2018 Western States 100

Well, you know what my dad always said, ‘Having dreams is what makes life tolerable.'”  –Rudy (1993)

I’ve been an athlete my entire life. A wild childhood of rippin’-n-tearin’ around my neighborhood, either on foot, or on my bike, paved the way for a lifetime of adventure. I’m happiest when I moving. I’m an athlete today, and I’ll still be an athlete thirty years from now. To quote Dr. George Sheehan, “Running is my self-renewing compulsion.” We’re made to move. Daniel E. Lieberman, a paleoanthropologist at Harvard University says we evolved to move over vast distances, in pursuit of prey. With a superior cooling, i.e., sweat, system as compared to other mammals, homo sapiens evolved to be the ultimate endurance creature. So cool. Still, modernity makes it tough to take Emerson’s advice, “First, be a good animal.” Eat well, sleep well, and exercise. Knowing and doing are often two very separate things. “Compared with what we ought to be,” wrote Henry James, “we are only half awake.”

Running and racing, then, gives us a context to want to become fully awake. To be the best animal we can be; to get out there, moving gracefully over uneven terrain with both speed and power. In a race, we get to experience something so primal—the thrill of the hunt, juxtaposed with the the terror of being chased down by a predator. Running also represents a temporary escape from the confines of modernity; it’s freedom; if only for an hour a day. Indeed, if you run, you know that the compulsion—although an investment in both time and energy—allows us to live at the top of our powers, allowing us to give more of ourselves to our work and others. I like to say it’s the closest thing we have to the fountain of youth. “Running may not add years to your life,” wrote Sheehan, “but it will add life to your years.”

I’ve had dreams my entire life. Many dreams have come to pass and some haven’t. But like Pete said in the movie, Rudy, “Having dreams is what makes life tolerable,” and more interesting for that matter. When pursued in earnest, they put us in situations that are inevitably uncomfortable. When there’s struggle; there’s change; there’s learning. And, there’s growth. It’s not linear though. Success in running is messy stuff. It’s full of ups and downs. Preparation. After narrowly earning my golden ticket into the Western States 100 at Georgia Death Race (GDR) on March 31st (race-report), I took a couple weeks off, let a cranky rib and ankle heal up, and volunteered again at Lake Sonoma 50. From there I jumped back into training mode. GDR had given me a nice template to build upon for “States.” The trick, as it always is for an A-priority event, is getting as fit as you possibly can but without getting injured. And that’s no easy task, when your dream is going Top-10 at 44 years young. 

My longest outing for GDR had been a successful 50mi training run at Lake Sonoma, with 10,000’+ of gain; roughly the same elevation change per mile as Western States itself. I’d done this same run four weeks out from GDR and found, in that race, I could keep going to the well late in the going, so I was excited to try and duplicate this fitness for States. Instead of doing it four weeks out though, I thought it wise to play it a bit more conservative, and do this monster training effort five weeks out from Western States (the log below shows my training block). This was my best 100mi prep yet while working full-time as a teacher and part-time as a running coach. Week after week, I’d grind it out and was happy with the culminating performance. Based on this work and all the discipline that went into it, I figured I deserved to have a strong race. Five weeks to go…

June hit and I was pretty shelled from the training but also concluding what was my most challenging year as a teacher. To a fair degree, I was emotionally drained. But, I still had plenty of time to bounce back! Volume was dramatically reduced and I did a few sharpening sessions. Every day a trip to the sauna to prep for the heat at States. Every evening an AltoLab session to prep for the elevation in the high country. On June 10th, I had a great run at Hood Mountain in Santa Rosa, 14mi with 4000′ of gain. It felt a little too great. In the back of my mind I remember thinking, “you’re peaking too early.” Perhaps, perhaps not. “It’s better to come in 10% under-trained,” as the saying goes, “than 1% over-trained.” The fear of failing to get to the start line healthy, having earned a golden ticket into the race, still weighed heavy on my mind. Come hell or high water, I’ll arrive to the start line fresh!

The Race. Fresh indeed. The morning of the race I was pretty chill. We had a vacation rental in Tahoma and made the 30min pilgrimage to the start-line in Squaw Valley. Two years had gone by since I’d last toed the line. What even happened in that race? It was a new day. A new opportunity. Let’s see what it has in store for me. 5am: Go-time!

I didn’t feel bad ascending to Watson’s Monument at almost 9000′. As with GDR, I again chose to not wear a watch and just go off feel. I would hold back to the degree necessary to keep my breathing and heart-rate in check, “preserve the future,” and run as steady and controlled as I could.

The early miles. “Everybody’s fast when it’s easy.” — Photo Credit: Facchino Photography.

It was great rolling through Lyon Ridge at mile 10 and seeing everyone from Tahoe Mountain Milers, the fine folks that put on Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Runs. Then it’s over to Red Star Ridge where I dropped my arm-warmers and grabbed some more nutrition.

High country running. Followed by Chris Brown, Kyle Pietari, “CTS(?),” and Michael Owen, I believe. — Photo Credit: Facchino Photography (???)

At Duncan Canyon (and at least one other aid-station), I was psyched to get crewed by the pros—Paul and Meredith Terranova. I’m on HOKA ONE ONE with Paul and we’ve raced each other quite a few times over the years so we’re all friends. Frustratingly, Paul had to bow out of Western States the day before the race due to stress fracture in his femur. Crazy, right?! The silver [buckle] lining was that his spot went to a runner on the waitlist, Sean O’Connor, who despite getting in just one day before, ended up going 22:55:49. Amazing!

Sean O’Connor and Paul Terranova. Sean (and his fitness) made the trip out from NJ, hoping he’d get off the waitlist. PS: I like those HOKA Slides, brother!

On the way to Robinson Flat, at mile 30, the plan was to take in a couple GU Stroopwafels, a few GU gels, and a sleeve of GU Chews. I started with a water-only bottle and would bring a second bottle into play at Robinson, one with Roctane “Summit Tea” energy drink. Also at Robinson, I’d grab my BUFF cooling sleeves and my ice-bandana. This seemed like a good plan. I wanted to lay down a foundation of calories early, while I was fresh and the belly was happy. Going with water-only and all de-caffeinated GU products for the first 30 seemed like the smart play since I wanted to delay the use of caffeine until later when it would pack a bigger punch, but I also wanted to be nice to my body—my stomach in particular—and not get to Robinson, already jacked up on Roctane and possibly be pushing too hard too early.

Cruising in the high country. — Photo Credit: Facchino Photography

I wanted to enjoy running in the high country more than I was. There was no point in my run on June 23rd where I was feeling like the running was light and easy. It felt too much like work and I kept backing off the intensity to the degree that would keep my breathing in check. Perennial top-10er, Ian Sharman, was already up ahead and out of sight. My masters compadres, Jeff Browning and Jesse Haynes, were in front of me as well. Jesse was only a minute or two up on the way over to Robinson and I continued to get glimpses of him all morning. I was already on the back of the lead bus but still running my own race. Given the work in the bank, I should be able to bridge up later. Just stay positive. “Feed the good wolf.”

Smile for the camera. — Photo Credit: Let’s Wander Photography

At Robinson I was grateful to see my crew for the first time and soak in the energy from all the people there. It’s just amazing. It was warming up and was sure to get my cooling sleeves and bandana on. I took off from the aid-station and soon realized I was missing a bottle. Whoops. I’d grabbed my Roctane bottle but forgot my water-only bottle. I needed both! I jogged back and quickly snagged it from my crew. I lost a minute. No big deal. Good wolf…

Robinson Flat with Louis Secreto. — Photo Credit: Let’s Wander Photography

Robinson Flat, mile 30, with Amanda. — Photo Credit: Let’s Wander Photography

After Robinson, I chatted for a bit with my buddy, Luke Garten, who was out spectating on his mountain bike. I was cruising but still feeling kind of shitty in the high country. Later on, I caught up to Chris Brown (eventual M10) and joked about how much oxygen there was “down here,” since we’d finally descended a few thousand feet. After the race, Chris shared with me that this was a tough patch for him and he just kept me in sight through Miller’s Defeat, Dusty Corners, and Last Chance aid-stations. I can’t remember where he got in front of me, but from what I knew of Chris going into the race, I had a hunch he was going to be competitive late in the going. Look for him to move up in the overall next year!

Back on familiar ground. Going up… #Canyons_100k

After Last Chance, you dive down another 1000′ to Swinging Bridge, which is the first turn-around for The Canyons 100k, an event I’ve done twice, though not this year. Mentally, for me, this is a big milestone inside Western States, since I’m back in more familiar territory, on trails where I’ve historically run well. Mo-jo! Before starting the ascent up Devil’s Thumbs, I submersed myself in the stream at the bottom and just laid there, calm for 10-15 seconds. I remember this moment so clearly. The cool water felt fantastic. So much was still in front of me. Anything was possible.

Step into the ring, to take another swing. Feeling good coming up Devil’s Thumb.

In both my Western States experiences, I’ve really enjoyed climbing up “The Thumb.” I eventually reeled in women’s leader, Lucy Bartholomew, who went out hot in the early going and the effort seemed to be catching up with her. “Once we’re up on top,” I said, “we have some fun-running after that.” To which she replied, “But it’s all downhill…” She’d catch up with me again, at the bottom of Bath Road, before the Foresthill aid-station, so would a few other runners, like Courtney Dauwaulter, and Zach Bitter, who gave me a quick shout-out. While I was splashing around in the water, they were all streaming by, sites set on cresting Bath Rd. enroute to crashing the party in Foresthill.

My pacer, Louis Secreto, met me climbing up Bath and hands me a cold La Croix. It tastes awesome. The carbonation’s refreshing. I’m in good spirits. Once we’re up top, running down the road to the aid-station, I ask him the time of day. I’m about 45min back from where I was coming through the same point in 2016. I remember being a little disappointed with that but I also knew the wheels had come off on the way down to the river in that race, so I felt confident that since I’d run so much more conservatively this time around, I’d surely be running well, late in the going, this time around.

We cruised through the aid-station then down to where my crew was, where I received the full-service treatment—fresh bottles topped off with ice, a fresh ice-bandana, ice in my arm-sleeves, and cold water on my head, neck and torso. Ready. To. Go.

A hundred yards down Cal Street, I ran through the tunnel of Healdsburg Running Company folks out cheering on all the runners. “Okay, Let’s do this.” Take-#2 from two years ago. “This is gonna be a tough section down to the Rucky Chucky at 78,” I thought to myself, “but you’re gonna manage yourself better this time, get across the river, put on some lighter, faster shoes, and motor it on in.

Rolling through Foresthill, mile 62. In sync with pacer, Louis Secreto. — Photo credit: Bob MacGillivray, Drymax Socks

The Fizzle Reel. I definitely felt better getting down to Cal 1 than I did in 2016. Louis and I are communicating and we’re dialed in, just running aid-station to aid-station. Steady. No surging. I’m drinking iced-down Roctane while using my water-only bottle to pour on my arm-sleeves, face, and neck. I take some sips from the water-only bottle as well. I’m still taking a salt tab after every aid-station.

We roll through Cal 2, where Eric Senseman’s sitting in chair, looking like a prize-fighter 8 rounds deep. “Carnage,” I’m thinking. “I definitely don’t wan’t any of that action.” We’re clear of Cal 2, running along, when Karl, “The Speedgoat,” Meltzer goes bounding by and says “Keep it up! We’re almost home.” Speedgoat’s a competitive dude and this is the second time in the last year I’ve had the honor of racing him in a 100-miler. I’m patient though and let him go. He was running the downhills better than I was. Later, I’d start to catch back up on the climbs. After Cal 3, we moved by him. I thought, for good.

Lucy was still up ahead. She’d wisely taken more time in Foresthill. She’d gone by us with pacer, Sally McCrae. When I was feeling good we’d inch back up to her. I told Louis, we’d just hang out and not pass them since they’d probably pass us back. Let’s get beyond the river before we start thinking about getting in the passing lane. Stephanie Howe Violett goes cruising by. “Well,” I remember thinking, “The ladies are really crushing it today.”

About a mile out from Rucky Chucky aid at mile 78, we’re finally next to the river and I stop and throw up. It’s all liquid—always a pleasant vomiting experience! I’m thinking, “Wow, that kinda came outta nowhere, but no worries, I’ll “puke-n-rally” and get back to it. I felt like this was good timing—just about to the river. I’d simply reset, get across and still have about an hour and a half of daylight running to go. I was justifiably optimistic, given my experience with the puke-n-rally “method.” I resume taking little sips off my bottles. The sun though… Ugh… It felt like kryptonite on Superman. Soon I had to stop and bomb again. Uh-oh...

Arrival at Rucky Chucky aid-station, aka: “The River.” Mile 78. Check-Engine light’s ON.

I made it to the damn river… I’m still committed to my race-plan, but the 16 miles on Cal St. have shredded me like parmesan cheese on a grater. I’m more depleted than I should be. I just need to reset. I’ve been here before…

Wretch Fest 2018. W.T.F. — Photo Credit: Swiss Ultra Trail

Beware the chair. Louis is running around getting stuff for me. So is Amanda. Medical folks check in with me. I’m sucking pretty bad. I try to take in some water, saltines, and the like, only to puke everything back up and dry-heave all over again. Things aren’t improving. After an hour or so, the cot’s looking increasingly appealing. Runner’s are catching up, moving through the aid-station, and the sun slowly sets. Amanda’s wrapped me up in blankets on the cot. From the outside looking in, it looks pretty hopeless. But sitting there, in my head, I go to the cookie jar…

In my first 100 miler at Tahoe Rim Trail in 2009, I pushed the pace on the front with Erik Skaden until my belly stopped processing at about mile 50 and I started puking. By 67, I was a worthless pile of shit. The crew at Tunnel Creek nursed me back to life, then coached me back onto the damn trail. Later, I’d come bounding back through the same aid-station, charging forth to an eventual 6th place finish in 22:44, even after the 3-hour ordeal at Tunnel. That’s a cookie you pull out and eat when things get real.

So, even though it looked pretty bad at the river, I knew, it was just a matter of time before I’d turn a corner, keep some calories down, and move on with my day. No doubt, it was a really craptastic place to be—you’re 78mi into Western States and you’ve been stuck at the river for some two hours already, barfing, and generally hating life. The sun’s going down, you’re wrapped up in a bunch of blankets on a cot, daydreaming about resuming your vacation with your wife up in Tahoe, all the while knowing the only way out of this suck-fest, is through, to the goddamn finish in Auburn.

And it’s not like I just have to get up, give some high fives, and start walking outta there. Noooo, I gotta strap on a life-jacket and cross the cold-ass river… in my pathetic, emaciated state. To the same degree that I’m trying to recover and get my belly back, I’m also slowly mustering the courage to do it—Cross. The. F_____g. River.

Castle Peak 100k, Tahoe 200 champ, and good friend, Suzanna Bon rolls in to the aid-station and jump-starts my incipient resurrection. She’s got pacing duties but sees me laying on my cot and her eyes get big. I almost pull my space-blanket up over my head and hide. She runs over on a mission, ripping my security blankets off, giving me the tough love I asked her to give me the day before (why oh why did I do that?!).

I try. Suzanna’s soon off, shouting words of encouragement, as she’s crossing the river with her runner. Okay, gotta do this. I’m on my hands-n-knees again and—again—fill a plastic bag full of my stomach contents. But, I can tell things are turning around. Amanda finds Ken “All Day” Michel and asks him to have a little chat with me. Talk about the right guy in the right place! Ken’s not messing around. More tough love. He coaches me on how I’m going to get through this nightmare. I take two Pepto tabs then and there. He hands me a ziploc baggie full of Jolly Ranchers.

Note: I still loathe Jolly Ranchers from my high school wrestling days, sucking on them, spitting in a bottle, while in the sauna, in my sweats, all to lose weight for an upcoming match. I don’t bring it up with Ken. I want him to keep talking so I can stay at the aid-station a little longer. Ken seems to catch on that I’m basically just procrastinating at this point, so he—and everyone else—are now willing me to get my weary bones up and moving once more. It’s kind of like this beater car I had in high school that my friends would have to push, get it rolling, I’d pop the clutch and we’d be off. Everything seems to have come full circle. Except when I was this sick in high school, it wasn’t from running excessive miles in the heat. Although the hangover’s are just as bad now.

I don’t know about this Louis… You look WAY too excited, buddy. Why’s everyone SO goddamn happy? I’m gonna go back up and get some more broth, okay? I need to see if Ken has anymore watermelon Jolly Ranchers. Be right back! — Photo Credit: Helen Martin

The water level was pretty low by the time I actually started crossing. They regulate the flow on race-day and it only ever came up to about my waist. Thank God. I’m such a baby when it comes to cold water. If it weren’t for wetsuits, I wouldn’t have spent ten years in triathlon. No way. We get across the river to my drop-bag where I have a fresh pair of HOKA Torrents waiting to go, you know, the ones I planned to put on three hours ago, so I could run a quick final 20 miles to the finish. “Dude,” I told Louis, “Those shoes aren’t gonna make any difference at this point.” I’m sticking with the Speedgoats I have on. Let’s just go. Rucky Chucky erupts in cheers as we depart. I’m grateful for them and to be moving once more.

Pulling ourselves out of the belly of the beast. — Photo Credit: Helen Martin (???)

It’s a long slog up to Green Gate in the dark. I’m sucking on the hard candy and taking sips of water. My engine’s shot though. I just need to be patient. At Green Gate the only thing that looks remotely appealing is watermelon. Louis gets me some slices and we jam them into my vest pockets. We’re off. There’s a lot of walking involved. I start taking in the watermelon. Soon, we’re back to jogging. It’s good. My spirits lift. We’re talking and I’m cracking jokes. We start talking about breaking 24 hours. Silver buckle, baby! It looks totally doable. Eventually I run out of watermelon and am reduced to a walk once more. Walk. Walk. Walk. The belly’s talkin’ to me. Stomach’s doing its best. I’m belching a lot whenever I try to run. I chew up a couple Tums and chase them with some water. Better. Relentless forward progress…

Finally, we arrive to Auburn Lake Trails. I’m kind of pissed that after all the damn work to get here and I’m greeted at ALT with a sign reading, “Mile 85.” Holy. F*cking. Sh*t. This is taking forever. Louis loads me up with more watermelon this time. I’m reluctant to leave but breaking 24 is still the objective. The long slog to Quarry Rd. (mile 91) begins. “Aid-station to aid-station.” That was the plan going in. Just break up the daunting distance into more manageable pieces. As we’re walking and I’m melon munching, I start pretending I’m just out on a long hike, like on the Pacific Crest Trail or something. Hiking’s slow. But people do it. And they go long distances! I got this. There’s less and less jogging. More and more people are passing us. We ride a train of 24 hour folks until I eventually get spit out the back. It was fun while it lasted. I run out of watermelon. Where are those contemptible “Jolly” Ranchers?!

At Quarry Rd., Louis comes back from the aid-station table with a gallon ziploc of watermelon. “Is this enough?!” “That should do it,” I laugh. I grab it and stuff it in the back of my vest. Motor on. Step off the trail. Let pacers with runners-in-tow shuffle by. Try not to get sick. Pockets of warm air have us shed clothing while pockets of cold reduce me to shivering until I have to put my jacket on again. The waxing moon’s setting behind the mountains.

Pointed Rocks with Amanda and my patient crew. Mile 94. I’m not the only one cracking jokes…

It was great to see Amanda and Linn at Pointed Rocks. By this point it was all about just getting the job done. I hear an aid-station volunteer shout over, “You have an hour to break 24. You can do it!” I wholeheartedly appreciated the encouragement and vote of confidence and offer a thumbs-up. But, there’s no way in hell that’s happening, given my physical state. I’d be hard-pressed to run 10min miles to the track when I was fresh, given all the climb up to Auburn. On the way out of Pointed Rocks, I hear Amanda shout, “If it doesn’t take courage, it’s not worth doing!” A calm determination is restored.

Headlamps go off, the sun comes up, and we slog it over to No Hands Bridge. I stumble down to the aid-station. I don’t want to sit. I just want to get this done so we can all just go the hell to sleep. Amanda joins us for a memorable stroll across the iconic Western States 100 milestone. We stop and take in the view. “Okay, let’s go,” I mutter, “before I start to cry.” No thoughts of jumping off No Hands enter my mind. It’s a good sign.

Fumes. — Photo Credit: Louis Secreto

A few runners catch up and pass here and there as we make our ascent to Robie Point and into the town of Auburn, on our way to the finish line at Placer High School track. I look back occasionally to see if Scott Mills, a venerated veteran ultrarunner, and race-director for the San Diego 100, on his mission to complete his 18th Western States 100, is behind us. I know he’s back there, gettin’ the job done somewhere. Inspired at the thought, I shuffle upward with a bit more gusto. We crest Robie and my crew joins back in. I’d said to hell with eating anything hours ago. My crew of course, wants me to start jogging. I do want to finish with some dignity. We hit the track and I feel happy to be there. I jog it in and hear Andy Jones-Wilkins on the mic sharing some of my trials-n-tribulations at the river. He’d been down there with me, with words of encouragement. With 10 Western States finishes himself, I was proud to look up and see him step out of the booth and give me a thumbs up and flash that big AJW smile. It wasn’t the day I’d dreamed of, but I had one helluva adventure out there!

Sweet relief! At the Placer High School track in good ol’ Auburn, Calfornia.

Up for 31 hours and she looks fresh as a daisy. I love you Amanda! Thanks for putting up with a different bunch o’ bull today. We’re officially back on “vacation.” — Photo Credit: Gary Wang (thanks for all the great shots Gary! Especially this one).

Perspective. Hindsight, always being 20/20, I can only imagine what I will do differently next year, should I find a way back in. First off, I feel like I need to race once or twice more before the big day. I know my fitness responds well to races; they put the tiger in the cat! I had it in my head that I needed to be more conservative with racing and just slog out the lonely miles in training, and stay injury free. It worked for GDR. I’m wondering how things would have gone had I raced Canyons 100k at the end of April and/or Silver State 50mi in May. I think this would’ve kept me a little more in touch with my fitness going into June. I’m in the process of reconciling my fear of injury going into big races. If I want to perform to my potential and be aggressive on race-day, I can’t start tapering 5 weeks out from the event. To be certain, half the battle is showing up healthy. I’m great at doing that, in most instances.

Still, there’s two sides to every coin. Had I raced and gotten injured, there would’ve been no 2018 Western States 100. I would hands down prefer to have the experience I got rather than have had no experience at all. This was only my second time at States. It’s not like I have a decade’s worth of cherished memories from the event. The big positive from my crash-n-burn experience is that I connected with so many people in my lowest moments. Ultrarunning’s humbling. If you can’t laugh at yourself, you’re not going to be around very long.

Fall down 7 times, stand up 8. Six-time Ironman Hawaii champ, Dave Scott, is famous for saying “Do the training that gives you the confidence you need on race day.” I look back now on to a successful Tahoe Rim Trail 100mi in 2014, I’d been super aggressive with my spring build up, doing Marin Ultra Challenge 50mi, Lake Sonoma 50mi, and Silver State 50mi. Feeling invincible, I kick off my first training week in June, seven weeks out, with a 190-mile week. I’m not suggesting I’ll be going bonkers like that again, but reminiscing on that time, I do recall how confident I was on the start-line of the 100-miler in mid-July. Healthy, sustainable, training and racing is, of course, all about balance. Life looks different than it did back in 2014. I’ve avoided burnout and love competing now more than ever. Since that time, I’ve been knocked around quite a bit. I’ve climbed back in the ring, time and time again. Failure’s been one helluva great teacher. And man, are they right when they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. In more ways than one!

In the mix. As I look ahead to Run, Rabbit, Run 100 in Sept, I imagine myself not sucking there. For all the wonderful, kind words from friends and so many strangers on my experience from Western States this year, it’s my feeling that sponsors aren’t impressed, in the least bit. I get it. I do. And I want to continue earning the privilege of having their support. There’s nothing like a bad race to show you exactly what you need to work on moving forward.

This month I’m jumping into some shorter races, to work on my speed, and I have to say, it feels damn good to race all out after only training for and racing ultra distances this year. Last Saturday in the Marin Headlands, I had the great fortune to battle a couple of guys for 30km (18.6mi) and surprised myself with how strong I was after absorbing a lackluster Western States, not to mention almost two restful weeks up at elevation. It was such a thrill and was the perfect way to reset after States. We pushed each other so hard, two of us went under the course-record set back in 2012, with 3rd place just seconds outside the CR. Fierce and fearless. I want to get back to that kind of mindset, all while keeping the ego in check and listening to the body when it’s telling me to rest.

I’ll continue to use racing to help me sharpen my fitness for Run Rabbit in September. The big test, which I hope to pass, will be Castle Peak 100k, four weeks out from Run Rabbit. Castle Peak, with it’s inspiring tag line, “Facing the brunt of fate. Indomitable. Unafraid.” With the base I’ve laid this year, some shorter, fast stuff in July, I’ll have time for a quick build for Castle Peak, but nothing long enough to dull my edge. Ultimately, Castle Peak will be a training race for the 100mi just four weeks later so I want to practice my refined process from States so I go into Run Rabbit firing on all four cylinders. I’ll do well in the overall, but I’m going in with zero outcome goals. I want to experience the course, race at elevation, and build some monster fitness for September.

Press. Here’s some fun digital artifacts from my Western States experience. I’m grateful to Kerry Benefield, from the Press Democrat for covering my journey from beginning to end. She did a great job capturing the spirit of the event. I’m equally grateful to Eric Schranz and Sarah Lavender Smith for having me on UltraRunnerPodcast after the race. Not that I like having shitty races, but I’ve gotten a lot of messages from people saying how much they enjoyed the episode because of what went down. It got real out there. And it sucked pretty damn bad those last 22 miles. If there’s a next year, I hope I’m back to being “boring,” and have little else to say other than, “I felt great after the river.”

Press Democrat article, by Kerry Benefield. Pre-Western States 100. 6/21/18. 

Press Democrat follow-up, by Kerry Benefield, Post-Western States 100. 6/27/18.

URP:  Bob Shebest  |  Everyone Has a Plan Until It Falls Apart – 6/28/18

A heartfelt note of appreciation to my beautiful and highly supportive wife/agent, Amanda. I love you mucho! FYI: Here’s Amanda’s Essential Oils Facebook page. You should definitely contact her and get yourself some Deep Blue Rub for your weary post-race legs. It’s the bomb. I’ve been using it for years!  |  Special thanks to Linn Secreto for teaming up with Amanda to crew. I really appreciate it. Sorry to keep your man out all damn night, “partying.”  |  HUGE thanks to Louis Secreto for pacing me, yet again, at Western States. We’ll always have Pine to Palm 2015. And yes, I know, I owe you A LOT of beer.  |  High-Tens to all the volunteers at this year’s Western States 100, especially you fine folks down at the Rucky [up]Chucky aid-station. I knew I’d get outta there, eventually. Thank you!!  |  Thanks to all the athletes I coach who inspire me with their passion and dedication to this crazy sport. #point_positive  |  Thank you to HOKA ONE ONE for producing the best trail shoes out there—#Speedgoat_2 #EVO_Mafate #timetofly   |  Thanks Healdsburg Running Company for the HUGE cheers along the way. You guys CRUSHED it in Foresthill. That was amazing! |  Thanks to Jeff Boggess from Trail Butter for sending out some yummy goodness before the race. I love using Trail Butter right before a long run or event. Amazing flavors. Slow burning calories!  |  Much gratitude to Casey Rolig from BUFF USA. Those cooling sleeves are the bomb.com  |   Thanks to Drymax Sports, for the sweet Hayden Hawks signature edition socks. Those socks inside my Speedgoats, I never had any foot issues (and I was out there a while, lemme tell ya!)  |  Squirrel Nut Butter. A liberal application at 2:30am on Saturday morning and I never had any chafing issues out there. And that’s saying something at Western States!  |  To the GU crew: My stomach may have revolted at the river but it had everything to do with me and my lofty ambition and nothing to do with my sports nutrition. My 30k CR last Saturday was won on Roctane Summit Tea and 3 little ol’ Roctane GUs. I’m psyched about my nutrition moving forward. #guforit  |  Finally, thanks to Dave Townsend at Santa Rosa Physical Therapy. I haven’t been in to see you in a long while, bud. Let’s keep it that way! It’s good piece of mind knowing you’re out there doing great things for us [over]active folks. Any time my athletes need a PT, you know where I’m sending ’em!

Parting Shot: Until we meet again Western States. Thanks for everything.

2016 Western States 100

headerWith a wink to my wife Amanda from the start line, a shotgun blast was heard and timer started. I’m grateful I did Run Rabbit Run last year, with its uphill start, giving me a better sense of how to negotiate the escarpment here at Western States. I kept tabs on my exertion and heart-rate, but really I was just soaking in the electric energy all around me. Joy alone seemed to buoy me up the mountain and I was sure to take in the panoramic view up on top. I spied the Nevada mountains to the east that cradle my much beloved Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) 100 course that, seven years back, first crushed my body but left an indelible imprint on my soul. I’ve been coming back to the 100 ever since.

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Everybody’s fast when it’s easy. Photo Credit: Paul Nelson Photography

Tahoe Mountain Milers, the folks that host the TRT Endurance Runs, also run the Lyon Ridge aid-station at mile 10.5 here at Western States. I volunteered here a year ago, which led to my gaining entry into this year’s race. So at Lyon it was sweet to see TRT race-director, George Ruiz, and some other folks and give them some quick hugs and high-fives, before continuing on toward Red Star Ridge.

Through Lyon Ridge aid, heart-rate and perceived exertion were right where they should be at this point in a 100-miler. Calories and fluids were going in just fine. I felt calm, relaxed, and simply happy. The Hoka One One Speed Instinct’s were eating up the technical terrain and were quickly proving to be the best shoe for the job. Like Indiana Jones, I had “chosen wisely.”

Click here for my Hoka One One Speed Instinct shoe review

To add some more structure to my race, I’d brought along Mike Morton’s 15:45 masters course-record splits from 2013 (the second hottest WS100 on record). Today was not supposed to be as hot, and if things really came together, who knows, maybe I could get close to his time. Ultimately, I figured, if I ran to my potential I’d arrive at the Placer High School track somewhere in the 16-17hr range.

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Red Star Ridge. It’s all in front of me. Photo Credit: Gary Wang

Rolling into Red Star I was around 14th place and running comfortably. Naturally, I enjoyed the cool morning in the high country. The bliss wouldn’t last all day to be certain. I always think of the TRT race motto: “A Glimpse of Heaven and a Taste of Hell.” Often times that’s the 100mi racing experience in a nutshell. When we do the work in training we usually get more “Heaven” than “Hell,” but there are no guarantees, especially if you’re working to your potential. A quote I used all through my run here at Western was, “Embrace the pain and use it to fuel your journey.”

Down to Duncan Canyon, with about a quarter of the race already completed, I was happy to already find myself right where I wanted to be—right around 10th place and no worse for wear. I remember arriving to the aid-station, people everywhere. I’d abbreviated all the aid-station names on my pacing chart and was expecting to see Amanda here but looking around I didn’t see her then later realized that this “DC” was Duncan Canyon and not Dusty Corners. Duh. Western States rookie mistake.

For the rest of the morning I was running with or near Ian Sharman and if anybody in the race knows how to run himself up into the Top-10 it’s Ian. Through Robinson Flat and Miller’s Defeat aid-stations I settled and appreciated Ian’s tips on the race, like wanting to push harder at certain points but continuing to exercise restraint (and try to stay upright on the rocky terrain). It was all new to me and yeah, it was hard continuing to hold back and watch my HR drop into the high 120s. But hey, if I can get to Foresthill with an avgHR lower than what I’m used to in 100s, and be in the mix for Top-10, sign me up!

I’d run Canyons 100k seven weeks prior to States and I was excited to get to familiar ground that I’ve recently run. Last Chance dropped me down to the swinging bridge and I had arrived at the Canyons 100k turn-around. Climbing legs were good and this ice-bandana I’d picked up from Amanda earlier was really working out. I had shared with Ian earlier that I was actually feeling cold. He said that was a good thing so I just rolled with it.

The run down to El Dorado Creek wasn’t as fast-n-fun as it was at Canyons 100k, since I was so fresh by comparison (and it was 52 degrees that day). I was in disbelief to discover the 2015 Ultrarunner of the Year, David Laney, at the El Dorado aid-station. We left together. David had volunteered at Canyons and I picked his brain about States. I knew he’d put in a ton of work into this race and by the looks of it took some risks early in the going. And why not? Nothing ventured; nothing gained. We shook hands as we started the climb up to Robinson Flat and I encouraged him to keep pluggin’. He did and we stayed together for the first mile or so. I yelled back some encouragement once more and knew he was likely in for a long slog to Auburn. I hoped he’d gut it out.

I’d moved up to 8th or 9th and that sounded beautiful. Arriving to Michigan Bluff, I was in high spirits and saw two athletes I coach, Louis Secreto and Francisco Benevides. Louis was crewing and pacing for me today. On an absolute high, it was great to see these guys here. And now, only a hop-skip-n-jump to Foresthill. Settle in and relax…

At about 3pm it was getting to be about the warmest part of the day. Arriving at a stream crossing before the climb up Bath Rd. I did what you’re supposed to do at Western States and that’s lie down in the streams. This is the first time in the race where I started feeling the cumulative effects of the day starting to wear on me. I needed to cool off. The primal brain, however, absolutley loathing every second spent stopped while the reasoning centers urging me to remain still. I lasted about 60 seconds and it was time to emerge. And to whom am I greeted, coming up from behind, seemingly licking his chops, just as I start my ascent? Bronco Billy himself—Jeff Browning.

I didn’t know what to expect from Browning at Western States. I knew he’d won HURT 100 in January and was also doing Hardrock 100 a month after States. I wasn’t surprised to see him but I wasn’t happy about it either. He passed me up quickly on the climb with a cordial “Hey Bob.” and he was out of sight pretty quickly. This would be Jeff’s twenty-fourth 100-miler. He got in on a sponsor slot from Altra and from the looks of it, he was making the most of the opportunity, not being phased in the least bit about running Hardrock in July. I stayed within myself and made my way up Bath Rd, where I knew I’d see my pacer for the first time.

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With Jason Riddle (left) and pacer, Louis Secreto. Photo Credit: Melanie Wehan

I’d told Louis before the race, I’d like him to jump in after the river crossing at mile 78, but now, after 100k of rugged trail-running in me, I said “Hey, I’ll probably be faster down to the river if you’re with me. Wanna jump in now?” Louis has huge passion for Western States and the sport and was all-to-happy to start pacing duties early. I was grateful both he and his wife Linn were out here so Amanda wasn’t all by her lonesome all day. They are the best.

Photo Credit: Lorna Doone

Amanda and recent SD100 finisher, Maggie Tides, help cool me off in Foresthill (mile 62). CHILLY!  Photo Credit:  Jenna Ballesteros

Foresthill was absolutely magical. I’d been there a year ago—spectating—for the first time. The energy is palpable. For a lot of runners, Foresthill represents a significant milestone in the race—the point where the push to the finish begins; the infamous run down to the river. I’d pushed this section pretty hard at Canyons 100k, attempting to bank some last-minute quad-crushing descent to prep the legs for States after a frustrating spring nursing a cranky knee back to health. Now was the time to see whether my body would cash the check I wrote in the first 62 miles of the race.

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Amanda, dropping me on Cal St. Photo Credit:  Melanie Wehan

Here at my first Western States there was one true goal and that was Top-10 or bust. I was very reasonable in the first half trying to keep up with Morton’s masters’ record splits. I was down 16min by Foresthill and I didn’t care at all. It gave me some structure early and I’d only stick to them if they happened to align with HR and RPE. I’ve run enough 100s to know that to perform the best you can—on the day—you must run within yourself. By doing so, I stayed cool, processed calories, and most importantly: kept my belly happy. I’ve come to understand that if I’m nauseous and vomiting in an ultra, I’ve put myself in that compromised position by running outside my abilities.

Past the Cal 1 aid-station, I wasn’t surprised to feel some exhaustion starting to creep in. Considering the lighter training load coming into the race, I expected—if I’m being honest with myself—to have to suffer more than I typically do to reach the finish line. I hoped it wouldn’t get too ugly, but because the style of my training looked so different from what I typically do, I couldn’t predict how my legs would feel in the final third of the race.

Through Cal 2 I was still in 9th place. It’s 8mi to the river crossing at Rucky Chucky and I can’t say with any degree of enthusiasm that I was psyched to run it, since the experience of doing so was fresh in my mind, having running it 7 weeks ago at Canyons 100k. One thing was for certain: I wasn’t running the way I should be at this point. The quads and calves were really starting to talk to me. I just couldn’t do anything about the slowing.

I hear Louis say, “Hey, we got company.” Hoka teammate, Chris DeNucci, and his pacer, Mario Fraioli, come by. I asked them how far back the next guy is. They say the spaniard, Tofol Castanyer, isn’t too far back but he’s looking bad, which doesn’t really buoy my spirits because I know I’m sucking and it’s going to get worse given how my legs are feeling. It was inspiring to see Chris. His upward trajectory in the sport over the last two seasons has produced some amazing results and with the lessons learned from last year’s Western States, it came as no surprise to see him running well at this point in the race. He’d come through Foresthill in 12th, 10min back. Denuch pushed me back to 10th and I was feeling like I was on a high-wire with no safety net; one place away from moving into “bust” territory. Deal with it. Sh*t will turn around. It always does. Get to the river…

Photo Credit: Gary Wang

Photo Credit: Gary Wang

I love the Mike Tyson quote, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” That pretty much symbolizes the final 3 miles down the river—like a giant Gordy Ainsleigh in ginormous boxing gloves reached down from the sky and socked me right in the face. It was becoming increasingly clear I would not get to play the role of predator this day. No, this day I would not have the privilege of reeling in any more carnage—-I slowly and painfully realized that today… I am the carnage. FML.

By the time I got to the river crossing I was already cold. I’d never raced with the ice-bandana before and should’ve taken it off earlier than I did to warm up a bit before the river crossing. I wasn’t running well so I wasn’t generating much body heat. I was wondering if I did too good a job with my heat training? Wasn’t this Western States? Aren’t I supposed to be hot? Gordy with another icey blow to my glass jaw.

The river crossing sucked. I was completely oblivious to my surroundings and seemingly helpless. A little kid helped me buckle my life vest. Volunteers standing in the water keep telling me to to hold on to the rope with both hands. Both Hands! Okay, okay, I’m doing it. Do I get disqualified if I only do one hand? I had no idea Jim Walmsley had given everyone a bit of a scare earlier trying to swim across and getting swept a bit downstream by the strong current.

What the hell is wrong with my body? My legs are seizing up in this cold-ass water. Dammit, I’m f*cking freezing. Who the hell put these boulders in here? Gordy! This race is totally kicking… my… ass! The boulders are f*cking slippery. Never feeling more vulnerable in a race situation, I’m super psyched to see the paparazzi on the other side capturing my feeble attempts at pulling myself toward them. Fake it. Try to at least look like you have some semblance of control.

Somewhere in the Rucky Chucky “experience” I saw Amanda. I heard her words echo in my head for a while after Louis and I started the climb up to Green Gate, “You gotta get moving.” I realize that honey, I thought to myself. I’m in 10th. Louis knows my race is going sideways. He asks, “What do you think you have left for the run from Green Gate to the finish? I don’t even remember what I mumbled.

Running Top-10 at Western States is the gold standard in the sport of ultra mountain running. Since the start of the year when an MRI revealed some nasty sh*t going on in my knee, I’ve fought to keep the dream alive. Plan A for the spring prep went right out the window and Plan B went into action, starting with a full month off from running. Health became the focus instead of an emphasis on increasing fitness. Training was overhauled and so much attention was paid to ensuring the full health of my knee without having to take drastic measures like a cortisone shot. Uphill and flat running was emphasized over aggressive downhill running. At mile 80 as we moved passed Green Gate, the dream was still alive. I’m currently in 10th place at the Western States 100. What an honor it’s been today to mix it up with some of the best 100mi runners in the world…

In the five miles to Auburn Lake Trails I lose 5 places. And I don’t give a sh*t. I have little left, the internal dials locked on damage-control mode. I sit down at the aid-station and thoroughly enjoy the volunteers there. I get some chicken broth. We’re yucking it up. Louis wants me to go. I’m bummed we have to leave. I was just getting comfortable. I’ve never DNF’d an ultra but am starting to get mighty curious how I’m going to get to the godd*mn finish line. Well, you’re walking just fine. I look at the chicken broth in my bottle. Suck it up.

My legs are cooked in a way I’ve never experienced before; my quads and calves have never been so jacked up. The training account for this race is long since overdrawn. “What do you expect? You injured yourself by bombing the downhills in late season short-course races. Then you pussyfoot around the descents for 5 months leading up to a 100mi run with 23,000′ of net down. What did you really expect?

The downward spiral of negativity persists. In my head I’m thinking, “If I can’t Top-10 then being 25th or 45th at the finish is all the same thing. Whatever. I’ve pretty much given up on nutrition and hydration as well. I’m just over it. I catch a toe on rock and fall off the trail into some bushes/briar patch. My legs seize up. Awesome. Louis tries to help me to my feet. Falling off the trail feels like insult to injury. What a f*cking disaster this has turned into. Cool cut on my shoulder though. That’s something.

Louis tells me “The girls will be at Highway 49.” I wasn’t expecting to see Amanda there but I wanted to see her now more than at any point in the day. Arriving at the aid-station and seeing her I felt ashamed I was so shattered and no longer running for a Top-10 finish. We hugged and as I was leaving and she let me have it: the Mahatma Gandhi quote I often share with athletes I coach, “Full effort is full victory.” As we starting making our way to No Hands Bridge the Ghandi quote floated around in my stream of consciousness, leading me all the way back to 1999, when I first read George Sheehan’s book, Running and Being, in which he wrote “There is no excuse for not playing good defense.” Dammit George, even Steph Curry has rough days. You should’ve seen Game 7.

I’d lost 4 more places by the time I dragged my weary bones into the 93.5mi aid-station at Hwy 49. My running was in the crapper and the miles were going by so slowly; aid-stations seemed like they were 15mi apart. This is the maddening difference between running 5-6mph versus running 3-4mph. I was now in 19th but imagined it more like 34th. “Full effort”. DE-FENSE!! Let’s get the ball back and try to sink some 3s…

No Hands Bridge. Photo Credit: TRT pacer and best man, Michael Cook

No Hands Bridge. Photo Credit:  TRT100 pacer and best man, Michael Cook

In the weeks leading up to States, I had friends and athletes I coach bring up the competition at States, particularly, Jim Walmsley, who set stout course-records at both Bandera 100k and Lake Sonoma 50 earlier this year and put up 140/140/120 mile weeks before his two-week taper. Now I know when I’m out-classed and realize Walmsley’s in another league. He’s a super inspiring runner. Jokingly I started telling people I was going to catch Walmsley at Robie Point (mile 98.9) and go on to win the race, thinking to myself, “Ha-Ha. Wouldn’t that be something?!”

I wasn’t having a lot of fun on that nasty climb up to Robie. I was beginning to think Louis didn’t know where the hell he was going anymore and was just screwing with me. But I was a helluva lot more happy climbing than descending by this point in the going. Arriving at the aid station I look over at the table and Jim Walmsley standing there, still in his race kit. WTF? I’d heard he’d gotten off course around Hwy 49 but assumed he’d made it to the finish line already and was simply back out for a cool-down and to cheer on some runners. As Louis and I were closing in on the finish, I would later come to understand why so many people were asking me the same question, “Hey, are you Jim?”

Photo Credit: Gary Wang

He made it! Photo Credit: Gary Wang

The last mile was good and I did my best to stay in the moment and appreciate the final minutes of a truly special day, regardless of placing and finish time. Louis, Amanda, and I ran into the Placer High Stadium together. I joked around with Amanda that we needed to be in Lane 1. I saw fellow Tahoe Mountain Milers, Kati Bell and Shane James and gave them hugs and high fives. If it weren’t for Kati’s encouragement, I wouldn’t have had this amazing opportunity. I was pretty elated to see that finish line. Nothing feels more satisfying than getting to the finish of a 100mi run. It’s nothing short of incredible what the human body can endure.

After a “full victory” squeeze from Amanda, another Hoka teammate, Paul Terranova, put my finisher’s medal around my neck. And since he’s known for his push-ups at the end of ultras, I spontaneously offered to crank some out with him, reminding us and everyone that we always have more to give out there, we just have to find the inspiration.

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Rickey Gates said in a recent Instagram post about Monday’s Mountain Marathon in Alaska, “Racing is about doing what you can do on that given day.” I didn’t like the cards I was dealt this year at all but I played them to the best of my ability because I wanted to honor myself, my competitors, and the Western States 100. Laying on the infield after finishing, feeling like death warmed over, rolled up like a burrito, and occasionally vomiting into a cardboard box, I couldn’t help but smile each time I heard Tropical John’s voice announce the names of fellow competitors as they entered the stadium, tough-as-nails athletes, some who’s day had also gone south but found it in themselves to soldier on when the lofty goals they’d set for themselves were blown up hours before.

Feeling like a soldier of the Great War myself at that moment, having awoken half dead in a trench on the front lines, I think of Teddy Roosevelt’s words about “faces marred by dust and sweat and blood,” the valient striving, the “great enthusiams, the great devotions.” And the “daring greatly.” All of us, one crazy family, strung out from from Squaw to Auburn, spending ourselves in this worthy cause, none possessing a cold or timid soul. Courageous. Bold. And maybe a fair amount of stubbornness and straight up stupidity as well.

One way or another I’ll be back to States again next year, hopefully to race, as I have some unfinished business, or volunteer and/or pace. In the meantime, I’m excited by the fact that I had no issues with my knee during the race or subsequently. I was late getting this race-report out because we stayed up in Tahoe for a week after States and I didn’t do sh*t. Back home now, I’m excited to be running everyday and hoping I have no issues with the knee moving forward. Fingers and toes crossed.

I finally ran the numbers yesterday and my run-specific training volume for States was a full 20% less than my build for Run Rabbit Run in August last year, which would make sense because had I had that 20% in me going in, it likely would’ve made the difference between being ready to rumble—versus being ready to crumble—at mile 80. I tried to make up the difference with cycling but nothing’s going to supplant the muscular endurance needed to pace the first 60 and push the final 40 of a 100 mile run.

A heartfelt thanks to Western States Race Director, Craig Thornley and his amazing team of staff and volunteers for putting on one helluva race. If I never have the opportunity to run it again, I know I made the most of my day and, along with a silver buckle, I have many wonderful memories I’ll cherish for a lifetime. It feels good to be part of the club!

13557868_10154379664696812_6962943801841384551_nA HUGE thanks to my super awesome, beautiful, highly supportive, rock-star wife, Amanda—always full of great ideas—for embracing the full Western States crewing experience along with her partner in crime for the day, Linn Secreto. It’s pretty cool having support out there and I appreciate you two running around all day helping to keep me going.

Louis Secreto, thanks for jumping in early buddy! That’s all I could do on the day. Thanks for helping me up-n-out of that briar patch. Looking forward to 50mi of pacing at your Tahoe Rim Trail 100 later this month. It’s going to be spectacular (at least for me). Hope your coach knows what he’s doing.

Thanks for all the support from friends and fans near and far. I actually didn’t start putting my name in or trying to race my way into Western States 100 until 2015 because we, as athletes, have to pick our battles carefully and the fact that Tahoe Rim Trail 100’s in July, affords me, as a school-teacher, the time to put up some big miles in June for this July event. But after running it four times and accomplishing all that I wanted to on that course, the time arrived to branch out and experience other 100s. All trails seem to lead back to Western States though. Now I see why.

One thing’s for sure: It’s getting more challenging to stay healthy and train/race for these crazy things. I’m grateful for all the encouragement and kind words I’ve received. I hope to be on that starting line again next year, do it better, and make good on that dream of a Top-10 finish. It’s right there…

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Parting [shot] is such sweet sorrow. With Amanda. She got hugs. Paul Terranova got push-ups. Photo Credit: Linn Secreto

Thank you to Hoka One One for your continued support, innovation, and producing the best shoes out there—#timetofly!  |  Thanks to Vitargo for the steady energy and SIMPLIFYING my nutrition.  |  Thank you Healdsburg Running Company for the sweet #74 trucker hats. I appreciate 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.  |  And a BIG 100 mile thanks to Dave Townsend at Santa Rosa Physical Therapy for helping me keep the dream alive. You helped me understand what course of action I needed to take to have my cake and eat it too this spring. You rock!

Western States & North Face

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Tahoe Mountain Milers

Photo Credit: Tahoe Mountain Milers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faster than Twitter, thanks to my beautiful, loving, and highly supportive wife Amanda for her thankless job [even from afar] as “First Responder.”  |  Thank you to Julbo Eyewear for the beautiful, functional, and comfortable sunglasses. It’s GREAT to be working with you!  |  Thank you to Hoka One One for your continued support and producing the best shoes out there—#LetsGoHoka!  |  Thanks to Inside Trail Racing for offering so many fantastic races in great places.  |  Thanks to Vitargo for the steady energy and SIMPLIFYING my nutrition.  |  Thank you Healdsburg Running Company for all the wonderful support. HRC rocks! | Victory Sportdesign produces the best drop-bags in the biz! 

San Diego 100 Prep

Seventeen little days now to San Diego 100 and I’m taking a bit of comfort knowing I’ve pulled this off before, that is, preparing for a hundo while in the midst of the school year and juggling all my other life pursuits. Pine to Palm 100 last September came about eight weeks post Tahoe Rim Trail 100 and well into the first month of school; the desire to train was no where to be found and I ended up running that one off summer/100mi fitness. This time around it’s been a lot better. One hopes…

Cinderella 50k - Photo Credit: Foggy Bottom Photography

Cinderella 50k, Oakland, CA (5/9/15) – Photo Credit: Foggy Bay Photos

Gorge Waterfalls 100k in March messed with my head a bit due to the comedy of errors in the final 8mi of that race, resulting in a lost opportunity to qualify for Western States in June. Even though outward appearances suggest a failure, I was quite pleased with my fitness in Oregon, considering I was just coming back from injury. Sucks though to not secure the result you know you’re capable of. Gotta keep movin’ on down the trail…

The heart of my San Diego 100 preparation.

One of my two-week training blocks for San Diego 100 + a rest week. Credit: Strava.com

Setbacks, in my experience, always seem to have a silver lining. Injury forced changes to my training, which have actually made me a more balanced runner. Go figure! All my runs now have purpose. In Oregon, I felt increased power and speed and have kept up with my evolved training program while building up for San Diego, continuing to reflect on each week and make tweaks here and there. Training for a 100 miles though, versus a 100k, I’ve toned down the intensity some for the sake of increased volume and maintaining overall life balance (thank-you Dr. Maffetone). The number of hill intervals have increased and gotten longer in duration. The speed of the tempo run has slowed a bit but has lengthened as well. And the weekends have been dedicated to double long runs, with Saturday being more about enjoyment, leaving Sunday to do a proper long run, focusing on “programming” the mind for the incipient battle that starts at Lake Cuyamaca on June 6th at 0600 hours. “A quiet mind is a powerful mind.”

Hill repeats from 5/14/15. Credit:  strava.com

Gritty “Hundo” Hill Session: My 12 x 425′ hill repeats from 5/14/15. Credit: Strava.com

After soaking up some great motivation at Lake Sonoma 50, I put down a high quality two-week training block with lots of climb, then took a rest week to really absorb it. That Friday I found myself feeling good, and with my birthday the next day, I started surfing the web for a race. Why not?! It felt like the right thing to do. It is the Bay Area after all, and I was delighted to find a nice little 50k down in Joaquin Miller Park in Oakland.

Checking the entrants list, I saw Chris DeNucci was also racing. So that sealed the deal—get to race on my birthday against at least one competitor who I knew would push me from start to finish. And that’s all it takes—one other runner to keep you honest and working to your potential on the day. As it turned out, there were plenty of guys rocking it on the front, including Chris Castleman and Alex Ho. It won’t be too much longer before I won’t be able to stay in front of these guys for 50k!

Like Edgar Allan Poe wrote, “Without a certain continuity of effort, without a certain duration or repetition of purpose, the soul is never deeply moved.” That right there is why I’m crazy about ultra-running. When I came through the start/finish (for the second time), I knew I had to string together just 4 more miles of continuous effort to complete the final loop to make it 50k. I found myself thinking of Travis Macy’s dad, from the book I just read called, Ultra Mindset. In it Macy talks about what the guys from his Dad’s era of ultra-runners had instead of comfy Hokas and super-fuels like Vitargo—-and that’s grit, plain and simple. And grit is what we need in abundance to run 100 miles. Winning a small, local 50k in course-record fashion on one’s birthday feels good, to be certain, but honing one’s ultra-running mettle for an upcoming hundo is priceless when we find ourselves at mile 80.

The following Tuesday, Amanda and I went down to support Michael Wardian in his 50k Treadmill World Record attempt, where he successfully lowered his own record of 3:03:56 to 2:59:49. Hoka One One made Iron Mike a literal centerpiece at their two-day sales conference held at the Claremont Hotel in Oakland (no pressure Mike!). Hoka folks got to jump on an adjacent treadmill and run “with” Wardian for a few miles (or minutes). Toward the end, I jumped on after Magdalena Boulet, who had the pace set to 9mph, which I found quite brisk! Mike was running 10.4mph at the time. After a mile or so, I briefly bumped it up to match his pace. I quickly felt the effects from my own 50k from a couple days prior. Volunteers started asking if I was okay.  😉

Much respect for Mike’s stout record. He’d just run a 70+ mile race in Australia 10 days prior and just arrived from “down under” that day. Jet-lagged or not, Mike made running sub-6min/mi pace for just about three hours look pretty easy. Smooth and efficient. And talk about “ultra mindset.” Mike said after that in order to stay focused he had to go “somewhere else.” He said he was “in” his basement back home in Virginia. I had a heaping pile of delicious gourmet food and left for the evening with a heaping pile of inspiration. #LetsGoMike

IMG_5451Okay, so I’ve shared the basic components of my 100mi prep:  training, the mental game, inspiration, and what else?… Oh yeah right, strength. I’ve been trying to be consistent with a modest strength circuit routine I can do during the week but that won’t compromise my quality run sessions. It basically encompasses four exercises (which I vary depending on what’s sore that day) that I like to do 3-4 times through. These include some basics like sit-ups and pull-ups as well as some full body stuff with 8lb dumbbells and the TRX. I try to keep it simple and it’s no surprise I’m stronger after a recovery week and less strong when I have a lot of miles in me. My feeling with strength training is that a little goes a long way. That’s my hope here in 17 days—go a long way, strong. Hold form together so you can “fake it until you make it.”  !!!

Looking ahead now, I’ve begun hittin’ the sauna with two 20min sessions in the last few days. I’ll do this all the way up to San Diego. Temps have been way too cool here in wine country so far this spring, so a little sauna training better go a long way as well! This week’s the last structured training week prior to San Diego, which I’ll cap off with the Western States Training Runs this Memorial Day weekend with another Hoka teammate, Paul Terranova. I’m hoping to bank 50k of sweet trail running bliss on Saturday and follow it up with 20 on Sunday. And that’ll do it. I’ll stay sharp with a handful of short runs, work on my race-plan, keep studying the course, strategize, get great sleep, limit my caffeine and alcohol intake, hydrate, stretch, foam-roll, and keep visualizing how I want things to pan out on game-day.

SanDiego100LogoSo, about the San Diego 100 course-record… I’ve been lucky enough to meet and chat with two past SD100 champs in recent months—Jeff Browning and Karl Meltzer—and hear about their experiences on a course that has evolved over the years due to things like forest fires. I contacted RD, Scott Mills, and received a very detailed, appreciated, and fair account on the history of the race, which has helped me create some realistic goals:

The SD course is in its 14th year and over that period we have had 4 major course changes that make records only applicable to the years that it was run over those particular courses.  The first 7 years was the easiest as an out and back on the PCT and it was held in Nov.  Karl holds that record at 15:48. The next two years was a double loop in the Cuyamacas….it too was an easier course and comparable to Karl’s course record so I always considered Karl’s time as the course record for this route as well.

Then 6 years ago the race underwent a major change when I inherited the event and we ran a much tougher and more varied course.  Over those first 4 years, Jeff Browning won the race twice and held the course record of 16:39….a very solid and impressive time.  I feel Browning’s time was pretty much comparable or better in terms of difficulty to Karl’s record on the old course and it was run in June when it is significantly hotter than the Nov time frame of Karl’s.

Then two years ago (just after the 2013 race, a devastating wild fire destroyed our race venue and many of the trails we use so we had to yet again change the course.  Last year’s and this year’s courses are very similar (only a very minor change) and I believe this variation of the course is the toughest of all past variations.  Jeff Kozak won last year’s event in 19:24 and that is the current course record that you would be competing against.

As you know 100 mile course records are so dependent upon race day conditions and in our case upon route changes.  I think this year’s course winning time will be below 19 hours but again, too many variables to predict. I will add…the SD 100 course is “sneaky hard”  By this I mean it looks very runnable for the entire course but there are some very technical and hard sections that don’t appear so on paper.  The dry air, wind and low humidity need to be watched closely as well with regards to dehydration.

I’m looking forward to this special opportunity to execute to the very best of my abilities in this long-standing and challenging event. Hopefully I’ll have packed enough grit to see me through. #seeyouinsandiego
Photo Credit: Amanda Shebest

Parting Shot:  Just hangin’ out in Mike’s basement. Credit: Amanda

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 sweet looking, functional, and super comfortable sunglasses. It’s GREAT to be working with you guys (and gals!).

Thank you to Hoka One One for the their continued support and producing the best shoes out there—#LetsGoHoka!

Thanks to Inside Trail Racing for your offering so many fantastic races in great places.  |   Thanks to Vitargo for the steady energy and SIMPLIFYING my SAN DIEGO 100 nutrition.

Thank you Healdsburg Running Company for opening up in my ‘hood. Love the new store and the weekly group runs. It’s great to be building community with you! 

Wolves in the Arena

gorge

It’s about a quarter-mile to the turn-around in the 2015 Gorge Waterfalls 100k, and, in some intensely serendipitous turn of events, I’ve found myself in the front group of four guys, including Justin Houck, Ben Stern, and Chris DeNucci. As we descend into the Wyeth aid-station at mile-31, I’m pleased to find that my heart-rate’s dropping to 123bpm. THIS is exciting sh*t!! >>>

2013 Western States 100 champ, Pam Proffitt-Smith, is graciously crewing for me this morning while Inside Trail teammate, Chris Wehan, is popping up everywhere along the way, further stoking the fire in my belly. Since I’m fueling the entire race with bottles of VitargoS2, I slam some while taking a moment to internalize my good fortune—I’m gunning for a Western States 100 spot, of which there’s two on the line today. I’m 50k into this sucker and there’s no one in front of me. I find myself departing Wyeth, happy, in control, and now leading the race…

Photo credit: Chris Wehan

Mile 31 turn-around – Wyeth aid-station with Pam Proffitt Smith and Ben Stern. Photo credit: Chris Wehan

 “Nature’s arena has a way of humbling and energizing us.” –Scott Jurek

Photo credit: GlennTachiyama

Stacked field at the 4am start of the 2015 Gorge Waterfalls 100k. Photo credit: Glenn Tachiyama

In this month’s Ultrarunning Magazine, Errol “Rocket” Jones writes, in an article entitled, Whiners and Winners, “Get the most you can from your running, because a setback is coming. Injuries or overuse will happen if you stay with it long enough. It’s part of the equation in long-distance [ultra]running and racing. You’ve got to take your lumps […].” I preach to athletes I coach that it’s not the training we can do that’s going to make us faster, rather, it’s the training our bodies can actually absorb. There is a distinct difference. From Nov-Feb, I had to take a big dose of my own medicine. And the spoonful of sugar was the opportunity to race well at Gorge Waterfalls 100k in March.

After a successful 2014 campaign, where I was able to achieve my #1 goal of defending my 2013 win at Tahoe Rim Trail 100, in course-record fashion, and back it up with a repeat win at Pine to Palm 100, eight weeks later, I knew I was incredibly fortunate to be enjoying such consistent good health, largely in part, I thought, to strategic planning of both my races and high-volume training, and of course, training/racing in Hoka One One running shoes. Still, I know nature has a way of keeping us in balance, and my “lumps” came in the form of a stress-fracture of the navicular bone in my left foot, as confirmed by MRI just before Thanksgiving.

This setback didn’t weigh too heavily on my mind, as 2014 came to a close, since I felt I had time to make a full recovery. Sean O’Brien 100k, unfortunately, had to be tossed out the window since I would not have the preparation required to be in the mix for a Western States slot, and would likely just re-injure myself. Thus, all the chips had to placed on Gorge Waterfalls 100k at the end of March.

Coming back to full health was frustrating as hell. Re-capturing my confidence has been the toughest part. The foot would be fine one day, and throb the next. More and more days had to be taken off. I was forced to dramatically change the way I trained. In hindsight, it appears I was able to ride that fine line just well enough to not hurt myself again, while harvesting enough fitness to race well at Gorge. With my fastest 50k trail-run in the Marin Headlands just two weeks earlier, I felt I was ready to race a 100k, but barely. Fortune favors the brave, right?!

All smiles early in the going. Photo credit: Chris Wehan

All smiles early in the going. Man, how I dig ultrarunning! Photo credit: Chris Wehan

At the end of last year, when I was considering my options for “racing” my way into this year’s Western States 100 in June, I studied the 2015 Montrail Ultra Cup qualifying events. Ultimately, I chose two of the longest races, that both inspired me and seemed like they would play to my strengths. As I’ve stated, I had to bow out of Sean O’Brien 100k in February due to injury but the other event, Gorge Waterfalls, seemed like a good bet since it was in late March, was a 100 “K” versus 50 miles, giving me something like two additional hours to reel in some carnage in the final 12 “bonus” miles, increasing the likelihood I could move into the #2 or #1 spot, securing one of the “golden tickets” for Western. The fact that Gorge would be very technical, with 12,000′ of cumulative ascent remains very attractive to me. If only it was a 100 miles…

For the record, it’s quite disappointing to me there’s not a 100mi option—my strongest distance—offered through the Montrail Ultra Cup series. Western States is 100-miler after all. Seems to me like we’d want to put the most qualified 100-milers on the starting line there, rather than the fastest 50mi + 100k guys and gals. But, that’s not the current reality, and at the end of the day, I’m just a Masters guy trying to do the best with the cards I’m holding. My ace-in-hole is my endurance; a card I’m left holding at the end of a 50mi or 100k. As an athlete who’s spent a decade in Ironman Triathlon, chasing entry into that sport’s “Big Dance”—the Hawaiian Ironman—for which I’ve worked hard, focused, and qualified on four occasions between the years 2002 and 2011. I’m hard-wired to qualify for the Big Dance by earning entry at a qualifying event of equal distance.

Photo credit: GlennTachiyama

Delightfully brutal course. Photo credit: Glenn Tachiyama

After departing the turn-around at Wyeth, it wasn’t very long before Houck and DeNucci caught up with me. A great memory from the day was running together, headed back west, toward the finish, as 100k runners were making their way to the turn-around. “We have ourselves a race!”, one runner exclaimed. Soon though the pace was a bit more than I wanted to tolerate, as we were only about half-way through. This day, I vowed to be patient, present, and positive, and I was sticking to my plan. Also, my heart-rate was giving me good bio feedback that I needed to keep holding back, at least to mile 36-40, with plenty of running to do from there. Just be patient. One, or both, of them will come back to you. Believe…

Earlier in the day, at mile 20, the front-runners had been directed off course by some hooligans who had vandalized the course. That incident tested my resolve but ultimately Yassine Diboun had gotten us back on track. It ended up adding about 2mi to my race, which I used to stay positive, and get additional calories in. Since we’d gotten off course not too far out from Cascade Locks aid-station at mile 22, I soon ran out of Vitargo but fortunately always carry emergency calories in the form of gels. We just rolled with it, and as soon as we found our way back on course, it was almost like we’d never been off course, with everyone quickly resuming his position in the race. I tried to make light of the situation and said to myself, “Well, more miles, more smiles.” I might just get to qualify for States at a “100-miler” the way this day is going!

Leading into the race, I’d been thinking of the Cherokee legend, the Tale of the Two Wolves. As the miles went by, I kept listening to my body, getting in good calories and “monitoring” the growing battle between the two wolves loose in my mind—the good wolf and the bad wolf. I kept trying to “feed” the good wolf by reminding myself to be present, in the moment, and believing in my potential to reel in at least one of the guys in front of me. At times now, the bad wolf was getting stronger; more ferocious. The good wolf was sent scrambling through my subconscious, scavenging for any scrap of confidence it could find…

Good Wolf: “You’ve just had the highest quality 8 weeks of ultra-run training you’ve ever done. You deserve to be in this position. Stay the course!”

Bad Wolf:  “Pine to Palm 100 was half a year ago old man. You’ve got a crack in your foot. You’re broken. You don’t have the iron in your legs that only racing gives you. What the f*ck are you doing out here?!”

Good Wolf:  “You just ran your fastest 50k in the Marin Headlands two weeks ago. You’re stronger than ever! You have plenty of time to reel in 2nd place. You own this race!!”

Bad Wolf:  “You shouldn’t have run that 50k dumb*ss. Your insecurity is your greatest weakness. Besides, that 50k was only four hours of racing. You think that’s gonna help you in this 10-HOUR smack-down?! WTF are you thinking? You know better.”

Photo credit: GlennTachiyama

Holding some good form together around mile 58. Photo credit: Glenn Tachiyama

Nowadays we have runners who want a course so well marked that Stevie Wonder or Ray Charles could make their way through it, solo.   -Errol “Rocket” Jones,  from “Whiners and Winners,” Ultrarunning Magazine, April 2015

 

Arriving at Yeon at mile 49, I picked up an additional bottle of VitargoS2, departing that aid-station with about 600cal to fuel the final approximate half-marathon to the finish. Unbelievably, it had come down to the scenario I’d imagined in the days leading up to Gorge—-I was in good position to run down my Western States slot!!

Aid-stations are always a sure-fire way to feed our good wolf, and I left with a boost of confidence that, with 2nd place only 3min up, I had plenty of time to catch my prey. Beyond 50mi now, it was time to shine. With no one in sight, ahead or behind, the struggle with mind and body to continue pushing ensued, often glancing at my heart-rate as my honest assessment of the effort I continued to invest in the endeavor. I popped out onto a half-mile stretch of paved road. I see the red of 2nd place’s jersey ahead, turning back into the woods. Skip Brand is standing at the entrance. I harness some strength and imagine lopping another 20sec off 2nd place’s lead. Skip gives me some encouragement and I head back up the trail. A wave of nausea hits me from the effort I’d just put in on the road. I wretch a few times in the bushes, marveling at how smooth VitargoS2 is coming back up. I recover quickly and press on, soon able to again consume and process calories.

As the race progressed from here, more and more hikers lined the trails, out on this beautiful day, taking in the marvelous spectacle that is the many beautiful waterfalls in the area, including Wahkeena Falls, Fairy Falls, Multnomah Falls, Oneota Falls, Dry Falls, and Ponytail Falls. Getting closer now to “No Name” aid-station at mile 56, I started to get glimpses of 2nd place up ahead, now 90sec up, according to Chris Wehan. Patience was the biggest challenge now. Keep the calories coming in. Be steady.

Photo Credit: Chris Wehan

Photo Credit: Chris Wehan

I found myself running several switchbacks and arrived at one where several hikers fanned out across the crook of the 180deg turn. I thanked them and quickly made my way passed and down a section of trail that led to a paved road. I looked left and right for a  life-infusing trail marker. I asked a guy with a dog if he saw two runners go by or any pink ribbon. He said no. Back up the trail, I ran into the hikers I’d just passed. I asked them if they saw any ribbon to which they replied they’d seen some not too far back. Dammit, I cannot f_____g believe this just happened… Are you F______G kidding me?!!

I’d only been off course for about 2min and as it turned out, when I caught up with these hikers and passed them in the crook of that switchback, none of us realized that I was supposed to continue straight through, rather than around the switchback in the direction they were all headed. With the four of them fanned out as they were, I didn’t even realize running straight through was an option. I tried my best to own the mistake but wished there’d been some alternatively colored ribbon, indicative of being off-course at a trail junction. How could any runner in my position not want that? Whatever. What’s done is done. It’s my responsibility to know the course. Suck it up buttercup.

When I hit No Name, at mile 56, a panic was starting to build within me. The bad wolf was eating me alive. I knew 2nd place’s lead had now grown to about 4-5min and my hope of earning my spot to States was now slipping away. Panic slowly started to morph into apathy. A warm justification for a 3rd place finish was gradually washing over me like a nearby waterfall; its spray of indifference like a shot of morphine. The good wolf now silent.

With two miles to go, I’m trying to rally while stomping down this super touristy section of black-topped switchbacks, seemingly enroute to nowhere. I didn’t realize until later that day that the biggest mistake I made here at Gorge was choosing to not go to the Start/Finish in the daylight the day before. Because it was race-morning registration, I had no clue what the route to the finish looked like. As I’m hobbling down this steep section, I more concerned with who might be catching up with me than who is ahead. To my horror, I see a guy in black who looks so fresh I can’t believe my eyes! Note: I later discover this was Ben Stern’s pacer (no wonder he looked so fresh!). Anyway, this sends the biggest shot of adrenalin into my system I throw it into high gear and start taking the remaining switchbacks as aggressively as I can. I open up a good gap and don’t see the track star anywhere behind me. I hit the road at the bottom to find Skip Brand standing there with a front-row seat to all the unfolding action. I’m disappointed in myself for failing to secure a Western States spot, but 3rd place today is not bad, right? At least it’s still a podium finish even if, technically, 3rd place is the “first loser” at this event today.

Before darting off, I ask Skip, “How far to the finish?!” He replies “less than a mile. You have to over a bridge.” I look up ahead and see what appears to be a bridge in the road, but then there’s two more up farther ahead. I slam the rest of my Vitargo, see a pink ribbon, know that I’m on course, and blast through this busy intersection where it’s wall-to-wall tourists. I take a hole-shot through a bunch of pedestrians at a cross-walk, and with some 65miles in my legs, lay down a sub-7min mile… to nowhere.

As I get farther and farther from the chaotic Visitor’s Center, I see some runners up ahead. I ask them if they saw any other runners or pink ribbon anywhere. A motorcycle cop rolls through and I yell and whistle loudly at him. He pulls over and I run up and respectfully inquire where the entrance to Benson State Park is. I blast off back in the direction from which I came. Arriving back at the Visitor’s Center I stop and do a slow 360, trying to figure out where to go. I see a foot-bridge, lined with tourists. Pink ribbon! I head down a path. Dead-end. Not the right direction. WHY isn’t there a race volunteer anywhere? Fumes for fuel. I’m so horrified by this turn of events I consider running back to my hotel in Troutdale rather than be seen at the finish. I’ve let everyone down—my wife, my friends, my sponsors. 600 miles of training since January 1, for this race. 100,000′ of climbing. Dedication to some stupid ideal. For what? To blow it at the end and not even secure a podium position. Chris Wehan meets me with a few 100yds to go and runs me in. I do my best to hold it together but I’ve never been more disappointed in myself at a finish line. Afterward, sitting in the grass alone, I can only think about the Theodore Roosevelt, Man in the Arena quote, and what lies ahead at San Diego 100 in June…

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Yet, I ask myself, am I just one of Rocket’s “whiners”? I do think it’s very reasonable, in a “high stakes” Montrail Ultra-Cup event like Gorge Waterfalls 100k, to at least have one knowledgeable volunteer, there at the end with two 90deg turns to the finish, offering some much needed support to all those runners on the “struggle-bus”. Or, at least an arrow to go with the pink ribbon that says something like:

<<< To Finish

Admittedly, I’ve had more than my fair share of getting off course in trail-races (who hasn’t?!), but I’ve worked on it and the results have shown. In the end, I found myself scraping together every last ounce of energy I had, with close to 66 miles in my legs, running as fast as I could, doing my best to honor both myself, my friends and competitors. Seems like sometimes, there’s a fine line between a winner and a whiner, wouldn’t you agree Rocket? I’m left feeling more like the latter as I tap out this race report.

Justin Houck and Chris DeNucci ran f_____g great races (not to mention Ben Stern and Gary Robbins who did, in fact, find the finish line before I was finally able to). Had I not gotten off course at all, I still may not have been able to reel Chris in, (and definitely not Justin) but what eats away at me is how random circumstances took the opportunity to try, away from me. At the turn-around I was in a dream scenario that should not have manifest in the way it did; many of the top names dropped or never started Gorge 100k for one reason or another. I’d been given a kick-ass opportunity, but failed to make good on it. That’s how the cookie crumbles.

There’s still the Montrail “Last Chance Promo” that has about 30 runners that entered and finished the 100k on Saturday. One of those names will be drawn and will receive an entry into this years Western States 100. Naturally, the odds of me getting in are actually less than the 4.7% chance I had in last December’s general lottery. Still, a chance is a chance. I’m not whining! Otherwise, I’m setting my sights on Jeff Browning’s San Diego 100 course-record in June. Also, I’m revising my event schedule and likely omitting Cascade Crest in August as well as Javelina in October and putting all the chips on Run Rabbit Run 100 in Colorado in September. Seems like the right thing to do. In the words of another Roosevelt:

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

In closing, I’d like to share how incredible I think the Gorge Waterfalls 100k course is. As of today, I’m definitely coming back next year, with as many friends in-tow as possible! This course is right up my alley, and with the course-knowledge from this year, I’ll easily shave 30-45min of my time, given similar weather conditions and NO course vandalism!! 😀

Thanks to my beautiful, loving, and highly supportive wife Amanda for her thankless job [even from afar] as “First Responder.” Thanks for fixing my stress fracture!! I LOVE YOU VERY MUCH.

Thank you to Hoka One One for the their continued support and producing the best shoes out there—#LetsGoHoka! The CHALLENGER was THE shoe for the job at GORGE WATERFALLS 100K

Thanks to Inside Trail Racing for your offering so many fantastic races in great places.  |   Thanks to Vitargo for the steady energy and making MY GORGE WATERFALLS 100K nutrition easy.

Thank you Healdsburg Running Company for opening up in my ‘hood. Love the new store and the weekly group runs. It’s great to be building community with you! THANKS FOR BEING OUT THERE SKIP BRAND.