Race Reports

Coastal 50k Race Report

The Coastal 50k is the crown jewel of all of the Coastal Trail Run races; it’s a point-to-point from Stinson Beach to Rodeo Beach that hits all the Marin Headland highlights. It’s pretty much a “have-to” in my book from now on; even if I’m beat up next year from whatever 100-miler I’m going to do (or if I plan to do one after) I feel like I have to run this race.

Let’s get started on the report:

…so this is about the closest I’ve come to feeling like I nailed a race since last year at Dick Collins; even though I did have a rough patch (again, right at miles 22-to-25; seems to happen almost every 50k for me these days) I was able to finish very strong and (almost) hit all my goals. I had very little problem solving to do, I just wanted to put my head down and get to work.

I ran with a hydration pack which was a first in a 50k; I’m usually good with a single hand-held (and throwing another in a drop bag to pick up later in case I was getting dehydrated) but since there were no drop bags in this race, I figured I’d give the Camelbak bladder a go.

I always lose a good 5 minutes in aid stations, I’m way too chatty. I figured I’d stop at every other one and get a fill-up. This way, I could run through and say “thanks for being out here, you guys are awesome” and not lose a second. Genius!

So here’s a breakdown of my goals and how the race went within the context of all that:

Goal #1: run under 5 hours

Missed this one by 5:56; and I can only think it was that aforementioned “rough patch” between miles 22-25, right after the first Rodeo Valley aid station. I felt really good coming out of there and soon as I hit the incline my legs just couldn’t generate any power. I was doing the math on how much Vitargo and Gu I had eaten during the previous hour and thought I was okay, so I ate another Gu. After a few minutes I felt a little queasy, tried mixing some running in here and there, then about halfway up got passed by a guy I had passed back at mile 12 (I think I scared the shit out of him when I passed, too- he might have been a little bit pissed).

I figured “great, here they come” which is what happened at Skyline a month ago; one runner passes you, then it’s like a torrent of demoralization in the form of faster runners and people that didn’t go out at a silly, unsustainable pace. I watched him just bang away at the incline, disappearing into the fog towards the top of the climb.

So I took a ginger chew right there, just kind of sucked on it for about 5 minutes as I continued to work at the climb; I minute of shuffling, a minute of power-hiking. I spit it out, took another Gu and said to myself, “if I’m going to puke in a race, let it be now”. I got to the top of the climb and was able to run, it was that really cool stretch of single track on the SCA Trail, totally enveloped in fog.

I was able to bomb down the switchbacks pretty well, and started to see some of the lead runners. Of course I get passed again right at the road crossing, and a minute or so later I saw my buddy Tony coming up those same switchbacks. We high-fived, I told him he looked really strong and that gave me a temporary mental boost as I hit the paved section that winds down under the Golden Gate Bridge and few into the Fort Baker aid station.

Took a couple shots of Coke, got some Vaseline (I had some chafing under my arms from rubbing against my Ultimate Direction pack- it’s always that same damn spot!) and then flew back up that paved road, passing back that guy that had got me up the Rodeo Valley Trail climb. I knew that I had to work really hard now because this was it as far as climbs go; this is the last one, and it’s all downhill from the top.

I should also mention that I was counting runners on the way down, and I came up with 8 runners ahead of me (I never saw eventual winner and CR holder Jorge Maravilla, he was moving!) With only eight guys ahead of me, that brings me to mention my next goal:

Goal #2: run in the top 10 all day.

The best position I held was between Cardiac and Muir Beach, I had pushed up to 6th. I went out really hard on the Dipsea- I tried to keep Jorge and the other leaders within view at least until we hit Steep Ravine. I passed 2-3 runners up that and hit Pantoll at 37:26, feeling really good. My favorite stretch of trail in the entire race would be right here on Alpine to TCC, and I hit Cardiac at exactly an hour. Okay, I thought. Today could be a good day.

I passed that guy on Coast View Trail right before the switchbacks down Heather Cutoff, just flew down them. I heard a “yeah Jimmy!” from a few switchbacks above and saw Tony with the biggest smile on his face, he was feeling good and moving fast. I ran with him from the road crossing (where Heather Cutoff intersects Redwood Creek) and we ran to MB together.

He took off out of Muir Beach so I trailed him for a while until he was out of sight and pretty much ran alone for the next 10 miles. Felt good through Tennessee Valley, which presented me with my next challenge for the day.

Goal #3: run all of Marincello.

It came earlier than in a few other races (I think it comes at mile 44 at TNF & maybe mile 39 at Miwok) so I knew I’d have some pop in my legs, but I wanted to go up the Marincello climb very aggressively. Since this wasn’t a target race for the second half of the season but something I did taper for, it falls into the “B” race category which means “try out some stuff”.

I always take it way too easy up Marincello, like I’m looking forward to it so I can walk/power-hike/shuffle the 1.4 mile climb. If you’re not familiar with the Marincello climb, it’s a long but mellow hill south out of Tennessee Valley; I think they were calling it the “$10,000 Climb” because that’s where last year’s TNFEC Championship race was going to be won (and it was, with Rob Krar finding another gear to break away from Chris Vargo right here).

Anyway, I was able to complete the 1.4 mile climb in a little more than 18 minutes, which for me is pretty solid. If I can take anything away from the race it’s that I felt good powering up Marincello.

So that’s about it for goals; I wanted to go really hard in some places to see what I needed to do to get ready for TNF in December; I think along with some recent speed sessions a huge key for me is doing some harder stuff on Sunday’s runs- basically going just a tad harder on tired legs.

I see some folks on the Strava doing some progression-type runs on Sundays; I think I’m going to give that a shot. Along with my new training plan (been using Hal Koerner’s guide from his new book, make sure you check that out) which adds speed stuff on Thursday, I’m going to mix in a few progression runs- if you’re not familiar with these types of workouts, basically you’re splitting your run into two or three parts; the first half (or third) is done relatively easy, then you “progress” to a faster pace, increasing intensity and effort; ending at either marathon, 10k or 5k pace (sounds ouchy).

I’m going to do these by feel, as if I’m not too beat up after a hard Thursday plus Saturday long run. We’ll see…

Here’s the official results and a cute little pic of me turning off my watch at the finish line (dude?):

9th place overall

5th pace men’s 30-39

5:05:56 (9:48 per mile)

Garmin elevation: 6,192 feet (official elev. listed as 5,810 feet)


Hey, thanks for reading!

Race Reports

2014 Skyline 50k Race Report

What a doozy of a race. I mean that about my race performance and not the actual Skyline 50k itself; I love this race. It feels like home. So I’ll keep this race report short and sweet (and to the point).

Sometimes I feel kind of crappy when I use a race that so many people trained so hard for as a training run. Especially the Skyline 50k; it’s a really great race with a great vibe, amazing volunteers and a tireless RD that tries to ensure every runner has a top-notch time. Plus, the course is one of the best the East Bay has to offer; it traverses the ridge that rises up from around Lake Chabot in Castro Valley and goes into Redwood Regional Park in Oakland, then turns around at Skyline Gate and runs back.

It’s a lot of people’s “A” race, and a heck of a lot of folks’ first ultra experience, there also seems to also be a cross-country type showdown between a few local running clubs, and here I am just out for a long run to:

  • test the legs
  • figure out hydration/nutrition strategies
  • see what kind of training I need to focus on for the second half of the year

That all being said, going into last week my whole idea was to treat this as a “C” race. Then, after a great run on Saturday (July 26th) I decided to get my taper on and treat this race as a “B”, which means less of a training run and now I’m going after an actual goal.

Damn my ego!

This was a huge mistake; seeing as I had only 4 weeks of solid training in and my longest run in that block being a 22.5 miler with an 8.7 follow up the next day, I was probably going to suffer a bit.

So of course I go ahead with a pace chart; planning on hitting the turnaround at Skyline Gate (14.4 miles in) at 2:00 and coming home in another 2:30-2:40. I wanted a new 50k PR (4:41:43 at Dirty German 50k in ’13) so that was the plan.

I hit the turnaround at 2:06, and figured if I continued to feel this good I’d be right up against running a 4:40 finishing time. My average pace was 8:45 right here and some quick math told me I’d have to run just under 9-minute pace for the last 17 and change.

photo courtesy of Joe McCladdie

photo courtesy of Joe McCladdie

So I was feeling awesome until mile 24, then I started cramping. I felt awful for the next 4 miles, going back and forth from low energy to full-on calf seizures. I took all my remaining Vitargo plus a Gu and just tried to get through the section from the Stone Bridge to Honker Bay aid station, along Cascade and Columbine trails. Ugh.

I yo-yo’d between a 10:15 and 14:00 pace for these miles, just trying to fully embrace the suck. I was in a low point; probably a combination of dehydration, cramping, being low on calories, being slightly undertrained, being overly optimistic, letting my ego run the show, racing that guy in the damn Five Fingers back at mile 12 (he ended up finishing 8 minutes ahead of me), and finally- the biggest lesson: not respecting the distance.

Like I said, my ego is a terrible thing- 31 miles is a hell of a long way no matter what anyone says. I come into this race thinking, “I just ran 100 miles in the high desert of Southern California, I can do a backyard 50k no fucking problem.”

That’s a shitty attitude to go out and run with.

Thankfully the aid station volunteers at Honker Bay were so funny and nice, they let me bitch and moan about how awful I felt, told me lies such as “you look good” and “you’re running strong” and all that stuff we say to each other as encouragement. Well, it really helped. So did the Salted Watermelon Gu, the 2 cups of Mountain Dew and the two salty chunks of boiled potato.

As bad as I felt, I was able to finish somewhat strong. The funny thing is, I was a whole 6 minutes slower than last year but I improved one place in the standings (up to 39th overall). Weird.

photo courtesy of Noe Castanon

photo courtesy of Noe Castanon

But it doesn’t matter; the thing I learned is that no matter what, even if it’s a 5k or a 10-miler with friends, you gotta respect that distance.

After the race I was able to meet and chat with some great local runners; I met the esteemed Jean Pommier (his race report here) and fresh off his amazing run at Hardrock, I got to ask Big Johnny Burton a lot of questions about what kind of training he did to prepare for HR100 (his report here). What a solid dude. John’s wife, Amy, also recounted her recent Tahoe Rim Trail 100 race, and that was cool to hear. I even got to see my buddy Jesse cross the finish line of his first ultra.

So, all in all- not a great race for me but it was a great race in general, as always. Heck, this is my third finish and I hope to back for many more. Because it should be more about building community and having fun than chasing some dumb time goal.

I mean, look at it this way: it’s taken me 11 days to write 900 words about a race, what’s the rush anyway?

Epic Runs, Uncategorized

Second Half of 2014 (and Beyond) Running Schedule

That title seems a bit more onerous than I had originally intended. Maybe in parentheses it should say “subject to change” but such a small audience actually reads this blog that I hope you few that do will keep me somewhat accountable.

So here goes:


Skyline 50K – August 3rd

After Dick Collins Firetrails 50-miler, this is my favorite race in the Bay Area. I believe it’s the oldest continually running 50k in America, Sarah Lavender Smith wrote a great piece about it for TrailRunner magazine (find it here). The aid station volunteers are wonderful, the vibe is super old school, and the roast pig at the post-race BBQ is freaking outstanding (cracklins for days). RD Adam Ray does an amazing job at keeping it low-key but still is able to attract a few local fast runners. Great race for rookies looking to dip their toes into their first ultra!

Coastal 50K – September 20th

Point-to-point 50 kilometer race from Stinson Beach to the Golden Gate Bridge before heading back down to Rodeo Beach? Yes, I think I’ll run this again. I used this race as a training run for the Dick last year, but since I’m not running DCFT this year (got a friend’s wedding that same day) I’m just going to race it, full-on, taper and everything. It’s a great race on great trails, going up the Dipsea and Steep Ravine, hooking around Pantoll back to Cardiac then down into Muir Beach. Then up Pirate’s Cove to Coyote Ridge and Miwok down to Tennessee Valley. Then the long mellow climb out of TV on Marincello to Bobcat, up the Rodeo Valley trail to SCA then dropping under the bridge. Taking Coastal back up, you then drop back to RV and finish in the parking lot at the beach. 31 miles of Marin trails with about 7,400 feet of climb. It’s a great preview to some other marquee races in that area like the Miwok 100K or The North Face 50 Mile Championship, with a subdued atmosphere.

San Joaquin River Trail 50 Mile – November 15th

Found this on UltraSignup.com- it happens to be three weeks out from The North Face 50 so I’m going to take a ride down the the foothills north of Fresno for a little camping and give this race a go, a nice 50 mile training  run as a warmup for a 50 mile race. Seems counter-intuitive, but I’m kind of bummed to be missing out on the Dick so I feel like I have to do one little road trip race last in the year to make up for it.  It looks like a really cool out-and-back race on (mostly) single-track, and that time of year the weather should be pretty crisp. As for the Dick, two of my friends are running it as their first 50-miler so I’ll be at Skyline Gate early in the morning ringing a cowbell and shouting encouragement. Maybe I’ll be slanging pickle juice shots.

The North Face 50 Mile Championship – December 6th

I gotta do this race again. You might be saying, “what, you’re not going to run another 100-miler?” I’m going to wait to run another, throwing all my chips in again for Western States next year, and if no States then I’ll decide on another 100 for sometime around June-July-August-September of next year. But for now I really want to focus on “nailing” a 50-miler. I think I can go somewhere around 8 hours at this race; and I’m going to throw everything I have at training for TNF, then fully recover and rest around the holidays before ramping back up to attack another 100.

About that next 100-miler…

I’m hoping it’s States, but if not I’ll be looking at either doing the San Diego 100 (early June) again or one of the following races: Bighorn (late June; Wyoming), Angeles Crest (early August; southern California), Cascade Crest (late August; Washington), Wasatch Front (early-September; Utah), Pine to Palm (mid-September; central Oregon), Run Rabbit Run (mid-September; Colorado), Mogollon Monster (late-September; Arizona) or The Bear (late September; Utah-Idaho).

You may be saying, “wow, those races are pretty ambitious for a second 100-mile attempt”, and looking ahead that far may be putting the cart way before the horse- but I’m a much better runner when I’m working towards a goal, so putting my name in one of the aforementioned hats gives me something (hard) to work for. I feel like I have an idea what it takes to run 100 miles, so a mountain 100 would be both ambitious and challenging to try next year. Those are all contingent on me not getting in States (and which lotteries I can “win”).

It’s literally an entire year away from right now, so barring catastrophic injury I think those races could be a bit of a reach and they’d really force me to train harder than I’ve ever trained before; I know I have a lot more to learn about training for what comes after mile 70. That being said, let’s see what happens.

I’m also confident that I have another 100 in my legs, and if I stick to my plan of one per calendar year, I’ll have many years of running 100s left. My original idea was to run Rio Del Lago this November, but a 100 really beats you up- I was feeling it for a good 3 weeks after. That kind of recovery takes time, and I don’t think I want to put all my eggs in that basket just yet.

Another thing about those races listed above: they’re all on the Hardrock qualifier list, and looking even further ahead I’d love to be able to throw my name into the 2016 HR Lottery, so there’s another motivating factor.

Apparently I’ve also qualified for The Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) with the points accumulated from Lake Sonoma, Miwok and SD100, so there’s a possibility (albeit a pretty extreme one because that race not only costs a fortune to enter but getting over to France would likely cost another small fortune) I could run that, but I’ll probably also wait on that (put it on the bucket list race)…


…and I’ve got some trips coming up in the near future that either involve running as the sole purpose OR involve me trying to shoe-horn in some running around the real purpose of travel, including (also subject to change):

August 18th-21st

Tahoe Rim Trail. Yep, all 165 miles in 4 days. Putting together an ultralight kit to attempt this. Not an FKT by any stretch, just going out on my vacation week to log a bunch of miles and get around the entire thing. Great altitude training, great views, great adventure. Might bonk hard and call it quits in Tahoe City, might not. “Embrace the great unknown and do epic shit”, I say.


Mt. Shasta ascent. I keep checking the Shasta Avalanche site as well as both the Avalanche Gulch route and the Clear Creek route on SummitPost.org for new comments (check out the most current webcams on this site, too). The blog over at Shasta Mountain Guides website was just updated less than 2 weeks ago, and they’re saying it’s good to go through Labor Day and beyond. Looks like the snow conditions are at their lowest in years and I’d still need some minimal gear like an ice axe and crampons, but I’m thinking an ascent would be awesome.


Honeymoon in Kauai. So psyched to get some runs in on The Garden Isle; I hear there’s a few trails here.

October 30th-November 1st

Yosemite. My partner has a conference here, and while she’s stuck in seminars and meetings all day, I’ll be out exploring. Would you believe I’ve never been to Yosemite? Entering my 8th year in California and it feels criminal to have never gone. I’ve been to a bunch of places just north and south of the park, but never in it. Crazy, I know. My friend Steve wants to get me up here earlier, however for a climb/run on Mt. Lyell. He calls it a very runnable 13,000-footer with an easy(-ish) scramble to the summit. Might make two trips there this year.

December 20th-January 4th (2015)

Extended East Coast visit. Looks like we’re doing the whole family thing; my peoples in Philly, Allyson’s sister’s family in Brooklyn and then her parents in western Massachusetts. I’ll bring tights and gloves and get some runs in, if there’s snow I’ll rent snowshoes (not really). Maybe re-create my childhood skiing on the shitty ice hills of eastern Pennsylvania. With my luck there will be no snow, and I’ll be stuck looking through stacks of old baseball cards.

So there it is. Looking into 2015, I’ll probably try to do lake Sonoma 50 again (going to a lottery this year, so maybe not), maybe Miwok again, possibly the Bishop High Sierra 100k and hopefully one of those mountain 100s I mentioned. I’m looking forward to checking out new shoes, new gear, getting up to altitude, etc. So here’s to adventure!

photo by Milan Kovacevic
Epic Runs, Race Reports

The San Diego 100 Race Report

My first hundred is in the books. I can’t explain how under-prepared I was for this race; because all the training in the world, all the miles, all the elevation gain, all the proper eating and sleeping and recovery days and stretching and mental preparation can not prepare you for spending 25+ hours on your feet.

The only thing that prepares you to run a hundred miles is to actually go out and run 100 miles. There. It’s that simple.

All the back-to-back 25 milers in the world can’t prepare you for that second sunrise.

All those 50k’s used as hard training runs don’t adequately prepare you for the aches and pains at mile 72 and beyond; and knowing you might be out there for another eight hours.

All the climbs up Tam and Diablo can’t prepare you for the climb out of Pine Creek at mile 64. Or the climb up Stonewall Peak at mile 90.

You just have to experience it. The actual race is the training; it’s going out and doing the distance even if you’re not ready.

And I don’t think we’re ever completely ready, we just have to take that leap of faith and go out and hammer away at the trail, rack up the miles, get queasy, get mad at your nutrition plan, get dehydrated, feel the pain in your feet and ankles and calves and knees and quads, freak out a little because you haven’t peed in 3 hours, let your crew keep you at an aid station until you can eat and finally pee, listen to your pacer’s advice, watch the sun go down and know you’re not even close to done, eat the soup they give you at the night-time aid stations, take that extra shot of pickle juice, down another nasty Mountain Dew, eat just one more terrible cherry lime Roctane, let the people you love try to cheer you up, feel worse than you’ve ever felt in your life, be a zombie and then cross the finish line.

I thought the nine 50k’s, six 50-milers and one 100k race would have me ready for my first hundred. The only thing they got me ready for was being in shape to run those distances AND the ability to run for a long time, say between 5 and 13 hours.

The difference in running a 100-mile race isn’t even comparable to those shorter distances, it’s exponentially harder by orders of magnitude; whereas a 50k might be about 25% harder than a marathon and a 50-miler maybe twice as hard as a 50k, a 100-mile run is probably 10 times harder than a 100k.

I thought, “yeah, it will probably hurt as twice as much as a tough 50-miler like Lake Sonoma…” when in fact it hurt probably 20 times as much.

“Yeah, I’ll probably be out there 8 hours longer than Miwok…” when it was almost exactly twice as long.

They say expectations lead to disappointments, but I’m not disappointed at all. I think by ballparking some ideas like pace, time on feet, expected caloric needs, what it might take me to run this climb, my pace between these aid stations, et. al., I wasn’t necessarily setting myself up for disappointment, I was trying to prepare myself- no, “protect” myself.

I found myself saying “if I have a perfect day I could go somewhere around 21-22 hours. If things don’t go so well, maybe 25. If things go completely haywire I might be racing that 32-hour cutoff…” These were all distinct possibilities. I was going to let the race make my decisions for me, and I learned very quickly that I really had to listen out there. To my body, to the trails, to my crew.

I’m probably boring you out of your mind with little to no details of how the race actually went, so here’s an actual chronological breakdown of the hours before the race:

3:43 AM – woke up like a shot, a full half hour before my alarm. It’s definitely going to be one of those days. As I readied the camp stove for my morning coffee, I kept thinking of that Crazy Horse quote before the Battle of Little Bighorn: “today is a good day to die”. That’s being a bit melodramatic, but imagine me thinking that and then smirking at myself.

4:11 AM – Jimmy (crew chief and pacer from miles 56-79) is rustling around in his tent, so he’s now awake and shuffling off to the shower. He probably senses my nervousness. This coffee is good.

4:26 AM – off to empty myself out; check the Facebook, Twitter, my fantasy baseball team’s performance Friday night, throw some kudos to Strava runners, basically do my morning toilet reading, and get in some last minutes of feeling connected to the outside world before I retreat within.

4:41 AM – getting dressed in the tent. I remember thinking, “man I’m already sweating a lot, I better drink a little bit more water just to stay ahead of my nerves and the impending heat…” I was kind of shaking, couldn’t tell if it was nerves or the strength of the coffee. Probably both.

5:09 AM – leaving for the race. Allyson had woken up around 4:30 after going to bed super early (she got a migraine and puked her brains out at the Crew Meeting Friday night, right after the Race Briefing). She was feeling pretty good now, and I felt good knowing she was going to be there for me for the next 30 hours. What a tough cookie.

5:15 AM – took my first Vespa of the day, followed a few minutes later by drinking my first serving of Vitargo. I felt really confident about my nutrition plan today, it had been working really solidly for me since last year at Dick Collins 50-miler. My plan today was to take a Vespa every three hours, and a serving of Vitargo every hour for the first three then every 45 minutes after that. Then at somewhere around 15 hours (or whenever I ran out) I’d switch over the the sugary aid station junk to bring me home. This plan had been working really well for the last three 50-milers, a 50k and a 100k.

…an then the next 45 minutes were a total blur. There was a check-in, a fumbly bib pinning, some gear fixing, water bladder filling, some nervous “hey, how are you doing?” to the people around me, all that stuff I do before a race to feel somewhat human, especially before running a distance I’ve never run.

photo by Jimmy McCarthy

Photo by Jimmy McCarthy

photo by Jimmy McCarthy

photo by Allyson Hurlburt

photo by Allyson Hurlburt

6:00 AM – we start, and I immediately feel better. I stayed towards the middle of the pack because I figured this is where I’d be running most of the day, so might as well settle in now and be okay with it.

(I’m going to use the splits from the race to tell this part of the story)

The first climb is about 2 miles long and more than 1,000 feet, just skirting the summit of Middle Peak before descending down a solid mile. Here you can see some fire damage from the last big one, and all the amazing work they’d done on the trails to get them ready.

I basically power-hiked a huge portion of the up and ran the down really mellow. I kept going over the mantras “respect the distance” and “run within yourself” right here, not wanting to get all crazy and fly out on a pace that would blow me up. At this point I noticed I was going to have to make an unscheduled pit stop; and nothing will make you run a bit slower like tightly clenched ass cheeks.

I left Paso Picacho 1 at 1:29 after taking a few minutes in the bathroom, and feeling like a million bucks now. I had my Camelbak pretty well full from the start, just sipping a little here and there in the cool morning, so I could fly through that aid without taking anything.

photo by Milan Kovacevic

photo by Milan Kovacevic

Funny story about why I went with the Camelbak instead of hand-helds: I basically forgot to bring my hand-helds. I brought the straps but left all 5 Ultimate Direction bottles back home in my fridge. I noticed that Friday night right before my little shake-out run. Oops. So Camelbak it is.

I also thought I’d listen to some music, just a little something to keep me within myself and slow me down. Fighting the urge to put on something that would make me all hyper, I opted for The Mountain Goats “The Sunset Tree”, one of my favorite records of the last 10 years. I could go for some stories right about now, and nobody tells them like John Darnielle.

So that album took me for a ride up and over Stonewall Peak and into Chambers 1 at 2:31, pretty much all downhill and really mellow as it flattens out. I was feeling really good, still had about 20 ounces of water and seeing that the next aid was only six miles I decided to just check in and go.

The next section here is basically a fire road through a meadow-type area with little bumps, if you can even call them climbs. I found this section to be the most runnable in the early going. I also noticed that with my pace here I was getting a little low on calories, so I opted to take that next Vitargo at 2:45 (15 minutes early) just to stay a little ahead of my caloric needs. I could go every 45 minutes from here on out I’d run out earlier but I’d be able to push it just a little more. So I thought.

I hit Pedro Fages aid at 3:35, feeling so good. I gave a few “whoooops” as I saw the lovely folks come into view, there was a little descent into it. I filled my entire Camelbak, high-fived the aid station folks, told them how beautiful they were and was off to Sunrise 1 to see my crew.

Photo by Jimmy McCarthy

photo by Jimmy McCarthy

I told them to expect me at around 4:30, and when I pulled in there five minutes early and looking fresh I had the first moments of “today can be a good day if I keep doing everything right”. So far I had done everything right; run within myself, hydrated properly, been on a tight eating schedule, etc.

Photo by Jimmy McCarthy

photo by Jimmy McCarthy

So I was in and out in five minutes, right on my expected pace. I told them I’d see them at Pioneer Mail 1 in about two hours so when I pulled in at just over 6:00 they may have been a bit surprised. Looking back, this may have been my first mistake- I figured, “I got my crew now, I’ll be seeing them pretty often, I can just take it aid station to aid station and they’ll pull me through” I think I ran that section a little bit harder than I should have but I was letting my pace be decided by how I felt. And I felt great.

Photo by Jimmy McCarthy

photo by Jimmy McCarthy

photo by Milan Kovacevic

photo by Milan Kovacevic

photo by Allyson Hurlburt

photo by Allyson Hurlburt

photo by Allyson Hurlburt

photo by Allyson Hurlburt

photo by Allyson Hurlburt

photo by Allyson Hurlburt

photo by Allyson Hurlburt

photo by Allyson Hurlburt

Photo by Jimmy McCarthy

photo by Jimmy McCarthy

Photo by Jimmy McCarthy

photo by Jimmy McCarthy

I don’t know who that bro with the umbrella is, but he is the man.

So I left PM1 at 6:07 and continued on, hitting Penny Pines 1 at 6:59. My friend Kevin was pulling in just ahead of me, having puked a few times between PM1 and here. The medical staff attended to him, he told me how strong I looked, so I gunned it out of there.

The next time I’d get to see my crew would be at mile 44.7 aid, Red Tail Roost. I figured I’d keep hammering away at the trail, just building a solid lead on the pace chart I came up with so that I’d be well ahead if and when the wheels come off.

Welp, the wheels started to come off right out of PP1, maybe 10-15 minutes later. This was a pretty steady climb along the PCT here, gaining about 800 feet or so. Add the fact that the sun was in full rage mode, being directly overhead now (it was 1 PM after all). I should’ve known something was up because I got an ice-sponge bath at Penny Pines (which felt awesome) and within a few minutes of leaving there I was totally dry. It was like suddenly I felt awesome and from out of nowhere I was as flat as a board, couldn’t generate any power on the ups.

I couldn’t drink enough water and suddenly it was sloshing around inside me. It wasn’t emptying from my gut. Then I started feeling a little queasy. It felt like all my Vitargo was in there, too- not being digested? What was going on inside me?

By the time I hit Todd’s Cabin aid at mile 39.6 I was ready to puke. S-Caps weren’t really helping, the Vitargo tasted awful and I could barely choke any down. I was in a slight panic mode- this had never happened to me before in a race. My stomach is always pretty solid, what the hell was happening?

My buddy Kevin had caught up to me by now so I lingered for a long time at Todd’s; there were 3-4 guys in chairs in the shade looking like a MASH unit. I was telling jokes, flirting with the older ladies volunteering there, just generally trying to put on as happy a face as I could to hide how wrecked I felt. I’m the type of person that if my mental frame of mind changes for the better, my physical rebounds with it. I was trying to “fake my way” to happiness and then into “good running”.

I also figured it might be time to abandon my nutrition plan- I had to start taking in easily digestible calories, and fast. I opted for Clif ShotBloks (which have never bothered my stomach) and a little bit of Mountain Dew.

I left Todd’s feeling a little better, running along with Kevin and remarking how he’d rebounded in such a major way since seeing him at Penny Pines. I could only keep up with him for a few minutes and quickly found myself getting passed by everybody and their mother. It was now 8 and a half hours into the race, I’m barely past mile 40 and the wheels are fully off.

The next section was mild and cooler, however because we were now deep in the pines among Mount Laguna, we were up over 6,000 feet. I walked a lot of this section, just feeling as awful as I’ve ever felt in a race, probably worse. I don’t think it had anything to do with the elevation, I’ve done some runs on the John Muir Trail and didn’t really notice the marked effects of elevation until being up over 10,000 feet, so as much as I would love to blame elevation 6,000 feet is not that high.

Just then, The Jester Guy (Ed Ettinghausen) came up on me, he’s moving pretty well and I am straight up walking.

“What seems to be the problem?” he asked.

“Man, I am done. I got nothing. Can’t generate power, hopefully I can puke…” was all I could offer.

“Well, there’s going to be a lot of highs and a lot of lows today.” he countered, and with that I watched him jingle away down the trail.

If you’re not familiar with Ed’s story, he’s going for the record of forty 100-milers in a calendar year right now. SD100 was #15 for him, and he’s got twenty-five more to go. Amazing.

Also, he wears a full jester’s outfit while he runs.

I figured I’d get to RTR, hang out as long as possible (until I felt better) and keep going. I’m not going to take a DNF because “I feel bad”. The only way I will drop from a race is if something is broken, and it has to be a bone on the lower half of my body, at the very least my pelvis or a leg. Maybe a compound fracture would stop me, but not “feeling shitty”. I’ve felt awful during really short races, like the Woodminster or that Table Rock race last July. Hell, if I can walk I can run. And if I can run, I’m going to fucking finish.

So Red Tail Roost at 44.7, I rolled in at 9:55, almost a full hour later than my pace chart. It was hot, and my crew informs me that “people are dropping like flies” from the race. I don’t doubt for one second that this course is taking a body count, and I tell them I’m going to stay here as long as I can until I feel like running again. I tell them I’m going off my nutrition plan, I’m heading straight for the sugary aid station crap and to put 6-7 Gu in my race vest. I hand them my remaining Vitargo and Vespas.

photo by Jimmy McCarthy

photo by Jimmy McCarthy

I also changed sunglasses, those expensive Tifosi ones were annoying and fogging up and make me look like a triathlete.

So they feed me bacon(!), bananas, watermelon, salt pills, ShotBloks, salted potatoes and a lot of icy cold water. I just sit and laugh at how shitty I feel. Allyson applies sunblock as I lube myself up. Carl (pacer from miles 79-94, seven-time Boston Marathon finisher with a 2:55 marathon PR) wears a look of concern, while Jimmy is getting my hydration bladder filled and generally being awesome. We sit.

Then it happens; my stomach kind of unfurls and I realize I have to take the biggest dump (again). I hop in the porta-potty and unleash my guts. I am rocketed to the 4th dimension of existence. I feel great. I t was like the scene in Superman II when he goes into that transformation chamber thing and everyone on the outside loses their powers and he regains his. Well, not quite because that’s at the end of the movie and I’m not even halfway through this race, but you catch my drift.

Anyway, I check out of RTR and power along the trail. I am moving now, it felt like it did in the first few miles. Those 25 minutes did me right, and I’m again passing runners and feeling amazing. There’s a solid downhill section here and I let it rip.

I had a chance to run with this really nice guy named Steve that was going for the San Diego Slam, it’s basically all the races in this general area of the Laguna Mountains (the Noble Canyon 50k, the PCT 50-Miler, the Cuyamaca 100k and the SD100). That’s a huge achievement, I was able to tell this guy that he’s pretty awesome.

I’m wondering what the Bay Area Slam would be? Maybe Skyline 50k, Dick Collins 50-miler, Miwok 100k and Headlands 100?

photo by Allyson Hurlburt

photo by Allyson Hurlburt

photo by Allyson Hurlburt

photo by Allyson Hurlburt

photo by Allyson Hurlburt

photo by Allyson Hurlburt

Meadows aid at mile 51.1 comes and goes, I’m in and out in a few minutes. I don’t want to lose the momentum. I leave there at 11:55. I pass another 10 runners, including my buddy Ed (The Jester) and get a chance to introduce myself and say “thanks” to him on my way to Penny Pines 2, hitting that at 13:08 and ready to run with somebody. In steps Jimmy and off we go, down into Noble Canyon (and an almost 1,900 foot drop along the way).

The sun starts to set as we descend, and we go from a mountain meadow scene into a deep green riparian wilderness, the deeper we descend the darker it gets and the noises of the night start to to unfold. Frogs chirp. Water trickles. We throw on our headlights and go into hunt mode, passing another eight runners down to Pine Creek aid.

Those 7.7 miles didn’t go as fast as expected since I didn’t want to blow my quads just yet, and I knew that “what goes down must come up” so we’d most likely be hands-on-knees hiking back out of this deep canyon after the aid station.

Pine Creek did not disappoint, it was a weird-ass hard rock dance party. They had guacamole (too spicy) and finally I could get my hands on some chicken soup, crushing potato chips and salty potatoes into it and chasing it with Mountain Dew. It was now pitch black and we were likely at the deepest part of Noble Canyon, and facing an 8 mile, almost-2,000 foot climb out. This would be gut-check time.

Jimmy and I jammed this section, alternating some shuffling-type running with extreme power-hiking. Two hours and 36 minutes later we were at Pioneer Mail 2. I remember sitting here for a while and giving my Garmin to Carl to charge in the car because it had died a few minutes before we got here, right at 17:00. We got into PM2 around 17:20 (we checked out at 17:28) and got moving up the trail.

Then, maybe two miles or so out of the aid I’m eating a Gu, not paying attention and wham! I eat shit. Landed in a bed of super soft but coarse sand, right on my shoulder. I was kind of stuck in there, it felt good to lay down for a second. Then Jimmy helped me out, I think he may have thought it was slightly more serious than it was. I had to laugh at myself, both for falling and then for the fact that I had been running for almost 18 hours. That just seemed very silly at the time, and it felt surreal, like someone else was doing it, not me.

The next few miles were pretty uneventful, the trail here goes along the edge of a super-steep canyon, winding its way in and out, alternating stillness and a fierce tailwind. We could see strings of lights both ahead and behind us, people we planned to catch up to and people I didn’t want to catch us.

In to Sunrise 2, it’s now 19:15 on my feet. Jimmy calls it a night and Carl steps in to pace me. We check out at 19:30 and proceed to gingerly trot down the trail, somewhere in the general direction of Chambers 2, almost 9 miles away. My pace for this section hovers between 12-and-18-minute miles. I’m just wrecked; the lack of sleep coupled with the pounding on my feet has taken its toll on me.

It takes about 2+ hours to hit Chambers 2, and when we do it looks like a mobile MASH unit. There’s some sleeping runners on the cots in the huge tent. There’s guys taking off their shoes and socks (one guy’s foot looked like the skin was melting off); people just didn’t look good. We decided to hang out, have some soup, just relax a while.

After 15 minutes we felt good enough to go. Carl ate way to much in there and was complaining that he now felt like me. Then he was talking about all the food he ate that day and I was like, “damn I want real food…” I would’ve killed for a cheeseburger or a couple slices of pizza.

We were in pretty good spirits right up until the climb up Stonewall Peak, just about mile 90. This would be the toughest part of the race for me, by far. The relentless switchbacks just keep coming and coming. We also got passed by 2-3 runners and their pacers right here, but at this point I didn’t care as much as back around mile 75.

We were treated to a really nice sunrise just before the top, we stopped and enjoyed that for a minute. Then we hit the summit and dropped down the front side. It’s a really nice, mellow and long downhill (lots of switchbacks) but the best I could manage here was about a 12-minute mile, and that felt like I was really working hard.

photo by Jimmy McCarthy

photo by Jimmy McCarthy

6.5 miles later and about 2 full hours since leaving Chambers 2 we hit Paso Picacho 2. All I can say is real chicken soup and pickle juice shots might be the best breakfast I’ve ever had. The aid station volunteers were awesome here. And that lady with the dog was pretty funny.

At this point, Ally was ready to pace me the final 5.8 miles. She was chatty and chipper and I was absolutely miserable. I just let her lead me out of PP2 for the final climb of almost 600 feet in those first two to two-and-a-half miles, there was some intermittent shuffling but really the most I could manage was some power-hiking.

I realized I could probably power-hike at this speed literally forever; I think the idea that’s been in my head for a while to go out and do the John Muir Trail or the Tahoe Rim Trail (or any similar long, mutli-day scenic trail) in an ultra-light, fast-packer sort of way way has now been fully cemented- no matter how tired I was during this race I always kept moving forward. “Relentless Forward Progress” is the term (maybe coined by iRunFar’s Bryon Powell? I don’t know…) and as long as you’re moving forward you’re gaining ground. Miles on the legs is still miles on the legs.

Anyway, after that climb we crested and were both able to run the mellow downhill, it felt like it lasted forever. Then Ally did that thing that Jimmy and Carl had been doing- “look, there’s a guy! Let’s pass him!”

I wish I could say I had a ton of fight left in me and was ready to really run, but that would not be anything close to “honest”. I was filled with 1) pain 2) an overwhelming sense of “just wanna finish” and 3) hunger. Like real, deep down in my stomach, “let’s go to an all-you-can-eat buffet” hunger.

So we passed this guy, and I took no solace in the fact that he was hurting way worse than me. He had a look on his face that said “please kill me now”. I asked him if he was okay, if he needed anything, and continued down. We crossed the last road crossing and basically ran the last mile-and-a-half through the dry lake bed. My last two miles were a 9:56 and a 10:53 (and an 11:31 for the last .2)

photo by Jimmy McCarthy

photo by Jimmy McCarthy

photo by Jimmy McCarthy


photo by Jimmy McCarthy

So that’s my first 100-miler.

25 hours, 24 minutes and 8 seconds.

38th place out of 142 finishers (229 starters).

I think that’s a pretty telling number of the actual brutality of the course; only 142 finishers. I can say I definitely underestimated a few things, one being the weather; both the low humidity and the 86-degree heat was way worse than I imagined; that and the 12,000+ feet of climbing really takes a toll. Add the similar amount of downhill and my quads were like “this is ridiculous”.

So of course I went through the ultralive.net stats, and here they go:

142 finishers out of 229 starters (62% finish rate).

First timers 100-mile attempt (40 out of 73 for a 55% finish rate).

Rest of the field (second or more 100-milers) 102-156 for a 65% finish rate.

There’s a lot of things I can take away from this race; the experience of it was both insanely brutal and staggeringly beautiful- that fact that my a few of my closest friends and future life partner were there to help me was amazing; getting to see that sunrise (which I was dreading) actually turned out to be totally cool, my mind had never been so empty and so ready to receive that moment and just take it as it is.

photo by Jimmy McCarthy

photo by Jimmy McCarthy

So I got the belt buckle, the huge medal, a Finisher’s mug (coffee tastes better out of it) and a really nice embroidered hooded sweatshirt. Those were the tangible things I got; and some I’ll lose, or break, or misplace in my next move.

But the things I’ll always get to keep are the beautiful memories, the camaraderie with the other runners, my awesome crew waiting on me hand and foot all day and night and the fact that I moved my body with just my legs, lungs and heart 100.2 miles.

Race Reports

The 2014 Miwok 100k Race Report

There’s three categories of races us runners group our efforts into: the “A” race, or the race we’ve been focused on since we started our current block of training (for me this would be the San Diego 100 in a few weeks). This is the race we taper for, we look forward to from the minute we hit “submit” on UltraSignup- we obsess over it and we want to do our absolute best at.

Then there’s the “B” race; this is the one where we will still go out and give our maximum effort but might not be as emotionally invested in, this is usually 5 to 8 weeks out from the big “A” race. I use these as a measuring stick; they tell me where I need to put my focus for the final block of training; whether it be hills, nutrition, etc. I race them hard but won’t kill myself if I don’t hit my goals.

Then there’s the “C” race. This is the race you do with buddies as a social thing, or the one you don’t taper for, or the one you either go out on a whim and do last minute or just use it to “get that distance in”, whatever.

This was Miwok 100k for me. I kind of felt like a dick using this  race as a “C” because there’s a lottery to get in (I guess I’m lucky to have gotten in this year?) but I was so looking past Miwok to the SD100 that everyone (even the voice in my own head) said “don’t race Miwok”. So, I basically used it as a $180 training run. And it was totally worth every penny.

photo 3

photo by Kevin Skiles

The goals I had in my head were really loose and forgiving; I wanted to go under 15 hours (to get that Western States qualifier) and I wanted to be able to run well after mile 50. That was pretty much it. Oh, and I wanted to have fun. If that meant running slowly in order to run with other people, so be it. I treated Miwok like a mobile party, and it didn’t disappoint.

I learned some cool things along the way, too. That it starts hurting around mile 23-25 (yeah, I already knew that) and progressively gets worse until mile 45. Then, it doesn’t get any worse. It just stayed there, at the same pain threshold. The last 17 miles were kind of blissful; except for a low spot at around mile 49, it was pretty awesome towards the end. I feel like I did some of my best running late in the run.

I fueled with Vespa and Vitargo all day, taking a Vespa every 3 hours (45 mins before the race, then at hours 3, 6 and 9) and took ~150 cals of Vitargo per hour for the first 3 hours then every 45 minutes until around hour 10, also had about 80 calories of UCan in there somewhere; thanks to the guy at Bridgeview aid for helping me pour that powder in my bottle, yes, it did look like cocaine! This is also where having a crew is so valuable; having to mix your own drinks is definitely a pain in the ass. I love my crew!

photo by Glenn Tachiyama

photo by Glenn Tachiyama


I hit a low point coming out of Tennessee Valley at mile 48, it was the only time in the race I wasn’t having fun (luckily it only lasted a few minutes). I was quickly pulled out of it by a combination of: a friend and her pacer ran by me and were “c’mon, man- run with us!” but I just couldn’t run right there; everything suddenly “sucked”, the weather (it was probably the nicest day of the year), the music I was listening to (Dick’s Picks Vol. 16, which is really awesome- a ’69 Fillmore show), my attitude went from super happy, flying into Tennessee Valley to pure crap in a span of 5 minutes.

I decided at this point, 10+ hours in that it was probably a good time as any to start with the sugar.

I put on The Hold Steady and was immediately pulled from my funk. I switched over to salted caramel Gu, eating just 4 in the last 2+ hours. Add to that some Mountain Dew (10 ounces or so), a little bit of salty boiled potatoes and a small piece of banana and that was it for the day. I was once again a happy camper and able to hammer away those final miles, in relative comfort and once again running happy.

I’m really psyched by my body’s ability to burn fat as my main fuel, and never came close to feeling bonky or shitty physically (just that one little mental low point). I started the race in a fasted state (only having had a cup of “bulletproof” coffee upon waking) and felt really good in the early going. Maybe it was the 2+ miles of single-track at the start that forced us mid-and-back of the pack folks to march up Matt Davis Trail the whole time that kept my legs fresh later in the race; maybe it was me constantly checking my Garmin and thinking “this pace is a bit too fast, I’m going to slow down a bit” (I really felt good about my ability and desire to control my pace); maybe it was all the miles leading up to the race; who knows?

At no point did I think “let’s race now”. At least not in the first 55 miles…

…then of course the ego kicks in a bit, like the whole “I do not want to get passed in the last 10 miles” thing is now controlling my legs. I’m also not sure if it’s the fact that at around 11 hours of being out there I just wanted to be done running. That may have had something to do with “finishing strong”. In my mind I ran “perfect” pacing, going 6:24 in the first half of the race and just about that in the second half.

12:47:54, 92nd overall, 79th men’s

Recovery has gone really well, I was back out running again on Monday after resting up Sunday. It’s been a month and change since Lake Sonoma 50 and twelve days since Miwok, and all I can say about how well my body has handled everything is astounding (I also think I’m kind of lucky, too).

The week after Sonoma I reverse tapered and hit 50 miles (with 8,800 feet of vert), followed by a 70-mile week (with 13,000 feet of vert), a 90-mile week (including almost 15,000 feet of vert!) and then a 45-mile week (+6,250 feet). I plan on hitting back-to-back 80-mile weeks (with 10-to-12,000 feet of gain) before a 2-week taper for the SD100.

I can’t say enough for proper sleep and a diet that works (for you). I found a nutrition plan that works really well for me; at least one that agrees with my digestive system, keeps inflammation at a minimum and allows me to both go hard when I need to and recover really fast after those harder efforts.

And again, I think I might just be lucky.

photo by Miles Smythe
Race Reports

The 2014 Lake Sonoma 50 Race Report!

A year after one of the biggest debacles of my short running career I found some redemption out on the beautifully brutal Lake Sonoma 50 course.

I had no excuses this year; I was well-trained, well-fed, well-rested, felt mentally prepared for the low spots, etc. Every excuse I offered last year wouldn’t fly this time around so I had to come with the A-game; even though this was a “B” race, I treated it like I had something to prove. I had to prove to myself that I could at least master the demons that had been in my head since last year’s disappointment.

I think after last year’s race I was left with two choices; there was the one that appealed to the lower self; the “I don’t think I can do this” thoughts- those negative, soul-eating, self-doubting trains of thought that plague the mind.

Then there was the “oh, I have to respect the distance, train smarter, recover better, do more downhill repeats, take in more quality calories on the run, enjoy the scenery, run with friends more, ask a lot of questions” type of thoughts, the ones that continually reinforce the reason I do this and then ultimately feed into my raison d’etre.

After all, how I train and run ultras is really a metaphor for how I prepare for life. Believe you me, the people I’m surrounded by will point out the areas where I’m coming up short, where and when I’m half-assing, not pulling my weight, etc. They also provide positive feedback, point out the instances where I’ve stepped up and put on my big boy pants, all that.

The trail can humble you if you’re not ready for it; life will also bring you to your knees at times. How you prepare for both is how you’ll succeed. This is what I’ve found.

The completion of the LS 50 marks the first phase of a huge training block to get ready for my first 100 in June; a warm-up 50-miler seven weeks after a warm-up 50k. Then in four weeks I’ll run (not race) my first 100k and five weeks after that we’re going to San Diego. So I’m smack dab in the middle of hundred mile training, starting on phase 2 (which hopefully includes back-to-back 100-mile weeks around Miwok 100k). I just mentioned my idea is to not try to race Miwok and just use it as a really long training run, just spend as much time on my feet out there just figuring stuff out.

So back to the actual LS 50 race report; since this was only a “B” race (I hate saying that because it sounds like a cop-out if I fail) I tried to temper my goals to what I actually wanted to do, which was run as strong as I could the entire race. So, in effect I gave an “A” race effort for a “B” race.

My three tiers of goals were:

“A” goals: a sub-8:30 finish, top 50 overall

“B” goals: a sub-9:30 finish, top 100 overall

“C” goal: just finish; anyway, anyhow

The Start

After a pretty lousy night sleep, I hit the alarm at 4:40 AM and got to making coffee. After last year’s coffee-making mishap (basically I had to make cowboy coffee using the hot water out of the tap, the crappy hotel room maker was ineffective) I brought my own French press and self-boiling electric teapot. So I had excellent, strong black coffee this time. Yep, I can be a bit of a control freak.

I kind of went down a mental checklist of things that I could control that might go wrong, like “what if the car doesn’t start?” and “what if I roll my ankle going down the stairs out to the car?”. I wondered where these thoughts were coming from, having nary a negative thought the last few months regarding my running.

I then resolutely turned my thoughts to all the things that have gone RIGHT to get me to this point. I would have to have a sharp mental focus today, not to mention a good sense of humor. I laughed it off to pre-race jitters and kept going over the mantras in my head.

“Respect the distance…”

Right, I have to respect the fact that I’m going to be out there for the better part of a day going a pretty long distance. To put it in perspective, I have to tell myself that I’m going out to run a marathon. Then, I’m going to turn around and run it again. 50 miles.

So the start line; per usual is all nervous chatter, jittery folks. I tried to find Kevin and Jim, my buddies from the training run a few weeks ago I spent a ton of miles with. Kevin was awesome, he’s a backpacker that got into ultras because of its similarities to fastpacking. I picked his brain on that training run about everything 100-mile related. Jim is a sponsored triathlete making the switch over to ultras. He kept calling me “Philly” (where I grew up) and said us East Coasters were tenacious and scrappy. No luck, but I found my buddy Greg, said “what’s up?” and also this dude Matt I ran a bunch of miles with at the Coastal 50k last September.

I didn’t even hear the “GO!”, I just saw everybody lurch forward and start trotting. I hit the “start” button on the Garmin and was off. The first few miles felt effortless on the road to the trailhead (I think it’s like 2.3 miles) and I felt really relaxed. My plan was to take it as easy as I could until I felt like it was time to start pushing the pace, hopefully after the turnaround at mile 25.

I settled in with this really nice French guy, I think his name is Sebastien (I’ve seen him at a ton of races in the Bay Area). He said he’s still trying to figure out the 50-mile distance, but he looked solid all day to me. We would see each other a few more times. I also ran and talked with some really nice people, this woman Mary from New York, this guy Dustin from Folsom and this guy Scott from San Francisco by way of Rhode Island. We all chatted about this race and that, work, family, etc. It was really cool and helped to me get over any nerves I had early on. It also quelled my competitiveness, I figured “might as well make some friends because if this is going to be anything like last year I might be out here for 12-plus hours”.

I alternated brief periods of “pushing it somewhat hard” and “just relaxing”; power hiking the steeper climbs and easing my way on the downs with gravity doing most of the work.

photo by Nate Dunn

photo by Nate Dunn

Down to the water crossing before the Warm Springs aid I had the feeling that everything was going to be okay today. I greeted the aid station volunteers, got a refill on agua, dropped my arm warmers into my drop bag and got out of there. I was at exactly two hours and feeling really good.

I charged a bit up the climb out of Warm Springs then settled back into a steady pace. It’s really tough to keep it slow when you feel good, but I was holding as much back as I could. It’s like putting miles in the bank; the slower and more controlled I kept it now the more I’d have when I really needed it during those last 5-6 miles.

The first steep downhill is when I decided to go for it; I think that was around mile 14 or so, just a quick move to bomb a gnarly, technical descent. I passed a few runners here and rolled into the water-only aid at Wulfow Spring still feeling proper. A few more miles and it was time to get a refill on water at the 18.6-mile aid station where I saw some folks from the training run I gave a ride to, Gareth and Anna. They remembered me and I got a charge out of them telling me I looked really strong. They may have been lying but it totally helped.

Now on to the biggest climbs of the day; it seems as if a huge portion of the almost 11,000 feet of climb are bunched together here so I’d have to control my pacing. Switching to power hiking was a welcome change, and if last year’s race was any indication I’d be seeing the lead pack come by me soon.

At about mile 21 they came, and they were flying. It was Zach Miller, and he was about a minute up on Sage Canaday, Chris Vargo and Rob Krar. Then Alex Varner was about a minute or two behind that pack. I eased into a gentle downhill section that gave some of the best views of the day, and I was also psyched because the sun still hadn’t come out yet.

Then another huge uphill section that seemed to go on forever; luckily I knew the turnaround was coming up and that I could linger there and really take care of myself; get topped off on fluids, get more Vitargo, switch out my empties, etc. Just before the aid I saw my buddy Kevin, we got to run together a few minutes, he again said I looked fresh and strong. “Is everyone lying to me?” I thought. I was arriving at 4:19 and thought that was pretty good and only a little slower than I wanted to (I was hoping I’d run somewhere around 4 to 4:15) but since I felt really good I figured I was pacing myself perfectly.

Then at the aid I saw Ann Trason and considered that a really good omen. Jorge Maravilla was hanging out, too. I felt bad that he didn’t start today because that dude is the man, and he’s always up in the mix at the front of the race.

I took off after maybe a minute and a half, chugging some electrolytes and water, and finally plugging in some tunes. I know a lot of folks don’t run with music but I need it when the pain starts to settle in. I also needed something at the beginning of my playlist to help hold me back and pace as evenly as I could; so of course I needed something with a driving, steady rhythm. Fela Kuti.

To be honest, the next 13 miles were pretty much a blur. I went into a deep, unshakable focused state; kind of like a meditative trance. I was feeling really good, right up until the sun came out. It felt like it went from 55 degrees and overcast to 75 and sunny within minutes. For some reason, the sun’s rays felt harsh and oppressive rather than warming and relaxing.

photo by Miles Smythe

photo by Miles Smythe

Pulling into Warm Springs #2 with Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” blasting in my ears was pretty awesome, I didn’t realize I was singing it at the top of my lungs coming down the trail until one of the volunteers was like “awesome song, dude!” I giggled, told them all I was so happy to see them as they (probably lying) told me I again looked really fresh. I was at 6:42 and only 12 minutes off my expected pace. I grabbed my last Vitargo, grabbed my other handheld, got it filled with electrolytes, had my primary handheld filled with ice and water and was off, I couldn’t wait to ice my legs for a minute in the creek crossing.

On the next uphill I started to feel the twinges of cramping; it struck my left arm first, that inner elbow bend started to seize a bit. I tried massaging it but I figured my best course of action was to drink a bunch of water and get some salt in me.

Then the twinges in the calves started.

Then one in a new spot, my abs. I was off on the side of the trail peeing, and twisted in a way as to look back down the trail to see if anyone was coming and my right abdominal seized up, causing me to pee on my shoe. Next time, I’m just going to go. Nobody cares if they catch you peeing at mile 40 of a 50-mile race.

Then the groin started seizing up a bit. Then the quads. By the time I rolled (hobbled?) into Island View aid at mile 45.5 I was steady shuffling. My friend from early in the race, Sebastien, had caught up to me right before the turn down to the aid and he looked really strong. He said he felt awful and was afraid to look at his watch. I told him he was doing great and we’d be done in less than an hour.

The folks at the aid were awesome; these guys were hilarious. I ate a huge handful of jelly beans and drank almost a whole can of Coke. Then my buddy Kevin came into the aid. “Dude, you caught me!” I said as we high-fived. He was laughing and in good spirits; I took off and he caught up to me probably a half mile out of there. I figured better to get beat by someone you like than someone you don’t.

But Kevin was there to offer encouragement, and I the same- because at this point the only thing that has any importance is just finishing. There’s no “race” this far back in the pack- we’re all friends just trying to git ‘er done. I kept saying, “go on, man- you got this” to see him pull away, if just for a moment then yo-yo back to me on the next downhill.

I was cursing up a storm at this point, and to make everything just peachy the iPod lost power. Four hours of continuous play had drained the battery. So now it was just me and the pain, nothing to block it out. No sick beats from Outkast. No soaring anthems from Explosions in the Sky. No heavy metal thunder from Iron Maiden. Damn. I’d have to immerse myself fully in the river of pain.

Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place.

If I quit, however, it lasts forever…

But then something clicked in me after I kept rolling that mantra around in my head; it was the realization that the pain hadn’t gotten any worse in a few miles and if I could just manage to not overstride and step as gingerly as I could  yet continue shuffling forward I wouldn’t seize up again and that I was going to finish.

I slipped past Kevin as he offered a “go get ‘em” and saw the ONE MILE TO GO sign they placed on the last stretch of trail before the little road crossing. I also had a thought that RDs have a silly sense of humor, it’s probably more like 1.3 miles- I’m going to wait to start my “finishing kick”. This gives some insight as to just how fried my brain was; it was exactly a mile and I had nothing to offer in the way of “finishing kick”.

9:18:32, 80th overall. 66th men’s.

A 3:07 improvement over last year. Yes, that’s three hours and seven minutes.

10,989 feet of climb (and similar on the descent)

If you asked me what I learned; I’d tell you the three most important things were:

1) Running with folks is fun. People will tell you amazingly personal things about their life- something about running along a trail with a pack of other humans (for what basically amounts to a solid day of work or more) has such an instantly bonding effect.

2)  The journey is far more important than the destination.

3) The journey that at once is both self-indulgent and self-effacing; there wasn’t a single runner I passed all day without asking “y’okay?” or “looking strong!” or at least saying something; looking out for each other is far more satisfying than beating these people in a race, and that’s the one thing that continually solidifies my membership in this tribe.

Here’s an awesome video put together by Mr. Chihping Fu:

Race Reports

Inside Trail Racing’s Chabot 50k Race Report

…or “When the Shit Goes Down, You Better Be Ready”

What’s up with the double title you may be wondering? Oh, man- things got off to kind of a bad start, and I only have me to thank. More on this later.

They say running an ultra is the ultimate test of one’s endurance, and I feel like I have the “endure” part somewhat handled; but when you add “problem solving” to the equation, it becomes a whole different ballgame.

Let me explain- see, I had initially wanted to get to the race about 7:30-7:45. I think I rolled in at 10 after 8 (for an 8:30 race, no less). All that extra time to use the bathroom, check in, do a little shakeout, open up the hips, etc. Nope. I was back at home for most of that time screwing around with the iPod (long story short: I had to restore the thing to its factory settings, it basically “blue-screened” on me). I should’ve dealt with that Friday night. So there’s issue #1.

Issue #2 was a big one; I left my race vest at home. I LEFT MY RACE VEST AT HOME. How the hell am I going to carry all my nutrition on me? It’s like a shopping list of crap: one Vespa (super concentrate, easy to carry), one water bottle and 2 Hammer flasks of Vitargo for the first loop, then another 20-ounce bottle of UCan and 2 more Vitargo flasks and a few Gu’s for the second loop- yeah, I’m aware I’m not a very minimal runner over here. I had to pack the 2 Vitargos in my Patagonia shorts (lifesavers, huge side pockets!) then the Vespa went into the pouch on my handheld along with a bunch of salt pills. Crisis averted.

Sort of, because for the first few miles I had to literally pull my shorts up every 3 minutes. Sorry if you were running behind me and kept getting a nice view of my coin slot. I finally pulled the drawstring tight and loop-tied it to keep them in place.

Now the actual race; I felt really, really good on that first loop. Was able to hammer up that first big climb from Honker Bay to that sweet eucalyptus single track on Columbine Trail. Passed a bunch of runners just before the first aid, then passed a few more on the downs to the Stone Bridge. Passing more runners up out of the Bort Meadow aid and the last two runners I’d pass all race on the downhill out of the Equestrian Center back to Brandon Trail.

I hit the first loop in about 2:40, five minutes ahead of the pace chart I’d worked out the week prior. I felt so good, but my spirits were kind of dampened when I was waved away from the turn right after the finisher’s area, denying me access to my drop bag.

“50k? You got an aid station right there.”

“But I gotta get to my drop bag…”

“I don’t know what to tell you.”

Really? How about something like “go to your drop bag”. So I ran to the aid station, said I didn’t need anything, turned and ran to my drop bag. I exchanged out my empty flasks for a new one and grabbed a single 22-oz bottle filled with pre-mixed UCan- a mistake that would cost me in the last few miles as I got super dehydrated.

As I ran back past the aid station, the volunteer there apologized. Here’s where I massively screwed up, muttering something about “the design of the course NOT passing through our drop bag area is completely fucked up”. I was heated and definitely shouldn’t have said that, it’s not that guy’s fault. I tried to find him after I finished to apologize but he was long gone.

So I had to get my head back into game mode after all that; it’s amazing that such a minor thing like the comfort of being able to get to your drop bag can sort of mess with your head. Music! Ah, that’ll soothe the savage beast in me…

And off I went, ticking off the miles along the paved bike path on the east side of the lake like no tomorrow, wondering how’d I have to pay for these faster miles later. I only brought the hand-held filled with UCan out on this loops, no water (it was starting to get warm…), one flask of Vitargo and no gels. I wonder what’s going to happen?

So right before the first aid station, about 5 miles into the loop I started getting that weird, frantic feeling like I had missed a turn. I hadn’t seen a flag in a while, and I didn’t remember being on that single-track for this long. So I did what any rational, normal person would’ve done. I stopped and turned around.

Yep, I must’ve missed that turn, let’s go back and find it.

So, I basically ran all the way back until I saw the runners coming up the trail towards me that were like, “dude, turn around!” This was disorienting to say the least. My brain could only manage a “…think someone ripped flags down…” and “…oh, man!” so of course, as I’ve learned before when I’ve gone off course I RAN AS FAST AS I COULD TO MAKE UP THE TIME I JUST LOST. Always a big mistake.

I wondered again how I’d pay for this later?

I only lost about a half mile doing this, or a quarter mile each way; I went back and looked at my Garmin map, which is always a great thing to do WHEN YOU OBSESS OVER SHIT LIKE A CRAZY PERSON and judging from the pace I ran that segment, I again had to wonder how I’d be doing later…

They told me I was sitting in 8th place at the next aid, so of course what do I do with that news? I run harder. My ego is a terrible, terrible thing.

I continued to feel really good right up until the climb to that last aid station, when my arms started doing this little annoying crampy thing. I figured the mild temperature coupled with not drinking any water between miles 18 and 24 might have something to do with this, but I was hitting mile 27 and thought with only 4 more to go I could get away with taking an extra salt pill and a water bottle full of electrolyte drink.

I had been off of caffeine since my morning cup of coffee so I could start taking some in for the home stretch, which was 2 little cups of Mountain Dew and a vanilla bean Gu. They told me at this aid that I was sitting in 4th or 5th (turned out they were mistaken because I didn’t pass anyone since mile 15, and hadn’t even seen anyone since mile 23).

This made me run even harder because I am an idiot and didn’t want to get passed in the last few miles, something that has happened in previous races (Lake Sonoma, Skyline 50k, Dick Collins, et. al.) and I’ll be damned if it’s going to happen again. That’s pretty demoralizing.

That last half mile or so is when it finally hit; the debilitating calf cramps. Part of me knew they were coming and if you saw me on that final stretch you’d probably say I was running a bit too hard. And then I was reduced to that weird short-strided shuffle that I tried to make look like I wasn’t going to die.

finish lineHere’s a screen capture form the finish line video (courtesy of ultrasportslive.tv). I’m pretty happy with my 8th place finish (7th male, 2nd men’s 30-39 age group). I’d also like to say that Inside Trail puts on really great races, has really awesome volunteers and generally challenging courses.

So, all in all, a great start to the 2014 season. I’m feeling super pumped up about the coming year.