Pine to Palm 100

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So I had this crazy thought last year:  do two 100s in 2014 to celebrate turning 40. This reminds me [now] of a Navy buddy who had a coffee cup that read, “I had a bad idea.” What the h*ll, it’s ultrarunning after all, so it’ll probably suck for while but then you’ll have some great memories and stories to share. Game on!!

All things considered, things have gone pretty darn well this season. I can’t complain [too much]. With the full 2013 season in my legs, I feel I’ve navigated the 2014 race season fairly well—got some speed in the bank early in the year, culminating with a fast 50k in February, hilly 50-milers in March, April, and May. A huge block of run training in June not only set me up to do well at Tahoe Rim Trail 100 in June but also allowed me to recover properly from it so that I could sneak some August training in between the two 100s, which were only 8 weeks apart.

About that August training. Well, it was total fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants. I started back to school, and that stress, pushing 150 kids through my classroom everyday—learning names, establishing routines, and the like, really took a toll on the available energy [and desire] to train for another mountainous 100 in September. So, I had to trim the fat—lots of days completely off, some cycling thrown in, concentrate on getting good sleep [so AM running went out the window], a mid-week tempo session, along with a quality weekend long run. Bare bones. At the end of the day, Pine to Palm (P2P) was about experiencing a different 100-miler (a mountainous and beautiful point-to-point race) and celebrating turning 40. I knew I wouldn’t be as bullet-proof as I was in July, but what do they say? Sometimes you have to let yourself be a little vulnerable. Just go out there, run smart, and do your thing.

With all the stress of stepping out of my life for a few days to go run 100 miles in the forest, I was carrying a fair amount of guilt with me; guilt for leaving my students for two days, guilt for sticking my wife, Amanda, with the dogs the whole time, and guilt for just generally being 40 years old and still chasing something, out there on the race-course. Why?…

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I guess it’s because I believe in the late Louis Zamperini’s words—we should get out there and do the things we find fascinating so that we can feel most alive. The day before the race, I found a card Amanda had stashed in my race-gear. She’d included the Louis Zamperini quote about experiencing as much as you can in life. Amanda and I became fans of “Zamp” through Laura Hillebrand’s book, Unbroken, which comes out in theaters this Christmas. In both TRT and P2P, in those darker moments, I imagined myself sitting in the theater, watching ol’ Zamp’s movie, thinking back to my summer struggles in these two great events, my own [tame by comparison] tests of will and perseverance. On some level, I just wanted to be worthy of that moment in the future; sitting there, still, relaxed, and enjoying a movie on the big screen with Amanda, with a level of pride for having risen to the occasions, doing something I find fascinating and for which I have great enthusiasm. I imagined getting the silent nod from Zamp, as if my long-distance running efforts in Tahoe and Oregon were my way of honoring his life. In the spirit of Viktor Frankl, my imagining a moment in the future gave great meaning to the present moment, when all our bodies want to do is stop running, stop pushing…

With Eric Litvin, outside Rogue Valley Runners, the day before the race.

With Eric Litvin, outside Rogue Valley Runners, the day before the race. Photo Credit: Chris Jones

Amanda’s full of good ideas and suggested I get a head start on the weekend by driving half-way up to the race and stay in Redding on Thursday night, then drive the rest of the way up the next day. lnside Trail Racing team-mate, and TRT100 pacer, Chris Wehan, threw his hat in the race and would be one of my main competitors. We’d meet up in Ashland on Friday, where I’d drop my car off near the finish. Chris, his pacer Stephen Wassather, and I jetted off to the race-meeting in Williams, deposited drop-bags, and headed back to our hotel in Grants Pass where Chris’s girlfriend, Melanie would later join the party.

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Race Morning with Chris Wehan (left) and Kevin Chan (right). Photo Credit: Stephen Wassather and Chandra Farnham respectively.

Chris and Mel were at P2P last year so it was awesome having the gang back together after our fun times just two months prior in Tahoe. They knew all the ins-n-outs of the event, including how to get us to the starting line in the morning. I was super grateful.

It’s all fun-n-games race morning, bumpin’ around, takin’ pictures, really just not thinking about what’s really ahead. I’d made a bracelet with distances from aid-station to aid-station and that’s what I kept telling myself in the days and minutes before the 6am start—“Just run aid to aid. Nothing else exists.” Chunking in this manner really is a highly effective strategy to get through the day.

Since I was in unchartered territory here in Oregon, running my second 100 in eight weeks, I didn’t think I had it in me to get close to Tim Olson’s course-record (CR) of 17:19, set on a different course in 2011. That didn’t stop me from plugging 10:23/mi into my Virtual Pacer. At mile 28 I was 30min ahead of CR pace, but that moment was the only instance I looked at it. I’d need near perfect preparation and execution on race-day to get close to the CR, not to mention not having a CR 100mi performance just 8 weeks prior.

According to Ultra Signup, my main competitors were thought to be Chris Wehan (32), Andrew Miller (18) 3rd place in 2013, and Lon Freeman (39). In the months leading up, I was sure the competition on the front would grow, especially since P2P has become a Western States qualifying race. I’m sure other events the same weekend—Run Rabbit Run 100 in Colorado, The Rut 50 in Montana, etc.—drew speedy speedsters away from P2P. Oh well, not complaining!

The race went off without much fanfare. You have to love the start of a 100mi. It’s like, “Okay, the race started, let’s shoot the sh*t with some buddies we haven’t seen in a while.” Red Bluff teacher, and long-time ultrarunning bro, Joe Palubeski found me in the dark in the opening mile and we chatted it up for a bit. Then I realized I hadn’t wished Chris good luck so found him. Then, slowly, it was drifting into the moment at hand—running a 100 miles to Ashland. It was all goosebumps and smiles…

Two-time defending champ, Gerad Dean, who I had the pleasure of meeting at the TRT100 Training Runs and running with on race day in July, executed a great race here at P2P last year. So much so that I based my race on his 2013 ultralive.net splits since I felt that’d be the most valid guestimate of my first performance here. This proved invaluable on race-day, especially with regard to nutrition and getting from drop-bag to drop-bag, since Amanda wasn’t here to crew me, though Chris’s girlfriend Mel, was beyond awesome in helping me out wherever she could [all day] while crewing for Chris.

The first 28mi to my first drop-bag to Seattle Bar is a blur. I knew one thing coming into this race: I didn’t want to get off course. There were a few occasions where I just happened to be looking in the right direction and caught course-ribbons at the last minute. But not getting off course all day in this point-to-point 100-miler was pretty great. P2P race-director, Hal Koerner, told us at the race briefing that we’d have to try pretty hard to get off course. Still, I didn’t trust myself. Note: I talked to a woman at awards on Sunday; she’d gotten off course four times.

We were running with a group a four, which included Juan De Oliva, who I was talking with while we were all running up some switchbacks early. There was one occasion where we all thought we were off course (but weren’t) and another where I was running in the back and happened to spy a ribbon off to my right, going up another switchback. The gang had gone straight, so I gave a holler, and they turned around and followed me up the next stretch. Juan gave a great big smile ’cause we just avoided excess miles. A little team-work through this section proved valuable.

Next thing I knew I was enjoying chatting with Ethan Linck (23) from Seattle who was running his first 100 here at P2P. We were putting down some low 6’s running down some fire-roads and eventually caught up and quickly passed first place. I had on my trusty HRM and was keeping the effort parked in the low 140s. It was curious at that moment how it was more challenging to keep my HR down on the descents than on the climbs. I guess, instinctively, my mind wants to push the downs since that is a greater strength than the ups. Or, it could be that I just have more fun running down and just want to enjoy the sensations of running fast and free.

The downhill continued and through Steamboat Ranch at 22, I looked to just another 6mi to my first drop-bag at Seattle Bar. Winding fire-road. I heard Ethan behind me and then I didn’t any more. Relax and run…

I quickly weighed in at Seattle Bar (150lbs) emptied my drop-bag’s contents, downed 20oz of coconut water and grabbed a 20oz bottle of Vitargo and a 20oz bottle of water, for what was advertised as a nasty section up to Stein Butte at mile 33. I took off my shirt expecting hot temps and hightailed it outta Seattle Bar.

We were close to 50k in and the temps weren’t living up to their reputation. It appeared the smoke from recent forest fires was insulating us from the sun. Good thing too, was the smoke, albeit light, wasn’t affecting me in the least. This section, turned out to be very enjoyable and, for some strange reason, I kept imagining I was running on my home trails at Lake Sonoma. This would happen all throughout the race, where it was all-too-easy to imagine running at Hood/Sugarloaf or on the trails at TRT100. Regardless, it was clear that I was well-adapted to the sometimes technical nature of the P2P single-track stretches.

Within two miles, I almost step on a juvenile rattlesnake [who was thankfully rattling plenty loud for me to hear] and then my Garmin HRM craps out on me (perhaps the spike from the rattler scare short-circuited my HRM?).

P2P is a ultra-run designed for ultrarunners by ultrarunners. You get four great opportunities to assess the situation behind you—at Squaw Lakes (41.5), Hanley Gamp/Squaw Peak (52), Dutchman Peak (65), and finally at Wagner Butte (87). And that keeps things interesting.

At Squaw Lakes, I cruised in, dropped a bottle, and ran around the 2mi circumference of the lake, anxious to get a bead on the competition behind. I was wondering when the kid, Andrew Miller, was going to make his move. I knew he’d just won Waldo 100k on August 16th. He had to be tired from that huge effort. Not to mention his P2P course knowledge, after placing 3rd here last year. Like Speedgoat Karl says, “you’re always faster the second time [you run the same 100]”. Yeah, so I get back around to the aid-station, see my old Santa Rosa friend Chandra (who lives in SoCal now, with her boyfriend Kevin, who I’m currently coaching) who’s run out from the aid station. She gives me some encouragement and I ask her how far back 2nd place is. She says not too far back and I ask her who it is. She doesn’t know. Well, what does he look like? An ultrarunner.  🙂

Back at the Squaw Lakes aid-station, Chris’s girlfriend Mel and Chris’s later-in-the-day pacer, Stephen, have my drop-bag at the ready. I’ve begun feeling the effects of the last 50 miles. Plus I’m a little cold. What happened to all that crazy heat we were supposed to get Hal? Mel said, “You’re doing great, Chris is about 15min behind you.” I said, “Chris is in 2nd?!” Mel replied, “Yeah, he’s moving up.”

Running out, I’m thinking either Chris did a lot of secret training I don’t know about, or he’s writing a check his body can’t cash (which is good and bad depending how I’m thinking about it). My next thought, was who better to be chasing me than a buddy, who just paced me at TRT100, who’s girlfriend and pacer were helping me along in the race since it was just me and my drop-bags up here in Oregon. Still, it was a race and we were now pushing each other in earnest. Perfect.

At Hanley Gap (50/52), Celeb-RD Hal makes you run up to the top of Squaw Peak to retrieve a flag pin. I love it. When I got up there I found myself standing and staring at a concrete slab. No flags in sight. WTF Hal?!? I looked up and saw this little building up on top of some rocks. Ah-Ha! I found some little stairs to climb and beheld the coveted flags. On the way down I was filled with ambivalence, seeing Chris climbing up. I told him about the path up to the little flags. He said he knew. And I remembered he’d done this race last year—advantage Chris.

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Was that woman with the trekking poles wearing a race number?!? — Coming down from Squaw Peak around the half-way. Photo Credit: Melanie Michalak (aka: President of the Rebecca Kirschenmann Fan Club).

As I polished off the out-n-back, and arrived back at the aid-station, Mel threw me my calorie bottle and sent me on my way. I’d seen a woman starting up Squaw Peaks as I was coming down and was trying to wrap my brain around whether she was really in my race. Did I actually see a bib # on her right leg? She looked like she was all business with those trekking poles… Hmm… I’m really starting to feel this race… I have an idea…

I had a coin purse in my back shorts pocket. I refer to it as my mini medicine cabinet. For P2P it included a few Tums, Pepto Tabs, some anti-nausea pills, and a few acetaminophen (500mg) capsules. Since I knew the hardest part of the day was coming up—mile50 to approx 65—I decided to pop a couple acetaminophen to take the edge off. I figured I’d done a good job hydrating and eating up ’til this point and the body was in good shape, it should tolerate the acetaminophen just fine. Umm, wrong.

Shortly thereafter, my stomach started to go south. I’ve only had problems with vomiting in 100s, not with other end of the digestive track. My stomach was doing full-on doing somersaults. “This f_____g sucks!” Damm*t, I should’ve only taken ONE of those acetaminophen capsules. Sh*t!! I visited the side of the road a few times, getting some practice on my cat-hole digging skills. “If I could just work out this pain in my gut.” My lead is shrinking. They are coming. Suck it up… Keep moving.” I massaged my stomach and could no longer keep my hand-helds tucked in the small of my back since the belt I had on to secure them was not helping my stomach distress.

[Excerpt from Pine to Palm’s race-director’s new book, entitled Hal Koerner’s Field Guide to Ultrarunning: Training for an Ultramarathon from 50k to 100miles and Beyond]:

Pain Relievers

Pain relievers might ease discomfort or offer a helping hand a a low point in the race, but they should be approached with caution. Most studies point to NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen—or “vitamin I,” as it is affectionately called among ultrarunners—as being a poor choice of pain reliever during a race. For one, it can mask the muscle damage you are inflicting. Also, studies indicate it can contribute to a condition called rhabdomyolysis, which can result in renal failure […]

Aspirin, aspirin creams, naproxen, and acetaminophen, on the other hand, do not present similar problems for the kidneys and are generally good go-to choices of pain relief. I apply an aspirin cream preventively to my calves and around my knees prior to an event because I have found it help reduce inflammation and manage pain. I might take a single acetaminophen during a race, at mile 50 or so, to obtain a degree of relief when I need it most. However, I limit my intake to just that one. That may be excessively conservative but, personally speaking, I just don’t want to rely on it. I am uncomfortable with the idea of masking pain, perhaps running myself into the ground with an injury. Sometimes, when the analgesic wears off later, you make the unpleasant discovery that you would have been better off listening to your body instead of muting its signals! Thus I recommend a conservative approach to pain relievers (p.97).

I wish I would have read this prior to Pine to Palm. I did know better than to take ibuproven (NSAIDs) in an ultra. If I’d only taken ONE acetaminophen capsule instead of those two I would have likely avoided a lot of unnecessary discomfort (and slowing!). Live and learn. Bottom line: I need to be less of a baby. Like they say, borrowing strength builds weakness.

Smokey day. Photo credit: Stephen Wassather

Smokey day kept the sun off us. #godsend — Photo credit: Stephen Wassather

On and on and on it went, up the longest, god-forsaken fire-road, smoke hanging low in the sky and a red sun burning on the horizon. While my stomach was giving me fits, I remember trying to dwell on what was going right. I was grateful for how well my legs were doing beneath me—just clicking over in their Hoka Stinson ATR‘s without a care in the world. “Come on stomach, let’s pull through this. The legs are ready to dance…” The top of Dutchman Peak could not come fast enough.

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Arriving on top of Dutchman Peak. Photo credit: Linn Secreto.

Up on top of Dutchman, something shifted, I could see Chris on one of the several switchbacks below. He was only about 10min back at that point. Then I looked at the incredible views to my left as I approached the summit. All of a sudden I felt myself starting to get choked up [with emotion]. Up a bit more I saw Mel up to my right on an overlook with her camera. She called down with some encouragement and said, “Amanda liked her flowers!” This added to the emotion. Note – I thought it’d be cool for my wife to receive flowers from me while she was at home, hitting the refresh button on ultralive.net all day, whilst I was in the belly of the beast in Oregon. Next, I see this guy with his arms up and realize it’s my pacer, Louis (which, by the way, is a great name for any pacer of mine, being a Louis Zamperini fan and all).

"Man, I'm I glad to see you." With Louis Secreto. Photo Credit: Linn Secreto

“Man, I’m I glad to see you.” With Louis Secreto. Photo Credit: Linn Secreto

Dutchman Peak was hands-down the turning point of the race for me. Running up to the summit to retrieve my drop-bag, the American Author’s song, Best Day of My Life blasted out of huge speakers. For a moment, I thought Amanda was actually up there, somehow choreographing the whole scene; that song’s been a favorite of ours all year (the bulldog version of course). Yeah, so Louis and I get our sh*t together and get outta Dodge, running back down to the primary trail. We soon pass Chris, who says to me, “Let’s not do this again next year.” Cracking up, I wholeheartedly agree him. Then, just a bit back from Chris is the first-place female, Becky Kirschenmann.

I would come to find out that Becky was the women’s defending champ, and used Trans Rockies (a multi-day, 120mi trail run with 20’000′ of vertical, held this year from 8/11-8/16) to help prepare her for Pine to Palm. It was probably best I didn’t know these things as now she was within 10min of me at mile 65 of a 100mi run.

Departing Dutchman, we connect with the primary trail again, leading to some of the most delightful single-track running of the day. We pass a sign, “7 miles to next aid.” Things were again good. There was some hoot-n-hollerin’ goin’ on as Louis and I enjoyed the beginning of our journey together. Both of us transplant Pennsylvania boys who drive the same Subaru Outback Sport, live in Sonoma County, and only met by chance just two weeks prior. Louis’ runner came up injured and Louis, thankfully, offered his pacing services about a week out from P2P, much to Amanda’s relief. With what felt like a new lease on life, it was great to be on some very runnable terrain again, with the rising red moon in front of us. Five miles from Dutchman now, watching the water and calories. Six miles… 7miles… Where’s the aid-station?! 8 miles. Going dry… 9 miles… “Did we miss it?” We’re seeing blue ribbon. Boom, there it is. Whew. Long John Saddle.

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Stephen and Chris departing Dutchman Peak in hot pursuit. Photo Credit:  Melanie Michalak

I put on a tank-top, which was perfect with the current temps, grabbed two fresh bottles and we were off. No sign of any body behind. We got a mile out and couldn’t hear anyone back at the aid-station. We trust though that Chris and Becky are in pursuit. Don’t let up. This sh*t is getting exciting! At TRT I was chasing a CR so that’s what kept that race fun. Here, I was way off the CR but was feeling fortunate to have two runners closing in behind. This is what it’s all about. The simplicity of racing is often a great joy

Mile 80 (Wagner Butte). My mind was still playing tricks on me, given the conditioning it’s received from its four Tahoe Rim Trail 100s. Mile 80 sounds close to the finish, but at TRT100, you’re at the bottom of Diamond Peak, with a lot of hard running left to do. “Don’t think. Just run from aid to aid.” Curiously lucid, I got some great information from the aid-station captain. He said, it’s 3mi to the turn that takes you to the out-n-back up to Wagner Butte to retrieve the flag-pin. It’s 1.7mi from the trail to the top and 1.7 back. you’ll take a left at the bottom, then it’s 3mi down to Rd 2060 aid-station. Game on.

Louis and I discussed the possibility of getting up and down Wagner Butte before Chris and/or Becky arrived to do the out-n-back for the flag pin. I knew with how close they were at Dutchman, even with our strong push since then, we’d likely not opened up a big enough gap.

I’d been taking splits leaving each aid-station all day, keeping track of the distance from aid to aid, to carefully ration water and calories. From Wagner Butte aid, I took a split and watched the one piece of data I had displayed on my watch (since HR crapped out at mile 34) which was Lap Distance. 1mi. 2mi. 2.3mi… 2.8… Boom—3.0, and there’s the ribbon signaling the left turn up to Wagner Butte and the second flag pin of the race.

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At this point, I knew I was going to see some competition on the way back down from Wagner Butte Summit. The question was, how much of a gap had we created from Dutchman? Uphill over technical terrain to the summit we went. Once on top, we both searching around in the darkness with our headlamps flashing here and there. No flagpins. WTF Hal?!? Then I remember Squaw Peak. Look up. OMG, another elevated structure up there, atop these huge, sharp boulders. Louis starts up. “I’ll get it,” he says. I’m like, “I’m the runner, I’m coming along too.” I throw my hand-helds down right under a reflectorized race ribbon so I can easily find them later. Hand over hand I follow Louis up to the top. “What color do you want?” “What colors do they have?” We take a moment to enjoy the view of the city of Medford, lit up like Christmas to the north. I hoot-n-holler some more and we decide we need to take it easy coming off the rocks and back down the 1.7mi to the main trail so neither one of us breaks his neck. Once down I grab my bottles and take a split.

Smooth and steady. Run quickly when we can. Distance and time. Distance and time. Bam, there’s Becky. 0.7mi. So, we’ve got 1.4mi on her and she needs to climb up and down the mass of boulders for the pin. Pacerless, she steps aside to let us run through. We tell her to be careful on the rocks. She agrees. I yell back to suggest she should stay up on top for a while and enjoy the scenery. No reply. I tell Louis I don’t think she appreciates my humor. He’s not laughing either. We settle back into the task…

The 3mi after the out-n-back is pure murder on the knees and ankles. Hal told us he believes the only time this stretch actually gets any action is during Pine to Palm. Louis said while we were running down this technical, steep, and switch-backy descent, “This is insult to injury” [for the participants]. As we’re getting toward the end of this section we see a bunch of young dudes hiking up toward us. One cheers, “We’re aid-station 2060!!” I’m thinking to myself, “If you guys are Road 2060 aid-station, who the h*ll’s manning aid-station 2060?” Turns out, one of the guy’s mom was manning the station, alone. Poor lady. As she was helping me mix up a bottle of water/broth she was talking about killing her son when he returned. Louis and I eased on down the road… 10mi to go…

Somewhere in there, I stopped to pee. My headlamp happened to light up my urine stream and I found it oddly colored, like cranberry juice. “Hey, Louis, I’m peeing blood.” We got running again. Silence. “So,” Louis said, “Has this happened before?” “Umm, yeah, after a hard 50k in the Marin Headlands last fall.” [I’d taken ibuproven before the race]. “What do you want to do?” “Just stay steady.” I sure didn’t want to mess myself up but I still wanted to finish this race strong. Body seems okay otherwise. A little discomfort from my kidneys on both sides but nothing painful. Easy does it. Keep the calories and water/broth coming in. Steady energy input… Steady energy output…

Louis lets me know when it’s 4mi to go and I try to show some backbone. We we averaging between 7:30 and 8:00/mi pace up ’til that point. I suddenly get it in my head that we’re going to make a strong push to the finish. Now we’re running in the 6:00/mi range down smooth fire road, booking it pretty good. Louis is rocking it right by my side. A quarter mile later we’re back to 7:30pace. It was fun while it lasted…

This rolling, pain-in-the-@$$ mountain-bike section comes up and Louis says, “This trail sucks.” I whole heartedly agree with him. The trail’s anything but smooth and I’ve got no idea how I haven’t kissed the dirt yet. Thankfully—or not so much— we hit the super steep black-top and begin the final mile (death march) toward the finish line in Ashland. A couple 100yds down Louis spies a ribbon off to the right. I run over and study this “trail.” There’s another ribbon. It looks like some local riff-raff messed with the course-markings. There’s a big pile of green waste in the center of the trail. Louis runs down the road to try and find more ribbon. I’m thinking to myself, “this doesn’t look right. I thought we run down this steep, paved road to the finish. I know we do.” I start making my way down to Louis, when I hear him call up, “Here’s a ribbon. This is right.” I take a look uphill and see if I can spy a first-place female descending without her headlamp on. I catch up with Louis and a truck goes by us. It’s Hal, out spray-painting arrows on the course to the finish. We tell him about the riff-raffed ribbon. He gives us directions to the finish. We’re confused. He offers to drive us in, speed up enough to stop, open up his door, leans out, freshens up a spray-painted arrow from yesteryear’s Pine to Palm, and gets moving again before we catch up to him. Especially nice to see the inflatable arch and lots of folks hangin’ out at the finish.

We did it Louis. And I didn't die on you. Photo Credit: Linn Secreto

We did it Louis. And I didn’t die on you. Photo Credit: Linn Secreto

It sucked not having Amanda at the finish but I was in good hands having friends to keep an eye on me. This was the first 100 in which I didn’t vomit, during or immediately after. So that was nice, ’cause I got to enjoy the company of all the folks at the finish. Louis’ wife Linn let me use her phone to [eventually] call Amanda (it was a team effort to remember my wife’s phone #). Craig Thornley, aka: Mr. Western States, aka: Mr. UltraLive.Net, aka: Joe, was hanging out and I suggested, in my post-100mi euphoria that because I’d purchased 100 tickets for the last WS raffle—and didn’t win—I should at least get a Western States refrigerator magnet. I don’t think he was amused. Soon thereafter, an exhausted Melanie Michalak appeared and we started on the idea of transported my old bones over to their hotel, as per the master plan. I felt like a helpless 4y/o with my mom. “Umm, I’m cold.” “Can I take a piece of pizza with us?” Meanwhile, Becky Kirschenmann was back in the kitchen talking with folks about the day, looking really no worse for wear. l told Nate Dunn, who was in the cot next to mine. “I think she’s the terminator. I kept looking back expecting to see red eyes in the darkness.” At the end of the day, she finished up only about 30min back, shaving over 2hrs off her own Pine to Palm course-record. I’m confident that even if a handful of the most recognized female ultrarunners showed up and ran this course, they’d have a tough time besting Becky’s record. She’s set the bar high (and again, without a pacer).

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Greatest Breakfast Ever — Races & Pacers:  Chris Wehan, Stephen Wassather, and Louis Secreto.

I’d love to come back and do this one again. In the event I get into Western States 2015, it’s nice to have a point-to-point 100mile event in the books. All things considered it was a really amazing race, and even a week later, continues to dwell in my consciousness. It was special indeed to have every step taken all day be on a course on which I’d never stepped foot. And like all prior 100s, there were challenges to overcome and awesome friends with whom to celebrate the good times. Thanks to Hal, and his Pine to Palm crew for doing a bang-up job on race-day. And thanks for marking that course so well. Thanks to Mel and Chris for all the logistical team-work and full-on crewing/hand-holding/shuttling etc. And congrats Chris on slaying the P2P beast!! Looking forward to seeing what you two do at Javelina. Your best 100s are in front of you both. Thanks to Louis and Linn Secreto for huge support out there. Amanda was right (again) that I would’ve been screwed without a pacer. Thanks to Becky for keeping me honest and making me work my @$$ off from Wagner Butte to the finish. And big thanks to my wife, Amanda for giving me a pass to go do this. Your love and support is so appreciated.  😀

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Sunday Awards at the finish line in Ashland. With the “celeb-RD” Hal and women’s winner Rebecca Kirschenmann. Photo Credit: Linn Secreto.

Pine to Palm 100 Strava Data

ultralive.net webcast

Thanks to my beautiful, loving, and highly supportive wife Amanda for her thankless job [even from afar] as “First Responder.” Look at my toe!

Thank you to Hoka One One for the their awesome support and producing the best shoe in ultrarunning—DEMAND MORE!    |    Thanks to Inside Trail Racing for your offering so many fantastic races in great places.  |   Thanks to Clif Bar for fueling my training and racing.  |   Nuya is perfectly natural hydration that combines electrolytes and carbohydrates to properly hydrate and fuel your body. I love it as a recovery drink!

Thank you Heart-n-Sole Sports for your continued support. Thanks to Brian and the awesome instructors at Paradise Yoga, a brand new yoga studio, right here in my hometown of Windsor. Yoga’s definitely helping my running. Namasté!   |  Thanks to the folks at Akoia Day Spa for the painful sports massages I get a few days post-event. Bringing me back to life!

 

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

intermisionsnagitdownarrow

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