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!

Western States & North Face

2015 Western States 100. Lyon Ridge Aid-Station (mi10) with Tahoe Mountain Milers.

2015 Western States 100. Lyon Ridge Aid-Station (mi10) with Tahoe Mountain Milers.

The year is winding down and there’s already lots of buzz about the 2016 season. Names are starting to trickle down onto that coveted Western States 100 entrants list. And much to my surprise and delight, I’m on it! I volunteered with Tahoe Mountain Milers (TMM) this year at States and that put me in their raffle for a shot at getting into States. Each aid-station gets to send one representative. Last year, I think TMM had just two entrants and I wasn’t one of them. So, on November 19th, the day of the TMM drawing, they had five entrants in the raffle, which makes sense, considering the growing interest in the event. TMM helps run my beloved Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Runs, including the Tahoe Rim Trail 100, my first 100-miler back in 2009 and where I fell in love (became obsessed) with the 100 mile distance. I would go on to run TRT100 again in 2010, 2013, and 2014. This year, after running San Diego 100 in early June, I ran TRT50, then got “coerced” into pacing a friend in the 100. So it seems, I’d built up enough trail karma to have my name drawn on that Thursday night after 9pm.

Photo Credit: Tahoe Mountain Milers

Photo Credit: Tahoe Mountain Milers

Running with the gale force of TMM in my sails will be a huge motivator in the prep for States as well as running smart and strong on race-day. To come through the TMM aid-station at mile 10 and see the folks that made my race possible… well, I imagine it’ll be challenging to keep myself composed. Until June though, the focus will be on integrating all I’ve learned from the seven 100s I’ve trained for and raced, then do my best to nail the States prep and execute to the best of my ability on that big day in June . Excited for the opportunity and grateful I get to run Western whilst I’m still at the top of my game. As can be expected, I do have some lofty goals planned.

Inside Trail Racing Mt. Tam 30k (11/14). Photo Credit: http://www.letswanderphotography.com/

Inside Trail Racing Mt. Tam 30k (11/14). Photo Credit: http://www.letswanderphotography.com/

Backing it up to where we are now on the calendar, it’s a mere 5 days out from yet another North Face Endurance Challenge 50-miler. The difference a year makes! Twelve months back I was out-of-commission with a compression fracture sitting on my ass in Auburn, biting my nails at the Western States Lottery. I remember thinking to myself the whole time: I wish I were racing North Face… I wish I were racing North Face…

After Run Rabbit Run 100 in September, the idea of putting up 80mi weeks for North Face in December didn’t seem like a good idea. Nor did it seem like a lot of fun. Once October hit and I started getting back to running, I figured endurance was in the bank and that what I really was getting jazzed about was shifting gears and doing some faster stuff. After establishing some base miles post-Run Rabbit, I went out and did two Inside Trail Racing 30k’s, on consecutive Saturdays in November, hoping that the experiences would do something special for my North Face 50 on 12/5.

ITR's Mt. Tam 30k with the Bearded Gull, Travis Weller, and Alex Varner (pre-Quad Dipsea CR fame)

ITR’s Mt. Tam 30k with the Bearded Gull, Travis Weller, and Alex Varner (pre-Quad Dipsea CR fame)

I enjoyed the 30k’s more than I expected. I believe that had something to do with the fact I’d been doing hard sessions all year long, so the 30k intensity wasn’t so overwhelming. I typically run a 50miler around 142bpm and both these 30k’s averaged out to be at 153. I’m hopeful I can push the HR at NF a bit higher than normal for the first 30mi and still feel controlled, since I’ll have these bad boys in my legs!

Mental toughness must be mined and I recognize these guys down in Marin have it in truckloads—getting to push one another on a basis that’s as regular as they want it. Thus, the task at hand at Tam was really racing (like running fast for a change) and fighting hard over the whole 2.5ish hours, and still come in down the results list. The whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts!

Inside Trail Peacock Gap 30k (11/21). Photo Credit: http://www.letswanderphotography.com/

Inside Trail Peacock Gap 30k (11/21). Photo Credit: http://www.letswanderphotography.com/

A week later, at Peacock Gap, at China Camp, Ukiah’s Ewe Ferrara was again racing after edging me out by quite a few minutes at Tam. Seems like I can catch him in a 50k or longer but just can’t hang at shorter distances, like those totaling some 19-ish miles. When he worked his way around me after a couple of miles, I took advantage of the opportunity and pushed pretty hard just to keep him in sight for some 10 painstaking miles. I like I think I can run downhill well. I was bested toward the end of the race when Ewe dropped me on a long, technical downhill. I definitely got was I was looking for by racing on these two occasions. At 29, Ewe’s getting stronger and tougher with each race. I am hoping to pay him back though at North Face on Saturday!

Healdsburg 3.5mi Trail Turkey Trot on 11/26. Photo Credit: KC Hope Kennedy

Healdsburg 3.5mi Trail Turkey Trot on 11/26. Photo Credit: KC Hope Kennedy

To get one last shot of speed in my legs, I had to go do the Turkey Trot, put on by Scena Performance and sponsored by Healdsburg Running Company and Nuya Nutrition. This NF prep’s been a dramatic break in how I normally train for ultras, but I do feel that there’s a time for all things under heaven, so to speak, and sharpening with races seemed like what my body and mind were up for, whereas, so often, the urge to keep stacking up big weeks seems as much or more appealing. In the end, my hope is that I’ll get through NF actually having placed less cumulative stress on my body while getting to the start-line on Saturday with greater fitness than if I’d just continued running big miles. Time will tell.

That turkey trot though? No joke. Turns out Scena decided to make it a pretty sweet little trail race of about 3.5mi in distance. Thankfully, I had those two recent 30k’s in my legs and head, ’cause I needed every bit of fitness to race this hard from beginning to end. Funny too, ’cause I’m in this NF50 head-space and just treated this turkey trot like it was an A-Pri event. The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in war.

I arrived a good hour before race start at 9am. Temps were hovering around freezing and I had on all my cold weather clothes from Run Rabbit Run back in Sept. (I had washed them). I was still feeling Peacock Gap, five days earlier. My legs were slow to warm up. I ran the majority of the course twice during the warm-up. Pretty funny since most races I run, there’s no way you’re going to see the whole course in the morning before the start, let alone run it twice. What a treat! Anyway, the warm-up and course knowledge helped me form a plan of attack to try and stay in front of the youngsters. After summiting the final little climb—at about mile 2!—it was downhill running on some technical stuff then a return to flat black-top to the finish. Strava said I was doing 5:03 pace that final half-mile to the finish. Crazy fun. The technical downhill helped me open up a gap. I edged out 2nd place by a whopping 32 seconds. Again, super fun to run fast. I need to keep doing more of this kind of stuff—at least the 30k’s!—to build some rockin’ leg speed for States, while being very mindful of over-racing and increasing chance of injury.

I’m hoping I have that extra gear over the final 20mi of North Face this weekend. I’m more fired up for this one than any of the other 4 I’ve done. Not having raced last year certainly has contributed to the stoke!

Parting Shot: Nothing like bringing home a puppy to ensure a quiet, relaxing race-week!

Parting Shot: Nothing like bringing home a puppy to ensure a quiet, relaxing race-week!

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! 

Marin Ultra Challenge – Inspiration, Preparation, Execution

mucstartMarin Ultra Challenge is one of those events that immediately captures the imagination. In 2013 it was held in June and I sadly couldn’t make it work with my schedule. When I heard Inside Trail Racing was moving the event to March, and it was still a full four weeks out from Lake Sonoma, I just had to be a part of the action, especially since I live just 60mi up the road.

photo(3)Marin Ultra Challenge (MUC) epitomizes the essential beauty of our growing sport. Like the iconic Golden Gate Bridge itself, MUC represents a gateway into the increasingy vast realm of ultrarunning bliss, offering four unique race distances, each with all the spectacular scenery one finds running on the trails in the Marin Headlands, Mt. Tam, and Muir Woods. There’s no shortage of climbing and descending, with over 10,000′ of glorious ups-n-downs; definitely a job for the world’s best ultrarunning shoe:

A rising tide lifts all ships. In recent months, I’d experienced my best performances in the Marin Headlands, totally inspired by the efforts of my fellow ultrarunners. Two experiences, in particular, are Rob Krar’s brilliant performance at North Face Endurance Challenge (NFEC) in December, and Dave Mackey’s “Dirty Double”, where, within one week, he set a course-record at Quad Dipsea and immediately turned it around and ran stoic top-10 at NFEC. These masterful performances, having run along side both these guys in the early miles, pushed me to dwell deeply upon what was possible for myself at the 50mi distance, and beyond.

Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change. As a teacher, an endurance sports coach, and an ultrarunner, I know that if I’m not learning I’m not growing—no challenge, no change, as they say. It’s exciting where a little curiousity will take us. And these days, with blogs, podcasts, and the like, information on how to improve is right at our fingertips (or earbuds). Seeing guys like Krar and Mackey do what they do is awe-inspiring and quickly leads to the obvious question? How are they doing it? Well, beyond innate talent, lies a lot of hard fought experience, dedication to smart and balanced training, and a tremendous amount of passion to keep improving.

Marin Ultra Challenge in March served a few key purposes:  it gave me the opportunity to further dial in my 50mi race process before toeing the line at the insanely competitive Lake Sonoma 50 a month later. MUC in March also affords athletes the time to do a proper training build in Jan, culminating with a shorter distance race, say, three weeks out from MUC. I chose Inside Trail’s Chabot 50k, which serendipitously helped boost not only my racing endurance, but because Chabot’s a faster course—as compared to courses in the Marin Headlands—it really helped kick up my leg speed a notch or two. And these days, if you want to “rise with the tide,” you better be running fast often. Sink or swim. Fortunately for me, I don’t actually have to swim anymore. So nice. Soooo nice.

The big “test” for MUC was to add in a short, fast race just a week out from MUC, similar (but on a smaller scale) to what Mackey had done a week out from NFEC with his record-breaking Quad Dipsea. There happened to be a sweet, local 10mi trail run called the Ilsanjo Classic, just six days prior to MUC. I was more nervous for that than toeing the line at a 100-miler! I knew it was going to take me way out of my comfort zone (sink or swim). I ended up averaging a controlled 6:08/mi pace there, which I was hoping would allow me to run really quick on the downs and flats (was there any flat running?) at MUC.

Since January, I’d been sprinking in more intensity than I’ve ever done as an ultrarunner—two hill sessions and a tempo run on the road. That little hour of red-line running at Ilsanjo took the wind out of my sails through the following Thursday. Uh-oh, I thought all week. I was worried but just kept listening to my body, rested, cut runs short, took a complete rest day on Thursday, and on Friday I was pleased to find I’d come out the other side ready for a strong showing in Marin, by kicking it up to 4:20 pace for a tenth of a mile on Friday’s short shake-out run. Honestly though, I could have probably used another day or two of recovery. Or, was it perfectly timed??

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with Gary Gellin & Michael Stricklan

It was great to see Gary Gellin out supporting on race-day, and have the opportunity to chat with him since he’s had a big influence on my race execution in ultras. Nobody wants to hear it, but we do inevitably slow in the second half of these long-@$$ events. Now, by how much, that’s where Gary offered me my big “A-HA” moment last year by sorting our Lake Sonoma results and displaying for all by how much we slowed in the second half of that race. I’d raced the second half like sh*t and slowed by some 18%. Sage Canaday won, while slowing by only 12% over the second half. Then and there I’d made it a priority to always “do my math homework” coming into races, providing myself with a few “first-half/second-half pacing scenarios.

Last year, the heart-rate monitor really helped me dial in a reasonable intensity over the first half of ultras so I could run stronger and slow less in the second half. It’s been challenging for me to pace effectively in the early miles of ultras, having so strongly conditioned myself to my higher intensity Ironman marathon RPE (rate perceived exertion). After ten years and some 20 Ironmans, you can imagine the re-programming I’ve had to tackle. This year though, I feel I’m finally dialed in, and my trustly heart-rate monitor’s come off. But, what a great tool to help you optimize your own ultrarunning pacing.

MUCprofile

The night after Chabot 50k, I took a long look at the Marin Ultra Challenge elevation profile, and loosely established that 60% of the climbing’s in the first half. If I could summit Willow Camp and be around 7:50/mi average race pace, then I’d only have to hold around 9:30 pace to get under the existing course-record (8:45/mi pace). That would be around 10% slowing over the second half of the race. Ultimately, you can’t guarantee how things are going to pan out, but you can use previous race results to hypothesize what’s likely to occur, assuming the body’s cooperating, you stay on course, etc.

The 50mi and the 50k started together in the dark at 6am. My fully-charged Petzl NAO lit the way beautifully, up the short section of paved road to the first turn onto trail. There were two guys up, which was great, ’cause knowing my tendency to zone out in races and find myself off course, I was happy to have company navigating in the dark. But, they missed the first turn. I only made the turn because I’d done this section in another ITR event. Another runner and I yelled and got their attention, and I found myself leading, feeling great, and strangely confident I could keep myself on course ’til the sun came up.

One of favorite memories yet in ultrarunning came while making my way over to Rodeo Beach, running alone and averaging a comfortable 6min pace (a lot of downhill), then climbing up to Coastal Trail with the mighty Pacific Ocean glistening in the moonlight, and Ray Lamontagne’s Henry Nearly Killed Me, which I’d listened to three times in the car prior to race-start, goin’ good in my head. Smooth flow…

As I was dreamily bounding along, I missed a turn to stay on Coastal Trail, just passed Fort Cronkhite. Sh*t. Fortunately I caught my mistake pretty quickly and ran up to get back on the Coastal Trail heading up to the Tennessee Valley aid station.

You don’t have to be off course very long for runners who aren’t navigationally challenged to put some distance into you by the time you rejoin the caravan. One runner ahead turned into two, then three, four, and five! The most important thing during a little race snafu like this is to work mindfully to accept it as soon as possible, be present, get the heart-rate down, and minimize any further “damage.” Every time your brain starts dwelling on the setback, “change the channel” to something productive, that you actually now have control over. I thought of my Hoka teammate, Michael Wardian’s, comeback and victory at the recent Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica. Note to self:  that worked like a charm.

Within 20min or so I’d reclaimed the lead and started moving over the course as quickly and efficiently as possilble, taking in 300cal/hr from gels, and getting in an increasing amount of water. I’d set a time vibration alarm on my Garmin for 30min, reminding me to fuel, with the intention of changing the alarm around the 50k mark, to 20min, depending on what feedback I was getting from my body.

mucstrava2For the first half, I had two pieces of data available to me on my Garmin—race pace and race distance. I wanted to be hyper-aware of the 50mi/50k split at Heather Cutoff around mi16 and was grateful that it turned out to be so well marked. Then it was up Coast View to the Cardiac aid station and down the Dipsea to Stinson Beach for the most formidable climb of the day up Willow Camp, which I’d not had the pleasure of climbing before. Starting up Willow Camp my average pace was about 7:30/mi. I was pleased with that ’cause I knew I’d lose quite a bit on this bad boy. And by the time I summited, I was down to about a 8:06/mi average. I’d stayed in control, power-hiked here, ran what I could, and enjoyed the views overlooking Stinson.

I’d seen my Inside Trail team-mate, Chris Wehan, in Stinson Beach. He was out volunteering and having a good time. I asked him how far back the next guy was. He’d been following the action on UltraSportsLive.TV’s live feed. They’d given a bunch of the 50mi runners transponders so we could be tracked in real-time. Way cool. And I had a perfect little pocket for it on my vest too. Chris said that I had some good time on the next runner with a transponder. But, I was worried about runners, “flying under the radar,” who hadn’t been “chipped” at the start. Always race like the next guy’s two minutes up and the guy behind’s two minutes back. Keep plugging away…

With Willow Camp in the rear-view, the day was warming up. I’d had a few twinges in my right achilles earlier in the morning. I’d not had any problems with achilles this year so chalked it up to racing Ilsanjo and the fact I was running a 50-miler in the Headlands faster than I ever had before. Overall though, felt good. Chabot and Ilsanjo definitley seemed to be doing more good for me than ill.

Powered by gratitude, I cruised down Matt Davis Trail back to the Cardiac aid-station, I began dwelling on how much time/distance I’d lost being off course for a bit early on in the going. At the half, I switched over to my Garmin’s Virtual Pacer (VP), which I’d set for 8:45/mi (the existing course-record pace). I now was hovering around 10-13min ahead of my VP. That should be good, right? I finally made it to Cardiac and moved through as quickly and efficiently as I could. Two hundred yards passed Cardiac I realized I just forgot my drop-bag with the rest of my calories for the remaining 40% of the race. I had one gel left in my vest and a full bottle. Putting my metabolic efficiency to the test, I ran faster and ignored my Garmin’s vibration, telling me it was time to take calories. I was in ration mode, but relaxed and stepped on the gas, bounding down another fun section of trail.

Once I got back down to Muir Beach I was ready for some calories, for sure. No gels are permitted in the Headlands, so I loaded up on CLIF SHOT BLOKS and Coke. I actually ended up really liking the BLOKS for racing, especially in the second half of a race, since you can just keep popping these little guys in and let ’em dissolve. So, disaster averted!

muc2All the way back up to Tennessee Valley, I was doing my best to prepare myself for the final, big climb up Marincello. I’ve gone up this climb numerous times during races, and it never fails to test one’s mental fortitude. Armed with a quote I recently heard in the trailer for the new movie, Unbroken, [in theaters Dec. 25th] stating, “If you can take it, you can make it,” I arrived to Tennessee Valley and vowed to myself I would not walk any part of this climb. Now I wouldn’t exactly call what I did do up Marincello, “running” per se, but I was able to use the above mountain biker as a nice carrot to keep me motivated. You take what the trail gives you. It wasn’t easy, but I kept the cadence quick, the steps short, and crested that sucker, feeling spent but excited to wrap this race up (but with the curious desire for the experience to never end).

By the time I finally got myself up Marincello, I was only about nine or ten minutes up on my arch nemesis (my Garmin’s Virtual Pacer). In my head, at that moment, it seemed like it wouldn’t be good enough. Unbroken‘s Louis Zamperini’s quote had all-too-quickly deflated into the less inspired, “Fake it until you make it,” as the body really started protesting the now 6+ hours of toil. At this point in the game, the body’s in charge and we’re just leaning against our limits and hoping the ol’ wheels stay on to the finish. Cadence. Cadence. Cadence. Relax…

Alta and SCA trails revealed a not-too-distant yet out-of-reach national monument as I reminded myself to find my yoga breath and keep on keepin’ on. Another fellow Hoka One One athlete, in the form of Ken Michel, running the 50k, gave me some much needed encouragement as I hobbled over the final rollers before the glorious left turn that would take us back to where we started the day some seven hours before—under the majestic Golden Gate Bridge, all downhill… which sounds more delightful as I write this than it did with 49 miles and 10,000′ of cumulative quad-crushing downhill in my legs.

You never know who’s going to come up from behind, ’cause it’s never over ’til its over in these ultrarunning contests. Work to that finish line. Earn every step. And then the body has your permission to completely seize up. I must’ve looked pretty bad, ’cause at the finish line volunteers actually asked if I need to be carried. Fake it ’til you make it.

Two final things I want to highlight about the Marin Ultra Challenge were 1.) how Inside Trail Racing allowed us to deposit our head-lamps at an aid-station once the sun came up and had them waiting for us at the finish, and 2.) the big sponges in buckets full of ice-water that were offered at aid-stations once it got warm—THAT WAS SO AWESOME! There were over 70 volunteers out there making this event happen and for them I’m super grateful.

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With super-human race director, Mr. Tim Stahler, riding some post-race euphoria.

It was another existential battle of mind over body out there, on a course that still lingers in my mind and spirit (and probably body too). I was thrilled to see 7:07 (~8:30/mi avg pace) coming across the line, but I was most psyched about having executed my best mountainous 50mi event to date. The effort to do so does concern me because of the immense strain on the body. What doesn’t kill you…

As of today, now eight days post-MUC, I’ve still only jogged across a few fields with the dogs. Lake Sonoma’s in three weeks and I can either benefit from MUC or become injured coming back to training too fast. Running resumes tomorrow and I’m hopeful, after resting this week, cycling, massage, and yoga, that any niggles from MUC will have vanished. It might be akin to pulling a rabbit out of a hat, but I’m targeting 6:40 to 7:00 at Lake Sonoma here in three weeks. Ultrarunning gods willing, I’ll be able to pull it off. I did see a bobcat up close yesterday on a sweet, hilly road-ride. Ann Trason says that bobcat sightings are good luck. I’ll take that, and run with it. >>> 😀

MUCstrava

2014: Faces & Places

cork2014 is here! And if you remember your basic place values from math, you’ll see that there’s a 4 in the one’s place, which means yours truly is another decade older. I arrive to the Masters ranks this year people. My body’s feelin’ its odometer reading a bit, but overall I still feel much younger than my personal chronology. No doubt, there’s more stretching going on, more foam-rolling, beefin’ up the strength training, Yeah, hitting some yoga classes, cross-training more strategically, racing less, eating optimally (?), drinking a lot more water (vs. IPAs), minimizing the carbohydrate and sugars, sleeping more, getting massage, and uh, (gulp) even got off the coffee in December. All for what?! For the love of the game of course!

I’m not taking for granted the opportunity to improve on 2013, so I’m putting my best foot forward here, pulling out all the stops, and hoping for the best. Let the chips fall where they may! Lots to be grateful for in life, including a supportive wife, great jobs, friends, sponsors, supporters, events, and starting my fifth decade on this little ball that twirls.

itrlogoVery excited to be on the Inside Trail Racing team once again for 2014. Race Director, Tim Stahler’s tireless dedication to masterminding the best trail-running events around is crazy impressive. We’ve got a great team with a lot of fresh, fly talent, including ultra fun young guns: Luke Garten, Kimberly O’Donnell, Chris Wehan, and Steve Arntson. Check out the ITR calendar and choose among many wonderful events in beautiful places. I’ll hope to see you out there soon!

photo-7Last year this time, I wouldn’t have seriously considered running in a pair of Hokas. Then, in May I had my come-to-Jesus-moment. I got my first pair and immediately noticed I could run downhill quicker since the shoe absorbs so much shock. Later that month I picked up a 2nd place at Silver State 50-miler and loved how the shoe performed on that technical, demanding course. So, I made the decision to use them at Tahoe Rim Trail 100-miler in July and never thought about my feet for the 18 hours I was racing. If you’re going to sustain the ultra-running lifestyle, you’ve got to take care of yourself, protect yourself, insulate yourself against pulverizing nature of these long-@$$ events. One company’s doing it the best:  Hoka One One.

With the support of Hoka, I’m looking forward to being able to travel a bit more, and get out to some new races in new places here in California and Oregon, all the while being stoked to perform at my very best. I’ll now have more breathing room to take better care of myself and be able to do those things I know I should be doing, like getting that occasional massage, for example. It sounds like there’s a new team kit in the works so  lookin’ forward to flying the Hoka colors with my teammates, Karl Meltzer, Jen Benna, Dave Mackey, course-record holder at the Quad Dipsea, and just-recently signed, Sage Canaday, 2013 champ and course-record holder at Lake Sonoma 50-miler. A rising tide lifts all ships!

photo(1)I’ve always admired the staff at Heart-n-Sole Sports in Santa Rosa. These guys have been athletes their whole lives and have accomplished so much in the world of running. They also support area high school’s track and cross-country programs. When I was petitioning Hoka to sponsor me, Kenny Brown at Heart-n-Sole helped me get onboard. It wouldn’t have happened otherwise. I’m sending as many people as I can into H&S to strap on some Hokas and hit the trails more confident than ever. Now, if Hoka could just make shoes fast enough!

H&S is hosting an Ultra Clinic on January 30th from 7pm to 8:30. The panel of speakers includes USATF Masters Female Ultrarunner of the Year, Suzanna Bon, also Todd Bertolone, a seasoned ultra-endurance athlete who’s running the Western States 100 this year, along with yours truly, offering my two cents on topics including training for ultras, nutrition/hydration, and the mental game. Should be a fun evening!

clifWow, this year I’m celebrating a decade being with CLIF Bar. They’ve been helpful on all fronts of my life. As an triathlete and now as an ultrarunner, they’ve kept me fueled with CLIF bars, Shots, and Blocks as well as a stream of great swag. As a coach, they’ve helped me put quality sports nutrition products into the hands and bellies of athletes I coach. And as a teacher, Clif Bar has sponsored my school’s Spartan Stampede 3k Fun Run for about as long as I’ve been with them. CLIF is the leader in organic and nutrition foods. Plus, they make some good wines too!

three-dog-yogaEinstein said it best, “The definition of insanity is doing things the same way and expecting different results.” With that in mind I’ve pondered what things I’ll change and/or integrate into my ultrarunning training and recovery practice this year. [Re]enter—yoga.

In 2010 my wife worked part-time at Three Dog Yoga and I soon found myself on a yoga mat for the very first time. That was my second season as an ultrarunner. I made a lot of connections between the yoga practice and the mentally demanding nature of ultrarunning events, especially the final third of an ultra. For both yoga and ultrarunning, you need focus and a strong sense of being able to simply be comfortable with discomfort. You need to relax and breathe. You need to have a strong body. Your mind needs to be clear. You need balance. When these things are in check, you are free to flow >>> down the trail…

For 2014, I’m bringing yoga back into my training by incorporating three power classes into my recovery weeks, which are going to come more often this season. Training is a case of stress and rest, and repeat. It’s during that break from running that yoga serves to strengthen both body and mind, while stretching both in the process. Granted, this will be an exploration and I’ll be documenting my findings with a quarterly post. I know my body will reap the results of the practice, but I’m most curious about how I’ll be able to bring this yoga practice into the competitive arena, staying in the flow, and closing strong over the final miles of a 50k, 50mi, 100k, and 100mi.

nuyaIt was fun seeing Nuya out at Destination Race’s Healdsburg Half-Marathon in October. I ran it with Amanda. That event’s a blast since Subaru owners get the VIP treatment; Subaru being one of the main sponsors. Nuya had a cool booth set up and head honcho for Nuya, Ted Neal, was out there getting packets—and swag—into people’s hands. I ran back to the Subaru VIP brunch with some “perfectly natural hydration” samples on tables to accompany what was quite a nice post-race spread! So this is what Lexus owners must experience everywhere they go; first-class service.

Coconut water’s exploded on the scene as the great re-hydrator. I’ve consumed liter upon liter, especially during warmer weather. So now after long stuff I can just rip open a packet of Nuya, mix it up in water bottle, and I have a tasty, post-race beverage. Hydrate!!

stravarunThe workout didn’t happen unless it’s on Strava, right? As a math and science teacher, I sometimes share Strava stuff with my students. I’ll share graphs and charts on everything from heart-rate data to elevation profiles. There’s so much in there to connnect with what we’re studying throughout the year. Strava’s innovative and keeps making the user experience even more fun.

In 2013, Strava tallied for me some 2700mi o’ running with 450k’ of elevation gain. I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing but I think, in general, I maintained a good balance with it and didn’t overdo it (too much) on any occasion. It’s easy for me to obsess about hitting higher mileage goals for sure, especially during those d*mn monthly Challenges where you’re “competing” against everyone else from around the world to see who can rack up the most volume over four weeks.

Like I tell my students, Strava’s like Facebook for athletes (and spares our Facebook friends from always having to see our latest long run stats). I enjoy maintaining connections with my fellow outdoorsman. It’s cool following some of the best in the sport as well as your buddies (who may or not be among the best in the sport!). Through Strava, it’s great getting another perspective on athletes I coach too. It’s great to be able to interact with former students who are now getting into running and/or cycling. There’s even a few parents of kids who I’m currently teaching on Strava. It’s like some kind of… social network!

Blog Post Transition: I’m now going to jabber on about my key events for 2014

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racing

Sadly, Silver State 50/50’s not on the list.

It might be January now, with short days and cold temps, but soon enough it’ll be time to pin on that glorious race number and get after it on the trails. Here’s a handful of ultrarunning events I’m most looking forward to.

mucI missed this one last June because I had my head in the sand in preparation for Tahoe Rim Trail 100. Fortunately for me Marin Ultra Challenge will be held in March this year! This one’s right up my alley too, with 11,000′ of elevation gain in the Marin Headlands and Mt. Tam. What’s not to like?! Epic views of the Golden Gate Bridge, great running along Coastal Trail, Miwok, Dipsea Trail, Willow Camp, Pirate’s Cove, Muir Beach, Cardiac Hill, Stinson Beach, Muir Woods, and Middle Green Gulch. I’ll probably get a 50k in before I toe the line at MUC, just to get some iron back in the legs.

annadelSuper excited to have the opportunity to run the Annadel Half-Marathon this year. For one reason or another, I haven’t been able to run since 2010 where I took 2nd in a time of 1:28. Inspired and intrigued to try throwing in some shorter, faster stuff this year (when it fits) to try and bolster some speed in the longer stuff. Annadel’s only seven days out from Annadel so it could either help or hinder. So, in anticipation of this back-to-backer, I’m doing a lot more speed work in my training, cutting the volume some, doing more strength work, so I can have my d*mn cake (and eat it too!). Also great that Annadel doesn’t fall on the same weekend as Lake Sonoma, which was the case last year. Always nice to race local and this one, like Lake Sonoma, has a special place in my cardiac muscle.

LS50Wasn’t it just 2010 and I was 3rd overall here, just in front of Timmy Olson? My how times change! Last year I ran over 20min faster than in ’10 and ended up down the list in 20th. Lake Sonoma 50 was a turning point in 2013 though; I learned a lot in that one. I’m happy to find, at my ripe young age, that the existential fire to improve still burns. Doing my first trip around the Warm Springs loop last weekend was simply delightful. And for some reason I have it in my head I can crack that 6:50 (6:40?!!) mark at this race. I know how to nail a marathon, a 50k, and the 100, but that 50miler, for me, is a “fun for a while” but ultimately frustrating distance. So hopefully, my tactical preparation this spring will pay off. Top-10’s the goal.

bishopA new race in a new place! I was considering doing Silver State 50 again since I love how tough that race is but Bishop High Sierra 100k popped up as another Inside Trail event, and on the same weekend as SS50. Timing is everything and I’m a stickler about race placement on the calender. Running Bishop allows sufficient time to recover from Lake Sonoma. It gives me 100k at elevation, to have in my legs for TRT100 in July, which I didn’t have last year, though SS50 is also ideal prep for TRT. And the timing’s such that I’ll have two full weeks off at the end of May, to enjoy my students, before finishing up school and jumping, full throttle, into TRT training. Perfect.

TRTAll trails lead to Tahoe Rim Trail 100 in July. This distance is the one that comes most naturally to me, as it seems appeals to all my passions as a runner. I’ve run three 100s and all three about been on these glorious trails in Tahoe. I have be strategic with the placing of my hundred so that I set myself up for success. Having the summer months off from teaching allows me to train optimally for a 100mi run, and moveover, really savor that June preparation. I don’t know what I enjoy more, the June prep or the race itself. No doubt, the preparation makes or breaks the race. Gotta respect the distance!

TRT 2013 was a pretty hot one and 2014 could easily be roasting again giving the winter we’re having. All those years racing Ironmans, with four trips to Kona, suffering on that infernal marathon, really seem to lend themselves well to my racing in the heat. Last year, I found I really liked it (except the vomiting in Red House). The beauty, the distance at elevation, the cumulative vertical gain, the high temps, and the competition, all make for a great, great day on those pristine trails. An improvement of just 3% would land me around that 17:30 mark, good enough for a new course-record. We’ll see what happens this July!

P2P_logos_color-01Since the 100miler is my fave distance, and I’ve only ever run TRT, I thought it high time to try another 100, one that also captures my imagination, in a beautiful place, and won’t pull me out of the classroom for too long. Pine to Palm is just “right up the road” in southern Oregon. I figure, last year I was able to bounce back and “race” Headlands 50k a month after TRT, sooooo, if I rest for a few weeks post TRT, listen to my body, and do a few weeks build, I should, hypothetically, be able to pull off a second hundred. I mean, look what Ian Sharman did last year. I’m not interested in any Grand Slam business, just the opportunity to take my show on the road to a different 100 in a different and beautiful place. Tim Olsen’s record looks pretty stout considering the vertical profile and I hear that the course has changed since his CR too. Anyway, we’ll see what I can do up there. Maybe I can get Hal to pace me.

quadYeah, I’ve always wanted to run one of the Dipsea events. I was signed up for the Double Dipsea in 2008 but DNS because something was hurting. But the real reason was Amanda and I were enjoying the house we’d rented in Stinson too much. It turned out to be an exceptionally warm weekend at Stinson and we were right on the beach. 80deg and sunny. I did look up at the hills a fair amount, through my beer-colored glasses that is.

I certainly don’t imagine myself in the same category with Dave Mackey but Dave continues to pull off some amazing ultrarunning feats as a veteran Masters runner. His course-record win at Quad Dipsea was as amazing at his top-10 finish at North Face Endurance Challenge 50mi only a week later. I couldn’t believe it. His race-report on Quad shed some light on to how he pulled it off. I’ve taken notes. Looks like Mackey’s got a good thing going in Colorado with a good group of guys doing some hard hill running. Yep, that’s what it takes.

So, I’ve got the 2013 season in my legs. I’m ramping up the hill work this year. As a precursor to the possibility of doing “DD” (Dave’s Double = Quad + NFEC, I’m going to see how I bounce back from Annadel Half-Marathon, a week out from Lake Sonoma. Then, depending how things are looking after Pine-to-Palm, do something like two back-to-back weekends of 50k’s or something like that to steel the legs for DD. We’ll see, it could happen or it couldn’t; the body decides. Ultimately, I want to do Quad but not at the expense of not doing—or doing poorly at—NFEC in early December.

nfecUh yes, trying to stretch the season out for just… one… more… race. And what a fine event this is. Just as competive as Lake Sonoma 50 with all the difficulty, but unique all the same. The aim at my fifth North Face Endurance Challenge will be to integrate all that I’ve learned over 2014, race my own race, and continue to improve on my placing here. I’ve gotten a little quicker every time. I think I’ve got a good bead on how I can consistently run well under 7hrs for 50miles on these demanding courses. Yeah, we’ll see Shebest. You’re not gonna get there walkin’ those dogs around town.

 photo(3)2014 Training Log