Man, it took a while getting to the start line of the first big race of the year! Last fall, it looked like it was going to be another wild ride, chasing golden tickets all spring, but the universe… yeah, she had other plans. I’d had deferred entries into Bandera 100k and Black Canyon 100k and, for one reason or another, ended up bowing out of both. I bowed out of Georgia Death Race (GDR) as well and set my sights on Sean O’Brien in Feb. I was pumped to race this one again! Then, in November, the Woolsey Fire torched much of the course above Malibu and just like that, Sean O’Brien 100k was cancelled. Family stuff popped up in February and March and my race plans continued shifting to the right. Canyons 100k it would be.
This would be my third go-round after being the runner-up in 2016 and winning in 2017. I regretted not racing it last year, as build for Western States. I felt like I made up for it to some degree by racing Overlook 50mi in September though. Racing on these trails never fails to light me up!
It was going to be a different ball-game at Canyons this year though. With the cancellation of Sean O’Brien, it was decided that Canyons would get—and keep—the golden tickets into Western States 100. This would all but guarantee a faster race on the front. Furthermore, with the heavy snow-pack in the Sierras this winter, the course had to be altered and Devil’s Thumb down to the turn-around to Swinging Bridge and back was out. At mile five, a faster out-n-back section was added this year to make up the difference. Here we go kids!
There was no 50k starting with us as in previous years, but it felt similarly fast, blasting off into the dark, up to the first turn on Bath Rd. We were clipping right along under 7min pace. Within 30min, there was enough light to turn lamps off. Once we started descending the modified section of the course, down to Gorman Ranch, there were quite a few young guns off the front, while Ryan Kaiser, Ryan Weibel, and I found ourselves chatting it up while taking full advantage of the “free speed.” Once we hit the bottom, Kaiser shifted into another gear and soon climbed outta sight. The rest of the Canyons 100k field poured down while I made my way back up to the main trail.
No ultra is ever complete without a bit of drama. Once back on the Western States trail, I made my way up to Michigan Bluff and was excited to see a big cheer squad. Bottles full, I hit the turn and made the left to take me up the dirt road to the Western States Trail. Cruisin’ along I soon realize I’m off course. WTF?! When I hit a fork after Michigan Bluff, I had veered left onto Turkey Hill trail instead of right. I lost about 12 minutes. I berated myself for a while but soon got back to the task at hand. Once back at the split, I took a second to determine how in the F I could have gone off course. Aussie pro, Kellie Emmerson, approaches and cheerfully informs me, “You go this way!” Thanks Kellie.
Pace, eat, drink, smile. Momentum in the moment. Up to the turn-around through Eldorado Creek and we start making our way back to the half at Foresthill. On the way back I catch up with with a few guys and come through the half in around 10th. My race-plan going into this one was simple—take the first half to warm up and race the second half. I take off down Cal St. as runners from the 25k were finishing up their races.
Running the Cal St section in Canyons 100k is such a delight (compared to the horrors of running it during Western States). Here it is, the end of April, temps are reasonable, the aroma of wildflowers in the air, small streams still run over the trail, and the American River is full and flowing. It is something to behold!
I’m starting to feel really f*cking good. Might as well trash these quads on the way down since it’s mostly climb on the way back up! Through Cal 1 aid on to Cal 2. I catch up with Damian Hall (5th at UTMB, 2018) and he asks what place he thinks we’re in. I guess around 7th. Through Cal 2 and it’s 7.5 to Rucky. It was forever before the leaders start to appear, making their way back up Cal Street. A quick fill up at the Redd Antler aid-station where it was fun seeing all my Sonoma County friends. It’s on—the turn for home!
One of my favorite memories at Canyons this year was this good size pool of water I submerged myself in—coming and going—between Cal 2 and the Rucky aid-station. It felt AMAZING. On the way back up, I was sitting in there and a couple young guys, heading down, bounded by. I was yelling at them to stop and cool off. They protested, saying that they were in a hurry. Rubbish!
On the hunt, it took what felt like forever to reel in 50k speedster, Scott Trummer, who had been reduced to a walk but was in great spirits and getting the job done. He encouraged me to keep pushing and try to catch more guys by the end. I’d catch up with another 50k master, Robert Ressl-Moyer, and that would be about it. I knew Ryan Kaiser was up there somewhere, and I’d sure like to get him too so I could win it for the Masters division.
Through Cal 2, with just 3.5 to go, my buddy, Luke Garten sneaks up behind me while I’m hiking and taking in my last GU of the day. Luke’s out spectating and yells, “There’s no walking in ultrarunning!” I laugh. I’m still feeling amazing and pick up the pace. We run it up to the pavement. I make the final right turn home and book it to the finish, securing 5th place overall at the first golden ticket event, ever, on the actual Western States course.
Jimmy Elam, 31, and Brian Condon, 32 ran brilliant races and surely earned their entries into States this June. New York’s Tyler Wolfe, just 23, ran a gutsy race and managed to hold onto 3rd. Ryan Kaiser, father of three, beat me—yet again—to the finish line of another golden ticket event and brought it home for the Masters.
I was on cloud 9 at the finish; so encouraged by how strong I felt coming up from the river. It was one of those magical days, where I didn’t want the race to end and caught myself wondering if I could keep this magic flowing, like the American River, through the summer racing season. We shall see…
I’m coming off Canyons eager to get back to training. Next up is a redemption run at Bighorn 100, after getting my ass handed to me in 2017. When things go well there, the plan is to run Tahoe Rim Trail 100 five weeks later. It will be 10 years since I ran my first 100 here in 2009. I’ve got to get that 5-year belt buckle from George Ruiz sometime! Then, I’ll roll the 100mi fitness into Castle Peak in August, which is essentially a 100mi worth of work in a 100k! If I can stay on course, it should all go swimmingly! > > > 😉
A heartfelt note of appreciation to my beautiful and highly supportive wife, Amanda. | Thanks to all the athletes I coach who inspire me with their passion and dedication to this crazy sport. Shout out to Bert Braden and Adrian Ramirez who ran well and showed guts when it was needed. It’s always such a treat to be out there on these race courses with my athletes! #point_positive | High Fives to Salomon Running for the S/LAB Ultra Pro. This was the first time racing in it. It was clearly #timetoplay! | Thanks Healdsburg Running Company for the continued support! | Gratitude to BUFF USA for keeping my head warm during all those dark, chilly mornings this winter. | Thanks to Drymax Sports, for making the most comfortable, durable socks out there. | Squirrel Nut Butter Elite Team in 2019! | It was GU and “Summit Tea” Roctane ALL day out there. Nothing else. #guforit | Thanks to Dave Townsend at Santa Rosa Physical Therapy for taking great care of my athletes. It’s reassuring to know I have someone I trust to go to when shit hits the fan!