2019 Canyons 100k

URP pro-panel discussion at The Aid Station on Friday evening in downtown Auburn. With Eric Schranz, Damian Hall, Darcy Piceu, and Kellie Emmerson. Photo from Damian’s phone!

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!

Rucky Chucky Aid with the ReddAntler crew. Photo Credit: Michele Thomas

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! > > > 😉

Strava data from my Canyons 100k

Parting Shot: With Luke Garten at the finish. “There is no crying in baseball. And there is no walking in ultrarunning!”

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!

 

 

 

Time to Play

What ever happened to my 2018 New Year’s Resolution of writing a blog-post once a month? Hmm. I’ll have to get back to that. Let’s knock one out now…

Nature’s all about balance and the final 1/3 of 2018 is proof of that, with equal ups-n-downs. My fourth showing at Run Rabbit Run was tough but I gutted out another top-10 finish, when half the Hare (and Tortoise) field dropped. I did a bunch of Hypoxico sessions on the bike leading in to the race but it didn’t seem to matter once I got over 10,000′ in the brilliant mountains inside Routt National Forest in Colorado. Living in Sonoma County, at 125′ above sea level does, sometimes, have its drawbacks. Since the high elevation essentially put a governor on my effort, I simply wasn’t able to get the most out of my body on the day. It was frustrating. My legs always felt amazing but a bad belly from 40-60 really set me back. I got that shit done though and I’m thinking about making another go in 2019. Why the hell not? That race is BEAST.

With a double-fisting Ann Trason and Chris Denucci at the finish line of the inaugural Overlook 50mi back on 9/29. Ann’s dog paced for a while, then got bored and dropped us!

In 2018, the Overlook Runs from Epic Endurance Events were only two weeks post-Run Rabbit instead of three like the previous year. And to make things even more interesting, Overlook added a 50-miler to the mix. Uh-oh… So, my thinking was, less time to recover and then run the 50mi instead of the 50k. Let’s go! With me coming off a 100-miler, just two weeks prior and Chris Denucci returning from injury, I figured we were pretty evenly matched. Chris is a buddy o’ mine and a former teammate, but I was out for blood after not being able to run to my potential in Colorado. I enjoyed running with Chris for the first 50k but then I just buried myself to the finish. That was a satisfying day of racing.

Chris encouraged me to come run Rio Del Lago 100mi with him in early Nov. After a week or so it started seeming like a better and better idea. Ha-ha. It’s a GU sponsored event so I could just run it from aid to aid and crush. With Chris and I pushing each other we could run a really fast time. I signed up.

Soon thereafter, the wave of fitness I’d been riding finally crested, and things came crashing down. I got this fairly sharp pain in my left soleus, below the calf but above the achilles. I rested a bit and, three weeks out from Rio, I tried to do a long run at Lake Sonoma. After 2mi, I had to turn around and limp/jog back to my truck. Then, to make matters worse, I got a nasty head-cold that hung around for 10 days or so. Total shit show. Looking back I’d clearly gotten a nice bump in fitness from Run Rabbit and that allowed me to run really well at Overlook 50mi two weeks later. That doesn’t mean I was 100% recovered from Run Rabbit. That big effort, two weeks post-100, put a fork in me.

Yeah so, I took myself out of Rio del Lago about as fast as I’d entered it. In training, I’ve made three-weeks-out a “training barometer” of sorts. I want something BIG in the tank at that specific point in the going. I NEVER want to half-ass a 100mi. Confidence is everything so making the decision to bow out was easy. In hindsight, the decision was clearly the right call. I was happy to see Denucci did have some competition late in the going at Rio and managed to push hard to hold on for the win. I now have $375 invested in the event, so guess what race I’m finishing up 2019 with? I prefer the mountain 100s but in 2018 I continue to find that I still absolutely LOVE to run FAST >>>

After the smoke from the Camp Fire finally dissipated and my head-cold cleared up I had just enough time to put up a 75mi week for Peacock Gap 30k, to be held in early December. Three weeks out I was sittin’ pretty. Health returned and fitness followed. Off the wet start line, no one goes with me, not even the leader of the half-marathon. It turns into a 2.5hr time-trial. It felt good to push outside my comfort zone the entire way. Running in the 7oz Hoka One One JAWS EVO I flew over the course. Since running in this shoe for all my 30k and 50k events since summer, I’d been contemplating making a change in running shoes since I’d been having some struggles with Hoka anyway. Peacock Gap was a honest effort and I pushed that sucker to the finish. It was a nice speed session for Woodside 50k two weeks later. >>>

Peacock Gap 30k with Inside Trail Racing RD, Tim Stahler.

I’ve been enjoying these “race phases” throughout the year, where I keep overall run volume low so I can regularly crush some 30k and 50k events, taking full advantage of the Bay Area trail-racing scene. At Woodside, Chris Denucci and I were again shooting the shit before the start. I told him there was at least one guy here that was gonna blow us out of the water today, since that seems to be the regular trend at these shorter, faster events. That runner manifested at Colorado’s Matt Daniels, a former sub-4min miler and all around wicked fast dude. Soon after the start, Chris asked me as we were dicing back-n-forth in the early going, “You think we’re gonna see him again?” To which I replied, “No way. That guy looked solid.” After the race, when I found out Matt would be at Bandera 100k with Chris, I laughed and joked, “You’re gonna have your hands full with that.” Chris and I finished within 4min of each other. Matt beat us by over 30min. Just incredible. Chris makes a good point though—all that speed and power doesn’t necessarily translate to the longer distances. Nonetheless, I’ll be experiencing serious FOMO on Jan 5th, when Bandera goes down.

Note: Word just went out that the Bandera course is completely changed for 2019. Sounds like they moved it an hour and half away. ??? Folks will need to flexible and just roll with the changes. As I tell my athletes going into every race, “Expect nothing and be prepared for anything.”

With Chris Denucci at Woodside Ramble on 12/15.

Dissonance. After the fires in the fall of 2017, here in Sonoma County, with half my training grounds burnt to shit, not to mention, closed, I’d bowed out of both Bandera and Black Canyon 100k’s in 2018. Since I had deferred entries to both I re-scheduled them both for 2019. Chasing Golden Tickets into Western States 100, after all, has become my national pastime. I love it. Travel’s expensive, as we know, and my fall finances have been a little tight. Hoka informed me in early Dec that I’d have no travel allotment for 2019. Fine. I just could’ve used that information about two months earlier, for planning purposes.

I needed to slow my roll into the new year, so I asked Bandera, Black Canyon, and Georgia Death Race (GDR) to take my name off their start-lists. I got myself into Sean O’Brien 100k though; travel would be more affordable, the course plays to my strengths, and the Feb time slot would be excellent. Mojo was high to run it again too; the full course this time. Then the goddamn Woolsley Fire scorched the hills above Malibu and the 100k was canceled, just like that. The tickets would roll into Canyons 100k at the end of April. I was already planning on being there for that one. But what the hell was I going to do leading up to it? I needed to work on shoring up some financial reserves so I could get myself out to Bighorn 100 in June and to some other mountain 100 in September. That was the plan.

Since I’d been running a lot, and doing well, in that minimal Hoka JAWS EVO, and I’d only be getting product from Hoka in 2019, I started thinking, what if I ran for someone else?  My time with Hoka had run its course. I came onboard in 2013 when the maximalist movement had gained some good traction in the trail-running world. Before that I was a Salomon guy; my weapon of choice was the original SPEEDCROSS. Let’s be real:  Salomon makes sexy trail-running shoes. The quality is next to none. I’ve been struggling with shoe-fit over the last three seasons too—and a M8.5 from Salomon fits my foot better than any other shoe out there. In wet conditions though, when you stop and cinch up your Salomons with that sweet lace-lock system?! Nothing feels better. Or faster.

If I’ve learned anything with Hoka, it’s to go after what you want. Nothing’s gonna happen if you don’t make it happen. You have to put yourself in the position to win. Thus, if I started up a new relationship with anyone it was going to be Salomon. I mentioned my interest to friends at Healdsburg Running Company, connections were quickly made, and just like that, I’m on Courtney’s team. The sport takes care of its own. I’ll be putting my full weight and six years’ worth of experience supporting a shoe company, behind Salomon. David Goggins’ book, Can’t Hurt Me, reminds us that new beginnings are essential to staying in the flow of life; always building new skills to meet new challenges. Literally, and figuratively, Salomon represents a damn good fit!

It’s important to acknowledge everything Hoka One One has done for me over the last six seasons. The support allowed me to spread my wings and put myself in the mix of so many of the country’s toughest, most prestigious, ultra-marathons. I met so many great people along the way, whose friendship I continue to cherish.

So, sitting here on Jan 1st, things are lookin’ good. I’m on a new team and my coaching roster’s coming together nicely. On winter break from teaching, every day’s been meeting with ultrarunners, phone calls, and setting up season plans. My teaching year’s about 185 days while the remainder of workdays on the calendar gives me plenty of time to take good care of my athletes. Armed with a growth mindset, the teaching–coaching–running lifestyle keeps me in the flow, happy, and evolving. I like that notion that all we need to be happy in life is something to be excited about. I know that’s true for me.

I might be a day late and a dollar short to run Bandera 100k but I’ve put my name back on the start-list for GDR. After all, that course has gotten into my bones having raced it the last two years. It’s where I earned my Golden Ticket into Western States in 2018. And I know I can go well under 12 hours on that gnarly course. I mean, hell, I’ll be in Salomons. That’s 30min right there! > > > 😀

I’ll be happy to race my heart out chasing Golden Tickets in Georgia and then back here at home at Canyons 100k at the end of April. If a ticket doesn’t pan out? Oh well, I’ll have had two more amazing ultra-distance race experiences. And, I’ll see you at Bighorn 100. In 2017, I had a 30min lead on the field by mile 65, before succumbing to hypothermia and dropping. I learned stuff, like a Gore-Tex rain-jacket is a nice thing to own. Fun memories but I’d like to set the record straight. So, if no Western States then it’s gonna be a summer of love—Bighorn followed by Tahoe Rim Trail 100 in mid-July (I’d like to get my 5-year belt buckle). Rocking these two hundreds will prime the body and mind for another Run Rabbit Run 100 in September. With the spectacularly updated course and the fierce competition, it’s not hard to imagine doing this one again, although I’ll have to buckle down (no pun intended) and save my pennies to make the trip possible. Then, in early November, I’ll wrap up my season with Rio Del Lago, where I’ll shoot to lower my 100mi PR and try for the overall win. I think I can sustain some good speed over the relatively fast course. Never given; always earned! Let’s party.

Parting shot: the start of the Woodside 50k. Second podium finish in December. My last race representing Hoka One One. Chris and I stand between the runners who will put up new course-records for the guys and gals. Photo Credit: Doc Tanaka

A heartfelt note of appreciation to my beautiful and highly supportive wife, Amanda.  |  Thanks to all the athletes I coach who inspire me with their passion and dedication to this crazy sport. It’s always such a treat to be out there on these race courses with you! #point_positive  |  Thanks to Hoka One One for all the support over the last six seasons!  |  Thank you to Salomon Running for bringing me onboard for 2019. #timetoplay  |  Thanks Healdsburg Running Company for helping me connect the dots with Salomon!  |  Gratitude to Casey Rolig from BUFF USA for the continued support and friendship  |  Thanks to Drymax Sports, for making the most comfortable, durable socks out there.   |   Squirrel Nut Butter Elite Team in 2019. I’m ready to slide into this!  |  GU gels and “Summit Tea” Roctane continues to fuel ALL my efforts—Faster. Than. Ever. #guforit  |  Thanks to Dave Townsend at Santa Rosa Physical Therapy for taking great care of my athletes. It’s reassuring to know I have someone I trust to go to when shit hits the fan!

Multiples of Seven

“It was important to score points today and I went for them with my guts.”   -Richard Virenque, retired French pro cyclist, known for his long, lone attacks in stage races like Le Tour de France, held annually in July.

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

While on vacation in Tahoe at the end of June, I got the itch to race something short and fast with nothing to do but go hard from start to finish. I signed up for Tahoe Rim Trail 55k, to be held on July 21st. Of their three events—the 100mi, 50mi, and 55km—I’d never done the 55k before and thought that doing something even shorter beforehand would serve as a nice tune-up. I searched for a race two weeks out from TRT 55k and found one from Coastal Trail Runs. Perfect!

July 7th. Golden Gate 30k. I’d basically been doing nothing but working on my tan and drinking beer since walking in the final 20 miles of Western States 100 on June 23rd. So when I was doing my warm-up the morning of Golden Gate, it was obvious—my legs were crazy fresh and I was ready to rock. It felt amazing to just tear off this sea-level start line and just sit on what I perceived to be my sustainable 30k intensity. I’d just gotten the new Suunto 9 a couple days before and this was the first race in quite while for which I’d worn a watch. To add to the fun, I knew the CR pace was about 7:40/mi so I’d check in with that a little later in the going.

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

Two young guys went with me and we’d dice it up for a quite while before I’d work to pull away in the final miles of the race. It was a super fun event and exactly what I needed to clear my head after Western States. Cruising on the road into the finish line, I end up snagging the win and lowered the 2012 course-record by four minutes (7:28/mi pace!). 2nd place, Terence Hurley (31), also went under the old CR, now on a slightly harder, longer course. And 3rd place, David Elk (22), missed the CR by only a couple seconds. This is the power of competition. We pushed each other so hard out there and because of it we all ran at—or damn close to—our full potential that day. So fun.

I’d traveled down to Golden Gate with a buddy and athlete I coach, Andy Manaster, and it was cool to hang out, cheer on folks, and wait for him to finish the 50k, where he snagged the age-group win and 5th overall in a competitive field. Just a great day. I was flying high!

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

July 14th. Salt Point 26k. After Golden Gate, as stated, I wasn’t planning on racing again until Tahoe Rim Trail 55k on the 21st, but new Pacific Coast Trail Runs RD, Greg Lanctot reached out to me early in the week and invited me to come out to Salt Point State Park on the coast, and experience the new, improved PCTR. I told him I couldn’t do the 50k ’cause I had TRT 55k the next weekend but, after some thought, said what the hell and told him I’d come run the 26k. I hadn’t raced out at Salt Point since 2011, when Leigh Schmitt left me for dead in the 50k there. I’d been trying to have my cake and eat it too with regards to straddling two sports, ineffectively I might add—long-course triathlon and ultrarunning. I was just coming off Full Vineman, looking ahead to Ironman Hawaii in October, and thought I had this 50k in the bag until I met Leigh out on the trail, for the first time that day, and discovered he was the real deal. We’d end up training together for a while before he’d pack up the family and move to the Bahamas, of all places!, where he still teaches with his wife there, at The Island School. Hard to believe it’s been seven years since we’d raced each other out there. Time goes by like course ribbons in a 26k!

Salt Point 26k finish line with Luis Quezadas.

Healdsburg Running Company’s, Luis Quezadas, 19, would be my primary competition and he led us out. I bashed my head into a downed tree trunk, saw a few sparks in my field of vision and kept cranking. Gawd. I’d decided to wear the 7oz HOKA ONE ONE, EVO Jaws for this race, and even did a fun, 4:40 downhill mile the evening before to really prime my legs for some aggressive downhill running out at Salt Point the next morning. As was the case back in 2011, experience paid off, and the veteran moved in to 1st on the early climb up the ridge. I kept my foot on the gas around the first loop, across Route 1, onto the bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, then back out to crank out the second, shorter loop of the 26k, back across Route 1, onto the bluffs, to the finish. Stunning views!

Because PCTR was under new ownership, I hadn’t thought to look at the existing CR for this course. I just kept cranking away in the race. Toward the end, I felt like breaking two hours would be possible but I didn’t want to kill myself, since I’d just raced 7 days before and I would be racing the longer 55k at elevation in 7 days, so I put in the effort to win it and came across in exactly 2 hours and change. Nate Seltenrich, 36, crossed the line in 2:06:32, with Luis rounding out the podium, just 20 seconds later. Luis’ time was the 6th fastest time ever run on the 26k course, dating back to at 2004.

The next day, I looked to see what the deal was with 26k CR and saw my old nemesis—and good friend!—Gary Gellin, holds the CR from 2008… less than a minute faster than the time I’d just run (of course!). First place in the 50k with a brilliant performance, was Vincent DiMassa, a talented multi-sport athlete, who took about 90 second’s off Leigh Schmitt’s 2011 course-record. We’re not just racing each other out there, we’re often racing ghosts!

Turns out I cracked my head harder than I thought I did. Soon after finishing, someone informed me my head was bleeding pretty bad. The medical staff for PCTR was super concerned, while acknowledging it couldn’t be all that bad since I’d just raced all out for two hours. I was more bummed my white Squirrel’s Nut Butter hat appeared to be ruined (turns out, nothing a little Shout couldn’t handle). I changed into my black SNB hat to throw off the persistent medical staff, which really didn’t work, ate a lot of great Mexican food, and enjoyed hanging out on those beautiful bluffs above the Pacific Ocean. Three weeks later, my head’s still healing…

Facchino4

Tahoe Rim Trail 55k. Photo Credit: Facchino Photography

July 21st. Tahoe Rim Trail 55k. With these two short, fast efforts in my legs it was off to Tahoe. My calves were sore for days after Golden Gate and then less so after Salt Point. The body was getting into a weekly rhythm of race-recover-prime-race-again. It’s a haul from Sonoma County over to Spooner Lake, on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe. It took forever to get over there. But I finally arrived around dinner time, got in a quick run, found some friends, ate some food, and went to sleep in my truck.

4:15am wake up call to see the 100-milers start at 5am. So much nostalgia associated with this race, given the fact it’s my 7th time racing here. Motivation for these shorter events never waned and I knew I’d made a good decision to run the 55k today. We were promptly off at 6am. Again, two guys went with me as I launched off the start. Turns out one of them was racing the 50-miler.

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

Reno’s Ben Tedore, 39, won the 55k the previous year, where we also ran together in the early miles when the tables were turned and I was racing the 50-miler. Today, miles and miles were going by and Ben was right there. Through Hobart, Tunnel Creek, to the little Red House aid-station. Later, after Ben finished we shared with one another what we’d been thinking at that moment. I told Ben I thought I’d been running too slow ’cause I was with the leader of the 50-miler and he shared that he was questioning whether he was going too fast since he was with the leader of the 55k. Runner psychology…

Having done the 100mi four times and the 50mi twice, it was a unique experience to get back up to the Tunnel Creek aid-station and NOT turn right/north toward Diamond Peak. Instead, I got to legally “cut” the course, heading back south toward the finish line at Spooner Summit. Some 50mi runners still coming up thought I was leading the 100 and gave me lots of cheers!

Since the EVO Jaws from HOKA had worked out so well at Salt Point and I’d heard that there were folks who’d run up to 50k in them, I’d decided to race in ’em again today for this 34mi event. Light, fast, with good grip on generally soft surface, I’d maintain an average of 92 left-footstrikes-per-minute, according to my Suunto 9, over my approximate 5-hour race-time. I was pleased with how well my feet held up and how fun it was to race in this shoe over shorter distance races! I’ll continue to use it in these type of events.

Tahoe Rim Trail 55k. Photo Credit: Facchino Photography

I’d looked back while on top of Snow Valley Peak (9000′) to see if I could see 2nd place anywhere. I’d no idea how much of a lead I had. I was putting out honest effort, though I was thinking about the fact this was race #3 in a row, and I still had a tough 30k to do next Saturday. As I descended the 6mi down to Spooner, I also thought about how Rory Bosio caught me here last year in the 50-miler, with 4mi to go. “Keep pluggin’,” I thought to myself. It wasn’t until the final 100yds of the race it was clear that I’d held on for the win. Emily Richards, also of Reno, came across the line a few minutes later, breaking the 55k course-record for the ladies, set all the way back in 2001, the first year the Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Runs were held. Eight of the top 14 finishers in the 55k were woman. Fierce!

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

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

TRT was pretty fun from a coaching perspective too, as I had a guy in the 55k, the 50mi, and two in the 100mi. As more friends started finishing the 55k, it was fun to hang out at the athlete lounge on the lake, eat burritos, and share war stories from the day. Eventually, I transitioned up to the “Stonehenge” aid-station around mid-afternoon. This is the half-way point of the 100-miler. I found more folks to sit with and chat away about stuff. It was fun to see friends in so many roles: racer, pacer, and crew. Ominous clouds threatened thunderstorms but all we got all day was a couple drops of rain. The guys’ race was pretty tight and it was far from clear who was going to win. The ladies’ race was exciting too, with Bree Lambert tearing out of Spooner Summit, in pursuit of leader, Jenny Capel.

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

In the late afternoon I headed up to Diamond Peak to hang out and eventually catch the leaders coming through mile 80. As the evening and night wore on, more and more runners and crew showed up. Words of encouragement were shared. Broth was consumed. Shoes were changed. Pacers were exchanged. And the march up the ski slope began. Once I saw Todd Bertolone come through I eventually headed out of Diamond Peak, got on the road, and started the long trek home. I made it as far as a rest stop outta Truckee before stopping and getting some sleep, ’til the rising temps in my truck woke me up around 8:30am. I made my way to the in-laws in Loomis for a much needed shower. Needless to say, it took me a few days to recover from TRT. Three races down with one to go!

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

July 28th. Lost & Found 30k. While we were on vacation in Tahoe, post-Western States, I couldn’t help but look ahead to my next opportunity to run 100 miles—at Run Rabbit Run in mid-September. I’d only raced once leading up to Western States this year, and to some degree, I felt like this hurt me. Knowing that some of my best results have come in years where I’ve raced quite a bit, I decided to put a big race in my build for Run Rabbit Run—Castle Peak 100k, four weeks out from Run Rabbit. I messaged the RD, Peter Fain, stating that I needed to “toughen up,” asking if I could still get in the race. One Ultra Signup invite later and it was a done deal.

I’d been encouraged by quite a few folks who’d run Castle Peak to ensure I got up to run on the course to see what it’s all about. One friend told me, “You don’t want race-day to be the first time you run on the Castle Peak 100k course.” I found out there was a training run but I was already signed up for a race that weekend. If I was gonna make the haul all the way over there, why not race?! And as it so happens, the inaugural Lost & Found 30k was just moved due to permitting issues, from 7/7 to 7/28. I love it when a plan comes together! I reached out to Chaz Sheya at Epic Endurance Events (the same fine folks that put on The Canyons 100k and Overlook 50k) and I was in. Of my four July events, I knew this one was gonna hurt the most!

For the fourth straight Saturday in the row, it was time to step into the arena once again. I’d gotten up to the start/finish venue on Friday evening, even getting a nice little 4-miler in, previewing the last bit of the course, which is just stunning throughout. That evening, we all hung out and shot the breeze. Peter Fain told me this guy, Patrick Parsel, just signed up and that I’d have my hands full with him as well as two-time Castle Peak 100k champ, Erik Schulte. At 44 and a bizzillion races in me I don’t waste any energy getting anxious over my competition. Simply put, they help me get the most outta myself. Just put a runner in front of me on some mountain trails, and I’ll be happy chasing all damn day!

No way were the EVO Jaws going to fly on this course, so I ran in a well-worn pair of Speedgoat 2s that probably have over 400 miles in them! They feel amazing, eating up anything a technical course like this throws at ’em. That Vibram sole is the bomb!

As I’ve done for three Saturdays in a row, I launch off the start line, fearless, notching right up to my perceived 30k, sustainable red-line. I knew I’d have to show more guts in the early miles of this event since the first half is mostly climb before circling around, with a lot descending late for me to try to catch guys in the second half of the race. Lost & Found definitely does not play to my strengths, as a shorter trail race, starting off with a lot of climb, at elevation. I wasn’t ashamed to have my competitors hear my loud huffin-n-puffin in those early miles. I’m vulnerable. Here’s my belly. It’s a 30k in the mountains and I wanted to limit the amount of time that competitors put into me on the way up so I could catch as many of them as I could on the way down!

The views were absolutely incredible. Running along the backbones of these epic mountain ridges was so inspiring. I was grateful to all the volunteers that humped water up to these remote aid-stations. So much work had gone into making this rad little 30k possible.

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

Lost & Found was the last event in a string of Saturday events in July. I wasn’t necessarily feeling TRT 55k and I was pleased to be working hard and running well, totally stoked to be healthy and out here ripping around these awesome trails. The legend, Tim Twietmeyer, iced down a bottle for me around mile 15. I had GU Roctane “Summit Tea” in there and the icy mixture tasted amazing. I threw down a Roctane GU as well to fuel the final 5mi. I was happy to be back on offense and stoked to run down as many runners as I could! I caught one at the final aid-station, where I still had about 80% of my bottle left, so didn’t need to stop there, just kept motoring, trying to remember I was allowed to run this hard, given the fact it wasn’t an ultra and I basically had license to kill. With a mile remaining, I passed one last runner, who turned out to be a Schulte doppelganger! I didn’t have much hope I would catch Patrick since I was so quickly running out of real estate. When I finished I slowly realized I finished in third (not 2nd) with the real Erik Schulte, 13min up. Patrick Parsel beat me by a whopping 21min! Had I not raced TRT 55k, perhaps I could cut that down by a couple minutes. Honestly though, it was just great to race these guys. That’s what this month was all about—aggressive racing!

Stress + Rest = Growth

To be certain, racing puts the tiger in the cat. These shorter, intense races in particular are about one thing—guts. Just showing up and work your ass off for 2-5 hours, which was the range of race times for me in July. Reflecting now, on my four races, all were successes. I didn’t necessarily get faster as the month wore on, but I didn’t break down too much either. I listened to my body in the days in between, heeding Pam Smith’s brilliant thumb-rule, taking one day off of running for every 10mi raced. In addition to many complete-rest-days, I threw in an increasing amount of cycling as well. I didn’t get much faster over the Saturdays, but I got tougher, in both body and mind. After Golden Gate, for example, my calves were wrecked from running really fast for over two hours. They were still sore when I ran at Salt Point a week later. I was worried about that. But nothing locked up and I fueled and replenished conscientiously. After Salt Point, then, my calves hurt less by the same point in the week. Naturally, I started to adapt to the racing. Mentally, I’d just flip the switch and tell myself, “It’s just another day at the office. Be proud of the work you do here.” At the end, I’ve been using the Paul Tergat quote, “Do you have more to give? The answer is usually, Yes.”

In the string of Saturdays, I just got into rhythm. Saturday’s coming… Gotta get the body ready! By Tuesday or Wednesday, depending, I’d be back on the trails again, some Wednesdays turning into double-days, because I found myself wanting to run twice, get myself feeling loose. Thursdays were always complete rest days, since I also take off the day that’s two days out from race-day. Fridays were typically a Fartlek—what I call a “Play”—session in the morning, then travel, with a short run upon arrival to the race venue.

During this racing phase, designed to build in speed, strength, and mental ferocity, I stacked up 90 quality miles of relatively intense racing. According to ever-generous Strava, I ripped up 18,500′ of climb in these events. My fastest average pace was at Salt Point (a two hour, 16mi race) with a cumulative pace of 7:19/mi. My slowest go was Lost & Found, averaging 9:20/mi pace over the approximate 20mi, on that mountainous, technical course. All in all, four successful race experiences, with three 1st place overall finishes, one CR (at Golden Gate) and one 3rd place finish, where I got smoked by Patrick and Erik. If I was lost after Western States, I’d find myself by the time July came to a close.

Castle Peak’s on August 18th. Lost & Found served its purpose very well. I’m so inspired by the terrain up there and can’t wait to experience it again, in “slo-mo” compared to the 30k intensity. As Lost & Found was to Castle Peak, Castle Peak, too, is a tune-up for Run Rabbit Run. Let’s see if I can keep the psychological and physiological momentum going through mid-September. As the Castle Peak 100k motto defines: “Indomitable. Unafraid.”

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A heartfelt note of appreciation to my beautiful and highly supportive wife/agent, Amanda. Thanks for putting up with a month of Saturday races. I love you mucho!  |  Thanks to all the athletes I coach who inspire me with their passion and dedication to this crazy sport. It’s always such a treat to be out there on these race courses with you! #point_positive  |  Thank you to HOKA ONE ONE for producing the best trail shoes out there—#EVO Jaws #Speedgoat_2 #timetofly   |  Thanks Healdsburg Running Company for all your effort to support our local running community  |  Gratitude to Casey Rolig from BUFF USA.   |   Thanks to Drymax Sports, for making the most comfortable, durable socks out there.   |  Squirrel Nut Butter every Saturday, everywhere, never chafe!  |  GU fueled these 4 consecutive podium finishes. Iced down Summit Tea FTW! #guforit  |  Finally, thanks to Dave Townsend at Santa Rosa Physical Therapy. I haven’t been in to see you in a long while, bud. Let’s keep it that way! It’s good piece of mind knowing you’re out there doing great things for us [over]active folks. Any time my athletes need a PT, you know where I’m sending ’em!  |   Finally, heartfelt thanks to Coastal Trail Runs, Pacific Coast Trail Runs, Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Runs, and Epic Endurance Events. Running events add so much “life to our days,” and vitality to our lives! I’m grateful to have these opportunities to test myself, grow stronger, wiser, cultivating a healthy, evolved, and sustainable relationship with running and competition.