Letters Never Written: the DNF

Yep, I had a DNF earlier this year, back in February. The dreaded DID NOT FINISH. Dropped out at mile 20 of a 50k. I probably learned more about not only running and competing but a lot about myself from not finishing this race than almost all of my other finishes combined. I also ate a huge steaming pile of crow that fateful day in February, because up until that point I had been bragging about never having dropped from a race.

How about that title, too? Little bit “emo”, eh? I didn’t want to get too over-dramatic but c’mon, it’s click bait. Seems that DNFing has become one of the hottest topics in ultrarunning over the last year, or maybe it seems that way to me now that I’ve dipped my toes into that pool. But I digress…

If you check my UltraSignup page the DNF is not listed there, and that’s okay. It says something to the effect of “wow, you’re tough as nails, you have no DNFs that we know of.” But in fact, I dropped from that race, a little over a mile from the start/finish aid station at 30k. Walking back to the start and seeing the other 50k runners go the opposite way by me; some offering encouragement to keep going (“don’t ever make a decision on an uphill” one guy said), some with looks of disappointment, a few didn’t even want to make eye contact, some with looks of relief (that it wasn’t them dropping) and some saying “you’ll get ‘em next time”.

I can remember the feeling of un-pinning my bib from my shorts and stuffing it in my pocket, at first to hide my embarrassment from the fact that I was just racing one minute and the next I’m done. Then this slow creep of self-doubt that gave way to this feeling of complete and utter failure- now this idea had manifested in me of if I’d ever be able to finish another ultra again, and at that point I wanted to crawl into a cave and/or jump in that dirty lake.

Failure can really fuck with your head.

Because I had the Miwok 100k on the calendar for early-May, going for another Western States qualifier, I had to immediately switch gears right after LA from road marathon training to 100k trail training, stuffing what amounts to some serious mileage into about 5 weeks, hoping to jack up the mileage and not to get hurt while making sure I had enough work under my belt to be somewhat prepared to run 62 miles, and to put everything into finishing that race healthy.

Then if I didn’t run a 3:08 or better at LA, I’d have to switch gears right back to marathon training after Miwok and put a July-August road marathon back on the schedule, which is exactly what happened anyway- hindsight is a bitch.

So there’s the first piece of the puzzle adding up to the DNF: stress. This unrealistic expectation that I had to get a BQ, no matter what. My focus for the last few years has been solely on trail ultras so the idea to run a fast road marathon put me completely out of my comfort zone; everything I had done up to this round of marathon training had been based around three things: trails, elevation, and spending as much time on my feet as was possible. So when I say just looking at a marathon training program, with all the “10 x 800 repeats” and “X miles at marathon pace” on the calendar, that left me in a place I hadn’t been in in years.

We also found out we were pregnant around this time, so I had to pull myself out of the Wasatch Front 100 lottery because that was really close to our due date, and it’s probably not a good idea to go run 100 miles in the Utah wilderness 3 weeks before your first child is set to arrive. My wife is really supportive of my running, but that’s asking a lot. So there’s some more stress, albeit a positive stressor but still a huge life change- one that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time.

Then the idea that I didn’t feel like an ultrarunner anymore because I had yet to run an ultra in 2015- never mind the fact that I’d run nineteen prior to lining up at the start of the Inside Trail Chabot 50k on February 21st. I thought it might be a dumb idea to run 31-plus miles 3 weeks out from a goal race, but hey- gotta get that ultra cred, right? What a dumb thing to think, after all- once an ultrarunner, always an ultrarunner, right?

Goin' down the road feelin' bad bad bad. But lookin' good good good, I guess. Damn.

Goin’ down the road feelin’ bad bad bad. But lookin’ good good good, I guess. Damn.

Let’s also put “ego” as a reason I wouldn’t finish this race. I knew I had come close to running my trail 50k PR here the year before, and that based on the recent marathon training and all the speedwork I felt 4:41 or faster was totally doable. When I came through the 30k at somewhere around 2:45 all I was thinking was that I “had” to run the last 13 miles in 1:55, which again was totally doable but took me right out of the moment and put me into future-tripping mode. Nothing will wreck your serenity like hanging your self-worth on a result rather than being fully immersed in the process.

It’s not like I was completely falling apart during this race, I was still being my jolly old self- smiling, laughing and joking with all the aid station folks, trying to have a good time. I even stopped to check on a runner that stepped off the trail with shortness of breath- doing all the stuff you’re supposed to do. I also wasn’t feeling quite 100%- my stomach was super sloshy all day. I learned at this race that I can no longer use a certain product (that shall remain nameless) and just couldn’t get myself right nutritionally, so I thought I’d just run through it and as is usually the case in an ultra I’ll be okay in a half hour, or maybe six more miles; but to no avail. I had that weird feeling like when you’re about to get sick, like a cold sweat kind of feeling. It lasted all day.

I also realized after DNFing, that if it’s not an “A” race for me then my heart just isn’t in it. I define an A race as the huge goal race for a long-term block of training done specifically leading up to that race. I mean, this wasn’t even a B race, which is how I define a “tune up” race to see what kind of fitness I have leading into my A race. Kaiser Half was a great tune up for LA, I was targeting a 1:30 and was right where I wanted to be, so everything was lining up nicely.

Then there’s the C race, where I’m more or less using a race as a workout. The only way I could’ve justified doing a 50k in February was if I was running a 50-miler in March. So all of this in my head pretty much took my heart out of it. That kind of disconnect is lethal to my psyche, this was basically a D race- so the grade I received for this was an F.

Which brings me to my next point: this race was in no way any part of my training that could be considered specific to the distance or terrain I was going to see in LA. Non-specific training is a waste of time (I would also learn after LA that Yasso 800’s are pointless for marathon training, but hey- it’s all a process). So stick to the program.

I was just running a race to run it. Had no heart or head in it at all, no real reason to run it. I was basically just using a race credit from volunteering. It would’ve made more sense to just run the 30k, because a hilly nineteen mile tempo run makes sense in the build-up to a marathon, which is basically what I did.

So there’s a list of reasons why I didn’t finish that race; but as someone who knows when he’s bullshitting himself, reasons are just well-worded excuses and I’m not trying to hide truths from myself. If anything, running has been a gateway to getting in touch with the real me, my true authentic self. The experiences I’ve had running that have brought me closer to those truths are not something I can take all that lightly anymore.

One of the most important things I learned from this race was to be a bit more discerning when signing up for a race, not to try to force an experience on myself that I’m not totally into. There’s a huge difference between mindful and mindless running, trying to do a race because you feel like you’re missing out on something is pretty ridiculous.

I’ve learned that being fully engaged in the process, that’s when flow state is achieved and probably one of the most important things I’ve taken away from the whole thing. Everything has to align in just the right way for me to be totally psyched up to run a good race, and for 21 of the 22 ultras I’ve started, it was there- Lake Sonoma 50, San Diego 100, even Wendell’s Coastal races I get hyped for.

I was always in the moment, it was fun, it was fun even when it wasn’t. It’s been said that you’re not really an ultrarunner until you DNF your first race, so not finishing a race I ran because I didn’t feel like an ultrarunner is a little too ironic.

So there you have it, my first (and only) DNF as of today. It’s a yucky feeling and one I hope to not revisit any time soon.

Thanks for reading!

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The 2015 Santa Rosa Marathon Race Report

If you’re going to try to run a fast road marathon, please take the next day off of work. Seriously. I say this from the fortress of comfort that is my bed, typing this up on Monday morning. Lucky for me, I’m on vacation this week so my only plans until next Monday are: eat a lot while laying on the couch and watching the track and field World Championships from Beijing.

I don’t plan on running a step until Saturday and the best thing about that is I couldn’t run right now if I tried. Even normal walking is hard, and the flight of stairs that leads outside is a very scary proposition right now.

People always ask me “is it worth it?” and without hesitation I answer “of course it is”. Before I started this journey, I spent the first 33 years of my life seeking as much comfort as possible, trying to avoid hardships and uncomfortable situations. Through running I’ve learned how to embrace the suck; I’ve been allowed to let myself be transformed into the person I always wanted to be but was way too afraid to step outside of.

Whenever I see someone running, I don’t think about what they’re running from, but rather what they’re running to.

And yes, the first few minutes after a race I’m cursing my very existence and thinking “never again”, but once that wears off and what I just did starts to sink in, the feeling can last and last. Yesterday was no exception, I thought “I never want to do this again, I need to get back on the trails…” but really, I just like to run.

So- race day: had an okay night’s sleep both Friday and Saturday, actually woke up really early Saturday morning at 5:45 to watch the men’s World Championship 10,000 meter final in Beijing, and considering how dominant Mo Farah has been recently I probably could’ve stayed in bed and already knew who was going to win it.

Left to drive up to Santa Rosa with my wife, at a leisurely pace- stopped in Petaluma to do some “antiquing”, eat lunch (turkey burger with fries and a shake, then checked into hotel at 4 pm and went for a swim in lieu of a shakeout run. I felt loose and good, I’m thinking if I can from now on go for a little swim instead of a pre-race shaker. Ate a delicious dinner of gnochetti and pesto followed by a little bowl of chocolate peanut butter gelato. Lucas and Sarah arrived about 9 pm, we all talked a little bit, then went to bed about 9:45.

Pre-race layout photo, thought it was time I did one of these. Okay, now I never have to do it again!

Pre-race layout photo, thought it was time I did one of these. Okay, now I never have to do it again!

Woke up at 3:30 am (about 4 minutes before my alarm, just shot right up wide awake and ready to go), made coffee, watched some World Championship races (I think men’s 800 meters heats). Left for downtown Santa Rosa about 5 am, got to the start about 5:15, did a quick shakeout jog with Lucas, lubed up heavily (Lucas is a taper so we got band-aids from the medical tent) then checked our bags, got into our corral (#1) and tried to stay loose and let the nerves flow out of me, then GO! Race starts at 6 am.

It was great running with Lucas, we were clicking off mile paces between 6:48 and 7:00 through the first 8 miles, trying to stay as close to 6:52 pace as we could- just chatting the whole time, it was unbelievable how comfortable that pace felt. Took a Gu at 30 minutes, ended up falling in with a group of guys that materialized around mile 6 and would basically run together for the next 13-14 miles.

We both stopped to pee at mile 8.5-ish, took a Gu, drank some water, got right back on pace- had my crew meet me at mile 13 so I could drink about 150 calories of Ucan, went through the half at 1:31:23, wanted to go through 1:29-1:30 but figured for every minute or so that I held back in the first half, I’d be buying myself a minute towards the end, and in a weird way with how good I felt I really did believe that I was holding a lot back.

Here I am at the half marathon mark, still feel as fresh as a daisy!

Here I am at the half marathon mark, still feel as fresh as a daisy! (photos courtesy of my wife)

Lucas stopped at mile 14 to check something with his foot, I yelled back to him “you’ll catch me…” but we never saw each other again. He ended up DNF’ing at mile 15.5 with it, same thing that was bothering him at SF Half a month earlier. I thought he’d just temporarily try to stretch something out or check on a blister but it turned out to be a bit more serious than first thought.

Things started to get a little hairy about 17-18, so I took another Gu right at the 2-hour mark, then hit mile 20.2 timing mat at 2:21:31- I wanted to be closer to 2:15 because if I wanted to go sub-3 that last 10k would have to be about 45 minutes. My crew fed me more Ucan right here and said they’d see me at the finish- Carl actually ran a good probably quarter of a mile with me, telling me I looked strong, that felt great. I was still trying to maintain pace; was able to hit a 6:59 and a 7:06 for miles 20 & 21, then a 7-flat at 22, then the wall comes.

Stride looks a little short, things are getting rough at mile 20.2

Stride looks a little short, things are getting rough at mile 20.2

It’s not so much a wall as it feels more like trying to give a 600 pound gorilla a piggy back ride. So here’s this massive slow down coming, a 7:20, a 7:45, and then an 8:02 bringing me up to mile 25. Add some minor cramping to the mix, and that bothersome Achilles issue (was wondering when that would show up) and now I’m deep in the pain cave.

Now all I could do was bite my lower lip, focus on the “now” and just try to hold on, a 7:56 for mile 25 (at 2:56 elapsed, thinking it’s gonna be close to that 3:08-ish I need for the BQ), it literally felt like running an all-out vo2 max mile repeat, I gave it everything I had; I’m sure my heart rate at this point was up around 170, my effort was way higher than my pace here.

Also, at this point I was trying to think a lot about things that inspire me, and as I jumbled my thoughts around, thinking of stuff like Steve Prefontaine quotes, all those Thursday nights up in the Redwoods logging headlamp miles with my running bros and most importantly my beautiful and supportive 34-week pregnant wife.

I also had to laugh, remembering that I paid someone for the pleasure of hurting like this. The best thing about the end of a marathon is the people cheering you on- I couldn’t make out anyone’s face right now but they all looked so genuinely happy and the noise helped to alleviate some of the hurt.

I also thought of one of the message boards I frequent to both give and get for support, I thought about all my peeps on the Strava, all the advice I’ve asked friends for and all the folks hat have hit me up for help training for their first 5k or half marathon; I felt like I was really a part of something bigger, like a cog in the gears of the machinery of life, with running at the center.

Here comes mile 26 and the cramping has gotten so much worse, calves, quads, groin (that’s the worst type of cramp) slowed to about an 8:15 pace momentarily, kept thinking, “no no no just hold on” with the idea that I was not allowed at any point to go above 8-minute pace during the race.

Then I turned a corner, saw my people cheering me on and got a huge boost. Then seeing the finish chute and go into an all out sprint- which was like 7:30 pace but felt like sub 5-minute pace.

I can not only smell the barn here but I can see it...

I can not only smell the barn here but I can see it…

So, managed to hold on at the end for that Boston Qualifier- ran a 3:07:01, minus-2:59 under the 3:10 standard. I finished 85th overall, 78th men’s division and 7th in the men’s 35-39 age group.

It’s finally started to sink in after all the Facebook messages, Strava love and texts, I can go run Boston.

Here’s the kicker though; I’m going to register in September but I’m only 50-50 on if I can do it- as far as next year’s races are concerned, everything hinges on the Western States lottery.

I hate to have to choose between Boston and WS100, but I’ve been trying to get in States for four years now and that race takes precedent over Boston, for me.

When people say “do both” it comes down to 1) the financial demand of both races 2) the demands of time- I’ve got a newborn on the way so just training for one or more races next year will be a challenge.

I also have to weigh how hard it is to get into WS versus how hard it is to get into Boston, and just on that alone I’d have to go with The Big Dance over The Most Famous Marathon in the Known Universe.

So, after a full week has gone by as I try to get this report done I’m left with the idea that I feel like more of a complete runner now, like I joined a new tribe that’s a sub-set of an even bigger tribe.I tried to hold on to that “hey bro I only run trails” but after this year and going back and doing shorter stuff, road races, et. al. I feel as though I have a better understanding of as well as an appreciation for all kinds of running.

I guess another thing I’ve been thinking is that for me it’s more about getting the BQ than it is about actually running Boston. I think I wanted to prove to myself that I could do a around of intense road marathon training, get faster and give it everything I had and really learn to love the road.

I think I accomplished that.

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The Chabot Trail Challenge & Woodminster 9-Miler Race Reports

These are so overdue it’s not even funny, so I’ll just cut to the chase. The Chabot Trail Half and the Woodminster XC are the second and third races of the East Bay Triple Crown Trail Championship and my goals for the races were super ambitious yet tempered with the idea that I’m not going to hang my head in shame if I didn’t hit my goals. Races disguised as hard training runs are like that; it’s a good place to over-reach, if you’re into that sort of thing.

THE HALF: I haven’t run a trail half since May of 2012 so I kind of forgot what to expect. I mean, a trail half marathon with about 1800 feet of climb is going to hurt just as bad as a 20-mile training run done at a moderate pace, so I figured either way I’m getting another hard long run in.

I also had been battling a cold the week before, missing a few days of work and praying that I’d be able to toe the line come Sunday. The cold went away but I was left with a lingering sinus infection that in hindsight I probably shouldn’t have started the race; so says the doctor I finally went to see the day after, the one that put me on antibiotics and told me running really hard wasn’t a good idea. Well then, my bad.

I woke up and had some black coffee, took a hot shower to loosen my nasal congestion and left the house feeling pretty decent- I picked up my buddy Jimmy and we cruised over to Lake Chabot together. I drank about 250 calories of Vitargo about 45 minutes before the race, did a little one mile warm up and peeled off my outer layers- the sun was out and I thought, damn- it might get warm.

We started, and as usual I went out with the first 10-15 runners, settling in with Jimmy and my buddy Lucas and the two high school kids that finished right behind me at the Tilden Tough Ten. One of those kids is a 4:40 miler, so mad respect- I’ll never hit that pace for anything longer than 200 meters. We started to spread out along the bike path and I stayed with Lucas and Jimmy until the first big climb, up Lone Oak. Lucas started to pull away from us and a minute or two later I pulled away from Jimmy. This climb was brutal and I was unprepared- road marathon training has completely killed my hill climbing legs.

Anyway, things flatten out along Brandon Trail as you run by that god-awful gun range (there’s nothing more unsettling than hearing blast after blast of rifle rounds); it’s really just a series of mellow rollers here on wide fire roads. Jimmy caught back up to me around here, so did the high school dudes. There was a long, steady descent that I was able to drop sub-6 pace for almost a mile, opened up a gap on those guys, still couldn’t see Lucas- he must’ve been flying!

I felt great for the next 5 or 6 miles; down across the Stone Bridge and then powered up Jackson Grade, a long mellow climb to the aid station (I think mile 8 or 9) then around mile 10 the wheels started to come off a bit. First Jimmy passes me looking very strong. I tried to go with him but the mild heat was killing me. Then, a small gnat flew in my eye. Then my calves got super tight and I started cursing my shoe choice (I wore the Nike Zoom Streak LT2’s, basically a lightweight XC racing flat).

So I basically made a choice, and that was to say fuck it and just run- I’ve been through worse, way worse. I’ve experienced bloody nipples, shin splints, the loss of toenails, being without water for 6+ miles on the Olmstead Loop when it was 99 degrees, running all day and all night (yep, two damn sunrises!), I’m pretty sure I can deal with all this.

So I did, I ran with that gnat lodged in my eye, the sweat burning and stinging from trying to get it out while running, that sinus infection, my uncooperative calves; everything that was bothering me at that moment was really small potatoes.

I wanted to hit marathon pace on this last section, there was minimal elevation difference here so I thought I’d be able to hit somewhere around 6:45 pace but alas, I came in with an 8:22 (yuck), a 7:20 and a 7:25. I thought, so what? The only person to pass me the last half of the race was one of my favorite people in the entire world, good for him (seriously- that might sound sarcastic but I was genuinely happy I was passed by a friend and not some iPod-listening-and-Nike Free wearing cross fitter) so the fact that I couldn’t hit pace just meant I needed to train differently. Or maybe not run with a severe sinus infection.

I crossed the line with a 1:43:44, good enough for 14th overall and 13th men’s, and another 2nd place finisher medal for the 35-39 age group, I swear I have like five second-place finisher medals from Coastal and Inside Trail races. It’s become such a thing I was temporarily nicknamed “Deuce” after the race by my friend Steve who was there to cheer his wife Kelly on, but alas, the name hasn’t stuck.

Those sunglasses though.

Those sunglasses though.

So I wanted to run somewhere around 1:34-1:37, but that’s the breaks. I felt pretty good about my combined time for this race and the Tilden Tough Ten with a 2:51:29- so I had a new goal for Woodminster of running a 1:08:30 to go under four hours combined for the Triple Crown. That brings us to…

THE WOODMINSTER: Coming just 14 days after Chabot, the championship of the three races- the 50th annual Dick Houston Memorial Woodminster XC Race. I took two days off of running after Chabot (and three days of work) so I was both looking forward to racing again yet apprehensive- my sinuses felt pretty wrecked through the next weekend so I eased myself back into training with a couple easy 6-milers and then a 5 x 1 mile (first 4 at a “moderate” pace, last one at marathon pace) on Friday then a brutal 20-miler on Sunday, a Jack Daniels-inspired tempo-long-tempo (TLT).

It’s a gnarly long run/workout, basically 3 miles of warm-up, then 3 miles at tempo (which I couldn’t quite hit, was 41 seconds off) then an hour easy, then 3 miles back at tempo (I couldn’t even hit marathon pace for the second part, was probably a good 3 minutes off) then a 3-mile slog home.

After being put on a 10-day round of antibiotics plus a new allergy medication (Flonase; I’m now a steroid user!) I was wary of going too hard at Woodminster, but I figured I was 9 weeks out from Santa Rosa and a hard effort now might save me from a hard effort later- better to hurt a little now in the fundamental period than hurt in the sharpening period leading up to the race.

I had two workouts scheduled the week before WXC, one was mild and the other pretty tough- Tuesday was an easy-progression-easy (3 easy, 3 miles at MP speeding up to 5k pace, 3 easy) and Thursday called for some ladder intervals on the track (1-2-3-2-1-2-3 minutes at 5k-10k pace with equal recoveries) which really beat me up.

Then my ego got the best of me and I spent the next two days attacking a bunch of local CRs on Strava segments, so of course I showed up at the start line already tired come Sunday morning.

But this was kind of the point; I have to learn how (rather, I’m “teaching” my body how) to run hard when it really hurts. That last 10k of the marathon is where this most recent round of training is focused; my success at Santa Rosa hinges on my ability to push through the discomfort and embrace the suck.

So, the day of the race. It was actually me and my wife’s wedding anniversary, so we had a whole day planned after the race. The fact that she even let me run on such a day was huge, that’s a testament to her awesome support. I owe her big time.

Talking to Jason, another Excelsior guy, right before the start.

Talking to Jason, another Excelsior guy, right before the start.

The Woodminster is a handicapped race, with the first runners going right at 9 am, it’s the older men (65+) and little girls (under 12, which is a weird combo, right?) and the 45+ women. Then four minutes later the 35-44 women go with the 60-64 men. After another four minutes the 12 & under boys go with the 13-34 women and 55-59 men. Then the 45-54 men, then my group (the 35-44 men) and finally the “scratch” runners, 13 to 34 year old men.

My buddies Lucas and Jimmy were also there, and if I remember correctly we were all either in the top ten or knocking on the door of the top 10 for the Triple Crown. Those guys started in the scratch pack, so another goal I had was to not let those guys pass me.

The first time I ran the race (2012) I was passed less than two miles in, by local Marin speedsters Alex Varner and Gus Gibbs. I ran a 1:22:23 but was somehow listed at the wrong age (42) and the wrong time (1:34:23).

The next time I raced (2013) I was passed just under 3 miles in, so I was making progress- this time it was those same two guys plus Matt Laye. I ran a 1:13:03 and felt good about improving nine-plus minutes from last year, or about a minute per mile. I finished 29th overall, 27th men’s division.

...and we're off!

…and we’re off!

This year, it was right after three miles (Ivan Medina and Sam Robinson caught me this time) and I felt good about that, still improving. I felt as though I was in 1:07 shape today and as long as I stayed close to my target pace of 7:30 per mile, I’d be okay. I knew I could absolutely hammer the downs somewhere south of 6-minute pace, so I really had to stay as close as I could to 9:00 pace for the ups.

Everything was going according to plan, even up the bottom of Starflower Trail when it first climbs out of the canyon from Stream Trail. This is that “Woodmonster” you’ve heard about. That’s a 700+ foot climb in about 1.2 miles, and it hurts. I lost all my mojo here, hitting mile 6 at just under 51 minutes. Thinking about running 3 more miles to the finish in 17 minutes was daunting, and I was relieved that it was mostly downhill.

But I was officially cooked, only able to hit a 7:29, 7:40 and a 7:15 pace for those last three miles, and of course Lucas passes me with about a half mile to go, I wanted so badly to go in with him, but had nothing. I kept trying to go to the well and it was bone dry. Guys kept passing me and I couldn’t go with them, it was both demoralizing and a lesson in humility- I’ve kept this race close to me and have used it a few times during tougher training runs to motivate me.

So I crossed the line at 1:10:01, 1:30 off my goal but happy to be done. These short races hurt the whole time- I went out hard, probably too hard. But I guess that was the point again; to make myself hurt and get to a spot where I’d have to push through the hurt and see what would happen.

I finished in 30th overall, 29th men’s and 7th in the men’s 35-44 division.



That’s the bad news.

The good news: I finished 6th overall in the East Bay Triple Crown Trail Championship with a combined time of 4:01:30, with my buddy Lucas finishing just ahead of me in 5th overall. It was a really great experience- met some solid people, saw some folks I haven’t seen in a while and ran some down-homey good time old school races.

Don’t know if I’ll ever do it again, but at least I got the opportunity to do it this year and for that I’m super grateful. So here’s to the Lake Merritt Joggers and Striders and the Castro Valley Track Club for helping put these races on, as well as the amazing trail community in the East Bay.

A special shout out to the East Bay Regional Parks Dept. and the volunteer trail workers for keeping our trails well-maintained.

Next up: The Redwood Anvil 20-Miler Race Report

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The Marin Memorial Day 10k (another very late race report)

I’ve always been a little more than freaked out around the idea of running 6.2 miles really hard; in actuality I’m rather offended at the idea. I mean, ten kilometers all out? What’s the point?

I think the question is the answer for this one, it’s simply ten kilometers, run at around 92 to 94% of your maximum heart rate- think of it as a pop quiz. The actual question isn’t actually “what’s the point?”, it really should be “how fit am I?” and the answer is your 10k time. It’s a great distance to put right after the base (or introductory) phase of a marathon cycle; once you see where you’re at upon starting the fundamental period it hones your focus by acting as both a key workout AND a chance to see how your pacing strategy is working- I figured if I can go somewhere around 6:15 to 6:20 per mile pace for the 10k (right around 39 minutes total) I’d be right at where I should be, so it’s really a test that you don’t necessarily have to be ready for- hence calling it a “pop quiz”.

The week leading up to this pop quiz was a pretty decent week in terms of volume and intensity- 70 miles with two solid workouts; Tuesday was four six-minute repeats at 10k pace (around 6:30/mile) with three minutes of rest between repeats. Thursday was two fifteen-minute repeats at half marathon pace with only one minute of rest between; 6:40/mile pace. I then switched the days of the weekend, so I did my long run Saturday which was 18 miles with 12 30-second pickups at 5k pace. What a week. To say I went into my first 10k race with tired legs would be an understatement.

But I figured, hey- running a solid 10k on already tired legs is really what a successful marathon demands, right?


I honestly can’t remember what I had for dinner the night before, I think gnocchi with pesto? Either way, 10k isn’t going to even remotely tap into my glycogen stores so I think I had a pretty light dinner followed by a small cup of vanilla gelato.

Morning of; small cup of coffee upon waking, then on the drive up I had about 200 calories of Vitargo S2 about 60 minutes before the start and didn’t bother with Gu or any kind of gels during the race, there’s no way you should need any calories during a 10k, even if you’re running 10 minute pace (that’s 62 minutes total). I remember drinking a decent amount of water beforehand, maybe 15-20 ounces, again- unless it’s blazing hot you’re really only going to need maybe two sips of water the whole race.

Did a quick little shake out-slash-warm up on the track, just back and forth up the straightaway, probably more to get the nerves out than a real warm up. I figured this was gonna hurt, so let’s just get it over with…

I tried to weasel my way up to the front as best I could, met a few other Excelsior runners, stopped to introduce myself. The race starts and I feel light, tried to hold back but ticked off the first mile at 6:04. Earlier that week I thought I’d try to “taper” for the race by not doing my long run at all but I’m in the school of thought that the long run is the single most important run you can do for marathon training and wasn’t about to sabotage Santa Rosa for a 10k that’s really a glorified tempo run. I had it in my head (briefly) that I’d go for sub-37 (5:57 pace) and might have been able to without an 18-miler two days prior, but again; ego is a terrible thing and hopefully I’m mature enough to delay instant gratification for long-term success.

So miles 2 and 3 were pretty uneventful- it’s a long out-and-back with a lollipop loop, pretty much all the elevation gain (a little more than 50 feet) happens between miles 1 and 2, and then you lose again very gradually over the next two miles. Then it’s basically as flat as a pancake the last 5k.

I pretty much settled in to a pace that worked for me, miles 2-4 were 6:14, 6:08 and 6:15. Saw Jorge Maravilla and said hi, probably pretty weakly (my breathing was pretty labored)- he was beaming, holding his little boy while cheering on runners. That dude oozes positivity, so I got a boost hearing him say “go Jimmy Mac!”.

I think mile five was tough for whatever reason, a 6:23 being my slowest mile but still put me ahead of my loose goal of 39 minutes- I think that was that damn bridge crossing, not one but two really narrow 90-degree turns, basically forcing you to dodge around a corner. That shit is hard to do running at full speed, I would’ve much rather taken my chances trying to jump the creek (I would love to be a steeplechaser!) That bridge was a pain in the ass, but the path that runs over that creek starts to widen, as does the creek itself and turns into a canal totally out in the open so it’s basically straight into the wind. I vaguely remember a photographer here.

photo courtesy of Pam Wendell

photo courtesy of Pam Wendell

Anyway, I passed a few more people in the last mile, was hurting a little but not too bad, wanted to save something for the last two-tenths of a mile. There was a turn in off the road back towards the track, I guess it was the entrance to College of Marin’s parking lot and saw Nakia Baird here with his dog, I think he said I looked good, “or maybe I looked “dead”, either way he was right. He might have actually not had a dog with him, maybe I hallucinated that, or maybe I saw him earlier in the race. It seriously happened so fast.

I hit the track and suddenly felt really fresh and springy again- seeing the finish line has that effect on me. I passed maybe 4 or 5 more runners in the 300 meters around the track and crossed the line with a 38:35, I was completely gassed. I immediately went hands-on-knees and felt like I needed to puke, forgot to turn my watch off for about 10 seconds. There were Excelsior guys everywhere, I introduced myself to a few of them- then I went and drank a 20-oz bottle of water and tried not to puke it back up.

I was pretty happy with my first 10k, like I said it went so fast I feel like there were flashes of memories; it’s not like an ultra or even a marathon where it feels like one long movie, complete with full conversations with other humans, this was like “holy shit is this pace sustainable?” and by the time you think you can’t hold it for one second longer it’s over.

So as far as my “pop quiz” score, a 38:35 is a 6:13 pace for the race, which for me, coming off a 70-mile week is pretty good. This puts me on the Jack Daniels’ VDOT scale at between 54 and 55, and going back to February’s Kaiser Half marathon, that performance of 1:29:03 put me between 51 and 52, so there’s been some fitness gains, at least for the shorter distances.

If I can continue to improve my current level of fitness, not get injured, make increases to my specific endurance from doing faster long runs AND put it all together on race day, hopefully a Boston Qualifier is in my future.

I think one of the coolest things about training for a marathon is putting all the things you already know together with all the things you’re still able to learn- call it an experiment of one stimulated by curiosity; I know a few things that work for me through years of trial-and-error, yet I’m still eager to discover the things I don’t know yet.

Strava stats

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The Tilden Tough Ten (Better Late than Never?)

I know I already said in a previous post how running fast kind of hurts, and the faster you try to run the more it hurts, and the shorter the race it’s probably going to end up hurting the whole time. I’ve learned that I’m not the type of guy that can easily go out and run anything near 6:20 pace and be remotely comfortable; I’m way happier running at least a minute per mile slower, and in actuality I really prefer running closer to 8:20 pace, where I can comfortably plug in and bang away at a (flat road) 50k and not be all that beat up after. I guess I’m lucky like that.

So in the build up to the Santa Rosa Marathon I’ve decided to run a lot of shorter races and really try to hone my leg speed- it’s been said that sprinters are born, not made- so I feel like I’m fighting an uphill battle trying to get faster, and eventually I’ll hit my ceiling. But it’s still a lot of fun, the “trying” to get faster.


I also decided to get really serious about training and went and got the Brad Hudson and Matt Fitzgerald book “Run Faster from the 5k to the Marathon: How to Be Your Own Best Coach”, Hudson might be best known for coaching Dathan Ritzenhein when he dropped out of Colorado to run pro, he helped coach Ritz to his first (and only) Olympic marathon in ’08. I also like the title because I’m totally un-coachable; mostly because I am poor, and a $10 book appeals to my sensibilities rather than a $150/month coach. I also might not benefit from having a coach because I’m already highly motivated- I am completely in love with the simple, pure act of just running and for right now I don’t need someone to motivate me. I like the idea of coaching, however- part of me wishes I had one when I started out. Maybe one day I’ll hire a coach, if I plateau and nothing I try works or (gasp) wake up one day and the fire has gone out…

But today I’m really attracted to the idea of sticking with a training program and being lucky enough to have the self-discipline to get out there every day (running seven days a week now), doing the scheduled workouts (or the alternative workout since Hudson’s plan is “adaptive” in that I can change the workout or flip-flop days if I’m not feeling 100% fresh), hitting the track (I really love going to the track now, never thought that would happen) and really cherish the long run (I’ve always loved going long but now I feel like it has a point to it). I’ve seen some promising results and feel like I’m only barely scratching the surface of becoming a solid runner. Plus, there’s the collateral effect of becoming a better human in all of the aforementioned process.

If you’re wondering what it means to have an “adaptive” approach to training, it’s basically the same as all the other training programs except it’s not as cookie-cutter as the free online ones. It follows two basic rules, and both are really the same rule- having an understanding how the human body adapts to different types of training and to train accordingly AND then understanding how your body adapts to various types of training and to train accordingly. The main components to every marathon training program are: you build endurance by doing a weekly long run and the rest of your runs should be a mix of faster running and slower recovery runs; they all work in conjunction with each other reflexively- the long run improves your endurance, the shorter, faster stuff improves your speed, which you can then use to run your long runs faster, building up to race day when it all comes together.

Since I want to run a “fast” marathon, it would make more sense for me to run my long runs at a faster pace- it makes absolutely no sense to go run an “easy” 18 miles, especially if I’m trying to target a 6:52 pace for a 26.2, I should be running at a pace much closer to what I’m trying to race at. Long, slow slogs are kind of fun and will definitely help you finish, but I want to race.

I made the mistake of using a Hal Higdon training plan for my first attempt at running a fast road marathon, and looking back with a skeptical eye I can see that a lot of the workouts were pointless for me- it was also very “one size fits all” and I definitely needed something that was heavier on both the speed and specific endurance, and after the fact- comparing the Higdon plan to the Hudson plan, Hal’s plan felt very “general”.

Yasso 800’s are a cool thing to talk about, but doing (only) 8 or 10 repeats of 800 meters isn’t going to increase your marathon specific endurance because it’s a VO2max workout- and an increase in VO2max does not improve fuel efficiency (VO2max runs improve aerobic capacity, but all the aerobic capacity in the world isn’t going to stop you from hitting the wall). Yes, VO2max is one important determinant of endurance during prolonged, sub-maximal exercise- but it’s not the only one; hence my mention of fuel efficiency. To put it bluntly, in the book Jack Daniels’ Running Formula, Daniels only prescribes one session of 800-meter repeats, and it’s only five repeats with 2-minute rests between each. This workout is given five days before the goal marathon and is only included in the 40 miles per week Novice plan.

If Jack doesn’t like them, they can’t be that good for you- he does however agree with Hal on the idea of taking in a lot of carbs (in general) in order to teach the body to conserve stored muscle glycogen and running long runs without taking in too much carbs, forcing you to rely a little bit more on fat metabolism. After listening to a recent Jay Johnson podcast with his guest Nate Jenkins (a 2:14 marathoner), who talks at length on doing depleted long runs- starting your run in a semi-fasted state to trigger the burning of fat to extend your body’s fuel efficiency. So, for the marathon it would appear that you’re better off doing a long run at closer to marathon pace with nothing in your stomach; it resembles the marathon way more than short, fast bursts of speed.

Going to the track on fresh legs and hammering 800 meter repeats at a pace you’ll never come close to during your goal race is counter-intuitive. It’s a great workout for improving overall fitness and running at VO2max pace will make running at marathon pace feel easier, but why waste a perfectly good chance at trying a run that more closely mimics what you might encounter during a marathon? Let’s try a run that has you start at three miles at an easy pace then doing 6 x 1 mile repeats at five seconds off of 10k race pace with three minutes of active recovery jogs between? I’m in the school of thought that says running pretty hard on tired legs is a much better prep than running really hard on fresh legs and having an adequate recovery between repeats. For comparison, I can do 800 repeats in about 2:45, which is a 5:30/mile pace, which is one minute and 22 seconds faster than my intended goal marathon pace.

This leads me to the next set of ideas of Hudson’s training program: the four principles of adaptive running. Principle #1 states that “the goal of training is to stimulate the precise set of physiological adaptations that are needed to achieve maximum performance in a peak race” with the idea that your goal during each training period is to raise and sustain your fastest pace for your chosen distance. Let’s use my Kaiser Half Marathon race as an example; I wanted to run sub-1:30, which is 6:52 per mile (1:29:59). It’s convenient because I also wanted to run that same pace for the LA Marathon, so I trained according to that pace (running a 1:29:03) using Jack Daniels’ Running Formula.

Daniels has a handy chart that gives you your velocity at VO2max or VDOT “number” and then all the paces you should be training at; for this example I’m at 52, and that says my “easy” and “long run” pace per mile should be between 7:42-8:41 and “tempo” pace is at 6:38 per. He says that a peaking and rested runner should be able to run at or close to that tempo pace for a 10k or even half marathon (21 km).

Principle #2 of the Hudson program: your training must be adapted to your individual strengths, weaknesses, needs and goals. So in my case, having spent the last four “seasons” training for and running 22 ultras, my body is used to higher mileage. My body is not used to running 2-3 “workouts” a week, however; I maybe did one every two weeks, but really I was just out meandering around town or through the woods to a bunch of podcasts for two to six hours most of the time and that the idea of “speed” was more or less a foreign concept.

Considering any and all factors like recent training (see above), age (I’m going to be 40 in a year and a half), my overall running experience (coming up on both 5 years and 10,000 miles), goals (short term: would love to BQ vs. long term: run many mountainous 100-milers), strengths (I like high mileage), weaknesses (I’m not very fast) and then the final factor; me and my wife are expecting a baby in about four months. So let’s add all that up and come up with: I’m targeting a fast road marathon before the baby comes, must add some fast-twitch muscle fibers to get me in around 3:00 because a BQ is 3:10 which is really 3:09:59 which is really like 3:05 just to be safe. I have pretty decent general endurance to go out and slog a 50-miler in around nine hours but need to add more specific endurance which is defined as my ability to resist fatigue at race pace (race-specific fitness requires race pace training). Which brings me to what I like to call “The Summer of Speed”.

Principles #3 and #4 are really the same concept; my training schedule must be adapted daily based on my response to recent training and any other factor that may affect my readiness for planned training AND I must adapt my training seasonally (mesocycle) and yearly (macrocycle), in response to the effects of the most recently completed training cycle to stimulate positive adaptations. So what is working for me now might not necessarily work next year or five years down the road. I’ve also tweaked my diet ever so slightly to include just a bit more carbohydrates; I’ve added a little bit more fruit and whole grains, still hitting the fat big time but probably closer to a 50-30-20 fats-carbs-protein ratio.

All those core principles equal a training program that has…
– Consistent, moderately high running volume
– Nonlinear periodization
– Progression from general training to specific training
– Three-period training cycles
– Lots of hill running
– Extreme intensity and workload modulation
– Multi-pace workouts
– Non-weekly workout cycles
– Multiple threshold paces
– Constant variation
– One rest day per week
– Selective cross-training

Here’s a sample week from the Marathon Level 3 plan (the one I’m using):

Week 15

Monday – Easy: 6 miles + 10 x 10 sec hill sprints

Tuesday – Moderate pace: 10 miles

Wednesday – Specific Endurance Intervals: 3 miles easy, 6 x 1 mile @ 10k pace (+ 5 sec/mi) with 3 mins active recoveries, 3 miles easy

Thursday – Easy: 10 miles

Friday – Easy: 14 miles

Saturday – Easy: 10 miles

Sunday – Half Marathon Race OR Time Trial

So I’m signed up for four races this summer with distances between 10-and-30k- in addition to really wanting to run Western States I also really want to run Boston. To earn a spot at the world’s most storied marathon would be pretty huge, because for me the actual BQ is the prize, not so much the race itself.


This brings us to the first race in this here report, the 28th annual Tilden Tough Ten, a ten mile “trail” race put on by local Oakland running club the Lake Merritt Joggers and Striders (LMJS). This race was started as the alternative to the Bay to Breakers over in San Francisco, which is a gigantic 7.5-mile race where only the front runners are looking to go hard, and they’re chased by 10,000 folks trying to party, and they’re looking to drink hard. After the LA Marathon I’m kind of turned off on the big city racing experience- yes, I realize Boston is a huge race, as is New York and those are two huge races I’d love to do someday, but those races are known for their great performances from legends like Grete Waitz, Bill Rodgers, Clarence DeMar, Alberto Salazar and Meb Keflezighi rather than the race that features the “naked guy from El Cerrito” and Marina frat bros looking to hook up.

The TTT bills itself as a low-key, old-school, down-home affair and is considered a great way to dip your toes into the world of trail running. It starts at Inspiration Point, a scenic overlook nestled in a notch above the San Pablo Reservoir, with views looking east for miles and miles.

My goal for the race was go sub-65 (or one hour and five minutes for the uninitiated), which is a solid 6:30 pace. I played around with my Hudson schedule, on the Sunday in question it called for an 18-mile fartlek run with 12 repeats of 30 second pickups (or intervals, or bursts, whatever) with a cool down between each repeat that you want, as long as you feel fully refreshed before starting the next one. I flip-flopped Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday’s runs with the next week’s (I was at week 6 of the training cycle) which called for either a 10-or-15k race, which was close enough (10 miles = 16.1 km). The runs were all pretty similar so I felt confident that it wouldn’t affect my long-term goals- except that I went ahead and signed up for the Marin 10k which fell on a Monday, forcing me to switch my long run to the next Saturday, with a short recovery jog on Sunday so I can race on mildly tapered legs (although a 70-mile week isn’t much of a taper, eh?)

Back to the TTT- I felt anxious as usual going into the race and what better way to get your mind off of yourself than hosting a pre-race pasta feed for your buds you’re racing with the next day? So Saturday’s prep kept my mind off of the pain I’d feel Sunday, and a decent night’s sleep got me feeling really fresh for it. I did an easy 15-minute warm up (really just wanted to pee and not wait in that line) and lined up right towards the front of the pack, eagerly awaiting the starter’s pistol (was just a hearty “go” from the RD). I was pretty confident that I could go out around 6:15 pace and try to hold on to that for at least the first 5 miles, maybe be somewhere in the top 10 and really allow myself to race in the last five miles. I was giving myself complete permission to go really deep in the pain cave, because every race this summer is more or less an “A” race; they’re all short enough to where they’re not going to beat me up like an ultra or a road marathon but test my fitness enough to where I could hurt in a more acute way. Running really hard for anywhere from 6 to 20 miles hurts, but it’s like getting a shot from the doctor- as soon as you realize what’s happening it’s basically over.

So I tried to hang with my speedy friend Lucas and that worked for about the first maybe half mile, he was moving really well and dropped me on a short little climb. The leaders were all still in sight, strung out a few yards from each other as I could see everyone before me, I was sitting somewhere outside the top 10, not really sure of my placing. I hit the first mile in 6:17 and felt pretty good, wasn’t breathing too hard yet, felt like my stride and cadence were really nice and steady, everything felt great.

Everything continued to feel great until the turnaround- I really hammered the down as I was counting runners coming back towards me; I hit the five-mile turn in 15th place and was looking to do some hunting in the second half- that climb out put me all the way to max heart rate and I knew if I could hit mile six at or around 38 minutes I’d be in really good shape to hit my goal, I came through mile six at around 40 minutes though and was only able to catch two more runners and went pretty deep into the pain cave for the last two miles. I tried to get them to go with me but they looked to be in pretty bad shape- I wondered if a more conservative start would’ve done me well in the back half but felt confident that 10 miles was just short enough that I could go out super hard and maintain it- not like a half marathon where I feel like I need some semblance of reserve in the first eight miles or so to really hammer it in. I kept repeating the mantra “breathe, focus on your form, land on your mid-foot” that my buddy Carl kept saying when he paced me to my first 50-mile finish.

I missed my goal by a scant 2:45 and felt pretty good about the race- I like that it was short enough to not have to really taper but just long enough to be a really solid tempo run while still forcing me to respect the distance. The after party was really chill, I brought my cowbell and hung out at the finish line hollering people in.

Strava stats

Next up… The Marin Memorial Day 10k & Lake Chabot Trail Challenge

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The 2015 Miwok 100k Race Report

This past Saturday at 5 am I lined up in front of the Stinson Beach Communtiy Center with 494 other brave souls for the 20th running of the Miwok 100k. I was full of anxiety, based on the fact that I had not just one night of bad sleep but the two previous nights of tossing and turning. The course was so in my head, the elevation profile was gnawing away at my insides. I had done almost no hill training, very little trail running- I had logged a lot of miles but it was almost all flat, and fast.

I spent the first ten weeks of the year training for a BQ at the LA Marathon (missed it by ~12 minutes), then took four days off, then five weeks of super-condensed ultra training. Only two long runs of 25+ miles, a few 18-milers and four days of speed work supplemented with junk miles. My longest run in duration was 4:24, two weeks earlier at Ruth Anderson.

Ugh, Miwok is gonna hurt this year. Especially since my plan is to race it, and hard.

Last year I used it as my last long run before SD100 so I ran it pretty relaxed. Last year I had all the endurance training in the world, a great race at Lake Sonoma, a few Mt. Tam summits and some Diablos thrown in for good measure, last year I was ready.

But this is 2015, and there’s a lot of different things at play- good things, great things. Last year was a distant memory, and I’m a completely different runner now. I traded those amazing five and six hour slog fests in and around the East Bay Regional parks for fast tempo runs around Lake Merritt. I’m still way behind on so many podcasts.

So every time I run a race in the Marin Headlands, I think, “here’s what I want to do today…” and come up with some kind of plan, like running somewhere around 11:30 to 12 hours for this race.

The Headlands always has a different plan for me.

The Headlands demand your respect, and they will get your full attention right around the time you think everything is going alright.

It’s like, “you feeling good? Yep, that will change” or “feeling bad? Yeah, that will change, too…”

Such is the nature of the ultramarathon. The longer the distance, the more highs and lows. The ebb and the flow, the yin and the yang.

I have to also give mad props (or “hella” props, I still don’t feel quite right using that word since I’m from the East Coast) to the Excelsior Running Club- this is my first race in their singlet, and I’m super honored to be a part of such a fine crew. You guys were awesome out there.

So the race starts and all that anxiety just melts away, it always does. Easy pace, easy heart rate; I felt floaty going up the Dipsea, up over the Moors, up into the fog. We’re greeted at Cardiac by bagpipes. I wish I was more poetic; I feel like I’d have something apocalyptic to say about 5:30 am and bagpipes and fog and running 59 more miles today. I just laughed and thought, “that’s new”.

Down Deer Park as the sun is rising, these early miles felt effortless- I switched off my headlamp as I greeted the volunteers at the Muir Woods Road crossing. “You guys are awesome!” I would repeat that phrase at least another 100 times. And yes, I meant it every time.

Along the overgrown Redwood Creek trail past the huge Miwok redwood (for some reason I always wave at this tree because I appreciate its presence here), down to the road and into Muir Beach. I made sure to give the pirate directing us into the turn here a huge high five, because pirates are so dope.

In and out of Muir Beach aid, then back out to the Zen farm- here was Tehani pointing runners to that switchbacky climb up Middle Green Gulch, it’s always good to see someone that knows your name, I always get a boost hearing a good “go Jim!”

Then up and over to Miwok cutoff and down into Tennessee Valley. Quick pit stop in the porta-potty, hit my drop bag and up Marincello.

It’s nice to run up Marincello on fresh legs- right before the top I caught up to Paul, another Excelsior runner- we’d share most of the next 15 or so miles together. It was good chatting away, talking about races we’ve done, DNFs, aid station readiness, all that. We pulled into Bridge View together and out came my first gift for the aid stations: hand made greeting cards.

card presented to Ana Braga-Levaggi at Bridge View aid station. It got a slight bit of water damage on the way.

Card presented to Ana Braga-Levaggi, aid station captain at Bridge View. It got a tiny bit of water damage on the way.

Yep, I made greeting cards the previous week with my preschoolers and I thought “here I am, racing all day, having these generous folks cater to our every silly whim and need, deal with our crankiness, I should do something nice for them…”

So I made every aid station captain an original Jimmy Mac greeting card. I literally have an endless supply of glue sticks and construction paper at work, so this is how I roll. Plus, the added bonus of thinking of others really keeps you from dwelling on your own shit, like race week anxiety and the fact that you might be just a tad undertrained.

Down that mellow long downhill- to the road crossing, across and onto Rodeo Valley, back up to Alta then over to Miwok and down Old Springs. It felt good to walk through the horse stables and into TV again. I got a fill up on water, hit my drop bag again and presented yet another greeting card.

Me: who's the aid station captain here?  Volunteer: Stan Jensen! Me: Oh, Stan is the man, make sure he gets this please...

Me: who’s the aid station captain here?
Volunteer: Stan Jensen!
Me: Oh, Stan is the man, make sure he gets this please…

Back down Coastal, futzing with my gear now (I had to grab two big bottles worth of UCan, my iPod and like 6 Gu packs because I wouldn’t get another drop bag for 23 miles) trying to get everything crammed into pockets and compartments and all that. Paul and I were still sorta running together, he looked back a few times and was probably thinking, “get your shit together, man!” I was starting to hurt a little bit now, having hit the marathon mark in about 4:40, just hoping to hold on to this pace as long as possible.

Paul stayed a decent distance ahead up the climb to Pirate’s Cove, and I switched on the iPod and settled into a decent enough power hike. It was still really foggy so the view down and through the cove wasn’t as spectacular as I had hoped. I got passed by Alex Varner out on a training run, he said “nice socks” and then asked how I was doing. “I’ve been better…” was all I could say, and he came back with “well keep on truckin’ then” and I thought, yeah! I will most definitely keep on trucking. At that very moment I wished I had the Grateful Dead’s Truckin’ on my iPod. Damn. But that was kinda cool.

So I hammered down into Muir Beach aid, caught up to Paul. Gave out another greeting card and was on my way, now up to Cardiac.

Muir Beach, home of amazing driftwood and even more amazing views.

Muir Beach, home of amazing driftwood and even more amazing views.

Paul was much stronger than me from here on out so he dropped me along Redwood Creek- I would briefly catch up to him at the bottom of Deer Park but that was it. He had a great race, we saw each other briefly before the Randall turnaround, he looked really strong.

I ran (walked) with this guy Saul from Colombia for a minute, he told me how much he loved racing in America and that they had really great 3000 meter (9000+ feet) mountains in Colombia but no one dared go into the mountains for fear they’d happen upon a coca processing plant or some other shady activity and never be seen again. Made me really appreciate the Bay Area.

At this point I decided to start motoring, get up to Cardiac and get my shit together. I was having a little pity party and thank the good gods of ultra running my homey Tony was out on a training run, coming down Deer Park Trail. He selflessly turned himself around and paced me up to Cardiac as we talked about our impending births (his wife is due end of May, mine is due October). Talking babies and life got my head back into the race and out of my ass.

Cardiac was a blast, it was being run by the SFRC crew and the indomitable Brett Rivers. I relished seeing him and the loose, fun vibe they had going on up top. The sun was finally out and it felt like a race (after only 35.5 miles). I handed Brett another card, ate some watermelon and banana, got a huge fill on the H2O and was out.

It was almost as much fun making these cards as it was giving them out.

It was almost as much fun making these cards as it was giving them out.

I knew I’d have a chance to settle into a nice rhythm for the next 14 miles, this is by far the most runnable part of the race. So out along Coastal, just soaking in all the sun and insane views. As much as I want to hate on this trail because it’s slightly cambered all the way out past McKennan Gulch, there was only one-way traffic so none of that silly yielding to runners like in the North Face 50. Talk about jamming your rhythm.

Then I see another friend, Dustin, out on a training run for the Quicksilver 100k coming towards me on Coastal. Quick high five, some words of encouragement, once again I’m feeling better, but…

…now my mind started to really wander. I’ve been out here seven, maybe seven and a half hours, just running. Then it hits me: I haven’t peed in like three hours. Great. I should probably start figuring out what I want written on my headstone so I can gasp it out with my last dying breath. Yeah, something like: “Here lies Jimmy. Just had to run the Miwok today” or maybe: “Hypernatremia with dehydration, y’all. The silent killer.”

Then I thought, “Shit. I don’t think I set my fantasy baseball lineup today.” That’s just great. But then, yay! I peed. It was basically the color of iced tea, which is not ideal, but it’s a start. I was trying to remember that chart from the S!Caps website about what to do when you’re having issues with hydration and electrolytes, I thought “better drink a lot of water starting now…” I’d really like to thank my kidneys for not shutting down right there; you’re supposed to be an involuntary organ, I’d appreciate it if you just worked all the time.

Then I started thinking all kinds of silly shit, like “I wonder what Allyson is doing right now?” and “Did I lock the car?” then “Holy shit I love Van Halen! Yessssss! Hot for Teacher is my jam!” Before I knew it, I was at Bolinas Ridge aid station.

Sometimes being a little crazy is a great distraction, and also a form of meditation.

photo courtesy of Nate Dunn

It was great to walk into an 80’s party here, and to see Nate Dunn. He greeted me with a hearty “dude, you’re rockin’ it!” I had covered 42.5 miles in 8:09- I wasn’t feeling great but damn was I having fun and still moving well. Bolinas Ridge gave me a huge boost, felt like I had wings flying out of there. I knew it was more or less a long downhill into Randall and I was starting to hurt, my feet, my quads, hips, yeah.

I rolled into Randall, and that place was rocking as well- pacers were waiting to pace, crews were eager to help anyone and everyone- mad props to Jenny Maier for grabbing me a Mountain Dew and helping me sort out my drop bag. I gave a volunteer another card and said “please make sure the aid station captain get this” and changed into my super cushy Bondi 3’s, my dogs were barking after 49.2 miles of pounding. I love my Altra Lone Peak 2.0’s but couldn’t see myself going one more mile in them.

photo courtesy of Jenny Maier

photo courtesy of Jenny Maier

Just then, I was greeted by aid station captain Chuck Wilson, a veteran of 200+ ultras, a veritable NorCal legend. He told me in all of his years running and volunteering he’s never gotten a greeting card from a runner. He shook my hand and thanked me- it was an amazing moment.

I was beaming, visibly, because coming down into Randall as I was beginning that long climb out was John Trent, President of the Board for Western States. I know who he is because 1) I’m an ultra nerd so I have to read all the blogs and listen to all the podcasts and watch all the YouTube videos and 2) last year at San Diego 100 RD Scott Mills gave John the floor for a minute during the pre-race briefing Friday night so I recognized him.

“Hey that’s a great smile!” he says, and I blurt out “Thanks! You’re John- we ran San Diego 100 together last year, well, you ran a few hours ahead of me, but yeah…”

“Just keep going, man! You’ve got a great attitude!” Wow, any more ultra legends today and my head might explode.

So here’s where things went really south for me, about a mile later, just after the top of the climb- all that Mountain Dew in my tummy wasn’t sitting so great, and having been right on the edge a few hours before I felt like it was a good time to puke. I had that watery mouth sensation for the next 4-5 miles, barely sipping water and just slogging away, shuffling really. Waiting for either my stomach to calm down OR puke so I can start eating again because I just wasn’t able to generate any power and had been pretty good about taking something every 30-45 minutes all day and here I was going on over an hour not eating. Shit.

So I decided to take a Gu Roctane salt capsule and wait it out. Felt better in literally five minutes. Placebo effect? Who cares, I quickly gobbled a Salted Caramel Gu and drank as much water as I could. I was able to drop the hammer going back into Bolinas Ridge. This would be the last “good” running I’d do all day, but hey- 55.9 miles is a long way to go.

I gave Bolinas Ridge their card and got hugs and high fives, the aid station captains Jennifer and Franz were awesome, all the volunteers were so rad. It was good to see Nate again, and I grabbed some potato chips and a hunk of banana and was out. Here we go, all downhill to the finish.

Felt great through the cool shady woods but soon as I emerged into the sun I wilted. It wasn’t that hot, maybe 72 but it killed me. Here my pace was a solid 12-something per mile, which must’ve looked like I was running in sand, because I felt like I was flying but I was basically walking really fast.

photo courtesy of Glenn Tachiyama

photo courtesy of Glenn Tachiyama

So you’ll notice how low my hat is, but you’ll probably notice my sweet mustache (which you’ve no doubt seen in the other pics).

I grew a mustache for Ruth Anderson and kept it on for Miwok to not only protest the rise of the “ultra beard” but to honor all the legendary ultra mustaches of not only yesteryear, and all those that carry the torch today.

Here’s a quick list of amazing ultra runners with amazing mustaches:

Tropical John Medinger

photo stolen from iRunFar

photo stolen from iRunFar

Stan Jensen

photo stolen from run100s.com

photo stolen from run100s.com

Tim Twietmeyer

photo stolen from soulrunning.com

photo stolen from soulrunning.com

Rickey Gates

photo stolen from Salomon's website

photo stolen from Salomon’s website

David Laney

photo stolen from David’s website

 Matt Flaherty

stolen (again) from iRunFar (please don't sue me Bryon and Meghan)

stolen (again) from iRunFar (please don’t sue me Bryon and Meghan)

Seriously though, I’m trying to make the ultra mustache a “thing”. Just like FKTs, summit tagging, trucker hats, crew socks, 200 mile races and beards are all things now, I genuinely want mustaches to be a thing.

Please, won’t you help me? Next time you toe the line at your local 50k or above, try a mustache. It’s like a party on your face.

Anyway, back to the race. I’m basically trying to finish without puking. I knew that once I hit Matt Davis it was a 2-mile downhill to the finish, but like 70 switchbacks. As the crow flies it’s probably like 500 feet but you basically have to run back and forth down the mountain to Stinson Beach, which equals 2 miles.

I needed something besides Taylor Swift’s awesome music to get me down this trail, I thought, “I am Jimmy Mac, runner of the ultra marathon, slayer of burritos, master of friendship and karate (not really the last thing). I can do anyth… dammit I am so close to puking.

I’m skimming the top of every rock coming down this trail, I’m probably going to fall and die. This is just great.

Just then I hear cowbells! I’m there, I can suddenly run, I see the opening to the road- there are people! I turn down towards the Community Center finish line in a full sprint, so many people! They all look happy and good looking and it’s kind of like a Budwiesrer commercial! Remember Spuds MacKenzie?

I still feel like throwing up, but I finished! 62.2 miles done!

I hand my final greeting card to Tia Bodington, the RD, and thank her for an awesome day. She’s so happy to get a card and hands me my finisher’s medal. Just then, Stan Jensen comes up to me and shakes my hand, thanking me for his card I gave to a volunteer at TV. Another awesome moment in a day full of awesome moments.

The seventh and final card!

The seventh and final card!

Sorry this report took so long to finish, but like I say “the longer the race the longer the report”. There’s also a long list of thanks: I’d like to thank my wife, Allyson, for letting me disappear for 18 hours to go run this race. I’d like to thank Excelsior Running Club for being awesome and inviting me to join their team. I’d love to thank all the volunteers and aid station captains for being out there helping me party all day. I’d like to thank personal lubrication for keeping me chafe-free. I’d like to thank Gordy Ainsleigh for accidentally inventing this silly yet amazing sport of trail ultra running I love so much.

photo courtesy of Chris Jones

photo courtesy of Chris Jones

Hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Link to Strava stats

Link to Miwok’s Ultralive webcast

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The Ruth Anderson Ultras 50k Race Report (and Some Other Happenings)

Every time I sit down to write a race report, I start thinking “how the hell do I make this sound interesting?”, especially after just running seven loops around Lake Merced. I guess I could talk about the weather (perfect, like 58 degrees and overcast the whole time, light gentle wind) or the surface (mixed concrete and crushed gravel dirt path) but there’s really nothing to add outside of what I put in the parentheses.

So really, what does one talk about when talking about running a monotonous loop ultra? The next thing that comes to mind is the people; I met some really great people at the race, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a little back story on both the race and how I got interested in it.

First, Ruth Anderson is an old school runner. When I say old school I mean original school, she was one of the first female ultrarunners, starting off in 1976 at age 46 and quickly establishing herself as a force, winning the 1980 USATF 50-mile Championship in Houston with a ridiculously fast 7:10. And this came as a 50-year old. She then went on to set a bunch of age group records at various races around Northern California, and the women’s USATF Ultra Runner of the Year Award is named after her. She’s kind of a big deal.

Second, how the race came up on my radar is my desire to try to run a loop ultra- after making the decision late last year to try to become a more well-rounded runner and softening my “I only run ultras now” stance (and subsequently running the LA Marathon as well as the Kaiser Half, and that Piedmont Turkey Trot, too; last Thanksgiving), I figured this was the year I run either an ultra with a pre-set looped distance OR a timed event, like a 6- or a 12-hour loop type thing, so the Ruth Anderson popped up and away I went.

The cool thing about the race is that you basically pick the distance as you go- there’s a 50k option (seven loops), a 50-mile option (11 loops with a short out and back to make up the .75-ish mile) and the marquee event, the 100k (14 loops, oy vey). If you finish the 50k and decide to keep running, you are automatically entered into the 50-miler, and so on. If you drop at let’s say, mile 40, you DNF the whole race. Seems fair, because ultras are supposed to be tough.

When I awoke on Sunday morning, it was my full intention to run the 50-miler. I had already run 37 miles that week and felt that a 50-mile effort would be really good training for Miwok, which is 13 days after this race. I learned on loop 3 that I probably didn’t have 50-mile legs (without the possibility that it would get very, very ugly) and that a solid, steady effort would be decent enough training (I’m hoping).

I should add that a few days before the race I was contacted by Nakia Baird, a name I’d seen on some race results (usually listed above mine). He reached out via Facebook and asked me if I was interested in joining the Excelsior Running Club; and being both flattered and more than a little interested I figured I should probably see what a running club is all about. I told him I’d look for him race morning and introduce myself- we got a chance to actually run some miles together and he’s a really solid runner (4th place in the 50-miler) and a really nice guy. All the folks on the team were really cool, I wished I could have stayed around longer and hung out. I’m honored to be sporting that fluorescent yellow jersey as my race singlet from now on.

So, as for the actual race- it’s a super low key, old school affair. After parking in that main lot, the runners walk (I used this opportunity to do a little shake-out-slash-warm up jog) a half mile or so to the start. After the RD Rajeev Patel made an announcement that there was a runner here (Bill Dodson) that was going for the US men’s over 80 50-mile age group record (I believe he got it), we commenced the countdown and were sent off.

Not too much to say about the first loop, ran the first 2 miles really relaxed, settled into an 8-minute mile- wanted to run a little faster but I thought “I gotta take what I can get” and save something for the distance (I was still pretty certain I was going to run 50 miles today). I caught up to Nakia and another Excelsior runner, Paul, and chatted with them for a few minutes until hitting the first Porta-Potty about halfway through the loop. They took off, I wouldn’t catch them again for a few more laps as they were locked into a steady pace.

I came through the timing area in 33 minutes, greeted by NorCal ultra legend Stan Jensen; what a great dude- he’s at almost every race I run: Lake Sonoma, Miwok, Skyline, Dick Collins, etc. It’s a pretty cool feeling yelling out your race bib number and hearing someone say your name back to you, that’s old school.

Loop 2, pretty uneventful until about 3.5 miles in when i come up on Mark Tanaka, another Bay Area guy I’ve seen at at least half the ultras I’ve run these past few years. I told him, “shit, I’m probably going too fast if I’m running with you” but he assured me that I was right where I needed to be, and that he was running the 100k. 37 minutes for the second loop.

Loop 3, I grab my headphones and the iPod mini, take in some UCan. I hit the Porta-Potty again for a quick pee and I’m out. Again, pretty uneventful lap, 38 minutes for the third loop.

Loop 4; I think I’m losing my mind- this is right where I decided that a 50k would be the best distance for me today- a 50-miler could happen, but damn those last 7-10 miles would be ugly. 39 minutes for lap 4.

Loops 5 and 6 I honestly can’t recall being any different than the previous 4. 38 and 39 minutes respectively for the laps.

Loop 7, oh I just want to be done now. 38 more minutes, crossing the finish line at 4:24:36. I finished really strong with a 7:26 and a 6:59 for the last mile and a half, which tells me I could’ve gone longer but at what expense? With Miwok this close I’m not going to do anything to jeopardize that race, so playing it safe (and sane) was key today. It was more of a long training run at race pace to try out some new things (I’m switching over to UCan- I gotta say this was the best my tummy has ever felt in a race, felt like I coulda took down a hoagie and washed it down with a 6-pack of black cherry wishniak).

All in all, a really solid effort and a fun race- the volunteers were amazing, the RDs Anil and Rajeev were super nice (Rajeev has a great mustache, btw).

I finished 5th overall, and also won the men’s 30-39 age group, but after looking at the results I actually finished 2nd (winner Enrique Henriquez must’ve left after his finish) and I was somehow presented with a plaque for my age group win. I guess “age group win by default” I should say.

Either way, I got a cool plaque from Rajeev.

Strava Stats

Official Results


Cool happenings for the rest of 2015:

…well, me and Allyson are having our first child- baby due 10/4!

This is the reason I won’t be running a 100-miler this year (I had to pull out of the Wasatch Front 100 lottery at the end of January), which I am totally cool with. A Miwok finish will give me another ticket for the Western States lottery, which gives me 8 total for my 4th year entering. I’m gonna get in one day, might as well be next year (?)

Also, it’s probably not a good idea to just up and leave my 8-and-a-half-month pregnant wife so I can go get my ass kicked by the Wasatch Mountains of Utah; I mean I’m a selfish jerk but not that selfish.

I’m basically going to run a bunch of shorter stuff like the East Bay Triple Crown, something like the Table Rock 27k (7/18) or the Redwood Anvil 20-miler (7/26) in July, another attempt at a BQ with the Santa Rosa Marathon (8/23) and maybe finish up my season in September with the Coastal 50k (9/20).

Then the ultimate endurance race starts: FATHERHOOD!

Super-psyched to start the next stage of life with my lovely and super supportive partner, Allyson. I’ll be crewing and pacing her as she gets ready to delivery our baby, possibly a future ultra runner (if he/she has any sense whatsoever, they will stay away from this marvelous and ridiculous sport I love so much).

And thank you, the readers of this blog, for being on this awesome journey with me.

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