied to my race this year in Lake Tahoe. Thanks fellas, it was a great ride!

In order to be competitive and possibly win this year, I knew I’d have to break 20hours. With a field of heavy hitters in the line-up this year, I knew I’d have my work cut out for me. So, I simply committed to concentrating on my own race, those things over which I had control, in hopes that I would see my peak potential.

The Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) 100 was my A-race for 2010. No stone was left unturned. I was as prepared as I could be. I’d arrived a week before the event to get my body acquainted with the elevation and was crazy fresh, physically and mentally. On the epic scale, TRT scores a 10, especially this year with the addition of the Diamond Peak climb from Incline Village up to the Rim trail. This adds about 4000′ to a course that already boasts 20,000’ of cumulative gain. Each time I’ve had the great pleasure of running this event I’ve been struck that, a.) how little flat running there is, and b.) that my knees don’t eventually explode from all the ups-n-downs!

with Joe Palubeski at the start.
Amanda came up on Thursday to join the fun. Without my better half by my side, I would not have had the race that I enjoyed. Our exchanges throughout the day could fill pages. Thanks sunshine!!!
“Bob, I can’t believe you dragged me outta bed this early, again!” -Michael Cook, pacer extraordinaire
Off to the start line. Finally!!!
Hmm… How does this Garmin work?
Photo of courtesy of Michael Cook.
Photo of courtesy of Michael Cook.
Photo of courtesy of Michael Cook.

I’ve told the athletes I coach time and time again that when you take care of the simple things (nutrition, hydration, pacing, etc.) then the results will take care of themselves. I was grateful that a lot these folks who have become friends over the months and years, were dishing up some of my own medicine, in the form of emails and texts, in the days leading up to TRT. This was much appreciated as it helped center me for the battle to come. “Give none of your precious energy to your competitors. Control what you can out there.”

In addition to the 100miler, there is a 50k and a 50mile event as well. It starts an hour after the 100 takes off. (Photo of courtesy of Michael Cook)
The elusive winner, Thomas Crawford, ran on the front all day, in his first attempt at the 100mile distance, and without a pacer! Crawford also recently smoked the Leona Divide 50mi course record earlier this year. (Photo of courtesy of Michael Cook)
Tops off, ready to fill the bottles at the 50mi mark. (Photo of courtesy of Michael Cook)

A picture’s worth a 1000 words, right? Well, running into the half here, I was so happy to not be in the shape I was last year due to excessive dehydration. Over the first 50 miles, I’d conserved well. At 20 minute intervals, I’d take a gel and chase it with 4 gulps of water. That was my nutrition/hydration plan and it worked like a charm (thanks again Geoff Roes!). Unlike last year, where my weight continued to drop at each weigh-in, this year I hit 152 lbs from start to finish, with no more than a pound deviation. No falls and no wrong turns this year was so relievingly wonderful, since I fell twice last year and am known for getting off course on occasion.

Departing the Start/Finish for my second loop. It was good to see Amanda and Michael here.

The first 50 to 75 miles of a 100 “race” is all about pacing, and keeping up with your food and fluids. My perceived exertion over the first 30 miles was easy, for the most part. That was tough to maintain since, in addition to being really tapered, I’ve been conditioned as a marathoner and triathlete, so running 10:30 miles over the first 30mi required a fair amount of restraint. There were a lot of solid runners at TRT this year too, including Brett Rivers, who I was hoping would “help” push me to a sub-20 hour finish time. Brett has cultivated a reputation for his pacing and subsequent smoking-fast push to finish lines. We both raced Lake Sonoma and Miwok earlier this year and finished close to one another at each event. Brett beat me here at TRT last year, largely because of his exceptional pacing ability. So, this year, I knew I’d have to pace smart in order to be in the running at the end of the day.

Letting guys (and gals) go at the start, including Brett, wasn’t easy. All I thought I needed was to average 12 minute miles over 100 miles to win. Seems pretty easy, right? It’s that 24,000ft of climbing at elevation that gets in the way.  The first time up the ski slope at Diamond Peak comes at about mile 30. When I arrived at the lodge, I spied Brett starting his ascent. By the end of the 2000′ climb, I caught up with him and inquired what was going on up on the front. Brett reported that Crawford was pretty far up and Olsen and another guy weren’t that far ahead of us. The pace and perceived exertion at this point was pretty conservative. Brett told me he wanted to keep it easy through 50, get his pacer, and turn it on from there. I pushed ahead, hit the top, found the Rim Trail, and ran south, mindful that I probably hadn’t seen the last of Brett. I wanted to open a good gap between us, yet I also wanted to continue conserving. When I caught Jon Olsen and he inquired who else was close behind, I told him I’d just passed Brett awhile back. He remarked, “Yeah, we’ll see him again.”

A big goal for me this year at TRT, besides breaking 20 hours, was to be able to run through both the half and the 70mile mark feeling happy and strong. Yeah well, in order to be happy and strong at the 50 and 70-mile mark, you gotta pace yourself. So, I felt like I had struck a balance and was running conservatively to the 50 mile and opening a gap on Brett. So, as I was getting ready to depart the 50mile aid-station and spied Brett coming in, a feeling of dread immediately preceded a shot of adrenalin. Time. To. Go!

From 50, I concentrated on what I could control, namely my nutrition and hydration. I ran the approximate 6.5 miles up to the next aid station at Hobart. No Brett. Another 5 up to Tunnel Creek. No Brett. I descended in the 6.5 mile Red House loop, where, after 3 or 4 miles, I caught my first glimpse of Brett and his pacer, Joel Lanz, another exceptional ultra-runner. Slowly and methodically, they caught and passed me.

You’re never happy to see competitors coming up from behind but, what the h*ll, this is a 100mi run in God’s country and it was pretty good to see those guys out there, killing it with me, and basically just having a blast, albeit, moving along a little better than me.

This section of the course chewed me up and spit me out last year, so Brett and Joel didn’t get any fight from me. Joel looked back once to see where I was and that was that. “Maybe see you later fellas,” I thought to myself. I was concentrating on getting my skinny rear-end back up to the ridge line, to the Tunnel Creek aid station, to that point that almost ended my race last year.

And just like that, I was there. Weight: 152 lbs (vs. my 143 lbs I’d suffered the year before at this same point). No stopping this time. With my deliberate shuffle jog, I left Tunnel Creek along the glorious Tahoe Rim Trail, moving north, traversing the 3.5 miles to the Bullwheel aid station, where my pacer was waiting patiently for my arrival. Eat and drink. Eat and drink. Joel and Brett were only four minutes ahead.

The Bullwheel aid station at the top of the Diamond Peak Climb.

Twisting along the mountainside, you eventually spy the Diamond Peak mountainside and know that Bullwheel, which is at the top of that climb, is close. Michael Cook, my pacer again for this second attempt at the 100 mile distance and second attempt at this bear of an event known as TRT, was all smiles as I arrived at the Bullwheel aid station. I was excited to have my pacer and move over some fun terrain, which we had just run together the previous Sunday. This new section of the TRT is really dynamic: an 8-mile loop from Bullwheel, about 4 miles north toward Mt. Rose then hit a flume trail that runs diagonally along the mountainside, back down to the next aid station at Diamond Peak ski resort’s lodge.

The first time down this trail, earlier in the day, I’d run really conservatively, so I could spare my quads. This time was a bit different. This is a fast section and I love to run downhill fast. So, I opened my stride and bounded down the flume, in control, yet moving over ground at approaching 5-minute mile pace. Michael and I hit the pavement at Diamond Peak lodge with smiles. I was asking myself if that might have been a bit too fast but quickly dismissed it, since the next thing I saw, was Brett and Joel starting their ascent up Diamond Peak, which was total deja vu, since that was that exact sight I witnessed the first time I’d been here at mile 30, earlier in the day. Naturally, I expected to have the same result by the top of the climb:  pass Brett.

Mile 80. Fueling with a sense of urgency at the Diamond Peak aid station.
Starting our 2000′ ascent back up to the Rim Trail from the Diamond Peak aid station.

It wasn’t long after this moment that we witnessed Brett’s assault on Diamond Peak. Brett and Joel were running the early switchbacks and were completely out of sight by the time Michael and I arrived at the base of the steepest section. Still, there was about 20miles of racing left, and both Brett and I were inspired to move as quickly and efficiently to Spooner Lake as possible.

Michael snapped this pic on Diamond Peak the previous Sunday. It’s especially steep near the top!
Mile 82: Just summited Diamond Peak. Turning south toward the finish.

I think at this point, my Garmin’s battery had just crapped out, but I saw that my average pace for the race was still around 11:30/mile, which would put me into the finish a little over 19 hours! Compared to my 22:45 last year, that seemed wicked fast. We put our lights on and set to the task at hand: run to Tunnel Creek, run to Hobart, run to Snow Valley Peak, descend the 5+ miles to Spooner Summit, and to the finish!

I probably made some bad fuel choices in this last third of the race. My stomach was protesting pretty much the whole way down to the finish though I only had to make one “pit-stop” and had some strong sections, where I was able to move along quite well. I was, however, losing time to Brett. I just couldn’t sustain a strong pace without my stomach throwing a tantrum.

In order to break 20 (my ultimate goal), I had to hit at those 12min/miles or less. At some point in my delirium I asked Michael what time it was. He replied that it was 11:40 PM. I then asked him if he thought we could make it to the finish in an hour and twenty minutes. He thought we could but I could sense his unspoken words, “if you keep running.” Yeah, that was becoming an increasingly arduous task. Still, in spite of the pain and discomfort of having ran 90 miles, there you are, running at midnight with one of your best friends, lighting up some pristine trails in Lake Tahoe. I was smiling on the inside, or trying to. I was, for sure, savoring the experience. Just run you fool!

I was happy to hit Snow Valley Peak since that milestone represents the beginning of the end; the start of a long switchback-riddled descent down to Spooner Summit at mile 98.5ish. The race isn’t over ’til it’s over and my nearest competitor was Brett, with the next runner, behind Michael and I, being some 2 hours back. So, we kept pressing forward. By Snow Valley, I was running fairly well again and being a good downhill runner, I was able to move quickly, though painstakingly, down and down and down the plush trails to Spooner.

Michael and I put together a series of pushes that, in my mind, were strong but just not fast enough to break 20 hours. At 36 years of age, this stuff has become much more about the experience and the process of racing than any heavy focus on performance goals such as places and times. I like to win and set PRs but I love to execute a perfect process-oriented race plan. Things had gone extremely well today. It was only my second attempt at the distance. I was just grateful to be alive and well, moving at a good clip toward the finish line.

One of the great things about the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 comes after you reach the Spooner Summit aid station and run the last mile and a half of the race, pretty much on flat single-track, under the cover of night, headlamp lighting the way. With about 3/4 of a mile to go you spy the lights of the finish across Spooner Lake. And when you hear the cheers from the finish line, a strong sense of pride, joy, and relief wells up in your heart. The final stretch is a victory dance that somehow seems effortless as you glide wistfully into the arms of the finish and loved ones who have waited and worried about your well-being (and location) all the live-long day.

My safety runner for the second year in a row. Thanks for running that last 50k with me Michael. It was awesome!
Final weigh in: 152 lbs. Right where I started.
Glazed and confused while blood pressure being taken at finish.

As I sat there, marveling at the simple fact that I was done running, I heard a woman speak. I heard her say “19:57.” It sounded odd. Why were those numbers meaningful to me? Wait, I ran a lot slower than that. Was there another runner here in the dark she was talking to? I looked up at her. She said, “Congratulations. 19:57. That’s great.” Still trying to comprehend how she could be so cruel and try to convince me I’d done something I knew I had failed to do, I sat incredulous for a second or two before putting the words together in the form of a question, “Did I break 20?” Naturally, my pacer, Michael certainly knew what time it was and that we had indeed pulled it off. So that was some surprising news to absorb as I sat there at 1am, basking in my efforts of the day and year.

And then, that wonderful human machine, sensing the time for running was over, began to shut down on me. My body had decided to initiate its recovery process. And then I slipped out of that blissful, immortal state of full engagement with the 2010 Tahoe Rim Trail run and into a very human, very mortal, purging process of recovering from the ordeal. There were several stops on our long drive back to Michael’s cabin in Truckee, and for various reasons. The TRT slogan is A glimpse of heaven and a taste of hell. As I fell apart, post-race, I was only grateful that most of my day spent running was a heavenly experience full of all the stuff that makes life worth living. The moments of hell were but a small price to pay for the experience of a lifetime.

I woke on the floor at 10:30 in the morning, disoriented and confused. My shoes were off but I still had my running stuff on. This is what it must feel like to be 80 years old, I thought. I crawled into the bedroom and pealed my clothes off. I crawled to the bathroom and took a shower, which washed the evidence of battle, down the drain. I crawled into bed and let out a deep sigh, my vivid recollection of rhythmic running on the Tahoe Rim Trail lulling me to sleep. That sweet singletrack…

Second place, Brett Rivers, at the awards ceremony back at Spooner Summit, late Sunday afternoon. Brett had a smoking final 20 miles and broke 19 hours. He had placed 3rd here in 2009 with a time of 20:50. Congrats Brett!

Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Complete Results [Click >>> HERE]

17 hours (about 90miles) of GARMIN Data [Click >>>, >>> HERE]

My next big event is… my wedding on October 17th! My next A-Race will be the 2011 Ironman Triathlon in Coeur d’Alene next June, where I’ll attempt to earn a slot back to Kona in October. I do have to see the doc and see if I can’t get an MRI of my right hip. It’s only been giving me problems since 2008! Funny thing is, ultra-running makes it feels better; it’s when I rest that it gives me trouble! When I get a clean bill of health, I hope to sign up for an late ultra this fall. My plan is to integrate ultra-running into my triathlon schedule, which basically means I’ll hit some ultras in the spring and fall next year. I won’t do a 100miler in 2011 though. It is, however, my great hope that I can get into Western States 2012, or someday!!! I want to close with this oft-repeated (by me) but powerfully accurate quote from that great thinker, Ralph Waldo Emerson,

“That which we persist in doing becomes easier, not that the nature of the task has changed, but our ability to do has increased.”

>>> Point Positive! <<<

2007 Hawaii Ironman Race Report

Aloha. One final sunset here in Kona before hopping the red-eye home to Santa Rosa. And I’m ready to go. I will miss the geckos for sure. Before I head over to the airport I’ll leave you with some of the highlights from Saturday’s race.

Morning/Pre-Swim. I came into this event really relaxed, which did concern me, somewhat. After two IMs this year, I knew I had enough fitness to have a fairly strong showing, at least that’s what I was praying to the Hawaiian gods! Good travel, great sleep, and no stress in the final stretch leading to race day. Up at 4am race morning. I downed a plate of brown rice and we were soon in the car making the dark and ominous pilgrimage to the swimstart. I’ve been more nervous for races to be sure. I guess we tend to be less nervous when we have little to lose. Having no performance expectations, I was here only to work hard and have a solid race. So, body marking, bottles on, tires pumped, and a visit to the port-o-john and it was soon 6am. I found a relatively clear area away from the start and laid down and listened to Coldplay for 20min. Butterflies kept me company. Deep breaths. Relax. Another gel and another sip of water. It’s almost go-time. We watched a SEAL team parachute down toward us. Cool. Goggles and cap on and swallowed a double-espresso Clif Shot. Oh yeah. I eat SEALs for breakfast. Time to get wet.

Swim. You know, it’s honestly come to the point where I don’t really mind the swim anymore. It really used to terrify me. I’ve got it figured out though, all except the part about how to do it under an hour. Regardless, the key to the IM swim is to give your competitors none of your energy. Inevitably, you will be bumped, punched, elbowed, kicked, cut-off, or even screamed at by fellow competitors. Well, let ’em waste their precious energy. The trick is to just let it just roll right off your back. No worries mate. So, I started towards the front, just inside the far left of the field. The cannon boomed and reverberated through us. The water’s so clear and there’s so many people that there really isn’t much need to sight while swimming; just lift the head a little and look for the bubbles in front of you if you think you’re swimming off course. The whole way though, I was occasionally touching feet as my own feet were being grazed by athletes in my draft. My mantra on the way out was “smooth and relaxed.” I hit the turn-around boat in 33min. My mantra on the way back was “Pull,” as in “pull” as much water as possible (arms don’t serve much purpose after the swim. Might as well wear ’em out in the water). The return trip to the pier was somehow more congested than the trip out. I kept getting cut-off and squeezed. My patience was tested quite a few times. “Pull.” It was so nice to stand up and run up the ramp into Transition 1. Swim time 1:11. I wanted sub-1:10 and this was good–I felt like I swam smart and had wasted little energy. Transition was smooooth and I was out of T1 before I knew it. The volunteers are tremendous!

Bike. The first hour was mellow, mellow, mellow. Kona out-and-back stretch and then out to the Queen-K Highway to find out what my legs were going to let me do today. Focus was on taking care of myself as much as possible. Translation: hydrate, get the calories in, and stay cool. After an hour I threw down a bag of Marguarita Clif Bloks. Salty and yummy. My nutrition was simple for the bike: One 24oz bottle of super-concentrated Perpetuem with 3 Strawberry Shots mixed in. Every 15min I would take a little sip of that and chase it with a few gulps of water. After coming into T2 at the August Full Vineman dehydrated I was sure to get plenty of fluids down. The aero-bottle works like a charm and–since the straw jabs you in the face–continually reminds you to take a drink. There is an old adage at the Hawaii Ironman regarding hydration and that is “pee before Hawi.” Hawi is the little town up north where the bike turn-around is located. I peed well before Hawi and was therefore confident I was properly hydrated. I did not have the power on the bike that I normally have though I was pacing very well and having quite a good time just being in the mix, dicing it up with the athletes around me. I disregarded my inability to push my heart-rate into the low 150s and was content to ride it out in the 140s. Winds weren’t too bad until coming down from Hawi where there were quite a few gusty crosswinds making navigating at 40mph with athletes, vans, and motorcyles all over the road, quite a chore. I had to keep reminding myself to refrain from white-knuckling my aero-bars (waste no energy!). Once back on the Queen K things were good again–though still a bit windy. Return trip back to Kona. I wasn’t passing as many people any more and couldn’t find any more power to get back to town any quicker. I ran out of my Perpetuem cocktail and grabbed some Gatorade as well as a couple gels from the course to see me through to the end of the bike. It was nice drinking only water on the bike up until that point; other than some back pain when I pushed it, I felt pretty darn good comin’ in to the marathon. I rode 5:09. My best ever in Kona. I feel now, naturally, like I could have gone faster, worked harder, and suffered more. But if that is so, I suppose I would have gone faster on the bike. I came here this year to race smart and have a perfect race. So far so good. Besides, way too many triathletes simply leave too much out there on the bike course. What you save early will be there for you later. Dave Scott told me that…in an article I read in Triathlete Magazine. Dave Scott did actually tell me once, on the run in Coeur d’Alene, that I had good run form. And he has the second fastest marathon split in Kona history at 2:41. Six minute miles for 26.2 miles off the bike? Sure thing.

Run. I remember having a grand ol’ time in the second transition. Way better than my first time here in 2002. I recall sitting in T2 back then and being encouraged by volunteers to get up and get my marathon started. I remember thinking how daunting the Hawaii Ironman marathon was to me back then. Emerson wrote, “That which we persist in doing becomes easier, not that the nature of the task has changed, but our ability to do has increased.” I find that quote fits ironman racing like a wetsuit. Pacing and nutrition/hydration. Pacing and nutrition/hydration. That’s what makes or breaks you out here. Having no expectations for my run, I just cruised the first mile in about 7min. Not quite Dave Scott territory but I was happy. I began hittin’ those beautiful M-Dot aid stations grabbing every cold sponge, cup-o-water, and gatorade I could get my hands on. My run legs came on fairly quickly, and I started hitting 6:50 and 6:45 miles on the out-and-back stretch of Alii Drive. I enjoyed that part of the marathon the most. So so good. I always have breaking 3hours in the back of my mind so I just kept playing the game: see if I can run another mile at 6:50 pace. And so it went for about 10 miles. I saw a few friends in town before heading back out on the Queen K, including Santa Rosa buddy Dave Latourette and his sister Amy. I was jazzed to see them while I hobbled up the only significant hill on the course. Oooh…ouch…ugh. What happened to that strong wind in my sails? Once out on the Queen K, my splits slowed a bit but I didn’t really care to tell you the truth. I was just racing myself today and I knew if I just kept on pushing I was going to have a sweet run split, not to mention a nice finish time. But the marathon is about 20 miles of hope and about 6 miles of reality, so says Hawaii veteran Cam Brown of New Zealand. The turn down to the Natural Energy lab just seemed like it was a 100 miles away. But it eventually came and with it a break from the heat of the Queen K. A nice ocean breeze was blowing while I made my way down the the run turn-around. As I ran out of the Natural Energy lab I watched an official timing clock roll over 9 hours total race time. Now, I just had to run back to town. Time to enter the pain cave. Get psyched. The last 10k of any marathon is a “powerful martial strain, one of those tunes of glory” says the late running sage, Dr. George Sheehan. George discovered triathlon at the end of his life while battling prostate cancer. He wrote about it with great enthusiam. He would have flipped for Ironman. Amongst a billion other things when I out there, I think about pushing hard for George’s sake. He certainly loved the marathon. Anyway, at that point, I didn’t think about George, or how far it was to the next mile marker, or much at all really in those final miles back to town, except just trying to catch the guy in front of me, and stay in front of him. “Push to the finish. Surge. It will be over for ever in only a few minutes. Push now,” I remember thinking. Amazed at the caliber of runners that were near me at this point in the race inspired me to no end. At some point in the blur I yelled at my friend Becky Flaherty who was at war with her own body and mind on her way out to the Natural Energy Lab. With complete tunnel vision I absorbed the cheers from friends Dave Latourette, and Greg (Becky’s boyfriend who works for Shimano–cool) before making that turn down Palani and back into town. I flew down Palani (which may have been more painful than going up) and high-fived Amy again with a big smile on my face. I turned it on for those last 2 miles or so, pickin’ off a few more people before making that final epic right-hand turn on to Alli drive to the finish. I savored those final yards, high-fivin’ all the outstretched hands in the finishing chute. Run time: 3:08. My best in Kona.

Post-race. Never felt better after one of these crazy things, due mostly to my pacing, nutrition/hydration, and the possibility I didn’t work hard enough on the bike, but let’s not go there. I’m staying outta my head on the shoulda/coulda/woulda head games and might I be so bold as to suggest you do the same. Remember what Yoda said, “Do or do not; there is no try.” Good advice my friends and coming from a jedi master no less. It’s been a long year and it’s taken me 3 years to get back to the big dance and may be my last time ever to participate. I was strong and happy for just about the whole day, established kona personal bests in all 3 legs of the race, lowered my total race time from 9:54 in ’04 to 9:36. Not too shabby. 133rd overall. 18th out of 175 men 30-34 years-old on planet Earth. Pretty good. I haven’t poured over the results yet but am most interested to know if I was the fastest teacher. I need to tell my students something cool, like, “Hey, listen, I know I lost and was 133rd, but listen, I’m the fastest teacher in the world.” Yeah, guess I’ll figure that one out tomorrow. Now, I gotta get my tired and sore behind to the airport. Getting back home is going to be an endurance event in and of itself. Aloha and mahalo.