The 2016 Stone Cat 50 Mile Race Report

The Stone Cat 50 Miler is a really cool little race on Massachusetts’ North Shore, in a sleepy little burg called Ipswich. The home base for the race is the Doyon Elementary School which borders Willowdale State Forest, a 2,500 acre state park with a decent mix of single-track and fire roads. It meanders around swamps, woods and meadows.

A little Willowdale single track

A little Willowdale single track

Here’s a little story about the 2016 edition of the race.

September: so I was desperately searching for an early to mid-November 50-miler to end my ultra season and this seemed to be the only one in New England. So, easy choice. Oh, but it’s a multiple loop race, oh no. Well, these surely are true tests of one’s mental stamina- I can do four 12.5-mile loops. Wait, can I do four 12.5-mile loops? Guess I’ll have to find out. Oh and it’s about to sell out so… Ultrasignup does not issue refunds, guys. Looks like I have to do it now.

October: training is going well, autumn is awesome in New England. I still haven’t had a pumpkin spice latte. I almost bought one but the kid at Starbucks told me it tasted “perfumey”. Then he asked me what I usually drink. Black coffee. “Yeah, you definitely won’t like it.” I feel like that kid jumped in front of a bullet for me. I’ll never forget you, “Chad”.

November: fresh off of a fun 50k deep in the CT woods, I really didn’t taper much for the 50 miler. Seriously though, who tapers? I’m joking, I tapered. Kind of. Anyway, day before the race I loaded up the CRV and drove up to Ipswich. My plan was to put the seats down and inflate the air mattress and crawl into my sleeping bag and dirtbag it in the parking lot of the school. Great idea- I got it from a few guys I ran a bunch of miles with at Miwok a few years ago, they were like, “yeah we just slept in the Stinson Beach parking lot in our cars last night.” I’ve always wanted to be an ultra dirtbag.

Everything was going awesome until a cop rolled up at 1:41 AM, woke me up and shone the brightest light in my face. After figuring out that I was here for the race, and running my plates to make sure the car wasn’t stolen, and then running my ID to make sure I wasn’t a fugitive from justice, he let me be. He probably thought better than to write me a fine, I mean- if I didn’t have $70 for a motel room, I sure wasn’t going to have $200 for a vagrancy ticket.

It was cold as hell so I started up the engine and ran the heat and drifted off back to sleep. Then I woke up an hour later covered in sweat, it was probably 108 degrees in the car. It said 33 outside. So I shut her down and went back to sleep. Apparently this was not smart because people with leaky exhaust systems could give themselves carbon monoxide poisoning and die. Luckily I was in a two-month old car, and it’s a Honda, and they are reliable.

Finally I woke up to the iPhone alarm at 4:30, fresh as a daisy. I can’t believe I managed to get seven hours of sleep, albeit somewhat interrupted, but dammit I got a great night’s sleep. That never happens the night before a 50-miler. Today might be a good day!

I had my camp cook stove so I heated up some water, made coffee, ate breakfast- rice balls cooked with coconut oil and some sugar, so damn good. High carb, low fiber- makes my tummy happy. Around this time the volunteers started showing up, slowly waving in the first few cars. Damn, it was cold. I made small talk with some of my new neighbors, explaining how I dirtbagged it here last night. They thought that was cool and I was relieved they weren’t judging me (to my face) for being a cheap ass.

Yadda yadda: Bib pick up, bathroom line, 6:15 AM and we’re off.

It’s pitch black still so we make our way across the field and onto this wide fire road, my plan was to take it really conservative the first 3-5 miles then start finding a comfortable rhythm and work towards a pace that I could sustain all day.

We’re already getting kind of log-jammed here in the early going so I make a few quick little pushes to clear some room and as we funnel on to the first single-track of the day… I’m walking. And everyone is walking. I see a line of headlights stretching into the woods, and they’re all walking.

Like I said, I wanted to take it easy but not this easy.

First of all, it’s cold, so I need to move to generate body heat. Secondly, I think most of the runners this morning have maybe not-so-great headlamps, so they might be taking it easy because they literally can not see. I’ve got this bad ass 370 lumen Petzl MYO that just lights up the night, my suggestion to you if you plan on running in the dark is to get something that will stun a deer. 110 lumens is cool and all, but that sort of headlamp is for looking for stuff in your garage.

Anyway, it took about three miles to finally break into a clearing where I could actually run. This would be my biggest (and only) mistake of the day, not starting more towards the front. It cost me about 5-6 minutes.

I always second guess myself, thinking I don’t belong towards the front of the race before we start, like I haven’t earned that right by now. In my three other east coast races I’ve run I’ve finished somewhere in the top 20, I really should be right around there a mile into the race. Oh well, mental note for next time.

So my nutrition plan on the day was primarily to just sip on Coke and water all day. Hey, it worked at Bimblers, it might work here. I also had a bunch of those delicious Huma gels, they’re like real fruit puree with chia seeds, super tasty. I also made a bunch of rice balls and had a few packets of Tailwind on hand. I bought a liter of Coke and let it go flat in my fridge the days before the race, and kept it back at my drop bag.

We got freezing rain-slash-hailed on for a few minutes (I’m telling you, it was cold) somewhere in the early going, that was unexpected.

I spent a few miles running with a woman named Lauren through the first aid station, then was on my own to watch the sun rise, a little over an hour in. A really cool mist hung over the swamp, giving it an eerie effect among the pinkish glow of the sunrise. Alright, Massachusetts, you’re pretty cool.

The first loop came and went, it was still pretty cold. I wanted to do each loop in about two hours to have a reasonable shot at going under eight hours and I came through in 2:07, so I’m going to chalk up those seven minutes to being stuck in that conga line at the beginning, and I just let it go, nothing to do about it now.

I’ll just churn out loop #2 in 2:00 and see what I have for loops 3 and 4. There’s still a lot of race to go and I feel really good, so let’s not get all sucked in to racing just yet. Loop two was still pretty cold, but slowly warming up. I had on a short-sleeve tech shirt underneath a long sleeve tech shirt, a faux wool winter hat (H&M, $7, I jam econo), REI winter running gloves and a neck buff. The sun still wasn’t out and that was good.

Again, a pretty uneventful loop, finished that one in exactly two hours. 25 miles in 4:07 and feeling very, very good. I took a long time at the drop bags here, got rid of the long sleeve and hat and grabbed a trucker cap, finished the rest of the flat Coke, grazed the aid station feed table and was out. I thought I’d be able to replicate another 2-hour loop for #3, so I just tried to keep the effort as even as possible.

...and some Willowdale fire road.

…and some Willowdale fire road.

I also grabbed my iPod since the field had really thinned out by now and I had been running alone for a while. I knew that loop three was where I needed to be smart- if I ran it too hard, the 40s would be a sufferfest. Looking back at my GPS data, this loop had the most consistent splits of the day. I was both actively engaged in deep concentration AND kind of zoning out to the music. I knew the pain cave usually shows up for me somewhere around mile 35.

Luckily the pain didn’t show up until the 4th loop, somewhere around mile 41-ish. I’m going to credit my “five days per week core and stretching routine” to that, usually my hips and glutes are absolutely blasted after 50-milers, but they didn’t hurt at all. Especially on a rolling course like this, there weren’t any huge climbs or descents so I was able to have a pretty even gait. I usually don’t do well in races that have a lot of running, I like to power hike the ups, it sort of recharges my battery. I literally charged every hill in the race until the end. That was weird.

Anyway, back to loop #3- I just kept drinking Coke as my main fuel source, I can’t believe this stuff works as well as it does for me right now. Maybe because I never drink soda outside of races- I mean, one 16-oz bottle of Coke has something like 12 teaspoons of sugar in it, that’s insane. That’s about two gels per one bottle of Coke- I usually take 2 gels per hour so I was drinking about 12-16 ounces of Coke per hour supplemented with shots of Gatorade here and there.

After overloading my stomach at Bighorn on “real” food earlier this summer, I learned that I’m pretty much a liquid calorie kind of bro. I used to do Vitargo but even that stuff was too “heavy”, I even tried doing really watered-down solutions, it never really sat right. I tried Ucan, it’s okay, but same thing as Vitargo, just didn’t sit well. I think my body needs just straight up crappy junk food when I’m racing. Or watermelon. Basically, liquid calories with water.

Then that thing happened again, where I had to pee a lot. Started around mile 33 or so, right before the two “big” climbs (about 125 and 95 feet, respectively). I also was passing a ton of the marathoners here, they were close to finishing their second loop (we had a 15-minute head start on them) and a trail angel (whose name I forget, sorry!) gave me a salted caramel Gu, totally got me going strong through the end of the loop. I got that one done in 2:05, having lost maybe 3 minutes to all the extra pee stops in the last 40 minutes (maybe 4?), seriously it was like every ten minutes.

Okay, 37.5 miles done. One more loop. I knew I was probably over-hydrated and under-salted. I grabbed a bunch of salt pills from my drop bag, did 50% Coke, 25% ginger ale and 25% water in my handheld and was off.

I saw 6:12 on the clock and thought, “can I do this last loop in 1:48?” If I could stop peeing every ten minutes I’d be cutting it close, I thought that the amount of fatigue I had accumulated was adding up and that a 1:55 was totally doable- I had that feeling in my legs that’s sort of just between a dull ache and a full-blown pain cave. I was wishing I was already in the cave so I knew exactly what I’d be working with for the next 2 hours.

I felt like I was at mile 20 of a road marathon; the wheels were readying themselves to come off. I welcome this moment in every race, this is where I learn about what I’m made of. Gut check time.

So the next maybe hour or so I was stopping to pee every 10-15 minutes, maybe 5-6 times and then I was suddenly okay- I wouldn’t pee again until my drive home on the Mass Turnpike. I was just drinking too much water. I had to find the line to where I’d be just hydrated enough, so at the next aid station I again did a mix of 3-to-1 Coke to water. I think I forgot about salt and electrolytes because food, salty or otherwise, was just so unappealing to me all day. I usually can do salty potatoes or chips or even bacon but today I wanted no parts of the actual chewing of food. Gels, de-fizzed Coke, un-naturally colored Gatorade- was my jam for the duration. I had these rice balls made up but never touched them.

Anyway, last loop was carnage time. I passed a few runners that were just running out of steam. I entered that pain cave at around mile 42, had a few minutes where it was just really rough- got passed by a guy that looked as fresh as a daisy. I tried to latch on to him but that wasn’t going to happen, I just had to go it alone. I looked at my watch: 7:15. Seven hours and fifteen minutes. Probably wasn’t going to cover the last 8-ish miles in 45 minutes, but I could really make myself hurt trying.

So that’s what I did.

Almost every runner I came up on from behind would turn their heads when they heard me grunting and yelping. It wasn’t a “hey I’m coming for you” battle cry, it was more of a “oh this hurts so fucking bad right now” and “dude, sorry, I might actually die on or near you”. Yeah.

When I passed them I said “good job, bro” but probably sounded like “gahut jaharb bahrooh”. I basically felt how Richard Nixon looked. I did straight Coke (no water) at the last aid station and was basically chugging it while burping and spilling it all over myself the last 4 miles.

I hammered those last two little climbs, still passing runners, I probably looked like hell. At the top of the first climb eight hours came and went, I would not go under. I had about 2 miles to go and figured, hey- if I can go under 8:20 that’s faster than 10 minute miles. I was gonna PR by a lot so I really tried to enjoy these last two miles, fighting back tears as I usually do at the end of 50-milers and longer, because dammit- these are hard.

They just break you down physically and emotionally and sometimes the only thing that fixes that is to just finish- it’s a raw and visceral experience that is really hard to explain. It’s like eating psilocybin mushrooms, you just gotta try it to understand it. I’m not suggesting taking mind-altering drugs (or am I?) but I am suggesting finding your limit, whether it’s something that scares the shit out of you or trying something you thought you’d never do and pushing past that into unknown territory.

The greatest thing about being broken down physically and emotionally is it leaves you just vulnerable enough to get filled up spiritually. That’s probably the closest I’ll ever get to god; yes, with a little “g” for me, sorry- I’m not a believer (yet). But that’s also the reason I do these sorts of adventures. Maybe that’s what I’m searching for out there.

I also really like myself when I’m running long and I really like other people- the part-time curmudgeon and sometimes road rager we all descend into just doesn’t work out there. I’ll try to offer gels and electrolytes to other runners and always thank the volunteers. I mean, you kind of have to like yourself because that’s a long time to spend with just you. It’s also a good idea to like other people because they’re there to help- they’ve always enhanced my experience somehow. There’s been times when I’ve rolled into an aid station and have literally had all five people there attending to me. That’s gotta be what a rockstar feels like.

So we’re all out there, running, sort of orbiting around each other, passing in and out of the peripherals- but an ultra is ultimately going to be you, alone, preferably in the woods, for a very long time. I had a long time in the Massachusetts woods to think about things, to think about why I do this sort of thing.

Chances are if you’ve read this far you’re a runner of long distances as well, and you’ve had some time to ponder this.

If not, keep searching, keep trying. Hopefully I’ll meet you out there.

Strava link to race data

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2017 Racing Schedule: Beast Coast Edition

Hey everybody, hope you had a great holiday! I ate way too much cheesecake for some reason, it seemed to be everywhere I was. I also took an actual off-season, something I haven’t done since… I started running. I guess that’s the thing about living in the Bay Area- you can run right through the “winter”.

Now that I’m in Connecticut, we have actual winter. Snow is in the forecast for tomorrow. Seems my biggest dilemma is to either run outside or hit the gym treadmill. Hashtag “runner problems bro”. Seriously, it was 11 degrees here one morning. My eyeballs froze in between blinks.

Another big dilemma is choosing races. We don’t have the “I can run an ultra 3 out of 4 weekends a month” thing offered by companies like Inside Trail, or Coastal Trail Runs or even a PCTR. There’s no Lake Sonoma here. Or Miwok. Or Skyline 50k. There’s no thriving trail scene centered around the greatest running store in the world, San Francisco Running Company. I actually have to drive more than a half hour to the start of races now. Bay Area/Nor Cal folks: you are so spoiled and I am jealous of you.

There, I said it.

What we do have is a few dedicated, small trail and ultra running groups splintered about New England and the mid-Atlantic.

So without further ado, here’s my (tentative schedule) for 2017:

February 25th: the Colchester Half, Colchester, CT

I really want to run NYC so I’m trying to qualify automatically with a 1:25 or better, so running this hilly half marathon to start the season makes sense. I typically like to start small and build every year, and I haven’t run a half since February 2014. I also would like to capitalize on this fitness I gained last year, so blasting a fast half sounds fun. Since the roads are plowed after snows pretty quickly, I’ll be either on roads or treadmill until we thaw- the local trails are no joke, ankles-breaking rocks and such under a carpet of snow does not sound fun right now.

March 25th: the Two Rivers Marathon, Lackawaxen, PA

A big net downhill 26.2 in the northeastern corner of my home state, I just really want to beat up my quads… and (hopefully) finally go sub 3 in the marathon. Again, NYC auto qualifier would be a 2:58 so that’s something to shoot for as well. I’m not feeling that lottery, or any lotteries in general after losing out on Western States again for the 5th straight year. I’m just going to sign up for races this year and actually run them.

April 15th: the Traprock 50k, Bloomfield, CT

I have to be okay with running multiple loop courses now that I’m here on the East Coast so here’s a three loop 50k in the Connecticut woods early after the thaw. Traprock is the term given to the volcanic rock outcroppings and ridges that broke through the surface of the Earth and cooled a few hundred million years ago that all basically run south to north along the Connnecticut River Valley from Long Island Sound up into to Vermont. This is how us runners accumulate vertical, by running up and down and over these ridges. New Haven sits between two of these rock formations, West Rock Ridge (about 1.5 miles from my house) and East Rock.

May 13th: the North Face Bear Mountain 50, New York

Have I ever told you that 50 miles is my favorite distance? If not, here we go- 50 miles is by far my favorite distance. It’s the perfect amount of time to go out exploring, 8 to 12 hours (mid-packer speed). You can see a lot in that time, and I hear the views from the ridges here are pretty sweet- the Hudson, the city off in the distance, the Taconics and Berkshires to the west. Hopefully I can get over there for some training runs- the first 25 miles are really technical and the second 25 are really fast. I like the sound of that!

June 17th: Manitou’s Revenge, Maplecrest, NY

I’ve heard this is not your typical 50 (54 miles actually), and to treat it like a really hard 100k. It has a 24-hour cutoff. It has something like 14,000 feet of climbing, on insanely technical trails- there’s chains and ropes. Sounds like more of an adventure run than a race. I’m in! (registration opens Feb. 1st)

August 12th: Eastern States 100, Waterville, PA

If you can’t do Western States, do Eastern States! This race looks brutal, and after last year’s Bighorn 100 it’s becoming more and more obvious that I like to do things that are really tough. If it’s not heat and humidity, it’s wasps and thunderstorms. Something besides the race itself will most likely present some kind of challenge, so the mental aspect of training will be key here- I see a lot of mid-day July runs in bank-robber costumes for heat acclimation, more night runs and possibly learning how to use trekking poles. I had a loose goal of finishing Bighorn in 27-28 hours (it took 31) so for this race, the goal is to just finish. There’s so much that can go wrong in a 100-miler, and having only run the distance twice I am seriously under-qualified to set a time goal for myself. Here’s some goals: just finish. Just enjoy it. Just endure. Those sound like more attainable goals than say, a 27-hour finish. Also, this part of PA is insanely beautiful and wild.

September and beyond…

I think I’d like to run another road marathon, those are really hard. Maybe Hartford in October? Maybe Philly in November? I’m already back in Boston for 2018 so I’d like to improve my corral seeding, so putting a fast(er) time on blast sounds cool and painful. I also think I’d like to do JFK50– I’ve been told if you do that one right you can run a really fast time and with the amount of people both running with you in that race and spectating, it’s really fun.

So there’s some options for the latter part of ’17. I’ve said this in previous blog posts and I’ll say it again: there’s a vibrant and happening trail and ultra scene on the Beast Coast, just gotta poke around!

I look forward to running these insanely rocky and technical trails with you all, and thanks for reading.

 

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The 2016 Roxbury Marathon Race Report

I can’t stop looking at the weather leading up to this race. I should get a weather machine. Wait, are weather machines real things? I should ask a meteorologist. Did I spell that right? Do I know any meteorologists? Maybe I should get a weather station thingy on my roof and be an amateur meteorologist.

Welp, just forget about it. It’s going to be cold. Very cold.

Damn it, how do I dress for cold? I mean, it’s going to be 22 degrees at the start. It looks like it’s never going to get over 32 F all day. I’m going to have that frost beard thing going on, right?

For just a minute I’d like my brain to shut up and quit it with all the questions. That’s what the running is for, dummy. Oh right. Until the RD says “go!” I’ll have nothing but chatter between my ears.

There’s a huge clue as to why I run so much. I’ve heard people say running isn’t meditation, but they’re so very wrong. In my experience, running can be only meditation sometimes. But again, that’s just my experience. If you haven’t had some Zen-like moments during a run, keep at it.

So the drive from New Haven out to Roxbury was as picturesque as it gets- this is that sleepy part of New England, all heavily wooded and cut with streams, brooks and rivers every few miles.

Note to self: get back up this way in the summer.

So I get to Roxbury a few minutes after 8 am, race starts at 8:30. Plenty of time, so I thought. After checking in, getting my bib, getting dressed in the car, setting up my tailgate chair neat the start/finish (it’s a looped course so I would get to access my own stuff five times during the race) and peeling off all the layers of clothing over my racing kit I had literally three seconds before the race started.

Talk about timing everything perfectly down to the last possible second.

And finally, the chatter between my ears stops and I am one with the universe. Psyche, I’m freezing my ass off, holy shit my legs are so cold. I opted for shorts since I’d only done one long run in tights and felt that they’d hamper my stride. I also kind of like being a little bit cold, I’m probably one of the grossest human sweat monsters on Earth, I seriously sweat like rivers in the summer. Disgusting, really.

So I settle into a decent pace, I wanted to be around 7:10-ish on the flat sections. Oh, I forgot to mention that this race has somewhere around 1800 feet of climbing. I stalked a bunch of previous year’s runners on Strava to see the elevation profile, and it’s a doozy. “If you’re looking to BQ this course is not the one.” says one reviewer on marathonguide.com. Another says “a fellow runner cautioned me to add 30 minutes to my expected time…”

Well, this sounds just great! I love a challenge!

Seriously though, I have been obsessed with this idea of running a sub-3 marathon for almost two years now. That’s 6:52 pace for the whole thing. It’s doable, it’s just going to take a level of fitness that I’m not at yet. I think I can get there, but damn it’s going to really push me out of my comfort zone.

I figured for this race I needed to be really close to being in sub-3 shape just to run a 3:12- hills, no matter going up or down, really take their toll on your legs. You probably already knew that if you read past the first paragraph though, sorry if it sounds like I’m runsplaining.

Also, I wanted to go out with the leaders in this race- from stalking previous year’s results I saw that that average winning time was around 2:56, meaning that I wouldn’t win but I had a decent shot to finish in the top five. That goal was secondary to getting a BQ, I was aiming for a 3:12:45-ish time, figuring that in 2015 it was a minus 2:28 and last year was minus 2:09, I needed to run somewhere in the neighborhood of minus 2:15.

If I could keep the leaders in sight for the first maybe 8 miles, I’d be in for a good day (so I hoped). But as road marathons go, you could go from awesome to sucky in a matter of minutes with little to no warning, anywhere from mile .01 to 26.2

So we head out on the first stretch, we’re spotted a little downhill love all the way to the turn-around on Judds Bridge Road, which is dirt and scenic and awesome. I fall in with a runner named Rick, we chat about ultras and races and running and it makes me forget about being in a race for a little bit, which is always welcome. The first 4 miles fly by, I start counting runners coming back to me before we hit the turn around and I notice we’re in 4th and 3rd, respectively.

About a mile in, trying to find the zone.

About a mile in, trying to find the zone. (photo: B. Fidler)

Well, that escalated quickly.

Rick is strong, I’m feeling strong, so we roll. First woman is right behind us, too. We’d all leapfrog with each other for the first 16 miles- which go by pretty quickly and uneventfully. It got exciting at mile 16. You can skip the next few paragraphs if you want.

Since I was pretty focused on running a BQ, I wrote the splits I wanted to run on the inside of my left wrist. I also didn’t have a black Sharpie so I figured red was just as good. Here’s a pic of that:

splitz

Sorry, my GPS watch rubbed it off…

It says “29, 60, 125, 151, 217, 244”

Here’s the Ovaltine decoder ring to decipher exactly what you’re looking at: 29 minutes to the turn-around at mile 4.3, 60 minutes back to the start at mile 8.6, then 1:25 after the first loop (each loop was 3.52 miles), 1:51 through the second loop, 2:17 third loop, 2:44 fourth loop and (hopefully) a 3:12 fifth loop to finish. I figured I’d lose a minute or two on each subsequent loop from fatigue, so the lap splits I wanted to run were: 25, 26, 26, 27 and 28 minutes.

First section was pretty good, got back to my drop bag at 1:01:45- thinking I’ve already given away almost 2 minutes against my split chart. One thing I’ve learned in road marathons: do not make surges early to get back on pace. Just be patient. Dropped off my hand-held, grabbed a gel and a 10-oz water/Coke. Once again I drank flat, watered down Coke all day. It’s my thing now I guess. I grabbed a gel each time I hit my drop bag, was in and out in about 5 seconds every loop.

I wanted to run that 3.52 mile loop in 25 minutes, did it in 25:06. Loop #2 was 25:53. Through 15.6 miles in 1:52:44, I was still 1:44 off where I wanted to be. “It’s okay, dude, it’s okay. Still a long way to go.” I remember saying to myself.

Yes, I talk to myself while racing.

So what happened at mile 16? It was actually 16.4, on Hemlock Road just after the road crossing on that long, mellow (but windiest part of the course) uphill section before the awesome dirt road downhill, I wasn’t feeling particularly great right here but I figured I always play it so conservatively, and what is a marathon if it’s not one huge risk?

Churning out some early miles. (photo: B. Fidler)

Churning out some early miles. (photo: B. Fidler)

So I gambled right here, basically said to myself, “it’s now or never” and just went. It’s not that I wanted to shake my nearest competitors, I was locked deeply in a battle with myself. I wasn’t thinking about a podium spot (yet), I was thinking that I always play it too safe, too conservative.

Part of me wanted to force the dreaded wall on myself to just get it over with, hit it and then see what I had to work with. I blew up at the LA Marathon right around 17, and I blew up at Santa Rosa at 23. I thought it’s going to happen, might as well get it over with!

Working the downhills

Working the downhills. (photo: B. Vanderheiden)

I suddenly and inexplicably felt great, on that long down hill right around the 2-hour mark, I was ripping down at low-6 minute pace. I had this mantra going in my head, I think it’s a Molly Huddle quote from a few weeks ago after she finished 3rd at the NYC Marathon (paraphrased): “we don’t do all this training to run the first 16 miles, we do all of this to run the last 10.” My plan was to just hammer until the wall came and then figure out what to do next.

Welp, the wall never really came. I pushed it all the way back to the start/finish area, finally taking a second to look behind me. No one. Loop #3: 25 minutes and 35 seconds. Only 1:19 off pace now.

I fumbled through my drop bag for my iPod, I don’t train with music very often (I maybe listen to music once every two weeks or so on a run) and I figured it would give me a huge boost. Music is definitely a PED and I was pulling out all the stops today.

After about 10 seconds of rooting through my shit I said “F it” and left. I’ve got 2 more loops, I’ll get it on the last one. I leave with a new set of gloves, a new hat and a new neck buff. So back out into the wind and that long, mellow uphill section, I was really struggling to hit pace here. Then that long dirt road downhill- turns out that the 6:31 mile I ran here was my fastest of the race. Then a 7:17 on the uphill mile and another 7:06 on the rolling section back to the start.

Through the start/finish one last time and 2:44:02 through, last loop was 25:43.

I just had to maintain now. I have just under 29 minutes to run the last 3.5 miles. I didn’t stop at my drop bag, didn’t need to. Rick’s friend Brian told me that 2nd place was only about four minutes ahead and did not look as strong as me. The hunt is on!

I would give it everything I got here. Still haven’t hit the wall, but was quite deep in the pain cave now, but I’ve been here so many times and welcomed the familiar feeling. “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.”

Wind. Cold. Hill. Tree. Snot rocket. Everything was slowing down (except for me). I think this is what’s called “the flow state”. My brain was now on autopilot: “breathe in, breathe out, left foot, right foot, drive the knees back, swing the arms, land on the midfoot…” I put going for second place out of my mind and just stayed in this moment.

Then a 7:21 mile, still cruising. Then that downhill mile: 7:03. Still haven’t hit the wall. Still maintaining. Went through the aid station at the bottom of the hill and had my left sleeve pulled up a bit, by now it had warmed up to a balmy 29 degrees. One of the guys just past the aid station was like, “dude, your arm is bleeding” but I was moving too fast and just waved. Maybe next time I use black Sharpie.

Also I had a running (pun intended) joke with the guy at the end of the dirt road, first time I went by he was like, “man those are some short shorts!” and I was like, “I was gonna wear those triathlete panties today but they weren’t clean…” so every time I went by he was all, “yeah, panty man! You’re killing it!” I think I flashed him some leg here. I’m usually in a really shitty mood at mile 25, but not today.

I was like a marble in a groove, y’all, just rolling through the miles.

Mile 26: all uphill, all fucking guts right here. 7:29. Hardest mile of the race by far, finally was hitting that wall. Barely, but it felt like I was running sub-6 pace just to maintain that mid-seven.

Hit the turn back to the Finish, told the crossing guard there that he was the man- he was another awesome volunteer that had me smiling all day as well, just kept rocking.

Had some tears well up in my eyes as I am wont to do in the last stages of a perfectly executed race, which promptly froze on my cheeks. It’s a combination of everything below my waist hurting so acutely and the flood of emotions from the last few months of working my ass off to get to this moment.

I’m pretty sure I was groaning, grunting, making all kinds of weird dying animal noises- oh, and this whole race I’m lapping people so I’m starting to recognize them and still trying to yell “good job” and “on your left” and all that stuff. You all were awesome- what a tough day to be out there this late in the season!

Hit the finish at 3:10:27 (lap time: 26:25) for Third Place Overall, and one of the most satisfying and amazing experiences of my running life. First time on a podium, and it felt awesome. I’ve done some age group top 3’s but this was really special.

I also get to go back to Boston in 2018- that was the main goal. Stay tuned in the upcoming days/weeks for me to finally finish and post that race report. It’s taken a long time to come to terms with my terrible performance in that race from back in April.

Anyway; I came up with 1,752 feet of climbing for the race- I felt like I needed to be right around sub-3 shape (on a flat course) to run a 3:10 on this course. I can not stress enough how much stronger I felt on the uphills than I’ve ever felt before, and I’m pretty sure I owe that to a few factors: a solid block of threshold runs on hills and doing a decent core and stretching routine 5 days a week. If you’re a runner, and you’re getting older (I just turned 40 less than a month ago) then get on a core routine. Your hips and glutes will thank you.

So that wraps up a really awesome year of running and racing. I’d like to thank all of you that have read these blogs, I know they’re super pedantic and all but I enjoy writing them- wish I had more time to write- and more than just race reports.

Hopefully 2017 presents some opportunities to write more.

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The Bimblers Bluff 50k Race Report

Oh, Connecticut in autumn is ridiculously beautiful. If you get the chance, come be a “leaf peeper” in New England, the locals love it when you drive very slow on major roadways and suddenly pull on to the shoulder without signaling and throw your doors open to take pictures of the leaves! Yes, that’s all sarcasm there. Except for the first sentence, CT is rad in autumn.

Seriously though- I just spent ten years living in California and basically experienced 1.5 seasons every year; ten-and-a-half months of spring followed by a week of heat and then three weeks of rain. It’s great for running and general outdoors awesomeness, but c’mon- you know you love the splashes of mustard yellow, fiery vermilion and psychedelic salmon in the trees. That’s why people run The Bear 100, to see the aspens, right?

So what can I say about this race? First, it’s got a low key, old school vibe. It’s on some really technical trails covered in fallen leaves. It’s also got some very runnable single track and wide jeep roads. Throw in a few thousand feet of climbing (I came up with 3,176 feet per Strava) and you’ve got yourself a nice “fall classic” here in the Connecticut woods. Add the Connecticut area USATF Trail Ultra Championship to that list and the front of the field is fast, fast, fast!

So the race starts and finishes at an elementary school and after receiving some basic instructions from the RD, Mr. Bimble himself, we’re off for a quick lap around the perimeter of the soccer field. This is a pretty good idea that spreads out the runners before the road crossing and then funneling us on to a single track through the woods. Temps were perfect, in the low-to-mid 40s, gentle wind, partly sunny.

I locked into a conga line at around 8-to-9 minute pace with the front of the mid-packers, sort of where I always want to be (and where I always sort of end up anyway). I wanted to follow two basic rules; for the first half of the race- don’t be an idiot. For the second half- don’t be a wimp.

I talked to a couple guys before the race and they were like, “you know this race is a bit long, maybe almost 2 miles long…” I thought, “okay, no worries, I’ll just add 20 minutes to my goal time” and figured I’d just be a little more patient on going for it for like an extra mile. Yep, wait until mile 16-ish to start trying anything dumb.

Pretty uneventful through the early miles, there was an aid station about 3 miles in that I opted to skip, I had only taken maybe one sip of my water. I knew the next one was about 7 miles away and thought that I’d be fine for the next hour. I had a few gels on me and planned to re-stock myself at the aid station and just fill up on water and go.

About a mile before the next aid station I’d take my first wrong turn, we had to basically traverse this “rock” then wrap back around it and sort of snake our way down through this crack- it’s kind of hard to explain. All I know is that when I came to the bottom of it I went straight for about 30 seconds before my spidey senses started tingling big time- not only was I off course, I wasn’t even on a trail. I was just kind of meandering through the woods. There were a lot of times where you could easily lose the trail because a) it was completely covered by leaves and b) the flagging was orange, as was the majority of the leaves. Orange flags in an orange forest, go figure.

That being said this was a hard course to mark and was marked very well. After I got myself righted there was a nice little stretch of single-track, then a section of rock-hopping, a little more single-track, more rocks, then a road crossing then the aid station.

bb50k-1

Hi, do you have any idea how much I love to run?

“Hi!” I exclaimed. “How we doing?” The aid station folks were really nice, offering cookies, PB&Js, Coke… but… no gels. “Hey, where are the gels?”

“Oh, we don’t have any…” I literally thought they were joking, and waited for the punchline. “Oh, you guys are serious…”

“Yep, sorry… I might have some in the car…”

“No, that’s okay, I’ll just… figure something else out… Umm…” My mind went frantic for a second as I scanned the table.

No gels? In an ultra? Where am I? Is this for real? Okay, settle down, think. THINK.

Coke. Lots of Coke. I filled my handheld with half Coke and half water. I slammed three small cups of Coke in quick succession, knowing that four ounces of Coke was about 50 calories. I took the knife that was in the jar of jelly, grabbed a chocolate chip cookie, slathered that in grape jelly and said thank you and was out.

Okay, I had one gel on me after taking one about 45 minutes in, I’ll do Coke until the next aid station in 6 miles, grab like 3-4 gels and stick to my original plan. They gotta have gels at the next aid, no big deal.

Luckily the biggest climb of the race was right here staring me in the face to get my head back into the game. This was a massive grunt up the “bluff” to the most stunning views of the valley underneath. I stopped a few times on the cliff side just to take the view in, and it was pretty awesome.

So I locked into a nice even pace here with an accomplished trail runner named Debbie from the Shenipsit Striders, we would spend the next 5-6 miles chatting away, which was great because this section was really technical- mostly leaf-covered rocks until a jeep road that led to a bridge over a creek crossing and then back on to mellow single track. I let her lead since she had run this race a bunch and she just hammered the downs like a billy goat, basically showing me where to put my feet. Thanks Debbie!

We were being funneled between a residential neighborhood on the left and some horse stables on the right, about a mile out from the aid station somewhere around mile 16. I was all out of water and Coke and took that gel, so I decided to start hammering a bit to get to that aid quicker.

I came up on a runner I had met a few weeks ago at Trader Joe’s (he saw my Bighorn 100 shirt and we got to talking about ultras) named Mark so we ran together for a few minutes, then I took off.

Ferocious determination.

Hit ’em with some BLUE STEEL

Okay, another aid station, let’s get some gels and water and get moving!

Guess what? No gels. Don’t panic. Drink a lot of Coke, again. Grab some salty potatoes, a lot of salty potatoes, throw them in a to-go Ziploc bag, get some Coke in your bottle with some water and get going.

Okay, there are no gels at this race. That’s unexpected but out of my control, so I better just let it go and keep using my alternate fuel source, which is working pretty well right now. Watered-down Coke. I was trying to think of their slogan but I don’t have a TV so I had the old ones going, like “Coke: the next generation” and “Coke: you got the right one, baby”. Maybe those are diet Coke slogans from the 80s, I have no idea. All I know is that I feel really good so I whipped out the iPod for some tasty tunes and really started to hammer.

And I go off course again. Dammit, dude- pay attention! This is the second time you lost the trail, so I back track and proceed to return to the conga line that I had left back at the aid station. Okay, recollect, be patient. Settle down. Just work your way up this climb.

I grind a few more miles and now I go, just really start to hammer. The tunes are cranking, the Coke is working, I’m feeling good. I know the aid station is somewhere around mile 23-ish, so my plan is to really work hard, get there, take care of myself and then just let it rip to the finish…

…and I go off course again, three minutes of following these weird tiny pink flags that were left over from a previous race or possibly a mountain bike event, because after about 90 seconds I realize I’m on a mountain bike course (I think the banked turns and a jump gave it away).

DUDE, PAY ATTENTION!

I get back to where I went off, of course it’s marked excellently with multiple flags and ribbons- I just freaking flaked on it. New England trails present you with a very important choice- look up at the wonderful fall foliage and search for flags or look down so you don’t break the shit out of your ankles. It’s an interesting conundrum over here, maybe I’ll eventually learn to do both. Luckily I kept my nerve and knew that I was only about a mile, maybe mile-and-a-half out from the aid. Just relax, because it’s going to start hurting once you leave that aid station.

So I pass another runner, he must’ve got me while I was wandering in the woods a minute, and we cruise down into the aid. There’s all these cool signs cheering runners on from the local clubs and whatnot, pretty inspiring. If I come back next year I’ll make myself a sign saying “stop going off course bro” or “bring your own gels”, you know- something like that.

So of course I (weakly) ask for gels, they say no (kinda already knew the answer), I eat some salty potatoes, slam some Coke, Mountain Dew and Gatorade, fill my handheld up with half Coke half water and as I’m about to leave I see the dude I got to the aid right after me take off. Then, best moment of the race for me: a trail angel gave me a package of Clif Blocks. “You’re my new best friend!” I said as I tore off down the trail. The kindness of strangers, y’all.

Okay, now I’m in hunt mode. I pass that guy back maybe a half mile out from the aid, then a few miles down the trail I caught another guy that had been running with the first woman, he was wearing a “2016 Oil Creek 100” shirt and I thought, “damn, this guy is a beast” because that race was like two weeks before this. There’s no way I could run a 50k 15 days after a 100-miler.

Then I caught another guy that was cramping really bad right around mile 27. I offered salt, but he was pretty miserable. Then off the jeep road back on to sweet single track, this is really where it’s time to start digging deep.

Passed another runner sitting on a rock here in the woods, I think he was experiencing a full-on bonk right about now. I’ve been there, bro. Then I come up on the last aid station, I just did Coke at this point, half a bottle, no water. Just put my head down and hammered. Hopefully I can catch a few more guys in the last two miles- so of course I’m looking up a lot more than I should because to go off course at the end of the race would be disastrous, I roll my ankle on a root.

Then like three minutes later I catch a toe and go flying. I’m hoping the end is nigh because I’m obviously having a tough time keeping my shit together. Then I see a guy off the side of the trail cheering me on, he looked familiar- he’s the guy from the first aid station that was going to get me a gel from his car (I should’ve let him). He says, “man, you passed a lot of runners!” I asked if there were any more guys ahead, he said no but first woman is like a minute up on me.

I thought, welp, I won’t catch her because she was running really strong all day. That and before I knew it I was hitting the road crossing and was back at the school and crossing the finish line.

If you’re looking for a low-key, old school ultra distance event in New England right smack in the middle of leaf peeping season, then the Bimbler’s Bluff 50k is your jam.

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Race Report: The Pisgah Mountain Trail 50k

Sorry for the late turn-around here, this race was over a month ago, and well, you know- I’ve had a few things going on. Like getting a Jack Daniels’ VDOT O2 coaching certification (that test was hard!) and simultaneously trying to get my coaching business off the ground.

I also went back an re-read (as well as took pages of notes on) all my old training manuals, like “Running With Lydiard” by the late great Arthur Lydiard, “Run Faster” by Brad Hudson, “Advanced Marathoning” by Pete Pfitzinger, as well as reading the new book from Jason Koop, “Training Essentials for Ultrarunning”. My head is full of running knowledge, hopefully I can convert that over to running wisdom.

Okay, so I’m a New Englander now (or is it Yankee?). I think you’re officially moved to a new area when 1) all of your spices are unpacked, sorted and arranged (makes your meals awesome), 2) you know some sweet shortcuts to and from the closest Trader Joe’s and 3) you run a race in your new locale.

The Pisgah Mountain Trail Runs 50k would be my entrance into the New England ultra scene if there is one- spoiler: okay, I checked and there is one!

So we stayed at my wife’s parent’s house in Greenfield, MA on Saturday night which was only about 30 mins from the start in New Hampshire. I woke up a half hour earlier than intended due to my 11-month old waking up looking to party at 5:45 am, fun times. Had a big (read: calorically dense) liquid breakfast (twelve ounces of coffee with eight ounces of heavy whipping cream, two tablespoons of grass-fed butter and two tablespoons of coconut oil, blended to perfection). Drank a lot of water, too, maybe 40 ounces before start of race because it was going to be humid AF.

I left the house at 7:30, thinking I’ll get there around 8-8:15 (late start for an ultra, 8:45? And on a Sunday taboot!) but alas, I got ridiculously lost! Google Maps user error: since Pisgah State Park is located in both Winchester AND Chesterfield, I stupidly typed in “535 Old Chesterfield Rd. Winchester NH” and it of course, needed to be Chesterfield.

Yes, there’s two different Old Chesterfield Roads, one in each town, that are not connected. One is dirt and one is paved. I ended up on the dirt road, with the nagging suspicion that I am not where I’m supposed to be, driving deeper and deeper into the woods.

After getting righted around and speeding my ass off on beautiful and winding country roads (hey, a covered bridge!) I made it to the parking area at 8:41. Four minutes to get my shoes and socks on, get lubed up, go get my bib at check in and go.

I was coming out of the elementary school’s gym right as I heard “GO!” so I quickly ran towards the start line, my GPS watch finding the signal as I’m hitting “start” on my watch right as I cross the start line, way at the end of the pack (30 seconds behind the last runners). I mean, I’ve cut it really close by getting to Lake Chabot maybe 10 minutes before a race like the Skyline 50k but this was the first time I’ve ever actually missed the start of a race. Luck favors the prepared, so if I was short on luck today I had no one but myself to blame.

As I’m running to catch up I’m simultaneously biting the strap of my (empty) handheld water bottle to free up my hands, while one hand is trying to stuff gels into my shorts pockets (I ended up dropping the cucumber mint one, d’oh!), while holding four safety pins and my bib in the other hand. Fucking epic way to start a race. Also I should mention that huge storms came through during the night and it was gently misting on and off all morning, so the course (and my feet) were gonna be nice and wet.

Anyway, this first section is on a paved road so I kept it around 8-8:30 pace and managed to pass as many people as I could, I figured I wanted to be somewhere around 10th place by mile 5 if I wanted to hit my A goal, which was sub-5 hours and a top 10; the B goal was sub-5:30 and top 20 and of course that C goal is always just to finish (sans injury)!

I was treating this race as a warm-up to the second season of ’16, kind of a long fitness test to see what I needed to work on. This was basically a C race for me, so I knew I wasn’t in top shape from a six week long training layover after the Bighorn 100.

Anyway, back to the actual race- I had been holding in a pee all this time, too- so soon as I saw a huge tree about 10 minutes in I stopped, hid behind it and let ‘er rip. It was one of those long-ass pisses, took almost a minute.

I had to stop looking over my shoulder at all the people passing me here, I figured most of them were doing the 23k and that I had to run my own race, I wasn’t going to get sucked into that whole “this person can’t pass me “ ego-driven shit that I am wont to do in races. No, save that for the goal race in November.

I kept telling myself to take it easy, hit the halfway mark at fifteen miles then start to race, just fall into an easy rhythm somewhere around 9 to 10 min/mile pace and just churn it out. Power hike the ups really hard, run the downs well. It was intermittently raining hard/soft for the first maybe 2 hours so that made things interesting.

I settled into a pack with a woman named Kristen and a dude named Clark, we chatted about races we had planned on and the Northeast ultra scene (there is one, just gotta poke around!). I took a hilarious fall on one of the slick bridges over a creek and landed on my back on the softest bed of pine needles ever. Felt so nice I didn’t want to get up.

Pretty uneventful for the next ten miles, started to feel sort of shitty around miles 13-14 and that rough spot would continue for over an hour until mile 20. Those first two hours I had been fueling steadily, had about 250 calories of Tailwind, drank 1-2 little cups of Coke at every aid station and probably 2-3 gels so it wasn’t an energy issue, I think it was a “I didn’t taper for this so my legs are literally full of crud”.

I did do some hard runs the week of the race, so I expected my legs to be gassed, just figured it was going to come after mile 24 or so. I think the breakfast I ate (drank) should’ve been supplemented with something solid, like oatmeal or a pop tart. That “bulletproof coffee” was the same thing I had before Canyons 100k, but that race demanded a totally different effort than this one- I came through the first half in just under 7 hours and this race I was targeting somewhere around 5 hours. Different efforts demand different fuel sources- in hindsight I should’ve gotten in more carbs today before running. See- I’m still learning!

I got to the aid station at mile 20- this is what finally got me going: a cup of orange Gatorade (the worst flavor in my not so humble opinion), a cup of Coke and some weird blue Gatorade- looked like windshield wiper fluid and tasted like alcohol-free mouthwash, probably called like POLAR FREEZE or some shit like that, just really very yucky stuff.

But it got me going. Put some headphones on and churned out the five mile “Kilburn Loop” passing a few runners that were starting to succumb to the mileage. Then getting back to that same aid station and starting up the last big climb(s), a series of relentless rollers for the next 3 miles. Papercuts, baby. I passed a few more runners here, just grinding along.

Finally I crested the top and knew from studying the course map that I had a pretty decent downhill then flat road section to the finish. I was pretty deep in the pain cave right about now, not having done anything longer than an 8-hour day in the San Juans in July while Hardrock spectating.

So there’s a water only stop about two miles from the finish and as I’m filling up my empty bottle for a few sips to bring me in I look up the trail and see a yellow shirt coming down, maybe 200 meters behind me.

Dammit. I don’t want to race but I don’t want to get passed here. I really kind of hate being hunted but it sure lights a fire under my ass. So, of course, I raced to the finish. Me and that guy high five at the finish line, he was like “I just couldn’t close the gap” and I thanked him for forcing me to finish strong. I seriously would’ve dawdled to the finish if he didn’t nip at my heels.

All in all, it was a fantastic race- the course marking was excellent, the post-race burgers and soup were delicious, I stuck around for a couple hours just to introduce myself to local runners, watch people finish, find out about some fun races, all that.

Viva New England trail ultras!

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New Balance RC1400v4 SHOE REVIEW

These are very pretty shoes

These just look fast

2015; the year I became a road runner. I was going to say “real runner” but as the guy I used to work with likes to say he became a real runner when he ran his first race, so I guess I’ve been a real runner since 2011.

I ran two road races that year before discovering the vibrant Bay Area trail running scene, so between the Lake Merced Half in September of 2011 and the Piedmont Turkey Trot in November of 2014 I hadn’t run any road races.

To say I had a limited knowledge of racing on roads would be an understatement; I could pull from my closet any variety of trail shoe- shoes with sticky rubber (La Sportiva Helios) for wet, slick trails; shoes with big lugs (Inov8 X-Talon 212) for muddy trails; shoes with removable rock plates (Altra Superiors) for rocky trails and/or soft dirt; minimal shoes (New Balance Minimus 10) for sick buffed out Cali single track (brah); the list goes on and on…

I think I could ace a course in trail shoes.

But the road thing, oof. I’ve tried all kinds of road shoes- the Nike LunarGlides 2 and 3 were my first running shoes in 2010 and ’11. I hate to say it, I bought that first pair at a Sports Authority. I also bought a pair of Nike running shorts and ran in cotton t-shirts, so there’s that.

After transitioning to trails I’d buy my first actual trail shoes, the Mizuno Wave Ascend 6. But I’d come back to road shoes time and again, after learning that (gasp!) if the trails are dry, and they usually are in Northern California from April-December, you could just wear road shoes on trails.

Unless you wanted people to think you were a legit trail runner, then you HAD to get either a pair of Altras or Hokas. Duh. But I tried so many shoes, falling in and out of love with them. But I remember every pair…

The shoes I did my speed work in when I first learned what speed work was? The adidas Hagio.

The shoes I got shin splints in? The Brooks PureFlow.

The shoes I put the most miles on? The Hoka Bondi 3.

The shoes I ran my fastest half marathon in? The Saucony Kinvara 5.

The shoes that gave me the worst blisters in the weirdest spot? The adidas Boston Boost 5.

The shoes I ran my first 100 miler in? The Hoka Rapa Nui 2 Tarmac.

The shoes I had the shortest amount of time? The Saucony Zealot ISO.

The shoes I ran my first cross country race in? The Nike Zoom Streak LT2.

Women's version are dope, too

Women’s version are dope, too

The first pair of shoes I ever truly loved were the Brooks PureGrit v1- the first shoe I ever put 500+ miles on and then bought another pair of. All told, I’d wear three straight pairs of these, all putting about 500 miles on them, spending almost all of 2012 in them.

Then I discovered the Pearl Izumi eMotion Trail N1- I’d spend all of 2013 in these, another three pairs in a row. I’d also get a pair of the road versions, absolutely loved that shoe- so disappointing to hear they’re phasing out their non-tri line of running shoes.

So fast forward to 2015 and my chasing of a Boston qualifier. After the debacle in LA, missing out by about 12 minutes in the Kinvaras I decided to go towards a sleeker, lighter racing flat. First I tried the adidas Boston 5’s and got the weirdest blisters, on both insteps about an inch behind the ball of my foot. It’s as if the toebox was perfect but it suddenly narrowed too quickly causing an almost pinching sensation.

But then the New Balance 1400s entered my life. Just barely enough cushion to go 26.2 (or more) and weighing in at a feathery 6.5 ounces, it was love at first run. And second, and third…

…and then a BQ in them at Santa Rosa. I’d get two more pairs before lamenting that they now are only in stock in my size (10.5) on one website, and by the time you read this they’ll most likely be gone.

Here's the v3...

Here’s the v3…

So, the version 4’s…

...and here's the v4

…and here’s the v4

Hot take on the update: they only added .7 ounces to the shoe by making the upper sturdier and adding 2 mm of cushion to the forefoot and heel. I guess folks complained about the durability of the version 3, but I never had a problem, and I did a fair amount of trail running in them. They added some new overlays but really, same shoe.

ON THE PLUS SIDE:

  • Seven-tenths of an ounce is pretty imperceptible, unless you’re this asshole:
    Seriously, Ian?

    Seriously, Ian?

    Here’s another critic:

    Douchenozzle, anyone?

    Douche nozzle, anyone? Also, you spelled “ounce” wrong.

  • they’re breathable in hot weather and drains well if you’re running in the rain. I’ve also done a fair amount of trail running in these and this rubber is very sticky, even on slick rocks.
  • the tongue has more of a wrap to it than the v3 so I have to make sure that it’s totally flat when I put my foot in- I could see this being a problem for runners with a lower volume foot, but I’m kind of a narrow foot and the shoe cinches well around me.
  • the fit: these basically disappear when they’re on your foot- what I mean is that they just become one with your foot you don’t even notice they’re there. That’s what you want a shoe to do, right? I’ve got a low volume foot, not very wide, not much arch. The fit is like a sock, just amazing. Wider feet might have some issues but hey, it’s a racer.
  • 10 mm drop is great if you suffer from Achilles issues like I do, but let’s get serious about “drop” for a second- one millimeter is basically the width of a pin head. 10 mm is one centimeter, basically the width of your pinky nail. You could put me in 10 different shoes with drops from zero to 10 mm and I wouldn’t be able to discern any difference. Anyone that can, you’re amazing, but “drop” is just an industry term to make shoes sound more exciting, more specialized.
  • that price point- $100. Perfect. You can find them on sale probably since they’ve been out for 6+ months now.
  • I really love New Balance as a company. They have five factories in the US, have fantastic athletes running for them- Emma Coburn, Trayvon Bromell, Jenny Simpson, Brenda Martinez, Boris Berian, Abbey D’Agostino, Kim Conley, – that’s just their Olympians.

ON THE MINUS SIDE:

  • there really isn’t any, except for that slight tongue issue, which is an easy fix (just take the extra 3 seconds to put your shoe on correctly).

So these are my favorite all-time road shoe between the versions 3 and 4.I haven’t been this stoked on a shoe since the Pearl Izumi N1’s.

I give these shoes a solid A, and enter them into my Sneaker Hall of Fame.

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The 2016 Bighorn 100 Race Report

Mountain 100s are no joke. You can get away with making a lot of mistakes in a 50-miler and even a 100k but every mistake you make in a 100-miler will get exponentially worse the longer you ignore the problem. I had targeted a finish time somewhere around 27-28 hours based on what some runners I knew told me to expect for someone with my (limited) skill set.

I woke up super early (5:30 am) on race day, the sun streaming into my tent window, pitched behind the Tongue River High School’s grounds, and drove over to the mini-mart in downtown Dayton for a cup of coffee and a breakfast burrito. I then decided to drive up into the Bighorn Mountains on route 14 and eat breakfast at elevation, maybe enjoy a nice view- I ended up driving up to a nice little alpine pond called Sibley Lake and just sat in awe of the pristine silence.

Sibley Lake, high up and deep into the Bighorn range

Sibley Lake, high up and deep into the Bighorn range

Before a really tough race I always think of the Lakota chief Crazy Horse’s quote “today is a good day to die”, which is fitting since I actually drove by the battlefield where he was said to have uttered that phrase.

Okay, to be fair I’d definitely quit the race before I died but c’mon- that is some poetic shit.

It's not not pretty.

It’s not not pretty.

So at the pre-race meeting the guy that designed the course, Wendell, came clean and admitted what people have known for years- this is actually a little bit longer than 100 miles, it’s 101, maybe 101.5. Okay, no big deal. More miles is more fun, right?

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Settling into the staring blocks. I would lead this race for the first .000001 seconds. Photo courtesy of Chip Tilden

Race starts Friday at 11 am and it’s already in the high 70s in the Tongue River Canyon, the temps rose as we ascended so it was probably in the mid-80s during the long climb (eight miles and about 3500 feet), but since this course is very exposed the sun was basically just roasting away on me, the only mild respite being a nice little tailwind.

And they're off! Seriously I started walking right after. Photo: Chip Tilden

And they’re off! Seriously I started walking right after. Photo: Chip Tilden

It felt hotter than normal to me since I am spoiled living in the friendly confines of the Bay Area- anything over 75 is too hot and anything under 50 is too cold, so I wasn’t exactly comfortable until dropping down to the Footbridge aid station- named for the actual footbridge over the raging Little Bighorn River, so there were spots of shade along the first 30 miles, but they were few and far between.

Feelin' alright! photo: WJ Wagner

Feelin’ alright! photo: WJ Wagner

Just gonna leave these here. Try to not sign up for this race, I dare you…

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I ran for a long time with that Tom Petty Wildflowers song stuck in my head.

I ran for a long time with that Tom Petty ‘Wildflowers’ song stuck in my head. Which was weird because I only know like one line from it…

First eight hours I felt so great, didn’t push myself at all. Power hiked all the climbs, ran the flats and downs very conservatively. Got to the Footbridge aid station at 6 pm and readied myself for the long climb up to Jaws at 9000 feet.

Those canyons tho

Those canyons tho

Here’s where I made my first mistake- not putting my jacket and gloves in this drop bag. It stayed warm up until close to 8000 feet when we got hit with a quick little thunderstorm, pretty minor, maybe five minutes. Enough to get me wet, so not having my rain shell was mistake #1. Okay, I can deal with this one…

Everywhere I looked I saw beauty.

Nature. Biggest show-off on Earth.

Then the sun sets just as I get to about 8000 feet. Temps start dropping rapidly, luckily the next two aid stations (Spring Marsh and Elk Camp) had roaring fires. All I’m wearing now is a knit beanie hat, racing singlet and arm warmers, it’s probably in the high 40s/low 50s.

Rager!

Rager!

Then we get up close to 9000 feet, I’m doing a great job keeping my feet dry but there was one point where you just had to get your feet wet.

Then I caught a chill, highest point of the race (slightly over 9k). This chill would stay with me for the next four hours.

Got to Jaws at mile 48 about two hours later than I thought I would. My drop bag comes over to me and I got my thermal long sleeve, tech tee, neck warmer, gloves, ate some soup, changed socks- mistake #2!

I should have brought them with me and changed them at the next aid because my feet would get wet again like 20 minutes later at the same point they got wet the first time inbound.

I also realized I had a slight headache at this point… altitude sickness? I started in on the ginger chews because I read a few years ago before I went up Mt. Whitney that ginger was good for altitude sickness. Seriously though, is there anything ginger isn’t good for?

Well, I’m 50 miles in now, it’s 12:30 am so I’m already into day two- so everything I do from here on out at every aid station had to be geared toward Official Damage Control mode- possible altitude sickness with some low grade hypothermia on the side.

Because I really planned on getting my money’s worth in Wyoming!

But I still had pretty solid energy since starting, mental attitude was great and was still being pretty conservative- almost too conservative, and here’s where I think I ran into trouble next (mistake #3)- since I wasn’t technically running that fast but still eating and drinking like I thought I was I think I started to overload my stomach.

I was pretty much doing something every 30-45 minutes, either 100 to 200 calories of gels, UCan or Tailwind PLUS eating at aid stations; every aid I hit coming back down the mountain was the same deal: broth, ginger ale, beef jerky, pickles, coffee, Reese’s cups, you name it.

I would post up next to the fire, there’d always be some poor soul still headed up the mountain, basically racing the cutoffs at this point and I’d sit next to them, try to get them laughing, lie about how bad the coming climb was: “seriously, it’s not that bad, like not even two miles and 600, maybe 700 feet” when it was more like three miles and probably 1200 feet.

They say “beware the chair” during ultras but after being on your feet going on 14, 15, 16 hours I say fuck those people. Enjoy the chair. Take care of yourself, get your heart rate down, really sit and think about the next section or what you need to do between now and the next problem; the next stubbed toe (I had like 40 of these already), the next mini-bonk, the next negative thought spiral. What do I need to do to keep going?

I think staying positive was the thing that has saved my ass time and time again not only in this race but life in general. Not really knowing what to do but being open to ideas that come from outside of my brain is what I needed to remember.

I enjoyed the hell out of hearing the guys at Elk Camp aid station talk about actual elk hunting- these guys not only run the aid station here, they camp here a few times a year and go elk hunting up there.

Here it was at 2 am and their 10-year old kids were wide awake, whacked on too much Mountain Dew and candy, cooking up a huge pot of soup for us and telling us they caught fourteen trout that day as their dads were setting up the aid station. Then they cooked the trout and ate them for dinner.

I left that aid station nice and warm and happy. Maybe five minutes out, the chill came back. It stayed with me until the next aid station, Spring Marsh and their accommodating fire. Another twenty minute hangout here, same deal. Five minutes after leaving, that chill comes back.

Luckily it only stayed with me for a little bit as I turned a canyon corner and was basically blasted with warm air. The first strands of sunlight were starting to peek out from the west, it being almost 5 am now. I started sweating once again- it had been maybe eight hours since I was warm enough to actually sweat, so I peeled off a layer of clothes. Back down under 7000 feet now, it kept getting warmer and warmer as I started dropping in elevation. I feel like I dodged a bullet there.

It had also been the weirdest last hour- I was literally peeing every ten minutes. Then I took a mean dump, wiped myself with arrowleaf, those yellow wildflowers that grow all over the Rockies- best natural TP ever. Went through Cathedral Rock aid, same deal again with the food but except for coffee I had some Mello Yello. By now the sun was pretty much up, it was about 5:30. Another sunrise, another day, and I still had like 37 miles to go.

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The next hour got even weirder, was peeing now like every seven minutes. I started thinking I had hyponatremia, the only thing I knew about it was that basically I’m not retaining any of the water I’ve been drinking because my sodium levels are too low and it’s bad news, if you’re peeing more than seven times an hour it’s supposed to trouble. This was the first time I had the thought of dropping, I thought I was going to be done and get airlifted to a hospital with some kidney problems.

Took another dump, kept moving down the mountain. Now my stomach felt weird, like it had taken in so much food (because it had) and was trying to just get rid of it. No nausea at all, just felt like the day after Thanksgiving. Now I was going on just about three hours of peeing every 5-10 minutes.

I ran into Footbridge aid station (mile 66) and asked to talk to the head medical person. She came over and was like, “what’s going on?” I told her about what was happening, and the first thing she asks is “what color is your pee?” Clear. “Does it hurt?” I fought back a laugh thinking of the Frank Zappa song.

“Do your kidneys or lower back hurt?” No, I’m totally good, just have this sudden urge to pee like every five minutes and it’s really slowing me down.

So after she figured out that nothing was physically wrong with me except that I might be over-hydrating and I wasn’t retaining it because I just needed to take in more salt, which is weird because I was taking 2 salt pills per hour in addition to all that salty food, she said from here on out take four to six pills an hour. She then revealed to me that she was actually a sports psychologist and that my problem might be mental. “This can be a pretty scary course and you just ran through an entire night by yourself, it might just be that you want to drop. Do you want to drop?” She and the other volunteers assisting her waited for me to answer.

Aww hell no!

Well, kind of.

No, wait… I would like to finish this damn race. I think I needed to hear someone else say the D word out loud to fully put it in perspective for me. The idea that this race would continue without me in it was unfathomable. For whatever reason, at this moment- I suddenly felt important, and finishing this race became more important.

Then we had a good laugh that I was about to turn 40 so it might just be prostate issues. Some good “finger in the butt” jokes, they told me I wasn’t allowed to drop because my mind was still super sharp and I was in a totally ebullient and effervescent mood.

People at this point were dropping like flies, they told me there were probably only about 200 people left in the race (about 120 drops already). So, I got my lone blister fixed up, changed socks, ate a delicious bootleg Egg McMuffin and left Footbridge at almost 8 AM.

Huge climb up to Bear Camp, this is the section called The Wall (a lot more fun to come down) and it was already getting hot, parts of that climb had coverage but when it was exposed it was just roasty balls hot. Great! I thought, it’s only like 9:30 in the morning.

Just then the 50-mile leaders flew through, they were at mile 21 and three hours in, we were at mile 69 and 22 hours in, oof.

Best not to think about that sort of shit- part of me wanted to throw my GPS watch into the woods at this point.

Chip caught me at Bear Camp! Good times! photo: Chip Tilden

Chip caught me at Bear Camp! Good times! I look higher than Pauly Shore. photo: Chip Tilden

Left Bear Camp for the seven-mile stretch to Cow Camp- the famous bacon aid station!

Look at this trail...

Look at this trail…

It was along this point where I hit the lowest point of my race- the urge to drop was so damn strong here. I just started to cry, mentally just completely lost it, so not having fun anymore, a total meltdown. I wanted to call Allyson and tell her I was okay but not really and could she maybe come pick me up?

A full 24 hours into this race and all I wanted to do was lay down on the side of the trail and just go the fuck to sleep. I prayed that a mountain lion was stalking me and this was his chance to end it for me. That’s how bad it was, hoping I’d be some apex predator’s brunch.

Then I opened up my phone and looked at pictures of my kid. This beautiful, happy, healthy 8-month old that I absolutely adore. What would he think of his daddy being a quitter?

“Why’d you quit, Dad?” I imagined him asking me one day. Because I was tired and didn’t feel so good. Because I missed you and your mom. “But you know you can see us again later?” I imagined him saying. Yes, I know that. But I just wanted to stop.

No, not a good enough answer. Not a reason to give up.

So then I just made a decision- start running. Just run right now, run until you can’t, then wait until the next aid station to make a decision to drop if that’s what I need to do. I knew it would be harder to quit once I was around people, and if any of those fuckers tries to get me to laugh then dammit, I’ll just have to stay in this stupid race and finish it.

So I put headphones on, cranked up the Talking Heads, ate two salted caramel gels in quick succession and started running like it was the start of a 5k. My legs suddenly felt light, I started passing runners. I started singing while I was running. I felt great. I might not have to drop after all!

Came up to the spring four miles before the next aid, filled my water bottle, doused my head, and just kept going. I aggressively power hiked the ups, passing even more runners here in this section.

I pulled into Cow Camp, got ice in my bottle, ice in my hydration bladder, ate like five pieces of bacon, took a few Gu’s for the road and was out. There’s another ice cold mountain spring coming up in a few miles they said then Dry Fork aid was in six miles.

I could drop there if I wanted to, get a quick ride back to the finish and be done with it.

No, fuck that noise. I’m going to finish this race.

This next stretch was almost entirely exposed, it was noon so there was no hiding from the sun and it was probably already 90 degrees. Coupled with the low humidity and altitude my sinuses were super dry so I had blood boogers galore! It was also around this time I taught myself how to pee on the run, just like the elite Kenyan marathoners.

You can’t run an entire 2:05 marathon without peeing, those Kenyan bros piss all over themselves while running 4:45 pace at mile 18, so I thought I’d give it a try. Except I was running like 12 min pace, but whatever. I also took every opportunity to lay down in every single creek crossing at this point, there were probably at least 25.

Rolled into Dry Fork, had my drop bag handed to me- another sock change, and oh, holy shiiiiiiiiit… my feet literally exploded as I took my socks off. So many blisters- I’ve never been blister prone so it was pretty alarming. Luckily they had boss blister workers there, so this young lady Hannah took care of me. She popped then bandaged then duct taped them. It made me feel better when she said she’s worked on worse today, but that if I didn’t keep them dry they were going to get much worse.

Hannah saved my life...

Hannah saved my life…

Got my bandanna filled with ice, more ice in my hydration bladder, ice in my pockets (seriously) and left there at about 2 pm, I ended up being there for about 35 minutes- most runners were coming in, grabbing their drop bag and going. Us poor blister folks were like, “bye, have fun!” No, not really, since the mercury was up to like 96 degrees now.

I’m thinking this: my feet are basically being held together with duct tape now and I was instructed to keep them dry. Yeah, that’s not gonna happen. Every toe off of the right foot was like getting stabbed right between the ball of my foot and my big toe. Imagine running with that feeling for 18 miles.

This sport is for people that are either very tough or very dumb, or some combination of the two.

Big climb here, last big one. Made it to the top and told myself it was once again “gut check” time. I made a deal with myself: keep on power hiking all the little ups, even the little rollersand try to shuffle the flats and then when it came time, to just hammer the downs, let it all go.

This next section was basically rolling red dirt jeep roads, I thought I was moving pretty well here but a look at my GPS file says otherwise.

Still, 12 min pace after 28 hours on your feet feels really fast.

It took me almost two hours to do this seven mile section and finishing at this pace would put me some where around 32 to 33 hours, and with the cutoff firmly at 34 hours that felt too close for comfort.

So I put on some Mastodon to psyche myself up for the last 13 miles. I pulled into Upper Sheep Creek aid to hoots and hollers and yelled DO YOU ALL LIKE METAL?

The volunteers there were awesome, we talked about Iron Maiden and Metallica and some newer stuff like Russian Circles and Electric Wizard. They told me to check out this band Power Wolf as I ate as much watermelon as I could, put ice in my bandanna around my neck, got more ice in the hydration bladder and handheld and pounded a few cups of ice cold ginger ales and was off.

I can run a half marathon! That’s all that’s left now, I can totally do this, I do that shit all the time.

An all downhill half, too. I’m at 28 and a half hours now, can I run it under three hours? Can I do it while dropping 3500 feet in 95 degree heat? Oh, yeah… this is gonna hurt really bad.

One tiny little, maybe 300 foot super steep climb and I crested the ridge and looked into the Tongue River Canyon. Here we go… I passed a few haggard 50-milers and yelled “I’m sick of being out here!” I think I must’ve scared the shit out of them as I flew past, they mumbled something but it was hard to hear because I didn’t care.

To be honest- the next six miles are a total blur. I was in so much pain hammering that steep downhill single track and passing so many runners I focused solely on repeating my stock mantras over and over:

Yes, it hurts this bad for everyone else right now

Yes, it’s hot, but it’s this hot for everyone else, too

Breathe, relax, swing your arms, focus on your foot strike

Dude, you came here to run 100 miles

And you already know that suffering is a huge part of this

SUPERSONIC HIGH FIVE photo: Chip Tilden

SUPERSONIC HIGH FIVE photo: Chip Tilden

My new buddy Chip snapped a pic of me and said something, probably something encouraging but I couldn’t hear him over the music and agony of my shredded feet. I got down to Lower Sheep Creek, heard “runner 289 in” and instantly got a whole bucket of ice water dumped on me, amazing! Got two gels, a fill up of ice in my handheld and yelled “runner 289 out!”

This next 2.5 mile stretch was the hottest of the course, the heat just radiated off the white limestone walls of the canyon and up from the floor, with absolutely no shade- it was as if the sun had moved into the canyon and decided it lived there now and wasn’t going to pay rent, just squatting on me with its damned oppressive ultravioletness.

Aid station at the trail head, same drill: bucket of water dumped on my head, ice in my handheld, gone. All flat road out to the finish.

So, so hot.

I got handed a Pepsi cup full of ice by a lady in a car a mile later, I just put that down my pants, because why not?

Still passing even more runners here, glancing over to see what distance they were running. People looked like death, deep set hollow eyes with dark circles… It was actually pretty terrifying to run in this kind of heat and people that do Badwater on purpose are just silly. That race is just some silly masochistic shit.

Last aid, Homestretch- the popsicle and lawn sprinkler aid station, TWO MORE MILES they said. I grabbed a popsicle, a hand full of ice cold watermelon cubes and was out. There were four more houses on this stretch of paved road that had dragged their sprinkler hoses all the way out in the street, I stopped at every one and just stood on top of them and stayed wet.

On the final straightaway, just before turning on to the bridge over the Tongue River I had another little tear-fest, but this was all JOY, pure, unadulterated joy. Tears (and snot) streamed down my face as I was guided into the park to cheers and clapping, reduced to a blubbering fool.

I got my shit together right before the last right hand turn into the finishing chute, wiped my cheeks off so I could have a nice finisher’s photo, finally crossing the line in 31 hours and 14 minutes.

It was by far the hardest race I’ve ever done and there’s no question that I not only learned more about how damn difficult 100 milers are (especially in the mountains) but how damn difficult life can be sometimes.

I don’t think I’ll ever do this again without my family; on the one hand I enjoyed not running with a pacer but dammit, a crew is necessary- if only for emotional support. Just to say “remember that thing we did together that time? That was fun, we should do that thing again…” I missed having that so much.

Emotion is such a powerful thing, I think I tried to draw from it time and time again to get something (anything) out of me to just keep relentlessly moving forward. But there’s only so many times I can keep going back to that well before it’s dry, so it’s probably best not to tempt fate again…

…because as I get older these things are only going to get harder, and I’m going to need all the help I can get.

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