Summer 2015 – In the Mix

2015 Western States 100, mile 10, Lyon Ridge, 6am. Tahoe Mountain Milers aid-station!! Photo Credit: George Ruiz

2015 continues to gain steam as the pages are torn from the calendar. Summer’s kept me pretty busy with a 100 miler in San Diego as soon as the school year finished up. Then it was off to Tahoe for a vacation/Western States double-header. Soon as we got back it was time to prep our new house while packing up the old one. Then a little 50-miler back in Tahoe in July before getting into August and a return to 100-mile training and the start of a new school year. Like The Cars sang about summer, “It’s like a merry-go round.”

Since I’ve yet to actually run the Western States 100, the next best thing was to volunteer for it, and maybe get some good mojo going in my direction. Volunteering with Tahoe Mountain Milers (TMM) running club seemed like the best aid-station for me to work with since these folks are the backbone of the Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Runs, events that continue to be near-n-dear to my heart.

The TMM generator fired up at 5am at our Lyon Ridge aid-station at mile 10 of the Western States 100mi course. The evening prior, a handful of us got to run the 5mi from Lyon Ridge to Red Star Ridge, checking ribbon along the way and soaking in the breathtaking high country. We stayed up pretty late shootin’ the breeze with some brews so the 5am wake-up call was a bit rough, as was sleeping in my poor man’s “altitude tent” at 7000′ in warm temps. Ugh! But when that generator started up, a surge of adrenaline went through me; not because it was time to get up and volunteer but because the gun just went off in Squaw Valley, 10mi to the east of us—the race was underway!!

Front-runners at Lyon Ridge (mi10):  Alex Varner, Seth Swanson, Dylan Bowman, and Rob Krar.

I’d never had the pleasure of being at Western States in any capacity so this year’s been a year of firsts—hitting the training runs in late May, volunteering, and spectating. I definitely got as close to the race as one can without being an official entrant. Typically in June, I’ve been up to my heart-rate monitor in training for TRT100, held in mid-July, so being at States was a big treat for me. In the back of my mind, I always expected my first experience with States would be in the context of athlete rather than side-liner, but that’s how the the cookie crumbled this year. Run Rabbit Run in Sept will be my WS100 for this year. And, of course, I’ll try my hardest to gain entry for the 2016 running.

Snagged this pic of Rob Krar from the Placer High School bleachers after his second Western States win.

Working the Tahoe Mountain Milers’ aid-station was a blast, once again confirming the ultrarunning tribe is the one to which I belong. We had a great time and it was indeed exciting as h*ll to see the best of the best come motoring through our aid-station in the early morn. As the front-runners cruised through, I felt my soul smoothly exit my body and give chase, down-trail, and clear out of sight.

Foresthill, like so many know, is about the 100k point of the race and a great location from which to spectate since you get to see runners on the long stretch of road through the center of town. And d*mn was it hot out. If anything, I got to experience that heat firsthand, and see its effects on runners. Throughout my Western States adventures, I’ve been taking vigorous mental notes, in hopes the learning will come in handy 12 months down the trail.

Catching up with Inside Trail Racing teammate, Luke Garten, at Placer High School. No beer on the field Luke!

After Foresthill, Amanda and I went down to her parent’s place in Loomis and hung out a while. I was pretty wrecked from doing the Montrail 6k Uphill Challenge the day before in Squaw, then running 2hrs the previous evening, staying up late, getting up early, volunteering, and roasting under the afternoon sun in Foresthill. I did, however, feel compelled to get back up to the finish line at Placer High and pay my respects to the top-finishers, as well as hang out with friends. Plus I had to pick up my vacated soul…

Had to stick around to see Hoka teammate, Paul Terranova, seal the deal, and secure his M10. Photo Credit:  Gary Wang

Being at the finish to witness the top men make their way around the Placer High School track to that magical finish line was more powerful than I ever imagined. I soaked up the inspiration and, bonking from my own taxing efforts from the last 36 hours, called it a day and headed on down the road back to Loomis, leading us back to our Tahoe vacation, which had been displaced by the Western States action. My soul reunited with body and mind, the time had come to tear June off the calendar and all mixed emotion that came along with it. It was July and there was things to be done. Set the stage…

I asked Amanda to not spend a ton of $$$ on 6/26 WS2016 raffle tickets while we were bumpin' around Squaw Valley the day before the race. So she bought 125 (up 25 tickets from 2015). And not a winner in the mix. #nausea
I asked Amanda to not spend a ton of $$$ on 6/26 WS2016 raffle tickets while we were bumpin’ around Squaw Valley the day before the race. So she bought 125 (up 25 tickets from 2015). And not a winner in the mix. #nausea
Little Miss Raffle Ticket. Our Post-Western States festivities. Vacation time at this sweet cabin in Lake Tahoe. The R&R did us good.

Having run San Diego 100 in early June, I was still somewhat on the mend by the time States weekend came rolling around. Not my favorite place to be—in limbo land after a 100; and not really dedicated to any real structured training for fear of injury and/or burnout. I wanted to try and truly absorb SD100, while still having enough in the bank to have a decent Tahoe Rim Trail 50mi event in mid-July, before returning to true structured training in August. The plan has worked out pretty d*mn well, as plans go.

Met up with the newlyweds, Evan and Hayley Schmidtke, at Tahoe Mountain Brewing Company. Evan is running Pine to Palm 100 on 9/12. We were staying close by and they were on their honeymoon so it was fun to hook up for some brews quick!

Amanda and I spent some more time relaxing, and binge watching a lot of HGTV shows like “Love It or List It.” before returning back to Sonoma County and starting the early stages of the moving process. Vacation went by too fast but I was getting fired up for TRT50. Always exciting thinking about that next event on the horizon…

The final steps of the Tahoe Rim Trail 50. Photo Credit:  Scotty Mills

With San Diego 100 in early June and Run Rabbit Run in mid-September, I found myself nursing a serious case of FOMO around mid-May, regarding the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) runs in mid-July—a seemingly great time to squeeze in a hard 50-miler. From a training standpoint, I just wanted to use TRT 50mi as a means to an end—maintaining my race/base fitness for the 100mi training coming in August. The 50 gave me the opportunity to see this great event from a lot of different perspectives.

Since I was recovering from San Diego 100, naturally, I couldn’t put in the specific prep for a 50-miler that I would otherwise. I figured I could get away with running this tough 50 on SD100 fitness as well as some scattered quality efforts I’d conducted between SD100 and TRT50.

Having run TRT100 four times, it was certainly a treat to only have to make one loop of this challenging course. I showed up early to the start and saw the 100-milers off in the dark, being somewhat nostalgic for my runs in yesteryear. An hour later we were off in the 50mi and I zoomed up the trails with the two leaders of the 55k. Why not? I’m just out here to have fun, and keep my mental game sharp. I can keep this pace up, right?

Cruising through Tunnel Creek. One of the best and most robust aid-stations in ultrarunning. Photo Credit: Scotty Mills

I’d let the 55k guys lead me up the climbs, but I’d reel them in on the descents. When we got to Tunnel Creek around mi12, I grabbed a fresh bottle of VitargoS2 and dropped down into the Red House loop, checking my pace only to realize I’d set my Suunto to current pace rather than average pace. I still felt good so just kept on turning over. This resulted in a Strava CR for the Red House section, I was to discover when I uploaded my race a few days later. I more than paid the price for this early speed, later on, starting up the ski slope at Diamond Peak at mile 30. The wheels—they were a comin’ off. It was a grind all back down to the finish at Spooner. Upon finishing, RD George Ruiz pointed out that my 8:09 finish time was only a minute faster than my 50mi split in the 100 from the year before. I’d been loosely shooting to best the 50mi course-record of 7:52 set by Thomas Reiss in 2008. I’d even talked with Thomas about his TRT50 CR at Foresthill during Western States about how fast he thought I should be able to run it. We both agreed 7:30 was possible. That was if I was in top form, which I wasn’t.

In hindsight, I see only contrast between an B-priority race compared to an A-Pri event. We can’t always be sharpened to that A-pri point. The edge dulled as I cut through San Diego 100 and the subsequent recovery. I raced TRT50 like I’d raced any 50mi in the last 12 months. I felt, to some degree, that San Diego was still with me, and the last 20mi sucked bad. In the end I imagined the suffering giving me an edge in the final 20mi of my next 100 in September. And to some degree, it will. And, if things pan out in 2016, perhaps I’ll take another crack at that TRT50 CR. I think I can get it if I play my cards well over June, July, and into Angeles Crest in August. And, as I write this, perhaps that wouldn’t be such a wise idea…

Shane James, snagging his sub-30 buckle at Tahoe Rim Trail 100 in July.
Shane James, snagging his sub-30 buckle at Tahoe Rim Trail 100 in July.

When Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Runs volunteer coordinator, Kati Bell, ask me if I’d pace her beau, Shane, in the 100, I thought she was off her rocker. I told her it wasn’t that I didn’t want to but that I couldn’t guarantee I’d be in any shape to pace after racing the 50. She basically said I’d be fine and it would be fun. Since I’d run the 100 a bunch of times, wanted to put Shane in the best of hands. I got it. So, finishing up the 50 around 2pm, I licked my wounds and found my way back up to Diamond Peak at mile 80, to hang out, cheer the 100mi runners through this tough part of the race, and wait for Shane to come through.

Back in June, Shane was one of the runners who I ran the 10mi with from Lyon to Red Star Ridge and back when we were both volunteering over States weekend, so we’d gotten to know each other a bit. I’ve never met an Aussie I didn’t like!

On Diamond Peak, I was in store for more inspiration in the form of runners starting their ascent up this notorious ski slope. At various points during the evening, I started up the big hill with a handful of friends—and strangers—until the caffeine wore off and I had to take a nap in the back of my Subaru from about 1-3am. Upon rising, the lodge at Diamond Peak was all hustle-n-bustle. I connected with so many folks I normally only get to interact with on social media, so super fun just hanging out with the tribe here at what’s been a very magical spot for me in my year’s running TRT100, adding to the many great memories.

Shane came in with his pacer in good spirits, eager to start the climb. I gave my car to his former pacer to drive back down to the finish at Spooner. She’d done a great job pacing him over the last 30mi. I chased Shane up Diamond Peak, catching him about 3/4 of the way up. My legs were pretty trashed from the 50, but it was cool sharing the mountain with folks in the 100 who were slaying their demons and getting the job done.

By the time we reached Bullwheel, back on top of the ridge line, the sun was coming up. We were moving well and it was a treat getting to run on the beautiful Tahoe Rim Trail in the early morning. I ran into John Trent and Lon Monroe back at Tunnel, ordered a coffee-to-go at Hobart, and took in the breathtaking views on Snow Valley Peak. We encouraged runners as we passed them, and a few hung with us for quite long whiles as we maintained good momentum to the finish. Ultimately, I’m grateful it’s impossible to say no to Kati Bell, psyched about my first pacing experience, and that Shane’s one tough Aussie, who achieved his goal of running under 30hrs—he’s got the belt buckle to prove it.

k Back at home, we sealed the deal on our first home. Although a ton of work, it couldn’t have come at a better time, me being out of school and in between TRT50 and the training for Run Rabbit Run. So, we cranked out the prep and move into our new place and are jazzed with how things continue to come together. It’s only about a mile from where we were living and it’s nice to finally own a home in our beloved Sonoma County. Just 10 years back, after picking SoCo off the US map as the place I’d like to call home, I’d arrived broke as h*ll after graduate school, and ended up renting a room from a hypnotherapist. I’d go four and a half years without a car while getting my teaching career of the ground. Endurance events have been the thread through my life since leaving the Navy in 1998. Gotta keep it goin’! >>>

Centrally located, our new place gives me three local parks to train on trail throughout the work-week, while offering great long run locations 25mi to the north and south, like Lake Sonoma and Sugar Loaf Ridge State Park respectively. And the house is just a 15min walk to my classroom, but not on top of my school like our last place—too close for comfort! Those school bells and alarms going off at all times of the night were making us crazy.

With Healdsburg Running Company's James McCanne, after his Boston Marathon Qualifier at last weekend's Santa Rosa Marathon. Photo Credit: Ruby Barzaga
With Healdsburg Running Company’s James McCanne, after his Boston Marathon Qualifier at last weekend’s Santa Rosa Marathon. Photo Credit: Ruby Barzaga

Coaching continues to keep me on my toes. I continue to enjoy working with highly motivated adults on pursuing their racing dreams. Having coaching in the mix keeps me plugged in to effective training/racing strategies and has definitely helped me evolve in a number of ways. I really enjoy the relationships I have with the athletes I have the pleasure of coaching. It’s a natural extension of my passion for education, and in this context, my students are all very motivated to learn—a teacher’s dream!

Ready or not, here they come!

And just like that, another school year’s begun. 130+ names to learn and new Common Core math curriculum to become familiar with and effectively teach. Life is never boring. About three weeks in, I’m thoroughly enjoying my new batch of 6th graders. After 10 years working with them, I still never tire of working in their company. I’ve always felt that teaching keeps my running fresh while running keeps my teaching fresh. And the daily grind to bring my A-game to my five classes—especially in the midst of 100mi run training—must count for something, in specific regards to the mental fortitude required late in ultras. I have to believe it.

Two-week training block for Run Rabbit Run 100. August 2015. We reap what we sow.

Q_ RRRprofileAnd here it is, September already. Run Rabbit Run 100 just 13 days out, my second 100 miler of 2015. Things are looking good. I’m much happier with how this prep’s gone as compared to my Pine to Palm 100 prep last August, when I was coming off TRT100. Last August, I just couldn’t motivate. TRT100 shelled me. This year, with San Diego at the beginning of June, and July’s TRT50 to maintain an edge, August, even with the positive stressors of buying a house and starting a new school year, went surprisingly well, with only a couple meltdowns here and there, for good measure. I’m pretty happy with putting up 100+ mile weeks with 25,000′ of gain each week while doing some quality cross-training to boot. S_40miler_12

The long hill intervals on Tuesdays may be my least favorite session, but the physical and mental strength derived from a handful of these workouts will pay off in Colorado on Sept. 18th. My mantra for each of my 8-10 seven min intervals is “make this one count.” In the midst of an interval, I’m constantly asking myself, “Does this suck?” If the effort doesn’t suck I’m not pushing hard enough. This is the only session for which I’m using my HRM. I see HR in the high 140s starting off, then in the 150’s for the majority of the workout, then, if I’m feeling strong, I’ve been able to push into the mid-high 160’s. Always a balancing act during these quality sessions to effectively preserve the future and not compromise the quality of the tempo session on Thursday.

Thursday tempo has evolved to flat trail surface at a local park where the entire focus is on tempo-specific speed. This is not a threshold run but rather a Zone 3 effort, whereas the Tues hill session is mostly Zone 4. I think of it as 50k race intensity. That’s what it feels like to me. Obviously it’s a dramatically different stress on the body than is the hill session, and the weekend, Zone 2 long runs for that matter.

Weekends were made for long runs. And depending on the event for which I’m training, I’ll mix up the locations to place me on trail that most characterizes the upcoming event. In this case, I’ve found myself at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park—adjacent to Hood Mountain Regional Park—most Sundays. It’s all ups-n-downs here, so hoping the time spent here will be a my lucky rabbit’s foot in Colorado.

I’m fond of referring to Sunday as my “proper” long run, whereas Saturday, just 48hrs post-tempo, is my “fun” long run, where I like to hit my Warm Springs loop at Lake Sonoma to see where my legs are. On Friday’s after work, I’m usually pretty frazzled, so after a relaxing Friday evening, and sleeping in on Saturday morning, the weekend long runs have been going very very well. I’ve been enjoying ever-new sensations on the trail, while dialing in my 100mi process. Still some finishing touches, but I’m about as ready as I’m going to be.

Hypoxico altitiude equipment. A twist on my 100 race-prep.
A twist on my 100 race-prep. #altitude

Having talked with a buddy who’s done Run Rabbit Run 100 a few times, I took to heart his experience of suffering through the final 20mi of this race, all above 10,000′ and losing places because all he could do was power-hike or walk due to the high elevation. Curious—as both athlete, coach, and science teacher—I figured it’d be a good idea to give Hypoxico altitude equipment a try. About five weeks in now, using both the tent and the mask for intermittent hypoxic training, or IHT sessions, I’m optimistic the equipment’s going to help put me on an even playing field with athletes who live, train, and race at much higher elevation than I do living at sea-level.

While really taking to the IHT sessions on the bike trainer, the tent’s been a whole different story, but only because the summertime temps have made sleep difficult and it’s generally best to have sleep temps between 68-72deg. We’ve rigged up a variety of cooling hacks and overall, I’ve been very consistent with both tent and mask. Now that the run training’s in the bank, I’ll be doubling down on the IHT sessions, to further optimize my acclimatization. At least I won’t be going into mile 80 without having done anything to help me deal with the altitude effects. It’ll suck regardless. But hopefully, the body will be better equipped to deal with the high elevation.

The Run Rabbit Run 100 hare division is shaping up!! Course-record holder, Jason Schlarb is returning this year along with Run Rabbit veterans, Nick Clark, Duncan Callahan, Timmy Olson, and Josh Arthur. Other familiar names include Jacob Puzey and young-gun Jared Hazen, who was just 3rd place overall at Western States in June. The women’s field is equally stout if not more so, with the likes of Michele Yates and Nikki Kimball toeing the line.

This will be the most competitive field I’ve run with for 100mi. I’ve got enough 100mi experience to know how to shoot myself in the foot and have a sh*tty final 50k. I hope to not suffer that result, so I’ve tried to do everything I can, given my busy reality, to ensure I have a strong race, ’cause God knows how many more fast 100s I’ve got left in these 41y/o bones. I’d love to execute as close to perfect as possible while knowing that doing so at a 100-miler you’ve never run, is more than a little unlikely. But, if you listen to your body and run your own d*mn race, you might just find yourself in the mix with 20 to go. And that’s what it’s all about for me—I wanna be in the mix, for just a little while longer…

Parting Shot: Raced TRT50 and then paced a buddy in the 100. Who says we get smarter with age? ;-)
Parting Shot: Raced TRT50 and then paced a buddy in the 100. Who says we get smarter with age? 😉

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!