A Race Report in the Form of a Top Ten List
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.
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.
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.