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.

Standard
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.

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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:

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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.

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Gear

Shoe Review: Hoka One One Rapa Nui 2

rapanui2

I can honestly say I never thought I’d be a Hoka person.

I am completely and utterly embarrassed by ever having that idea now; there’s a huge part of me that’s internally kicking myself for not jumping on the wagon sooner.

Clown shoes, whatever. I’ll gladly trade plantar fasciitis, Morton’s neuromas, general “bottom of my feet pain after a 50-miler” any day for soft, cushy pillows like the Rapa Nui 2′s. They’re surprisingly lightweight, at just 10.8 ounces per shoe. For that amount of cushioning (which really translates to “piece of mind” when running an ultra, let’s be honest) I think that’s pretty light. For a comparison, my Pearl Izumi eMotion Trail N1′s are 9.8 ounces and I’d say the Hokas are much cushier for that extra ounce. More bounce to the ounce, y’all.

The lacing system- at first I was definitely WTF’ing these, but they’ve grown on me. I can just use the lace pull-cord thingy and forget about them. That’s a bonus that was unexpected, I thought for sure I’d be putting in the extra “regular” laces in about a week, but not the case.

I’ve said it probably 10 times already, but can you say cushioning? Holy moly, my feet can pound the downhills in these and it’s like each step is softer than the one before. With 26 mm under my heel (and 21 at the forefoot) there’s a lot to land on, and with the rocker-shaped outsole my feet are more or less propelled forward from midfoot to toe-off. If anyone has ever seen me run downhill, it can only be described as “oh man, he’s gonna die; or hopefully he blows his quads up”. Well, the Hokas (for me) add not only the ability to handle the technical, breakneck speeds of said descents but also give me that added piece of mind I mentioned before.

They’ve also just been out in the mud with me and they provided adequate grip; almost too good (I still have yet to find a shoe that “sheds” the mud clods), so they passed the crappy weather test. They drained pretty well and as of 18 hours later they’re completely dry.

So we come to the final factor in determining a shoe’s value; price. Clocking in at $130 it looks pretty steep, but I’m thinking these have a slightly longer life than your average trail shoe; I usually put about 400 miles on a shoe before I deem it “done”. This remains to be seen, but at just over 100 miles they still feel like the day I took them out of the box.

And I can not reiterate enough times that the piece of mind I have in these bad boys is pretty priceless; I’m talking jagged, sharp rocks having no effect on the outsoles whatsoever. I can see these coming in really handy at mile 45 (and beyond) when the legs are a little extra heavy and the brain is getting a little funky and I’m just like “oh, fuck this”; I feel as though I will have the confidence to step on that gnarly-looking serrated barb of protruding shale (that might otherwise shred a normal running shoe as well as my foot inside) and not have to think twice about it.

So there you have it- my first foray into the maximalist running shoe world. This time last year I was dealing with shin splints and the bottom of my feet always hurt. I was pretty much just wearing the New Balance Minimus 10 Trail and its slightly more beefy cousin the MT 110, and while I think those are great shoes for building leg strength and working on running form while on shorter runs, they didn’t help me for the amount of mileage I was looking to do.

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Uncategorized

Goal Oriented, Part 2 (or “Change of Plans”)

Seems as though I didn’t really acknowledge my “not getting into Western States” and briefly hinted at that a few posts ago, merely saying that I got into Miwok and plan on San Diego as being my first 100-mile attempt.

Well, I didn’t get into the Big Dance for 2014. No Statesmas for me this year. Although, I think I’m going to drive up there and be a spectator, maybe post up at Foresthill to see the leaders roll through and enjoy the party, then head down to Placer High in Auburn and see the finish. I have a good feeling that with the new qualifying standards my chances are looking much better for 2015′s run.

Anyway, I just wanted to acknowledge that. I also wanted to re-define my 2014 in the context of races I got into and new races that tickle my fancy for the second half of the year; I’m also planning a wedding with my partner, so a lot of consideration has gone into planning around that.

Here’s my amended 2014 Race schedule and wish-list (as always; subject to change):

January, February & March: building the base back up, possibly a 50k in late February (looking at Inside Trail’s Chabot race on 2/22) or their Marin Ultra Challenge 50k (March 15th).

April 12th: Lake Sonoma 50 – going to race this as an “A” race, I’m hoping to avenge my death here last year. A lot of my bruised ego is wrapped up in this after last year’s debacle so I’m looking forward to going back and crushing this course. Big time chance for redemption, and anything close to nine hours would be a huge confidence boost. Here’s my race report from last year.

May 3rd: Miwok 100 – I will not be racing this as an “A” race, treating it as a long training run in preparation for my first 100 mile attempt a month later at San Diego. This will be my first attempt at the 100 km distance and takes place on some of my favorite trails in the world, right here in nearby Marin County. Going to use this race to figure out my nutrition and fueling strategies, what it feels like after mile 50, all that sort of stuff. I’ll be testing all the gear I plan on using at SD100.

June 7th: San Diego 100 – Here it is. It’s going to a lottery this year (if it hits 250+ entrants), but right now (at press time) it’s only at 22% full, so it’s looking like a go. So much to consider here, and it’s so far out that I don’t really even have a goal yet. I guess a simple one: just finish. I can see that this race isn’t one of the “sexier” races because of 1) the heat; 2) the exposure (race is 70% exposed); 3) the drop rate during really hot years (over 50%); 4) the extremely technical nature of the trails (super rocky) and 5) it’s a double lollipop out-and-back sort of course. Oh, and 6) it gets really cold at night, looking at a possible 60 degree swing there. So, yeah- I could’ve picked an easier first 100, but what would I learn about myself?

July: going to shut it down for the rest of June, after SD100. Getting married June 21st, so I’ll skip the Woodminster XC race in Joaquin Miller Park (love that race) on the 22nd; I’ve really enjoyed running that the last 2 years. So I’ll change my focus to be all about doing some easy, base miles and chill group runs with friends, but no real training. Probably get back into serious training after the July 4th holiday. So, then- rebuilding the base for most of July.

August 10th: Skyline 50k – this is one of the funner races in the Bay Area, it’s more like a party than anything else. The aid stations and staff are fantastic, the people are great and there’s a roast pig afterwards. I have to do this one again, and I really want to go sub-5 hours. Looking forward to racing this one again.

September 6th: Lost Sierra Endurance Run – this looks like an amazing 50 km run in Plumas National Forest, about 50 miles north of Truckee. Almost 80% single-track, 35 alpine lakes and two mountain summits over 7200′ makes this a pretty cool little weekend getaway race.

October 11th: Dick Collins Firetrails 50 – THE signature East Bay 50-miler, I almost have to do this again. Just a great set-up, everything about this race is awesome, from the themed aid stations to the finish line party, the volunteers, the course; everything. Love it, and will almost certainly be on the start line come October.

November 8th: Rio Del Lago 100 – Another 100-miler? Yep, I’ve had this one on my radar for a minute now. Taking place along the shores of Folsom Lake as well as the North Fork of the American River and using some portions of the Western States trail, it’s a huge lollipop course with a double loop in the middle and a weird little out-and-back at the end; don’t know how that’s going to play out going into the finish area at mile 78 and having to go back out for 22 more miles; but it’s worth 4 points for UTMB (and I’m also going to be looking beyond possible 2015 races to start on my “bucket list” races for ’16 and on…)

December: just chillin’. Not going to race TNF again, going to give my body a full recovery from ’14 and get ready for a big ’15. Looking at possibly doing something huge, I hope WS100 is in the cards, maybe travel (would love to go race in Colorado again, maybe San Juan Solstice?), maybe overseas?

I’m going back to school in September so it will be interesting to see how I can balance a marriage, being in school full-time with a part-time job and a full racing and training schedule.

Bring on 2014.

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Nutrition

Debunking the Myths: Saturated Fat is Your Friend

Dietary fats, specifically saturated fats, are not the demons they’ve been made out to be. Ever wonder how it got that way?

Bad Science and Lies…

In 1947 a researcher named Ancel Keys (remember that name) began a study on the high rate of cardiovascular disease appearing in Minnesota businessmen. His two main hypotheses were: 1) there was a correlation between cholesterol levels and cardiovascular disease and; 2) there was also a correlation between cholesterol and dietary fat intake.

By 1953, Keys had amassed enough data internationally (22 countries’ worth of research!) to posit the following findings:

keys53graphNow Keys can’t be faulted for going into the study with a hypothesis, after all; that’s what scientists do. But what you’re about to see is one of the greatest nutritional hoodwinks ever pulled; Keys straight up lied in order to get the results he desired by omitting 15 countries (but that’s 2/3rds of the data!?!?) from the study.

Because no matter how many statistics classes you’ve taken, you just can’t draw a straight line through the above data points to show any type of correlation. Here are the “results” Keys published:

keys7nationsThat looks really neat and orderly, and definitely shows a positive correlation. This, in fact, was the graph that Keys presented to the world and this is the very reason we’ve all been taught to think that fats are bad because fats make you fat; and in this society we’re taught that fat people are bad, and we (should) know that that’s just not true. I’ll save fat-shaming for another post someday; but if you do that kind of thing to other human beings then shame on you.

Except the world believed Keys, and in 1956 representatives of the American Heart Association, armed with Keys’ bad science and lies, appeared on TV to warn the American public that a diet high in fat (especially butter, lard, eggs & beef) would lead to coronary heart disease.

But forget about all that for a minute, let’s keep looking at some other points of the graph isolated for some more depth:

keys7cleanHere’s a cleaned up version of the above graph; note the 7 countries that Keys used. When I think of those countries’ diets, I would basically rank them from healthiest to least healthy, and that’s how they’re arranged on the graph (that’s Japan at the bottom left on up to USA at the top right). Keys hypothesis fits his data, based on this small (and extremely selective) sample size.

But here’s where Keys started to get frustrated:

keys5cleanWow, it appears as though those countries have little to no instances of heart disease. “Let’s not put those countries in my graph”, said Keys (probably).

Now here’s a different six countries’ data:

keys6cleanOkay, slightly higher instances of heart disease here but the main point that both graphs are trying to make is that the higher the percentage of fat intake the lower the instance of cardiovascular disease. I’d call that a negative correlation, and Keys would too- no wonder he left all this data out of his study!

Let’s play with the data some more:

keys6moreWhoa, that’s a pretty steep decline in deaths related to fat intake. Finland, at 7 deaths per 1000 sits right about 30% of calories from fat intake, while Ireland, at the same percentage sits at just above 4 per 1000. But the Netherlands, closer to 40% fat intake is down at just 2 deaths per 1000.

The Damage Was Already Done…

I can’t fault Keys as a human- I would’ve thrown all that data out, too. Especially if I so badly wanted the world to see that I was right. But as a scientist, that’s completely unprofessional. So what Keys did, right after being exposed as a fraud at a World Health Organization (WHO) meeting on atherosclerosis in Geneva in 1955 by two doctors (Yerushalmy & Hilleboe), he went back and said, “no wait, I got it wrong- it’s Serum Total Cholesterol! That’s what’s killing us!” Hence; total cholesterol AND saturated fats were inextricably linked to each other for all time. The logic went like this: if you ingest too much dietary fat your cholesterol levels will rise and your arteries will become clogged and you will die.

So in 1957 Drs. Yerushalmy & Hilleboe published their findings but with one fatal flaw; they attacked Keys’ methodologies and used an authoritative, pedantic and patronizing tone (I can’t help but think that’s what I’m doing with this very blog post). I guess they really wanted to rub it in Keys’ face, and what ended up happening is that they completely alienated their audience and their report was subsequently buried. By this time Keys had already convinced the WHO and was deep into conducting pilot studies on his Seven Countries.

So people started cutting fat out of their diets. They started using “healthier” oils like canola and margarine over butter. No more eggs! Beef and red meat are bad for you! The FDA urged us to switch to a low-fat diet, replacing all that “harmful” fat with “healthy” carbohydrates.

The Aftermath…

Then people started getting sicker- diabetes, high blood pressure, hypertension, heart disease, inflammatory diseases like Crohn’s Disease, colitis, asthma, celiac and ever-increasing instances of gluten and other food allergies; the list goes on and on.

I chose these common afflictions because they were not considered common 100 years ago. During the early part of the last century, the majority of maladies were infectious diseases either of the bacterial kind (tuberculosis) or viral kind (influenza). Pneumonia, syphilis; that type of stuff, hell- smallpox was still a threat. But these diseases became treatable with the use of antibiotics, antiseptics and cleaner hospital environments.

Then we go back to the list of current diseases, also made “treatable” by today’s medical standards; if you consider the amount of Lipitor prescribed, or albuterol, or the hundreds of diabetes medications. These drugs are all made readily available, prescribed to you by your physician, then purchased at your local Safeway or WalMart. Yes, your local supermarket also has a pharmacy.

This point here leads me to wonder why the Food & Drug Administration are linked together. I’m not a conspiracy theory nut, but why would a country have its food supply regulated by the same organization that regulates its drugs? Could it be they’re selling you the disease AND the cure at the same time? I repeat; your local supermarket ALSO HAS A PHARMACY.

Okay, that was one hell of a tangent, and I’m going to get back on course now.

What Does it All Mean?

Looking again at the evidence provided, we see sharp declines in deaths from cardiovascular disease in proportion to higher fat intakes. In fact, saturated fats have been shown in recent studies to protect the heart; oxidation is actually the true culprit in atherosclerosis and heart disease.

The current research and medical science is now supporting the following findings: eating foods that are high in anti-oxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties protect the heart and blood vessels. Basically, salmon, avocadoes & olive oil are good for your heart while all sugars, corn oil, margarine, and refined or processed grains are not so good.

“Simply stated, without inflammation being present in the body, there is no way that cholesterol would accumulate in the wall of the blood vessel and cause heart disease and strokes. Without inflammation, cholesterol would move freely throughout the body as nature intended. It is inflammation that causes cholesterol to become trapped.”- Dr. Dwight Lundell

You might be wondering “so where’s this link between sugars, processed grains, high doses of carbohydrates and heart disease?” Specifically, is there a link between a diet high in sugar and coronary heart disease & type 2 diabetes? Look no further than John Yudkin, a Professor of Nutrition and Dietetics from Queen Elizabeth College at the University of London and his 1972 book “Pure, White and Deadly”. He had been conducting similar research on sugar (specifically fructose) and its role in triglyceride creation and how said triglycerides (a more technical term for lipids or fats) that are found in the blood are the real indicator of risk factor for heart disease. Simply stated; sugar (and to a lesser extent processed carbohydrates) create inflammation in the arteries.

Of course Keys and his supporters slandered and discredited Yudkin and his findings, and he was more or less laughed off the scene. Yudkin was never able to regain his status as a legitimate scientist, as was any other researcher that even dared try to make the link between sugars and heart disease.

This basically means that it has become so ingrained in the American psyche that fat is bad because eating fat makes you fat, fat clogs your arteries, fat is cholesterol; cholesterol will kill you, etc.; the lies and bad science are so taken as fact that it’s become almost impossible to argue this. And because it provides so much energy, therefore sugar can only be good.

And the instances of preventable diseases continue to rise.

How it Applies to Me…

So the Standard American Diet (SAD) guidelines passed down from the Reccommended Daily Allowances Food Chart says I need 130 grams of carbohydrate per day versus only 56 grams of protein against 20 to 35 grams of total fat (17 of those grams coming from un-healthy omega-6 polyunsaturated fats* like soy & corn oil) while only allowing for 1.6 grams a day of the much healthier omega-3 fatty acids. The proportion of carbs to protein to fat (let’s take the mid-point of that 20 to 35 range and call it 27.5) breaks down percentage-wise to be 61-26-13.

* – omega-6 fatty acids taken in proper proportion to omega-3′s and omega-9′s do have highly beneficial properties; however taken alone- as in margarine just by itself, which is high in omega-6′s (but not omega-3 or -9) has a harmful effect.

If there’s a link between diet and health (and I believe there is) then that proportion right there is why we’re getting sick at the rate we are. I’m not totally either paleo or LCHF (low carb/high fat) adherent, (probably somewhere closer to the 20-20-60 range) and I think there’s a lot of common sense in how those diets employ macronutrients; they mimic what the human diet has looked like for millennia. For someone like myself that has exhibited symptoms of metabolic syndrome as well as insulin resistance, they do in fact work. But they’re not for everybody.

Conclusion

So it’s from my personal experience (and from doing this research) that I’ve been led to believe that a diet high in saturated fat is a diet that works not only best for me, but those experiencing symptoms of metabolic syndrome. And not only as an endurance athlete, but also from a pure health standpoint. I just generally feel better; have more energy, rarely have episodes of binge eating brought on from crazy hunger pangs, I don’t experience that “food coma” sensation after a meal because I’m more satiated from eating a plate of healthy fats and oils, don’t always have to reach for that late afternoon cup of coffee, etc. Another added bonus is being able to actually taste my food as it’s supposed to taste, because I’m not eating overly processed crap with a ton of additives.

So that’s it for now. I have a lot more to say on the topic, and if you want to read more about all this, here are the sources I used for researching this article (or some other sites I read but didn’t use).

Thanks for reading! I also welcome and invite any comments, criticisms, rebuttals, etc.

http://high-fat-nutrition.blogspot.com/2009/02/cholesterol-presentation-between.html

 http://www.marksdailyapple.com/saturated-fat-healthy/#axzz2jgjHmDPf

 http://www.legacy.library.ucsf.edu/documentStore/n/o/z/noz55d00/Snoz55d00.pdf

 http://runlonger.blogspot.com/2013/05/burn-fat-for-fuel-interview-with-peter.html?m=1

http://julieberg.blogspot.com/2010/10/if-you-are-ultrarunner-you-have-no.html?m=1

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/06/01/eating-fat-staying-lean/?_r=1

http://www.dietdoctor.com/final-report-two-months-of-strict-lchf-and-ketone-monitoring

http://zachbitterrunning.blogspot.com/search/label/Nutrition

http://www.westonaprice.org/traditional-diets/guts-and-grease

 http://anh-europe.org/news/saturated-fat-is-not-the-culprit-in-heart-disease

 http://www.epi.umn.edu/cvdepi/essay.asp?id=33

 http://www.sott.net/article/242516-Heart-surgeon-speaks-out-on-what-really-causes-heart-disease

 http://www.iom.edu/Global/News%20Announcements/~/media/C5CD2DD7840544979A549EC47E56A02B.ashx

 http://high-fat-nutrition.blogspot.com/2007/11/professor-john-yudkin-and-dr-ancel-keys.html

 http://www.spacedoc.com/eggs_cholesterol

 http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/17/magazine/mag-17Sugar-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

 

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