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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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!

Summer 2015 – In the Mix

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ready or not, here they come!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A twist on my 100 race-prep. #altitude

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

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

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

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

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

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

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