Run Redemption Run

Turtles & Bunnies Registration. Photo Cred: Paul Nelson

Seriously though… I had a little score to settle with Run Rabbit Run after last year’s race where I was handed my first legit DNF in my two decades in endurance sports. Furthermore, I had yet another score to settle with this DNF’ing business at Bighhorn 100 back in June. Ergh! At RRR ’16 I came in over-trained and then went out too hot, chasing splits from the previous year. “Yeah, great idea.” By mile 50, at 10,000′, I was mildly hypothermic and vomiting. Things had really gone to sh*t. At Bighorn, I thought I was ready for any weather conditions buuuuuut… Mother Nature threw cold rain in the mix overnight and despite all my efforts to run a brilliant race, I blew a 30min lead running too fast trying to stay warm, using fuel that wasn’t quite working the way I needed it too. Thus, at mile 78, I ended up curled up in a space blanket, on the side of the trail, in the mud and rain, at 2am, until runners/pacers started coming by concerned about my well being, suggesting—as my best option at the moment—I hike the 2mi back to the previous aid-station to get warm. That dark, slippery, shivering walk-of-shame was pretty sh*tty, to say the least. But, I did finally get my cold, wet clothes off and into a nice, warm pair of Carhartt’s, which I would remain in for about 6hrs until the race would eventually poop me out, back at the finish line around 9am. Ugh! Suffice it to say, these were not my finest moments in our illustrious sport, though they did produce a lot of great—and funny!—memories, which I’m happy to never (that is, ever) repeat, thank you very much).

Running in 1st (for 25 yards). Photo Credit: Paul Nelson Photography

Here at RRR 2017, temps were lookin’ mild (though I didn’t trust ’em!), the skies looked generally clear once the sun started to set, and with every time we line up, comes new opportunity to do things differently, to execute better, in an attempt to evolve as both a runner… and maybe even as a human being. As Brad Stulberg, one of the authors of Peak Performance, says, “Strip away ego, awards, and stupid forums—and endurance sports are the stuff of spiritual growth.” Without further ado, here’s 10 of my favorite things about this year’s journey to the RRR finish line, and 3 things I’d do differently (but probably wouldn’t) if I could have a a do-over.

I.  “Headspace” a.k.a… “meditation for dummies.” I have this working theory that as I get older I can maintain my edge as a competitive runner by evolving my mental game, and that will somehow offset some (all) physical degradation. I never would of thought a phone app would’ve had such a dramatic and positive impact on my life but Headspace has proven a powerful tool for personal growth this year. After doing the initial trial and using it with some athletes I coach, I invested in a year subscription. During the summer, off from teaching, I had the luxury of doing 20min daily meditation sessions. Now, with school back in, I do 10min sessions as soon as I boot the kids out for lunch; legs-up-a-wall, then get some walking in after, as well as my veggies and plenty of water. For the race I did Headspace’s 10-day “Competition” package, which helped get my head in the right place for race day. During the race I continuously re-centered my mind on the present moment, relaxed, and maintained a “soft focus” on negotiating the section of trail on which I found myself. “Let go” and “Patience is everything” were mantras that were both bouncing around my head for the first 70-80mi.

II.  Watchless. This aspect of my running continues to evolve as well. In racing, I find that there’s not much of a downside to running sans watch. Though, the last two times I’ve raced, I’ve forgotten to ask time-of-day at the aid-station I wanted to, late in the going, in order to get a sense of my overall pace relative to my target finish time. Each time I forgot though, and just said “screw it” and ran on, blissfully unaware of my cumulative speed. I simply don’t miss the watch in racing, since there’s so much else to focus on, namely my P.E.D.S—pacing (by feel), eating, drinking, and smiling!

Balance in all things, right? So I still greatly enjoy using my GPS watch in training and stacking up some big weeks of running volume/elevation on Strava. Thus, my annual numbers do not include my races (oh, and quite a few training runs, especially during down periods and tapers). I dig not being a slave to the tech! The tech works for me. You do it your way. I’ll do it mine. But you should really try racing without a watch sometime. It’s liberating!

III.  The Aspens. I love them. The aspen groves all over the course—and town—are simply beautiful. The groves we run through along the course always pump me up!

5min before high noon, with fellow hare, Daniel Barnes. Photo Credit: Derek Barnes.

IV.  The Revenant. Daniel Barnes came to me many months back with a dream—to finish his first 100mi run at Run Rabbit. He’d done some Ironmans, including the double-ironman at Ultraman, so I knew he had the head and heart required to train for and race Run Rabbit. Living in the heat-n-humidity of Louisiana, Daniel made some long weekend trips up to Arkansas to find some mountains on which to prepare. We even got him out to California in July to do a long, hot, hilly Santa Barbara 100k, where his legs and mind got a little more seasoned to the demands of MUT running.

A couple weeks out from RRR, I watched Leonardo Dicaprio in The Revenant (again). Next time Daniel and I got on the phone we chatted about it. Quickly, it became a central theme of our upcoming adventure in Steamboat Springs. Memes and gifs were texted back-n-forth, Facebook posts referencing the Dicaprio’s grizzled character, Hugh Glass, were exchanged at an obnoxious rate. Daniel’s twin brother, Derek, jumped in the game on Thursday’s pre-race meeting and gave Daniel and I bear-claw necklaces, which we wore on race-day. Inspiration’s everywhere!

V.  The male hare masters race. Prize money at Run Rabbit Run goes seven places deep for the men and women. This year, the top male and female overall each received $12,500. There’s an extra $1000 on the line for the top male and female master’s runner (40-49). This year it looked like I’d be duking it out with “Speedgoat” Karl Meltzer, and perennial Western States Top-10er, Jesse Haynes, for top master honors. By Cow Creek at around 50k in, I’d reeled in Jesse and together with another guy, we knocked out the 10mi section back up to Olympian Hall at mile 42. When Jesse and I ran out of Olympian we picked up Speedgoat, ran through downtown Steamboat, and back up to the Fish Creek Falls trailhead. Running with these guys was a big highlight of my day (and year). It was way better running this section with them than running it alone as I’d done in years past.

Once at the FCF trailhead, I let those guys go, while I took the time to put on a base-layer and some arm-warmers. Recall, the reason I dropped from RRR and Bighorn was because I couldn’t keep myself warm. Temps were looking pretty mild but I didn’t want to take any chances! All the way back up Fish Creek Falls, I was pulling back tortoises—who had a four hour head start on us, while amazed I wasn’t catching back up to Jesse and Karl. Once back up to Long Lake aid, I found Jesse, filled up my bottles and noted the seat at the fire where I’d planted myself the previous year, ultimately dropping out after several hours of shivering and vomiting. I felt fantastic this year, here at 10,000′, but we weren’t really even half way yet! I spied Jesse across the aid-station and took off, thinking maybe I could get out of sight, then… out of mind. As I motored outta there, I had to poop. And as I’m squatting 15yds off the trail, a few lights bounced by in the darkness.

Once I caught back up with Jesse, he informed me that Karl put some 8min into him on the climb up Fish Creek Falls, showing that, even at 49, he’s not called “The Speedgoat” for nothing. Jesse and I pressed on for hours and hours, always within about 10min of each other. About the time the sun was coming up, well after 80 miles in, I caught Jesse and eventually Karl, moving into first place for the “old guys.” My sense of it at the time was Karl was probably not coming back since he’d put in such a valiant surge earlier, moving all the way up into 5th place overall, then sliding back a few places. Jesse, on the other hand, I knew was surely tired but likely had preserved himself for a race at the end! Not to mention he has the confidence—and fitness–from just earning another top-10 performance at Western States. He’d been very steady and when I ran by him, he tried to give me the sense that my pass was for good, though I sensed he was setting himself up for the win, waiting patiently for the final 4mi descent from the top of Mt. Werner.

The guys knew my quads were not doing well on this day. My downhill running was basically sucking, which made sense since I didn’t make it a priority in training, choosing instead to focus on strengthening my climbing, fast running on the straightaways, overall muscular endurance, and the mental game. I wanted to avoid another stress related injury in my left leg, my left ankle, or my left knee, all of which have been in some state of suck over the last 3 years or so. Given the amount of climb and descent I’d amassed in training I was quite surprised that my quads starting hurting at mile 40 though. At that time, I was wondering how-in-the-hell I was gonna run over 100 kilometers farther. Well, you just do. Would Hugh Glass bitch about some sore quads?! Are you kidding me?! No, he’d suck it up and press the hell on! So, this was the moment. I needed to put some time into Jesse whilst we were still in the high country.

The race for top master. Aka: chasing Karl and Jesse. Summit Lake Aid—Mile 80-ish. It’s on! Photo Credit: Paul Nelson Photography.

It’s about 6ish miles from Summit Lake to Long Lake aid-station and about the same distance from Long Lake aid over to Werner aid at mile 102. Jesse later reported that Long Lake told him I’d gained 6min since Summit. I’d been knockin’ back Toasted Marshmallow GUs, chasing them with—-fittingly—-“Summit Tea” flavored GU Roctane, and ran that section really strong.

Jesse only had that 6-7mi over to Werner to shut me down, otherwise there was a chance I could stay in front of him on the final, long descent to the finish. I, of course, was completely oblivious to where I was relative to him so I just pressed on, concentrating on my PEDS, especially the eating! I’d been taking some cups of chicken broth at aid-stations for hours. Holding it together. Relaxed. Focused. In the flow. It seems slamming a lot of water, pacing conservatively early, and throwing in a few salt tabs here and there kept my quads happy enough, as they seemed to be one twitch away from total seizure for hours upon hours. Gotta work on that.

Yeah, so late in a 100-miler may not the optimal time to try and gap Jesse Haynes. He’s strongest at the end, and with the indomitable will of say, Hugh Glass, he ran me down and sat on me as we neared the Mt. Werner aid-station. I finally puked from pushing so hard up high. Epic racing. I knew then I’d been bested by one of the best in the biz. My quads were toast, so as Jesse jetted off down the fire-road to the finish line four miles away, I filled up my bottles one last time, re-centered my mind for the ten-thousandth time of the race, smiled, and seized the moment—“Chase Jesse (’cause a race isn’t over ’til it’s over) and I was now likely in about 7th place overall—still in the money—but had no idea where Karl was and now, running downhill, I was most vulnerable to being caught. If I got pushed back to 8th in the hare division, I’d be out of the money. Furthermore, I wanted to ensure I finished well within the top-10. It’s not done ’til it’s done.

With “M8,” Jesse Haynes, at the finish line on Saturday morning. He put 10+ minutes in me by the finish, capturing the top spot for the masters men in the hare division; we went 6th and 7th respectively in our division. We’d both dropped last year and came back and put things right. It was a 57% finishing rate this year for the bunnies. Photo Credit: Mark Gilligan

VI.  In the light of day. Getting to see more of the course in the light was a big delight from my race. The obvious sign I was significantly slower than my race in 2015 was that the sun came up quite a bit earlier, casting radiant energy on me and illuminating sections of the course I ran through in darkness two years ago. So, not only was I immersed in the racing from Summit all the way to Werner, but I was also basking in some of the sweetest trails I’ve ever run on. And they were a lot drier than they were during the 2015 race to boot. No shoe-sucking mud!

VII.  Mild temps up top. As it turns out, most of the sh*t I carried from Olympian at mile 42 to the finish at 106, I never needed. But it served its purpose: it provided peace of mind. Once I had my sleeveless base layer and arm-warmers on, I was set for the night. Gloves had been put on and taken off a few times but the hand-warmers, beanie, puffy jacket, tights, as well as all the warm gear stowed in gallon Ziplocs inside my drop-bags, went totally unused. But, like they say, “better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.”

VIII.  Reaching a hundo finish line. Upon finishing I never took notice of my finishing time, only interested in confirming I was 7th in the men’s hare division. I pushed so hard racing Jesse up high I really felt like death warmed over at the finish. I knew I’d run slower than 2015 but I figured it was only by about an hour. A day later when I woke up to an email from Ultra Signup with the results, I realized I’d run almost two hours slower than my run in ’15. WTF?! It’s not hard determining where that time went considering how conservative I was running in the early going, how much more time/care I was taking in the aid-stations, and the fact that it was fairly hot running in the afternoon on Friday.

There is no failure except in no longer trying. I’d redeemed myself from DNF’ing last year. That’s a BFD for me. After that blemish on my record last year, I started looking at things a little differently. I feel like I’ve made some good growth as both a runner and in other areas of my life. My word for 2017 continues to be “courage.” I’ve tried to weave that into the fabric of this year’s season. Simply finding the courage to train hard, say “f*ck it” and just believe in my abilities, put myself in the high-stakes arenas whilst I still have a little youth left in these legs, and simply execute as brilliantly as I can on the race-day. In this journey, I sense I’m on to something, and am excited to keep doing the inner work necessary to keep myself where I want to be—up high. There are never any guarantees of success. At mile 70 of Bighorn, I thought there was a good chance I’d run away with the win. We were at course-record pace at the half, even with the horrendous conditions. Yet, those conditions would go on to crush me.

Confidence in the 100mi is hard-earned. It’s taken a fare share of courage to keep lining up at these mountain races when you’re just another working masters runner who lives at sea level. Man, I love racing on these courses though! With this finish at RRR, I now have some good momentum to roll into 2018. Karl Meltzer ran an astounding 18:30 here at RRR when he was 45 years old. I’d really like to shoot for something similar to that next year. It’ll come at a price though…

The aftermath. Saturday morning after a long night “partying.” Photo Credit: Amanda Shebest (via Linn Secreto). Lol.

IX. Friends. I read somewhere the other day it’s not the races we’ll remember in old age, but the people. It’s always a grand ol’ time getting to hang with my tribe at these events, even if some of them are taking pictures of me in the low moments and sending them to my wife to post on Instagram. All the highs that training for and racing this event produced made the post-event lows totally worthwhile, or at least more tolerable. So many great memories…

X.  Attitude of Gratitude. Due to solid prep for this year’s run and running a smart race, I didn’t really have any significant lows all day. I really had my head on straight for this one. Even projectile vomiting at the end wasn’t much of a low; quite the opposite—it was thrilling! The Hoka One One Speedgoat 2 was clearly the ideal shoe for the course and running in Speedgoats with The Speedgoat was quite the treat! Nutrition has really come together, having been inspired by Magda Boulet’s consumption of 18 bottles of GU Roctane, Summit Tea, at Western States back this year. I think I put down about 16 bottles here at Run Rabbit, along with quite a few Toasted Marshmallow, S’mores, and Tutti Frutti GUs, and even a few GU Stroopwaffles. Boo-YAH! The Roctane worked so well I never felt the need to take supplemental caffeine or Coke at any point in the race. GU products are the boss applesauce (maybe that can be a new flavor name…). I’m grateful the weather held out too, the forest fires and smoke didn’t ruin our day, the awesome race direction headed up by Fred Abramowitz and Paul Sachs, the amazing volunteers, led by Brady Barnett Worster, the 7000 pics snapped by the official race photographer, Paul Nelson, and the awesome field this race always draws, which pushes me to be the best I can be out there.

Stepping out of life for 5 days to do Run Rabbit Run is no small task. I’m grateful to Amanda for holding down the fort, though I was bummed to not having her there to see me rock the course this year after witnessing my craptastic DNF last year. I’m grateful for Point Positive Coaching and all the athletes I have the privilege of working with. Without you I’d be traveling to race nowhere this year. I’m grateful I had the same strong sub for my classes while I was out Wed-Fri of race-week. I’m also grateful Back-to-School Night was not held during race-week as it was last year; I hated missing that. I’m grateful for the race format of Run Rabbit Run, that the Hares are not permitted pacers or poles, and that there’s money on the line, including $1000 for the masters. I’m grateful it’s a high stakes race that, given my reality, I can make happen with a little hustle. I’m grateful I can just sign up and show up for RRR. And no, before you ask, my performance at Run Rabbit Run does not get me into Western States.

Run Rabbit Run 100 – In the rear-view: 3 things I might have done differently:

i. Too conservative for too long. After his record breaking run at Lake Sonoma 50 a couple o’ years ago, Alex Varner blogged something to the effect, “Whether I go out easy or I go out hard, it still hurts like hell at the end.” Thus there’s a good case to be made to going out a little harder, taking some measured risks, and seeing where the chips fall late in the game. Much of one’s fortune, I believe, is tied to the age-old notion: “Know thyself.” I suspect I could’ve ratcheted up the pace a bit earlier but who knows how that would’ve panned out. Maybe 21-ish hours was all I had in me on the day, especially given how my downhill legs were feeling…

ii. Quads. I was #66 again this year and that number symbolized the number of miles I managed my exploding quads. Next time, assuming my knees are cooperating, I’ll be sure to prep the quads with some carefully placed, long, fast, downhill training sessions.

iii. Carrying too much sh*t. It’s not like it weighed a ton, but the pack I picked up at Olympian at mile 42 was a little weighty. Because of my struggles to keep warm in recent 100s, I just needed to have stuff with me on this run. I think I’ll be more comfortable next time just using my drop-bags effectively and staging warm, dry stuff all over the course. And if there’s any chance of rain, I’ll be sure to have an actual rain-proof jacket with me.

Parting Shot. It was a long work-week nursing my 100mi hangover. I’ll be nursing a proper hangover tomorrow… Cheers friends! Photo Credit: Carlo (no S) Piscitello.

A heartfelt note of appreciation to my beautiful and highly supportive wife/agent Amanda. I love you!  |  Thanks to all the athletes I coach who inspire me with their passion and dedication to this crazy sport.  |  Thank you to Hoka One One for producing the best trail shoes out there—#speedgoat2 #timetofly   |  Thanks Healdsburg Running Company for the cheers from afar and always sending out the kick-ass vibes! | Thanks Inside Trail Racing for hosting so many great events in the Bay Area and beyond.  |  Cheers of gratitude to new sponsors BUFF USA, Drymax Sports, and Squirrel Nut Butter.  |  GU… You’re killing it! My nutrition’s never been more effective (or tasty!) #summit_tea #toasted_marshmallow #stroopwaffle |  Thanks to Dave Townsend at Santa Rosa Physical Therapy for helping me manage all of my old man issues and keeping me moving down the trail! >>> 🙂

There Is No Finish Line

rrrAs we headed up the ski slope to the top of Mount Werner I wondered how I felt at this point last year. It wasn’t quite the same route up but I arrived at the top about a minute earlier. We then zipped over to Long Lake aid-station at mile 11. I filled a bottle, having all my calories in my vest pockets today, versus going with liquid calories from start to finish. I had an alarm set for 20min intervals and I’d fuel with decaf gels-n-chews to about mile 42, then gradually transition to all Vitargo by the final third of the race. Having just pure water during the warm afternoon seemed like a good idea. I had a lot of “good ideas” going into this event.

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Team Hoka on the first climb. With Sage Canaday and Chris Price. Photo Credit: JAdRunning

Heading down Fish Creek Falls I hopped, skipped, and jumped from rock to rock. After leaving one of my favorite parts of the course we arrive to my least favorite—the four-mile road section that connects Fish Creek to Olympian Hall and the next lollipop section of the course. On the way into Olympian I catch up with a few runners and we all end up waiting together at a traffic light for a minute. Heading into Olympian Hall at 21 I see Amanda for the first time. I instantly confess, “I’m really tired.”  What I really want is to get myself above this mind-fog and into an effective racing head-space. “C’mon body. Let’s get with the program.”

On the way up-n-out of Olympian, I continue to feel sluggish but know that’s just part of the game sometimes. “Get up this climb and roll the descent down to Cow Creek.” Since the hare division started at noon, the afternoon was wearing on and it wouldn’t be too long before the sun would set. Knowing my splits from last year, I chose to not have a drop-bag at Cow Creek, knowing I’d make it back to Olympian—and my lights—before sunset.

At Cow Creek, I filled my bottles and drank 20oz of water before departing. It’s 12.5mi back to Olympian with no aid and that takes me a good two hours so I wanted to ensure I left this aid-station topped off. It was warm enough that I doused myself with water a few times on the way back. The noon-start throws a nice monkey wrench into your 100mi race psychology because at this point in the day I’m usually a hell of a lot farther into a 100-miler. So it was a tough realization at Cow Creek—given how I was feeling—knowing I was only 50k in. “Things’ll turn around. Just hang in there.”

I was starting to catch up with a lot of runners in the tortoise division by now as well as a hare, here and there. The exhaustion I was experiencing was really wearing on me so I took at caffeine pill and hoped that would help lift me out of my funk. I wasn’t even 40mi into the race. Catching up and talking with James Walsh, who was running his first 100-miler, we were joking around about how 100-mile racing is so radically different than racing Ironman (both of us having raced Ironman Hawaii together in 2011—and finishing within minutes of each other while not knowing who the other was. “I haven’t seen another hare in three and a half hours!,” he tells me. Commiserating with another runner buoys my spirits and we run on for a while enjoying some sweet Colorado single-track.

More time and tortoises on the trail and the relentless grade—just gradual enough that you feel like you have to run. Josh Arthur and I lament this fact when I catch up with him. When I spy him up ahead, I yell “Josh! Hey man, how’s it going?!” To which he replies “This is the best day of my life…” in a tone that mildly suggests otherwise. We shoot the breeze for a bit before space and time separates us once more. Josh has done really well here, so you never want to count him out.

I summit and begin the descent back down into Olympian Hall. At some point, the indomitable Jeff Browning goes by. I say, “Hey, I’ll run with you back to Olympian.” I’m hoping this opportunity might be the turning point in my race. Another “good idea” of mine here at Run Rabbit.

At Olympian (the second time), Amanda was on the ball. Just as I’d done the year prior, I put on a sleeveless base-layer and a tight long-sleeve zip. I grabbed my lights and I was outta there. Browning was in-n-out even faster and was already completely outta sight. But, I reminded myself, the racing doesn’t begin until mile 70. From that point, I’d still have seven hours to race to the finish line…

Now it’s back through Downtown Steamboat Springs and eventually starting to climb back up to the Fish Creek Falls trail-head. Paul Nelson, of Paul Nelson Film & Photography, is out there on the side of the road and asks me how things are going. He’s filming and I’m one of the athletes he’s following today. I tell him I came through Olympian in like 7th place and last year I came through in 5th so things were looking good. “And, we’re not even half-way yet.” Which, I’m thinking in my head, really kinda sucks ’cause I feel like like shit. “Whatever, I’ve done the training, I’ll be fine,” I tell myself. Paul gives me a pep talk and the words really resonate. The long stretch up to Fish Creek Falls begins. The sun sets and darkness begins to fully envelop the day.

rrrprepThe prep for Run Rabbit Run this year included 30% more run-specific volume in the month of August than last year. Since I wasn’t using Hypoxico altitude equipment I had more time to run than last year when I was doing supplemental, hypoxic sessions on the bike as part of my altitude acclimatization. Returning from injury this spring and being under-trained for Western States 100 truly sucked so I vowed to be back to my bullet-proof self for Run Rabbit in Sept. And to justify going faster than my 19:13 from last year, I felt I needed to train even harder. It’s worked before…

One thing about the race this year was that in addition to the underlying fatigue, I wasn’t having that much fun from the start. The race-director, Fred Abramowitz, would say that I’m not supposed to have fun during a 100-mile run but by “fun” I guess I mean full and total engagement with the process—that joyous flow state that’s created when the mind and body meld into one when fully engaged in the act of racing an ultra. Anyway, I was still waiting for that switch to be flipped and for the fun to start…

I’d been flip-flopping with 22 y/o Daniel Metzger all day and while I’d taken a little detour for a couple minutes, going straight on a switchback in the dark, he’d moved up ahead of me. Catching up with him once more, he shared that some other guys moved ahead as well. “Great.” I just wanted to get up to Long Lake at mile 53—the true half-way point of the event. It was now starting to get really cold. The slog up Fish Creek Falls continued, laboriously.

Jesse Haynes catches up and, moving at a reasonable pace, I hike/run with him for quite a while. Jesse’s had a big year with a Top-10 at Western States and a win at Tahoe Rim Trail 100 just a month later. “I don’t know if running three hundreds in a year was a good idea,” he says. I agree, but what the hell; this was Jeff Browning’s fourth 100 for 2016. Notably, I’ve never done more than two 100s in a calendar year.

Long Lake aid-station is less than two miles away. We hit 10,000′ and the temps have dropped into the 30s. I feel clammy. The last thing Jesse hears from me is my distant wretching as he floats away, up ahead into the frigid darkness.

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Olympian Hall, early in the going. Photo Credit: Joe Grant

Puke-n-rally. Tortoises moved by me and try to console. Then another wave of nausea hits and I’m on the ground, dry-heaving. This time on all fours. I just want to lay down on the trail like Karl Meltzer after 1600mi on the Appalachian Trail. “This sucks. Get up.” When I do, I start shaking uncontrollably.Less than half a mile to Long Lake. Start moving or you’re really gonna be screwed.”

Hugging my body with my arms while running I feel ridiculous. Every step, I’m digging myself into a bigger hole. Finally… the sound of voices again—life-saving aid. I see the fire with many runners—in various states of carnage—around it; camp chairs looking all-too inviting. I stand before the flames for quite some time. My nutrition alarm goes off. Another wave of nausea hits. “Wow, this race is not panning out similar to last year, at all…”

I hobble over to the drop-bags and a volunteer helps me locate mine. I grab stuff and quickly make my way back over to the raging fire. I put on my nylon shell over my base-layer and long-sleeve. I put on a beanie. I have my gloves and hand-warmers at the ready. What I really need is a puffy jacket and tights but alas, they’re at mile 70, and I didn’t plan for this shitty scenario at mile 53. I packed my drop-bags similar to how I did last year—with the assumption I’d be in a racing mode and not in a survival mode.

And then it happened—I sit down in a camp chair. Later, a volunteer recognized I was a mess and brought a blanket for my legs. “I’ve painted myself into a corner here,” I thought to myself. “Dammit!!” I haven’t been this messed up since my first 100 at mile 67 at Tahoe Rim Trail in 2009, except this time, I’m cold. Really cold. I’m not considering moving at this point but wondering how in the hell I’m going to get over to Summit aid-station, 5.5mi away—higher and colder…

Time passes. Runners come and runners go. Familiar faces. Words of encouragement exchanged. I barf into a large ziploc bag for a while. I eat some soup. That comes up. Ginger ale: no dice. 10,000′ is not being kind this year. Just as someone puts another log on the fire I put my head in my lap, groaning under the aid-station hustle-n-bustle. Runners are sharing their stories from the day. Tortoises and hares, males and females, are strategizing where they plan on dropping. And some will drop while others’ destiny will somehow see them to the finish line. A young guy, racing as a tortoise is trying to pull it together. He says his fingers are cold and stiff. He’s clearly still in the game. I give him my hand-warmers and urge him to get outta here. After a time he’s gone and some new desperate face arrives.

An hour and a half has gone by. Food still won’t stay down and I’m still shiv-shiv-shivering. Finally, a guy comes up to me and asks what I’m going to. “Ah, good question,” I think. I tell him I want to continue but given my physical state, I have no idea how I’ll get outta here. Shit or get off the pot. Matter-o-factly, I tell him my day is done. In a while another volunteer comes over and cuts off my wrist-band. “Well,” I think to myself, “There’s a first time for everything.” Some time passes and the guy finds me again and let’s me know he’s taking some other runners off the mountain soon. I get up and ask him if I can take this blanket with me. “No.”

At the truck I see about four other drops inside. I open up the back cab, throw my stuff in and tell them, “I’ll be back in minute.” I then drop to the ground for one final wretching session, all the while reassuring myself that continuing on was simply not in the cards today. Over two hours after arriving at Long Lake, we start down the road with the heater on high. It feels good to be moving again, even if it’s no longer under my own power.

What makes this DNF pill a little easier to swallow was the fact that I’d had the opposite experience here last year. I’d run myself to a 2nd place overall in what’s still one of the fastest times on this course. Because of this I came in this year and broke one of my cardinal rules—“expect nothing and be prepared for anything.” 2016’s been a bitch with injury and struggling to come back and continue trying to live up to my insane expectation that I must continue improving, season after season after season. Seems like the sport’s been trying to teach me something this year and I’ve been too busy obsessing about splits, finish times, and podiums to notice. “Everybody has a plan until you get punched in the face.” Yep.

Hands down, the most fun I had at Run Rabbit Run 2016 was after I dropped. We barreled over to Summit aid-station on this roller-coaster of a fire-road, where we picked up my Hoka One One partner-in-crime, Sage Canaday. Sage had been pushing the pace all day and—like me—was looking for a little redemption from a tough day at Western States 100 in June. Sage was in good spirits and we all found ourselves sharing the day’s trials and tribulations.

The process of dropping out of a mountain ultra like Run Rabbit Run is no easy task. Back at Long Lake, around the fire, a guy told me “This is not a good place to drop. You should drop at Dry Lake (about mile 66) ” I thought to myself, “Well, I wanna jump outta this chair and continue racing but if I can’t take this fire with me, then my ass stays right here.”

We transition from the truck into the back of a Subaru, about 5 of us packed in the back like toes in an Injinji sock, for the ride down to Dry Lake and then on to Spring Creek Ponds where I’d meet back up with Amanda. On the way down we shared some stories and LMAO’d the whole way. Someone handed me a thermos of hot coffee. We talked about DNF’g races and I shared this was my first legit DNF. I wondered if feelings of guilt and shame would eventually surface around my decision. Sage just laughed and said he once DNF’d a 3k on the track and the everyone burst out into laughter once more.

At Spring Creek Ponds, the moment had arrived to find a phone and call my wife and tell her we’d come all this way so I could drop out of the race. She’s now seen it all—running my first 100, a handful of Ironmans, winning 100s, setting course-records, failing, succeeding, and now adding the DNF experience to the list. She’d been back at the hotel keeping track of my progress online, and since I hadn’t come through Summit or Dry Lake yet, she made the smart call to stay inside. It’s not that far from the resort over to the mile 70 aid-station, as that’s a low point of the course (literally in elevation terms and figuratively for the runners I suppose).

Spring Creek Ponds is one of the amazing aid-stations along the Run Rabbit Run course. Last year I was in-n-out of there so fast I didn’t really get to appreciate it. This year? I more than made up for it! Down from high elevation, I was feeling back to my normal self. A decision had been made and no significant feelings of remorse had surfaced. Sometimes you’re the hammer and sometimes you’re the nail. I made the most of the moment, yukking it up with the likes of Zach Miller, Ford Smith, and even Nick Clark, who, volunteering this year, was who I ran with into this very aid-station last year. My how things change.

Amanda was on her way and the runners who were still in the mix that I’d been with at Long Lake started arriving and departing. Jesse Haynes lingered for a while while Keira Henninger gave him a good dose of tough love and saw him off. The competitor in me stirred but my day was over. Keira and I talked a bit and she was super positive about looking ahead and getting back to kicking ass soon. For sure.

Hindsight is always 20/20 and I’ve had some time to objectively reflect on the factors that led to this DNF. If the simplest answer tends to be the right one then the reason why I failed to have a repeat strong performance here is most likely due to being somewhat cooked from the training I did in August. By the end of the month I’d been averaging 112mi a week running with a ton of climbing. The training was enjoyable and it was the first time this year where my body was at 100% so I was really fired up to “go big” in training. Perhaps the taxing training load coupled with resuming a 50+hour work-week mid-August (teaching and coaching) took its toll. Quality of sleep was impacted and I simply started accumulating a lot of fatigue, which I felt would be remedied with a bit longer taper than last year. Everybody has a plan…

Training aside, the altitude and the cold really seem to be the one-two punch that knocked me out of the race. Last year, using Hypoxico altitude equipment, I was so elated that I was not the least bit nauseous for the entire duration of the race. So initially, I blamed my DNF on not using the Hypoxico equipment, but after getting my blood labs back from the doc a week ago and seeing values higher than they’ve been in years suggests that the AltoLab equipment I did use effectively prepared me for the high elevation (even if it felt like it hadn’t). Honestly, I don’t know. Granted, running 100 miles is tough enough without coming from sea-level to the mountains of Colorado to do it. In the end I never was able to shake the fatigue going into the race. Unlike last year, there was just a lot of resistance everywhere I turned. C’est la vie.

After an up-n-down year of being injured—and then a fear of re-injuring myself—I’d have to say I’ve lost touch—-to some degree—-with the art of racing and have instead spent too much time dwelling on expected outcomes. It appears you’re never too old, or have too much experience, to repeat mistakes you’ve already made and supposedly learned from.

Moving forward I’m setting some hard-n-fast racing ground-rules for myself:

  1. Expect Nothing and Be Prepared for Anything
  2. Keep It Simple
  3. Execute In the Moment
  4. Patient + Positive = Power
  5. Know Thyself
  6. NEVER Start Pushing Until AT LEAST the Half-Way Point (of ANY distance)
  7. NEVER Run With Splits (mine or otherwise) 
  8. Liquid Calories Is the Way To Go
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You’re only as good as your last race. Sonoma ULTRA Trail 50k on Oct 1st. 2nd place and first “old guy.” Photo Credit: Amanda Shebest

This year I was not planning on running Scena Performance‘s Sonoma ULTRA 50k, as I had done last year. I’d signed up for pacing duty instead, which I knew would ensure I didn’t race it, since it’s only two weeks post-Run Rabbit Run. Then friends suggested I “dust myself off” [i.e., from my DNF] and race the 50k on my favorite training grounds here at home. Everyone was on-board—and I was fresh—so what the hay. It would allow me to work on getting back in touch with really racing.

After Run Rabbit, I eventually got back to running, but decided to start leaving the watch at home. It felt light and right. With intuition guiding me, I got to race-week in a healthy groove of running a bit every morning and chilling during the hot afternoons. I arrived to the start line feeling like I would’ve wanted to for Run Rabbit—fresh, loose, and overjoyed to be racing. I bounded, effortlessly off the start-line.

On the first 2000′ climb I reminded myself: “Expect Nothing. Be Prepared for Anything.” l’m never as pumped racing off the front as I am racing with a fellow competitor. It only takes one other runner to make a race. Half-way up the climb, I was taking it easy and keeping my breathing in check. “Never Start Pushing Until AT LEAST the Half-Way Point.” I was happy to have some company. Racing strategically, I eventually let the guy pass, his breathing more labored than mine, I’d let him wear himself out. At Panorama aid, we started the descent to the Ranger Station, I was descending very well and the running felt easy. Down to the turn-around 2000′ and back up another 2000′. Half-way back up, there he is again. Eventually, I step off the trail and let him pass. I’m not getting sucked in to working too hard too early.

Over to Goodspeed in Sugarloaf State Park, I leave the aid-station, 1min back. This is exactly where I wanna be. We head up into Sugarloaf to Suzanna Bon’s aid-station at Gray Pine (the halfway point). I get some Coke, say hi to Suzanna and start thinking about catching this guy on this lollipop section that heads up the ridgeline and back down to Gray Pine.

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Sonoma ULTRA 50k. October 1st, 2016. 10,000′ inside 31 miles. Dang! http://www.strava.com

Steps upon steps up to the ridge. No sign of the front-runner. With Napa Valley to my left and the Valley of the Moon to my right it was time to descend. In a mile, 1st came back into view. We hit Gray Pine together and introduced ourselves on the way out. Yuri Gonzaga, 26, did his first trail race at Mt. Diablo two weeks earlier to place 3rd. Yuri tells me he’s really feeling the effort at this point in the race. I tell him he’s running very strong and just keep doing what he’s doing. The encouraging words seemed to work; maybe a little too well…

We make our way down to Goodspeed, grab nutrition from our drop-bags and start the final ascent back up Hood Mountain. Armed only with endurance, I quickly reach my threshold while climbing. The cumulative four hours of this peppy pace has finally caught up with me. I let the kid go. Maybe I can catch him on the final descent…

It’s not about racing anymore, it’s about courage, to be honest with myself and do my best. I remind myself, “there’s no excuse for not playing good defense.” The technical, rock-infested climb up to the top of Hood is awful. I reach the top and am so thankful. I descend the rocky, twisty Summit Trail down to Panarama, where I slam a full 12oz Coke for the push to the finish.

With 3 miles to go. Photo Credit: Adrian Ramirez

Coke: the world’s greatest energy drink. 3 miles to go. Photo Credit: Adrian Ramirez

Energy’s still great but pushing the pace results in some nasty leg cramping. I’m out here for some fun and having Yuri out here made my day. I’d certainly rather go head-to-head with a fellow competitor and get second than win easy. Looking at what I did last year I figured I’d run about 5:20. I crossed the line in 5:15. Yuri broke five hours in 4:58, going to show, once again, how much time you can save if/when you can run strong over the final 25% of an ultra.

Indeed, I’ll be chasing a Golden Ticket into Western States next June where I’d like to again compete for that top Masters spot as well as running about two hours faster than I did this year. It only takes a couple Jorge Maravillas though, to knock me out of Golden Ticket contention but I’m not worried about it. In fact, worrying about it makes it less likely that I’ll race well enough to earn an entry.

Accept your limits to move pass them. Instead of obsessing over outcomes, I’m just gonna keep it simple and focus on my health and well-being; coming into events fresh-n-loose, and executing brilliantly. I believe with the learning I’ve amassed the last four seasons, I’m poised to now have the breakthrough season for which I’ve been dreaming.

kona2011

Parting Shot: Race rig from Ironman Hawaii 2011. Sub 5-hours for 112mi. Watching the race on Saturday, I’m grateful for the four occasions I raced in Hawaii, in ’02, ’04, ’07, & ’11. I’m also grateful for the second “career” I now have as an ultrarunner but sometimes, I do miss that bike…

A heartfelt thanks to my beautiful and highly supportive wife/agent Amanda for her thankless job as “First Responder” and always picking me up after I’ve fallen.  |  Thank you to Hoka One One for your continued support, innovation, and producing the best shoes out there—#speedinstinct #timetofly!  |  Thanks to Vitargo for the steady energy and SIMPLIFYING my nutrition.  |  Thank you Healdsburg Running Company for all the wonderful support from the HRC/H-Burg crew!! | Victory Sportdesign produces the best drop-bags in the biz! | Thank you to Julbo Eyewear for the beautiful, functional, and comfortable sunglasses.  |  Thanks to Dave Townsend at Santa Rosa Physical Therapy for helping me manage all of my issues and keep on runnin’ >>>

2015 Run Rabbit Run 100

“So as he rose for the shot he concentrated on trying to do something he had learned skin diving: not to care. Underwater he had learned to be detached, because to be in a constant state of concern was to be using oxygen. You have to make yourself not care, he would say when people asked how he did it. Not caring was why it was so easy to make these shots in practice when it didn’t matter and so easy to miss them in games when it did.”   –From Racing in the Rain, by John L. Parker, a prequel to Once a Runner

One race season leaves indelible footprints on the next. 2014 was the first time I raced two 100-milers in a single season—Tahoe Rim Trail in mid-July and Pine to Palm in mid-September. All things considered, I felt there wasn’t quite enough time—for me—to both absorb TRT and properly prepare for P2P. So the way 2015 panned out, having San Diego 100 in early June and Run Rabbit Run 100 in mid-Sept really seemed to open up some breathing room and do things right. RRR being my seventh 100, I feel this one was truly a synthesis of experience, where I was able to employ so much of what I’ve learned in my time in the sport to produce the result I knew I was capable of in a so-called high-stakes race. The ups—but particularly the downs—I’ve experienced in the last 18 months really paved the way for a magical race in Colorado. I’ve always liked doing September races. There’s just somethin’ about ’em…

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Crunch-time! Hammering out last-minute details before depositing the drop-bags the day before the race. Invaluable tips from Hoka teammate, Karl “Speedgoat” Meltzer helped sealed the deal.

The build-up to Run Rabbit Run 100 was so busy, there wasn’t much time to get nervous. I knew who was gonna be there and fully embraced the opportunity to race against the best. The competitive factor has become a huge driving force in fueling my training mojo as of late. With the training I had in the bank and my success at the distance, I ensured the self-talk stayed positive, believing that I was just as deserving of a strong result here as anyone else on the entrants list.

I hopped a flight outta Sacramento Wed morning, got into Steamboat in the early afternoon and just focused on resting up and setting my mind to the singular, monumental task of running this mountain-100 to the best of my abilities. With a quick rainy run on Thursday morning, the skies cleared, sleep was in the bank, and soon enough it was high noon on Friday and time to get the party started.

With Pine to Palm 100 course-record holder Becky Kirschenmann at the start. Photo Credit: Kevin Deutsche

With Pine to Palm 100 course-record holder Becky Kirschenmann at the start. Photo Credit: Kevin Deutsche

Holding back, letting people go—with great expectations of reeling them in later—was the name of the game. I figured that since the use of heart-rate has been so successful for me in previous 100s, why try to fix what’s clearly not broken.

With some solid run prep, including 7 weeks of using Hypoxico altitude training gear, I figured I was as prepared as I could be for the specific challenges this race presents. I just had to ensure I operated inside my optimized limits and focus on really nailing the execution.

Photo Credit: Paul Nelson Photography

The start of the 2015 Run Rabbit Run 100 (Hares). Photo Credit: Paul Nelson Photography

Heading up to Mt. Werner in the opening miles, I watched about 20 runners just float away from me. According to “the plan” I wanted to average about 142bpm for the first 30-40mi. I figured that target HR, like it has in the past, would set me up for a strong finish. But by the time I reached the summit, my avgHR was at 147. Well, there ya go. What to do now? Just flow with the course. Knowing that Run Rabbit Run 100mi course-record holder, Jason Schlarb, was in the mix again this year—along with so many other talented runners—I expected the folks on the front would go out pretty hard. I was counting on it!

Even with seven weeks sleeping in an altitude tent and doing 23 intermittent hypoxic sessions on the trainer, I was still surprised to see how the higher elevation—in contrast with my heart-rate at the same intensity back home at sea-level—was clearly pushing my heart to beat faster in order to supply needed oxygen to working muscles. Pacing off heart-rate early ultimately allowed me to optimally pace, conserve energy, process calories, while freeing up my mind to appreciate the exquisite beauty of the Routt National Forest, which was a big draw for me when signing up for this event.

Photo Credit: Paul Nelson Photography

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul.” -John Muir.  Photo Credit: Paul Nelson Photography

The early miles are always glorious smooth sailing. It was in here patience was already starting to pay off, with a few runners came back to me just by running within myself. I filled up a water bottle at Long Lake aid-station, saw a couple runners there, including, Timmy Olson, and took off wondering if I’d be seeing him later.

It was great getting to run with Boise’s Mark Austin, for a good stretch. Mark was one of the few athletes I knew coming into the race. I’d expected to see him at TRT50 in July but he didn’t make the trip down. Last year, at the tough Silver State 50, in the mountains outside Reno, Mark caught me with a mile or two to go and snagged 2nd. This year he won it. Mark knows how to pace and always closes like a champ. Yet another guy to worry about here at Run Rabbit…

Photo Credit: Paul Nelson Film & Photography

Photo Credit: Paul Nelson Film & Photography

On the way down to Fish Creek Falls I was happy to dice it up with Michelle Yates, who was looking strong over this technical section which leads us out to the road back into town and then to Olympian Hall at mile 21. Once I hit the road, I felt the force flowing from the four tempo sessions I did on soft surface back home in prep for this event (I mean I signed up as a hare after all, gotta run quick when ya can!). Just lean into it and let those legs do the job they’re well conditioned to do…

Photo Credit: Kevin Deutsche

In the light of day. Photo Credit: Kevin Deutsche

At Olympian, I picked up my first of nine 300cal bottles of VitargoS2. After all these years I’m finally content with how I use hydration bottles in ultras. Two Amphipod bottles, a yellow one for Vitargo, and a clear one for water (and chicken broth late in 100s) really works well for me. This was the first race I’ve used a Flipbelt, and it helped secure the bottles in my waistband, even when full. The low temps made the distance a lot more enjoyable and to drink relatively cold Vitargo all day was definitely a treat. This was by far the coolest 100 I’ve run and it was great to have steady energy all day with no nausea or vomiting!! Can I get another exclamation point?    !!!

On the long descent down to Cow Creek I was excited to catch up with Nick Clark, who looked like he took a few nasty spills (I’d have one late in the race as well). So gradual, is this process of catching up to competitors in a 100. I’d started to catch folks in the tortoise division some time back so it was always so awesome to see other hares. Nick and I settled into a good downhill rhythm, chatted a bit about our displeasure with the tricky descent, and made our way into the Cow Creek aid, where I grabbed a Tikka RXP headlamp, with a spare battery. In the event something was off, I didn’t want to be without a headlamp so I’d stashed one in my mile 30 drop-bag as well as mile 42.

Photo Credit: Run Rabbit Run 100

Delicious single-track. Photo Credit: Run Rabbit Run 100

Talking with the occasional pack of tortoises, it was slow going back up to the water-only aid-station at mile 38, which I’d heard rumored may be dry since mountain-bikers like to help themselves to the runners’ refreshments. As so it was—bone dry. I’m glad I made the last-minute decision to definitely use two bottles. I knew it wasn’t that far back to Olympian Hall, so I rationed a bit but with the cool temps, hydration wasn’t the critical issue it is when the mercury’s through the roof. Just hang tough and ride the line…

Arriving at Olympian Hall in good spirits. Mile 42. Photo Credit: Kevin Deutsche

Arriving at Olympian Hall in good spirits. Mile 42. Photo Credit: Kevin Deutsche

MarieLanka2

Average heart-rate coming into Olympian at mile 42 was about 144 or 145bpm. That was a bit higher than I’d expected, or wanted, but considering the temps, great fitness, perceived exertion, and solid fueling, I felt the risk was worth it. Besides, my ace-in-the-hole was having a fully-absorbed San Diego 100 in my legs from June. This day, I felt bulletproof. I swapped out my short-sleeve race jersey for a base layer and long-sleeve jersey here and picked up my second Tikka RXP headlamp and another spare battery. I was fully charged to run through the night. Bring it on! >>>

Photo Credit: Kevin Deutsche

Let’s Go HOKA!! Photo Credit: Kevin Deutsche

And now the sun was setting, which was a foreign place for me to be and not have the race be even half over—strange sensation indeed. We started at noon, versus 5 or 6am like I’m used to, so I had to do some on-the-fly reprogramming of my head so I wouldn’t push too hard during sunset, as has been the norm in other 100s when I’m around 80mi in by sundown. I’d heard I was running in 4th and it wasn’t even mile 50 yet, so I just kept yelling back to enthusiastic spectators, “Hey thanks! And there’s still so much racing left!” I was having a blast, clicking off some street miles back up to the rugged Fish Creek Falls section.

vitargoSlog. Slog. Slog. The trail goes up to Fish Creek Falls aid while the temps go down. By the time I got back to Long Lake it was a gettin’ chilly. I grabbed a fresh bottle of Vitargo, a beanie, some gloves, and stuffed some hand-warmers in them to help keep my hands warm and functioning. Glad I remembered those bad boys. I found them at the bottom of a drawer before leaving home. They’d been left over from some cold winter when I was doing a lot of cycling. Nice thing to have them for the night-running here.

Up at Summit Lake (mi58) I heard my wife’s voice in my ear: “The time you spend putting on warm clothes you’ll gain back, and more!, since you’ll keep yourself warm and comfortable.” There’s always some unknown variable that she’ll focus on intently, then go to work on my head to ensure I take the issue seriously and proactively address it. I’m grateful.

In the days leading up to the race, Amanda got in touch with an old friend she danced with as a kid. Her husband works for Smartwool, which is based out of Steamboat Springs, and this guy’s friend has run the 100 here before. Amanda was on my case to call this guy—Alex. So I gave Alex a ring the day before and much to Amanda’s delight—and my own—he gave me a ton of great information that really helped me dial in my drop bags, and get a better sense of how, when, and where the temps would affect me over the race. It was then great catching up with Alex, pacers, and other tortoises on some climb out there in the night. Hoppin’ along the bunny trail exchanging cheers of encouragement with the tortoises is a very cool aspect to this event. Amanda also ensured I got in touch with Speedgoat, Karl Meltzer, before the race to get more insights on race-day strategy. No surprise, his wise words aided my race strategy.

Summit Lake to Dry Lake. After subjecting some poor guy at Summit aid to help me don a pair of especially tight tights, I threw on a couple more layers, left the bustling warmth of the aid-station, and started one long-ass descent down to Dry Lake en route to the turn-around at Spring Creek Ponds. Shortly after departing Summit, I look back and spy a head-lamp a couple 100 yards back. Then it was 100. Then 50. And then Nick Clark went by me.

As Speedgoat had suggested, I needed to be patient in this section because I really wanted strong legs for the challenging duration of climb out of mile 70 and ultimately for the final third of the race (when moving well matters most). Now I had just been passed by Clarky, which not only put me back a position but knocked me back to second Master (over 40). I’d gotten a good feel for Nick’s pace coming down to Cow Creek earlier and it was still inside my comfort zone, although now there was a bit more pep in his step. And, of course, I wasn’t forgetting who this guy was. Freakin’ Nick Clark. They don’t make ’em any tougher. So h*ll yeah, I thought to myself, what an honor to run with this guy. I’m stayin’ on this train. Honestly though, I’d written him off after Cow Creek, since he’d fallen a few times and seemed too quiet, maybe frustrated—understandably—so I was surprised and inspired to see him back killin’ it down to Dry Lake. And it was just too cool to pass up the opportunity to work together.

Faster together. We pulled into Dry Lake and the folks were just awesome. I was flying high, in good spirits, crackin’ jokes with volunteers and as we grabbed what we needed before gettin’ outta Dodge and getting back to the task at hand. Nick was in full on race mode. The night running was goin’ good. Every tortoise we’d catch, they’d know Clarky. No one had a clue who the h*ll I was. I wasn’t in California that was for sure. Eventually, we made our way up to a dark, slim figure walking on the right side of the road, 20 year-old, Jared Hazen, 3rd place overall at both Lake Sonoma 50 and Western States this year. He boldly ran with Jason Schlarb for some 65mi before the wheels came off. No shame there. I have former students older than this kid. Young, talented, and fearless.

Now running in 2/3, Clarky—5th here last year—and I kept up a good clip for a few more miles before we saw Jason Schlarb running back up. We exchanged some encouraging words and hightailed it as best we could down to the aid-station at Spring Creek Ponds. Upon arriving, I finally got a laugh out of Nick when I said, “Man, it sounds like a cowbell orchestra here!” All the energy at the aid-stations was so great.

Since Summit, Nick and I had ample opportunity to get a good sense of how strong/confident the other was feeling. Mile 70: this was the point in the race I’d been waiting for all day! I had no reason to doubt Nick would be strong for hours to come and suspected he was at least as decent on the ups as he was the downs. As we pulled the u-turn down into the aid, I zoomed to my drop-bag, snagged a fresh bottle and moved like h*ll back outta there and started moving quickly back up the climb. It was time to cash in on the 90,000′ of elevation gain I had in the training bank since August 1st! I wanted that Masters win so I needed to get out of Nick’s sight for a while or at least get some damage control goin’ on this climb so that once we got back to Summit Lake at 82, I wouldn’t be too far behind him. That, of course, along with the other obvious fact…. There was a growing presence behind, now in front, closing at a relative speed of sub-6min/mi pace. I hit my lap button and said a little prayer…

Challenger ATR -- Greatest. Shoe. Ever.

Hoka One One Challenger ATR — Greatest. Shoe. Ever. I had a fresh, fly pair locked-n-loaded for Run Rabbit, with just 20 little miles on ’em just to ensure they were perfect.

Now not-so-firmly in 2nd place, with 1st way off in the distance, there was 50k left to go and anything could happen. It was time to move with increasing purpose while being steady, getting in calories, and keeping my mental game crazy positive. Eight minutes and 30sec later, the next hare I spied coming down was Germany’s Marco Sturm. We’d diced it up a bit earlier in the race and I was impressed with his smooth, strong running over the technical stuff. [Marco got off course after Dry Lake and added about an hour to his time.] I rounded the 8:30 to 10min, doubled it, and gave myself a not too generous 20min lead on him. Not a lot. There would be no more Hollywood breaks at toasty aid-stations from here on out. With Nick right there, Marco some 20min back, I kept up my fast-hiking and waited with much anticipation to see who who’s headlamp would blind me next—Jacob Puzey? Tim Olson? One of the Colorado boys? Josh Arthur was 2nd here last year; he’s gotta be makin’ his move. Then there’s Boulder’s Andrew Skurka. And then there’s the leading ladies… Almost a year to the day, Becky Kirschenmann, was running me down at Pine to Palm 100 to place 2nd overall, nailing the 5th best ultra performance of the year from a female. She again has her TransRockies experience in her legs. And I gotta be on the lookout for Yates and Kimball…

Somewhere out there in the night. Photo Credit: Ultra Sports Live

This is the moment we train for. What I dream of as an ultrarunner. And the memories created here I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. The choice to answer the call, have the extra gear be there, and motor to that finish line is exciting. What an amazing space to be: alive and thriving, so raw, and so rare a moment in this modern world of conveniences. It’s after midnight, and I’m on some mountain top in Colorado, some 20mi to the finish line of a 100mi trail race. This is living…

Six hundreds paved the way to effectively deal with the otherwise overwhelming weight of distance and time. Don’t think just run. Smile. Laugh. Encourage. Keep the head positive. Above all else, maintain momentum in the moment. Second place at Run Rabbit Run is a pretty cool place to be. Don’t blow it.

Finally to Summit Lake, back up above 10,000′. This section from mile 82 to 97 was the reason I rented Hypoxico equipment in the first place. Now it was time to see if the 45+ nights in the tent and 14+hrs sucking rubber on the trainer was worth the investment.

I’m up high. I got competitors in front and behind, I’ve got over 80mi in my legs, and I’m puddle-jumping/weaving like a madman shifting focus from trying to catch 1st to dwelling on how far behind is 2nd back to “not caring” and just trying to recapture my now elusive flow-state I found myself in for so much of the earlier miles.

I take a hard fall. Back up. My light goes out. On goes the spare. Energy’s depleted. Chug more Vitargo. The hot chicken broth from the last aid is burning my right ass cheek. Take it out and carry it for a while. It’s so warm in my hands. My headlamp lights up my breath in front of my face. Hallucinations imminent. Was that a mudpuppy I just saw in that puddle? Indulge and have another look. No, it’s a slimy log. Are you sure? Snap out of it. When’s the sun gonna come up? Only 0.3mi to next aid at Long Lake…

In-n-out of Long Lake I zip down the trail and remember the serene water from the daylight now to my left with trees opposite reaching to a blue, cloudless sky. Signage ahead: “To aid-station 3: Fish Creek Falls”. Think. Does this take me to Werner? Yes. I don’t know. F*ck. 0.5 back to Long Lake to ask. I’ll go down this trail and see. Maybe not. D*mmit. It has to go to Werner. You can draw the map by heart. Think. Is it the trail or not? Sh*t, I can’t think very well right now. They’re catching you. Alright, I’m running back, f*ck it. It is what it is. I’ll just have to outrun anybody that catches me because of this little setback. Better safe than sorry. Get your effort down. Relax…

Back at Long Lake I get the attention of a knowledgeable volunteer and I inquire about the signage and whether it leads to Werner and the finish. He graciously runs with me back to where I was. We take the turn and run down a short connector to a fork in the trail, one leading right to Fish Creek Falls and the other going left to Mt. Werner (the final aid-station before the finish).

D*mn, that sucked. No one caught you there, you were lucky. No harm no foul. You weren’t lost, you were clarifying. And more importantly you didn’t just flush $6000 down the toilet. Smart. Now run your ass off to the finish! Full effort is full victory. Thanks Einstein.

Daylight breaks. Headlamp off. But the headlamp really illuminates those reflective course ribbons. Headlamp on. What if someone’s a couple 100yds back? They’re gonna see your lamp and catch you. Headlamp off. Catch a toe on a rock. Headlamp on. It’s light enough now. Headlamp off. Step in a huge mud puddle and leave shoe stuck in it. Really? Headlamp on. Find shoe in mud and slip back on foot. Oooo, that feels good. Love these shoes. Hmm, Injinji socks are cool too; like little gloves for your feet. Focus! Put hand over lamp and look over shoulder. Someone’s back there. Wait, doesn’t look like it. How’s that Kinks’ song go again?…

(yea, it goes like this, here it goes) paranoia, they destroy ya
(here’s to paranoia) paranoia, they destroy ya
(hey hey, here it goes) paranoia, they destroy ya
(and it goes like this)

Mt Werner – Mile 97. It’s all downhill to the finish. I’m a great downhiller. No chicken broth. Ergh. Fill ‘er up with Coke. Thank-you! Sorry, I’m cranky!!

I suck going downhill. Holy God this is awful. What kind of long-term damage am I doing to my legs right now? Switchback. Holy h*ll, I think I see my hotel room window. Look over shoulder to see if there’s a runner. Pounding. What meniscus? Each step must be taking months off my life. Pain is temporary. Pride is forever. How many more years before hip replacement surgery? Sun’s up and it’s a glorious Colorado morning. Savor this… beauty. This sucks. Switchback. See mountain-bikers. Ask if they see anyone behind me. “No.” “Thanks.”

Guy goes by in a Hoka kit. Hmm, nice jersey friend. “Hey, good job.” Other runners coming up the maintenance road. Wow, must be coming up to watch us finish. Hmm, more runners. You idiot, they’re running the 50mi. They started at 6am. I knew that. Cheers. More cheers. Hey, long night. Thumbs up, thanks. Hey, cool. More runners. Look over shoulder to see if Clarky’s coming. Smile. Wave of euphoria hits. Another. Start cheering for the 50milers. High-5s. See my buddy Kevin Deutsche from home. Another high-5. Wow, that was great seeing all those runners. Mile to go to the finish. Let’s try to stay on course. Atta boy. Get this sh*t done.

Photo Credit: Paul Nelson Film & Photography

Photo Credit: Paul Nelson Film & Photography

Brought it home for 2nd place overall and first place Master in a time of 19 hours and 13min. This stands as the 9th fastest time in the four-year history of the event. The co-RD said that Run Rabbit’s typically not nice to Californians. I can see why with the altitude and the low temps. I was more than happy to prove him wrong. Three guys from Cali, including myself, did manage to find the finish line. Upon crossing the finish line, we were immediately lookin’ for a heater and our flip-flops!

And as it panned out, Schlarb was over an hour ahead of me by the finish and I was exactly an a hour in front of 3rd. So funny how things go out there. You just never know what’s going to happen in a 100mi footrace at elevation, that starts at noon, has 20,000′ of gain and loss over technical terrain. Naturally, I’m wondering how I could’ve gotten an hour back to bridge the gap to 1st. I’ve come up with about 30min so far, including that little navigation snafu back at mile 90. Schlarb’s got a lock on this race, to be sure, having set the course-record, of 17:15 in 2013 and having been at the event, in some capacity the last four years. Rob Krar was here last year and won in a time of 17:40. Jason’s a professional mountain runner living in Durango, CO who’s spent some good time this year training up high in the mountains. Tough guy to beat!

All things considered, I executed pretty well. Naturally I’ll get sh*t for my course confusion and someone always chimes in that if I hadn’t worn the HRM I could’ve won, but I’m betting Denver dollars to Dunkin’ Donuts that I would’ve ended up on the long list of DNFs had I not worn HR in those early miles. A DNF is never an option, especially in an A-Pri event like this. Too much time, energy, sacrifice, and benjamins went into it to throw caution to the wind early and run wild. I took calculated risks and followed some of Speedgoat’s key rules for running 100s, namely, do your thing out there to stay within yourself, manage your issues effectively, so you can be there in the final 25% of the race. Eastern religion tells us that the middle road is often best. I like to apply that mentality to 100mi racing. It’s gotta be a balance of brains and balls out there. Doesn’t it?

In the money! Not a bad yield for an old school teacher with a mortgage.

In the money! Not a bad yield for an old school teacher with a mortgage. Photo Credit: Amanda Misiak

You know another golden nugget of wisdom from the Speedgoat? Here it is: “You’re always faster the second time you do the same 100.” Thinking back to my four Tahoe Rim Trail 100 times… 22:44, 19:57, 18:03, 17:38. I believe in that idea, wholeheartedly. Afterall, Karl Meltzer did go 18:32 here at Run Rabbit in 2013 at 45 years of age…  😀

Run Rabbit Run 100 – Strava Activity – I finished with a 3% battery charge!!

Complete Results from Hallucination Sports

1st place, Vitargo athlete, Jason Schlarb’s ultrasportslive.tv interview

1st place, Hoka One One athlete, Emma Roca, ultrasportslive.tv interview

3rd place, Andrew Skurka’s usl.tv interview. Listen to him talk about heart-rate!

Optimal Pacing for an Ultra-marathon | Q&A with Bob Shebest

Parting Shot: Sonoma's Suzanna Bon, 51, running Tahoe 200, a week earlier. First female and course-record in 68hrs. 4th overall finisher. Three over-nights. Two 20min naps total. My muse for RRR100.

Parting Shot: Sonoma’s Suzanna Bon, 51, running Tahoe 200, a week earlier. First female and course-record in 68hrs. 4th overall finisher. Three over-nights. Two 20min naps total. My muse for RRR100.

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! | A final BIG thanks to Dylan Bowman at Hypoxico for the support with my first experience using the gear. It was fun throwing this experience into the training mix!