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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The 2016 Canyons 100k Race Report

Or

A Race Report in the Form of a Top Ten List

Taking it easy early on, at the turn onto Bath Road (photo courtesy Single Track Running)

Taking it easy early on, at the turn onto Bath Road (photo courtesy Single Track Running)

Number 10: Has Anyone Ever Attempted to Write a Race Report in the Form of a Top Ten List?

I do not think I have ever seen anyone’s race report in the form of a Top Ten list. Race reporting is a pretty new literary genre and I think the luminaries of this sport, or at the very least those race reports from authors/runners I have really enjoyed are usually pretty straight forward: “I ate this product and wore these shoes that this company gives me and they helped me (I think…)” OR “I didn’t do this thing or that other thing, which led to discomfort here and I dropped (and/or had a very bad day…)”

Lists tend to pop up in ultrarunning in the big, year-end Ultrarunning Magazine issue, and those lists are basically statistics anyway. Stats are boring because they’re based on facts, and facts are hard to argue and damn it, I love to argue. Here are the only stats I’m really interested in. We can argue about the best Trail Films or best way to rip off a toenail or worst blister protection because that stuff is completely subjective. It’s different for everyone, so we inject our opinions into the mix, tempered by our own experience and place that template over yours and voila! Instant argument. The worst conversations are the ones when everyone is in agreement.

It’s ironic I’m talking about arguing because during a race, it’s usually something I do with myself for a huge portion of the race. “Dude, you shoulda held back on the second climb, that was too early to push” or “Man, you’re being such a wimp right now” to “I should’ve ate more at aid station X” to whatever I can think of to needle myself with.

This did not happen at the Canyons 100k last weekend, not even a little. The only questionable choice I made brings us to…

Number 9: I’m the Dumbass that Wore Racing Flats in This…

Yes, I wore New Balance 1400s for this race. 63+ miles on muddy trails in road marathon racing flats. My reasoning was that I had some really great runs in these shoes lately, and even some not so great runs. The point is, I’ve done the majority of my miles in these shoes and these are my third pair in a row and really, I just love these things. I love me some cushion but just felt that the Cliftons are too “mushy” and the Speedgoats were too heavy, and the way they clump up the mud… In hindsight, I made the right decision. There were a few slippery sections but I’m an okay skier and basically grew up on a skateboard, so running downhill and simultaneously sliding a little is a very familiar feeling. I consider myself a pretty decent downhill runner so that helps. Huzzah!

Number 8: I Really Wanted to Title This “Calf Mud Dingleberries for 47.8 Miles!”

I swear, the hair on my calves is kinda long. On one calf the hair is a little longer because last year when I was having some Achilles issues I shaved a striped of hair down the back of my left leg to apply some KT tape, so of course it grew back thicker and longer. Running in mud for a few hours will cake that shit up like nobody’s business, so it felt like I had these epic dingleberries swinging from the back of my calves all day. “I gotta take care of these at the next aid station…” I kept thinking to no avail. Just let them hang, bro.

Number 7: We Can Have an Epic Day if We Try

I told my wife to meet me at the halfway point at about six hours in. I figured that I would do the first 50k in six hours and the second in about 8 hours. Boy, was I wrong. I came through Foresthill in 6:52. She had our 6-month old Eamonn in the Ergo and they both looked tired (they stayed in a cute little AirBnB in Auburn while I camped at Foresthill Elementary’s soccer field). My plan was to be pretty conservative because I felt I was slightly undertrained and didn’t want to have an epic blow-up. I also did not study the course maps and/or elevation charts at all, because if I had I would’ve realized that the first 50k had about 9,000 feet of climb and the second half only about 5,000. Couple this with the fact that my legs felt absolutely amazing all day, my stomach was iron AF and my attitude was top-notch.

Nothing bothered me, you literally could’ve shit in my hat and I would’ve been like “that’s tight, thanks bro!” I just had the best day out there, dare I say “epic”?. Even when I discovered they had Tailwind at the aid stations (again, I gotta read the course info sections on the race’s website) I thought, “maybe that stuff won’t bother my tummy today…” Not only did it not bother me, I think it actually worked well for me. I’m not going to get all pedantic with what I ate and when (yet), I’ll just say that for one day, I nailed the nutrition aspect of racing.

When I finally realized I could in fact have an epic day, right around mile 49, about 20 minutes outside of the turnaround at Rucky Chucky, something in my mind just clicked. I had music now after running without for 10+ hours, and anyone that says music is not a performance enhancer is a lying liar. I had been running a bit with Francois and Julia and we alternated pacing each other on the ups and downs. We picked up this hilarious guy “Muffintop Mark” at Rucky Chucky, and I was really enjoying grinding away with them. But something in my mind was like “JUST GO NOW!” and I rocketed away. I made a deal with myself- I’d run as hard as I could until I couldn’t anymore.

Well, I never stopped because I never started feeling bad. I made it from Rucky Chucky to the finish in 3:17. I had the 10th fastest overall split from the Cal 2 aid station to the finish. That’s right, I was the tenth fastest of all runners from mile 55.1 to the finish. I’m shocked at that. Here’s the link to the split times: Canyons 100k Splits

I’m pretty sure this was a direct result of taking it as easy as I could those first 31 miles. It’s not rocket science here. Saving your legs for the final miles- people have suggested this sort of thing to me in the past but since I know just about everything they’ve typically fallen on deaf ears. It’s hard being perfect and oh, how I’ve paid the price over the years, in spite of my own arrogance. I pray that I can continue to get dumber as I age.

Rolling through Michigan Bluff (photo courtesy Single Track Running)

Rolling through Michigan Bluff (photo courtesy Single Track Running)

Number 6: It’s Been 2+ Weeks, Where is Your Boston Race Report Bro?

Oof, yeah, the Boston Marathon Race Report that’s been sitting in first draft hell since the plane ride home from there. Here’s a preview: ambivalence gives way to sincere dedication. Five week block of minimal speed training is not enough. Run an okay time through the half. It’s a hot day. I melt in Newton. Heartbreak Hill breaks my heart. I decide to have fun. I might want to go back and try again, I know I can run a great race there. That’s pretty much it. That blog will have to wait though.

Number 5: Here’s a List of Songs That Totally Gave Me the Feels

So I grabbed my iPod at mile 47, Rucky Chucky. Here’s some musical highlights, songs that gave me a huge boost:

“Girlfriend” by Matthew Sweet. Bob Quine’s solo on this joint is sick! This songs always makes me run fast, and coupled with that cucumber mint Gu at mile 49, this is the song that made me just “go”.

“Run to Your Grave” by The Mae Shi. Fitting title, right? Another explosive jam from a band that I have to be in just the right mood to listen to.

“Expensive Shit” by Fela Kuti. Fela is by far the best music to listen to when you want to lock into a groove and just grind. Rhythmic like a metronome, it’s perfect for putting on just before a big but runnable climb.

“Third Planet” by Modest Mouse. Love this song, love the lyrics. It came on, again, just when I needed it, it’s like my iPod was reading my mind.

“Joga” by Bjork. Another great reminder of the beauty and fragility of life. This one made me a bit veklempt. Had to stop on the single track and admire the view of the American River canyon that lay before me, in absolute awe.

“Darien Jam #1” by Phish. This is in my opinion the best jam Phish has ever done, coming out of a really dope Suzy Greenberg from a show at Darien in 2000. This is some groovy ass, funky, high energy stuff right here. I put this on a mix years ago at Lake Sonoma and it pulled me out of a near-bonk. It’s like a whiff of smelling salts, just gets me right back into the game.

“Run the Jewels” by Run the Jewels. I’m not into violence against poodles or anything, but Killer Mike’s line about “I put that pistol on that poodle and I shot that bitch” gets me so hype. I was in full hunt mode at this point, just looking for wounded ducks to pass up.

“Amongst the Waves” by Pearl Jam. Pretty sure I was singing this at the top of my lungs. This might be my favorite PJ song, I know Eddie Vedder loves him some surfing, it’s basically his homage to being out and doing his thing. If I wrote a song about trail running, it might be called “Amongst the Poison Oak”.

“Everything Has Its Point to It” by Rival Schools. This all has a point, every moment of every day. Needed to be reminded this out on the trails. This came on about 3 minutes before flying into Cal 1 on the return, put me in such a good mood. Made sure I told every person at that aid station that I loved them and they were awesome.

“Bad Blood” by Taylor Swift. I have a bunch of pop songs on my iPod, and this jam, along with Katy Perry’s Dark Horse and Ellie Goulding’s Burn are three tracks I love. I am not above going to the well of teen pop, this stuff puts a smile on my face and a little pep in my step. Not ashamed at all to say I love this song. I was definitely singing out loud.

“Southtown Girls” by The Hold Steady. I don’t know if it’s the hook, the guitars, the honky-tonkesque piano or what- but this is now the second time The Hold Steady have got me to perform above my talent level- the first time was two years ago at Miwok, pulling me out of a bad place at mile 50 of that race and now today. I was like, “Oh, yeah- The Hold Steady, I love this band!” After this song was done I put my iPod on “regular” and listened to this album from the start. Stuck Between Stations, Chips Ahoy, et. al. This album is so good. Can’t not smile when listening to this.

Number 4: There Sure Are Rad People that Run Trails, Thanks to Everyone that Shared Miles with Me

Running with people is the best thing about running ultras. Sure, the course was epic, the aid station folks are so rad; but the community of runners is by far the best thing about it. Every time I wanted to run with someone I found a great group of or another solo runner to chill with for a bit. Being at the back of a train grinding up a climb or just checking on someone as you pass them is one of the coolest things about this thing we do.

I spent a lot of the early miles in relative quiet, the field strung itself out early. So I was surprised that I spent more time running the later miles with people, but it worked out because that’s when we needed each other. Hearing people talk about their kids, or listening to why Tums are the best anti-cramping remedy, or their husband’s obsession with Strava, or how many pair of running shoes you own because you work at a running store, or why Killian is so interesting- all these stories, all these people; this is really what it’s all about for me. Thanks to everyone with a kind word or high five, Julia, Francois, Muffintop Mark, the Tums lady and everyone that said my name (and I theirs since our names were on our bibs). The inspiring and fast 50k guys that passed me (Tim Tollefson, Steven Wassather and Fernando) basically went past me like I was standing still. Then the aid station folks, my man Bob at Cal 1 and the tattooed guy at Rucky Chucky. Then talking and eating with John and Roseanna after the race and finally, giving mad props to the RD Chaz Sheya.

Number 3: “This Really, Really Hurts. But it Really, Really Hurts for Everyone Else, Too…”

This was my main mantra as the race went on and on. I even said it out loud a few times, just to remind myself that the experience I was having was being shared by everyone else, albeit individually. It hurts for the elites up at the front just as much as it hurts for the people racing the cutoffs at the back of the pack. It hurts us mid-packers, too. I am not special. I am not in a different pain cave than anyone else in this race, although I am experiencing it on a personal level. I am bonded to my fellow racer because of it. That’s a really cool thing to meditate on for a few hours.

Number 2: A List of Items I Was Really, Really into at Aid Stations

I was all about those new cucumber mint Gu, they are really good. I usually don’t like mint, but for whatever reason, it was my jam today. Likewise Tailwind- it never really agreed with me before but I started in on it at hour 8 and it was exactly what I needed. I also ate a lot of “real food” at aid stations; like those salted smoked almonds, many, many quesadillas and chicken noodle soup. Everything sat so well, it was like I could’ve pulled a Dean Karnazes and ordered a large pizza and just ate that as I ran.

I’m usually a bit OCD with my race fuel intake, it’s pretty much been like this for the last few years: Vespa every three hours starting an hour before the race, then 3 servings of UCan 45 minutes before and a serving every 45 minutes after; supplemented with homemade energy gels. But today I was into trying something new. I ate a huge breakfast (or rather “drank” a huge breakfast, a large French pressed coffee with coconut oil, butter and heavy whipping cream). Seriously, that was like 1400 calories. I’ve never consumed anywhere near that on race morning. Then I took a pre-race Vespa and three scoops of UCan. So that’s like 1600+ calories before the race.

I was so “full” that I did not take any nutrition for a full 2 hours into the race. Then I started in on the UCan, every 45 minutes. I took 2 Huma gels in there somewhere and a lot of salt pills, maybe 2 every hour. After going through Foresthill and realizing I put my next three UCan servings in the wrong dropbag (they were down at Rucky Chucky, oops!) I grabbed a few gels from the table and a handful of salted smoked almonds, so good.

I started in on the Tailwind at Cal 1 and more almonds. “Here goes” I thought, and braced myself for stomach issues (which never came). More Tailwind and almonds through Cal 2 and a few cucumber mint gels and I was ready for real food at Rucky Chucky. Two quesadillas, some soup, some almonds, and I was feeling fantastic. Tailwind for the road!

I just followed that protocol until the end, at both Cal 2 and 1 I did “almonds, broth and quesadillas” with Tailwind chasers. My stomach was the best it’s ever been during a race. I’m not going to say I nailed nutrition, but I nailed it (totally) and feel confident going into Bighorn that I can just eat those things and be okay.

That fierce look of determi... nah, I'm just kidding (photo courtesy of Single Track Running)

That fierce look of determi… nah, I’m just kidding (photo courtesy of Single Track Running)

Number 1: Why I Will Really Miss the Trails and Races in Northern California

This is probably the hardest one to write; it didn’t dawn on me until after the race- this is probably my last ultra in Northern California for a while, at least until next year (fingers crossed: Western States?) I’m glad I didn’t think about it during the race, it may have spun me in a shitty way. But that’s the coolest thing about living somewhere new- I get to try new things. Whether we end up in New Haven, CT or in the Philly area, or somewhere else entirely it’s all about new adventures. The act of moving, with your family, is in itself a new adventure. It’s like a long, drawn out ultra with an unknown destination; we basically started it when Eamonn was born seven months ago and we don’t quite know where the finish line is exactly. And I’m not the least bit freaked out about it.

Look, I’ve freaked out in ultras because I missed turns and went off course, or had a sloshy stomach for miles on end and couldn’t put food in and bonked, or got mad at one of my crew because he put the hand-held water bottle in his car instead of having it on him, or I didn’t get the time I wanted or whatever.

And what I’ve learned about freaking out in a race is that you waste so much precious energy. Energy that’s really useful, energy that you’ll need. I’m going to need a lot of energy to move across the country, physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, whatever energy you got, I’m into not wasting it on things that don’t matter.

Planning a move while simultaneously juggling the following: quitting my job to be a stay-at-home dad, doing a yard sale, selling off my record collection, trying to be a good and attentive husband, father and son, all while trying to train for a 100-miler?

Yeah, I need a lot of that positive energy. And the thing I’ve been able to find at various NorCal races as well as within the community here is that we feed on each other’s positive vibes. It’s infectious, it’s contagious. It’s probably the best trail running scene in North America, at least for us mid-packers. It’s been so awesome to be a part of something so rad, so big, so meaningful.

That’s what I’m going to miss the most, but that spirit is also what I’m going to try to take back East with me.

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Inside Trail’s Marin Ultra Challenge 50-Mile Race Report

“Mountain Dew. You sweet, sweet nectar of the gods” is something I only say at mile 44 of a 50-miler. I mean, really- who drinks this stuff on the regular? Okay, bad question- I already know the answer to that (video gamers, computer programmers, people with type 2 diabetes, college kids pulling all-nighters, maybe truckers that can’t find meth) but I’ll be damned if this stuff isn’t rocket fuel. Just gimme three fingers of that unnatural yellow fizzy liquid at the last aid station and I’m good to go.

You might be wondering “well, what happened the previous 43 miles?” and I’ll get to that. First, let’s talk about the weather.

Wet and misty Headlands (photo courtesy of Jesse Ellis, Let's Wander Photography)

Wet and misty Headlands (photo courtesy of Jesse Ellis, Let’s Wander Photography)

The forecast all week had been saying high of 57, low of 50 with scattered showers, turning heavy in the afternoon. Winds from 10-20 mph with stronger gusts expected.

Okay, I’ll be wet. It might be cold.

So, gloves in each drop bag. Arm warmers, too. Two lightweight water repellent jackets. Extra buff. Change of clothes and a towel in finish line drop bag. Lots of lube. Okay, I can do this. I’m not going to let the weather psyche me out here, I was just running in waist deep snow on Mt. Tallac in the Sierras, I think I can handle some “rain”.

But that’s the thing about rain- there’s so many different kinds of rain. There’s the light mist of rain; that’s what we got early morning. Then there’s pleasant drizzle as the morning went on, the kind that gets you “barely wet” and makes it look like crystal dew drops on everything. Then there’s sideways rain, pelting you like hail, coming out of the wind on top of Dias Ridge, miles 37 & 38. Then there’s the drenching, holy shit I can’t see five feet in front of me torrential downpour rain; on “Wile E. Trail”- this unnamed single track between Middle Green Gulch and Miwok Cutoff- probably named “Coyote Ridge Cutoff” says Inside Trail RD Tim Stahler, per course designer Jim Vernon. Get it? Wile E. Coyote. Coyote Ridge. Just go with it people, it works.

That was right around mile 41-42, and that right there was the impetus to get moving. I stopped to pee right at the exact moment the sky opened up, immediately it soaked through my water repellent (not “water resistant”) jacket and I started to shiver. I thought, “nope, not getting hypothermia today”.

But let me back up a minute- I should go back to the beginning. I’ll go back to earlier in the week, when coming up with an actual race strategy. Yeah, that’s it. Okay, here’s the race report:

I had to ask myself honestly “what did I want to do at this race?” Or, more specifically “what can I do with this race that will get me more ready for Bighorn 100?”

I didn’t care about finishing in the top 10 or setting a new 50-mile PR, so those are off the table. What are my goals? I kept thinking back to my training before San Diego 100. Everyone kept telling me the best 100-mile training is just “spending time on your feet” or “continual progress”. Yep, just spend some time on my feet and make progress.

Okay, here’s my goals:

  • I wanted to go around 10 hours
  • I wanted to run somewhat even splits
  • I wanted to be very conservative the first half and then start to push it the second 25
  • I wanted to do the last 10k in under an hour

So that meant a lot of power-hiking, and a lot of power-hiking early in the race. I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but every race I run it seems I fall into the trap of pushing it too soon and paying dearly for it. I remembered David Laney’s UTMB race report detailing how he basically “chilled for the first 50, then it was hammertime”. So I did my best to chill the first half, every time someone passed me I had to resist the urge to race. “Be patient” I kept telling myself, “it’s not time to race…”

This really worked out well for me, considering I actually negative split this race.

Wait… what?

Choogling down through them redwoods (photo courtesy Jesse Ellis, Let's Wander Photography)

Choogling down through them redwoods (photo courtesy Jesse Ellis, Let’s Wander Photography)

Yeah, this is kind of crazy. I ran the first 25 miles in 5:12:47 and the second 25 in 5:10:12. Okay, that’s a bit misleading- there was way more climbing the first half of the race, but the weather was way worse in the second half. But I think I’m going to try this strategy again at Canyons 100k, maybe do the first 50k in something like seven hours, really hold back and save my legs, then go hard.

Then that last goal- to go from Tennessee Valley aid station (mile 43.8) to the finish in under an hour. That’s a tough 10k, starting up Marincello, a 700-foot climb for the first 1.4 miles. Then it’s all downhill, baby. I did that section in 58:55.

Let’s talk next about nutrition, and the idea of “nothing new on race day”- yeah, I didn’t do that today. I tried a lot of new things. One thing I tried was some new gels called Hüma, they’re pretty tasty and have some fat in them (in the form of chia seeds). They’re an all natural puree of blended fruit with some amino acids, I tried the Mangoes and Lemonade- both were super good. I’ve been wanting to incorporate more fat into my race day nutrition, the last time I had tried that was at the North Fork 50-miler in Colorado in 2013, I did the first half of that race all on nut butters. I had a decent result that day, don’t know why I abandoned something that worked.

So I tried the nut butters again today- the Boggs Trail Butter Expedition Espresso, and man they are tasty! They’re not the easiest to swallow, definitely took a few extra gulps of water to get it all down but damn, they’re good. I’ll be incorporating more fats into my race day nutrition from now on. If I eat mostly fat in my daily life, I should fuel with more of it come race day…

It’s no secret that I’ve been doing the lower carb / high fat diet for about three years now, and I gotta say ever since making the switch to eating this way and sticking to it I’ve experienced feeling better all around. That is when I stick to it.

For the uninitiated, high fat doesn’t mean paleo, or “lots of meat”, it means simply: avocados, olives, seeds, nuts, oils, butter, full fat yogurt, sour cream, heavy whipping cream and coconut milk. I’ve figured out a way to incorporate all of these foods into my daily diet in such a way that I don’t have to only eat bacon and eggs or cheeseburgers all the time. I love that shit, but they get old real quick when you’re an omnivore.

I feel like I can finally talk about this now, so mad props to Jeff Browning for coming out a few months ago and talking about his switch to the LCHF diet and what prompted that- the dreaded Candida Albicans infection.

Only a few people close to me know that I’ve been a Candida sufferer for almost 10 years now, and while the bacteria that creates the infection will never go away completely (you actually need some of the candida bacteria in you, you actually need a lot of different bacteria in you all the time) I feel way more comfortable talking about it now. For whatever reason I was embarrassed to admit that I have a full body yeast infection from time to time that completely zaps my energy, gives me uncontrollable itching from rashes, upsets my stomach, causes insomnia and generally makes my life suck for the few weeks it comes back.

It always comes back when I go to heavy on the carbs, sugars and processed foods. This is why it’s become imperative that I stick to eating mostly fat- I’ve sabotaged races trying to cram in a day or two of “carbo loading” beforehand and felt like absolute shit on race day.

That being said before (and after) my races these days I hit the probiotics heavy because I know I’m going to ingest a ton of sugar on race day, and I’ve got to give my impaired gut a chance to fight what makes it ail.

I switched over to Generation Ucan last year after using Vitargo on and off for a few years and for whatever reason, Vitargo never fully agreed with me. Ucan, on the other hand, is quality stuff. I started the morning off with a large coffee with 2 tbsp of Kerrygold butter, 2 tbsp of coconut oil and 2 ounces of heavy whipping cream, of course. Then an hour before the start I went with a Vespa and three servings of Ucan. That’s a 685 calorie breakfast + 18 calorie Vespa + 240 cals of Ucan putting me on the start line with 940+ calories in my stomach.

I then went with a serving of Ucan every 45 minutes, supplementing with a Trail Butter at 3:30 and hour seven. I used the two chia gels in there before big climbs- one at Heather Cutoff and another at Willow Camp, and took 2 more Vespas at miles 15 and 30. On the way into Muir Beach I took a Salted Caramel Gu, then some homemade Lime Gu on the way into TV, where I had that sweet, terrible nectar of the angels, Mountain Dew. I took two more servings of homemade Gu on Marincello and finally a lemon Roctane at hour ten.

All told, 943 calories pre-race and 1,680 calories during, which breaks down to roughly 168 calories per hour while running- I can’t do the 250-300 per hour I’ve heard recommended, that’s definitely not going to work for me.

Stomach felt amazing all day, had a lot of energy and was totally happy the entire time- not a single negative thought the whole day. That’s rare for me, I always seem to go to a rotten, shitty place, especially during a ten-hour run.

Oh, and the chafing I experienced in my nether regions was horrificly epic, I apologize to the Muir Beach volunteers for putting them in an awkward situation. Thank you all for turning your heads when I requested you not look at me for a second and what I was about to do with that gob of Vaseline.

Out into the fog (photo courtesy Jesse Ellis, Let's Wander Photography)

Out into the fog (photo courtesy Jesse Ellis, Let’s Wander Photography)

At around ten hours of continuous running, on the road along the Rodeo Beach Lagoon, those last two miles towards the finish, the thought hit me “did I have fun today?”

Hell yeah, I had fun!

I chatted with some awesome people; gave so many high fives; told so many jokes, most of which were only funny to me because it’s the usual potty humor anyway and the occasional knock-knock joke; I jumped in so many puddles; heard a huge branch fall in Muir Woods that made the loudest crash I’ve ever heard in the forest; went up and down so many god-damned steps- Wolf Ridge, Dipsea, Bootjack and Ben Johnson; was happy there weren’t too many hikers and almost no mountain bikers on the trails and made so many new memories, so yeah I had fun today!

You know, sometimes the object when you’re racing isn’t always to get from point A to point B in the shortest amount of time.

Sometimes it’s totally okay to simply enjoy each moment.

Or get really, really wet and muddy.

Upon finishing, I consumed a bowl of chili, a bowl of vegetable lentil and a chicken apple sausage. (photo courtesy Mark Tanaka)

Upon finishing, I consumed a bowl of chili, a bowl of vegetable lentil soup and a chicken apple sausage. Then we told war stories. (photo courtesy Mark Tanaka)

Strava stats

Then I got changed so I could stop shivering, and we partied. (photo courtesy Mark Tanaka)

Then I got changed so I could stop shivering, and we partied. (photo courtesy Mark Tanaka)

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Hoka One One Speedgoat Review

I’ve only done one shoe review on here before but fear not, I am an expert on what works for me. Read that sentence again, please. I feel like every gear review needs to have that caveat posted somewhere just ahead of the comment section, because the internet is a terrible place. I’m putting it at the start to save you the trouble of an argument.

You might hate the Speedgoats. You might be the kind of person that hates to run very fast down hills. You might like to have foot problems. You might hate cushion, I don’t know you. I can’t begin to pretend that everyone likes to barrel down steep, technical descents and save their lower legs.

Because that’s basically what you’re getting with the Speedgoats. If you did click the link above, you’ll notice my only other shoe review was in fact my first pair of Hokas, the Rapa Nui 2 (trail version) shoes. The Speedgoats are basically an update of those phased-out Rapa Nuis, but with a much more aggressively lugged outsole on a nicer, sleeker upper.

Holy crap, these are dope!

Holy crap, these are dope!

Add the winningest 100-mile runner ever (Karl Meltzer)’s nickname to them and you have Hoka’s first signature shoe, and it does not disappoint. I’ve seen the majority of reviewers just gush over the responsiveness and rebound of the cushion, the durability, the grip, etc. The majority of the detractors have complained about the narrowness of the toe box, and lucky for me my feet are narrow so I haven’t had a problem. So without any further ado, here’s the pluses and minuses of the Hoka One One Speedgoats.

PLUSES:

  • drains very well; ran the American Canyon 50k in early February and the creeks they were a-flowin’. After trying to stay dry through the first few creek crossings I said screw it and went through a deeper one. These drained within 30 seconds.
  • those outsoles though; very aggressive lugs, feel completely competent and in control on sketchy, wet descents. Grips wet roots really well, handles jagged and sharp rocks no problem. You can talk all the shit in the world on how funny Hokas look, but that 33 millimeters of cush is the bomb. I just had these out in the deep snow of Mt. Tallac and literally flew down the mountain, I felt like I was wearing snowshoes. Thanks again to Vibram and their “Megagrip” outsole design, if there’s one thing Vibram can do it’s make rubber really sticky.
  • toe bumper; I totally jacked my toe on a hidden rock and outside of the smarting pain of the initial collision, that toe covering saved my toenail, and possibly saved my toe from breaking. So that’s a good thing.
  • the tongue; usually Hoka has gotten the first iteration of all their shoe’s tongues completely wrong- both the original Cliftons and Challenger ATR’s tongues were just terrible, and when I first saw these I thought, “oh crap”. But they put not one but two of those lace keepers (yes, I had to Google that term) on the tongue so there’s no annoying side-to-side slippage, it stays where it’s supposed to. Here’s a look:
Not bad, Hoka

Not bad, Hoka

  • durability; these are so durable you won’t get the chance to buy another pair as soon as you’d like (talking to you sneaker collector-types out there). That sounds silly, but if you like buying a lot of shoes you’re screwed because I imagine these are going to last 600, maybe 700 miles. I’m at only 275 miles on these and they’re still “out of the box” springy. The gist: these are super durable.

MINUSES:

  • this probably has more to do with the fact that I have super skinny ankles, but they let in a lot of rocks and debris from the top- I never tie my laces that tight and will never wear gaiters, so that’s a big part of the problem. I’m a “tie my shoes once” kind of guy, meaning I double knot them when I buy them and slip in and out of them, mostly because I’m lazy, but also because I know my feet are going to swell a little on longer runs so I want that extra room.
  • here’s a real minus: if you’re going to run on that muddy clay-type stuff, these will clod up something fierce. I swear they collected about 3 lbs of that clumpy stuff under each foot- it’s like wearing soccer cleats into a pottery studio. This has always been a problem for me with trail shoes that have really aggressive lugs, so if you’re on a trail that hasn’t drained well, be prepared to collect extra mud.
  • color bleed! My socks turned blue from the upper material; in Hoka’s defense these came with an attached card that said they’d do that, so I can’t say I’m surprised.

All-in-all, a really great shoe. Once you get over the price ($140) and you realize you’ll have these for upwards of 600 miles, it’s a really good deal. If there’s one thing Hoka can do, it’s give you a shoe that will last. With the exception of the first version of the Cliftons (only 324 miles and they were done), I’ve put at least 500 miles on all my Hokas; the Bondi 3’s were good for 600+, two pairs of Rapa Nui’s (one trail and one tarmac), and the Clifton 2’s I’m in currently just hit 300 miles with a ton left to go.

There's other colors, too

There’s other colors, too

If there’s anything slightly damning I can say about Hoka is that their first version of a shoe is never as good as the second- it’s almost as if they’re allowing their customers to beta test along with their pros, who are getting the shoes a good 6-9 months ahead of us. Which is kinda cool, but seeing as their cheapest model is $130 we’re both paying for their R&D and participating in it.

Anyway, here’s a quick rundown of what I just said:

  • awesome grip, great lugs, durable, nice rocker shape (Hoka’s Meta-rocker at work), decent toe box (I’ve heard complaints on this, I have narrow feet though), amazing cushion with out feeling mushy, sheds water quickly and thoroughly, 5 mm drop, every seam on the inside is welded
  • color bleed, aggressive lugs clump mud on clay-like trails, kind of heavy (9.8 oz for size 9), wide ankle holes

I give these shoes a B+

…there’s room for improvement but altogether I think Hoka comes pretty close to a perfect shoe, and I’m thinking that the next iteration of these is going to be that much better.

Hope you liked my review, I’m going to be doing a lot more of these in the future.

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American Canyon 50k Race Report

Mile 28. Ugh. Three more to go. I crossed No Hands Bridge about 15 minutes ago, at least those folks at the last aid station were awesome. Are my legs supposed to hurt this bad? I feel like they may have hurt worse at one time in my life, like possibly another race- maybe even last year at Miwok. Or possibly Santa Rosa. I’m having a hard time remembering right now. I think that’s probably a good thing, although I literally can not recall them ever feeling this bad.

I’m actually having a hard time focusing on anything at this point. I know I have another Gu in my pack and that I should take it, it’s been about a half hour since my last, but I am so fucking sick of sugar right now. Not like sick to my stomach, like sick to my soul knowing that I have the energy to run, but my legs hurt so bad they’re simply refusing to cooperate. Unless that Gu has morphine in it it’s useless to me right now.

The coolest thing about all this is that it’s completely uphill to the finish. Yes, that’s sarcasm (I’m trying to keep the mood “light”). I do remember how good my legs felt coming down this at a mellow 8-minute pace to start the race, but that doesn’t do me any good right now. Hell, my legs felt great hammering down the descent into No Hands like 20 minutes ago. I could run downhill all day.

No, the actual coolest thing about this race is that you get to run 15 miles on the Western States trail (in the “wrong” direction) to the Auburn Lake Trails aid station, then come back on the Wendell T. Robie Trail and finish back on the last six miles of the WS trail. I had myself convinced last November that I was going to get picked in the WS100 lottery this year, so I signed up for this race and Canyons 100k to get as much time on these trails as I could.

Luck would have other plans for me however.

Thinking about my training since this last cycle started, I haven’t done anything longer than 15.4 miles, so yeah- the suffering was to be completely expected. Let’s just say I was well-trained for about a 20-miler. This brings up my first talking point: specificity. Or, without boring you with too much technical jargon; if you want to go long, you have to go long. That means your training should be specific to the distance. Maybe throw in at least one 24-miler in the build up to a 50k.

On a good note- I never once thought of quitting, and even during the hardest parts of those last four miles (which took a turtle-esque 55 minutes!) I was still having fun. I got passed by the third-place woman and we joked about how tough these things are. She said something to the effect that “here’s where the best walkers start to shine” and she basically out-walked me to the finish.

I also got hit on by a hiker, that’s a first. Usually when I get called a “hot runner guy” it’s… actually that’s the first time that’s ever happened. It was super flattering, and as shitty as I felt I had to laugh and blush and say thank you.

So yeah, you can have fun and suffer greatly at the same time. You can go into a race under-trained and still come out of knowing you did your best. You can make your season-opening race both a party and a shitshow. You can respect the distance, alter your expectations, take solace in the fact that not everybody gets to do this on a Saturday morning. You can stop explaining to non-runners why you yearn to run really long distances.

You can still learn.

Talking point #2: the main thing I learned from this race: the last 11 miles were great mental training. I can go deep into the pain cave and just embrace, nay- LOVE the suck. Buy a one-way ticket for a ride on the struggle bus and smile for the camera.

Because the Marin Ultra Challenge 50-miler next month is going to hurt.

The Boston Marathon in April, regardless of my ambivalence to race it hard or just run it easy, will probably hurt.

The Canyons 100k in May will definitely hurt.

…and the Bighorn 100 in June is going to really, really hurt.

And getting familiar with that kind of hurt, almost welcoming it into my life like a long lost friend, that’s what’s going to help get me through the toughest parts of races.

So, sorry if you came here for a detailed race report, like what the trails were like, how many creek crossing there were, when I ate Gu and took salt and how the race was organized, etc. I’m leaving all that minutiae out on purpose, because it’s secondary to the experience I had.

You can see all that stuff over here if you want:

Strava stats

Ultra Signup results

Thanks for reading!

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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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